Thursday, July 24, 2014

Nuts and Bolts

For years I made widgets
And I made them up right
With a nut and a bolt
And bound them up tight

To be strong and be fast
To stay straight and true
To be best and to last
To do what they do

A widget must be bound
With a nut and a bolt
To hold it together
Long after it’s sold

Til one day I was told
As if matter of fact
You don’t need nut and bolt
To keep them intact

You see, it’s not fair
So how dare you say
A widget must be bound
In a particular way

A bolt with a bolt
Will work just as fine
Or a nut with a nut
Could keep them in line

But how can that work
With such a radical change
A bolt with a bolt
That seems a bit strange

Nor can two nuts be tied
In a natural connection
The widget will be flawed
By such imperfection

Two fasteners alike
Can’t mechanically connect
But to say so out loud
Is not politically correct

They can’t form a bond
Don’t you understand?
“Do it!” said the judge
“It’s the new law of the land”

But how can you say
The way it should be
Changing the course
Of all history

Assembled that way
With design so amended
The widgets won’t work
As designer intended

You can’t call it a widget
Constructed that way
It’s not the same thing
At the end of the day

Design can’t be changed
By a simple decree
That’s not how it works
Not the way it should be

You see where I stand
My objection recorded
They aren’t really widgets
Once so disordered

And so I proclaim
As designer designed
Only one natural way
To keep them aligned

Safeguard the widget
In the Great Commission
With both nut and bolt
To hold firm the position

Just stating the fact
Despite the revolt
In the end all depends
On the nut and the bolt

Monday, June 23, 2014

In the Mind’s “I”

Most puzzling to me is how so many delusional lunatics in this crazy world think they can rally their cause by killing innocent people and then themselves. Obviously I am no psychiatrist, but a finding rational explanation is unlikely even if I were. It simply makes no sense.

On May 23, a young man in Isla Vista, California, murdered six people and then killed himself in what he called retribution to punish women for rejecting him, or “starving him of sex” as he put it. Thirteen others were injured in random attacks. The perpetrator apparently thought women had an obligation to service him sexually, and when he found none willing to do so, he decided the appropriate action was to kill anyone he happened to come across. Entitlement mentality so extreme, it includes taking other people’s lives.

The killer’s parents had connections to the film industry. Washington Post movie critic Ann Hornaday wrote a column placing some of the responsibility on the “toxic double helix of insecurity and entitlement that comprises Hollywood’s DNA.” She went on to say, “For generations, mass entertainment has been overwhelmingly controlled by white men, whose escapist fantasies so often revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment (often, if not always, featuring a steady through-line of casual misogyny).” The perpetrator’s “rampage may be a function of his own profound distress, but it also shows how a sexist movie monoculture can be toxic for women and men alike.” Her column drew an angry reaction from those in Hollywood she targeted.

Ann Hornaday has a point, but “Hollywood’s DNA” may be traced to a culture shift that began at the Lambeth Conference in 1930 when the Anglicans became the first Protestant denomination to allow artificial birth control in some circumstances. Soon the dominos began to fall and most Protestant faiths followed suit. The sexual revolution really took off with the development of the pill. Once the procreational component was removed, sex became primarily recreational in the eyes of many. While Hollywood may not have caused this distortion, the media certainly accelerated its spread. The Internet also contributed by making pornography readily accessible to the masses, furthering the image of women as objects of pleasure.

In his 1968 Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned “that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.” How prophetic! Today the movies and media in general reflect and promote this lowering of moral standards. The Iska Vista shooter certainly bought into this twisted culture.

Secular society tends to pooh-pooh these notions that its problems are rooted in violations of the natural law as created by God. The proliferation of artificial contraception, same-sex marriage and gender manipulation, have ramifications never anticipated by their promoters. Even the current movement to legalize marijuana flourishes on a perceived entitlement to self-gratification. Failing to acknowledge any spiritual or moral consequences removes the rein that holds us to certain standards. Circumventing the stability provided by God’s firm hand allows mores and mind-sets to sway in the wind. Makes one wonder where our society is headed.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Sharing Treasures

My Sunday morning routine includes listening to the local radio broadcast of a Protestant preacher while I get ready to go to Eucharistic adoration and eleven o’clock Mass. Heath Hyatt is the lead pastor at the Church of the Heartland located a few miles from here. He is very engaging and I enjoy his message very much. At times, I have wondered if he isn’t really a Catholic in disguise. Rarely would his sermon conflict with anything preached in a typical Catholic homily. People like him make great Catholics and we need them to bolster our own faith communities.

