Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Are You Hurting?

Last night as a mild toothache kept me awake, I began to contemplate the relationship between pain and suffering. Pain, it seems to me, is a mere sensation and does not necessarily result in suffering. How we respond to pain may be affected by how self-absorbed we are at the time. Granted, the intensity of pain may bear directly on our degree of self-awareness.

For example, it is not unusual for me to be so engrossed in a woodworking project that I can cut myself without being aware of it. Not until I notice blood dripping do I realize I’ve had a mishap. I can guarantee that had somebody made me aware that I was about to cut my finger on a saw blade, my reaction would have been much different. The anticipation of an impending injury and the resultant redirection of focus to oneself can increase the amount of suffering incurred.

If it is possible to incur an injury without realizing it because we are focused elsewhere, is it possible to divert our attention willingly to endure pain that would otherwise cripple us? If we can feel someone else’s pain, is it possible not to feel our own? What is the relationship between pain and suffering? Does one necessarily result in the other? These are just rhetorical questions. Don’t expect to find all the answers here!

We are told pain is the result of original sin. If our first parents had not sinned, we would not experience pain in this life. That idea is difficult to comprehend. If Adam and Eve had not sinned, would it not seem inevitable that someone down the line would have eventually sinned? Is it then possible we could have had two lines of people in this world -- those who descended from sinners and those who did not. Would the sinners have experienced death and others not? I don’t know the answers to these questions. They are things that go through my mind during a sleepless night. I am sure they have all been asked before, and philosophers and theologians probably have answers.

I think about pain and suffering much during this time of year. While many of us are enjoying the Christmas season, others are experiencing suffering to varying degrees, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. We all know people who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses. The news is filled with stories of people who have experienced seemingly unbearable tragedies. Some families are separated from their loved ones by distance or division. Others are simply alone.

Often there is little we can do to lessen physical or emotional pain. The spiritual suffering has remedy, but many fail to take advantage, not realizing that spiritual healing can also help us deal with the physical and emotional side. The problem seems to be that most people do not know they suffer from a spiritual deficiency.

Our church was nearly filled Christmas Eve. We won’t see many of them again until Easter, if then. They are content to live their lives without God, not aware that it is impossible to do so. Spiritual health is determined by our relationship with Our Lord, and that relationship is eroded by our sins. Many people today seem to be oblivious to personal sin, so they fail to see the need for the Church and Sacraments. They have become so engrossed in their daily routine that they do not know they are bleeding.

People cannot see the ugliness of their sin except under the illumination of the light of Christ. A point of reference is needed. In order to call others to holiness, one must first be holy himself. One might look at an MRI of a cancerous tumor not knowing what he is looking at until he sees healthy tissue for comparison. A person who badgers another about his sin without first acknowledging his own sin is wasting his time. In other words, people need to see holiness before they can recognize their own deficiencies.

The Christmas season provides a great opportunity to call others home to the church. I read about one pastor who distributes books as gifts to all visitors attending Christmas Masses at his parish. Tom Peterson’s organization has expanded broadcasting of his Catholics Come Home promotion to major networks in addition to local television. The average TV viewer is estimated to see the video about eight times over the Christmas season. Father Robert Barron’s wonderful Catholicism series has been recently appearing on PBS stations. My daughter gave me the complete ten-hour DVD set for Christmas. The message is getting out there. Spread the Word.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Not as Simple as ABC

I frequently listen to the Open Forum for Non-Catholics on the Catholic Answers Live Radio program. Certain questions come up repeatedly. They involve papal infallibility, praying to saints, purgatory, Mary’s role, Sacred Tradition, confessing to a priest, development of doctrine, moral issues, and the list goes on. The regular apologists do a wonderful job charitably explaining the Catholic faith to inquiring callers, but I occasionally find myself thinking that the explanation falls short in convincing non-Catholics of the Catholic position.

One of the touchier areas is birth control. The Catholic stance is clear. Even though the number of children can be limited for legitimate reasons, the Church says, “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” [CCC2399] In this world where vasectomy is routinely performed without any consideration of its moral implications, trying to explain Church teaching often bring incredulous stares.

The commonly used explanation is a reference to the Pope Paul VI encyclical, Humanae Vitae where the conjugal act between a man and wife is expressed as both unitive and procreative, an inseparable connection established by God, which may not be broken by human initiative. Therefore, each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.

