Archive for September, 2012

September 28, 2012 – Penance = Good

September 29, 2012

I have a few things rattling in my brain this evening, so this will be one of those “let’s start typing and see where things go” kind of blogs.  First of all, I haven’t said a whole lot lately about our website (www.maryhoc.org) and how thinks are going.  I’m happy to report that traffic continues to be good and people still seem to be getting some use out of it.  So far this month, there have been 930 hits, averaging well over 30 a day, which I think is very good.  This does not include the visitors to the blog and to our church and school Facebook pages.  So I am more than happy with our usage rate.  One of the cool things to me is that it’s not just people in the area who are using it.  I spoke to a couple last weekend from Florida who are following St. Mary’s from the sunshine state.  So thank you all again for continuing to use our technology, and for continuing to spread the word about it.

This past week our parish council met in regular session.  One of the subjects discussed was the continuing elimination of jobs and cutting of funds for essential programs at the diocesan level.  Much of this is attributed to the continuing decrease in contributions to the Catholic Services and Ministry Appeal.  As of August 23, the appeal had collected slightly over $1 million, or about 68% of the goal of $1.5 million.  Part of this I’m sure is the economy, but part of this I’m sure is also a lack of willingness to contribute funds to a Bishop some do not consider trustworthy.  As has been stated here before, these funds do not go directly to the Bishop.  Rather, they go to fund various programs for the poor, educational programs, grants, salaries, and other things.  As these funds continue to dwindle, these programs will not be able to provide as they have in the past, and positions that become open will not be filled.  This will leave parishes and departments to have to do more for themselves, and they will have to proceed without the training, guidance and support that they had been accustomed to.  We as a parish have been very generous to the appeal, having exceeded our goal for many years.  However, only about a third of the parishes have been able to meet their goal this year.  If at all possible, it is never too late to make a contribution to the CSMA if you haven’t already done so, or if you could add a little more to what you have already contributed.

This past week also had me thinking about Penance.  No, I havent done anything rash such as become a Cub fan that would drive me directly to the confessional (at least nothing I know of).  But there were some things that I saw that got me thinking a little bit.  This past Sunday for PSR our first chapter hit on things that keep us from loving God as much as we should, more specifically original sin, and the two levels of sin that we commit – venial and mortal sin.  Then in our Fanning the Flame discussion group we talked about the declining sense of morality in our culture.  Finally, I read an article from Timothy Cardinal Dolan about the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur and the purpose of it to their faith.  For them it is a time of repentance, a time to start anew.  Cardinal Dolan listed many examples of things Catholics used to do as a means of repentance that are no longer done as often if at all.  These included frequent confession, examining our conscience and saying our act of contrition at night, attending Mass and confession on First Friday, and many others.  Practices and traditions will of course change over time, but the fact that we need to do Penance will never change because we are imperfect beings with a tendency to sin.  Here is a link to Cardinal Dolan’s article:

http://blog.archny.org/index.php/where-is-our-catholic-yom-kippur/

So the question becomes why we have discarded many of these acts of penance and why we do not seek forgiveness as often as we should.  I think part of it is what I briefly touched on earlier – that we are losing our sense of morality.  We continue to put leniency into what we consider right and wrong, and even when we do something wrong, we don’t put the blame on ourselves but rather on our background, on the people and culture around us, etc.  I think another reason is that people think of penance as a punishment, and of course we never look forward to being punished.  Finally, I think just as some people feel that they can just pray for themselves and not have to attend Mass, people feel that they can simply ask for forgiveness on our own and God will grant it.

Can you tell God that you’re sorry on your own, without going through a priest? Of course you can. But it’s not the same as true penance. There is a grace that God gives us through each of the Sacraments – we believe that He is truly present. It’s also why they are so important in the practice of our Catholic faith. This grace doesn’t mean that we will never ever do anything wrong ever again – we are human and will continue to sin. But this grace strengthens us, brings us closer to God and stops the downward spiral of sin before our relationship with God becomes too severely damaged. Also, penance is not about punishment – it’s about making amends.   It’s not enough to just tell someone you’re sorry.  You have to really mean it. They need to forgive you. You have to at least attempt to somehow make up for whatever you did that hurt them.  And so it is with God. And that’s why we have penance.  And that is why even though penance can be a humbling experience, it is a good thing for us to participate in.

As I finish this my Redbirds are up 9-1!  It’s shaping up to be a good weekend!  Have a great week.  Peace.

