Archive for September, 2013

September 27, 2013 – Catholics and the Media

September 27, 2013

I’m multi-tasking again as I try to write this.  I’m also watching the Cardinals kick a little Cub booty and clinch their division title.  So if something doesn’t make sense, well, there wouldn’t really be any difference from other weeks, would there.  So let’s get typing.

I appreciate the nice comments I got on last week’s blog, although it pretty much wrote itself because of all the buzz around the interview with Pope Francis in America magazine.  There are still articles being written and commentary on social media about what Pope Francis said.  All of the different misinterpretations and uninformed opinions put a focus on what Fr. Gene mentioned in his homily last weekend.  Catholics need to be careful where they get their information, and they need to have the patience to sort through the “garbage.”  This week, then, I thought I would talk a little bit about the history of Catholic media in our country and where we are at now.

Catholic newspapers were originally launched in the United States for two important purposes. The first was to defend the Church from hostility and misunderstanding in an overwhelmingly Protestant and unsympathetic culture.  Subsequent waves of Catholic immigrants — from Germany, Italy, Ireland and Poland — were often greeted with suspicion or hostility.  In the early 20th century a publication called “The Menace,” for example, with a weekly circulation of 750,000, bitterly attacked Catholic immigrants for taking jobs from Americans while being beholden to a foreign power: Rome.

The second purpose was to help strengthen a sense of community and a bond with the Church among Catholics who were strangers in this strange land.  Catholic media provided information about the faith, news of the Church, and an outlet for Church leaders to speak directly to their people.

For most of our history, Catholic media was primarily in print form, with national and diocesan publications together printing millions of copies weekly. There were Catholic personalities on radio and television — most famously Bishop Fulton Sheen — but print was the primary form of Catholic communication.  I remember as a kid the two publications I was exposed to the most.  One was of course The Messenger, which remains our Diocesan newspaper.  I particularly enjoyed the “Hello, This is Bishop Cosgrove” column, and later on the “What I Have Seen and Heard” column by then Bishop Gregory, which talked about what they were experiencing as they traveled throughout the Diocese.  The other one was Our Sunday Visitor, which is also still in publication.  I remember there was a display case for this in the center vestibule with the little metal box to drop change in.  I also remember in 8th grade, when Fr. Kribs came for his weekly visit to our classroom, his explanation of why it was no longer cost effective to provide this paper (it was indeed a well-rounded education at ol’ SMS).

Of course our means of communications have progressed leaps and bounds in a relatively short amount of time, though print media still remains a key player.  According to the 2013 statistics of the Catholic Press Association, its members total 141 newspapers — national and diocesan — with a combined circulation of 5 million.  Seventy magazines had a total circulation of 3.8 million.  Other publications total an additional 1.2 million subscribers.  Catholic radio is experiencing significant growth in the United States, with 243 stations currently broadcasting and an average of two a month being added.  Dominant players in Catholic radio include EWTN, Ave Maria, Relevant Radio and Immaculate Heart Radio, among others.  The U.S. Catholic television presence is dominated by the Eternal Word Television Network, but there are diocesan inspired television ministries in Boston, Brooklyn and Trenton, among other places.

Of course, the area that has attracted a great deal of attention is the growth of Catholic digital efforts. There is an amazing diversity in Catholic resources on the web, including sites and blogs (woohoo!) sponsored by existing Catholic media companies, by other Catholic organizations such as universities and dioceses, or independent efforts such as New Advent or the Catholic portal on Patheos. There are huge numbers of Catholic blogs and Catholic-inspired or sponsored social media efforts.  Getting a solid count on the number of Catholic blogs is nearly impossible, but according to a recent survey, one in 20 self-identified Catholic adults (or 5 percent of the Catholic population, potentially the equivalent of 2.9 million people) reads or follows a blog about the Catholic Church, faith or spirituality (with approximately 5 of those reading “The Webmaster’s Blog”, LOL).

With the constantly changing formats of media, it was amazing to read the following from a report given at a recent conference at the Vatican:  “Surveys show that more older Catholics than younger are visiting Catholic websites and reading Catholic blogs, while among those younger Catholics seeking Catholic resources, they are more likely to read print bulletins and newspapers than visit parish or diocesan websites.  Half of all Catholics have no idea that the Church has any presence at all on the web.”  At first I wondered if this claim was really true.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I believe that this is probably the case.  Our website has existed for over six years, yet occasionally I still have someone come up to me and tell me that they had just discovered how much information our website contained.  Also, unfortunately, those who do not regularly attend church tend to get their information from secular news sources, which of course more often than not is misinformed.