Try explaining this to anyone having little or no fidelity to the Catholic faith. As Catholics, we must accept this teaching as a matter of obedience. Yet, I acknowledge that reasonable people may find this hard to understand and accept, especially when no abortifacient is involved. Their argument is often that the procreative aspect can be nullified by the normal cycle, biological abnormalities, or old age. Even the provisionally acceptable use of Natural Family Planning, abstaining from sexual relations during fertile periods, might seem to be interfering by human initiative. Does lacking the natural possibility of procreation negate the openness to the transmission of life? The Church says no, but the operative word is ‘natural’. If the possibility of procreation is negated by human initiative, we have a problem.

Is it wrong to have relations strictly for a unitive purpose? In the course of a long marriage, a couple may have conjugal relations thousands of times. Even if ten pregnancies resulted, the percentage of fruitful unions is small. So, the vast majority of conjugal relations are unitive and not necessarily procreative even if open to procreation. The problem arises when we take God out of the equation. Yet it is difficult to convince people to put complete trust in God in these matters. God even allows rape victims to occasionally get pregnant. The Catholic answer is that God allows bad things to happen to bring about a greater good, but that argument is a tough sell.

The unitive aspect is important to the marital relationship between husband and wife. Yet, many couples today would say sexual activity need not always be unitive. To them, it can be analogous to occasionally eating a hot fudge sundae strictly for enjoyment absent any nutritional benefit. Our culture bombards us with the idea that anything goes, even outside the bonds of marriage. In this Godless climate, how can we expect people to take Humanae Vitae seriously. To say every marriage act must be open to the transmission of life is a hard teaching. Many married couples would be unwilling to engage in marital relations if any possibility of pregnancy could result. This can put a strain on a marriage, especially if husband and wife are not in agreement.

Families are generally smaller now than they were many years ago. It is difficult to imagine that most couples, even Catholics, are not doing something beyond NFP to prevent conception. A co-worker’s wife recently gave birth to their third child. Talking among a group of guys in the shop, he said he thought they were done and was going to make an appointment to be clipped. As the stories circulated around the room, it turns out I was the only other man who had not had a vasectomy. It is just a part of the secular mainstream now to permanently end any possibility of pregnancy at some point of a marriage. The others in the room were not Catholic, but I wonder how many Catholics in the communion line have been sterilized.

Unless we willingly submit to Our Lord and the authoritative Church He established, the necessity to maintain openness to life is not a consideration for most couples. These decisions tend to be self-centered, based on what we perceive as personal matters between husband and wife. In many ways, we have become estranged from God in deciding these matters. As the scientific community’s invasion into the realm of God becomes more commonplace, the chasm between the secular and the spiritual will continue to widen.

As Catholics, we are bound by the teachings of the Church. In making the case for the Catholic teaching on sexuality, the Catholic Answers apologists often recommend Patrick Coffin’s book, Sex Au Naturel: What it is and why it’s good for your Marriage. Mr. Coffin was a former dissenter who wrote the book “to give orthodox Catholics intellectual ammo in how to understand and explain Humanae Vitae, as well as to challenge dissenters to see the beauty and truth of the teaching.” I have not read his book yet, but I should do so to aid in my own understanding. In the meantime, I defer to the Church, the pillar and foundation of truth, for what I believe.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stop, Look and Listen

For the past ten years or so, I have made a serious attempt to evangelize. Granted, my personality does not render itself to a bold approach. Rather, I trust the Holy Spirit to send prospective Catholics in my direction. Email exchanges with sometimes anti-Catholic Christians have been cordial and gratifying, but not necessarily fruitful and opportunities have been rare. Since becoming a catechist in my parish, my efforts have been concentrated on the faith formation of existing Catholics whose prior catechesis has been weak or non-existent. I want to share my enthusiasm for the Faith with others, but lately I have felt a bit frustrated.

Getting Catholics to spend time working on Faith formation outside of weekly Mass can be difficult. People become preoccupied with the secular lifestyle of the twenty-first century where the daily routine dominates minds all waking hours. Rarely does anyone schedule time for spiritual reflection and enhancement. The challenge is in getting Catholics excited about their Faith.

An accumulation of books, DVDs, and CDs sit idly on my shelves, largely because no one seems interested in taking the time to use them. I have a subscription with Lighthouse Catholic media where they send me five copies of a spiritual talk each month. My intent was to keep one copy for myself and give the others away. I occasionally offer them to those who attend faith formation classes at our parish. They are ideal for popping in the car player during daily commutes. I suspect some take them to be polite, but prefer other entertainment on the car radio. Books and videos are rarely returned, probably not due to continuous use. Seldom do I get any feedback.

