April 4, 2014 – Humbling Ourselves

April 4, 2014

I was a bad boy again last week and did not get around to posting a blog.  Of course last weekend was dinner/auction weekend, so all other schedules get thrown out the window, right?  I again want to thank everyone who played any part in making the dinner/auction another huge success.  I think it is incredible that a parish our size can put on such a grand event year after year.  I had a great time and came home with a large Cardinals sign from the Treasure Trove, and from the auction I scored the gift card tree put together by the upper grades in school.  So if you are on my Christmas list, you have an early hint of what you will be getting (LOL).

The auction was just part of my day last Saturday.  In the morning I attended a meeting of the Diocesan Pastoral Council with Bishop Braxton.  The meeting focused on the continuing process of the Diocesan Parish Renewal and Restructuring process.  As you know, 5 parishes have recently been suppressed.  Another, in Madonnaville, will likely be suppressed soon.  This was not discussed, but as we approach summer and the time comes to finalize the yearly pastoral assignments, we will certainly see more shuffling.  This could be in the form of merging parishes, or more suppressions, or a combination of things.  The Bishop wanted to emphasize that there will not be a parish in our diocese that will not feel the effects of these changes.  The loss of clergy, and the age structure of the remaining clergy, necessitates immediate and swift action.  Even for seemingly large, stable parishes, this could mean the loss of a weekend Mass, or even a regularly scheduled Celebration in the Absence of a Priest.  Bottom line – the landscape of our local church is changing, and will continue to change.  Please continue to pray for our Bishop and those consulting him in this process that their decisions are made in the best interests of the clergy and parishioners alike and that people will work to implement their decisions tot he best of their ability.

Those of you who are long-time readers of my little blog know of my admiration for our past Bishop, now Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory.  Having served with him on the Pastoral Council, I found him to be engaging, thoughtful, caring, and humble.  So I was surprised this past week to see his name come up in the news for lavish spending on a new Archbishop’s residence.  If you are not familiar with the story, here is a link to it that explains it well:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/04/atlanta-bishop-apologizes-for-building-2-2-million-mansion/

In a nutshell, the Cathedral parish in Atlanta is growing, and is in need of expansion.  The plan had the parish buy the Archbishop’s previous residence in order to be used as the rectory for their priests.  The site of the former rectory could then be used for expansion.  It was then decided by Gregory that he would take a portion of a $15 million bequest, which included property with a 1-story home, and build essentially a replica of his former residence.  This required tearing down the one-story home, and building a Tudor-style mansion.  Final cost: $2,2 million.  This caused a large uproar among some of the Catholics in the Archdiocese, especially considering the message of Pope Francis that we show restraint in our extravagances and share more with the poor.

Because of my fondness for the Archbishop, I have been thinking for the last several days how to justify such a large expenditure.  However, as we all do, it would simply appear that Gregory made a mistake and did not take into account the implications of his decision.  As he said in his statement of apology: “I personally failed to project the cost in terms of my own integrity and pastoral credibility with the people of God of north and central Georgia.  I failed to consider the impact on the families throughout the Archdiocese who, though struggling to pay their mortgages, utilities, tuition and other bills, faithfully respond year after year to my pleas to assist with funding our ministries and services.  I failed to consider the difficult position in which I placed my auxiliary bishops, priests, deacons and staff who have to try to respond to inquiries from the faithful about recent media reports when they might not be sure what to believe themselves … To all of you, I apologize sincerely and from my heart.”

As we know, everything is relative.  It’s hard to consider a $2.2 million expenditure a “mistake”, but it’s exactly what it is.  And in our own lives, haven’t many of us done something similar, even though it was probably on a smaller scale?  I am sitting here typing this on one of my 3 computers.  Now I do use all 3, and I can probably put together a pretty good case for needing all 3.  But in the grand scheme of things, I could probably get by with one or two.  We can all take the opportunity, especially during Lent, to take a “self-inventory” – to see what we truly need and what we truly could do without.  And as Archbishop Gregory demonstrated, we can humble ourselves and admit our faults.  I hope to see you at our Lenten Penance Service this Monday April 7 at 7:00PM tn order to do just that.  4 priests will be available for confession.

