4th Sunday of Easter–What’s in it for Me?

Normally I would post my Sunday homily but this week the topic was very localized focusing on our local Catholic Appeal and contributions to the chapel. I doubt if it would interest most of you.  But I would like to throw out a few thoughts on the topic of generosity.  Point number one is that God can never be outdone in generosity.  If you donate a dollar to the Church, that dollar will come back to you many times over.  If you volunteer for an hour, you will receive blessings far in excess of the value of your time.  So….even in the current “me” society, where so many people think the world revolves around them, there is plenty of motivation to share with others, even if you don’t understand that everything you have is a gift from God.

As a minister, I get very frustrated when people refuse to participate.  My current assignment is Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis.  In 1896 the church was leveled by a tornado.  The schools (yes, they had two) and rectory were also damaged.  The next morning the parishioners gathered at their formerly beautiful church and began to rebuild.  I’m told that many of the men in the parish took off work for six months to help with the rebuilding.  School children helped out by removing the debris from the site.

Saturday evening Saint Louis was hit by some serious storms.  My wife and I were having dinner at a restaurant (The Gast Haus) which is just a few blocks from the church.  The owner had herded us all into the basement to ride out the storm.  As I was waiting for the storm to blow over, I wondered what would happen today if  the church were destroyed by this storm.  Would all the members turn out the next morning, ready to rebuild?  I don’t think so.  We’re having a hard time getting people to work for an hour at our church picnic.

I don’t mean for this to reflect badly on any individual.  I think it’s just our society.  According to author Matthew Kelly, we live in an age of

  • Individualism
  • Hedonism
  • Minimalism.

None of these “isms” is compatible with Catholicism.  These attitudes are promoted by secular society, by Hollywood, and by the news media.  Briefly (You can get the whole story by reading Matthew’s book Rediscovering Catholicism, which you can get free by clicking the link in the right column.) society encourages us to ask “What’s in it for me?”  We’re encouraged that “If it feels good, do it!”  And we’re taught to ask “What’s the least I can do?”  It’s no wonder our pews are empty, our collections are down, and few people get excited when the government sets out to take away our religious freedom.

I believe that we, as a people of God, can turn these three “isms” in our favor.

“What’s in it for me?”  As I said above, God can never be outdone in generosity.  When I give back my time, talent, and treasure (which was never really mine in the first place) it will be returned to me many times over.

“If it feels good, do it!”  Guess what?  It does feel good to contribute.  It does feel good to help others.  It does feel good to participate.

“What’s the least I can do?”  We’re surrounded by people in need.  We could help each one.  But imagine how much time and money it would take to try to help each one of them.  The least you can do is to support the one organization that does help everyone, the Catholic Church.  We don’t have to personally feed the hungry.  The Church does that.  We don’t have to personally take care of the homeless.  The Church does that.  We don’t have to personally visit the prisons.  The Church does that.  The least we can do is to support our Church by giving back some of the time, talent, and treasure that has been generously given to us by God.

Mindless Sheep

Actual Irish sheep taken by yours truly in 2008.

It’s been my experience that when people discuss a controversial issue concerning the Catholic Church, sooner or later, someone in opposition to the Church will argue that Catholic are “mindless sheep”.  We’re not capable of independent thought and we follow whatever the Church teaches without thinking it through for ourselves.  I’ve personally been called a “mindless sheep” more times than I can count.

This pseudo-argument puzzles me.  Many of these same people who will vote to reelect the current occupant of the White House because they’re still waiting for “hope and change” think I’m a sheep because I choose to believe the Son of God and the Church He created.

I’m curious.  At what point does a faithful follower cross the line into “sheephood?   Surely my belief in the Ten Commandments isn’t it.  Even people who have no religious faith at all are against murder.  (Unless the victim hasn’t been born yet, but that’s a topic for another day.)

I believe that Jesus became one of us, died, and was crucified to save us from our sins.  Billions of people share that belief.  Are we all mindless sheep?  I think even our moth ruthless detractors would give us that one.

So, when does one become a sheep?  I think a lot of haters believe that agreeing with the Church and disagreeing  with them qualifies us for sheepdom.  To pro-abortionists, the fact that we believe in the sacredness of ALL human life is sheeplike.  Despite the fact that our support of all life comes directly from the before-mentioned Commandments, somehow extending the prohibition against murder to our future citizens puts us into some brainless caste.

Here’s the thing.  I (and I hope you) believe what the Church teaches.  I don’t fall thoughtlessly in line with every word that comes out of the Vatican (or from my local ordinary) but I’m committed to learning everything I can about an issue.  When I do, the truth invariable comes down on the side of the Church.  How can this be?  Maybe it has something to do with Jesus’ statement to Peter and the other Apostles, “whoever hears you, hears me.”  Could it be that He wasn’t kidding?  Did He really mean it?

