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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Good Friday

Yesterday morning, I was at the Cathedral Basilica for the annual Chrism mass. It’s the mass where the Archbishop blesses the holy oils for the coming year and it’s the mass where the priests renew their priestly vows. As you can imagine, there are a lot of priests and deacons at the Chrism mass.

Seating at the Cathedral is priests in front, deacons in the back, which is as it should be.  The only problem with the setup is that during the Consecration of the Eucharist, the priests stand while the deacons kneel. All the deacons can see is the backs of chasubles and a lot of bald heads.

As I knelt there yesterday morning, I wondered, as I often do, just what I was doing there. I know a lot of priests and deacons and most of them are good, holy men. The deacon who was sitting next to me is one of the holiest people I know. Then there was me, a sinner of the first order. Why would God choose me to be in this group?

But, you know what? I do belong in that group and here’s why. I don’t and can’t know what’s in someone else’s heart. I believe most of the men sitting around me at the Cathedral yesterday are more holy than I am, but I can’t know for sure. We’ve learned in the past few years that a lot of men we all believed were saints are actually pretty serious sinners. We don’t know. Only God knows.

Could it be that they have the same doubts and fears that I do?

Scripture tells us not to judge others. Is judging someone else to be good just as dangerous as judging them to be bad? Maybe so.

Think about what failures the Apostles were?  Judas sold Jesus out for thirty pieces of silver.  Peter denied he knew Him three times.  The other ten ran off and left Him when He needed them the most.  The only ones who stood by Him were the women.  You don’t have to be perfect to serve Jesus.

If Jesus only called perfect men to be clergy, think how frustrating that would be for everyone else.  They’d think they didn’t have a prayer (prayer, get it?  Jesus does have a sense of humor.) Plus, there wouldn’t be very many priests and deacons. Maybe none.

I think Jesus wants His clergy to let people see that they’re sinners, just like they are.  Judas didn’t have to turn Jesus over to the Jews, but somebody had to fulfill the words of the prophets.  Jesus knew He’d do it, even before he chose him to be an apostle.

Peter didn’t have to deny him three times, but He did, just as He knew he would. He even told him he would do it.  He knew the others would run away.  But he chose them anyway, just like He chose you and me, sinners that we are.

So, today we mark the day when He died a painful death on the cross for you and for me.  If we were sinless He wouldn’t have had to do that.  But we aren’t and He did.  In effect He told us that He’d like us to live a sinless life, but He knew that we couldn’t.  So, He let Himself be crucified so that we might be forgiven.

As painful as that was for Him, He knew it would be even more painful to sit back and watch us destroy ourselves.

Without Good Friday, that’s exactly what we’d do.

Married Priests?

Every once in a while someone brings up the topic of married priests.  “Wouldn’t it be great if priests could marry?”  “There wouldn’t be a shortage of priests if they could be married.”  “There would be no sexual abuse crisis if priests were married.”  And on and on.  Then you hear the usual criticisms, “It’s all about money.  The Church doesn’t want married priests because then they’d have to pay them more money.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they don’t want to have to take care of their widows.”  “The Church doesn’t want married priests because of the high cost of health insurance for families.”   “The Church doesn’t want married priests because they’d have to provide them with houses where they could raise their families.”  Again, on and on.

I’m no expert on the theology of married clergy, but since I am one, maybe I can shed some light on this subject.  Number 1, there are married Catholic priests.  Married priests from some other faith traditions can convert to Catholicism and become priests.  There aren’t a lot of them but they do exist.

Number 2, the Church’s teaching on married priests is a “discipline”, not a “dogma”.  What’s the difference?  Disciplines can and do change.  (Remember meatless Fridays?)  Unlike the “all male” priesthood which is a dogma of the Church and can’t ever change, the celibacy of priests could.  (See # 1 above)

Here’s the real issue.  Those who say they want a married priesthood haven’t really thought the matter through.  Here’s where my experience as a married deacon comes into play.  It’s not possible to give 110% to two vocations!  You say you want a married priesthood?  Let’s look at a very simple scenario.  Your beautiful daughter is in love.  She wants to be married.  She has her heart set on a big church wedding on June 1.  She’s already reserved the hall.  (Believe it or not, brides do reserve reception halls before they check on the availability of the church.)  She also loves Father Bob and will only be satisfied if he performs the ceremony. Only one problem; Father Bob’s  son graduates from the university on June 1, two hundred miles away.

