26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”.

These words, from Father Thomas Merton’s autobiography, “The Seven Story Mountain” were quoted by the Holy Father in his address to Congress on Friday. If you’ve been paying attention for the last few years, you know that I’m a great fan of Father Merton. In fact, I’ll be going on retreat to Gesthemane Abbey, Merton’s home, in a couple of weeks. Naturally, I was pleased to hear Francis choose him as one of four Americans, along with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, and Dorothy Day, to cite in his talk.

I know you’ve been following the Pope’s visit to the United States, along with millions of other Americans, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. Wherever the Pope goes, especially this Pope, there’s a tremendous interest in what he has to say.

Thursday night I was talking to my brother-in-law and we were discussing what a huge impact this man has on everyone, regardless of their faith. I suppose it’s because he’s not just OUR Pope, he’s THE Pope. No other faith tradition has a single leader like we do. Even non-Catholics recognize the man’s holiness and his authority to speak on matters of faith and morals.

In his talk to Congress, he hit on just about all the hot-button issues of our day. Naturally liberals disagree with him on many issues and think he’s too conservative. On the other hand, conservatives find him too liberal. But, both sides of the aisle applauded his comments, sometimes reluctantly. But, they all recognize his authority and his spirituality.

We live in a divided nation and a divided world. Yet no one can dispute this man’s leadership. Like most of his predecessors he’s not afraid to tackle the tough issues, and that’s what he does and has been doing in his visit to our country.

Obviously many people in Jesus’ day violently opposed things that the Lord said. Some were so opposed that they had Him tortured and killed. Many of His teachings went against the leaders of the day, and they still rub many of our current leaders the wrong way as well. But they all listened!

One reason that so many opposed Jesus is that His teachings threatened their power and authority. But that didn’t stop Him from speaking the truth.

Merton said that he was born into a world that was “the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”. Today’s world is no different from Merton’s; in fact it’s worse. Those “self-contradictory hungers” are running rampant. We’re still born to love God, but our hunger for self-gratification often blinds us to the truth.

Great Americans, like Lincoln, King, Day, and Merton suffered for their beliefs. Lincoln and King were assassinated. Day was scorned by many. And Merton, who deserves to be declared a saint, hasn’t been and possibly never will be because his views were often unpopular.

So, what’s all this mean to us? It means that we must all stand up for the truth, even if it makes us unpopular and uncomfortable. It’s ironic that our Catholic faith disturbs people on both sides of the political spectrum. I think most people agree that we should respect life. But we often disagree when it comes to particular lives. The same people who argue that abortion is wrong have no problem with capital punishment. Jesus taught murder is always wrong. “Thou shalt not kill” is one of the Ten Commandments. It doesn’t say “except when the new life is inconvenient” or “except when someone has committed a terrible crime.” We don’t get to make that choice. Yet people of faith will argue forcefully on both sides of this argument. How ironic is it that our local daily newspaper is so accepting of the killing of an innocent child but is diametrically opposed to capital punishment?

Even as the Holy Father was speaking to Congress, they were in the process of killing legislation that would have taken our tax dollars away from Planned Parenthood. Their desire to gain political points is more important to them than doing what is right. It’s one of those “hopeless self-contradictory hungers” Merton spoke of.

The Pope spoke about the importance of the family, yet same-sex marriage is now the law of the land. But even he must wrestle with contradiction. His past words show that he’s no fan of capitalism, yet he recognizes that the great wealth of the United States is important in so many ways.

He ended his message by saying, “In these remarks I have sought to present some of the richness of your cultural heritage, of the spirit of the American people. It is my desire that this spirit continue to develop and grow, so that as many young people as possible can inherit and dwell in a land which has inspired so many people to dream.

God bless America!

 

And God bless Pope Francis for telling it like it is.

I do want to take just a minute to mention that next weekend there will be a second collection for the formation of Permanent Deacons.

It’s no secret that the Church is suffering from a vocation crisis. We desperately need more priests to serve the people of God. Here at Saint John Nepomuk we are more aware than most that the Church is looking to ease the shortage by using deacons and lay people to do the things that priests have always done in the past.

Right now the Archdiocese is taking a hard look at every parish to find better ways to use our limited resources, both physical and human. We’re going to see more cases where parishes are administered by non-priests, freeing priests up to do the things that only they can do. But we need more deacons almost as desperately as we need more priests. The formation of deacons is a long and expensive process and the men in training for the diaconate pay many of their own expenses.

Your generosity to this collection will make it possible for more men to answer the call to serve. Let me be clear. This collection does not benefit those of us currently ordained. The administration of the office of the Permanent Diaconate is funded through the Annual Catholic Appeal. This collection is for the educational expenses of our upcoming deacons. It would be a shame if future deacons had to be turned away because of the lack of funds. It would be an even greater shame if small communities like this one had to be closed because of the lack of deacons.

