Archive for March, 2014

March 22, 2014 – Confession: To Go Or Not To Go?

March 22, 2014

Well if you are like me you are beginning to think that this “coming of spring” stuff is just one big tease.  We get a day or two of lovely weather, only to be revisited by colder, winter-like weather.  I predict that one of these days we will just shoot up to 90 degrees and pretty much skip spring all together.  So goes life in southern Illinois.

I wanted to touch on a few things today.  First, we need to continue to send our prayers to Cardinal Francis George, the Archbishop of Chicago and leader of our Province.  He recently announced that he will be taking treatments for a recurrence of cancer in his kidney.  Also, this past week he was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms, and was released yesterday.  Pray that the Lord give him strength and healing during his challenging time.

On to something more light-hearted.  When you think about what is going on in the convent, you think about prayer, reading the Bible, maybe baking bread, etc.  You don’t think about a Sicilian sister belting out an Alicia Keys tune.  However, that is exactly what happened on the Italian version of “The Voice.”  25-year old Suor Cristina Scuccia, wowed the judges with her amazing rendition of Alicia Keys’ hit song ‘No One’.”  She said: “I came here because I have a gift and I want to share that gift,” she said. “I am here to evangelize.”  All four coaches were visibly shocked when they turned around and saw Sister Christina for the first time wearing a black habit and silver cross. Asked if she was actually a nun, she replied, “I am truly, truly a sister.”  Here is the video of “The Singing Nun”:

OK, when you think about the things that you truly dread doing, the list is probably pretty long.  Having a root canal, filling out taxes, and going to the grocery store the evening before Thanksgiving may fall somewhere on the list.  For many Catholics, another thing that may fall somewhere on the list is going to confession.  However, we as Catholics are told by our clergy how important it is to receive this sacrament.  And they back up the talk.  If you look at the parish calendar the next few weeks, Fr. Gene is going to be very busy helping with penance services, school confessions, etc.  Someone who has seen an Arnold Schwarzenegger flick may dub Fr. Gene as “The Confessionator!” (OK, it’s lame.  I’m just making a point here).  Some dioceses, such as the Archdiocese of New York, designate a special day during Lent in which every parish is open in the evening for confessions.  So why do we dread this action so much, and is there a resource that can help persuade us that going to confession is a valuable spiritual exercise?

Well, such a resource does exist.  I discovered a website this week called http://www.goodconfession.com/.  This is a website sponsored by the “Catholics Come Home” ministry.  There are many good resources on this website, which I strongly encourage you to visit.  I would like to point out a couple of the things that many Catholics may be wondering about: 1) Why many Catholics do not go to confession, and 2) the benefits of going to confession frequently.  A priest once mentioned that the loneliest time of his week was Saturday afternoon when he sat in the confessional waiting for parishioners to show up. Although his comment was humorous, it points to a real problem.  An article in the Georgia Bulletin a couple of years ago pointed out reason why people avoided confession.  They included:

1. We may be afraid of looking foolish because we haven’t been to confession in a long time—and are uncertain about what to do.

2. We may have bought into the notion that we can confess our wrongdoings directly to God—and thus don’t need this sacrament. This belief goes against Catholic teaching, however, and it is not scriptural. Christ instituted the sacrament of reconciliation when he said to his apostles, the forerunners of today’s priests and bishops: “Whose sins you shall forgive they are forgiven. Whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.”

3. We’re uncertain about what to confess.

4. We are embarrassed to mention our sins to another person. This is a common feeling because it is hard to admit our failures out loud. Praying ahead of time for the grace to be honest and courageous will help.

5. Perhaps we struggle with the same sins over and over, and we are ashamed to admit this. It is true that part of a good confession is promising to avoid sins in the future—but we may fall short of the mark. Confession reminds us that God’s well of forgiveness is infinitely large.

6. We are afraid of shocking the priest. Keep in mind many priests have heard thousands of confessions over the years. They surely won’t be astonished by what we confess. In fact, most priests are overjoyed that people are coming to confession, and they are eager to offer absolution.

There are others as well.  Fortunately, the benefits of confession far outweigh our apprehensions.  These are the benefits that the website mentions:

1) Frequent confession helps remind us to rely on God to help rid us of our sins.

2) The grace we receive from the Sacrament of Confession helps us combat our faults and failings and break our habits of vice much more easily and expediently than we could otherwise do without the sacramental grace.

3) When we hear God’s forgiving words to us from the lips of the priest in Confession, a burden is lifted off our shoulders.  With the healing power of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, we can again feel the peace of heart and soul that comes from being in a good relationship with God.

4) Confession helps us become more saintly, and more like Jesus.  Jesus was perfectly humble, perfectly generous, perfectly patient, perfectly loving—perfectly everything! Don’t you wish you could be as humble, generous, patient, and loving as Jesus? Saints throughout history have felt that way too, and they have frequented the Sacrament of Reconciliation to help transform them into people who are more like Christ. Little images of Christ—that’s what saints are!

