Monday, January 28, 2013

On the Feast of the Angelic Doctor

Pope Benedict dedicated three Wednesday Audience discourses to St. Thomas Aquinas.  The Directory page is HERE.  Look for them on June 2, 16, and 23, 2010.

Talk 1 is an overview of his life.
Talk 2 is his fusion of faith and reason.
Talk 3 is about the Summa.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Jesus, the leper, and what hit me today

Today's Gospel reading at Mass tells a story we just heard last week about the encounter between Jesus and the leper that wants to be healed.  Well, okay, it's not the same exactly; today's passage is from Mark and last week's was from Luke.

Lepers lived a pretty rotten life.  Besides the results of the disease, they were expected to live a life away from society.  Leprosy was feared to be contagious, and so in order to not be killed for the good of society, you had to promise to "stay away".

The leper is cured by Jesus, and is now able to rejoin society, probably loving the crowds he can now walk amongst.  The irony here is that Jesus began his public ministry out in the streets, in the synagogue, etc., and now that he has cured the leper (and the leper won't keep his mouth shut about who cured him) Jesus is the one who now has to stay away from the crowds and retreat outside of the city.  In essence, Jesus not only cured the leper's malady, but also took on his burden of solitude.

How appropriate a day to talk about solitude, celebrating the feast of St. Anthony of the Desert.

The leper sought out Jesus.  He came looking for God.  Anthony also went looking for God, wanting to get closer to the Divine.  His way was radical, even in those times: live in a cave, get away from the "things" that block God from us.

Ten weeks ago everyone around me lost electricity for days.  Our "stuff" didn't work; we lost it.  No cellphone reception, no internet, no television, no malls, no supermarkets, no movies.  We all had food and water (not one person died of starvation or dehydration from Superstorm Sandy).  Yes, I did what I was supposed to do as a Pastor: I kept the normal schedule of Mass and Confessions, and we provided meals and water to those who came for it.  But, when that was done, how much time I could have spent praying, reading Scripture, even reading my class notes from Seminary days, and I didn't.

God gave me some solitude, and I resented it.  How addicted I am to things.

St. Anthony, pray for me.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Let's talk about Baptism and Godparents

This is my bulletin column for the coming weekend, the Feast of the Lord's Baptism.


How fast the time goes! We began this Christmas season thinking about Jesus coming to earth as a baby, and now we’re at the point of Jesus’ life where Our Lord is about thirty years old! Still, if Baptism brings us into the life of the Church, then Baptism is a “second birth” for anyone baptized, whether as a baby, a child, or an adult. This also gives me a chance to remind everyone about some of the FAQs (“Frequently Asked Questions”) Priests and Deacons receive about the Sacrament of Baptism, most of which involving Godparents:

1. Naming someone a Godparent for your child does not officially make them the guardian of the child, should something happen to you. Church law says that a Godparent should be chosen because this is a person “who will help the baptized to lead a Christian life in harmony with baptism.” If you want to officially name someone guardian of your children in case of death, that’s what a Will is for. A Godparent has no rights in civil law.

2. A person being baptized may have either one or two Godparents. If one Godparent is chosen, they can be either male or female. But if there are two Godparents, there must be one male and one female. For the most part, infants being baptized tend to have two Godparents, while adults being baptized tend to have only one.

3. Godparents, ideally, should be Catholics, since their primary role is to help the parents raise the child in the Catholic faith. The Church does permit a baptized Christian (Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, etc.) to serve as a “Christian Witness”, but in this case there must also be a Catholic Godparent. Because Godparents and Christian Witnesses are asked to profess their faith in Jesus Christ, non-Christians may not be Godparents.

4. Now, the biggie! The Catechism (par. 1255) says, “For the grace of Baptism to unfold, the parents’ help is important. So too is the role of the godfather and godmother, who must be firm believers, able and ready to help the newly baptized – child or adult – on the road of Christian life.” A Godparent should not be chosen just because they’re your best friend or a sibling or because they cried because you did not ask them the last time. When you ask someone to be a Godparent, you’re asking him/her to take on what I wrote above: to help the child lead a Christian life. How can they do this if they’re not practicing their Catholic faith themselves? If you wanted to learn to play the piano, would you hire someone who used to play but hasn’t touched the piano in 20 years? I have to say that most of the “angry” calls received at the Rectory have been about telling someone I couldn’t give them a sponsor certificate. Yes, I know you were baptized here. Yes, I know you went to Catholic school or CCD.  It's wonderful that, back in the day, you were an altar server for Msgr. Fillintheblank.  But that’s not enough. What have you been doing since then? Are you registered at a Parish? Do you attend Mass regularly (each week)?  If you are married, is the marriage recognized by the Catholic Church?

