Good Friday

Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence in preparation for Jesus’ glorious resurrection. We’re all encouraged to attend services today, but it’s not a Holy Day of Obligation. You don’t have to come to church today. You can’t eat meat and you can’t eat between meals, but you don’t have to come to church. I think that’s a little bit odd. On the day that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to save you and me from our sins, I think we should be here. Obviously, so do you.

On the other hand, the fact that this isn’t a day when we’re obliged to come to church, says something about those of us who do come, and those who don’t. One of my wife’s pet peeves is people who don’t send thank you notes. It seems like that simple, common courtesy has fallen by the way side. It’s just good manners to thank someone who’s done something for you. If it’s bad form not to thank someone who has given you a toaster, how much worse is it to not thank someone who’s died for your sins.

Our church will be full tomorrow night for the Easter Vigil. Doesn’t it make sense that it should be full today too? Even in this politically correct, what’s in it for me, don’t mix religion and politics, world, a lot of people get today off. Good luck trying to find a politician in Washington DC today. They’ve all gone home for the Easter break. You’d think that more people, not having to work or go to school today, might take an hour to drop by and say, “Hey, Jesus! Thank you for suffering terrible torture, being beaten and ridiculed, and for dying the painful death on the cross for me.”

If you were here yesterday you heard Father Paul talk about what was in the roads in Jesus time. Washing feet was generally done by servants because people’s feet were pretty nasty. The road was full of animal waste among other things. Remember that Jesus fell three times on the road to Calvary. That alone is more than enough reason for us to thank Him.

But, no. I could have told you ahead of time who would be in church today. I can also tell you a lot of people who aren’t. But you and I are here. We love Jesus and we’re thankful that a loving God would send His only begotten Son to die so that we might live.

Today is a solemn celebration. We mourn Jesus’ death. We see Him lying in the tomb and we realize that if it wasn’t for our sins, He wouldn’t be there. We’re sad and we’re sorry for what we’ve done. We also have the advantage of history telling us what’s about to happen. Tomorrow the tomb will be empty because He’s risen from the dead. Where today’s service is solemn, tomorrow’s will be joyful. There will be candles and bells and incense and we’ll rejoice that He’s overcome death. We will celebrate His resurrection because it’s the precursor to our own resurrection!

In a few minutes we’ll quietly leave church anxious to return tomorrow or Sunday for the great celebration.

Thank you Jesus for saving us from ourselves.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–“The Jesus Cookie”

“Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.

For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”  John 6:53-56

Isn’t it ironic that so many protestants who insist that everything in the Bible be taken literally write this passage off as being only symbolic?  They believe that God could part the Red Sea, that Jonah could escape from the belly of the giant fish, and that Jesus could walk on water, but somehow they can’t imagine that Jesus could make His Body and Blood present in bread and wine.  Let’s read on:

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you?What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.cAnd he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many [of] his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

OK.  Jesus has been sent by His Heavenly Father to proclaim the good news and to create a Church, gathering as many disciples as possible.  He’s doing pretty well, then He makes this statement.  “Eat my Body and drink My Blood.” and people start to walk away.  They left.  Shouldn’t Jesus have stopped them?  Shouldn’t He have said, “Wait!  I was only speaking symbolically!  Don’t leave.”

But He didn’t.  He knew what He was saying was true and He knew how He was going to make it happen.  Tomorrow we will celebrate Holy Thursday.  It’s the day we celebrate Jesus’ last meal with His disciples and His creation of the Eucharist.  It was at this Passover meal that He said,

“Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my body, which will be given up for you.”

Then, when supper was ended he held up the cup and said,

“Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.

Do this in memory of Me.”

This is what the late Paul Harvey would have called “the rest of the story”.  Taken along with the quote from John’s Gospel, this explains what is happening.  He told them to eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, and now He’s explaining how they can do that.  He commands us to do this in memory of Him.  It’s almost an insult to Jesus to think that He couldn’t do this.  He’s God.  He can do whatever He wants.

Sure, there’s some mystery attached to the Eucharist, just like there’s some mystery to everything else He does.  We’re called to have faith.  If everything were crystal clear, if the bread and wine changed their appearance and texture at the Consecration, then faith wouldn’t be necessary.  We sing at the Benediction of Holy Hour, “Faith will tell us God is present, when our human senses fail.”  The bread and wine change to the Body and Blood of Christ but our “human senses” just aren’t sharp enough to see it.  Again, our belief is based on faith.

