Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Quote of the Day

"We, therefore, who have been called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, neither by our wisdom or understanding or piety, nor by the works we have wrought in holiness of heart, but by the faith by which almighty God has justified all men from the beginning: To whom be glory forever and ever. Amen."

--St. Clement I, Letter to the Corinthians, 32, 4

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Those who sincerely say 'Jesus I trust in you' will find comfort in all their anxieties and fears."

--Saint John Paul II

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Losing the Battle

Daniel L. Soutar (1958--2016)
This past February, shortly after my father Daniel and I celebrated our fifty-eighth and thirtieth birthdays, respectively, my Dad was hospitalized and diagnosed with Stage IV colon and liver cancer. Although my Dad's health had been slightly and mysteriously declining during the previous year or so, this discovery nonetheless came as a shock to me and my mother and sister, because my Dad had always been the picture of health throughout his life. Promptly transferred from our little community hospital to the big one down in Roanoke, my Dad quickly consented to undergo emergency surgery to save his life; that went well, and to the surgeon's surprise, he had no pain afterwards. Always one to take charge of his own life as far as possible, my Dad unhesitatingly dismissed suggestions that he receive palliative care at home following the surgery. And while he briefly considered undergoing standard chemotherapy and radiation treatment, he ultimately rejected this course of action as imprudent given the undesirable side effects and the well-documented (but, for obvious reasons, not well-publicized) abysmally low success record of such treatment.

In place of this, my Dad proceeded to organize and wage his own vigorous, multi-pronged battle of diet, exercise, and nutritional supplementation against the demon that threatened to slay him. Based on research and advice obtained from his surgeon and several other health experts, my Dad's unique strategy included iron and protein supplementation, drinking freshly made carrot juice (which he forced himself to make daily despite his low energy levels), a strict sugar-free diet, almost daily half-mile to mile-long walks around the property, and a resolute determination to win this thing. And for a while, it looked like he would do just that. Despite some difficult adjustments, he recovered well from the surgery and was soon able to drive again. He made the one and a half hour trip to Roanoke by himself for the follow-up appointment with his surgeon, who was not only delighted with the progress he was making, but eager to learn more about alternatives to the standard cancer treatments.

In mid-May, however, we received the first clear warning sign that my Dad was actually losing the battle. That month, a CAT scan revealed that the cancer had grown and was now spreading to other parts of his body. Our good doctor friend looked at the scan and said that my Dad had two weeks left to live. At this point, where a weaker man would have surrendered to the inevitable and laid down to die, my Dad redoubled his efforts to defeat the cancer, praying for guidance and researching expensive alternative treatments. God led him to a remarkable product called Haelan 951, a bitter-tasting fermented soy beverage that's prescribed to treat protein calorie malnutrition. Within a few days of starting on this drink, he was feeling better and had more energy, and a few weeks later, he noticed that some of the tumors that he could touch and feel with his hand were shrinking. Two months later, my Dad was still alive, although his energy was steadily declining, his walks were getting shorter and less frequent, and he was gradually losing his ability to do things for himself. Interestingly, his last CAT scan in mid-July indicated that the cancer had expanded only slightly during the intervening two months. I'm convinced that the Haelan contributed significantly to slowing the growth of the cancer and enabling my Dad to live for three more months.

Towards the end of July, my Dad became bedridden and his breathing became more and more labored. During those final three and a half weeks of his life, which were very painful and difficult, my Mom and I were blessed with the opportunity to serve Jesus in disguise. It's one thing to talk about serving Christ in the poorest of the poor as a nice theory; it's another thing to actually do it yourself. It's certainly not easy to do, but it does have its rewards, even here on earth. As my ever-independent Dad progressively lost the ability to do things he'd always done for himself--which was initially frustrating for him but to which he gradually resigned himself--he'd be so grateful for the slightest thing my Mom or I could do to help. Whether it was bringing him a bowl of cereal or a glass of water or adjusting his pillows or whatever, he would look at us with his penetrating eyes and say, from the bottom of his heart, "Thank you--so much." That sincere gratitude helped make it all worth while. And furthermore, this opportunity to serve Christ in my Dad through simple works of mercy brought a mysterious joy to my heart.

On August 7, my Dad, being a good practicing Catholic, received the sacraments of Penance, Holy Eucharist, and Anointing of the Sick from the hands of our beloved pastor, Father Joseph Wamala. My Dad's struggle finally ended peacefully, and he went to be with the Lord late in the afternoon of August 15, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, his spiritual Mother to whom he had been devoted throughout his adult life.

Like so many others, although he fought valiantly, my Dad ultimately lost his battle with cancer. But from a spiritual perspective, my Dad was victorious, because he died in the state of sanctifying grace. I'll always treasure those last six months of his life that he was able to spend with me, my Mom, and my sister thanks to his determination to keep fighting the good fight--months during which we played games and watched movies together on Sundays, months during which we went to Mass and grocery shopping together, months during which I continued to learn from his seemingly inexhaustible fountain of good example and advice.

Although I'm not sure why God decided to take my Dad home to himself earlier than we (and he) reasonably expected, I trust that Our Heavenly Father knew what he was about when He allowed this to happen, that He allowed it to happen for some good reason, and that my Dad's early death is somehow a key part of His master plan for my life. Furthermore, my Catholic faith assures me that, whether his soul is currently in Heaven or Purgatory, my Dad is spiritually united with me and my living loved ones through the Communion of Saints, and that all of us who die in the state of sanctifying grace as he did will someday be permanently and irrevocably reunited with him in the unimaginable glory and joy of Heaven.