Finally, if you follow either religion/social issues news or tech industry news, you will have almost certainly heard about the ouster of Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich.  His sin? Donating money to California’s anti-same-sex-marriage Proposition 8. Many things can be said about this lamentable event.  That Eich is being described in the press as “anti-gay” even though one of the things everybody involved agrees on is that nobody has ever witnessed Eich exhibiting any sort of animosity towards gay people, and Eich pledged support for Mozilla’s gay-inclusive policies. That Mozilla is an organization based on open source software, and that a cardinal value of open source is the idea that everybody’s contributions are judged solely on the merit of the contribution, not its author.  And, that, these sorts of purges will only further radicalize the culture wars.  Let us pray that common sense will prevail in these situations.

What a weekend for the sports fan.  The Final Four, baseball, etc.  Enjoy!  Have a great week!  Peace.

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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.

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.

 

 

February 22, 2014 – Still On My Mind

February 22, 2014

The one event that I was paying close attention to during the Winter Olympics was hockey.  Unfortunately it’s been a rough last few days for the U.S. squads.  The women’s team had a 2-0 lead in the gold medal game only to lose in overtime.  Then the men’s team lost a tough semi-final game to Canada yesterday 1-0.  Finally, this morning the men’s ream laid a big 5-0 goose egg in the bronze medal game.  OUCH!  On the bright side, there are four St. Louis Blues players in tomorrow’s gold medal game.  and spring training is now in full go for the Cardinals, so things could certainly be worse on the sports scene.

Last week I wrote about separating the facts from the myths when it comes to the subject of clerical sexual abuse of children.  I have also written about it several times in the past.  However, I have to admit that I’m still on a bit of a guilt trip for not doing enough to defend those priests (which is the vast majority) who conduct their ministry with dignity, generosity and dedication.  Maybe it is because I am involved in a number of parish and diocesan ministries, so I see more of what is going on with our local situation – a shrinking and aging pool of priest having to take on more and more responsibility.  Maybe it is because I feel that if I would have taken the path that I had thought about in high school and attended the seminary, that I could have eased other priests’ burdens somehow.  Or maybe it is because even though I have written extensively in this, when it comes to talking about it one-on-one with someone who still has a prejudice toward the church and particularly the clergy, I don’t show as much courage as I should.

“Yeah, well your priests like little boys.”  “Do your priests still carry candy in their pockets to draw the kids to them?”  “Is this new Pope finally going to do something with the pedophiles?”  We probably have all had someone say something to this effect to us.  The priest/sex scandal card still gets played and played often.  And too often, we as Catholics cringe and duck out of the argument.  Responding to a slam on the priesthood or anything against the Catholic faith is an opportunity to witness to others.  This is not to sat that we should engage haters in their sport, but to varying degrees, we need to respond,  because the media’s dogpile on the priesthood has left many misinformed.

Sex abuse of children is epidemic throughout society.  Pedophilia among priests is extremely rare, only 0.3% of the entire clergy (Yes, 0.3% is absolutely still too much.)  This figure was cited in the book Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis by a non-Catholic scholar, Philip Jenkins.

The Media Report.com has reported that:

* “Catholic priests abuse at a rate far lower than that of other males in the general population.”

*  Most of the reported cases of abuse were an historical anomaly, occurring during a narrow time period from the Sixties to the early Eighties.  The handling of those cases was a reflection of that era, not the Church.  Experts in the field at the time, believed offenders could be successfully rehabilitated. Offenders were sent for treatment, rather than reported to police, which resulted in a temporary spike in repeat offenses.

* It has been reported that sexual abuse by teachers in public schools is “more than 100 times” that by Catholic priests. Yet there is little reporting on this, but old allegations of abuse by Catholic priests keep getting rehashed.

