Monday, October 31, 2011

The storm on the horizon and my grief about it

No, I'm not talking about weather.  For two times in the last four days, I've been contacted to anoint someone who is dying.  Certainly, this is not a problem; this is "what we do" as Parish Priests.  The two live in the parish boundaries, and no one is questioning the state of their health.  But here's what both have in common:

  • Neither appears on our books as a parishioner.
  • Neither had family members contact us that the person is at the end of their life (in one case, it was neighbors; in the other case, the hospice caregiver).
  • One of the two lived alone.  The other is living with children, who also aren't registered parishioners.
  • I know it's petty, but neither asked if we could come, but ordered a priest to come, as if they were calling for a pizza to be delivered to their home.
Priests reading this will probably recognize the situation.  The elderly, fairly Catholic, Mass-attending, faith-having believers are old and dying.  Their children (and grandchildren) don't attend Mass and don't see the need for it.  They see no need to come to Mass to pray for their sick loved ones, or even to stop in a church to spend some time with the Eucharistic Lord, and now, to keep their consciences clear, they want a Priest to come and give their loved one "last rites" (though they really don't know what that is or that we stopped using the term decades ago).

There's a generation of Catholics out there, generally in their 40s to 50s in age, whose years of religious education left them with nothing to turn to in their adulthood.  Back then, doctrine went out the window, only to be replaced with arts and crafts and music time.  They know very little about the Sacraments (if given a word pool, they could probably name all seven), and essentially don't see the need for them on our road to Heaven.  Church, for them, is a commodity, like bread, milk, or eggs: They like having convenience stores nearby that will sell it to them when they want it, but they certainly don't believe they have any dependence on it for survival.  And, since in their minds, "all eggs are the same", it doesn't matter whether we get our eggs at Quick-Chek or WaWas.  Faith is more about instant gratification than eternal redemption.  If Blah-Blah Bible Church has better donuts than St. Fillintheblank's, we'll go there instead.  After all, it's all the same.

I was having lunch with a Priest-friend who lamented about a morning meeting he had.  A woman called the office, requesting a sponsor certificate to be a Godparent.  She identified herself as a parishioner, though there was no record of her.  She was in a marriage not recognized by the Church.  Oh yes, and the baptism was four days away, in St. Louis!  The woman, of course, was not happy that she wasn't getting the sponsor certificate.  My friend opined, "And somehow, all of this is MY fault.", when we explain why they really shouldn't have a letter from the parish identifying them as a practicing Catholic.  Whenever we talk about inactive Catholics, it's almost always with a presupposition that the institutional Church is the reason they're away from the Sacraments.  No one dares say that the reason they've been away is because they chose to do so.  Yes, we've had plenty of talk about the "New Evangelization", but what I fear we're dreadfully unprepared for is the question of what happens when we preach the Gospel to our own team, and they choose to walk away?  Do we, like Christ, have enough of a conviction of our beliefs to let them go, as he did with those who did not understand his Bread of Life discourse?

If all of this weren't enough, the generation of "Catholic-in-theory" has bred.  Their children, having been brought up with the church as "location, not vocation", only know the church as a physical place, and not as the Divinely instituted community of heaven and earth (of which, by the way, they are already members through Baptism).  Truthfully, most have spent more actual hours in basements of churches going to religious education than in the church itself attending Mass and praying.  They have been sent to us to gain an understanding of the Triune God, of Jesus Christ, of the Church and all she professes, much like parents send their kids for lessons in piano or gymnastics (something they buy, but don't do themselves).  To these families, we spend lots of time attempting a kind of ecclesial-seduction: We schedule special Masses and confessions at the same time that their children normally attend religious education, hoping in our hearts that this will get them to begin a regular practice of their faith.  In reality though, we know that, if we do not schedule Sacraments while the kids are here, many parents will not do it for themselves.  In their minds, this is "what they pay us for."  We try to instill in the parents an understanding of the need to take their children to Mass.  To do this, we try things like a sign-in sheet at the door, or prayer slips that are supposed to be placed in the collection basket.  Parents, meanwhile, treat this as a game of Cat & Mouse, in which they do what they can to avoid Sunday Mass, yet at the same time trying to fool us into thinking they went.  It used to be that church and parents worked together for the children; now it seems we've become adversaries.

