40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #6 Bishops

The Archbishop and the Cardinal. Archbishop Robert Carlson and Fredbird

If priests are cool then bishops must be cooler.  Right?  Again, this is not a scholarly dissertation on these men who are directly descended from the twelve Apostles.  There are plenty of places to find that kind of material.  This is about why bishops are cool and we’re lucky to have them.  However, I am going to throw one big word at you:  subsidiarity.  It means that the Church has determined that the best place to make decisions is as close to the people as possible.  The really big stuff, the stuff that affects all Catholics all over the world, is decided in Rome.  The things that affect the local diocese are decided by our bishops.

Remember, we have a Code of Canon Law that directs everything that goes on in the Church, but there’s still plenty of wiggle room for the local ordinary (the bishop) to put his personal touch on his diocese.  More important, part of the bishop’s responsibility is to deal with the secular world on our behalf.  The current kerfuffle about the government’s birth control mandate is a good example.  The Pope could jump into the middle of this issue, and at some point he may.  But for now, the United States bishops are at the forefront, both as a group and individually.  The vast majority of our bishops have written pastoral letters to their flock urging us to oppose this violation of our Constitution.

For most young Catholics, it’s quite a thrill at confirmation time when they get to meet the bishop, either at their own parish or at the Cathedral.  While the bishop is a local cleric, most of us associate him with the universal Church.  He’s our direct line to the Vatican.  While we most often see our bishop performing on the big stage with all the pomp and pageantry that the office deserves, most of them are very down-go-earth guys who would rather sit down with you one-on-one and have a cup of coffee.  Unfortunately for us, they’re so busy that they don’t get to do that very often.

I don’t think I can finish a post on bishops without mentioning the president of the United States bishops, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.

Cardinal Dolan distributes food to the poor in New York City.

This Health and Human Services fiasco has brought His Eminence into the national spotlight and we should all be glad it has.  I could be wrong, but I’ve always pictured Jesus as man very much like Cardinal Dolan.  I believe Jesus had a sense of humor (otherwise I wouldn’t be a deacon), I believe He was friendly and outgoing, and I believe that when it was necessary, He was tough as a bulldog.  (Remember the moneychangers?)  Isn’t that how we’d like all our bishops (and priests and deacons) to be?

Face it, most of us are lost sheep and we need a shepherd.  Our parish priests fill that role most of the time, but they do it on behalf of the bishop.  When you go to mass this weekend and the priest prays for our Benedict our Pope, and for our bishop and for all the bishops, say a quiet prayer of thanks for your local shepherd.  As I said yesterday concerning priests, our bishops have been under attack in recent years.  Did some of them mess up?  Clearly they did.  Did they do it out of malice, or a desire to break the law?  No, I don’t think so.

Remember on the very night that Jesus created the presbytery one of His bishops sold him out for a few pieces and another, the one who would become the first Pope, denied that he knew Him, not once but three times.  Bishops are human, just like you and me.  They’re subject to the same faults and failings as we all are.  I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My archbishop, Robert Carlson, and your bishop, whoever he may be, is way cool!

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40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic # 7 Priests

The day before he suffered he took bread in his sacred hands and looking up to heaven, to you, his almighty Father, he gave you thanks and praise.  He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said:  Take this, all of you, and eat it: this is my body which will be given up for you.

When supper was ended, he took the cup.  Again he gave you thanks and praise, gave the cup to his disciples, and said:  Take this, all of you, and drink from it: this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlastingcovenant.  It will be shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven.  Do this in memory of me.  The New Roman Missal

With these words, Jesus established the priesthood.  Without priests we wouldn’t have the Eucharist.  Acting on behalf of the local ordinary, these men have the power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.  Only bishops have the power to ordain priests and our current bishops are direct descendants from the original twelve.

