Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Third Rail

For those who use rail transportation, you know what it is: The "third rail" is the means by which electricity is supplied to the railcars. For those in political circles (something I did for a few years), "third rail" is a codeword for a topic so controversial that you stay away from it at all costs. Why? Quite simply, "you touch it, you die."

This morning's first reading at Mass was Ephesians 5:21-33, which includes all the talk about wives being subordinate to their husbands, the husband being the head of the wife, etc. Most Priests and Deacons treat this passage like the third rail; they either omit it altogether, or they tell people this wasn't what St. Paul really meant, and then they preach on something else to try to diffuse the situation. Lectionarys conveniently provide a "shorter version" of the reading, omitting the nitroglycerin-like passages. A few years ago the Irish Bishops "took the bullet" for their clergy, declared a bunch of these passages as "undesirably negative" and ruled that they should be outright removed from the cycle of readings (in their version, husbands must still "love their wives as Christ loves the Church", but wives don't reciprocate). Some other people choose to use the passage as the poster child for all that is wrong with this "male-dominated, female-excluding" Church. Once in a while I like to live dangerously, so let me see if I can explain the passage in its greater context.

DISCLAIMER: Reading the scriptures out of context is almost always an invitation to disaster. In Dr. Michael Waldstein's new translation of Pope John Paul's "Theology of theBody", it takes JP2 fifty pages (pgs. 465-515) and thirteen separate Wednesday Audience addresses to dissect this passage! What that means is that you shouldn't look for anything comparably "profound" in these few paragraphs that follow. That being said, buckle yourself in and enjoy the ride...
The New Testament has 3 separate passages which explain just how Christianity should be lived out, each bringing up that nasty topic of "submission" in the context of Christ's 3 offices as Priest, Prophet, and King; something each of us were made sharers of at our Baptism (see the Catechism, par. 1241):
  • Ephesians 5:21-6:9 uses the husband/wife relationship in the prophetic role.
  • 1 Peter 2:13-3:7 uses governor/governed, slave/master, and then returns to husband/wife in the priestly role.
  • Colossians 3:18-4:2 uses husband/wife, parent/child, and slave/master in the kingly role.

Why does "submission" keep coming up? Because in living in a spirit of submission, Christians reflect Jesus Christ. Through Baptism, we were all baptized into the death of Jesus, which was Christ being submissive to the will of His Father (Catechism, par. 1227). Simply put, Jesus' mission in this world subsisted within (or we can say, was "submissive" to) God the Father's mission to reconcile humanity to Himself following Adam & Eve's messup in the garden. Married couples imitate this by being submissive to each other. The husband, representing Christ, is asked to submit to his wife first. The wife, representing the Church, then responds with submission to her husband. Some critics argue that St. Paul was only reflecting the 'male-supremacist' culture of his day, but the truth is that the culture of the day said that only the wife needed to be submissive. In Ephesians, St. Paul is counter-cultural!

So how should we read Ephesians 5? Pope John Paul says that to understand what St. Paul means in this oft-maligned passage, we've got to re-read the letter from the start. In Ephesians 1:1-10, we find out that before the world even began, God chose us in Christ to be holy and blameless (verse 4). In other words, we (male & female) have always been part of the Divine Plan. Verse 9 says that God has made the mystery of His plan known to us, and St. Paul argues that each marriage between man and woman helps to make God's greater plan visible. St. Paul even seems to understand that these words of his were going to be met with some degree of confusion when he says in verse 32, "This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church;" In other words, do not try to take your culture's understanding of marriage and apply it to the relationship between Christ and the Church. Rather, take what I'm teaching you about the relationship of Jesus Christ to the Church and the Church to Christ, and apply it to marriages.

What can we take from this? That terms like "marriage", "husband", and "wife", are not subjective terms open for interpretation or mutation by you or I or the New Jersey State Supreme Court. Marriage on earth was created by God to be an imitation of the self-gift between Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church (i.e.- you and I). It's meant to be a glimpse of the Communion of Persons that exists within the Holy Trinity. Is there any question that a "domestic partnership" doesn't quite clear that measure?

This marriage image is best seen at Mass. The phrase said by the Priest just before the reception of Holy Communion is actually a combination of two phrases. The first, "This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.", is John 1:29, John the Baptist's exclamation as he sees Jesus approach the Jordan River for Baptism. The second part to that is "Happy are those who are called to his supper" which is a rather bad English translation of Revelation 19:9 -"Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." At every Mass we're invited to a wedding feast. In fact, we're invited to a "wedding night": Christ, the Bridegroom, gives Himself in the Eucharist in a way open to supernatural life. The Church, a.k.a. the Bride (at this point it doesn't matter if you're a man or woman; you're the bride), takes the Bridegroom into her fertile self where that supernatural life can grow. Pretty hot, huh? St. Maximus the confessor said that "Sexual Intercourse is the cosmic liturgy." It is, in fact, in the context of marriage that husband and wife live the words mouthed by the Priest at Mass: "This is my body which is given for you." If that doesn't get electricity flowin' within you, all I can suggest is you go mess with a third rail.

