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Barak Obama and the Beginning of the End of the Castro Regime

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In 1961 the Kennedy administration imposed a diplomatic and economic embargo on the nascent Castro regime in Cuba. At the time with the Cold War going full steam ahead the decision seemed logical and appropriate. Never mid the fact that decades of American policy which favored the Bautista dictatorship, the economic interests of American corporations and did nothing to help Cuba’s poor had helped bring about Castro’s rule. Likewise never mind the fact that Americans using Cuban mercenaries only pushed Castro further into Soviet orbit with the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But following the Cuba missile crisis the embargo and diplomatic isolation remained in place. However, in 1972 President Richard Nixon brokered a deal of detente with the Soviet Union, a superpower that was an existential threat to the United States, as well as Mao Tse Tung’s Communist China, a power that we had fought to a standstill in Korea, and which had just a few years before embarked on its “cultural revolution” one of the bloodiest and ruthless events of the twentieth century.

Nixon was a diplomatic genius who was not so wedded to his own extremely anti-Communist ideology not to recognize when a moment to change history was in the offing. Otto Von Bismarck noted that “The statesman’s task is to hear God’s footsteps marching through history and then to try to catch onto his coattails as He marches past.”

Bismarck was right and both Nixon and Obama heard the footsteps of God in terms of diplomacy and foreign relations. Sadly very few ideologues, like Senator Marco Rubio ever get this nuance and would rather maintain a failed policy that neither benefits the United States or the Cuban people, but which is one of the few things that have kept the Castro brothers in business long after most Communist regimes ended up on the ash-heap of history.

The amazing thing is that the polices of Richard Nixon regarding the Soviet Union and China had dramatic and positive effects that his successors, be they Republican or Democrat really did not grasp. Instead, when the Iron curtain came down we in the west did all that we could to humiliate the former USSR and brought about the bellicose dictator by another name Vladimir Putin. Likewise we failed to understand the pragmatic and nationalistic nature of the Chinese Communist regime that was brought about by Mao’s successor Deng Xiaoping. In both cases our failure to grasp the reality of our former opponents created new adversaries.

But such was not the case with Cuba. Cuba was different, especially after the Cold War ended. Despite our differences Cuba and the United States should have been able to overcome the effects of Castro’s seizure of power and brokered an understanding. Yes Castro was and is a Communist, but that, even during the Cold War did not prevent effective diplomacy with other Communist states such as Tito’s Yugoslavia, a country that had there been a conflict between the Soviet Union and NATO that might have well sided with the west. But with Cuba there was no nuance. Castro was the enemy.

The irony was that in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s it was Cuban soldiers that protected U.S. based oil company refineries, installations and American personnel in Angola against CIA sponsored insurgents.

The American economic embargo has been a failure for decades. This was even more the case after after the fall of the Soviet Union when our allies in South and Central America and Europe realized that Cuba was no longer a threat and refused to support our embargo, rendering it impotent, except in the domestic politics of South Florida. Only fools believe that continuing it will change Cuba. The economic and diplomatic isolation has been going on for 53 years, 23 of them after the fall of the Iron curtain, and it has failed. Fools like Marco Rubio who even before President Obama made his announcement was at a microphone condemning the decision. But then Marco Rubio is both an ideologue who basks in his status of being a victim of the dying Castro regime.

The arguments of Rubio and the other partisan flacks in the American domestic political scene for maintaining the economic embargo and diplomatic isolation are not only short sighted and play to their own local political constituency, but they work against the United States in trying to achieve a responsible and workable solution to the impasse that has poisoned Cuban-American relations for six decades.

The fact is, despite the protestation of Rubio and others we deal with a lot more unsavory characters than the Castros. Yes, they are thugs. Yes they run a police state with few freedoms and where religious liberty is not protected, but they didn’t support Al Qaida like some of our closest allies in the Middle East did, they never near sank a U.S. Navy ship like Israel did in the six day war, and they didn’t kill or wound tens of thousands of U.S. military personnel like the Chinese did when they intervened in the Korea War. From a terrorist or real military threat to U.S. National Security interests the Cubans are minor leaguers and their leaders know that.

President Obama has brought about a political and diplomatic coup in Cuban-America relations, and for now on there will be no going back. Maybe now the United States and Cuba will be able to fulfill our common destinies to work together for the betterment of our hemisphere and world.

Of course for taking this long overdue action, something that either President Bush or President Clinton should have done years ago is now being called a traitor and worse by his domestic political opponents. However, like Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and now Pope Francis realized, the time has come for change in our relationship.

This is a historic day and a decision that was long overdue. It is a watershed, and even if the Congress refuses to lift the economic aspects, things in Cuba will change. Freedom will come and soon Cubans and Americans will finally have the chance to build a constructive and positive relationship that helps both peoples.

I have stood at the Northeast Gate of Guantanamo Bay, I have looked over the fence line at Cuba, and I pray that one day I will see the rest of that country.

This is a good night… And as a side note it will be great for baseball. Just imagine the course of history had Fidel Castro been drafted by the Yankees in the early 1950s. Hell he might be the President of the America League by now and he might not have agreed with the designated hitter rule.

But that being sad, Barak Obama should be getting the accolades given to  Nixon, and later Ronald Reagan when he dealt with Gorbachev in 1986 and 1987. This is a watershed and it will change Cuban-American relations for the better, and help the Cuban people. This is a win for the good guys, and even more importantly it will be a win for baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Papal Conclave Date Set: Cardinals Gather to Elect Pope on Tuesday

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The 115 Cardinals present and eligible to vote for the Next Pope have  gathered including Roger the Dodger Cardinal Mahoney from Los Angeles. Mahoney, a man now banned by his successor from public ministry for his complicity in the cover up of numerous sexual crimes by his clergy will be one of those men meeting to elect Benedict XVI’s successor. The date was determined in the 8th pre-game meeting of the Cardinals and did not include the late Stan Musial, or the still living Tony LaRussa or Mark McGuire. I for one cannot imagine a meeting of Cardinals that does not include any of these men or even Bob Gibson or Rogers Hornsby.