I think as a parish and a church as a whole we have done a very good job in embracing the internet and social media.  We of course can always do more, particularly our Diocese of Belleville which is limited by lack of resources, etc.  However, perhaps we could do a better job in marketing our place in cyberspace.  This is an important part of the New Evangelization.  Of course, nothing takes the place of our personal encounters with Christ in our prayer, in our actions, in our attendance at church, etc.  But we have the means to go through other avenues, and we will continue to do our best to do so.

Well the Cardinals just clinched the division.  It’s a good night.  Bring on October!  Have a great week.  Peace.

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September 21, 2013 – Keep Calm

September 21, 2013

This week saw the tremendous influence that social media has to spread information, to influence people, to put all kinds of different twists on things, and to rally people for worthy causes.  Earlier this past week there was another tragic story of a 12-year old in Florida committing suicide at least in part due to the fact that she had been bullied with text messages and put downs on social media.  These stories are horrifying, which is why we need to continue to educate our young people about the influence social media has gained in our society.

However, on the flip side, social media can be a tremendous way to bring people together in prayer and to rally for a cause.  Unfortunately, there have been a lot of prayer intentions that have been needed this past week for people with health issues, etc.  Most notably, Daulton Misuraca, grandson of parishioners Dick and Sharon Misuraca, was in a serious car accident a week ago, and is still in critical condition at a St. Louis hospital.  However, social media has allowed us not only to stay updated on his condition, but also a Facebook page titled “Prayers for Daulton” was started which has now been liked by over 2500 people!  What a powerful prayer tool we have been given with the internet and social media!  This is why it is so important for us as Christians to not only accept these cyber tools, but to embrace them.  My routine this week has seemed to be get home from work, and then re-post all of the information from people needing prayer.  But I know people appreciate it, and I’ll keep doing it as long as it takes.  Keep checking our Facebook page, and when you go to Facebook, type in “Prayers for Daulton” to access his page.

OK, as you probably know, social media also exploded this past Thursday because of a little chat Pope Francis had with a Jesuit magazine.  Boy were the headlines riveting!  “VATICAN SHOCK WAVE.”  “POPE FRANCIS SHAKES UP THE CHURCH.”  “POPE FRANCIS IS A FLAMING LIBERAL.”  “POPE FRANCIS CHARTS NEW COURSE FOR THE CHURCH.”  OK, before we move further, I have a little message for everyone who thought the walls of the Vatican were crumbling down and St. Peter was rising out of his grave:

keep-calm-and-go-to-mass-11
OK, now then.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the interview with Pope Francis that has stirred all of this up, here is a link to it:

http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

Now, let’s examine what got people so excited.  I think this is the quote from the interview that made the most press: “We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible. I have not spoken much about these things, and I was reprimanded for that. But when we speak about these issues, we have to talk about them in a context. The teaching of the church, for that matter, is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time.”  Is this a change in tone?  Yes.  Is this a change in what the Catechism tells us? NO.  Is this the beginning of a radical change in the doctrine of the church?  NO.  I think what we are seeing is a Pope who is imitating Jesus Christ.

As I read in an article yesterday, to read this quote and say that the Pope wants to be accepting of abortion and contraception and gay marriage is like reading the story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well and say it shows how accepting Jesus is of adultery.  Jesus masterfully takes a woman who has led a sinful life from a simple conversation about water to a self-examination of her life to a recognition that Jesus is the Messiah.  He does it without ever voicing His objections to her sinful life.  Christ respects the woman’s freedom. When we say we want to “evangelize” someone, we often mean we want someone to stop being who they are and be who we want them to be. Christ doesn’t treat the woman  that way. He recognizes the woman for who she is, but offers her a positive way to become a better person.  Christ also speaks in the woman’s language about a real need the woman feels, in this case for water. Too often, our efforts to tell other people about Christ fail to recognize their interests, while making our interests (their joining our Church) very clear.  Finally, Christ doesn’t condemn the woman — rather, he leads her to a place where she can see the error of her own ways. This is crucial. Not only do we frighten people away from us by being judgmental, we deny them the opportunity of true repentance.  The respectful way is the harder way, but it is the more effective way.

