Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bias Sometime

The Christmas season brings the usual flood of Christmas cards from friends and relatives. I love getting them and dread writing them, but it’s part of the annual tradition. I especially enjoy reading those form letters people send telling all they accomplished during the past year. I think you can download them from the Internet and simply insert your name at the bottom.

When I reflect on the past year with respect to the Church, I can’t help but think about the controversy revolving around the political stance of Catholics, both in and out of government. Living only a few miles from Notre Dame, we found ourselves in a hotbed of debate on whether an abortion-friendly President should be honored at a Catholic University. I try to be a very orthodox Catholic and therefore find those soft on intrinsic evil to be troubling.

Everyday, I am flooded with emails from conservative causes that try to raise awareness of the doom we face if liberals succeed in their quest for power. Conservative Catholic groups are constantly bashing Bishops for not being aggressive enough in making Catholic politicians toe the line. Being conservative myself, I agree in principle, but I also think that constant liberal bashing can be counter-productive. Conservatives can further their cause by sticking to policy issues rather than trying to stir up dirt. Political mudslinging does nothing but obscure what is really important.

One of the Christmas form letters I received bothered me a little. It was from a Catholic priest, a relative of mind who I love and respect. He has devoted his life to God and to serving the poor, underprivileged, and especially racial minorities. In his letter, he said he experienced a deep personal satisfaction when Barack Obama won the election, and that his personal experience in dealing with the plight of African-Americans caused him to be ashamed of his white skin at times. His statement made me very uncomfortable. Whether biased for or against, some people never see beyond skin color.

I have always felt that believing American people to be racially intolerant is itself a stereotypical view. We all have a natural tendency to gravitate to people of similar circumstances to our own, and look down a bit to those who are different. These differences are not limited to skin color. They can be economic, cultural, or religious. They can be ethnic, political, or geographic. They can be authoritative, philosophical, or social. Democrats may cast dispersions on Republicans. Marines may think less of sailors. Constituents may disdain politicians. Boston Red Sox fans boo the New York Yankees. Environmentalists criticize lifestyles of the affluent. Anytime we associate ourselves with a certain group, we may take on a feeling of superiority to those who march to a different drummer. Skin color, in my opinion, is of little consideration today except to the most shallow of minds. The problem is, we still have an abundance of shallow minds.

Even in cases where distinction among groups is not chosen (such as race), I believe prejudicial bias is more the result of behavioral choices. Black athletes and entertainers are cheered or jeered by whites, depending on performance. White teenagers often copy clothing styles from trends started in Black neighborhoods. Others wouldn't be caught dead dressing that way. White singers and musicians have mimicked the style of Black musicians for decades. Some like it; some do not. Much of the music I listened to in the 1960’s was written and produced by Black artists. I didn’t even realize it at the time, nor did I care. All of this has little to do with skin color. Yes, we do have a tendency to stereotype, but stereotypes are learned, and sometimes earned. While we may associate them with the most obvious difference, which may be skin color, they are really more a result of other traits or behaviors.

This brings me back to the letter. Why would a Catholic priest who spent his whole life in the struggle for human and civil rights, experience a deep personal satisfaction in the election of a Black president who also happens to support the right to take of lives of the unborn? I can understand a certain feeling of satisfaction in having elected a minority President. I often find myself pulling for the underdog, but not at the expense of throwing all other factors out the window. What does the election of Barack Obama prove? Is it a victory for civil rights? What about the right to life? Does it mean we have finally overcome our racial prejudice in this great country of ours? Was he elected despite the color of his skin or because of the color of his skin? Does skin color trump all other factors just to make a point? While racial bias against minorities may have waned over the years, perhaps the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Some Catholic clergymen seem to have a propensity for supporting liberal political causes. They assume anyone with money or power got there by victimizing someone else. I suspect they are also the ones inclined to question the authority of their own superiors. Certainly all priests and bishops have the duty to speak out on matters of faith and morals, but when proper actions are debatable, that is, not clearly defined by Church teaching, they should keep quiet.

The recent Copenhagen Climate Summit took place among revelations that some of the global temperature data had been biased to make the problem seem worse than it actually is. For many investors in green technology, the fear of imminent global warming disaster is essential for keeping government money flowing their way. Whether we have a problem, whether we are causing the problem, and what we should do about it is a matter for the scientific community to decide, not the Church. So, what do I find in the December 9, 2009 issue of the South Bend Tribune? An article with the headline “Bells to ring for global warming” says that Churches in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne – South Bend are being encouraged to toll their bells at 3 PM on Sunday to show solidarity with the effort to call attention to global warming. The article did not say who was doing the encouraging, but I have to assume it was someone within the diocese since only Catholic Churches seemed to be involved. I wonder if they will be encouraged to toll their bells on January 22nd.

The Copenhagen Climate Summit dominated nightly news coverage in early to mid December. Whenever a global warming story appears on television, we are shown the obligatory video of smokestacks with huge white clouds billowing into the atmosphere. I have spent nearly 37 years of my life working in a coal-fired power generating station. We have four large turbine-generators, each with its own furnace and emissions controls. Each unit has its own 500 foot tall smokestack. On any given day, with all four units running at or near full capacity, and with all systems working properly, two of the smokestacks will have the huge white plumes billowing into the air like you see on television. The other two will have little or nothing visible. They never show you those on TV. Now, here is the irony. The white stuff you see billowing into the air is harmless water vapor, a byproduct of the government mandated sulfur dioxide scrubbing process. The other two clean looking units do not have scrubbers, hence no plume. They burn a low sulfur coal, but generally are not as clean as the ones emitting the plume. That white plume is clean technology at work. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are looking at something bad.

I have some questions I would like to ask Al Gore, the Nobel Prize, Oscar and Grammy winning global warming expert. The latest environmental crusade appears to focus on reducing carbon dioxide emissions. If the density of carbon dioxide is about 1.5 times that of air, why doesn’t all the carbon dioxide settle to the earth instead of floating above where it can absorb infrared radiation? If coal fired power plants consume oxygen and produce carbon dioxide, why does the oxygen content of air remain a constant 21 percent? If the water level in a melting glass of ice water decreases, why will the ocean levels rise when the polar ice caps melt? My questions probably reveal my own bias against people who claim expertise in areas where they lack qualification.

God gave us many natural resources to use for our benefit. Yes, we must be good stewards and use these resources responsibly, but I wonder if many who blame us for creating climate change are motivated by their own biases while underestimating the power of the true creator.

Friday, November 20, 2009

There's no place like home!

Most evangelization that takes place in the Catholic Church these days happens through lay apostolates. One of my favorites is, started by Tom Peterson, a former advertising executive who channeled his talents into producing advertisements directed at bringing inactive Catholics back to the Church. What caught my attention was an article stating that 92,000 Catholics returned to the Church in the Phoenix Diocese after the ads ran on local television stations.

