The John Jay Report

By now you’re probably aware of the study just released by John Jay College on child abuse in the Catholic Church.  George Weigel has written an excellent analysis of the study’s findings for National Review Online.  The report sheds new light on what has happened in the Church in the last 50 years or so.  It doesn’t exonerate the Church by any means, but it does point out that the crisis coincided with the overall decline in American morals and that the Church has responded well.

Sadly, I doubt that this study will do anything to change the minds of the Catholic bashers.  It will be interesting to see how the liberal media spins the facts.  Personal opinion:  nothing will change.  Here in Saint Louis the front-page article in our local paper ended with a quote from a so-called “watchdog” who thinks that the changes the Church has made are nothing more than a PR stunt.  The fact is that today’s Catholic Church in America is very safe for children.  Safer, for example, than public schools.

It will be interesting to watch the news coverage of this report over the next few days and weeks.

4th Sunday of Easter

Isn’t it amazing how the scriptures, written thousands of years ago, can be so relevant today?  Today’s readings are a perfect example.  In the first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter tells the crowd, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”

Granted, every generation has had its share of corruption, but you’d have to look long and hard to find one any more corrupt than the one we live in today.  I don’t have to tell you that sin is rampant in our society.  All you have to do is pick up a newspaper or turn on the television to see it.  As Al Gore once said, “Everything’s down that should be up and everything’s up that should be down.”

Dick Van Dyke was on the Tonight Show this week.  He mentioned that when The Dick Van Dyke Show was on television in the early sixties, married couples had to be shown sleeping in twin beds.  Turn on the TV today and married couples and unmarried couples are sharing the same bed.

I remember when models in bra commercials wore the sponsor’s product OVER a sweater.  Today, in Victoria’s Secret commercials on prime time television, nothing is left to the imagination.  Adds for birth control products, both male and female, make it seem that procreation is a dirty world.  Just use this device or take this pill and everything will be perfect.

I think most of us are old enough to remember when there were “special” book stores that sold dirty magazines, usually in the back room.  Now much more graphic magazines are on the shelves at Borders and Barnes and Noble, out on the racks where everyone could see them.

In the early eighties, when home video recorders first hit the market, some video stores had a back room where they kept their “dirty movies”.  Nowadays our kids can search Google for anything they want to see on their computer, right in their own room.

Somehow we Christians, still the majority of the American population, are treated as second-class citizens while our tax money is being spent to provide special accommodations for Muslim students in our public schools.  They’ve taken the Ten Commandments out of our courthouses and they’ve taken prayer out of our schools.  Non-Christians mock us for our beliefs.

It’s no wonder the Ten Commandments have been taken out of the public square, most Americans, even those who call themselves Christian, consider them no more than “ten suggestions.”  Remember “Thou shall not commit adultery”?  Today it’s a rarity if a couple presents themselves to be married in the Church and they’re not living together.  Even the test we give couples preparing for marriage has a special section for cohabitating couples.  We’re definitely living in a corrupt generation.

So, what are we supposed to do?  Peter answers that question too, in the second reading.  “Beloved:  If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God.  For to this have you been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.”  In business they say that problems are actually opportunities.  Peter seems to be saying the same thing.  If we suffer for doing good, it’s a grace from God.  Doing whatever we can to live a moral life amidst all the chaos and corruption means we’re following in Jesus’ footsteps.  “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.” 

 

Live for righteousness.  That’s our calling.  Don’t be tempted by sin.  Don’t let Satan win.  Jesus says in our Gospel, “I am the gate.”  You can’t get into heaven except through Him.  Somehow a lot of people have gotten the idea that they can sneak into heaven, but they’re going to be very disappointed.  You can’t tunnel in.  You can’t sneak in the back door.  You can’t climb over the wall.  You have to go in through the gate.  You have to go in through Jesus.  There’s just no other way.

