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Archive for August, 2011

Semper Fidelis

Semper Fidelis!!

Always Faithful.

It’s the motto of the U.S. Marine Corps. It also describes all of our military personnel. Today we buried a friend who lived those two powerful words to perfection. At the funeral mass for my friend, Kevin McQuade, his son Sean recounted some of the highlights of his father’s life. Something none of us knew was the fact that Kevin rescued over 1,000 lives in 11 years of service in the U.S. Coast Guard. That’s almost 100 lives per year, which is an astounding feat.

He wasn’t fearless. He did his duty in spite of his fear, which is the very definition of courage.

Throughout their marriage and especially throughout the last three years of his life, Kevin’s wife, Anne, was the model of fidelity, and courage, and compassion. In a word, soul. Anne was there for Kevin in every way a wife can possibly be present to her husband: physically, emotionally, spiritually. Anne surrounded Kevin with her love, and did as much, if not more, than all the radiation and chemotherapy to help him live, truly and authentically live.

We look about us at the climbing divorce rate, the declining marriage rate, and we cast about for answers, for something that will reverse the trend, something that will resonate.

Today, as I sat in Church and contemplated their marriage, Billy Joel’s song, “It’s All About Soul” kept crowding in on me, and I realized that I have been blessed to be in the same parish family of so very many women whom this song describes so well, especially Anne and my wife, Regina. There are plenty of Annes and Kevins among us, beautiful people who live beautiful marriages, whose lives are the very models of love and fidelity. We just need to celebrate them more. So the following lyrics and video are for Anne and Regina, for Joyce, Annette, Joannie, Susie, Joanna, Joanne, Sue, Denise, Nancy, Maryanne, Lucielle, Linda, and all the many beautiful wives of the Holy Name men and my brother Knights of Columbus, the women who are the crown jewels in our lives and in our Church.

Semper Fidelis!!

It’s All About Soul

She waits for me at night
She waits for me in silence
She gives me all her tenderness
and takes away my pain

And so far she hasn’t run
though I swear she’s had her moments
She still believes in miracles
while others cry in vain

It’s all about soul
It’s all about faith and a deeper devotion
It’s all about soul
‘Cause under the love is a stronger emotion
She’s got to be strong
‘Cause so many things getting out of control
Should drive her away, so why does she stay?
It’s all about soul

She turns to me sometimes
and she asks me what I’m dreaming
And I realize I must have gone a million miles away
And I ask her how she knew to reach out for me at that moment
And she smiles because it’s understood there are no words to say

It’s all about soul
It’s all about knowing what someone is feeling
The woman’s got soul
The power of love and the power of healing
This life isn’t fair
It’s gonna get dark, it’s gonna get cold
You’ve got to get tough, but that ain’t enough
It’s all about soul

Na na na na na na na
It’s all about soul
Na na na na na na na
Yes it is
Na na na na na na na
It’s all about soul

There are people who have lost
every trace of human kindness
There are many who have fallen
there are some who still survive

And she comes to me at night
and she tells me her desires
And she gives me all the love I need to keep my faith alive

It’s all about soul
It’s all about joy that comes out of sorrow
It’s all about soul
Who’s standing now and who’s standing tomorrow
You’ve got to be hard
As hard as the rock in that old rock’n’roll
But that’s only part, you know in your heart
It’s all about soul

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News last week that the folks at Sesame Street have announced that Bert and Ernie are not gay and will not be getting married. Hot on the heels of the major gay marriage victory in New York State, there were voices from within the gay community pushing for Muppet nuptials.

The idea, quite apart from its obvious pathology, also seemed ill-considered. First, Bert and Ernie always seemed to me to be kids, even when I was a child. They didn’t seem to me at all adult, and I thought that they were brothers. Having shared a bedroom with my two brothers, the arrangement seemed as natural as my own. As St. Paul says, “To the pure of heart, all things are pure.”

Also, do gay men really want a gay-marriage spokesman who spends half the day caressing and singing love songs to his rubber ducky? Come on, guys, really!!!

LifesiteNews has an excellent article on the subject that is well worth the read.

