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, October 31, 2020

Morning Prayer Reflection: The Song of Moses

Several years ago I posted occasional reflections on the day's Morning Prayer of the Church's Liturgy of the Hours. For some reason I can't  recall, I stopped writing these brief reflections. My guess is that life just got too busy and I simply didn't have the time. Really a poor excuse, since my reflecting on Morning Prayer probably helped me far more than it helped those few who actually read my thoughts. Such reflection is spiritually valuable only if we act on it, and perhaps I just hadn't been willing to live up to my own words. 

Anyway, I’ve decided to try it again, not every day because time remains an issue, but occasionally as the Spirit moves me. 

Perhaps, because of the emphasis on the un-natural, the pervasive influence of technology in our lives, I find myself attracted to the frequent images of nature we encounter in Scripture. In today’s Morning Prayer, for example, we find several of these references:

From Deuteronomy 32:1-2

Give ear, O heavens, while I speak; 
let the earth hearken to the words of my mouth!
May my instruction soak in like the rain, 
and my discourse permeate like the dew,
like a downpour upon the grass, 
like a shower upon the crops:

Here we encounter multiple images — rain, dew, downpour, shower — all likening God’s Word to the purifying, nourishing flow of water from the heavens to the earth. These words, the opening verses of the Song of Moses [Dt 32:1-43], are a prayer, an appeal to both heaven and earth. Among the final words of Moses before his death, they offer us a prophetic view of what awaits the people of Israel and their successors, the People of God. Take a few minutes now, open your Bible, and read the entire hymn. Note how many natural images Moses applied to God’s work in the world, His care for His people, and their response. Indeed, the entire hymn is filled with these images, reflecting a world with which the people were intimately familiar. 

For example, God is like the eagle who encourages its young nestlings [Dt 32:11], and provided His people with nature’s bounty, with all that the earth offers [Dt 32:13-14]. But we also encounter other, very different images when Moses prophesied the Lord’s response to the people’s faithlessness. Here he compared God’s actions to the harsh side of nature:

“Emaciating hunger and consuming fever
And bitter pestilence,
And the teeth of wild beasts I will send among them,
With the venom of reptiles gliding in the dust” [Dt 32:24].

I expect those listening to Moses were familiar enough with the reality portrayed by all these images, and took them to heart. But this led me to wonder about our response today. Recently I read that although there are more than two million farms in the U.S., only slightly more than one percent of our nation’s workforce is directly involved in agriculture. Most Americans live in urban or suburban areas, isolated from nature’s bounty and protected from its harshness. Few have probably ever set foot on a farm or experienced the need to cooperate with nature to earn a living or just to survive. I experienced the latter when the Navy ordered me to attend training programs for both desert and jungle survival. They proved to be far more intense than my childhood Cub Scout camping trips, and led me to appreciate some of the benefits of civilized society.

Today, in our increasingly technological, industrial society, this separation from nature begins early. Years ago, when Diane worked as a teacher in the Head Start program, she told the children that the milk they drank came from cows. One little boy, Michael, could not accept this, exclaiming, “No! Milk does not come from cows. It comes from the store. I know because I’ve seen my mama buy it there.” That was proof enough for him. End of discussion. Admittedly, Michael was a little boy from the inner city, but what about you and me? As we pour milk on our oatmeal or Cheerios, how often do we actually think of that milk coming from a cow on some dairy farm? And Isn’t this also true of that nice, thick steak at Outback, or the chicken sandwich from Chick-fil-A, or that glass of Pinot Noir with your dinner? When you take a drive through the rural countryside, can you identify the crops growing in the fields? About all I can recognize for certain are corn and cotton. As for the rest, I can’t tell soybeans from alfalfa. Like little Michael, I too was pretty much a city boy. As a child my closest encounters with nature consisted of mowing the lawn and raking the leaves.

All of this leaves me wondering how seldom we turn to God in thanksgiving for all He has given us. He is the God of Nature, the God of all creation. Yes, He has given us the intellect and will to use His natural gifts in wonderful ways, but it all has its source in Him. Too often, like Diane’s little Michael, we attribute the gift to the wrong giver. As a society we have replaced God with man, replaced the true Giver with just another user.

Perhaps today we should all step outside and take a long walk through a tiny piece of God’s creation, thanking Him for the gift of our world and all it offers us. And so, I’ll conclude with these words from Psalm 95, which we pray every day in the Invitatory of the Liturgy of the Hours:

The Lord is God, the mighty God,
the great king over all the gods.
He holds in his hands the depths of the earth
and the highest mountains as well.
He made the sea; it belongs to him,
the dry land, too, for it was formed by his hands [Ps 95:3-5].

Friday, October 30, 2020

Thoughts on Today’s Techno-Culture

In just a few years we as a nation have elevated a collection of poorly educated but technically competent men and women to a level of undeserved importance. How high is this level? So high they have come to believe they are destined to control all that we hear and see and read and think. Having watched some of their recent Senate testimony, I was amazed at their arrogance and their dishonesty. These technocrats seem to think that because they have mastered their little slice of technology and all the power that comes with it, they are smarter, more worthy, and more virtuous than the masses...and that’s us. This should give us cause for concern.

Some time ago, I made a note of the following comment. Unfortunately I failed to note the writer, so I trust he won’t object to this bit of accidental plagiarism. He described what he called our “technical wizards” as slaves to their own technology, and without it they are impotent. They are synthetic men, uprooted from the good that God has given us, the strength of our forefathers is not ours.” 

I really liked that comment. But someone else, the late great, Romano Guardini, wrote something truly prophetic almost 100 years ago. Writing as a young theologian, he saw the movement of technology, it’s growing influence, and its disdain for the traditions and the cultural norms that shaped his world, a world he believed was disappearing. It’s a world I experienced many years ago, a world that has dissolved into barbarism. Guardini wrote these words:

“On the basis of a known formula, materials and forces are put into the required condition: machines. Machines are an iron formula that directs the material to its desired end. Time and space are made subject as well as materials and forces. They are mastered by means of communications. What is to come is calculated in advance, and what has taken place is preserved” [Romano Guardini, Letters from Lake Como, p. 46].

