Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Over the past three weeks there have been some eye-catching headlines regarding scandal in the Catholic Church. Even our local town newspaper, the RiverEast, decided to weigh in the sins of previous popes. I suppose the intent is guilt by association. I am sorry to disappoint people but there will always be sin and there will always be scandal. Every since Adam & Eve committed the original sin of turning their backs on God, those striving for a life of holiness will encounter temptation and, yes, sin. This is what makes the Catholic Church so unique. It is a hospital for sinners-not a place where people get their act together so they can enter a perfect sanctuary with other perfect people. No. If you want that, go to a wax museum. The Catholic Church is a sacramental Church which means that grace is conferred irrespective of the holiness/or lack thereof the church's minister. In many respects this is so counter to the "Cult of Personality" that often grows around gifted speakers in our Hollywood saturated culture. This is also why we can take comfort in the Lord's promise to Peter that "the gates of hell will never prevail against the church." Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer is a Polish priest who "died on September 8, 2009, after a life dedicated to spreading spiritual life connected with increasing adoration and love toward the Eucharistic Christ." The following excerpt is from his book The Mystery of Faith by Paraclete Press: " Crises may touch me personally, others, or whole communities. Many times in the past when such crises arose in the church and christian faith diminished, it looked like the end. Yet the church cannot perish. The church will endure until the end of time, as our savior promises. The gates of hell will not prevail (Mt 16:18). The crisis of faith among the faithful has sometimes spread so widely that to those of lesser faith it might have seemed that it was not a crisis of human belief but of the church itself. It looked as though everything had collapsed. I cannot imagine what St. Joan of Arc thought as she was being tried by a church tribunal. She experienced deeply engulfing darkness during her trial. She counted this as her Gethsemane, her Calvary. Her faith endured. She didn't confuse bishops for the church itself. Standing before the judging church tribunal which she knew wanted to sentence her to death, she said, 'The church is Christ.' I should not have total belief in people, even if they are bishops. If I do, on noting their failures, I may be in danger of a serious spiritual crisis. It is wrong to put all my hope in holy spiritual directors, holy priests, or bishops. All my hope should be in Christ on the altar by the power of the Holy Spirit as He shows forths His death on the cross. I need to have complete trust in Him, not in erring men and women. St. Francis of Assisi was unaffected by the evil of his time that flourished like raging flood waters. The bulls of Pope Innocent III, condemning the most shocking abuses of usury, business corruption, gluttony, intemperance, and debauchery, highlight a very gloomy picture of the church in the twelfth century....When I see that everything around me is collapsing, increasing evil and darkness that may engulf me, I need to remember the words of St. Paul: 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.'(Rom 5:20)If I see my personal selfishness or egoism in those around me, I can see it as an opportunity to look for the solution in the one place I can find it. I need to turn to the one who loves me and unceasingly transmits His redeeming graces on the altar. In my difficulties, He is here and now closer to me than ever." Fr. Tad finishes by saying "These thoughts inspire me to have the optimism to see that through faith all will be well. These thoughts inspire the peace and joy which can only flow from discovering the love present in the Eucharist. God wants to redeem everything. So he all allows what is bad so that He can make it completely different. 'Behold, I make all things new' (Rev. 21:5) St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, used to say that "this world's crises are crises of saints." If we see a particular evil running rampant we need to pray to God to send us saints that live a virtue which counteracts the evil. St. Bernardine of Siena encountered a very licentious society. Young men would run through the streets of Siena bragging about their latest sexual exploits with other men. To counteract this, St. Bernardine promoted devotion to the Holy Name of Jesus. St Phillip Neri encountered a Carnival like atmosphere on the streets of Rome so he encouraged frequent reception of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. St. Teresa of Avila found herself going to confession to a priest who was publicly known as having several mistresses. Through her prayers the priest converted back to a life of holiness and zeal. St. Francis of Assisi was one time journeying through Lombardy where the people of a certain village, both Catholics and heretics, flooded the streets to meet him. A member of the heretical sect of the Cathari elbowed his way through the throng, and pointing to the village priest, said to Francis: "Tell us, good man, how can this shepherd of souls demand faith and reverence since he is living in notorious sin?" Walking over to the priest Francis knelt in the mire, kissed his hands and said: "I know not whether these hands are unclean or not, but even if so, the power of the sacraments administered by them is not diminished thereby. Those hands have touched my Lord. Out of reverence for the Lord I honor his vicar; for himself, he may be bad; for me he is good." How can we speak of glory? Easy. St. Gregory the Great said the night is darkest just before dawn. If we are experiencing a great darkness now then we can hope that the God we cannot see is very close. As Fr. Tad notes in his work: "Any kind of difficult situation is a trial of faith. I may feel alone and helpless in the face of such trials. Yet the truth is really quite different, paradoxically different. In these highly difficult moments, God is actually closest to me. In times of huge sexual temptations, Christ says to St. Catherine of Siena: 'I have never been so close to you as in this moment.' In such moments, God is simply just waiting for me. He is waiting for me to discover the value and treasure of the Eucharist. In every temptation, crisis, fear, or moment of despair, He wants to embrace and transform me by this redeeming sacrament." Have no fear. All will be well.
