Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christ’s Mass Presence

I recently wrote about our parish adult formation class that I have been attending. (See Sailing . . .October 27, 2007). The group began with just two of us plus our pastor. We were later joined by a couple from a nearby parish and the five of us have been studying Bishop Charles J. Chaput’s book, Living the Catholic Faith. The class has been quite interesting and the discussion quite spirited at times.

As I stated in my earlier post, the other parishioner (I’ll call her Mavis) and I have occasionally been at odds with our pastor concerning his expression of Catholic teaching. We try to be very orthodox in our Catholic belief and our pastor can be a bit liberal in his thinking. The new participants are long-time friends of our pastor and tend to think along the same lines. The wife is quite reserved while her husband is just the opposite. He keeps the class lively and is never at a loss for words. Some of his comments have drawn terse reaction from Mavis who can be somewhat cantankerous at times.

Our most recent sessions have focused on the Eucharist. At the close of one meeting, Father talked about “being Eucharist to one another” and “seeing Eucharist” in others. A few days after the class, Mavis asked me what Father meant by “seeing Eucharist” in other people. She pointed out that Eucharist literally means thanksgiving and asked how we see thanksgiving in others. I agreed that applying the term Eucharist to our vision of Christ’s presence in other people was confusing to say the least. Even if one can make the argument that such an expression is appropriate by some definition of the word, we both agreed that doing so can only diminish the sanctity of belief the unique Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.

The following week, our session was progressing quite smoothly when Mavis said, “By the way Father, what did you mean last week when you talked about seeing Eucharist in others?” Father replied that Jesus is present is all of us. “But not in the same way He is present in the Eucharistic species,” Mavis interjected. “Yes, He is,” Father responded. Now I had to chime in. “Not substantially present,” I said looking for clarification. Again, Father responded that Jesus presence in others was substantial. Trying to assure myself that we were just misunderstanding each other, I stated that Jesus could be substantially present for fifteen minutes or so after receiving the Holy Eucharist. But again, Father reaffirmed his statement that the substantial Presence of Jesus exists in all of us beyond our reception of the Holy Eucharist.

I was astounded by what I was hearing. “So then, why shouldn’t I genuflect to those sitting around this table the same way I would genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament?” I asked. “You can do that,” Father replied. I could not believe my ears, and to complicate matters, the other gentleman at the table was agreeing with Father. “That’s heresy,” I said. By this time, Father’s face was red. He told me I was the one with the heretical belief. He started to express his frustration with me when I suggested we all calm down and discuss this further at a later time.

I didn’t sleep well that night. Many questions came to mind. Knowing what the Church teaches about transubstantiation, how can a Catholic priest believe that Christ is substantially present in others beyond the temporary Real Presence after the reception of Holy Communion? After transubstantiation occurs, the substance of bread and wine cease to exist and only the accidents remain. As understood and affirmed by the Council of Trent, the substantial Presence of Jesus in the Eucharistic species continues until the accidents are no longer intact, either as a result of consumption or natural deterioration. It seems to be generally taught that the Real Presence continues for about fifteen minutes after consumption. Then, how is it possible for Our Lord to be substantially present in a person beyond that point? Once the species of bread and wine are digested and no longer exist, how can the substantial Presence continue and under what form does it exist if it is not bread and wine?

The only conclusion I could reach was that our priest was just plain wrong. I began to look for evidence to present at our next session since I knew he would not accept me at my word. What I found confused me even more. Searching the EWTN website, I found an answer written by Father Robert J. Levis (08-31-2007) which said, “ . . . , The sacramental presence of Jesus remains about 15 minutes within us, as long as the species lasts.” Okay so far. Then he says, “The real presence, Jesus’ presence itself remains till mortal sin destroys it.”

The last sentence says the “real presence” (often capitalized when referring to the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ) remains. Using the term “real presence” as he does can be understood to indicate the Eucharistic Bodily Presence of Jesus remains in the person as long as that person remains in a state of grace. I have to assume Father Levis is referring to a spiritual presence remaining as opposed to a substantial or bodily presence which he calls sacramental in the first sentence.

In search of clarification, I found another answer by Father Robert J. Levis (12-10-2005) to a similar question on the EWTN website where he says the “Eucharistic elements” remain with us for about fifteen minutes after reception. He goes on to say, “It is ideal to spend these few precious moments with Jesus in the Eucharist temporarily present within us, or for at least some of this time.” This affirms my statement to Father that the Real Bodily Eucharistic Presence in the person is only temporary.

My confidence in understanding the Real Presence comes from my rudimentary familiarization with the philosophical difference between substance and accidents as proposed by Aristotle. In transubstantiation, the substance of bread and wine cease to exist while the accidents or physical properties of bread and wine remain. The substance becomes the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ and continues until such time the accidents are corrupted. When I used the word “substantial” in my argument with Father, I was using it as a technical term derived from this philosophy.

While searching for more information on the topic, I came across an essay on the Adoremus website by Avery Cardinal Dulles which confused me a little more. In referring to the Substantial Presence as affirmed by the Council of Trent, he says the following:

. . . . Trent tells us that Christ's presence in the sacrament is substantial. The word "substance" as here used is not a technical philosophical term, such as might be found in the philosophy of Aristotle. It was used in the early Middle Ages long before the works of Aristotle were current. "Substance" in common-sense usage denotes the basic reality of the thing, i.e., what it is in itself. Derived from the Latin root "sub-stare", it means what stands under the appearances, which can shift from one moment to the next while leaving the subject intact.

Regardless of how one understands the meaning of substance, the Eucharistic Jesus is a unique corporeal presence that surpasses all other forms. This same issue was addressed in the Blog of Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin (September 14, 2006). In an entry titled Flattening the Real Presence, he was asked how to verbalize the difference between Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist as opposed to his presence where two or three are gathered or in the faces of the poor. He begins by saying this is not an easy question to answer because Jesus did not provide us with details in describing the manner of his presence in those other situations, but he goes on to say that Jesus’ presence in others is less than the full reality of his presence in the Eucharist. Mr. Akin says the following:

Therefore, one does an injustice to the Eucharist – and to Jesus himself – if one attempts to flatten the uniqueness of the Eucharistic presence and reduce it to the other modes of his presence which Scripture and theology speak of. To do so speaks of either gross ignorance of the faith or an agenda of some sort that is so strong it overrides what is patently obvious.

As evidence for the unique way Christ is present in the Eucharist, Mr. Akin highlights several statements from several sources, the first being the Compendium of the Catholic Catechism where it states that “Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a unique and incomparable way.” (#282) He also cites the Catechism itself. "This presence is called 'real' - by which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense: that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present." (CCC 1374) He also refers to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Mysterium Fidei which says, “These various ways in which Christ is present fill the mind with astonishment and offer the Church a mystery for her contemplation. But there is another way in which Christ is present in His Church, a way that surpasses all the others. It is His presence in the Sacrament of the Eucharist” [38].

So, what have I learned after contemplating all of this? To a novice philosopher like me, it seems the substance does not exist apart from the accidents. Therefore, when the accidents no longer remain, neither does the substance. If the form of bread and wine become corrupted after about fifteen minutes of digestion, the substantial form of the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus is no longer present in that form. Beyond that, Jesus can still be present in one who remains in a state of grace in some other form, but how this occurs is a mystery. I am still confident in my statement that Christ’s substantial presence in the human person is only temporary, but I am less confident that I will be able to win an argument with our pastor.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Priests and Politics

At least twice in the past couple of months, our Catholic newspaper has printed articles about Catholic leaders taking sides in political debate. Where morally non-negotiable issues are concerned, all Catholics have a responsibility to speak out. But where the proper course of action is questionable, our Catholic leaders should butt out.