Monday, October 30, 2006

B16 to Bishops on an 'ad limina' visit last Saturday:

"Superficial presentations of Catholic teaching must be avoided, because only the fullness of the faith can communicate the liberating power of the Gospel"

Sunday, October 29, 2006

NASA's Telescopes Tell Us Something We Already Knew...

"When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established;
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him?"
Psalm 8, verses 3-4
"Let us fix our gaze on the Father and Creator of the whole world.
Let us contemplate him in our thoughts and with our mind's eye
reflect upon the peaceful and restrained unfolding of his plan.
By his direction the heavens are in motion ...
The sun, the moon, and the choirs of stars revolve
in harmony in their appointed paths without deviation."
St. Clement's Letter to the Corinthians
Ch. 19

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Q: What's the giveaway that
these monkeys are Catholic?
A: With a bunch of empty seats,
they choose the last row!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Think He Gets ESPN On His TV?

Hmmm, "Cards Poised To Win Series"
That's nice.
Always like to see my Cardinals doing good.

Stem Cell Research and Catholic Moral Law

With 10 days to go until Election Day, the big brouhaha is revolving around the topic of Stem Cell research.

By now we've all seen the Michael J. Fox commercial, and if you're in New Jersey you may have heard the radio commercial with the angelic voice of a little girl who says that she has Juvenile Diabetes. She says that if you vote for a particular Garden State Congressman who opposes embryonic stem cell research, she will never be cured (the subliminal message being that it will be all YOUR fault!). As Rush Limbaugh has been defending himself on his radio show since this kerfuffle began, he's been giving pretty dare-I-say "Catholic" perspectives on the morality of the destruction of human embryos for medical experimentation, the amazing success stories of treatments using adult stem cells and stem cells obtained from the umbilical cord blood of newborns, and the unrealistic promises being made to people, telling them a cure will be available next week (or at least the week after the elections).

A great site for Catholics to learn what is being talked about is the website for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk is the Director of Education at the NCBC; he recently gave a talk in my diocese revolving around the "Top 10 Myths Surrounding the Stem Cell Debate." The NCBC website gives you great resources to find out what is being proposed by the supporters of embryonic stem cell research and cloning, and Church's position on them. Young Fogeys, YFs2B (aka seminarians), and even Old Fogeys will find great materials to use in their parishes: reproducible bulletin inserts, pamphlets for the racks in the back of church, and a DVD of Fr. Tadeusz giving the "10 Myths" talk (I used it at my own adult education class and it got excellent reviews in making the topic understandable).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

"Worship Space", The Final Frontier...

The story is familiar: A church, in the midst of renovations, has decided that the original pews (still working fine and built, along with the existing worship-space, in 1867) should be replaced with something new and more comfortable. The people are upset; those in charge say "deal with it".

What makes it interesting is that we're talking about The Mormon Tabernacle in Utah. Check out the article in today's New York Times.

Architectural History Professor Thomas Carter of the University of Utah, in describing the Tabernacle's interior said, "It’s not a different kind of church. It’s an other. It is otherness." What a great guideline for ecclesial architects. Do I feel transported to heaven?, or, do I feel transported to some parallel universe where Mr. Spock has a goatee and something inside of me says "this isn't right"?

Another person, emeritus professor of Mormon History Jan Shipps, explained that the early Mormons who made their way west and established Salt Lake City in 1847 believed that they were building a holy "kingdom in the tops of the mountains," a place to live and welcome their savior with suitable edifices. "Their fervor, it was amazing," Ms. Shipps said. "They understood themselves to be going to the Promised Land."

In Chapter 5 of Pope John Paul's 2003 Ecclesia de Eucharistia, the late Pope calls to mind the passage in the Gospels of the woman who anoints the feet of Jesus with the costly perfume, and Jesus' charge to the Apostles to "prepare carefully the large upper room" where he would celebrate the Passover with the 12. Read paragraphs 47-52 for JP2's great reflection on the connection between the Church's interior beliefs (most especially the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist) and how he thinks those interior truths should be expressed outwardly in architecture, sculpture, painting, sacred music, church furnishings, and vestments.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Holy Father Today

At his Wednesday General Audience this morning (waaaay early this morning for us who are 6 hours behind Rome time), Pope Benedict continued the theme he began last May of reflections on each of the Apostles. English translations of the Italian addresses can be found at the Zenit News Service website. As we approach the Feast of Sts. Simon and Jude this Saturday, it might make good spiritual reading that day. When you get to the website, click on the link for "Wednesday's Audience."

His address this morning was on St. Paul, and included this quote right smack-dab in the middle of it:
"What matters is to put Jesus Christ at the center of our lives, so that our identity is characterized essentially by the encounter, by communion with Christ and his word. In his light, every other value must be recovered and purified of possible dross."

