How Did We Get Here From There?

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue…so goes the rhyme. But now some in our fair land want to send Columbus back to ‘the other side” as my grandmother would say. The other side of the ocean that is. But what we have once again is some who insist on judging yesterday’s behavior with today’s information.

During its heyday, if you can call it that, the Klu Klux Klan targeted statues of Columbus and all things that were associated with the explorer. Christopher Columbus that did not fit into their white supremacy world view. He was not English or Protestant but Italian and worse, Catholic. As those of us who had grandparents or great-grandparents who came from southern Europe, know from their stories that they were not considered white people. In fact, it would come as a shock to them that Columbus is now being derided as a symbol of white supremacy. Those who are now insisting images of Columbus be consigned to the waste bin can now partner with the KKK. Strange bedfellows.

Since we have just celebrated Columbus Day, the attacks are becoming more intense. The statue of Columbus on 59th Street in New York is now under 24 hour police guard! I think the City knows that if the statue comes down, there will be a lot of disgruntled Italian-Americans and Catholics to boot. Some lines need to be maintained. After all the statues of Columbus and the Holiday were and are ways the Italian-American and Catholic community celebrate its contributions to this country. Much like the MLK Holiday and the monument in DC (District of Columbia) is a source of pride for the Black community in this country.

One of the latest charges thrown at Columbus was that he was Islamophobic. The reason Columbus started on his journey was to find a quicker route to Asia. His personal goal was to get there before the Ottoman Turks who had taken over the Holy Land and parts of Europe and brought with them their religion. Columbus’ goal was to bring Christianity to Asia even if the Spanish Crown’s motivation was to find a better trade route to the East Indies.

No doubt Columbus was Catholic through and through. He insisted on his ships that fast days be observed, daily prayers recited and even made the sailors chant the Salve Regina every evening. So, Columbus brought with him the Catholic Faith and the Spanish language which today is dominate in much of the Caribbean and Latin America. To this day, in many Latin American countries, Columbus is highly celebrated as the one who gave the world, so to speak, Hispanics. Dia de la Raza, The Day of the Race, as it is called in many places.

But if we judge yesterday’s behavior with today’s information, Columbus and his explorers did things we would not do today. But that’s how it is, if we learn anything and improve our consciousness. In my childhood, everybody smoked cigarettes, everywhere: at home, in the car (with children in it) at the movies, in restaurants and Department Stores. Young people today might call that barbaric, abusive, oppressive even genocidal. Simply put, we know more today than we did then.

I wonder what it would be like, if based on the biographies written about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and his “extracurricular activities”, his personal moral failings, we rescinded the National Holiday, took down the monument and renamed all those streets? I would suspect that the Black Community would be outraged and insulted. And I would join them in feeling that way.

So as a Catholic, Italian-American, I find it insulting, short-sighted and historically ignorant to dismiss Columbus as a purveyor of hate. But if you want to be on the side of the KKK, America (named after Amerigo Vespucci) still has freedom of speech.

Be careful when you judge yesterday’s behavior with today’s information.

Love,

Fr. John B.

 


~J
Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. -Psalm 119:105

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Las Vegas

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

I admit, one of my “guilty pleasures” is, well, Las Vegas. The town fascinates me. There’s really nowhere like it: not Reno or Laughlin, Atlantic City or Macau nor even Monte Carlo. Where else can you have breakfast in Paris, pranzo in Venice, supper in New York and dessert in Egypt? Someone even came up with the idea to build a lake in the middle of the desert and put in it dancing fountains choreographed to music! Human imagination and ingenuity at its most entertaining. Las Vegas is a fun reality escape for most adults for a day or two unless you are prone to greed, lust or too much booze.

With all its illusions and excess, don’t forget that God is also very much present in Las Vegas. Not so much for praying that you hit the progressive or win your money back. No, not in that sense. Rather the Church in Las Vegas is big and growing way beyond the Strip. My old friend, from way back when, Bishop Pepe (we were assigned together to the same Parish back in our Philly days) is in a nice competition with Bishop Olmsted to see who holds the record for the fastest growing Catholic Diocese in the US. At this point I think Bishop Olmsted is a bit ahead!