The latest issue involves the expansion of the SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) which President Bush vetoed and the House of Representatives failed to override. According to the published report from CNS, “Father Larry Snyder, president of Catholic Charities USA, decried the fact that ‘there were not enough House members willing to stand up for children and vote to override this ill-conceived veto of a bill that would have helped so many children without health insurance.’”

President Bush agrees that some expansion of the SCHIP is necessary, but the Democrats, in a political move probably intended to make the President look bad, offered an increase so drastic that a presidential veto was responsibly necessary. The proposed 25 billion dollar increase would have covered people who can afford their own insurance and considered children to be up to 25 years old.

A further move toward socialized medicine is not going to be in the best long term interest of children or anyone else for that matter. Expanded social programs cost money. They result in higher taxes which means fewer jobs and less self-reliance. Not every problem can be solved by throwing more money at it. Government mandates often create more problems than they solve.

Yes, the United States is blessed with riches. We are also the most generous nation in the world. We can be this way because of our free markets which create incentives for individual success. One does not develop self-worth by depending on others for his basic needs. Of course, when people are unable to care for themselves, we take on that responsibility, and do so gladly.

Father Larry Snyder could be aiding and abetting the Democratic Party strategy of demeaning Republicans in any way possible in order to bolster their chance for regaining control of the White House in the next election. He has every right to speak out on behalf of those who cannot afford health care, but he should be very cautious when becoming involved in the process. By voicing Catholic support for what may be a calculated political ploy, he may unwittingly help advance their entire agenda which includes abortion rights, embryonic stem cell research, gay marriage, and other morally unacceptable positions.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Sailing First Class

Last month, I wrote about a chance encounter with a young man who wanted to be Catholic. At the time, I wondered whether it was truly a chance encounter or whether the Holy Spirit brought us together. Shortly after that event, I did something rather out-of-character for me. Our pastor announced that an Adult Formation/RCIA class would be starting on Tuesday evenings and repeated on Saturday mornings. He billed the class as being appropriate for non-Catholics interested in exploring the Catholic Faith, Catholics who had been away from the Church, or Catholics wishing to learn more about their faith. Falling into the third group, I decided to attend.

Normally I would be reluctant to give up an evening each week to attend a class. Much of my free time is occupied with various meetings or activities. I like to attend a weekday evening Mass or two each week, and my service on a civic board and other groups also eat up the minutes. All of this in addition to a full-time job and household chores make free evenings to relax a welcome respite. Still I felt a compulsion to go.

Father and I have not always seen eye-to-eye on certain matters, mostly regarding the liturgy and occasionally the general operation of the parish, including the lack of orthodox catechesis. There were times when anger and frustration were interfering with my maintaining an appropriate frame of mind at Mass. My normal reaction to conflict is avoidance. While that may be a bad solution in most cases, here it worked for me. I let others in the parish fight the battles while I gained some peace of mind. I have a short memory and my discontent diminished quickly.

About this time, I was surprised to see Father boldly recommending a diocesan conference featuring Scott Hahn. Dr. Hahn is a Catholic convert who speaks gloriously about discovering our wonderful Catholic liturgy. I had been listening to Dr. Hahn and reading his books for several years. He seemed to be very orthodox in his views and having Father endorsing his conference was an exciting new development for me! Perhaps attending the class would give me an opportunity to develop this common interest into a new and better relationship with Father.

One of the unfortunate results of our poor catechesis is the lack of participation by our parishioners in anything beyond weekly Mass attendance. Fearing I would be the only one in the class, I enlisted another parishioner who often shares my opinions to attend also. As expected, the three of us were the only ones there. We spent the first session lamenting the fact that we have no one in RCIA again this year. During the discussion, we mentioned several acquaintances as possible candidates for conversion.

Both my classmate and I sing in the parish choir. The following Sunday, one of the persons she mentioned in the class surprisingly showed up for Mass. He was a young man in his twenties who had attended a Catholic college and sang in the college choir while he was a student. She introduced him and asked me to help him find the hymns we would be singing. After Mass, she introduced him to Father and invited him to our Tuesday session. He said he was interested and would like to come. After we all parted, I congratulated my friend on bringing this prospective new Catholic to Mass. She replied by telling me she had not talked to him recently, and in fact, she thought that I had talked to him! Wow, I thought. Maybe the Holy Spirit IS working with us. I went away invigorated and looking forward to our next Tuesday session.

About the same time, I mentioned the upcoming class to another Protestant friend of mine. We have engaged in periodic religious discussions over the past couple of years. He is very set in his Protestant ways, so I was surprised when he expressed a desire to attend the class. A conflict prevented him from attending the first meeting, but I told him he would be welcome to come the following week.

When it came time for our first Tuesday class, the young man never showed. We waited for awhile and I began to wonder whether he may have expected one of us to pick him up. Knowing where he lived, I went to his house where I met his parents in the front yard. I explained why I was there and they said he was lying down. About the same time, another gentleman drove up also looking to give him a ride. Seems the young man had been attending a Protestant meeting on Tuesday evenings, one where they probably do not think too highly of Catholics. It soon became apparent that he did not intend to go to either meeting this evening. His parents were very cordial in explaining that their son had been experiencing some problems and they were all going through a difficult time. I told them we were there to help in any way we can and to call on us any time they feel the need. I have been praying for them.

When the following Tuesday arrived, neither one of our contacts were in attendance. My Protestant friend had a change of heart and decided not to participate. This did not really surprise me as he has occasionally expressed intent in the past and not followed through. Several weeks have passed and we have had no further interest indicated by either person. If the Holy Spirit did bring us together, why did this not work out? Did we do something wrong? Did we neglect to do something we should have done? How does one continue to pursue potential converts without seeming overbearing?

The class is continuing with the three of us. Father is using Bishop Charles J. Chaput’s book, Living the Catholic Faith for the text. We also have a study guide written by Father Daniel J. Mahan. These may be excellent materials, but I am wondering whether this type of study is profitable for drawing people closer to the Church. My early impression is that this study is good for people solidly grounded in the Faith who are looking to enrich their spiritual lives. Having only two parishioners in attendance leads me to believe most of our congregation is not there yet.

The Church is a vehicle, much like a ship crossing the ocean. She can transport us to our final destiny if we stay safely onboard. In some ways, this study presumes we are full steam ahead and need to familiarize ourselves with all the ship’s amenities. Subtitled Rediscovering the Basics, Bishop Chaput’s book is a great refresher for those committed to following orders of the ship’s captain. Unfortunately, many Catholics are today adrift. They have never been properly catechized and even this most basic manual may be beyond their horizons. Many do not follow Church teaching and some have abandoned ship altogether.

All of us are at different places on our spiritual journeys. Some of us never leave the port. I sometimes wonder if our priests who form catechetical programs are not so far spiritually removed from the floundering Catholic that they fail to connect. The Catholics who need formation the most simply miss the boat. Either they find class material less than inspiring or they lack the motivation to seek any kind of spiritual development.

Most Catholics will eventually find themselves under fire for holding some “non-biblical” belief. Christian Fundamentalists are often aggressive in their evangelization of others. Catholics not knowing how to respond may start to doubt their faith. They may cower away, leaving the criticism unchallenged. Worse, they may fall away from the Church. Perhaps they were agnostic growing up or simply never learned to defend the Faith. A Catholic education, even seminary training, does not necessarily enable one to defend Church teaching. Catholics may know what, but they may not know why.

