Monday, December 26, 2016

Mr. Potter

One of my favorite things to do during the Christmas season is to watch the old movie, "It's a Wonderful Life". I have probably seen it at least 20 times, and it never seems to get old. I think that each time I watch it, I notice something new about it that deepens my appreciation of the story (there were 3 things this year!).

One of things that came to me this year was the contrast between George Bailey and Henry Potter. There are numerous ways to examine their relationship and the applications that can be drawn from it are many. Although I have never done an actual survey in this regard, I seriously doubt that anyone would consider Mr. Potter to be a role model.

Everyone who watches the movie knows that George Bailey is the role model--in spite of all his faults, he is the one that we are supposed to emulate and learn from. The only thing that we are supposed to learn from Mr. Potter is what not to do. Mr. Potter is the "warped, frustrated old man" who seeks to grab as much under his control as possible.

There have been numerous character studies on Mr. Potter, and I am not about to try to reproduce those here; that is not my purpose. Rather, I want us to see that even though Mr. Potter is universally known to be the "bad guy" of the story it is his philosophy which has won the day in American business practices.

Essentially, both George Bailey and Henry Potter are capitalists. They both appear to believe in a free market economy, though they have different attitudes as to the proper way that it should be carried out (but that is not the main subject here). The difference that I want to point out now is where their hearts are at, which helps us to see better what people are doing today.

Mr. Potter's view of capitalism is that it should be used to one's own advantage. Bailey, on the other hand, views capitalism as something that should be used for the good of others. Rarely do you see businesses today that are concerned firstly with the good of others.

Most businesses express a concern for "customer service" but when you really watch their actions, they are only concerned with the customer as a "consumer" rather than as a "human". In other words, their concern is limited to making sure that the customer is happy so that he will return and do more business with them rather than out of an actual care for the person.

In this, we could say that Frank Capra's vision in It's a Wonderful Life has definitely impacted our society in many ways. Yet, in looking at business practices today, we must also say that it is not George Bailey's example that people are following, but Mr. Potter's. I do not think that this is Capra's fault; no, I would guess he was trying to prevent this very thing.  I am not merely being cynical here. It does not take much to see this. Yes, there are certainly businesses with godly business practices, but they are few and far between.

It amazes me how clearly this is what has happened. No one wants to be like "Mr. Potter". His greed is what turns his application of capitalism into (essentially) socialism--the desire to control the economy and drive out all competitors. That is what socialism is, in essence, after all--the complete control of all economic endeavors for one's own benefit. What drove Potter to this is his lack of love of neighbor (seen many times in the movie), because that is what allows him to treat people as consumer "cattle" rather than as people.

I am not simply saying here that people today are greedy; no big shocker there. I am saying that people are becoming socialists because of their greed. Imagine a world where people followed George Bailey's example: willing to pinch pennies and never be rich if it is for the greater good of others. At the end of the movie, George Bailey is called "the richest man in Bedford Falls". His richness is the same as what Jesus encourages in us on a daily basis. To ignore this, is to miss the main point of the story.

In summary, George Bailey is a good example of what the Catholic doctrine of distributism would look like if a business owner tried to live this way. Henry Potter is an example of what leads people into socialism, and thus, communism. People are not (and should not be thought of as) consumers; they are humans, each with a distinct accountability before God. Yet, we have become a greedy, big business, country where the standard expectation is that gaining more money is the summum bonum. How did we get here when we had such a good example of the right way to do things? We are not a people that likes to sacrifice for the sake of others, are we?

Friday, December 23, 2016


Its called "Christmas" not "Giftmas", but I do not think it would take much to get it changed! It sure seems like people are moving in that direction more and more these days. Let me state my position to make sure there is no misunderstanding. Yes, I like Christmas gifts, and no, I do not think we need to eliminate Christmas gifts. I would like us, however, to think for a bit about Christmas gifts. What are they for? Why do we exchange gifts at Christmas?