I don’t know the answer to pervasive technology and those that strive to control it and us. I suppose just pulling the plug is overkill.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The more things change...

Thinking of the election and its meaning for our nation’s future, I turned back to the Old Testament and realized Moses said it best in words that echo God’s truth through the ages:

“See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandment of the Lord, your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in His ways, and by keeping His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it...I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse, therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying His voice, and clinging to Him, for that means life to you and length of days, that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” [Dt 30:15-17,19-20].

Moses was preparing God’s people for their life in the Promised Land. By doing so, he foreshadowed the call of Jesus who prepares the People of God (that’s us) for their journey to eternal life. Our world today is very different from that of Moses’ day, but the will of God for His people remains the same.

Choose Life!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Time to Vote

About all I'll say with regard to the current electon -- assuming, of course, that you have not yet cast your ballot -- is VOTE PRO-LIFE!! 

I have never voted for a pro-abortion (aka, pro-choice) candidate in any election. How could I? Anyone who can support abortion, the willful slaughter of the most innocent among us, will likely support anything. And that's the most disturbing thing about pro-abortion politicians and those who support them. 

Dear Diane and I will be on a brief vacation in advance of election day, and will take time to pray for our country and those we have elected or intend to elect. We pray that all turn to God in humility and strive only to do His will for our nation and in their lives. 

And remember, our God, a loving God, the God of mercy and forgiveness, is in complete charge of His Creation, and that includes this country and it’s people. His ways are so very different from ours, so we accept all and thank Him for all. Everything is a gift for those who love the Lord. 

Faith over fear, dear friends.

God's peace...

Monday, October 26, 2020

COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #20: Evangelization

Today I intend to reflect briefly on "the spirituality of evangelization." Actually, I'm not exactly sure what that means, but it sounded good when it popped into my aging brain the other we'll see how it goes.

We always ask for God’s presence – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and we do so now, coming together in the certain hope God will inspire and guide us today. I'll begin with a prayer, one written by one of our 20th-century saints, Blessed Charles Foucauld. I'll talk about him in a moment, but first his prayer...

Abba, 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, Abba, are my Father. Amen.

Blessed Charles was a remarkable man. After a stint in the French Army, a dramatic conversion, and his ordination to the priesthood, he spent the remainder of his life as a Trappist monk in the Holy Land and finally as a hermit in the deserts of North Africa. It was there, on December 1, 1916, that he was martyred, killed by the Taureg people whom he loved. He was beatified by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. To our knowledge Charles never converted a single person during his lifetime, but in his death, God brought into being several religious orders devoted to his spirituality.

As you can see by his prayer, it's a spirituality of abandonment, the sort of spirituality not practiced much in today's world. We’ll come back to this later. First, let’s talk about evangelization. (I realize I addressed abandonment in an earlier reflection – Reflection #6: Abandonment – but not in relation to evangelization.)

The Gospels offer us two parallel paths: Jesus’ redemptive journey to the Cross and His glorious Resurrection; and the disciples’ journey to...well, to true discipleship. The call they received was unambiguous. It was a call to evangelization. Matthew and Mark both end their gospel accounts with the Risen Jesus' appearance to the apostles immediately before his Ascension [Mt 28:16-20; Mk 16:14-18]. Jesus' last words to the Apostles – His Great Commission – are a call to witness to His saving death and glorious resurrection and to proclaim the good news of salvation to all the world. God's love and gift of salvation are not just for a select few, or for a single nation, but for everyone -- for all who accept the Good News.

Here we introduce our first truth on evangelization: We are all called to do God’s work to evangelize the world.

Evangelization is the work of God given to the entire Church, not just of the apostles and their successors. Jesus calls all believers to this saving work -- to be heralds of the good news and ambassadors for Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world. We have not been left alone in this task, for the risen Lord works in and through us by the power of his Holy Spirit. Where Jesus is, so too is the Spirit.

Evangelization, then, isn’t something we decide to do. Like all calls to ministry, the call to evangelize comes from God. We simply respond. Because it originates with God, it is God’s work, not ours, and all the glory must be His. How did the psalmist put it?

“Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory because of your mercy and faithfulness” [Ps 115:1].

It’s not our good news, but the Good News of Jesus Christ, for the Gospel reveals the “mercy and faithfulness” of God. And it reveals the power of God, the power to forgive sins, to heal, to deliver from evil and oppression, and to restore life. As evangelists, as witnesses, you and I must believe in the power of the gospel. It always boils down to faith, doesn’t it?

Understanding this we are better able to define our spirituality of evangelization, which is really a spirituality of thankfulness. Our prayer becomes one of gratitude, thanking God for calling us to this ministry of salvation. And because all true ministry is God's work, by its very nature it is beyond our capabilities. We can't do it alone.

This leads us to our second truth: We need God's help to accomplish His work, His ministry of evangelization.

What have we discovered so far? As ministers we’re called to do God's work, not ours, and we can't do it alone. This is harder to accept than you might think. So often we get very possessive of “our ministry” in the Church, forgetting that, like everything else in our lives, it all belongs to God. Do you ever get that way? Do you ever find yourself grasping a ministry as if it’s some cherished possession, forgetting that it belongs to God not to you? As St. Paul reminds us, all comes from God:

"What have you that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if it were not a gift?" [1 Cor 4;7]

God’s work must be done, but if we’re unresponsive or indifferent to God’s call, believe me, He will call someone else, and quite likely call them from their weakness. We are loved, brothers and sisters, but when it comes to God’s work in the world, we are not indispensable. It’s as if He’s reminding us, “You see. I found someone else. I found someone who didn’t resist my call, someone who’s willing to let me form them, to fill their emptiness with my love, someone with faith.” fill their emptiness...There’s a wonderful Greek word, kenosis. We encounter it as a verb, ekenosen, in the midst of St. Paul’s beautiful hymn on the wonder of the Incarnation:

 “...he emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” [Phil 2:7].

