Catholic Stuff (2015-17)
(musings on matters of religion, faith and morals)

More recent 'Catholic Stuff' postings can be found here.

Thievery: Such a crime is even worse when the victim is a church. In Northeast Philadelphia, police are investigating a matter of embezzled funds at St. Dominic Parish, on Frankford Avenue. "A business manager allegedly embezzled an undisclosed amount of funds from the church."

Established in 1849, St. Dominic Roman Catholic Church in the Holmesburg section of Philadelphia. Before the first cornerstone of the church building was laid, Mass was held in a "little stone house in the fields." In 1896, the church was completely destroyed by fire. Reconstruction began almost immediately; the 'new' late 19th Century church still stands.

St. John Neumann is known to have been the celebrant on special parish occasions such as Confirmation. In her youth and because of the proximity to her family's Torresdale estate, St. Katherine Drexel often attended Mass there ... (more >>>)

Religious Conversion: Pennypack Crossing, an apartment complex for people 55 or older and the disabled, is a former convent on the campus of Nazareth Hospital in Northeast Philadelphia. The hospital itself opened in 1940 and was financed solely by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, their families and friends.

I was born in Nazareth Hospital, had my tonsils removed there at age three, and had a broken arm set at the hospital when I was 10 years-old. The hospital remains in business but there are few nuns to be seen at the complex. In 1965, there were 180,000 religious sisters in the U.S. Today there a little over 40,000, which explains why Nazareth no longer needed a large housing complex for nuns.

Pennypack Crossing consists of 44 one-bedroom units, 32 for folks 55-plus and 12 for the disabled. All units are already occupied. The six-floor facility features a community room with kitchenette, fitness center, computer lab, professional staff, a 24-hour maintenance team and onsite parking. (posted 11/9/17, permalink)

Book Review: 'A Pope And A President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century' by Paul Kengor

Once upon a time, the Soviet Union was very frightening. After the 1917 Russian revolution, which gave birth to Leninism and the USSR, communism was quickly exported to the West. The U.S. was full of commies by the 1930s, partly because the tough times the Great Depression caused people to seek out alternatives. Then Stalin got a incredible deal from a frail, sickly FDR during the WWII Yalta talks. This increased his territory and his grip on Europe.

The Ruskies detonated their first nuke in 1949. Soon after, schoolchildren practiced duck and cover in classrooms across the U.S. (I remember participating in such drills) and people began building bomb shelters in their back yards. By the 1950s, the communist infiltration threat was considered serious enough to be the subject of Congressional hearings.

Americans were shocked when the USSR put a satellite into orbit in 1957; we didn't think the Ruskies had the technology. At the time, I was a freshman in high school. My school and many others were contemplating the addition of Russian to their languages curriculum. It was speculated that future scientists and engineers would be reviewing Russian technical papers.

The Catholic Church was always aware of the evil of communism. During the apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary at Fatima in 1917, she prophesied, "If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace. If not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church." During my childhood, most Masses in America concluded with a special prayer for the conversion of Russia. Catholics interpreted this to mean that the USSR would be rid of communism and Christianity would return if we prayed hard enough.

This book is about the fall of the USSR and how Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan worked to make it happen. Kengor posits that both the pope and the president understood the role of Divine Providence role in their lives and in history. And he weaves the Fatima apparitions into the story as an important element.

I don't think that there's an untrue word in this book. Kengor correctly presents President Reagan and Pope John Paul II in a positive light. He also clears up the role of Pope Pius XII, who is shown not only to be anti-Nazi but anti-communist as well. Stalin's minions did much to smear this pope during his 1939-58 reign. For John Paul II, the Russians took stronger measures - attempting to assassinate him.

The problem with the book is that ... (more >>>)

Lightning Strike Alert: The headline read - 'Lesbian Bishop Calls Jesus Christ A Bigot'.

United Methodist Church bishop Dr. Karen Oliveto is not only a lesbian, she also believes (and publicly teaches) that Jesus was a bigot filled with prejudices. In 2005, Karen Oliveto, a non-celibate lesbian, drew attention when she officiated several same-sex marriages that were held in the United Methodist church she pastored.

"Oliveto's teachings cover the range of normal progressive "Christian" beliefs — the denial of the exclusivity of the Christian faith and the denial of the authority of the Bible, to name two. However, it's her direct attack on certain Bible passages and Biblical figures that has caused some within the UMC to be concerned."

She once gave a sermon criticizing Saint Paul "for casting a demon out of the slave girl in Acts 16:16-18." "Oliveto encouraged her audience to question the traditional interpretation that this exorcism was 'an act of liberation' for the girl. Negatively comparing Paul's response to the slave girl to his subsequent saving of the jailer, Oliveto asserted that Paul was not motivated by compassion for the slave girl and noted that the text does not say that she found salvation."

Oliveto is the first lesbian appointed as a bishop in the United Methodist Church. And hopefully, the last one. (posted 10/4/17, permalink)

Selling Out Values For Money: Of 180 religious statues on the campus of San Domenico School in Marin County, California, all but 18 have been removed. This is part of the Catholic school's effort to "make the school more inclusive."

Shannon Fitzpatrick, parent of one of the students, noted that the 167 year-old Dominican Catholic school has made numerous changes recently, including "the word 'Catholic' has been removed from the mission statement, sacraments were removed from the curriculum, the lower school curriculum was changed to world religions, the logo and colors were changed to be 'less Catholic', and the uniform was changed to be less Catholic."

