Archive for February, 2012

February 24, 2012 – Let’s Change the Subject

February 24, 2012

There is no doubt that there has been a lot of important news affecting the Catholic Church over the last couple of months, whether it be issues that threaten our religious freedom, or the upcoming elections, or issues closer to home such as the Diocesan Renewal and Restructuring Process and the continuing decline in the number of priests.  It has been a bit of a challenge to sort through it all each week and to narrow down what to write about in the blog.  Though these are all important things to discuss, eventually you reach a point where you feel like you need to at least temporarily shift your focus and give your brain time to cool off.  So this week I going to take a break from all of that and do one of my famous “miscellaneous” blogs, and just touch on some of the other stuff happening around our parish and in my little corner of the world.

Of course we are now in the season of Lent (stomach growl).  As is my tradition I have given up all flavors of Doritos (stomach growl), and also this year I’m going to try to avoid other salty snack foods (major stomach growl).  Our parish is offering all of our traditional Lenten devotions, including Mass at 12:10PM on Mondays, Stations of the Cross at 4:30PM on Saturdays, and Communion Services on Wednesday evenings at 7:00PM which feature prayer, reception of Holy Communion and a little horrible singing.  I think the Lenten season has come at a good time this year because as I kind of eluded to already, with all of the stuff going on in the world, it may have taken our focus away from what is central to our Catholic faith – the Eucharist, the celebration of the sacraments, and performing charitable works for those less fortunate.  The season of Lent helps remind us to take time each day for God, whether it be to sacrifice in some way, or just to spend a little extra time in prayer and reflection.

In addition to all of that, we also have the Fanning the Flame program that continues.  When the program first began, I thought “my gosh, 36 weeks of this!  36 weeks I’m going to have to try to sacrifice at least part of another evening!”  But lo and behold, here we are already having gone through 6 weeks, and the experience has been nothing but positive.  We have had consistently good crowds for our Tuesday evening discussion group – about 20-25 people each time, and each session has been informative and interesting.  Fr. Gene has done a wonderful job explaining things that may be a little difficult to understand, and also interjecting bits of church history.  There are also others who have received their copy of the U.S. Catechism for Adults and are following the program individually.  Even though we are already 6 weeks into the program, it is not too late to begin to participate if you would like to do something extra for Lent, or if you would like a little more clarity about our faith.  All are still invited to attend our Tuesday evening group, or you can go to the links on our website and follow along individually.  There are links to chapter guides for each week, a link to read the chapter from the catechism if you do not have the book, and a link to the Fanning the Flame homepage which has all kinds of good stuff, including guides from the previous chapters and information on how to order your own copy of the catechism.

The season of Lent also signals the time to ramp up preparations for the reception of the Sacraments, especially years such as this when we are preparing the 7th and 8th graders for the sacrament of Confirmation.  It will be a busy Lent for our candidates (and our catechists – can I get a few sympathy points? – didn’t think so – lol), starting tomorrow as they attend their retreat at the Shrine of Our Lady of Snows.  Then a week from Sunday we have the Rite of Election to Confirmation ceremony during the 9:00AM Mass.  They will be participating in the 3 days of the Holy Triddum, and of course it culminates on April 11 with the Confirmation ceremony at the Cathedral in Belleville.  It will be a little different experience as we participate with our cluster parishes and hold Confirmation at someplace besides home base, but I think it can also be a good experience in realizing that we are not just a local church, but indeed a universal church, as the word Catholic itself implies.  And of course our 2nd graders are preparing for First Communion which will be on April 22.  Please pray for all of those preparing for the sacraments that this experience will strengthen their relationship with God and vault them toward a lifetime of Christian service.

It’s been a little while since I tooted the horn for our website, www.maryhoc.org, but I want to again thank all of you for continuing to visit and use the information that is posted.  Traffic numbers the last couple of months have been great.  I continue to look at other church websites and I see some of the “fancy” flash presentations and other things some are using to attract visitors to their sites, which there is nothing wrong with.  But I think there is some value to having a rather simple format based on providing information.  I would encourage you to use to check our Facebook page if you haven’t done so in a while (click the link on our homepage).  I like to post things there because it is relatively simple as I can do it from any computer and is less time consuming.  It’s hard to believe that this summer the website will have been online for 5 years. (and we haven’t been infected with any major viruses – thanks be to God!).  This week I hope to get some photos up from our Confirmation retreat as well as the volleyball game on March 1 which is 8th grade night.

Well I think this sums things up from my perch.  Have a great week (stomach growl).  Peace.

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February 17, 2012 – A United Voice

February 17, 2012

Well this was another week that saw the Catholic Church hold a prominent place in the news headlines.  I’ve felt like one of those old time newsmen who smokes a cigar and wears a fedora with a pencil stuck in his ear trying to keep up on all of the news of the day, except that I’m following Facebook instead of going through rolls of teletype.  So I’ll hit on as much as I can and see where it goes.

