Friday, July 29, 2011

"You-NITED STATES who have no money"

I watched some talk shows last night about the debt debate going on in Washington right now. Man, were people on both sides angry! I don’t remember seeing and sensing such frustration and anger on political talk shows in such a short amount of time. Each show revealed more and more contempt…it’s like this thing is growing out of control. I know that last night was a big night in terms of the House vote, but it seems like the whole situation is about to boil over. People are seeing this and addressing it, but it’s only in financial terms (or the ramifications due to our finances).

In an ironic and meaningful way, God will address this Himself on Sunday. In the first reading, His words through the prophet Isaiah can certainly apply to the United States:

Thus says the LORD:..
You who have no money,
come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost,
drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.

We can hear the Lord saying, “You-nited States, who have no money…why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” We are basically approaching the situation – if we’re not there already – of having no money. How did we get here? Because our government has spent money for what is not bread. Both parties are acknowledging that we are in this mess because of irresponsible spending. They have been spending money on things we don’t need…things that don’t satisfy us or our budgets. If they had been spending OUR wages on things that did satisfy, it would be a totally different situation and debate.

This reading leads to the bigger point which I think many people will come to on their own in the coming days, weeks, and months. We are not only approaching bankruptcy financially as a nation. We are approaching bankruptcy politically, morally, and nationally. People are getting so fed up with politicians – ALL of them – that that is what’s about to boil over. There might be a mass exodus from political discourse and movements because people are becoming so disillusioned and indifferent. I hope this doesn’t happen because politics and politicians are necessary. But, people have put a lot of their resources into politicians and political movements; I can see them coming to the point where they realize that they have spent their money on things that don’t satisfy. They will see the truth of the matter: politics and politicians don’t satisfy us.

We can then take this situation to a broader level of morality as a country and as individuals. Have the moral choices we’ve made gone to things that satisfy us? Do we each choose things of substance, for example, like going to Mass on Sundays? This is what satisfies us. Or, do we choose things on Sundays that fail to satisfy, like watching TV or shopping or playing sports? These things are not bad in themselves (maybe like a lot of the programs that politicians include in their budgets), but they aren’t bread…they don’t satisfy us . What God offers us at Mass – the Bread of Life ironically – THAT is what satisfies us. And, we can go on down the list, comparing good vs. evil, virtue vs. vice. One satisfies, the other doesn’t. The point God is making is that only He satisfies. Many of us have go after the things of the world and spend our money on things that don’t satisfy us -riches, possessions, the party scene, politics, whatever - until we finally see that only God (and the things of God) satisfies us.

Pay special attention to this Sunday’s Gospel. Christ gathers a big crowd and does something incredible for them. It’s not a big show with bright lights in which He offers them the newest, most attractive craze. He feeds them. He gives them food which satisfies them. It’s so simple! It’s obviously a preview to the Eucharist – listen for the Eucharistic language. We go around looking for all this “stuff” that will make us happy…will really satisfy us. And, after all the running around for the latest fad or hottest item, we see that what really makes us happy is that which fills us…that which fulfills us…that which satisfies us. And, “that which” has a name: Jesus Christ. The bread that He offers – especially the Eucharist – is what satisfies us.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

“As marriage goes, so goes the Church”

Weeks ago, a GW Catholic wrote on Facebook that he would never get married. I think it was in response to a politician who withdrew from the presidential race to be more devoted to his wife and family. Hopefully, the student’s post was more sarcastic than serious. This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard a student say – whether kidding or not – that he/she wouldn’t get married. It’s usually because they have lived through the dangerous and hurtful effects of their parent’s divorce or have many friends whose parents are divorced. This all occurred about the same time that good friends of mine witnessed the birth of their fourth son. I was thinking about how they met (at GW) and how they live out marriage, and thought about blogging about their situation as a great witness to Christian marriage. Soon after, same-sex “marriage” was passed into law in New York, so we had to address that here…and then, well, I went on vacation.

You students hear me talk a lot about discerning your vocation. This is the most important discernment in your life because your vocation – which every single one of you has – is primarily why God put you on this earth. He has a GREAT plan for each of you and it is through your vocation that you will live it out. I speak often about religious vocations because it is sometimes hard for young men and women to hear the Call. It is a supernatural gift that God is offering some of you. The call to married life is natural and more often on people’s minds and hearts. It is much more common; most of you are called to be married. I hope to focus more on marriage and preparing for marriage this year through homilies, discussions, and blog posts. It is SO important for each of you and for the Church. “As marriage goes, so goes the Church” is a common saying in the Church.

