Monday, May 25, 2015

Sign Language

At a rather sparsely attended Ascension Vigil Mass, our parish priest asked us to remain standing after the petitions. He then asked those over eighty years of age to sit down. Several parishioners sat. He proceeded to do the same for those over seventy and then sixty. After asking those over fifty to sit, only two people remained standing. This is the future of your parish, he said. The message to us is clear. Our Lord commands in today’s gospel to, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) Obviously, our efforts to do so have been lacking.

The gospel message should be easy to proclaim in this age of mass media, and it is. But the message often falls on deaf ears. Today, we are so immersed in secular self-absorption that God’s message is drowned out. Most people do not want to hear it for it flies counter to their own personal inclinations. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center showed the number of Americans identifying themselves as Catholic declined from 23.9% to 20.8% between 2007 and 2014.

The point our pastor was making should not be taken lightly. Fact is, our pews are mostly empty, and certainly devoid of young people. We have failed to share and propagate our Catholic Faith in our once thriving community. As in many small towns, family-owned businesses have failed to compete with the big box stores, and very few remain. A few years ago, we could buy most anything within walking distance on Main Street. Now people must drive thirty miles to shop for basic needs. The most precious staple in the world, Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, is still readily available here, and yet, very few people take advantage. If we do not do something soon, He too may leave our town.

Desperate times require desperate measures. We Catholics too often keep the light of Christ under the bushel basket. We are afraid to boldly proclaim the truth of the Catholic Church for fear of offending our Protestant brothers and sisters. Sharing the faith can be done with charity and humility, and with confidence.

Last week, our pastor asked me to take down the “Happy Mother’s Day” sign from the parish marquee, and replace it with something of my own choosing. The letters for our sign are quite large and very limiting as to what will fit. I wanted to promote the Holy Eucharist, the one gift we have to offer that no one else in our community has. After trying several different wordings, I settled on, “JOHN 6: 51-58, HERE 4 U EVERY DAY”. The Bible passage comes from the Bread of Life Discourse.

51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; 54 he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. 56 He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” (RSV-CE)

I am hoping our Protestant friends (who often glaze over that passage) will look it up and think about it, especially verse 53. In addition to the sign, we are planning to do some street corner evangelizing next month during our town festival. Please pray for a positive result.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Discrimination or Conscientious Objection?

Our Indiana Governor, Mike Pence, started a media stir when he recently signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act into law. The law was intended to limit government interference in the practice of one’s faith. The federal government under President Bill Clinton passed a similar law in 1993, and some nineteen other states also have such a law on the books. So why is Indiana taking such a firestorm of criticism from celebrities and on social media?

The timing is probably the main factor. When the federal law was passed twenty-two years ago, same-sex unions were not the hot button issue as they are now. Today, those of us who believe in natural marriage, the union of one man and one woman, are quickly labeled as bigots. Those who have no religious objection to same-sex unions see the law as discriminatory.

I have explained the reasons for standing firm for natural marriage in a previous post, so I won’t go into detail again. Suffice to say, God’s created natural design has provided complementary parts in a man and woman that come together to form a union. There is a natural reason why it takes a man and a woman to produce a child. Any attempt to subjugate that design is unnatural, that is, inconsistent with nature. The objection is to the observable incompatibility with the physical design, and becomes religious through acknowledgement of the Creator of that design.

The same-sex proponent says, what right do you have to impose your discriminatory religious beliefs on me or anyone else? I would answer this way. While morals are constant, mores change. What society views as morally acceptable today is not the same as it was a few years ago, and that is not a good thing. Our moral backbone has degenerated over the past few decades. This has taken a toll on the traditional family unit, the effects of which are evident in our society today, especially in the inner cities. We have lost respect for human life.

A couple of weeks ago, a Colorado District Attorney could not file murder charges against someone who cut the unborn baby from a woman seven months pregnant. Under Colorado law, a baby still in the mother’s womb is a fetus, and they could not confirm the baby’s viability by proving it took a breath after it was removed. The mother survived, but the baby did not. No murder charge? How have mores in our society become so perverted? We have allowed it to happen.

