Thursday, July 19, 2018

"The Handmaids Tale" and Christian Dystopias

A not insignificant number of students and faculty on the campus I serve think that “The Handmaids Tale” is exactly what happens when Christian principles inform a society.

In actuality of course a REAL manifestation of Christian principles informing a society would be 800-1900 Europe and the United States

Both were and are highly NON-perfect places

BUT as Chesterton said: “Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air. Catholic doctrine may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”

It is important to say here that no sane Christian should EVER let their guard down against the possibility that Christian principles CAN be misconstrued to produce dystopia. A healthy approach to governance requires a constant vigilance by a concerned and principled citizenry. We do not believe that if we get the right foundational principles in place, then we can all just stop worrying about our governance

But those who fear a Christian dystopia do not seem to ever confront or acknowledge that the places that have driven Christianity out over the last 1500 years have all been nightmarish hells-on-Earth

So for those who think "The Handmaids Tale" is some work of prophecy, what is feared is a FICTIONAL future unlike anything that has ACTUALLY happened in 2,000 years of Christian societies, while what is ACTUALLY happening now (and what has ACTUALLY happened in the past) in the places where Christianity has been expelled are either

1) ignored or
2) aren't actually known

And it is a terrifying realization that either 1 or 2 above is possible for educated people in our own day

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Homily: The Thailand Cave Rescue

A story EVERYone needs to read!

This is such a positive, heartwarming, powerful story of marriage and sacrifice and love

I hope everyone in the world is able to read EVERY word of this!

Click HERE to read the story

Friday, July 6, 2018

An Apology to Roncalli, my Catholic High School Alma Mater

It is a pretty jarring experience when you are 19 years old and a college professor who is 40-50 years older than you attacks your Catholic Faith directly.  When my Catholic Faith was directly challenged by a professor for an entire semester my sophomore year of college, it deeply affected me for many years.

I didn’t know how to respond to his questions, and in looking back on it now, it is ridiculous to expect a 19 year old to be able to answer the critiques of Catholicism put to a 19 year old by a college professor of religion.

When I entered the seminary 6 years later at the age of 25, I fell deeply in love with my Catholic Faith.  Throughout my entire time in college, I never stopped going to Sunday Mass, and I had felt a deep connection to my Catholic Faith even when it was being attacked, but in the seminary I realized that Catholicism is really REALLY smart.  I was introduced to the writings of now-St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and, going back thousands of years before that, to the writings of St. Benedict, St. Dominic, St. Augustine, St. Francis, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Mother Teresa, and on and on I began to learn the answers to the questions that had been put  rather forcefully and aggressively to my 19 year old self.

And then a question hit me.  Why didn’t I learn all of this at Roncalli?  Why had I not been exposed to this treasure trove of amazing, brilliant, spiritual, life-altering books, sermons, writings, etc.?

For a few years as a seminarian and even through the early years of my priesthood as a high school chaplain, on several occasions in conversations with brother priests, and conversations with other Catholics as well, I spoke negatively about the theological training I had received at Roncalli and bemoaned that the Catholic Church was not doing more in Catholic high schools to help students fall in love with their Catholic Faith.  My critique was bolstered by the well-known statistic that 92% of college students stop practicing their Catholic Faith when they go away to college.  I and many other priests and Catholics rightly look at that number with horror and we want someone to blame.  For a few years, I blamed Catholic education, even my own.

So here’s where the apology comes in.

Over the past several years, as I’ve worked with college students as a chaplain, I’ve had to time to realize something – Roncalli DID do a lot to help me fall in love with the Catholic Church.

I remembered back in a particular way to the recently retired Mrs. Lauck, who began a second career as a Catholic school religion teacher with my sophomore year morality class.  We all loved her.  And she told us right up front in a very vulnerable way “I’m not sure what I’m doing” and that let her and us take a deep breath, and we loved her so much and we knew she loved us and we wanted her class to work.  And she pulled no punches.  She taught us exactly what the Church teaches, right out of the Catechism, and she told us that we should save ourselves for marriage.  She told us if we were using drugs we were murdering ourselves and abusing the gifts God gave us.  She taught us that contraception was wrong.  She talked about mortal sin.  She taught us about Just War Theory.  She brought in a man she had befriended who was living with AIDS and who begged us to take a different path.  I wrote Mrs. Lauck a note when I was ordained and another one when she retired.  I told her that in the moments where I was struggling with major life decisions to go toward sin or Christ, it was often things from her class that came to me seemingly out of nowhere.  Even in her first year as a teacher, she showed us there was a Catechism, and she wasn’t afraid to open it, and she taught us that there’s a lot of wisdom in the teachings of the Catholic Church.

