Surprise! Cardinal Rigali Retires at 76

The media sharks are in a feeding frenzy over the announced retirement of Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia.  Naturally they want to tie His Eminence’s stepping down to the ongoing abuse scandal in the Pennsylvania archdiocese.  With the disclaimer that I’m not really up on the situation in the City of Brotherly Love I’ll tell you what I do know.

Every member of the clergy, even deacons, is required to submit his resignation when he reaches the age of 75.  Cardinal Rigali did so last year.  He submitted his letter to the Holy Father.  Priests and deacons send their letters to the local ordinary (bishop).  Historically, approval of these resignations can take a long time, sometime years, depending on the health of the retiree and on how important his work is to the Church.

Cardinal Rigali has enjoyed a long and successful career.  He served directly under Pope John Paul II at the Vatican before being chosen to be archbishop of Saint Louis.  Among his accomplishments in Saint Louis included getting the Holy Father to visit here in 1999.  I can’t imagine anyone in the Church working harder, or for longer hours, than Cardinal Rigali.  Eight years ago he was elevated to the College of Cardinals and put in charge of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.  The abuse problems in that archdiocese were well known and obviously the Vatican hoped the new Cardinal would be able to calm things down.  He wasn’t.

I know Cardinal Rigali.  He ordained me and I have a special regard for him as a shepherd and as a person.  I’m afraid that the Philly situation was just too much for him.  Seeing him on television today I thought he looked very tired.  It’s time for him to get out of the public eye and get some much-deserved rest.  If there’s a need to select a new Pope in the next four years, Cardinal Rigali will get to vote.

We’re supposed to be a church of forgiveness, something that many of our brothers and sisters have a hard time remembering.  There has been much sin committed in the past by people in positions of trust in our Church.  I believe that our US Bishops have done a good job of removing abusive clergy.  Clearly there are exceptions, just as there are in everything.

Maybe it’s time to stop playing the blame game and to give credit where credit is due.

Have a blessed and peaceful retirement, Cardinal Rigali.

Death by Recliner?

I don’t want to cause a panic or anything, but I believe that recliner chairs are a major cause of death in the United States.  I have no statistical proof (more on that later) but anecdotal evidence has led me to this conclusion.  A little over a year ago my mother-in-law passed away.  We found her in her recliner, holding her rosary.

Just last week my wife ran into a friend from the same town in Illinois where her mother had lived.  This lady’s father recently passed away (you guessed it) in his recliner chair.  This got me thinking.  Some years ago a friend suffered the same fate.  La-Z-Boys may be hazardous to your health!

Before I’m accused of spreading panic, I’m going to go to the US Government and request a grant of $3 million to study this phenomenon.  Why $3 million?  I’m afraid if I ask for less they won’t take me seriously and if I ask for more they might turn me down as half of our elected employees in Washington are trying to reduce government spending.  But This amount of money is chump change in Washington.  Besides, I want to stay under the recliner chair lobby’s radar.  $3 million seems like the perfect amount.

Like I said, I think my research is going to lead to the discovery that these so-called pieces of furniture are actually death traps that should be outlawed, or at least should be required to come with seat belts and front and side air bags.  This may add a couple of hundred dollars to the cost of a Barcalounger, but isn’t safety our highest priority?

[Note that this piece is filed under the category “humor”.  Please, no angry emails.]

16th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I used to have a really nice yard.  Jan and I work hard to keep it that way but this year something happened.  This year our lawn is full of weeds and bare spots.  I don’t know what happened.  I’ve spread fertilizer and weed killer and even lime but the weeds keep coming and the bare spots keep getting bigger.  I’m afraid I’m going to have to get professional help.


Since I’m dealing with a lawn and not a wheat field like the man in today’s Gospel, I can’t just wait until the end of summer and gather the weeds up and burn them.  I need to do something now.  But that’s not the big difference between my story and the parable that Jesus tells us today.  The real difference is how the weeds got there.


I’m pretty sure that an enemy didn’t come and sew weed seeds in my yard.  I’m more inclined to suspect the weird weather we’ve been having and my own poor gardening skills.  You’ll notice that neither of my thumbs is green.  But weeds are weeds and one thing we all know is that once you have one, you’re going to get more.


But let’s get back to Jesus story.  There are two things in this parable that caught my eye.  One is that the weeds were planted by “the enemy”.  The weeds represent sins and the enemy is Satan, the Devil, Beelzebub.  In last week’s Gospel Jesus called him “the evil one”.  You know, the guy that most of our society doesn’t think exists.  Even though his name comes up throughout our scriptures, he’s done a pretty good job of convincing us that he doesn’t exist.  Most of us just aren’t afraid of him anymore.  We even name sports teams after him.


To make things more complicated Satan has come up with a way to make almost every sin feel good, or taste good, or look good.  And, like the weeds in my yard, once one sin gets a hold of us, more are going to follow.


The second point that jumps out at me from the Gospel is that the enemy planted the weeds in our hero’s yard “while everyone was asleep.”  He didn’t come in the light of day.  He came under cover of darkness when no one was watching for him.  You and I won’t fall into the trap of sin if we’re constantly on the look out for it.  But the sad fact is that most of us aren’t looking out for sin.  Like I said, sin is almost always disguised as something good.


