Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Solemnity of the Assumption

The Assumption of the Virgin was painted by Bartolome Esteban Murillo of Spain in 1670. The painting is on display in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Solemnity of Assumption is the oldest feast day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but we don't know how it first came to be celebrated.

After the course of her earthly life was over, Mary had been taken up, body and soul, into heaven. There are different theological opinins as to whether Mary died first or was taken up to heaven alive. We believe that this was a privilege granted to her which follows from the Immaculate Conception and the fact that she remained faithful to God throughout her life. The Assumption completes God's work in her since it was not fitting that the flesh that had given life to God himself should ever undergo corruption.

Both the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption are special privileges granted to Mary because of her unique role she was to play to be the Mother of the Savior. She needed the Savior too. It was because God foresaw the future sacrifice of his son and the role Mary was to play, that he granted her the privilege of the Immaculate Conception.

In Mary God recreates human nature. Mary’s ‘yes’ reversed the ‘no’ of Eve. In the Gospel of Luke Mary is spoken of in the same manner as the Ark of the Covenant. The Book of Revelation speaks about the Ark revealed in heaven and a Woman clothed with the Sun who does battle with the Dragon as she protects her Son. The Church sees the Woman as Mary who will play an important role in Christ’s Second Coming as she did in his First Coming.

Mary’s Assumption reminds us that the body is not just a thing, a container we use temporarily and toss aside at death. We are constituted of both both body and soul. They are united. In heaven we will have bodies, but they’lll be made perfect immortal and indestructible. So we should treat even the bodies of the dead with respect.

The Assumption was proclaimed as a dogma, that is, a teaching that all Catholics were called to believe in 1950. This was before the advent of the sexual revolution and radical feminism which led to the degradation of the woman’s body, pornography, contraception, abortion, divorce, the breakdown of the family. These evils grew stronger as devotion to Mary waned.
It is devotion to Mary that is an antidote for these evils.

We call on Mary today to bring about a victory of the culture of life. A victory for modesty, chastity, respect for life, the family constituting one man and one woman committed for life and open to the transmission of human life as the foundation of society, respect for the vocation of motherhood and the vocation to the consecrated life.

Mary’s prayers are powerful in heaven, since she holds a privileged place there. We should call on her often to intercede for our nation and in all our personal needs.

The feast reminds us of eternity and heavenly glory. Where Mary has gone, we hope to follow. Heaven awaits us too, if we are faithful on this earth to our own particular vocation in life. We will experience heaven in our bodies, but our bodies will be changed to become glorious, immortal and indestructible.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

I oppose abortion. It is without a doubt the killing of an innocent human being. In my opinion, the killing of over 1.2 million babies by abortion each year is the worst human rights abuse occurring in our country today. But while I believe protecting the right to life is one of the most important issues, it’s not the only issue I care about. An even more important issue is the issue of national security. Because I am pro-life, I also believe in a strong national defense. After all, if a terrorist with nuclear bomb sets it off in a major city millions of people will die and many thousands of others will be seriously injured. If our national security is threatened all other rights, including the right to life of each one of us, will be at risk as well.

I’ve noticed, though there are some exceptions, it’s the politicians who fail to protect the lives of children in the womb who also weakest in protecting our national security. Father Frank Pavone of Priests For Life asks “If politicians can't respect the life of a little baby, how are they going to respect yours?”

A recent example of this was the fight over the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. FISA was enacted after legitimate concerns about the abuse of domestic surveillance under the Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon Administrations. It was supposed to protect Americans against eavesdropping, but it also allows the interception of overseas communications under certain circumstances.

The National Security Agency (NSA) can intercept foreign communications, but only outside the U.S. It can intercept domestic signals only if the person on the other end is a foreign power, but a warrant must be obtained first. The problem is that we can listen to the calls of known terrorists, but we can’t listen in on conversations of sleeper agents who have not yet been identified. By the time a warrant is obtained, it may be too late.

