Wednesday, September 28, 2016

False Prophets?

A high school friend of mine went on to become a preacher at a small independent Christian church.  Recently he posted a link on his Facebook page with this display.

What followed was a deluge of over 400 replies from followers of countless denominations and sects claiming they alone had the truth and all the others were false prophets.   The original False Prophet post came from something called the Christian Resistance, whatever that means.  It always amazes me how so many Bible-only Christians claim they alone hold the correct interpretation of Scripture.  Despite their varying beliefs, they all unite to agree the Catholic Church is unbiblical, even though they would not have a Bible to quote without the Catholic Church.

Refuting such claims for a Catholic is almost futile in the hostile environment of a protestant forum.   To the credit of a few fellow-Catholics, several responders did try to defend the Church although their message was likely lost in the din.  Sharing our faith with others is difficult when they have preconceived ideas that have been reinforced erroneously over many years.

Today, I watched a DVD I recently purchased from CatholicAnswers called The Three Secrets to Sharing the Faith, by Catholic apologist Trent Horn.  In it, he recommends the Socratic method of asking questions to those who challenge us about various issues of Catholicism.  Trent addresses the problem I often face when an opportunity arises to share our faith.  I get flustered if I can’t produce a quick reasonable response someone opposed to some aspect of Catholic teaching or practice.  Impromptu encounters offer brief opportunities for evangelization that may never come again.  I have often been kept awake at night, thinking of what I should have said during a conversation I had earlier in the day. 

Trent Horn’s video presentation demonstrates that not knowing all the answers need not prevent us from engaging in conversation, even when the opponent may seem more knowledgeable than we are.  Sometimes, all we need to do is question the challenger about what he believes and ask how he knows it is true.  Often they are regurgitating false information passed on by anti-Catholics that cannot be substantiated when pressed.  Trent also tells how to keep discussion civil and positive.  If you have found yourself in an uncomfortable position when challenges come up, I would recommend grabbing a copy of the DVD.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Serving God 50 Years X2

This month, our parish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the priesthood for Father Robert Gehring, who happens to be my cousin.  More than a hundred family members and friends attended his anniversary Mass, followed by a dinner reception. 

Father Bob has led an interesting life.  In addition to his time as a parish priest, he served as a missionary in Cambodia during the Viet Nam war.  His photo once appeared on the cover of Newsweek magazine as he fled gunfire running to board an awaiting plane.   He joined Maryknoll as an associate priest where he traveled by boat to serve the poor.  He walked the streets the toughest neighborhoods of Gary Indiana where he was the only white person in an area infested with gangs and violence. 

He said he felt no fear in any of these places.  The danger did not concern him.  I mentioned that fearlessness was definitely not a family trait.  His mother and my mother were sisters who worried about most everything.  Father Bob agreed, saying his mother did not want to go to these places.  I said his fearlessness must have come from God, enabling him to do all these things with a strong faith that everything would be okay. 

Also attending Father Bob’s anniversary celebration was Sister Elise Kriss, who also grew up in our little parish, and who coincidentally is also celebrating her 50th anniversary as a nun in the Order of Saint Francis.  Sister Elise is President of the University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  I was fortunate to have a nice conversation with her at the dinner.  Our parish should be so proud to be home of these two great servants of God.

The bad news is that Father Bob and Sister Elise are the last vocations we have produced.  No one from our parish that I am aware of in the last 50 years has gone on to the seminary or a convent.  I don’t know what to say about that.  Losing our Catholic School certainly played a factor, and I am sure changes in our society have led to fewer vocations, not only here, but everywhere.  Will circumstances ever change?  I don’t know.  Prayers and better catechesis may be the answer.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Feeling Half Sick

One of my assumed responsibilities as a member of the local park board is to take care of the flagpoles in the town’s parks.  Normally, that is not much of a problem.  The flags are lighted and stay up 24 hours a day.  Lately however, I find myself making frequent rounds to lower the flags to half-staff.  If the violence against innocent people in the world does not stop, we might as well leave the flags lowered permanently. 

If the brutal murders committed by Islamic extremists are not enough, our police officers are now coming under attack by our own citizens in assumed retribution for alleged wrongdoing of a few.  If those perpetrating these acts of violence against innocent public servants think they are effectively countering the problem, they are dead wrong.  If police officers were not unduly cautious when encountering African-Americans before, they certainly will be now. 

Warning:  I am shutting off my political correction filter for a few minutes.  

Why are police officers apprehensive when approaching young black males, and perhaps females too?  Is it because they are racially prejudiced?   Do they simply hate blacks?
I think it is because they are afraid.  They may perceive young black people as unpredictable, aggressive toward authority figures, and a possible threat to their personal safety more than they might feel when approaching a white person.  Not being a police officer myself, I wonder if a black officer feels the same potential danger approaching a white offender.  My guess is no.  If true, why is that?