When I viewed his short videos on the website, I was immediately hooked. They are powerful messages, professionally crafted. My favorite depicts the particular judgment where people watch a movie of various events in their lives. In fact, the entire website is a great resource for anyone interested in the Catholic Faith. Being the webmaster for our parish website, I added a link to hoping some of the inactive Catholics in our area might find it helpful. I also made a donation sufficient to get their magnetic logo to display on my vehicle, and a DVD copy of the videos to pass around.

Our parish, like many others, suffers from falling attendance. It did not happen overnight. Over the past forty years, numbers have diminished. Some of it is demographics. Though the population in our area has probably remained constant or even increased some, the average age has undoubtedly risen. Jobs here are difficult to find, so the younger generation tends to move on to greener pastures. Years ago, we had two priests and four Sunday Masses, some of which were standing room only. Now, we are fortunate to have one priest with three Sunday Masses, with the church barely half full at any of them. Recently, our bishop announced the closing of another parish in our diocese., something that could happen to us a few years from now.

Our pastor publishes the amount of parish income in our bulletin each week, along with the average weekly income needed to sustain the parish. It is not unusual to see a thousand dollar per week shortfall. The economy being what it is today does not bode well for seeing any increase in parish revenue. If we are to survive as a parish, we need to increase our numbers. The sad irony is the fact that we need a financial crisis to spur us to get people back to church. We have been in a spiritual crisis for many years with little effort made to rectify the situation.

I gave the DVD copy of the CatholicsComeHome videos to our pastor, who in turn gave it to the Liturgy and Worship Committee for our parish. They were also impressed and plan to show the ads before Sunday Masses during Advent. In addition, the ads are scheduled to appear on Chicago television stations beginning in December. Chicago television viewing is limited in our area, but I hope the Holy Spirit will guide some of local fallen-away Catholics to right time and channel. How nice it would be to see them during halftime of a Notre Dame game. Eventually, the ads may run nationally during prime time, but that requires much money. I hope good Catholics everywhere will support the effort.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Music for the Masses

My wife is the organist for our little parish. She took over for my late Aunt Agnes who played more than sixty years until her retirement in the early 1990’s. The position is voluntary. The parish is too small to afford hiring a professional, although we do pay an organist from a neighboring parish to play one Mass on Sunday. The responsibility for selecting hymns each week falls on my wife’s shoulders, a task she has graciously delegated to me. Our parish entry in the diocesan register lists my wife and me, along with the hired organist as the parish music directors, a job for which I do not remember applying or volunteering. Nevertheless, I do my best to pick out hymns suited to the Sunday liturgies.

My liturgical music taste tends to be on the conservative side. Having grown up prior to Vatican II, I like traditional Catholic hymns, including some Latin occasionally. It came to my attention recently that some members of our parish Liturgy and Worship Committee thought our liturgical music needed to be a little more “uplifting”. At the same time, we were getting input from another person who wanted to teach chant at our parish. While I consider chant to be uplifting, I had the feeling that more chant was not what our Liturgy and Worship Committee had in mind.

Our pastor was doing his best to keep all factions happy, including my wife and me. I felt we were being pulled in two different directions, although confused over what exactly we were being asked to do. I thought it best to explain to the Liturgy and Worship Committee what we do each week in selecting the music for Mass. What follows is adapted from a letter I wrote for presentation to the committee. Part of it is taken from an earlier blog entry about Latin in the liturgy. I should add that this letter has not yet been presented to the Committee.

Music selection is not a job we particularly enjoy. Although it may seem like we sing the same stuff every week, the preparation is quite time consuming! Our parish currently uses the Breaking Bread Hymnal published by Oregon Catholic Press. As part of their service, they provide liturgy preparation for all Sundays, weekdays, Holydays, and special liturgies. This includes suggested hymns for each part of the Mass. Each week, we log onto their website and look at the suggested hymns. We also look at the Scripture readings for that Sunday. Using their suggestions and taking into consideration what we are capable of doing, we try to choose hymns appropriate for the day.

We have over 150 selections in the current repertoire. Many are seasonal, and some are better suited to certain parts of the Mass. For example, the Communion hymns generally have a Eucharistic lyric. The hymn at the Preparation of the Gifts needs to be short so we can finish before Father says the Offertory prayers. When all criteria are met, the choices are actually quite limited. We try to add a new hymn from time to time, but prefer doing this after we have had the opportunity to practice it with the choir.

Liturgical music selection is a controversial topic these days. Much has been written about various Church documents on music in the liturgy. It is my observation that liturgists are very opinionated and often in disagreement. In the past six months or so, we have been approached by a parishioner who wants to teach us Gregorian Chant, as well as others who want more contemporary music. At this time, we are pretty much limited to what is available in our hymnal. We have tried to choose music that is reverent, primarily God-centered, and compatible with the Gospel message for that Sunday.

Just because a hymn is published in a Catholic hymnal does not mean it is appropriate to sing during Mass. Some hymns contain lyrics that can be interpreted to convey a Protestant theology. Amazing Grace is a common example of a hymn that appears in many Catholic hymnals, but contains lyrics that may suggest a Calvinist belief. This doesn’t mean it can’t be sung at Mass, but some Catholics who are well catechized in the finer points of Church teaching on salvation find the lyrics problematic. Not long ago, we came across a Communion hymn worded in such a way to sound consubstantial (Lutheran), rather than transubstantial (Catholic). Though some criticisms may be subject to interpretation, we try to avoid such hymns out of respect to those sensitive to these issues.

We were asked why our music can’t be more uplifting. Uplifting means different things to different people, so I am not sure how to answer. Certainly there is a time and a place for various types of Catholic music. The Mass is the actual Sacrifice of Calvary made present, once and for all, outside the limits of space and time. At Mass, we witness a miracle that places us at the foot of the Cross. We are kneeling in the Real Live Presence of Jesus as He gives Himself up for us. In selecting appropriate music, we should consider where we are and what we are witnessing. While we can sing joyfully in gratitude for our salvation, music within the Sacrifice of the Mass should be reverent and contemplative. In this sense, uplifting does not mean upbeat and lively to me. Nonetheless, Father has asked us to look for some contemporary music that might be appropriate for use at Mass. Suggestions would be welcomed.

Some parishioners are questioning the increased use of Latin in the liturgy, and I would like to address this at some length. Are we caving in to traditional Catholics who want to return the Church to pre-Vatican II liturgies? The answer is no. Vatican II reaffirmed that Gregorian Chant is especially suited to the Roman Liturgy, but also said other kinds of sacred music must not be excluded. The operative word here is “sacred”. In the years following Vatican II, the Latin chants fell into disuse, and sacred hymns were replaced with praise songs deemed more popular for congregational singing. Some refer to this period as the “protestantization” of the Catholic liturgy.

I recently came across an Internet blog on liturgical music written by Father Mark (I don’t know his surname) from the Diocese of Tulsa. He said, “The way we sing at Mass effectively shapes one's understanding -- or misunderstanding -- of the Church, of the priesthood, and of the hierarchical ordering of the liturgical assembly. A protestantized approach to music at Mass will inevitably engender a protestantized ecclesiology.” This makes sense to me, and I believe it contributes to some of the loss of reverence for the Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Mass attendance has certainly decreased in the past few decades. Hardly anyone comes to Eucharistic adoration on Sunday mornings, and our pastor often mentions how few confessions he hears. These are all opportunities to receive graces in ways unavailable to our Protestant brothers and sisters. Yet, many Catholics no longer take advantage of them.

