Thursday, April 30, 2009

Alone in a Crowd

My wife and I were talking the other night (something that most happily married couples do), and out of the blue she asked me whether I'm getting tired of trying to carry on conversations with people with whom I have nothing in common. In case you haven't guessed, I'm not very conversational. I am, in fact, learning to stand alone in a crowd. I've learned too often that the thoughts in my head are often unique to me, and if I try to share them, I find that those around me either don't understand or don't care. I have two examples immediately in mind.

Just a week ago, we were at an appreciation dinner for facilitators of our parish's Why Catholic program. The conversation at our table somehow turned to television, and on of the ladies asked if I ever seen the new show Castle. I admitted that I hadn't, but I really enjoyed Nathan Fillion's acting, especially as Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly and Serenity. An awkward silence followed, so I explained that Firefly was a sci-fi series that only lasted half a season, yet was made into a successful motion picture. Eyes glazed over, and I reluctantly abandoned the topic.

A couple of years ago, I was at our local Oktoberfest. It's a big festival that brings in lots of people from out of town. The polka band playing in the Gazebo launched into a rendition of Country Road. My mind immediately leaped to a version, Concrete Road, from the Japanese anime film Whisper of the Heart. I looked around at the crowd and knew that there was probably not another soul there with whom I could share the association.

It is rare that I find someone who shares my interests and with whom I can carry on an enthusiastic conversation. In the meanwhile, I won't give up on trying to converse with normal people, but I'm learning to be alone in the crowd.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

St. Paul Bible Study and the Lectionary Readings

We're coming up on the third session of our Bible study on St. Paul and the sacraments, and I've noticed a delightful correlation between our topics and recent Lectionary readings.

Our first session was the Wednesday after Easter, and we discussed Baptism. While we won't hear Matthew 28:19 ("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") until the Ascension a week before Pentecost , we were treated, on the Monday after our first session, to John 3:5 ("Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God."). Being born of water and the Spirit is commonly understood as underpinning the need for Baptism, in which water is the physical sign and the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit is received.

Our second session was concerned with Reconciliation/Confession. The previous Sunday, we had heard John 20:23 ("If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."). The apostles were commissioned by Christ himself to carry out the ministry of reconciliation. Sins could not be forgiven or retained unless they were known (i.e., confessed).

This week, the third session covers the sacrament of Confirmation. Much of Paul's discussion of Confirmation is concerned with the seal received. When receiving Confirmation, the candidate is anointed with the words, "Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit." Yesterday's gospel had Jesus proclaiming, "Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him the Father, God, has set his seal."

I just love it when things come together like this, as it really helps to highlight the internal unity and organic structure of the doctrine taught by the Church,.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

First Communion Days

Parishes around the area are celebrating First Communion these days, as second graders who have been preparing all year finally get to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at mass. A glance at the Lectionary shows how appropriate it would be for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, as the gospels throughout the Third Week are from chapter 6 of John's Gospel -- the Bread of Life discourse.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinkgs my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abindes in me, and I in him.
John 6:53-56 (read at mass on Friday of the Third Week of Easter)

Two of my girls went with me to mass at St. Joseph church in Egypt this morning, where two children (one of whom is a distant relative of mine) were first communicants. Father Emil Schuwe did a good job of bringing out the reality of Christ's presence in the sacramental species.

St. Joseph church features an elevated statue of St. Gaspar del Bufalo, founder of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, to the right of the sanctuary. The statue depicts St. Gaspar holding a large crucifix. About a year and a half ago, said Fr. Schuwe, the crucifix came loose and fell, with the plaster corpus breaking into many pieces. In a symbolic way, the fracturing of the plaster body of Christ illustrated for parishioners the suffering that Jesus underwent in his passion and death. However symbolic it might have been, it was still only plaster.

Contrast that with the bread and wine offered at mass which, through the consecration, become the Body and Blood of Christ. It is no longer bread and wine, but Christ himself. The plaster of the crucifix looked like Jesus, but it was still just plaster. The consecrated host still looks like bread, but it is now the Body of Christ.

