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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Communist China and Other Liars

There's a lot of public and private lying going on today. This always happens when a crisis arises. When the going gets tough, the incompetent and lazy and self-centered simply lie.

The lies of the self-important are usually designed to deflect attention from their current and past incompetence to the real or imagined mistakes of others. Once the crisis hits, they realize, or others make them realize, that their incompetence either caused or aggravated the crisis. Such knowledge, of course, must be hidden from the public. Hide the truth, identify a suitable scapegoat, and attack it aggressively. The truth, of course, is hard to hide, so this works for only a while. Eventually the truth becomes known. 

Sadly, the self-important, which include many politicians and most of the national media, are the least of our problems. The most dangerous of today's liars are not incompetent; they're simply evil. Perhaps the best example are the Chinese Communists.

The Chinese Communist Party really can't be called a political party because it's the only party permitted in China. Indeed, if you tried to start an actual political party in China, you would surely be arrested and likely imprisoned...if you were lucky. 

It's important to be aware of this, a key identifier of all totalitarian states. No totalitarian government, whether based on ideology or a cult of personality, can tolerate intellectual or political competition since it will always lose the argument. It must reject the very idea of truth, because it never has truth on its side. This is why those on the extremes must always distort history, creating fictional versions that support the ever-expanding structure of lies they want us to accept.

And here we encounter another key identifying trait of all extremist ideologies, whether national socialists like Hitler or international socialists like Lenin: their remarkable capacity for spreading lies. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, Fidel -- yes, the whole bunch and so many others -- all encouraged telling the lie so long as doing so aided the spread of their ideology. For them the end always justifies the means, any means. 

This might lead you to believe that such extreme ideologues are not unlike most politicians who tell lies so easily when it suits their purposes. Yes, indeed, most politicians lie on occasion, and the longer they've spent in politics, the more comfortable they become with telling the lie. This is why I try to avoid voting for any man or woman who's spent a long career in politics. But communists and other socialists are different from run-of-the-mill politicians. The latter lie occasionally, but the former lie constantly. They must because their failing policies are indefensible.

Communist China's a wonderful case in point. Every agreement, every treaty, every official statement made by the ruling Chinese Communist Party is based on and filled with lies. The lie is present even in the nation's official name: the People's Republic of China. The people have no say in their government which cannot be described, by any definition I'm familiar with, as a republic.

Just look at how the party has handled the virus. When COVID-19 began to spread in Wuhan, the authorities clamped down hard on the doctors who were telling the truth about the budding crisis. Most were arrested because in a socialist state the truth will get you imprisoned. (See this story: Los Angeles Times.)

Now, months later, when the party offers statistics on the spread of the Coronavirus in China, you can be certain the data are intentionally inaccurate. This week we've begun to hear reports of tens of thousands of cremations taking place in Wuhan, where the virus apparently originated, and this despite the "official" death toll of 3,305. (See this story: International Business Times.)

The Communist Party can't completely hide the truth, so it changes the conversation and offers the world a spectacular lie: the United States Army is responsible for introducing the virus into Wuhan Province. 

Interestingly, many politicians and members of the mainstream media accept the Chinese "data" without question and use it to attack their favorite target: the president. In other words, they base their own lies on the lies of those whom they know are lying. Yes, it's all very interesting, and would actually be entertaining were it not so serous and so deadly.

Homily: Monday 5th Week of Lent

Once again, a recorded video of this homily for Monday, March 30 -- indeed of the entire Mass -- can be found on our parish website.
https://sumtercatholic.org/homilies/
These video recordings will continue as we cope with the requirements mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The text of my homily follows:
____________________

Readings:  Dan 13:41c-62; Ps 23; Jn 8:1-11

Have you ever done something, that looking back on it, you realize was unjust? I think of my own past – and the present too -- lack of charity, selfishness, displaced anger… I wish I had a more selective memory because the sins of the past can overwhelm us if we let them.

On a retreat some years ago I spent time with the retreat master, a Benedictine monk. He knew I had past issues to discuss, so he simply said, “Let’s make this a confession where you just go through your life and air all those ancient things that trouble you.” I suppose we spoke for an hour or more.

After giving me absolution, he said, “All those failings, all those sins are gone. God not only forgives them, He forgets them. 

“He wants you to be God-like and forget them too. They’re gone. Stop dwelling on them. But don’t forget your story, how God has moved you closer to the person He calls you to be.”

