Wednesday, January 11, 2017

My favorite family quote

"The supreme adventure is being born. There we do walk suddenly into a splendid and startling trap. There we do see something of which we have not dreamed before. Our father and mother do lie in wait for us and leap out on us, like brigands from a bush. Our uncle is a surprise. Our aunt is, in the beautiful common expression, a bolt from the blue. When we step into the family, by the act of being born, we do step into a world which is incalculable, into a world which has its own strange laws, into a world which could do without us, into a world that we have not made. In other words, when we step into the family we step into a fairy-tale."

- G.K. Chesterton -


The Epiphany from the bedside of a dying parishioner

A parishioner shared this poem with me on Monday from his wife's bedside where she is in her final days. It is a beautiful poem that I had not encountered before, and it is from TS Eliot touching on birth, death, and the magi

I pray it might be something some of you find helpful and/or beautiful

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'
And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Homily: Abortion, Contraception, and the Slaughter of Holy Innocents

Today the Church commemorates the slaughter of the Holy Innocents, those children 2 and under who were slaughtered by Herod in an attempt to stomp out the Christ child.




Evil is flipping what is true on its head, evil is, then, the anti-truth.  And could there be anything more opposite the Truth than to FEAR children?  To see children as a THREAT?


And yet, in our world today, in our western culture, we have slaughtered hundreds of million through abortion and countless HUNDREDS of million through the use of the contraceptive pill which also causes abortion as well.


To see children as a threat is the surest sign that a person is under the influence and is listening to the Evil One.


And so if contraception and abortion are agents of the Evil One, then where ought we to look for resistance to the Evil One - - - ONLY the Catholic Church has held the line that abortion and contraception are always and everywhere MORALLY EVIL.


+++


When I was a teenager, I read over a letter my Dad had written to a brave and awesome Protestant missionary who was putting his life on the line preaching the Gospel in Turkey.

My Dad was sharing with his friend that one of the main things that convinced my Dad of the Truth of the Catholic Church was that it alone had not caved on the issue of contraception and abortion.


+++


But here's the thing.  As Pope Paul VI said, the world doesn't listen to teachers, it listens to witnesses.  I see on Facebook a lot of people saying "I wish priests preached on contraception/abortion more!"

I understand the frustration, but at the same time, I think we need to realize that while priests could and sometimes SHOULD be stronger/clearer on the issue, the REAL opportunity for converting our society and helping them realize they are no better than Herod is to have the LAITY PREACH TO THEIR FRIENDS/FAMILIES/COWORKERS about this important issue, because a bunch of celibate, unmarried men talking about it doesn't sway the hearts of the larger society much anymore.


I've been to the March for Life many times, and THE most powerful element to the March, BY FAR, is the hundreds of women near the front who march carrying signs that say "I regret my abortion" - seeing those women is more powerful than ANY homily against abortion or contraception that has ever been delivered.  People only listen to witnesses.  Will you witness to those who are waiting to hear from you?


You may say here - "But I've used contraception before" or "But I've had an abortion in my past"...all the more are you now able to speak about your own experience - you can tell people "I used to use contraception, and I regret it" or "I had an abortion, and I regret it"...we need your voices too!!!!  Your past sins do not exclude your voice, they lend it even more authority today!


+++


Innocents are being slaughtered on a massive scale daily in our Western Society.  Are we speaking up to the world, or are we sitting around blaming our priest for not saying more while we refuse to talk with our fellow parishioners/family members/coworkers?


Holy Innocents, pray for us, that we may have the courage to speak out against the slaughter that is continuing today, and may our culture stop viewing children as a threat.


May we begin to become a culture of life!


Friday, December 23, 2016

Every Catholic Pastor's Christmas Dilemma

Every year at Christmas Masses Catholic priests look out into the congregation and see lots of people who they do not recognize.  As a pastor, you know some of them are friends and family from out of town, and some of them are people who are checking out Catholicism, maybe for the first time, but there are also faces you recognize but haven't seen for months (maybe even since last Christmas), the faces of those who have fallen away from the Church and are no longer practicing their Faith.


There are two thoughts that run through your head as a pastor in the midst of the Masses:


1) You are happy that people are there hearing the Word of God and you tell yourself "A person can't be at Mass and NOT encounter God, whether it is the beauty of the music, being in the presence of the Eucharist, hearing the Word of God proclaimed, etc."


