Postage for Pakistan and other parts of the planet

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why reinvent the wheel?

Normally, I try to do my own thing here, but I thought the following commentary by Fr. Robert Sirico and comments by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf (in bold and in red) were so spot on, I'd simply copy and paste them. However ...

I once read that in 1948, the average federal tax burden on a family of four in the United States was $0.02 of every $1.00. Think about that. Let it soak in. Go find your pay stub. Look at what you paid to the federal government there and year-to-date. Now aggregate this to all the families in the United States. Is it any wonder why so many families in the United States are convinced the wife/mother have to work in order to simply make ends meet, much less get ahead? (And, yes, indulge themselves in SeaDoos, etc.)

And it has undermined the family in ways non-economic, as well. One of my fraternity brother's wife left him for a man with whom she worked. It was devastating. Yes, men have been doing to their wives this for eons, and this sort of thing could and maybe even would have happened given what must have been problems in the relationship. However, how much more of this goes on because couple decides "We must have this extra income for XYZ reason," and at some point down the road, husband and wife fall into a rough patch, either spouse knows someone else at work who seems more attractive/attentive/whatever, they can't see that the rough patch is just a passing phase that will go, come back, and go again ad nauseam for the rest of their lives, and pretty soon, an affair is in full bloom, it gets discovered, and the family is destroyed. Add into the mix Paul VI's admonitions in Humanae Vitae of what would happen if birth control became widely available, and each of the gazillion studies that show the societal consequences of the breakup of the nuclear family come into sharper focus.

And so it makes me wonder: Why isn't the USCCB more firmly pressing for tax relief for families so moms don't feel they have to go to work but can stay in the home (as many working moms have told me is the case)? Why aren't they insisting that the portion of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that abolished the family wage or any family considerations when employers seek to remunerate their workers be repealed? Why is it -- or has it historically been -- "SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!", even though overwhelming evidence shows this does more harm than good? Why have we so blithely ignored 2 Thessalonians 3:10, where St. Paul commands us, "If anyone will not work, let him not eat"? When has that factored into the equation?

And, yes, you don't hear this sort of "SPEND, SPEND, SPEND!" mantra that led one wag to call the USCCB "the Democratic Party at prayer" as much anymore if at all. However, nothing has replaced it (or have I missed something)? In any event, I pray that what Fr. Sirico has written is becoming the conventional wisdom amongst Church types. Government spending on the poor is not bad, but if we're going to use precious tax resources for that purpose, they ought to be verifiably effective and we shouldn't protect government spending on the poor just because it's government spending on the poor.

Anyway, would love to know what you think about the following or the above.

The Church as the Bride of Caesar
July 27, 2011 4:15 P.M.
By Fr. Robert A. Sirico
It is telling that the Washington Post report on the religious Left’s Circle of Protection campaign for big government describes the effort as one that would “send chills through any politician who looks to churches and religious groups as a source of large voting blocs,” because, in fact, this is not an honest faith-inspired campaign to protect the “least of these” from Draconian government cuts, as claimed. It is a hyper-political movement that offers up the moral authority of churches and aid organizations to advance the ends of the Obama administration and its allies in Congress
The Circle of Protection, led by Jim Wallis and his George Soros-funded Sojourners group, is advancing a false narrative based on vague threats to the “most vulnerable” if we finally take the first tentative steps to fix our grave budget and debt problems. For example, Wallis frequently cites cuts to federal food programs as portending dire consequences to “hungry and poor people.”

Which programs? He must have missed the General Accountability Office study on government waste released this spring, which looked at, among others, 18 federal food programs. These programs accounted for $62.5 billion in spending in 2008 for food and nutrition assistance. But only seven of the programs have actually been evaluated for effectiveness. Apparently it is enough to simply launch a government program, and the bureaucracy to sustain it, to get the Circle of Protection activists to sanctify it without end. Never mind that it might not be a good use of taxpayer dollars.

It is also telling that the group’s advertised “Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, African-American, and Latino Christian leaders” who are so concerned about the poor and vulnerable in the current budget negotiations have so little to say about private charity, which approached $300 billion last year. [QUAERITUR: To what extent would a rise in interest rates coupled with the abolition of tax breaks for charitable giving impact help for the poor and other worthy efforts?] To listen to them talk, it is as if a prudent interest in reining in deficits and limiting government waste, fraud, and bloat would leave America’s poor on the brink of starvation. It is as if bureaucratic solutions, despite the overwhelming evidence of the welfare state’s pernicious effects on the family, are the only ones available to faith communities. This is even stranger for a group of people who are called to “love the neighbor” first and last with a personal commitment.

