Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness. Colossians 3:15

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Past Catholic Christmases make rich memories

Published in Cumbelrand Times-News Sunday, December 25, 2011

"The decorations, the music, the crèche, the shoulder-to-shoulder, better-get-there-early, standing-room-only crowd, the unparalleled beauty of Christ’s arrival and His sacrifice – along with anticipating what came after – made this night magical, indeed."
Being part of my mom’s large Catholic family, and spending my first seven grades in Catholic school, I recall vibrantly holy and wholesome past Christmases.

Before Christmas Mass became a children’s Mass (reminiscent of a school pageant), it was reverent, beautiful, solemn, yet celebratory -- the essence, in my memory, of the Catholic celebration of Christ’s birth and ultimate sacrifice.

For the month prior, we prepared in school for the miraculous coming of our infant savior. Besides studying Bible stories and the Baltimore Catechism, and unfolding our Advent calendars, we incorporated the mystery and wonder of Christ’s coming into literary and art projects and mini-dramas.

As Christmas day approached, we spent more time in church for choir practice. Sister Charlotte, the organist, arranged prayers to fit Christmas hymns, which we students carefully and joyfully then sang from our pews in the choir loft at midnight Mass.

Preparations at home began weeks in advance, too. Mom usually made me a new dress; perhaps I’d get a new coat. We’d bake sand tarts and pineapple filled cookies, Santa-shaped sugar-type, and Mom’s caramel-topped applesauce cakes – gifts for the teachers!

My siblings and I looked forward to finding a few surprises the next morning, as we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve and placed the crèche beneath it. Situating the tree in front of the double windows required rearranging living room furniture, adding to the sense of accommodating the Christ child in our home.

Midnight Mass, though, brought the denouement. The decorations, the music, the crèche, the shoulder-to-shoulder, better-get-there-early, standing-room-only crowd, the unparalleled beauty of Christ’s arrival and His sacrifice – along with anticipating what came after – made this night magical, indeed.

The longer-than-usual service ended after 1 a.m. Then everyone in my mother’s family – who traveled from various states, and filled a significant portion of the church pews – gathered once again at her parents’ home for breakfast.

We scrambled dozens of eggs and fried pounds of puddin’ to feed upwards of probably 60, some years. We know the tradition started as early as 1963, because we have group photos that show my right arm in a cast: I broke it on the playground in second grade.

After breakfast, around 4 a.m., we all gathered in my grandparents’ spacious living room. We cousins gave each other our jingle gifts and distributed those from the pile under the tree. Everyone got something from Grandma and Grandpap, and their seven daughters exchanged gifts. The revelry continued until sunup.

Returning home on Christmas day, we opened the gifts under our own tree: Usually a book (most memorably, The Yearling), a board game (Scrabble), clothes (a nightgown and underwear), perhaps a doll (Shirley Temple), or candy (Life Savers book). Then we’d read, play, or sleep.

Twenty-five years or so have passed since our last Christmas gathering at Grandma’s house, but Mom’s sister Frances keeps a holiday tradition going. This year, we'll gather after the New Year at her farmhouse in Salisbury, Pa.

Sadly, most in the younger generations don’t practice the faith, and those who do might need to travel a distance to experience a traditional, beautiful and reverent Catholic Christmas Mass. Staged to accommodate children -- or to appeal to the child within – most Christmas Masses today emote and entertain, rather than inspire and elevate.

At this time of year, I am grateful to my parents (my father converted from the Episcopal Church), Mom’s parents and their parents, and the priests and nuns of my youth, for making my Catholic upbringing real, and my Christmas memories rich.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Will U.S. refine Chinese cure for blindness?

Published in Cumberland Times-News Wednesday, November 23, 2011.

"In this new biomedical race for breakthrough cures, I hope researchers in our country...will follow Hu’s lead to utilize cord blood or adult stem cells, rather than those from embryos. True hope, for any stem cell cure, lies in ethical harvesting."
An ophthalmologist told me recently that scientific advancements might repair damaged optic nerves. “Hopefully,” he said, “you and I will live to see the day.”

That was the first time, since my vision loss April 17, 2006, I had heard of such possibilities. Optic nerve damage is irreversible, I’d been told.

Mine is a complication of heart surgery -- my second to correct birth defects, and their effects. My surgeon blames the 10 minutes, in a 10-hour operation, he needed to repair my aortic aneurism.

Vision experts say even momentary loss of blood flow to optic nerves results in blindness. Perhaps miraculously, I have a bit of residual vision in my left eye, enough to permit me to read, with magnification, and to help me figure out my surroundings.

Since seventh grade, I’ve been nearsighted; and for several decades, I’d been legally blind, though prescription glasses corrected by astigmatism to 20/20.

