Auschwitz, 75 Years Later

Today, January 27th, we commemorate the day in 1945 when Soviet troops liberated the most famous of the Nazi’s concentration camps, Auschwitz. From 1940 to 1945, 1,100,000 men, women, and children were murdered. Most were Jews, but the Nazi’s also murdered Roma (Gypsies), political prisoners, and gays. It’s important to remember them too.

Seventy five years out it’s easy to parrot the phrase “Never again” but that’s not enough. This genocide didn’t begin with the opening of Auschwitz, it began much earlier and “never again” commands that we challenge and call out antisemitism before it becomes the norm, before it becomes acceptable.

Germany after World War I was a mess. Not only did they lose the war, but they were forced into poverty by England and France who demanded crushing reparations.

A few years into this an Austrian who fought for Germany as a lance corporal saw an opportunity. His name was Adolf Hitler (1889-1945). He decided that the real source of German suffering wasn’t the Treaty of Versailles but the Jews.

He was a brilliant communicator and was able to convince much of his adopted country that if they could only get rid of the Jews their future would be bright. He was raised Catholic and used a longstanding myth that the Jews killed Jesus Christ to make antisemitism reasonable to Christians. It worked.

Seventy five years ago, when we learned the horrors of the Holocaust, antisemitism became unacceptable in most quarters. But every year since then we’ve seen antisemitism become more and more acceptable. In August of 2017, at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, we heard, to our horror, the phrase: “The Jews Will Not Replace Us.”

This was part of a larger campaign called “Unite the Right.” Our President, when asked about this campaign, claimed that there were “very fine people on both sides.”

He’s wrong. Fine people aren’t white supremacists. Fine people aren’t anti-Semites.

If we want to ensure there will never be another Auschwitz we need to call out antisemitism when it begins, not when it becomes deadly.

Remembering This Day Eighteen Years Later

September 11, 2001 began ordinarily for us. It was a Tuesday morning and my parents were in town to see the home we purchased five months earlier. It was a good visit and they expected to return to Virginia the next day.

Shortly before 6AM our alarm turned on the radio and we began to get ready for work. But we soon learned that a passenger plane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. In the next few hours we learned that another plane crashed into the South Tower, a third plane crashed into the Pentagon, and a fourth plane crashed into rural Pennsylvania when passengers gave their lives to prevent a crash into the White House.

On that day many of us went to work in a blur of grief, fear, and uncertainty. I spent the morning in a meeting. After the meeting we planned to have lunch to celebrate the birthday of one of my coworkers. It was a hard lunch as we spent the whole time watching the television in the restaurant.

I spent the afternoon and the next few days visiting patients who wanted to talk about Pearl Harbor. They recognized the bewilderment and the fear of knowing that outside forces drove us into a frightening future. In some ways their memories comforted me because they told me how this attack drew our nation together and good eventually triumphed against evil.

This is a day to remember those who stepped up: the passengers of United Flight 93 who gave their lives and saved the White House; the first responders in New York who gave their lives running into the fire; the Pentagon workers who ran into the fire to save their coworkers.

Also those who spent weeks and months at Ground Zero digging through the rubble who were lied to about the risk and suffer to this day.

To those who lost loved ones, that day and since, I say this: One day we will all be in Heaven and all will be well.

Evil isn’t powerless but it will never defeat good.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 34: Fifty Years After Stonewall

Fifty years ago it wasn’t easy to be gay. Everyone assumed every adult was attracted to a person of the opposite sex. Men fell in love with women and women fell in love with men.

Except for some people it was different. Some men fell in love with other men, and some women fell in love with other women. We can argue about what percentage, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is this: how do we treat people with different sexual orientations?

Frankly, fifty years ago most of us didn’t even know about this. But some did and they criminalized not only homosexual behavior, but even homosexuality itself. In many places homosexuality was a crime and in some parts of the world it still is.

In 1969 in New York City gay men and women lived with a secret that prevented them from being open with their family, friends, and coworkers. But they knew there was a place where they could be themselves: the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. There they could connect with other and find love.

But they couldn’t feel entirely safe because they were subjected to police raids. Patrons of the Stonewall Inn grew wearily used to police raids where officers would enter the bar and arrest men dressed as women and others who “looked gay.” But on the night of June 28,1969 something new happened. Patrons of the bar fought back. It led to three days of riots.

In the fifty years later, much has happened. The Stonewall riots empowered gay communities locally, nationally, and globally to demand equal rights. They called us, shamed us, and ultimately persuaded us to understand that they are created by the same God and are called to the same goals: to find love, to live with joy, and build families.