I think Father Mark is referring to a type of music quite prevalent in our diocese. While we have consciously attempted to avoid this pitfall, I suppose some of the songs we sing fall into this category. The problem is that many people like these songs even though they would hardly be considered sacred music. Under Pope Benedict, the Church is experiencing a renewed interest in tapping into our rich musical history. Are we gradually going back to all Latin? No. Father asked us to do Mass settings in Latin during Lent and we gladly obliged. From time to time, we will sing a traditional Latin hymn during Communion, and use Latin Mass settings seasonally or on special occasions.

There are good reasons for singing and praying in Latin. Two of the four marks of the Church are catholic, meaning universal, and one, indicating unity. If we are truly united, we must share the same mind and spirit, as Paul tells us. Maintaining our unity in the mind of the Church that exists all over the world is not an easy task. Prior to Vatican II when all Masses were universally celebrated in Latin, Catholics all over the world were hearing and saying the same things. Translating the mind of the Church into all the languages of the world presents challenges. Any time a translation is made, the meaning is filtered through the mind of the translator.

Several years ago, we were sitting in a restaurant on a Lenten Friday trying to find meatless dishes to order. My son asked why it was permissible to eat fish, but not other types of meat. I didn’t have a good answer at the time, but I found one courtesy of Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin on his web page. ( He explained that all Church law is written in Latin. On Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, we are required to abstain from eating carnis, which we translate as meat in English. In Latin, carnis literally means a land-dwelling, warm-blooded animal. Fish are neither land-dwelling nor warm-blooded, so they are not considered carnis. All carnis is meat, but not all meat is carnis. Therefore, under Church law, it is acceptable to eat fish on days of abstinence even if one considers fish to be meat. By strict definition, one could also eat turtle or frog legs if so inclined. When we translate the Latin into English, the message is slightly distorted.

Our English language undergoes subtle changes over time, sometimes called semantic drift. This happens in many different ways through every day usage. Words take on new meanings or connotations. Catholic apologists occasionally have to explain that they are so called because they explain and defend certain positions or doctrines of the Church. This type of apology has nothing to do with expressing regret as we commonly use the word today. That same apologist may also find it necessary to explain that when we pray to saints, we are simply asking for their intercession. The word pray originally meant to ask, and that is the way Catholics use it. Prayer in that sense is not a form of worship as many non-Catholics believe.

Changes in the language may seem insignificant, but variations in the way we communicate happen more rapidly than one might think. Our parents used expressions that would seem dated or even nonsensical today. Our children sometimes communicate in slang we do not understand. Find a hundred year-old newspaper and see how much writing styles have changed in a century. Now imagine the challenge facing a two thousand year-old Church in accurately passing down revelation to everyone living today.

That is one of the beauties of Latin. Being a dead language, it is not subject to semantic drift the way other languages are. After Vatican II, the Mass had to be translated into every language of the world. Vernacular translations employ dynamic equivalence, meaning the literal language is translated to convey the intended message. The translator must interpret the mind of the Church and choose words that best represent that idea. When sacred hymns are translated, the English is often changed even more to make the lyrics rhyme.

For most of this decade, the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) has been working on a new English translation of the liturgy that more accurately expresses the original Latin. Wording of the Gloria, Sanctus and some of the responses will be revised, making our current Mass settings obsolete. The Commission had a very difficult time coming up with wording the majority of Bishops could agree on. Missals will have to be reprinted and music re-written to reflect the changes. The Church hierarchy deems all this trouble necessary because our current translation does not always express the original Latin as accurately as it should.

When we pray and sing in Latin, none of these distractions come into play. Latin expresses Catholicism in its pristine historical form, a form universal (i.e. catholic) to the Church in its fullness and entirety. It is our faith expressed free of a Commission’s debated interpretation. At that moment, we are entrusting the unaltered mind of the Church to express our love for God in words that we may not even understand. It’s not something we would necessarily want to do exclusively because its also good to know what we are saying, but there exists a certain beauty in honoring our Church heritage by praying and singing in her native language.

With all the different ideas out there, pleasing everyone won’t happen. Please understand that no matter what music we choose, somebody ain’t gonna like it. Anytime we try to introduce something new, something old or something different, people will think we are pushing a certain agenda, which really isn’t the case. We are not trying to be conservative or liberal, just orthodox. If you hear a lively praise band in other parishes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing things right and we are stuck in the middle ages. I hope some people will appreciate our efforts to maintain our ties to Rome and our history, but we don’t pretend to have all the answers, so please bear with us. I just read a comment by someone on an Internet forum who said, “The difference between a choir leader and a Somali pirate is you can negotiate with a Somali pirate.” We want to be receptive to suggestions and will try to accommodate as best we can. Perhaps the Liturgy and Worship Committee could go through our hymnal and pick out some songs they would like to try. If we can work them into the liturgy, we will. If we can’t, we will try to explain why. Feel free to come to choir practice anytime and join in.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Spread the Word

I wish I could remember the exact date. It was sometime in the mid-1990’s. Our pastor had mailed a flier to every address in the community inviting them to hear a former Baptist tell of his conversion to Catholicism. I remember wondering what our pastor was getting himself into. Surely this was going to backfire. Either this guy is still a Baptist who has hoodwinked our priest into thinking he was going to speak for the Church and will instead try to set us Catholics straight, or the many Baptists in the area will turn out and hang this guy out to roast.

I was a somewhat lukewarm Catholic at the time. I went to Mass every week, but I thought the Pope didn’t really understand what it was like to live in the world today. Protestants had challenged me about my Catholic Faith, and I really had no answers. Church teaching seemed pretty antiquated to me and I couldn’t understand why a Baptist would want to become Catholic. So, I decided I had to attend the event to see what was going to happen.

That night, I met a young Catholic convert named Tim Staples and my life would never be quite the same again. In the span of about two hours, he lit a fire in me that still burns to this day. Tim told his conversion story, how he was a bold anti-catholic evangelical in the Marine Corp who took pride in pulling ignorant Catholics out the Church until he was challenged by another Catholic Marine who actually knew his faith. In his talk, he discussed many of the same challenges that had been thrown at me by a co-worker. He taught me that all of these challenges have reasonable answers. He taught me that we Catholics can be confident that we are in the one true Church established by Jesus Christ. I learned to appreciate the Magesterial teaching authority of the Pope in union with the Bishops.

Such profound change occurred for me that evening. I became so excited by the Catholic Faith that I now try to share my excitement whenever the opportunity arises. When people ask me to tell my story, I always go back to that evening when I met Tim Staples, and I also give credit to our priest at that time, Father Mark Mazza, who had the courage and foresight to bring Tim to our little parish. But my most sincere appreciation and respect goes to a man named Matt Dula. Who is Matt Dula? He was the Catholic Marine who had the courage to stand up to a very cocky anti-Catholic and ultimately figured in his conversion. Had he not done so, perhaps Tim would still be pulling people out of the Church. As it turned out, Tim became a fervent Catholic apologist responsible for countless conversions.

