Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Why Is No One Mentioning This?

I am not a expert on statistics, but I have had a few courses in statistical analysis and critical thought, and something is not adding up. I would greatly appreciate it if someone (anyone) had an answer to this, and could explain it to me. Let me begin by using an illustration (as I do so often). If, hypothetically speaking, 10,000 people moved into the city where I live (current population about 15,000), then you would expect the population to grow, right? Even accounting for the usual number of people who move out of a city in a given time period, an influx of that size would be noticed in the overall numbers, right? Let us imagine for a moment, that after that influx of 10,000 into a population of 15,000, that a census was done and it was found that the current population was 14,000. You would stop and ask, "what?!" That does not seem to make much sense, does it?

Compare that with our current "pandemic". There is a statistic called Crude Death Rate ("CDR") that gives the numbers per 1,000 people that die in a given time period. As a reference point, the CDR in 1919 (at the height of the Spanish Flu) was about 17 (17 people per every 1,000 in the world died that year). At the peak of the Black Plague, the CDR was estimated at about 500 (i.e. 50% of the world's population). In 2019, the CDR for the entire world was 7.8. In 2020 (after and including the onset of Covid), the CDR for the entire world (i.e. including all deaths for any reason whatsoever) is estimated that it will reach 7.7 (go look it up).

If we compare that with America, the numbers are only a bit different. In 2019 the CDR for America was 8.8, but the current number for the year of 2020 so far is 8.3. Am I missing something here? Seeing these numbers made me ask a question: how many deaths are occurring for things like heart attacks, cancer, lung disease, etc. Interestingly, the totals for those common fatalities are all down recently. This cannot be due to Covid. It is not as though a spread of a deadly virus suddenly cures tons of people of common fatal conditions.

If Covid is killing as many people as we are told, then we would expect even a small increase in the CDR, would we not? Yet, both worldwide and in America there is a decrease, not an increase. Someone is not telling us something here. We might presume that if people were traveling less, that it might decrease the numbers of death by car accident, but it would not impact the physical ailments that take people's lives.

Therefore, what is going on? I would expect with almost a million deaths to the "novel Coronavirus" (not to mention all the supposed suicides and other deaths caused by the despair that Covid has led to), that the CDR would go up; even just a little bit. Yet, that does not appear to be the case. If we throw into the mix all of these recent admissions that people have been "fudging the numbers" (i.e. calling certain deaths Covid, when that was not the actual cause), then something is not right. As my Grandma once said, "something stinks and it ain't the septic tank".

Consider it this way: in late 2019 things are going along as usual; people are dying at the normal CDR of 7.8 per 1000. Then a new virus shows up and begins taking lives in addition to those already dying of all the other maladies. That does not lead to a decrease in deaths (a CDR of 7.7), it leads to an increase in deaths. If, somehow, someone can explain how it works that Covid leads to less deaths in the world, then how is that a bad thing? A virus shows up and some people die of it rather than from other causes, but the end result is that less people are dying overall; that does not sound like something to run in terror from.

Without a clear explanation of why there are "so many people dying of Covid" and yet less people dying overall than last year before Covid, we really need to keep our eyes open. It appears that we are being lied to, and that someone is using this for a less-than-godly purpose. We have known that civil governments have lied to us in the past, but we do not always know the reasons. Whatever it may be, we need to persevere in our faith at this time. We need to recognize that there is a good possibility that someone is preparing to catch us off guard.

Whatever comes against us, if our faith is strong, then we can endure. If our faith is weak, we will give in to the wicked rulers and follow their lead. Will you stand fast? How will you respond when they encourage you to deny Christ? How will you respond when they demand that you deny Christ? You might save your life if you deny Him, but your eternal state will not be so pleasant.

Then they will deliver you up to tribulation, and put you to death; and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away, and betray one another, and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because wickedness is multiplied, most men’s love will grow cold. But he who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 24:9-13).

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Being Willing to Help

I took a short ride on my motorcycle this afternoon. I like the back roads; I never drive in the big cities. Flying past the farms on a two-wheeled mechanical beast and seeing the countryside sprinkled with cows and horses is one of the most relaxing experiences (at least to some). This is true until something starts to rattle on the motorcycle. It was only my fly-screen (a very small "windshield"), but I needed to pull over and make sure it was not going to fall off. 

There I am on the corner of "N" and "M" highway, just down the road from the community of Possum Trot (not joking, there really is a Possum Trot, Missouri; it has an abandoned school and one house!). I was not really worried; you can ride a bike without a fly-screen but I stopped the bike and got off to check the bolts. After about a couple minutes a truck came by. The driver slowed down and looked over and signaled to me, asking if I was OK or needed help. He was a complete stranger, and might not pay attention to me in any other context, but he slowed to see if I needed help.