In the meantime, please keep my beloved Dad, along with me and my loved ones, in your prayers.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Reflection for Today

“It is the heart of our Father, God is like this: he does not tire, he does not tire! And for so many centuries He has done this, with so many apostasies, so many apostasies of the people. And He always returns, because our God is a God who waits. From that afternoon in the earthly Paradise, Adam left with a penalty and a promise. And He is faithful, the Lord is faithful to his promise, because he cannot deny himself. He is faithful. And so he waits for all of us, along the history. He is the God that waits for us, always....

“God waits and also God forgives. He is the God of mercy: he does not tire of forgiving us. It is we who are tired of asking for forgiveness, but He never gets tired. Seventy times seven; go forward with forgiveness. And from a business standpoint, the balance is negative. He always loses: he loses in the balance of things, but conquers in love....

“He will make a feast for you. 'His splendor shall be like the olive tree and his fragrance like the Lebanon cedar.’ The life of every person, of every man, of every woman, who has the courage to draw close to the Lord, will find the joy of the feast of God. So, may this word help us to think of our Father, the Father that waits for us always, who always forgives us and who feasts when we return.”

--Pope Francis, Homily at Casa Santa Marta, March 28, 2014

Friday, July 22, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Every Christian relives the experience of Mary Magdalene. It involves an encounter which changes our lives: the encounter with a unique Man who lets us experience all God’s goodness and truth, who frees us from evil not in a superficial and fleeting way, but sets us free radically, heals us completely and restores our dignity. This is why Mary Magdalene calls Jesus 'my hope': he was the one who allowed her to be reborn, who gave her a new future, a life of goodness and freedom from evil. 'Christ my hope' means that all my yearnings for goodness find in him a real possibility of fulfilment: with him I can hope for a life that is good, full and eternal, for God himself has drawn near to us, even sharing our humanity."

--Benedict XVI, Urbi et Orbi Address, Easter Sunday, April 8, 2012

Monday, July 18, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Genuine human rights are inalienable and must be universally respected and advanced. In consequence, however, the term 'human right' must be strictly and prudently applied, lest it become a rhetorical catch-all, endlessly expanded to suit the passing tastes of the age. Such an elastic approach would discredit and undermine the very concept of human rights. A responsible exercise of human rights necessarily implies a faithful fulfillment of their corresponding responsibilities."

--Archbishop Bernardino Auza, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, July 12, 2016

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Starmus v. Festival of Creation

This month, a bevy of prominent astronomers, former astronauts, and other noted scientists from around the world joined up with rock musicians to collectively present the Starmus conference-festival in the Canary Islands, which was attended by hundreds of wealthy science and music enthusiasts from the United States and other countries. This interesting two-week event, which has been held in the same location every two or three years since 2011, was co-founded by Armenian astrophysicist Garik Israelian and his British friend, Queen guitarist Brian May, who conceived it as an attractive blend of science and music (the name, Starmus, is short for "stars and music"). During the last few years, this exclusive summertime conference-festival--which was initially considered a bit eccentric--has grown increasingly popular, drawing an ever-larger number of touristy attendees. It features talks by individual astronomers and scientists, roundtable discussions on specific issues related to science, and meet-and-greet sessions with participants during the daytime hours, and ear-splitting rock concerts by May and company in the evening hours. The genius behind the concept of putting scientific presentations and musical entertainment together in a single event, held at a popular tourist destination to boot, is evident from the fact that this festival is resonating with a rapidly growing audience. People want to take a break to travel and enjoy God's creation during the summer; they want to learn something about the latest science and astronomy discoveries from the leaders in those fields; and they want to listen to music. And these wants are not just whims or preferences, but fundamental human needs for relaxation, education, and entertainment. There is a basic hunger for these things, and Starmus is out to fill it. The question is whether this particular scientific gathering and rock festival, which is now an accepted part of twenty-first century Western popular culture, really satisfies these basic human needs.

For me, the major problem with Starmus lies in the ideological and philosophical thrust of the event, which is decidedly Darwinist, materialistic, and atheistic. One of the best-known keynote speakers at multiple events has been Richard Dawkins, the infamous evolutionary biologist, religious bigot, and spokesman for the Darwinist worldview, which is the opposite of the Christian worldview. By contrast, no devoutly Christian astronomers and scientists--not even award-winning and world-famous ones--are ever invited to speak at the conference-festival. There has been very little talk about God or the relationship between science and religion at Starmus thus far, and when such discussions do occur, God is treated mainly as a curiosity, as an aside, and religion is generally viewed as a private, subjective matter subordinate to science, which is hailed as the real and only source of accurate information about the world we live in. Basically, there is no real room for God on the stage at Starmus, where the organizers and VIPs dismiss God the Creator as unnecessary and irrelevant and thus dare to exalt themselves above their Maker. This essentially atheistic guiding philosophy also dictates the type of music offered at the event, which--as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger once wrote--is "the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship" (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, 2000, p. 148). And then there is the relatively minor issue of the exclusive nature of this event; only those who can afford to travel to the Canary Islands can participate in it.

