Sunday, December 14, 2014

Third Sunday of Advent, AD 2014

From today’s Office of Readings A sermon by St Augustine

John is the voice, and Christ is the Word

John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.

Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find place also in yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.

Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John’s baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ’s baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.

Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what it was, anxious not to give offence to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord. The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: “I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him.”

What does prepare the way mean, if not “pray well”? What does prepare the way mean, if not “be humble in your thoughts”? We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.
If he had said, “I am the Christ,” you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.

He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Yes, the U.S. tortured people. Now, let's make us right again.

Brothers and sisters, Peace be with you.

The reaction to the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence's Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program, approved by the Democrat majority in the Senate is raging at the moment and approached from numerous perspectives. I'll keep my perspective short and sweet.

Article 1 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture, of which the U.S. is a signatory, defines torture as:
Any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person, information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.
Under this definition, the acts described in the Senate "Torture Report" do qualify and should be considered "torture" under this definition.

Dissenters take umbrage under a narrow legal exception drafted by lawyers in the Bush Administration. Their argument was that the "enhanced interrogation techniques" authorized under U.S. Department of Justice guidelines constitute a legal finding and authorization exempting these "techniques" from the definition of torture accepted by the international community. Moreover, the architects of this definition argue that any person or any technique exceeding the written authorities granted by the memorandums may be construed as violators and torture, but that the techniques themselves were not "torture" under the treaty.

They are playing semantics. I think that a surface reading of the interrogation techniques depicted in the Senate's report would meet the standard of "torture" to any reasonable third party reading both the report and the UN treaty definition of torture.

As a retired military officer, I come at the subject from this perspective: if a foreign power or illegal combatant were to use the same "enhanced interrogation techniques" to any of our troops, I would've consider them torture.  Not any more. Now any thug in Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and the Middle East will find protection behind our own actions. The US has lowered the bar. Our troops and our citizens will suffer the consequences.

Catholic Social Teaching has this to say about torture:
In carrying out investigations, the regulation against the use of torture, even in the case of serious crimes, must be strictly observed: “Christ's disciple refuses every recourse to such methods, which nothing could justify and in which the dignity of man is as much debased in his torturer as in the torturer's victim”. International juridical instruments concerning human rights correctly indicate a prohibition against torture as a principle which cannot be contravened under any circumstances.
As Catholic Christians, we must not condone, approve, much less engage, in torturing other human beings. Moreover, painful as this is going to be, we must bring the responsible ones to account. I have no love lost for the butchers who engineered 9/11, but even they possess an inviolable human dignity. If we don't respect that dignity in them, we become them. They win. I mourn for what we have become because of them.

I finish with this statement by Carl Schurz: My country right or wrong: when right, to keep her right; when wrong, to put her right. May God bless us and may God bless the United States of America, the land that I love.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Mary and Evangelization

Fr. Nicolas Schwizer

What does evangelization mean? Simply, it is the task which Christ entrusted to his Church when He said to his disciples: “Go throughout the whole world and preach the Gospel to all people” (MK 16, 15). To evangelize is to proclaim the Good News of the infinite love which God has for us and which he manifested to us through Jesus Christ. And how does that proclamation take place? It is not only to preach or to speak about the Gospel. To evangelize is all that the Church does so that the light of the Gospel can penetrate the lives of men.

It is a complex and gradual process which also includes the testimony of life, the conversion of the heart, participation in the community and the sacraments and, ultimately, that the evangelized man likewise becomes an evangelizer and missionary (Evangelii nuntiandi). These are the steps of evangelization.

And now: What does Evangelization mean for us? What can we do to become instruments and protagonists (main characters). I believe our contribution is: to be and to build family; and also the proclamation of God’s paternity and our own paternity. Another fundamental contribution to Evanelization is to offer it to the Church and to the world of today: our original image of the Blessed Virgin.

The Virgin Mary

Our communities are profoundly Marian. They see the Virgin as the great Advocate for their needs before God. But her devotion requires to be illuminated and completed. Father Kentenich showed us the true image of Mary: She is not only an Intercessor before God, but also the great Model and Mother-Educatress of the people of God. That is manifested in an original way in the three graces in the Shrine:

The grace of a home which roots us not only in her maternal heart, but which leads us to the heart of God the Father and in Him makes us feel as beloved children.

The grace of inner transformation which inspires us to educate ourselves and to become new men according to the model of Christ and Mary.
And the grace of an apostolic mission through which She educates us to be her instruments and collaborators with God.

