Mother’s Milk

In the delightful movie, Scrooge (1970), a musical adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, starring Albert Finney, there’s a scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present gets the decrepit, miserly-meanie protagonist-antagonist drunk from a cup brimming with “the milk of human kindness.”

Scrooge hesitates. After all, nothing is really for free in his world. There must be some hidden cost, even for a cup of milk freely given. Scrooge drinks and becomes enamored with the enticing, delicious elixir, and then gets hammered while pleading, as Oliver Twist did with his porridge, for “some more.”

Both Ebenezer and Oliver shared a miserable start in life. They were both tragically deprived of the true “milk of human kindness.” They were motherless. They yearned for the kind, supple embrace of a mother’s arms and to drink deeply from the warm wells of their mothers’ nurturing breasts.

As infants, we are all divinely programmed to suckle and slurp our mother’s milk. Nothing is more natural. Nothing is quite as good for us, despite the pediatric nonsense the baby experts foisted upon the expectant mothers of the baby boomer generation, actually well into the 1970’s, that breast feeding wasn’t really necessary. That any nipple, even a plastic one, would do. So, the modern world of post-natal bliss came to be found from a bottle not from a breast. How chic. How progressive. How like us to just take another detour to break the inconvenient bond between mother and child through the marvelous, almost unthinking acceptance of a can of formula vis-á-vis the real McCoy.

But a mother’s instinct is not to be trifled with. Science can sometimes be trumped by innate reasoning. As it so happened, the popular march toward natural childbirth back in the 1980’s dovetailed with the wholesome and age-old practice of breast feeding. Mother’s milk was now back in vogue and so was common sense. This was, and is today, beneficial for both mother and child.

And, so it was for the Madonna and the Christ child, too.

You, of course, remember the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel, when, after the Magi had visited with King Herod, they reacquired their celestial search:

“They were over joyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house they saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did hid homage” (Mt 2:10-11).

Please note the Magi didn’t enter into a stable where there would be a manger and a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes as did the shepherds. The Magi entered in “a house.” Hence, it’s surmised by some the Holy Family had already left Bethlehem.

And this is where a beautiful story begins to unfold.

This is supposition on my part, of course, but just south of Bethlehem Joseph may have led his wife and infant son to “a house,” possibly some sort of abode hewn from rock. Perhaps carved from the indigenous limestone prevalent in that part of Judea. It’s not a farfetched supposition. There are houses and churches there still today sculpted into the landscape of the hills and mountains.

Perhaps Joseph was led there on his journey by a kind soul he met along the way. Maybe it was an abandoned house and could be used by travelers searching for warmth and protection. In any event, here Joseph may have stopped in his long journey back to Nazareth.

Why? Possibly a storm was threatening or some other urgency. Maybe because the donkey had picked up a stone in his hoof and needed time to heal. Perhaps it was for another reason.

And why not? After all, the decree from the purple-robed Augustus had been satisfied. The census had been taken in the City of David. Now was the time for Joseph to pay attention to the great and grave responsibility he had pledged to God he would fulfill.

Yet maybe, in light of all this, he just needed to sit awhile and contemplate fully the trust the Lord had placed upon his strong shoulders. Given the historic implications, which must have occurred to him and the frightful weight of such an undertaking, most men would have second thoughts; perhaps plan a self-indulgent escape, shirk responsibility, take cover and hide as so many men do in our day.

Not this man.

Duty coursed through his princely veins as deep as the river Jordan. Yet, like all men, he needed guidance. There was no other choice then but to stop on his travels and do something men hesitate to do: ask for directions.

Joseph prayed.

How did he pray? Well, simply, no elaborate formal recitations or formulas here, but in humility and with sincere sweat beading on an overtaxed brow. Joseph knew the magnitude of the moment. He knew his place in it. Moreover, he recognized Mary’s place in the sacred unveiling of God’s plan for the coming of the Messiah. The curtain between heaven and earth was suddenly parted. And then there was the baby.

That very day or sometime soon after, a caravan arrived from the east. Perhaps it was in the evening or early in the morning. Three, obviously wealthy explorers alit from their beasts of burden and politely requested and audience with the king. Did this surprise Joseph and Mary? Did the visit of the shepherds at the stable before they left Bethlehem shock them?

No. Both husband and wife knew, as we should, that there is no such thing called coincidence. Especially when you are wholeheartedly following the will of God and have already surrendered your heart to His justice and mercy. This surrender, as it was with Mary and Joseph, is not capitulation. It is the re-gifting of free will and it is wonderful.

After the Magi left the “house” Joseph had some new things to consider. The gifts the travelers left were of enormous value. But, what should he do with gold, frankincense, and myrrh? The answer came through a dream. An angle appeared to Joseph:

“Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him” (Mt 2:13).

Joseph, not one to panic, took the answer to his prayers for directions literally and began immediately to embark on an unforgettable journey to a land his forefathers fled centuries before following the staff of Moses.

Quickly, preparations were made to flee Judea. Joseph would have left no footprint of his family’s presence at this “house.” He believed and he obeyed the message given him by the angel in his dream. Nothing, this side of heaven or hell, would prevent him from fulfilling his mission to get his family to safety.

But, there was something Joseph couldn’t control. Something completely out of his power to manage or even anticipate: Jesus was hungry. He needed nourishment. He needed sustenance. And this could only be procured from His mother. He required milk. So, His mother began to feed him.

Still, Joseph was in a hurry. Time was short and the family desperately needed to move, and move now. Herod’s troops were in proximity and were scouring the countryside in and near Bethlehem determined to find and destroy the newly proclaimed king. The warning of the angel reverberated in Joseph’s ears, the visit of the Magi may have confirmed this because they had a dream warning them not to return to King Herod.

Joseph, perhaps, asked Mary to delay the feeding of the infant. Couldn’t she do this on the road? Surely she could. Because now was the time to escape and escape quickly before inevitable disaster would most certainly strike and kill the God-child.