A few weeks ago, his sermon touched on Christian unity. He mentioned the Apostle’s Creed where it says the Church is “one”, but then added the caveat that there are many Christian churches, but we are all Christians. He told his congregation they would not say they follow Heath Hyatt. Rather, they would say they follow Jesus. That’s true. Of course they would say they follow Jesus. But is it really true when Jesus established an authoritative Church that they reject?

I thought of 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 where Paul speaks of divisions in the Church at Corinth. In that passage, some say they follow Apollos, some say Cephas, some say Paul, and some say Christ. Paul warns them that in the name of Jesus Christ, there should be no divisions among them, and they should be perfectly joined in the same mind and purpose or judgment. Despite the divisions at Corinth, I think we can assume Peter, Paul, and Apollos were likely preaching very similar messages at that time in salvation history. What would Paul say to the Christians in America today where numerous divisions exist in every community and messages often vary?

I recently came across a website gallery titled, “Things to look for when choosing a church.” Thing number 3 is, “A Doctrine You Agree With”. It reads as follows:

Whether you're aware of it or not, every Christian church follows its own specific doctrine that dictates its goings-on. Some churches believe that baptism is the only way to get to heaven, while others rule baptism out entirely. Some strictly adhere to Biblical principles concerning the banning of women and homosexuals from teaching in the church, while others allow them to do so.
Make sure to do your research and find a church with a doctrine that you agree with! Otherwise, you could find yourself at odds with the behaviors of church leaders and find yourself drawing away.

Who determines the doctrine of all of these independent Christian denominations? That depends on who is in control. Often, it is the pastor alone. If a person chooses a church based on criterion number 3, isn’t that person actually following the pastor or leadership of that particular denomination?

Doctrine is declared truth. It is not something dependent on one man’s opinion. Doctrine is absolute, not relative. If a so-called doctrine is specific to a certain church and disagrees with the so-called doctrine of another church, at least one of them is wrong. Choosing a church based upon whether you personally agree with a specific teaching is foolish. Only one church can declare truth guided by the Holy Spirit. Only one church can make a reasonable claim to being, not only one, but also holy, historically catholic and apostolic.

Pastor Hyatt mentioned that when we do have disagreements among Christians, we go to the Bible. I did not hear him say that the Bible says we take our disagreements to the Church. (Matt 18:15-18) Which Church? The only one given authority by Christ tracing back 2000 years, the pillar and foundation of truth. (1 Tim 3:15)

If this Church is out there, and contains all truth and the actual Body and Blood of our Savior Jesus Christ as it claims, how can so many walk right past it without a thought? And how can many who do give it thought, stand in opposition and defiance? To answer those questions, we have to look within ourselves.

Joshua Bell is an amazing concert violinist. Born in Bloomington, Indiana in 1967, he began taking lessons at the age of four. At seventeen, he played at Carnegie Hall with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. Bell is now an internationally acclaimed virtuoso. His instrument is called the Gibson ex Huberman, handcrafted by Antonio Stradivari in 1713, and valued at about 3.5 million dollars.

In January of 2007, Bell performed at Boston’s Symphony Hall before a packed house where good seats went for $100. Three days later, in a social experiment contrived by a Washington Post columnist, Bell performed in street clothes during rush hour at a D.C. metro station. Of the 1097 people who passed by him, only seven stopped to listen. He collected $32.17 during his 45-minute performance, including $20 from the only person who recognized him. Hardly anyone realized what they were missing.

Raising awareness of our surroundings requires some introspection. It is amazing what we can miss when hurriedly navigating through our daily routine. Millions of people pass by the many Catholic Churches in the world every day without realizing their God is truly present only a few feet away. If only they would stop to appreciate who awaits them inside. Even faithful Catholics struggle to appreciate the gift of Christ Himself veiled in the form of Bread in the tabernacle. Yes we believe, but our insipid dispositions often negate any noticeable impact on our lives.

