Monday, December 28, 2020

Christmas Reflection

"Christmas invites us to reflect, on the one hand, on the drama of history, in which men and women, wounded by sin, ceaselessly search for truth, the search for mercy, and the search for redemption; and, on the other hand, on the goodness of God, who has come towards us to communicate to us the Truth that saves and to make us sharers in His friendship and His life. And this gift of life: this is pure grace, not by any merit of our own. There is a Holy Father who says: 'But look there, over there, there: seek your merit and you will find nothing other than grace.' Everything is grace, a gift of grace. And this gift of grace, we receive it through the simplicity and humanity of Christmas, and it can remove from our hearts and minds the pessimism that has spread even more nowadays as a result of the pandemic. We can overcome that sense of disquieting bewilderment, not letting ourselves be overwhelmed by defeats and failures, in the rediscovered awareness that that humble and poor Child, hidden  away and helpless, is God Himself, made man for us."

--Pope Francis, General Audience, December 23, 2020

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Quote of the Day

"We are not living in broad daylight, but awaiting the dawn, amid darkness and weariness. The light of day will come when we shall be with the Lord. Let us not lose heart: the light of day will come, the shadows of night will be dispelled, and the Lord, who died for us on the cross, will arise to be our judge. Being watchful in expectation of his coming means not letting ourselves be overcome by discouragement. It is to live in hope."

--Pope Francis, Homily, November 29, 2020

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Reflection for Thanksgiving Day

"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor.... I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficient author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country... and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.”

--George Washington, Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3, 1789

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Quote of the Day

"To say that an issue [abortion] is 'preeminent' does not mean that it is the only issue, but that it surpasses all others in importance. It is preeminent in that it is the basic human right on which all other rights depend. After all, if a baby is killed before birth, that person will never be able to exercise any other human rights." 
--Bishop Thomas John Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, September 20, 2020

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Quote of the Day

"When our forefathers knelt and prayed for wisdom at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, then stood up and together assembled a seventeen-page document known as the Constitution of the United States of America, they were clearly guided by the hand of God. Today the forces of political correctness would expel God from every public sphere in American life, and the hearts and minds of every man, woman and child in America are up for grabs in this cataclysmic battle between the lovers of men and the lovers of God. Some would rather never choose between the two, but life is full of choices, and our individual and collective choices determine the quality of our existence."

--Dr. Benjamin S. Carson, America the Beautiful (Zondervan, 2012), p. 194

Monday, September 7, 2020

Reflection for Labor Day

Earth as seen from Apollo 17
"In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles. The crisis, in a sense, has given us a chance to develop new ways of living. Already we can see how the earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared. The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads. We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life-giving. We must examine our habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation, and diet. We must eliminate the superfluous and destructive aspects of our economies, and nurture life-giving ways to trade, produce, and transport goods."

--Pope Francis, Message, World Day of Prayer for Care of Creation, Sept. 1, 2020

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Quote of the Day

"To fear God is never to pass over any good thing that ought to be done."

--Saint Gregory the Great, Commentary on Job, Volume I, Book I, no. 3

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

America v. China: Defending our Freedom in the Twenty-First Century

by Justin Soutar

As another Independence Day has come and gone, and as a sharply divided America marches inexorably onward to her two hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 2026, I find myself reflecting on what has happened to our beloved country due to the coronavirus epidemic of the last several months. Specifically to date, the virus has infected millions of Americans, killing more than 100,000 of these; has spawned a climate of public anxiety, fear, and isolation, in turn leading to increased mental illness and various forms of abuse; has shut down millions of businesses deemed “non-essential”; has sparked unprecedented growth in the medical services and sanitation industries; has provoked authoritarian public safety measures unilaterally imposed by national and state government on individuals, voluntary associations, schools, churches, and businesses; has unrelentingly dominated mainstream media coverage; has precipitated a major economic recession resulting in double-digit unemployment and temporary shortages of essential goods; and has led to the most expensive economic stimulus law ever enacted, generating a massive increase in our already gargantuan national debt.

