Recently in Personal Category

Fior go bas - faithful until death


It's the story I tell every year on this date. And still the tears come as their faces etch in my mind.

Eight years ago today, I was sitting in my office at the Diocese of Scranton tribunal. I wasn't suppose to be there. Sonya and I were getting ready to move to Florida that weekend. The Diocese of Venice in Florida had offered me a full-time position with the tribunal, and Scranton tribunal staff had taken me out to lunch the day before, to say our goodbyes.

I arrived home that evening. My in-laws had come down from Canada to help us pack, and everything was boxed and ready to go except for a few necessities. This would be our last week in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and with New York City a mere two-and-a-half hour drive, we had planned on taking the day off to visit the Statue of Liberty and the World Trade Center.

But it didn't happen. We received a phone call late that night from a hospital back in Canada. Sonya's grandfather had suffered a stroke. Plans were changed, and by the time we woke up the next morning my in-laws had rushed back to the ICU in Hamilton.

So here I was sitting in my office at the Scranton Tribunal, grumbling over a contentious divorce when I should have been taking in the New York Harbor skyline with my wife and daughter.

"A plane hit the World Trade Center," Linda shouted.

Everyone came running out of their offices and into the conference room. Someone - I think it was Joe - turned on the television. We watched as the building burned, wondering what had happened. Then the second plane hit. Both towers were burning.

We no longer wondered what was happening. Our thoughts turned to the many tradesmen, firefighters and police officers who lived in the easternmost part of the diocese, along the Pennsylvania/New York border, who commuted to the Big Apple each day. Catholics to whom we ministered to in the diocese.

The the Pentagon was hit. Some of the tribunal staff had family working there. Our thoughts shifted to them. Were they safe? We didn't know. The phone system was down.

Sonya and I were suppose to make our first stop in Washington, DC that weekend, to visit with David Alexander. David worked across the street from the Pentagon. Was he okay? There was no dial tone to his cell.

And of course our state was hit when United 93 went down. It could have been a lot worse, as we saw next door in New York and about five hours south in D.C. But the passengers rose up, fought back, and sacrificed their own lives to stop the terrorists and protect their fellow Americans. It was a strange moment for me. It still is. My feelings clashed between the horror of what happened, and the pride I felt for those passengers. As Kathy Shaidle and I wrote when dedicating Tyranny of Nice to their memory: "Fated to become victims, they chose to die heroes."

And so as I do every September 11 since, I dedicate three songs. The first is to the memory of United 93 heroes. Here is Jewel's performance of Hands on Letterman, which touched many of us and brought us together as we tried to make sense of what happened:

This second video is dedicated to American soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines (especially my blogmate Eric) who have fought and continue to fight for our freedom since then:

Finally, I dedicate this video to the Canadian soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan over the past year. In particular, Warrant Officer Gaetan Roberge and Master Corporal Scott Francis Vernelli, both of whom I knew personally. Please keep them in prayer.

Fior go bas, my friends, you lived up to your motto of faithful until death. You can stand easy, your battle is over.

They shall not grow old as we who are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.

[Scroll down for the update]

Some sad news about Bob Schindler, one of the most decent Catholic gentlemen my family and I have even been blessed to call our friend. He passed away of a heart attack this past week. Most of you know Bob as a loving father who for years fought to save the life of his daughter Terri Schindler-Schiavo. When the state permitted the man to whom Terri was still legally married (despite the fact he was engaged to another woman) to take Terri's life, Bob became a leading activist within the pro-life movement for people with disabilities.

Here is what Bobby Schindler, Jr., Bob's son who is also a pro-life leader, shared about the passing of his father:

Statement from Bobby Schindler Regarding the Death of His Father, Robert Schindler

I am heartbroken over the loss of my father and yet I know at this moment he is rejoicing with my sister, Terri. My dad was a man of integrity, character and compassion who was blessed with a close and loving family. He taught all three of his children to respect and value life and to love our fellow man.

Even at the height of the battle to save my sister Terri's life, when his patience and temperance was near exhaustion, he managed to display a gentleness of spirit. Yet it was his unfathomable strength that allowed him to shoulder up his own heartache and lead us through our darkest hour.

What greater legacy could a man leave behind?

I can understand your heartbreak, Bobby. Your father was a good man, as Sonya and I learned quickly when we joined your family on the picket line down in Florida. I will never forget Day 6 of the 2003 protest when, with Terri about to pass the point of no return, your father came over to offer us some cold drinks and Sonya a more comfortable seat.

Sonya was nine months pregnant with our second child, but she insisted we keep making the 90 minute trip each day. We asked him how he and Mary were doing.

"Worried," he replied.

Sonya and I expressed our understanding and sympathy, that it might be too late for Terri.

"Yes, we're worried about Terri," Bob said. "But we're worried about you, Sonya and the new baby too. Her due date is tomorrow, isn't it? We will be praying for a safe delivery. Let us know if there is anything we can do for you, and make sure you let us as soon as the baby comes."

I looked into his eyes. He was sincere. I was flabbergasted. His daughter was perilously close to being taken from him, he hadn't slept in months, fifteen video cameras were stalking him at every second, and he was expressing concern for our little family who had come to support him.

As I struggled to make sense of this, he began to tell me about the birth of each of his children. It was then that I understood. He was a man who practiced what he preached, who was fighting not only for his daughter Terri, but for my daughter who would be born in coming days, for your daughter, for all of our children. I had known that he was sincere, that he wasn't just show, but until that moment I had not realized the depth of his sincerity and love.

Sorry, the tears won't allow me to go on much longer.

You're a good man, Bob. You taught us all what a father's love for his family really means. I pray you go strait to Heaven because you've done your Purgatory here on earth. And when you see Terri, please give her a hug from us.

Rest in the peace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, my friend.

