Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My Two Favorite Columnists

One writes about life, the other about sports.

Anyone who knows me will understand why I readily related to Craig Wilson's piece in USA Today--in fact I bet I've already made two or three errors in this sentence. What most readers don't know, is that many writers (most) can't (and don't care) punctuate a sentence. Read some of Thomas Merton's unedited journals for a great example. Behind every great author, there is an even better editor (or in some cases a couple--someone who edited the substance, and another who edited for grammar and spelling). So it is with great joy that I present Craig Wilson's piece:
Today is National Punctuation Day, a day set aside to reflect on the fact a semicolon is not a medical problem. At least that's what NPD founder Jeff Rubin, a former newspaperman, wants to impart.
I hesitate to write about punctuation since it has never been my strong suit. Commas especially. Or is it commas, especially?
I have long held the belief that I must have been sick the day commas were taught. Where to put them. When to use them. When not to use them. Do you put one before the conjunction in a simple series of three or more items? (The answer is yes. I just looked it up on Rubin's website, nationalpunctuationday.com)
Because of my comma condition, I have driven more than a few editors crazy, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Weren't you ever taught about commas?" one editor barked at me early in my newspaper career.
"No," I answered. "I was sick that day."
"Obviously," he said.
And so he would insert commas where commas belonged, and we went to press. After that, I would put commas most everywhere. Like, after, every, word. Just for good measure.
Then another editor would bark at me.
"Was there a sale on commas somewhere?" she would ask.
"I guess there was," I would reply.
And then she would go back, remove most of them, and we went to press. I would then go back to never putting a comma in any sentence no matter how long laborious lovely or lively.
Correct punctuation, like good conversation, has become a lost art. That's why Rubin began NPD a few years ago.
E-mail has not helped any, mainly because it's often communication through sentence fragments. Dashes and ellipses galore. Maybe that's why I use lots of exclamation points in my e-mail. It's not that my sentence fragments are exciting. I'm just trying to make them so. Like this!
My journalism professor, who loathed exclamation points, is rolling in his grave, and if he's not there yet, I'm sure an e-mail from me could send him there.
His rule: Never use an exclamation point unless the sentence is about the end of the world, and the end of the world is tomorrow. Example: The end is near!
F. Scott Fitzgerald understood the exclamation point. He said, "An exclamation mark is like laughing at your own jokes."
I'll try to remember that. I'll also try to remember the rule about semicolons. I've used them on occasion, but once an editor removed one from a story. He called it pretentious. He said a period worked just as well.
He was right, of course. We hate nothing more (please insert exclamation point).

The other great columnist of our era, writes for the Orlando Sentinel now, but started out writing for the Gainesville Sun, then later for the Florida Times Union (the Jacksonville daily).Mike Bianchi loves college football and the passion that fans have for the game. He writes in his blog Open Mike:
Once when I was a columnist in Gainesville, I picked the Gators to lose a big game against Tennessee. The following week, I received an aromatic letter in the mail. One disgruntled reader, upset with my prediction, literally used my column as toilet paper, stuck it in an envelope and mailed it to me with this message: "I have to put up with your $#!#! Now you have to put up with mine!"

He always finds a way to bring humor and insight to his writing. Take this quip about the Florida-Tennessee match-up that took place last Saturday (that Florida won 30-6). From the Orlando Sentinel:
Maybe it's appropriate that there's a checkerboard pattern in Tennessee's end zone. Fulmer is indeed playing checkers. The problem is Meyer is playing chess.

Monday, September 22, 2008

A Humble Worker in the Vineyard

Pope Benedict recalls how he presented himself on the day of his election as pontiff, from Asia News Italy:
The reflection prior to the Marian prayer, in the courtyard of Castel Gandolfo, was dedicated to commenting on today's Gospel, for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which presents "the parable of the owner of the vineyard, who at different hours of the day calls laborers to work in his vineyard" (Mt. 20:1-6a).

"One message of this parable", the pope explained, "lies in the fact that the owner does not tolerate unemployment, so to speak: he wants everyone to be busy in his vineyard. And in reality, being called is itself a form of compensation: being able to work in the vineyard of the Lord, putting oneself at his service, collaborating in his work, constitutes an inestimable reward in itself, which repays any hardship. But only those who love the Lord and his Kingdom understand this; those who instead work only for payment will never realize the value of this inestimable treasure".

