Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pastoral Planning-a response to CNN's religion blog which states: "Catholics-dissent or leave"

The religion blog of CNN has an interesting title: Catholics-dissent or leave. The blog chooses to focus on a number of statistics that seem to indicate going dissatisfaction among those who have left the church. According to statistics the present Catholics now occupy 24% of the population in the United States. This is still the largest denomination but the numbers are down significantly from 35% a number of years ago. A large influx of immigrant catholics have helped bolster Catholic number according to blog editor Jim Spellman. The sources of discontent? Some cite the Clergy Sex abuse scandal but others seem to say " I'm not being fed." Although it is probably fair to say that the sex abuse scandals have dealt a blow to the church and the trust of the lay faithful, most Catholics realize the problem of sexual abuse is systemic in our society and is certainly no more common in the Roman Catholic priesthood than any other demographic. What then about the phrase "I'm not being fed?" This is a phrase I have heard a lot. Whether it is the preaching (or lack thereof) of priests or catechesis (or lack thereof), something is missing in our presentation of the faith. If we believe (as we say) that we are people of the Word and of the altar, should not our focus be on breaking God's Word for the people so they can better understand and appreciate the Eucharist? To give a 3-5 minute homily and then expect people to be "fed" or "sustained" is not enough. Then there is the other issue: Why do people leave under the premise of "not being fed" when they have the "Bread of Life?", the "Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ?" The mass is heaven on earth, it is, as Scott Hahn brought out so beautifully in his bood Lamb's Supper, the Book of Revelation-it is all there! The question for us is not one of gimmocks. There have been too many worldly-focused means used to attract people. What people are yearning for and hungering for is what Pope John Paul II wrote about in his apostolic letter NOVO MILLENIO INEUNTE. People are not being fed because they are not experiencing holiness. St. Josemaria Escriva used to say: " The world's crises are crises of saints." St. Paul in 1 Thess 4:3 says "This is the will of God, your sanctification." Here at St. Patrick Church in East Hampton, CT we are going through a process called pastoral planning. Pastoral Planning is an effort to combine resources with other parishes to build more vibrant faith communities. With an aging priesthood and a shortage of newer priests it is becoming increasingly evident that parishes will need to cooperate and collaborate resources. What Pope John Paul II does, however, is put the emphasis where it should be. While you and I immediately think in practical terms of programs or schedules. Pope John Paul II speaks a different language: holiness. Here are his words: "In fact, to place pastoral planning under the heading of holiness is a choice filled with consequences. It implies the conviction that, since Baptism is a true entry into the holiness of God through incorporation into Christ and the indwelling of his Spirit, it would be a contradiction to settle for a life of mediocrity, marked by a minimalist ethic and a shallow religiosity. To ask catechumens: 'Do you wish to receive Baptism?' means at the same time to ask them: 'Do you wish to become holy?' It means to set before them the radical nature of the Sermon on the Mount: 'Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.' (By the way the word perfect does not exist in Hebrew....the closest English equivalent would be completeness/wholeness) As the Council itself explained, this ideal of perfection must not be misunderstood as if it involved some kind of extraordinary existence, possible only for a few 'uncommon heroes' of holiness. The ways of holiness are many, according to the vocation of each individual. I thank the Lord that in these years he has enabled me to beatify and canonize a large number of Christians, and among them many lay people who attained holiness in the most ordinary circumstances of life. The time has come to re-propose the high standard of ordinary Christian living: the whole life of the Christian community and of Christian families must lead in this direction. It is also clear, however, that the paths of holiness are personal and call for a genuine 'training in holiness', adapted to people's needs. This training must integrate the resources offered to everyone with both the traditional forms of individual and group assistance, as well as the more recent forms of support offered in associations, and movements recognized by the Church." Still "not being fed?" Visit a soup kitchen and see Jesus disguised as the beggar. Visit a nursing home and touch the lonely and hurting Jesus. Make a visit to a church and spend time in prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament and marvel that the God of the universe has made Himself so small, so vulnerable so as to be with, and speak to , you. Read Scripture. Get to know the story of God's great interventions in human history. Read about Elijah calling down fire from heaven. Read about Moses and the burning bush, or Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt. Read about Jesus and see how he multiplies the loaves and the fish, prefiguring the Eucharist. See him at the last supper where he says "Take and eat, This is my Body which is given up for you." Imagine you are in the crowd and you here him say "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you do not have life within you." Question yourself...what does this mean. Then remember that over 2,000 there has been the "great cloud of witnesses" who have given their lives for Christ and are interceding with Jesus right now on your behalf. Recall St. Francis de Sales who valiantly went into the Chablais region of France and singlehandedly brought back over 60,000 souls to the Catholic Church through his writings, his kindness, his holiness. Still "not being fed?" Surround yourself with Godly people who are seeking wholeheartedly to do the will of God in their life and you want have to try to be holy. It will just happen. What is the best pastoral plan of all? A plan of holiness. How are we to respond to those who are critical of the church and say they are "not being fed?" Come and see. Come and See the splendor and beauty of Jesus and the Catholic church.