So, what’s the deal with anti-Catholics who take such vile offense in our belief in the Eucharist?  What’s their problem?  The phrase “Jesus Cookie” is one that anti-Catholic Jack Chick uses in many of his works.  It’s a phrase that’s designed to get a response from Catholics.  It’s about as offensive a statement as someone can make about our beliefs.  We must realize that when someone has no logic or facts to support their position, they often resort to name- calling and abusive language hoping to get a rise out of their opponent.

Some haters refer to Catholics as “cannibals” because we eat Jesus.  Former Catholic Jim Walker writes,

“Not only did I drink blood and eat flesh, but they made me do it in front of a statue of a bloody corpse hanging by nails on two pieces of lumber, a representation of the human whom I had just eaten. (Imagine eating a hamburger in front of an image of a freshly slain cow.)”

Obviously that’s a ridiculous statement.  The appearance of the bread and wine doesn’t change.  It tastes like bread and wine.  It looks like bread and wine.  But the essence of Jesus Christ is contained in both substances.  When we consume the Eucharist we aren’t taking a bite out of Jesus or just drinking a sip of His blood.  His entire Body and Blood are contained in each particle of bread and each drop of wine.

I think the real issue is this.  It takes a heap 0f faith to believe that Jesus can change bread and wine into His Body and Blood.  It’s so hard to believe that only true believers can accept it.  If a person refuses to accept this teaching the problem isn’t with the teaching or with the teacher, the problem is with that person’s lack of faith.  Rather than admit their weakness they choose to ridicule those of us who do have faith.

How sad it must be to be a nonbeliever.


40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Catholic Priest = Child Molester

I’ve thought long and hard about this topic and how to treat it.  In fact, I’ve started to write it more than once then scrapped what I’ve written.  For one thing, any defense of the Church on this issue can be easily twisted into the support of child-abuse.  In my case, nothing could be further from the truth.  No child should ever be subjected to sexual abuse; not one; not ever!  I am not condoning the behavior of any of the men who committed this terrible crime.

I thought about quoting the many statistics that show that this is a problem of society at large and not just a problem of the Catholic Church.  That would be boring and wouldn’t convince anyone who’s decided to hate the Catholic Church to change their mind.  All I’ll say is this.  Studies show that the percentage of Catholic priests who have these tendencies is no higher than any other large group of men.  It has nothing to do with celibacy.  Married men are just as likely to be child molesters as single men.  Male public school teachers, Boy Scout leaders, athletic coaches, protestant ministers, and male police are just as likely to abuse a child as a Catholic priest.  Women can be child molesters, too.  It’s been reported that child sexual abuse is rampant in Hollywood.  The casting couch isn’t just for young starlets any more.

So, why is the Catholic Church singled out when the matter of child sexual abuse is discussed?  And, why does every online discussion, and many articles and news reports about the church eventually turn into an attack on the Church’s history of abusive behavior by a small minority of priests?  It’s because the Church is an easy target and no one in the media has ever been called out for being anti-Catholic.  Catholics are the only group in America who can be the victims of discrimination and downright hateful treatment and no one complains, not even Catholics.  In fact, there are a lot of people who call themselves Catholics who excuse whatever type of unCatholic behavior they choose to do with the excuse that the Church has lost its moral authority by virtue of the sex scandal.

Let’s get some things straight.  First, a small minority of priests (and deacons) have committed grave sins against the young people who were in their care.  Second, some of the Bishops bungled the situation, mostly because they didn’t know what to do.  Remember, until not so long ago, the psychiatric community believed that child abusers could be cured.  If the people whose job it was to deal with mental illness didn’t have the answers, it’s not a big surprise that the Bishops didn’t know either.

Third, we are talking about a mental illness, three mental illnesses actually.  Pedophilia, which is not what most of these cases is about, is an attraction to prepubescent kids.  Hebophelia is the attraction to kids between 11 and 14.  Ephebophelia is the attraction to male children in their late teens.  Most of the cases where priests have been accused of molesting people have been cases of ephebophelia.  

In spite of what the medical community once believed, there is no known cure for these illnesses.  As we’ve learned, moving a child molester into an environment where kids aren’t present isn’t effective, unless the environment has bars on the windows.  Even then, when the abuser is released, he (or she) goes right back to their old habits.

