Archive for May, 2012

May 25, 2012 – The Fight For Freedom

May 26, 2012

First of all, I hope you have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day weekend.  I have to admit my excitement for the first 3-day weekend I’ve had in quite a while, but of course the focus of this holiday weekend is remembering and praying for those who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and our freedom.  We also continue to pray for those who are in harm’s way throughout the world, and for the families of our troops who also have to sacrifice a lot in support of their loved ones.  This weekend I’m sure we will hear the word “freedom” quite a bit.  We will hear about the thousands and thousands of troops who died for the sake of freedom.  We will hear about what a precious gift out freedom is.  We will hear about how fortunate we are to live in a country that values freedom so much.  It makes it that much harder to fathom, then, that there are mandates being proposed by our leaders in government that would erode one of our most precious freedoms – the freedom of religion.

I have written on this before, and I think a couple of questions have lingered to this point.  One is whether the Administration and other government entities would really continue to push policies that force institutions under Catholic leadership to include coverage for contraception and abortion inducing drugs in their health insurance plans, even though this goes against the beliefs of the church.  The answer to this has been a resounding yes.  Even though the Administration claims it has made exemptions for religious employers, the definition is very narrow and still would not include the vas majority of Catholic organizations such as universities, hospitals, charitable organizations, and even publishing companies.  This is only one of many issues confronting us that threaten one of our most precious freedoms, but this is the issue that has garnered the bulk of the spotlight.  To read more about other issues that pose a threat to our religious freedom, here is a link to a newsletter from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/upload/Current-Threats-to-Religious-Liberty.pdf

The other lingering question has been whether the Bishops of the United States would have the courage and the zeal to challenge these threats.  We found out this week that the answer is a resounding yes.  This past Monday, 43 Catholic Dioceses and organizations in 12 different jurisdictions, including the Archdioceses of New York, Washington D.C. and St. Louis, the University of Notre Dame, and the publication Our Sunday Visitor, filed lawsuits against our federal government claiming that this mandate goes against our constitutional rights, and should be blocked from becoming law.  I skimmed over a copy of one of the lawsuits that was filed, which covered 69 pages.  I am not a lawyer, but the lawsuit basically makes the following points:

1) One of our most cherished freedoms is the freedom to practice our religion without government interference.  This is the issue that has put us at odds with the Federal government.  This is not about whether people have a right to obtain means of birth control.  These services are widely available and will continue to be.  However, the right to obtain such services does not authorize the government to force religious organizations to violate their consciences by making them provide and pay for these services.

2) Since the founding of our country, religious organizations have had the ability to provide services to all people, no matter what the religious views were of those who benefitted from those services.  This mandate would jeopardize the ability of religious organizations to continue these services.

3) If the government can force religious institutions to violate their beliefs in this manner, then there is no clear limit to the power of our government.  This is a clear violation of constitutional rights.

So where does this leave us as Catholics, and what can we do to avoid further restrictions of religious freedom?  There are several things that all of us can do:

1) Contact political leaders at both the state and federal levels and inform them that the erosion of our religious liberties mist stop, starting with these unjust regulations.

2) Stand with our bishops and follow their example of stating our views in a clear manner.  We also need to educate ourselves so that we can be witnesses in our own community.  There are many resources available, particularly online, that explain the details of these issues.  One good resource is the U.S. Bishops “Conscience Protection” page.  The link to the page is: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/ .

3) Pray for our political and religious leaders that they respect the rights of all people and that they remain open to the teachings of the gospel.

4) Support our Catholic organizations and institutions who have the desire to act according to the principles of the church.

In response to these concerns, the Bishops of the U.S. have declared the two-week period from June 21 through July 4 as a “Fortnight for Freedom”.  This period will focus on prayer, education and action in support of religious freedom.  You will be hearing more about this over the next few weeks, and there will be information available on our website.  Right now, you can go to this link for information, prayer resources and educational resources: www.fortnight4freedom.org .

In reading various articles this week, I came across a quote that was thoughtful and informative, yet ironic and frustrating at the same time, considering who said the quote.  The quote is this: “We are blessed to live in a nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of good will may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences.”   The speaker of the quote: Barack Obama.

I know that reading about politics and policies may not be the most compelling reading material, and it may not be the most fun thing to write about, but we as catholics make up one-quarter of the population of this country, and we have a duty as Catholics to be informed and to stand up for our principles.

Enjoy your weekend and try to stay cool (98 degrees in May?  Blah!).  Also have a great week ahead.  Peace.

