31 December 2010

Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians: "Auld Lang Syne"

As the new year, 2011, draws closer, I offer an audio version of "Auld Lang Syne" by Guy Lombardo & His Royal Canadians:

A Reflection Starter from Carl Bard

"Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending." - Carl Bard (American Academic)

A New Year’s Reminder

A reminder from Father Austin Fleming: “The new year comes just one day at a time”:

Concord Pastor: The new year comes just one day at a time . . . (31 DEC 10)

Straight No Chaser and "Auld Lang Syne"

In anticipation of the various New Year's Eve celebrations later today, I offer the a cappella group Straight No Chaser singing "Auld Lang Syne" (in a live performance at Los Angeles radio station KOST):

The Catholic Side of Mark Wahlberg

In an interesting Catholic Herald profile, Gabrielle Donnelly writes about the Catholic background of Mark Wahlberg (who grew up in Massachusetts):

Catholic Herald: ‘The first thing I do each day is pray’ (24 DEC 10)

Anthony Esolen on Putting the Christmas Back in Christ

“Putting the Christmas Back in Christ

“That's Chesterton's idea, not mine. But he was surely right. Chesterton knew that, so long as the atheist remembers a Christmas of long ago, when it seemed that the stars themselves were made only that they might twinkle upon a stable in Bethlehem, he may yet someday become a man worthy of the boy he once was.”

So begins a reflection by Dr. Anthony Esolen (who teaches Renaissance English Literature and the Development of Western Civilization at Providence College). To continue reading this thought-provoking commentary, please visit:

Anthony Esolen: Putting the Christmas Back in Christ

For more information about Professor Esolen, please visit:

Anthony Esolen

30 December 2010

Celtic Woman: "O Come All Ye Faithful"

As the Christmas celebration continues, I offer Celtic Woman singing "O Come All Ye Faithful":

Reflection Starter from Norman Vincent Peale

"The cyclone drives its powers from a calm center. So does a person." - Rev. Norman Vincent Peale

29 December 2010

The Gift of Silence

Elizabeth Scalia, who writes for the magazine, First Things, recently wrote a good reflection on the value of silence - during this season and throughout the year.

Her thoughtful commentary may be accessed by visiting:

First Things: Elizabeth Scalia: "For 2011: Unwrap the Silence" (28 DEC 10)

28 December 2010

The Feast of the Holy Innocents, Martyrs

Today the Church celebrates the feast of the Holy Innocents, martyrs.

Martin Kochanski, of Universalis Publishing, publishes, among other things an online edition of the Liturgy of the Hours (which may be found at http://www.universalis.com/). On a number of occasions he has written a reflection related to the liturgical day. He wrote a thought-provoking one related to today's observance, which I offer here:

"The Holy Innocents are the children who were slaughtered at the orders of King Herod, in the hope that by killing every boy born in Bethlehem at the same time as Jesus, he would succeed in killing the new-born King of the Jews.

"There was nothing about those baby boys that made them deserve death. Look at any one of them, and you can see that he had no chance to do anything, or be anyone, or become anyone. He had done nothing. He had done nothing bad, he had done nothing good. He was born, and then he died, and that was all there was to him. So passive are these babies that some people find it hard to understand how they can share the title of 'martyr' with people like St Stephen (the day before yesterday), who insisted on preaching the truth until his hearers stoned him for it, or St Thomas Becket (tomorrow), who insisted on living the truth until his king had him killed because of it. These children did not insist on anything except their mothers' milk; and unlike Stephen and Thomas, there was no voluntary act of theirs that we can see as making the difference between being martyred and not being martyred.

"So in our rational human terms these children are a puzzle, and that is one reason why God has inspired the Church to celebrate this very feast - to show us how inadequate our seemingly rational, worldly-wise thoughts are. As he reminds us again and again throughout salvation history, his thoughts are not our thoughts. Babies may not rank high on the scale as far as our human calculus is concerned; but then neither do sparrows, and yet God has told us that God sees and counts every one of those.

"The Holy Innocents can stand, therefore, for the 'unimportant' and 'unnecessary' pawns, child and adult alike, that permeate the whole of human history, the ones who can be sacrificed for some greater cause because they 'don't really matter'; the eggs that were broken to make an omelette... or even broken to make nothing at all. There are plenty of them, one way or another. The feast of the Holy Innocents reminds us that in God's eyes (that is, according to the true value of things), no-one is unimportant, no-one is unnecessary, no-one 'doesn’t really matter.' However meaningless their lives and deaths may seem to us, they shine glorious in heaven.

"On a more personal level, the honour given to the Holy Innocents reminds us that if we suffer or even die for God's sake, it has value even if we have little or no say in it ourselves. Honouring them effectively honours also the martyrdom of the people these children could have become, and their children's children as well; and at the same time we can remember the contemporary and continuing massacre of those who die before birth for the convenience of those who have them killed."

Bing Crosby and David Bowie: "The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth"

As the Christmas celebration continues, I offer Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing "The Little Drummer Boy / Peace On Earth":

Pope Benedict's Urbi et Orbi Message

On Christmas Day at noon, Pope Benedict XVI delivered his traditional Urbi et Orbi Message. (Until recently I was not aware, or maybe had forgotten, that Urbi et Orbi /"to the City and to the World" was a standard opening of proclamations in the days of the Roman Empire.)

After offering his message (which he read in Italian) and his Apostolic Blessing, Holy Father gave Christmas greetings in 54 different languages to the pilgrims who had gathered in Saint Peter's Square.

Here is the English translation of the Pope's Urbi et Orbi Message, as given by the Vatican:

"Verbum caro factum est" - "The Word became flesh" (John 1:14).

Dear brothers and sisters listening to me here in Rome and throughout the world, I joyfully proclaim the message of Christmas: God became man; he came to dwell among us. God is not distant: he is "Emmanuel", God-with-us. He is no stranger: he has a face, the face of Jesus.

This message is ever new, ever surprising, for it surpasses even our most daring hope. First of all, because it is not merely a proclamation: it is an event, a happening, which credible witnesses saw, heard and touched in the person of Jesus of Nazareth! Being in his presence, observing his works and hearing his words, they recognized in Jesus the Messiah; and seeing him risen, after his crucifixion, they were certain that he was true man and true God, the only-begotten Son come from the Father, full of grace and truth (cf. John 1:14).

"The Word became flesh". Before this revelation we once more wonder: how can this be? The Word and the flesh are mutually opposed realities; how can the eternal and almighty Word become a frail and mortal man? There is only one answer: Love. Those who love desire to share with the beloved, they want to be one with the beloved, and Sacred Scripture shows us the great love story of God for his people which culminated in Jesus Christ.

God in fact does not change: he is faithful to himself. He who created the world is the same one who called Abraham and revealed his name to Moses: "I am who I am . . . the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob . . . a God merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (cf. Exodus 3:14-15; 34:6). God does not change; he is Love, ever and always. In himself he is communion, unity in Trinity, and all his words and works are directed to communion. The Incarnation is the culmination of creation. When Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, was formed in the womb of Mary by the will of the Father and the working of the Holy Spirit, creation reached its high point. The ordering principle of the universe, the Logos, began to exist in the world, in a certain time and space.

"The Word became flesh". The light of this truth is revealed to those who receive it in faith, for it is a mystery of love. Only those who are open to love are enveloped in the light of Christmas. So it was on that night in Bethlehem, and so it is today. The Incarnation of the Son of God is an event which occurred within history, while at the same time transcending history. In the night of the world a new light was kindled, one which lets itself be seen by the simple eyes of faith, by the meek and humble hearts of those who await the Savior. If the truth were a mere mathematical formula, in some sense it would impose itself by its own power. But if Truth is Love, it calls for faith, for the "yes" of our hearts.