So, what’s the point of all this?  My point is that the bad actions of some members of our clergy do not negate two thousand years of good works done by the Church.  In fact, since the scandal broke in the United States, the Catholic Church is a very safe place for children.  The Church has imposed very strict standards for entry into the seminaries and has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for abusers.  Anyone who has anything to do with kids in the Church must take a class on child abuse and pass a state background test.  Here in Saint Louis we must also take a monthly test.  Will this stop all child abuse?  Of course not.  But it does make the statement that our Church is not a safe haven for molesters.  There are also strict rules in place covering the reporting of even the suspicion of abuse.

It’s worth pointing out that, try as they might, the media are having a hard time finding current cases of abuse by clergy.  What they are reporting on are charges of abuse that happened 30, 40, even 50 years ago.  Often these charges are made against priests who have died and can’t defend themselves.  The Church is perceived to have deep pockets.  Does that mean that all of these charges are get-rich-quick schemes?  No.  But some of them are.

To wrap this up, it’s absurd to say that the bad actions of less than 4% of priests, priests who were suffering from a mental illness, takes away the Church’s moral authority.  The Church has never abused a child.  Employees of the Church have, as have employees of every large employer on earth.  No matter what some individuals have done, nothing changes the fact that the Church does have moral authority.  She received it from Jesus himself.  As we know from our Holy Week observances, scandals are as old as the Church.

On the day that Jesus established the priesthood, Judas sold Him out for 30 pieces of silver and the man Christ chose as the first Pope denied Him three times.  People are not perfect.  Far from it.  But the Church will go on.  He promised that the gates of hell wouldn’t prevail against it.  As far as the abusers and those who failed to deal with them properly, Jesus told us in yesterday’s Gospel,

“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

Palm Sunday

Why do you suppose that we read the Gospel on Palm Sunday as a play?  Why don’t we just read the Gospel the same way we do the other fifty-one weeks of the year?  The reason is because the Church wants us to participate; to be part of the scene that took place so many centuries ago.

Notice the transition that takes place in a half hour during mass.  At the beginning we all waved our palm branches and welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem.  “Huzzah!  Alleluia!  Jesus is the Messiah!”  Yet, now, just barely thirty minutes later we’re demanding that He be put to death.  “Crucify Him!”  That’s what you said, isn’t it?  It didn’t take long for us to turn on Him.

What happened in that week so long ago was almost as fast, especially if you measure it by the yardstick of history.  Just a couple of days and the chief priests and the elders convinced the people that Jesus wasn’t who He said he was.  He was a fraud! He was a liar!  The people had been duped!  The mob mentality took over and Jesus was killed.  His former friends and followers demanded that a murderer be released, not Jesus.

When we play our part in this story, we’re reminded that Jesus died for our sins.  Our sins were the reason He had to die.  Every time you and I commit a sin, it’s like we’re yelling “crucify Him” all over again.  Every time we lie or cheat or take a stapler home from the office, we’re yelling “crucify Him!”  When we talk about someone behind their backs or when we turn our backs and look the other way when millions of unborn babies are killed, we yell “crucify Him!”  

The time that elapses between our worshipping God and singing His praises at mass and our turning on Him with our actions, can be just minutes.  C’mon, we’ve all done it.  We exchange the sign of peace, receive Holy Communion, then we leave church and pull out on Lafayette Avenue and someone cuts us off.  We react by yelling or giving them the one-finger salute and there we are, “crucify Him!”.  Sometimes we even pass judgement on  others while we’re still here in church.  We haven’t even left the building and we’re yelling “crucify Him!”

Fortunately Jesus’ response if always the same:

“Forgive them, Father.  They know not what they do.”

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–“Annulments”

“The Church makes such a big deal about marriage, but anyone with enough money can buy an annulment.”

This statement contains two basic errors.  First, let’s start with a fact.  The Church does not have the authority to “cancel” a marriage.  Technically there’s no such thing as an annulment.  That’s why I put the word in quotes in the title.  When the deacon or priest says that what God has joined, man cannot separate, we mean what we say.  Marriage is until death do us part.  What the Church can and does do is issue a declaration of nullity.  What it means is that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  It’s more than just a matter of semantics.  There’s a BIG difference.

Before we go any further, let’s make a distinction between civil marriage and sacramental marriage.  They aren’t one and the same though they’re usually performed at the same time.  The civil marriage is a contract.  It gives the parties rights and privileges as defined by law.  (Insurance, joint-ownership of property, etc.)

