Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

A Letter on Immigration

Below I am reprinting a letter that I just sent to the editors of Zenit, in response to a letter they published by Ms. Carole Winder, concerning immigration reform and the situation of persons dwelling in the US without the authorization demanded by our government.

I found her letter appalling. She quotes St. Thomas Aquinas but knows nothing of His spirit.

"Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to the letter of Ms. Carol Winder. I hope that you will publish my thoughts as you published hers. She is correct in citing St. Thomas Aquinas that there is no charity in injustice. But she is badly under-informed about the current conditions under which illegal immigration is undertaken in the US.

Immigration laws are currently very hodgepodge and self-contradictory. Moreover, their enforcement is remarkably variable. Enforcement of immigration laws is negligible, for instance, during the harvest season, and then draconian immediately afterwords. This pattern is hypocritical. A friend of mine reports a like hypocrisy detected during his time in the Catholic Worker House in Houston. Busloads of illegal workers were taken to New Orleans to be hired by contractors (who knew they were illegal) for rebuilding projects. They were told that in the US, pay isn't daily, but every other week. On the thirteenth day of work, the buses to take the men back to their bunk lodging instead took them to INS centers set up for the occasion. The men were deported, deliberated left unpaid for their labor, and on the following day more busloads arrived from Texas.

This treatment is slavery by fraud, with the implicit consent of the government, in an effort to keep costs down so that re-settlers can profit thereby, and should sting any well-formed Christian conscience.

The selective enforcement of immigration laws is hypocritical and amounts to a new wage-slavery at best, and outright slavery at its worst. It is not a secret, one only has to open newspapers to read accounts of slave rings busted up or of truckloads of immigrants locked and abandoned in holds on the side of the road to roast to death under the hot sun in broad daylight.
We do not have a glut of unskilled labor in the US, but a severe shortage of it. The middle class is experiencing hardship because its skilled and professional job opportunities are wearing thin, not because there is a run on jobs at McDonald's or your local landscaping service. Yet, our true job competition, skilled and professional workers from India, China, Africa, and Eastern Europe escape any vitriol, all of which seems to focus on 'the Mexicans,' only a fraction of whom are actually Mexican.

I support an authentic reform of our immigration laws, in which we gain control of our borders, and in which our decision about how many and who we can generously permit to enter is based not upon nationality and prejudice, but upon the desire to contribute to and benefit from America's common good. An immigration reform that looks toward everyone's long term good, rather than to short-term political gains and an economy based on exploited laborers, would be heartily welcome.

We turn a blind eye to the situation at the peril of our souls. We Christians are called to be aliens of a sort in every land, with a higher allegiance to a King who dwells elsewhere. Many of those seeking entrance to this land are our brothers and sisters in Christ, baptized into our holy Faith and members of our holy Church. Woe to us, shame upon us, if we put the passing concerns of this world upon the eternal will of God for His Kingdom. Rather than that, let us use our resources and influence to structure this nation to be more in accord with the Kingdom, and yes, even to give aid and comfort to the afflicted.

Or are we not Christians, we Catholics in America?

Mr. Ryan Haber
Kensington, Maryland"

The End of Days

Today, for the Catholic Church, is the last day of the liturgical year. This evening we begin a new year in Christ, the year of our Lord 2009, with the vigil of the First Sunday of Advent. The introit for the First Sunday of Advent, the first words spoken in the liturgy, are Ad te levavi animam meam, "To Thee I have lifted up my soul," (Ps 25). I hope I won't sound impertinent by saying that the various caretakers of our holy liturgy have, over the millennia, decided well by using verses from this psalm to open the liturgical year.

The liturgical year might be thought of as our life in Christ lived out over the course of a year. The first half of the year celebrates Advent and Christmas, the time in which we remember our Lord God's incarnation and entrance into the world as an honest-to-God human being. Then comes a liturgical pause, known as the Ordinary Time, in which all the regular rules and ordinances of Christian living apply. In this period, the Mass readings focus especially on the basic teachings of our Lord. During Lent, the next phase, we focus on renunciation of the things of the world and interior conversion. Faith, hope, and love, so prominent in the Christian life, crystallize into prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We remember the suffering and death of our Lord during the brief period known as Passiontide that comes at the end of Lent, followed by the Triduum, the three most sacred days of the year, in which the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ are made manifest to us again in the liturgy. The explosion of joy at the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the God-man, at the Easter Vigil and the fifty days of Eastertide (to trump the forty days of Lent) is marked by baptisms, bonnets, confirmations, May Day, parish picnics, and the rest. So the first half of the liturgical year concludes. The second half resumes Ordinary Time and its weekly, daily reflection on what it means to live as a follower of Jesus, as one who wishes to follow Him even into eternity.

