Friday, March 27, 2020

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Lent, 2020

"Blessed in the midst of suffering"

There is the story about the homeless man who was helped by a group of people from a nearby Catholic Church. When asked about his experience, he said, "I am so glad I was homeless. I never would have met these loving people or been able to be blessed by them if I had been a rich man." What an amazing perspective. He saw the work of God in his life, and how it was more powerful because of the suffering that came before. There are many things in our lives that are only seen well through the eyes of suffering.

In the gospel reading for today, we are all familiar with the story. Jesus comes and raises His friend Lazarus from the dead. We are certainly supposed to see an encouragement in this for us to be confident of our own resurrection which Jesus promises to all the faithful. Yet, there is also an important principle involved in this. Although we only have the stories of a few people whom Jesus raised from the dead, He was always doing the work of resurrection.

The work of resurrection that Jesus is doing (even now) can be seen in many different things. Whenever He comes to us, He is bringing us eternal life. That means that He is always bringing new life into situations and events that were dead. We might look at something and think that there is no hope of any good happening, but our Lord often has other plans. The Apostles' response to Jesus choice to visit Lazarus after he died shows that they were not sure what Jesus could do, but they certainly did not appear to expect Lazarus to raise from the dead.

When we look at our current situation, it might seem somewhat hopeless. It is easy, as I have said before, to slip into a depressing attitude about what we are going through. Not being able to go to Mass might seem like a "death" since you are being kept back from the very source of life that God gives to us in the Eucharist. Yet, the testimony of today's gospel should make us recognize just how God does things. We could even go so far as to say that God likes bringing life into situations of death. Remember: Jesus waited two days after hearing about Lazarus' sickness and said it was for the "glory of God" -- He intentionally let Lazarus die so He could raise him from the dead.

Since our Lord knows what He is going to do in every situation, He does sometimes wait for bad things to happen so that He can intervene in what is happening and show His glory to us, and thus help us to come to love and serve Him better. We are told in another place in Scripture that some Jews rejected the miracle of Lazarus being raised and still did not believe in Christ. We must not be like them; we have to watch for the work that God will do or we could miss it.

Both Mary and Martha said to Jesus that He could have stopped Lazarus from dying (which He could have), but Martha still had faith that Jesus could do something to help after Lazarus died. Which action of God really is more amazing? Is it more powerful for Jesus to stop a trial from happening, or for Him to allow it to happen, and then do a miracle in overcoming it? Obviously the latter. This is because, as I said before, God likes sending new life into situations where all we see is death and hopelessness.

So even though Jesus may not be raising the dead right now, that does not mean that He is not planning on doing a wonderful work for us. It may not be something that everyone sees, but like His own resurrection, it will be something that can be appreciated by those who love Him and believe in Him. Our current experience may seem quite scary for some, and for others it may seem like a "death" of a sort. Jesus, however, is setting things up to bring us life; you can be sure of it. Hold on to your faith; keep hoping in Christ; and, like Martha, trust that Jesus can always do a great work in the midst of our suffering. ✠

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Confession and Communion

I would certainly never say it is a good thing that public Masses are cancelled (yes, I know it supposedly helps to reduce the spread of the virus, but that is not what I am talking about). It is a spiritual suffering for every Catholic, and that is not something that anyone with a heart would wish on others. Yet, I want us all to recognize the proper gravity of what is happening and thereby keep a proper balance in how we view things right now.

To begin with, let us all admit what the normal rules are for Catholics. You are (normally) required to attend Mass every Sunday, and on Holy Days of Obligation. Also, you are required to receive Holy Communion at least once a year (preferably during the Easter season). Now, I want everyone to think about those two rules, just for a few minutes. Meditate on what those rules mean for you at this time.

This means that technically it is more an issue right now that the laity are deprived of being present in the Mass than that they are being prevented from receiving the Eucharist. No, I'm not saying that the Eucharist is less important, but rather that it is important that the Church normally says "be in Mass every Sunday" but only requires the Eucharist to be received once a year! We cannot take that difference lightly; one is required (about) fifty-seven times a year compared to the other which is required once a year. It is not wrong to receive communion at every Mass (presuming you are receiving in a state of grace, and we know that many do not), but the Church is saying something in how it has written the rules and the balance that it presumes in them.

It is a relatively new phenomenon whereby people receive communion at virtually every Mass that they attend. That was not the case in generations past. This, of course, does not mean that it was wrong for Pope Pius X, in the last century, to have encouraged more frequent communion. Yet, we also must admit that an increase in people receiving communion and a decrease in people going to confession was not a good combination. Nobody intended on having fewer people go to confession, yet when it happened at the same time as more frequent reception of communion, the result was obvious: more people receiving communion who were in a state of mortal sin.

We cannot imagine that the Lord would ignore the increasingly common occurrence of Catholics knowingly receiving communion in a state of grave sin. This must stop; and though many priests try to encourage people to go to confession, and not to receive communion until they do, not all listen. There is no excuse for refusing to go to the sacrament of confession; it is necessary for our salvation, and to treat it as optional is in itself a grave sin. I know this might be unpleasant to hear, but it must be said; especially now in this odd situation that the Lord has allowed us to enter.

We all know (or at lease we should) that no one except the priest is required to receive communion at every Mass. In this time of so many people being deprived of communion, it is as if the Lord is saying He wants "less frequent communion" rather than more. Better to have less frequent communion, and yet have more people receive it in a state of grace, than to have more frequent and they receive it in sin.

Think about the situation we are in: today it is easier to receive Confession than the Eucharist! What an interesting twist on what has been happening for the last century. It would be foolish to ignore the spiritual consequences of what we are going through. If God has not chosen this for us, at the very least He has allowed it to happen (and anything He allows He does willingly). Confession, available; communion, hard to find. Coincidence? I doubt it. Go to confession.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, 2020

"Whose fault is it?"

There is the old story of the guys who played a prank on a friend. While he was sleeping they came in quietly and placed a small dab of limburger cheese on his upper lip (in case you are unaware: limburger smells awful!). When he woke up he said "this room smells bad", and went into the living room. There he said, "this room smells bad too", and went outside. When outside he said, "the whole world smells bad!"

Blame is a hard thing to accept; we all know that. Like the man in the story, we will usually look for someone else to blame before accepting the blame ourselves. Yet, sometimes there is actually no one to blame. In this week's gospel reading, the Apostles asked Jesus "who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" In that instance Jesus makes it clear that the blindness did not happen because of any one particular sin. Of course, we all know that blindness (like any other physical ailment) is only a part of this fallen world; so in one sense, blindness is a result of sin in general, but not of any one instance of sin for the man in the gospel.

What our Lord also makes clear, however, is that the blindness was not merely haphazard, as though it had no purpose whatsoever. Rather Jesus says that it happened so "that the works of God might be made visible through him". In other words, the healing of the blind man in that instance was what was really on display. God wanted to show the wonderful work that He can do in the midst of pain and suffering. God often works in this exact manner. He allows a suffering to occur precisely so that He can show His grace in the midst of it. Do we all see that grace? Sadly, we do not. That is why we need to open ourselves up to the work of God so that it "might be made visible" to us.

In the midst of the pain and suffering of the world today (sickness, economic worry, the loss of public Mass, etc.), I can guarantee that God is wanting to do a wonderful work. He always does. The blind man in the gospel was not suffering for his own sin specifically, and what we are suffering is not necessarily for any particular sin of ours. Yet, as the Apostles asked the question, we should as well. It is a perfect (personal) question for Lent: "Lord, is there a sin that I am suffering for that I need to repent of?" That is one of the primary reasons why He allows us to suffer: to make us turn to Him in our time of need.

As we all struggle with the spread of a terrible virus throughout the whole world, we may be tempted to look for someone to blame. Ultimately, we will likely never know who to "blame" for this (and presuming that we do know, is prideful), so we should leave the "blame game" alone. Instead we need to ask "am I to blame?" This helps us keep the right focus, and it helps us to make sure that we are maintaining the virtues of faith, hope and charity. We need to be a good example of holiness in these days, and the only way that we can do that is by working, diligently, on the spiritual disciplines. When this pandemic is all over (and it will end someday), it is possible that the world will look different than it does now. Will Catholics be ready to step into the gap and encourage penitence and holiness in those around them? What we are doing now will make all the difference then. ✠

Friday, March 20, 2020

Homily for the Third Sunday of Lent, 2020

I know this is a bit late for last Sunday. I was sick (yes again) and was unable to say Mass or give a homily to my people. It was a bit disappointing to prepare a homily and then find that I was unable to deliver it. Therefore, although this is not the way I normally do it, I have decided to rework that homily into a post here and give it to you. In the future, since I cannot now say public Mass on Sunday and give my weekly homily, I will be writing them out and posting them here so that those who are interested can read them. 

