Saturday, December 31, 2005

Another Year Closer

As another year draws to a close, I give thanks for all the blessings bestowed upon me and my family. We never realize how much we have to be thankful for until we see the suffering of others. So many people are hurting for reasons some of us cannot even imagine. Our St. Vincent de Paul group entertains at a health facility every month. Residents are not only the elderly, but also many young folks who have been burdened with debilitating diseases or injuries. Some of them are paralyzed and need assistance for every movement. While we may pity them, perhaps they should be envied. If suffering is indeed redemptive, their purgation is certainly in progress. May their suffering as well as our own suffering, be united with His Cross for the reparation of our sins. And may 2006 bring us all closer to God and one another.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Soul Searching

Those who know me best would probably say I'm not much of a fighter. I go out of my way to avoid conflict. My co-workers would probably say I get along with everybody. The boss often assigns me to work with those who have problems working with others. Some of my best acquaintances would be considered obstinate by many. I have always admired people who aren’t afraid to speak their minds, even though I have difficulty doing this myself.

When a serious issue demands my response, I often find it easier to do so in writing. I have difficulty speaking off the cuff, especially when I am emotionally charged. Putting my ideas on paper allows me to organize my thoughts and edited them precisely. In doing so, words must be chosen carefully. The written word lacks emotional clarity. It can be easily misconstrued. (No, this is not the beginning of another diatribe against Sola Scriptura!) A polite reprimand may across as harsh criticism when transmitted black on white.

I can think of two times when written responses have gotten me in hot water. Both events involved my parish priests. The first time involved our pastor's decision to replace a pipe organ that had been in our parish for many years. It had fallen into disrepair, but was easily fixable. I had done some work on the organ for a previous pastor and was very familiar with the condition of the instrument and what it needed. The decision to replace was made without my input. After writing a rather terse letter to our pastor and the parish council, they reluctantly gave me a chance to make repairs. I did so successfully at no cost to the parish. That was about ten years ago and the old organ is still functioning today.

While the incident temporarily strained the relationship between me and the pastor for awhile, I think he was somewhat relieved that the expenditure of the new organ could be postponed. We got along fine after that little bump in the road. My latest episode with our current pastor has not healed quite so smoothly.

As I noted in my September 26, 2005 entry, I wrote a three page letter in response to our pastor's criticism of an architect our church renovation committee scheduled for a visit. Later, after our pastor made an unscheduled private visit to the architect's office, the visit was rescheduled. When the visit took place, the entire committee and our pastor seemed to be impressed by this architect and the project appeared to be on track again. A fee for preliminary drawings was eventually approved by the Pastoral Council according to minutes published in our Sunday bulletin.

Our committee was invited to present the status of the renovation to the Parish Finance Committee. Another member and I attended the special meeting, but were never given much of an opportunity to speak. Our pastor made the presentation which was permeated with misinformation and errors. He began with an explanation of EACW (Environment and Art in Catholic Worship), an obsolete 1975 document on church renovation which was replaced some five years ago. He then misstated the architect's fee commands. Attempts to correct him went unheeded. Before the meeting was over, my fellow committeeman and I both realized the futility of our participation in this project.

Here in the 21st Century Church, we find ourselves in the midst of a priest shortage where more and more responsibilities are falling on the shoulders of the laity. While having more control of the church is probably welcomed by most Catholics today, it can also create problems. The Church is not a democracy, but we now run our parishes as though it were. We elect pastoral councils and committees. We have lay ministers and ministries. As our pastor likes to say, we are all priests, only most of us are not ordained.

With active participation in the day to day activities of the parish, a certain amount of political baggage becomes a part of the package. There are personalities, opinions, policies, and conflicts with which to deal. In the old days, the pastor was the only one in power. Now there are many, not all of which are pulling in the same direction. The influence of the laity can find its way into the liturgies through extraordinary ministers, cantors, and music ministries. The pastor has the final say, as he should. But, when his wishes differ from those of the lay officers, resentment can easily arise. Worse yet is a weak pastor allowing or encouraging improperly trained lay persons to take control.

Harboring resentment or hard feelings toward a particular person can adversely affect one's participation at Mass, especially when that person takes an active role in the liturgy. In proper disposition, those feelings should be set aside in deference to the Lord's Real Presence on the altar, but our frail humanity does not always allow that to happen. Maintaining concentration during Mass can be difficult for even the most faithful Catholic. When these little distractions start to mount, the spiritual disposition suffers.

With all that has transpired in the past couple of years, I find my own spiritual disposition lacking these days. Rather than being fixated on the Mass, I sometimes find myself distracted by little abuses in the liturgy, the altered wording, the unusual Eucharistic prayer, the candy-coated homilies, and so forth. I get annoyed when the pastor changes a Mass time so he can go to the casino, and I let all of these things bother me when I am in church. It's not a conscious choice. I wish these thoughts would vanish, but they will not quietly go away. They bother me to the extent that I have allowed them to decrease my attendance at weekday Mass.

I suppose everyone goes through spiritual highs and lows. I hope to emerge from my funk soon. One thing I have learned. I miss the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist. When I was receiving four or five times a week, I did not realize how much stronger I was. Now that I receive the Eucharist about twice a week, I can feel the loss. I am trying to fill the void with prayer. I pray for our pastor, our bishop, and our parish. I pray for unity, that we may all come together, that we may be united in opinion as Paul said we should be.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tabernacle Treatment

The pending restoration of our church sanctuary has spurned much discussion about the tabernacle. Where should it be located? Should it be humble or ornate? Some have even questioned its purpose. Is the tabernacle merely a storage locker for extra hosts or a place of reservation suitable for adoration?

According to Pope Benedict's book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, the tabernacle is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. Viewing the tabernacle in such typological terms carries certain implications. One tenet of typology says that the New Testament reality can never be inferior to the Old Testament type. We know what the Ark looked like and how it was constructed (Exodus 25). If the tabernacle harboring the Bread of Life is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant as Pope Benedict says, then we would do well to treat it accordingly. The tabernacle should be of superior quality and treated with due reverence.

In 2 Samuel 6:1-5, we read about the Ark being moved on a cart from the house of Abinadab to Jerusalem. When the oxen began to tip the cart, one of Abinadab's sons named Uzzah reached out to steady the Ark. Instead of rewarding Uzzah for saving the Ark from damage, God killed Uzzah on the spot. Uzzah was not worthy to touch the Ark. Should we not then treat the fulfillment of this Ark with even greater respect?