Yes, unfortunately, Starmus is a highly secularist and elitist event that accurately reflects the  ideological drift of our contemporary Western culture. It denies God, the Creator of the universe and of humanity, the acknowledgement and glory that rightly belong to Him, replacing rational faith in God with irrational faith in blind evolutionary forces that supposedly shape all of reality with no ultimate meaning or purpose whatsoever. Whatever nuggets of good may be found in the Starmus festival, as a whole it is an event profoundly steeped in the darkness of error, a product of human arrogance and foolishness.

A few years ago, as I was reflecting about this, an inspiration came to me: Why not start a different kind of scientific conference and music festival based on the Starmus model, but shaped by Christian faith and traditional values? Such a conference-festival could be called the Festival of Creation, and unlike Starmus, which lasts two weeks and is held every two years on the same remote island, this event would be a few days to a week long and would be held annually each summer right here in the United States, in a different city and state each year, to give people all over this country the opportunity to attend at some point in their lives without having to spend a fortune on travel. Ideally, this event would not be held in a major metropolis, but rather in a medium-sized city surrounded by the natural beauty of God's creation, with the necessary facilities to accommodate up to about 10,000  participants in the first few years. Opening with a prayer, the conference would feature talks and presentations by believing scientists and theologians from across the denominational spectrum, all of whom would be free to speak openly about their faith in God and Jesus Christ. It would also feature informal roundtable discussions that would examine such topics as  science and religion, faith and reason, weather and climate change, environmental issues, good stewardship of creation, the development of sustainable energy resources, and space exploration. The roster of invited speakers would include creationists and Intelligent Design proponents as well as theistic evolutionists (those who believe God used evolutionary processes to develop his creation gradually over time). Some great keynote speakers to invite would include planetary scientist and Carl Sagan Medal winner Brother Guy Consolmagno; renowned DNA geneticist Dr. Francis Collins; well-known creation theologian Cardinal Christoph Schonborn; and noted creationist Ken Ham, founder of the Answers in Genesis theme park in Kentucky. On the basis of their shared faith in the Creator, these speakers would hopefully engage in respectful and charitable dialogue with one another both on and off the stage concerning their different perspectives on how God created everything. This conference would also feature religious testimonies by former atheistic and agnostic scientists who have since come to belief in the Creator (hint hint: former Starmus stars who see the light would be most welcome!). And in the evenings, uplifting and entertaining concerts would feature praise and worship music offered by popular Christian soft rock and pop bands as well as classical music performances with creation-inspired themes by talented artists, all for the glory of God.

While the Festival of Creation would be primarily a Christian event organized by Christians and for Christians, other people of good will who share our faith in God the Creator would also be welcome to attend. Unlike the expensive, exclusive, and worldly shindig in the Canary Islands, this event would be a wholesome, accessible, family-friendly gathering of like-minded believers to celebrate God's creation and enjoy some good fellowship and inspirational music, all while giving the Creator the worship and honor and glory He deserves. And unlike Starmus, which wallows in the darkness of human error, the Festival of Creation would bask in the bright light of revealed truth. Finally, in contrast to Starmus, which discourages and weakens faith in God the Creator, the Festival of Creation would encourage and strengthen such faith while offering an attractive and needed witness to the growing ranks of nonbelievers of the true origin and purpose of their existence. People need a good vacation, they need to relax and enjoy God's creation, and they need to be entertained; but above all, amid this ever more radically secularist culture, people are starving for the truth, and that is the most important thing the Festival of Creation would deliver: the truth that all the goodness and beauty of the cosmos is the handiwork of a great, wise, infinitely powerful and loving and awesome God, who created everything through his Son Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, and who holds everything in existence, ceaselessly guarding and mysteriously guiding creation at every moment with His providential care.

Is anybody with me on this? What do you think? Please let me know by leaving your comments and suggestions below.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Quote of the Day

"The people who are persecuted for righteousness' sake are those who live by God's righteousness--by faith. Because man constantly strives for emancipation from God's will in order to follow himself alone, faith will always appear as a contradiction to the 'world'--to the ruling powers at any given time. For this reason, there will be persecution for the sake of righteousness in every period of history. This word of comfort is addressed to the persecuted Church of all times. In her powerlessness and in her sufferings, she knows that she stands in the place where God's Kingdom is coming."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), p. 89

Monday, July 4, 2016

A Little History You Probably Didn't Know

"Contrary to a widespread misconception, the 56 signers did not sign as a group and did not do so on July 4, 1776. The official event occurred on August 2, 1776, when 50 men probably took part. Later that year, five more apparently signed separately and one added his name in a subsequent year. Not until January 18, 1777, in the wake of Washington's victories at Trenton and Princeton, did Congress, which had sought to protect the signers from British retaliation for as long as possible, authorize printing of the Declaration with all their names listed. At this time, Thomas McKean had not yet penned his name.

"The most impressive signature is that of John Hancock, President of Congress, centered over the others. According to tradition, Hancock wrote boldly and defiantly so that King George III would not need spectacles to identify him as a 'traitor' and double the reward for his head. The other Delegates signed in six columns, which ran from right to left. They utilized the standard congressional voting order, by colony generally from north to south: New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

"Those who signed on August 2 undoubtedly did not realize that others would follow them and thus allowed no room to accommodate the signatures of the later six men. Two of them, George Wythe and Richard Henry Lee, found ample room above their fellow Virginians. One, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, crowded his name into the space between the Massachusetts and Rhode Island groups. Two of the others--Thomas McKean and Oliver Wolcott--signed at the bottom of columns following their State delegations. Only Matthew Thornton of New Hampshire needed to add his name separately from his colleagues--at the bottom of the first column on the right at the end of the Connecticut group."

