A Remembrance Day Reflection

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This remembrance day as the last haunting notes of the bugle drift away into silence, we once more pause to pay our respect and, with our memories give honour, to those who have died in service of their country. Words like heroic, bravery, duty and service are used to describe our fallen and bring their memories forward so that today we all might learn from their sacrifice. As we remember the stories and honour the lives of our service personnel, we also pay heed to the causes that were deemed worthy of the destruction of so many lives.

Freedom is often quoted as the goal and war, that most ancient of human endeavours, becomes the necessity by which we rend this goal from the grips of tyranny. With the remembrance of our fallen, we bring forward the eternal hope that this conflict should be the last. The price that human history has paid for the concept of freedom is staggering and yet many of us would be hard pressed to give it a tangible definition. So it is with tyranny, we are able to quickly bring to mind many examples of tyranny, yet a solid definition is often not so easy. One of the many reasons for this is that tyranny, like freedom, exists on many different levels. The insidiousness of tyranny is reflected in the fact that it must masquerade in the guise of freedom and cloak itself in the rhetoric of tolerance in order gain a foothold.

Tyranny, and the struggle against it has existed throughout history and will continue to be a driving element of the human experience until the end of the age. The physical manifestations of tyranny are never isolated unto themselves but point to a deeper root cause. There must be an ideology of tyranny developed and propagated before the physical enactment of tyranny can begin. Our society has suffered from the infiltration of such an ideology for over 200 years, the seeds having been sown in what history chooses to euphemistically call “the enlightenment.” It has permeated our societal consciousness, been allowed to taint the human structures of the Church and undermine the understanding of the Faith, all the while promising a flawed version of freedom and preaching tolerance.

Pope Emeritus Benedict in his last homily as Cardinal Ratzinger spoke about this ideology, “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.” Pope Francis reiterated this during a speech to the Vatican Diplomatic Corps, saying “But there is another form of poverty! It is the spiritual poverty of our time, which afflicts the so-called richer countries particularly seriously. It is what my much-loved predecessor, Benedict XVI, called the “tyranny of relativism”, which makes everyone his own criterion and endangers the coexistence of peoples.” Examples of this tyranny in action are available in abundance on the nightly news. We have been lulled into such an overwhelming sense of self importance that as a society we feel that the definition of moral truth is up to a panel of judges. We allow the definition of what is a good to be determined by the agenda of the nosiest self interest lobby group. We clamour for the Church to “get with the times” and “modernize” the faith based on what we feel is popular.

When we see the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom and by extension the head of the commonwealth say that upon ascension to the throne he would rather be known as the “defender of faiths” instead of the historical title granted by the Church of “Defender of the Faith,” this is relativism is action. When the rallying cry, ”my body, my choice” is legitimatized as a good and proper cause to end life, this is relativism in action. When the individual considers truth to be a matter of opinion and the opinion poll becomes the ultimate guide, this is relativism in action. When faith is legislated to a be nothing more then an antiquated opinion that must be set aside in order to be a public employee, this is relativism in action. When individual Christians consider themselves to be the final arbiter in matters of faith and morals, this is relativism in action. When truth is little more then an inconvenience to be dismissed at the next court hearing or legislated away by popular vote then relativism has won the day.

Make no mistake, there will always be a time to fight because everyone of us is called to serve in defense of freedom, truth and justice. On this day of remembrance, let us all pause and reflect on the sacrifices made by those on one of the front lines of this defense. Let us also take to heart the cost of our hard won freedom which is all to often taken for granted. This freedom has been entrusted to us by the selfless service and dedication to duty of our men and women in uniform. To honour them is to honour our responsibility to protect this freedom in our hearts and our minds. Tyranny must be called out in all it’s forms, no matter the colours of it’s disguise or how tolerant sounding it’s rhetoric. There will always be a time to fight, for tyranny does not rest nor does it tolerate dissent. So too there will always be a time to remember those who have bought for us the freedom to choose our own path. Choose wisely, for that privilege was acquired at great cost. Honour life, for this was the price so many gave. Uphold Truth, for this was the goal. Lest we forget.

On the Nature of Holes…………………

 

A sage piece of wisdom and advice about holes from Dr. Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly “when you find yourself in one, for goodness sakes stop digging!”

