The First First Responders

May 20 dead dog

Oklahoma City spun with activity all weekend. 

Everywhere you went, the sound of chain saws filled the air as people cut fallen trees into kindling. A house not far from mine lost a big part of its roof. I don’t mean that the storm took off the shingles. It lifted the roof off the house like it was a child’s miniature playhouse, and then dumped about 8 inches of rainwater into the interior. It also tore up a tree in the front yard and tossed it in a neighbor’s drive. 

People piled in to help. There were men nailing new beams up and others cutting the tree into pieces. A whole troupe of neighbors pitched in to drag away the rubbish and bail out the water. In a few hours, the house had an ugly blue tarp where its roof had been, but it was reasonably dry and habitable until major repairs could put it back the way it was before the storm.

Almost no one had power, so people were sleeping on sofas in the houses of friends in the few houses that did have power. Relatives and friends had already taken in lots of people from the earlier tornado. Now, we were packing them in tighter. 

We had mass and our holy hour with the Pope without power, and I have to say it was nice. I enjoyed the relative quiet of no organ, no sound system, etc. It was even nice to have the sanctuary door open and hear the buzzing sound of chain saws. 

I think it is very important to go forward with church services in times like this. It doesn’t matter if you have to pray in a parking lot. People need stability. They need the comfort of worship and in the case of mass, the Eucharist. They need one another.

Which gets me to the real point of this reminiscence, and that is the first first responders and how much we need them. 

The tornado on May 20 took out whole neighborhoods. Everything was rubble-ized. Help was coming, and everybody knew it. But minutes were also ticking by in which a trapped person might either smother or be saved. There was no time to sit around and wait for the authorities to come blaring in with their sirens and equipment. 

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Everybody who was alive and able got to work immediately lifting rubble and looking for other survivors. The tornado had no more than passed when neighbors began helping other neighbors to dig out. 

The same thing happened in Boston. As soon as the bomb went off people began moving barricades and going to help other people. 

There are folks alive today in both cities because of the quick action of their neighbors. 

The first first responders are your neighbors. When that first line of defense fails, terrible things happen.

I remember a couple of years ago a young girl was gang-raped at a school event in California in front of a crowd of onlookers who did nothing. There is the horrible story that shocked a nation of a lady named Kity Genovese who was murdered in her apartment while her neighbors heard her screams for help and didn’t even call the police. 

What happens when community breaks down and people stop helping people? The answer to that is simple: We start to die when we would live otherwise. More to the point, the monsters among us begin to reign over us. 

I watched the videos of the aftermath of the savage murder in Britain a few days ago. It was bemusing to see this murdering maniac hopping from one side of the street to the other, standing over the dead soldier’s body like an animal guarding its kill, spouting lunatic rhetoric. They filmed him. One woman went up to him and talked to him. But nobody took him down. 

One reason why he was able to get away with this is obvious: He was armed and they were not. He was covered with the blood of the young man he had slaughtered and he was waving the machete he’d used to do the deed as he shouted his justifications for his actions. 

The by-standers evidently didn’t feel threatened, but they also took no action. Even if they didn’t have a gun — which they clearly did not — couldn’t they have picked up clubs, gotten themselves organized and taken Mister Raving Lunatic Islamic Radical out?

The British are brave people. They’ve proven that over and again. They are also strong and resourceful. I admire them enormously. I don’t know much about British law, but I have a feeling that there must be something in that law which prohibits people from taking action. I know that London is a big city and that people disengage from one another in big cities. The sheers numbers destroy community on a larger scale and leave people isolated in a crowd. 

But, in truth, if we don’t help one another, we are doomed. That’s what civilization is: People helping one another. 

America has suffered almost endless attacks these past forty years on the organizing units which build community and bind us together. The way we have decimated the family is an obvious one. Less obvious is the way we have been encouraged and even pushed to abandon and destroy our community groups. The most recent example of this is the fall of the Boy Scouts to political correctness. 

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If we ever lose this sense of community and fellowship that binds us together, we will also lose our first first responders along with it. Social destruction has a high cost. The cost in crime, psycho-social destruction of individuals, families and organizations, the loss of initiative and national purpose are obvious. But when disaster strikes and people stand around waiting for official first responders rather than taking up the work of going to help themselves, a lot of people will die needlessly. 

People who go into a storm shelter in Oklahoma when a tornado is coming do so with the knowledge that they may end up trapped due to tons of debris landing on their shelter door. They are able to go ahead and go down in that hole because they know that as soon as the winds stop, their neighbors will be there, digging them out. All they have to do is yell for help. 