Perhaps being blind, without my glasses, all those years helped me to accept the permanent state; or perhaps it was because the blindness seemed minor, compared to other difficulties my recovery presented; or perhaps it was my abiding faith in God’s will. Regardless, gratefully, I embraced the challenge with remarkable grace.

Now I read online in the 2011 “Research Story” of Dr. Dong Feng Chen of the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School: “we hope that functional restoration of sight after optic nerve injury may become possible in the near future, first in mice and then in people.”

That is exciting news, but the U.S. has some catching up to do with China. In the eastern city of Hangzhou, as reported March 18, 2008 by National Public Radio, 600 foreigners and 2,300 Chinese already had received cord blood stem cell therapy at Beike Biotechnology, run by 40-something Dr. Sean Hu. Seventy percent, Hu claims, improved.

A researcher in Los Angeles calls Hu’s therapies “extreme nonsense,” NPR reports, but a doctor at University of Floridaconcluded that (Hu’s) stem-cell therapy was the only clinical explanation for (his six-year-old patient’s) improvement.” The girl went from no light perception to recognizing large letters.

According to the current National Institutes of Health Plan for Eye and Vision Research section on Low Vision and Blindness Rehabilitation, “Visual impairment is included among the 10 most prevalent causes of disability in the United States.”

Besides optic neuropathies, other causes for low vision and blindness considered in the NIH report are retinal, corneal and lens diseases, cataracts, glaucoma, strabismis, amblyoopia, myopia, and other disorders of the ocular muscles.

Dr. Hu’s therapies cost hopeful patients tens of thousands of dollars, and seem to apply to infants and children. Experts do not understand how his therapy works, and they have no knowledge of long-term effects or risks.

In this new biomedical race for breakthrough cures, I hope researchers in our country will refine Hu’s technique, to understand the full treatment dynamic, and that they will follow Hu’s lead to utilize cord blood or adult stem cells, rather than those from embryos. True hope, for any stem cell cure, lies in ethical harvesting.

Vision loss changes life, but life is about change. I am thankful that I traveled and participated fully in community when I could, and enjoyed beauty when I saw it clearly. I have all those experiences to draw upon.

Now, in a narrow, grey-veiled, hazy montage, where people and obstacles materialize suddenly, like specters -- fuzzy-figured and featureless -- I ambulate in the dim glow of a nightlight. But I still love life, and I don’t fear death: Great gifts from God.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Compassion is genuine activism for the poor

Published in Cumberland Times-News Wednesday, October 19, 2011.

"Christ tells of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), who showers mercy on one victimized by thievery and lawlessness. The Samaritan shares his wealth to help, directly where the need is. This genuine activism springs from heartfelt concern and charity."
My Sept. 29 letter (‘Hey, lady! Can you spare me a penny?’) suggests, tongue-in-cheek, that Bill O’Reilly and the president should try panhandling, to test reasonableness of a one percent national sales tax. In response, Adam Robinette (“Just what is an ‘eccentricity,’ anyway?” Oct. 6) defends lifestyles of the homeless and insists that we all should freely hand our cash over to beggars to spend as they wish.

I relate examples of two real panhandlers to illustrate that we should be wary of folks who appeal to our sympathies with intent to part us from our hard-earned cash, and then spend it in questionable ways.

Mr. Robinette points out that beggars threaten us less than armed robbers do. I believe, in the cases of O’Reilly’s suggested tax and the president’s socialistic jobs bill, any initiative to persuade hard-working Americans to forfeit more cash to fund expansive government spending is tantamount to robbery.

Mr. Robinette says Christians should not judge – particularly when giving to beggars for needs unknown.

Jesus does tell us, “Judge not” (Matthew 7:1), in the context that we should not condemn others (as Mr. Robinette does Christians), because we always have work to do on our own souls.

Jesus also advises us to be “wise as serpents” (Matthew 10:16) and discern foes who would deceive and entangle us in ungodliness (Matthew 10:17).

Christians should give alms, discretely and heroically, as the poor widow does (Mark 12:41-44); but as Mr. Robinette admits, money in their hands does not empower beggars to improve their lot. In fact, I believe it can promote disordered lifestyles and, therefore, is not a kindhearted gift.

Similarly, socialism – blatant in the president’s proposal to tax the rich to aid the poor -- is not Christ-like.

Christ brings us God’s help, particularly in hardship (Romans 5:1-11). God’s heavenly aid comforts, guides and provides for us, according to our needs (Matthew 6:25-34); of course, we must do our part to help ourselves.

Socialism presumes we are helpless, and hopeless. It forcibly takes from one and hands to others. It is thievery and lawlessness.
Compassion, on the other hand, in its urge to redeem, exemplifies true love. Christ tells of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), who showers mercy on one victimized by thievery and lawlessness. The Samaritan shares his wealth to help, directly where the need is. This genuine activism springs from heartfelt concern and charity.
Moreover, through Christ’s apostle Paul, we see that community flourishes when we contribute our God given skills for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:3-14, 20, 27) and when we lovingly share resources -- wisely, as needed, and all for the glory of God (Acts 4:32-37). This is no testament to socialism (or communism), but an example of a generous, faith-filled community.

