Thursday, December 13, 2012

Obligaton Observation

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary is one of only two Catholic Holy Days of Obligation that is not abrogated when it falls on a Monday or Saturday as it did this year, the other being Christmas. The same thing occurred as recently as five years ago, but I do not remember confusion arising then as it did this year. The Church is generally clear in describing our obligations to us. After all, deliberately missing Mass on a Holy Day can be a mortal sin, so this is serious business.

In our parish, the problem began on the previous Sunday when our pastor announced that the 4:30 PM Saturday evening Mass on December 8 would be for the Immaculate Conception. The bulletin emphatically stated in all caps, “THERE WILL BE NO VIGIL MASS FOR SUNDAY.” The implication was that attending Mass on Saturday evening would not fulfill the Sunday obligation. Even with my limited knowledge of Canon Law, I had an understanding that Mass readings had no bearing in determining whether one’s obligation was satisfied. An article by Canon Lawyer, Dr. Edward Peters, confirmed my belief, and also reaffirmed the fact that one must attend two Masses that weekend. The Saturday evening Mass could satisfy either obligation, but not both. I later found that disagreement existed, even among Catholic clergy, about whether the Saturday evening Mass could fulfill two obligations at once, but the general consensus sided with Dr. Peters.

My wife is the organist at the Saturday evening Mass, so we prepared music for the Immaculate Conception, and a different collection of hymns for Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent. I decided to attend the Friday evening vigil Mass for the Immaculate Conception in addition to the weekend Masses. Our priest approached me before Mass asking if we were having music that evening. I said no. We would be having music for the Immaculate Conception on Saturday evening. He then stated there had been a change in plans. His “ordo had arrived this week” and the Saturday evening Mass would use the Second Sunday of Advent liturgy. Fine, I thought. That is the way it should be, but the confusion resulted in us not having a sung Mass for this very important Holy Day.

With no advance warning, some parishioners arrived at Saturday evening Mass expecting to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. At the end of Mass, Father explained that those who had not previously fulfilled their Holy Day obligation had now done so, but would need to return on Sunday. By strict interpretation of Canon Law 1248, they could also follow him to our sister parish six miles away and attend their 6 PM Vigil Mass, hear the same liturgy and homily, and satisfy their Sunday obligation. Here is where the Church needs to fine-tune the rules in my opinion.

I understand why the actual readings proclaimed at Mass should not determine whether one’s obligation has been satisfied. If the wrong Gospel is read by mistake at a Sunday Mass, surely Catholics could not be obligated to attend another Mass with the correctly prescribed reading. Yet, it seems to me that an exception should be made in the case where a day of obligation falls on a Saturday or Monday. The argument could be made for attending two Masses if the liturgical content (i.e. readings and homily) were required relevance for the Mass to count. If the readings do not matter as far as fulfilling the obligation, then it seems one Mass should be sufficient. When a Catholic feels he must be present at two Masses with the same readings and the same homily in order to avoid committing a mortal sin, the whole purpose of Mass attendance becomes misdirected.

We are often accused of being a religion of rules and regulations. Encouraging Mass attendance for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception and also the 2nd Sunday of Advent one day apart is perfectly sensible, but allowing acceptance of the requirement by attending two identical Masses an hour apart places a technicality aura around the Mass that diminishes the true meaning of the celebration. While it may fulfill the letter of the law, it certainly seems to diminish the purpose of the dual observation and adds fodder for those who call us a legalistic religion.

Six years from now, the same situation will occur again. I hope by then, the Church will provide clarity by tweaking Canon Law 1248 to distinguish separately the time periods for observance when two Holy Days of Obligation are consecutive.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Setting the Stage for Four More Years

Well, the election is over. Despite all the prayers, homilies, letters, statements, donations, and petitions, the pro-abortion candidate was re-elected president. As the election returns came in Tuesday evening, I found my excitement gradually reduced to depression. I turned off the television and got ready for bed. Remembering the famous “Dewey defeats Truman” headline of 1948, I flipped the TV on one more time just as Obama was projected as winner of Ohio. I immediately turned it back off and tried to go to sleep. I had to use a sleep aid that night – something I do not like to do.

Wednesday morning was tough. The news-talk radio I customarily devour every day on my way to work was too much to bear. Even music seemed inappropriate. I shut the radio off like I do when driving through the cemetery. I wondered what the stock market would do in light of the election result. It fell more than 300 points, really no surprise to me. Investors were discouraged also.

A CNN poll said fifty percent of Catholics voted for Obama and forty-eight percent voted for Romney. Obama won the Catholic vote. I realize that many people who are Catholic do not practice the faith, but how can so many ignore what has been an unprecedented outcry from our Catholic Bishops regarding infringement upon our religious rights by the current administration. Sadly, I believe it is a reflection of a certain disdain for the Catholic Church, even among its own members, many of whom dislike being told how to behave or how to think.

