Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New York Times review of a new book on Hitler

This is a very good and very scary read:
HITLER, The Assencion
How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?
A host of earlier biographers (most notably Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw) have advanced theories about Hitler’s rise, and the dynamic between the man and his times. Some have focused on the social and political conditions in post-World War I Germany, which Hitler expertly exploited — bitterness over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a yearning for a return to German greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Depression of the early 1930s; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of “foreignization.”
Other writers — including the dictator’s latest biographer, the historian Volker Ullrich — have focused on Hitler as a politician who rose to power through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses. In “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939,” Mr. Ullrich sets out to strip away the mythology that Hitler created around himself in “Mein Kampf,” and he also tries to look at this “mysterious, calamitous figure” not as a monster or madman, but as a human being with “undeniable talents and obviously deep-seated psychological complexes.”
“In a sense,” he says in an introduction, “Hitler will be ‘normalized’ — although this will not make him seem more ‘normal.’ If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.”
This is the first of two volumes (it ends in 1939 with the dictator’s 50th birthday) and there is little here that is substantially new. However, Mr. Ullrich offers a fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country — and, in Hitler’s case, lead to an unimaginable nightmare for the world.

Mr. Ullrich, like other biographers, provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a “Munich rabble-rouser” — regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style” — into “the lord and master of the German Reich.”
• Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

• Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”
• Hitler was an effective orator and actor, Mr. Ullrich reminds readers, adept at assuming various masks and feeding off the energy of his audiences. Although he concealed his anti-Semitism beneath a “mask of moderation” when trying to win the support of the socially liberal middle classes, he specialized in big, theatrical rallies staged with spectacular elements borrowed from the circus. Here, “Hitler adapted the content of his speeches to suit the tastes of his lower-middle-class, nationalist-conservative, ethnic-chauvinist and anti-Semitic listeners,” Mr. Ullrich writes. He peppered his speeches with coarse phrases and put-downs of hecklers. Even as he fomented chaos by playing to crowds’ fears and resentments, he offered himself as the visionary leader who could restore law and order.
• Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better “to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.”
• Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, “it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences” with “repeated mantralike phrases” consisting largely of “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.” But Hitler virtually wrote the modern playbook on demagoguery, arguing in “Mein Kampf” that propaganda must appeal to the emotions — not the reasoning powers — of the crowd. Its “purely intellectual level,” Hitler said, “will have to be that of the lowest mental common denominator among the public it is desired to reach.” Because the understanding of the masses “is feeble,” he went on, effective propaganda needed to be boiled down to a few slogans that should be “persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”
• Hitler’s rise was not inevitable, in Mr. Ullrich’s opinion. There were numerous points at which his ascent might have been derailed, he contends; even as late as January 1933, “it would have been eminently possible to prevent his nomination as Reich chancellor.” He benefited from a “constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously” — in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an “erosion of the political center” and a growing resentment of the elites. The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”
• Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. Early on, revulsion at Hitler’s style and appearance, Mr. Ullrich writes, led some critics to underestimate the man and his popularity, while others dismissed him as a celebrity, a repellent but fascinating “evening’s entertainment.” Politicians, for their part, suffered from the delusion that the dominance of traditional conservatives in the cabinet would neutralize the threat of Nazi abuse of power and “fence Hitler in.” “As far as Hitler’s long-term wishes were concerned,” Mr. Ullrich observes, “his conservative coalition partners believed either that he was not serious or that they could exert a moderating influence on him. In any case, they were severely mistaken.”
• Hitler, it became obvious, could not be tamed — he needed only five months to consolidate absolute power after becoming chancellor. “Non-National Socialist German states” were brought into line, Mr. Ullrich writes, “with pressure from the party grass roots combining effectively with pseudo-legal measures ordered by the Reich government.” Many Germans jumped on the Nazi bandwagon not out of political conviction but in hopes of improving their career opportunities, he argues, while fear kept others from speaking out against the persecution of the Jews. The independent press was banned or suppressed and books deemed “un-German” were burned. By March 1933, Hitler had made it clear, Mr. Ullrich says, “that his government was going to do away with all norms of separation of powers and the rule of law.”
• Hitler had a dark, Darwinian view of the world. And he would not only become, in Mr. Ullrich’s words, “a mouthpiece of the cultural pessimism” growing in right-wing circles in the Weimar Republic, but also the avatar of what Thomas Mann identified as a turning away from reason and the fundamental principles of a civil society — namely, “liberty, equality, education, optimism and belief in progress.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Homily for 26 Week of Ordinary Time, September 25, 2016