Please be as generous as possible to this important collection.

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Eulogies

After assisting at my third funeral in a week and suffering through my FIFTH dreadful eulogy (Yes, some funerals have more than one) I was wondering why the funeral liturgy is the only mass where lay people are allowed to speak.  If family members have something to say at a wedding, that’s what the reception is for.  If someone has something to say at a baptism, they save it for the after party.  Imagine how long first communion, first penance, or confirmation would take if every parent got up to talk.  Only at the funeral liturgy, when family members are in a poor emotional state, do we allow them to speak.

Here’s what Catholic Answers says about eulogies:

According to the Order of Christian Funerals, there is never to be a eulogy at a funeral Mass (OCF 27), although the celebrant may express a few words of gratitude about the person’s life in his homily, or he may allow a relative or a friend to say a few words about the deceased during the concluding rite (GIRM 89). The remarks must be brief and under no circumstances can the deceased person be referred to as being in heaven.  (emphasis mine) Only the Church has the authority to canonize.

Contrary to common assumption, the purpose of the funeral Mass is not to celebrate the life of the deceased but to offer worship to God for Christ’s victory over death, to comfort the mourners with prayers, and to pray for the soul of the deceased. Relatives or friends who wish to speak of the deceased’s character and accomplishments can do so at a prayer service to be held in a home or funeral home or at the graveside following the rite of committal.

Here’s what typically happens.  The priest or deacon homilist has done exactly what the rite calls for us to do, that is to offer comfort to the mourners, to celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, and to pray for the soul of the deceased.  Having done that and offering Holy Communion to the Catholic’s in attendance, the rite calls for silent reflection followed by the final prayers.

Sadly, at many funerals, family members think it’s a good thing to stand up before those assembled and to try to speak.  Often they end up making fools of themselves, becoming a teary mess.  Who ever thought this was a good idea?  Besides making themselves look foolish, they destroy the moment.  Whatever peace Father or Deacon has brought to the family is replaced with sadness and sympathy for the eulogist.  We humans are a sympathetic bunch.  When the speaker breaks down, chances are we’re going to do the same.

If a person has been a faithful Catholic all of his (or her) life, shouldn’t their last interaction with the Church on earth be the best it can be.  We have professional clergy who have been trained to do the job.  Let’s save amateur night for some other occasion.

One last thought, notice the sentence in the Catholic Answers quote that I put in bold type.  Without getting into too deep a theological rant here, the Church teaches that when we die in a state of grace we will go to heaven after a period of cleansing which we call purgatory.  We have no idea how long this period is, it could be minutes or it could be years. We just don’t know.  That’s why we pray for the dead.  If we thought that our loved one went directly to heaven, what’s the point of praying for them?

While we don’t want to talk about grandma being on the outside looking in, it’s not accurate to just assume she’s in heaven.  Father Benedict Groschel once said, “The worst day in purgatory is better than the best day on earth.”  Plus, once we’re in purgatory, we know we’re going to heaven.  That’s what the Church teaches.  That’s what we believe.

Our HOPE is that we will get to heaven one day.  There are no sure things.  In fact, (gasp!) some of us aren’t going to heaven.  Sorry, but it’s true.  It’s just another reason why it’s best to leave these things up to the pros.

Don’t our loved ones deserve the best sendoff we can possibly give them?  I think they do.

Merry Christmas

You’d think that it would be easy to preach on Christmas. After all, the Church does a lot of things very well, but we don’t do anything better than we do Christmas. On this day we do all the things that people expect from the Church. We have bells, and incense, and lots of candles. We have special music and larger crowds than on any other day of the year. If a stranger would walk in here today he or she would know that something pretty special is going on. The homily should be a piece of cake.

But one thing you have to realize is that we really have three different groups of people here today. One, we have our “regulars”. You’re the people who come to Saint John’s week after week. You know me. Hopefully you know where I stand on things. You’re the ones that are easy to talk to.

Second, we have family and friends who normally attend mass at another church but you come here on Christmas because of your family tradition, because you consider this a special, holy place. For you my task is to make you glad you came and maybe to convince you to come back more often. That’s a little bit more of a challenge.

Then there’s the third group, the 600 pound gorilla that no one wants to talk about. You’re the ones who only come to mass once or twice a year. Hopefully I can give you a message that makes you want to kick your Catholicism up a notch; to become more active in your faith.

So, what should I talk about? I thought about it and prayed about it, then the Holy Spirit said to me, “Hey dummy, why not ask someone who’s coming what they want to hear.” That’s what I did. The answer I got was eye opening. She said, “Talk to us about our lives. Tell us what all this means to us.”