--from the book Men of Freedom: Profiles of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence (Pathmaker Books, 1975), pp. 23-24 (Note: In addition to biographical sketches of all fifty-six of the signers, this wonderful old book includes the historical background of the Declaration of Independence and tells what happened to the original document of the Declaration in the two hundred years following its publication. Unfortunately, this treasure has been out of print for many years and is now very difficult, if not impossible, to find.)

Monday, June 27, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it."

--Pope Francis, Address to President Obama at the White House, Sep. 23, 2015

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Defending our Freedom

As we Americans prepare to celebrate Independence Day less than two weeks from now, we American Catholics are observing the fifth annual Fortnight for Freedom declared by our bishops, a two-week period of prayer, fasting, education, and activism in support of religious liberty that always begins on June 21 and ends on the Fourth of July. Recognizing the increasing frequency and intensity of the attacks on freedom of religion by militant secularists, especially in our government and the courts but also in the media and our educational and cultural institutions, in the spring of 2012 our bishops published an important pastoral letter entitled "Our First, Most Cherished Liberty." In this document, our shepherds recalled America's rich tradition of religious freedom spanning four centuries; listed more than a dozen examples of recent attacks on that freedom; called the faithful to be vigilant in defending their hard-won religious liberties against the ever-mounting assault of radical secularism; and finally announced the first annual Fortnight for Freedom, which was promoted by EWTN and observed by Catholics across the United States.

Of course, the main event that led our bishops to establish this annual observance was the controversial HHS mandate bombshell dropped by the Obama administration in January of 2012, which demanded that health insurance plans across the country include artificial contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients regardless of religious or moral objections to the distribution of such items. Although this mandate--the crucial centerpiece of the massively unpopular Affordable Care Act, generally known as ObamaCare--is still on the books four and a half years later, having been unfortunately upheld by the Supreme Court along with the rest of the ObamaCare travesty as somehow "constitutional" in June of 2012, dozens of lower court rulings against it have provided temporary injunctive relief to scores of Catholic and other Christian religious groups, healthcare providers, charitable organizations, universities, media entities, and other institutions that have rightly refused to comply with this unjust law despite the threat of crushing tax penalties. Furthermore, last year the Supreme Court ruled that most businesses that object to compliance with the mandate on religious grounds should be permanently exempt from it. So while some progress has been made against this particularly egregious and unconstitutional attack on our religious liberties, more remains to be done: it must be completely overturned.

Like the other freedoms we enjoy as Americans such as freedom of speech and of the press, freedom to peaceably assemble, and freedom to petition the government for a redress of grievances, freedom of religion is a gift from our Creator that is guaranteed by our Constitution and must accordingly be protected by our government. No one should be forced into providing anti-life products and services that he or she considers immoral, against the dictates of his or her religion and conscience.

However, as Yuval Levin pointed out in an article in First Things magazine several months ago, we should beware of too narrowly individualistic, negative, and subjective an approach to religious liberty. Freedom of religion must not be confined to simply obtaining and retaining exemptions for certain individual persons and organizations that refuse to obey the law because they consider it wrong. Rather than being limited to a condescending exception for certain seemingly fanatical individuals within our society, religious liberty should be the rule for our society as a whole, as it was once upon a time. The idea here, which originated with our nation's founders, is that American society will flourish when all of its members are allowed to freely exercise their religious beliefs together as a community. In addition, it is fundamentally misguided to oppose the HHS mandate simply because we Catholics consider it an unjust law that attacks our religious liberties and moral conscience rights or simply because we Catholics regard contraceptives and abortifacients as immoral drugs. Such arguments are too narrowly focused and too subjective to be really convincing in the long run, and our radically secularist opponents have already seized on those weaknesses to bolster their own position. We must go deeper, building our defense on the bedrock of natural law and objective truth. Ultimately, we seek to rid America of the HHS mandate, not simply because we Catholics consider it an unjust law, but because it is an unjust law--not only for Catholics, but for pro-life Americans of all faiths and even for pro-life atheists. It isn't just an attack on our religious liberties and moral conscience rights; it's an attack on the natural law established by our Creator and upon our sacred right as human beings to act in accordance with that law.

Anchored firmly in the natural law, the concept of ordered liberty was a key founding principle of our nation that unfortunately is largely forgotten today. In a remarkably Catholic view of this concept, the Founders regarded freedom not as the totally unrestricted ability of human beings to do whatever the heck they may want to do, but rather as the ability to do what they ought to do, what they should do. While the freedom our Creator has given us is indeed very broad, it does have certain limits that He has laid down for our own good, and those limits are defined by the natural law, which is accessible to human reason. As long as we obey the natural law and thus act in accord with right reason, we remain truly free as individuals and as a nation. Morally speaking, to violate the natural law is an abuse of freedom, which was once commonly referred to as license or permissiveness.