Yes. She agreed. She could feed her son as they ventured down the road. Why not? Joseph would make certain the passage would be gentle enough that she would be able to breastfeed her child.

Mary stood and removed her breast from the hungry Christ child’s lips. As she did so, a few drops of her precious milk squirted down onto the limestone floor. Suddenly, the entire small edifice, the whole of the “house” which had been shadowed and gray turned into a creamy color of milky-white. Neither Joseph nor Mary noticed. They were in too much of a hurry to escape the egotistical wrath of the tyrant Herod and his soldiers who were butchering male children with impunity. And, escape they did. Just in time.

But, someone else must have noticed the change to the “house.” It could be that there was an eyewitness. The visit of the Magi would certainly have attracted attention of neighbors or wayfarers nearby. In any event, we know today that devotion to Our Lady, under the title Our Lady of the Milk, began fairly early. A church was built atop of the stone structure and is dated back to the fourth century.

Our Lady of the Milk is venerated by both Christians and Muslims. If you make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land you can worship there and see it for yourself. You can also ask for some “milk dust,” or the scrapings of the limestone flooring. Many miracles are directly attributed to the consumption of the limestone dust and the devotional prayer.

It wasn’t long before the story of the Lady of the Milk spanned across Europe. Spain was enamored with the tale and devotion to Nuestra Sénora de la Leche captivated its faithful. It was spread to the New World by the conquistadors, explorers and missionaries. In fact, if you’re a snowbird and travelling south this winter, stop by St. Augustine, in Florida. There’s a beautiful shrine there dedicated to Sénora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of the Milk and Happy Delivery).

For many souls, the “milk of human kindness” has been realized in a way Charles Dickens never thought possible. In this Christmas season, especially on the Feast of the Epiphany, we should recall the events depicted in Matthew’s gospel and take comfort in the loving, sweet nurturing power of mothers everywhere.

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Faith, Semper Fidelis, and “Fly Over States”

 

In some faith-filled, obscure, and contented corner of the world called Knoxville, Iowa, a remarkable thing happened. And this is vital to our understanding and appreciation of Veterans Day and last Tuesday’s presidential election.

But, before I begin, let me quote some of the opening lyrics of a song entitled Fly over States, by country’s triple-platinum star Jason Aldean:

A couple of guys in first class on a flight

From New York to Los Angeles,

Kinda making small talk, killing time,

Flirting with flight attendants.

Thirty thousand feet above, could be Oklahoma,

Just a bunch of square cornfields and wheat farms,

Man it all looks the same.

Miles and miles of back roads and highways,

Connecting little towns with funny names,

Who’d want to live down there in the middle of nowhere?

 

They’ve never drove through Indiana,

Met the men who plowed that earth.

Planted that seed, busted his ass for you and me,

Or caught a harvest moon in Kansas,

They’d understand why God made those fly over states…

 

And, that’s where we begin our story. Because a true appreciation for those who have served us loyally in uniform throughout our history, and whom we owe our deepest gratitude, is rooted not in politics nor the politically correct spirit of the day, or in the think tanks and media-academia-Hollywood controlled thought police who demand subservience to a governmental god and a culture of Leftist ideology; true appreciation of our veterans is be found with ordinary people, tied securely to the land that feeds them. It might be hokey. It might be old-fashioned. It might be laughed at and derided by those elites who fly above us between non-stops from New York to LA. You know, the know-betters who look down on those of us who cling to our bibles and our guns.

 

Fly Over States

In Iowa, in the election last year, the folks who live in the small town of Knoxville booted out a couple of council people who gave in to the PC.

A former marine, 67-year-old, Al Larson, wounded in battle in Vietnam, decided to build a memorial to a fallen comrade who died in the same battle. Larson says the man was his best friend but didn’t mention the man’s name. He felt it was his duty to honor his brother-in-arms in some way. So, he constructed, from a piece of simple plywood, a beautiful silhouette of a common soldier kneeling – helmet in his hand, rifle supporting his frame, before a crooked white cross, obviously the burial place of a comrade-in-arms; a man who died in service to our country. The little white cross over the grave was reminiscent of the untold number of crosses and Stars of David that populate military cemeteries in Normandy, France. He did this because he wanted to pay homage to the man who died in the same combat that he went through.

Larson donated the memorial to the local American Veterans (AMVETS) post 63. The AMVETS group placed the memorial in Young’s Park, in Knoxville, to honor fallen veterans. It was situated next to “Freedom Rock,” a large boulder featuring several patriotic murals, located just a few feet away. It seemed like the perfect place.

But, it was public land and the thought police went immediately on the attack. A lawsuit was threatened by Americans United for Separation of Church and State. It filled the town council with fear because it would’ve been very costly to defend. A majority decided to compromise and move the silhouette across the street onto private property and replace it with a bronze statue honoring the fallen hero, albeit, without the cross. But, the people, those hidden folks, who live beneath us in the “Fly over States” would have none of it.

They were sick and tired of the PC that has dominated and infuriated us all. And, on Election Day, they threw out the council members who compromised. They, the common people, were fed up.

Honoring our veterans should never be compromised. Not ever. There should never be a muddled posturing among politicians because they fear a backlash from the press or lawsuits from those who seem so intent in separating our faith from what makes us what we truly are and forever will be: a people determined to meet God face-to-face with no excuses. Because we instinctively know what honorable service is, we respect those who have given “the last, full measure of devotion,” as Lincoln said, and we demand to, in some small way, repay that sacrifice even with simple memorials and the faithfulness of our prayers. Not to the state, but to the God who made us, only hoping that our poor prayers will bring their souls closer to God.

Semper Fi

The motto “Semper Fidelis” has been around for a long time. The Irish Brigade who served in imperial France, Louie after Louie, and have been affectionately remembered as the “Wild Geese,” had a similar motto: “Semperet ubique Fidelis.” Semper Fidelis is also the title of the official and most familiar march of the U.S. Marine Corps, composed, in 1889, by John Philip Sousa. There are several variations of its exact meaning, but it is usually interpreted as “always faithful.”