Secular media repeatedly produces entertainment promoting the progressive agenda attempting to portray it in the mainstream, and their efforts have been effective. Over time, behavior once considered abhorrent becomes normalized and acceptable. Marriage is no longer seen as a covenant made between a man and a woman. Now it can be any pairing that makes the couple happy. Seeing such arrangements appear normal on a daily basis affects our point of view. We can easily become numbed into indifference, and the structural foundation of our society gradually weakens.

For those of us trying to stay the course, we need to distance ourselves from the frenzy. We have a responsibility to avoid the scandal created by appearing to go along with the changing tide. Doing so is difficult because of the appearance of intolerance. We want to be intolerant of the sin, but not the sinner, and that makes us easily misunderstood and often misrepresented. The religious person cannot in good conscience appear to support something he views as sinful. To do so involves us in the sin of scandal, that is, conduct that may encourage a lapse of faith or religious obedience in another by making our involvement appear as approval.

If a couple comes into my bakery for a loaf of bread, I have an obligation to serve them regardless of their sexual orientation. No sin is involved and I would have no problem selling them a loaf of bread. But if they ask me to use my talent to create a wedding cake with two little plastic men on top, I cannot do so without projecting some tacit approval contrary to my religious beliefs. My conscious would not allow me to cooperate in an event I view as invalid.

The exemption from complicity does not target only same-sex marriage. A heterosexual wedding where the impossibility of consummation exists could also raise a religious objection. A Catholic baker may not want to cater the wedding of one of his fellow Catholics were it to take place outside of the Church due to an impediment to the marriage, such as a prior divorce. A pharmacist living his faith could not distribute abortive birth control, such as the morning-after pill. The American Pharmacists Association delegates at their annual meeting held in San Diego this year said the practice of providing lethal-injection drugs is contrary to the role of pharmacists as health care providers, and urged their members not to do so. No one should be forced to go against his good-faith conscience.

Most difficult for the religious person is convincing others that our non-participation is rooted in love, not hate. We have a genuine concern for the spiritual well-being of those we believe to be in violation of God’s natural plan, and we have a concern for own spiritual health as well. We are to love everyone., but we do not have to condone everyone’s behavior. A few years ago, I did not attend my niece’s wedding because she was a Catholic choosing to marry outside the guidelines of Catholic Canon Law. I don’t hate my niece. I love her. We get along fine even though we have differing points of view.

The proprietor of a pizzeria in a nearby town was interviewed by a local television reporter concerning the newly passed Indiana law. She innocently indicated she would serve anyone who came into her shop for pizza, but would not cater a same-sex wedding reception. After the story aired, she was inundated with hate messages, and threats to burn down her business. The pizzeria was forced to close temporarily. The same people who seem to think you and I need to support everyone and every action are the same ones who often spew hatred toward anyone professing a different point of view. Who are the really intolerant ones here?

The band Wilco cancelled their Indianapolis concert date in protest of the Indiana Religious Freedom law. Think about this. They have a conscientious objection to playing in Indiana and have exercised their right not to do business here. Yet, they think I should give up my right not to do business where I have a conscientious objection.

I find a certain irony in observing the current agenda of the politically correct. We are not to do anything to violate our nature’s environment – no pipelines, no drilling, no coal, no pesticides, no genetically engineered vegetables, no artificial preservatives, and the list goes on. We must keep rain forests and wet lands in their natural state. Yet, those same folks think nothing of manipulating our reproductive nature with artificial birth control, in vitro-fertilization, abortion, genetically modified babies, and unnatural sexual relations.

The leftist outcry against the Indiana RFRA has been so intense that the Governor asked for changes to be made to insure it does not allow discrimination toward homosexuals. New language limits the extent of Religious Freedom to religious organizations and non-profits. Religious freedom for individuals could end up being more restricted than ever. I am glad the owners of the pizzeria have a stronger spine than our legislators. All should realize that man-made law has no power over a properly formed conscience.