Although the Circle of Protection has been endorsed by a few Catholic bishops, the predictably left-leaning social justice groups, and Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Church in America has long moved beyond the heady (and increasingly-distant) days of the 1980s when knee-jerk opposition to any reduction in government spending was the norm. That still holds, even if some of the staff and a few of the bishops at the Bishops’ Conference still imbibe such nostalgia.

The actions of Wallis and the co-signers of the Circle of Protection are only understandable in light of political, not primarily religious, aims. Wallis, after all, has been serving as self-appointed chaplain to the Democratic National Committee and recently met with administration officials to help them craft faith-friendly talking points for the 2012 election. And when Wallis emerged from that White House meeting, he crowed that “almost every pulpit in America is linked to the Circle of Protection … so it would be a powerful thing if our pulpits could be linked to the bully pulpit here.”

Think about that for a moment. Imagine if a pastor had emerged from a meeting with President George W. Bush and made the same statement. I can just imagine the howls of “Theocracy!” and “Christian dominionism!” that would echo from the mobs of Birkenstock-shod, tie-dyed, and graying church activists who would immediately assemble at the White House fence to protest such a blurring of Church and State.

But in the moral calculus of Jim Wallis and his Circle of Protection supporters, there’s no  problem with prostrating yourself, your Church, and your aid organization before Caesar. As long as he’s on your side of the partisan divide.

— Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Transitions and my ever so brief brush with them

Two developments took place over the last week.

The first and more cheerful of the two is that Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has been named to take over the See of Philadelphia. This is good news. It means that he will get the red hat and that the bench of American red hats is very strong. I can't think of any previous US cardinal with whom I'd have been comfortable being elected pope. Now with ++Dolan and ++Chaput as probable papabile, that has changed. ++Dolan would be marvelous, but ++Chaput would be absolutely phenomenal. With the possible exception of Cardinal Burke, he is quite possibly the brightest light in the American episcopal firmament.

My friend knows him well and, until September 8, works for him. He loves playing racquetball, and once, when my friend related a story of how someone woman with whom he had spoken told him she had converted in her heart simply upon seeing some bishop in his episcopal finery, ++Chaput said, "Oh, yeah, [Name]. That happens all the time," and said it like it was no big deal.

In 2003, I took a trip to Rome. During Bl. John Paul II's pontificate, if you knew the right people and could pull the right strings, you could get in to his private morning Mass. We did and we pulled, but, alas, it was not to be, as we got a message upon returning to our pensione that, well, it was not to be.

Had we gone, Mass would have been followed by a small receiving line, where we would have had a chance to receive a rosary blessed by him and say a few words. I told myself that if I got a chance to say one thing to him, it would have been, "If you want to cement your legacy, Holy Father, make Archbishops Pell and Chaput cardinals." Because, you know, popes and such are always calling moi for such pearls of wisdom. Oi vay.

In any event, ahem, Bl. John Paul II did make ++Pell a cardinal, and now it looks as though B16 will do the same at some point with ++Chaput. So it looks like, despite my ever-growing pride, God agreed with my assessment, at least insofar as it is good for the Church to have these two men as pope-makers and possibly even popes themselves.

The second note, and decidedly sad, is that Dr. Warren Carrol, founder of Christendom College, Seton High School, and Seton Homeschooling and author of a multi-volume history of Catholicism, has passed away in Front Royal, VA, at age 79. Dr. Carrol helped keep aflame my love of history and enabled me to see there were perfectly rational explanations for things such as the Inquisition and Crusades, etc.

I never formally met him. My only encounter with him was this past May, when my sister-in-law graduated from Christendom. At a reception afterward, there he sat against the wall with his walker sipping pink punch. He had evidently suffered a stroke some time before, and like many stroke victims, didn't have full use of his motor abilities. The punch spilled on the floor, and I helped clean it up and saved what I could for his further consumption. I had no idea who this man was.

A few minutes later, my newly graduated suocera came up to me and asked, "Did you see that old man against the wall with his walker?" "Yeah." "That's Warren Carrol." "No kidding. He doesn't look so great." "Yeah, he's had a stroke." I resolved to go up and introduce myself, but he was no longer there. Thus my brush with a good man who did great things for the Church. Hooray for me. Ain't I just soooooo special. OK, let's not answer that question.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Movie review: My Name is Khan

Ever since 9/11, I have burned with fury over what Muslims did to our nation that day. As I've written here, I've grown increasingly bewildered and frustrated and angry and scared over the actions of some Muslims, both against America and against my fellow Christians around the world. I am becoming acquainted with a religious in Pakistan, who tells me of the fear she encounters in dealing even with those Muslims whom she helps. Fear because one never can know when they will falsely accuse her of blasphemy against Muhammed or Islam.

