Saturday, August 11, 2018

Imagine no Possessions

Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two
and gave them authority over unclean spirits.
He instructed them to take nothing for the journey
but a walking stick—
no food, no sack, no money in their belts.
They were, however, to wear sandals
but not a second tunic.
He said to them,
“Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave.
Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you,
leave there and shake the dust off your feet
in testimony against them.”
So they went off and preached repentance.
The Twelve drove out many demons,
and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

On Sunday, July 15, we heard Mark’s gospel where Jesus sends His apostles out to teach.  Our priest, in his homily, said this is where His disciples became apostles.  The word disciple comes from a Latin word meaning learner.  Apostle is derived from a Greek word aposotolos, meaning one who is sent, or a messenger.  The Latin term would be missio, where we get the word missionary.

Interesting to me is the way Jesus sent his missionaries.  He told them to take nothing for the journey, no food, no sack, no money, no extra clothes.  They were to take only a walking stick, their sandals, and the clothes on their backs.  The homilist said this meant we should detach ourselves from material things that weigh us down or prevent us from focusing on our mission.  Travel light, in other words, so to be not encumbered by excess baggage.  Applying this passage to our current parish mission of evangelization, I think the message goes even deeper.

At the end of every Mass comes the dismissal.  We are invited to go forth.  When the Mass was in Latin, the priest said, “Ite, missa est.”  We are being sent forth as missionaries to spread the good news.  If you are like me, I walk out of Mass with this mission, but I go home and resume my normal daily routine.

Now, imagine what would happen if the priest is standing at the rear of the church greeting people as they prepare to leave, but acting in the person of Christ, he collects your car keys, your house keys, your cell phones, your wallets and purses.  Acting in the person of Christ, he gives you a walking stick, tells you to pair up with a partner and go spread the gospel.  Could you go home and resume your normal routines?  No!  You have no way of getting home unless you walk, and even then, you are locked out.  You have no food, no money for food or lodging.  What would you do?

I can envision all of us standing in front of the church dumbfounded.  Whoa!  What do we do now?  I have the clothes on my back and this stupid stick.  Now what?  It occurs to me that we would suddenly find ourselves completely dependent on those we are called upon to evangelize.   If we are to obtain food and shelter before nightfall, we will need to rely on the generosity of others.  Our mission suddenly becomes something we do not when convenient, but immediately out of necessity. 

Perhaps the apostles were equally shocked by Our Lord’s instruction.  Their sustenance was dependent on the success of their mission.  Humbled by their lack of possessions, they approached the community as faithful servants of God, able to share their message without pretense. 

The challenge for us is to approach our mission of evangelization with humility, as an immediate need rather than a waiting opportunity, despite the material possessions that make us so comfortable in our routine. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Lean Right

The deep polarization of our country is unsettling to say the least.   Here in northwest Indiana, we are inundated with political ads for the Illinois governors race.  Whoever writes those television spots must think the voters have sub-zero IQs.  Both Democrats and Republicans insult our intelligence with inane characterizations of their opponents, trying to make them look as ridiculous as possible.  Do they realize the middle school demographic they appear to target cannot yet vote?

I can imagine how the Catholic faith will be disparaged during the upcoming Supreme Court confirmation hearings.  Brett Kavanaugh’s orthodoxy will be scrutinized by the Democrats for fear that he actually follows Catholic teaching.  Front and center will be Roe v. Wade with the left concerned that a right leaning court will eventually overturn legal abortion.  The same people who are outraged about children being separated from their parents at the Mexican border have no qualms about an unborn baby being violently separated from its mother.

Before any nominee was even announced, the protesters were gearing up for a fight.  Think about what our society has come to.  The President nominates a good honest family man who respects life, and promises to interpret the Constitution as it was written.  People on the left attack him viciously because he likely opposes destroying the life of unborn babies. 
If I were being questioned in a pejorative way about my Catholic faith, I would say, “Senator, with all due respect, if your judgement were not so corrupted by evil, you would view my Catholic faith as a blessing, not a liability.”  Of course, I wouldn’t stand a chance of being confirmed after that!