As I rose to leave, he added, “You know all those people who’ve hurt you? Many of them experience the same regrets. But even if they don’t, you must forgive them as well.”

Yes, a most liberating experience, one of reconciliation and conversion.

This is nothing new. God has called us to conversion from the start, from Eden to the Incarnation and beyond. In our reading, we see Susanna falsely accused by…well, by two dirty old men. But the prophet Daniel came to her defense, proving the false witness of the accusers. As a result, they suffered the sentence they tried to inflict on the innocent Susanna.
Susanna ands the Two Elders
Of course, as Christians we might object that they, too, should be forgiven. But remember, God was leading His chosen people, step by painful step, from darkness to the fulness of Truth revealed by Jesus Christ. Jesus will fulfill the Law, revealing the depth of divine love that motivates it, and teaching them and us to live it in its fulness; for God desires our conversion, not our punishment. 

How did He express it to Ezekiel? Listen again to the words of our Gospel acclamation.

“I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live…” [Ez 33:11]
God told His chosen ones it was their sins, their stubbornness and disobedience, that would send them into exile. But still He remains with them, and speaking through His prophet Isaiah, led them to what shall be:
“Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!” [Is 43:18-19]
God wanted them to trust Him, to look forward not backward, to put their sins, their idolatry behind them and to serve the Living God. They remain His Chosen People, for through them He would bring salvation to the world.

St. Paul, too, reminded of his own past sins, calls us to repentance and conversion: 
“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. [Phil 3:13-14]
Yes, Paul tried to forget his sins, while remembering all that God had done for him through the gift of faith. For Paul to forget his story would be to forget his God.

The same is true of the woman caught in adultery. For her, for all of us, the danger lay in living in the past, wallowing in our guilt, unsure of forgiveness, unable even to forgive ourselves. But then she encountered Jesus.


“Has no one condemned you?”…Neither do I condemn you.” [Jn 8:10-11]
Her sin was forgiven, and that forgiveness became a part of her life, her story. Like Paul, she would not forget her story, and neither should we. Because her story is your story and my story. Indeed, she’s really all of us, everyone from Adam until judgment day, all of us in need of a Savior, in need of forgiveness.
"Has no one condemned you?"
Hers is the story of salvation, of sin and mercy, of sin committed and sin forgiven. With forgiveness she’s called to begin a new life: “Go and sin no more,” Jesus tells her and us. Know and love the God who refuses to condemn. Learn to accept His forgiveness.

So many don’t, but go through life, wallowing in guilt, afraid of hell, tormented by their pasts, unable to make peace with their brokenness and human frailty.


This isn’t why God became man. This isn’t why He died that horrible death on that dark Friday afternoon.

The current crisis can tempt us to look back to happier, more stable times; but as Christians we are called to confront the present and look to the future.

We see a building with locked doors and can fall prey to the temptations of the evil one: “Where is my Church? Where is my God?”

Brothers and sisters, God’s Church is not a building. It is His community of salvation. It is you and I, joined together with all members of the living Body of Christ. It is the universal Church, intimately united in the Communion of Saints.

God acts in His Church always, even when the doors of the buildings are locked; for God acts in and through His People, wherever they are.

For the true disciple of Jesus Christ, tomorrow is always better than yesterday. Each day is a new creation in the presence of a loving God.

Confront today’s crisis with faith and prudence but look forward to the hope of tomorrow.

Pray, then, for tomorrow’s hope and for those working tirelessly, with God’s help, to bring it about. Pray too for a rebirth of self-giving, a new birth of love.

Only two weeks of Lent remain. As we all hope to rise with Christ, let us repeat the song He sings to us:

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth” [Is 42:19].
Come to think of it, as Christians, we are the new thing. Why not spring forth, filled with hope?

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Homily: Saturday 4th Week of Lent

With the closing of our parish church due to COVID-19, we are now recording Masses and posting them on the parish website. It's a bit odd with only the priest and deacon, but odder still to preach to a large, but very empty, church. 

I was ill for several week -- just a nasty, lingering cold -- and so did not participate in the recordings. Now healthy, I assisted and preached at a couple of our recorded Masses this past week -- one for today and another for next Monday, March 30. 