The article mentions some salient points to ponder:

And blogger Alyssa Rosenberg summed up the biggest objection. “I think it’s actively unhelpful to gay and straight men alike,” she said, “to perpetuate the idea that all same-sex roommates, be they puppet or human, must necessarily be a gay couple … Such assumptions narrow the aperture of what we understand as heterosexual masculinity in a really strange way.”

Strange indeed. It teaches the ridiculous and deeply destructive idea that same-sex friendships are necessarily sexual. And that’s the last thing we want to teach our children, because it will spell the end of friendship, particularly friendships between young men.

Yet that is precisely the message that’s communicated over and over. It’s the reason gay apologists want to eroticize Bert and Ernie, David and Jonathan, Jesus and the apostle John, and Achilles and Patroclus from Homer’s Iliad.

Some in our culture are apparently incapable of understanding close friendship without sex. And that flies right in the face of a Christian understanding of friendship.

Actually, this points to the pathology that is part of homosexuality. Homosexuality perpetuates itself through seduction, then corruption. Few, very few men have had active heterosexual dating and sexual lives and then woke up in their twenties realizing that they are gay. It doesn’t work that way. Most have been initiated as young teens, or younger, by an older male.

This is the same pathology that drives groups such as NAMBLA (North-American Man/Boy Love Association), and the group that recently held a conference promoting pedophilia. It is the same pathology that seeks to establish a beachhead amongst the very youngest, those who are 2-4 years of age.

This isn’t about eliminating so-called discrimination. The battle has been won by gays in the courts and in the legislatures of the states where gay marriage is the law of the land. This was an attempt at cultivating children in a developmental stage where sex and sexuality are simply not on the children’s radar screen. It was also an attempt, part of a larger effort in the schools, to precondition children years before these issues will be raised by their parents in an age and developmentally-appropriate context.

Seduction, followed by corruption.

It is refreshing to see that Sesame Street’s decision was brought to us by the letters “N” and “O”.

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As hurricane Irene bears down upon us, Mass was packed at 5 P.M. with those who know that Irene will prevent anyone from going tomorrow. The question on everyone’s lips, as many in my parish were mandatorily evacuated from their homes, was “WHY?”

Why does God permit these things to happen? Why the destruction, the hardship? Why doesn’t He spare us? Father’s answer was not entirely clear or satisfactory to most. Thinking about it on the way home, I came at it from several perspectives.

Droughts are good for killing certain infectious microbes in an area. Forest fires similarly wipe away threats, and renew the face of the earth. Out of the fertilizing ashes of the old, comes new and hardy life. Volcanic eruptions perform similar renewing effects. Hurricanes end droughts and replenish reservoirs for city dwellers. Earthquakes result from the shifting plates of the earth’s crust.

All of these events are a part of the earth’s own life cycle. They help to renew the face of the planet, and in the long run, they actually support life. In the process, however, people die. People are left homeless and without food. They are injured and frightened. These are the issues upper-most in people’s minds.

Earlier today, the following wryly humorous posting began making its way around my FaceBook community:

As Hurricane Irene prepares to batter the East Coast, federal disaster officials have warned that Internet outages could force people to interact with other people for the first time in years. Residents are bracing themselves for the horror of awkward silences & unwanted eye contact. FEMA has advised: “Be prepared. Write down possible topics to talk about in advance. Sports, the weather, etc. Remember, a conversation is basically a series of Facebook updates strung together.”

There is much truth in this.

Perhaps God permits tragedy to call us out of ourselves, to give us the opportunity to escape our insularity and see His face in those of our needy brothers and sisters. I think of 9/11 and its aftermath, of the tsunami of love and support that washed over New Yorkers as nothing I’d ever seen before. The nation and the world dropped all and dropped to their knees in prayer. They gave to the widows and orphans of 9/11 in money and material that simply overwhelmed us.

We are a crusty, hard-bitten lot here in this city. We’re impatient and love to show that impatience with our embarrassingly aggressive driving. Yet, for months afterward, New Yorkers were actually courteous behind the wheel! Even more alarmingly, we were deferential!!! Tragedy slowed us down and allowed us to share in our common humanity.