When a Catholic comes to the realization that there are solid defensible arguments for the Church’s position, they often become excited with the desire to learn more. The common criticisms of the Catholic Church fall into patterns which most every Catholic can refute with some basic instruction. The Catholic apologists gaining the most converts today are often converts themselves. Once people realize what the Church is, and become convinced of her authority and authenticity, attitudes may change abruptly.

For this reason, I believe we should focus on basic apologetics initially to get Catholics excited about the Church. Once they experience the joy of knowing they are aboard the great ship destined for eternal life, the real formation can begin.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Fun in the Son

Shortly after my wife and I moved back to our hometown, I accepted an appointment to the municipal Park and Recreation Board. Now, thirty years later, I am still doing it. One of the extracurricular duties is to organize the annual Fun Day at the Park. The fundraising event has been held on the Sunday following Labor Day for the past 35 years. It consists of a variety of children’s games, food, music and whatever else we can come up with!

In its heyday, Fun Day filled the park with people of all ages. We had volleyball games, horseshoes, fireman’s waterball, three-legged races, tug o’ war, basketball games, obstacle courses, water balloon tosses, egg tosses . . . you name the game, we probably tried it. We had cake walks, white elephant sales, bands, elephant ears, sno-cones, hot dogs, brats, soups, pies, and six-flavors of ice cream. It was all done in typical small town fashion with volunteers and cooperation from local businesses and civic groups.

As often happens in small towns, the same small groups of people get stuck doing the same jobs year after year. Organizers get older and the younger generation seems too busy to get involved. A lovely woman who was the life blood of Fun Day at the Park, died rather unexpectedly a few years back. Others tried to fill her shoes, but Fun Day was never quite the same.

About the same time, Pop Warner Football came to our community. Kids as young as five years old now play organized football, and on Sundays to boot! Parents who don’t have a son playing football probably have a daughter on the cheerleading squad. Much of our former Fun Day clientele spends their Sundays at the football field now. As a result, much of the festive atmosphere surrounding Fun Day has disappeared. Without participants, we no longer have as many games and contests. What was originally an all-afternoon affair, now barely goes for three hours. Revenues are down, and frankly, Fun Day isn’t much fun anymore.

We still have a few volunteers who help us set up for the event, but at the end of day, few remain to help clean up. Much of it is heavy work, dumping garbage cans, rearranging heavy tables, and cleaning up the mess. One other park board member, who injured his back the night before, remained to help me this year. Several hours of heavy labor needed to be done before dark and the two of us were facing it alone.

As we surveyed the park landscape, I began to wonder whether all this work we had put in over the past month, and especially the past two days, was really worth the effort. In my moment of despair, a woman who is also a board member approached me with a young man in tow. He was required to do some community service and wanted to know if we would allow him to work. This could be a God-send, I thought. As it turned out, I was right!

We accepted his help and I told him he could begin by smashing a large pile of cardboard boxes and taking them to a nearby dumpster. He replied with, “Sir, yes sir”, much like one would hear in the military. I would find out later that he was serving time in a boot camp-like facility for some infraction, the nature of which I still do not know. He was very respectful and soon began offering suggestions of how we could make our jobs easier. The young man liked to talk and we had quite a conversation as we worked side-by-side for the next three hours.

He told me he was really trying to turn his life around and was determined not to go back to prison after his incarceration ends in October. At one point, he said, “I’m Catholic.” My ears perked up. I told him I am Catholic also, and the other two Park Board members he met today are also Catholic. As he continued to talk, I realized he was not quite Catholic yet. He explained that a deacon comes to the prison every Tuesday evening for studies, and he was preparing for baptism and his first communion. As if to show off some of his new found knowledge, he told me Peter was the first Pope! I agreed and we began exchanging a few bible verses.

On what had become a very long, tiring and somewhat disappointing day, I suddenly felt rejuvenated. As our work drew to a close, I gave the young man my name and phone number, offering to stay in contact if he needed any assistance in his journey to the Catholic Church after his prison time ends. We shared some leftover Fun Day ice cream and I drove him to the home of his mother’s boyfriend. He thanked me for the opportunity to work off some of his required community service time, shook my hand and we parted company.

As the events of the day replayed in my head that evening, I began to wonder about the circumstances that brought us together. My fellow board member who brought him to me is a very spiritual Catholic woman. Where did she find him at a time when we were in dire need of help? How did he know where to find her on a late Sunday afternoon where an annual event just happened to have ended? Why did he suddenly blurt out “I’m Catholic” to a stranger who just happens to love sharing his Catholic faith? Was all of this circumstantial or did the Holy Spirit have a hand in it? It may be so. I do know he was a God-send.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Valid Matters

From time to time, the Vatican finds it necessary to remind the universal church of liturgical norms which should be observed in uniformity. Such was the case in when Redemptionis Sacramentum was issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2004. There was nothing particularly new here, but Cardinal Arinze apparently saw the need to pull in the reins a bit. At the time, I tried to charitably point out a few things we were not doing quite properly at our parish, but my observations were not welcomed by our pastor, so I backed away.

Years ago, such Vatican pronouncements went largely unnoticed by the laity. Today, the Internet allows us to view Church documents at will. Catholics in increasing numbers are being invigorated in their Faith through the various apostolates which have sprung up over the past couple of decades. Many participate in blogs, message boards, and other discussion groups on a daily basis. The result is a renewed interest and awareness in the matters of the Church. This knowledge can also result in consternation among members of the Body of Christ when certain abuses are recognized or perceived on the local level.

Of course, some abuses are more serious than others. While troublesome to those familiar with the rubrics, we have to decide when it is better to avoid confrontation and keep silent. A few weeks ago, our pastor allowed a lay person to speak in the place of the homily at Sunday Mass. While not permitted by Canon Law, this is a fairly rare occurrence, and probably not worth questioning. Other issues are more problematic.

Our pastor has recently taken a fancy to making his own Eucharistic bread. When asked by a parishioner as we exited Mass, he said it was made with wheat flour, water, and a bit of honey. Redemptionis Sacramentum (48) specifically mentions adding honey is a grave abuse. Judging from the consistency of the bread, I would think it contains more than those three ingredients. The bread is chewy and sticks to the teeth. The question is whether this bread constitutes valid matter. That may depend on the degree of corruption which, I presume, is precisely why the Church prohibits such enhancements.

In our parish, conventional wheat hosts are consecrated at the same time as the homemade bread. The bread cubes and unleavened hosts are arranged side-by-side on the Communion plates for distribution. Which kind one receives is up to the discretion of the priest or extraordinary minister. I have been given the bread cubes for three Sunday liturgies this month. Only by consuming the Precious Blood do I know with certainty that I have received the Real Presence of Our Lord. Even if the bread is validly consecrated, the laity should not be burdened with unnecessary doubt whenever we receive.

I fail to understand why our priest sees the need to introduce such nuances into the liturgy. He is not receptive to anyone questioning what he does, so there is a certain frustration among those parishioners who find this troubling. I am not mentioning the name of my pastor because this problem is not unique to my parish. My son attends another parish in this diocese where similar abuses take place. We sometimes hear of so-called cafeteria Catholics who like to pick and choose which Church teachings to which they adhere. Our parish priests set a poor example when they essentially choose to do the same.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Motu Proprio - no bull

Much talk this month about the Moto Proprio recently issued by Pope Benedict which allows priests to celebrate the Mass of Pope John XXIII (Tridentine) as an extraordinary use. Some of the more conservative Catholics are rejoicing at the news. Some others wonder why the Pope would want to bring back the Latin Mass. Will this bring Catholics closer together as the Pope hopes, or will it cause further division?

