Dan Wheldon, Two Time Indy 500 Winner, Requescat In Pace

Sad news out of Las Vegas, Nevada today. Dan Wheldon, 33 years old, was killed in a fiery crash that involved 15 other cars at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway earlier this afternoon. Join me is saying a prayer for his soul and for his loved ones who have lost a cherished family member, husband, and father. [Read more...]

Robert Downey, Jr. Asks Hollywood to Forgive Mel Gibson UPDATED

Image credit: Eric Charbonneau/WireImage

This past Friday, in the spirit of Christ’s forgiveness of the adulteress when she was presented to him by the holier than thou, a remarkably similar story has come to my attention from an area that I usually steer clear of: the shoals of Hollywood. And yet this is where a stunningly familiar event took place. [Read more...]

To Pray for Rihanna and the Farmer

Rihanna showing too much skin? So says an Irish farmer. Around his neck of the woods he’s known as “the Christian.” Rihanna & Co. wanted to shoot a music video on his property, and he agreed until he saw how scantily clad she was. Here’s the scoop,

A Christian farmer in Northern Ireland who allowed pop star Rihanna to film a music video in his wheat field, asked her to leave when he saw she was half naked.

Farmer Alan Graham also encouraged the global star – infamous for her risqué performances – to seek after God and his Son Jesus Christ.

He has been praised for showing a strength of belief that was once commonplace, and for standing up against “the sexualistion of society and our celebrity culture”.

Mr Graham said he has no ill will towards the singer, but he asked the film crew to stop shooting the video when things got out of hand.

“I thought it was inappropriate. I requested them to stop and they did,” he explained.

“I had my conversation with Rihanna and I hope she understands where I’m coming from. We shook hands,” he said.

Mr Graham confessed that he had never heard of Rihanna when he was first contacted about using his field for a music video.

He said: “I didn’t know who was coming. If the name ‘Rihanna’ had been mentioned, well, no disrespect but it wouldn’t have meant anything.”

He also said: “Everybody needs to be acquainted with God and to consider his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and his death and Resurrection.”

Read the rest here. Only 23 years old, Rihanna has had a meteoric rise to fame. There are only 45 million fans on her Facebook page. She has also been abused by her high-profile boyfriend a few years back.

Offer up a prayer for her, so that Mr. Graham’s chivalrous, and Christian, action helps her realize that she is a pawn of an industry (and culture) that seeks to profit off of turning her into an object. While you’re at it, say a prayer for Mr. Graham too,

He has since been inundated with hate mail from her some of her fans – but despite the fuss, the farmer insists he’s thinking about naming a grain in the superstar’s honour.

Graham tells Britain’s The Sun, “I’m taking it all in my stride, it’ll soon die down. To be honest, all this fuss has kept me back a bit. I’ve got straw to harvest that I haven’t been able to finish yet… Maybe I’ll name a type of grain after her.

“I’d love to have her back. She was lovely and gracious when I spoke to her. Just as long as I know what she’s wearing before the visit.

Good on you, mate!

A Message on Mortgage Debt from the World

Just a quick note to parish finance committees from Joe Six-Pack, Catholic layman (in the world, but not of the world). The chart above shows the interest rate on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury Note from 1962 until the present. See the dot on the chart in July 2001? That is just for your reference.  The 10 Year Treasury is a bench mark for mortgage rates. If at all possible, it’s probably a great time to refinance parish debt. Or your own mortgage if you can (and haven’t already).

That is all.

A Modest Proposal: Treat Priests Like Officers, Not Like Corporate CEO’s

“Soldier, shut up and soldier!”

That’s one of my favorite lines from Robert Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers. You might remember that it was made into a campy, sci-fi cult movie back in the late 1990′s.

I remember it as a novel I read and enjoyed in high school (you know, instead of doing my homework) before I entered the Marines. Later, I would be amazed that it made the Marine Corps’ Professional Reading List.

Click on the link above and you’ll see Heinlein’s novel listed right there under the Captain / Chief Warrant Officer 4 heading along with a host of other great reads:

• First to Fight: An Inside View of the US Marine Corps by
LtGen Victor H. Krulak, USMC (Ret) (CMC 359.96)
• The Arab Mind by Raphael Patai (CMC 305.892)
• The Defense of Hill 781 by James McDonough (CMC 355.4)
• The General – by C.S. Forrester (CMC F)
• The Lions of Iwo Jima by Fred Haynes (CMC 940.54)
• Lost Victories by Erich Von Manstein (CMC 940.54)
• The Mask of Command by John Keegan (CMC 355.3)
• Passion of Command by Bryan McCoy (CMC 355)
• Sources of Power – by Gary Klein (CMC 658.4)
Starship Troopers – by Robert Heinlein (CMC F)
• The Tipping Point – by Malcom Gladwell (CMC 302)
• Victory at High Tide by Robert D. Heinl (CMC 951.9)
• We Were Soldiers Once and Young – by Harold G.Moore & Joseph L. Galloway (CMC 959.704)

