Thursday, January 23, 2020

Quote of the Day

"The pro-life movement is about more than saving the life of the baby, although that already is a very great thing and enough to justify all that we do on behalf of life.  But the movement is also about the mother, and providing her the emotional, spiritual and material support she needs to make a happy and truly human choice."

--Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, Homily, January 28, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Quote of the Day

"Be it enacted by the General Assembly...that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities."

--Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, January 16, 1786

Monday, January 6, 2020

Reflections on the Past Twenty Years

by Justin Soutar

I wish all readers of this blog post a Happy New Year 2020 and a happy new decade as well. It's hard to believe we've just entered the "Twenties," since my maternal grandparents were born in the 1920s almost one hundred years ago. This milestone is a good time to pause and reflect on the direction of the Church, our country and our world during the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.

From the Jubilee Year 2000 to 2019, the Catholic Church generally prospered under the courageous leadership of three saintly Popes: Saint John Paul II "the Great", Benedict XVI and Francis. Despite major differences in personality, style, and emphasis arising from their different backgrounds and training, there has been a great continuity among the Polish, German, and Argentinian pontiffs in their unwavering focus on Christ and His Gospel; the clarity of their teaching on the essential doctrines of the Faith; and their efforts toward administrative and spiritual reform of the Roman Curia and the Church generally.

While disturbing revelations of sexual abuse of children and youth by some Catholic priests and cover-up by a few bishops in the second half of the twentieth century cast a shadow over the Church throughout the world, these same revelations led to the establishment of new Church policies and structures that contributed to a drastic reduction in abuse incidents in the U.S. during this period. Additionally, during the late 2010s, dissident pressure groups and the secular media ignited an unfortunate controversy within the Church in the U.S. and elsewhere over the meaning and application of certain passages in Pope Francis' beautiful apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love), leading millions of faithful Catholics to erroneously believe that Francis wants to change the Church's moral teachings or is unfit for office.

Despite these problems, the Church overall has been thriving. In the U.S., the majority of bishops have been saintly men and nearly all have remained faithful to the Magisterium. We saw the beginning of the end of the chronic priest shortage as orthodox seminaries across America were packed with increasing numbers of holy young men each year and the number of priestly ordinations began to steadily increase. Faithful religious women such as the Nashville Dominicans also grew substantially in number. The number of lay faithful has continued to grow with each Easter Vigil. EWTN expanded its media apostolate by acquiring the National Catholic Register in 2011 and adding tens of millions of new radio listeners and TV viewers. Worldwide, the Church added about 300 million new members during the past twenty years, the majority of them in Africa.

Our country enjoyed an economic boom from 2000 to 2007 during the Bush administration which was followed by the stock market crash of 2008 and resulting Great Recession which was prolonged by the Obama administration's high taxes and increased government regulation of businesses. Lower taxes and less regulation contributed to economic growth and historically low unemployment during the first three years of the Trump administration. While the standard of living generally increased with nearly every American enjoying Internet access, a cell phone and flat screen TV, corporate greed and the failure of wages to keep pace with cost of living increases contributed to the dismemberment of the middle class, and the national debt swelled from $2 trillion to $20 trillion.

The growth of major corporations such as Dollar General, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and The Home Depot forced tens of thousands of small businesses to close by flooding the U.S. market with cheap goods imported from China and other foreign countries. However, a popular movement to support American manufacturers by buying American made products had gained steam by the end of the 2010s, with President Trump replacing NAFTA with USMCA to discourage the outsourcing of American manufacturing. And fueled by growing demand, the organic food and renewable energy industries saw significant growth during the past two decades.

Politically, our country has grown more and more divided from the contested presidential election of 2000 to the futile attempt by House Democrats to impeach President Trump in late 2019. Corrupt Republican and Democratic members of Congress have proven incapable of bipartisan collaboration on a host of pressing issues from abortion and religious freedom to healthcare and the environment to immigration and foreign policy. Unable or unwilling to peaceably discuss and work with their colleagues across the aisle, they've resorted to scoring whatever legislative or judicial victories they can scrape for their own side and either violently attacking or quietly distancing themselves from the opposition. Millions of frustrated Americans espousing traditional Judeo-Christian values created the Tea Party movement within the Republican Party in 2009, many of whose candidates were swept into state and national office in the gubernatorial, senatorial and Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014.

