Archive for June, 2013

June 29, 2013 – Celebration and Concern

June 29, 2013

In a few days, we as a country will celebrate the 237th anniversary of our Declaration of Independence from British tyranny and the beginnings of a free and democratic way of life.  There will be parades, huge fireworks displays, picnics, concerts, and other means of celebration.  And why shouldn’t there be?  We are truly a blessed nation to have the ability to live without fear of being persecuted for our beliefs.  So many in the world do not enjoy this fundamental human right, particularly those who put religion at the forefront of their lives.  Would it surprise you that even here in the 21st century, around 150,000 Christians are killed each year because of their faith, or that more than a billion people live under governmental reign that suppresses religious liberty?

According to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, 75% of the world’s population lives in countries that have significant restrictions on religion, whether it be by the government or society.  Christians face harassment in the largest number of countries, followed by Muslims and Jews.  This does not only affect those who are believers, but it affects the well-being of society as a whole.  The Pew Research Center also notes that “restriction of religious freedom correlates with diminished well-being and violent social conflict.”  This puts credence to what we have heard from Pope Francis, who said that “the shared protection of freedom of religion is also a guarantee of the entire community’s growth and development.”

To have freedom of religion is a right that is good on its own merits.  It also helps to foster the common good.  It enables people of faith to contribute to their communities in various ways, whether it be through schools, health care, distribution of food, and other means of humanitarian assistance.  As Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a recent op-ed piece, “faith inspires people to serve their neighbors, enriching the public life we all share.”  People of faith also play an important role in public debate and hold governments accountable to their people.  Religious freedom also is vital to the reinforcement of other freedoms we enjoy such as freedom of speech, freedom of the press and of assembly.

After seeing and experiencing the good that religious freedom can bring, wouldn’t you think that governments would welcome religious liberty as a means of helping their societies advance and excel?  Many still restrict religion, however, and this conflict often times leads to violence and societal disruption.  It is encouraging to note that according to the Pew Center, “government restrictions on religion and social hostilities involving religion are more than two times lower in countries where Catholics are the majority population than in countries where Catholics are the minority.”  We as Catholics know that the basic human right of religious freedom is a core teaching that helps the advancement of the human family.  We uphold religious liberty so much so that we are currently in the “Fortnight for Freedom,” the two-week period of prayer, education and service that calls on God to help us uphold this basic right.  It also could be considered sort of a “pep rally,” helping us as Catholics to continue to urge our government to make sure that this right is protected to its fullest extent.

If I compared the current state of our religious freedom to a large boulder, I would say that for the most part the boulder remains in tact, and that the boulder is still a large and powerful force.  However, the boulder has recently been chipped away at. If we continue to allow it to be chipped away, eventually, slowly but surely, the boulder will shrink and will not be as prominent as it has been for the last 237 years.

This past week the Supreme Court of the U.S. handed down decisions that put more chips in the boulder.  The court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law in 1996 and also refused to rule on the merits of a ban on same-sex marriage in California.  The ruling does not go so far as to mandate a re-definition of marriage across the country.  Rather, it basically gives the states the ability to recognize same-sex marriages and to extend the same benefits to these couples as to unions of a man and woman (if the states pass such legislature).  Those who favor same-sex marriage argue that it is an issue of human dignity and equality.  I agree that everyone, regardless of their sexual inclination, is a creation of God, and should be treated with respect and dignity.  However, rulings such as this weaken traditional marriage.  Marriage as defined not by me, or the Pope, but by God, is a sacred bond between a man and a woman and a gift to children and society.  As we continue to chip away at this sacred bond through things such as this re-definition of marriage, or no-fault divorce, or living together without marriage, we continue to allow society to suffer the consequences.

I laugh and shake my head at the same time when I see people making such an effort to celebrate occasions such as Easter, Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day without making God a part of these celebrations.  Where do they think these holidays came from?  Well, I fear the same thing is happening with marriage.  It is becoming merely a legal definition of a bond between two adults.  Again, where do they think the concept of marriage came from?  It is a God-given gift.  It is a right given to a man and woman who truly love each other and are willing to make a life-long commitment to each other, to family, and to God.  This is what we, as Christians and people of faith, must continue to witness to.

So we do have reason to celebrate this week.  However, we also have reason to be concerned and certainly reason to pray and to continue to educate ourselves on the issues.  I wish you a happy and safe Independence Day, and a great week.  Enjoy the spring-like temperatures, and root a little harder for the Cardinals (they’ve hit a little bit of a funk).  Peace.

