Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Brief Year-end Musing

The month of December is always hectic for me, as it is for many others I am sure. Among the volunteer activities in which I am involved, several have duties requiring hours of preparation prior to Christmas. My family suffers because I never seem to have adequate time to find that ideal Christmas present. Some of my gifts are pretty lame, but my wife does not expect much and she loves me anyway.

A busy schedule limits the time available to keep up on the news affecting all of us as Catholic Christians. During the past few weeks, traditional marriage has come under increased assault with more states now allowing, even encouraging, same-sex marriage. Any expressed defense of traditional marriage will be labeled as bigotry, and often results in some attempt to denigrate the source.

Those familiar with the popular Duck Dynasty television program know that the family patriarch, Phil Robertson, was suspended from appearing on the show because his Christian beliefs against homosexual behavior were quoted in a magazine article. While his wording may have been a bit crude, he stated the position of most Bible-believing Christians. Apparently we find ourselves subject to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy whereby we can hold the belief that marriage is intended for one man and one woman, as long as we keep that opinion to ourselves.

At the other end of the spectrum, a Methodist minister was recently defrocked for performing a same-sex marriage involving his own son. While I respect the Methodists for protecting the sanctity of Christian marriage, I was somewhat amused by the fact that he was defrocked by a female bishop. In the Church that Christ established, priests and bishops act in the person of Christ, and the Church is the bride of Christ as we learn in Scripture. In that sense, the bishop is married to the Church, one of the reasons for the Catholic all-male priesthood. If that Methodist bishop were a true bishop, she would have a bride in the church. Obviously, they do not view it that way, but the irony did not escape me.

We seem to be facing a growing movement toward freedom from religion as opposed to freedom of religion. In Chicago, atheists and agnostics erected a large letter “A” in Daley Plaza meant to counter a Nativity scene and Menorah on display. Christian protesters hung a banner saying the A stands for angels, which led me to wonder what would be a more appropriate symbol for non-believers. The agnostics could probably display a giant question mark, but the atheists should seemingly display nothing, just empty space. But that would not be acceptable to them because they need something to explain the existence of their belief. Maybe they should think about that.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Nuts or Bolts

Our neighboring state, Illinois, recently joined a growing number of states to recognize same-sex marriage. Most media reports herald this move as long overdue. The Chicago Tribune article of November 5, 2013, quotes the bill sponsor, Representative Greg Harris as saying, “At the end of the day, what this bill is about is love, it’s about family, it’s about commitment.” While it may have something to do with love and commitment, I see no benefit to family.

Chicago has a terrible problem with street violence in some of its neighborhoods. Young people die most every day from gunfire mostly perpetrated by undisciplined youths who grew up in single-parent homes. The deterioration of the traditional family unit has played a huge role in the increase of violent crime. Boys need a strong father figure to teach them to behave responsibly in society. This idea that family can be whatever makes somebody happy only serves to further diminish structure that is so important in nurturing children.

I find it interesting that Pope Francis is being credited for helping to get the bill passed in Illinois. In July, the Pope was quoted as saying, “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge him?” The Tribune article notes that several Catholic lawmakers, who had difficulty reconciling their religious beliefs with same-sex marriage, used the Pope’s comments to justify voting in favor of the bill. Of course, this is a cop-out. The Pope was not condoning same-sex marriage, and those lawmakers would have found some other justification for their vote had the Pope not spoken.

Secular society’s notion of marriage is much different from the natural covenant instituted by the Creator. Many people take a cursory view of the issue. They see no real problem if two people with same-sex attraction want to commit to each other in a relationship. The Catholic Church must take the view evident in natural law as revealed to us by God in Genesis 2:24 and reiterated by Jesus in Mark 10:8, where we are told a man shall be united to his wife and the two shall become one flesh. There is no natural way two men or two women can become one flesh.

A television commercial currently airing for the Ford Fusion car shows a man and woman discussing the dilemma of choosing between a great ride or great gas mileage. The man says, “It’s like choosing between nuts OR bolts.” The next scene shows a man standing next to an above ground swimming pool saying, “I wonder what these nuts are for?” About that time, the swimming pool walls burst forth, spilling the water and swimmers all over the lawn.

The commercial uses an example I have used in the past to demonstrate one of the problems with same-sex marriage. A bolt has to be married to a nut or it cannot be used for its designed purpose. A bolt will not bond with another bolt. A nut will not bond with another nut. Attempting to do so will result in failure. The resulting effort is disordered. A natural marriage requires a male and a female to form a bond, whether we are talking human beings or hardware.

We should not expect the Catholic Church to say the misuse of God’s creation is okay just because certain people find it desirable. As the Vicar of Christ on earth, the Pope is responsible for guiding all humanity in matters of faith and morals. Those having no regard for Church authority, view Church teaching on homosexual behavior as intolerant or bigoted. On the contrary, the Church is speaking out of love and concern for all souls created by God. Resisting temptation requires discipline, and from discipline comes discipleship. To be a disciple means to listen to those Christ left in authority. “Whoever listens to you, listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” Luke 10:16

Friday, October 18, 2013

Public Err Ways

Our local radio station carries Christian religious programming on Sunday mornings. Although none of it is Catholic, I listen to it as I prepare to go to Eucharistic Adoration. At times, I am encouraged by how close we are as fellow Christians. At other times, I am saddened by our differences. While we all share a love for Christ, we have very different ways of showing it. Some of the preaching and singing has a very southern Baptist bend to the point where it can be difficult for us northerners to understand. The Lutheran program that follows would be most closely recognizable to a Catholic.