UPDATE: Here is the original 2003 CL blog entry, written near the "hospice", shortly after this discussion took place with Bob (Terri is doing fine, her parents are good people). For newer readers, Catholic Light was the main Catholic blog providing hospice-side updates in 2003 when the Florida judiciary ordered Terri Schindler-Schiavo's feeding tube pulled. Here's how I described our conversation then. I'm trying to read it myself but can't get past the tears. It's too much of a reminder of what a decent and loving father he was:

Terri's parents are among the kindest and most decent people I have ever met. Before we left to return home, Terri's father took us aside and asked if he could speak with us because he had heard from some of the nurses and paramedics at the vigil (the ones on our side) that Sonya looked like she was only a few days away from labor. He was concerned we might try and sneak up to the vigil between now and then.

To be honest, this wasn't an unreal possibility since the hospital is about half-way between where we live and the hospice where Terri is staying. Nevertheless, Mr. Schindler said: "As a father, I'm here for my baby. We really appreciate your prayers and support, but you two need to be there for your baby now. We know you're with us in prayer. But please come back with the baby as soon as you're rested and able to travel." I mention this because it is typical of the wisdom and compassion one finds with Terri's parents. Even as they undergo such a tremendous cross, they show great consideration in generosity in wanting to make sure we weren't neglecting our own family needs for the sake of theirs. Needless to say, we were stunned. "How could they even worry about us at a time like this?" Sonya asked. For my own part, I don't think I could be this self-less if that was my daughter in the hospice. However, this is just one example that reveals the character of Terri's family.

Thank-you, Bob.

Today, a dear friend of my brother and his fellow classmate at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia has passed on to eternal life. Deacon Adam Crowe was only 26 years old, and was to be ordained a priest this spring for the Diocese of Ogdensburg, New York. Deacon Crowe was a guest in our home when my brother Deacon Steve was home on free weekends. He was kind, compassionate, sharp, holy and dedicated totally to the Catholic faith and his formation to become a priest. He celebrated Steve's ordination last June with us and he assisted at Steve's first Mass as a deacon. He was an inspiration to us and would have been a wonderful priest.

Please pray for his family back in New York and his seminarian brothers at St. Charles, who all mourn an unexpected and profound loss.

I'm sure that Deacon Adam is on his way to rest in the Lord and to intercede for us all. May the peace of Christ be his, and be ours when God calls us home.

I figured Dom Bettinelli would be sending Twitter text updates from the maternity ward. However, the B's have exceeded my expectations, with fresh photos and Melanie Bettinelli live blogging her own delivery as well as Dom's live blogging.


Bloggers meet in CT


Fr. Jeff Keyes of the Rifugio San Gaspare blog is vacationing in Connecticut this week, and Fr. Mark Kirby, author of Vultus Christi, is back in the States after his time in Rome, so we three met today for Mass at the Benedictine convent where Fr. Mark serves as chaplain.


We sang the Gregorian ordinary (Mass XII), and a couple of the propers for the martyrs SS. Pontian and Hippolytus: the beautiful introit Salus autem and the Alleluia Te martyrum. The Sisters and the lay congregation did a fine job of singing the ordinary parts and even the tune of the Alleluia -- a tune which you may hear for yourself this week, since it is also used in the Mass of Assumption Day.

Fr. Mark's homily reminded us of Pope Pontian and the priest Hippolytus, who became his opponent and even fell into schism; yet when the Empire swept both of them into exile and hard labor, Hippolytus was reconciled with the Church and died a martyr as did Pontian: it is an encouraging example of the triumph of Christ's love over division, and a proof that "even dissidents can be converted".

Here are a couple of snapshots from the Mass:


After Mass, we had lunch at an Italian caffe in New Haven, chatted there for most of the afternoon, and attended Vespers at the Dominican nuns' monastery in North Guilford.

As always, it was a joy to enter into the company of two such faithful men of God.

June 25: a drive in the park

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I'm starting to assemble the pictures from my 2007 "Summer Tour".

Starting out of sequence, here are the ones I took in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia along the Skyline Drive. These were made on Monday, 6/25, the day after the CMAA colloquium ended in Washington.

No bloggers were harmed in the process of taking this photo:

Despite being an indoor-geek kind of guy, I'm a fan of botanical gardens, so when I visited Hershey, PA on Monday, 6/18, it was an opportunity to see theirs, including the garden's butterfly house. Besides, it was too hot to buy chocolate.

More photos are on-line at the links above.

Gd exists

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I'm not referring to G-d, but to gadolinium, the rare-earth element whose chemical symbol is Gd. Never did learn enough about those rare-earths in school. Somehow, I'd forgotten that Gd even exists, but was reminded of it today.

Apparently I'm going to get a shot of some Gd compound on Monday when I have a little MRI done on my head (...insert joke here...), as a followup to a hearing test I took this week. No biggie.

Holy Molly


My daughter Molly, after getting into the drawer with all of the kids' rosaries. Note the contemplative look on her face as she begins the Apostles' Creed:

...and after praying:

The out-of-towners have arrived!


bloggers at dinnerRC-2006-06-02.pngWe Boston bloggers have two out-of-town visitors at once: Fr. Keyes from Rifugio San Gaspare and my CL co-blogger Eric Johnson are in town, one for vacation and the other for an IT conference. We had supper together at an Italian place in Waltham, and were joined by Mark Sullivan and Eric Ewanco, for a very enjoyable meeting. Fr. Keyes took the photo of me yesterday while I was showing him around the New Hampshire seacoast.

My baby daughter Molly, at an Independence Day celebration yesterday:

Don't mess with Molly

Can anyone come up with a good caption?

As the parents of a very precocious six-year-old, my wife and I are naturally worried that eventually she will become precocious in other ways. So far, she hasn't shown any signs of a premature interest in romantic matters. Like all the other kids, she watches harmless PBS shows and G-rated movies, and has no trouble putting boys in their place, thanks to the presence of her two brothers. She's is full of spunky, good-natured, innocent exuberance, and we would like to keep it that way.

It's tough to do that when many older girls dress like trollops at Mass. We can shield our kids from "inappropriate" entertainment, and gently guide them toward good behavior, but we do have to go to church every Sunday. Now that the weather is warm, clothing standards completely fall apart.