People who stand and watch while a young girl is raped, who don’t even call the police while a woman screams as she is murdered, who stand around and watch helplessly while a lunatic speechifies over the body of his victim like an animal guarding its kill, have lost pieces of their birthright as human beings. They’ve stopped being neighbors and become a crowd. 

I know the on-lookers in Britain were stunned. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that the law somehow or other added to the helplessness they exhibited. Having said that, I hope they find a way to react more aggressively the next time one of these things happens. 

Because there will be a next time. It may not play out exactly like this did, probably won’t, in fact. But there is an endless supply of murdering maniacs who feel empowered by our Western codependence masquerading as “tolerance” to act out their darker impulses. Western society has been empowering monsters for quite some time now and we are paying the price of our codependence in the face of outrageous behavior with lost freedoms. If you doubt that, just take a trip on one of our airlines.

Tornados come down from the sky. But bombs and machetes are wielded by human hands. 

Whenever and however destruction of human life happens, the first first responders are us. We must help one another without waiting for the authorities to come. Most of the time, when someone shoves back the rubble, opens your shelter door and reaches in to help you out, it’s your neighbor. 

I hope I never see a day when that’s not true. 

This video of news coverage in the first few minutes after the Moore tornado of a couple of weeks ago shows neighbors helping neighbors.

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They Said it Would Never Happen: Human Cloning on Our Doorstep

Human cloning.

I remember well when we were promised that human cloning was never going to happen. People who raised this issue were, as usual, mocked and heckled as paranoid fantasists. Now, of course, people who oppose human cloning are mocked and heckled as “backward” and “anti-science.”

Another moral issue that is not mentioned in this video  about recent advances in human cloning is the misogynist practice of farming women’s bodies for eggs with little or no concern for the consequences to the women.

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Pope Francis: Triumphalism Impedes the Church, Impedes Christians

Pope Francis might as well have been speaking directly to American Christians with the homily he gave a few days ago.

“Triumphalism impedes the Church,” he said. “Triumphalism impedes Christians.”

Americans play to win. We are taught from our earliest days that competition is good and that we can make anything of our lives that we want if we just work hard and smart enough.

Triumphalism, the joy in winning, is part of our national psyche. We are, in our own way, very sure of ourselves and our ability to overcome whatever difficulties lie in front of us.

This makes those of us who are Christians a bit “off” in our understanding of the Gospels. Jesus triumphed over Satan. He transcended Satan’s final ploy against humanity, which is death, in an absolute way.

If we’re not careful, we’ll focus on that victory and ignore the way it was achieved and the words Jesus said about what awaits anyone who truly follows Him. The cross did not look like a victory to those who saw Our Lord suffer and die on it. It looked like  an ignominious defeat.

We can, from our vantage point in history, connect the dots backwards and see the progression from Calvary to the resurrection. We know how the story ends. But if we try to skip over the tough parts, or limit our thinking about  them to annual passion plays, we miss the point.

The cross, which Jesus defeated with His resurrection, is still part of this world. We all have our crosses, and as He told us, if we want to be worthy of Him, we must pick them up and carry them. Not only that, but we must bear the crosses of our lives by “following after” Him. I think we need to ponder for a moment what that means.

Pick up your cross and follow after me Jesus instructs us.

I don’t think He means that we must merely endure the hardships of our lives, even though that would be more than enough for most of us. I believe that we are called to “follow after Him” in the way we endure the sufferings that come our way, which is to say we must triumph over them.

But this triumph is not triumph according to the world’s understanding. It is not an aggressive and competitive victory that elevates us in other people’s eyes and gives us status, power and money. Following after Him means that we must forgive those who hurt us, bear with those whose weakness burdens and wounds us. We must be like Him in how we treat one another and in how we view ourselves.

Triumphalism as the world understands it, which is beating the other guy and following up by basking in the satisfactions and congratulations of the winner’s circle, has nothing at all to do with the triumph of the cross. The triumph of the cross is defeat for the Kingdom’s sake. It is loving others to the point that you cast out evil with that love.

It is not easy to be a Christian. In fact, it is impossible for us to do it on our own strength and or our own understanding. This is as true of the officers of the Church as it is for those of us in the pews. Without the Holy Spirit to give us the spiritual graces necessary, we can never successfully pick up our crosses and follow after Him.

That is why we need the sacraments. The sacraments — the eucharist and confession in particular — offer a steady infusion of grace into our souls that strengthens and fits us for living life in Christ.

The video below excerpts Pope Francis’ homily about triumphalism and the Church.

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Pope Francis Leads Corpus Christi Procession on Foot

Today is the feast of Corpus Christi, the body of Christ.