At the end of the Lutheran broadcast on a recent Sunday, they advertised a publication on the lost books of the Bible and why they were not included by the “early Church”. The commercial asked if we ever wondered why the Bible contains only those “66” books. I wondered if THEY ever wondered why the Bible does not contain all 73 books that the early Church actually included. By the way, that early Church to which they refer is the Catholic Church. Yes, I realize Lutherans may think they are the true early Church reformed by Martin Luther, but such cannot be the case.

Luther in effect denied the inerrant authority of the early Church to determine the canon of the Bible when he eliminated seven books. If the early Church erred in the inclusion of the Deuterocanonical books as we call them, doubt would be cast on the entire canon of Scripture. Who gave a German priest the right to overrule the God-given authority of the early Bishops of the Catholic Church? Only God had that authority to give and He did not give it to Luther. We know that from Matthew Chapter 16.

The Catholic Church gets very little respect these days. A restaurant in Chicago is offering a hamburger billed as a 10-ounce patty, chile aioli, braised goat shoulder, white cheddar cheese and two other special ingredients, "Red Wine Reduction (the blood of Christ) with Communion Wafer garnish (the body of Christ)." This description is according to Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass. The Catholic community is in an uproar over this and rightly so.

Yes, it is only bread, not consecrated, and the wine is just wine, but one must question the motive behind this offering. Certainly the unleavened bread offers no taste enhancement to the burger. If the purpose was to take a slap at the Catholic Church for shock value and publicity, they have certainly succeeded.

I am not so disturbed by the hamburger as I am by the online comments section following John Kass’s column. So many readers took this opportunity to express their disdain for the Catholic Church. A few of the comments: “They should worry about getting with the times and their criminal empire of pedophile priests not whats on a hamburger.” Another said, “Morons. This is one of the several reasons I abandoned the Catholic Church a long time ago, their inability to practice what they preach.” Many of the remarks were even more disgusting.

Sadly, this is the perception of the Church many harbor today. We have to acknowledge that we earned this reputation through serious sins of some of the Church hierarchy who will have to answer for their sins come the judgment. But, we also need to realize that many Church critics are simply seeking justification for their own shortcomings. The abuse scandal will not be forgotten, and therefore, Catholic evangelization will be more difficult.

A Chicago television newscast recently aired a report about the large number of Latinos leaving the Catholic Church for Protestant denominations. They say the church does not speak to their needs and concerns. They want to worship in their own way with livelier music and dancing. Is livelier music and dancing what we need to draw people to the Church? Of course not, but we do need a different approach to reach people who were never properly catechized.

In one his recent interviews, Pope Francis was quoted as saying, “The ministers of the Gospel must be people who can warm the hearts of the people, who walk through the darkness with them, who know how to dialogue and to descend themselves into their people’s night, into the darkness, but without getting lost. The people of God want pastors, not clergy acting like bureaucrats or government officials. “

In the same interview, he was also quoted as saying, “The church’s pastoral ministry cannot be obsessed with the transmission of a disjointed multitude of doctrines to be imposed insistently. Proclamation in a missionary style focuses on the essentials, on the necessary things. This is also what fascinates and attracts more, what makes the heart burn, as it did for the disciples at Emmaus.” “A beautiful homily, a genuine sermon must begin with the first proclamation, with the proclamation of salvation.” “Then you have to do catechesis.”

The interview caused quite a stir in the media with many trying to fit the Pope’s words into their own agenda. From my perspective, Pope Francis is in no way trying to lessen the importance of any teaching of the Church. Rather, he recognizes the importance of first touching people’s hearts with the gospel message that will in turn create a desire for spiritual enrichment through catechesis and prayer. If people first see the Church as a disconnected regulatory agency, they will never feel drawn to the message of salvation. A love affair has to start with courtship.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Box

After arriving home from work one day this week, my wife handed me a box. In it were nine rosaries and two beautiful crucifixes. They were given to her by a co-worker who said they belonged to her now-deceased in-laws. Knowing we were Catholic, she thought we might know someone who could use them. If her in-laws were Catholic, isn’t her husband Catholic, I asked? He may have been at one time, but apparently not anymore.

I can only imagine his father and mother looking down from heaven at the sight of their precious sacramentals being given away to strangers rather than being handed down to Catholic grandchildren as holy heirlooms. How often did grandma and grandpa pick up those rosaries at critical times in their lives? They probably prayed for their children and grandchildren in sickness and times of trouble. The two crucifixes were identical, the kind often displayed in the casket of deceased Catholics. Having them in my possession saddens me.

I remember my elderly grandmother praying her rosary in her small first-floor bedroom. She faced much difficulty in her life, the loss of her husband and a son, and a devastating Christmas fire that destroyed the family business. She died in 1972 and was probably buried with that rosary in her hands. How wonderful it would be to pray on that rosary today, a relic of my grandmother who loved her Catholic faith so much.

