Friday, December 31, 2010

We Honor Linus, Cletus, Clement, Sixtus, Cornelius...

Before entering the seminary, I never knew there were different Eucharistic Prayers. The Eucharistic Prayer is that part of the Mass that goes from the time when the people kneel after the “Holy, Holy, Holy” (the Sanctus) to the Our Father.

Before the 2nd Vatican Council, there was only one Eucharistic Prayer (typically referred to as the “Roman Canon”). Now, the “Roman Canon” is more typically referred to as “Eucharistic Prayer I” because the 2nd Vatican Council added 3 other options (Eucharistic Prayer 2, 3, and 4) along with several Eucharistic Prayers for “reconciliation” and another couple for Masses with children.

At a typical Sunday Mass, you will usually hear either Eucharistic Prayer 1, 2, or 3. 1 (the old one) is typically used on big days, 3 is used a lot on Sundays, and 2 is used at most daily Masses because it is the shortest. There is no rule on when to use which prayer (Eucharistic Prayer 2 can be prayed Easter morning if the priest so chooses) but the above breakdown seems to be the usual pattern most priests go by.

I have a personal love for Eucharistic Prayer 1, and probably use it more than the average priest. My love for Eucharistic Prayer 1 stems from many reasons, and I’d like to share those.

1. Every Mass is offered for an intention by the priest, but only Eucharistic Prayer 1 sets aside time to recall that intention in the Mass itself. There are two opportunities to remember intentions in Eucharistic Prayer 1. The priest says “Remember Lord your people, especially those for whom we now pray….” and later “Remember, Lord, those who have died and have gone before us marked with the sign of faith, especially those for whom we now pray…”

2. There is a part in Eucharistic Prayer 1 where the priest bows down and says “Almighty God, we pray that your angel may take this sacrifice to your altar in heaven. Then, as we receive from this altar the sacred body and blood of your Son, let us be filled with every grace and blessing.” I love it that it is referred to as “an altar” but no mention is made of it being a table!

3. Another element unique to Eucharistic Prayer 1 is the mentioning of all the saints. The first round of saints mentions the apostles, and the second part of the first group are some saints from the early Church of Rome, including some of the first Popes. The 2nd group of saints are all martyrs, 7 men and 7 women from the early Church.

The saying of these saints can be omitted if the priest chooses, and sometimes I choose this option if I feel like it might distract from the larger celebration going on, but I definitely include it if the Mass is a celebration for any of the saints listed in either group. I also love the fact that it is a nice rejoinder to all those who say the Church hates women – just as many women are present in the second group as men. Also, when rattling the names off, I am reminded of how we are completely surrounded by amazingly heroic people praying for us at all times.

4. I also like the reference in Eucharistic Prayer 1 to “Your priest Melchisedek.” Melchisedek is not actually an Old Covenant priest, he is simply a man who fed Abraham in the Book of Genesis, and was motivated by charity. It is a good reminder that a priest is defined by his office AND by his charity.

All Catholics would do well to look over the three most common Eucharistic Prayers; my love for the Mass has only deepened as I have had more direct contact with the words of the prayers of the Mass. In fact, praying over the prayers of the Eucharistic Prayers would make a fantastic “mini-retreat” for busy lay people and priests alike.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holy Family Homily

Homily from the Feast of the Holy Family - what does the Church say about families?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Feast of the Holy Innocents and Abortion

Today, the 4th day of Christmas, the Church remembers the Holy Innocents, those children slaughtered by Herod in an attempt to eliminate the Christ child. Interestingly, it was fear that motivated Herod to authorize a wide-scale slaughtering of children; it seems the same motivation is often in play with the decision to abort a child.

Herod feared what the little child would take away from him, just as today people fear what the unborn child will take from them if allowed to live. Fear today is often at play on two different levels, the governmental level and the individual mother's level. The government, on behalf of some of the people, allows abortion because it is said many places that we are running out of resources, and need to eliminate the "excess population" as Dickens so succinctly said it through the mouth of Ebeneezer Scrooge. Fear is at the heart of the decision to allow abortions in our land, fear of what the children will take from us, and we need to first of all admit and own the fear, and then we must ask if it is warranted. We have long realized that the idea that we will run out of resources is a fraud, but people still choose to perpetuate the myth and the fear train pushes forward.

For the individual mother as well fear is often a strong motivating factor in the decision to abort. Fear of an inability to care for the child, fear of not being able to do what one wants anymore, etc. The mother, like Herod, fears what the child will take away from her.

May we spread the word to our society that we have nothing to fear but fear itself, may we reach out to struggling mothers in need to show them they need not be afraid with us around to help, and may we pray that the scourge of abortion may one day cease throughout the world.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Midnight Mass Homily

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light

Midnight Mass Homily Text

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light

Questions are often put to Christians today about the effectiveness of what happened in Bethlehem, whether what we celebrate tonight has any real fruit to show for itself. Many will ask Christians “aren’t we still the same people before and after Christ?” Aren’t we still haunted by famine and war and violence and poverty and pride? Some people will even grant us the notion of sin, only to say that it doesn’t look like Christ has done a whole lot about it.

This line of questioning, whether one is Christian or not, is a display of the arrogance of our times – assuming we know what life must have been like in all other times prior to our own. People today often subconsciously assume that they know what it was like to live 2,000 years ago, that they know what it was like to be a human being 2,012 years ago, when in fact we DON’T know what it was like. We don’t have the slightest bit of personal data about what it was like to live without Christ or His Church. We don’t know, and just because the drama goes on seemingly unaltered to the skeptical eye does not mean that the story of humanity did not experience a seismic shift in Bethlehem.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light – when we read the Scriptures we see that darkness covered the land of our ancestors who inhabited that part of the time line known as B.C. There was no way to personal redemption and people knew it. The Scriptures speak over and over again about how the Jewish nation could only retreat further and further into a slavish following of the law of their fathers, but no release was to be found. Animals were slaughtered in the temple continuously such that blood flowed from the temple, but all knew it was not enough. The people indeed walked in darkness – they knew they were lost but they could not save themselves from themselves.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. We don’t experience the birth of Christ as a seismic shift, we don’t experience the birth of Christ as a turning of the world upside down because it is all we know. We were born in the era of the light and so the darkness that our ancestors stumbled in is completely foreign to us. Thanks be to God that we only know life where Christ has come.

It is not enough, though, to be born in the era of Christ the light, it is no credit to us that our birthday happens to have an A.D. on the end – if all we do is see the light but do not act on it, do not draw near to it, do not yearn for it, do not consume the light and allow ourselves to be lit up from the inside like fireflies then the day will come when we will wail in agony, first and foremost because we forsook such a prize. If the light scares us and we keep our distance, we will walk in darkness because Christ the true light is not something to be studied, He is not a painting in the Louve, he is not a masterpiece to be gawked at and admired from afar, he is to be internalized and consumed.

Now at this Mass invisibly, but one day soon for all to see, the curtain of heaven will be drawn back and the choirs will be heard again saying Glory to God in the Highest. Let us not gawk at Christ but invite him in to our lives this night and always.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Homily Video - Mass in the Evening

If interested, see the text in the previous blog entry.

Christmas Eve Homily Text - Mass in the Evening

Tonight’s Gospel is often skipped over on Christmas because it is assumed that the people will fall asleep somewhere between Perez and Shealtiel.

We don’t know the names and so many ask “why should we listen to them?”

Besides, St. Paul, in the 2nd reading gives a much shorter explanation of history – he stands up and says “here is the history of things leading up to Christ – Slavery in Egypt then Saul then David then John the Baptist and then we get to Jesus!

Some might ask, “If we just used Paul’s version we’d be 10 minutes closer to Christmas Eve dinner at this point.

So why the list? Why the 47 name long genealogy of Jesus? It is first of all important to realize that this is the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel – and no writer starts out their story with something insignificant.

The problem for us is this – these names mean little to nothing. To those reading Matthew’s Gospel, though, this list was hugely significant. These names were the heroes and villains, the saints and sinners of the Old Testament. There was no tsunami of pop culture like we have today, no TV, no internet, no movies no books. Jehosaphat and Isaac and Jacob and David were, to the people reading and hearing St. Matthew’s Gospel, the equivalent to Harry Potter, Lebron James, and the John F. Kennedies of our day. The names in the genealogy we just heard would have conjured up images and stories of human triumph and failure, of simplicity and pride and humility. The Old Testament to St. Matthew’s readers WAS the popular culture, it WAS their entertainment. It WAS the stories that they viewed their own stories through.