So why does the media continue to vigorously attack the priesthood?  It would appear that there are several reasons.  Part of it is an anti-Catholic and anti-religion mindset.  Protestant faiths, even if they split from another Protestant church, ultimately broke away from the Catholic Church so that is the Church they tend to discredit in order to defend themselves.  And if one opposes Catholic teaching on contraception, homosexuality or anything else, then the priesthood is a favorite target.

Another reason for the attacks speaks to the true value of the priesthood.  Catholic priests are held in high esteem, above other denominations and occupations. An offending priest is bigger news than when anyone else in society offends.  We expect more from them.   The sensationalizing proves that priests really do hold a special place in our world.

We have greater expectations for the priesthood because it is greater.  Why else, when Hollywood makes a movie on exorcism, it is a Catholic priest that goes head to head with evil?  The Catholic priesthood represents Christ and Christianity in a bigger way than other denominations. Priests bring us the Eucharist and absolve our sins in the place of Jesus during confession.  When it comes to the priesthood, the shockwaves for wrongdoing are much fiercer because of what is represented by them. Even non-Catholics, whether they like to admit it or not, hold priests to a higher standard.

Thus far, when I’ve encountered such attacks, I try to respond with the fact that it’s well documented that there are as much or more abusers in the general population. And any priest that does abuse, behaves in stark opposition to Catholic teaching so it does not represent the Church.  It may silence some, but many times it will not.  The point is that not only should we defend our priests, but also knowing the facts makes it easier.  But aside from the facts is our witness, loyalty, and courage to our faith.  If Catholics everywhere spoke up (without getting sucked into mud slinging), more detractors would be better informed and less inclined to risk looking like an ignorant bully.

I promise that next week I will delve into a different subject, but I thought this was important enough to devote two weeks to.  Have a great week.  Peace.

 

 

 

February 15, 2014 – Separating Fact from Myth

February 15, 2014

In the spirit of the Winter Olympics, I begin by borrowing the line from one of the most famous games and broadcasting calls in history.  Brian has blogged for two weeks in a row!  Do you believe in miracles?!?!?!  YES!!!!!  I didn’t get to see it live this morning, but T.J. Oshie of the Blues put on a show in the shootout win over Russia.  Go U.S.A.!!!  I haven’t followed the Olympics too closely to this point, but I do get in to the hockey.  It’s the best players in the world, some who are teammates otherwise in the NHL, going at it for national pride.

I hope you had a good St. Valentines Day.  I had my old stand-by line at the ready in case anyone asked me: “Do you have a date for Valentine’s Day?”  My answer: “Yes, the date is February 14 – same as last year.”

I debated on whether to tackle this subject again since I had already talked about it so often, but I think it is important to stay updated and also to point out misguided information.  Last week a United Nations committee slammed the Vatican’s handling of child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and accused the church of protecting itself rather than the victims.  The report follows a hearing last month where Vatican officials were grilled over the church’s handling of child abuse allegations.  The report stated that “The committee is gravely concerned that the Holy See has not acknowledged the extent of the crimes committed, has not taken the necessary measures to address cases of child sexual abuse and protect children, and has adopted policies and practices which has led to the continuation of the abuse by and the impunity of the perpetrators.”  Here is a link to an article which describes the report in more detail:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/05/us-vatican-abuse-un-idUSBREA140K620140205

Those who do not follow the Catholic Church closely would probably agree with these conclusions.  This past week I was in a discussion about current events, and one of the things brought up was charges against a deacon in a Baptist church in Fairview Heights for sex crimes.  Before all of the details of the story were raised, someone said “well, must have been a Catholic priest!”  We continue to be under indictment as a church for crimes and cover-ups which were mostly committed 30 or more years ago.  As I have said, and as we know, horrible crimes were committed.  And as we know now, it was wrong for church leaders not to remove known sexual perpetrators from active ministry (although at the time many doctors felt that pedophiles could be cured through rehabilitation).  However, what continues to be overlooked is that over the last 10-15 years, the Catholic Church, particularly in the United States, has been one of the most pro-active in dealing with accusations of sexual abuse.