A big part of the problem with America today is that we have largely abandoned this rational concept of ordered liberty rooted in the Creator's natural law in favor of a nebulous, ill-defined sort of "freedom" that is ultimately a product of moral relativism. In the past, our nation had laws prohibiting obscenity, indecency, and pornography in printed material and radio broadcasts; these entirely reasonable laws, which reflected the natural law, benefited our society by discouraging certain forms of immorality, which naturally helped to protect our freedom. No one at the time ever claimed that these laws violated anyone's right to freedom of speech. But if someone today advocates for bringing back such laws, he or she is derided as a crackpot fundamentalist who opposes freedom of speech. That's a shame. We must revive this forgotten concept of ordered liberty based on "the laws of nature and nature's God" in order to re-learn the true meaning of freedom, so that we can preserve this treasure and hand it on to future generations.

This is the first full Fortnight for Freedom since the Supreme Court's infamous ruling last June that overturned dozens of state marriage laws by elevating immoral homosexual relationships to the legal status of marriage throughout the country. As with the Obama administration's HHS mandate, this terribly misguided and wrong decision is not just a major attack on our religious liberties, but constitutes an assault on the Creator's natural law, in which the union of a man and a woman is the primary social institution for the good of the couple, their children, and the whole society. As we fight to defend our religious freedom on this particular front, our well-reasoned arguments must be grounded in the objective truth of the natural law and borne out by the personal witness of our own lives in order to resonate with the widest possible audience and effectively influence public opinion.

Returning to what was said above about the communal aspect of religious freedom, it should be underscored that only a truly religious people will value, fight for, protect, and defend their religious liberty. America's founders and colonists who fought for our independence from Britain and established our nation were deeply religious people of devout Christian faith, and we considered ourselves a Christian country until very recently. As the pseudo-religion of radical secularism increasingly dominates American society and strives to supplant the Judeo-Christian philosophy that made us a great nation, the question naturally arises as to whether we will remain a religious people tenaciously committed to defending our first freedom in an increasingly hostile cultural climate, or whether we will eventually surrender to the forces of militant secularism and allow this cherished freedom to be stolen from us by a handful of godless elitist pirates who have commandeered our Ship of State. It is to be hoped that we the people will retain the courage to stand up and retake control of our nation from the high priests of radical secularism; to recover and proudly reassert our nation's traditional Christian identity; and to consistently and vigorously defend the religious liberties and moral conscience rights of all Americans of good will, so that we can pass this great land on to our children and grandchildren as "one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all".

Mary Immaculate, Patroness of the United States, pray for us!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Quote of the Day

“The man and woman who do not learn to accuse themselves become hypocrites. Everyone, eh? Everyone. Beginning with the Pope all the way down: everyone. If one of us does not have the ability to accuse themselves and then says... things about others, they are not Christian, they do not enter into this beautiful work of reconciliation, of peace, of tenderness, of goodness, of forgiveness, of magnanimity, of mercy that Jesus Christ has brought to us.”

--Pope Francis, Morning Homily, Sep. 11, 2015

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost Reflection

"On the completion of the work which the Father gave the Son to do on earth (cf. Jn 17:4) the Holy Spirit was sent on the day of Pentecost to be the perennial agent of the Church's sanctification; in this way believers were to have access to the Father in one Spirit through Christ (cf. Eph 2:18). He is the Spirit of life or the spring of water welling up to eternal life (cf. Jn 4:14; 7:38-39). By him the Father gives life to men, who are dead because of sin, until he shall raise their mortal bodies in Christ (cf. Rom 8:10-11). The Spirit has his dwelling in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful as in a temple (cf. 1 Cor 3:16; 6:19); that is where he prays and bears witness to the fact of adoption (cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15-16, 26). He guides the Church into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13): he makes her one in fellowship and service; he fits her out with gifts of different kinds, hierarchical and charismatic, and makes his fruits her adornment (cf. Eph 4:11-12; 1 Cor 12:4; Gal 5:22). By the power of the Gospel he gives the Church youth and continual renewal, and he brings her safe to the consummation of union with her Bridegroom. For the Spirit and the Bride say to the Lord Jesus: 'come' (Rev 22:17)."

--Lumen Gentium, 4

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Political Rise and Fall of Dr. Ben Carson

by Justin Soutar

(This article was originally published on the website Intellectual Conservative May 11, 2016 at )

More than two months ago in early March, following a slew of major defeats in the GOP primary elections, award-winning neurosurgeon, popular speaker, bestselling author and Tea Party candidate Dr. Benjamin S. Carson officially announced that he had decided to withdraw from the presidential race. For those millions of us citizens across America who had been his loyal and dedicated supporters for the previous several months and years, the sudden demise and fizzling out of Dr. Carson's remarkable presidential campaign came as a jarring and profoundly disappointing anticlimax. Carson's stunningly dramatic rise from relative obscurity to a leading presidential candidate in less than a year's time appeared to bode well for his chances of winning a substantial number of state primary elections--and thus a sufficient number of delegates to the upcoming Republican National Convention--to secure his adopted party's nomination for President of the United States in 2016.

Unfortunately, however, Dr. Carson's performance in the early Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada primary election contests in February, as well as in the Super Tuesday primaries of March 1, failed to meet the expectations of his hardworking organizers and supporters, who had reasonably expected him to carry at least a handful of these critical early voting states. Instead, closely reflecting national polling data at the time, Ben Carson came in consistently third or fourth in each state's election returns behind Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. In the wake of Super Tuesday, with more than one fourth of the states having already voted, Carson had amassed a total of only about 60 delegates--not even one-twentieth of the total necessary to clinch the GOP nomination. Since the math and polling trends now rendered electoral victory extremely unlikely if not impossible, Carson's campaign team realized that it would be futile for him to continue to stay in the race. Calmly facing the unpleasant reality of defeat with his characteristic humility and wisdom, Carson acted prudently in bowing out of the primary election contest when he did.

