Thursday, December 31, 2009

R.I.P. 2009

Philadelphia Police Officer John Pawlowski (25) and six other law enforcement officers from Pennsylvania joined 113 more from around the United States as of December 30th. Rest In Peace, heroes all...

Harry Wolf and Brian Bates...

Harry Kalas (73), Danny Ozark (85), Peter Zezel (44), Gary Papa (54), Fred Sherman (86)...

Michael Jackson (50), Patrick Swayze (57), Farrah Fawcett (62), Brittany Murphy (32), Ron Silver (62), Steve McNair (36), Natasha Richardson (45), Karl Malden (97), Ed McMahon (86), Bea Arthur (86), Ricardo Montalban (88), Dom DeLuise (75), David Carradine (72), John Hughes (59), Irving Kristol (90), Jack Kemp (73), Ted Kennedy (77), Eunice Kennedy Shriver (88), Socks Clinton (cat-19), Henry Gibson (73), Mary Travers (72), John Updike (76), Robert Novak (78), Les Paul (94), Oral Roberts (91), Soupy Sales (83), Captain Lou Albano (76), Billy Mays (50), Wayman Tisdale (44), Chuck Daly (78), Sam Cohn (79), Marilyn Chambers (56), Nick Adenhart (22), Paul Harvey (90), Carl Pohlad (93), Fr. Richard Neuhaus (72), James Whitmore (87), Greg Page (50), Doc Blanchard (84), Dom DiMaggio (92), Fred Travalena (66), Gale Storm (87), Walter Cronkite (92), Oscar Mayer (95), Dominick Dunne (83), George Michael (70), Roy Disney (79), Gene Barry (90), Tommy Henrich (96)...

Apologies to anyone who feels that I should have named someone in particular. It is a difficult list to make comprehensive. No one was left off intentionally, so please feel free to add on in a comment. RIP to all...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 American of the Year: Glenn Beck

This was a year of tremendous change for America, and the vast majority of it was not for the good. Our national debt, already out of control as the year began, has now soared to previously unimaginable levels.

Our government has taken over control of large portions of private industry, and is poised to take over even more in the coming years.

On the international front, we have become indecisive and noncommittal in fighting a war against a determined Islamofascist enemy that continues to look for ways to attack us, kill our citizens, and deal crippling blows to our economy and our way of life. Thanks to recent election results, we face a future of increasing debt and taxation and decreasing personal freedom and liberty.

Not willing to stand by and simply whine and complain on the airwaves, radio talk show host Glenn Beck took his blossoming television program from CNN's Headline News and moved to the Fox News network in early 2009. This move allowed him to get out from under the umbrella of the liberal mandate of CNN and into the Fox world that allows fair and balanced reporting of all sides of the issues.

Beck then began a year-long education of the American people on civics, history, and current events that was quite simply not being discussed anywhere else in any clear and consistent manner. For his efforts as a truthful voice crying out in the wilderness, and for his out-front leadership of traditional America, this website is proud to name Glenn Beck as it's 2009 American of the Year.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Islamism Series: What Are We Prepared to Do?

In the 1987 film 'The Untouchables', Kevin Costner plays famed lawman Elliot Ness, who is tasked to lead a fight against the violent empire of infamous crime boss Al Capone in Chicago during the Prohibition era.

In the beginning, Ness tries some of the usual law enforcement tactics of the day, but appears to be going nowhere in his efforts to defeat Capone.

Finally his right-hand man in the film, street cop 'Jim Malone' as played in an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Connery, turns to Ness and asks him a blunt question:
"What are you prepared to do?"
This is always the single most important question that needs to be asked, understood, and answered before committing to fight any war at any level.

Whether at the level of law enforcement fighting criminal groups to keep the public safe on the home front, or at the level of national armed forces fighting enemies from abroad with the same goal, this simple question cannot be avoided.