Is this simple act of neighborly help disappearing today? I am not asking whether it ever occurs (I know it does), but whether it is fading away. It seems that there is a growing hatred of others everywhere in American society. Those rioting in various places in these USA do not seem to protesting anything of real substance. They just seem to want to create more hatred. This is not helping us to overcome prejudice and bigotry. We all know this; it is nothing new. Yet, do we know how far we ourselves have fallen in this? Are we Catholics becoming just as hateful and disrespectful towards those whom we do not like?

How do you think about the lapsed Catholics who are running for political office? It is one thing to refer to them as lapsed, and entirely another to use vulgarity when referring to them. Do we speak about those who clearly want to promote the destruction of our society with similar hatred? I ask this question, but I am not really needing an answer because I have heard it multiple times. Disdain and anger are voiced by Catholics towards those who do not hold the faith (sometimes of their own fallen brethren). 

Just for a moment think of the politician that you like the least. Now imagine what you would do if the two of you were in an elevator together and he (or she) was in need of your help. Would you genuinely reach out to help him with the love of Christ? If you are not certain that you would, then you likely are part of the problem of spreading hate. Jesus never said it was OK to be hateful toward those that we dislike, but we all know it can be very hard not to get upset at sin (it is, after all, aggravatingly stupid!). Yet our anger just drives people away and does nothing to bring others to conversion.

How do we treat one another these days? Are we still willing to be kind to strangers in need? And if we are willing to stop and help someone whose vehicle broke down, would we also be willing to help someone whose soul has broken? That is what we are dealing with when someone comes against us with sinful foolishness. Although many (if not most) are probably not willing for us to help them with their eternal salvation, we will never get the chance if we do not try. Have you tried to reach out to someone blinded by their sin and lead them to the saving Grace of Christ Jesus? They are all over the place; you cannot miss them; go find one and ask God to help you show him Who his Redeemer is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

We the People?

Someone once said that "sacred cows make the best hamburger". I agree, but I do not want to be the one to butcher the cow (the process is somewhat repulsive). As Catholics, however, we should be very careful about our personal "sacred cows". Apart from the Lord Jesus and His commandments for us, there should be nothing that is absolutely sacred. With that said, I want to touch on something that some might see as off limits for criticism: the United States Constitution. No, I am not going to attack it; I just wish for us to consider one of its basic aspects and compare it to Catholic teaching.

So then, at this point, someone reading this is wondering whether I am a socialist, or some other kind of traitor to our country. Have no fear, few things could be further from the truth. I love my country; I love it enough to point out its weaknesses (in hopes of fixing them). If anyone is curious (although I have said this before elsewhere) I am closer to a constitutional monarchist, but America is my home, and I love her (warts and all).

The words that begin the preamble to our Constitution are "We the people". Every American child learns about them in school: big gigantic letters, standing tall so that no can miss them. This is often a prideful point for many. "We" made this government; it was not made "for us" I have heard people say. Not everyone realizes that the concept of the people independently setting up their own governmental structures comes more from Jean Jacques Rousseau (who was not faithful to his Catholic education) than from anything distinctively Catholic.

When someone says "we the people" in their reference to the creation of a governmental structure, they are asserting their own authority to create their own authority (no, that is not actually a tautology). Although many Catholics may not recognize it, this is a decidedly protestant way of thinking (which should not surprise us since all of our founding fathers were protestant). Yes, there are many differences here and there, but protestants pretty much all agree that authority begins with the people. Whether it is Baptists ruling by committee, or Episcopalians ruling by a vestry, it is not much different.

Of course, there will be some protestants who object to this. They will say that my experience (in multiple denominations over a span of 22 years) is not universal. Yet, when the protestant principle of private interpretation is coupled together with the fact that most protestants see Christianity as a buffet style religion ("pick and choose what you like") it is hard to deny.

In contrast, the Catholic position has a different way of viewing the subject. Although not always well articulated (especially in places where there is a push to have more and more "lay leadership" in the Church), the Church teaches that power comes from God and should be determined by what He says first. In 1878, Pope Leo XIII wrote Quod Apostolici Muneris, where he said:
Hence, by a new species of impiety, unheard of even among the heathen nations, states have been constituted without any count at all of God or of the order established by him; it has been given out that public authority neither derives its principles, nor its majesty, nor its power of governing from God, but rather from the multitude, which, thinking itself absolved from all divine sanction, bows only to such laws as it shall have made at its own will. 
It is all quite clear, but notice especially the final statement. Those of this mind only bow to laws that they themselves made by their own will. You do not need to be an atheist in order to behave in this manner. There are many who claim that they want to serve God and yet will only serve Him when He commands those things that they already want to do or believe. True, the Declaration of Independence does make mention of a "Creator" but it only does so in reference to the freedom he has given to us and not in any sense of our accountability to him.