True to this motto, Liberty Institute, a religious advocacy group providing pro bono legal assistance to many people, especially veterans, stepped up to the plate. This statement is from their web site:

“Though the attacks on veteran’s memorials in America seem to never cease, neither does the Liberty Institute’s defense of the memorials. Veterans’ memorials that use images or text which can also have a religious meaning are lawful. The U.S. Supreme Court, discussing the Mojave Desert Veterans Memorial, which uses a cross shape, said a cross used as a veterans memorial ‘evokes thousands of small crosses in foreign fields marking the graves of Americans who fell in battles.’ Claiming otherwise and trying to tear them down is an affront to the men and women they are meant to honor.”

It seems a veteran’s job is never done. Their warrior ethos, formed in battle, must always protect us, especially our religious rights. The attacks will never stop, the sieges upon our religious institutions will never be abated, at least in the foreseeable future.

The good folks in Knoxville, Iowa, were way ahead of us in their determined faith and patriotism last year. Last Tuesday we caught up with them and recognized that the time has come to end the so called progressive agenda dominating our country, infiltrating our churches, and which has poisoned our schools for so long.

It’s not going to be easy. We know that.

But perhaps we’ve gained a foothold. Let’s not lose any more precious ground to the forces of modernism who seek to destroy our faith, our families, and our sacred honor.

Thank God for our veterans. God bless them past and present. Let’s make sure we finally start to recognize their service and treat them with the honor and dignity they fully deserve.

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The “Bastardization of the Faith”

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The above quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, German pastor, and world recognized theologian, who spoke out against Hitler when no one else would, even before “Der Fürher” took power in 1933. Bonhoeffer’s witness to Christ is indisputable. His work to save Germany and our world from the tyranny of fascism is undeniable. Yet his life-long testimony remains unheeded in our present day.

In fact, we are reliving the fascist nightmare that Bonhoeffer experienced in the years leading up to and which he lived through during the Second World War. Including his fight against euthanasia and genocide, which we re-experience today in governmental programs that finance abortion, promote infanticide, and enact laws in many states that legalize voluntary suicide and encourage euthanasia. All for the sake of a leftist agenda which coincides with everything the Nazi regime stood for and Dietrich Bonhoeffer fought against.

And we are losing this fight.

This is the consummate issue of our age or any other. Will we fight for life or not? Will we recognize the dignity of all people, as Mother Teresa, now sainted, dedicated her life to, or will we simply walk away?

There is supreme danger afoot. A danger that cannot be denied.

The recent WikiLeaks scandals have proved this beyond all doubt. John Halprin, a fellow at the Center for American Progress, in his emails labeled all conservative Catholics an “amazing bastardization of the faith.” What he meant by this, I’m convinced, is that American Catholics and the church officials who lead us are backward thinking individuals who have yet to be enlightened by the leftist, progressive establishment.

Add to this the Planned Parenthood exposé by Live Action that revealed the true and nefarious intentions of this infamous organization, paid for by our own tax dollars. But have we really learned anything? Or have we stuck our heads in the sand and ignored reality for the sake of convenience and just felt better about ourselves because it’s more comfortable; lest, God forbid, we should actually speak out against an immoral act and an atrocity that may one day bring the very wrath of God upon our nation, and upon our very own heads. You see, there’s always a price to pay. There always is. The Lord will not ignore the screams of innocents.

 

The Agony in the Garden

Yet, the elites in our world cannot hear the cries of the blameless. They are so full of pride and self-importance, they can only hear what is between their very own ears. They have to be right because they certainly can’t be wrong, even though they have bought into the fallacies of modernism and socialist propaganda. And they know better than the common men and women who populate our world because they do not toil and strive to make a living using their own hands and the sweat of their brows.

They also know better than Holy Mother Church. It is this self-satisfaction and sense of superiority that separates the elite from everyone else. Thus, it is for this reason that they put themselves above the historical evidence, oral tradition, gospel writings and the books that follow in the New Testament of the church since Christ walked this earth and the Old Testament writings that preordained His coming. They even hold themselves above the laws of our own constitutional republic.

You see, it’s all malleable. Like a piece of clay to be molded in one’s own image. Because it’s progressive and advances human thought beyond the scope of believing in the transcendental experience of humankind.

This is why I totally disagree with the claims of Margaret Sanger, Teddy Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Hillary Clinton calling themselves “progressive.” They are nothing of the sort. They are regressive and do not advance the progress of man any more than the Aztecs did in their horrific human sacrifices to the sun god. But, you can’t talk about this in public because of the PC that has dominated public discourse and holds, in contempt, all real discussions about history, sociology, archaeology, theology, and anything on the order of what used to be called civics or the contributions of western civilization.

In fact, as a part of school curriculum, Western Civilization courses have gone the way of the dodo. All this has now been tossed out the window in a modernist, socialistic, and fascist assault on our government, our schools (and I mean from the elementary level to our universities), our media, and our entertainment industry. It has even infiltrated our churches, checked common discussions between decent people, and made us all – well, somewhat afraid of expressing ourselves. We all know this. We’ve all seen this happening in our lifetimes.

When Christ suffered through the Agony in the Garden, I believe He foresaw all of this. That this was indeed His agony. That people, so-called believers in the church, especially, would seek to remake the model. That they would deny and thus redefine Him because of their own stubborn pride and belief in their own intellectual superiority. That they would refuse to yield their own will to His words and instruction. And would try to fashion their own sense of justice based upon a smug and unwilling attitude to submit to the Almighty justice of God. That the Good News of the gospels is somehow to be interpreted in a new way, without citation, or quotation, or any understanding of what Our Lord really meant. Perhaps because it’s uncomfortable or doesn’t meet the modern day standards of acceptability. We now live in a world of convenience for convenience sake. There are no more eternal truths, nor moral paradigms. We have now the license to live as we please, but not the obligation to respect the God who made us or the laws He gave us.