And what do our hearts, in effect, seek, if not a Truth which is also Love? Children seek it with their questions, so disarming and stimulating; young people seek it in their eagerness to discover the deepest meaning of their life; adults seek it in order to guide and sustain their commitments in the family and the workplace; the elderly seek it in order to grant completion to their earthly existence.

"The Word became flesh". The proclamation of Christmas is also a light for all peoples, for the collective journey of humanity. "Emmanuel", God-with-us, has come as King of justice and peace. We know that his Kingdom is not of this world, and yet it is more important than all the kingdoms of this world. It is like the leaven of humanity: were it lacking, the energy to work for true development would flag: the impulse to work together for the common good, in the disinterested service of our neighbor, in the peaceful struggle for justice. Belief in the God who desired to share in our history constantly encourages us in our own commitment to that history, for all its contradictions. It is a source of hope for everyone whose dignity is offended and violated, since the one born in Bethlehem came to set every man and woman free from the source of all enslavement.

May the light of Christmas shine forth anew in the Land where Jesus was born, and inspire Israelis and Palestinians to strive for a just and peaceful coexistence. May the comforting message of the coming of Emmanuel ease the pain and bring consolation amid their trials to the beloved Christian communities in Iraq and throughout the Middle East; may it bring them comfort and hope for the future and bring the leaders of nations to show them effective solidarity. May it also be so for those in Haiti who still suffer in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and the recent cholera epidemic. May the same hold true not only for those in Colombia and Venezuela, but also in Guatemala and Costa Rica, who recently suffered natural disasters.

May the birth of the Savior open horizons of lasting peace and authentic progress for the peoples of Somalia, Darfur and Côte d'Ivoire; may it promote political and social stability in Madagascar; may it bring security and respect for human rights in Afghanistan and in Pakistan; may it encourage dialogue between Nicaragua and Costa Rica; and may it advance reconciliation on the Korean peninsula.

May the birth of the Savior strengthen the spirit of faith, patience and courage of the faithful of the Church in mainland China, that they may not lose heart through the limitations imposed on their freedom of religion and conscience but, persevering in fidelity to Christ and his Church, may keep alive the flame of hope. May the love of "God-with-us" grant perseverance to all those Christian communities enduring discrimination and persecution, and inspire political and religious leaders to be committed to full respect for the religious freedom of all.

Dear brothers and sisters, "the Word became flesh"; he came to dwell among us; he is Emmanuel, the God who became close to us. Together let us contemplate this great mystery of love; let our hearts be filled with the light which shines in the stable of Bethlehem! To everyone, a Merry Christmas!

27 December 2010

"Silent Night" (English and German Versions)

As the Christmas celebration continues, I offer the English (with Johnny Mathis singing) and the German (with Bianca performing) versions of "Silent Night":

26 December 2010

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph

Today the Church celebrates the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The assigned readings are Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14; Colossians 3:12-21; and Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 128 (128:1-5).

The second reading, to which Dr. D'Ambrosio refers in his reflection (see below), is as follows:

Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Wives, be subordinate to your husbands, as is proper in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and avoid any bitterness toward them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this is pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, so they may not become discouraged. (Colossians 3:12-21)

In a reflection on these readings, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio wrote ". . .we have the obligation to honor and respect all human beings, since they are made in the image and likeness of God.  But the degree of honor we are bound to give to others is directly proportional to the burden of responsibility that they bear for our sakes.  No one has been given more responsibility for us than our parents, and so we must give them more honor and respect than anyone."

To read Dr. D'Ambrosio's complete reflection, please visit:

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio: The Feast of the Holy Family: Piety . . . in the 21st Century?

In today's "Daily Ignatian Reflection" from the Magis Institute, Mr. Timothy Kieras, S.J., writes, "This feast always provides a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the family, our families, the holiness of a family, all by meditating on The Holy Family. In a family, there are parents and children. If we picture the Holy Family, we can find there a mother - not just any mother, but The Mother: the Virgin who is also the paragon of motherhood. And there is a son, who is also The Son - the Son of God, the Son of Man. We also find there a father, but this father is different. God the Father is present, but in the transcendent, hidden way that He must adopt so as to shield our mortal and weak eyes. St. Joseph, the foster-father, is also present. For this period of the life of our Lord, St. Joseph is the instrument of God the Father's providential care. But to do this, St. Joseph must be emptied of any selfishness, any attachment to his own legitimate, but purely individual good.

"Much could be said about St. Joseph, and the way that the Holy Family can shed light on how we should live our own lives. But one thing that is particularly striking about the story that is the Gospel for today, is that there was tremendous hardship for this family. To flee the murderous Herod, they moved to Egypt. To move today is never easy, since it involves such a great change, insecurity, and patience. But to move in the ancient world was something far more perilous. Just the travel alone would be very dangerous, but upon arrival, one would be a foreigner, perhaps someone very unwelcome, perhaps unable to communicate, in a harsher and more dangerous world. The sacrifice, we can imagine, St. Joseph agreed to make when agreeing to take the care of this strange, mysterious child, was very great indeed. It is a cause of joy to picture such generosity and willingness to obey the will of God, even in such difficulties.

"Our own response to God's will is no less important. Clearly, in the divine plan, St. Joseph had a special role to play, yet we must not therefore discount our own task, our own vocation. St. Joseph had to care for the Christ child, but we are called to become united to Christ in an interior union of love, and witness to Christ in the unique circumstances of our own lives. Let us pray for the grace to respond whole-heartedly to this great call from God."

For mare information about the Magis Institute (including the Daily Ignatian Reflections), please visit:

MAGIS Center for Catholic Spirituality

Grandpa Jones: "The Christmas Guest"

I've heard this story (and good reflection starter) performed by a few artists over the years, and I offer this version in celebration of this great feast:

Boston Police Officers Lift Family’s Christmas Spirit

A Christmas Day Boston Herald article looked at a recent domestic disturbance call for Boston Police – a call in which the responding officers helped brighten the Christmas holiday for the family involved.

To access this article, please visit:

Boston Herald: Cops put on Santa hats (25 DEC 10)

Ray Flynn on Keeping Christ in One's Life

In a Christmas Day op-ed piece in the Boston Herald, Ray Flynn (Providence College Class of '63, former mayor of Boston, and former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See - to name just a few accomplishments in his background) wrote about the importance of keeping Christ in one's life at Christmas time and throughout the year.

To access Mr. Flynn's commentary, please visit:

Boston Herald: Ray Flynn: Keep Christ in Christmas as well as everyday life (25 DEC 10)

Note: While at P.C., Ray Flynn played basketball: he was named an All-American player and was selected the Most Valuable Player in the 1963 National Invitation Tournament (NIT). His jersey number (14) is scheduled to be retired at a ceremony during the PC-Cincinnati game at the Dunkin' Donuts Center in Providence on 19 February.

Mannheim Steamroller: "Joy To The World"

As the Christmas celebration continues, I offer Mannheim Steamroller playing "Joy to the World":

25 December 2010

A Christmas Reflection

A short while ago, as I was sitting here doing some reading, I was listening to operations at a working fire on High Street in the Valley Falls village of Cumberland (RI).

After offering a short prayer for those involved (those in need of help and those working to help), I started thinking about another early Christmas morning fire (on Smith Hill in Providence - a number of years ago when I was actively involved with fire photography). There was a family on the sidewalk that had to leave the building because of the fire, and one of the girls recognized me as the father of one of her friends (Tommy, if memory serves me right). We talked a little, and they were and would be okay.