First of all, then, a quick sidebar, I’d like to challenge us to something – this year let us learn the stories of these men and women mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus. Let us crack open the Old Testament and familiarize ourselves with the stories of these men and women. In the dawn of Christianity some came forward and said the Old Testament could be discarded ---- that theory was quickly labeled and is still considered a heresy. The stories of the Old Testament are our stories as well and this genealogy comes alive with drama and passion if we know the people behind the names. When next Christmas Eve comes, may we be familiar with the cast of characters that we heard moments ago.

What we should take away from this genealogy is that some were kings, some were adulterers, and some were farmers, the list includes virtue, murder, slavery, hope, victory, defeat – the story of the 47 names listed in the genealogy of Jesus is the story of human history – the good the bad and the ugly. Their stories are our stories – what we need to know is that these people were not angelic, passionless, stoic stock characters, and neither are we. Christ came from them and for them. In the same way, no matter our state in life, Christ came for us too.
He came for us and he came for you.
He came for you. Do not let your sins excuse you any longer from the drama of this faith, do not think that your sinfulness is found nowhere else in history, do not lie to yourself and think that God may love some people but he surely couldn’t have come for you, to save you. See in these men and women of this genealogy yourself, and come face to face with the reality that Christ came for you – and then do something about it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Santa the Antichrist?

To listen to some psychologists today (and some Catholics), Santa Claus is something that must be done away with. It seems to be taken for granted by those who take this line of reasoning that talking about Santa Claus is a lie and that it causes inevitable psychological damage when children find out that Santa Claus is not, in fact, a real person. Santa also receives the lion's share of the blame for the consumerism that has crept into Christmas. Recently, Santa suffered another serious PR hit from an Archbishop in South America who said Santa should be eradicated from our consciousness and that he has nothing to do with the actual celebration of the birth of Christ.

A Catholic who would disagree with all of this is none other than J.R.R. Tolkien, author of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit. One of Tolkien's lesser known works is called Letters from Father Christmas. It is a collection of letters that Tolkien wrote through the years to his children. Tolkien invented a special font that he used for all of his letters originating from the North Pole, and many of the letters feature Tolkien's beautiful hand-drawn images of Santa, his elves, the reindeer, etc. Tolkien didn't just leave a note on Christmas morning either, there is a month or so of correspondence with his children each year in the lead up to the big day.

Some Catholics would probably argue here that Tolkien is not infallible, and indeed he is not. However, I think it is good to look at another writing by Tolkien, an essay he wrote titled "On Fairy Stories" (click here to read the essay). The essay, in my opinion, is Tolkien's most important work. It is an amazing discussion about the genre that he so expertly worked in, and he weaves in his Catholicism and a profound discussion about modernism and imagination as well. Tolkien does the best job I've ever seen of laying out what exactly the elusive but important phrase "the Catholic imagination" means with his essay.

Some highlights include the following excerpts
"Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make. If men were ever in a state in which they did not want to know or could not perceive truth (facts or evidence), then Fantasy would languish until they were cured."

"the expression “real life” in this context seems to fall short of academic standards. The notion that motor-cars are more “alive” than, say, centaurs or dragons is curious; that they are more “real” than, say, horses is pathetically

"The Evangelium [the Gospel]has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them."

What Catholics need to ask themselves is whether or not the fairy story of Santa teaches a deeper truth or not. Clearly Tolkien (a faithful Catholic who disdained the poisons of modernity) believed that fairy stories, myths, and things which feed the imagination are not signs of depravity or disease but are important in passing on the Truth. Maybe we should ask ourselves exactly how modern we're being when we think that a child's mind will be in some way poisoned by being allowed to think about reindeer, polar bears, elves, and a man who brings undeserved and ummerited gifts every year to celebrate the birth of Christ. As Jean Shephard, author of the famous movie "A Christmas Story" once wrote - "I was well into my twenties before I finally gave up on the Easter bunny, and I am not convinced that I am the richer for it." Along with Tolkien, I'm not convinced that Christmas (or life in general) must possess the scientific accuracy of Newtonian Physics, and in fact, I hold that life suffers and languishes precisely when we try to make all aspects of our lives and our feasts conform to that same slavish mathematically "real" accuracy.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

7th Graders and Scapulars

Our 7th grade theology teacher came to me this past week and asked if I'd be willing to bestow scapulars upon any of her seventh graders; she said they'd been talking about scapulars in class and that some of them were interested in enrolling. I was a little skeptical that any of them would actually want to do it, but I agreed to meet them in the chapel during homeroom to go through the ceremony.

The word scapular first referred (and still does today) to a cloth that hung the length of the body, front and back, and would drape over the shoulders of monks and religious sisters. This scapular originally had a use - it kept the underlying habit clean when one was working. The scapular essentially served as a two-sided apron. Today, many religious orders still feature a scapular as part of their clothing. Now, it is typically more often used to signify the promise of Christ - "My yoke is easy and my burden light." The scapular takes the shape of a yoke around one's neck, but, being made of cloth, is obviously quite light on one's shoulders.

The scapular has also come to refer to a smaller version as well, and is usually more like a necklace than an apron. There are many different types of scapulars that can be worn, and each is usually associated with some special devotion to Our Lady. The most popular of these scapulars, by far, is the brown scapular which is the sign of a devotion to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. In the apparition associated with the Carmelite order, Mary promised that if those wearing a scapular kept their daily promises of praying (either from Scripture or the Rosary) then she would lead them in to Heaven.

Criticism obviously arises from our modern world with regards to the Scapular, because some accuse its wearers of superstition and so forth. Certainly, to a world that is completely devoid of the supernatural, the scapular takes its place in a long line of Catholic Hocus Pocus. However, if one sees the scapular for what it is, a pledge by the wearer to conform their life to Christ and to pray daily, the idea that those promises would lead to eternal life is not that far-fetched.

Anyways, after explaining to the 7th graders in the chapel the various serious promises that a scapular-wearer makes to pray daily and to live a life of holiness, I asked all who were interested to come up and take a scapular and place it on the altar. I was shocked, because all but about 5-10 kids came up and took one! It was very moving for me to see the young kids so interested, even after hearing what all they were promising.

I've been meaning to have a priest bestow a scapular on me for many years. I've been living the promises for about 10 years, but I've just never gotten around to actually wearing the scapular because I can never find a priest to do the ceremony for me when I'm thinking of it. The 7th graders were my inspiration, and yesterday I had my spiritual director bestow a scapular upon me. From the mouth of babes!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Adam, Eve, and Mary

All were conceived without original sin - so what is the difference?

U.S. Catholic Magazine

I have two posts I'd like to do soon on issues stemming from what I consider to be a terrible Catholic magazine. This is the first.

Last night I was listening to Raymond Arroyo's "World Over" news program as I drove to Ritter's Christmas concert. One of the things discussed was the whole Bush tax cut extension that is getting so much news play right now. The political debate there isn't really the issue (although Arroyo and his priest friend were at least right in noting that politicians, once a tax stream is steady, start to forget that it isn't the government's money, it is still the people's) - what I found horrible was that U.S. Catholic magazine had an article saying that extending the Bush tax cuts would be a violation of Catholic Social Teaching. Again, beyond the politics, the fact that a magazine would say something that asinine pretending to represent the Church is shocking for two reasons:

A) NOWHERE does Catholic social teaching even start to talk about tax rates or anything approaching such minute details of governance. I am teaching Catholic Social Teaching to seniors right now, and the Church's clarity, breadth, and guidance are stunning to behold and examine; for me it has been a great class to teach these past two years. The Church talks about many broad issues concerning how countries and nations ought to govern, how workers are to be treated, when war is acceptable, how companies and governments can get too big, the importance of families, the right to life, etc. But to say that anything from the Church has ever even come close to hinting at the morality of tax decisions is completely false.

B) The people who write U.S. Catholic don't typically give one ounce of credence to what the Church teaches about anything else, yet here they are trying to use the respect that some have for the Magisterium (the same Magisterium that the magazine typically attempts to undercut) to pass off a complete lie as coming from that Magisterium simply to further their own agenda. At this point I am reminded about something from the Gospels about wolves in sheep's clothing.

