Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 American of the Year: Ted Cruz

The junior U.S. Senator from the great state of Texas, Ted Cruz, has been selected as this website's 10th annual American of the Year, marking the first time that someone born outside of the country has been so honored.

Cruz was born in Canada, in the city of Calgary and province of Alberta in December of 1970 to a Cuban father and American mother from Delaware who were there to work the oil business.

Cruz' parents moved to Houston, Texas in 1974, and he went to a Baptist high school, becoming Valedictorian of his 1988 graduating class. He then went to Princeton University, where he became a debate champion and noted speaker, graduating in 1992. He then attended Harvard Law School where he graduated magna cum laude, while also dealing with his parents divorce during this time.

In 1995, Cruz served in Virginia as law clerk to a true, great conservative jurist, J. Michael Luttig of the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and in 1996 became the first Hispanic to clerk for the Chief Justice of the US when he worked for William Rehnquist.

After working a few years in private practice, Cruz joined the presidential campaign of George W. Bush in 1999 as a domestic policy advisor, and was influential in the court process during the contested Florida election results battle at both the state and Supreme Court levels. This led to a role in the victorious Bush administration for a few years before a return to Texas.

During the Bush campaign, Cruz met his wife, Heidi Nelson, a New York investment banker who would go on to work for Condoleezza Rice at the White House and who now works for Goldman Sachs. They now have two daughters together.

Friday, December 20, 2013

A&E Crucifies 'Duck Dynasty' Patriarch Phil Robertson

The reality series 'Duck Dynasty' about the Robertson family of Louisiana is easily the most-watched program on the A&E cable network.

The family became wealthy operating a duck-hunting product company, 'Duck Commander', and the show features the colorful bunch of long-bearded, no-filters Robertson men and the women who love them.

The patriarch of the clan is Phil Robertson, who began the business by making duck calls from area cedar trees in a family backyard shed for a quarter century. Two days ago, the show, network, and Phil Robertson began making headlines in the mainstream news.

Robertson was placed "on hiatus" indefinitely by A&E, which said in a statement that the network was "extremely disappointed" in remarks that he had made in an interview for 'GQ' magazine which were deemed offensive by the gay community. A&E further stated they "have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT (gay) community."

In the interview, Robertson is quoted as saying "Everything is blurred on what's right and what's wrong...Sin becomes fine art. Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there." He later says "It seems like, to me, a vagina - as a man - would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Christians Need to Love One Another

As a lifelong Catholic who loves the Church, defends her publicly, and tries my best to follow her teachings, I have observed a phenomenon over the years.

It has become very obvious to me that some of my brothers and sisters in the Church have a serious moral superiority complex in regards to other Christian faiths. And I believe that this attitude has played a major part in continuing a divide in Jesus' Church.

Let's remember that one simple fact to begin with: it's not our Church. It's not mine, or yours. It doesn't belong to Pope Francis, or any other human being. The Church belongs to Jesus Christ. He is it's founder, and he is it's genuine leader still today.

Throughout centuries past, the sometimes immoral actions of Popes and other Church leaders directly led to many of the major schisms that have occurred which have separated believers from one another. Catholics need to recognize the truth in that burden before judging any Protestant, Episcopalian, or other Christian denomination.

The most important thing for any Christian is that they believe in the fact that Jesus Christ suffered and died for their sins, and that as followers of the Lord we have a responsibility to learn about his teachings and spread his Word, both to unbelievers and to those who have never heard it in the first place.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Brothers In Christ

In the Old Testament, the Book of Proverbs 27:17 reads: "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another."

In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew 18:20 quotes Jesus Christ as teaching: "For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them."

We modern men can be funny creatures. There are many who consider themselves to be men of faith, yet find themselves trapped by fear or embarrassment when faced with the challenge of publicly professing that faith, especially among other men.

In a world that is rapidly deteriorating all around us in matters of faith, spirituality, religion, and morality, we no longer have the choice to seek comfort in private prayer. We must come together, publicly, and call this world to order in the name of Jesus Christ.

There are many ways that you can individually participate in this calling. First, of course, you can simply go to Mass. Attending a service at Church on a regular basis establishes a personal and community base. It is only a minimum, but it is a must.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Jesus 'Lost Years' Far From a Teenage Wasteland

Approximately 2,000 years ago today, Jesus Christ was alive and walking the earth - and he was becoming a teenager! Wrap your mind around that one.

What must life have been like for, and with, a teenage Jesus? The last thing that we know for sure about him is just before this period, and comes from Luke's Gospel.

At age 12, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem during the Passover festival. When the festival was over they left, and at some point realized that Jesus was not with their traveling party.

The worried parents returned to the city and searched for three days. Finally they found him, sitting in the courtyards at the Temple, questioning the teachers.

It was at this point, if they didn't already have an idea, that Mary and Joseph got some sense of what was in store for the family. Jesus was amazing the teachers with both his questions and with his own comments in his understanding.

But while they were themselves impressed to hear their pre-teen son, they were also worried parents. Have you ever lost a child, even for a moment? Remember how frantic those few moments were? How about three days lost?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

At What Price Your Soul?

We're all human. We're all weak. We all yield to sins of the flesh at one time or another in our lives. We all misplace our priorities from time to time.

Some of us live in a perpetual state of yielding to temptation. There are many among us who willingly commit sins, often the same ones over and over, and who believe that we have time to overcome these. We'll stop. We'll make amends. We'll confess, and do penance, and pray, and convert our lives. Just not yet. Not today. Not this moment. I need one more.

When we willfully and repeatedly engage in the same sin, over and over, in full knowledge that this is exactly what we are doing, then we have given over a portion of our lives to the devil. We may as well have sat down across a table from Satan and shook his hand over the deal.

