Sometimes Stupid

heavensThis is about the Heavenly Bodies exhibit and the MET Gala.

But first…a recollection of my father. He was really smart and lacked the virtue of patience.  (Relax, this isn’t the blog where I go into my complicated analysis of my relationship with dad.)

As a result of the volatile combination of intelligence and impatience, when my dad encountered something he believed was terribly wrong and didn’t want to take time to explain why, he would call it “stupid.”  When making this declaration he usually exhibited a dramatic flair that could include adding multiple adjectives before the word “stupid,” words I won’t reproduce here.

And now we get back to the MET and its gala. No, I’m not going to call the MET or its gala stupid. I’m going to suggest that the way some folks showed up dressed for the gala reflected stupid decisions on their part.

Every Catholic pundit I know has commented on whether the Vatican ought to partner with the MET, especially on the gala (which is different than the actual exhibit). The reactions spread far and wide:

  • What a glorious celebration of diversity and inclusiveness.
  • This really shows how art and the faith can share in God’s joy.
  • Maybe this will jolt the Church into the modern world.
  • Whoever in the Vatican approved this should be burned at the stake.

The actual exhibit really isn’t so controversial: beautiful vestments and fashions.

It was the gala that people praised or condemned and caused me to become for a moment, my father.  There were many things about the gala that I’m sure were wonderful…fascinating people…fancy clothes…lots of scrumptious food.

But there were some really, well, stupid things.  For instance, when a female pop star shows up dressed up like a Pope in hot pants, I turn into my father.  There is probably a long explanation of why such attire is blasphemous, tasteless, sacrilegious, and so forth.

But to me, it is just plain stupid.  And if someone shows up to an event like this in attire is just plain stupid, I don’t blame the MET, the Vatican, Cardinal Dolan, the Sisters of Mercy, the Anglican, the Norwegians or anyone other than the person who decided to dress in a way that was, say it: stupid.

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Advice for Graduation Speakers

university-student-1872810_960_720Here we are in the most challenging time of the year for high school and college administrators.

Yes, we’re in graduation season, the time of year when there is a real danger that a student giving a graduation speech will utter a forbidden word. No, I’m not talking about George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV. (Don’t let the kids click on the link…really.)

I’m talking about those seven insidious words that threaten the political correctness that lies at the heart of American education in 2018:  God, Jesus, Christ, Christian, Virgin, Mary, and Madonna (unless referring to a pop singer who needs more clothes). These are the prohibited words.

Students across the country are plotting ways to sneak these words into their speeches. I hear one creative graduating senior thought he could cite his role model as a Jewish Carpenter (since he dare not say “Jesus”) but school authorities ruled that Jewish was a near-violation of the prohibited words and could not be tolerated. After all, there is a clear connection between Jews and Christians.

Another sneaky speaker tried to work a line from the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb” into her speech.  She was expelled and denied graduation because school officials feared some people attending graduation ceremonies could be offended by a reference to someone with the same name as the Mother of God.

Lest I be labeled as cynical and negative, let me point out the seven approved for use by enlightened educations across the nation: atheist, gay, lesbian, bisexual, choice, misogyny, and bathroom.

Under some circumstances, the use of a word from the approved list will sanction the use of a word from the prohibited list. For example: “God wants me to be gay” or “Mary was bisexual”.

If America’s educators successful preserve the integrity of this year’s graduation speeches, it will be another step forward in the grand and glorious object to produce faithless youth who aren’t sure of their gender.

Alfie Reminds us to Remember the Revolution

hammer-802301_1280In 1776, a struggle broke out between the mighty British Empire and the upstart American colonies.

The colonies rebelled for many reasons, including freedom from excessive taxes, freedom from unreasonable government intervention and infringement on religious freedom.  But at the heart of the matter was something more fundamental, something that continues to be at the heart of left and right debate in the great American experiment.

Choose one:

  1. Government holds the rights and power of society and determines what will be granted to people based on what it believes is best for them and to preserve the control of the government
  2. God grants inalienable rights to people, who form a government to protect those rights.

Just to remove any mystery from this discussion, I am a total proponent of choice B.  Choice A leads to enslavement.  Read Orwell’s “1984” to understand where choice A leads.  If you don’t want to read the book, watch the movie.  It is nearly as terrifying.