Why? Money. Tuition for an incoming kindergarten student at San Domenico is $29,850. "Of the 660 students who attend the K-12 school, 121 are boarding students and 98 of these are international students from British Columbia, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Mexico, Korea, Thailand and Vietnam. The students attending San Domenico come from a variety of religious backgrounds besides Christianity: Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam."

By comparison, the 2017-2018 school year tuition for St. Joseph's Prep, a private high school from which I graduated some 55 years ago, is $22,900. And, at the Prep, all the statues are present and accounted for.

Regarding Philadelphia's Catholic school system, Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recently wrote, "The goal of all Catholic education is to form young people in a strong Catholic faith, a faith rooted in the truth about God and humanity, a faith that can guide them to a fruitful life in this world, and home to the joy of eternal life with their Creator."

I don't know how this Dominican school can continue to call itself Catholic. (posted 9/8/17, permalink)

Doing God's Work: Kathy Shaidle recently wrote about the Sisters of Life, a convent of young, ultra-conservative Catholic nuns that was founded in New York in 1991, and expanded to Canada in 2007. Sisters of Life is a female Roman Catholic religious institute, following the Augustinian rule. It is both a contemplative and active religious community.

"At the age of 29 - young for a nun in modern times - Sister John Mary committed herself to lifelong vows of poverty, obedience and chastity. The habit that she wears, sews and washes herself is a sign of her commitment in what she calls today's 'post-Christian culture'."

"As our culture seeks to exclude God, we are attracted by a radical response to God," said Sister John Mary.

The Sisters of Life is one of the few highly orthodox orders of nuns that are seeing rapid growth in an era when religious life is otherwise declining in North America. Their growth is in part a response to an increasingly secular society as fewer people - especially young people - attend regular religious service or describe themselves as religious. The order more than doubled in size between 2006 and 2016, as did the orthodox Dominican Sisters of Mary Mother of the Eucharist in Ann Arbor, Mi. The habit-wearing Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia convent in Nashville, Fl., has also grown recently.

From just eight women in 1991, the Sisters of Life now has 102 members, including 13 from Canada. About one-third have joined in the past three years. The average woman who joins the convent is 25.

"The Sisters of Life have a mission centre in Toronto's east end where they work five days a week providing pregnant women and new mothers with the emotional and practical support they need to prevent them from getting abortions - cribs, diapers, food, child care, whatever else is necessary."

If you're interested in supporting the Sisters of Life, they are a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and accept donations. God bless 'em. (posted 7/12/17, permalink)

Music Of My Life: Last week, I drove my '39 Plymouth coupe to the local library - returning two books and picking up a new one. The temperature was a pleasant 63 degrees under almost cloudless blue Southwest Washington skies. I got a decent view of snow-covered Mt. St. Helens and had a fun drive, playing old rock-n-roll through the speakers and enjoying the scenery.

The music I was playing was 'Crusin' '57' with WIBG's Joe Niagara hosting. At one point, he announced with all the hyper-excitement a good DJ can muster, ''Don't you forget it. Saturday night - that's the night - the hippest record hop in WIBG-land. It all happens at the Maternity BVM auditorium - 9320 Bustleton Avenue. I'll be there lookin' for you ... I wanna see your face in the place."

The record hop "with guest stars galore" was held at Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary parish hall. Many Philadelphia area Catholic parishes held weekly dances to raise money. One other such place was Our Lady of Ransom parish on Roosevelt Boulevard. "I'm goin' to Ransom Saturday night," was an oft-heard phrase in late-1950s Northeast Philly.

Recently, I learned from the Northeast Times (a nice newspaper that once interviewed me) that Our Lady of Ransom will be merging into Resurrection parish. Once a vibrant Catholic parish - the church seats 1,250 people and is one of Northeast Philadelphia's largest-capacity churches - changing neighborhood demographics have reduced total weekend Mass attendance to only 400 people. Ransom's teenage dances are long gone but, if you stand at the site of the old auditorium and listen closely, you might ... (more >>>)

God Is Not Here To Entertain Us: Recently, Fred Reed wrote, "In today's irreligious and indeed anti-religious climate, the fashion is to dismiss Christianity as crude superstition, and to babble wisely about the separation of church and state. This is unfortunate, and stupid, since Christianity was the heart and soul of as yet the greatest civilization the world has seen. Those who know nothing of it cannot understand the last two thousand years and how our world came to be."

Fred is not referring to today's get-happy, clap-your-hands, superficial Christianity-Lite but, rather, the Original Recipe version.

As to non-Christians, Fred noted, "Islam appeared in the Seventh Century and conquered vast territories, but quickly fell into intellectual sloth and has since produced almost nothing other than splendid carpets and some lovely mosques." Where are all the great Muslim inventions? Muslim art museums? Muslim teaching hospitals and medical research facilities? The squads of Muslim soldiers, volunteer doctors and nurses who rush in to help when disaster strikes in some god-awful Third World country?

"Catholicism in particular has combined spiritual concerns with a strong intellectual bent. The Christian interest in questions of origin and destiny and man's purpose produced profound thought from the Church Fathers to C. S. Lewis.

Today, consideration of such matters as death and meaning are held to be in bad taste. Insensible of the wonder and strangeness of existence, we watch Seinfeld reruns and congratulate ourselves on not paying attention to that, you know, like, religious stuff. We live under a sort or Disneyland Marxism and descend ever deeper into complacent ignorance." At least mosques are serious about prayer.

