Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity of Our Lord

Every year the Wall Street Journal re-publishes a 1949 editorial written by Vermont Royster that speaks to the essence of the Christian message. The Christian message is embodied by the Incarnation that we find in the Manger at Bethlehem and fulfilled on Calvary and in the Empty Tomb.

"When Saul of Tarsus set out on his journey to Damascus the whole of the known world lay in bondage. There was one state, and it was Rome. There was one master for it all, and he was Tiberius Caesar.

Everywhere there was civil order, for the arm of the Roman law was long. Everywhere there was stability, in government and in society, for the centurions saw that it was so.

But everywhere there was something else, too. There was oppression -- for those who were not the friends of Tiberius Caesar. There was the tax gatherer to take the grain from the fields and the flax from the spindle to feed the legions or to fill the hungry treasury from which divine Caesar gave largess to the people. There was the impressor to find recruits for the circuses. There were executioners to quiet those whom the Emperor proscribed. What was a man for but to serve Caesar?

There was the persecution of men who dared think differently, who heard strange voices or read strange manuscripts. There was enslavement of men whose tribes came not from Rome, disdain for those who did not have the familiar visage. And most of all, there was everywhere a contempt for human life. What, to the strong, was one man more or less in a crowded world?

Then, of a sudden, there was a light in the world, and a man from Galilee saying, Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.

And the voice from Galilee, which would defy Caesar, offered a new Kingdom in which each man could walk upright and bow to none but his God. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. And he sent this gospel of the Kingdom of Man into the uttermost ends of the earth.

So the light came into the world and the men who lived in darkness were afraid, and they tried to lower a curtain so that man would still believe salvation lay with the leaders.

But it came to pass for a while in divers places that the truth did set man free, although the men of darkness were offended and they tried to put out the light. The voice said, Haste ye. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness come upon you, for he that walketh in darkness knoweth not whither he goeth.

Along the road to Damascus the light shone brightly. But afterward Paul of Tarsus, too, was sore afraid. He feared that other Caesars, other prophets, might one day persuade men that man was nothing save a servant unto them, that men might yield up their birthright from God for pottage and walk no more in freedom.

Then might it come to pass that darkness would settle again over the lands and there would be a burning of books and men would think only of what they should eat and what they should wear, and would give heed only to new Caesars and to false prophets. Then might it come to pass that men would not look upward to see even a winter's star in the East, and once more, there would be no light at all in the darkness.

And so Paul, the apostle of the Son of Man, spoke to his brethren, the Galatians, the words he would have us remember afterward in each of the years of his Lord:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage."

We commemorate Christ's birth on Christmas. It is truly the Mass of the Incarnation when Heaven came to Earth, when God Himself appeared physically in the World, when the divide caused by Adam's fall began to be healed.

The great Catholic Evangelist Bishop Fulton Sheen eloquently wrote in his "Life of Christ" about the birth of the Savior of the World:

"There, in a place of peace in the lonely abandonment of a cold windswept cave; there, under the floor of the world, He Who is born without a mother in heaven, is born without a father on earth.

"Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that it resembles his mother. This was the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His mother; the mother, too, was only a child. It was also the first time in the history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than 'somewhere up there'; when the Child was in her arms, Mary now looked down to Heaven. . .

"The Son of God made man was invited to enter His own world through a back door. Exiled from the earth, He was born under the earth, in a sense, the first Cave Man in recorded history. There He shook the earth to its very foundations. Because He was born in a cave, all who wish to see Him must stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who bend their egos and enter, find that they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother's lap, with the world poised on His fingers.

"The manger and the Cross thus stand at the two extremities of the Savior's life! He accepted the manger because there was no room in the inn; He accepted the Cross because men said, 'We will not have this Man for our King.' Disowned upon entering, rejected upon leaving, He was laid in a stranger's stable at the beginning, and a stranger's grave at the end. An ox and an ass surrounded His crib at Bethlehem; two thieves were to flank His Cross on Calvary. He was wrapped in swaddling bands in His birthplace, He was again laid in swaddling clothes in His tomb -- clothes symbolic of the limitations imposed on His Divinity when He took a human form."
(Pages 16, 17, 18)

It is impossible to understand Christmas without understanding Good Friday. Good Friday is the reason for Christmas just as the Resurrection on Easter Morn is the reason for Good Friday. After our Advent of Patient Waiting, we welcome Our Lord into the World. Behold the Lamb of God.