Read any newspaper or watch any television news program on any day of the week and you will see this struggle between government control and freedom playing out in the public square.  We often forget that what is at stake – no matter the good intentions of the people promoting choice A – is the life or death of God in our society.

Alfie Evans, the British toddler who died a few days ago, became an unintended symbol of the struggle.  His parents had the very Catholic, Christian idea that they should let God determine the child’s fate, a viewpoint strongly endorsed by Pope Francis.

Somehow it came to the hospital, backed by the British courts, to make the life or death call.  And what especially caught my attention was the remark by a senior Catholic cleric: “It’s very hard to act in a child’s best interest when this isn’t always as the parents would wish – and this is why a court must decide what’s best not for the parents, but for the child.”

I’m going to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt.  I assume he means well and thinks the well-intentioned and caring folks at the hospital did their best.

Unfortunately, in the battle between Godly people and Godless government he likely is playing the role of useful idiot.  He accepts the court as England’s God.

Perhaps if the courts were staffed by God-fearing souls of strong Christian formation, they could make informed decisions about matters of morality.  But today’s courts are staffed by moral relativists who worship at the high altar of tolerance.  I doubt the court that decided the fate of Alfie Evans has a better grasp on truth than Pontius Pilot.

These are intellectuals who are certain they know better than parents, the Church, and God when a child should be killed.  And if we Catholic – cleric and lay – don’t present an alternative with strength and vigor we will soon have little ability to evangelize. We may have no reason to evangelize.

If we cede God’s authority to Godless courts, what do we stand for? We must all be soldiers in Alfie’s Army.

I doubt those brave and rebellious Americans of 1776 had much faith in the wisdom of the English courts.  I doubt children or parents in England have much faith in those courts today. Sadly, I have little confidence American courts would do much better.

A Hero for Today

Waffle,_Baytree_Waffle_House,_RemertonAre heroes born or made?

It is one of those questions that is periodically asked and never adequately answered.  Like which came first: the chicken or the egg? And…why did the chicken cross the road?

The hero question usually comes up as we lament the absence of heroes in our fast-moving, self-indulgent, high-technology, indifferent society. It often seems that we just don’t have any George Washingtons or Abe Lincolns running around, let alone A John Wayne or an Audie Murphy.

But just when you think the night is darkest, up pops a hero from the counter at the Waffle House in Antioch, Tennessee (near Nashville).

The hero is James Shaw, Jr. I don’t know him and don’t know much about him.  According to news reports, he is a dad and an electrician. It doesn’t appear there is anything extraordinary about the guy.

But when an evil man (who will not be named here) entered the restaurant and starting shooting people – four dead and many wounded – Shaw intervened, took away the shooter’s weapon and saved a crowd of people.

Shaw has been praised by law enforcement officials and the people of the community.  He has had his 15 minutes of fame, being interviewed on television and exhibiting nothing but humility and humanity.

Not satisfied with saving a few lives, Shaw set up a gofundme page to help the victims of the shooting.  He set a goal of $15,000 and soon had raised 10 times that amount.

Heroes do stuff like that.

Most of history’s heroes are people we have never heard of. They are simple, ordinary, people who do what has to be done when extraordinary needs arise.  I don’t think they are either born or made – they just are.

My guess is that a year from now there won’t be many people who remember the name of James Shaw, Jr.  That doesn’t matter.  The people he saved will remember.  He will remember.

Shaw, like other heroes, didn’t act for glory, attention, fame or fortune.  He did what needed doing. That’s how heroes are.

What the Hell!

About once a year Pope Francis engages in an interview with Italian “journalist” Eugenio Scalfari. Scalfari is the founder of the left-wing Italian newspaper “La Repubblica.”

I suppose in the eyes of some that makes him a journalist.  After all, he founded a newspaper and he writes.  On another hand, a 12-year-old girl who keeps a diary (or journal) could be called a journalist.

A real journalist is meticulous, accurate, takes clear notes or records conversations (with permission). If a real journalist reports on an interview they are careful to faithfully report what was said, in the context in which it was said.