Military thoughts, fact and fictional, from every clime and place. Guess what else? You’ll also find it listed under the lowly Lance Corporal rank heading too. The Marine Corps, see, doesn’t subscribe to the “master-slave” model of leadership development. Instead, she goes for what’s known as the “teacher-scholar” school of thought, sharing the wealth of knowledge across the entire rank spectrum. Both the officer and enlisted ranks are encouraged to further their professional knowledge for the good of the Corps.

Oh, that’s right. You thought Marines don’t read. Well evidently a number of priests don’t read either. Or at the very least, they don’t understand some basic leadership / followership traits that are just rudimentary stuff to anyone who has ever served in the military. It’s a funny thing, I know, to hear the Church referred to as the Church Militant, what with visions of military-like prowess and efficiency paraded before your mind’s eye.  And then you see that often the war for the salvation of souls seems to be run instead like a loose confederation lead by tribal chieftains rather than as a tight military operation with a clear focus and even clearer chain of command. By “tight” I mean “taut” as in “run like a taut ship.”

Lately it seems that there have been plenty of loose cannons rolling around the top decks, calling attention to themselves, putting themselves ahead of the mission of the Church, and generally wreaking havoc among the ships company, er, I mean the faithful. Blame this upset of good order and discipline on whatever you want. Everything from the “Smoke of Satan” to problems of “evil, corrupt bishops” and other excuses that run the gamut from A to Z show up in comboxes routinely these days.  But Joe Six-Pack, USMC has another suggestion for an explanation and it’s a very simple one: lack of discipline coupled with short-sightedness on how priests are assigned to roles within the Church.

Let’s discuss the latter of these reasons in detail, because the former one seems to be answered succinctly by the sentence that leads off this post. Keep in mind that I am a newbie Catholic who doesn’t know diddly-squat about how the Church actually runs her Officer Corps, er, I mean her “priestly assignment system.” But I can tell you that they don’t seem to run it in any way that makes sense from a military personnel development / mission accomplishment point of view. By that I mean priests (and I am probably wrong on this front, so those with Holy Orders feel free to correct me in the combox) don’t seem to be assigned like they generally are in the military where folks rotate into and out of line and staff positions routinely throughout the course of their careers. It’s an approach like climbing a staircase, or going up the rungs of a career ladder, where officers move in and out of line and staff positions throughout their career. Nobody stays in one place for too long.

Take the latest example of what is in the news now with Fr. Frank Pavone, the head of an organization called Priests for Life. The news of his recall back to the Amarillo Diocese is all over the wires. His bishop’s leaked letter to all his brother bishops, Fr. Pavone’s own statements, etc., etc., all played out in the court of public opinion for all us arm-chair generals and barristers to see. (Head over to New Advent for all the latest).

Wiser folks than I have been commenting on this latest example of “priests gone wild” and I haven’t up till now because I figured those involved would handle their differences quietly and professionally. Fat chance of that, or so it seems. So instead I got to thinking “what kind of rag-tag outfit is this anyway?” Staff officers on special assignment think they can call their own shots and do whatever they please while the line-officers prosecute the war and are flat out forgotten? And these priests circumvent their chains-of-command and chafe at the orders from their bishops too? That’s weird and dangerous. And it’s no way to run an army. I think the folks over at Global Security.Org have noticed this downward slide.

Within the last 12 months, we have witnessed the fall of Fr. Euteneuer, Fr. Corapi, and now this latest dustup with Fr. Pavone is unfolding right before our eyes. In each of these cases, the priest in charge of the (insert name of your favorite indispensable sloop of war here) was long at the helm of a staff command in an organization with an ancillary, nay, secondary (if not tertiary) mission in support of the specific mission of the Church. As a whole, what is that grand mission? Winning souls to Christ and His Church, and nourishing them sacramentally on their pilgrimage here on earth so that they move from the Church Militant into the arms of the Church Triumphant.

Over at Dr. Gerard Nadel’s blog, where he has lead the charge with sensible commentary on this latest cause célèbre, I commented that I’ve always wondered why our priests aren’t moved around more often among these high profile ministries, like officers in the military are. See, it helps them become well-rounded to be exposed and developed in new ways by these types of assignments. But in the military, they are never left there long enough to become homesteaded and then ensconced in them. The normal tenure is 3-4 years max, then they move on to another assignment or command, richer for the experience (in theory, anyway) and able to bring more to bear to the organization as a result.

