Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fig Tree Cultivation

At Saturday’s weekday mass this morning, the gospel ended with a parable:

"There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'"
As the deacon proclaimed those words, I was hit with a sudden recognition of the parable’s application today. The fig tree is each one of us. The owner of the fig tree is God. The gardener is the Pope and the bishops. The additional year of cultivation and fertilization for which the gardener pleads is the Year of Faith.

Let us all make use of this year to cultivate our faith, that we may bear fruit for the Lord!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Is it mere coincidence that every election year (i.e., every year ending in an even number), just before Election Day, the Lectionary gives us Luke 12:49-53, in which Jesus promises not peace but division?

We are divided, and every year the divisions appear to become more acute. I am not a partisan in the sense that I will always back my party, but I make no secret of the fact that I believe the policies espoused by the Republicans are better for the country than those of the Democrats and that many of the policies of the Obama administration are downright hostile to liberty. I fear for the future of the Republic if the President is reelected. For everyone who thinks as I do, however, there appears to be someone with the opposite opinion who thinks that a vote for Romney is a vote for social Darwinism, in which those with money and power trample on the rest of us.

The country is divided, and the middle ground seems to be disappearing. Regardless of who wins, the victor will face an opposition party in Congress determined to stymie any proposed agenda. The core constituencies for each side will become even more embittered against their opposites.

I don’t know where it all will lead. Naturally, I want my side to win the election, but I worry that the social fabric that holds us all together is becoming frayed. There seems to be a storm brewing. When it arrives, I pray that my little village in the middle of fly-over country avoids the worst of it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Running Preface

Fr. Wilker is fond of using Preface I of Saints for his masses at the Relic Shrine in Maria Stein.  it includes some phrases that I wonder whether anyone who has never run a distance race can appreciate:

By their way of life you offer us an example, by communion with them you give us companionship, by their intercession, sure support, so that, encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses, we may run as victors in the race before us and win with them the imperishable crown of glory, through Christ our Lord

Parsing Paul

Really, Paul? How many clauses can you fit into one sentence? Just how are we supposed to parse this? A little more clarity would have been appreciated!
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:16-23

Friday, October 19, 2012

Effort in Ordinary Time

It happens to me every October. In past years, I trained for and competed in a series of 5K races over the summer. This year, I spent the summer training for the Air Force Marathon in September. Then comes our local Oktoberfest and its 10K Classic, after which I have nothing for which I need to train.

I have entered an in-between period. I run now not to prepare for a race, but just for the sake of running. It may be more accurate to say that I run for the sake of not gaining 20 to 30 pounds. There is a steep drop-off of motivation, and running begins to take on the feel of a chore. Even when I run my short little 4.5 mile loop, the first mile seems to stretch on forever. It doesn’t help that the sun remains under the horizon until 8 am and the overnight temperatures are inching ever-closer to freezing. The delayed dawn makes it harder to get out of bed at 5:30, when the rest of the family is sleeping, and running in the evening means imposing on everyone else’s busy schedules.

So, the physical fitness regimen starts to slip, and I hope that it’s only temporary – a little time off to recover the mojo.

As usual, I also wonder whether there’s a spiritual analogy here. Can the in-between time that I find myself in with regards to running be compared to Ordinary Time with regards to things spiritual? Training for a race is similar to the way that Advent is preparation for Christmas, Lent is preparation for Easter, and the Easter season is preparation for Pentecost. We build up to the big liturgical celebrations, and then we’re left hanging, like Wile E. Coyote, before gravity grabs hold.

Physically, we can’t maintain intense training indefinitely. At some point we peak, and then start to burn out. A recovery period is necessary, but a recovery period means training with less intensity, not the total absence of training. I suppose you could say the same thing about our pious exercises in Ordinary Time. If we don’t take them up a notch during the special seasons, then those seasons lose a part of their special character. The problem, for me anyway, is motivational. The alarm clock goes off, and the bed feels so warm, and the sun is so far away. The last thing I feel like doing is dragging myself out into the cold or off to the gym. Even though the exercise is lighter, the effort required is greater. What seemed so easy in Lent, now seems like such an imposition, and I receive no spiritual consolations.

To say that the effort required is greater is not to say that the effort shouldn’t be made. I’ll keep going to bed every night with the alarm clock set for 5:30. Some days, I’ll even get out of bed when it goes off and do what I know I really want to do. Other days, I’ll convince myself that I need sleep more than exercise. That’s how it goes during the cold months.