After September 11, 2001 President Bush authorized the NSA to bypass the special court set up to provide warrants for national-security wiretaps. The authority was limited only to certain cases of suspected Al Qaeda activity. President Bush believed the U.S. government had to be able to act fast to intercept the communications of people outside the U.S. with known links to Al Qaeda." Bush said. That since Al Qaeda was not a conventional enemy, “This new threat required us to think and act differently." Leaders in Congress were consulted regularly about the program. In December of 2005, someone leaked information about this program to the New York Times. The New York Times published information about this secret program which greatly damaged our ability prevent future terrorist attacks. Once the terrorists knew the techniques we were using to monitor them, their communications dried up. I have not bought a copy of the New York Times since.

After this, the program was scaled back considerably. A compromise was eventually reached in 2006 that agreed to scale back the program and to submit it to the FISA court for legal review. But even that scaled down program came under fire. In an overly legalistic interpretation of the law, one judge said that since some phone calls, emails and internet sites are routed through switches in the U.S., the domestic FISA regulations must apply to intercepts of overseas communications.

This insane interprtation of the law, calls to mind what President Thomas Jefferson said when he was accused of overreaching his constitutional authority in acquiring territory for the United States in the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson said that a "strict observance of the written law is doubtless one of the high duties of a good citizen, but it is not the highest. The laws of necessity, of self-preservation, of saving our country when in danger, are of higher obligation. To lose our country by a scrupulous adherence to the written law, would be to lose the law itself, with life, liberty, property and all those who are enjoying them with us; thus absurdly sacrificing the ends to the means."

Led by the pro-abortion American Civil Liberties Union, pro-abortion Democrat Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House of Representatives and pro-abortion Democrat Senator Carl Levin have attacked President Bush and accused him of undermining the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful search and seizure.

Even the bi-partisan September 11 Commission recognized problems with the slowness and inefficiency of the bureaucracy involved in seeking warrants from the FISA court when seeking to track down terrorists. The problem is not that court is slow in granting approvals for wiretaps, but the time it takes get an application for FISA together before it can be submitted to the court.

Recently Adam Gadahn, a spokesperson for Al Qaeda, released a video to the media threatening a terrorist attack which he labeled “The Big Surprise” Imagine this scenario. An officer from the National Security Agency (NSA) is listening in on a phone conversation from a phone call that originates overseas is from a known terrorist and is coming into the United States. In the call, the terrorist overseas is giving instructions for an attack to a member of an Al Qaeda cell here in the United States.

What would you instruct the NSA officer to do? Would you tell him to:
1. Record the call and start an immediate trace of the phone in the United States; 2. Alert the FBI to the threatened terrorist attack; 3. Listen to the conversation for further clues regarding enemy codes for future intercepts; 4. All of the above. If you chose any one of these responses you would be breaking U.S. law, because it is illegal to eavesdrop on people inside the U.S.

On Saturday August 11, 2007, the Congress finally passed a bill to update FISA. The updated version of FISA will now allow the government to intercept communications, without warrants, only between two foreigners that are routed through equipment in United States. This is only permitted if "foreign intelligence information" is at stake. If the government wants to eavesdrop on a U.S. resident, they would still have to obtain a warrant from the special FISA court. Enough Democrats finally relented to pass the bill because they wanted to go on vacation for the Congressional August recess.

The new law will expire in six months, unless Congress reauthorizes it. The Bush Administration wanted the changes to be permanent. Because of delays and leaks we have lost months of time that could have been spent in gathering valuable intelligence against our enemies who want to destroy us.

The very same people who have labored, often with great success, to obstruct the appointment of pro-life judges are trying to undermine the ability of intelligence officers to protect our national security. If Al Qaeda is successful in pulling off their “Big Surprise”, many Democrats, along with their lapdogs in the "mainstream media", will undoubtedly blame President Bush. But I put the blame on the Democrats in Congress, the New York Times, the ACLU and others, especially in the media, who have fought President Bush, at every turn, when he sought to strengthen our intelligence gathering capability against our foreign enemies and defend our national security.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Saint Sixtus II, Pope and Martyr

St. Sixtus entrusts St. Lawrence with a money bag to give to the poor. This fresco by Fra Angelico, painted between 1447-1449, is found in the Capella Nicolina, Vatican, Rome.