We’ve all heard the adage “what goes around comes around.”  Everything is going around around and coming around — EVERYTHING.  From the macrocosm to the microcosm.  Do you realize that at this very moment we are traveling at one million four hundred thousand miles per hour? Think about it, everything is turning — flowing continuously.  Our planet, spinning, the moon and all the other planets — spinning, our galaxy and all galaxies — spinning, EVERYTHING spinning.  The blood rushing through our veins, times and seasons constantly changing — atoms and all subatomic particles all spinning around each other; it is the DNA of everything.
The God we put our faith, hope and trust in is also spinning; Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a constant dance of pure relationship.  It is God’s DNA, and so all that God creates, all the Son does, all that the Holy Spirit does is one huge cosmic dance of pure loving relationship.  Are you on board, or not?
When we are not on board a great and terrible chasm opens up in the very middle of our lives.  That great chasm is a prominent feature in today’s gospel.  Remember back to your first grade school or high school dances.  Everyone lined up on all four wall of the auditorium — no one making a move, no one wanting to go first — the great empty, lonely space in the middle.  Nothing happened until someone finally took the first tentative step toward the middle.
What happens when no one steps up?  Have you ever been in NYC during a garbage strike?  I have — it isn’t pretty!  Ever have your garbage disposal break down during a large dinner party?  Seem to happen every time my mom and dad invited a lot of people over.  When you don’t step up, life backs up. 
What is your image of the rich man in today’s Gospel?  I came to think of him as a sort of Jaba the Hut in Star Wars; huge, fat, sloppy totally self-absorbed.  Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe he looks a lot more like me. The rich man, in today’s Gospel, isn’t bad or evil because he is rich but because he didn’t care, didn’t want to dance.  He probably never even noticed the poor man outside his door.  Unless we are dancing we don’t notice other people.  When we stop dancing life itself stop and a great chasm opens up in our life.  Last Sunday after masses I took a long walk down to Fishermans Wharf and along the waterfront.  Tons of tourists, obviously - it was a beautiful day.   All kinds of folks looking, gawking at Alcatraz Island, the Golden Gate bridge, eating and laughing as ought to be done.  But in the nooks and crannies there were homeless, sleeping or passed out and for the most part no one noticed.  For some reason they stopped dancing, and we stopped dancing and there is a great chasm between us.  Probably none of us here has the answer be we at the very least need to notice.

The same thing can happen to our relationship with God.  God, for many today is simply irrelevant; or we are stuck in some grade school notion of God that just doesn’t work anymore.  We memorized all the questions and answers, we can recite the creed and receive communion; now what?  We thought we did it all correctly, now what?  For many a great empty chasm as developed.  God and faith became objects, like all other objects and gradually we cease to notice them, like so many items on a fireplace mantel.  We were never taught that we are to live and dance with God all the days of our lives.  We were taught to know about God, but certainly can transform our lives and more importantly it can transform other people’s lives as well. Happiness is an inside job - nothing “out there” can make us happy or unhappy; it is how we dance with what’s before us that creates the divine dance of pure love.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Homily for Sunday, September 18, 2016