There are many who call themselves Christians who on this very day are living a life of sin. They are carrying on an extra-marital affair, either cheating on their own spouse, or engaging in a relationship with someone who is married, or both. They are stealing from a business, social organization, charity, maybe even a church. They are selling drugs, or taking illicit drugs.

I don't think that I am over-stating things at all if I make the unverifiable claim that there are literally millions of alleged "Christians" across the globe committing these sins, and many others, on a regular basis. Maybe you have been in the past, maybe you are right at this moment, one of them.

If we do indeed truly believe that Jesus Christ is our personal savior, that he willingly gave up his life on a cross for the very sins that we are committing, then how long can we keep doing so without our conscience overwhelming us and giving us pause?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Will Freedom of the Press Fall in Winter?

I like to consider myself a "Constitutionalist" - I'm a big fan of the United States Constitution. I believe it to be one of the most inspired governmental documents that mankind has ever conceived.

I believe that in court rulings it should be interpreted narrowly by modern jurists.

I also believe that the Constitution as originally conceived by our nation's Founding Fathers was inspired by God Almighty, and that America has received blessings over our history because of a continued striving towards what we stated from the very beginning when we declared ourselves free: that "men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."

The U.S. Constitution has built into it an 'amendment' process, a means of altering, adding to, or taking away from the freedoms guaranteed to "We the People" by our nation and it's laws.

This amendment process has been successfully utilized to do just that in the past. There have been 27 amendments to the Constitution which have been 'ratified', or passed into law by the states.

The first ten of these amendments came almost immediately. Within a couple of years of the original Constitution being ratified, the first ten amendments had been proposed and added.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Fall

Here on earth, it's the "Fall" season, and last night we were reminded of that fact with the now-annual modern rite of the "Fall Back" act of turning clocks back one hour in a return to standard time from daylight savings time.

But those are not what we're going to talk about here in reference to the Fall. We're going to take a look back at mankind's fall from grace, and even further back, to the fall from heaven which led to that one in Eden.

Most people are aware of the name "Lucifer", and in Christian tradition the name has been assigned to the principal angel with glory as bright as the morning star who led a revolt in heaven against God.

The term Lucifer should not, however, be understood to be a proper name of "the Devil" or "Satan", merely a reference to that state from which he has fallen, that place in the glory of heaven itself.

The devil is but one of what were originally angelic creatures created by God as spiritual beings in a state of innocence. They ultimately became evil as a result of their own willful act, and when this act saw them cast out in the first 'Fall from Heaven', they turned their gaze towards God's human creation, leading us to sin and to our own separation, or the 'Fall of Man' from paradise.

That first fall of the angels came when, as Isaiah told in reference to the King of Babylon in his own day, and as is applied originally to Lucifer "Thou said in thy heart: I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will sit in the mountain of the covenant, in the sides of the north, I will ascend above the height of the clouds, I will be like the most High."

The angel known as Lucifer led a rebellion of angels in heaven, seeking a place above God. The result was a war like none ever seen here on earth. As described in "Revelation" or the "Apocalypse": "there was a great battle in heaven, Michael and his angels fought with the dragon (Lucifer), and the dragon fought and his angels, and they prevailed not..."

The result of this rebellion, and the victory by Michael and the angels of heaven, was the 'Fall from Heaven' referred to earlier: "..neither was their place found anymore in heaven. And that great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, who seduces the whole world; and he was cast unto the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him."

Lucifer/Satan had ultimately committed the first sin of "pride", or the excessive love of one's own excellence. Through the love of his own worth, he attempted to withdraw himself from subjection to Almighty God. He was able to get the angels opposed to the Divine Incarnation to follow him.

These angels were jealous at the very thought of a lesser being, a human, being raised above them. That is how they saw Jesus, a man who would be raised above them.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed

In the final moments of one of television's greatest dramatic series of all-time, "Lost", the character of Ben Linus finds himself in a situation that sums up our understanding of purgatory very well.

He is just not ready to join the rest and move on into the light. Ben is left on the outside of the group, outside the church and the joyous gathering going on inside.

Most people know that this coming Thursday is Halloween, and many are aware that the following day is celebrated as "All Saint's Day", the feast which commemorates all those who have obtained the beatific vision in heaven, and which is a Holy Day of Obligation in the Catholic Church.

But you may not be aware that it is followed immediately by another very important remembrance day, "All Soul's Day", which is set aside specifically for the cause of the entire Church praying for those souls of the faithful who departed this life, but who were not first cleansed of their venial sins and/or separated from their attachment to mortal sins.

These faithful have not been abandoned by God permanently. They have not been damned to the hell of the lonely desolation that will be the eternal separation from His glory, which is the fate awaiting those who have willfully died as non-believers.

Monday, October 21, 2013

World Series 2013: The Best in Baseball

If over the next 2-3 days someone tries to tell you that they have some kind of special insight into who is going to win the 2013 World Series, then they are simply lying. These are clearly the two best teams in baseball, and you'd do well to simply toss a coin to pick a winner.

Most pundits and talking heads, as well as tons of amateurs and partisans, will indeed try to pick a winner. Some will inevitably end up correct. But going into it, these two teams are so evenly matched that legitimate arguments can be made for either.

The 109th MLB World Series will feature the best team, based on regular season record, from both the National League and the American League for the first time since 1999. Both the Boston Red Sox and the Saint Louis Cardinals won 97 games to pace their respective leagues.