In this emptying, Jesus Christ, the Son of God impoverished Himself by taking on our humanity. In the same way, as His disciples, we’re called to kenosis, to an emptying of self so that He may form us and fill us with His love.

You see, brothers and sisters, in His emptying Jesus takes all that is within Him and offers it to us. This is His gift to us. We need only accept it. But you and I cannot fully accept God’s love in our lives if our minds and hearts are filled with ourselves. We, too, must experience kenosis; we must first empty ourselves.

I abandon myself into Your hands. Do with me what You will.

Blessed Charles’ prayer of abandonment, this prayer of openness to God’s will – is this our prayer as evangelists? Or do we insist instead on telling God what He wants us to do.

And so we have our third truth: To accept fully God’s call to ministry, we must first empty ourselves of ourselves.

Kenosis, therefore, is fundamental to the work of evangelization and becomes an essential companion to God’s call. How does God call us, and speak to us? How can we hear His call? God speaks in silence, just as He did with Elijah on the mountainside [1 Kings 19:11-13]. There in the midst of all the noise and tumult and disruption of the world -- amidst wind, and quake, and fire -- God came to His prophet and spoke in a "still, small voice." God still speaks to us that way today. He comes to us in the silence.

Indeed, how blessed we are, for God has left us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, the gift of His very Presence, so we can exclaim "Emmanuel" -- "God with us." The Eucharist means God in us, God with us, God increasingly giving himself to us.

We can escape all the noise and disruption of the world and kneel in His presence. In the silence of adoration, we can respond to God’s call as He waits for us in patient, expectant stillness. We too must be patient, waiting for God, just like the servant who waits patiently, watching for the signal from his master:

“Yes, like the eyes of servants on the hand of their masters, like the eyes of a maid on the hand of her mistress, so our eyes are on the Lord our God, till we are shown favor” [Ps 123:2].

We need, then, only respond in that silence, to that silence: 

"Behold, I come to do your will, O God" [Heb. 10:7].

And of one thing we can be certain: God's will for us always includes His will for others, His will for the others in our lives, especially for those least brothers and sisters of the Lord. Listen again to Blessed Charles. Toward the end of his life, speaking of Jesus’ description of the last judgment in Matthew 25, he wrote:

"I think there is no passage of the Gospel that has made a deeper impression on me or changed my life more than this one: 'Whatever you do to one of these little ones, you do to me.' Just think, these are the words of Uncreated Truth, words from the mouth that said, 'This is my body... this is my blood...' How forcefully we are impelled to seek Jesus and love him in the 'little ones'."

That’s right, brothers and sisters, it is these least ones we are called to evangelize, for together with them we are the Body of Christ. Who are these “little ones”? Why, they’re all around us. I know you pray for them because you sometimes tell me about them...

Lord, that widow down the street who is so lonely. Send someone to give her company and fellowship, someone who will take the time to visit her.

Dear Jesus, that troubled young boy, our dog groomer’s son. I know he has no father. Please ask someone to come into his life and help fill that need.

And, Lord, that neighbor who fell and can no longer do the little household jobs he loved to do...Find someone who can help him until he’s back on his feet again.

Oh, yes, and that young single mother who’s having such a hard time financially. Father, please provide for her need.

There are so many more opportunities that God places before us each and every day. I think you get my point. Will you visit the lonely neighbor, or spend some time with the boy who has no father figure in his life, or do an odd job or two for the neighbor who needs some help, or help the single mother financially?

For most of us evangelization is not preaching on the street corner. No, it’s more up-close and personal. It’s carrying the love of Jesus Christ to the individuals that God sends our way because of their need, their need for salvation. God will provide the opportunity to invite them to know Jesus Christ and His Church.

Indeed, that you recognize another’s need likely means you are the one God is asking to meet that need. God speaks to us through others in quiet, but insistent ways. He speaks and we respond in faith and thanksgiving: Father, let me always be thankful for everything and everybody you send into my life.

None of this is easy because God so often calls us from our weakness. Oh, yes, and true evangelization is rarely tax deductible. That’s because it’s always a spiritual challenge, one that calls us to give far more than we want to give in both time and effort and fortune.

This evangelization, this call to all disciples of Jesus Christ, is not voluntary. It’s a command, and to obey it leads to what can be a drastic change in your very way of life. With that in mind, I'll conclude by once again turning to the words of Blessed Charles:

"Our entire existence, our whole being must shout the Gospel from the rooftops. Our entire person must breathe Jesus, all our actions. Our whole life must cry out that we belong to Jesus, must reflect a Gospel way of living. Our whole being must be a living proclamation, a reflection of Jesus Christ."

We’ve just scratched the surface of the spirituality of evangelization, but I hope some little piece of this reflection might help you as you respond to God’s call.

Thursday, October 22, 2020


OK, it’s confession time...well sort of. I’m not going to confess my sins publicly. No juicy stuff here. That’s between me, my confessor, and God...oh, yes, and Dear Diane since she has the unpleasant task of cataloging and reminding me of my faults. As a long-time sinner, I certainly recognize the existence of sin, along with the need for repentance and forgiveness. And I seem to be spending a lot of time lately offering the former and praying for the latter. But have you noticed how many people today — mostly celebrities and politicians — when their sins are exposed, openly admit them to the entire world, but then just toss them aside as if they mean nothing? Of course, I get the sense most of them don’t believe in sin anyway. Maybe they all need a Diane looking over their shoulder.