So, let’s build up marriage! My friends are an amazing example of a couple who is open to God, love, and life. They met at GW and were very active in their faith while here. I met them in 2005 as a seminarian helping out at GW Newman Center and St. Stephen’s on weekends from the seminary. God brought them together and they began to date. They grew to fall in love, and were actively discerning their vocations. At one point when things became serious, they each felt that God may be calling them to sacrifice their relationship and potential marriage in order to answer the call to religious life. What beautiful openness to God’s Will! Of course, when they asked me about this, I thought and probably even said to them, “are you crazy? He is calling you to be married to each other!” While I appreciated their docility, it was clear to me and their spiritual directors (their directors played the main roles in their discernment, I was simply a friend offering my opinion) that God brought them about to enjoy a life together as husband and wife. It was so obvious with the way He brought them together. I rejoice in stories like that and use their situation with other couples or individuals in discernment.

Below is a picture of this GW Catholic couple who now are loving life as husband and wife of six years with four beautiful boys. They are completely open to life and so we might see their family (and love) grow more and more.

Let’s build up marriage! To view a short video on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, please click on today’s title and scroll down to the video on marriage.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Meatless Fridays + Holding Hands during the Our Father?

Last week, I spent a few days at the beach with a family I'm good friends with. It was an eventful time with them, to say the least.  While I was there, I blessed their beach house which they just bought this year.  At the end of the house blessing (and before I used the Ace Ventura line, "thiss houssse iss clean"), I anointed the grandfather of my friends' kids.  He has been having a problem with his eye that just doesn't seem to be getting any better even with much treatment.  I laid my hand over his eye during the anointing and blessed it.  Well, the next day, the oldest kid, a senior in college, was involved in a car accident in which her family's favorite car was totaled.  It wasn't her fault and she was fine, just a little shaken up.  And, the grandfather called his doctor because his eye was feeling worse.  So, when I woke up (laaate in the am), I was of course blamed by my friends for both of these a joking way, of course.  But, will they invite me back??

On Friday evening, I celebrated Mass with them in their house (confident that bringing more Grace to the place wouldn't result in bringing more problems) and then had an hour of reserved Adoration afterwards.  (By the way, it is quite an experience to have a priest celebrate a "home Mass" in your home, especially on vacation.  This family really enjoyed it and so will yours.  So, consider inviting a priest on your next vacation.)  One of the coolest parts of the few days was seeing the two daughters come in - on their own - for a few minutes of Adoration.  Then, their Dad came in.  Then, their grandmother.  It was sweet! 

Well, in the course of my conversation with these three generations of faithful Catholics, a few teachings and practices arose that they didn't know and asked why they haven't heard about them. So, I thought it would be good to present them here.

1)  Meatless Fridays throughout the year 

Here's what Canon Law says in this regard:

"Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday." ( #1251)

This is from the Code of Canon Law of 1983.  The breakdown in the way Catholics have approached this for many years most likely comes with the statement of the US Bishops' Conference (Episcopal Conference).  In 1966, the Bishops' Conference in our country addressed and encouraged penance on Fridays (to honor in a small way the day of the week in which Christ sacrificed His life) and ended the law of abstaining from meat.  Here's a part of their statement:

"Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law… (Nos. 19-24 )."

Nowhere in the full statement are there guidelines on what penances we should do on Fridays.  So, as my seminary professor taught us, it's just easier to go without meat on Fridays.  Catholics should be doing some form of penance on Fridays (except on a solemnity that falls on a Friday), and even as the bishops wrote, abstinence from meat is the first choice. 

For some of you, this might seem frivolous.  And, sometimes, going meatless might not seem like a penance.  But, here's the point:  we should have Christ's sacrifice on our minds and hearts every Friday and in some way offer a small sacrifice to Him.  American Catholics might be confused on the best penance to offer, so keep it simple:  go without meat on Fridays in and out of Lent.

2)  Holding hands during the "Our Father"?

Last year, Msgr Pope addressed this on the ADW blog:

"From the USCCB website: No position is prescribed in the present Sacramentary for an assembly gesture during the Lord’s Prayer. While the recently approved revised Sacramentary does provide for the use of the orans gesture by members of the assembly during the Lord’s Prayer, the revised Sacramentary may not be used until it has been confirmed by the Holy See. I might also note that in the course of its discussion of the this question, the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy expressed a strong preference for the orans gesture over the holding of hands since the focus of the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer to the Father and not primarily an expression of community and fellowship.