Decades ago a war was declared against the United States by the forces of radical Islam around the world. It was declared with public statements, and those statements were backed up with physical attacks against American troops, citizens, and interests abroad and eventually with attacks against the American homeland.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Time, Talent, and Treasure

This morning for the first time I processed up the main aisle and on to the altar, and then stepped up to the lectern in front of my fellow parishioners at the 7:30am Mass at St. Christopher's Church in Somerton to present the first reading from the Old Testament.

The selection was from the 1st book of Samuel, one of the 'Historical Books', and told the story of how a barren woman named Hannah prayed to God for a son and promised that if the Lord so gifted her she would turn the child over to the priesthood. God granted her desire, and she kept to her promise after weaning Samuel as a small child.

God had given Hannah a gift, and Hannah responded in kind by sharing her gift with the Lord. It was this very gifting process that led me to the lectern on Sunday morning through a 'Stewardship' program beginning to spread through the Catholic church and other Christian denominations as well.

Stewardship is the process of realizing that all that we have and all that we are is a gift from God. This makes us 'stewards' of these gifts in that we manage them on behalf of the Lord during our time here on earth.

In managing these gifts we are not only encouraged but are expected to share them with the body of the Church. In evaluating exactly how each of us can best share our gifts we should examine in our own lives the opportunities that we all have to give of our time, our talents, and our treasure.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Two Millenium Miracle

What do you believe about Christmas? At this time of year, billions of people on the planet are celebrating the birth of a baby that happened over two milleniums ago in a small town in what we know today as the Middle East.

Have you ever stopped to ask a simple question, one that would appear to be logical? That question would be, why?

Let's take a trip back in time. We'll make it a reality trip, one that journeys into the real world of those days and a few more over the ensuing centuries. Starting in first century Bethlehem in Judea, we find it dry and hot. No one exchanged Christmas cards. There were no trees being decorated. No one wore a crucifix around their neck.

Depending on whatever you choose to believe, on one mostly quiet night a teenage girl gave birth in a room, or a cave, or a barn, or a stable. Her child was a son, and she and her older carpenter fiancee would eventually take this child home with them to Nazareth and raise him through boyhood and adolescence into early manhood.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Nativity Story

On December 1st, 2006, one of the most underrated Christmas movies of all-time was released, and if you have never had a chance or made the time to watch "The Nativity Story" you should make this the year. I've noticed that it is playing a few times in the coming days.

The movie features a starring performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes, the young Australian actress who was just 16 years old at the time of filming.

She delivers a commanding yet understated performance as Mary, the mother of Jesus, in a manner that anyone familiar with her story would find credible.

Guatemalan actor Oscar Isaac takes on the hurt skeptic-turned strong and loyal supporting partner Joseph role well here.

The strongest male acting performance is turned in by Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, familiar to many from his starring role as Caesar in the HBO epic series 'Rome'. Hinds gives perhaps the finest performance of Herod to ever grace the silver screen.

Brought to life here by 'Twilight' director Catherine Hardwicke, 'The Nativity Story' is, as always, all about the story itself.

As one of the film's taglines tells it, the story is about "a message foretold in the heavens...a prophecy that would threaten an empire...a miracle that would change the world."

There is nothing overly dramatic about that tagline. It is the simple truth.

No matter what your view in your own life towards Christianity in particular or religion in general, there is no valid way to argue the fact that the life and death of Jesus Christ and the message that he delivered has changed and shaped the entire world over the ensuing two millenia.

This film and the whole of the Nativity story covers that period in the life of Mary and Joseph from the time of their engagement on through to the birth of their child.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Happy Halladay

Just six weeks have passed since the New York Yankees extended their baseball dynasty with a 27th World Series championship by dethroning our own Phillies in six games.

With the change from fall to winter have also come changes to the Fightin' Phils roster.

In the last few weeks, and as the Christmas holiday fast approaches, general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and his management team have shown that they are not at all satisfied having won the 2008 title and nearly won a second.

Early this week the Phillies successfully concluded what was a four-month pursuit of the acknowledged top pitcher in baseball when they completed a trade with the Toronto Blue Jays that brought Roy Halladay to town.

The cost for Halladay was significant. He gets a three year deal that likely flips to four years at a salary of about $20 million per year.