This is true for both sexes, and all ages, since the ultra-casual Baby Boomers have begun their less-than-graceful slide into senility. In the future, I anticipate arguments with my sons that involve the line, "But plenty of people wear shorts and no socks to Mass!" Deliberately dressing badly is an affront to God, but dressing badly in a lascivious way is especially bad.

The most recent painful incident of this kind was a few weeks ago, when our parish had its spring carnival. At the Mass right before it started, there were plenty of people dressed down for the event. A couple of teenage girls were sitting two rows in front of me and my older three kids. One of the girls had on very short shorts, and at one point during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I glanced up and saw that they didn't entirely cover her rear end.

Now, I know this girl and her family: she lives around the corner and babysits our kids. Her sister also babysits sometimes, her brother comes over occasionally and plays with my boys, and her mom is a family friend. But I didn't really need to see her butt crack (or anyone else's).

The bizarre thing is that she's a nice kid. During the Mass, she and her friend were completely reverent and prayerful. We were all sitting in the balcony, which has no kneelers, and they knelt the whole time on the hard floor. There weren't any adults making them behave, either -- they genuinely wanted to act correctly.

You may say that I have a weird Catholic aversion to anything sexual, but I don't think that's true. I am not a prude, at least not by the classic definition. It does not bother me to see the female form dressed in a way that flatters it, nor do I have any aversion to healthy sexuality. I simply do not wish to see young girls dressed in a way that invites men to look at them as flowers to be plucked, because I have daughters who will inevitably start to take their cues from what older girls are wearing and doing.

Once again, this shows the fallacy of our age's individualistic ethos, which is the idea that "I can do what I want, and it won't affect you." The way we dress and act has a profound affect on other people, especially impressionable young ones. What we do with our bodies speaks much louder than any words we say, and I wish more parents were mindful of that.

Off to Houston


I'm going to be in Houston for work May 6-13; what should I visit, and where should I attend Mass?

Can anyone point me to a good Web site statistics tool? I've used the various free options out there, but they're not terribly impressive. Here's what I need it to do:

1. It should be able to filter out referrer spam from a hostname list that I specify.

2. It should do a reasonably solid job at Web analytics -- e.g., it should be able to tell a robot from a recurring user.

3. It should be free.

Any thoughts?

John encouraged me to blog on my trip to China, so here it is. My apologies that I have not had time to say much more. I'm here on behalf of my employer, the government agency known as the Nameless Entity. I hope all is well on your side of the world, and I hope to write more soon.

Blogger Stephen Hand's adult son is in the hospital with a brain injury; he commends him to our prayers.

In the Good Ideas Dept., Eric of the CF blog suggests that we ask for the intercession of Pope John Paul.

St. Lawrence statue comes home


Last year, I was trying to find a statue of St. Lawrence for our kitchen. One of our readers in Switzerland (maybe our only reader in Switzerland?) found one, and was kind enough to send it back to the States via a priest-friend of his.

After months of logistics, the statue (which was described here) finally made it to the Johnson home. I had intended to put it into a niche, which I built by hand after designing it around St. Lawrence's dimensions. Unfortunately, there was something blocking the space where I intended to put the statue, so I ended up building a shelf for him. You can see the result here:



Many thanks to our kind reader, and may God bless you in abundance.

Double-congrats to Pete

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Two congratulations are in order for Pete Vere:

1. Canada has a new Conservative government. Of course, on the American scale, that's equivalent to a squishy Republican government, but it's a vast improvement.

2. Pete has a conversion story in the current issue of This Rock, published by Catholic Answers (but not available online, alas.)

Let us all be happy for him.

The Gifts Not Under the Tree

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A merry Christ Mass to you all, and thanks for your prayers during this election campaign. It has been so intense that it will be nice to have a week off to spend with family. As I do every year, I wrote a Christ Mass essay.

This year's essay is a tribute to a Catholic gentleman named Raymond. It borrows its title from an old New Covenant article called The Gifts Not Under the Tree.

Happy birthday, USMC


It's the Marine Corps' 230th birthday today. Mackubin Thomas Owens has a birthday essay in NRO which is worth reading. Three institutions instilled in my whatever virtue I possess: my family, the Roman Catholic Church, and the United States Marine Corps. I am eternally grateful to them all, but today I will be lifting a glass in honor of the latter along with some of my brothers.

May the Corps continue to protect the United States with vigor and fidelity. May the enemies of freedom continue to fear and hate the name "Marine."

I know some of y'all out there are parents, and that most of you care about what gets dumped into your kids' souls. We gave the kids a hand-me-down computer a few months ago, and there are a few Web sites we let them visit. My question is this: What is the best Web-site blocking software? Our needs are simple: we want to block all sites unless my wife or I permit them.

Our oldest child is six, and I seriously doubt he can figure out how to defeat access-control software. The safest thing would be to filter sites at the router, which I could do, but it would be a pain for my wife.

Your thoughts?

Catholic Light on the Road: Turkey

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I am in Turkey right now, about 44 hours before I return home. I've been gone for two weeks, and I'm quite ready to see my family again. Hopefully, after I get back, I'll blog regularly, or at least more than once every nine or ten days.

I'm in London on business with the Nameless Entity. I just finished with the British Shakespeare Association conference in Newcastle, where I led a seminar discussing online versions of Shakespeare. That was just a diversion -- no tax dollars were used to fund my trip, in case you were wondering -- but the whole experience was fascinating and gratifying.

Before that, I was in San Diego for a conference on behalf of the Entity. After London, I will go to another country, and won't get back until next week. Needless to say, I'm missing my family very much, but at least I'm doing intersting things.

I feel totally disconnected from America in a way that I have never felt, because when I left, New Orleans still existed. Blogging about that seems rather solipsistic, since it really has nothing to do with me, but I know this is obviously a tremendously important event in the life of our country, and it's odd to watch it from across an ocean.

Has any First World country ever lost an entire city since the end of World War II? The way some people talk, you would think it's a routine occurence. I watched two BBC anchors who were perplexed that "the richest and most advanced country in the world" couldn't do something as simple and straightforward as remove several hundred thousand people on short notice, even in a city where the government is notoriously corrupt, inefficient, and slow.