But I digress...Today’s confession has nothing to do with sin. I’m just trying to come to grips with my evolving worldview. The trouble is, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the result, even though as a continually evolving view, the “result” is at best only temporary. I suppose that’s been true throughout my life. I certainly looked at the world very differently 25 years ago, and even more so when I was 25. I’d like to think my change in perspective is the product of greater wisdom but there seems to be little evidence of this. 

Through what sort of lens do I view the world today? It’s hard to describe, but if I had to come up with a concise description, I suppose I’d call myself a “faith-driven, anarcho, medieval Catholic.” Okay, it’s weird. I admit it. It certainly demands explanation and it’s got some internal contradictions that I still have to work out.

I suspect the first question to arise is: Did you just label yourself an anarchist? Well, sort of. But before you call the authorities, please realize I’m no modern-day Gavrilo Princip, not one of those crazy-eyed, bomb-throwing, hate-spewing, history-destroying anarchists who roam city streets calling themselves Antifa. Not at all. I would simply like to see the ever-expanding state stop expanding and perhaps even contract. I don’t believe either human freedom or human well-being is advanced by increasing state control over every aspect of our lives. Indeed, just the opposite. Our founding fathers understood this, which is why the Constitution focuses on limiting the federal government and protecting the God-given rights of citizens. It’s also why they added the Tenth Amendment:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

The problem, of course, is that over time the courts have allowed the federal government to usurp all kinds of “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,” leaving the states and especially the people increasingly powerless. In a sense, then, the founders and I believe in the same kind of very limited anarchy. It’s a controlled anarchy, by which the people permit government to assume certain well-defined powers — powers that provide the people with a degree of safety to live their lives in freedom by exercising their rights without infringing on the rights of others. 

Just don’t confuse my limited anarchy with libertarianism. About all I have in common with libertarians is a distrust of socialism, totalitarianism, and invasive bureaucracy. The libertarian, though, places personal freedom above all else, believing in what Edmund Burke appropriately labeled "licentious toleration." In other words, the libertarian tolerates any behavior so long as it doesn't directly impinge on his own personal freedom. The true libertarian, therefore, cannot accept any authority beyond oneself, be it from earth or from heaven. If he is honest with himself, he must admit to being, at best, an agnostic.

I am certainly not a libertarian because I am “faith-driven.” My Catholic faith accepts the authority of God, which places definite controls on my behavior. Yes, my faith calls for freedom, but it is the freedom to seek and profess the truth and to make a moral choice to do what is right and just. In other words, true freedom rejects relativism and accepts that truth is very real and can be discovered. It does not call for raw license to do whatever one wants, to be openly barbarous in a civilized society. 

What about the "medieval" part of my worldview? I suppose that comes from my lifelong study of history. I simply have more in common, spiritually and intellectually, with the medieval Christian than I do with most of his modern successors. The Christian of the Middle Ages actually believed, as I do, in the Revelation of God through Sacred Scripture. As Romano Guardini put it in a book that all Catholics should read: 

"Medieval man centered his faith in Revelation as it had been enshrined in Scripture, in that Revelation which affirmed the existence of God Who holds His Being separate and beyond the world...the world is created by a God Who does not have to create in order that He might be, nor does He need the elements of the World in orderr that He might create...A new freedom dawned in history for the human spirit. Sundered now from the world, man was able for the first time to face all things from a new plane, from a vantage point which depended neither upon intellectual superiority of cultural attainment" [The End of the Modern World, p. 7-9].

For Medieval man, then (as for me), Divine Revelation is the determining fact, that which explains all existence. He accepted the authority of the Church, an authority granted by Jesus Christ that placed limits on personal freedom and behavior.

And so, that's who I least today. I'll likely evolve (or devolve) into something else tomorrow.

Oh, yes, one more thought, completely unrelated to the rest of this post. In the Introduction to Fr. Guardini's book mentioned above, Frederick Wilhelmsen, looking to the future, wrote (in 1956):

“Christian Faith will call for a heroism unknown to our fathers, the martyrs of ages past.”

I just thought it was a timely comment, given the darkness spreading throughout today's world.

Keep the Faith, dear friends.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Homily: Monday, 29th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Eph 2:1-10; Ps 100; Luke 12:13-21


In today’s Gospel passage Luke describes an encounter between Jesus and a man fretting about his inheritance. The man came to Jesus because these were the kind of disputes a rabbi would often settle, and by calling Jesus “Teacher” he indicates that Our Lord is seen as a kind of rabbi.

But Jesus turns the tables on him, doesn’t he? He treats the man kindly, calling him “Friend,” but then indirectly reprimands him, doesn’t He? You see, Jesus knows what’s in the man heart, the same vice that thrives in so many hearts. Jesus sees greed and materialism.

Now Jesus’s audience that day was probably not the wealthy of 1st-century Palestine. He’s just speaking to folks, mostly poor folks, struggling to make living. But one doesn’t have to be rich to be greedy. Greed and avarice are among the most common of human failings and aren’t confined to the wealthy. We can all succumb in our struggle to earn our daily bread, or to achieve wealth through other means. The only difference between greedy wealthy and the greedy poor is that the former succeeded in turning greed into wealth.

Jesus, of course, knows what the people need to hear, that one’s life does not consist of possessions. And to make His point, He relates a parable. I’ve always called this one, the “You Can’t Take It With You Parable,” because that’s really what it’s all about.

If you reread the parable, you might notice that perhaps the most common word used by the rich man is “I.” As Sister Francis Jane told our eighth-grade class, “The fact that it’s the shortest word in the English, made with a single stroke of the pen, is probably a good indication of its relative importance." The rich man saw nothing beyond himself, nothing beyond his little self-contained world, apparently assuming it would continue indefinitely.

Has human nature really changed in 2,000 years? Many today, as was for the rich fool of the Gospel, are driven to build the equivalent of better and bigger barns, to gain ever more personal wealth.

