Archive for January, 2012

January 27, 2012 – In Defense of Our Conscience

January 27, 2012

I’ve never worked in a nuclear facility but I know that when things start overheating and there is danger of a meltdown that all of the alarms start going off and all of the emergency procedures go into place.  This past week I felt like my brain was in danger of meltdown and I could hear all of the alarms start going off.  Between trying to follow the news of the past week, trying to absorb all of the church-related information, doing my reading for “Fanning the Flame”, trying to sort out the political races, and on and on, I think I went into “information overload”.  Hopefully I can relieve some of the pressure by blurting out another blog and let my brain cool off a little bit.

Over the several years I’ve been doing this, I’ve taken many twists and turns as to what I write about.  I’ve talked about happenings around the parish and diocese, sports, food, theology, and other things.  I’ve tried to stay away from real “heavy-duty” issues like politics and federal policies.  But there is a federal mandate out there right now that we as Catholics need to make ourselves aware of and that we need to make our voice heard on.

I’m not a journalist or a policy expert, but I’ll try to explain this in a nutshell.  This past August the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued a mandate requiring almost all private health insurance plans to cover contraceptives and sterilization procedures (including some drugs that can induce abortion).  This mandate was challenged by many organizations.  However, this past Friday, HHS decided not to make any major changes in this rule, and they are giving religious employers one year to comply with the mandate.  Religious employers would only be exempt if they hire and serve mainly people of their own faith and if they qualify as a church or religious order.  So for example, Catholic hospitals would not be exempt.  Schools would not be exempt.  Families who purchase their own health insurance would be required to purchase a plan that includes coverage for these procedures, even though it may violate their religious beliefs and consciences.

Catholic leaders believe that this is a direct attack on our First Amendment rights, which says that we are free to live by our religious beliefs.  This would be the first time in our history in which citizens would be forced to directly purchase something that violates their beliefs.  This mandate was created after Congress asked the HHS to develop a list of services all health plans should provide without co-pay.  Instead of strictly focusing on prevention of diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, HHS took it upon itself to include methods to prevent and end pregnancy, which is not a disease.

Some states have similar mandates – however they have a wider conscience exemption, or at least allow employers to choose a plan without prescription drug coverage if they object to having to pay for anti-pregnancy procedures.  The HHS mandate forces virtually all insurance plans to offer such services.

There are some documents out there that explain what is going on much better than I can.  Below are the links to these documents.  Please read them and share them with others:

www.diobelle.org/documents/BishopBraxton-Backgrounder-12017C.pdf

www.diobelle.org/documents/BISHOPBRAXTON-QuiestionandAnswserFactSheet-12017D.pdf

www.diobelle.org/documents/BISHOPBRAXTON-DesignateCardinalDolan-12017E.pdf

As you know we are in the midst of another election season.  I know it can be a frustrating process.  I watched much of the Republican debate last night and was annoyed that the focus seemed to continue to stray away from the issues back to what they have revealed or not revealed about taxes, if they knew what content was in their commercials, what they were investing in, etc.  However, with issues such as this that continue to eat away at our ability to practice our religion in the way we see fit, it is important for us to stay informed and to let our elected leaders know the urgency in preventing this mandate from forcing us to violate our moral and religious beliefs.

Again, the idea here was not to turn this into a political forum.  I personally do not hold any affiliation to any political party, and with each election I study the candidates and try to make a decision based on my beliefs and whom I feel will uphold their office in the best way.  I also do not begrudge anyone who does affiliate themselves with a particular party.  We have that right, after all.  However, we also have not only the right, but duty as Catholic Christians, to stand up for the principles Jesus taught us and to preserve the rights that we who worship the one true God have been given in our Constitution.  There are several websites out there that can help us stay informed on issues related to our Catholic faith and guides as to how to vote our conscience.  Here are those links:

Just a couple of other notes to wrap things up.  We had another large group in attendance this past week at our Fanning the Flame discussion group.  There are also now about 65 people who have the U.S. adult catechism in their hands.  We have a few extras left.  If you would like one contact myself or the parish office.  This coming week I will be leading the discussion group, so I hope I don’t single-handedly put out the “flame”.  Also, remember you can do individual prayer/reflection by going to the links on the homepage of our website, www.maryhoc.org.

Finally, this coming week we mark Catholic Schools Week across the nation, including in our parish school.  Our school continues to be an outstanding point of pride for our parish and community thanks to all of the dedicated teachers, staff, volunteers, parents, grandparents, benefactors and school board.  You can again go to our homepage and find a link to all of the special activities taking place this coming week.