Taken together, the COVID-19 emergency and the broad scope of the official response from government, health care, business, the media and entertainment industry, schools, and churches has dramatically and profoundly altered the landscape of American society overnight. The individual aspects of this response to our national public health crisis—which itself has been just one small part of a worldwide health emergency—have tended to be interlocking and mutually reinforcing, forming a remarkably effective matrix of national defense against a dangerous invisible enemy. Indeed, the nationwide figures for infection and death from the coronavirus to date fall far short of the apocalyptic predictions from certain medical sources early this year.

Understandably frightened by the threat of a rapidly spreading virus that they were told had no cure, the great majority of American citizens unquestioningly accepted the litany of stringent government restrictions on their public and private lives, from social distancing and bans on gatherings to closure of schools and businesses and stay at home orders, as necessary to protect the common good in this particular situation. They were entirely willing to sacrifice certain liberties to which they were accustomed for the sake of safety and survival, and they generally trusted that government was acting in their best interests.

There is no question that strict national and state laws based on expert recommendations from the CDC and NIH have greatly limited the spread of the virus and reduced its death toll. But did the gravity and risks of the threat actually require such a sweeping, dictatorial response? Should the recommendations of a sprawling and inefficient federal bureaucracy automatically become the law of the land without discussion and consideration by the people and their congressional representatives? Did slowing the spread of the virus and reducing infections and deaths really warrant this massive government intrusion into our daily lives, infringing on our God-given and constitutionally protected rights to freedom of religion and assembly and speech and movement and commerce? Did the American public and church leaders act prudently by quietly accepting and obeying such laws? Did the public health crisis justify the nearly wholesale government shutdown of the economy and the lasting consequences that ensued, or a stimulus package that adds trillions of dollars to a crushing national debt already in excess of $20 trillion? Can select provisions of our Constitution and some semblance of fiscal responsibility be legitimately set aside in a national emergency?

The key question of how far government can rightly go to protect our national security without encroaching on our cherished civil liberties was extensively debated in the early years of the War on Terrorism. Both security and liberty are essential to the common good and to the survival and prosperity of any nation. It is the responsibility and the challenge of duly elected government both to keep us safe and to protect our freedom in such a way that security and freedom are harmoniously balanced. All of the above yes or no questions can be more or less summed up in this one: Are public safety and national security more important than human freedom and individual liberty? Those who would unhesitatingly answer “Yes” place themselves in direct opposition to our nation’s Founders, who unhesitatingly answered “No” to this same question more than two hundred years by daring to rebel against the tyrannical British Crown. As Patrick Henry famously cried out: “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!” And Benjamin Franklin calmly remarked in the same vein: "Those who would surrender their cherished liberty, for a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty, nor safety." The South Dakota governor's comment that people should have the freedom to get sick and die may have generated a storm of protest, but it was certainly in keeping with the Founders’ perspective. Such ardent champions of human liberty, limited government, and fiscal restraint would not have approved of the federal and state governments’ wholesale interventions against the coronavirus, complete with record-busting deficit spending to try to revive an economy consigned to limbo by their own heavy-handed policies.

Classically educated, devout Christian, and wise men that they generally were, the Framers were aware that ancient Roman law provided for a temporary dictator in times of war and crisis. They certainly foresaw that our nation would also experience various kinds of crises and emergencies in future decades and centuries. Yet they were also painfully aware from history and their own experience as British colonists of the perennial truth that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Thus the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that they painstakingly crafted to guide our nation do not include any provisions allowing any part of them to be set aside during a national emergency. The purpose of this deliberate omission is clear: Americans’ God-given and unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are to be respected and protected by government at all times, regardless of the circumstances in which the nation finds herself. Individual liberties may not be sacrificed on the altar of national security. Our Constitution and Bill of Rights have no expiration date.