Benedict XVI numbers St Matthew, whose liturgical feast is celebrated today, among these "workers in the vineyard": "Before Jesus called him", the pontiff said, "he was a tax collector, and for this reason he was considered a public sinner, excluded from the 'vineyard of the Lord'. But everything changed when Jesus, passing nearby his customs post, saw him and told him: 'Follow me'. Matthew got up and followed him. He immediately changed from being a tax collector to being a disciple of Christ. Instead of being 'last', he found himself 'first', thanks to the logic of God, which - fortunately for us! - is different from that of the world".

Another "worker" is St Paul: "St Paul, whom we are celebrating in a special way with a jubilee year, also experienced the joy of hearing himself called by the Lord to work in his vineyard. And what work he did! But, as he himself confesses, it was the grace of God working in him, the grace that transformed him from being a persecutor of the Church to being an apostle of the Gentiles. So much so, that he said: 'For to me life is Christ, and death is gain'. But he immediately adds: 'If I go on living in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. And I do not know which I shall choose' (Phil. 1:21-22). Paul understood well that working for the Lord is already a reward on this earth".

Benedict XVI did not overlook himself, and recalled that at the Mass on the very day of his election, at St. Peter's, "I was prompted spontaneously to present myself as a worker in the vineyard of the Lord".

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Amen! "The Less Said"

From USA Today columnist Craig Wilson:

I was walking down the street the other day and started counting the number of people coming toward me who were talking on cellphones.

It got up to 10 before one sad sack came along who was walking with only his thoughts. But 10 in a row were on phones. Two of them were walking next to each other, so I assumed they were together. Maybe they were even talking to each other. Who knows?

All I know is there's too much communicating going on these days.

If communication were such a good thing, wouldn't the world be in a better state? Isn't communication supposed to translate into understanding? At least the exchange of useful information?

A friend confessed the other day that she talks to her son who is away at college five or six times a day. At least I think she said five or six times a day. I could hardly hear her over the roar of her helicopter.

Does she call to wake him up? Do they talk after every class? Does he call when he's heading to lunch? Does she call after lunch and ask what he had for lunch? Maybe he calls during lunch to ask what he should have for lunch. Who knows?

All I know is it's too much information.

What's the point of being away at college if your parents know everything that's going on? That used to be the whole point, didn't it? Your parents didn't have a clue what was happening on campus. I think even they liked it that way. The less known, the better.

When I was in college, I used to communicate with my folks once a week. It was always on Sunday night, and it was always after 6 or 7 when the rates went down.

I remember because there was always a line at the phone booth on my dorm floor that night. It got a little funky in there behind those glass doors after the seventh or eighth guy made his call home, but that's the way the world worked. Lots of things were funky back then.

I would always call collect, my parents would always accept, and then we would talk about the important issues of the day. The weather mainly.

Yes, it snowed again. Yes, we're expecting more snow tonight.

I asked after the dog. I'd tell them if I'd snagged a ride home for Thanksgiving. I might have mentioned a class now and then, but I doubt it. I don't ever remember telling them what was really going on.

The whole conversation lasted less than 10 minutes, nothing much was said, everyone hung up happy, and we repeated the whole process a week later.

In short, communication the way it should be.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J. on Saint Paul: Steward of the Mysteries

Part II: The Sacrament of Confession/Given September 11, 2008 at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Birmingham, AL

Pope Benedict on the Mass

In the Mass, we want to belong only to Christ and we take up with gratitude – with thanksgiving – the cry of the psalmist: "How shall I repay the Lord for his goodness to me?" (Ps 116:12). Yes, how can I give thanks to the Lord for the life he has given me? The answer to the psalmist’s question is found in the psalm itself, since the word of God responds graciously to its own questions. How else could we render thanks to the Lord for all his goodness to us if not by attending to his own words: "I will raise the cup of salvation, I will call on the name of the Lord" (Ps 116:13)?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pope: Shun Idols!

From Asia News Italy:

With a complete overturning of the Marxist theory on religion as the "opium of the people", and of Enlightenment rationalism, on the uselessness of God in life, Benedict XVI today claimed that Christ, the Eucharist, the Mass, help man to free himself from the "idols" that, as in ancient paganism, "constituted a powerful source of alienation and diverted man from his true destiny". And precisely in order to free man from the prison of the idols, the pope invited the young people to follow the call to the priestly and religious vocation.

On the second day of his visit to France, the pontiff celebrated the Mass in the Esplanade des Invalides, with almost 300,000 people: the attendance exceeded all of the predictions, almost as if to disprove all of the theories about the secularization dominating the country, once called the "eldest daughter of the Church".

In his homily, the pope commented on the readings of the liturgy for the feast of of Saint John Chrysostom, one of the greatest fathers of the Church, from the fourth century, who left works of catechesis, liturgy, and theology that are still kept alive in both East and West.