Why did the Pope issue this Moto Proprio? In an English translation, he says the following: I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to unable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: "Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!" (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

Why the clamoring among some of the faithful for the Tridentine Mass? I believe it is not so much that older Catholics long for the Tridentine form as much as they long for a return to reverence it promulgated. In the years following Vatican II, the attitude of many Catholics changed. Touching the host was no longer forbidden. Instead of kneeling, we could now receive standing. The lines between mortal sin and venial sin were blurred, so much so that the distinction was seldom mentioned from the pulpit. In fact, we didn’t hear much about sin at all. Artificial birth control became commonplace among many Catholics who continued to line up for Communion even though they no longer made regular confessions. All of these changes affected the way Catholics behaved at Mass. Those who maintained their understanding of the Real Presence, and especially those who experienced the solemnity of the Tridentine form, found this trend disturbing.

Article 5, section 1 of the Pope’s motu proprio says the following: In parishes, where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition, the pastor should willingly accept their requests to celebrate the Mass according to the rite of the Roman Missal published in 1962, and ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonises with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favouring the unity of the whole Church.

I believe our pastor will consider any group who adheres to the earlier liturgical tradition to be unstable. Once the horse is out of the barn, it is difficult to get it back in. Bringing back the Tridentine Mass will not necessarily mean bringing back the reverence. What happens when contemporary Catholics walk into the extraordinary use (as it will now be called) wearing their tank tops and cutoffs, talking loudly, holding hands or assuming the orans posture during the Pater Noster? Will they receive the Holy Eucharist on the tongue or in the hand as they are now accustomed? Will the parish behavioral norms be different for the extraordinary use from the ordinary use? Can we expect the same priest who takes liberties with the Novos Ordo liturgy to act any differently celebrating the Tridentine form? Will such displays cause even further division among the faithful? I hope not.

The problem is not the Novos Ordo Mass or the vernacular language. I believe the issue is reverence. The Holy Father does not want us to believe one Mass is superior to the other. EWTN televises a very reverent Novos Ordo Mass, but one rarely finds such reverence in the real post Vatican II world. If parishes using the Tridentine form are able to bring back the strong vertical element of worship, and if this attitude carries over to the Novos Ordo Masses, then this effort by the Pope will be beneficial.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Wedding Bell Blues

"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.' "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. – Matthew 10:34-39

... It would be better for anyone who leads astray one of these little ones who believe in me, to be drowned by a millstone around his neck, in the depths of the sea. What terrible things will come on the world through scandal! It is inevitable that scandal should occur. Nonetheless, woe to that man through whom scandal comes!" (Mt 18:6-7).

A few months ago, my niece announced that she would be getting married next September. The wedding was to be held in a small parish church that she had been attending since moving away from home several years ago. Her betrothed was baptized Catholic but not raised in the faith. They were attending marriage preparation classes, and the entire family was excited at the news. My wife and daughter immediately offered to host a bridal shower and plans were made.

Recently, my sister informed us of a change in the plans. The parish priest was refusing to marry the couple. Apparently, situational disclosures made during the pre-marital instructions led the priest to find impediments to a sacramental marriage. Instead of being married in the Church, they couple decided to be married outdoors by a non-denominational minister my sister knew. My sister and her husband were supporting this decision in the hope that the marriage would be blessed in the Church at some time in the future.

My sister and I exchanged a number of messages by email in which I expressed my dismay at this situation. I thought she failed to grasp the seriousness of a Catholic marrying outside the Church. At one time during the discussion, she proposing the idea that her daughter might still be able to receive the Eucharist since they would be legally married. I felt like I was walking on eggs in trying to convey the implications of such an action without driving a wedge in our relationship. My wife and daughter also took the news with some indifference. They continued planning the bridal shower. When family members began to ruffle at my protests, I decided to take some time to review the Church’s stance in such matters.

Canon law, like civil law, can be difficult for the layman to understand. From what I have read, a Catholic marriage requires canonical form (Canon 1108) which says that the marriage must take place before a priest or deacon, and there must be two witnesses. The wedding celebration must also take place inside a church (Canon 1115). Lacking canonical form, a marriage is invalid. Dispensations from canonical form can be granted by the bishop, but only in the case of a Catholic marrying a non-Catholic. Strange at it may seem at first glance, the marriage of two baptized non-Catholics by a non-denominational minister in an outdoor setting would be a valid marriage in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Only Catholics are subject to Canon law.

In the case of my niece, she is Catholic. She is subject to Canon law. It is my understanding that her fiancé was baptized Catholic. If he were not Catholic, it might be possible for a dispensation to be granted by the bishop so a valid marriage could take place. The wedding is not taking place in a Catholic Church, thereby also requiring a dispensation. Since no dispensation has been granted, or even requested as far as I know, the marriage cannot be valid. I am encouraged to know that a priest in our diocese had the courage to do the right thing. He recognized an impediment to receiving the sanctifying grace given in a sacramental marriage. Too often, couples are improperly disposed to enter the marital covenant. It is no wonder so many decrees of nullity are issued these days.

So, how does a Catholic family-member who loves his faith and tries to practice it react to this situation? Is it permissible for me to attend the wedding? Several Catholic apostolate websites have forums where such questions can be addressed to priests. The ones I value most are thoroughly orthodox and generally conservative. One can search the Catholic Answers website or EWTN and find numerous questions about invalid marriages. The consensus seems to be that attending an invalid marriage ceremony is scandalous. Father Mark Gantley of EWTN’s question and answer section says, “One should not be present to support and give witness to an invalid marriage ceremony. This is a moral matter, not a matter strictly of canon law.” His stance is typical of many others I found.

My niece’s wedding is less than three months away, and this dilemma is eating away at me. I cannot attend her wedding ceremony in good conscience. I also do not want to cause a rift in the family. I do not want my absence to be interpreted as snobbish or self-righteous. On the other hand, I feel a moral obligation to express my concern. The difficulty is in doing so in a way to achieve the best possible result. Responding to someone in similar circumstances, one priest suggested writing a loving letter to the couple explaining the problem for a faithful Catholic. It is this approach I will likely take, addressing my sister first.

I suspect I could find many priests who would say to go to the wedding in the belief that maintaining an open relationship with the couple may lead them to realize the importance of a sacramental marriage and seek to eventually have their union convalidated. They might say that attendance does not mean one approves of the wedding. It is likely that many Catholics will attend this wedding without giving it much thought, and any behavior to the contrary on my part will appear uncharitable.

In trying to explain myself to my sister and her family, words must be chosen carefully. I am not refusing to go to my niece’s wedding. Rather, I am unable to stand in witness at the ceremony performed contrary to canon law. I am not trying to make a statement by my absence. I would prefer that my absence go unnoticed. I must do what my own conscience tells me is right, and I cannot take responsibility for other Catholics who may attend either through ignorance or defiance of Church teaching.