I know that there's a quote out there from Pope Benedict which says that the Church of the future will be "less populated, but more faith-filled".  Maybe in other parts of the world, but not in the United States.  Our crowd of marginal Catholics will continue to live their lives separate from the Church, coming around for Christmas Eve, Easter Sunday, Baptisms, 1st Communions, Confirmations, and funerals.  We'll allow it, avoiding any conversations about accountability or responsibility.

Truth is, we really don't want them to change their ways.  Uncatechized adult Catholics would require work, time spent instructing them in the Truth and destructing what they've come to believe as truth, and we don't want that.  Priests have a work schedule largely unaccountable to anyone, and many of them take advantage of that.  We'd rather take their occasional envelopes and go on making them feel that what they do is perfectly fine.  For their part, most of these marginal Catholics disagree with celibacy, the papacy, contraception, abortion, and moral absolutes, yet are unwilling to make the commitment of formally leaving the Catholic Church and going to a community that espouses those very things.  They want none of the rules but all of the privileges.  They haven't played one game of the regular season or playoffs, but they still want the champagne bath of a champion!

Please forgive this rant if you are one of those families who do go out of your way to fight the cultural tide and hang on to your Catholic faith.  I do know you're out there and that your decisions sometimes make you the "bad guys" to your kids and "religious zealots" to your neighbors.  None of this rant applies to you.  It's just that sometimes pastors feel like we work and work and work to get somewhere, and we're still right where we started.

Still, time marches on.  Little by little, the older generation dies, and THIS will be the next generation.  The generation that put $10. in their envelope each week will be replaced by the generation that puts $10. in an envelope 4-5 times a year.  Since Priests are also the managers of their parish's budget, this is something that will affect us all.  The stormclouds are on the horizon, I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

John 21:12

A link from New Advent took me to another blogger, who has an entry entitled, "50 of the World's Best Breakfasts".  Some look attractive, some I'd consider skipping, but all of them are interesting to see.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bacteria trained to save art

Sacred art restorers have a new ally in their efforts to restore centuries-old frescos.  L'Osservatore Romano has the story of specially trained bacteria that eat the glue that had been used to do repairs in the past, but had done damage to the original paintings.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New Bishop for Harlem

Not quite ours, but I thought it was interesting.

This morning, Pope Benedict appoint a new Auxiliary Bishop for the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam in the Netherlands.  A neat reminder of the Dutch roots of New York City.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Just who said what today in Rome?

Much has been written today about the Vatican's supposed call for a central world bank.  Bob Moynihan of Inside The Vatican has a nice explanation of just what did come from Rome today:

The important piece of news out of Rome today is that the Vatican has allegedly called for a "central world bank" in reponse to the continuing speculation and instability in the world financial system.
I say "allegedly" because the text in which this call appears is not by Pope Benedict, but by a Vatican office, the Council for Justice and Peace. Such an office can issue papers which do not bear the Pope's "seal of approval" in the same way that a papal encyclical would.
We are dealing here, then, with something on the order of a "position paper," not a text containing authoritative magisterial teaching.
It is a serious document, worth weighing with real attention ... but not a document with binding doctrinal authority.
Nevertheless, after the Vatican released the document at a press conference this morning, the internet was abuzz with reports like ... one from Reuters, suggesting that this document's call for some controls over global financial speculation links the Vatican ideologically to the US protest movement "Occupy Wall Street" (!!!).
That's a bit of a stretch.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Newsflash: 84 year old Pope is old!

The big story at the opening Mass for the Synod on the New Evangelization was not the call for a "Year of Faith".  It was the fact that the Pope stood on the same moveable platform built for Pope John Paul II.  I think that makes it a 2nd Class relic, doesn't it?

