Saturday, October 30, 2010
As the last of the brilliant October days come and go, our minds turn to November. November, that month of deepening chill and heart-warming activities.
During this month we could possibly see the first few snowflakes of the season. The weather's chill begins to set in permanently as the fall harvest, if not already completed, will soon be history. Sunny skies give way more frequently to cloudy, chilled afternoons with the wind whistling through the newly-barren trees. Trees that only a few days and weeks ago now stand as skeletons against the sky fully prepared for the frigid temperatures that may lie ahead.
Our minds also turn to the holidays, that time of year that everybody says they dread yet look forward to with great anticipation. Thanksgiving marks the end of the month but this is not the only holiday of significance in this month.
There's Veterans Day, November 11, a day set aside to honor all those who have served their country in the armed forces. It was on this day in 1918, on the 11th of the 11th hour that the Armistice between the allies and Germany ending WWI was signed. It is a day of solemn remembrances and ceremonies to help us never forget the sacrifices of previous and present generations who have served the United States with honor.
With Thanksgiving we usher in the time of the year that seems particularly devoted to gatherings of friends and family. We come together in a ritualistic sort of way to celebrate the bounty that we all enjoy. We celebrate our personal blessings and also remember the blessing that have been bestowed upon us by Almighty God as a nation and pray that He may continue to shower us with such favors. For some families, this holiday will be touched with sadness because of the departure of a loved one. Perhaps an empty chair will be placed at the table to remind all of the loss but even more importantly of what that person meant to everyone who have come together.
This year, our family will remember its patriarch, Lloyd Smith. Although he's been gone for a little over half a year, he is still thought of daily. Each of us, as we come together as a family once more, will privately remember back to last year's observance of Thanksgiving and the time we spent with him that day. Yes, there will be a slight feeling of melancholy this year, but more than that, I believe there will be joy in understanding what happiness he brought to us over the years and for that we shall all be thankful.
November. Another transitional month as we bid so long to the routinely warmer days and head inside to brace ourselves against the chill of the approaching winter. Let us all take some time daily to remember those things for which we feel most thankful. May we remember to thank one another for the things that they have done for us and for what they mean to us. And may we always be thankful to God for His blessings and presence in our lives. This is truly a season for giving thanks.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
For a few, all too brief shinning hours, the world actually seemed to come together to witness, through television pictures, 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped a little more than 2,000 feet below the surface for nearly seventy days. It was a stunning accomplishment. The success of the rescue happened in the way it did because for once, a multitude of nations came together to determine the best way to save the lives of the imprisoned men.
We witnessed some of the most remarkable technology the 21st century has to offer. A space age capsule designed in large part by NASA, served as the lifeboat for the victims of the cave in. The capsule was equipped with lighting so as to ease the fears of the miners as the device rose slowly to the surface. It also had oxygen on board in case the men felt a need for such a thing. Blue tooth technology was employed in order to keep in constant communication with the rescued worker as he ascended. A liquid drink developed by NASA provided the needed calories to help the men maintain their strength during the harrowing ride to the top. A simple, yet, I am sure, complex system was invented to lift the capsule from the floor of the chamber that housed the men for these past 70 days. In short, the whole rescue mission was a tribute to the intelligence and creativity of man.
But there was another element at work in all of this.
Many of the miners, upon reaching the surface, either knelt to give thanks, or made the sign of the cross to symbolize their gratitude to God. This aspect of the story cannot and must not be overlooked. Each man seemed to have a deepened faith due to this ordeal.
The trials through which these brave souls passed could not even be imagined by you and I. Can you really imagine what it must be like to be entombed in a small room with 33 others for 70 days not knowing whether or not you'll ever see the light of day again? And, yet, these men have survived! And while this accomplishment is a testament to the mind of man, it must also be seen as an act of mercy by a kind and loving God.
In light of the success of the rescue mission, we must understand that God alone can bring good from bad. He is the author of life and can do anything He pleases. Nothing is impossible with God! (cf Lk 1: 47) All of us are heirs to His mercy not because of anything we have done to deserve it, but because of the sacrifice His Son made for us.
Ever since the first miner came to the surface, stories of the men feeling the presence of a 34th person have circulated. The press covering this story has chosen to either ignore it or, at best, gingerly and almost sheepishly, mentioned it as an aside. But I am certain that these men did experience the presence of that unnamed 34th person. I believe, as do many of them, that they experienced in a very real way the presence of Jesus Christ.