Also, each of the two teams will have reached the Fall Classic after having battled through similar paths, first vanquishing divisional rivals, and then arguably the 2nd best teams in their respective leagues. Saint Louis beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and then the LA Dodgers, while Boston beat the Tampa Bay Rays and then the Detroit Tigers.

This will also mark not only the 2nd World Series meeting between the NL's Cardinals and the AL's Red Sox in the last decade, but will be a matchup between a pair of franchise's that have each won two World Series titles within this past decade.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Most Powerful Prayer

"Give me an army praying the rosary, and I will conquer the world" - Blessed Pope Pius IX

The rosary has been called the most powerful of prayers. In her appearance on May 13th, 1917 at Fatima, Mary herself said that a daily praying of the rosary could bring an end to war. In this month of October, it is an especially good time to review this unmatched prayer experience, since it is also the Month of the Holy Rosary in the Catholic Church.

On October 7th, 1571, the historic Battle of Lepanto took place. In this battle, a vastly outnumbered Christian fleet led by Don John of Austria faced off against and defeated the mighty Ottoman Muslim fleet led by Ali Pasha to halt the Islamist westward expansion in the Mediterranean.

At the time, Christian Europe was being torn apart by internal strife and the Reformation from the inside, and was being threatened by the relentless expansionism of the Muslims from the outside.

The victory in this pivotal naval battle against superior forces was attributed to the fact that on the day of the battle, many rosaries were offered and processions made in Rome to the Blessed Mother for her intercession on behalf of the united Christians. The victory was thus attributed to her, and those rosaries.

In honor of this victory, Pope Pius V instituted the 'Feast of Our Lady of Victory', and following another victory over Muslim forces in 1716, Pope Clement XI extended the Feast to the entire Church, making it the 'Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary'.

In 1883, Pope Leo XIII released the first in a series of encyclicals on the rosary, urging Catholics to increase their devotion to Mary, especially through the rosary, and dedicated the entire month of October to the prayer.

So what exactly is the rosary, how does one say the prayer, and why is it considered so powerful?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Where Do We Go From Here?

The state of modern American political discourse has deteriorated to such a wretched point that there are times where I will hear or read something and feel as if blood is actually going to begin shooting from my eyes.

Even in trying to sit down and type this piece, deciding where to begin, in what direction to take it, the problems are so many and deep that it almost makes me want to stop and just throw up my hands in surrender.

I have said it myself, and I heard it from someone else this morning: American partisan politics have deteriorated to a state of bitterness, rancor, and stalemate. Our nation has reached a point not seen since the Civil War era. We are angry as a people. Mad at the politicians, mad at the media, mad at each other.

There are many culprits, and we can blame those politicians and that media. We can blame lobbyists and special interest groups. We can blame whomever else we choose. But there is another guilty party in this situation. We have reached a point where all of us need to take a look in the mirror and realize that we ourselves have become a big part of the problem.

We all have basic moral, spiritual, and political values developed over the course of a lifetime based on personal experiences. Our internal compass leads us to make the important decisions in our lives, including decisions at the ballot box. We vote for candidates who we believe will best reflect our values. We choose those who we believe will support those values with specific programs and initiatives to further those values.

There is just one problem with our entire line of thinking: it is completely selfish.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Two Things About Bad Things

There are two things that we can absolutely say with certainty about bad things: they will happen to good people, and good people will do them.

The questions that all who want to believe in a loving, benevolent, saving God ask at some point in their lives often revolve around these two ideas. Those questions, of course, are:

Why do bad things happen to good people?

Why do good people do bad things?

In looking at the first question, we need to examine what it is that we are actually asking - what is the allegedly "bad" thing that is happening to the allegedly "good" person. Let's assume the second part of the equation here, that you or whomever you are asking about is indeed a "good" person.

So what is the "bad" thing that has happened? Has someone been injured in an accident? Is someone suffering from a debilitating illness? Has someone become the victim of a crime? Is there some major misfortune being dealt with, such as a house fire, a natural disaster, an inter-personal relationship gone bad? Has someone died?

If any of those things are the supposed "bad" thing then the answer is fairly simple: welcome to the real world.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The Republic For Which It Stands

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Every good American knows and has said those words hundreds, if not thousands of times in their lives. Learning and reciting the "Pledge of Allegiance" to our flag is part of our shared civics lesson as citizens.

But do we really think of the detail in those words as we say them? After all, in saying them we are theoretically taking an actual pledge to stand behind it's principles.

One of the most important and least appreciated of those principles is the simple line "and to the republic for which it stands" which speaks to our nation's form of government. Did someone tell you that the United States of America was a democracy? That would be incorrect. America is actually a "constitutional republic", and there is a very big, very important difference, one you should become familiar with if you are not already.

In a true democracy, the majority rules, either by direct voting results or through the decisions of their elected representatives. These are the two basic forms of democracy: direct and representative. The American Revolution was undoubtedly fought in part to form a more democratic society and government, as opposed to the tyranny experienced previously by the former Colonies under the British monarchy.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Most Dangerous Woman in the World

However you may personally think that the most dangerous woman in the world is supposed to look, it probably is nothing like this 29-year old Northern Irish white mother of three.

Samantha Lewthwaite, also notoriously known as the "White Widow", is arguably the holder of that 'Most Dangerous Woman in the World' title. The current internationally wanted fugitive has certainly earned a nomination for the title.

She was born in Banbridge, County Down, on December 5th, 1983 to parents who met when her father, a British Army soldier, was stationed in her mother's native Northern Ireland during the 1970's.

The family moved to Aylesbury, a town about 45 miles northwest of London, when she was a small girl, and it was there that she attended school. But it was not to remain a happy family life. At age 10, her parents separated. Friends say that she was greatly affected and disillusioned by the split, and gradually sought comfort in relationships with her Muslim neighbors, whom she felt had a stronger family ethic.