Generations from now, historians looking back at this period will view abortion the same way we now view human sacrifice that took place centuries ago.  They will wonder how a civilized society ever permitted unborn children to be dismembered in the mother’s womb.  At least, I pray this will be the case. Otherwise, a continuation down the path we are on does not bode well for the future of humanity.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Comeback attempt

Our parish evangelization effort continues.  We held our second meeting this week.  Several contacts had been made with fallen-away Catholics since our last meeting, but no one has as yet come home.  We also made a few contacts at our festival booth this past weekend and gave away several copies of Trent Horn’s book, Why We're Catholic.  Seeds planted, still waiting for any to sprout. 

I was listening to a Catholic Answers Live podcast today while mowing the grass.  The guest was Lisa Cooper speaking on the Prosperity Gospel.  Someone mentioned Joel Osteen and how he has such a tremendously large following.  Lisa Cooper said he comes across as a very gentle Christian man which most people find appealing.    Even Catholics who may not be firmly grounded in their faith may find themselves attracted to his personality.  People can be easily swayed by good looks, a nice suit and a pleasant disposition.  The doctrinal accuracy of the message may not always hold up to scrutiny, but that matters little when the listener enjoys the experience. 

Conversely, Catholic truth can fall on deaf ears when the presentation is less than appealing.  The Catholic not firmly grounded in the faith can be turned off by a poorly executed homily.  Like it or not, the experience of the listener is paramount to how the message is received.  This is a concern for those of us trying to get fallen-away Catholics to return to the faith.  The person who has not set foot in church for many years will be affected more by the experience than the message during that first time back.  A priest or single member of the parish can determine whether a second or third attendance occurs.  Given time, it may be possible to keep them returning for the right reasons. 

During our town’s annual festival parade last weekend, I drove a truck behind an elaborate float representing a Protestant church nearby.  They had probably twenty youngsters dressed in matching tee shirts, handing out candy and pamphlets along the parade route.  They reached many more souls than we Catholics did with our rather passive tactic of setting up a booth and waiting for festival-goers to approach us.  Even more discouraging is the fact that we do not have twenty young people active in our parish anymore.  While the Catholic Church will be here until the end of time, there is no guarantee that our particular parish will survive.  Our work is cut out for us.  Time to get busy!

Friday, May 25, 2018

Diploma See

Having graduated from Purdue University many years ago, a recent newspaper article about the 2018 Commencement Address by Purdue President Mitch Daniels caught my eye.  Commencement speeches often focus on worldly problems the graduates will conquer.  While acknowledging the fact that today’s graduates are academically prepared to meet the challenges they face, President Daniels talked about the moral and ethical challenges that await them.  He put it bluntly.

When we can genetically engineer perfect children, should we? When wealthy adults can radically enhance their own mental abilities and life spans well beyond those less fortunate, should we let them? When robots, and a dwindling fraction of technologically gifted workers, are producing the majority of all the value and wealth in society, what will become of those who appear unnecessary? Will they be treated with respect, or as helpless dependents? If the latter, will the productive minority decide, as some have begun to speculate, that the others no longer deserve an equal say in the society’s decisions?”

Some of these questions are already being answered today, and the answer is frightening.  Last year, a US Fertility Clinic supposedly engineered a baby boy using the DNA of three different people.  A British court refused to let the parents of a brain-damaged boy take him out of the country for further treatment, and instead cut off life support allowing the child to die. This is what happens when human beings decide to play God. 

Daniels went on to caution graduates to resist the unintentionally tendency to segregate from their less blessed, less well educated fellow citizens.  He notes that our nation has seemingly divided into tribes, made up of people with very different views of true and false, right and wrong.  They seem deeply alienated from each other and deeply distrustful, and this distrust has eroded confidence in our public institutions.  Again, quoting from his speech:

“There are plenty of culprits here, starting with too many who have misused positions of authority. The so-called social media – I have come to think of it as “antisocial media” – enables and encourages hostility from the insulated enclave of a smartphone or a laptop.  People say things to and about each other that they would never say face to face, or maybe even think, if they knew each other personally.”