I believe that He did.  Does that make me mindless?  I don’t think so.  Not anymore mindless than anyone who chooses to put their faith in something outside themselves.

 I don’t think that anti-Catholics are mindless.  I just think they’re wrong.

98% of What Catholics?

Yesterday I posted on the local paper’s editorial concerning last week’s document published by the US Bishops on the subject of religious freedom.  One of the editorial’s points (actually a distraction from the main topic) was the notion that 98% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control.

Now, I’m not naive.  I realize that many Catholics use or have used artificial means to avoid pregnancy.  But the idea that only 2% don’t or haven’t seems absurd to me.  Where do these figures come from?  It seems like some source or other (in this case the White House blog) is always finding out that most Catholics don’t believe some Church teaching or other.

Father Robert Barron, one of the outstanding Catholic authors and speakers of our time says that the second biggest religious group in the United States is ex-Catholics.  I disagree.  I think the largest religious group in the country is nominal Catholics; Catholics in name only.  These are people who haven’t seen the inside of a Catholic church, or any other house of worship,  in years.  When a pollster calls and asks them their religious preference they say “Catholic” because they can’t think of anything else to say and they’re embarrassed to say that they have no religion at all.

The pollster proceeds to question them on one thing or another, often with slanted and/or confusing questions,  and invariably their answers go against Catholic teaching.  This is how you get bogus headlines like “ONLY 30% OF CATHOLICS BELIEVE IN THE REAL PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST!!!”

Take a look at the people who surround you at mass.  Why would they be there if they didn’t believe what the Church teaches?  Here’s the story behind the 30% believing in the Real Presence.  In 1992 the Gallup organization took a poll of 516 “Catholics”.  It is unknown how they decided whether a person was Catholic or not.  They gave these people five choices for the definition of the Eucharist, only one of which was correct.  But, and this is the big thing, three of the other choices sounded very right.  The differences were beyond the understanding of most Catholics.

The fact is that only 30% of those polled understood the question.  92% believed something that sounded like the Real Presence.  This hardly means that only 30% of Catholics believe what the Church teaches.

Getting back to the claim that 98% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control, the claim comes from a study done by the Guttmacher Institute.  The most prominent supporter of the results of this study is the Obama White House.   The results are interesting.  According to Guttmacher, 89% of  young, never-married Catholic women are or have been sexually active.  It’s not very surprising that women who reject the Church’s teaching on sexual promiscuity also reject Her teaching on contraception.  It’s worth mentioning that 40% of the respondents attend mass less than once a month or never.

The women surveyed were given a choice of several religious groups and told to pick one.  One of the choices was “none”.  Surprisingly, 34% of those claiming no religious affiliation said they do attend church services.   Go figure.

The bottom line of all this is that the way the questions are asked makes a big difference in survey results.  Asking respondents to define their own religious affiliation is not the best way to learn the truth.  The fact that more than 3 out of 1o women who don’t go to church, actually do go to church tells us something about the accuracy of these polls.  People who haven’t been inside a Catholic church since they were in grade school still consider themselves Catholic.

A clever pollster can control the results of a survey to the point that the whole thing is suspect.  Do yourself a favor.  When you hear a statistic that doesn’t seem to make sense, take it with a very, very large grain of salt.

Don’t get me wrong.  The Church teaches that artificial birth control is a sin, then anything above 0% is a problem.  If Jesus told us that the bread and wine are His Body and Blood, then anyone who says they’re a Catholic and doesn’t believe this basic teaching has some serious issues.  We have a number of problems that we need to address, both as a Church and individually.  What we don’t need is distorted polls that make the problem appear more serious than it really is.

Catholics and the Constitution

Here in Saint Louis, our leftist daily newspaper, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch, weighed in today on the Bishops’ letter, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty.

Not surprisingly, the editorial writer takes a dim view of the Bishops’ stand.

This editorial page has profound respect for the work of the Catholic Church and its individual members in health care, education and social justice. We do not take issue with church beliefs or internal operations, regardless of the church, as long as they do not enter the public square. The U.S. bishops, in their call for civil disobedience, have entered the square.

“What we ask is nothing more than that our God-given right to religious liberty be respected,” the bishops state.

That is entirely appropriate. So, too, is that bishops should respect the rights of those who do not share their beliefs. Some of them may work for church-affiliated institutions and may want access to the contraceptive services to which civil law says they are entitled.

The last two sentences are typical of the anti-Catholic view of this situation.  The Church is not disrespecting anyone’s rights.  Whatever evil non-Catholics choose to do with their own bodies, the Church is not trying to stop them.  What the Church is saying is that she has the right to refuse to pay for it.  Cheap and even free birth control is available from any number of sources.  Nothing the Catholic Church does is going to prevent anyone, even Catholics, from obtaining the pill, if they choose to do so.