You can access a recorded video of each daily Mass on our parish website. Here's the link:

My homily for Saturday, March 28, follows: 
__________________

Readings: Jer 11:18-20; Ps 7; Jn 7:40-53
"Never before has anyone spoken like this man" [Jn 7:46].
Hearing those words in the Gospel brought to mind a 45-year-old memory. At the time I was teaching at the Naval Academy in Annapolis when we were blessed by a visit by Archbishop Fulton Sheen who would preach at Sunday Mass. Actually, he preached, not only at morning Mass, but also during later the Protestant Service, both held in the large Naval Academy chapel. 
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen Preaching
Diane and I heard him at Mass, but Diane also went to the Protestant service, wanting to listen to him again. As you might expect he preached a bit longer to the Protestants, more accustomed to long sermons. When he concluded, an elderly woman sitting behind Diane said to her husband, “My! I don’t think anyone’s preached like that in this church before.” Yes, I suspect that Catholic preacher surprised her – just as Jesus surprised the Temple guard in the Gospel: 

"Never before has anyone spoken like this man"
We’ve all done it, haven’t we – prejudged others before we know them, before we listen to them? So often we arrogantly dismiss others simply because they don’t measure up to our preconceived notions of importance – a kind of snobbishness. But then, in the sudden shock of recognition, we realize the error is rooted in us, not in the other.

We’re all a bit like the Pharisees who, knowing little about Jesus, dismissed Him as a nobody, but a dangerous nobody, a threat to their own authority. Without having heard Jesus speak, without listening to His words, they rejected the Word of God. This is exactly what Nicodemus tried to tell them:

"Does our law condemn a man before it first hears him and finds out what he is doing?" [Jn 7:51]
Nicodemus, too, was a Pharisee, but he had taken the time to listen to Jesus, to question Him, to see if He spoke the truth. And it was Nicodemus who first heard Jesus proclaim those words of redemption:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” [Jn 3:16].
Sadly, though, too many Pharisees were simply snobs. You can almost hear them, can’t you? This Jesus? He’s from Galilee, a nobody from nowhere. How did the Apostle Nathaniel put it?
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” [Jn 1:46] 
Even a soon to be Apostle can be a bit of a snob.

But isn’t it interesting that so many of the people who encountered Jesus, even the Temple guards, who’d been sent to arrest Him, actually listened to Him and realized they'd heard the truth.

"Never before has anyone spoken like this man."
What a remarkably courageous thing to say, knowing how much the chief priests and the Pharisees, despised Jesus.
Temple Guards: "Never before..."
What about us? Do we have the courage to speak out for our faith, to proclaim Jesus as Lord when He is under attack, as He is in our world today? 

The world really hasn’t changed all that much, has it? We’re divided today, just as the people of Jerusalem were divided 2,000 years ago. The prophet Jeremiah encountered the same kind of division centuries earlier, when all the important folks plotted against him, just as their successors would plot against Jesus.

Our country, too, seems so divided, but in the midst of this current crisis the Church calls us to reject division, to come together, to unite in faith and not be consumed by fear. We live in an imperfect world and our response to its imperfections must always be driven by faith.

The Greek word for the devil in the New Testament is diabolos, usually translated as “the slanderer.” But the word’s two roots literally mean “to throw apart” or to “scatter.” And that’s exactly who Satan is; he is the scatterer. He scatters. He tries to tear us apart, while Jesus does exactly the opposite: He unites. 

As Christians, then, we must always strive to do Christ’s saving work, and never to divide or scatter.

Dear friends, as we move through these last days of Lent, Jesus continues to call us to conversion: to repent and trust in His mercy, to love God with all our being, to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, to speak always as Jesus spoke, in the language of the Father’s love. 

We have to choose because God never forces Himself on us. He simply looks on us with love and lets us make the choice.

Open your heart to Jesus today. Turn to Him in prayer. Let His Holy Spirit deepen your faith and fill you with the humility and repentance God asks of you.

And, brothers and sisters, through it all, fear not, for Jesus is Emmanuel. He is “God with us” and promised us:

“I am with you always, until the end of the age.” [Mt 28:20]

Monday, March 23, 2020

Walking with Maddie

Dear Diane has been sleeping in the guest room for a while because of her shoulder replacement surgery and its aftereffects. Unfortunately she awakens often during the night, because she either slept on the wrong side or used her right arm a bit too much the day before. Either way it results in pain. So she sits up and reads or watches TV until the pain subsides. In her kindness she thought this would disturb my sleep. (She was right about that.) She decided, therefore, to sleep in the guest room, leaving me in the king size bed with Maddie, our 12-year-old Bichon Frise.

