Archive for June, 2012

June 30, 2012 – What This Week’s Events Mean

June 30, 2012

Is it possible for your fingers to sweat as you are pounding on the keyboard?  I don’t need to tell you that it is hot, hot, hot!  And I certainly don’t need another weather person to tell me that it is a “dry” heat, so it’s actually not that bad.  Ummm, it’s 108 degrees.  It’s hot!  Let’s move on.  I certainly do not have it nearly as bad as those who have to work in the outdoors, or must spend their entire time at work in an area that is not air conditioned.  We must continue to pray for a break in the heat wave and for much, much needed rain.

It is amazing how circumstances can change with time.  When I first started this blog, my biggest fear was trying to come up with something every week or so to talk about.  Now over the last few months, with the concerns about the erosion of our religious freedom and other news directly related to the Catholic Church, it has been a challenge to sort through everything and narrow the focus to one or two things.  This week was certainly no different.  The most prominent news item this week was the decision of the Supreme Court that the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or “Obamacare”, is constitutional, and that people can be mandated to purchase health insurance if they do not currently have it.  This decision was actually not a completely bad news scenario for Catholics.  U.S. Bishops have stated for many years that everyone should have access to health care, and there are some benefits in the act that take steps in this direction.  For example, people with pre-existing medical conditions must be offered health care.  Young people can stay on their parents’ insurance plans until they are 26.  However, there are flaws in the plan which give our Bishops pause, and ultimately lead them to oppose this decision.

The ACA allows use of federal funds to pay for elective abortions and for plans that cover these abortions, which contradicts previous federal policy.  It also fails to include language that provides protection of conscience.  This of course has been demonstrated in the HHS mandate, which would force employers, including religious employers, to cover birth control and sterilization methods in their health care plans.   The Bishops also feel that the ACA is unfair to undocumented immigrant workers and their families as they would not be allowed to purchase insurance through the new exchanges created by the ACA, even if they used their own money.

So overall, what does this mean for the Catholic Church?  Basically, it means that even though there are steps taken in the plan toward universal health care, the plan itself has fundamental flaws, particularly when it comes to protection of conscience, and the U.S. Bishops are determined to continue to fight to have these mandates removed from the plan.  Universal health care will continue to be a goal of our Bishops, but not at the price of allowing these mandates to stand.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia made these comments following the decision: “I think it’s a disappointment on the part of many of us in the Church because we had hoped the decision would make our lawsuits unnecessary. But a decision of the court is a decision of the court, and we have to accept it in a generous kind of way. We have to do all we can to make sure the position of the Church on religious freedom is clearly articulated and that the challenge to religious freedom, as embodied in the mandates from the Health and Human Services agency,… are overturned.  Health is a basic human right; we have a right to be healthy. There’s no declaration on the part of the Church that that has to be accomplished through government intervention.

There are many ways of approaching health care, and I think it’s very important for Catholics to understand the fact that the Church, seeing health care as a basic human right, does not mean [to say] there’s a particular method of obtaining that [right that’s] better than another.”

There was of course a ton of coverage about this decision on the major news networks, much of which focused on the political ramifications.  How much coverage was there about the ramifications to protection of conscience?  Very little that I saw.  Why is that we as a country so boldly defend our other freedoms such as freedom of speech, but take  our freedom of religion more lightly.  Well, to truly discuss this would take another whole blog, but as I’ve been reading I think there are a few factors at work.  One is that we do not see the blatant religious persecution in our country that occurs elsewhere, where Christians are murdered because of what they believe.  The threats to our religious freedom are much more subtle.  Secondly I think is the general trend of apathy toward the importance of religion and attending church on a regular basis.  It simply does not hold the place of priority in people’s lives as in the past.  Finally, I think there is a growing belief that separation of church and state means that religion should be kept within the confines of the church walls and kept out of the public square.  This of course goes against what we believe.