 

What’s Our Rush?

We seem to be in such a hurry to destroy the very things that made us great. Americans, as a whole, have succumbed to the dictates of the elite. We’ve accepted Common Core without question into our schools even though there is no scientific evidence or studies which prove its validity.

We’ve become lazy, expecting government and entertainment to provide for our basic needs. Like the mob in Rome who expected bread, wine, and the bloody extravaganzas in the colosseum to satisfy them. The god of sport has somehow displaced our duty to live a civilized, respectful life and to respect our flag and those who sacrificed their lives in order to defend it.

Our nation was founded on Judeo-Christian principles as well as the Greek idea of an independent republic. This places a responsibility on each citizen to morally accept and perform their allegiance to this republic by doing their duty to vote with a free and unfettered conscience for what is right, true, and virtuous. Not, as George Washington warned us, for political purposes alone.

 

We Are Not Bastards

There will be a new “Catholic Spring.” And that new spring will be bright and beautiful. But it will not kowtow to the conventions of the political elite who seek only to define us and control us. When John Podesta, Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, proffered his creations of new organizations, supposedly catholic, to seek to infiltrate and confuse the church, on issues on life and marriage, he became the bastard child of modernity. He bought into a lie for political gain and wanted us all to follow him and the so-called progressives into damnation. This we shall not do.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I think, would agree. He sacrificed his life at the scaffold after being implicated in an assassination coup on Adolf Hitler. He was not a bastard. He was a true son of God. Earlier in his life, after he was alienated from his church, which was being coopted by Hitlerism, he fled Germany to escape the Nazis and lived and preached in both England and America, yet he returned to his native soil because he could not live with himself if he did not experience the pain and suffering of his own people. He loved life. He loved it so much he gave his life in order for others to live and be free.

We are not bastards either. And, we should do no less.

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On Sacred Liturgy, Ad Orientem, and Pokemon Go!

 

 

Having been laid up over the summer months with another bout of Lyme’s Disease, I’ve been given the gift of being able to look at things from a different perspective. Sometimes, when you are ill and life seems to pass you by, you actually see things others do not. So, here is a recap of the summer of ’16 and of what I’ve seen from the comfort of my recliner while viewing the world through the prism of prayer, pain, complete boredom, and nagging my wife like she was a wench working at an old English ale house.

Mind you, I’m keeping away from the “silly season.” Or at least I tell myself I will. Politics, although relegated to the back pages of newspapers throughout most summers, has become prevalent this year, even before Labor Day, because of what’s at stake: namely the Supreme Court and legislation from the bench on an unprecedented scale never seen before in our nation’s history. One that will, without question, determine the right to life, the right to bear arms, the right to free speech, and the right to religious liberty.

Which makes it not “silly” but serious.

Knowing this, I’ve turned off my TV and turned on my radio. I’ve ordered books, plenty of them, that have replenished my library with classics and new stars like Rodney Stark, who has given me, a so-called historical writer, with a new vision of what history was truly all about. And it has been refreshing and remarkable.

Afternoons, sitting on my front porch (yes, in a rocking chair) listening to the Dennis Prager program has become a staple and has enlightened and edified me.

More importantly, I’ve been listening to people. I mean real people. Not the trash talk we view on television or are subjected to reading the op-ed pages of the newspapers so filled with political propaganda. My neighbors for instance. Your neighbors perhaps. And this is what I found.

 

The Baptism of “Little Nick”

 

Recently, the family who owns the restaurant down the street closed shop for the week and went back to Greece. Yup, they chose family over profit because this was very important to them. Their destination was the small town of Velventos, in northern Greece, just south of Macedonia.

Here, surrounded by forests, at the foot of the Pierian Mountains, lies the fertile valley of the Haliacom River. Continually inhabited since prehistoric times, it has survived conquest, political upheaval, the slave trade, and twentieth century world wars. It is where people lived and died and minded their own business before written history.

Of late, the town was almost immune to the economic crises that threatened all of Greece. This was because the town and its people are self-sustaining. The world may rise and fall on trading markets and the shifting sands of socialistic dependent populaces chained to false promises that can never be kept, but Velventos, as it has for more than a millennia, remains unchanged.

Here, the rich loam of the earth yields peaches the size of softballs. The farmers, as they have since the recording of modern history, produce and reap a harvest of nourishing crops that sustain and feed people without the help of governmental programs.

“Old Nick,” the paternal grandfather of the family that owns the restaurant, yet lives in Greece, raises chestnuts, pomegranates, pimentos, and dates. It’s as if time has stood still and despite the turmoil boiling all around them, the people of this obscure town continue to farm, to interact with each other, and get on in their own way without interference from the outside world.

More importantly, they also worship God in a timeless, unchanging and special manner that has not been altered for generations, and has yet to be touched by the progressive influences, stemming, but not attributed to Vatican II, which has corrupted the Latin Church and led to legions of the faithful in the west leaving the pews and religious services and searching elsewhere for either salvation, or satisfaction in an increasing secular world. Numbers do not lie. Statistics can be manipulated and often are, but raw numbers speak truth.

And, I believe, Roman Catholics have left the Church in droves over the past fifty years because we’ve forgotten and abandoned sacred tradition. We no longer genuflect before the altar, perhaps because we are convinced the Presence of Our Christ is not there anymore, removed from the altar and sidelined to a sanctuary not within our view. Yet, even when the sacred sanctuary is visible, as it should be, the faithful have forgotten to bend a knee. We talk and greet each other, which is a fine thing, but we no longer pay reverence to The Presence. Probably because we don’t believe anymore that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist.

In Velventos, the baby, “Little Nick,” was greeted upon his arrival at the footsteps of the tiny ancient Church of St. Nicholas by the priest. The church was adorned with timeless frescos painted a thousand years before “Little Nick” was ever born. But, they awaited him, somehow in anticipation of his initiation into the faith. And, so, time, meaning absolutely nothing in the equations that govern our lives and the seasons we take for granted, a baptism occurred welcoming a new soul into the realm of the kingdom. It was simple. It was complete. It was an event that would exist forever.

