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.

Monday, January 25, 2021

Gulags, Past and Present

Note: This post is the first of several that will address a book first published almost 50 years ago and its author's prophetic insights into our world today.  


As usual, I’m involved in re-reading a book I first read years ago. It’s one of those books that many people bought because it received so much publicity when it first appeared, and they thought it would look good on their bookshelves. Written by a Nobel laureate, it was, however, non-fiction, quite long, and filled with pages of tedious, highly disturbing most of those who bought it never actually read it. This is a shame since it offers a detailed description of the blueprint followed by totalitarians of the left and the right once they take the reins of political power. 

The book? Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. Its three volumes have been published in paperback editions, but the first two volumes are also available in a single hardcover. For those who might balk at reading this long work in its original entirety, an authorized abridged edition has been published. My copy Is the hardcover edition containing the unabridged Volumes 1 and 2, which I purchased shortly after it was first published back in 1973. Just an FYI: here’s a link to a used copy of the edition I own: The Gulag Archipelago. I’m sure you can find other, newer, and less expensive editions.

Before he turned his talents to researching and documenting the history of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union’s brutal treatment of its own citizens by Lenin, Stalin, and their toadies, Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) was already a highly respected best-selling novelist. His One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962) gives us a glimpse of the horrors of the Siberian Gulag by telling the story of one man's struggle against the dehumanizing evils of Soviet communism. Among his other novels, I managed to read In the First Circle (1968), Cancer Ward (1968), and August 1914 (1971). As I recall, I read all of these novels while at sea during my Navy years. There was no TV aboard ship and certainly no Internet in those days, so when I wasn’t working, flying, sleeping, or eating, I could usually find an hour or two to read.

But it was Solzhenitsyn's great non-fiction work, The Gulag Archipelago, that for me had its greatest impact. It's one thing to read a work of fiction, even one based on and reflecting historical realities, but it's quite another to encounter the lives and deaths of thousands of real people with real names and real families, human beings devoured by a system of almost unspeakable evil. 

Both historian and prophet, Solzhenitsyn’s painstaking research presents his readers with the reality of communist ideology brought to life...or, perhaps more accurately, to death. He pulls no punches, and as we read we encounter the logical consequence of atheistic materialism, the culmination of a socialism that denies the sanctity of life and deifies the state. Solzhenitsyn bares the truth of the communist state as a cruel, demanding, capricious, and unforgiving god. In 1985 he summed it all up:

Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then, I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by the upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as precisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

To read The Gulag Archipelago is to come to the undeniable conclusion that communism is nothing less than Satanic. And the sad truth is that so-called “democratic socialism” too often chooses to follow a similar path because to maintain its grip on political power socialist governments demand universal acceptance. Those who disagree must be silenced, one way or another.

I was led to turn once again to Solzhenitsyn's book after listening to some rather shrill comments made by Biden administration folks, some members of Congress, media pundits, and others who seem to have embraced rather unsettling approaches to dealing with their political opponents. Some examples:

  • President Joe Biden seemed to dismiss the Islamist terrorism that has threatened our civilization over that past few decades, and decided to focus instead on "domestic terrorism" by means of executive order. By this, of course, he doesn't mean the months of destructive attacks, the riots, and the deaths perpetrated by far left groups like Antifa and Black Lives Matter. No, the president is focused on supporters of his predecessor, Donald know, that collection of a few hundred January 6 wackos accused of trying to overthrow the government by means of an unarmed insurrection. Interestingly, beginning the day of his inauguration, Antifa and its allies have been rioting every night, continuing to work their destructive ways in our cities, but we hear not a word about it from the Biden administration. One gets the impression that the only folks deemed to be "terrorists" are conservative political opponents of Joe Biden.
  • David Atkins, newly elected as a California member of the Democratic National Committee, told his Democrat colleagues to "start thinking in terms of post-WWII Germany or Japan" so that we can "deprogam 75 million people" -- presumably speaking of Trump voters. Of course, such deprogramming can succeed only if its targets (victims?) are denied access to their usual sources of news and information. In other words, deprogramming demands a significant degree of censorship and the elimination of the Constitutional rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, among others. 
  • Shortly before election day, Keith Olberman, former MSNBC anchor, let loose with another of his mindless rants:
"Trump must be defeated...and his enablers, and his supporters...must be prosecuted and convicted and removed from our society." 
Heavens! All 75 million of them? He advocates prosecuting American citizens for supporting and voting for a particular candidate. Olbermann’s a very scary guy, but fortunately I don’t think too many people actually listen to hopes.
  • Washington Post columnist, Jennifer Rubin, a "Never Trumper" who labels herself a Republican, used Twitter to tell the world that any of those Republicans who challenged the 2020 election results must be disqualified from public office and ostracized from society:
"Any R now promoting rejection of an election or calling to not follow the will of voters or making baseless allegations of fraud should never serve in office, join a corporate board, find a faculty position or be accepted into 'polite' society."
Personally, I really don't think I'd want to be accepted into Rubin's idea of polite society. It sounds horribly impolite. It also begs the question: What about all those Democrats who rejected the 2000 and 2016 presidential elections? How about it, Jennifer, can we eject them from your polite society too? Oh, wait a minute...that would probably include you.
  • Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) believes that all Trump voters should automatically be suspects for a domestic terrorist attack and should be looked at by law enforcement. Cohen was especially concerned about all those National Guardsmen who probably voted for Turmp and were assigned to protect the Capitol. Can you imagine? We must protect the nation from all those conservative, patriotic, military folks who risked their lives to protect Steve Cohen and the rest of us from the global terrorist threat because...well, they might morph into domestic terrorists.  
  • And then the nation — OK, just a tiny slice of the nation — watched Katie Couric (I really didn’t know she was still around) on Bill Maher’s HBO show as she jumped on the “deprogram the conservatives” bandwagon: 
“I mean, it’s really bizarre, isn’t it, when you think about how AWOL so many members of Congress have gotten. But I also think some of them are believing the garbage that they are being fed 24/7 on the Internet, by their constituents, and they bought into this big lie...And the question is how are we going to really almost deprogram these people who have signed up for the cult of Trump.” 
For Katie and her friends, to disagree with them on policy or candidates is to commit a political mortal sin, one that demands repentance and conversion, apparently by interventionist means if necessary.
  • Finally, we have Michael Beller, a staff PBS attorney, who not only suggested tossing Molotov cocktails at the Trump White House, and added:
“We go for all the Republican voters, and Homeland Security will take their children away...We’ll put them into the re-education camps.” 
His comments, which were recorded and leaked by a conservative group, were so over the top that PBS actually fired least for now.

I could offer dozens more, but these suffice to make my point. Reading them calls me back to Solzhenitsyn as he describes many of the attitudes that led to the horrific reality of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath. More on that in my next post.

Bible Study Reflection #27: The Power of God

Note: Once again, you will need to do a little reading in your Bible today, so I ask that you have it handy while you read this reflection. 

Today I’d like to focus on one of the more unusual events described in the Gospels: Jesus’ trip across the Sea of Galilee to visit the region of the Gadarenes on the eastern shore of the sea.

This visit by Jesus to the Gadarenes, unique in His public ministry, is a remarkable incident in so many ways. It’s always good, though, to read a passage like this, indeed every passage, in context. In other words, read that which comes before and that which follows. This will help us come to terms with what took place and its effect on those involved.

First, then, I ask you to open your Bible and turn to Chapter 8 of the Gospel According to Matthew. Take some time, all the time you need, to read all of Chapter 8, which concludes with Jesus' visit to Gadara, but also includes brief descriptions of the events preceding it.


Note: Gadara was the region’s main city, located about five miles southeast of the sea. But Mark and Luke use the term Gerasene which might refer to the city of Gerasa (or Gergesa) located on the eastern shore. Many believe most of the eastern shore was simply called the region of the Gadarenes. See the map.

Why did Jesus make this visit? Well, as we will see, there were good reasons then. But Jesus acts for more than the present; He acts for all times, so there are reasons that apply to us today as well.

Let’s turn our attention first to the disciples. By now they had been with Jesus for a while and had grown accustomed to huge crowds of people coming to Jesus for healing and instruction and forgiveness. They had encountered so many people begging for His help, for His mercy, that it had probably become almost routine for them. That previous evening, Matthew tells us:

"...they brought Him many who were possessed by demons, and He drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick" [Mt 8:16]

Just imagine the effect of all this, not only on the disciples, but also on all those who had witnessed Jesus performing these many exorcisms and cures. Day after day, all who came to Jesus, hundreds of people, were healed. In other words, if you came to Jesus, or were taken to Him by another, this manifestation of even a small kernel of faith was enough to bring healing, a healing that led each person to the salvation God wants for him.