Perhaps I should look at this more optimistically. A Fox News poll showed fifty-seven percent of Catholics who attend Mass weekly voted Romney, and forty-two percent for Obama. Many Catholics still follow the teachings of the Faith in their desire to lead good Christian lives, but we are now the minority in this country. The balances have tipped to the point where same-sex marriage, abortion on demand, and other intrinsic evils cannot be stopped. One only need look at the electoral map to see the polarization of our population.

What will the next four years bring? Will our country continue to disregard the moral compass and drift even farther off course? Voters in two states opted for legalized same-sex marriage. Los Angeles County voters decided to require actors filming pornographic movies to wear condoms. (Yes, it was on the ballot.) Will Catholic institutions be able to uphold Church teachings in the face declining morals and governmental intrusion?

Monsignor Charles Pope has an article on the Archdiocese of Washington blog on the five stages of religious persecution. He credits Johnette Benkovic for speaking about the five stages at a recent fundraiser for WMET radio in DC. The five stages of religious persecution are:

1. Stereotyping the targeted group
2. Vilifying the targeted group for alleged crimes or misconduct
3. Marginalizing the targeted group’s role in society
4. Criminalizing the targeted group or its works
5. Persecuting the targeted group outright.

The Catholic Church has felt the slings and arrows of the first two stages for many years. In my lifetime, stage 3 has become evident in the way society has forced the elimination of Christian symbols. Public nativity scenes are no longer allowed, students cannot pray or thank God in graduation ceremonies, and Bibles are not welcome in public schools.

We now find ourselves dealing with stage 4. Several Catholic charities have been forced to stop adoption services because of governmental requirements to serve same-sex couples. The HHS mandate is attempting to require Church sponsored institutions to fund insurance that provides for abortions and birth control, obviously unacceptable for any Catholic with a properly formed conscience.

Is Stage 5 looming on the horizon? Signs have already cropped up in Canada and Europe where preaching on Catholic doctrine can be considered a hate crime. How far will our government go to enforce laws that infringe on religious liberty? How far will the Church go to stand firm on teachings considered non-negotiable? Will we be forced to close schools, hospitals, and charities rather than violate our principles? A storm may be brewing. Only time will tell.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Your welcome

How welcoming are you? I recently spoke with a gentleman who walked into a local non-denominational church for the first time. He said before he left, he had shaken hands with every person in attendance. Catholic convert Tim Staples tells a similar story of people fighting over him years ago in a Baptist church, inviting him into their homes when he was new and searching.

Circumstances are a little different in a Catholic Church. We are accustomed to seeing strangers in our churches, travelers passing through, people in town for a sporting event, and so forth. Occasionally however, non-Catholics who have a curiosity or have developed interest in Catholicism may gather enough courage to step into a Catholic Church for the first time. How do we seek out these folks and make them feel welcome?

Our parish is small so strangers generally stand out. Picking experienced Catholics out among strangers is not difficult. They come in, genuflect, enter the pew and kneel in prayer. Those unfamiliar to the church may seem a bit bewildered and unsure of themselves when they enter. I try to seek these people out and at least give them a friendly smile. We should never pass an opportunity to engage someone who may be seeking spiritual guidance. If those they meet seem indifferent or unfriendly, they may flee and never return.

I know of situations where a person has approached a Catholic priest for help, only to be told to come back another time because he was too busy at present. While priests are often pressed for time, turning a stranger away should never happen. One never knows what prompted that person to seek conversation. Even if responsibilities prohibit immediate counsel, one can never be too busy to show concern and obtain contact information.

Catholics should always be personable. One can never go wrong making eye contact with strangers, giving them a friendly hello. If we truly see Christ in others, we would never pass them by without a greeting. That stranger may have taken years to make that move to visit the Catholic Church. Who knows what situation may have pushed him or her in the door? Bringing one person into the Catholic faith could spawn generations to follow. One happenstance encounter could mean a thousand souls gained or lost. Never pass up an opportunity to evangelize.

Monday, September 17, 2012

On Pain and Purpose

I love Catholic Answers Live. I am a radio club member who supports them financially in a small way every month, and I would encourage all Catholics to do so. I love Steve Ray, a frequent guest on the program. He is one of my favorite apologists and I especially enjoy his participation when Catholic Answers Live does one of their programs for non-catholics only.

On the August 31 broadcast, Steve and host Patrick Coffin took a call from an atheist, and self-proclaimed secular humanist, named Carlos who took exception to a comment Steve made that life has no purpose if there is no God. Paraphrasing Steve’s comments, “without God there is no such thing as good or evil.” “Morality becomes transcendent.” Citing Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, Steve said, “if there is mortality, then anything is allowed.“ Steve went so far as to say, if we are just an assembly of molecules put together by time and chance, then there is no reason to help the elderly lady across the street. “Does it really make any difference whether I help her cross the street or whether I just run over her and rearrange her molecules?”

Carlos replied by saying it is very meaningful to help the lady cross the street. “The millions of years it took life to get here -- we see it even more precious.” Steve interrupted by saying, “Why? We see evolutionary processes . . . taking place. Why does it matter if I save the rain forests? . . . Why not just let humanity destroy itself because that is also part of the evolutionary process?” Carlos accused Steve of taking a very dark and pessimistic view and certainly not the view of most atheists he knew. According to Carlos, most atheist care deeply about life because to them, it is the only life we have.