Some years ago in this parish hand hold at the Our Father was common. It was ended in the following way. The people were read the instruction of St. Paul who said: I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1 Tim 2:8) Hence the congregation was directed to lift their hands, palms upward to God (to distinguish it a bit from the priest’s orans posture). Since it was in the Bible that this is how people should pray it was well received and it ended the practice almost immediately. We have none of the hand holding at this time."

I remember seeing something from the Archdiocese a few years ago which recommended the orans gesture (with palms upward to God) as the preferrable gesture for each person during the Our Father, but I can't find it now.  It might be in preparation for the new revised sacramentary that Msgr Pope mentions (and which will be in use the first Sunday of Advent this year) The current sacramentary does not give an assembly gesture for the Lord's Prayer, but apparently the revised one does, as Msgr Pope writes.  So, this should be addressed as one of the changes with the new sacramentary - that our gesture during the Our Father is palms up to God while we pray it. 

My former seminary rector taught us that the congregation's focus at that point of the Mass should be what's on the altar (the Eucharist).  We should indeed be focused on the Eucharist as we offer our prayers and petitions to the Father and not on holding the hands of our neighbor which can distract us.  

Monday, July 25, 2011

17th Sunday - homily

"Ask something of me and I will give it to you". What a statement the Lord gives to Solomon in our first reading! Imagine hearing this from can ask Him for anything and He will give it to you! This reminds me of when I first entered the seminary. I went in right out of college and working in a bar. There I was with 150 holy men and kind of freaking out. So, I spent the first few nights in the chapel basically asking the Lord, 'what the heck am I doing here?' One of the first nights I was alone with the Lord when someone else came in to pray. The guy kneels right behind me and starts whispering to God, but loud enough for me to hear, "Dear God, please give me...A MILLION DOLLARS". I turned around to see the guy laughing. I found out later he was one of the comedians of the house. We became good friends from that hilarious moment on.

If you could ask God for one thing, what would it be? You have the same opportunity as Solomon, you really do. Jesus says elsewhere in the Gospel, "ask and you shall receive". Now, if you're thinking of asking for a million dollars like the seminarian jokester did, you might want to think again. Almighty God has infinite riches which are far more valuable than a million dollars or a new car or anything material. Solomon recognizes this and asks for something far greater than material goods: an understanding heart. He seems to amaze God with his wisdom. So, how do we show the wisdom of Solomon this week in asking God for something? And, I do want you to ask God for something this week.

This goes back to last week's second reading from Romans 8 that the Spirit helps us to pray as we should. Today, the Spirit gives us this Gospel passage that reveals what we should ask God for: the joy of the kingdom of Heaven. The kingdom of Heaven might not seem like the sexiest choice for us in a material world centered on instant gratification. But, if we look at what the Lord is saying in today's parable, we see that the value of the kingdom is worth more than all the riches of the world combined.

He says the kingdom is like a treasure. This gets our attention because we know that a treasure has tremendous value. It's like a treasure buried in a field; it was an ancient practice to bury valuable items to keep them safe from intruders. It's so valuable that a person would sell everything he had to purchase the field where the treasure is buried. And, the kicker is that the person does this OUT OF JOY. This treasure is so much more valuable than all else in his life that he HAPPILY gives up everything for it. He has found his happiness! He gets rid if everything that he has – all the things that he thought would bring him happiness – in order to purchase the one thing that will bring him happiness. What a treasure!

Married persons do this when they give their lives to the other in Holy Matrimony. They have found their treasures and sell everything to be with them. Priests and religious have done this with their spouse and treasure, the Church. Soldiers have found a treasure in their fellow countrymen and give up everything for them. Policemen and women and firefighters, too, are willing to give up everything for their treasure, their fellow citizens. These are all examples and representations of the treasure of the kingdom of Heaven.

Brothers and sisters, ask God this week for joy...the joy of finding the treasure of the kingdom of Heaven. When we find this treasure, we experience the joy of the person in the parable. When we find Christ - and Christ is the kingdom of Heaven on earth -, OUT OF JOY we sell everything to purchase a life with Him. Christ is our treasure! Christ is our joy! When we live in Christ, we are the richest and happiest people on earth.

I went to the funeral last week of a woman who died suddenly. It was déjà vu in many ways with the funeral of her brother eleven years ago. Her daughter spoke about how her family was the richest family on earth because of three things: 1) their faith, 2) their family, and 3) their friends. These things are among the many riches of the kingdom of Heaven. This twenty-one year old young woman gets it that her large family has a tremendous treasure even though they have experience tragedy twice in the past eleven years.