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Politics of Papal elections are quite secretive. The process begins with a morning Mass called the “pro eligendo Romano Pontifice Mass.” Following this Mass and a luncheon with a no-host bar the Cardinals head over to the Sistine Chapel where under the hand of God painted on the ceiling by Michelangelo and the great fresco over the altar of the Last Judgement.

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We do not know who will come out of the conclave as Pope. However the conclave, coming on the abdication of Benedict XVI and the Double Top Secret report ordered by Benedict, a report only to be seen by him and whoever comes out of the Conclave as the next Pope. It is believed by some including those that investigated the Vatileaks scandal that the contents were so disturbing that they led directly to Benedict’s resignation.

That aside, Papal elections, as well as the politics of the Curia are always shrouded in secrecy and often conspiracy theories. They make for great writing, especially in the fiction and mystery genre of literature. This undoubtably will be the case again in this election, especially due to the unusual circumstances surrounding this conclave.  I’ll bet that Dan Brown has a new novel brewing for Tom Hanks to make a movie right now.

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The scandals involving Catholic Prelates, Clergy and institutions around the world have rocked the Church to its foundations and for the most part the Church has not responded well. It is floundering and theologian Hans Kung notes that “behind the facade, the whole house is crumbling.”

When that magic number of 77 votes is reached and a new Pope is elected white smoke will rise from the chimney of the chapel. I think that the chimney is pretty unremarkable and needs to be replaced with something more Papal  with a bit more bling. After the smoke blows the new Pope will pick a name, I personally like “Bob” because it is kind of blue collar and easy to spell.  He will then get fitted for his new white cassock, of which three sizes will be available. Third World skinny, and White Guy Medium and Large, the Large actually being a 2X just in case the new Pope is not just a man of wisdom but substantial stature.

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I do pray for the Cardinals, as well as the Orioles as the conclave commences and the Orioles continue Spring Training games. I also pledge to pray for whoever is elected as the next Pope. Since I have no clue as to who this will be, with the possible exception of not Cardinal Mahoney that prayer is one of faith and trust in God to work through fallible men to select the Pope. This is something that matters to the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics worldwide and to non-Roman Catholics alike. I like Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York because he is a baseball fan, but since he is an American I don’t expect him to get the job.

Thus while I approach this with a bit of humor and levity I also recognize how serious this is for both the Church and the world.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Pope has Left the Building: Benedict XVI Gracefully Departs Amid Cloud of Scandal and Speculation

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Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Bavaria, the first German Pope since Victor who died in 1057 left office in a less than customary manner today. Unlike every one of his predecessors dating back to Celestine V who resigned in 1294 Gregory XII who resigned in 1414 to help end the Avignon schism he did not die in office.

Pope Benedict announced his resignation on February 11th and it stunned the Church and the world. Such an event had not occurred in nearly 600 years, over 700 years for one that resigned that was not under duress. Popes do not resign every day, it is not “normal” for those of us in the modern era. Benedict in his resignation letter cited his “lack of strength of mind and body” as his reason for resigning. After the lengthly suffering of his predecessor Pope John Paul II, who spent the last years of his papacy crushed under the weight of Parkinson’s disease and other illnesses leaving much of the day to day operations of the Church to the Curia led by Ratzinger, his friend and the head of the Office of the Congregation for the Faith, one could understand.

Benedict, now 85 years old, battling health concerns and under the increasing weight of scandals involving sexual abuse by clergy including Cardinal Roger Mahoney and Cardinal Michael Patrick O’Brien of the United Kingdom, the Vatican bank corruption and the “Vatileaks” scandal involving his butler resigned.

We probably know all of the factors that went into the resignation of Benedict. He is both lionized by Roman Catholic conservatives and vilified by those who resented his approach to the Church and its relation to the world. He seemed like a man out of his element as Pope, a contemplative theologian thrust by his office and relationship to his predecessor into the most high profile position in Christendom and for that matter in the religious world.

His legacy and impact will be debated and not really known for years because though no longer Pope he lives and his life story is not yet complete. The verdict of history and faith in the case of Pope Benedict XVI is not complete and it is foolhardy for one to attempt to access his Papacy until that life on this earth is ended. Likewise, it is unlikely baring the release of all information concerning Benedict as well as the various scandals in the church and his relationship to them and actions concerning them that we can know the full story.

I hope that Pope Benedict is able to continue his ministry as a former Pope in a manner that helps the Church heal and also be transparent. In this capacity it is possible that Benedict will have the chance to be a force for good that no Pope has ever had the chance, being the first to resign in so long.

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A Final Blessing at Castel Gandolfo 

Perhaps his resignation will be an inspiration to his successors as well as his fellow bishops not to simply remain in office because they can but instead attempt to listen to the Holy Spirit and the the people of God have to say. That being said there is the possibility that Benedict will become a “shadow Pope” influencing and dictating the course of the church remaining in a covent in Vatican City. I hope that will not happen. His words on his departure today and arrival at Castel Gandolfo if taken at face value indicate that he will be content to remain on the sidelines, but only time will tell. His story is not yet complete. As of now it appears that his departure is one of graceful humility and I pray that will be his legacy.

That being said it is up to the men that lead the Roman Catholic Church to be honest in dealing with the seemingly unending waves of scandal and corruption that seem to plague the Church. The time for cover ups has to end and the time for new beginnings, starting with repentance and renewal to begin.

Though I am not a Roman Catholic I will pray for Benedict and whoever his successor may be. I do hope that whoever that man is will be able to lead the church through the coming difficult days in an open and transparent manner and help lead the church to the renewal promised by the Gospel and opened again in Vatican II. There are far too many crisis in the Church and the world not to pray for this.