Unfortunately, faced with the coronavirus epidemic, our government has apparently and unilaterally decided that protecting the public health is more important than preserving the individual liberties of the American people. Yet even a casual look at the draconian state and federal response to the pandemic reveals that the sinister agenda of big-government socialism is at work. Unelected federal bureaucrats, Democratic state governors and elected representatives of both parties have all taken advantage of the virus situation to enlarge the size of government far beyond its proper and reasonable bounds, in the process catering to special interest groups that run the political and media show in Washington and state capitols, running roughshod over the Constitution, and abandoning any pretense of fiscal conservatism. For example, the $2 trillion CARES Act, with its chunks of pork-barrel spending for Big Agriculture and the performing arts, is an outrageous travesty of justice because it adds further weight to our already unsustainable national debt burden. And the same governors who have shuttered thrift stores, libraries and movie theaters and severely restricted public gatherings for worship in their states have kept Planned Parenthood abortion mills running full bore and allowed massive public demonstrations in large cities to proceed unhindered. Such blatant hypocrisy is a staple of corrupt and godless socialist government, and it clearly demonstrates that such politicians cannot be trusted to guarantee public safety, let alone individual liberty.

What is even more shameful than this corrupt and unconstitutional government, however, is that we the people of the United States as a whole have quietly tolerated and passively accepted this new level of government tyranny and fiscal recklessness. Sadly, this is just part of an early twenty-first century trend in which we have been gradually relinquishing many of our God-given and constitutionally protected rights, especially our privacy rights, to big government and big business, the two great enemies of the common person. We’ve allowed the federal government to take over our health care through the Affordable Care Act. We’ve allowed the Supreme Court to redefine marriage and sex contrary to natural law. We’ve allowed cell phones and other electronic devices to track our location and movement and send that information to a government database. We’ve allowed websites and browsers to track our Internet habits and preferences. We’ve allowed Microsoft unrestricted access to our private emails in Outlook. We’ve allowed Apple admittance to our digital storage files. We’ve allowed state government to tax our Internet purchases. We’ve allowed eBay and PayPal to track our buying and selling habits and sell and rent that information to third parties. We’ve allowed software vendors to sign us up for unwanted automatic renewal just so we can purchase their software in the first place. We’ve allowed Congress and our President to spend tens of trillions of dollars we don’t have. And now we’ve allowed our leaders to confine us to our homes, shut down our restaurants and businesses and schools and libraries, ban unnecessary travel, forbid us to gather in a church building or anywhere else, and spend trillions more dollars we don’t have.

Apparently, our cherished human rights and fiscal responsibility are not so cherished anymore, because we are too timid and unwilling to fight for them when they are threatened or to hold our government accountable when it tramples on them. Two centuries ago, America was “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” but now it seems to be the land of the chained and the home of the cowed. Like the grumbling Israelites in the desert, we seem to prefer slavery to freedom. If we now truly value safety above liberty, then we certainly deserve to be neither safe nor free.

The great pandemic of 2020 is a moment of reckoning for the American people. Will we timidly continue to allow big government and big business ever-increasing control over all aspects of our daily lives? Or will we courageously stand up and boldly demand that our leaders govern in accordance with the Constitution and fiscal sanity, thus simultaneously ensuring our security, prosperity and freedom? The choice we make will determine not only our future, but the future of the twenty-first century world.

How ironic it is that the coronavirus epidemic originated in Communist China, whose repressive anti-religious government has been trampling on the human rights of its vast people for decades and whose leaders are now positioning the country to replace the United States as the leading world superpower, thus threatening the liberty of billions of people. In a written statement published by ZENIT on April 3, Cardinal Charles Bo, the Archbishop of Yangon, Myanmar and president of the Asian bishops’ conference, publicly and courageously denounced the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party (CCP) government for deliberately allowing the virus to spread throughout the city of Wuhan for three weeks and intimidating, arresting, and imprisoning doctors and journalists who attempted to warn the Chinese public of the threat during that period.

