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

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quote of the Day

"Easter is the feast of the new creation. Jesus is risen and dies no more. He has opened the door to a new life, one that no longer knows illness and death. He has taken mankind up into God himself."

--Benedict XVI

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Quote of the Day

"'The stone rejected by the builders has become the cornerstone' (Psalm 117:22). In the light of Christ's Resurrection, how wonderfully we see in all its fullness the truth of which the Psalmist sings! Condemned to a shameful death, the Son of Man, crucified and risen, has become the cornerstone of the Church's life and of the life of every Christian."

--St. John Paul II

Friday, April 1, 2016

Reflection on the Resurrection of Our Lord

Women at the Empty Tomb, Fra Angelico (ca. 1440)
"Life conquered death. Mercy and love conquered sin! Faith and hope are necessary to open oneself to this new and wonderful horizon. And we know that faith and hope are gifts of God, and we must ask for them: “Lord, give me faith, give me hope! We are in such need of them!” We let ourselves be pervaded by the emotions that resound in the Easter sequence: “Yes, we are certain of it: Christ is truly risen.” The Lord has risen in our midst! This truth marked indelibly the life of the Apostles that, after the Resurrection, realized again the need to follow their Master and, having received the Holy Spirit, went without fear to proclaim to all what they had seen with their eyes and experienced personally.

"In this Jubilee Year, we are called to rediscover and to receive, with particular intensity, the comforting proclamation of the Resurrection: “Christ, my hope, is risen!” If Christ is resurrected, we can look with new eyes and a new heart at every event of our life, including the most negative. The moments of darkness, of failure and also of sin can be transformed and proclaim a new way. When we have touched the depth of our misery and weakness, the risen Christ gives us the strength to rise again. If we entrust ourselves to Him, His grace saves us! The crucified and risen Lord is the full revelation of mercy, present and operating in history. See the Easter message that resounds again today and will resound for all of Eastertide until Pentecost."

--Pope Francis

Friday, March 25, 2016

Quote of the Day

"God truly offers Himself wholly for each one of us and does not spare Himself in anything. The Mystery we adore in this Holy Week is a great story of love that knows no obstacles. Jesus’ Passion lasts until the end of the world, because it is a story of sharing with the sufferings of the whole of humanity and a permanent presence in the events of the personal life of each one of us. In sum, the Easter Triduum is the memorial of a drama of love that gives us the certainty that we will never be abandoned in life’s trials."

--Pope Francis

Friday, March 18, 2016

Quote of the Day

"God uses his power differently from the way human rulers use power. His power is that of sharing in love and in suffering, and the true face of God is shown, indeed, in suffering. In suffering, God bears and shares the burden of the injustice of the world, so that in our very darkest hours, we may be sure that God is then closest to us."

--Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), God and the World (Ignatius Press, 2002), pp. 338-339

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Three Years of Mercy

On Sunday, March 13, we celebrated the third anniversary of the election of Pope Francis. I can still vividly remember that Wednesday afternoon three years ago when I was glued to the television set, watching the live EWTN broadcast of the second day of the conclave, when white smoke suddenly began pouring from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. It was a cold, rainy evening in Rome. After a brief time of expectant waiting and wondering, it was announced that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio had been elected the 265th Successor of Saint Peter and had taken the name Francis. Unfamiliar with the name, I scrambled upstairs to my computer and checked my list of papabili (likely papal candidates) in an article I had just published speculating on who the successor to Benedict XVI might be. I found Cardinal Bergoglio at number 20 on my list of thirty-three papal candidates. I quickly revisited my source article on Wikipedia and found that he was from Argentina. That was interesting to me because I had a wonderful Catholic pastor who was from Argentina when I was a boy at my small-town parish in California. I had included Bergoglio a ways down the list because I felt he was a longshot candidate due to his age and his inability to speak English. When the newly elected pontiff finally appeared on the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, I was initially unsure whether I would like him or not as he seemed a bit reserved, but I was soon won over by his profound humility, simplicity, prayerfulness, charity, and joyfulness. Paying closer attention to videos of the first public appearances of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, I have since come to realize that every modern pope is a bit nervous when he is first elected because he realizes the enormous responsibility of that office to which he has been elected by his brother cardinals and which he has accepted for the sake of his fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.