MSNBC made a point of reminding us that the Pope is "aging" (add to that USA Today and the AP).  Gotta love those reporters.  You think they had anonymous sources?  You think they did any research, digging out the Pope's birth certificate?  Maybe they can send their ace investigators to find our President's birth certificate.

A few things to remember here:

  1. Yes, the Pope is 84 years old.
  2. The aisle of St. Peter's Basilica is long.  Walking up the center aisle would be about the equivalent of walking a football field from goalpost to goalpost.
  3. The Pope is 5'6 (without miter).  The platform raises him up another two feet, allowing people to see him other than those who squeeze onto the aisle.
  4. A crazy woman jumped the Pope a few Christmases ago.  The platform makes it harder for nutjobs to get at him.
  5. Staying on the "crazy" tangent, there are mothers who literally hold their infants out into the aisle, hoping to get the Pope to stop by them.  The platform stops what must be child abuse in some form.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi.

I know, about four days after the feast.  But I was away during the middle of the week, and didn't have the chance to give some thoughts.  Well, one big thought, really.  I used this at the homily I gave at morning Mass.

I'm not sure how many of you are Star Trek fans, but the plot of one of the many movies jumped out at me early Tuesday morning, as I wondered what to preach about.  Remember Star Trek: First Contact, when the crew goes back in time (I know, they always go back in time) to make sure the Borg don't prevent Zephram Cochrane from making the first contact with a passing Vulcan ship?
Geek diversion: In the Star Trek world, Cochrane's experimental Warp Drive flight catches the attention of a passing ship of Vulcans, convincing them that humans are not so primitive and are ready to find out that they're not alone in the universe.  The Vulcans make the historic "first contact" with human beings.

Going back in time to stop the Borg from preventing First Contact, the Enterprise crew meet Zephram Cochrane, the man they grew up knowing as this almost mythical,  legendary figure.  In the future, there are monuments to him, high schools named after him, his theories are required courses in Starfleet Academy, and the place where his rocket took off has become a National Park and historic site.  But when they meet him, he's not the larger than life-pioneer-scientist they expected him to be.  He's a slob.  He drinks too much.  He flirts with the girls.  He likes Roy Orbison music.  He burps and makes other bodily noises.  When they tell him the truth about their mission there, he tries to run away.  It's all too much for him to comprehend.  He tries telling them, "I'm not a statue, I'm just a man!"

What would St. Francis say to us, if we all went back in time to meet him?  Certainly we'd all want to touch him, shake his hand, whip out our iPhones and snap a photo with him (preferably with a bird on his shoulders).  Maybe we'd tell him how his little Porziuncola is now surrounded by a mammoth Basilica.  Maybe we'd thank him for Nativity Scenes and "Make me a channel of your peace..." (Though he'd look at us funny, since he didn't write it).  Perhaps Francis would laugh, thinking we're joking.  He, too, might run away from all the attention, all this being too much for him to comprehend.  He, too, might say, I'm not a statue (or a stained glass window); I'm just a man."

Maybe we've made St. Francis "larger than life", too.  Maybe we've made him so out of our league when it comes to works and holiness that we can't even imagine genuine imitation of him.  Being so far out of our range makes him "safe", we all agree he's too unreachable so we all agree not to try.  Maybe we forget that the Saints were human beings like us, given the same graces, having the same weaknesses.

What if it were the other way?  What if Francis came to our time, came to your parish, came to a Mass you were at, and sat next to you.  Maybe you make small talk with him; maybe he introduces himself to you.  What if he tells you he came from the past to tell us that sanctity is possible?  What if someone else came and sat next to you at Mass, and told you they were from the future, and in their parish is a statue of you.  How would you react?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Make your way to the movies!

