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, May 30, 2020

COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #6: Abandonment

Our elder son calls us almost daily. Of course, he loves us, and we enjoy talking with him. But I suspect he’s also checking up on the “old folks,” just to make sure we’re still capable of answering the phone. Anyway, the other day, when I answered his call, he asked, “How are you handling all this weirdness?”

And he’s right, isn’t he? It has been weird. For a couple of months now, except for walking the dog and making occasional but brief trips to the store and post office, we’ve been cooped up in our home, isolated from others, forced to redefine much of our lives. 

The weirdest part has been the absence of human contact, especially with our friends. And yet some good has come of this. Diane and I have certainly spent more time together and are even learning to compromise on our TV watching. We’ve watched a lot of Jane Austen DVDs together and are now working our way through some strange Amazon Prime series. I’ve also worked on honing my cooking and laundry skills.

Among the more pleasant changes, is my growing relationship with our trash collectors. I now recognize them, and they me. They collect our trash twice weekly, usually in the pre-dawn hours, about the same time I take Maddie for her morning walk. Hungry for human contact, I now stop and greet these young men as they jump on and off their truck picking up our garbage. They have a hard, backbreaking, and smelly job, but they always greet me with a smile and a cheery “Good morning!” In the midst of the “weirdness” I have developed a new respect for these men and their work.

Yes, indeed, things have gotten weird. But weirdness always generates questions, and questions often lead me to Sacred Scripture. After all, God not only has all the answers, He is the answer. And one of the best places to find that answer is the Sermon on the Mount; for it’s there that Jesus both challenges and comforts us. This morning offers a good example. While Diane underwent her physical therapy, I sat in the waiting room of the rehab center, wearing my facemask, and reading from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6 about the futility of worry. It’s not a long passage, so let’s read it now:

Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil [Mt 6:25-34].
Of course what Jesus is telling the crowd, and what He is telling us, is that worry over food, clothing, health, or any material need is simply a substitute, and a very poor one at that, for concern about our eternal salvation. He tells us to turn our attention from our worldly needs to eternal needs: “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…”

So often, instead of being disciples, we are worriers. We spend much of our time planning our futures, calculating profit and loss, assets and debits, being the responsible people the world expects of us to be. This, Jesus tells us, is a waste of the energy and talents God has given us. We are called to do otherwise. We are called to put aside all anxiety and replace it with self-abandonment, to choose a life in which God provides and we receive. This eternal call of Jesus is echoed throughout all of Sacred Scripture. Here is just one example:

“Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, to eat bread earned by hard toil — all this God gives to his beloved in sleep” [Ps 127:1-2].
Our passage from the Sermon on the Mount is, of course, about more than freedom from worry. It’s really about how we should live our lives in times of both trouble and joy. And far too many of us live lives that don’t at all conform to Jesus’ expectations.

For example, some months ago I had a brief encounter with a parishioner who approached me right after Mass. She began by asking a straightforward question about the day’s Gospel reading. It related to prayer. I was in a bit of a hurry, so I gave her a pretty sketchy, off-the-cuff answer, one that seemed to satisfy her. But then she said, “I’d really like to deepen my spiritual life, but I just don’t seem to have the time.”

My first thought was one of self-criticism. (I’m pretty sure the Holy Spirit had a lot to do with this.) Here this woman had come to me, hoping for some spiritual direction, and yet I was so wrapped up in my own concerns, I really didn’t want to spend even a few minutes with her.

Her desire for a deeper spirituality is not uncommon. Many of us seek a more intimate relationship with God but become frustrated by the busyness of our lives. Work, family life, and other obligations and demands move God to a back burner. 

Although the woman who approached me is retired, I know she’s active in the community, involved in both recreational activities and charitable work. I won’t criticize her, though, especially in light of my own faults, because she obviously recognized this need in her life, or she wouldn’t have asked the question. I could tell it worried her. 

I suppose it all boils down to how we set our life’s priorities. Of course, she was really asking about prayer, wasn’t she? For it’s through our prayer lives that we deepen our relationship with God. And so, maybe this complaint of not having the time for prayer is worth looking into.

Perhaps we should turn first to the experts, the saints. Interestingly, when we examine the lives of the saints, we discover a kind of happy paradox. You see, the more they prayed, the more time they seemed to have for their apostolic work. Indeed, the busiest of saints – people like St. Dominic, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Benedict, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis of Assisi – all seemed to accomplish enough to fill several long lifetimes. And yet each devoted a considerable amount of time to prayer. 

Let’s return to our Gospel passage where the Lord promised to add “all these things” to those who seek first the kingdom of God. It would seem “all these things” must also include time. In other words, if we give time to God, He will give it back to us with interest.

This probably sounds a bit mysterious, and, like most of God’s doings, I suppose it is. But the importance of time in our spiritual lives becomes clearer if we just look at it from a human perspective, the only perspective you and I can probably understand.