Religiously and morally, our country has become increasingly less Christian under the pervasive influence of militant secularism. Christians are still a large majority of the population, but their percentage has gradually declined while the percentage of nonreligious individuals has grown into double digits and Satanism and the occult have become more popular. In 2000, freedom of religion as protected by the First Amendment was sacrosanct, but just ten years later, under pressure from the abortion cartel and pharmaceutical and insurance giants, the Obama administration was requiring abortion and contraception to be part of "healthcare coverage" regardless of religious or moral objection to these anti-life practices.

During his visit to the U.S. in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI had warned that radical secularism would lead to an attack on religious liberty, and Pope Francis repeatedly highlighted the importance of religious freedom and met briefly with Kim Davis and the Little Sisters of the Poor during his own tour of the U.S. in 2015. The ObamaCare assault on our first freedom provoked a well-organized religious liberty campaign led by our bishops during the 2010s, including an annual Fortnight for Freedom, that led ultimately to the reversal of Obama's HHS mandate and many other anti-religious regulations by the Trump administration.

The confident exuberance and idealistic optimism for world peace, freedom, and prosperity that marked the beginning of the third millennium, nicely encapsulated in the Ford Millennium Anthem "Just Wave Hello," soon proved ill-founded. The shocking destruction of the World Trade Center's iconic Twin Towers by Israeli intelligence agents disguised as Arab terrorists on September 11, 2001 and subsequent terrorist attacks all over the world; the U.S. invasion of Iraq against the urgent advice of Pope John Paul II; the unabated continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; the ongoing exodus of Christians from the Holy Land; the U.S. support for ISIS that led to its occupation of the Nineveh Plain in 2014 with subsequent murder and displacement of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Muslims and the destruction of dozens of ancient churches and monasteries; widespread drug and human trafficking in Central America; civil wars over natural resources in several African countries; brutal Communist repression in China; and North Korea's nuclear weapons tests were just a few symptoms of the pervasive lack of peace and freedom in our twenty-first century world.

Nor was global prosperity so easy to achieve as it seemed, although the spectacular advance of digital technology has led to nearly everyone on earth owning at least one cell phone and the rise of social media has interconnected us as never before. As John Paul II and other twentieth-century Popes predicted in their social encyclicals, transnational capitalism and free trade driven mainly by greed and untethered from moral and ethical considerations have led to the exploitation of cheap labor, economic instability, enormous gaps between rich and poor within the same nation, social unrest, emigration, and environmental degradation. Famine, poverty, and starvation are still common in many countries, and tens of millions of people have left the Third World in search of gainful employment here and in Europe. Benedict XVI's masterful 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) features a penetrating analysis of these problems and beautifully explains why truth and love are essential to a healthy global economy.

Meanwhile, most European countries have largely succumbed to the forces of radical secularism and hedonism, with weekly church attendance in the single digits and their native populations in dramatic decline due to widespread abortion, euthanasia, and the unpopularity of marriage and traditional family life.

Notable changes from historic climate patterns were observed around the world from 2000 to 2019, but the main source of climate change was obscured by thick clouds of "global warming" propaganda and dire warnings of an impending man-made climate emergency. By virtue of its massive size and tremendous energy output, the sun is the dominant influence on earth's weather, beside which all other influences combined, including human CO2 output, are minor. Astronomers have noticed a general decline in solar activity, including a reduced number of sunspots, during this period. And NASA climate satellites have recorded a 3/10 of a degree drop in Earth's average global temperature from 1998 to 2017. Observed changes in solar activity have been the primary cause of climatic changes during the past twenty years.

The truth about the dramatic First World honeybee die-off of the past two decades has been similarly concealed. The blame for Colony Collapse Disorder is usually pinned on a certain class of pesticides, even though their use has declined greatly with the spread of organic farming practices across North America and Europe during this period. The fact is that the proliferation of cell phones and other wireless technology has disrupted normal hive activity, killing honeybees in droves. This is painfully obvious from the fact that honeybees have remained abundant in the ever fewer and shrinking parts of our country and the world where cell phone service is still absent.

To summarize, the overall picture we see here is a mixed bag, with the Church on the whole doing well and our country and our world faring rather poorly. Yet perhaps the most significant negative aspect of the past twenty years is that many of us have been so caught up in the daily newsfeed that we've lost a sense of perspective on the bigger picture, where we've come from and where we're heading, and we're ignoring or forgetting the valuable lessons history has to teach us about our current problems. The Bible says that without a vision, the people perish. In this regard, I heartily recommend Fr. George Rutler's book Calm in Chaos: Catholic Wisdom for Anxious Times.