I have been reading The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, The April 10 entry is about the 1966 film, A Man for All Seasons, based on the life of Saint Thomas More, and his refusal to betray his conscience regarding the marriage of King Henry VIII. The almanac quotes the following exchange between Thomas More and the Duke of Norfolk:

Norfolk: Oh confound all this. I’m not a scholar, I don’t know whether the marriage was lawful or not but dammit, Thomas, look at these names! Why can’t you do as I did and come with us, for fellowship?

More: And when we die, and you are sent to heaven for doing your conscience, and I am sent to hell for not doing mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?

I would say this to the LBGT community of sympathizers. Good Christians do not hate you. In fact, we love you. Those portraying Christians as bigots are wrong. And if some fundamentalist Christians do hate you just because of your orientation, they are sinning. Here is the gist of the issue from my Catholic point of view. It is not that good Christians do not want to serve you because you are homosexual. There is no sin in having same-sex attraction. The problem arises when that attraction leads to unnatural behavior. That is the point where complicity on our part risks implicit approval of your actions, which can cause us to commit a sin of scandal.

God gave us free will. You can do what you want to do with your body. That is between you and God. But once the boundary is crossed, we cannot cooperate in behavior we view as unhealthy. You should not be able to force me to provide you with cigarettes because you choose to smoke. If I believe I could be causing harm to your lungs, I cannot cooperate in your habit with a clear conscience. Doing so could be sinful for me even though you are the one choosing to smoke. It is the same situation with a same-sex wedding. You can legally do what the law says, but you should have no right to force my involvement. My approval cannot be legislated. And why would you want services from someone reluctant to provide them? Just to prove a point?

Religious freedom restoration is not about discrimination. It is about protecting the right of every person to act in accord with his or her conscience. Calming the waters on this issue requires understanding on both sides. While religious approval of same-sex marriage cannot be legislated, neither can the feelings of those with same-sex attraction. A properly formed Christian conscience says they must be treated with love, respect, kindness and compassion.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Being Politically Catholic

Our diocesan newspaper carried a Catholic News Service report stating that “Catholic organizations welcomed President Barack Obama’s Feb 24 veto” of the Keystone pipeline bill. The article cites only one organization, the Franciscan Action Network, quoting its executive director Patrick Carolan as saying “The Keystone pipeline would be very damaging to the environment.” The CNS report brings to mind a number of questions.

The article implies that more than one Catholic organization opposes construction of the pipeline. Who are the other Catholic groups standing in opposition, or was use of the plural reflecting a reporter’s political view? Does something about construction of the pipeline violate Catholic moral teaching? Is this particular project inherently dangerous to the environment? How are attitudes toward the Catholic Faith affected when Catholic organizations take a public stance on issues that are not necessarily faith related? Unless I am missing something, nothing in Church teaching would prevent us Catholics from favoring a pipeline.

Yes, we are morally obligated to protect our environment, but constructing a properly designed pipeline to transport a God-given resource is not an intrinsic evil. According to the American Petroleum Institute, more than 190,000 miles of liquid petroleum pipelines traverse the United States. Most are underground and go largely unnoticed. Could something bad happen? Perhaps, but most human endeavors involve some environmental impact, not necessarily significant or irreparable. The question here is not whether the pipeline should be constructed, but rather should the laity or clergy take a public stance on a morally neutral issue under a Catholic banner? And, does doing so diminish the public impact of Catholic teaching on the real moral issues facing us today?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Calming the Storm

Why are people so angry? Fuses seem to be short these days. Everywhere you look, someone is lashing out at someone else. What is it in the human psyche that makes folks want to attack others, even over the most trivial of matters? Social media has exacerbated the problem by providing the ability to assault people without looking them in the eye. We call it cyber-bullying and it is prolific in its spread.