Still, when you go to Vegas, you expect to lose a little money, hopefully not your shirt but definitely not your life. The last thing visitors are probably thinking about is their death. What makes the recent massacre even more bitter is that so many of the victims were young people, looking ahead to their lives not their deaths. All this calls to mind the sobering fact that we will each face physical death, on a day and at a time not of our choosing, often without warning and not within our control. So, whether death comes from an earthquake, hurricane, car crash or mad man with a rifle we should avoid thinking that it only happens to other people. As Donna Bird often says about her husband Gary, who died in the Twin Towers on 9/11: “my husband knew he was going to New York for a meeting, what he didn’t know was that it was a meeting with God.”

Therefore, we should do our best to be prepared for the moment of our death. For while we might not know the day nor the hour, nor have control of the how, we do have some control over what happens next: our souls can be prepared to meet our God. As the scriptures tell us, “don’t let the sun go down on your wrath”, reconcile with one another, repent of serious sin, go to confession regularly. On the paten that I use at daily Mass is an inscription from 1 Peter 5:8: “Stay sober and alert, your opponent, the Devil is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour”. It’s a daily reminder to me of how high the stakes really are for each of us.

We as Catholics have the wonder benefit of “sacramentals”, visible, tangible signs of faith. These include wearing the Brown Scapular, or a Crucifix or holy medal, having a rosary in your pocket. All these might come in handy as visible reminders at the moment of death that give you the presence of mind to pray an Act of Contrition or beg Jesus for Mercy. And maybe when the rescuers find you, they might notice the Catholic symbols and call for a priest. Or in the case of the Las Vegas victims, many priests of the Diocese went to the hospitals, while they prayed with everyone, having a sacramental on your person could help a priest identify Catholics for the anointing or Last Rites.

None of us knows what spiritual state these victims of the Las Vegas shooting were in, nor can we judge. But the beauty of our Catholic faith instructs us to pray for the deceased and that our prayers and sacrifices can be efficacious for their souls. So offer a Mass or your communion for these departed, say a Rosary for them. Also, since we are still in the Jubilee Year of Our Lady of Fatima, you can gain a plenary indulgence and earmark the grace, not for yourself but for one of the victims. Remember while an indulgence does not forgive sin, it does remove the temporal consequences of sin or the spiritual consequences that each of us has to amend. These souls probably did not get the chance to do that, so sudden and unexpected was their deaths, but through the bonds of fraternal charity and because of the Resurrection we remain spiritually connected despite physical death, we can still assist them with our prayers.

Finally, when you go on vacation or take your mini reality escape wherever, don’t forget to take God with you, make sure you are spiritually fit and your house is in order. Don’t go on vacation from your vocation. Then have lots of fun.

 

Viva Las Vegas.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

A Different Take

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

When I came to Arizona, I was predisposed to not like Sheriff Joe. I had worked in Jails and Prisons for about a dozen years and “the toughest Sheriff in America” was pretty infamous in the correctional world. His use of stripped uniforms, pink underwear, and bologna sandwiches always seemed to me an unnecessary humiliation that didn’t add much to correctional goals.  I admit I had some liking for the chain gangs, not so much the chains but putting inmates to work, as most of them actually prefer to do something rather than sit around idle all day.

But I admit that a change of perspective, going from gazing from the outside in, to seeing things up close and personal gave me somewhat of a change of heart. I still don’t think the uniforms and bologna sandwiches are necessary (especially since I don’t like bologna), but that shouldn’t overshadow some of the other effective policies and practices of the former Sheriff. After the Presidential pardon, there has been a whole lot of piling on about his contempt of court conviction and overlooked are some of the things Sheriff Joe did that were actually helpful to our county.