It's hard to explain our federal system to regular, everyday British subjects. Not that they're incapable of understanding it, but the U.K. is so much more geograpically compact, and their government is so much more centralized, that they have difficulty conceiving that the president can't just swoop in with thousands of troops and federal workers. Even today, CNN reported that the governor of Louisiana is resisting President Bush's plan to federalize the whole mess.

Isn't it time to revisit the concept of "acts of God"?

Happy anniversary!


It's the fifth anniversary of Fr. Sibley's ordination, and although he's not on the web much at present, he's doing the good work where it counts!

This is the newest member of the Johnson family, Molly Colleen, who was 4 hours old when her picture was taken. She was born today at 10:32 a.m., and her mother is doing just fine. The kids can't wait to meet their new baby sister.

Molly weighs slightly under 8 pounds and she is 19 inches long. She is very good at crying already, and came into the world hungry, so I'm sure she'll be fine. Mother and child will probably be back home on Monday, barring any complications.

Molly Colleen Johnson, age 4 hours

Where's Kathy Shaidle when you need her? I spent five hours in the emergency waiting room (having been refered there after a previous hour-and-a-half wait at a walk-in clinic. I was at the walk-in clinic because a year later my family still cannot find a family physician, even though we are living in the Canadian city that is the least affected by slow healthcare delivery) with my youngest daughter before we saw a physician! The medical staff were great, so I'm not blaming them for the wait. Nevertheless, that's what happens when you live with a socialized medical system that is understaffed and underfunded.

While there, we hung around with the parents of this eight-year old boy. They are very nice people who have been all over the press after the boy was reportedly and intentionally run down in his own driveway by a cab driver. What the media is not reporting is the ethinic origin of the cab driver, which reportedly appears to to be the same as that area of the world that produced "air rage" on 9-11-01.

Nine days and counting...

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The newest member of the Johnson family is scheduled to be delivered on Friday, June 17. We're starting this novena tonight. Novenas are a big endeavor, but if you want to throw some random prayers our way for Paige's health and the baby's, feel free.

I just got back from the Religious Book Trade Exibit where Michael Trueman and I were signing copies of Surprised by Canon Law for Servant Books. Both Mike and I had a wonderful time and we met up with Amy Welborn and Michael Dubreil (who were signing books for OSV) among a host of other cool people.

On another note, I've decided to shut down my account with Wachovia after they wanted to charge me $75 to make a deposit into my bank account. Yep, you heard that right! $75 to DEPOSIT a check into my bank account. Not withdraw, wire transfer, or some other specialized service, but to deposit money into the account. At first they simply told me there would be a fee without telling me how much (or providing me with a phone number or contact person whom I could ask -- I had to look this up myself on the internet), and they hung up on me when I asked. I had to call back.

When they told me the fee was $75, I responded that charging a customer $75 for a deposit was outrageous and morally reprehensible -- especially when I had made similar types of deposit in the past without incurring a fee, have never overdrawn, etc... The individual insisted it wasn't a fee for making a deposit, but because I didn't have enough money in my account to cover the amount of the deposit (Duh! That's why I was trying to deposit more money into the account) and that I might be tempted to withdraw the money before the check cleared (well then freeze the funds or don't post the deposit until the check clears!)

They then tried to talk me into keeping the account open, but they couldn't waive the fees. I was like no thanks, this is completely and utterly disgusting, and I have no intention of bringing Wachovia any more business.

Please consider a prayer request from Tim Ferguson, Catholic Light reader, friend of Pete Vere, and one of the new friends I met when I was in Ottawa earlier this year. His father, William, just discovered that he has lung cancer that has spread to his brain. To make matters worse, Tim's sister Martha is finishing a regimen of chemotherapy for breast cancer, and his mother has just left the hospital because of heart trouble.

May God bless and protect your family from their physical ailments, Tim, and give you comfort as you witness their suffering. I will pray for them in front of the Blessed Sacrament this weekend, and I ask anyone else reading this to do the same.

Last week, near the end of my bike ride to work, I spotted hundreds of small white crosses staked in the ground east of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in downtown D.C. Wondering what they were for, I saw a young woman carrying a makeshift sign saying "America in Iraq" that she was preparing to hang someplace.

I immediately swerved across the grass toward two men conversing with each other, obviously discussing the logistics of their display. I stopped my bike about five feet away from them, and they stopped talking and looked at me. One of the men had short gray hair, professional-looking glasses and a baseball hat that said "KENT STATE." The other guy had jeans and a black shirt, and looked like a roadie.

"Did you get permission of the families before you put these up?" I demanded.

Gray Guy started glaring at me and said nothing — since he seemed older and had an air of authority about him, I assumed he was in charge. Black Shirt said no, they didn't need to get permission.

"Are you sure that everybody you're representing here agrees with your point of view? Because I'm absolutely sure that's not true."

No, no, said Black Shirt. This wasn't about pressing a political agenda, it was for the troops. I didn't buy it. You don't put a thousand crosses next to the Vietnam Memorial and then say you have no polical agenda.

"Who's going to protect the innocent people in Iraq if we leave?" I continued. Now Gray Guy was looking like he wanted to kill me. (Clearly, I was wrong: he wasn't in charge at all. I never did figure out why he was there.) Both of them were confused by my question.

"You mean the people who died on 9/11?"

"No, that has nothing to do with this. I'm talking about the innocent Iraqis who get blown up by terrorists every day."

"Are you talking about the 100,000 Iraqi civilians who have died?"

We interrupt this blog entry for a special message to the anti-war crowd: if you're going to pull a number straight out of your nether regions, you should

1) make it sound real — try 104,000 or 117,000, anything but a round 100,000;

2) don't use the same freakin' number you used for the Gulf War (and mouthed by Gary Oldman in "Air Force One"); and

3) make the number increase as time goes by! In 2003, you people were already saying we killed 100,000 civilians. Well, surely we've killed at least 200,000 by now, right? I mean, give our boys some credit for diligence at least!

Back to the entry...

