Archive for April, 2011

April 29, 2011 – Thank You JPII

April 29, 2011

I hope you had a great Easter celebration despite the weather.  If the old adage holds true that rain on Easter Sunday means rain for the next 7 Sundays following, well let’s not even go there.  I also hope that you had a prayerful Holy Week and had a chance to take in some of the Masses and other services, especially the Good Friday service in which our young people did such a wonderful job portraying the passion and tenebrae.  It is always a touching service, particularly the ending when the candles are extinguished as Jesus’ seven last words on the cross are proclaimed and the church slips into complete darkness.  It really sets the stage for the contrast of the somber tone of Good Friday to the joyfulness of Easter.  And one final little note … to those who did not feel that their Easter Sunday Mass experience was as fulfilling as it should have been – you missed a beautiful Mass at the Easter Vigil with the lighting of the fire, the candlelight vigil, the blessing of water, and of course all kinds of choice seating.  I’m just saying …

This Sunday marks a very important event in the Catholic church, particularly for those of us who have been faithful Catholics over the last 3 decades or so.  This Sunday the late Pope John Paul II (JPII) will be beatified, which in a nutshell means that he will be placed one step away from full canonization as a saint in the Catholic Church.  Normally this process takes longer, but an exception has been made for JPII, and deservedly so.  I placed a link to the EWTN website on the homepage of our website, www.maryhoc.org, which gives the schedule of coverage of the event which includes a vigil the day prior and the beatification ceremony itself on Sunday.  It also has a lot of information about JPII and his life and the process one has to go through to be canonized a saint.  I’m sure there is also much more information floating around on the internet – just do a Google search.

Despite all of the challenges the Catholic Church faces and all of the questioning of the church’s positions on social issues, JPII continues to be one of the most respected figures certainly of my time, and probably of all time.  He was one of those people that just had that certain “something”, a certain aura and spirit that was hard to describe in words.  There are 3 events in his life that particularly stick out in my mind.  The first was when he was elected Pope.  I remember this because it was one of the rare times when the TV was on in the classroom at St. Mary’s (it was a black & white TV, so you know how long ago we are talking about).  When he made his initial address to the crowd at the Vatican I remember him saying something to the effect that because he was of Polish descent, that he may occassionally struggle when speaking Italian, and that if he made a mistake, to feel free to correct him.  I think this showed that he realized he was really no different than us – he was someone who came from humble beginnings and someone who was willing to admit that he was not perfect.  Thus I think this helped him relate to us, especially with young people.

My second memory came with the assassination attempt on JPII in May of 1981.  This came a short time after the attempt to take Ronald Reagan’s life.  As a 6th grader I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of world I was growing up into.  Would this be the norm instead of the exception?  But then I witnessed the forgiving spirit of JPII, even visiting the prison where the gunman was and offering him his personal forgiveness.  I think this was one of my first lessons in how important it is for us to be good witnesses.

My final and most lasting memory was JPII’s visit to St. Louis in 1999.  I was privileged to attend the event.  It was quite a day.  Our bus left Chester at about 12:30 in the morning, so I tried to get a little sleep the evening before, but instead I found myself watching the youth event.  So we left and on the way we of course had to deal with the security checks, etc.  When we finally got to the America’s Center, our bus driver tried to explain to the attendant that he had to be able to get out of the parking area so he could go back to Belleville and pick up more passengers.  The attendant was not at all cooperative, and a shouting match ensued.  I know the bus driver wanted to use a curse word badly, but to his credit he was able to keep his cool.  We finally got off of the bus and found our way into the building, where I promptly set off the metal detector (guess it was my watch). 

But the long trip was more than worth it.  There were beautiful banners hanging everywhere and just an undescribable spirit – a feeling of oneness among total strangers.  I was not actually in the dome – I was in the convention center wing so we watched the Mass on giant screens, but the Popemobile circled around us before Mass, so I did get a glimpse of JPII.  What I’ll take from that day is not the harrowing bus ride, or the long day (and night), and not even the beautiful weather on that January day (thank you again Pink Sisters).  What I’ll remember the most is 100,000 Catholics coming together for a common purpose – to see the leader of our church and to worship as a family of faith.  Though JPII was frail at this point in his life, there was still an energy in that vast place that I had never experienced before and probably never will again.  I am always proud to call myself a Catholic, but I was never more proud than on that day.

