A View of Catholicism Today

This I believe. I believe in heaven.  I believe in God.  I believe each of us has a soul that after death resides with God and angels and the souls of countless others in eternity.  I believe that angels exist, reside in eternity and are God’s messengers to we dwelling on Earth.  I believe that any creature capable of loving, caring and having feelings for others has a soul that too, after death, resides in heaven.  That goes especially for animals.

I am also a Catholic

I am a mightily disturbed Catholic over the public outing of those miscreants who call themselves priests.


I have countless times over my adult years said “I’m a Catholic in spite of the Church.”


I identify as a Catholic mainly from communal, social, and family reasons.  I’m from a half Italian, half Sicilian family.  The distinction is verification that I know the difference.  I went to Catholic elementary school, Catholic high school and a Jesuit college (the distinction is intentional as many within the church cast a skeptical eye towards Jesuits, even calling the head of the order “the Black Pope”.)  My relatives are Catholic.  For the most part, my friends and classmates are Catholic.  I attend Catholic Sunday services. Quite unintentionally I’m a founding Grand Knight of my parish counsel in Maryland.  I consider myself part of my new Texas Catholic parish community.


Being Catholic is part of my identity.  I would not feel comfortable or honest to say otherwise.


The Catholic religion is based on faith in Jesus Christ.  It’s a legitimate part of what followers call Christianity. We don’t worship statutes as some think.  We don’t worship angels.  We don’t worship Saints.  We worship one God and it doesn’t, to me at least, matter what anyone calls the Supreme Being, even using the Hebraic phrase that acknowledges God but refuses to use a name to that effect.


I also need to be very clear that I really bridle at being asked if I’m a Christian.  If you can’t tell what I believe from the way I act then I don’t deserve to use that description anyway.


Another reason I don’t subscribe to the “have you accepted Christ” club is that I find it a tad insulting and just as offensive as Muslims demanding fealty to Mohammad’s cult of belief.  I say cult because any group that believes “others” who, for whatever reason, refuse to join that group deserve death is no fellowship that worships the true God.


If, as many claim, Mohammed was an impressive and quite successful plagiarist of world religions his epic work’s most despicable admonishment that non-believers must be slain can be traced to an equally disgusting era of intolerance of those from whom he borrowed ideas including the Catholic Church.  The Inquisition was one.  Oliver Cromwell and his Roundhead Generals genocidal slaughter of Irish Catholics as compelled by “the wrath of God” is another.  Witch trials were part of that horrid mindset.


The idea of any one religion claiming exclusivity to (pick a name) heaven, paradise, nirvana, or whatever the name du jour for eternal happiness might be is utter, egotistical bull.


My attitude is simply that what I practice as a form of worship is none of your business. As I said, my life is my membership card and if that’s not good enough for you…that’s your problem, not mine.


That said I have a very real problem with the historical and present Catholic Church, the regal structure of the clergy and the offenses against God and mankind that follow.


I can’t stand anything that walks like, talks like or has pretensions of royalty.  I’m sure it’s due to equal parts of my Sicilian/Italian genetic disdain for overbearing authority and the intrinsic importance of independence to being American.  Bow to a King or Queen or kiss a Cardinal’s ring…thank you no.  I’ve shaken a few Presidents’ hands but taking a knee to anyone or any group is out of the question.  We are all the “Chosen.”  Why else would we be here?  We all deserve equal respect until we prove otherwise.  And, we are all servants no matter if others call us by any exalted title.


In my seven decades as a Catholic I’ve encountered priests who understand their role as servants of God and their fellow humans, and I’ve known many who posture as divine arbiters of human behavior.  I’ve found Irish Catholic priests more often than not tend to act like petty tyrants who demand the faithful follow their every idiotic command as coming directly from the mouth of God.


The recent, but by no means new, revelations of the wholesale sexual depravity of some Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania and elsewhere were not shocking.  They didn’t shake my faith or cause me to jettison my identity as a Catholic.  The horrific sexual predator practices among scores of priests in Pennsylvania is but one of the most recent in a long-standing history of that abomination.  Not that such damnable behavior is restricted only to the Catholic clergy.


Catholicism to me is not an exclusive club, nor the only community whose membership enjoys favor with the Divine although church figures throughout history would beg to differ. I do not hold the Catholic clergy or their hierarchy of pretentious titles – monsignors, bishops, archbishops, cardinals, even the Pope – in any particular awe.  They are just men doing a job who tend to wear funny outfits.  Respect I give for the individual on a sliding scale depending on their dedication to service to all of us, humans and animals alike.