However, tonight I realized how misplaced my growing and blanket antipathy of all Muslims has been misplaced, and the movie that did it for me is the remarkable-by-any-standard My Name is Khan.

This is a movie of great power and features tremendous acting. It has the complete menu one could want in a film: compelling, quick-paced, tragic, funny, uplifting, upbeat, tense ... In what is truly a masterwork, one experiences all of these emotions and feelings and then some.

The story centers on Rizvan Khan, an autistic man who comes to America. Through a tragic circumstance in his family, he sets out to tell the President of the United States, "My name is Khan, and I am not a terrorist."

This is a hard movie to describe, but suffice it to say you know a drama is special when it clocks in at two hours, forty-one minutes, and it doesn't at all seem that long. Every moment, the acting and story captivate you. Why wasn't Shahrukh Khan, the actor who plays the title role, nominated for an Academy Award? You never for a moment believe this is simply some actor playing someone with autism. Also, Rizvan's falling for the female lead Mandira is made so believable because of the incredible performance by the Indian actress Kajol. From top to bottom, this is a really well-done film. I can't say enough good things about it.

As for the effect it had on me, it made me realize my growing prejudice against all Muslims -- what else can I honestly call it? -- is no more rational than the jihadists hatred against "infidels" like me.

This isn't to say I am no less concerned about the jihadists or those who would make my children and me dhimmi. Not one bit. Only 10 years later, I realize I need to keep a more balanced view and approach. Being vigilant doesn't mean you become a vigilante or any shade thereof.

See this movie. You won't regret it.

Catholicism and homosexuality

This post is by a homosexual man who does not choose that distinction as his first identity. In the piece, he has many compelling things to say.

For instance, this chestnut puts it better than I've ever seen it put, and I've been working on this subject for probably 10+ years:
Is it hard to be gay and Catholic? Yes, because like everybody, I sometimes want things that are not good for me. The Church doesn't let me have those things, not because she's mean, but because she's a good mother. If my son or daughter wanted to eat sand I'd tell them: that's not what eating is for; it won't nourish you; it will hurt you. Maybe my daughter has some kind of condition that makes her like sand better than food, but I still wouldn't let her eat it. Actually, if she was young or stubborn enough, I might not be able to reason with her -- I might just have to make a rule against eating sand. Even if she thought I was mean.

So the Church doesn't oppose gay marriage because it's wrong; she opposes it because it's impossible, just as impossible as living on sand. The Church believes, and I believe, in a universe that means something, and in a God who made the universe -- made men and women, designed sex and marriage from the ground up. In that universe, gay marriage doesn't make sense. It doesn't fit with the rest of the picture, and we're not about to throw out the rest of the picture.
I also liked this:
So, yes, it's hard to be gay and Catholic -- it's hard to be anything and Catholic -- because I don't always get to do what I want. Show me a religion where you always get to do what you want and I'll show you a pretty shabby, lazy religion.
Read the whole piece. It's worth it.

I probably shouldn't say this, but ...

I was reading a news post about the release of Casey Anthony, accused (but acquitted) murderer of her daughter Cayley.

After her release, and as she was driving away, someone screamed thusly:

"A baby killer was just set free!" Bree Thornton, 39, shouted at the passing SUV.

I would love to ask Ms. Thornton this question: "Excuse me, but are you pro-life or 'pro-choice?'"

After all, as Rush Limbaugh and any number of others have noted, we are so outraged -- and rightly so -- what Casey is said to have done to this beautiful, defenseless little girl. And yet, the same thing is done to the tune of 1.2 million times per year to beautiful, defenseless little girls and boys, except that these happen to be in utero. Where are the hordes or protestors over this? How many people vigorously donating to Planned Parenthood have themselves in a lather over Casey Anthony but don't see any contradiction or cognitive dissonance between that outrage and their practical deification of the "right" to do what Casey is said to have done by women whose only difference from Casey is that they haven't yet given birth?

I would also love to find each and every person who spat in the face of a Vietnam vet and screamed "Baby killer!" and ask them the same question I would pose to Ms. Thornton.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

An ongoing, heartbreaking tragedy in Pakistan

Years ago, I can't remember where -- maybe it was National Geographic, maybe the Los Angeles Times -- I read about the "brick kiln" children. These were Pakistani children as young as three who for any number of reasons ended up as slaves making bricks.