And then, to add to their amazement, earlier that same day a Roman centurion -- a Gentile! -- had approached Jesus, and in total humility, explained his need:

"Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, suffering dreadfully" [Mt 8:6].

And Jesus didn’t hesitate to answer the plea of this Roman soldier:

"I will come and cure him" [Mt 8:7].

What a shock that must have been to the Jews, including the disciples. For Jesus had just agreed to go to the house of a Gentile, something no Jew would ever do – and not just any Gentile, but a centurion, an officer of the despised occupying Roman Army.

Yes, indeed, Jesus was more than unpredictable; he took the old rules and tossed them aside, demonstrating to the disciples the new path they would eventually be called to follow as they worked to fulfill Jesus command to “make disciples of all nations.”

From the Gospels it’s apparent that Jesus spent the vast majority of His public ministry among the Jews, and only seldom interacted with Gentiles. This encounter with the Roman centurion was one of those rare occasions. But one senses it wasn’t particularly traumatic for the disciples. The centurion came in humility and asked Jesus for help. But in a display of deep faith, he also accepted that Jesus could work miracles at will, with no restrictions.

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed" [Mt 8:8].

Yes, the centurion was a “righteous Gentile” whom Jesus praised to His disciples, so they wouldn’t miss the lesson:

"I say to you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith" [Mt 8:10].

…and that includes you, apostles.

Then, presumably the next day, Jesus boarded a boat with his disciples and there, on the Sea of Galilee, "he gave orders to cross to the other side" [Mt 8:18]. During the crossing a violent storm arose and the disciples, too, plead for Jesus’ help:

“Lord, save us, we are perishing” [Mt 8:25].

Now, afraid for their lives, the apostles begged for help. But unlike the many who came to Jesus for healing, their faith was weak. One would think that having witnessed the divine power Jesus exercised every day, their faith would tell them to set aside fear. But no, they fear nature more than they trust God.

Our Lord calms the storm and chastises the disciples for the weakness of their faith, so unlike that of the Gentile centurion. They continue on, cross the Sea of Galilee, and enter the province of Gadara, a place populated largely by pagans. But Gadara isn’t just pagan territory. It is depicted as a district especially under the sway of the Evil One: God’s name is not invoked there, His law is not obeyed, and so we shouldn’t be surprised to find demoniacs dwelling there in their natural habitat.

These are not righteous Gentiles coming out of the tombs. No, they are instead men possessed by demons who have driven them into savagery. Just imagine the effect these demoniacs had on the disciples. Indeed, we can only imagine because in their bewilderment the disciples who have accompanied Jesus say absolutely nothing during this visit to Gadara. It’s as if they’re not even present; and yet, we know they are. They are silent, fearful witnesses to this strange encounter.

The disciples had heard many cries for help from those who came to Jesus. But they’d never heard anything quite like this:

What have you to do with us, Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time? [Mt 8:29]

Two remarkable questions from these demons. How darkly urgent was their need to separate themselves from Jesus. And how did they do it? By denouncing him as the Son of God! And in spitting out their hatred, their poison, they proclaimed the truth, at least some of it. The tiny remnant of goodness in their nature was exclusively intellectual. They recognized Jesus, and knew He possessed divine power. But their souls were so totally disfigured that no moral order remained. This acknowledgment, then, of Jesus’ identity escaped from them just as everything else did, with destructive violence: What have you to do with us?

Yes, indeed, what can the spirit of evil have in common with the Son of God? In a sense, this question -- What have we in common? – is not unlike what the centurion said to Jesus when he uttered,

“Lord I am not worthy…” [Mt 8:8]

Inspired by the Holy Spirit – for the Spirit certainly brought him to Jesus – the centurion recognized the great gulf that separated the reality of who he was and Who Jesus is. He was, indeed, unworthy. But for the demons it’s not a matter of unworthiness; it’s rather a question filled with hollow pride. It’s as if they challenge Jesus: “How dare you come to us. Don’t you, Son of God, have better things to do? Leave us alone.”

Other differences become evident. The centurion saw his servant’s illness, the paralysis, as an evil from which he should seek divine help. But for the demons, the evil of possession was at the very heart of their existence, and they, therefore, hated Jesus and the healing He brought.