Have a great week.  3 weeks until spring training!  Peace.

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January 20, 2012 – Talking Fire and Football

January 21, 2012

I’ve got several things floating in mind this week, so this blog will probably be a little bit all over the place (as if none of the others weren’t).  So here we go….

First of all, I can definitely say that the flame is being fanned here at St. Mary’s.  In fact, right now it is a blazing inferno!  Our “Fanning the Flame” series is off to a wonderful start.  We had almost 30 people crammed into the Parish House this past Tuesday night to discuss the first chapter of the adult catechism.  There was very good conversation and good nuggets of information thrown out by Fr. Gene.  Also our original supply of 50 catechisms went like hotcakes, and we had to bring in another 25.  I’m also getting questions about where to find resources on the web, etc.  So we are off to a great start.  If you haven’t looked into what is being offered, find out what all of the excitement is about.  Go to the homepage of www.maryhoc.org and browse the links, or look at some of the materials in the center vestibule of church, or better yet join us this Tuesday night for what I’m sure will be another fruitful discussion.  We will break off into two groups if we have to.

I think the response we have gotten so far shows that people still have a thirst for knowledge about their faith and that we do not have an attitude of “I know all there is to know.”  Knowledge is power, and the more we learn about our faith, the closer our relationship with God can become, and the better equipped we can be to act as Jesus’ disciples and to spread His good news.  So again, please join us in whatever way you feel comfortable, whether it be reading the Catechism, doing individual reflection, or getting together as a group for discussion.  Even if you are not a member of our parish, you can still take advantage of the online materials.  E-mail me at webmaster@maryhoc.org if you have any questions.

You know, we can say about our faith what they say about baseball: that we are never masters of the game, but always students of the game.  Someone who came as close to being a master of the game as there was is Stan Musial.  Cardinal fans and anyone else who lives around this area know not only about his accomplishments on the field (.331 lifetime batting average, 3-time MVP, 24-time all star, 7-time batting champion, and on and on), but also know the exemplary life he has led off the field (devoted family man, devout Catholic, accessible to fans, and again on and on).  However, nationally he has seemed to not get the recognition he deserves, partly I think due to the fact that he does not draw attention to himself, and he does not live in a large media market like New York or Boston.  George Vescey, who is a nationally known sportswriter, released a biography on Musial last year, which I have not read yet but hope to in the near future.  Some have panned the book, saying that it is boring and not “juicy” enough because Stan was never involved in any scandals, affairs, etc.  However, Abp. (soon to be Cardinal) Timothy Dolan, who grew up in St. Louis, mentioned in a recent blog that Stan is just the kind of role model people need to be exposed to.

There has been a long-standing debate over whether athletes make good role models for people, particularly for the kids who idolize them.  Charles Barkley, a former NBA player who now is a studio analyst and is very outspoken (and has had a few brushes with the law), has said that kids should not look to him as a role model.  I have always had issue with this because the fact is, we are all role models, whether it be in our role as a parent, grandparent, friend, pastor, athlete, actor, or even as a big fat dude who teaches religion and plays on the computer.  Kids see what we do, hear what we say, and emulate what we do and say.  This week’s chapter for Fanning the Flame focuses on how God reveals Himself to us.  One way God reveals Himself to us is through us – in other words our ability to spread His message is one way we can influence others to experience a more intimate relationship with God and to act in a moral way. 

I think traditionally it has been difficult for Catholics to talk about their faith outside their own “circle”, but God encourages us and expects us to spread His message with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  This weekend marks the 39th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision which legalized abortion in the United States.  It is an opportunity for us as Catholics and as people who believe in what scripture tells us to make known to others that life truly begins at conception, and that we do not have the right to decide when that life should end.  So this weekend especially we pray for our culture that it may value life as the right choice, and pray for those who will be marching in Washington, DC to support the pro-life cause.

Finally, many people would say that the biggest football weekend of the year is Super Bowl weekend, but for the true football fan this weekend, in which the 2 conference championship games are played to decide the Super Bowl contestants is the ultimate.  No 6 hour pregame show, no elaborate halftime shows, just 2 games and about 7 hours of non-stop football!!  Ooofa!  Personally, I would like to see the Ravens and the 49ers win.  If this happens, then it would be the first time that brothers would be head coaches against each other in the Super Bowl.  But, as much as it pains me, I’m afraid the Patriots have too much firepower.  So for my predictions, I’m going with New England 33 – Baltimore 20, and San Francisco 20 – New York 17.  And as always, this is strictly a recreational activity, so no wagering please!