Now, I'm sure many of your will chastise us for letting our dog sleep in our bed. But when we "rescued" Maddie she was already five years old and pretty set in her ways. She had also been mistreated and was a bit of a psychological wreck. In fact, the rescue vet had put her on a doggie version of Prozac. Although we got her off her meds quickly, she still needed lots of loving attention. Given her age and condition, we thought it would be difficult, perhaps even a bit cruel, to attempt to crate train her. The result? She sleeps in our bed. You must also understand that she's a Bichon, and is a perfect example of this stubborn, self-centered breed.

Because the bed is large and she's a small dog, you'd think I wouldn't even know if she were there. But every morning, long before sunrise, usually between 5 and 6 a.m., Maddie snuggles up against my back and leans into me. She'll keep this up for a half-hour or so, increasing the pressure, hoping I'll decide to get up. When I resist, as I did today, she begins to whine softly, letting me know she's ready to begin her day and expects me to join her, first by preparing her breakfast and then taking her on a long walk.
Maddie on Her Morning Walk
This morning Maddie woke me a bit later than usual, and the whining didn't begin until after 6:30. Within 30 minutes she had eaten, I was dressed, and we opened the front door to greet another of God's gifts: a beautiful day in The Villages -- Sunny and 64 F this morning, but a warm 88 F this afternoon. 

Although sunrise was still 15 or 20 minutes away, the eastern sky was already aglow. Indeed, by this time I could see only a few of the sky's brightest objects. Toward the southeast only Jupiter stood out, as befits the god of the sky. Neighboring Mars and Saturn were still visible but barely. Vega could be seen near the zenith, but the other stars were fading quickly. 

As I looked heavenward, Maddie of course looked earthward, continuing her life's work of sniffing everything that passes under her remarkable nose. And so we walked, slowly to accommodate her sniffing and in whatever direction Maddie chose. 

Today's walk followed a rather long (about two miles) circuitous route through several nearby neighborhoods. Because of so many businesses are closed, we encountered very little car and golf cart traffic. This, of course, is good since dogs and those walking them seem to be invisible to many drivers. But even more surprising was the increase in walkers and runners. Most mornings, especially in the pre-dawn darkness, I may see only one or two people. But today lots of folks, both individuals and couples, were out walking. It was nice to see so many people enjoying the morning. I suppose for many it was a cure for cabin fever, offering a temporary respite from voluntary home confinement.

But then there was that one oddity. Maddie and I had been walking for only a few minutes when we turned onto a side street and noticed about a dozen people, well spaced out to enforce social distancing, but all walking in our direction. Without a sidewalk and almost no traffic, they had filled the street. Like all of us who live here, they were elderly. None moved very quickly and some limped along trying to keep up. Now, it was still early, and with the almost risen sun behind them, they were all shadows and silhouettes. If you can picture the scene, you might understand why my strange mind suddenly announced: Zombie Apocalypse! I'm sorry but I felt as if I had fallen into a scene from one of those wacko zombie movies. Of course, as we passed, everyone smiled and greeted us, a few petted Maddie, and no one tried to eat my brains.
Except for the rare zombie scare, I truly enjoy these daily walks. Today we spotted a gator in one of the many neighborhood ponds: not a very big one, but big enough for me to keep my distance. We witnessed some early morning repositioning flights of water birds, and followed a large flock of white ibises as they flew from one pond to another. A large blue heron passed right over us, so low we could feel the effect of his wings. We watched a kingfisher as he hovered  anxiously, then plummeted into the water and grabbed his breakfast. That same peaceful, healthy, virus-free air was filled with the greetings of mockingbirds, cardinals, red-wing blackbirds, and countless other songbirds. From stars and planets to birds and gators, it was all a wonderful display of God's creative power. Even Maddie glanced up on occasion and seemed to savor the day.
Lots of Ibises
I feel sorry for those unable to get out and take even a short walk, but I especially pity those who walk or run daily, but do so without noticing the beauty that surrounds them. They look so grim as they strain forward to reach their 10,000 steps, eyes glued to the road before them, while the noise in their earbuds blocks the greetings of passersby and the sounds of nature. Life is just too short to ignore the wonders that surround us.
Maddie with her Reward
When we returned home Maddie and I decided she deserved a special treat, one of those milk bones for large dogs. You see, she doesn't realize she's little.

God's peace, friends, and stay healthy.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

A Little Crisis Humor

When things aren't going so well, it's easy to become a bit down and, yes, even grumpy. Imagine that! 