So, here goes . . .

"More than she bargained for"

There was once a wealthy man sitting in his new $11,000,000 home that had just been finished a few days before. He was entertaining guests and it happened to be raining. He noticed after just a few minutes that the roof was leaking directly on his head where he was sitting on his $5,000 couch. So he quickly calls the contractor who had built the house and starts yelling and complaining. The contractor simply says, “I don't see what the problem is; just move your couch.”

That is not exactly the solution to the problem, but we all know what it is like when we do not want to admit our faults and failures. In the gospel for the the third Sunday of Lent, Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well, and she clearly does not want to admit her faults (and they were apparently many).

The Samaritans had a vague and incomplete view of God and religion. They were confused in many areas, but Jesus does not confront her in that regard. No, rather He chooses to do spiritual surgery and make her open her soul to Him. He shows her that He already knows her sins, and when she realizes that she cannot hide anything from Jesus, at that point she also recognizes the reality that He is her Savior. In fact, we could say that she had no real peace until she admitted her sins. We often think the opposite: we can have peace if we hide our sins and go on with life. That is not what Jesus was doing for her; He was telling her that Confession and honesty about sin are the only ways to find peace.

In our first reading for this last Sunday we read of people who were fretting about whether God really cared for them. In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that we find true peace only in Christ. These two, tied together, are saying the same thing that the Gospel is saying. Apart from God we fret and worry; when we come to Him in humble honesty, then we find real peace. We can only find that peace, though, if we are willing for Christ to do a work of spiritual surgery on our souls like He did for the Samaritan woman. No, the place and manner of surgery might not be the same for us as for her, but Jesus knows where to operate.

Many today are worried about the coronavirus, and that is something we genuinely should be concerned about. Yet, much more should we be concerned about our spiritual health. Do not allow any worries or concerns that you have about physical well being overshadow the importance of your eternal soul. The Samaritan woman had done something in her life that enabled (or forced) her to ignore her sins, and Jesus made her give it up.

She came to the well thinking that all she needed was physical water, and she got far more than she bargained for. The Lord knew what she really needed. Somehow that was the right moment for her, and she was open to hearing what Jesus had to say. Are you open right now for the Lord to speak to you? Are you willing to confess your sins to Him and have Him do a spiritual surgery for the healing of your soul?

Only when we let Christ look within can we be healed by Him and find that peace that He offers. Denial is no way to find peace; the sacrament of Confession is how God communicates His grace of forgiveness to us. Do not presume that because a penance service was cancelled, that you cannot go to confession. All priests can still hear confessions by appointment. If you have not yet gone to confession during Lent, call me; call one of my brother priests; set up an appointment. Open yourself to the Lord, and He will grant you His "pardon and peace".

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Affliction and Plague

Are you afraid? Are you concerned about dying? Are you frightened that something out of your control will end your life? How many of you, upon reading those questions, immediately thought about the coronavirus? If so, you should know that there is a good side and a bad side to that. The good side is that it is always helpful if we take seriously the fact that we have to appear before the Judgment seat of Christ someday. The bad side is that you may be fearful of the wrong thing.

To a certain degree we should be afraid--always--but not necessarily of some virus that can end our lives. Our Lord tells us often that our "fears" should have the right priorities. See, for example, the familiar passage in the gospel of Matthew:
[D]o not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (10:28).
Of course, our Lord does not want us cowering in fear about the possibility of spending eternity in Hell, but He does want us to have some kind of fear about it (or He would not have told us to do so!). The godly fear that we are supposed to have about the almighty power of our eternal Judge should always be with us. Yet, we all know that it fades at times. When that happens we need a good reminder to help get our minds back on track.

So then, what are the things in your life that cause you to worry? If you are truly worried about dying from the latest virus, I have to ask, "why?" What is it about leaving this world that causes you fear? Is it because you are unable to let go of things in this world (which is sinful, by the way)? Is it because you are genuinely frightened that you may not do so well when you stand before the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 3:13-15)? If neither of those are a concern for you, then why are you afraid? If you are properly detached from the things of this world, your faith is strong, and you are in a state of grace (and thus, been to confession recently) then you should be confident in Christ.

There is a wonderful passage in the book of Sirach that speaks of fear and the things that go along with it.
Much labor was created for every man, and a heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day they come forth from their mother’s womb till the day they return to the mother of all. Their perplexities and fear of heart—their anxious thought is the day of death, from the man who sits on a splendid throne to the one who is humbled in dust and ashes, from the man who wears purple and a crown to the one who is clothed in burlap; there is anger and envy and trouble and unrest, and fear of death, and fury and strife. And when one rests upon his bed, his sleep at night confuses his mind. He gets little or no rest, and afterward in his sleep, as though he were on watch, he is troubled by the visions of his mind like one who has escaped from the battle-front; at the moment of his rescue he wakes up, and wonders that his fear came to nothing. With all flesh, both man and beast, and upon sinners seven times more, are death and bloodshed and strife and sword, calamities, famine and affliction and plague (40:1-9).
Notice what the author is telling us. He wants us to realize that there are a lot of things that everyone can be fearful of (and no one is without fear). Notice, specifically, that his list includes, right at the end of my quotation, "plague". In the Scriptures, a "plague" is not always a judgment of God; but it can be. This means that whenever a massive sickness spreads around us, we should ask ourselves, "if this is a judgment of God, what does God want me to learn from it?" Can you do that right now? If not, it likely means that your heart is so fixated on the things of this world that you cannot see the things of the next world -- and that is a dangerous state to be in (more dangerous than having an incurable virus!).

Right now, there are a few things that actually do have me a bit worried (not fearful, just a serious concern). I am more "worried" about a potential lock-down in the area I live in and the restrictions that go with it than I am about the virus itself. I am also worried, just a bit, about the panic that people are in; this can hurt more people than the disease can. We should be concerned about these things, because when they happen, sometimes people get a bit nutty. They start scrambling in desperation because they believe that physical death is the worst thing that can happen to them (and it is not). Those fears, however, are small.

When we encounter things like this virus, it is the time when we should be thinking more about our spiritual state than our physical state. That does not mean that we are supposed to ignore our physical health. It does mean, however, that we need to keep our priorities straight (as I said above). Try, right now, to measure your concerns. What really takes a higher level of importance in your heart? Is it whether you catch the coronavirus or is it whether you die in a state of grace? I have no idea whether the coronavirus is going to become a global catastrophe like the bubonic plague, or the flu pandemic of the last century. Whether it does or not, whether you catch it or not, each of us needs to make sure that we are working on our spiritual well being.

Although I am not sure it would work, the suggestion from the Polish Bishops is the exact right perspective. They apparently said that in order to decrease the numbers of people in the Mass (smaller groups = less likelihood of spreading the virus) then Churches should have more Masses, not less! If a parish that fits everyone into one Mass on Sunday had 5 Masses on Sunday, then you would have 1/5 of the people in the Church at a time (and the greater spiritual impact of more Masses offered up!). Aside from the exhaustion potential for someone like me who already does 4 Masses every weekend (I know how tired I am after 4 Masses in 24 hours, I am not sure what I would feel like after 20 Masses!). The point is correct though. We need greater spiritual devotion right now, not less.

The passage I quoted above from Sirach does not end where my quotation does. It goes on to point out just what we all need to hear right now.
Riches and strength lift up the heart, but the fear of the Lord is better than both. There is no loss in the fear of the Lord, and with it there is no need to seek for help. The fear of the Lord is like a garden of blessing, and covers a man better than any glory (40:26-27).
We all can get sick, and every one of us will die eventually. This means that our fear of death is a reality, and it can even cripple us. When we are crippled by the fear of physical death, then we need to get help. The fear of the Lord, however, will never cripple us. It will, in fact, give us strength; strength to move on, and strength to stand fast in these troubling and confusing times.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Good Suffering

"Well, I have to say, that was the best case of the flu I have had in a long time!" Can you think of the last time that you heard someone say something like that? I myself actually said it (quietly) just yesterday morning. Yes, I caught the flu recently and it knocked me out of commission for a couple days. You may be asking why I would have said it was the "best case of the flu". To begin with, as Catholics, we already know that all suffering is for our good and can be offered up to our Lord for the good of others. Yet, there is much more to it than that.

There are often times when we suffer something and can only see our own pain. In these times we forget about the beauty of "offering it up" and the suffering comes and goes with no spiritual fruit coming from it (on days like that, you can almost hear an audible sigh come from your guardian angel). I can thank our gracious God: this was not one of those times. Right at the beginning when I started feeling the onset of the aches, chills, and sore throat, the Lord put some people on my heart that were deeply in need of prayer. By the grace of God I immediately offered up my pain and suffering to our Lord for the sake of those very people.