Now wealth, in itself, isn’t an evil. But when it’s misused…when it’s seen as an end in itself and not a means to do good…when it’s unjustly accumulated at the expense of others…when greed and envy become the guiding forces in its acquisition…then it always leads to evil.

Throughout my life I’ve encountered more than a few men and women very much like the rich man in the Gospel, focused solely on possessions, yet unaware of the obvious paradox of possession. Those driven by greed to collect riches only prove how poor they really are. For them, no amount of wealth is sufficient, because no amount can ever bring true happiness. How very sad. They devote their lives to adding zeroes to their net worth – so much work for just another zero! 

When the rich man of the Gospel unexpectedly encounters death, his true poverty is exposed. Suddenly, his wealth means nothing, its value eclipsed by the person he had become. Those whom the world sees as successful can be abject failures in the deepest sense because they try to live without God’s sustaining power.

Jesus is warning us against going it alone, trying to hold the future in our own hands, of focusing only on our possessions and life’s comforts, of wasting our time on that which doesn’t last. We need the humility to recognize that our planning may be futile, and the courage to trust that the Good Shepherd continues to lead and guide us along paths we can neither anticipate nor understand.

Self-sufficiency is one of the great myths of our time, a myth preached constantly by the world. Just as “with God, nothing is impossible,” so too without Him, nothing lasting is possible.

There’s a hunger today for more than bread, more than possessions, especially, I think, among younger people. We must help them turn to Jesus Christ as the solution, as the source of true happiness, and do so by our own example.

We were created as spiritual and bodily beings and the only truly satisfying nourishment while we’re here on earth is God’s Presence poured into us in Word and Sacrament. And it’s all a gift. As Paul told the Ephesians, by God’s grace we are saved.

Let’s pray that we strive always to seek God’s will for us: that we will not arrive at the end of our lives having forgotten to live; and that we may live well so we won’t be afraid to die.

What's Going On?

Too often these days people ask me, “What’s going on, deacon? The Church seems to be self-destructing.” I suppose they ask me this and similar questions because I’m a deacon and they assume I must understand everything that’s happening in and to the Church. Of course, I don’t. My thoughts and my opinions on these and most other subjects are just that, my thoughts, my opinions. I am not a prophet, and I’m certainly not infallible. I do, however, accept and try to teach the truth as it has been revealed to us through Sacred Scripture and Apostolic Tradition. But I also try not to be tendentious, and struggle to identify what are simply my opinions and not declare them as revealed truth. What follows, then, are the opinions of a man who happens to be a deacon who loves his God and His Church, nothing more.

Too many Catholics, and almost all non-Catholics, when they think and speak of the Catholic Church, see only the hierarchy: the pope, bishops, priests, and maybe even the deacons. But the hierarchy is not the Church. The Church is the "People of God," the community of all the baptized faithful, coming together in faith to worship, to evangelize, and to love God and neighbor by living the lives that God desires of us. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also reminds us that...

"The Church draws her life from the Word and the Body of Christ, and so herself becomes Christ's Body" [CCC, p. 871].

Yes, we are the Body of Christ, one Body with Christ as its head. And it is from Jesus Christ that the Church was given its mission – “the Great Commission" -- when He instructed the apostles:

"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:18-20].

In the beginning [Acts 1:15], the Church consisted of little more than a hundred people, and yet it already had a hierarchy. This hierarchy, instituted by Jesus Himself, is a necessary element of the Church. It provides the structure and the avenues of sacramental grace necessary to accomplish the Church's mission in a spirit of unity. Although a divinely created institution, one guided by the Holy Spirit, the Church is made up of human beings who are subject to all human failings and sinfulness. We see vivid evidence of this among the apostles themselves, men who didn't hesitate to reveal their own sinfulness [Lk 5:8]. 

This applies as well to those who, through apostolic succession, make up the Church’s hierarchy today, men who sometimes reject or ignore the guidance of the Spirit. So don’t expect popes, bishops, priests, and deacons to be sinless. They aren’t. Not only aren’t they sinless, they also make mistakes and will proclaim or teach things that simply aren’t true. As do I, they occasionally confuse opinion with truth. St. Paul said it best when he declared:

"There is no one righteous, not even one..." [Rom 3:10]

...and that -- gasp! -- includes even the pope himself. And, trust me, Pope Francis would be the first to agree.

But what about papal infallibility, doesn't that come into play? Isn't the pope infallible? Isn't the Church infallible? The quick answer: Yes, but there are conditions. Once again, we turn to the Catechism, which quotes Lumen Gentium, Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution of the Church:

"The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys the infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful -- who confirms his brethren in the faith -- he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals...The infallibility promised to the Church is also present in the body of bishops when, together with Peter's successor, they exercise the supreme Magisterium," above all in Ecumenical Council [CCC: 891; cf. Lumen Gentium 25].

The pope, therefore, is infallible only when "he proclaims by a definitive act a doctrine pertaining to faith and morals." He must, then, make that proclamation from the Chair of Peter, clearly stating that he speaks infallibly, a rare occurrence indeed. Less rare, however, is the infallibility of the Magisterium -- the pope, together with his bishops -- exercising “the supreme Magisterium.” The 21 ecumenical councils of the Church are the best examples of this form of infallibility, the result of Jesus’ promise to the Apostles:

“And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you…The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name – He will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you” [Jn 14:16-17,26].

This is really wonderful, isn’t it? The Holy Spirit cannot be constrained by men. He can speak to the world through the Church despite the sinfulness of those He calls. In the same way the Holy Spirit showers us with His divine grace through the sacraments, despite the unworthiness of His minister, the state of his soul. No, He cannot be constrained, something of which we should be mindful as we move into what could be a darker time, for He will be with us “until the end of the age.”

Popes, bishops, priests, and deacons can teach error and preach nonsense simply because they are men, very fallible men, who like other men are often driven by personal agendas and not by God's will and the needs of the Church, the People of God.