And it all begins with a psalm, and sung poem inspired by the Holy Spirit, "To Thee I have lifted up my soul." The world moans in exile from Eden, riddled with sin, mourning in death and death's fall-out zone: bickering friends, starving children, despair, frustration, suffering, and all the things that God never desired for us but that we have brought upon ourselves collectively by our collective sin. We lift up our soul to God, like a mother holding a dying child, like our Blessed Mother grief-stricken and holding her murdered Son. Our heart groans and cracks under the weight of the sadness we are expected to bear, our exile from Eden, our slavery in Egypt, our bondage in Babylon, our weeping in this valley of tears. And God, in his unfathomable love and mercy, stoops down to lift us up, to lift us from the dunghill and set us on a firm rock (Ps. 40), to live with us and to love us face to face. In Advent, we reflect upon our sinful condition, we remember what God has done for us, what God is doing for us, what God will do for us. We remember His first coming into the world, about 2000 years ago; and we attend to His daily return in the People of God, in the proclaimed Gospel, in our private prayers, and especially in the Sacraments and in our sufferings handing over to Him. We look forward to His final return in Glory, the Parousia, at which He will fully, finally manifest His Kingdom, His way of doing things, and set everything to rights.

In the Gospel reading for the I Sunday of Advent (Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37), our Lord warns us to watch, to pay attention, because we do not know when the End will come and so we must stay ready. Moreover, if we do not pay attention, we will miss Him here and now as He begins and continues His saving work in our life. Emmanuel means "God with us," and He is truly with us, and He is coming. This year, lift up your soul to God and watch to see what He does.

More Thunder

A storm is brewing, according to Stanislaw Cardinal Rylko, President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Today he opened the 23rd plenary assembly of the council with a speech warning participants of the many dangers besetting the Church - both its leaders and its laity. Chief among them he drew attention to what he described as a well-advanced and widespread effort to remake man in a new mold, other than in the image of God, and to form this new man independent of God and the Judeo-Christian tradition. For us Christians, he said that a chief danger is not becoming a minority, but becoming a mediocrity; not so small a group that we cease to matter in civil society, but so timid and pallid a group that we cease to be relevant. He said that this is the hour of the laity to rise up, strive for holiness, and impact the world for Christ.

Read a report about his speech by clicking here.

Zeal and the Fire of Faith

My politically-liberal, religiously agnostic office mate and I came upon what I think is a very good analogy for the zeal, the ardor of faith. As a bit of background to my thinking, reflect for a moment on the ideas of fundamentalism and dogmatism. Both of them get bad reputations that aren't necessarily so.

If fundamentalism is the idea that it's good to stick to the fundamentals, well, don't we all agree? I mean, who thinks it best to get off on irrelevant tangents, or to build mental castles in the sky. "Keep it simple, stupid," is a pretty American maxim. When we speak of fundamentalism as a bad thing, we don't mean architects who want to build simple buildings, or even of Christians who just want to believe in Christ. We mean people who get overzealous, irrationally (by which we usually mean unpleasantly or inflexibly) dogmatic, people who get abusive or violent. That's why we can speak of "fundamentalist Christianity" and "fundamentalist Islam" as being something alike, when adherents of either way of thinking are ready to nuke each other, and when there are, in fact, stark differences in their beliefs, worldviews, etc. What they share in common is a certain out-of-place rigidity in their thinking and overheated zeal in their attitude.

Not that rigidity or zeal are always out of place. Dogmatism, you might say, is not so much holding this dogma to be unquestionably true, as it is the attitude that makes into matters of dogma things that are really practical matters, or matters of opinion. After all, we all have dogmas - the goodness of democracy is a very American dogma, for instance. Virtually anything we don't bother to question (and we can't always be questioning everything) can settle into a sort of dogmatic position in our thinking. Dogmatism is an attitude that says "Red is the best color, and if you disagree, then you are stupid." Favorite colors aren't matters of dogma, but of preference. A dogmatist might get very dogmatic about the best route to get from A to B. Provided that A and B are both morally acceptable places to be, and that the routes in consideration are morally acceptable, the best route is really a matter of practical planning, rather than dogmatic preaching.

Now add to that dogmatism a dose of zeal, which for now we'll define as passionate self-investment. Not only is one practical path the best and others worse, as for the dogmatist, but the zealous dogmatist might very well shout you down or even shoot you down if you have you beg to differ and make your own decision. He might even bloody your nose red for having disliked the color red. This sort of person is what we usually mean by a "fundamentalist," and I think that it is becoming increasingly clear to most folks that atheists, agnostics, and skeptics might be "fundamentalist" in this sense as well.