Patrick interjected that Carlos is appealing to a foundation that he proclaims to reject. “The whole concept of right or wrong is dependent upon a transcendent God to whom we must make an account. Otherwise, Carlos, objectively speaking, you have no reason to forbid the opening of the doors of all prisons and letting all criminals out into society.” Carlos objected vehemently saying society has learned .. . . The remainder of his comment was cut short.

I found myself in the awkward position of thinking the atheist was making more sense than my much respected Catholic apologists. I agree that right and wrong is determined by God, but I believe a sense of right and wrong can be derived naturally from the notion of good and bad. The problem with this, of course, is that good and bad is based on experience, so the perceived right and wrong is no longer absolute.

This got me to thinking about how a godless society develops its pseudo morality, and I believe it comes from our ability to feel pain. In our weekly faith enhancement sessions at our parish, our priest often chastises the secular humanist impetus to maximize pleasure and minimize pain, but doing so is a characteristic of our nature. Even a fly tries to avoid being swatted and appears to enjoy a daily dose of dung. Absent this survivalist tendency, how would we as human beings behave differently? If we ourselves never suffered from illness, anguish, sorrow, loss, loneliness or injury, would we ever feel empathy for others? Does God allow us to feel pain as a means to learn compassion?

Our Catholic faith teaches us that pain is a result of original sin. Is not compassion a result of knowing the pain of suffering and not wishing others to experience it? If we never felt compassion, how would we treat others? If we never felt compassion, would we think nothing of running over the elderly lady or letting all prisoners loose to wreak havoc on others?

Knowing pleasure and pain, and the much-desired preference for one over the other, provides an impetus to treat others as we would like to be treated. Experience shows us that the way we interact with others can cause pleasure or pain, and we can enhance our own pleasure by giving enjoyment to others. Similarly, knowing another person is suffering arouses empathy when we know what that person is feeling through our own experience. In our quest to criticize the secular humanist, are we arguing against traits bestowed on us by our creator for a reason?

With pain comes compassion. With compassion comes charity. These are natural manifestations of the human experience whether one acknowledges the origin in God or not. Suggesting that an atheist might just as soon run over an elderly lady or open the doors of all prisons seems absurd to me. It certainly does little to convince him that his life lacks purpose.

I am reminded of a rather depressing song Peggy Lee sang in the late 1960’s called “Is that all there is?” The lyric expresses the point of view of a person disillusioned with life. The last stanza refers to death as being the final disappointment. While we might think the songwriter held an atheistic belief, most atheists probably do not hold such feelings of despair. Their hope lies in making the best of this life on earth because, to them, that’s all there is.

Near the end of the call from Carlos, host Patrick Coffin switched gears by mentioning the historical evidence that Jesus lived, was crucified and raised from the dead -- a much better approach to take with the atheist. Realizing historically that Jesus walked this earth, claimed to be God, worked miracles that defy natural explanation, died and rose again, and promised eternal life beyond the grave, can cause any atheist to rethink his position.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Election Fever

Polls taken just prior to Mitt Romney’s naming of Paul Ryan as his running mate, showed Obama with a substantial lead in the presidential race. Despite the fact that I work in an area with strong Democratic tendencies, I hear little support for Obama in my daily interactions. So, who are these people who favor him over Romney in the polls?

As George Bernard Shaw said, “The government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.“ One way to get votes is to freely hand out entitlements to the point of irresponsibility and then spread fear when the opposition is forced to take them away. The Democratic Party seeks to maintain control by keeping many of their constituents dependent upon the government for food, housing, healthcare and other benefits.

This is really an enslavement ideology. Rather than providing opportunity for self-sufficiency, Democrats see themselves as the caring master, fostering social dependency in exchange for votes. The contemporary plantation has moved to the inner city taking with it the hopelessness that manifests itself in violence and misery. Holding fast to the traditional family unit has become politically incorrect while the village takes over rearing the child.

Ironically, it was Democrat Joe Biden who accused the Republicans of enslavement. After Mitt Romney named Paul Ryan as his running mate, Biden addressed a Danville, Virginia audience, about half African-American, saying, “They’re going to put y’all back in chains.” He was apparently referring to a Romney-Ryan administration freeing businesses to create job opportunities.

In Biden’s view, big business is the enemy, not the main source of income for millions of families. He sees corporations interested in making huge profits at the expense of the middle class. At the same time, Democrats will advocate raising the minimum wage, which sounds admirable, but in reality, eliminates job opportunities for low-income families who desperately need them. While appearing noble, their policies actually propagate dependence on the government for sustenance.

Is it fair to say the Republicans are dependent on an educated and informed constituency to get elected, while Democrats are more likely to get votes from the uninformed and ignorant? Perhaps not, but if knowledge results in prosperity, and Democrats attach a stigma to those who achieve financial success, what does it say about their voter base? How often does one hear Republican supporters cite economic reasons or moral objections for opposing Obama while his supporters simply say they think he’s doing a good job and they like Michelle? Others want to protect their special interests.

