He who represents himself has a fool for a client.

Abraham Lincoln

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The above statement is clear.  He who acts unilaterally is a fool – more so in complex matters.  From a faith perspective one might observe that this proposition is a divine “fail safe” – a way of insuring that we do not act as if we are God, for we are prone to errors and imperfection.

In grand things and small – unilateral action most frequently breeds folly, fundamental error, destruction – and death: individual and collective.

Yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal carried an article by Max Boot who is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and in it Mr. Boot describes how Mr. Obama is pursuing a policy to shift the United States away from Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, Jordan and other allies in the Middle East in favor of Iran – a state that has vowed “death to America,” engaged in persistent terrorist acts against the U.S., and articulates an intention to destroy Israel.

Mr. Boot characterizes the American troop withdrawal from the Middle East as “disastrous and destabilizing.”

The article is worth reading.  It provides a concise and detailed account of the President’s actions in that important strategic area.

What is most stunning about the President’s action is his unilateral action.

He acts alone, without consultation.  He is a loner, acting without the counsel of select foreign policy experts or the input of either the military or elected members of Congress.

Mr. Obama, it seems, is not apprised of history.

A reading of the consequences of unilateral actions in foreign and military policy are clear in Hitler’s disastrous command of the German military in his invasion of Russia, a former German ally.  Closer to today, a review of “Arab Spring” as it has played out in Libya shows our failure to retain a post-Gadhafi American presence has produced anarchy.  Ditto, Iraq.  Power, of course, abhors a vacuum.

Shifts such as the realignment which Boot discusses require national conversation for they present profound alterations.

Let the President make a public case.  Let us decide if this is right for us and all those who will suffer its consequences.  We are after all a sovereign people.  We might want to put to the test the President’s demonstrated judgment on matters foreign and domestic and then we can decide if preceding Presidents and policy makers have been wrong in the Middle East all these years.

Failures on grand scales have wide and costly consequences.  Reading Boot’s article brought to mind this account of the actions of German military guards at the Auschwitz concentration camp:

Others are carrying a young girl with a missing leg; they hold her by her arms and by her one remaining leg.  Tears are streaking down her face as she whispers sadly, “Please, please, it hurts, it hurts …”  They heave her into a truck, among the corpses.  She will be burned alive, together with them.

From We Were in Auschwitz

The stakes are personal and faith is very much in play.


Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair …

Jn 12:3

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You recall that when Mary anointed the Lord’s feet, Judas Iscariot complained that this valuable oil could have been sold and the money given to the poor.  Jesus responded that the poor would always be with us.

What do we make of this?  Was this a callous comment by Jesus?  A selfish and prideful one?  Hardly.

It was a most instructive one.  It was a comment about love and its value.

Mary acted with love, pure and selfless love.  Jesus taught in his response that love is more valuable than money, than gold.  He who loves is rich.  He who is loved is also rich.

Love is the greatest treasure we possess … and it should be given freely.  It is a treasure that is never exhausted.  The more you give, the more you have of it. The more we give it, the richer the world.

Of course, exclusionary secularists do not understand this.  They are defaulted to money.  Money and power are the treasures for the secularists.  They believe that wages make the man and the woman.  Love has no value for the exclusionary secularist – all is power and wealth.

In the most fundamental ways, we show how far from wisdom we are.  How far from Christ we are.  How we cheapen life by our focus on money.  How we cheapen the dignity of the human person by placing power at the apex of our interests and life.  How destructive we are.  How ignorant of Christ’s teaching  How crass and hurtful to ourselves and others.  How far from intimacy and community we have moved?

Next time you are in a social gathering, look around.  Do you see more of Judas Iscariot than of Mary?  Do you see anyone who resembles Mary?  This is a caution to you, a renewal of the lesson Jesus gives us in this Gospel passage.

How shall you live?  As Mary?  Or as Judas Iscariot?

You know the culture you live in is tilted one way or the other.  What do you think about that?


I loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.

Sarah Williams

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In days gone by one could not navigate on cloudy nights.  Dark leaves us unguided or so we think.  But in darkness there is instruction.  Darken nights speak to us.  They say: stand still, wait, be patient and assured.

They speak as answered prayers do in their own silence.  There is in prayer and God’s response this special thing: timing.

Are we to say to the stars at night: come out from behind those clouds?  Would they respond to our command?  So, for silence when we implore?  The desire delayed is the moment ripened to its fullness delight.  The desire ignored is disaster averted, something better awaits we have not imagined in this dark of doubt and mortal demand.

Ah, accept the silence.  Wise is one who does.  Patience grows in silence and blossoms in acceptance.

Who might think in darken silence that God does not hear?  No one.  Do we not hear the sound of silence?  Can God not so?  We in His image, imperfect through.

In day and night and starry light in journey go.  So too in deep dark skies when we pause from flight.


Do not lose your inward peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.

St. Francis de Sales

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We are in the world.  Yes.  That is part of our existence, but not all our existence. There is an inner world for each of us, a world that connects us with an eternal existence.

To live in the world around us as if that is all that there is will be to miss what is interior and what is eternal.  Yes, you can find evidence of the eternal world in the world around you, the mortal realm – the coming and going in each day, those you encounter.  That world has its challenges, its schedule, its problems and conflicts and its moments of good things too, like laughter, intimacy, friendship, achievement.  But the inner world is still yours alone, a place for tranquility and meaning – for peace, an eternal place where past loves ones gather and you find rest.

Knowing who we are and resting in that space is where peace resides, where we are free and detached from things that claim us here in the material realm.  There what goes on about need not be housed.  We need not battle in the interior world we carry, nor prepare for the worse.  What is outside need not be inside.  God lives in each of us. There we can find ourselves.

Night is a good time for that inner existence.  Prayer at night and contemplation too is the door to the interior.

As night falls we go inside.  Dreams show us this.  Fast asleep, we rest and dream and in those dreams we find ourselves and what we carry inside.  The images and experiences of dreams often liberate us, explain what we have not yet understood. Dreams are summoned from what is known within, carried there.  They show what is eternal.

Go to your interior.  It is your private place.  There is peace there, and quiet, and calm, and God.

Never fear that place or ignore it.

When change comes upon you and something new is born, go inside – sit in quiet, pray, talk it out – talk it out with God.  Is this new thing good?  Is it a call? A call to greater experience?  Greater existence.  A call to more of me as God seeks more from me?

Fear no change or call from God.  Move in confidence even when uncertainty seems present.  No new worlds are discovered before they are unknown.

All is and can be inner peace, a refuge of calm from what is without, a sacred place where peace grows in width and depth.


… at the steeple of a distant little church … at that moment was tolling a late angelus.

From We Were in Auschwitz

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These are the simple words written by a poet and short story writer, non-Jew, while waiting with Nazi soldiers and officers to unload Jews from over-crowded railroad cars entering Auschwitz.

Somewhere along the timeline of the last century in so short a time from the Nazi horrors we have conveniently forgotten the unspeakable crimes the world witnessed merely 70 years ago.  In so short a time we have become indifferent. Despite Christ, indifferent.  Even in Lent, indifferent.  Even on Easter, indifferent? Indifference, not hate, the opposite of good.

How can this be?

The answer is simple: we have not placed God at the center of our life. Oh so many erstwhile substitutes, so many “good causes.”   Equality is one.  Men to make men equal to one another by race, and class, and gender, and sexual “preference.”

Yes, men at the center of human existence and what is good as if there is not but one Good.  How we like to think the universe and all that is unknown and unknowable is within our grasp – yes, even the warmth of the planet.

Little do we know or are willing to see in ourselves that our quest for such as “equality” displaces God.  We think less of changing hearts and more of policy, and politics, programs and power.  We stand tall but never kneel.