For all those making their First Communion this weekend, I pray that our Lord find within their hearts a soul that want to abide with Him and wants Him to abide with them. May they become worthy tabernacles of Chris, and may every subsequent communion be just as special.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Backyard Triumph

by Stephen Scaer
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (August/September 2008).

Truant from April chores
I daydream in a chair
beneath a tree that scatters
its petals when it stirs,
the way a girl might scatter
blossoms before a litter
that brings a self-made god
exultant down her road,
while Calvinistic bees
insist that glory’s brief.

Extend the allegory:
should petals fall before me?
I’ve not been made aware
of having won a war,
and I did not design
a bridge or new vaccine.
The leaves against my fence
betray my indolence.

This fragrant celebration
might be for anyone.
I know it’s undeserved
but that has not deterred
me from taking pleasure
in the soft spring weather.
The triumphs that I seek
are held for their own sake,
and shower us with grace
like petals on the grass.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Economic Policy and the Church

Sean Hannity has a tiresome shtick that he does every Thursday on his radio show. He sends a staffer out to find people on the streets of New York that he can interview on the radio. He typically sets the politically ignorant saps up for what he considers the knockout punch. He quotes from Karl Marx "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"), and, if they agree with the statement, he slams them as a Marxist and a socialist.

I don't like listening to it, and I change the radio dial away from his show every Thursday. I write this as an advocate of what Michael Novak calls Democratic Capitalism (for which he recently provided a defense in First Things). Socialism and Marxism, as economic policies, simply do not provide the best conditions for economic growth that benefits all of the members of a free society.

Just once, though, I would like somebody to throw Acts 4:32-35 at Mr. Hannity:

Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold, and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need.

On the surface, it sounds like the very early Church was socialist. The ideals of renunciation of personal property and communal ownership can work on small scales when the community is united in faith. Monastic life under the Rule of St. Benedict provides for a framework in which this has been shown to be successful. However, different models are required when the community grows larger or becomes more diverse in beliefs.

When St. Paul was evangelizing the Gentiles, he certainly didn't tell them that becoming Christian meant giving everything they owned to the Church. The Church, in fact, does not advocate for any particular economic system, although papal social teaching has defended private property rights and condemned both atheistic communism and pure capitalism. Communism was tried and failed with dreadful human cost. Pure capitalism (driven only by market forces without any government intervention or regulation) does not exist.

As Christians, we are called to be stewards of the things that God has entrusted to us and to live our lives with a degree of detachment from material things. The point of Acts is that the early Christians placed a higher priority on providing for the needs of the poor than on maintaining their material wealth. Today's Christians are called to keep the same priority.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pureed Steak

Adoro is in full rant mode on a subject close to my heart. I encourage you to visit her site, so as to enjoy any comments. She has a follow-up post that you might want to read as well.

She says it so much more creatively than I could. She should receive a Fr. Cranky (peace be upon him, wherever he disappeared to) award for this post! Please give it a read!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Need for Redemption

It’s been Easter all week. Every day of the Octave (eight days) of Easter is a solemnity on the Church calendar, and if you pray Morning Prayer or Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours, you’ve surely noted that the psalms, canticles, and antiphons are all those used for Easter Sunday. It is indeed fitting that the last day of the Octave, the Second Sunday of Easter, is also designated Divine Mercy Sunday.

The longer I live, the more convinced I become that we are all in need of mercy that exceeds human standards. If we were shown the justice that we deserve, we would tremble when reading Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” We are all called to be saints, and very few of us rise to the challenge. For the rest of us, so much grace that is poured out for us seems to go wasted, no so much, we can hope, because of our refusal to obey, as because of our distracted obtuseness that fails to acknowledge the invitation. (One of my favorite movie quotes, by the way, is from The Shawshank Redemption, when Andy look at the warden in disbelief and asks, “How can you be so obtuse?”)

Examples abound. The director of a widely praised film on the last hours of the life of Christ (you know who I’m talking about), gets arrested for drunk driving and makes embarrassing remarks about Jews, then a few years later, his wife serves him with divorce papers on Holy Thursday. The man is a believer. I don’t doubt his sincerity, and I don’t doubt that he knows enough to have a properly formed conscience. He has not apostasized, or denied any truth of the faith. Yet he still has demons to wrestle with that overpower him and cause him to fall. Hard. The Lord offers him mercy.