Many issues that seem to occupy the time and thoughts of some members of the hierarchy – for example, climate change, economic systems, national sovereignty, migration, etc. – are actually for more complex than they seem to believe, and remain open to legitimate debate. One cannot, for example, state with any assurance that it is morally evil for a nation to protect its borders. Such issues are very different from an inherently evil act such as abortion.

How should the faithful respond to the pope or to a bishop who makes what seem to be definitive pronouncements on such issues? First, we should listen. Don’t accept the secular media’s reporting but go to the original words or document and read it. Second-hand reports often focus on the headline-grabbers and miss the truth as well as all the subtle nuances of the teaching. (Note: The secular media is almost always inaccurate or biased in their reporting on the Catholic Church.) Realize, too, that many of these issues are exceedingly complex and generate significant disagreement among recognized experts. We must pay heed to what Church leaders say on such issues, but also understand that they are not speaking infallibly. Your own knowledge, combined with a well-formed conscience, can be a good guide when it comes to issues that fall outside the deposit of faith and definitive Catholic moral teaching.

I’ve encountered Catholics who are considering leaving the Church (or have already left) because they are disgusted by the sins of a bishop or priest, or disagree with something a member of the clergy has taught. At the risk of insulting them, let me say only that this is the height of foolishness. We don’t leave Jesus Christ because of what men have said or done. And that’s what is done when one leaves the Catholic Church: he or she leaves the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council weren’t kidding when they stated that the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” Jesus confirmed this with His words to the doubters in Capernaum:

“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me” [Jn 6:53-57].

Yes, members of the clergy, from deacons to cardinals, have committed horrendous sins. Sexual abuse of children, blatant homosexual relationships and not just between “consenting adults,” greed and theft, and so much more.

But there are also spiritual sins, including teachings that lead God’s people astray. One that’s’ near and dear to my heart involves some modern biblical scholarship. Far too many biblical scholars do not accept the Gospels as true descriptions of Jesus’s life and teachings. To be blunt, they assume the evangelists did not tell the truth, but that the Gospels were rewritten, edited…whatever by later redactors to fit the evolving beliefs of the Christian community. In other words, the Gospels as we have them do not really reflect the reality of Jesus’s life and teaching. Of course, by taking such an approach they undermine our belief of everything in Sacred Scripture. If the Gospels aren’t true, well, then, what is? As you might guess, some of these same scholars reject Christ’s divinity, His bodily Resurrection, and many other tenets of the Faith.

But, again, these are the sins of men, not the sins of the Church. Let’s assume, then, that you’re not planning on leaving the Church, and return to our original question: Is the Church self-destructing?

No, it’s not. But there are people in the Church, even some in its hierarchy, who think not of the Church, but of themselves. I've known more than a few. They want the Church to change its foundational beliefs, its immutable deposit of faith, or to loosen its firm grasp of morality, so it will conform to their beliefs or support their sinful lifestyle. They will, of course, fail. They will fail as all previous heresies have failed to change that which makes the Church what it is: One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

Believe me when I say the Church has encountered many serious challenges in the past. For example, probably half of the Church rejected the truth and accepted the false teachings of the Arian heresy, and this lasted for centuries. I expect we will encounter similar, probably greater challenges in the future, perhaps the near future. The Church, however, will survive, although I expect it will look very different. As Pope Benedict XVI wrote back when he was a young priest:

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy, It will make her poor and cause her to be the Church of the meek” [Faith and Future, p. 116-118].

St. Paul, writing to Timothy, is a bit more explicit as he relates what we will face in these last days:

“But understand this: there will be terrifying times in the last days. People will be self-centered and lovers of money, proud, haughty, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, irreligious, callous, implacable, slanderous, licentious, brutal, hating what is good, traitors, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, as they make a pretense of religion but deny its power. Reject them” [2 Tim 3 1-5].

Are we in the “end times”? I don’t know. But we must all live as though we are, so we will be ready to greet the Lord, either when He returns or when He calls us.

As one writer (I’ve forgotten who) once wrote: “We will not be able to live in the time that is to come.” That might well be true for those days of tribulation will certainly be worse than anything humanity has suffered so far. But take faith in the fact that the Church, the Body of Christ, will survive until Jesus Christ brings all of Creation to completion.

Monday, October 19, 2020

COVID-19 Bible Study Reflection #19: To Approach Our God

I'd like to begin today's reflection with a reading from the Gospel according to Mark. It's a passage in which the evangelist describes two miraculous events that occur almost on top of each other -- two different but intimately related miracles.

Please take a moment now to open your Bible to Mark 5:21-43 and read this passage in which Jesus performs these two miracles, healing one person and reviving another who had died.


Oh, what a Gospel passage this is for us!

Mark, inspired by the Sprit, blends these two events, these two healings by Jesus. He sandwiches them together, as they happened, so you and I won’t miss the point.

Two people confront Jesus on this day in Galilee, two very different people.

The first is Jairus. Now Jairus was an important man, an official of the local synagogue, the man who oversaw its administration and finances. And because he was an important man, everybody knew him, or wanted to be known by him. Quite likely, everyone in Capernaum who was anyone wanted to be his friend.

We all know men like Jairus. He’s the first to know, the first to shake your hand, to slap you on the back, the first to be invited, the first to be served, the last to be overlooked – a man to be noticed.

That’s not to say he wasn’t also a good, God-fearing man who took his position in the synagogue seriously. His importance in the community would simply have been a byproduct of that position.

Jairus had a family; he had friends and servants; he had a life filled with people who cared for him. He’d probably lived a good life, a life where all had gone well…until now. We sense that Jairus would gladly give up everything he had, everything he was, to save his daughter who was near death.

For 12 years Jairus loved his daughter, loved her as only a father can love. Yes, given her condition, he was desperate. He had no doubt heard of Jesus. What did he have to lose? Why not approach this healer?