The consequences of this are definitely more than I will ever know, but there are a couple that I am aware of. Firstly, it made the rest of the time being sick more bearable. I saw it as something I was doing for someone else (not just having to put up with). In addition, it caused me to remember those people more frequently and I offered up extra prayers for them as well. My perspective changed entirely on what my experience was all about because of the way in which our Lord promised to "use" our suffering (as small as the flu may be) by combining it with His sufferings.

It all makes me think of the time I was trying to teach one of my sons to hit a baseball. I would throw the ball to him as directly as I could into the line of his swing. At first, he missed every single one, but I kept up and eventually he nailed it. I can picture our Lord in Heaven saying, "OK, I will send this trial at him; let's see if he can take advantage of it". Each time we miss those opportunities, God says "try again" and gives us another shot.

How many "baseballs" has God thrown to you and you swung and missed? We used to say (maybe they still do; I do not pay attention to sports, so I do not know) when someone hit the ball real well that he "got good wood on that". We each need to work on our "hitting average" (to keep the metaphor) and take better advantage of all our trials and difficulties. Have you suffered something recently and "missed taking advantage of it"? Ready yourself, right now, for the next suffering that God will toss to you. He always throws it right where we can hit it if we only try. May Jesus help you to use it rightly so that you can offer it up.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Just Sayin' . . .


I saw this over at Fr. Z's blog and could not resist spreading the word. Just sayin'...

Friday, February 28, 2020

An "Elegant" Mass

In 1965, Catholic author Evelyn Waugh was troubled by the new developments that he saw occurring in the Catholic Church as a result of the Second Vatican Council (both those that were supposed to occur, and those that were not [the latter of which, were many]). In a published letter he made an interesting comment:
"The Anglicans have an elegant and comprehensible form of service. All they lack is valid orders to make it preferable. If a completely English Mass is desired the first book of Edward VI with very few amendments, would be satisfactory. Instead we have a jumble of Greek, Latin and uncouth English."
"Uncouth English" is correct. The Novus Ordo (even the current third edition) is not what any English scholar would consider "elegant". Sometimes the wording in the Novus Ordo is so convoluted that it is hard to understand what it is talking about (which the exact opposite of what the translators intended).

What if that which Waugh suggested had actually occurred in the late 60's? What would the Catholic Church look like today? We can only speculate, but what he thought would be a good idea way back then, is precisely what has occurred in the Divine Worship Mass today. His words are almost prophetic.

Imagine with me for just a moment what the Catholic Church would have become if the vernacular form of the Mass had gone in that direction. In one sense, there would never have been a need for the Ordinariates. Anglicans who converted and became Catholic would have seen many of their traditions upheld and it is likely the case that many more would have "swam the Tiber" much earlier (!).

Think of the many catechetical errors that occurred over the last 50 years; would many (if not all) of them have been forestalled? All the liberal mumbo-jumbo-tinkering with the Mass that has happened would probably not ever have occurred. Priests would still be saying Mass ad orientem and it would thus be rare for them to try to get the people to focus on them personally (because they would be far less tempted to think the whole thing is about them). Most important of all, there would be few, if any, who would tout the idea that Vatican II was a "break with the past".

Yes, much of this post is along the lines of "probably" ideas, and "likely" statements, with very little that is definite. We cannot but guess at what could have happened. Of course, we live in this present world (the one that our Lord chose for us to live in), and not in the world of fantasy and speculation. Thus, we are only able to deal with what is real; but we can learn from the speculations of what might have been; even Jesus spoke of the "what if?" factor (cf. Matthew 11:20-24, et. al.).

Our Lord's intent with explaining the hypothetical "what if" factor appears to have been to spur His listeners on to penitence and greater faithfulness. Hence, for us to consider the hypothetical situation of a different form of the Novus Ordo being given after Vatican II, should motivate us to have a greater appreciation for what we have been given. In other words, the opportunity was missed 50 years ago, and yet our Lord apparently still wanted us to have an "elegant and comprehensible" form of the Mass, for that is what we have now in the Divine Worship Mass.

As someone who almost majored in English in college (just a couple classes shy), I have a passion for well spoken language. The "old English" that appears in the Divine Worship form of the Mass is quite elegant, and perfectly understandable. There is something significant about having the words of the Mass be in a form that we do not currently use for common speech. It takes the Mass to a level that is distinct from what is used on a daily basis and lifts it above--exactly what is possible in the Traditional Latin Mass (sadly, however, many who attend it do not understand it at all, so it is "elegant" but not always "comprehensible"!).

We who attend the Divine Worship Mass regularly (whether members of the Ordinariate or not) have a great treasure that is unlike anything the Church ever experienced before. Let us be thankful for what has been given to us and never doubt that God's timing is better than ours. For those who have never experienced the Divine Worship Mass, I encourage you to do so. As Evelyn Waugh acknowledged, it is truly "elegant".

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust

Today, we receive the imposition of ashes in the Mass. Why? Have you ever wondered about the reason for the use of ashes? The most particular reason relates to the traditional form of the admonition spoken by the priest when the ashes are applied: "Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return". In other words: remember, you are going to die someday.

I have performed a number of funerals since being ordained as a priest in the Catholic Church, and I always am concerned for the family and loved ones of the deceased. The only way to heal after a great loss is through dealing with the loss; we cannot heal if we deny that the person has died. Yet, much of our modern behavior regarding death seems to try to run against that idea. We keep death in hospitals (rarely does anyone die at home unless it is from an accident); we decorate the deceased with make-up to try to make them look like they are alive and just sleeping; we are not accustomed to death.

Thinking about our mortality may seem like an unpleasant thing, but it is truly good for us. No, we should not be constantly frightened about dying -- that can be debilitating. We should, however, realize that this life will end someday. We will all have to appear before the Judgment seat of Christ to give account for our lives. If we keep that perspective in our minds, then it will properly help us to make wise decisions. Yet, let us admit it: who really enjoys thinking about death and Judgment Day?

When we compare our spirituality with that of our forefathers of centuries ago, we are sissies (and not just a little bit). The intense and rigorous spirituality of past generations makes us look like we are no different than the heathens in some areas! We do not like to hear about mortality and although we seem to have no problem with watching death and mayhem in movies and video games, we do not want to be told that we ourselves are going to die (ever!). The Latin phrase "momento mori" is related directly to this. It means "remember that you are mortal". That was a common expression in the medieval period, but not as much today. It would not be a bad thing to tell ourselves this regularly (maybe print it on a coffee mug!).

The other way to think about the ashes is a fairly obvious application of what is being said above. We should not just be thinking about our death, but also about the life we live up to the time of that death (whenever that occurs). Consider it this way: if we are all going to die someday, and we are also going to have to stand before the Judgment of God, then that means that every action, every decision that we make, every choice that we approve of--it all matters. There is nothing about which we can say "it doesn't matter" because it all plays a part in our eternal standing. 

Is that how you think of what you do? Do you slip occasionally into the mode of "this is just a little sin, so it's no big deal"? This is what the ashes today help to remind us to avoid. "Remember, what you do matters." I hope that all of you are able to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass and receive the ashes (you do not need to be Catholic to receive them), and when you do, let that idea sink deeply into your heart. "Being here in Mass matters; how I treat others matters; what I say to my family matters; how generous I am in giving to the Church matters; etc."

I do not want us to get morbid; certainly not. I do, however, want us to be realistic. To go through life with the idea of "I'm going to live forever" is not only the habit of 18 year-olds; I have seen this attitude in people of all ages. Instead (not just on Ash Wednesday, but every day of the year) we should have the frame of mind that asks regarding every action "how will this impact my eternal destiny?" And today is a wonderful means to help us keep that in heart and mind. So, I will say it again: Remember, you are mortal.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Why Are You Singing?

There was once a funeral Mass in a Catholic Church for an individual who was widely known and greatly loved throughout the larger community. Many people were there, and the family of the deceased asked a non-catholic to "sing a song" during the Mass. The priest was very reluctant because the non-catholic had never been to a catholic Mass before and so did not understand the nature of the Mass. After much pressure he agreed to allow the song. Afterwards, he greatly regretted his choice. The singer turned what was supposed to be a communion hymn into an opportunity to draw attention to himself. This is not to say that the singer did not have talent, he did; yet, he was not leading other people to God, but to himself ("look at me, ain't I wonderful?").

What is singing for? Maybe it would help if I began by asking, "what is singing not for?" If we can eliminate some of those errors, then it would make it easier for us to consider what singing is actually for. Of course, we need to differentiate between singing in general and singing within a liturgy. These two situations are certainly not equivalent. How and what we might sing when we are driving down the road compared to what is done in Church should not follow the same rules.

