Saturday, March 31, 2007

Bueller? Bueller?

Thank you AP for the photo

"Hey, who do I have to excommunicate around here to get a tall decaf no-foam skim latte?"

Friday, March 30, 2007

March 29 Book Signing (and stuff...)

Another first in my life. Last night I took part in a book signing at a local Barnes & Noble for John Paul II for Dummies, along with the co-authors of the book, Fathers Ken Brighenti and John Trigilio. Lots of books were sold, and a good number of friends from my previous parish in Basking Ridge who drove down to the signing made it (in the words of Nat King Cole), "Unforgettable in every way." Thanks to a fellow blogger, Anthony at Jumping Without A Chute, for the picture. It was surreal! I mean, I'm the kind of guy who goes to book signings by other authors; I'm not the one who does the signing!

I know I've gone silent in the blogosphere, and I apologize to those of you who are good enough to take the time out of your day and your internet browsing time to click on my humble little blog. I know you've been disappointed lately with very few updates. Lent is a crazy time for Priests, and by the time we get close to Holy Week, I think I just got tired of having to think about what I could write that would be worth your looking at. So, I'm sorry I haven't been a better blogger. I'll try harder.

My first goal was, maybe, a little too ambitious, and that turned me off from writing altogether. With the release of Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter on the Eucharist Sacramentum Caritatis, I was hoping to go through it on the blog a little at a time, with some commentary thrown in. But as happens when I've got a long list of "things to do", when I try to fight a war on multiple fronts I end up accomplishing very few things. So I'll try to better on that front, because it really is the latest installment in Vatican documents on the Eucharist which go back to the papacy of John Paul II (starting with JP2's "Ecclesia de Eucharistia", and, "Mane Nobiscum Domine", and the documents from Cardinal Arinze and the Congregation for Divine Worship "Redemptionis Sacramentum" and the suggestions and proposals for the 2004 Year of the Eucharist).

My responsibilities as Moderator (technically, that's my title with regards to the radio show, and I always like the sound of it, you know? I mean, Pat Zajak and Alex Trebec are "hosts", but the Sunday morning press show honchos: John McLaughlin, Tim Russert, et al, are "moderators") of the diocesan radio show means I have to come up with topics and book guests and then arrange a time to tape the show about 45 minutes away at our chancery. Don't get me wrong, it's fun and I love the work, but it takes time to do. Plus, this time of year the strategy is always to come up with a bunch of shows all at once, in order to have a surplus of new episodes all recorded and ready to go out. So that when Holy Week comes (and allowing for some down-time after the Lord Resurrects) I can focus on the happenings here at my parish.

Yeah, that's right: author, radio show host, and, oh yeah, parish Priest. Parish Priest. That's the most important one, and sadly, it's the one that often tends to get the short end of the stick. I'm ashamed to even tell you how my "Ash Wednesday" intentions to spend more time praying and exercising have gone. I keep imagining the debate that God the Father could have with my mother over which of them I pay less attention to. Ugh.

Now do you have an idea of why the blog went silent?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Pontifical Munchies

Thank you Reuters for the image!"I'd like ze number 4 mit cheese
und a diet coke viss no ice.
Ja, dat's all."

Monday, March 26, 2007

Try Fitting THAT name on an S.A.T. Test!

From Today's Vatican news bulletin (bold print added by yours truly):

Major Archbishop Baselios Mar Cleemis of Trivandrum of the Syro-Malankars, India, with the consent of the Synod of Bishops of the Syro-Malankar Church and in accordance with canon 85, para. 2.2, of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, promoted Bishop Thomas Koorilos Chakkalapadickal of Muvattapuzha of the Syro-Malankars, to the office of metropolitan archbishop of Tiruvalla of the Syro-Malankars (area 11,120, population 5.335.000, Catholics 37.284, priests 126, religious 315), India. The archbishop-elect was born in Kadapramannar, India, in 1958, he was ordained a priest in 1985 and consecrated a bishop in 1997.