You see it is not enough to learn the faith. We must also be ready to share and defend it. Someone undoubtedly had an impact on Matt Dula’s religious education enabling him to go toe to toe with Tim Staples. I doubt that Matt Dula had any inkling that his defense of the Faith would later affect so many souls, including my own. One small spark can start a raging wildfire. I hope and pray that I may be one to fan the flames.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Preacher or Teacher

I find myself feeling very frustrated these days. Seems to me very few Catholics know even the basics of their faith. Even those who are active in the Church, serving on pastoral councils, parish commissions, Knights of Columbus, Christian Mothers, you name it, most approach these services as political or social rather than spiritual. Yes, I am generalizing, perhaps unfairly, but I have seen little evidence to think otherwise.

The Church has been in existence 2000 years. Up until a few hundred years ago, being Christian meant being Catholic. The faith was handed down from generation to generation. I received my Catholic Faith from my mother’s side of the family that immigrated from Czechoslovakia some five generations ago. As the Church protects the deposit of Faith from error over the centuries, Catholic parents have taught the Faith to their children. When one person in a family loses or rejects the faith, the Faith is then likely lost to that persons descendants. Most of the millions of good Protestant families out there probably have a Catholic ancestor who for some reason left the Church.

I look around our community today and see many Catholics who just quit going to Mass and are not raising their children in the Faith. In most cases, their ancestors preserved the family faith for 2000 years only to have one of their descendants break the chain. Barring a personal conversion, that precious Catholic Faith will be lost forever to their future descendants. How sad.

Why does this happen? I blame ignorance for the most part. Most Catholics are poorly catechized. Anyone truly understanding what the Catholic Church is and knowing the reality of eternity, would never leave the Church. I was bothered by a conversation I recently overheard between two very active Catholics speaking of receiving Communion in Protestant churches. One spoke of attending an Episcopal wedding where everyone was invited to receive communion. She was asking the other Catholic if it was okay to do so. He told her he didn’t see anything wrong with it, and had himself received in a Lutheran church when traveling with another person. Another told of visiting a dying relative in a hospital when a woman Episcopal minister came in an offered to perform a communion service. Their response was that it couldn’t hurt, so they did it. I did speak up, trying to charitably explain why it was wrong to do so, but they seemed to think Catholic rules were too restrictive.

When attempts are made to provide catechesis for adults at our parish, the people who need it most never attend. Those who do are already seemingly grounded in the Faith. Hence my frustration. What can we do to evangelize people who are already Catholic, let alone those who are not? I have said this before, but I truly believe education from the pulpit is where it must begin. That twenty minute homily each week is the only opportunity we have to light the fire. Priests may need to take a different approach to homilies, shifting modes from preaching to teaching.

Our current pastor writes his homilies in manuscript form and reads them to the congregation. I can understand why he may prefer to do this. He and I are about the same age, and I know how easy it is to lose my train of thought as I get older. Working with a prepared text allows the author to organize thoughts and edit them for content. He can say exactly what he wants to convey without fear of leaving something out or speaking in error. Yet in doing so, he loses effectiveness. What is gained in the transmission may be lost in the reception. There is nothing more boring than listening to someone read a lengthy script.

In speaking from the heart, the priest engages the congregation in a way that captures the attention of the listener. People are more likely to remember details from a conversation than from a speech. Catholics are more apt to accept Church teaching if they know the history and understand the origin of doctrine. Catholic belief comes from Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magesterial Authority of the Church. The Liturgy of the Word gives the priest plenty of opportunities to take an apologetic approach to his homily by explaining how Church doctrine developed from God-breathed revelation.

We have not had a Catholic school at our parish since 1972, and religious instruction since that time has been inadequate. Every Sunday as our altar servers arrive for Mass, I see them walk right past the monstrance completely oblivious to the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. Some of them will make a mechanical curtsy in the general direction of the tabernacle, but they clearly have no concept of where they are. This often happens in view of their parents and catechists. Seeing the same young faces behave the same way week after week leads me to believe they are not being properly formed, probably because their parents and those teaching them were not properly taught either.

Our hope lies in the parish priest being able to inspire a desire in his parish to grow in faith. Those who are spiritually distant are unlikely to respond favorably to verbal chastisement or criticism from the pulpit. That is not to say the message should be sugarcoated. Rather, many need to be lovingly taught the very basics of the faith, as though they are children hearing them for the first time. It may actually be the first time for some. 1 Peter 3:15 comes to mind again. Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. 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. With understanding comes appreciation and the desire to know more.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Conscience Formation

During the summer months, Mass attendance at our little parish has dwindled substantially, prompting our pastor to post a sign out front that says, “There is no vacation from God.” I grew up with the idea that attending Sunday Mass was not optional. In second grade, Sister Clarencia told us missing Sunday Mass was a Mortal Sin unless we were truly sick and unable to go, and if you die with a Mortal Sin on your soul, you will go to hell. I also remember the story of the guy who left Mass right after Communion only to be hit by a train on the way home. Today, it seems to be no longer "spiritually correct" to use such scare tactics, but they worked on me.

All of this makes me wonder how to get people back in the pews. Fear, while being an effective motivator for some, is not best reason for going to Mass. How do we get people to desire the graces they need to reach the ultimate goal of eternal salvation? Those of us who have been around awhile see the change that has taken place, especially since Vatican II. The emphasis on the Fear of the Lord has been replaced with the God is Love message. The danger of damnation is not talked about much anymore. Rather, Catholics want to leave Mass feeling good about themselves and many priests try to accommodate them.

Our current pastor is rather old school in his delivery. His homilies are stern at times, and folks come away feeling they have been chewed out for not living their lives to his standard of holiness. I suspect this has affected summer attendance more than family vacations. We will see whether attendance returns in the fall.

I don’t envy priests today. God knows there are many borderline Catholics out there who need to be drawn into a closer relationship. If the homily drives them away, there is little hope for bringing them back. Yet, sugarcoating the message can hide the bitter truth. There is a hell and people will go there. As our spiritual Father, the parish priest has to provide the delicate balance of a loving parent and firm disciplinarian.

Our diocesan paper carries a question and answer column by Reverend John Dietzen. In the July 12 issue, someone asked about a claim made at a Catholic symposium that Pope John Paul II said we can follow our consciences only when in accord with church teachings. The questioner wondered if that was really what the Pope taught. Before I read the answer, I thought to myself, I know how I would answer this. We have to follow our consciences, BUT we have an obligation to form our consciences in accordance with Church teaching. If we believe something contrary to what the Church teaches, we have a problem.