These men give their lives to the Church.  Unlike most protestant clergy, they take a vow of celibacy.  There are some who suggest that this is a bad thing because they think it discourages many men from the priesthood.  That may be somewhat true, but by making a lifelong commitment to celibate life a priest is able to give 110% to his ministry.  As a married clergyman myself, I can see how valuable the priest’s dedication to the Church can be.  It’s impossible to give your all to two different callings.

This is anything but a scholarly treatise on the theology of the priesthood.  There are many good sources for that elsewhere.  My point is this.  As Catholics we have the gift of a dedicated priesthood, men who are literally married to the Church.  They ace in persona Christi, that is in the person of Christ, to consecrate the Eucharist, to forgive us our sins, and to perform the sacraments.  Sadly, there aren’t enough priests to go around right now and that’s a problem.

As faithful Catholics we have an obligation to encourage our young men to at least consider priestly life.  You would think, in this treacherous economy, that a job with lifetime security, good benefits and room and board, would be very attractive.  But here’s the thing.  In recent years the Church has been rocked by the child abuse scandal, and make no mistake, it’s a terrible thing.  But the news media have blown it totally out of proportion.  The percentage of priests who abuse children is no higher than the percent of men in the total population who commit these crimes.  Yet, it’s the Church that’s been the target of all the bad press.  Child abuse IS NOT a Catholic problem.  It’s a societal problem.  But young men who are considering the priesthood might be scared off by all the negative news.  They may fear guilt by association.

Most of the alleged victims who are coming forward are claiming abuse that happened in the 60s, 70s, and 80s; some even earlier.  Today, in 2012, no organization in the world is doing more to prevent the abuse of children than the Catholic Church.  Your children are safer in a Catholic church or school than they are in a protestant church, a public school, on a little league team, or in a secular scout troop.  You and I must do all we can to spread the word that all priests are not child  molesters.  The guilty parties are a small percentage of the total priesthood and that percentage is getting smaller, thanks to the policies that have been put in place by the US Bishops.

If we’re going to have enough priests to lead the Church in the 21st century, we all have to do our best to encourage our young men that the priesthood is a viable and prestigious profession.  God hasn’t stopped calling future priests.  We’ve just stopped listening.

Jesus established the ordained priesthood intending it to last until the end of time.  He designed it so that you and I would have access to an educated, compassionate, dedicated priest whenever we need one.  When we need the sacraments they’re there for us, day or night.

It’s definitely one of the top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #8 The Internet

Now, wait just a minute, deacon.  The Internet is NOT  Catholic.  Wasn’t it invented  by Al Gore?


Bear with me for a minute and I’ll tell you why I think the Internet makes it cool to be Catholic.  When Jesus formed His Church, just before his death and resurrection, there were only the twelve Apostles and a handful of disciples to spread the faith.  Evangelization was strictly a one-on-one matter.  Matthew’s Gospel ends with Jesus, after his resurrection, telling the eleven “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)  Obviously, since baptism was part of their mission, they traveled the world, preaching the Gospel and baptizing new Christians.

That was pretty much how it worked until 1450 when Gutenberg’s printing press made it possible to mass produce the written word.  Of course, most people still didn’t know how to read, but for those who could, a whole new world of evangelization became possible.  Still, one-on-one evangelization continued with those who lacked the ability to read.

It would be another 500 years or so before mass evangelization became possible with the invention of the radio.  Suddenly a speaker in a studio could speak to thousands of people at one time.  Many early radio programs focused on religion with the Catholic Church a primary source of programming.

The next advance in wide-spread evangelization would come much more quickly.  Still in the 20th Century television sets started appearing in people’s homes.  Who can forget Servant of God Bishop Fulton Sheen, who began his broadcast ministry on radio but who saw television as a new and better way to preach the Gospel to millions at one time.  His TV show dominated Tuesday night television from 1951-1957.  He won two Emmy awards.

In 1980 a nun from Alabama had the idea of starting a Catholic cable channel.  Mother Angelica’s EWTN is seen all over the world.  As of 2008, EWTN reached 146 million homes in 147 countries.