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights recently published a fact sheet on priestly sexual abuse which I thought would be helpful to reprint here:

Now that Pope Francis has set up a commission to study priestly sexual abuse, Bill Donohue urged reporters to get their facts straight:

Myth: Children have been the main victims of priestly sexual abuse.

Fact: Since more than 95 percent of all the victims of priestly sexual abuse, as reported by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, are not prepubescent, that means that adolescents have been the primary victims.

Myth: Pedophile priests have been the problem.

Fact: Homosexual priests have been the problem. Proof: 81 percent of the victims have been male, and more than 95 percent have been postpubescent. When males have sex with postpubescent males, it is called homosexuality.

Myth: The problem is on-going.

Fact: The homosexual scandal took place mostly between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s. In the last ten years, the average number of credible accusations made against 40,000 priests is in the single digits.

Myth: The Church’s repressive teachings on sexuality are the problem.

Fact: It was liberals outside the Church who pushed for the sexual revolution, and it was liberals in the Church who abetted the revolution in the seminaries. Moreover, it was liberals who promoted therapy as the way to deal with molesters, instead of using punitive measures.

Myth: The Church has done nothing about the problem.

Fact: Pope Benedict XVI made it more difficult for active homosexual priests to enter the priesthood, thus getting directly to the source of the problem. Also, steps have been taken in every diocese to ensure that anyone who works for the Church must participate in a training program aimed at curtailing the abuse of minors.

Jesuit Father Hans Zollner, head of the Institute of Psychology at the Gregorian University in Rome, and director of the Centre for the Protection of Minors, said the report does not take into account the many positive steps that have been taken in recent years to prevent the abuse of minors.  Despite the many efforts that have been taken by the Church to ensure child protection, Fr. Zollner said, the wording of the report wrongly implies that the problems of the past are still current.  “It says priests are not punished,” Fr. Zollner said, and that “the Holy See does not do anything in prevention, or does not cooperate with the civil authorities.”  It is “absolutely wrong” to make these assertions as if they apply to the present, he said, as they do not reflect the policy of the Holy See, nor the guidelines set by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

“It looks as if some parts [of the report] are just repeating things that have been in opinion papers and blogs for many years,” he said, without taking into account the work that has been done for more than a decade.  “The report focuses on the wrongdoing, the sins, the crimes that have happened in the past, and had been covered up.” These offences did take place and ought to be denounced, he affirmed, but “to say that the Church has never defended victims, has never taken into account child safety, has always protected priests, and does not punish priests, is simply wrong.”

Let us continue to pray for those priests (the vast majority) whom have conducted their ministry with morality and dignity.  And let us work to erase the untruths that continue to plague the church.

Have a great week.  Peace.

February 8, 2014 – Passing On the Faith

February 7, 2014

Well here we are, about a week into February, and I have yet to keep my normal blogging schedule.  As I mentioned a couple weeks back, last Saturday I spent the day with our Confirmation class at the Shrine in Belleville for their Confirmation retreat.  My original plan was to write a blog the following day.  However, this was Super Bowl Sunday, and by my own declaration, I proclaimed it a couch potato day.  Of course, with the way the game turned out, I might as well have been doing something more constructive.  Anyway, I have the best of intentions to get back to my weekly blogging schedule.  I have kept my peeps hanging long enough.

Overall, I think the retreat was a good experience for everyone.  Fortunately, the weather, while not perfect, cooperated long enough for us to make the trip.  I think it was beneficial for our kids to see that they are not the only ones preparing for this important step in their faith life, as they were joined by about 300 other kids from several different Dioceses.  We had some good speakers, especially Fr. Chava Gonzalez, an Oblate priest who did a good job relating to the kids.  He shared the fact that he came from a family with 10 brothers and sisters, and joked that they their pastor had to have a separate penance service just for his family.  He also said that his mother would consult the priest before confessions, and would tell him “make sure so and so confesses to you when he or she did this …”  Talk about embarrassment!  Please continue to pray for our Confirmation class as they prepare for their big day on April 22 at the Cathedral.