You see, the saints considered time a gift from God, a gift through which they could work out their salvation. But to use this gift well demands some degree of conscious planning, but with special regard to the life of the soul. As any good time-management consultant would tell you, making better use of your time is often just a matter of changing habits. When it comes to your prayer life, you need only develop the habit of prayer. By this I mean turning the most commonplace activities into opportunities for prayer. Let me offer a few examples:
Try saying the Rosary while taking a walk or while waiting in the doctor’s or dentist’s office. After all, what’s more profitable for your soul, reading some two-year-old magazine or meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary?
What’s the first thing you do when you wake up each morning? Why not say, “hello”, to God? Pray some form of the morning offering in which you dedicate your entire day to doing His will in your life. It takes only a minute, and yet it sets the tone, a prayerful tone, for your entire day
Set aside a specific time each day to read from Sacred Scripture – just a few verses from both Old and New Testaments. The Psalms and Gospels might be a good place to start. Read and then meditate on what you have read. How does the Word of God apply to your life this day?
Before going to bed each evening, take a few moments to reflect on your day. Conduct a brief examination of conscience, reviewing your thoughts, words, and deeds, and asking God to help you in obedience to His commandment to love God and neighbor.
Such simple, prayerful acts provide wonderful ways to fix our minds on God as well as making intercession for those around us, especially those who don’t know God’s love. Just think of all the opportunities God gives us for prayer each day. It gives new meaning to what St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit” [1 Thes 5:16-19].
Rejoice always, pray always, give thanks always, and don’t quench the Spirit. Is this the way you and I live our lives?

As Christians we are called not just to make time for prayer, for rejoicing, and for giving thanks. We’re called to do so always, in all circumstances – to do so deliberately and perseveringly, even in the face of great difficulties. This is what our faith really means. To live our faith, we must rejoice always. We must pray without ceasing. We must give thanks in all circumstances. 

Now I don’t know about you, but I find this very difficult, so difficult that I fail daily as I struggle to live my faith. Eventually we must come to terms with our own weakness and realize we can’t do any of this on our own. God wants to lead us on the path to this ideal, this perfection to which He calls us. The first step, then, is how we use His gift of time. 

Remember, to those who love God, everything is a gift, something for which we should give thanks. If we are to give thanks in all circumstances, we must even thank God for this pandemic that has so confused our lives and taken the lives of so many. None of us can speak for others, but we can speak for ourselves. Consider the good that has come to you during this challenging time, the good you have embraced, that which you have ignored, and that which you have yet to experience. Thank God for it all.

If we have been given one thing during the past few months, it is time – time to change those old habits, time to deepen our prayer life, time to allow God to strengthen our relationship with Him. How much of that gift have you wasted on the frivolous and how much have you devoted to worry? 
Dear friends, God’s generosity can never be exceeded. He rewards faithfulness not only with progress in prayer, but also by providing more time to devote to it. You need only ask.

You see, it’s always best to take the Lord at His word. After all, He said, “Ask and it shall be given to you,” so why not simply ask God to lead you in your prayer life, to provide the time you need?

Like all spiritual gifts time must come from God according to His will and not be snatched against His will; therefore, we should not neglect the responsibilities that come with our state in life for the sake of prayer. Prayer is the means by which we allow God to move in our lives. It is not an end in itself. 

What else did St. Paul say? Oh yes, “Do not quench the Spirit!” How often, so wrapped up in our own plans and ways, do we turn away from the Holy Spirit? The soul should trust the Holy Spirit to take care of its sanctification, for He will find wondrous ways to unite the soul more closely to Himself. 

Don’t question the Spirit’s movement, for it is almost always surprising, showing us the power of God by calling us through our weakness. The Spirit works in us and through us even amid life’s confusion and turmoil and an apparent lack of time. 

Remember, too, that God has placed you in this time and place for a reason, to fulfill His will in your life and the lives of those He loves. Trust that He will bring about whatever must happen in your life to lead you and those others to a closer union with Him. 

God calls each of us to be faithful. We need only turn our lives over to Him and allow Him to work within us. By deepening your prayer life, by bringing your life into communion with God’s Will, you can expect Him to work major changes in your life. 

God is a demanding lover, but He will never force Himself on us. Because He respects our freedom, the choice is always up to you and me. But like the perfect lover, He calls constantly, patiently awaiting our response. Only then, only when we have opened ourselves to His love, will He go to work in our lives. Realize, too, that as your relationship with Him deepens, His demands on you will increase. 

I hope this rather disorganized reflection may lead you to a deeper understanding of the need to use God’s gift of time as a means to deepen your relationship with Him. For the faithful, worry achieves nothing because we trust that God will provide all that we need.

Let me conclude with a prayer written by Blessed Charles de Foucauld who was beatified in 2005 by Pope Benedict XVI. Blessed Charles was a soldier, explorer, geographer, Trappist monk, linguist, hermit, and priest. He spent his last years living in North Africa, the only Christian living alone among the Tuaregs, a rather fierce tribe of Muslim desert nomads who ultimately took his life. To our knowledge he converted no one during his lifetime, and yet today his life has become a model for so many, a model of abandonment to God’s Will, regardless of the personal cost. Here is his prayer…

Father, I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do,
I thank you.
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

What more can we give our God than this?

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Memorial Day

I suppose it's a sign of age, but I still can't get used to this Monday holiday thing. For my younger readers, assuming I have any, the change came about in 1968 when Congress passed the cleverly named Uniform Monday Holiday Act. As a result, in 1971 Memorial Day began to be celebrated on the last Monday of May. 