A sacramental marriage was created by God.  It is a sacrament.  It is permanent.  It makes a material change in the couple.  “The two become one.”  Whether a sacramental marriage is valid or not, any children of the marriage are legitimate.  Having a marriage declared null has no bearing on the kids.  That’s covered under the civil marriage laws.

What does it take to make a valid marriage?  Three things:

  • Capacity
  • Consent
  • Form

This isn’t a technical treatise.  You can find the nuts and bolts elsewhere.  But, it’s not hard to see that if one or both parties doesn’t have the capacity to enter into a lifelong agreement, it can’t be a valid marriage.  For example, an alcoholic isn’t the best candidate for matrimony.  Someone suffering from a mental illness, depending on its severity, might not have the necessary capacity.   I always remind the happy couple that if I detect that they’ve been drinking on the way to church, there will be no marriage that day.

Consent means just what it says.  Both parties have to be willing, of their own free will, to enter into the sacrament.  If Dad’s pointing a shotgun at the potential groom’s head, we may not have valid consent.  There are other more subtle cases where consent might not be freely given.

Finally, there’s form.  This is usually a simple one.  If a baptized Catholic is married in a non-Catholic church without the proper permissions, that’s a defect of form.  If the person performing the ceremony failed to do the proper paperwork, or if it’s a Catholic wedding and the deacon or priest failed to get the proper permissions and dispensations, that’s a defect of form.

If any of the three components of a valid, sacramental marriage is missing, the Church may give a declaration of nullity.  Notice I said “may”, not “will”.  There is a process that must be gone through and sometimes it can be lengthy and complicated.  Every request isn’t granted.  No matter how miserable you may be now, if your marriage was valid then it’s valid now.  No do-overs!  What now?  Am I stuck?  No.  The first thing to consider is counseling.  If all three elements were present on the day of the wedding, there’s no reason to think that the marriage can’t be saved.

iOne thing that people often misunderstand is that it’s not a sin to get a civil divorce.  Divorced Catholics are in full communion with the Church.  It’s when one decides to get married again that we get into difficulties.  What God has joined together, no man may separate.

Now, about the cost.  Yes, a declaration of nullity costs money.  A “defect of form” case costs less than a full-blown investigation.  Somebody has to pay for all that paperwork.  On the other hand, no one may be turned away because they can’t afford the fee.  After all, the Church is all about charity.

But what about rich people like the Kennedys or Frank Sinatra?  I repeat, you can’t buy a declaration of nullity.  That’s what the Church teaches.  Has any individual Bishop ever accepted a “donation” from a rich person and put a little pressure on the marriage tribunal?  I don’t know.  But we’re all human and I suppose anything’s possible.  But look at Henry VIII.  He had boatloads of money and power.  He went straight to Pope Clement VII to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon declared null so he could marry Anne Boleyn in the hopes of having a male child.  The Pope refused and Henry started his own church.  The rest is history.

To sum it up, the Church can’t void a marriage.  She can declare that the marriage wasn’t valid in the first place.  There is a small cost for the process but paying extra won’t help you get a valid marriage declared null.  Personally, I have no intention of ever getting personally involved in the process, but I do know some of the men on the local tribunal.  I have no doubt that they are sincere and dedicated.  I’m sure that if you tried to bribe them, their reaction would be swift and not pretty.

  • Faith (

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Praying “to” the saints

“Why do Catholics pray to the saints.  Only God can answer prayers.”

True enough.  Only God can answer our prayers.  The fact is that we don’t pray to the saints.  We ask the saints to pray for us.  The “litany of the saints” that we say on special occasions concludes with the words “pray for us.”  No Catholic, at least no Catholic who understand his or her faith, ever prays to a saint.

So, what’s the deal?  First of all, we believe that the saints are in heaven.  They are in God’s presence.  Second, we believe that saints have a special connection to us either through our location, through our occupation, through our station in life, or in some other way.  When Catholics are confirmed, we take the name of a saint.  In my case, it’s Saint Patrick.  When I pray, I ask Patrick to pray for me.  Since I’ve adopted him as my personal patron, I believe that he will intercede for me.  I think of him as a friend who lives in heaven.