Let’s talk about stereotypes.  When I was growing up in northwest Indiana in the 1950’s and ‘60s, WGN television aired Amos ‘n Andy everyday after school, followed by the Three Stooges.  I thought the shows were funny and entertaining.  I find it strange that we cannot watch Amos 'n Andy anymore because the show might project a racist stereotype that is now considered harmful.  I didn’t think the show made black men look foolish any more than I thought the Three Stooges made white men look stupid. 

Today, WGN airs the Maury show where women, often black and typically out of control, come on to figure out who fathered their children.  These women usually appear disrespectful, crude, and combative.  Between Amos ‘n Andy and Maury, which show actually casts African-Americans in a more negative light? 

Maury is considered reality television, and unfortunately, it is.  Young black men, especially in the inner cities, often grow up without the positive influence of a father in the house.  This makes them vulnerable to looking elsewhere for structure they may find on the streets, whether it be in gangs or in unsavory individuals.  Watch any newscast on the same WGN television station, and you are likely to hear of black on black violence, daily shootings, murders and other criminal behavior.  

Perceived stereotypes are promulgated by an element of reality.  The tendency of police officers to be overly aggressive when approaching black men and women, especially in tough neighborhoods, is understandable.  They fear for their own lives.  Now, add to that fear the thought they may be walking into an ambush, and the situation only gets worse. 

Much of the problem can again be traced back to the demise of the traditional family.  Marriage, moral responsibility and God no longer remain as standards for many Americans.  Those who push a liberal agenda while detesting inner city violence fail to make the connection between the two.  Repealing the second amendment will not solve the problem.  Addressing the effect does not eliminate the cause.  Misguided individuals will still find a way to wreck havoc on others.  We need to regain respect for life – ALL life.  Yes, all lives matter, from conception to natural death. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Fact or Friction?

My duties as secretary of the local park and recreation board require me to handle shelterhouse reservations for picnics during the summer months.  For the past couple of nights, we have had unscheduled people camping in one of our shelters.  Since that shelter was reserved for a family reunion, I had to approach them last evening to ask them to leave today.  They understood, and we ended up having a nice conversation.

He was an evangelist, walking with his wife and 16 year-old son across America.  They were originally from California and began their trek in Delaware several years ago.  Along the way, they share the gospel of Jesus Christ to anyone who will listen.  They have a tent and carry their limited belongings on a couple of small carts they push down the road.  They were very pleasant folks and I admire the faith and love for Christ they must have to undertake such a mission.

Today, a few members of our parish, including our parish priest, participated in a public square Rosary Rally for marriage and family held near a busy intersection in our town.  The organizer posted a picture of the event on Facebook this evening, and I was pleased to see the Christian evangelist and his family praying with Catholics for a common cause.  Behind the group in the photo was a large banner that said, “God’s marriage = one man and one woman.”

I wondered if my fellow parishioners knew the story of the three guests praying with them, so I posted the question.  I was hoping they had conversed, perhaps being able to share our Catholic faith with them, something I was unable to do last evening.  As of right now, I have not received a response from a parishioner who attended the rally, but I did get a response from one who did not.

If you are one of the smart folks who is not familiar with Facebook, know that my posting that question allowed everyone on my Facebook friends list to see the photo.  The response I got (from someone I love dearly) called the banner “hateful” and “offensive”, and she seemed appalled that I would be a willing supporter of such an event.  I explained as best I could that as Catholics, we have an obligation to defend the natural conjugal relationship of marriage as based on natural law.  We do this out of love, not hate.  We do not hate anyone. 

Our texted conversation carried on for a while, and I think I was able to address her concerns to a limited degree.  It did get me to thinking, however.  Is the way we show support for God’s marriage sometimes counter productive?  How do we sway opposing beliefs without causing further division?  The Rosary may be a powerful prayer, but is praying it in the public square going to change someone’s mind or make them dig in even harder?

Passersby do not know you.  You may be the most kind loving Christian person in the world, but if you have not had the opportunity to first gain someone’s respect to the point where they will listen to your message, you are not likely to convince them.  They see the sign and assume you look down on gay people and want to impose your will upon them. 

We need to first lead good holy Christian lives to open the ears of others.  Perhaps it would be better to pray in public without the sign, or word the sign in a more charitable manner.   Maybe it should say, “we love everyone, regardless of your sexual orientation, but natural conjugal marriage requires one man and one woman.”

