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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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?

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.


Play Ball!!!

(This is an updated version of a story I wrote last year but was never published. Yesterday it was published on

Let me put this right out there from the get go. I am not a theologian. I’m a baseball fan. Someone once asked me if I was a religious fanatic (apparently, today, it’s the definition of anyone who loves Our Lord and speaks about Him honestly and without equivocation). I told them that “no, I’m a Phillie Phanatic.” But, if someone asks me my opinion about my faith or about the Philadelphia Phillies I’ll give it. And, from time to time people do ask me about my faith and about baseball.

This is what I’ll say: there is a heaven and a hell and a purgatory in between; there is no such thing or place called limbo unless you’re referring to some contortionist West Indian dance with a horizontal pole or where the Phillies are destined to be for the next five God-forsaken years.
But, the buds are growing now, even after the crazy winter we’ve had, and it’s finally, praise the Lord, time for the blessings of warmer weather. And that means baseball. My wife did a cryptogram the other day in the newspaper. It was a quote from Rodgers Hornsby, the legendary infielder, who could almost match Yogi Berra for his homespun wit: “I don’t want to play golf. When I hit a ball, I want someone else to go chase it.” No, sorry, wrong quote, we were talking about spring. Here it is: “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

It isn’t faith – baseball, I mean. It could be a religion. It could even be individually sacrosanct. But, it’s not faith. It’s a beloved pastoral pastime. A reason to go to the park on Sunday afternoon and have a beer and a hot dog with your wife and kids, watch grown men shag flies, and stand up and stretch in the middle of the seventh. It’s a reason to hang on to every pitch and every swing because it means something if your home team wins or not. An obsession, I grant you, and a worthy one to boot, especially if you’re a Royals or a Nat’s fan. For those of us here in Philly it’s more like time spent in purgatory because we poor souls firmly believe that we shall rise again even if this takes another hundred years. I know a lot of Protestants don’t believe in purgatory, but that would make them Yankee’s fans.

In his book, Baseball as a Road to God: Seeing Beyond the Game (2013), John Sexton, the President of New York City University, confuses baseball with something that it’s not. In a review of his work, Slate Book Review said this:
“Now, it needn’t be baseball, Sexton is clear to point out, that takes us out of ourselves. Organized religion can sometimes work. So might music or art. But Sexton’s hope, in chapters that follow the innings 1 through 9 – with room set aside, as well, for a pregame show, a seventh-inning stretch, and a return to the clubhouse – is to reveal that this game can evoke the very ‘essence of religion’ that ‘inside the game the formative material of spirituality can be found.'”

Bill Moyers, in his recommendation of Sexton’s book says “In the church of baseball, John Sexton is one of the preeminent theologians.”
This is how spirituality is explained, taught, digested, and either dismissed or disseminated among the cultural elite who cannot take a knee and bow before their loving Father. They can accept organized baseball but never organized religion. Because there are rules between the base paths they can never play by.

The following quote (Susan Sarandon, as character “Annie Savoy” to minor league catcher “Crash Davis,” Kevin Costner) from the movie Bull Durham (1988) pretty much sums up their thinking:

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones. I’ve worshiped Buddha, Allah, Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, trees, mushrooms, and Isadora Duncan. I know things. For instance, there are 108 beads in a Catholic rosary and there are 108 stiches in a baseball. When I heard that, I gave Jesus a chance. But it just didn’t work out between us. The Lord laid too much guilt on me. I prefer metaphysics to theology. You see, there’s no guilt in baseball, and it’s never boring… which makes it like sex.”

Now, I have no idea how many stiches there are in a baseball, but I’m pretty sure there aren’t 108 beads in a rosary. This was a curve ball some screen writer hoped would pass over the corner of the plate.

It Doesn’t Mean a Damn Thing
My old, departed pastor, Fr. John Foster, would spit. He absolutely detested the fact that moms and dads were gathered on the fields of the parish grounds in order to cheer on their darlings involved in soccer matches before the final blessing was given ending the noon mass on Sundays. “The gods of sport,” he would snort, “have taken over the Lord’s Day.”
So they have, and not just on soccer fields, but for about the past sixty years or so, ever since an innovation called television entered into every American household and replaced the altar as our place of adoration. The good Foster was thirty years late in noticing this phenomenon. This was not his fault. He was busy being faith-filled and administering to his flock. The world was looking in another direction; hence the end of Sunday as a day of rest, worship, and reflection.
Baseball may be a religion. You can pretty much make anything a religion – because you can worship anything or anyone and make it your god. This is not faith.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).