These are my own personal memories of JPII.  I know you have your own memories whether you were privileged to see him in person or not, which is what makes this beatification so special for so many people around the world.  I hope you get the chance to see or listen to at least some of the celebrations.

As we Catholics rejoice in the Easter season and in our memories of JPII, we also know that there are many in our country that are suffering due to the extreme weather  – tornadoes, floods, etc.  We thank God for the miracle on Good Friday that no one was killed or even seriously injured in the tornado outbreak in the St. Louis area.  However those in the southeast were not as fortunate.  Please pray for a much needed break in the weather so folks can begin to clean up and rebuild their lives and so the farmers can get in the fields and plant their spring crops.

And finally, the royal wedding … thank goodness its over!  ‘Nuff said.

Peace.

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April 15, 2011 – Some Random Holy Week Thoughts

April 15, 2011

Well even with the extraordinarily late date that Easter comes upon us this year, it’s hard to believe that we have already reached Holy Week.  When I think about Holy Week I of course think about church … lots and lots of church.  However, I also think it is a good time for a little reflection, as it is really the events of this week that our Christian faith is built upon.  So I thought I would just share some thoughts that go through my mind as we proceed through the coming week.

We of course begin with Palm Sunday which marks Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem.  But as we are reminded of in the passion reading, the attitude toward Jesus changes quickly as He is put on trial and sentenced to death.  When we focus on Jesus’ death we of course focus on the immense physical suffering He had to endure.  However, in thinking about the circumstances surrounding these events, the emotional pain that Jesus had to endure may have been just as great or greater than the physical pain.  To go from being hailed as a King and being praised to being accused of being a false Messiah and being treated as badly or worse than any common criminal at the time must have been heart-breaking.  And of course He endured all of this knowing what His eventual fate would be.

My guess, though, is that the greatest emotional pain that Jesus suffered was the rejection and abandonment by most of His closest followers – His disciples.  It was clear at the Last Supper that Jesus was about to endure something horrific, and going to the Mount of Olives to pray cemented this fact.  However, all but one of His disciples would abandon Him in some way.  Judas of course betrayed Him, Peter denied 3 times ever knowing Him, and the rest of the apostles (with the exception of John) would go into hiding, fearing their own lives.  Archbishop Timothy Dolan addressed this in his latest blog as he talked about how unfortunate it is that so many Catholics have abandoned their faith because of the actions of a relatively small number of priests.  You can read this blog at blog.archny.org.  Jesus, literally minutes after what would be the first “ordination” of priests, saw all but one of those individuals He put so much trust in abandon Him in some way.  However, He found it in His heart not only to forgive them, but entrusted them to lead His church after His Ascension into heaven.  I’m not saying that priests who performed these horrific acts of sexual abuse should be allowed to minister again.  What I am saying and I think what Abp. Dolan is saying is that the acts of these imperfect individuals should not be grounds to abandon the faith that has been so entrenched into us.  Our faith is not directed in the Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, or Priests.  Our faith should be in Jesus, who we know will never sin, who we know will never abandon us, who we know is fully divine AND fully human, who we know will reward us for believing in Him and following his example.

The question that always appears in one form or another during Holy Week is why Good Friday is called “good”.  Deep down we Catholics know the answer to this question – that it is because of Jesus dying on the cross for us so that we may receive salvation for our sins.  Yet when we hear the passion story, when we hear how the crowds turned against Jesus, when we hear the details of all of the suffering, it still takes us aback.  We need to be reminded, though, that not only was Jesus willing to listen to His father and endure the suffering, but it was His desire to do His Father’s will.  The manner in which Jesus handled himself and His willingness to sacrifice for us truly makes this a “good” day.  And of course the events of this day would lead us to the greatest moment in history.