During her teenage years she seriously began to turn to Islam herself, and at about age 17 she officially converted, taking on the name 'Sherafiyah' in her new faith. She enrolled at the School of Oriental and African Studies near the British Museum, and began work towards a degree in Religion and Politics.

Sometime in 2001, she 'met' a man named Germaine Lindsay online in an Islamic internet chatroom. They soon met in person, and by October of 2002 the couple married using Islamic names, 'Asmantara' for her, and 'Jamal' for him. Though using an official Islamic ceremony, the wedding did not take place in a mosque or other licensed location, and so was never officially registered. Her parents, who never approved of her conversion, did not attend.

The pair would have two children together (she is now believed to have 3-4 kids altogether), but much as her childhood, her own family was not destined for a life of happy togetherness.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

America's Cup 2013 Ends in a Winner-Take-All

I've been a big sports fan for most of my life, so even as a kid and teenager had heard of the America's Cup. I knew that somewhere in the world, we raced boats against the world's best, and that we always won. That's about it.

The first time that I can remember actually following the event in TV sports reports and shows, in magazines, and in our local papers was in 1977. That was when Ted Turner, yes THE Ted Turner of CNN fame, skippered "Courageous" to her 2nd straight victory in the event.

That victory made it 107 straight years that a team from the United States had won the event. Not since the very first series of races held way back in 1851 when the Royal Yacht Squadron of England had defeated a team from the New York Yacht Club off the Isle of Wight had the Americans suffered the agony of defeat. The New Yorkers defeated the Brits in 1870 to claim the Cup, and it was in American hands ever since.

In 1980, the New York Yacht Club would again take the honors as the America representatives in the race series, a distinction that was theirs for every single America's Cup challenge to that point. Again, the NYYC came up victorious with "Freedom", taking the series by 4-1 over a team led by Alan Bond of Australia, who was challenging for the 2nd straight finals.

The America's Cup seemed to be becoming more a tradition and celebration than a sporting event, as every 3-4 years the USA's best had been taking on some challenger or other from England or Canada or Australia and beating them, usually handily. But something was different about that Aussie Bond, and he showed in 1983 off the coast of Newport, Rhode Island just what that difference was.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Intercessory Prayer

Welcome back to the "Sunday Sermon" series, a former regular feature here, yet another that was allowed to drift by the wayside. Previously, the series was the one time each week where I was sure to post something of a spiritual nature.

Beginning with today's post on "intercessory prayer", these weekly featured posts will become more focused. Each Sunday, opportunity allowing, I will be writing on a specific element of the Christian faith experience.

There are few better places to begin than that most basic element, something that should be a part of every Christian's regular lifestyle, prayer. In particular, I want to examine "intercessory prayer", those times where we pray on behalf of others.

Is intercessory prayer effective? Can you really pray for someone else? Where does that idea, that tradition come from, and is the idea supported by the Church? If intercessory prayer is both accepted and effective, for whom should I be praying? Don't I have enough going on in my own life to pray for - why don't they pray for themselves?

To speak of intercessory prayer we must first define prayer itself. While there are many forms and functions of prayer, the Church teaches that vital to the prayer experience is attentiveness of the heart. One needs to be entirely submissive to the Word, willing and able to be obedient to God. With a right heart, prepared to accept whatever is God's will, you begin your prayers.

The Christian begins his or her prayers, in fact will begin each activity, their very daily life, by making the Sign of the Cross. As you enter into the form of your prayer, let God know that you come to him, not for yourself, but for another or others, in prayer humbly and fervently.

Let him know that you are fully repentant in the knowledge that you yourself are a sinner. Also, you are willing to accept whatever His plan will be, even if that should be something other than what you hope to see as a result of this prayer.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What's So Funny, God?

There is a famous old Yiddish proverb that has had many takes on it over the years, widely attributed to Israel Furman in 1968, which is itself a take on the Bible's Psalm 33:10 verse reading "The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples."

That saying of Furman's? "Man plans, and God laughs."

The actual translation of the Yiddish would be that man proposes, and God disposes. In other words, we can make all the plans that we want here on Earth in regards to our lives, but in the end it will be God's plan that will come to pass, whether or not that coincides with our own plans, hopes, and dreams.

The saying came to me this morning as I contemplated a recent dual tragedy which has struck a family that I know personally. They suffered a sudden, recent, untimely death, and now immediately on top of that tragedy have suffered yet another major blow. Without going into details, still fresh and painful for many, there are a number of people suffering because of these twin tragedies right now, and a few whose lives have been completely devastated.

How do we possibly make sense of such apparently senseless tragedy? How can any of that be a part of God's plan for those individuals, for that family? And what does it have to do with that old Yiddish saying that I mention in the beginning of this piece?

No matter what age, we all make plans. Young people plan on where they're going to meet after school, what they're going to do this weekend. Students plan on what courses they are going to sign up for in the next semester or school year. Folks make plans for with whom they want to begin or continue a relationship, how many children to have, their career choice, where they are going on vacation, what's for dinner tonight, and much more.

But how many plans have you made in your life, small or large, only to have something intervene to delay, change, or completely thwart those sometimes well-conceived plans?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

American Beauty: Nothing Wrong With Tats or Pageants

"God, grant me the courage to change the things I can."

That idea is taken from the famous "Serenity Prayer", and it also is the motto that the current Miss Kansas, Theresa Vail, has adopted as her own personal inspiration to guide her in life.

During the preliminary events to the Miss America Pageant, Vail has gained much publicity this past week, some of it good, some of it not so much, for the thing that separates her from any other contestant in the pageant's history.