Religious freedom is not just about our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or to pray at home, it is about our ability to do the good works our faith calls us to do without having to compromise that very same faith that we practice.  This is why the Fortnight for Freedom is taking place during this time of the feasts of many great martyrs and concluding on the day we celebrate our independence.  The martyrs of the church did not ask to die for their faith, but were willing to do it as a stand for what they believed in.  We as Catholics and Christians did not ask for this fight, but it is our duty to stand up for our beliefs as the great martyrs did.  Please continue to pray that the erosion of our religious freedom will cease, and continue to educate yourself about this issue.

We do not want to forget the good news of the week.  This past week, Pope Benedict XVI approved the heroic virtues of U.S. Archbishop Fulton Sheen, declaring him “venerable” and clearing the way for the advancement of the cause for his canonization as a saint.  He was a native of Illinois and is best known for his work as an evangelist on radio and TV, particularly his TV program “Life is Worth Living” which aired from 1951-1957.  For those of us who were not around at that time, fortunately we now have YouTube where many of his clips can be found.  Here is one clip in which he talks about why people do not go to Mass (which sounds a lot like our situation today):

www.youtube.com/watch?v=UabMF-8uXxg

Thanks again for reading.  I hope you have a great celebration of Independence Day this week.  Peace.

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June 22, 2012 – Sorting Through It All

June 23, 2012

Those of you who have kids, and perhaps even some of you who don’t, are probably familiar with the “whack-a-mole” game, the game in which fake moles pop out of holes, and the player tries to whack them all with a mallet.  The moles pop out at an increasing rate until the player can’t keep up anymore.  This is kind of how I have felt the last couple of days trying to keep up with all of the items being put online during this Fortnight for Freedom.  Prayer resources, educational resources, reflections, homilies, op-eds, videos, etc., etc., are all available for the world to see and use.  I think the message is getting across as to what the Catholic Church feels is a threat our religious liberty, but perhaps the question remains as to why our Bishops are spending so much time and resources on a single issue.  Some have said that this is the Church’s effort to “re-dictitate” the Constitution.  Some have said that this is a “behind the back” push to oust the Obama administration.  What is the real motivation behind this effort, particularly when studies show that the majority of Americans do not believe that their religious freedom is being threatened?

First I think clarification is needed as to what this gift of religious freedom entitles us to.  It grants us more than just the ability to freely attend Mass on Sunday or to say a prayer before a meal.  It also entitles us to do the ministerial work necessary to contribute to the common good of all people.  Even with the narrow exemptions provided by the latest proposed HHS mandates, most Catholic institutions would still be required to provide coverage for birth control and sterilization methods in their health care plans, which violates Church doctrine and would force people to violate their consciences.  This would include Catholic hospitals, schools and universities, charitable organizations, and any other institution under Catholic leadership.  U.S. Bishops feel that this is in direct violation of our First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  This of course affects not only Catholics, but anyone who benefits from the charity and leadership of the Catholic Church.

Archbishop Robert Carlson of St. Louis stated this point well at a rally earlier this week: “Our institutions could seek exemption as religious employers if they agree to hire primarily Catholics and to serve primarily Catholics–‐ Just imagine Jesus saying to the Samaritan Woman at the Well “’sorry, I can’t reveal the Truth to you.  If I minister to foreigners, it would jeopardize my religious status.”  Jesus didn’t come to serve only his own people and neither do we.  Catholic hospitals, Catholic charities, and Catholic schools don’t serve people because they are Catholic.  We serve people because we are Catholic and Jesus Christ himself gave us this mission to serve the Good News with everyone!”  Imagine if Joe Hubbard in East St. Louis or the Daystar program in Cairo could only help those of the Catholic faith.  Imagine of we were no longer able to support our local food pantry and we could only provide food to those who were Catholic.  These scenarios are not beyond the realm of possibility if our religious liberty continues to be stripped away.

