Palm Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

Fortunately Jesus’ response if always the same:

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

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40 Myths About the Catholic Church–Catholics can pick and choose what they want to believe

cafeteria1This is a myth that circulates more within the Church than without.  The popular name for the phenomenon is “Cafeteria Catholicism“.  These folks see the Church as some kind of spiritual buffet where they can choose what to pick up and what to leave alone.

Here’s what’s wrong with cafeteria Catholicism.  First, it’s just not true.  Our faith is an all-or-nothing thing.  Either we’re Catholic or we’re not.  We may not like something the Church teaches but chances are we just don’t understand it.  Just the other day someone thanked me for something I had posted.  He said he never knew why the Church taught this particular thing, but now that I had explained it, it made perfect sense.  I don’t believe that most of the time, people who diss a particular teaching mean to be disobedient.  I just think they don’t understand it.  If anyone is to blame, it’s people like me who have the faculty to preach but haven’t done a good enough job explaining things.

The second problem with cafeteria Catholics is that they give the wrong impression of the Church to people seeking the truth.  When children are baptized the parents promise to raise them in the faith.  Then they proceed to stay in bed on Sunday morning, telling the kids that they really don’t have to go to mass every week.  How can they expect Junior to believe anything the Church teaches when they choose to ignore this most important element of the faith.  They’re going to go to Catholic school (or, hopefully, at least PSR) and the teacher is going to try to educate them in the faith.  Kids being kids, they’re going to spot the differences between what the teacher tells them and the way Mom and Dad practice the faith and, at best, they’re going to be confused.  Worst case is that they’re going to reject everything the teacher says.

Then we have the nominal (in name only) Catholics who love to go on line or write a letter to the editor explaining what’s wrong with the Church.  I call these people “Catholic buts”.  Actually, that’s what they call themselves.  Their messages always start with, “I’m a loyal Catholic but” or “I’m a faithful Catholic but” or “I’m a practicing Catholic but.”  Then they go on to explain why the Church is wrong on (fill in the blank).  The problem here is that, one, these folks give an entirely false message to the public at large.  They think, “Obviously the Church is wrong on this because Martha, in Marthasville, a “faithful Catholic but” says so.

Forget that Martha’s now 39 years old and her Catholic education ended when she  was in eighth grade and 13 years old.  These are the same people who skew the polls and give us headlines like “90% of Catholics have used artificial birth control!”  Of course, Martha told the pollster that she’s a Catholic, after all, if she goes to church, she goes to a Catholic mass.  And, even if it’s been months or years since she’s seen the inside of the Church, she happily marches herself up to receive communion.

Frankly, I don’t understand why anyone would self-identify as a member of any organization, whether it be a church, or a neighborhood organization, that I don’t agree with.  It doesn’t make sense.  The Boy Scouts have a twelve-point law.  It doesn’t say a scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, courteous, OR kind.  (Pick two).  No, a scout must be all twelve things.  You can’t be a disobedient scout.

There are more than 20,000 different Christian denominations in the world.  There’s bound to be one that you agree with.  If not, start your own.  That’s how there got to be over 20,000 if them.

No, we don’t get to pick and choose.  The Church is not a cafeteria.  It has a very fixed menu developed over 2,000 years, created by Jesus himself.

Thursday of the 3rd Week of Advent–Miracles

My office manager and I were talking today about miracles.  We each have stories where God has rescued us from near-death experiences.  She was held up at gun point on the church parking lot and she was once threatened by a man with a gun in a particularly rough part of our metro area.  (Think National Lampoon’s Vacation.)  She managed to escape then heard on the evening news that the same gang that threatened her committed a similar crime just minutes later, raping a woman repeatedly.

Mine didn’t involve a gun, but rather a semi-truck.  To make a long story short, I had just turned into the left turn lane when a truck went airborne in the lane I had just left.  It went sailing through the air at just about the right height to cut me in half if I hadn’t changed lanes.

I think most of us have experiences like that.  People of faith will credit them to God.  People of no faith will call it luck.  There have been other miracles in my life, some big, some small.  The fact that I’m an ordained member of the Catholic clergy is definitely a miracle (and proof that Jesus has a sense of humor.)  The fact that a high-school nerd married a cheerleader is certainly a miracle.  And I can’t look at my four grown-up kids or my four grandchildren without seeing the hand of God.

So, what happened?  Why do so many Americans, even Americans who express a belief in God, have such a hard time accepting the fact that God does perform miracles in our lives?  Are we so self-centered that we believe we don’t need God to help us out from time-to-time?  Have modern technology and medical science made miracles seem obsolete?  Are we just so jaded that we can’t see God in a world that has so much darkness in it?

These are not rhetorical questions.  I don’t have the answers.  But after the events of last week in Connecticut, I think it’s high time that those of us who do believe in miracles had better get busy trying to convert the non-believers.  Sometimes miracles are performed by highly skilled physicians using techniques that have been developed by other highly skilled men and women.  Just because a damaged heart is repaired in the operating room doesn’t mean that God didn’t have a hand in it.  Every operation is not a success.

As a hospital minister for many years I could go on for hours about patients whose doctors discovered cancer while they were  in the hospital for something else.  Had they not had the lesser problem the fatal disease might not have been discovered until it was too late.  I’ve even seen visitors in the hospital having heart attacks that would have been fatal if they had been at home.

In just a few days we’re going to commemorate the greatest miracle of all.  The all-powerful God came down from heaven to become one of us.  In the process He saved us from our sins and made it possible for us to live forever.  We give thanks for that and all the other great miracles we’ve witnessed in our lives, but let’s not forget the small miracles that happen around us every day.

40 Reasons Why It’s Cool to be Catholic #17 Catholic Music

Bach—Beethoven—Dvorak—-Mozart—Verdi—-Handel

What do they have in common?  They wrote Catholic music, particularly Catholic masses.  Over the centuries the mass has been the inspiration of the greatest composers of all time.  In some cases, for instance Schumann, Stravinski, and Verdi, they weren’t even Catholics yet they composed magnificent music for the mass.

While we’re on the subject of Catholic music, we can’t forget Gregorian chant.  There’s nothing more beautiful than well-done chant sung by a choir of monks.

Rather than give you a history of music in the Church, I’m going to let the music do the talking.  Click on any of the following links and enjoy.

Catholic music is really cool!

3rd Thursday of Lent

Play ball!

I don’t know about where you live, but here in Saint Louis we celebrate our own holiday–Opening Day.  It seems like this civic celebration normally happens the first week of April, but this year it falls on the last day of March.  I guess it’s like Easter.  It doesn’t come on a specific day of the calendar, but this year it seems early.  On the other hand, given the weather we’ve had this winter in the Midwest, it can’t come soon enough.

Don’t get me wrong.  This “official” start of summer is no respecter of the weather man.  It has been known to snow here on the “boys of summer”.  But today is a rite of passage for most of us and spring and summer can’t be too far behind.

During the course of the year, we have no shortage of harbingers, days that mean that something is about to happen.  For most of us Memorial Day means the beginning of summer and Labor Day means the end, even though the calendar says otherwise.  The thing is, we all need hope.  Without it, we wouldn’t even bother to get up in the morning.  Saint Paul tells us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love.  And, it’s hard to argue the point.

But, hope springs eternal.  Hope keeps us going.  And some of us may even hope for love.

Of course, the greatest sign, the greatest promise of hope is Easter, when Jesus defeated death and made eternal life possible for you and me.  As we enter the second half of Lent, I hope that you find encouragement and hope in whatever penitence you’ve chosen for this special season.  I promise I will continue to pray for you and I hope you will pray for me.