A priest receives orders to head over to EWTN for an assignment in the limelight? Hey that’s grand. But slap a time limit on it, and it would be even better. Doesn’t that make sense? In that way, see, the heads of any of these organizations, be it Priests for Life, Human Life International, or a priest occupying a position in the the media spotlight , and heck I don’t know, even the heads of the various religious orders, would have clear career paths so that when it lands them in one of these assignments, it does so as stewards of an “office” and not like religious versions of Chief Executive Officers, with all the attendant cults of personality and troubles that this secular title implies. Lately the CEO/Media Superstar model of priestly leadership is showing it’s weaknesses.

If what I am suggesting seems impossible to change, perhaps that is because you don’t realize that this problem has been faced, and conquered, in various ways in the military since the time when Julius Caesar was conquering Gaul. But you don’t have to go back that far. Just look at the American experience of moving from a loose confederation of militias during the Revolutionary War to the transformation of a military that is a professional organization, with personnel policies that, though not perfect, have moved a long way from having, say, enough money and prestige to buy the rank of Colonel,  to actually earning that title by way of promotion via a selection board that has assessed your fitness to handle that rank and the responsibilities of command at that level. A difference, you must admit, that is like night is to day.

One of my favorite professors at UCLA wrote the definitive history about the modernization of the U.S. Navy’s officer personnel system from it’s roots in prize-money taking captaincies to a professional system of advancement. The book is expensive ($135!), and the subject (officer promotion and assignment policies…yawn!) esoteric, but given the seemingly non-stop episodes of priests being set up in positions that then lead to trouble, perhaps folks at the Vatican might want to pick up a few copies of this book. Think of it as “outside-the-box” reading of books written by laymen whose provenance is the study, and solving of, organizational problems of this nature.

The book’s title goes a long way to understanding the problems of homesteading and cronyism that faced the Navy before the system was fixed. It’s called Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes: Origins and Development of the U.S. Navy’s Officer Personnel System, 1793-1941. Don’t take Joe Six-Pack’s word for it though, let the experts sing it’s praises:

“An excellent source of lessons to be learned.”—Naval History

“This lengthy, important, and almost unique book addresses U.S. Navy officer policy for the first two-thirds of the service’s history.”—The Journal of Military History

“Donald Chisholm has provided us with an important book. It is the first comprehensive history of the development of the U.S. Navy’s officer personnel system.”—Naval War College Review

“Extensively researched in primary sources and thoroughly documented, [Chisholm’s] book is a major contribution to organizational theory.”—Naval War College Review

“Chisholm has achieved what he set out to do in fine style. He has provided a comprehensive history of naval officer personnel management and at the same time has shed light on the creation, structure, and problem solving that resulted in the organization we see today. From now on it will be impossible to write usefully about the history of personnel management without reference to this book. It promises to be a standard authority.”—Naval War College Review

Waiting for Dead Men’s Shoes contains a wealth of descriptive detail on the general environment in which the personnel system developed and on the large cast of naval and political players involved. It is clearly organized, reads well, contains extensive citations, and includes an exhaustive bibliography. . . . it will stand as a definitive reference on the subject and will be used by many naval, administrative, and political historians for the rich material that it contains.”—The Journal of American History

And that’s about all I have to say about this issue. Until the way these, I don’t know if this is the right phrase to use, “plum assignments” are managed, the Church will most likely continue to be faced with embarrassing, mud flinging, headline grabbing turf battles between the well known heads of these ancillary organizations, and their bishops. Unchanged, this problem will continue to feed individual cults of personality with these individuals placed on pedestals by their admirers, facing all manner of temptations as a result.

It’s time to professionalize this approach. But that’s just this simple layman’s $.02.

UPDATE: How did the young Fr. Fulton Sheen handle this same situation? Take a look. (H/T Michelle Arnold of Catholic Answers).

Because This Makes Me Speechless

And to whom have ye likened me, or made me equal, saith the Holy One? Lift up your eyes on high, and see who hath created these things: who bringeth out their host by number, and calleth them all by their names: by the greatness of his might, and strength, and power, not one of them was missing. (Isaiah 40:24-25)

The awesomeness of the above photograph cannot be denied. That’s the latest shot taken by the Cassini probe to Saturn (and her moons). I just saw it on Yahoo! and had to share it with you.