Moviegoers who saw Raiders of the Lost Ark know how Steven Spielberg portrayed the wrath of God when an unworthy person violated the Ark. Those of us old enough to have made our first Communion prior to Vatican II probably envisioned a similar calamity should we have accidentally touched the Communion host with our hands. Now, much of our reverence has unfortunately diminished with the relaxed rules. As Thomas Aquinas warned, changing a rule without necessary reason will diminish the binding power of the rule. In simple terms, the fact that a rule is changeable means it must not be too important.

Paul warns those who would eat the Body and drink the Blood in an unworthy manner. (1 Cor 11:23-27) In view of what happened to Uzzah, we would do well to heed Paul's warning by approaching the Lord's table in a state of grace. For those moments when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, we too become Arks or God-bearers, and therefore, cannot be inferior to the Old Testament Ark.

The fact that Jesus had two distinct natures sometimes places us in a quandary on how to behave toward Him. Do we treat Him as God or man when He is in fact both? When our small parish sanctuary was remodeled in the 1970's, the tabernacle was changed from ornate to humble. Jesus was born in a stable we were told. He humbled Himself to become man. The emphasis at that time seemed to be on his humanity.

Perhaps the dual nature of Jesus is the cause of many of the conflicting ideas we have in how He should be worshiped. Should the Mass be celebrated on an altar of sacrifice or a dinner table? Should the priest face the congregation or face the east with the rest of us? Should we dispense with the iconography and sacred artwork in favor of simplicity and humility? Do we build beautiful cathedrals or functional gathering places? Do we genuflect or bow? Should we kneel or stand?

The sanctuary architecture and specifically the degree of attention drawn to the tabernacle conveys a message to those who see it. That message can be both overt and covert or subliminal. If the tabernacle design is little more than a fancy breadbox, little attention will be drawn to it. The overt message may be humility, but the covert message is indifference.

The human nature of Jesus is easier for us to understand. We are human and we know what it is like. The Divine nature is much more difficult. His Divine nature is what distinguishes Him from all the rest of us, and therefore, the nature that takes emphasis. It is that nature which commands our worship. It is the significance of that nature that we convey to others by the way we treat it.

For that same reason, the altar of sacrifice should resemble one. A tendency of some liturgists is to stress the community meal aspect of the Eucharist at the expense of recognizing the sacrificial nature. Is the Mass a sacrifice or a meal? It is both, but there is no meal without the sacrifice. The community meal is obvious to those participating. The sacrificial aspect must be taught.

This dichotomous relationship was a subject of discussion at the Bishop's Synod held in Rome earlier this month. Many Bishops recognize the problem of emphasizing the human nature over the divine nature and are calling for a return to more reverent behavior. Some have called for returning to the three hour fast before receiving the Eucharist, and a greater emphasis on the need for frequent confession. At least one bishop wants to again require Communion on the tongue while kneeling. All of this sounds good, but getting everyone to comply with stricter guidelines will be difficult at this point as Thomas Aquinas predicted.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Renovation Consternation

Our Catholic parish will be 125 years old next year, and our church building will be 100 years old not long after. This Romanesque House of God towers over a small Indiana farmland town of about 2000 mostly Protestant inhabitants. It is where several generations have gathered for Masses, weddings, baptisms, and funerals.

While the exterior of the church looks much the same as it did in 1910, the interior has been renovated 3 times. From a very plain original sanctuary to an exquisitely detailed style of the 1930's, to a simplified but still beautiful design in the 1950's, the church was unmistakably Catholic with its iconography and elegance.

After Vatican II, many churches underwent redesign to reflect liturgical changes enacted by the council. In our church, a new sanctuary was married to the old nave. It was hardly a match made in heaven. The old walls were demolished and replaced with a new arched sanctuary covered with small stones embedded in concrete, a short-lived but popular fad of the 1970's. The beautiful old tabernacle became a wooden breadbox, unadorned and humble. Statues remained, but were painted a sandstone color. Instead of resting on marble stands, they were now supported on homemade boxes covered in cheap paneling.

I don't remember any particular distaste for the new design in 1974. The Catholic Church was going through a drastic change at that time and the new sanctuary was just a small part of it. Most of us seemed to take it in stride although I'm sure many hated to the see the old furnishings go. I remember a very devout Lutheran relative coming to a family funeral not long after the renovation. She gasped when she saw what we had done. "YOU'VE RUINED YOUR CHURCH," she later told my mother. Many years later, I began to think she was right.

Although the new design served the new liturgy well, subtle changes began to occur within the parish community. The old-timers could not help but notice a diminished reverence for the Blessed Sacrament among parishioners. Quiet prayer was overshadowed by socializing in the pews. Even the Altar servers seldom genuflected in front of the tabernacle. While many reasons may have contributed to this shift, the subdued design of the sanctuary sent a message to everyone who entered the church. What we once thought worthy of the finest decor was now relegated to simplicity. The tabernacle no longer commanded attention.

The modern sanctuary in contrast to the Romanesque nave formed a line of demarcation. The old did not blend with the new. Those who had lived through both eras began to long for the beauty and reverence of the old architecture. Now in a new century, the time has come to renovate again, not to return to the Tridentine days, but rather to harmonize the new with old; to bring back the reverence while maintaining the current liturgical norms; to marry our history with our present.

Undertaking such a project is a monumental task. While renovations prior the one in 1974 involved mostly new paint and furnishings, the current problem involves mismatched architecture requiring demolition and major reconstruction. An architect proficient in maintaining sacred spaces would have to be hired. This project would be expensive and a challenge to complete.

Several complications exist now that did not exist in the 1970's. Parish Councils carry much more power than they did back then. In fact, many parishes did not have councils in those days. If the pastor wanted something done, he did it. Our parish now has a finance committee in addition to the council. They could also impact the project. The number of parishioners has decreased since the 70's placing the financial burden on fewer shoulders.

With the pending anniversaries approaching, our parish council formed a committee to study the renovation. Members of that committee toured several churches that had undergone similar renovations. Pictures were displayed in the church vestibule for viewing. Later, I was asked to attend a meeting by one of the committee members. Also in attendance were our pastor, three members of the committee, at least one of which sat on the council, and another guest parishioner who owned a lumber company.

The committee members expressed their current ideas on the renovation and asked for our input. I was encouraged by their direction. They wanted to return make our sanctuary architecturally compatible with the nave, something I strongly favor. They wanted to restore the beauty and reverence which we have lacked for several decades. While a few of their ideas alarmed me, such as adding ceiling fans and angling the front pews, my overall impression was favorable. It seemed as though everyone, including our pastor, was essentially on the same page. I wouldn't find out until later that we weren't all reading the same book.

I was invited to continue providing input for the project. Despite some uncertainty of my role in all of this, I was interested in the opportunity of gently steering the committee in what I considered to be the proper direction. Early on, most everyone agreed we needed an architect, and I was asked to explore some possibilities.