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September 22, 2012 – Taking Back Sunday

September 22, 2012

Yesterday I spent an hour on the street.  No, I wasn’t thrown out of my house.  I was collecting money for the K of C’s annual drive for the intellectually disabled.  I thank everyone who stopped and threw in their spare change or a dollar or two.  Even in these still challenging economic times, people continue to be very generous.  I also enjoy doing it because it gives me a chance to “people watch”.  I came away yesterday with a couple of observations.  First, if you already got a Tootsie Roll from the grocery store or Wal-Mart, you don’t have to wave it in my face as if you had just won the lottery or something.  I appreciate the fact that you already gave your donation, but if you don’t stop and throw money in my bucket, it’s really no big blow to my ego.  And second, I’ll say up front that I’m all for equal rights for women.  Equal pay for equal work, etc., I’m on board.  However, I guess I didn’t realize that this applied to tattoos.  I saw a healthy percentage of women sporting a tattoo on the arm or neck.  This is not to mention the ones that were not in view.  Just an observation on my part.

This past week in our “Fanning the Flame” discussion group we focused on the 3rd commandment, which of course is “Remember To Keep Holy the Lord’s Day.”  I’m sure that you are familiar with the basic background of this commandment.  After six days of work on creation of the world, God rested on the seventh day.  So those of the Jewish religion observe the Sabbath, the seventh day, as a day to worship God and to rest from their labor.  We as Christians, because of the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our opportunity for salvation that came from that, observe the Lord’s day on Sunday, the first day of the week.  In fact, sometimes this day is referred to as the “eighth” day because it follows the Sabbath and it is the day in which we anticipate that we will have eternal rest with God.

So what does this day mean to most people, particularly to us Catholics?  Well, for many of us it is a day off of work. It is also a day that we should take time to worship God in a special way by attending Mass, either on Saturday evening or Sunday morning unless there is a serious obstacle preventing us to do so. For us Catholics, the Sunday Eucharist must be most important religious exercise of the week.  It should be the number one priority.  Sadly, many Catholics have let other things take priority over attending Mass.  There are some people who have to work on weekends of course – policemen, firemen, hospital personnel, those who work in restaurants and stores, and many others who have a work schedule that requires their presence on Sunday.  This, however, is not the heart of the problem.  The heart of the problem is that our culture continues to de-value the gift God gave us of the Lord’s day to be a day of rest and worship.  Many people feel that they do not have to be in a church or a communal setting to praise God.  This is an issue that has confronted the church for centuries.  St. John Chrysostom addressed this in the fourth century when he wrote the following:

“You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is a great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more; the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, and the prayers of the priests.”  So private prayer, though essential to the spiritual life, can never replace the celebration of the Eucharist.  When we modified our Mass schedule a few years ago from 3 to 2 weekend Masses, a large part of the reasoning was that the liturgy is more inspiring and prayerful when there are more people present in praise of God.

The other part of the loss of the meaning of Sunday is that we are ignoring Sunday as a day of rest given to us by the Lord.  Many times Sunday becomes a day to “catch-up”, to do the chores and run the errands that we didn’t get to the week before.  Sunday has also become another day to schedule activities such as sports practices and games, meetings, etc. that couldn’t get squeezed in during the rest of the week.  This ignores the gift that God gave us to use Sunday as a day to break from the normal routine.  When God rested on the seventh day after six days of work creating our world, He did not rest because he was tired.  He rested so He could take time to celebrate and savor His creation. As human beings we need rest and leisure. We need to spend time with our families. Most of all we need to reflect, to read, and perhaps most of all, we need time in silence in which to meditate upon our relationship with God. These things are essential not only to benefit our families, culture, and society, but they are essential for our souls’ well being. Pope John Paul II said this in one of his apostolic letters:

“Through Sunday rest, daily concerns and tasks can find their proper perspective; the material things about which we worry give way to spiritual values; in a moment of encounter and less pressured exchange, we see the true face of the people which whom we live.  Even the beauties of nature – too often marred by the desire to exploit, which turns against man himself – can be rediscovered and enjoyed to the full.”

So in a culture that seems to continually wrestle the sacred and holy away from us who wish to practice our religion in a meaningful way, perhaps part of the way we can combat this is to take the true meaning of Sunday back. To make our time of worship and leisure as high a priority as a sports practice or a trip to the mall.  Certainly some food for thought.  Have a great week.  Peace.