Easter Sunday, much like Christmas, brings with it a spirit of renewal and a sense of a new beginning – a feeling that everything will be OK.  It is a time to come together with family and friends.  It tells us that the harsh, cruel, long winter is coming to an end, and we look forward to the sense of “newness” that Easter brings.  However, much like Christmas, it seems that once the Easter celebration is over, it is indeed over.  It completely leaves our minds, when in actuality the Easter Season is 50 days long.  Easter is the event that defines who we are as Christians.  It culminates our journey from the darkness to light.  It is certainly worthy of a lengthy time of remembrance and celebration.

I was absolutely infuriated the other day when I saw the news story about the school in Seattle that told a student that Easter eggs must now be called “spring spheres” in order to avoid a reference to religion.  We are expected to tailor our language and beliefs for those who do not believe in God, yet we cannot even maintain the ability to recognize the greatest event in the history of Christianity.  In college I took a course on food products, and one day the professor was talking about animal products and meat production.  In a “soapbox” moment, the professor suddenly began to talk about those who choose not to eat meat.  He said, “I have no problem with someone choosing to be a vegetarian.  It is their own choice.  My problem is with people who tell me that I’m supposed to be one, because I don’t want to be one!”.  I’m reminded of this anytime I see a story such as this.  As a Christian, I have a duty to try to live as Jesus tells me; to be a witness to those who do not share my beliefs, and to pray that those who have not accepted Jesus as part of their lives will have a change of heart.  But in the end, ultimately it is that person’s own decision.  Likewise, I have the right to live as a Catholic Christian because I believe that is what’s best for me, and I have the right to practice my faith as I choose.  Those who want to take away any references to God from schools and other public institutions are not only offending me, but are also chipping away at my basic human rights.  We as Christians have an obligation to make our voices heard and make it clear that we wil not tolerate what amounts to censorship.

I’m sure it seems I’ve been rambling, but I just wanted to share some of my thoughts with you as we approach this most Holy Week of the year.  You are always welcome to share your thoughts as well – feel free to leave a comment.

With all of the time to spend in church and other activities going on this coming week, I plan to take a week off from the blog (all right, who’s clapping?).  I hope this Holy Week is a time of spiritual renewal for you, and I wish you and your family a joyous Easter.  May the Risen Lord bestow His abundant blessings upon you throughout the ENTIRE Easter season.

I’ll see you in church!  Peace.

April 8, 2011 – Challenging the Dooomsday Scenario

April 8, 2011

Well I didn’t get much guff over my little April fools joke last week, so I have come to the conclusion that either people didn’t mind a little humor, or people are still celebrating without realizing that it was a joke.  We’ll see what happens.

WhenI was in college I took a general studies class called “Survival of Man.”  This class was taught by a team of professors from different fields, but the general theme of the class basically was how we can continue to thrive as a human race when resources such as oil, coal, rain forests, etc. are limited.  We were given suggestions such as drinking beer solely from kegs, eating only raw apples instead of wasting resources on containers made for applesauce, sending the same Christmas card back and forth each year, requiring a license to have children, etc.  However, there was one section of the class which was taught by an agriculture professor titled “Challenging the Doomsday Scenario.”  This professor argued that things weren’t actually as bad as the other professors were letting on; that there are actually abundant natural resources to last for hundreds, even thousands of years.

I bring this up not to start an argument about the environment.  I was reminded of this when I read an article this past week by Bishop Thomas Tobin, the Bishop of Providence, Rhode Island.  The article, titled “The Sky is Falling!  Really?”, could have easily also been titled “Challenging the Doomsday Scenario.”  In this article, Bishop Tobin acknowledges that there are many forces that would seem to spell doom for the Catholic Church such as the sex abuse scandal, etc.  However, Bishop Tobin does a great job of outlining many reasons to be hopeful and excited about the current state of the Catholic Church and where it is going in the future.  I strongly urge you to read this article.  Here is the link to it:

www.thericatholic.com/opinion/detail.html?sub_id=3973

The article drew my close attention for a couple of reasons.  First of all, I agree with the premise of it – that despite all of the challenges and problems that the Catholic Church faces, there is still so much good work going on and so many dedicated people getting the work done.  I have touched on this before, but its an issue that I think deserves a repeat look.