Mary is called “The Star of Evangelization.” She is our model and guide, the first evangelizer in history. When the angel announced to her that God had chosen her to be the Mother of his Son, She could not contain herself and went to her cousin. She wanted to help her. But she also wanted to share with Elizabeth the joy of the Gospel. She wanted to give her the Good News that the Messiah longed for, for centuries, had arrived. Her song of praise, the Magnificat, is the first proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus through a human voice. Mary has become the first evangelizer of the Church.

She is also the great Star of Evangelization of the American continent. The Gospel arrived centuries ago aboard the banner-caravel of Christopher Columbus, the “Santa Maria” – a more than symbolic name. Since that 12th of October, the Blessed Virgin has led the evangelization feat of our continent. And in the crossbred face of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the vital merging between the faith coming from overseas and the sensibility of the indigenous people took place. When Mary imprints her image on the tilma (cloak) of the Indian Juan Diego, She, Christ and the Gospel become Latinamerican.

With Father Kentenich, we are convinced that God is changing his method. Up to our century, the Virgin remained on the second level. But in our time, God places her – more and more – on the first level. This is how God changes his tactics: clearly, He wants Mary to pass – in an extraordinary way – to the first level of our visual camp. With it, God wants to attach the entire world to the person of the Blessed Virgin, He wants the entire world to consecrate itself to Mary, that the entire world seals a Covenant of Love with Her.

Questions for reflection

1. How can we collaborate with evangelization?
2. What role does Mary play in my apostolic task?
3. How have I experienced the three graces from the Shrine?

Monday, December 08, 2014

My take on the Grand Jury findings in Eric Garner's death

Brethren, Peace be with you.

Since I gave you my take on the grand jury findings on the death of Michael Brown, I thought I should give my take on the death of Eric Garner's at the hands of police in New York. First, I need to say that I haven't seen anything that would change my mind regarding the grand jury findings on the death of Michael Brown. In fact, the transcripts and evidence released confirm in my mind that the grand jury's reluctance to indict was the correct course of action.

I've also read in the press that Michael Brown's parents may bring a wrongful death civil lawsuit against the Ferguson policeman who killed Michael Brown in self-defense. That's certainly their right and the lower threshold of assigning responsibility may work on the parents' favor. However, civil lawsuits are double-edged swords: every witness will be deposed by opposing lawyer teams including Michael Brown's parents, who might be asked how did they raise a man who became a bully and a thief. Full-bodied pictures of Michael Brown will be shown to the jury, not the upper-body or the face shots we've seen in the media, as well as the video showing Brown assaulting a store clerk and committing petty theft minutes before he died. All that will add to reasonable doubt in the mind of a jury, a doubt that will favor the police officer they blame for Brown's death.

The story in Eric Garner's case is different and raises several questions. Yes, he was as big as Michael Brown and yes, he resisted arrest. However, the police officer who used the illegal choke-hold technique against him, Garner's dying statements regarding his inability to breath, and the coroner's finding that the death was homicide due to the illegal choke-hold begged a bill of at least criminal negligence in my mind.

Now, I don't know what the jurors saw or what instructions they received, yet, my questions, and the questions of many in America, persist. Eric Garner's death illustrates the need to change the law in ways that will make the grand jury process more transparent in those parts where the identity of witnesses or jurors are not at stake. Easing constraints to prosecute police personnel in cases of questionable use of deadly force is not the way to go, in my opinion, but increased supervision and oversight is. Police personnel should be required to use body cameras and penalized by losing their presumption of innocence if they were to turn the cameras off while on duty, or while acting in an official capacity while off-duty. That last situation is a tough one, but if that's what's needed to protect policemen and the public, so be it.

One thing is certain: the notion that grand juries are so pliable that a prosecutor could get a grand jury to indict a "ham sandwich" as stated memorably by Sol Wachtler, chief judge of New York State, deserves to go down in history with other like statements such as "Wall of Separation should be built between church and state" and "You can keep your health insurance" as incorrect, if not patently false. These notions passed into our national conscience not because of the sense they made - little sense, in fact - but because of the authority of those who said them.