I'll never complain about my last name again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Confession, Penance, Reconciliation, whatever it's being called this week

Karl Keating at Catholic Answers has a mailing list which you can subscribe to, and which will get an "e-letter" sent to your mailbox every so often. His e-letter today had a great experience he had, which led to some insight from a Catholic layman on Confession:


Dear Friend of Catholic Answers:

That is what I imagine the average church's signboard could advertise, so few are those who go to confession any more. Like me, you probably go to confession regularly, but most Catholics go rarely or not at all.

This was confirmed in a newspaper article that appeared last week, so it must be true. The article was distributed by the Religion News Service, which said that "only 14 percent of Catholics go to confession yearly. ... Forty-two percent reported they never go to confession at all. ... Fifty years ago, penitents lined the aisles outside confessional booths on Saturday afternoons, waiting to admit their sins, recite the Act of Contrition, receive absolution from a priest, make their penance, and be forgiven."

Gone with the wind, that. What happened?

The article said that "sociologists and Catholic clergy list a number of reasons, including changing notions of sin, opposition to the Church's stance on birth control, widespread changes after the Second Vatican Council, ignorance about the sacrament, and busy lives."

Each of those, no doubt, has had something to do with our ending up with everybody going to Communion and almost nobody going to confession, but I think the real answer may be simpler than that. Let me tell you a true story.

Some years ago I was invited to dinner at the rectory of the most populous parish in the Los Angeles Archdiocese. When I knocked on the door, the housekeeper admitted me. It was evident at once that no one else was there. Had I shown up on the wrong night? Oh, no, said the housekeeper. All four priests were still in the church, hearing confessions.

On a Thursday night?

When the priests finally returned to the rectory, the pastor apologized for keeping me waiting. They had had fifty more penitents than usual for a Thursday. I remarked that Thursday evening seemed an odd time to have confessions. "Oh, we have confessions every evening," said the pastor--hundreds and hundreds of confessions each week.

I wondered how that could be possible. The pastor chuckled. He said that neighboring pastors asked the same thing--and they proffered answers. "Many of them say, 'Well, you're just getting our penitents because you have such convenient times for reconciliation,' but that's not so, you know. We can tell that these are our own people."

But why, I asked, were the four priests in this parish kept busy with confessions each evening, not to mention on Saturday afternoons, when in neighboring parishes only a handful of people showed up at the once-a-week slot for confessions?

"Easy," said the pastor. "It's so easy that other priests don't believe how we do it."

Okay, I said. What's the secret?

"From the pulpit we tell our people that they are sinners, that they know they are sinners, and that they need to go to confession. We tell them that God loves them and wants to forgive them. We tell them that we will be waiting for them in the confessionals each night and on Saturday afternoon. We tell them this often and always gently, and so they come to confession. Lots of them."

That's it? I asked. No fire and brimstone? No bribes, spiritual or otherwise? No threats?

"Not necessary," said the pastor. "If you tell people the truth that they already know in their hearts--that they are sinners and need forgiveness--they will respond to that." And so they did.

No matter what changes have occurred since Vatican II, no matter how ill-instructed today's Catholics may be, no matter how put off they may be by scandals or flat homilies, one thing has remained constant: human nature. People today commit the same sorts of sins that people committed fifty or a hundred or a thousand years ago, and those sins affect them as sins always have affected people. At least in this regard, there is nothing new under the sun.

The story I have told suggests why most parishes have few penitents: The fault is found not so much in the wider culture but in the narrow pulpit. When is the last time you heard a priest, even a good one, say clearly that those listening to him were sinners, knew they were sinners, and needed to go to confession--and that he would be waiting for them and would give them as much time as they needed?

Yes, I know of good priests who mention confession, but I can't remember the last time I heard that even one of them spoke about the sacrament the way it should be spoken about. And those are the good priests. What about priests who would rather not have Saturday afternoons so inconveniently interrupted, the ones who have never uttered the word "confession" from the pulpit, who think they are doing their parishioners a favor by not trying to burden them with guilt?

I have news for such priests: Their parishioners already are burdened with guilt. They struggle with guilt because each person over the age of reason is a sinner. That is something called a Brute Fact. What a pity that so many priests fail to understand what is so obvious to the people they preach to each week!

Now, if you're a Priest, your first reaction might be, "Hey, Karl, how's the view from the cheap seats?" But that reaction comes from the fact that Karl just hit us where we're vulnerable, and a nice shot it was. So, if we're men, we'll take the shot, use it as a learning experience to show where our weakness lies, and make a resolution not to be weak in that aspect again.