For example, I have some very eclectic tastes when it comes to music; I do not like all music, but I do appreciate some very diverse musical styles. This does not mean that everything that I like to listen to is necessarily appropriate in all the same settings. During meals I like to listen to very soft ambient kinds of music (I have even read that it helps with digestion!). I do not, however, like that kind of music to be playing when I am driving--the absolute last thing I want when driving is to fall asleep. When driving, if I listen to music, I prefer some pretty heavy rock and roll; the tempo helps to keep me alert and focused on the road. As you might expect, I do not want heavy rock music playing when I am eating--not relaxing at all.

This is just a simple example of how different musical styles have different settings. There is another layer, however, to what we are dealing with here. It is not enough to say that certain styles of music have a proper location, for what I consider "proper" for one style of music might not be what anyone else would agree with (maybe someone likes soft music when they are driving so that they do not get stressed?). This means that we must realize the "personal taste" factor cannot be ignored. You see, we in modern society are so enamored with entertainment, that it is very difficult for us to distinguish between something that we like because it is personally enjoyable, and something we appreciate because it has a value that goes beyond ourselves.

What is the "value" of a certain musical style while driving (to continue to use this metaphor)? It will be determined largely on what the need of the situation is (which will not be the same for everyone). In asking this question, we must acknowledge that in the worship of God, it is not merely an issue of "taste" because we are not dealing with something that is allowed to be tailored to each individual's personal preference (contrary to the goofy antics that you see in some Catholic Masses!). There is only one goal that people are supposed to be aiming at when it comes to worship: personal humility and reverence toward Christ (which are two sides of the same coin).

Singing in the Mass in such a way that we draw attention to ourselves (as with the individual mentioned above) for the purpose of self-aggrandizement is a grave sin. Yet, drawing attention to yourself is just as self-serving as is singing merely because you enjoy the song. When the singing is not done to glorify God and assist those present in drawing closer to Him, then it is sinful. Just because someone enjoys a particular song does not mean that it is automatically glorifying God. Doing a "good job" does not guarantee that you are encouraging holiness. There are a number of musicians with great talent who are doing nothing to glorify God.

The purpose for music in the Mass is to do exactly as I have said above: lead the faithful to a deeper personal humility and reverence for God. This is why the Church says (yes, still today!) that Gregorian Chant always takes precedence in the Mass; all other forms are secondary. Pop music might be enjoyed, but it does little to deepen reverence. Singing because we enjoy the music is fine if we are singing at home, but that is not supposed to be our motivation for music in the Mass. So then, the question "why do we sing?" is easy to answer. "Why are you singing?" is the real question for us.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Some Thoughts on Querida Amazonia

Yesterday, Pope Francis released his conclusions on the Amazon Synod. The "final statement" is called "Querida Amazonia". In it, he does not refer specifically to the proposal of allowing married deacons to be ordained as priests, but he clearly does not give a big thumbs up to it either. He also does not express approval of the idea of women being ordained as deacons. Most took this as a negative response to both of these issues (and traditional Catholics were pleased at that). Some complained that it was too vague and that those who wish to continue to promote these ideas will find a loophole. Maybe; maybe not.

Regardless of what people are interpreting from this (and I am sure there are numerous points of view on it), we cannot be sure what he actually thinks (and, to some degree, it does not matter--the Pope is supposed to guide us to Jesus, not to himself). All we can know is what the Holy Father said, and generally, most would acknowledge that if he does not give express approval of a change in Church practice, that the current rules remain in force. If it is actually as bad as many (who are wringing their hands in fear) say it is or if it is better than we think, we are always supposed to move on in faithfulness.

It is also likely that the Pope is aware of the fact that if he were to seek to change the rules on priestly celibacy (which could happen) and women's ordination (which could not happen) there would likely be a major schism in the Church. Aside from the potential lightning from Heaven, and the Earth opening up and swallowing the heretics (fire, brimstone, etc.), we can be certain that the Holy Spirit will protect us. The promise of the Church's endurance through every trial still stands firm (and even an erring Pope cannot overcome the Holy Spirit). Regarding the potential schisms, there would likely be a whole new surge of offshoots like the schismatic SSPX, and the ugliness that would follow could be beyond anything we have ever seen.

Just to be clear: the rule on male-only ordination in the Catholic Church cannot be changed; that one is set in stone. If, however, the customary rule of priestly celibacy (in the Latin Rite portion of the Catholic Church) were to be changed, it should only be under vastly different circumstances than what we are dealing with today. Right now they are saying "let's get rid of the rule so we can have more priests". That is merely a pragmatic motivation, and not one based on clear theological or biblical reasoning.

For the Church to reach a point where the Pope and Bishops can examine this issue without the "static" of modernist and irrational thought, it will likely take us at least a few more generations. The motivation and desire to change the celibacy custom must come from a conviction and a soundly reasoned doctrinal position; not from a desire to fix a problem that is entirely unrelated to the issue of celibacy. Changing it now would be like using a screwdriver to hammer a nail because it is possible to swing the screwdriver; it might work, but you are going to ruin the screwdriver.

As I read through some of the statements of the Holy Father on what must be done about the shortage of priests in the Amazon, it was interesting to see a distinctly standard Catholic position put forward (and quite gently at that). It appears as if Francis' encouragement is "stop whining, buckle down and deal with the situation, and teach parents to be better at raising their boys in the faith so that they will want to be priests"! I am sure that those who examine the tiniest details of what Francis wrote might disagree with me, but reading between the lines, this is a logical conclusion from the admonitions he makes about evangelism.

What if Pope Francis' intent is to "sneak something in through his vague statements" (as one commentator claimed today)? I say, "so what?" In other words, what would it really change? He is accountable for both his mistakes and any sinful intentions he may have (if any), and the Holy Spirit promises to protect us from ourselves. Whatever the intent of Pope Francis may be (even the intent of the liberal Catholics who want to protestantize the Catholic Church), we cannot behave like "chicken little", because the sky is not now, nor ever will it be, falling.

I will bet that at least some traditional Catholics will feel like we dodged a bullet. The Pope basically said "no" and now we should be able to move on. That seems to be the position that Cardinal Mueller seems to take in his comments on Querida Amazonia. Even if we had not dodged the bullet (if that is possible), we can trust that our Lord will get us through that as well. What would that look like? Many new married priests, many bad parish experiences, many unexpected consequences, lots of regret, and even more clean-up operations; this is not a pleasant prospect. Also, if people attempted to ordain women into holy orders, there would be various types of chaos from those who are holding to Catholic orthodoxy; there would be numerous invalid ceremonies, and lots of time cleaning up and backtracking. We should never want something like this, but we could get through it if we had to.

Remember, Christ is still on His throne and no errant teaching or mistaken practice can change that. The Church has endured 2000 years of much worse problems than this, and she will endure this as well. Thank our Lord for what we have, ask Him to protect us from what is coming, and seek to glorify Him in all you do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

What's Your Sign?

No, not your astrological sign (I guess I showed my age by even making the reference?). I am referring to something much more important than the position of the stars on your birth date. Each one of us gives off a certain "atmosphere" or "mood" by our personality, and it is usually noticeable as soon as we enter a room. Yes, it is sometimes quite vague, and hard to determine by others, but that does not mean that we are not giving off a particular "vibe" to people. Sometimes there is no word to describe the particular "feeling", but it can still be recognized by most.

So, I ask: what is your "sign"? Presuming that our "vibe" can be seen by others, there is a "sign" that goes along with that vibe and though not all can decipher it, it is there for all to see. Imagine someone walking into a room and he glances around the room at the people who are there, scowling and breathing slowly and deeply. We would presume intense anger, and that he is likely looking for someone who made him angry. The sign he is "wearing" says "beware of dog" (for lack of a kinder euphemism).

Think of it this way: it is like we are all wearing a street sign around our neck and it says something to others (it could be warning signs, or it could be something more encouraging). "Falling rocks ahead", "uneven surface", or even "slippery roadway" are a few that we might see on some who are unpleasant to be around. So what is your "sign" that you present to others? When you enter a room, how do people feel inside? Most often others will not tell you how they feel, but they can give it away by subtle body language.

How do others behave around you? Do they strike up a conversation, or avoid you? Maybe some are drawn to you, while others seem to squirm uncomfortably? If you have been thinking that it is their fault, then it may be time to reconsider. People are naturally drawn to be around those who exude a pleasant disposition; and they are also naturally deterred from being around those who seem like a human version of a Tasmanian devil.