Finally, the Eucharist is the visible form of the kingdom of Heaven. It is the greatest treasure on earth! It is the 'pearl of great price'. It is also the reminder that Christ sold everything for us; we are His treasure...we are his joy. We are worth it to Him. We are worth more than anything in the world to Him. And, He is worth more than anything in the world to us. May each one of us show the wisdom of Solomon in asking God for true riches this week. May each one of us ask Him for joy...the joy of finding the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus Christ, the greatest treasure in the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

16th Sunday - homily

"Whoever has ears ought to hear".

Do Catholics really hear at Mass? I think they hear one of two voices. Of course, there is only one voice coming through the mic at a time, either the priest or lector or whoever. But, I've gathered that Catholics hear one of two voices in their head during Mass. The first is from the old "Peanuts" cartoon. If you remember Charlie Brown's teacher who always sounded like this: "Wawawa Wawawa", you know, all gargled and unclear. It's now the voice that is synonymous with being tuned out. Some people are doing it right now as I speak. I'm talking and all they hear is, "Wawawa", and think to themselves, 'what do I have to do today?' or something....! The other voice is, "THE VOICE OF GOD"...! Some people hear God speaking to them loud and clear at's beautiful. I guess there's a third voice: no voice. The majority of Catholics -75%- don't come to Mass anymore so they don't hear God's voice at Mass.

So, if you just heard THE VOICE OF GOD, you heard God talking about Hell. Sweet, loving, and merciful Jesus was just talking about Hell...and in a scary way: "wailing and grinding of teeth" and "fiery furnace". I'm a priest and I'm scared...! This parable applies to all of us Catholics -bishops, priests, religious, and laypersons- because it is in the Church that the Lord has planted good seed. We are the good seed. We become the weeds if we lead others to sin or apostasy -as some translations say- (apostasy is renunciation of faith) or are evildoers. At the harvest (judgment), the weeds will be thrown into the fiery furnace. This means that if we lead others to serious sin or enter into mortal sin and don't repent before we die, we will go to Hell.

Have Catholics heard this teaching from the Lord? Do we know that Jesus speaks almost as much about Hell as Heaven? He does this because He doesn't want us to go there! He gives us His grace and its that grace that gets us to Heaven. We need to live and die in a state of grace if we want to remain good seed and shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father. This parable is about being faithful Catholics. Just before Holy Communion, you will hear me say, "let all faithful Catholics come receive our Lord". This really means Catholics who are in a state if grace. If we remain in a state of grace, we remain good seed.

Do Catholics hear the Gospel in general? Have we heard the teaching on Confession? Do we know that Confession keeps us out of Hell? Do Catholics know the teaching on the Eucharist, that it really is the Body and Blood of our Lord and that "this is my body" means this is my body? 70% say no, the Eucharist is just a symbol. Where did they hear that? It's nowhere in the Bible and never been taught by the Church.

If we know the Lord, then we will hear the Lord. The whole key is whether we know Christ or not. If we have a relationship with Him, then we will hear Him speaking to us in our minds or hearts as THE VOICE OF GOD. If not, it will be WAWAWA. I remember speaking to an older couple who's kids are now adult Catholics. Their kids go to Mass on Sundays and are active in their parishes, but seem not to have ears to hear. I asked the parents if the kids know Christ, and they paused which seemed to indicate that they don't. If we know Christ, then we will have ears to hear what we should hear.

Finally, the second reading (Romans 8) tells us the key in getting to know Christ: the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us how to pray. Pray to the Spirit and ask Him to introduce you (or reintroduce you) to Christ. Pray to the Spirit for those who are in serious sin or apostasy. Pray that they will come back. May each one of us turn to the Spirit and come to know Christ who is the center of our whole faith. May we have the ears to hear what the Lord is saying to us.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

"I was in shock!"

A devout couple with whom I'm friends gave me a book on the priesthood, “Holy Hands”, by Fr. Clement Joachim Machado. Simple yet potent book!  Fr. Machado is a missionary with an amazing worldwide ministry who writes about the power and importance of the priesthood mainly through “eight stories of lives transformed by the priesthood’s amazing power”. It's excellent for both laypeople and clergy.  It has reminded me of the awesome gift I have been given as well as the examples in my priestly ministry in which people experience the Lord's healing through my hands. 

Here’s a sample of the book (pp.135-138):

Faith Overcomes Death

I recall from my days as a hospital chaplain in Ottawa, Canada, the tremendous effect of grace from chance meetings with patients, being content to be God's instrument on any given occasion. It showed me the power of Christ through the priesthood, and the power of blessing, and anointing. One case I'll never forget. It was around Easter time. In fact- this strikes me deeply on recollection, but there are no coincidences with God- it was the Feast of the Priesthood, Holy Thursday.