Peter denied Christ three times. How many times have I denied Him, not in public, but in my heart? Every time that I sin, I deny him sovereignty over my life. Yet for all that I desire to surrender my life in obedience to the Lord of life, I remain a sinner. I am suspended between Romans 7:13 (“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”) and 1 John 2:3-4 (“And by this we may be sure that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He who say ‘I know him’ but disobeys his commandments is a liar, and thr truth is not in him.”), always with Hebrews 10:26-31 playing ominously in the background.

These things played in my mind this weekend as I examined my conscience before going to confession. I went with the same list of sins as last time, and I could not help but wonder, how sorry am I? I can sit there on Saturday morning, across the screen from the priest, and be sorry for my sins and determined not to repeat those sins, but at the same time I know that the damnable attraction to sin, which is a result of the fall of our original parents is going to remain. For some reason, God seems to want my choice to be hard and continuous, when I want it to be easy. I want to be able to say, “I renounce sin!” and not be troubled by it any more. Unfortunately, there is not procedure for removing concupiscence. Sin is always crouching at our door, requiring us to make a conscious effort to turn our faces away from evil and to good.

It isn’t easy. Even cloistered monks find that they fall and have to get back up. So we return once again to the mercy of God. He is faithful when we are not. The only limit to God’s mercy is our desire to seek it and our ability to receive it. We fall, and we get back up. We renew our resolutions and eventually, God willing, we overcome some of our faults so that the falls aren’t as hard. And, provided we don’t despair, we eventually find our way home to Him, and we become, finally, what we were made to be.

St. Paul and Baptism

Now that our four year commitment to facilitate Why Catholic is over, I’ve enrolled in a Bible study at our parish. It’s the first parish Bible study in which I’ve been a participant, although I’ve listened to tape sets, viewed and listened to programs on EWTN, done some study on my own, and been in groups where we’ve discussed the Sunday readings. Every Bible study offered by our parish in the last four years has been not only concurrent with Why Catholic, but offered only on the same night that our Why Catholic group met. I do not bilocate, and my wife appreciates my help at home (i.e., I can’t run off to meetings too many nights out of the week).

The study that we’re doing is Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s survey of the sacraments in the Epistles of St. Paul, which was written for the Jubilee Year of St. Paul (June 29, 2008 to June 29, 2009). I picked up my copy back in October, when Fr. Pacwa spoke at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein.

The first session dealt with the sacrament of Baptism, and the first discussion question really had me thinking: How did St. Paul’s experience of Christ on the road to Damascus, his blindness, and his baptism help him to understand the relationship that exists between Jesus Christ and his Church?

Recall that, before his conversion, Paul was persecuting the Christians. He was on his way to Damascus to arrest the Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem when Jesus appeared to him, saying, “Why do you persecute me?” Christ identified himself with his followers. For the next three days, Paul was blind, until a Christian named Ananias came to him and layed hands upon him. God could have worked on Paul directly, but He chose to work through a believer. That seems to be the primary lesson. The baptized are intimately united to Christ and become the means through which God typically chooses to work in the world.

To supplement the Bible study, I decided to see what EWTN had in their audio archives. I found a series that was recorded by Fr. Pacwa about ten years ago: In the Footsteps of St. Paul. There are thirteen episodes, each about 27 minutes long, and each about 3 MB in size. The audio quality isn’t the greatest, but it is certainly passable.

The EWTN series does not focus exclusively on the sacraments, as the study our group is using does, but I found interesting Fr. Pacwa’s highlighting of 1 Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” As important as Paul believes baptism to be, he leaves the work of baptism to others.

The phrase for what Paul is engaged in is kerygma, a Greek word meaning the initial proclamation of the Gospel or missionary preaching. Paul’s job was to attract people to the faith and bring them to a point where they would be ready for a more formal explanation. Kerygma precedes catechesis, and catechesis typically precedes Baptism. I say typically because there are obvious exceptions, such as the thousands who were baptized by the Apostles after Pentecost. However, those were Jews, rather than Gentiles. The Gentile converts would have needed more instruction than a believing Jew. We might see an analogy today in that not all Catholic converts are required to go through the entire Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults and wait until Easter Vigil to be received into the Church, especially where the convert has already studied his way to the point where he is making great sacrifices to enter the Church and is likely to know the doctrines of the Church better than his RCIA instructor.