I much preferred it when Memorial Day always fell on May 30, no matter what. It seemed far more sacred when it didn't just mean the third day of a three-day weekend. In some respects, and to a large portion of our citizenry, Memorial Day has lost its meaning. This morning, for example, I watched as a stream of young, college-age kids were interviewed on some beach. For most Memorial Day simply meant another day to party, instead of a special day to thank those who gave their lives so they could enjoy theirs. 

I really can't envision an easy way to educate the younger generations on such things since our school systems probably teach that our dead soldiers, sailors, and marines were just a collection of militaristic racists, fascists, and Islamophobes. Too many of their parents haven't a clue either, so maybe it's up to the grandparents, while we're still around. 

My opinion? Get rid of all those three-day weekends. The birthdays of George Washington (February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (February 12) got dumped in favor of the insipid Presidents Day, now celebrated on the third Monday of February. I would guess a vast majority of American under the age of 40 don't know that Presidents Day celebrates the lives of these two men: Washington and Lincoln. A few years ago, one of our soup kitchen guests told me that Presidents Day celebrated "Obama's birthday." She was more than a little disappointed when I informed her of its actual purpose.

And then there's Columbus Day...Yes, we still celebrate the anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the Americas. Originally celebrated on October 12, it was moved to the second Monday of October. 

Of course, the politically correct crowd considers Columbus to be guilty of genocide and lump him together with such pleasant people as Adolph Hitler. Although it's still, thankfully, a national holiday, many states have stopped celebrating Columbus Day, replacing it with such holidays as Indigenous Peoples Day or Discoverers Day or Native American Day. I'm sorry, but I'll stick with Columbus. And do you know something else? I'm glad the Europeans came here and took over, bringing Christianity with them. Yes, they weren't always kind to the natives, but in truth the natives had a history of being far more brutal to each other. This doesn't excuse those who mistreated the indigenous folks, but like today too many didn't practice their Christian faith. Anyway, come October 12, I will raise a glass of good Italian wine in a salute to that intrepid explorer.

This year, because the nation will celebrate Memorial Day on Monday, May 25, and since May 30 falls on Saturday, I've decided to celebrate Memorial Week instead. 

I will thank God first for the many men I knew well who gave their lives for us -- men like Henry Wright and Bart Creed, just two of many of my Naval Academy classmates (1967) who lost their lives during the Vietnam conflict. I'll also remember Ron Zinn, my brother's West Point classmate (1962) and roommate who died in combat in Vietnam. This week I will pray for the souls of these men, as well as all the other valiant men I knew who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. 
USNA Class (1967) Service Deaths
I will also thank God for those in my family who served this country honorably but are no longer with us. Since none of them died in combat, I realize it's more fitting to celebrate their lives on Veterans Day. But each of these men were more than willing to give up their lives for their country. I think of my grandfather, Sgt. John McCarthy, who served in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and then took part in the rescue mission to Peking during the Boxer Rebellion. I think, too, of my Uncle Bill Dorley, who served in the Navy aboard an Atlantic destroyer during World War One; and my father, Colonel John McCarthy, who served in Europe during and after World War Two; and my brother, Major Jeff McCarthy, who, like me, served in Vietnam. 

I ask you all to call to mind those you knew who gave their lives so that we might live ours in freedom. Thank God for them this week. Pray for their souls, that our loving God take them into His eternal embrace. Jesus said it best the night before He died: 

"Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" [Jn 15:13].
And remember, too, that freedom is a precious commodity. Too many of our politicians have little or no respect for freedom or for those who died defending it. Keep that in mind when you vote this November.

Pray for our nation this week.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

What Are They Saying?

I keep hearing people say some very odd things, sometimes stupid things. I'm sure many don't realize how strange their words sound, but maybe if they actually thought about what they're saying, they'd stop saying it. For example:

"We're all in this together." 

No, we're not. The protected classes certainly aren't. These include the multi-millionaires and billionaires, the Wall Street denizens, most professionals, tenured academics, government bureaucrats at all levels, media talking heads, and of course, members of Congress, state legislators, mayors, and city council members...and so many more. All of these well-protected people are pretty much isolated from the more dire effects of the coronavirus least its short-term effects. These are also the people who make most of the decisions that affect the hard-working citizens of the USA.

Another group includes the non-working poor; that is, those who receive regular welfare payments, food stamps, Medicaid, and all the rest. They, too, have been largely unaffected by the pandemic, at least financially. Their checks have continued and they've even received a nice big bonus. I know this because I've spoken privately with a lot of these folks, my soup-kitchen friends, and most are very content with the current situation. Interestingly, several told me they are receiving even more meals and other food and household products since the pandemic, largely because charitable contributions and governmental assistance have increased dramatically. Yes, there are some exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions.
Another group includes me; that is, those of us who are retired and receive monthly checks from the U.S. Treasury. My income isn't very high, but it certainly didn't drop. Indeed, it experienced a nice rise when my bank account received that government bonus check. Other than experiencing a little "cabin fever," most of us have weathered the pandemic fairly well.

There are a few other unaffected groups, but let's turn our attention to those who have been hammered most by the coronavirus debacle: the working poor and the middle class. Also included here are the entrepreneurs, the folks who create jobs and keep our economy going. Unfortunately, these are the people who, disproportionately, have lost their jobs and income and may well lose their businesses. 

