Archive for November, 2013

November 29, 2013 – “The Joy of the Gospel”

November 29, 2013

I hope you had a good Thanksgiving and enjoyed time with family and friends.  I was actually pretty proud of myself as I remained pretty restrained when the mass quantities of food were presented (except for the turkey, but that’s a health food, right?).  It is hard to believe that we have zipped through Thanksgiving and right to the Season of Lent and the month of December.  When they say that time goes faster as you grow older, they mean it.  I hope you have a great upcoming Christmas season and are able to savor the blessings that this time of year brings.

I must again give kudos to Pope Francis.  Since he has been our Pope, my job as a blogger has sure been a lot easier.  Every week, sometimes every day, he does or says something that is worthy of repetition and discussion.  This past week was no exception.  A few days ago the document “Evangelii Gaudium” was released.  Evangelii Gaudium is Latin for “The Joy of the Gospel.”  This has been a much-awaited document because it is the first major writing that is mostly, if not entirely, from his point of view.   It is also his first apostolic exhortation, and it is devoted to the theme of the new evangelization.  It’s a papal document that, as the name suggests, exhorts people to implement a particular aspect of the Church’s life and teaching.  Its purpose is not to teach new doctrine, but to suggest how Church teachings and practices can be more effectively applied today.  Some apostolic exhortations are devoted to the pastoral challenges faced in particular parts of the world.  Others are devoted to particular themes, such as this one.  It is one of the more important papal documents—more important, for example, than a Wednesday audience or a homily.  However, because it is of a pastoral nature rather than a doctrinal or legal nature, it is ranked lower than an encyclical or an apostolic constitution.  but as with everything official that the pope writes, it is to be taken very seriously.

So what is this document all about?  You are certainly welcome to pull up the document and read it for yourself.  Here is a link to the PDF file which is free from the Vatican website:

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf

However, if you are not an avid reader, be warned that the document is 51,000 words long, which means that it is the length of a novel and takes at least 5 hours to read.  So, perhaps a summary of the document may be in order.  The exhortation is a compilation of many of the strongest points he has made in homilies, catecheses and interviews over the first eight months of his pontificate, but it also provides a detailed pastoral program for the reform of the Church he is seeking to bring about.  Missionary outreach, he says, must be “paradigmatic for all the Church’s activity.”  All Church institutions, from the papacy to parishes, must be reformed so that their structures are directed not toward maintenance, but toward a permanent state of  mission.       Francis also summons all of us as Catholics to a similar process of conversion, saying that those who are truly disciples will be missionary disciples, characterized by the joy of the faith. Evangelizers, he says, “must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral” or “whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”, but, rather, must be those who “wish to share their joy, who point to a horizon of beauty and who invite others to a delicious banquet.”

In the first chapter, Francis describes the transformation that must happen in the Church so that sharing the happiness that flows from our encounter with Jesus in faith becomes part of everything the Church does. This renewal cannot be deferred, he said. “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse, capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world.”

In the second chapter, Pope Francis focuses on the challenges to proclaiming the joy of the Gospel in today’s world. He mentions that consumerism, complacency, blunted consciences, excuse-making, relativism, secularist rationalism, violence, poverty, indifference, greed, narcotics, false autonomy and spiritual worldliness all weaken the impulse of missionary renewal in the Church.

In the third chapter, he focuses more specifically on the proclamation of the Gospel. After saying that it is the duty of all Christians to share the faith with joy — since Jesus entrusted this task not to an “exclusive and elite group” of professionals, but to all his followers — he then turns specifically to priests and deacons, and gives a very thorough lesson on the preparation of homilies.  Pope Francis says that homilies should be simple, brief, clear, positive and from the heart. They should be modeled on the way a mother speaks to her children, in a language they can understand.