I recently listened to Trent Horn’s audio CD, How to talkabout Same Sex Marriage, available from Lighthouse Catholic Media.  It would be a good starting point for anyone needing help to understand some of the misconceptions held by many in our society today.  Pray for marriage and family, but also pray for yourself to be an effective instrument in spreading the love of God.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Know Regrets

The Coming Home Network has a video depiction of the particular judgment showing a man entering what appears to be a large hanger where he sits before a theater screen to watch a movie of his life.  At various times he smiles, but many other scenes make him very uncomfortable as he cringes at seeing his past behavior.   Many of us do not like to see ourselves in pictures or videos.  I know a few people who even refuse to allow their picture to be taken.  Imagine then what it would be like to watch a movie of everything you had ever done.

Worse yet, imagine everyone you ever knew watching your movie at the general judgment.  Think of all the things you ever said about another person with that person now listening to you say it in your presence.   We have all done things and said things we regretted later.  We have at times behaved in such a way to hurt others, either intentionally or through misunderstanding.  In some cases, we may not even realize we caused another pain. 

I can look back at my sixty-plus years and think of many times I regret what I did or did not do.  Unfortunately, there are no do-overs.  In some cases, I failed my friends because of my own personal problems that I was too embarrassed to share.  I chose to be a jerk rather than reveal my own weakness.  I regret the way I treated my mother at times when I was a cocky adolescent.  When the time comes for me to watch my life on the big screen, I will cower frequently I am sure. 

Our every movement seems to be recorded somewhere these days.  Between security cameras, phones, drones and even satellites, somebody is watching.  Our privacy is fleeting.  While this may be upsetting to some, consider the only big brother we really need to be concerned about is our brother in the Lord who knows everything we say, think and do.  One day, He will roll the tape and our lives will flash before us.  Whether this is a joyful or shameful experience depends on how we live our lives today.

Keeping this in mind can help us to temper our behavior in the future.  Be aware that we are being recorded every moment we are awake, and that someday, we will be forced to watch that video in the presence of friends and family. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

Supernatural or Superstition?

We hear much talk about evangelization theses days.   Catholics have been so reluctant to actively share our faith with others.  In this year of Mercy, even more emphasis has been placed on our responsibility to promote and defend the Church. 

Our non-Catholic Christian friends often hold misconceptions about Catholics and our practices.  One in particular is the assumption that Catholics worship Mary and the saints as much as we worship God.  Of course, we worship only God, and no other.  The thought is rooted in their equating prayer with worship rather than petition.  Even when properly explained, praying to saints is seen as a violation of Christ as the one mediator between God and man.  This misunderstanding comes when one does not distinguish the difference between a mediator and an intercessor.  There can be one mediator but many intercessors.  The roles are distinctly different.  Asking for a saint’s intercession is similar to asking a friend to pray for you.  A saint’s intercession is just more effective.

Unfortunately, some well-meaning Catholics perpetuate these Catholic stereotypes by blurring the line between supernatural and superstition.  Every Wednesday, local residents receive an advertising flier in our mailboxes.  The paper includes an obituary page that also contains published intercessory prayers.  That in itself is not a bad thing, but these particular prayers usually contain provisions that appear superstitious.  Common to them is the stipulation that the prayer is “never known to fail” provided that it is repeated a certain number of times and that it must be published.

I am suspicious of intercessory prayers that have precise formulas attached for efficacy.  Some common Catholic devotions, especially those arising from apparitions approved by the Church, have prescribed conditions needed to gain an indulgence, and that I can understand.  The Rosary, the Chaplet, First Fridays, First Saturdays and others devotions have histories that can be traced back through the centuries.  Some of them come from private revelations that Catholics are not bound to acknowledge. That does not mean they are not worthy of belief, but saying that a prayer must occur in a precise form, number or media to be efficacious would not seem to be of Divine decree.  Saying only four decades of a Rosary would surely not render the entire prayer ineffective.

Turning prayer into a mechanical routine deemed necessary to gain a particular outcome is problematic.  Saying that Saint Jude will intercede for you if you say certain words nine times a day for eight days and promise to publish it in the newspaper reeks of superstition.  That is not to say Saint Jude won’t intercede if you do those things, but emphasizing the mechanics would seem to diminish the spiritual sincerity of the request.

No outcome can be guaranteed by following a particular prayer pattern.  Even the Memorare, which I pray daily, says that it was never known to leave us unaided.   Yet, I realize that my petitions added to the prayer will not always play out the way I would like.  We sometimes hear that all prayers are answered, but we don’t always get the answer we want.  Perhaps so, but publicly proclaiming that a certain prayer is “never known to fail” can lead to false hope and even spiritual despair when the answer is no.