5) Every time we experience the Sacrament of Confession, God strengthens our will and our self-control to be able to resist the temptations that confront us in our lives. We become more resolute to follow God’s will and not our own whims.

Concluding with a quote from Fr. Robert Barron: “Could God forgive outside of the rituals of the Catholic Church? Of course. God is held bound by nothing. But the stubbornly incarnational God, Catholics believe, has desired to convey his forgiveness through the body of the Church. And that’s why we go to a priest, an embodied alter Christus, for confession.”  Have a great week.  See you at the Lenten penance service on April  7.  Have a great week.  Peace.

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March 15, 2014 – The Year of Francis

March 15, 2014

Ah, the rites of the start of spring (assuming that spring ever decides to make a permanent appearance!).  For some, they think of the beginning of spring when the daffodils start poking through the ground.  For some, it’s seeing certain types of birds again.  For those of us in religious education, the start of spring is marked by ramping up preparations for the reception of the Sacraments of Initiation by our students.  This morning I attended a meeting with folks from Ellis Grove, Evansville and O’Fallon whom we will be celebrating Confirmation with on April 22 at the Cathedral in Belleville.  Also, tomorrow our 2nd graders will have their First Confession, and they are also in preparations for their First Communion on May 4.  Please pray for them and all those who will be receiving the Sacraments during the upcoming Easter season.

We also continue to pray for those on the missing Malaysian jet and their families that the mystery of its location can be solved quickly, and that the families can at least be brought closure as to the fate of their loved ones.  I can only imagine the feeling of having a relative or close friend on that plane and having no idea what happened to them or what they had to experience on that plane.  God be with them during this very difficult time.

As far as us Catholics are concerned, probably the main news item was noting the First Anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as the successor of St. Peter.  Who would have thought one year ago that this man who appeared so humble and meek on the balcony that evening at the Vatican would  be the subject of so much attention from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.  He certainly didn’t ask for the attention.  In fact, to the contrary it is his humbleness and willingness to put others first that appears to have caught the world’s fancy.  This past week, Speaker of the House John Boehner extended an invitation to Francis to address a joint meeting of Congress when he visits the United States.  In his remarks, Boehner said that  “it would offer an excellent opportunity for the American people as well as the nations of the world to hear his message in full … Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his “pastoral manner and servant leadership” to reflect on matters of human dignity, freedom and social justice.  These principles are among the fundamentals of the American idea, and though our nation sometimes fails to live up to these principles, at our best, we give them new life as we seek the common good.”

Much has been made of the “Pope Francis” effect.  If you had not been in a church the past year, or were not familiar with the Catholic faith, you would get the impression that churches were filled for every Mass and that seminaries were bursting at the seams.  Of course, as we know, this is not quite the reality, and research indicates the same thing.  In a study just published by the Pew Research Center, it was found that there was no change in the share of U.S. adults who identify as Catholics: 22% of Americans describe themselves as Catholic today, identical to the 22% who did so in the year preceding Francis’ election.  It also found no change in self-reported rates of Mass attendance among Catholics. In the year since Francis became Pope, 40% of U.S. Catholics say they attend Mass at least once a week, unchanged from the months immediately preceding the papal transition.  The new survey also finds no evidence that large numbers of Catholics are volunteering more or going to confession more often than in the past. Roughly one-in-eight U.S. Catholics (13%) say they have been volunteering more in their church or community over the past year, but 23% say they have been doing this less often, and 59% say their level of volunteering has not changed. Just one-in-twenty Catholics (5%) say they have been going to confession more often over the last 12 months, while 22% say they have been going to confession less often, and 65% say their frequency of confession has not changed very much.

On the flip side of things, however, there were some positive findings.  One-quarter of Catholics (26%) say they have become more excited about their Catholic faith over the past year, with far fewer (11%) saying they have become less excited about their faith. And fully 40% of Catholics say they have been praying more in the past year, compared with just 8% who say they have been praying less often. One-in-five Catholics (21%) say they have been reading the Bible or other religious materials more often in the last 12 months, compared with 14% who say they have been doing this less often.

OK, these are a lot of numbers to digest, and as with any statistical report, different people are going to put their own spins on what it all means.  I think that there certainly has been a new sense of “excitement” brought about with the interaction Pope Francis has had with people and his humble demeanor.  He has re-affirmed the message that the Catholic Church is a church that is welcoming to EVERYONE – just as Jesus intended.  However, when people take a closer look, they will see that the doctrine of the church remains the same, and what scripture tells us is what is still practiced as the teaching of the church – again just as Jesus intended.