But we suspect it’s more than that, don’t we? For the Holy Spirit can act through and in the midst of our desperation. And we know the Spirit is present, for where Jesus is, so too is the Spirit.

Moved by the Spirit, Jairus approached Jesus. No, that’s wrong. He didn’t just approach Jesus. This important man fell to his knees at Jesus’ feet and begged for his daughter’s life. How different from those other important people in the synagogue Jesus last visited. There they plotted to kill Him [Mk 3:6]. Perhaps none of them had a dying child.

Looking up at Jesus, Jairus pleads with Him, begs Him to come and lay hands on the girl, to mediate God’s grace and power so his daughter may be delivered from death – this daughter who has lived just 12 short years.

Jesus, moved by a father’s love for his daughter, goes with Jairus. They’re followed by the crowd, the crowd that always seems to follow Jesus. And it’s in this crowd, this necessary crowd, that we encounter another in need of healing.

For 12 Years Jairus has enjoyed the presence of his daughter. But unlike Jairus, a woman in the crowd has spent those same 12 years on the outside looking in, because for 12 years a flow of blood had made her unclean according to Jewish law.

For 12 years, she was the last one at the well, the last one at the marketplace, the last to be noticed, and the first to turn away. For 12 years, she lived life on the fringes, avoiding people, avoiding contact, avoiding everything… everything except shame.

For 12 years, she had stood among the captives, longing to be free. Her friends had disappeared long ago -- gone, along with her money and her pride. If she had anything left -- anything at all -- she would have given it up just to be healed.

By the time she encountered Jesus she had been 12 years with little real human contact; 12 years without the prayers of the synagogue; 12 years of loneliness. Yes, indeed, you can be lonely, even in a crowd, for she had learned long ago how to appear almost invisible.

There are men and women just like her today. They’re all around us. You see them at the soup kitchen and the food pantry. You see them on city streets and alleyways, along life’s edges, pushing a shopping cart containing a few possessions. The one you might notice, just for a moment, before she slips away.

But they’re here, too, in your neighborhood, living alone, eating alone, always alone. I saw her the other day at Walmart, in front of me at the checkout counter, counting out her change to buy a small bag of groceries.

Of course, sometimes, perhaps most times, we don’t even notice her. Or when we do, we wonder why they let these crazy people out on the streets.

Yes, the woman who reached out to touch Jesus is with us still.

As we accompany Jesus this day in Capernaum, we encounter two very different people, both in desperate need, yet both turning to Jesus filled with hope.

Driven, inspired by the Holy Spirit, Mark asks us to look at these two people, but to look at them together, as he nests their stories one within the other.

They’re so different, these two.

Jairus, the man of importance, doesn’t hesitate. So sure of himself, he goes in search of Jesus, finds Him, and approaches Him directly. He’s the kind of man who can say, “Jesus, help me!” and trust he’ll be welcomed and heard.

But the woman, buried in the crowd…she’s different, isn’t she? She’s not so sure. Does she dare approach Jesus directly? No, 12 years of hiding, 12 years of shame have taken their effect.

She has no place, no position, no privilege, no power, and so she believes she’ll have no welcome. And the thought of more rejection is just too much for her. And so, instead of approaching Jesus openly, which might only bring on more shame, more public humiliation, she decides instead to sneak up on Jesus. If she can just touch His garment, His healing power will flow through her. Then she can slip away silently.

But Jesus sees her, and He feels her, doesn’t He? He senses her presence as the Holy Spirit’s healing power moves through Him to her. He sees her just as clearly as He saw Jairus. Yes, He sees them both that day in Galilee.

Jesus never allows the person in front of Him to block His view of the person hidden in the crowd. Unlike us, His eyes are never so focused on the obvious that He misses those who live on the fringes, those who hide just out of view.

No, Jesus never focuses solely on those whom the world sees as important; for then He might overlook those who have stumbled and fallen.

Jesus sees what the rest of us too often fail to notice.

But perhaps you did notice one thing: both Jairus and the woman fall at Jesus’ feet when they approach Him. Yes, Jairus has been blessed in life, but he knows the source of those blessings. He, too, moved by the Spirit, falls at Jesus’ feet and begs for one more blessing.

Jairus falls, filled with hope, pleading for help, but the woman falls at Jesus’ feet in fearful thanksgiving.

You see, she’s already been healed and knows it. As Mark tells us:

“She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction” [Mt 5:29].

Because she’s already been healed, she’s fully aware that the power of God flows from this man whose garment she touched.

Jesus calls her to Him, doesn’t He? And how does she approach Him? Mark tells us: “in fear and trembling”?

Filled with God’s healing Spirit, she knew that she was approaching someone who is more than a mere man. And she knew, too, that her salvation was present.

Isn’t it remarkable that St. Paul, uses these same words when he instructs the Philippians to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil 2:12]?

For this woman’s salvation, her spiritual healing, far outweighs her physical healing.

“Daughter, your faith has saved you…” [Mk 5:34]

He wants to do more than heal her physically; He wants her to know that her wholeness came from her faith. And He wants to remove her fear of approaching Him.

Only then does He send her on her way: “Go in peace.”

He does much the same when He arrives at the home of Jairus and is told the girl has died. To ease the fears of this father, he says:

“Do not be afraid. Just have faith” [Mk 5:36].

Maybe that’s why we are invited to read about these two healings, one inside the other.

Two very different people -- Jairus in his comfort and position and the woman in her poverty and obscurity – and yet both come to Jesus in humility; both come to Jesus filled with hope; and both come to Jesus in faith.

They leave their encounters with Jesus fully aware that, as St. James reminds us, everything comes from God:

“Do not be deceived, my beloved bothers: all good giving and every perfect gift is from above” [Jas 1:16].

In the same way, we’re reminded of the fact that we are not our own. How did the Psalmist put it?