Jesus said,

“Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, you have no life in you … Whoever drinks of my blood and eats of my flesh remains in me and I am in them … the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna in the desert and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

This teaching was so hard that many people stopped following Him because of it. Afterwards, He turned to the the disciples and asked if they were going to leave Him, too.

This prompted Peter to reply “Where else would we go? You alone have the words that lead to eternal life.”

This teaching is just as true today as if was then.

Pope Francis led the Corpus Christi procession on foot this week. Remember, he is 77 years old. Here is a video of the procession with a summary of his homily. 

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The National Religious Freedom Conference and Me

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As usual, Deacon Greg Kandra has the story, even when it’s about me. 

I attended the National Religious Freedom Conference, which was organized by the American Religious Freedom Program, which is affiliated with the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington DC. The conference was Thursday.

It was the reason for the trip to Washington that I mentioned in my earlier post lambasting the hapless news commenter who got on the wrong side of my Okie-ism.

If ever there was a reason for doing a back-to-back flight across the country, this conference was it. Except for the basic right to life, there is no human right that transcends our innate right to freedom of conscience and belief. Interfering with an individual’s religious beliefs is tantamount to a form of mind control. It goes to the core of their personhood, of what makes them tick as people.

America, this unique nation which was, as one of the speakers at the conference said, created from an idea, has always held that religion is a matter so intimate that the government may not interfere, either with its existence or with the free exercise of its practices. Freedom of religion is not and never has been freedom from religion.

This is not to say that those who do not believe in any god should have their clear right to their disbelief meddled with. Not at all. Each of us has the right to be wrong in one another’s eyes on questions of faith. 

The troubling trend in this country by certain groups to attack and limit the freedoms of religious people has gone on unchallenged for far too long. It is time that people of faith insist that, whatever social changes may come down the road, none of them should trample other people’s rights to freedom of religion and faith. 

There is much more at stake in this than my religious belief or your religious belief, or even your unbelief. What is at stake is the essential idea on which America was founded and on which all American freedoms exist. That is the idea that all human beings are created equal and that every single one of us has worth. Religious freedom, freedom of conscience, are the wellhead of how this idea is expressed in our government. 

It was no accident that the first freedom America guarantees to individual citizens involves self expression through speech and religious belief. If you can’t believe according to your faith and say what you believe, then there is no freedom at all. 

As a speaker at the conference, I attracted a small amount of attention, some of which resulted in an article by Dennis Sadowski at the Catholic News Service. From what I hear, I also got a shout out of some sort from the 700 Club. 

Needless to say, I’m flattered by this. However, I am much more than flattered to have been part of this conference. I am deeply honored that anyone would think that I had something to contribute to such an august body of thinkers and all-around wonderful people. The American Religious Freedom Program is not designed to replace the efforts of groups like the USCCB or the Southern Baptists in the fight for American religious freedom. It will take a more focused and direct approach which does not involve specific moral issues and which seeks to protect the religious liberty of all faith groups. 

The one and only issue for the National Religious Freedom Conference is religious freedom itself. I think this is a critical approach which has been lacking in the fight for religious liberty up to now. It is a position that no religious group can take, simply because every religious group has specific moral issues on which it must also take positions. 

However, I believe that the freedom of all faiths and faith members to be who we are, with our doctrinal differences intact and fully respected, is something that all faiths can unite around. For instance, as a Catholic, I may not have a problem with eating pork or the social drinking of liquor, but if the government tries to force members of faiths which do have moral teachings against these things to violate their faith, then I will stand with them in the fight. To paraphrase Patrick Henry, I may not agree with what you believe. But I will fight with you to protect your right to believe it. 

Here, from Deacon Greg’s blog, The Deacon’s Bench, is the article from CNS:

Meet a Pro-Life Democrat: Patheos’ Rebecca Hamilton Profiled by CNS

Behold: 

 

 

Oklahoma State Rep. Rebecca Hamilton 

 

sees no conflict between her pro-life views as a Catholic and being a stalwart Democrat who has served 18 years in the state Legislature.

 

 

Hamilton, who represents South Oklahoma City, told Catholic News Service during a break this morning in the 2013 National Religious Freedom Conference

 

 in Washington that her pro-life stance evolved over time after a “powerful religious experience” in the 1980s.

 

It helped, she said, that she became Catholic in 2002.

Hamilton has cemented her pro-life credentials in the Legislature in recent years despite vocal objections from fellow Democrats and other supporters of Democratic politics. She said one labor official told her to keep her beliefs in church and out of the state Legislature when she shepherded one pro-life measure to passage.