Two nurses told me one of their patients had died. He was a priest, Fr. Richard, who had served as a missionary in Latin America until his health broke down. He needed acute care, so he returned to his home archdiocese in Ottawa, Canada. He was in his 70s. He had a chronic illness, and all that day, his vitals plummeted- his skin color changed, his heartbeat was weak and irregular- he was in his final hour.

Then, his brain function was diminishing; finally, his heart beat its last.

I had gone to the nursing station to document my visit, as I was official chaplain and the protocol required record of pastoral intervention.

I had administered Anointing of the Sick with Viaticum a few months prior, but I knew I also could anoint him conditionally, if I was able to do so within 10 to 15 minutes of his supposed death- as there usually is a window between "apparent medical death" and "absolute death"- separation of his soul from his body.

Therefore the Church has always permitted a conditional anointing in a case where a soul has not departed from the body.

I returned to the nursing station after Fr. Richard's final anointing. But a nurse soon ran down the hall after me: "He jumped out of bed!" She had been preparing his body for the mortician, and he leapt up, opening his eyes. "I was in shock!" she said. She told Fr. Richard that all his vitals seemed to show he had died. He said he was hungry. He didn't leave the hospital, but was healthier than he had been in years.

Because of his chronic condition, he still required acute care. But he lived for two more years. See the power of the Church, the power of the Sacrament, not my own? It's incredible to say even the dead may be healed, restored, brought back to life. But these are signs of the Church. Christ said one of the signs would be that we would be able to raise the dead, heal people from demons. We have instances of this in the life of the mystics and the saints, too.

I recall another case of a woman, 50 years old, in extremely advanced stages of breast and ovarian cancer. She was dying. I anointed her, and the doctor said her death was imminent. "She'll likely not last a day," he said. Yet after the anointing, she revived. She got a burst of life and lived another nine months. Praise and glory be to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Her recovery took the doctors aback. In fact, the doctors were stunned and became humbled. In private conversations they said it was a miracle, and they were more open to God. Publicly, they couldn't say what it was, but that it was scientifically and medically impossible. Medical personnel seem like gods. They have a say over life and death. They're experts. They judge conditions and have a great gift to see the evolution of the disease or illness, and they can tell when a person is nearing the end. So they are very accurate in prognosis and diagnosis and the likelihood of death.

But some things cannot be explained…

"Oh, how great is the priest," said St. Vianney. "If he realized what he is, he would die."

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

"Catholics and America’s Founding"

I hope everyone had a happy and fun Fourth of July!  Here's an article from

Catholics and America’s Founding
By George J. Marlin

For this Fourth of July weekend, a little history lesson. After the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the vast majority of Catholics sided with the revolutionaries, because they considered themselves American, not British. “They understood the genius of America,” wrote the distinguished Catholic historian, Theodore Maynard, “Without hesitation they threw in their lot with Congress.”

American Catholics distinguished themselves throughout the war. John Barry is widely regarded as the “Father of the American Navy.” General Stephen Moylan of George Washington’s staff was the highest-ranking Catholic in the Army.

Out of respect for the Catholic presence in his army, George Washington ended the observance of the anti-Roman holiday known as “Pope’s Day.” In his directive he declared:

“As the Commander-in-Chief has been apprised of a design formed for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of the Pope, he cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be officers and soldiers in this army so void of common sense as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this juncture; at a time when we are soliciting, and have really obtained the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as brethren embarked in the same cause – the defense of the liberty of America. At this juncture, and under such circumstances, to be insulting their religion, is so monstrous as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our brethren, as to them we are indebted for every late happy success over the common enemy in Canada.”

Throughout the Revolution it was the American Tories who pursued a “no-popery” strategy to place a wedge between Catholic allies and Catholic patriots on the one hand, and on the other hand Protestant revolutionaries. But as so often happens in war, American soldiers became more tolerant of the men who fought and died beside them.

Bishop John Carroll (cousin of Declaration of Independence signer Charles Carroll), after a trip to Boston, expressed amazement at the change in attitude: “It is wonderful to tell what great civilities have been done to me in this town, where a few years ago a popish priest was thought to be the greatest monster in creation. Many here, even of their principal people, have acknowledged to me that they would have crossed to the opposite side of the street rather than meet a Roman Catholic some time ago. The horror which was associated with the idea of a papist is incredible; and the scandalous misrepresentations by their ministers increased the horror every Sunday.”