Friday, June 8, 2012

A Catholic argument for the Eucharist

Last evening in East Hampton, CT there was a beautiful rainbow. The rainbow is significant in scripture because Our Lord promised to Noah with a Rainbow in the sky that never again would he punish the earth. This became a sign of the covenant. For Catholics the sign of the New Covenant is the Eucharist-the real presence of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ in a tiny piece of bread. It is an act of faith. It is an important act of faith because Jesus says in John 6:53: "Jesus said to them, 'amen,amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks y blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me." Sadly, a teaching that was intended to unite and to bring life has become a source of division in Christianity. Catholics will sometimes say "I am not being fed " and leave the Catholic Church for a bible church that offers better fellowship, but no Eucharist. They do not know what they are leaving. Perhaps they were not taught. Perhaps they did not understand it. Perhaps the scandal of Catholics not believing caused them to leave. Regardless, if Catholics truly believed that God became present at every mass they would be walking across broken glass on hand and knee to make it to mass. There is the wonderful story that Fulton Sheen likes to share. A mass is being held in secret in China. The communists come in, arrest the priest and the congregants. For the next nine days the priest is able to watch a young teenage girl who survived the raid. Each day she would pick up a host thrown on the floor with her tongue and spend an hour in quiet adoration. The priest, under house arrest next door, was able to watch through a window. He knew there were nine hosts left on the floor. On the ninth day the young lady came in, as was her custom, knelt down and consumed the host on her tongue and prayed for an hour. As soon as the hour was over, the authorities came in and shot her on the spot. The young lady was a martyr for the Eucharist! Do we have that kind of faith? Sr. Briege McKenna tells the story of giving a retreat in Thailand. She is a nun (poor Clare) with the gift of healing. Sr Briege had her own miraculous healing in front of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. She was instantly healed of crippling rheumatoid arthritis. Wheel chair bound at the time she now travels the world ministering to priests and sharing her gift of healing. At this particular conference there was a loud commotion of Buddhist monks in the back of the chapel. As the priest held the Monstrance aloft Our Lord revealed Himself to the monks and they were on their knees shouting Jesus is Lord! Jesus is Lord! Fr. Dwight Longenecker is a convert to Catholicism from the Evangelical world. He has a great love and passion for C. S. Lewis and has written a book titled More Christianity. In a chapter titled "The Real Presence" he notes: "The Protestant theologians at the Reformation violently refuted the doctrine of the Eucharist. In different ways they all denied that the consecrated bread and sine were really and truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet this is the understanding of the Eucharist from the earliest days of the Church. The earliest writings are unanimous that the bread and wine of the Communion service become just what Jesus said it is-his Body and Blood. Before the year 108 Ignatius of Antioch says, 'Take great care to keep one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup that unites us with his blood.' He says heretics deny that the Communion bread is really the Body of Christ. 'The Docetists stay away from the Eucharist and prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ which suffered for our sins.' The early Christian writings fervently insist that the bread and wine of commuion are supernatural gifts. Through them the flesh and blood of Jesus is with us in a real way. Justin Martyr, who died in the year 165, notes: 'We do not receive these gifts as ordinary food or ordinary drink. Buat as Jesus Christ our savior was made flesh through the Word of God and took flesh for our salvation, in the same way the food over which thanksgiving has been offered through the word of prayer that we have from him-the food by which our blood and flesh are nourished through its transformation-is, as we are taught, the flesh and blood of Jesus who was made flesh.'" The Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is not, as some claim, a "teaching of men." It is the teaching of Jesus Christ and has been the constant teaching of the church from its earliest days. Praised be Jesus Christ the God man, who humbles Himself to feed us with His own Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Smile, Say less, Listen More