It’s not easy to come up with an analogy that doesn’t trivialize this issue, but I’ll give it a shot.  Many of our non-Christian brethren have strict dietary laws.  For example, Jews and Muslims aren’t supposed to eat pork.  I’m no expert on this, but I don’t believe they have an objection to me eating pork.  But it would be a gross violation of the First Amendment if the government decided to mandate that all Jewish and Muslim institutions must serve bacon in their lunch rooms.  An even graver violation of their rights would be to demand that they provide BLTs at no charge.

The Post editorial also quotes a questionable study that declared that 98% of Catholic women have used artificial birth control.  Well guess what?  I’ve known a lot of Jewish people who have eaten pork.  I can’t quote statistics, but I know from personal observation that Jewish dietary laws are not followed 100%.  Does that mean that the government has a right to impose restrictions on an institution’s right to support those laws?  Of course not!

It’s remarkable that any member of the media, who will gladly go to jail rather than reveal a source, claiming the protection of the Constitution, would come out against another institution who is advocating its members do exactly the same thing.  You’d think the media would be falling all over itself to stand with us.

Over the centuries, Catholic men and women have made great sacrifices to retain their religious freedom.  From the very beginning of the Church there have been martyrs who went to their death rather than surrender their religious freedom.  No one is suggesting that we die over this.  (Although the Bishops’ document does contain the word “martyr”.)  The Bishops are asking us to take a stand.  Even if you are one of the alleged 98%, you still must respect your Church’s position on religious freedom.

There is much more at stake here than free birth control pills.

2nd Sunday of Easter

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common.  With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all.”

That was the early Church.  That was the Church that Jesus envisioned when He gave the keys to the kingdom to Saint Peter, the first Holy Father.  There’s no reason to think that He ever wanted that vision of His Church to change.  He wants all believers, that means you and me, to be of one heart and mind.  Luke tells us that the apostles had great power and that great favor was accorded to them.

But even with their great power, our Gospel story, finds the apostles locked in one room, “for fear of the Jews.” Even in the very beginning, the Church the Jesus’ Church suffered from persecution.  But the strength of the believers and the power of the Apostles, passed on to their successors, has always allowed the Church to survive.  As Jesus said, even the gates of hell would never stop His Church.

We know what the Church teaches and we believe in it because we’re all called on to be of one heart and one mind.  When the Holy Father speaks the world listens.  When the local bishop or archbishop speaks the members of his flock listen.  When the US Bishops speak American Catholics listen.

Lately the US Bishops together and individually have been speaking out against our government’s attempts to curtail our religious freedom.

This week the Bishops issued a statement called “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty—A Statement on Religious Liberty”.  It’s fairly long, thirteen pages, but it’s well worth your time to read.  Frankly, I don’t think most of us really understand how serious this attack on our religious freedom is.  I hope you’ll take the time to read it this document.

It begins, “We are Catholics.  We are Americans.  We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of liberty which is ours as American citizens.  To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.  Our allegiances are distinct, but they need not be contradictory, and should be complementary.”  That’s a key point.  It’s perfectly reasonable, in fact it’s guaranteed in our Constitution, that we can be Catholics and Americans at the same time.

Some may say that the Bishops are overreacting to this HHS mandate but the document points out that this isn’t the only government attack on our religious freedom.  It’s just the latest and most publicized.  In our neighboring state of Illinois, also in Boston, San Francisco, and in Washington DC, Catholic Charities have been driven out of the business of providing adoption and foster care services.  Why?  Because they won’t place children with homosexual couples or cohabitating couples as Church teaching requires.

Several states have recently enacted laws that forbid what the government calls “harboring” undocumented immigrants.  Don’t misunderstand.  Actually harboring law breakers should be a crime.  But what these new laws call harboring includes baptizing children of illegal immigrants; hearing their confessions;  and anointing the sick.  Administering any of the sacraments, counseling them in time of loss, even allowing them to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings held on church property are illegal.

At the University of California Hastings college of law, the Christian Legal Society has been denied the use of campus facilities because it requires members to be Christian and to abstain from sexual activity outside of marriage.  The CLS is the only group ever to have been denied access by the school.

This is my personal favorite.  Catholic Imigration and Refugee Services have aided thousands of legal immigrants.  The federal government has changed its policies to insist that abortion and birth control services must be provided.  In a bizarre ruling, a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the government violates the First Amendment by allowing the Church to follow its religious beliefs.

There’s so much in this document that I could talk about it for a long time, but I know you don’t want that.  But there are a couple of key points here that I want you to think about and especially to pray about.  The Bishops quote Doctor Martin Luther King on the subject of “unjust laws”.  A just law is a manmade law that is in line with moral law or the law of God.  An unjust law violates natural law.