Pope Benedict's Apostolic Letter last week, Sacramentum Caritatis, used the connection between the Sacraments of the Eucharist and Reconciliation to make these observations about confession (you can read the whole letter here):

II. The Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation

Their intrinsic relationship

20. The Synod Fathers rightly stated that a love for the Eucharist leads to a growing appreciation of the sacrament of Reconciliation. (54) Given the connection between these sacraments, an authentic catechesis on the meaning of the Eucharist must include the call to pursue the path of penance (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-29). We know that the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin (55) and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily. (56) The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God's love. Bringing out the elements within the rite of Mass that express consciousness of personal sin and, at the same time, of God's mercy, can prove most helpful to the faithful. (57) Furthermore, the relationship between the Eucharist and the sacrament of Reconciliation reminds us that sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism. For this reason, Reconciliation, as the Fathers of the Church would say, is laboriosus quidam baptismus; (58) they thus emphasized that the outcome of the process of conversion is also the restoration of full ecclesial communion, expressed in a return to the Eucharist. (59)

Some pastoral concerns

21. The Synod recalled that Bishops have the pastoral duty of promoting within their Dioceses a reinvigorated catechesis on the conversion born of the Eucharist, and of encouraging frequent confession among the faithful. All priests should dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation. (60) In this regard, it is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament. I ask pastors to be vigilant with regard to the celebration of the sacrament of Reconciliation, and to limit the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted, (61) since individual absolution is the only form intended for ordinary use. (62) Given the need to rediscover sacramental forgiveness, there ought to be a Penitentiary in every Diocese. (63) Finally, a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, whether for oneself or for the dead, can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation. By this means the faithful obtain "remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven." (64) The use of indulgences helps us to understand that by our efforts alone we would be incapable of making reparation for the wrong we have done, and that the sins of each individual harm the whole community. Furthermore, the practice of indulgences, which involves not only the doctrine of Christ's infinite merits, but also that of the communion of the saints, reminds us "how closely we are united to each other in Christ ... and how the supernatural life of each can help others." (65) Since the conditions for gaining an indulgence include going to confession and receiving sacramental communion, this practice can effectively sustain the faithful on their journey of conversion and in rediscovering the centrality of the Eucharist in the Christian life.

(54) Cf. Propositio 7; John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Ecclesia de Eucharistia (17
April 2003), 36: AAS 95 (2003), 457-458.

(55) Cf. John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (2 December 1984), 18: AAS 77 (1985), 224-228.

(56) Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1385.

(57) For example, the Confiteor, or the words of the priest and people before receiving Communion: "Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed." Not insignificantly does the liturgy also prescribe certain very beautiful prayers for the priest, handed down by tradition, which speak of the need for forgiveness, as, for example, the one recited quietly before inviting the faithful to sacramental communion: "By the mystery of your body and blood, free me from all my sins and from every evil. Keep me always faithful to your teachings and never let me be parted from you."

(58) Cf. Saint John Damascene, Exposition of the Faith, IV, 9: PG 94, 1124C; Saint Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio 39, 17: PG 36, 356A; Ecumenical Council of Trent, Doctrina de sacramento paenitentiae, Chapter 2: DS 1672.

(59) Cf. Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, 11; John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (2 December 1984), 30: AAS 77 (1985), 256-257.

(60) Cf. Propositio 7.

(61) Cf. John Paul II, Motu Proprio Misericordia Dei (7 April 2002): AAS 94 (2002), 452-459.

(62) Together with the Synod Fathers I wish to note that the non-sacramental penitential services mentioned in the ritual of the sacrament of Reconciliation can be helpful for increasing the spirit of conversion and of communion in Christian communities, thereby preparing hearts for the celebration of the sacrament: cf. Propositio 7.

(63) Cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 508.

(64) Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina (1 January 1967), Norms, No. 1: AAS 59 (1967), 21.

(65) Ibid., 9: AAS 59 (1967), 18-19.