Have a great week.  Keep the flame alive!  Peace. 

 

January 13, 2012 – Let The Flame Burn

January 13, 2012

Well the first real taste of winter has finally hit us.  Even though we know its January and that it was bound to occur at some point, it is still a shock to the system.  It seems a perfect time to start “Fanning the Flame” (notice that play on words there … thank you, I’ll be here all week!).  As promised I wanted to touch a little more on the “Fanning the Flame” program that begins this week and how EVERYONE can participate in some way. 

As you probably know by now the program is based on the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (which I’ll refer to as USCCA).  The USCCA is a publication of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.  Now when a Catholic hears the word “Catechism” 2 words probably pop into their head: long and boring.  However this book and program is set up to debunk both of those myths.  The USCCA admittedly is a rather thick book.  However, it is divided into 36 relatively short chapters.  It also includes personal stories of people of faith, and is a little easier to read than a normal catechism.  It is a good resource to have not just for this program, but to keep as a reference in your home, or to show to someone who wants to know more about the Catholic faith.  If you did not order the book through church last month, we do have a few extra copies available for purchase.  You can also go to the “Fanning the Flame” website, www.ftfdiobelle.org and follow the ordering information using the special discount code provided for the diocese (DB1212).  It is also available at the usual online outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble at a discounted price.  OK, step 1. 

Step 2 is to take advantage of the materials being provided by the diocese.  For each chapter of the USCCA (we will focus on one chapter per week) there will be a “Chapter Guide” provided.  This guide can be gotten again off of the “Fanning the Flame” website, or you can go to the homepage of our website, www.maryhoc.org and find the link.  There is a printer friendly version which you can download and print out (I will also put some copies of this version in the back of church with the other Fanning the Flame materials).  There is also a fuller version of the chapter guide online which includes more material and references, and sometimes also a video.  People who either live in or have ties to our diocese write these chapter guides.  Some are priests and religious, some are lay people.  They share their personal stories based on the chapter of the week and also provide reflections and questions for discussion.  I have also included a link on our homepage to an online version of the USCCA in case you do not have one or if you do not want to invest in one at this time.  Also as the year goes on there will be other materials available such as articles in The Messenger and bulletin items.

Now, the third and final step is to decide how you want to participate in the program.  You are invited to join us for discussion of each chapter on Tuesday evenings at 7:00PM in the Parish House.  You are also free to form or join your own group to discuss the chapters.  There are discussion questions in the USCCA itself and also in the Chapter Guide.  You can go to the Fanning the Flame website for a calendar of which chapter will be focused on during which particular week, or you can adjust your schedule as you see fit.  If you wish not to participate in a group, you can participate individually.  Read and reflect on the chapters in the USCCA and read the chapter guides.  Also, everyone with internet access can go to the Fanning the Flame website and sign up to be a part of the e-mail list which provides the materials for each week as well as other news.  There are also links to other neat opportunities such as the Fanning the Flame Facebook page and blog.  And of course, we all can pray for the success of the program and for a fulfilling year as the diocese celebrates the 125th anniversary of its founding.  Those who are not residents of our diocese can still participate in the program.  The materials are out there and available for everyone to access and take advantage of.  Do you know someone who is not Catholic but may be interested in the faith, or maybe has just asked questions in the past?  This program would be a good starting point.  Again, there is something available for everyone.

I’m excited about this program because I think at times we are so focused on the religion programs for children and other things, that we adults sometimes ignore ourselves when it comes to ongoing catechesis.  This is an opportunity to learn in an informal way at little expense, taking an hour or so of time each week during this year (there will be a break some weeks around Easter, during the summer, etc).  I’ll do my best to keep you updated on the latest through the website and I look forward to participating with you.

This weekend the high holy days for football fans continue as we are in the midst of the NFL playoffs.  One of the games will feature Tim Tebow of the Broncos, who as you know has gotten a ton of press (both good and bad) for not just his play on the field, but for his Christian background and his openness in his beliefs.  He has not asked for all of this publicity, but he has done a remarkable job focusing on his play while also dealing with the spotlight.  I think he is a great role model and I’ll be rooting for him this Saturday (especially against the hated Patriots).  I may touch on his situation a little more in a future blog.

Have a great week.  FAN THAT FLAME!  Peace. 