Indeed, it is not only possible, but likely, that the radically secularist CCP regime deliberately orchestrated the release of the virus from their state-controlled lab in Wuhan as a biological weapons experiment on their own people and the rest of humanity. If that is the case, then we have been offered a terrifying glimpse of the brave new world the Chinese Communists are planning to create within the next few decades. If their short-term goals were to sicken millions and kill hundreds of thousands, to spread fear and panic through media propaganda, to close churches and cripple voluntary associations, to restrict freedom of movement and association, to isolate and confine hundreds of millions, to promote government takeover of public and private life, and to damage thriving free-market economies, they could hardly have done a better job in all of those areas. With one tiny virus, the CCP has powerfully influenced the entire world, including its ideological arch-enemy, the United States.

The COVID-19 plague--which is actually among the smaller and less devastating epidemics of ancient and modern history--should sound the alarm to freedom-loving people everywhere that the once sleeping giant of Communist China is now awake, aggressive, and dangerous. Politically, economically, technologically, militarily and in many other ways, China has been gearing up for many years now to take over the world by the middle of this century. Given the glaring distinction between America’s traditional Judeo-Christian values and the atheistic ideology of Communism, this will have profoundly negative consequences for the entire human family, as tyranny will replace freedom around the globe.

If we do not wish this grim future to become a reality, then we must immediately take concrete steps to strengthen our own country and develop a comprehensive long-term foreign policy plan so that we can effectively fight, and win, a lengthy "Cold War" with the Chinese Communists, just as we did with the Russian Communists in the last century. To begin with, we should fiscally discipline ourselves by balancing the federal budget within four years and cutting our 14-figure national debt in half by 2030. This all-out effort will require unity, education, wisdom, determination, courage, and perseverance in order to be successful. The United States versus China will be the signature foreign policy battle of the twenty-first century. If we the people of the United States will recover the Founders’ zeal for liberty, return wholeheartedly to our Judeo-Christian founding principles and to the Constitution based on them, and place our trust in God, then we will not only enjoy the twin blessings of liberty and security in harmonious coexistence for ourselves and our children, but the rest of the world will be a more free and secure place for our brothers and sisters in the human family.

Copyright © 2020 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Quote of the Day

"The historical truth is that [Father Junipero] Serra repeatedly pressed the Spanish authorities for better treatment of the Native American communities. Serra was not simply a man of his times. In working with Native Americans, he was a man ahead of his times who made great sacrifices to defend and serve the indigenous population and work against an oppression that extends far beyond the mission era. And if that is not enough to legitimate a public statue in the state that he did so much to create, then virtually every historical figure from our nation’s past will have to be removed for their failings measured in the light of today’s standards.”

--California Catholic Conference of Bishops, June 22, 2020

Monday, June 29, 2020

Reflection for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

 "Brothers and sisters, that which has occurred in a unique way to Saint Peter, also takes place in every Christian that develops a sincere faith in Jesus, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Today’s Gospel challenges each and every one of us. How is your faith? Each one must answer in their heart. How is your faith? What does the Lord find in our hearts? A steadfast heart like a rock or a sand-like heart, that is, doubtful, wary, incredulous? It would do us well today to think about this.
"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

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Quote of the Day

"Christians are called to be witnesses to prayer because our world is often closed to divine horizons and to the hope that leads to an encounter with God. Through a deep friendship with Jesus -- and by living a filial relationship with the Father in Him and with Him -- by our faithful and constant prayer we can open the windows to God's heaven."

--Benedict XVI, General Audience Address, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A Buried Treasure: The "Ave Maria" of Bruno Vlahek

by Justin Soutar

Back in 2013, I was visiting the popular British sheet music website Score Exchange (where I happen to sell some of my own music), searching for a good piano arrangement of the familiar and timeless Schubert Ave Maria. As I combed through the search results, I stumbled upon a completely different, and much more recently written, Ave Maria for soprano solo, SATB choir and piano that I had never seen or heard before. Using the site's Scorch playback feature to listen to the score on my computer (a mechanical device that gives a rough idea of how it should really sound), I found the unfamiliar music so hauntingly beautiful, richly complex and deeply moving that it became permanently engraved within my consciousness, impossible to forget. In fact, the emotional impact of this contemporary classical work dated 2005 was on par with the well-known classic Ave Maria compositions of Schubert, Bach/Gounod and Mozart. The site's description revealed that this piece was actually the composer's own piano reduction and SATB arrangement of his original version of the Ave Maria published in 2003, which was written for soprano, SAA chorus and orchestra.