Our spiritual journeys are life-long, and we are all at different points on that journey. Some will not be in a position to yet understand what others have come to understand. Great peace comes to those who embrace complete submission to the teachings of the Church Jesus established. I pray that someday, my niece and her husband will find that joy. Above all, I want them all to know I love them unconditionally and will continue to pray for them each day. I wish them much happiness. In fact, I wish them eternal happiness, the happiness we will all gain if we embrace the loving truth of our Catholic faith.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

My Mission Statement

As part of the fiftieth anniversary celebration for the diocese, our parish hosted a four-night mission earlier this month. Billed as Called by the Spirit to Mission, the event featured “Four evenings of inspirational song, prayer and reflection with Father Daniel J. Mahan.” Nine area parishes gathered to participate in the mission. All sessions were held in our recently-renovated church.

We belong to the Diocese of Gary, a city historically besmirched by racial tension, high crime, and urban blight. The Church has taken an active role in trying to bring people together through various ministries. Our diocesan initiative generally revolves around various themes of diversity awareness. This always struck me as being a bit counterproductive. Most people seem well aware of the diversity. It is our common bond as members of the Body of Christ that we sometimes fail to acknowledge.

Father Mahan is an excellent speaker who preaches about stewardship. Each session consisted of two movements. A movement was made up of a song, a scripture reading, Father Mahan’s talk and a few minutes of reflection. Including fellowship and refreshment time, the event lasted about two hours each night. Attendance was disappointing. I would estimate about 100 people came each night and the average age was probably well into the sixties.

If I had to summarize Father Mahan’s four-day mission statement in one sentence, I would say he told us to allow the light of Christ to shine through us each and every day as we serve others and grow in holiness. His message was inspirational and well received by those in attendance. Of course, those who needed to hear this message the most were not there. As I sat during the moments of reflection, I could not help but wonder why so many stayed home. Looking around the church, I think I know at least part of the answer.

While Father Mahan’s message may have been very Christ-centered, the structure of the mission itself did not seem so. Years ago, special events such as this were more devotional. We had annual 40 hour devotions which included Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, along with homiletic presentations. This mission was much different from what we older Catholics are accustomed to seeing. People conversed in the pews before the start. A few knelt to pray, but most did not. Though the pastors of all the participating parishes were in attendance, one would be hard-pressed to pick them out in the crowd. Only three or four wore collars and one showed up in shorts. Snacks were served, not in the church hall, but in the rear of the nave.

The “Gathering Hymn” on Monday was As a Fire is Meant for Burning by Ruth Duck. The opening verse reads as follows: “As a fire is meant for burning with a bright and warming flame, so the church is meant for mission, giving glory to God’s name. Not to preach our creeds or customs, but to build a bridge of care, we join hands across the nations, finding neighbors everywhere.” If Dana Carvey were here dressed as the Church Lady from Saturday Night Live, this would be an appropriate time for her tag line, “Well, isn’t that special.”

At one point during the mission, Father Mahan spoke about the importance drawing people to know Jesus through the Catholic Church. Our creeds, both the Nicene and the Apostles’, profess what we believe as Catholics. We cannot lead people to the truth of the Catholic Church if we cannot preach our creeds. One of the reasons so many people are outside the church is that it has become politically incorrect to tell others what we believe and why we believe it.

So, how do hymns such as this find their way into Catholic worship? One might say this was not part of a liturgy, so we can bend the rules a little when it comes to appropriate Catholic music, but my son reported this very same hymn was sung at the Mass he attended in another parish last Sunday. Do those who select these songs not read the lyrics? Do they not understand enough Catholic teaching to see the conflict? Are they deliberately choosing these songs as a form of protest? Our Mission booklets containing these songs were prepared by the Office of Worship, Diocese of Gary, 2007.

I wondered how many of these songs were written by Catholics. I was particularly interested in Ruth Duck, who apparently thinks the Church’s mission should not be to preach creeds or customs. That particular text did not sound very Catholic to me. Her Internet biography says she is professor of worship at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. She is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. Her bio lists eight denominations who have selected her songs for their hymnals, all of them Protestant. It also says she lives with her partner. Is this what the diocese means by diversity acceptance?

One of the problems of using Protestant music in the liturgy is that it needs to be filtered to insure its compatibility with Catholic teaching. Of course, Catholics are also capable of writing bad music, but are less likely to do so if they are knowledgeable and orthodox in their thinking. At least two of the mission songs were composed by Marty Haugen. He purportedly writes for a number of different denominations, as well as the Catholic Church. He serves as a composer in residence at a United Church of Christ. It seems to me that anyone having sufficient understanding of Catholic theology to write Catholic hymns would be Catholic!

Liturgical hymns are intended to be a form of prayer and worship. Father Mahan stressed the importance of being Christ-centered. Most of the songs selected for the mission were peppered with first person references. We are many parts, We are learners, What do you want of me Lord, O Lord with your eyes set upon me, We are called, Let us build a house, We are a pilgrim people, We are the Church of God – the list goes on. Granted, this mission was about stewardship so one would expect the songs to be reflective on our duty as Catholics, but have we become too self-centered, and in doing so, are we losing our catholicity? Apart from the Catholic-relevant material in Father Mahan’s talks, this mission had a very Protestant feel.

I love watching Marcus Grodi’s program, The Journey Home, each week on EWTN. I love seeing the excitement in the eyes of converts who have recently discovered the truth of the Catholic faith. Many can barely contain the joy that fills their hearts, minds and souls. Why is it then that so many well-intended Catholics think it necessary to tap Protestant elements into our services?

Father Mahan told a cute story about Pope Benedict’s affection for pizza. When he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, he liked to dine at a pizza restaurant owned by a man named Gino. One evening, Gino got a call requesting that a pizza be delivered to the Vatican for the Pope. He put together his best pizza and wanted to deliver it personally. On his was to the Vatican, he was stopped by a policeman wanting to know why he was speeding. Gino explained that he was delivering a pizza to the Pope, and wanted to get it to him before it got cold. The officer was skeptical, but he offered to escort Gina to the Vatican. Upon their arrival, the policeman watched as Gino went up the stairs and was allowed to enter the Pope’s residence. After he came out, the policeman told Gino that he should be entitled to half of the tip since he was instrumental in getting the pizza to the Pope while it was still warm. Gino said okay, raised his right hand, and brought it down vertically as if to give the police officer half a blessing.

Sometimes I feel like we are getting half a blessing also, except that we get the horizontal half instead of the vertical half. The social or communal aspects of church have become dominant over the spiritual elements. Father Mahan spoke of the wonderful gift of reconciliation. Despite the presence of numerous priests each night of the mission, no opportunity for confession was offered. There were scripture readings but no Liturgy of the Eucharist until the last night. There was no Eucharistic Adoration or Benediction. Apart from the Catholic aspects of Father’s talk, the first three nights of this event could have taken place in any Protestant church. The unique gifts we possess as Catholics were cast aside in favor of something mundane.

Father Mahan often referred to the imagery of the vine and branches. Our communal relationship with one another is through Christ. If we are cut off from the vine, we die. Father Mahan recognized the importance of nourishing our relationship with Christ if we are to function as stewards. I am not sure the mission organizers from our diocese really understand this.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I have a Confession to make

Catholic Answers’ founder Karl Keating writes a periodic newsletter to which I subscribe. Last month, he told of a Los Angeles parish where four priests hear confessions every night of the week plus Saturday afternoons. The lines are long as hundreds and hundreds of parishioners attend regularly to receive absolution for their sins. Amazed at the sight, Mr. Keating asked the pastor how they manage to attract so many regular penitents. His answer was quite simple:

"From the pulpit we tell our people that they are sinners, that they know they are sinners, and that they need to go to confession. We tell them that God loves them and wants to forgive them. We tell them that we will be waiting for them in the confessionals each night and on Saturday afternoon. We tell them this often and always gently, and so they come to confession. Lots of them."