First, he kept Maricopa County rather safe. No easy task considering the expansive geography and the fact that Maricopa County is one of the fasting growing counties in the U.S., but more significantly, his department kept on top of the Sinaloa Drug Cartel that operates in our cities. Granted, the drugs flow pretty freely, but we have not seen the violence that blights Mexico just across the border. Along with that, he targeted the human traffickers that have created the biggest humanitarian tragedy in Arizona when the Federal government has turned a blind eye. And by the way, whenever the Parish needs assistance the Sheriff’s Department responds quickly, plus because of the Posse Program, Sheriff’s Deputies have provided security for our Parish Festival for many years.

Then there’s Tent City. To me, it is a horrifying place that I want to avoid. But then again, that is part of the point: deterrence. Don’t break the law; look what awaits you. Not for me. Over the years I have met dozens of people who were “guests” at Tent City and they all emphatically declare they never wanted to return; ergo, they would find ways to change their lives so as not to return. Again, unexpectedly, the “tents” served a correctional goal, especially for first time offenders.

Jails and prisons operate on a series of very inflexible rules that can make it difficult for citizen volunteers to access the compounds. The Maricopa County Jails were always wide open to citizen led programs: religious, educational, rehabilitative. Our Diocesan Prison Ministry rarely had a hard time accessing the jails which is important since one of the goals of the “penitentiary” is penance – that is, resetting your moral compass. Additionally, many 12 Step Groups conduct meetings in the jails each week, again critically important when you consider the overwhelming majority of crimes are drug and alcohol related. Simply put, Sheriff Joe and his jail managers did not put unnecessary roadblocks in the way of citizen led programs.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the AZ Dept. of Corrections. I have found them very unfriendly to Catholic Prison Ministry, and members of 12 Step Groups need infinite patience when dealing with the Department.

Then, of course, there is the issue of immigration. Should one of the chief law enforcement officers in the county or state actually enforce the law? All the laws, just some laws? Who decides which ones? Sheriff Joe’s cooperation with ICE, his enforcement of AZ E-Verify Law with employers, his raids all exposed a raw nerve in our country over a problem that no one seems to want to fix. Whether you agreed or disagreed with his enforcement practices, the Sheriff brought the issue to our attention (and the Supreme Court’s attention, as well). Unfortunately, we are still a long way from solving the problem of human trafficking, stopping the flow of drugs, and finding solutions to the immigration status of millions of people, as well as fixing the byzantine immigration laws.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio did not shy away from controversy.  He knew how to use the media for his purposes and was not the type of person you could be lukewarm about. All in all, though I disagreed with some of his tactics, over the years I grew to appreciate him and what he was trying to do for the people of Maricopa County. I am especially grateful for the easy access to the Maricopa County Jails that he facilitated. So many of our elected officials are expert at obfuscating and never really telling us what they think or where they stand – not so for Sheriff Joe. Love him or hate him, he left an impression.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

Stop Complaining And Do Something

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

We all probably have a relative or a neighbor whose vocation it is to complain – constantly. They bemoan the state of affairs but never lift a finger to help better things. They quickly get boorish. So, it goes with those who are having a spittle-flecked hissy fit and engaging in extreme self-righteous moral preening over the President’s recent executive order winding down the DACA program. I’m thinking specifically about our congressmen and senators. The President has thrown them the ball, but they seem reluctant to catch it and put some points on the board.

I recently heard Sen. McCain snarl and scoff at how unfair it is to rescind these work visas for the DACA recipients. Along with so many others, he kept chanting how mean and evil Trump is and how this is the worst thing ever to happen in the history of ever. But what he did not say is that the Constitution gives Congress the explicit authority to PERMANENTLY fix this problem and that, as a Senator, he would lead the effort to give the Dreamers permanent legal status. No, he did not say any of that. He seems content to complain about the sad state of affairs.