In his answer, Father Dietzen quotes from Pope John Paul’s book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, in which he says, “Man cannot be forced to accept the truth.” “He can be drawn to the truth only by his own nature, that is by his own freedom.” The Pope also cites St. Thomas Aquinas, who “maintains that it is wrong to make an act of faith in Christ if in one’s conscience one is convinced, however absurdly, that it is wrong to carry out such an act.” And finally, he refers to a statement by Cardinal John Henry Newman, also from the Pope’s book, where Cardinal Newman placed conscience above any outside authority, civil or religious.

When I read Father Dietzen’s answer, I immediately thought many Catholics will use this to justify most any behavior. All of these statements, taken out of context, emphasize the need to follow our own consciences, but little is said about our responsibility for forming our consciences. Father Dietzen concluded by saying, “People must search for the true and the good, especially when conscience itself becomes almost blind because of a habit of sin. But an honest conscience which searches for what is right always retains its dignity.” Perhaps he could have gone on to say that “the true and the good” can be found in the teachings of the Church and believing something in opposition to Church teaching is neither true nor good.

People need to be very careful when taking statements out of context to illustrate a point. I envision people further taking statements from Father Dietzen’s article out of context to support their own belief. According to the Pope and Cardinal Newman, conscience rates above any outside authority, civil or religious. Therefore, if I don’t believe it’s a sin to miss Mass on Sunday, it’s not a sin. If I don’t believe using artificial birth control is a sin, it’s not a sin. If I believe a woman should have the right to choose abortion, I can still receive Holy Communion.

Now, there is an element of truth here. We cannot commit a Mortal Sin if we truly and honestly believe it is not a sin. Yet, we have a responsibility as Catholics to form our consciences in accordance with Church teaching. If the Church tells us it is sinful to deliberately miss Mass on Sunday, to use artificial birth control, and to promote legal abortion, then it’s a sin for us to do any of those things. Yes, we must follow our consciences, but we must make sure our consciences are properly formed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Polite Conversation

Last week, I backed my pickup truck out of the garage and into the grill of my son’s car parked in the driveway. Someone had taken his usual parking spot so he pulled in behind me since there was no other space available. I had seen his car there earlier, but in my haste, I simply backed up without thinking or looking.

When I realized what I had done, I got angry. I immediately went in the house and told my son what happened. I told him I was sorry and would pay for the damage. (The car is in my name, and on my insurance policy.) As I brooded over the circumstances, I found myself trying to place the blame on someone else. If my daughter’s friend had not taken my son’s parking place, he would not have parked behind me. It’s always easier to direct anger at someone else rather than oneself. That didn’t last long, however. I knew I was the one who put the truck in reverse and backed up without looking.

Later that evening, the family lightheartedly rehashed the day’s events as we were going out to dinner after attending vigil Mass. My wife remarked that she was surprised to hear me tell my son I was sorry. This really shook me. “What do you mean?”, I said. “My life has been one continuous apology!” Actually, I got a little angry again. I have always considered myself ready to admit when I am wrong. I suggested that I have said those two words way more often than she has. Of course, I am probably wrong way more often than she is, but I didn’t say that. I joked about us getting into a huge argument in the restaurant we were about to enter, and then the conversation went on to other things.

The next morning, I spent an hour at Eucharistic Adoration. During some quiet time, I began thinking about what my wife said. Was she really surprised to hear me say, “I’m sorry”? Should I tell her I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t say I’m sorry? It is often not easy to admit we are wrong or have made a mistake. I always thought of myself as being somewhat generous with my apologies, but maybe others do not see me that way. Or could it be that members of my family do not see me that way?

I remember times when I have been in really bad moods for some reason, giving my family the quiet treatment, only to put my friendly face back on when guests arrive. Why would I treat strangers or acquaintances better than the people I love? Applying some self-analysis, I seem to want others to think well of me beyond what niceties may flow from me naturally. I may go out of my way to be polite to others, but become lax around members of my own family. I suppose it is natural to relax our efforts around people we are most comfortable with. This brings to mind the movie Love Story that popularized the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” I really have to disagree.

As a fan of the Chicago Cubs, I am a regular viewer of their baseball games on television. Former player and now Cub broadcaster, Bob Brenly, often jokes about the six key words that every husband should know for a successful marriage. They are: “Yes dear, you’re right, I’m sorry.” While always good for a laugh, he is actually speaking truth, provided those words are said with sincerity. Pride often keeps us from admitting when we are wrong.

Sorry is not the only word often going unsaid. What about thank you? We can never be too gracious, yet I am sure there are many times when I take for granted what others do for me. If memory serves me correctly, it was Msgr. Kenneth Velo during his funeral homily for Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, who told of the Cardinal sending thank you notes for thank you notes. How often during the coarse of a single day does someone else do something for us, and how often do we fail to show our appreciation? I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t say thank you.

It is particularly important for us Catholics to be ever gracious in our daily interaction with others, whether they be loved ones or perfect strangers. If we truly see Christ in every other human life, we should treat them as we would treat Him. Seeing Christ in the behavior of some people can be difficult at times. In those cases, it is all the more important that they can see Christ in us.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Mary Mary Month of May

May is traditionally the month during which we Catholics give particular honor to our Blessed Mother. Our parish had a procession and crowning of the statue of Mary on Mother’s Day. We are also showing Marian videos in the parish hall on Monday and Wednesday evenings during May. Our pastor, Father Terry, asked me to preview the videos and set them up for showing at the scheduled times. I also make the popcorn.

The topic this month has centered on Marian apparitions, especially those of the twentieth century. I was familiar with Fatima, but many of the other reported apparitions were new to me. Among those were Garabandal (Spain), Betania (Venezuela), Kibeho (Africa), and Akita (Japan). Always being a bit skeptical, I wondered how many of these apparations were approved by the Church. A little Internet research proved to be very educational.

If the Church has a list of verified supernatural apparitions, I have yet to find it. Various groups have published lists, but they are not all in agreement. I found anywhere from 10 to 14 approved Marian apparitions in the twentieth century. Writing only from memory now, it seems like five or six reported apparitions are commonly listed as approved supernatural phenomena, but beyond those, lists varied. Part of the reason may be the way apparitions are classified. Studied apparitions may be classified as "not worthy of belief," "not contrary to the Faith," or "worthy of belief." They may also be termed as supernatural occurrences, that is, not of natural or demonic origin. Those compiling the various lists may be looking at numerous pastoral statements given over a period of time, which could account for some of the confusion.

From the information provided in the videos we watched, many of the apparitions contained similarities. The visionaries are often young people, children, humble and innocent. The Marian messages usually call for prayer, fasting, repentance, conversion, rejection of sin, and the more recent ones for an end to abortion. They sometimes foretell of miraculous signs and chastisement for those who do not heed God’s message. Some messages would seem to indicate these events will take place very soon. Of course, these are all private revelations and not necessarily messages to be accepted by everyone. Yet, even the unapproved apparition stories appeared quite convincing.