I wish I could take credit for those words. The words are from our Lord to a young man named Matthew Kelly. Matthew was a typical teenager in Australia when he began to hear a voice inside. He has since discerned that that voice was God the Father. Matthew went on to attend Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio and has travelled the world as a motivational speaker. He is now married and has a son named Walter-great choice of names. One phrase that touched him most deeply was the phrase "smile, say less, listen more." In his words, "there is one short verse that lives with me every day. This line echoes in my head like music....Smile, say less and listen more, pray and trust in Me, your Heavenly Father." Sounds so simple, right? I will never forget the story of a smile. I was attending a talk at St. Mary's church in Ridgefield, CT. The speaker was one of the friars from Medjugorje, Croatia. Frankly, it was one of the most boring talks I had ever attended. I think he said something about praying! Anyway, I happened to be at the St. John Fisher seminary residence at the time and was there with some friends. Afterwards this older gentleman came up to me and my friend motioning wildly. I thought, oh know, another religious fanatic! He called my friend Franco over and said "Don't ever forget to smile.....you have a beautiful smile!" Franco did and does have a wonderful smile. He came from a devout Italian American family that owns several Italian restaurants in Fairfield County. The older gentleman then proceeded to tell us an amazing story. It seems he was in a concentration camp in World War II. A prisoner had escaped and the Nazi's wanted one of the prisoners to pay the price. They called him forward. His only worldly possesion was a crumpled picture of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestachova (sp?) Upon looking at her image the man burst into laughter-the guards thinking he was crazy, also began to laugh, before you knew it everyone was laughing-one of those gut busting laughs that you just can't contain. At this point the soldiers forgot why they had called him forward and they let him go! Our Lady worked a miracle! I will never forget that talk-the talk was irrelevant. I was there that evening to hear about the importance of a smile. Kelly shares a similarly powerful story in his book, A Call to Joy: " One day a priest found himself walking through the Bowery in New York City, a place were many hmeless people can be found. The priest was with three friends, and all were on their way to take a ferry ride. As they walked along, they came upon a man dressed in rags and sitting on the pavement. He was very dirty and looked depressed. When he met the priest's eyes, he beckoned to him to come over. Touched, the priest moved toward him. But his friends quickly spoke up::'Come on, you don't want to go near that bum.' The priest ignored their warning and moved still closer while his friends watched in amazement. The priest said a few words to the man. Then he smiled and moved on to catch the ferry. As they were waiting to board, the same man came running up to the priest, sobbing like a child: he pulled out a gun and said, 'Father, just before you walked along this morning I was about to go down the alley and blow my brains out. When you came along I waved to you and you responded to my call, my cry, my plea. Then you spoke to me as you would speak to someone you loved, but it wasn't any of this that stopped me from doing what I had planned. As you started to leave, you looked deep into my eyes and smiled. It was the first sign of human affection that I have been shown in seven years, and I just wanted you to know that today your smile has given me life.' The two spoke for a while, and the priest discovered that this man had once been a doctor practicing at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The the priest gave him his blessing and went on his way. Later, the priest went to the hospital to find out what he could about this man. He brought the man's name up to various doctors and nurses and was told that he had in fact been a doctor there, but he was having some troubles so he left. No one knew where the priest could find him now. Three years later the phone rang and the priest was greeted by a well-spoken voice saying, 'Hello, I'm Dr. Lawson. Remember me? From the Bowery? I'm back at the hospital now. I just wanted you to know a smile can make a difference-sometimes all the difference.'" We sometimes get caught up on theology-wars have been fought over Jesus. People have died believing they were in the right (Protestant Reformation). What is interesting is the simple advice out Lord gave to Matthew: "Build a friendship with My son Jesus." In Kelly's words: " This is what he said to me. He never told me how to pray to Jesus. He merely suggested that Jesus had all the answers and that Jesus was my greatest friend." Wouldn't it make sense for all of us to get to know this Jesus? If we do maybe we will "Smile, Say less, and Listen More."

