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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, Saint Louis, MO

Saint John Nepomuk Chapel, Saint Louis, MO

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 Myths About the Catholic Church–The Church is Irrelevant

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pope Retires

benedict eucharistI’ve been watching today as the “experts” come out of the woodwork with their commentaries on Benedict XVI‘s retirement.  It’s amazing how many Kresgin wannabe’s think they can read the man’s mind.  “He’s retiring because the job’s too hard.”  “He’s retiring because of the child abuse scandal.” How about this:  The man is 85 years old!  He’s suffering from the effects of old age.  He wants to spend his remaining time on earth getting ready for the life to come.  I’d like to suggest that the so-called experts get back to us when they’re 85 and let us know if they still want to hold a 24-hour a day job.

The logical next step is for the pundits to make their predictions about who the Cardinals will select to replace Benedict.  It’s amazing how many people think they have some insight on how 120 or so men from all over the world are going to vote.  The common denominator of almost all popes has been that everyone was surprised that they were chosen.  Stop wasting your time trying to predict what the Holy Spirit is going to do!  You’ll just look foolish.

The next big issue is whether the new Pontiff will be “liberal” or “conservative”.  This drives me crazy!  This isn’t politics.  This is the Church created by Jesus Christ more than 2,000 years ago.  When it comes to the teachings of the Church there is no such thing as liberal or conservative.  As  Catholics we have two choices.  We either accept everything the Church teaches or we don’t.  If we choose not to accept 100% of what She teaches, we’re not “liberals”, we’re heretics.  If we choose to override Jesus’ teachings, Jesus’ Church, then we’re trying to make ourselves gods and what that leads to isn’t going to be pretty.

One of those things that we must accept as Catholics is that the Holy Spirit will guide our Cardinals in making the correct choice.  As my son pointed out on facebook today, the Catholic-bashers are already making their presence known.  This (the Pope’s resignation) is just one more excuse for them to hurl their anti-Catholic venom in our direction.  These people are so blinded by hate for what they think the Catholic Church teaches, that they’ll completely miss the  beauty and dignity of the replacement process.  I feel sorry for them.

This is a time of great challenges and great opportunities for the Church.  In the weeks ahead the Cardinals are going to get together and decide who our next Holy Father will be.  Instead of wasting our time reading and listening to people who haven’t the faintest idea what they’re talking about, how about you and I spend some  time on our knees asking the Holy Spirit to guide our Cardinals in making the best choice.  Pray, too, that Benedict XVI will live the remainder of his earthly life in peace, tranquility, and good health.  And pray that whoever the new Pope may be, that we will have the grace and wisdom to listen to what he has to say and give him the respect that his holy office deserves.

Blessed John Paul II, pray for us.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to Be Catholic #23 2,000 Years of Church History

And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,*and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.l I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.* Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Matthew 16:18-19

And so began the Roman Catholic Church.  We’ll get into the subject of the Pope in a later post.  (Hint:  He’s in the top 10.)  What I want to talk to you about today is our amazing history.  Think about it.  Jesus began with twelve Apostles, just barely enough for a soccer team.  Today His Church numbers more than 1 Billion members.  We’ve had our highs and we’ve had our lows, but as Jesus predicted, even the gates of hell (the netherworld) haven’t prevailed against.  Oh, they’ve tried, and I’m not just talking about today’s news.

Over the centuries, political powers have tried to snuff out the Church.  More than once Catholics have found themselves to be criminals because the government has made the practice of the faith illegal.  Masses have been said in people’s homes, behind hedge rows, even in prison.  But the Church always prevails.

The first serious challenge to the Church didn’t happen until 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the Cathedral wall.  Even though Luther didn’t intend to start a new church, that’s how things worked out and the Lutheran Church was born.  It was a perfect storm.  Gutenberg invented the printing press, more people were learning to read, and Luther’s abbreviated Bible was all the rage.  Suddenly anyone who had a beef with the Roman Church has someplace else to go.

Don’t misunderstand.  I’m not criticizing anyone’s belief system.  All Christians worship the same God.  All the rest is just details.  Someday, hopefully, we’ll all be reunited in a single Church.

But I digress.  The history of the world would be so different if it weren’t for the Catholic Church.  In spite of what some of the politically correct would have you believe, we even count the years based on the year Christ was born.  Since the time of Christ, every great civilization has had an official position on Catholicism.  Some were for us.  Some were against us.  But you can’t deny the effect.

For 2,000 years, Church history is world history.  There are some who would deny this, but you can’t fight the facts.  For comparison, here’s a little timeline I made up of the founding of some of the protestant faiths:

      year       faith tradition
30       Catholic
1517       Lutheranism
1517       Calvanism (Presbyterianism)
1609        Baptists
1700       Freemasonry
1830       Mormonism
1830       Cambellites
1845       7th Day Adventists
1870       Jehovah’s Witnesses
1879       Christian Scientists
1906       Pentecost Assemblies
1914       Assemblies of God
1934       World Wide Church of God
1955       Scientology

This list is hardly comprehensive (There are more than 20,000 protestant denominations) and some of the dates may be in dispute, but I hope you get my drift.  Two thousand years of western history have been driven by the rise and fall and rise again of the Catholic Church.

And, that’s cool.

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.