Here’s a snippet from the article,

Taken by NASA’s Cassini robotic orbiter, the shot was captured from the dark side of Saturn as the Sun’s bright rays illuminated every piece of dust and debris circling the planet. Cassini has offered astronomers a never-before-seen look at Saturn and revealed more information about the planet than any craft before it. The craft has taken so many pictures of the ringed wonder that they were recently made into a short flyby film that looks like it was created by George Lucas rather than a robotic space explorer.

Here is that film,

5.6k Saturn Cassini Photographic Animation from stephen v2 on Vimeo.

Wow! How amazing is that?

When my family lived in California, we used to go check out the free Open House that was held annually at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It was just up the road from us in La Cañada Flintridge. One of those times (I think it was when the Mars rover Spirit had just landed), we got to watch a neat movie about the Cassini mission, and the Huygens probe it dropped on the moon Titan. It was sort of like this,

Learn more about the Cassini mission over at the JPL website.

Yes, An Outdoor Mass Can Be Celebrated Properly

While much of the East Coast was being rained upon by a little nuisance named Irene, there was an outdoor Mass held under crystal clear skies at my parish. And no unorthodox horrors occurred,

Sunday morning mass at Knoxville’s All Saints Catholic Church was a little different this week. The several thousand-member congregation participated in both English and Spanish.

All Saint’s pastor, Father Michael Woods, led the Mass outside on the church lawn. His goal was to unite the members of his church into one large family.

“We have six definite communities here at All Saints because of the number of masses over the weekend, so they don’t get to see each other or know each other,” he said.

“So I cancelled all the masses on Sunday to just have one outdoor mass so we get to see the size of our community, the joy of our community.”

Here is a nice little video clip with an appearance by Father Michael,

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9?isVid=1

At Mass last Sunday, Fr. Michael assured us that it wouldn’t rain for this celebration, and as you saw in the video above, it certainly did not. In the week leading up to the Mass, Fr. Michael invited all parishioners to spend an hour in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament to pray for our parishioners and for the whole Church. Well over 1000 parishioners signed up to do just that for round the clock adoration of Our Eucharistic Lord.

Last year, before a similar event, we did the same and Fr. Michael reminded us that as a result, we were blessed with 50 Catechumens and Candidates who joined the Church through our RCIA program last year. I shared that information with you earlier this year.

For the rest of the scoop on the Mass yesterday, go here.

Update: Monsignor Pope’s thoughts on martyrdom while evangelizing.

Because Mammon Hates The Idea of the Jubilee, and Hopes You’ve Forgotten It

Who’s the fairest of the all? Mammon!

 

Have you been getting tired of all the Debt Crises du jour stories? Back in April, I did a little tongue-in-cheek post about Mammon, and how even if we actually worshipped him, we would do so in a manner that would put us at risk. And in terms of debt forgiveness, Mammon, would prefer we bring back debtor prisons, rather than ever forgive debt.

Would you be surprised to learn that debt was destroyed routinely back in the day? Doing so helped civilization grow and prosper, because healthy credit markets helped civilizations grow and prosper too. Today I’d like to share a little historical snippet regarding debt from the good old days. The thoughts belong to a fellow named David Graeber, an anthropology professor at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of the book Debt: The First 5,000 Years. This is from a post at the Wall Street Journal’s “Speakeasy” blog,

Contrary to popular belief, credit has been the predominant form of money in world history. In ancient Mesopotamia, elaborate credit systems predated coinage by thousands of years. Periods in which people assume that money really “is” gold and silver, let alone use cash in most everyday transactions, are more the exception than the rule. Ancient empires, for instance, used coins mainly to pay soldiers, and when those empires dissolved in the early Middle Ages, society didn’t really “revert to barter,” as its often believed, but returned to elaborate credit systems—denominated in Roman (and then Carolingian) currency that no longer actually physically existed.

The remarkable thing was that they were able to maintain these credit systems despite the lack of any reliable state authorities willing or able to enforce contracts. How did they do it? Two ways: but both involved insisting that there were values that were more important than mere money.

The first was the cult of personal honor. In most parts of the world, in the Middle Ages (Europe was only a partial exception), merchants had to develop reputations for scrupulous integrity—not just always paying their debts, but forgiving others’ debts if they were in difficulties, and being generally pillars of their communities. Merchants could be trusted with money because they convinced others that they didn’t think money was the most important thing. As a result, “credit,” “honor,” and “decency” became the same thing—an identification which passed into ordinary life as well. As a result in England, where probably 95% of all transactions in a Medieval village were on credit, and decent people tended to avoid the courts, people still speak of “village worthies,” or “men of no account.”