Baseball is certainly my passion. I enjoy the game, I suppose, because it’s filled with so many enjoyable memories. Coming home from school on a sunny-warm, glorious springtime afternoon, mom would have a glistening pitcher of iced tea on the table and the pre-season Phillies game on the kitchen radio. I would pour a tall glass and swipe it across my sweaty forehead before swigging it down in several delicious gulps. Both the iced tea and the sounds of the game were downright comforting.

At night, before I went to bed I would massage my leather glove with neat’s foot oil making sure that every crevice was cared for, even the laces. Then, when I fell asleep, I would dream of making game-saving catches like Brooks Robinson (in Philadelphia, you always had a “B” team in the American League, because the Phillies in the sixties weren’t going into post-season play and you needed a backup, ergo the Orioles).

Yet, baseball is not the very “essence of religion” where “inside the game the formative material of spirituality can be found.” This is silly because John Sexton is equating a sport with the gift of faith. People don’t give up their very lives for baseball, unless you count the number of hot dogs and cold beers consumed over a lifetime and what that can do to you.

They also do not die in martyrdom on a beach in North Africa because ISIS has decreed that beheading is an acceptable way of disposing of Christians.
I, almost, but not quite, concur with atheist and long-time conservative commentator and columnist George Will: “Part of the beauty of baseball, and sport generally, is that it doesn’t mean a damn thing” (Real Clear Religion, 9/22/14).

That’s not exactly how I would put it. Baseball does, indeed, mean something, to me, to you, and to our nation. When George W. Bush threw out the first ball in Yankee Stadium after 9/11, it raised our spirits when they desperately needed a lift. It did because baseball is still “America’s Game” despite Football’s popularity.

Baseball is nearer to our hearts, I think. It speaks to a simpler time, yet, like our country, it grew and it prevailed, like we all did, thanks to the heroics of Jackie Robinson and the courage, if not wise business acumen, of Branch Rickey. If you’re a baseball fan then you certainly remember the following quote from another Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams (1989):

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that was once good and it could be again.”

If this is akin to faith, then it is certainly the faith of individuals who happened to be in the game, not the game itself.

(CCC 155) “In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace: ‘Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace'” (St. Thomas Aquinas).

As I said, I’m not a theologian. I’m a baseball fan. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one in the world who has to read something six or seven times in order to comprehend it. I just had to do that right now with the quote from the catechism cited above. But, I think I’ve got it now. You see, if you’re like me and you want to really see – to comprehend a divine truth – you have to ask for help, say a quick prayer, “assent,” “command,” and accept the grace.

If that makes me a religious fanatic then so be it.

Baseball isn’t the gift of faith. It doesn’t even come close. Even with Ryan Howard at the plate in the bottom of the ninth with two runners in scoring position. It isn’t even the gift of hope. It’s more like delicious wishful thinking. And, that’s okay. After all, it’s only opening day.


The Spear That Truly Pierces

To my mind, there are three great novels published during the last century-and-a-half depicting the Passion of Christ: Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur: A tale of the Christ (1880), Lloyd C. Douglas’ The Robe (1942), and Louis de Wohl’s classic The Spear (1955). All three books are compelling tales of the Christ and should be required reading for anyone interested in how the life of Jesus, both historically and spiritually, can be incorporated into our lives through a literary genre rarely and effectively used today.
They also depict the best fiction has to offer in page-turning suspense, despite the fact we all know what the outcome is. And this is the epitome of the craft of story-telling. Because these novels achieve the impossible: to keep you reading with twists and turns which challenge your faith, then reinvigorate it, and finally leave you with a strong yearning to act upon it. Unlike non-fiction, yarns and tales of ordinary and sometimes extraordinary characters can and do challenge the reader, because the reader can identify with their plight, perhaps their station in life, their problems and confusions, culminating in a shared experience of hope and redemption.