Our video series on apparitions was happening at the same time the Barrack Obama abortion controversy was taking place at Notre Dame. (See last month’s blog entry.) Those protesting Obama being given an honorary degree by Notre Dame staged massive prayer vigils for an end to abortion. This got me to wondering why Our Blessed Mother appears to innocent children, asking them to deliver her message, rather than appearing to the perpetrators of the sin themselves. I went to Eucharistic Adoration on the morning of Obama’s speech at Notre Dame, “suggesting” to Our Lord and His Blessed Mother that a well-timed apparition during his talk would be a really effective means of getting the President’s attention. Obviously, God has a better idea as the apparition did not happen as far as I know. Of course, even if it had, the liberal media probably would not have reported it.

A week has passed since Obama’s appearance. If Father Jenkins has experienced any reprimand for giving an honorary degree to an abortion friendly president, it has not been reported. I rather expected the controversy to subside after the ceremony with no action taken. So far, that seems to be the case. Perhaps, the Blessed Mother could pay him a visit too!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Jeer, Jeer for Old Notre Dame

The uproar over the University of Notre Dame inviting pro-abortion President Obama to speak at commencement demonstrates the polarization that has arisen among members of the Church these days. A public confrontation pitting Catholic against Catholic is unfortunate. Making the situation even worse is the growing resentment between the two sides.

On one hand, we have orthodox Catholics who try to live their faith according to the teachings of the Church, especially when it comes to protecting human life from conception to natural end. They are rigid in their adherence to moral and ethical behavior, and hold other Catholics, both individuals and institutions, to high standards. They tend to be vocal when they see behavior they do not like, and therefore may be stereotyped as intolerant or self-righteous.

Being of the former bend, I find it more difficult to catagorize the other side. My guess is that most of them are more accepting of the secular world in which they live. It would be too easy to simply dismiss them as not living their Catholic faith, though I am sure that is often the case. They may still be good Catholics in their personal beliefs, but do not pass judgment on the diverse behavior of others. I suspect that deep down, they view acceptance of Catholic teaching a personal choice more than absolute truth. I also suspect they take a more humanistic view of Church hierarchy as opposed to being a Divinely-guided Magisterium. For this reason, they may be viewed as worldly or heterodox.

Judging from the outcome of the last presidential election and the acceptance of President Obama to be honored at Notre Dame by the administration and probably a majority of the students, those of us embracing the Catholic Faith to the fullest are in the minority. Being tolerant of opposing opinions is one thing, but providing a pulpit at a supposedly Catholic institution for those views when they promote intrinsic evil is unacceptable, especially when we appear to be losing the moral battle.

Students who do not expect or accept Catholic teaching at a Catholic University should probably be attending school elsewhere. In this case, those who do expect orthodox Catholicism should look elsewhere too. Why would anyone expect to get a first class education in any discipline from a Catholic University that cannot even profess the truth of its own Faith? Some might argue that universities can maintain their Catholicity while entertaining diverse or contrary thought, or that academic freedom requires open dialogue with dissenters. In the sciences, humanities, arts and other disciplines, this may be true, even in the case of theological science as long as it does not conflict with Catholic doctrine. But when it comes to matters of Faith and Morals, dissention should not be an option, and promoting or providing a public forum for such dissention is inexcusable.

In 1967, many Catholic Universities, including Notre Dame, signed what was known as the Land O’ Lakes Statement, so-called because it came from of a conference of Catholic educators held in Land O’ Lakes, Wisconsin. The meeting took place to address the issue of a perceived conflict between the Church and academic freedom. The gist of the statement can be summarized in the second sentence: “To perform its teaching and research functions effectively the Catholic university must have a true autonomy and academic freedom in the face of authority of whatever kind, lay or clerical, external to the academic community itself.”

Although the Land O’ Lakes statement also stressed the importance of keeping Catholic higher education distinctively Catholic, the barn door was now open and Catholicity was trampled in the academic stampede to freedom. Dissenting priests were given positions of authority at Catholic Universities where they cast doubt among believers and undermined Church teaching. Instead of lifting up the Catholic Church as a beacon of truth beyond reproach, many Catholic universities demolished the Faith by allowing the secular world to dictate curriculum and university policy.

In 1990, Pope John Paul II issued a lengthy document called Ex Corde Ecclesiae (From the Heart of the Church). Seen as a rebuttal to the Land of Lakes Statement, it defines what makes an academic institution Catholic giving bishops the authority to affirm or deny catholicity. Some Catholics are organizing an effort to have Bishop D’Arcy remove the Catholic label from Notre Dame. While the good Bishop is unlikely to go to that extreme, he said he will boycott the graduation ceremony, and may even take part in an organized protest.

According to an article by sportswriter Curt Rallo in the April 21, 2009 edition of the South Bend Tribune, Notre Dame president Father John Jenkins defiantly reaffirmed his decision at a celebration of 60 years of black student athletes. Defending the invitation of President Obama, Jenkins said, “He’s one of our great orators of our time, and we’re just so proud to have him.” It would be interesting to know how many of the students who cheered his remark are Catholic.

At my weekly catechism class earlier this evening, we got into a discussion of moral ethics. A number of hypothetical ethical dilemmas were proposed where object and means seemed to be at odds. One commonly used example involves lying in order to protect the lives of others. In my mind, the answer is obvious. I have lied for much lesser reasons. Yet I realize the morality of doing wrong to achieve a right deserves serious thought, and questions such as these are certainly pondered in academia. Then I wonder if Father Jenkins gave any serious thought to the moral consequences of inviting a pro-abortion president to speak at a Catholic university. I can understand some of Father Jenkins’ (and Obama’s) supporters speaking from ignorance, but Father Jenkins himself should know better. Even if he were right, the fact he chooses to ignore his Bishop demonstrates a complete lack of respect for the Church hierarchy.

Father Jenkins recently wrote that his invitation to Obama was in accordance with a 2004 statement by the United States Council of Catholic Bishops called Catholics in Political Life because Obama is not Catholic. This past week, Bishop D’Arcy responded with a letter to Jenkins, excerpts of which were released to the public. The Bishop cited one of the highpoints of the USCCB statement that says, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” How can Father Jenkins reconcile what he is doing with that statement?

Father Jenkins has placed his superiors, the university, and the Catholic Church in an awkward position. If he is disciplined as he should be with the loss of his position, Obama’s supporters will try to paint Catholics as intolerant racists. The local paper has printed dozens of letters in support of Jenkins, some of them from students, alumni, and at least one priest. One woman boldly stated that she was a Catholic who is pro-life and pro-choice. A man accused pro-lifers as being cafeteria Catholics because they are not as vocal about other problems in the Church. Another supports Obama because of all the hunger and starvation in the world, as if he will end it all and his opponents are the cause.

It’s only a matter of time before the mud-slinging starts. Non-Catholics smell blood in the water and join in the frenzy. A writer in today’s paper said, “When you discuss the sanctity of life, you may wish to skip over the Crusades, the Inquisition, the burning of thousands of women as witches, the vile behavior of the Catholic priests who told their faithful to pay the English rents while their children starved during the Irish potato famine and the alleged collaboration of the Vatican with the Nazis.” Oh boy. Now, do we go off on another tangent and defend these charges, or just let it ride.