Democrats would like everyone to believe Republicans do not care about the impoverished. They think the Ryan’s budget plan is designed to pad rich Republican pockets. Even the United States Council of Catholic Bishops criticized Ryan, himself a Catholic, fearing his budget plan would adversely affect the poor. Jeopardizing future care by racking up enormous debt to the point of financial collapse is acting irresponsibly. Sometimes providing for the future requires sacrifice in the present. Making tough choices to insure the future does not violate Catholic teaching. Spending the country into financial ruin only hurts the poor. A healthy free market economy not only provides opportunities for the poor to help themselves, it also provides resources to help those who cannot help themselves. Prosperity enables charity.

The latest flap revolves around an asinine statement made by Missouri Republican Representative Todd Akin. When answering a question about his stance against abortion in the case of rape or incest, he said that women’s bodies may somehow block pregnancies in cases of “legitimate rape.” As expected, Democrats went on the attack and even his fellow Republicans distanced themselves, many calling on him to withdraw from the Senate race. The sad thing is that a potentially strong pro-life candidate may have ruined his chance for election by taking a convoluted approach to a difficult question rather than answering directly and honestly. The pro-abortion crowd loves to hear pro-life folks say they would outlaw abortion even in cases of rape and incest under the assumption it is an unpopular stance. Perhaps the best response is to turn the tables on the questioner by asking, “If your daughter were raped and became pregnant, as horrible as that would be, would you think it okay to kill your own grandchild?”

Pregnancy resulting from rape is a tragedy for any woman to undergo. Yet, the baby is always innocent. The moral character of our society can be measured in terms of how we protect those unable to protect themselves. If one were able to discuss an impending abortion with the unborn baby, what would one say? “Sorry little one, but your daddy is a bad man and your mommy doesn’t want you, so I am going to kill you?” Put into words, it sounds morbid, mollified only by the fact the baby is not developed to the point of understanding or knowing fear.

Our secular society seems to think of sexual reproduction as strictly a biological occurrence – something that simply develops under certain conditions. To them, an unplanned pregnancy can be simply wiped away like a runny nose. The idea that a developing embryo is human life deserving protection, regardless of how it came to be, is completely eclipsed by concern for the mother. The fact is, at least two human lives are at stake here.

In this Sunday’s Gospel (August 26, 2012), we hear the end of Our Lord’s Bread of Life discourse. His disciples have just heard him say they must eat his flesh and drink his blood or they have no life in them. Their response is probably similar to what many today say when they hear all life must be protected from conception until natural death. “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” (John 6:61) The gospel goes on to say that many of them returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him. Our country may have been founded on Christian principles, but many of us no longer accompany Our Lord, and nowhere is this more apparent than in the leaders we elect.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012


Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy created a firestorm recently by simply confirming his support for traditional marriage. Cathy is known for espousing Christian values even to the point of closing his fast-food restaurants on Sundays. How can anyone not respect a man who sacrifices substantial profit in the practice of his Christian faith? Yet, we live in strange times these days. Believing that marriage should be between a man and a woman now implies bigotry to secular society, and therefore, even his right to free speech should suffer repercussions.

The Jim Henson Company (yes, the Henson Company of Muppet fame) said they would no longer partner with Chick-fil-A because the Henson Company embraces “diversity” and “inclusiveness”. Why is it that those who embrace diversity and inclusiveness often refuse to include anyone whose belief is diverse from theirs? I wonder if Dan Cathy, learning of the Henson Company’s support for same-sex marriage, would have initiated the separation. I don’t know, but I doubt it. If not, who is really the more tolerant?

The mayor of Boston and an alderman in Chicago are both trying to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening restaurants in their territory. The mayor of Chicago announced that Chick-fil-A’s values are not consistent with Chicago values. Keep in mind that all Dan Cathy said was that he supports the biblical definition of marriage. Seems like their outrage should be directed at God rather than Dan Cathy.

Having a dialogue with same-sex marriage proponents is a challenge. The biblical basis for traditional marriage has no relevance to them. They have no concept of the difference between a covenant and a contract. They do not seem to see any relationship between the deterioration of the traditional family and culture of violence that plagues so many young people especially in the inner cities. The chasm between God and the Godless in our society seems to be widening daily.

If the owners and officers of every company and business in Chicago were polled on their position on marriage, one could hope to find many that support traditional marriage between a man and woman. Would the alderman like to eliminate all of them from his ward? How long before he tries to remove all Catholic churches? Why is it okay to trample on one’s freedom of speech and practice of religion?