Monday, February 18, 2013
The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI one week ago today certainly came as a shock. He was in the middle of the Year of Faith and suddenly everything abruptly came to a screeching halt. Regradless the reason for his resignation, the world and the church will miss his teaching. I will miss his teaching. His writings have deepened my faith and helped me to better understand the liturgy. Conider the following passage from Robert Moynihans work The Spiritual Vision of Pope Benedict XVI-Let God's light shine forth."This is ultimately Benedict's great message: that the world is a sacrament-an "outward sign" of the "inward reality" of God's love, and that man will only be happy when he recognizes the primacy of God in his own life and in the entire world. Benedict's conviction that creation is joyful insofar as it is oriented toward God began in his childhood in Bavaria, where Catholicism and everyday life were interwoven. The root of that conviction is seen in his early and deep appreciation for the liturgy, the ritual symbolism of everday life-water, eine, bread, light and darkness." Wow! There is a lot in those two sentences. Scott Hahn, who once said that he was "bored" by the sacraments as a seminarian at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, now notes in his work Swear to God-the promise and power of the sacraments:" I wouldn't be surprised, today, to learn that more than a few Catholics feel what I felt, so long ago, as a Calvinist. They find sacraments boring, but only because they haven't learned (or perhaps theyv'e forgotten) the splendor and the drama of Christ's saving doctrine. Theyv'e stopped noticing how the sacraments have borne them up till now and promise to bear them to heaven." A quick review of what the Catholic Church understanding of sacrament is helpful here. Hahn notes: "The Baltimore Catechism summed it up for American parishes a generation ago: 'A Sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace...The sacraments receive their power to give grace from God, through the merits of Jesus Christ.' There's a lot packed into those few words, but by themselves they're not enough to bear a Calvinist, or even a Catholic, out of his boredom with sacramental rituals....The Catechism of the Catholic Church reaches into the Scriptures to assemble a more engaging definition: 'Sacraments are powers that come forth from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are actions of the Holy Spirit at work in His Body, the Church. They are the Masterworks of God in the new and everlasting covenant.'" Hahn helps us understand these definitions by giving practical examples. If we can understand what the Baltimore Catechism meant by sign then we can understand how Benedict can view the world as a "sacrament." Hahn: "Why did Jesus choose to communicate His salvation through signs? Because this is the way humans express themselves. A sign is something used to represent something else. All words are signs, but words are not the only signs. A flag, for example, represents a country. Our respect for the flag does not arise from the value of the cloth. The honor we show the flag symbolizes our respect for the country. When protesters want to show their disrespect for a country, they sometimes will deface or destroy a flag. A sign is a visible symbol of something that's invisible at the moment. We can see a flag, but we cannot see the entire country, much less the ideals embodied by the nation's government. The flag is the symbol of the country, its people, and its principles. A sign reveals something about the object it represents. A United States flag shows, by its fifty stars, that there are fifty states in the union; the red stripes memorialize those who died in serving their country; the white stripes stand for purity; and blue symbolizes heaven. Yet a sign also conceals much about the object it represents. For signs and things remain distinct. A flag is not a country; and even though we may spend years studying the flag, the nation itself will elude definition. The nation, in a sense, is a mysterious reality-a mystery. A sacrament is like other signs, but also unlike them." To maybe better understand what is being said-Sacrament is the outward sign, Mystery is the inward reality. Hahn makes a very important point in his third chapter of the book: "As I said in the first chapter of this book, God has a certain characteristic way of dealing with his people. It is not wrapped up in words so much as signs. It is sacramental. This was true from the first moment of creation, and it is just as true today. It is evident throughout the Old Testament, where God's chosen people spoke of all creation in profoundly sacramental terms: The heavens are telling the glory of God;and the firmament proclaims His handiwork...There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth (PS 19:1-4). God tends not to work in abstractions. His word is not mere words; it is creative, living, and