That final detail is a crucial point to realize. In essence it is saying clearly that "God gave us freedom to do what makes us happy" but never acknowledges that God calls us to obedience to Him and requires us to live by the principles that He has laid out (including in the area of political decisions). If it had done so, it would have been hard to start with "we the people", and the first words would likely be "thus says the Lord" followed by a reference to God granting us His grace to "have dominion" in this world (e.g. something about kings from the book of Proverbs).

It is interesting to note that the American Constitution has no reference to God at all. Many people have noticed this before me, and the usual explanation of this is that the Constitution is a political document and there is no need to refer to God when designing your own political sphere. Presuming you are rejecting the Catholic position, then that would be true; but not for us. Including reference to "the Creator" in the Declaration of Independence, but leaving Him out of the Constitution is like saying, "God gave us freedom to rebel against England, but from there we make our own choices". I wonder what Pope Leo XIII would say about that?

No, the Scriptures do not lay out for us a specific plan of political theory. Yet, that does not mean that we can ignore what the Scriptures say about good and bad politics, or what they say about where authority is derived from. If that had been included in our Constitution, bill of rights, and the Declaration of Independence, what might our nation look like today?

I have heard that when the Confederate States of America were setting things up at the beginning of the War Between the States, they also rejected such references to the Lord and His authority. Selfishness just seems to breed further selfishness. Where would be if all our forefathers had made a Catholic choice in these areas? And how might the hearts of Americans be impacted by this important truth? These questions need to be asked, and we need to consider them as we see the turmoil America is in today.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Stop Worrying!

Once, when I was about 10 years old, I jammed my finger back very hard, and it hurt incredibly. My grandfather asked if I wanted him to make the pain go away, and I said "yes". He stomped on my foot! It did not actually make the pain go away, but I did not think about my finger for few minutes because of the pain in my foot. That was what my grandfather was like; a bit rough around the edges.

Here is a funny little detail about all this Covid stuff going on: I do not remember the last time that we were feeling perplexed about some odd and seemingly unorthodox comment made by Pope Francis. This does not mean that he has not made any odd comments, just that we have not heard about them; our attention has been focused elsewhere of late. We have been more worried about riots, and communist takeovers, and toilet paper shortages! It is funny how a simple thing like a pandemic can change your perspective.

I have seen, more than once, that the fear of Pope Francis' (apparently) unorthodox comments and behavior, is often worse than the actual outcome of his unorthodox comments and behavior. One comment he made a couple years ago caused quite a few people that I know to respond with serious worry. They were concerned that the end result was going to be a total collapse of Church authority and an open acceptance of immorality in the Church. The actual result? well, I am not even sure that most people remember that he said it.

It is good for us to be concerned about something that our Holy Father says if it sounds contrary to the Catholic faith; we are called to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" in our lives. This means that we are foolish if we do not take notice at some of these things. We can, however, go overboard and spend more time fretting about what is happening than trusting our Lord to help us through it. To live in fear about something Pope Francis says or does (or any clergyman for that matter) is to live in disobedience to Christ's encouragement to trust Him in all things.

Fear is exactly what the devil wants to inspire in us, and it does not matter to him what we are afraid of, just so long as we are truly afraid of something other than God. Fear cripples us and prevents us from being able to grow in faith. We end up making decisions based more on what we fear than on the power of God (which is stronger than anything that we can ever fear). This is not the way to live.

Yes, we are supposed to be concerned about bad things happening, so that we can respond to them with wisdom and holiness. Responding to them, however, does not mean hiding in a back room, whining, and wringing our hands together because we have no confidence in our God. After all, ask yourself right now, what has greater influence on your decisions in life (especially the major ones)? Is it something that someone does or says, or is it our Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ? Are you taking as many precautions, right now in your life, to protect your soul as you do to protect your body?

This can be seen in many ways today. I have said it before, and I will repeat it often because few seem to recognize this. Worrying about what the Covid can do to you has far worse long term effects than what the Covid can actually do to you. Jesus said to trust Him and not to worry! The fear of the virus is worse than the virus itself. This may cause some to be upset at me (that is certainly not my goal), but: we cannot live in fear -- dying from a virus is not as bad as turning away from Christ and ending up in eternal Hell. I have seen many people who are cowering in fear and willing to do just about anything to avoid physical death, yet it seems that very few are willing to do much of anything to avoid an eternal death.