Since 1980, the number of Americans who believe in God has decreased by half and the number who pray has declined five-fold.

If your place of worship is more like a Chuck E. Cheese than a cathedral, plays happy tunes instead of hymns, offers less doctrinal guidance than a mime and has a preacher who never refers to Hell or Judgement Day, it's time to find a new one. There are still good churches around.

Make Christianity Great Again. (posted 5/25/17, permalink)

Ungodly: The Reverend Dr. Gavin Ashenden is a Church of England priest. Former Chaplain to the Queen, he was forced to resign after he protested against the reading of the Koran at St. Mary's Cathedral in Glasgow. The reading on the Feast of the Epiphany explicitly denied the divinity of Christ.

In a recent interview, Reverend Ashenden said, "Good faithful priests represent life in the Holy Spirit, which exposes the limitations of political power. The C of E is much more comfortable with politics and power than it is with the Holy Spirit. ... The weaker clergy are spiritually, the more they take refuge in politics. They become terrified when called up on it, because deep down, I think they know they have lost their reliance on the Holy Spirit and are frightened of that being exposed."

Asked about the future of the Anglican Church, he replied, "Demographically and financially it is dying. Spiritually it appears to be on its last legs too. I'm not sure I see much point in a church that just wants to be accepted as a sort of not too irritating chaplain to a secular and hedonistic culture, which is what it seems to be becoming. I want to remain a faithful Anglican, but increasingly it looks like that is only possible outside the C of E. It has opted for a kind of spiritualized socialism and feminism in opposition to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. You get new life when you repent. But there is no sign that it is ready to take that path."

During the period 1980-2015, church attendance in Great Britain has declined from 12% to 5% of the population. During the period, attendance at Anglican churches fell 52%. Great Britain's Catholic churches experienced a similar decline.

A 2014 survey of approximately 64,000 people in 65 countries revealed the UK to be one of the world's most irreligious countries, with only 30% of those surveyed identifying as 'religious'. In contrast, 13% said they were convinced atheists and 53% of those surveyed said they were not religious. (posted 3/28/17, permalink)

New Blood Needed: Pope Francis is concerned about what he calls a "hemorrhage" of priests and nuns from the Catholic Church. The Pope said that the loss of clergy is weakening the Church. I don't think anyone can argue with that.

"First among the factors he cited as causing nuns and priests to quit their vocations is a society that discourages lifelong commitments. Francis lamented that many conduct their lives based on "a la carte" choices." Let's analyze that. If you operate a restaurant and patronage is declining, you've got a problem. Declining church attendance is like falling restaurant attendance, you've got to find out what's wrong and fix it. But, if you own a restaurant and you can't even hire staff (cooks, wait people, etc.), you've got a really serious problem. That's why the Pope is so worried.

Consider this: While the number of priests in the United States more than doubled to 58,000, between 1930 and 1965, since then that number has fallen to 37,000 in 2016. More than 20% of U.S. parishes do not have a resident priest or pastor. Only 548 new priests were ordained last year and more than two-thirds of the 600 seminaries that were operating in 1965 have closed.

Eighty years ago, being a priest or a nun was (relatively) attractive. The alternative was to work sixty hours a week in some low-paying job with no security. And dwell in some hovel. The priesthood offered free education, a secure job, a nice place to live and three squares a day. Think Father Chuck O'Malley in the movie 'Going My Way'. All you had to do was give up sex.

Today, the secular world is a wealthier and much more pleasant place. Paid vacations, 401(k)s, job advancement, etc. College education is now available to almost all - not just the rich. Therefore, being a priest or a nun in 21st Century America doesn't look quite so inviting as it used to. So the clergy pool is shrinking - it's been doing so for over 50 years.

I don't claim to have all the answers but increasing vocations begins with increasing the available vocation pool by easing restrictions. Here are some ideas:

Allow married priests. The Eastern Catholic Rite permits married priests. There are also over 200 married Roman Catholic priests who converted from the Anglican Communion and Protestant faiths. The precedent has already been set.

Pay a good wage - equivalent to the pay for a full-time Ph.D. therapist in the secular world. This is going to cost parishioners more money but, if you want your parish to have a priest, you gotta pay up.

Create three classes of nuns: Regular, Enhanced (with some priest-like duties) and Actual Female Priests where culturally appropriate. I'm no theologian but it seems that the grounds for not allowing women to be ordained are shaky and are due to culture and tradition more than anything else. Such a move could double the potential market for priests.

Allow priests and nuns to marry if they wish.

Create a fast-track into the priesthood for those educated at Catholic colleges, with perhaps an additional two years of education and one-year of apprenticeship before ordination. Make sure that part of the curriculum includes courses on speech-writing and public speaking.

Once these changes are instituted, the Catholic Church could create an army of servants to rebuild congregations and spread the Word. At present, less than 22% of all self-identified Catholics attend Mass on Sundays. Sixty years ago, that number was close to 75%.

Make Catholicism Great Again. (posted 2/20/17, permalink)

Holy Fast Food, Batman! McDonald's has quietly opened a new restaurant in the Vatican and it is creating a backlash. The restaurant is located just steps from St. Peter's Square in a building owned by the Vatican. The Vatican is reportedly going to receive about $31,000 a month in rent. Here's a tip: If you go there and want to Super-Size your order, just say, "Gustalo Maxi!"

Vatican officials have also "approved a Hard Rock Cafe on the main boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square. A religious bookstore is currently in that space."