A particularly American thought-disease to to think that everything, simply everything, is a purely practical matter: the dogma that there should be in our thinking no dogmas, just practical results. "Whatever gets the job done," is another very American saying. A first problem is that this sort of thinking gives no guidepost in our dealings, even with other people, other than efficiency. This efficiency is a very rough way of handling human hearts, aspirations, and lives. Any decent worker who's been laid off rather than retrained or relocated, for the sake of efficiency, knows what Efficiency is an ugly god to worship, or at least an ugly dogma to live by. Combined with shortsightedness, this worship of efficiency will cause disaster for all involved.

In a culture that worships dogmalessness to the point of turning her into a goddess, Efficiency, Practicality, or whatever you want to call her, the Catholic faith very easily seems very rigid and doctrinaire. "So many rules," people say, and, "How unreasonable, if they'd just change X belief or do Y or Z, they'd solve all their problems." But in reality, the Catholic faith is shockingly practical and undogmatic. One or two brief examples will do:

(1) Sunday attendance of Holy Mass, even when one cannot receive communion for some reason, is an absolute non-negotiable of the Catholic religion. Unless. Unless? Yes, unless you cannot. Then, you don't have to. If illness, care of an ill person or infant, physical obstruction, dangerous weather, or some other very serious obstacle arises, then no problem. It happens. See you next week. Now the soccer game is not a legitimate reason. Miss the game. But the blizzard? Well, these things happen. No biggy. The idea isn't one more "rule," but a new heart. Worshipping God should be our central purpose and top priority, not an obligation. Having been established in this new way of thinking, we'll probably stay on the right track. We should feel the soccer game less important, and be disappointed when a hurricane or sick baby keep us from leaving the house on Sunday. Once we've gotten to that point, the "rules" about attending Mass seem aside from the point.

(2) Marriage requires witnesses for each party and a cleric to witness the vows in a public setting. Unless. Unless? Yes, unless the right number of witnesses is simply unavailable. Then you can make do with fewer. Unless. Unless? Unless a serious fear of reprisal for undertaking the marriage requires it to be kept secret, then it can be done secretly. So if having a public marriage would reveal one's Christian faith to a hostile culture, or to parents who oppose the plan, then a secret marriage is OK, too. Unless. Unless? Unless a real impediment causes a cleric to be unavailable, then any baptized, or even in the case of no other Christians around, an unbaptized person can witness the vows, and the marriage can be registered later, and undergo any necessary regularization when things change. Unless. Unless? Unless no other person can be found to witness the exchange of Christian vows, and then the couple may do so privately, provided they regularize things when they have a chance, and provided they really intend a Christian marriage. Now a Christian marriage, what that is (the permanent, exclusive sexual union of a man and a woman for their mutual support with an openness to children) is completely non-negotiable. But the nitty-gritty details? No need for dogma, just good practice to protect the main thing - the marriage.

Now, many of us have known new Catholics, converts, reverts, etc., who, in their new found faith, have become quite "zealous." Dogmatic. Rigid. Harsh. Fiery, even. "Ardour" and "ardent" come from the Latin word for "burning." "Zeal" is related to the word for "jealous," again with the ideal of a driven passion. Such people can have an overly-rigid and simplistic understanding and bring it to the table with a fiery vengeance. They have sometimes been known to damage family relationships, alienate friends, and in general make the holy Catholic faith look terribly unpleasant. They can be like people who inadvertently burn down their own house because they weren't careful with candles or a fireplace. In their more self-righteous moments, they might think they are being persecuted for their faith when in reality they are being asked to quite down about the latest papal encyclical and to please pass the butter. These people can find themselves hemmed in and surrounded by tired or distant former friends, struggling to attain the virtues they very loudly proclaim, and running out of fuel for their fire.

I speak here of myself, but I hope in the past tense.

Two things to note about our Lord on this matter of zeal and passion for God:

(1) Our Lord was indefatigable, untiring, in His work for the good news of the Kingdom. He healed countless sick, gave His undivided attention to anyone who needed it, spent hours and hours teaching. His zeal made Him, in Mother Teresa's words, "Our only human ideal." Yet, he wasn't some kinda social worker just trying to help people. He knew the truth, and knew that only truth could really be a basis for living a real life in reality, and he wouldn't budge on the truth. Not a little bit.

(2) No weird personal, emotional baggage made it a lot easier to keep His cool. His deep, passionate desire to love and obey the Father, the zeal that fed Him and gave him energy late into the night, never once went astray and burned the wrong person. When He got angry, He didn't lose His cool but gave the exact right amount of anger to the right person for the right reason - to help that person. No temper tantrums for Jesus.