In getting to help produce a documentary on Coach Scifres last Summer, I was also able to reflect on the formation that I received through Roncalli athletics.  Coach Scifres and Tully on the football field and in the weight room and Coach Niewedde and Kratoska on the track barking at me and telling me, when I thought I didn’t have anything else to give, that I actually had a lot more fight in me.  This may sound strange, but I mean it positively of course, but because of my time in sports at Roncalli there’s a loving voice in my mind a lot that is cheering me on.  It challenges me saying “FIGHT.  WORK HARD.  FIGHT SOME MORE.  WORK HARD SOME MORE!  AIM FOR GREATNESS.  BECOME THE BEST VERSION OF YOURSELF.  DON’T QUIT.  FIGHT!”  And it was that voice that helped me through getting punched in the metaphorical face in theology class when I was 19.  I didn’t know exactly what to do, but when that prof gave me a hard time, there was a switch in me that said “Don’t curl up and lay down.  Stick to your guns.  Fight for what you know is right!”

I’ve also realized that I received an unbelievable education in Math, which became my undergrad major, and the way in which logic and reasoning and hard work and discipline were drilled into me by my math teachers at Roncalli paid huge dividends in helping me absorb the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.  Now I often think that perhaps the greatest thing that helped me understand my Catholic Faith was my geometry class where we learned that you can build an entire Euclidian Geometric Universe on 5 foundational principles – but if you change one word of one foundational principle of Euclid’s, an entirely different world springs from that change, and I’ve realized that it is why the Church fights for the unborn, and for marriage being between one man and one woman, and why the Church fights for religious freedom, and sex only within marriage and without contraception, and why the Church says that Jesus Christ was both 100% God and 100% man – because a world where those foundational principles are altered even slightly produces, eventually, a hellish alternative universe.

I’ve realized that, as a priest, I’ve fallen deeply in love with literature, and, as Russian Novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “beauty will save the world” – and I’ve realized that it was Ms. Fox who really instilled that love for literature in me.  I didn’t appreciate her at the time, we used to just laugh that she took smoke breaks in the boiler room, and when she was teaching she let you sleep if you didn’t want to participate in her class because I don’t think she wanted to deal with people who didn’t care, but a bunch of us WERE, looking back on it, drawn into an appreciation for literature through her guidance.  And we read a lot of the great dystopian novels like “Lord of the Flies” and “1984” and “A Brave New World” (all precursors to the “Hunger Games”) stories that then led into fascinating discussions about Catholicism, technology, what it means to be human from a Catholic perspective, etc.  These were books that I had largely forgotten until they were brought up in the midst of a rigorous seminary academic setting, and I began to recognize what Ms. Fox and my English teachers at Roncalli had given me in introducing me to Poe, Shakespeare, Hemingway, Hawthorne, Dickens, and countless other poets and authors from around the world and across the centuries.

The science classes would also prove extremely helpful in my “reversion” to Catholicism in my mid-20’s.  The more you study science and math, the more the two subjects merge into and lead a person to also ask deeper philosophical questions.  As Benedict XVI said, “Science is the adventure of discovery that God has left to mankind.”  Science doesn’t prove God in a scientific way of course, but I could not help but ask those deeper questions about life when I was studying biology in a Catholic classroom, and when my physics and chemistry teacher were talking about atoms and the big bang – I would ponder where it all came from, matter, energy, life, Earth – who made it?  When did it start?  Why?