In the fourth chapter, Pope Francis tackles the social dimension of evangelization. The Gospel is not supposed to remain private, but flourish in a true love of neighbor that transforms all of society. He focuses specifically on the demands of the Gospel with regard to the poor and with regard to peace.  Jesus himself became poor, preached the Good News to the poor and personally identified with the needy, Pope Francis reminds us. Throughout sacred Scripture, God’s care for the poor is striking. Pope Francis says we shouldn’t “relativize” or “weaken” the force of these texts, but accept them with “courage and zeal.”

In the last chapter, Pope Francis focuses on an authentic missionary spirituality, “full of fervor, joy, generosity, courage, boundless love and attraction!.”  This spirituality, modeled for us by the Blessed Virgin Mary and brought about by the Holy Spirit, flows from the life-changing encounter with Jesus and his saving love. Those who have had this encounter know the difference Jesus makes and want others to experience the joy of a similar transformation.  Pope Francis encourages everyone to recognize that, just like the Church, we don’t have a mission; each of us is a mission. It’s for that mission, he emphasizes, each of us is alive.

A short summary certainly does not do this document justice, but hopefully will help draw us to further study and implementation of Francis’ vision for today’s church.  I’m sure as the document is more closely studied, there will be more for us to discern and discuss.  Have a great first week of Advent.  Peace.

 

 

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November 23, 2013 – Thoughts on the JFK Assassination

November 23, 2013

Well the news shows this past week, especially the last couple of days, have spent much of the time in retrospective of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  It would be 6 years later until I was born, so I do not have quite the emotional attachment to this moment in history that others do who remember living through the events of those tragic days.  However, I have still been mesmerized by the old news footage and by the stories of those who went through the experience.  I do well to remember what I had for breakfast most days.  But 50 years later, it seems that so many people can recall every little detail of where they were and what they were doing when they heard the shocking news.  Here is a link to a retrospective from Cardinal Dolan, who was 13 at the time, telling about what they did in his Catholic Grade School:

http://cardinaldolan.org/index.php/remembering-john-f-kennedy/

I suppose in my lifetime an event that I can somewhat parallel it to is the 9/11 tragedy.  I remember first hearing word of what was going on in my office at work on the radio.  I also remember that the rest of that day just had an eeriness to it that I had never experienced before.  I remember simple things like going to lunch.  There wasn’t the usual chatter that normally would be occurring.  And upon returning home, it was straight to the television to get more details of what had happened.  Even that evening, when it was pretty clear what had happened, the only thing that seemed right to do was to pray and to stay glued to the television.  I would imagine that the feeling on November 22, 1963 was very similar.  Even though the process of gathering news was much more primitive in those days, I still find myself viewing the old news clips as if this were something that happened much more recently.

There are many reasons why, even 50 years later, that this event is still so captivating.  There are of course those who still try to figure out whether Oswald acted on his own, or if there indeed was some sort of conspiracy.   However, beyond that, I think it is because people mark the event as the time when our country took a serious cultural and intellectual turn.  We were a country who, despite suffering major losses during World War II, had emerged victorious, and the time after the war through the 1950’s was prosperous.  Now along comes a dashing, photogenic, forward-thinking President who brought a great deal of confidence to the upcoming generation.  And all of the sudden, in a 5-second span, it was as if the country, even the world, had completely turned upside-down.  Americans knew that whatever was coming ahead, that things would never be the same.  There was a loss of innocence, a loss of security.  And boy did the decade of the 60’s turn on its ear with the Vietnam conflict, peace protests, etc.  Again, I sort of compare it to the aftermath of 9/11.  We didn’t know what the future would hold, but we knew that things wouldn’t be the same again.  Now we must take measures for our security that we never would have dreamed of before.  We have to empty our pockets in order to enter our own courthouse.  We wonder whether our phone conversations and computer activities are being monitored.  We have to leap through hoops just to get on an airplane.  A completely different lifestyle because of the few minutes of brutal activity led by a deranged lunatic.