Today, a woman religious who ministers to them sent me the following, which I cleaned up for language and readability.

This Sister originally started out in a convent but left a few years back because she did not believe her vocation was to teach in a classroom the rest of her life. Furthermore, she was also interested in the poor Christians and Muslims brick kiln children who, with their families, make bricks. The whole family earns $1 a day. They can never move on to something more profitable or less difficult because their owners have them laboring to pay off debts that most will hardly have brought down even after decades. It probably goes without saying that these children have no opportunity for schooling or any access to doctors. Indeed, their slave masters forbid their formal education. It takes away, after all, from their being able to work. Their life is one of total slavery and brutality.

This brave woman, however, has obtained permission to come to the Christian children in the evening to teach them their Christian faith. She also helps the poor Muslim community because, she relates, "not all the Muslims are bad. Many are very, very loving and friendly people," and, regardless, "they need help."

She is helping children, women, and young girls by providing them very basic needs such as food, clothing, and medicines. She also tries to provide the children with toys because they have no childhood. The "only things they know to play with is MUD, so I buy cheap toys for them." She also procures stationery, composition books, and note books because her team also helps the children learn to read and write.

To learn more about the huge tragedy, indeed, abomination of the brick kiln kids (numbering up to a quarter of a million children) read here and here.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The greatest bio in history

At work yesterday, management noted they wanted us to write or revamp our bios so they could put a story behind the voices our customers hear when they call.

I patently hate these sorts of things. The things I want to write, I can't, and the things that pass muster make me wonder, "Why is this anyone's business?" I'm an intensely private person (probably why I feel I have no one in the world with whom I can talk or to whom I can open up).

But I have to do it. Today, I made this first stab (mind you, not a word of it is true). See what you think:

NAME grew up in abject poverty in the woods of West Virginia, weaning himself on foraged roots, berries, and Nocturnal Oriental Tree Grubbing shrews, a species only found within a five mile radius of his birthplace, and which he singlehandedly helped place on the federal endangered species list (thankfully, the population has started to recover in recent years). While his parents were at the bar during the day and most nights, he ran with wolves, which is where he learned his world renowned and award winning survivor skills that have been regularly featured on ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN Classic, "Delilah," and the Home Shopping Network, which sells a full range of his monogrammed survivalist products.

Unfortunately, these vaunted skills are also what landed him in the New York State Penitentiary at Sing Sing when he unwittingly fell in with a group of white supremacists whom he thought were simply folksy outdoorsmen like him.

Upon his release 15 years later, he received his degree in Symbology from Harvard University under Dr. John Langdon. Following graduation and three years of unemployment, he went to work in both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations as the aide-de-camp to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, after whom he named two of his 11 sons (with so many children, he had forgotten he had already given his first son this name by the time no. 9 came along).

This was followed by a brief, six day stint in the US Army in Vietnam, where he served as a liaison between the Green Berets and ARVN forces, where he was awarded the Bronze Star, the Silver Star, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Valor Under Fire Medal (which was especially created for him), and the Congressional Medal of Honor, 1st class.

After leaving the service with the rank of SP5, NAME moved his family of 16 back to West Virginia. There they farmed sheep, cattle, and smokable hemp.

Since coming to work for COMPANY in 1985 (before the company was even thought of), NAME has adapted well to life in Wisconsin well, although he says the wolves here speak a different dialect than the one he is accustomed.

His hobby is star gazing at noon, and he regularly competes in underwater nude ice fishing competitions in the Overly Hairy division. His sign is Taurus, he drives a Prius, and he loves Chinese noodles.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Lessons learned from a movie

Over the last few nights, I watched a German film, Nowhere in Africa. It concerns a Jewish family that leaves Germany in 1937 before it's too late to get out. They settle in Kenya on a farm, and the story is largely about the sacrifices we make in life, painful sacrifices, but sacrifices we make either because we have to or because we choose to do so out of love. And in this film, it is just as often the latter which are made as the former.

So first lesson learned: Love is not love without sacrifice. If sacrifice is missing, or, if you prefer, dying to ourselves for the good of another is missing, then love is mere sentiment (and probably self-delusional sentiment at that). More likely, we use people in the name of love. "If you loved me, you would gratify my desires in XYZ way." There are occasions where that statement can be born out of a legitimate need (I'm starving; you have food; I don't. If you really loved me, you would take care of me, someone who hasn't the ability to take care of themselves). Just as often, however, (if not more) it is a manipulative attempt to gain our own ends. People are never means; they are always ends. The realization of this and the acting on it is often the beginning of happiness. I'm speaking to myself, as well, incidentally.