The cost also includes the package of prospects sent to the Blue Jays. That prospect packaged is led by pitcher Kyle Drabek and outfielder Michael Taylor. Both are considered future major league regulars by most baseball observers, with Drabek a potential future rotation ace.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Oh Christmas Tree

For many people the world over there will be a new addition to their homes in the coming days and weeks, if that addition has not already arrived. As homes are decorated for the season a large number of families will haul an evergreen tree inside, continuing the tradition of the Christmas tree. But what is the origin and meaning of this grand holiday tradition?

There are many people who will try to tell you that the tree goes all the way back to early pagan cultures, or to the ancient Druids, or to the Roman seasonal celebration known as Saturnalia. But in actuality the Christmas tree dates back to the early years of the 8th century and the life mission of a man born as Winfred in the year 672, but who has become known in history as Saint Boniface.

Winfred was born into a wealthy family, and had to overcome the protestations of his family when he received a calling and entered the Benedictine monastery in late 7th century England. In 802, he became an ordained priest and took the name Boniface, becoming a teacher. Years later, and after previous attempts, he undertook a mission to convert the people of Frisia, an early Germanic tribe that lived along the North Sea.

The Frisians had an ancient symbol known as Thor's Oak which was dedicated to a pagan god. The location of this tree was the main point of veneration for the early Germanic people. In the year 723, Boniface approached this tree and stated his intention to chop it down, an attempt which the tribes believed would cause his death at Thor's hands.

Boniface began to chop at the tree, calling on Thor to strike him down if the tree actually held any power or symbolism. As Boniface chopped a great wind came along and helped topple the massive tree. When the tree fell and no harm came to Boniface, the Germanic people began to believe him and thus began their conversion to Christianity.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Philadelphia Eagles Are Winners

Within this same week we saw perfect examples in the tales of two Philadelphia pro sports organizations, one a winner and one a loser.

First, the big 'L' gets hung on the forehead of the Philadelphia 76ers organization for signing one of its all-time loser players in Allen Iverson. I covered that topic already earlier in the week.

It's time now to highlight Philly's winning winter sports organization, the Philadelphia Eagles. This past week the Birds signed head coach Andy Reid, the winningest coach in franchise history, to a contract extension that will keep 'Big Red' as the football boss through 2013. By the conclusion of the contract, Reid will have been the head coach for 15 seasons, nearly unheard of in today's pro sports world.

After a decade in Philadelphia, Andy Reid is now the 2nd longest tenured head coach in the entire NFL, trailing only Tennessee head man Jeff Fisher. He has already passed Greasy Neale (1941-50) as the longest tenured coach in Eagles history.

Reid has led the club to a regular season record of 105-66-1 and another 10 wins in the playoffs, which his teams have participated in 7 times. He has 5 NFC East titles and 1 NFC Championship and Super Bowl appearance to his credit.

Andy Reid's teams have fashioned a regular season .614 winning percentage which is the 16th highest in NFL history. The names ahead of him are all legends of the game: Lombardi, Madden, Halas, Lambeau, Shula, and Walsh. But the list of the 15 coaches ahead of him also highlights what his detractors see as his one weakness: he has never won a Super Bowl.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Good Catholic Boy

During the course of our lives most of us are going to have any number of labels placed upon us by others. Some we will wear with pride: hard worker, strong willed, high energy. Others will cause us to reevaluate ourselves: lacks effort, undisciplined, tardy.

Recently, someone hung on me the moniker of being a "good Catholic boy" based on limited knowledge gathered by my writings and commentary at this blog. I believe that it was meant to be somewhat complimentary, but it also has caused me to evaluate whether or not it is actually true.

The only way to figure out if I am indeed a 'good Catholic boy', in fact if anyone can be described in such a manner, is to determine what exactly that phrase means. To do that, I think we need to break it down, word by word. What does it mean to be good, to be Catholic, to be a boy? And then we need to figure out if, taken together, those words would constitute a compliment. Would they be something of which to be proud?

Let's start off with being 'good', a virtue the meaning of which most of us could probably agree. Webster's primary definition of 'good' states "of a favorable character or tendency", and secondarily as "virtuous, right, commendable". Sounds 'good' to me. But do I personally fit the bill?