Jesus required his followers to sell their possessions and give to the poor (Matthew 19:21), not as a command to sustain the poor, but to teach his disciples to shed attachments that would detract from their devotion to his ministry: Exhorting sinners to repent, reform and return to God.

Many religious communities today rely on contributions from benefactors, and require members to embrace poverty. Worldly orthodox Christians, though, as opposed to Christian (or atheist) socialists, believe we each own our earnings, the fruits of our labors, and -- other than taxes levied to build a stable, secure and prosperous nation -- we hold the right to determine how to save, spend or share our resources.

Neither Mr. Robinette, nor the president, has authority to tell us how to help the poor, who will always be with us (Mark 14:7).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

About John Mattingly of Mount Savage, Maryland

This information clarifies the identify of John Mattingly of Mount Savage, Maryland as he is referenced in History of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Mount Savage, Maryland, compiled by Nancy E. Thoerig and published by the church in 2004.
Lannie Dietle and Michael McKenzie report in their book In Search of the Turkey Foot Road, edited by Nancy E. Thoerig and a 2011 publication of the Mount Savage Historical Society, "Although we are not students of Mattingly genealogy, it seems likely that the John Mattingly who is cited on page 48 of the 1909 "The Catholic red book of Western Maryland" as being the first Catholic settler in the area at the time of the French and Indian War may not be the same John Mattingly who married Onea Arnold in 1797, and may not be the same John Mattingly who patented lots 3373 and 3374 (the present-day Amanda Paul farm) in 1819."

Dietle and McKenzie expound, "Although Mattingly genealogy is peripheral to this study, we note that Thomas A. Stobie of Overland Park Kansas has written on his genealogy website that John Mattingly, born
1773, was the husband of Onea Honor (Arnold) Mattingly who died in 1823, and was the son of Henry Mattingly, born 1751. According to the 1787 Deakins‘ list, a Henry Mattingly owned lots 3366 and 3367, which were along the present-day Bald Knob Road.

"Barry Thoerig reports that a William R. Mattingly had at one time posted information on the RootsWeb website that indicated that John Mattingly was born June 1, 1773 in Allegany County Maryland, and was married to Onea Honor Arnold who was born March 3, 1776 in the same county. William R. Mattingly also reported that John and Onea had a son Sylvester born on December 17, 1817. (The Maryland Historical Trust Inventory of Historic Properties) indicates that Francis and Sylvester Mattingly inherited the present-day Amanda Paul farm from John Mattingly in 1845, and then Sylvester bought out Francis on September 26, 1846. This information on Sylvester Mattingly indicates that William R. Mattingly was researching the same John Mattingly who once owned the present-day Amanda Paul farm. Sylvester and his wife Ellen are buried in the Saint Patrick‘s Catholic Church Cemetery."

The Turkey Foot Road followed, generally, present-day Maryland State Route 36 from the Narrows in Cumberland to Barrelville, and then through Arnold's Settlement (early Mount Savage), on its way from Fort Cumberland to present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvannia, and on to Pickawillany  (present-day Piqua, Ohio).

Thursday, September 29, 2011

'Hey, lady! Can you spare me a penny?'

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, September 29, 2011.

"If Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a one percent federal retail tax should materialize, then I would see my investments working for the government and not for me."
In the past couple weeks, after finishing our grocery shopping, my brother, sister-in-law and I – exiting the plaza -- have observed a panhandler with a sign that reads “Jobless. Broke. Hungry.”

I always feel compassion, and a sense of “but for the grace of God, there go I,” along with a smattering of skepticism, when I see someone homeless.

My sister-in-law suggested we give the fellow a granola bar she handily retrieved from the car console, “since he says he’s hungry.” My brother reckoned, though, the beggar would prefer cash.

We ultimately decided against any gift. After all, I said, there are places where he could receive food; and we agreed that likely, judging from his plentiful tattoos, he would squander cash.

I recalled the time I encountered a vagrant outside McDonald’s in Sharpsburg. “Lady, can you spare me some change?” he asked. “No,” I replied, “but come inside, and I’ll buy your breakfast.” “Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t eat here.” (Doubtful, then, I thought, he’d buy food with cash.) “Sorry. I can’t help you,” I told him.

My brother, sister-in-law and I postulated that if this beggar had saved the money he spent on eccentricities, he might have that cash, with interest now, for necessities. Of course, it is possible he changed his ways some time ago and simply has hit hard times. Without family or assistance, many more likely would be on the streets today.