In Scalfari’s case, he fails on all these points. He doesn’t record or take notes, but simply engages in a conversation and then writes his impressions and calls it an interview. It is a little like having Picasso walk through a courtroom, do a cubist work from memory and call it court reporting.

Perhaps I should give Scalfari a break in light of his advanced age: nearly 94.  But I think he ought to know better and be more responsible.

In his most recent interview with the Holy Father, Scalfari reported that the Pope had doubts about the existence of Hell. Despite how often the Pope has spoken of Hell and how it is a place to be avoided, social media went crazy and the Vatican had to issue an admonition not to trust what Scalfari writes.

This is nothing new. It happens every time the Pope talks to this guy. So some people wonder why Francis doesn’t find someone a little more reliable to talk with.

I don’t know for certain, but my guess is that the Pope is hoping to create a meaningful dialogue with the journalist – an adamant atheist – to come around to the faith before he kicks the bucket of printer’s ink and finds out Hell is real.

Jesus dialogued with some rather sordid souls and saved a high percentage.  Of course, none of them were reaching a large readership.

As for the existence of Hell, the Church says there is such a place and I agree.  I’m sure many people – including noted theologians – could debate its nature.  Dante wrote a bit about it. Artists have created countless images.

I don’t believe the popular idea of it being a place where a guy with a pitchfork jumps around in red long underwear. But some people believe it is personally created to fit the individual sinner.  If that is true – and with me being a frequent critic of the news media – I hope I don’t end up being interviewed for all eternity by Scalfari, with every word I speak being misquoted and presented out of context. And I dread he would be wearing red undies.

Sticker Shock

0221181149Like any other sane person, I’m saddened and shocked whenever there is a shooting at a school – or anywhere else for that matter.

Unlike many other people (or so it seems) I don’t think putting a “Gun Free Zone” sticker on the door of a school will stop the violence.  I know this will sound politically incorrect, of which I’m somewhat proud, but common sense tells me that a “Gun Free Zone” sticker might actually encourage killers.

Here is the thing. What that sticker tells a killer is they have nothing to fear if they enter the building.  Nobody has the means to fight back if they start shooting.  And since the police can’t be everywhere all the time, if a killer starts shooting, he likely will cause a good deal of death before the good guys show up.

What would a killer do if he showed up at a school and it had a stick on the door like one or more of the following?

  • All teachers armed with assault weapons.
  • Means dogs patrolling the halls.
  • Home of the national champion rifle team.
  • We Love Hunters.
  • ROTC marksman team on duty 24×7.
  • Navy Seals welcome.

Maybe these stickers wouldn’t stop a determined killer, but they make more sense than a sticker that says a killer won’t be resisted.

I wish changing the world were as simple as just putting up a little sign.  If a sign would do the trick, I would put up the following:

  • Bill Free Zone (on my house)
  • Accident Free Zone (on my car)
  • Illness Free Zone (on the hospital)
  • Fat Free Zone (on the bakery)
  • Alcohol Free Zone (on the liquor store)
  • Calorie Free Zone (on my fridge)

Unfortunately, putting up a sign really doesn’t do much other than tell the world “I really care,” as when contestants in beauty contests proclaim their desire for world peace.

I have a rather Catholic suggestion as an alternative to signs, legislation, marches, and hashtags:

  • Marry a person of the opposite sex and stay married to them through thick and thin.
  • Start have children after you get married.
  • Tell your spouse and kids you love them every day.
  • Spend no more money than you can afford.
  • Send your kids to Catholic school.
  • Get involved in your parish and go to Mass as often as possible (every Sunday being the absolute minimum).

Will my approach solve all the problems of the world? Maybe not. But it will do more good than declaring my house a gun free zone.

Death’s Déjà vu

judge1I was sauntering through the kitchen a few days ago and there was my wife reading a news story on the computer. She was shaking her head and the headline caught my eye:

UK judge rules against parents, allows hospital to turn off baby’s life support

For understandable reasons, I confused the headline with the following:

Baby’s life-support will be switched off today against parents’ wishes: judge rules

So I asked my wife why she was reading an article about Charlie Gard, the baby who died in the UK last year at the insistence of his doctors and the decree of the court and over the objections of everyone from the parents to the Pope. My wife, a bit shocked (at the story, not me) explained that it involved Isaiah Haastrup, not Charlie Gard.