Or on an entirely different level, grandma has been rushed to the emergency room.  The situation is critical.  Your faith tells you to call the pastor.  You need him right away.  Here’s the problem.  The pastor’s daughter’s dance recital is going on as we speak and he’s turned off his cell phone.  Grandma is called home before you can reach Father.

I can hear you saying, “But deacon, other religions have married clergy and it doesn’t seem to be a problem.”  The thing you have to remember, with all due respect to our brother clergy, Catholic priests are called upon to do far more then their protestant counterparts.  Anointing of the sick can only be done by a priest and medical emergencies always seem to happen at the worst possible time.  We just expect the priest to always be available.  Protestant churches seem to have larger staff that Catholic parishes, making it more difficult for priest pastors to delegate.  Priests are “married to the Church” forever.  Protestant pastors are employees who can be hired and fired and often are.

Then we have the marriage itself.  Our protestant minister friends have a divorce rate that’s very close to the national average so there’s no reason to think that married priests would do much better.  (BTW, they also have a similar rate of child sexual abuse).   But we belong to a Church that teaches that marriage is until death do us part.  What do you do with a divorced priest?  I imagine you do the same thing you do with a divorced deacon.  Transfer him somewhere where they don’t know his past.  But that’s not really much of a solution.

Just imagine how messy a priest’s divorce could become if the about-to-be exwife blames the Church (the other woman, so to speak) for the breakup. Yikes!

I’ll site an example from my own life and then I’ll lay this topic to rest.  I currently have a handful of parishioners who are mad at me because I left the Goulash Festival a half hour early to catch the tail end of my grandson’s birthday party.  On the other hand, I’m sure I disappointed the grandson by missing his soccer game and the rest of the birthday festivities.

So the members of my church expect me to be available 24/7 and my lovely, long-suffering wife says that when there’s a conflict the diaconate “always” wins out.  And, remember a deacon’s responsibilities are so much less than those of a priest.

Bottom line, you may think you want married priests, but when push comes to shove, you really don’t.  You want the sacraments to be available around the clock, 365 days a year.  You want the priest to spend his free time reading and praying and in general just “being a priest.”  You want him to hang out with the school kids and to never miss a meeting.

When you call the rectory you don’t want to hear that Father had to take his sick child to the doctor and is gone for the day.  The Church hasn’t survived for over 2,000 years by being stupid.  Someday the discipline may change, but I doubt it because it just makes too much sense.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic–BONUS POST

Here I though I had everything planned out.  40 days of Lent.  40 posts.  Everything was just fine until I got to this weekend and realized that there are a lot more than 40 reasons for Catholic coolness.  But the list got shuffled over the last few weeks and here I am with five days left and six posts. So today is a bonus.  I’ll post the regularly scheduled topic later, but here’s another thing that’s cool.  As Catholics we always get more than we expect.

Today’s bonus reason why it’s cool to be Catholic is permanent deacons.  I almost left out my own vocation.  Doh!  Actually, we were on the list from the very beginning, but something else came along that bumped deacons to number 41.  Be that as it may, here’s why deacons make it cool to be Catholic.   Where the priest is ordained for the Eucharist, permanent deacons are ordained for service.

At that time, as the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.  So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table.  Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism.   They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them.  Acts 6: 1-6

Deacons work alongside priests and are responsible to the local bishop.  We receive the sacrament of Holy Orders, just like priests, but we’re ordained to serve.  Service includes assisting the priest (or bishop) at mass.  There are certain parts of the mass that are reserved for deacons and some that are optional.  For example, reading the Gospel is the deacon’s job.  Giving a homily may be done by either the priest or by the deacon.  In some dioceses including my own Archdiocese of Saint Louis, deacons don’t automatically receive preaching faculties when they’re ordained.  It takes a year of service as an ordained deacon and another class to receive them.