(3) Our Lord's unquestionable passion for righteousness led him not to rebuke sinners, but to the most unfathomable gentleness with them - tax collectors felt He wouldn't hold their livelihood against them; prostitutes felt He wouldn't treat them as countless men doubtless did - an object of lust or of self-righteous indignation. He never wrote somebody off or treated them as a nobody.

(4) His zeal led Him to willingness to be misunderstood even by His closest friends, without lashing out against them. At His trial, when He was arguably being most wildly misunderstood, He was arguably at His calmest. The will of His Father so consumed Him that He hardly seems to have noticed what was being done to Himself.

So, now here's the metaphor. Faith is like a charcoal fire, like a barbecue fire. An initial bit of grace, like lighter fluid, will cause a big, flashy fire. But it isn't good for much because it is so wild and uncontrolled. People standing nearby will be well advised to take care lest they get burned. In fact, such a zealous faith might, if not properly nurtured, simply burn itself out in a puff of smoke when just a bit of the first grace is withheld. A faith must be properly protected and nurtured in order to gain a deeper, more authentic zeal: baptism, honest self-examination and confession, Holy Eucharist and prayer, good spiritual reading, a strong, mature Christian community - these are the way to go. Such a faith might seem to simmer down, or never even to have flashed, but like the charcoal fire, the fire of faith is most intense, most heated, and useful when it has simmered down. Such a faith burns intensely and continually draws from the springs of the life of Jesus himself. It is not the sort of faith that sears or burns passersby, let alone burns bridges unnecessarily. But it is the sort of faith that can cook a burger, that can get the job done for Jesus. No decent person, Christian or otherwise, will hate such a faith, but be amazed by what it accomplishes.

The psalmist writes, "For zeal for thy house has consumed me,and the insults of those who insult thee have fallen on me," (Ps 69:9). If our zeal for the House of God consumes other people, maybe they should taunt us a bit. Such a faith will injure others rather than draw them to Jesus through us; such a faith will flicker and fizzle when we fatigue, because it won't have been genuinely rooted in Jesus and a life together with Him.

Holy Smoke! I Wish He Were Wrong, but...

Read an article about the address of His Eminence James Francis Card. Stafford, given the other day at the Catholic University of America (CUA).

Among other things, the Cardinal said that in the last 40 years since Humanae Vitae was so resoundingly rejected by most Catholics from wealthy nations, the US has thrown itself "upon ruins." Pause for a moment and reflect upon the strength of the language that the Cardinal uses in refering to the President-Elect's abortion policy: "aggressive, disruptive, and apocalyptic." Rarely do churchmen use strong language; in fact, these days it is a favorite of Catholics who are partisans of the GOP to criticize our bishops for failing to use strong language, let alone strong actions. Apocalyptic, most importantly, cannot be taken as "just a big word that means 'bad.'" Spoken by a churchman, it must be taken to have reference to the apocalypse - the final revelation of evil and its overthrow by the Kingdom of God at the end of time.

Now, Cardinal Stafford is an American, and is in Rome serving the Holy Father as Major Penitentiary. That means he is head of an office called the Apostolic Penitentiary, and its job is threefold. Firstly, the office regulates indulgences, issues new ones, and so forth. Secondly, the office grants any possible dispensations to various sacramental impediments. If for some reason a man is prohibited from being ordained or a couple from being married, for example, the office tries to find a way to make it possible. Thirdly, the office resolves on behalf of the Holy Father those excommunications that only the Holy Father has authority to remit. Basically, the Penitentiary are good guys. They are a happy office in the Vatican, the ones who get people out of purgatory, who find ways to make it possible for an otherwise well qualified man to get ordained in spite of a sketchy distant past.

And the head of the happy office is mad, or at least, very unoptimistic about America's course. And he's not talking about the economy either, folks.


I feel asleep at the wheel last week, when I was at 2900-something hits, and passed 3000 without even realizing it. Good grief. I hope I don't do the same thing when my Honda passes 200,000 miles any day now. Bot occasions call for a milkshake or a beer or something, and I missed one of them!

Reading in Chapel

At the advice (not in person, but in a lecture) of N. T. Wright, an Anglican bishop and pretty darn good biblical scholar, I have decided to try to use the same biblical text for study as for prayer. I sense that doing otherwise would be the beginning of a split between my brain and my heart, my reason and faith. That's not good. Since I have to use the Nestle-Aland 27th Edition of the Greek New Testament for study, and I want to improve my Greek anyway, that is what I am bringing with me into chapel. For the New Testament, at least for now, it is Greek for me. I am not suicidal, so for the Old Testament I am sticking with English, since my Hebrew is still very rudimentary.