5. This goes out to either expectant parents who are planning to ask someone to be a Godparent, or maybe you yourself have been asked (or you’re pretty sure you’re going to be asked) to be a Godparent. First, congratulate yourself; it’s an honor to be asked. Second, know what you’re committing to: in God’s eyes, you are going to be “bonded” to the person being baptized. Not just for the 20 minutes of the ceremony; for the rest of your life.  You will be asked by the Church to make a vow, committing to work with the child’s parents to help him/her to see their faith as an important part of their life. Yes, it’s work. On the practical level, it might mean driving your Godchild to or from CCD classes when you’d rather stay in. It should mean sending a card to your Godchild every year on the anniversary of their Baptism. But it could also mean challenging or confronting your Godchild’s parents if they begin to slip in their practice of the faith (for example, they’ve stopped going to Mass or they’re more faithful to their child’s sports leagues than they are to God and the Church).  It means helping them keep their faith through their teen years, when they're likely to rebel against any authority.  It means being there when they're thinking of marriage or a religious vocation or need to be talked out of living with their boy- or girlfriend.  Hey, no one said this was going to be easy. So if you’ve been asked to be a Godparent, and you haven’t been that good at practicing your faith, you can always begin again. As soon as you’re asked to be the child’s Godparent (even if the baby has not been born yet), start attending Sunday Mass. Make sure you’re registered at a parish. Make sure the parish clergy know you’re going to Mass each week (either by making a point of stopping and shaking their hand after Mass each week, or by making sure your offering envelope is in the collection so it can be logged in, showing you were at Mass).

6. The Catholic Church has never refused anyone a Sponsor Certificate because they don’t like him or her. We don’t give a Sponsor Certificate when we cannot, in good conscience, certify that the person is a practicing Catholic (remember, we answer to God, too). Finally, if we can’t give you or your loved one a Sponsor Certificate, please don’t say, “This is why people leave the Church”. Truthfully, the person who is not getting the certificate already left the Church, whether you want to admit it or not. Don’t try to convince us that, if you or your loved one get the Sponsor Certificate, that you or they will start coming to Church again. The certificate is not about what you’re going to do, but what you’ve been doing (or not doing). Don’t bring up the fact that someone else you know got a Sponsor Certificate and you don’t think they should’ve. Maybe we know something you don’t, or maybe neither of us know the whole story. Similarly, don’t express your displeasure by bringing up the Crusades, the Inquisition, Galileo, annulments received by any of the Kennedys, or any other item in the past. None of them had anything to do with the fact that you’re not getting the sponsor certificate. Rather than storming out the door to tell everyone what the mean Church wouldn’t give you, ask calmly what the person could do in order to be a good Godparent. You might find out the solution is pretty easy.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

B16 on the Magi - and what can we learn?

One of the things I am grateful for is that we live in a time zone 6 hours (sometimes 5) behind Rome.  Pope Benedict's homily for the Feast of the Epiphany gave me the chance, early Sunday morning, to read what the Pope had said just hours earlier.  I liked it so much, I stole paragraphs of it and made it the bulk of my homily.  Shhh, don't tell him.

Here are the parts I liked and used:

"These men who set out towards the unknown were, in any event, men with a restless heart. Men driven by a restless quest for God and the salvation of the world. They were filled with expectation, not satisfied with their secure income and their respectable place in society. They were looking for something greater. They were no doubt learned men, quite knowledgeable about the heavens and probably possessed of a fine philosophical formation. But they desired more than simply knowledge about things. They wanted above all else to know what is essential. They wanted to know how we succeed in being human. And therefore they wanted to know if God exists, and where and how he exists. Whether he is concerned about us and how we can encounter him. Nor did they want just to know. They wanted to understand the truth about ourselves and about God and the world. Their outward pilgrimage was an expression of their inward journey, the inner pilgrimage of their hearts. They were men who sought God and were ultimately on the way towards him. They were seekers after God."