We went back and forth. Black Shirt, who introduced himself as Marcus, said he was a former Marine like me, and was "in during the Gulf War" (I'm not sure what he did). He kept insisting that his group was utterly apolitical, and that he didn't want Iraq veterans ending up like a lot of Vietnam veterans. Twenty-five percent of Iraq veterans were returning home with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he told me. (Which is a funny statistic, because a much smaller percentage of veterans were in actual combat.) In my experience, I replied, the vast majority of Iraq veterans considered it a worthy mission and that I personally considered it an honor to have served.

Marcus asked me to help him put up an American flag while we talked. I asked if it would be displayed respectfully, and he assured me that it would. I said sure, since I was already late for work. Once it was up, I shook hands with him, he gave me a postcard describing their group ("Veterans for Peace L.A.") and I wished him luck with his event, even though we did not agree on many things.

Because Marcus was a cordial and likeable man, I will avoid making snide comments about his group's headquarters of Santa Monica, one of the wealthiest places on the planet (and most liberal). But to return to the reason I pulled over in the first place, I think he and his cohorts are being disingenuous when they claim they have no political agenda. To consider a war properly, you have to consider the objective and ask whether the costs are worth it. Erecting a thousand crosses, without any context, is a falsehood.

If a thousand men have died in order to make a more just peace in the Middle East, and have slain thousands of murderers and thugs bent on oppressing a nation of 25 million, and thus made the people of the United States more secure, then I would say the cost is terrible but worth it. Better to hunt down and kill al Qaeda and their allies in Iraq, humiliating and eliminating their leadership, than to let them attack us again.

Thirty years ago, North Vietnam launched an offensive into the South, despite a promise not to invade. There was no American response, because there were no Americans to respond, the last U.S. forces having been removed in 1973. Just as anti-Communists had predicted, it was a human disaster. Tens of thousands were executed, and hundreds of thousands more were herded into "re-education camps" (a.ka. "political prisons.") Many Vietnamese took to the seas in rickety boats, preferring to risk death rather than live under the Communist regime.

The Left, having engineered the U.S. pullout from Vietnam, was an accessory to these crimes. There was no lack of evidence for the North's ruthlessness, or its ideological commitment to dominating the South. Leftists didn't care, because their goal was to shame America for its "sins," not because they cared about the Vietnamese or even peace itself.

Today, the Left's goal is more or less identical, except instead of portraying American servicemen as bloodlusting animals, they show them as victims. Either way, they use tales of human suffering as commodities which they sell to the American public, hoping that they can be convinced to abandon another ally. Iraqis, like the South Vietnamese, would get slaughtered, and the region could disintegrate into war and mayhem, but "America the imperialist bully" would suffer a grave defeat. As for the innocent who would die — too bad for them.

Given that, putting those thousand crosses next to the Vietnam Memorial is actually quite appropriate. Marcus, if you read this, I'll still take you at your word that you're "all about supporting the troops." If that's true, you're running with a disreputable crowd that doesn't give a damn one way or another.

From my daughter Anna, who is almost 5:

"Mama, aren't you glad we got you something good for Mother's Day and not something bad, like a bomb, or poop?"

Marines 21, Thugs 0


With all the papal news, we have not recently said much on a subject near and dear to my heart: Marines administering earthly justice so murderous thugs can face the divine version.

To summarize: several dozen thugs commandeered three large suicide vehicles and tried to detonate them inside a base. The attacks were deflected by the quick thinking of three 21-year-old Marines, who repelled the vehicles with machine guns and grenades. The thugs tried to attack on foot, but again they failed. In the end, the Marines killed 21 of the thugs and wounded another 15. No Marines were killed, or even seriously hurt.

The herd of independent minds in the media are parroting the same line, about how the thugs' attacks are "becoming more sophisticated" lately. While it's true the attacks have more people involved, all of them have ended badly for the attackers. Seems to me that "sophisticated" ought to mean something more than using three car bombs instead of one, and 30 guys on foot instead of 8 or 10. Real sophistication would mean better effectiveness on the battlefield, not getting more thugs to show up to the party.

I regret that the thugs aligned themselves with thieves and oppressors, then threw their lives away by attacking a Marine post. I hope they somehow repented before their death. But how can I muster any sympathy for people whose operating principle is to maim and murder as many people as it takes, military or civilian, so they can overthrow the Iraqi government and take charge themselves?

Pope Benedict Answers My Prayer


I was in tears as I watched Cardinal Ratzinger emerge from the Conclave as Pope Benedict XVI. First, Cardinal Ratzinger's theology was a major help and inspiration to reconciling with the Church. Secondly, it was an answer to a prayer. As many of you know, Cardinal Ratzinger bounced back after failing his doctorate the first time around.

I am in danger of doing the same. In the last month it has become more and more evident that I cannot maintain my status as a full-time writer and canonist, and also pursue a doctorate. My doctorate is suffering big-time as I struggle to keep our family financially afloat. We've been hit with a couple other financial setbacks as well as the university shuts down family housing (thus increasing our monthly rent in what is already Canada's most expensive city) and some emergency medical expenses -- (you would be surprised what socialized health-care doesn't cover.)

Up until Pope Benedict XVI was elected, I was giving serious consideration to dropping out the doctorate at the end of this semester. Since I already have a licentiate, it is pretty easy to find full-time work. Nevertheless, I prayed for a sign from God. This is it. Both my wife and my spiritual director agree, and after speaking my parents I will be biting the bullet and undertaking large student loans (which I have avoided doing up until now). In practical terms, this means I've seriously got to curtail my outside writing, activities, private correspondence....and blogging over the next year.

Thanks for understanding. I may not be in as regular contact with all of you (I get around 400-600 emails a day), but I will keep all of you in prayer. Please pray for our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.

I'm going to Orlando in two weeks (against my will) and need to find a place to hear Mass. Since the school group I'm chaperoning will be staying in (in, I say) the HAPPIEST PLACE ON EARTH I thought there might be a weekly Mass on the property, but the Diocese no longer has a Mass for tourists.

I'm considering Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine, which developed as a church for tourists, as well as St. Nicholas Byzantine because I wouldn't anticipate liturgical shenanigans there.