I’m looking forward to the next five sessions of this six-session Bible study, as we explore the sacraments through the words of St. Paul.

Friday, April 17, 2009


This was brought to my attention by some family members on Easter. 45365 is the zip code where I was born and raised. The film was shot by the sons of a teacher and coach that I had back in my school days.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Building on the Rock

President Obama recently gave a speech in which he referenced the Sermon on the Mount, in which Our Lord told the parable of the two men who built their houses, one on sand and the other on solid rock. The floods came and swept away the house built on sand, but the house built on rock remained standing.

The President went on to propose five pillars of rock on which we need to build our economy:

1. New rules for Wall Street - he says that the old rules rewarded reckless risk-taking. Investors aren't likely to jump back into the market if they know that the rules are going to be changed. They'll wait to see what the rules are, and then base their investments decisions on whether they can make money playing by the new rules. In other words, he's guaranteed stagnation in the markets.

2. New investments in education - when a Democrat says "investment" he means "spending," even though there's no guarantee that increased spending yields any better results.

3. New investments in renewable energy and technology - this might eventually have some benefit, but in the short term it's going to drive up energy costs, effectively acting as a brake on economic recovery.

4. New investments in health care - more spending for what, exactly? He says he wants to cut costs for families and businesses, but then who pays? The Government? With what? Oh yeah, taxes from families and businesses, but don't worry, he'll only tax the families and businesses that deserve to be taxed!

5. New savings in the federal budget - with all this "investment" going on, he still thinks he's going to save money in federal budget? Care to guess where he plans to "find" those savings?

I don't think that the five points proposed by the President are what Jesus had in mind when he told the parable.

On the other hand, Pope Benedict XVI proposes that we build our house on the Rock of Christ, which means to build on Christ and with Christ. "Building on Christ means basing all your desires, aspirations, dreams, ambitions and plans on his will. It means saying to yourself, to your family, to your friends, to the whole world and, above all to Christ: “Lord, in life I wish to do nothing against you, because you know what is best for me."

He warns that there will be rejection and misfortune. "Maybe it is easier to base one’s life on the shifting sands of one’s own worldview, building a future far from the word of Jesus and sometimes even opposed to it. Be assured that he who builds in this way is not prudent, because he wants to convince himself and others that in his life no storm will rage and no wave will strike his house. To be wise means to know that the solidity of a house depends on the choice of foundation. Do not be afraid to be wise; that is to say, do not be afraid to build on the rock!"

We need to build our personal lives on the Rock of Christ. As followers of Christ, it is our responsibility to carry our Christian principles into the marketplace. To endure, the economy needs to be built upon Christian principles as well. Even so, we cannot expect that there will be no storms, just that we will weather them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gathering Storm

I am sometimes pessimistic about the future of marriage in America. While I can be certain that what the Catholic Church teaches regarding marriage will not change, I am much less certain that marriage, as understood by the Church, will remain a public institution protected by law.

Apparently, I'm not the only one worried.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Four Great Saints

In his homily for the Easter Vigil, Pope Benedict XVI explained some of the signs of the rite. In his exposition on the waters of baptism, he said this:

In Baptism, the Lord makes us not only persons of light, but also sources from which living water bursts forth. We all know people like that, who leave us somehow refreshed and renewed; people who are like a fountain of fresh spring water. We do not necessarily have to think of great saints like Augustine, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and so on, people through whom rivers of living water truly entered into human history. Thanks be to God, we find them constantly even in our daily lives: people who are like a spring. Certainly, we also know the opposite: people who spread around themselves an atmosphere like a stagnant pool of stale, or even poisoned water. Let us ask the Lord, who has given us the grace of Baptism, for the gift always to be sources of pure, fresh water, bubbling up from the fountain of his truth and his love!

Benedict gives four examples of "great saints," of which one is Mother Teresa, who isn't even canonized (she was beatified in 2003). Pretty rarefied air for the little nun from Albania.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Charity’s Gift

by Joseph S. Salemi
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (May 2008).