The Catholic Church also emerged from the 1960’s as a very different organization.  Under normal circumstances, the assassination of the first Catholic president would be the most profound event for our national church.  However, this was trumped by Vatican Council II, which of course brought dramatic change to liturgy and other phases of the church’s mission.  Again, I think a parallel can be drawn to the other events that have been described here.  I’m sure local Catholics as the events of the Vatican Council transpired, knew that change was coming, but didn’t realize just how dramatic the change would be until the requirements of Vatican II were fully implemented.

I’m sure sometime in the not too distant future there will be an event that will once again re-shape our society.  And as it has for so many dedicated Catholic Christians for so many years, it will be our faith that will sustain us through whatever comes our way.  I saw a graphic this week which I think explains very well how our Church continues to sustain itself during challenging times (you can click on the image to enlarge it):

catholic church destroyed

So as we can see, we Catholics have been through a great deal of hardship at different points during the 2000 years of our existence.  And while we may have not come out of these events totally unscathed, we are still here to pass along the faith to future generations.  It will be this faith, the faith of our ancestors, the faith that we continue to profess, that will sustain and guide us in the future.

Just a couple notes to finish up on.  Cardinal fans received the news yesterday that World series hero and native St. Louisan David Freese had been traded to the Anaheim Angels.  He will be missed.  However, it appears that the Cardinals have acquired a couple of players who will bring excitement to the field with their speed and athleticism.  I’m glad that they are not standing pat, and I think another move or two lies ahead.

Finally, by the time I write another blog Thanksgiving will have been here and gone.  I am thankful for so many things, I could not begin to list them here.  However, I certainly am thankful for those of you who continue to take the time to read my petty thoughts each week.  I do not know if anyone learns anything from them, or if they make you think about things from a different perspective, or if it just gives you a laugh.  Whatever the case, thank you.  I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, and hope that you have a blessed time of celebration.  And remember, on Thanksgiving, all diets are off!  Have a great week and great holiday.  Peace.

November 15, 2013 – The Fight Continues

November 15, 2013

Just a couple of odds and ends to start this week.  When I got home from work today I spent a little time in the yard taking down a hanging plant, tomato plant, and pulling flowers out of the bed that were zapped by frost.  Of course I did all of this keeping in mind that the highs this weekend will be in the 70’s!  You gotta love Southern Illinois!

Those of you who are not Facebook followers may not know what our Pastor was doing this past week during his vacation time.  Fr. Gene had the chance to meet and chat with Cardinal manager Mike Matheny.  A photo of this has spread like wildfire on social media.  Here is a photo of these two fine gentleman together:

frmatheny

 

Now the two look very cordial in the photo, but I understand that things got  little tense when Fr. Gene questioned him about why he didn’t pitch Shelby Miller in the World Series, and why they continued to throw fat pitches to David Ortiz.  (I’m kidding of course,  Fr. Gene was thrilled to meet him and was very impressed with how he conducted himself.  And I am still very jealous!!!!).

Well I better get to church business.  As I talked about last week, the Bishops of the United States met in Baltimore for their annual Fall Assembly.  As expected, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville was elected as President of the Bishops’ Conference and will serve a three year term.  He replaces Cardinal Dolan, whom I think was a great spokesman for the church in the United States for the past three years.  Archbishop Kurtz and Cardinal Dolan were both interviewed on EWTN.  Here is a video of that along with some other Bishops’ impressions of Pope Francis:

Much of what I talked about last week took place at the meeting, so I won’t rehash it.  One of the intriguing questions going in, however, was what sort of message the Bishops would deliver concerning the HHS mandate that religious organizations include coverage for birth control, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care plans, especially now since Obamacare is more or less the law of the land.  This question was answered on the final day of the assembly.  The Bishops met behind closed doors for the first time on this day, and emerged with a “Special Message” concerning the HHS mandate and protection of our religious freedom.  USCCB regulations regarding statements and publications define a “Special Message” as a statement, only issued at general meetings, that the general membership considers appropriate in view of the circumstances at the time. This message was passed unanimously.  To read the statement, you can go to the following link:

http://www.usccb.org/news/2013/13-210.cfm

The Bishops are urging us to read this statement and to share it with everyone that we can.  As I’m sure you can gather from the statement, the resolve of our Bishops remains strong on this serious threat to our God-given rights.  Our grievances as Catholics should be clear – that we can never, in good faith, support such a liberty-crushing law. The message of the Bishops to the Obama administration is also clear – that they would rather pay fines, no matter how much they would be, before they comply with the HHS mandate that compels groups to pay for birth control and drugs that may cause abortions.