Beginning with the appeal from the apostle Paul to "Shun the worship of idols" (1 Cor. 10:14), the pontiff explained what idols are: "The word 'idol' comes from the Greek and means 'image', 'figure', 'representation', but also 'ghost', 'phantom', 'vain appearance'. An idol is a delusion, for it turns its worshipper away from reality and places him in the kingdom of mere appearances. Now, is this not a temptation in our own day – the only one we can act upon effectively? The temptation to idolize a past that no longer exists, forgetting its shortcomings; the temptation to idolize a future which does not yet exist, in the belief that, by his efforts alone, man can bring about the kingdom of eternal joy on earth! . . . Have not money, the thirst for possessions, for power and even for knowledge, diverted man from his true destiny?"

Benedict XVI recalled that the condemnation of idolatry is the condemnation of sin, but not of the sinner; on the contrary, man is called to truth and to conversion, to discover God through the use of reason. But "How do we reach God?".

"Communion with the Body of Christ", the Eucharist, is the means by which we are helped to free ourselves from idols, because we discover the true face of God: "Millions of times over the last twenty centuries, in the humblest chapels and in the most magnificent basilicas and cathedrals, the risen Lord has given himself to his people, thus becoming, in the famous expression of Saint Augustine, 'more intimate to us than we are to ourselves' (cf. Confessions, III, 6, 11)". And again: "The Mass invites us to discern what, in ourselves, is obedient to the Spirit of God and what, in ourselves, is attuned to the spirit of evil". "He alone [Christ present in the Eucharist] teaches us to shun idols, the illusions of our minds".

The urgency of celebrating the Eucharist as an instrument of truth for the faithful and for the world impelled the pope to make an appeal to the young people: "Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid to give your life to Christ! Nothing will ever replace the ministry of priests at the heart of the Church! Nothing will ever replace a Mass for the salvation of the world! Dear young and not so young who are listening to me, do not leave Christ’s call unanswered".

His final invitation was to mission, to communicate the faith in truth and love with those around us: "When we speak, do we seek the good of our interlocutor? When we think, do we seek to harmonize our thinking with God’s thinking? When we act, do we seek to spread the Love which gives us life?"

And he concluded: "I entrust you, dear Christians of Paris and France, to the powerful and merciful action of the God of love who died for us upon the Cross and rose victorious on Easter morning. To all people of good will who are listening to me, I say once more, with Saint Paul: Shun the worship of idols, do not tire of doing good! May God our Father bring you to himself and cause the splendour of his glory to shine upon you! ".

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Catholic Vote

From The Catholic Vote:

Father Mitch Continues Teaching on Saint Paul Tonight!

Father Mitch Pacwa, continues a series on Saint Paul in St. Paul's Cathedral in Birmingham, AL, begining tonight at 7:00 P.M. Everyone is invited, there is no admission or registration. This series will continue for the next five weeks. Father Mitch will be available after the talk to autograph books and answer questions.

The video of last week's talk is on this web page. Just below this post.

Father has released a series of audio compact discs that are available from Ignatius Productions. Those using Father Mitch's St. Paul: Jubilee Year of the Apostle Paul Edition: A Bible Study for Catholics may find that these teaching cd's to be a great aditional resource to using the book. Topics include:

  • Introduction to Saint Paul

  • St. Paul on Baptism

  • St. Paul on Confession

  • St. Paul on Confirmation

  • St. Paul on the Eucharist

  • St. Paul on the Priesthood

  • St. Paulon Marriage, Culture and the End Times


Check out Ignatius Productions for more details!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pope on Saint Paul

The continuing Catechesis:

The Pauline concept of apostleship went "beyond that of the group of Twelve" explained the Holy Father. "It was characterised by three elements: the first was the fact of having seen the Lord, in other words of having encountered Him in a way that marked his life. ... Definitively then, it is the Lord Who confers the apostolate, not individual presumption. Apostles do not make themselves but are created so by the Lord". 

  The second characteristic is that of "having been sent. In fact, the Greek term 'apostolos' means envoy, ... the representative of a principal. ... Once again the idea emerges of an initiative arising from someone else, from God in Jesus Christ, to Whom one is duty-bound", of "a mission to be accomplished in His name, putting all personal interests aside".

   "Announcing the Gospel and the consequent founding of Churches" is the third requisite. "The tile of apostle", said Pope Benedict, "is not and cannot be a merely honorary title. It truly, even dramatically, involves the entire existence of the person concerned". 