Missing Sunday mass because you want to sleep in doesn’t seem like such a big deal.  The bed feels so good.  God’s not going to mind if I miss just this once.  I can say some extra prayers this week to make up for it.


Then, when I don’t get hit by lightning during the week I think to myself, “see, it wasn’t such a big deal after all.”  That makes missing mass again that much easier.  Before I know it, I’ve turned into a “C & E Catholic”.  You know, Christmas and Easter.  The seeds the devil planted while I was asleep have sprouted into a garden of weeds.


The best way to keep weeds out of your lawn, or sins out of your heart is to replace them with something that’s good.  If you have a thick, healthy lawn there’s no room for weeds.  If you have a heart full of love, the love that Jesus calls all of us to practice, then there’s no room for sins.  If you spend your time watching good, wholesome television or reading spiritual books, or listening to the right kind of audio material, sin won’t be able to get in.  If you spend your free time helping others, there won’t be room for sin.


One hour a week in church, while it’s a very good thing, just isn’t enough.  When someone falls away from the Church we call them a “non-practicing Catholic.”  The opposite of that would be a “practicing Catholic.”  Like they say, “practice makes perfect.”  You don’t become a world-class athlete by practicing once a week.  You don’t make it to Carnegie Hall by practicing once a week.  An occasional round of golf won’t get you on the pro tour.  You need practice, practice, practice!


Jesus begins today’s parable by referring to “The kingdom of heaven.  That’s what this is all about; getting into heaven.  The alternative is to be burned like the weeds.  Think about that!  How’s your spiritual garden?  Does it need some work?  If so, now’s the time to get started.  It would be a shame to let sin keep you from heaven just because you were asleep when the enemy came.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

I have to admit I’ve been surprised over the last 24 hours or so at the reactions of conservative talk show hosts to the “not gulity” verdict in the trial of Casey Anthony, charged with killing her young daughter.  First let me say that I have no opinion on the verdict itself.  I didn’t sit in the courtroom for more than a month listening to testimony.  The jurors did.  I don’t know if this woman killed her daughter.  Only she and God know for sure.

What I do know is this.  The Constitution established a justice system for the United States.  It may not be perfect, but it’s arguably the best system in the world.  Millions of people have emigrated (legally and illegally) to this country partly because of our legal system.  (Those who are hear illegally are here in spite of our legal system, but that’s another post.)

I thought conservatives were pro-Constitution.  I thought they were all about the Founding Fathers and their vision for our country.  Yet, here they are griping about a decision made by a “jury of her peers” to let Casey Anthony go on the charge of murder.  I hope we never reach the point where trials are held on television and the viewers get to vote “guilty” or “not guilty” by calling an 800 number like “American Idol”.  Legal matters of life and death shouldn’t be decided by a majority vote of uninformed viewers.  There would be  no way to police the process to ensure that it wasn’t a popularity contest or that people weren’t casting multiple votes.

Whether this jury made the right decision is a matter of opinion.  It didn’t take them long to unanimously reach a decision.  If Anthony did kill her daughter, she will ultimately face a higher Judge.  If He finds her guilty the punishment will be much worse than anything the state of Florida has at its disposal.

Remember, it’s not the jury’s job to decide whether this woman is guilty.  Their job is to decide if the prosecution proved that she’s guilty, beyond a reasonable doubt.  There is a difference.  In this case it’s obvious that the prosecution failed.  If she really did it, shame on them.

Here’s what worries me.  Many people, including the conservative pundits (who should know better) are passing judgement on Ms. Anthony, and on the judicial system.  This does more harm than good.  If the system is going to fail, and I’m not convinced that it did in this case, isn’t it better to let a guilty person go free than to lock up someone who’s innocent?  That’s the “reasonable doubt” part.  We would expect that the prosecutors (who work for us) who had three years to prepare a case and 33 days to present it to do a competent job.  Either they did in this case, or they didn’t.  We’ll probably never know for sure, but endless speculation after-the-fact does no one any good and has the potential to do much harm.

Independence Day 2011

I suppose the 235th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence is as good a day as any to look at what the Founding Fathers thought about God’s role in the new union they were proposing.  Rather than go on for pages and pages, I’d like to offer the following quotes for your consideration.  (Any emphasis added is mine.)

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  Declaration of Independence.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.  Declaration of Independence

It is impossible for any honest person not to be astonished. (that the Constitution had been created in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles) It is impossible for the religious man not to once again perceive the finger of that Almighty Hand that so frequently and notably extended relief to us during the critical stages of the Revolution.  James Madison, Federalist Paper #37.

I could go on, but any study of the thoughts and writings of the Founding Fathers will discover that most of them, if not all, believed that God was with them in this new endeavor.  As Madison writes, it’s almost inconceivable that this group of men could author a plan for the new government in such a short time and with so many diverse interests having a hand in it.  Likewise, most would agree that it was almost impossible for the small, under-equiped American army to defeat the most powerful fighting machine in the world at that time, the British army without Divine intervention.

