We few, we happy few, we band of brothers…

A wise man once said to help keep perspective and understand the times read an old book for every two modern ones. When a friend loaned me ‘Agincourt’ by Christopher Hibbert, a modern book about the famous battle in 1415, it wasn’t quite on the cycle, but I couldn’t pass it up; I’m glad I didn’t. The book, full of contemporary source documents, paintings and drawings from the early 15th century, is not just a history geeks dream, but a masterfully told story. Hibbert’s work brings into focus a world both distant and familiar. The struggles of the 15th century, from epidemic diseases to the threat of Islam, have simply morphed over time; they still haunt us today. With Chivalry at its zenith, honor was prized even above life. It’s a concept most today cannot even comprehend, but I found it refreshing. Reading Henry V’s original challenge to the French king offers an amazing insight into Medieval thought, and is just as manly as the speech Shakespeare wrote for him 200 years later. Manly Indeed. This sort of book may not appeal to everyone, but if you can, put it on your short list. If not, at least read something old.

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As I look around, there is nothing I can see that is not someday going back to God. God will take everything back from me, my health, energy, and vitality, all that I am. Except one thing; the one thing He really wants, my will. This power, to decide my fate, to do as I please, to make my own way, is really all that I have – it is me. It is the single point at which I can truly resist the control of my Creator. Yet the one thing God wants most from me is the one thing He will not take back by force. Though all else will be stripped from me, my will is mine to keep, or to give back freely.

This is the only real choice I have. All that I will be follows from that decision. It’s time for Mass.

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Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

This is one of my favorite hymns for prayer and meditation. This version by Slavic monks is from heaven. Perfect for a Friday in Lent.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia

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What I am doing on September 11

There will be lots of ways that the tragedy and shock, the valor and sacrifice of September 11 will be remembered today. In spite of all that has happened in these past 11 years, and I can assure you that the events of that day are always at the forefront of my thoughts. There is no more Flight 77 from Washington Dulles to Los Angeles. The number has been retired in honor of those who died at the Pentagon. But it is still flown, now Flight 149, and today I am the pilot. I can think of no better way to remember those who were lost in New York, D.C., Pennsylvania that fateful day, and in the wars that followed, than to get in that cockpit today and safely fly the aircraft, crew, and passengers from D.C. to L.A. And that is just what I am going to do.

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A Pleasant Day in the French Quarter

There is no argument that New Orleans is always a party. It is possible, however, to spend an afternoon walking the old city seeing the sights, enjoying the cuisine and culture, and learning something new, without having to head to confession the next day! Starting out on Canal Street, I headed to Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral. It was the first time I had ever been inside. I was awestruck – they just don’t build churches like that anymore. There were a lot of tourists there (like me), but still there was a quiet, reverent atmosphere that was a distinct and refreshing detachment from the busyness outside. The painting of St Louis above the sanctuary was marvelous. He is announcing the 7th crusade; the more you look at it the more it draws you in. Full of energy and promise, it also hints of the failure to come. It was a stark reminder to me that as a Christian I am called to be faithful, not necessarily successful.

Heading down Rue Chartres, I visited the old Ursuline Convent. A masterful piece of French Colonial architecture, built in 1752, it is the oldest building in New Orleans, in fact the oldest in the entire Mississippi Valley. Built with 2 foot thick masonry walls and giant beams from 500 year old cedar trees, it has survived fires, hurricanes, and time. Besides a convent, it has been everything from an orphanage to a meeting place for the Louisiana Legislature. When it was the Bishop’s residence a chapel was added, St Mary’s. Covered in the French fleur-de-lis, with a 100 year old German organ, and full of images of Italian saints, this Church reflects the the European immigrant heritage of New Orleans. The Docent was also quick to point out that the City has always been a majority of African descent both free and slave. Between the Chapel and the original Convent building is a hallway that contains the national Shrine of the Military and Hospitaller Order of the St Lazarus of Jerusalem. This order of Chivalry dates back over 900 years to the 1st Crusade. It is still active in worldwide charitable works.