I hope that the next Pope, like Father Andrew Greeley’s fictional contender for the Papacy Luis Emilio Cardinal Menendez y Garcia says in the novel White Smoke: a Novel About the Next Papal Conclave (New York: Tom Doherty, 1996; pp. 140-143)

“It must be admitted honestly that many of our people have a negative impression of our institution, as of course do many who know us only from outside the Church. They view us as harsh and unbending, as narrow and uninformed, as arrogant and unsympathetic. Are we prepared to say that there are no reasons to justify that view of us? Are we prepared to say that there is nothing in our manner, our style, our institutional organization, our narrowness of vision which has given them that impression?

I for one am not ready to say those things. I candidly believe that we are our own worst enemies because we have often seem to worship not the Father in heaven but our own institutional being. We should not, my fellow Catholics, worship the Church, we should not make the Church an end in itself. The Church clearly is only a means. When the means gets in the way of the end it has become the object of idolatry. When we seem to want to impose that idolatry on others, we appear to many to be religious imperialists. Are we so sure that we never act like idolaters and religious imperialists?”

I think that the new Pope needs to be able to admit this and in doing so liberate the Church to do the work of the Gospel.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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It’s the Apocalypse: A Papal Resignation, North Korean Nukes, LA Shooter, SOTU, the SOTU Response, the SOTU Response Response and Fat Tuesday

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“I do love America. And LA is a very short commute to America its like half an hour on the plane.” Craig Ferguson

What a crazy couple of days and I don’t know about you but my head is spinning like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. It almost felt like a Zombie Apocalypse was upon us. Then I remembered that Zombies are not real. However, it was a crazy couple of days in America and Los Angeles.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away then Pope Benedict XVI up and quit. Shortly thereafter the Vatican was struck by lightening twice. Coincidence….I think not.

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But that wan’t all, just before I went to bed Kim Jong Un number one son, the North Korean version of an inbred mountain man exploded a nuclear bomb and promised more. Not to be outdone the disgruntled former LA Cop bent on revenge got into another firefight and is now preempting the State of the Union Address which I wasn’t going to watch because I get tired of people giving the President the clap between every sentence. Now because there is murder and mayhem on live television I have to watch whether I want to or not because it is going to be a split screen like the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. I am a sucker for drama.

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And to think, that all of this was happening on or just before the day that people set aside to sin boldly before entering a 40 day period of fasting and abstinence for a reason that they have forgotten. Well, I haven’t forgotten the reason for the fasting and abstinence  but I did have a big hamburger and a few beers to tide me over until Easter. Well I don’t plan on doing hamburgers on Fridays during Lent, it is a sacrifice and since I generally don’t eat anything that swims in its own toilet seafood is out which reduces me to eating bean burritos on Fridays during Lent.

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Pope John Luc I?

So tonight with all of this going on we are waiting on a Papal election conclave which will begin in March. My money is on a long shot outsider for the post, Bono who I predict will take the name Pope Meatloaf I or perhaps Sir Patrick Stewart who I would think would be Pope John Luc I if elected. I actually think that a Pope John Luc the First would be a great move and cause the Papacy to boldly go where no Pope has gone before.

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Normally that would be enough drama for a week. A Pope resigning his office only happens on an average only once every 390 years, so that is news. But then the wily North Koreans explode another nuclear bomb shortly after launching an inter-continental ballistic missile against the opposition of everyone in the world including China and Iran and I say “that too is news.” I do think that Kim Jong Un number one has a case of missile envy but still, the thought of him having fingering the nuclear button is frightening. In fact thinking of Kim fingering anything is frightening.

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And speaking of frightening, a disgruntled former LA cop and Naval Reserve officer has been on a revenge motivated killing spree in which he has killed 4 people and wounded 2 more, none of whom were involved in his firing from LAPD. Say what you want about him but Khan went after Captain Kirk for his revenge in Star Trek II. Sure he killed innocents, but his goal was Kirk. Thankfully after a shootout today it looks like the shooter has been killed and the danger is averted, but for a time it was a surreal throwback to the split screen O.J. Simpson chase which coincided with the NBA Championship Game 5 between the Knicks and Rockets. For a moment tonight CNN and MSNBC had the split screen thing going. It made me proud. Where but in America could this happen? That is why we are such a great country.

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Tonight is also the State of the Union Address, the annual speech where the incumbent President gives his vision for the next year in the life of the Republic. It is punctuated by the applause of his partisan supporters and icy cold glares and stares of his opponents. This is the case regardless of who is in office and the only time the deadly partisanship is broken is during the photo ops before and after the ceremony as the President enters and exits the Well of the House. I even saw Eric Cantor kiss Sheila Jackson Lee, now that is bipartisanship at its best.

It has also become a tradition for the out of power party to have a leader make a speech after the SOTU address. Usually, regardless of the party doing this the man or woman that makes the speech looks like Kenneth the Paige on 30 Rock speaking outside a Motel 6 conference room. Most pundits and politicians see this as a thankless job. Tonight the Republican Party is sending out Senator Marco Rubio to make this speech in order let him peak early so that someone like Herman Cain can sabotage his candidacy in 2016.

But that is not enough. Three years ago the Tea Party put out a response to the Republican response in order to show America just how united they are in destroying each other. In 2011 it was Michelle Bachmann, in 2012 it was Herman Cain and this year it will be Senator Rand Paul who is supposed to be speaking in favor of the great sequester working to ensure a Democrat sweep in 2014 and a Hillary Clinton Presidency in 2016.

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Fat Tuesday

And all of this on Fat Tuesday, when people all over the country are drinking to excess and partying hard so they can have something to seriously repent about tomorrow and feel bad about until Easter. Now am rather tame. I went out, ate a big hamburger, drank a couple of beers with my friends and had two chocolate chip cookies. Then I came home to Molly my now blind dog, got her to chase some deer and wrote this little article while watching the SOTU address.

Tomorrow I will help lead our Ash Wednesday Service in our little Chapel. Hopefully in the process I will be a Priest that in his humanness and brokenness helps people experience the love, grace and reconciliation of God in Christ on the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mixed Nuts: Apocalypse Soon, Conspiracy Theories and Other Nuttiness

Who did the Dye Job?