Mr. Keating cited a recent article from the Religion News Service which stated that only fourteen percent of Catholics go to confession once a year, and forty-two percent never go at all. Here in our little parish, I doubt the numbers are that good. The reasons are many.

I can’t remember the last time I heard our priest talk about the necessity of confession from the pulpit. We seem to have lost our sense of sin and the lack of its mention by the clergy reinforces the notion that we no longer need to burden our consciences with guilt. When the conventional wisdom says we do not need to confess to a priest unless we have killed someone, people are not going to go.

In our parish, the confessional was actually removed to make room for a new restroom. Cleansing the body became more important than cleansing the soul. Confessions are now heard in the Sacristy where anonymity is not assured. Penitents have the right to confess behind a screen. Anyone uncomfortable with having the priest recognize them will shy away from confessing in our church.

Despite the fact that we should all experience great joy in receiving the graces of sacramental reconciliation, let’s face it. For most of us, going to confession is not something we generally look forward to. It’s not necessarily a pleasant experience, nor should it be. Verbalizing our sinful behavior to a priest forces us to acknowledge our faults, and serves as a deterrent for repeating this behavior in the future. The Protestant who says he confesses directly to Jesus gets off way too easy. Jesus already knows our sins. He commissioned his apostles, the first bishops of His Church, to be ambassadors of His work of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:17-20) We confess sorrow for our sins to a priest and receive absolution because that is clearly what Christ wants us to do. “Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”? (John 20:19-23)

Our parish holds a communal penance service the Wednesday before Holy Week. This is one of only two days a year when a person may have to stand in line to confess. As I entered the church for the service this year, I was greeted by firefighters who were evacuating the building. Someone had struck an underground natural gas line in the block next to the church causing a leak. I decided to go inside anyway. Five priests and about a dozen would-be penitents were chatting in the vestibule. Our pastor offered a communal absolution and told us the service was canceled. We all left at that point, and the service was not rescheduled. I suspect a natural gas leak is not sufficient reason to extend a communal absolution. Despite the slight risk of a small explosion half a block away, I don’t think any of us were in immediate danger of death.

Another opportunity to stress the importance of sacramentary confession came and went on Divine Mercy Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. On August 3, 2002 came the announcement from the Apostolic Penitentiary that a plenary indulgence would be granted on Divine Mercy Sunday under the usual conditions of sacramental confession, Eucharistic Communion and prayer for the intentions of the Holy Father and a few other simple stipulations.

In addition, the Apostolic decree requires that parish priests "should inform the faithful in the most suitable way of the Church's salutary provision. They should promptly and generously be willing to hear their confessions. On Divine Mercy Sunday, after celebrating Mass or Vespers, or during devotions in honor of Divine Mercy, with the dignity that is in accord with the rite, they should lead the recitation of the prayers that have been given above. Finally, since ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy' (Mt 5,7), when they instruct their people, priests should gently encourage the faithful to practice works of charity or mercy as often as they can, following the example of, and in obeying the commandment of Jesus Christ, as is listed for the second general concession of indulgence in the Enchiridion Indulgentiarum. (

Indulgence has apparently become a taboo word in some catholic circles. Just because indulgences have been misunderstood and often criticized by Catholics and non-catholics alike, some priests treat them as though they no longer exist. The Church, through the power of the keys, has the authority to remit the temporal punishment due to sin. This is a wonderful gift that Our Lord, in His Divine Mercy, has given us. What does it say to us when the parish priest makes no mention of this opportunity? Does he not believe in the authority of the Church to grant indulgences? Does he not believe in the necessity of purgation? Is he lazy? Is he unaware? Doesn't he care? Silence can speak volumes.

What a great teaching opportunity to explain indulgences and temporal punishment, the importance of dying in a state of grace and the power of confession! On the third Sunday of Easter, the week after Divine Mercy Sunday, we hear Our Lord telling Peter to feed his sheep. It is the responsibility of our priests, acting in the person of Christ in union with the successors to Peter, to nourish us, not only in the Eucharistic sense, but by instructing us on the path to salvation.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Catholic Democrat – an Othodoxymoron

I live in a blue county in a red state. The local population is so strongly entrenched in the Democratic Party that county Republicans rarely field a slate. Our city and county officials are generally determined in the primary. We have some very qualified Republicans who would make great leaders, but they feel running for office would be an exercise in futility.

The County Democratic Chairman is a member of our Catholic parish. He is very active in the church as a Lector and Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion. This is not unusual. Catholics have historically been Democrats. The only Catholic President was a Democrat, but much has changed since JFK was elected in 1960. Back then, nobody had heard of Roe v. Wade, or embryonic stem cell research, or legal same-sex marriage. Now, the Democratic Party, at least on the national level, stands in support of all these issues. How can an orthodox Catholic remain a member of today’s Democratic Party?

There was a time in my life I probably would have considered myself a Democrat. I actually voted for George McGovern the first time I was eligible to vote. I thought the Democratic Party cared more for the little guy. As I got a little older, I called myself an independent, disavowing allegiance to either party. I thought it was possible and even desirable to stay in the middle of the road.

I heard somebody say if you’re not a liberal when you’re twenty, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative when you’re forty, you have no brain. I guess, in my experience, it is true! Today, I immediately look for a candidate’s stand on abortion before I ever even consider lending my support. Being wrong on that one important issue speaks volumes about that candidate’s moral character, and if the moral character is lacking, so is the basic foundation necessary for making responsible God-centered decisions in other areas. As we approach another presidential election next year, all of the Democratic hopefuls are pro-choice. So much for caring for the little guy. Even the currently leading Republican thinks a woman should have the right to kill her unborn baby.

I realize that abortion, embryonic stem cell research, and same-sex marriage are not likely to come up at the town council meeting. One can certainly be a good Catholic and still serve the Democratic Party on the local level, but doing so has repercussions. The radical platform of the Democratic Party could not stand without support from the grass-roots level. Those Democrats who make policy on the national level have to be elected. When Catholics actively support the Democratic Party even locally, it adds legitimacy to the national stand on abortion rights and other positions diametrically opposed to Catholic teaching.

Even worse is the number of Democrats calling themselves Catholic. While a Catholic calling himself Democrat helps to mainstream Democratic policy, a prominent Democrat calling himself Catholic helps to undermine Church teaching. If Ted Kennedy can support abortion and still receive Holy Communion on Sunday, then it must be okay for me to do the same. Right? Many contemporary Catholics think that way.

Democrats may argue that the Republicans are no better. They support capital punishment and an unjust war. It’s a point well taken, but there is a difference. While the Church has taken a stronger stand against capital punishment in recent years, the Catechism does not rule it out. (CCC 2267) Regarding the war on terror, CCC 2265 says the following:

“Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.”

Contrast freeing the Iraqi people from the aggression of a ruthless dictator, or hunting down those who would perpetrate another 9-11 with piercing the skull of an unborn baby to make certain it is not pulled from the mother’s womb alive. Contrast defending innocent life with taking innocent life. The choice is clear. Today, the Democrat Party is being pulled even farther to the left by their radical base. The only remedy is a mass-defection of God-fearing Christians from party lines. Next year’s election will be hotly contested and critically important. The Christian right must be united as happened in 2004 to elect candidates with a strong moral character.

One obstacle to unification is the issue of illegal immigration. Christians are divided on what to do with Mexican immigrants who entered the country illegally. Some have been here working for a long time. Their children were born here and they are making a life for themselves.