Can anyone recommend a church close to the Black Hole o' Disney?

The first time I saw the Pope, it was completely by accident. I was traveling in Europe with four friends after graduating from high school, and we happened to be in Rome on a Sunday. I had little use for Catholicism, but as all four of my friends were Catholic, and I wanted to see the art and architecture of the Vatican, there was no doubt that we would end up at St. Peter's for a while.

The Pope appeared at his apartment window, for a customary blessing of the thousands of people who assembled there that hot July day. I wish I could report that I fell prostrate on the ground and embraced the fullness of truth right then and there, but I didn't. (I would have been trampled by the sweaty pilgrims, for one thing.) But I could say I saw the Pope, though he was but a small white figure waving to us in the distance.

Four years later, my future wife and I were received into the Catholic Church, and four years after that, we were married and took our honeymoon in Rome. One of our parish priests had studied in Rome, and put us in touch with a member of his seminary's faculty, who gave us passes to the Wednesday papal audience along with "a special treat." Having no idea what that might be, we showed up at St. Peter's on Wednesday morning. The Swiss Guards kept waving us past the throngs of people lined up to get into the auditorium; we ended up sitting to the Pope's left with about a dozen other newlyweds.

After the address, the couples were ushered up to the Holy Father, two-by-two, Noah-style. I kissed his ring, and thanked him for all his work on behalf of families. If I close my eyes, I can still feel his firm thumb tracing the sign of the cross on my forehead. He blessed my wife, and held her hand tenderly, putting his hand on her cheek and smiling. A cardinal stepped in to whisk us away so the next couple could receive their blessing.

Many things affect a marriage, but I am convinced that the Pope's prayer for us has enhanced our married life, and continues to do so. He asked God to give us good things, both spiritual and material, and we have indeed been blessed, above all with our several children.

I know the Pope belongs to everyone and no one, but I feel like he was my pope, in a way. I saw him before I was Catholic, and I was impressed by his rock-like refusal to give in to the world, even as he sought those who worship the world's false promises. Someday, I hope to see him again in the New Jerusalem, though I'm sure he will again be off in the distance, near the throne of the Most High, and I will be in the outer suburbs. Perhaps he will wave to me again.

Pope John Paul II with the Johnsons

Goodbye, my Holy Father.

I'm in a foreign country right now, and I just called home to hear that my wife because a guy has been calling the house and harassing her. This started on Saturday, before I left. He was calling and breathing heavy and muttering things in Spanish. I kept telling him he has the wrong number (in broken Spanish), but since I left he has been asking Paige to speak Spanish. She called the police, and they sent a Spanish-speaking officer over. When the guy called, the officer told him to stop calling and it was against the law.

So what did the guy do? Naturally, he waited until the officer left, and started calling again. Needless to say, Paige is freaked out, and I get to listen to her being freaked out from a hotel room 1,700 miles away, with absolutely nothing I can do about it except pray for her safety and my children's.

Somebody tell me again why it's so important that we let lots of non-English-speaking, unskilled immigrants into this country? I don't know with absolute certainty that he fit into that category...but I would be willing to take 10-to-1 odds that he does.

As part of my M.A. thesis project, I have to write a companion paper to the Web site I created, Open Source Shakespeare. I finished the draft of the paper, and although the citations need to be cleaned up and I have to add a few more paragraphs, it is substantially finished. I would love to get some feedback on it — in particular, tell me if the writing is clear, as I am taking pains to keep it as simple as possible. Coward, I particularly invite you to comment, either in public or via e-mail.

(WARNING: with all the screenshots, this is a 2.1mb download.)
Dig it

P.S. This is also an explanation as to why I have not been blogging much lately, except for my rant about Fairfax County taxes.

Today is my birthday, a day I share with Albert Einstein and Lawrence Welk (who was a good Catholic, incidently, and hated contemporary church music.) According to the Angelic Doctor, since I am now 33, I have reached my peak:

All will rise in the condition of perfect age, which is of thirty-two or thirty-three years. This is because all who were not yet arrived at this age, did not possess this perfect age, and the old had already lost it. Hence, youths and children will be given what they lack, and what the aged once had will be restored to them....
Although elsewhere, he writes that the age of 30 is the perfect age:
Christ was fittingly baptized in His thirtieth year. First, because Christ was baptized as though for the reason that He was about forthwith to begin to teach and preach: for which purpose perfect age is required, such as is the age of thirty. Thus we read (Gn. 41:46) that "Joseph was thirty" years old when he undertook the government of Egypt. In like manner we read (2 Kgs. 5:4) that "David was thirty years old when he began to reign." Again, Ezechiel began to prophesy in "his thirtieth year," as we read Ezech. 1:1.
Either way, it's all downhill from here. And if this is how I'm supposed to look at the Resurrection and for all eternity...well, I'm definitely going to lose a few more pounds, and get a better haircut.

During the beginning of Holy Week, I have to travel to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, and I'm wondering if there are any Catholic Light readers in the D.R. It's a long shot, I know, but there are certainly plenty of good Catholics down there. I'll be meeting my friend Tomás, whom I have not seen in five years, and his lovely wife and children.

Tomás would always bring back cigars, rum, and coffee whenever he came back to the States (he got his batchelor and master's degrees here). These are a few of my favorite things, as the song goes. So even if you're not in Santo Domingo, perhaps we should have a D.C.-area get-together, and I'll bring the consumables.

I wanted to call attention to the latest official release of Open Source Shakespeare. The new functions and changes listed below have been phased in over the last few months, and the site has a stable "build" right now, so I'm going to call it version 2.0.


• Stemming option: You may search for word stems as well as keywords.
Thus a search for "play" will find "plays," "playing," "played," etc.

• Phonetic option: Words are converted into phonetic values, which are
then located in the texts. Searching for "their" will also turn up
"they're" and "there."

• Print/save version: Clicking on this link will give you a simple
version of the search results, suitable for printing or saving onto your
hard drive.

• Search results browsing: For searches that return lots of results, you
can view them page-by-page, instead of viewing all results at once.