In an attempt to attract inquirers to our RCIA class, I placed a classified ad in a local paper for four weeks. It simply said, “Ever thought of becoming Catholic? Call (my cell phone number) to speak with a Catholic or email (address) with your questions.” The response was underwhelming. I received no calls or emails. RCIA has been advertised on the sign in front of the church and explained on the webpage. Still no new potential catechumens have come forward this year.

Last Sunday, I went into the church where Eucharistic Adoration was taking place to get a missalette to show my CCD class. We were studying Benediction and I wanted to show them where to find the prayers. As I entered, a parishioner was helping her stroke-impaired husband exit the church. She asked if I could stay for Adoration because she had to get her husband home. There was no one else in the church with the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar. I returned to my class long enough to place someone else in charge and then went back to Eucharistic Adoration where I was alone until another person arrived ten minutes later. Adoration began after the first Sunday morning Mass, meaning many healthy parishioners left an already burdened couple alone to stay until someone else arrived. I knelt there thinking how can I teach young people about the privilege of being in Christ’s real presence in the Blessed Sacrament when adults in the parish stay away. I did bring the students in for the final minutes of Adoration and the Benediction.

We seem to be surrounded by religious indifference. Has our secular world pushed God completely out of our lives? Are we so wrapped up in the daily routine that we no longer have time to be spiritual? I certainly hope not. We do have a small group meeting on Tuesday evenings. One young woman’s interest in joining the Catholic Church is enough to keep my hopes alive this year. Another couple attending the class keeps the discussion interesting and lively. I just wish more people would realize what they are missing.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Batten Down the Hatches

Being a catechist to sixth, seventh, and eighth graders is proving to be a challenge. They are attentive, but lacking a strong Catholic foundation. I am concerned that many of them will likely abandon the Catholic Faith at some point. Some of their parents have already done so. We are following a good Catholic text book appropriate for their grade level, but I sense a major disconnect between spirituality and their everyday lives. I have talked to them about praying every morning and evening and at other times in between. I have talked to them about reverent behavior in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. They listen, but I have yet to sense any change.

I suspect they view the Catholic Church as just one of many denominations, one that many consider old-fashioned, boring and impossible to understand. I want them to know that the Catholic Church is THE Church and the others are knockoffs. I mean no disrespect in using that term. Sometimes knockoffs can look more attractive than the originals, but we should not be fooled. In what might be considered an act of desperation, I have tried to impress upon them how fortunate they are to be Catholic. If they get nothing else out of this class, perhaps I can convince them that the safest place to be if you want to get to heaven is in the Catholic Church. I told them the following story.

Imagine a huge ship crossing the ocean sailing toward its home port. Onboard is a captain and crew along with thousands of passengers. For a while, everything is fine on the ship. Despite the long voyage, passengers are patiently content to know they will reach their destination safely. But after a time, some of those onboard grow restless. They begin to murmur about certain conditions on the ship. Some do not like taking orders from the captain. Others complain that they are not being fed properly. Still others think they should not have to do any work.

One night, some of the protestors decided to leave the ship and set sail on their own. They commandeered materials and supplies from the ship’s hull and loaded them into a lifeboat. When they got everything they thought they needed, they boarded the lifeboat and cut themselves loose from the ship. At last, they were free of having to follow the orders of the captain and crew. By dawn, they had drifted some distance from the ship, but could still be heard singing merrily of their newfound freedom.

Everything was good on the lifeboat until it came time to divvy up chores. Disputes arose among those onboard, only this time, there was no one with the authority to resolve them. The biggest and loudest got their way and others became disgruntled. One night, the malcontents fashioned a raft from materials in the lifeboat, loaded it with necessities and broke away. A few took life preservers and actually set out by themselves.

All were doing okay until they encountered rough seas. The sky darkened as an approaching storm took aim on the homebound vessels. The huge ship battened down the hatches and maintained full speed ahead. Those safely inside were barely aware of the storm as the massive ship held its course. Some who chose to ignore the captain’s warning stayed on deck, and were swept overboard and lost.

Those in the lifeboat held on for dear life as the vessel yawed in the heavy seas. As they were tossed about, some lost their grip and were thrust overboard. Others managed to hang on until calmer waters prevailed. Very few of the raft dwellers survived and no one knows what happened to the others.