Anyway, I am working through the gospels, slowly but surely, and am at Matthew 9:9.

(OK, so the bit above was pure bragging. Bear with me; I hope to be less childishly self-centered before I die.)

Next I noted that the Greek text closes with an interesting, albeit common, construction. Literally the last sentence reads, "And getting up, he followed him." Honestly, the best translation is "And he got up and followed him," or something like that. The writers liked to say things like, "And blanking..., he did such and such." The first verb, in the -ing form, we would usually take to be a sort of background action, but in the Greek text and can't always be that way. Getting up isn't the background action for following him, but the first step to following him. The Greek construction has a certain sense, at least partially, of equating the two verbs, or using the two verbs to describe the same action. Getting up IS, you might say, following Jesus.

The preceding story was of the healing of the paralytic whose friends brought him to Jesus. Jesus tells him to get up, too, but a different verb is used. It just means, "get up." When Matthew "gets up," though, the verb is the same used to describe Jesus "getting up" after three days in the tomb. I know, exegetically, I am on thin ice, but please indulge me to skate for a bit. The use of the same word for Jesus' resurrection at least calls it to mind when we read of Matthew's "getting up," even if Matthew is clearly not being resurrected. There is still a sense of a new life.

Think about it. St. Matthew had been sitting there. Just sitting there, collecting taxes, being hated by his countrymen for a traitor, and probably bored with life, trying to figure out what he was doing with himself. At least on a deep level he must have been very dissatisfied, very ready for something new. And then Jesus, this famous peasant preacher that a lot of people are saying is "the One," comes by and says, "Come, follow me." And he does. St. Matthew just got up and went, leaving behind everything - including all the money and receipts that the Romans were expecting. Imagine the surprise of whoever was onlooking. But the dissatisfaction with his current life, the deep wondering, "Is there anything better than this?" laying in Matthew's soul is what made it all make sense. So in that terse sentence, Matthew gets up and goes for a new sort of life - following Jesus.

I am not sure what the whole thing means, but I envy St. Matthew his abruptness, his suddenness.

St. Matthew, pray that we, like you, may abandon everything, turn our life around on a dime, to follow Jesus when we see him come by. Amen.


Bishop (Nov 11)

That's today. In merry olde England, they used to refer to the major feast days by the person or occasion whose Mass was celebrated that day: Michaelmas (on the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel, now of all the Archangels), Candlemas (on Feast of the Presentation), Whitmas, Christmas, and so on. Today is the feast of St. Martin of Tours, in France, and it is a special day to me. The parish where I was raised is dedicated to him and under his patronage. A year or so ago, I read a biography of him written by a very interesting Frenchwoman.

Regine Pernoud, the biographer, was a professor of medieval history who lived from 1909 to 1998. She was elected to the Academie Francaise, quite an honor - maybe the highest for a French intellectual. She was not religious, as far as I can tell, until she began to write the lives of saints - first Joan of Arc, then Martin of Tours, and maybe others. Her biographies betray her conversion though, because while maintaining a rigorous standard of scholarship and thought, they have none of the dismissive anti-Catholicism that biases so much academic study of medieval history. She doesn't accept all the miracle accounts just because they are miracle accounts, but nor does she reject them just because they are miracle accounts. Some she accepts as well documented, and others she notes as nice stories, perhaps even true. A very sober, faithful, and ultimately pious approach. But I digress.

Martin was born in 316 in Hungary and as a young man was pressed into the Roman army's officer corps as a young man for the simple reason that his father had been an officer, and a new law required him to replace his father when his father retired. So Martin's early dreams of life in a monastery were dashed. He didn't abandon his Christian way of life though, not for a minute. Everyone around him marvelled at the care he took of his slaves, at how he tended them when they were ill, how he prayed during the night when he thought nobody was looking. There was even an incident when, on a cold day, he split his cloak, his precious centurion's cloak, and gave half it to a naked beggar on the road. This must have shocked his cohort not only for its practical implications (now both saint and beggar would be poorly clad!) but for its symbolic implications - the various implements of the legion were held sacred by the legionnaires. But that the Christian legionnaire held other things sacred, it was clear to all.

