Religious Freedom

By now you’ve probably heard that the US Supreme Court has ruled in favor of so-called “gay marriage”.  Many people much more qualified than I am have already expressed their outrage at this decision, so I’m just going to say that marriage is a sacrament and that no government has the right to define it.  Archbishop Robert Carlson of Saint Louis has issued a short statement that, in my opinion, say all that needs to be said.

“The decision issued today by the Supreme Court to effectively change the legal definition of marriage in the United States does not alter the unassailable truth that marriage is, and always will be, the life-long, life-giving union of one man and one woman.”

Nuff said.

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Closing Churches

Over at Fr. Z’s blog there an excellent post concerning the closing of churches.  It seems that Saint Ann Church in Buffalo was slated for closing.  The building needed $12 million in repairs and the local bishop made the decision to tear it down.  The parishioners appealed the decision to Rome and the Vatican’s response was “Not so fast.  The needed repairs aren’t enough of a reason to close the place.”  Clearly this decision  to overrule the local ordinary will have an impact on all potential church closings.

I find this decision very interesting because my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, currently celebrating our 160th anniversary, was once on the closing list, but was spared, primarily because of its historical significance.  Saint John’s was founded by Bohemian immigrants in 1854.  It was the first Czech Roman Catholic church in the New World.

Screen shot 2014-02-10 at 4.38.09 PMUrban flight and the building of not one, but two interstate highways in the middle of the neighborhood meant that thousands of Czech immigrants moved out of the area.  Our church, which was once one of the largest in the Archdiocese now has just over 100 registered families.  On a good weekend we may have 100 people attending our two masses.

In 2008, rather than close the church,  Saint John’s was downgraded from a parish to a chapel.  We have no geographical boundaries so our membership comes from all over the Saint Louis area.  The pastor at the time became a chaplain and when he retired the decision was made to put a deacon in charge.  I am the second deacon to hold that position.  One important part of my job is to get priests to celebrate the two weekend masses, a task that seems to be getting more difficult every week.

Another part of the job is to find the money to keep things going.  Our current church building was built in 1897 after a tornado destroyed the previous structure.   Our church is one of the most beautiful in the Archdiocese.  Thankfully our current Archbishop, Robert Carlson, recognizes the value of the older churches (of which Saint Louis has many) and doesn’t seem inclined to close any of them.  The model of deacon as director will, no doubt, be adopted at other churches as the number of priests declines.

Father Z ends his post by saying, ”

“If you want something to happen, you have to work for it and pay for it.

Free exercise of religion isn’t free.  We have bills to pay.  If YOU want something – A, B, C… whatever – and you are unwilling to pitch in and put sweat or money or both into it, you will lose it.”

Ah, there’s the rub.  Many of our members are seniors living on fixed incomes.  Their ability to supply “sweat or money” ain’t what it Saint John Nepomuk Chapelused to be.  It’s a well-known fact, based on Pereto’s principal, that 20% of the people contribute 80% of the work and 80% of the money.  We rely on existing investments and the revenue from weddings and fund raisers to pick up the slack.  But, as we draw down the investment cash we put a limit on the number of years we can survive.    Plus our small pool of workers can only cook so much goulash before they get worn out.  Its also worth noting that some of our best workers have gone on to their reward in the last few years, a trend that will also continue.

So, the obvious answer is to evangelize–get more members.  But there are some big obstacles to overcome.  Ethnic churches seem to be declining everywhere.  In the early 20th century Saint Louis was made up of large ethnic communities with ethnic churches and schools.  A young Czech girl was likely to marry a Czech young man.  Ditto for the Irish, the Germans, the Italians and other ethnic groups.  Following World War II, when young men returned from the service (God bless them!) they began settling in the suburbs.  While they may have continued to attend their “home” church for a while, they sent their kids to neighborhood schools where they met other young people of other nationalities.  Now a Czech girl was likely to marry an Italian boy.  With each new generation their ethnicity was weakened.  Driving all the way downtown to attend a Czech church wasn’t that important to them.

So why not evangelize in the neighborhood?  That seems like a logical solution.  But again, nothing is ever simple.  Our neighborhood, once known as “Bohemian Hill” is now called Soulard.  It’s an urban area that has been rescued from decline and there are a lot of houses that have been renovated and there are also a number of condos.  There are also a lot of bars and restaurants.  When you mention “Soulard” to most Saint Louisans the first thing they think of is Mardi Gras.  Soulard holds the second biggest Mardi Gras celebration in the country.  Frankly the young people who are moving into the area aren’t coming so they can be close to a church, even though there are five Catholic churches in the area.  The church-going Catholic has a lot of choices.  Meanwhile the neighborhood is crowded most weekend nights with partiers.

So, what’s the answer?  I wish I knew.  If the Vatican is discouraging the closing of churches, more city parishes are going to find themselves in the same situation.  I’m hoping that some readers will have experience with successful turnarounds.  If you have, I’d love to hear from you.  What works?  What doesn’t?  How do we use our resources to spread the faith and to save these beautiful churches?  I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

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!

Whatever Happened to the 1st Amendment?

Here in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, our Archbishop, Robert Carlson, has written a pastoral letter which is to be read in every parish.  The topic is the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services mandate that all employers, including Catholic employers provide insurance coverage for artificial birth control, abortion, and the morning-after abortion pill.  This is in clear violation of the Constitution’s first amendment which assures religious freedom.