Finally, I extend my condolences to the family of Eric Garner. I hope and pray that his death brings so good.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Second Sunday of Advent, A.D. 2014

A Reading from Today’s Office of Readings
A commentary on Isaiah by Eusebius of Caesarea
A voice of one crying in the wilderness
The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight the paths of our God. The prophecy makes clear that it is to be fulfilled, not in Jerusalem but in the wilderness: it is there that the glory of the Lord is to appear, and God’s salvation is to be made known to all mankind. 
It was in the wilderness that God’s saving presence was proclaimed by John the Baptist, and there that God’s salvation was seen. The words of this prophecy were fulfilled when Christ and his glory were made manifest to all: after his baptism the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove rested on him, and the Father’s voice was heard, bearing witness to the Son: This is my beloved Son, listen to him. 
The prophecy meant that God was to come to a deserted place, inaccessible from the beginning. None of the pagans had any knowledge of God, since his holy servants and prophets were kept from approaching them. The voice commands that a way be prepared for the Word of God: the rough and trackless ground is to be made level, so that our God may find a highway when he comes. Prepare the way of the Lord: the way is the preaching of the Gospel, the new message of consolation, ready to bring to all mankind the knowledge of God’s saving power. 
Climb on a high mountain, bearer of good news to Zion. Lift up your voice in strength, bearer of good news to Jerusalem. These words harmonise very well with the meaning of what has gone before. They refer opportunely to the evangelists and proclaim the coming of God to men, after speaking of the voice crying in the wilderness. Mention of the evangelists suitably follows the prophecy on John the Baptist. 
What does Zion mean if not the city previously called Jerusalem? This is the mountain referred to in that passage from Scripture: Here is mount Zion, where you dwelt. The Apostle says: You have come to mount Zion. Does not this refer to the company of the apostles, chosen from the former people of the circumcision? 
This is the Zion, the Jerusalem, that received God’s salvation. It stands aloft on the mountain of God, that is, it is raised high on the only-begotten Word of God. It is commanded to climb the high mountain and announce the word of salvation. Who is the bearer of the good news but the company of the evangelists? What does it mean to bear the good news but to preach to all nations, but first of all to the cities of Judah, the coming of Christ on earth?


Monday, December 01, 2014

Advent starts: Come Lord Jesus!


Brothers and sisters: Peace be with you.

The Advent Season started yesterday and with it, the new liturgical year. Beginnings are always good in one's Christian life so, happy new liturgical year!

I like Advent. The purple vestments return and we find ourselves in a new penitential season, a little Lent, although the sense of Advent as a penitential season followed by the "little Easter" of the Birth of Jesus Christ has been mostly lost from our liturgical awareness. We need to rescue that memory and once again make it a living part of our consciousness.

I also like Advent because it constitutes and entire season of pining for the Parousia, the final manifestation or "second coming" of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The readings from daily and Sunday masses emphasize the themes of waiting, watching, conversion, etc., as well as the readings and antiphons of the Liturgy of the Hours. The wait for the Parousia of Jesus Christ and the celebration of his first appearing in Bethlehem blend together into a single expectation for final redemption and transformation of the world.

Also, just before the season started, on the Feast Day of St. Andrew the Apostle, the following scene took place at the Orthodox Christian Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul, Turkey:

Our Pope Francis asked and received a blessing and kiss of peace from the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, at a joint service in the latter's Cathedral. Though many issues between our Churches remain unsolved - and the Russian Orthodox Church has been most unhelpful - it is gestures like these what nurtures the mutual forgiveness and understanding that must occur prior to our reconciliation. This gesture by Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew gave a great start to our Advent season. May the Spirit of our season be fruitful in all of us and lead us to an intensified living of our lives in Christ Jesus Our Lord.

Monday, November 24, 2014

My take on the Grand Jury findings on the shooting of Michael Brown

Brethren, Peace be with you.

Knowing first hand how the Grand Jury system works in our country, I accept and respect the findings of the jury looking into the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and I applaud their work and courage during this trying time.

The Brown family lost a son. Being a father myself, I can comprehend their pain up to a point. Their pain and anguish is their own in ways no one can understand.

Sadly, Michael Brown started in a trajectory on that day that ended with his death. His poor decisions were part of the chain of cause and effect that included his own death as the final effect. What this teaches us is that CHARACTER MATTERS and that Michael Brown's character, or lack thereof, contributed to his own death.

We parents are responsible for the honor and character we instill into our children. We need to teach our children respect for the law and for the rights of others. A good character makes a difference at the moment one makes a decision to threaten an authority figure who would then feel justified in using deadly force to stop the threat. The Grand Jury concluded this is what happened here.

I hope and pray that those who disagree with the Grand Jury's decision express their views without resorting to violence and destruction of property. I agree that police personnel be trained to minimize the taking of human life. That's a long-term project not only on the part of police departments nationwide, but also on the part of a society that glorifies violence in many instances and relativizes the value of human life. Let us pray and work for the kind of change we need so that our young people don't die needlessly in confrontations with our law enforcers.