All this after Hamilton worked for a stint for the National Abortion Rights Action League in Oklahoma. Back then, she said, she was hardly religious.

These days, in addition to looking out for her district, Hamilton’s focus is on threats to religious freedom that she sees emerging nationwide. She said it will take the Catholic community — a small minority in Oklahoma — working side by side with people of all faiths to be vigilant about legislative attempts to marginalize religious practice and educate the wider community that any threat to religion poses a threat to all.

One of her priorities: helping form a religious freedom caucus with other like-minded legislators to stop incursions on religious practice.

Hamilton was one of four panelists who discussed challenges to religious freedom during a conference session. She told the 150 people in attendance that her fear is that opponents of religion are becoming bolder in their attacks — verbal, through the courts and in state legislatures.

“You dehumanize a group enough, you marginalize a group enough, it becomes easy to do anything to them,” she said.

 

Tornados and Doing My Part

Moore Tornado 2 jpg I grew up looking at the remnants of a tornado.

It was an area of acreages and farmland that today is inner city. On the land next to our acreage, the remains of a roof rotted slowly back to the ground. The tornado had stripped it off a house and dumped it there. A half mile or so past that, a tilted grain silo sat where the same tornado had deposited it. It was about a mile from its original moorings.

That particular tornado happened before I was born, before my parents were married. They were both involved in it. My Daddy told me how he watched it take the house where my aunt and uncle lived. He described how the tornado seemed to lift the house off the ground, and then it exploded. That storm jerked trees out of the ground and their roots pulled up with them in long tendrils that left trenches in the earth. It took up grass off the ground.

Daddy said that the canned goods lining the shelves in the neighbor’s cellar where he took shelter vibrated as the storm passed over.

Thirty-five people died in that tornado. They were people my family knew. My mother went to school with a girl who lost her entire family and was terribly injured herself. This lone survivor of her whole clan wore a headscarf after that because she had been scalped by the winds.

Every time I read another comment about how Oklahoma doesn’t have basements for people to shelter in from these storms, I remember the line of graves in the cemetery not far from where my grandparents and my father are buried. This family went to the basement of their house. They were killed — every single one of them — when the tornado dropped the house down into the basement on top them.

In storms like this, you have to be underground, and the top of your underground shelter cannot be the floor of the house above.

Daddy and my Uncle Jimmy dug us a storm cellar when I was a little girl. After what they’d seen, they were adamant about what it took to come through a bad tornado. It had a concrete, steel-reinforced top that you could park a train engine on without any problem.

When my parents went through the killer tornado that killed so many of their friends, there were no tornado warnings. My father watched this particular tornado form. There were two funnels at first, then they got together. The rest was rock and roll. The fact that he saw it happen gave him and his time to take shelter. He even had time to do a stupid young man’s thing and try to drive his car to the shelter. Why he thought it would save that car to move it, no one, including him, ever knew. But it seemed like the thing to do at the time.

He and his brother left the storm cellar, with my grandmother yelling at them to come back and not be such idiots, ran back to their house, got into that car and raced, teen-aged style, for the shelter. All this while a killer tornado was roaring right at them.

I can only imagine what my grandmother must have felt, watching these two young bucks of hers as they risked their lives for no reason at all. The tornado didn’t hit them. But they got enough of a by-blow that it lifted the front end of the car off the ground and shoved it into a ditch. They got out and made the rest of the trek on foot.

The only reason I managed to get born is because that day just wasn’t my Daddy’s day to die.

It was the day to die for thirty-five other people. As I said, there was no warning. The girl who lost her family and ended up wearing wigs and head scarves for life said that the first they knew of it was when they heard gravel from the road, hitting the side of their house. That was the tornado, throwing the gravel as it approached.

Later, when I was a little girl, we had sort of storm warnings. By that I mean the television would make a loud beeping sound and the weatherman would come on to tell us there was a “line of thunder storms” coming at us. He used what looked like a white magic marker on a black board to make little squiggly marks signifying the line of thunderstorms and then he’d draw arrows to show which way they were moving. Nobody, including him, knew if this particular line of thunderstorms would make hail, high winds, deadly tornadoes, or just pass on by without even dropping rain.

We would troop down into the cellar Daddy had built, us and all the neighbors. Before he built it, I remember going to other people’s cellars in the neighborhood. Going to the cellar back then was something of a community event. We took lanterns and the kids took toys. The women and children sat around underground, passing the time and waiting for the storms to get there while the men stood aboveground, gazing thoughtfully at the skies.

You may not know this, but real men always stand guard, even if it’s against a tornado.