I saw an amusing cartoon on the Internet today. It demonstrated why Dan Cathy supports traditional marriage in the following manner:
Rooster + Rooster = Goose egg (0)
Hen + Hen = Goose egg (0)
Rooster + Hen = Chick-fil-A

Dan Cathy could have easily avoided this controversy by keeping silent on his religious beliefs. It takes courage to jeopardize your own business by speaking out in support of values that have become frighteningly unpopular. I hope that many other God-fearing business owners will come forward in support of Cathy and traditional marriage. If they cannot muster up the courage to do so, perhaps they can at least take the family out to dinner at Chick-fil-A.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It’s My Party and I’ll Lie if I want to

Our annual small town festival took place last weekend. The three-day event culminates with a parade on Sunday afternoon. Being an election year, plenty of politicians walked the parade route to shake hands and pass out campaign literature. Both parties had floats upon which local officials rode with their flags and signage.

In a year when the Democrat party in power has been particularly tough on the Catholic Church, I find it disturbing to see at least two prominent members of my parish marching with a float displaying Obama/Biden campaign posters. The HHS mandate attempting to force Catholics to pay for services contrary to Catholic teaching has been in the forefront of the news lately. Having locally well-known Catholics in support of the party issuing such mandates is ripe for scandal by bringing into question Catholic resolve in such matters. Parade-watchers may justify their own support based on the apparent support of prominent Catholics.

For a Catholic to willingly support or appear to support a platform in direct conflict with Church teaching is grave matter. With the Democratic administration current attack on the Catholic Church so widely publicized, it would be difficult to deny the potential for scandal, the potential of leading others to an occasion of sin. The only thing preventing deliberate cooperation with grave matter from becoming a mortal sin is invincible ignorance. I am not suggesting that all Catholics who support the Democratic platform and living in mortal sin. Only God can make that call.

Also marching was our congressman, Joe Donnelly, a Catholic Democrat who claims to be pro-life, but aligns himself with a party professing a much different message. When the Obama health care bill was coming up for a vote, I wrote to him expressing my concern that the plan would pay for abortions and other non-negotiable evils that we as Catholics must oppose. Obama needed his vote to assure passage. Despite his professed pro-life stand, Donnelly voted in favor of Obamacare reportedly after receiving assurance from the President that abortion coverage would not be paid with taxpayer money by executive order. So-called executive orders carry little weight, at least those issued by our current executive. Obama obviously had no intention of keeping his word. I wonder how a congressman who has been duped by his own party, and supposedly holds values in direct conflict with his own party, remains faithful to that party. Isn’t he living a lie?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Nuts and Bolts of Marriage

President Obama recently announced his support for same-sex marriage during an interview with ABC reporter Robin Roberts. He joins fellow Democrats Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and others favoring the legal union of two men or two women. He says his belief evolved after meeting many same-sex couples and seeing the love they shared between themselves and their adopted children. For us Catholics, this is one of the non-negotiables, putting us in complete opposition without compromise.

Many well-meaning people, including some Catholics, wonder what the big deal is. If two homosexuals love each other, why not allow them to marry? We may not be comfortable with the thought, but why should we care what they do? Is it not their own business? What right to do we have to deny them happiness?

It helps to understand that Catholic teaching is based on natural law, the laws of nature as created by God. Without getting into a deep philosophical discussion, simply stated, all humans, animals, objects, and all creation possess nature.

I do not pretend to have a firm grasp of philosophy beyond a one semester course I took in college some forty years ago, but an Internet search has led me to a lecture from International Catholic University that sheds some light. One commonly used example of nature is that of the chair. The casual model used to explain nature identifies four causes, they being matter, form, agent and end. In the case of a chair, the matter is the material from which it is made, such as oak. The form is the shape or design. Matter and form and called internal causes. The agent is the craftsman who made it, and the end is the objective or purpose the craftsman had in mind when he made it. These are the external causes. Once made, the chair retains a relationship to its maker. These four factors make up its natural chairness, so to speak.

It is possible to violate the nature of the chair. One might be able to cut off the back and make it into a table. Doing so would alter the form and the end as determined by the agent. Only the matter retains its originality, and it is no longer a chair as intended by the agent. This might not be a problem as long as the agent has relinquished any custody of his product.

Let us look at another example. Think of a nut and bolt. They have matter, form, agent and end. The agent designed the nut and bolt to be complementary. When coupled together, they form a bond holding two objects together. Taking away the nut and replacing it with another bolt violates the end or purpose. It is no longer effective for its intended purpose. Similarly, removing the bolt and adding another nut is also fruitless. When either the nut or bolt is absent, the possibility of a bond no longer exists.

God, the agent of all humanity, in His infinite wisdom, designed human beings as male and female sexes. They are meant to be complementary. Absent either one, the possibility of a sexual bond no longer exists. Substituting another male for the female, or vice versa, does not restore the end. Attempting to do so violates the natural design. Adding children to the arrangement by artificial means or adoption is a further violation of the nature.

Governmental officials occasionally think they can legislate the laws of nature. In 1897, the Indiana General Assembly considered passing a law that would have effectively changed the mathematical value of pi. The bill nearly passed until the senate came to realize they lacked the power to define mathematical truth.

Marriage derives from a biological truth, and more precisely, an anatomical truth by God’s design, not civil law. Genesis 2:24 says, a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. Two men or two women cannot become one flesh. It is not anatomically possible.