For many the gift exchange part of Christmas is so that they can get more gifts themselves. "Give more to them so they will give more to you." I have only heard one person ever actually speak in these terms, but I have seen many people behave in these terms! I am not trying to take away anyone's enjoyment of a Christmas gift, but I do want to help everyone keep the gifts in proper perspective; especially the children.

Gifts in ancient Jewish culture were a sign of joy. When someone was happy about something they enjoyed giving a gift to someone else (think of the image behind, "another round of drinks for everyone, and put it on my tab!"). Yet, when we focus more on the gift than on the giver, we end up thinking that the gift itself is the main thing, rather than the joy that is behind the gift.

I am one of those people who enjoys giving gifts more than receiving gifts (every year my family asks "what do you want for Christmas" and I have to say "I don't know"). What I really like the most is seeing the joy in someone else's face when they receive a gift they really were hoping for. For me, I need to make sure that I keep the focus on the reason for the gift as well, because I can easily slip into a prideful joy in my own giving.

Whatever your tendency, let us all remember The Source of our joy. Jesus Christ Almighty is the One and only source for joy. Everything else falls short, and does not last. To everyone reading this, I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas--that means I wish for you to have joy in Christ, Who is the foundation of Christmas in and of Himself. God bless you!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Homily for Fourth Sunday of Advent, 2016

We had some pretty bad snow, ice and a very low wind chill factor this last weekend, so I ended up cancelling all Saturday and Sunday Masses. It might seem like a mini-vacation, but it was not so for me. Whenever I cancel Mass it is actually quite agonizing. I want to celebrate Mass and spend time with my people, so it feels like I am being "kept prisoner" by the circumstances and prevented from being with them. Therefore, since none of my parishioners heard my homily this weekend, I have written it down in summary form here (which is something I never do since I always preach from a few "bullet point" notes). Here it is below:

Mark was starting his first job with his uncle's construction business. On the first day of work, his uncle told him to look over the tools that they brought to the site, and make sure they were all in good working order. If he found any that were not, he was to tell his uncle immediately before trying to repair them. As he examined the tools he found that the tips on the measuring tapes were all loose. His uncle looked busy, and so he figured he would show some initiative and just fix them himself. So he took a hammer and whacked at them until the tips were stationary. It did not take long before Mark's uncle noticed that all the boards being cut were off by about 1/8 inch. You see, the "loose tip" on the measuring tape is supposed to be that way. This is because if you measure from the inside, the tip is supposed to move out, and if you measure from the outside, the tip is supposed to move in, in order to compensate for the width of the tip itself. Yet, Mark, though he meant well, did not really obey. He had good intentions but he still chose his own way.

In the gospel reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, we are given the story about St. Joseph's struggle with the news of Mary's pregnancy. He sought to do what was right, but did not have the full information. When the angel spoke to him and told him what the right path was, how did he respond? He did not say "that sounds nice, but I think I know a better way". No, he "did as the angel of the Lord commanded him". We do not know how much Joseph understood about what God was doing, but we do know that Joseph realized God had been working long before the angel arrived, so he willingly obeyed, even though he may have been confused.

The difference between obedience and disobedience is clear to all of us, but what about the difference between willing obedience and grudging obedience? The first is done with joy and without hesitation. The second is done with frustration and a selfish motivation. We all can easily slip into the latter, but we know that God is calling us to the former, and that is the example that we see in St. Joseph: "OK, Lord, though it may not make sense, I know that obedience is what is expected of me".

The reading from Romans for Sunday spoke about the "obedience of faith". This is portrayed as the entire goal of the Apostles: that people would obey God out of a heart of faith, rather than merely a sense of obligation. We are supposed to obey because we want to, not just because we are supposed to. This is what parents should be teaching their children: obey because it is right and good and leads to eternal joy.

Here is the final point in our Advent preparations for Christmas. Commit yourself to a having a heart of obedience, a heart that looks first to do what you are called to do. Do this because obedience changes us, for the better. When we obey, and especially when we live a life directed toward obedience, the very act of submission to God helps to change our very souls. It helps us to grow in love for God, and find wisdom in all of life's challenges.