By the virtue of human nature we all find ourselves in holes from time to time. Very often this hole will be the direct result from a few popular events in the Olympiad of human nature. In our daily lives we periodically list ourselves as contestants in the the sprint of assumptions, the long jump to conclusions inevitably followed by the marathon of backpedaling. As a multiple Gold medalist in all three events, allow me to share some advice of my own to several more Gold medalists of these event recently. Our entrance into the sprint of assumptions usually occurs when we allow emotions to rule the day. As our decisions become directed by our often volatile emotional responses we neglect to filtering our actions and words through our reason and intellect. This is poignantly reflected in the blunt breakdown of the word assume, it makes an ass {out of} u {and} me. The most effective exit from this downward triple header spiral is at this point IF we can train ourselves to always, in the words of another meaningful cultural adage, engage our brains before engaging mouth. Cultural attempts at teaching this fact can be seen in the count to three rule, take a deep breath approach or just walk away advice. But we are not robots and emotions both good and bad are one of the quintessential elements that make us human. Inescapably we will encounter those times when our emotional responses are so powerful that even our best efforts at reason are torn asunder by this unstoppable juggernaut and we find ourselves leading the field in the next event. It is here where we throw caution to the four winds and lead the charge of the light brigade and gallop the high horse of what we feel (notice feelings, hence emotions not reason) to be righteous indignation justified by our own narrowly focused and tension induced conclusions based upon the Gold medal winning assumptions from the previous event. It is here where life provides the furnace for the testing and purifying of our character. How we handle winning this Gold medal shows us what we are made of. The tactical situation has now broadened and changed for the worse, localized containment of the first place finishes are usually no longer possible and the fallout has grown exponentially to encircle more than just the one or two people wherein the initial emotional response was triggered. Even at this advanced stage of interpersonal breakdown all is not lost, in fact it can be turned into a teaching moment for us and a building moment for the relationships involved. For that to happen we must willing and able to partake in a piece of humble pie with dignity, with contrition and above all with sincerity. Accepting without limitation or proviso the consequences of our words and deeds, both good and bad, is not a sign of weakness but the hallmark of true character. A heartfelt meaningful apology is saying “I’m sorry” period, full stop, end of sentence, zip the lip, no trailing “but” this that or the other thing. This is a very hard thing to do because we have a natural tendency to want to deflect unpleasantness and redirect responsibility whenever possible. Here is our moment to show our mettle, to display what we are made of and regain control of our emotions and bring the decision making process back within our capacity for reason and logical thought; it’s rightful home. We are not Vulcan nor Android, we are not a Spock or a Data and therefore emotions, feelings and passions are an essential part of our makeup, so it is with unerring certainty that we will from time to time be the Gold medal recipients of these two events. Our running of the third event, however, is completely a choice we make and just as the response to winning the second event speak to our character, the winning of the third event is like a public announcement of our lack of character. We enter this event by attaching the proverbial “but” to our pathetic attempt at a face saving apology with out realizing that by letting self preservation be the motive we are well underway in the marathon of backpedaling. The only way to avoid winning this event is to immediately stop the with the “I’m sorry but’s” and the “I’m sorry if’s” and enact the solution to event two, although now the slice of pie is understandably larger. The Gold medal for this event is awarded when we have steadfastly putt our ego and our inflated self worth along with consistently prioritizing our feelings ahead of and at the expense of the other people involved in the situation. The result is lasting damage to all parties and relationships involved. This type of damage can not be undone and healing and recovery is measured months and years and on rare occasions lifetimes. If you find yourself the winner of all three events, as I have, take a moment to pause and look in the mirror. It is pointless to attempt to make excuses for what stares back at you, what you see is of your creation, the results of the choices you have made. You can spin the story to other people all you want, but here the truth stares back. Deceiving yourself is a contradiction in terms and always a losing proposition, remember the words of Sir Walter Scott “what tangled webs we weave when first we practice to deceive.” We are not perfect, so take an honest look, make the effort so that the next time you look in the mirror, what looks back is a better version of yourself then last time. Always remember, for goodness sakes STOP digging!

All’s Well That End’s Well

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All’s well that end’s well. This saying is not as common as it once was, but it’s usage still abounds enough that most of us will understand the general sentiment being expressed here. So how is this short little adage to be understood in our current hedonistic, rabidly relativistic and secular society? Are we to consider this a nicer way of saying that the ends justify the means? After all, according to this line of reasoning, if the end is well or good than all is well or good including whatever means was used to get to that end right? Much of what our current self-centered, atheistic culture holds dear is being justified using this path of reasoning. Rarely is it stated so bluntly because most people still have a certain natural intuition of right and wrong regardless of how hard the agenda driven mass media has tried to suppress it. If we stop and step out of the incessant cultural noise for a moment and engage our inner voice in a quiet conversation, we understand quite naturally that no good end can ever be used to justify an objectively evil means. So how is it possible that so much evil in today’s culture can be justified by so many good people? It is relatively simple (pun intended), just remove the understanding that there is such a thing as objective good and objective evil by saying there is no higher authority than the individual and therefore what may be good or evil is purely relative to you the individual. So in a relatively short space of time we have a culture that positions the pleasure of the individual, regardless of how fleeting, as the embodiment of the good end while justifying any means to get there.