Poland's "Elvis Stamp"

The Polish National Bank recently released a 50 Zloty banknote bearing the image of Pope John Paul II. The back is interesting: The famous moment during JP2's installation on October 22, 1978, when Pope Wojtyla kissed the hand of Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland, as Wyszynski and the rest of the Cardinals of the world approached the Holy Father to show their respect. The quote comes from the Pope's address made on October 23, 1978, to Polish pilgrims who had come to Rome for his installation. During the audience, Pope John Paul turned to Card. Wyszynski and said, "There would not be a Polish pope at the Holy See if not for your faith, not backing down when faced with prison and suffering, your heroic hope." Underneath their embrace are the episcopal mottos of both men: Pope John Paul's "Totus Tuus" and Card. Wyszynski's "Soli Deo".

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A First in My Priesthood

This morning at my parish we're having a funeral for two young people (ages 16 and 22) killed in a car accident last week. What will make this a "first" is that this will be the first funeral as a Priest (in fact, the first I've ever attended) where there will be more than one casket present.

Every Priest experiences a "first funeral", but then we extend it out to things like "first Priest's funeral", "first funeral of a parent or family member", "first funeral of a baby or young person", etc. Other circumstances come up that are so unique that they can't be classified: The parish I was assigned to on September 11, 2001 lost 11 people, and I doubt (well, frankly I hope) nothing will ever compare to those 2 weeks of absolute grief). Though it hasn't happened in my Priesthood, I suppose doing the funeral of someone murdered would fall into this "sui generis" category. Well, come to think of it, those 9/11 funerals were murders in their own way.

I'll be back later to wax poetically about the experience of a double funeral.

Back from the funeral, it wasn't what I expected. The grief wasn't any more profound because of the second death. I think despair is despair, and you're either experiencing it or you're not. Funerals are almost always sad, except when someone dies after a long bout with suffering. The variables that make things even sadder are: 1) the death is sudden and unexpected; and 2) The deceased was young ("young", of course, is a relative term). Priests (neither young nor old, just "fogeys" in general) have an "auto-pilot" that kicks in with regards to funerals. It helps us, as human beings, to be in the room with a number of people so obviously grieving while still being able to "hold it together." In that capacity, we represent the Church to them as we perform the Church's rituals for the burial of the dead. That's heavy stuff.

But the life of a parish Priest shifts gears often, and maybe after a funeral like that it's a good thing. This afternoon I heard the confessions of 5th graders in our religious education program, and tonight I have a Mass for our Altar-Rosary Society. A full day, with another funeral tomorrow: a man in his mid 40s who died after a bout with cancer. He leaves behind a mother, who will cry tomorrow with just as much passion and intensity as the mothers who cried today for their young children.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Tough Words to Swallow from St. John of Capistrano

Today's Feast of St. John Capistrano has a real "wake up call" to clergy contained in the bit of his writings found in today's Liturgy of the Hours:

"Truly the unclean, immoral cleric is trampled underfoot like worthless manure. He is saturated with the filth of vice and entangled in the chains of sin. In this condition he must be considered worthless to both himself and to others."

Don't hold back, Johnny, tell us how you really feel.

Yesterday's Gospel told the story of Sts. James and John asking Jesus for the prized seats of the heavenly banquet (as well as any banquet in the customs of Jesus' time): They wanted the seats right next to the host of the party. They weren't happy being part of the 12. Heck, they weren't content being part of the "big 3" (along with Peter) that got to be called into the big events in the Gospels. In the days before the "Survivor" TV series, this may have been the first "alliance formed to vote someone out."

As Halloween approaches, many children (and not a few adults) choose costumes to wear. If you're around them (or if you're one of them), watch the difference between the age groups: adults put on the Superman costume, but know they can't jump off a roof. Children put on their costume and "become" that character, not just in outside appearence, but in their minds, too. We can all put rosaries on our rear-view mirrors and scapulars around our necks when we're going on an airplane, but that doesn't "make" us Catholic. A Roman Collar, in itself, doesn't make the Priest holy or give him the power to absolve sins or say Mass any more than a wedding ring has the power to repel infidelity or generate children. If heaven is the big game, then holiness is our ticket of admission.

Of course, the seats of honor don't really matter at the heavenly banquet. We should strive our best to simply get into the party. St. Paul is fond of using the analogy of athletes in the Christian's race of life. In a way, though, it's inaccurate. A race means there's winners and losers. In heaven there will be no giant clock telling us who got there ahead of us. Nor will there be special giveaways only to the first 10,000 into the park. There'll be no, "Sorry, just ran out of supreme and definite happiness in communion of life and love with the Trinity, with the Virgin Mary, the angels and all the blessed (see the Catechism 1023-26). Should've gotten here sooner." Each of us are called to run the race at the pace God gave us, according to the state of life we're in. A mom can't run so fast because she was up the night before with her sick child. The priest was going to run the race, but got called to an emergency at the hospital. The person with Parkinson's can only move in very small steps. The point, contrary to what the world preaches, is not to get there ahead (or at the expense) of others; it's simply to "get there."