Given the restrictive nature of our lives right now, real loneliness can afflict those who live alone. Confined families, unused to spending so much time together, can experience more than a little testiness. And all of us, unable to spend time with friends and do many of the things we most enjoy doing, life can seem grim. For many of us, being deprived of the sacraments and attendance at Mass is even worse, a deprivation we never expected to experience.

But in the midst of it all, we sometimes need to smile, even laugh, and realize that God is in charge and will turn all things to good for those who love Him [Rm 8:28]. Laughter is a wonderful sign of hope, and hope moves us to faith.

An old friend -- actually an old high school classmate -- obviously has way too much time on his hands. Every day or so he sends me the odd cartoon, some bad jokes, and other stupid little things, just to get a laugh out of his friends. I have to admit, for me it usually works. Of course, some of what he sends cannot be posted on my blog, but most of it is simply funny. 

Anyway, I thought I'd share just a few of these smile-makers with you all. 

First, a few really bad jokes:
______________

They said that a mask and gloves were all you needed to go to the drug store.

They lied.

Everyone else had clothes on.

______________

I just read a book on marriage that recommended treating your wife as you treated her on your first date.

So after dinner tonight I'm dropping her off at her parents' house.


______________

For those of you who don't want Alexa listening in on your conversations, Amazon is making a male version.

It doesn't listen to anything.


______________

And now some cartoons...first, about our furry friends.






...and the family...Hmmm...I wonder which one I was...


Plus a little local humor...grandkids in The Villages.


We can't ignore politics, not today...




And finally, one on the origin of Man Buns...



Okay, that's enough. I hope these generated a few smiles, perhaps even a laugh or two. Just remember, like all the wonder in our lives and everything else that's good about us, our sense of humor came from God Himself. After all, we were created in His image and likeness, and He is a loving, joyful God, not a grump. So be Godlike and realize you were created to be happy, not only eternally, but also here in this good life.

This evening, as you climb into bed, thank God that you have a bed. Thank Him for His gift of humor, His gift of life, and for all He has done for you today.

Continue to pray for our world and our nation, for those who are ill, for those close to death, and for all those doctors and nurses who care for them. 

Pray for the scientists, researchers, engineers, and technicians who work tirelessly to bring an end to this global pandemic. 

Pray for our political leadership, that their decisions reflect God's will for our nation.

Pray, too, for our pope, our bishops, our priests, and, yes, for our deacons, that they also do God's will, and only God's will, as they lead the Church through this crisis. 

The world needs our prayers, so fill up some of that unexpected free time with prayer today. And take some time to live your faith by reaching our to others, especially the lonely. Share God's love with them and bring some cheer into their lives.

And fear not! God is with us always.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Difficult but Faithful Times

Like most of you, I'm spending a lot more time at home, although my isolation began a bit earlier. For about three weeks I had a nasty cold (no fever or other weird symptoms), so I went to my doctor, got a prescription, followed the advice of his P.A. to stay home, and got well. Then the Coronavirus ramped up, continuing my home confinement.

Dear Diane is temporarily unable to drive because of her recent shoulder replacement surgery and ongoing rehabilitation, making me the family's designated driver. And so, I do get out occasionally, mainly to do the shopping, go to the post office, and join Diane and our Thursday team at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. 


But the biggest changes in my life relate to my ministry as a deacon. I'm looking forward to next Monday, when Diane and I are assigned as a chaplain team at The Villages Hospital. We visit patients of all faiths and remain on call for 24 hours. As you might expect, all the protocols for visiting patients have been changed to address the virus, ao it will be interesting to see how this will all play out. 

Sadly, I had to shut down my weekly Bible Study programs. To accommodate a growing number of participants, now approaching 100, we had scheduled three different sessions each week. All have now been canceled, along with all the other faith formation programs in our largely adult parish. In effect all meetings and gatherings or any type have been canceled or postponed.

More concerning, however, are the changes affecting the parish's sacramental life. Confirmations and First Communions have been postponed. Baptisms will continue but be conducted outside of Mass with only family in attendance. Eucharistic Adoration is also on hold until further notice. Our priests, of course, will continue to visit those in need of the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick. But perhaps the greatest disappointment for our parishioners is their inability to take part in daily or Sunday Mass. Indeed, the churches of the diocese are now closed. I understand the need from a medical/social perspective, but it is still hard for so many to accept. Fortunately, technology enables us to celebrate Mass and upload a video of the Mass to the parish website. Each day, then, parishioners can watch Mass online as a family and participate in spiritual communion. (Click on this link for a good description of the Theology of Spiritual Communion.