Now let us take a step back and view this proverb from a broader, more theological perspective. None of us are immortal and therefore our time on earth will come to some sort of end. This begs that timeless question, why are we here? The Baltimore Catechism put it this way, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him for ever in heaven.” So our good end is heaven and all is well so long as we end in heaven. Consider this for a moment, does this not bring a whole different perspective on our lives? These seemly mundane everyday lives full of ups and down, joys and sorrows, tears and laughter suddenly gain a whole new meaning when considered as the path travelled well because the path ended well by ending in heaven. For that well ending to happen we simply have to allow hope to blossom within, faith to guide, and love to sustain us. None of these are truly possible on our own, but by grace they are a free gift from the same God who’s most fervent wish is that we use those gifts to spend eternity in heaven with him.

Which interpretation do you choose as the guide for your life?

Advent Reflection

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This is a short reflection I gave on behalf of our parish at the ecumenical Christmas concert this evening.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Another year as slipped by with amazing speed, the holiday marketing juggernaut is in full swing, the background noise is filled with the usual collection of Christmasy holiday songs. Many of the traditional songs are full of faith and hope and joy, yet much of that is drowned out by the hustle and bustle of our over-scheduled, consumer driven lives. So it is very fitting that as the calendar year draws to a close, Advent marks the start of a new liturgical year in the life of the Church. During Advent the Church calls us to look within and consider our faith, to renew and strengthen that faith in preparation to celebrate the Christmas season beginning with the joyous feast day of our savior’s birth.

As our faith is subjected to ever increasing persecution by the secular culture around us, advent is a wonderful time to reflect and re-energize our faith. Contemplate with me for a moment on the faith shown by a young Jewish girl so long ago, as the angel Gabriel appears before her with the greeting
“HAIL, O favored one, the LORD is with you”
The account of this event by St Luke records no small amount of fear and trepidation on the part of young Mary as she listens to the angel unfold God’s plan before her. And now we see true faith in action as Mary, overcoming her fear, replies
“behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
This is faith talking, this is saying my life is yours Lord, lead and I will follow.
This is faith in action, like Joshua in the old testament saying from this day forward I choose you Lord and I will serve.
It is faith that is “all in” to our Lord, no reservations, no plan B, it is “your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
It is this faith that is so needed in today’s world of rampant relativism, radical secularism and pleasure centered individualism. Scripture does not tell us much of Mary as a person, yet her simple and unqualified acceptance of the will of God reverberates throughout history. We have in these few short verses an example of faith to strive for and live by. Faith, is not a complicated concept, at it’s heart is one simple word, Yes.
Yes to Jesus our Savior.
Yes to Jesus, son of God, 2nd person of the Blessed Trinity
Yes to Jesus our King
in short Yes to Jesus Christ Our Lord.
Just a simple yes, but we have to mean it. That yes must leave church with us on Sunday. It must permeate every thought and action, every minute of every day and it must be fed. Jesus makes this very plain in the Gospel according to St. John when he says “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.” Let us all take some time is advent season to build our faith, Strengthen our faith, feed our faith and then go out and exercise our faith.

The world outside these walls has become very hostile to the Christian faith, a faith that was the corner stone of our western culture and civilization for hundreds of years has now been rejected wholesale and dismissed as the wishful thinking of the uneducated or the simple minded. This cultural persecution of the christian faith provides the faithful with a ready made test of our faith. If we do not find ourselves at odds with the secular culture today then either the faith we profess and live is lacking in substantive and objective truth or we do not live the faith we profess. This advent season presents us with the perfect opportunity to refill our faith with truth, with authenticity and with 2000 years of God’s hand in salvation history. The Christian faith lived to the fullest is a life that radiates joy, let us follow the example set for us by that young Jewish girl that said Yes, a Yes that changed the world. This Christmas in addition to the usual gifts under the tree, share the gift that really matters, share the gift of faith.