The centurion also understood that, for Jesus, time and space are not obstacles. Jesus acts in fulfillment of the Father’s will, whenever and wherever that may be. The demons realize time is not one their side, that their “time” to plague humanity is only temporary. In their hatred, they scream at Jesus, reproaching him for coming before the kairos, before the appointed season of definitive judgment and the expulsion of the forces of evil:

“Have you come here to torment us before the appointed time?” [Mt 8:29]

How odd. While they clearly know who Jesus is, and hate him for it, they are truly misinformed about the extent of their authority. No “appointed time” limits the work of God in the world. He desires the salvation of all and to save is what He does. He acts in a constant “now” and is certainly not constrained by the false desires of either demons or any of His creatures.

Demons are also great liars. After all, their boss is Satan, “a murderer…a liar and the father of lies” [Jn 8:44]. But demons are unable to lie to God. In the presence of Jesus, the Son of God, they must reveal all, even their ignorance. Yes, the demons, along with so many people in our world today, are woefully ignorant of the authority of God. Like the demons of Gadara, too many have embraced evil and worked to establish a culture of death, filled with places of anti-life from which they think they have evicted God, places where they believe the Truth cannot be proclaimed.

But God will have none of it. Jesus didn’t just happen to stop by Gadara on His way to somewhere else. As Moses led God’s people across the sea to claim a Promised Land inhabited by pagans, Jesus made this trip across the sea to do the same. He left the Galilee of the Jews, His people, and went intentionally to pagan Gadara to claim this land for His Father, just as He will send His disciples to “go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” [Mt 28:19]. Jesus’ redeeming work knows no boundaries. The Word of God must spread throughout the earth, and no place is exempt.

The demons, of course, couldn’t accept this. Confused, they couldn’t understand why or how Jesus entered this place where evil believed itself safe from God’s Word. They had thrived there among the tombs of the dead, with the rotting flesh and bones and the unclean animals, and they resented this invasion of what they believe to be their sanctuary of evil.

In the Presence of Jesus, they resign themselves to being cast out, and accept that Jesus will free the men they have possessed. Interestingly, they ask to be sent into a herd of pigs, and Jesus grants their request. But “the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea where they drowned” [Mt 8:32].

Once again, we encounter that which separates Jesus from the powers of evil that roam throughout the world. Jesus offers humanity healing and life – “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” [Jn 10:10]. – but there remains only one other choice: death.

A humiliated Satan, who was once Lucifer, the angel of light, is cast into a doomed herd of pigs by the mere Presence of the Son of God, who has embraced the nature and material body of these lowly humans. We see, then, that Satan is powerless in the Presence of Jesus. He can do nothing. When we accept Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives, when we receive Him worthily in the Eucharist, when we accept His gifts of grace and forgiveness, He will “deliver us from evil.”

Our God, a Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Creator of all, is omnipotent, but His power is always exercised for good. It is a power manifested in mercy, and forgiveness, and love beyond our imagining.

But when people and nations turn away from God, when a people decides that the presence of God is an embarrassment, that the name of God is an insult to their intelligence and freedom, they then create a vacuum that Satan is only too happy to fill. And we can be certain the forces of evil would love to turn us into a latter-day Gadara.

For most of its history, despite their sinfulness, the people of our nation openly and willingly turned to God for help and guidance. Much of our history is that of a people struggling to overcome their faults, and yet filled with hope for a better, more virtuous future. “In God we trust” is still embossed on our currency. And as we salute our flag, we still pledge ourselves as “one nation, under God.” I would hope that most Americans still embrace a culture of life and believe that our loving God is the Lord of History who continues to act in our sinful world, just as He did when He walked on the earth in Galilee, Judah, and, yes, even in Gadara.

Let us pray, especially today, that as a people, as a nation of free men and women, we will turn always to Jesus Christ as our sole guide, as our Lord and Savior.


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Inauguration Confusion Among U. S. Bishops

Apparently the U.S. Bishops are not of one mind when it comes to our new president, Joseph Biden. It also seems the Vatican stepped in as well and created even more confusion. I became aware of all this when I read the statement released yesterday by USCCB President, Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, addressing the new president and his administration. I first read the statement not on the USCCB website, but on a diocesan site. It seems, however, the statement was released prematurely because the site later deleted it. I then read reports that the Vatican had requested the USCCB delay its publication, presumably because its language would place limitations on the pope’s future dealings with the new president. As it turned out, the statement was eventually released, apparently in its original form, although a little late.