Vail has a tattoo.

We're not just talking any old tattoo either. Not a little image on the shoulder or calf. We're talking a full-blown phrase tattooed all the way down the right side of her torso. The tattoo reads with the text of that serenity prayer: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, The courage to change the things I can, And the wisdom to know the difference."

She actually has two tattoos, though it is this largest which gains the most attention. She also has tattooed on her left shoulder the insignia of the unit she serves in the U.S. Army Dental Corps, along with the letter 'D', for her Dad. You see, not only is Vail a beauty pageant contestant, she is also a member of the Army National Guard.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Real American Hero: Ty Carter

There are 80 of them as of today, the living recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest award that a member of the American military can receive. 11 earned their medals in World War II, and 11 more in the Korean War, while 53, by far the highest number, earned their honors in Vietnam.

Carter is one of the 5 younger generation of recipients who have earned their honors in the War in Afghanistan. And he is the most recent as well, having received his CMO three weeks ago for actions that he took almost four years ago now in the United States Army.

Ty Carter was born in the beautiful and peaceful Pacific Northwest region of our country, in Spokane, Washington on January 25th, 1980. His family moved to the Bay area of California a year later, but then went back to Spokane in 1991. Ty graduated from high school there in 1998, and in October of that year he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.

In his Marine service, Ty Carter trained at the Marine Corps Combat Engineer School, served a stint in Okinawa, Japan as an intel clerk, and then in 1999 was sent to Primary Marksmanship Instructor School after showing promise in previous weapons' marksmanship training. The skill would turn out to be invaluable during his later heroic action.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How Long Will We "Never Forget"?

For the past 11 years on this date, we've all heard, spoke, typed a now familiar refrain: "Never Forget!"

What we must never forget, of course, are the attacks against our nation on September 11th, 2001 by radical Islamists bringing their war against western civilization right to our doorsteps.

Today, I heard a couple of different things that made me realize just how difficult a proposition that it is to actually "never forget" something, even something as big as 9/11.

First, on my drive in to work this morning, I was listening to a radio station when the usual cast of morning show hosts began to discuss the date, and to go over their memories of that Tuesday morning. Those of us who experienced it can remember clearly what an absolutely gorgeous, perfect morning it was - clear skies and comfortable temperatures. The kind of day you give thanks to the Lord for blessing us with.

Then everything changed, in a span of just 17 minutes between 8:46 and 9:03am, when those sons of Muhammad crashed a pair of hijacked airliners into each of the iconic Twin Towers of the World Trade Center on the waterfront of Manhattan island in New York City. Just over a half hour later, a 3rd airliner crashed into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and a 4th crashed into a field in Pennsylvania a half hour after that.

The United States of America was under attack on our own shores for the first time in 60 years, the first time since World War II, when the Japanese decimated the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The ensuing chaos, the grounding of flights across the nation's skies, the collapse of the iconic towers, the growing numbers of people lost and killed. Firefighters, police officers, other rescue workers, and regular citizens putting their lives on the line to attempt and effect rescues.

How could anyone who lived through it ever forget all that.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Christianity Clearly Under Attack in America

When you see the atrocities taking place in Syria today, as well as in other areas of the Middle East, involving the burning of Christian churches and the destruction of entire Christian communities, it really makes you thankful that you live here, in America.

America, where Christians are safe. Not only safe, but where Christian ideals are front and center, a difference maker, a vital, indispensable part of our founding principles. You know, America, the protector of religious freedom.

 The nation founded by leaders such as George Washington, who once told the Delaware Indian chiefs "You do well to learn our arts and our ways of life and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ." Such as Thomas Jefferson, who said "I am a real Christian - that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ." Such as Benjamin Franklin, who said "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see."

The United States of America, a nation clearly founded by Christian men and women, and clearly built up over the centuries by many more of the same, such as Abraham Lincoln: "Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him, who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust, in the best way, all our present difficulty."

Yet it is here, in that very America, where a large, increasingly hostile, increasingly antagonistic segment of society is actively moving on the attack against Christian morals and ethics. I believe that we are seeing the beginnings of an attempt to erase the practice of the Christian faith itself in America and around the globe. If it falls here in the United States, what other nation can hope to keep the faith standing?

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pray for Peace

Forgiveness, dialogue, reconciliation.

Today, Pope Francis called on all Catholics, in fact all people interested in peace, to pray for Syria in the wake of the terrible atrocities and death that have visited this cradle of Christianity and which threaten to explode even further in the coming days and weeks.

Those three words: forgiveness, dialogue, and reconciliation are what the Pope said today are the necessary ingredients for true peace. This is true in Syria, the whole Middle East, throughout the world, and in our own individual lives.

Forgiveness is the beginning. Who has hurt you in your life? Everyone has been hurt, and some of that pain has left long-lasting scars, sometimes even open, festering wounds. How do you even begin to consider ever forgiving anyone who has hurt you so deeply?

Consider this: God created you in His image and likeness. He loves you unquestioningly. Yet you still sin. You still deny him, or ignore him, or place your desires above his. He sent his own Son to us, and allowed him to suffer and die for those sins. In doing so, he forgave it all. His only Son paid the price for you.

If God can forgive you after all your sins, and can take such a drastic measure to ensure your redemption, how can you not forgive another weak human being who has fallen short and hurt you?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Down the Stretch They Come!

For hardcore baseball fans like myself, this is the most wonderful time of the year. The weather will begin to turn cooler, daylight will fade faster, but the pennant races will be heating up and the stars will come out to shine as the MLB regular season comes to a climax this month.