Christmas is a time for families to spend time together - individual families and extended families. However, it is not always possible. Things happen - sometimes people need to work (emergency services, health care services, pharmacies, news media, highway crews, and the list goes on), sometimes illness strikes, sometimes there are transportation problems, sometimes people are in nursing homes without any visitors, sometimes people have no family in the area (just to name a few situations).

While researching something else, I recently ran across two prayers related to these circumstances, and I offer them now:

Going to Work on Christmas Day

Loving God, on this sacred day, I am going to work.  There is something special about working on Christmas, when so many others are home with loved ones.  My work today might even have a wondrous sense of service and necessity.  But it doesn’t always feel noble and inside me there is a struggle: I wish I could stay home.  Help me to feel missioned by you today. Let me recognize the unique way my co-workers and I are called to serve our brothers and sisters.  Let me take just a moment in this quiet to feel your deep love for me.  May I carry that sense of peace with me as the light of your love, shining on everyone I come in contact with today.  Thank you.

(Source: Creighton University Collaborative Ministry: Christmas Prayers)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

When One Is Alone on Christmas

Gracious God, I’m alone (again) this Christmas and my heart aches for companionship.  I long for the days when my heart and home were filled with laughter, color, feasting, and joy.  Look with kindness on the pain that seeps like an unwanted sickness over my soul.  Let me wake on Christmas, joyful in silence, hopeful with peace, filled with gratitude for your presence and love.  Amen.

(Source: Explore Faith: Christmas Prayers)

Bishop Tobin’s Christmas Message

Bishop Thomas Tobin, bishop of Providence (RI), recently wrote a Christmas message, which I share here:

Bishop Thomas Tobin: On the Wings of Faith and Trust (23 DEC 10)

"Glory to God in the Highest"

As the Christmas celebration continues, I offer Ernie Haase & Signature Sound singing "Glory To God In The Highest":

The Christmas Proclamation

The Christmas Proclamation, a formal "Proclamation of the Birth of Christ,” is read or chanted in churches and religious communities throughout the world (often at or near the beginning of Midnight Mass):

Christmas Proclamation

For some background information on this proclamation (including two previous translations), please visit:

Fr. Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.: The Christmas Proclamation

24 December 2010

Danbury, CT, Firefighters Filmed for History Channel

The Danbury, CT, Fire Department was recently filmed by a History Channel crew for an upcoming Modern Marvels show.

This particular segment will be part of a special series entitled “What's in Your Pocket?” It is tentatively scheduled to air on 18 March 2011.

To access a News Times article about this event, please visit:

News Times: History Channel will highlight Danbury firefighters (23 DEC 10)

Background Information:

Danbury Fire Department

History Channels: Modern Marvels

Leadership and Responsibility

In a recent commentary in Jewish World Review, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb explains how an ancient Bible story about Moses (Exodus 2:11) reveals contemporary insight into how true leaders are developed and why it is important for a leader to invest in the effort of becoming familiar with the plight of others.

To access this commentary, please visit:

Jewish World Review: Open Eyes, and an Open Heart

Celtic Woman: "O Holy Night"

As we enter into the celebration of Christmas Eve, I offer Celtic Woman singing "O Holy Night" (from the Helix Center in Dublin, Ireland):

Christmas Reflection Starter from Pope Benedict

“[S]eeing city streets and squares decorated with shining lights, let us remember that these lights are a reminder of another light, which is invisible to the eyes but not to the heart. While we admire them, while we light candles in church or illuminate a Nativity scene or Christmas tree in our homes, let us open our hearts to the true spiritual light offered to all people of good will.” - Pope Benedict XVI (December 2005)

23 December 2010

Census Bureau Release State Tallies

The U.S. Census Bureau recently released the official statewide counts for the 2010 Census. New England results are as follows: Connecticut - 3,574,097 (an increase of 4.9%), Maine - 1,328,361 (an increase of 4.2%), Massachusetts - 6,547,629 (an increase of 3.1 %), New Hampshire - 1,316,470 (an increase of 6.5%), Rhode Island - 1,052,567 (an increase of 0.4%), and Vermont - 625,741 (an increase of 2.8 %). The total population for New England is 14,444,865 (an increase of 3.8%).

The city/town numbers are scheduled to be released in the period of February-March 2011.

Environmental Working Group Report Says Chromium-6 Is Widespread in US Tap Water

Laboratory tests commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) have detected hexavalent chromium, the carcinogenic “Erin Brockovich chemical,” in tap water from 31 of 35 American cities (including New Haven, CT, and Boston, MA). The EWG report indicates that the measured hexavalent chromium concentrations in parts per billion (ppb) for New Haven was 0.08 and for Boston was 0.03.

According to EWG, at least 74 million Americans in 42 states drink chromium-polluted tap water, much of it likely in the cancer-causing hexavalent form. Given the scope of exposure and the magnitude of the potential risk, EWG has stated that it believes the EPA should move expeditiously to establish a legal limit for chromium-6 and require public water suppliers to test for it.

For more information about this Environmental Working Group report, please visit:

EWG: Chromium-6 – the Erin Brockovich Chemical – Is Widespread in U.S. Tap Water

In response to this report, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued the following statement:

“EPA absolutely has a drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes chromium-6 (also known as Hexavalent Chromium), and we require water systems to test for it. This standard is based on the best available science and is enforceable by law. Ensuring safe drinking water for all Americans is a top priority for EPA. The agency regularly re-evaluates drinking water standards and, based on new science on chromium-6, had already begun a rigorous and comprehensive review of its health effects. In September, we released a draft of that scientific review for public comment. When this human health assessment is finalized in 2011, EPA will carefully review the conclusions and consider all relevant information, including the Environmental Working Group’s study, to determine if a new standard needs to be set.”

According to EPA, the total chromium standard is currently 0.1 mg/L (100 parts per billion). The latest EPA data shows that no U.S. utilities are in violation of the standard.

For more information about chromium in drinking water, please visit:

EPA: Basic Information about Chromium in Drinking Water

The ABC News Medical Unit examined the EWG report and some related issues. To access this ABC News report, please visit:

ABC News: Scientists Say No Need for Alarm Over Chromium-6 in Drinking Water (21 DEC 10)

Andrae Crouch: "Soon And Very Soon"

The celebration of Christmas is just about on top of us now,and so I offer Andrae Crouch singing "Soon And Very Soon":

Christmas Message from Providence College Alumni/ae Chaplain

"Christmas is always an embarrassment!
If Almighty God so loved the world
that He sent his only Son to save it,
and if His Son loved us so much
that He gave His life to prove it,
then where’s the evidence of it?

"In the pompous renditions of Handel and Bach?
In the chubby cherubs at the noisy malls?
In the carols we sing and hear sung?
In the gifts we give and get?
In the tinsel on the tree?"

Rev. John S. Peterson, O.P. (a member of the Providence College Class of '57 and chaplain of the National Alumni/ae Association) has a Christmas message for alumni/ae and others:

       Rev. John S. Peterson, O.P.: Christmas Message

22 December 2010

The Coast Guard's Flying Santa

The Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard, recently ran a short post about the history of the Flying Santa program, which dates back to 1929 (the first year of the Great Depression).

Originally serving lighthouse in the New England area (and eventually beyond), the Flying Santa continues to deliver gifts to area Coast Guard shore stations.