Sometime around January 2002, the city began to heal from the trauma, as evidenced by the blaring horns and the return to shorter tempers. I have always wondered, though, which was the true healing; the kindness or the blaring horns and aggressive driving?

It tends to refocus the question from this evening and redirect it. The question isn’t why God permits tragedy. He does so to help us regain the best of our humanity.

The real question is why the lesson is so short-lived?

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A few thoughts for a rainy day, as hurricane Irene bears down on us.

People often sneer at the Space Program here in the U.S. and, well-intentioned though they be, they point to the cost as wasteful extravagance. The needs of the poor are often cited as examples of how the money could be better spent.

True, and setting aside for a moment the wasteful spending of the U.S. Government in much of our foreign aid to terrorist states (which dwarfs NASA’s budget), I would like to propose that the poor have benefitted tremendously from our space program over the past half century.

First, The Apostles also opined that a certain woman’s perfumed oil used to anoint Jesus’ feet could have been sold and the money been better spent on the poor.

There were many who probably said the same of those who bankrolled Christopher Columbus’ voyage of exploration.

As I write this, the outer bands of hurricane Irene are upon us and pelting my windows with rain. Our satellites have revolutionized our ability to track storms and target evacuation zones often teeming with the poorest among us. Our satellites have revolutionized our telecommunications systems and brought images of natural disasters into our homes in real time, speeding international response efforts to the victims by orders of magnitude. And there is more.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory developed cool temperature microlasers to sense the ozone layer of our atmosphere from space. These lasers are now being used as surgical alternatives to balloon angioplasty in coronary artery disease.

The fields of occupational and physical therapy would be at a loss without velcro, which was developed for the space program.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) Technology not only lights computer screens, but is being used in cancer treatment to kill cancer cells.

There are so many more cool technologies, and they can be read here.

As is so often the case, development of technology in one area goes on to have multiple applications in many other areas never envisioned at the time of its development. When God created us, He gave us a command:

“Be fruitful, multiply, and subdue the earth.”

The development of technology helps us subdue the earth, and when it can’t in the case of hurricanes, it saves countless lives by forewarning those in the path of the storm.

Thank you NASA.

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One Day, Two Saints

I wrote earlier today of the passing into eternity of my friend and 9/11 hero, Kevin McQuade.

I came home tonight to news of another newly minted saint. Baby Emily (name changed), a child born this month with catastrophic developmental anomalies entered into her rest this evening. This is a baby that many in the pro-life movement rallied around when it appeared that the hospital might have been pushing for mom to disconnect life support before the mom was ready.

There is something poignant about baby Emily’s story that I would just like to reflect upon for a moment. In the case of a baby born with catastrophic anomalies, it is important to do research and look for teams that handle the difficulty and seek out second and even third opinions. From what I was able to ascertain, the hospital did this at some point. However, we were able to find a noteworthy team that hadn’t been contacted.

The prognoses were consistent and clear: nothing on earth could be done for this baby.

In such circumstances it is vital, VITAL to bear in mind that there is not one patient, but two, before us. The mother, being postpartum, is also a medical patient. She may be experiencing postpartum depression, exacerbated by the catastrophic circumstances before her. HOW things are handled will determine if the mother lives the next 50 years with second-thoughts and self-loathing, or with a sense of satisfaction that she did all she could for her child.

Over the past few days the baby’s body began to shut down. Her mom was a hero to me, not wanting to quit and working to overturn every stone. I told her of my high esteem for her courage, love, and tenacity. But there comes a point when respirators and other interventions can actually become burdensome to the dying patient, and I explained to mom that the doctors at this point were telling her the truth.

What baby Emily needed now was not mommy the lioness, but just mommy to hold her and comfort her as she finished her brief pilgrimage here among us. I shared this with mom as well.

So, tonight baby Emily died quietly in mommy’s arms, surrounded by a loving family. Her mom emerges from this experience having spent a couple of extra weeks in the NICU than if she had given up on her baby sooner. Perhaps some mothers can process the reality sooner and accept the reality sooner than others.