Equality, like many other things, reduced to material reality and our command. God shuttled aside.  How easily Satan deceives us, makes us “kings” and “queens” – masters of the planet.

Do we stop to think how equality and other “great” pursuits govern us where God might once have done so?  No, we do not.

The angelus bells, the angelus bells.  Is it not our task to hear them ring?  To hear them daily and defer to their sound.

Each minute of each day a train pulls into a gulag, a death camp and each moment of each day someone is killed, blown up, savaged because someone else seeks their due – desires “justice” or “equality.”

Without God notions of justice and equality produce only disequilibrium and, too often, destruction.

” … a distant church … the angelus.”  Do you hear any longer, you good people seeking omnipotent goals without God?


Now there were standing by the cross of Jesus his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus, therefore, saw his mother … he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, thy son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, thy mother.”

Jn 19:25,26,27

This post is dedicated to my daughter-in-law Mary on the day her child will be baptized and to all women, especially those who have dedicated themselves to being mothers.  We are lost without them – lost.

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Woman as birth-givers have a special role in human history.  Mary shows this in a very particular way in the Christian and Catholic narrative.

There is in Mary a divine connection between her and her Son.  There she is standing by the cross - a loving mother from conception to death.  Mary as mother – the Divine connection in the Divine plan.

It is quite clear that Mary knows her Son’s divinity.  She can see what others could not initially see.  She experienced what others could not so quickly experience. Her words at the wedding at Cana tell us that.  She knew him before others, and more completely.

Is she not what women are by their nature?

My experience with the good women I have known proves to me the special and sacred role women are endowed with, shows their unique divinely-given gifts and extraordinary strength.  They endure hardship and suffering and show a unique capacity of mercy, understanding and wisdom, for love that is undiminished. Their emotional range is something men do not possess, their insight unique to them.

I have often wondered why it is that in the present age women seek equality with men.  I, for one, see that as a decline for women.  They have always seemed to me to serve a superior and indispensable role compared to men.

Why, I ask, do they wish to be less?  Can it be that those who promote the equality of men and women do not value women as I do?  A secular view is, of course, reductionist and grossly material.  A sacred view is not.  The former is small, the latter expands beyond this – to the heavens, eternity, life everlasting.

It seems so middling to desire for women that they be “of this world” when they exceed this world in their given nature, and sacred role.

The disciples scattered and left Jesus when Mary did not.  Three women standing at the cross of Jesus.  Is this not a sign of their Trinitarian nature?  Their special place?

“Woman, behold thy son.”

Those who settle for equality settle cheap, become less, subtract from humanity and, perhaps, from themselves.


Possessions, outward success, publicity, luxury – to me these have always been contemptible.  I believe that a simple and unassuming manner of life is best for everyone, best for both the body and the mind.

Albert Einstein

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Why get tangled in all these things?  Do they not complicate your life and mind? Create obligations?  Things to manage, things to clean?

And why have expectations that we “deserve” this or that?  Does this not set one up for disappointment?  Change how we behave?  Create conduct in us that is unflattering.

In simple and unassuming there is detachment.  Independence.  Self-reliance. Simple and unassuming: a form of peace.  Simple and unassuming: they create distance, open space and free time.


It is a puzzling thing.  The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away.  Puzzling.

Robert M. Pirsig

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Growing up in working class Boston among my Irish friends and in a family that, like my neighbors, lived close to the ground you put two and two together and got to four.

Thin margins in life make truth a premium possession, essential for your navigation, sanity, safety and security.  In a tough environment you can’t wait for someone else to tell you the truth, you have to know it for yourself.

We are in a tough environment now – an environment as difficult, both internationally and domestically, as I have experienced in my life time.  We face both significant economic and security threats.

As a lawyer I learned to listen and observe in order to discover the facts, locate the truth.

If a client told me a story that left me adrift, seemed to have missing pieces, I asked questions, probed and pressed for explanations, more details – and then replayed in my mind over and over what I had been told, and what I sensed and what I doubted so that I might discern what was true.