 And there were the teachers that helped me learn how to write.  When Mrs. Helbing returned my papers, however many words long the essay was, there were usually 2-3 times as many words of correction written in the margins.  It looked like she had spent more time correcting my papers than I had spent typing them.  She never settled for my 90% effort; she demanded improvement, precision, and, perhaps most importantly, that I not be boring.  Between homilies, blog posts, social media posts, letters, emails, etc. I probably write 20 pages of material a week.  Whatever ability I have to write traces itself back to of course home school and then great teachers in grade school, but it was most notably honed at Roncalli by a team of people who demanded more out of me and my classmates and our writing than any of us knew we had in us.

But perhaps the greatest thing that I failed to remember in those years when I was wishing Roncalli had prepared me better to face the enemies of the Church was the Faith Roncalli instilled in me through the  Sacraments of the Catholic Church.  I don’t remember any particular all-school Mass, but in looking back I began to see that it just became a habit of life.  And the Church says that’s exactly what religion is – a habit.  So many leave the Church because they want to feel the “Spiritual Tingles” or have the “warm fuzzies” but religion is good habits toward God.  Mass.  Every Sunday.  And Roncalli made that a part of my life along with my parents on the weekend.  I’ll always remember Coach Tully telling my fellow seniors and I that we should think about morning Mass before our football games.  It wasn’t a command.  It was just an invitation.  I’ll always remember those Friday morning Masses with my brothers and Coach Tully.  Roncalli also provided confession opportunities throughout the year.  And of course prayer.  Prayer before school, prayer before each class, prayer at the end of  the day, prayer before practice, prayer after practice; while they were happening a lot of times I didn’t care about it in the moment.  At Roncalli, Faith became a habit that would get me through lots of struggles and adversity in my life.

I'm leaving out a lot of teachers and a lot of stories.  Roncalli gave me 6 awesome friends that I continue to lean on for the last 25 years.  Senior retreat.  Service projects.  Learning from big mistakes.  But I'll wrap it up here.

It took me 15 years or so, but I now realize that there was probably nothing Roncalli could have done to prevent me from being in a position where my Faith was directly confronted and challenged as a college sophomore.  Can the Catholic identity of any school be improved?  Sure.  Just like we can all always grow in holiness until the day we die. 

But we don’t learn everything we need to know about our Catholic Faith by the time we are 18.  The attacks are going to come, no matter what.  And what I faced 20 years ago is nothing compared to what 19 year olds face on college campuses and in the larger culture today.

I am now EXTREMELY thankful for all the ways in which Roncalli prepared me to not give up in the face of adversity, and I’m thankful Roncalli taught me how and gave me the tools to fight back against attacks against my Catholic Faith.  To all those who gave of themselves so that I could have those experiences, I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate it sooner.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Catholic Radio Interview - lukewarmness is boring

The power of a name and the power of a mission

Vacation Photos

The Teton's from the air

The Grand Teton - my favorite mountain

This sign in a Teton National Park bathroom made me laugh!  Is the situation on the left something that happens?

The famous Episcopal chapel preserved in Teton National Park

I was looking for a place to say Mass on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart.  Driving around Teton park, I came across a sign that said "Catholic Chapel of the Sacred Heart Ahead"

The inside of the Teton Catholic Chapel of the Sacred Heart where I had Mass on the solemnity of the Sacred Heart

BEAUTIFUL Catholic Church in Driggs, Idaho where I was blessed to do a few holy hours and concelebrate Mass

Fr. Meyer and I at Sky Pond in Rocky Mountain National Park

A statue of Christ on the grounds of Camp Saint Malo near Estes Park, CO

The words of St. John Paul II who visited Camp Saint Malo near Estes Park, CO.  St. John Paul II visited Camp Saint Malo in 1993 when he visited Denver for World Youth Day

LOVED this quote from the founder of Camp Saint Malo.  Monsignor brought youth up here to climb mountains.  At one point, half the seminarians for Denver came through Monsignor's mountain-climbing summer camp experience

Great stained glass window at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church in Estes Park

Our Lady of the Mountains in Estes Park, CO

Hiking into Rocky Mountain National Park at a much less used entrance to the Park!

I'll take Tolkien wherever I can get him, even if it is on a Colorado bathroom wall!