To access this post, please visit:

Coast Guard Compass: History: The Flying Santa (21 DEC 10)

For additional information, please visit:

Boston Globe: Coast Guard 'Flying Santa' chief is honored (18 DEC 10)

Placido Domingo and Michael Bolton: "Ave Maria"

As we approach the celebration of Christmas, here are Placido Domingo and Michael Bolton singing "Ave Maria" (Vienna 1996):

Christians Leaving the Holy Land

The December issue of U.S. Catholic has a short piece about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land - a piece worth reading, reflecting on, and using as a prayer starter:

U.S. Catholic: Silent flight: Christians leave the Holy Land (December 2010)

Advent Reflection Starter

"Advent is the spiritual season of hope par excellence, and in this season the whole Church is called to be hope, for itself and for the world. The whole spiritual organism of the mystical body assumes, as it were, the 'color' of hope." - Pope Benedict XVI (in homily, 28 November 2008)

21 December 2010

Reflection Starter from Father Andrew Greeley

"It might be easy to run away to a monastery, away from the commercialization, the hectic hustle, the demanding family responsibilities of Christmas-time. Then we would have a holy Christmas. But we would forget the lesson of the Incarnation, of the enfleshing of God - the lesson that we who are followers of Jesus do not run from the secular; rather we try to transform it. It is our mission to make holy the secular aspects of Christmas just as the early Christians baptized the Christmas tree. And we do this by being holy people - kind, patient, generous, loving, laughing people - no matter how maddening is the Christmas rush . . . " - Father Andrew Greeley, (from a piece on the meanings of Christmas in Woman’s Day, 22 December 1981)

U.S. Rethinks Strategy for Surviving Nuclear Attack

"Suppose the unthinkable happened, and terrorists struck New York or another big city with an atom bomb. What should people there do? The government has a surprising new message: Do not flee. Get inside any stable building and don’t come out till officials say it’s safe."

So begins a New York Times interview article with W. Craig Fugate, administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

To access the complete article, please visit:

New York Times: U.S. Rethinks Strategy for the Unthinkable (15 DEC 10)

Andy Williams sings "White Christmas"

Andy Williams sings "White Christmas" (the Christmas Eve on a World War II battlefront scene from the movie, White Christmas):

CBS’ 60 Minutes Looks at the Growing Financial Woes States Are Facing

CBS News’ 60 Minutes recently ran a story about the serious budget challenges facing state (and local) governments throughout the nation.

To access this presentation, including its videos, please visit:

CBS News: 60 Minutes: State Budgets: The Day of Reckoning (19 DEC 10)

20 December 2010

This Week’s New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch

To access this week’s issue of New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch, please visit:

New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch - 20 December 2010

Reflection Starter from Colin Powell

"If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters. Excellence is not an exception, it is a prevailing attitude." - Colin Powell

19 December 2010

Stores Uses Cameras to Help Evaluate Shoppers' Choices

This is an interesting New England Cable News story about the use of cameras in stores in order to study the behavior of shoppers as part of a process to evaluate how to better set up in-store displays:

NECN: Cameras eye shoppers' moves (19 DEC 10)

Balancing High School Teaching and Coaching

The Berkshire Eagle recently ran a good profile about a high school teacher who also coaches sports The article, which focused on Bob Thistle, calculus teacher and basketball coach at Pittsfield (MA) High School, gives some insight into the different factors involved in balancing the requirements of both positions - and life at home as well.

To access this article, please visit:

Berkshire Eagle: Pittsfield High's Thistle wears two hats (19 DEC 10)

Three-alarm Fire Hits Yarmouth, MA, Inn

A three-alarm fire heavily damaged the newly renovated Red Rose Inn, 6 New Hampshire Avenue, West Yarmouth, MA, on Sunday, 12 December. The fire, which brought a heavy mutual aid response, was initially reported at approximately 7:00 PM.

Media Reports:

Cape Cod Times: Blaze destroys Yarmouth's Red Rose Inn (13 DEC 10)

Cape Cod Times: Cause of Red Rose Inn fire still uncertain (13 DEC 10)

NECN: Fire rips through historic Cape Cod inn (13 DEC 10)

Yarmouth Register: Neighborhood mourns local landmark (17 DEC 10)

Yarmouth Register Photo Gallery: Fire destroys Red Rose Inn

Cape Cod Times Photo Gallery: Red Rose Inn Fire in W Yarmouth

Satellite News Service: YARMOUTH, MA- Raging Three Alarm Fire- Red Rose Inn (12-12-10)

Background Information:

Yarmouth Fire Department

Town of Yarmouth

Wikipedia: Yarmouth, Massachusetts

Google Map: 6 New Hampshire Avenue, Yarmouth, MA

"Mary, Did You Know?"

In a song related to today's Gospel reading, Mark Lowry (with David Phelps and Guy Penrod) sings "Mary, Did You Know?":

Fourth Sunday of Advent

Today the Church celebrates the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The assigned readings are Isaiah 7:10-14, Romans 1:1-7, and Matthew 1:18-24. The Responsorial Psalm is Psalm 24 (24:1-6).

The Gospel reading is as follows:

This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph,
but before they lived together, she was found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.

Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Father John Kavanaugh, S. J. (of Saint Louis University) wrote a reflection on this Gospel reading, and this reflection begins, “Was it good news for Joseph when the angel appeared and told him about Isaiah’s ‘virgin with child’? Was he thrilled that Mary would give birth to a baby boy called Immanuel? The angel was speaking, we may presume, of the woman Joseph loved. ‘Have no fear about taking Mary as your wife. It is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child.’”

To continue reading Father Kavanaugh’s reflection, please visit:

John Kavanaugh, S. J.: Joseph (Fourth Sunday of Advent A)

Also, in his reflection on this Sunday’s gospel, Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio explains why Joseph, like Mary, is a model of faith:

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio: St. Joseph's Claim to Fame

How Snowflakes Form

As we head into the season of winter (and the greater possibility of experiencing snow), I offer this brief introduction into how snowflakes form:

      Geology.com: How Do Snowflakes Form?

Reflection Starter from Father Robert, O.P.

Yesterday's Daily Inspiration from the Dominican Shrine of Saint Jude
Thaddeus, Chicago, IL:

"'Time, like a snowflake, disappears while we're trying to decide what
to do with it.' Is it possible to have lived and not experienced any
kind of a life? Live in the present, and don't let it pass by." -
Father Robert, O.P.

18 December 2010

The Treasure of New England's Weather

One of my books about New England, Look at America: New England (by the Editors of Look Magazine)* has a few words about New England's weather:

"Mark Twain once spoke of the "sumptuous variety" of New England weather. Had he been a New Englander, he would have known that his adjective was ill chosen. There is nothing sumptuous about New England. We are afraid of such a term with its lavish and slightly wicked connotations. The variety of our weather is not sumptuous, but prodigal, reckless, excessive, rash, audacious, wasteful, violent - what you will - but not sumptuous. . . .Nevertheless, the simple fact, even the solemn truth, believe it or not, is that we in New England like our weather. . . ."

The sentence that reads "There is nothing sumptuous about New England" contains a lot of truth in it, but, when it comes to the weather, I have to agree with Mark Twain - we do have a rich bonanza of weather, and I do enjoy it all.

The weather does have its effects on me. When the temperature heads below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, I usually need to wear light gloves (my fingers begin to loose feeling, which I suspect is an aftereffect of frostbite from the many times I was taking pictures at winter fires and other emergencies during my time of active spot news photography). Hot humid weather has other negative effects on me. The list can go on with a variety of (at least perceived) positive, neutral, and negative effects.