Within two and a half years' time, Dr. Ben Carson's political star had climbed with extraordinary steadiness from the horizon to the zenith, where it shone with dazzling brilliance, and then suddenly it plunged toward the opposite horizon, disappearing from view entirely in a matter of weeks. What happened here? How did the previously little-known Dr. Carson so quickly achieve the status of a major presidential candidate, only to find himself leaving the race just as things were heating up?

Paradoxically, Dr. Carson had laid firm groundwork for his presidential run by building a solid reputation outside the political realm in the fields of medicine, education, business, and culture. He is probably best known for his trailblazing twenty-nine year career as the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, during which he performed more than 36,000 surgeries with an extremely low patient mortality rate, including the first-ever successful separation of twin boys joined at the back of the head. For his veritable encyclopedia of stunning achievements as a neurosurgeon, President George W. Bush awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2008. For a number of years, through the Carson Scholars Fund, Ben and his wife had been working to reform and improve America’s education system by setting up reading rooms in inner-city elementary schools across the country to encourage more kids to read books, stimulating better academic performance through a merit-based reward system, and offering scholarships to promising students from low-income families.

In addition to the significant business experience he accumulated as head of the multi-million-dollar pediatric neurosurgery division at Johns Hopkins for three decades, Dr. Carson had served on the corporate boards of a number of Fortune 500 companies, including Costco and Kellogg’s. Finally, Carson’s fascinating rise from a single-parent childhood of poverty in inner-city Detroit to a world-class neurosurgeon had won the respect and admiration of many Americans of different races and backgrounds who had read his popular autobiography Gifted Hands (1990) or seen the TV documentary of the same title (2009). More recently, Ben Carson’s influence on American culture was further strengthened by several other widely read books, including the number one New York Times bestsellers America the Beautiful (2012) and One Nation (2014); the latter sold an astonishing forty-two million copies in the ten weeks following its release, outselling Hillary Clinton’s simultaneously released autobiography Hard Choices three to one.

What initially catapulted Ben Carson into the political limelight was his brilliant, thoughtful, frank, courageous, and respectful off-the-cuff address at the 2013 National Prayer Breakfast attended by President Obama and Vice President Biden—a monumental discourse which deserves a place in the annals of conservative oratory alongside Barry Goldwater’s 1964 speech at the Republican National Convention and Ronald Reagan’s famous “Evil Empire” address of 1983. In this eloquent and well-balanced critique of contemporary America, delivered while he was still practicing neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Carson put ObamaCare, our nation's tax system, our national debt, and our moral decline into perspective and suggested some biblically-based, common-sense solutions to these problems. To those who heard him speak that February morning, it was obvious that Dr. Carson was endowed with a rare ability to discuss complex issues in simple terms that any layperson could easily understand. It was this highly accessible speech that introduced him to the nation as a great communicator with a solid grasp of America’s founding principles and ignited a national movement to draft Ben Carson into the 2016 presidential race.

From that time onward, as a popular speaker and author of multiple bestselling books, Dr. Carson became increasingly well-known within both the African–American community and the wider American cultural arena for his insightful and articulate reflections on what made our country great; for the simple stories he often used from his own experience to illustrate a point; for his intelligent and original opinions on how to resolve our national problems; and for his optimistic vision of America's future based on a return to our nation's founding principles. And his character traits of self-reliance, hard work, honesty and integrity, humility, courtesy, and compassion, combined with his devout Christian faith, traditional moral values, and record of exemplary achievement, made him a principled leader and a shining example of the American dream whose mass appeal transcended racial and political boundaries. In short, millions of Americans already knew, liked, and trusted Ben Carson for months and years before he ever became a presidential candidate.

The ironic thing is that, despite his authentic leadership credentials, Dr. Carson had never desired or intended to run for President of the United States. When the suggestion was first made to him immediately following the 2013 speech, he laughed it off as ridiculous. After all, he was a sixty-plus-year-old pediatric neurosurgeon on the verge of retirement and a registered Independent with no prior experience in politics. But his address at the National Prayer Breakfast had unwittingly prompted the establishment of a super PAC called the National Draft Ben Carson for President Committee under the leadership of conservative political activist John Philip Sousa IV—and once that ball got started rolling, it continued to steadily gain momentum. During the next two years, at the instigation of this committee, upwards of 500,000 Americans insistently clamored for Ben Carson to run for president on the Republican ticket, claiming that his leadership in the White House was desperately needed to straighten our country out. Finally, in May of 2015, the reticent Dr. Carson acquiesced to the will of the people and threw his hat into the presidential ring, entering an already crowded field of contenders for the GOP nomination.