Times are exceedingly tough. We all feel the crunch of stagnant or shrinking incomes, escalating expenses, diminishing returns on investments, and frozen or dwindling savings. We all have to make less do more; austerity is the new norm.

Suze Orman says,” I quoted to my brother and sister-in-law, “saving has to be more fun than spending.” For me, it is. I buy items on sale and use coupons. If it’s not a deal, then there is no deal.

I did make a few bad spending decisions, one wrong investment turn in my younger days, but I don’t expect any more of those.

I never could afford eccentricities; I always had a hefty monthly health insurance bill that still keeps me strapped. But praise God I’ve had health insurance all these years; without it, I’d be poor, possibly homeless.

Suze says health insurance is a must, to build security, along with investing in stocks. Now, that’s where I get nervous. Investing in a mutual fund, with a financial adviser, is what I consider my past wrong turn. I lost too much. Now my certificates of deposit earn a paltry penny (and less) on the dollar.

If Bill O’Reilly’s idea of a one percent federal retail tax should materialize, then I would see my investments working for the government and not for me.

Suze says if we choose solid stocks that pay dividends, then we can earn up to five percent and keep ahead of inflation – if we invest half our holdings for at least a decade, that is!

I’ve done some courageous things, mostly because I’ve had to; but I could never be that brave.

I might continue to consider, and then re-consider, putting a thousand dollars into a dividend fund, but I won’t make any hasty moves. One percent assured in the bank helps to pay my health insurance.

Perhaps Bill O’Reilly, and the president, would do well to panhandle for pennies and see how many they could collect. My guess is even a one percent tax would be too much for most.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

My best life lesson I learned in the garden

Published in Cumberland Times-News Wednesday, August 31, 2011.
"The image of that scene remains in my mind’s eye; and even now, I feel the shift in my thinking that took place at that moment: The overwhelmed child grew a step toward becoming the industrious adult."

In my youth, my parents planted a bountiful vegetable garden. It stretched the 120-foot width of our lower lot, and about a third of the depth. A narrow path on either side bordered our neighbors’ yards and gardens, and across the bottom were woods.

Otherwise in that lot, across the road from our front porch, were a red raspberry patch, two Concord grape arbors, a half-dozen sour cherry trees, three German Prune plum trees, a red currant bush, a Yellow Transparent apple tree, a Winter Banana apple tree, a McIntosh graft on an otherwise generic apple tree, another sprawling apple tree that served best to support my suspended wooden swing, two Chinese chestnut trees, and a black walnut tree. The blossoms in spring were spectacular.

Later, my parents planted two Bartlett pear trees. The pears are delicious. The cherry trees broke to smithereens in an ice storm many winters back. The grape arbors, too, came down decades ago. The chestnuts are beautiful trees, though the fruits are wormy. The McIntosh graft is dead. The swing and its tree are long gone. The banana apple provides good shade now for the nearest neighbor, and fodder for the deer.

As my older siblings moved out, and we no longer needed it, my father seeded the garden in clover -- beloved by groundhogs (who always were troublesome in the garden). The lot serves now as a front yard for my 91-year-old mother and me.

In my younger days, we kept busy spring, summer and fall -- planting, weeding, picking, cleaning, seeding, canning and freezing. We had two sets of shelves in the basement, each four feet wide and six feet tall, spaced to fit quart jars. By summer’s end, we filled them with colorful gems of cherry, raspberry and currant preserves, grape juice and jelly, pitted plums and cherries, tomatoes, green beans, beets, pickles and relish, apple butter and applesauce, and peaches we bought by the bushel from a storehouse in Pinto, Maryland.

In addition to beef bought from my mother’s parents, who raised Black Angus and Charolais, our double chest freezer filled with bags of corn, peas and walnuts. The cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, green peppers, peanuts, onions and yellow squash we used during the season.

I learned my best life lesson from Mom in our garden.

The rows seemed to me, as a youngster, to stretch to infinity; and eyeing the length of the garden from my crouched position weeding, I lamented the magnitude of the job.

“Don’t look at what you’ve got yet to do,” my mother said. “Look at what you’ve gotten done. And keep weeding!”

The image of that scene remains in my mind’s eye; and even now, I feel the shift in my thinking that took place at that moment: The overwhelmed child grew a step toward becoming the industrious adult.

Still, when jobs are big, I draw on Mom’s wisdom at that moment in the garden. Big jobs require time and persistence. The long view comes into focus with completion of each task along the way. Looking back regularly, to appreciate accomplishments, provides motivation and direction. Then, when the job is complete, the satisfaction that comes with hard work and beautiful results makes the investment and diligence worthwhile.

And, in the end, life is like that.

What I learned in the garden that day is, rather than grumble when faced with a big job, or a small task – or life’s challenges -- I praise God for the place, the time, and the ability to do it. And I thank Him for the garden, the lesson, and Mom.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Catholic lifestyle is countercultural today

Published in Cumberland Times-News Tuesday, July 12, 2011.

