Archive for December, 2013

December 29. 2013 – Happy New Year!

December 29, 2013

My apologies for getting the blog up a little late this go around.  It is still the Christmas season, after all, so schedules kind of get thrown out the window, right?  I hope you had a great Christmas with your family and friends, and I hope you continue to observe the Christmas season for the next week or two.  My family is getting together on New Years Day for our Christmas celebration, so we will continue to observe the joy of the season.

As you know, we will be hanging new calendars this week as 2013 becomes history and 2014 begins.  I have never been interested in going out to celebrate the beginning of a New Year.  I have always found it to be a good night to find something good on TV, and to just do a little reflection on the year past and what may lie ahead in the coming year.  For me it was a fairly uneventful year in 2013, which as I’ve grown older I have come to appreciate more and more.  I am content to be able to settle into a routine and stay there.  However, for the Catholic Church, 2013 was anything but uneventful.

The big story, of course, was the somewhat surprising resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the subsequent election of Pope Francis.  And what a 9 month whirlwind it has been.  Who would have thought at the beginning of the year that our Pope wold be named Person of the Year by Time magazine, one of the Men of the Year by GQ magazine, Best Dressed Man of the Year by Esquire, and even Person of the Year by Advocate.com, a leading news and information site for the gay community.  You would think that with all of these accolades from so many different viewpoints, that he would have turned church doctrine upside-down in a way that has never been seen in 2000 years.  Here is a list of the doctrinal items Pope Francis has changed:

____________

That’s right, absolutely nothing.  What the church has taught for so many years remains in tact – that life begins at the point of conception, that marriage is a Sacrament that can only be shared by a man and woman, etc.  And Pope Francis has emphasized these things in his homilies and speeches, etc.  So what has been the difference between he and his predecessors?  As is the case most times, it is probably more than one thing.  But I think the main thing is that he comes across first and foremost as a pastor.  Before everything else, he puts concern for his flock first and foremost, especially those that are less fortunate.  He also spoke out against extravagance on behalf of church officials.  Here are some of the other headlines the Pope made throughout the year:

“During a general audience, Pope Francis invited Alberto di Tullio, a 17-year-old boy with Downs Syndrome, to ride in his Popemobile while thousands watched. The boy and his father were said to be “choked up” when he was embraced by the Pope.”

“In March, the Pope held a major Holy Week service at Casal del Marmo jail for minors, rather than the Vatican. During the service, the pope washed and kissed the feet of 12 young offenders to commemorate Jesus’ gesture of humility towards his apostles on the night before he died. During the service, he broke tradition by washing the feet of women and Muslims.”

“A 44-year old Argentinian woman, raped by a local policeman, was one of thousands to write a letter to Pope Francis in 2013. The woman was surprised when she later received a phone call from Francis himself–who consoled the woman and told her, “You are not alone.””

“In May, Francis denounced the global financial system for tyrannizing the poor and turning humans into expendable consumer goods. He believes that, “Money has to serve, not to rule!””

“On December 17, Pope Francis invited a group of homeless men and their dog into the Vatican to share his birthday meal along with his staff. The Pope had decided that he wanted a small birthday event, which would do some good, rather than a large and expensive event.”

I think Francis has shown the ability to communicate the fact that the Catholic Church is a welcoming and compassionate place, not a place that condemns and rejects.  It will be interesting to see what 2014 will bring as the Council of 8 Cardinals continues to meet and the Synod of Bishops is held in October.

OK, the New Year is of course time to make resolutions, though I admit I don’t have much luck in that area.  Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island has given us Catholics a list of resolutions to work on this coming year:

1) Be more aware of God’s presence in my life by spending a few moments in quiet prayer every day.

2) Do my very best to attend Holy Mass every Sunday and Holy Day.

3) Receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) on a regular basis.

4) (Re)Introduce at least one individual to the Catholic Faith and invite that person to attend Mass with me.

5) Increase the financial support I give to the Church – to my parish, the Diocese or in special collections.

6) Read Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Evangelium Gaudium.

7) Pray and work for an increase of vocations to the Priesthood and Religious Life, and pray also for our current seminarians.

8) Be reconciled with at least one person from whom I’ve been separated, granting forgiveness and seeking forgiveness wherever it’s needed.

9) Promote and defend the Catholic Faith in the secular media or with elected officials whenever important public issues arise.

10) Get involved in at least one community program or Church ministry that promotes charity and justice.

If we are successful in at least some of these, it will be a successful 2014!