Tonight, those races really begin to get going with tremendous matchups that have post-season implications for both teams involved taking place in four cities, and with games involving potential playoff contenders also happening in at least a half dozen other locales.

Perhaps no more directly important series of games will be taking place this weekend than the 3-game set at Busch Stadium between the host Saint Louis Cardinals and visiting Pittsburgh Pirates.

Pittsburgh enters the series in first place in the National League Central Division, a game and a half in front of the second place Cards. So the battle for that title is a head-to-head one, fairly clear-cut. But not totally clear-cut, since the Cincinnati Reds sit just three games off the pace. The Reds will take part in another of those big weekend series, as they host the NL West Division leaders, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Those are by far the two biggest series taking place this weekend in the NL, and there are also a pair of biggies in the American League.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

EWTN News Nightly

On Tuesday evening, anchor Colleen Carroll Campbell signed on to the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) live at 6pm EDT to launch the latest, and perhaps most ambitious and necessary, Catholic television since the network began over three decades ago.

For one night in each of the next few weeks, and then ultimately on an as-advertised nightly basis later in the fall, the world will begin receiving coverage of the stop news stories of the day with a Catholic Christian perspective on "EWTN News Nightly."

Colleen, a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center is a particularly astute choice to become the first "face" of this type of program on the largest religious media network in the world. She is a respected journalist, author, broadcaster, and also the lone female speech writer to President George W. Bush. She has published a pair of books: 2002's "The New Faithful" and her new release "My Sisters the Saints" published last year.

Colleen has experience with EWTN previously, where she has become noted for her interview program "Faith & Culture" since 2006, which is still airing regularly. In it, she goes one-on-one each episode with a leading Catholic intellectual leader on a wide variety of important issues.

She is also the exact type of woman that far-left liberals love to hate: an attractive, articulate, intelligent female who is an unashamed spokesperson for her faith. Her style is far more accommodating than attacking. She presents her opinions with a soft, easy clarity that can be disarming to modern television viewers and radio listeners who have become used to the ravenous and bitter tone in much of today's media talking heads and pundits.

On the first night of broadcasting, "News Nightly" began and highlighted it's coverage with an in-depth and multi-faceted coverage of the current crisis in Lybia. True to its Catholic mission, EWTN not only covered the news story straight, but also discussed effects of the crisis on the Christian community in the area.

It was fairly obvious that this was a dipping of the network's collective feet in the water, production wise. My guess is there will be some tweaks to the set and the style as the show does indeed move to true nightly status. But it was all-in-all an exciting opening night for anyone looking for something different in the way our news stories are presented.

I am personally looking forward to becoming a regular viewer of this program as it grows, already having set my DVR to record the next episode. I would encourage not only all Catholics and other Christians, but anyone interested in a somewhat different but no less important take on top news stories to give "EWTN News Nightly" a try.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Syrian Cesspool

I put up this map of Syria as the primary graphic accompaniment to this story in order to show people just where the country is located in relation to the rest of the cesspool that is the Middle East.

Syria lies just to the northeast of Israel, our lone reliable ally in the region, and the single nation that we need to be concerned with helping there. It lies up against the western border of Iraq, still a dangerous place in itself, despite our efforts of the past decade.

Now, like every nation, Syria has a long, deep, rich history that cannot be perfectly encapsulated in any short blurb of a story. But perhaps most importantly, today it is the site of major internal conflict between the Islamic Sunni and Shia factions and their allies.

For nearly five decades, from 1963-2011, Syria was under Emergency Law, ostensibly due to the ongoing tensions and at times war with Israel over the Golan Heights. This effectively suspended most constitutional protections for its citizens.

Bashar al-Assad, currently accused by the Obama administration of using chemical weapons on his own citizens, has been President since 2000, when he took over the reigns from his father who had served for 30 years.

In December of 2010, what has become known as the 'Arab Spring' began, a series of both violent and non-violent uprisings, demonstrations, protests, riots, and civil wars across the Arab world.

The aims were to overthrow and end the rule of authoritarian regimes that were politically corrupt and that in many cases stood accused of committing human rights violations. The movement has resulted thus far in the overthrowing of regimes in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

All This Twerking's Got Me Smirking

In case you were wondering, that's former 'tween' star Miley Cyrus in the picture to the left. A few years ago, you and your kids knew her as the star of the "Hannah Montana" franchise from Disney Channel.

Those days are apparently long gone, at least as far as Miley herself is concerned. Last week in a performance on the MTV Video Music Awards that could perhaps be described as a sad attempt at being raunchy, she decided to come out of her pop queen shell and start twerking in public.

What the heck is "twerking", you might be asking? Well, according to the Oxford Dictionary Online, 'twerking' is "to dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance."

First introduced in the early-90's, the word is of dubious origin, but likely a contraction of the words 'twist' and 'jerk', and was used in that decade in the lyrics of some hip-hop songs.

While I could never be accused of having been a prude to this point in my life, and can certainly appreciate a beautiful, fit, young woman exploring her sexuality and trying to bring a former kiddie image to a more mature one, something just struck me as being very wrong with that Miley Cyrus performance.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Liberals Must Stand Up to Obama

The cries have been going out far and wide regarding President Barack Obama from the very beginning.

He is a Chicago-machine politician with a strong lean towards Socialism, and he will plunge the country deeper into debt while dismantling capitalism and further dividing the nation ideologically.

It turns out that all of this is true. Everything that was cried out has either come to pass, is in the process of coming to be, or has been actively and publicly discussed by the Obama administration as a goal and/or actual plan being drawn up.

The debt and the size of federal government has grown, jobs and the economy remain stagnant, the people's political ideological gulf has widened.