If two Crusaders in one day were not enough, the exhibit on Joan d’Arc was a presentation of photography that was a truly unexpected surprise. Made of images of statues shot in black and white, it captured an intensity and power that was subtle yet intense, a lot like I imagine Joan d’Arc to be. Because of their arrangement and angles, the displays seemed to move with the passion of the great saint. This exhibit is one that I will not soon forget.

Needing a little refreshment after so much culture, I headed to the Café du Monde for the obligatory café au lait and beignets. For those who have had the pleasure, you know there is nothing quite like it. Those things are about 250 calories apiece so I had a good deal more walking to do!

A stroll along the Riverwalk and then down by the French Market began to burn off a few of those delectable doughnuts. The two French market vendors that caught my eye were the Chinese painter who used several colors at the same time on his brush to create a rainbow like calligraphy, and the Bulgarian jeweler who only used debris from Hurricane Katrina as a medium. The rest of the afternoon was spent stopping in shops that caught my curiosity and talking to locals. Being alone, there was no issue lingering at a haberdashery. Never being one to own a lot of hats, this place may change my mind. There certainly was a wide-brimmed fedora that seemed to call my name.

Back by the Cathedral I talked to one of the local artists; business is brisk she said, but it would be nice to have a patron like the artists who painted in the Cathedral. A city policeman was unusually chatty, elaborating on all the local political oddities and issues, of which in his mind there was a plethora. I don’t doubt him. There are definitely some places in the Big Easy to be avoided.

I was fortunate enough to get back to Immaculate Conception, a Jesuit church that almost rivals St Louis Cathedral in beauty. There was still a few minutes time for some prayer and reflection. Then I chatted with the sacristan for a bit, as they were closing for the day. She said the church had served as the parish church for the various national groups who had settled in the city. The French, Spanish, German, and Italian flags were hanging in the nave, as can be seen in the picture, reminding me again of the long ethnic history of the city. Having spent the previous day in Massachusetts, it was a stark contrast in the differences between the peoples who settled our land.

Back on Canal Street there was a large group of young African-Americans, with trumpets, saxophones, tubas, and trombones in hand. As I walked by I was amazed at the talent just playing away there on the street corner. This is truly a unique place.

The day ended with some red beans and rice at Mother’s Restaurant, a longtime local eatery with all the flavors I would expect of such a New Orleans landmark. After 6 hours of wandering around the city, interacting with scores of people, I was ready for some Cajun cuisine and then to bed!

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An All American Memorial to an All American Hero

A friend recently posted a definition of a hero…”A hero isn’t the man who “believes in himself” and thereby conquers — a hero is a man who forgets himself in the service of others.” I am not sure I could find better words to describe my father. Born at the beginning of the Great Depression, his life was always one of struggle and hard work. My father was the epitome of dedication and loyalty to his family, and ever faithful to his country. A descendant of the earliest settlers of Pennsylvania, his forebears began a family military tradition in the Continental Army, serving with George Washington at Valley Forge.

Dad had the rare distinction of serving in two of our armed forces, both the Army and Air Force, retiring from the Air Force in 1973. A Cold War warrior, he was keenly aware of the true cost of our freedoms. My father was a great fan of western and war movies, and always thought highly of such actors as John Wayne, Robert Mitchem, and Jimmy Stewart. What he would be the last to say, was that he was the very embodiment of the courage, devotion, and patriotism that they portrayed. His influence was deep, his sons serving as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, and his grandsons serving in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.

Alexis de Tocqueville once said that what makes America great is that America is good. Perhaps I am biased in saying, but I believe what makes America great is that it is made up of such men as my father. It is of course a great honor to be buried in our National Cemetery, but, forgive me for saying so, my father’s grave in Arlington makes it even more of a hollowed place.

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Don’t Mess with Texas

Just saw this sign at a Mall in Houston. I guess they are not interested in your business if you don’t mind your manners. I also saw three uniformed security guards on patrol in the Mall. I wonder if they are trying to reduce crimes, like perhaps shop-lifting, with the Giuliani approach to law enforcement – if you want to reduce major crime, start writing tickets for jay-walking. Can we get some of these to put around Manassas?

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