I do treasure the rich variety of weather we have, and, when out in it (whatever "it" may be), I usually take a moment to thank the Lord for the opportunity to be out experiencing and enjoying His creation. I tend to think of it as His showering His blessings on this region in a special way.

The Mark Twain comments referenced above come from a speech he delivered at the New England Society's Seventy-First Annual Dinner in New York City on 22 December 1876. The complete text of this speech may be accessed here:

Mark Twain: New England Weather

* - Obviously this book is few years old. Look Magazine stopped publishing in 1971. The book was published in 1947.

Providence College Advent Service of Lessons and Carols

This is a video of Providence College's Advent Service of Lessons and Carols in Saint Dominic Chapel on 4 December 2010.

This service features the Providence College Liturgical Choir and the Schola Cantorum (directed by Sherry Humes Dane, Director of Liturgical Music, St. Dominic Chapel) and I Cantori, the Concert Chorale, and the Women's Chorus, directed by Dr. Todd J. Harper, Assistant Professor, Department of Music).

The Scripture readings are from Genesis, Isaiah, Matthew, Luke, and John.

Thank you, Father Gabriel Gillen, O.P., for sharing this.

"Where's the Line to See Jesus?"

"Christmas time was approaching
Snow was starting to fall
Shoppers choosing their presents
People filling the mall"

"Where's the Line to See Jesus?" is an original song reflecting on the meaning of Christmas:

Becky Kelley: Where's The Line To See Jesus?

Thank you, Steven and Becca of DeerLake Videos and Newsletter, for sharing this song.

"Behold a Virgin Bearing Him"

During these waning days of Advent, the Liturgy of the Hours focuses, with anticipation, on the coming celebration of Christmas. One of the hymns offered during this time is "Behold a Virgin Bearing Him":

The Cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach

A cantata is a form of vocal chamber music that was very popular during the Baroque period (which was roughly during the 17th century, although a number of music historians say that the Baroque period lasted about 160 years). Cantatas were originally associated with Lutheran worship services, but the term has since been applied to other works for chorus and orchestra.

Johann Sebastian Bach was a prolific composer of cantatas. I don't know know how many he wrote altogether, but there are over 200 remaining - many with religious themes and the rest with secular themes. The "Magnificat" in the previous post was one of his cantatas.

For comprehensive collection of information about Bach's Cantatas, please visit:

      Aryeh Oron: Bach Cantatas Website

A Thought Stopper

Jerry is recovering from day surgery when a nurse asks him how he is feeling.

"I'm OK, but I didn't like the four-letter word the doctor used in surgery," he answers.

"What did he say?" asks the nurse.


(Thanks to Pastor Tim Davis, of Westside Bible Church, Victoria, British Columbia, for sharing this.)

Speaking for myself - a number of times a "Oops" I had uttered inadvertently caused concerns to rise in someone I was speaking with. Usually it was the case of my accidentally closing a computer program or some other minor thing. However, I did need to reassure the person with whom I was speaking.

"Magnificat," by Johann Sebastian Bach

As our Advent observance continues, I offer the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Soloists (with Ton Koopman conducting) performing "Magnificat," by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Reflection Starter from Saint Benedict of Nursia

"He who labors as he prays lifts his heart to God with his hands." -
Saint Benedict of Nursia

Straight No Chaser Sings "Carol of the Bells"

In anticipation of the upcoming celebration of Christmas, I offer the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, singing "Carol of the Bells":

New Report on Victims of Identity Theft

The U.S Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics recently released Victims of Identity Theft, 2008, based on the first Identity Theft Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

This report presents person-level data on the prevalence of identity theft, as well as victim experiences and responses to identity theft. It also shows how the emotional distress experienced by identity theft victims compares to victims of violent crime. Additional topics include the characteristics of victims of identity theft, financial losses, victim reporting to the police and other organizations (such as credit card companies or credit bureaus), and the amount of time spent resolving problems associated with the theft.

Highlights of this report include:

  • An estimated 11.7 million persons, representing 5% of all persons age 16 or older in the United States, experienced at least one type of identity theft in a 2-year period.
  • Although the total financial cost of identity theft was nearly $17.3 billion over a 2-year period, less than a quarter (23%) of identity theft victims suffered an out-of-pocket financial loss from the victimization.
  • About 42% of victims spent 1 day or less working to resolve the financial and credit problems associated with the identity theft; however, 3% continued to experience problems related to the theft more than 6 months after discovering it.

To access this report, please visit:

US DOJ: Bureau of Justice Statistics: National Crime Victimization Survey Supplement: Victims of Identity Theft, 2008

Report Focuses on Rethinking the Federal Role in Charter Schools

The number of charter schools has increased steadily in the last decade, and this reflects their popularity with parents and with the general public. As a result, the federal government's role in charter schools has recently expanded and may be an important element in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. For that reason, the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution gathered a group of prominent policymakers, practitioners, and researchers to address what the federal government should do if its policy were to increase the number of effective charter schools in the nation.

This Task Group on Charter Schools recently released its report, Charter Schools: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education. In this report, the members of the task offered a number of recommendations for federal action, including:

  • collecting and using more and better data on the performance of charter schools for purposes of authorizing, research, and informed parental choice;
  • requiring states to provide equitable funding for charter schools relative to traditional public schools-including support for facilities;
  • supporting higher standards for authorizing;
  • revising rules and definitions that unintentionally disadvantage charter schools;
  • promoting the growth as well as quality control of virtual charter schools; and
  • articulating and following through on a coherent policy with respect to charter schools.

To access the complete report of the task force, please visit:

Brookings Institution: Charter Schools: A Report on Rethinking the Federal Role in Education (December 2010)

A Look at Concerns Related to Catholic Mass Attendance

In a recent commentary, Monsignor Charles Pope (pastor of Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Parish in Washington, DC) reflects on the perception that the numbers of Catholics in the U.S. are dropping and that Mass attendance is down. Msgr. Pope reviews statistics supplied by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate and adds his own insights.

To read this commentary and Msgr. Pope’s concerns, please visit:

Msgr. Charles Pope: Is the Bottom Really Falling Out of Catholic Mass Attendance? A Recent CARA Survey Ponders the Question

A related post in the Catherine of Siena Institute’s Intentional Disciples Blog looks at some of the issues in this discussion and carries them a little further:

Catherine of Siena Institute: Intentional Disciples Blog: Is the Bottom Really Falling Out? (16 DEC 10)

(The Catherine of Siena Institute, a program of the Western Dominican Province dedicated to equipping parishes for the formation of lay Catholics for their mission in the world, provides resources and programming that are faithful to the teaching of the Church and are designed to enable parishes to become lively and dynamic centers of evangelization and formation.)

For more information about the Catherine of Siena Institute, please visit:

Catherine of Siena Institute

17 December 2010

Reflection Starter from Greg Hickman

"Paint a masterpiece daily. Always autograph your work with excellence." - Greg Hickman

Straight No Chaser and "The Christmas Can-Can"

Myrna and I had seen the a cappella group, Straight No Chaser, on television earlier this year. Son Adam steered me in the direction of this enjoyable parody, "The Christmas Can-Can":

National School Safety Coalition Launches “Click Check and Protect” to Encourage Recall Awareness

The National School Safety Coalition, which is led by Consumers Union, recently released the results of a national poll and launched a website to ensure that unsafe products are removed from the reaches of children.

The Consumer Reports Product Recall Poll reported that four out of five Americans do not pay attention to product recalls. The National School Safety Coalition says that this data demonstrates much work is needed to inform and educate people about recalled products that can harm their children. The coalition's new campaign and website, Click Check and Protect, is designed to be a good resource for families, students, and children interested in identifying recalled products.