 

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May 19, 2012 – Celebrate the Past, Plan the Future

May 19, 2012

Those that know me well will tell you that generally I’m not really much of a “planner”.  I’m more of a take things as they come kind of a guy, partly because it seems like even our best laid plans go off kilter much of the time.  Yesterday I had a plan – get off work, run a couple of errands, get home, get on the internet, write the blog, be done by the time the Cardinal game starts.  Beautiful!  Alas, when I get home I get a call from my niece, who is on the same internet server that I am, who asks “Is your internet working because ours isn’t.”  I check, of course mine is not working either.  So, my plan to have the blog up on time for a change is foiled again.  But the good news is that later in the evening it was back up and running again, so at least we are not too far behind this time.

This time of the year we of course focus on graduations.  Actually in monitoring some of the Facebook conversations, it appears more and more schools, particularly large ones, no longer hold ceremonies for 8th grade graduation, be it due to budget cuts, the sheer large number of students, or because of the way some schools are now setup, it’s not considered that much of leap to go from 8th to 9th grade.  We of course still honor our 8th grade graduates here at St. Mary’s because it is an important milestone.  Many will be moving on to a non-Catholic school for the first time in their life.  Those that do continue on to a Catholic high school will be doing so in a different city, so this is certainly a turning point for them as well.  It is also a time of celebration for the whole parish as we thank God, those involved in the operation of our school, and those who donate to our school that for another year we were able to provide a quality Catholic education to our kids.

Marking these milestones also gives us an opportunity to look toward the future, particularly in our parish as next year we will be celebrating the 150th year of having a Catholic school.  What an accomplishment – providing Catholic education for 150 years without interruption!  I’m sure those folks in the 1860’s faced some of the same challenges we do now such as maintaining a quality curriculum with limited resources and space (we have more than one teacher in a church basement, but you get the idea).  I’m sure there were times in those early years when they wondered if they could continue to operate the school, especially in times of economic hardship.  But through the grace of God and the hard work and generosity of many people, the school endured and thrived.  We of course have had times in our recent history when the future of our school seemed in doubt due to factors such as declining enrollment and skyrocketing costs.  But again, through the grace of God and the hard work and generosity of many people, the school continues its mission of providing a quality Catholic education and also teaching the morals and life skills that will stay with the students throughout their adult life.

So as we stop today to laud the accomplishments of our 8th grade graduates and our school as a whole, we continue to keep an eye to what the future holds, particularly as our diocese continues the Parish Renewal and Restructuring process that will likely result in the closure and re-organization of not only some churches, but perhaps some schools as well.  We as a parish have reasons to be optimistic about keeping our school open.  We have made great strides over the last 5-7 years to increase our enrollment.  We have made progress in lowering the percentage of our church income that is used to subsidize the school.  We are the only parish in our cluster to have a parish school.  And of course we have a dedicated group of teachers, staff, parents, alumni, parishioners and benefactors that are dedicated to keeping our school viable.  However, we still must ask the inevitable questions. Will we be able to keep up with continuing increases in costs?  Will we be able to maintain and increase our enrollment as the size of families continues to decrease?  How long can we continue to practically maintain a building that is over 100 years old?  Will parents continue to see the value of a Catholic education and make the sacrifices necessary to obtain it for their children?

I came across an article this past week written by Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia titled “Why Catholic Schools are Worth Saving.”  They are currently making an effort to convince their legislature to increase tax credits for tuition to private schools, and also to increase funding for school choice vouchers.  Here is a link to the article:

http://catholicphilly.com/2012/05/archbishop-chaput/why-catholic-schools-are-worth-saving/

One paragraph in the article I think made the case as to why Catholic schools should be preserved.  Archbishop Chaput says: “The genius of Catholic schools, when they’re led with passion and adequate resources, is that they create a lifelong love of learning; they teach the academic skills to achieve real excellence, not just in the classroom but in adult life; and they shape the kind of moral character that makes for worthy citizenship and an honorable life. This is the dignity God intends for His people. This is why Catholic schools succeed where others often fail. This is why they’re worth fighting to save.”

Bottom line: Catholic schools can provide a base for not only the academic skills needed to succeed, but also the traits of morality and solid character that help our students become virtuous citizens.  We can provide an education based on Christian principles that will ensure that the faith is passed on to future generations.  So today we congratulate our 4 graduates – Elizabeth Heffernan, Rhett Holley, Jade Keel, and Olivia Moore, and pray that they continue to succeed in their future endeavors.  We thank our teachers and staff for  their dedication  and care of our children and school.  We thank our parents, grandparents, volunteers, alumni, parishioners, benefactors, and all who contributed in any way to the success of the past year.  And finally, we pray for the future of our school, that our 150th celebration is not a final salute to a rich history, but is an opportunity to celebrate our accomplishments while making strides toward the future.