I wish you all of the best in the coming year.  Thank you for all of your support of the blog, our web ministry, and our parish this past year.  Here’s to a wonderful 2014!  Have a great week, and year!  Peace.

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December 21, 2013 – Christmas … Already?

December 20, 2013

No matter how much I keep reminding myself, or how much I look at the calendar, I still can’t believe that we are just a few days away from Christmas.  I’m not sure if it was the late Thanksgiving, or the messed up schedules from the big snowfall, but it just seems that Christmas has come upon us in a big hurry.  I am happy to report that I have my shopping done (well, pretty much).  However, I am also disappointed in myself because I know I didn’t take the time for prayer and reflection during Advent that I should have.  Maybe this is why it seems that Christmas has come so quickly.  I didn’t take that time to block everything else out and prepare spiritually for the season.  Thankfully, we as Catholics can have a “make-up time”, and celebrate the season of Christmas after the 25th of December. In fact, we will have our decorations in church all the way through January 12 this go around.  So even though the radio stations will cut off the Christmas music at midnight on December 26, we can celebrate the gift of the coming of Son of God for several weeks.

Well I have a Christmas tradition here on the blog every year.  I play the game of “if I had the power to give anybody any Christmas gift I wanted to, I would give them …”.  So without further adieu, here we go:

To Father Gene – a bright, sunny day for his Jubilee celebration, and no more additional appointments.

To the Knights of Columbus – larger crowds for the Monday lunches (they have been a bit slim lately).

To Phil Robertson  – his TV gig back.  He was just sharing his views, after all.

To Pope Francis – if I would wish for him an extravagant gift, he would not keep it anyway.  So I simply wish him good health, and the ability to keep on with his ministry.

To the St. Louis Blues – their first Stanley Cup.

To the St. Louis Cardinals – their 12th World Championship.

To the St. Louis Rams – another good draft, and a playoff appearance.

To President Obama – the realization that the Affordable Health Care Plan needs to be ditched and redone.

To my Mom – as always, anything she wants.

To our website – I want to focus more on our Twitter account this coming year, and I want to start an Instagram account for our Parish.  I also hope to see the dream of being able to make contributions online a reality.

To our Diocesan priests – the full support, cooperation, and understanding of their parishioners.

To our Diocese – that our young people will hear God’s call to a vocation to the religious life.

To our world – an end to the persecution of Christians, and a return to the values we had before secularism penetrated our society.

OK. it’s Christmas time, and I don’t want to get into anything too serious.  We know that Christmastime will bring some folks into church that we don’t see very often, and it also may spur some other thoughts into our minds while Mass is going on.  There was a blog this past week called “31 Things You Thought About During Sunday Mass But Won’t Admit.”  Some of the thoughts the blogger had during Mass I’m sure are similar to some of the thoughts we have had.  This is a sampling of his list:

“Got to church on time…all settled in the pew before the opening hymn starts…kids all fully clothed and sitting still…can I get a plenary indulgence or something?”  “Wow, five whole minutes into Mass and the kids haven’t slammed the kneeler into my shins.  I wonder wha- OOOOWWW!!!  SON OF A…!!!”  “Okay, this time I am definitely going to pay attention during the responsorial psalm.  Gosh, I wonder how many marshmallows could fit in this church…”  “Look at that guy wearing the Packers jersey to Mass.  I guess we know what his priorities are.”  “I wish Father would wrap up the homily already.  We’re going to miss the entire first quarter.”  “I think I finally have the new translation of the Creed memorized…here goes…good…good…good…dang!  How can I mess up something so easy?”  “That guy just used his handkerchief.  He better not try to shake my hand at the Sign of Peace.”  “I can’t believe those people who leave right after Communion…they should stay for the end of Mass and the recessional hymn.”  “Maybe next Sunday I should sit in the front row so I’m able to focus better.”

I’m sure we all have had those times when our mind wanders and we have to snap ourselves back to reality.  We are human, after all.  Thoughts like … um … well… “I wonder if we’ll get outta here in time to hit the breakfast buffet at Reid’s?”, or “Gee, over 20 years now, and that altar is still pink.”  And I’m sure you have some of your own.  However, just as I know I can redeem myself for not being as attentive during Advent as I should have been, we can all be redeemed for letting our minds wander during Mass.  We just need to remind ourselves that this our opportunity to leave those distractions at the door for at least a short time, and to give ourselves over to the Lord.