2) On the other hand, you as the priest are asked to reach out and help bring EVERY PERSON in your parish boundaries to Christ.  And so a part of you knows that one Mass a year is not sufficient to sustain those that know better.  So, out of love, you want to challenge people to do something closer to the minimal hurdles the Church puts forward for people to clear in order to be practicing their Faith.

And, let's be honest, there is, among those who know they ought to be coming weekly, a hypocritical thing going on when one attends a Christmas Mass; a pretending that things are in right order that are really not.


Our society recognizes that it is weird to come to a party or a wedding reception if you don't actually know the people for whom the party is being celebrated.  But aren't people doing that when they come to Christmas Mass and that's their "Catholicism" for the year?


And we hear a Gospel about this.  Everyone is invited to a wedding reception.  But when Christ comes to the person and it is clear that they are in attendance but not prepared to authentically celebrate, they are thrown out.  Similarly in Luke's Gospel we hear:

"You will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’  Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!
28
Yes, we're glad for every soul that is at Mass, but if you genuinely love someone do you let them persist in a deception, even if they are deceiving themselves?  NO!

If someone was raised in the Faith, was brought up in the Faith, and should know better, is it "pastoral" to pretend that there's nothing wrong with a person ignoring the call to practice their Catholic Faith 364 days a year?


So, in the midst of one of the most beautiful times of year when people not asked to help save people in a particular geographic region simply want to sit in the peace and joy of the season, pastors wrestle with the question "How do I celebrate this feast and yet try to throw a life preserver to the people who I may not see again for another year?"


If somebody writes a blog post or an article about how it is really simple for priests to just think about the positives of increased Christmas Mass attendance without thinking about what it means in a negative sense, they are not a person who has been asked to try to work for the salvation of every soul within a particular parish boundary.

You can't have what Canon Law calls "care of souls" and NOT wrestle with this question




And this question is really a microcosm of being a pastor in general - "How do you invite people to a life that is completely full of joy and peace and yet warn people of the perils of not heeding the call"?


If you figure it out, let me know.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

IRONY: The Criticisms of the Catholic Mass are all the things people love about Christmas

There are several things that the Catholic Mass is criticized for.  It is these same things that Christmas is actually typically LOVED for.


The Catholic Mass has a bunch of trimmings (vestments, incense, chant, altar, Churches, etc.) that have become attached to it that are a far cry from the original event (Last Supper)
Christmas has a bunch of trimmings (electric lights, trees, wreaths, ornaments, presents, etc.) that have grown up around it that are a far cry from the original event (Bethlehem stable)


The Catholic Mass has a particular style of music that is appropriate to its celebration (chant)
Christmas has a particular style of music that is appropriate to its celebration (canon of Christmas music.  There is no such thing as folk/rap/heavy metal Christmas music)


The Catholic Mass continues to reread the same readings over and over again
At Christmas we continue to reread/watch the same readings over and over again (A Christmas Carol, Grinch, Home Alone, It’s a Wonderful Life, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, etc.)


The Catholic Mass is surrounded by lots of statues (Saints, Joseph, Mary, Angels)
Christmas is surrounded by lots of statues (Joseph, Mary, Angels, Nativity scenes)


The Catholic Mass calls forth and prays for the dead
Christmas is a time that reminds us of our deceased family/friends/loved ones


The Catholic Mass has a bunch of rituals that look strange to outsiders
Christmas for many families involves lots of rituals that look strange to outsiders


The Catholic Mass often has bells ringing at interesting times
Christmas celebrations and music often have bells as part of the Christmas season


The Catholic Mass has the strange but intriguing smells of incense
Christmas has the strange but intriguing smells of pine in people’s homes


A central aspect to the Catholic Mass is the centrality of a meal
Christmas for most people sees a meal as being a central part of the celebration


The word “Christmas” is two words put together – “Christ’s Mass” – what we love about Christmas is available at every Mass because EVERY Mass is actually “Christ’s Mass”.


We’re open year round

White Privilege?

Go to the margins.  ALL of them



Monday, December 19, 2016

Catholicism has been "appropriated"

One of my ministry assignments is a university, and so I follow fairly closely the types of things being discussed in university settings.