All of the above mentioned problems in the Church, our country, and the world at large can be traced back to human failure to observe the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbor. As Pope Benedict said, when we exalt ourselves above God, when we exclude Him as irrelevant, we succumb to the dictatorship of radical secularism. And as Pope Francis said, when we exalt ourselves above our neighbor, we fall prey to the cancer of indifference.

Pundits and interested parties too often exaggerate the gravity of today's problems, forgetting or ignoring the fact that our loving God, who created us, redeems us, sanctifies us, and sustains us in existence at every moment, knows all of our problems and their root causes intimately and is ready to help us resolve them if we humbly turn to Him and request His assistance. When asked what's wrong with the world, G.K. Chesterton famously quipped, "I am!" And Saint Pio of Pietrelcina declared that the solution to all the world's problems is personal holiness. The future of the Church, our country, and our world will be brighter if many of us answer the call to daily conversion, thus radiating the light of faith, hope, and love into the darkness of doubt, despair, and hatred.

Copyright © 2020 Justin D. Soutar.

Quote of the Day

"It is the Word of God that is the true star, which, in the uncertainty of human discourses, offers us the immense splendor of the divine truth."

--Benedict XVI, Homily, January 6, 2011

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Reflection for Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

"Mary, because she believed, loved; she is the handmaid of the Lord and the servant of her brothers. Celebrating the memory of Mary is to celebrate that we, like her, are invited to go out and meet others with the same gaze, with the same mercy within, with their same gestures. To contemplate her is to feel the strong invitation to imitate her faith. Her presence leads us to reconciliation, giving us the strength to create bonds in our blessed Latin American land, saying “yes” to life and “no” to all kinds of indifference, exclusion, or the rejection of peoples and persons. Let us not be afraid to go out and look upon others with the same gaze. A gaze that makes us brothers. We do so because, like Juan Diego, we know that here is our mother, we know that we are under her shadow and her protection, which is the source of our joy, and that we are in the cross of her arms."

--Pope Francis, Homily, December 12, 2016

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Quote of the Day

"To evangelize the poor: This is the mission of Jesus, according to what He Himself says; this is also the mission of the Church, and of every person baptized in the Church. To be Christian and to be a missionary is the same thing. To proclaim the Gospel, with words, and, even before that, with one’s life, is the principle end of the Christian community and of each of its members."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, January 24, 2016

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Reflection for the Exaltation of the Holy Cross

"What do we see, then, when we turn our gaze towards the Cross where Jesus was nailed? We contemplate the sign of the infinite love of God for each and every one of us and the roots of our salvation. From that Cross flows the mercy of the Father who embraces the whole world. Through the cross of Christ, evil is overcome, death is defeated, life is given to us, hope is restored. The Cross of Jesus is our only true hope! This is important! Through the Cross of Christ hope is restored! That is why the Church “exalts” the holy Cross, and that is why we Christians bless ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. That is we do not exalt a cross, but the Glorious Cross of Jesus, a sign of the immense love of God, sign of our salvation, and the path towards the resurrection. And this is our hope."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, September 14, 2014

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Quote of the Day

"I feel the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a direct war, a direct killing - direct murder by the mother herself. And we read in the Scripture, for God says very clearly: Even if a mother could forget her child - I will not forget you - I have carved you in the palm of my hand. We are carved in the palm of His hand, so close to Him that unborn child has been carved in the hand of God. And that is what strikes me most, the beginning of that sentence, that even if a mother could forget something impossible - but even if she could forget - I will not forget you. And today the greatest means - the greatest destroyer of peace is abortion. And we who are standing here - our parents wanted us. We would not be here if our parents would do that to us.”

--Saint Teresa of Calcutta, MC (Mother Teresa), Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, December 11, 1979

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Quote of the Day

Coronation of the Virgin, Diego Velasquez
"From above, from where Christ reigns, the Mother of the Church accompanies the journey of God's people, supporting even the most tiring steps, comforting those who are undergoing trials and keeping open the horizon of hope."

--Pope Francis, General Audience, August 20, 2014

Friday, August 16, 2019

Quote of the Day

"Our day is rather harsh and unforgiving toward human frailty, an attitude that, sadly, characterizes the manner in which many Catholics relate to one another. Yet God is rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4) and no one can survive without divine forgiveness (Psalm 130:3). From the frequent cry for mercy in the Divine Liturgy we learn the foundation of true human solidarity: since all are in need of God's tender compassion, we must be merciful toward one another."

--Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, August 22, 2013

Friday, August 2, 2019

A Brief But Grace-filled Retreat

Last week I was blessed with the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, Alabama and the world headquarters of EWTN in Irondale (Birmingham), Alabama, established by Mother Angelica in 1999 and 1981, respectively, for the first time in thirteen years. I had visited both places several times with my parents and sister in the mid-2000s when I was in my late teens and twenty years of age, a rather difficult period in my life when I was struggling with physical and mental health issues, trying to discern my vocation in life, somewhat lacking in maturity and also, unfortunately, growing spiritually lukewarm. Now in much better health, looking forward to marriage, more mature and serious about my faith, I saw both places with new eyes and enjoyed my solo visit immensely.

I was concerned that visiting Alabama in July might not be a good idea due to hot humid weather and the possibility of tornadoes, but as it turned out, the weather was both peaceful and not too hot. I drove through several light and heavy rain showers in southwest Virginia and eastern Tennessee on my way down there on Monday, July 22, arriving at my motel in Hanceville to partly cloudy conditions. When I went to visit the Shrine Tuesday morning the 23rd, the sky was overcast and it looked like rain, but no rain fell, and in the afternoon the clouds broke up and the high temperature was only 85 degrees. The Main Church of the Shrine with its marble, stained glass and gold leaf Gothic interior was just as magnificent as I remembered, and I spent several hours that morning and afternoon praying to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, Who is perpetually enthroned in the massive golden monstrance, and drinking in the majestic splendor of this great Temple. The periodic and rhythmic chanting of the invisible Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration contributed to the prayerful atmosphere. Out of respect for the Blessed Sacrament and praying pilgrims, no photography is allowed inside the church, so I made sure to buy some postcards of the interior in the nearby Gift Shop of El Nino. I also briefly descended into the crypt church and saw Mother Angelica's grave in the burial vault.

I had previously decided to check out the Saint John Paul II Eucharistic Center, a new addition to the Shrine complex that did not exist when I last visited. So I joined the 10:30 AM tour and was stunned by the quality and scope of the numerous video and audio exhibits and tutorials on the biblical, theological, doctrinal and historical foundation of the Mass and the Holy Eucharist as well as on Eucharistic miracles and martyrs. All in all, I found this Center to be an incomparable treasure trove of information on the Holy Eucharist.

In the afternoon, I explored the beautifully landscaped grounds surrounding the Shrine, including the Lourdes Grotto, a replica of the famous French pilgrimage site that features an actual piece of rock from the real shrine. I also walked a short outdoor path featuring Stations of the Holy Eucharist, a series of reflections on twelve biblical and historical events that shed light on this great mystery of our Faith such as Melchizedek's offering of bread and wine, the Passover lamb, the manna in the desert, the wedding at Cana, the multiplication of loaves, the Last Supper, and the road to Emmaus.

Early on a sunny Wednesday morning, July 24, I took part in a beautiful, reverent, unhurried, and traditional ad orientem conventual Mass in the Shrine main church celebrated by Father Barry Braum, a young priest who preached in a simple, direct and attractive style on the day's Gospel reading of the parable of the sower, applying Christ's teaching to our own lives. The seventy or so people present in the nave participated devoutly and attentively in the Mass. The hymns and ritual music were chanted a cappella by the nuns, and the organ meditation music during Holy Communion was both majestic and comforting. Like the other worshipers, I received Communion at the altar rail. Surrounded by so much beauty in architecture and music and the presence of God Himself, I felt like I was in Heaven. That's what the Mass is, after all: a participation in the liturgy of Heaven. The magnificence of the Shrine, and the calm solemnity of the sacred liturgy that takes place within it, powerfully remind the worshiper of that fact. At the end of Mass, the huge decorative wall blocking the monstrance from view slid back down into its vault behind the tabernacle, revealing the Blessed Sacrament once more. The sun had now risen far enough that the eastern Holy Spirit rose window appeared to be completely on fire. I finished my thanksgiving and then reluctantly took my leave of this beautiful church.

Taking a short drive south on I-65, I arrived at EWTN headquarters around noon and found a parking space around back near the satellite dishes. I strolled around the shady grounds and took some pictures of the chapel, the grotto, the Stations of the Cross, and the very tall pine trees; then I returned to my car which was parked in full sun, opened the windows, put the sunshade across the windshield, and had some lunch (it was 89 degrees). After that, I briefly visited the chapel of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word where, as in the Shrine at Hanceville, the Blessed Sacrament is perpetually on display. Built in the early 1960s, this architecturally modern chapel with its distinctive curving roof design, large glass area and vivid red carpet is much smaller than it looks on TV. Exiting the chapel, I said hello to Father Mark, who courteously showed me the way to the gift shop. I joined about twenty-five other people for a guided tour of the network at 2:45 PM and saw the various offices and control rooms up close, including Mother Angelica's former office adjoining the studio where she experienced a miraculous healing of her back and leg injuries through the prayers of an Italian mystic in 1998.