The leftist totalitarians, who demonstrate an insatiable desire to run every aspect of our lives, consider businesses, especially small businesses, so very non-essential. Big businesses are generous with campaign contributions, but most small businesses reinvest their profits where they will do the most good: in their businesses and employees. The fact that small businesses employ 50% of American workers means nothing. The left, you see, wants everyone to work for the government; that is, they want socialism. If you're a barber in Michigan, if you own a bar in Chicago, a gym in New Jersey, a restaurant in Manhattan, or a gun shop in LA, and if you decide to reopen your business, you can expect special treatment from the dictator wannabes who lead these states. How about a hefty fine or a cozy bunk in one of their jails? After all, they've made room for you because they've freed so many child molesters, rapists, and other criminals. Lifelong politicians don't have a clue. Remember that when you cast your next ballot.

Then there's this one:

"Join us in supporting America's essential workers."

I heard these words during a commercial aired by some company that wanted us all to know they provided material, moral, and emotional support to healthcare workers, fire and police, and other key "essential" workers. The commercial included a rapid-fire series of images of the kinds of people who fit their narrow criteria. It was one of those "pat ourselves on the back" commercials by a company that has furloughed a bunch of their own "non-essential" employees.

My problem relates to the essential vs. non-essential designation. It really boils down to decisions made by politicians or government bureaucrats who likely have never worked in the private sector or had to invest sweat equity in a business they owned. We see the result when power-hungry governors and mayors fine or order the arrest of owners of small businesses who actually believe the Constitution was written to protect them from tyrants. 

These same un-Constitutional decisions are too often influenced by political considerations. For example, why is a Walmart employee essential, but a local deli worker non-essential? Why is a Planned Parenthood abortionist essential, but an orthopedic surgeon who performs knee, shoulder, or hip replacements non-essential? Why is a news reporter more essential than a priest, minister, or rabbi? After all they're all protected by the First Amendment. And why is a member of Congress, who really does very little, essential, but a barber, who provides a needed service, non-essential? Believe me, my barber, a wonderful man named Salty, has done far more for me than my congressman. When it comes to the economy, pandemic or not, every job that feeds families and keeps people employed is essential...period!

And how about these words...

"You are violating the governor's orders..."

These were spoken by a police officer and addressed to the owner of a gym in Bellmahr, NJ. 

Colonel Patrick Callahan, New Jersey State Police Superintendent, stated that in addition to a summons for violating Governor Phil Murphy's stay-at-home order, the owners of Atilis Gym were charged with making a public nuisance. Gym owners Ian Smith and Frank Trumbetti had stated that they intended to remain open. They took every necessary precaution to protect their members from the coronavirus. They followed all the guidelines to ensure social distancing, as well as proper cleanliness and disinfecting of equipment. One of the owners correctly stated that it was primarily a Constitutional issue, that the governor's executive orders violated the Constitutional rights of American citizens. They had broken no laws. 

At this point I intend to write something that will upset many of my readers, but I really don't care, because it is the truth.

The gym owners, because they are willing to sacrifice their livelihood and their freedom, to place it all on the line in support of their Constitutional rights, are men of courage. As someone who wore the uniform of the United States Navy for several decades, I swore an oath "to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..." I also swore to obey the orders of those "appointed over me." But if an order violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice -- i.e., if it were illegal -- I could not legally obey it. The New Jersey State Police also take an oath and it too requires that they defend the Constitution of the United States; indeed, that's the very first element of their oath.

Although the governor has shown himself to be a power-hungry little dictator, the people of New Jersey can handle him through the electoral process, assuming they are wise enough to discern what's he's doing to their freedoms. My real problem, though, is with the police. The police, according to the NJ State Police General Order #1, may arrest or issue a summons only when someone has violated the law. The governor's orders, however, are not laws. Laws can only be enacted by the state legislature. Why, then, are the police acting as they are? I can think of only two reasons: (1) They are simply ignorant and don't realize what does and does not constitute a law. In other words, they do not understand the U. S. or New Jersey Constitutions and the rights of citizens; or (2) They fear the consequences of disobedience, should they fail to summons or arrest those who violate the governor's illegal order. In other words, they don't want to be fired or otherwise punished by the governor.

The upshot? The gym owners have shown themselves to be courageous men with a deep respect for our Constitutional freedoms. And the police who are involved in this injustice? Watching some of the interactions between police and those asserting their freedoms, one senses the officers are somewhat embarrassed to challenge these law-abiding citizens. One also hopes they are merely ignorant, because I'd hate to think of them as cowardly.

I have always had tremendous respect for our law enforcement officers at every level, local state, and federal. But when they encounter corruption at the highest levels, they are faced with a choice. They can go along, hoping it will go away. Of course, it won't, not until it is openly confronted. They can refuse to take part and either be fired or perhaps allowed to resign. Or they can fight it using whatever means available to them. Sadly, most seem to choose the first option.

Many of these governors are currently being sued for taking such draconian, un-Constitutional actions. As these suits move through the courts I expect the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against the governors. I simply can't imagine the justices agreeing to set aside the Bill of Rights because of a virus.

"You can't save everyone. You're gonna lose people. That's life."

No, Governor Cuomo, that's death. 