"Faith, after all, is a way of life. Church is our springboard into the mystery of God, where we strive to live by His commands and prepare to return to Him in eternity."

Today’s American lifestyle differs drastically from what it was decades ago.

For example, in contrast to the current focus on self-fulfillment and pursuit of all things pleasurable, my parents grew up on hard work, frugality and faith, and so did I.

In my youth, school was my job; I followed the rules and did my best. Weekdays had no room for diversions, and the Saturday (and summer day) rule was no television or playmates before noon.

Work around the house or in the yard and garden took precedence over entertainments, and expenditures on extravagances or pipe dreams were out of the question. Cooking, sewing, piano practice, and reading were encouraged. (My dad and brother did the manly tasks.)

Saturday evenings brought a good scrubbing, and then Mom cleaned and filed my fingernails and gave them a coat of clear polish. Next morning, we dressed in our finest, with hat and white gloves: Sunday was church day.

As I matured and internalized my parents’ training, the habit I valued most was Mass on Sundays and holy days. I never missed, even during times when I strayed in other ways. I credit that faith training with grounding my decisions and helping me discern best paths in my life’s directions – and empowering me to embrace my greatest trials fearlessly.

Faith, after all, is a way of life. Church is our springboard into the mystery of God, where we strive to live by His commands and prepare to return to Him in eternity.

For Christians, adhering to God means embracing Christ’s cross and hoping to share in His resurrection. Jesus says (Mt. 11:28-30): “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me.... For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

“How can life’s burden be easy?” I asked my 91-year-old mother recently, as we read that verse in our evening prayers. Mom answered, “When you do the right thing, it is easy.”

What I learned, growing up Catholic, to be the right thing is countercultural today. Society has turned upside-down.

About seven years ago, confounded by chaos at work, and distressed with intrusions on my peace, I set out to re-connect with the basic tenets of my faith and to expand my understanding, to find other serious Catholics, and to gain a mature contemporary perspective on this beautiful, ancient and complex faith tradition.

While visiting the Grotto of Lourdes in Emmitsburg one day in June 2004, I found a flyer at the back of the glass chapel announcing a weekend retreat at Mount St. Mary’s seminary hosted by (then grotto chaplain) Father Jack Lombardi. The topic was virtues and disciplined desires.

I signed up, and since have been among the hundred or so who regularly attend Father Jack’s weekend retreats. To me, he is a prophet, straightforwardly proclaiming the truths and beauty of the Catholic faith and lifestyle. (Father Jack served at St. Patrick in Cumberland in the early 1990s. He presently is administrator at St. Peter Catholic Church in Hancock and St. Patrick mission in Little Orleans.)

Now, in his first book, “Finding Life’s Balance,” Father Jack (ordained 1988, Archdiocese of Baltimore) shares his own experiences, in the context of Scripture and Catholic orthodoxy, to journey with readers to discover the harmony that an authentic Catholic lifestyle provides in a topsy-turvy world. He calls that place “the ‘radical middle’ between extremes.”

I edited his book, available on CD. For more information, write me at P.O. Box 541, Mount Savage, MD 21545.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Priest shortage solution: Fill seminaries

Published in Cumberland Times-News Thursday, May 26, 2011.

The Catholic Church’s diminishing presence in our area, attributed to a shortage of priests (and religious) and manifested in recent closure of St. Patrick in Mount Savage (and relocation of Christian Brothers from Cumberland), is troubling. The solution, seemingly impossible in today’s secular world, is to attract more seminarians.

Even conservative Catholics suggest priests marry, or more married men be ordained. They ask: How can priests live fulfilled, as celibates? How can unmarried, celibate men counsel on marriage and sex?

As a contented single woman, I respectfully challenge beliefs that sex is integral to happiness, or marriage is essential to maturity. For celibates, many aspects of life offer greater allure and growth -- like simplicity, service, solitude, or seeking God’s will.

One does not need sex to know lust is our strongest passion. Overcoming the basic urge for physical union, especially with someone we love, can seem impossible. Once conquered, though, relationships are pure; we interact with dignity, without innuendo, motive or guile.

Well embraced, celibacy detaches desires from the chaotic sexual, secular scene and frees thoughts and energies for the pursuit of holiness, the core of authentic happiness. Celibacy is a meaningful, healthy, joyful lifestyle that rings with clarity and purpose; work, play and relationships serve others and glorify God.

With special exception, particularly for Episcopalian ministers, married men are ordained Roman Catholic priests; if they become widowers, then they must be celibate.

In a Sept. 1, 1994 Arlington (Va.) Catholic Herald, Fr. William P. Saunders summarizes Pope Paul VI’s encyclical "Sacerdotalis Caelibatus" (1967) to say celibacy identifies with Christ, a celibate. It is sacrificial love, “whereby a priest gives of himself totally to the service of God and His Church.” And it is a sign of the coming Kingdom of God, when, Jesus says (Mt 22:30), “In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.