The Slave
All three novels are centered on enslavement. It’s hard for us to imagine today what it would be like to be a slave, even though slavery and indentured servitude were a sad yet important part of our history. We even ignore the very fact that slavery still exists in our world. Perhaps, we have been put to sleep; placated and distracted as we are by inane sit-coms, so-called “reality TV” shows, smart phones and sports. Very much like the mobs of Rome were tamed and assuaged by bloody gladiator contests, chariot races in the Coliseum, and given bread and wine for free, certainly an ominous precursor of a divine meal yet to come.
Louis de Wohl’s The Spear puts it right in our face. Because, unlike Judah Ben-Hur, a prince of his people, condemned to the galleys, or the Tribune Marcellus in The Robe, ordered to take over a remote outpost of the Roman Empire in Palestine accompanied by his slave Demetrius, De Wohl’s protagonist, Centurion Cassius Longinus, actually sells his freedom and places himself into the bondage of slavery in order to settle his beloved father’s debts and allow him to live his final years in dignity. What a concept: actually surrendering your freedom, your very life to abject slavery. Willingly subjecting your personal sense of honor to a system of government which will never acknowledge your sacrifice. In fact, who laughs at it because it doesn’t mean anything in their world as long as they are still free, or they think they are.

Sound Familiar?
It should because we have arrived at a time in history where we have mimicked our ancient ancestors. Like the Centurion Longinus, we seek love and purpose in our lives, yet have no idea how to find it. Like the mob in Rome we are placated and entertained, kept ignorant of the suffering of our fellow brothers and sisters by seeking our own pleasures at the cost of others. And like Longinus, we have sold ourselves into slavery to a system, a government, a culture which laughs at the dignity of human life.
Longinus, hopelessly in love with a married young woman, who is condemned by her husband for infidelity, a sin she fully admits, is forgiven by Our Savior. Yet the centurion seeks only revenge upon the Nazorean who forgave her in the public square where she was presumably dragged to in order to be stoned to death. After all, she was an adulteress and the law was clear as to her fate. Jesus drew a line in the sand beneath His feet and changed the world offering a new paradigm. Instead of universal condemnation, He proposes mercy and forgiveness, but with this caveat: “Go, and sin no more.”

Blood and Water
Longinus is jealous of the love his beloved has for her forgiver, many who are now calling the Messiah, whom she now reveres as “her Lord.” She wants only to be with Him because He has saved her. The centurion has no concept of this kind of love. He’s sees it as a magician’s trick, a curse, as Tribune Marcellus would with the robe after the crucifixion. For such love as never been known before. Or has it? Surely, Longinus gave of himself and placed himself into slavery for the love of his father. And the world laughed at him for doing so.
Here the commonalities of Louis de Wohl’s story come together. The threads of the tale are woven with precision and present a complete mosaic of love and truth. Longinus is placed in command of a detail of Roman soldiers that are ordered to take Christ to Golgotha and execute him along with a couple of ordinary thieves. He does this with trepidation, because he knows his beloved adores this man.
There is, unbelievable as it may sound, an art to crucifixion. The Roman soldiers detached to the detail Longinus commanded knew this very well. A man could hang on a cross for a long time if certain vital organs and veins were left intact. Crucifixion is actually a death of suffocation. Some have referred to it as “riding the cross” because once you are nailed to it you are constantly trying to catch your breath. You do this by utilizing the “stirrup” or the piece of wood directly beneath the feet. With your arms and feet pinned you must use your legs to move upward, thereby allowing your lungs to take in air. It is supposed to be a torturously slow death. It was meant to be.
But, it was the Sabbath. The leaders of the Temple sent a message to Pontius Pilate that they wished the condemned to die and be thrown into a pit before sunset. So, Centurion Longinus instructed his soldiers to break the knees of the crucified, thereby disabling them to “ride the cross.” With their legs broken they would simply suffocate and die.
Longinus supervised the breaking of the knees of the two thieves, probably accomplished using an iron bar. They died soon after. When he gazed upon the body of Jesus, whose last words he heard from the dying corpus were “it is finished” or “it is accomplished,” moments ago, Longinus knew he was already dead. Nevertheless, he quickly thrust his spear into His body. There’s an art to this too, as any Roman soldier knows. Whether with a sword or a spear, if you want to quickly kill a man you do it through the underbelly, below the ribs, right above the liver and directly into the heart.
And then something else happened. According to legend and captured by de Wohl in eloquent words, the last remaining blood and water of the carpenter’s body sprayed out upon both the spear he was struck with and the Centurion who administered the final blow.
It was, and forever will be, a defining moment for mankind. Because it was a spear that changed the world. It opened up a floodgate to allow the blood and water of Our Savior to pour out upon and sanctify the earth. Never since the fall of Adam and the betrayal of Eve, has this happened. And, we are made new again.
Happy Easter.