So now what?  January 2014 is the Obama administration’s official deadline for compliance with the HHS mandate by Catholic non-profits — though church-affiliated institutions actually have individual deadlines based on the date their healthcare plan is updated. Some grandfathered plans will allow Catholic non-profits to stretch things out further, but not indefinitely.  The Bishops’ statement reaffirms their continued commitment to “resist” the federal law.  Quoting from the statement:  “As the government’s implementation of the mandate against us approaches, we bishops stand united in our resolve to resist this heavy burden and protect our religious freedom. Even as each bishop struggles to address the mandate, together we are striving to develop alternate avenues of response to this difficult situation.”

There are ongoing court cases against the mandate which hopefully will be judged in favor of our religious freedom.  Also, as Cardinal Dolan suggested in his interview on EWTN, there are other internal strategies that may come into play.  From what I have read the past couple of days, the Bishops are hesitant to reveal the details of what these might be, but there were a couple of interesting general comments.  Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia said that deliberations were on-going. He put the bishops’ primary concerns in stark terms, saying that “two things are at stake: We don’t do anything that contradicts our basic moral beliefs and we don’t do anything that would scandalize our people.  If we tell our people: be faithful and not cave in, it’s important that we do the same.  There are differences from diocese to diocese in the way that our charitable arms are set up — how they are legally constituted. Some bishops could decide to give employees money to buy their own insurance. It is way too early to point to what might happen.”

A few bishops have suggested shutting down non-exempt Catholic organizations.  However, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston — who ended Catholic adoption services in Boston rather than comply with a state law requiring the church to arrange adoptions for gay parents as well as heterosexual ones — said that “closing the institutions down is also an evil for us.”  And yet, he said, there is a danger in allowing any erosion of religious liberty.  So we continue to face very difficult questions, but I am proud of our Bishops for continuing to stand up for our religious freedom.  Our prayers are desperately needed as this deadline fast approaches.

Finally, our prayers are also desperately need for the people in the Philippines as efforts to recover from Typhoon Haiyan continue.  Catholic Relief Services has set up a website which gives the latest updates on the effects of the storm and a means to donate money to their relief efforts.  Here is that link:

http://crs.org/typhoon-haiyan/

Thanks again for reading.  Have a great week.  Peace.

 

November 8, 2013 – Combing the Headlines

November 8, 2013

Well it was a pretty quiet week in my little corner of the world, so I thought I would just rummage through some of this past week’s headlines and see what looked interesting.  In an expected yet disappointing move, the Illinois House of Representatives passes legislation which paves the way for legalizing same-sex marriages in the state.  It passed the Senate earlier this year, and Governor Quinn (devoted Catholic that he is – cough) has said that he will sign it into law, which will then go into effect in June of next year.  This outcome rises many concerns, including the continued threat to our religious freedom.  There is language in the bill which states that “no church or clergy will be forced to solemnize any same-sex marriage or rent their parish or fellowship halls for any type of same-sex wedding recognition.”  This looks good at first glance.  However, such inuendo was heard about three years ago when, as Catholic Conference of Illinois director Bob Gilligan points out, “Illinois lawmakers promised during floor debate on civil unions legislation that no faith-based social service organizations would be affected. But within six months of civil unions becoming law, all Catholic Charities in the state were pushed out of their longtime mission of caring for abused, abandoned, and neglected children. The state refused to renew contracts for foster care and adoption services because of Charities’ religious belief of not placing children with unmarried couples, be they heterosexual or homosexual.”