In the early Church, Saint Sixtus was the most highly venerated Pope after St. Peter. His name is included in the first Eucharistic Prayer.

Sixtus converted to Christianity as an adult. He served as a deacon in Rome before he was consecrated as Pope on August 30, 257. Sixtus was the Pope for less than a year, before he was martyred. During his short reign he dealt with the controversy of Baptisms performed by heretics. His conclusion was that if a person had a sincere desire to be baptized, he was validly baptized despite the errors of the person performing the sacrament.

In the first three centuries of the existence of the Catholic Church, most of the Popes were martyred. Before Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which granted religious tolerance to Christians, there were ten major persecutions of Christians by the Roman Empire. In 257, the Emperor Valerian directed a major persecution against Bishops, priests and deacons.

During this persecution, Christians held their sacred assemblies in subterranean caverns called catacombs. These assemblies were expressly forbidden by Valerian. But Christians chose to obey the law of God, rather than the law of man. Pope Sixtus was seized while offering Mass at the catacombs of Praetextatus along the Appian Way. Sixtus was probably immediately beheaded after his arrest on August 6, 258. Some say that St. Sixtus was beheaded while still seated in the chair from which he had been addressing his flock. Others say that he was taken away for examination and returned to the scene for execution. Two deacons (Felicissimus and Agapitus), and subdeacons (Januarius, Magnus, Stephanus, and Vincentius) were killed on the same day.

Four days later St. Lawrence was martyred. According to legend, Sixtus met St. Lawrence on the way to his execution and predicted that Lawrence would follow him in a few days, but the legend cannot be verified. Saint Sixtus was buried at the nearby catacomb of Saint Callistus. Callistus was one of the predecessors of Sixtus who had also been martyred. The Christians enshrined the bloodstained chair, on which Saint Sixtus was beheaded, behind his tomb.

Below is a letter by Saint Cyprian announcing the death of Saint Sixtus II. Cyprian had sent representatives to Rome to get some news about the decree of Emperor Valerian. They returned with the painful news of the death of Pope Sixtus II.

Carthage, August 258

My dearest brother, I was unable to send you a letter earlier because none of the clergy of this Church could move, being all under persecution, which however, thank God, found them inwardly most ready to pass at once to heaven. I now send you what news I have.

The envoys I sent to Rome have returned. I sent them to verify and report the decision taken by the authorities concerning myself, whatever it may be, and so put an end to all the speculations and uncontrolled hypotheses which circulated. And now here is the truth, duly ascertained.

Emperor Valerian has sent the Senate his rescript by which he has decided that bishops, priests and deacons shall immediately be put to death. Senators, notables and those who have the title of Roman knighthood shall be deprived of all dignities, as well as of their possessions. If they are obstinate in profess Christianity, even after the confiscation, they will be condemned to capital punishment.

Christians matrons will have all their goods confiscated and then be sent into exile. All imperial functionaries who have professed faith or should do so now, will suffer the same confiscation. They will then be arrested and registered for forced labour on the imperial estates.

Valerian also adds to the rescript a copy of a letter he has sent to the provincial governors concerning myself. I expect this letter any day and hope to receive it quickly, keeping myself firm and strong in faith. My decision in the face of martyrdom is quite clear. I am waiting for it, full of confidence that I shall receive the crown of eternal life from the goodness and generosity of God.

I have to report that Sixtus suffered martyrdon with four deacons on 6th of August, while he was in the "Cemetery" area (the catacombs of St. Callixtus).The Roman authorities have a rule that all who are denounced as Christians must be executed and their goods forfeited to the imperial treasury.

I ask that what I have reported be made known to our colleagues in the episcopate, so that by their exhortations our communities may be encouraged and ever more prepared for the spiritual combat. This will stimulate them to consider not so much death as the blessings of immortality, and to consecrate themselves to the Lord with ardent faith and heroic fortitude, to delight and not to fear at the thought of testifying their faith. The soldiers of God and of Christ know very well that their immolation is not so much a death but a crown of glory.

To you, dear brother, my greetings in the Lord " (Letter