Have a great week.  Pray also for needed rain for our farmers and gardeners.  Peace.

May 12, 2012 – What Defines Marriage

May 13, 2012

Well another weekend, another late blog posting.  I’m going to be running out of excuses for my tardiness pretty soon.  Actually this time I have a pretty legitimate reason, as I attended the graduation ceremony at McKendree University earlier today.  Congratulations to my nephew Ed and to the many who are graduating college this weekend.  Our prayers be with them as they enter the world of a continuing tough economy and continued divisiveness on many issues.  Normally graduation ceremonies are pretty run of the mill and not very riveting, and this one was pretty much the same way.  However, the President of the University gave some good advice to the students as the ceremony wrapped up.  He told them that “we have prepared you to do well, but we also want to see you do good.”  In other words, being a success means more than finding a well paid job and having a nice home and vehicle.  To be a success you need to be of service to others, and to leave a legacy behind for others to emulate.  Certainly a lesson not just for the students, but for all of us.

Once again this past week we saw a collision between politics and religion, with the politician getting the bulk of the headlines.  After comments by Vice-President Biden (a professed Catholic) on Meet the Press that he has no problem with “same-sex” marriages, President Obama a few days later reversed his earlier positions and proclaimed his support for these unions.  This of course goes completely against the position of the Catholic Church.  The U.S. Catholic Catechism states that “there are attempts by some in contemporary society to change the definition or understanding of what exactly constitutes marriage. Efforts to gain approval for and acceptance of same-sex unions as marriages are examples. While the Church clearly teaches that discrimination against any group of people is wrong, efforts to make cohabitation, domestic partnerships, same-sex unions, and polygamous unions equal to marriage are misguided and also wrong. The Church and her members need to continue to be a strong and clear voice in protecting an understanding of marriage, which is rooted in natural law and revealed in God’s law.”  Again, the Church takes this position, as with all of its positions on social issues, because this is what we feel the Scripture is telling us.  Scripture is filled with references to marriage.  One of the most clear is from Chapter 19 of the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus tells the Pharisees “have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate.”

It was not a surprise to me that President Obama declared his position in the fashion that he did, particularly in an election year.  As Cardinal Dolan, USCCB President stated: “Unfortunately, President Obama’s words today are not surprising since they follow upon various actions already taken by his Administration that erode or ignore the unique meaning of marriage.”  What floored me is that the President and other politicians cited Christ and their Christian faith as reasons for their positions.  In part of his interview this past week, President Obama said this: “This is something that, you know, [Michelle and I have] talked about over the years and she, you know, she feels the same way, she feels the same way that I do. And that is that, in the end the values that I care most deeply about and she cares most deeply about is how we treat other people and, you know, I, you know, we are both practicing Christians and obviously this position may be considered to put us at odds with the views of others but, you know, when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated…”  Contrast this to his statement on the same issue made in 2004: “I’m a Christian. I do believe that tradition and my religious beliefs say that marriage is something sanctified between a man and a woman.”

Then there of course is Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader and also a professed Catholic, who made this statement: “My religion has, compels me–and I love it for it–to be against discrimination of any kind in our country, and I consider this a form of discrimination. I think it’s unconstitutional on top of that. ”  As a devout Catholic, I cannot in good conscience accept this position.  Discrimination certainly is wrong.  However, attempts to redefine what is rooted in natural law, what the Church proclaims, and what the Scriptures reveal, is also wrong and misguided.  What will be the next move by some of our politicians?  Appoint a commission to rewrite the Bible?  Abolish wine as a form of the Eucharist?  What I can tell you is that our religious freedom has never been more threatened in our lifetime.  I personally do not proclaim an allegiance to either political party.  In each election, I try to weigh the issues and the candidates and make the selection I feel is best.  I will do the same in this election.  However, when I weigh the issues this time, these issues concerning my values and rights as a Christian will certainly carry a greater influence than they have in the past.

In the past I have tried to avoid getting too “political” in this blog, but as Catholics part of our duty is to be informed about public policy  and to make decisions based on what our conscience guides us to do.  If you disagree with me, that is your right.  If you vote contrary to me, that is your right.  However, it is my right as a Catholic and witness of Christ to make His word known to the best of my ability.  As the McKendree President reminded me today, this is one way I feel I can do good.

Have a great week.  Happy Mother’s Day to all of our Moms, living and deceased.  Peace.