I live in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis.  Saint Louis IX is the patron of the Archdiocese.  I believe that he takes a special interest in those of us who live in his namesake city.  Saint Rose Phillipine Du Chesne and Saint Vincent De Paul are also patrons of our Archdiocese.

The Church has designated certain saints as patrons of vocations and occupations.  Saint Stephen, the first deacon, is the patron of deacons, along with Saint Lawrence, and Saint Francis of Assissi.  All three were deacons.  According to, there are 23 saints who were deacons, and that doesn’t include the three that I’ve listed.

Maybe you, or someone you love has cancer. lists six patrons saints for you to choose from.  On his feast day, February 3, we pray to Saint Blaise, patron of diseases of the throat.  Here’s a good example of praying through a saint.  When the congregation present themselves for the blessing, the deacon or priest lays crossed candles around the neck and prays,”Through the intercession of Saint Blaise, bishop and martyr, may you be free from all diseases of the throat and every other illness.” The key word here is “intercession”.  We’re not praying to Saint Blaise.  We’re asking him to pray for us.

Maybe you’re a nurse.  You have eight patrons.  Soldiers, you have sixteen.  Even lawyers have eleven patron saints.  The list goes on and on.  The bottom line is that none of these folks can answer your prayers, but they can put in a good word for you.

Many of our protestant brothers and sisters think it’s scandalous that we try to sneak up on God through this spiritual back door.  But the same people will ask you or me to pray for them.  It’s the same thing.  Remember the parable of the persistent widow?  She kept coming back over and over again until the judge relented.  Likewise, I can ask God to bless my ministry.  Or, I can flood heaven with prayers from my patron saints, my friends, and my family.  This takes nothing from God.  It just moves the process along.  I can ask for something 100 times, or I can ask ten people (living and dead) to pray for me ten times.  The result is the same.

Of course, only God answers prayers.  To think otherwise is not Christian.  But if you have friends who have His ear, it doesn’t hurt if they put in a good word for you.

Saints of God, pray for us.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Liberals vs. Conservatives

“I sure hope this new Pope will be more liberal.  I hope he changes some of the Church’s out-of-date teachings.”

This one drives me crazy.  If there’s a worse myth than conservative Catholics and liberal Catholics, I don’t know what it is.  Once and for all, there is no such thing as a conservative or liberal Catholic!

Let’s look at what these two words mean.  According to Webster’s online dictionary:

Conservative:  tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions.

Liberal:  not literal or strict.

The Catholic Church was started by Jesus 2,000+ years ago.  He left it so we’d know what we need to do to gain eternal life. He put men in charge and gave them the power to bind and loose.  He said that whoever heard them heard Him.  He left them an advocate, the Holy Spirit, to protect them from error.

The Church is not a political party.   Politics are open to interpretation.   Put in simple terms,  conservatives believe in smaller government and lower taxes.  Liberals believe in higher taxes and bigger government.  There are good people on both sides.  Once upon a time, liberals and conservatives could actually sit down and have a civil debate.  Today, not so much.

But that’s not the Church.  The only interpretation to be done has already been done.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true even before Jesus’ time is just as true today.  Some would say the Church is old-fashioned.  True Catholics see it the other way around.  What some people see as positive change is actually moving away from the truth.

If God told us that we shall not kill, is abortion really a modern “right” or is it a perversion of the truth.  The same goes for “Thou shall not commit adultery.”  Sexual activity was created by God for the continuation of the human race.  It’s supposed to be between a married man and his wife.  Premarital sex, extramarital sex, sex between two men or two women, or any other perversion you can come up with is a violation of God’s law.

Anyone who thinks we can ignore the Ten Commandments isn’t “liberal”; he or she is a heretic!  Using the political anology, this person isn’t in favor of big government or small government.  (S)he is in favor of no government.  In the political world, that’s called “anarchy”, and that’s not the Catholic Church.  This so-called “liberalism” has led to more than 20,000 protest denominations.  Does anyone really believe that’s what Jesus wanted?

Here’s the thing.  There are two kinds of Catholics.  One group believes in everything the Church teaches, both from the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition.  These people are called “Catholics”.  The other type believe they can pick and choose what teachings to believe.  These people are called fallen-away Catholics.  It’s an injustice to the Church and to faithful, practicing Catholics to soften the image of the heretics by calling them anything other than what they really are.  I repeat, there are no “liberal” Catholics.