You know, when you live in “church world” like I do, it’s very easy to get caught up in theology. It’s also tempting to show off what I know about the technical parts of the faith.   But on this day, when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, you don’t want to hear that stuff. After all, God didn’t send us a scholar, or a theologian, or a liturgist, He sent us His Son. He sent Jesus to be born as an ordinary human infant in the poorest of circumstances. When He began His public ministry, Jesus’ message was simplicity itself. “Love God. Love your neighbor. Do what I tell you and you will be saved.” He left the details up to us. He didn’t tell us to follow Him one day a year. He calls us to share the joy of Christmas every single day.

At Christmas time we’re bombarded with requests for help. It seems like the phone at home never stops ringing. The local paper reminds us every day of the “100 neediest cases.” There are bell ringers everywhere. That’s because charitable organizations know that we’re more generous this time of year. But Jesus doesn’t call us to love our neighbor every December. He calls us to love our neighbor every single day of the year.

It’s not easy. We live in a very secular world and frankly, that world is a mess. Here in Saint Louis, we’ve just had another officer-involved shooting and more protests, even on Christmas eve. In just a few short months, the tiny town of Ferguson has become a household word, not just locally, but around the world. Other words in the news, North Korea, Cuba, Afghanistan all remind us of how unstable our world really is. Yet here we are, in this church in South Saint Louis, joining with millions of Christians around the world, celebrating the birth on one little child, more than 2,000 years ago. That says a lot about us.

In the midst of the greed-fest that the secular world has attached to this day, we’re taking time to remember the one who can save us from our sins. If there is ever going to be peace on earth, it begins here. As the prayer of Saint Francis says, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Our challenge is to take the feelings we associate with Christmas and keep them going every day. That’s what Christmas means to each of us. That’s how it should affect our lives.

There has been a Catholic church on this corner of 11th and Lafayette for 160 years. Generations of people have sat where you’re sitting, coming together to worship and to praise God, not just on Christmas, but throughout the year. In it’s heyday, this church was the largest parish in the Archdiocese. But times have changed. Our lives are full of distractions and temptations. Many former parishioners have moved away. Today just one in three Catholics attend mass regularly. If you only attend Saint John’s on Christmas, and maybe Easter, you may think that the chapel is full like this every week. Sadly, if you come back in a few weeks, you’ll find that there are maybe 30 to 40 people at a mass.

In this troubled world, it’s almost impossible to continue this “feeling of Christmas” without attending mass regularly. One of Christ’s greatest gifts to us is the gift of His Body and Blood. Many of us take great care of our bodies, some better than others. We visit the doctor. We take vitamins. We exercise. We try to watch what we eat. Most of us get annual flu shots. That’s just common sense.

But how well do we care for our spiritual selves? The Eucharist is our spiritual vitamin. By ingesting the very Body and Blood of Jesus, we recharge our souls giving us the strength to resist temptation. You might say it’s a spiritual flu shot. Another way to strengthen our spiritual selves is through prayer. Catholics are known to be praying people. We learned the main Catholic prayers, the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and others when we were children. Here at Saint John’s we have a special devotion to the Infant of Prague. We pray to Him after every mass, as we will today. I’m convinced that these prayers to the Infant whose birth we celebrate today have sustained this community through many trials and tribulations.

Blessed Father Cyril heard the Infant say that “if you pray to me, I’ll take care of you.”   There are cards in the pews containing Father Cyril’s prayer. Normally we ask you to leave them, but today I’m inviting you to take one home with you and get into the habit of saying the prayer daily. I promise you won’t be disappointed in the results.

To close, I’d like to go back to the original question, “How does the birth of Christ impact our daily lives?” God loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us from ourselves. The Son left us with very simple instructions. “Love God. Love your neighbor.” How you demonstrate that love is up to you. It sounds simple, but in practice it can be very difficult. Face it, some of us aren’t very loveable. It’s easy to love those who love us. The hard part, the real challenge is to love those who don’t love us or maybe even hate us. That’s what Jesus did. If we love Him, can we do any less; not just today, but every day of the year?

More on Phil Robertson

Thanks for all the excellent comments on my previous post.  Phil-gate has started a lot of wonderful conversations all over the Internet and in other places.  (You may recall an old-time method of communication where two or more people actually sit in the same room and TALK TO EACH OTHER.  That’s happening too.)  As I said yesterday, this isn’t about Phil Robertson and it’s not about A & E.  It’s about public discussion of religious issues. Some commenters here and elsewhere have cried “foul” wondering why A & E isn’t protected by the same free speech rights as Phil Robertson.  They most definitely are.  The cable cops have not shown up at their headquarters with a warrant for anyone’s arrest.  Yes indeed, they are perfectly within their rights to suspend or even terminate Phil for violating their company policy. But here’s the thing, you and I have a right to demand that our media sources uphold a certain standard.  Obviously for millions of us that standard includes allowing their employees to express their religious views.  If the network wants our business then they should give us what we want.  If they don’t want our business, that’s ok too.  There are a lot of other channels. It’s worth mentioning that an A & E representative was present at the GQ interview.  As part of the ABC/Disney conglomerate, the network definitely could have applied pressure on the magazine to filter Phil’s comments.  They did not.  Hmmmmm. I would like to comment on a comment made by Chaz Peters on my earlier post.