A pattern is evident in most of these letters. These are not people who hold Church teaching in high regard, despite some of them claiming to be “devout” Catholics. I wonder how many of the “devout” Catholics make frequent confessions, attend weekday Mass (or even regular Sunday Mass for that matter), spend time in Eucharistic Adoration, or pray the Rosary. These are things the rest of us should be doing for all concerned, especially the aborted children, President Obama, Father Jenkins and Notre Dame.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Bless me Father, for have I sinned?

Our new pastor has been here eight months now. At one of our Tuesday evening Catechism classes, he spoke of his disappointment in the low number of confessions he has heard since coming to the parish. He said he is almost to the point of nagging people to come to confession. I understand his frustration, but doubt that nagging will solve the problem. I believe most people are reasonable, and therefore, will respond to a reasonable argument. Having said that, I have been thinking about the problem of how to draw people to the sacrament.

I confess that I was not going to confession nearly as often as I should have been, but I did go, and with more frequency than many other Catholics I know. My new year’s resolution is to go much more often, and so far, I am sticking to one-month intervals. Yes, I feel a wonderful sense of relief after confessing in contrast with a definite dread before I go. The apprehension is only natural when we are forced to face our faults, and that is precisely why we need to go. Confessing directly to God is way too easy. Confessing to another human being acting in the person of Christ is another story. One is apt to think twice about repeating a serious sin if confessing that sin is going to be unpleasant.

So, why don’t many Catholics go to confession anymore? Good question. Catholic behavior changed drastically after Vatican II. Those of us who were in the Church pre-Vatican II remember when there were long lines at the confessional every Saturday and much shorter lines for Communion on Sunday. We had a greater sense of the need to be in a state of grace when approaching the Communion rail. 1 Corinthians 11:27 says whoever eats the bread of drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord, but in the years following the Council, Catholics seemed to lose this awareness.

Saint Thomas warned that even when laws need to be changed, there is danger of reducing the binding power of the law as a consequence of the change. Prior to Vatican II, eating meat on Friday was considered a mortal sin. We had to receive Holy Communion on the tongue, kneeling with our hands under a cloth to make certain they did not come in contact with the host. The Mass was in Latin and the priest faced the altar. All of these things changed after the Council, and as a consequence, the binding power of Church disciplines diminished in the eyes of the faithful. Worship took on a more horizontal element, and a more “laid back” Catholic Church came into being.

Sin took on a more relative sense. If rules that were once steadfast can now be completely different, how much binding power did they have in the first place? Church disciplines suddenly seemed somewhat arbitrary and Catholics learned to rely on their own consciences in discerning which to follow, especially when it came to decisions on moral issues such as using birth control.

We were always told one of the Commandments of the Church was to confess our sins at least once a year. Now, we hear that we must confess MORTAL sins at least once a year. So, what sins are still mortal? Even the term “mortal sin” became obscure. We occasional heard references to grave sin or serious sin, but with the caveat that the disposition of the sinner affects culpability. The word sin itself disappeared from the priests’ vocabulary in many pulpits.

The manner of confession also changed with Vatican II. Instead of “Bless me Father; I have sinned”, we were now asked to use a form that required a response or two. What if there is no card in the confessional? What if I don’t do it right? What if I have to go face-to-face with the priest and I’m not comfortable doing that? All of these things contributed to keeping people away. When Catholics saw other Catholics avoiding the Sacrament, they too felt justified in doing the same.

The question becomes, how do we get people to come back? It won’t be easy. The responsibility falls on the shoulders of the parish priest, the shepherd of the local flock. Without nagging or sounding too harsh, he must gently reinstate the awareness of personal sin, and its affects on the state of grace in our souls. He must reassert the importance of being in a state of grace before approaching the Holy Eucharist. His best opportunity comes weekly during his homily.

One way might be to speak about the issue of Catholic public office holders supporting abortion. Several Bishops have ordered that such politicians be refused Holy Communion in their diocese. The priest could explain that allowing persons whose sin is publicly known to receive Communion not only profanes Our Lord, but also places the soul of those individuals in jeopardy. Refusing them Communion is also for their own benefit as it protects them from bringing judgment upon themselves. Allowing them access to the Holy Eucharist also creates scandal by giving the impression that the minister condones such action by his cooperation.

The homilist may also acknowledge the fact that Holy Communion should be refused any person in a state of mortal sin, but unless that sin is publicly exposed as in the case of the politician, the priest has no way of knowing. He might give examples saying he doesn’t know who in the Communion line is on birth control, or who missed Sunday Mass for no good reason, so he is in no position to protect that person from further harm to his or her soul.

Catholics also need a heightened awareness of less serious sin and the importance of bringing those sins to the confessional to attain the grace to overcome them. Many do not realize that actions that increase our separation from Christ are sinful. Sins of commission and omission affect most of us everyday. A good examination of conscience is essential for making us aware of sin, and that conscience needs to be properly formed. Catholics avoiding the confessional may think they have no sins to confess. Ignorance is not bliss. We have an obligation to grow in our faith, and to turn a blind eye to sin is a great disservice to God and to ourselves. All of these issues need to be addressed from the pulpit.

Lastly, Catholics need to feel confident that baring their souls to the priest is not an experience that will scar them for life. On the contrary, a good confession frees the souls from the scars of sin. If we really believe in God and the eternal life He offers us, we would take advantage of everything offered us to reach that goal, and we would rejoice in the comfort of knowing our souls are pleasing to God. Is confessing to the priest easy? Yes and no. If it were too easy, it would be less effective. Yet, considering the gravity of our sins and what is at stake, it is extremely easy to spend just a few minutes ridding ourselves of the pains of sin.

On the Second Sunday of Easter, April 17th, we will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. On that day, Catholics have an opportunity to receive a plenary indulgence, that is, complete forgiveness of sins and their punishment. Unfortunately, many Catholics are not even aware this opportunity exists. For the first time, our parish will celebrate this occasion with a novena beginning on Good Friday with daily praying of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. To receive the plenary indulgence, certain conditions must be met, including confession and reception of Holy Communion.

I addressed this topic of Confession once before (Confession Digression, 4-25-2004). At that time I said, at some point it will be necessary for priests to be blunt with the congregation. I think that time has finally come for our parish as our new priest mentions the importance of confession in nearly every homily. It will be interesting to see how many take advantage of this opportunity. Those who have avoided the confessional for many years will have a decision to make. When Divine Mercy Sunday passes, they will find themselves either closer to God or more detached. Simply maintaining their spiritual status quo is not an option. To ignore the opportunity is to deny one’s sins and need of reconciliation. Denying the need for Divine Mercy is itself a sin of pride.

I have sympathy for those who have not been to confession for many years. Yes, it takes some courage to fess up to the priest who gives you Holy Communion every Sunday that your last confession was twenty or thirty years ago, but this is an occasion for celebration. The priest views your return as a time for rejoicing. He is there as Christ’s ambassador of reconciliation. A heavy burden will be lifted from your shoulders when he gives you absolution. Now is your chance to take this step along with many others in the same situation as you are. Don’t let the opportunity pass you by. Just do it!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Church in the Cross Hairs

From subtle digs to downright vicious attacks, the secular media often fires pot shots at the Catholic Church these days. Certainly some of the past criticism of Church officials has been deserved, but I am talking about attacks on the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church regarding faith and morals. Publicity on the Church’s stance against abortion, same-sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia have placed the Church in the cross hairs of liberal self-centered thinkers.