I'm not sure if the Vatican has been in the food biz before. It was rumored that, during the time of Pope Paul VI (1963-79), Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks was run by his wife.

I do remember that during Pope Paul VI's visit to the U.S. in 1965, he was supplied a special 1964 Lincoln limo. A special speedboat-like Plexiglas wraparound windshield was mounted around the open section, just behind the driver's compartment to protect the Pope whether seated or standing. (posted 1/11/17, permalink)

Sounds Very Un-Catholic To Me: The nation's largest Catholic college, DePaul University, told a group of pro-life students that it could not display posters reading 'Unborn Lives Matter', lest they provoke the 'Black Lives Matter' movement. In a letter to the College Republicans, University president Father Dennis Holtschneider said the posters contained "bigotry" veiled "under the cover of free speech."

Perhaps this explains why nearly one-third of Americans who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholics. Very sad. (posted 11/7/16, permalink)

Killing Babies: At last week's presidential debate, Hillary Clinton - who claims to be almost as concerned about "the children" as Helen 'But What About The Children?' Lovejoy on 'The Simpsons', responded to a question about Supreme Court appointees by pivoting to her views on abortion, which can be summarized as Abortions For All, Anytime. Partial birth abortion? No problem.

When Roe-v-Wade became law 43 years ago, abortion was promoted as an answer to unfortunate and tragic circumstances (rape, mother's life jeopardized, pregnant, severely-retarded women and the like). And, the aborted tissue was presented as nothing more than a group of cells - almost like one's appendix. But legalized abortion quickly became a form of birth control for the lazy and the careless. Later, "partial birth abortions" took the spotlight. This barbarous practice appalled many moderates who were formerly pro-abortion.

Meanwhile, scientific advances have made many early-term fetuses viable. Medical technology has vastly improved since 1973 and fetuses can now survive as early as 20 weeks - less than five months into the pregnancy.

The use of ultrasound has shown the public that very young and tiny fetuses look like babies, not blobs of protoplasm. The current queasiness over abortion is not simply due to increased efforts by the pro-life movement. Rather, it is because ... (more >>>)

A New Religion Is Born: Don't believe it? Here's the evidence:

Just ask Google. (posted 9/30/16, permalink)

Stained Glass Memorial: Recently, my cousin Fred sent me photos of a stained glass window which was donated to Philadelphia's historic St. Gabriel's Catholic Church by our great-grandfather.

St. Gabriel's Parish is at 2917 Dickinson Street in Philadelphia, PA. The church, located in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia, was founded in 1895. The church was designed by noted church and theater architect Edwin F. Durang in 1902; construction was completed in 1909.

The exterior is rough-hewn granite, "erected by the Irish men of the neighborhood. A ring of clerestory windows and a hipped green copper roof crowns the nave."

The interior of the church was restored in 1995 and still has the original polished white marble sanctuary floors and altar.

Great-grandfather moved into the neighborhood in 1908. He emigrated from County Mayo, Ireland in 1893 and was by no means a wealthy man. What happened was that one of his sons - my grandfather, Patrick - made the $600 donation for the window in his dad's name. Patrick's wife was very upset because they were saving for a house and could ill-afford the donation. They already had a child and would eventually have eight children, including my dad.

When my great-grandfather died in 1920, his solemn requiem Mass was held at St. Gabriel's, which was a mere six blocks from his home.

I've never seen a photo of my great-grandfather but his name lives on - embedded in stained glass. (posted 5/9/16, permalink)

Shocking Decline: Since 1980, the number of Americans who believe in God has decreased by half and the number who pray has declined five-fold.

"As of 2014, nearly one third of thirty-somethings who matured in the 2000s said they were "secular" and one fifth reported that they were not even "spiritual," suggesting a decline not only in religious affiliated but also in the core beliefs of Generation Y. Decline in religious affiliation and participation has now extended to private practices and beliefs."

The next generation, often referred to as iGen, is even more secular. By 2014, the number of 18 to 22-year-olds who reported no religious affiliation rose from 11% in the 1970s to 36%; the percentage who said they never pray rose from 4% to 28%. Belief in God and attendance at religious serviced declined by half while self-reported spirituality declined five-fold.

Perhaps it has become hip to be an agnostic. Or, just as social media has practically destroyed face-to-face social clubs, Facebook and Instagram have become the new gods. (posted 4/15/16, permalink)

Papal Hypocrisy: Ben Shapiro wrote, "Pope Francis, apparently desperate to reach out to the Catholic Church's growing base in Latin America, spent the day slapping Americans in the face from across the US-Mexico border. In Ciudad Juarez, one of the most violent cities in the Western Hemisphere thanks to the drug cartels, the pope walked up a ramp covered in flowers toward a cross "erected … in memory of migrants who have perished trying to reach the United States just a stone's throw away."

"Funny, he never did that while visiting Cuba to pay tribute to those who died attempting to escape that Communist hellhole."

Sometimes, it takes an Orthodox Jew like Mr. Shapiro to point out the painful truth about this Pope. I would add that the recent dust-up, where the Pope criticized Donald Trump for proposing to erect a wall at our Southern border, further illustrates the Pontiff's own hypocrisy.

Pope Francis said of Trump, "A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not of building bridges, is not Christian. This is not the Gospel. As far as what you said about whether I would advise to vote or not to vote, I am not going to get involved in that. I say only that this is man (Trump) is not Christian if he has said things like that."