active. The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it well: 'God speaks to man through the visible creation. The material cosmos is so presented to man's intelligence that he can read there traces of its Creator. Light and darkness, wind and fire, water and earth, the tree and its fruit speak of God and symbolize both His greatness and His nearness.' God created the physical universe; He made it good; and He did not hesitate to use its most commonplace items to manifest His glory. Sometimes, too, God would even elevate those commonplace items for uncommon purposes, as channels of divine power. The early Christians saw this clearly. In the yr AD 383 St Gregory of Nyssa preached a sermon in which he cited many sacramental uses of nature in the Old Testament: 'Moses' rod was a hazel switch-common wood that any hands might cut and carry and use as they please before tossing it into the fire. But God wanted to work miracles through that rod-great miracles, beyond the power of words to express....Likewise, the mantle of one of the prophets, a simple goatskin, made Elish famous throughout the whole world (2Kings2:8)...A bramble bush showed the presence of God to Moses (Ex2). The remains of Elisha raised a dead man to life (2Kings 13:21) St John of Damascus added: 'I do not worship matter: I worship the creator of matter Who became matter for my sake, Who willed to take His abode in matter; who worked out my salvation through matter. Never will I cease honoring the matter which wrought my salvation!... God has filled it with His grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.' Creation, then could serve as a natural sacrament. Nature itself was a sign, but God showed it capable of conveying supernatural power as well." Hahn and Benedict XVI are both on the same page. Hahn's illustrations and examples help to "unpack" the meaning of Benedict's words. Where is the world most a sacrament? The liturgy. Benedict XVI clearly felt that the problems of the world were liturgical problems. Listen to his response to Peter Seewald in the book Light of the world. Benedict is asked: "What is real renewal, the right kind of renewal?" Here is the pontiff's response: " The Church becomes visible for people in many ways, in charitable activity or in missionary projects, but the place where the Church is actually experienced most of all as Church is the liturgy. And that is also as it should be. At the end of the day, the point of the Church is to turn us toward God and to enable God to enter the world. The liturgy is the act in which we believes that He enters our lives and that we touch him. It is the act in which what is really essential takes place: we come into contact with God. He comes to us-and we are illumined by him. The liturgy gives us strength and guidance in two forms. On the one hand, we hear his Word, which means that we really hear him speaking and receive his instruction about the path we should follow. On the other hand he gives himself back to us in the transformed bread. Of course, the words can always differ, the bodily attitudes can differ. The Eastern Church, for instance, uses certain signs that differ from the ones familiar to us. In India, the same gestures that they share with us have a partly differenct significance. The essential point is that the Word of God and the reality of the Sacrament really occup center stage; that we don't bury God underneath our words and our ideas and that the liturgy doesn't turn into an occasion to display ourselves." Then, in a stunning and concise manner the Pope shows how the liturgy, the Mass is a gift: "Liturgy is precisely not a show, a piece of theater, a spectacle. Rather, it gets its life from the Other. This has to become evident, too. This is why the fact that the ecclesial form has been given in advance is so important. It can be reformed in maaters of detail, but it cannot be reinvented every time by the community. It is not a question, as I said, of self-production. The point is to go out of and beyond ourselves, to give ourselves to him, and to let ourselves be touched by him." Scott Hahn has been a good tour guide. I will let Pope Benedict conclude with words that summarize all we have been trying to say: " I am convinced that the ecclesial crisis in which we find ourselves today depends in great part upon the collapse of the liturgy, which at times is actually being conceived etsi Deus non daretur: as though in the liturgy it did not matter anymore whether God exists and whether he speaks to us and listens to us. But if in the liturgy the communion of faith no longer appears, nor the universal unity of the church and of her history, nor the mystery of the living Christ, where is it that the Church still appears in her spiritual strength?" Hopefully these words will inspire you as they have inspired me. Sacraments are definitely not boring-they are channels of divine communication and thanks to Pope Benedict XVI and his vision we can now approach the world as "Sacrament" and have a greater appreciation for the liturgy.