  St. Paul also defined apostles as "servants of God, Whose grace acts in them", said the Pope. "A typical element of the true apostle ... is a form of identification between the Gospel and the evangeliser, both share the same destiny. Indeed no-one so much as Paul highlighted how announcing the cross of Christ is a 'stumbling block and foolishness' to which many react with misunderstanding and refusal. That happened then and it should be no surprise that the same thing happens today".

  "With the stoical philosophy of his time, Paul shared the idea of tenacious perseverance in all the difficulties he had to face; but he went beyond the merely human perspective by recalling ... God's love and Christ's. ... This is the certainty, the profound joy that guided the Apostle though all those events: nothing can separate us from the love of God, and this love is the real treasure of human life".

   "As we may see, St. Paul gave himself to the Gospel with all his life", said the Holy Father in conclusion. "He undertook his ministry with faithfulness and joy that he 'might by all means save some'. And though aware of his own relationship of paternity - even, indeed, of maternity - towards the Churches, his attitude to them was one of complete service, declaring: "I do not mean to imply that we lord it over your faith; rather, we are workers with you for your joy'. This remains the mission of all the apostles of Christ in all times: to be collaborators of true joy".

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Father Mitch Pacwa/Saint Paul/ Baptism

A Response to Senator Biden

From Archbishop Chaput:
On August 24, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, describing herself as an ardent, practicing Catholic, misrepresented the overwhelming body of Catholic teaching against abortion to the show's nationwide audience, while defending her "pro-choice" abortion views. On September 7, Sen. Joseph Biden compounded the problem to the same Meet the Press audience.

Sen. Biden is a man of distinguished public service. That doesn't excuse poor logic or bad facts.
Asked when life begins, Sen. Biden said that, "it's a personal and private issue." But in reality, modern biology knows exactly when human life begins: at the moment of conception. Religion has nothing to do with it. People might argue when human "personhood" begins - though that leads public policy in very dangerous directions - but no one can any longer claim that the beginning of life is a matter of religious opinion.

Sen. Biden also confused the nature of pluralism. Real pluralism thrives on healthy, non-violent disagreement;it requires an environment where people of conviction will struggle respectfully but vigorously to advance their beliefs. In his interview, the senator observed that other people with strong religious views disagree with the Catholic approach to abortion. It's certainly true that we need to acknowledge the views of other people and compromise whenever possible - but not at the expense of a developing child's right to life. Abortion is a foundational issue; it is not an issue like housing policy or the price of foreign oil. It always involves the intentional killing of an innocent life, and it is always, grievously wrong. If, as Sen. Biden said, "I'm prepared as a matter of faith [emphasisadded] to accept that life begins at the moment of conception," then he is not merely wrong about the science of new life; he also fails to defend the innocent life he already knows is there.

As the senator said in his interview, he has opposed public funding for abortions. To his great credit, he also backed a successful ban on partial-birth abortions. But his strong support for the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and the false "right" to abortion it enshrines, can't be excused by any serious Catholic. Support for Roe and the "right to choose" an abortion simply masks what abortion is, and what abortion does. Roe is bad law. As long as it stands, it prevents returning the abortion issue to the states where it belongs, so that the American people can decide its future through fair debate and legislation.

In his Meet the Press interview, Sen. Biden used a morally exhausted argument that American
Catholics have been hearing for 40 years: i.e., that Catholics can't "impose" their religiously based views on the rest of the country. But resistance to abortion is a matter of human rights, not religious opinion. And the senator knows very well as a lawmaker that all law involves the imposition of some people's convictions on everyone else. That is the nature of the law. American Catholics have allowed themselves to be bullied into accepting the destruction of more than a million developing unborn children a year. Other people have imposed their "pro-choice" beliefs on American society without any remorse for decades.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Father Mitch Pacwa at Birmingham Cathedral Tonight!

Father Mitch Pacwa, will present a series on Saint Paul in St. Paul's Cathedral in Birmingham, AL, begining tonight at 7:00 P.M. Everyone is invited, there is no admission or registration. This series will continue for the next six weeks. Father Mitch will be available after the talk to autograph books and answer questions.

Father has released a series of audio compact discs that are available from Ignatius Productions. Those using Father Mitch's St. Paul: Jubilee Year of the Apostle Paul Edition: A Bible Study for Catholics may find that these teaching cd's to be a great aditional resource to using the book. Topics include:

  • Introduction to Saint Paul

  • St. Paul on Baptism

  • St. Paul on Confession

  • St. Paul on Confirmation

  • St. Paul on the Eucharist

  • St. Paul on the Priesthood

  • St. Paulon Marriage, Culture and the End Times


Check out Ignatius Productions for more details!