Just, if you do get there, stay away from Capistrano until he gets used to you.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

B16 today at Pontifical Lateran University

I give up a Saturday, drive all the way across town fighting traffic, to open their new academic year, and all they give me is this stinking snow-globe??? Ugh.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Raymond Arroyo and the Theology of Risk

Last night I attended an annual dinner for Life Choices, a local pregnancy aid center. Their guest speaker this year was Raymond Arroyo, news director for EWTN and author of the excellent biography of Mother Angelica. Raymond blended his message about the courage needed in the Pro-Life movement with the courage shown by Mother Angelica in the founding of what he called the "largest Catholic media empire in the world, encompassing television, AM and FM Radio, Shortwave Radio, Internet, and even Podcasting."

I visited Alabama in 2000 for the ordination of a seminary classmate and had the chance to take a tour of the EWTN studios in the Irondale suburb of Birmingham. They show you amazing things like transmission equipment that sends the various programming to the satellite dish; equipment bought in the early 1980s that the manufacturer says had a life expectancy of 10 years, but still works today. The dish that sends the signal up to an orbiting satellite is located on the original monastery property (the Poor Clares moved 90 minutes north to Hanceville in 1999). This dish is located in a valley which should make a clear beam of the transmission signal impossible, but works perfectly. What did the Archangel Gabriel say to Mary? "With God, all things are possible."

Raymond's explanation of how cloistered Roman Catholic nuns from Cleveland, Ohio (who made their original income by roasting peanuts and tying flies for flyfishing) were able to build this global media empire deep in the bible belt revolves around what he calls Mother Angelica's "Theology of Risk." He explains it in his book on page 151:

"You want to do something for the Lord ... do it. Whatever you feel needs
to be done, even though you're shaking in your boots, you're scared to death -
take the first step forward. The grace comes with that one step and you
get the grace as you step. Being afraid is not the problem; it's doing
nothing when you're afraid."

The first reading of the Mass for today was from Ephesians: "In Christ we were also chosen ... so that we might exist for the praise of his glory". And if your parish celebrated the Feast of St. Paul of the Cross, then you heard your first reading from 1.Corinthians: "For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." Once when she was asked by a reporter why she thought she was able to build the a Catholic television network from scratch, whilst the US Bishops with all their financial resources could not, she replied with a wink and impish grin, "It's simple. God didn't ask them to do it."

Mother Angelica has her fans as well as her critics; you cannot be in the public eye without both. Say what you want about her, you have to stand in amazement of what she has been able to accomplish for the New Evangelization. In recent weeks my diocese was looking at the cost of continuing to produce and air the weekly radio show that I currently host, called "Proclaim the Good News." In addition to secular radio stations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, "PGN" is also aired on New Jersey Catholic Radio, an EWTN affiliate, and I've heard the station manager's lament about the costs involved in keeping the station going.

In her last years, my grandmother wasn't able to get to Mass. But thanks to EWTN on the TV in her bedroom she went to Mass three times a day, prayed the Rosary and the chaplet of Divine Mercy, made the Stations of the Cross once in a while, and watched a TV show where guests were interviewed by a nun my grandmother affectionately called "my girlfriend."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Can You Name Them All?

Today is the Feast of the North American Martyrs, 8 Jesuit missionaries (Priests and Oblates) who were killed between the years of 1642 and 1649 in modern day regions of New York and Ontario. They were canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1930. Most of the time they're called by the collective term, "The North American Martyrs", though the crowd who attends daily Mass may recognize them as "Sts. Isaac Jogues, John deBrebeuf and their Companions." The way my life works, I'd be one of the companions: just as dead, not remembered.

So since these are our martyrs, with this feast day which is only celebrated here in the United States and Canada, it's good to remember what our brothers endured to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When the Priest wears red vestments to commemorate martyrs, it's meant to get the Mass attendees to ask themselves, "Would I have the same trust and courage as the martyr(s)", not "Is that red more of a maroon or a burgundy?"

So, thanks to Butler's Lives of the Saints (Revised and Updated), let's remember what these martyrs endured:

Rene Goupil was the first to die on September 29, 1642. He was tomahawked to death for making the sign of the cross on the brows of some children, while being a prisoner of the Iroquois with Isaac Jogues (see below). Goupil had entered the Jesuit novitiate, but left because of bad health. He later studied surgery and went to Canada to help the missionaries as an Oblate (a lay brother).

Fr. Isaac Jogues and Jean Lalande were ambushed on the evening of October 18, 1644. While on a visit to villages in Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville, N.Y.), Jogues was ambushed and beheaded, his head placed on a pole facing the route from which he came. The following day Lalande was beheaded and his body thrown into the river. Lalande was a Jesuit oblate. Jogues had been in the missions since 1636, and had already had a close call when he was captured while on a trip with Goupil to Quebec for supplies. They were beaten to the ground, assailed with knotted sticks, had their hair, beards, and nails torn off and their forefingers bitten off. Amazingly he survived and was freed through the efforts of Dutch colonists. He returned to France a bit of a hero and took the first opportunity he could get to return to Canada (in the days when liturgical law was very specific that the Priest had to hold the Host with his thumb and forefingers, it is said that Jogues asked for and received a dispensation so that he could still celebrate Mass without the necessary digits). He became involved in negotiating peace between the Iroquois, the Hurons, and the French, when he and Lalande were attacked.