At that time, national polls registered Ben Carson as the presidential choice of about 5 percent of Americans, so it wasn't surprising that the mainstream media initially paid him little attention. He was a classic longshot candidate for the White House, and most observers never seriously expected him to surge out of the bottom category into the top tier of likely presidential candidates. They were in for a surprise. Carson's entry into the race further elevated his public profile, stimulating his modest and already growing support base to expand at an accelerated tempo. Slowly but unmistakably, Ben Carson's national poll numbers started to climb out of the doldrums, leaving single digits behind within a few weeks. (During this time, he also made quite a splash as the surprise winner of the first televised Republican debate.) By the end of June, Dr. Carson had risen to 18 percent, making him the second most popular Republican candidate, and he continued to surge throughout the summer, steadily gaining on Donald Trump. In August, he was tied with Trump for the number one spot, and by early October, Carson had actually overtaken Trump to become the leading Republican presidential candidate in national polls--and despite the predictions of naysayers, he managed to hold that enviable position for the next two months straight.

If Ben Carson's five-month ascendancy from near-oblivion to the pinnacle of the GOP field and his two-month dominance of that field represented astonishing achievements and newsworthy events from the perspective of any reasonable observer, the reaction of the radically secularist mainstream media pundits on both sides of the political aisle was even more astonishing. With conspiratorial uniformity, they ignored Dr. Carson almost entirely. Despite their earlier casual dismissals and negative predictions, here he was leading in national polls, sharing the center of every debate stage with Mr. Trump, yet there was no serious discussion of why this was happening, no thoughtful commentary on this remarkable and unexpected development, no extensive interviews with Ben Carson on the major networks. Instead, we were saddled with a nearly total mainstream media blackout of Dr. Carson, while the lion's share of big media attention remained obsessively devoted to Trump, Bush and Christie. This incomprehensibly hypocritical and blatantly unfair treatment of Ben Carson on the part of America's media elite represented a prime example of biased and irresponsible journalism. Journalists bear a responsibility to the general public to convey and reflect upon the truth of what's actually going on, but in this case the Beltway journalists were obviously at pains to conceal the truth because it didn't mesh with their radically secularist agenda for our nation.

The corrupt mainstream media elite and the corrupt Washington political establishment--which, for convenience, may be treated as a single entity, since the same mega-corporate interests essentially run both entities and they share the same radically secularist agenda--couldn't tolerate the mere idea of an honest and principled citizen statesman like Ben Carson getting into the White House. If that were to happen, the deeply entrenched political corruption that buttresses and sustains their jealously guarded power and influence would be pulled like a rug from beneath their feet and the power of the federal government would revert from these usurpers back to its rightful owners, i.e., we the people. So these cunning and worldly-wise media moguls had to figure out some way to derail Ben Carson's astoundingly successful grassroots presidential campaign in order to prevent him from winning the Republican nomination. They knew they wouldn't be able to smear his reputation with any dirt from his past because there isn't any dirt in his past to dig up. They had attempted to spread some lies about him, but that didn't work very well because most people already knew the truth about him, and those who didn't discovered it soon enough. They tried to find some juicy errors or omissions in Carson's income tax returns--a huge potential "gotcha"--but that search came up empty. And they knew that his political campaign (unlike their good pal Hillary Clinton's) was being run entirely in accordance with federal election law, so they couldn't shut him down legally or call that into question.

Consequently, the mainstream media executives settled on a strategy of deliberately ignoring Ben Carson and relentlessly focusing their primary attention on their own favorite GOP candidates, Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie. This approach extended to the Republican debates, where despite his high poll rankings and central position on the stage, Dr. Carson was generally given far less time to speak than the mainstream media darlings. As the months passed, this strategy of marginalization proved effective. Not seeing or hearing much of their candidate on TV, millions of less fanatical Carson supporters gradually became discouraged and drifted into the more visible and noisier Trump, Cruz, and Rubio camps. By the end of 2015, Carson had slipped to second place in national polls; he was at third place this past January, and had sunk to fourth place by the time actual voting began in early February.

Yet even with this perceptible decline in nationwide support precipitated by the big media boycott, Carson might still have won the Iowa caucus on February 1 had a despicable last-minute dirty trick not been pulled off by a rival and less principled GOP campaign team. Just hours before voting began, a false rumor that Carson had dropped out of the race was deliberately circulated by the Ted Cruz presidential campaign, deceiving who knows how many thousands of Carson supporters into casting their ballots for Cruz instead. Spreading this lie about Carson enabled Cruz to steal victory in the Iowa primary election. Although he would not withdraw from the race for another month, it's apparent in retrospect that the Ben Carson presidential campaign was essentially finished at that point. Dr. Carson already had enough of a challenge trying to win state primary elections with official campaign and super PAC funding limited to grassroots donations and the heavy media bias against him, but when a dishonest tactic by a fellow candidate on opening day was thrown into the mix, the stage was unfortunately set for his presidential campaign to flounder beyond reasonable hope of recovery. 

Although history indicated that Carson didn't necessarily have to win Iowa to win the Republican nomination this summer, and so technically his chances were still pretty good, it was critical that he score victories in at least some of the other early voting states to give him a realistic shot at winning his adopted party's nomination. But with the deck stacked against him, he lost one state after another, and his chances of making it to the GOP convention as a presidential finalist correspondingly dwindled. Regrettably, Dr. Carson's campaign never recovered from the major damage it sustained in Iowa.  