The fact is that "Catholic Social Teaching" is very often lied about, misrepresented, and abused by people who otherwise hate the teaching aspect of the Church - often simply for the purpose of furthering their liberal political agendas. Interesting that when pro-lifers get involved in the political realm, dissenting "Catholics" accuse them of being one issue voters and politicizing religion. Maybe what pro-life Catholics need to do is borrow a page from U.S. Catholic and simply decide to make up Church teachings to justify their politics.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas, Advent...Christmadvent?

If all three were immaculately conceived, why the difference in results?

Working on fixing the scratchy audio!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Response to a Friend about Questions on The Church

A friend of mine recently wrote me on Facebook about my post "con-dumbs." I attempted to reply in Facebook, but my post was too long for Facebook, so I've decided to post it here since it also will then appear in Facebook. I hope it works. It takes a little deciphering because I have included his words, and then my response to his words follows, and I went section by section. In Word, when I was typing it up, his quotes were italicized, but those italics didn't translate to the blog, so I apologize if it gets a bit muddled at time with regards to who is talking.

"I AM Catholic."
In all seriousness here, Perko, after reading your post, I just figured you had left the Church.

"as a member of that community, I don't check my reason and common sense at the door."
The Church doesn’t ask you to check your reason or your common sense at the door, and I certainly don’t believe that I have done that. 10 years ago JPII wrote “Fides et Ratio”, faith AND REASON; we need both. The Church is built on philosophy and is supported by it. Many of the great Catholics through the ages are also the most revered philosophers throughout the history of the world. St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Thomas More, St. Anselm of Canterbury, St. Augustine, and in our own time Josef Pieper, Alisdair Macintyre, John Paul II and Benedcit XVI – these are just some of the giants that the most atheistic thinker of all time still has to square with. Most impressively, these men (and 1,000’s like them), separated by thousands of years, still come to the shockingly similar conclusions in their thoughts.
The Church believes that when reason is used properly and honestly it leads people to the Faith. However, as Anselm of Canterbury notes, “I believe in order that I may understand.” There are certain things that make sense only from WITHIN the understanding that the Church teaches the Truth.

"I don't have to buy everything Rome is selling to be Catholic; I know many priests who are in the same boat."
It seems here you are granting some weight to what a priest has said, when you elsewhere seem to suggest that what priests (bishops, popes, etc.) say or do or teach doesn’t matter. Perhaps you grant weight to the priests who believe what you already believe?
I certainly recognize that there are a lot of priests out there who are either a) genuinely unaware of what the Church actually teaches on certain subjects, or b) are intentionally leading people away from the Church. If I were Satan, I’d spend all my effort trying to get priests to follow me, because if they follow me, then they are going to lead TONS of people to me with them. It is an utter and absolute scandal the way that some priests approach the issues of faith. One quick story from confession. I hear all the time in the confession – “Fr. will you just tell me what the Church teaches?” I usually get “well Fr. so and so said that women should be able to get ordained or this priest says contraception is okay…” What an intellectually dishonest position to take on the part of those priests – they are standing on the foundation of the Church as priests, their position, their rent, their salary, their ministry, their leadership, everything about who they are comes FROM the Church, and yet these men chop away at the same foundation WHILE STANDING ON IT. These guys should at least have the intellectual honesty to get off the foundation and renounce their vows or something, but to just stand there continuing to whittle away at the Church from within is, to me, the most dishonest, damaging, and frankly disgusting things a person can do. A layperson such as you Perko certainly has more leeway in putting questions to the Church, but a priest that doesn’t believe in the Church – I want to say to these guys “Come on!” They are usually actually upset because they got yelled at by a Bishop along the way or got an assignment they didn’t like, and so they are acting out like children. These guys knew what they were promising (who they were marrying) and need to either live out that marriage or get a divorce and quit sitting on the fence telling other people that it is okay to do what they are doing.

"Rome does not preach absolute truth on issues; if it did, there would never be any changes in doctrine/dogma, and there has been clear shifts in doctrine (e.g. Vatican II)."
The myth is that Vatican II changed dogmas and doctrines. What actually changed, though? I’ve read the documents from the Council, and I have never seen myself, nor frankly have I heard it suggested, that the Church at Vatican II changed dogmas or doctrines. So, I am really wanting to know, which teachings are you referring to?

"And the Church is wrong on a great many things. I'll pick a softball here: women as priests."
Sister Sara Butler, a respected theologian around the world and a member of the International Theological Commission, has written a fantastic and succinct work on the matter titled, “The Catholic Priesthood and Women.” She goes through the various arguments that have been posited since John Paul II said in 1990 in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance….I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The main argument that the Church makes, and that Butler helps clarify as well, is that Christ chose 12 men. Since that is what Christ did, that is what the Church does. There are many arguments that people love to put up against this, most notably the idea that Christ COULD NOT have chosen women or he would have been dismissed for doing so. The answer to that, in my mind, is that the Christ of the Gospels was a man who, at every turn, upset the established order. He seems to have been going to the synagogue mostly to heal people on the Sabbath, as Chesterton notes, he was a man who threw the furniture of the temple down the front steps when he cast out the money changers, he left no stone unturned in regards to opportunities to break down cultural or religious barriers – and yet he only chose 12 men to be his Apostles. From this point Butler chronicles the many different reasons posited through the years as to why Christ MAY have chosen only men, and she lays them out beautifully while also meeting the critiques of those arguments cogently. I think you would enjoy the book and it would probably take you like 30 minutes to read if you still read as fast as you did in high school!

"as recently as mid-June, has declared that ordaining women as priests is a "grave crime" on the same order as pedophilia."
Historically, there have been 5 sins reserved to the Holy See (meaning a priest himself can not absolve a person of those sins, he must follow a process of seeking forgiveness through the Holy See). These sins have been
1) receiving or aiding someone in procuring an abortion
2) desecration of the Eucharist
3) (as a priest) breaking the seal of confession
4) (as a priest) absolving someone from having sex with the priest himself
5) planning or carrying out an attack on the life of the Pope.

This Summer, the Vatican added to the list, most notably
6) A regular priest can not absolve another priest of child sexual misconduct and
7) A regular priest can not absolve someone who has attempted to ordain a woman.
8) A regular priest can not absolve another priest who has been in any way be involved with child pornography
9) A regular priest can not absolve a priest who has participated in concelebration of a religious service other than the Mass (where the result of the concelebration is some form of Eucharist).
The Media absolutely ran with this. A google of “Vatican ordain women child abuse” turns up the SAME headline from many different places, which makes me wonder how objective the news reporting is in things Catholic. AOL, CNN, the Guardian, huffingtonpost etc. all ran the headline “Church sees ordaining women to be the same as abusing a child.”
This is not true for two reasons: a) making a list of grave offenses doesn’t mean they are all equal in every way. Some crimes are always more heinous to us than others, but nobody complains about the variance in things that our society considers to be felonies (some involve taxes and some felonies involve child abuse but you don’t hear people complaining that “The U.S. thinks tax fraud is as bad as child abuse). b) It is also important to realize that on a theological level the ordaining of women, or desecrating the Eucharist or breaking the seal of confession are HUGE HUGE HUGE issues! Certainly to our mind the abuse of a child by a priest is horrible, and no one would argue otherwise, but it is very important to realize that if a person really believes the Church is what it says it is and that the Eucharist is what the Church says it is, then all of the offenses need to be punished in a way that conveys the true damage that is done to the Church through any of these actions.