In other words, it was another case of a hospital in the UK deciding to remove a child from life support, the parents wanting to keep him alive and the court assuming the role of God.  The first headline above is about Isaiah, the second about Charlie.

Charlie’s parents lost all their appeals, Great Ormond Street Hospital pulled the plug and he died. This despite the raising of huge sums of money to continue his treatment.

Isaiah’s parents are still appealing and have a court hearing later this month, but it seems that King’s College Hospital is just itching to pull his plug. I have serious doubts that a UK appeals court will be struck with a random case of sincere Catholic moral conscience.

My wife stared at the screen; I stared at the screen.  It was like a terrible, recurrent nightmare.  I felt a cold, emptiness in my stomach.

Am I alone in seeing the irony that in sophisticated medical institutions, in one of the world’s “great” cities, there is such a disconnect between the caring image presented, the compassion claimed, and reality.

The stated mission of Great Ormond Street Hospital is “The child first and always.” Apparently, Charlie Gard existed somewhere beyond “always.”

King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust remains rated as “Requires Improvement” by the Care Quality Commission (CQC). I expect Isaiah’s parents would agree with that assessment.

Hospitals, courts, government leaders, social-service agencies are all quick to promote how caring they are, how much they want to do the right thing. But none has the wisdom to decide the time of death.  That is God’s alone.

When I wrote of Charlie Gard’s death last July, I had an eerie sense I would be writing of something similar in the future. I have the same feeling now.

Beads over Birds

467Once upon a time, there was a Chicago radio host who tried to help nervous air travelers by loaning them his rubber chicken. The idea was that if you took the chicken with you on the plane you would have no fear – or at least your fears would be greatly diminished.

The rubber chicken was an early foreshadowing of what has become a real pain for airlines and their customers: the emotional support animal. There is a big difference in that the rubber chicken was, well, a rubber chicken as opposed to a live bird.

This came to mind a couple days ago when United Airlines denied a woman’s request to bring her emotional support animal on a flight. In this case, it was a real, live bird – a peacock.

Let me be clear; I like birds. In point of fact, I have a bird who has been living in my home for the past 18 years and is a beloved member of the family: Conrad the green-cheek conure. The green-cheek is a small parrot that hails from the forests of South America.

peacockDespite being a cute, friendly and emotionally supportive bird, Conrad never has and never will accompany me on an airline flight. It would be silly and potentially annoying to other passengers.  Conrad tends to screech during times of stress, which being locked in a metal tube with dozens of strangers would certainly constitute.

A peacock would be much more disruptive.  It is larger and could generate considerably more bird waste. It is hard for me to imagine why anyone would think it is appropriate to bring a peacock on a plane.

But I admit that I don’t know why anyone – other than a blind person with a service dog – thinks they should bring an animal on a plane.  The right to animals on a plane is not in the constitution nor bill of rights.

But in our me-first culture, many people seem to believe they have a right to bring their little poochy-woochy wherever they go. Frankly, being stuck on a plane beside a woman (sorry, but I’ve never encountered this behavior in a man) on a plane with her “purse dog” is discomforting. A non-purse peacock is absurd.

I have friends from South Africa. They never ask to bring an emotional support elephant on a plane.

I have friends from Canada. They never ask to bring an emotional support moose on a flight.

RosaryBut my friends – and I – do have something for emotional support.  It also works for spiritual support.

Prayer: quiet, easy, portable, can be done in any place under any circumstances. A useful tool for prayer is the rosary (as in beads), which is helpful for praying the rosary (prayer).

Unlike dogs, peacocks, elephants or moose, the rosary does not have to be walked, fed or cleaned up after. And when it comes to emotional support, I’ll take my rosary over any 10 pesky peacocks.

 

The Everlasting Poor

Poverty_Jerusalem“For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have Me.” – John 12:8

 “For you always have the poor with you; but you do not always have Me.” – Matthew 26:11

 “For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them; but you do not always have Me.” – Mark 14:7

Don’t worry. Despite initial appearances, this will not be a scripture commentary

I am not a theologian.  I am just a guy who hears a line from the gospel and spends a decade or two pondering its meaning.