Especially disconcerting is the lack of support for Church teaching from Catholics themselves. We all know about the Kennedys, Pelosis, and Bidens who proclaim their Catholicism and somehow try to justify their anti-Catholic positions. The damage they do goes way beyond what they generate through legislation. Their public voice lends legitimacy for other misguided Catholics to share their views.

On February 3, 2009, the South Bend Tribune published an opinion piece submitted by an unfortunately typical contemporary Catholic. The writer’s name is Joseph Zavisca. This was more than a succinct letter to the editor. It was nearly a quarter page in length and published as a "Viewpoint". Whether the content expresses the views of the editorial board of the newspaper is unknown, but I would be surprised if it did not.

The piece was titled Catholic leaders out of touch with beliefs of the flock. That heading alone says much about the problem we face. How did we reach this point where some Catholics believe that Church teaching should be determined by the “beliefs of the flock”? The real problem is that the flock is out of touch with the Church.

I am going to refrain from further use of the writer’s name so as not to give his opinion any more credibility than it deserves. His only qualification listed was that he is a resident of South Bend. He began by quoting Father Jay Scott Newman, the South Carolina priest who told his parishioners they “should refrain from receiving Holy Communion if they voted for Barack Obama because the Democratic president-elect supports abortion.” The writer goes on to say, “This is only a recent example of the ongoing attempts of the official church to insist that its followers subscribe to moral dictates more and more at odds with reality.”

That is quite a statement. The abortion reality is sinful intrinsic evil. How dare the Church insist that we be at odds with evil? I wonder if this writer ever stops to think about what he is saying. Does he believe that if enough people succumb to a sin, then the Church should reverse its teaching and make it okay? Granted, I do not know whether Father Newman went too far in saying Catholics who voted for Obama should not receive Holy Communion. Their culpability would seem to depend on individual factors not generally known. I am sure the good priest was trying to make a strong impression that being an accomplice to evil is a serious sin.

The writer goes on to rail against the Church teaching on artificial birth control saying it is “the same official church that still prohibits divorces, while providing annulments to anyone who wants one.” Statements like this exude ignorance. Annulments are not provided to anyone who wants one. Canon law regarding what constitutes a valid marriage is quite clear, and a marriage determined to be valid cannot be annulled. Of course, circumstances surrounding individual situations may fall into gray areas where tribunals must make judgment calls, but the oft-repeated tale of anyone with sufficient money being able to get an annulment is a lie. And regarding artificial birth control, all Christian denominations forbid it prior to 1930. Again, the writer believes that because many have fallen into sin, it should now be acceptable, and apparently the majority of Protestant denominations would agree. Only the Catholic Church holds firm in her teaching and all Christians should heed that fact.

From the writer’s point of view, Church “rulings” are inconsistent. He says, “Divorce is prohibited but annulment is okay; they’ll still let you in the door and take your donations, but will not let you take communion if you vote for Obama (but only in certain places, not everywhere.) Trying to follow the logic or the sense of it all is difficult.” In reality, Church teaching is quite clear, but the human element makes the application uneven at times. Making sense of it all is not difficult if one sets aside his skepticism and accepts the fact that Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide His Church to all truth, and what the Church binds here on earth will be bound in heaven.

Submitting to the Church should be a source of great comfort, not dismay. Understanding the reasonableness of Church teaching requires some effort on the part of each Catholic. Learning the history, reading the Church Fathers, studying the Scriptures, and growing in the Faith will eventually lead to the realization that the Catholic Church is divinely instituted and we have not been left as orphans to fend for ourselves.

Since the election where Catholics apparently voted in the majority for Obama, I have been trying to understand how contemporary Catholics, many of them seemingly good respectable Christians, justify their positions. The writer of this opinion piece provides some insight. He says he was raised Catholic and is “comforted by its rituals.” He says he worships as a Catholic and prays as a Catholic, “but the various moral dictates that the church ‘requires’ of those who call themselves Catholics hold no moral sway over me.”

Again, this is quite a statement. I am an American, but the laws of the land do not apply to me. I don’t have to pay taxes or obey the speed limit because the government holds no sway over me. Guess what? If you choose to ignore the dictates of the civil law, there will be consequences. Similarly, if you choose to ignore the dictates of the moral law as taught by the Church, you will also suffer consequences. One thing of which we can be certain in this world is the Catholic Church teaching on Faith and Morals. It is infallibly defined. Without that certainty, everything falls apart. We cannot even have confidence in the Scriptures without an infallible Church. Choosing to stand in opposition to that Church is spiritual suicide.

In his conclusion, the writer says the Church should be more concerned with the corporal works of mercy than abortion, birth control and divorce. In his mind, feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned is more important than protecting babies in the womb. To support his point, he ironically quotes Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus says, “What you did for the least of my people, you did for me.” He really needs to give that some more thought.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An Obamanation

As Catholics, we were warned. Many concerned bishops issued strong statements prior to the election. The Voters Guide for Serious Catholics was well publicized and readily available to anyone willing to read it. Yet, Catholics on the whole voted pretty much along the same lines as the rest of the population, helping to elect a president who openly supports the killing of unborn children.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from my Congressman, Joe Donnelly, a fellow Catholic, who warned that President Obama would likely discontinue the “Mexico City Policy” which prevents taxpayer dollars from going to foreign non-governmental organizations that perform, support, or lobby for abortion. The policy was enacted by President Reagan in 1984, lifted by Clinton in 1993, and reinstated by Bush in 2001. Donnelly is a Democrat, so his pro-life stand is somewhat unusual.

President Obama was inaugurated last Tuesday. On Friday, one day after the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, he rescinded the ban. He delayed the reversal one day so as to not seem “combative”, according to some news reports. Once again, our tax dollars will be subsidizing abortion abroad.

The next four years could spell disaster for the pro-life movement. Obama will likely appoint abortion-friendly justices to the Supreme Court. He may sign legislation such as the Freedom of Choice Act, which would create a fundamental right to abortion that could not be limited. Even Catholic hospitals and Catholic doctors may face attempts to legally force them to perform abortions.

Our nation has chosen a dark path to follow. Our biggest problem is not the economy, health care, enemy governments or terrorist attacks, but rather the moral cancer growing within. Catholics, and in fact all people of faith, must unite in support of our unalienable right to life.

My congressman’s pro-life letter contained an invitation to sign up for his newsletter by going to his webpage. When I did so, I was directed to select my areas of interest from a list of thirteen. None of them mentioned the right-to-life issue. The closest was “values” which is rather vague. Despite his supposed pro-life stand, I could find no mention of it anywhere on his webpage, a fact that I have brought to his attention. Silence can be interpreted as endorsement when it comes to issues like this. Now more than ever, we must make our position known.