I think it will be of more benefit to us to look at a similar study such as this 5 years down the road, or even 10 years.  Hopefully people will see that the doors of our faith remain open to them and that a life of ministry, whether it be a religious vocation or a dedication to lay ministry, is a fulfilling and important avenue toward passing on the faith to future generations.

Have a great week!  Peace.

 

March 7, 2014 – Twists and Turns

March 7, 2014

Wow, what a beautiful day it was!  Days like this give you hope that spring can’t be too far away, although the darn meteorologists are still putting the “s” word in the forecast.  With the nice day and the general “good feeling” it brought, I felt a more “light-hearted” blog coming on despite being in the Lenten season.  I was going to talk about some different kinds of things to give up for Lent that you may not have thought of, such as brand-name bath tissue, the closest parking spot at Wal-Mart, and Girl Scout cookies (you probably don’t have any left anyway!).  However, as the day went along, it took a more serious tone.

When checking my phone at lunchtime, I saw an item about Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago.  He has already had a couple of rounds of cancer treatment in the past, and in his latest column for the Archdiocesan newspaper, he revealed that he will be receiving another course of chemo, saying that: “this Lent finds me once again in poor health. My cancer, which was dormant for well over a year, is still confined to the area of the right kidney, but it is beginning to show signs of new activity. After many tests, scans, biopsies and other inconveniences, the settled judgment is that the best course of action is to enter into a regimen of chemotherapy, with drugs more aggressive than those that were used in the first round of chemo. This treatment will take place over the next two months, when my reaction to the chemo will be evaluated.

I was able to maintain my administrative schedule well during that first round, although my public schedule was sometimes curtailed because of lowered immunity. As I prepare for this next round of chemo, I ask for your prayers, which have always sustained me, and for your understanding if I cannot always fulfill the schedule already set for the next several months. While I am not experiencing symptoms of cancer at this time, this is a difficult form of the disease, and it will most probably eventually be the cause of my death. Chemo is designed to shrink the tumor, prevent symptoms and prolong life.”

Despite the challenge he faces now, Cardinal George used his situation as the basis of a powerful Lenten message.  I urge you to read his column by clicking on the link below:

http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0309/cardinal.aspx

Then later this afternoon, I learned that one of the lab technicians at the Chester Clinic had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.  It sounds strange, but my entire life folks have had trouble drawing blood from me.  Some suggested that I don’t have veins.  Some suggested that I should bring my own vampire with me.  But Peggy is always patient with me and explains exactly what she is doing.  Whether she has to go for the forearm, or the back of the hand, she is patient with me until she gets her blood – and I don’t ever have to scream while she is doing it (well, not much).

After hearing news such as this, the normal thoughts go through your head.  Why do bad things always seem to happen to good people?  Why do people have to endure suffering?  I think part of the experience of Lent is to remind ourselves that suffering is part of the human condition, whether it be physical, mental, or emotional.  We are certainly made aware of that in this Sunday’s gospel in which Jesus spends 40 torturous days in the desert being tempted by Satan.  And of course we will be reminded again when we mark Jesus’ crucifixion and death.

Fr. Robert Barron, in his daily Lenten reflection, puts suffering in perspective.  He says that “there is a regrettable interpretation of the cross that has, unfortunately, infected the minds of many Christians. This is the view that the bloody sacrifice of the Son on the cross was “satisfying” to the Father, and appeasement of a God infinitely angry at sinful humanity.”  This view is contradicted in the gospel of John, where we find that all familiar passage: “For God so loved the world, that he sent his only Son, that all who believe in him might have eternal life.”  John reveals that it is not out of anger or vengeance or in a desire for retribution that the Father sends the Son, but precisely out of love.  God is a parent who wants His children to stay on the right path.  God loves us despite the fact that we are sinners – He only hates the sin.

Pope Francis, in his homily at his daily Mass this morning, tells us that the most difficult form of charity is to personally see to the needs of those who suffer.  He says that “the question posed by the Church today is “Am I ashamed of the flesh of my brother and sister? … When I give alms, do I drop the coin without touching the hand (of the poor person, beggar)? And if by chance I do touch it, do I immediately withdraw it? When I give alms, do I look into the eyes of my brother, my sister? When I know a person is ill, do I go and visit that person? Do I greet him or her with affection? There’s a sign that possibly may help us, it’s a question: Am I capable of giving a caress or a hug to the sick, the elderly, the children, or have I lost sight of the meaning of a caress? These hypocrites were unable to give a caress. They had forgotten how to do it….. Don’t be ashamed of the flesh of our brother, it’s our flesh! We will be judged by the way we behave towards this brother, this sister.”

This Lenten season, let us try to keep in mind the needs of those around us who are suffering in any way.  Let us also remember that we are not alone in our own suffering.  Have a great week.  Peace.

March 1, 2014 – Can We Please Calm Down?