In his statement the Archbishop waxed eloquently about President Biden’s Catholic faith, adding that "it will be refreshing to engage with a President who clearly understands, in a deep and personal way, the importance of religious faith and institutions." Presumably, the archbishop found President Trump's consistent focus on religious freedom, the right to practice one's faith without government interference, and respect for the lives of unborn children to be less than refreshing. 
To his credit, though, Archbishop Gomez went on to criticize strongly the new president's proposed “policies that would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, most seriously in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender,” as well as concerns for the “liberty of the Church and the freedom of believers.”

I also read reports that some bishops, specifically Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark and Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago, among others, were particularly upset by this criticism of the new president. Both cardinals are among Pope Francis closest allies among the U.S. Bishops. After the USCCB statement was finally released, Cardinal Cupich went public with his criticism of Archbishop Gomez:

“Today, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued an ill-advised statement on the day of President Biden’s inauguration...Aside from the fact that there is seemingly no precedent for doing so, the statement, critical of President Biden came as a surprise to many bishops, who received it just hours before it was released.”

I expect, though, had there been a referendum among U.S. Bishops on the release of the USCCB statement, Archbishop Gomez would have won hands down.
Here’s a link to the complete statement by Archbishop Gomez on the occasion of President Biden’s Inauguration: USCCB Statement

Monday, January 18, 2021

Homily: Monday 1st Week in Ordinary Time

Here's my homily from last Monday's daily Mass. Forgot to post it...


Readings: Hebrews 1:1-6 • Psalm 97 • Mark 1:14-20

Today, as we begin the liturgical year’s Ordinary Time, our readings also present us with beginnings. The Letter to the Hebrews opens with a statement that sums up God’s plan as it’s revealed to us through Sacred Scripture:

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe… [Heb 1:1-2].

It says it all, doesn’t it? Spanning the countless centuries from creation to Abraham to Moses and the prophets, it all leads ultimately to Jesus Christ and His Church. All that Old Testament revelation, confusing as it sometimes seems, is fulfilled through the Father’s Son, Jesus Christ, who not only comes to us in flesh and blood, but is eternally present with the Father from the moment of Creation.

I remember when I first actually thought about the eternal presence of Jesus Christ. I was a freshman at Georgetown taking an Old Testament course taught by an old Jesuit (who was probably years younger than I am now). Here's what he told us:

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

Well...that certainly got me thinking.Is this what Jesus meant in John 5 when He revealed the Son’s work and challenged the Jews?

For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me [Jn 5:46].

Or at the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah converse with Jesus about His future redemptive act on Calvary? [Lk 9:30-31]

St. Augustine reminds us, “The New Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old is made explicit in the New.” Yes, just as God, through His Eternal Word, led the Israelites through the wilderness, so too does His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, lead His Church.

We see this in today’s Gospel passage when Jesus begins His public ministry with the simple message:

This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15].

A simple message…but what does it mean? Let’s look at the last part first. We use the word, “repent,” but the Greek word is metanoia, and the translation can cause problems. 

Most people think of repentance as being sorry for something. But metanoia means so much more. It means to think differently, to change. We’re not called just to be sorry and then continue on. As Paul reminds us, we’re called to “put on the new self" [Col 3:10], to be something new. We’re not called simply to change what we do; we’re called to change who we are.

Did the Apostles realize this? Did Andrew and Simon, and James and John know what Jesus was calling them to do when He said, “Follow me”? Why did they drop everything – those entangling nets, their work, their homes, and follow Jesus? Did they really understand it all?

No, they didn’t. But they sensed it…they sensed the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God, in Jesus and His call. It was overwhelming. They knew they’d been called to something special, even if they didn’t know what it was. And so, they followed.

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

It’s still the time of fulfillment, the time of Jesus’ Presence in the world.The kingdom, God’s reign, is here, a kingdom founded on love, on our relationships with God and with one another.

He calls us to repent. He calls us to a radical conversion. We don’t know exactly what God has in store for us, but we do know He wants us to change, to renew ourselves in Him. What kind of change? The kind that comes straight from the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. To “believe in the Gospel.” Not just to accept all the Gospel teachings of Jesus, but to believe in Him, to pattern our lives on Jesus Himself. 

It means living the Gospel without compromise.

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

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

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