Yes, often the truth knocks and we turn it away.  You see truth is hardly “on the surface” even when it is looking right at us.

Looking at the last six or seven years of federal governance it is reasonable to wonder if the truth has been knocking and we may turned it away.  Notice I did not say “let’s wait for the press to give us the news.”  No, truth is frequently more available to us than that and coming to it personally teaches far better than having it “told” to us.

Thinking about Pirsig’s insightful proposition makes me wonder: what have we gotten for the trillions of dollars added to national debt that our children and grandchildren have had loaded on them in the last six or seven years? And I wonder as well: where were the key figures in our governmental chain of command when our facility in Benghazi was attacked over the hours and our men killed while we did nothing, and what were they doing?

Hard to do much without truth being known.  It is essential.  As a consequence, it never goes out of fashion.

Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me, let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling.

Ps 43:3

Long before there were newspapers there was truth …


… Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men … we are witnesses … and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to all who obey him.”

Acts 5:29,32

The post today is dedicated to my mother, Jacqueline F. Sylvester (1926-1994) on her birthday – the Feast of St. Joseph.  How fitting.  She was both a mother and father to me.  She gave me life and saved my life.

I love you Mom.

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It is no secret that exclusionary secularists and those who hold political power in the secularized state as it exists in the West, the U.S. included, are hostile to faith and religion.

At Easter we will be asked to affirm once again our baptismal vows.  This is a solemn pledge – especially at this time in which belief, faith, religion and Christianity is under attack.

Think seriously about your words at Easter.  Do you believe?  Do you live your belief?  Do you do so daily?  Are you a witness?

The above passage is taken from Chapter 5 of The Acts of the Apostles.  In that chapter the Apostles are brought before the authorities for preaching in Jesus name.  They had, it is important to say, been prohibited by the authorities from doing so.

When questioned they said the above.  They chose to obey God not men.  They witnessed what they believed and knew as the truth.  They were led by the Holy Spirit in this.

We are at a most contentious time in American life – a time when politics and power is at odds with faith and with Christians and Catholics in particular.

We live in serious times.  Are we as Peter and the apostles?

To split one’s loyalties, to pay God in one currency and Caesar another, was no longer possible.

Czeslaw Milosz, in The Captive Mind


Note – Acts 5:17-42 is a wonderful source for reflection this Lent.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from iniquity.

1 Jn 1:8-9

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Sin.  Failure.  This is part of human existence.  We will all know failure and sin in this mortal life.

How many of us know that with failure or sin comes God’s love and support?  How many live as if that is not so, as if they have done something that is unforgivable, inexcusable?  Think of the burden we create in carrying that guilt.   That is an unnecessary burden.  We do not have a “one strike and you’re out” God.

Yes, sin and failure may bring us humility, cut us down to human size – but neither sin nor failure is a permanent and insurmountable burden.  God is merciful and forgives us our sins and understands our failures and our sin.

We will all fall in this life.  But to each forgiveness is available, and mercy is in long supply.

Those who do not believe seem to have to deny failure and sin.  This makes one brittle, defensive and makes being human much, much harder.  Such a disposition eliminates, or at least narrows, ones capacity for forgiveness and the understanding of others.

In the strangest, supernatural way failure and sin are designed, it seems, to teach us humility, to invite us into relationship with the One Perfect One, to grow in us compassion and forgiveness as to self and others.  From this: real friendship and intimacy, and less hurt and anxiety.

Failure and sin is, in God’s design, a gateway to our full humanity and to Him. Likewise to others – our co-workers, neighbors, strangers, siblings, parents, children, friends who will, just as us, sin and fail.

See the perfect design of the Perfect One.

Dear God, forgive our sins, our failures.  Strengthen us in all that is good in us, all that you made us to be at our best.  Help us live in the confidence that we are human and You forgive.


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