Getting in the right frame of mind is not easy. One can say, “I never cared for the violin” or “I’m not into organized religion” or “I’m comfortable where I am” or “I don’t have time to read.” Excuses are plentiful. Growing in faith requires effort. It requires taking time for meditation, quiet prayer and learning. We Catholics are blessed with the Real Presence of Our Lord in our churches. How difficult the challenge to share this treasure with our non-Catholic friends when we fail to appreciate it ourselves.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Vocab Rehab

Catholic Answers Live
recently aired a program where callers were restricted to those wishing to redefine marriage. Guests Trent Horn and Sherif Girgis each spent an hour fielding questions from same-sex marriage proponents. Both adeptly defended natural marriage between a man and a woman. Callers often accused them of simply expressing the view of the Catholic Church, which the secular world holds in little regard. Girgis responded by pointing out that traditional marriage between a man and a woman predates Christianity by thousands of years. The idea that two people of the same sex can be married to each other is a recent innovation.

One thing that became readily apparent during the program was that proponents of same-sex marriage and those who believe in traditional natural marriage have very different ideas of what marriage is. Callers were often asked how they would define marriage. Most of them could not come up with a definition that could not be reasonably challenged by pointing out various implications and inconsistencies. Marriage as expressed in the natural law reflected in Church teaching has become distorted in secular society to the point where many so-called secular marriages are hardly marriages at all.

My recent retirement has allowed me to take in some daytime television while spending time on the treadmill. Doctor Phil’s hour-long parade of dysfunctional couples demonstrates what happens when God is missing from the marriage. They often show clips of home life where anger, yelling, and name-calling are regular occurrences. No one should treat another human being this way, especially one’s spouse. Couples on the program are usually offered some form of counseling or rehabilitation. When a secular relationship deteriorates to this point, counseling is probably the only hope for improvement. This is not to say couples in a sacramental marriage cannot have problems. Certainly they can, but if they are living their Catholic faith, problems are less likely, and more addressable.

This secular aberration of marriage lies at the root of many if not most dysfunctional couples. It is marriage based on self-indulgent feelings lacking any concept of what constitutes a covenant between a man and woman. Missing is the complete respect due anyone and everyone as a member of the Body of Christ. I sometimes wonder how different Doctor Phil’s counsel would be if he were able to add Catholic perspective to his clinical view.

Some of the couples presented are not legally married, yet they live together, have children together, and are treated like that part of the relationship is not an issue. Our secular society refuses to deny marriage to any couple, same sex or not, but at the same time, says marriage is not essential or necessarily important. We have a model in the marital relationship between Christ as the bridegroom and the Church as his bride. Lacking an understanding of the marital covenant, relationships rely too much on feelings that are inherently self-centered and transitory.

When some insensitivity arouses anger in a volatile relationship, the tongue is usually the thing to run amok. Today, Doctor Phil displayed a list of names one man called his female partner. Most of the names have to be bleeped from daytime television. I propose to anyone with a brain that name-calling never helps your situation.

I challenge everyone with an R-rated vocabulary to do a purge. If you find yourself using those words, whether spoken in anger or just casual conversation, strike them from your vocabulary. They serve no useful purpose other than to lower the respect others have for you. They won’t reinforce a point that can’t stand on its own. They won’t help your spouse see it your way. They won’t help you achieve your goal. They won’t make your life better. Treat everyone with respect, even if it’s a one-sided respect at first. Never resort to name-calling, especially with a spouse or family member. Rise above the conflict. Take the high road. As Doctor Phil says, somebody has to be the hero.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Getting a Handle on Scandal

Now that we are in the penitential season of Lent, our diocese is making an effort to bring fallen-away Catholics back into communion with the Church. Confessions were scheduled simultaneously at all parishes with a resident priest in the diocese on one particular Wednesday evening. Ads were placed in local newspapers offering this opportunity for anyone longing to return to the Church. I hope that many Catholics who continue to attend Mass regularly but do not go to confession, also took this opportunity to return to the Sacrament.

I just reread a blog I wrote ten years ago about the dwindling number of Catholics going to Confession. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then. In our small parish where most people know one another, it is hard not to notice certain folks who frequent Holy Communion, yet are never seen at penance services or Saturday confession. I will have more to say about my observation later.

Regular confession, like attendance at Mass, needs to be a family ritual. Children who see mom and dad going to confession are more likely to continue the pattern and later pass it on to their own children. Most adults of childbearing age today never had that experience. How do we get those who never realized the importance of the Sacrament to see the need?