On a more personal note, we also give thanks for God's blessings in our lives. I give thanks for the blessings of family, for my safe return from two deployments and the completion of my Active Duty Military Service Obligation.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mission Complete

Yesterday, 14 December 2009, I completed my Active Duty Service. Today I am a Veteran and a Civilian (except for that whole part-time Army Reserve thing).

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Active Duty, through both the highs and the lows. Looking back I imagine it will be the experience and the job that I will remember the most and the time that I will treasure. Military Service has declined in recent decades, though there has been a spike in response to the Global War on Terror. My generation has recognized that there is an existential threat to Freedom and the United States, which requires a forceful response. While only a small percentage of my generation has answered that specific call, my generation I believe looks on military service in a far more positive light compared to previous generations.

Why did I serve? There were both noble reasons and selfish ones. From a selfish perspective the US Army enabled me to attend the Private University of my choice. Were it not for the Army ROTC scholarship, the school would have likely been beyond my reach. Yet the more important reason was Patriotism. It was fundamentally, the right thing to do. Millions of Americans have served in War and Peace as the Sentinels of this country to ensure that I would enjoy the Freedoms that God gave this country; it was my turn to do the same for future generations.

9/11 occurred less than a week before I began attending undergrad. America was no longer enjoying its Holiday from History. Prior to that a deployment to the Balkans as a peace-keeper was the most likely overseas tour of duty. Now the United States began to actively prosecute the Global War on Terror and we would be taken to the mountains of Afghanistan, the deserts and river valleys of Iraq, the islands of the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and in many other places. America was a nation at war, not a war of our choosing, but one that was brought to us, but we will finish it. I wasn't at the Tip of the Spear so I won't or cannot compare my service to those brave men and women who were kicking in doors and bringing justice personally to the enemies of the United States. I did my part and supported them and served my country.

What is a Veteran? There is a common phrase found on the internet: "A Veteran is someone who at some point in his/her life wrote a blank check to the US Government for an amount up to and including one's own life". I'll admit I never really thought of it in that light, but it is ultimately true. No one goes into the military planning to die for their country, but ultimately, that is part of the contract we make with Uncle Sam. I served my country through two tours of duty in Iraq and I can call myself a Veteran, though, I know there are others, many others, who did far more. I am also not a member of that Greatest of Generations, but perhaps, I possess just a little more insight to understand them.

With my time in the military I will certainly take a longer pause to remember and thank all those who served, are serving or will serve. I will also always remember the incredible positive experience that was my Military service and relay it to others. I will also remember those with whom I served, my own brotherhood, men and women who I was incredibly privileged to know and work with. I wish them nothing but the best and I pray for their success, families, and dreams.

Freedom is not Free.

God Bless

Friday, December 11, 2009

Truth Behind Planned Parenthood

Appleton, WI -- Conservative Bloggers and Journalists continue to conduct the kind of investigative journalism that built the mainstream media. Today the Mainstream Media is more concerned about protecting its ideological allies, as opposed to revealing corruption and/or outright dishonesty by various organization. The perfect example was the undercover videos about ACORN that the mainstream media, with the exception of FOX News, ignored. Wisconsin now finds itself at the center of this conflict.

Just as young conservatives were responsible for revealing the tremendous level of unethical practices and corruption at ACORN, a young Pro-Life advocate has now exposed the medical malpractice occuring at Planned Parenthood, the nation's preeminent abortion and family planning provider. The group is known as Live Action and is a Youth-led, pro-life movement. The Rosa Acuna Project is an undercover investigation on Planned Parenthood's Abortion Counseling activities. The first video is from Wisconsin. It is quite galling in terms of the outright lies that the young woman has relayed to her.

Now, it is likely that not every Planned Parenthood conducts themselves in this way. But even if it is just one, it should raises serious Red Flags at Planned Parenthood's HQs. If Planned Parenthood really was concerned about what it says it is concerned about, they should be taking decisive action to fix this problem. I am not optimistic we will see that.