After a while the storm would hit and we’d all sit there together, listening to hail as it pounded the cellar door. Many times, it go too loud to talk.

People always take other people in during storms. I remember once we were traveling across the Texas panhandle when the clouds got gnarly looking. We stopped at a farmhouse. There was no one in the house, so we went around back to the cellar and knocked on the cellar door. They opened it, saw us, and invited us in. We rode out the storm with these good people. After it was over, the men shook hands, the women said their glad-to-meet-yous and we we got back on the road for home.

I’ve heard rumors that a branch of a national bank turned people away in the storm last week. I haven’t been able to verify it. But if it’s true, I’m taking my money out of that bank. I think they need to close up and go somewhere else. They don’t belong here. 

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The May 3, 1999 tornado is the worst tornado I have ever personally experienced. 

Warning time is everything when it comes to tornadoes. Without warning, hundreds of people would have died last week. Without warning, many hundreds of people would have died in the May 3, 1999 tornado.

Those early tornado warning pioneers with their magic markers and vague information saved lives. Today’s weather forecasters with their helicopters and doppler radar save many more lives.

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Plaza Towers Elementary, May 20, 2013 

That is not to say that we can’t do more. We must do more.

I have been haunted all week by the fact that I am a state legislator and children died in a public school for lack of adequate shelter. I can not explain why we haven’t built shelters in the schools. There is no reason.

The May 3 tornado hit a school and leveled it. We all shook our heads and said that it was lucky that the tornado hit after school hours. But I don’t guess any of us thought what we should do to prevent a tragedy if one of these things came in a few hours earlier in the day.

I know I didn’t.

I wasn’t in the legislature at the time, and when you’re not in the legislature you think differently. But I am now. I have been for years. Why didn’t I at least try?

May 20 dead dog

The reason, stupid as it sounds, is because I didn’t think of it. I think about tornados in much the same way I think about my own impending death, which is to say, not much. They just are. Tornados kill. Everybody knows it. Even with today’s technology, they are unpredictable in the extreme. Someone I know lost their house last week when the tornado they were watching move away from them suddenly turned and headed toward them. They had time to get out ahead of it, but it was close.

Tornadoes are unpredictable. Even the smallest ones will kill you with a direct hit. I saw a tornado once that looked like a water spout. It knocked over one great big sign in a grocery store parking lot about a block from my house. Not much damage. It didn’t even tear up the sign. But if that sign had been a person, things might not have been so simple.

That was a teeny tornado. It was so small and short-lived that only those of us who were looking straight at it ever knew it existed.

There is no tornado that can’t kill you. Some tornados take out a single house. A neighbor of my Daddy’s best friend lost their house to a tornado. The house sat on a hill. Their daughter had been out riding her horse. She saw it coming and got off the horse, raced indoors and climbed up the chimney. When the tornado passed, the chimney was all that was left of her house. Until like most other tornados, this one didn’t leave a pile of rubble. It cleared the house off that hill and left a chimney, standing tall and alone against the sky.

But the big bad ones that come down and stay down and cover territory are killers that can take out a whole community. They have the potential to kill everyone and everything that is above ground for miles, sometimes for hundreds of miles.

We didn’t do what we should have done about building shelters in the schools. That’s the plain truth of it.

I talked to the House Speaker about this late one night last week. He sort of sees the same thing. He’s still got his Oklahoma blinders on, though. We don’t ever think it’s going to happen again. Until it does. Then we don’t think it will happen again … again.

But this is Oklahoma. We get hit by tornados. These storms go in cycles. You can have years, decades, without a really bad one. Then, the killers start dropping out of those clouds like popcorn popping, one after the other, bang, bang, bang. We’re some place in a cycle of bad tornados right now. We may be half way through it. We may even be at the end of it.

But one thing we can know for sure: It will happen again.

I have to live with the fact that those children who died in that school last week are dead at least partly because we — meaning me — didn’t do what we should have done. There is no choice. I failed in my job so far as this is concerned, and the burden of that is something I have to live with.

But I will not live with failing to do what I should do from here on out. I know the people I work with. There are a lot of them who will have trouble with the state forcing local school districts to do anything, even something as ubiquitous and important as building tornado shelters. There are some of them who will decide this is a nanny state thing. So be it. I’m not responsible for them. They will have to stand before God and explain themselves one day just like I will.

I don’t intend to explain that I didn’t try to stop at least this part of the tragedy we are enduring from happening again. I don’t care who gets the credit, or anything like that. All I care about is that I do my best to save lives.

All any of us ever has to do is our part, and that is my part.

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Huffington Post has some interesting before and after photos of the May 20 tornado damage here.