Eight years ago my eyes fixed on a book with an interesting title: How to be Pope-What to do and where to go once you're in the Vatican. In the event that I should receive a phone call in the next month I thought it would be good to do some prep work. According to the book, it says that the first thing I need to do is choose a name. I like the name Phineas. I could be Phineas the First and posthumously will be known as Phineas the Fisherman. Apparently I will not receive a salary but the good news is that I will have access to the Popemobile which gets approximately 9.6 miles per gallon. The other good news is that I will not have to pay taxes. No Vatican City residents have to pay Italian taxes. There is a pontifical pharmacy and a supermarket. I will also need to choose a Coat of Arms. I have decided that there will be a fly-rod on one side, a river on the other and my episcopal motto will be Jesus' last words on the cross "It is finished!" because the Catholic church will be finished if I am allowed to be Pope (lol).Some interesting trivia, because I like to exercise I inquired what the facilities may be. The book indicates that "through the ages, pontiffs have used different methods to unwind. JP II, an avid outdoorsman, enjoyed hiking in the mountains and swimming, while Pius XI was more of a full-blown mountaineer, ascending both the Matterhorm and Mont Blanc. He also kept 16 cars in the Vatican garage for his personal use. Pius IX meanwhile, loved billiards, playing against other Cardinals and Swiss Guards as much as he could. Julius II loved water and spent most of his free time on boats. A small gym is housed in the Apostolic Palace, where you can go to do a few minutes on a stairmaster or life weights. John XXIII installed a bowling alley that is regularly used by members of the clergy. In addition to the papal gardens, which are open to the public, you have a private garden on the roof of the Apostolic Palace." Apparently I will still be able to follow my beloved Red Sox, the book states "JPII insisted that the ceremony installing him as pontiff be held early enough so that he could watch an important soccer match on TV." So there you have it. A little bit of Papal trivia.... The message we hear this weekend is a message of hope. St. Paul says in today's 2nd reading that "the Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. That is the word we preach-for if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." After an eventful week-a blizzard, the resignation of a Pope, a meteor that injures 1000 in Russia, we all need hope, and the source of our hope is God. Sometimes in our life there can be temptations against hope. Perhaps someone you love has died, maybe someone you love is dying and your prayers are not being heard and you are losing hope. In today's Gospel, the devil tempts Jesus to be a superhero-Jesus Christ superstar. Sometimes that is the message that we hear and we can get discouraged. The Word Among Us has a beautiful message for us. It says, simply, "God's people have always had to face one fundamental temptation: forgetting the Lord and all the ways he has blessed us. The trouble is, when we forget our past, we tend to think we are alone in the present, that God isn't with us to help us and guide us." In today's first reading Moses exhorts the people to remember their history and to offer God their "first fruits" in gratitude. Perhaps you have lost hope, perhpas you want to have hope but don't know where to start. Today we will let Pope Benedict XVI do the talking. I will share some words from his encyclical letter Spe Salvi "On Christian Hope." This past week I was very frustrated by the snow-like you, I felt trapped. It was, however, also a time to reflect on how the Lord has blessed me. I remembered a mass I had with seminarians in Rome with a then Cardinal Ratzinger. It was avery simple mass-no pomp and circumstance, but it was in the chapel of the German college. We met with him for a group photo after. When he came to the United States in 2008, I concelebrated the mass with 500 other priests at the old Yankee stadium. You can imagine my surprise and joy when the MC handed me a ciborium and led us onto a platform leading right to the altar. I must have been no more than 20 yards from where the Pope was standing. What an amazing experience-I was standing where Derek Jeter stood! In the book Light of the World pope Benedict has a beautiful answer to one of Peter Seewald's questions. I wish it could be shouted from the rooftops because many times the message doesn't get through: "The church is not here to place burdens on the shoulders of mankind, and she does not offer some sort of moral system. The really crucial thing is that the Church offers Him." Do you hear that? The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum where perfect people play. That is why the Christian message is a message of hope. Regarding hope: here are the Pope's words: "Hope," he says,"is a key word in Biblical Faith-so much