• Help function on the advanced search page: Each element of the search
page is explained.

• Conjunction labels changed: instead of the Boolean "and/or" functions,
you may use "find" or "not." The former includes a keyword in the
search, and the latter excludes results based on keywords.

• Results formatting: You can remove the keyword highlighting in the
search results. Also, you can display 10 to 100 results at a time, and
opt to hide the line text in each result.


• Print/save version: There is a link at the top of every text
displayed, which will show the text in a version suitable for saving or

• Navigation aids: There are jumps to the previous and next scene/act
changes at the top of the page, and at the beginning and end of every scene.

• Quotations on "please wait" notice: Instead of showing a generic
message asking a user to wait while the server works, there are now
rotated quotations, too.


• Quick links to all works are shown on left side of home page.

• There is a new statistics page.

• I added a list of all the characters.

• ...or you can also use a search box to search for a character.

• Actors will find this useful — they will be able to show how their
cue lines
and thus memorize their dialogue more easily.

How come soft-restart switches have disappeared from computers today? Perhaps the engineers who design them live in a world where computers never break, but on Earth, that still happens. Every once in a while, my PCs hang when they're restarting or shutting down. In the good old days, I would either hit the soft-restart switch to simulate a hard reboot without cycling the power, or I would just cut off the power.

But today, since the power switches now communicate with the OS, if the OS becomes unresponsive, that leaves me with one option: pull the power cable out of the back of the machine. That's a pain, and it creates wear-and-tear on the electronics (because when I plug it back in, the circuits will recieve a jolt of electricity.) What's the rationale behind removing the switches? I see no advantage here.

The classic philosophical distinctions between form, substance, and accident are essential to computer application development, much more than any particular knowledge of a command or process. You can apply them to databases (schema, data, datatype), text documents (structure, words, character formatting), and a hundred other things. It seems to me that a survey course on ancient and medieval philosophy, beginning with the pre-Socratics and ending with Aquinas, would be much more valuable for a computer-science student than learning any specific programming language or networking protocol.

And don't get me started with how useful teleology is!

Parent of the year awards


Last weekend, I had what I like to call a Good Parenting Moment. I was allowing Christopher, the toddler, to wander around me as I was building a pair of bookshelves in the driveway. Normally, I keep all harmful objects above chest level, so no children try to play with them (there are always swarms of kids playing on our end of the street whenever the temperature is above 40 degrees).

Clamping a saw guide onto a piece of plywood, I looked up. With an expression of pure joy on his face, Christopher was squirting long streams of Spectracide, a weed and grass killer, from a bottle he found. Luckily, the nozzle was pointing away from his face and the Spectracide was landing on the driveway. I lunged over to him and grabbed the bottle away from him. I'm still not sure where he got it — the bottle was left over from the previous owners, and all chemicals are five feet off the ground.

I would like to hear other people's Good Parenting Moments. It will make all of us feel better about ourselves.

Teresa's father passed away this morning at the age of 94. He had 93 healthy, happy years and was recently suffering from pneumonia. Teresa and her sister Rose were at his bedside when he died.

Fritz came to this country from Germany in the 1920's. His family settled in Waynesboro, VA and continued the family business of making custom cabinets. Fritz maintained a workshop until he was in his 80's.

Fritz married Bernice Jacobs and had four children: Fred, William, Rose and Teresa. Fritz spent some time in the Navy during WWII (stationed in the Pacific since he was originally from Germany) and worked for DuPont as an engineer for over three decades.

Fritz was active at St. John the Evangelist in Waynesboro, and helped make arrangements for the parish to acquire a crucifix from Oberammergau, Germany. The crucifix is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

Please pray for him and all the souls of the faithful departed.

Fritz with his kids on his 93rd birthday.

Last week in Ottawa


At one point on Valentine's Day, Pete Vere and I were walking side-by-side, with him holding a rose. But it was okay — Canada had not yet passed its gay marriage bill.

I was only in Ottawa for two nights, and Pete was kind enough to show me to the Heart and Crown pub so I could get some food after my run-in with Canadian immigration. The next night, we went back with frequent Catholic Light commenter Tim Ferguson, the Latin professor from Pete's university, as well as Pete's lovely wife and his two cute, impish daughters. After the ladies went home to bed, we met up with two other friends of Pete and went to something called "Tim Horton's," or I think that's what it was called. They sell good doughnuts there, whatever the name is.

I don't want to post the names of the other people, because I haven't asked their permission, but I did enjoy meeting everyone. If I get back to Ottawa, I look forward to seeing you guys again. And if anyone's ever in the D.C. area, let me know and maybe we can meet up at some point.

Hassled by Canadian immigration


I'll write again about going out with Pete, but first, a quick account of how I actually got into Canada. It wasn't smooth. When I got to the customs desk at Ottawa's airport, I had forgotten to fill out my declaration card. Maybe that's an indication of criminal behavior, because a few minutes later they sent me to the immigration desk, where I was made to produce:

• My official government passport;

• Both of my identification badges from the Nameless Entity;

• My driver's license (to verify my SSN);

• The official message from the Entity authorizing me to travel abroad on behalf of the U.S. government; and

• My business card. (I'm still puzzing through that one — anybody can fake a business card.)

So they knew I was there on official business of the United States, yet they made me give all this documentation and then interrogated me for 10-15 minutes ("Where are you staying? What are the names of your contacts? What are you going to be doing here? What office do you work for?") I was very close to asking them to contact the U.S. embassy so they could intervene, but suddenly the immigration guy let me go. It was all rather shocking.

Transferring money to Switzerland


You may recall that a CL reader in Switzerland, found a statue of St. Lawrence for our home. It costs roughly $400. I'm trying to find a good way to get the money to Jeff, as the shopkeeper selling the statue does not take credit cards. I can wire the money to Jeff via Western Union, but it costs $42.

If that's the only option, so be it, I'll pay the fee. Before I do that, I wanted to prevail upon you smart Catholic Light readers to see if you could think of a way to save me a few bucks (or Swiss francs, in this case.)