Last Monday, I was invited to a screening of the movie, The Way, starring Martin Sheen and written, produced, and directed by his son, Emilio Estevez.  Why was I invited?  I wish I could tell you it was because I am an influential member of the Catholic media, or that I was going to have Sheen and/or Estevez on my old radio show (at times I do miss it).  Truth be told, my name is still on old contact lists for some media outlets that have Catholic connections, so off to Bensalem, Pennsylvania I went, bringing along my bud, Fr. Guy Selvester.

The movie begins with a father (played by Sheen) being told that his son (played in cameos by Estevez) was killed in a weather-related accident while making the ancient Camino pilgrimage from France and across Spain.  Once there to identify and bring his son's body home, Sheen decides to make the pilgrimage himself, bringing his son's cremated remains along on last "father/son" thing they would ever do.  Along the way, he meets people who both change him and are changed by him.

No surprise to anyone we're a sedentary society.  The same holds true for Catholics, who sit in a car to get to Mass, sit in a pew, and then sit in the car again to go home.  This movie reminds us of one of the most ancient and overlooked traditions of our faith: The pilgrimage.  Can anything else be more Christlike than to go from town to town, being welcomed into homes and eating what's there?  In the Q&A afterwards, Sheen put it this way: "People on pilgrimage tend to overpack, and as they walk, they discard what they find they don't really need.  It starts with things, but after a while, they start letting go of feelings: anger, hostility; things they've been carrying for 35 years."

It's a great movie, and I wholeheartedly recommend seeing it.  Just be prepared to hear that little voice in you question whether a pilgrimage wouldn't be good for you?  I know it did that for me.  For more information about the movie and where it is showing, click HERE.

Monday, October 03, 2011


Do not adjust your computer screens, people, yes, that's me all dressed up.  This past weekend I was invested into [deep breath] The Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem, at a ceremony at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.  No, I didn't have to get on a horse (I know PETA would've called that animal cruelty).  I'm in the mozzetta that Priest Knights wear: white with the Jerusalem Cross in red on the side.  This picture was taken at the Vigil Service the day before, held at the Church of Our Saviour, also in NYC.  Bishop Barres of Allentown presided at that Mass, in which we were "presented" with the mozzetta.  The investiture Mass was done by Archbishop O'Brien, former Abp. of Baltimore, New York native, and the Pro-Grand Master of the Order (the "Pro" gets removed when he is created a Cardinal, which is practically a "done deal" by being named to the office), in the presence of Abp. Dolan of New York, and a bunch of other prelates.  In the picture, I'm not yet wearing the actual decoration, which hangs on a black ribbon around the neck.  We received that after the Investiture Mass.

For more information about the order, click on this LINK from the Vatican website.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Thoughts for this Sunday's Gospel

Again with the vineyard!  Two weeks ago it was about the vineyard owner's generosity in paying full day's wages to those who hadn't worked a full day.  Last week it was about his sons, one a whiner who ends up doing what he's told, and the other a sweet-talker who tells you what you want to hear but doesn't carry through.

This Sunday's readings give us our last glimpse into this vineyard, and we go out in style:  Isaiah gives us his friend's vineyard song, Psalm 80 is our Responsorial Psalm (all about a vine), and the Gospel tells about nasty vineyard tenant farmers who refuse to give the owner what he's owed from the harvest.

In the parable, Jesus makes a point of mentioning 3 attributes of the vineyard:
  • A hedge, which was almost always a thick thorn bush, deliberately chosen to keep out animals and discourage human thieves.
  • A winepress, used to crush the grapes and get the juice.
  • A watchtower, which not only gave a view to see any thieves approaching, but was a place to house workers.
Those details jumped out at me this weekend.  They're not really necessary for the point of the parable to be made, and yet we're told about them.  Let's focus on them:

The hedge.  From what has God been protecting us?

The winepress.  What has stubbornness done to us?  What does God have to "squeeze" out of us in order to obtain?

The tower.  Perspective changes everything.  What would we have done differently in our lives, had we seen it from another point of view?

Possible miracle of Archbishop Fulton Sheen under investigation

Could we be getting ready for "Blessed Fulton Sheen"?