We in the Catholic faith put a lot of time and resources into catechizing our children.  However, out efforts are in vain if the faith is not made a priority at home.  Despite our best efforts, we still see many of the people we spend so much time teaching the faith to falling away from it as adults.  An article that I read this past week talked about how we could make our catechesis more effective,  The author makes the point that our catechesis fails not because of our teaching methods, or because of our educational philosophies.  Maybe our teaching would be more effective if it were directed to a different audience.  In other words, maybe it is the adults who are in greater need of catechesis than the children.

Unless adults are intimately involved in church ministry, their faith formation pretty much consists of reading the bulletin, listening to the homily (if they attend Mass regularly), and the sacramental preparation of their children.  The author contends that, whatever methods we use, it is not fair to expect us to transmit adult faith concepts to a child. There is even less possibility of success when you expect the child to retain that barely-comprehensible catechesis into adulthood and assume the challenge of being a disciple and catechist of his or her own children.

I agree with the author that there is plenty of need for adult catechesis.  However, for whatever reason, this has not been part of our expectation and structure as a church.  So do we try to expend even more resources into adult catechesis when funds are already scarce and the church calendar is already overflowing?  This doesn’t seem realistic either.  I wish there were some way that we could have had all of our adults be a part of our “Fanning the Flame” program a couple of years ago.  It was so beneficial in learning about why the church takes the positions it does.  Fortunately, in this day and time, there are resources that can be had easily from the internet and other sources.

One great opportunity for adult catechesis is an offering from the Catholic Conference of Illinois.  The Conference is offering a 91-day program of daily, emailed readings of the Social Teaching of the Church. This is the perfect opportunity to learn about what Pope Francis has been focusing on since his election last March.  Participants will receive a daily email featuring a small section of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church — usually just a few paragraphs — beginning on Ash Wednesday (March 5) and continuing through June 8. This 91-day project is modeled after a similar program conducted in the Joliet diocese last summer, which the bishops of Illinois approved for statewide use.  To sign up to receive these daily e-mails, click on the link below and fill out the information:

http://www.ilcatholic.org/91-days/

In our local Catholic Church, the main recent news was the announcement of the suppression of 5 parishes. including St. Leo’s Parish in Modoc.  There is a movement among a group of people to try to maintain the parish grounds for weddings, funerals, and other social events.  I certainly appreciate the fact that these folks put a lot of their hard work and treasure toward keeping their parish afloat.  However, at some point, practicality has to reign, and to keep a parish of 26 families going just doesn’t make sense.  It would be better for all involved to put their resources toward their new parish and make that parish as viable as it could be.  By the way, the numbers of families in the other parishes being suppressed are 58, 36, 29 and 19.  It is hard to even call these parishes in that they do not have the resources to provide the ministries and services a parish should.  They are essentially gathering places for Mass once a week.  Yes, the process is painful for some.  Yes, the process will continue.  However, it is necessary in order to ensure that our church is as strong as it can be for us and for the generations to come.  Please prat for those who will become part of new parishes and for those who have the responsibility of continuing to make these difficult decisions.

Lord willing, I’ll be back writing again next week.  Thank you for your patience and understanding.  Have a great week.  Spring training starts this week!  Peace.

January 25, 2014 – About the Internet …. Again!

January 25, 2014

Well I’m back again after yet another one-week hiatus. I can remember telling myself when the Christmas season and other things wrapped up that I should be able to get back to a normal routine. I have to remind myself from now on to slap myself when I tell myself such silly things. But anyway, we’re back in the saddle this week, enjoying a brief reprieve before the next round of Arctic chill moves in.

I’m happy to say that even though I’ve missed a couple of weeks of blogging, our website and social media ministries have been busy. Numbers this month have been up quite a bit. Our website has already gotten almost 1500 hits for the month, and we still have a week to go in January. We usually average about 1000 per month. Also, our Facebook group page added a few new members, and we are at almost 100 folks on there. So what can this be attributed to? Well, a certain priest celebrated his 40th Jubilee a few weeks ago – twice – and folks were probably searching for information about that. The weather, of course, has kept people cooped up more than usual, so in a desperate effort to ward off cabin fever, some probably decided to hit the world wide web more than usual.