The writer of this particular Ave Maria, a certain Bruno Vlahek, was also unfamiliar to me. Checking out his biography on Score Exchange, I learned that he is a remarkably gifted, world-renowned, award-winning Croatian composer and virtuoso pianist my own age, which meant--incredibly--that he had turned out both versions of this Ave Maria in his late teens. Since the piano/choral score was offered free of charge on the website at that time, I printed out a copy for myself, and during my leisure time on Sunday afternoons, I would occasionally amuse myself by attempting to play some of the piano part, which was quite complex and difficult with its simultaneous natural and syncopated rhythms and a half-dozen triplets thrown into a steady drumbeat of sixteenth and thirty-second notes. I longed to master the entire piece, but given my work schedule and commitments at the time, this was a pipe dream.

Then in late 2016, the good Lord gave me my dream job as a full-time music director at Saint Patrick Catholic Church in Lexington, Virginia. Realizing that 2017 would be the one hundredth anniversary of Our Lady's apparitions at Fatima, I decided that we should do something special musically to mark this important centennial, and I felt that the glorious but obscure Vlahek Ave Maria would be perfect for the occasion--something definitely off the beaten path that was beautiful and memorable. Here was a chance to publicly honor the Blessed Virgin Mary while sharing with the congregation a magnificent piece of music they had never heard before and would probably never hear otherwise. When I shared an excellent YouTube video performance of this score with the pastor, Father Joe, his reaction was the same as mine had been a few years earlier: "It's different, but I like it." He gave it his blessing right away.

So early in 2017, I rose to meet the formidable double challenge of mastering the piano part and teaching our little sixteen-member volunteer choir and soloist to sing the beloved Latin prayer to new melodies and unfamiliar rhythms. Initially the choristers were somewhat cool toward the piece and intimidated by the difficulty of the material, but after two months of patient rehearsal beginning in May, their attitude had changed from trepidation to enthusiasm; they had discovered that this challenging new Ave Maria was actually fun to sing! After three more months of prayer and diligent practice, as well as valuable advice and assistance from one choir member who is a band director, we were ready to present this stunning hymn to the Blessed Mother just in time for the conclusion of the Fatima centennial.

We finally presented the Ave Maria by Bruno Vlahek on October 29, 2017, during the 10:30 AM Sunday Mass with approximately 180 parishioners and visitors in attendance, my band director friend conducting the choir, and my small digital audio recorder going. While not perfect in every detail, our rendition was well received, eliciting spontaneous applause. As far I know, this was the first time it had ever been publicly performed in the United States. Father Joe responded with an immediate public request for an encore presentation on December 8, 2017, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Somehow, with our conductor and one other choir member absent, we managed to execute it nearly perfectly at the 5:30 PM Mass that Friday evening. (Regrettably, I failed to snag an audio recording of this spectacular achievement.) Our third presentation, which fell somewhere in quality between the first and second attempts, took place during the 5:30 PM Mass on August 14, 2019, the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I'm deeply grateful to the Lord and to his holy Mother for granting and obtaining for me and our little choir the talents and graces necessary to learn and share with our parishioners and visitors this awesome but largely buried contemporary Marian hymn masterpiece. It is no small accomplishment to have such a challenging world-class piano and choral work firmly in our liturgical music repertoire. I'm eagerly looking forward to performing it again as soon and as often as we have the opportunity to do so. My sincere hope is that our past and future efforts to share the Vlahek Ave Maria with others will contribute to making this jewel of twenty-first century Catholic classical music more widely performed, known and appreciated, so that it may eventually earn the honored and secure place it certainly deserves in both the Church and the world’s great musical treasuries.