In one scene, the mother and daughter are discussing why they had to leave home, and the mother says that it's because the Nazis hate the Jews. And the daughter says, "You and papa aren't really Jewish," to which the mother replies, "Judaism has never been so important for Papa and me. We thought we were as German as anyone could be. German culture, the language ... that was home to us.... Do you remember Uncle Saloman and Aunt Ruth?  Of course they're different they live according to the Jewish religion, and that makes them different."

Well, you could transpose that to our own situation, couldn't you? What makes us different? Does anything? I grew up in a household where there was no difference than our next door neighbors, the Llewelyns, good people but not at all Catholic. A lot of people could say, "We're not really Catholic. Catholicism has never been so important for us. We go to Mass on Sunday," or "We go to Mass on Christmas and Easter. We thought we were as American as anyone could be. American culture, the language ... that is home to us." Which may be true, but it's not a culture that will breed vocations or make a better, more beautiful world for us and our progeny if it is not a culture informed by first principles, right values, and virtue. Only by building a Catholic culture in the home will do that, no?

One way we can do that is by encouraging our sons to serve at the altar. I think of Bl. Carlos Manuel Cecilio Rodriguez y Santiago, the first United States citizen to be beatified. For him, being an altar boy was not something he only did as a boy but continued to do throughout his life. Serving at the altar was just another opportunity to serve the Lord. Some boys, once they get confirmed or once they get to high school or once they graduate from high school, that's it. They will never serve at Our Lord's altar again, and it's too bad. Actually, it's tragic because a) no man is ever too old to serve Christ at the altar and b) it is such an honor and privilege and blessing. Why not try it and see, sir?

Some lines in the movie puzzled me. For instance, during the aforementioned scene, the mother says, "Tolerance doesn't mean that everyone is the same. That'd be stupid." Maybe it was a bad translation from the German. These lines could be taken to mean any number of things, but I wasn't able to come up with any certain meaning. Have you? Please share.

The father also says something very interesting at one point: "This land saved our lives, but it isn't our nation." If we are headed toward a persecution of Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular, as several prominent, mainstream people believe, if we, too, flee somewhere, will we say the same thing? Or will we adapt and assimilate? I suppose it depends, eh?

Finally, near the end of the film, the wife asks her husband, "Do you love me?" to which he replies, "If you will let me."

That answer very much seems to miss the mark. The definition of love is that it is an act of the will that constantly seeks the good of the one who is its object. To some extent I get what he is saying: I can't love you if you don't let me in, if you treat me like a "leper," as he accuses her of doing at one point. At some point, we can only be rejected from giving a gift for so long before it becomes increasingly difficult to keep giving.

On the other hand, we can always seek the good of another, even if it is to only always treat them with kindness, to never ascent to anything that would be to their detriment, or that would be sinful, and to, at the very least, pray for them.

All told, the movie was involving enough that I didn't say, "This is pointless," and turn it off. As with many foreign films, however, its pace was slower than that which we in the US are accustomed. Then again, life in most foreign lands is slower than that which we in the US are accustomed, at least in my experience. You typically won't find Americans as a matter of habit or culture taking a break in the middle of the day or eating their meals in a very languid, leisurely meals so as to prolong our experience of another's company. Italians, Spaniards, etc., they do that, and I envy them for it. Man is made for relationship (as Aristotle wrote, "Man is a social being and only in his propher sphere when associated with his fellow man"), and in America, we have built our culture on separateness, on individuality.

OK, I digress. There is upper nudity, both on the the part of the wife, the teenage daughter, and the African women, but with one exception, none of it is titilating. You see rear male and female nudity on the part of the husband and wife, but in the context of the story, I didn't mind (except when the wife departs the shower in another part of the film; as a man, I didn't need to see that, but then I recognize that what immediately follows drives home the part that this woman isn't in Kansas anymore, Toto). The film makes clear this couple hadn't made love with each other once since coming to Africa, and as soon as they learn the war is over, life bursts upon them, shall we say. It wasn't offensive, but I wouldn't let anyone but adults see it.

The one thing I really loved about the film, however, is the innocence. The innocence in the movie is wonderful. For instance, the pre-pubescent or adolescent daughter Regina does not want to get her school uniform dirty, but she does want to climb a tree with a boy her age who is very handsome. So what does she do? She takes off her white blouse (she has no breasts for which to wear a bra) and climbs the tree. This is not a prelude to a sexual coming of age, as it would be in every one of our wretched films. It's just two kids climbing a tree. They are naked without shame, just like Genesis 2.