There is one big problem here: the only people doing anything about it are Republicans.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Comeback of a Blogger

Back in February and March of this year, 2013, I told myself that I was going to get back into writing for this then-neglected blog on a regular basis.

After peaking my activity in 2008 and 2009, when I was posting up a new story on a pace that was almost every other day, I dropped to 79 in 2010, 26 in 2011, and then a barely once a month pace of 16 last year.

So what happened? For the most part, Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media happened. When I did get time to express myself, those were the chosen outlets. It generally took much less work and thought to put together, and there was much fun and enjoyment to be gained. But slowly I have come to the realization that it simply isn't enough.

What writing a blog allows is a greater depth of expression on issues, when that is what you want to communicate. Every entry doesn't have to be long or wordy. It doesn't have to be on a topic of epic importance either. But it does give you a chance to go beyond the Twitter limits of 140 characters, and it allows you to feel more writing ownership than Facebook.

The history of this "mattveasey.com" blog goes all the way back to 2004, and so there is also an investment of my time and talent, and my name, that are intimately involved.

So I'm making a comeback. I will be writing here more. The topics will be as they always have been, things that interest me the most, from family to faith, politics to culture, sports to media, and more.

There will be a comeback for some of the old "feature" editions as well, including the "Rock and Roll Heaven" series, the "Real American Heroes" series, and of course I will continue to honor an "American of the Year" at the end of December.

I hope that if you enjoyed my writing in the past, whether you always agreed or not, that you enjoy once again. I will be sharing links to what, in my opinion, are the best or most interesting or most informative articles at both my Facebook page and Twitter feeds.

Let the comeback begin.....

Thursday, March 21, 2013

MLB 2013 Predictions

As much as it pains me to say it, the best team in the National League East Division is no longer my beloved Philadelphia Phillies. In fact, the Fightin' Phils no longer have the best starting pitching rotation either.

Just two years removed from Philly winning a franchise record 102 games behind their "Four Aces" rotation, a Washington Nationals team that finished below .500 that same year has passed them on both counts.

The Nationals are my pick to not only win the NL East, but to capture the National League Pennant as well as win the franchise' first-ever World Series crown. There are a number of reasons for that pick, which I will get into in a bit. But don't count those aging Phillies out either. They may no longer be favorites, but they are most certainly at the very least a Wildcard playoff contender.

Let's begin, however, with the American League. A year ago in the AL, I chose as my division winners the New York Yankees, Detroit Tigers, and Texas Rangers, and said the Wildcards would come from among the Red Sox, Rays, and the Angels. Not too bad, as the Yanks and Tigers did indeed win their divisions, and the Rangers made the playoffs. 

What I never saw coming the the AL in 2012, you never saw coming either - the Orioles and the Athletics. The O's took a Wildcard, and the A's won the AL West, and neither teams was predicted by many to even have a .500 season in them. The Rays and Angels did each have strong seasons, falling just short of the playoffs, but the Red Sox collapsed completely.

At this point, I am a little bit worried about what I see coming in 2013 for the American League. Worried, because it seems pretty clear to me what should happen. I'm calling the Divisional winners as the Toronto Blue Jays (east), Detroit Tigers (central), and Los Angeles Angels (west), and the Wildcards as the Tampa Bay Rays and the Texas Rangers.

No disrespect to either the A's or the Orioles, but I just do not see their runs continuing, though both teams have enough talent to finish above .500 and make life miserable again for the front-runners. But I believe the overall talent of the other clubs will be enough over 162 games.

In particular, I think the Detroit Tigers should once again be the favorites to return to the World Series by successfully defending their Central division crown and A.L. Pennant. With Justin Verlander fronting a rotation that includes Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister, and a potential breakout from Rick Porcello, the Detroit rotation is in the top 3 of the league.

A year ago the Tigers offense was almost exclusively made up of the dynamic 1-2 punch of MVP and Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and his cleanup protector, Prince Fielder. This year the Tigers add veteran outfielder Torii Hunter and returning DH Victor Martinez, making them deeper and more dangerous.

The Blue Jays made the biggest off-season splash, and it rightly puts the pressure on them to take an Eastern crown. Last year's NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey fronts a rotation that includes talented Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson. The offense has Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera, and one of the game's best youngsters in 3rd baseman Brett Lawrie.

For the 2nd straight off-season, the Angels signed the biggest name offensive player available. Now Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo, and 2012 Rookie of the Year Mike Trout are joined by Josh Hamilton. The Halos rotation needs top guy Jered Weaver to stay healthy and productive, and could use a bounce-back by C.J. Wilson. They have a strong, deep bullpen that could help any rotation issues.

The wheels fell off a year ago for the Red Sox. They may be about to fall off for their main rivals, the Yankees, in 2013. A pair of darhorse teams reside in the Central, where both the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians have renewed spirit and improved rosters. Yet to be seen is just how much better those clubs will really be on the field.

Now on to the National League, where 4 of the last 5 World Series winners have come out of, and where the winner should again come from this season. My personal crystal ball is not as clear here as it seemed to feel with the AL clubs, and so it will take some sorting out to pick the winners.

In the West division, the San Francisco Giants have won 2 of the last 3 World Series crowns, have the NL MVP in catcher Buster Posey, and return an imposing rotation fronted by Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, and Ryan Vogelsong. They have a deep, veteran bullpen. The offense again leaves much to be desired on paper, but Posey has proven run producers around him in Hunter Pence, Angel Pagan, and World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent a ton of money since taking on new ownership last year that features former Lakers icon Magic Johnson. They brought in the top arm on the FA market in righty Zack Greinke to go with ace lefty Clayton Kershaw. But this is also a team with a number of high-priced players that have been either physically or emotionally fragile in the past. If they want the Division crown, they have to prove they are better than the Giants on the field.