Metro is saved!

| 1 Comment

Last week, I commented on the sad decline of the Washington Metrorail system, saying "the slack-jawed yokels who run it are slowly turning it into a costly mess with Third World-quality service." My friend and frequent Catholic Light contributor Victor Morton e-mailed me with the happy solution: former mayor Marion Barry is probably going to be on the Metro board.

You may remember Mayor Barry from a popular video he made in 1989. The production values were low, but his "How to Light a Crack Pipe" was an international hit. He also did many other noteworthy things, to wit:

He turned a solid local reputation as a civil rights leader into an international reputation as a crack addict and frequenter of loose women.

He went to jail for six months, and during a family visitation period, in a roomful of adults and children, he received a Lewinsky from a "friend" who was there visiting him.

He wasn't mayor the whole time, but in 30 years D.C. went from a city of 800,000 people in the mid-1960s to fewer than 500,000.

At one point, the Control Board appointed to straighten out the city's mess could not account for over $100,000,000 spent by the Barry administration.

That's just off the top of my head. But the people quoted in the article are probably right: he's one of the most qualified local officials to help run Metro. He's already bankrupted and despoiled the city: why not extend that success to the whole D.C. area, too?

Cold in D.C. today


It is very, very cold today in the D.C. area. It's so cold, my thick Russian wool coat feels as protective as a wife-beater t-shirt when the wind blows. It's so cold, when I speak outside, my words freeze in mid-air and fall to the ground, where they smash into pieces.

Naturally, there were delays on the Metrorail this morning, so about 200 people and I were left standing on the freezing station platform until a train arrived, which took over 20 minutes. The Metro was formerly the sole glory of the Washington-area transportation system, but the slack-jawed yokels who run it are slowly turning it into a costly mess with Third World-quality service. Used to be that although the roads were terrible, you couldn't get an ambulance, the police were incompetent ("Ask Us About Our 200 Unsolved Murders This Year!" is their slogan), Washingtonians could at least point to the Metro as the one thing that worked in the city.

The Metro board, made up of obscure elected officials from Washington, Virginia, and Maryland, can pat themselves on the back for taking a public good and running it into the ground — and making it more expensive, too. In three years, my daily commute has gone from less than $6 to $8.55. That actually masks the true price rise, because if you added $10 or more to your farecard, they used to give you a 10% bonus credit. What they are doing with that money, I cannot say: there are broken escalators at lots of stations, and they've reduced the frequency of trains during the off-peak hours, to the point that walking is a better option if you're going less than a mile.

But the point is: it's cold today. Also, the St. Blogs comment function seems to be broken, and Richard needs to fix it because the rest of us have no idea how to do it.

On dying for others

...At the fourth house they encountered that morning the Marines kicked in the door and "cleared" the front rooms, but then noticed a locked door off to the side that required inspection. Sgt. Rafael Peralta threw open the closed door, but behind it were three terrorists with AK-47s. Peralta was hit in the head and chest with multiple shots at close range.

Peralta's fellow Marines had to step over his body to continue the shootout with the terrorists. As the firefight raged on, a "yellow, foreign-made, oval-shaped grenade," as Lance Corporal Travis Kaemmerer described it, rolled into the room where they were all standing and came to a stop near Peralta's body.

But Sgt. Rafael Peralta wasn't dead — yet. This young immigrant of 25 years, who enlisted in the Marines when he received his green card, who volunteered for the front line duty in Fallujah, had one last act of heroism in him.

...In his parent's home, on his bedroom walls hung only three items - a copy of the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights and his boot camp graduation certificate. Before he set out for Fallujah, he wrote to his 14-year old brother, "be proud of me, bro...and be proud of being an American."

Not only can Rafael's family be proud of him, but his fellow Marines are alive because of him. As Sgt. Rafael Peralta lay near death on the floor of a Fallujah terrorist hideout, he spotted the yellow grenade that had rolled next to his near-lifeless body. Once detonated, it would take out the rest of Peralta's squad. To save his fellow Marines, Peralta reached out, grabbed the grenade, and tucked it under his abdomen where it exploded.

Imagine what it must be like to be those Marines who were saved by Rafael Peralta. Every Christian knows that salvation was purchased with Christ's blood, but that fact can feel abstract in the quotidian reality in which we dwell. Those men know that every moment they live was directly purchased by a man who sacrificed his earthly life for them.

Many actions are Christ-like, such as feeding the poor or comforting the sick. To will your own death on behalf of others is to make yourself an alter Christus, another Christ, just as St. Paul wrote. As the article says, Sgt. Peralta may well receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. I pray that he is enjoying the greater honor of seeing the Holy One face to face.

"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

On my high horse


A hot-headed Rad-trad acquaintance suggested that since our parish is closing, maybe the congregation should do what had been done in another part of the country: buy the property from the Archdiocese through a non-Catholic front man, and get our own priest. My reply was admittedly a little huffy:

Hi, D--

I understand you believe that it's OK to "go independent", but that is absolutely foreign to me.

I converted to the Catholic Faith and was baptized in 1980, and endured all the stupidities going on in the Church at the time -- in a particularly liberal place -- in order to do so, offering it up as an act of faith.

I stayed for those months and put up with their nonsense in order to provide a little witness of reverence and faith to other people who were entering the Church there at the same time -- people who didn't know any better, and otherwise might never see anyone kneel at the Consecration or (once I was baptized) receive the Sacrament on the tongue.

The goal always before my eyes was simple: to receive the Sacraments, have my sins remitted, and to enter into communion with the Church of St. Peter. In spite of all the faults and errors of the people running that RCIA program, I knew that the priest in charge there would indeed confer the sacraments validly -- if barely so -- and at his hands I would become a Catholic, a member of Christ's one true Church.

I have no interest in becoming a Congregationalist.


(So, yeah, the tone of that is not too nice, but sometimes it seems these angry types don't take you seriously unless you sound a little cranky. That's today apologetics tip, folks.)

What? Who?

On life and living in communion with the Catholic Church.

Richard Chonak

John Schultz

You write, we post
unless you state otherwise.


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