For each of us, God is working on something in our lives. That is much of the purpose of Advent, to allow God to do that work without getting in His way. What is God working on in your life? How is He preparing you for a deeper relationship with Him? Just as St. Joseph obeyed and found great joy in the birth of Christ, so also we must learn greater obedience so that we may find joy in the actual celebration of Christmas (and I am not referring to the "fluff" of Christmas, but the Christmas Mass itself). This is what it means to live in God's grace.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Yes, I Like The Second Vatican Council

"I hate him; he beats his wife."
"Actually, that was a bad rumor started by some cruel people; he has never done that."
" are defending a wife-beater?"
"No, I am defending a man's reputation--he does not beat his wife."
"Then, I have to assume from your comments that you beat your wife as well!"
(Insert sound of very loud sigh here.)
Have you ever experienced a conversation like this? I have, multiple times, but it was not actually about accused wife-beaters. Rather, it was about the Second Vatican Council. "What", you may ask, "does wife-beating have to do with Vatican II?" Nothing (that I know of), but the illustration is still accurate. Let me change up the terms and show you what I mean.

"I hate Vatican II; it ruined the Church."
"Actually, that was a mistaken notion started by some very confused people; the council itself has not ruined the Church."
" are defending a council that causes confusion and breaks with the tradition of the Church?"
"No, I am defending the truth of the council--it did not break with any tradition of the Church."
"Then, I have to assume from your comments that you have broken with Church tradition as well!"
(Insert sound of very loud sigh here.)

I hope this makes it clear, but I will say it specifically, just to be sure. Since I have read the actual documents that came from the second Vatican council, and since I have studied the difference between those documents and the teachings that later arose in numerous locations (erroneously) claiming to be in accord with the council, I can say that I think that Vatican II is a terrific Church council.

The Council itself is, of course, to be distinguished from the "hoopla" that flitted around during the 70's and 80's touting the "spirit of Vatican II". This "hoopla" that I refer to encouraged things like burlap vestments, liturgical dance, pop music in the Mass, theological compromise and a loose application of the rules of the liturgy. It is these types of behavior that are often equated with Vatican II, though there is nothing directly from the council, nor found in its documents, that endorses or encourages anything of the kind. That general sense of "anything goes" that showed up in the 1970's has still not gone away. Yet, to many, that is what Vatican II was all about.

As (I believe) Pope Benedict XVI once said, the Mass is only effective when celebrated with deep reverence and according to the exact rules given to it. This is what I mean when I say that I like Vatican II. It spoke clearly about a good theology and about a wise application of the gospel in the modern world. Yet, there are a number of people--like Hans Kung--who said that Vatican II did not go far enough, and (apparently) they wanted to take it further on their own (even without permission). 

Do I defend the errors? Never. Do I speak about proper obedience to the rubrics of the Mass? Whenever I get the opportunity. Even more important, I like to tell people that, "I like Vatican II--that is, the real Vatican II, not the impostor." I recall once a few years back, a dear friend looking at me with a face that expressed doubt and shock at the same time. It was the first time that he had heard that Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion were not supposed to be used at every Mass (yes, this is true, look it up if you do not believe me). When I showed him the actual statements from the documents, he said those words I have heard so many times: "Why weren't we told this?"

So then, no, I am not defending the errors when I say I like Vatican II. Rather, I am defending the truth and wanting everyone (especially those who think the council supports their liturgical abuses) to read it for what it is. How else can we learn from it, and carry out what it tells us to do? Have you read the documents; any of them?

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Sometimes Christmas is not so "Merry"

It was Christmas Eve day and I received a call from the nurse in the hospital emergency room. Someone had just passed and the family asked for me to be there. I left immediately. When I entered the emergency department the nurse came out and brought me back to the room where the family was. I entered to find the husband sitting beside the table where his wife had passed away just a few minutes before. They were young, and had three boys. It was the day before Christmas, and the boys' mother had just died suddenly as a result of complications from pneumonia.