New York's governor, Andrew "Liveshot" Cuomo, uttered these words when questioned about his order demanding nursing homes accept patients infected by COVID-19. This order, which the average 10-year-old would realize was idiotic, resulted in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of New York's senior citizens, those most vulnerable to the effects of this virus. I actually take this decision by the governor personally because, at the age of 75, I'm right there in the mix with all these elderly people who are no longer with us. 

Why did this happen? The governor told us: "You're gonna lose people." And if "you're gonna lose people," I suppose you might as well lose those who count the least. This is how today's leftists think. Sanctity of life means absolutely nothing to them. Not only are some jobs more essential than others, so too are some lives. 

The unborn, for example, are essentially meaningless. They simply don't count. For some on the left, who strive to limit the effects of humanity on the planet, the best approach is to stop humans from being born. If contraception doesn't do the job, just snuff 'em out in the womb. The aged, too, have become unnecessary. Not only do they no longer contribute much to society, but it also costs far too much to keep them alive. The numbers tell the story. They're living so much longer now. Social security, government pensions, all adds up. Just send a bunch of infected folks into those nursing homes and let nature run its course.

Of course, creating a culture of death that supports abortion and euthanasia also helps undermine the left's most powerful enemy, organized religion, especially those faiths that actually cherish God's gift of life. And while I'm on the subject, thank you, Mr. President, for encouraging the states to open up our churches. It's about time. Let's hope they listen.

Some church leaders have been courageously defying governors' orders that blatantly violate the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, the amendment that bars government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion. Here's a recent article addressing the issue:

And kudos to the Catholic Bishops of Minnesota who decided to allow parishes to celebrate Mass with parishoners present despite the order banning services by Governor Tim Walz. Their action obviously put the pressure on the governor who then rescinded his order. See the story:

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Bureaucracy and Courage

Here's a phrase I never expected to utter: "One cheer for Elon Musk!" Yep, I have to hand it to the Tesla architect and SpaceX pioneer who has shown us all that government bureaucracy is no friend of working people, economic growth, or the Constitution. 
Elon Musk
According to Musk, an "unelected and ignorant Interim Health Officer" of Alameda County (California), ignoring "Constitutional freedoms and just plain common sense," decided that Musk's Tesla plant should not reopen for business. Musk, so incensed about this seemingly capricious decision by a local bureaucrat, plans not only to sue the county but also to move his manufacturing operations from California to Nevada or Texas.

As expected, Musk defied the local authorities and opened the Alameda plant on Monday. It's now up and running, with Musk claiming he has joined his employees on the production line. Of course, the relevant local government agencies, when asked who was responsible for responding to this violation of the county's mandates, all pointed in different directions. The county sheriff's office, the local police, and the county health office each suggested that others should address the issue. Musk went on to state that he'll be in the plant and "if anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me." Predictably, the county caved and will now allow the plant to open next Monday, even though it's been open all week. Go figure!

Yes, Elon Musk is controversial and more than a little odd. He claims to be "socially liberal and fiscally conservative," a far too common but contradictory blend of beliefs that betrays a lack of moral foundation. But on this issue he's absolutely correct. Can anyone really doubt his company's ability to open the Alameda plant safely? I'm pretty sure Musk's production people can run things better and more safely than most supermarkets. Our local Walmart, for example, seems to have done little to encourage safe shopping. Other than the sanitizing of shopping cart handles, I've seen few changes. It's no wonder Musk's employees (and many investors) think highly of him. Personally, if I had money to invest, which I don't, I probably wouldn't invest in Musk's companies. But if my past decisions are any guide, I'm not the best source for investment advice.

Anyhow, all of this led me to think a bit about leadership, good management, bureaucracy, and courage. Let me begin with a simple truth: when an announced policy applies to everyone without exception and under all circumstances, it ceases being a policy and becomes instead an inflexible rule

The problem with rules is that they do not allow for interpretation but are applied unthinkingly to every situation. Certainly, some rules are necessary. For example, no passenger on an airplane would want the pilot to fly intoxicated. Requiring a pilot to be sober is a good rule and demands little interpretation. But too often, because rules are easy to make and enforce, lazy managers prefer rules over policies. In the same way, bureaucrats and incompetent politicians deal with problems by applying the same solution regardless of geography and demographics. But such reliance on inflexible rules is driven by more than laziness or incompetence. It also indicates a lack of courage. It takes little courage to defend the application of a rule: "They disobeyed the executive order and must accept the consequences." How often have we heard such words from governors and bureaucrats?  

It's far more difficult to interpret a policy, applying it as needed to differing situations. The development, application, and interpretation of policies is hard work. The decision maker must actually seek out and listen to the varying opinions of others and be willing to change the policy as conditions change or new information arises. It also takes courage because it demands a willingness to admit mistakes, to say, "I was wrong!"

The president, through his federalist approach, has issued policy guidelines and encouraged the governors to apply them wisely to their states' unique situations. He realizes that there can be no "one size fits all" approach in a nation as large and diverse as the United States. Unfortunately, many of our state governors are far from wise and fail to understand this. One can only hope that their actions are simply the result of stupidity and not motivated by something more sinister, by motives that place political considerations above the good of the country and the lives of its citizens. 

Latest update: Musk has been talking with Texas governor, Greg Abbott. According to the governor, “I’ve had the opportunity to talk to Elon Musk and he’s genuinely interested in Texas and genuinely frustrated with California,...We’ve just got to wait and see how things play out.”