"Looking for something greater".  Aren't we all?  We spend our life looking for a better lifestyle, a better hamburger, a better bowl of rice pudding, etc.  What about God?  Do we put effort into a better relationship with Jesus Christ?  Or are we just content with the "status quo", whatever that is for each of us: priest, deacon, religious, married, single, etc.?  Have we stopped looking for God's presence, and we haven't even noticed?  Let's move on.

"Let us return to the Wise Men from the East. These were also, and above all, men of courage, the courage and humility born of faith. Courage was needed to grasp the meaning of the star as a sign to set out, to go forth – towards the unknown, the uncertain, on paths filled with hidden dangers. We can imagine that their decision was met with derision: the scorn of those realists who could only mock the reveries of such men. Anyone who took off on the basis of such uncertain promises, risking everything, could only appear ridiculous. But for these men, inwardly seized by God, the way which he pointed out was more important than what other people thought. For them, seeking the truth meant more than the taunts of the world, so apparently clever."

Christmas time is probably the only time of the year when we think of the Magi.  We see them in most Nativity scenes, and in the occasional Christmas play or pageant.  But think about them.  Tradition tells us there were three of them, though we only guess at that because of three gifts are presented to Christ.  Maybe some began the journey, but backed out when it seemed to go on too long.  Imagine the courage it took to begin a journey like that?  Here the Pope says something I never thought of: the Magi were  mocked by others for what they wanted to do.  Today, parents have no problem committing to make sure they get their children to every baseball, football, basketball, soccer, cheering, martial arts, gymnastics, tumbling, or music lesson event, game, practice, competition, or recital, no matter how far away it is or what time of day.  But the family who gives up one of those events because Mass or religious education is more important to them had better be ready to be mocked.  Such is the world we live in.

"Here I am reminded of an episode at the very beginning of Christianity which Saint Luke recounts in the Acts of the Apostles. After the speech of Gamaliel, who advised against violence in dealing with the earliest community of believers in Jesus, the Sanhedrin summoned the Apostles and had them flogged. It then forbade them from preaching in the name of Jesus and set them free. Saint Luke continues: “As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus. And every day… they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah” (Acts 5:40ff.). The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that can be heard and understood. Then they can rejoice that they have been considered worthy of suffering for him. Like the Apostles, we naturally want to convince people and in this sense to obtain their approval. Naturally, we are not provocative; on the contrary we invite all to enter into the joy of that truth which shows us the way. The approval of the prevailing wisdom, however, is not the criterion to which we submit. Our criterion is the Lord himself. If we defend his cause, we will constantly gain others to the way of the Gospel. But, inevitably, we will also be beaten by those who live lives opposed to the Gospel, and then we can be grateful for having been judged worthy to share in the passion of Christ."

Remember, at this Mass the Pope is ordaining Bishops, so parts of his homily are directed to these men.      I love that line, "The successors of the Apostles must also expect to be repeatedly beaten, by contemporary methods, if they continue to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ..."    He knows what's going on.  Heck, he's experienced it.  Maybe not physical beating (though we're not too far away from that), but beatings on TV, radio, newspapers, not to mention on blogs, Facebook, etc.  If we're doing it right, we're gonna be criticized.

"The Wise Men followed the star, and thus came to Jesus, to the great Light which enlightens everyone coming into this world (cf. Jn 1:9). As pilgrims of faith, the Wise Men themselves became stars shining in the firmament of history and they show us the way. The saints are God’s true constellations, which light up the nights of this world, serving as our guides. Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Philippians, told his faithful that they must shine like stars in the world (cf. 2:15)."

They made history by following a star, and through that, the Pope says, they became "stars" themselves.  Then he used a phrase he has used before: "the Saints are God's true constellations".  What a challenge for us, to become sources of light and guidance for others.  So many of our Catholic families do everything to teach their children that religious beliefs are not really that important (these are the same people that then shake their head and wonder why things like the Newtown shootings take place).  Like the Magi, our lives are a journey towards Christ.  One day, we'll get there, and see Him face to face.  What gifts will we give Him?  What can we give Him now?