The bill offers no specific protection regarding employment practices. If a current church employee chooses to “marry” a same-sex partner, the legislation offers no specific protection regarding the church being forced to pay — from funds collected every Sunday from faithful church-goers in the pews — for benefits for the “spouse.”  The legislation offers no conscience protections to health-care facilities, educational facilities, or social service agencies. So, faith-based hospitals, colleges, and universities that own and operate venues for rent are not protected.  Individuals and independent business owners whose religious beliefs do not condone same-sex marriage are also unprotected. There are the stories about the photographers, bakers, florists, and bed-and-breakfast owners who have come under fire for refusing to serve same-sex weddings.  There are many more implications that I could list, but I think you get the point that we must continue to fight to protect our religious freedom (and to take back what has already been lost).

Next week the Bishops of the U.S. (USCCB) will gather in Baltimore for their annual Fall General Assembly.  There are many items awaiting them on the agenda.  They will hear a presentation for a proposal to create a formal statement on pornography, as studies continue to confirm concerns about its devastating social and spiritual effects.  Liturgical items will be discussed, including the Spanish translation of the book of Mass prayers, and draft translations for the Order of Confirmation and the Order of Celebrating Marriage.  Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who heads the USCCB’s Subcommittee on the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, will deliver a presentation on the state of marriage in the United States.  They will hear a report on their current strategic pastoral plan, “The New Evangelization: Faith, Worship, Witness.”  They will perform the required canonical consultation on the sainthood cause of Mary Teresa Tallon, servant of God.  Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, vice president of USCCB, will present the cause to the bishops for a discussion and a voice vote.  Episcopal consultation is a step in the Catholic Church’s canonization process.  Tallon was born in Waterville, New York, on May 6, 1867, to Irish immigrants. She entered the Holy Cross Sisters at age 19, worked as a Catholic school teacher and instructed poor and neglected children. In 1920, she founded the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, a New York City-based community focused on contemplation and door-to-door, person-to-person ministry.  She died in 1954.

The agenda item getting the most buzz, however, is the selection of a new President of the USCCB.  Current President Cardinal Timothy Dolan has completed his 3-year term, and a new President and Vice-President must be chosen.  The front-runner for President would appear to be Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, KY.  He is the current vice-president, and many times in the past the vice-president has received the bump to President, although this was not the case when Cardinal Dolan was elected in 2010.  There are 10 nominees for President ad Vice-President, and the USCCB website has provided some brief information on each of them.  Here is a link to this article:

http://usccbmedia.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-presidentialvp-slate-2013.html

As you regular readers know, I am a total honk for Cardinal Dolan.  I think he has been a wonderful spokesman for the church during these past 3 years.  However, I’m sure he won’t mind taking a little step back and letting someone else do some of the “political dirty work” of the church in letting our legislators know our positions on social and economic issues.  So Cardinal Dolan, well done, good and faithful servant.

Just a couple more brief things to wrap up.  This Monday we of course mark Veteran’s Day.  We thank all of those who sacrificed so much in service to our country and for preservation of our freedom.  We also continue to pray for our troops all over the world who continue to be in harm’s way, that the Lord protect them and return them safely to their loved ones.  Here is a link to various prayers for our troops:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/prayers/prayer-for-troops.cfm

Also, here is a link to an article about a WWII veteran who says that the time he endured as a Nazi POW actually strengthened his Catholic faith:

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1304513.htm

Finally, we pray for those in the Philippines who have been victimized by the typhoon.  Initial reports are that it may not be as bad as originally feared, but there will still be many victims.  I will post updates on our Facebook page, and also follow news outlets such as Catholic News Service.

Have a great week.  It sounds like winter time may be making an early appearance!  Peace.