After departing from military service (perhaps simply by going AWOL after a decade or two), and settling in the western part of central France, Martin found himself ordained a priest. He tried to live quietly in the countryside, but there was so much need around him - material and spiritual especially. As the Roman Empire decayed, its deteriorating infrastructure left many abandoned of basic necessities. While the Gospel spread rapidly in the cities, out in the heath (countryside, hence the word "heathen"; "pagus" is the same thing in Latin, "a country district," hence the word "pagan") the Gospel spread more slowly and was easily mixed with local rites and gods. As he went from middle age to later years, his hopes of retirement to a monastery or better, a hermitage, were yet again dashed - Martin was elected bishop by the priests of his diocese.

As bishop, Martin wasted little time scolding lazy priests - he did their work for them until, shamefaced, they reclaimed their duties. He travelled throughout the diocese, throughout France and Germany, really, praying with his flock, preaching to them, administering the sacraments, defending them from local despots, and leading them to Christ. Miracle after miracle was attributed to him, and threats against his life by jealous clergy and irritated civil authorities were all thwarted. He is one of the few saints said to have raised the dead back to life. What marvelled people most was that, even as he entered his eightieth year he never stopped pouring himself out for his people.

The evidence of a person's greatness has to be found in the impact they make in the lives of others. At a certain point, words are no longer needed because the evidence is abundant. From Hungary to France there are thousands of churches and chapels named for the would-be hermit. Their number is bested only by the number of such places dedicated to the Blessed Virgin herself. He is one of very few saints that has an entire liturgy from Matins to Compline, with a Mass to boot, written in his honor, celebrated today. Martin is a very common name in France, Germany, Hungary, and elsewhere. Pernoud was able to write her biography using several sources written contemporaneously with his life, or shortly thereafter, including one source who was a childhood-friend-turned-admirer of the Bishop of Tours. My parish celebrates its patron each year with a parish dinner dance, and more importantly, by collecting from parishioners hundreds of winter coats to be distributed to the poor of our pagus... I mean, county. The important thing to note, and to replicate, about Holy Martin's generosity is that it was not out of his abundance. Remember how our Blessed Lord appraised the poor widow's generosity?

"Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put her whole livelihood," (Lk 21:3-4).

This saint, who cut his only cloak in two, is one who should inspire us to dig deeper, trusting in our heavenly Father to provide all that we need, and looking to Him for that Providence, and being a means of His Providence for others.

Holy Martin of Tours, pray for us.

Last Post on the Marine Corps Marathon

OK, folks, so my (unofficial) stats and photos are out. Click the pic at right to see the photo album sent to me by the marathon photographers. Remember that my chip didn't work, so it is a good thing that I kept my own split times. Using those, I was able to figure out where I finished (by fitting my finishing place between the ones immediately faster and slower than mine).

I finished:
585 / 1672 men aged 30-34 yrs old (50.9 percentile)
3562 / 11,129 men
4707 / 18,281 finishers

Some splits:
3 mi = 0:27:52.11
6 mi = 0:53:12.41 (25:20.30 from 3 mi mark)
8 mi = 1:10:10. (at this point my ave. was 8:30 min/mi, my training pace)
13 mi = 1:43:49. (1/2 way mark, pace is still 8:30 min/mi)

My pace slowed between mi 18 and 20 to about 10 min/mi, then to almost 11 min/mi at one point. At about mile 22, as the course crossed back into Virginia, I began to recover, and the last two miles of the race my average pace was 9:20 min/mi.

26.2 mi = 4:05:20 (9:21.8 min/mi)

I received a letter from the Vocations Office of the Archdiocese of Washington DC today, thanking me for the contributions donated on my behalf, which topped over $1200. The director of vocations pointed out that it was a high number, and that the money will be used for things like emergency funeral travel and other exigencies.

More recently, one of my roommates has decided to run a marathon in the spring. I think I've nearly convinced Tom, my roommate/running partner to run one, too. I'm looking for one in May, maybe, to apply some of the lessons I learned, gain some experience, and get ready for my next Marine Corps Marathon.

Thanks again, all, for your prayers, encouragement, and support.

Eldest Daughter is Not Dead Yet

I had what I believe to be an interesting thought a few years ago, and one that has stuck with me. It came while looking at a map of Europe color-coded to show the pro-life voting record of each country's members of the European Parliament (MEP). What did not surprise me was that the low countries and former communist countries, except for Poland, were solid red - represented almost entirely by pro-abortion MEPs. What did surprise me was that France, Germany, and England had mixtures, and seemed to field MEPs that were about 1/3 pro-abortion, 1/3 pro-life, and 1/3 trying to draw some sort of compromise. I was stunned. I got to thinking, "By all accounts, Western Europe is entirely secularized and dechristianized. What's this?" Then it occurred to me, the pre-interesting-thought thought. Most of the world gets a warped view of America because what they see is what Hollywood and CNN show: violence out of control in every neighborhood, rich people who never work, relentless displacement of traditional values, etc. Needless to say, that is not the America most of us know, even if there are a number of very serious threats facing us these days. Where do we get our information about Europe? From Hollywood and what CNN, or Europe's equivalents, choose to show us.