We also learn she often spends the night in this boy's family one room hut. Again, while we get the sense that they like each other, it is not something titilating or prurient. He is her best friend. It's just two kids having a sleep over. It's all so natural.

Finally, the daughter, whose love for the African cook and housekeeper, a man with 1,000 watt smile, is deep and immense, comes to him one night to talk. In the end, she turns off the kerosene lamp and the two cuddle and fall asleep in his bed. In a different film, this would be the setting for something terrible, filthy, and awful. In this film, it is just a young girl, a child seeking security and reassurance from those she knows love her and will protect her. Nothing bad happens. Nothing disturbing. He is for her like another parent, and as such, he is a port in the storm.

Innocence. Sigh. It's all so desperately missing in our culture, and it was so bracing and surprising and yet gratifying and beautiful to see. It was like being in a lush, all-enveloping oasis in the midst of a tremendous desert.

I'd probably give Nowhere in Africa three stars.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Movie Review: Defiance

Last night, I watched Defiance with Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber via Netflix. Before getting into the movie, let me note this: If Netflix wants people to wean themselves off of getting movies by mail, they have to do a better job of delivering a non-pixilated film

That said, I don't know why Defiance got so many iffy reviews. It is an excellent, engrossing film, full of action, suspense, tension, humor, and even some romance.

The story concerns a group of Jews in what was then Poland and is now part of Belarus. After the Nazis exterminate most of their co-religionists in the area, a family of brothers makes for the woods. There then forms around them a growing cluster of other survivors and refugees. Soon, they build what amounts to a town, albeit a town that survives on "liberating" stores from local farms and evading the ever encroaching Nazi patrols. The film is based on a true story, and [SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT! SPOILER ALERT!] I'm happy to report it features a happy ending.

If I had to nitpick, it is embued with a somewhat socialist-friendly tinge. For instance, the only philosopher quoted is by Isaac, a former socialist magazine editor. The only philosopher he quotes is Descartes, who started the beginning of the end of historic Western civilization as he was arguably the first herald of the so-called Enlightenment.

Then there was the quasi-Marxist sentiment thrown out here and there. For instance, to a group of new arrivals, Isaac and the village rabbi tell people to give them their valuables. "This was my grandmother's," says a woman, who obviously doesn't want to give up the valued heirloom. "And now it belongs to the Otria [i.e., brigade]," says Isaac. "Everyone sacrifices for the sake of the collective. We can trade everything for food or weapons."

To the new recruits, the camp commander Tuvia tells them, "Pregnancies are forbidden. We cannot acommodate an infant's needs here." Naturally, a baby comes along. The mother tells Tuvia's love interest that the baby growing inside of her is "the only thing that's keeping me going." After the child comes forth from the womb, Tuvia tells his lady that rules are rules, and that the next day, mother and infant must leave (mother was raped by a German soldier, so it would be just her and the baby). Tuvia's paramour tells him, "You told us to hold onto our humanity, not to become like animals. And what better way than to bring a life into this world of suffering and death? It is our only hope." That was nice.

So was the subtle message to those who favor the outlawing of abortion except in cases of rape and incest. This scene shows a baby does not choose how it is conceived, and, furthermore, the circumstances of its conception neither negate its dignity and right to life nor mean that it cannot provide joy and hope. Witness the mother's comments above.

At one point, the Jewish castaways capture a German soldier and bring him into camp. While Tuvia pours over the man's satchel, which contains intelligence that the Nazis will attack their camp two days hence (on Passover, no less), the settlers surround the soldier. They spit on and occasionally punch or kick him, barely holding back their fury. The man begs for mercy because "I have a wife and two small children," to which one camp resident shouts back in anger, "So did I!" This scene is especially poignant, I thought. Isaac, an atheist after all, begs Tuvia to step in and do something. But Tuvia stands by and lets the crowd do what they will. Soon this or that person, with tight camera shots on all, hits or stabs or clubs the soldier, giving voice to the anguish within them conceived by the Nazis killing their loved ones and ruining their lives. Isaac again appeals to Tuvia, and by Tuvia literally turning his back on the question, the crows rage is unleashed. At this point the camera pulls back and shows this maelstrom of vented revenge. It's frightening, almost demonic to behold.