 

November 2, 2013 – Another “Extraordinary” Vatican Move

November 2, 2013

Well us Cardinal fans have had a few days to let the sting of the World Series defeat wear off, and I think we will all be OK.  I personally think it was an amazing year considering that we had a total of 20 rookies play at some point during the year – with some of them playing very prominent roles.  I can’t help but be downright giddy about the near future, and hope that a few more World Series appearances are in the offing.  I have nothing against the Red Sox or their fans.  In fact, they kind of remind me of the Cardinals.  They have a very loyal fan base and they had a team that may not have had the most talent, but played together as a team.  I guess the one thing I really couldn’t figure out was the beards that so many of them grew.  Did they think they were the Robertson family from Duck Dynasty?  Did they think it gave them some sort of magical powers?  Well, there actually may have been something to it.  There is a group of Franciscan Friars who say that their beards are a way to help them bring Christ to other people.  Check out the video below:

OK, back to church business.  A few weeks ago the Vatican announced that Pope Francis will host an Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops to discuss the topic, “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”  The meeting will take place in Rome on October 5-14, 2014.  There have only been two previous such Extraordinary Synods since Pope Paul VI established the Synod of Bishops in 1965.  The Synod of Bishops is a general assembly gathering that was created as part of the Vatican II reforms, and regular (i.e., non-extraordinary) synods meet every couple years. The synod’s role, Pope Paul VI said, is to examine  “the signs of the times” and “to provide a deeper interpretation of divine designs and the constitution of the Catholic Church” in order to “foster the unity and cooperation of bishops around the world with the Holy See.”

For Francis, issues of family and marriage are the ones that require deeper interpretation given the signs of the times, and dedicating a synod to the topic suggests he wants to unify church teaching about them.  When local church offices around the world make their own decisions about marriage and family—especially about serving communion to divorced and remarried Catholics—the global church as whole becomes divided. “It is very important that an extraordinary Synod has been convoked on the theme of the pastoral of the family,” Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said. “This is the way in which the Pope intends to promote reflection and to guide the path of the community of the Church, with the responsible participation of the episcopate from different parts of the world.”

Calling an Extraordinary Synod versus a regular Synod means that the issues are even more urgent. The participants are more select, and the heads of the Eastern Churches attend, as well as presidents of bishops conferences and heads of curia offices. The First Extraordinary Synod was held in 1969 and titled, “Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences.” Pope John Paul II called the Second Extraordinary Synod of 1985 around the theme, “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council.” This Third Extraordinary Synod is a result of Pope Francis’ meeting with the Council of Cardinals, who met in the Vatican about a month ago.

In addition to this step of an “extraordinary” Synod, another unusual step is being taken.  The Vatican is conducting a worldwide survey on how parishes deal with sensitive issues such as birth control, divorce and gay marriage, seeking input ahead of the Synod.  The poll was sent in mid-October to every national conference of bishops with a request to “share it immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.”  The survey reflects the pope’s pledges to move away from what he calls a “Vatican-centric” approach toward one where local church leaders are more involved in decision-making.

The National Catholic Reporter has obtained a copy of the questionaire that was sent to bishops worldwide.

Among topics bishops’ conferences are asked in the Vatican document to question their Catholic populations about:

  • How the church’s teaching on “the value of the family” is understood today. “In those cases where the Church’s teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice?” the document asks. “If so, what are they?”
  • Whether cohabitation, the problem of divorce and remarriage, and same-sex marriages are a “pastoral reality” in their church. “Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases?” the document asks. “How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?”
  • How persons in same-sex marriages are treated and how children they may adopt are cared for. “What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live these types of union?” it asks. “In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?”
  • Whether married couples have “openness” to becoming parents and whether they accept Humanae Vitae, an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI that prohibited artificial contraception use by Catholics. “Is this moral teaching accepted?” it asks. “What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?”

If you would like to see the full questionaire, here is a link to the copy:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/180575701/Letter-from-Msgr-Ronny-Jenkins-to-the-USCCB

This appears to be another example of Pope Francis’ desire to not condemn those who have gone against the teachings of the church, but to show them mercy and an opportunity to come home to the Catholic faith.  It will certainly be interesting to see how this “extraordinary” move plays out in the next year or so.

Have a great week.  Enjoy the beautiful fall colors while they last!  Peace.