Fr. Antony Daniel had just finished celebrating Mass for the Christian Hurons on July 4, 1648, when Iroquois attacked their village at Teanaustaye. Fr. Daniel was surrounded on all sides, shot with arrows until dead, stripped and then thrown into the small church which they set on fire.

Fr. Jean de Brebeuf and Fr. Gabriel Lalement were tortured and killed in an attack on March 16, 1649. as Fr. De Brebeuf started preaching to his attackers, they gagged his mouth, cut off his hose, tore off his lips, then mocked baptism by pouring huge amounts of boiling water on their bodies. Think that's enough? No. As Butler's relates: "large pieces of flesh were cut out of the bodies of both the priests and roasted by the Indians, who tore out their hearts before their death by means of an opening above the breast, feasting on them and on their blood, which they drank while it was still warm."

Fr. Charles Garnier was in a mission he helped found called Saint-Jean. In 1649 the mission was attacked. Rather than flee, Fr. Garnier stayed to absolve the dying and baptize those he was instructing to become Christians. While trying to reach a dying man, Fr. Garnier was shot. When he still tried to reach the dying man, he was attacked with a hatchet which pierced his brain.

Fr. Noel Chabnel was in the next mission over from Saint-Jean when they heard the attackers coming. He urged everyone to flee, but was too weak to keep up with them. Years later it was discovered that he was killed by the advancing Iroquois.

So what can we learn? I like to think of these guys when I'm throwing myself a "pity party" or having a genuinely bad day. It's that "You think you have it bad?" moment that shocks me into reality. We Priests have it pretty good, compared to many of our people and even other Priests in mission territory around the world. The first reading for the Mass for these martyrs says, "For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Cor. 4) If they can lose a finger, we can go pray or read or visit the sick or (if you're married) spend time with your spouse and kid(s).

To walk in the footsteps of these saints, you've got two choices: Shrines to these martyrs exist in both Midland, Ontario, and Auriesville, New York. Check out the website for the Canadian Shrine for great photos of the relics of the saints (including the skull of St. Jean de Brebeuf).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Carolina in my mind

On his radio show yesterday, Rush Limbaugh mentioned a story that appeared in a North Carolina newspaper that included this little "tidbit" at the end of the article:

This year, 28 cases of sexual behavior between teachers and students have been
reported to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said Harry
Wilson, a lawyer for the state school board.
If not for Rush's show, I would not know that this was going on down in N.C. What I'm asking is why the mainstream media is not plastering this on the front pages of newspapers and cable news shows? Let me ask it another way: If, instead of schoolteachers, the article read that this year in North Carolina there were 28 cases of sexual behavior between Priests and minors entrusted to their care, would there be anything happening in the world that would keep that fact off of the front pages of newspapers or cable shows?

Use the Force, Luke!

  • Today is the Feast of the Evangelist St. Luke. One of the last of the 16 documents of Vatican II was on the topic of Divine Revelation, called Dei Verbum (the Word of God). What does it tell us about the Gospels along with all of Sacred Scripture?

Paragraph 7 says that the transmission of the Gospel "was done by those apostles (Matthew & John) and other men associated with the apostles (Mark & Luke) who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing." Everyone in my generation was a Star Wars geek, so put on your thinking caps: Remember how Obi-Wan Kenobi described "The Force" to Luke Skywalker? "It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the whole galaxy together." If you understand that, you understand the Holy Spirit! The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way in paragraph 703: "The Word of God [Jesus Christ] and his Breath [the Holy Spirit] are at the origin of the being and life of every creature."

While we're on Dei Verbum, check out a line from paragraph 10: "It is clear, therefore, that in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others." In short, think of the Church as a 3-legged table, the legs being Scripture (God's inspired word), Tradition (the writings of those like Popes Gregory and Leo the Great, theologians like Aquinas, Chrysostom, Augustine, Bonaventure, Anselm, and other saints like Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Therese, Catherine of Siena, Elizabeth Seton, etc.), and the Magisterium (the living teaching authority of the Holy Father with all the Bishops of the world that are in union with him). The weight is borne by all 3 legs (though like any table depending on where an object is put on the top of the table, different legs bear more of the weight at different times). The bottom line is this: take away one of the three legs, and the table falls. Unless of course you've got those anti-gravity things that they used to carry Han Solo once he was frozen in Carbomite, but that's for another blog in some galaxy far, far away.

Rookie Mistake

On one hand, it amazes me the loyalty that some people have to blogs (certainly not mine, I'm new here). But it only took one friend putting a link to this lil' place on the internet, and I started getting comments like wildfire! Most of them are great and supportive, and to those of you who've sent those, I thank you. On the other hand, there are also the ones that make you think that some people got into the gene pool when the lifeguard wasn't looking. How brave they are to tell me all about me and all about what's "wrong" with me, but with the safety (and some would say cowardice) of anonymity.