So here's some thoughts I had when reading those paragraphs:

  1. "the faithful are surrounded by a culture that tends to eliminate the sense of sin and to promote a superficial approach that overlooks the need to be in a state of grace in order to approach sacramental communion worthily." - For a guy who hasn't been assigned to a parish in literally decades, Pope Benedict has a pretty good grasp on the pulse of the average Catholic parish.
  2. "The loss of a consciousness of sin always entails a certain superficiality in the understanding of God's love." - We get so caught up in our sins that we almost stop believing that God has both the desire and the ability to give us forgiveness.
  3. "...sin is never a purely individual affair; it always damages the ecclesial communion that we have entered through Baptism." - Well, this beats the pants off of the 'what I do on my own is my own business' argument!
  4. "All priests should dedicate themselves with generosity, commitment and competency to administering the sacrament of Reconciliation." - 'generosity' = more than one hour once a week (and the "or by appointment" thing doesn't count); 'commitment' = consistency so that the laity know we'll be waiting when they come a-confessin'; 'competency' = knowing what to say when it needs to be said.
  5. "it is important that the confessionals in our churches should be clearly visible expressions of the importance of this sacrament." - Hey clergy, do visitors to your church have trouble finding just where Confessions are heard (I won't even ask whether they can find the tabernacle)? If the answer is "yes", then your confessional is not visible enough. Do our confessionals also serve as storage closets for folding chairs, books, or boxes? That sends people a horrible subliminal suggestion that what happens there is not really important enough to have its own dedicated space. But I will also say this: the opposite can also happen, as liturgical gurus seek to make confessionals into places with big comfy chairs, zen-like trickling waterfalls, and aromatherapy candles. Confession is neither spiritual direction nor counseling. Nothing against either of those, because they're good and have their place, but they're not part of the Sacrament (especially this time of year when there still is a line of people waiting for Confession).
  6. "Finally, a balanced and sound practice of gaining indulgences, . . . can be helpful for a renewed appreciation of the relationship between the Eucharist and Reconciliation." - Indulgences? Whoa, don't hold your breath on that one.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

The Lorica of Saint Patrick

"Lorica" is a Latin word which literally means "body armor." It also means a prayer or incantation which is meant to give you supernatural protection (kind of other-worldly "Under-Armour", if you will). This famous one is attributed to St. Patrick (5th-6th century):

I bind to myself today
the strong virtue of the invocation of the Trinity:
I believe the Trinity in the unity
the Creator of the universe.

I bind to myself today
the virtue of the incarnation of Christ with his baptism,
the virtue of his crucifixion with his burial,
the virtue of his resurrection with his ascension,
the virtue of his coming on the Judgment Day.

I bind to myself today
the virtue of the love of seraphim,
in the obedience of angels
in the hope of resurrection unto reward,
in prayers of patriarchs,
in predictions of prophets,
in preaching of apostles,
in faith of confessors,
in purity of holy virgins,
in deeds of righteous men.

I bind to myself today
the power of Heaven,
the light of the sun,
the brightness of the moon,
the splendor of fire,
the flashing of lightning,
the swiftness of wind,
the depth of sea,
the stability of earth,
the compactness of rocks.

I bind to myself today
God's power to guide me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to teach me,
God's eye to watch over me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to give me speech,
God's hand to guide me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to shelter me,
God's host to secure me,
against the snares of demons,
against the seductions of vices,
against the lusts of nature,
against everyone who meditates injury to me,
whether far or near,
whether few or with many.

I invoke today all these virtues
against every hostile merciless power,
which may assail my body and my soul,
against the incantations of false prophets,
against the black laws of heathenism,
against the false laws of heresy,
against the deceits of idolatry,
against the spells of women and smiths and Druids,
against every knowledge that binds the soul of man.

Christ, protect me today against every poison,
against burning,
against drowning,
against deathwound,
that I may receive abundant reward.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ at my right,
Christ at my left,
Christ in the fort,
Christ in the chariot seat,
Christ in the deck,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I bind to myself today
the strong virtue of an invocation of the Trinity,
I believe the Trinity in the unity
the Creator of the universe.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Diehards, Part 2

It's one of those nasty, snowy, sleety, icy, slippery days out there. It's been like this all day and has gotten progressively worse as the day has gone on. But still twenty people in my parish left the warmth of their homes to come out to pray the Stations of the Cross. Faith is an amazing thing.