In 2003, in the case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court ruled that we can’t legislate against gay sex. Twelve years later they ruled that marriage was legal for all adults, regardless of orientation. I encourage you to read it: Obergenfell v. Hoges.

There’s lots to say about this, but let me say this: those opposed to gay marriage argued that if we allowed gays to be gay they would try to make our children gay. No gay person I know has even wanted to do this and they find this argument deeply offensive. The opponents of gay marriage also argue that if we live in a society that accepts homosexuality God will bring down fire and destruction. Except God hasn’t.

I am straight but not narrow. My gay friends have enlightened (and sometimes challenged) me to understand that they want those things I take for granted. They want to fall in love with someone who loves them. They want to be able to hold hands without being accused to “forcing an agenda.” They want the things I never had to fight to expect.

To those who fought back on June 28, 1969 I say this: Thank you for your courage and thank you for teaching the rest of us that you only want what I never had to demand.

June 6, 1944: Why We Must Never Forget the Longest Day

Seventy five years ago 150,000 soldiers boarded 5,000 ships and 11,000 planes in England and did something incredible: they invaded France despite heavy German fortifications.

World War II began on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. England and France then declared war on Germany (the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941). But the Germans were able to march into France and France surrendered on June 22, 1940.

Allied leaders knew they needed to invade France if they had any chance to win the war; the Germans knew that too. While the allies planned the invasion, Germany fortified all the beaches in France on the English Channel. The narrowest part of the English Channel was from Dover, England to Calais, France and Hitler was convinced the allies would land in Calais. On the night of June 5, 1944, Hitler went to bed with instructions not to wake him the next morning.

Unbeknownst to him, while he slept the allies boarded planes and ships. They were young, scared, and determined. When the German soldiers (who were also young, scared, and determined), overlooking the beaches of Normandy, spotted the allied ships we can only imagine their reaction. They opened fire with their machine guns, and by the end of the day 4,413 allied soldiers died but they also knew that they needed reinforcements.

Meanwhile, back in Berlin, Hitler’s generals faced a dilemma. Only Hitler had the authority to send in reinforcements and his generals were too afraid to wake him. When Hitler finally did wake up and was told about the invasion in Normandy, he angrily insisted that this was a diversion and the real invasion was going to be in Calais. By the time Hitler finally accepted that Normandy was the invasion spot, it was too late.

But the invasion wasn’t that easy. The 11,000 planes carried paratroopers whose job it was to land behind enemy lines to block German reinforcements. But they flew at night under less than ideal weather conditions, and many of them landed far from where they intended. It took much longer than expected to form the front line and march toward Germany.

They liberated Paris on August 25, 1944 and Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945.

Seventy five years out it won’t be long until the last survivor of D-Day dies and our only testimonies will be those written or passed down orally. Those of us who were lucky to hear the stories of these surviving soldiers first hand must never take for granted the gift we were given. Those who only know of these stories from what we read must also never forget.

If you wish, you can read my post from five years ago

And if you haven’t seen these two movies, I highly recommend The Longest Day from 1962 and Saving Private Ryan from 1998.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 33: It’s Time to Change the Discussion on Abortion

On January 22, 1973 the Supreme Court, in the case of Roe v. Wade, ruled 7-2 that the government cannot prohibit a woman from having an abortion. In the history of the 20th Century this decision ranked as one of its most important decisions alongside Brown v. Board of Education.

From day one Roe divided out nation into camps: Those who think abortion murders unborn babies v. those who think a woman’s right to her body is absolute.

If asked where I stand, I will say this: I think every abortion is a missed chance for a new life and it’s a tragedy. But I’ll also say that we live in a society that should value life, all lives and lives at every stage.

From the moment of publication the lines were drawn. Those who supported the opinion called themselves “pro-choice” (and were called “pro abortion” by their opponents). Those who opposed the opinion called themselves “pro-life” (and “anti-choice” by their opponents).

I remember that day and was surprised at how it divided the nation like no other issue since slavery. In the past 46 years I have watched the invective grow stronger and more hateful, and I have seen little in the way of bringing the two groups together and find a common solution.

In the mid 1980s I was a youth minister at a church in Virginia and I attended a conference in Washington D.C. where one speaker spoke about abortion in a way that caught my attention. He was a Catholic priest who periodically met with young women who had an abortion and regretted it. They told him that they had nowhere to go. If they sought help from the pro-choice movement they were told that they shouldn’t regret their decision. If they sought help from the pro-life movement they were told that what they did was unforgivable. He argued that there needs to be a voice that listens to these women and care for them.