The Catholic Church is like that huge ship. Jesus commissioned the ship and gave authority to its captain and crew. He promised us that rough seas would not prevail against his ship. For a very long time, that ship was the only vessel. Much later, some did not like what they captain and crew were doing and rather than help fix the problems, they elected to jump ship. In doing so, they had to leave the sacraments behind. Now they are bobbing along in rough seas without a captain to lead them safely. They claim they have everything they need to survive, but do they? And where did they get it? Everything they have came from the ship. If they do not trust in the captain and crew, how do they know what came from the ship is trustworthy?

How fortunate we all are to be Catholic! We do not need to worry about being in peril if we stay onboard. Today, many swimmers are trying desperately to get back on the ship. We are already there. All we have to do is listen to what the captain is telling us. He speaks in our best interest. Those who remain firm will arrive safely. We pray that others may too. We would joyfully welcome them aboard.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

God’s Hospital

People who leave the Catholic Church often cite sin within the Church as a reason for leaving. The sex abuse scandal did tremendous damage to the reputation of priests, even though a very small percentage were involved. Our own parish priest was the recipient of a verbal insult from a stranger while walking down a street in New York City. It’s no wonder some priests do not like to don the collar in public.

People who abandon the Church because of sin within the Church need to think about the reason Christ established a Church in the first place. If it weren’t for sin, we would not need a Church. As disease is to the body, sin is to the soul. The Church is like a hospital for sinners. We turn to the Church to maintain our spiritual health and to be healed when our health has failed. As preventive medicine for our spiritual health, we need to go in for treatment at least once a week.

Our bodies need regular nourishment to thrive. Likewise, our souls need regular nourishment too. Weekly infusions of grace are necessary to maintain and enhance spiritual growth. Without it, we become weak and prone to failure. The Sacraments provide us with life-sustaining grace needed to maintain spiritual health.

Even doctors occasionally get sick. They may be so consumed caring for other patients that they ignore their own symptoms. Doctors are just like the rest of us, and even though their knowledge of the human body should enable them to take better care of themselves, their health can still fail. When this happens, we do not assume the hospital is at fault. And so it is with the Church. Even though priests should have superior spiritual health, they can still fall into sin, even grave sin. When it happens, it is foolish to use their sin as a reason to leave. One should not reject Peter because of Judas.

The Catholic Church is authorized to speak for God and everyone in this world ought to listen if they are seriously interested in spiritual health. Not only is that a tough statement for non-catholics to stomach, but also for many Catholics who prefer to make their own judgments. Any extensive apologetic dialogue with a Protestant or lukewarm Catholic will eventually get around to defending Church authority, and all Catholics need to be well versed in understanding this biblical truth.

This past Sunday, we heard readings from Isaiah 22:19-23 and Matthew 16:13-20, two of the most often cited bible passages concerning the origin of Church authority. In the first reading, the office of master of the palace in the Kingdom of David is being passed from Shebna to Eliakim. Kings and queens typically have prime ministers authorized to run the day-to-day operations of the kingdom. In this case, the Lord says, “I will place the key of the House of David on Eliakim’s shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.” This office in the kingdom of David pre-figures the authoritative office given to Peter in Matthew 16 when Jesus said, “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This authority to bind and loose was later given to all the apostles, but only Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, and that primacy of authority was passed on to his successors continuing to Benedict XVI today.

Those of us who dabble in Catholic apologetics are very familiar with these Bible verses. I wonder how many average Catholics in the pew would be able to explain Matthew 16 where Jesus says, “You are Peter and upon this rock . . .”? How many understand the common objections to Peter being the rock, and how to explain the passage correctly in light of the translation from Aramaic to Greek and to English? For the typical cafeteria Catholic, coming to an understanding of Matthew 16 can be a real eye-opener. If you are a regular listener to the Catholic Answers Live radio program, you probably hear this explained frequently in response to caller’s questions. Sadly, I don’t think I have ever heard it explained from the pulpit.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summery Summary

Summertime has given me time to reflect. When the RCIA class I monitored ended in May, I was left feeling some disappointment. My idea of what catechumens need was much different from what was being presented in class. I was supposed to be a catechist, but I did very little catechesis. Our priest often ventured into deep theological, philosophical, and sociological lectures during the class. I remember in particular a talk on utilitarianism near the end that left everyone looking dazed. At the end of our last class, Father asked if there were any questions. A young lady spoke up asking about how and when to genuflect. Unfortunately, we never got around to some of the basics.

Now, Father has asked me to teach a 6th grade CCD class beginning this fall. I much prefer working with adults, but this will give me an opportunity to take a more active role. My daughter, who will be starting a job as a middle-school math teacher, is going to assist. In reality, she will probably be the better teacher since the generation gap between her and the students is much narrower than mine.