If we were to poll Catholics on why they don’t take frequent advantage of Confession, we would likely get varying answers. A more probing question might be, “how do you justify NOT going to Confession?” Most Catholics, at least those in our parish, certainly have the importance of the Sacrament preached to them on a regular basis. I suspect many would say they don’t commit mortal sins.

For a sin to be mortal, the Church tells us three things are necessary. It must be grave matter, we must know it is grave matter, and we must choose to do it willingly. That second qualification is what many feel gets them off the hook. “If I don’t think it’s a mortal sin, then it’s not a mortal sin, right?” One may think looking at pornography on the Internet is not a sin, or copying movies onto DVDs and distributing them to your friends for free is okay, or voting for the pro-abortion candidate is permitted because the other guy wants to limit entitlements, or eating meat on Friday during Lent is no big deal. We humans have a way of massaging our consciences to justify whatever behavior suits our fancy. Is ignorance truly bliss? No. We have an obligation to form our consciences properly, and as Catholics, that means in accordance with the teachings of the Church.

So much is going on around us everyday that we become numbed by evil. We are bombarded daily by a secular media that tries to normalize sinful behavior, and ostracize those with a religious view. Losing awareness of sin is almost inevitable for those who do not lead God-centered lives. Going to Mass once a week and standing in line for Communion does not automatically mean one is leading a God-centered life. Growing in faith is a life-long process. If we do not continue to nurture our faith, it becomes a routine that can lead to an apathetic attitude toward Church teaching. We can fall into venial sin without giving it much thought, and sometimes more serious sin as a consequence.

One example is the sin of scandal. We might commonly think of scandal being a concerted cover-up of a serious crime, or somebody cheating on a spouse. But some other types of scandal that may seem way less serious, might actually have even more dire consequences. What if something we did or didn’t do, caused another person to drift further from God to the point where salvation was eventually lost?

A meditation booklet I was reading at Eucharistic Adoration yesterday emphasized the importance of our conduct in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. A story attributed to Saint John Climacus told of an incident when an Abbot saw two seminarians exchange conversation during adoration. The Abbot ordered them to stand outside the church for a month to apologize to every person that entered the church for the scandal they had caused. Did the Abbot overreact?

The number one full definition of scandal in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary says:
a : discredit brought upon religion by unseemly conduct in a religious person
b : conduct that causes or encourages a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in another

By today’s standards, we would think the seminarians punishment was a bit severe, but our conduct at adoration can affect the spiritual temperature of others around us, either positively or negatively. If we seem oblivious to the Presence of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, our behavior can foster similar attitude in others. When we are in a Catholic Church, body language speaks louder than words.

There are many other ways our conduct can cause a lapse of faith or of religious obedience in others. Buying a wedding gift or witnessing a ceremony of a Catholic attempting an invalid marriage outside of the Church is showing approval of a mortal sin. For a Catholic to do so is committing scandal when other Catholics knowing the situation witness that approval. Distributing copyrighted movies or software among your friends to avoid paying royalties is not only stealing, but can also be scandalous when doing so leads others to believe this sin is acceptable. When other parents allow their child to miss Sunday Mass for a Pop Warner football game because you do, you have committed the sin of scandal. Receiving Holy Communion with a mortal sin on our soul is another mortal sin. If another Catholic knows we have a mortal sin and sees us in the Communion line, we have also committed a sin of scandal. When our repeated behaviors cause others to drift away from their faith, the sin of scandal becomes serious.

People often do these things without giving it much thought, not realizing they are sanctioning bad behavior in others. This lack of sin awareness stems from a lack of focus on God and our ultimate goal attaining heaven. I often refer to the analogy I first heard from Father Robert Barron who spoke of a driver going down the road at night not realizing how dirty his windshield is until the lights of an oncoming car illuminate the bugs and grime. Similarly, we do not see the dirt on our own souls until we are oriented toward the light of Christ.

Now, I realize my observation of many parishioners not taking advantage of confession may itself be a bug on my windshield. I should not assume they have grave sins on their souls, or that they do not confess at another parish, or when I am not there. Yet, I think it is safe to assume that many Catholics have avoided the confessional for a very long time, and that neglect can be scandalous when it leads others to do the same.