But Emily’s two extra weeks on the respirator actually aided in buying her mother the time she needed to satisfy herself that indeed there was nothing that could be done. The result? One of the patients went straight to Heaven, and the other went home to live out the rest of her life with a sense of integrity about how she tried to save her baby’s fragile life.

That gets lost in all of the talk about medical economics. However, as the great psychologist Erik Erikson taught us, the end of life is characterized by us evaluating our lives either with a sense of integrity, or despair.

Getting one mother there with integrity?

Priceless.

Please pray for Emily’s family, and for my friend Kevin’s family, who also did it with integrity.

We have two new advocates before the Father tonight.

Many thanks to all of the pro-lifers who helped this family: Alliance Defense Fund, Terri Schiavo Help and Hope Network, Premie Prints, AAPLOG, The National Catholic Bioethics Center, Peg Kolm of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., and Be Not Afraid.

The family was lifted up by all of that love and support.

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Just shy of the tenth anniversary of 9/11, another American Hero has fallen as a consequence of his exposure at Ground Zero. Kevin McQuade, my friend, brother Knight of Columbus, brother Holy Name Society member, father of two wonderful sons, and a devoted husband succumbed to esophageal cancer today at 8 A.M.

Kevin had been a member of the United States Coast Guard for a number of years before working as a crew member on the Staten Island Ferry. On that terrible day ten years ago, the Ferry carried thousands and thousands of Staten Islanders home to safety. The crew, without respirators, went back again and again to the Manhattan slip just a half-mile from the billowing toxic smoke from the fires that would burn out of control for three MONTHS! The next day, and on subsequent days, Kevin and the others would ferry supplies to Ground Zero, and carry them up.

They were covered in the fine dust and soot that was ubiquitous, and deadly.

Those of us who were molecular biologists knew damned well that these selfless men and women were signing their own death warrants, and we had a pretty good idea of how it would happen. I suspect that many of the 9/11 heros knew as much. It never deterred them. They fought for the privilege of “working the pile”.

Kevin was no different.

Forget every Hollywood stereotype you may have seen about New Yorkers. As a Brooklyn native, and having lived here my entire life, what the nation saw on 9/11 and its aftermath was the heart and soul of this city and her very best citizens.

Kevin typified the average New Yorker. He worked long, hard hours. He married a terrific girl and, with her, raised a family. He loved God and loved his Church. The McQuades were as regular as clockwork in their attendance at Mass, participation in the parish, and patriotic/civic mindedness.

Kevin was a man’s man, and raised two great sons. The oldest, Sean, was supposed to have started Franciscan University this Fall, but couldn’t leave his mom and dad with the end so near. Sean is also a pro-life lion and young man of gentle yet unbending principle, something he picked up from his parents.

During the 9/11 aftermath, Kevin and many other of our heros began “the cough”, that annoying tickle, the irritation that would grow over time. Without any other risk factors for esophageal cancer, Kevin was diagnosed a few years ago and had radical surgery, radiation and chemo, which helped him squeeze out a few more years with his family.

I cannot imagine a world without Kevin McQuade in it. His quiet strength and unfathomable depth of goodness will live on in his sons and in his widow, Anne. However, he leaves behind an unmistakeable imprint on our community, our Church, the Knights of Columbus, and on our hearts.

Having lost friends and college classmates in the Towers on 9/11, Kevin’s untimely passing forth from us bridges the decade since that terrible morning, and makes it all so fresh again for all of us blessed to know him, and who will mourn him gone.

Please pray for Anne and the boys, and for the many other heros and their families who are now struggling with disability and impending death because of their heroic selflessness a decade ago.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let Perpetual Light shine upon him. May he rest in peace, Amen.

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My article in today’s Headline Bistro

Thus far in our series on the thorny issue of embryo adoption, we have looked at some of the broader theological questions as well as considering whether it is true that Rome has closed the door to further discussion. As the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, have said the matter is still open for discussion, I am comfortable in advancing the argument in favor of embryo adoption.