I would like to invite the parents to attend the class with their children. Some might say having parents in the same room could inhibit the 12 to 14 year-old students from speaking their minds and asking touchy questions. While that does concern me, I also think it would be good to let them see faith formation as a family activity. One of the problems we face is that many of the parents have themselves been poorly formed in the faith. Some of them drop their children off for class and never attend Mass with them. Might this be an opportunity to touch them also.

My biggest goal is not necessarily to have them grasp every tenet of the Catholic faith. I cannot possibly teach them everything they need to know in the short amount of time I will see them each week. Rather, I want to get them excited. I want them to attend class with anticipation and not dread. I want to pique their curiosity and desire to learn more. I want them to understand how fortunate they are to be Catholic. I want them to be confident and wear their Catholic faith on their sleeves. In fact, I was thinking about having t-shirts made with the word Catholic on the sleeves.

I am concerned that Sunday Mass attendance at our small parish has noticeably decreased since Easter, so much so that our pastor posted a sign on the marquee saying, “There’s no vacation from God.” Some of our parishioners are attending other parishes for reasons only they can explain. Others just don’t see the necessity to attend Mass on a regular basis. We are not doing a very good job of spreading the gospel. Our church is by far the tallest building in town, yet we seem to be invisible.

I just finished reading a book by Dion Dimucci and Mike Aquilina called Dion: The Wanderer Talks Truth. For you youngsters out there (as Ed Sullivan used to say), Dion was one of the great rock singer-songwriters of the 1960’s and beyond. Like many of the rock stars of that era, his life has been a wild ride that occasionally veered out of control. Unlike many of the rock stars of that era, Dion survived to find God and peace in the Catholic Church.

Although Dion grew up in a family that did not practice the faith, he was influenced as a young rebellious teenager by a priest who would often stand in front of the church and ask Dion thought provoking questions as he passed by. Though not taken seriously at the time, the priest made an impression that stuck with Dion for many years. He was also struck by the sight of his father-in-law kneeling in prayer. We Catholics, both laity and clergy, need to be a visible presence in our communities. By projecting a positive image, we may plant a seed that will bear fruit many years down the road, as it did in Dion’s case.

I hope to have a positive influence on the young students in the CCD class. I do not expect them to be completely receptive at this age, but maybe something will stay with them as go through life. Their faith will be challenged in this world where relativism is running rampant. Following Christ and His Church runs counter to our politically correct society. We need to arm our children for battle before it’s too late.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Jesus and Superman

Growing up in the 1950’s, I loved watching the Superman TV series with George Reeves starring as Clark Kent and the man of steel. Many of the plotlines involved around Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane trying to uncover Superman’s real identity. While I was on the edge of my seat, my father was laughing hysterically that these hotshot reporters at the Daily Planet were completely baffled when Superman donned a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. How could they be so blind? Just to get back at my dad, I used to pretend I didn’t recognize him when he put on his reading glasses.

Jimmy and Lois did occasionally suspect Clark Kent might be Superman, because Clark always managed to disappear just before Superman arrived, but not because he looked exactly like Superman with glasses. I do remember one episode where Superman was able to bi-locate, a trick he may have learned from Padre Pio.

It occurred to me that we are often similarly blind to God’s existence in our daily surroundings. I was at Eucharistic Adoration looking at a candle flickering near the Monstrance, and thinking about fire. We take it for granted, but how mysterious it looks in giving off its light and heat as it consumes combustible matter. I envisioned God saying, “Watch this!” to the angels as he ignited the first flame. “Woe!”, an angel may have replied in awe. “My creatures are going to need this”, God may have stated. How is it that fire does what it does, that it exists, that certain matter is combustible?

How is it that tons of wood can come from a little acorn? Why do things grow? Most of us take these things for granted without questioning why they are possible or what would happen if they did not exist. We grow up observing things the way they are, often without realizing the supernatural origin behind it all.

What would happen if matter did not attract matter? How would we live without gravity? What if we did not develop eyes that detect light and allow us to process clear visions of what is in front of us? Why do we have two eyes giving us depth perception instead of one or three? What exists that we did not develop sensory organs to detect? Now, that’s an interesting question. Is there a sensory organ to detect spirits that we never developed?