Copyright © 2020 Justin D. Soutar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Quote of the Day

"At this moment, in the great effort of beginning anew, how damaging is pessimism, the tendency to see everything in the worst light, and to keep saying that nothing will return as before! When someone thinks this way, the one thing that certainly does not return is hope. In these three – the narcissist idol of the mirror, the mirror-god; the complaint-god: “I feel human only when I complain”; and the negativity-god: “everything is dark, the future is bleak” – we experience a famine of hope and we need to appreciate the gift of life, the gift that each of us is. We need the Holy Spirit, the gift of God who heals us of narcissism, victimhood, and pessimism. He heals us from the mirror, complaints, and darkness.

--Pope Francis, Homily for Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Reflection for Pentecost Sunday

"The Church that is born at Pentecost is a community that awakens wonder because, with the power that comes from God, she announces a new message – Christ’s resurrection – with a new language, the universal language of love. A new announcement: Christ is alive, he is risen; a new language: the language of love. The disciples are invested with power from above and speak with courage – a few minutes before they were all cowards, but now they speak with courage and boldness, with the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

"The Church is called always to be like this: to be able to surprise by proclaiming to everyone that Jesus the Christ has defeated death, that God’s arms are always open, that his patience is always there to care for us to heal us, to forgive us. It is precisely because of this mission that the risen Jesus sent his Spirit to the Church. Attention: if the Church is alive, she must always surprise. It is proper to the living Church to surprise. A Church that does not have the capacity to surprise is a weak, sick, dying Church that must be revived."

--Pope Francis, Regina Caeli Address, June 8, 2014

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Reflection for the Octave of Easter

Icon of Christ the Pantocrator, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem
(Photo by Andrew Shiva)
"The Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. After six days in which man in some sense participates in God’s work of creation, the Sabbath is the day of rest. But something quite unprecedented happened in the nascent Church: the place of the Sabbath, the seventh day, was taken by the first day. As the day of the liturgical assembly, it is the day for encounter with God through Jesus Christ who as the Risen Lord encountered his followers on the first day, Sunday, after they had found the tomb empty. The structure of the week is overturned. No longer does it point towards the seventh day, as the time to participate in God’s rest. It sets out from the first day as the day of encounter with the Risen Lord. ...

"This revolutionary development that occurred at the very the beginning of the Church’s history can be explained only by the fact that something utterly new happened that day. The first day of the week was the third day after Jesus’ death. It was the day when he showed himself to his disciples as the Risen Lord. ...

"The first day, according to the Genesis account, is the day on which creation begins. Now it was the day of creation in a new way, it had become the day of the new creation. We celebrate the first day. And in so doing we celebrate God the Creator and his creation. Yes, we believe in God, the Creator of heaven and earth. And we celebrate the God who was made man, who suffered, died, was buried and rose again. We celebrate the definitive victory of the Creator and of his creation. We celebrate this day as the origin and the goal of our existence. We celebrate it because now, thanks to the risen Lord, it is definitively established that reason is stronger than unreason, truth stronger than lies, love stronger than death. We celebrate the first day because we know that the black line drawn across creation does not last for ever. We celebrate it because we know that those words from the end of the creation account have now been definitively fulfilled: 'God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good' (Gen 1:31)."

--Benedict XVI, Homily at Easter Vigil Mass, April 23, 2011

Friday, April 10, 2020

On the Son Who Became a Servant

by Justin Soutar

Today is Good Friday. Today we devoutly recall and prayerfully reflect upon the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ for our salvation. Today we contemplate in silent awe this profound mystery of God's infinite love for sinful humanity and for each one of us. This mind-boggling love impelled the Creator to send his own co-equal and eternal Son to earth as a man, a creature, to be tortured and executed by his own creatures. Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, willingly took upon himself the unimaginably horrific burden of all the sins ever committed and the eternal punishment due for them, freely and deliberately offering himself as a sacrifice to the Father so that we might be freed from sin and spared the awful destiny of eternal separation from God. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but may have eternal life" (John 3:16). Divine justice and divine mercy are seamlessly united in Christ's unique sacrifice on the Cross, which is made present in the celebration of each Mass.