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pandemics and Politics

Life has been strange here in The Villages, certainly not what most folks expected when they moved to "Florida's Friendliest Hometown." But thanks to our governor, things are changing. For weeks Villagers were tucked away in their home, unable to do all those things "active seniors" enjoy. No movies, no concerts, no club  meetings. No pickle ball, no card games, no mahjong, no bingo or bunco. The pools were closed, as were all the recreation centers. OK, they could play some golf.. But what about all that free live evening entertainment at The Villages' three town squares, and the "happy hour" prices? Canceled too. Kaput! Gonzo!

Gone, too, were the frequent dinners at our restaurants and country clubs. Apparently many Villagers can afford to dine out daily. I know this because I've heard the complaints, over and over again. How did they cope with the withdrawal? Did they take advantage of take-out meals offered by some restaurants, or did they resort to frozen dinners from Publix or Winn-Dixie? Maybe a few actually renewed their culinary skills and cooked a few meals at home. But I suspect it just ain't the same as Olive Garden or Red Lobster. The bars, too, were closed and predictably sales at liquor stores went off the charts. Yes, indeed, it's been so hard for so many.

Of course, church attendance has been non-existent, and for us Catholics, the sacraments have been withdrawn. It's almost as if we've been placed under an ecclesial interdict. How did the fathers of the Second Vatican Council describe the Eucharist? "...the source and summit of the Christian life" [Lumen Gentium, 11]. And yet the faithful found themsevles deprived of this life-sustaining gift. Fortunately, the faithful are indeed faithful, and are an example to all of us, even the clergy. So many, thirsting for Word and Eucharist, have taken advantage of recorded and live-streamed Masses -- a sure sign of hope -- as they wait for a return of the sacraments.

Most people I speak with view this crisis rather narrowly, focusing solely on how it has affected them or their families. And this is certaily understandable, especially since most of us are physically separated from children and grandchildren. But there are really two demographic groups that deserve our attention: aging residents of what are euphemistically called "nursing homes" and working families with school-age children.

Of those who have died from COVID-19, the vast majority have been the elderly, particularly residents of nursing homes or other assisted living facilities. We've all heard of the tragic decisions by the authorities in New York, Pennsylvania, and other states to send hospitalized infected seniors back to their assisted living facilities rather than isolating them. City and state authorities in NY certainly had the capability to isolate since President Trump had sent the hospital ship, USNS Comfort, to New York City and also had the U. S. Army turn the huge Javits Center into a hospital. Both were rarely used, despite the seemingly panicked pleas by the governor and mayor for more facilities. Instead, the authorities demanded that when hospitals released infected elderly patients, the nursing homes must re-admit them. The result? Thousands died.

Let's look now at the data -- nationwide data direct from the Center for Disease Control. It covers the three-month period, February 1 through May 2:
  • 80% of those whose deaths were directly related to COVID-19 were over the age of 65 (50,819 of 63,469 total deaths).
  • Of these 63,469 deaths, only 13 deaths were of children under the age of 15. In fact, during that same period, and in that same age group, 107 children died from pneumonia and 85 from influenza.
  • For young people of high school and collage age (15 to 24), 66 died from COVID-19 related illness, again out of 63,469 total deaths. During that same period 143 died from pneumonia and 41 from influenza.
Just think about these numbers. It would seem that all along our emphasis should have focused largely on the elderly. I don't say this because I am in this age group. No, from the very beginning we were told the elderly would be the most vulnerable. And guess what? They are. But apparently some governors consider us old folks expendable. Instead of working to keep us safe, they turned their attention to the economy and proceeded to undermine it. They focused instead on destroying the livelihood of working families by shutting down the businesses that employ them, particularly the smaller businesses that lack political clout. They closed the schools, although children are the least susceptible demographic when it comes to COVID-19. More children and young adults have died from pneumonia and influenza during this same period.

I'm not minimizing the death of a single child, but we've never shut down schools because of pneumonia or influenza, just as we didn't do so because of polio when I was a child. Am I wrong about this? I don't know. Perhaps. But what I do know is that too often we nod with unthinking acceptance at the decisions made by politicians, who are driven largely by political considerations and the opinions of well-chosen "experts." But what is an expert but someone with expertise in a narrow field of knowledge? For example, what does an epidemiologist, especially one employed by a government bureaucracy, know about the economy and employment and the cost of doing business? Not much! And yet we seem to accept their wide-ranging recommendations almost blindly, without considering the long-term effects on our nation as a whole. Only now have we begun to question what they know about their own field when applied to demographics. Their pandemic "models" have been remarkably and consistently inaccurate, largely because they tend to ignore or discount the human element; that is, the cumulative effect of the micro-decisions made by people like you and me.

Too many experts and politicians simply ignore the impact of their recommendations and decisions on what is probably the most important element of our society: the working family. Forced to leave their jobs, deprived of their income, and forced, too, to home school their children, they are plagued not by the coronavirus but by worry about their family's future. And isn't it strange that these same governors consider education (along with religion) the most non-essential of all activities?