If I may borrow from Bishop Tobin’s outline, I fully realize that our own local church faces its own share of challenges.  In our local community, we struggle to maintain our school in the face of a declining base of children to draw from and skyrocketing costs.  We see a population that is trending older, and as folks pass on, we continue to see a decline in our membership, and thus a decline in the amount of people in the pews on the weekend.  We continue to have to spend large amounts of resources to maintain our buildings which are all showing the effects of old age.  We continue to try to seek ways in which we can get our young people more involved in parish life.

In our Diocese, we see the continued effects of the sexual abuse crisis in the forms of a shortage of clergy, spending a large amount of resources to aid abuse victims and battle lawsuits, and of course continuing to sport the proverbial black eye.  We see human resources and programs having to be cut due to a decline in contributions toward the Catholic Services and Ministry Appeal.  We see many people disagreeing with the decisions and the approach of our Bishop.  And the list can go on and on.  I can certainly understand why some people, Catholics included, would forsee a “doomsday scenario” for our religion.  However, as an active parishioner and as a current or former member of several diocesan committees, I see a much different view of the church, much as Bishop Tobin does.

I see a church that despite limited resources and a declining base of students, continues to maintain a school of excellent quality thanks to the dedication of wonderful teachers, staff, parents, volunteers and benefactors.  I see a church that shows great care and concern for those who are ill, shut-in, in nursing homes, hospitals, or anyone else who is hurting, whether that care be in the form of visitations, contributions, or of course prayer.

I see a church which despite a continuing struggling economy, has stepped up big time with increased weekly contributions and a record-breaking gala auction.  I see a church which has a pastor that shows great care for its people and property, and is not afraid to show his human side which allows him to relate to people from all walks of life.

I see a Diocesan church with a dedicated group of clergy who are willing to take on multiple tasks, yet in the end will put their people as their main emphasis.  I see a church which continues to maintain agencies such as Catholic Urban Programs, Catholic Social Services, Catholic hospitals and schools, and evangelizes in creative ways.  I see a church in which lay people continue to take a more active role because they believe in their faith and they want to see that faith passed on to future generations.

Again, I could go on and on.  The bottom line is that I see a church much as Bishop Tobin does – a church that has not only survived past challenges but has thrived, and I see the ingredients to not only continue to survive, but to come out on the other side as a stronger church, a church that will not compromise its principles even though the pressure continues to grow to do so, and a church that will emphasize the ideals of a true Christian – to believe in the one true God AND to be an example to others by performing works of mercy.

The other thing that drew me to this article was the genuine enthusiasm that Bishop Tobin showed when writing about the church.  You could feel the positive vibe coming off of the screen.  I think people respond to leadership that sets a positive tone, and their attitude becomes a more positive one as well.  I pray that the leadership of our Diocese may choose a more positive tone in its interaction and correspondence with people.

As I have said before, though I may not agree with all of the church’s policies, and though I certainly acknowledge that we have more than our share of problems to deal with both here and afar, my love for my church and my faith is not compromised one bit, and I see so many positive things happening that I know we will have a strong church for years to come, and I am more than willing to challenge the “doomsday scenario” that so many have forecasted.

Can we officially declare that it is spring?  Let’s hope so.  Enjoy the mild weather!  Peace.

April 1, 2011 – There’s More To the Commandments

April 1, 2011

Before I get into the meat of my blog, I have something that I need to inform you of, and I think the best way to say it is to not beat around the bush and just come out with it.  After much thought and consideration, I have decided that this will be my last blog entry.  I have greatly enjoyed doing this and I appreciate the compliments I have received since I began doing this a few years ago, but over time I have found it more and more difficult to come up with things to write about, and it has gotten to the point that I just can’t take the burden of it anymore.  So I have made the hard decision to focus on other things.  Thank you for your support of this little project, and … um, oh by the way, I am writing this on April 1, so … Happy April Fools!  I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.  As I tell people, it’s not me, it’s the medication.