And that brings us to the Internet.  The World Wide Web is an amazing medium.  It contains a lot of bad stuff but the good stuff far outweighs the bad.  Using your home computer or laptop (or even your smart phone) you have access to all the greatest Catholic writers and preachers in the world.  As I mentioned in my post on the Church Fathers, the web gives you instant access to all the great Catholic writers.  Whether you want to read Augustine’s works, which are on-line, and in the public domain, which means you can download them for free, or modern Catholic thought-leaders like Matthew Kelly or Father Robert Barron are more your speed, it’s all right there.

There are hundreds of Catholic blogs where you can read the thoughts of Cardinals, bishops, priests, and even lowly deacons.  In fact, if you have something to say there’s nothing to stop you from hosting your own blog or podcast at little or no expense.

Social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are another source of Catholic information and conversation that’s yours at the click of a button.  Email lists link groups of like-minded Catholics in an on-going conversation.  Boundaries of geography and distance are suddenly gone.  I have Facebook friends and LinkedIn contacts all over the world and you can too.  I follow the Pope, Cardinal Dolan, and my own Archbishop Carlson on Facebook.  I also follow dozens of other deacons.  Nearly every Catholic parish has a web site and many are on Facebook as well.

Who could have imagined as recently as ten years ago that all the great works of the Church would be available right in our own homes?  Besides great writers, the Code of Canon Law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and all the documents of Vatican II are on-line in searchable formats.  You can read and search the Bible, in any translation you can think of, on the web as well.  You want to see exactly what Jesus said to the woman at the well?  Do a Google search for “woman at the well” and you’ll get over 70 million hits.  It’s just that simple.

In 2002, Pope John Paul II wrote, “The fact that through the Internet people multiply their contacts in ways hitherto unthinkable opens up wonderful possibilities for spreading the Gospel.”

Pope Benedict XVI wrote in 2010 on the occasion of the World Day of Communications, “The world of digital communication, with its almost limitless expressive capacity, makes us appreciate all the more Saint Paul’s exclamation: “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)” 

Just this week, there were 1,200 tweets on twitter concerning the Holy Father’s visit to  Cuba in the 60 minutes prior to the Papal mass.

No, the Internet isn’t Catholic but it is catholic, which means universal.  But it’s the most exciting tool for evangelization and education ever invented.  And we’ve just scratched the surface.  Who knows what miracles will come along in the next few years?   One thing’s for sure, it will be exciting.  Hopefully the Catholic Church will be at the forefront of anything that’s new.  For more information on the Church in the digital age, I recommend Brandon Vogt’s excellent book, “The Church and New Media”.

After all, the Pope is online and so am I.  If that’s not cool, I don’t know what is.

PS.  No, Al Gore didn’t invent the Internet.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #9 The Church is Pro Life

2012 Pro Life March
Washington, DC

The issues surrounding the Church’s position on the protection of ALL life are complex; too complex to cover in a few hundred word blog post, so I’ll leave the more technical stuff to others.  What I’m posting about today is why it’s cool to be Pro Life.  I suppose the short answer would be that it’s so uncool to be anti-life.

While the technical issues surrounding human life are best left to the experts, the simple fact is that God creates all human life and that we must respect all life.  In fact, we must do everything in our power to protect all human life from conception until natural death.  Anything less than that puts us in the position of trying to play God.  It doesn’t matter if the human person is a cute little baby, a vicious criminal, or an elderly person whose continued life is just so darned expensive and inconvenient.

Unless your reading this on the intergalacticnet on some far-away planet, you were born of a human mother.  Give thanks to God that your mother was Pro Life.  Otherwise you might not be reading this or anything else.  Everyday human criminals snuff out the life of innocent (or not so innocent) victims.  Your head may be telling you that murderers should get the death penalty.  But your heart, and your God, tell you that when the state murders someone on our behalf, we’re just as bad as the criminal.  “Thou shalt not kill” applies to everyone.

