Thursday, July 15, 2010

Revenge of a Nerd

To take advantage of the historically low interest rates, I had my home appraised recently.

Being a real estate appraiser myself, I took the opportunity to inflict on a brother appraiser all the torments homeowners inflict on me.

So, when he arrived, I walked onto the porch just as he was taking a picture of the front of the house. I insisted that he sit at my kitchen table as I explained all the work I had done. So I told him how all the furniture and curtains are new and everything I planned to do in the future. While he walked through the house, I stayed close by his heels opening the closet doors and introducing each room. “This is the bathroom!”, I proclaimed in case he might get it confused with the living room or kitchen. I complained to him that on my last appraisal the finished basement area wasn’t included in he room count and made him explain why. Then, just as he was about to bolt out the door, I pressed him on what he thought my house was worth, “A couple of million, right. Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!”

I know it’s stupid. But it made me feel better. And it will probably give me a reason to laugh the next time a homeowner does the same to me.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Stalks in the City

One of the trendiest environmental movements is urban farming.

This movement seeks to take vacant or otherwise blighted city properties and use them to grow vegetables and raise livestock.

It helps neighborhoods by cleaning up debris and hazardous materials and creating much needed green space. It helps the environment because less food would need to be trucked in from far off rural areas. And it makes fresh produce more available to poorer city dwellers.

The new attention to urban farming is just one more instance of how advanced Azorean immigrants are. They have been cultivating urban lots since they first arrived in this country over 100 years ago.

When I was growing up in Taunton, every yard had rows of vegetables planted around the patio. In fact, a house in my neighborhood was more likely to have a grape vine than central heat. And when I moved to a much more densely developed neighborhood in Fall River some twenty-five years later, we were just as likely to be awakened in the early morning by a rooster crowing as by a car alarm going off.

I have no doubt that a close study of Azorean immigrant culture would reveal even more practices that could find their way to the cutting edge of sustainable development technologies.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Missionaries are not the only Catholics who contributed to the founding of our country. Several Catholic statesmen did as well.

The most distinguished of these would be Charles Carroll of Carrollton.

His family had moved to Maryland to flee the persecution of Catholics in England. There he became a large landowner.

At the age of eight he was sent to France to begin his formal education eventually earning a law degree in England.

On his return to the colonies, however, he was not allowed to vote, practice law or enter politics because of his Catholic faith.

Nonetheless, he entered into debate with the colonial authorities through anonymous letters to newspapers to protest the British tax policies and urge separation of the colonies from England.

Sadly, as one of the richest men in the colonies and a large plantation owner, Charles Carroll was also a slave owner. It should be noted that the slave trade had already been condemned by the Catholic Church in 1435 (nearly sixty years before Colombus landed in the New World) by Pope Eugene IV in the papal bull, Sicut Dudum, and later by Pope Paul III in the bull, Sublimis Deus. To his credit, he introduced a bill in the Maryland Senate to provide for the gradual abolition of slavery, but it was voted down.

He is best known as the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

His cousin, John Carroll, became the first bishop of Baltimore.

Charles Carroll died at the age of 95, being the last surviving signatory of Declaration of Independence.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blessed Junipero Serra

Another Catholic missionary who played an important role in our country’s history was Blessed Junipero Serra.

He was born on the island of Mallorca, Spain in 1713.

At the age of 16, he entered the Franciscan order and eventually became a distinguished professor of philosophy.

Though he had made a comfortable life for himself, he decided at the age of 36 to join the missions in Mexico. Twenty years later, in 1769, he was given responsibility over the mission territory of California.

In all, he had responsibility over 21 missions spreading over 700 miles, nine of which he founded.

Blessed Junipero Serra is considered by most historians to be the founder of the modern state of California. The missions he founded - which included San Diego and San Francisco - became some of the state’s major cities. He introduced roads and a system of agriculture and irrigation which provided the infrastructure for the state’s economy. And his efforts to establish laws protecting the native peoples from the Spanish authorities and soldiers became the backbone of California’s legal system.

Blessed Junipero Serra died on August 28, 1784. His life and work stands as a witness to the role religion played in the founding of our country, in its expansion and in its continued development.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Founding Fathers

The Fourth of July is a day to recognize and celebrate those who made our independence as a nation possible. They are the soldiers who fought to expel the British forces from the colonies. They are the politicians whose ideas and vision set up a system which would ensure our continued liberty from tyranny. And they are the ordinary citizens whose labor made our country the most prosperous in history.

Some came, however, not only to inhabit and develop this land but to evangelize it. With a burning zeal, they preached the good news to the native peoples across Canada into the frontier wilderness of America. Their efforts established missions, schools, hospitals and much of the infrastructure vital to the development of the nation. On this Fourth of July we should also remember these brave men and women many of whom gave their lives to spread the message of God’s love and who guaranteed that religion would play an important role in this country’s history.

One such man we should recognize and celebrate today is Saint Isaac Jogues. Born in France, he traveled to Canada as a missionary in 1636 with the goal of witnessing to Christ to the native peoples of Lake Superior and the Iroquois of modern day Mississippi. However, on August 3, 1642, the Indian leaders took him prisoner, tortured him cruelly and kept him as a slave for thirteen months until he was rescued by a group of Dutch Calvinists.