September 15, 2012 – That Time Of Year

September 15, 2012

As we have now gotten a taste of beautiful, cooler weather, it reminds us of what time of year it is and the events surrounding it.  First of all, of course, we are in the heart of the campaign season, which I have been made all too aware of over the last couple of weeks.  Yesterday, for example, there were 3 pieces of mail in my mailbox – all of them some sort of political advertisement.  In fact, the majority of the mail I have received lately has been related to politics.  One flyer says that candidate “X” will make creating local jobs a priority, then the next flyer says that if Candidate “X” is elected he will outsource our jobs overseas.  Our elections are of course extremely important, and we as citizens of a democracy have a duty to make the choice we feel is best.  However, it is not hard to see why people become frustrated at the process.  How do you cut through all of the misguided claims?  How do you know when a candidate is being truthful or is just saying something for political gain?  Couldn’t all of this money being spent for advertisements be used in some other practical way?  Aren’t there enough other means of communication such as radio, TV, internet, etc. that allows candidates to get their message out?  As we approach Election Day, let us pray that the candidates will be sincere in what they say and will have honest and forthcoming debates over the next few weeks.

Mid-September also brings a yearly celebration to our church in the United States, a celebration which we will observe this Sunday at Mass called Catechetical Sunday.  This is a day set aside to recognize those in our parish who dedicate themselves to the ministry of religious education.  To fulfill my own curiosity and to ensure that this space gets filled, I did a little research on the background of Catechetical Sunday.  Though this seems like a relatively new celebration its roots can be traced back to 1935, when the Vatican issued a document asking every country to acknowledge in some way the importance of the Church’s teaching ministry and to honor those who serve the Christian community as catechists.  At first, after Catechetical Sunday was established, the U.S. held national catechetical congresses during this time.  Then in 1971, the USCCB began producing materials to help parishes celebrate the event at the local level, a practice which continues to this day.

Another question that may arise is why those who teach religion are called “catechists”.  Well many Catholics should be familiar with the word “catechism”, particular those in our Diocese during this year of participating in Fanning the Flame.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church essentially is a synopsis of the teachings of the church. The root word, “catechesis,” is from a Greek word meaning “to echo, or resound.” Catechesis is the act of resounding or bringing the Church’s teachings to the world. Thus, a catechist is one who teaches in the name of the Church.  Catechists can be those who teach religion in Catholic schools or in PSR programs, those who teach adult level classes, those who lead discussions with high school youth and young adults, those who instruct in RCIA programs, of course Bishops, priests, and deacons, and the list goes on and on.  So even though many people are involved in catechetical ministry, it is a unique and special ministry in the church, and so it if fitting that we set aside a day to highlight this ministry and to remind us that we all have a responsibility to share our faith with others.

Though Catechetical Sunday focuses on those who minister in parishes and schools, we recognize that the principal catechists of our children are parents and guardians.  So we also commend parents and guardians and encourage them to take seriously their role of making their Catholic households a place where faith is passed on to the next generation. This is why the rite of blessing of catechists used on Catechetical Sunday includes an optional blessing of parents and guardians.

A challenge that we as catechists face is explaining to people, kids and adults alike, why the church takes the positions on social issues that it does.  You’ll get questions such as why abortion is not allowed, or why can’t couples live together before marriage, or why does the church denounce the use of contraception?  The easy way out would be to answer “we didn’t make up the rules, we just follow them.”  But that would be a cop-out answer.  Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote an excellent blog this week about this very topic, and made some very thoughtful points.  Here is the link to view it:

http://blog.archny.org/index.php/humor-joy-and-the-spiritual-life/

First of all, there are those who think that Vatican II would have led to more radical changes had Pope John XXIII not passed away or if more liberal Popes had been elected.  The truth is that the purpose of the Council was not to change the teachings of the church, but to come up with a way to present them in a manner that conformed more closely with the times.  This process continues today as we try to communicate more effectively given the explosion of the internet, social media, etc.

Another question we get is “wouldn’t the church be more popular if they loosened their stance on some of these issues?”  I don’t know how it would affect the numbers of bodies in the pews on Sunday, or if the Church would gain a more “favorable” image, but these teachings are not in place because the church wants to remain “traditional”, or is way behind in keeping up with the times.  These teachings are in place because we believe through the teachings of Scripture that this what God wants us to do.  We believe God intended marriage to be a loving bond between a man and woman.  We believe that God’s brings new life at the moment of conception.  So our prayer should not be for the church to change her teachings, but should be for us catechists and all who proclaim the word of God that we can present its teachings in the most effective way possible.

Have a great week.  Peace.

 

 

September 8, 2012 – I Believe …..