The survey was conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, and it solicited responses from 2,005 consumers who were randomly contacted by telephone. It revealed that more than half of Americans said they rarely or never filled out product registration cards. Less than one-quarter researched a product they purchased to see if it was recalled. Half of Americans were not confident that manufacturers and retailers shared safety information with government agencies. And two-fifths lacked confidence that manufacturers and retailers provided consumers with appropriate product recall information.

For more information about the National School Safety Coalition, please visit:

      National School Safety Coalition

"Winter Snow"

On their Facebook page, The Christophers have been running a series, "The 12 Songs of Christmas" - a season-related song a day in the twelve days leading up to Christmas. Yesterday's song was one entitled "Winter Snow" (sung by Audre Assad), which looks at Jesus coming to us quietly, without a lot of fanfare (like the quiet fall of snow in winter). I offer this version of the song (not the same one posted on The Christophers page):

Mary's Dream

A number of years ago, Deacon Bob MacLure (Saint Patrick Parish, Providence, RI) shared a story as part of a homily in Advent. He also provided printed copies of the story so that we could remember it and reflect on it. I recently ran across my copy of the story, and I offer it here (without the accompanying artwork):

                                 Mary's Dream

I had a dream Joseph. I don't understand it, not really, but I think it was about a birthday celebration for our Son. I think that was what it was all about. The people had been preparing for it for about six weeks. They had decorated the house and bought elaborate gifts.

It was peculiar, though because the presents weren't for our Son. They wrapped them in beautiful paper and tied them with lovely bows and stacked them under a tree. Yes, a tree Joseph, right in their house. They'd decorated the tree also. The branches were full of glowing balls and sparkling ornaments. There was a figure on top of the tree. It looked like an Angel might look. Oh it was beautiful. Everyone was laughing and happy.

They were all excited about the gifts. They gave the gifts to each other, Joseph, not to our Son. I don't think they even knew Him. They never mentioned His name. Doesn't it seem odd for people to go to all that trouble to celebrate someone's birthday if they don't know Him.

I had the strangest feeling that if our Son had gone to this celebration, He would have been intruding. Everything was so beautiful, Joseph, and everyone so full of cheer, but it made me want to cry. How sad for Jesus not to be wanted at His own birthday celebration. I'm glad it was only a dream. How terrible, Joseph, if it had been real!

                                                          - Author unknown

16 December 2010

Bill of Rights Day

Yesterday (15 December) was Bill of Rights Day, a national observance first established by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1941.

During the U.S. Constitutional Convention (25 May - 17 September 1787), there were a number of debates in which some participants voiced their concerns that the Constitution, as drafted, would open the way to tyranny by the central government. They had just recently gone through a period of time (before and during the American Revolution) in which British authorities committed various violations of civil rights, some of which are listed in the Declaration of Independence.

These participants demanded a "bill of rights" that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. In their formal ratification of the Constitution, several state conventions also asked for such amendments. Other states ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.

On 25 September 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed twelve amendments to the Constitution that met the concerns that had been most frequently raised concerning it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, were ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, and they constitute the first ten amendments of the Constitution. These ten amendments became known as the Bill of Rights.

The preamble to the Bill of Rights begins as follows:

"THE Conventions of a number of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added: And as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government, will best ensure the beneficent ends of its institution."

To access a copy of the complete Bill of Rights, please visit:

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration: Bill of Rights Transcript

(Note: The 27th Amendment, the most recent amendment to the Constitution, was one of the two original amendments that were not ratified in 1789.)

15 December 2010

School Resource Officer and Football Coach

The Providence Journal recently ran an interesting profile of David Waycott, the Lincoln (RI) Police Department’s School Resource Officer at Lincoln High School. Officer Waycott also serves as the school’s football coach.

To access this article, please visit:

Providence Journal: Policing the gridiron at Lincoln High (5 DEC 10)

The Providence Journal also has a video of Officer Waycott presenting a program at the school about the dangers of texting while driving. To access this video, please visit:

Providence Journal: Making teens aware of the dangers of texting while driving (20 OCT 10)

Background Information:

Lincoln, RI, Official Website

Wikipedia: Lincoln, Rhode Island

What Are Today's Kids Missing Out On?

In a recent commentary, Amy E. Ekblad (who calls herself a Catholic homeschooling mother from Michigan) reflects on some of the things children growing up in today's world are missing: being bored, family meals, family prayer time, community service, and "less is more."

To read this thoughtful essay by Ms. Ekblad, please visit:

Catholic Exchange: What are We Missing? (13 DEC 10)

Actions Have Consequences

"At noon on October 30, 2010, a devastating device ripped through a crowded Philadelphia department store.  Hundreds of unsuspecting shoppers were suddenly exposed to an infectious agent delivered with explosive power.  Those exposed are still dealing with the immediate effects.  They could be faced with ongoing effects for the rest of their lives."

To continue reading this commentary by Jim Mahoney, please visit:

American Thinker: Flash Attack (12 DEC 10) 

To view a video of the event being discussed in the above commentary, please visit:

Lop Notes: Random Act of Culture: Hallelujah Chorus at Macy's (7 NOV 10)

14 December 2010

Reflection Starter from Saint Benedict

"Whenever you begin any good work you should first of all make a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection." - Saint Benedict

Boston Moms Groups Get Community Results

In neighborhoods across Boston, determined young mothers who are fighting for better parks, streets, and schools are getting significant results for their children and emerging as a major political force at the same time. Many of the mothers’ groups started as, and still are, a way to organize play dates, trade baby gear and raise funds for community programs, and they have become much more.

To access a Boston Herald article on these efforts, please visit:

Boston Herald: Boston moms push for better parks, schools - and get them (12 DEC 10)

13 December 2010

This Week’s New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch

To access this week’s issue of New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch, please visit:

New England City & Town Weekly Dispatch - 13 December 2010

Media Reports of Wreaths Across America’s Convoy in New England

The 2010 Wreaths Across America Escort drew some media coverage as it proceeded through New England (although not as much as I would like to have seen).

Here are a number of the media reports from the region:

Portland Press Herald: Wreaths for the fallen (6 DEC 10)

Portsmouth Herald: Wreaths Across America comes to Hampton (6 DEC 10)

NECN: 'Wreaths Across America' heads south (7 DEC 10)

Salem News: Wreaths Across America gets warm reception in Hamilton (7 DEC 10)

Norwich Bulletin: Wreaths Across America stops in Northeastern Connecticut (7 DEC 10)

Connecticut Post: Wreaths bring circle of respect to veterans (8 DEC 10)

York County Coast Star: 'Wreaths Across America' greeted by students in Wells (9 DEC 10)

In addition, the USO’s (United Service Organizations’) magazine, On Patrol, had some photo essays:

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 1 - "Downeast" (4 DEC 10)

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 2 - "Maine Event" (5 DEC 10)

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 3 - "New England" (6 DEC 10)

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 4 - "Remember, Honor, Teach" (7 DEC 10)

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 5 - "Connected in Connecticut" (8 DEC 10)

On Patrol: Wreaths Across America - Day 6 - "Perspectives" (10 DEC 10)

Campaign Launched to Warn First Responders of Carbon Monoxide Hazards

The International Association of Fire Chiefs is working with the  International Association of Fire Fighters and Masimo Corporation in an educational campaign designed to raise awareness of the duty-related dangers of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning and reducing the known risk factors that unnecessarily kill or injure fire fighters each year. This new health and safety campaign includes a dramatic six-minute video that highlights the immediate and long-term health risks associated with CO exposure, the emotional impact these risks can have on fire fighters and their families, and advocates proper prevention strategies.