Sin comes in many forms.  But one thing all sin has in common is that it disguises itself as something good.  Remember last week when the disciples on the road to Ameus had their eyes opened.  That’s what Jesus does.  He opens our eyes.  He will always lead us to the truth.  And the truth is that no matter how cleverly the evil one disguises sin, Jesus will always open our eyes to see the truth.  And the truth will set us free.

So……three readings; three lessons.

  1. We’re living in a corrupt generation.
  2. We have an opportunity.  We’ve been called to endure our sufferings in this life to earn a place in eternal life.  And,
  3. Jesus is the gate.  He’s the only way into heaven.  By His cross and resurrection He’s paid the price for our sins and by following Him, we can live in paradise forever.

Friday of the Third Week of Easter


Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you do not have life within you.

A big Gospel for a Friday, don’t you think?  This is where Jesus separates the men from the boys, so to speak.  We’ve read The Book and we know how it ends.  But for Jesus’ audience this was a bizarre statement.  Remember, this was a Jewish crowd and Jews had (and still have) very strict rules about what they put into their mouths.  “Eat His Flesh!?  Drink His Blood!?  He must be crazy!”

If you read on in John’s Gospel, beyond the part that we read at mass this morning we see that

“Many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.”

Let’s think about that for a minute.  Here’s Jesus, sent by His Heavenly Father to establish a new church.  He’s gaining a decent number of followers.  His Father is “well pleased”.  Then He makes the statements we read today and many of his disciples turn away.

If Jesus was speaking metaphorically, as many of our non-Catholic brothers and sisters believe (and too many Catholics, too) wouldn’t He have said, “No!  Wait!  I wasn’t speaking literally.  I was only talking about bread and wine.”   But He didn’t say that.  He let them go.  If they didn’t have enough faith in Him to take His words seriously, they were on their own.

Of course we know that He wasn’t expecting anyone to take a bite out of His arm.  He explained it all at the Last Supper.  “This is my Body.  This is my Blood.”  The Eucharist is His body and blood.

I find it odd that so many people insist that the Bible must be taken literally, word-for-word, yet won’t accept this vital teaching.  Jesus loves us so much He wants to be part of us.  He accomplishes this by making Himself present in the bread and wine transformed by the priest into His Precious Body and Blood.

Yes, it’s a “hard saying”.  Yes, it’s impossible to prove.  Yes, it defies our human common sense.  But we have faith.  We believe Jesus can’t lie.  If we don’t except everything He said, then we can’t count on anything He said.

Saddest of all are those who have been brought up in the faith yet choose not to practice it.  “Former Catholics” are the second largest religious group in the United States.  (Practicing Catholics are first.)  They should know better.

So, as we approach the half-way point in the season of Easter, we should pray for those whose faith isn’t strong enough to believe Jesus’ words.

Some things can’t be proven.  Some things just are.

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day can be a bittersweet celebration.  I know my wife had a grand day today with our oldest son and his wife, our daughter, and our three grandchildren.  It was a beautiful day to spend in the park.  She also enjoyed a wonderful Mother’s Day breakfast after mass at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel.

We all did our best to make it a nice day for her.  Sadly, her mom passed away exactly one year ago today.  Anything we did today was tempered by the sadness I know she feels for the loss of her mom.  Not only that but my daughter-in-law’s mother has passed away in the last twelve months making this the first Mother’s Day for her where she didn’t have her mom.

My own mom has been gone for sixteen years and though the pain has subsided over the years, I still miss her.

So today we celebrate our moms and grandmas, anyone else who has played the role of a mother in our life, and we remember those who long to be a mother but haven’t yet been blessed with children.  We than those who are still with us and we rejoice for those whom we know are with God.

Just as Jesus will forever be remembered as Mary’s Son, you and I will be forever be associated with the woman who gave us life.  If you don’t believe that our relationship with our mother is special, try to find an insulting Mother’s Day card.  You won’t, even though insulting Father’s Day cards will be in great supply.

To all the mothers who read this and to those who aren’t physically present in our lives,

Thanks, Mom!