"Tradition is not a good response; the Church traditionally burned people at the stake for not agreeing with them."
Come on Perk! As the historian Regine Pernoud notes in her book Those Terrible Middle Ages, “The Middle Ages furnishes a choice field to all those for whom history is only a pretext: a period about which the public at large is ignorant, with a few recognizable names: Charlemagne, Joan of Arc, the Inquisition, the Cathars…and serfs making the frogs keep quiet. That is very much the average stock of knowledge delivered by textbooks for elementary education…It is so easy, in fact, to manipulate history, consciously or unconsciously, for a public that is not knowledgeable about it…The Middle Ages is privileged material: one can say what one wants about it with the quasi-certitude of never being contradicted.”
Have CERTAIN people done heinous things in history, even in the name of the Church, no doubt. But I see an infinite gap between saying, “certain people took things too far and sinned, even mortally so, in the name of the Church,” and saying “THE CHURCH IS FOR…fill in the blank with “burning people alive” or “torturing people in the inquisition” etc.
A fantastic book that I would also recommend to you is Atheist Delusions by David Bentley Hart (a non-Catholic) who regularly writes for First Things and other philosophical and historical journals. He notes, “Once upon a time, it went, Western humanity was the cosseted and incurious ward of Mother Church; during this, the age of faith, culture stagnated, science languished, wars of religion were routinely waged, witches were burned by inquisitors, and Western humanity labored in brutish subjugation to dogma, superstition, and the unholy alliance of church and state; …inquiry was stifled; the literary remains of classical antiquity had long ago been consigned to the fires of faith, and even the great achievements of “Greek science” were forgotten till Islamic civilization restored them to the West. All was darkness…Galileo almost invariably occupies an honored place in this narrative, as exemplary of the natural relation between “faith” and “reason” and as an exquisite epitome of scientific reason’s mighty struggle during the early modern period to free itself from the tyranny of religion…to be fair, serious historians do not for the most part speak in such terms. This tale of the birth of the modern world has largely disappeared from respectable academic literature and survives now principally at the level of folklore…sadly, however, it is not serious historians who, for the most part, form the historical consciousness of their times; it is bad popular historians, generally speaking, and the historical hearsay they repeat or invent and the myths they perpetuate and simplifications they promote that tend to determine how most of us view the past.”
Perk, I’m not saying you’ve not read your history, but that can’t really be a true rejoinder can it? “The Church has traditionally burned people at the stake”? I’ve read scores and scores of historical books (I’ve developed a real love for history since the days we spent together with Mrs. Helbing!), and most of what I’ve read would not be described as being skewed toward the Church. In the history that I’ve read up on about the Church I see saints and sinners, some good people and some bad who have carried the mantle of the Church through time, but I find almost all of the classical historical digs at the Church (Galileo, the crusades, the inquisition, the bad popes, etc.) to be utterly lacking as a real critique of the ability of the Church to have been or to continue to be what Christ and the Scriptures say it is.

"The fact is, the Pope does not have God appear to him every day in his chambers and list off what he should do. And the Church is highly fallible -- look at the recent child abuse scandal. No, the pope was not ordering kids to be raped, but clergy up and down the hierarchy knew about it for years and did nothing about it; actually, they did do something about it -- they actively tried to hide it and deny it. And this organization is supposed to be my moral guide?"
I hope it is clear at this point that I am no apologist for all priests (or bishops or popes) throughout history. The scandal has been a scandal in every sense of the word. I do think, out of fairness, we ought to admit that thirty and forty years ago no one understood pedophilia for what it truly is. Some of the moves, I believe, were made by bishops in hopes that guys actually would outgrow it in a new environment. Please don’t hear me as saying that the scandal isn’t a scandal, I just think that is one thing to keep in mind.
The Pope in his new book talks about the scandal as a volcano that has erupted from within the Church spewing as and dirt and fire on all involved – the Pope has gone around and at every opportunity has acknowledged what happened as highly damaging and awful. Again, for me the question is can the Church teach the Truth even if people within the Church do evil? For me, the answer is yes.
Neither Christ nor the Church nor the Scriptures ever taught that the Church will keep people from sinning, not even horribly so. That, to me, is key to remember when we think about Galileo/Inquisition/The Crusades/abuse of children by priests/etc.

"I was not saying in my response that I know "better" than the Church, I am saying that my mind and moral compass is just as good as anybody else's."
Yes, but is it as good as a moral compass that is guided by the Holy Spirit and the experience of 2,000 years worth of human beings that have lived before us.

"We're adults -- "because I said so" just doesn't work for me anymore."
There is general agreement that over the last two or three generations catechesis, (the teaching of the faith) has been virtually non-existent. I think our teachers in school and many of the priests we grew up just didn’t give us the answers to life’s important questions. Either those teachers didn’t know the answers or didn’t think we cared to know about them – so even though we were in religion class together for 10 years, other than the classes we had with the sisters at Nativity, we usually colored or meditated or watched crappy videos from the 1960’s that featured Jesus prancing through fields of wheat. We got no substance whatsoever. I still look back on the catechesis we got at our Confirmation and just shake my head.
Most Catholics haven’t heard the faith presented in a clear, straightforward and attractive way. I believe it was Archbishop Sheen who said, “It isn’t that Catholicism has been tried and found wanting, it is that it has hardly been tried.” I think when people hear the faith presented clearly and unabashedly it draws them in and answers questions that they’ve been asking for a while.

"In my profession, when somebody makes an assertion, it had better be backed up by proof and solid reasoning; even then, we are never 100% confident about any conclusion, and that must hold up to subsequent testing and reflection. I hold the same in my spiritual life."
Which is precisely why I go to the Church for guidance. The Church has been teaching fundamental truths for 2,000 years. Billions of people have tried out those truths, and usually, and I respect the heck out of that wisdom, and I’m even able to say it is a greater wisdom than my own. I’ve never heard anyone stand up and say “I tried living out of those truths, and I found them wanting.” I’ve heard lots of people huff and puff about the behavior of certain members of the Church and their sins, but I find great comfort in the teachings of the Church.
As Br. Guy Consolmagno, a scientist who converted to the faith and now conducts his science at the Vatican observatory notes in his work God’s Mechanics (you’d like this book to – VERY readable) “Like science, the practice of religion is fundamentally the work of an individual but is guided by a community. I spend most of my scientific working hours at my computer; I am alone, yes, but more often than not, I am responding to observations or inspirations or just the daily email of my colleagues around the world. When I go into some deserted church to pray, I face God alone, but I am surrounded by an edifice that’s been built up (figuratively and literally) by countless people before me.”

"Jesus himself was not much of a rules person -- he was much more of a moral philosopher who pushed, above all, to "love one another.""
I get this one a lot. Jesus is purported to have been really just a guy about love and he supposedly despised rules as obstacles to authentic conversion. Chesterton once noted that, despite the popular opinion, the Church doesn’t make Christ seem more difficult to follow, the Church makes Christ MORE accessible and soft and approachable. Christ talks an awful lot about hell, and he said that “not one letter of the law would pass away until he comes again.” Certain laws do go away with Christ because he calls us to a HIGHER standard. For example, people always say “did Christ mean that we should still stone prostitutes?” Of course not; prostitution is still as grave a sin as it was before Christ, but he now says we should love our neighbor as ourselves and that we should forgive people 7 times 70 times if they ask for forgiveness. So the law about stoning prostitutes goes away because of the higher standards Christ came to call us to, but those parts of the law that are not elevated to a higher standard do not go away.

"When I look at the Church's social teaching, I ask -- what about monogamous gay sex is not "loving one another?""
Here is a post on my blog where I go into the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. I think it does a nice job of explaining where the Church is coming from as quickly as possible. I’d be happy to go more in depth later if you like.

"What is it about women that makes them unfit to be priests?"
That Jesus chose 12 men, and that he must have had a reason for doing so.

"What is it about using contraception in marriage (to maintain strong love ties) to prevent creation of a life that cannot be financially supported that does not entail love?"
At the last Supper Jesus says “This is my body, given up for you…this is my blood shed for you…do this in memory of me.” This goes for sex to. Give your body completely, unfiltered, in memory of me. Don’t flush part of you down the toilet, don’t give your spouse 99%, only all of you will work, otherwise the dignity of the act is compromised. Eating is pleasurable, but if I vomit my food up after eating, that is not good. God has made things pleasurable that are important in the order of creation – and sex is no different. A decision to enjoy the physical pleasures of sex apart from an openness to life has been held to be wrong for that reason since the beginning of the Church. Here is a nice concise listing of the Church’s unbroken line of teaching on this:

"So we get to abortion and contraception. First, yes, contraception reduces abortion rates. See: Shears, K.H., "Increasing contraception reduces abortion", Network: 21(4), 2002; Westoff, "The substitution of contraception for abortion in ...Kazakhstan in the 1990s", DHS Analytical Studies #1, OPC Macro 2000; Rahman M, DaVanto J, Razzaque A, "Do better family planning services reduce abortion in Bangladesh?", Lancet, 2001:358(9287):1051-56.
I don't believe the Church's reason for opposing contraception is to "outbreed" the Muslims -- I'm not really sure what the true reason for sticking so hard to this one is, but I am sure that it is grossly irresponsible. Lack of access to any sort of family planning (and an establishment of moral/social guilt for using family planning) is a major burden on families in the third world, especially women in the third world. Access to contraception, along with education and economic mobility of women, is what allows people to invest more money into fewer children, improving their prospects for the future and limiting the cycle of poverty. While there are examples of large families that are both economically and socially successful (your own comes to mind), that is the exception rather than the norm, especially in the third world and in the poorer parts of the first world. Add to this that the world is already overpopulated; the rate at which we use resources is not sustainable, and as the third world (China/India/etc.) aspires to our standard of living, these resources will be run down even faster. We are 30 years away (or less) from running out of oil that is economically accessible to most of the people in our country. As energy stocks become scarce, so will food (yields depend strongly on fossil energy), and massive conflict, famine, and suffering become inevitable. The way to avoid this is through increased standard of living and fewer resource users -- the first will beget the second, but only so long as family planning is available. I think anyone would agree that contraception is a better form of this than abortion."
The idea that contraception reduces abortions in third world countries is still hotly debated, and the people doing research on both sides are mostly driven by a priori decisions that their way of viewing the issue is correct. What I look to is the example, again, of Mr. Teresa’s sisters work in Africa bringing down the AIDS numbers dramatically – and the numbers of countries where condoms are being pushed have remained unchanged or worsened.
If you are curious in looking at evidence from the other side I would point towards these - great compilation of analysis from doctors on the link between contraception and abortion an article detailing the Guttmacher Institute’s study on contraception and abortion
I want to include a brief snippet of some of the information that is to be found on the Bishop’s webpage which shows, to me, a very scholarly approach to the issues you raise from the other side
Fact 1. Contraceptive use is already “virtually universal among women of reproductive age,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) reports that 89% of reproductive-age women already are using contraception and 98% have used it in their lifetime. There are still unintended pregnancies and abortions because with typical use, the risk of pregnancy over 12 months is 9% with oral contraceptives and 15% with condoms. (
Fact 2. Contraceptive researchers and social scientists measuring effectiveness in large-scale studies have reached (often reluctantly) the same conclusion: increased availability of contraception, and even emergency contraception, fails to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. Studies examining the impact of emergency contraception
(EC) are reviewed at http://www.u Research in the U.S., Western Europe and China produced remarkable unanimity:
• “No effect on abortion rates was demonstrated with advance provision of EC. … [W]idespread distribution of … EC through health services may not be an effective
way to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy” (Glasier et al., Contraception 2004);
• “We did not observe a difference in pregnancy rates. Previous studies also failed to show significant differences in pregnancy or abortion rates among women with advance provision of EC” (Tina Raine et al., JAMA 2005);
• “This study adds to the growing literature casting doubt on the increased use of EC as a quick fix for rising abortion rates” (Hu et al., Contraception 2005);
• “Another commonly held view for which there is no documented evidence is that improving knowledge about and access to Emergency Contraception will
reduce the number of teenage pregnancies. Experience of use so far does not give any evidence of effectiveness” (Williams, Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, 2005).
Even AGI’s own 2006 “Contraception Counts” report, which ranks states on policies improving contraceptive access as well as on abortion rates, shows no correlation between better access to contraception and lower abortion rates. U.S. researcher Douglas Kirby concludes: “Most studies that have been conducted during the past 20 years have indicated that improving access to contraception did not significantly increase contraceptive use or decrease teen pregnancy” (“Reflections on Two Decades of Research on Teen Sexual Behavior and Pregnancy,” 1999 Journal of School Health 3:69).
With regards to the issue of contraception reducing poverty, I can only say that your argument is exactly in line with the work of Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood. Most of her quotations are horrendous, but her work on population control is widely believed to have been embraced by Hitler and others or her time. One of the best talks I’ve ever heard is called Contraception, Why or Why Not, (the talk has sold over 1 million copies) and she goes through and talks about a lot of the issues you’ve raised, and I think you would find it worth wrestling with. Going back to Malthus, the argument has been made that the population is growing geometrically and the resources are growing arithmetically – but this assertion has been proven wrong time and again since then. Aren’t you working on alternative fuels? Don’t you think we’ll find something besides gas in the next 30 years? I do, and I think God will provide, and I don’t think we should do something that is intrinsically wrong because of consequences that we THINK will happen thirty years from now. Also, a lot of the famine that we see is related to war and policies that our government and others have put in place. Everything I’ve ever read or heard is that we posses enough resources in the U.S. to feed and cloth and house the world’s population. Have you seen or heard different?

"But what is the Church's problem with contraception? Is "every sperm sacred", as Monty Python lampooned? What is wrong with sex for sex's sake? I've yet to hear a good answer to this. If the people involved accept the responsibility for the potential consequences (and using contraception is a responsible act to avoid those consequences), what is the harm? Does the church know better than a husband and wife what is right for their marriage? I don't know, but I wouldn't go to a mechanic if I had a heart problem; I'm not going to ask the church what I should do in my sex life, because those issuing decrees don't have sex."
Does every OB/GYN have to have a vagina? JPII said very beautifully in his book titled Love and Responsibility (the best book I’ve ever read), which is all about sex in the eyes of the Church, said in the introduction that although married couples have an infinite depth of knowledge of sex with their spouse, priests also have a different but very important form of reference as well – the thousands and thousands of people who come to confession discussing issues of sexuality and also the millions (or billions) of people through the ages who have said “We, as a couple, have tried other ways and we have tried the Church’s way, and the Church’s way is the truth.” Those two reference points together give me confidence in continuing to talk about sexual things as a virgin priest.

"But I will say one thing -- when you hear something from the Church, ask "why?" I need reasons, solid foundations of thought that stand up to questioning and testing, not assurances or answers."
Wow – pretty bold to say that the Church doesn’t offer that – that it doesn’t offer solid foundations that stand up to questioning. The Church’s teachings HAVE stood up to questioning and testing – our ancestors in the faith have not all been mindless robots

"And I'm likely to meet the first line of reasoning with more questions. These questions bothered me for a long, long time throughout my childhood and young adulthood, and the explanations were just not sufficient."
Again, as a child and teenager, these questions bothered me as well, and the explanations, from my vantage point, were not only not present, they were non-existent. I guess we found answers to our questions in different places – I do mourn the fact that so many of us never heard, in 12 years of Catholic schooling, one reasonable defense of the faith, but instead heard watered down and completely neutered theology. All I can end with, I guess, is that I stand within the Church as a sinner, but nonetheless I’m welcomed, and the answers I find there jive with my reason. I know some will say, as they’ve always said, that an orthodox Catholic is someone who has to have everything spelled out and needs everything black and white and is to mentally deranged to admit that there is gray in life. I think that, personally, is a major cop out. Of course I think there is gray in life – my Dad almost died this Spring, and had he died I would have had no answer as to why that happened. I have no answer as to why most of the world is infinitely poorer than I am, I could go on and on about the things that I DON’T know. For me, there is freedom in the laws of the Church, not the comfort of never having to decide anything for myself, not the comfort that the laws of Judaism provided to the legalistic Pharisees, there is a true freedom I feel when my heart beats in unison with the heart of the Church. As G.K. Chesterton once said about the laws of the Church, “The laws are walls, but they are the walls of a playground.”

Sunday, November 28, 2010

And Here We Go!

Advent is upon us, and I, for one, am as ready as I've ever been. It just feels like it is time.

I wanted to share this video which Rocco Palmo posted on his famous blog Whispers in the Loggia; it has already amassed some 5 million views in 4 days! It brought a tear to my eye because I think it is so profoundly Catholic.

The description from the people who pulled it off:

"On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation's "Random Acts of Culture" at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia. Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ - the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers."

This video sums up Catholicism to me - a chorus rising from the people of the world - even in the midst of our some times oppressive materialism - a praise continuously is lifted to heaven - the question remains for us - do we join in or not? May your Advent be blessed and may it be a season of examination, repentance, and a time where you are able to make way in your life for the One who came and who will come again!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I doubt any of you are waiting for my explanation on the Pope's interview...but just in case I thought I'd file a post.

I've realized yet again that the media has one goal - confusion. If you can confuse a Catholic on one thing, then you increase their chances of being confused on all other teachings. This condom thing is no different.