After his release, he returned to France and was honored as a hero of the faith for all he endured. Because his hands had been mutilated (many of his fingers had been bitten and cut off) he was unable to say Mass. Nonetheless, the pope gave him a special dispensation which allowed him to say Mass with his mutilated hands.

In 1644, he agreed to return to the new land to help the French negotiate a peace treaty with the Iroquois. To the amazement of his superiors, he begged them to allow him to stay and continue his missionary work. Impressed by his zeal, they reluctantly agreed.

In the meanwhile, sickness had spread among the native peoples causing many of them to die, and a blight struck their crops causing a famine. They blamed the return of Father Jogues as the cause of it. On October 18, 1646, he was captured by Mohawk warriors, beaten and slashed with knives. They dragged him back to the camp where he was decapitated and his head spiked onto a stake.

On June 29, 1930 he, along with several other North American martyrs, were declared saints by Pope Pius XI.

We remember with gratitude and pride those who fought to ensure the liberties and worked to earn the prosperity we enjoy today. Let us also keep in mind those who through great sacrifice ensured that we would be able to live our faith in this great land without fear. This Independence Day belongs to them too.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bless the Beasts and the Children

“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” (Gal. 5:1).

My wife works for the media giant, Comcast, so we have literally hundreds of channels of television programming and music stations in at least ten different languages streaming into our home.

Spoiled by this embarrassment of riches, our daughters would certainly die if they had to go back to the programming we had in our homes as children. Clicking around the dial yielded only five snowy channels: the ABC, CBS and NBC affiliates and two local stations, channels 56 and 38.

Home games of the Bruins and Red Sox were telecast on channel 38 while Brady Bunch and Star Trek reruns kept us tuned into channel 56.

At a time when, before the invention of the VCR, there were no movie rentals, both stations competed to offer the best films.

Unfortunately, just as there was a paucity of TV stations, there were only a few movies broadcast in what seemed like a continuous loop. Such titles as “Play Misty for Me”, “A Man Called Horse”, “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Tora, Tora, Tora” were the weekly fare. Like old Gilligan’s Island and Hogan’s Heroes episodes, it wasn’t long before we committed every line to memory. But, with no other choices, we continued to watch as if, by some miracle,the ending might change.

One particularly poignant movie we were treated to once a month was the classic, “Bless the Beasts and the Children”. A coming of age tale, it features a bunch of misfits who have to endure a gauntlet of adolescent humiliations during their first year of summer camp including being doused with a bucket of urine.

The plot turns, however, when they are taken to a corral where buffalo are rounded up and shot for sport by hunters. The kids are horrified as they watch the beasts being mercilessly slaughtered. So they decide to escape from the camp and release the buffalo from their enclosure, liberating them from otherwise certain death.

After stealing a truck and facing much misadventure along the way, the boys finally arrive at the corral. They throw open the gates expecting the buffalo to stampede into the countryside reveling in their new freedom. However, the animals simply hoof over to the other part of the fence and continue grazing. They are just too dumb to realize that they have been saved and too content in their captivity to flee.

The boys try shooting in the air to get them to run along, but to no effect. Finally, one of the boys drives the truck at them to get them to stampede. However, the hunters who arrive on the scene shoot at the truck, killing the young driver.

In this past Sunday’s second reading (13th Sunday of Ordinary Time), Saint Paul writes: “For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1). Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has freed us from sin opening wide the gates which enclosed us in despair. However, like the buffalo, we are content to graze on the hillside blissfully ignorant of the danger we are in. We find ourselves trapped in patterns of sinfulness because we haven’t grabbed hold of the freedom we have as sons and daughters of God. We would rather live as beasts burdened by sin rather than as free children of God feasting in the pastures of grace.

So what are we to do? How can we lay claim to the freedom which is ours through baptism?

First of all, we have to recognize that we are in danger. Sin is nothing to trifle with. It distances us from God, damages our relationships, makes our hearts grow cold and kills the life of our soul. “The wages of sin are death.” Every sin is punished in some way, so we should fear it and flee from it at every opportunity. We cannot afford to live oblivious to the price sin exacts from our soul or the danger it poses to our well-being.

Secondly, we have to stop trying to rely on our own will-power and self-control and start drawing on the power of Christ. Saint Paul explains that, through baptism, Christ is now living within us. The Risen Lord, victor over sin and death, has made his home within us. If so, it is by his power that we will resist temptation, not by our own. We can face sin confidently knowing that Jesus is our strength.

Finally, we need to begin every day renewing our baptismal vows:

I reject sin so as to live in the freedom of God’s children.
I reject the glamor of evil, and refuse to be mastered by sin.
I reject Satan, father of sin and prince of darkness.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty....
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord...
I believe in the Holy Spirit....

It was in the waters of baptism that our sinful self was drowned and our free self emerged. By recalling our baptismal vows daily, we keep in mind that we are no longer slaves of sin and can lay claim to the freedom Christ won for us.

Like many of the movies from the seventies, forty years later, “Bless the Beasts and the Children” seems corny and stale. But its central message - how comfortable we can become in our captivity - is ever true. For Christians, it is a message worth repeating if we are to become effective witnesses to the power of the gospel and to live in the freedom Christ won for us.