September 8, 2012

Well I am life-long Chester resident, and I believe I have experienced the Popeye Picnic for each of its 33 years in one form or another.  However, for some reason I still do not know the proper etiquette for wishing somebody the best over the Picnic Weekend.  Do we simply say “Happy Popeye” or “Happy Popeye Weekend” or do we just say “Blow me down?”  Anyway, whatever the case, I hope you enjoy what is left of the picnic weekend, and I’m glad that it appears the weather will cooperate for the rest of the weekend.

I have to make a confession that will send shockwaves through the entire community, and perhaps will even cause me to be banished from our town.  I have to admit that this weekend is not necessarily my favorite weekend of the year.  There are some neat events happening around town, and I know that many organizations count on the picnic as part of their fund raising efforts (St. Mary’s included), but I just don’t like the idea of having my little, normal routine all bent out of shape during the weekend.  Trying to figure out which streets are closed or open, finding a place to park, etc., for some reason just doesn’t thrill me.  But it’s only one weekend out of the year, so I’ll deal with it.  I think my attitude stems from a couple of things: 1) I’m turning into an old curmudgeon, and 2) I’m a person that is more comfortable just being in the normal routine, being surrounded by and practicing the familiar.

Of course, when we get stuck in the normal routine, we run into the danger of taking things for granted, and not really thinking about the meaning of what we are doing.  This past week I read an article about the Creed, and how it can become routine to just say the words without really thinking about what the words mean and what the impact of the words can be.  Even though last year we were forced to re-examine the words of the Creed because of the new translation of the Roman Missal, our focus still tends to be on just reciting the words instead of thinking about the impact of the words we are saying.  The author lays out 5 key purposes for the Creed:

1)      The Creed is a summary of central truths of our Christian faith.  It is not a complete synopsis of the beliefs that are expressed in Scripture, but condenses into a few words the great faith contained in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible.  When we recite the Creed, we are not only making a statement about our own personal faith, but we are also affirming that we are united in faith with our fellow believers.

2)      The Creed is a rule of faith for our Christian life.  We can think of the Creed as a map which lays out our fundamental beliefs, and it prevents us from taking a “wrong turn” and getting lost. Before the church had a fixed Creed, early theologians referred to the essential beliefs of the Church as the regula fidei, or “rule of faith”.  This rule of faith expressed the faith which converts received from the Church and were to continue to practice throughout the rest of their life.  The Creed continues to serve the Church as the expression of its common faith.

3)      The Creed is a renewal of the faith professed at our baptism.  It is a reminder of our desire to be immersed in the new life of Christ.  It is a command to continue the work that Jesus began.  It reaffirms the truths that our Christian faith is based on and our desire to live the divine  life that we received at our Baptism.

4)      The Creed is a liturgical prayer.  Professing the Creed in a public setting reminds us that being a Christian means belonging to a universal Church of believers.  Thought we may interpret the Creed in a slightly different way from others, we all still choose to stand together to proclaim these truths.  The creed is not just a statement of beliefs, but is also a prayer which gives us a means to express our gratitude to God.

5)      The Creed can be an evangelization tool.  In the same way that we received faith from other people, we should also have the desire to hand on the faith to others.  The Creed presents a clear and simple statement of beliefs.  It focuses on what unites us Christians, not on what divides us.  It establishes clear boundaries for Christian belief.  It makes the same message of salvation known throughout the world.

For us Christians of today, reciting the Creed is an act that can contradict our culture.  We are preserving an ancient tradition by reciting the Creed.  In a world that encourages new ideas and gimmicks, we repeat words spoken by people for many centuries.  In a world that seeks to avoid commitment, the Creed brings people together with God and with one another.  In a world that denies that anything is absolute, we claim that there are some truths so important that they must be repeated time and time again.  So the next time we recite the Creed during Mass, maybe we can think about the fact that there is deeper meaning to what we are doing than just reciting words.

Though I can probably stand to shake up my routine a little bit, a routine begins tomorrow that will take me through February – FOOTBALL!!!  College Saturdays, Pro Sundays!  Hopefully my Rams will break out of their routine and win a few games this year, or at least play some competitive football.  I need an elixir after that 13-inning loss from the Cardinals last night.  Ohhhyyy.  Enjoy the rest of the weekend and have a great week.  Peace.