We live in a magical, luminous, a wonderful world with love and mercy abounding.  No?  Well how about:  we have problems, the world has problems — we are the world.  Better?  No, worse. I’ll go with the first, but live with the second we live in a magical, luminous, wonder-filled world… with a lot of problems.  I was born and raised in California, Venice Beach to be exact, and I now live, as of this past Wednesday in the beautiful City by the Bay.  One of the perks of being a Paulist priest is that I get to live in places I could never afford to live.
Speaking of perks, we have the parable of the “Unjust Steward” in today’s Gospel.  It’s probably one of the most difficult parables to understand, let alone apply to our daily lives.  One of the key ingredients are the asking of questions.
In our first reading from the prophet Amos, Amos is railing against the rich and powerful who ask no questions, they just trample upon the poor and the needy.  Never asking how are you, may I help you they just roll over everyone in their path.  They have power, but they are not powerful.  They have influence but they are not influential in working out the common good of all society.  Jesus does not identity with them; they have their wealth and and power and that is all they have.
Jesus told the parables to explain the realm of God present to Him and the disciples and present to us today.  In the parables there is always a Christ figure and the Christ figure in this parable is the Unjust Steward.  In him we see death and resurrection, a dying and rising to new and fuller life.  The steward is fired, he has to die to the job he had.  What does he do?  He begins asking lots of questions both of himself and others.  [my favorite line in the gospels…]  Then he asks, “how can I fix this mess…  and he begins asking each debtor how much to you own, and how much do you own… and in his cleverness his boss gets at least partial payment where before he was getting nothing.  The owner praises the devious steward and in a real sense both the owner and the steward are raised to new life; as well as the debtors — all are raised to new life.  Both learned how to transform weakness into strength, real strength that benefited everyone.  
You see, Jesus identifies with the unjust steward not because Jesus is unjust but because that’s where Jesus always begins His work: with injustice, greed, pride, people with low self-esteem, people like us, people with problems and He want to raise all of us to new life.   he became the criminal, the outcast, the one all looked down upon so that from that weakness the power of God would shine through him on Easter morning raising Jesus and all of us to new and fuller life.
St. Paul says time and again “when I am week then I am strong” not his own strength but God’s strength shining through him and constantly raising Paul to new and fuller life.  It is true for each of us as well.  When we give up our own power and sense of control we make room for the real and healing power of Jesus Christ into our lives.  One of my basic themes is how do we see our lives reflected in the scriptures and how do we see the scriptures played out in our lives.

Tourists in San Francisco….  Getting a new iPhone or android….  Cooking a new dish for the very first time….  so many examples that show us our weaknesses…  It is in the asking of questions: where is such and such, how do I do such and such; how may I help you? — the contacts we make —- our conversations with others be they family or strangers or coworkers… this is when the realm of God comes alive in us and in others.  This is the way we share our faith as well…  and raise ourselves and others to new and fuller life.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Trying out some B&W photography

Trying out some B&W photography


 Standing Tall

Just Friends

Sunday, July 03, 2016

I am testing IFTT
Hello from San Francisco.  Starting life in the City by the Sea and what a beautiful city it is.  Still moving in, but I did stop by the Paulist Bookstore at Old St. Mary's located at the entrance of Chinatown at California and Grant.  There are a couple of other neighborhood photos and I have the help of a Fortuneteller right across the street from my room I will always know what is going to happen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Living in a Sea of Mercy

Over the years I have tried to share with you my experience, strength and hope regarding our faith in Christ Jesus.  As we say in AA, we “trudge the road of happy destiny.”  It is an apt description of our journey in faith together.  It is all about the road - the journey; the destination will take care of itself.  The destination is the Kingdom of God and the fact is we have already arrived there, or here if you will.  Jesus says “the Kingdom of God IS at hand.”  Rules, doctrines even papal pronouncements will not save us; only accepting the invitation into God’s realm will do it.  Only by living in our lives the death and resurrection that Jesus lives in us will do it.
The primary invitation into God’s realm is found at the beginning of John’s Gospel: The next day John the Baptist was there again with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” The two disciples* heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. It was about four in the afternoon.”
We live in a sea of mercy and love, the sea of redemption but many of us are 