Some people have been dealt a bad hand. Things go wrong beyond their control. The frustration can manifest itself in a sour disposition that affects those around them. That is to be expected. What I don’t understand is why so many others enjoy taking advantage of their misery. Is self-esteem is such short supply that some must belittle all others in order to feel superior?

A former coworker often talked about all of the bad experiences he had at restaurants. Almost every time he took his family out to eat, there was a problem. He would deliberately look for an excuse to get a meal discounted, and in the process, makes trouble for an often innocent waitress. Some people seek their happiness by inflicting misery on others. Years ago, another man I knew liked to say things to stun or belittle associates during meetings. He tried to validate his own perceived superiority by casting dispersions on any competing ideas.

We have all felt that little rush of rage that suddenly surges through the body when someone says or does something we do not like. Do we explode, or take a breath and remain calm? True discipline means taking this as an opportunity to diffuse a volatile situation by distancing ourselves from the dramatic component, being a peacemaker when a situation could turn ugly.

I was listening to one of Bishop Sheen’s talks on the Anxiety of Life where he spoke of many people lacking a meaning and purpose of life that prevents them from ever finding happiness. He calls it an existential neurosis, an anxiety of living they experience because they only live for themselves. Bishop Sheen says even telling them to pray will not help those who have an existential neurosis because they are presently too far away from prayer for it to be effective. The cure? He tells them to go out and help their neighbors. Love people who they see. Visit the sick. Help the poor.

We ordinarily interact with a number of people in our daily routine. Each time is an opportunity to spread a little love. It might be a smile, or a cheerful hello. It might be offering encouragement to someone who is having a bad day. We seldom know what may be going on in the lives of those we meet. What we perceive as rude indifference might be caused by a painful distraction. Even when dealing with someone who is incompetent, kindness is more likely to improve the experience than a rude retort. Be understanding. Show restraint.


Go the extra mile by actually seeking out those who need a break. Do something to brighten the day of someone who is struggling. Welcome situations where you may be wronged as opportunities to show forgiveness. Treat others mercifully when they fall short of your expectations. Meet conflict with calm, patience, and a kind word. St. Paul said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost. But for that reason I was mercifully treated, so that in me, as the foremost, Christ Jesus might display all his patience.” (1Tim 1:15-16) Let that be a Lenten model for us all.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My Boyhood Hero

In 1959, I was a third grader at Saints Cyril and Methodius Catholic School. Some of the boys in my class were trading baseball cards at recess. I didn’t have any, but I talked my mother into buying me a pack at the local grocery. The Chicago Cubs were the favorite team of my closest friends and Cub cards were the most cherished. In addition to the bubble gum packs, one could also purchase cards in a cellophane wrap that displayed the top card in clear view.

I found a pack with a Cub on top, Bobby Adams, third baseman. I didn’t know Adams from Adam, but he was a Cub and that’s all that mattered to me. The next day, I proudly took my Cub card to the playground, only to be told that Adams was no longer a Cub. In ’59, he played only three games and his career was over. Undeterred, I decided I needed to learn more about the Cubs.

Most of my friends had a favorite player, so I needed one too. That weekend my dad was watching a ballgame on our old black and white Philco. Passing through the living room I noticed the game and decided to take the opportunity to choose my favorite player. I was in a hurry to go back outside, so the first Cub I could identify was going to be it. So happened that number 14, Ernie Banks was coming up to bat. I quickly memorized the name and went about my way.
When playground conversation eventually turned to favorite players, I interjected that mine was Ernie Banks. Turns out, he was the favorite of most of my more knowledgeable friends too. Fortunately for me, I picked someone whose ’59 season faired far better than that of Mr. Adams. According to baseball-reference.com, Ernie played in 155 games in 1959 (not bad for a 154 game schedule), hit over .300, 45 home runs, and 143 runs batted in. And, he was named Most Valuable Player in the National League for the second year in a row, unusual for a team with losing records.