The boys were not there yet, and all they knew at that moment was that their mother was sick; they had no idea of what had happened. The dad had his sister-in-law bring the boys to the emergency room so that he could tell them, and he asked that I be there with him for support. Before the boys arrived, I counseled the dad on how to break the news to them. It did not make it any easier, but he at least had a basic "script" to follow.

What floated through my mind during those minutes while we waited for the boys to arrive was that they would always think of Christmas as the time that their mother died. When you think about it, it sort of makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like he had it easy. Loss of a loved one at any time hurts, but during Advent or Christmas time it can hurt a million times worse.

Why does God allow things like this to happen? You may be hoping that I will give a short pithy answer that will clear it up for you, and you will never wonder again about it. Sorry, but I do not have the ability to do that. God has not reached down and revealed that to me. I can say this though: God knows what He is doing, and why He allows things like this to happen, even when we cannot make heads or tails of it. These kind of things, as painful as they are, always are an opportunity to come closer to Him and receive more of His grace.

When we miss that opportunity, it is usually because we turn our focus to something other than God, and that can always be detrimental. There are many times throughout our lives (as well as throughout the Church Calendar) that we are able to draw closer to God, but there are also forces at work in the spiritual realm that are trying to prevent us. Christmas is no different. It can easily get derailed by all of the extras. I personally love the gifts, the food and the family time (though not in that order), but they are what I am calling the "extras". The heart of Christmas, as we all know, is Christ Himself.

It may sound like He is being selfish to want to be the focus of our celebration, but it is not out of pride that He does this, but, rather, out of a love for us. You see, He knows that we will find our greatest joy in focusing on Him because all of the other things are minor joys that do not last. This is why, I believe, that He allows (or causes) trials and painful events to happen even (or especially) during the Christmas or pre-Christmas season.

The only challenge that strikes our minds so harshly, is the mistaken notion that death is a punishment for the one who passes. Death certainly can be a punishment, but it is not always so, and only God genuinely knows when it is. Furthermore, this becomes clearer when we realize that death is not the worst thing that can happen to someone. Yes, it is painful for us who remain; and especially so at this time of the year. Yet, as C.S. Lewis said so long ago, pain is God's megaphone; He uses it to get our attention (and it works so well, does it not?).

So I cannot explain exactly why God does not halt all sad events during the Advent and Christmas season. Many people today think that it should be so. But then, that would be a misunderstanding of what Christmas is all about. It is not merely about being as happy as is humanly possible and ignoring all sad or difficult events. When we remember all the details about Joseph and Mary's trials at the time of Jesus' birth, we cannot say that it was easy for them either. I do believe, however, that the difficulties that they experienced, helped them to appreciate better the grace of God during those events.

So then, what do we do when we experience loss or hardship during this season? We can either weaken or strengthen our faith. We can either grow closer to God, or further away from God. Which do you want to do? Are you prepared for a traumatic event at this time of the year (assuming that you have not already experienced one)? It is OK to ask God "why?" as long as we are humble and willing to accept that He may not answer specifically. There is one answer that He always gives at these times, and we each need to hear it again so that we will not forget it: "Because I know what is best for you, now trust Me".

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Teaching Children Shame

Right at the start, let me make sure everyone understands: my title above does not mean that I am wanting parents to shame their children. To cause someone to be ashamed, is not the same thing as teaching someone what shame is. When a parent teaches a child what wisdom is, he does not thereby make the child wise. In that same way, I am not wanting to "shame" the children, but rather I want parents to help children to know what shame is, and then help them to see its value. How many times have you heard (or said) that someone was "shameless"? We do not use the term as often as in the past (and that is revealing) but we all know what it means.