While searching for information on the internet, I came across an article published by Our Sunday Visitor which told how students from the School of Architecture at a well-known Catholic University occasionally design projects for parishes that cannot otherwise afford to hire an architect. The students work under the direction of a Professor who is famous for his interest in Sacred Architecture. He is a good Catholic, well-versed in post-conciliar Vatican documents. He has published many articles on preserving sacred architecture destroyed by the modernist influence of the 1970's. The article mentioned projects all over the United States in which he was involved.

This professor became a person of interest for several reasons, not the least of which was the possibility of getting professional assistance from his students for free! Secondly, he was located just a few miles away. Perhaps most interesting to me was his expression of dismay at the modernist influences of the 1970's which gave us designs such as the one we are wishing to restore.

With the committee's permission, I contacted him by email, and we later spoke by telephone. After explaining our situation and what we wanted to do, the professor indicated this would probably not be something his students would do. Their projects were more inclined to be new construction. He also told me our project, based on my description, could cost a half-million dollars or more. When I told him that our weekly collection averages about two thousand dollars, he said, "ouch." He said the architect's fee alone could cost fifty thousand. It was my turn to say "ouch."

Before ending our conversation, I asked if he ever did consulting work. Would he be willing to come out and look at our project, give us some advice, and answer our questions? He said replied in the affirmative for a fee of five hundred dollars, and I passed that message on to the committee.

A short time later, a meeting was scheduled with a representative of our Bishop, a diocesan priest who must approve any renovation done to the church. Father Marty began by commenting on a list of ideas proposed by our committee. He said the altar should be smaller, "not coffin shaped" was the way he put it, open on the bottom to resemble a table rather than an altar. He suggested removal of the stone facade presently around the Sanctuary to be replaced by an apse similar to the original, but with a wider opening. The shape should match the arch of the original ceiling and windows. Before doing so, however, both he and our pastor emphasized the importance of getting all parishioners on board, especially those who may have been involved in selecting or donating the stone walls in the 1970's. I said I did not know of anyone who liked the present facade, but Father said he did, naming one of our oldest parishioners.

Probably the most controversial change suggested would be to move the tabernacle to the side. Gasp. Moving the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament away from the focal point is one of the signs often associated with the liberal parish. Father Marty listed several reasons for doing this. First, it would allow the tabernacle to be brought forward for a more intimate place for adoration. Second, he said it would eliminate some of the confusion Catholics have by having the Real Presence in two places during the Mass. And third, the Bishop does not like saying Mass with his back to the tabernacle.

The more conservative Catholics are suspicious of anyone who tries to push Jesus out of the Sanctuary. Ironically, both priests worried about offending someone who may not want to replace the ugly stone walls, but showed little concern for those who think the Blessed Sacrament should be the central focus. While I personally believe the tabernacle should be centrally located, the discussion did give me new insight into the polarization which divides many Catholics today.

During my phone conversation with the professor, he asked me what diocese we were in. When I told him, he sighed and said, "You may run into conflicts." He was concerned about us having a modern bishop who does not hesitate to impose contemporary ideas on old Sacred Architecture. When we mentioned the professor's name to Father Marty, he also voiced apprehension saying this professor has his own "agenda". Those mutual expressions of reservation proved to be harbingers.

In the days that followed, one of the committee members told me Father was in favor of having the professor come here for a consultation. Not wishing to take it upon myself to initiate a visit that would cost the parish five hundred dollars, I asked Father directly whether this is what he wanted me to do. He replied that a five hundred dollar stipend is very reasonable for something like this and I should extend the invitation. So I did.

The professor agreed to visit on a Tuesday afternoon and the committee decided to meet the previous Tuesday evening to prepare our questions. In order that everyone involved would be familiar with this man's work, I printed copies of several published articles which he had written, and I distributed them at the meeting. That turned out to be a mistake.

The next day, a letter from our pastor was left in my mailbox by one of the committee members. Father had read the articles and took exception to some of the professor's comments. He accused the professor of holding a "hierarchical" view. By "hierarchical", I believe Father meant a view directed vertically (focused upon God) verses horizontally (focused upon the Church community).

I based that assumption on a statement Father made in a handout distributed in August of 2004 when parishioners were invited to view proposals for an access ramp. He said the following: "Evidently the many stairs that led up to the Church proper reflected the poor theological mindset of that day, that is, God is 'up there' in the Heavens or riding mysteriously on some cloud and everything and everyone else was below. Recall the picture that depicted the hierarchical arrangement of Heaven & Earth in the older Bibles? As people finally ascended the stairs and entered the Church building they were drawn to that concept with the adorned ceiling that displayed such artistry and celebrated the Tridentine style of worship as to where the focus was magically and mysteriously 'up there'. The Communion Rail and Choir Loft both served to enhance such a concept." (my emphasis added)

As I pointed out last August, there are at least 42 New Testament references to God being "up there" in the heavens. (See my blog entry of August 29, 2004, Bringing Up Father) Many of these references came from Jesus Himself. Was His "hierarchical" view reflecting a "poor theological mindset"? I don’t think so.

Father's letter also stated that publications in which the professor's articles appeared were not all reputable sources. Among those he mentioned were Inside the Vatican, Catholic Dossier, EWTN, and Adoremus Bulletin. According to Father these sources "defend a certain Tridentine kind of mentality rather than a Catholic or universal kind of spirituality on worship and theology", and criticized the professor for using the Catechism of the Catholic Church and Canon Law "like a Bible thumper would use the Bible trying to defend a position". He was exceptionally critical of the word "Traditional" as though it were interchangeable with "Tridentine". He said, as pastor, he would put a stop to any renovation attempt that went in this direction and also said he was reluctant to spend parish money on this architect.

I had to take exception to Father's assessment. All of the sources mentioned who published this professor are solid Catholic sources, especially where fidelity to Church teaching is concerned. He seemed to be confusing architecture with liturgy. Restoring Romanesque architecture does not mean returning to Tridentine liturgy. I wrote a three page reply to his letter in which I noted many of these facts. I sent a copy to Father and the other committee members. With only the Labor Day weekend separating my response from the professor's scheduled visit, I had no choice but to notify him that we would have to cancel.