Pinioned here, I look downwards to see
My mother weeping in unfettered grief
Her heart transfixed by swords, beholding
Me Hang from this branch like autumn’s final leaf.

Disciple John-how much more than the rest
My soul smiles on him in completest love!
Mother and friend, by misery oppressed,
Huddle and hunch together. Raised above

This scene of bleeding spirits, I can make
No sign of recognition or concern
Except to speak out from My wooden stake
And give them to each other, for I yearn

To show the world how caritas unties
The bond of blood and flesh, and doing so,
Entwines a new knot even as it dies.
I bid you, mater dolorosa, go

And seek Me in the lambs that I hold dear:
The captives ransomed by My bitter cup-
For through this gift I make love’s mandate clear:
Go wash each other’s wounds, and bind them up.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Institution of the Eucharist

Brothers and sisters:
I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over,
took bread, and, after he had given thanks,
broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me."
In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,
"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."
For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup,
you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

1 Cor 11:23-26

I have known people who suffer an adverse reaction when exposed to depictions of the Last Supper like those above. "The bread didn't look like a host!" they exclaim.

They miss the point. These pictures aren't trying to faithfully reproduce a historical scene. They are nonetheless depicting a historical reality. When the priest says the words of consecration over the hosts at mass, they become no less the body of Christ than when Jesus himself said those words in the Upper Room. When we attend Mass, we place ourselves at the Last Supper. The priest acts in persona Christi, and what was bread and wine becomes the body and blood of our Lord. And, when Christ blessed the bread at the Last Supper, he was instituting the Eucharist. The host we receive is, in substance, the same as the bread that He gave to his apostles.

Holy Thursday Dessert

Those who know me well, and sadly, there are precious few who do, know that I take the liturgy very seriously. It makes present to us the reality of heaven and opens channels of grace. Our daily life and the liturgy of the Church form an organic feedback loop in which we are continually preparing to celebrate the liturgy and the liturgy enables us to live a Christian life.

It is with great expectations that I approach the high holy days of the Easter Triduum. The season of Lent builds toward the celebration of the Triduum. The technical term is the Principle of Progressive Solemnity. Every Sunday is an Easter celebration, but not every Sunday is equal in solemnity. Some are more solemn than others, and the most solemn of all is the celebration of the Easter Vigil. The three service of the Triduum, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Good Friday Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, and the Easter Vigil Mass combine to form a continuous liturgical celebration that spans three days.

Every year I enter the Triduum with great expectations, but I am a realist, and I have to steel myself for the almost inevitable disappointment that comes when the actual celebration of the liturgy is not everything that it could be. A very high standard was set by the parish to which we belonged when I was a naval officer stationed in Northern Virginia. The pastor of that parish has since moved on to another assignment, and I suspect that the liturgical excellence that we enjoyed during those years has moved on with him.

The Holy Thursday celebration, at least as I would like to see it celebrated, ends with the procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the church and to the altar of repose, typically in the sacristy. During the procession, the full Pange Lingua is sung, and the mass ends in silence, with the procession leaving the body of the church and the tabernacle standing empty. The altar of repose should remain available for several hours after mass for those who wish to pray before the sacramental presence of Our Lord. The symbolism is profound. After celebrating the Last Supper, Christ and his disciples have departed for the Garden of Gethsemane, where they will spend the night in prayer. We pick up the drama on Good Friday, when we commemorate the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Christ. Liturgically, Good Friday begins with the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.

Being liturgically sensitive as I am, I find that celebrating fellowship with a dessert buffet following mass on Holy Thursday strikes a discordant note. As you might guess, I tend to avoid significant liturgical celebrations at my own parish.

I try to guard myself against being too puritanical, but I don’t want to lose or compromise my sense that the liturgy opens up spiritual realities. Whether the liturgy is well done or not, the reality remains. When well done, however, the liturgy teaches. When poorly done, the wrong lessons are learned.