One cannot help but wonder (as many have long suspected) that Planned Parenthood is not concerned about responsible family planning, but is perhaps first and foremost an abortion proponent, propagandist and provider. Where is the Media on this issue?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mary Immaculate

Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation throughout the Church for Catholics.

The Immaculate Conception was promulgated as a dogma of the Catholic Church on December 8th, 1854 by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus. The Immaculate Conception holds that Mary was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. This is not to conclude that Mary did not need a savior. Jesus was His Mother’s Savior. Indeed, one could call Mary the “daughter of her Son”. Through the grace and power of God, Mary was saved from sin by the future sacrifice of her Son on the Cross. This preservative grace was a singular grace and blessing from the Father. As St. Peter writes in his second letter, God’s concept of time is not our concept and he is not limited by it: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

Mary was also the Mother of God (she did not give birth to His divine nature, but she gave birth to Jesus who had two natures). She bore divinity in her womb; she is the New Ark of the Covenant. Mary Theotokos (God-Bearer) was definitively established by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. The Ark of the Covenant was the Holy of Holies. It contained the most important relics of the Old Testament. It was so holy that no hand, no matter how pure or clean, could touch it. The Priest Uzzah reached to steady the Ark as they carried and was struck down (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The Ark was Holy yet made by human hands. Mary bore the Son of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ, how much more important of an Ark was she?

The Fourth Century Church Father St. Ephraim was a Deacon of the Church in Syria. Writing in the late fourth century he wrote about the doctrine that would become the Immaculate Conception in the Nisibene Hymns (Faiths of the Early Fathers, volume 1):

You alone and your Mother
Are more beautiful than any others;
For there is no blemish in you,
Nor any stains upon your Mother.
Who of my children
Can compare in beauty to these?

On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we focus not on Mary, but on what God did for Mary in order to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”. Mary always will point us toward the Son, toward Jesus Christ. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception points us toward Christmas when Heaven met Earth and the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.

For more information and Apologetics on Catholic Marian Dogmas let me suggest Catholic Answers here and here.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A Day Which Will Live In Infamy

Today is December 7th, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's words provide all the emphasis that is required.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

St. Nicholas of Myra

The Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches celebrate December 6th as the Feast of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was a Bishop who overtime morphed or became the inspiration for Santa Claus in the West. Yet, in the midst of the Christmas season, it is important to remember the real person behind the legendary figure.

St. Nicholas or Myra (Smyrna) was a Church Father in the 3rd and 4th Centuries. He was from modern-day Turkey and suffered persecution on behalf of Christ during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian and the Tetrarch Galerius. Following the persecutions Nicholas rose to become the Bishop of Myra. He was famous for charitable giving, in one story, providing enough money for the dowries for a poor man’s three daughters, enabling them to wed. He also confronted the local governor and stopped the execution of three innocent men.

Bishop Nicholas attended the Council of Nicaea (A.D. 325) where the Church Fathers debated with Arius on the divinity of Jesus Christ. A possibly apocryphal story of the council has St. Nicholas slapping Arius (subsequently dubbed by the Church Fathers as the “Arch-Heretic”) after he presented his arguments against the divinity of Jesus Christ. He was kicked out of the council but returned the next day due to the reported intercession of the Virgin Mary who told the Church Fathers that St. Nicholas acted out of love for her Son. Though the Council endorsed the Orthodox position that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, St. Nicholas would spend the rest of his life fighting the Arian heresy.

He was regarded as a Saint by the Christian communities in the East by the 6th and 7th centuries. Nearly 600 years later his relics were removed to Bari following the Seljuk conquests of Byzantium’s possessions in Asia Minor. The Basilica of St. Nicholas in Bari where his relics remain today is holy to both the Western and Eastern Churches.