Many Protestants look at sacramentals as Catholic superstition. They see no value in them, and may even view them as forms of idolatry. I suspect they are uncomfortable having them in their possession, and at the same time, reluctant to destroy them too, just in case. Play it safe, and just give them away.

A description on the EWTN website says, “the myriad of little things that are sacramentals are the parts of catholicity that jostle against us in our everyday life, those little extras that often tell others we are Catholic.” The rosary, as we know it today, probably dates back to the thirteenth century, but may have originated in some fashion as early as the second century. When praying the rosary, we meditate on the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption in the history of our salvation.

One might wonder why non-Catholic Christians object to the crucifix. Protestant denominations generally do not display the corpus on the cross. In response to the crucifix, they will say they instead worship a Risen Christ. Well, so do we, but our salvation comes not from the cross itself, but by the God-man who hung on it. The crucifix is a stark reminder that Jesus suffered and died for our sins.

Parents bear the great responsibility of raising their children in the faith. The priest can’t do it. The CCD teacher can’t do it. And in some cases, even parental guidance is not enough. How many future generations will never know the Catholic faith because one person decided to abandon the Church? How many rosaries will never be prayed?

So, what will I do with these staples of catholicity? I would like to eventually see them go back to the family. Perhaps one of the children will someday be inspired to investigate the faith of their grandparents. How wonderful it would be to make that connection and be able to present them with rosaries that once guided the prayers of grandma and grandpa. For now, I will place a note in the box and keep them in a safe place.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Massaging the Message

As summer draws to a close, many parishes are beginning their RCIA programs. For the uninitiated, RCIA stands for Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults, a process where people interested in the Catholic Faith can ask questions, grow spiritually, and come into the Catholic Church if they so desire, typically at the Easter Vigil. For the second year in a row, it appears we will have no one attend the class at our parish.

Before he left his pontificate, Pope Benedict invited all Catholics to renew their relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church. This New Evangelization calls us to deepen our faith, believe in the Gospel and proclaim it to the world. This past week, our faith enhancement class got into a discussion of why so few Catholics in our parish attend Eucharistic Adoration. Even Sunday Mass attendance is down. If Jesus Christ really becomes present on our altar each week, why do so few people seem to care?

The hunger for Christ is evident in our community. In a small town where the main street is beset with empty buildings, a number of storefront ecclesial communities have sprung up. Other non-denominational groups in the area seem to be doing well, judging by the number of cars in the parking lot. What are we Catholics doing wrong?

Perhaps it is not so much that we are doing something wrong. We are not doing enough. In many ways, our parish is the lamp under the bushel basket. Despite having the most conspicuous edifice in town, we attract little attention. Our faith expression is introverted. We display little enthusiasm for the Church in our community. As a faith-based family, our parish is somewhat dysfunctional. Some members have become disgruntled for one reason or another, choosing to attend Mass elsewhere. Some committees have become inactive.

A Catholic who truly understands and appreciates the office of the New Testament Priesthood, realizes that personality or homiletic talent are secondary traits of a good priest. His God-given power to confect the Holy Eucharist trumps all human character flaws that may make him less personable than one may like. Yet the reality is that likability of the priest can impact the viability of the parish. This is true not only of Catholic parishes, but most ecclesial communities. Dynamic non-denominational pastors can attract large numbers strictly by their charisma or preaching style. The delivery can mean more than the message when it comes to filling the pews. Catholics cannot choose their pastor based on his likability. In fact, they have no choice in the matter at all.

A local radio station airs a weekly sermon by an area preacher who happens to be a very good speaker. I enjoy listening to him on Sunday mornings while getting ready to go to Eucharistic Adoration. His parking lot is probably full. A couple weeks ago, he spoke about how to successfully share the gospel. He used the example of Jesus speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John, chapter 4. He asked how Jesus engaged this woman in conversation. He did not begin by telling her she was going to hell. Instead, He asked her to give him a drink of water.

The preacher’s point is well taken. We gain converts, not by talking down to them or being blatantly critical. We need to treat people as if they were created in the image and likeness of God, which of course, they were. If we conduct our lives joyfully as Catholics living their faith, people will naturally follow. Taking the opportunity to share our faith when the opportunity arises can bear much fruit. The Holy Spirit will do the heavy lifting if we simply open the door.

Being able to share our faith requires us to know our faith and know it well. That takes study and continuous formation. Simply attending Mass once a week and daydreaming through a perhaps not so good homily is insufficient. We need to lift that bushel basket, allowing light to shine throughout the community. Accomplish this by taking advantage of all the different types of media we have available today. Be visible by participating in local events, such as festivals or public service. Get priorities in order. By all means, work to heal divisions within the parish. Uniting all Christians begins with uniting our own households.

Last week, one of the regulars at our faith enhancement class lamented the fact that she felt ill-equipped to pass her faith on to her seven year-old son. Having been away from the Church and poorly catechized as a child, she wondered how her son would ever learn to love the Catholic Faith when his only religious education comes from a ninety-minute weekly CCD class. Today, she texted me saying she and her son would not be able to attend Mass or CCD this Sunday because he has a Pop Warner football game.