Book Review: StrangeGods and the Idolatry of Me

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To join the discussion about StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, or to order a copy, go here. 

I’m going to suggest that my book club read StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life for its July discussion.

The reason is simple. Author Elizabeth Scalia has written a book that is so thought-provoking it makes me want to sit down with her and talk about it. I think my book club members will feel the same way.

StrangeGods unmasks both the meaning of our personal idolatries and the way we spiral deep and deeper into worshipping them until all perspective and thought are lost to them.

Idols and idolatry violate the First and greatest Commandment. When we put anything in our lives as the center of our thinking and make that the touchstone of our values and the object of our desires, we have created an idol. The extent that we allow this idol to become the center of who and what we are reflects directly the depth of our idolatry.

Jesus told us, “You can not serve two masters.” You cannot serve two gods. You can not follow the real God and also an idol of your own devising at the same time.

That, at root is what is wrong with idols and idolatry. They are placebo gods for the real God, and like all placebos, they only appear to have power in the imaginations of our minds.

Elizabeth understands that we can have big idols and little idols. We can and do make an idol of almost anything. I would say that in an odd fashion, I make a idol of food because I reach for it to find comfort. I sooth myself with food like a monkey, rocking in place with its tail wrapped around it, is soothed by the motion of rocking back and forth.

In that sense, food, for me, is an idol of sorts. It’s not the intellectual idol that politics or commitment to a cause can become. But it is something I use to deal with my troubles instead of turning to God with them.

That’s the core of idolatry. It is a substitute for God, the real God. 

StrangeGods makes the point that many of our idols are, like my use of food, strange indeed. Our obsessions quickly become our idols, as do our compulsions. All these little idols, each of which begins with our self-referencing self-absorption and moves outward to an unhealthy focus on things, actions and ideas, are an expression of isolation. Me first is ultimately and always me only.

Whether you waste time, money and health on unneeded food, or you isolate in front of a computer or make some idea or plan or ambition the center of who you are, you are always at root isolating yourself on an island of me first. The seminal idol is always ourselves. All the rest flows from that.

StrangeGods leads us from a discussion of the many ways and many things we substitute for God in our lives to the really egregious mental addictions of what Elizabeth call “Super Idols.” Super Idols are the overarching idols that become ideologies, philosophies and ultimately, world views.

We see them and their damage all about us. As our society has moved more and more from a God-centered world view to a me-centered world view it has shattered and divided along the fault lines of our selfish desires. We dress these things up and call them “rights” or “causes.” We label ourselves along the divisions we create to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, but in reality these things are all lies. They are just idolatry spread large and become organized into the false religions of political and social movements.

I know something about this. I’ve practiced this form of idolatry and I deal with its practitioners on a daily basis. There is no person so indifferent to the consequences of their actions to their country, other people, or even themselves as someone who is in the grip of a super idolatrous false social religion. 

These people have checked both their brains and their hearts at the altar of their super idol and they are fueled by the twin evils of unthinking rage and self-righteousness that super idols pump into them. They’re dangerous. They’re destructive. And they are mean and cold-hearted to a level that their saner selves would find abhorrent.

As you can see, StrangeGods is a thought-provoking book that leads you to find yourself on most of its pages. It is a convicting and inspiring read in that it convicts you of the idolatries in your own life and it also inspires you to repent of these sins of false idol worship and turn back to the real God.

In the end, we turn to false idols because they are comforting reflections of us. They don’t appear to ask the difficult things of us that relationships with an other always does. Idols seem easy and comprehensible because at root they are ourselves.

But you cannot serve two masters. You cannot follow false gods and the real God simultaneously. You have to chose, and given our proclivity for self-referencing you have to make this choice many times in a single day. Banish the little gods and you will spare yourself the true evil of the super idols that take your mind and your goodness away from you. 

I heartily recommend StrangeGods, Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life. It is that rare thing: A book that can make you want to be and do better.

Pope Francis: Walking Past Lazarus on the Way to Hell

“Financiers, economists and politicians consider God as manageable, even dangerous because God calls man to his full realization and independence from any kind of slavery.” Pope Francis

Money is God

When money is your god, you are well on your way to creating a hell on earth.

We have gone so far down the road of making money our god in this society that we basically exempt any public policies that have to do with business or finance from moral scrutiny. Some of the most ardent Christians are the ones who enforce this heretical nonsense. 

The same people who go into a froth over abortion do not raise an eyebrow when it comes to limiting prenatal care or refusing to require businesses to provide safe work environments for their employees. There is no piece of legislation that limits access to care for the poor that these folks won’t support. They are the enemies of the welfare state … except when it comes to corporations. No deal is too special, no government hand-out too abusive to deserve a second look when it comes to business.