We are currently observing the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis. Yet in a certain sense, the past three years of Francis' pontificate have been years of mercy for the whole Church and for the world. God has given us a special pope to reform and cleanse the Church by challenging each one of us--from the highest-ranking cardinal to the lowest layperson--to examine our lives, identify patterns of worldly and sinful thought and behavior that are not in conformity with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and undertake a lifelong journey of daily personal conversion. Through his simple and direct preaching and the simplicity of his own lifestyle, Francis has been effectively training us to reject the materialistic and elitist attitudes so prevalent in our age and to follow Christ faithfully in our everyday lives. He has reminded us of the need to be good stewards and protectors of all the gifts that God has given us, from the innocent unborn child in the womb to our beautiful planet Earth. He has brought renewed vigor to the Church's missionary mandate by urging her members to go out and meet people where they are instead of waiting for people to come to her. And his vision of the Church as a field hospital after battle, with his emphasis on Divine Mercy and the importance of works of charity, is appropriate and welcome at this particular moment in history when so many people are hurt in various ways and desperately in need of the touch of Christ's healing love and compassion.

Given that Pope Francis is such a blessing to our Church today, it is painful to see him being often so profoundly misunderstood, both by the secular international news media and by many well-intentioned "conservative" Catholics. Worldly journalists frequently view and portray Francis in their own image as some kind of radical, revolutionary pontiff who is open to changing certain Church teachings in the name of mercy and compassion toward those in sinful situations, while many faithful and fearful Catholics, including certain cardinals--misled by that inaccurate portrayal--apprehensively view him the same way, as a disastrously "liberal" pontiff who's ready and willing to attempt to share Christ's mercy with unrepentant sinners at the price of apostasy from the objective truths of the Faith. Nothing could be further from the truth. Francis' pontificate has not been a radical departure from that of his predecessors; on the contrary, as those close to Francis always emphasize, it has been an exercise in continuity with the other recent popes on all essential matters of doctrine and discipline.

This becomes abundantly clear when you start to read his writings: quotes from Benedict XVI, John Paul II, Paul VI, and John XXIII are to be found all over the place. And when you listen to his Angelus addresses and homilies and then compare them with those of our previous great popes, you find the very same themes being repeatedly echoed and explored: God's infinite love for each one of us, the universe as His creation, our role as stewards of creation, the dignity of each human life, salvation through Christ alone, freedom and personal responsibility, marriage and family life according to God's plan, justice and human rights, the existence of Satan and the fallen angels, sin and grace, conversion and Divine Mercy, the joy of being Christian, the redemptive value of suffering, authentic liturgical renewal in line with Vatican II, ecumenism and Christian unity, the principle of subsidiarity, the proper role of the free market in wealth and job creation, government as service to the common good, and so on and so forth. And thanks to his Jesuit training, Francis is a highly competent and accessible teacher.

Just like his predecessors, Francis takes Catholic doctrine seriously, and his pastoral outreach is in no way opposed to that doctrine but simply flows out of it naturally. With the arrival of Pope Francis on the scene of the Church, there has been no change of substance or essentials, only a change of style and emphasis. But that very change of style is often mistaken for a change of substance. Hence the calls from certain well-meaning Catholic critics for Pope Francis to clearly reiterate and clarify Church teaching on sexual morality, marriage and family life and to refrain from changing the teachings on those subjects. If the critics would take the time to read some of Francis' writings, addresses and homilies, notably his opening address at the recent Synod on the Family, they would find that he has already done this. And as for changing Church doctrine on marriage and family life, the critics seem to have forgotten that Pope Francis couldn't change any doctrine even if he wanted to, because the Holy Spirit protects the Church, and in a special way the pope, from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. And despite the vain hopes of some and the solemn warnings of others, Francis himself has no intention of altering any part of Catholic doctrine.

None of this is to say that Pope Francis has not made any mistakes in non-essential matters or that there is no room for legitimate and respectful criticism of his decisions and actions in certain areas that lie outside his proper competence. For example, I think that his acceptance of the human-induced global-warming hypothesis will end up damaging the Church somewhat in the long run given that NASA satellite data actually indicate a general decline in average global temperatures over the past eighteen years despite continued accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth's atmosphere, and that cooler temperatures are likely to persist through the next three decades thanks to reduced solar activity. No pope is infallible on scientific matters because science is a search for truth--often clouded by human bias and tainted by corruption--not the truth itself. But even if Francis turns out to have been wrong on global temperatures, this should not obscure the central message of his important and wide-ranging encyclical Laudato Si or the many aspects of Catholic social teaching and care for God's creation clearly reiterated for our time within that landmark teaching document. And we should remember that no human Vicar of Christ, not even a saint or a genius, is perfect, or ever will be. Pope Francis himself is keenly aware of his ability to sin and make mistakes, which is why he goes to confession frequently and is always asking us to pray for him.