When I was growing up, no organizer of kid’s sports would have ever considered scheduling games on Sundays when they could interfere with church attendance. My mother let me know at a very early age that going to Sunday Mass took precedence over everything else. All Christian parents should take a firm stand against organized sports on Sundays. If enough parents placed God above football, the organizers would get the message. To do otherwise sends a terrible message to our children.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rock of Ages

Those of us on the cusp of geezerhood often wonder where the years have gone. The world has changed so much in my lifetime. Though I don’t feel old, I find myself out of step with my co-workers, and contemporary society in general.

Growing up in the 1950’s and ‘60s, the generation gap separating me from my parents was expansive. Rock-and-roll music was something they did not appreciate. Transistor radios were new and we listened to WLS day and night to get the latest hits from the likes of Dion, Chuck Berry, Roy Orbison, Four Seasons, and Beach Boys. I remember my cousin Greg appearing to study intently at his desk in Catholic School, his chin resting on his hand to hide the earphone wire protruding from his shirtsleeve.

The sixties were a time of innovation. Technology was improving. Stereo was the new thing and record producers broke new ground, with new sounds, new instruments, and some great songwriting. When Beatlemania swept the nation, the generation gap widen even further. Ford and Chevy were the popular cars in my town, since those were the only two dealerships we had. Each year, we looked forward to the new models coming out in October. It was a big deal. The new cars arrived under covers so no one could see them until the highly anticipated unveiling. We kids knew our cars, especially the Chevys. We could all tell a ’62 from a ’63, a Biscayne from a BelAir, and even a 283 from a 327 by the badges on the fender.

Now I know how my parents must have felt. Today’s music on the radio all sounds the same to me, as it probably did to them fifty years ago. From my perspective, all the good music has already been done. There is nothing left to say in song. Oh, I realize I am out of touch. Good contemporary music is likely out there, but not worth my time to seek it. Most bands I see on television have two or three guys jumping around the stage shouting words I can’t understand. The songs all sound alike, the cars all look alike, what more can I say? Yeah, I know I sound like my dad.

This week, we will be traveling to celebrate our granddaughter’s second birthday. I wonder how much the world will change during her lifetime. The music, transportation, and technology are minor concerns when we realize our society’s moral compass has become an unreliable navigational instrument. We are becoming less civilized. Neighborhoods are not as safe as they once were. Inner city children cannot play outdoors for fear of being shot. Violence punctuates conflict, and not with a period.

Evil has existed throughout history, but a strong faith in God served to keep it in check. With little regard for Jesus and His Church today, we are sailing on a ship without a captain. What will the world be like when my granddaughter reaches my age? I don’t know. She could easily live into the twenty-second century. We must do all we can to instill a strong faith in our children and their children. The second coming will be a shock to many.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Small Medium at Large

Our house is quiet again. My granddaughter and her mommy and daddy have moved to Kansas, taking with them their barking dog with the bladder control problem. I have regained possession of the tv remote and could sit around in my underwear if I so desired, which I don’t. The anticipation of their move was stressful for me and I still dread the upcoming nine hour drives when we want to visit them. People deal with anxiety in various ways, and I have never handled mine well.

There are no atheists in foxholes. The often-cited proverb notes the human tendency to turn to God in times of fear or stress. Many of us give little thought to prayer when things are going well, but immediately seek divine help when facing trouble. Life isn’t always easy. In fact, it isn’t supposed to be. Like seedlings being readied for the garden, we must be hardened off by limited exposure to harsh conditions. We come through adversity feeling stronger by the experience. No pain, no gain.

In Catholic belief, suffering is redemptive. Joining our suffering to the suffering of Our Lord is efficacious. It remits the temporal punishment due for our sins. Doing so before we die is much preferred than doing so afterwards. In this way, we can actually find joy in suffering. That does not mean we welcome suffering or should not take measures to alleviate it.

I take medication to help me deal with anxiety, stress, high blood pressure and other ailments. I seek comfort wherever I can find it, spending an hour in front of the Blessed Sacrament on Sundays when our parish has Eucharistic Adoration, or lighting a candle before the Divine Mercy painting. I pray for relief from my anguish over worldly problems that plague my peace of mind. I feel guilty at times knowing that my worries are so minor when compared to those of others.

When life’s troubles seem too much to bear, people often look for reassurance that God is in control and all of this worldly pain will be rewarded in the end. A woman in our faith formation group recently raised a question about Theresa Caputo, the Long Island Medium, who has a show on cable channel TLC. Theresa claims to have the ability to communicate with the spirits of those who have died. The show depicts her relaying messages from departed loved-ones to people she encounters in her everyday life. The question involved how we as Catholics view someone claiming to be a medium.

The catechism tells us conjuring up the dead and recourse to mediums should be avoided. (CCC 2116) The admonition is not so much because to do so is bunkum, but rather to avoid the possibility of demonic influence. Catholics do believe souls are immortal. We ask those in heaven for their intercession, and God in His infinite power could certainly allow our departed ones to communicate with us if He so desired. The catechism directive seems to refer mostly to divination for the purpose of foretelling the future, though it does specifically warn against “recourse to mediums.”