Much to my surprise, Father and one of the committee members drove to the university the following week to interview the professor and suddenly, the visit was rescheduled. We met last week and had a wonderful experience. The professor loves the Church and sacred architecture. Does he have his own agenda? Certainly. He wants to create beautiful holy spaces to exalt the honor and glory of God. Will it happen in our parish? Stay tuned.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Catholic Catagories

A Baptist minister with whom I have been having a dialogue, recently posed this question:

"It seems to me that there are different categories of Roman Catholics today. Is this true? One author put it this way, "Ultratraditionalist Catholics (those critical of changes brought by the Vatican II counsel), Traditional (critical of liberalism, but generally accept the changes brought about by Vatican II, Liberal (replaced Bible and Church authority with authority of human reason and question papal infallibility) charismatic/evangelical (more evangelical in belief and affirm conservative orthodox doctrines and emphasize gifts of the Holy Spirit, some speaking in tongues), Cultural Catholics ('womb to the tomb' born, baptized, married, and buried in the Catholic Church, and popular folk Catholics, (predominate in Central and South America, (Eclectic in their beliefs and combine elements of animistic or nature culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism)." Would you agree with this Categorization? Is there a dividing line, in your thinking as to what categorizes a congregation that is part of Catholic Church?"

Here is my answer: Within any large community or congregation, you will find varying degrees of religious zeal from individual to individual. With over a billion people in the Catholic Church, you can certain find varying degrees of fidelity to Church teaching. Yes, there are conservatives, liberals, traditionalists, charismatics -- you name it, we probably have some, although I might not define them exactly the same as the author you quote. Differing viewpoints exist within the structure of the Church, but I think that is probably true of most denominations. I would imagine in your own church, you may find some who prefer traditional Christian hymns, others who want more upbeat contemporary Christian worship, those with conservative views of Scripture, maybe others who interpret the Bible more liberally. Such differences do not mean the Church is divided or in conflict.

It seems to me that in the Protestant churches, people can seek a denomination that conforms to their personal beliefs. In that sense, like-minded people would tend to worship together. If serious doctrinal disagreements arise, people can move on to other Christian communities. In apologetic discussions with our Protestant brothers and sisters, we Catholics sometime like to point to the wide range of conflicting beliefs in the Protestant denominations as evidence of the inevitable division that result with the rejection of an authoritative Magisterium. To counter that point, I think some Protestant authors try to portray the Catholic Church as beset by internal strife and division. There is a distinction, however. The Catholic has that unifying bond with the Pope and Bishops of the Church. If one denies that authority, even though he may call himself Catholic, isn't he really a Protestor of sorts?

As far as having a dividing line between what constitutes a Catholic congregation, the Church structure (or hierarchy) is fairly well defined. The Pope assigns Bishops to oversee each diocese throughout the world. Within each diocese are parishes headed by priests assigned by the Bishop. Every parish (congregation) under this authority would be considered Catholic. There are several different Rites within the Catholic Church (Eastern, Latin, etc.), but all of these can be distinguished by their submission to the Bishop of Rome. So, it may be more proper to say there are just two categories of Catholics -- those who submit and those who have separated themselves.

I belong to a very small town parish of about 300 families. Within our typical parish, we have some who tend to be conservative, some who tend to be liberal, and maybe even a few trads! There are a few who may disagree with some Church doctrine. (We sometimes disparagingly call them "Cafeteria Catholics" -- those who like to pick and choose which teachings they accept! They act according to conscience, but do not necessarily have a properly formed conscience.) Normally, these differing viewpoints can co-exist in a parish without being divisive.

As Catholics, we should all try to maintain our fidelity to the teachings of the Church because we believe that is what Jesus intended for us to do. Are there Catholics who openly reject Church teaching? Certainly. We have our Ted Kennedys and John Kerrys who claim to be Catholic, but do not practice their faith. Are they still Catholic? Well, technically yes. They are baptized into the Church which contains both the wheat and the chaff! They do not experience the great joy and inner peace that comes when one submits to the will of Our Lord.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

What is the difference between a Catholic and any other Christian?

When Jesus gave His Apostles the authority to bind and loose on earth, and transferred the keys of His Kingdom to Peter, the Catholic took Him at His Word.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Revvin' on the Road to Heaven

In most every apologetic discussion with Evangelical Protestants, the topic of eternal security will come up. Is salvation assured for those who profess their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior, or is our salvation an ongoing process? Are we justified by faith alone as the Protestant often contends, or is it faith in cooperation with works as the Catholic Church teaches?

At some point, the Protestant will cite 1 John 5:13 where he says, "I write these things to you so that you may know that you have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God." (NAB) They usually emphasize the word "know" as if it indicates certainty. The Catholic may agree that we have eternal life, but with less certainty, heeding the "things" that John wrote about obeying the commandments and avoiding sin. John writes about deadly sin just a few verses later. Most Protestants believe the "completeness" of Christ's Sacrifice means salvation is a done deal for the believer and anything more that we do gain eternal life indicates a belief that Christ's Sacrifice was insufficient. In fact, most Protestants believe they can commit adultery or any serious sin without losing salvation because the Blood of Christ washes away all sins, past, present and future. (No wonder they seem to be having much more fun than we do!)

Earlier this week, I found myself responding to a non-Catholic friend about the meaning of 1 John 5:13. He queried, "What does that verse mean if it doesn't mean that there is a way for Christians to know they will have eternal life?" Karl Keating's apostolate Catholic Answers offers the following response for Catholics who are asked, "Are you saved?" I am redeemed by the blood of Christ, I trust in him alone for my salvation, and, as the Bible teaches, I am 'working out my salvation in fear and trembling' (Phil 2:12), knowing that it is God's gift of grace that is working in me. (Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth, p.25)

It's a good answer, but I was trying to find a simple analogy to explain my understanding of 1 John 5:13 in a friendly way. Can we be assured of our salvation? I hope what I came up with does not set Catholicism back too far!

Back in the 70's, a co-worker of mine bought an early version of the SUV with 4-wheel drive. I believe it was a Ford Bronco or something similar. We live and work in a rural area where the roads do not always get plowed in the winter, and he good-naturedly bragged that he would arrive home safely during the first big snowstorm because he had 4-wheel drive while the rest of us would be stranded. We had a heavy snowfall one day and I decided to follow behind him as far as I could on the way home thinking he could open a path. When he tried to blast his way through a rather large drift, he got stuck immediately. I stopped and we spent a half hour or so trying to get him moving. Eventually, a farmer with a much larger truck came along and pulled him out.

The next day at work, we talked about how his front wheels did not appear to be driving as he tried to free the Bronco from the snow. He got his owner's manual out, and read a section where it told about the 'transfer case', and how it needed to be engaged while the transmission is in neutral in order to apply power to the front differential. The manual also explained how the driver must exit the vehicle and manually lock each of the front hubs by turning the locking knob a quarter turn. If John had written this passage in the manual, he might have concluded by saying, "I tell you these things so you know you have 4-wheel drive."