Of course, those who have an anti-God agenda, most notable atheists, deny the very existence of an all-powerful God.  But, they are a very small, very vocal minority.  Here’s the thing.  America was formed with the assistance of the Almighty.  It was formed as a country where the people were the government and where individual rights would be ensured.  As a mostly-Christian nation we welcomed immigrants of all faiths (and no faith).  We have been so open to others that now we’re in a position of having to defend the very principles that allowed so many non-Christians to come here to take advantage of our rights and freedoms.  People who came here to enjoy our freedoms want to take many of those freedoms away from us.

Now we’re being told that we can’t be a God-fearing country any more.  Those of us who believe that we are “one nation under God” are being told to sit down and shut up because we might offend someone who doesn’t agree with us.

We call this day “Independence Day” because it’s the day we declared our freedom from an oppressive monarchy.  Most of us have no idea of what our founders were risking by taking this step.  We get a glimpse of it in the Declaration’s last sentence “with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

This was no exaggeration.  Had the revolution failed, every man who put his name to the Declaration would have been killed, their families would have been killed, their property would have been confiscated by the British, and they would be forever branded as scoundrels and villains.   On this Fourth of July and every day, we owe these men a huge debt of gratitude.  We also owe them our own efforts to preserve the country that they risked so much to create.


14th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”


Today’s Gospel is the same one we read just Friday, the Feast of the Sacred Heart.  I mention this only because it occurred to me Friday morning that we celebrate the Sacred Heart but we don’t have a Feast of the Sacred Head.  After all, Jesus was smart.  Even at age 12, when He was separated from Mary and Joseph, when they found Him in the temple, Luke tells us in Chapter 2 of his Gospel that “all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.”


So, if Jesus was wise and learned, what’s He telling us today?  I think I know.  I spent five years in classes preparing for ordination.  Priests spend twice that much time.  We’re required to take continuing education every year.  I have shelves full of books at home and more shelves of books in the rectory.   Do I need all this for my ministry?  I do.  Does any of this get me any closer to God?  No, not really.


My five-year-old granddaughter Isabella just finished a week at Bible camp.  I promise you that she’s closer to God right now than I am.  Being wise and learned won’t keep you out of heaven but it won’t get you in either.  If you tell a five-year-old that Jesus loves them, they believe it.  If you tell an adult that Jesus loves them, they’re going to want proof.  That’s where all the books come in.  For centuries men have been trying to prove what we believe.  I think they’re doing it all wrong even though I’ve done the same thing myself.


What we need is faith.  Faith is the belief in something that can’t be proven.  IF we could prove the existence of God; IF we could prove that He and His Son love us, we wouldn’t need faith.  And, life without faith is no life at all.


You remember the song “Jesus Loves Me”?

Jesus loves me, this I know

For the Bible tells me so.

Little ones to Him belong.

They are weak but He is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

The Bible tells me so.

That little song is profound.  It’s really all you need to know.


Yes, wise and learned people can get into heaven.  They just can’t let all that wisdom and learning get in the way.  All we really need is a simple, child-like faith in God’s love.  My favorite Bible quote is John 15:12, “This is my commandment.  Love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for ones friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you.”


That’s it!  Short and to the point.  Love one another and you’ll be my friend.

Sadly, as we grow up life gets more complicated.  Black and white turn into thousands of shades of gray.  We lose our childlike faith.  We know Jesus loves us.  We know what He wants us to do to love Him back.  But life can get in the way.


Fortunately for us, we have a way to get back to the basics.  We’re doing it now.  It’s called Mass.  This is where we can sit quietly and be taken up in the mystery.  This is where we can receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  We’re blessed to have this beautiful church as our place of worship.


But it’s not the building that makes us “church”.   It’s the act of worship that makes us “church” and we could do that on the parking lot or in somebody’s home.  It doesn’t matter if the lights are on, or if the candles are lit, or if the air conditioner’s working properly. All we really need is a place to gather and a simple child-like faith.  “Yes, Jesus loves me.  The Bible tells me so.”


This weekend we celebrate the 235th birthday of our nation.  On July 4, 1776, our Founding Fathers declared our independence from Great Britain.  Most of us can’t recite the Declaration, but as Jesus said, it’s not necessary to be wise and learned to understand what those 18th Century men were trying to do.  They wanted “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle(d) them.”


Most of us are familiar with the beginning of the Declaration, “When in the course of human events….” But do you know the ending?  The final sentence says, “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


In spite of all their wisdom, in spite of their learning, in the end it was their reliance on Divine Providence, their child-like faith in God, that gave them the courage to risk their very lives on the success of their cause.

As we sit in church today and as we celebrate the 4th of July weekend with barbecues and fireworks we should all take time to thank God for the gift of our own faith and for the faith of the men who founded our nation.  They were driven by their belief in their God-given rights and thanks to them we have those rights today.  As Catholic Christians we also have faith, and a responsibility to do all that we can to make sure our children and our grandchildren have those same rights.