I hope, however, that this is a continuing trend, particularly given the message delivered by Pope Francis this past week. World Communications Day is normally celebrated in the Catholic Church the Sunday before Pentecost, which this year falls on June 1. As part of the release of the theme for this year’s celebration, which is “Communication at the service of an authentic culture of encounter”, Pope Francis penned a message which reinforces the fact that the internet and other modern means of communication must include the presence of the church as a means to evangelize and engage people to the message of the Gospel. He calls these means “a gift from God.” He warns, however, that the internet world is not for the faint of heart.

People who represent the church can take a lot of criticism when we engage in dialogue on the internet. Anonymous people use the internet to vent about whatever bothers them about church teaching. Remaining anonymous, for example, lets someone who is angry about divorce take shots at people who address religious beliefs. Groups can fill mailboxes and social media with half-truths and proclamations that the church’s teachings are “outdated” and must be changed, or the church will die. However, as unfair as these actions are, Pope Francis encourages us not to ignore them, but to use them as an opportunity to open dialogue and spread the Gospel. He tells us that “engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.” It sounds strange, but the internet can be a rough place to be. However, it is where the Gospel needs to be preached and where people are seen as neighbors, not enemies. It is one more place where Pope Francis calls the church to be. He tells us that “keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation on life, can enter, and so that the church is the home to all.”

As you know, I am passionate about the potential of what we can do with today’s methods of communication. This past week during our Parish Council meeting I gave a brief presentation about where we are at in terms of our web and social media ministry, and potential plans for the future which may include a fresh look for the website and the capability to donate online. I try to keep in perspective that nothing can take the place of gathering as a family of faith at Mass to worship, and to participate in personal means of evangelization. However, as Pope Francis tells us, “media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which in turn can inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately in unity … The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity, a network not of wires but of people.” I again want to thank you for your continuing support of our media ministry, and I always welcome any ideas or suggestions for what we can improve on.

OK, just a few other things to draw your attention to. I hope you had a chance to follow the events this past week from the March for Life in Washington, D. C. and other observances around the country of the 41st anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision which legalized abortion in our country. It was particularly uplifting to see so many people braving the harsh weather, and also the amount of young people who went to our nation’s capital, including our parish’s own Robbi Wingerter. For coverage, here is a link:

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/22/march-for-life/4769667/

Recently there were a couple of blatant attacks of prejudice against the Catholic Church, including one from New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who said essentially that anyone who is not pro-choice is not welcome in his state. Instead of me commenting on this, I’ll direct you to the response of Fr. Robert Barron, who does a much better job of refuting this than I could ever do. Here is his response on video:

Fr. Barron’s “Word on Fire” ministry is an ultimate example of the power of today’s means of communication and the “New Evangelization” concept. He has countless videos and blogs on a plethora of subjects. He is a remarkable speaker and theologian. Here is a link to his materials:

http://www.wordonfire.org/

Finally, believe it or not we have come upon Catholic Schools Week in our country. I want to thank Fr. Gene, Mrs. Robinson, all of the school teachers, the school staff, parents, grandparents, guardians, and of course the students for continuing the 150 year tradition of quality Catholic education here in our parish community. May the Lord continue to bless us with the means to provide a moral, Christ-centered education for our kids.

I’ll try to get back into the groove of a weekly blog next time, although it may be a little late as I will be traveling with our Confirmation students to the Shrine in Belleville next Saturday for their retreat. Pray that we have safe travels and a fulfilling day as we prepare for this most important milestone in their faith lives.

Thanks again for reading. Have a great week.  Stay warm! Peace.