If you are a well-respected Catholic who is never seen in the confessional line, your conspicuous absence can be scandalous in the sense that it gives affirmation to others who look to you for an example. Conversely, seeing you going to confession regularly could inspire others to do the same. And if you are not a well-respected Catholic, you need to address that issue also!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Exorcizing Properly

The widely circulated report of demonic possession by an Indiana family has been of special interest to me since it occurred here in our local diocese. For those not familiar with the story, it involves strange events that affected a Gary woman and her children in 2012. While some of these happenings such as flickering lights or swaying blinds may have natural explanations, claims of a levitation might lead one to believe this is a family seeking publicity or suffering from mental illness. That seemed to be the assumption of various agencies called in to investigate until the story took an even stranger twist.

According to the Indianapolis Star article, the two young boys in the family were taken to the family physician where they cursed the doctor in demonic voices. Medical staff said the youngest boy was "lifted and thrown into the wall with nobody touching him," according to a DCS report. The doctor’s office called 911 and the boys were taken to Methodist Hospital in Gary.

DCS family case manager Valerie Washington was assigned to interview the family at the hospital. At one point, she and registered nurse Willie Lee Walker brought the two boys into a small examination room to be interviewed. Their grandmother Rosa Campbell was also in the room. Washington’s DCS report says the nine year-old boy walked backward up a wall to the ceiling, flipped over his grandmother and landed on his feet. Washington and nurse Walker became frightened and ran from the room at this point.

Eventually, the hospital chaplain called a local parish priest, Father Mike Maginot, who was asked to do an exorcism. This is where the story gets a little uncomfortable for me as a Catholic in this diocese. Father Maginot is admittedly not an exorcist. Our Bishop, Dale Melczek, initially denied Father Maginot’s request to do a church-approved exorcism and told him to contact other priests who have performed exorcisms. The Catholic Church does have priests who are exorcists. Father Maginot decided to do a minor exorcism not requiring church approval. Even then, he had to learn the rite from the Internet.

Father Maginot performed the minor exorcism on the mother of the children, and later, Bishop Melczek did grant permission to do the church-approved exorcism on her which Father Maginot did three times. After the third exorcism, which Father Maginot performed in Latin, the demon was apparently dispelled. Read the news accounts to get the full story. While all of this occurred more than a year ago, Father Maginot now finds himself in the limelight.

A recent television interview with Bill O’Reilly on the Fox News network did not go especially well. I was watching as O’Reilly questions ventured into the damaged credibility of the Catholic Church. While much of the mainstream media reporting on Church matters has been negative, sometimes justifiably so, the Church is making no claims in this particular case. The Church was asked to intervene in a situation where others had no answer.

Should the Church have handled this differently? While our diocese may not have an experienced exorcist, they do exist, and a situation this serious would seem to call for someone qualified to perform an exorcism following a thorough evaluation to determine the necessity. Any public comment surrounding such an event should be handled by someone firmly grounded in Catholic understanding of demonic possession rather than an inexperienced priest who learned the minor rite from the Internet.

Now, Father Maginot has apparently signed to do a movie and documentary on these events. He says it is important to get this information out so people will know God and evil are real. While his motives may be well-intended, I sense a potential impropriety here. When apparitions are alleged to occur, the Church is extremely cautious before approving their authenticity, and with good reason. Tremendous harm could be done in affirming anything that turned out to be false. The investigation of an apparition can take years, even decades. Case in point is Medjugorje. Similarly, it would seem to me the local Bishop should take an active role in any public pronouncements about cases of demonic possession after a very thorough investigation.

Adam Blai is a Roman Catholic Demonologist who helps train priests to distinguish between actual demonic possession and the mundane. His website states the most common signs of possession are supernatural strength and aversion to the holy. In the case of the family in Gary, the mother convulsed when a crucifix was placed on her. Of course, anyone seeing a nine year-old boy walking backwards up a wall might assume a preternatural influence, or at least question his own sanity. Although Father Maginot did not witness this event himself, he obviously felt that an exorcism was in order. Adam Blai however cautions that nobody should perform or assist at an exorcism without proper training and supervision.

Demonic possessions are believed to be rare, although I wonder sometimes when seeing what evil human beings can perpetrate on one another in this world. According to Father Maginot, Bishop Melczek had never authorized an exorcism in his twenty-one years as bishop. Before getting involved with movie deals and documentaries that could impact lives and Church credibility, prudent action would be to take step back and allow qualified authorities to investigate. Furthermore, priests should perform their service humbly for Christ, and let the people involved tell their own story if they desire. What an individual reveals to a priest in confession is sealed. In a Church approved rite where personal behaviors are revealed, it would seem confidentiality should be respected here also.