This new education campaign urges fire fighters to take personal responsibility for their health and safety by recognizing the occupational hazards of CO exposure and wearing protective masks during both active fire and overhaul operations to prevent unnecessary risks. It also encourages fire fighters to get their CO levels tested on the fire scene with an approved noninvasive portable device and, if elevated, to seek immediate treatment, even if they are feeling well.

To access the video, The Silent Killer, please visit:

     Masimo Corporation: The Silent Killer

“Slow Down - God Is Still in Heaven”

Some thoughts / words of inspiration for reflection:

Father's Hands: Slow Down - God Is Still in Heaven

12 December 2010

Reflection Starter from Elrond

"[S]uch is oft the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere." - spoken by Elrond at the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring, by J. R. R. Tolkien (Part I of The Lord of the Rings trilogy)

Gates Foundation Initiative Encourages New School District-Charter School Partnerships

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced that leaders in nine communities across the U.S. have signed on to a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, an initiative designed to highlight new ways that public charter schools and traditional public schools are working to provide high-quality education for all students.

The cities participating in these compacts are Baltimore, MD; Denver, CO; Hartford, CT; Los Angeles, CA; Minneapolis, MN; Nashville, TN; New Orleans, LA; New York NY; and Rochester, NY.

“Traditional public schools and public charter schools share a common goal of preparing all students for future success,” said Vicki L. Phillips, director of Education, College Ready, at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, in a prepared statement. “Too often, issues not tied to academic outcomes can make it difficult for schools and teachers to have the opportunity to learn from each other and build upon successful practices, whether those practices are found in district-run or charter-run schools. We hope this compact helps to fill a void for these cities and will lead the way for a committed partnership to work together to improve all schools.”

Through the District-Charter Collaboration Compact, districts are committing to replicating high-performing models of traditional and charter public schools while improving or closing down schools that are not serving students well.

Additionally, each city compact addresses persistent tensions between district and charter schools and identifies specific opportunities for the two groups to leverage each others’ strengths in pursuit of a common mission. These include equity issues, such as whether both district and public charter school students have access to necessary funding and facilities, and whether charter schools are open to all students, including those with special needs and English Language Learners.

A number of the compacts also include commitments among district and charter partners to jointly develop a shared approach to school enrollment, co-develop measures of effective teaching, align the district’s curriculum to the Common Core State Standards, and share access to school data systems. Each city compact is signed by the district superintendent and multiple charter school leaders, with support from other partners in the city, such as the city’s mayor, local teachers’ unions, and school board members. Each of these cities will be eligible for a modest investment from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to advance the work outlined in the compact.

A second group of cities that are developing District-Charter Collaboration Compacts will be announced in April 2011. In the coming months, cities that have developed compacts will be eligible to compete for a larger, multi-million dollar grant to work collaboratively to accelerate student achievement across their cities.

For more information about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s education strategy, please visit:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Education Strategy

For more information about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, please visit:

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

"Come Lord Jesus"

In celebration of Gaudete Sunday, I offer this version of Father Carey Landry's "Come Lord Jesus" as sung in the Lessons and Carols celebration at Holy Innocents Church, Pleasantville, NY (December 2009):

Gaudete Sunday

Today is the Third Sunday of Advent, also known as Gaudete Sunday ("gaudete" is the Latin word "rejoice").

The assigned readings for today include Isaiah 35:1-6, 10; James 5:7-10; and Matthew 11:2-11. The assigned responsorial psalm is Psalm 146 (146:6-10).

The second reading goes as follows (James 5:7-10):

Be patient, brothers and sisters, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, because the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not complain, brothers and sisters, about one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the Judge is standing before the gates. Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The Gospel reading goes as follows:

When John the Baptist heard in prison of the works of the Christ, he sent his disciples to Jesus with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: 'Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.' Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

For a commentary on these readings from Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio, please visit:

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio: Rejoice in Hope - John the Baptist & Gaudete Sunday

Deacon Greg Kandra, in his homily for today's celebration, touched on the optimism of gardeners and its application to this observance:

Deacon's Bench: Homily for December 12, 2010: 3rd Sunday of Advent (11 DEC 10)

Father John Kavanaugh, S.J., also shares some thoughts related to waiting:

John Kavanaugh, S. J.: Waiting

Walter E. Williams - Up from the Projects

Thomas Sowell, senior fellow at the Hoover Institute (and economist, social critic, political commentator, and author), recently wrote a short review of Walter E. Williams' recently released autobiography, Up from the Projects. Among other accomplishments, Dr. Williams is an economist (the John M Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University), commentator, syndicated columnist, and author.

In this essay, Dr. Sowell comments on the many differences between growing up in the projects a few decades ago and growing up in these times. He also refers to a number of insights that are needed by people today as they face the challenges of our times.

To access this essay, please visit:

Thomas Sowell: Walter Williams' Memoir (8 DEC 10)

As memory has it, I first came across Walter Williams when he filled in on a national radio talk show while the host was on vacation. His commentary was filled with good insight and with common sense. Eventually I began reading some of his periodic newspaper columns. They were also filled with good insight and common sense. I don't know that I necessarily agreed with everything he said or wrote, but he made a good case for his point of view in each of the situations.

For more information about Walter E. Williams, please visit:

George Mason University Faculty: Walter E. Williams

Lobster Trap Christmas Trees

We are truly blest with such a variety of creative gifts. Praise God for this and for the many ways He works through us to continue His work of creation.

In this Maine Sunday Telegram article are examples of a different type of Christmas tree constructed with lobster traps in some of the ports of Maine:

Maine Sunday Telegram: Lobster ports create Christmas trees - from traps (5 DEC 10)

Here are some images of the 2009 lobster trap tree in Gloucester, MA:

Jay Albert's Cape Ann Images: The World's Largest Lobster Trap Christmas Tree!

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Today we celebrate the Third Sunday of Advent. It is also the date assigned to the celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

In December of 1531, a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to a Aztec (whom we now know as Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin) at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City. Juan Diego was on his way to Mass (a fifteen-mile trip).

This "Lady from Heaven," who was dressed as an Aztec princess, identified herself as the Virgin Mary and asked Juan Diego to speak with the bishop and request that a church be built on the site.

The bishop, Juan de Zumarraga (a Franciscan), hesitated (somewhat skeptical), and he asked for something to prove the lady's identity.

However, before Juan Diego went back to the Lady, he learned that his uncle was dying. In his hurry to get a priest, Juan avoided meeting the Lady. However, she met him on his way and told him that his uncle had been cured.

She then told him to go to the top of the hill where they first met. He was surprised to find flowers growing there, and he gathered them in his tilma to bring to the bishop.

Juan met the bishop again and told him what had happened. The he opened his cloak. To the ground fell the flowers - Castilian roses (which grew in Spain, but not in Mexico). Then the bishop saw an image of the Lady imprinted on the inside Juan's cloak.

This image, which may still be seen today, resists all scientific explanations of its origin and it shows no sign of decay, although the cloth should have deteriorated within 20 years.