President Obama issued the executive order after Congress refused to act. He even admitted the order was on shaky legal ground. When he issued DAPA (for the parents of the Dreamers), the Federal Court declared it unconstitutional so it is highly likely that DACA would suffer the same fate. And then what? With the stroke of a pen of a Court order one minute, the Dreamers have legal status and then puff, they lose it. Just like with marriage, one minute it’s man and woman, and then the next minute, it’s not. What President Obama did was “defer” their deportation. Defer means to put off to some future point. That could be a Court Order or another President rescinding the Order. If Caesar can give, Caesar can take away.

So even though the Dreamers had legal status, it was temporary which means they were never on stable ground. Now the Congress has the chance to put them on stable ground. So if you are upset over what the President did, stop complaining and DO SOMETHING. Call your Congress person or our two Senators; send them an email; post them a letter; visit their local offices, and do it repeatedly until they take action and fix this.

Lots of people both inside and outside the Church have been quoting Old Testament scripture about the treatment of the immigrant and, of course, what would Jesus do? (It would be nice if they actually read the Catechism which gives the official teaching on this issue in #2241) There is lots of self-riotousness going around. There are even calls from religious leaders to break the law to help the Dreamers avoid deportation. I wonder if these same people are willing to break the law to save innocent unborn babies in the womb from “deportation from their mother’s womb?”  Probably not. The reason for that is that does not score them any political points. You see, what is truly immoral is to use people, in this case the Dreamers, as political pawns to score points or to demonstrate how much you ooze compassion, and everyone else doesn’t.

And that is the real issue here. So many in our political and religious class are content to use the legal status of a person to score political points. No one really wants to fix the overall problem because then they couldn’t use the issue to beat up those who disagree with them. Rather than fix the problem, they use human beings to further their agendas. That is immoral.

What is truly “reprehensible” is sitting around bemoaning the awful state of affairs and taking no action. Now is the time to engage the democratic process and push hard for a permanent resolution for the Dreamers.

Love, Fr. John B

Police State

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

You might recall the words of the Marvin Gaye song, “What’s Goin’ On?”  “Father, Father, we don’t need to escalate; war is not the answer. Only love can conquer hate.” There is a great deal of escalation going on these days, and worse still, it seems too few are trying to de-escalate the tension and conflict. De-escalation is a key goal in any conflict situation, so that calm heads can prevail and solutions are found. One area in which there has been increased escalation is between many communities and local law enforcement. We are all familiar with the clashes and cases of excessive use of force, as well as claims of racism. Hostility between law enforcement and the community never works out well – especially for the community. After all, that thin blue line is often all that separates us from the law of the jungle. Additionally, when things really go south, it will be the local police, who live in our communities and are our family members and friends that we must rely on and who will be loyal to us.

Still, there are trends that tend to escalate the tension between local communities and local police. One of them is the increased militarization of the local police forces. In the 1990’s, President Clinton allowed local police districts to obtain surplus military equipment until, after lots of pressure, in 2015 President Obama rescinded the permission, and now President Trump has just reinstated it. Along with military grade equipment comes military style training. And so, what can happen is that local police may react more like soldiers on a battle field than community based policing. Additionally, along with using military grade equipment comes displays of intimating force. That is a sure way to escalate the hostility. Though it may feel like it at times, we are not living in a war zone and when police show up to execute a search warrant with an entire outfitted swat team, it is an excessive use of force. It seems to me that the military are outfitted to intimidate, but local police should be more skilled in de-escalating local tensions and restoring the peace.

Policing is dangerous, no doubt about that. Most of us would be appalled to see what they see on a daily basis.  I realize police need the proper equipment and resources to do their jobs, but I am not sure why they need bayonets or an 8-ton armored Bear Cat. I am sure there may be non-lethal uses for this equipment, but it sends the message to the community that rather than being protected, we might be seen as the enemy. That is not an exaggeration. This is what has set many communities on edge with confrontations with local police. When you cultivate a military mindset, and you have military grade equipment, sooner or later you probably want to use it all. De-escalating the tensions does not seem to be helped by having the local police morph into a paramilitary force. We have the National Guard for those situations. Our communities don’t need warrior cops but peace officers whom the community can trust.