It’s as if Jesus never said a single word about “the least of these” except as it applies to abortion. You would think that it was a moral imperative to drain the public coffers dry and hand the money over to a few corporations and wealthy campaign donors who sit at the top of the social pile. These Christians never consider whose money it is in the first place when they take it from the many and give it to the few. 

According to them, people are poor because they are lazy, stupid and deserve what they get. On the other hand the wealthy are rich because they are industrious, productive and deserve all they can get. 

Government has become a wholly owned subsidiarity of the rich and shameless. In the hands of these moral Christian politicians, government is a method for funneling the wealth of generations into a few hands and impoverishing the rest of our society. 

This particular form of sinfulness is committed by those who are usually the most vociferous in claiming their loyalty to Christ. They are “pro life” and they usually support “traditional marriage,” so in their little minds that means that everything else they do is, by definition, righteous and holy. You would think that we are saved, not by the cross, but by checking off the right boxes on candidate surveys by a couple of political support groups. 

When money becomes your god, you are well on your way to creating a hell on earth. I would guess that you are also well on you way to going to the actual hell one day, as well.

Money is a human invention. Wealth and poverty are symptoms of our fallen nature. There is nothing divine or holy about either one of them. That is not to say that they are necessarily evil. They are, simply, tools and reality. Money is a tool. Disparity of wealth is a reality.

But greed, graft and government corruption are sins. When we carry them to the point that they impoverish millions while enriching a few beyond the dreams of avarice, they are deadly sins, both in this world and the next. 

Luke16 24RichManinHell

It’s a simple equation, really. Do not walk past Lazarus; not if you want to go to heaven one day. 

Pope Francis spoke about this concept of money as a means rather than an end today when he addressed the new ambassadors to the Holy See from Kyrgyzstan, Antigua and Barbuda, Luxembourg and Botswana. 

Pope francis

“Money has to serve, not rule” he told them … wanting power and possession has become limitless … the sprawling of corruption and tax evasion has gone global.

“The Pope urges a return to the unselfish solidarity and ethics in favor of man in financial and economic reality,” he said. “The Pope loves everyone rich and poor alike, but the Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them. This would take a courageous change of attitude on the part of political leaders … I urge them to face this challenge with determination and farsightedness, taking account, naturally, of their particular situations. 

The excerpts of his discussion below are from CNA:

“The joy of living is decreasing, indecency and violence are the the rise and poverty is becoming more evident,” said Pope Frncis.

“You must fight to live and often to live in a non-decent way … We have created new idols, the ancient worship of the golden calf has found a new and ruthless image in fetishism of the dictatorship of the economy without purpose nor a truly human face,” he said. 

“It reduces man to one of its demands, consumption and even worse, the human being is today considered himself as a commodity that you can use and then throw away … Financiers, economists and politicians consider God as manageable, even dangerous because God calls man to his full realization and independence from any kind of slavery …” (Read the rest here.) 

My Vocation Story by Fr Jason Smith

Holy eucharist


“God our Father, send us holy priests, all for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus all for the Immaculate Heart of Mary in union with St Joseph. Amen.”

Prayers don’t get much more Catholic than that one. With its talk of eucharistic and immaculate hearts, it’s enough to confuse the average protestant for days. 

My rosary group prays this particular prayer every time we get together. We also pray by name for all the priests in our archdiocese. We know, as all Catholics do, that our Church is built around the sacrament of Holy Orders. The graces of God rain down on us Catholics in a free and easy way, like a gentle spring shower, when we partake of the sacraments such as the eucharist and confession. 

Jesus instituted the priesthood as a mechanism of transmission of these graces. It is meant to be reliable and available. Freely given, freely received. Priests are conduits of God’s grace.

As such, they are an essential component to living the life in Christ in this difficult and challenging age with its destructive secularism and intolerance of genuine Christianity. 

We need priests. We need holy priests who are called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to give their lives in the service of Christ’s Church. 

This is the story of Father Jason Smith’s vocation. Fr Smith blogs at Biltrix. He has given me permission to reproduce his story in full. 

 

My Vocation Story 

Fr Jason Smith

If not for a hockey game, I wouldn’t be a Legionary priest today.As a good Minnesotan, I naturally considered hockey as divinely inspired, a sign of God’s love for us. But it’s what happened after the game that took me by surprise and lead me to know my priestly vocation.

During my first year at college, I often went to the rink at the University of Minnesota with my friends. After one such event —ending in a double overtime victory for the Golden Gophers, and a long celebration— I returned home in the wee hours of the morning, too tired to get out of bed until Sunday afternoon.