Compare this observation with what Francis says later in the interview: “Because God is first; God is always first and makes the first move,” he said. “I have a dogmatic certainty: God is in every person’s life. God is in everyone’s life. Even if the life of a person has been a disaster, even if it is destroyed by vices, drugs or anything else — God is in this person’s life. You can, you must try to seek God in every human life. Although the life of a person is a land full of thorns and weeds, there is always a space in which the good seed can grow. You have to trust God.”  Pope Francis is not telling us that we should not teach the doctrine of the church on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, etc.  I think what he is telling us is that we need to get back to the true focus – that we are a Christ-centered church who welcomes sinners.  Remember the passage from last Sunday’s gospel – “This Man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.”  If we are willing to become true shepherds, to welcome the sinner, to stop being so judgmental, then people will see why we as church hold the teachings that we do.  After all, these teachings are based on what Scripture tells us.  God Bless Pope Francis for reminding us what our true tasks as Christians are.

Have a great week.  I hope my heart can hold out watching these Cardinal games.  Enjoy the beautiful fall weather!  Keep praying for our brothers and sisters in their time of need.  Peace.

September 14, 2013 – Time Keeps Marching On

September 14, 2013

Wow, what a nice break in the weather!  Now I know that my favorite season of fall is just around the corner.  For me, the third Sunday of September brings more than just a sign of the change in seasons.  In the Catholic Church across our country, the third Sunday of September is Catechetical Sunday.  Those of us who serve as catechists are called to be commissioned for this ministry.  It’s also an opportunity for all of us as Catholics to be reminded that each of us has a role in handing on the faith to the generations to come and to be a witness to the Gospel.  For us as catechists, for parents, students, and all Catholics, the ceremony we will have tomorrow at the 9:00AM Mass is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to this mission we have been given.  This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday is “Open the Door of Faith,” which fits in nicely with us being in a Year of Faith.

For myself as a PSR teacher, there is additional meaning to this day.  This day is also when we normally begin our year in PSR.  As we begin again, it is an “I can’t believe” moment for me.  I can’t believe that this is going to be my 14th year doing the 7/8 grade PSR.  I can’t believe this is going to be the 8th time that I will be preparing a class to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.  I can’t believe a year has already flown by since we last celebrated Confirmation.  I can’t believe that the summer has already flown by and we are starting a new year of religious education.

It is almost scary to think that the first class of kids I had in 1999 are now probably around 26 or 27 years old.  I’m always stunned when I see kids whom it seemed like I just had in class now driving themselves around town.  So for me, this Sunday is not only a reminder of our mission to pass on our faith, but is also a reminder of the precious little time that we have to accomplish this.  It is a reminder to me of how fast time goes and how we need to make the most of the time we have.

I read a journal article a while back about this very topic – why it seems that time goes so fast and how we can make the most of the time we have.  The author related a story from years ago about a man who called the telephone operator in a small town everyday to see what the correct time was.  Finally one day she asked him why he needed to know this everyday, and he explained that “I need to know the exact time because I have to blow the town whistle precisely at 12:00.  The operator told him “well then, we may have a problem, because I always set my clock by your whistle.”  It is certainly important to know what the exact time is, but I think sometimes we are so obsessed with our schedules and trying to be on time, that we forget the importance of the passage of time in regard to the course of our lives.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who became famous for her work with dying persons, once said, “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”  I must say that I am guilty as charged in not thinking about our limited time on earth, but in thinking about what must be done at the moment.  I have to go to work.  I have to get this computer work done.  I have to get this blog written.  I fail to think about that those of us who follow God’s plan are destined for eternal life, and so the wisest and most important thing we can do is to invest the minutes, hours, and days of our lives in knowing, loving, and serving God.  It is only in doing this that we will be ready to live with Him forever.

Someone once calculated that if a person lived 75 years, he or she on average would use this much time on these activities: 23 years sleeping, 19 years working, 9 years watching TV, using the computer or some other form of entertainment, 7 ½ years in dressing and personal hygiene, 6 years eating, 5 years standing in line, 4 years doing housework, 1 year searching for misplaced objects, and only six months worshiping and praying.  What should be the most important thing receives the least amount of time.

This is not to say that our other activities do not have a place in our lives.  They are necessary in order to maintain our lifestyle.  However, we can glorify God in doing these other activities.  We can pray as we are standing in line, or as we are looking for our misplaced objects.  Whatever we are doing, we can live in a spirit of being aware that God is always present.  No matter how busy we are, we need to make the effort to step back and look at the big picture.  Time will continue to pass, but eternity will always endure, so we must use the former to prepare ourselves for the latter.  St.  John the Baptist tells us to “prepare the way of the Lord.”   We can do this by making sure we honor Jesus in everything we say and do, no matter how we spend our time.

Have a great week.  Keep rooting for the Cardinals and their charge to first place.  Peace.