I remain open to the argument that some form of fellowship celebration following the Holy Thursday mass is appropriate. Like most people, I am influenced by those that I respect, and so my eyebrows were raised when I read this from the funeral homily for Fr. Richard John Neuhaus:

The great Christian convivium on earth is the Last Supper. I remember being here at this parish for Holy Thursday in 1997, in my first year as a seminarian. Fr. Neuhaus celebrated the Mass together with his brother priests and then we all repaired to the rectory for a festive meal to celebrate the institution of the holy priesthood. It was only a few months after the celebrated FIRST THINGS symposium on the judicial usurpation of politics, and the priests were eager to ask the editor in chief all about it. Over drinks and then dinner, Richard put on a remarkable performance. Those who only heard him in the pulpit or read him in print missed perhaps his most gifted forum: the dinner table. He was a world-class convivialist.

After several hours, the dinner was sinding down and Richard had been the center of the entire evening. Nobody resented that, but Richard evidently thought that a Holy Thursday celebration of the priesthood should not be all about him. So he shifted to homiletic mode, and spoke of the wonder and awe in which he held the holy priesthood. More than ten years later I vividly remember his words as he recalled the Eucharistic procession to the altar of repose: "How utterly promiscuous is the love of God!" he began, using idiosyncratically another of his favorite words. Then he preached to us at the dinner table, using those cadences he long ago perfect at "St. John the Mundane" in inner-city Brooklyn: "The Son of the Eternal Father commends himself to our hands; the Word made flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary commends himself to our hands, . . . the innocent Lamb who died for the redemption of the world, the Risen One who restores us all to life, . . . this same Jesus, my brothers, allowed me to carry him in my hands. How utterly promiscuous is the love of God!"

I imagine, however, that even a celebratory dinner with Fr. Neuhaus would have maintained a degree of solemnity that would have made it somewhat more appropriate to the occasion than a dessert buffet at which I would have no expectation of a homiletic expression of appreciation for the promiscuity of God's love.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

An Army of What?

The headline certainly got my attention: "New Obama faith-based advisor described Knights of Columbus as ‘army of oppression’." My first reaction was the Obama-inspired phrase, "That's not the Knights of Columbus I know." My second reaction was inspired by my strain of Obama Derangement Syndrome: "Now they're targeting us!" Naturally, I had to read the whole thing to get the full story.

The full story is that one guy appointed to the President's advisory council on faith-based partnerships (another body that appears to be oriented toward a lot of talk and discussion with no real results expected) is a homosexual rights activist. It should come as no surprise that this advocate for, among other things, homosexual "marriage" does not care much for any organization that is taking a stand in defense of traditional marriage as understood by the Catholic Church.

The Knights of Columbus are placed in pretty good company:

According to, Knox has described Pope Benedict XVI and certain Catholic bishops as “discredited leaders” because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. Though granting the Knights of Columbus’ “good works," Knox also called the organization’s members “foot soldiers of a discredited army of oppression” because of the Catholic group’s support for the successful California ballot measure Proposition 8. Proposition 8 restored the definition of marriage to being between a man and a woman.

So the headline is a little misleading. This activist did not call the Knights an army of oppression, rather he called it's members "foot soldiers" in an army of oppression. The leaders of this army are Pope Benedict XVI and "certain Catholic bishops." Yeah, that sounds about right.

To defer some of the Obama Derangement Syndrome, it should be noted that, also appointed to the advisory council, are the General Counsel to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the President of Catholic Charities USA. We can hope that they will bring an authentic Catholic voice to the council.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Toilet Training

My dear wife is taking Holy Week off from blogging. Since I'm on "Spring Break" (a euphamism for a plant shutdown/forced vacation) this week, I've actually got a little extra time to blog. Don't worry, though, Amy and I have put together quite a list to keep me busy, with the filing of our tax returns at the top of the list. I am going to have to pick up the blogging slack with regards to the amusing little anecdotes regarding our adorable little Saint.

Erin has finally been showing some signs that she might be ready to learn how to use the toilet. So, upon getting her out of bed this morning and before getting her dressed for school, I asked her if she wanted to set on the toilet. Her big sister was in the bathroom, so we waited patiently outside.

Upon taking her seat on the throne, she reached back for a magazine. Oh, is that the way Daddy does it? We never know just what our children are going to pick up from us. She also demonstrated some rare modesty by asking that the door be closed. Probably another thing that she picked up from Dad.