Fr. Meyer and I after concelebrating Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Chapel at Camp St. Malo

80 Mile an hour speed limit in Wyoming.  I am moving here!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Catholic College Ministry

Not saying we need to spend one dime less on the groups we are spending money on, but this is a graph I put together for a presentation to our Council of Priests.

We lose about 90% of our Catholic students in college right now. It is a war zone. Pray for us. We have some proposed plans for how to really up the game funding wise, but please pray for every diocese and every Catholic campus outreach in the country, because this is a pretty standard breakdown for most dioceses in the U.S.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

"Eat, Pray, Love" and Pentecost

a majority of this homily came out of reading and reflecting on a particular chapter from Ross Douthat's book "Bad Religion - How We Became a Nation of Heretics"

“Eat, Pray, Love” is a book by author Elizabeth Gilbert that spent 187 weeks at the top of the NYT bestseller list

Married, successful author found herself pleading with God – “I don’t want to be married anymore, I don’t want to be married anymore, I don’t want to live in this big house, I don’t want to have this baby”

And someone spoke back.  She says “It was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice, nor was it a voice telling me I must build a baseball field in my backyard.  It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self…How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine?”

She felt her voice was telling her to leave her marriage

This phenomenon of “spiritual but not religious” is what NYT Catholic columnist Ross Douthat calls “The God Within” theology that, as he notes, “Is the insight offered by just about every spiritual authority ever given a platform in Oprah Winfrey’s media empire”

Followers do not say they are rejecting Christ, they say they are being truer to Christ than churches with rules – and truer to Christ certainly than the Church with the MOST rules – the Catholic Church

Pope Francis has often noted that his favorite book is the novel “Lord of the World” – and in this fictional telling of the coming of the Antichirst, and then the coming of Christ and the end of the world – the Antichrist does not sell himself as the opposite of Christ but as the fulfillment of Christ – not as rejecting Jesus and His Church but as doing a better job of being Christian than the Church

I would like to note the problems of this mindset of “The God Within” theology or the Church of “spiritual but not religious”

1)      Problem: Nothing they say is “uproariously on the face of things” wrong
                The God Within theorists do not say abandon Christ and they certainly don’t say
Follow the evil one.  “Spiritual but not religious” or the Church of “The God Within” because a pretty easy pill to swallow for Christians and even an easy pill to swallow for Catholics

Related problem: Some of what is believed in this ideology is Christian.  The Church says, in some ways, God is NOT comprehendable.  God isn’t completely comprehended in one sense of that word.

Solution: There is the fact that we can never FULLY comprehend God, but our Catholic Faith also says there are important things that we must know and believe and profess
We can’t ever fully comprehend the Resurrection event, nor can we fully comprehend the Birth  of Christ nor can we fully comprehend today’s celebration which we’ll get to in a moment the celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit…we can’t get our arms around it, but that doesn’t mean we can deny it.  It is, in one sense, what makes our Creed so important. 

3)      Problem 3: Sometimes the God Within isn’t God at all, but just the ego or the libido using spirituality as a convenient gloss foits own desires and impulses

Solution: John of the Cross very strongly cautions that using spiritual visions and ecstasies is something that the Devil can just as easily and readily use as God, so a faith based on religious emotions and feelings can lead a person very quickly down the wrong path, eventhough that path might be coated with lots of phrases and ideas that sound like Christianity making them even more dangerous, while also making them more readily desirable to our Western Culture

4)      Problem 4: This “God within” stuff is that it turns us into narcissists – where my own promptings and desires become God speaking.  University of Michigan found that today’s college students scored 40% lower than their predecessors in the 1970’s on their ability to put themselves in other people’s shoes.  Isn’t that interesting: we think we’re better at putting ourselves in other people’s shoes, but we’re actually way worse.

Solution: My “Voice within” has told me to do some awful things, some very selfish things, and evil things, and other “voice within” was God speaking: our Christian tradition is very clear: there are several “voices within” competing against each other – and if I think they are all God, I am setting myself up for misery

Problem 5: As narcissism has exploded by every standard measure, what has typically served as a critique to narcissism has been eroded.  Christianity, despite being lived imperfectly by every Christian in the history of the world besides the mother of Jesus, has traditionally held in check the individual ego

Christianity: you might want to do __________ but don’t.  You might not want to do _______ but you must. 