The line cited above in triplicate is part of the story of the woman who anoints the feet of Jesus with expensive oil and dries his feet with her hair.  To me, that qualifies as quite an act of humility.

But one of the apostles (Judas, who would later prove less than trustworthy) expresses his concern that they should have sold the oil and given the money to the poor.  Thus the response of Jesus, basically saying they wouldn’t have him around forever (at least not physically) so chill out and let the woman offer this act of service.  Besides, you will always have poor people – and you always will have the opportunity to do good.

There is so much in this short passage.  First, there is something to be said for honoring Christ.  Tabernacles are made from precious metals – not recycled cardboard.  And churches are designed to be beautiful, to lift our spirits and to honor God.

(Aside: Once upon a time Catholics dressed up in their “Sunday Best” clothes to go to Mass. That was a good thing and some of us still go to Mass in dressed like we care.)

poor boxSecond, this passage suggests that there always will be the poor, or what Pope Francis calls the peripheries.  Maybe that means that no matter how much we care and no matter how much charity/relief work we do, there always will be more that needs doing.

For some reason, this gospel passage meandered through my mind yesterday as I was perusing my favorite Catholic news website, ZENIT.  (Disclaimer: I write for ZENIT, so my feelings about the website are highly prejudiced.)

In any event, I’m looking at the page and many of the stories are uplifting and inspiring. Hey, we try to evangelize here!

But in that single news cycle appeared stories about challenges facing the world that seem like they should have been fixed long ago:

  • World Leprosy Day – someone new contracts the disease every two minutes.
  • Pope Francis’ call for an end to antisemitism.
  • The need to eliminate food scarcity and hunger in Africa.
  • Innocent children dying in terror attacks in Africa and the Middle East.

What struck me was that these four “bad” stories could have been written when Jesus was conducting his public ministry on earth: leprosy, antisemitism, hunger, and innocents slaughtered.  Horrible problems then, horrible problems 2,000 years later.  Perhaps it will be the same 2,000 years from now.

I could get a bit discouraged.  But maybe I’m missing the point. Maybe it isn’t just the poor who will always be with me, but also the sick, the denigrated, the hungry and those who suffer through no fault of their own.

Perhaps God wants to give me – and all the future guys like me – a chance to care and do good.

Pope on a Plane

Pope_Francis_Tacloban_2I’ve come to believe the most dangerous place on earth for Pope Francis isn’t on earth at all but more like 30,000 feet above the earth in a jet.

No, I’m not afraid the jet will crash or be hijacked.  But the Pope is on a plane with a herd of people who ponder every word, every expression, every sigh or clearing of the throat, every look of fatigue or dismay.

Yes, he has no snakes on his plane, but he does have journalists. And even journalists with a pro-Catholic tendency need to get a story.

Stories are built on conflict and controversy.  And it doesn’t take much to make a controversy, as Pope Francis learned last week when he performed a wedding in the jet high over Chile.

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a romantic and a sucker for a mushy story.  So, I thought a couple flight attendants being married by the Pope was, well, rather darling.  They were Catholic and had been married in a civil ceremony and done marriage prep to be married in the church.  But things happened and there was an earthquake, the church fell down, their lives continued and they never got around to the church wedding.

But if you are flying with the Pope, why not have him tie the knot?  And they did.

At that point, I figured they would simply go home and live happily ever after. Perhaps they will, but the Holy Father has been fielding a bit of criticism.  It goes something like this:

So…how are priests going to hold the feet of couples to the fire and make them marry in the church if the Pope does this sort of thing?  Did the Pope have proof they took marriage classes? Did they show him their license?  They obviously have not been living as brother and sister because they have children. Did they have a license?  Who does the Pope think he is?

I think the Pope thinks he is the Pope. He once got into hot water for not judging someone, but this time he got into hot water because he judged this couple ready, willing and able to have a Catholic wedding and he provided it. I still think it is rather darling.

I believe the Holy Father has a message. The message isn’t that marriage prep courses aren’t important, couples should live in sin and the rules of the faith don’t matter.

What matter most is mercy and love. As this little controversy has brewed, a particular verse from First Corinthians has been running through my mind…a verse I bet the pope knows well:

  13  1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

      4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

      8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.