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.

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

November 29, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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November 23, 2013 – Thoughts on the JFK Assassination

November 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

catholic church destroyed

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

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

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

November 15, 2013 – The Fight Continues

November 15, 2013

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

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

frmatheny

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

November 8, 2013 – Combing the Headlines

November 8, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

November 2, 2013 – Another “Extraordinary” Vatican Move

November 2, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 26, 2013 – Thanking Our Priests

October 26, 2013

Just wanted to start out with some positive health news – my heart is fine and pumping like it should.  No, I didn’t have an EKG or a stress test.  I know my heart is fine because I have made it through all of these Cardinal games without incident, so I know my heart must still be able to take an enormous amount of stress.  What a ride it has been so far.  To have played so poorly in Game 1 of the World Series and then to bounce back in Game 2.  Whew!  I can’t wait until tonight for Game 3 and the rest of the weekend.  GO CARDS!

OK, that business aside, time to move on to other matters.  Besides all of the other happenings the month of October brings, it is also typically set aside for Christian churches to, in some way, show appreciation for their pastor.  The USA Council of Serra International sponsors this Sunday, the fourth Sunday in October, as Priesthood Sunday in our country.  If you receive the Messenger newspaper or read it online, you saw the extra section dedicated in appreciation of our Diocesan clergy.

Anytime I talk about the history of our parish, the first thing I try to mention is not the buildings, or organizations, but how fortunate we have been to have had the leadership of dedicated, caring pastors.  I have mentioned it before, but I say it again because I think it is an incredible number.  Since 1892, a 121 year period, we have had just six pastors!  We have truly been spoiled.  So to maintain the previous average, Fr. Gene will have to stay another 13 years.  No problem, right Father?!  Anyway, to say the least, we have seen some wonderful examples of ministry and witness over these many years.  And of course, the role of priest at St. Mary’s has changed over these many years.  From traveling on horseback to many locations, to overseeing a thriving parish with the help of an assistant pastor, to the present day with the number of clergy declining, and once again assessing the need to minister in multiple locations.

It is with this last point that I express my appreciation for Fr. Gene.  At a point in his life when most folks are thinking about retirement, Fr. Gene has willingly taken on more responsibility.  In addition to being our pastor and serving as director of the Deacon Formation program in our Diocese, he has now taken on the responsibility of being Vicar Forane for the West Vicariate, and serving as a member of the Diocesan Finance Council.  These are, of course, just a listing of official duties.  As we know, there are many unofficial duties that a priest performs as well, whether it be as a spiritual mentor, guide, psychologist, mediator, friend, the priest is an intimate part of all of our lives.  The priest is truly selfless.  The question is asked so often why priests cannot be married.  I think a simple answer to this is that he is already married in a way to everyone he ministers to.  When there is an illness, a death, a hardship, etc., the priest is there.  How would we feel if a priest would not be available during these times because he had an obligation to his wife and children.  Would we be understanding of this?  I’m not so sure.

Despite all of the duties occupying Fr. Gene’s time, I admire him because he is always finding ways to show folks how appreciative he is of them.  I found this out again this past week when after our Parish Council meeting there was a Cardinal goodie bag waiting for me in celebration of my birthday.  From the oldest to the youngest, from the most active parishioner to the lukewarm Catholic, Fr. Gene has a way of making everyone feel appreciated and special.  We cannot repay you for all you do for us, Fr. Gene.  All we can offer you is our sincere, heartfelt thanks for everything you have done and for the sacrifices you continue to make.  May God grant you continued good health and happiness.

If you did read the Messenger this past week, you saw many other stories about what our priests mean to their parishioners.  All of our Diocesan priests are dealing with more and more duties being thrown on their laps as the number of priests continues to dwindle.  We certainly need to pray for all of our priests.  Here is a prayer that I found which we can pray for all of our priests:

Thank you Jesus for sending us our wonderful Priests. You called each one of them as you did with the Apostles ” Come follow Me.” May the power of your mercy, O lord, shatter all that might tarnish the sanctity of Priests, for You can do all things.. O Divine and Great High Priest, may the power of Your mercy accompany them everywhere and protect them from the devils, traps and snares which are continually being set for the soul of Priests.
Oh Jesus we pray for all Priests, those on the missions, those of your persecuted Church, those who feel isolated and lonely, those who are now suffering at this time.
Oh Mother Queen of Heaven who walked with the Apostles chosen by your Son, who the Holy Spirit inspired to pray for the Apostles and the first Christians pray with great love in this time for our Priests, and His Church. AMEN. 

We of course must continue to pray for vocations to the priesthood and religious life, and to encourage those whom we feel may make a good priest.  We also pray for Fr. Nick Junker, our new Diocesan Vocation Director, as he begins to work to encourage vocations in our area.

All right, Cardinal fans, are you ready?  Drinks and snacks in place?  Let’s wrap this thing up in St. Louis!  Have a great week.  Peace.