I want to wish you, your family, and friends a blessed Christmas.  May the newborn King bestow His abundant blessings upon you now and throughout the coming year.  I continue to be very grateful to you and everyone who continues to read my random thoughts each week, and to all who support me in my other church endeavors.  I couldn’t think of a more wonderful Christmas gift.  My favorite Christmas song is “O Holy Night,” and one of my favorite versions is by John Berry.  Here is a YouTube of his performance:

Have a great week, and a wonderful Christmas celebration.  Peace.

December 14, 2013 – Just My Perception

December 14, 2013

Is it spring yet? I used to really question why people would want to live in a warm weather climate, or escape to Florida for the winter, because they would miss the beauty of the changing of the seasons. However, after the last week or so, I may be persuaded to change my mind. At least it sounds like a warm-up is coming next week – thanks be to God!

As I sit here typing, I am pondering what at least in my vision appears to be two very different places of where we are as a church. This past week we again saw Pope Francis in the limelight as he was named the Person of the Year by Time magazine. This is a remarkable feat considering he has only been Pontiff for about 9 months. We also continue to hear of the new life and momentum he has brought to the church. An article in the New York Post this past week gave this headline: “Just how cool is the Pope? Wayward millennials flocking to the church.” It said that on the evening of December 4, even though there was gridlock in New York City because of the lighting of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, more than 1000 young people came to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a monthly Mass that is geared toward the younger demographic. It was the most well attended event for young people ever in that church.

The article also gave quotes such as this: “There’s a new spirit in the church right now. I’m hearing that young adults love Pope Francis.” “Family members who went to church but have fallen away have decided to come back.” “Forty years I’ve been away from the church … and I am back because of Pope Francis.” “In a world where you have to defend your religion more and more, he’s given us the freedom to come out and talk about ours more.”

It is certainly an exciting time for Catholics. There is a buzz and energy that has previously been lacking. However, just as my confidence boils over, my mind then goes to the challenges we are facing as a local church here in our Diocese. As some around the country are reporting spikes in Mass attendance because of the “Pope Francis effect,” I hear of a neighboring parish having one person show up for a Friday morning Mass. As we hear of young people being energized because of Pope Francis’ message, we as a Diocese continue to try to unlock the secret of how to get more young men interested in the priesthood. We also continue to contemplate the closure of parishes because of lack of priests and lack of attendance.

We have lost several active priests recently from what was already a drained pool. Some were unexpected deaths. One was a younger priest choosing to seek laicization. I also hear of younger priests struggling in their ministries. I hear of conflict within some of the parish partnerships as to what Mass schedules should be and which, if any parishes, should close (fortunately our partnership has not been one of them). It seems as if a bubble has been shielding us in this Diocese from the momentum that the church is experiencing in other places. I am so grateful that Pope Francis is generating such buzz. However, I’m also concerned and frustrated as to why this doesn’t seem to be taking hold in our local church.

I know that my perception of the state of our local church is blinding the actual reality. I know that we have priests who are incredibly dedicated and will sacrifice their personal needs for their parishioners. I know that there are many dedicated people in our Diocese doing incredible works of ministry and charity with very limited resources. I saw last Sunday that despite a 14” dumping of snow, quite a few people braved the elements to gather for 9:00AM Mass. I see a true spirit of holiness and dedication in our parish and Diocese.

So what can we do to bring the momentum of Pope Francis to our corner of the world? Well I can think of several things off the cuff. First, we must do everything we can to take care of the priests that we have. Not just asking what we can do to perhaps ease their workload, but to simply ask them how they are doing. How is your family? How is your health? Lend an ear to them as they so often do for us. We of course must also continue to pray for vocations, no matter how futile the effort may seem. We know that God does answer prayers. However, often it is on the time that He sees fit, not on the time that we think it should be.

We need to spread this good news that Pope Francis has generated. Share an article about Francis on social media. Ask someone who hasn’t been to church for a while if they have heard what is going on. Invite someone to come to Mass, especially during this Christmas season. When people point to things going on in the church, and they give us reasons why we shouldn’t go to church, we need to be prepared with our own reasons as to why the time is now to return to church.

I myself, especially on this 3rd Sunday of Advent which is also “Gaudete” or “rejoicing” Sunday, need to take to heart the message of Pope Francis that the church must always be joyful like Christ. “Jesus was full of joy … the church is called to transmit the joy of the Lord to her children – a joy that gives true peace.” There is a lot of good news to share. Let us pray for the strength and courage to be heard. Have a great (and warmer) week. Peace.

 

 

December 7, 2013 – When Did We Become Intolerant?