Ironically, the thick wall surrounding the Vatican was built by Pope Leo IV to keep out Muslim invaders.

Pope Francis favors Social Justice, a phrase which has devolved from something noble to a synonym for socialism. In 2003, Alan Charles Kors wrote, "The goal of socialism was to reap the cultural, scientific, creative, and communal rewards of abolishing private property and free markets, and to end human tyranny. Using the command of the state, Communism sought to create this socialist society. What in fact occurred was the achievement of power by a group of inhumane despots: Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-tung, Kim Il Sung, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Castro, Mengistu, Ceausescu, Hoxha, and so on, and so on …"

Social Justice was a concept proposed by theologian Luigi Taparelli d'Azeglio in 1840 as a way to defend civil society from the ever-increasing intrusions of the state. "Social justice," according to Taparelli, "was the legitimate realm of justice beyond formal legal justice." Pope Leo XIII popularized it in his 1891 encyclical 'Rerum Novarum'. But 'social justice' was soon hijacked by activist do-gooders, who completely changed its meaning to fit their socialist ways.

Jonah Goldberg has written, "Social-ism is about what activists call 'social justice', which is always "progressive" and egalitarian but not invariably statist." As a practical matter, "social-ism" works from the assumption that well-intentioned leaders and planners are both smart enough and morally obliged to, in Obama's words, "spread the wealth around" for the betterment of the whole society in general and the underprivileged in particular."

No matter that the designated 'underprivileged' are, as author Kathy Shaidle, who experienced poverty as a child and young adult, wrote, "The poor are the rich Jesus warned you about."

Social Justice is used to justify everything from illegal alien sanctuaries to cookies for the homeless - as if they don't already get enough sugar from all those bottles of cheap fortified wine. And don't get me started on the Fat Poor. If someone was really poor, they'd be thin. Rail thin. (posted 2/23/16, permalink)

A Holy Day Celebrating A Blessed Event: On December 8th, Catholics throughout the world celebrate The Immaculate Conception of Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son, Jesus.

Although the belief that Mary was sinless and conceived immaculate has been widely held since before the Middle Ages, the doctrine was dogmatically defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX.

Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. (posted 12/8/15, permalink)

Pessimist Pope: Does Pope Francis have a 'Bah, Humbug!' attitude toward Christmas? Judi McLeod wrote, "We've been hearing it from the atheists for decades. We've been hearing it from the legions of the hypocritical politically correct, but how many of us ever thought we'd ever hear these words from a Bishop of Rome: "Christmas is a charade"."

That is what Pope Francis preached to an audience recently.

"We can image the loud cheers being sent up from the secular world at the pontiff's bullseye shot at the heart at Christmas, because it comes from a source that was least expected on the eve of Advent 2015. The pope, who claims that Christmas is a "charade" due to continued war across the globe, has said that the lights, parties, Christmas trees and nativity scenes of the season are a charade with so much "war and hate."

"During all of World War II, which claimed more lives than any other conflict in modern history, Pope Pius XII never claimed Christmas was only a "charade." No pontiff ever cast a shadow on "lights, parties, Christmas trees and Nativity Scenes." And Pius XII had a reputation as a pretty somber fellow. They never called him Jolly Pius XII.

Pope Francis should remind himself that the war on terror is not about Christians fighting with other Christians. It's about radical Islam, a movement which seeks to wipe out every other religion by killing everyone who is not a Muslim.

The celebration of Christmas is a reminder in these trying times that Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace and eventually, He will prevail. And we will prevail. Hope is eternal.

And the pope should also remember that it was another Francis - St. Francis of Assisi - who first popularized the Christmas manger in the 13th Century. The use of a manger or feeding trough as a makeshift bassinet inside a barn or stable recalled the Gospel according to Luke, who wrote that Mary gave birth to Jesus, and "laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn."

Soon, an angel appeared and delivered this message, "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

Glory to God in the highest and, on Earth, peace and good will toward men."

And that is no charade. (posted 12/2/15, permalink)

Book Review: 'Pope Francis and the New Vatican' by Robert Draper (Author), David Yoder (Photographer)

National Geographic has produced a 256 page coffee table book about the new pope and the Vatican. The photos are stunning and the text is surprisingly good - a combination not often encountered in coffee table books. I learned that the Pope hand writes all of his e-mail replies. While he has over five million followers, his Tweets are written entirely by his staff.

It is difficult not to like this Pope. He smiles easily and engages his followers. For me, one of his biggest problems is a misunderstanding of capitalism and a tendency to call it intrinsically evil, probably because ... (more >>>)

Running Out Of Time: In the Catholic Mass, during the post-Consecration Eucharistic Prayers, there is a section where the priest calls for prayers for the Pope, the local bishop and, finally, the dead, saying something like "Remember also those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the departed, whose faith you alone have known." At that point, the priest usually pauses for 2-3 seconds so you can add names of your own.

That worked out fine when I was 10 years old and didn't know many dead people but, as I've gotten older, the names on my personal list has expanded and I cannot possibly include everyone in a mere 2-3 seconds. I solved the problem by developing 'The List'. Before Mass begins, I recite a list of 40-50 people who played a significant role in my life, ending with the prayer, "Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord; and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace." Then, when the priest does his two-second pause, I simply mutter the words The List. God's smart enough to figure it out. Problem solved.

The Catholic Church has a particular affinity for the dead and offers a system where God can modify His judgement based on a prayer received long after the deceased's personal judgement day. It's kind of like post-dating a check.