Late last week in the reading for Morning Prayer (in our form we use in the Ordinariate) we had the passage from Isaiah 3, where the prophet makes a number of points about the Israelites sinful behavior. In verse 9 we read:
Their partiality witnesses against them; they proclaim their sin like Sodom, they do not hide it. Woe to them! For they have brought evil upon themselves.
The prophet is here describing the fact that the Israelites had lost their sense of shame. They were "proclaiming" their sin "like Sodom". Just look back at the story of Lot in Genesis 19 and you will see what is being spoken of.

Loss of shame comes from a callous heart. When we allow ourselves to become desensitized to evil, our hearts then become calloused. Over time this leads to a growing willingness to do things that we should be ashamed of. When someone continues in this type of behavior over a longer period of time, he will eventually degenerate into a willingness to perform these "shameful" acts more and more openly--thus proving that he has lost all sense of shame.

From there, one reaches the final stage as referred to in the prophet Isaiah. Not just a lack of shame, but an actual proclaiming of one's sins as though they are a good thing, is what he speaks of. Thus we can see a picturesque example of much of modern society. Flaunting its sins as though it were bragging about something good (to brag about a good deed is evil enough, but to brag about something wicked is at the deepest level of evil). It reveals a mind that is completely corrupted with no clear foundation in what is right. People like this cannot be trusted in virtually anything. [They might tell you the right time of day, but you may want to double check it to be sure.]

Isaiah highlights this problem with similar words just a couple chapters later when he says:
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
A "woe" is declared because all that people like this can hope for is a life of misery. Yes, they may claim (sometimes quite loudly) that they are happy in their life of wickedness, but down deep they hate what they have become. The thing that keeps them from repenting is their own pride; they refuse to admit that they were wrong and that Jesus was right all along.

Parents need to protect their children against these kind of things, and they need to begin doing it early in the child's life. This means that parents need to teach children that some actions are "shameful" and help them to see that a sense of shame is a godly thing. It is something that helps us to steer clear of evil actions because it is intimately associated with our conscience. A lack of discipline for a child damages his conscience to the point of where it is ineffective. How many times have you heard someone say "I can't believe he would do that; I taught him better"? A pure and holy conscience will help the child to resist the temptations that the world sends at him when he grows up and mommy and daddy are not there to help.

Many of the sins that are so rampant today have actually occurred fairly often in the past, but on the majority people were ashamed of it, and so they hid it. This means that others were not encouraged to follow in their footsteps. Leading others into sin because of the flaunting of your own sin adds even greater guilt to the sin itself because you bring others down with you. Leading a child into sin because you did not give them a conscience is of the gravest nature, and Scripture often gives the harshest warnings to those who neglect to protect children in this way. I could say it is like throwing them to the wolves, but on this blog it should be "throwing them to the dragons".

This means that "right and wrong" need to be more than mere technicalities in the child's mind. They need to be emotive aspects of what it means to serve God. "Don't do that, it's a sin" is not the same as "that would displease the Lord and cause great sadness for your mother", and if parents do not help their children in this way, then they leave them exposed to great temptations that they are not able to handle. A good healthy conscience--tied to the emotion of lovingly desiring to please the Lord--is a tool that every child will rejoice at having when he becomes an adult. Why would any parent not want to give that to his children?

Sunday, December 4, 2016

An Atheist Christmas

What would a genuine "atheist Christmas" be like? I drove by a house today and gave some serious thought to what I saw in the front yard. There were numerous "Christmas" decorations (though I find it hard to refer to them as such). There was a big Santa, an inflated reindeer, a penguin with a red cap, and a decorated snoopy. There were lots of lights and a few "tree shaped things". I looked closely; there was not a single image of, or reference to Jesus.

Now, I have no idea about the religion of philosophy of the residents of this house, so I am not about to make a judgment about them being atheists (only God knows their hearts). I am, however, using the visual portrayal in their front yard as an illustration. How would an atheist celebrate Christmas? Well, to say the least, he would not want much reference to the birth of Jesus the Messiah.