God retains custody over all creation and especially our human nature and the Church acts as God’s custodian on earth. We must acknowledge that Jesus is God, and He established His Church with the authority to bind and loose. (Matt 16:18-19, 18:18) He also promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church to all truth. (John 16:13, 1 Tim 3:15) The Church has the responsibility to uphold the natural law, including the external causes. She will not capitulate. She can’t.

Matt 18:15-17 says, if your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

President Obama is not likely to listen to the church, but supposed Catholics like Biden and Pelosi certainly should. Even many of our Protestant brothers and sisters at least understand and uphold the natural law. The complementary nature of male and female, not only anatomically speaking, but also in their respective child-rearing roles, cannot be discarded as irrelevant, even to those who have little concern for God or Church. The moral underpinning of the traditional family cannot be trifled.

There are those who will say all of this is just a convoluted argument to justify our bigotry. Nothing could be further from the truth. We must all have deep compassion for those who experience same-sex attraction for whatever reason. We must pray for them as we would pray for the grace to overcome any other temptation. Yet, we must stand firm in our support of true marriage by God’s design.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Who’s Missing?

It is no secret that our parish is losing parishioners, not necessarily to other denominations, but to other parishes. Attendance is down substantially in the past couple of years with many families driving to neighboring towns where they apparently find Mass more to their liking. Reasons vary I am sure, but generally most have been upset to the point where they experience periodic anger instead of the peace of Christ in their liturgical celebration. Whether their anger is justified is a matter for discussion.

This past week, I came across an article by Father Robert Barron titled Why Catholics Leave the Church and What Can be done about it. Father Barron is writing about a survey by William Byron and Charles Zech which will appear in the April 30 edition of America magazine. While the article is primarily about people leaving the Church, the reasons cited may also apply to those vacating a parish. Many mention the Church’s teachings on divorce, same-sex marriage, contraception, and ordination of women. So why would this cause people to change parishes? After all, these Church teachings are universal. The fact is that these sins, sin as a whole actually, are not often mentioned from the pulpit. They are in our parish, however. One parishioner recently told me she was tired of being scolded at every Sunday homily.

Our priest rarely misses an opportunity to chastise the congregation for the lack of confessions or low attendance at Eucharistic Adoration. People complain that they want to be uplifted instead of being criticized when they come to Mass. Unfortunately, the truth is that few people are going to confession theses days and attendance at Eucharistic Adoration is sparse. The Sunday homily is the only opportunity to voice the pastor’s displeasure, but this weekly-reprimand approach is not working.

Father Barron wrote, “One respondent to the survey observed that whenever he asked a priest about a controversial issue, he “got rules and not an invitation to sit down and talk.” Unfair? Perhaps. But every priest, even when ultimately he has to say, “No,” can do so in the context of a relationship predicated upon love and respect.” Survey respondents also said many pastors were “arrogant, distant, aloof and insensitive.” Ideally, the splendor of the Mass would significantly overshadow any shortcomings in the personality of the priest, but in reality, the manner in which the priest interacts with his congregation greatly affects the spiritual temperature of the parish.

People can sense when a man counsels them out of Christian love and concern for their spiritual well-being. They are more likely to accept guidance when treated with soft-spoken kindness and respect rather than cold condescending criticism. One who lives in the light of Christ will radiate warmth in the way he interacts with others. He will be patient and peaceful even in times of conflict. People will be drawn to the light even when some gentle discipline is necessary.

At the same time, parishioners need to realize the priest has many duties. He cannot devote full attention to the well-being of his parishioners. The administrative requirements of the parish priests are many. Running a parish can be as daunting as running a business. There are personnel matters, budgets, reports, meetings, repairs, bills, in addition to all his liturgical duties, sick calls, funerals, weddings and catechesis for adults and children. The corporal responsibilities can limit the time available for spiritual care.

Father Barron also mentions the problem of bad preaching. The survey said many left because homilies were boring, irrelevant and poorly-prepared. While not every priest is going to be a skilled public speaker, Father Barron says, “Sermons become boring in the measure that they don’t propose something like answers to real questions.” People are always questioning, wondering, and harboring doubts. A perceptive homilist needs to provide answers. As Father Barron puts it, “When the homily both reminds people how thirsty they are and provides water to quench the thirst, people will listen.”

So what does one do when the parish priest is a bad homilist with poor interpersonal relationship skills? First, recognize that he is a Catholic priest acting in the person of Jesus Christ. He is also a human being with limitations like all the rest of us. He cannot be everything we would like him to be. Keeping it in perspective, the words spoken during the homily pale in importance in comparison to the words spoken during the Eucharistic prayer. As parishioners, we need to recognize the gift of Holy Orders that enables our priest to confect the Holy Eucharist for us each day. We should all be grateful that he said yes to his vocation.

Father Barron stresses the importance of reaching out to people who have left the Church and this may apply to parishes also. Survey respondents often said no one ever contacted them to see why they had left. In a small parish like ours, compiling a list of families or individuals no long attending would be a simple task. A personal contact or kind invitation might be all that is needed to get someone back onboard.