March 1, 2014

Well frequent readers of the blog know that I am not too proud to take someone else’s creative idea and use it as my own.  Sportswriter Bernie Miklacz of the Post-Dispatch occasionally pens a column in which he names certain figures in sports world who need to “calm down.”  It may be someone who was in a big argument, or a coach who ripped a player, etc.  In thinking about what to write this week, it seemed that I could take a similar approach.  So here’s a list of people or figures who need to calm down:

Mother Nature needs to calm down:  Here we are again on edge about an upcoming winter storm.  The meteorologists are taking their coats off and digging in for “Storm Mode,” and we, along with our planned events, are once again at the mercy of the weather.  So Mother Nature, we get it.  We believe all of the stories our grandparents told about waking 5 miles to school in 3 feet of snow.  It’s time to turn the page and get on with some spring-like weather.

The media and everyone who went gaga over a married deacon being allowed to be ordained a priest need to calm down:  This item got a lot of play on the news, and it gave folks the impression that this was some earth-shattering, Curia changing event.  Here is the real story: The vast portion of the Catholic Church follows the Latin rites (us included).  We use the Latin liturgies and we have our own distinctive Canon Law.  The gentleman, Wissam Akiki, who was granted permission to be ordained a priest, is of the Maronite faith.  Maronites are among more than a dozen Eastern Catholic church groups in the U.S. that accept the authority of the pope but have many of their own rituals and liturgy.  Eastern Catholic churches in the Middle East and Europe ordain married men. But the Vatican banned the practice in America in the 1920s, after Latin-rite bishops complained it was confusing for parishioners.  Pope John Paul II called for greater acceptance of Eastern Catholic traditions, and over the years popes have made exceptions on a case-by-case basis for married men to become Eastern Catholic priests in America. Pope Francis gave permission for Akiki to be ordained.

According to a Maronite church spokesman, “Almost half of our priests in Lebanon are married, so it’s not an unusual event in the life of the Maronite church, though in the United States it is.”  So the pope’s action does not lift the ban on married priests in the U.S. – it’s simply an exception.  So again, for those who thought that this represented a major turnover in Canon Law, you may calm down now.

Chris Cuomo of CNN needs to calm down: On Thursday the President of the Catholic League, Bill Donahue, was interviewed by Chris Cuomo of CNN in what turned into a siege on the anti-gay marriage stance of the Catholic Church.  Cuomo hammered Donahue for his opposition to same-sex “marriage” and his support of the now-vetoed SB 1062 in Arizona. Cuomo mouthed the talking points of the social left on LGBT issues: “Why do you want to discriminate against gays? You say, we don’t…only the marriages bother us. But that’s the same thing, because their right as an individual is to marry.”  Cuomo even questioned Donohue’s Catholicism, for supposedly standing with “these Christians who are more of the extreme…[who] have their own rigid beliefs,” and against Pope Francis (or, more specifically, the liberal media’s spin about him).

Cuomo also came off with this: “You have a leader in your church, the Pope, and his message that is drawing so much acclaim; that is bringing so many people back to your church; is so different from the one you’re offering up. And I know you have your op-ed coming up that says that when the Pope said, who’s it for me to judge gays, he was making an assumption that there are gays who are seeking God – by the way, you can be gay and be seeking God – and he’s saying love; he’s saying forgive; he’s saying include. And that is not what that law was about, and that’s not what you’re saying.”

OHEY!  Once again, the Pope’s message was that we should not judge those who have a sexual orientation different than ours, and they should still be welcomed into our churches.  However, the fact remains that the Sacrament of Marriage is a gift from God which was established as a gift of commitment between a man and woman.  Pope Francis has said nothing contrary to this.

tinypope

The child in the above photo needs to calm down:  Don’t worry kid, it will be a few years before you will be eligible to actually be the Pope.  Of course, you will be constantly be reminded that millions of people have seen this picture, and you will probably be humiliated multiple times when people recognize you as the kid in the picture.  On second thought, go ahead and scream!

Finally, my appetite needs to calm down:  Maybe its just me, but doesn’t it seem like just before the start of Lent that all kinds of new snack foods hit the store shelves?  Recently I have noticed Rold Gold pretzel thins (Garlic Parmesan and 3-cheese flavors), Cheddar/Bacon potato chips, and Birthday Cake flavored Pop-Tarts.  And, Wal-Mart has the super-sized bag of Doritos on sale for like $2.98.  So, as it’s meant to be, Lent will be a test of willpower (and hunger pangs).

Finally, speaking of Lent, I wanted to share this link with you which gives a few ideas for Lenten resources and where you can find them on your devices.  Here is the link:

http://catholictechtalk.com/2014/02/18/lenten-resources-for-2014/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+catholictechtalk%2Farticles+%28Catholic+Tech+Talk%29

Ah, the Cardinals spring training game is on – a brief respite from our harsh winter reality.  Be careful, and have a blessed first week of Lent.  Peace.