We can be sure that making these decisions has not been easy for our bishop. In some respects, during this time of crisis, the bishops of the country are not unlike the governors of states. While paying attention to the guidelines and demands of our medical professionals, each governor or bishop must decide the best way to handle the crisis within his own state or diocese. Bishops, of course, have an additional concern: the spiritual well-being of their people. But how they address all those concerns will vary. I'm certain, for example, the Archdiocese of New York and the Diocese of Orlando each must face a different set of problems using very different resources, so the response of each will also be different. 

As citizens and parishioners our response should be one of prayer. Pray especially for our bishops, and for our priests and deacons. Pray, too, for our medical professionals, the doctors, nurses, researchers and others who are spending long, hard hours working for the well-being of all of us. They have had to make some difficult decisions and we should support them, knowing that the sooner we isolate this virus, the sooner life, including our spiritual life, will return to normal. 

President Trump and Members of Congress are working hard to address key aspects of this crisis: medical, economic, and social. Use your additional free time to pray for them, that their decisions will be just, moral, and address the needs of the people.

We live in an imperfect world and our response to its imperfections must be driven by faith and prudence, but not by fear. Fear not, brothers and sisters, for God is with us. He is Emmanuel. He is the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep.
_______________

A deacon of our parish, Deacon Dan Pallo, sent me and others the following prayer. I suggest we all include it in our daily prayers:



Prayer in a Pandemic
(Author unknown)

May we who are merely inconvenienced...remember those whose lives are at stake.

May we who have no risk factors...remember those most vulnerable.

May we who have the luxury of working from home...remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent.

May we who have the flexibility to care for our children when their schools close...remember those who have no options.

May we who have to cancel our trips...remember those that have no safe place to go.

May we who are losing our margin money in the tumult of the economic market...remember those who have no margin at all.

May we who settle in for a quarantine at home...remember those who have no home.

As fear grips our country, let us choose love.

During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around each other, let us yet find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.

Amen
___________________

Dan then suggested that we all make some phone calls; reach out to others especially those who have no one to chat with.  I'm sure they would be thrilled to hear your voice. Not a bad idea.


Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Voting and Viruses

Presidential Primary Voting. Yesterday I voted in the Florida Presidential Primary. I usually take advantage of early voting, but this year I had a nasty cold (fear not -- no fever or other coronavirus symptoms) and really don't like voting by mail. Fortunately, I felt much better yesterday, so I decided to go to my local polling site fairly early, at 8 a.m. It's at a nearby recreation center, only a couple of blocks from my house, but I was surprised by the nearly empty parking lot. As I entered the lobby I noticed the door opened automatically so I wouldn't have to touch door handles. I was greeted by a gentleman who directed me down the hall to one of the large meeting rooms. All the poll workers, probably about ten people, were wearing latex gloves. But most surprisingly, I was the only voter. After two people checked my photo ID against the voter registration list, another took me to a voting booth and handed me a ballot. I voted -- prolife, of course -- and took my completed ballot to another worker who showed me how to feed it into the machine that turns my little mark into a vote. I was then given one of those "I Voted" stickers and sent on my way. The whole process took about three or four minutes, and I never saw another voter.
I admit, being the only voter in sight was empowering. For a moment, a very brief moment, I felt almost dictatorial, as if my vote were the only vote that truly counted, as if I alone were deciding the future of our country, as if all those poll workers were there to protect my one, all-important vote. Of course this fantasy didn't last very long. Indeed, this morning's newspaper informed us that largely rural Sumter County, in which a majority of The Villages' population resides, had the highest voter turnout in the state: 40%. That's really quite high for a presidential primary in a largely Republican county when the incumbent is up for reelection and opposed by only a few unknown wannabes. (Okay, all of us from Massachuestts know Bill Weld, but that's why we'd never vote for him.) I suppose most folks voted early, some Republicans decided it was not a meaningful election, and others were concerned about possible coronavirus exposure. Anyway, to my knowledge I've never missed an election, so I've kept my record intact. 

Viral Weirdness. Believe me when I say that, despite my occasional comments about panic and pessimisn, I accept the severity of the coronavirus. Yes, it's becoming a global health threat and must be addressed, perhaps through rather draconian means. And yet, so much of our nation seems to be driven solely by fear, and to me, that represents a major change in how Americans have historically faced a common foe. 