September 6, 2013 – A Compassionate Church

September 6, 2013

Well this weekend is the 34th edition of the Popeye Picnic, and after all these years I’m still not sure what the proper lingo is.  Do I wish you a “Happy Popeye Weekend”, or a “Happy Popeye Picnic”, or simply just a “Happy Popeye?”  Perhaps the more proper greeting should be “Good Luck!”  Good luck getting through town, finding a parking space, getting to all the attractions you want to see, etc.  I have to be honest (I am a Catholic after all, lol) and say that this isn’t my favorite weekend of the year.  I know that this weekend is important to our community, our businesses, our organizations, etc.  And I hope that everyone has a great time and enjoys the experience.  I guess I’m more of a routine-oriented guy, and not so much of a hustle-bustle guy.  But that’s just me.  So again, I hope you enjoy everything.

Moving on now to something that irks me much more than dealing with the Popeye Picnic.  When we hear about the Catholic Church in the press, particularly in the mainstream press, we hear about how strict the church is in its beliefs.  We hear that the church isn’t keeping up with the times.  We hear that its stances on issues such as abortion, homosexuality, cohabitation before marriage, euthanasia, etc. simply don’t fit with the current landscape of the world.  And unfortunately, many people have expressed their displeasure by ceasing to practice their Catholic faith.  As has been mentioned here before, the number of people in the United States who consider themselves “ex-Catholics” would make up the second largest denomination in our country.

These misleadings result in the perception that the church has no compassion for those who do not follow the faith to a tee.  We would rather see a person leave the faith than not conform to its teachings.  And its certainly understandable for people to feel that way.  Last year, the Freedom from Religion Foundation took out a full-page ad in many national newspapers aimed at persuading Catholics who may not agree with everything the church teaches to quit the Catholic Church.  Bill Keller, who is a former editor of the New York Times, wrote a column in the paper urging discontented, liberal-minded Catholics to “Summon your fortitude, and just go.”

People who hear these things and do not know the whole story of the Catholic Church may get the perception that the church has no tolerance at all toward those who do not totally comply to their teachings.  In truth, this could not be more wrong.  It was almost comical a few weeks back when Pope Francis made comments about not being judgmental toward homosexuals, and the media made it appear that Francis said something completely contrary to what the church had taught.  Pope Francis simply and compassionately reiterated Biblical teaching.  The Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a “sin” to be homosexual.  They teach it is a sin to have homosexual sex because it goes against the laws of God’s nature, specifically his plan for human sexuality.  When Pope Francis said “who am I to judge” he is saying that active homosexuals deserve the same kindness, love, and mercy that all of us sinners would hope to receive from God and from others.  We don’t make judgments about anyone’s personal worth—God has already done that when he created us out of love.

A similar reaction took place when Pope Francis said that the Lord had redeemed all of us – even the athiests.  Again, many people saw this as a radical change in church teaching, when in fact it is what the church has taught for 2000 years.    Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, said that Christ “indeed died for all.”  The Catechism of the Catholic Church confirms this, saying that “Christ died for all men without exception: ‘There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.”  However, here’s the distinction: Christ’s redemptive sacrifice is not the same thing as salvation.  Salvation results from accepting Our Lord’s redemption and applying it to our lives.  Catholics know that Christ died for our sins, but that we must receive that gift by trusting in him, accepting his proposal of love, and following him with our life.  So while it’s true that Christ redeemed all people, even atheists, it doesn’t follow that all atheists have accepted this gift or will be saved.

Pope Francis’ pastoral approach has been characterized as a more merciful, less judgmental approach.  However, it is a approach that has always existed in the Catholic Church.  Pope Francis has just figured out the magic formula to bring it more to the forefront.

The news this week was dominated by the conflict in Syria.  In response to this, Pope Francis has called for a day of prayer and fasting tomorrow (September 7).  Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chairman of the Committee on International Justice and Peace, said in a statement issued Tuesday, “As our nation’s leaders contemplate military action, it is particularly appropriate and urgent that we in the United States embrace the Holy Father’s call to pray and fast on September 7 for a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria and to violent conflicts everywhere.  Pope Francis has exhorted ‘the international community to make every effort to promote clear proposals for peace, … a peace based on dialogue and negotiation, for the good of the entire Syrian people.'”

As already mentioned, this is Popeye Picnic weekend, and it may be difficult to squeeze time into our schedules for intense prayer and fasting.  However, we should at least take a short time, however brief, to pray for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and for wise judgement for our political leaders.

Enjoy the picnic.  Have a great week!  Peace.