 

Ad Orientem

 

Over this past summer, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship had the temerity to suggest to the faithful that priests should start saying the mass “Ad Orientem,” that is facing the east. That suggestion was immediately dismissed, even declared anathema throughout the western world by bishops determined to hold onto a progressive agenda.

Why? Because it could possibly have a “slippery slope,” back to how things used to be. And, this is something they cannot countenance. Because this would, in some way, in some unfathomable way, abrogate Vatican II. Of course, it doesn’t, yet they think it does.

Personally, I don’t care what direction the priest faces. Yet I do definitely think he should face the sanctuary, and that’s the salient point. From the moment the priest became the star of the show and turned his back on The Presence, things began to change. The mass became all about the celebrant and not about Our Lord. The priest can face in any direction he wishes, many churches are not even constructed to face the east. But, the celebrant should worship with his congregation adoring God and facing Our Lord. It’s really that simple.

 

Fads and Fancies

 

When the Greek family, who owned the restaurant, arrived back in the states after a remarkable and wonderful stay in their ancestral home, they noticed something that amazed them. People were obsessed with following their phones in search of something called “Pokemon.”

It’s just a recent fad, of course, and has nothing to do with life, unless you think such things matter. And, obviously, it has nothing to do with sacred tradition or how we worship and honor our Lord. But, it is a perfect example of how we have, since Vatican II, changed sacred liturgy with every new thing we could think of just for the sake of changing it. We’ve followed every fad and fancy and our church, and our congregations, have faded almost into oblivion. And, for some strange reason, we’ve celebrated this. We continue to deny the obvious and will not discuss the truth: that the Catholic Church, in America and throughout Western Europe is in decline; while the church in Africa and Asia prospers without precedent. Why do you think this is?

What the people of Velventos know is it doesn’t have to be this way. You just have to be true to your roots. We don’t have to change paradigms or redefine history. We just think we should. Because this is the culture we live in. A culture without memory. Without any appreciation for a time honored past that has brought us to where we are today. Perhaps we haven’t sacrificed enough. We haven’t paid the ultimate price and therefore cannot appreciate the gifts freely given to us. Whatever the reason, whatever the cause, we need to look back and look forward to what the people of Velventos already know: that traditions do matter; that they define us. And that we should never abandon them for the sake of modern concepts of acceptability and conformity. Not now and not ever.

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On John Paul II, Brexit, and the Gift of Hope

After his election, on October 16, 1978, Karol Wojtyla, now St. Pope John Paul II, joyfully exclaimed to the world “be not afraid.” It was a message, I think, as much for himself and his own pontificate as it was for the faithful, especially those imprisoned behind the “Iron Curtain.”

For there was much to fear. And only divine assistance, totally trusted and relied upon could break the chains of subservience to the socialist god of man and his minions who directed the elite and arrogant planners and controllers who enslaved half the world.

Unlike his predecessors, however, the relatively young Pole would navigate the ship that is the church, not into calm and quiet seas where comfortable détente could make things manageable and not rock the boat in church-state relations, but into the very shoals of a dangerous and rocky shore where he would captain his crew faithfully into the teeth of the gale and bring his ship home safely to a protected harbor. A harbor of renewed faith and truth.

This took guts.

Without hesitation, the new pope, within a year of his election, went back to his homeland and confronted the monster face to face. He was not personally afraid of the monster, he never really was because he had seen him before in the form of Hitler’s National Socialism and dealt with communist overseers daily in his duties as Archbishop of Krakow. Yet, he must have been afraid of what his own actions would do to cause even more suffering to the people he loved.

But, he did something outside the box. Unheard of since Pope Leo XIII, in 1886, insisted the prayer to St. Michael (of Leo’s own design) be said at the end of every mass after he heard in his head a diabolical conversation between God and the devil, and as remarkable as Pope Pius V’s urgent request that all the faithful pray the rosary before the Battle of Lepanto, in 1565, the Polish pontiff trumped his adversaries with something so simple they could not possibly understand.

Pope John Paul II invoked the power of the Holy Trinity. He declared and pled, after kissing Polish soil, “let Your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth.” He pronounced himself a “Slavic Pope.” Thus he was appealing to millions beyond Polish soil, those suffering in all the “minor countries” in Eastern Europe, including Poland, that were surrendered by the ailing Franklin Roosevelt and the dismayed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, to the tyrant Joseph Stalin at the Conference in Yalta, in 1945.

“From Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia,” an “Iron Curtain” had descended, as Churchill so famously coined, if not first voiced the phrase in his speech at the obscure Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri, in 1946. But, it was too late for the catholic populations of those poor cities and countries. They would be subject under communist rule for decades. For them, there was no VE-Day, no VJ-Day; no reason to celebrate as the rest of the western world did. Sure, they were as imprisoned as they always had been under the boot of tyrannical and despotic rule despite all the efforts of the Allies in the Second World War.

The west was tired of war. Churchill was deposed of power in Britain. Thus, dominos began to fall across not just Europe, but in Asia, South and Central America, Africa, and all over the world.

America tried to stem the tide in Korea and Vietnam, sacrificing tens-of-thousands of men and women in the process. Perhaps, they bought some needed time.

Bear with me now. I know many disagree with this. But, it’s something this author needs to get off his chest.

Although, the “Domino Theory” has been debunked in academia for decades now, I think history will ultimately prove the sacrifices of our heroes who served in these wars to be well deserved and worthy of any in the service of our nation’s honor and in the defense of freedom. That the “Domino Theory,” which was the preeminent foreign policy strategy of the United States from Eisenhower to Reagan, was on point and well thought out.

It did not produce the same results as St. John Paul II did, to that there is no question.