But I think we need to move beyond that. I think both sides need to move to a point where it doesn’t matter if abortion is legal or not because we live in a place where all life is precious and abortion is unthinkable. I think we are called to move to a place where life is valued in all its stages: before birth, as children, as adults, and as the elderly. A place where our society ensures that we all have what we need to lead healthy, valued lives.

But here’s my problem: the pro-life proponents generally oppose government programs that provide assistance to young families. We find a bright line from those who oppose abortion and those who oppose government assistance for the poor. Former Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank famously stated this: “The Moral Majority supports legislators who oppose abortions but also oppose child nutrition and day care. From their perspective, life begins at conception and ends at birth.”

I’m not writing this to take sides, but instead to claim all sides need to embrace what late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called the “seamless garment of life.” He argued that those who oppose abortion and claim to be pro-life should not only oppose abortion but also support the protection and respect of life in all stages. He argued against abortion, but also euthanasia and capital punishment.

It means we should ensure that children born into poverty are valued as much as children born into wealth. They should have as much access to nutrition and care. It means that no child should be denied medical care or vaccinations.

But more than that, being pro-life should challenge us to see men and women (boys and girls) as equals. Many women who seek abortions can speak with authority about how they didn’t fully consent to sex. Some were (frankly) raped by men that they knew and shouldn’t have trusted, often by family members. Others felt pressure to have sex with boyfriends out of a fear of loneliness. Decades ago I had a conversation with a teenage mother who told me that her pregnancy resulted from her boyfriend’s claim to “not like” condemns. When I told her she had the right to demand that he wear a condemn she had no idea what I was talking about.

The best path forward to decrease abortions is clear: make birth control easier to obtain and teach sex education to our children. We can learn a great deal from the Netherlands.

Simply put, if we can teach young men that sex should be a dialogue instead of a demand, and if we can teach young women that they have a voice in the decision to have sex, we will decrease unplanned and unwanted pregnancies.

I’m not arguing that this will be easy. For much of our history as humans we’ve assumed sex was something that men could demand and women needed to regulate. For much of our history women balanced the desire for intimacy with the fear of pregnancy and abandonment. Too many women faced the task of single parenthood out of the inability to choose to claim the power to negotiate.

It takes two people to make a baby. It should take all of us to value that baby without condition. Only then we will be truly pro-life.

Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.

When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.

The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).

I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.

Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 123: All Americans Should Read James Comey’s Book

This morning my wife Nancy and I finished reading James Comey’s book A Higher Loyalty.

It’s an excellent book and I recommend it to everyone. In it Mr. Comey describes the highs and lows of his life and his commitment to serve our nation. By any measure Mr. Comey’s patriotism reminds us all of what we should all aspire to as Americans and pass that along to our children.

President Trump’s election came three years after Mr. Comey was appointed by President Obama for a ten year term. And while the FBI director normally serves for ten years, he serves at the pleasure of the President. He can be fired by the President for any reason, or for no reason.

And Director Comey was indeed fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017. There’s much to this and I encourage everyone to purchase Mr. Comey’s book to get the whole story. It’s seriously a good read.

But I want to zero in on a paragraph toward the end of Mr. Comey’s book. He and his wife Patrice were blessed with daughters and a son (Collin) who died as an infant in 1995. Collin’s death made Mr. Comey a more compassionate and caring man. He recognized that their pain, and the pain of their surviving children, called them to greater empathy to the suffering of others. Collin’s death not only made Mr. Comey a better husband and father, it made him a better law enforcement officer. It further emboldened him to do justice better.

In his book Mr. Comey wrote about his experience against the reality he saw with President Trump. He wrote this, and I want all Americans to read this:

I see no evidence that a lie ever caused Trump pain, or that he ever recoiled from causing another person pain, which is sad and frightening. Without all those things – without kindness to leaven toughness, without a balance of confidence and humility, without empathy, and without respect for truth – there is little chance President Trump can attract and keep the kind of people around him that every president needs to make wise decisions. That makes me sad for him, but it makes me worry for our country.

We all deserve better leadership. We all deserve a President that leads all of us, that values our values, and lives the values that we embody in the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these the homeless tempest-tost to me I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.

The Trump Chronicles, Volume 89: Here’s Why We Should All Support PBS and NPR

For over 20 years I’ve supported National Public Radio because I’ve found their news coverage superior to anything else. In the last few years I’ve subscribed to several podcasts connected to NPR and they tell me the best way to support these podcasts lies in support of my local NPR station (KPBS). Starting last year I sent in my donation to KPBS and have included a letter to the program director Tom Karlo.

I’m writing this in the hopes that more of us support NPR. Here is this year’s letter to Tom:

Dear Tom:

Last January we sent in our annual contribution to support KPBS.