In an undated article, “Celibacy in the Priesthood,” Fr. Saunders points out St. Paul was unmarried (1 Cor 7:8); and as early as the year 215, Clement of Alexandria referred to priests being “saved in the begetting of children.”

The local Spanish Council of Elvira in 306, Saunders quotes, imposed celibacy: “all…engaged in the ministry are forbidden entirely to live with their wives and to beget children.”

However, at conclusion of the Council of Nicea in 325, Saunders notes, “no church-wide requirement for priests to be celibate was mandated.” At this time, though, he writes, “the new spiritual fervor of ‘white martyrdom’ arose.”

Their faith legalized by Constantine in 313, fewer Christians shed blood in public arenas. “With white martyrdom,” writes Saunders, “men and women chose to renounce the things of this world and to die to their old selves” and dedicate their lives to Christ – “the thrust behind monasticism and the vows of poverty, chastity (including celibacy), and obedience.”

While rules of celibacy differed between Western mad Eastern traditions, Saunders writes, Damasus I decreed it in 384. Following confusion and abuses in the Middle Ages, the Second Lateran Council in 1139 firmly “decreed Holy Orders as an impediment to marriage.”

The Council of Trent (1563) asserts celibacy is possible, writes Saunders, but recognizes celibates need the grace of God to remain faithful.

Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg has near-record enrollment this year, as do others. Former rector Archbishop Harry Flynn, in a spring newsletter interview, attributes the numbers to balanced formation, prayer and community.

Today’s seminaries are forming priests better than they have in more than half a century. Rather than bemoan or demean celibacy, let’s appreciate Catholic orthodoxy and pray for priests’ fidelity.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Founders deemed God's laws supreme

Submitted to Cumbelrand Times-News Wednesday, April 6, 2011; published April 18.

“By invoking the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,’ the 56 signers of the Declaration incorporated a legal standard of freedom into the forms of government that would follow…that God's law was supreme.”

-- Kerry Lee Morgan, ,

Windy Cutler (April 4, “Constitution protects rights”), Maryland lawmakers and citizens who support gay marriage ignore the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence.

It cites “the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God” as the forces that create freedom and entitle citizens to certain inalienable rights -- but in the context of eternity, not simply the here-and-now.

Kerry Lee Morgan explains at, “By invoking the ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature's God,’ the 56 signers of the Declaration incorporated a legal standard of freedom into the forms of government that would follow…that God's law was supreme.”

The founders knew, as authentic believers do, true life, liberty and happiness (earthly and eternal) flow in following the laws of nature and of God, not in opposing them -- which results in spiritual death, enslavement to passions, and entanglement in disorder.

Thomas Aquinas, whose writings the founders likely studied, explains in his Summa Theologica, Question 94 that natural law drives man to survive and reproduce, to educate offspring, to know the truth about God, to live harmoniously in society, and to act according to reason.

Faithful Catholics are not the only ones who defeated gay marriage in Maryland. Black delegates from Prince George’s and Baltimore who “refused to vote against their ‘base’” (black faithful) get the most credit in a March 12 Capital News Service article.

More than a dozen black ministers and bands of their faithful lobbied to defeat the bill, “which they say violates God’s law,” reports the March 8 Washington Post. Rev. Joel Peebles, pastor of 19,000-member Jericho City of Praise in Landover says, "We didn't come tonight against anybody. We came for the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman."

The article quotes Rev. Nathaniel Thomas of Forestville New Redeemer Baptist Church: "What we are focused on is the word 'marriage,' We're not talking about anyone not having rights. But when you use the word 'marriage,' that goes directly to what the church believes is a relationship between a male and a female."

Greg Quinlan, an “ex-gay” and president of Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays, testified in a House hearing, quoted in the Feb. 25 Washington Post, “I urge you to stop."

The National Organization for Marriage pledged to spend big money to support Democrats in Maryland who voted against the bill, and to oppose the sole Republican who voted for it (Sen. Allan Kittleman, Howard), the March 11 New York Times reports.

If the bill should pass in the future, enough public outcries probably would bring it to referendum. Its chances for acceptance in Maryland, though, may increase.

A national Pew Research Center survey (March 3) reveals “a continuing rise in support for same-sex marriage since 2009.” Currently, 45 percent favor, 46 percent oppose gay marriage, Pew reports, compared to 37 and 54 percent, respectively, two years ago.

Furthermore, “all the growth in Maryland is coming from groups that consistently vote Democratic – African-Americans, Asians and Hispanics,” reports Feb. 25.

While blacks oppose gay marriage on moral grounds, a 2010 Univision and Associated Press poll indicates Asians and Hispanics may waffle, depending on their level of American enculturation; but “Protestants were much more strongly against homosexual ‘marriage’ than Catholics.”