Examining the totality of any American citizen's life is going to reveal specific incidents of what most of us would consider 'good' actions and 'bad' actions. It is not only possible, but it happens in fact that people who are good the majority of the time, good in their nature, do sometimes commit bad acts. Conversely, people who many would consider as bad or even 'evil' can sometimes do a good act.

I would like to consider myself as falling into the former category, where I feel that most of us fall. An honest evaluation of the person that I know myself to be inside, and the reactions that people generally have towards me, lead me to believe that I am indeed a generally 'good' person. That I know also for a fact that I have committed some 'bad' actions in my life does not detract from that basic goodness, it simply keeps me striving to improve as a human being.

While being 'good' or 'bad' as a part of your basic character as a person is really not that hard to determine in most instances, even easier to determine is the idea of being a boy. It starts with the premise that you are sexually a male, so that part is easy. The real difficult point is to draw a line between boyhood and becoming a 'man', an adult male.

Putting an exact age on this shift is troublesome. Just because someone reaches the age of 18 for instance, where in America you can do such things as vote, is not enough. Even reaching the age of 21, where again in America you can legally consume alcohol and by which point many people have or are about to graduate from college is not enough.

Moving from 'boy' to 'man' is not about some numerical, chronological age. It is about combining a certain minimum age with reaching a maturity level at which you begin to think outside of yourself on an egotistical level. Some can reach this point at age 16, others at 18, others at 21. Some males take decades to reach the point where they can legitimately call themselves a 'man' in real terms.

Being a man means taking care of your responsibilities to home, family, and career. It means placing the needs of your family ahead of your own personal needs and desires. It means setting a good example, working hard, and taking important issues such as faith, politics, and morality seriously. During my own life, moving from boyhood to manhood came in fits and starts.

I had some tremendous responsibilities put on my shoulders at a time when many would still have considered me a boy in chronological age. Parenthood, marriage, and taking care of a sick parent all came to me at very young ages. Over the years I handled most of those responsibilities, but in retrospect I know that I didn't always handle them the way I now believe that a true man would. I absolutely can be accused of being selfish, ignorant, and unreliable at times, especially when I was younger.

But I certainly feel that the totality of my life experiences has left me as a 'man' today. I know that I have grown as a father and grandfather, as a husband in my second marriage, as a homeowner, as a professional in the law enforcement field. So at this stage of my life I feel pretty comfortable in accepting someone calling me a 'good man', even if I still may act a bit childish from time to time.

The final term to look at here is that 'Catholic' label. That one might indeed be the hardest, even though for some it might seem the easiest to determine. Let's face it, anyone can call themselves whatever they want and justify it in some way. People who consider themselves 'Catholic' as a matter of faith do that frequently. You grew up Catholic, or you go to a Catholic church at times, or you send your kids to a Catholic school.

Does any of that make you 'Catholic' truly? If not, what does make one a Catholic in deed, not just as a label. The roots of the word go back to Greek origin, and basically are going to lead you to 'universal' as a definition. In the early Church, if you were a Christian you were catholic. Of course as we all know there were many doctrinal splits in the Church over the millenia.

Today being a Catholic with capital 'C' signifies to most that you belong religiously to the Roman Catholic Church. You can call yourself a member if you are baptized into the Church, and then more fully as you progress through receiving the Sacraments, particularly Confirmation. Stronger commitments are reached with regularly attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist at Holy Communion, and in cleansing yourself of sin in Penance and Reconciliation.

But these are acts of physical or emotional commitment on ones part. What is truly needed to really be able to call oneself 'Catholic' is an understanding and living out of the basic creed of the Church to be 'one, holy, and apostolic' in nature. You follow the 'one Church' established by Christ whole-heartedly, you always attempt to live your life in a holy manner even if you fall short most times, and you try to spread Christ's word in apostolic fashion by your own words and deeds.