so, that in several passages the words hope and faith seem interchangeable." He continues: "A distinguishing mark of Christians is the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well." As he says, "The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hope has been granted the gift of a new life." Pope Benedict XVI then shares the example of Saint Josephine Bakhita who was canonized by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000 and is "an example of a saint for our time who can help us understand what it means to have a real encounter with God for the first time." She was born in 1869 in Darfur, Sudan. "At the age of nine she was kidnapped by slave traders,beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled. As a result of these beatings she bore 144 scars throughout her life. Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian counsul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying masters who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of master, the living God, Jesus Christ. Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her. Now, she heard that there is a God above all masters, the Lord of Lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person. She came to knwo that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her-that he actually loved her....what is more this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was awaiting her "at the Father's right hand." Now she had hope-no longer the modest hope of finding Masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: Through knowledge of this hope she was redeemed, no longer a slave but a free child of God. On January 9, 1890 she was baptized, confirmed, and received her first holy communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice-the future Pope St. Pius X. On Dec 8, 1896 she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian sisters and from that time onwards she felt she had to spread to everyone she met the liberation she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ. The hope born in her which had redeemed her she could not keep to herself: this hope had to reach everybody." And so it is with us, we have a living God, a God who is with us, a God who gives us hope-Jesus Christ. Pope Benedict XVI through his teaching and preaching the last 8 years has been a witness to hope and St. Josephine Bakhita, in her encounter with Jesus Christ, shows us that no matter what life throws at you, there is always hope!
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
This morning parishoners of St. Patrick church in East Hampton, CT walked out of church with a large black cross emblazoned on their foreheads. I have a secret formula (water) which produces ashes with an indelible ink quality. It has been known to resist the most serious scrubbing of soap (not really). What is so special about Ash Wednesday, and can we truly see that penance and fasting are things we should be happy about?ABSOLUTELY! We all need restoration, revival, renewal. Lent is the perfect time to restore our relationship with God. Many, sadly, think that prayer is the work of priests, monks, and religious sisters. No! By our baptism, we have all become temples of the Trinity and we are all called to the communion of life and love with God. In fact, Pope John Paul II at the close of the Jubilee year in his pastoral plan for the new millenium said that the parish is to be a "School of prayer." Where does restoration begin? For us as Catholics it begins with the sacrament of reconciliation. Here in the Diocese of Norwich we are implementing a program where each parish will have a dedicated night of the week set aside for the sacrament. Here at St Patrick confessions will be heard from 6-7pm every Monday. One cluster of parishes is making the sacrament available from 6am to 12 midnight. Why is this important? First, we need to recognize that we are sinners. As Cardinal Wuerl notes in his book "The Gifr of Blessed John Paul II": "Things do not always work out the way we wish they would. Only in children's stories does everyone 'live happily ever-after. In the moral order, in our relationship with God and our neighbor, we often fail. Sin is the name we give to such failures." The Second Vatican Council's Gaudium et Spes confirms that we are born in a sinful state: "Examining his heart, man finds that he has inclinations toward evil too, and is engulfed by manifold ills which cannot come from his good Creator. Often refusing to acknowledge God as his beginning, man has disrupted also his proper relationship toward himself, toward others, and toward all created things. Therefore, man is split within himself." It is the split we feel within us-when we fail to do the good we want and do the evil we do not want (Romans 7:19)-that cries out for reconciliation. In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" Pope John Paul II states: "To speak of reconciliation and penance is, for the men and women of our time, an invitation to