The inhumanity of the secular humanist ideology that animated communism and animates so much else today gets center stage at one point. Tuvia's brother Zus has been fighting a guerilla war against the Nazis with the Soviet-back partisans. When he learns of the impending German attack, he goes to his commander. The commander, too, has learned of it, and he informs Zus they are falling back. Zus and he then engage in a dialogue about what really is their duty, to help those who will be slaughtered if their force don't help or to retreat and live to fight another day, damn what happens to anyone else.

"We all must make sacrifices," the Soviet officer tells Zus. "I find your Hebrew sentimentality rather touching," he continues, giving just a moment's hope that he will at least release Zus to go help those in the camp. "However, I must tell you," he continues, his lip forming into a sneer and his tone turning quite menacing, leaving no question as to his seriousness and the maliciousness behind it, "that it is quite counter-revolutionary." The person didn't matter to the Soviets. Only the collective did, the State. All had to be subordinated to the state, even love of family. If they die, so be it. As long as the Motherland emerges better off for it. It's a chilling scene.

There are many such chilling, thought-provoking scenes. There are the "forest wives," how Tuvia handles a potential mutiny, what does it mean to keep one's humanity in a time of inhumanity, and the moral tradeoffs one encounters in such moments the way one encounters gnats on a hot summer morning (i.e., the choices to be made are unrelenting).

All said, the film is inspiring and thought provoking, and well worth the 2:15 hours you will spend watching it.

A bishop reviews a book

A thousand "Look in the Mirror" thanks for His Excellency's consideration:
Get to know the modern day saints

39 NEW SAINTS YOU SHOULD KNOW (Servant Books, 2010, supplied by Pleroma Christian Supplies); New Zealand$27.99. Reviewed by Bishop JOHN MACKEY.

In The Creed, we profess belief in the communion of saints. This belief has many corollaries, the most important one being that here we have no lasting city. As children of God, our own destiny is to play out our part as loving children of God in the cosmic drama that the Creator initiated, and in which human beings are made in the image of God.

We thus, although physical in stature, are called to transcend our physical nature and to rise to the realms of spirit and eternity. As sacred Scripture warns us, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come. Through him let us offer God an unending sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:14-15).

The praise of God embraces his wonderful works, especially those that are exemplified in the lives of the saints. Hebrews 12 reminds us that this great company of witnesses spurs us to victory to share their prize of everlasting glory.

This anthology of modern saints (and beatified) assures us that our own modern times are as present to the loving God as were the times past, in which veneration of the saints was a special Catholic devotion. It is recorded that Pope John Paul II canonised 482 saints and beatified 1339 individuals. All of this is indicative that the Holy Spirit is active in holy Mother Church, so is active also in us as we respond to the invitation to holiness.

An acquaintance with these modern saints can be a spur to our own devotion. This book is also an interesting read with its variety of personalities, and inevitably leads us to the wonder of the love for us that is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

Bishop John Mackey is Bishop Emeritus of Auckland.

Friday, July 1, 2011

More imaginary postings at

American group: No more religion in public, no matter how tangential

MIAMI--Today in federal court, Americans for Separation of State and Church/Religion and our American Culture filed suit to have the name of a south Florida high school changed, claiming it violated the Constitution's expressly mandated separation of church and state.

The high school in question is Felix Varela High School, which is named after a nineteenth century Cuban-American Catholic priest, who worked for religious tolerance, cooperation between English and Spanish speaking peoples, and broadening access to education. He was also a vigorous anti-slavery activist.

"Despite the admittedly noble things Felix Varela did during his lifetime," said A.S.S.C.R.A.C.'s lawyer Guadalupe Lourdes Martinez y Serra, "we cannot ignore the fact that he was a man of the cloth, and a Catholic priest at that. First, in a time of terrible scandal and crime committed by priests just like Varela, what sort of example do we set for our children--who, after all, are our future--by giving such honor to a man who chose such a disreputable line of work? Furthermore, even though religion is not taught in this public school, it nevertheless sends a chilling message of possible violation of the irrefutable boundry we find absolutely enshrined in the Constitution between church and state. Again, it is not enough that no religion is taught. Giving any public recognition to any religion -- no matter how tangentially -- shows favoritism to religion and strikes fear, even terrible anxiety into the hearts who have a different religion or no religion at all."

Principles from Horace Mann Elementary (named after an ardent Unitarian), Henry Flagler Elementary (named after a devout Presbyterian), and Martin Luther King Elementary all said they were delighted their schools had not been named in the suit. "Maybe it's because we're elementary schools," said Miami-Dade Public Schools spokesman Dr. E.S. Spein, LS.