I receive an unsolicited email almost daily from a group, purportedly Catholic, who calls for strict enforcement of immigration laws, including the deportation of those who entered illegally. The Republican Party would tend to take a similar stance while Democrats would be more sympathetic to their plight. In many cases, these Mexican immigrants have integrated themselves into the Christian communities, receiving assistance from religious organizations in adapting to life in the United States. They have beautiful families and perform difficult manual labor to support themselves in conditions that most of us would find intolerable. Should these people be treated as criminals or are they merely trespassers? Did our immigration laws even apply to them before they entered our country, and if not, is it fair to label them as criminals if they committed no crimes after crossing the border? Seems I heard somewhere we are to forgive those who trespass against us.

I raise these questions only in seeking common ground where strict conservatives and sympathetic people of faith can bond together. By re-electing George Bush in 2004, we were able to get two presumably conservative justices placed on the Supreme Court. Had a Democrat made those nominations, the chances of overturning Roe v. Wade any time in the near future would have diminished considerably. Allowing the immigration issue or the war in Iraq to shift our nation back to the left would be a major step backward in protecting human life.

The events of 9-11 have made us aware of the importance of knowing who is entering our country. Our borders must be protected, but we must also find a way to give new people opportunities to share in our bounty. Perhaps some sort of sponsorship could be allowed where employers having jobs to offer could arrange to accept immigrants with certain restrictions. I certainly don’t have all the answers. What I do know is this: If we want to preserve what remains of our moral backbone in this country, it is imperative that God-fearing Americans stand united in 2008.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


I recently ran into the father of one of my son’s classmates. Both boys graduated from high school last year. His son went to a state university and my son to a private Christian university. We talked for awhile and the conversation got around to our common concerns of having our boys in college. I’ll call this gentleman Jack. That’s not is real name. At least, I don’t think it’s his real name. I don’t know his real name.

Jack told me his son had drifted away from his faith shortly after high school graduation, but was now going to church again after experiencing the loose moral life existing on many college campuses today. He told his dad of returning to his dorm room one weekend night to find his roommate in bed with a girl, and another girl, provided by his roommate, waiting in his own bed. The boy had the fortitude to turn around and walk out.

Jack went on to talk about the orientation day on campus he and wife attended with their son last summer. Neither Jack nor his wife had ever gone to college. The orientation was a new experience. My wife and I had been through it a few years ago when our oldest son entered another state university. Their orientation day was similar to ours up to a point. In both cases, we attended a meeting in a large lecture hall with a number of other parents. Eventually, they broke us down into small groups of about ten parents. Spouses were not allowed to be in the same group. Each group was given a topic for discussion, and of course, there was a facilitator to keep things moving in the direction the facilitator desired.

I have little recollection of what topic we were given. It has been quite a few years ago since my wife and I first went through this. I do remember feeling awkward about the whole situation. It felt odd trying to problem solve with people we had just met, and I did not understand the intended purpose of all this. In the case of Jack and his wife, the purpose seemed quite clear. They were asked what they would do if they arrived to pick up their child for Christmas break and found a pack of condoms on their child’s dorm room dresser.

Not knowing Jack well, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by his answer. He said most of the parents in his group were in denial. Most every one said the condoms could not possibly belong to their child. They would have to belong to a roommate or someone else on the floor. Jack seemed to find this amusing, saying that these parents must be naïve to think their kids are not sexually active. He said while he discourages his son from being sexually active, he did tell him to use protection if the situation ever arises.

About this time, the conversation ended and I was left to ponder all of this. I found it disturbing from a number of views. First of all, to what position is the university attempting to orient these parents? Is the message that we know your kids better than you do and you might as well get used to the idea that they will be having sex with one another and it’s okay? It would seem that way to me.

Secondly, Jack’s son wants to get into youth ministry. Is this the mindset we want our youth ministers to have? No wonder kids think pre-marital sex is acceptable behavior these days. A local radio station regularly carries Dr. Dean Edell’s medical minutes. I often want to bang my radio with a hammer when I hear his reports. Recently, he criticized government funding for programs that teach Abstinence only. According to the doctor, these programs are ineffective and a waste of money.

I was immediately reminded of something I heard Catholic Apologist Tim Staples say on an audio tape of his conversion story during an impromptu response to a question about the effects of Protestant philosophy on our society. The tape was produced by St. Joseph Radio of Orange, California in the 1990’s, and his statement made such an impression on me that I transcribed it many years ago for my archive. Tim was speaking about justification, specifically the Lutheran idea of covering over as opposed to the Catholic understanding of the infusion of grace. Luther supposedly used the imagery of cow dung covered in snow to represent us being covered over by the righteousness of Christ. This is in contrast to the Catholic Church teaching that through the infusion of Sanctifying Grace, we are actually transformed. Tim went on the say the following:

“Listen, I know from being a youth pastor in the fundamentalist church, not having this understanding of the infusion of grace, and the real transformation that is going on and is necessary in our lives, that deep down in our psyche, we really don’t believe that people can really live a holy life. Whereas, the Catholic Church teaches, not only can you, but you must. ‘Be ye perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,’ you see. There is a depth to the spirituality that results from this.

“Now listen, our kids today are told in the schools, you know, they throw condoms at them, right? This is the answer, you know. What does our culture say to our young people when they say, ‘You guys, I know you’re just little animals and you’re gonna have sex anyway so we’ll throw condoms at you. What are they saying to them? They’re saying that you’re really not good. You really can’t live a chaste life. So, we’re just going to throw condoms at you and have you go in the back seat of your car and do whatever you want. Just protect yourself. The message is, ‘You’re cow dung!’ I really believe it’s an influence of a bad philosophy of the human person that really comes down to us through Protestant culture, which the United States is, a Protestant culture. We’ve come from Protestant roots.

Tim hit the nail on the head. This is exactly the message being sprayed on our young people and even their parents on college campuses today. It is the same message Jack conveys to his son, the future youth minister, when he tells him to use protection if the situation arises. It is a bad philosophy of the human person that has succumbed to this notion that sin is part of our nature, that we have no control. It is a denial of free will, and it is wrong.

The rest of Tim’s answer: “Whereas the Catholic Church says, ‘No, you’re not cow dung; you’re created in the image and likeness of God, and you don’t have to live like an animal. And then further, with the sacraments and the infusion and transformation, you can live a holy life.”

Next year, my youngest will be enrolling in a state university. I have been asking myself how I would respond if faced with the same orientation exercise as Jack. I imagine myself surrounded by a gaggle of early Gen X parents and a liberal academia nut facilitator, trying to gently bring me to the realization that my daughter is cow dung, which of course, they already know without having ever met her.

I would answer by saying, “We are Catholic. Condoms, and in fact all artificial forms of birth control, are not permitted even between husband and wife, let alone by our unmarried children. To those who accept artificial birth control as a routine part of your lives, this may be difficult for you to understand

“I recently heard it explained by comparing sex to eating. Both acts sustain life, and both are pleasurable. We get into trouble when we try to separate the pleasure from the intended purpose. If a man eats for pleasure and then goes into the bathroom and purges the stomach, we call it an eating disorder. If a man has sex for pleasure and then spills the seed, it is also disordered.

“Some of you here may be Christian, but not Catholic. Do you realize that even Protestants forbade birth control until 1930? Since even the most fundamental Christians have caved in to the pressures of our secular society, today we Catholics are viewed as the oddballs. We are merely holding firm to the Apostolic teaching handed down and supported by Scripture. In our family, we try to live our faith in the way we conduct our lives. I hope you can understand that, and if any of you would like to discuss it further, I would be more than happy to have a dialogue with you.”