See Part I here.
See Part II here.

In this installment of the series, we turn our attention to the great dignity of conjugal union between husband and wife, examining its nature, its purpose, and whether embryo adoption violates that union.

The marital embrace between husband and wife must remain open to the fruitfulness that results from unimpeded self-donation on the part of each spouse. This is the procreative dimension of marital sex, which can never be separated from the unitive dimension of sexual expression. This paradigm is no mere human construct, but rooted in our understanding of the Blessed Trinity that was beautifully described by Saint Augustine.

Within the Godhead, the Father gives Himself totally and freely to the Son, who reciprocates totally and freely to the Father, and out of the radical self-donation of love is generated the Holy Spirit of God. The Holy Spirit is the perfect expression of perfect love. That dynamic of the Trinity becomes the paradigm for Sacramental Marriage, which becomes an earthly icon, literally a window into the inner life of the Trinity. The radical self-donation of the spouses makes of them “one” flesh, producing the expression of that oneness, and calling to mind Jesus’ words in John 10:30: “The Father and I are one.”

It also calls to mind this beautiful prayer of Jesus to the Father in John 17:20-26, where He reveals the love between Himself and the Father, and how the unity of His disciples is ultimately bound up in the unity between Jesus and the Father:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

That unity on our part has as its cornerstone marital unity, which in its most organic sense has the conjugal embrace as the sign and symbol of the inner life of the Trinity.

Seen in that context, in vitro fertilization (IVF) shatters that paradigm, separating the unitive and procreative dimensions of human marital sex, and introducing an entire fertility clinic staff into the intimacy of life’s generation that was hitherto the sole province of husband and wife overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, wherein God created the soul. IVF does violence to God’s order for creation, not only in the strict biological sense, but in the spiritual/ontological sense as well. It is not surprising, then, that the adoption of frozen embryos should be seen as a participation in this grave evil.

But it isn’t. It is a restorative, redemptive act. The current opposition comes from the following passage in Dignitas Personae:

“The origin of human life has its authentic context in marriage and in the family, where it is generated through an act which expresses the reciprocal love between a man and a woman. Procreation which is truly responsible vis-à-vis the child to be born must be the fruit of marriage.”

This statement is a beautiful expression of the heart of the church. The problem is that it has nothing to do with embryo adoption, whatsoever.

As we established in Part II of this series, the Church takes the most cautious approach to the issue of when ensoulment occurs and gives the presumption to the very beginning of human development, stating that is grave evil to even risk murdering a human. The fact is that human procreation, including God’s part in it, is complete at the moment of fertilization.

That fact, including God’s part, does not change in the case of IVF. Though the mother and father commit grave sin in so doing, all of the Church documents quoted in Part II indicate that the soul is presumed present from the very beginning of a human’s life, and that life is to be protected and safeguarded.

Some counter that creation of a human being is not complete during IVF, and that procreation continues during pregnancy. If we are to suggest that procreation is an ongoing process throughout pregnancy, as is suggested by some in the Catholic bioethics community, then we are saying that there is not a complete human being from the moment of fertilization, and in so doing, we make the same argument as Planned Parenthood and the rest of the abortion industry! This is not only bad biology, but even worse theology.

Biologically speaking, the embryo in its single-celled, zygotic stage of development is a whole and complete human organism in form and function for that particular developmental stage. The same may be said for every subsequent stage of development spanning the rest of the individual’s life. One need not look like the adult human, nor have all of the functions of the adult human to be fully human.

Theologically speaking, the Church gives the presumption of ensoulment to have occurred from the very beginning. There is simply no protracted process of “becoming” more and more fully human. We Catholics simply don’t buy that incrementalist argument, which is used to justify abortion. If we adopt the concept of procreation as a protracted process that requires a full, natural pregnancy because we find IVF so offensive, we lead ourselves into biological and theological error, and consequently we lose our foundations in the abortion debate forever.

So, how does embryo adoption fit in to a sacramental marriage, respecting marital rights and obligations? We’ll tackle that in Part IV.

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