So in essence, Ben Carson rose to political prominence on the strength of his credentials as a principled citizen statesman, but he failed to clinch the Republican nomination because the corrupt mainstream media and D.C. political establishment conspired to do him in. Shame on them. However, there is more to the story than that. While many of us ordinary Americans do profess traditional religious and moral values, we have nonetheless almost unconsciously allowed the propaganda being constantly cranked out by the radically secularist mainstream media machine to influence our thinking and shape our political loyalties. As a result of this, we have gradually abandoned a humble, honest, great, wise, selfless, moral, principled, civil, commonsense citizen statesman candidate--Ben Carson, a true populist--in favor of an arrogant, dishonest, petty, foolish, self-seeking, immoral, unscrupulous, rude, and ridiculous establishment politician--Donald Trump, a fake populist. Shame on us. Apparently, we’ve allowed ourselves to become so intoxicated by the mainstream media propaganda that we are unable to clearly distinguish between a counterfeit and the real deal. Unlike Carson, who truly represented "we the people," Trump is a charlatan who merely pretends to represent us, while in reality he represents himself and his bank accounts and the Washington political establishment he craves to join. Unlike Carson, Trump is a shameless braggart and a rabble-rousing demagogue who cannot be safely trusted to govern this nation in accordance with the principles of the Founders. Yet this clanging cymbal is seemingly trusted by more than two-fifths of the American populace.

If, at the end of the day, we the people are really on the side of the corrupt media and political establishment, what does that say about us? It says, for one thing, that we are a gullible bunch, easily bamboozled into believing exactly what the establishment wants us to believe. This lack of discernment and critical thinking would have horrified the Founders, who regarded an intelligent and well-educated citizenry as indispensable to the continued health and wellbeing of the American republic. While Carson intuitively held, as he put it in one of the debates last autumn, that "the American people are not stupid" (his emphasis), he was clearly overestimating our intelligence. Yes, we are stupid. Just as a certain crowd, at the instigation of certain religious leaders, preferred the release of a convicted murderer over the innocent Son of God himself, so we, under the influence of our own media and political elite, would rather elect an assertive, blustering, corrupt, and ambitious worldly real estate mogul as President of the United States than a meek, quiet-spoken, ethical, and trustworthy Christian doctor, philanthropist, speaker and writer. We prefer Trump to Carson. We prefer vice to virtue. And because of that, we’ve cavalierly passed up our first real chance to nominate and elect a truly great president since the days of Ronald Reagan, leaving America vulnerable to the capricious whims of a corrupt, immoral, and tyrannical Trump or Clinton presidency and ensuring continued national decline for at least another four years.

During the past two months, I've been asking myself why God permitted Ben Carson to achieve such remarkable early success as a presidential candidate if he knew that his campaign was ultimately doomed to failure. I had sincerely believed that God was raising up Dr. Carson to be our next president, and I was also convinced--as I still am--that he was the only presidential candidate who would have healed and united our broken and wounded nation and restored America to greatness. Apparently, for some strange combination of reasons, God willed that Ben Carson emerge for a brief span of time as a prominent national figure in the political arena, but did not will him to be our next president. Perhaps one of those reasons is that God wanted to expose the interior nastiness and rottenness of our radically secularist mainstream media and political establishment and to show us how easily we good folks are awed, taken in, and deceived by the gleaming exterior of that omnipresent establishment. On the positive side, I would also suggest that God willed to clearly show us, through the beautiful witness of Dr. Carson's words and actions, the path we must tread as a nation if we wish to reclaim our former greatness in the years to come. There may be other reasons as well. At any rate, I continue to trust that God, in his infinite wisdom and providence, has a plan for this beleaguered country of ours, and that Carson's tragic political demise—which guarantees a continued absence of principled leadership in the White House, at least in the near term—is somehow a part of that mysterious plan.

With his amazing roller-coaster ten-month sojourn in presidential politics now behind him, the inimitable soft-spoken conservative genius Dr. Ben Carson is back where he prefers to be, living the quieter life of a private citizen, albeit a much better known one now. He may have lost his one and only bid for the presidency, but unlike his fellow contenders for that high office, at least he had his priorities straight: he would rather lose an election than lose his soul. He will undoubtedly spend his remaining years on this earth continuing to serve his beloved country in any way he can. He will remain and be remembered as a great American physician and speaker and writer and philanthropist, a tireless defender of Constitutional government and a fervent champion of liberty and justice for all, respected for his character and values and renowned for his abilities and accomplishments.

Although he never wanted to run for President of the United States, Dr. Carson did it on behalf of “we the people”, out of genuine love for us and genuine concern for our country, offering a noble and splendid example of both Christian servant leadership and authentic patriotism. For months on end during the height of his popularity, he calmly yet firmly stood his ground and steadfastly weathered the storm of unjustified political and media hostility and prejudice and indifference that beat mercilessly upon him, without becoming bitter or retaliating against his enemies. For that example of selfless service and that tranquil steadfastness in the face of adversity, he deserves our sincere admiration and our humble gratitude.

Unlike any of the other leading presidential candidates, Ben Carson was a true Christian gentleman and a true patriot, and his absence leaves our current political arena acutely impoverished. At a time of constantly deepening national crisis, Dr. Carson's definitive departure from the 2016 presidential contest exposes a yawning leadership vacuum within the American political system that no lesser candidate can possibly fill.

Copyright © 2016 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.                               

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Let us allow this experience which is inscribed in the Gospel also to be imprinted in our hearts and shine forth from our lives. Let us allow the joyous wonder of Easter Sunday to shine forth in our thoughts, glances, behavior, gestures and words."

--Pope Francis