September 1, 2012 – Labor Day Randomness

September 1, 2012

Well I’m doing my part to mark our most “ironic” holiday – enjoying a rare Saturday morning off in observance of the Labor Day weekend.  Not only is it a nice break from the normal routine, but as an added bonus there is an early morning football game on from Ireland between Notre Dame and Navy.  Good stuff.  Since this feels like sort of a “lazy” weekend, I really don’t have a single subject to talk about, so I’m just going to hit on some random things.  As we celebrate the last “summer” weekend of the year, we realize that many people in our country continue to be either unemployed or are working jobs that do not provide sufficient pay to support a family, and pray that their situation improves.  The USCCB released a statement concerning the state of our workforce on this Labor Day, which you can read at this link:

www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/labor-employment/labor-day-statement-2012.cfm

The big political news this week of course was the Republican convention.  I didn’t watch a lot of it, but I did see the speeches by both Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney.  Both speeches of course focused mainly on the economy, which is not surprising considering that ultimately this is the issue that seems to decide elections.  There were very brief mentions of social issues such as respect for life, preservation of religious freedom and the traditional definition of marriage, etc.  However, I was a little disappointed that there was not more emphasis put on these issues.  Perhaps its because I make it a point to follow these issues online, or because they mean more to me as a Catholic, but I believe these issues will have a greater impact on the election than some people think.  We’ll see what the debates bring as we FINALLY enter the stretch run of the campaign season.

Cardinal Dolan gave the benediction at the end of the convention, and will do the same at the end of the Democratic Convention next week (nice PR move).  The benediction was, as I expected, very thoughtful and eloquent (in contrast to Clint Eastwood’s ummm, speech, which I guess you could say had some thought to it).  Here is the link to watch Cardinal Dolan’s benediction:

I also encourage you to go to our Facebook page which has some links to the USCCB website on “Faithful Citizenship”, including a quiz on social issues and a video reflection from Cardinal Dolan.

We learned this past week that Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, will require chemotherapy treatments for cancerous cells that were discovered in his liver and kidney.  This will be his second bout with cancer in six years.  Cancer is a word that were continue to hear much too often.  If we had not had the disease ourself, we know people close to us who have been afflicted with the disease, including my brother who passes away 8 years ago from lymphoma.  We continue to hope and pray for and contribute to organizations that hopefully will find the key to unlock a cure for this horrible disease.  It is amazing, though, to see how people of faith can put their suffering in God’s hands.  In the column he writes for the Chicago Archdiocesan newspaper, Cardinal George said this:  “Even in what will probably be a trying  time for me in the next several months,  I plan to say little about my cancer and  its treatment. How can we know what  to say when our knowledge is so limited?  I would hope that people might reflect  upon God’s goodness and grow closer  to Christ. Then even my sickness and, at some point at a still unknown time  and way, my death will be an answer to what I prayed many years ago: that  I and all those God has given me to know  and love here might live in such a way that God’s will for the salvation of the world will be realized.”

As I discovered a few years ago during my own bout with health problems, faith does not necessarily take away the physical ailment, but it does keep the hope for a positive outcome alive, whether that outcome be a resolution of the ailment, or as we all hope for at some point, the beginning of a life of eternity with our God in heaven.  If you would like to read the full column from Cardinal George, here is the link:

http://catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2012/0826/cardinal.aspx

I am excited to report to you that our once again formed high school youth group is progressing nicely and is making plans for the coming year.  There have been 14 of our youth who have attended either one or both of the meetings thus far.  They have expressed a desire to participate in the Sunday Masses, so tentatively on the first Sunday of each month they will perform the roles of altar servers, ushers, etc.  They have also planned their first service project (thanks to the suggestion of Fr. Gene) of running desserts back and forth from church to the KC Hall for the smorgasboard next Sunday.  They have also planned a social gathering for the end of September.  I’m sure there will be more things planned as the year goes along.  They have also appointed a photographer for the group so be on the lookout for some photos appearing on our website.  I also plan to add some things to our youth page on the website.

Some people whom I have shared this news with have had the reaction of “well, they’ve tried all kinds of things before and it never worked”.  Admittedly, this has been something our parish has lacked for some time, but this should not keep us from making the effort, especially this time when it was the kids who came with the desire to form a group.  So I encourage you to help in whatever way you can, whether it be through encouragement, publicity, or of course prayer.

Speaking of prayer, my Cardinals need all the prayers they can get right now after these last few games.  Hopefully a new month turns things around, and we can still hang on to that wild card playoff spot.  We are also gratefully for the beautiful rain we received yesterday, and hope for more before Issac leaves us for good.  Have a great rest of the weekend and week ahead.  Peace.