Do not give in to the devil. Turn away from him and place your full confidence in Christ. Our Lord does not want you to live in fear of anything in this world. Jesus is still on His throne, and He still rules over all. Develop the virtues of faith and hope; faith in the promises of Christ, and hope in His great power and love.

Friday, July 31, 2020

The Priceless Pearl

(The following is a brief summary of the homily I gave last Sunday in my three parishes. It is written at the request of a few of my parishioners.)

This does not happen to me often, and I do not want to give the impression that I am something special because of it, but it did happen and it stayed with me. I was praying for my parishes recently and pleading with the Lord that He would grant a particular request. In the midst of my prayer, I was overwhelmed with an "inner voice" that spoke to me. It was not merely an impression, but specific words that I could repeat out loud. In my heart I heard: "Don't presume to tell God what's needed here, as though you know more than He does; God knows what is needed, and He will always give exactly what is needed and it may not be the same as what you want!" Then as the words finished, I was struck by the realization that it was not the Lord Who was speaking to me, but rather the Blessed Virgin. Like a Mommy wagging her finger and saying "shape up kiddo!"

I had to change my perspective in that prayer. I knew how to pray rightly, but was not doing so at that moment. I quickly adjusted and said, "Lord, I think this is what is needed, but You know best." We have to do that at times in our lives: readjust our perspective on what really matters, and what the Lord considers valuable. In the gospel reading last Sunday we are told about a pearl of great value, and we all know that the ultimate Pearl is none other than Christ Himself. Yet, once we realize that truth, then we also must follow along and submit all our "values" to Him for that very same adjustment I referred to above. This is a hard task, but it is essential (and somewhat natural) for those who see Christ as that Pearl of ultimate value.

How do you determine whether you are keeping Christ as the most important and valuable thing in your life? Ask yourself quickly: "How do I make spiritual decisions?" If you are deciding on spiritual matters based on convenience then you can be sure that you are not keeping Christ first. Whether it is Mass attendance, prayer, Scripture reading, or any other spiritual discipline, we cannot decide our engagement with them based (even the slightest bit) on convenience. In essence, every decision must begin with the question "what will please Christ the most?" If we begin with any other question, then we will fail to obey our Lord (sorry, but this is guaranteed).

So then, quickly ask yourself, what is your "pearl of great price". What are you willing to give up everything to get? If it is not Christ Himself, then you are not walking in faith. If we place anything else first then that thing becomes an idol to us. It was St. Augustine who said, “idolatry is: worshiping anything that ought to be used, or using anything that ought to be worshiped.” When we get things upside-down in our spirituality then idolatry always happens.

What we have to consider now is the state of things in our nation. Things are looking quite bad, and they are only getting worse. We should not be surprised if things degenerate to the point of there being a severe trial and persecution against the Church. How we will respond will depend largely on whether Christ is first in our lives, and whether we have allowed Him to order all our other "values". If things get bad and we do not have Christ as our "Pearl" then we will not endure. If He is indeed the most important thing in our lives, then we can endure anything. As St John Vianney said, "for those whom God loves, trials are not punishments; they are graces." My dear brethren, pursue that priceless pearl which is Christ Himself. Then, and only then, can you stand fast in whatever comes our way. God bless you!

Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Decline of America

The fireworks sale tents are up and running. People are preparing to observe July 4th in America. As I have asked in years past, I wonder what they are celebrating. The current state of our nation does not offer much in the way of joyful recognition. I have been thinking a lot lately about how we have seen things decline in these USA, and I came across a quote that was very helpful in thinking about the progression of a society.

Regardless of who said it first (and there are various debates about it--I won't bore you with them), the following quote is amazingly insightful.
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship...The average age of the world’s greatest civilizations has been about 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to selfishness, from selfishness to apathy, from apathy to dependence, from dependence back again to bondage.
Notice the first half of the quote before the ellipsis. That is always the danger of democracy -- voters with bad hearts. Give freedom of choice to people without a conscience and they will almost always choose evil. Yet, it is the second half of the quote that I want you to be thinking about more. Most of you know that I like studying history. The pattern listed here can be seen in numerous civilizations of the past. Ancient Rome is one of the most obvious; and there are volumes written to lay it out for us.

So then, we should be asking ourselves, what stage are we at here in America? After all, we are well past the 200-year mark that it mentions. Most would admit that we appear to be past apathy and heading into dependence. Of course, there is not a guarantee that we will move smoothly through these stages; any one of them could occur quickly and last only a short time, but that is not usually the case.