If anyone had asked my co-worker if he had 4-wheel drive, he would have been perfectly correct is answering, "YES, absolutely! I have 4-wheel drive." He did, but he still had to play an active role for it to be effective in getting him to his destination. I look at 1 John 5:13 in a similar way. I can truthfully say, "YES, I have eternal life", but I must follow "these things" that John tells me (obey the commandments, avoid sin, etc.) in order to partake of this gift from God. In my view, John wants us to know the blood of Christ opened the gates of heaven to all of us, but we must act in cooperation with God's will to reach our destination. In this context, so many other Bible passages make sense regarding what we must do to enter the kingdom of heaven.

So there you have it! Eternal security is like 4-wheel drive - well, sort of. Perhaps I should add a disclaimer. We have just gone through about a week of 90+ degree temperatures. It's probably no coincidence that I am harking back to snowstorms. If this analogy seems a little crazy, I could be delirious from the heat. Have mercy.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Simple Answers to Not So Tough Questions

In a recent email exchange with a self-proclaimed 'Independent Fundamental Baptist Evangelist', he posed six questions to me, apparently intending to corner a defenseless Catholic. Finding answers to such questions is not difficult if one knows where to look. Most Fundamentalist objections to Catholic teaching are commonly known and addressed by many competent Catholic Apologists. They can be found on the Internet and in various Catholic publications. Be certain your sources maintain fidelity to Catholic teaching. If you are not sure, look for a green rating on the Catholic Culture website. After answering his questions, our on-going dialogue ended abruptly. I am not so naive to think he immediately enrolled in RCIA, but perhaps he will come to see Catholic teaching as reasonable. Below are the six questions and my brief answers.

Is Mary the mother of God?

Yes, BUT not in the sense that she precedes God or is the source of God's divinity. She carried God-made-flesh in her womb and in that context, she is the Mother of God. To say otherwise aligns oneself with a 5th century heresy called Nestorianism which essentially claimed that Jesus was two distinct persons, one being God and the other Man. Jesus was ONE person with two natures. Since the mother bears the whole person and not just the nature, Mary was a God-bearer, the Mother of God. Luther and Calvin agreed.

Is Mary a co-reedemer? (sic)

God uses His creation to accomplish His purposes. Mary was chosen as the vessel in which God became flesh in order to bring about our salvation. Mary is not a savior, but she played a integral part in God's plan. When the term co-redeemer or co-redemptrix is used to describe her role, it in no way implies equality with Christ any more than a co-pilot is the same as a pilot. Over many centuries of study, the Church has come to a deeper appreciation for the significance of Mary's role. To the best of my knowledge, the Church has never officially applied the term "co-redeemer" to Mary.

How does one get saved?

Our salvation is a free gift offered to us from God. The Catholic Church teaches exactly what the apostles taught and what the Bible teaches. We are saved by grace alone, but not by faith alone. (James 2:24) Jesus said that we must also obey His commandments. (Matt 7:21-23, 19:16-21, Luke 6:46) Our faith in Christ places us in a special relationship with God that combined with our obedience and love will be rewarded with eternal life. (Rom 2:7)

Does taking communion take away sins?

From the Catechism as declared by the Council of Trent in 1551, (#1394) "As bodily nourishment restores lost strength, so the Eucharist strengthens our charity, which tends to be weakened in daily life, and this living charity wipes away venial sins."
(#1395) "The Eucharist is not ordered to the forgiveness of mortal sins -- that is proper to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The Eucharist is properly the sacrament of those who are in full communion with the Church."
(See also 1 Corr 11:27-29)

Does baptism save?

Baptism now saves you. (1 Pet 3:21)

Has there ever been a time when you personally asked Jesus Christ to save you?


Sunday, May 01, 2005

Offering An Apology at Every Opportunity

Shortly after Pope John Paul II died, I received an email forwarded from a Baptist minister. It was titled "Ten Reasons why Pope John Paul Should Have Been Afraid on His Death Bed." The original author intended it for other Baptist Churches, but one of the recipients saw fit to forward it to dozens of Catholics. The message contained the usual attacks on the usual doctrines, along with a few personal jabs at Pope John Paul himself.

The text of the message from the Baptist minister follows:


The Pope was at peace while on his death bed. Not all popes have been at peace. In seminary our class visited the local Catholic Church and talked to the priest. We asked him if he knew for sure that he was going to Heaven. He said that "If the pope (John Paul I), didn't know for sure while on his death bed, then how could he?" It is reported that JOHN PAUL II was at peace on his deathbed. But was he at peace for the right reasons? I submit to you that there are reasons why he should have been afraid.

[I also submit unto you also that there are GREAT, GRIEVIOUS (sic), and IRRECONCILABLE differences between the New Testament teachings and the practices of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. It is the height of ignorance to say that Baptists and Catholics are all "brothers and sisters in Christ" as reported yesterday on TV by the pastor of our city's largest Baptist church.]

1. He needed to be afraid because he was trusting in Mary as an intercessor.

2. He needed to be afraid if he was trusting in his Legacy - Luke 12:18

3. He needed to be afraid if he is trusting in his Integrity to save his soul, (Roman 3:19-23).

4. He needed to be afraid if he thought that he was Worthy of Heaven: that it was a reward for merit, instead of a free gift, (Ephesians 2:8-9).

5. He needed to be afraid because he believed in Purgatory as a safety net.

6. He needed to be afraid for because he substituted the exalted the commandments of men over the God breathed, inspired Word. -Mark 7:7

7. He needed to be afraid because he complicated the simplicity of Gospel through endless man-made traditions - (II Corinthians 11:3, Mark 7:8).

8. He needed to be afraid because those who preach a Gospel of salvation through good works are "eternally condemned" - Galatians 1:6

9.He needed to be afraid because he abused the "body of Christ" teaching con-substantiation. John 6:63).

10. He needed to afraid because he took slow and limited action in the removing priests as pedophiles. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin," (James 4:17).

While our initial reaction to receiving such mailing may be disdain, we should not simply hit the delete key. Nor should we fire back an angry retort. Situations like this provide a wonderful opportunity for evangelization. People who are passionate enough about Jesus to send out these messages are ripe for conversion. Often times, non-catholics have never understood what the Catholic Church really teaches because few Catholics ever make the effort to explain it to them. All they know is misunderstanding and half-truths propagated by other misinformed individuals. Converting a vehement anti-catholic is much easier than converting someone who is indifferent. The anti-catholic is often very pro-Christian, even though misguided in his or her beliefs. Most Christians want the truth, and if they can be shown their Christianity in a new Catholic light, may find themselves making a new journey. As Bishop Sheen once said, "not 100 in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is."

