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.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

New Year’s Dissolutions

Having seen the year-end reviews of 2013, I am wondering what the New Year will bring. The world around us continues to change. Is our society evolving or devolving? I would like to remain optimistic, but signs are not very encouraging. As mores liberalize, Christians, and Catholics in particular, find themselves being gradually exiled from secular society.

Whether we like it or not, legal same-sex marriage is growing in acceptance and likely here to stay. Attempts to eliminate or even limit abortions are being shot down by the courts. Affecting change appears futile, and we now find ourselves taking a defensive posture trying to protect the practice of our religious beliefs from government interference. How did we get to this point?

Some would blame the sexual revolution and certainly our society’s view of reproduction has changed drastically. Once seen as a blessing, children are often treated as burdens, or unwanted consequences of one’s personal pleasure. Many grow up unloved and undisciplined. How many of these children end up angry and frustrated? We see increased acts of violence, disrespect, road rage, shootings and senseless terrorism. I doubt that many of the perpetrators came from loving two-parent Christian families.

Sex is now primarily portrayed as recreational rather than procreational. With the marriage covenant no longer regarded as sacred or necessary, the focus of sexual activity is self-gratification. If you are not doing it, something is wrong with you. Promiscuous behavior has been normalized by the media. Popular television programs regularly show young people hopping in and out of bed with no consequences. Even commercials are sexually nonchalant with ads for erectile dysfunction and other enhancements airing at all times of day.

Yesterday’s newspaper (January 16, 2014) printed a “Dear Abby” column where a woman wrote to express her concern that her boyfriend of eight months has not been willing to have sex with her. The woman’s age was not mentioned, but we might presume she was young since the presence of roommates was one of the excuses the boyfriend used for avoided sexual intimacy with her. Dear Abby’s response? Your boyfriend “may have a physical or emotional problem, be asexual or gay.” Her advice? “Before agreeing to marry him, I recommend you schedule some time alone together by spending a few romantic weekends at a hotel or motel.” Really? Can you imagine giving that advice to your own daughter? Could it be possible the young man is a good Christian who does not believe in pre-marital sex, but has been indoctrinated by society to feel it socially unpopular to proclaim it?

I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I fear we are losing the battle. Our secular society may not allow us to practice our faith freely, in effect forcing us into a sort of societal quarantine. Will we soon be forced to practice our faith in modern day catacombs? I hope not, but we seem to be moving in that direction. I take solace knowing that God will see us through this. Religious persecution is nothing new. As Paul Harvey once mused, “In times like these, it helps to recall that there have always been times like these."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Brief Year-end Musing

The month of December is always hectic for me, as it is for many others I am sure. Among the volunteer activities in which I am involved, several have duties requiring hours of preparation prior to Christmas. My family suffers because I never seem to have adequate time to find that ideal Christmas present. Some of my gifts are pretty lame, but my wife does not expect much and she loves me anyway.

A busy schedule limits the time available to keep up on the news affecting all of us as Catholic Christians. During the past few weeks, traditional marriage has come under increased assault with more states now allowing, even encouraging, same-sex marriage. Any expressed defense of traditional marriage will be labeled as bigotry, and often results in some attempt to denigrate the source.

Those familiar with the popular Duck Dynasty television program know that the family patriarch, Phil Robertson, was suspended from appearing on the show because his Christian beliefs against homosexual behavior were quoted in a magazine article. While his wording may have been a bit crude, he stated the position of most Bible-believing Christians. Apparently we find ourselves subject to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy whereby we can hold the belief that marriage is intended for one man and one woman, as long as we keep that opinion to ourselves.

At the other end of the spectrum, a Methodist minister was recently defrocked for performing a same-sex marriage involving his own son. While I respect the Methodists for protecting the sanctity of Christian marriage, I was somewhat amused by the fact that he was defrocked by a female bishop. In the Church that Christ established, priests and bishops act in the person of Christ, and the Church is the bride of Christ as we learn in Scripture. In that sense, the bishop is married to the Church, one of the reasons for the Catholic all-male priesthood. If that Methodist bishop were a true bishop, she would have a bride in the church. Obviously, they do not view it that way, but the irony did not escape me.

We seem to be facing a growing movement toward freedom from religion as opposed to freedom of religion. In Chicago, atheists and agnostics erected a large letter “A” in Daley Plaza meant to counter a Nativity scene and Menorah on display. Christian protesters hung a banner saying the A stands for angels, which led me to wonder what would be a more appropriate symbol for non-believers. The agnostics could probably display a giant question mark, but the atheists should seemingly display nothing, just empty space. But that would not be acceptable to them because they need something to explain the existence of their belief. Maybe they should think about that.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nuts or Bolts

Our neighboring state, Illinois, recently joined a growing number of states to recognize same-sex marriage. Most media reports herald this move as long overdue. The Chicago Tribune article of November 5, 2013, quotes the bill sponsor, Representative Greg Harris as saying, “At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, it’s about family, it’s about commitment.” While it may have something to do with love and commitment, I see no benefit to family.

Chicago has a terrible problem with street violence in some of its neighborhoods. Young people die most every day from gunfire mostly perpetrated by undisciplined youths who grew up in single-parent homes. The deterioration of the traditional family unit has played a huge role in the increase of violent crime. Boys need a strong father figure to teach them to behave responsibly in society. This idea that family can be whatever makes somebody happy only serves to further diminish structure that is so important in nurturing children.