Furthermore, the Catholic Church (as well as some other Christian denominations) has set aside a special day for these deceased - All Souls Day, which is celebrated on November 2nd. They want the souls of the departed to be acknowledged and remembered by the living.

Rev. John W. Swope S.J., president of St. Joseph's Prep, noted, "For more than a millennium, the Roman Catholic Church has celebrated the Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed. St. Odilo, fifth Abbott of Cluny in France, urged his monks to say special prayers for all the dead, thus mysteriously contributing to their entry into the joy of heaven. The custom of solemnly interceding for the dead in a celebration - which St. Odilo called All Souls Day - gradually spread from the Abbey of Cluny and is now the practice throughout the universal Church."

And so, we pray for the repose of the souls of the dead, in the hope that when we're dead, someone will return the favor and pray for us as well. We can all use prayer - living or dead. So, be sure to pray for the dead; your prayers and intercessions many somehow come back to help you when you're in need.

May the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. (posted 11/2/15, permalink)

Milestone: St. Martin of Tours School will celebrate 90 years of Catholic education with a Mass and luncheon on October 25, 2015.

On September 8, 1925, three IHM (Immaculate Heart of Mary) sisters opened the doors of the Northeast Philadelphia school to 71 students. My mother and maternal aunt were part of that group; my grandparents were founding members of the parish. I graduated from St. Martin's elementary school in 1957.

By 1970, enrollment peaked at 2,749 students, the largest elementary school in the United States. Today, St. Martin of Tours School is part of Independence Mission Schools, a nonprofit foundation formed in 2012 in response to the threatened loss of inner city parish schools, due to lack of funding on a parish level. Once located in a solid middle-class neighborhood, St. Martin's fortunes have declined as the demographics of the neighborhood have deteriorated.

Today, the dominant structure around the Oxford Circle neighborhood is Saint Martin of Tours complex. The current church started as a simple, flat-roofed, one-story stone structure built in the early 1930s and designed to accept a more grandiose upper level as the parish expanded and as funds became available. Church construction then had to be postponed due to World War II and, later, Korean War steel shortages.

Saint Martin's impressive, basilica-like upper church was finally completed in 1955. (posted 10/23/15, permalink)

Straight Outta Auschwitz: An Oncology Center is not a fun place to be. Every patient carries a story and not a happy one. Some look pretty healthy, although that doesn't mean much. It what's going inside your body that counts.

I have seen skeletal patients, looking like concentration camp survivors - bald, vacant-eyed, shuffling toward an infusion chair assisted by a nurse on one side and a worried caregiver on the other. They are hooked up to a pump which will, hopefully, dole out just the right amount of chemical poison to kill their cancer cells without killing them. They still have hope, apparently drawing it from somewhere deep inside their souls. God bless them, because it sure looks like the cancer is winning but this very room can be a place of miracles, where the nearly-dead recover, Lazarus-like and go about to live normal lives. Or not.

The infusion center is a large room, full of patients - sometimes 40 or more - attended by cheerful, efficient nurses. I'm sure that it's hard to maintain the happy demeanor; I suppose the nurses and doctors focus their thoughts on the success stories rather than the failures.

Considering the number of people in the room, it is relatively quiet. People nod off, pray, meditate, read books, listen to iPods or remain alone with their thoughts. Throughout the room are scattered little angel statues - a sign of hope and, perhaps, being watched over from above. No nonbelievers have raised objections. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there seem to be none here either.

There's a dampening effect at work in The Room. It's hard to complain about your own troubles when someone a few lounge chairs away has obviously got it much worse.

In 2014, I spent six months getting chemo infusions ... (more >>>)

Traveling In Small Style: The Pope rode through the Philadelphia suburbs in his small Fiat Popemobile sedan during his recent (September 2015) visit to the Philadelphia area.

I wonder - does the Popemobile's speedometer have Roman numerals? Photo taken near 54th and City Line Ave. (close to St. Joseph's University) by my cousin, Fred. More information about popemobiles is posted here. (posted 9/29/15, permalink)

Condemning Capitalism: Pope Francis has been excoriating capitalism lately, blaming it for causing global injustice and climate change, and even comparing the excesses of capitalism to the "dung of the devil."

Previously, Pope Francis attacked the "dictatorship" of the global financial system and warned that the "cult of money" was making life a misery for millions.

He said free-market capitalism had created a "tyranny" and that human beings were being judged purely by their ability to consume goods. He also said that money should be made only to "serve" people. Presumably other people, as opposed to the ones making the money.

American Enterprise Institute president Arthur Brooks wrote that between 1970 and 2010 the worst poverty in the world – people who live on one dollar a day or less – that has decreased by 80%. Why? How? "United Nations? U.S. foreign aid? The International Monetary Fund? Central planning? No.

It was globalization, free trade, the boom in international entrepreneurship. In short, it was the free enterprise system, American-style, which is our gift to the world.

I will state, assert and defend the statement that if you love the poor, if you are a good Samaritan, you must stand for the free enterprise system, and you must defend it, not just for ourselves but for people around the world. It is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented."

When you sit on a golden throne like the Pope does, I guess it's pretty easy to lecture people that money is the root of all evil. Like many of his predecessors, this Pope is clueless about basic economics. The fact is money is simply a way to convert the fruits of one's labor into a tradable form.