At this time last week the Obama administration had just announced a “compromise” on the HHS mandate requiring Catholic-run organizations such as hospitals, universities and charities to include coverage for contraceptives and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  At that time the church hierarchy had not had a chance to read and examine what the “compromise” really meant.  Essentially, the “compromise” or “accommodation” states that the responsibility to provide coverage for contraception and sterilization would be placed not on the religious employer, but on the insurance provider.  In other words, the “compromise” is telling religious employers: “you don’t have to provide the coverage.  We’ll make sure the insurers you contract with for employee coverage provide it instead.”  However, many Catholic institutions are self-insured, so they would still be forced to go against church teaching and violate their conscience to provide these birth control methods.  And no matter what the situation, the employer would still be forced to pay for this as part of their insurance plan.  Of course, the money to pay for this would have to come from an increase in the employer’s premiums to the insurance company, thus this cost would be passed on to the employee, whether they object to it or not.  The USCCB has put out a very informative insert, which is to be put into parish bulletins across the country, explaining that even with this “accommodation”, the original HHS mandate still stands.  I have put a link to this document on our website and the link to it is below:

www.maryhoc.org/files/Gallery_Eng_Bulletin_HHS_Mandate_Feb_2012_Final_1_.pdf

So essentially we still stand at a crossroads.  The people who favor or are indifferent to this mandate continue to make the argument that “it’s just birth control, what’s the big deal?  The Catholic Church has always been off base on this anyway.”  Well number one, Catholic teaching of course tells us that artificial means of birth control goes against biblical principles.  But the real heart of the issue is that our right of religious freedom is being taken away.  We are being “forced” by our government to either as an employer provide coverage for methods that they consider morally wrong, or as an employee being forced to pay for something they consider morally wrong.  This is not just an argument about whether artificial birth control is right or wrong.  This is about our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS as a private, religious community to practice our teachings and to not be forced by our government to violate our conscience.

As I stated last week, many people of faith (not just Catholics) have lamented the fact that our rights to freely practice our religion have been slowly eroding away.  Letting this mandate stand would deal a severe blow to our rights.  In an article I read this past week, the author said that in following this line of reasoning, a hospital for example should be able to demand that they have the right to overturn bans on smoking in their institutions.  It forces those who smoke to change their own habits in order to comply with the views of their employer.  Of course this would not fly because of second-hand smoke issues, cleanliness issues, etc.  So these employees know that they have to comply with this policy in order to work at the hospital.  Likewise, those who work at Catholic institutions know what the church teaches about artificial birth control, and that as part of their agreement to work at this institution that they will either accept the health care plan as offered, or turn down the employer-offered health care plan and seek their own that does provide birth control coverage.  Any way that you dissect this, this mandate will force employers and consumers to be forced to violate their conscience in some way.  This is a slap in the face to our first amendment rights.

So is it going too far to say that this potentially could be a watershed moment for our country?  I don’t think so, particularly when I see the outcry not only from our church hierarchy but from other religions and other people of faith.  I don’t know if there would be another moment like this in the near future when leaders of many churches would be united for such a cause.  My hope in all of this is that we will not just get this mandate reversed, and not just that some type of legislation will be passed protecting our rights of conscience, but that people of faith will see that when united in one voice, we can protect our freedoms, and that we will become a stronger church in the end as a result. 

Sticking with the Catholic theme, we know that next week begins the Holy Season of Lent, the season in which we focus on penance and sacrifice.  We as a parish will do many of the same things we have done in the past.  This weekend you will receive the Lenten booklets with all of the activities and schedules (it will also be posted on our website) as well as the “Five Minutes With the Word” reflection booklets.  There are also many, many online resources to take advantage of as well, and I wanted to guide you to a couple of them.  One is a video, one is a web link:

A Guide to a Catholic Lent: www.osv.com/YourGuideToACatholicLent/tabid/8267/Default.aspx

Finally, a hearty congratulations to the 22 men who will be elevated to Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI tomorrow morning, particularly to Edwin O’Brien, Archbishop Emeritus of Baltimore and Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and a personal favorite of this blogger.  The actual ceremony begins at 3:30AM our time Saturday morning, but EWTN will present an encore broadcast at 4:00PM on Saturday afternoon.

Have a great week and a blessed Lenten season.  Peace.

 

February 10, 2012 – A Critical Time

February 10, 2012

Normally when I sit down to write a blog my fear is whether I will have anything to talk about (although somehow like a politician, I still manage to come up with several paragraphs of ramblings – the gift of saying a lot without saying anything).  However, over the last few weeks with all of the national news surrounding the Catholic Church and the threats against our religious freedom, plus the local happenings, the problem has been what to write about and what to ignore.  So I’ll just try to hit on some of my main observations on our church nationally and at home. 