I find it interesting that Pope Francis is being credited for helping to get the bill passed in Illinois. In July, the Pope was quoted as saying, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” The Tribune article notes that several Catholic lawmakers, who had difficulty reconciling their religious beliefs with same-sex marriage, used the Pope’s comments to justify voting in favor of the bill. Of course, this is a cop-out. The Pope was not condoning same-sex marriage, and those lawmakers would have found some other justification for their vote had the Pope not spoken.

Secular society’s notion of marriage is much different from the natural covenant instituted by the Creator. Many people take a cursory view of the issue. They see no real problem if two people with same-sex attraction want to commit to each other in a relationship. The Catholic Church must take the view evident in natural law as revealed to us by God in Genesis 2:24 and reiterated by Jesus in Mark 10:8, where we are told a man shall be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. There is no natural way two men or two women can become one flesh.

A television commercial currently airing for the Ford Fusion car shows a man and woman discussing the dilemma of choosing between a great ride or great gas mileage. The man says, “It’s like choosing between nuts OR bolts.” The next scene shows a man standing next to an above ground swimming pool saying, “I wonder what these nuts are for?” About that time, the swimming pool walls burst forth, spilling the water and swimmers all over the lawn.

The commercial uses an example I have used in the past to demonstrate one of the problems with same-sex marriage. A bolt has to be married to a nut or it cannot be used for its designed purpose. A bolt will not bond with another bolt. A nut will not bond with another nut. Attempting to do so will result in failure. The resulting effort is disordered. A natural marriage requires a male and a female to form a bond, whether we are talking human beings or hardware.

We should not expect the Catholic Church to say the misuse of God’s creation is okay just because certain people find it desirable. As the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope is responsible for guiding all humanity in matters of faith and morals. Those having no regard for Church authority, view Church teaching on homosexual behavior as intolerant or bigoted. On the contrary, the Church is speaking out of love and concern for all souls created by God. Resisting temptation requires discipline, and from discipline comes discipleship. To be a disciple means to listen to those Christ left in authority. “Whoever listens to you, listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” Luke 10:16

Friday, October 18, 2013

Public Err Ways

Our local radio station carries Christian religious programming on Sunday mornings. Although none of it is Catholic, I listen to it as I prepare to go to Eucharistic Adoration. At times, I am encouraged by how close we are as fellow Christians. At other times, I am saddened by our differences. While we all share a love for Christ, we have very different ways of showing it. Some of the preaching and singing has a very southern Baptist bend to the point where it can be difficult for us northerners to understand. The Lutheran program that follows would be most closely recognizable to a Catholic.

At the end of the Lutheran broadcast on a recent Sunday, they advertised a publication on the lost books of the Bible and why they were not included by the “early Church”. The commercial asked if we ever wondered why the Bible contains only those “66” books. I wondered if THEY ever wondered why the Bible does not contain all 73 books that the early Church actually included. By the way, that early Church to which they refer is the Catholic Church. Yes, I realize Lutherans may think they are the true early Church reformed by Martin Luther, but such cannot be the case.

Luther in effect denied the inerrant authority of the early Church to determine the canon of the Bible when he eliminated seven books. If the early Church erred in the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books as we call them, doubt would be cast on the entire canon of Scripture. Who gave a German priest the right to overrule the God-given authority of the early Bishops of the Catholic Church? Only God had that authority to give and He did not give it to Luther. We know that from Matthew Chapter 16.

The Catholic Church gets very little respect these days. A restaurant in Chicago is offering a hamburger billed as a 10-ounce patty, chile aioli, braised goat shoulder, white cheddar cheese and two other special ingredients, "Red Wine Reduction (the blood of Christ) with Communion Wafer garnish (the body of Christ)." This description is according to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. The Catholic community is in an uproar over this and rightly so.

Yes, it is only bread, not consecrated, and the wine is just wine, but one must question the motive behind this offering. Certainly the unleavened bread offers no taste enhancement to the burger. If the purpose was to take a slap at the Catholic Church for shock value and publicity, they have certainly succeeded.

I am not so disturbed by the hamburger as I am by the online comments section following John Kass’s column. So many readers took this opportunity to express their disdain for the Catholic Church. A few of the comments: “They should worry about getting with the times and their criminal empire of pedophile priests not whats on a hamburger.” Another said, “Morons. This is one of the several reasons I abandoned the Catholic Church a long time ago, their inability to practice what they preach.” Many of the remarks were even more disgusting.

Sadly, this is the perception of the Church many harbor today. We have to acknowledge that we earned this reputation through serious sins of some of the Church hierarchy who will have to answer for their sins come the judgment. But, we also need to realize that many Church critics are simply seeking justification for their own shortcomings. The abuse scandal will not be forgotten, and therefore, Catholic evangelization will be more difficult.

A Chicago television newscast recently aired a report about the large number of Latinos leaving the Catholic Church for Protestant denominations. They say the church does not speak to their needs and concerns. They want to worship in their own way with livelier music and dancing. Is livelier music and dancing what we need to draw people to the Church? Of course not, but we do need a different approach to reach people who were never properly catechized.

In one his recent interviews, Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the darkness with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. “

In the same interview, he was also quoted as saying, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. This is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.” “A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation.” “Then you have to do catechesis.”

The interview caused quite a stir in the media with many trying to fit the Pope’s words into their own agenda. From my perspective, Pope Francis is in no way trying to lessen the importance of any teaching of the Church. Rather, he recognizes the importance of first touching people’s hearts with the gospel message that will in turn create a desire for spiritual enrichment through catechesis and prayer. If people first see the Church as a disconnected regulatory agency, they will never feel drawn to the message of salvation. A love affair has to start with courtship.