Back at Mass

It’s been about four months since I’ve been at Mass.

I don’t like that. But I see no point in kvetching about the COVID-19 pandemic, or blaming Minnesota’s governor for trying to keep Minnesotans alive, or our bishop for cooperating with the governor.

Mass is important. Vital. It’s the heart of Catholic worship. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1324)

But there’s more to being Catholic than getting to Mass once a week. And this isn’t the first time something’s interfered with our access to the Eucharist. We’ve got procedures for this sort of thing. Like Spiritual Communion. (April 4, 2020; March 21, 2020)

The masked Minnesotan.My obligations include protecting human life and upholding the common good. (Catechism, One/Two/Article 2 Participation in Social Life/II: The Common Good, 25582300)

That’s why I’ve been wearing a face mask in public, and avoid being in public except when it’s necessary.

Wearing a face mask during Mass wasn’t nearly as bothersome as my worst-case imaginings. The process of getting the mask off, receiving the Eucharist in my hand, transferring the Host to my mouth and resetting the mask was as intricate as it sounds. But not overly difficult.

Reason to Hope

This Sunday’s first Bible reading was Wisdom 12:13, 1619. Two things jumped out at me.

“For you show your might when the perfection of your power is disbelieved;
and in those who know you, you rebuke insolence.”

“You taught your people, by these deeds,
that those who are righteous must be kind;
And you gave your children reason to hope
that you would allow them to repent for their sins.”
(Wisdom 12:17, 19)

God is large and in charge.

“Our God is in heaven
and does whatever he wills.”
(Psalms 115:3)

And God is merciful.

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance,
or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.
(Wisdom 11:2223)

Being allowed to repent for my sins? I like that. I like that a lot.

It’s been a while since I talked about sin. And how I’m supposed to live.

I should love God and my neighbor. And see everyone as my neighbor. No exceptions. Sin is what happens when I fail to do that. Sin is an offense against reason, truth and God. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

Believing that I should love God and neighbors is a good idea. So is acting like I believe it.

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before:

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Executed: Daniel Lewis Lee

Daniel Lewis Lee died this morning.

That’s unremarkable, by itself. Roughly 150,000 people die every day.

Cause of death varies. Diseases kill some of us. Others die in accidents. Civil authorities kill those who deserve death. In their government’s opinion.

A lethal overdose of pentobarbital, administered under the authority of the U.S. Federal government, killed Daniel Lewis Lee.

There’s a sort of poetic justice in that.

A court convicted Lee of at least helping Chevie Kehoe kill William and Nancy Mueller and Sarah Powell.

Seems that after using a stun gun on their victims, Lee and/or Kehoe put plastic bags over their heads. Sealing the bags with duct tape, ensuring that they’d suffocate.

Oddly enough, I’ve yet to see the incident used as evidence that we should ban plastic bags and duct tape. Or stun guns. And that’s another topic.

The point is that our legal system convicted Lee and Kehoe of suffocating their victims.

That makes pentobarbital an appropriate poison, in an ‘eye for an eye’ sense.

Pentobarbital affects the central nervous system. In smallish doses, it’ll help someone sleep, or numb pain.

In large doses, pentobarbital stops respiration: resulting in death.1

Executions, Grassroots and Federal

'Police Have the Strangler,' front page headline, the Atlanta Georgian on April 29, 1913.

As I see it, there’s no reasonable doubt that someone killed William, Nancy and Sarah.

The odds are that Daniel Lee and/or Chevie Kehoe are responsible.

Chevie Kehoe and his family apparently took property from the William Mueller home to Spokane, Washington. And were caught.

Chevie Kehoe was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Local prosecutors wanted the same sentence for Daniel Lee.

An assortment of federal attorneys wanted Lee dead: legally executed. They apparently followed my country’s proper procedures, and eventually got what they wanted.2

Why federal officials wanted Lee’s execution, that I don’t know. What I do know suggests at least two (perhaps unlikely) motives.

News media says Daniel Lee was a white supremacist. Maybe federal officials wanted to make an example of him, showing that the government isn’t racist.

One of the victims was a gun dealer. Maybe the federal officials are minions of the gun lobby, seeking to please their masters.

Either of those hypothetical motives might play well for some audiences. I don’t have nearly enough information to know why the feds wanted Lee dead.

That his execution was conducted under federal, not state, authority? That, I’m sure of.

I’m also reasonably certain that the case against Daniel Lee was less rickety than what convicted Leo Frank in 1913. (March 19, 2018)

Last Words

Oct. 31 1997, photo, Daniel Lewis Lee during a hearing in Russellville, Arkansas. (October 31, 1997)Daniel Lee’s criminal record strongly suggests that he wasn’t a nice person. And that he was capable of murder.

I’ll assume that he knew Chevie Kehoe. Maybe he’s at least partly responsible for the 1996 murders.

By standards that were more widely accepted in my youth, Daniel Lewis Lee deserved death. Assuming that he did, in fact, commit those murders.

He says he didn’t.