In summary, anyone who thinks our new Holy Father, Pope Francis I, is going to change Church teachings, is dreaming.  Doctrine doesn’t change!  There will be no women priests.  There will be no gay marriages.  It just ain’t gonna happen.


40 Myths About the Catholic Church–It’s All About the Money

I ran into this one just the other night.  A disgruntled former Catholic (Have you ever met a gruntled former Catholic?) hit me with the comment “all the Church cares about is money.”  This is another myth that might be true if you eliminate the word “all”.  Of course the Church cares about money.  But it’s not “all” the Church cares about.  It’s not even at the top of the list of the Church’s concerns.

But, let’s get real.  There are about 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.  It takes a lot of money to provide all those people with places to worship.  There are buildings to maintain  and salaries to be paid.  Plus, even the Church’s enemies acknowledge that the Catholic Church does a massive amount of good in the world.  We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and provide shelter for the homeless all over the world, just as Jesus told us to do.  All these things take money and a lot of it.

There is a school of thought that the Church won’t allow priests to be married because she doesn’t want to be financially responsible for all those wives and children.  We discussed the actual reasons in an earlier post, but money is a part of.  In parishes with more than one priest, all of them live comfortably in a single rectory.  If you add wives and children to the mix, suddenly you’re going to need multiple rectories in a parish.  Yes, that’s a big expense.  Protestant church can handle married clergy because 1.  They usually have only one minister at a given church.  2.  Ministers wives often provide unpaid service as office managers, music ministers and Sunday school teachers.  3.  Most protestant denominations are much more aggressive than the Catholic Church in encouraging their members to tithe.  The big C Catholic Church may have a lot of money but on a local level, the neighborhood Methodist church probably has a bigger budget than the Catholic parish down the street.

Well, what about all the great works of art that are owned by the Church?  Shouldn’t she sell them to raise money to feed the poor?  No, probably not.  Among other things, the Catholic Church excels in preserving the arts for future generations.  In times of war, churches are usually left alone.  Even during World War I and II, the great masterpieces in the Vatican were untouched.

You also have to remember that the Church has always been a patron of the arts.  Many of the world’s masterpieces were either commissioned by the Church, or they were given to the Church by the artists or their benefactors.  I’m sure that little remodeling job that Michelangelo did on the Sistine Chapel in the 16th Century kept him in paint and brushes for a long time.

OK, how about this?  “Why do the Catholics build such elaborate churches and cathedrals. Can’t you worship God in less fancy digs?”  That’s a good question.  Why do we build these magnificent houses of worship when we could (and sometimes do) say mass in much more ordinary venues?  The best answer I can give to that question is, “How can we give God less than our best?”

Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, Saint Louis, MO

Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, Saint Louis, MO

Here’s a little personal story.  My church, Saint John Nepomuk in Saint Louis, was built by the parishioners, low-income immigrants from Bohemia, in 1870.  It was spectacular!  The parishioners themselves did most of the work and they were very proud of what they had accomplished, as well they should have been.  The residents of the city were justifiably impressed at what the hard-working immigrants had done.

Sadly, in 1896, just 26 years later, a tornado blew through the neighborhood and flattened their beautiful church.  Undaunted, they began, the very next day, to rebuild.  Again, the parishioners did most of the work, many of them taking time off their jobs for six months to offer their time and talent.  That church remains today.

I suppose the Bohemians of South Saint Louis could have continued to worship in the original log cabin church that was built in 1855 and used the money to feed the poor.  But they were the poor!  They gave everything they had to build a suitable house for God.  Our faith community, over the last 117 years has given much more support to the local community than the cost of our church.

Finally, “what about the fancy vestments that Catholic clergy wear?  Most protestant ministers seem to do ok in just a suit and tie.”  This is an age-old tradition of the Church.  The best answer I can give to that is watch television over the next few days.  The Church will install a new Pope, Pope Francis I.  The pomp and ceremony you see will be amazing!  This man is the leader of over 1.2 billion Catholics and the successor to Saint Peter.  It would be unseemly for him to be installed in a hoodie and jeans.  There’s a lot of ceremony attached to his job and he wears clothing that fits his position.

Obviously, as you get closer to the local level, bishops’ outfits are less ornate than the Pope’s and priests’ and deacons’ vestments are even less. The garb we wear for daily mass is simpler than what we wear on Sundays and we usually have some special things we wear for days like Christmas and Easter.