The quick back story: The pope sat down with journalist Peter Seewald from Germany for their third interview. The first two interviews were published prior to Pope Benedict's election as pontiff, but this third interview was conducted last year at some point. The book is due out tomorrow and is titled "Light of the World." Having read the first two books, I was blown away by how cogent and precise the Holy Father is even in real time.

Anyways, a few excerpts of the book were leaked by the newspaper L'Osservatore Romano (The third idiotic thing the paper has done recently - see my post below on Homer Simpson being recognized by the paper as a Catholic). One of the excerpts involved the Holy Father saying that on the issue of contraception to prevent the spread of AIDS in Africa condoms may at least be a first sign of conversion for someone like a male prostitute; the Pope noted that it may be a FIRST SIGN that he is starting to recognize the dignity of the other.

The press has taken this and sprinted with it. Seemingly every website you go to you see "Pope says condoms are okay in certain cases" or something similar. This is such an amazing twisting of words! He said nothing like that. As Thomas Peters said nicely, the Pope said if an alcoholic goes from 20 drinks a day to 15, that is a SIGN that they are turning around - BUT DRINKING 15 DRINKS A DAY IS STILL A SIN WITH DEADLY RAMIFICATIONS. The Pope isn't saying, "In some circumstances 15 drinks are okay."

It is important to first understand that the intelligentsia, the cultural elite and the powerful in Europe and the U.S. have long been pushing for contraception to stop the spread of AIDS in Africa. Some of these people genuinely are concerned with the AIDS epidemic, but I believe most of them are really just hoping to tear down the Church and her teachings on contraception in general and believe if they can get the Church to cave on Africa, then the ban on contraception in general will fall.

Here are my observations on the issue
1) The Church is not changing her teaching on the fact that contraception use, every time and in all circumstances, is a mortal sin. The Pope just traveled to Africa a few months ago and said that not only does condom use not stop the spread of AIDS, condoms actually cause the disease to spread more rapidly. Before diving into that, don't you think the Pope would have said then - "Actually, I just did an interview with a guy, it is coming out in a few months as a book, and in there I'm going to admit to a change in the Church's unchanging and unaltered teaching on contraception that spans the millenia"?

2) Why does the Church teach that condom use is not going to stop the spread of AIDS, and in fact helps cause the spread of the disease?

a) Practical Reason - IT DOESN'T WORK! It only takes one sexual encounter without a condom to pass on the HIV virus, and so in order for condoms to work in preventing the spread of the disease, there would need to be unlimited access to condoms - unlimited because the inherent assumption if you are passing out condoms is that you could never ask someone to actually abstain for any moment of their life from acting on their sexual urge (more on that in a moment). There is no way to get unlimited access to condoms for all the people in Africa. You would literally need to have condoms falling out of the sky over the entire continent continuously in order to guarantee unlimited access. In addition to that, condoms, in perfect conditions, fail about 10% of the time. Russian Roulette has odds of 1 in 6; apparently the condom people are saying "Africans, here are some slightly better odds, 1 in 10, and we'd like you to play thousands of times throughout your life."

This practical argument is furthered by statistics. Mother Teresa's sisters went into three African countries and taught natural family planning to the women using a simple bracelet of cord so that if they had AIDS they could lessen the chance of giving birth to a child with the disease. They also taught abstinence to the men and women already suffering from the disease to help prevent them from passing it on to those who were not yet infected. The results have been ALARMING (although largely unreported - hum??) especially when the statistics of those three countries are compared to the three most aggressive "condom solution countries"; countries who put all of their effort into using condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. As Wayne Laugessen notes:
"In Uganda, where there has been an intensive AIDS prevention program centered on abstinence, HIV among 15- to 19-year-olds has dropped from 25% of the population in that age group to 9%," Mulcaire-Jones said.

"During the same period in neighboring Kenya, Malawi and Zambia — where AIDS prevention involved condom distribution and no change in sexual behavior patterns — there has been no drop in new infections," he said. "Why? Because in ideal, perfect conditions — in which the condoms are worn properly and are in perfect condition — condoms fail one in 10 times. So in perfect conditions it's not much of a guarantee, and they're seldom used in perfect conditions.

b) Theological reason - it assumes that the people in Africa lack the ability to control themselves. If you are saying the only way to prevent the disease in Africa is to make the sex safer because the Africans surely could never learn to actually control themselves, inherent in that argument is that they are somehow subhuman.

So condoms treat people as less than human, fail 10-15% of the time, and there is no way to guarantee a life time supply to anyone, and yet this is the solution? The Church's solution is the only one that WORKS! Nonetheless the media and the powerful of the world continue to confuse with soundbites and a relentless campaign to promote contraception because they want everyone to be like them - nihilistic, sterile, and full of rage because there is no hope for a brighter future.

Contraception is always a mortal sin, the Pope still thinks so, the Church still thinks so, and the Church isn't going to cave on the issue - ever.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Open on Thanksgiving?

I read in yesterday's paper where several major chains are planning to be open on Thanksgiving day in order to try and boost the bottom line (click here to read). I think this is ridiculous and demands attention. I know I am planning on boycotting these stores (SEARS, Toys 'r' Us, Old Navy, and Gander Mountain) for a while because it just doesn't seem right to make employees come in during a time when they should be with their family. Working in a hospital through college I know there are certain services that need to be open 24/7, but to shaft your employees and ruin their plans with their families seems wrong.

The Catholic Church is very much for the average worker. Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical on the dignity of work, and ever since Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarrum, the Church has led the charge in making sure capitalism knows its proper bounds.

I hope you consider taking a stand against these companies as well. Let's put the family first again as much as we can.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Archbishop Dolan Elected Pres.

In what is a fairly stunning event, at least for U.S. Catholics, the Bishops of our country, currently meeting in Baltimore for their annual week of meetings, just elected Archbishop Timothy Dolan as their newest president.

The move is considered stunning in that the Vice President of the Bishops has almost always been elected to the role of Pres. but this year it was not to be. To be frank for a moment, I think that it is fantastic news. Archbishop Dolan, who just recently appeared on these pages via a video embed (see below) is a man of the Church. His opponent (the VP the last three years) was Bishop Kicanas from Tuscon, AZ. As Thomas Peters thoroughly recounts on his blog, the American Papist, Kicanas has an extremely troubling record, at least in the mind of most orthodox Catholics. One example that touched a personal nerve - instead of joining in the general boycott of all things Notre Dame by most Catholics and even Bishops throughout the U.S., Kicanas invited Notre Dame into his diocese to name three of his Catholic high schools as official Notre Dame feeder schools.

Anyways, my mood was kind of down today as I assumed that Kicanas would ascend to the presidency, but it sounds like it was not to be and that the big, jolly, intelligent and Church-loving bishop of New York has won the prize. May God bless him in his new role.

The new VP is also a fantastic man who I have personally met on a few occasions. He is Archbishop Joseph Kurtz from Louisville, and he came to St. Meinrad a few times in my final year and is just a fantastically kind, warm, and genuine man. He will do great stuff, and he also needs our prayers in his other role - head of the Church's defense of marriage in our country!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Veteran's Day Homily

A soldier lays dying in a desert or a jungle or in a field of grass on some distant battlefield. He turns toward his homeland and whispers, hoping his children will hear him as he says – this is my body given up for you, one day, do this in memory of me

A father heads off to a third shift job, his second of the day – he’d rather be at home when his kids head off to school in the morning but he lost his old job and now fights to pay the bills. He enters the bedroom of his sleeping children, kisses them all on the forehead and whispers to them – this is my body given up for you, one day, do this in memory of me.

A sister wakes up every morning at 4 am to bring food to the homeless. She cares for the poorest of the poor and sometimes, because of mental illness or frustration, they cuss at her or spit at her, but a voice speaks in the back of her mind, a voice from Mass earlier that day urges her on – and she joins her voice with the voice from Mass – "this is my body given up for you – do this in memory of me."

A pregnant mother rocks in a rocking chair. She has gained weight and stretch marks in places she wished she didn’t and the occasional cramp racks her body in pain, but she smiles and sings lullabies and whispers to the child in her womb – "this is my body given up for you, do this in memory of me."

This is my body given up for you, this is my blood given up for you…do this in memory of me. These are the central words of the Mass. When the priest says them, ordinary bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ, which is why we ring bells to welcome him.