One day (hopefully) you and I will be old.  (My kids think I’m old already.)  When we get to the point in life when we’re bedridden and in need of constant care, the temptation is there to end it all, either to be free from pain, or just to stop being a burden to our loved ones.  We don’t get to make that call and neither does anyone else.  That’s why you and I, even if we’re past child-rearing age, have a stake in the abortion discussion.  The society we live in values life less every day.  Many of our brothers and sisters, half of our political “leaders”, most of the news media, and most of Hollywood, look at abortion as just another medical procedure.  This anti-life crowd likes to refer to “safe abortions.”  Isn’t that the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard of.  If an abortion is effective it’s anything but “safe”.  If it’s effective the baby always dies!

Unless we Catholics and other people of faith keep fighting the good fight, we’re on a slippery slope.  The more society accepts abortion, the closer we come to legal euthanasia.    Call me an extremist if you want, but the day may come, possibly sooner rather than later, when bumping off Grandpa because it’s just too expensive to keep him alive is considered just as reasonable as aborting an unborn child because she may have an expensive disease.

But getting back to the coolness of Pro Life, consider this.  While the Catholic Church isn’t the only faith tradition that opposes murder in any form, most people, if you gave them a word association test, would put “Catholic” and “anti-abortion” together.  By supporting God’s gift of life in all cases, the Church has opened herself up to ridicule, bad jokes, and disdain by those who feel life decisions should be made by mere mortals rather than by the Author of Life Himself.

It would be so easy to throw in the towel and say, “OK, we tried.  We marched and protested and prayed and prayed, but we haven’t gotten the job done.  Go ahead and do whatever you want.”  We might win the popularity contest but we’d threaten our own mortal souls.  Thanks be to God, the Church is never going to do that.

Maybe you don’t have the time or the money to go to Washington DC for the Pro Life Rally.  Maybe you’re embarrassed to speak out against murder, whether it be in a doctor’s office, at the state prison, or at the nursing home.  But rest assured, the Church will continue to fight the good fight for you.  The Church will continue to offer help to women who have become unexpectedly pregnant.  There will still be people praying outside prisons when someone’s life is about to be taken away.  And the Church will continue to advocate for the elderly and others whose quality of life has declined.

Remember that Jesus was the all-time champion #$%^ disturber.  He refused to accept the status quo.  He made waves.  He spoke out against injustices.  And, He entrusted Peter and the other Apostles to build His Church on those same principles.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to belong to a church that’s afraid to lead.  Right and wrong don’t change.  Black is black and white is white.  My Church doesn’t compromise and say black is really red, if that’s what the majority want.

Thank God for a Church that’s willing to stand up for the least among us.  Thank God for a Church that speaks out.  Look out, moneychangers.  Jesus is about to turn over your tables and throw you out of the temple.

How cool is that?

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #10 The Saints

“You Catholics are crazy! You  worship saints, and even worse, you worship statues of saints!!!”

First, let’s make one thing perfectly clear:  We don’t worship saints and we don’t worship statues.  That would be crazy.  We venerate saints.  According to Webster the word venerate means ” to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference.”   That is definitely not the same as worship.

So, who are these people we venerate?  What makes someone a saint?  Saints are people who exercise heroic virtue.  They are people we can emulate as we try to live holy lives.  A canonized saint is someone the Church has recognized officially as having met the qualifications for sainthood.  The Church doesn’t make anyone a saint.  The fact is that you and I know a lot of saints who will never be recognized by the Church, but who definitely meet all the qualifications for sainthood.  In fact, our goal as Christians is to live a saintly life.

Canonized saints are designated as patron saints based on their lives on earth.  For example, Saint Joseph is the patron of fathers and of workers.  Saint Francis is the patron of animals.  If you’re bothered by snakes, Saint Patrick is your man.