In addition to the much-publicized "safe space" and "trigger warning" phenomena, many university-types speak often about "cultural appropriation"

"Cultural appropriation" is Culture A takes elements of Culture B and incorporates it into Culture A without really acknowledging the original Culture B setting of said element



Most commonly you hear things like "white culture appropriates rap music into its own culture" or "white people appropriate Indian outfits on Halloween" etc.  The guilty party, as far as I can tell, seems to typically be white people



I would say it is important for academic think tanks concerned with appropriation to acknowledge the greatest victim of cultural appropriation: the Catholic Church



At the outset it is important to acknowledge that there have been countless instances of missionaries utilizing pagan cultural customs and giving them a religious dimension.  That is not cultural appropriation as it was never being done in that instance by a dominant culture.  Trying to explain the Christian faith by missionaries through the use of local symbols, pagan or otherwise, is not cultural appropriation.  White people stealing inner city cultural elements is not white people trying to explain white culture to black people.



A couple of the major examples of how Catholicism has been completely appropriated by our larger secular culture:


1) Christmas.  Christmas is made up of two words - "Chirst's Mass".  Our American culture has taken Christmas and murdered both the "Christ" part and the "Mass" part.  Beyond the mainstream secular culture, a smaller subset of our culture has kept the "Christ" part but still jettisoned the "Mass" part.


Today many people are upset that our world doesn't say "Christmas" enough.  I say the opposite.  I say our culture says "Christmas" WAY too much!  No one should really say "Christmas" unless they are talking about the celebration of "Christ's Mass" on December 25th.

I highly encourage those who have appropriated Christmas to stop immediately, and, if they seek to get rid of both "Christ" and "Mass" to find some alternative phrase like "Season's Greetings"

I highly encourage those who have appropriated Christmas, but want to keep the "Christ" part to immediately begin using a phrase along the lines of "Merry Christworshipservice"





2) Halloween.

I recently heard a national talk show host say, the day after Halloween: "Halloween needs to be a day that gets moved year to year so that it is always part of a three day weekend."


If it is possible to have something Catholic more culturally appropriated than Christmas, Halloween would be it.


"Halloween", like Christmas, is a Catholic word and celebration.  Hallows Eve - the night before All Hallows Day or All Saints Day.  That's what Halloween is.  People dressed up like saints the night before to celebrate the great holy day the next day.


To dress up as nurse-prostitute or a demon or a bloody horror film star and to speak about a desire to move Halloween to a more convenient day so that a person can drink and stay up later partying seems to be the zenith of cultural appropriation and a swallowing up by one culture of another and, while keeping the name the same, spitting something out that is its exact opposite.


All Hallows' Eve in its proper cultural context.  Stop "appropriating" our celebration!!!!


A GREAT IRONY EXISTS: One of the greatest moments that sends liberals into "cultural appropriation accusation spasms" is Halloween - because so many college students dress up for Halloween parties in culturally appropriated outfits (rappers, native American Indians, Mexicans, etc.) BUT THE CONCEPT OF HALLOWEEN ITSELF HAS BEEN APPROPRIATED BY THE APPROPRIATION POLICE THEMSELVES!!!



All I'm really lobbying for here is just acknowledgement at this point.  I'm not sure I'm ready to go to war over these particular issues, and I don't think fixing these two particular instances (among many) will actually fix the deeper issues of our society.  All I'd like at this point is for those that feel so violated by cultural appropriation at least acknowledge Catholicism as its greatest victim.

Do not be afraid to take Mary into your home!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Priests Need More Business Skills"

This is a phrase I've heard often, and I agree wholeheartedly.  When I was in the seminary we regularly pleaded for accounting/HR/managerial classes.  We didn't get much of it despite us asking for help.

There have been movements to help priests get properly trained, and thanks be to God!  Without ever having had a business class, I was asked to take over a situation where I manage $600,000 annually, and oversee 13 employees.

Jeff Cavins and renowned business speaker Patrick Lencioni sent all priests a book recently which beautifully spoke to the need that so many priests need to develop and grow, and they are offering a lot of resources in that regard.

In my own Archdiocese, we have received a grant to help develop our priests in certain business competencies.