I have similar thoughts while listening to the radio. How is it I can hear what someone else is saying so many miles away? We understand man’s ability to develop new technology by exploring the sciences, but where did we get the properties that allow these things to work for us? We uncover these abilities often without recognizing their supernatural origin.

Considering man’s propensity for missing the obvious, having difficulty recognizing Our Lord disguised as a piece of bread becomes somewhat understandable. His Real Presence is certainly not evident by appearance. Perhaps it is no wonder that many people treat the Eucharist lightly.

This Sunday, we celebrate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. John chapter 6, verses 51 to 58 will be read at Mass, where Jesus explains with emphasis that His Flesh is real food and His Blood is real drink. Unless we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood, we have no life in us. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Yet, even as Jesus Himself explained this reality to his followers, many doubted and walked away. There are many among us today who have done the same.

We as Catholics have this great gift, yet many of us turn away or take it for granted. This is a great time to dust off our Bibles, and ponder what Jesus says in John 6. Unlike Superman, the identity of the One disguised as bread is no secret.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

That Old Time Religion

Last month, I wrote about the one-hundredth anniversary of our church building. On June 5th, our parish will celebrate the rededication at a special Sunday Mass. A committee has been planning this event for some time. I was assigned several tasks, the biggest being to assemble a booklet to commemorate the occasion. The booklet has been completed and sent to the printer. I am fairly pleased at the way it turned out and hope others will be also.

As music ministers, my wife and I were asked to meet with members of the committee this morning to discuss music they want played at the rededication Mass. In view of the recent Ecclesia Dei commission instruction urging bishops and priests to respond generously to Catholics requesting the traditional Latin Mass, I thought it would be interesting to celebrate the rededication liturgy much like the dedication Mass would have been celebrated back on May 28, 1911. That idea was shot down very quickly when the committee members showed us a list that began with the words, “No Latin.” I felt like Charlie Brown being instructed by Lucy to go out and find a nice shiny aluminum Christmas tree. So much for celebrating old traditions. Oh well, I am sure our pastor could not have been prepared to say Mass in Latin on short notice anyway.

The committee chose three hymns (or songs, depending on who you ask): The Church’s One Foundation, because it has the words church and foundation, Christ Be Our Light, because it has the words, building and walls made of stone, and Be Not Afraid, because . . . . well, I don’t know why – maybe to assure everyone the building is still sturdy.

Our history does not reveal what music may have been sung at the original dedication one hundred years ago, but a program printed in the local newspaper listed four selections sung at the laying of the cornerstone in 1910. One was Like as a Father Pitieth His Children, a hymn based on Psalm 103:13. I found several hymns online with that title. The problem is figuring out which one they may have sung in 1910. One is by F. H. Cowen, and another by William J. Kirkpatrick. The most likely selection is the one by Italian composer, Luigi Cherubini who was known for his sacred music. I am opting for Cherubini because of the large population of Italian immigrants in our parish at the time, and the fact that the next selection in the program was O Italia, Italia, Beloved.

Also on the program 100 years ago was Veni Creator which we will be singing the following week for the Pentecost Sequence. The final selection noted was The Radiant Morn Hath Passed Away, with words by Godfrey Thring and a melody referred to as St. Gabriel. I have listened to renditions of both Like as a Father, and The Radiant Morn on the Internet. They are both very beautiful hymns and I think it would be interesting to have our choir learn them, perhaps to sing as a prelude to the Rededication Mass. Time is running short, however, and we do not yet have the music.

I was amused by the sentence structure in Psalm 103:13, and therefore also in the hymn. I envisioned the translator thinking, “Okay, is this a simile or a metaphor? I think it’s a simile, so I should use “Like”, . . . or should it be “As”? Which sounds better, “Like a father, or As a father? Let’s see. One is a preposition and one is a conjunction. Which one do I need here? Oh, I don’t have time for this. I’ll just put them both in. Like as a Father . . . ”

Just for the record, my NAB omits the “Like” and says more plainly, “As a Father . . .”. Nothing like a little Bible humor to end the day. (Or is it, Nothing as a little Bible humor . . .?)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be

Our parish is celebrating the one-hundredth anniversary of the construction of our church building. A rededication is coming up in June and I have been given the assignment of compiling a booklet to be distributed in commemoration of the event. The deadline is quickly approaching and I am feeling the pressure to get it finished. One of our parishioners helped me greatly by researching old newspapers that followed the progress of construction a century ago. I sit here bemoaning the fact that I have this extremely difficult task of sitting on my soft cushy chair in front of the computer, copying and pasting pictures and articles about my ancestors working with teams of horses to move sand, brick and mortar in the heat of a hot summer with no air conditioning, power tools, or hydraulic lifts.