In the case of Theresa Caputo and others like her (John Edward, James Van Praagh, et. al.), they are not typically fortune-tellers. They claim to receive messages from departed spirits which they relay to family members still living. An Internet search will turn up many claims that all of these so-called mediums are fakes, basically using an old trick called a cold reading where subjects are led to reveal information by responding to certain questions. Some are accused of employing researchers who obtain inside information about people who will be in attendance for shows. Obviously television programs can be carefully edited to make the star look good.

I have to acknowledge the possibility that God could allow certain people to have this ability. Criticism would naturally come from atheists trying to debunk anything that could point to an afterlife or the existence of God. In the case of Caputo, she often presents messages that would seem to support Catholic belief. She purportedly sees souls of aborted or miscarried babies in the arms of departed loved-ones. Yet, she also brings up ideas contrary to Catholic belief, such as talking about her previous lives with her spiritual advisor, who incidentally has the Divine Mercy painting hanging on her wall.

I am going to reserve judgment regarding Caputo. It would take an extremely cruel person to prey upon someone mourning the loss of a family member for the purpose of financial gain or notoriety, and Caputo does not come across as someone so heartless. Is it all real? I don’t know, probably not, but it is entertaining and causes us to think seriously about what happens after we leave this world. For those seeking reassurance during a trying time, her messages can bring comfort, but approach cautiously with feet firmly planted in your Catholic faith.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Faith and Fear

Back in January, I wrote about my beautiful granddaughter and how much I loved her. At the time, my son was contemplating employment some 500 miles away and I was dreading the separation. As it turned out, he did not accept that job, and in the ensuing months, he and his wife and daughter moved in with us. With another baby on the way, he was unemployed and without insurance. While living with us, I became even more attached to my granddaughter who is not yet 2 years old. Our family had become somewhat like the Waltons with three generations, including another adult daughter, living under one roof.

This past week, my son was offered Director of Liturgy and Music and a very large parish more than nine hours away from here. He really had no choice but to accept the job since he was unable to find anything closer. In three weeks, they will be moving. While I am grateful and relieved he will be earning money and receiving benefits, I am heartbroken that we will be separated.

I guess it is time to bare my soul a bit. I would call this coming out of the closet, but that phrase has taken on a common meaning far different from my situation. I have lived the past 55 years or so with panic disorder. It’s a mental illness, cause not really known. It is difficult to describe to someone who has never experienced it. To varying degrees, people with panic disorder can develop fears or phobias. An attack can come on unexpectedly. Once an attack occurs in a certain situation, the fear of another attack in a similar situation becomes the catalyst for another attack. In other words, if one believes a certain situation will trigger an attack, then it will. The actual fear is of the attack itself. Symptoms vary, but it can best be described as an intense physiological reaction to most any stimulus.

People with uncontrolled panic disorder structure their lives around the fears they harbor. Even when an attack is not occurring, the knowledge of the possibility creates an uneasiness that can be unsettling, almost as if one were living in a haunted house knowing that a ghost might emerge from a closet at any moment. Those affected often develop a comfort zone of varying sizes surrounding themselves. Venturing outside the comfort zone can be very uncomfortable. For some people, that comfort zone can be a single room in a house. Fortunately, mine never got that small, but it exists nonetheless.

The condition is sometimes called agoraphobia, or fear of the market place. When faced with extreme fear, the body goes into a fight or flight response. Adrenaline is released into the bloodstream, the heart rate and blood pressure rise, and various hormones are released into the body to deal with the threat. In this case, the threat is irrational or imagined, but the response is very real.

My illness started at a very early age, perhaps even in grade school, but really taking hold my first year of high school. I won’t go into detail here, but it kept me from doing lots of things I would have liked to have done. Yet, I have led a fairly successful life, working for the same company for over forty years with an attendance record few could match. My comfort zone is large enough to avoid panic on a routine basis, but anxiety stands at the ready in my mind. Travel is difficult for me, always has been. Anytime I am forced out of my comfort zone, that awful feeling creeps in. Concentration becomes difficult and an uneasy tenseness tightens its grip.

The irony is that I am generally a very rational person and I recognize my own irrational behavior although unable to control it. Doctors think it may be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain and there are medications that help, but the irrational fear itself often prevents victims of panic disorder from seeking help. I don’t believe I have ever been properly treated. My doctor gives me low doses of Xanax that help me relax a little and sleep better, but does not really treat the problem.

So, why bring all of this out in the open now? The anticipation of my son and his family moving so far out of my comfort zone is causing me tremendous stress. I tend to be a very emotional person anyway, and this has set me off into uncharted territory. I am a sixty-two year old man who cries easily, and this is a rough time. How am I going to handle this separation? With a new grandchild on the way, I am going to have to make this trip. This affliction has shown to be hereditary, and all three of my children have experienced problems with anxiety, though not as debilitating as I. I worry about them also.

Now, all of this must sound silly to anyone who has not experienced it. Frankly, it sounds silly to me too. Most people undoubtedly feel sadness or dread when a loved one moves away or goes off to serve our country. That is a rational feeling. What I am talking about goes way beyond what normal people experience. This experience distorts reality, making one feel somewhat disconnected from his surroundings. It can make a person totally dysfunctional in a matter of seconds. Living an entire life with a millstone around the neck can be disconcerting to say the least.