Your non-Catholic friends may tell you that you don’t need to pray to saints, that Jesus should be the focus of our prayers.  Guess what?  They’re right.  Jesus is the one we should be talking to.  Your patron saint can’t answer your prayers.

Let’s use this analogy.  When you have a particular need how often have friends and family promised to pray for you?  It happens all the time.  If it’s ok for my living friend to pray for me, why isn’t it ok for my friends in heaven to pray for me?  Saints can’t answer your prayers but they can sure pass them along to Jesus.  As they say, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.  And our friends, the saints, have Jesus’ ear.  Think about the Litany of the Saints.  After we name each saint we ask them to “pray for us”.

So, what about all those statues?  Aren’t we worshiping graven images which is against the Ten Commandments?  My church, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis has forty five statues.  Once again, we don’t worship statues.  We use statues of the saints in the same way that we use pictures of our loved ones in our wallets, in our offices, or as wallpaper for our computers.  We don’t worship the piece of paper (or the computer screen), we use those images to remind us of the ones we love.  When we’re separated from them we may even take out their picture and talk to it.  “I love you.  I’ll be home soon.”

That’s what we do with statues.  They exist as reminders of the ones we love, the saints.

Having thousands of friends in heaven to pray for us is definitely one of the ten coolest things about being Catholic.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #11 The Early Church Fathers

Let’s face it, Jesus lived a long time ago, more than 2,000 years to be exact.  The writers of the New Testament did a great job of telling us about the life and times of our Savior.  But they could only do so much.  In the Bible that I use most of the time, the New Testament is just about 400 pages long.  Keeping in mind that many of the Gospel stories are repeated by the four Gospel writers, that’s not much space to tell us the whole story.  One of my favorite authors, Tom Clancy, writes huge novels, some over 900 pages, and the stories take place over a few weeks.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters will tell us that the Bible is all we need.  It’s called sola scriptura, the Scriptures alone.  But, we don’t agree.  There were just too many events in Jesus life (and the time immediately after His death and resurrection) that aren’t in the Scriptures.  So, where do we turn for the whole picture.  The Catholic Church believes that many men who wrote about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection who are not included in the Canon of Scripture are authoritative as well.  These men are called the Early Church Fathers.

Chances are you’ve never heard of many of these writers.  Here’s a link to a listing of the fathers along with some of their writings.  Some you’ve probably heard of are Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the GreatSaint Ignatius of Antioch, Saint Jerome, Saint John Chrysostom (the patron saint of preachers.  His homilies are brilliant.), Saint Justin Martyr, and Saint Leo the Great. Every Church Father isn’t a saint though many of them were.

The earliest Fathers are called Apostolic Fathers because they were taught by the twelve Apostles.   For example, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who lived during the first century and was taught by John, wrote on the Eucharist among other things.  His is the first known writing that refers to the “Catholic Church.”  Remember, he is believed to have died around the year 100.  He wrote, “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.  — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.

The perpetual virginity of Mary isn’t clearly spelled out in Scripture, thus the sola scriptura crowd don’t believe in it.  But Saint Jerome defined it very clearly in 383.  Again, I could go on for several pages about the Fathers and what they wrote, but I’ll just say that the Catholic Church teaches, and rightly so, that everything we need to know to be faithful Catholics wasn’t written in the New Testament.  In his 2nd Letter to the Thessalonians, Saint Paul wrote, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”.

Some things were so well known, so widely accepted, that the New Testament authors just never wrote them down.  Thankfully we have the Early Church Fathers who did write them down and those writings still exist today.

It’s worth mentioning that in the official prayer of the Church, the Liturgy of the Hours, one hour is called “The Office of Readings”.  There are two readings each day, one from Scripture and one from the Church Fathers.  Granted, these writings have been translated into English from their original language, but it’s really remarkable how contemporary they seem to 21st century readers.

The Church Fathers were cool!  The put pen to paper and provided us with a rich tapestry of our Catholic faith.  Even cooler, all of these writings are in the public domain.  Follow the links in this post and drill down to find some great reading.