Archbishop Carlson writes, “In generations past, the Church has always counted on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties.  I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.  Our children and grandchildren deserve nothing less.”

The Archbishop, along with all the U.S. Bishops is calling on Catholic Americans to stand up for our faith.  Imagine if the government would mandate that all Amish must be hooked up to the power grid.  The Amish would be outraged, as would every American citizen who values their religious faith.  Suppose the feds mandated that all religions observe Sunday as their sabbath day.  How would our Jewish brothers and sisters react to that?  Or, imagine this.  What if the government mandated that Muslim hospitals (if there were such a thing) serve pork to their patients.  I shudder to think what their response would be.

We can’t be so complacent as to think that if the government can interfere in one of our basic religious rights, that they will stop there.  A lot of us live in an environment where anti-Catholic bigotry lies beneath the surface.  But it’s alive and well.  What the haters don’t realize is that when the government takes away our rights, their rights are threatened too.

I’d like to share with you some comments from a local newspaper forum on Archbishop Carlson’s letter.  Keep in mind that these are anonymous posts.  The writers are hiding behind pseudonyms.  I’m sharing just a few highlights so you won’t have to waste your time reading this garbage.  Just keep in mind that one of these people may be your next door neighbor.

“No surprise here. Catholic church needs all the children it can get for brainwashing.”

“I’m waiting for the archbishop to pour as much money into ending the death penalty as he does abortion.”

“I’m Catholic, we don’t use birth control, but I think making birth control more available for those who want it is a good thing.”

[Note:  This issue isn’t about providing birth control.  It’s about forcing Catholic institutions to pay for it.  Two very different things.]

“The more kids the parishoners have the more choices priest have to chose from.”

“If Catholics don’t want to use contraception, that is fine. But the rest of us, who live in the real world, and have kids who live in the real world, don’t want this provision canceled from the health care bill because of some arcane and misguided belief that making contraception available is somehow wrong.”

[Note:  I’ll bet you thought you were living in the real world, didn’t you?]

“If the Archbishop do (sic) not like our laws in this country, he can take his church to another country.”

To all the right wing nut jobs who continue to follow the mindless ramblings of a holy roman empire cult that brought you the inquisitions, the crusades, the “irish laundries” the holy wars, the pedophile scandals, and now the tax free status of a MAJOR “PAC”. when are we gonna wake up and realize that we were founded on a “no religion is better than the other,”

“The only reason the church denounces birth control is because they want more asses in the seats on sunday morning, period.”

“Mr. Bishop,  Get a clue.”

“Hey Catholics, don’t like birth control then don’t use it. How is it your ‘religious freedom’ to impose your freedom-stealing views on others?”

“I’m burning. I’m burning. Hell is horrible. I never should have prevented that unwanted pregnancy.”

“Heres an idea, why dont you get off your knees (not from praying, but from servicing bishop carson) and wake up the the bullspit they are shoveling. All they care about is populating their pews and if they cant do that, they shut em down.”

“Catholic “leadership” opposes equal rights for all of thier (sic) employees. Meanwhile child molestation and sexual abuse continues to be denied, ignored and swept under the carpet. Typical of the catholic church to go crazy over the unborn but ignoring the needs of the children entrusted to their clergy. The catholic church has lost the higher moral ground and now they are as corrupt as any politcal party with a politcal agenda that does not include how Jesus Christ would treat others. The non-profit status of the catholic church should be revoked now that they are actively pursuing actions in politics and preaching their case from the pulpit. No more special treatment for the liars with the white collar.”

Excuse me for going off on a rant, but enough is enough!  If we, as Catholics, don’t respond to our Bishop’s request for action then we deserve whatever happens.  What you and I need to do is ( 1) pray.  Pray hard and often.  Pray that our employees in Washington DC will wake up to what they’re doing to our country.  (2) Find out exactly what the government is proposing and let your congress person and senator know how you feel.  Check out the US Bishops’ web site.  They have a convenient link to connect you with Washington.  It takes just a few seconds.

These people like their jobs (who wouldn’t) and they want to keep them.  If enough of us let them know we oppose this violation of our religious freedom, they will react.

The Ninth Day of Christmas

Listen to the Podcast

“I am the voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.'”

Do you sometimes feel like John the Baptist when he spoke these words?  I know I do.  We may feel like we’re living in a spiritual desert when we turn on the television or pick up the newspaper and are faced with the reality of modern life.  It can be overwhelming.

It took the city of Saint Louis less than an hour to record the first two homicides of 2010.  We read daily of the loss of life in the Middle East.  And the abortions.  Thousands of American babies murdered every single day and it’s hardly noticed.

There is much work to be done.  So much that we do feel like “voices crying out in the desert.”  But it’s a new year and a new beginning and that always inspires hope because we know that with God anything is possible.  So rather than make a “new year’s resolution” that you may or may not be able to keep, maybe a better idea would be to resolve to make things better this year in our respective corners of the world.

I recently attended a dinner with Archbishop Robert Carlson.  He gave us a very simple challenge.  Imagine if each of us would bring one person back to the Church.  What a difference that would make!  We can do that.  Then God can take it from there.