We can all learn a lesson from these men. In their time of supreme struggle, they somehow found a way to not only survive but to maintain a healthy quality of life despite their surroundings. Their faith increased as they realized that the only real thing they possessed was their belief in Jesus Christ as their Savior. This belief sustained them, I am sure, through some of the bleakest moments underground. Those first seventeen days when it was not known if they were dead or alive had to the among the darkest of days for them. Then they were given the news that while they might be rescued after all, that rescue probably would not come until Christmas at the very earliest. The world paused and much of it offered up prayers daily for the successful return of these men to the world. And those prayers were answered.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." (Eph 1: 3) Thus, in the end, this whole long and drawn out trial can be seen as God creating something good from something bad. It would have been very easy for the miners to have sunk into deep despair over their situation and I am sure they did experience moments of depression. But they maintained their faith in God through the knowledge that God is a just and merciful God. They also knew that the world above was praying for them. Pope Benedict XVI sent them rosaries that he blessed and kept track of them day in and day out from the Vatican.
What we have witnessed is, indeed, a miracle. There is no other word about it. Man's ingenuity and creativity is a reflection of God Himself. The men in the mine were certainly not alone in their ordeal. Neither were those who diligently worked night and day on solving the problem by discovering solutions. And neither are you and I. We are, in fact, never alone. Jesus, by His Holy Spirit, is with us always! We, too, have the gift from God that the miners felt. We have His Divine presence with us all the days of our lives. And what a miracle that is! We give thanks for the successful outcome of the disaster in Chile. And, most importantly, we must give thanks for such a loving God!
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
As we come down to the final three weeks of campaining for the mid-term elections, we have now entered into a particularly mean season. I don't know if you have noticed it or not, but the ads are getting more and more personal and acidic in their approach. It is the rare ad that actually tells what the candidate in question might do once they achieve the high office they are running for. Most of the ads are bitter personal attacks on the opposing candidates themselves, their party affiliation, or their private lives and their families. Its like watching a bunch of kindergarten kids squabble on the playground, only on a far larger scale and one of infinitely more importance.
The bottom line is that politicians, whether those in office or those seeking office, think we, the elcetorate, are stupid. They think we'll fall for the stuff they put out, that we'll somehow believe their opponenet is apparently Hitler reincarnated. They are quick to take shots at the opponents pasts and project that on to how they'll act in the future never once considering their own miscues and mistakes of the past. Those candidates who are now threatened with defeat in November don't look at themselves and blame their lack of attention to their own constituency. No! They'd prefer to blame the republicans, the democrats, the tea partiers, or maybe even the witch doctor down the street!
I honestly do not know what the anwer is to this dilemma. We need to elect officials who respect the public and it's wishes and opinions and not just when every election time roles around. We need to elect politicians who have the courage to step foward and say what they stand for and what they will do and let the chips fall where they may. We need term limits so that those who go to Washington to serve do eventually come home to once again become an ordinary citizen instead of that official who comes home to the fried chicken circuit!
I, for one, am glad to see an abundance of the voters getting involved in the process. More people than I can remember are interested in the politics of the day. It's just too bad that they have waited this long to become involved. We need every last voter involved in the process.
We need politicans who are willing to work together regardless of party affiliation or political philosophy, to move this country forward in a direction that builds up, not tears down. There is so much bitterness in public life that the best of us would never think of running for elective office because they have no desire to place themselves or their families in the line of fire.
Lastly, we must pray for guidance. The United States is not what it once was. That's both good and bad on many levels. We once were a place where people from all lands could come, work hard, and achieve success through the sweat of their own brow. It was a melting pot. And that pot melted all those wonderful nationalities into one even greater people: Americans! We are no longer Americans. We are African-Americans, Arab-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and on and on. Keeping the homeland's culture and customs is great, but we must remember that the United States' strength has always been our unity. We are now divided into numerous ethnical camps. Our leaders need to foster an atmosphere where the unifitcation of a people does not threaten their individual heritage. But as long as the mean season stays alive, unity will be a goal that is nearly impossible to attain.
Saturday, October 9, 2010
This season is no different. On an unseasonably warm fall afternoon, Joan and I set out on an adventure to capture the early color of the annual fall colors. We didn't have to go far. Trees, in the process of change, dot the landscape all around our home and none of these scenes is farther than five miles away from our front door.
Some trees are tinged on the upper reaches of their branches with the colors that the entire plant will sport within a matter of days. Warm, sunny days and cool, crisp nights hurry the colors to the surface of the leaves making the transition a living, breathing creature.
I can be driving along at times and out of the corner of my eye spot some brightly colored tree or bush. My reaction is to pull off the road immediately and take the sight in as though I will never see anything like it again. In a way, the fact is that I won't see that same kind of image again. Each plant, each leaf, like we human beings, is different. Although a tree may have yellow leaves, if you look closely enough, you may notice that on that same tree, perhaps even the same branch, you will see several different shades of that very same yellow. It is a marvel of nature how she paints her creation in such subtle and majestic ways.