 

 

 

 

January 6, 2012 – It’s Not Easy, But …

January 7, 2012

I hope you have had a good beginning to the year thus far, and I hope you have remembered to write “2012” instead of “2011” on at least some of your paperwork.  There were several things that caught my eye as I was surfing the web this past week.  Bear with me, as I’ll be directing you to quite a few videos and links (and bringing you deep into the abyss of my world of cyberspace).  Um, anyway…

Congratulations to those whom Pope Benedict XVI announced will be elevated to Cardinal in the Catholic Church, including 2 from the United States: Abp. Edwin O’Brien of Baltimore and Abp. Timothy Dolan of New York.  Readers of this blog know that I greatly admire Abp. Dolan, so this was great news to me.  I admire him for his staunch defense of the policies of the church and also for his zeal for life in general.  He appeared on the Today show to talk about his appointment.  Here is the link to the video of his appearance:

http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/45899000#45899000

Happy Anniversary to our Diocese of Belleville!  On January 7, 1887 the Diocese was officially established.  As you know, as part of our observance of the 125th anniversary, the “Fanning the Flame” program will begin the week of January 15.  Next week I’ll go deeper into what the program is all about, but a good place to start is to go to the website www.ftfdiobelle.org and also to view the following video featuring Bishop Braxton:

Also, on a last note from the year gone by, the website CatholicVote.org put together a nice video called “Top 10 Reasons for Hope -2011”, which highlights events that happened in the past year that give our Catholic Church reasons to be optimistic about the future.  You can watch this video below:

So as you can see there is a lot of good news going on in the Catholic Church.  However, no matter how many “feel good” stories we see and hear about our faith, they still seem to be out-weighed by the negativity and the challenges that we face as a people of faith.  I saw a couple of articles this past week that were subtle reminders of this.  One talks about the fact that even though the number of priests continues to dwindle, the standards to be accepted into the seminary and to eventually be called to Holy Orders are higher than ever.  Here is the link to this article:

http://evangelist.org/main.asp?SectionID=4&SubSectionID=36&ArticleID=23243

The other article is actually kind of a good news, bad news article.  It tells of a young woman who was a faithful Catholic as a child, but then drifted away from the church as a college student.  However, after several years of soul-searching she found her way back to the faith.  Unfortunately, the second part of the article paints a less rosy picture of the participation of young people in religion.  Here is the link to this article:

http://bustedhalo.com/features/pure-sex-pure-love-127-lost-and-found

I don’t have to tell anyone who is Catholic that being who we are can be difficult at times.  The pre-conceived notions about our faith are numerous indeed.  “You are the ones who worship Mary and the saints when you should be worshiping God.”  “You are the ones who don’t pay any attention to the Bible.”  “Priests are more likely to be pedophiles than other groups of people.”  And the list of misconceptions goes on and on.  The media seems to always place its focus on the negative aspects of our faith when there are so many positive things going on.  This in turn gives people an inaccurate portrayal of what our faith is all about, and we find ourselves having to defend our practices and beliefs. 

This is not to say that other religions do not have their share of challenges to face, bu the reality is that at times it’s not easy to be a Catholic.  However, we have to look no further than the Bible to see that being a follower of God is indeed a challenging thing.  Abraham was asked to sacrifice his only son, and was willing to do it until God put a stop to it.  There are of course many martyrs who died in defense of their beliefs. And of course Jesus endured the ultimate challenge in dying on the cross for us.

In all of what the Bible tells us I’m sure there is no verse that says anything to the effect that being a follower of God would be easy (of course I’m a Catholic, so what would I know about the Bible?  ha, ha).  As in life, generally the things that we cherish the most are the things that we worked hard to earn.  Such is the same with our religion.  If we were given a free pass to eternal life in heaven, I’m sure it wouldn’t be as meaningful as having to earn our way into heaven through our faith in God and through the good works we perform. 

And though we cannot avoid the challenges, that doesn’t mean that we cannot rejoice in the good news that our faith provides.  The “Fanning the Flame” program will provide us an opportunity to explore both the opportunities our faith gives us and the obstacles we have to face.  It will also be an opportunity to find answers to some of the questions we may have about our faith, and in turn better prepare us to defend our faith when the situation arises.  I hope you consider participating with us, whether it be individually or with others who are looking to learn more about their faith. 

Finally, I have been considering for some time changing the name of this blog.  Maybe something a little catchier, something a little more eye-popping.  But alas, as I was about to change the name, I discovered that someone already took the name, as I discovered that there is a blog out there called “Journey of a Catholic Nerd Writer.”  Well, back to the drawing board.

Have a great week.  Peace.