So let's make this a teaching moment to the Young Fogey Seminarians or the newly ordained YFs: In your Priesthood, you will from time to time receive the anonymous letter. These will, almost always, be letters complaining about what you said, did, wrote, preached about, or forgot to do. More often than not, they will be sent first to your pastor, since the anonymous sender cannot get a reaction out of you without revealing their secret identity; the letter will be sent to your pastor so that someone else besides you and them know that they complained. Do what you want with it. Some Priests make a personal policy decision not to read anything that is unsigned; others choose to read them. My advice: Do what works for you, but don't let it get under your skin too deep. Read the letter and move on.

Now back to our show. What I've decided to do is to omit the "comments" section of the blog. What it means is that if you want to talk to me (and I'm all for that), you've now got to send me an e-mail. If you've found this blog, you know what to do to get my e-mail, but if you're new, click on "view my complete profile" on the right side of the page and then click on "e-mail". I'm flattered anyone would want to read what I write, but I don't want people checking the site only for the comments back and forth. Now I know this won't stop all the criticism, nor do I really want honest and charitable criticism to stop. But it means that if I'm going to put my name out there in the blogosphere, you should be willing to do the same.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Check This Out

Fr. Guy Selvester is a friend of mine and a fellow Priest of the Metuchen Diocese. He's been at this blogging thing longer than I, and his website is always an entertaining mix of Church history, news, and laughs. Check out his site at Shouts in the Piazza.

What I Learned Today

"So why start a blog now?", you ask. To be honest, I really don't know what made a few days ago "THE" day to do it. But then today a few things happened that gave me the answer I was looking for. As a Priest, we get calls to visit people in the hospital. Most times these people are there for a few days, having some surgery, feeling under the weather, etc. But every now and then we get a call that asks whether we can come to the hospital right now. Today I had not one of those calls, but two.

The first one was to visit a 19-year old with lung cancer who may be the bravest kid I've met in a while. He's absolutely determined not to let the cancer win and he's facing chemotherapy with the same attitude that an athlete faces an opponent: staring it right in the eye and saying, "you won't beat me today."

When I left him I drove to another hospital where a parishioner was in Intensive Care after falling and hitting his head hard enough to cause some internal bleeding by his brain. He began the day like you or I, never expecting that in a few hours he'd be laying in a hospital bed.

What did those guys help me understand? We never know what will happen to us, whether good or bad, in the next few years or weeks or days or even hours. Now certainly if these men can face their situations head on, I can make a commitment to write some unimportant little blog. It's too easy to say, "I'll start my diet after the holidays", or, "I'll work out tomorrow", or, "I'll get to confession next week." To rip off the tag-line of Nike: JUST DO IT!

For the seminarians who read this, remember that at times like this no one will care what your grades were or what encyclical you read last. Nothing in a classroom prepares you for hospital visits; it only gets easier by doing it. In the end, the family may not even remember your name, but they'll remember that they called for a Priest and he came (even if he had the worst case of "bed-head" they've ever seen).

Monday, October 16, 2006

Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch

St. Ignatius (portrayed here artistically with the means of his demise) shows us the "Next Generation" in the Church. Tradition says he was the child held up by Christ in the midst of the apostles as he challenged them to "become like little children" to accept the Kingdom of God. Later on he'd become a disciple of the apostle St. John and Bishop of Antioch (a position previously held by St. Peter). In Iggy's 7 letters written on the way to his execution in Rome, we get a glimpse of what the Church already believed as little as 70 years after the Ascension of Jesus:
  • In his letter to the Ephesians he calls the Eucharist the "medicine to immortality."
  • To the Romans, he wrote, "I no longer take pleasure in perishable food ... I want only God's bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ ... and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish."
  • In the letter to the Smyrnaeans he used, for the first time, the term "Catholic". Remember that Acts of the Apostles tells us that it was in Antioch (where Ignatius was bishop) that the term "Christian" was also invented.
  • To the Magnesians, he affirmed the shift from the Jewish Sabbath of Saturday to the Lord's Day of Sunday.

So what can "Young Fogey" Priests/seminarians learn from St. Iggy? That it's not all about us! We're not the "final, finished product." We're the latest link in a chain that goes back to Christ and his apostles. So we do our best to make sure that we, as a link in that chain, are not only firmly attached to the links behind us, but strong enough to support and sustain the links that will come after us. How many times in my life I let an opportunity to read or pray slip away in favor of a nap or something on TV? So if you're a seminarian reading this (and I suppose a Priest, too), put down the PlayStation or the TV remote, pick up a book, or go to the chapel. St. Ignatius wrote, "I am God's wheat and shall be ground by [the lions'] teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread." In short, if you're feeling beat up, chewed up and spit out by your work, congratulations! you're doing it right. Keep up the good work.

Where were you on October 16?