Which strikes me as a bit odd. Assuming that the “white supremacist” label is applicable. And assuming that Dylann Roof is a typical white supremacist. (January 11, 2017)

Daniel Lewis Lee’s last words, officially:
“… ‘I didn’t do it. I’ve made a lot of mistakes in my life but I’m not a murderer. You’re killing an innocent man’….”
(Ariane de Vogue, Chandelis Duster, David Shortell, CNN (July 14, 2020))

“…We Do Not Want This”

Law code of Hammurabi, recorded on a clay tablet.By standards that are still widely accepted, kinfolk of the victims should have been clamoring for Lee’s blood.

Killing someone who was at least partly responsible for a relative’s death is, apparently, supposed to make survivors feel better.

There’s arguably some truth in that.

If someone killed my wife, children or grandchild, I might feel like killing the murder. As slowly and painfully as possible.

Emphasis on “feel like.” Emotions are one thing. Decisions are another. (June 6, 2020)

That self-knowledge helps me sympathize with folks who express desires that the avenging sword of justice slay miscreants, malefactors and murderers.

But I think Monica Veillette and other relatives of the 1996 murder victims have the right idea.

Statement by Monica Veillette, relative of a victim, via KTUL
“…’She [Monica Viellette] said other relatives want to witness the execution to counter the government’s argument that it’s being done on their behalf.
“‘For us it is a matter of being there and saying, “This is not being done in our name; we do not want this,”‘…”
(Andrew DeMillo/Associated Press, KTUL News (July 13, 2020))

Life, Death and Justice

Philippe de Champaigne's 'Vanitas.' (ca. 1671)Murder, deliberately killing an innocent person, is a bad idea.

I figure many folks would agree with that.

Although I think there’s less consensus on who qualifies as a person and what “innocent” means. And that’s yet another topic.

I think murder is wrong because human life is sacred, a gift from God. Each of our lives matter, no matter how young or old, healthy or sick we are. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258, 2261, 22682283)

That’s why I’m obliged to see Daniel Lewis Lee as a person. One whose life mattered.

His life mattered because he’s human. What he did, and what he may have believed, doesn’t change that. (Catechism, 360, 17001706, 19321933, 1935)

Responsibility and justice matter, too.

I can try helping or hurting others. We all can. And I’m responsible for my actions. (Catechism, 17011709, 17301738, 2258)

Justice is a cardinal virtue. Vengeance isn’t. (Deuteronomy 32:35; Sirach 27:2728; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:3031; Catechism, 1807, 2262)

Pieter Claesz, 'Vanitas Still Life.' (ca. 1630)Murder is a serious injustice.

The Catholic Church says killing a murderer is okay. Sometimes. If the killer’s guilt is reasonably certain. And if killing the killer really is the only option for protecting innocent lives. (Catechism, 2267)

America doesn’t have the highest per capita wealth in the world. But we’re not a poverty-stricken nation, either.

I very strongly suspect that keeping a convicted murderer alive, but imprisoned, is possible for at least most American states and for the federal government.

Time and Options

Alessandro Serenelli, ca. 1950.As I see it, a big problem with capital punishment is that it’s final.

Someone who’s convicted of murder and sentenced to life without parole may die in prison.

But there’s a chance that years, decades, later someone will notice that the convicted murderer isn’t guilty.

After that, there’s a chance that the courts will decide to let the non-murderer out of prison. Maybe even with a ‘sorry about that’ note.

When someone has been legally killed, the courts can issue a ‘sorry about that’ note. But I’d be surprised if anyone seriously believes that a judge could say “by the power of the United States Supreme Court, arise! Come forth!!”

Actually, a judge could say those words. But they wouldn’t restore life to a corpse.

Aside from lowering the odds that a legal system will end innocent lives, keeping murderers alive but restrained gives them time for reflection.

And a perhaps-remote chance of repentance.

Take Alessandro Serenelli, for example.

In 1902, he was a wannabe rapist/seducer who inflicted eventually-fatal injuries on 11 year old Maria Goretti.

Maria lived long enough to give testimony. And to forgive Alessandro. She was recognized as a Saint in 1950.

Alessandro was tried, convicted and sentenced to 30 years in prison. His sentence would have been life in prison if he’d been a year older.

While in prison, Alessandro decided that murder and attempted rape were bad ideas. And that he shouldn’t have done either.

He was released after 27 years in prison, his sentence cut short due to World War I and his exemplary behavior.

Alessandro then begged Maria’s mother to forgive him. Which she did, citing her daughter’s forgiveness as a precedent. Several odd jobs later, Alessandro found a home in a monastery.3

Prisoners and Possibilities

Maybe Daniel Lewis Lee is guilty of murder, and would have kept saying he’s innocent until he died.

Maybe he’s innocent, and would eventually have been released from prison.

Or maybe Daniel Lewis Lee really is a murderer, and would eventually have acknowledged his guilt. Maybe even recognized that murder is a bad idea and that he shouldn’t have done it.

I’ve no idea which of those possibilities is more likely. What’s certain is that he’s dead, which makes the question somewhat moot.

I suspect that many murderers wouldn’t follow Alessandro’s example. Or maybe they would.

I am certain that killing them gives them far less time to think about their actions. And that my country can protect the public without killing prisoners.