It was an interesting week and I took a couple of days off of writing to spend some time with Judy and it was interesting just to talk with her and others about some of the nutty things that are going one. Of course the big news was that Osama Bin Laden dyed his beard and had a fetish for watching himself on his Direct TV.  I wonder what he used to dye the beard with Grecian Formula, Clairol, Loreal, Herbal Essences or Manic Panic. If he hadn’t been on the lam so long he might have been their spokesman in the Middle East pitching hair beard dyes for men.  But he died undyed. I guess had he known that the SEALS were coming that he would have ensured that his beard was black.  I think the conspiracy theories inside Al Qaeda’s web were more about how he fooled them into thinking that the beard was its natural color and wondering where they can get the same brand than how the SEALS got him.

Of course in the West we could care less about the hair color we just wonder if the United States faked killing him and sent him to run the Donut shop in Buenos Aries that we had Hitler running after we faked his death at the end of the Second World War.  Rumor has it is that Elvis is still down there doing Elvis impersonations and has coffee there every morning along with the surviving aliens from Area 51.  People are demanding that President Obama produce a death certificate but the coroner’s office in Karachi Pakistan won’t issue the long form and thus conspiracy theories will abound so Jerome Corsi can write another book.

Harold Camping…The Rapture on May 21st?

Of course if you haven’t noticed only 13 shopping days left until the Rapture, at least by the calculations of a certified California nut named Harold Camping.  Evidently the 89 year old Camping believes that he alone has cracked the code about when Jesus is coming.  According to him the “Great Tribulation” began on May 21st 1988 when Fat by Weird Al Yankovic hit #99 on the Billboard Pop Chart and the Chicago Cubs defeated the Cincinnati Reds by a score of 11-6. The score is important because 11+6 equals 17 which according to Camping equals heaven. This proves my point that the Cubs are the key to understanding the Second Coming of the Lord. See Discerning the Second Coming: The Cubs are the Key and on the 21st of May 2011 the Cubs will be at Fenway to play the Red Sox in what could be the last inter-league game before Jesus comes back to whack and shwack the unraptured for 5 months until Friday October 21st 2011 which will be two days after the World Series begins.  Since there is no way to get the World Series in there is no way that the Cubs can win it and thus Camping has to be wrong.  Of course he was wrong in when he predicted the Rapture to occur in September of 1994 during the regular season but attributed this to a mathematical error.  Nonetheless there is no mathematical error on the donation link on his ministry website which he does take credit cards, so you can spend madly buying his stuff without having to pay for it…not.  See you the 22nd Harold unless you have absconded to Turkmenistan with your loot.

Speaking of “Nuts” evidently Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad is being accused of “sorcery” by his political opponents on the Council of Ayatollahs headed by Ayatollah Khamenei.  Evidently he was caught with the entire DVD collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Charmed.  He bowed to Khamenei’s order to reinstate the former Intelligence Minister who Mahmoud had fired after that man discovered the collection and sold both sets on Ebay with the proceeds going to the Old Ayatollah Home in the Holy City of Qom.  Ahamadinejad who has been on the lecture circuit tour proclaiming the return of the 12th Mahdi and doing all that he can to ensure the long absent Mahdi returns but he has not been so bold as to predict the date.

Los Angeles Apocalypse?

Of course the citizens of Los Angeles are pretty sure that the Apocalypse is coming soon after the Dallas Mavericks swept the vaunted Los Angeles Lakers. Adding to their apocalyptic misery the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly unable to afford the end of May payroll and Arnold Schwarzenegger is coming back to Hollywood for a number of projects to include a Terminator story and a movie appropriately called Last Stand.

Mona Lisa: Where is her body?

Meanwhile in Italy an attempt is being made to find the remains of the real Mona Lisa using some kind of advanced riding lawn mower system.  Lisa who disappeared under mysterious circumstances after a photo shoot with Leonardo Da Vinci has been the source of constant speculation since her disappearance.  Elsewhere people are less concerned with finding Lisa and more concerned with their own apocalypse a massive earthquake predicted to shake Rome on May 21st.  The long dead pseudo scientist Raffaele Bendandi made the prediction that the earthquake would be so bad that the entire city of Rome would be shaved off the map to make way for a new Disney World campus.  Bad news for the Pope he will have to move back to Avignon. At least the Germans and French are getting along better.

In the United States people in the Tennessee, Mississippi and Louisiana are building high tech Arks to survive the real flooding that is predicted to occur about around the 21st of May….coincidence?  I think so.

Have a great week

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Ball Game with Saint Pete: The confluence of Baseball and Faith

This is a re-written version of an article that I wrote last year and is part of my “Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11” series.  The original; was written shortly after my dad died last summer. Today I revised it while traveling to a Church clergy and Chaplain conference in Houston. Peace, Padre Steve+

A week after I met Jesus and the team at 7-11 I found out that I was selected to be promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  While still in amazed wonderment about that meeting and what happened on the team’s road trip to Dyersville Iowa to play at the Field of Dreams I was caught up in the excitement of knowing that I was among 20 chaplains selected for promotion for the next fiscal year.  That night I went to worship at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish despite being very tired from three busy overnight duty shifts over the preceding eight days at the hospital that I served at as a Chaplain.

The previous night had gone long as I had to deal with a number of serious situations.  We had young Petty Officer First Class named Kenneth die of cancer. Kenneth was one of those rare people with no guile. While he served in the Navy he was also an outstanding basketball player and played on the All-Navy Basketball team. He died after a struggle with cancer that had ravaged his formerly massive body, that of a basketball power forward until he looked like a concentration Camp victim at the end of the Second World War. The time with this young man and his family was filled with grace as three Chaplains as well as a number of hospital staff that had gotten to know them over the preceding three months gathered at their apartment outside the hospital gate where he had gone home to die.  It was his desire to spend a few days at home with family before dying and one of the last things that he was able to do was watch game seven of the NBA Championship game between the Lakers and the Celtics. The three Chaplains, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal and me a miscreant Old Catholic type all prayed at the bedside and stayed with the family and his body during the holy silence that pervaded the living room.