In this sense, I feel comfortable calling myself a Catholic. I do believe in the Church and it's creed, in the teachings of Jesus Christ, and I do feel inspired by the Holy Spirit as a direct presence in my life. I read the Bible. I go to Mass and receive Communion. I go to Confession and perform Penance (though not as often as I probably should), and I have been both baptized and confirmed in the Church.

As I have gotten older I have begun to express my Christianity and Catholic beliefs much more frequently, particularly here at my blog. I have volunteered as a lector in my own church. I have supported my wife as she herself converted to Catholicism some years ago now. I have subtly tried to pass along my faith to my children, something that I failed to do strongly enough when they were young. I pray every single day that they come to a full faith in Christ during their lifetime. I believe that I still have much more to do, but that 'Catholic' is certainly a term you can use to describe me at this point.

So in the end, the term that was hung on me of being a "good Catholic boy" is a bit misleading. I am only 'good' most of the time. I still have much room to grow in my 'Catholic' faith. I have mostly shed the habits of a 'boy' and take my responsibilities as a man far more seriously. But I know inside that I am a 'good' person, I am happy to practice and express my 'Catholic' faith, and am confident enough in my manhood to still allow the 'boy' in me to come out at times.

"A good Catholic boy." I have some work to do still, but I think that I can happily live with that. I hope to be able to live up to that label going forward in experiencing this gift of life that God has given to me. I would invite anyone reading this to also try living up to the challenge one day, one action, one moment at a time.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Our Last Christmas Together

USS Russell at Pearl Harbor, Christmas 2007
For many of us there will be much to celebrate this Christmas. Family, friends, parties, dinners. Gifts, food, drink, music. Trees, Santa Clause, Rudolph, Frosty. And of course, the celebration of the birth of the Christ child. For many of us this will be a very happy time of year.

But for some of us, this will be our first Christmas without a very special person in our lives. In fact, there are a probably a few of us, and one day this will be all of us, for whom this will be our own final Christmas. Even more tragically for some, even at this late date, last year will prove to have been our final Christmas.

Today is December 7th, and it marks the 68th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attacks which drew America directly into World War II. For many around the world at that time, it had already been a time of loss, and for many more it was a time of concern for loved ones fighting in the war.

For Americans waking up and heading out to church on that fateful Sunday morning it was a time of growing concern. And yet to that point, we were not directly involved in the fighting that was happening in Europe. Most were still looking forward to the coming of Christmas in a few weeks. For some, it would mark the return home, even if just briefly, of their family members and friends serving on the naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

What many of those brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, medical and other personnel stationed at Pearl did not know was that they were waking up to their final moments in this life. They had already celebrated their final Christmas here on earth, and not a single one of them realized it at that point.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Christmas Thanks to a Young Mother

We began to celebrate the Christmas season over the past week, the celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Providing for humanity to be saved by God taking on a human role, however, required first a perfect vessel to deliver that physical birth to the earth.

In his gospel, Saint Luke tells us the story of how the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary saying "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women!" Gabriel was sent by God Himself to the teenage virgin who had been chosen as being worthy of body, mind, and spirit to bear the Lord in her womb, give birth to the infant, and be responsible for raising Him as a child.

At the point at which Mary is presented with the idea of becoming the Mother of God, she has a choice. Mary's body wasn't taken over by God, she was not forced to take on this responsibility. She was not herself bred for this sole purpose. She was a normal, young, human woman.

One thing that we know about human beings in their relationship to God is that we have been given a 'free will', the ability to make our own choices and decisions. We have the choice to accept or reject God and His plan for the world and for us as individuals. Mary was given this same choice, and she chose to say "Yes" to God.

This is not at all the same idea of 'choice' involving a pregnancy that has become a hot political and social topic in todays world. In todays arguments, the 'choice' is not between becoming pregnant or not, in having a child or not. Today the alleged 'choice' is between killing a baby that is already in a mothers womb, or of delivering that baby fully and allowing it a chance at a full life.