I’ll keep telling myself that I should pray the Hours or go to a week day mass or make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or confess my sins and be reconciled with God. Some days I will do it, other days I’ll convince myself that I don’t have time or that I’m needed at home and the little ones can’t go along because they can’t sit still. In this case, though, it feels more like I’m just making excuses. That might be how it goes in Ordinary Time, but it shouldn’t be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bush Legacy

With less three weeks remaining until Election Day, one of the greatest obstacles to replacing President Obama is the enduring shadow of the Bush record. Conservatives like me had a love-hate relationship with President Bush during his eight-year tenure. I loved his resolve to defeat the enemies of the United State and his seriousness on social issues. However, he also worked with Ted Kennedy to increase the reach of the federal government in education policy, created a whole new Medicare entitlement and a whole new cabinet-level department, engaged in serial deficit spending, tried to pass an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and tried to put Harriet Myers on the Supreme Court.

Yet even in 2008 or 2012, if given a choice between Al Gore or John Kerry and George Bush, I can’t imagine any conservative choosing Gore or Kerry.

Bush’s deficits were, I thought, unnecessary. Every year, his administration would submit a budget with a built-in deficit, on the assumption that as long as the deficit was smaller than some percentage of GDP, it wouldn’t lead to a ballooning federal debt. Unlike Obama, Bush got his budgets passed through Congress. However, his budgets were never complete. They always left out the costs of military operations and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were then funded with supplemental spending bills. That always struck me as disingenuous at best.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the citizens of the United States were prepared to rally to the flag. We wanted to do something, to contribute to the defense of liberty, but our leaders in Washington told us to go shopping. We wanted to sacrifice something; instead, we were instructed to continue patronizing our wine bars and cupcake shops. To borrow a phrase from the current campaign, the wars didn’t have to be paid for with a Chinese credit card.

Aside from the deficits, Bush’s economic record is not all that bad. Recall that he came into office facing an economy shocked by the bursting of the dot com bubble and accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom. The Bush administration actually prosecuted the executives responsible and sent them to jail. Unemployment throughout Bush’s two terms remained under 5%. When the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, the root cause had as much to do with the sub-prime lending practices insisted upon by Democrats as it did with any policies pursued by the Republican administration. It can be argued that the proper course of action early on would have been to let financial institutions like AIG fail, rather than bailing them out with imaginary dollars.

Obama voters fear a return of the Bush years. That fear is driven by two things: the institution of a homeland security infrastructure that Obama has mostly kept intact, and a financial crisis for which Bush was not responsible and which has been exasperated by the policies of the current administration.

Debate Disappointment

The second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama took place last night. As expected, President Obama was much more engaged than in the first debate. Mitt Romney held his own, for the most part, but I was disappointed in his responses on a number of questions.

1. Why is it necessary to pander to women? Do women like it? I’m all for equal opportunity, equal compensation for equal jobs, etc., but it almost seemed as if Mitt was on the verge of suggesting that the government should compel companies to offer flexible hours to moms. That’s not a conservative reflex.

2. The religious freedom aspect of the HHS contraception mandate was teed up for him, but he failed to take a swing at it. Instead, he promised not to take away anybody’s contraceptives. The issue is not availability, the issue is whether employers should have to violate their consciences to pay for things that are immoral. The idea that birth control will be free is ridiculous; somebody is going to have to pay for it.

3. He missed the line of attack that I would have used on the Benghazi consulate debacle. Additional security was asked for and not only denied, but reduced. In the immediate aftermath, the violence was blamed on a YouTube video, and apologies were made for our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, even to the point of throwing the man responsible for the video into jail. Three weeks after the attack, the “investigation” still hadn’t secured the site of the attack. A CNN reporter was able to walk right into the rubble, find the diary of the slain ambassador, and walk away with it.

4. How much of the gun violence in the United States is committed with military-grade assault weapons? Not much.

5. Mitt knows that the Fast and Furious drug running scandal is a big deal, but he really doesn’t grasp the details. He needs to study up on that part of his briefing book.

6. Why haven’t Mitt and Paul Ryan, in the debates, noted that the Senate has failed to pass any budget, even though the Constitution requires it, and that the budgets submitted by the President have been so dead on arrival that they failed to get even a single vote?

7. I haven’t once heard any debate criticism of the President for his extra-Constitutional power grabs: making recess appointments when Congress is in session, granting waivers that the Welfare Reform law explicitly forbids, unilaterally declaring that laws like the Defense of Marriage Act will not be enforced or defended by the executive branch, etc.