Another clarification that needs to be made is that this is not about limiting the availability of contraception.  Yes, the Catholic Church’s position is that the use of contraception is contradictory to the natural law of God.  It feels that artificial methods of birth control destroy the procreative potential of an act that God has given us as a unique sign of married love.  However, we know that contraception is readily available and that the ultimate decision whether to utilize these methods or not lies with each individual person.  So why does the HHS mandate threaten our religious liberty?  Because it is a direct attempt by our government to force people to violate their consciences. As Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, Chairman of the Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, testified to Congress: “This is not a matter of whether contraception may be prohibited by the government. This is not even a matter of whether contraception may be supported by the government. Instead, it is a matter of whether religious people and institutions may be forced by the government to provide coverage for contraception or sterilization, even if that violates their religious beliefs.” (Oral Testimony Before the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Feb. 28, 2012.).

Finally, the clarification needs to be made that this is NOT strictly a politically motivated movement.  Our religious freedom is not a right gifted to us by the Constitution.  It is a right granted to us by God and protectedby the Constitution.  Our fourth President James Madison stated that “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”  This is a bipartisan issue that affects all Americans – Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and otherwise; people of any faith or none at all.  We all must be vigilant in protecting our freedoms.

I hope you will take time between now and July 4 to participate in some way in this Fortnight for Freedom: to pray, read, reflect, learn, and/or take action.  One piece of reading I would recommend is an e-book just released by Timothy Cardinal Dolan titled “True Freedom: On Protecting Human Dignity and Religious Liberty.”  It can be purchased from Amazon and downloaded to a Kindle and also can be purchased from I-Tunes, along with other outlets I’m sure.  It costs 99 cents.  It is a short book with a powerful message about how the erosion of religious freedom affects the dignity of the human person.

Thank you again for reading, particularly on these weeks when I get on one subject and continue to ramble.  Have a great week.  Continue to pray for desperately needed rain.  Peace.

 

June 15, 2012 – Bits and Pieces

June 16, 2012

It has been a while since I have done one of my “bits” blogs, just touching on various things, so that’s what we’ll roll with this week.  Of course, those who follow the blog regularly know that these “bits” blogs really mean that Brian can’t come up with something substantive to talk about, so he’ll just wing it and touch on different things.  But we’ll keep that our little secret.

You of course have been hearing a lot over the last several months about the church’s efforts to publicize what our U.S. Bishops feel are threats to our freedom of religion, including many mentions in this blog.  At the forefront of these threats is the mandate by the Department of Health and Human Services that institutions managed by religious organizations (which would include Catholic charities, schools, universities and hospitals) must provide coverage for contraception and sterilization, which would force these institutions to pay for and facilitate things they consider immoral.  Unfortunately, this has not gotten a lot of coverage on national media outlets, so many people may still be confused as to why the Catholic Church and other religious organizations consider this such a serious issue.  Here is a link to a document which outlines 12 points everyone should know about the “contraceptive mandate” that makes the issue much more clear:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/conscience-protection/upload/Twelve-Things-Everyone-Should-Know-About-the-Contraceptive-Mandate.pdf

In response to these threats, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring a “Fortnight for Freedom” which begins this coming Thursday, June 21 and lasts until Independence Day, Wednesday, July 4.  This two-week period will emphasize prayer, study, catechesis and public action for the purpose of preserving our religious liberty.  I will be putting links to resources on our website, but here are a few to get us started.  The homepage for the Fortnight can be found at this link: www.fortnight4freedom.org.  It includes many resources for prayer and education.  Locally, there will be a special Mass at the Cathedral in Belleville on Friday, June 22 at 12.10PM.  Following the Mass, there will be a march to the St. Clair County Courthouse where a rally will take place.  For more information on this event, here is a link to the flyer:

http://home.catholicweb.com/RespectLife/files/Fortnight4FreedomFlyerFinal.pdf

Finally, here is a link to daily reflections for each day of the Fortnight:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/religious-liberty/fortnight-for-freedom/fortnight-for-freedom-reflections.cfm

Also, keep an eye on our Facebook page as I will be putting lots of updates on happenings here and throughout the country during this time.