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June 22, 2013 – Necessary Political Talk

June 22, 2013

When I decided to become a “blogger” several years ago, I really wasn’t sure what direction I was going.  I did know that I wanted to do something that was sort of “light-hearted,” something that focused on positive things that would perhaps be an escape from the rigors of reality.  As I have gone along, the blog has kind of evolved into an advocate for the issues surrounding the Catholic Church, which I think is needed considering all of the bogus anti-Catholic material that is floating around in cyberspace.  However, I still have purposely tried to make the effort to keep political talk to a minimum.  I do not necessarily subscribe to either political party, and I think the leaders of both sides have plenty of blemishes on their records that deserve an explanation.  However, there were some comments made this past week that were so completely asinine that I couldn’t help but bring them to the forefront here.

In Northern Ireland for the G-8 summit, President Obama made this remark: “If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings and Protestants have theirs, if we can’t see ourselves in one another, and fear or resentment are allowed to harden — that too encourages division and discourages cooperation.”  On the surface, these remarks were made in Belfast, which has a long history of division. Perhaps he merely meant that any institutions that deepen those divisions will aggravate rather than alleviate the ever-volatile situation in Northern Ireland.  However, looking at this a little closer, what was he really saying?  Was he suggesting that only Catholic schools should be closed?  Or was he implying that both Catholic and Protestant schools should be closed and all of the students should be together in a public school where they can “see themselves in one another.”  Wouldn’t that also be making the suggestion that churches should be closed as well because, well, if Catholics have their own buildings and Protestants have theirs …?

Whatever he meant to say, or what others have meant to say, we as Catholics should be prepared to defend Catholic education against any notion that we’d all be better off if education were purely secularized.  Universal education was invented by the Catholic Church. The Church also invented the university. Before that, education was a privilege for the very few. But during the period from 1200 to 1500, the universities educated hundreds of thousands of students from all walks of life and from all over Europe. That universalizing of education on the upper level was the blueprint and inspiration for the universalizing of education reaching down to the pre-collegiate levels.  Catholics have a right to defend what they’ve invented.

More importantly, however, if we had only secular schools, schools entirely under the arm of the government, our children would learn only what that secular government wants them to learn.  There would be no moral buffer for passing on to children the teachings of the Catholic Church.  Just suppose, for example, that a secular state wants to affirm abortion and “gay marriage” as both legal and moral and uses its public secular schools to teach kids accordingly. There would be no Catholic institutions to contradict the government and teach that abortion is murder and that “gay marriage” is a morally distorted form of God’s true meaning of marriage, marriage between one man and one woman.  Whatever the intentions, we must stress the importance of the availability of Catholic education, even if it does mean we have our own schools and buildings.

The other comments this past week that drew my ire came from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who as you know claims to be a “devout” Catholic.  In reference to her opposition to a bill that passed the House this week which would ban late-term abortions after 20 weeks gestation unless doctors deemed the mother’s life or basic health were deemed to be at risk, a reporter asked her this question: “What is the moral difference between what Dr. Gosnell did to a baby born alive at 23 weeks and aborting her moments before birth?” Gosnell is a Philadelphia late-term abortionist who was recently convicted of several counts of first-degree murder for the killing of infants who survived his abortion attempts, among other crimes and health violations.  She did not directly answer the question, saying instead that the bill was an effort to ensure that “there will be no abortion in our country.”

More appallingly, then, she not only rejected the teachings of her faith, but she used her faith to defend abortions when she said that “As a practicing and respectful Catholic, this is sacred ground to me when we talk about this.  I don’t think it should have anything to do with politics.”  This is either one of the most extreme cases of ignorance or one of the most extreme cases of brashness.  She then invoked her favorite abortion shield, her children, reminding the reporter that she was a mother of 5 whose oldest child was 6 years old when her last was born.  Pelosi brazenly argues that her many children and her motherhood give her license to support abortion.  As one article said, she updated the Mother Goose nursery rhyme about the little old woman who had so many children she didn’t know what to do, so she supported abortion.

Again, politics is not my favorite thing to talk about.  However, when I see statements such as these that are not only inaccurate, but downright brash, then I must stand up and defend the true intentions and teachings of the Catholic faith, particularly during this Fortnight for Freedom.  As I said last week, religious freedom is about more than just our right to go to our own place of worship or to have the ability to pray in our homes as we wish, but to have the ability to use our God-given gifts to contribute to the common good.  This includes putting into question the intentions of our political leaders.  Please keep the Fortnight for Freedom in the forefront of your prayers and focus these 2 weeks.

Well let’s end on a lighter note.  Here’s one more dose of “bulletin bloopers”:

The agenda was adopted … the minutes were approved … the financial secretary gave a grief report.