But now there are tons of people foisted on the culture telling everyone that “your ego is God’s voice, and Christianity is bad and it is rules, and it is mean and burdensome and must be cast off!”

6)      Final Problem: It doesn’t help in the face of adversity.  Starvation.  Torture.  Martyrdom, Cancer.  “The Voice Within” has never helped me in the face of suffering.  The Mass did.  Eucharistic Adoration did.  Repeating the Divine Mercy “Jesus I trust in you” in the midst of the desert helped me.  What some would call the rules, the burdensome Catechism and the thou shalts and the thou shalt nots – that helped me and it sounds like, from the 2,000 years worth of the writings of the saints, it was precisely the dogmas and the rules of the Church that have helped in the face of loneliness, suffering, pain, temptations to despair and temptations to anxieties

But what every available psychological study also shows us is that people today are also lonelier, more isolated, and more depressed than ever.  That is to say that the new “spiritual but not religious” “just listening to the God within me” is failing

And here’s the point, tying it back to what we are celebrating today – the feast of Pentecost.  If you want to have your world ABSOLUTELY ROCKED, pray this prayer – come Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is jet fuel coursing through the veins of the Body of Christ.  It burns away all that is impure.  The Holy Spirit will lead you to all Truth.  The Holy Spirit does not ever point away from the Church, it comes from within the Church and points us back there.  The Holy Spirit sometimes confirms our ego’s desires, but other times it contradicts and reprimands our egos and our desires.  It calls us out of ourselves to the margins, it calls us to keep the ten commandments, it calls us to Mass, it calls us to our marriages and our vocations, it calls us to sacrifice, and it tells us that sin is wrong, no matter what your voice within is saying

Come Holy Spirit.  The three most dangerous words you will ever pray.  The three most powerful words you will ever pray.  Come Holy Spirit.

If you want to continue to only listen to yourself, do not pray those three words

But if you think that perhaps the common wisdom that has been stored up in the 2,000 years of lived experience of billions of Catholic people in good times and in bad in persecution, amidst struggle and difficulty, if you think that Christ actually did found a Church on Peter that would serve as a help through the maze of life’s experiences.  If you’ve tried it on your own but have found it only leads to numbness, despair, anger, frustration, unhappiness and misery, then pray now, and mean it, Say from the depths of your soul “Come Holy Spirit”

The Holy Spirit will lead you to the Church
The Holy Spirit will lead you to all Truth.  Nothing else will.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Some pretty shocking Mass statistics from Archindy

We offer 374 weekend Masses in the Archdiocese with a total seating capacity of 200,483

There are 223,815 Catholics in the Archdiocese

A Gallup poll from 2017 reports that 39% of Catholics attend any given Sunday, which means that we see 87,287 Catholics each weekend in the Archdiocese

So at our 374 Masses there are 113,196 open seats

In other words, we could cut 56% of our Masses and still have a seat for everyone

Cutting our Masses by 56% would take our number of Masses from 374 to 211

374 Masses per weekend requires 94 priests to each say 4 Masses per weekend. 

211 weekend Masses would require only 70 priests to say only 3 Masses per weekend, reducing the number of Masses per weekend by one for every priest in the Archdiocese and also freeing up 24 priests who could do other assignments, vocation recruitment, high school, college and hospital chaplaincies, associate pastors, etc.

Below is our first attempt, as an Archdiocese, to address the issue with a process called "Connected in the Spirit" which was led by a consulting firm

The process, by my count, netted a cutting of 13 Masses throughout the Archdiocese

There are certainly other advantages to a "Connected in the Spirit" process, but dealing with the glut of Masses would seem to be one of the top priorities.  And using the first round of our "Connected in the Spirit" process as the benchmark, we would need 12 more "Connected in the Spirit" processes at a length of 72 years to get down to 211 Masses.

As a diocesan priest in this climate, I am hopeful that the first time through this "Connected in the Spirit" process was "more gentle" because it was the first time through, as an attempt to help prepare people for the more dramatic changes to come the second time we move through the process.