Speaking of Facebook, I don’t have to tell how the popularity of social media has exploded in this country and worldwide.  Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc. have become a part of many of our lives.  I can remember a few years back writing that I didn’t really see myself getting into this Facebook thing – that it was probably just a passing fad like many other things.  Well, those who know me know that I have not only embraced Facebook, but I have become a Facebook fiend.  I have made many connections to people whom I hadn’t seen in a long time through Facebook.  It is also a tremendous hub for information.  Many Catholic organizations, dioceses, Bishops, churches, etc. have a presence on Facebook.  The Diocese of Springfield, IL has not only encouraged all of their parishes to have at least a Facebook presence on social media, they are also encouraging all parishes to designate a Social Media Coordinator to mange their social media accounts.  They even laid out guidelines for this position including someone who is experienced with using social media, someone who has close ties to the parish, and someone who is trustworthy.  I was on the fence as to whether I would be willing to coordinate the social media activities of our parish until I saw that the person should be trustworthy.  I knew then that I was the person for the job (lol).

In all seriousness, I would encourage you to visit our Facebook page if you haven’t already done so.  I am always scouring the pages I have liked for interesting things to post.  If you have taken advantage of it, please encourage your friends to do so also.  As with anything else, the more the merrier.  A couple of years ago, I also started a Twitter account for our parish.  I hadn’t utilized it recently because it didn’t appear a lot of folks were taking advantage of it.  However, I plan in the near future to re-establish this by putting a direct feed on our homepage.  It is filled with links to interesting information, as well as brief antidotes from people such as Cardinal Timothy Dolan.

Unfortunately, our own Diocese has not gotten into the social media craze.  I have questioned Diocesan officials about this, and I was given several reasons why this is so:  1) In a time where our Diocese has been cutting staff, there is no one available to do internet design and moderate social media, 2) Things such as Facebook tend to be novelties that go strong at first then die off (which I believe at this point is not the case at all), and 3) we have a Bishop who is very particular about what kind of information is released for public consumption.  My personal belief is that at some point the Diocese will have to have some sort of presence on social media.  It is an effective, inexpensive means of getting massive amounts of information to a lot of people.  But until then, we as a parish will continue our own efforts to embrace this means of evangelization.

Finally, I wish all of our fathers, grandfathers, stepfathers, godfathers, etc. a Happy Father’s Day.  We thank all of our fathers, living and deceased, for all of the guidance and sacrifices you have made.  Enjoy the day with your families, and remember, no matter what sort of ugly tie or cheap fishing pole you receive, it is a requirement to act like you really like your gifts.

It was nice to receive at least some rain this past week, but we are in need of much more.  Pray that we receive it and that the hot weather doesn’t become too extreme.  Thanks again for reading.  Have a great week.  Peace.

June 8, 2012 – Being Catholic: A 24/7 Job

June 9, 2012

First of all I want to thank you for the compliments and words of encouragement I received this past week for my work on our website.  I have to admit that even though I continue to do this for many reasons besides personal accolades, it gives the ol’ webmaster a nice boost to know that people continue to appreciate what we are doing and are taking advantage of what we are providing.  It was especially neat to hear from a few people who live away from the area who still have an interest in what is going on at St. Mary’s.  I think it is clear that the use of the world wide web as a tool to evangelize is no longer a fad or a novelty.  It is a means that is here to stay, and is in fact essential.  Our Diocese this past week acknowledged as much, as I received an e-mail with suggestions as to what should be included in a good parish website, including making use of social networking sites such as Facebook and blogs (ding, ding, ding!!).  So as we move forward I give you my assurance that I will continue to do the best I can to provide pertinent information about our local and universal church, and I will continue to try to make improvements wherever I can, provided you can keep up with my salary demands (lol).