A new loudspeaker system has been installed in the church.  It was given by one of the members in honor of his wife.

The preacher will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing, “Break Forth With Joy”.

Have a great week.  Peace.

June 15, 2013 – Fortnight for Freedom II

June 15, 2013

Well first things first –Happy Father’s Day weekend to all of our dads – living and deceased.  May the Lord provide them with abundant blessings on their special day, and may they follow the example of St. Joseph who so selflessly gave of himself to Mary and the child Jesus.  My dad passed away almost 7 years ago, and still hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about what he would have done to handle a certain situation, or how he would have reacted to today’s current events.  Our dads play a very important and unique role in nurturing our families, which is one reason why the Catholic Church is so adamant in stressing the importance of the true meaning of marriage and the structure of the traditional family.

The attack of our culture on the God-given gifts of marriage and family is just one of the issues that will be emphasized during the 2nd annual Fortnight for Freedom which we will observe beginning next Friday, June 21 through Independence Day on July 4.  Similar to last year’s observance, the Fortnight for Freedom is a call to fourteen days of prayer, action, and study for religious freedom in the United States and abroad.  Last year’s focus was primarily on the HHS mandate which, as worded, will require many religious institutions to violate their consciences by providing insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization procedures, and abortion – inducing drugs and methods.  This year’s fortnight has great importance due to three main reasons:

o First, the Supreme Court’s rulings on same sex “marriage,” which could have grave implications for religious freedom, will almost certainly issue right around the Fortnight.

o Second, by the time of the Fortnight, the effective date of the HHS mandate—August 1, 2013—will be scarcely a month away, and the Administration’s decision on the shape of a final rule will likely be imminent. And unfortunately, as we now know after extensive study and analysis of the latest proposal, we are still far from receiving the relief we need through the regulatory process.

o Third, the success of a second Fortnight is essential to perpetuating a new movement for religious freedom, highlighting the full range of ongoing religious freedom issues, here and abroad, and in so many other areas of law, such as immigration, adoption, and disaster relief.

Many people mistakenly think that religious freedom simply means that we have the right to go to our own place of worship on Sunday or that we have the ability to pray as we wish in our homes.  Freedom of religion also means that we should have the ability to use our God-given abilities to contribute to the common good of all people.  Besides being merely an establishment for people to come to worship, the Catholic Church is also the largest charitable organization in the world.  About one in six patients in the U.S. are cared for in a Catholic hospital.  Over 2 million students are enrolled in Catholic schools in the U.S.  All of these services and many more are in jeopardy if the current legislative trends continue.

So what can we do during this Fortnight for Freedom?  As is always the number one and most important thing, we need to pray that our legislators will abandon proposals that threaten our ability to spread the gospel and to provide help to the poor and abandoned.  I will be providing links through our website and our Facebook page to daily reflections and other prayer resources throughout the Fortnight.

We also need to be informed.  We need to read more about these threats to our religious freedom and why it is so imperative for us to be in contact with our legislators to let them know that we will not tolerate the current climate which forces religion to be kept behind walls.  Again, I will be providing links to information which lays these things out.  I hope you will join myself and millions of Catholics across the country in participating in this important two-week period of prayer, education and activism.

I also wanted to call your attention to an excellent article written by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.  We in the Diocese of Belleville have heard a lot about Pastoral Planning over the last few months.  However, the message has really been out there for years that because of declining numbers of clergy, shifts in population, improved methods of transportation, etc., that we need a change in our parish structure.  This actually began under Bishop Keleher when parishes who could work together were defined.  This was taken a step further by Bishop Gregory by introducing a clustering process in which groups of parishes share resources in order to more effectively minister to the people.  Now, Bishop Braxton has brought to us the need to develop parish partnerships, coupling parishes together that can eventually be served by one or two priests.  Since we have heard so much about pastoral planning that we may have become immune to all of the talk, and we may think that because we still have yet to see significant change in our parish, that it will not occur this time either.  Well, as you read Cardinal Dolan’s article, you will realize that this phenomenon of pastoral planning is not just for rural dioceses such as ours, but is occurring everywhere.  Here is a link to what I think is a “must read” article:

Our Approach to Strategic Pastoral Planning

We see similarities to our own Diocese in that, for example, the New York Archdiocese is relying on priests who are ministering past the retirement age of 75 and also international priests in order to fulfill their sacramental needs.  We cannot rely on this assistance forever, so we need to have a plan in place for the eventual situation when we and St. Mary’s, Ellis Grove will be served by only one priest.

Finally, on a lighter note, I promised you a few more bloopers from church bulletins, and here they are:

“Next Thursday there will be tryouts for the choir.  They need all of the help they can get!”