“The Senate vote was definitely a wake-up call,” the March 11 Washington Post quotes Minority Leader Nancy Jacobs (R-Harford). “I thought it was going to fly through the House. But once delegates started hearing from their constituents, they started thinking twice.”

Marylanders who revere God need to educate themselves about their faith and the freedoms God’s laws ensure, and engage to protect them.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Authentic Catholics do not support gay marriaige

Published in Cumberland Times-News Wednesday, March 30, 2011. (Blogger persists to ignore paragraphs in this posting.)
"...faithful Catholics sent 10,000 emails and thousands of phone calls to legislators to voice their objections to the bill."
Gov. Martin O’Malley, House Speaker Michael Busch and Del. Heather Mizeur, along with other liberal Catholics, are momentously misguided: Authentic Catholics do not support gay marriage. In the Feb. 24 Washington Post, O’Malley contrasts his “vocation” with Catholic bishops, saying his calling “requires…service to others in an arena of compromise.” O’Malley said he would sign the same-sex marriage bill if it made its way to his desk, and Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said he would vote for it. Catholic lawmakers who compromise church teachings, with intent to upend natural law, or who commiserate to establish state authority to stipulate church matters regarding marriage do not serve others: They mislead, and they transgress. In a Feb. 28 interview with, Mizeur (D-Montgomery), one of eight openly gay members in the Assembly -- seven in the House, one in the Senate -- says “the church are the people in the pews.” She dismisses the Maryland Catholic Conference as representing the bishops, and says the Catholic “social justice tradition,” and private convictions of “conscience” lead reasonable Catholics to support gay marriage rights. In a March 4 email, the MCC notes that faithful Catholics sent 10,000 emails and thousands of phone calls to legislators to voice their objections to the bill. The MCC called for 10,000 more emails and thousands more phone calls in the week leading up to the failed vote. The three bishops of Washington, D.C. Maryland and Wilmington, Del. issued a joint call Feb. 28 to Maryland’s 1.2 million Catholics for “continued and urgent action” to defeat the bill; they note that 500 Catholics visited legislators during MCC lobby night Feb. 21. “The word marriage,” the bishops write, “describes the commitment of a man and a woman to come together for life with the possibility of generating and educating children. This is not to say that some people over the ages have not come together in a variety of ways, physical, financial and social. But these various unions have always had other names because they are not marriage.” Proponents worked furiously, too, to pass the bill. Mizeur conducted a door-to-door campaign. Even Katie O’Malley, though, could not effectively twist the last arm. Mrs. O’Malley, a Baltimore District Court judge, lobbied hard in the final hours, the Post reports March 10, to persuade Del. John Olszewski (D-Baltimore County) to vote for the bill. Rather, Olszewski (a Methodist) undertook a last minute amendment maneuver -- rejected by the House, the Post reports March 11 -- “to broaden the (bill’s) religious exceptions.” Olszewski’s pivotal vote apparently depended on deleting restrictive language. He preferred leaving the choice regarding “activities related to ‘the promotion of marriage’” to religious organizations. Catholic adoption agencies do not serve gay couples; and on March 10, the Washington Times reports, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Boulder, Colo., became the latest Catholic school to forgo enrollment for children of a lesbian couple. House leaders withdrew the bill March 11. If it had passed, taxpayers would have paid millions for a referendum. In the Senate, Jamie Raskin (D-Montgomery), a proclaimed atheist (and lead sponsor of bills to legalize medical marijuana in Maryland), led floor debate on same-sex marriage. President Mike Miller (a Catholic) voted against it, but warded off a filibuster, to enable the bill to advance to the House. Last year, gay marriage was a non-starter. This year, the bill sailed through the Senate and advanced dangerously close to passage in the House. Busch says in the March 11 New York Times, “This is a distance run, not a sprint. We’ll come back next year and take a strong look at it.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

You can't be Christian and still support secularism

Published in Cumberland Times-News Sunday, February 6, 2011.
“Man has determined for himself that he, alone, is the ultimate authority. … Secularism is anti-Christian." -- Rocky Nester
To the Editor:

In response to "Secularism doesn't mean non- or anti-Christian" (Feb. 2 Times-News): Secularism is apart from religion. Religion is a set of beliefs and everyone lives a set of beliefs. Therefore, everyone has a religion.

Even if you are an atheist, you are religious. You believe there is no god. You believe in no hell or heaven. You believe morality is either what you say it is or what the state says it is (Secular Humanism, etc.)

To say you are a Christian and you support secularism is a contradiction. You are saying you are apart from religion and you have a religion. You can’t have it both ways. Jesus said in Mat. 12:30, “He that is not with me is against me…”. Also in Mat. 6:24: “No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate one, and love the other; or he will hold to one, and despise the other.”