How can an atheist genuinely celebrate the birth of Someone Whose very life is a testimony to the reality of the God Who created all things, and is Judge of all people? How can an atheist find joy in remembering the birth of Someone Who declares the philosophy of atheism to be a foolish error? There is not much to celebrate about God Incarnate, when you do not believe in God.

Hence, the atheist celebration of Christmas would need to remove "Christ" from Christmas. That would leave it as ******mas. Yet, that would not be enough. Because, you see, the "mas" part of the word "Christmas" is referring to the Mass. The very liturgical celebration that the atheist sees as a pointless observance is offensive to him. So he would need to go further. For even ******mas reminds the atheist of the Catholic celebration that is centered on Christ Himself.

Therefore, he would need to reduce it even more so, and then there would be *********. Can you imagine trying to say "Merry *********"? Or what about asking if someone had a joyful "*********" celebration? I suppose that an atheist calendar would list December 25th as ********* Day, and on that day they could exchange ********* gifts. There is not much left when you remove Christ from Christmas. This is true if we do it intentionally, as well as when we do it out of neglect.

I doubt that any atheist would actually behave in this way--which once again goes to show the utterly ridiculous and self-contradictory nature of atheism. I do not hate atheists; rather, I feel sorry for them. Sorry that they cannot find the joy that we have found, and even more sorry that they are blind to it. I am glad that I have Christ, and that He has me. That means that I can truly celebrate CHRISTMAS.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Do You "Like" Your "Friends"?

Remember Bazooka Joe comics? I can still recall the smell of that bubble gum, though I cannot recall a single comic in itself. Apparently they were not very deep in content. What would you expect though from a bubble gum wrapper? It is not as though it is anything as profound as a fortune cookie (just joking). Can wisdom be found in a candy wrapper? Until recently I would have doubted it.

Inside a foil wrapper for a small piece of chocolate I recently came across the following statement: "like someone in person!" Now, I have to admit, the usual fare from this particular candy is somewhat trite. This time, however, I was pleasantly shocked. Think about it for a moment: "like someone in person". It speaks on so many levels. Just in case there are any newcomers reading this: I cannot say that I am very "friendly" with Facebook. Besides the fact that my "friends" are people that I come into personal contact with; those people that I see and communicate with regularly; I do not believe that Facebook is a force for good.

This does not mean that I do not have friends whom I have never met face-to-face. It only means that "friend" is not an adjective to me; it is not something that "do" to a stranger by clicking a button or tapping a screen. I would not say that I am resentful at Facebook for kidnapping and abusing the word "friend", but I would say that they have not helped to further good relationships in modern society. In this way, Facebook is behaving like another "dragon". Do not let this dragon take you captive.

Although I will admit that Facebook has a useful purpose, I do not have a Facebook page myself. What that purpose is, I am still trying to decide, but the very least that can be said is that it is a form of impersonal communication (I suppose there is a purpose for that). When used rightly, that can be a help to our personal interactions. When used wrongly, it can destroy our ability to relate to others. When this happens, we tend to get into fights more easily, and thus we have all sorts of "relational issues" (whether that be "race relations" "family relations", or any other category).

There is a video on Youtube that shows a man walking around behaving as though Facebook behavior were normal in real life. He puts stickers that say "like" on things (a person's bike, a book someone is reading, a jacket someone is wearing, etc.). He says he is going to "follow" someone, and then literally follows them down the street (to their complete shock!). He asks complete strangers to be his friend (and scares quite a few folks). None of this is normal behavior in the real world, but we have become so accustomed to it on Facebook, that we think little of it. As I have said before, Facebook has contracepted the humanity out of our souls.

So here is my encouragement for the day: like someone in person; be a genuine friend to someone who needs one (a friend made out of flesh and blood, not a digital screen); "follow" someone by asking how they are doing, spend time praying for them, and then follow up on how they are doing to see the impact your prayers have on their lives. Wow! What would the world be like if people actually started treating each other this way?