Maybe we've got Europe all wrong, or at least partly wrong, oversimplified. My first trip to Europe took me from Rome to Lourdes and back, with a side trip to Assisi. I was happy to note that in Lourdes, there were many French pilgrims. On a subsequent trip, for World Youth Day in Germany, we went to Paris and Lourdes again, because hey, we were all the way over there, so why not? A woman who identified herself to me as a Parisian protestant was very glad to see our group there. "Things are bad for religion," she said, "But are getting better. Groups like yours are a good witness to Jesus."

On his first visit to France as pontiff, the late Holy Father John Paul II famously called to France's conscience, "France, eldest daughter of the Church, what have you done with your baptismal promises?" The question must have made a mark on the French psyche, because even though the number of people identifying themselves as Catholics fell over the next 20 years decline, two interesting trends speak of something different. In a 2001 report by the bishops of France, over 8000 adult baptisms were recorded that year. A decade earlier, this was unthinkable because everyone was leaving the Church; four decades earlier, it was doubly unthinkable because everybody was Catholic. In name, at least. An Irish seminarian I know, studying for the Archdiocese of Boston (where else?) told me that he found his faith in France. I joked that he must be the only one, and he replied with a fascinating description of a cluster of villages in the west of France where the faith has been resurgent, so much so that many young Catholics move there for specifically for that reason. And the bishops' report bears out the trend: 3/4 of the converts were under 40 - hardly age-representative of the French population. They tend also to favor solemn worship and even the tradition Latin Mass. There is also lots of anecdotal evidence of a quiet, unorganized, grass-roots shift toward religiosity, if not exactly toward religion, among the French populace. The French president has been eager to work with the Church, and the episcopacy and the Holy Father have gladly reciprocated, as the November 7 issue of Commonweal magazine reports. Perhaps more importantly, the same article notes that the typical practicing French Catholic is "pluckier" and "more confident" than virtually anyone in France, where pessimism and malaise have become ways of life in recent decades.

The second trend is the number of revival movements growing in France, and the success of lay movements like Opus Dei and the Neocatechumenal Way in France. A Spaniard I met during that second trip to Europe for World Youth Day told me something related. He said to me, "In Europe, if you still go to Mass, you belong to a movement," like Opus Dei or Communion and Liberation. Maybe France, the Eldest Daughter of the Church, is not dead yet.

If we humbly access ourselves, we can see that we are perhaps further along than we think: while most Americans go to church, America still produces untold quantities of violence, porn, abortion and divorce, relentless commerce even on the Lord's day, and all other manner of social ills. The faith of many Americans is clearly a shallow, Sundays-when-I-feel-like-it commitment. Perhaps we are further along in dechristianization than we like to admit. So we in America should be heartened by the thought of faith, like a mustard seed, beginning to sprout again in France. If, as many conservative Americans fear, we are about to go the way of Europe, France's example shows us that there might be a light at the end of the tunnel for us, too. At the very least, as brethren in Christ when we pray for our own nation, rather than mocking them to make ourselves feel better, we should pray for theirs as well.

The Dedication of St. John Lateran

OK, so most of you probably know that St. John Lateran isn't a person, but a place. It is the cathedral of the diocese of Rome, and its last name is in reference to its location: the Lateran hill. It was a government administration building and was given by the Emperor Constantine to Pope Sylvester I in AD 324. The church building is referred to as omnium urbis et orbis ecclesiarum mater et caput, which means, "mother and head of all the churches of city and of the world."

Before 324, Christians had gathered for Mass and for community functions in rented facilities or in homes. Anything they had purchased collectively might be confiscated during periodic persecutions. This gift by the emperor marked the beginning of Christianity's stability and security in the world. The gift of the church building to the Church is important because it was the first time that a whole society, in the person of its ruler, gave tribute to the Church. The gift marks the beginning of the period known as Christendom, during which the unifying principle of the West was Jesus Christ and His Church. Christendom would undergo bumps and bruises, to be sure. Barbarian invasions, Viking raids, conquest by Muslims, heresies, conflict between Church and state would all scrape against the Church. For over a thousand years, though, Jesus Christ was the unifying principle, the center of gravity, of Europe. In the last few hundred years, the Nation-State has taken His place in peoples' hearts and minds throughout the West. Now, even more pathetically, it seems that political parties and sporting clubs have taken over.