September 1, 2013 – More Randomness

September 1, 2013

Yes, the blog is late this week.  It’s a 3-day weekend, there is a lot of sports on TV, and I’ve thrown schedules out the window.  Plus, I’m multi-tasking as I write this while watching the Cardinal game.  Plus, I haven’t really though about what I’m actually going to write about.  So I’m just going to wing it and see what happens.  This could get ugly fast, like the Cardinals have been playing against the Pirates.

I have been President of our Parish Council for more years than I can remember – probably 11 or 12.  We talk about many important issues, but we have some fun as well.  And even after all of these years, you never know what you will learn during a meeting.  At this past week’s gathering we were discussing the school enrollment.  It was pointed out that in order for a child to attend our pre-school/daycare, they must be 3 years old and must be house – broken.  Well, the ladies at the meeting quickly intervened and said that the proper term is to be potty – trained, and that the term house – broken is for animals.  So, for you guys out there, remember the proper use of the term house – broken if you want to stay out of the doghouse.

I try the best I can to keep up on the latest social media stuff and the lingo that goes with it.  However, there is so much out there I can’t keep up with it all.  If you are a Facebooker or an Instagramer, you know that a lot of people, especially the younger ones, like to take photos of themselves with their cell phones and post them.  Well little did I know that there was an actual term for this.  The term is “selfie”, and this past week this word made its way into the Oxford dictionary.  The definition is: a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.  One of the more popular photos that made its way around the web this past week was Pope Francis at a gathering of youth becoming a part of a selfie.  Here is the photo:

selfie

I thought that I’d better get into the spirit of this as well, so I thought I would do a selfie of me working on my computer  Here is that photo:

selfie2

 

This was taken on a bad day.  Normally I would just throw the computer on the floor without stomping on it.  Finally, little does our pastor, Fr. Gene, realize that I obtained a selfie of him in front of his mirror.  Here is that photo:

selfie3

Out of modesty he has never displayed this in public before, so you may want to tread lightly when approaching the subject.

Moving on then.  We as Catholics are not unique in that there are occasions when we like to gossip.  I think this is probably true of people of all faiths.  Even those who do not practice religion I’m sure are as much at fault in participating in gossip as anyone else.  It is a weakness that we probably all have had to deal with.  No matter how much we tell ourselves not to do it, when hear a juicy piece of information about someone we can’t help but be intrigued.  This past week Our Sunday Visitor tackled the subject of gossip.  In particular, they focused on what Pope Francis had to say about the subject.  In one of his recent homilies, Francis said that gossip often starts out harmless enough, but then we end up “feeling bad.”  “We all chat in church!” he said, according to Vatican Radio.  “As Christians we chat! The chatter is hurtful? We hurt one another.  It is if we want to put each other down: instead of growing, one makes the other feel small while I feel great.  That will not do! It seems nice to chat … I do not know why, but it looks nice.  Like sweet of honey, right?  You take one and then another, and another, and another, and in the end you have a stomachache.  And why?  The chatter is like that, eh? It is sweet at first and ruins you, ruins your soul! Rumors are destructive in the church, they are destructive!” The answer, according to Pope Francis, is to imitate the first Christians, in whom the Holy Spirit inspired “unity, that harmony, that mutual love,” and a “meekness in the community,” which he called a somewhat “forgotten virtue.”

Our Sunday Visitor offers a very helpful diagram with tips for avoiding gossip and for keeping relationships healthy.  Here is that diagram:

gossip

 

I don’t think i have mentioned it for a while, but regular readers of this blog know that I enjoy country music.  Some of it these days seems to be losing a little creativity, though.  A lot of new songs seem to be taking on the same theme: “I’m hot, my girlfriend is hot, we’re riding in a truck, and I’ve got a beer between my legs.”  Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but sometimes I long a little for the great “story” songs from the past.  There is still a lot of good music out there, though.  One of the more talented newcomers right now is Kacey Musgraves.  She is a talented songwriter as well as a singer.  Her first album has a song which I have become very fond of called “Silver Lining.”  It talks about how you have to endure challenges in order to gain rewards in the end.  Here is a YouTube link to the song:

Finally, as usual, we have many intentions to pray for.  On this Labor Day, we pray for all who are looking for work and for just wages and fair working conditions for all.  And of course we pray for a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Syria.  Pope Francis has called for a day of fasting and prayer for peace in Syria, in the entire Mideast region, and throughout the whole world to be held this coming Saturday, September 7th, 2013, the vigil of the birth of Mary, Queen of Peace.  I’m sure we will hear more about this throughout the week.

Have a great rest of the weekend and week ahead.  Peace.