Evil Geniuses

Buried near the middle of Odd Hours, by Dean Koontz, is a passage that deserves to be shared.

I have only a few times been in a position to overhear bad men conspiring to commit evil deeds, and on every occasion, they had been pretty much like Joey and Utgard. Those who choose to live criminal lives are not the brightest among us.

This truth inspires a question: If evil geniuses are so rare, why do so many bad people get away with so many crimes against their fellow citizens and, when they become leaders of nations, against humanity?

Edmund Burke provided the answer in 1795: The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

I would only add this: It is also essential that good men and women not be educated and propagandized into believing that real evil is a myth and that all malevolent behavior is merely the result of a broken family's or a failed society's shortcomings, amenable to cure by counseling and by the application of new economic theory.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Fickle Crowds and Me

Fickle. That’s the word often used to describe the crowds of Jerusalem who welcomed Jesus to Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna to the Son of David, and then less than a week later cried to Pontius Pilate with shouts for his crucifixion. We want to believe that we are more sophisticated, less pliable, less fickle. We all know, deep down, however, that the mob is every bit as fickle today.

Throughout the past week, the gospels have featured the back and forth between Jesus and the Pharisees, and I’ve had to wonder whether I would have committed myself had I been a first century Jew. Clearly, Jesus of Nazareth was claiming an authority and a relationship with God that none had ever laid claim to before. I would have had some trouble accepting that.

Yet the man who was making these claims also performed incredible signs. He cured the blind, made the lame walk, healed lepers, fed the multitudes. His gospel was not radically different from that of the prophets, but he claimed to be the fulfillment of the law. All the rules that Moses had given were being turned upside down, and the priests and the Pharisees opposed him. Once Jesus raised a man from the dead, calling Lazarus out from the tomb after four days, the priests decided that this Jesus had to be put to death! What greater sign could a man give? I want to believe that if I hadn’t committed before then, the raising of Lazarus would have made me a believer.

I shared my thoughts with a friend this weekend, and he assured me that the fact that I am a believing Christian today means that I would have believed if I had been a first century Jew in Jerusalem. Maybe. Maybe I would have been one of those laying palm branches in front of him as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey. But would I have been one of the fickle ones?

How do I put these reflections to use today? I tend to be skeptical of religious fads. I turn to the Church, secure in the knowledge that the Church is the Body of Christ and that the Pope and the bishops in union with him enjoy a charism of infallibility when teaching on faith and morals. Public revelation, the Church teaches us, is complete. Everything that we need has been given to us. So, when somebody comes along with a new teaching, I weigh is against everything that has come before. Scripture alone can be misinterpreted, so I look to the two thousand years of Tradition that the authority of the Church (the pillar and bulwark of truth) gives.

The biggest difference between a first century Jew and the modern Catholic is the expectation of the messiah. For the Jew, the messiah was yet to come and was to be looked for; for the Catholic, the messiah came two thousand years ago, comes everyday in the Eucharist, and will come again in glory. When Christ comes again, in his glory, he will be impossible to miss. He could come any day, and there is a way in which he does come every day in all those who I meet. Mother Theresa saw Jesus in every suffering soul, and Jesus himself said that whenever we clothe the naked, feed the poor, give drink to the thirsty, care for the sick, or visit the imprisoned, we do it to him.

Still, I have to worry that I might be fickle. And even if I am not, those around me are. What will I do if all around me, people are shouting for crucifixion? Daily we pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Another translation reads, “Put us not to the test.” Peter said that he would never deny Christ. Am I any stronger than he? Are any of us so confident as to say that we will succeed where Peter failed?

An Apostle Falls

by A.M. Juster
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (October 2008).

Betrayal had fulfilled the prophecy.
Too proud for penance and too weak to run,
he strung himself up from a cedar tree
and swayed for days beneath a scathing sun.

Thieves cut his desiccated body free,
then left it in the dust. Throughout that night,
Jerusalem kept shuddering with light.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Greatness of Pope John Paul II

This past Thursday, April 2, was the fourth anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. It almost seems like it was yesterday!