Loved this article. On a side note you mentioned that Robertson’s stance on homosexuality is in alignment with the Catholic Church. Sadly, according to statements from the newest Pope and the conclusions of the Third Vatican Council, the catholic church has changed its official position on that matter. In fact they appear to declare that God has changed His opinion as well. It might be nice if you wrote on this matter as I see it as of far greater concern world-wide than the Duck Dynasty controversy.

This is a misunderstanding perpetrated by the same media that are saying Phil is a racist and a homophobe.  The Pope has actually said nothing of the kind.  What he has said corresponds to the ancient teaching going all the way back to Christ.  “Hate the sin.  Love the sinner.”  Being homosexual is not a sin.  Performing homosexual acts is.  We, as Christians, are not called to judge others even though most of us do it and even think we’re very good at it.  Logically then homosexual men and women are called to be celibate.  Of course our “modern” society laughs at such an old-fashioned notion.  Doesn’t it say in the Bible, or the US Constitution, or the Magna Carta, or somewhere that we all have the right to sexual satisfaction? Sorry but no.  In fact, Scripture tells us that a celibate life is the most excellent life of all.  But why would we expect society to believe that when they either don’t believe anything in the Bible or choose to believe just the parts that suit them? No, Church teaching hasn’t changed.  God’s opinion hasn’t changed.  And, unfortunately, the media’s ability to twist and spin a public figure’s words to fit their story hasn’t changed either.

The media are counting on us to forget this story in a short time.  They hope that Christmas and New Years and other news stories will push Phil-gate out of our consciousness.  Please don’t let that happen.  Stay informed.  Make your feelings known at every opportunity.  I’ve been wondering for years what it would take for Christians to be fed up enough to take some action.  Maybe the time is now.

2nd Sunday of Advent–Pope Francis on the Joy of the Gospel

Recently our Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued a document called Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel.  It’s fairly long, almost 70 pages, and frankly, I’ve only read about 2/3 of it, but I’m getting there.  As usual, the media is trying to spin it as something that it isn’t.  In the past week our president has quoted from it and several conservative commentators, including Rush Limbaugh and Bill O’Reilly have attacked it; an interesting turn of events to be sure.  Our local paper, the Saint Louis Post Dispatch even joined in the fun.

 

But, of the 70 pages the Pope has written, the critics have focused on just a few paragraphs on the subject of economics.  As Catholics, you and I are called to follow the Pope’s guidance in matters of faith and morals.  Francis is a brilliant theologian, but he’s not an economist and I don’t think he’s trying to be one.  I don’t believe, as some would suggest, that he’s condemning capitalism in favor or socialism.  What he’s written reflects the current problems of the poor.  The idea that we should help the poor, to share what we’ve been given with those in need, isn’t a new idea.  It’s what Jesus told us 2,000 years ago.

 

The problem with our society today isn’t one of economic systems, it’s a problem of greed and corruption in governments and in business.  He writes, Business is a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life; this will enable them truly to serve the common good by striving to increase the goods of this world and to make them more accessible to all.”

I think most business leaders are basically good people.  Sadly, there are some who aren’t.  The real issue isn’t that making a profit is bad.  The issue is what do we do with that profit?  Do we buy bigger houses and better cars, or do we share it with those in need?  Is it really a problem with our capitalist system, or is it a problem of minds and hearts?

 

He also writes, “Politics, though often denigrated, remains a lofty vocation and one of the highest forms of charity, inasmuch as it seeks the common good.”  Again, we have the greatest political system in the world, but I’m afraid that too many of our politicians don’t see their jobs as a vocation, but as a way to line their own pockets.  As Francis says, “no government can act without regard for shared responsibility.”

 

What I believe the Holy Father is saying in this lengthy document is that we must help the poor.  Other than a few paragraphs, his focus is on the Gospel, not on politics or economics.

 

In the second reading today, Paul writes to the Romans, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you for the glory of God”  Our call is to work together for the Glory of God.