Bishop John Carroll
 In the war’s final major confrontation, the Battle of Yorktown, it is estimated that 70 percent of the total American and French forces were Catholic. No one could deny, observed historian Charles Metzger, S.J., that American Catholics “contributed to the common cause far in excess of their ratio to the total population.”

With freedom came the responsibilities of governing and Catholics had an impact on the constitutional structure of the infant nation.

Two Catholics, Daniel Carroll (cousin of Charles) and Thomas FitzSimons of Pennsylvania, were among the framers of the Constitution who promoted the belief that power was derived from God and the people. And John Adams famously agreed. “Our Constitution,” he wrote, “was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”

Catholics who sided with the revolution as the best way to achieve religious liberty were not disappointed by the Constitutional Convention’s final product. Article Six permitted Catholics to be part of the government: “But no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Finally, the First Amendment, which was ratified in 1791, adopted the phrase found in Catholic Maryland’s 1649 Tolerance Act which guaranteed Catholics equal footing within an impartial governmental structure: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . .”

Knowing that Catholics would now have the opportunity freely and publicly to profess their faith, Charles Carroll happily admitted: “To obtain religiously as well as civil liberty I entered zealously into the Revolution . . .”

The leaders of the U.S. Catholic Church wrote a letter of congratulations to George Washington upon his election as America’s first president: “Whilst our country preserves her freedom and independence, we shall have a well-founded title to claim from her justice equal rights of citizenship, as the price of our blood spilt under your eyes.”

In his reply, Washington described his belief in equality for all and closed with this hope: “And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; nor the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic religion is professed.”

A good beginning and, in these troubled times for Catholicism in America, a precedent that deserves to be remembered.

Happy Independence Day!

Monday, July 04, 2011

14th Sunday - homily

One of our students at the Newman Center has told her story publicly about how she went from, in the language of today’s Gospel (Matt 11:25-30), one of “the wise and the learned” to one of the “little ones”. Raised Catholic and very intelligent (as so many of our GW students are), she was an ardent atheist until just before she came to college. She vehemently opposed any doctrine or authority of the Church and was quite arrogant in the way she spoke to her parents or teachers about it. In looking back at all of that, she says she was a “big jerk”. She had a change of mind and heart. She went from thinking that she could figure everything out by herself, trusting her own judgment over that of her parents and Church, and that she could do this (life) all on her own to realizing that she didn’t know everything, trusting the authority of the Church, and that she couldn’t do this on her own. Her change was not just a change of mind. Her change was also and mainly of the heart. She went from pride and arrogance to humility and docility.

By the way, it’s not like she went from wise to unwise. Being a little one doesn’t mean we check our intelligence at the Church doors or that we blindly follow the Church’s teachings. Our Catholic faith is the most reasonable faith in the world! Some of the most intelligent people who have ever lived have been among the “little ones”. With this young woman, she now uses her keen mind to articulate the teachings and thinking of the Church in a profound way. It is so beautiful so see!

We might be confused by the Lord’s language in today’s Gospel: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to little ones”. God reveals Himself and His mysteries to all people. What, then, hides the mysteries and things of God from the wise and learned? We have to first identify who the wise and learned are. This doesn’t just mean those who are intelligent just like “the rich” referred to in the Gospel don’t just mean those who have wealth. The wise and the learned are those who have become so full of themselves that they think that they know better than anyone, including God. They trust in their own judgment only. (By the way, “the rich” in the Gospel refers to all those who make money their god.) So, what hides the mysteries and things of God from the wise and learned? Pride. Pride hides.

An example would be in the need for God. There are many people – especially in this country and our own area – who don’t think they need God. If they are Catholics, then they aren’t here with us at Mass anymore, as I discussed at length in last week’s homily. They are saying either directly or indirectly that they don’t need the Eucharist. So many people have built their own kingdoms and have insulated themselves that they don’t need God. They trust in themselves. They have chosen to be hidden from the things of God. They have chosen to be hidden from the things of faith, especially the Cross and suffering. On a practical level, they are hidden from the mysteries and things of God simply by not being here. They are hidden from hearing God’s Word, from the teachings, from community, and from the grace of the Eucharist. All of these things are revealed to us who are here, the “little ones”.