Well, Stations are done, and I'm going back to reading Sacramentum Caritatis while watching episodes of CSI. What else would a Young Fogey do on a snowed-in night?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tertullian on Prayer

Some great snippets from Tertullian (c.160-220) found in today's Office of Readings in the Liturgy of the Hours:

"Prayer is an offering that belongs to God and is acceptable to him: it is the offering he has asked for, the offering he planned as his own."

"We must dedicate this offering with our whole heart, we must fatten it on faith, tend it by truth, keep it unblemished through innocence and clean through chastity, and crown it with love."

"Prayer cleanses from sin, drives away temptations, stamps out persecutions, comforts the fainthearted, gives new strength to the courageous, brings travelers safely home, calms the waves, confounds robbers, feeds the poor, overrules the rich, lifts up the fallen, supports those who are falling, sustains those who stand firm."

"What more need be said on the duty of prayer? Even the Lord himself prayed."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

'Cause Down The Shore Everything's Alright

I'm away from the blogosphere until Thursday at a seminar that my diocese is "strongly urging" (translated, that means "mandating") all Priests attend. It's being held down at the Jersey shore, and with the temperature forecasted for the 60's, I'm not complaining!

Regular Season vs. Playoffs

If you're a sports fan, or if you've ever played organized sports on any level, you know that there's the regular season and there's the playoffs. The regular season is when every single team plays the same amount of games. Some teams win a lot, some teams lose more than they win, but everyone plays the whole season. Playoffs are when teams compete for a championship. During the playoffs teams play until they are defeated, and then they stop playing.

Many Catholics, I think, treat Lent more like the playoffs than a regular season. On Ash Wednesday, everyone has visions of glory and make all kinds of Lenten sacrificial intentions (I'm going to give up chocolate, I'm going to pray every day, I'm going to go to Stations of the Cross on Fridays, etc.). But one failure within those intentions (one "bad game", if you will), and we act like our Lent is over and we can resume everything we gave up and discontinue everything we added to our lives. Pass me the Reese's peanut butter eggs and the black jelly beans; Easter has arrived!

Lent is a season. Think of it like a 40-game season. Like any sports team, the goal is to have "the perfect season" (all wins, no defeats). Yes, sometimes you'll have winning streaks and other times you may get into a losing slump of a few games. But you play the whole season, not just until you have a bad game! How many parents wouldn't allow their children to abandon baseball, football, hockey or soccer, just because their child got tired of losing? "It builds character", they'll tell the child, "It's good practice for next season and it builds your sportsmanship." You can't hit the ball or make a basket this time? You keep trying and trying until, one day, you'll do it!

"But how long do we have to play the game?", you ask. The short answer is until Easter time. But the truth is that we play these games of striving for holiness until our "big season" is over. And, if you're childhood was anything like mine, you only stopped playing when it got dark and you were called to come home.

Stem Cell Article

Those who know me tell me I can be a bit cynical at times. So you can guess what my first reaction was when I read the headline, Stem Cell Research Gains Ground in Catholic Church, in today's Newark Star Ledger. I was expecting to see another "cookie cutter" article which so often is the case when the Ledger writes about anything in the Roman Catholic Church.

In case you don't read the Star ledger, here's their usual recipe:

  1. start with the premise that society is correct and then give the Church's 'antiquated' position;
  2. quote one or two 'average Catholics' who tell us that they know what the Church teaches, but they feel totally different;
  3. quote some dissenting Priest or nun academic from some allegedly Catholic college who tells us that their dissenting belief was the original position of the Church back in the 2nd century and how the dogma only came around sometime in the middle ages when the evil, patriarchal Church desired to keep their people dumb and subservient;
  4. give some incredibly lame, incomplete definition of what the Church actually teaches;
  5. go back to the 'average Catholic' quotees and allow them the last word about how they don't care what the Church says, they're going to continue feeling like they do while still considering themselves 'good Catholics');
Anyway, I have to admit: When I read this article I was shocked to see that they have very accurately reported that the Archdiocese of Newark is doing what they can to assist in the funding and research of stem cells obtained in ways that Church teaching considers morally permissible: stem cells obtained from adults as well as from the umbilical cord blood of newborns (which, in fact, are also the only sources that any medical successes using stem cells have been achieved).