What follows are excerpts of my reply to the Baptist's message.

Reverend______, where did the New Testament come from? We know that many early Christian writings claimed to be inspired. Some were universally accepted, some rejected, and some were disputed. Among the disputed were the Epistles of James, Jude, Barnabas, Laodiceans, Clement, Second Peter, Second and Third John, Hebrews, Revelation, and many others. Bishops of the Catholic Church were faced with the task of determining which of these early Christian writings were inspired and should be included in the New Testament. If the Catholic Church is capable of such erroneous teaching as you charge, how do you know your Bible does not contain error? The Catholic Church existed before the Bible, selected its books, and preserved it. Every time you quote from your New Testament, you are trusting the inerrant teaching authority of the Catholic Church. The only great, grievous, and irreconcilable differences are between YOUR INTERPRETATION of the New Testament and the teachings of the Catholic Church.

1. He needed to be afraid because he was trusting in Mary as an intercessor.

Mary is the Mother of Our Lord. She found favor with God. (Luke 1: 28-30) ALL generations will call her blessed. (Luke 1:48) Pope John Paul was obedient to this Scripture. Are you?

2. He needed to be afraid if he was trusting in his Legacy - Luke 12:18

- the parable of the Rich Fool! If you read the news reports on Pope John Paul's will, you would know that he died with virtually no possessions.

3. He needed to be afraid if he is trusting in his Integrity to save his soul, (Roman 3:19-23).

If you are implying that the Pope thinks he is sinless, it has been reported that he confessed his sins about once a week.

4. He needed to be afraid if he thought that he was Worthy of Heaven: that it was a reward for merit, instead of a free gift, (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Don't stop reading at verse 9. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:10) We do not earn our salvation, but we respond in obedience and love for God with good works which combined with our faith will be rewarded with eternal life. (Rom 2:7, Gal 6:8-10)

5. He needed to be afraid because he believed in Purgatory as a safety net.

Again, you do not understand Church teaching. Purgatory is not a 'safety net'. It is a name given to explain a state of the soul after death implicit in Scripture. Purgatory is God's gift to us after death....after all, one has to be perfect to enter Heaven (Rev 21:27, Heb 12:14), therefore, if God had to make the decision of Heaven or Hell for humans without any alternative...Hell would be full and Heaven sparse! You will make use of this temporary alternative whether you believe in it or not!

6. He needed to be afraid for because he substituted the exalted the commandments of men over the God breathed, inspired Word. -Mark 7:7

Examples, please.

7. He needed to be afraid because he complicated the simplicity of Gospel through endless man-made traditions - (II Corinthians 11:3, Mark 7:8).

You probably equate Apostolic Tradition, the oral teaching handed down from the Apostles and their successors, with traditions of men. The Bible tells us to listen to the Traditions that have been handed down. (1 Cor 11:2, 2 Thess 2:15, and 2 Thess 3:6)

8. He needed to be afraid because those who preach a Gospel of salvation through good works are "eternally condemned" - Galatians 1:6

In this passage, Paul is referring to works of the Mosaic law. He is taking on the Judaizers, interlopers who insisted on observance of certain Jewish customs. This has nothing to do with salvation through corporal good works. Saving faith is active. (See Galatians 5:6) If you want to know what the Bible says about corporal works, read James 2:14-26.

9.He needed to be afraid because he abused the "body of Christ" teaching con-substantiation. John 6:63).

In John 6:63, Jesus is contrasting carnal man with those of faith. Scriptural evidence for the Catholic teaching on the Holy Eucharist (transubstantiation, not consubstantiation) is overwhelming. "Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man , and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him." (John 6:53-56) "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body." (1 Cor 11:29) If after reading these words, one still thinks the Holy Eucharist was merely symbolic, why did so many of Jesus’ disciples turn away when they heard them? (John 6:66) All of Christianity believed in this Real Presence of the Body of Christ in the Eucharist until after the reformation.

10. He needed to afraid because he took slow and limited action in the removing priests as pedophiles. "Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin," (James 4:17).

If a Baptist minister who has accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior commits a similar sin, do you believe his salvation is assured? Those priests and bishops will have to atone for their sins. Despite what some people would like to believe, no one is guaranteed heaven. (Rom 2:6-8, 1 Cor 10:11-12) Should they be afraid? As Paul told the Philippians, we need to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. (Phil 2:12)

Despite our differences, we still think of you as our brothers and sisters in Christ.
May God bless you.
(End of response)

When I quoted the Bible in my response, I used the Protestant King James version. The Baptist minister had a web page which stated that the KJV was the only version he used. I wanted to demonstrate that Catholic doctrine can be supported with his Bible. Of course, not having the Deuterocanonical Scriptures makes defending some Catholic doctrine (i.e. Purgatory) more difficult. I also like to ask questions. While we tend to focus on the common Protestant beliefs and misconceptions, there are differences among the many denominations. By virtue of the fact they must self-interpret Scripture, one can never be exactly sure what they believe without asking. When they make accusations without basis, ask for examples. Doing so encourages the conversation to continue.

I am currently involved in an Internet dialogue with not only the minister who forwarded the message, but also the original Baptist author. Add that to other ongoing dialogues with a radio news reporter and a couple more Protestant friends, and it keeps me pretty busy! How does one get involved in such discussions? Actually, it is quite easy.

First, just ask God to use you in this way. The opportunities will come. Secondly, know your faith. Most Catholics hear comments from day to day about the Church, Christ, or just religion in general. Often these comments express misconceptions that can be explained easily if one knows his faith. One little clarification might be enough to begin someone on the road to the Catholic Faith. We need to know Church teaching, or at least know where to find solid orthodox answers for people. Third, when you have an opportunity to share your faith, try to take advantage of it. Respond to those emails or those letters to the editor, but do so in a charitable manner, no matter how vicious the author may have been. Use 1 Peter 3:15 as your motto. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence.

Most objections to the Catholic Faith fall into certain categories. After a while, you will know what the objector is likely to say before he says it. The issues generally include, the papacy, Tradition, Mary, purgatory, Salvation by faith and works, the Sacraments, and so forth. Since most Protestants will not accept anything that is not in the Bible, explanations need to be biblically based. Many great resources are available on the Internet from solid Catholic apostolates such as Catholic Answers or EWTN. All common objections are addressed with Bible references as evidence. You do not need to memorize every answer, but simply know where to find the information.