To quote the Bishops, “An unjust law cannot be obeyed.  In the face of an unjust law, an accommodation is not to be sought.”  They go on to say that Catholics, “in solidarity with our fellow citizens, must have the courage not to obey them.”  That’s called “civil disobedience”.  It was the foundation of the civil rights movement.

Please pay attention to this.  The Bishops aren’t telling Catholics that they MAY refuse to follow an unjust law.  They’re telling us we MUST refuse.  People, this is serious stuff.  They’re saying that Catholic institutions have to refuse to follow the HHS mandate.  They can stop providing health insurance, or they can continue to provide it, not following the HHS mandate, and pay the consequences.  Or, they can close their doors.

They’re telling us that we must speak out and do whatever we must to end religious persecution.  They’re telling Catholic clergy that we must do all we can to lead you in defending not just our faith, but people of all faiths whose freedom is being trampled.

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations issued a statement about the administration’s contraception and sterilization mandate.  They pointed out that it seems that if a religious entity reaches out to serve members of all faiths, then it loses its religious identity.  “This is deeply disappointing.”

This is not a Catholic issue.  This is not a Jewish issue.  This is not an Orthodox, Mormon, or Muslim issue.  It is an American issue.

Trust me, you’re going to be hearing much more about it in the coming weeks and months.  There’s a lot at stake here.  If we lose this fight, the door is open to unrestricted government interference with our religious freedoms.  You and I must remember what Saint Luke wrote in today’s 1st reading.

“The community of believers was of one heart and mind.”

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic–Postscript

I hope you enjoyed my series of posts for Lent.  The whole idea actually started as my Lenten penance.  It was quite a challenge to post every day for almost six weeks.  Thanks to the Holy Spirit I was able to pull it off, even if some posts were written late in the day.  The original plan was to get a few days ahead to relieve the pressure of daily posting.  Sometimes I was successful.  Sometimes, not so much.

The question I’m asking myself now, am I a better Catholic today than I was on Ash Wednesday?  I’d like to answer in the affirmative.  I believe I can if only because some of the forty posts took a fair amount of research, so at least I know more now than I did on February 22.  I think that’s reasonable goal for everyone for the season of Lent.  Are you a better person, a better Catholic, or to paraphrase Matthew Kelly, a better version of yourself than you were at the end of Ordinary Time?

I also learned a lot from comments I received here on the blog, on Facebook and LinkedIn, and via email.  I learned that there are a lot of smart people who have somehow found their way here.  Many of the comments were positive and encouraging.  Thank you for that.  Some comments were negative and discouraging.  Thank you for that, too.  Some criticism was valid and I hope I’ve learned from it.  Some wasn’t valid and I learned from that, by justifying what I’d written in my own mind.  I takes thick skin to be a deacon.

What I did find a little discouraging was that some people will take any excuse to push their personal agenda.  Yes, I’m very pro-life.  Abortion and artificial birth control are very important issues.  But they don’t belong in the comments box under a post about a totally unrelated topic.  Are people’s attention spans that short?  Or, are they so wrapped up in their own particular issues that they’ll hijack any comment thread to get their thoughts out on the web?  My suggestion to those folks is, get your own blog!  People quickly lose interest in a blog’s comments when they go off-topic and never make their way back.

For now, I’ll continue to post here on a semi-regular basis.  If you would like to make a suggestion for another series, I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks again for reading/following my little dog and pony show.  Please keep us in your prayers as I do you.

Good Friday

As a kid growing up, I could never get Good Friday.  Granted, it was a day off school so from that standpoint it was definitely a good day.  In fact, in those days even the public school kids got a four-day weekend being off for Good Friday and “Good Monday.”  But it just didn’t make sense to me that the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was “good”.  I thought it should have been called “Bad Friday”.

But as I got older, especially when I joined the Catholic Church I began to realize that Jesus had to die.  His death on that fateful Friday afternoon was for me.  He died so that my sins could be forgiven.  Even so, if that had been the end of it, if He had just died, then I would still feel like it was a bad trade.  The death of the Son of God in exchange for my sins wouldn’t have been a very good trade.

Ironically, by dying Jesus defeated death.  Not because He died, but because He rose on the third day.  His glorious resurrection meant that it was ok for me to die because, with His grace and forgiveness, I can rise too.  I no longer have to fear death because the end of this life isn’t the end.  It’s actually the beginning.

Jesus died for my sins and for your sins.  Keep that in mind today as you fast and abstain from meat, a small price to pay for such a great gift.  Lent has ended.  We don’t celebrate mass today but we do gather to remember.  We receive the Blessed Body of Christ and we kiss the cross, recognizing that this ancient means of execution is now the means of our salvation.

Have a blessed day in preparation for the great celebration of His rising from the dead on Sunday.