Beatification and canonization news from June

On June 2, it was announced that the Pope could name St. John of Avila -- one of my favorites -- could be named a Doctor of the Church. He was a friend to both Ss. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, and helped make several other saints, as well.

On June 5, a Mass was held commemorating the cause for sainthood and the 125th anniversary of the ordination of Fr. Augustus Tolton, the  nation’s first black priest. The Mass was celebrated by the incredible Bishop Joseph Perry, auxiliary bishop of Chicago, who many consider a saint himself.

On June 8, the Brazlian bishops opened the beatification cause of one of their own, Archbishop Luciano Mendes de Almeida, SJ, who Brazilians love for his love of the poor and attention to human rights.

Possibly the biggest saints news of the month is the Archdiocese of Boston’s opening the cause of Fr. Jose Muzquiz, the first Opus Dei priest in the US, and one of the first three priests ordained for Opus Dei. My goodness, this story was picked up in so many outlets.

On June 12, Pentecost Sunday, the Pope named as a patron of world peace, Bl. Alois Andritzki, who was beatified the next day. Bl. Alois was a sports fanatic, a priest, and a youth minister who made no secret of his antipathy for Nazism. Because of this the Nazis arrested him and sent him to Dachau and that concentration camp’s infamous priest block. And you know what he did when he got there? He formed a Bible study. You know what else he did? He resolved to show joy at all times. Think of how that must have effected his fellow inmates amidst that misery and squalor, because joy and happiness are choices, acts of the will, just like love, aren’t they? “After more than a year in the camp, sick with typhoid, [he was beginning to recover when] he asked a guard if he could receive Communion. Instead, they gave him a lethal injection. He died February 3, 1943, at the age of 28.”

The beatification cause of Bl. William Joseph Chaminade, founder of the Marianist Order, announced on June 15 that a St. Louis woman’s miraculous cure from cancer might be the miracle needed to achieve canonization for him. Bl. Chaminade, as he’s known, founded the order to which Bl. Jakob Gapp, the first saint profiled in my book, belonged.

On June 19, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, presided at the beatification of Sr. Marguerite Rutan, who refused to renounce her faith during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. Because of this, the Jacobites guillotined her.

On June 25, Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, beatified Fathers Johannes Prassek, Hermann Lange, and Eduard Müller, three priests martyred by the Nazi regime in 1943. An estimated 5,000 attended an open-air Mass in Lübeck, the northern German city where the three ministered.

A Lutheran pastor, Karl Friedrich Stellbrink, was slain with the three priests, and the beatification caused controversy amongst some Lutherans because the Catholic Church would not beatify him, as well.

On June 27, His Holiness Benedict XVI declared “Venerable” Fr. Matthew Kadalikattil, who was known for his devotion to the Sacred Heart and for his care for the dalits or Untouchables of India.

On June 27, the Pope approved miracles for four Servants of God, which means they all get to bypass the “venerable” stage and will be called “blessed” after their beatifications. He also recognized the martyrdoms of two Spaniards and one German, which means they also will automatically be declared “blessed,” without needing the usual qualifying miracle attributed to their intercession. Finally, in addition to Fr. Kadalikattil, he declared venerable seven other individuals, including Sr. Maria Giuseppina Benvenuti (nee Zeinab Alif), whose story is very similar to St. Josephine Bakhita.

On June 28, Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, NY, celebrated a Mass to close a tribunal formed to review a possible miracle attributed to the intercession of Fr. Patrick Peyton, who died in 1992, and who founded Family Radio, as well as the motto, “The family that prays together stays together.”

Today, July 1, is the closing of the 10-year-old diocesan phase of Fr. Emil Kapaun, an Army chaplain who died in a North Korean POW camp in 1951. To watch the commemorative Mass, go to to see it streamed live beginning at 5 p.m. Central, Friday, July 1.

Fr. Kapaun was from the little town of Pilsen, Kansas, which was a community of Czech immigrants. After his ordination, he returned to his community but there was a little army airfield nearby, and he would sometimes help out. That inspired him to join the army in 1944, where he began his chaplain’s career near Macon, Georgia. During World War II, he also served in the Burma Theater, and after the war he did like a lot of former GIs did, go to college. After getting his MA in 1948, he reenlisted and was made chaplain at Fort Bliss, Texas.

Not too much later, the Korean War started, and he was sent to the war theater, where he earned the Bronze Star medal. In November 1950, however, Chinese communists captured him and turned him over to the North Koreans. After doing some tremendously heroic things to minister to the men in his camp, he died on May 23, 1951.