Priests for the New Evangelization

Priests for the New Evangelization

Monday, June 4, 2012

Life is Beautiful-Trinity Sunday Homily

An elderly woman is walking into church and she is greeted by a friendly usher. "May i assist you?" he asks. "By all means" she responds. "Where would you like to sit?" he asks. "The front row" she responds. "Oh, you don't want to sit in the first row" he states, "the pastor is boring." "Do you know who I am," the woman asks indignantly. "No" the usher replies. "I am the pastor's mother." "Do you know who I am?" the usher asks. "No" she replies. "Good." The user responds. Meister Eckhart says that you and I were created out of the laughter of the Trinity. Proverbs 8:30-31 says "Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of the earth; and I found delight in the sons of men." Did You and I hear that....the earth is God's playground...St Josemaria Escriva once counselled people who would come to him complaining that they feel no devotion. His answer? God is playing with you. Imagine that the God of the universe-infinite love-wants to play with us! The prophet Zephaniah says "Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior; He will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, He will sing joyfully because of you as one sings at festivals." (zeph 3:17-18). Let me share with you an example of how this plays out. Did you ever see the movie "Life is Beautiful?" The movie came out in 1997 and won some Academy Awards. The first part of the movie is lighthearted-it involves the courtship of a Jewish man, Guido, who marries and aristocratic woman, Dora. At first her family is opposed to the mixed marriage but eventually they relent. Eventually a son, Giuse, is born. When Giuse turns 4 and 1/2 the movie becomes more serious. It is world war II and the Nazi's are invading Italy. Guido and his son are taken to a concentration camp. Dora, in solidarity with her husband and son, goes with them. While in the camp the father does everything possible to keep his son's spirits up. He steals food. He uses humor. He convinces his son that he is actually in a game. The objective of the game is to win a tank. Whoever gets 1,000 points first wins. The boy wants to know why the officers are so mean. His father tells him it is because they are in the game and they want to win the tank as well. The other children are also competing. Because the father is so convincing and the boy's heart is so pure, he believes every word of his father. If the boy complains and expresses a desire to go home to his mother he loses points. If he is quiet and stays away from the guards he wins points. The movie comes to a dramatic ending as the Allied forces are entering the camp. The boy thinks he has won the game. Tragically, however, his father does not live to see the liberation. He is shot by a Nazi guard while escaping to see his wife. The boy, however, survives by hiding in a box and is eventually reunited with his mother. Why the title "Life is Beautiful?" The movie demonstrates the tremendous sacrificial love of the Father for his son-the playful love of the Father-just as scripture attests. What the movie dramatically depicts is that we have a Father that does the same for us! He wants us to see that everything that we experience is a gift! As St. Paul says: "For those that love God all things work for the good!" Even tears (the character played by the Holy Spirit in the Shack collects tears), emotions like anger can be seen as a gift as seen from the right perspective. This Sunday we celebrate Trinity Sunday-one God, three persons. The Father pours Himself into the Son, the Son pours Himself back into the father, and another person is born: the Holy Spirit. We can see this in our human life. The mutual love of a husband and wife produces a child. In friendship the mutual love of two people produces Intimacy-we might call that another person. Theologians like to speak about Trinity ad-intra (in itself) or ad extra (outside of itself, in creation). I think we can better understand the Trinity when we think in terms of relationships. We all know that sometimes three can be a crowd and no one likes to be the third. This is because in the Trinity there is complete oppenness. In human relationships there are always a variety of dynamics and varying degrees of openness. Take for instance a story Steven Covey relates. Steve Covey is author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and gives conferences around the world. Once a young man approached him and said " Steve, my wife and I no longer love each other, should we stay together? We don't have the same feelings that we used to have." Steve looked at him and reminded him that love is not a feeling it is a choice. He encouraged the young man to go back and sacrifice himself for his wife, and if the feelings do not change, continue to sacrifice. That is true love. I was able to witness this at home. Without any fanfare or blowing of trumpets I surprised my parents when I walked into the kitchen and my father was washing the feet and cutting the toenails of my mother. Nothing extravagant, but love in action. This is what happens on a regular basis in the Trinity-each person washes one another's feet. Yes, "Life is Beautiful". You and I have a genetic code that will never be repeated. We all have unique talents and gifts. As Tony Melendez sings "you are his miracle." Scripture also reminds us that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."All the crosses, disappointments, sufferings, when seen from the perspective of eternity will be like a grain of sand on a beach. We have been created in the image and likeness of the Holy Trinity, and we should rejoice that we have a Father who wants to play with us, shower us with gifts. Yes, "Life is Beautiful!"