In her book, 'Who Built That', Michelle Malkin quoted venture capital guru, Tom Perkins of Kleiner Perkins, who noted that the wealthy cause neither poverty nor inequality. "They are the job creators. I think Kleiner Perkins itself over the years has created pretty close to a million jobs and we're still doing it."

I'll choose the dogma of Arthur Brooks and Tom Perkins over Pope Francis. And I'd recommend that the Pope sit down and read a very informative book by one his own priests: 'Defending The Free Market' by Rev. Robert Sirico.

Libertarian Economist Murray Rothbard once said, "It is no crime to be ignorant of economics, which is, after all, a specialized discipline and one that most people consider to be a 'dismal science'. But it is totally irresponsible to have a loud and vociferous opinion on economic subjects while remaining in this state of ignorance." The great and quotable Thomas Sowell wrote, "Socialism in general has a record of failure so blatant that only an intellectual could ignore or evade it." (posted 7/31/15, permalink)

Culture Of Death vs. Culture Of God: David P. Goldman wrote that if black America were a country, it would have the highest murder rate in the world. "Black Americans are still eight times more likely to be murdered than whites and seven times more likely to commit murder, according to the FBI. An incredible one-third of black men in their 30s have been in prison."

These statistics are both dismal and eye-opening. But there are glimmers of hope.

On Sunday (Father's Day), hundreds of people returned to Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, four days after a shooting there killed nine African-Americans. It's less than a week since the unthinkable happened here - nine members of the Bible study group were ruthlessly gunned down during a prayer meeting.

The shooter was a young white man, Dylann Roof, who said he wanted to "start a race war." At Roof's first court appearance, family members of the black victims appeared and answered him with forgiveness. These fine Christians did not let violence beget violence. Instead, they responded to this awful tragedy with grace and class.

"May we realize the power of love," said one pastor at Sunday's service. It's a sentiment many parishioners are invoking as a way to find strength in such dark times. Let all of us pray that those who grieve find consolation in their strong Christian faith and in the memories of their loved ones.

In related news, for the eighth year in a row, the entire senior class at Verbum Dei High School – an all-male college and career preparatory Jesuit Catholic high school in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles – has been accepted into college. The 68 seniors, many of whom are the first in their families to go to college, will be leaving their inner-city neighborhood to pursue higher education across the country. Most are black.

'The Verb', as the school is called, caters to low-income students – some of whom are behind in their academic standing by about two or three years.

"The school packs six to seven years of high school into four, and does so with a four-day school week. Administrators say that rigorous course work, small college preparatory classes, corporate work experience and a supportive environment from teachers and family is the key to students' success."

The work study portion of the program is through a partnership with Edison International. (posted 6/23/15, permalink)

Sharp Dressed Man: Every two years, in the little Italian town of Vicenza, merchants gather for the biggest religious fair in the world. Vestment producers, sculptors and rosary sellers satisfy a growing demand for religious articles, from Pope Francis fridge magnets to devotional candles, a business that generates billions in Italy alone.

The 135,000 square-foot exhibit hall is "filled with life-size statues of Mary, every possible type of holy water sprinklers and the very latest collection of cassocks and tunics."

One visitor, Father Pasquale of Calabria, checked out a stand that displays light blue vestments embossed in silk velvet and gold laminated prints, his eyes filled with amazement and joy. He reaches to feel the fabric with his fingertips and hums with delight. "You have Armani, Gucci or Prada," he says. "This is our version of haute couture." M-kay.

The stand belongs to the Bianchetti family, Italy's leading supplier of ecclesiastical clothing - its clothes, the joke goes, are prete-a-porter, a pun on the Italian for "priest" and the French for "ready to wear." The head of the company, Elisabetta Bianchetti, personally designs and produces each and every vestment in the collection.

Ecclesiastical clothing in Italy is a $27.4 million annual business, but Bianchetti's vestments do not suit every budget with prices for a tunic ranging from $600 to $2,000. The Bianchettis say they clothe "top clergymen from around the world", who want the best - a combination of tradition and "original Italian fashion." Sort of the vestment equivalent of an Armani double-breasted suit. I'm surprised Ralph Lauren hasn't gotten into this business. He's already got Polo. How about Holy Roller?

Then there are those nearly ubiquitous battery-powered devotional candles. The producer, Danilo De Gaspari, came up with this idea for his parish near Milan a couple of years ago and now he's exporting his product around the world, to countries such as India and Brazil.

"Churches across Italy are pretty old and fire represents a serious hazard for worshippers. What we came up with is a wax candle with an LED inside. When you insert the coin in the machine, the LED lights up and a little magnet makes the plastic flame-shaped component on top of it wiggle. Parishes save money and they eliminate the risk of fire."

Father Pasquale is impressed but not entirely convinced. "I like the act of lighting a candle myself to be really honest," he says.

The overall religious goods business in Italy is estimated to be worth something like $5.2 billion - more than the country earns from exporting wine.

But, be careful what you buy, Father. As the immortal ZZ Top sang, "They come runnin' just as fast as they can. 'Cause every girl crazy 'bout a sharp dressed man." (posted 6/1/15, permalink)

Soldiers Of The Cross, Armor Up: Matt Walsh wrote about the latest Islamist outrage, "the brutal execution of dozens of Ethiopian Christians. Some of the victims were decapitated, others were shot in the head. All were butchered by bloodthirsty Muslim thugs for the crime of believing in Christ.

It might be hard to believe this kind of persecution happens in the world, especially when the American version of "persecution" includes not having access to gender neutral bathrooms. Out there, people face the very real threat of death and dismemberment if they practice the wrong religion. Here, we whine if a toilet stall feels too exclusionary."