Friday of the 2nd Week of Easter

The famous story of the loaves and fishes.  Today we read about it in John’s Gospel.  We all know the story.  We’ve heard it a thousand times.  Jesus feeds 5,000 with five loaves and two fish and has even more food left, twelve baskets full, than He started with; an obvious miracle.

If we’ve heard the story a thousand times, then we’ve heard a thousand homilies about it.  What can I possibly say that hasn’t been said already?  The answer is nothing.  But I will say this with apologies to anyone who might have said the same thing before.  This isn’t the only instance where Jesus has turned something small into something big.  In fact, He does it all the time.

Look at your own faith for example.  Jesus returned to heaven on Pentacost, the end of the season of easter.  He left twelve men in charge of His Church.  That was it.  Twelve guys who weren’t very impressive; mostly fishermen and tax collectors.  Yet today there are a billion Catholics in the world.  It’s a miracle that makes the loaves and fishes miracle look tiny by comparison.  And you and I are part of that miracle.

Someone taught us the faith so that we can teach it to others.  It’s been that way since the very beginning.  Today we face a serious challenge.  We don’t just have to teach new people the meaning of the Gospel, we have to remind others who’ve already been taught it that nothing has changed.  Some say that as many as 70 percent of people who call themselves Catholics don’t go to mass on a regular basis.  If you don’t believe it, just think about the crowds that were at mass on Easter.  That was two Sundays ago.  You may have noticed that there were a lot more empty seats last Sunday.

Today’s Gospel is a reminder that we have a part to play in salvation history.  It’s what the Church calls the “new evangelization.”  It means that we’re all called to reach out to our fallen-away brothers and sisters.  We hear a lot about the vocation crisis; not enough priests to staff our churches.  But what we’re really seeing is a crisis of faith.  If only three in ten Catholics bother to go to mass, what are the chances of having a surplus of priests?  I’d say slim and none.

But today’s Gospel gives us hope for the future.  It reminds us that Jesus can do great things with just a little.  Whether it’s feeding 5,000 people with just a little food, or continuing the faith with just a few people, everything is possible with God.  Just as Jesus needed help to distribute food to all those people, He needs our help to spread the faith to all the people who need it.

Some of us are called to preach so it’s obvious what we have to do.  But for the rest, it may seem like more of a challenge.  But I can guarantee you that someone is watching you.  Someone is observing your faith and wondering how it might fit in their lives.  It may be a family member or a friend or even someone you don’t even know, but they’re there.  You don’t have to be all preachy and holy, you just have to live a good life, come to mass, and let others see how satisfied and fulfilled you are.

We can feed others just like Jesus did.

Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Easter

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”

We’ve seen it on signs at sporting events.  We’ve seen it on t-shirts.  “John 3:16”.  It’s become almost a shorthand way of saying, “Yeah, I’m a Christian and I’m proud of it.”  But there’s more to this verse than meets the eye.

The verse above is from the New American Bible translation, the “Catholic” Bible.  The King James Bible, the one used by many of our protestant friends reads,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Notice the difference?  “might not perish” versus “should not perish”.  One little word makes a BIG difference.  If we believe(th) in Him we either might not perish or should not perish.  Sola fide, faith alone.  Are we saved just because we believe?  Or is there more required?  In the 15th chapter of the same Gospel Jesus tells us we are His friends if we do what He tells us. (John 15:14).

Much smarter people than me have debated this subject for centuries.  And, the debate will most likely go on for even more centuries.  Maybe the solution is too simple for the scholars to accept.  Maybe we should focus on the fact that our salvation is possible only because of Jesus’ Easter sacrifice.  That’s our spiritual foundation.  The rest is just semantics.


BIN LADEN IS DEAD!

This was the banner headline on the local paper today.  American forces finally located Bin Laden’s hideout.  In the ensuing fire fight Bin Laden was killed, his body collected, and today he was buried at sea.