We could also describe this "sign" as a "cloud". It is an entirely different metaphor, but it helps us to see the same subject from an alternate perspective. What kind of a cloud hovers over you? Is it a white puffy cloud that shows you have a "sunny" personality and which encourages others to want to speak to you? Is it that type of cloud that makes people want to lay down on a hill and stare up at the sky? Or, is it a dark gray cloud that makes people run for shelter?

Whether you think of a cloud or a sign (or both), you are telling others something about you. Sometimes these "clouds" or "signs" that we bring with us are unknown to us. We go about our daily lives completely unaware that we are driving others away, or sometimes even making our own lives difficult because of an "aura" that we carry with us everywhere. It can be the tone of voice you use, or an expression of the eyes, or even the way you hunch your shoulders. There is a language behind it, and it impacts how we are able to interact with others.

I knew someone a while back who always complained that people did not like him. He seemed ignorant of the fact that his own manner of speaking to others made people uncomfortable around him, so most people that knew him avoided him when he came into a room. This can be caused by someone who is over-friendly or equally by someone who is anti-social. Quiet people often complain that no one will talk to them, and boisterous people often complain that everyone else is boring -- it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It is truly remarkable how many people today are socially inept. The more time that people spend with blue faces (i.e. head bent down, eyes glued to their phone screen) the less ability they have to socialize properly with others. There are also those who were never taught by their parents how to interact with others so they are unable even to start up a basic conversation with anyone they do not already know. If you have someone in both of these situations, then I am sure that psychiatrists will likely find some diagnosis (and an attendant medication) to justify their lack of social grace.

In the Church we are supposed to be a social community. In other words, we are supposed to be spending time with one another. A parish family that only interacts during the Mass (which, if the rules of the Mass are obeyed, means minimal interaction with each other) is socially crippled and bound to end up dying a slow death. The Mass is where we are supposed to interact as a group with the Lord. Even the "peace" (while not wrong) is somewhat extraneous to what is going on in the Mass.

When we come together in settings outside of the Mass, then we are forced to talk to one another and that means that likely we will offend each other and have to go so far as to "forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you" (cf. Ephesians 4:32). That kind of interaction might sound like something that we want to avoid, but that is like cutting off your hand to avoid having your finger poke your eye. Those challenging interactions (that we all need to learn how to deal with) are a part of being the body of Christ and growing closer to our Lord. Jesus gave us one another in a parish community for the sake of helping each other grow closer to God (especially in the relational challenges!).

Each and every one of us needs to examine ourselves and ask whether are behaving like a part of "the body" or whether we are behaving more like a parasite on the body (i.e. something that everyone wants to get rid of). Social involvement in the community may not be essential for our eternal salvation, but it is essential for a healthy parish community to thrive. It is not just for what we can get out of it, but also for what we can put into it. Remember, Christ did not just call "you" to salvation, He called "us"!

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

The Purpose of Tradition

I often mention the importance of tradition. I refer not just to authoritative Tradition but also those traditions that are the natural outgrowth of a deep devotion to our Catholic faith (excluding, of course, those traditions that develop because someone had a "cool" but uncatholic idea and people "liked" it, so it became "the way we do it"). Yet, it is easy for us to forget the proper place of these traditional practises. It should never be thought that our goal is to "do traditional stuff". Yes, we should continue to work to restore many of the Catholic traditions that are being ignored by many in the Church today, but not for the sake of the traditions themselves.

The traditions that I aim to revive (e.g. ad orientem celebration of the Mass, communion on the tongue, Gregorian chant, priests in cassocks, etc.) have a purpose to serve. They are the best means to accomplish what the goal actually is: to glorify God, by becoming Saints in Heaven, and drawing as many others with us as we can. Traditional practises are a means to greater faithfulness, but they are not the faithfulness itself (which is best defined by the two greatest Commandments). To get these two mixed up is exactly what the Jews of the first century did. They refused to acknowledge that the purpose of the Mosaic laws was to help them draw closer to God and thus become more holy.

Think of it this way: you could get to your destination either in an old junky car or in a high quality well maintained car (even if it is older than the junky one). Yes, you are much more likely to arrive if your car is in better shape, but that is not the only possible way to arrive. Yet, having said this, let me ask: which one do you feel more confident about getting you there? Right; the one that is in better shape. There may be more than one vehicle to use, but you want to use the one that does not have bald tires, a leaky transmission, a broken windshield and no brake pads.

There are many things that the Catholic Church today allows for in the practice of the faith (many of which are temporarily allowed), but that does not mean that it is the best manner of arriving at the goal of personal holiness. We are allowed either to sing Gregorian Chant in the Mass (which is supposed to be primary) or "some other suitable hymn". Yet, we have to ask the simple question: does "some other suitable hymn" impact our soul just as effectively as that which is supposed to hold precedence over all other forms of music in the Church? In other words, why would we ever willingly choose what is considered to be "second best"? Or, to go back to my earlier illustration: why would you choose the car that is falling apart?

What attracts us in our journey to the goal should not be just the car itself, but the quality of the car. This is really quite difficult for me state because I really am attracted by the reverence of the Divine Worship form of the Mass. In knowing this, I have to admit that the form of the liturgy itself is the "vehicle" and not the goal. God did not create us to "go to Mass" for all eternity; He created us to love Him for all eternity. Therefore, if someone is attracted by the tradition (like that in the Divine Worship Mass which goes back one thousand years), he must acknowledge that it cannot be idolized.

To treat the traditions themselves as though they are the final goal ("if we just do traditional things we will be OK") is to put a weight and responsibility on tradition that it was never meant to bear. When we fight for tradition, we must fight for the right reasons (and with the correct rationale). We are the ones who are supposed to be spreading the gospel and bringing many souls to worship Christ as Lord. We are the ones who are supposed to become Saints for the glory of God. Offering the Mass is what helps us do those tasks and therefore, we have to make sure that it is taken care of (not corrupted) and that it is used appropriately; it is not, however, the goal in itself.

In the Catholic faith, the quality of the "vehicle" is, simply stated, determined by its ability to help you arrive at your destination. In this case, we would find the answer by "looking under the hood". If it is a matter of liturgy, we would have to ask whether the liturgy was focused on God (the key point of the goal) or focused on man himself (a consequent component of the goal). If our liturgy is focused on man (which can happen in many ways without even being noticed; like when the priest is more concerned about what people think about the Mass than what God thinks), then it might get you to your destination, but the likelihood of it is questionable.

If our liturgy is focused on God, then our orientation will be correct and we will be heading toward the goal in the best way possible. After all, the goal is to be able to be in God's presence for all eternity. If we focus on our personal enjoyment and opinions then we are far less likely to be growing closer to God (this may seem like it is overly obvious but not everyone considers it). Therefore, keep the traditions; yes absolutely. Protect them and practice them with joy. Yet, remember that each of these things are gifts given by God to help us on the journey to Heaven. We value them because of how they help us; but we should never get confused about what our true goal is: Jesus Christ.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Pro-Choice at Heart?

Recently, I watched a few videos about Catholics who are peacefully demonstrating their desire to end the holocaust of abortion in these USA. The debates that occur with "pro-choice" onlookers are interesting to say the least. I am not really clear on one thing: how could anyone view these interactions and see the hateful and irrational behavior of pro-abortion advocates as good (in any way at all)? I guess maybe the demonic likes other things that are demonic.

One comment that came up often in these debates was when a woman would say "you're a man, you have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body". Desiring to show them their ridiculously faulty logic, I thought about a possible response. It would look like this:
Pro-abort: "You're a man, you have no right to tell a woman what to do with her body." 
Pro-lifer: "Then you have no right to tell a man what to do with his body when he decides to rape you."
Pro-abort: "Yes I do, because that involves harming another person."
Pro-lifer: "So does murdering an unborn child."
No, I do not believe that the woman has no right to say "no" to the rapist; that is merely to show the error of pro-choice thinking. Since, however, modern science has shown that life begins at conception, the only argument pro-aborts can resort to is to say that "it's a woman's right to choose". Hence, we will not get very far if we do not put more effort into overcoming the root of their argument: choice. It needs to be pointed out that the idol of personal choice is going to lead to the destruction of society if it is not knocked down off its pedestal. Furthermore, we have make sure that we are consistent in what we are saying and not being "pro-choice at heart" in our own lives.

This whole idea of "choice" has so infected (and corrupted) our thinking that we often cannot see it. I recall the story of the widower who went out to buy socks for the first time after his wife passed (maybe you have heard this one before). He saw the multiplicity of options and ended up crying because he had no idea what choice to make; he just wanted to buy the one that his wife always bought for him. Choice is not always a blessing. Seeing someone overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice makes us realize what we are taking for granted.