How does my Catholic Faith play into this? If we have complete trust in Our Lord, we should never need to worry about anything. Jesus, I trust in you. I can say those words over and over again. Yet, my worries still haunt me. Am I a hypocrite for saying I trust in God when my body says otherwise. I find it difficult, even impossible, to relinquish control. Jesus, I trust in you, but apparently not enough to accept my suffering and place it in your hands. The irony here is that once a person with panic disorder accepts it and simply allows it to happen, it generally subsides or disappears.

Is it a sin to be a coward, to be unable to face your fears like many normal people do? Is this a character flaw or simply a medical abnormality? Allowing fear to rule one’s life certainly seems selfish in the sense that one’s personal comfort takes dominance over concern for others. I have mentioned my inability to place all my trust in Our Lord in the confessional. I have prayed for help, and I do admit that strides have been made over the years. Within my comfort zone, which is large enough to manage my everyday life, I am very functional. My daily routine is normally joyful. My co-workers would likely be very surprised to know what goes on in my head!

All of this has made me very conscious of people who live with mental illness, and especially those who suffer from mental anguish for whatever reason. I also know that behavior is affected by these hidden handicaps in many people. Please do not be quick to criticize every person who may avoid a family function or not participate in the way you would like. Pray for those who are suffering inside with fears they are ashamed to discuss, especially young people who are unable to function to the point of being outcasts by their peers, and subject to taunting or isolation. Reach out to those who may appear socially awkward. They may actually be dealing with a very troubled existence. Pray for those who may be alone with these fears and unable to reach for help. Pray for them and pray for me.

Dear Lord, I offer you my suffering in reparation for my sins and for the sins of others. Have mercy on me in my weakness and give me the strength to face my fears with confidence and trust. Help me to accept this small cross joyfully and without trepidation. Help others who may be suffering similarly in isolation with no hope for getting help. Give all of us the strength to persevere. Jesus, I trust in you. Amen.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Evangelizing Jesus?

An article by blogger Jack Spatafora caught my eye on Good Friday. The title read, “Sorry! Here’s Why Jesus Wouldn’t Join Today’s Church.” The author’s bio describes him as 40 years educator/writer/intellectual, vagabond, speech writer for the White House and Fortune 500 CEOs, etc. With the Catholic Church very much in the news following the recent papal conclave and Holy Week, I suppose we should expect a few curmudgeons to ventilate.

Mr. Spatafora portrays Christianity as evolving from a comradeship among the apostles, to a formal philosophy in ancient Greece, to an institution in Rome, to a culture throughout Europe, and to an enterprise in our country today. As he puts it, “A dynamic of doctrines which quickly took on the appearance of one more Yankee venture that needed to be sold as the best product on the market.” The closing paragraph reads as follows:

“Here's the point. Christianity has come a long long way from that first humble Good Friday. Replete with big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, big horizons two billion strong. Would there be room here for a scruffy, bearded, unemployed hippie in sandals and visions...? I don't think so. And I don't think Jesus would have thought so too. It's not exactly what he seems to have had in mind.”

Understanding this author from my Catholic perspective is a bit of a conundrum. During the first three stages of his perceived evolution, Christianity is the Catholic Church. At some point during the fourth cultural stage came the so-called reformation or rejection of the true Church that eventually brought about the fragmentation of Christianity we see today. Would Jesus be happy with the fractured Christianity He sees today? I would think not. Would He join the Catholic Church today? He never left it, so how could He?

Speculating on whether Jesus would “join” today’s church is a little like wondering whether my great great great grandfather would “join” my current extended family. He is a progenitor and we are his descending children. Over many generations, descendants become numerous. Would my great great great grandfather be pleased with everything that goes on in our family today? Likely not, but he would not and could not become detached from the relationship. He would definitely not be pleased with those who have chosen to separate themselves from the family, and these may be the ones that better fit Spatafora’s model.

Our separated brothers and sisters, especially those in non-denominational congregations far removed from the historical Catholic Church, find themselves in competition with many other ecclesial communities. While geared to Bible-believing Christians, they are not centered in the Eucharist as we are. The face of their congregation may be a charismatic preacher, a dynamic praise band, or close-knit fellowship. Such groups may resemble a business model as they compete for membership. The so-called megachurches may be the Walmarts of modern-day Christianity.

Would Henry Ford want to join the Ford Motor Company today? After all, Ford has come a long way from that company founded in 1903. Replete with big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, big horizons, new technology, and over 200,000 employees worldwide, would there be room for an innovative industrialist and pacifist?

Ford’s legacy will remain with his company forever. In a much greater way, Jesus remains alive with His Church to the end of the age. The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. Separating Jesus from the Church is impossible. Does the Church look the same as it did 2000 years ago? No, although most Protestants would be shocked to know what similarities remain! The Church has grown over the centuries from east to west, holding fast to the deposit of faith as revealed by God. Is the Church an enterprise? In some respects, certainly. The Church is competing for souls, and convincing people to listen to an authoritative Church is a tough sell these days.