The internet is certainly a prompt, practical, and cost-effective means of getting a lot of information out to a lot of people, which is especially important to us Catholics, I think, considering what we have been facing in terms of public policy decisions, and in trying to combat misinformation about what we as Catholics believe and stand for.  In the public policy realm we of course continue to spread the word about what our bishops feel are threats to not only our Catholic teachings, but to our basic liberty granted to us in our Constitution that we have freedom of religion.  Today there were 164 cities that participated in a national rally for religious freedom.  You can see coverage of these rallies by linking to this website: http://standupforreligiousfreedom.com/.  The Bishops of the United States are also sponsoring a “Fortnight for Freedom”, a two week period from June 21 – July 4 during which we are asked to pray for our religious freedom and to educate ourselves further about the threats to this basic freedom.  More information can be found by clicking the link on our website or going directly to this link: www.fortnight4freedom.org.  You may especially want to click on the “resources” tab when you go to this website as it contains a ton of information on the specific things that threaten not only our religious freedom, but religious freedom in countries around the world.

There are also local and statewide activities that are taking place as part of the Fortnight for Freedom.  In Belleville, on June 22 there will be a special Mass at the Cathedral followed by a rally at the St. Clair County Courthouse.  Here is a link to a flyer with more information about the event and some brief information about why this cause is so important:

http://home.catholicweb.com/RespectLife/files/Fortnight4FreedomFlyerFinal.pdf

Statewide, the Catholic Conference of Illinois is beginning an initiative called the Illinois Catholic Advocacy Network (I-CAN).  People who sign up to be a part of this network will receive occasional updates on state and federal issue that affect the Church, such as religious freedom.  Shortly there will be pew cards available in church where you can sign up for this, but you can sign up now over the internet by going to this link: www.ilcatholic.org/take-action/join-i-can/.

There were 2 quotes that I saw this week that gave me pause.  One was from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, a renowned theologian known for his preaching, especially his work on radio and television.  The quote was “Not 100 people in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is.”  Chances are this quote was probably from the 1950’s or 60’s when he did most of his radio and television work, but doesn’t it ring true today?  Don’t we as Catholics find ourselves having to defend our faith to people who just seem misinformed?  Unfortunately, as much as we can use the world wide web as a positive communication tool, it is also dangerous in that there is a ton of information out there that is not accurate.  We have a duty as Catholics to dispel this misinformation.

The other quote I saw this week was from Democratic House Leader Nancy Pelosi, who presents herself as a practicing Catholic.  During a press conference yesterday, she was asked about the recent lawsuits filed by many Dioceses and Catholic institutions against the HHS contraception mandate.  Here is the exchange:

House  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a Roman Catholic, refused to  say whether she supported her church’s teaching that contraception is  immoral.

“I do my religion on Sundays, in church,  and I try to go other days of the week; I don’t do it at this press  conference,” Pelosi said curtly as a reporter asked about her view of  the church position on contraception.

Pelosi brushed off the organizations and church dioceses that filed  suing the Obama administration over the contraception mandate. “I don’t  think that’s the entire Catholic Church,” she said. “Those people have a right to sue, but I don’t think they’re speaking ex cathedra for the  Catholic Church.”

I’m not a politician, and I don’t claim alegence to either political party, but I do know this:  Having disagreements with the positions of the Catholic Church does not expel someone from being a Christian.  However, a true Catholic Christian does not have an on/off switch to flip on when they enter the church doors and flip off when they leave.  A true Catholic lives as one everyday, 24/7.  A true Catholic does as Jesus commanded, to go out to the world and tell of the Good News.  A true Catholic is aware that they are witnesses, and how they conduct themselves can influence how others conduct themselves.  And the issue of our religious freedom is not solely a Democratic or Republican issue, nor is it solely a Catholic issue.  It is an AMERICAN issue, which us why we need to continue to make our voices heard.

Thank you again for reading.  Pray for much needed rain.  Have a great week.  Peace.

June 1, 2012 – Five Years and Counting

June 2, 2012

As I have mentioned before, being a single guy means that I really don’t get to mark many anniversaries.  I of course mark dates such as birthdays, dates when the Cardinals won a World Series, etc.  This weekend I mark another little anniversary.  This Sunday, June 3 will mark 5 years since our website, www.maryhoc.org, went online for the whole world to see.  Granted, this is no earth shattering anniversary, but it sticks in my mind because of the doubt that lurked in my mind as I was working to get the website together.