What a monumental task it must have been to undertake such a project in those days. Not only did they build this beautiful brick Romanesque church, they also constructed a four-room school across the street at the same time. What did it take to move forward with such a project in 1910? They started with $5000, and carried a $40,000 mortgage for twenty years. I doubt that one of the stained glass windows could be replaced for $45,000 today.

Times have certainly changed. As technology has made life so much easier, somehow it seems more difficult to get things accomplished. I cannot even imagine our parish taking on such a project today. Money is always an issue. Our quality of life has improved greatly, but at a price. We no longer gather as teams to roll up sleeves and tackle laborious projects. I suppose the Amish people still do to an extent with their barn raisings. Such an atmosphere existed here when our church was constructed one hundred years ago. The records tell of parishioners gathering on Easter Sunday 1910 after Mass to begin tearing down the old frame church. The new building was completed and ready for the first Mass by Easter 1911.

On this Easter Sunday in 2011, we are blessed to prepare for a second century of worship in our beautiful church. There have been a few changes. The exterior remains pretty much the same except for an access ramp added a few years ago. The interior has undergone several renovations, some good, some not so good. The stained glass windows are as beautiful and colorfully vivid as the day they were installed. The liturgy looks a little different, but the Sacrifice of the Mass is still the same Sacrifice of Calvary, made present for us every day. Some things never change.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Red Devils

From time to time, emails are sent to our parish from Protestant preachers, either not realizing we are Catholic or perhaps attempting to evangelize us. This past week, we received a lengthy treatise from a minister in St. Louis. I generally forward these messages to our pastor and then delete them. I am not particularly interested in yet another self-interpretation of Scripture by another Bible-only believer, but a chapter on the Immaculate Conception caught my eye.

The essay itself was about Satan’s attack on humanity – no argument there. The author proposes that Satan became the opposite of God and therefore experienced pain beyond human comprehension, and this pain is soothed by dwelling in humans, specifically in the blood. He cites Leviticus 17:11 and Deuteronomy 12: 23-25 to show the life of the flesh is in the blood, and concludes that the forces of darkness must inhabit the Spirit of Life in our blood to exist without pain. I am not sure I follow his logic, but he seemed to be saying that the devil experiences pain because of his separation from God, and because the Spirit of Life is in our blood, the devil lives in our blood to ease his pain.

Now, allow me to jump ahead to his section on the Immaculate Conception. He says sin enters humans at conception. Okay, so far. He then says, “Christ was totally cut off from Mary’s blood supply, because all humans’ blood is contaminated. He was cut off from the umbilical cord that attaches mother to child or he would have been contaminated.” The author just denied Christ’s human nature. Allow me to propose another possible explanation to his dilemma. What if Mary was not “contaminated”? What if the “Immaculate Conception” actually referred to Mary’s conception having been shielded from original sin rather than Our Lord’s conception in a human mother?

It is always interesting to me to see how some Protestants today find it necessary to re-trace certain paths that Catholic theologians walked many centuries ago. They may start well but eventually wander off course only to be lost in the wilderness. Those who don’t, often end up Catholic.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Rite Stuff

For the past several years, I have helped with the adult catechesis in our small parish. The challenge for me has been to ignite the same passion for Christ and His Church in others that I feel myself. Part of the frustration comes from the fact that I must respectfully yield to the pastor in how the faith is presented, not that there is anything wrong with his approach. It’s just that my faith spontaneously combusted after hearing Tim Staples speak one evening many years ago, and I want to instill that same fire in others.

In working with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), I have my own ideas of how the process should go. The inquiry period should be just that. I want to spend time in conversation, getting to know the religious background of each inquirer. I want to get to know them and allow them to be comfortable with me. Structure at this point should be minimal. Allow the topics to go wherever the conversation leads. Find out what they know about the Catholic Church. Learn what misconceptions they may have, and what they may find objectionable. As Tim Staples says, you have to scratch where it itches.

While I would really like to find the knowledgeable Protestant who discovers the Catholic Church, I have yet to have such a person come into the parish. More likely, our converts are doing so to please a spouse. Often the Catholic spouse also attends the class where it becomes apparent that he or she is not well versed in the faith either. People are often reluctant to reveal how much they don’t know. Therefore, I like to take a very logical approach, beginning with the historical evidence of Christ’s existence and His claim to be God. Once we establish that Jesus was a real person, that His Divine nature was evident in the miracles He worked, and that He died on a cross only to rise again as verified by eyewitness accounts, then we have a firm foundation on which to build.