In celebrating today's solemn feast, we pay tribute to Rome, the head church of the Church, to whom ultimate responsibility is given for governance of the Church and evangelization of the world, who nurtured the Roman Rite celebrated by more than half of Christians worldwide, who provided thousands of martyrs to water the seedbed of faith with blood. As we enter darker times, in which leaders in Europe and America seek to disavow our Christian past so as to shrug off the duties of Christian morality, we can expect to run into the same difficulties that our forebears encountered. We can expect to have church buildings and property confiscated following trumped-up or fraudulent accusations, as happened during Roman days. We shall only be able to endure these things if we nurture ourselves with the love of God and through sincere piety and charity, through commitment to justice and striving for peace. We must, as our times grow darker, bind ourselves tighter to each other and tighter to our head, Jesus Christ, and to His Vicar on earth, the Holy Father.

America, pt. 2

Christ is (still) King.


I did not mind waiting an hour and a half in a six block-long line to vote this morning. Not only does my employer allow the time off, but it means that people are voting, at least where I live. And that's got to be a good thing, even if they are voting for a bad or vapid politician.

Speaking of which, as a lifelong resident of the fair state of Maryland, I realize that, with the electoral system as it rightly is, my particular vote matters very little. It will be swallowed up in the tide of contrary votes and then, when the state nominates its electoral collegians, lost in the all-or-nothing bloc vote along with all of the other votes cast for minority-opposition candidates. So I am not sure I would have turned out to vote for only the presidential candidate. In a swing state, sure, but... well, it's a moot issue. I turned out.

Maryland Question #2 was the burning issue on my mind. And perhaps that's how it should be. That will affect the quality of life in my town a more day-to-day way than who the president is. He's only the president, after all, and is checked and balanced by a whole range of government bodies, special interests, established legal custom and tradition. Even if the president were another Hugo Chavez, while people care, our democracy is safe enough. (That's a good reason to turn out to vote in any event, I suppose, just to let the would-be world-controllers that we are not ready to give up the sovereignty of the people just yet.) Even if we elected Hitler or Stalin (perish the thought, and God help us), Jesus Christ is still King, as the Church will celebrate liturgically in a few weeks.

But the hell if I'm gonna sit by idly while our despot governor and his cronies try to cram slots and gambling down our throats. No, sir. There's a principle at stake here. Slots (the matter of MD Q-2) are just a sly way of legalizing casinos, and that's an issue that won't be resolved rightly if Rockvillers and Gaithersburgers don't turn out in droves. Laurelans and Beltsvillers, to the polls! Frederickers and Baltimorans, unite! People, rise up to protect your neighborhoods!

Now, that's democracy in action. That's what Alexis de Tocqueville admired about us 180 years ago. I suspect he thought our presidential candidates then were charlatans, as many of us suspect now. But whether the school board buys immoral textbooks for our eight year-olds, now that's something I can do something about.

The Readings for Today and Tomorrow

Today's Mass readings and tomorrow's have struck me like thunder. A hundred times I've heard them, and maybe this time for the first. That's how the Mass, the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and all the things of God are - even the whole world, in a way - if we have ears to hear.

These readings in particular strike me as crucial to the Christian life in some way that I cannot articulate just yet. I think God intends me to do something about them.

All Souls' Day

(2 Nov)

The genealogies found in the Old and New Testaments are often the most "boring" parts for us. Not so for our ancestors. Our Litanies of Saints call to mind the saints we invoke, but also, we believe, make them more present in a real, and not just a subjective way. So it was with our ancestors. The litanies of their ancestors surrounded them with the "great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) that came before. By invoking, "Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Ammin'adab, and Ammin'adab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon..." the Jews were calling their ancestors to witness to their interaction with God.

We Christians call the saints to witness in like manner because of their heroic sanctity, we rely on their prayers and intercession and special favor with the Almighty. The Jews, in a sense, were at their best, even more humble, by calling all their ancestors to mind. Everyone descended of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was called upon for assistance in this way, the good, the bad, and the ugly. They were not called in light of their heroic sanctity, but in light of the promise made to their Fathers, to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, and their descendents forever. These fallen and fallible men were called upon in light of the simple fact of God's faithfulness to the promise, in light of the fact of His mercy.

Yesterday, we commemorated all the saints, who by grace have merited great favor with God, and whose aid will merit great grace for us. Today, let us not only pray for all the souls of those departed in Christ, but also call out to them for their prayers (CCC 958). They stand in purgatory, most of them, not as witness of God's justice, but undergoing His merciful cleansing, not because of their own merits, but because of His faithfulness to the promise.

Let's pray that we likewise be faithful to that same promise.

Holy Souls in Purgatory, pray for us who pray for you.