Here, he hits on one of the major causes of the polarization plaguing our nation today.  I am appalled at some of the statements internet trolls post online.  Such disrespect would never take place in a face-to-face conversation.  If the political viciousness weren’t enough, cyber bullying may be one of the major factors contributing to the violent acts we see taking place in our streets and schools.  This tribal mentality is particularly dangerous when the tribe gangs up on a weaker individual.  The helpless victim may see no relief other than self-destruction or violent retribution.  Daniel’s term “anti-social media” describes it well. 

I find it refreshing that the president of a secular institution of higher learning would speak on moral and ethical responsibility in a commencement address.  The graduates, and indeed all of us, would do well to ponder his concerns.  Despite our diverse views, we should always treat everyone with respect.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Quest Begins

Last week, our two local parishes held a dinner meeting to kickoff implementation of the goals set by our First Diocesan Synod.  Over the next three years, the priest, lay staff, and our parishioners will focus efforts on three pastoral priorities.  The number one priority will be evangelization, welcoming Catholics home.  Our evangelization committee will establish outreach programs to meet with non-practicing Catholics in our parishes to provide opportunities for church participation discussions.

This will not be an easy task.  Last month, I wrote about previous efforts that have fallen short.  At the very least, we have learned what approaches are least effective. This new effort will take a more direct approach with an emphasis on person-to-person contact.  We will be also using modern media to get people thinking about their faith journey.

One concern brought to our committee involves how any reverts will be impacted by our parish environment.   As in any church setting, personalities affect the spiritual temperament.  It is no secret that our current pastor’s affinity for lengthy, somewhat condescending homilies has turned some people away.  Parishioners perceive his tough love approach as angry and berating, rather than loving and nourishing.  As a result, we have lost many parishioners to other area parishes. 

In this particular evangelization effort, we are more concerned with people who are no longer practicing at all, but our efforts could backfire if those coming back to Mass for the first time in a long while are turned off by the experience.  Those of us attune to the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Sacrifice can overlook lousy homilies, but others who have been away will need time to redevelop the appreciation. 

The challenge is to convey the joy we experience in this wondrous gift during a brief encounter with someone who may indifferent or even antagonistic.   It is often said that all we can do is plant the seeds and let the Holy Spirit do the rest.  But, as our facilitator pointed out at the meeting, we are also the fertilizer.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Evangelization Realization

Our parish recently participated in a diocesan synod.  One of our main goals arising from the process is evangelization.  The desire to bring our separated brethren back to the Church is nothing new to us.  For the past several years, I was among a small group of parishioners making such an effort.  We met once a week, kicking around ideas and devising various plans.

Four years ago, we used an old parish roster to compose a list of former parishioners who were no longer attending Mass to the best of our knowledge.  Sixty-six personalized invitations were sent out inviting them to an informal pizza party, along with contact information for anyone who would like to talk privately.  Only one person came that evening.  We had a very nice discussion with him, but he never fully embraced a return to the Church.  Cancer claimed his life last year. 

For the past few years, we offered tours of our beautiful church during a local festival weekend.  Setting up a booth on the sidewalk, we encountered a number of families, offering them rosaries, pamphlets, audio CDs, and guided tours.  Most of them were out-of-town visitors, so we may not be aware of any impact we had on their lives. 

Last year, we organized what we called a Friendship Chili Supper.  We asked every one of our parishioners to bring a friend.  We had a great turnout, and about half of those in attendance were not Catholic.  After dinner, we presented a few lighthearted exercises to promote friendship.  Prayer cards and short questionnaires were on each table for anyone wishing information about our faith.  We also had a table full of free books, and other Catholic publications.  Despite some wonderful conversations, we saw no measurable results.

Our most recent effort took place on December 6, the feast of St. Nicholas, with an Italian beef supper, and visit from the historical St. Nick himself.  The event was well publicized in the local media.  Again, we had a good turnout.  The presentation on St. Nicholas was well received, but any evangelization that may have taken place went unnoticed.

It is often said that we just plant the seeds and the Holy Spirit does the work.  That may be true, but it has become obvious that our efforts are falling short.  As our renewed evangelization effort takes root, the entire parish will need to become more involved.  While our previous efforts may have been icebreakers, we need to engage people in a more personal encounter.  Doing so productively will require introspection on our own spiritual condition.  We cannot share what we do not have.