Later I would spend time with the family of an eighteen month old boy that had drowned and been resuscitated by EMS in down but was certain to die in the next day or two.  Then I did some follow up with a dear lady that was in the end stages of heart and kidney failure in our ICU. I’d known Corrie a sixty-five year old Filipina and her family over the past couple of years as she struggled to live, but today was different. Nothing more could be done. I was with her and the doctors as they discussed her condition and when she calmly let people know that if her heart stopped again not to try to bring her back. We talked and prayed afterward and she had asked if I would come up to help her write down her story.  Well that had not worked out but I did get to her bedside late making the sincerest of apologies and letting her know what had happened. Corrie was also one of those dear saints, a devout Catholic that loved God and her neighbors, she was concerned for the families of the other patients and not so concerned about herself. She had faith and was confident that Jesus would have her in heaven because as she said it was his grace and mercy that had allowed her to know him.  I listened to her, sang with her, prayed with her and chatted for almost an hour and a half before going to check on the parents of the little boy and my Pediatric ICU staff before trundling off to the Duty Chaplain Bunk room for a few hours of fitful sleep.  I thought of the people that I had dealt with during the day and how each in their own way had touched my life and saying a brief prayer I laid my head on the bricklike pillows and body down on the devil’s mattress, or the mattress from Hell fell asleep.

After going home I received the call from Derek our deputy chaplain at the hospital to congratulate me on my selection. I was thrilled and that evening I went to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish to see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was a terribly hot and muggy night but the game was exciting and as is my custom I took a lot of pictures for my website as I try to write about every Tides game, hoping that someday when I grew up that I might be a baseball writer.  I guess that I am one now except no-one is paying me for it but such is life. As I moved about I spent some time with my buddies, Elliott, Chip and Art the Ushers and each time that I moved up or down from the home plate area where I reside down the first base or third base line to get shots from different angles I would visit with them, talking baseball, life and receiving their congratulations on my selection for promotion.  To them I am the irrepressible Padre Steve and we have a wonderful time together at each home game.

That night was like any night at the Church of Baseball until I noticed a burly man in a Yankees hat with a beard and pony tail coming down the stairs toward section 102. He was showing his ticket to Elliott the Usher, also know by some as Elliott the Enforcer he also has charge over section 100, the VIP section shared by scouts, players, families of team members and visiting VIPs.  That section is carefully monitored by the aforementioned “Enforcer” and the man, wearing a faded Yankees Jersey from what appeared to be from the 1930s with the number “3” on the back and a pair of large brown cargo shorts with sandals on his feet walked toward Elliott showing his ticket.

I recognized the man and since I was on the move anyway from the third base side toward first I went up to them.  Having met the man the previous week at 7-11 and knowing that he and the team loved baseball I had wondered of they might make their way back to Hampton Roads.

“Elliott, you gonna let a Yankee fan into section 100?” I smiled as I asked the question. Elliott and Pete both looked over at me, Elliott is about my height but Pete towered over us at a good 6 foot 3 inches outweighing each up us by at least a hundred pounds. Pete smiled.

“Steve from 7-11 right?”  Pete asked as he recognized me with Elliott looking on.

“That’s me” I cheerily answered. I liked Pete, there was something genuinely fun about him a blue collar guy that in addition to going and spreading the Good News also liked to be around regular people and have some fun, after all he had spend his early years as a fisherman and like any sailor was a little rough hewn in his manner.

Elliott looked at us and asked Pete “You know this guy?” to which Pete responded “I sure the heck do, he’s one of our people, you know a baseball fan and Padre to boot.”

“So where do you know each other from?” I asked.

Elliott looked at Pete and Pete looked at me before Elliott answered. “I met Pete up at Fenway back in ’76 when the Red Sox went to the World Series.”

“Yeh, I was in town to see the Yankees play those bums and happened to sit by Elliott, for a Sox fan he’s a pretty good guy and unlike most of those weenies at Fenway he actually understands the game.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding Padre, that’s how we met, just goes to show that if you really love the game even Red Sox and Yankees fans can sit together in peace, right Pete?”

“You know it Elliott, you know it.”

“So Pete where you sitting?”

“Section 100; row C on the end down there behind the radar gun.”

“Cool I’m right across the aisle in section 102 row B to your right, would you like to go down there with me? How’d you get section 100?”

“Dude, the boss has connections, when I asked him if I could go back and visit this ballpark when we were done in Dyersville he called Dave.”

“Dave? You mean Dave Rosenfield?” Dave is the long time General Manager of the Tides and I chat with him whenever I get the chance.

“Heck yeh Padre, the Boss knows all the GMs, talks to them often, even the minor league GMs. He likes to put in his two shekels with them in discussing prospects; you know that the boss keeps a keen eye on these players don’t you?”

“Well, I figured so, like he does the rest of us right?”

“It’s kind of like that but this is something that the Boss has a passion for, he died to save the world and the world does include baseball, does it not?”

“Well, that’s true, but even though I found out last week that the Boss and you guys liked baseball I didn’t know it was this serious.”

“Padre, this is baseball, it is serious and the Boss takes it seriously, even more serious than Selig, the Grand-Poobah of Major League Baseball.”

“He takes the game serious or Selig serious?” I smiled as I said this triggering a smile back as he replied removing his cap and wiping his brow of the sweat that the hot and humid Tidewater weather causes the human body to produce in mass quantities when not inside an air conditioned building, which Harbor Park, open to the elements as a baseball field should be is not. As he put his cap back on he quipped back to me “the game Padre, Selig he just humors, lets him think that he is in charge, there are times that he thinks about resurrecting A. Bartlett Giamatti.” Pete paused for a second looked up at the press box and continued “but whenever he talks about it he says that he doesn’t want the Dispensationalists to think that the Tribulation has started, the boss seems to think that it would not be helpful even if Giamatti would be better for the game than the Grand-Poobah Bud.”

