The Smoking Priest

I thoroughly enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s version of “War of the Worlds.”  The special effects that Spielberg uses to show the aliens coming out of the ground are really cool.

Heresies (yes, I did use that word) are like the aliens that come out of the ground.

Harlan Ogilvy in Spielberg’s movie says it well when he affirms that “they’ve been planning this for a million years.”

Ogilvy’s words remind me of the Old Testament truth that “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1: 9).

In response to modern man’s isolation, depression and radical individualism, I have always been a promoter of Catholic community life.

Yes,  light up the cigars and let the wine, the whiskey and the tequila flow.

Why not?  Did I miss something when I read “and God saw that it was good”?

You see, old ideas do rise out of the ground.  Call it what you want: Manichaeism, Jansenism or Puritanism.  They all basically say the same thing: everything is bad and everything is sin.

These old ideas have gripped a lot of Catholics here in America and Your Honor, I object.  Give me a freaking break.

I have lived in Spain for five years, Mexico for six and Italy for two.   Wow, they sure do know how to live and they sure do know how to enjoy life.  You know why?  Let’s see now…could Catholicism have something to do with it?

Hilaire Belloc once said: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine.  At least I’ve always found it so.  Benedicamus Domino!”

When it comes to cigars and libations, of course everything must take place with moderation.  Hey, that’s what virtue is all about.

But, if you are still a snarly snob, I suggest that you spend some time in a Catholic culture.  There you will learn how to have a love affair with life and God’s creation.

All right, let me step back for a moment and let’s listen to another Texan tell us about the goodness of God’s creation.

In 1952, Armon M. Sweat, Jr., a member of the Texas House of Representatives, was asked about his position on whiskey.

“If you mean whiskey, the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean that evil drink that topples Christian men and women from the pinnacles of righteous and gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation, shame, despair, helplessness, and hopelessness, then, my friend, I am opposed to it with every fiber of my being.

However, if  by whiskey you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the elixir of life, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer, the stimulating sip that puts a little spring in the step of an elderly gentleman on a frosty morning; if you mean that drink that enables man to magnify his joy, and to forget life’s great tragedies and heartbreaks and sorrow; if you mean that drink the sale of which pours into Texas treasuries untold millions of dollars each year, that provides tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our dumb, our pitifully aged and infirm, to build the finest highways, hospitals, universities, and community colleges in this nation, then my friend, I am absolutely, unequivocally in favor of it.

This is my position, and as always, I refuse to compromise on matters of principle.”

I am sure that Mr. Sweat would have something similar to say about cigar smoking too.

Email, Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, text messages…we do live in a different world. I will not deny the good that new technologies can do for all of us. I do a lot of work with the Internet and my Internet ministry has helped a lot of people.

However, technology must not be a substitute for human friendship. An embrace, a handshake, a kiss; all of these basic human things are essential.

Mother Teresa once said, “The highest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis, but rather the feeling of being unwanted.”

It is alarming that so many people live isolated and fractured lives. Like bears unable to awake from winter hibernation, many people are unable to come out of their seclusion.

Mother Teresa also said, “There is more hunger in the world for love and appreciation than for bread.” 

The caverns of isolation are dark indeed. Some fill the wasted hours of the evening with mindless television, while others spend hours on the computer accumulating Facebook friends that they do not even know.

What has caused this terrible darkness?

Thornton Wilder’s famous novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, ends with these words: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Love is the light that pierces through the obscurity. Self-absorption extinguishes the brightness.

The Bible tells us that true friendship is an uncommon commodity. “A faithful friend is a sure shelter, whoever finds one has found a rare treasure” (Ecclesiasticus 6: 14).

In a world torn apart by war, violence, hatred, confusion and chaos, we all need to be ambassadors of God’s love for humanity. We need to show the world that love is possible. We need to show the world that we believe in love!

I would suffocate and die if I could not live each day in love.

How absurd it is to be selfish. Only Jesus, the icon of the Father’s love for you and me, shows us how to love. His way is simple, practical and clear. His way is spelled out for us in the New Testament. Love, love and love more and more each day. Stretch your heart and love more each day.