While much of his history is perhaps legendary, it is clear that not only was St. Nicholas a loving man who lived Christ’s call to charity, but he was also an uncompromising defender of Christ’s divinity and the Christian Faith. He lived “Love in Truth.” Pope Benedict XVI wrote in his encyclical by the same name Caritas in Veritate that Love in Truth becomes the driving force behind proper expression of our humanity:

"Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity. Love — caritas — is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. It is a force that has its origin in God, Eternal Love and Absolute Truth. Each person finds his good by adherence to God's plan for him, in order to realize it fully: in this plan, he finds his truth, and through adherence to this truth he becomes free (cf. Jn 8:32). To defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity. Charity, in fact, “rejoices in the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). All people feel the interior impulse to love authentically: love and truth never abandon them completely, because these are the vocation planted by God in the heart and mind of every human person. The search for love and truth is purified and liberated by Jesus Christ from the impoverishment that our humanity brings to it, and he reveals to us in all its fullness the initiative of love and the plan for true life that God has prepared for us. In Christ, charity in truth becomes the Face of his Person, a vocation for us to love our brothers and sisters in the truth of his plan. Indeed, he himself is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6).

Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36- 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones). For the Church, instructed by the Gospel, charity is everything because, as Saint John teaches (cf. 1 Jn 4:8, 16) and as I recalled in my first Encyclical Letter, “God is love” (Deus Caritas Est): everything has its origin in God's love, everything is shaped by it, everything is directed towards it. Love is God's greatest gift to humanity, it is his promise and our hope.

I am aware of the ways in which charity has been and continues to be misconstrued and emptied of meaning, with the consequent risk of being misinterpreted, detached from ethical living and, in any event, undervalued. In the social, juridical, cultural, political and economic fields — the contexts, in other words, that are most exposed to this danger — it is easily dismissed as irrelevant for interpreting and giving direction to moral responsibility. Hence the need to link charity with truth not only in the sequence, pointed out by Saint Paul, of veritas in caritate (Eph 4:15), but also in the inverse and complementary sequence of caritas in veritate. Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the “economy” of charity, but charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth. In this way, not only do we do a service to charity enlightened by truth, but we also help give credibility to truth, demonstrating its persuasive and authenticating power in the practical setting of social living. This is a matter of no small account today, in a social and cultural context which relativizes truth, often paying little heed to it and showing increasing reluctance to acknowledge its existence."

St. Nicholas of Myra is the Patron Saint of Sailors, Bakers, and Children. He is a Patron Saint of Russia, Greece, and of various areas in Italy.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remembering the Servant of God, Bishop Fulton Sheen

On December 9th the Church will remember the 30th Anniversary of the death of the great Bishop Fulton Sheen. The Church for twenty years was blessed with his personality, wit and wisdom on Radio during The Catholic Hour. He moved to television and for seven years was the host of Life is Worth Living. While alive he was recognized for an Emmy for Most Outstanding Television Personality. While his style may be unique for today's audience, there is something nonetheless electric to it, that captures the imagination, even if at times it seems theatric.

He was an American C.S. Lewis and his impact carries on to this day. As a testament to his solid Orthodoxy and Christianity, not only is he still seen on EWTN (a Catholic Network), but also the Trinity Broadcasting Network (an Evangelical Protestant Network).

He spoke to his age with timeless Christian truths. He did not water-down the message, but spoke it courageously and with conviction. He was the first real televangelist and most of those who came after him, pale in comparison.

There is an ongoing Cause for the Canonization of this great American Catholic Evangelist. John Paul the Great said of the late Bishop Sheen: "You have written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus! You have been a loyal son of the Church".

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York will be offering a special commemorative mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral in honor of the 30th Anniversary of his death. Archbishop Dolan said of Sheen: "My professor, John Tracy Ellis, used to say there’s never been anybody who’s been able to communicate the timeless truths of the Catholic religion to a very timely culture, namely the United States, like Fulton Sheen – without diluting any of the essentials of our Catholic Faith. He was able to present it in an eminently attractive way and that has always inspired me..."

As one contemplates the current state of Roman Catholicism in the United States, one cannot help but yearn for a new Bishop Fulton Sheen. Someone who will have the courage and personality to present the timeless Catholic Faith to a population that is increasingly opposed to it. While the Catholic Church in America has some strong Bishops like Bishop Tobin in Rhode Island and Archbishop Chaput in Denver, one misses the wit and brilliance of Bishop Sheen's presentation.

The Teachings of the Church do not change, but we can adapt to the technology and the age to present it in an even more relevant way.