The national news continues to surround the recent mandate by the Obama administration that non-profit employers, which would include entities such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities, must include coverage of contraception and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  This of course goes against Catholic teaching, and would force many individuals to not only violate their conscience, but to also pay more to cover the cost of providing these procedures and medications free of charge.  Fortunately, there has been a HUGE backlash against this mandate.  The bishops of the U.S. were clearly mobilized for this effort, and their public opposition, as well as the opposition of other religious leaders and legislators (conservative and liberal alike), led to the announcement today that the Obama administration is willing to compromise on the issue.  Essentially, the compromise would take the responsibility of offering birth control away from the religious organizations and place it with the insurers.  The following links explain today’s announcement and the response of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/under-fire-obama-adjusts-1343283.html

www.usccb.org/news/2012/12-025.cfm

Perhaps lost in this story was another story a few days ago that the Archbishop of the Military, who like most bishops had prepared a statement to be read by military chaplains about the consequences of the HHS mandate, had his statement censored by the head of Army military chaplains (an Obama appointee).  In my mind’s eye, this is a slap right in the face of the First Amendment, which guarantees us religious freedom as well as freedom of speech.  There may be some who consider the swift and vocal reaction of the church to the HHS mandate as excessive, but when a story such as this surfaces, it is clear that we are at a crossroads as to what we are free to do as a church, and a secular world that seeks to tear away this freedom. 

So where is the good news in all of this?  The good news is that we have hope as a people of Christian and Catholic faith that when united, our voice can lead to protection of our freedoms and our right to take a stand on issues that violate our core beliefs – that violate the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the many meetings that I have sat in on over the last 15 years, so often I hear my fellow Catholics lament the changes that have seemed to silence our voice – the removal of prayer in public schools, the removal of references to God in public places, etc.  Perhaps this united effort to overturn this mandate will serve as an impetus for making our voices heard loud and clear again, and serve as a time to renew our confidence in our church leaders.

Our local Diocesan church is also going through a time of renewal with the Parish Renewal and Restructuring Process.  This past Wednesday representatives from our cluster parishes (which include Ellis Grove, Evansville, Walsh and Sparta) met with Fr. Dan Jurek, who is pastor of Prairie du Rocher and Modoc as well as the Dean of the West Deanery.  This cluster meeting was part of the requirements of the current planning process.  Of course the question at the forefront of people’s minds is which parishes and schools will close or merge together.  However, Fr. Jurek reminded us that the process also includes “renewal”, which means that first and foremost this is an opportunity for parishes to identify their strengths and weaknesses, and to identify possible solutions to these weaknesses.  In the end result, after reviewing all of the parish evaluations (Fr. Jurek promised that each and every one would be read), if there are clear weaknesses that it appears a parish would not be able to overcome, whether it be finances, decaying buildings, a lack of younger people in a community, etc., then closure or merging would have to be considered. 

In some cases, especially in larger dioceses such as the Archdioceses of Detroit & St. Louis, the deans were basically told that “x” amount of parishes must be closed, and that it was up to them to provide a list of parishes to put on the chopping block.  In this process, the hope is that the recommendations will come from the people.  It is a given that changes will have to take place.  Currently there are about 70 priests ministering to 117 parishes.  About 30 of these priests are eligible to retire, and about another 15-20 are international priests who are here serving for a limited period of time.  So as we get 5- 10 years down the road, the current situation which is already putting a huge strain on our clergy will be that much more challenging.  The hope is that by parishes addressing their weaknesses, that they will be better prepared to meet these future challenges, and that we will be a more attractive church, hopefully resulting in more effective ways to reach out to those who do not regularly attend Mass and in an increase in vocations.

As I said last week, the process of going through all of this data will be tedious and time-consuming, and it will likely be at least a year before recommendations are made to the Bishop and any final decisions are made.  In the meantime, we need to continue to work to remain a strong community of faith, and pray for the process and an increase in vocations.

So we are at a critical time in terms of both our local church and the church as a nation.  It is certainly an anxious time, but I think it is an exciting time as well, as we have been presented an opportunity to strengthen ourselves for the future.  I am eager to see how all of this will play out, and to get at least a glimpse of what the Catholic Church of the future will look like.

On a personal note, this weekend is always very difficult for me.  It is the weekend after the Super Bowl, the first weekend without football!  Sure, there’s hockey and basketball, but it just isn’t the same.  Thank goodness spring training starts next week to appease my appetite for sports.  Thanks again for reading.  Keep checking our website, www.maryhoc.org and our Facebook page for the latest news.  Peace.