I APPRECIATE ALL THIS AND AM TAKING ADVANTAGE OF IT


BUT......



All this talk about the need we have for priests to develop their business acumen has me thinking...


DIOCESES NEED A LOT OF THE SAME WORK.


I want to note two specific areas where it seems a lot of dioceses could REALLY use an injection of some business sense.



If you told Pepsi Cola or some other Fortune 500 company - "Hey, you guys are losing SEVENTY FIVE PERCENT of your customers at the age of 18.  They stop using your product.  You will not see them again until they are 30 years old."

Let me tell you what would happen.  The CEO would pull the fire-alarm, get on the pa, and call an emergency meeting and tell everyone "STOP immediately what you are doing, and report to an emergency meeting in 4 minutes.  Everything else stops until we put together a plan for how we are going to solve this."


But the Catholic world in the United States seems to recite the statistic of 75% of our young people leaving as a sort of "Shucks, oh well, I hope it doesn't happen to MY kid, but if it does, well, it happens."


A second area.  Vocations to the priesthood.


Again, imagine a Fortune 500 company finding out that they can only choose plant managers from a selected pool of people, and that the pool is shrinking rapidly WHILE AT THE SAME TIME the number of retiring managers is going to be huge over the next 10 years.


Again, it would be a "four-alarm-every-single-person-to-the-board-room-and-we're-not-leaving-until-this-is-solved"

And yet most Catholics barely seem to concern themselves with nurturing vocations, recruiting vocations, supporting vocations, etc.


WHAT ARE WE DOING?????


This issue of vocations isn't something that falls to one or two vocation directors - this is a CATHOLIC CULTURAL thing - it needs to be everywhere, in our homilies, talked about in our homes, affirmed by parishioners (hey Billy, you'd make a great priest) it needs to be talked about by our bishops, it needs to be a part of every Catholic school, we need to support programs that are proven to nurture vocations.  Not just TRY them.  Mandate them.  From the top.


I know I need more business skills.  But pardon me if it rings a little hollow at the moment when I'm asked to become more business savvy when the Church at the diocesan level across the country doesn't seem to be incorporating those same business-minded principles themselves.




If Theo Epstein Ran the Church

The Boston Red Sox had not won the World Series since 1918.  The Chicago Cubs had not won the World Series since 1908.

People wondered aloud if the franchises were cursed.

One man came in and provided first the Red Sox and then the Cubs with franchise make-overs that led to the Red Sox winning World Series championships in 2004 (and again in 2007) and the Chicago Cubs winning it all in 2016.


How did Theo Epstein do it?


Each baseball franchise has several teams beneath it that feed into the Major League team.  Epstein emphasized player development and rebuilt both franchises' farm systems


EVERY general manager TALKS about nurturing talent, but most do not actually execute it or have a plan that doesn't work.


Essentially, Epstein made this choice - TO GROW AND DEVELOP TALENT FROM A YOUNG AGE KNOWING THAT SPENDING ENERGY ON HUNDREDS OF PLAYERS WILL LEAD TO A FEW OF THEM BECOMING MAJOR LEAGUE PLAYERS NO ONE SAW COMING



I think as a Church in the US it seems we take the same approach as most major league baseball teams - we TALK about developing our young people, but our plan isn't actually working and we seem to be okay with that.


I think a lot of times we wait for young men to call us and say "hey, I want to be a priest" or "hey, I want to get married"


What we need to be doing is really fostering the notion of vocations from a young age, and DEVELOP THAT TALENT WITH EFFECTIVE PROGRAMS THAT ARE WORKING


Priests and parents and bishops need to get together and put together a SYSTEMATIC approach that says WE ARE NOT NURTURING OUR CHILDREN, WE ARE NOT NURTURING VOCATIONS, WHAT SPECIFICALLY CAN WE DO DIFFERENTLY???

Whether it is marriage, consecrated religious life, or priesthood, our farm system IS IN SHAMBLES

We reap what we sow, and so we shouldn't be surprised that we are struggling to develop young people committed to marriage, nor should we be surprised that a lack of young people are interested in the priesthood or religious life



We need to have a real serious talk about what we can do to help develop our young people into saints.  We need to reexamine our farm system, and I think a lot of what we are doing needs to be burned down and rebooted


Image result for whoever wants the next generation the most will get them