"Know that the Lord is God; He made us; His we are"[Ps 100:3].

So maybe we're not supposed to wonder whose need was greater, or whose faith was stopnger, or why Jesus stopped to talk with the woman when a little girl was dying and needed Him so desperately. 

Maybe it’s enough for us to know that Jesus saw them both! And that’s the wonder of being a Christian. Jesus will see us too if we fall down before Him in humility, in hope, and in faith.

Of course, the other part of being a Christian is recognizing Jesus in those who stand before us.

Too often today we outsource our response to Jesus’ call.

Why get personally involved when I can just write a check? Anyway, the government will take care of the hungry, the homeless. That’s why we pay all those taxes. As for their spiritual needs…well, isn’t that what bishops, priests, and deacons do?

Yes, we go on with our lives, seemingly unaware that God calls each one of us to do His work in the world.

Your work, dear friends, is the Apostolate -- that is, the work of the Apostles – for you are sent by God into the world. The Second Vatican Council, in its Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, clearly reminds us of the call God extends to the laity:

“The laity derive the right and duty to the apostolate from their union with Christ the head; incorporated into Christ’s Mystical Body through Baptism and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit through Confirmation, they are assigned to the apostolate by the Lord Himself. They are consecrated for the royal priesthood and the holy people (cf. 1 Pt 2:4-10) not only that they may offer spiritual sacrifices in everything they do but also that they may witness to Christ throughout the world” [Apostolicam Actuositatem, 3].

Did you get that? It’s a responsibility, a duty, we all have. You can’t duck it. You can’t imitate Jonah and try to hide from it. We are all, clergy and laity alike, called to “offer spiritual sacrifices in everything” and to “witness to Christ throughout the world.”

I suppose that’s the question for all of us: Have we done much of that lately?

Friday, October 16, 2020

The Great Barrington Declaration

As someone who is now 76 years old -- and believe me. I really didn't intend to live this long -- I find myself thinking of the way our nation and much of the world has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic. A week or so ago, just out of curiosity, I visited the CDC's website and took a look at generational deaths and death rates resulting from this virus. Their website provides a great deal of data covering the period from February through early October. One of the more interesting data sets includes the number of COVID-19 deaths by age group. Interestingly, the death rate among the young (under 25) is lower than that for both influenza and pneumonia. This morning I revisited the website and converted some of their data to a simple spreadsheet:

The following, which only reflects Feb 1 through June 17, shows the death rates associated with COVID-19. Due to the increased use of effective medications and other therapies, these rates have actually decreased substantially in recent months. Other differences reflect changes in how deaths are attributed to COVID-19.

The following data is from a Swiss team and shows worldwide death rates by age.

All of this got me thinking and I came to a rather unsettling conclusion. We have shut down major sections of our economy, put millions of Americans out of work, permanently destroyed hundreds of thousands of small businesses, and we have done all of this to protect people like me. Since the death rates for the young -- and that seems to include those under 60 -- are very low, lower indeed than many other causes of death, why have we punished them when us older folks are the ones at risk? Wouldn't it be much more sensible to devote all those trillions of dollars -- actually it would have cost far less -- to ensuring our elderly are protected from the virus, while permitting the rest of the population to get on with their lives? 

Of course, New York's Governor Cuomo did exactly the opposite. He and a handful of other incompetent politicians took inexplicable actions that ensured thousands of elderly would die. If the CEO of a private corporation had been responsible for anything similar, he'd be tried for mass murder.

Anyway, while pondering all the idiocy and evil in the world, I heard about a group of well-respected epidemiologists, scientists, and medical professionals who apparently have come to similar conclusions. Of course, their conclusions are based on solid science while mine are based on hunches and my firm belief that politicians are rarely correct. It is indeed rare when the personal ambitions of a lifelong politician also promote the good of the people. 

One thing we should all realize: science is never settled. As we learn more, the science always changes. It’s about time, then, for the politics finally to catch up with the science. Every American should read the 
Great Barrington Declarationa statement drafted and signed by epidemiologists, and other doctors, medical professionals, and health officials from around the world. It states what the science has been telling us for months, and encourages government leaders to take those immediate steps that will both protect the vulnerable yet allow society to flourish once again. If you haven’t heard of the declaration, published on October 8, that’s probably because it doesn’t fit well with the idiocy pushed by mainstream and social media organizations. 

It’s not long but demands a read by anyone concerned for our nation’s health. Here’s the link: Great Barrington Declaration

Now, go ahead and enjoy your life. Be careful but don't be crazy.

God's peace....Faith over fear, always.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Kamala Harris and Catholicism

Most Catholics don’t seem to be aware of the expressed views or the record of the Democrat Party’s vice presidential candidate, Senator Kamala Harris, particularly as they relate to the Catholic Church. I suppose this is understandable since she has made herself available for almost no press conferences or other Q&A opportunities since her party nominated her. But despite her recent unwillingness to do what politicians have always done, she has made no effort to hide or disguise her views in the past, and her record is certainly public. 

When examined, the senator's record of anti-Catholicism most often addresses such issues as abortion, so-called transgender surgery, and homosexual marriage. Because the Catholic Church doesn’t hesitate to condemn each of these as serious sins, the senator has focused her attacks on all things (and many people) Catholic. Joe Biden, of course, escapes her wrath because he has shown himself to be Catholic in name only and publicly denies Church magisterial teaching on these and many other moral issues of the day. When it comes to these issues, he’s certainly not a moderate.

Rather than repeat here what you can read in more detail elsewhere, I'll refer you to several articles, all written by Kenneth Craycraft, an attorney and moral theologian. That he has successfully managed to merge these two professions is reason enough to read him. He is currently the James J. Gardner Family Chair of Moral Theology at Mount St. Mary's Seminary and School of Theology.

Each of these articles appeared on the First Things online website. I am a longtime First Things subscriber, probably the one journal I would never give up.