But, America simply didn’t have the kind of military divisions that the pope had at his disposal. The invisible divisions. The number of divisions who were sarcastically questioned by Joseph Stalin to Winston Churchill during World War II. As if the Catholic Church meant absolutely nothing to him because they were not a military power; therefore to be dismissed as but a trivial inconvenience and nothing to be concerned about. Churchill knew better, yet, like FDR, the Prime Minister acquiesced to Stalin’s demands.

Yet, the divisions of millions of souls willing to sacrifice life and limb, career and comfort, for the sake of conscious and inner peace and heritage and redemption remained buried deeply in the hearts of Eastern Europeans everywhere.

Reverse the Dominos

What those imprisoned souls needed was a spark. They were so convinced of their own lost freedoms being forever trod upon they never believed liberty could be theirs, at least not in their lifetimes. After all, they faced Soviet tanks. What could possibly defeat the monster?

An idea could.

When John Paul II came to Poland he supplied them, the infant Solidarity Labor movement, and all of Eastern Europe with the one thing that could and would change history: hope.

Suddenly, there was a sense that change could be effected. Not by armed conflict, not by bloodshed, not by outside intervention (although through God’s instruments of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Helmut Kohl, help, at least initially, as moral support, would come).

No, the change could only truly come from the inside out. From the inside of every individual who actually accepted the promptings of the Holy Spirit. This is a phenomenon that the Polish and Soviet Commissars and entrenched “Apparatchik” did not know how to contend with. They tried of course, starting with kindergarten children to engrain in them the political virtues of communist collectivism and the propaganda of all-powerful state run programs as the nirvana of every society and the best hope for the world’s workers and all mankind.

But, this didn’t succeed as much as they hoped it had. There was something they missed. Something intangible. Something invisible to the human eye in any governmental document.

So then they tried assassination. But, that didn’t work either.

Checkmate

As much as a government might try to convince its citizens that the truth is on their side; that they hold the keys to a utopian world, that they know best and you do not, somewhere deep inside every individual is a quiet dignity which totally refutes this premise. It is kindling only waiting for the spark.
St. John Paul II lit this fuse in the human person one at a time. And, then the dominos righted themselves on a national basis one-by-one. It was a magnificent checkmate against all odds.

It succeeded because it first recognized the divine gift of free will. Therefore, it didn’t need the muzzle of a gun or a tank corps or an armored division. It only needed acceptance.

Brexit

Perhaps, throughout the world today, especially in Europe and America, there’s a similar yearning for a national identity. For a return to national values, a commonality among peoples who no longer tolerate the modern “Apparatchik” and the commissars who rule our world with impunity. Surprisingly, this was evident in the recent referendum in England. Who would have thought this to be the case even just a few months ago?

It, Brexit I mean, has been festering for a long time. It has been roundly condemned in the press by those on the left who desperately fear something called individuality. Especially those who serve in the entrenched bureaucracies who run our countries, our media, and those in academia who indoctrinate our children in a globalized, politically correct curriculum as if we were all back in high school and must kowtow to the cohort bullies endemic in our common past. But, some of us grew up.

We can think for ourselves now. We needn’t be told what to do and how to do it. Because we have to pay the mortgage or the rent and we have to pay the grocery bill and plan for our family’s future. We don’t want the government’s help to do any of these things. We don’t want charity. We don’t want a handout. And if we want to cling to our bibles and guns, then so be it.

What we want is to be left alone.

We want to be proud of and wave our flag. Because we love our country and our independence and deeply appreciate and pray for those who gave the last full measure of devotion.

Still, there is one thing we need that our leaders cannot give us. It is the gift of hope.

On this, our Independence Day, let us ask for the intervention of John Paul the Great. Let us take a knee in thanks for everything the Lord has bestowed upon us and resign ourselves to accept what the Polish pope gave to his beloved, to all of Europe, to all the world and to us: the message of hope when there seems to be no possibility for any hope at all. In short, “Be not afraid.”

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My Father’s Questions

The TV sitcom Father Knows Best, which ran from 1954 to 1960, starred the loveable Robert Young (later everybody’s favorite TV family practitioner, Dr. Marcus Welby) and the beautiful Jane Wyatt, as the ideal couple Jim and Margaret Anderson. Their life at home in the Midwest suburbs was good and complete.

Jim Anderson would advise and answer Bud’s (his son, played by Ted Donaldson) questions while cleaning and polishing the golf clubs on Saturday morning. Margaret Anderson would offer common sense instructions to her daughters Betty (a boy crazy teenager played by Rhonda Williams) and young “Princess” Kathy (Norma Jean Nilsson).

Jim always wore, except on Saturday’s, a jacket and tie. Margaret was always decked out in a dress or blouse and skirt, sported full makeup with earrings, and either wore heels or sensible shoes. Dinner was served at the dining room table complete with linen napkins. It was a life America would aspire to because it was the post-war dream of every American family for stability, civil discourse, and normalcy after the nightmares of World War II and Korea.

But I didn’t grow up this way. And I’ll make the assumption you didn’t either.

Levittown

It was an experiment. Levittown, I mean, just like the American Republic we live in today. Yet, through the brilliant mind and imagination of one amazing architect, Bill Levitt, American dreams took flight. He built affordable homes for former GI Joes and their sweethearts and placed on the map in New York and Pennsylvania and elsewhere a paradise come true.
Here was a place you could call home for a hundred-dollar down payment and a mortgage willingly signed. Here moms and dads tried as best they could to duplicate what Jim and Margaret Anderson demonstrated on a black-and-white 19-inch fantasy screen.

But, in Levittown, there were no linen napkins, no heels or earrings, no golf clubs and no jacket and tie. It was a blue collar imitation of the good life.

And it worked.

Kids pedaled their banana-bike seats to find adventure and possibly a pick-up game until the street lights came on (the customary and universally accepted curfew). There were community swimming pools in the summer to dive into after mowing your neighbor’s yard and hot chocolate with marshmallows in the winter at the corner drug store after shoveling off the snow from countless driveways on your block and pocketing a dollar or two from each in the bargain. The schools were beyond exemplary, both private and public.