The apogee of this system though was the world of Medieval Islam, where checks were already in wide use by 1000 AD, and letters of credit could travel from Mali to Malaysia, all without any state enforcement whatsoever. In Melaka, the great Indian Ocean entrepôt, merchants from as far a way as Ethiopia or Korea notoriously avoided written contracts, preferring to seal deals “with a handshake and a glance at heaven.” If there were problems, they were referred to sharia courts with no power to have miscreants arrested or imprisoned, but with the power to destroy a merchant’s reputation, and therefore, credit-worthiness, if he were to refuse to abide by their rulings.

This latter brings us to the second factor: the existence of some sort of overarching institutions, larger than states, usually religious in nature, that ensured that credit systems didn’t fly completely out of hand. For much of human history, the great social evil—the thing that everyone feared would lead to the utter breakdown of society—was the debt crisis. The masses of the poor would become indebted to the rich, they would lose their flocks and fields, begin selling family members into peonage and slavery, leading either to mass flight, uprisings, or a society so polarized that the majority were effectively (sometimes literally) reduced to slaves. In periods where economic transactions were conducted largely through cash, there are many parts of the world where this actually began to happen.

Periods dominated by credit money, where everyone recognized that money was just a promise, a social arrangement, almost invariably involve some kind of mechanism to protect debtors. Mesopotamian kings used to rely on their cosmic ability to recreate society to declare clean slates, erase all debts, and simply start over. In ancient Judea this was institutionalized in the seventh-year Jubilee. In the Middle Ages, Christian and Islamic bans on usury and debt peonage, far from being impediments to trade, were actually what made most trade possible, since they ensured ordinary people were not entirely impoverished, and had the means to purchase the merchants’ wares, and because those religious systems became the foundation for networks of honor and trust.

That was my bold highlight. Religious systems the foundation for networks of honor and trust? Imagine that! You can find the entire post here, and his book where they sell books or in your local library. Therein Graebel writes,

It seems to me that we are long overdue for some kind of Biblical-style Jubilee: one that would affect both international debt and consumer debt. It would be salutary not just because it would relieve so much genuine human suffering, but also because it would be our way of reminding ourselves that money is not ineffable, that paying one’s debts is not the essence of morality, that all these things are human arrangements and that if democracy is to mean anything, it is the ability to all to agree to arrange things in a different way.”

I think the Jubilee year was every 50th year, actually, but mechanisms for debt destruction may be an idea that needs to be brushed off if we intend to hold Mammon at bay. Food for thought.

Thoughts on the Economy: Catholic, and Not

Ok, class. Today’s lesson is on a little thing called “regression to the mean.” That’s a fancy way of saying that when something gets out of whack, you know, like when one thing shoots for the stars while everything else is holding steady, see, well, it will move back to where it belongs. And usually suddenly. Like a bursting bubble, which by now everyone with a pulse and a 401k is familiar with. Right? [Read more...]

Thoughts on the Vicissitudes of Michael Voris & Co. UPDATED

Actually, I have none. Really. I mean stuff like this happens all the time to me. I’m a father of three children and they are all the time doing stuff that a) I don’t know about; b) I don’t approve of; and c) that I didn’t teach them to do. Guess what? I love them anyway.

Is it scandalous? Only if he lets pride lead him by the nose. Is it embarrassing? You betcha. A dad knows, and a mom does too. I mean, if I had a nickel for every time my kids did something to disappoint me, I’d be a rich man. Of course, I’d be a lonely, Silas Marner, scrooge of a misanthropic man, no doubt. You know, the kind who never wanted children in the first place. But I’d probably think I was well off materially, of course. But spiritually? I’d be a wreck without them in my life.

Nope. You can’t run from the Cross, neither as parents nor as presidents of your own non-profit/for-profit, gig. You have to weather the vicissitudes of life, because ready or not, here they come. I suspect that things will get tightened up in the departments that have been lax, and I’m just as sure that eventually something new will rise up to take their place to harry him. I mean, I know this: it’s non-stop for me.

That’s why the saints teach us to be humble and to pray. It’s also why humility is the virtue that has the most telling effect on those with whom we interact with in our life as Christians. It very much explains why the “pitchfork and torches” or “drawn swords” modus operandi is generally a non-starter in the work of winning souls to Christ.

Deacon Greg Kandra, Elizabeth Scalia , and Mark Shea all have something to say on this news anyway (or will soon). I’ll just go back to trying to figure out what kind of bird this is. Help me out if you can.

UPDATE: The bird has been identified! Thanks Ramona.

UPDATE II:  Mark Shea’s charitable post today.

UPDATE III: From Madrid, Michael Voris responds.

UPDATE IV: What Should Michael Voris learn from this?


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