So you see, using condoms to prevent pregnancy resulting from pre-marital sex between teenage children is morally wrong on many levels, and you should not allow anyone in contemporary academia to pressure you into thinking otherwise. And if they do, you may want to consider spending your hard-earned money sending your son or daughter elsewhere.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Brotherly Love

We buried my only brother yesterday. Rol was 74 years old with three children, and four grandchildren. He was a half-brother actually, eighteen years older than I. His mother died when he was quite young and our father eventually remarried. My younger sister and I came from that second union. Dad’s family was Methodist and my mother’s family was devout Catholic. Throw in the fact that he was fifteen years older than she, and I would imagine there were a few eyebrows raised on both sides when they got together.

I have little recollection of my brother when I was young. He married in 1954 when I was four years old and went off to the Navy shortly afterward. In some respects, he seemed more like an uncle to me, and in fact, a few people at the wake offered me sympathy on the loss of my father. Despite both of us living in the same small town for over fifty years, many people did not realize we were brothers. Most of my memories of him commence when he returned home from the service and bought a house where my sister now lives with her husband.

Rol and his wife, Joy, were both smokers. She died unexpectedly ten years ago after suffering a heart attack on the same day my brother was scheduled for heart surgery. He developed circulatory problems which eventually took one leg and his eyesight. The blindness forced him from his home and he spent the last three years of his life in an assisted-living facility.

Despite all of his ailments, Rol was not a bitter person. He loved sports and enjoyed listening to the games on television. He slept in a chair, more comfortable than the hospital bed, he said. And he never kicked the cigarette habit even after losing part of lung. In the end, it was his kidneys and liver that failed. The last chest X-ray showed his lungs to be remarkably clear.

My fondest memories of Rol involved baseball. He and my Dad took me to my first Cub game at Wrigley Field, probably about 1960. When he would come to visit my parents, I always managed to make an appearance with my ball glove hoping he would offer to go outside and play catch. He often did, and even coached my little league team one year. He was pitcher in his youth and was good enough to attract a scout from the Chicago Cubs to visit our house one day. He taught me to play first base, a position I played through high school ball.

He had some struggles in his life, but he overcame most of them. Going through several career changes, he always managed to survive thanks to the support of his wife and family. There were some tears and lots of laughs, typical of many families these days. Not so typical perhaps was the closeness of the family. In a day where many quit in the face of adversity, Rol and his family persevered with an abundance of love.

That love was ever so evident in his last hours with his two sons and daughter by his side. My sister and I were also present when he died. It was the first time I had ever seen someone die. My father died in a hospital after we had left his bedside to get some rest, and my mother died unexpectedly at home in her sleep. I can’t find the words to describe the experience and perhaps I shouldn’t try.

Many thoughts went through my minds as hours slipped by at his bedside. I prayed the Rosary silently, asking for God’s mercy for my brother. I prayed that his children be comforted as they watched in agony as their Dad struggled to breathe. I prayed that his suffering would be united to the suffering of Christ for the remission of his sins. I prayed that my Father and Mother, and his Mother, and his wife, and our Blessed Mother would be waiting to greet him. At ten minutes after 1 AM, the end came. He is in God’s hands now.

Last week, a friend remarked how shocked Protestants will be someday when they find out there is a purgatory and they have no one here on earth praying for them. I won’t let that happen to my brother. I will continue to pray for the repose of his soul, and I take some comfort knowing that much of his temporal punishment has already been served. Through the Mercy of God, may he rest in peace.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Dreaming in Black and White

I had a dream. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but today was different. Normally I would have been on my way to work before the dream even occurred, but I was home today due to the death of my brother who passed on Saturday.

In my dream, my wife and I were coming home when two new neighboring families from across the street stopped by to greet us. In a strange twist, they were bringing us breakfast, bacon and eggs, on odd banana shaped platters, as a sort house-warming gift. They were ones moving into the neighborhood, but we were the ones being greeted. Oh well, I never said my dreams made sense.

One of the families was of mixed race and as I glanced across the street at their new home, I noticed a racial epithet spray-painted on their garage door. I explained that we had our share of red-necked hillbillies around here, but they were not typical of local attitudes.

About that time, the dream was interrupted by my awakening. It wasn’t until several minutes later when it occurred to me that today, Janurary 15th, is Martin Luther King day. He also had a dream about racial struggles, and as I flipped on the TV to catch the early morning news, I saw parts of his famous speech being shown in remembrance. Certainly we have made great strides since those days, but I wonder if the obstacles to true equality will ever truly be overcome.

Last week, I had a one-on-one conversation with an older Black man who works at the same utility where I do. He had forgotten his identification badge the day before and was stopped by our security officers at the gate. This type of incident is not uncommon. Many employees keep their badges in their vehicles when off duty. If circumstances cause someone to change their daily routine, proper ID is sometimes left behind. Past practice has been to ask the employee his name and who he works for. The security guard will then ask him or her to pull off to the side until they can call the supervisor to get clearance for entry.

Bill pulled off and waited in his vehicle. Some time had elapsed when he was approached by security and asked to provide a driver’s license. Bill was never someone who allowed himself to be pushed around, and having never been asked for a driver’s license under similar circumstances in the past, he refused to comply. He said he reasoned there was personal information on his driver’s license that security guards did not need to see.

After the head of security got involved and several other rather heated exchanges took place, Bill was eventually allowed to enter the plant and began his shift. After a couple of hours on duty, he was pulled off the job by management and driven about 15 miles north to a hospital where he had to provide a urine sample for a drug test. The security head said Bill’s behavior was suspicious. That evening, he was required to attend a fact-finding hearing which is typically done when the company is preparing to discipline someone.

I assume the drug test was negative, and now Bill is anxiously awaiting to hear his fate. He is of retirement age and could find his pension in jeopardy depending on how badly the company wants to hurt him. He has had previous encounters with the head of security, a man whose own behavior has been questioned by many. In this and the other cases, some finger-pointing could be directed at both sides. People often assume the worst about their adversaries, and benign problems escalate into major confrontations.

Bill told me he didn’t want to play the race card, but he felt he was singled out because of his skin color. He said the white guys are waved through security routinely while he is often stopped for closer inspection. It may be true. I don’t know. We often enter the gate in darkness with a flood light pointed at our car windows. Employees hold their picture ID badges up to the window and the guard should theoretically compare the face in the picture to the one behind the wheel. It could be argued that a Black man’s face would be more difficult to see in the darkness. My impression is that most guards are not looking closely in most cases. If you possess what appears to be a company ID, they will normally wave you through.

So, now we have a major incident before us. If Bill is disciplined, he will probably claim it is racially motivated. Looking at the situation from my perspective, it should have been handled routinely without incident. If security was unable to contact Bill’s supervisor for clearance, they should have given him a courteous explanation of why they needed another form of identification. I know Bill can be belligerent when he feels he is being treated unfairly, but a good security officer should be trained to deal with those situations without over-reacting. Forcing Bill to take a drug test was pure harassment, a tactic often used by this company indiscriminately without justification.

Yes, we have come a long way since Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his dream speech in 1963, but that tension between the races still exists. Was this particular incident racially motivated? I don’t know. The point is, it should never have happened. It became a racial incident because it was allowed to. A little courtesy and understanding can go a long way for people of all races.