“I guess that that would cause a bit of a stir if he did that can you imagine all the headlines on ESPN, the in depth interviews and of course the talk show circuit Pete?” I continued not giving Pete a chance to answer “It would be freaking amazing, could you see Giamatti being interviewed on Larry King Live and see if Larry asks him if he will lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose? Or even better brings up the Congressional hearings on steroids in Baseball?”

“Yep Padre it would be a spectacle and would cause more problems than it would solve, hell Congress would probably want an investigation of how Giamatti came back from the dead and the liberals and conservatives would have hearings that would drag on endlessly and make themselves the center of attention every time a camera was in the room, thank God that Herod and Pilate didn’t have C-Span or the 24 hour news cycle.”

“And people would pretty much ignore the God thing in the story…” said Elliott.

“Well not really except that the Bosses’ involvement in raising someone like Giamatti from the dead so many years after he passed away, God rest his soul, like anything that the boss does would be used by politicians to advance their agenda and dare I say preachers to further their “ministries” or make money by selling books, audio CDs and DVDs that miss the point entirely.” Pete took off his hat and wiped his brow again “sure is hot and miserable in this place, makes me miss the Med, you know that Israel has pretty good weather, a bit dry and hot in the summer but no humidity.”

“I know, I’m originally from California and we had hot weather in the summer but no humidity.”

“Now California, that’s an interesting place, I love the West Coast road trips and that new stadium that the Giants play in that is great.”

“I like it too, it’s so much nicer than Candlestick.”

“Don’t get me going about Candlestick young man. Went out there once in July to see the Giants play the Mets in a double header….I think that it was in the mid-1970s, so guy named Halicki threw a no-hitter.

I looked a Pete funny. “Halicki’s no hitter?”

“Yeah, you heard of it?”

“Pete, I’ve been a Giants fan since I was a kid and I was there for that game.”

“No kidding?”

“No really dad took my me and my brother, it was cold as hell out there but it was so cool to actually see a no-hitter in person.”

“Ain’t that a hoot. Sure is a small universe partner.”

“That it is Pete that it is.”

“So what do you think of the new ballpark? I love the food there, did you have the garlic fries?”

“Yeh, it was the first place that I ever had them, Gordon Biersch has a stand there.”

“Those sure were good; I think when we got back in the bus for trip down to L.A. the next morning we all still smelled like garlic.”

“So Pete, you want something to eat or drink?” I asked figuring that it was a good chance to see what the big Yankees fan liked.

“Sure Padre, what have they got?”

“They don’t have the garlic fries but they have some pretty good chow, want to go up and look around?” Elliott looked at us and said to Pete “You’re not leaving already are you?”

“Hey Elliott, you know me would I leave a game before it was over?”

“Well you didn’t get here on time.”

“Elliott you know that’s not fair, I drove in from Iowa and that doggone Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel is for the birds, if I was the boss I would have Moses come in, part the waters and lay down another tunnel like with four lanes in each direction.”

“Now that would be nice, do you think that he could do something with the Downtown too?” I asked as Pete and Elliott chuckled.

“Hey, Padre, let’s go up and get something to munch on, I’m hungry.”

“Sure Pete, what would you like?”

“What have they got?”

“Heck Pete about anything, well anything, they even have a real restaurant down in the Right Field corner.”

“So what do you like?”

“I don’t mind a Tides dog with chili and a beer.”

“Tides dog?”

“Yeah, just a grilled hot dog with chili sauce, of course they have the all-beef Jumbo Dog, but it’s a bit heavy for me.”

“So any of this Kosher?”

“Are you kidding, this is a ball Park Pete.”

“True, but one can hope.”

“Besides, Pete didn’t you get the vision from Jesus that all food was cool even if it wasn’t Kosher?”

“I know Padre but you gotta remember my background, I still fall into the old habits sometimes.”

“I know, even after Jesus told you that all things were clean old dour Paul had to correct you when you were hanging out with some Greeks.”

Pete looked down and shook his head once again wiping his brow, “I wish Luke hadn’t put that down in Acts, not really fair to me, but Luke was Paul’s man. Now it’s not like Paul didn’t have his faults too, ran off Barnabas and John Mark on one of his trips, but to his credit Luke put that down too” Pete wiped his brow again and continued “I guess that you could say that he was the first “fair and balanced” reporter.”

“Yeah, church politics and the writing of history huh?”

“You know it even then, but old Paul and I did patch things up when he got to Rome.”

We walked down the concourse to the far concession stand down the third base line where my buddy Gerry from Gordon Biersch works with his volunteer organization.

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hey Steve, how are you doing?” said Gerry who is about the same height and build as Pete.

“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Pete, he’s from out of town.”

“Really, where from?” asked Gerry.

“Oh here and there, right now travel around with my boss doing good stuff and getting in some baseball wherever we go.”

“Cool, so Pete are you a Yankee’s fan? I love the jersey”

“Pretty cool, huh? Babe Ruth’s number”

“Yeah, got it special, so what team do you root for?”

Gerry shook his head and gave a slight chuckle “well I’m a Reds and Indians fan, from Ohio.”

“So the Big Red Machine huh? They have a pretty team this year, lots of young talent and they are willing games in the last inning and the last a bat like something I’ve never seen” replied Pete “and I’ve been around quite a while.” Pete paused took a deep breath and continued. “I think that they have a a real shot at making the playoffs and taking the N.L. Central this year.”

“It’s been too long Pete, I’ve been around quite a while and I haven’t seen them play this well in a while.”

“I think some of the sports reporters and columnists are going to eat Cardinal on this one.” said Pete.

Gerry laughed out loud and blurted out “You mean crow don’t you?”

“Nope, Cardinal, like in St. Louis type.”

“That’s funny, what can I get for you guys?”

“A couple of Tides dogs with chili, right Pete?”