A caller to the Catholic Answers Live radio program last week said she wanted to join the Catholic Church and had called a parish three times to get information about their RCIA program, but her calls were never returned. Father Barron quotes his first pastor telling the parish secretary, “For many people, you are the first contact they have with the Catholic Church; you exercise, therefore, an indispensable ministry.” Consider also that we could be the last contact someone has with the Church or their parish. Let us make sure that never happens.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Jesus 24/7

Recently, I watched a video called the 24/7 Experience produced by the Evangelical Covenant Church. As stated on the DVD jacket, “In an episodic, reality-TV style, 24/7 brings your students on a journey to learn what it means to follow Christ in the 21st century.” In the video, a small group of teenagers makes a whirlwind tour of the United States, visiting a different city each day, learning what it means to follow Christ every day. They are introduced to people in various walks of life whose Christian faith strongly influences how they conduct themselves in their careers and charitable works.

The video was given to me by our pastor to screen for possible viewing by our CCD class made up of sixth through eighth graders. What struck me is the difference between how we Catholics view our relationship with the Lord, as compared to Evangelical Protestants. Now I have no doubt that many good Catholic teenagers are very Christ-centered and live their lives accordingly, but I sometimes get the feeling that our particular group is not really tuned in to what it means to follow Christ. That got me to thinking about how we raise our children in the Catholic faith verses the way Evangelicals are raised.

We Catholics tend to be very regimented in the way we practice our faith. The universality of the Church and the way we worship communally has resulted in the development of many standard prayers and practices in the two thousand years of our history. While our Protestant brothers and sisters may have few prayers memorized beyond the Lord’s Prayer or perhaps the sinner’s prayer, we have dozens. As good Catholics, we need to know the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Glory Be. We should also know the Act of Contrition, Guardian Angel prayer, Morning Offering, Angelus, and a few others. We should also know how to pray the Rosary, Divine Mercy Chaplet, and Stations of the Cross. We need to understand the Mass and the Sacraments, especially the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. All of these things are very important to our Faith, but also difficult for our children to grasp in weekly sessions. With instruction time very limited, is there a point where all the sacramentals, prayer memorization, the rites, and other unique Catholic practices actually become an impediment to reaching young people?

Our Evangelical brothers and sisters do not have any of this to learn. Lacking the sacraments and formal prayer, as well as an authoritative Church to guide them, they are left to teach the Bible, subject to their own interpretation of Scripture. Their primary focus can be to cultivate a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, albeit one minus the sacramental gifts He left for us. The Evangelical experience can be more social in nature, making it attractive to young people. Prayers can be spoken from the heart, requiring thought and meditation. Yes, we can do that as Catholics too, but how often do we? Is it any wonder that many non-Catholic teenagers may be more contemplative, knowledgeable, and active in their ecclesial communities?

While interacting with non-Catholic friends, young Catholics may get the feeling they know less about Jesus than their friends do. They hear stories of Protestant churches with youth ministers, rock bands and lively worship. Secular media bombards them with stories that paint the Catholic Church in a bad light. This idea that the grass is greener on the other side can carry over into adulthood. Often parents set a poor example by being lukewarm or questioning the authority of the Church. We should not be surprised that many of our young people end up leaving at some point.

I have been critical in the past of Catholics who stress the horizontal aspects of worship at the expense of the vertical. Yet I think our young people need more exposure to the social relationship, getting to know Jesus as a friend and confidant. At the same time, they need a good dose of good ol’ Catholic apologetics, understanding that Jesus loves them so much that He gave them a Church, the Catholic Church, and they are all very fortunate to be a part of it. I showed the video in class. I hope it helps them to understand the grace we as Catholics receive through the sacraments is the fuel we need to persevere in Him 24/7.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

An Ill Wind Blows

Get used to being an outcast. Get used to being viewed as an extremist, even an enemy. Get used to being ridiculed, persecuted, targeted, and chastised. Get used to be isolated, lonely, forgotten, and ignored. No one will take you seriously. You will be a joke, a punch line, or a punching bag. That is where we Catholics and many Christians now find ourselves. Fasten your seatbelts because we are being driven recklessly down a dark road without lights.

So much has happened in the past few days to demonstrate this reality. The Obama mandate for religious institutions to provide contraceptives, some of which are abortifacients, is an obvious abuse of religious freedom. No longer can we be confident that such an abuse of the first amendment will not stand up in court. The immediate terse response from most Catholic Bishops has been encouraging. If a silver lining exists, perhaps it will serve to awaken people to what is happening.

About three weeks ago, I spoke to my CCD students about ethic responsibility when it comes to understanding where our money goes. While some charitable organizations may seem worthwhile, we have to be concerned with how they spend our donations. As the anniversary of Roe v. Wade was approaching, I used the example of the Susan G. Komen foundation. Many of the products we buy will display pink ribbons indicating that a portion of the profits go to the Komen foundation to fight breast cancer. Sounds wonderful, but we have to realize that Komen in turn supports Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of abortions in the country. They may argue that Komen money only goes for cancer screening, but by funding Planned Parenthood, they are potentially freeing other money to be used for killing unborn babies. Are there no alternative ways to perform breast cancer screenings in this country other than via an abortionist?