And, don't be concerned if your dialogue reaps no immediate benefit. All we can do is plant the seed. Count on the Holy Spirit to make it grow. If you are met with rejection, do as the apostles did. Wipe the dust from your sandals and move on.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II

May the Holy Spirit continue to work in him by drawing those inspired by his legacy to the Church he so loved.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Catholic Guilt

As part of the Lenten observance, our parish held a Wednesday evening discussion on forgiveness and mercy. A member of our parish council conducted the session which consisted of reading a sermon originally written for an audience of monks. During the discussion which followed, the moderator told how she was riddled with guilt as a youngster and felt obligated to go to confession every two weeks. She blamed her strict Catholic upgrading as the cause of this "problem" and described her relief when she realized that God is merciful and forgiving. Another prominent parishioner replied that the reason for her guilt stemmed from the pre-Vatican II Church of "Thou shalt nots" as compared to the current positive view emphasizing God's love for us. The underlying message was a sense of victory over the necessity for frequent confession.

Often we hear people refer to "Catholic Guilt" as though all Catholics are unfairly taught to bear responsibility for all wrongdoing in the world. We blame this stigma on those evil nuns in Catholic school who poisoned our minds with such nonsense - those same nuns who struck us when we misbehaved, made us memorize the Baltimore Catechism and conform to the Palmer method of penmanship. Thank God, we were able to escape their bondage and rid ourselves of this induced anguish. Now, we can do as we please while totally ignorant of what the Catechism may say, and penmanship is a long-lost art.

Remember when it was a Mortal Sin to miss Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation? By taking one Sunday off, we could not go to Holy Communion again without going to Confession. Well, this may come as a shock to some people, but none of this has changed. We are still obligated to participate in the Sunday Eucharistic Celebration under penalty of Mortal Sin and we may not receive the Eucharistic Christ until that Mortal Sin is absolved through Sacramental Confession to a priest. (CCC 2181, 1415)

Somewhere along the line, we lost our sense of sin. Unless I missed something, we are still required to obey all those "Thou shalt nots". The rules have not changed. Attitudes have changed, mostly due to priests and bishops shifting emphasis to God's merciful love at the expense of fearing His just punishment. While we certainly have a merciful loving God, we must also realize there are consequences to our behavior. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone is going to heaven.

When Catholics hear nothing but the "God is Love" message in the Sunday homily, they acquire a false sense of eternal security. Perhaps priests are afraid they will drive people away if they preach about the evil of sin and the pains of hell. They do their parishioners an injustice when they complacently enable the frequent reception of Holy Communion by those not in a state of grace. (See 1 Cor 11:27)

There is nothing wrong with feeling some of that Catholic guilt. Knowing that our sins harm not only ourselves but the entire community should make us feel guilty. A few diseased branches are a detriment to health of others on the vine. Sinful behavior is contagious. The irony of all this is that frequent confession can take away the guilty feeling. Those oblivious to sin who feel they no longer need frequent confession are the ones who should be feeling guilty the most.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Catholic News today

The Catholic Church has received much publicity in the media in the past week. First, Pope John Paul was rushed to the hospital with respiratory problems. His condition was reported in most every newscast until his return to the Vatican today. This latest health scare prompted many articles on his ability to continue as pontiff, as well as who might be his successor.

Then, another Chicago-area priest resigned his position as chaplain after admitting to a sexual relationship with a seminarian fifteen years ago. Sadly, we have been numbed by such revelations that seem to keep popping up. Will we ever be able to purge these sinners from the hierarchy?

In another incident, a member of Notre Dame's Board of Trustees and former Notre Dame football player, resigned his post after being charged with domestic abuse. He allegedly struck his wife in a South Bend hotel room last weekend.

As a faithful Catholic, I am always concerned about how the Church is portrayed in the media. Knowing the salvation of souls are at stake, I wonder how many turn away from the Church because of the bad publicity we bring upon ourselves. Unfortunately, bad press is much easier to come by than good press. There are so many holy priests and other religious who never make the papers or television.

In trying to get the inside scoop on Pope John Paul's condition this evening, the news anchor on the local CBS affiliate chose to interview a well-known dissident priest from Notre Dame who irresponsibly stated that he had a contact inside the Vatican who said the Pope is in much worse condition than was being reported. He also said the Pope stopped breathing for over a minute before he was placed on a respirator. Sensing this particular priest's craving for headlines and his tendency to challenge Church authority, I question the accuracy of his information. Even if it is true, a faithful priest should not reveal personal information about the Pope's medical condition.

I turned off the television during the priest's smiling closeup and picked up the newspaper. Just glancing through, I found the word 'Catholic' many times. The front page story in the Faith section was titled, "Not just for Catholics - Some Protestants gravitating to comfort, practice of rosary." The article is about a number of Protestant denominations who are adopting and adapting the Rosary. Most of them replace the 'Hail Mary' with other forms of prayer. Despite this, I find it encouraging that those outside the Church are being drawn to Catholic spirituality. At last night's Ash Wednesday Mass, our parish priest said the local Lutheran pastor came to him asking for ashes to use at an Ash Wednesday service.

An inset to the Rosary article told of a current fashion fad of wearing rosaries around the neck. Apparently, a number of young celebrities started the trend and it is now catching on. Trying to make a statement by using a rosary for a necklace is like trying to pry open a stuck door with a stick of dynamite. If they knew the proper way to use it, it would be much more effective. According to the article, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales published a leaflet on the proper use of the rosary in response to the misuse.

On the same front page below the Rosary article was a story about a new 'inclusive' Bible, containing 'degendered' translation of Scripture. The new version goes so far as to change the 'Our Father' to 'Abba God', because God can no longer be referred to as 'Father'. The author of the article points out that this translation is still preferable to one proposed by the National Council of Churches which started, 'O God, Father and Mother.' Once the Word of God is altered, it is no longer the Word of God. So who ordered this perverted Scripture? OH, NO! It was produced for a group called "Roman Catholic Priests for Equality." FATHER, forgive them. They know not what they do.

Opening the paper, I find an article about Sister Jeannine Gramick, a nun who has defied an order from the Vatican to cease her ministry to gays. She is in South Bend this week to participate in the Notre Dame Queer Film Festival! Why hasn't the Vatican ordered Notre Dame to remove all ties to the Catholic Church? A Catholic institution should be expected to reflect orthodox Catholic teaching. Those who have a problem with that concept should go somewhere else.

What has happened to Notre Dame? Dissident priests, Queer Film Festivals, scandals - faithful Catholics are ashamed of what Notre Dame has become. The editorial page of this same newspaper has an editorial by Bishop John D'Arcy condemning the university for sponsoring the festival through six of its departments. Bishop D'Arcy explains that all people, including homosexuals, have a right to receive authentic Catholic teaching from those who minister to them. According to the Bishop, no place has been made at this seminar for the clear and accurate presentation of Catholic teaching. He goes on to quote that teaching from the catechism. How sad that a bishop has to chastise a Catholic University for refusing to be Catholic.