 

In Matthew’s Gospel John the Baptist tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to “produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.”  And he warns them that “every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

So, what does all this mean for you and me.  We’re not business tycoons.  We’re not politicians.  We’re just average people doing our best to get through this life and to make our ways to heaven.  But are we really just average?  John says that Jesus will baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That’s pretty strong.  For most of us it’s been a long time since our baptism.  But the great thing about baptism is that it’s forever.  We have just as much Holy Spirit and fire in us today as we did on our baptism day.  It never leave us, but maybe our fire isn’t burning as brightly as it once was.  It may just be embers but it’s still there, waiting for us to fan the flames.

 

The title of Francis’ document is “The Joy of the Gospel.”  In the third paragraph he gives us a very profound prayer, “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Think about that.  Why are we here at mass. We’re here to renew our covenant with Him.  We do need Him, much more than He need us.  If the fire of our baptism needs to be rekindled, the mass is the place to find the fuel.  Maybe we take the Eucharist for granted.  Maybe it’s just something we do because we’ve always done it.  Let’s make this season of Advent a time of renewal.  In a few minutes we’ll receive Christ into our own bodies through the sacrament of the Eucharist.  What a great gift!  That’s what keeps our fire going.  If it’s not burning as brightly as it once was, it’s not the Father’s fault.  It’s not Jesus’ fault.  It’s not the Holy Spirit’s fault.  God gives us the fuel, it’s up to us to use it properly.

 

The joy of the Gospel!  There is no greater gift!  Praise God!

Let’s say the Holy Father’s prayer together:

 

“Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you.  I need you.  Save me once again.  Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace.”  Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium (3)

 

 

 

Clergy Assignments

priest shadow

Based on some things that have happened recently at my current assignment, Saint John Nepomuk Chapel in Saint Louis, I thought it might be a good idea to discuss the process for assigning clergy to parishes and other ministries.  Obviously, these are important decisions that can have a long-term effect on everyone involved.

First of all, the final decision on all clergy assignments in a diocese is made by the bishop.  Like any large organization, the bishop , as the  CEO, consults with a lot of people before he makes such an important call.  These consultations are very confidential.  In the course of making these choices, a lot of possible scenarios are considered.  “What if we move Father A to parish B?”  “If we do that, who gets Father A’s old position?”  “What about the current pastor of parish B?  It’s a complicated process.  Lots of possibilities are considered and rejected.  In the Archdiocese of Saint Louis we might ordain a half-dozen new priests in the spring.  Placing these men in parishes might result in twenty or more new assignments.  Frankly, I wouldn’t want to have to figure out all those moves.

Imagine, following our example, that it’s decided that Father A won’t go to parish B.  If someone unwisely had leaked this possible move to someone in the parishes involved, the rumors would fly.  “Father A is leaving!”  “Father A is coming to our parish!”  “What about Father B?  Where’s he going?”  On on, and on.  Lots of people are upset by something that’s not going to happen.

The bottom line is that until the bishop starts sending out letters to the clergy involved, nothing is set in stone.  If just one priest or deacon rejects a change in assignment, the whole process has to be redone.  Any speculation, based on early discussions, can only cause problems.

Recently a priest at a neighboring church asked me if I might be interested in moving.  I told him no.  I’m very happy where I am and I didn’t think the change he was proposing would be good for Saint John’s.  Keep in mind that this was just a priest talking to a deacon.  Archbishop Carlson wasn’t even aware of the conversation.  The next thing I knew, someone had started a rumor that I was leaving.  Like all rumors, it spread quickly, upsetting some people and making others happy.  Now it’s up to me to put out the fires.

Let’s face it; some people love their priests and deacons, some don’t.  Nothing good can come from building up people’s expectations about changes, either positive or negative.

A lot of prayer and discussion precedes any clergy moves.  What we have to remember, as faithful Catholics, is that our bishops are descended from the original twelve Apostles.  They are guided by the Holy Spirit.  Whenever they assign clergy, they are putting the men they believe to be the best fit in each position.  When priests and deacons are ordained they promise to be loyal to their bishop and his successors.  Personally, I will go where ever Archbishop Carlson wants me to go.  And until he tells me he wants me to move, I won’t speculate on what he might have in mind.  

25th Sunday of Ordinary Time

 

I think most of us are old enough to remember when stores were closed on Sunday.  They called it the “blue law” and about the only thing open was the drug store.  If you needed gas you’d better get it on Saturday because even the filling stations were closed on Sunday.  Eventually the drug stores got the idea of selling bread and milk on the Lord’s day.  Every once in a while some discount store would decide to break the law and be open.  Then the police would show up and arrest everybody, they’d all make bail, and the store would be open again.

Today, with everything open 24/7 that all seems like a distant memory.  But the memory is a good one.  Sunday was special.  You’d go to church in the morning then have the whole day to rest and relax with your family.  Life was much simpler.