Hopefully this event will be the beginning of the end of the terrorist threat against peace-loving people around the world.  I imagine we’ll never know the detail of the final minutes of Bin Laden’s life, for instant whether it might have been possible to capture him rather than kill him.  It would seem that there might have been some advantage to the good guys of gaining whatever intelligence Bin Laden might have given up if he’d been captured.

Maybe I’ve been reading too much Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn, but I’m just sayin’….

The thing that concerns me is the giant banner headlines, the breathless talking heads on the news channels, and especially the joyful celebration in the streets of the nation’s capital and other cities  last night.  Don’t all these festivities surrounding the death of another human being, no matter how evil he might be, just drag us down to his level?  There are a lot of people who don’t like the United States.  I wonder how they felt watching Americans dancing in the streets last night.  Can we legitimately claim moral superiority after the whole world has watched these displays?

I’m listening to a local radio show that hosted an on-line poll asking “Is the death of Bin Laden a cause for celebration?”  The response was an overwhelming 95% “yes”.

I understand the reasoning.  This guy was responsible for the deaths of thousands of human beings, both American and others.  The human desire for vengeance is strong.  But, “‘Vengeance is mine’ sayeth the Lord.”   We may have killed the guy, but I’m pretty sure that’s a walk in the park compared to what Jesus has in store for him.

Of course, the other concern is how the terrorist community is going to react to Ben Laden’s death.  We’ve created an instant martyr for the terrorists and retribution may be severe if not swift.  Burial at sea prevents his grave being a gathering place for his supporters.  But by depositing his body, a lot more questions have been asked than answered.

I’m not saying that the world isn’t a better place today than it was yesterday.  I’m not saying that it is either.  Only time will tell how this all plays out.  Meanwhile, celebration may not be our best response.

2nd Sunday of Easter

Note:  This is a homily I gave today at Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis.  One of the topics is our local Annual Catholic Appeal.  If you’re reading this outside of this archdiocese, you might be tempted to move on.  But, go ahead and read it substituting your favorite local charity.  I hope you’ll benefit from my thoughts.

Thomas, Thomas, Thomas.  What must it feel like to have your name used in a negative way for thousands of years.   Even today, when someone doesn’t believe something we call him or her a doubting Thomas.

And how must Jesus have felt knowing that in spite of all the teaching, in spite of all the miracles, one of His most trusted friends won’t believe in His resurrection unless he gets to put his fingers in the nail holes and put his hand into Jesus’ side.  He gives an idea of how He feels when He says to Thomas, “Have you come   to believe because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”  It’s called “faith”; a belief in something that can’t be proven.

You and I are here today because we have faith.  We have faith in God and in His Son.  We especially have faith in God’s mercy.  The word “mercy” is scattered all through today’s mass, starting with Father’s opening prayer.  That’s because today is Divine Mercy Sunday.  Divine Mercy.  You know, it’s the only thing that makes it possible for you and me to even consider getting to heaven.

You may think that there are no sinners in heaven.  If that were true, it would be a pretty lonely place.  Jesus and Mary would be pretty tired of talking just to each other for the last 2,000 years.   We all sin.  We can’t help it.  It’s in our nature.  Thankfully a merciful God has given us a way to have our sins forgiven.  It’s called “confession”; or the Sacrament of Penance.  It’s something that a lot of us seem to avoid.

Here’s the thing.   The Church tells us that we have to receive the sacrament once a year.  Being human, a lot of think that that’s what we should do.  “The Church says once a year.  Once a year it is.”  That’s not the point.  You go to confession when you need to go to confession.  My dentist wants to see me every six months.  But if I get a toothache after only three months, you’d better believe I’m not going to wait another ninety days.

The same goes for confession.  If you need to go, then go.  If you’ve committed a sin or two and it’s bothering you, get rid of it!  Confess it and you know that it’s been forgiven.  That’s Divine Mercy.  That’s what we celebrate today.  God doesn’t want to be alone.  He wants every one of us to join Him in heaven when the time comes for us to leave this world.