I’ve talked about this before:

1 Lethal in large doses:

2 Seeking death:

3 Seeking forgiveness:

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Storms, COVID-19 and Politics

Several decades back, while I was living with my parents in Moorhead, Minnesota, a radio announcer read the day’s weather forecast.

Nothing unusual about that. The forecast was another matter. As I recall, the National Weather Service was telling us to expect severe thunderstorms, hail, torrential rains, mighty winds and an occasional tornado.

After finishing the official forecast, the announcer paused before rhetorically asking “what? No burning hail?” Or maybe it was “fiery hail.” Something like that.

Which raises an interesting, if hypothetical, question. If Egypt’s climate was like Minnesota’s, back when Moses couldn’t talk his way out of a diplomatic mission, what would it have taken to get Pharaoh’s attention?

Interesting to me, that is. Your experience may vary.

Same Old Same Old: Storms and Sunshine

Last night’s 24-hour weather forecast told me to expect a bright, sunny and thoroughly nice summer day today.

So far, we’ve had sincerely overcast skies, a severe thunderstorm warning southeast of Sauk Centre; and assurance that the excitement isn’t over.

And now, a few minutes later, the severe thunderstorm warning is south of us. Or maybe it’s a new warning.

Either way, I’m not surprised that yesterday’s forecast and today’s weather don’t match.

This is the Upper Midwest. I grew up in this part of the world, which may explain why I think weather in San Francisco is boring. Beautiful city, though, and that’s another topic.

Now the sun is shining on the corner of South Ash and 9th Street. And folks between Detroit Lakes and Moorhead had a tornado warning.

Minnesota’s weather is not boring. Occasionally lethal, but not boring.

Which is why I’ve been paying more attention to local and regional weather updates.

COVID-19, Death, Face Masks and All That

COVID-19 confirmed deaths in Minnesota, March 21 to July 11, 2020.
(From Minnesota Department of Health, used w/o permission.)
(Deaths in Minnesota due to COVID-19: March 21 to July 11, 2020.)

Maybe it’s the sudden and temporary sunshine, but I’m even almost upbeat about the COVID-19 pandemic. Folks here in Minnesota aren’t dying of the disease nearly as fast as we were a month or two ago.

But, like all things in this world, that’ll probably change.

Like the sunshine. Which is now fading. Probably because there’s another thunderstorm heading our way. Judging from NWS radar, it’ll probably go north of Sauk Centre.

'The Masked Minnesotan.' Or, wearing a face mask for practical, not political, reasons.The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet.

Which is why I still wear a face mask when I’ll be near folks who aren’t in this household.

The idea isn’t protecting myself from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. And I’m not making a political statement.

I see wearing a face mask as an easy and negligibly inconvenient way to support the common good. And, maybe, help slow down the pandemic’s progress. (June 12, 2020; May 23, 2020)

Politics and Flying Factional Fewmets

Headlines in my news feeds deliver the usual mix of dreadful pronouncements.

Mainly about the COVID-19 pandemic, politics: and pandemic politics.

As far as I know, nobody’s actually said “and we’re all gonna die.” Which is, arguably, good news.

The politics thing is pretty much inevitable. There’s a presidential election on, so sound and fury is the order of the day.

Ignoring the flying factional fewmets might be possible. But ignoring the looming election entirely isn’t an option.

Participating in public life is part of being Catholic. In today’s America, that includes voting. And thinking. (Catechism of the Catholic Church (1997), 1915, 2240; “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” USCCB)

That’s why I’ve requested a mail-in voting form. On the whole, I’d enjoy going to the usual polling place. But, like I said before, there’s a pandemic in progress.

I’ve talked about this before:

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Fourth of July and Virtual Fireworks

United States of America flag.

My Fourth of July plans include watching an episode or two of Marvel Ultimate Spider-Man, contemplating the whichness of what while sitting on the front stoop, relaxing and getting a few chores done.

And enjoying a virtual fireworks show. Probably one of these:

And let’s not forget digital sparklers:

I’ve been hearing unofficial and possibly-illegal private fireworks, here in Sauk Centre’s south side. That’s the closest we come to having Independence Day pyrotechnics.

(Updated July 4, 2020 evening)

I’ve been watching the Virtual Viewing of Fourth of July Fireworks at Walt Disney World Resort: recorded in 2018, running a little over 13 minutes.

Music, fireworks, a little narration: and the closest to a Disney resort I’m likely to get. All without leaving my desk. It’s a good way to celebrate Independence Day.

The Once and Future Sinclair Lewis Days Parade

Sauk Centre's Sinclair Lewis Days parade; July 20, 2013.

My town does its fireworks extravaganza during Sinclair Lewis Days. Which won’t happen this year. It’s been postponed to July 2021.

I’ll miss Sinclair Lewis Days, particularly the parade: which has been going past my corner of Sauk Centre for the last several years.

But the COVID-19 pandemic is still in progress. Which is emphatically not good news. On the ‘up’ side, we’ve learned a great deal since the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Including how to lower the odds that folks who are infected will spread the bug. I see that as good news.

Getting enough folks to use humanity’s lore and wisdom? That’s another topic.

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