A deacon is never an adequate substitute for a priest.  We can’t say mass.  We can’t administer the sacrament of reconciliation.  We can’t anoint the sick.  What we can do is perform other tasks that normally take up the priests’ time, freeing them up to do the things that only they can do.  Deacons visit prisons, we visit hospitals, we work with the elderly and the poor.  There deacons ministering to travelers at many airports and here in Saint Louis we even have a deacon whose ministry is a local truck stop.

There are deacons who teach in schools and in parish schools of religion and deacons who catechize people wanting to join the Church.  We prepare couples for marriage and work with families as they have their children baptized.  And, most of us maintain a secular job, providing a presence of the Church in the workplace.

And we pray.  Twice a day we pray the Liturgy of the Hours and we pray for you.

I’m not very comfortable telling you how great I am, because, frankly, I’m not.  I’m just a guy who heard God calling me to do more for Him and for His Church.  Like everyone else, some deacons are living, breathing saints and some  of us are just happy to serve.  One aspect of deacon coolness is that the vocation accepts married men.  If you’re a man, 35 years old or older, you might be called to the diaconate.  It’s something that’s worth spending the time to discuss with God in your prayers.

If you’re a woman, or if you’re a man who isn’t called to this particular vocation, it’s still cool that the Church restored the permanent diaconate after Vatican II.  There are about 16,000 permanent deacons in the United States, roughly 1 for every 2 priests.  Even though most of us serve on a part-time basis, that’s still a lot of men doing a lot of work for the Church; most of it without compensation.

Some of us do work that frees up our pastors to do other things and some of us do things that wouldn’t get done were it not for deacons.

You have to admit, that’s pretty cool.

 

Personal note:  I know there’s not a married deacon who won’t tell you that it would be impossible to have any kind of diaconal ministry without the loving support of a wife who keeps things going at home while we’re out doing our deacon thing.  I’m no exception.  I couldn’t do this without my wife’s help.  As I write this she’s out working in the yard.  On behalf of deacons everywhere, thank you ladies for making our ministries possible.

 

 

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #30 Subsidiarity

The word for today is subsidiarity.  Chances are it’s not a word you use every day.  It sounds like it might be something from the new translation of the Roman Missal.  In fact, it’s a principle that’s very relevant to our 21st century world, even if you don’t often hear the actual word.

Subsidiarity is the principle that decisions should be made as close to the individual level as possible.  In its simplest form, let’s say I’m about to go to lunch.  Where I eat is a decision that’s best made by little ol’ me.  I don’t need any help choosing between a burger joint and a Mexican place.  But what if my wife and I are going to lunch?  Then it’s most likely a joint decision between her and me.  We don’t need to bring in a third party for their opinion and we certainly don’t need the government telling us where to eat lunch.

To put it into Biblical terms, remember what Jesus said about settling a dispute? ”

If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.  If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.  If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact can be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.”  Mattthew 18:15-17.

That’s subsidiarity.

Church decisions are to be made at the lowest level where they can be effectively made.  The Pope, through the teaching office of the Church makes the big decisions; the ones that effect the whole world.  Anything less is delegated to the individual bishops.  The bishops make decisions which affect their (arch)diocese alone.  Smaller, more local decision making power is delegated by the bishops to their priests, and even to their deacons.

For example, if you and your Catholic high school sweetheart live in the same parish and you want to get married in that parish, that’s strictly between you and your pastor.  If you want to marry someone from another parish, then both pastors have to approve.  But, if you plan on marrying a Lutheran, then the bishop has to give his permission.

In my personal assignment, I’ve been delegated the operation of a Catholic chapel.  I have a letter from the Archbishop that says so.  I don’t need his approval to pay the gas bill, or to buy hosts, wine, candles, or anything else involved in running the church.  Recently we had to spend a large amount to replace the boiler in church.  For that I got the Archbishop’s permission.

This sounds like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo.  What’s cool about that?

Here’s the thing.  Decisions that affect your faith are made as close to you as possible.  You’ll probably never, in your entire earthly life, have to write a letter to the Pope.  If you’re unhappy about something, talk to your pastor (or even your deacon).  If you’re still not happy, take it to the Bishop.  If you’re still not satisfied, you always have the option of taking your issue to Rome, but keep in mind that as the leader of one billion Catholics, the Pope’s a pretty busy guy.  Chances are, you’ll get satisfaction much quicker closer to home.