unaware of it.  Perhaps the realm of God is like a public swimming pool.  One of my Paulist professors in the seminary taught himself how to swim by reading a book.  We can read the book, learn all the technics, know all the safety rules - becoming experts in the art of swimming but none of it means anything until we dive in.  Many Catholics spend their entire lives sitting by the side of the pool, reading the rule books, and never experiencing the joy and failure of actually swimming; and being held by the very water they may fear.
The entry fee into God’s realm is that we be a sinner.  There are no self-righteous, perfect, egomaniacs in God’s realm only avowed sinners.  Jesus says:  “I came to call sinners, not the self-righteous.”  The entry fee is simply to accept the unconditional love of God and to share this Good News with others.
Life in this sea of mercy and love is all about expanding our awareness of God’s saving presence.  In this pool, this community of faith we call Church, is about becoming more and more aware of the other swimmers - enjoying the fact that the sea of love and mercy is sustaining and holding us all up so that none of us drown.  Each and every day, everyone we see from afar or touch - all are living in the realm of God; many just don’t know it.  All of us are in the same public pool - no exceptions.  
Some folks are swimming well, others not so much.  The future of our parish, the future of the Church depends not so much on well conceived plans, programs or even homilies but on how well we come to aid those in trouble, to make sure that all are welcomed here no matter what - no exceptions.  The Christians of the first century were not noted for their creeds, or eloquence, or fancy liturgy but in how they loved one another - cared for one another.  It is still true  today.  May people say of us, “see how they love one another.”

Fr. Michael

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Homily for The Ascension 2016

Ascension (Mother’s Day) 2016
I believe this is only the second time in forty-two years that I have actually preached on Mother’s Day.  This past Wednesday marked my 42nd year of ordination.  Now I feel like I am between the proverbial rock and a hard place because the day after ordination my mother said “don’t ever preach about mothers on Mother’s Day.”  It isn’t that she didn’t like being a mother but she was tired of the insipid things she heard priests say on Mother’s Day.  They don’t know what they are talking about and she didn’t want me following suit; and she was absolutely right; I don’t know the first thing about being a mother.
Thank God we are celebrating the feast of the Ascension today, for I will have something to talk about.  We need to view this feast in context.  The context is much larger than we may think.  The ascension and resurrection were not just event that took place 2,000 years ago; but event that are happening right now, in us.  Jesus is rising from the dead in us, each day.  Jesus is ascending in us daily.  The feast of the ascension is the feast of our empowerment.  We along with the disciples are the ones empowered from on high to do in our day what Jesus did.  The ascension isn’t about Jesus going away but rather plunging ever more deeply into a world in need of healing through us.  Jesus’ ascension took place in a very broken world; there were still the diseased, the crippled, those on the edges of society not allowed in.  We celebrate the ascension today in a very broken world, starving for healing, love and acceptance.  Jesus Himself was crushed beyond recognition in His passion and death.  But, Jesus witnessed to and believed in His heavenly parent; Jesus witnessed and believed in His mother Mary and this witnessing and believing changed everything.
Most of us did not grow up in Hallmark Card or Norman Rockwell family paintings.  Each of us, like the disciples in our readings today have been given a legacy.  While I know very little about motherhood I do know my mother.  She was not perfect.  She suffered from agoraphobia and her idea of a hamburger patty was a hockey puck on steroids.  Still, she loved me deeply and I found trust and comfort in her presence.  Despite weaknesses she had strength and faith beyond imagining.  She taught, not by a lot of rules but by example.  I never remember either my mom and dad having to beg me to attend church because it was obvious how much it meant to them; and in that elevated my own expectations.  
Jesus learned about His Jewish origins and faith tradition through His mother, He believed them and lived them.  Jesus in turn taught not with rules but by example and told us to go forth and do likewise.  Good parents want their children to soar, to live life free and happy.  Good parents know how to set their children free.
That moment of setting free or being set free is one fraught with anxiety and we see that played out in our readings.  How are we going to get along without Him?  Jesus thinking, I hope they will be alright - and they will be alright because of what I have given and will give them.  Suddenly we feel alone, maybe abandoned; we have to assess what we have and sometimes we just stare, looking back, looking forward — stunned.  Then we take those first tentative steps, and realize that we too can soar.  

Today we remember and celebrate our source.  Most of us are far removed from the moment we were first set free.  Most of us know that we don’t always soar.  We have times of doubt, feelings of inadequacy, wondering if we can make it through another day; so we remember our source be it our natural family, or an adopted family and always our faith.  This feast of the ascension is our constant invitation, to live, to love, to soar with abandon.