For more information about Our Lady of Guadalupe, please visit:

Cross Publications: Our Lady of Guadalupe

Our Lady of Guadalupe

Crossroads Initiative: History of Our Lady of Guadalupe (by the Indian scholar Antonio Valeriano)

                                        ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The Tidings, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, ran an article about this year's (early) celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe in that diocese, a celebration which included a three-mile procession followed by Mass. Over 25,000 people were at the Mass. To access this article, please visit:

The Tidings: Guadalupe celebration: 'An opportunity to deepen our relationship with Jesus' (10 DEC 10)

Pope John Paul II composed a prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe. To view this prayer, please visit:

Crossroads Initiatives: John Paul II’s Prayer to Our Lady of Guadalupe

Reflection Starter from Thomas Merton

"There is not a flower that opens, not a seed that falls into the ground, and not an ear of wheat that nods on the end of its stalk in the wind that does not preach and proclaim the greatness and the mercy of God to the whole world. There is not an act of kindness or generosity, not an act of sacrifice done, or a word of peace and gentleness spoken, not a child's prayer uttered, that does not sing hymns to God before his throne, and in the eyes of men, and before their faces." - Thomas Merton, in The Seven Storey Mountain (his autobiography)

Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk and the author of a number of spiritual books. He died on 10 December 1968.

Thank you to Deacon Greg Kandra for the tip. (Deacon Greg, a deacon in the Diocese of Brooklyn, has a blog, The Deacon's Bench, which has been at http://blog.beliefnet.com/deaconsbench/. Howver, starting tomorrow it will be at http://www.patheos.com/community/deaconsbench/.)

10 December 2010

New Surgeon General’s Report: Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Causes Immediate Damage

Exposure to tobacco smoke – even occasional smoking or secondhand smoke – causes immediate damage to your body that can lead to serious illness or death, according to a report released by U.S. Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin.  The comprehensive scientific report describes specific pathways by which tobacco smoke damages the human body and leads to disease and death.

The report, How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease, finds that cellular damage and tissue inflammation from tobacco smoke are immediate, and that repeated exposure weakens the body’s ability to heal the damage.

The report also explains why it is so difficult to quit smoking. According to the research, cigarettes are designed for addiction. The design and contents of current tobacco products make them more attractive and addictive than ever before. Today’s cigarettes deliver nicotine more quickly and efficiently than cigarettes of many years ago.

To access an executive summary of this report, please visit:

U.S. Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease - Executive Summary

To access the full report, please visit:

U.S. Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease

Two Quotes Related to Christianity - Reflection Starters

Reflecting on the previous post reminded me of another Gandhi quote:

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." - Mahatma Gandhi

This, in turn, reminded me of another quote:

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." - G. K. Chesterton

Reflection Starter from Mahatma Gandhi

Catholic Digest recently posted a good reflection starter: "It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without heart." - Mahatma Gandhi

09 December 2010

New England States Rate Among Top Ten of Healthiest States

The 2010 edition of America's Health Rankings shows the six New England states each made the top ten of the list of healthiest states this year.

The rankings:
      1 - Vermont
      2 - Massachusetts
      3 - New Hampshire
      4 - Connecticut
      8 - Maine
      10- Rhode Island

This annual report, by the United Health Foundation, looks at four groups of health determinants:

  • behaviors (including the everyday activities people do that affect personal health, including habits and practices people develop as individuals and families that have an effect on personal health and on utilization of health resources; these behaviors are modifiable with effort by the individual supported by community, policy, and clinical interventions),
  • community and environment (which reflect the reality that the daily conditions in which people live have a great effect on achieving optimal individual health),
  • public and health policies (indicative of the availability of resources to encourage and maintain health and the extent that public and health programs reach into the general population), and
  • clinical care (reflecting the quality, appropriateness, and cost of the care received at doctors' offices, clinics, and hospitals).

America's Health Rankings is designed to combines individual measures of each of these determinants with the resultant health outcomes into one, comprehensive view of the health of a state. In addition, it discusses health-related influencing factors separately from health outcomes and provides related health, economic, and social information to present a comprehensive profile of the overall health of each state.

To access the complete report, please visit:

United Health Foundation: America's Health Rankings

Ambulance Crashes off Bridge in Vermont

Last Saturday in Bradford, VT, while returning to quarters from a run, a CALEX ambulance skidded through a guardrail on an icy Interstate Route 91 bridge and went down an embankment to South Main Street. Both crew members were injured.

To access a Caledonian Record account of this incident, please visit:

Caledonian Record: Calex Ambulance Crashes Off I-91 Bridge (6 DEC 10)

Background Information:

Caledonia Essex Ambulance Service (CALEX)

Wikipedia: Bradford, VT

Wikipedia: Northeast Kingdom (Vermont)

08 December 2010

"Immaculate Mary"

As part of the Church's celebration of the Solemnity of Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I offer a presentation of "Immaculate Mary" by the Redemptorist Community Choir (Redemptorists of the Edmonton-Toronto Province,Canada):

Reflection Starter

Today's Thought for the Week (as posted by Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Parish in North Providence, RI):

     "Perhaps the best Yuletide decoration is being wreathed in smiles."

07 December 2010

Saint Ambrose

Today the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Ambrose.

Ambrose was an interesting saint. Part of a Roman family, he was born in Trier (now in Germany) between 337 and 340. his father was praetorian prefect of Gaul, and Ambrose started following in his father’s footsteps - being educated in Rome and beginning a career in the Roman government. In about 372 he was made prefect of Liguria and Emilia, whose capital was Milan. (Because of his experience in government, I often consider him another patron saint of government workers [like Thomas More].)

In 374 the bishop’s seat of Milan fell vacant, and, when Ambrose tried to settle the conflict between the Catholics and Arians over the appointment of a new bishop, the people demanded that he become the bishop himself. He was a layman and not yet baptized (during this time period, it was common for baptism to be delayed and for people to remain for years as catechumens), but that was not accepted as an excuse. Strongly “encouraged” by the people and by the emperor, he was baptized, ordained, and installed as bishop within a week, on 7 December 374.

He immediately focused on studying Scripture and learning theology. As a bishop, he was steadfast in the face of the Arian heresy, even though a number of people in government were Arians. When the Goths invaded the Roman Empire and took captives, he used all his money, as well as melted gold from Church treasures, to ransom the captives.

He also composed a number of hymns and was very influential in the conversion of Saint Augustine (whom he baptized). The author of a number of a number of sermons and treatises on the spiritual life, as well as two theological works, Saint Ambrose has been named a Doctor of the Church (one of the four original Doctors of the Latin Church). 

For more information, please visit:

     Wikipedia: Ambrose

     Catholic.org: St. Ambrose

     Doctors of the Catholic Church: Saint Ambrose

     CyberHymnal: Hymns Attributed to Ambrose of Milan

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Passes Congress, Awaits Presidential Action

The final version of the "Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010" has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is awaiting action by President Obama.

This piece of legislation has been receiving a bit of attention because school nutrition is considered vitally important in fostering a healthy and positive learning environment for children to achieve their full potential. It is also related to concerns about childhood obesity.

A number of local officials and concerned citizens in New England and throughout the nation appreciate the intentions behind this act. There are some concerns, though, about the amount of funding the legislation provides for local school districts to comply with the new requirements. The U. S. Department of Agriculture reports the full cost of providing free lunches exceeds the federal reimbursement currently by more than 30 cents per meal. While the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorizes an increase of six cents per school lunch for districts that voluntarily adopt updated federal standards for school meals, the National School Boards Association estimates the actual increased cost of compliance ranges from 11-25 cents per meal, thus increasing the reimbursement gap that already exists.

To access the final version of this piece of legislation, please visit:

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010

For information about the National School Boards Association’s position on nutrition standards in school, please visit:

NSBA: Child Nutrition

For information about the federal school meals programs, please visit:

U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service: School Meals

Photo Essay of the 2010 Wreaths Across America Escort

Joe Lee of the United Service Organizations (USO) is sharing a good photo essay of the 2010 Wreaths Across America Escort:

     USO: On Patrol: Photo Essays