Here’s another example that might clarify subsidiarity.  For many years my church has celebrated midnight Christmas mass at 4:30 in the afternoon on Christmas Eve.  Supposedly our people don’t like to come out at night.  Recently I’ve been asked to have midnight mass at midnight!  I haven’t decided what I’m going to do yet.  I’ll probably discuss it with some other clergy and with parish leaders, but in the end, it’s my call.  I don’t need the Archbishop’s permission, especially since I believe midnight mass is supposed to be celebrated, if not at 12:00, at least after dark.  A reasonable request, made at the lowest level of the hierarchy (namely me) will get the consideration it deserves.

And that’s why subsidiarity is cool.

 

 

 

2nd Sunday of Lent

Obedience.

It comes from the word obey; to comply with or follow the commands, restrictions, wishes, or instructions of someone in authority.  In the first reading today we have the classic example of obedience.  The Lord tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son.  Without questioning, Abraham heads off to the mountain with Isaac, his son.  He is fully prepared to do as the Lord asks.

The Gospel is the story of the Transfiguration, one we’re very familiar with.  In Mark’s telling of the story the voice of God says to Peter, James, and John: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Then, on the way down the mountain, Jesus tells the Apostles not to talk about what they’ve just seen until He has risen from the dead.  Mark tells us “So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.”  That’s what we call obedience.

 

God the Father told the disciples to listen to His son and that’s what they did.  They didn’t know why.  They didn’t understand what “rising from the dead” meant.  They didn’t question Jesus.  They just did what He told them to do.

You and I are also called to do what Jesus tells us.  Unfortunately our society encourages us to do just the opposite.  People have either forgotten what Jesus told us, or they just don’t care.

 

Our Church has been all over the news lately.  The big national story is the Health and Human Services mandate that Catholic employers provide free contraception to their employers.  Locally, the Church is under fire for firing a Catholic school teacher for marrying his male lover.  I don’t want to talk about either of those stories today, but let’s look at them in the context of obedience.

 

Our Church along with many others teaches that artificial birth control is a sin.  It’s not a suggestion.  It’s not something that you might want to avoid.  It’s a sin.  That doesn’t mean you can’t do it. But, according to our US Constitution, the Church shouldn’t have to pay for you, or anyone else, to do it.

 

But this whole HHS mandate thing isn’t about birth control.  It’s about religious freedom and it’s about obedience.  The “Letters to the Editor” section of today’s (yesterday’s) paper was full of comments on this issue.  Here’s what one person wrote:  “I am Catholic and do not believe the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate is an assault on religious freedom and conscience; it is about Church power and control.”

 

This whole issue will be resolved one way or the other and we’ll deal with it when it is.  We’ve been dealing with the consequences of Roe vs. Wade for a long time.  The HHS mandate, if it stands, will not destroy the Church.  The Church has survived much worse.

 

What drives me crazy are people who don’t take the time to learn the truth but still want to express their very-public opinion anyway.  Let’s be clear.  The Church doesn’t control anybody.  She doesn’t control you.  She doesn’t control me.  The Church teaches.  Remember when Jesus said to the Apostles “Whoever hears you, hears me.”  (Luke 10:16)

 

The Church teaches on behalf of Jesus.  Whether you listen or not is up to you.  Through its teaching authority the Church passes along to us the will of God.  When we go along it’s called “obedience”.

 

But what about free will.  God gave us free will and a conscience.  He never makes us do anything.  Adam and Eve had free will.  God had given them two commandments; only two.  “Be fruitful and multiply” and “don’t eat the apple”.  So, being human and having free will, what did they do?  They ate the apple!  Two rules!  Just two rules and they could only manage to obey one of them.  They were 50% obedient and the rest is history.