Today is the 28th anniversary of the election of Pope John Paul II. I wish I could tell you that I spent the day worried whom the Cardinals would elect, and then rejoiced when I saw the former Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow emerge on the balcony, but alas, I was 11 years old at the time. Also, it seems hard to believe we were in that primitive age before the 24 hour news cycle and cable channels dedicated exclusively to news. My only recollection of the Polish Pope's election is a segment on the evening news and the repeated poetry of my Aunt Dora who kept saying "Hail, Mary, full of grace; now the Italians are in second place!" (This was odd, since Aunt Dora had no Polish blood in her, but I laughed anyway).

For "Young Fogeys", this was an important day in our lives, even if we didn't realize it at the time. No one has had a more profound impact on our formation as Priests than Pope Wojtyla. Dare I try to list the reasons? Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1983 Code of Canon Law, World Youth Days, Theology of the Body, Veritatis Splendor, just to name a few. Rejoice, YFs, today is one of our holidays!

Yesterday's Gospel at Mass told the story of the rich young man who asked Jesus what it would take to become a follower. He had obeyed all the commandments and lived a good life, but something inside of him said there was more to be done. When Jesus asked him to leave his "comfort zone" behind to step into the unknown, the man went away sad. Many biographers (including George Weigel's mother-of-all-biographies) have told us about Cardinal Wojtyla's reluctance to accept the papacy and the reasons behind them: he was too young, he had a Synod going on in Krakow, etc. Like the rich young man, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla was doing good things at home, but now Jesus Christ "looking at him, loved him" and asked him to trust and to follow him. Cardinal Wojtyla would not make the same error in judgment as the young man in the gospel, and our world is different because of it.

Perhaps this is why JP2's constant point of focus during his pontificate was a line from Vatican II's Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (a.k.a. Gaudium et Spes). Paragraph 24 teaches us that "...man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself." What has God asked me to do in the past that I've responded with a sad walking away? How can I change my perspective so that I can recognize the little moments every day that God asks me to act or to think?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Confessions of a Young Fogey

O.K., I admit it. I’m a "Young Fogey". It’s not something I was born with, a nucleotide in my DNA, that I can claim I have no choice about. It’s not something resulting from the way my parents raised me, nor can I blame it on the school I went to or the neighborhood in which I grew up. I spent time thinking about this, I knew what was out there and what my options were, and, yes, I deliberately chose to be a "YF". I have to say that I’ve been amazed by the love and support I’ve received from my friends and family. Even if they don’t understand it at times, they’ve given me nothing but unconditional love and I am forever grateful. Even more amazing to me are the words of admiration I’ve received from total strangers. In my life the voices of those who have supported me have far outnumbered the voices of those who have condemned me, and to steal from Robert Frost, ‘that has made all the difference’.

Now I’ve got you hooked, don’t I?. "What is a ‘Young Fogey’", you ask yourself? ‘Young Fogey’ is a label, a stereotype, given by Fr. Andrew Greeley in an article which appeared in the January/February, 2004 issue of The Atlantic magazine. In Fr. Greeley’s world, a "YF" is the ‘catch-all’ phrase for Roman Catholic Priests who have been ordained in the last twenty-five years or so. In Fr. Greeley’s world (and using his own words), these are "conservative young priests" who are "counter-revolutionaries", "intent on restoring the pre-Vatican II Church". They "tend to want to restore the power that the clergy held not only before Vatican II but also before a large educated Catholic laity emerged as a powerful force in the Church after World War II." To back this up (and give his argument gravitas), he cites the criticism of older priests who see us as "arrogant, pompous, and rigid", with the compulsion of "lov[ing] to parade around in clerical dress." Whether these quotes came about after polling hundreds of Priests or around one rectory living room full of Priests, we don’t know. But this should hardly be a surprise: my generation has almost always known it was different from the generation of Priests we grew up with in the 1960s and 70s. At first we knew it as the butt of jokes, as older Priests lamented the fact that the rules and regulations of our seminary years compared to theirs was like comparing a country club to a concentration camp. Later we knew something was up when, while home from the seminary, we were asked what we were learning in the seminary When we responded about Humanae Vitae, Veritatis Splendor, and the "Theology of the Body", the looks on their faces told us, in the words of the movie Apollo 13, "Houston, we have a problem." The final confirmation of this came in, of all places, cathedral basements and sacristies (anyplace large groups of Priests vest for Mass), as stares and snickers and unspoken thoughts accompanied our vesting with such things as an amice and a cincture. Yes, we’re Young Fogeys, and exactly why some Priests resent us, we don’t know. What we do know is this: Fr. Greeley sees the YFs as a danger to the Church. We must be stopped like Lee at Gettysburg or Napoleon at Waterloo (even Alfred Hitchcock’s "birds" come to mind). Quick! Board up the windows! Tie down the lawn furniture! Head to the storm cellar! Here comes THAT generation of Priests!