I run into this dichotomy regularly as a priest, most often with the teachings of the Church. An example would be with the sacrament of Confession. The wise and the learned have made it clear to me that they don’t need Confession. It’s either that they don’t believe in it (again, they know better than the Church) or haven’t sinned. Their minds are made up and their hearts are hardened. It’s a tough sell! But, little ones have heard the teaching and have believed it, and see the need for the forgiveness of their sins. It is so beautiful! Most likely, it has been revealed to them that this is at the heart of the whole mission of Christ: the forgiveness of sins. We are seeing this dichotomy drawn out more and more among Catholics in our country with the current issues involving marriage, life, and other moral issues. The wise and the learned think they know better than the Church while the little ones humbly trust in Her teaching authority as given by Christ. As we celebrate independence as a nation tomorrow, we remember that true freedom is found in humility. Pride hides but humility reveals the Truth which brings us freedom.

Finally, brothers and sisters, Christ is one of the little ones! He is humble of heart and meek (said twice in today’s readings). He invites us to his humble heart which is a soft heart. He invites us to come to Him and He will give us rest. He is telling us that we can’t do this on our own. Life is too burdensome. We are over burdened – mainly with the effects of sin, either our sins or the sins of others – and carrying the weight of the world on our shoulders. He invites us to come to Him so that He can give us rest. We will do that in few moments in Holy Communion. We will bring Him all of our burdens, all of our messes, and He will lighten our loads. Sin is heavy, but Grace is light. Through the Eucharist today, may each one of us have our loads lightened and our burdens lifted as we give all of our mess to the Lord…may we grow as little ones….may we grow in humility….may we grow in freedom.

Friday, July 01, 2011

"If anything is marriage, nothing is marriage"

While I have addressed the specifics of the teaching of Christ and His Church on same-sex marriage, it is important to give a general sense of what is going on. Same-sex marriage is just part of the general movement of liberalism or relativism which basically says that anything goes because there is no truth. I was in college when I first became aware of this movement and have been majorly turned off by it ever since. The movement uses contraception, abortion, divorce, and homosexuality to advance its radical agenda. It hates Christ and the Church or any authority which threatens to stand in its way. Its relentless attacks on life and family, the two most precious things in our world, reveals its agenda which is evil by nature. I have known good people who have joined the movement, not because they see its evil nature, but because they think it is good. That’s one of the things about evil: it appears to be good. When we see evil for what it is, we don’t pursue it. But, evil presents itself as good and attractive. The movement uses good and attractive themes such as “freedom”, “choice”, “safety”, and “tolerance”. When these things come about through good means, they are good. But, when they are through evil means as in the ways I listed above, then they are not good. They only appear to be good. Philosophers call evil an “apparent good”. So, I would insert the word “apparent” in front of each theme.

Last point before I turn it over to the Archdiocese of Washington’s blog which gives an overview of the whole issue and corroborates my first paragraph. Pope Benedict XVI referred to the “dictatorship of relativism” just before he became pope. This is the movement I’ve been describing. Its tenets are that every belief is true and every act is allowed. It labels anyone who denounces an act as immoral or wrong a “bigot”. This is what “apparent tolerance” looks like; it tolerates everything (including sin) except opposition.

On Ignoring the “Canary in the Mine.” Why The Demise of Marriage Matters
By: Msgr. Charles Pope

New York State’s redefinition of marriage is the latest domino to fall in the trend sweeping the nation of legally recognizing so-called “gay marriage.” Many people, especially younger people, are prone to shrug and wonder what the big deal is about all this. Many, too, of all ages, have bought into the notion that this is all about fairness, and being unbigoted.

Perhaps part of the reason for this is that we in the Church, and other defenders of traditional marriage, have allowed this to become a discussion about gay “marriage” only, rather than about the overall and devastating effects of the sexual revolution, and the sexual liberationist movement in general.

Gay “marriage” is only the latest battleground. It was preceded by the no-fault divorce wave that swept the country, beginning in 1969. The battleground is also about the explosion in divorce rates. It is about rampant promiscuity and shacking-up (or more politely “co-habitation”). And gay “marriage” is now the latest coffin nail, as secular culture buries traditional marriage.

Sadly too, in many of the other “nails” mentioned in the previous paragraph, even Christians have long engaged in these practices and the Church has been too silent in the last forty years and lacked the prophetic voice we are only lately (too late?) rediscovering.

To those who are dismissive or minimizing of concerns related to the State defining marriage out of existence, we must re-articulate, in a credible way, that traditional marriage does matter, and that its demise is not only lamentable, but devastating for the future of Western culture as we have known it.