Exactly one week later (2/17/2005), Bishop D'Arcy finds it necessary to again address a problem at Notre Dame. In another lengthy newspaper editorial appearing in today's South Bend Tribune, the bishop takes aim on Notre Dame for allowing a production of "The Vagina Monologues" on campus. Notre Dame's administrators again thumb their noses at the Church, their Bishop, Jesus and His Blessed Mother.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

A Day in the Life

My 16 year old daughter teaches CCD to a very small group of 1st and 2nd graders. Sadly, our parish has a difficult time finding parents who are willing and able to teach religious education classes. My daughter is well versed in the faith for someone her age, and being young herself, seems to be able to hold their attention longer than most adults.

I normally get up early on Sunday mornings to drive my daughter to the church for the 9 AM class. Today, in commemoration of the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, our parish was having a Eucharistic Holy Hour between 9 and 10 AM "in respect for the sacredness of all life" as Father stated it in the bulletin. I planned to drive her to her class and remain for Eucharistic Adoration.

As sometimes happens, my daughter and I started off the day on a sour note. She came out wearing a white knee-length knitted camisole over a black v-neck blouse and dark slacks. My daughter and I have clashed over this outfit before. She once wore it to school over a tube-top with spaghetti straps and an exposed belly-button. The open knit is easy to see through, and while the top she wore under it today was not as bad as the tube-top, it still had neckline unsuitable for church and the sub-zero temperatures outside, at least in a father's eyes. Furthermore, she wore her waist-length school letter jacket over the whole ensemble, making a very bazaar fashion statement.

I asked her if she didn't have something else she could wear. She said she did not and reluctantly, I decided to let it go today. Besides, we were about to clash over something else. I asked her whether she was going to take her CCD class to Eucharistic Adoration. She said no. I pointed out that Eucharistic Adoration is one of the most important gifts we have in the Church. "What message do we send to the children when we ignore an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration?" I asked in a calm voice. With that, my daughter yelled, "Well then, YOU teach them." She stormed into her room and slammed the door. When it came time to leave for church, she refused to ride with me. Instead, she made her brother hurriedly get dressed to take her.

In my daughter's defense, the Holy Hour was not widely publicized beyond a small notice in last week's bulletin. She may not have seen it and didn't realize it would take place at the same time as her class. We all attended the Saturday vigil Mass last evening and Father never mentioned it. I could have suggested she take her students earlier, but it did not enter my mind. It was never my intent to anger her. My question about the message we send to our children was rhetorical. I often wonder what we can do better to catechize our children.

My frustration comes from seeing diminished reverence for Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We learned it from our parents, teachers and the example of other reverent Catholics. We genuflected on both knees and bowed our heads during exposition. The Church was filled and the choir sang for Benediction. So much of that is missing now. I acknowledge my own fault in not emphasizing the importance in my own family. I have tried to lead by example, but perhaps that is not enough.

When I arrived about five minutes early for Holy Hour, it had already begun. Despite the published 9 AM starting time, our pastor apparently decided to begin immediately following the 8 AM Mass, probably in an effort to keep more people in attendance. About fifteen people remained in the church and all but one left when the rosary ended about five minutes after nine. Eventually two of the CCD teachers did bring their classes in for adoration. As I watched many of them fidget in the pews, I thought of my Catholic grade school experiences when the Sisters would smack us from behind when our attention wandered.

Not to wander off topic, but nuns get a bad rap. Every Catholic seems to have a horror story about Sister so-and-so beating some poor defenseless child to within an inch of his life. In eight years of Catholic grade school, I remember very few incidents where corporal punishment was unduly applied. Yes, there were times when a child would be grabbed and manipulated into compliance. I don't remember ever seeing a child struck in Catholic School. I do remember more than one instance of students being paddled in public high school back in the 1960's. While I am not advocating undo corporal punishment, we have a serious discipline problem in all areas of education. I believe those who experienced the stern arm of the nuns grew up with much more moral respect than those who did not.

The inattention of the CCD students was a bit of a distraction, but I did not mind. At least they were in there in the presence of God, whether they understood or not. In our present church configuration, the Blessed Sacrament sits rather inconspicuously on the altar with no special lighting or adornment. Prior to the Vatican II remodeling of the sanctuary, bright lights were focused on the monstrance causing the gold and jewels to sparkle, only overshadowed by the bright white host in the center. As children, the spectacle drew our attention. We knew this was something special. Now, the host is eclipsed in shadows much like the new moon, and those in the church often seem oblivious to His presence.

During adoration, our pastor sat in the back of the church for awhile. He also took time to empty the money from the votive stands, put oil in the candle sticks, and interrupt my rosary to give me the organist's W2 form to pass on later. Yesterday, he asked me to prepare our organist for a possible time change for the current 10:30 Sunday Mass. The pastor of our neighboring parish is nearing retirement. Some newly discovered health issues may force this retirement any day now. When it happens, he will not be replaced due to the severe shortage of priests. Our pastor will cover both parishes.

Following Adoration, I spoke with our organist, giving her Father's message. She said the priest at another county parish where she plays earlier Sunday mornings, announced today that their parish and a neighboring satellite church may be closing soon. We could be going from four priests in our county down to two in a very short time.

Why is this happening? Not enough Catholics? No, we have sufficient numbers to sustain all of these parishes. Not enough priests? Yes, but why do we have so few? The real question lies within all of us. Why was our church practically empty today when a parish of several hundred families had an opportunity spend one hour in Eucharistic Adoration? If we truly believe Jesus, our God, our Creator, our reason for existence, is here corporeally in that monstrance to be adored, to hear our petitions, to give us His love, His life and salvation, why isn't the Church filled beyond capacity? When our churches close, we have no one to blame but ourselves.

Post Script: This afternoon, I learned of the death of Johnny Carson. I grew up watching the Tonight Show. There were times in my life when I was plagued by severe anxiety that always seemed to rear its ugly head at bedtime. Johnny often became an hour or so of comfort as he could always make me laugh. One secret to his 30 year longevity on the Tonight Show was his knack for being funny when the material was not. When a bit was not going over, he would often pause to read through the rest of the script. Doc Severinsen would play Taps while Johnny set his copy on fire in the wastebasket. If one of the nightly monologues bombed, the piano player would launch into Tea for Two and Johnny would tap dance. I also learned much from watching his program. He was uniquely intelligent and often scheduled serious interviews with interesting guests. There has never been another like him. He was truly the King of Late Night. Thanks, Johnny, for all the laughs. May your soul rest in peace.