This past week, the Susan G. Komen foundation announced they would no longer fund Planned Parenthood. Alleluia! Our voices have been heard! Even though, Komen denied bowing to political pressure from Pro-life activists, this came as a welcome surprise. But wait! A public outcry followed. The media jumped all over Komen printing stories about poor women whose lives may have been saved by screenings performed at Planned Parenthood. How could Komen be so heartless? A few days later, this Komen foundation that had not bowed to pressure from Pro-life activists, appeared bow to pressure from Pro-choice activists, and resumed funding of Planned Parenthood. Again I ask, are there no alternative ways to perform breast cancer screenings?

I am going to digress for a moment. It is often said that we Pro-lifers should not use the term Pro-choice. Rather, those who would allow abortions are actually pro-abortion or pro-death. In our zeal to emphasize what abortion actually does, we want to use the strongest terms possible to make our point, but I am not sure this is totally honest or productive. I do not smoke cigarettes. I do not like cigarette smoke. I do not think anyone should smoke cigarettes. It is a filthy habit and bad for your health. Yet, I do not think cigarette smoking should be illegal for those who, despite the warnings, want to smoke. Just do it far away from me. When it comes to smoking, I am pro-choice. I am not pro-smoking or pro-cancer. Therefore, I do not object if people who favor the legalization of abortion want to call themselves Pro-choice, as long as they understand that one of the choices they are permitting is murder.

The religious right is portrayed in the media as the enemy, not caring about women’s health. Reports on the Komen situation were sometimes accompanied by information on what people can do to support Planned Parenthood. Donations to both organizations reportedly increased this week. Some Pro-lifers may have wished to support Komen after their courageous announcement, only to regret where that money may now end up. Susan G. Komen is under no obligation to fund Planned Parenthood, yet they find themselves in a situation where their mission to end breast cancer is placed in jeopardy by negative publicity spewed at them by the media and Planned Parenthood. They should have never attached themselves to Planned Parenthood in the first place.

Planned Parenthood is known for attacking anyone who would dare cut their funding. The State of Tennessee is now being sued by Planned Parenthood for denying funds based solely on an aversion to abortion. Like Susan G. Komen, they now find themselves being threatened.

Recently, a story on talk radio stated that 50-something percent of couples have sex on the first date. They attributed this to social media which allows people to become intimately acquainted before they actually meet. Stories like this are presented by the media as curiosities, but not necessarily detrimental to our society or personal well-being. Contraception of some sort is just assumed. A story on television this morning said that the average person in Japan does not have intercourse until past the age of 19, about 2 years later than in this country. The story was presented in such a way to indicate that Japanese teens are postponing sex, not that American teens start too young. Again, the story is treated as a curiosity, but the underlying message to teenagers is that starting young is the norm, so I might be an oddball if I do not. Secular society no longer even acknowledges that some people might find such behavior as immoral. Concern for the soul is not even on the radar.

While faithful Catholics hold true to unchanging beliefs, the secular world continues to stretch moral boundaries beyond their breaking point. Perhaps without realizing it, we have moved past a fork in the road where societal division will eventually lead to a cultural war. We are no longer all headed in the same direction. Yet, we cannot go our separate ways. Our paths are intertwined. Those of us navigating by a moral compass find ourselves viewed as obstacles in the roadway, obstacles that must be brushed aside and kept under control. A firm anchor in the faith is essential for us and our children if we are to persevere.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Time to Take a Stand

Abuse of our religious freedom continues to escalate under the Obama administration. The Department of Health and Human Services announced yesterday that Catholic schools, hospitals and charitable institutions have been given one year to comply with a government mandate to provide contraceptive coverage to all employees. That means, Catholics will soon be forced to provide abortive forms of birth control, sterilization, and other intrinsically evil procedures. Archbishop, and soon to be Cardinal, Timothy Dolan responded by saying, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences."

We have already seen Catholic adoption agencies close their doors when the government tried to force them to place children with same-sex couples. Now the assault on our Catholic faith sets up a confrontation that will have even greater repercussions. Those that comply with the order should be forced to sever ties with the Church. Those true to the faith may be forced to close or stand firm in civil disobedience. Violating our consciences is not an option.

Obama’s announcement came one day after Pope Benedict warned American Bishops about concerted efforts being made in the United States to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. In his January 19 address to the Bishops of the United States, the Pope said, “it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres.”

At the forefront of this threat is the Obama presidency. The upcoming presidential election is one of the most important events we as Catholics will ever experience. It may serve as a uniting force for all Christians who value religious liberty. In Pope Benedict’s address, he said, “There can be no doubt that a more consistent witness on the part of America’s Catholics to their deepest convictions would make a major contribution to the renewal of society as a whole.” The time has come for Catholics, and indeed all Christians, to take a stand against the erosion of religious freedom being propagated by the present administration.