rediscover, translated into their own way of speaking, the very words with which our Savior and Teacher Jesus Christ began his preaching: 'Repent and believe in the Gospel (Mark 1:15), that is to say, accept the good news of love, of adoption as children of God, and hence of brotherhood." "Reconciliation et Paenitentia has three principal chapters. Part I is titled "Conversion and Reconciliation: The Church's Task and Commitment." Wow! If that is true than we are failing as a church. Visit your typical Catholic Church on a Saturday. Do you see lines of people waiting to go to confession? There may be some exceptions but my guess is: probably not. Pope John Paul II knew that the key to conversion was acknowledgement of our sin. Just as anyone fighting an addiction has to first acknowledge it, so to does the human heart. I think it is safe to say that as a society we have become addicted to sin. Here are the words of John Paul II: "The prodigal son is man-every human being-bewitched by the temptation to separate himself from his father in order to lead his own independent existence; disappointed by the emptiness of the mirage which had fascinated him; alone, dishonored. Man-every human being-is also this elder brother. Selfishness makes him jealous, hardens his heart, blinds him, and shuts him off from other people and from God. The loving kindness and mercy of the father irritate and enrage him; for him the happiness of the brother who has been found again has a bitter taste. From this point of view he too needs to be converted in order to be reconciled." Cardinal Wuerl notes in "The Gift of Blessed John Paul II": "One of the great tragedies of our modern age is the refusal to recognize the existence of sin. The pope points out that 'when the conscience is weakened, the sense of God is also obscured, and as a result, with the loss of this decisive inner point of reference, the sense of sin is lost. This explains why my predecessor Pius XII one day declared, in words that have almost become proverbial, that the 'sin of the century is the loss of the sense of sin.' Wuerl contines: "We seem intent today on justifying everything we do. The manipulation of language serves to facilitate this end. Killing is now described as 'facilitating the conclusion of the biological process.' Abortion is now defined as a procedure that 'terminates in demise.' One is reminded of the embezzler who pleaded before the judge that he was not guilty of a crime but was simply 'participating in the equitable distribution of the goods of the earth in a private and personal manner.'" Please, this Lent, take advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation. It is for this reason that Jesus died on the cross. If our dialogue with God is cut off because of sin than we need to restore this rupture in the relationship.In conclusion, on this Ash Wednesday I wish to share with you the advice of Fr. Jean LaFrance from his book "Give me a Living Word." LaFrance says: "Be very attentive to the words of Jesus which precede his teaching on prayer. They are basic as much for prayer as they are for brotherly love, almsgiving, and fasting. You will never be a man of prayer if you seek to be seen or held in esteem by men. There is a radical incompatibility between 'being seen by men' and 'being seen by the Father.' That is why I question myself on this practice of certain men in the church,who, at all cost, seek to draw the attention of the media on themselves. This runs counter to Jesus' attitude: when crowds pursue him or the apostles, he forces the latter to climb in a boat and to move to the other shore or to deserted places." In another passage he states: "Therefore, you should often meditate on these words of Christ which refer as much to prayer as to fasting and almsgiving: And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you they have received their reward (Mt 6:5) You must choose: you must prefer the gaze of the Father or the reward of men. Christ, like the sphinx of Greek mythology, cannot compromise on this point: you must follow him or flee away from him. Saint Benedict aptly puts this in words when he says in his rule:'Put nothing before the love of Christ.'" In a brilliant passage links hiddenness in prayer with the virtue of chastity: "By urging you not to reveal yourself before men, Christ is linking prayer directly with chastity. The pure hearts alone will see God and will be able to speak to him because they have not sought to be held in esteem by others. The greatest sins against chastity always come from the fact that you desire not only the body of others but their soul as well. So, do not make excuses for yourself by saying that all that you love in them is their soul: this is precisely the prohibited domain, the 'sealed garden' into which God alone can enter, and the modesty of the body must be but a reflection of the modesty of the soul." To be continued....Happy Lent? Absolutely. The Father of Mercies is waiting for you in a confessional near you. Peace!