 

 

February 4, 2012 – Talkin’ Church Again

February 4, 2012

My apologies for being late in getting the blog out this week.  I failed to mention last time that the Diocesan Pastoral Council that I am a part of met this morning in Belleville, so I waited to write this to see if there was anything pertinent that came out of the meeting to talk about.

The meeting basically focused on two things.  The first is what I talked about extensively last week, which is the mandate from Health and Human Services that non-profit employers have one year to include coverage of contraceptives and sterilization procedures in their health care plans.  This will affect institutions such as Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities.  This of course goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church and will force people to go against their conscience to implement this – not only the employers, but the employees who will be forced to pay higher premiums to cover these extra costs (part of the mandate is that these aservices must be covered without co-pays).

The fact that this was the first agenda item at a Diocesan meeting indicates how important this issue is and the fact that the Bishops are united in their efforts to get this mandate reversed.  As Bishop braxton stated in the meeting, most likely part of the administration’s thinking is that Catholics and other people of faith are either indifferent to issues involving creation of life, or simply reject the teachings of their faith when it comes to pro-life issues.  This cannot stop the efforts of the faithful to keep from being forced to violate their consciences in having to pay for coverage of something that does not involve prevention or curing of a disease.  Besides the links I shared with you last week, the Diocesan Respect Life office has posted on their website a number of online resources and means of contacting our legislators to let them know that we oppose this mandate.  Here is the link to this page:

http://home.catholicweb.com/RespectLife/index.cfm/NewsItem?ID=267625

The other main agenda item of the meeting was Bishop Braxton’s upcoming visit to Rome for the Ad Limina visit.  This is a visit that each Bishop must make every 5 years (although due to Pope Benedict’s schedule it has actually been eight years since this visit was made).  All Bishops from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin will be in Rome at the same time for this visit.  Each Bishop will have a brief personal greeting with the Pope as well as a group meeting with the Pope. 

Also, each Diocese is required to submit a report prior to the visitation.  This is an extensive report that includes updated statistics of the Diocese, reports on the various ministries, and a detailed, audited financial report.  In addition to the meetings with the Pope, each Bishop will have meetings with officials in various Vatican offices that oversee particular segments of the Church’s pastoral life.  These officials will point out any particular concerns found in the report, and will also address any concerns that the Bishop has. 

The term “ad limina” comes from the Latin phrase ad limina apostolorum which means “to the threshold of the Apostles.”  Also as part of the visit, the Bishops will pray at the tombs of the Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul.  Also, during the time Bishop Braxton will be in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI will create 22 new Cardinals.  Please pray for Bishop braxton and all of the Bishops who will be traveling to Rome next week.  If you would like to learn more about Bishop Braxton’s visit, here is a link to click on:

www.diobelle.org/documents/BISHOPBRAXTON-AdLimina.pdf

Bishop Braxton also addressed briefly the Pastoral Planning and Restructuring process.  Basically the original timeline is still holding true, and despite speculation, it will be at least another year before any final decisions are made in regard to possible mergers or closures of schools and parishes.  There is a massive amount of data to be gone through, and this will take time.  We at St. Mary’s are fully cooperating with the process.  We are meeting with the parishes in our cluster this coming week and we will prepare our final report next month.

As you may have read in the paper or heard it through the grapevine, there are 2 of our Diocesan priests who have resigned their pastorates – Fr. Brian Barker of Pinckneyville and Fr. Bill Rowe of Mt. Carmel.  Their situations are different and I don’t want to get into specific details about what happened, especially since I do not know many details myself.  However, I’m sure I share the frustration of many in that during a time when we already have small numbers of clergy that 2 of our clergy felt compelled to minister elsewhere.  I asked the Bishop this morning if he felt that the majority of priests in the Diocese were doing a good job and were following the teachings of the church to the best of their ability.  His response was “yes, absolutely.”  I think we gain a different perception because we hear so much of the negative and so little of the positive.  My hope is that in the future the Bishop will feel compelled to do more to show appreciation for our priests and their  dedication to us.

Just a couple of random notes before closing.  First, congratulations to our school for planning and executing a great Catholic Schools Week celebration.  There are some photos on our website and on our Facebook page of the program our school held this past Tuesday in honor and appreciation of our veterans.  If I get hold of any more photos from the week, I will certainly post them as well.

Finally, this is of course Super Bowl weekend, which means it’s time for my annual prediction.  I went 1-1 for the conference championships, but I’ve had 2 weeks to study this game, so I am confident in my predicton (yeah, right).  Anyway, I feel like the Giants are playing better all of the time, and I think they have a more well-rounded team than the Patriots.  So that, combined with my hatred of the Patriots, leads me to believe the Giants will prevail 31-24. 

Have a great week.  Enjoy the game and don’t worry about your New Year’s resolutions tomorrow.  I declare that all diets are off during the Super Bowl!  Peace.