Consider the following quote from Robert P. George, a Professor at Princeton University and interview in National Review. He is answering the question, “Why should people care” :

Well, people should care because the whole edifice of sexual-liberationist ideology is built on damaging and dehumanizing falsehoods. It has already done enormous harm — harm that falls on everybody, but disproportionately on those in the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of our society. If you doubt that, have a look at Myron Magnet’s great book The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass, or some of the writings of Kay Hymowitz and other serious people who have examined the social consequences for the poor of the embrace of sexual liberalism by celebrities and other cultural elites. Marriage is a profound human and social good; its weakening and loss is a tragedy from which affluent people can be distracted (and protected) by their affluence for only so long. The institution of marriage has already been deeply wounded by divorce at nearly plague levels, widespread non-marital sexual cohabitation, and other damaging factors. To redefine it out of existence in law is to make it much more difficult to restore a sound understanding of marriage on which a healthy marriage culture can be rebuilt for the good of all. It is to sacrifice the needs of the poor, who are hurt the most when a sound public understanding of marriage and sexual morality collapses. It is to give up on the truth that children need both a father and mother, and benefit from the security of their love for each other. [1]

I have personally experienced what he is describing about the poor being the first to be hit with the effects. Having lived, as I did, in the one of the poorest sections of Washington DC, the breakdown of marriage and its effects were very clear. In that neighborhood, 80% of the homes were headed by single mothers. It was not unusual for women in their late 20s to be grandmothers already. The effects on the children of having no father, of children having children, and living in dysfunctional situations plagued, with many layers of promiscuity and confusion was very clear. 60% of the children in that neighborhood never graduated high school. Of those that did, 40% of them, were functionally illiterate. Over 70% of the young men had police records by age 15 and the teenage pregnancy rates hovered near 65% for girls by their 15th birthday. STDs are quite high and the District of Columbia has the highest AIDs rate in the nation.

Some want to blame all this merely on poverty. But prior to 1965, when poverty rates were worse in the Black community, more than 80% of children lived with two parents, graduation rates were much higher, teen pregnancy rates were quite a bit lower along with STD rates. The sexual revolution is a huge factor in the devastation of the poor, and it is rightly said, from a statistical point of view, that single motherhood has the highest correlation to poverty of any other factor.

And the fact is, this breakdown is reaching the suburbs where gang violence, youth crime rates, promiscuity, STD rates, teen pregancy, abortion rates, and many other deleterious effects have been on the rise for decades. And sure enough, all of this is happening at a time when the numbers of suburban children who no longer with both both parents is approaching 50%.

We who live and work in the “inner city” like to say, “We’re the canary in the mine.” This image goes back to coal mining days when the miners brought a canary down in a cage. If gas levels rose, the canary died first, signaling trouble, and sounding an alert that it was time to get out. So for years as the wider US population either shook its finger at the inner city, or pitied those living there, the fact is they were ignoring the canary in the mine. The gas has now reached the suburbs, and the effects are spreading. And the main ingredient of the gas is the breakdown of marriage and the traditional family.

We ought to care that traditional marriage is in crisis. It is clear that children thrive best under the care of a mother and a father, and that removing this fixture from our culture is devastating to children and to our culture. The canary is not lying. If we do not fix marriage and family, we are doomed.

As professor George states above, legislators defining marriage out of existence is going to make any restoration of it quite difficult. Some may argue that the phrase “defining marriage out of existence” is too strong, and that judges and legislators are merely widening its scope. But at some point, if anything is marriage, nothing is marriage.

This juggernaut will not stop. The polygamists are next (just google polygamy and see that the steam is building). After them come the incest crowd and other odd combinations. And there will be little legal basis to resist them. And in a secular culture that has lost any basis to morally reason, or determine right from wrong, who among the secularists will be able to say “nay?” Yes, in the end, if anything is marriage, nothing is marriage. Marriage, as a culturally recognizable institution seems doomed, it is being legally defined out of existence.

Tomorrow on the blog I want to revisit a notion I raised more than a year ago, when I wondered if we need to find a new word for what we mean by Christian Marriage. For it would seem that the word is losing any meaning with each year that goes by in the secular world. More on that tomorrow.

For now, we have every reason to be very alarmed at the demise of marriage in modern times. Those who want dismiss or minimize the effects of the loss of traditional marriage ought to think again. Try visiting my prior inner city neighborhood, look at the devastation. Heck, try visiting my old high school in the suburbs where the drafting lab, where I learned mechanical drawing, is now a nursery for all the single high school “moms” to park their kids while they try to finish high school. What was once unthinkable is now the “new normal.” And as traditional marriage and family continue to take a beating we are foolish to think that we are headed anywhere but into serious trouble and ultimate ruin.