You trusted everybody. Even the cops who saw you were doing something wrong brought you back to you parent’s house instead of to the station. They knew the best discipline was to be found at home.

The churches and synagogues were full on weekends. It was standing room only – even during the hottest days of the summer when there was no air conditioning. That’s simply the way it was. People were faith-filled, self-reliant, God-fearing, and patriotic.

And, then, everything changed.

Helter-Skelter

Vietnam, civil rights, women’s liberation, college campuses in mayhem, cities burning out of control, Vatican II, the end of the Latin Mass, a phenomenal and unprecedented exodus from religious vows, no-fault divorce, birth control, the Sexual Revolution, rampant drug use, R-rated movies, mini-skirts, bra burners, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Robert F. Kennedy, Johnson’s Great Society, long hair, flower girls, sit-ins, Chicago, Woodstock, sexual abuse, Watergate, Nixon, and all during a never ending Cold War with the threat of nuclear annihilation at any given moment.
And that’s just in the span of a decade-and-a-half. How – I mean how did we really manage to survive?

This wasn’t Father Knows Best anymore.

How could Mr. Anderson possibly advise Bud about this? How could Mrs. Anderson, with sensible shoes, caution her daughters amidst this kind of juggernaut?

More importantly, how did dad feel about all this?

He’d seen suffering on a scale we would never know – could never appreciate because it didn’t happen to us: the Great Depression, poverty, World War, The Holocaust, Soviet aggression, Communist Chinese waving little red books and the massacre of hundreds of millions. Even entire countries were obliterated from the map in Europe in one fell swoop, seemingly, without a second thought.

The Socratic Method

And there he was sitting at the kitchen table in our simple home in Levittown with a quart of Ballantine Ale and a cigar in his mouth. There were, spread out on the table, potato chips, a box of Cheez-it, and an array of newspapers and periodicals from across the nation, especially Catholic publications, and puzzles, always puzzles. In addition, a compact radio with an antenna that stretched to the sky and honed in on every station that broadcasted quality stuff: like good jazz, talk shows (way before the age of Rush Limbaugh), and sports games from Boston to New York to Chicago and beyond.

This was dad’s world. The ladder-backed chair was his throne and the kitchen was his castle.

And he asked questions.

You’d walk in the front door and see dad at the table holding court with only himself, his radio, and his papers. The questions he asked were, at first, innocent enough: “how was your day, son?” Or, “how did work go today?” There was no reason to panic because maybe you had a joint or a beer or two or a dozen. He simply wanted to know how you were. There were no lectures or preaching. There was not the slightest idea that came into your mind of some kind of threat.

If you brought friends over to the house, well, the more the merrier. They loved to talk to dad about, well, just about everything. From sports to politics. But, he sincerely wanted to know how you were. How was your life going during the madness that was happening all around the world and in our own individual existence?
And, then he would pick his baseball cap up and scratch his head. Whether this was because he didn’t like our answers or because he truly didn’t know himself what to think about things I don’t know. Although, in my heart, I think he knew more than he let on.

He was worried. You could see it in his blue eyes.

He had seen things we didn’t. But he never mentioned that.

He knew the right kind of questions to ask. And through these questions, like Socrates, he would lead us in the right direction. Possibly into something that we hadn’t realized before. It was so subtle you didn’t recognize it was happening. But, it did happen and then you started to ask yourself questions outside the box and answer them in truth, despite the helter-skelter going on in the world.

He would – no, he demanded you to think by his questions.

Thinking is hard. It requires the effort to confront yourself to face new challenges. I think, finally, that is what my father was meaning for me to do all along.

It worked. And, to this day, I question everything. I think about the past, the present, and what could possibly happen in the future. Not just in my life, but in the lives of my children and my grandchild.

Thanks, dad. Lesson well learned and Happy Father’s Day.

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On Leadership, Joshua Chamberlain, John Wayne, and Donald Trump

My wife is taking a training program in Philadelphia this week on leadership in the workplace. It’s one of those corporate/university classes that are supposed to take you to the next level in your skills as a project manager by helping you recognize what true leadership is and how it can be applied effectively in your business relationships with coworkers in order to achieve success for both you, your team, and the organization you work for. Sounds good.

When she told me about it at dinner, my ears perked up.

“They started with a clip from the movie Gettysburg,” she said. “You know, the time when Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain got saddled with the guys who refused to serve out the rest of their enlistment time. They were from Maine, like Chamberlain was, so they put them in his lap.”

I remembered.

The book, The Killer Angels, by Michael Sharia, which was the genesis of the movie Gettysburg, ranks as one of finest novels ever written about the American Civil War. It surpassed Gone with the Wind in its authenticity and equaled Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage in its depiction of battle-field reality. Moreover, it convinced the reader that leadership, true leadership, must involve a commitment to self-sacrifice for and to the common good.

In today’s presidential campaign season, where we are privileged, as we have been for more than two centuries to exercise our constitutional franchise, we are presented with an important question: at this time in American history, unprecedented as it truly is with frightening national debt; real, and daunting threats to national security; a moral compass no longer to be relied upon in our schools, our churches, even within our own families; a White House sick with overreaching power; and a federal judiciary which has usurped the very idea of separation of powers and now rules with impunity over legitimate legislative authority – exactly what are we to do?

Remember
We come from good stock. Sure, our parents and grandparents had their share of troubles, their prejudices and mortal and venial sins. They fumbled the ball plenty of times and yet they understood that they did. There was always a mea culpa. A chance of redemption because they knew they could have been better and that a simple confession had the power to heal them.

Self-sacrifice was a commonality in our communities. Our ancestors didn’t whine about bad times; they gutted it up and made do with the little they had for the benefit of their children. Somehow, instinctively, they knew happiness in life was the smile on the face of their child despite the hardships that loomed over them. They would spit at adversity and celebrate the little and big things in their lives in grand style: a birthday, a wedding, a baptism, a first holy communion, a confirmation or a bar mitzvah, even a wake.

They were never, ever, victims.