There is but one God. To me, it does not matter the flavor of believe espoused: Christianity, Islam, Protestant faith etc. with which one identifies.  (Islam is mentioned here with a figurative cautionary asterisk attached.)


A great lesson was taught me when my wife and I sought a cleric to preside over our marriage ceremony.  We made inquiries of a wide range of religions.  The local, Maryland Catholic priest declined.  He said our previous, less than successful forays into domestic disfunction, required the past unions to be annulled.  The idea that children even those from the worst parental pairings would be, in theory, the offspring of a newly deemed non-existent union was pretty offensive and insulting.  Even a minister whose website proclaimed theirs was a community of progressive thinking, acceptance, and quite “universal” that met in a glorified tree house said “no.”  One man, whose initials begin with “Kenn,” stepped forward. I believe his background was Baptist…and definitely former Marine.

Rev Kenn Blanchard at Duke University

Attending the event were many Catholics including two nuns.  One of the nuns approached me once the vows were made and documents signed and said that the Reverend’s service was the single most spiritual she’d ever seen.  No robes, no altars, no organs accompanying vocalists singing hymnal or Hollywood songs.  It was a spiritual event orchestrated by a true clergyman saying true words in honor of the true God.


So,in spite of the church and too many predators in priest clothing, I remain a Catholic but my form of worship is grounded in how I live my life, embrace others, open my heart to the companionship of those who passed before me and accept the many gifts, both positive and painful, the Divine One allows me to experience during my journey here.

Peeking into Paradise – God’s Plan Pt II

Tony Aquilino

One of the most troubling reasons people give to deny the existence of God is “why does God let bad things happen to good people?” Why war? Why the Holocaust? Why cancer? Why abusive parents, teachers, preachers, cops, national leaders, and spouses? Why babies with massive birth defects?

My starting point to answer that question is the idea that God is not the kind of parent who believes in spoiling the child. Nor does God punish. God lets each of us work through the perils, pitfalls and blessings of our own life. God is an equal opportunity deity. The rich, beautiful, talented, athletic, well-born and perfect in every physical way among us have as many problems as the rest of us who are not rich, beautiful, endowed with genius intelligent quotients and maybe have a physical problem or two.

The reason the opportunities God provides everyone are misinterpreted, overlooked or ignored by most is simple. Each, whether benign or harsh, is an opportunity or option left for us to decide how to respond in order to become a good and decent person.
john aquilino and friends
The idea behind the above interpretation of God’s relation to human life isn’t new or unique. In fact, it begins with conception and birth. Life, every aspect from the time the fastest swimming sperm cell enters the egg to life’s last breath, is a crap shoot. We don’t know from one moment or one day to the next what’s in store for us to encounter and decide how to respond whether it will be something to be enjoyed, feared or conquered. There are no guarantees. No set of instructions on how to deal with each: birth, disease, the journey to adulthood, or death. What happens and how we deal with it is the measure of whom we are.

A gift from my son, Tommy, provides a decent starting point or background against what I’m about to try and say. It’s a very simple, short, clearly written and thought-provoking book by Sebastian Junger called “Tribe.”

Towards the latter third, Junger explains the difference between people who correctly understand the way we best fit into the universe and those who wander about in a state of self-absorbed idiocy. Somewhat counterintuitively, Junger uses the bonds formed by civilians and military enduring the real dangers of being in the midst of combat to illustrate the finer qualities of life.

He describes life during the London Blitz of World War II and the more recent genocidal Bosnian War. The daily reality of random death from a bomb or sniper’s bullet, the lack of safe shelter, sufficient food and water did not lead to cultural chaos. Depression and suicide were not the n norm for individuals. Looting, raping and thievery did not characterize societal behavior. Quite the opposite. The awful burden of war brought people together. They helped each other and shared what little they had. War, as horrific as it is, brought the values of tribe to the fore.
When peace and prosperity returned, society descended to the depths of depravity. People forgot the bond of the tribe and became self-absorbed, greed driven individuals. Depression and suicide rates rose. Those who lived through the war years yearned for the time when they laughed more and were their happiest.

Once done with his wartime examples, Junger’s prose slides onto the subject of “litter.” Those who toss a cigarette butt or candy wrapper or plastic water bottle to the ground are clueless about why we inhabit the earth. They think only of themselves. They have no connection with others, with humanity, with nature. Those who don’t ignore others or community or nature, who pick up the trash strewn about by others do connect. They understand that we are part of a “tribe” in the broadest sense of the term. They strive, without seeking honor or praise, to live as decent, caring humans…as God hoped we would.