This is the incomparable mystery of the all-holy God who purifies his sinful creatures, the King of Heaven who ministers to his unfaithful earthly subjects, the Lord and Master who washes the feet of his servants who betray and abandon him. Jesus is the Son of God who humbled himself to become a suffering servant so that we, God's servants, might be exalted to the status of his adopted sons and daughters. What the animal sacrifices of the Old Covenant merely symbolized and prefigured, Christ himself has definitively accomplished: atonement for sin. Fully divine and fully human, Jesus Christ is the greatest hero of world history because by his one and only sacrifice on the Cross he atoned for all human sin, thus making possible the reconciliation of fallen humanity with God.

"We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world."

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Reflection for the Fifth Sunday of Lent

"Christ has not resigned himself to the tombs that we have created with our choices of evil and death, with our mistakes, with our sins. He does not resign himself to this! He invites us, he almost commands us, to come out of the tombs in which our sins have buried us. He insistently calls us out of the darkness of the prison in which we have shut ourselves, contenting ourselves with a false, egoistic and mediocre life. 'Come out!' he tells us, 'Come out!' It is a beautiful invitation to true freedom, to let ourselves be seized by these words of Jesus that he repeats to each one of us today. It is an invitation to remove the 'burial shroud,' the burial shroud of pride. Pride makes us slaves, slaves to ourselves, slaves of many idols, of many things. Our resurrection begins here: when we decide to obey this command of Jesus, going out into the light, into life; when the masks fall from our face – often we are masked by sin, the masks must fall! – and we rediscover the courage of our true face, created in the image and likeness of God.

"Jesus’ gesture, which raises Lazarus, shows how far the power of God’s grace can go and how far our conversion can go, our change. But listen well: there is no limit to divine mercy offered to all! There is no limit to divine mercy offered to all! Remember this well. And we can say it all together: 'There is no limit to divine mercy offered to all!' Let us say it together: 'There is no limit to divine mercy offered to all!' The Lord is always ready to remove the stone from the tomb of our sins, which separate us from him, from the light of the living."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, April 6, 2014

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Lent

"Our lives are sometimes similar to that of the blind man who opened himself to the light, who opened himself to God, who opened himself to his grace. Sometimes unfortunately they are similar to that of the doctors of the law: from the height of our pride we judge others, and even the Lord! Today, we are invited to open ourselves to the light of Christ in order to bear fruit in our lives, to eliminate unchristian behaviors; we are all Christians but we all, everyone sometimes has unchristian behaviors, behaviors that are sins. We must repent of this, eliminate these behaviours in order to journey well along the way of holiness, which has its origin in baptism. We, too, have been “enlightened” by Christ in baptism, so that, as St Paul reminds us, we may act as “children of light” (Eph 5:8), with humility, patience and mercy. These doctors of the law had neither humility, nor patience, nor mercy!...

"Let us ask ourselves about the state of our own heart? Do I have an open heart or a closed heart? It is opened or closed to God? Open or closed to my neighbor? We are always closed to some degree which comes from original sin, from mistakes, from errors. We need not be afraid! Let us open ourselves to the light of the Lord, he awaits us always in order to enable us to see better, to give us more light, to forgive us. Let us not forget this! Let us entrust this Lenten journey to the Virgin Mary, so that we too, like the blind man who was healed, by the grace of Christ may “come to the light”, go forward towards the light and be reborn to new life."

--Pope Francis, Angelus Address, March 30, 2014

Friday, February 28, 2020

Quote of the Day

"The community dimension is an essential element in faith and Christian life. Christ came 'to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad' (cf. Jn 11:52). The 'we' of the Church is the community in which Jesus brings us together (cf. Jn 12:32): faith is necessarily ecclesial. And this is important to remember and to live in this time of Lent: each person is aware that he or she does not face the penitential journey alone, but together with many brothers and sisters in the Church."

--Benedict XVI, Homily, February 13, 2013

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Quote of the Day

"The Lord gives you his word, so that you can receive it like a love letter he has written to you, to help you realize that he is at your side. His word consoles and encourages us. At the same time it challenges us, frees us from the bondage of our selfishness and summons us to conversion. Because his word has the power to change our lives and to lead us out of darkness into the light."

--Pope Francis, Homily, January 26, 2020

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