In the Central division, the Reds and Cardinals again appear the class of the race. Shin-Soo Choo should further deepen the batting order which already included MVP candidate 1st baseman Joey Votto, veteran 2nd baseman Brandon Phillips, slugger Jay Bruce, and young left-side infielders Todd Frazier and Zack Cozart. The rotation is sneaky good with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo, and Homer Bailey. 

Perhaps the biggest decision in the entire National League will be made in the next week or so, as the Reds decide what to do with fireballing Cuban Aroldis Chapman. It says here he should be the closer, where he would simply dominate. But if they feel he can hold up in the rotation, that may be best, and there is bullpen depth to make up for his loss there.

The Cardinals are always good, and will be again. With Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and Allen Craig at the dish, and Adam Wainwright fronting a rotation that should be bolstered soon by the arrival of top prospect Shelby Miller, they may be just a little short to actually beat out Cincy.

The NL East could be one of the most fascinating in the game in 2013 among the top 3 teams, with my call being the Washington Nationals to successfully defend their Division crown, and with the Phillies and Braves to battle for 2nd place and for a Wildcard spot in the playoffs.

The Nationals have the top rotation in all of baseball in Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, Dan Haren, Gio Gonzalez, and Ross Detwiler. They have solid veteran run producers in Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Adam LaRoche. And they have the NL Rookie of the Year, one of the best young talents the game has ever seen, in left fielder Bryce Harper. They are strong up the middle with center fielder Denard Span, shortstop Ian Kinsler, and 2nd baseman Danny Espinosa.

Another factor that cannot be overlooked with the Nationals is that this is likely manager Davey Johnson's final year at the helm in their dugout. One of the best in the business, he will definitely be motivated to go out on top. And this is a team that is built to win. They have depth and flexibility with their backup players and in their bullpen, rotation, and minor leagues.

The Atlanta Braves are advertised as having one of the best outfields in all of baseball after the big off-season splash of adding the Upton brothers, B.J. and Justin. They will play center and left, with Jason Heyward in right. Two strong youngsters in 1st baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons, slugging 2nd baseman Dan Uggla, and all-star catcher Brian McCann give the Braves a lot of weapons if healthy and productive.

On the mound, Atlanta leans on veteran Tim Hudson to front a talented group of kids including Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy and Julio Teheran. Veteran Paul Maholm has also done well since coming in trade. Their bullpen is as talented, led by the games top closer in young Craig Kimbrell. He is set-up by a variety of tough left-right combos including Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty, and Jordan Walden.

I am picking the Divisional winners as the Washington Nationals, San Francisco Giants, and Cincinnati Reds. My Wildcard picks are the Braves and the team whose post-season hopes I simply am not yet ready to completely let go of: my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.

Why do I think the Phils' can return to the playoffs? It starts with what remains a strong rotation. Cole Hamels is now the ace, being paid like it, and getting the Opening Day nod. Cliff Lee has a terrible win-loss record last year and all-star caliber stats in every other way. Roy Halladay is one of the greatest pitchers of the last decade. I have confidence that he will find a way to overcome his struggles and remain effective. Kyle Kendrick has gotten better and better, and is a prime breakout candidate.

The lineup was crippled a year ago by the loss of the big right-side infield combo of 1st baseman Ryan Howard and 2nd baseman Chase Utley effectively missing the entire first half of the season. Once they returned and began clicking, the Phils made a run to finish at the .500 mark. Both men look healthy this spring, and those will be a pair of huge bats in the lineup from Day 1. 

A pair of newcomers, veteran Michael Young and young Ben Revere bring talent to the 3rd base and center field spots. Jimmy Rollins and Carlos Ruiz (after serving an April suspension) return with leadership and productive abilities. But perhaps the biggest revelation in the lineup could be right fielder Domonic Brown, who this spring seems to finally be living up to his hype and promise. With Howard, Utley, Young, and Brown making a difference, the Phils lineup is much stronger than a year ago.

The Phillies have one of the game's top 1-2 bullpen punches now in closer Jonathan Papelbon and primary setup man Mike Adams. With Antonio Bastardo, Chad Durbin, and a cast of big, strong, young arms supporting them, the Phillies bullpen should prove to be a strength this time around for manager Charlie Manuel.

So there you have it, my crystal ball for the teams of Major League Baseball in 2013: Toronto, Detroit, and LA to win the AL Division races, Texas and Tampa Bay to take the Wildcards there. Washington, Cincinnati, and San Francisco to win the NL Divsion races, with Atlanta and the Phillies to take the Wildcards in the senior circuit. And the Washington Nationals to defeat the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.

Monday, February 11, 2013

You Are Worthy

One of my favorite things to do over the past few years has been serving my local Catholic parish church, Saint Christopher's, as a lector. I get to utilize the gift of public speaking that was given to me by God in presenting his Word to my community of believers. That is, quite frankly, a humbling honor.

In doing so, not only do I read something out loud, but I also am reading for myself. It is not only an exercise in dramatics or presentation meant to inspire my fellow parishioners and visitors to our church, but also a learning exercise, an educational and inspirational one, for me as an individual.

The topic of the readings at this week's Sunday Mass services were, as they frequently are, tied together in a theme that is very appropriate for both the time of year, but also one that presents a message of importance for every human being alive today.

The message is that God believes, no matter what your actions, your thoughts, or your current state of belief, disbelief, or practice, that you are worthy of his love.

In the first reading, taken from the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah tells the story of a vision in which he is presented with God sitting on his heavenly throne, and then of angels appearing to him.