When we live our lives with the idol of "my choice for my life" then higher priorities often get missed. The idol of choice without moral boundaries is truly rooted in a demonic deception. The problem stems largely from the fact that "choice" is often equated with "freedom". Properly understood, freedom is a moral good. Choice, however, does not have a moral direction inherent within it. In the Scriptures we see people often told "choose the good or the bad"; in other words, choice can go either way, and it is not morally neutral to have a choice.

We have been so influenced by the idea of personal choice that we unfortunately think of our commitment to Lord as a "free choice". Yes, we do need to make a choice to serve the Lord, but when we emphasize our own authority in choosing, we forget that God commands all, everywhere, to repent and follow Him (cf. Acts 17:29-30). If I understand my choice to follow God as "my choice" it is not the same thing as seeing it as "my submission to God Almighty".

Why do we do the many things that we choose to do; what is our motivation? If we get married, go to college, or take a job because "we chose it" then we are putting ourselves in the place of Absolute Master. Extend that to the next level and you will see the problems that ensue. Do you go to Mass "because you chose to" or because God commanded you to? Yes, a choice to obey is what happens, but how, primarily, do you view that action? Do you see it with you on the throne of choice, or willingly standing before God? It is not the same thing in our hearts and thus it is not the same thing in our souls.

This is one of the problems with parish membership in the Catholic Church being so flexible today. When someone views their association with a parish community as "their choice" alone they see it as something that they are in charge of. In the New Testament parish association is familial and always connected to the larger Church. When we look only at our bond to Christ and His Church as "what I want" then we miss the fact that God calls us to serve Him in His Church because it is what He wants. We are supposed to ask, "Lord, how do You want me to serve here?" and not, "Do I want to be here?" The latter begins from the same selfish motivation as the person who says it is a woman's choice to end her child's life.

If we are going to be consistent (and effective) in our pro-life stance, then we must also acknowledge we cannot be "pro-choice" in our hearts. Just because we have made the right "choice" regarding the life of a child, does not allow us to place ourselves on the throne of authority and idolize our own choices. Let us not just resist pro-choice decisions about the lives of the unborn, but also in every area that could come against our Lord. Let us make one choice: to submit ourselves to whatever our Lord wants before we consider what we want.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Decoys

I saw an interesting sight on my drive between two of my parishes the other day. Someone put up a fake hunter out in field and left it there for weeks. It looked something like a mannequin with a hunter's outfit; it even had the orange vest and a plastic rifle in its hands. Although I was not there to see it, I presume the man who did it showed up at a later time and shot his deer. I have never heard of doing this before, but it is a brilliant idea. Deer will run away when they see a person anywhere around them . . . unless they are used to him.

Get the deer used to the decoy that looks like you and you could possibly walk right up to them in that same area and they would barely take notice of you. It is bound to work with deer, and it is bound to work with us as well. No we are not going to be taken in by a mannequin that looks like Satan, but he does do the same kind of thing to us. Satan wants us to become numb to a large array of evils because he knows that if we recognize these things as evil then we will turn away from them (everyone turns away from what he believes is evil -- even if he is wrong about what is truly evil!).

If we get used to something in our lives, we will likely miss other things that are similar but much more dangerous. The trick is called desensitizing. It is what happens when we become dull to things. It is certainly the method used by the devil when he promotes the many and various evils that are well accepted today -- get people comfortable with small amounts, and eventually they will become comfortable with it becoming widespread. If we ourselves get used a certain thing (anything) long enough, we will take it for granted, and it can blind us to what is really going on.

It is not likely going to be the same for every person, but we are all subject to the temptation to ignore those things that we see repeatedly. Like those deer, we get to the point of saying "that thing has been around for a long time, it would never hurt me". That is precisely what the evil one likes to do to us. He wants to train us to let our guard down -- and leave it down permanently -- because we think that what he is doing will not hurt us.

Rarely does anyone choose adultery (for example) in a moment's notice. Instead, they are slowly made comfortable with small things, flirtations, lustful glances, affectionate touches, etc. Then, step by step, a person moves closer and closer to the actual commission of the grave sin itself. Once a person's resistance is broken down with the "lesser" things, he will eventually fall to the greater evil.

What things in your life have you become numbed to that are actually blinding you to the work of the devil sneaking up on you? Whatever it is, you most likely do not recognize it (that is the point of decoys!). It takes an extra effort to find these things, and that means that you either need to ask God to reveal it to us, or ask a spiritual advisor to do so (or, even better, ask both!), and (most importantly) be humble and willing to accept what you are told. Therefore, we all need to recognize that there is the potential that there is a "decoy" in our lives that we are convinced is harmless, but in reality it is merely setting us up for a great fall.

Are you watching? Have you asked yourself about your own presumptions? Only when we are more attentive to our circumstances will we be able to recognize those "decoys" that we have become accustomed to. Once again, this leads us to the need to do some healthy self-examination and then go to confession. Yes, those things are challenging and can even be painful, but it is not as though we were just playing some pointless sports game, we are dealing with our eternal souls.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Desperation Mode

One of the first cars I ever owned was a junker; and that is being nice. It was not in great shape by any means; it had been in numerous accidents. Toward the end of its sad life, it began to have more and more breakdowns. Finally something happened where I was unable to start the car. The mechanic said it could be a few different things, but after trying out multiple options (battery, alternator, starter, etc.) there was nothing more that could be done. She went to the junkyard, having worked for only 14 years.

In those last few months of attempting to figure out what was wrong, it got to the point of desperation, "let's try this; now this; what about this; maybe this will work?!" Desperate actions are not always successful, and they often stem from a lack of knowledge as to what is really wrong. Much of what I see going on in the Church today appears like that very same kind of desperate behavior. "Let's try this gimmick", seems to be an all too common manner of dealing with our modern problems.

Just look at how many have responded to the spread of broken marriages by wanting to make the rules for marriage easier. We have an increase in societal approval of sexual immorality, so some in the Church say we should approve it also. People say that they are not interested in an aspect of the faith, so someone suggests we make it more contemporary and dumb it down. It is all desperation. A desperation that stems from a refusal to deal with the actual problem is never a solution.

If someone says that he is not interested in attending Mass because it is boring, it is not a solution to make the Mass more "fun" by adding in some entertainment (that is only giving into an error, not fixing it). This does not help in any way at all because the original problem was not with the Mass itself (not counting abuses of the Mass), but with the person. So if the person has the problem, why do we not work to change the person rather than the thing the person is complaining about? Changing Catholic dogma or practice will not help anyone, and "new and exciting" methods are rarely of any good in changing callous hearts.

There are so many areas where we can see the Church and her members slipping into this "desperation mode". We see it in various apostolates, we can see it in some of the declining religious orders, we can see it in how "liturgists" make choices for the Mass. It is spreading more and more, and it is not going to help us to restore our faith or the faith of those who are fading away. We do not need to change our practises of the faith, we need to change our souls.

In Jeremiah (23:12) we read:
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
Notice the point. We are not encouraged to look for "new ways", or to be innovative, but to seek after the ancient paths. The desire for "newness" is a horrible confusion that has blinded many today to the goodness of truth and made them seek after things merely because they are new. Those in Jeremiah's day said openly that they would not walk in the ancient paths. Yes, it is the same today; people do not always want eternal truth (how many times have you heard someone use "pre-Vatican II" as an insult?). This, however, does not justify us running in desperation to find some adjustment or new trick to fix things. If men's hearts do not change, then no amount of "newness" will change them (it may entertain them, but it will not lead them to true holiness).

So as Catholics attempt to come up with new and innovative ideas for how to bring people to the faith, we need to remember that it is not about our techniques. Yes, we need to present the gospel well ("turn or burn you pagan" and "God hates atheists" are not appropriate), but that has to do with showing ourselves to be committed to the truths of the gospel itself and not behaving like hypocrites. It is not an issue of popularizing our faith in the eyes of the world. There is no allowance for compromise, nor is there anything in our faith that says if we appeal to people's base desires that we will bring them to the faith.

Let us stand fast on the "ancient paths". Let us realize that personal holiness and an uncompromising testimony of the Lordship of Christ are what truly draw people to salvation. No, we do not need to be mean-spirited to be faithful, but we do need to resist behaving like and following the ideas of the world. If we attract people by being worldly, then we will only make them worldly as well. There will always be "new ideas" but none of them truly touches the faith of our fathers and leads people to see the beauty and grace of our Blessed Savior. "Ask for the ancient paths."

Monday, January 20, 2020

A Happy Anniversary

Today is my wedding anniversary. Catherine and I have been married for 30 wonderful years. It is a joy to be able to say that our relationship has grown better every year. It is not, however, because we are loving each other more each year (though that is true). It is rather because we are both working to love God better every year. This is certainly not something that is easy, but it is something that a Catholic couple can help each other to do. In short, I rejoice this year because we have helped each other to serve God better, and that enables us to serve each other better.