Stumbling upstairs for something to eat, I found my Dad sitting at the kitchen table, reading the paper. Opening the fridge, I heard from over my shoulder: “Jason, did you go to Mass this morning?” I swallowed hard. I hadn’t. Quickly I tried to think up the perfect excuse. None came. Trying to hide behind the refrigerator door, I quipped “No, I didn’t go”. Without looking up Dad replied solemnly, “Go tomorrow then.”

It was my first Monday morning Mass ever. I was struck by how quiet the Church was, and how empty. I sat about halfway up and waited. Little by little people began to filter in. Then an attractive girl sat down a few pews behind me. How is it I find a girl like this now and not last Saturday evening? It must be God’s providence! I decided the sign of peace was the perfect time to introduce myself. When the moment came I turned around and, to my surprise, she passed me a note. I put it in my pocket pretending it happened all the time.

When I got home I opened the note. It read something like this: “It’s good to see someone young attending daily Mass. You must really love your faith! I want to let you know about a group of young people who pray and study scripture Wednesday evenings. If you would like to come, here is my number.” I decided I could find time in my packed schedule to go.

That’s when it occurred to me I hadn’t seriously looked into my Catholic faith since Confirmation. What would I say? What would I pray? Where was my Rosary? I found it stuffed in the bottom dresser drawer along with a pamphlet of prayers. As to what I would say, I went to my Dad’s study and checked out his library. It had books on music, history, politics —but the largest section was religion. I found one book called, “True Devotion to Mary”. It seemed like a good place to start since it was short.

I never read beyond the introduction, but the book changed my life. It explained how St Louis de Montfort, a priest who tirelessly preached the Gospel and underwent extraordinary trials, spread devotion to Mary throughout France. It was my first encounter with the life of a saint. I marveled how someone could dedicate himself entirely to Christ, even to the point of heroism. It was precisely then that I renewed the resolution I had made a two years earlier to pray and sincerely live my faith.

A few months later I went on a retreat with the youth group. It was the first time the priesthood entered my mind. During the consecration, as I gazed at the elevated host, I thought to myself —in words that were my own, but which carried a resonance I will never forget— if there is one thing I should do it’s that. It was the defining moment of my calling. I was taken entirely by surprise. I knew I had to look into the priesthood, but I didn’t know how or where.

To make a long story short, the same girl who gave me the note in church then gave me a brochure on the Legionaries of Christ. It had testimonies of the young men who entered the year before. I read it and was convinced. I called and asked for an application. A Legionary came to visit. I went to candidacy. I joined. My younger brother followed the next year.

Since then the years have passed by like a whirlwind. There is much more I could write, but the essential is simple: Christ crossed my path, called, and by his grace —definitely not my own strength— I found the courage to drop everything and follow him. I have never looked back. Our Lord’s presence and the needs of the Church have captivated my attention ever since.

Now only a few days away from priestly ordination, in my conversations with Christ, I continually thank him for the many gifts he has given me: my faith, my wonderful parents and brother, my Legionary vocation, and above all, his presence and friendship throughout my life.

I can hardly believe I have arrived at the foot of the altar. It seems almost a dream; that I’ll wake up, finding myself back in Minnesota, late for a hockey game. But it’s true. God’s plans are far beyond, and far better, then my own.

Fortnight for Freedom 2013

Fortnight for Freedom 2013  is around the corner!

The Fortnight, which begins June 21 and ends July 4 is a call for both prayer and activity on behalf of our first American Freedom — Freedom of Religion.

From the USCCB website:

The Fortnight for Freedom, which we celebrated for the first time last year, takes place from June 21—the vigil of the Feasts of St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More—to July 4, Independence Day.  Last year, we saw a great diversity of events promoting religious freedom across the country.  In 2013, we face many challenges to religious liberty, including the August 1, 2013 deadline for religious organizations to comply with the HHS mandate; potential Supreme Court rulings that could redefine marriage in June, causing serious religious liberty issues for Catholic adoption agencies and many others; and religious liberty concerns in other areas, such as immigration and humanitarian services.

During the Fortnight, our liturgical calendar celebrates a series of great martyrs who remained faithful in the face of persecution by political power—St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, the First Martyrs of the Church of Rome, St. John Fisher, and St. Thomas More.Through prayerstudy, and peaceful public action during the Fortnight for Freedom, we hope to remind ourselves and others all throughout the United States about the importance of preserving the fundamental right of religious freedom.

Please join our Facebook Page so you can stay up to date on the latest Fortnight for Freedom 2013 news!

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