That evening, I was in the studio audience with most of the people from the tour for the flagship TV show EWTN Live with Father Mitch Pacwa. Twenty minutes before showtime, he came striding into the studio in his trademark cowboy hat and boots and made sure we turned off our cell phones. That evening's guests were two doctors, the president and president emeritus of the Catholic Medical Association, and they had an important discussion about the depersonalization of modern medicine, radical secularists' attack on human life, and how these factors are affecting doctors who want to adhere to natural law and traditional moral values in their practice. Following the show, the two doctors chatted informally with us in the audience, and then Fr. Pacwa entertained us with stories and photos of his latest big-game hunting adventures.

I had planned to conclude my visit to EWTN by attending 7 AM Mass in the chapel on Thursday, July 25, the Feast of Saint James the Apostle. I woke early, showered and headed for the chapel shortly after 6:30 AM, but the roads from my motel to the network were confusing and I got lost. I finally arrived right at 7 as the Entrance Chant was being sung and the chapel was already filled to capacity, so I had to sit in the nearby overflow chapel and participate in the Mass through the live TV feed. But I was thrilled just to be there; the organ and choir music were heavenly, and Father Pacwa's excellent homily focused on the Christian meaning and value of suffering. After Mass was over, I spent a few minutes praying in the main chapel and then returned to the motel to prepare for the long drive back to western Virginia. I was pretty tired when I got home that Thursday evening, but I was filled with the joy and peace that come from being loved by God and striving to love Him and others.

My four-day trip to Alabama was the brief but grace-filled retreat I sorely needed. I returned home mentally refreshed and renewed and spiritually confirmed and strengthened in my lifelong Catholic faith. My current single life as a church music minister and small farmer with a chronically ill mother to care for is a busy one filled with the pressure of many commitments, and it's easy to become too focused on getting things done while losing sight of the bigger picture. Through this unforgettable retreat experience, I realized that I had become too hard on myself in certain ways; I needed to be reminded how much God loved me, and that I need to stay close to Him and allow Him to act in and through me. I'm very thankful to the Lord for granting me this experience and to His Holy Mother and all the Angels and Saints for obtaining it for me, and I can't wait to visit the Shrine and EWTN again!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Quote of the Day

“We can obtain no reward without merit, and no merit without patience.”

--Saint Alphonsus Liguori

Monday, May 27, 2019

Quote of the Day

"We go to great lengths to recover fallen comrades, we honor them in the most precise and exacting ceremonies, we set aside national holidays to remember and celebrate them. We do these things for them, of course, but also for us, the living. Their stories of heroism, of sacrifice, and of patriotism remind us of what is best in ourselves, and they teach our children what is best in America."

--U.S. Senator Tom Cotton, April 9, 2019

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Reflection for the Octave of Easter

"Often what blocks hope is the stone of discouragement. Once we start thinking that everything is going badly and that things can’t get worse, we lose heart and come to believe that death is stronger than life. We become cynical, negative and despondent. Stone upon stone, we build within ourselves a monument to our own dissatisfaction: the sepulcher of hope. Life becomes a succession of complaints and we grow sick in spirit. A kind of tomb psychology takes over: everything ends there, with no hope of emerging alive. But at that moment, we hear once more the insistent question of Easter: Why do you seek the living among the dead? The Lord is not to be found in resignation. He is risen; he is not there. Don’t seek him where you will never find him: he is not the God of the dead but of the living (cf. Mk. 22:32). Do not bury hope!"

--Pope Francis, Homily at Easter Vigil, April 20, 2019

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Quote of the Day

"In a world pervaded by individualism, it is essential to rediscover the importance of fraternal correction, so that together we may journey towards holiness. Scripture tells us that even 'the upright falls seven times' (Prov 24:16); all of us are weak and imperfect (cf. 1 Jn 1:8). It is a great service, then, to help others and allow them to help us, so that we can be open to the whole truth about ourselves, improve our lives and walk more uprightly in the Lord's ways. There will always be a need for a gaze which loves and admonishes, which knows and understands, which discerns and forgives (cf. Lk 22:61), as God has done and continues to do with each of us."

--Benedict XVI, Lenten Message, February 7, 2012