Now that I’ve had a little fun, let’s get a little more serious.  I must begin by saying THANK YOU to you and everyone who helped and contributed in any way to make our Dinner Auction a HUGE success.  I don’t have the final numbers yet, but it sounds like we will not only beat our record, but we will obliterate it!  What a great blessing considering the weather we had that day and the current state of our economy.  You are to be congratulated for a job well done, and it’s one more example that God truly does answer prayers.

It’s a blogger’s dream when without any effort a topic just falls into your lap.  As you may or may not know, during Lent on most Wednesday evenings Larry Gross and I conduct a Communion service in church.  It is a good way to offer something extra for folks who can’t make it to Mass or other things during the day, and it gives Larry and I an opportunity to stay in practice in case an emergent situation would arise and no priest were available for weekend Mass.  If you feel the need to pray, receive the Eucharist and listen to some bad singing, please come and join us.  Anyway, we are not to preach a full homily, but we can offer a brief reflection on the readings of the day.  Larry said that as he was researching for his reflection he discovered that the Old Testament actually has more than 10 commandments – that there are actually 613.  I had heard this before, but out of curiosity I did a little research of my own.  The Jewish Torah, their religious “guide”, does contain all of these commandments.  However, many of these were aimed at the priests and religious leaders of the time.  So our 10 commandments are actually just part of a much broader list, sort of a “Top 10” list if you will.

Of course my first thought when I was reading about this was that I have enough trouble following 10 commandments, what in the world would I do with 613?  But the commandments are a true guide to life for us Christians.  Those who do not fully understand the commandments seem to consider them a hinderance to leading a good life – I can’t do this, I can’t do that.  Us Christians, however, realize that the commandments hold the key to a fulfilling life and a better shot at eternal life with God.  Some of what the commandments tell us of course is obvious – believe in the one true God, go to church on Sunday, don’t committ murder, don’t have intimate relations with someone other than your spouse, don’t take other people’s stuff and don’t be jealous of others or what they have.  But as you dig a little deeper into what they are really telling us, as I share with my religion class, you find much deeper meaning.

For example, the second commandment that says to not take the name of the Lord God in vain, can be taken as to not use God’s name when we are upset, but I think there is a deeper meaning – that we should not blame God when things are not going our way and that we should not direct our anger at Him.  We should respect and revere the name of God,  just as we expect our name to be respected. 

The fifth commandment tells us that we should not kill.  The obvious meaning is that we should not physically kill another person, but there are other ways and means that we can kill.  We can kill a person’s spirit when we put them down or deny them their freedoms that they have a right to.  We can also kill through bigotry and hatred, and by not paying attention to our own health.  So we can kill through means of mental and emotional abuse as well as physical.

The seventh commandment tells us that we should not steal, which obviously tells us that we should not take someone else’s property against their will.  It also tells us, however, that we should work for justice in doing what we can to fight hunger and poverty and to help and respect those in our society who are most vulnerable.

The tenth commandment tells us that we should not covet our neighbor’s goods.  We take the obvious meaning as being that we should not be envious of what others have.  The deeper meaning though is that we should not be greedy, that we should practice restraint in a society that puts such a great emphasis on material goods.  As Christian stewards, we should use our posessions wisely and share what we have with those in need.

These are just a few examples of course.  The bottom line is that we should not think of the commandments as just a list of “do not’s”, or laws that deprive us of things, but as a guide to how God wishes us and the society around us to conduct ourselves.  Will we fail to live up to these commandments at times?  Of course.  I know I have.  We are human after all and we will make mistakes and misjudgements.  But if we and those around us would do our best to live by God’s wishes, social justice would be ours for the taking.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church does a wonderful job in explaining the deeper meaning of the commandments, and the “Fanning the Flame” program the Diocese is offering next year will also study the commandments in depth.

Well us Cardinal fans got a double dose of bad news the last couple of days.  Besides losing the first game, we also lost one of our best players to an appendectomy.  I have giving up on wishing for a pennant.  Just finish ahead of the Cubs.  I won’t be envious of the fans of other teams; just finish ahead of the Cubs … please!

Have a great week.  God willing, I’ll be back about this time next wee, (no foolin’).  Peace.