The inaccuracy in Fr. Greeley’s stereotype revolves around timing; he’s overshot his target. Young Fogeys do not want to go back to the time before the Second Vatican Council. We know that things were not perfect in the years before Vatican II. Not every pastor behaved like Barry Fitzgerald, not every priest sang like Bing Crosby, not every nun looked like Ingrid Bergman, and not every Tridentine Mass was flawless and devout. We’ve never said they were. But in their years of studies for the Priesthood, YFs have come to realize that in many ways the teachings of Vatican II were misinterpreted, misrepresented, and sadly in some cases lied about, to a naïve and uninformed laity who had no access to the Council documents, but always assumed the best; their Priests would do what the Church taught. For years the lay faithful watched as the things they knew as distinctly "Catholic" were changed or removed, always with the reason, "It’s what Vatican II has called for", when in reality a truer sentence would have been, "It’s what I, Father X and/or Sister Y, have called for." But we’re a generation that learned wiffleball and football in schoolyards and backyards with the magic rule of "Do-over". That’s what we want. This "Young Fogey" generation of Roman Catholic Priests wants to take their best collective shot at learning the rich teachings of Vatican II, and then making these documents known, understood, and appreciated by the laity that has lived under their shadow for more than forty years without knowing what the Council actually said.

"Why do we need to re-implement Vatican II?", you ask? "Its all been done before", you opine? Well, yes and no. Young Fogeys who grew up in the 60s and 70s have lived through every "gimmick" Mass imaginable. As children they attended the "clown Mass" and the "folk Mass". They sang the songs from "Godspell" at Mass, along with more versions of "Kumbaya" and "Michael, Row the Boat Ashore" then they care to remember. Even today when they hear such overused Catholic music as "Here I am, Lord" (published in 1981) they realize it sounds remarkably like the 1969 theme from TV's The Brady Bunch, while 1982's "Gather Us In" resembles 1976's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald". They remember the self-styled "cool" Priests who wore blue jeans instead of the usual black pants, the ones who let their hair and beards grow in an effort to look like Jesus, and even the few who got to wear sandals at Mass when parents made kids wear shoes and socks. The YF’s experiences with religious education were mostly benign. It may have taken an hour out of playtime, but it usually involved arts and crafts and music, and at least they didn’t have to sit with a book and memorize questions and answers like their parents and aunts and uncles (another thing we grew up hearing about as family gathered for holidays). The generation before us may not have understood as children what they memorized, but when they grew up the facts were there in their head to tap into like a safe deposit box; our generation left CCD with lots of pictures for the refrigerator door and ornaments for the Christmas tree, but not a whole lot in our heads. Just because it was done before doesn’t mean it was done well.

In the midst of all of that (and some would say "in spite of all that"), some of them found their vocation. In the best case, Young Fogeys had contact with a Priest who gave them the sense that being a Priest was not just a career choice ("Dear God, should I be a Priest or a CEO?"), but a call from God, something indescribable, and a little bit scary (something Pope John Paul captured in the title for his reflections after fifty years of priesthood: Gift and Mystery). These Priests, who told the truth when it was not so popular, who came to the hospital or the nursing home when called at 4am, and who showed by their demeanor that this was something bigger than themselves, inspired many to give their lives to God, and for that I pray God abundantly rewards them. They did what every Priest used to be charged to do: they "replaced" themselves in the next generation. In the worst case, YFs remember parish Priests who left the Priesthood and became therapists and counselors in the same towns in which they used to be assigned ("Dad, doesn’t his girlfriend look a lot like that nun that used to be assigned to our parish?"). They remember getting ready to serve Mass while overhearing Father X complain to a sacristy filled with Lectors, Cantors, and Eucharistic Ministers about how saying Mass or hearing confessions on his "day off" was driving him crazy, and about how, if he were to "quit this job" and get another one, he could be making a lot more money. I firmly believe that amongst all the questions that every Priest will face from Jesus Christ when it comes to whether we merit heaven, the one that could help us the most or hurt us the worst will be something like, "Did your example of priestly identity inspire others to follow you into the priesthood?" I think what has Fr. Greeley so upset is that his research shows him plenty of (to use his term) conservative young priests and a scarcity of any liberal young priests.

Herein lies what’s at the core of the resentment of "Young Fogeys". For all of the changes and gimmicks and watering down of the Faith that was done while we were kids, YFs didn’t buy into it. The crowd that resents us now faces their retirement realizing they have not replaced themselves with Priests "in their image and likeness", but rather with men who say, "Been there. Done that. Don’t want the T-shirt." (Religious sisters have fared even worse, but that’s another story). The faction of Catholic Priests who didn’t accept Humanae Vitae’s teaching on contraception and told couples to "use their consciences" actually ended up "contracepting" themselves out of existence, by not being open to new Priestly life and through their own lack of desire to promote priestly vocations and intentionally blocking the seeds of vocations from growing. Don’t you just love the irony? YFs were told as kids to "let their consciences be their guide", and now that their consciences have told them that what they were told as kids was wrong, they’re resented and despised by the gang that taught it to them! Some of today’s Young Fogey Priests learned "what to do" from the previous generation; other YFs saw some of the previous generation and determined that they would never become like that.

That, in a nutshell, is where I'm coming from. If you've found this blog and it provokes a response, keep coming back. If you came here by accident and want out, I respect that too.