 

 

May 6, 2012 – Church From Beginning To End

May 6, 2012

In what has seemed to become the norm I am late once again in getting the blog up, and no, it’s not because I was celebrating cinco de mayo.  To explain, I’ll go through a brief play-by-play of my week.  As a disclaimer, I’m not writing this because I’m complaining about being busy, or because I’m looking for any sympathy.  I’m writing this because, well, gotta write about somethin’.

Anyway, my week started last Sunday with 9:00AM Mass.  I wanted to attend because one of my PSR students, Andrew Friess, was recognized for completing 8 years in our PSR program, including the last two with me (poor kid).  We then had our final PSR class of the year, which is a bittersweet day.  You miss interacting with the kids, but admittedly it is nice to get a break from having to make lesson plans, etc.  After PSR, I then had to jump into my suit and head to Belleville for the Mass to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the founding of the diocese.  3 parishioners were recognized for their service to the Catholic Church – Bertha Mae Blechle, Janelle Robinson, and myself.  Bertha Mae was certainly deserving for all of the time she spends planning and cooking for events at the KC, her work with the Sodality, and so many other things she has done for the parish over the years.  Janelle was certainly deserving for her many years of service to our school, including accepting the position of Principal at a time when the future of our school was very much in doubt.  I was hesitant at first to accept the recognition because I could think of so many other people more deserving than myself, but I went not so much for myself, but as a representative of the many who do so much in service to our parish and the church as a whole.  The day was very nice.  Even though Mass was 3 1/2 hours, it was neat to be in the Cathedral with people from all over the Diocese, and it gave me a reminder that the Catholic Church is indeed a universal church, and there are many, many people doing great work for the cause of spreading the Gospel.  325 people were recognized that day, and each name was read during the Mass.  One particularly touching story was a woman from Breese whom had played the organ for 44 years.  Sadly she passed away the Monday before the Mass, but her family was so touched by the award that they had it included in her obituary and displayed her certificate during the visitation.  Again, thank you to everyone in our parish and across the Diocese who do so much to keep the Catholic Church of Southern Illinois alive.

OK, after that day I’m thinking the rest of the week looks pretty clear until I get an e-mail on Tuesday saying the Bishop wants to meet with the Diocesan Pastoral Council on Saturday morning (doh!), and here’s some reading material to prepare for the meeting (doh!).  So change of plans.  There were several things that were discussed at the meeting.  The Parish Renewal and Restructuring Process is still in the data gathering phase.  It is going to take some time to go through the mounds of data and to formulate recommendations to the Bishop.  I still do not anticipate any decisions based on this process until next year.  However, there may have to be some decisions made prior to this simply based on the fact that number of clergy continues to dwindle.  There is one gentleman being ordained this year – a permanent deacon who is 65 years old.  After this there are no ordinations for several years.  This, coupled with the fact that there are only 15 priests who were ordained for this diocese who are age 50 or younger, and well, you can do the math.  This, along with shifts in population and demographics, indicate that chances have to take place.  We will be a different looking church in the years down the road, but if people are cooperative and are dedicated to maintaining a sense of community, we will still be a strong church in the end.

We also addressed the continuing concerns in regard to the threats against our religious freedom.  Bishop Braxton re-emphasized the point that the Catholic Church does not endorse any particular candidate for political office, but has the duty to inform people of what church teachings are in regard to issues such as abortion, birth control, death penalty, euthanasia, family values, poverty, etc..  People should then exercise their right and duty to vote, and to take their conscience with them as they make these important decisions.  As far as the continuing fight for our cherished religious freedom, there is a document that I want to call your attention to.  It is titled “Our First, Most Cherished Liberty – A Statement on Religious Liberty.”  It is a 12 page document from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops which talks about the ways that our basic freedom of religion is being threatened.  In particular I draw your attention to the last page which talks about a 2 week period called “A Fortnight of Freedom” which will focus on prayer and study concerning our religious liberty.  This period will be from June 21 until July 4 which is of course Independence Day.  There is also a prayer for religious liberty on this page.  Here is the link to the document:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/upload/Our_First_Most_Cherished_Liberty.pdf

I will also put this link on our website this week.  With all of the news and information coming out, especially in this election year, I hope this week to develop a new page for our website on which I would put links to news items, information items and videos which are Catholic related – kind of a one-stop place for current events.

Finally, my week finished off last night with, well, Mass.  So as the title suggested, it was church from beginning to end this week, and I enjoyed all of it.  What will the coming week bring?  Stay tuned to find out.  In the meantime, let’s get the Blues and Cardinals back on track!  Have a great week.  Peace.