Francis' pontificate offers us an important lesson: We should read the pope's actual writings and listen to his addresses and homilies for ourselves if we want to know what he thinks and to understand what he does, rather than relying on hearsay evidence from the radically secularist (and notoriously unreliable) mainstream media, which has its own agenda diametrically opposed to that of the Church. To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, it is Francis who is sane and his critics who are mad. We Catholics are truly blessed to have such a Christ-like pope, the latest in a remarkable chain of holy popes stretching back at least to Pius XII. And may we use this Year of Mercy profitably to repent of our sins and to share the Divine Mercy we have received with our brothers and sisters through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, following the lead of our wise and courageous Holy Father, Pope Francis.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Something to Celebrate

Interior of baptistery at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran in Rome.
(Photo by Dnalor_01. Source. Wikimedia Commons. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0.)

Today I am blessed to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of my baptism. Receiving this sacrament as an infant, I became a member of the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church which was founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ some two thousand years ago for the salvation of the world. Through this sacrament, I also received the gifts of the Holy Spirit along with the responsibility to be a faithful witness to Christ in my daily life. Pope Francis has rightly reminded us in recent years that each of us should know and celebrate the anniversary of our baptism. In fact, our spiritual rebirth in Christ is a far more significant occasion than our physical birth into this world, because our physical birth merely ushered us into a temporary existence on this planet, whereas our second birth of water and the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3) washed our souls clean of the inherited curse of original sin and brought us the priceless gift of the Triune God's own life within us through sanctifying grace, which is the beginning and the foretaste of eternal life with God in heaven, the ultimate goal of our existence.

About a year and a half ago, I discovered a beautiful book written by Pope Saint John Paul II entitled Rise, Let Us Be on our Way, in which he discusses the character and responsibilities of the episcopal office in light of his own experiences as a bishop in Communist Poland. One of the things that really stuck with me from reading this book was John Paul's intense awareness of the awe-inspiring gift and responsibility of being a member of the one true Church whose history, culture, and tradition can be traced back nearly 2,000 years to Christ Himself. As auxiliary bishop and then archbishop of Krakow from 1958 to 1978, John Paul was acutely conscious of the fact that he was merely the latest link in an unbroken chain of apostolic succession stretching across some twenty centuries, including nine centuries in his native country, and he strove with all his being to preserve and hand on to his flock the rich faith tradition he had inherited, to carry the torch of the light of Christ undimmed from his predecessor to his successor.

Although not a bishop myself, as a baptized layman I am nonetheless a member of Christ's Mystical Body and a tiny part of the immensely rich and glorious heritage of the universal Church, with its great Eastern and Western theological and philosophical traditions, its sound doctrinal and moral teachings, its vibrant liturgical, sacramental, and prayer life, its trustworthy magisterial authority residing in the Pope and bishops, its thousands of known (and millions of unknown) heroic saints and martyrs,  its diversity of religious orders, lay associations, and approved private revelations, its impressive collection of scientifically verified miracles, its colorful and often stormy history, and its unparalleled record of accomplishment in the fields of art, architecture, music, literature, education, healthcare, science, and politics.

One of the greatest joys of my life is to constantly be deepening my knowledge of, and appreciation for, my Catholic religion and the incomparable treasures God has bestowed on the world through His Church. What a blessing to know the fullness of divinely revealed truth and to inherit so many good things. Becoming Catholic--and being Catholic--is indeed something to celebrate, not just once a year, but every day of our lives!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Quote of the Day

"In this stretch of Lent that still separates us from Easter, we are called to intensify the inner journey of conversion. Let us reach the loving gaze of our Father and return to Him with all our hearts, rejecting any compromise with sin."

--Pope Francis

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Quote of the Day

“We believe firmly that the way of the Cross is necessary in order to reach the glory of the Resurrection. Nonetheless, even the Lord Himself had comforters and helpers on His way to Golgotha—Simeon of Cyrene helped Him to carry the Cross, St. Veronica wiped His face with the sudarium. His most holy Mother and the Apostle John stood beneath the Cross as He stretched out His arms in death. Thus we too may likewise count on the consolation and support of our brothers and sisters, and so we ask you to continue to stay close to us."

--Melkite Patriarch Gregorios III Laham

Friday, January 29, 2016

Quote of the Day

“God does not remain silent before the suffering and cries of His children, nor does He remain silent before injustice and persecution: He rather intervenes and gives, by His mercy, rescue and salvation. God uses patience with the sinner to induce him to conversion, and he searches for the lost sheep, for ‘[God] will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth' (1 Tim 2:4).”

--Pope Francis