We have been forced into depending on the government for many things, and (by our own choice) we have manufactured various devices that force us to depend on them as well. Not all dependence is bad, but the current "nanny state" in these USA is certainly not encouraging faithful and diligent hard work. You can see dependence encouraged all over this land, and many of our politicians appear to want even more of it (they call it socialism--as if that were a good thing--but it is just another form of tyranny). This runs contrary to the basic principles of the Catholic understanding of subsidiarity and solidarity. Every time I mention how problematic Social Security and Welfare are (most specifically because they discourage family unity, parental responsibility, and basic hard work) people respond with, "but how else will they get the money they need?" It rarely occurs to people that there is another way.

So as we continue to go through this decline in our civilization, it is helpful to know that there are certain patterns that we can expect. And maybe, just maybe, this time we could prepare ourselves to move away from the phase of bondage to a new spiritual faith much quicker. Maybe, just maybe, parents could see the errors of the previous generations and decide to be faithful in how they raise their children. Maybe, just maybe, our penitence will be a part of turning this land of America into a new land of greater holiness that will not follow the pattern in the quote above. Remember, God loves doing miracles for His faithful people.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The World's New Normal; or the Lord's New Normal? part 3

Until recently, most Catholics throughout the world had been missing Church. Now what did you think of when you read the word, "missing"? Did you think I was saying that most Catholics have not been to Church, or that most Catholics have felt sad about not being at Church? There are two different connotations of the word "missing". People missed Church (they were not in attendance) but how much did they miss Church (feel saddened that they were not able to be there)? I am sure that most everyone reading this post "missed" Mass quite a bit.

What else did you miss? Did you miss the community of the Church? We here in southern Missouri have had public Mass celebration available for a few weeks now. In this, we are still required to practice social distancing (which should be called anti-social distancing!). Things are looking ugly in many places, and though not as bad here, it is still tense; everyone is a bit nervous about what will happen in the near future to our nation and to our Church. Which, however, are you more concerned about? Are you more concerned about the coming disintegration of this falling nation, or about the potential persecution on the Church (which always seems to come along with societal break-down)?

Considering the new normal that we are moving into, we want to be sure, as I said before, that we are moving into our Lord's new normal and not just falling into line with the world's desire to create a new normal from its own selfish motivations. I said in a previous post that the Kingdom of God does not grow the way that the world thinks (we looked there at the "how" of Kingdom growth). Politics and physical institutions may be related to the growth of the Kingdom, but they are not the heart of the Kingdom. Now we need to consider another vital aspect of Kingdom growth: the "where".

If you are one of the many Catholics who comes to Mass but really does not connect with anyone else in the parish, then you are working against the primary place of "where" Jesus is working. Just because you are attending the Mass does not mean that you are truly engaged with the community of the parish. You can be in a crowded room and still be "alone". The people you worship God with should not be strangers. No, you do not need to be best friends with every member of your home parish, but if you have no friends there, something is not right. Scriptures tells us that a parish is a small "body of Christ" and that the parts of the body cannot ignore each other (1 Corinthians 12:14ff).

Where do we find the center of all spiritual growth? It is always in the Church. That does not mean that only the Church grows, but it does mean that everything else is merely a by-product of the growth of the Church. The Church is not exactly equated with the Kingdom; rather it is the "region" where the Kingdom is experienced most clearly. With this being the case, that should inform how we think of the Church. Do you think of the Church as one of your hobbies? I hope that is not the case. The Church is the center of the Catholic life. That is not a new idea, but it is not always lived out in the lives of Catholics today.

How are you involved with the community of your home parish? Where do you find your best friends? What do you think about first when you think about Church? Is it just that thing you do on Sundays, or is it the center of your life? I am not exaggerating with that last statement. Some think that only priests and religious should have the Church at the center of their lives, and that is not true. To be clear: I am not saying that the laity are supposed to be at the Church 23 hours and 59 minutes of every day, but how do you make your decisions through the week? Does the Church come last in your plans?

It is in the Church that we find the grace to keep us moving on the path to Heaven. It is the Church that tells us how to obey our Lord, and it is in the Church that we find others who are on the same path (who can help us on our journey). It is possible to make the Church an essential duty, but not a major portion of our lives. It would be comparable to one of those 24-hour allergy pills -- some people really need to take them, but they ignore it for the rest of the day. When Catholics make Church the center of their lives, they find that their lives begin to have greater peace, and challenges become easier to bear. Our Lord Jesus rules over all creation for the sake of the Church (Ephesians 1:15-23); let us love it as much as He does.