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
At the vigil or wake for a dead person the order of Christian Funerals has the following invitation to prayer: " We believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death. Confident that God always remembers the good we have done, and forgives our sins, let us pray, asking God to gather ( ) to himself." Why do I mention that prayer, especially on Gaudette Sunday when all the readings are about "rejoicing?" It is because everyone here and everyone in our state and nation are trying to find meaningful answers to the question why? Why can such an unspeakable tragedy happen in a small bucolic town in CT? Why such innocent children? Why such anger and rage on behalf of the shooter? We may never know the answers to these questions. In the meantime, however, how do we handle the Tsunami of emotions: grief, sadness, anger, sorrow, fear? The reason the events of Friday have such a profound effect on us is that, as the opening prayer states, we are all connnected. Those of you who are Grandparents or parents, these children could have been your children. As an uncle of a 6yr old, an 8 yr old, and a 10 yr old, those children could have been my nieces. It is very upsetting. The underlying question obviously is the question of evil. Evil has been with us since Adam & Eve. Evil is the abuse of our free will. This is why independent living-a life outside of God's grace, can be so harmful to ourselves and to others. The good news, however, is that good triumphs over evil. just as Friday's events were plotted and pre-meditated so too, did people plot and conspire to have Jesus killed. At the moment when evil seemed to have conquered-the death of God-God was most victorious. God is not God of the dead but of the living. The ressurection of Jesus and the promise of eternal life is what gives us hope. Os Guinness, no stranger to evil, having fled China with his family in 1951 is the author of a book titled Unspeakable: Facing up to Evil in an age of terror and Genocide. The book was written in the wake of the events of Sept 11. In the book he attempts to answer several key questions: where does evil come from? Has the modern world made evil worse? How do the different ways of explaining evil affect how we respond to it? and what does the existence of evil tell us about our ultimate beliefs? We cannot answer each of those questions here but I invite you to come up with your own answers-ask the hard questions-wrestle with God as did Jacob and Job. Why me or Why not me are two questions people ask in the face of tragedy. Guinness notes regarding "why me?": "At the deepest level of all the question 'why me' probes the frightening thought of ultimate chaos and the terror of randomness. Perhaps the universe is not our home. Perhaps it is finally absurd, not only deaf to our cries but menacing to our safety. Perhaps life is really a roulette wheel of death. Describing his feelings after the crash in which a drunk driver took out the heart of Gerald Sittser's family: (his wife, four yr old daughter, and mother) he watched in horror as three generations of a family died within a matter of minutes. The words he used were nervousness and terror. It was not just that something bad had happened to innocent people, 'but that something bad had happenned so randomly.' The accident was not predictable, and the victims were not prepared. Life is not just difficult. Life turns out to be unfair, and cosmically unfair in a way that is terrifying. After that the ground no longer seems so firm. Soldiers and war victims know this terror. One comrade on the battlefield is killed another is seriously wounded and a third walks off scot free." For some of us the harrowing questions is the reverse: why not me? Os Guiness notes: " I survived the Henan famine when my two brothers died; my friend made it down from the 104th floor from the Twin Towers when nearly 70 of his colleagues perished; Alexander Solzhenitsyn escaped the Gulag and recovered from inoperable cancer when millions died around him. 'Every survivor wonders why he is alive' said Abbe Modeste, a priest, after the Rwanda massacre. Guiness, speaking quite personally, notes 'is it selfish and shameful to survive when others did not? Should we feel guilty? Or is it a matter of grace and gratitude? I have felt the latter all of my life, and for Churchill it was a key component of his sense of destiny.'" Why? Why me? Why not me? are the three burning questions. The last question is Where is God? Elie Weisel, Nobel prize winner, takes that question on directly: He is a survivor of the Holocaust/Auschwitz. In his memoir he notes: "Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children, whose bodiesI saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget the flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams into dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemmed to live as long as God himself. Never." It seems that Weisel has given up faith, but in a moment of great insight, he notes to a taunting prisoner who is asking the question. " Where is God, where is He?" When the SS forces the entire camp to watch the public hanging of a child. "Where is he now?" All the 15yr old Elie can answer is through a voice within him saying: "Where is he? Here he is-He is hanging on the Gallows." Where was God on Sept 11, 2001, He was in the form of two steel beams forming a cross at the bottom of the rubble of the World Trade Center. Where was God on Friday, the 14th? He was in the twenty children, the Holy Innocents, who went to meet their maker. In end, because of Jesus Christ, God is victorious. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness shall not overcome it. "What should we do?" the people asked John the Baptist in the Gospel.He responded by preaching the Good News. That is what we do today. Why....Why me...Why not me....Where is God....these are the questions to bring to the Lord today. Our response? The Good News of Jesus Christ-Emmanuel, God with us, Lo, I am with you always until the end of the world. You and I are not alone-we are deeply connected. The ties of friendship and affection which knit as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death." Amen. Now that is Good News!