But those words don’t just serve as a magical incantation; they are also the center of the Mass because they explain to us the key to life. Christ says if you want to be happy if you want to live life, and not just wait around for death, you have to give up your body, give up of yourself for other people.

We have the witness of many who have gone before us, and many who give up their own bodies for us now – soldiers, teachers, parents, friends – what we have to ask ourselves is “are these people who say this is my body given up for you” wise or are they the biggest fools of all time? Christ was pretty clear – there is no halfway – either Christ is telling the truth – that we really should do this if we want to be happy – or we should do the opposite and not give of ourselves and not give up our own bodies for others.

Do you think Jesus is telling the truth about how you ought to live your life or not?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gender Neutral Language

Something that has become more of an issue lately in all Christian denominations seems to be inclusive language. "Inclusive language" is pretty self-explanatory but it basically involves saying "brothers and sisters" instead of "brothers" or "women and men" instead of "men".

There are two things about inclusive language that I'd like to comment as I see it affecting us as Catholics.

1) Certainly St. Paul, for example, was writing to all people, not just the men, so his word "men" or "brothers" IS inclusive of all. However, at the same time, I think there are good arguments for changing the words of the Mass that refer to only one sex to be inclusive of all people.

However - it is very problematic when people decide for themselves to change the wording of the Mass. To decide for oneself to choose different phrasings for the creed or any other part of the Mass is heading down a very problematic path - the path where a person begins to say "I know what is best, not the Church." I think one day the Church may very well make changes to the parts of the Mass that refer to humanity to sound more inclusive, but when we think we can do it for them, when we feel free to make the changes ourselves, when we've already decided that we know what should be done, then we are heading down a dark road of seeing ourselves as the final authority who has had quite enough of the repressive regime of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

2) A similar problem to inclusive language is the issue of people deciding to no longer refer to God as "He". It is true that the triune God is without gender, however, when the prayer is addressed to God the Father, then gender neutral titles are not acceptable. Along those lines, a lot of the prayers that are offered to God are offered to God the Father even though it just says "God". For example, the proper prayers for Mass usually end in "we offer these prayers through our Lord Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit..."; these prayers, then, are being offered to GOD THE FATHER. I once read somewhere that liturgical prayers should always be offered to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. If prayers are addressed to God the Father, we need to use the words that signify that precisely because it reveals a constitutive part of who God the Father is. A father-son relationship is different than a mother-son relationship and to pretend there aren't differences seems harmful.

Given all of this, it would be wrong, then, to shed all masculine titles for God, because in the liturgy "God" = "God the Father".

The next time you are tempted to say
"for us (protesting pause instead of "men") and for our salvation" in the Creed or
"May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of God's (not His) name, for our good and the good of all God's (instead of His) Church."
fight the urge and know that there is more going on than just changing words.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Some asked if I meant that I get frustrated with people - NOT IN THE LEAST - what I meant to suggest is that I get frustrated with the Pharisees asking questions week after week!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Holy Day of Obligation Canceled?

Mike DeChant, a parishioner at St. Malachy and also a coach at Cardinal Ritter asked a question that I thought would make for a great blog post. He wondered if I might address the issue of Holy Days of Obligation being made "non-obligatory" if they fall on a Saturday or Monday, which happened with All Saints Day this week.

Most Catholics usually assume the decision to allow Catholics out of their obligation to attend a Holy Day Mass is is just the Church being more reasonable, flexible, and realistic in realizing that Catholics just aren't going to go to Mass two days in a row. However, although not on the Bishops' committee that made the decision, I think there is more to it than just the Church accommodating laziness.

The Church teaches that, out of a desire to allow celebrations to last as long as possible, solemnities can be observed from 4 p.m. the night before up through midnight the next day. This in fact is what happens every Sunday (every Sunday being a solemnity); there is a Saturday evening Mass at most parishes because the celebration of Sunday has already officially begun. This tradition in our Church is a nod to Judaism, which teaches that the Sabbath begins at sundown the day before.

Since the Second Vatican Council began allowing the celebration of Masses the evening before Solemnities (including Sundays), our country has grown to almost prefer those Masses to the Masses celebrated on the actual day of the solemnity.

Here we need a quick sidebar. The Church does teach that the preference should be for the Mass on the day of the solemnity, except for those solemnities which have an actual Vigil Mass with different readings, prayers etc. Off the top of my head, these solemnities would include Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost, realizing there may be others. So, if possible, one should go to Mass on Sunday, but it is perfectly okay to go to a Christmas Eve Mass or the Easter Vigil, even if you are equally able to go to Mass on Christmas morning or Easter morning. Also, then, the regular Saturday evening Mass is not a VIGIL MASS, it is better to refer to it as an ANTICIPATION MASS because it isn't the case that the Saturday night Mass has its own readings - it is just Sunday celebrated early - a vigil implies a difference from the day's Mass itself.

Let's now look at an example. Let's say Dec. 8th falls on a Saturday. The Church now says that the Immaculate Conception in this case is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Part of the problem is that now, in the U.S., the custom is a Sunday anticipation Mass, which would now be held while the celebration of the Immaculate Conception is still going on. This is confusing theologically. Plus, we have the issue in the U.S. that most parishes have one priest (if they aren't sharing a priest with other parishes) and a priest can only celebrate three Masses a day. That is another consideration that surely led to the bishops' decision. If we say that a Monday Holy Day of Obligation MUST be observed, there will be some who will be unable to get to Church on Monday, but the priest can't celebrate Mass on Sunday night as an anticipation for the next day's Holy Day - plus it is still the solemnity of Sunday!

These are some reflections from where I sit that I hope help clarify the issue a little, and at least highlight the fact that I believe it wasn't a decision just based on accommodating a perceived unwillingness of people to go to Church two days in a row that led to the decision to "cancel" the "obligation" part of a Holy Day if they are too close to Sunday.

Friday, October 29, 2010

"Why So Serious?" - The Priest As Icon

I hear quasi-questions from people sometimes about how I celebrate Mass. The questions usually go something like this, "Gosh, Father, you don't smile a whole lot when you celebrate Mass" or "You seem pretty serious up there" or "What is with the overly-pious hand-folding?" I certainly understand these questions; on the way home from Masses when I was growing up my brothers and I used to rip into the people who were "overly-pious." I'd like to take this opportunity to share with you why I celebrate Mass the way I do.

An Icon is a special form of religious art that is rooted in the Eastern forms of Orthodox Christianity. Icons usually feature a yellowish background with a figure of Mary, Christ, or a saint "written" on top (Icons are not "painted" but "written" in a very elaborate way which gives the art form its special look). Those who are looking for realism will likely be disappointed as the figures in icons are almost always somewhat distorted or misshapen.

A key feature to icons is their two-dimensional nature. Icons never are "written" with the "depth" dimension; this feature also gives them their unique look. The reason that icons lack the dimension of depth is very important to their spiritual nature - meditating on and praying in front of an icon reminds a person that there is a deeper "reality" or "depth" than the image itself. The icon is never an end in itself (unlike most art in the West) - it serves as a big flashing arrow to the "beyond" and serves as an invitation to "go deeper."

What is the point of this? Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in a series of reflections on the priesthood, talks about how a priest is to be an icon of Christ (this is an ancient teaching, as Sheen acknowledges). What does that mean, then, for the priest? It means, quite clearly, that a priest is not to celebrate the Mass in a way that would get people to marvel at the priest HIMSELF - he is to celebrate Mass by "getting out of the way" of Christ; he is to be a priest in a way that people are not distracted by his actions and mannerisms but instead are encouraged to "look beyond." It is for this reason that St. John the Baptist says "He [Christ] must increase, I must decrease."

Many priests seem to celebrate Mass in a way that does interfere with peoples' ability to encounter Christ; many priests seem to celebrate Mass in a way that encourages people to stop and look at them; things are either done dramatically or sloppily or both, usually with the desire (usually sub-consciously) of getting attention. Many priests seem to think that they need to make the Mass more "digestible," but that usually involves making it more about them, whether they realize it or not.

I know most see me and think to themselves "relax" or "let your personality shine through," and I think priests that celebrate Mass the way I do are often viewed as unoriginal, stiff, lacking in personality, etc. To this I would say that it would be SO EASY to be up there as a priest cracking jokes, being smooth, having a good time, taking the spotlight for myself. That would be SUPER EASY, but it would also be hijacking the Mass for my own personal desire to be loved and worshipped.