Authenticity

The question of how to get youth interested in the faith is often asked nowadays. A quick look around the pews on Sunday morning show a very distinctive lack of youth in attendance. The conventional wisdom is that we need to make mass interesting to the youth, we need to capture their attention and so on, all of which has lead to the so called “youth masses” and in general jazzing up regular Sunday mass all in the name of trying to bring in the youth. Youth groups, youth meetings, youth rallies that all too often can be summed up as pizza with a prayer. This methodology of teaching the faith to our youth is now several decades old and the results are very plain to see by simply looking around on Sunday morning. So before all those wonderful youth leaders with their degrees from catholic such and such and diplomas in youth this or that start looking for big sticks to beat me with allow me to point out that I am NOT calling into question all the hours of dedicated work and effort brought to bear in an attempt to stop the hemorrhaging of youth from the faith. What we have to realize is that for the past many years we have sent our youth leaders to be educated in and by the same “catholic” institutions of “higher learning” that are in large part responsible for the near total destruction of the faith within every level of the “catholic” education and formation system. It is a simple concept that we cannot hand on what we don’t have, and what has been given to our catholic youth for several generations now is a mashup of modernist, protestantized, wishy washy, group huggy, nicey nicey, touchy feely, non judgemental, non discriminatory, let all just get along, everyone gets to heaven anyway claptrap, but hey, they all know how to journal. Wonderful, at least our youth will be able to keep a journal while they ride the cultural hand basket to you know where. Let’s do a really simple litmus test of our efforts by asking the quick question “how’s that working for us then?” Body count in the pews on Sunday morning tells us what the answer to that question is. The technical term for this level of success is “epic fail,” and there is enough to go round, no one gets left out of the responsibility brush, clergy and laity alike.
We need to start by actually teaching the faith again, the AUTHENTIC faith, the historic faith, the faith of the Saints, the faith of the Doctors of the Church, the faith of the Fathers of the Church, the faith that these people gave their life to, and all too often, for. We need to grow a back bone and proclaim boldly that this is the one true faith, objective truth and objective evil does exist, and hell exists and it is easy to get there. We have to teach our youth how to defend the faith, because the culture has the church squarely in it’s sights. If this doesn’t sound very nice and comforting, you would be right. War is never nice and comforting to those engaging the enemy, and make no mistake we are at war, we fight is a desperate pitched battle for the hearts, minds and eternal souls of our youth. This all sounds very masculine for very good reason, we have let the culture eviscerate true and authentic masculinity within the church and by extension within the practice of the faith, then we look around in amazement and loudly bemoan the lack of interest and participation of boys and men in “churchy” things. This really isn’t rocket science, many if not most boys don’t know what it means to be men because most men today have been raised by a culture utterly over run by the radical feminist agenda. Attend a few catholic parish events or retreats and you will see how effectively that agenda has infiltrated the church by the devastating lack of masculine presence, despite the occasional man in attendance. In order to rebuild our church we must take a page from the playbook of the founder, our Lord Jesus Christ. He started the church by selecting 12 very imperfect men and taught them the faith and modeled for them authentic masculinity in life and in death. So too we need to start by once again teaching our young men how to be authentic men. When Gandalf faced the Balrog at the Bridge of Khazad-dûm he did not say “I would like it very much if you would not pass here. How does that make you feel? We can talk about it if you would like, maybe you could keep a journal of your feelings……….” No, he laid it all on the line by saying “you cannot pass!” That is language we men can rally around, we need to give our young men a faith to stand up for, a faith worth dying for. We men instinctively rally to a banner, we instinctively know it is our role to defend, to protect and to serve but it is up to those teaching the faith to make sure the colors on that banner are of heaven and not hell. Once we have begun to re-establish authentic masculinity in the corridors of the church and in the understanding of the faith then too will the heavenly beauty of authentic femininity shine forth in radiant abundance once more. Both are absolutely necessary for proper functioning of faith, church and society, both were created equal from the beginning of time. The church needs both men and women to be authentically faithful and authentically true to themselves, in a word authentically Catholic.

God is Good! All the time!

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The past few days have been long in many different ways. Struggles and challenges abound, some the normal day to day stresses of life, work and forgetting to turn the coffeemaker to auto. My own personal struggles the past little while have done much to undermine my strength, my character and my resolve. Emotionally weary, physically drained, spiritually battle worn and faced with another night of restless sleep was the summation of my day yesterday. Awake after only a few hours of fitful sleep and with no more sleep in sight this night I opened the Divine Office app on my tablet to morning prayer and begin to read the Psalm for today.

Psalm 143
Lord, listen to my prayer;
turn your ear to my appeal.
You are faithful, you are just; give answer.
Do not call your servant to judgement
for no one is just in your sight.
The enemy pursues my soul;
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me dwell in darkness
like the dead, long forgotten.
Therefore my spirit fails;
my heart is numb within me.
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands.
Like a parched land my soul thirsts for you.
Lord, make haste and answer;
for my spirit fails within me.
Do not hide your face
lest I become like those in the grave.
In the morning let me know your love
for I put my trust in you.
Make me know the way I should walk:
to you I lift up my soul.
Rescue me, Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will
for you, O Lord, are my God.
Let your good spirit guide me
in ways that are level and smooth.

I cannot really describe my reaction to this psalm on this morning in the midst of my own particular battle other than to simply say God is Good.