Peeking into Paradise: Why I believe in Angels

Thomas Aquilino

Three times my late son, Johnny, changed my life.

The first time was when he was born. That was the experience only parents who care and are aware of what it means to be parents understand.  It was the instant when why we are here on earth became un-mistakeably clear.

Tony Aquilino

The second time was when he died March 10, 2010 ten days before his twentieth birthday.  He wasn’t supposed to live many days after his birth.  He was born with his heart’s left ventricle, the major chamber that pumps oxygenated blood from his heart to his body and brain, missing.  It’s called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a fairly common birth disorder.

PeTA, the ever so kind and enlightened community of animal rights activists, said of him in a note to me that his life was not worth that of a single lab rat sacrificed by medical research to find a correction or cure for the problem.  You might have guessed it, I don’t take kindly to PeTA or their intolerant tribe.  The fallacy of their fanaticism became apparent when, at a meeting of the Humane Society of the United States (a multi-million dollar group that runs no…repeat no…animal shelters and whose staff ranks are replete with PeTA-philes) I asked “so is medical research on animals that benefits animals also wrong?”  They were not terribly responsive or happy with my presence.

The third was many years later after a Tai Chi class at a gym in Rockport, Texas.  A wonderful instructor, a street tough and gentle lady with multiple “black belts” each being high up the skill achievement totem pole and whose martial arts skills rival most Navy SEALS, beckoned me over.  Victoria is her name.

She began by saying “I hope you don’t think I’m crazy but…” What followed the word “but” both rocked my consciousness and brought me great joy.

“For the past few days I’ve been visited by a young boy surrounded by bright light. I had no idea who he was or what he wanted but he was very persistent.  The second you walked into the room he rushed to your side.  He’s here now.”

I listened with more than my usual skeptical demeanor, but also with a non-judging look to my face.  I wanted to hear what she had to say.  With my diminished hearing capacity thanks to a day at the national high-power rifle competition without hearing protectors, I strained to capture her every word.

“He says to ‘tell Dad’ I’m tall and can dance.  Tell him not to worry, everything’s going to be all right.  Tell him I love him and that I’m happy.”  She went on to describe Johnny perfectly.  I had never met her before, nor had I told her or anyone she knew anything about or even the fact that I had two sons, Johnny and Tommy, and that Johnny had passed.

Johnny, thanks to his biological mother’s omission of a single rule of CPR – to clear the airway, spent the last six or so years of his life as a non-verbal quadriplegic.  Watching a television comedy, he had a seizure and passed out.  During her attempt to revive him, he aspirated the late-night cereal he was eating into his lungs and halted the passage of oxygen to his brain.  It took two years before, she said my blame for the EMTs who first administered to him was misplaced.

She called one day and said Johnny gave up and quit eating, that he had died.  My sorrow almost overcame the simultaneous question of how was that possible?  He was fed via a machine and a tube leading to his stomach.  To say I was enraged would be quite accurate, however my loss and natural instinct to display no public emotion other than a stoic stare at horrific incidents took control.  Don’t ask why.  It’s not an act.  It’s just how I react, with a dead silent poker expression searching mentally for any and all facts of the incident.

Victoria keeps me posted on all of Johnny’s antics.  Before Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas as I attended her class on ancient Chinese defensive movements.  The class after Christmas she told me Arthur Meru was having a great time with Johnny.  Arthur was a new Rockport/Corpus Christi friend.  He was one of the most intense, gentle, and spiritual persons I’d ever met.  He was Hispanic, a former Vietnam-veteran U.S. Marine.  He was a private investigator and a member of a 900-year-old Japanese Ninja family.  For a man my age, 70 at the time, a pat on his back was identical to hitting a solid oak board, he was that tough.  Arthur came to one of Victoria’s classes.  He dressed in Samuria armor.

Arthur died in his sleep Christmas night.  Now, Victoria tells me, Arthur hangs out with my son Johnny and a passel of angels.  Yep…angels.  Some are little…cherubic faces with wings.  Others are pretty impressive in stature.  Angels are one of God’s creations.  They guard us and upon occasion are his messengers.

The angels are described as almost a background chorus while Johnny and Arthur try to make Victoria laugh by dancing.  They too were smiling and laughing…a sign of God’s good humor. One day Johnny and Arthur showed up in grass skirts doing a version of the hula. Two little angels sat on their shoulders. Nothing like a martial arts instructor cracking up silently while angels sing and my son and Arthur dance.