Even when the article brings in the opinion of Fr. Tadeusz Pacholcyk, his fear is that human greed will kick in when hospitals and universities see all of this taxpayer-obtained money floating around out there waiting to be snatched up, if only they begin dissecting human embryos for their stem cells.

Human greed with taxpayer money? I can believe it. Whoops, there I am being cynical again.

Friday, March 09, 2007

There's "fear", and then there's "Fear"

St. Hillary has a great explanation of what is meant by "Fear of the Lord." This comes from the Liturgy of the Hours' Office of Readings on Thursday morning.

"'Fear' is not to be taken in the sense that common usage gives it. Fear in this ordinary sense is the trepidation our weak humanity feels when it is afraid of suffering something it does not want to happen. We are afraid, or are made afraid, because of a guilty conscience, the rights of someone more powerful, an attack from one who is stronger, sickness, encountering a wild beast, suffering evil in any form. This kind of fear is not taught: it happens because we are weak. We do not have to learn what we should fear: objects of fear bring their own terror with them.

But of the fear of the Lord this is what is written: Come, my children, I shall teach you the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord has then to be learned because it can be taught. It does not lie in terror, but in something that can be taught. It does not arise from the fearfulness of our nature; it has to be acquired by obedience to the commandments, by holiness of life and by knowledge of the truth.

For us, the fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings our fear of him to its perfection. Our love for God is entrusted with its own responsibility: to observe his counsels, to obey his laws, to trust his promises. Let us hear what Scripture says: And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God and walk in all his ways and love him and keep his commandments with your whole heart and your whole soul, so that it may be well for you."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Take THAT, Oprah!

PS - Thanks to the Barnes & Noble of Somerville, NJ, for spelling my name correctly. Just kidding, Miss Winfrey.

Bp. Anthony Fisher on Conscience

Bishop Anthony Fisher, OP, is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Sydney, Australia. He recently gave an address, entitled "The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life", at a recent meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life in Rome. Check it out here (thanks to Zenit). It shows his combination of humor and intellectual grasp of the topic which is typical in his writings. He's one of those churchmen whose name you should know and keep in the back of your head.

If you want, check out some more of his stuff at the website for the Sydney Archdiocese.

"Meat Police" Cartoon

My previous entry on becoming the "Meat Police" on Fridays of Lent has become a cartoon! Thanks to Paul at Catholic Cartoon Blog for his artwork.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

On A Mission From God

I'm gone for a few days in order to preach a Lenten parish mission for a friend of mine up in Rhode Island. Be back Thursday.

Friday, March 02, 2007

We Don't Want THEM In Our Neighborhood

The San Francisco Gate has a story about the Castro section of the city, which I'm assuming has been the center of gay culture for a while. Well, a peculiar thing is happening, which has everyone concerned. Couples with a lifestyle alternate to homosexuality (let's call them "heterosexuals") are moving into the neighborhood.

Read the article and ask yourself, is a neighborhood "gay"? Is there such a thing as "gay streetlamps" and "homosexual parking spaces"? I thought the rainbow represented diversity and acceptance of everyone?

This story probably deserves to be watched, since it will involve sinking lots of cash (both private and taxpayer) into an effort to keep those with "opposite-sex attraction" from moving into a neighborhood where their lifestyle can affect everyone else's quality of living.

The Meat Police

Priests wear many hats in their daily work. Yes, supernaturally we're "other Christ's", and "co-workers of the Bishops." But naturally, if you will, at times we wear the hat of an office manager, a teacher, a decorator, a floral designer, a carpenter, and quite often a janitor.

And today I realized we have another title that only comes out this time of year.

So there I was, walking into my local pizzeria, ready to get myself some lunch, when I realized that people are looking over at me. Then, suddenly, it's a little quieter than it was when I first walked in. People started contorting, twisting as if they were protecting whatever it was on their tables.

That's when it hit me. It's a Friday of Lent, officially a meatless day, it's lunch time, and I've become the freakin' Meat Police!