As my interest in baseball grew, Ernie Banks became my boyhood hero, even to the point of dressing up as him for Halloween. My mother found an old maroon softball uniform that she tried to dye white with Rit. It came out a rather dark gray, but close enough. She sewed a Cub insignia on front and a blue number fourteen on the back. Of course, a boy can’t be recognized on Halloween, so I wore a mask like the Lone Ranger. I wish I had kept a picture!

Playing summer baseball in our town league, I tried to imitate Ernie’s batting stance. He appeared to hold the bat vertically to my nine year-old eyes, so I stood at the plate holding my bat much like Mary Poppins held her umbrella. Suffice to say it didn’t work too well for me.

I grew up following Ernie’s career. He played until 1971, the year I turned twenty-one. He was always my favorite, not just for his talent, but mostly because of his always positive attitude which continued to be displayed in his many subsequent public appearances.

Last night, we all learned of Ernie’s death, just eight days short of his eighty-fourth birthday. Today, the tributes, stories and photos abound in all forms of media. Typically, Ernie displays that big smile on nearly every picture. Coming up through the Negro leagues in the early 1950’s, I am sure he faced many difficulties. Just watch the movie 42 on Jackie Robinson’s life if you do not know what it was like. Yet, Ernie was always upbeat, always optimistic, always friendly, and always a gentleman. What a better world this would be if we all had his demeanor.

Imitating Ernie’s batting stance didn’t make me a better ball player, but imitating his outlook on life has made me a better person. He will continue to inspire all the lives he touched. May his soul rest in peace.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

One by One

Last month, I announced our second effort at reaching Catholics who have drifted away from the faith. We had invitations printed with a photo of our beautiful stained-glass Nativity window on one side, and a message of reconciliation on the other. We included the names of about six parishioners who were behind this project, and a phone number for personal contact. A colorful insert explained how and why to return to Sunday Mass and Confession. We also included one of the little cards provided by the Catholics Come Home organization with our Mass times printed on the back.

On the day of the scheduled gathering, one of our group members, Mark, called me to make arrangements to set up the room since I had a key to the hall. I agreed to meet him at 1 PM on the Wednesday afternoon. Shortly after we arrived as we were wiping off tables, a woman knocked on the door asking for help. She, her seven year-old son, and his father were living with another couple where some abuse was taking place. She felt threatened and was worried about her safety and that of her son while his father was working an afternoon shift.

Without going into detail, I spent the next six hours with her at the hall while we tried to find a remedy for her situation. During the afternoon, she revealed that she was baptized and confirmed as a child in the Catholic Faith, but had not practiced for many years. I asked her whether she had ever considered coming back. She said she felt peace here at the Church and would very much like to come back and also raise her son as a Catholic. I told her we would be having Mass at 6 PM, and she agreed to go. By this time, the school day was over, and her son was with her. I took both of them to Mass, her first time in some twenty years.

Afterwards, it was time for our gathering for lapsed Catholics. As it turned out, she and her son were the only guests we received that evening. Our little group of evangelists listened to her story and made her feel welcome. When the father got off work, he picked them up and they left, presumably to return to a difficult living arrangement.

As Mark and I were cleaning up after everyone had gone home, we remarked on how the Holy Spirit seems to work in such mysterious ways. We mailed about sixty-five specially printed invitations to our Christmas gathering, and not one of the invitees attended. Yet, had we not scheduled this event and arbitrarily decided to meet at 1 PM to prepare, we would not have been there when this woman knocked on the door. No one would have been there. But, a woman who had not been to Mass in many years, went to Mass that evening, and that was our purpose for being there.

Two events, and two success stories. Incidentally, the gentleman we reached at our October meeting returned to Mass for the first time earlier this evening. Shortly after he made his confession, he became ill. His cancer has returned and he is facing another long battle. Please keep him in your prayers. His name is Jerry.

Wishing everyone a very Blessed Christmas and a joyous faith-filled New Year!