Now, there are very few days in the year when everything’s closed and soon those days won’t be special anymore either.  Look at Thanksgiving.  First stores started opening really early on Friday morning.  Now we have some opening on Thursday evening.  It won’t be long before Thanksgiving will be just another day to shop.  When that happens, Christmas and Easter won’t be far behind.

Two of my adult children are still in the retail business and it’s almost impossible to schedule a birthday party or other family gathering on the weekend because one or both of them is working Saturday and Sunday.

In the early ‘70s I worked for a retail electronics store.  It was part of a chain and my boss lived in Chicago where they had no blue laws.  It used to drive him crazy that the drug store next to us in the strip mall could be open on Sunday, selling batteries and TV tubes while we had to be closed.  I could see what was coming and got out of retail before the blue laws were repealed.

I thought about those days when I read today’s first reading.  “Hear this, you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land!  ‘When will the new moon be over,’ you ask, ‘that we may sell our grain, and the Sabbath, that we may display the wheat?’

Under Jewish law, you couldn’t do business during the new moon or on the Sabbath.  Like the retailers back in the 1970s, they hated to lose even one day of business.  Notice what Amos calls them:  “you who trample on the needy and destroy the poor of the land”.  Apparently these weren’t nice guys.  All they cared about was the almighty dollar, or shekel, or whatever it was that they worshipped.  Their hearts and minds were in the wrong place and Amos warned them that “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob; Never will I forget a thing they have done.”

If we look at Luke’s Gospel for today, there’s a similar theme.  Jesus tells his disciples the parable of the dishonest steward.  He’s been squandering his master’s property and the master demands a full accounting.  The steward is in a real spot.  He knows he’s probably going to be fired.  When word gets out that he was fired for stealing, no one will hire him.  Remember there was no such thing as unemployment insurance, food stamps, or any other kind of aid for him.  What can he do?  “He says “I’m not strong enough to dig and I’m ashamed to beg.” But those will be his only choices if he loses his job.

So, he decides that if he calls in his master debtors and offers to reduce their debts, at least he’ll have some friends when he gets thrown out on his ear.

Now, here’s where the parable gets confusing.  When the master hears what the steward has done, he commends him for acting prudently.  Wait a minute! He’s been ripping his master off.  He’s been found out.  So he rips the master off some more and he’s commended.

But here’s where we have to remember that Jesus often said outrageous things.  “Love your enemies.”  “Turn the other cheek.”  “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.”  His message isn’t if you get caught stealing, steal some more.  His message is that when you get in trouble, take a good hard look at the situation then do something about it.  Don’t sit around feeling sorry for yourself, take action.

He’s also telling us that money isn’t a god.  We don’t worship money, or at least we shouldn’t.  Temporal goods are temporary.  “No servant can serve two masters….You cannot serve both God and mammon.”  In yesterday’s (Friday’s) Gospel He said, “Love of money is the root of all evil.”  We often hear this phrase quoted as “money is the root of all evil.”  But that’s not true.  It’s loving money that gets us into trouble.  We all need money.  We need it to live and we need it to share with those less fortunate than we are.  We couldn’t run this church without money.

And that brings up a good point.  We all give money to the church; at least I hope we do.  If you give all that you can, then you’re showing that you love God more than stuff.  But, if you toss a few bucks into the offering basket, but not too much because there’s a big screen TV you have your eye on and you really want it, especially during the football season, then you have to ask yourself what you love more.  Are you turning money into a god?

Only you can answer that question, but God’s telling us today that you’d better get it right.  Remember what Amos said, “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:  Never will I forget a thing they have done!”  We might add that he won’t forget a thing that we haven’t done either.

Times are tough.  In spite of what you hear on the news, a lot of people are out of work.  The unemployment numbers are looking better only because so many people have just given up.  They’ve stopped looking for a job.  It used to be that we’d get a phone call here once in a while from someone looking for help with their rent.  We always refer them to Saint Vincent de Paul or Catholic Charities.  But I’ve gotten two calls like that in the last week.

On top of that, you’ve got the flooding in Colorado and now in Mexico.  There are just so many people who need our help.  We don’t want to be like those merchants in the first reading, trampling the needy and destroying the poor.  Just this week our Holy Father spoke about how important it is for us to help one another.  Like his namesake, Francis of Assisi, he has a special concern for those in need.

If we do nothing else, we should be bombarding heaven with prayers for those in need.  Even better is to back up those prayers with whatever money we can afford.  There are also a lot of opportunities right here in the neighborhood to volunteer our time.  Like I said, only you know what you can afford in time and treasure.  You’ve been very generous in your contributions of food and school supplies, in supplies for the elderly and in our yearly toy collection.  But we all need to do more.