So how do we restore trust and confidence between local communities and local law enforcement? The most obvious way is to get to know each other better and to push local mayors and leaders to push for more community based policing. How many of us know any of the law enforcement officers who are responsible for our community safety? How well do they know us? We can be the agents of “de-escalation” and find ways to have better relations with our local police departments. This means we shouldn’t wait around for things to change but take the initiative to show our support, express our concerns, and build trusting relationships with our local law enforcement.

This also must include our prayers for law enforcement, firefighters, correctional officers and first responders. Confronted with the uglier side of human nature, it is easy to become jaded and cynical. They need our prayers as well as our support.

St. Michael, Heavenly Commissioner of Police, watch over your earthly force who protects us.

Love,

Fr. John B.

Iconoclasm

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Iconoclasm – the destruction of images or hostility towards visual representations in general – has come to Marin County. San Domenico Catholic School in San Anselmo, CA, has decided to remove many of the statues that graced its campus so as to create a less “in-your-face” Catholic environment. Now to be fair, you can make a case for toning things down in service of a subtler evangelization effort. This can be a workable strategy, especially if the clientele is not familiar with Catholic devotional practices, and you want to gently begin the process of evangelization. But that does not seem to be the case here.  The school also removed the word “catholic” from its mission statement and made the school uniforms “less catholic” in appearance. The school has simply lost its reason for being. It apparently wants to be a high end (tuition is $30k+) all-inclusive school “in the Catholic tradition.” So be it. But the school should be honest to its students and families that it is no longer part of the educational ministry of the Church and that it is not interested in forming young minds and hearts to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

Speaking of Iconoclasm, we are seeing lots of it lately. The Church went through its own iconoclastic controversies in the 7th and 8th centuries.  Iconoclasm rocked the Church for about one hundred years at the time of the Byzantine Empire. The exact causes of it are unclear, but the consequences were tremendous social, cultural, and political upheaval. The Emperor at the time, Leo III, took a position against icons and other images, which resulted in their removal from churches. The end result was pretty much civil war, with the Emperor and his supporters fighting against many patriarchs, bishops, and clergy who defended icons. Two of the more stalwart defenders of icons were St. John Damascene and St. Theodore the Studite. Eventually, things calmed down, and the theological foundation for icons was firmed up, and icons were restored to Churches. St. John Damascene taught that an icon was a visible representation of a concrete person, in this case, Jesus Christ.  God becomes visible as a person, and thus an icon is proof of his incarnation (as St. Paul stated: Jesus Christ is the visible image of the invisible God). We cannot depict divinity since it is invisible, and any attempt to do so would be a false image of a false god and this idolatry. But the fact that Christ can be depicted witnesses to God’s incarnation.

In the meantime, we are currently engaged in our own secular iconoclastic controversy as we see Confederate Civil War monuments torn down. The fact is that during times of civil unrest and political turmoil, statues and symbols of the past become targets. It is really not all that surprising. Remember how we all cheered when we watched the Iraqi’s tear down a statue of Saddam Hussein? Or Russians pull down the figure of Stalin? Or Berliners tear down the wall? It is all part of the way in which a society works out its tensions and, hopefully with good leadership, restores its balance. Having been born north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I admit I have always been a bit perplexed by Confederate symbols. I recall the first time as a boy I went South on a family vacation. I remember seeing the Confederate flag flying and asked my father why they were flying it and not the US flag. He simply said, “because it means something to these people.” And because they carry meaning, both positive and negative, these symbols also carry with them intense emotions and, as we are currently seeing, rather explosive confrontations.

But as the Iconoclastic Controversies of the 7th and 8th centuries show, things can get rather nasty for a time. It does look like we are engaged in a cultural civil war of sorts. The issue, of course, in the end is not the statue or monument but what we want our society (or Catholic School) to look like going forward. Now that is something to give serious consideration and prayer.