Rick Santorum would be bringing these things up, although in a whiny voice that wouldn’t win him any style points. Governor Romney seems intent on avoiding any distractions from his five point economic plan to grow the economy. Unfortunately for him, there are more colors to the spectrum, and the population of persuadable voters contains many who focus on hues other than the one that he’s emphasizing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lost Opportunities

File under things that make you go hmm:

The Gospel for Monday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time is Luke 11:29-32. The Gospel for Tuesday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time is Luke 11:37-41. A quick scan of all the Gospel passages in the Lectionary fails to find a single instance where the verse in between, Luke 11:33-36, is listed. Why was this passage skipped, I wonder?

“No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.”

I am reminded of the line from Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” In this age of rampant digital pornography, it is a pity that the designated shepherds of our souls are not presented with an opportunity to preach on these words of Christ on a regular basis.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

So Sorry

A very brief recap: on September 11, 2012, the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt was stormed by “protesters” who replaced the American flag with the black flag fashionable among Islamists. A bit later in the day, our consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and our ambassador to Libya was killed. Prior to the demonstration in Egypt, our diplomats had issued a statement condemning a YouTube video that might “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

In the days following September 11, the Obama administration asserted that everything that happened on that day was the result of this YouTube video. Since then, that assertion has been shown to be as ludicrous as it appeared to be when the administration was making it.

Today, I read a report by Eli Lake from way back on October 1 about what our intelligence agencies knew at the time and immediately following the events described above. This paragraph stood out to me:

The intelligence that helped inform those talking points—and what the U.S. public would ultimately be told—came in part from an intercept of a phone call between one of the alleged attackers and a middle manager from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African affiliate, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intercept. In the call, the alleged attacker said the locals went forward with the attack only after watching the riots that same day at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

It’s possible that the Cairo demonstration was prompted by the YouTube video (or rather by some individual or group that decided to use the video to whip up Anti-American fervor). Certainly, though, the Benghazi attackers were emboldened by the feckless American response to having our Cairo embassy stormed and by the effete pre-apology by our diplomats. The Benghazi attackers weren’t reacting to the video, but they were reacting to our display of weakness in defending the rights of those who made the video.

Can we please replace the apologizers in our diplomatic corps with apologists? Rather than sheepishly saying that we unfortunately have a Constitutional amendment that allows people to say things that “hurt religious feelings,” I want those who represent our government abroad to explain that we guarantee the free speech of our citizens and the result is a superior society. We will defend our diplomatic outposts and personnel, and any foreign government that doesn’t agree to let us defend ourselves will be deprived of our friendship and generosity.

Porta Fidei and the Year of Faith

Today finds the Catholic Church embarking on a Year of Faith. The occasion for the start is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, and the year will run 13 months, until the Celebration of Christ the King in November, 2013. As in other recent “years” (e.g., the Year of St. Paul and the Year for Priests), I’ll be interested to see how the local church (parish, deanery, and diocese) observes the occasion.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith in an apostolic letter entitled Porta Fidei (Door of Faith). After reading what the Pope has written concerning this year, I am concerned that some of us might miss the point. I worry that some misguided souls will see this as a celebration of the post-Vatican II church. Benedict specifically notes that the documents of the Council “need to be read correctly” and that interpretation and implementation of the Council must be “guided by a right hermeneutic.” In so doing, he quotes from his own 2005 letter to the Roman Rota, in which he notes that the right hermeneutic is one of reform and continuity, and not one of discontinuity and rupture. It’s been suggested by some that none of us in the laity really participated in the liturgy or the mission of the Church before the council. The really big problem with this view is that mass attendance on any given Sunday before the council was 75%, whereas today it is close to 25%. And I find laughable the suggestion that we know our faith better today than a generation that grew up being able to quote the Baltimore Catechism.

My reading of Porta Fidei is more somber than celebratory. It’s as if the Pope surveyed the field of battle and concluded that it was time to fall back and regroup. He speaks of “the need to rediscover the journey of faith” and of “large swathes of society” that are affected by “a profound crisis of faith.” He goes on, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden,” and “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God.” This is no self-congratulatory pat on the back! The Year of Faith is to be “a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” and “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.”

There are four specific things that the Pope encourages for this year. The first is the study of the Catechism: “The Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The second is the study of Church history: “One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin.” Third is the practice of acts of charity, through which we extend love to our neighbors: “The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” Finally is the public witness, although the intent might be that this comes after the first three: “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”

My personal plan for the Year of Faith will include a re-reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition, I’ll see if I can’t work some history texts into my reading list. Oh, and I’ll also be on the lookout for any local programs, or at least ones that are guided by a right hermeneutic.