What a brief look at the difference between Mary's very real choice and that of women today in the abortion debate does highlight is the idea of consequence.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TV Watch: Sons of Anarchy

Embed from Getty Images
Charlie Hunnam, Katie Sagal, Ron Perlman star in "Sons of Anarchy" on FX

The best gang show on television this side of 'The Sopranos' has just concluded it's 2nd full season, and fans of this emerging masterpiece will be happy to learn that 'Sons of Anarchy' has just been renewed for a full third season that will begin airing in September 2010.

For the uninitiated, the show centers on the activities of a biker gang, also known as an outlaw motorcycle club (MC) called the 'Sons of Anarchy' which alternately is known by the nickname 'Samcro' or 'Sam Crow', a moniker loosely based on an anacronym for the official full name of the 'Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club, Redwood Original' charter.

The show airs on the 'FX' network with in-season first run episodes coming on Tuesday nights at 10pm. Prior episodes are available through the Comcast OnDemand service in the TV Entertainment section.

'Sons' centers largely around both the MC and family activities of three main characters. Charlie Hannum is a revelation as Jackson 'Jax' Teller, a young Vice-President of the MC and the son of deceased club founder John Teller.

Katey Sagal plays Jax' mother, Gemma Teller Morrow, the matriarch of the family and the MC. Widow of the founder, she is now married to the new President of the MC. That character is Clarence 'Clay' Morrow, played by veteran actor Ron Perlman.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Philadelphia 76ers Are Losers

This afternoon the local NBA team, the Philadelphia 76ers, signalled to their fan base what most already knew, that it is a losing organization with no future whatsoever.

They did so with the signing of former 76ers star Allen Iverson to a contract.

This signing has to rank as one of the single most cynical moves ever foisted by a professional sports organization on its fan base in the long history of this sometimes-great sports town.

Iverson is now 34 years old. That is young by normal standards, but an old man by NBA standards.

Larry Bird retired at age 35 after a couple of seasons battling injuries as mostly a shell of his former greatness. Magic Johnson was driven from the game at age 33 by a combination of his positive testing for HIV and bad knees. Michael Jordan was 36 when he walked away for the 2nd, but not final, time. His final chapter ended at age 40, after mostly limping through parts of three seasons in which he accomplished little.

The point is that the three most important, influential professional basketball players of the last three decades, all winners, were roughly Iverson's age when they were wrapping up their careers as champions. Iverson, never to be confused with a winner as a professional, is on his last legs.

So the Philadelphia 76ers have signed him for what reason? To build a champion around? To become a mentor for players like Jrue Holiday, who may actually become a legitimate part of the future for this franchise? To teach the younger players the way to win, the right way to play and practice?

Practice? We're talkin' about practice, man? Practice?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Make the Animals Serve Their Full Prison Sentences

As pretty much everyone already knows, four police officers were shot and killed early on Sunday morning in Lakewood, Washington.

Tina Griswold, Ronald Owens, Mark Renninger, and Greg Richards were not responding to a robbery call, not patrolling a dangerous part of town, not involved in a fight with a crazed criminal. They were just sitting in a cafe, catching up on paperwork.

The animal who walked into that cafe and gunned those small town heroes down in cold blood in a targeted assassination should never have been on the streets to begin with. He should never have had the opportunity to murder. The animal, and there is no other word that properly describes this particular being, had already been caged, on numerous occassions.

In August, September, and November of 1989, this animal was sentenced to more than 13 years on numerous counts of burglary, theft, and robbery. That was after having probation revoked already. He was only 17 years old. In February of 1990 it was 20 more years for burglary and theft, and then in November he gained a 6-year sentence for firearm possession.

By the time this animal had reached 18 years of age, it had already accumulated more than a century of sentencing time. During one particular hearing the judge had it shackled, claiming the animal had threatened him. There was no way, no way, that this animal should ever have been back out on the streets. No way that this caged animal should have been able to hurt anyone again. At least not anyone who wasn't behind bars themselves.

But then in May of 2000, after this animal had been safely locked up away from the rest of us for over a decade, his total sentence time was commuted to just over 47 years by then Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee.

The effect of Huckabee's commutation was that it made the animal eligible for parole that very day. Just two months later a parole board granted, and the animal was released on August 1st, 2000.