Just as Henry Ford established his company, expecting it to grow and be profitable, Jesus established His Church, with the great commission to spread His gospel. At the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This describes precisely what the Church has done and is still striving to do. Evangelization today necessitates big ideas, big budgets, big dreams, and big horizons. The Church encompasses everything Spatafora describes. These facets are not mutually exclusive. In the Church, we have comradeship, philosophies, an institution, many cultures, and enterprise. Casting the Church as a “venture that needed to be sold as the best product on the market” is basically truth stated in a pejorative way. The Catholic Church is the best product on the market for getting us to heaven. As Catholic apologist Tim Staples often states when questioned about various issues in the Church, “I’m not in management; I’m in sales.” Indeed, making disciples of all nations requires all of us to be salesmen, promoting our faith in the way we live our lives each day.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Forward Halt

A popular television commercial for a well-known insurance company shows a young woman having a conversation about the Internet while waiting for her date to arrive. She says they can’t put things on the Internet if they are not true. She also says her date is a French model she met on the Internet. As the scruffy-looking male approaches with a very American-sounding “bonjour” greeting, it becomes clearly evident he is no French model.

By now, Internet-savvy people know that most anything imaginable can appear in cyberspace. One must use extreme caution when discerning information from unknown sources. Unsolicited information is even more suspect. What many people apparently do not realize is that forwarded emails that would appear to support causes we strongly believe in, may not in fact be as they appear.

Over the years, I have developed a sense of cyber-smell, a sixth sense that is activated whenever a forwarded email gives off an odor of suspicion. Undated messages reporting recent events are always questionable since forwarded emails by their very nature never die. Especially suspicious are those who blame the biased news media as the reason you never heard of this event, and then try to shame you into forwarding it to everyone in your address book.

Such was the case last week when a local parishioner forwarded an “Unbelievable and shocking!” statement by “Father Juan Carlos Martos cmf Secretariat of PV Clarettiani Missionaries” showing a photo of hundreds of charred bodies lying in rows before bystanders in front of a dilapidated building. The caption said, “This is a brutal example of how far the struggle between muslims and catholics in Nigeria has reached.”

Emails to the parish webpage pass through me, and this particular parishioner floods our inbox almost daily with various forwarded messages she deems of interest. I confess that I usually delete anything with “Fwd” in the subject line, but this message also included a plea to our pastor to put this in the bulletin and preach on it. Knowing that she also sends them directly to our pastor, I thought it prudent to check the claims for accuracy since my sixth olfactory sensor went off when I read it.

The posting contained no date or particulars on the incident pictured, although our parishioner claimed it occurred near the end of January. The message goes on to criticize “Human Rights Organizations” for lack of action and the “(Spanish) Facebook Management for not allowing the poster to publish this graphic “as proof of the Holocaust that Christians have been suffering in Nigeria in the last ten years.” While Christians are being persecuted in predominately Muslim countries and media is selective about what they report, I could not believe a story of this magnitude would not make the American press. The end of the message urges everyone to “distribute this photo and its comments using all the media you have.”

I first checked, a well-known fact checker. Yes, I am aware of all the other forwarded messages claiming Snopes is biased. In any case, it is still a good place to start. I found nothing there. What I did find was this same story being circulated by numerous bloggers, most if not all Christian sources. Does that make the story true, or are they simply repeating their outrage at the same fictitious posting? None of these were mainstream news sources. Are they ignoring this tragic story or did it not even occur? Searching for the existence of Father Juan Carlos Marcos, nothing turned up apart from the numerous postings of his purported statement.

Digging a little deeper, I found numerous sites claiming this story is a hoax. The picture is real, but the photograph shows the aftermath of a tragic accident that occurred when a tanker truck overturned in the Democratic Republic of Congo in early July of 2010. The tanker exploded as villagers from Sangue were trying to take fuel from the ruptured tank. Over 300 were fatally burned in the fireball. So how do we know who is telling the truth here?

This story of Muslims burning Catholics really caught fire at the end of January 2013, but versions of it appear on the Internet much earlier. Furthermore, the same picture of burned bodies appears in 2010 with a story about the exploding tanker. Within a few minutes of Internet fact-checking, I was fairly certain this particular story of Muslims burning Catholics was fabricated.

I immediately replied to the parishioner with a link to a source pointing out the problem with the story. Fearful that our priest would tell the story from the pulpit, I also sent him a copy calling the story a hoax. The next day I received a reply from the parishioner saying she did not trust the hoax story and she accused me of believing anything, including msNBC. Ouch! I replied again with further evidence and she acknowledged the story could be problematic.

Imagine my surprise when our pastor told the story in his homily this past Sunday. He expressed outrage that 300 Catholics in Africa were locked in their church and set on fire, and the anti-Catholic media in this country refused to report the story. Have you ever wanted to jump out of your pew in the middle of a homily and say, “Father, that’s a lie!”

Why would anyone fabricate a story like this in the first place? One blogger ties the origin to an anti-Muslim activist who I will not name because verification of this is difficult. As Catholics, we need to be truthful in all things. Our credibility and integrity are at stake. We have enough legitimate claims of persecution without spreading lies. To vilify our oppressors and the press unfairly is counterproductive.