 

We have a duty to God and to ourselves to form our conscience. The best way to do that is to live according to the teachings of Jesus and His Church.  With the Internet available to just about everybody there’s no excuse for not knowing Church teaching.  There’s no excuse for not being obedient.  “THIS IS MY SON, LISTEN TO HIM!”  There’s really no excuse for making a fool out of yourself by starting a letter to the editor “I am Catholic” then proceeding to criticize Church teaching. A logical person would read this guy’s letter and wonder why he doesn’t just leave the Church. Our obedience (or disobedience) doesn’t add up to Church control

 

Look at it this way.  When we’re little our parents pretty much control our lives.  They tell us what to do and when to do it.  They feed us and dress us and don’t give us a whole lot of choices.  Why do they do that?  Are they control freaks or are they trying to protect us, keep us safe, and teach us right from wrong.

 

Gradually, as we get older and smarter, they start to give us more choices.  We can decide what we want to eat (up to a point).  We start to pick out our own clothes.  And we get more freedom.  Anyone who ever had a teenager in their family knows that we all reach a point where we reject what we think of as control and start bending the rules to see how much we can get away with.  Hopefully, as parents, we’ve helped form the kid’s conscience so they know right from wrong.

 

When my kids were little I told them not to play with matches.  It wasn’t me (a large person) trying to control them (small people), it was me trying to save their lives.  They’re all grown ups now, they’ve not set themselves on fire (that I know of), and I don’t think any of them play with matches.  Clearly the result of my superior parenting skills.

 

It’s the same with the Church.  She teaches us right from wrong.  She helps us form our conscience.  But, it’s up to us to decide what we’re going to believe, what we’re going to do.  We can choose to be obedient, as Abraham was obedient; as the Apostles were obedient.  Or, we can be disobedient like Adam and Eve and get thrown out of the Garden.  It’s up to us.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #34 The Code of Canon Law

“You’re kidding, right?  What could possibly be cool about a huge book of rules and regulations.  Most Catholics have never even seen the book and couldn’t care less what’s in it.

OK.  I know it’s not on everybody’s book shelf but I’m more interested in the contents than in the book itself.  Every Catholic is impacted by the Code  of Canon Law whether they know it or not.  I hate to pick on McDonald’s again, (see Et Cum Spiritu Tuo)but you may recall in an earlier post I pointed out that every single McDonald’s in the world is operated according to a set of rules.  Big Macs come with special sauce.  Quarter Pounders come with catsup, mustard, and pickles.  All of those rules are written down somewhere.  The same goes for the Church.

If you’ve ever had a Catholic wedding, you’ve been affected by the Code.  If you’ve been baptized, if you’ve been confirmed, if you belong to a parish, you’re affected by the Code.  Every single aspect of Catholicism is covered.  Granted it’s hard to read.  Granted it can be confusing.  But that’s why we have canon lawyers.  These men, just like civil lawyers, are trained on what’s in the code and how to interpret it.

Here’s the thing.  The Church is 2,000 years old, the oldest institution on earth.  You don’t last for 20 centuries if everybody’s running around doing their own thing.  We have over a billion members.  Think of the chaos if we were all free agents.

As a deacon, there are some things I can do and many more things I can’t.  For example, I can marry you, but in each case I have to be delegated by the pastor of the church where the wedding takes place.  Even priests have to be delegated if they perform a wedding at a parish other than their own.  Only a pastor, acting in his own church, can perform a valid wedding without delegation from someone.  He’s already received that power from the bishop when he was assigned to his parish.

So, to make myself clear:  The huge book isn’t so cool.  Some canon lawyers are cool, but some aren’t.  Surprisingly, most of the ones I know are very cool.  It’s what the Code does that’s cool.  Where the Catechism of the Catholic Church is the handbook for lay Catholics, the Code of Canon Law is the handbook for the clergy.  When a Catholic girl from Chicago and a Buddhist guy from Houston walk into my church in Saint Louis and announce that they want to be married with the ceremony performed by the bride’s uncle who’s a priest living in Las Vegas and, oh, by the way, the potential groom has been married before, I may not know exactly what to do (other than hide under my desk), but I know where to find out.  It’s in the book.

The Code of Canon law is very cool.

Note:  There’s a searchable online version of the Code if you don’t want to invest the money to get your own copy.