Yes, it can be flashy.  Yes, it can be ostentatious.  But how can we do any less when we gather to praise and worship the God who has given us everything.  I’m just sayin’.  Maybe some of our protestant brothers could stand to dress up a bit.  🙂

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Church is Irrelevant

“Nobody cares about the Church anymore.  It’s old fashioned and irrelevant in this modern age.”

This one’s so easy it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  Just this week the Cardinal electors gathered in Rome to select the man to succeed Pope Benedict XVI.  Every secular news agency in the world had reporters on hand.  NBC News had at least three reporters in Vatican City along with camera operators and other support staff.

The US president was in a meeting and was interrupted to be informed that white smoke had come from the chimney in Rome.  Catholics, friends of Catholics, even enemies of Catholics were anxious to hear the news.  Who would be the new Pope?  That doesn’t sound irrelevant to me.

Of course there are a lot of people who are anti-Catholic for one reason or another, many of them fallen-away Catholics.  But even those folks recognize that the Church is important.  Otherwise, why would there be hundreds of anti-Catholic books, magazines, and web sites?  If no one cares, why is anti-Catholicism such a thriving industry?

Here’s the thing, whether you like it or not, the Roman Catholic Church has a huge influence on what goes on in the world.  Here in America, where so many nominal Catholics disagree with some of the Church’s core teachings, it may not be evident.  But, in parts of the world where Catholics still act like Catholics, what comes out of the Vatican has an influence on the way people live their lives.  What the Pope says may not impact all 1.2 million people who call themselves Catholic, it certainly does impact hundreds of thousands of us who still believe what the Church teaches.

Over the next few days, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of people will watch the events televised from the Vatican.  Some will cheer, some will cry, some will scream at their TV screens, but they will watch, making the Church far from irrelevant.

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Bad preaching

“People leave the Catholic Church because the preaching is awful”

OK, I’m going to give partial credit on this one.  Some preaching is awful.  Some priests and deacons either don’t have the right stuff to deliver the message, or they’re not trying hard enough.  I like to think Father Paul and I provide pretty decent homilies at Saint John Nepomuk, (especially Father.  I hope someday to be as good as he is.)  In other churches, maybe not so much.  But, does bad preaching really mean you have to leave the Church?

First of all, are you prepared for mass?  Do you come running in three minutes before mass starts?  Do you arrive early so you can talk to your friends?  Or, do you get to church in time to look over the readings for the day and to pray for insight?  You wouldn’t go to a hockey game without looking at the paper to see the news about your favorite team.  Should you prepare any less for the Holy Sacrifice of the mass?

Let’s say you have done your preparation but the deacon or priest just drones on, not addressing your needs at all.  I offer two alternatives.  First, the homily usually takes from five to ten minutes out of the total forty-five to sixty minute mass.  If the preaching is really that dreadful, tune it out.  Reflect on the readings yourself.  Do your own mental homily.  Again, the homily is just a small percentage of the total mass and the best is yet to come.

Second, most of us live within a few minutes of several Catholic churches.  If you just can’t stand the preaching, go someplace else!  The whole point of going to mass is to praise God, to receive His Body and Blood, and to fortify yourself spiritually for the coming week.  If you’re spending the entire mass being angry at the content and/or delivery of the homily, do yourself a favor and find yourself another parish!  Where you are now isn’t a good fit for you.  There’s a reason why Baskin-Robins has 31 flavors.

I guess there’s a third thing you could do.  Start writing anonymous notes to the deacon or priest.  Tell him what a jerk he is. I can tell you from experience that this won’t work and, by spending mass time engaged in such a negative process, you’ve negated any grace you might receive from attending mass.

Back to the myth.  I think the quality of preaching in the Catholic Church has improved tremendously over the last 45 years that I’ve been a Catholic.  The homiletics courses taught in the seminaries are much better than they were.  Guys are being ordained much better prepared to deliver God’s message.

People who leave the Church usually have two reasons for doing so.  One is the real reason which usually involves them wanting to do something that the Church forbids (like remarrying without the benefit of a declaration of nullity of the first marriage).  The second reason is the one that sounds good.  (Mass is boring.)  If you undertand what’s happening on the altar, you will never be bored.

FYI, there is currently a project underway to develop a video course on the art or preaching using never-before-seen video of Archbishop Fulton Sheen.  I hope they get this project off the ground.  The Archbishop was certainly one of the finest homilists of his time.