As a Christian, you cannot have it both ways. But as a secularist you may think you can have it both ways.

Sadly, many are in the world of unreality. Our “secular” education system believes it is teaching people apart from region. They think they are being neutral and objective. Yet the truth is they are indoctrinated into secular humanism and they are indoctrinating others into this religion. It has its own genesis in their dogmatic insistence in the theory of evolution (creationism is not allowed).

They have their own bibles; Humanist Mainifesto (1933), Humanist Manifesto II (1972) and Humanist Manifesto 2000. John Dewey described Humanism as our “common Faith”. Julian Huxley called it “religion without revelation.” And, to make it official, the U.S. Supreme Court in Torcaso v. Watkins (1961) declared that Secular Humanism is a religion.

Man has determined for himself that he, alone, is the ultimate authority. He can have it both ways. He can have both a religion and not a religion. The S.H. (Secular Humanist) believes in both situational ethics and moral relativism. The S.H. can determine the meaning of words apart from their original meaning – he is a nihilist. Life has no meaning apart from the state.

At the same time, he is both a statist and not a statist. S.H. is an oxymoron, but to the S.H. it is acceptable. But then, after all, when you are a god, you make the rules. As a Christian, there is only one way and Jesus made it clear in John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

Secularism is anti-Christian.

I am a biblical worldview trainer. Call me (301-722-2203) for more information.

Rocky Nester

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Is this charter school a secular ruse?

Published in Cumberland Times-News Tuesday, January 25, 2011.
(Beginning mid-October 2010, the Times-News limited Letters access to online subscribers.)

"A few local progressive thinkers did endorse the idea, but
authentic broad-based support in Allegany County remains non-existent. In fact, the idea appears to many in the county to be a ruse by MMPCS founders
to impose their personal agenda."

Sister Phyllis McNally presents a valid point in her Jan. 9 letter, “Bishop Walsh makes education option available for students": Private schools pose viable alternatives for students whose parents otherwise might support a charter school -- an idea that fell flat last month in Allegany County.

Since 1966, four years prior to Bishop James Edward Walsh’s release from prison in Communist China, the Catholic school has educated students “of all faiths and beliefs,” the president writes, and offers “the very same qualities parents continue to want …smaller class sizes, excellent academics, values-centered curriculum and individualized learning experiences.”

Calvary Christian Academy, a ministry of Calvary Baptist Church in Cresaptown since 1973, has similar offerings.

Most people of faith who could afford tuition and manage transportation would gratefully send their children to one of these quality schools.

Christian values, though, probably are far from the Mountain Maryland Public Charter School founders’ desires for their children. MMPCS President Veronica Mingolelli is an outspoken member of Citizens for a Secular Government, a local non- to anti-religion organization headed by atheist activist Jeffrey Davis.

Davis fought to erect a monument to secularism, promoted as a tribute to the U.S. Constitution, on the courthouse lawn in a show of opposition to Judeo-Christian principles displayed there in the Ten Commandments, which Davis tried to have removed.

As early as November 2007, Mingolelli pushed Davis’ monument agenda, and she was his spokesperson on a 2009 county task force. A January 2010 decision by the Maryland Historical Trust, however, thwarted their efforts.

Now Mingolelli, an occupational therapist in the county schools who apparently hails from Massachusetts, seeks the trust and influence of our community leaders to help her and her friends establish a taxpayer funded charter school in Cumberland.

A few local progressive thinkers did endorse the idea, but authentic broad-based support in Allegany County remains non-existent. In fact, the idea appears to many in the county to be a ruse by MMPCS founders to impose their personal agenda.

Contributors in a Cumberland Chat chain, for example, from Sept. 26-29, 2010 speculate that MMPCS promoters are “an elitist bunch (who want) a publicly funded ‘private’ school,” perhaps a Montessori type; and they note that studies show charter schools perform no better than other public schools.

In reality, a June 2010 U.S. Department of Education publication, “The Evaluation of Charter School Impacts: Final Report” (prepared by the Institute of Education Services), concludes that while “charter schools serving more low income or low achieving students had statistically significant positive effects on math test scores…charter schools serving more advantaged students -- those with higher income and prior achievement -- had significant negative effects.”

Why would Mingolelli and her associates – medical, law and education professionals – want their children, who probably achieve above average, in a public charter school? More understandable -- unless they object to Christian values, or unless they aim to create their own non- or anti-religion environment -- would be a desire to place their children in a private school.

Bishop Walsh and Calvary Christian have records of high standards and student accomplishments, and they always are in need of well-heeled parents and patrons to support their fundraising and endowment programs.

Much wiser community investments of time, treasure and energy -- spent misguidedly on the idea of a questionable charter school -- would be to help our private schools expand their finances, increase their enrollments, and enhance their academic programs.