“Can I have a big order of fries too?”

“Sure Pete” replied a very cheerful Gerry since you’re from out of town they’re on me.” Gerry pulled his wallet out and told the cashier that he was getting the fries as I handed over the money for the Tides Dogs.

“Anything to drink Steve?”

“Gerry you know that I don’t drink the beer from this stand.”

“That’s true; we just have the Bud and Bud Lite here, you going across the way to get a Yuengling?”

“Is that good?” asked Pete. Before I could answer Gerry said “a lot better than what I have here.”

“It’s not Gordon Biersch but it’s alright” I replied. “Besides, Budweiser is like the wine that they were serving at Cana until the Boss dropped by.”

“That bad huh?” replied Pete as Gerry chimed in “you’re too much sometimes Steve, you talk to Pete like he was there or something” as I simply chucked, and said “Yeah, something like that.”

A lady brought our hot dogs to us and we went and got our beer from the kiosk opposite Gerry’s stand and we began to walk down to our seats once again greeting Elliott on the way down.

“Hey Padre, these are nice seats, you have to pay through the nose and have connections big time for seats like this at Yankee Stadium and the boss won’t cover that, he thinks it’s a bit extravagant and wouldn’t look good on the organization.”

“So he’s not a big fan of high prices that keep regular folks from getting great seats?”

“No, he’s like to see everyone get a chance to sit behind home plate in a big park like that at least once” as he looked at his ticket and sat down across the aisle from me.

“So Pete, so why do you keep calling me Padre? You can call me Steve.” I said as I took my first drink of my Yuengling Lager. Pete picked up his cup and said “cheers Padre” and lifted the cup to his lips drinking the amber lager. “Not bad, we didn’t have much beer back in the day, Judea and the Mediterranean was more of a wine place. There was some beer back then but it wasn’t that good, it took the Monks working for the organization in Germany to get it right” as he took another drink from the cup and wiped beer from his beard “nice beer, I’ll have to tell the boss about it.” Pete paused for a second and went on “good choice Padre.”

“There you go again you can call me Steve, I don’t mind Padre but if you let me call you Pete and not Pope Pete why don’t you just call me Steve?”

Pete looked and me and smiled. “Padre, that’s what you are, it’s who you are, remember that whole Sacrament of Holy Orders thing?”

I kind of felt silly, I like being called Padre, beats the heck out of “the Reverend” or something like that but still having Saint Peter, the first Pope call me that was kind of humbling especially when he had no objection to being called Pete.  “I know that you’re right Pete, but still, you were like the first Pope you really outrank me.”

“Padre, I never paid any attention to “rank” as you call it when I was Pope. Back then it was not really a career or longevity enhancing job, no palace, no red shoes, even though Ben’s aren’t made by Prada like some people say and none of the big hats and stuff like that. If it was up to me the hats that clergy wear would be more practical, I like baseball hats, Matthew kind of likes a Fedora and a couple of the other guys like hats like that Indiana Jones character when the are not travelling as part of the team.”

“Really?” I asked quizzically.

“Oh yeah, back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of vestments and heck I wasn’t in charge of very much, a few priests and deacons and “parishes” if you could call them that pretty much house churches or places in the catacombs where we could celebrate a simple Eucharist and hope that the Roman police wouldn’t show up.  Heck we didn’t even cause anyone any trouble, just no one liked us. Romans called us “atheists” if you can believe that and guys that used to be friends in Judea had no problem turning us over to them whenever they could. Nope, being the Pope was not what it is now, no Popemobile or anything.”

“No Popemobile, that’s just wrong, not even a chariot?” I asked with a bit of humor in my voice.

Pete didn’t catch my attempt at humor and narrowing his eyes blurted out “are you kidding? We didn’t have didilly squat.” He paused and looked at me. “You know it actually offends me how the Church can surround a leader, any leader in that kind of in that sort of opulence, and to think that they named Saint Peter’s after me. Do I look like I would even hang around in a place like that? Judas might have liked it but I’d rather they named a ballpark after me.”

“Well it could be worse.”

“How?” Pete gave me a curious glance.

“We’ll it could be like the studio that the Terrible Blond Network uses, the one that looks like an ecclesiastic French brothel.”

“Oh Padre, don’t get me going on that subject, those people really piss off the boss, and to think of all the money they bilk out of folks.  He took another drink of his beer “not bad stuff and the dog is pretty good too for ballpark food.”

“Glad that you like it.”

“Thanks, you know there Padre I don’t think I would want to be Pope now, my successor Benedict has his hands full mainly because they try to run the place like a massive government all those bureaucrats and clergy functioning as diplomats and everything but being priests, and it’s not just the Roman part of the church. It’s like you said, those guys on TV talking about being happy healthy and wealthy as the crux of the Christian life haven’t got a clue.  Same with the folks that try to get away from the excesses of the prosperity Gospel heretics so much that they throw out the baby with the baptismal waters.”

Pete paused and I broke in. “Pretty messed up, if you ask me.”

Pete continued. “Yeh, it’s messed up all right but the Church has been messing up for 2000 years, I messed up pretty bad at times too.” He took another gulp of his beer and continued. “Nowdays though, it’s like 2000 years of getting stupid have really made an impact. Some of these churches seem to be afraid of even looking Christian, like that whole Willow Creek bunch, they don’t want to offend people, and then the stadium sized churches that seat more people than Harbor Park, and others that spend so much on things that look nice but really aren’t needed. I don’t think that any of them have a clue, no sense of decorum or real understanding of what the Boss was talking about.”

“You almost sound like Andrew Greeley.” I chuckled.

“I think that Padre Andrew has done a lot of good, he makes that Blackie Ryan fellow believable and the kind of priest that you would want to be around. I like his Bishop Blackie mysteries, always fun to read, and a lot about the grace of God in them too.”

“I know, they helped me get through Iraq and the past couple of years when I pretty much was an agnostic.”