I abhor the thought of celebrating Mass like Jay Leno or some other TV host for two reasons now. A) I would be using the Mass for myself instead of being an icon, instead of getting out of the way of Christ, instead of being someone who celebrates in such a way that Christ, the Great High Priest, is made more fully known. I also detest the "Mass is about me" style of worship because it turns the Catholic Church into "cults of personality." If one priest is smooth, polished, tells good jokes, smiles at everyone all the time, etc. what happens when a priest who, despite being a good person, lacks that "charm" comes to the parish? Everyone is going to say, "wow, this priest is terrible."

When people ask the question "why so serious?" I know what they are wanting and I don't think they are bad people for wanting more relatability and hospitality and so forth from their priest. However, if we think about the long term spiritual effects of encouraging our priests to be showmen, I think the dangers become much more apparent in fostering that attitude among our clergy.

Do you go to Mass to encounter "Christ the High Priest" or do you go to be entertained by your priest?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cardinal Henri De Lubac vs. Nancy Pelosi

Separated by some 40 years in the lime light, speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi and Cardinal Henri De Lubac (a central figure in the Second Vatican Council) seem to verbalize the two mindsets that rest on either side of the way Catholics understand the Church today. Let us allow them to lay the two positions out for us.

Pelosi this week (via Thomas Peter's blog): "My faith is very important to me, and I view my connection to the church to be a very personal one — not passing through the hierarchy of the Catholic Church — but it is a source of strength and joy to me in my life.”

Cardinal De Lubac: "There have always been visionaries and rebels against the burdensome conditions of Catholic unity who have made a distinction between the visible, temporal, hierarchic Church that exists among us and a sort of invisible Church – wholly “interior”, wholly “spiritual”, “the luminous community of God dispersed throughout the universe.” In such a view, the title “Church of God” could only be applied, properly speaking to this vast…theoretical common ground of all Christian communities and all good men. It alone would be divine; the first Church, the “bodily” Church, would be a “human creation” and no more…Surely the demands of order impose on her an entire human governing apparatus that has nothing at all to do with the sanctity of the Gospels…if you do this, then you are giving a dream the status of an extra-mental entity and trying to separate what God has united. You are not only opening the door to general doctrinal anarchy, as Melanchthon was rapidly obliged to admit and to deplore; you are shutting out all understanding of the “eternal purpose” that God “realized in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are denying all Scripture for the sake of human considerations." (The Splendor of the Church)

And your winner by knockout in the first round - De Lubac!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Importance of Art in the Battle Over What it Means to be Human

Andrew Greeley starts his famous book "The Catholic Imagination" with the following:

"Catholics live in an enchanted world, a world of statues and holy water, stained glass and votive candles, saints and religious medals, rosary beads and holy pictures. But these Catholic paraphernalia are mere hints of a deeper and more persuasive religious sensibility which inclines Catholics to see the Holy lurking in creation. As Catholics, we find our houses and our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace."

Greeley goes on to famously make the case (one that has been made before him) that we need to recognize the importance that culture and art play in helping to bring people to Christ. Often times, we neglect this aspect of the battle as Catholics, although it is quite clear that it is our faith that has principally championed the building up of culture from the beginning. While some of the protestant reformers and their followers smashed statues and destroyed all artistic imagery in Catholic Churhes throughout Europe, the Catholic Church has always been about the "smells and bells" - and it is the Catholic Church that has believed that a walk into a beautiful cathedral or basilica can be just as effective as a verse from the Catechism at inspiring conversion in the heart of a sinner.

To that end I want to pass on an AMAZING short film that I hope you take the time to watch. It is from a recent independent film festival called the doorpost project. It shows the way for many youngsters thinking about entering the arts (writers, singers, producers, directors, painters, wood and metal workers, architects) that the arts and culture are IMMENSELY important in the effort to both destroy the culture of death and build up a culture of life. The behind the scenes documentary of the film is also important.

It looks like the embed function isn't working. Try pasting this url into your address bar:

Also, I've bought some films from the USCCB for my classes, but they have all been so poorly done and so deprived of any creativity that I didn't even use them in class. All the videos were essentially a lecture with film overlayed on top of someone telling you or trying to teach you something. Lecture has its place (I use it in class all the time) but a lecture isn't "art." This is the latest "filmish" production of the bishops, and I think it is a HUGE improvement on some of the other sutff the Bishops have produced over the years. It has its weaknesses, but I was very glad to see the Bishops moving in the right direction. Check out their very short video on marriage here:

Finally, check out "Grassroots Films," a group out of New York. They are really leading the charge in Catholic Film work. Find someone doing good Catholic work in one form of art or another AND SUPPORT THEIR EFFORT.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Homer Simpson is Catholic? L'Osservatore Romano's Relationship to the Vatican

Our seniors spent Monday at the IUPUI library learning about other ways to do research besides wikipedia and google; they actually learned how to pick out a few books on a subject!

One of my students is doing research on the history of cartoons, and he came asking for help. I asked him what he had found so far, and he told me, "Well, Father, I was reading on the Vatican's website about how Homer is a Catholic..." Inside, I laughed very heartily and thought, "This is why teaching is the best thing ever." I assumed that whatever he had read on the Vatican's website was something referring to Homer the Greek poet.

Was I ever wrong! The internet is buzzing with the news that the Vatican's newspaper proclaimed Homer, yes Homer Simpson, a Catholic. You can probably find the story just about anywhere you want with a quick Google search.

Unfortunately, because the paper doesn't come out online (neither in Italian nor in English) there is no way to read the entire story, so we are left with only the excerpts the media has chosen to lift out of the article.

Nonetheless, this is surely highly confusing for many Catholics. It is important to remember at this point that L'Osservatore Romano, while being the newspaper of Vatican City, is not THE VATICAN! In the past, the paper has had other controversial oped pieces and so forth, and it seems that THE VATICAN, in attempt to prove that it isn't overly controlling of the press, has cut the paper loose from anything resembling oversight.

So be sure that when you hear something was said by L'Osservatore Romano you distinguish it from being said by the Vatican itself.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Father Robert Barron Has a National TV Show

Fr. Robert Barron, who I've mentioned on here before, is a priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago and a professor at Mundelein Seminary. He has taken the lead on the new evangelization via YouTube and other services, and has a fantastic website:

Now, like Archbishop Sheen back in the day, Fr. Barron has a show on national television that discusses Catholicism and engages the larger culture. I saw his first show a few Sundays ago, and it was very well done! It is definitely worth a half hour on a Sunday morning. I believe the show starts at 10 a.m. eastern time - give it a look see.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Catholic Questions - Catholic Answers

Purgatory? First Saturday Devotion? Our Lady of Fatima? A lot of times I get questions about Catholic teachings, and that's awesome; I love trying to help people grow in their faith. A great way to answer those on your own, though, if you ever need a good, brief, orthodox answer on something you can bing or google "Catholic Answers (insert your question here)" For example, if I wanted to know about the Church's teaching on purgatory, I can type in "Catholic Answers purgatory" Also, has a nice encyclopedia of topics that will usually provide relevant scripture passages and quotes from magisterial documents.

I'm not trying to save myself from answering your questions - I'm just letting you know in case you need a quick answer or you want to know what I use to answer people's questions!

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Don't Ask Don't Tell" What Does It Mean For Catholics?

A student at Ritter came up the other day and asked for help on a research paper. She said she was going to be doing a big project on the "don't ask don't tell" policy of our U.S. military. She wanted help tracking down some sources.

I was interested in her question and I had wondered the same thing myself. I came across an interesting news report from Catholic News Services (certainly no conservative outlet) that warned that if "don't ask don't tell" were ever repealed, it would likely be the case that chaplains to the military would not be accepted from any religious group that openly considers homosexuality a sin (the Church only considers homosexual acts a sin, but most don't believe there is a difference between judging the acts and judging the persons committing them) (read the story by clicking here).

The military is already starving for priests as a large percentage of our military personnel are Catholic. I came across an article in the Phoenix Catholic Sun that notes that 28% of our service men and women are Catholic, but only 8% of our chaplains are Catholic. If "don't ask don't tell" gets struck down, an already underserved Catholic population could potentially be completely cut off from receiving the sacraments. Let's pray that it doesn't happen.