We can also know from historical evidence that Christ established a Church with Peter as the head, and gave him and the other apostles authority to bind and loose. He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to all truth, that is, to protect the Church from teaching error in matters of faith and morals. Without an inerrant Church, we would not have an inerrant Bible because Bishops of the Catholic Church determined which of the early Christian writings were God-breathed, and therefore should be included. Once the magisterial authority of the Church is acknowledged, most objections to Church teaching are swept away. Students of the faith are then able to be more receptive of difficult topics. By this time, the decision to move forward into full communion with the Catholic Church should be much easier.

Unfortunately, many Catholics do not accept Church authority. Today, our local newspaper published an opinion piece written on behalf of the “American Catholic Council”, an organization of dissidents who believe the Church should be a democracy. They apparently do not realize doing so would make it just another community of self-interpreting protesters, precisely what many former Protestants in RCIA are trying to escape.

The problem with our current RCIA class is timing. Two couples expressed interest after Christmas. The RCIA process usually begins months earlier in order to prepare for the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil. Not wishing to risk losing the opportunity, Father elected to begin classes in January. Assuming they had already made their decision, the inquiry period was pretty much skipped, and Father launched into classroom instruction. My concern is that the RCIA process is being rushed to the point where they will be insufficiently prepared while also missing out on much of what should be a life-changing experience. I can also understand why Father would not want to discourage prospective Catholics by telling them it would be more than a year before they could enter the Church. At this point, I am trying to help them in any way I can. We will see what happens over the next few weeks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday and Sadder Day

About a dozen years ago, our oldest son brought home a cat that came from a local grain elevator. We named it for the TV character MacGyver after it escaped from a locked room in our basement by climbing through a bulkhead over a suspended ceiling in an adjoining room where he eventually found a removable access panel in a bathroom. My son grew up and moved away leaving us to care for the cat. MacGyver would climb on my lap every evening totally oblivious to the newspaper I was attempting to read. He would nuzzle against my face until I put down the paper and petted him. He was a nuisance, but still part of the family.

Last evening when I got home from work, MacGyver did not greet me as usual. I found him lying on the floor obviously in pain. Being a Friday evening, I did want to risk having him be miserable all weekend so I hurriedly took him to our veterinarian. The diagnosis was a painful blood clot that was cutting off circulation to his rear legs. The vet offered little hope and suggested that MacGyver be euthanized. Having no one else available to consult, I reluctantly agreed.

The vet promised to give him a sedative so he would not know what was happening. His remains would be respectfully disposed of. She told me I could stay in the room or I could leave. Having been in a room watching my brother die a few years ago, I thought I would be okay with this. After all, I’m a sixty year-old man and this is just a cat. As it turned out, I could not watch. Tears welled up in my eyes and I had to look away. I could not bear the thought of this poor defenseless animal not knowing what was about to happen to him.

Contrast this scene with that of the Philadelphia abortionist accused earlier this week of casually killing babies after they were born by severing the spinal cord with scissors. His office contained bags and bottles of aborted babies, including jars of severed feet that he kept for no apparent purpose. He was charged with eight counts of murder, including that of a woman who died during an abortion procedure.

The grand jury report said the Pennsylvania Department of Health deliberately chose not to enforce laws governing abortion clinics and that they stopped doing inspections after 1993. In other words, they looked away. While everyone knows what goes on at abortion clinics, our society now finds it acceptable as long as they do not see what is really happening. Terminate the baby’s life in the womb, but not after we see his or her cute little face. What is the difference?

Our society treats defenseless animals better than defenseless children. You can be sent to prison for destroying an eagle egg even though the bald eagle is no longer on the endangered species list. In fact, the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to destroy or remove eggs of any migratory bird from an established nest. Yet, ripping the child from a mother’s womb is perfectly legal.

How callous does one have to be to think killing an unborn human being is okay? And if one thinks late term abortion is not permissible but early term is, on what day does that permission change? If you say day 90, why not day 91 or day 92? And, how do you know when day 90 actually is? The point is that all of this is completely arbitrary. There is no logical time prior to which abortion is okay.

Today is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. This morning, President Obama recommitted himself to keeping abortion legal. He said the 1973 ruling “affirms a fundamental principle that government should not intrude on private family matters.” (Like health care?) I wonder if Mr. Obama could watch a defenseless life being ended, or would he look away?