[pause]

You know we can never outdo God in mercy, but He wants us to share His mercy by showing mercy to others.  There are a lot of ways we can do that.  We’re called to love our neighbor and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  A lot of us do volunteer work either through the Church or on our own, sharing our time, talent, and treasure with those who are in need.

Today is the beginning of the Annual Catholic Appeal in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Unless you just joined the Church in the last year, you know what the ACA is all about.  It’s our easiest and most painless way to help others.

I’m not going to quote you a lot of statistics on how the money is used.  I will tell you  that the goal of the ACA for 2011 is $12,000,000.00  That’s a lot of money but it has to do a lot of work.  There is an ACA video that you should see.  Rather than show it to you today, which would mean buying a DVD player and a big screen TV, I’ve posted it on the parish web site, which is listed near the top of the bulletin.  Watch it before you prayerfully decide how much you want to help this year.

I realize that the economy is tough right now.  Gas is hovering around $4.00 a gallon with predictions that it will hit $5.00 before the end of the year.  That hurts you and me, but imagine how it hurts the agencies of the ACA.  Schools have busses.  Senior services have busses.  Food pantries often deliver food.  Money will be taken away from basic services to cover the increase in auto expenses unless all of us give a little bit more.

That’s what we’re asking from you; a little bit more.  A 10% increase, if you can afford it, will help offset the loss of someone who might be unemployed right now and is forced to give less.

If you’ve not made a pledge to the ACA in a while, or maybe have never contributed, this would be a good time to get involved again.  It doesn’t have to be a lot, but maybe you’re experienced some of that Divine Mercy I was talking about.  A gift to the ACA would be a good way to show your gratitude.

Don’t get me wrong.  You can’t buy God’s mercy.  He gives it free and freely.  But it never hurts to send Him a thank you note.  We’ve got one for you and its already got your name on it.  All you have to do is fill in an amount.

Look, I hate to ask you to be more generous than you already are.  I also know that you don’t particularly care to listen to me asking.  Sometimes we both just have to offer it up.  But I’d like to say one more thing.  Rather, I’d like to read you something that Archbishop has said.  It’s from his “Seven Signs of a Vibrant Parish.”  He writes, “A community that is only focused on its own needs is not evangelizing.  It is not living the Gospel or witnessing to the saving power of Jesus Christ.  Our [faith communities] must be about mission, not maintenance.  If our focus is not outward—on carrying out the Great Commission we have been given to baptize, teach, sanctify and serve—then we fail the vibrancy test and should probably shut our doors—no matter how many people are in our pews or how much money we have in the bank.”

Two things he said jump out at me.  First, we must be about mission, not maintenance.  He seems to be talking directly to us here at Saint John’s.  We can’t afford to just maintain.  If we’re not moving forward, we’re moving backward.  We’re failing the thousands of men and women who went before us at this beautiful church.

The other thing that jumped out at me were the words “close our doors.”  Nobody is threatening to close our doors.  I wouldn’t be here if that were the case.  I want this community to be here for our children and our children’s children.  But just the phrase gives me the heebie-jeebies.  We’ll be here as long as we’re a vibrant community.  The ACA is very visible, very tangible evidence of our vitality.

Please pray about your pledge to the ACA.  Consider how generous God has been to you before you decide how generous you want to be for him.  On this Divine Mercy Sunday, show mercy to our brothers and sisters whose needs are so great.

One last thing.  Please remember in your prayers our brothers and sisters in north Saint Louis County and in our southern states who have suffered such big losses to storms and tornadoes.  Here in Saint Louis, we were spared loss of life but the people in Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia weren’t so blessed.  The death toll there is over 300 with more than 400 missing.  My son and his family live in Huntsville, AL.  They’re fine.  In fact they’re staying at my house because the entire northern third of their state is without power and will be for several more days.  We never know just how our lives may change without warning.

So, we thank God for the good things in our lives and pray for those who aren’t as fortunate as we are.  We  trust in God’s Divine Mercy in this life and at the end of this life.