Calumny is a serious sin. Granted those forwarding this story may be well-intended, but they are allowing themselves to be used as conduits of deceit by someone spreading hatred. Do not be too quick to forward emails that may speak to your liking. Be absolutely certain they are factual before sending them on. If it sounds too bad to be true, it probably isn’t.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Sole" Man

“Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” - 1John4:8

God and love are inseparable. One cannot be eliminated from a person’s life without losing the other also. Oh, you may still have friendships and some concern for others, but that isn’t love in its truest sense. It is more likely centered in self-preservation. Some very loving families without a conscious faith in God exist, but God is still there despite their lack of awareness. So, what happens when someone who was raised in a God-centered loving family decides to reject God?

The first question that comes to mind is why would anyone do such a thing? That is one I struggle with. Did a certain event take place that traumatized the person, or was it an evolutionary series of experiences that changed the course of a life? It’s one thing to never have known God. Many wander through life that way, and they are not all bad people. I know some very good people who have never been in a church except for an occasional wedding or funeral. What happens then when a baptized man, raised in the Church, has received the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ, God Himself, eventually turns his back?

Generally speaking, people who enter into the Catholic Church from another denomination are exuberant and not angry toward the community from which they have come. On the other hand, people leaving the Catholic Church tend to spew some venom on their way out. This is not difficult to understand when viewed in the context of marriage and divorce, for if Christ truly established the Catholic Church (which can be historically shown), then coming into union with that Body is cause for joy whereas a separation oozes bitterness.

A rejection of God is a rejection of love. One cannot reject God without rejecting love. That would be a contradiction. While one can quit praying, going to Mass and receiving the sacraments in an all-out statement of Godly rejection, the love still tries to come in from family members and others who see Christ in everyone. Does there come a point where the rejection of God manifests itself, either consciously or sub-consciously, in the rejection of the love of others, and if so, how does one accomplish this?

One way would be to minimize communication with family members and others who truly love and care for the person – in effect, build an imaginary wall around oneself and fend off anyone who tries to penetrate. This may work quite well in families where faith in God is minimal. Showing disrespect for family members can create divisions that go on for years. The problem comes when some family members have enough love not to give up so easily. What happens when those being rejected turn the other cheek, apologize for wrongs never likely committed, and keep trying to penetrate the invisible wall?

We occasionally hear stories of a young person committing violent acts against his entire family and wonder how could anyone do such a thing. When all efforts to reinforce the invisible wall fail, prison walls may become an option. I wonder how many of those victims were family members who refused to stop loving. When God’s love is spurned, the evil one if free to move in.

Those living in self-imposed isolation cannot possibly enjoy life in the fullest sense. Like a sugar-substitute, they may involve themselves in other worldly diversions seeking the sweetness only true love can bring. They may try to find fulfillment in expensive toys, activities, or even drugs and alcohol, but all fall short. Nothing can fill the void left when love is missing from one’s life. Yet, one does not necessarily need a spouse, family or friends to feel loved. As John reminds us, God is love, and God’s love is available to everyone. All we have to do is open our hearts and let Him in.

Have mercy on those who are lonely not by their own choosing. Be a channel of God’s love with a smile and kind words. We are all members of Christ’s body. A simple invitation to Mass or a church function might open a window that might otherwise forever remain closed. And pray for those isolated by choice that the Holy Spirit might penetrate that cold exterior to allow the warm light of Christ to enter.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Child’s Love

I am writing this on the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States. Nearly eighteen months ago, I became a grandfather for the first time. That little girl is the most precious child in the world to me. Last Saturday and yesterday (Monday), I was able to spend both days babysitting while her parents were out of town and my wife was working.

Of course, all grandfathers are prejudiced, but my little girl is absolutely beautiful. Her nearly constant smile and toothy grin are enough to make anyone’s heart melt. She is smart, sings the alphabet song, and her mother is teaching her sign language to enable communication with her hearing-impaired great-grandmother. In the five days she spent with us, I never heard her cry one time. She took her naps and bedtimes without resistance. Yes, she got into everything and our house is far from childproof. I have also become reaquainted with the art of diaper-changing.

She calls me something that sounds like gampaw. Any time I left the room, she would call for me repeatedly until I showed my face. Yesterday during some quiet time, she snuggled up on my lap while we watched a children’s program on television. I nearly drifted off, only to be awakened by her kissing me on the cheek. I looked at her, and she just smiled. That beautiful moment will stay with me forever and I can’t think about it now without tearing up.

Last evening, my son and daughter-in-law returned to take her home. My son has received a job offer that will likely take my granddaughter some 500 miles away. He is a talented organist and has been trying for months to find employment with a Catholic parish as liturgical music director. Unfortunately, those jobs are difficult to find. Those are also jobs that require working every weekend and Christmas. Getting to hold my granddaughter may now be limited to a couple of times a year, another thought that brings tears to my eyes. I love her so much.

On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I would simply ask anyone considering an abortion, to reconsider. You may feel lost, afraid, and unloved at this time, but don’t destroy a beautiful child that will love you for the rest of your life. Don’t deprive yourself of those special unexpected moments that will bring everlasting joyful memories. Destroying a life is no remedy for a something unwanted that has happened to you. It can only make things worse. If for some reason, you cannot care for your child, there are couples anxious to experience those beautiful moments themselves. Choose life. Choose love.