Be aware of those around you.  Something as simple as helping someone carry their groceries to the car, or helping someone in a wheelchair get through a doorway is the kindness that’s often missing in this world.  The Catholic Church has always been known for helping the poor.  Catholic Charities is the largest social service agency in the state of Missouri.  Catholic hospitals provide millions of dollars of free care every year.

As they told me when I once volunteered with Catholic Charities, “we don’t help people because they’re Catholic.  We help them because we’re Catholic.”  That’s our calling.  Can we do any less?

If you’ll bear with me for just another minute, I want to mention that next Saturday is the feast of Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of the Czech Republic.  When he was killed by his brother’s men, he was almost immediately declared a saint.  The people loved him because he was a benevolent king but even more for all that he did to help the poor.  He used to sneak out at night and take food to the poor when no one was around to see him.  Even though he was a wealthy man, he did everything he could to help his people in need.  Saint Wenceslas, pray for us .

2nd Sunday of Easter–Divine Mercy Sunday

Poor Thomas.  Here it is more than 2,000 years later and we still use his name to identify someone who refuses to believe something.  He’s a doubting Thomas.  But was Thomas really so different from the other Apostles?  The other guys all saw Jesus.  Thomas didn’t.  The idea of Jesus rising from the dead was pretty outrageous.  No one had ever seen such a thing.  It had never happened before.  It’s never happened again.  I’m afraid that if I’d been in Thomas’ shoes, I wouldn’t have believed it either.  Even though the others had seen Jesus, it’s not so outrageous that Thomas would have his doubts.

 

Let’s put this story into historical perspective.  Jesus had died just four days before.  His Apostles were locked up in a room, fearing that the Jews were going to crucify them too. Suddenly, Jesus appears in the locked room and says, “Peace be with you.”  Remember all these men had run away.  Not only were they afraid of the Jews, they were full of guilt because of the way they had acted at the crucifixion.  They had run away.  Peter had denied Jesus three times.  But here He was wishing them peace, not once, but twice.  He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”  By doing this, He was forgiving them.  And that’s what Easter is all about.

 

Blessed John Paul II declared this second Sunday of Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday.  In one moment, Jesus forgave the Apostles for running out on Him and gave them the ability to share that Divine Mercy with others.  “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them.”  In order for the Apostles to give mercy they first had to receive it.

 

Let’s go back to the first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles.  The book is about exactly what the name implies, the Acts of the Apostles.  In this passage, “Many signs and wonders were done among the people at the hands of the Apostles.”  They’re following up on the commission that Jesus has given them and they were adding great numbers of new followers.  But, remember, these new followers weren’t believing just because the Apostles had a great story.  They were believing because the Apostles were doing signs and wonders.  Without those signs and wonders, they would probably have been doubting Thomases too.

 

So, we have all these new followers and people are coming from all around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those disturbed by evil spirits hoping that Peter’s shadow might fall on them.  They believed that just his shadow had healing powers.  All because Jesus had given the Apostles the Holy Spirit.

 

Fast forward to 2013.  You and I are in this beautiful, historic church to worship God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  This is the same Holy Spirit that we all received in baptism.  We received Him again at our Confirmation.  Father and I received the Holy Spirit again in ordination.  It’s the same Spirit that the Apostles received directly from Jesus so many centuries ago.

 

Does that mean you and I can heal the sick?  I don’t know.  Does it?  Jesus said that if we had faith the size of a mustard seed we could move mountains.  A mustard seed is pretty small.  We’ve heard that with God, nothing is impossible.  But who has that kind of faith?

 

Do I believe that God can heal the sick?  Of course I do.  Do I believe He can do it through me?  That question makes me a doubting Thomas.  He’s never done it before.  Why should He start now?  The problem’s not with God.  The problem’s with me.  Like many of you, and like Thomas, I want to see some proof.  But proof is the enemy of faith.  If I have proof, I don’t need faith.

 

And there’s the problem.  It’s the twenty-first century.  We’ve traveled into space.  We have cures for many diseases that we thought were incurable.  New ones are being discovered everyday.  We have instant access to news, even from the opposite side of the world through satellites and the Internet.  We’re barraged with news and information.  But what’s that do to our faith?

 

Have we become so jaded by our secular society that we don’t have simple faith?   Do we believe what’s written in the Scriptures when the so-called news media try so hard to discredit it?

 

Last weekend this church, and every other Christian church in the world was full.  Easter is a big deal to most Christians.  But you know what?  Other than the extra candles, and the flowers, and the Easter decorations, nothing happened in any of those churches last weekend that isn’t happening this weekend.  The same miracle of Jesus turning the ordinary bread and wine into His Body and Blood happens every weekend, in fact it happens every day in the Catholic Church.