Friday, October 26, 2012
Nobody wants to cry "wolf" if it is not necessary. However, throughout the bible there is a rich tradition of prophets calling their people back to God. Time and time again the Israelite people turned to idols and each time it led to their eventual overthrow. Cardinal George of Chicago has been speaking prophetically. In his latest column to the Chicago Archdiocese he said that "the secularizing of American culture is a much larger issues" than political causes or the outcome of the presidential elections. "The world divorced from God who created and redeemed it inevitably comes to a bad end. It's on the wrong side of the only history that finally matters." He notes that the 2012 political campaigns have brought to the surface "anti religious sentiment, much of it explicitly anti-Catholic, that has been growing in this country for several decades....Secularism...is just communism's better scrubbed bedfellow." Perhaps more disturbing is his remark "I am correctly quoted as saying that I expected to die in bed, my succesor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square." He said he was trying to express in "overly dramatic fashion what the complete secularization" of society would bring. Why the alarm? Apparently many Catholics are not aware of the implications of the Affordable Care Act and what it will mean for Catholic institutions. As a refresher, the HHS mandate requires that employers provide insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization abortion-inducing drugs, and related education and counselling. All of these practices are against Catholic teaching. Any employer that does not comply will incur substantial fines that may result in eliminating the employer's ministry. This is an unprecedented attack on religious liberty. The HHS mandate determines whether an employer is religious enough and leads the way toward redefining religious liberty as the freedom to worship. But what about the supposed "Accommodation?" On February 10, 2012, responding to intense opposition to a broad spectrum of religious institutions all over the country, including all 181 Catholic bishops presiding over a diocese, President Obama announed that there would be an "accomodation" for religious institutions opposed to facilitating practices contrary to their moral teachings through their employee health plans. In the so-called accommodation, insurance companies-not the religious employers themselves-would be forced to pay for the abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. However, since any funds the insurance companies would use to make such payments ultimately come from the premiums paid by employers, Obama's "accommodation" is nothing more than a kind of economic shell game. In the final analysis, the so-called "accomodation" still forces religious institutions to provide employees with health plans covering free "services" that violate their religious convictions-or face crippling fines should they refuse. President Obama's HHS Mandate violates freedom of conscience, a right that is guaranteed by the First Amendment and even several federal laws. The right to practice one's religious beliefs is protected by the Bill of Rights. The Obama administation's attempt to force all Americans to buy coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including drugs that induce abortion, is a radical incursion into freedom of conscience. Never before in US history has the federal government forced citizens to directly purchase a product in contradiction to their moral and religious beliefs. Having fled religious persecution in Europe, America's Founding Father's cherished religious liberty as the most precious of values. In his work "Forged in Faith" Rod Gragg notes: " For the cause of liberty-that uniquely American faith-based freedom-America's founding fathers were willing to sacrifice their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, and would do so with a firm reliance on Divine Providence. More than a few of them would lose their fortunes. Some would lose their lives-but the sacred honor they defended would remain intact. the founding document they risked all to create-the Declaration of Independence-would long endure as an American commitment to the self evident truth 'that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." What are you willing to sacrifice to maintain religious liberty?
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
The following excerpt comes from a book by John Zmirak and Denise Matychowiak titled "The Bad Catholic's Guide to Good Living." Today is the feast of St. John of Capistrano. He is the patron of military chaplains. This is the excerpt from their book. They dub him the patron of Homeland Security: "No, he didn't breed swallows or found a mission in California. The exquisite church that bears his name was given it by his fellow Franciscan Fr Junipero Serra, who founded this mission in 1776 among twenty others that dot the state. San Juan de Capistrano is the oldest building still in use in the state of California. St. John was no swallow, but a tougher bird entirely-more like an imperial eagle. Born in Italy to a family of warriors, he ruled the city of Perugia on behalf of the king of Naples. Captured in a war he was trying to mediate, he discovered a call to religious life and got permission (from his wife as well as the church) to annul his marriage and join St. Francis's order as a priest. He walked up and down the length of Italy, preaching and attracting crowds-one as large as 126,000. We've been to TAFKAP concerts smaller than that. John's preaching made him famous and got him appointed papal nuncio (ambassador) to Austria, where he led a movement against the popular proto-Protestant heresy of Jan Hus. When Turkish forces invaded Serbia (are you seeing a pattern here?), the pope appointed John to preach and lead a crusade to turn them back. At age seventy, he personally led seventy thousand men into battle, defeating the Ottomans outside Belgrade in 1456. He is customarily pictured stomping on a turban-an image that now appears in the official seal of the Department of Homeland Security." I guess his story gives new meaning to the expression "onward Christian soldiers."