Actually, I had thought before this time that it would be nice if our church had a simple little website just to post some basic information on.  Our school already had a website, but there was no place to post parish related things such as a copy of the bulletin, a monthly calendar, the lector/extraordinary minister schedule, and maybe a few other things.  However, even though I love to play with computers and all other genres of electronic gadgets, I had never explored what it would take to get a website up and running, so I laid low on this task.  Then, the magical moment happened.  Like the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, like the Holy Spirit coming upon the Apostles as tongues of fire; OK, it wasn’t anything that dramatic, but it’s my story.  The magical moment was when Fr. Gene asked me “So what do you know about websites?”.  And with that, my mission had started.

As I began working on this project, there were two things I had to find out.  One was how to actually start a website.  This involved a lot of Google searches and comparing plans until I found one that was relatively inexpensive and also easy to use.  I went with a plan from Yahoo which is still what I use today.  Now with this step complete, the second and more complicated task was ahead, which was deciding what to actually include on the website and how to get it all on there.  So I did the creative thing – I went to other church websites and stole, er, borrowed what they were doing.  As I began working to set things up, I tried to keep in mind simple, simple, simple.  Put up the basic information and roll with it.  Of course, even the simple tasks on the computer can sometimes go awry, and naturally there were some bugs to work out as I got things ready to go.  After about two weeks, I reached the point where I felt enough progress was made to go ahead and give the commands to turn our website loose onto the world, and cyberspace has never been the same.

OK, so now we had our little website with some basic information to share.  Mission accomplished, right?  Well, not exactly.  When people have trouble going to sleep at night, you are told that you are supposed to count sheep.  Well, I would start to think of more things that our website should include.  Actually, thinking back, perhaps this was why I had trouble sleeping in the first place.  So I began to add pages for the different organizations such as the K of C, Council of Catholic Women, Parish Council, etc.  OK, looking good.  Got what we need.  Well…., it seems like people enjoy looking at pictures on different websites, so maybe we’ll add a few pictures.  I’ll take my camera when we have a special event, and other people can submit photos.  OK, now we got our information, organizations, photos – we are good to go.  Well…..

At the end of 2007, evidently still fuzzy from the holiday celebrations, I though that these things called blogs were becoming very popular.  Blogs, short for “weblogs”, are basically journals or diaries that are done online.  So I thought, not having nearly enough to do, I would take a crack at this blogging thing.  I didn’t know how often I would do it – once a month, twice a month maybe, and it would probably just be a novelty thing that would die out in a few months anyway.  Well, here we are in 2012, and 188 blogs later, I’m still waiting for the novelty to wear off, as I’m sure many of the readers are also.  All right, now we’ve got everything we need for a pretty nice little website.  Well …..

As you know, social media has exploded since 2007, particularly Facebook.  I began noticing that parishes were starting their own Facebook pages.  So in 2010, I began St. Mary’s own Facebook page.  Again, when I started it, my thought was that this just may be a novelty thing, so I didn’t have high expectations for it.  Now here we are in 2012, with 56 % of the U.S. adult population now on Facebook, and our page with 60 members and more items being added all the time.  So here we are, on June 1, 2012, and our website includes everything we need.  Well …..

In all honesty, I’m not sure what new features we’ll be putting on our website in the future.  Also, in all honesty, I didn’t think 5 years ago at this time that our website would still exist, let alone include all of the features that it now does.  I did not write about this in order to give myself a pat on the back, but to give you a little perspective on how things evolved to where we are now.  I also did it as a means to acknowledge the many people who have helped make our website what it has become.  To those who have contributed photos and information for the website, to those who have offered suggestions, to those who have offered their compliments, and of course to the many who use the website, thank you very, very much.  It has been a labor of love, and I look forward to seeing what evolves in the next 5 years.  The internet has become an ever increasing means of communication, and it is important not just for us, but for the church as a whole to continue to take advantage of what it has to offer.

Have a great week.  Pray that the Cardinals break out of their funk.  Peace.