There is a very good reason why the Catholic Church says that it is a "no-no" for Catholics to marry non-Catholics. Yes, I am sure you have probably heard about it happening all the time (and possibly have done this yourself, or at least might be related to someone who has). I have had people say to me directly that they think it is a bit "silly" or even "unnecessary" for the Church to say this. Yes, it is true that a dispensation can be granted for a Catholic to marry a baptized protestant, but it comes with significant warnings about the challenges to such marriages. It is also the case that a dispensation can be granted by the Bishop for a Catholic to marry someone who is not baptized at all, but that is strongly discouraged.

You might be asking "why" this is the position of the Church. It is not just the practical consequences of these unions, though that is significant (cf. 2 Cor 6:14, where we are told not to be "mismated with unbelievers"). The statistics show that the vast majority of Catholics who marry an unbaptized person with either end in divorce or the Catholic will abandon their faith. Yet, there is much more than that involved. It has to do with the impact that such relationships have on those around them (the children, as well as the larger community around).

Here are some basic points to consider in this regard. Firstly, an unbaptized person (pointedly referred to as a "pagan") does not have a Catholic concept of God or the love that He requires of us for holiness (if he did, he would probably cease to be a pagan!). Also, a protestant may have a generally similar view of God and love as the Catholic, but there are going to be some differences, often in crucial areas, that will impact the relationship. If the Catholic spouse and the non-Catholic are not working with the exact same perspective on God and His laws, then there are going to be points which we would have see as "irreconcilable" since they are viewing the world from two different perspectives.

Secondly, when a Catholic marries another Catholic, then we can presume that they both have a Catholic world view, and that if there is discovered a point at which that is not the case, then we are able to call the errant Catholic to account for not following through with his or her Catholic faith. This cannot be done with a non-Catholic. I cannot say to a Buddhist, or a Muslim, or an atheist that he is responsible to believe and behave like a Catholic. The very idea is foolish. There is no agreed-upon standard to draw him back to.

Thirdly, when two Catholic spouses are properly focusing on God and His words in the same way, then both can find personal fulfillment in the proper manner. Only Catholic teaching fully upholds the biblical principle that human happiness and fulfillment can only be found in God. This means that the Catholic husband and wife are both seeking their primary fulfillment in God, and their consequent joy in each other. If anyone (Catholic or not) seeks their primary fulfillment in their spouse, then they are going to be disappointed (and thus either seek their fulfillment elsewhere, which always leads to either infidelity or divorce). If a married couple is looking to each other to find fulfillment only frustration will be achieved. When they both realize the One and Only True Source of personal fulfillment, then, and only then, can their relationship grow properly into holiness and joy (which means more than just "sticking it out" in their marriage).

Some might think that this is just a utilitarian understanding of marriage; like saying, "seek a selfish goal in the right way and you'll be OK". It is selfish to seek one's personal joy in the wrong ways, but since the right way is to seek the righteousness of God first, then it is not selfish if the consequences are one's own happiness and joy. Yes, there are some marriages that last for decades without this proper perspective, but I would question whether they are genuinely enduring and growing closer to Christ, or whether they have merely found a way to let each other grow their own way while staying under the same roof (which is all too often the testimony given by many in this situation).

We must aim at much more than dysfunction or mere tolerance of one another. We must be aiming at holiness. We must be aiming at the spread of the gospel to the future generations that will follow in our footsteps. With marriages so weak today, let us make sure that we follow the right path to achieve our goal. Jesus offers us His strength, and if we receive it, then it will lead to our eternal joy.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Homily Helps

The General Instructions for the Mass (the "GIRM") instruct the priest to give a homily on all Sundays and Holy days. It says that the homily is to be an explanation of the texts of Scripture in the readings for the day. This means that the priest is not just to talk about whatever is on his mind that day (or worse, what he read in the newspaper -- yes, I have heard about this happening). The homily is not a running personal opinion time. It does not matter one tiny bit what the priest's opinion is; when we take our vows as a priest we promise to teach the Word of God and not our own ideas.

There are "homily helps" that you can find online that help to guide a priest in the preparation of his homily. It is a common occurrence on certain holy days that most of the laity are unaware of for these to be sent out. These are most commonly distributed to priests who serve parishes whenever an upcoming holy day is going to have a special character to it. Essentially, the "homily helps" tell the priest "here is how to preach on this particular subject from the given passages". There is a significant problem with this practice.

Firstly, if the passage is not already evidently showing the particular subject, then inserting the idea into the passage because of some vague word association is not faithful to the text. We cannot merely "squeeze" a truth into the wrong place. Just because it is true that our God is triune, does not mean that we can force the doctrine of the trinity onto any passage we wish to. This is not only unfaithful to Scripture, it is unfaithful to the people of God to be told that God is saying something that He is not actually saying in that particular text. If the text is already referring to the desired subject, the priest does not need "homily helps", and if the passage is not already referring to it, we should not pretend that it is.

Secondly, this habit is encouraging us to project our own ideas on to a text of Scripture (and that is never a good thing). Proper explanation of a passage of Scripture is called "exegesis" (which means to bring out of the words their proper meaning). This habit of "here's how to preach on this subject with this text" is often the exact opposite. To "insert" one's own idea into the text is called "eisegesis" (which means to add into the words a meaning you want to have there). Having been a protestant for years, I saw an overabundance of "eisegesis"; the ideas inserted into the texts of Scripture by most protestants were sometimes staggering as to how self-serving these things were.

Having been a protestant minister for 16 years, and now a Catholic priest for the last 8 years, I can say that I have never read a "homily help" that was treating the text fairly. It would be much better just to have the priest say: "I'm not going to comment on the text today, because we have an important subject to deal with. Today I'm going to speak about . . . " He is certainly not "explaining the text" as the GIRM says to do, but at least he is not pretending to do so.

I have heard quite a few people tell me about having listened to homilies that were--shall we say--less than helpful to their faith. Insisting that they do not give me names (I absolutely do not want to know who they are talking about), I will frequently ask what was wrong with the homily that they were complaining about. I can summarize all the problems referred to by two simple example statements that were given to me recently. First, "the priest just rambled on and on and I had no idea what he was talking about", and second, "he explained some philosophical concept that went over everyone's head".

This does seem to be what happens so frequently these days. Often the text is not explained, but only referred to in a vague manner. It is common for the homily to sound about as exciting as reading the ingredients list on a candy bar. The people of God should never be bored by the preaching of the Word of God. The word of God is "living and active" (Heb 4:12) and should be presented to the faithful as such. The priest should tell the people what the Word of God says and help them apply it to their lives. It is a simple process, but not everyone is gifted to do this (and Bishops should not consider this a small issue).

If the seminaries gave better preparation and training on how to interpret the text according to Catholic teaching as well as on how to explain the Scriptures to a varied group of the faithful, then we would not have the need for "homily helps". The "help" will have already come in the preparation; my grandmother used to say "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". The consequences for God's faithful are more than I can tell you here but they are worth the extra work. People, please pray for your priests; every single day.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Functional Demoniacs

"What is wrong with him?" "Why does she do things like that?" These are not questions asked only about rebellious teenagers; we now hear these questions asked about people in every age and category. It is asked about politicians and doctors, police chiefs and teachers. "What is wrong", is being asked of more and more people in society than it used to be. There was a time--in the not too distant past--when the majority of citizens (at least in their public behavior) acted with civility, used "common sense", and showed respect for others. That time is long gone.

So then, "what is wrong?" In today's gospel reading we are told that Jesus healed "all who were . . . possessed with demons". In other words, there were a great number of people who were "possessed with demons". I do not give in to the modern lack of faith toward the Scriptures; if it said they were "possessed with demons" then they were (whatever that looked like or however it was experienced). It is well documented that demonic activity in the first century was at a high point. Even some pagans of the time have pointed this out (Nero Caesar himself was considered by those closest to him to be possessed). Is this what is going on today?

I have already made reference in previous posts to the fact that many exorcists have said recently that demonic activity is clearly on the rise, but that the standard idea of a "screaming and yelling demoniac" is much less common. You have to understand that the demons know that if they are recognized as such, they will be more easily exorcised. Therefore, the old adage that "the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist" applies to this situation as well. Demons are clearly active (I myself can point out that I have been called on to do quite a few minor exorcisms in the past couple of years), but they also do not want to "get caught". It appears that the well known pattern of possession (like with Anneliese Michel) is not as much their chosen method today.