All the Catholics in the place are treating me like this is a roadside drunk-driver checkpoint, and I've got a flashlight pointed at their plates. "Hmmmm, is that a BLT I see?" "Did you seriously think a turkey burger doesn't count as meat?" I'm like those Gestapo agents in Hogan's Heroes who only seem to say, "Your papers, please."

To be honest, I really don't care what they were eating. But it was kind of fun watching the Catholics in the pizza shop show me how incredibly bad they'd be at playing poker. The part of their brains that houses "Catholic guilt" works faster than the part of their brains that tells muscles not to make sudden movements in a vain attempt to hide the hoagie.

Your faces gave you away, but I'll let you off with a warning this time.

St. Cyril of Jerusalem on Confession

"[Lent] is the season of confession. Confess what you have done in word or deed, by night or day. Confess in an acceptable time, and in the day of salvation receive the heavenly treasure. ... Blot out from your mind all earthly care, for you are running for your soul. You are utterly forsaking the things of the world. Small are the things you are forsaking; great is what the Lord is giving. Forsake things present, and put your trust in things to come.

Have you run so many circles of the years bustling vainly about the world, and have you not forty days to be free for prayer for your own soul's sake? 'Be still, and know that I am God,' says the Scripture (Psalm 46:10). Excuse yourself from speaking many idle words. Neither backbite, nor lend a willing ear to backbiters; but rather be prompt to prayer. ...

If you have anything against any man, forgive it. You come here to receive forgiveness of sins, and you, too, must forgive him who has sinned against you. Or how will you say to the Lord, 'Forgive me my many sins,' if you have not yourself forgiven your fellow servant even his little sins."

Thursday, March 01, 2007

My Cantalamessa Moment

Last Thursday, one of my favorite sources for blog material was in New Jersey. Fr. Sing-the-Mass spoke on Ash Wednesday evening to over 1,300 people at Seton Hall University, and on Thursday held a morning of recollection for Priests. During the two-hour event, he reflected on three parts of Mass: the Liturgy of the Word, the Consecration, and Holy Communion.

I brought along 2 books of his that I had bought and read years ago when preparing for the Diaconate: one was his book on obedience, and the other on celibacy (obviously the two promises made upon ordination to the diaconate). At the end of his talk, he stayed around for about 10-15 minutes, and then headed towards the door in order to be driven to the airport. I knew if I wanted anything to be signed, that moment was my small window of opportunity. So surrounded by other Priests, I stood on the aisle and waited for him to come by. I reached into my bag and pulled out one of the books, the one on obedience, and uncapped my pen to have it ready for him.

As he passed, he took my pen and my book, and signed his name. But when he looked at the title, he smiled and asked me, "Where did you find this? It's been out of print for a while." I told him I bought the book 10 years ago before my diaconate and had it ever since. He laughed and announced loudly to the priests standing nearby, "Father has a book on obedience. He wants to be obedient!"

Thank God I didn't hand him the celibacy book.

B16 on Confession

Another reflection by Pope Benedict as featured in "Co-Workers of the Truth", available from Ignatius Press. It's a bit long, but worth the read:

"Nowhere else do faith, sacrament, and pardon become so personal as in the Sacrament of Penance. It is as personal as conscience - and because it is only by conscience that we can be healed, we cannot surrender this place where Christianity is at its most personal without losing something vital. At a recent meeting of Catholics in Munich, the psychologist A. Görres, who had participated as expert in the synod, formulated the anthropological aspect of our subject most impressively:

'I am convinced that, at least psychologically, the relinquishing of personal confession is a great loss and a great harm. If for no other reason than that being consumed by guilt puts us in need of an impartial helper, the fact that someone else gives me pardon in the name of God and of the community is a personification of salvation, an authenticated experience, that it would be both unwise and unsalutary to renounce. We cannot accept without detriment a spirituality that involves the rejection of corporal signs.'

With these words we already have, in large measure, the answer to one aspect of a question that still remains to be answered: Is it not necessary for the communal dimension of sin to have some complementary dimension in the Sacrament of Penance? Without a doubt it is indispensable. This dimension is attained above all when we do not remain alone with our sin, but confess it. The priest to whom it is related is not a single, private individual; he represents the Church. Such a revelation of what is most interior and personal to us signifies a radical openness to the community and a more radical rejection of every form of self-centered love than a merely communal celebration of the sacrament could ever be.