 

No, we don’t have weekday masses anymore at Saint John’s.  But if you want to receive the Lord’s Body and Blood every single day, it’s readily available.  That’s what our Church is all about.  Of course, we do lots of other things, but it’s in receiving God’s Divine Mercy, in receiving His Body and Blood, that we center our faith.

 

Being a Catholic without receiving regular communion is like trying to drive a car without putting gas in it.  Jesus is the source of our spiritual energy.

 

If you and I believe what Jesus told us; if we believe it with all our hearts; we should want to receive the Eucharist so badly we can hardly stand it.  You should be thinking, “shut up, deacon, let’s get to communion.  I want to see the miracle.  I want to receive Jesus into my own body.”

 

That’s not all.  If you and I really believe Jesus, we should be lined up at the confessional every single week.  We should want to receive Jesus’ divine mercy, not just in His body and blood, but we should have an uncontrollable desire to receive the sacrament of penance as often as possible.  That’s the way it used to be.  What happened?  I don’t know.  That’s a subject for people a lot smarter than I am.

 

The lesson of Easter and of Divine Mercy is this.  Jesus died for our sins.  We know that.  He came back to the Apostles the very day after Easter and forgave them for their sins and gave them the ability to forgive others for theirs.  All He asks from us is that we believe.  We must have faith.  Nothing is impossible with God but we have to believe that with all our hearts.

 

 

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Excommunication

Note: This series of posts was intended to coincide with Lent. 40 days = 40 myths. Clearly, I didn’t do as well as I might have. Lent is over and I’ve only posted 27 myths. I’m left with two choices; continue the series into the Easter Season or go back and re-title all 27 posts “27 Myths About the Catholic Church”. I hope my loyal readers will recognize my failure to complete my Lenten penance. Feel free to use me as a bad example and to learn from it. Sometimes we set our goals too high and sometimes we just come up short.

Moving on, why does the Church excommunicate people?

To answer this question, first we have to understand exactly what excommunication is, and what it isn’t.  The word itself has two roots:  ex which means out of and communion which means being part of a community.  The excommunicated person is no longer part of the believing community.  The penalty of excommunication does not mean that the person is no longer a Christian.  Christianity is imparted by baptism and that can never be taken away.

The biggest mistake that most people make about this subject is that somehow the Church uses excommunication as a punishment.  With a few exceptions the Church doesn’t excommunicate anyone.  A person separates him or herself from the Church by his or her own actions.  There are countless Catholics who have excommunicated themselves who are never called out by a bishop or pope.  With over a billion Catholics in the world, it’s not surprising that some folks can fall away from the Church and stay under the radar.

If someone decides that they aren’t bound by the teachings of the Church, they have separated themselves from the community.  A good example would be Catholic politicians who support abortion.  Deep down they know that what they’re doing is wrong.  We don’t need a bishop to declare that they’re excommunicated though it would be nice if that happened once in a while.

The Church refers to excommunication as a “medicinal penalty”.  The idea isn’t for the person to be run out of the Church.  The purpose is to show them the error of their ways in hopes that they will repent and come back into full communion.  When a bishop  declares someone excommunicated, he is merely informing the rest of us that the person has fallen away.  The excommunicated person is excluded from all of the sacraments except reconciliation.

One example is a parish here in Saint Louis that refused to follow the Archbishop’s instructions.  The pastor and  the lay members of the parish board were clearly in schism with the Church.  Our Archbishop declared that these people had automatically excommunicated themselves.  The priest was also laicized.  Two of the board members have since reconciled with the Church, which is the preferred result.  The pastor, other board members, and the members of the parish have not reconciled and they and the parish are no longer considered Catholics in good standing.

In the history of the Church, formal excommunication has been pretty rare.

Surprisingly there’s a very good, simple of excommunication at the “For Dummies” website.  They list the following automatic causes:

  • Procuring of abortion
  • Apostasy: The total rejection of the Christian faith.
  • Heresy: The obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth, which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.
  • Schism: The rejection of the authority and jurisdiction of the pope as head of the Church.
  • Desecration of sacred species (Holy Communion)
  • Physical attack on the pope
  • Sacramental absolution of an accomplice in sin against the Sixth and Ninth Commandments
  • Unauthorized episcopal (bishopconsecration
  • Direct violation of confessional seal by confessor

Excommunication can be reversed in most cases simply by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.  In my research for this post I found a surprisingly large number of web sites with advice on how to get excommunicated.  Apparently it’s a popular form of recreation for former Catholics who have decided to become atheists.  You would think that if you don’t believe in the Church, you wouldn’t be too concerned about this, but I guess some people are so mad at the Church that they want to be taken off the mailing list.

There are a number of good references on this subject including the Catholic Encyclopedia, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the Code of Canon Law.

 

 

 

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.”