Finally, isn't it interesting that the most "liberal" of governors are also the most authoritarian, and seem to thrive on the elixir of power? I won't beat this drum again here since I did so in a recent post: Power and Precedent

That's enough. It's late. I'm tired. Good night.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Coping with COVID-19

OK, folks, it's time for a little humor, a few minutes of crystal-clear commentary on how we should handle the current crisis. The video embedded below, direct from Adley, presents what is probably the most rational approach to coping with COVID-19. Remember, listen to the "experts" -- they'll never steer you wrong.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Non-Essential Work

One of my sons was just informed he will be laid off this week, and will be out of work until at least the end of June. His company had already laid off the vast majority of its employees because its primary business could not continue given the Cononavirus restrictions imposed by our government. In other words, his job, along with the jobs of thousands of his colleagues, is considered by the "experts" to be non-essential. As a result, none of those employees will be paid. 

Interestingly, though, some highly paid non-essential workers have continued to receive every nickel of their pay, even though they are performing no useful work. Yes, indeed, the members of the United States Congress, both senators and representatives, haven't done a lick of legislative work in weeks, but you and I keep paying them. Okay, the Senate finally returned to work this past week, but not the House. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House -- a woman, by the way, who speaks entirely too much -- apparently agrees that she and her House colleagues are completely non-essential since she has stated it would be unhealthy for them to return to work. In this, however, she's mistaken. It's not our legislators who will have to worry about their health. No, it's the people -- that's you and me -- who will suffer when House members return to what they euphemistically call work. When Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, and the rest of Madam Speaker's fawning toadies return to the Capitol, everything you have, including what remains of your health and wealth, will be at greater risk.

Do you think they'll continue to stay home until January 3? Perhaps that's the question we should be asking. Would it be worse if our House legislators returned to Washington or just stayed away? 

What the heck! We already know they're non-essential, and it's only eight months until January.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Elections and Advocacy

I recently received a memorandum from the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops warning pastors and parishes to avoid involvement with "outside organizations" that engage in direct political activity during what portends to be a "very divisive" 2020 election season. Several groups are mentioned in the memo, specifically: CatholicVote, Priests for Life, Catholics United, My Faith Votes, and the League of Women Voters. When it comes to these and other outside organizations, the Florida bishops' memo expressed a number of concerns (quoted here):
  • Many of these groups tend to focus on a single or limited number of issues and do not cover the board concerns of the Church; others may stand in opposition to the bishops' position on an issue.
  • These organizations may endorse (or oppose) candidates for elective office, as well as provide candidates with direct financial support, which does not conform to the nonpartisan nature of the Church and risks scrutiny of the Church's tax-exempt status.
  • Distribution of materials by outside organizations and sharing of parishioner lists is contrary to the policies identified in the Election & Political Activities Guide (EPAG) (page 5). By going directly to pastors or parishioners, some may be seeking to circumvent the political activity guidelines of the FCCB.
The memorandum concluded with a boldfaced caution:
"Therefore, we urge you to caution diocesan staff, pastors and parishes from participation in outreach by these and other outside organizations."
In the above-mentioned document (EPAG) several paragraphs relate to my position as an ordained permanent deacon of the Catholic Church. I have quoted the first, entitled "Endorsements and Electioneering," (page 5) here:
Pastors and Church leaders must avoid endorsements, contributions, electioneering or other political activity when acting in their official capacity. Although personal endorsements are not prohibited, it may be difficult to separate personal activity from one's role as a representative of the Church. Officials and employees of the Church, acting in their individual capacities on political matters, must make clear that they are not acting as representatives of the Church or any Church organization.
Just so you know, in my blog header I have stated that the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions, and by expressing them, I do not do so as a representative of the Church.

A second relevant paragraph, also on page 5, is entitled "Websites, Social Media and Electronic Communications" and is quoted here:
Many parishes maintain websites and utilize email to communicate with parishioners and the general public. The guidelines set forth here apply equally to websites, social media sites and all electronic communications. Diocesan or parish sites must not link to other online sites that support or oppose candidates or political parties. Consult with your diocesan attorney or the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops before posting any political content or links to political content on web or social media sites.
To ease your concerns -- assuming any reader of this blog might actually be concerned -- "Being is Good" is a personal blog. It is neither a diocesan nor a parish site. To my knowledge no parish or diocesan website links to this blog, something over which I would have no control. As a personal site, however, this blog can include links to other sites, even those representing organizations that might engage in political advocacy based on one or more issues. On occasion I might even indicate my support for a particular candidate, or perhaps more likely, my opposition to one or more candidates who espouse positions I believe no Catholic should support. Again, any political support or opposition expressed in this blog are my personal opinions, and nothing more. 

Of course, this is all very sad. And don't you just love the clause, "Consult with your diocesan attorney...", before getting "political"? It actually makes me cringe. This is what we have come to. We must consult lawyers before we can speak the truth, so we don't "risk scrutiny of the Church's tax-exampt status."

Personally (just my opinion), I think the day will come, and I believe it could come very soon, when our religious freedom, the first freedom enshrined by our Constitution, will become subservient to the whims of political leaders whom we were afraid to oppose. How did the great G. K. Chesterton put it?
"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die."
During my many years wearing the uniform of my country, I often encountered the kind of courage extolled by Chesterton. I see little evidence such courage is so widespread today. 

When I was ordained I agreed to obey my bishop, and I will continue to do so. It would, however, be heartening to see a little more courage expressed by those God has chosen to lead His Church.

Pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and pray for our  bishops, whose consecration calls them to follow the courageous lead of the Apostles.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Holy Father's Prayer Intentions

How nice that Pope Francis has chosen deacons as the subject of his prayer intentions for the month of May. I ask all who visit this blog to keep us deacons in your prayers; and know that you certainly remain in mine.

The full text of the Holy Father's intention:
Deacons are not second-level priests. They are part of the clergy and live their vocation in and with their family. They are dedicated to the service of the poor, who carry within them the face of the suffering Christ. They are the guardians of service in the Church. Let us pray that deacons, in their service to the Word and the poor, may be an invigorating symbol for the entire Church.
Thank you, Holy Father. We need the prayers of all the faithful.

Videos of Bible Study Reflections

The videos embedded below are the first four of the COVID-19 reflections I prepared and sent out to our parish's Bible Study participants. Written between April 2 and April 23, they were recorded as videos in late April. 

The purpose of these weekly reflections was to help our Bible Study regulars keep Sacred Scripture in mind until we can once again come together to study the God's Word in community.  As I prepared each reflection I tried to show how Scripture can help us as we face the challenges of this viral pandemic. I hope I have been at least partically successful.

I believe the parish intends to post one of these videos each Monday (beginning May 4) on its YouTube site which you can access via, the parish's main website. The idea is to make them available to all parishioners. I decided, however, to include all four here since my Bible Study regulars have already received the texts of each reflection. I saw no reason to make them wait for the video versions.

I haven't yet watched the videos (and probably won't). They were recorded, one after another, during a couple of hours on one morning last month. I expect the quality of my presentation probably deteriorated as the recordings progressed. I wasn't feeling particularly well that morning anyway. It was just a few days before I was diagnosed with shingles. I trust you will understand, and forgive any goofs, etc.

Of course, if you decide to watch all four of these videos during a single sitting, you'd have to spend well over an hour doing so. That's something I wouldn't recommend to anyone. To save you from that, I've also included links to the text versions of each, posted earlier on this blog.

I've written and sent out a fifth reflection -- To Be a Disciple -- but am not sure whether it will be recorded. 

Here is the video of reflection #1, written and published as text on April 2: God's Purpose

Here is the video of reflection #2, written and published as text on April 11: The Book of Job.

Here is the video of reflection #3, written and published as text on April 17: The Divine Gift of Trees.

And, finally, here is the video of reflection #4, written and published as text on April 23: Divine Mercy.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Power and Precedent

I suspect some of my regular readers might not be pleased with this post, but that's fine. We can always agree to disagree. But I thought this had to be said, given some of the comments I've received during the past few weeks.
COVID-19, this microscopic virus, has apparently generated so much fear in the hearts of so many that they're willing to stop working, avoid public worship, and hide in their homes, unconcerned that doing so may well bring about a future far worse than the present. So many brush aside any concern for the abdication of their freedoms, that they willingly allow government officials at all levels to control the minutia of their lives. They have apparently concluded that our Constitution applies only when things go well. Once faced with a societal hiccup, they toss aside those God-given rights, all for the sake of safety.

Now don't get me wrong. I understand the need for precautions when dealing with such a nasty disease as the coronavirus. But to use it as an excuse to shred the Bill of Rights is a very dangerous precedent. Things might well return to some version of normal once the pandemic has passed -- although I doubt it -- but the die has been cast. The American people, at least a good number of them, have demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice freedom for safety. By doing so they display more than ignorance of their constitutional rights; they also display ignorance of human nature. 

People to whom we delegate power -- and since in this nation "we the people" are sovereign, the government has only the power we give it -- will almost always tend to abuse that power. James Madison recognized this when, in the Federalist Papers, he wrote:
"If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary" [The Federalist, 51].
Men, of course, are not angelic, so we need the controls Madison mentions. The internal controls on government are found in the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, while the controls external to the government are most evident when people petition the government or protest its abuse of power. And we've certainly seen much of the latter in recent weeks.
James Madison (1751-1836)
It's the violations of the First Amendment that most trouble me. Have you read the Bill of Rights lately? Just check out the language of the First Amendment:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
How does forcing us to close our churches and prohibiting the public celebration of the Mass and other sacraments not violate the prohibition of the free exercise of religion? 

Churches, like citizens, can adapt to the needs of safety without giving up their most basic rights. Believe me, once we allow government to ignore its foundational documents for the sake of a viral pandemic, it will find other reasons to do so in the future. When I encounter such corruption in government, I cannot help but recall the famous words of another of my heroes, Lord Acton:
"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Lord Acton (1834-1902)
According to Acton power "tends" to corrupt. In other words, if it isn't resisted, it will lead to corruption. But when it comes to absolute power, Lord Acton believed it is simply too great a temptation to resist. Several of our nation's governors and mayors have apparently fallen prey to this desire for absolute power. One can only hope that "we the people" reward them the next time they're up for reelection.

What's the solution in the face of a pandemic? I don't know. I'm not smart enough. But I do know there are enough intelligent, honest, and humble folks out there who can offer us reasonable means to achieve an acceptable degree of safety while still protecting our rights from those who would abuse them.

My biggest concern, though, is that too many folks seem to be afraid for their lives, while so few are afraid for their eternal life. Faith over fear!