“That suck Padre, people don’t like to admit how hard it is to believe sometimes. I remember back after the Boss got crucified. My world crashed around me. If he had waited longer than three days to get himself resurrected I might have completely lost my faith. I’m not surprised that you did but at least you are on the way back.”

“Thanks Pete, I hope so.”

“You know Padre, back in the day we had very little but did try to keep a sense of decorum and sense that Jesus was with us because he said that he was with us in the breaking of the bread.  I’ll tell you what it shocked the heck out of me when he started talking to us about “eating his flesh,” that my friend chased a lot of the hangers on away.  I don’t know why people that call themselves by the Bosses’ name have to make things so hard, and I’m not even talking dogma and doctrine just living the Christian life, you know that thing that the Boss said about the top two commandments, love God and love your neighbor.  For us that was mind blowing because a lot of the really religious folks in our day were all about rules that made life hard for regular people, just like today and you can be sure that the Sadducees and Pharisees wouldn’t be having a non-Kosher Tides dog and beer with you a Gentile military officer, no way” a brief pause and he continued “no offense intended.” He stopped and looked at me and I replied “none taken my friend.”

You remember the movie Bull Durham Padre?”

“Of course Pete, I watch it at least two or three times a year, it’s almost a religious thing.”

“You know where the manager gets mad at the players and said “It’s a simple game, you catch the ball, throw the ball and hit the ball?”

“Who wouldn’t?”

“Anyway, that’s a lot like the Christian life, it’s really not that difficult but we can make such a mess of it.”

Somehow the ball game seemed like it was background noise, Pete was really wrapped up in what he was saying and I knew that he meant every word. He smiled at me and continued.

“Of course Padre there are all of those churches that are more interested in promoting certain social agendas from all over the political spectrum than focusing on the top two commandments. They make themselves look like pawns of the politicians rather than the Bosses’ Church.  I tell you Padre there are times that the Boss really does get frustrated with what some of his people do in his name; I think that’s why he spends so much time at ball parks now.” Pete paused for a moment, took another gulp of his beer, wiped his beard and looked at me as he took a deep breath and sighed looking out at the diamond where left hander Troy Patton was pitching well for the Tides and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were imploding defensively as the Tides hitters were pounding out hit after hit.

“The Tides, an Orioles farm team huh?”

“Yep, that they are Pete.”

“Well I tell you the O’s are having problems but as a Yankees fan I’m kind of glad because when they get well they will be a pain in the ass to the Yankees, all they need is a first rate manager to get the kids to pull things together and to get that owner of theirs, Angelos is it, to spend some money to get some solid all star caliber veterans to build around and to help nurture these guys along. They do have the young talent, just need the leadership to make it happen, they need another Earl Weaver type of manager to do the job.”

“I’d like to see Bobby Valentine or Buck Showalter.”

“I don’t think Valentine is the man, but if the O’s can get Showalter things will change in a hurry.”

“I hope that they get someone like that, anything’s got to be better than the leadership that they have had for so long.”

It was amazing to me how Pete went from what he viewed as the problems of the modern church back to baseball so quickly and I realized that he needed this.

About this time Tides outfielder Jeff Salazar smashed a pitch over the right field wall bringing the crow to its feet including Pete who was applauding loudly and as Salazar crossed the plate looked at me and said “high five” before his massive hand slapped my pip squeak hand causing it to sting just a bit. As the crowd continued to cheer Pete reached in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone and looking at me said “just a second, it’s the Boss.”  He put the flip phone to his ear and I tried to listen in just a bit. “Yeah Skip, its Pete, what do you need?” I could not hear what was being said on the other end of the phone just Pete’s responses which were punctuated by his head nodding up and down and words like “yes, okay and sure.”  I still have no idea what they were talking about but it looked serious. Pete then said “I’ll get on it Skip, take care, later.”

Pete looked at me. “The Boss sends his congratulations on getting selected to promotion. You know that he really liked the military people that he met, the professional soldiers like the Centurion and that it was a military guy, Cornelius the Centurion and his family that was the first Gentile family that I got to spend some time with, they were really great folks.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool coming from the Boss himself.” I said.

“The Boss also told me to tell you not to let it go to your head and to make sure that you keep it real.”

“I think that I can do that Pete, after all I wasn’t always a Priest or Chaplain, just a Navy Chief’s kid that has been in the military for a long time.”

Pete looked at me and by the look on his face I knew that he was not done talking. “Padre, the Boss wanted me to let you know that he cares for your dad and for you not to worry about him.”

“Why should I worry, he’s got Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know me but he’s been medically stable for a good amount of time and last time I talked to my mom she said that he didn’t look too bad the last time that she visited him.” I looked at Pete as he was finishing his beer.

“The Boss just told me to let you know that he loves your dad and cares about him.” The look in his eye was far away. “I remember my dad, a fisherman like me, he was already gone by the time the Boss came into my life, and he just passed away in his sleep one night after a long night and day on the boats on the Sea of Galilee.”

“Sounds like you miss your dad.”

“I do Padre, but I tell you what, we’ll have to do this again. The boss told me that he needs me to come up and see him up in D.C. it seems that he wants some of the team to meet him there conduct some business and take in a National’s game, sure hope that he gets us tickets to see Strasburg.”

“That would be cool, think that I can come?”

“No not this time Padre, but I’ll talk to the Boss for you to join us somewhere on the road, or maybe even back in time. Besides you’re going to have a lot to do soon.”

Pete got up from his seat and patted me on the back. “Take care Padre, be safe on your way home.”

“Pete you take care too.” Pete turned and began to walk up the steps where he shook Elliott’s hand before he left.  Shortly after Pete left I went to Elliott and Elliott said to me. “Padre you have some interesting friends, you have some interesting friends.”

“I know my friend, funny how you knew Pete too.”

“What can I say?” replied Elliott as Pete got to the concourse, shook hands with Dave, said a few words and headed out of the ball park.

“Seems like Pete knows a lot of people huh?” I said as I looked back at Elliott.

“He gets around there Padre, he gets around.”

 

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