The mainstream media (print, television and online) takes little notice of the War against Christianity and, sadly, the Pope telegraphs messages of Peace To All without acknowledging and preaching against the brutality of infidels against his own kind. He seems more angry about free-market capitalism or global warming than the murders of Jesus' followers.

"Christians are in fact the world's most persecuted people with 100 million facing the daily prospect of violence, intimidation, coercion, oppression, imprisonment and martyrdom. The situation is worse now than it's ever been. ... We were crucified, burned, stoned, and fed to lions under Roman rule, and still it wasn't as bad then as it is now.

Believers are being blown up, incinerated, shot and beheaded in Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, and many other nations. And this isn't relegated solely to Islamic State-controlled countries, or even to Muslim ones. Although nine of the top 10 worst persecutors of Christians are Islamic, the worst of all is godless, communist North Korea. The faith has also long been criminalized in godless, communist China."

"If Christians in this country experienced in a full year the sort of violence that Christians elsewhere in the world encounter in a day, I'm betting many of us would be screaming for a new Crusade. We wouldn't just be "concerned,” we'd be furious. We'd be enraged about it. We'd be obsessed with it."

"In America, many Christians stand down. They cower. They whimper. They won't even declare their faith on Facebook for fear that it might prompt a mean Facebook message and an unfriending. Christians in the Middle East will give up their lives to keep their souls while we give up our souls to keep our reputations and our social media reach."

I'm proud to have been a Christian all my life. And I've never made a secret of it.

"What I know is that over 80% of the people in this country still call themselves Christian, yet we are far from a reverent, God-fearing culture. Indeed, we are a culture of abortion, of fornication, of materialism, of rationalizing and equivocating and compromising. Can you look around you and say that most Christians you know are truly on fire with the faith? Do American churches fight tooth and nail against progressivism and secularism? When religious freedom is threatened here at home, do all Christians stand in solidarity against it?"

That would be a good start, wouldn't it? (posted 5/20/15, permalink)

Conversion & Redemption: An ISIS Jihadist has recently converted to Christianity after being left for dead near the Eastern border of Syria where he was finally rescued by Christian missionaries from the region.

"The man miraculously came back to life as he was believed to have died from his wounds. As the man came back to his senses, he reported to priest Hermann Groschlin of the visions he had whilst in the afterlife, an event that profoundly changed the 32 year-old Jihadist and eventually led to his conversion to Christianity days later."

"He told me that he was always taught that to die as a martyr would open him the Gates of Jannah, or Gates of Heaven," recalled the priest. "Yet, as he had started to ascend towards the light of the Heavens, devilish entities, or Jinns he called them, appeared and led him to the fiery pits of Hell. There he had to relive all the pain he had inflicted upon others and every death he had caused throughout his entire life. He even had to relive the decapitations of his victims through their own eyes" - images the Jihadist claims will haunt him for the rest of his life.

"Then Allah, or God, spoke unto him and told him that he had failed miserably as a human soul, that he would be banned from the Gates of Heaven if he chose to die, but that if he chose to live again, he would have another chance to repent of his sins and walk along God's path once again."

Let us pray that more Jihadists will see the Light. (posted 4/21/15, permalink)

Honoring St. Joseph: Today (March 19th), Catholics around the world celebrate the feast day of St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.

Sadly, St. Joseph doesn't always get the respect he deserves. His feast day is overshadowed by St. Patrick's Day, two days earlier. In recent times, a St. Joseph the Worker 'feast' has been celebrated on May 1, which gives it a vaguely communistic whiff. (In 1955, responding to the May Day celebrations for workers sponsored by socialists, Pope Pius XII instituted this secondary, optional and poorly-named feast of 'St. Joseph the Worker'.)

When I entered first grade, the nun separated the class into three reading groups based on ability. The smart kids were put in the Sacred Heart group, the average kids went into the Blessed Virgin group and the dummies ended up in the St. Joseph reading group.

Poor St. Joseph. He deserves better.

We know that Joseph was man of faith, obedient to whatever God asked of him without knowing the outcome. He was a compassionate, caring man. This craftsman worked diligently as a carpenter to provide for his family.

Rev. George Bur, S.J., former president of my old Philadelphia high school, St. Joseph's Prep, has noted, "Joseph is a fitting model for our age, a patron for fathers and for others who need to rely on God's grace to carry out the responsibilities that we have in our care for the young." (posted 3/19/15, permalink)

Paging Galileo To The White Courtesy Telephone Please: Pope Francis has decided to weigh in on something involving science, in this case 'climate science'.

Any time a religion gets involved with science, it's a bad idea and usually ends up with either people being locked up in the Vatican basement or the Scopes Monkey Trial.

In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy encyclical on the subject of global warming and its evil effects to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics. Never mind that many scientists believe that global warming is a hoax. So do I. It is my hope that a Roman Inquisition doesn't put me and other global warming 'disbelievers' under lifetime house arrest.

Mark Steyn offered this comment, "The notion of a papal encyclical on climate change in order to "impact" a UN conference is utterly depressing in its cobwebbed banality."

He also asked, "Do carbon offsets qualify for papal indulgences?"

As Judge Roy Snyder decreed in a 1997 episode of 'The Simpsons', "As for science vs. religion, I'm issuing a restraining order. Religion must stay 500 yards from Science at all times." Good idea. (posted 1/5/15, permalink)

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