I can honestly say that I have no fear whatsoever of the COVID-19 bug. First of all I'm a Christian and fear no evil. Anyway, how can I fear something with a name like that? To the layman this name -- like the N1H1 Virus that hit us in 2009 -- means absolutely nothing. If the CDC wanted to get our juices flowing from the start, maybe they should have given it a better name, something like "Wuhan Killer #1." It's far more mysterious since few of us know exactly where or what Wuhan is; it focuses the mind on the worst possible outcome;  and it tells everyone it's seriously prime time -- all in all, a much better, pay-attention name.

But despite the virus' name, I certainly believe in taking prudent precautions when it comes to dealing with it. To ignore this virus at my age would put my life in danger, but more importantly would threaten the lives of others with whom I come into frequent and close contact. As a member of the community I have an obligation to protect that community from a threat, especially if that threat could come from me.

But, again, as a faithful Christian, how can I fear? God's command -- Be not afraid -- fills Sacred Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments. God knows that fear is the great faith-destroyer, and the destroyer of community. Fear is the work of Satan, the scatterer. The Greek word for the devil in the New Testament (diabolos) is translated as "the slanderer." But the word's two roots literally mean "to tear or throw apart" or "to scatter." This is what Satan does. He scatters, or tries to, while Jesus Christ unites. As Christians, then, we must strive always to unite, to do Christ's saving work, and never to divide or scatter.

I suppose it all boils down to our willingness to believe and live that which we constantly profess:
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose" [Rom 8:28]
"All things" covers the waterfront, doesn't it? It includes viruses and other evils that might plague us as individuals and as a people. The key, then, is to "love God" and to strive to do His will in our lives, to answer His call "according to His purpose." 

I'm often asked, "Why does a loving God allow such things?" We must, however, remember that evils like this virus, whether we call it COVID-19 or Wuhan Killer #1, will always be with us because of our fallen natures. Indeed, if God removed all evil from the world, we would lack that which makes us human. We would lack the ability to make a moral choice, because we'd be faced with no choice at all, and unable to choose the good. 

Let God strengthen your faith as He makes all work for good in your life today. You need only open the door and allow Him to enter. Let Him tell you how He is calling you to fulfill His purpose in the community.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Hand Washing Catholic Style

I don't know about you, but I've never before washed my hands quite so much. I suppose those who've worked as professional dishwashers, might disagree, but for the rest of us...

This morning, browsing on the web, I came across the website, ChurchPop.com, and encountered something that made real sense. As I'm sure you have heard, we have been told to wash our hands frequently for 20 seconds, recommending that we sing (the melodically challenged may recite) the words to the song, Happy Birthday. Well, the Diocese of Dallas has come up with a far better recommendation: as you wash your hands, pray the Our Father. Hail Mary, and Glory Be. The process takes a bit longer -- about 45 seconds -- which I suppose is even better health-wise. 

But there are other benefits. As my mother used to tell my brother and me as she encouraged us to wash up: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Heaven knows, after 45 seconds of hand washing and praying, we should be a lot closer to our Lord. But even better, this revised hand-washing protocol also sends many more prayers heavenward. As you wash up, pray for those working tirelessly to protect us from this virus. Pray for those infected by the virus. Pray for those who are so fearful. Pray for those who, unlike us retired folks, can't stay home and must work to keep our society functioning. And pray for our nation and our world. Remember, too, the Lord told us repeatedly, "Fear not!" Faith and fear cannot coexist in the human heart, for fear is the enemy of faith. 

Thanks to the Diocese of Dallas, I've included below a pictorial version of this prayerful way of handwashing. You can also find it here: Catholic Handwashing.


And while I'm at it, our diocesan diaconate director included this prayer by St. Augustine in a recent email. Given the circumstances, I thought it appropriate:

Prayer for the Sick
(St. Augustine)

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give your angels charge over those who sleep.

Tend your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest your weary ones.
Bless your dying ones.
Soothe your suffering ones.
Pity your afflicted ones.
Shield your joyous ones.
And for all your love's sake.
Amen.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Wisdom in the Midst of Panic

The attack of the Coronavirus has generated some very odd behavior. Of course, the mainstream media absolutely love it. It gives them a perfect, long-term, catastrophic story, one they'll milk for months. And it provides a wonderful opportunity to blame it all on the primary object of their hatred: President Trump. Encouraging panic and pessimism has become their goal and they just can't help themselves. Judging by the behavior of many Americans, it would seem they have been successful.