“A bean supper will be held on Tuesday evening in the church hall.  Music will follow.”

“Please place your donation in the envelope along with the deceased person you want remembered.”

“The Associate Minister unveiled the church’s new campaign slogan last Sunday: “I Upped My Pledge – Up Yours.”

Have a great week – Peace.

June 8, 2013 – Love vs. Tolerance

June 8, 2013

If you are a Facebooker like myself, you probably get a least a few “memes” a day in your news feed.  (If you have no idea what I am talking about, just bear with me until the next paragraph).  Memes are kind of like blogs – they are hard to explain.  Basically a meme is taking a photo and putting a saying on it to give it a different “twist”.  It may be something humorous, or something pertaining to current events, or something to make a statement about societal trends.  For example, here is a meme that caught my eye yesterday:

bacon

You can almost taste it can’t you?  Mmmmmmm.  Anyway, there are now more and more Christian and Catholic related memes popping up.  One of my favorites is from a site called “things Jesus never said.”  I think I enjoy them because they send powerful messages while putting a sarcastic twist on things.  Here is the one that I saw today:

christian

This meme is of course a shot at the current trend in our culture that religion should be kept “behind the walls”, which was not what Jesus did.  He brought His Father’s message front and center to the crowds when he turned over the tables of the marketers in the temple, and forgave the adultress, and so many other situations.  This would eventually lead to the events of His passion and death, as the politicians of the time were fearful of losing their power and influence.

OK, so where is all of this leading?  Well, some of what I read and watched in the past week led me to come up with my own meme of something Jesus never said.  I don’t have a photo to go with it, but I think you will get the message.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment in the Law was, His answer didn’t go quite like this: “You shall tolerate the Lord your God with all your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind … and tolerate your neighbor as yourself.”  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?  It doesn’t even sound right.  However, in today’s society, we seem to more and more mistake tolerance for love.  Fr. Robert Barron addresses this in his latest video reflection.  I cannot do his theology and explanation justice so I urge you to view the video below for yourself (it is only about 7 minutes long).

It would seem on the surface to be a compliment to label someone as tolerant, and in some cases that is true.  However, in our society today we have become so afraid of being labeled as intolerant, or closed-minded, or even bigoted, that we have forgotten what the true meaning of the gospel value of love is.  As the second meme indicates, we in some cases have become afraid to speak about our religion in the public square because it may be offensive to someone.  We are afraid to speak out on issues of life such as abortion, euthanasia, the death penalty, poverty, etc. because there may be someone we know who doesn’t share our same views.  We may have become willing to accept things that go against our better moral judgment because it is accepted as the more tolerant response by society.  The more accepting that we become of these behaviors, the more credence they are given, and they eventually become cultural “norms”.

True love as a Christian value involves much more than acceptance and inclusion.  In fact, it must involve an intolerance toward evil thought and behavior.  As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Freedom is not the right to do what we want but the right to do what we should.”  As Fr. Barron states, once tolerance replaces love as the motivating virtue that drives society, truth becomes irrelevant and even the devil can be accepted as beautiful and holy.  These are strong words, but it is the path that many of us have chosen to take.

A couple of weeks ago, Pope Francis made a comment in one of his daily homilies which caused quite a stir in the secular media.  He said that “The Lord has redeemed all of us with the Blood of Christ; all of us, not just Catholics.  Everyone! … Even the atheists.  Everyone!”  The press, of course, jumped on this with headlines such as “Pope Francis defends atheists,” “Even the atheists can go to heaven,” and “Atheists are alright!.”  When the Vatican then tried to explain what the Pope meant, the headlines turned into “Catholic Church confirms atheists still go to hell”, “Pope Francis was just kidding”, and “Vatican says Pope Francis got it wrong.”  People are so anxious to get religion out of public life, or to be “tolerant” of those who do not believe in God, that they will write complete nonsense such as this.

What Pope Francis meant, of course, was that Jesus’ suffering and death not only for our sins, but for the sins of the whole world.  This would include the atheist.  However, to be redeemed does not mean to be saved.  Salvation requires the individual to take that redemption which Jesus offers us and move toward God.  Salvation requires repentance from past sin, and a rebirth in the baptismal waters.  Nowhere does Pope Francis suggest that an atheist who does good works earns salvation.  Nowhere does Pope Francis say that we should stand back and be tolerant of those who deny the existence of God.  So as we approach the Fortnight of Freedom in a couple of weeks, let us remember the true meaning of Christian love, even if we have to be a little more intolerant.

On a lighter note, I came across a new list of funny quotes from church bulletins, and I wanted to share some of them with you over the next few weeks.  Here is a sampling:

“Join us for the Fasting & Prayer Conference … meals included.”

“Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale.  It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house.  Bring your husbands.”

“Don’t let worry kill you off – let the church help.”

I’ll share some more in future blogs.  Have a great week.  Peace.

June 1, 2013 – Six Years and We Are Still Here

June 1, 2013

Well for the second week in a row the news in our part of the country is focused on the weather, as more destructive storms hit the Midwest last night.  Thankfully it appears no one was seriously injured in the St. Louis area, but at last check there were 9 more fatalities in Oklahoma.  Our prayers go out to the victims and to those who will be dealing with having to rebuild their homes, businesses, schools, etc. that the Lord will provide them hope and comfort in this difficult time.  We keep telling ourselves that these events are a product of the cycle of nature, but the frequency of these storms and flooding sure does make one wonder whether someone is trying to tell us something.

Turning to other things, the two or three of you who regularly read this blog may know that the first part of June brings with it a little milestone.  It not a wedding anniversary, a birthday, or a jubilee, but as I have said before us single computer geeks have to take what we can get.  It was on June 3 six years ago that our website, www.maryhoc.org, went online for the first time.  Now I do not consider this my anniversary, but a date for all of us as a parish (and beyond) to take note of and to take pride in. It has truly been a group effort which has helped our site continue to grow and prosper.  Without your ideas, photos, and words of encouragement, the website would never have gotten off the ground, let alone grown into what it has become today.  Who would have thought last year at this time that we would have a parish directory online for folks to use and enjoy?  Certainly not me, but I have found that the Holy Spirit works in that sort of way – it guides us toward the unexpected.

I do find it funny that after six years, once in a great while I’ll still have someone come up to me and say something to the effect of  “You know, I sat down the other day and took a look at that web thingamajigger and wow, there’s a lot of stuff on there!”  My sarcastic side is tempted to say “really, I hadn’t noticed!  I’ll have to check it out sometime.”  But I manage to hold back and say a simple thank you.  I of course still also get my share of folks who tell me that they know nothing about computers and will never even try to figure them out.  My response to all of this is that the technology of computers, tablets, smart phones, and other instant means of communication isn’t going anywhere, and we as a church must embrace this as a part of the new evangelization.  We cannot continue to let misinformation and falsehoods flood cyberspace.  We as Catholics must use these means to tell the world what we are really all about.  So again, I would ask for your cooperation in letting people know about our website and encouraging to take advantage of things such as our Facebook group.  Also, please let me know if there is anything you would like to see on our website, or if you have any photos, etc. that you think folks would find interesting.  What will the next year bring?  Who knows.  That’s part of the reason I enjoy doing this: you never know what sort of work the Holy Spirit has in mind.

It has been an immense joy to see this ministry flourish and grow.  However, anyone who works with technology knows that it can be frustrating at times also.  Things don’t respond to your commands, or virus infect your computers, or you can’t figure out why something won’t print out the way you want it to.  In fact, it can be frustrating in general to be a Christian at times.  We see more and more policies taking effect that erode our religious freedom.  We see more and more people not only ignoring their religion, but ignoring God all together.  We feel that at times we are in the midst of a losing battle.  It is hard at times to be a “happy” Christian.  Pope Francis, however, reminded us in one of his homilies this past week that the true Christian should follow the example of the Holy Spirit, who is the “author of Christian joy.”  He tells us that “to proclaim the Gospel we need to have joy in our hearts gifted us by the Spirit of God.  There is a certain understanding of Christian life that is marked by sadness, but long faces cannot proclaim Jesus.  Joy alone and praise of God are the only way to advance the Gospel.”  He went on to challenge those who were at Mass, and I think all of us as well: “Do you give praise to God or do you only petition God and thank God?  Do you praise God? … If you do not praise God, you will never know the gratuity of spending time praising God.  The Mass is long.  But if you go with this attitude of joy, of praise to God, that is beautiful!  This is what eternity will be: giving praise to God!  And that will not be boring; it will be beautiful!  This joy makes us free.”

I would encourage you as part of your prayer and reflection during the week to look up Pope Francis’ daily homilies.  They are not long or complicated.  They are simply worded and give us many direct messages and challenges.  I also read this past week that the Pope has presented the Vatican Communications office a great challenge because he does not always follow a prepared homily.  He will often speak “off the cuff”, which causes the office to scramble to translate what he said and to publish it in the many different languages.  My reaction to this is – GREAT!  What a genuine and humble servant we have as our leader!

Again, thank you for your support of our web ministry.  It sounds like we may have a t least a few nice days in the coming week.  Enjoy!  Have a great week.  Peace.