Beginning tomorrow, my Top 10 reasons why it’s cool to be Catholic.

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #12 Catholic Marriage

 Sexual love is a Catholic thing.  Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament.  Marriage is not the    sacrament of washing dishes.  Christopher West.

“Hold on a minute, deacon.  Marriage isn’t just a Catholic thing.  Every church does marriage.”  That’s a good point.  It’s true that every faith tradition celebrates marriage.  In fact, the Catholic Church recognizes every church marriage as being valid.  We believe that marriage is a sacrament.  In fact, it was the very first sacrament.  Adam and Eve were married in the Garden of Eden.

Plus, we can’t forget about civil marriage.  Even if you tied the knot in Las Vegas with the ceremony conducted by a pirate or an Elvis look-alike, in the eyes of the law, you are married.  In the eyes of the Church, not so much.  Every church marriage is also a civil marriage.  As a Catholic deacon, I’m empowered by the Church to celebrate the sacrament and I’m empowered by the state of Missouri to perform the civil marriage.  I am not empowered to celebrate a wedding in an Elvis costume.  Alb and dalmatic are the only choice.

So, what’s so special about a Catholic marriage?  Well, for one thing, it’s permanent.  Once you’re married in the Catholic Church, you’re married for life.  Even if you get a civil divorce, you’re still married in the eyes of God and the Church.  That’s why you don’t just walk into a Catholic Church and announce that you’d like to be married tomorrow.  We want to to all we can to you make sure (1) that you’re ready to be married and (2) that you’ve found the right person to spend the rest of your life with.  Normally this process takes from six to twelve months.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of the process in this short post.  I’m taking a course on marriage preparation at the local seminary and the class runs from February to early May.  I can only hit the high points here.  The main points are the two in the last paragraph.  Please understand that we want you to be married (to the right person).  We want you to stay together for life.  We want you to practice your Catholic faith together.  If you aren’t both Catholics, we want you (the Catholic party) to practice your Catholic faith.  How your spouse expresses their faith is always up to them.  We do ask the Catholic party to agree to try to raise any children as Catholics.

Let’s spend just a few words on those children.  The reason God created marriage was so that a husband and wife, together, will have and raise children.  I know all the jokes about Catholics having huge families.  That used to be true.  Today, sadly, even Catholic husbands and wives feel like it’s up to them to decide how many kids they want to have and when to have them.  If God created marriage for the purpose of raising a family, I’m not sure where we got the idea that we could introduce man-made chemicals into our wives’ bodies to interfere with God’s plan.  That’s just wrong!

There are natural ways to plan on when we want to have kids.  In fact, it’s called “Natural Family Planning”.  It involves no chemicals, no financial cost, and no risk to the mother.  What it does involve is planning and sometimes sacrifice.  There are just a few days each month when the wife must say “no” to her husband.  What makes it all work is the husband’s willingness to set aside his sexual urges on those days.  It also requires that the husband and wife actually talk to each other about something more important than the daily news.  I might mention that couples who practice NFP have a substantially lower divorce rate than other couples (2.3%).  That alone should make it every couple’s first choice.

To sum it all up.  Marriage is a sacrament created by God.  You get married to care for your spouse and to raise children.  Marriage is “until death do us part”.  Jesus put his stamp of approval on marriage when He decided to be born of a married woman.  He didn’t have to do that but He obviously thought it was not a good thing for the Son of God to be raised by a single mother.

What makes Catholic marriage special is that we go to great lengths to make sure that this is the proper step for the couple at this time, that they really know and love each other, and that they’re prepared to go the distance.  Catholic weddings are performed in church, not in a park or a casino, or on top of a hill somewhere among the trees.  As Mr. West said above, “Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament.”  What more appropriate place to celebrate the sacrament than in God’s house?

Catholic marriage is forever and that’s really, really cool.