In that letter I spoke about how freedom of the press found itself under unprecedented fire from the White House and those foolish enough to believe the President’s lies. A year later I still have the same concerns and, frankly, find PBS and NPR my best weapon to fight back and protect our First Amendment rights.

When I tell people I support public radio some will dismiss it as having a liberal bias. I used to ignore it, but I no longer do. I tell them this: PBS and NPR provides smart, in-depth, reasoned news that does not tell us how to think, but instead enlightens us to the issues. Time again I come away with an understanding of all sides of a controversial issue and I can form my opinion after considering all sides. I explain that PBS and NPR are not balanced because that creates a false equivalency. “Today’s topic is the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. On one side we have a renowned pediatrician and on the other side we have the mother of a child with autism. You decide.”

And finally I tell them that if this level of reporting leans left, I’m OK with that. I’m willing to be thoughtful enough to care about our environment, our neighbors, and our grandchildren.

In addition to listening to KPBS I also listen to several NPR podcasts and I want you to know which ones I support:

Up First
NPR Politics
Planet Money
Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me
Fresh Air

Please give my best wishes to your staff and know how much all of you mean to me.

I hope you’ll support your local NPR station.

The Justice Chronicles, Volume 29: Do We Need to Revisit the Limits of Free Speech in the Age of Twitter?

We Americans revere few things more than Freedom of Speech. We are told in the First Amendment of our Constitution that “Congress shall make no law …abridging the freedom of speech.”

Alas, it’s a right that’s little understood. It means you cannot be arrested for what you say. But it’s often misinterpreted to mean you can say whatever you want without consequences. Here’s my favorite example: in 2010 the popular radio advice hostess Laura Schlessinger came under criticism for her use of the “N word” on her show. When an African American caller (in an interracial marriage) objected to her use of that word, Laura responded: “If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race.” You can read about it here. After being criticized for her remarks she appeared on Larry King Live and demanded return of her “first amendment rights.” She believed that freedom of speech protected her from criticism for her words. She didn’t understand that others have the same right to express their opinions, and she was not Constitutionally protected from having her feelings hurt.

But from the beginning we’ve struggled with limits to the rights of free speech. Can you say anything? This debate goes all the way back to President Adam’s infamous Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798 which criminalized criticism of the government.

I have no desire to give an entire history of this debate, but we all look to the 1919 Supreme Court decision of Schneck v. the United States. In his majority decision Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote this: “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater and causing a panic.”

This make sense. You don’t have the right to speech that directly causes injury to others. But there is also legal precedent that you don’t have the right to prohibit speech that offends you. Many of us remember well the issue of flag burning. In 1989 the Supreme Court decided, in the case of Texas v. Johnson, that burning the American flag is protected speech.

But what about today? If you burn a flag across the street of a VFW hall you’re certainly going to anger the veterans gathered but we can all agree that nobody is in danger. That’s changed.

We’re all still talking about the events last week in Charlottesville but I heard a story that frightens me. The marchers were filmed by many who posted pictures on Twitter, with the hope that the marchers could be called out and recognized for their racist views.

That may be OK with many of us, but it’s not OK with Kyle Quinn. Kyle works for the University of Arkansas and committed the unforgiveable sin of looking like someone who marched in Charlottesville. In an excellent article you can see that someone saw a picture of someone who looked like Kyle and identified him as Kyle (even though Kyle was 900 miles away in Little Rock, Arkansas).

Kyle got a call from someone at the university who verified that he was in Little Rock and suggested that Kyle’s life just got more complicated. He was right.

Soon his Twitter account, email account, etc. blew up. His home address was posted and Kyle and his wife retreated to a friend’s house out of fear for their safety.

I write this because (much like those in the theater when someone shouts “fire”) Twitter, Facebook, and other social media make all of us potential victims of danger. Kyle well knows that a someone with a gun and an agenda (and his home address) may pose exactly the same danger to him as to the theater goers who are stampeded after someone yells fire.

I love freedom of speech as much as anyone. I revel in my ability to disagree with, and even lampoon, politicians I don’t agree with. But I don’t think our founders intended to protect those whose words lead directly to mobs who show up with clubs and torches. And I don’t think they intended to protect the 21st century mobs who traded in clubs and torches for Twitter accounts.

So where do we go from here? Whoever misidentified Kyle made an honest mistake, but hate groups created the environment that made this possible. The march on Charlottesville was organized by a group called Unite the Right.

Previous generations looked on groups like this as reprehensible but protected by the First Amendment. Today we need to look on them as hate groups that can no longer hide behind free speech.