Year of Saint Paul Resources

On Corinthians:



On Saint Paul overall:


Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Pope Benedict Continues Catechesis on Saint Paul

From Asia News Italy:
Christianity "is not a philosophy or a moral norm; we are Christians only if we encounter Jesus". As for Paul on the road to Damascus, this encounter changes both our way of thinking and our life itself, clearing away what was essential up until that moment, while it is "only life in Christ that matters". To the 8,000 people present today in the audience hall at the Vatican, Benedict XVI again spoke of the figure of St Paul. Last week, he had sketched out his biography, while today he dwelt upon the meaning of the "experience on the road to Damascus, what is commonly called his conversion".

"The decisive moment in Paul's life took place during the third decade of the first century. Much has been written about this from various points of view, and it is certain that here there was a turning point, a change of perspective". "He began to think about everything that had constituted the reason for his existence up until then as a waste of time, as rubbish".

The pope recalled that Luke narrates the event in three sections of the Acts of the Apostles. "The average reader", he adds, "dwells upon the details, like the light from the sky, the fall, the blindness . . ." But these details "are all related to the center of this episode: the Risen One appears like a splendid light and speaks to Saul; he transforms his way of thinking and his life itself". In the ancient Church, baptism was also called illumination, because it makes us see the light. "What is referred to theologically takes place physically for Paul. Paul was transformed not by any thought of his own, but by an event, by the presence of the Risen One. This encounter is the center of Luke's account; it changed [Paul's] life, and in this sense it can be called a conversion".

St Paul himself speaks of his "conversion" in his letters. "He never talked about the details", Benedict XVI emphasized, "and I think this is because he was able to assume that everyone knew the story about how he was changed from a persecutor into a disciple". "Although he does not speak about the details, he mentions various times that he, too, is a witness of the Resurrection of Jesus, from whom he received directly his mission as an Apostle". The pope cited the letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians in this regard. In the latter of these, in particular, Paul talks about when "he who chose me from my mother's womb" called him to proclaim him among the pagans, and thus he "emphasizes that he is also a true witness of the Risen One" and "has his own mission, received directly from Jesus".

"This new direction for his life", the pope emphasized, "was not the result of a psychological process, of a moral and intellectual maturation, but came from the outside; it was not the result of his maturation, but of his encounter with Christ, an event that transformed him". "in this sense, he died, and the resurrection was his own as well; the past was dead, and he rose with the risen Christ". "No amount of psychological analysis can clarify this, only the event itself; the encounter is the key for understanding what happened. In this deeper sense, we may speak of a conversion, of a real event that changed all of the standards; what had been essential is now rubbish, and only life in Christ matters".

This means that Christianity is not a new philosophy or a moral norm for us either; we are Christian only if we encounter Jesus". "Of course, he does not appear to us in this dazzling, irresistible way. but we can encounter him in the liturgy, in life with the Church". "It is only in this personal relationship with the Risen One that we truly become Christians, and thus open our reason to all of the wisdom of Christ, to all of the richness of the truth". "Let us ask", he concluded, "for the gift of a lively faith, for a large and open heart, for a charity for all of that renews the world".

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Refugees

Spotted on the streets of Birmingham, AL--the Sister Servants of Mary from New Orleans, here in exile waiting out Hurricane Gustav.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pope: Take Up Your Cross

From Asia News Italy
Taking his cue from today’s liturgy, the Pope said that “if to save us the Son of God had to suffer and die crucified, this is certainly not part of a cruel plan by the Celestial Father. It is due to the gravity of the illness from which he had to heal us; a very serious and deadly illness that require all his blood. It is in fact with his death and resurrection that Jesus defeated sin and death and re-established God’s lordship. However, the struggle is not over yet,” he added. “Evil exists and resists in each generation, even in our day and age. What are the horrors of war, the violence on the innocent, the merciless misery and injustice of the weak, but evil’s opposition to the Kingdom of God? How can we respond to so much wickedness if not with the disarming strength of love that beats hatred, of life that does not fear death? It is the mysterious strength that Jesus used at the price of being misunderstood and abandoned by his own people.”

“Dear brothers and sisters, to fully achieve the work of salvation, the Redeemer continues to have men and women join him and his mission in taking the cross and following him.

As it was for Christ, carrying the cross is not optional for Christians but a mission to embrace out of love. In the today’s world, where the forces that divide and destroy appear to rule, Christ never stops to extend his clear invitation to all: Those who want to be my disciples must reject their selfishness and carry the cross with me.”