Because they never saw themselves that way.

The John Wayne in All of Us
American history, for good or bad, depending on how you see it, is nevertheless replete with “Rugged Individualism.” You know, the spirit to embrace opportunity and make the most of it when you’ve only known governmental oppression and dictatorship. It was a breath of fresh air after centuries of being trod upon by old imperial regimes and a privileged aristocracy for many who came to our shores.

Our forefathers knew this feeling. It was one of the primary reasons for our War for Independence. Later, settlers and pioneers who carved a life out of the wilderness knew this and made freedom a reality. The immigrants who came by the millions to our shores in the 19th and 20th centuries knew this most of all.

These people neither sought nor wanted help or even a handout from the government. They relied on themselves, in their faith, in their own strength, and in their dreams. In an old John Wayne movie, Without Reservation (1946), I remembered a quote where he was taking a train ride across what we now call the “fly over states.” The Duke rebuked a liberal female author, Kitt Madden, (played by the lovely Claudette Colbert) who espoused a new world philosophy replete with modernist ideas of internationalist governmental authority. You know, the one-world stuff that has been pushed down our throats for the last hundred years. The Duke put her in her place with this:

“Have you ever heard of some fellows who first came over to this country? You know what they found? They found a howling wilderness, with summers too hot and winters freezing … Did they have insurance for their old age, for their crops, for their homes? They did not! They looked at the land, and the forest, and the rivers. They looked at their wives, their kids and their homes, and then they looked up at the sky and they said, “Thanks, God, we’ll take it from here.’”

Call Trump
Believe it or not, deride and make fun of it if you want to, as so many of our national politicians and journalists on both the left and the right have for months now, but Donald Trump is at center stage and may very well be our next president. Why? Because he embodies the ideals of American “Rugged Individualism.” Since this term is no longer taught in our schools and universities; since the major media has no clue as to what this is and never will, and since Trump’s rise is completely disarming to the political establishment in both parties, let me enlighten them: Donald Trump speaks to the soul of America. Again, why? Because America is “fed up.” There is a chasm separating blue collar workers and small business owners from academia and the elites within the beltway. The average Joe and Jane has been ridiculed for so many years now that the “melting pot” that truly is America is now boiling over. And, what was once called the “Silent Majority,” is rearing back on its haunches and roaring back. It feels trapped in a cage of red tape and bureaucratic mandates it neither desired nor approved of. Ergo, Mr. Trump, because he voiced the frustration of the American people in plain, oft times crass and vulgar language what needed to be heard in order to break the glass ceilings of our cells, incarcerated as we are, in a prison of politically correct group think. And people sense that this might be a chance to breathe free.

I, personally, have never supported the man. I thought he was a populist like “The Kingfish” Huey Long of Louisiana back in thirties during the Great Depression. Until I realized that title should be conferred upon Bernie Sanders. Trump is not this. He is something altogether different. But, he needs a leash.

When I was a kid, my best friend’s father taught me how to play pinochle. It can be a brutal game. You have to declare or “call trump” in order to take the lead and make as many “tricks” as possible in order to win the hand. It sounds easy but it’s not. If you fail to win the points you have declared, you lose. If you under estimate the points you’ve declared (sandbagging), and you win anyway, you lose the respect of your fellow players, and they will never let you forget it. In other words, a true win in pinochle means you have to beat your opponents honestly and to the best of your ability without demeaning them. No small thing.

Stirring up the Blood
I need not define the term of leadership. We all know what it means deep down in our hearts. We know it entails sacrifice both on the part of the leader and those that follow. Bear with me for a moment as I quote a passage from The Killer Angels spoken by Colonel Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain as he received the renegades who refused further service in the Union Army into his camp just before the most critical three days in the history of our nation:

“I’ve been ordered to take you men with me, I’m told that if you don’t come I can shoot you. Well, you know I won’t do that. Maybe somebody else will, but I won’t, so that’s that. Here’s the situation, the whole Reb army is up that road aways waiting for us, so this is no time for an argument like this, I tell you. We could surely use you fellahs, we’re now well below half strength. Whether you fight or not, that’s up to you, whether you come along is … well, you’re coming. You know who we are and what we are doing here, but if you are to fight alongside us there are a few things I want you to know. This regiment was formed last summer, in Maine. There were a thousand of us then, there are less than 300 hundred of us now. All of us volunteered to fight for the Union, just as you have. Some mainly came because we were bored at home, thought this looked like it might be fun. Some came because we were ashamed not to. And all of us have seen men die. This is a different kind of army. If you look back through history you will see men fighting for pay, for women, for some other kind of loot. They fight for land, power, because a king leads them, or just because they like killing. But we are here for something new, this has not happened much, in the history of the world. We are an army out to set other men free. America should be free ground, all of it, not divided by a line between slave states and free – all the way from here to the Pacific Ocean. No man has to bow. No man born to royalty. Here we judge by what you do, not by who your father was. Here you can be something. Here is the place to build a home. But it’s not the land, there’s always more land. It’s the idea that we all have value – you and me. What we are fighting for, in the end, we’re fighting for each other. Sorry, I didn’t mean to preach. You go ahead and you talk for a while. If you chose to join us and you want your muskets back you can have them – nothing more will be said by anyone anywhere. If you chose not to join us well then you can come along under guard and when this is all over I will do what I can to ensure you get a fair trial, but for now we’re moving out. Gentlemen, I think if we lose this fight we lose the war, so if you choose to join us I will be personally very grateful.”

This stirs up my blood and makes me proud to be an American. To honestly believe in “American Exceptionalism,” in “Rugged Individualism,” and the flag we swear allegiance to. I just wonder if Donald Trump ever read and digested this. Because if he didn’t, he knows nothing about how to heal this nation and make it great again. He would know nothing about true leadership and what it really means.
And, oh, by the way, in case you never saw the movie Gettysburg, the guys who refused service did pick up their rifles in the thick of battle on a majestic place called “Little Round Top” and did their duty. Praise be.

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