For now, each of us is being given an opportunity to be a sign of hope to those around. That hope is represented by the image of Jesus Christ who heals every division and brings peace which the world cannot give.

Love, Fr. John B.

 

PS Texas needs our help. You can donate to: Catholic Charities:  CatholicCharities.org/ helpforharvey   or St. Vincent de Paul:  svdphouston.org/services/ disaster-relief

Fr. Georges Lemaitre

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I found it a bit amusing how Americans can figure out ways to make a profit off a Solar Eclipse! Hotels,restaurants, and businesses along the path of totality all saw their business ledgers turn as black as the eclipsed light of the sun. Still, it was good for us to look up for a change and not down at our phone screens and to con- sider a subject that we give so little thought to in our times: cosmology. With each new change in understand- ing of the world at large, from the Copernican revolution to Newtonian physics to Einstein’s theory of Relativi- ty, comes a change in the way we understand ourselves as well. When it comes to faith and science, way too many people remember the Galileo affair, but few know that Einstein’s theory of Relativity was given its big- gest boost by a Catholic priest: Fr. Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest and mathematician. (what follows is from a wonderful blog that I encourage you to read: These Stone Walls: http://thesestonewalls.com/gordon- macrae/science-faith-big-bang-theory-creation/

Fr. Lemaitre used mathematics to present a model of the Universe based on Einstein’s own Theory of General Relativity which proposed that mass and energy create curvature of space-time causing particles of matter to follow a curved trajectory. Gravity, therefore, would bend not only matter, but light and even space itself. This had profound implications for science and was radically different from the reigning Newtonian physics which held that space is absolute and linear.
Even while demonstrating relativity, Einstein held to a “Steady State” theory of the Universe as being eternal, without beginning or end, and static. Using Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, Father Lemaitre created a mathematical model for the origin of the Universe concluding in 1927 that the Universe – including space and time – came into existence suddenly, some 13.7 billion years ago, from an explosive expansion of a tiny singu- larity that he called the “Primeval Atom.” The Universe, and time, were born on a day without yesterday. Sud- denly, a created Universe was back on the scientific table.

Father Lemaitre conceived of nothing in existence but a tiny speck into which was contained all matter and energy that we now know as the Universe, and in a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second, the Universe came into being in a moment of immeasurable heat and light. The resistance to this view within the scientific community was enormous. Einstein studied Lemaitre’s 1927 paper intensely but could find no fault in the mathematics behind his proposal. Einstein would not be a slave to mathematics, however, and simply could not conceive of his instinct about the mechanics of the Universe being wrong. “Your mathematics is perfect,” he told the priest, “but your physics is abominable.” Einstein would one day take back those words.
Two years later, in 1929, the astronomer Edwin Hubble – in whose honor is named the Hubble Space Tele- scope – demonstrated that the Universe was, in fact, not only not static, as Einstein insisted, but expanding. This lent scientific weight to Father Lemaitre’s primeval atom because if the Universe is expanding, then logic held that in the far distant past, it must have been much, much smaller while containing the same matter, mass, and energy. Lemaitre’s model traced the origin of the Universe back 13.7 billion years to a point of immeasura- ble mass and density that suddenly expanded giving birth not only to matter, but to the space-time continuum itself. Appearing at a symposium with Father Lemaitre in 1933, Einstein stood and applauded the priest declar- ing that his view – which is today called the Standard Model of cosmology – “is the most beautiful explanation of creation I have ever heard.”

All this is a long way of saying that the universe had a beginning, something that prior to the Big Bang Theory was rejected by many scientists. What Fr. Lemaitre showed was that the Book of Genesis was accurate: In the Beginning… But more importantly, he showed that the alleged conflict between faith and science was another cosmological misinterpretation, much as was the sun revolving around the earth. The real path of totali- ty includes reason and faith. They are not opposites but partners that allow the full light of truth to light up the world around us. We should all look up a little more often.

Love,
Fr. John B.