But there is something else that must be said here: the Sacrament of Penance is not complete until we have performed the imposed penance. And that, unfortunately, has become shorter and shorter and is more and more frequently performed privately and interiorly. When Jonah came to Ninevah and called the people to penance, everyone knew what penance entailed; they clothed themselves penitential garments; they fasted; they prayed. When Muslims celebrate Ramadan, they know what they must do, and they know, too, that penance can be a concrete reality for people only when it has a common form and is performed at a specific time in the course of the year. It is regrettable that penance, for us, has lost most of its communal forms. When Christians are called upon to do penance, they no longer know what is expected of them. They may form a commission or perhaps leave the matter entirely to personal initiative.

The classic threesome - fasting, praying, almsgiving - must regain its former role, and Christians must discover anew their ability to find a communal expression by which to make known officially their distance from those things that the world takes for granted. It is in this direction that we must seek the proper balance between the personal and the social aspects of penance. If general absolution were to become the normal form of the sacrament, the significance of both concepts would be obscured. What should really be personal - confession and absolution - would become a collective procedure. What requires a communal form - one's way of life, the penance one is given, the transformation of one's life through conversion - would be a matter of individual opinion. But no Christian form of life can thrive and no Christian transformation of the world can take place if a return to social dimensions intrudes.

What we need today is exactly the opposite, namely, the radical personal responsibility that is the counterpart of personal confession. On the other hand, we need to have again public and common modes of life in which Christians accept the challenge of conversion and seek, in that way, to change the face of the earth."

John Allen Interview

This past Monday I interviewed journalist John Allen for our diocesan radio show. He's a familiar face on CNN and a familiar name as a reporter, primarily for the National Catholic Reporter (I know, Young Fogeys, do not hold it against me that I mentioned that periodical; Even Patton read Rommel's book on tank strategy).

John will be in my diocese on Thursday, March 15, at 7pm, to present what he calls the 10 "Megatrends" facing the Catholic Church in the 21st century. Admission is free, but you'll need to call the diocesan offices at 732-562-1990 to reserve a spot. Ask for the Department of Worship (they're coordinating the event).

My interview will air the weekend before (March 10/11), so if you want a preview, click the link on the right for "Proclaim the Good News" sometime after March 10th.

Any Minute Now

From Fox News today:

CLINTON, S.C. — A small South Carolina town was rocked by accusations Wednesday that a 23-year-old middle school teacher used her classroom — and other locations — to have sex with at least five male students.

Police arrested Allenna Williams Ward after school officials recovered a note containing inappropriate messages, said Clinton Public Safety Director John Thomas.

Ward, who is married, allegedly had sexual encounters with the 14- and 15-year-old boys at various locations, including in the school, a motel, a park and behind a restaurant, from December to through February, according to arrest warrants.

Ward was placed on administrative leave with pay last Thursday, acting district Superintendent Laura Koskela said. A message left by the Associated Press for the school's principal was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Ward was charged with criminal sexual conduct with a minor and six counts of lewd acts on a minor, according to arrest warrants. She is being held in jail awaiting a bail hearing, police said. A phone message left at Ward's home was not immediately returned Wednesday night.

Let's all wait by our computers for the media to cover this story with the same zeal that they do when a Catholic Priest is accused of sexual abuse.
  • Let's wait for the media to question teachers' unions whether they'll adopt a "Zero Tolerance Policy" for school employees accused of misconduct.
  • Let's wait for the media to put on sociologists who question whether teachers who are married face an unnecessary temptation towards misconduct, and float the idea of celibate educators in the 'schools of the future'.
  • Let's wait for the media to put on TV any former victims of sexual abuse by teachers who have since grown up and want to tell us how they were lured by predator-educators.
Come to think of it, if you're really going to wait, better have some non-perishable foods and drinking water handy. Probably an adult diaper or two, as well.

Sr. Mary Martha Rocks!

Check out the Ask Sister Mary Martha blog for an entry that brought a smile to my face. She answers questions in a way Priests wish they could respond to God's people.