On Friday I stopped by a local Winn Dixie supermarket here in The Villages, just to pick up a few items. The parking lot was jammed and I had to park 100 yards from the front entrance. I couldn't believe the crowds. The store, too, was jammed. The aisles were filled with people stuffing their shopping carts with anything and everything -- lots of toilet paper, paper towels, detergent, bottled water, zip locks, frozen foods, canned goods... I've never seen anything like it, even before a hurricane. It was all very odd. 
Stockpiling in a Box Store
Fortunately, my shopping list was short -- milk, crackers, cheese, and cheap wine -- so I moved straight to the express checkout line. Although there were about ten people in front of me, the line moved quickly. 

As I neared the checkout counter I noticed the woman standing in line directly behind me. A bleached blonde, she was elderly (older than me anyway) and was shaking her head as she looked at all the shoppers. She then turned to me, laughed aloud, and said, with a bit of a brogue, "Bunch of fools, buying all that toilet paper. In Ireland we couldn't afford it and had to use newspaper and it worked quite well. People in America act like little rich children."

I thought this demanded some kind of response, so I said, "Over here the country folk used to put the huge Sears-Roebuck catalog in the outhouse where I suppose it served the same purpose as your Irish newspapers. Of course in these days of online shopping and empty shopping malls, the old Sears catalog is long gone." Then, as I began to place my few items on the checkout counter, I heard her say, "Too damned bad. You've become a nation of spoiled brats."

Although I certainly appreciate the availability of low-cost toilet paper, I also appreciate her sentiment. We have indeed become a wee bit spoiled and the possibility of doing without any one of our modern conveniences has led many to raid the local supermarkets and box stores. I'd like to think that as a people we could learn from this viral pandemic and draw together as we face a common foe, but it seems we would rather fight each other for the last package of toilet paper. It's all very sad, and doesn't bode well for the future.

Saturday, March 7, 2020

It's All About Abortion

“Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it.” - G. K. Chesterton

For years, no for decades, I've maintained that the ideological left can be identified by one overriding issue: abortion. Earlier this week Senator Chuck "Live-Shot" Schumer (D-NY) offered evidence of this when he publicly threatened two Supreme Court justices if they dared to decide cases on the pro-life side. His words:

"I want to tell you, Gorsuch. I want to tell you, Kavanaugh. You have released the whirlwind and you will pay the price! You won't know what hit you if you go forward with these awful decisions."
Later, after a whirlwind of criticism, and oblivious to what he actually said, the senator stated that he was addressing congressional Republicans, not the justices. Yeah, right! Read your own words, Senator.
Schumer Ranting at the Supreme Court
Schumer, of course, is right in line with his party, which permits no deviation when it comes to abortion. Just look at the lineup of Democrat presidential candidates; that is, the earlier lineup of twenty-plus wannabes. Except when they attacked President Trump because he doesn't support so-called "women's reproductive rights," the entire gaggle of candidates rarely mentioned abortion during their debates, and for good reason. It is one issue on which they all agreed, so why stir the pot? They realized, too, that public support for abortion is dropping. There's no need to remind the voters that every single one of them supports the wholesale slaughter of innocents. 

And did you notice that sign raised high right beside Schumer? "Protecting Abortion Access is a Catholic Value"
It's truly a remarkable statement since Catholic magisterial teaching on abortion has never varied. The Church has consistently labeled abortion an "intrinsic evil." In other words, it is always evil. But the Church's teaching has little effect on the mainstream media "theologians." As one talking head stated, "Many Catholics don't accept the Church's teaching on abortion, so that teaching certainly isn't unanimous." Uh, sorry, but as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, "The truth is not determined by majority vote." Yes, indeed, the truth is the truth, and the truth is what the Church's magisterium teaches.

My opinion on all this? Abortion is Satan's doing, and those who support it are joining him in this work, some knowingly, most unknowingly. Like the communists, Satan too needs and attracts useful idiots.

If I were Senator Schumer, I'd be worried about a different whirlwind, like the one prophesied by Isaiah:
"For see, the Lord will come in fire, his chariots like the whirlwind; to wreak his anger in burning rage and his rebuke in fiery flames" [Is 66:14]
...another good reason to be pro-life.