One Sunday morning a man walked into a Catholic Church. He had not been to church in a very long time. After the Mass was finished, he went up to the priest and embraced him. The man began to weep profusely. As the priest tried to calm the troubled man, he told the priest that he was about to take his own life the day before under a bridge next to the beach. However, a group of young people from the parish had decided to go to the same beach and pass out cans of Coke with a card that said, “God loves you.”

That one act of friendship saved the man’s life.

I am sure that there is someone right now that needs your friendship. Maybe that person is a member of your family, your neighbor, a co-worker, a parishioner, maybe even your pastor.

How about getting away from the freaking computer for a few minutes and give that person a call or even knock on his or her door?

“There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

During my years in Spain and Mexico, it would be inevitable that interesting conversations with either Spaniards or Mexicans would take place regarding the differences between their countries and ours.  One man put it bluntly: “Look, the difference between us and you is that we work in order to live, and you live in order to work.” 

As I wrote in my book Get Serious! A Survival Guide for Serious Catholics, the root of America’s extreme activity is a profound restlessness rooted in troubled consciences and lives that have lost the sense of what it means to be a creature of God.  This frantic pace of life is being put to sleep with sex, drugs, alcohol, excessive entertainment and frantic work schedules.  Most people equate true leisure to laziness and irresponsibility.

In ancient Athens, a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys.  He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity.

Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bow implies.”

The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.”

During one of my recent summer visits to my parents’ home who now live in Binghamton, NY, we were all playing a favorite card game on the back patio one Sunday afternoon.  All of a sudden a neighbor began to mow his lawn with a very loud lawnmower.  The noise of the lawnmower pierced the silence of the Sabbath.  Modern man needs long moments of silence.  Modern man needs a day without machines and gadgets.

“To avoid silence, we blindly grasp diversion, distraction.  As an effect of all this, disintegration is produced within us.  This ends up by giving birth to the feeling of aloneness, alienation, sadness and anxiety.  This is the tragedy of the people of our day. Without a doubt, the periodic cultivation of silence, solitude and contemplation are more necessary, religiously and psychologically, than ever before.  Our interiority is assaulted and battered by speed, noise and frenzy; we are at the same time, our own victim and executioner; and we end up feeling insecure and unhappy” ( Ignacio Larrañaga,  Sensing Your Hidden Presence, p. 187).

When a people no longer understand true leisure, they no longer know how to live.  Do not get sucked into this matrix of despair.

Hillaire Belloc once wrote, “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino!” Adding to this thought, Father George Rutler said, “Joy on earth is a foretaste of the beatitude in heaven.” 

Summer is here.  Learn how to relax.  Sunday is a day of rest. Go to church and stay away from unnecessary work.  Be sure to take a nice vacation this summer.  Even the Pope takes a vacation. 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (The Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776).

Freedom and the pursuit of happiness are impossible without the fundamental right to life.  The right to life is the most fundamental of all rights.  All other rights depend upon the right to life.  Abortion is a horrific evil claiming over 4,000 lives every day.

If anyone has the right to terminate the life of an innocent human being, not only are those who are being terminated no longer equal under the law, but proponents of abortion are laying the ground work for choices to be made about the extermination of other groups of people.

Man is not autonomous.  He is created by God and therefore, must live in union with his creator.  When humanity rebels against God the results are obvious for all to see in the news every day.

James Madison, the fourth president of our nation and one of our founding fathers once said, “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

The first civil war took place from 1861 – 1865.  The horror of slavery was not the only cause of the war, but it was certainly the main issue at hand.

The new civil war has no army and has no set territories. It is a cultural war that knows no boundaries.  The battle between the culture of life and the culture of death affects every city, every family, every business, every school, and every church community.  This new civil war is even more intense than the first one.

The culture war of today is dramatic and very challenging.   What will bring about a new birth of freedom and morality?

America will change if Americans get back to God.

“If my people who bear my name, humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I myself will hear from heaven and forgive their sins and heal their land” (Second Book of Chronicles: 7; 14).

Today, faithful Catholics face a battle on two fronts: the culture war in society and the polarization in our own Church.  Too many Catholics are pro-abortion.  Too many members of the clergy refuse to take stand against abortion and against pro-abortion Catholic politicians.

We need to bring the cause of life to the streets.  We need to challenge the conscience of a nation.   “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use violence to get what they want. That is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion” – Blessed Mother Teresa