January 11, 2014 – It’s God’s Will

January 11, 2014

Well we’re back after a one-week hiatus. Last week was well, to put it delicately, a bit challenging with the weather situation and deciding whether to have Fr. Gene’s Jubilee celebration, then eventually modifying plans so that the participants, musicians, etc. could come this Sunday when the weather is supposed to be much more cooperative. Anyway, in the midst of all of the hub-bub, the blog sort of got pushed to the wayside. This may not necessarily be a bad thing because it has been a long time since I missed a week of doing this, and well, frankly, the creative batteries probably needed a charge. But now, in the words of George Costanza on Seinfeld after he ate the mango that gave him a powerful dose of Vitamin B12, “I’m Back Baby! I’m Back!”

Last weekend’s juggling of plans was just another reminder that in the grand scheme of things, our best laid plans will never trump what God’s plans are for us. Who knows what would have happened if we would have proceeded with the original Mass planned for last Sunday. At the very least fewer people would have gotten to experience the wonderful music and other grand festivities that were planned. And at the very worst someone may have had an accident trying to travel from out of town to get here. I’m sure we all have been in other situations when we felt like we had things planned out the way we wanted to, only to see our plans get turned upside down. I think that is part of the challenge God gives us to test our faith in Him. We can make very good plans. Plans that on paper seem flawless. But in the end we have to realize that God always has a better plan.

That of course leads us then to another question. How do we know what God’s plan is for us? I’m 44 years old now and I’m not sure if I can say with certainty that I have discovered what God’s plan is for me. We don’t have a prophet among us, or an Archangel soaring down to tell us what to do. God comes to us in more subtle, quiet ways. A blog I read a while back offered 5 essential ways for discovering and living God’s will. Here are the author’s suggestions:

Live in Christ’s Friendship – we as Catholics need to take advantage of the Sacraments. In particular, we need to seek forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Sin can keep us from hearing God’s complete message to us.

Practice Humility and Surrender to the Lord – we are all inclined to let our pride get in the way at times. If we think we already have all of the answers, we won’t be open to new ones. We need to practice humility and surrender ourselves to God’s will.

Pray Daily – if we really love God above all else, then we should spend time in His company. Prayer is spending time with God. It is in prayer that we may ask God to reveal His plans for us.

Be Aware and Listen – I have a habit of limiting my prayer to speaking to God, and you may do this as well. We also need to set aside time during our prayer to listen. Jesus said “Seek and you will find, ask and you will receive, knock and the door will be opened.” We have to have faith that God has an answer and that He will reveal that answer to us, one way or the other.

Decide to Act – it is one thing to have the desire to live God’s will. It is another to make the decision to live God’s will. Desire is a feeling, while a decision is an action. Decisions are hard because they are not always easy. We can’t see what the future holds. We may not even understand the purpose. We have to believe that God has our best interest in mind, and it is our duty to trust Him and act.

I admire people who have come to know God’s will for them and have acted upon it. Fr. Gene is certainly one of those people. I wanted to finish off this blog by congratulating and thanking Father for his 40 years of service to the Lord and to the people of this Diocese and beyond. His ministry has been varied and has touched so many people. He has been a high school principal, cathedral rector, director of a Newman Center, vocation director, deacon formation director, vicar forane, and of course a pastor. I believe God has taken him in so many directions because He knew that he would touch people with his easy going manner and generous heart. I believe you could drop Father in any place, in any corner of the earth, and he would thrive because of his ability to relate to people and to their challenges.

Fr. Gene is much more than just a priest and an administrator.  He is a wonderful teacher as he shows with his thoughtful homilies and knowledge of church history.  He is a person of deep gratitude as he shows through the countless gestures of thanks he gives his parishioners and associates.  And above all else, he has been able to carve out intimate relationships with so many of the people he has had contact with over the years.  In going through the photographs to make his DVD slideshow, I was amazed at the volume of people he has touched in various ways.  I, as well as so many others, are proud to call him a friend.  My prayer is that he will continue to be able to minister to us in his unique, thoughtful way, and that more young people will see his example and pursue a vocation to the religious life.

Have a great celebration, Part II, Fr. Gene.  And everyone have a great (hopefully snow free) week.  Peace.