December 7, 2013

Oh the weather outside is frightful, and since we’ve no place to go, let us blog, let us blog … OK, this is definitely not as catchy of a tune as the original, but the weather has definitely put the focus on indoor activity.  I hope you are snug in your home and don’t have to venture out too much.  I admire those who have to get out and perform public service for us in these weather extremes – police, firefighters, hospital workers, those who clean off the roads, parking lots, driveways and sidewalks, and others I’m sure I am forgetting.  My hats off to all of you.  And hopefully this 14 inches of snow gives us our quota for the winter!

Anyway, right before Mother Nature decided to go all Siberian on us, we had a Parish Council meeting this past Wednesday.  A good part of the meeting dealt with discussion of questions we were given to answer as part of the input for the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops to take place at the Vatican next October.  The theme of this gathering is “The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization.”   Dioceses from all over the world were asked to give their input on issues such as the church’s teaching on the nature and purpose of the family, the commonality of couples living together before marriage, the process of nullifying a marriage, the church’s teachings about same sex unions and contraception, encountering Jesus Christ within the family unit, and other things.  As you can imagine, putting all of these issues out for one discussion made for some lively conversation, considering that any one of these issues brings its own complexities.

I’m not going to go into what the church’s specific teachings are concerning these issues.  I think anyone who reads this blog is at least somewhat familiar with them.  I think what came out of the discussion, and what I’m sure will come to the Synod next October, is why the message of us Catholics is either a) not being heard, or b) is misunderstood, or c) is being rejected.  Some of the general comments from our meeting had this sort of tone: “not adequately understood,” “louder messages from outside forces,” “we feel like the oddity,” “media influences are making things the norm,” “families are dying,” “people pick and choose what teachings they want to follow.”  There are many other things I could list, but I think you get the general impression.  It’s almost as if we as Catholics, who by the way are still the second-largest religious following in terms of numbers, have been made to feel that we are in the vast minority on social issues.  We have been made to feel like outsiders, almost like victims of our own culture in a way.

This attitude I think I no more prevalent than in the issue of gay marriage.  Illinois, of course, just became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriages.  And it was a self-proclaimed Catholic who waved the pen and signed it into law.  This past Sunday on “Meet the Press,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan was interviewed on a range of subjects.  One of the questions dealt with the momentum that legalizing gay marriage has now in this country.  Dolan responded that the Roman Catholic Church has been “outmarketed” on the issue of gay marriage and has been “caricatured as being anti-gay.”  Asked why the church is losing the argument on gay marriage, Dolan says it’s a tough battle when forces like Hollywood, politicians and “some opinion-molders” are on the other side.  But he said the gay marriage debate is not over and the church will not give up on it.  This was from a national TV news show, and those who consider the church to be “anti-gay” will use these words as another means of ammunition.  However, another news item which I’m sure got no national play was an article written by Dolan himself about tolerance toward gays, and his disappointment toward a Catholic High School that would not allow a speaker, who was a retired priest, to give a presentation because he was active in a ministry called “Courage,” which assists and supports people with a same-sex attraction to live virtuous lives.

Dolan went on to say the following:  “A pure heart leads to generosity, peace and fulfillment. We are all called to chastity — to keep God’s gift of sexual love within marriage — and for married couples to live in faithful fidelity to one another, all in keeping with God’s plan. Yes, sex is a beautiful gift from God, but we see the effects of the misuse of this gift all around us, don’t we?  The epidemic of pornography, adultery, sky-high divorce rates, human trafficking, treating others as objects and not as people made in the image and likeness of God, all can be traced back to the lack of virtue and purity in our lives.  Which is part of what makes the intolerance of those who seek to drown out the church’s beautiful teaching so alarming. For individuals and groups to bully, to threaten, to protest, when a priest seeks to explain this timeless and timely message to parents who invited him to do so, is a scary precedent. We have gone from the days when the plea from some activists was “all we want is to live our lives in peace” to “you shall not have the right to present your teaching.””

If you would like to read this entire article (and share it), here is the link to it:

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/true-meaning-tolerance-article-1.1528660

So there are many questions that can come out of this discussion, but one really jumps off of the page: When and how did the Catholic Church go from being perceived as virtuous to intolerant.  How did the message get to our culture that the Catholic Church will reject you in a heartbeat?  Pope Francis has done a remarkable job thus far in proclaiming the church as a welcoming place, and hopefully his message will continue to be spread and understood.  Pray that folks will see the true message of Jesus’ love, especially as we approach the joyous and sacred time of Christmas.

Thanks again for reading.  Stay safe this week.  Peace.