Sunday, March 19, 2017

Reflection for the Third Sunday of Lent


"The Lord promises the Samaritan woman water that becomes in the one who drinks it a source springing up into eternal life (cf. Jn. 4:14), so that whoever drinks it will never be thirsty again. In this scene, the symbolism of the well is associated with Israel's salvation history. Earlier, at the calling of Nathanael, Jesus had already revealed himself as the new and greater Jacob. In a nocturnal vision Jacob had seen the angels of God ascending and descending above the stone he was using for a pillow. Jesus prophesies to Nathanael that his disciples will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending above him (cf. Jn. 1:51). Here, at Jacob's well, we encounter Jacob as the great patriarch who by means of this well had provided water, the basic element of life. But there is a greater thirst in man--it extends beyond the water from the well, because it seeks a life that reaches out beyond the biological sphere...

"John distinguishes between bios and zoe--between biological life (bios) and the fullness of life (zoe) that is itself a source and so is not subject to the dying and becoming that mark the whole of creation. In the conversation with the Samaritan woman, then, water once again--though now in a different way--functions as the symbol of the Pneuma, the real life-force, which quenches man's deeper thirst and gives him plenitude of life, for which he is waiting without knowing it."

--Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth--Part One: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration (New York: Doubleday, 2007), pp. 240-241

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Quote of the Day

"Cleanse your vessel that you may receive grace more abundantly; for although the remission of sins is given to all equally, the communion of the Holy Spirit is bestowed in proportion to the faith of each. If you have labored little, you will receive little; but if your labor has been great, great will be your reward."

--Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, 1, 5

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Quote of the Day

 
"If the Lord finds in our hearts a faith, I do not say perfect, but sincere, genuine, then He also sees in us the living stones with which he can build his community. Of this community, the fundamental rock is Christ, the only cornerstone. On his part, Peter is a rock, as a visible foundation of the unity of the Church; but each baptized person is called to offer to Jesus their own faith, poor but sincere, so that He can continue to build his Church, today, in every part of the world."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, August 24, 2014

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Christmas Reflection

 
"God has not abandoned His people and did not let Himself be defeated by evil, because He is faithful, and his grace is greater than sin. We must learn this, because we are obstinate and do not learn it. But I will ask a question: what is greater, God or sin? God! And who wins at the end, God or sin? God. He is able to overcome the greatest sin, the most shameful, the most terrible, the worst of sins. With what weapon does God overcome sin? With love! This means that “God reigns”; these are the words of faith in a Lord whose power bends over humanity, abases Himself, to offer mercy and liberate man from what disfigures in him the beautiful image of God, because when we are in sin, God’s image is disfigured. And the fulfilment of so much love will be in fact the Kingdom established by Jesus, that Kingdom of forgiveness and peace that we celebrate at Christmas and that is realized definitively at Easter. And the most beautiful joy of Christmas is this interior joy of peace: the Lord has cancelled my sins, the Lord has forgiven me, the Lord has had mercy on me, He came to save me. This is the joy of Christmas!"

--Pope Francis, General Audience, December 14, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quote of the Day

"With eyes set on Christmas, which is approaching, the Church invites us to give witness that Jesus is not a figure from the past. He is the word of God who today continues illuminating the path of man. His actions, the sacraments, are the manifestations of the tenderness, of the consolation, of the love of the Father for each human being. The Virgin Mary, 'cause of our joy' always brings us back to joy in the Lord, who comes to free us from so many interior and exterior slaveries."

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

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Mid-Life Crisis Averted

Regrettably, due to my father's illness and passing, my family and farm responsibilities, and my new job as music director at a local parish, I haven't had much opportunity for serious article writing or blogging this year. I've been mentally drafting several articles and blog posts while being forced to postpone typing them up and publishing them. That just goes to show that other activities in my life have taken center stage lately, pushing my beloved career as a freelance author to the periphery.

However, I don't intend to abandon freelance writing altogether, so long as I have any free time left. There's a basic rule of life that you make the time for what's important to you; conversely, this means that how you use your time reflects your values and philosophy of life. I have my own business as a writer, not just because I enjoy it, not just because it enables me to think through important issues and form sound convictions on them and share those convictions with others, not just because I get a little income from it every now and then; above all, I write because God has entrusted to me the talent of being an author, so I must use that talent responsibly for His greater glory and the good of my fellow men and women.

Twenty sixteen has been a difficult but decisive year of my life, during which God has allowed me to "encounter various trials" (James 1:2) in order to strengthen me in certain ways, while also clearly showing me the path He wills me to take. During the last several years, while I was pretty secure as far as who I was, I was also going through a typical mid-life crisis. Although I enjoyed (and was kept plenty busy) writing and publishing articles and music, working as a handyman for my good Catholic landlord in the great outdoors, and singing in the choir at my parish, I nonetheless felt keenly that something was missing. The main issue was that I knew I wasn't making full use of the musical talents God has given me. Additionally, I was unsure whether music or writing should be my main focus as far as a lifelong career, and hesitant to choose one over the other since I was passionate about both--and if I should do both, how would I successfully combine the two?

Thankfully, our loving and providential God resolved my dilemma by presenting me late this summer with the wonderful opportunity to serve Him as the full-time music director at the sole Catholic church here in my home county. Although it was emotionally difficult for me to cease regularly attending Sunday Mass at my beloved registered parish in the next county, I knew deep down that it was God's will for me to seize this opportunity--and I'm sure glad I did. Not only do I play piano and/or organ at three Masses every weekend, I also get to write a short weekly column for the parish bulletin as well as a longer quarterly article for the parish newsletter. So while music has emerged as my primary career focus, with writing now being secondary, I get to use both my talents and pursue both my passions within the same ministry--all under the watchful and loving gaze of Jesus Christ Himself physically present in the tabernacle just a few steps away from my office. God is so good!

I hope to write something soon--late this year or early next--about the 2016 presidential election and our country's future under the new administration. Articles on other topics coming as well. Keep me in your prayers and stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Quote of the Day

“The soul of one who serves God always swims in joy, always keeps holiday, and is always in a mood for singing.”

--Saint John of the Cross

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