John Paul II is famous, among many other things, for giving the Church the Theology of the Body. Throughout March, the featured podcast at EWTN was a program on the Theology of the Body, presented in 2005 by Fr. Richard Hogan with Katrina Zeno. In the first episode, Fr. Hogan noted that, through the Theology of the Body, John Paul II was explaining the faith through the philosophical method of phenomenology, much as St. Augustine had used Platonic philosophy and St. Thomas Aquinas used Aristotelian philosophy. Recognizing that putting John Paul II in the same league as Augustine and Aquinas was not something to be done lightly, Fr. Hogan offered further points of evidence for the greatness and historical significance for the pontificate and person of John Paul II.

  • Going into the second enclave of 1978, Carol Wojtyla was not on the list of candidates that anyone expected to be elected. His selection was a complete surprise.

  • Cardinal Wojtyla, like his predecessor, took a double name. When John Paul I took a double name, it broke with 1000 years of tradition. John Paul II followed his lead.

  • The year 1978 saw three popes occupy the chair of St. Peter. It was the first year since 1648 that saw three popes.

  • Pope John Paul II was Polish. The last time that a non-Italian cardinal had been elected pope was 1523.

  • Pope John Paul II came from a Communist country. During his pontificate, the atheistic Communist regimes of Eastern Europe crumbled and fell.

  • An assassination attempt, widely believed to have been orchestrated by Bulgaria, was made on his life. The pope had not been the target of violence by a government since 1302.

  • John Paul II made numerous pastoral visits abroad. This was completely unprecedented. From 1871 to 1929, the popes had never left Rome. Pius the XI and Pius XII made only a few trips each. Paul VI made trips to the Holy Land, Constantinople, and New York, but those were not pastoral visits.

  • World Youth Day.

  • He had already had a major influence on the Church before his election. He was influential in preparing the documents of the Second Vatican Council, writing the first draft of Gaudium et Spes and large parts of Lumen Gentium. He had also contributed to Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae.

  • During his pontificate, the Catechism of the Catholic Church was compiled and published. It was only the second time in history that the Church compiled a full catechism, the first being the Roman Catechism that followed the Council of Trent.

  • With his health failing, he added five new mysteries to the rosary, which no pope before him had ever done.

In other words, Fr. Hogan was saying that the importance of the Theology of the Body is witnessed to by all of the other significant accomplishments of this amazing man.

It is not hard to recognize why many believe that he will be remembered by history as Pope John Paul the Great.

St. Isidore of Seville, Ora Pro Nobis!

April 4 is the feast day of St. Isidore of Seville. Isidore is a doctor of the Church and, according to the CNA entry, is "the last of the ancient Christian philosophers and great Latin Fathers." He is the patron saint of the internet (appropriate for all bloggers!), and author of the first encyclopedia ever written. He died April 4, 636.

Prayer for the intercession of St. Isidore of Seville
(proposed) Patron Saint of Internet Users

Almighty and eternal God,
who created us in Thy image
and bade us to seek after
all that is good, true and beautiful,
especially in the divine person
of Thy only-begotten Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ,
grant we beseech Thee that,
through the intercession of Saint Isidore,
bishop and doctor,
during our journeys through the internet
we will direct our hands and eyes
only to that which is pleasing to Thee
and treat with charity and patience
all those souls whom we encounter.
Through Christ our Lord.

(Prayer from Catholic Web Resources)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Rack, Shack, and Benny

Today's reading from Daniel, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the furnace by King Nebuchadnezzar always reminds me of two things. The first is a song that I was taught in elementary school. It was a public school, yet the two songs that I most remember were explicitly religious: "My Lord's gonna come in the mornin'; my Lord's gonna stay through the night. My Lord's gonna watch over me, and everything's gonna be all right." The other song was a Hannukah song: "Hannukah, oh Hannukah! Come light the mennorah. Let's have a party, we'll all dance the hora!" We would have an assembly in December where the whole school would sing Christmas carols, including Silent Night and Joy to the World.

But the other thing the passage reminds me of is the Veggie Tales story of Rack, Shack, and Benny. More specifically, the Bunny Song sung by Mr. Nezzar. It's catchy. It's viral. If you listen to it, it will be in your head for the rest of the day. I love it!