This is why I will say that there are apparently people in the world today who are "functional demoniacs". I certainly cannot prove this point (since the whole idea of demons hiding means that they cannot be easily identified by more traditional means), but the enormous spread of evil in modern society makes us consider this as an option. Yes, evil does spread without the help of demons; we are sinners and we can fall into sin on our own. This is not rocket science. Yet, few would deny that the spread of grave sin over the last few decades has been at a rate that far exceeds what had come in previous centuries.

Think for example about the sexual perversions of many clergymen of late; this is not something that is merely a weakness that they struggled with--they were clearly influenced by wicked powers. Think of the quick and serious degradation of politicians--many of whom show a clear desire to promote horrendous evil, and seem to have no conscience telling them to repent. Think of the speedy acceptance of sodomy and the widespread rejection of the laws of marriage (even by Catholics!). Think of the quick and sudden spread of pagan thought and heathen practises in cultures that used to be influenced by Christian truth and morality. When these things happened in the past, it was rarely at the rate that is has been happening today.

All of this tells us that there is a demonic activity behind much of these things, and it is especially evident when you see how much hatred there is toward the Catholic faith (after all, the demons know who their greatest threat on Earth is). Yet, we do not see people behaving the way that we have heard (mostly from exorcists--but hollywood does not have it all wrong on this subject) that possessed people do. Thus, it seems that the demons have chosen (figured out how?) to influence, obsess, and possess many people and yet still have them be "fully functional" in society. This means that they can still drive a car, hold down a job, and even get elected to the US Congress!

Who are these people specifically? I am not about to make any kind of an accusation as I do not have first hand evidence to make a determination. What we do have, though, is the example of so many who do not think rationally about morality. We have the evidence of widespread approval of things that were well known (as recently as the last century) to lead to the destruction of society. We have public schools, and universities openly teaching and encouraging illogical and foolish thought.

If I am correct in this assessment, this means that you could have a functional demoniac in your workplace (hopefully, not in the Church, but that is possible as well). You could have a functional demoniac as your next door neighbor. The person who works at the grocery store could be a functional demoniac. It could also be the police officer who pulls you over for some minor infraction of the law. They will not necessarily be trying to attack you physically (like you see in the movies), but they will likely be attacking you spiritually.

I do not write this to make you fear, but to make you be on your guard. We are concerned with protecting our Churches from possible "shooters". Are we as equally concerned with protecting our hearts and minds from "functional demoniacs" who will turn our very way of thinking against the Lord and make us think that we being holy in doing so? This is what is happening in so many circles. Priests lead people astray from Catholic teaching; parents allow children to be taught by pagans; and politicians pass laws that prevent holiness and encourage wickedness. What will we do about it? It is time to "hunker down" and protect ourselves. It is time to be more discerning about what we allow to influence us (and our children). It is time to recognize the assaults of the devil. It is time to say, "no more compromise".

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Relearning How to be Catholic

People today, generally, like to find the easier way to do something (I have mentioned this before, many times) but the easier way is not always the best way. I have shown that this is true with parenting, and spirituality, but there is another way that this truth applies, and that is with renewal. If you have been reading this blog for more than the last few minutes, you will know that I have been calling for a return to many of the ancient traditions of the Church. No, I am not just saying that we need to have more Divine Worship Masses, or even Latin Masses (though they each would have a good impact). It is much deeper than that.

Let me give an example. Someone came to me recently and asked for the "trick" to restoring the Church to faithfulness. What I think he really wanted was some kind of gimmick; a sneaky way to "make it work right". Certainly it would be nice to have a "quick and easy" method to resolve all that has gone wrong, yet if it is "quick and easy" it is probably not going to work. Whether it is personal, familial, or ecclesiastical, there is not a gimmick that works. Yes, there are many gimmicks out there, but they all fail in the long run; the only thing that works is good old fashioned Catholic faith and devotion.

I have read some who have said "we tried that and it does not work in this modern age". That is kind of like those who say that they do not want to get married because "marriage does not work today". It is not the practice of marriage itself that is the problem, it is the people who fail to carry it out properly. In the same way, there was never anything wrong with the traditional practice of faith and devotion in the Catholic Church; rather things began to fall apart when people failed to follow through with those traditions. It was in spite of Catholic spirituality, not because of it.

What worries me about this whole thing is that the questions about the "trick to make it work" are so common these days. I do not want to presume the worst, but it certainly appears that there are quite a few people who do not want to commit themselves to hard work; they want a quick and easy fix for our problems. People come to me for advice at times and I will occasionally have to tell them that it is going to take a while to overcome their difficulties that they are dealing with. Most of the time that I tell someone that, they look at me like they are certain that I have to be wrong. It appears as though people believe that there must be a "quick fix" and so my claim of a "long-term-process fix" seems to them as though it must be wrong.

So then, how do we overcome this mess that we have gotten ourselves into? It is not going to happen overnight. Our recovery must involve a spiritual form of "physical therapy" (I would like to call it "spiritual therapy" but I think everyone would misunderstand that phrase). I know someone who recently have to have a leg removed, and he told me that relearning how to do some of the basic things of life was annoying, but necessary. We also must relearn how to receive communion; how to pray; how to show love; how to care for the poor; how to live in community; and how to speak the gospel to others. Most have been doing these things incorrectly for so long (and have had so many bad examples of how to do them) that they assume that they are doing it correctly.

We truly do need to work on a greater commitment to the Sacraments and spiritual devotions that were practiced in generations of the past (please realize that the devil is attacking us and that is precisely what he wants to destroy, so if you do not work on these things, then he is winning and you are helping him do so!). It may sound overly simplistic, but simple holiness has not changed; sin is still sin, and we still need to repent and obey our Lord. Obviously, if we attempt to return to ancient spirituality as a merely outward habit, then we will fail like so many others have. We must return to an older spirituality, while remembering that we must always have our heart fully committed to the Lord. Remember, the greatest commandment is to love God and neighbor, not just to appear outwardly to love God and neighbor.

Thus, I would encourage you to begin preparing yourselves to "relearn" how to be a Catholic. Let us together reassess how we got off the rails, and seek to see those areas where we "threw out the baby with the bathwater". Let us abandon the wrong heart of Pharisaical pride, and restore the heart of Jesus to our obedience. The only other path is presumption, and that never leads to holiness.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Church is Not a Democracy

I have always found it an interesting point that the word "democracy" has essentially the same definition as the word "Laodicea" (cf. Revelation 3:14ff). Both words mean "rule by the people" (obviously with different root forms). Laodicea was a Church in the first century that Jesus rebukes quite harshly because they refused to listen to Him and had a sinful level of self-confidence. This is not to say that everyone who likes democracy is sinfully self-confident (no need for any errant presumptions about my point). It is, however, to say that some "self-rule" goes beyond the proper "self-control" we are supposed to have and becomes prideful rebellion.

The Church, as most people know, is not a democracy. It never was, and (God willing) never will be. Democracy might have some advantages in the political sphere (and it might have some disadvantages as well!), but it is not the way that our Lord and His Apostles set up the Church. Jean Jacques Rousseau's "The Social Contract" is not the foundation of Church hierarchy (for which we can thank God--immensely).

There are, of course, certain areas where the laity are expected to help "lead" the Church, but that is not the same as granting a democratic authority to the non-ordained faithful. I have heard stories of parish councils that make some of my horrible experiences in Anglicanism seem calm by comparison. I make it a habit to reiterate to each new member of the parish council's that I have had that the council is (as Canon Law declares) an "advisory board" with no actual authority. So far, I have not had a problem; when people understand their calling, things usually work better.

Now, of course, some of this might sound like an authoritarian stomping his feet and pounding his fist: "my way or the highway!" Not so (and you can ask any of my parish council members if you doubt it). It is merely stating that there are things that work better than others, and the Church has had 2000 years of experience to figure these things out. I recall once hearing about a family that worked along "democratic lines". They all sat down (like a congress) and discussed and voted on everything. Sounded nice in principle (at least to them), until the day that a major decision had to be made and they could not see eye to eye.

The old principle that my grandmother used to say was "too many cooks stirring the pot ruins the soup". I would have to agree. The family mentioned above really suffered as a result of the fact that there was not a clear "cook" or "chief" who made the final call on things. In the Church, this is, of course, the Pope; ultimately speaking. On the local level, however, this is the priest (under the guidance of his Bishop). The priest is called "father" for a reason; he is the "father" of God's house, and as such he is supposed to lead it like a loving father.

Just in case anyone is wondering, my experience as a Catholic priest is completely different from what I went through in protestantism. I had numerous difficulties with congregants in the protestant congregations who all wanted to be in charge. In the Catholic Church, these problems are comparatively non-existent. That is not to say, however, that Catholics never get confused as to how things work in the Church, but rather that there is a much different culture that is taught to Catholics (especially those raised in the Church). Those who convert from protestantism do not always understand the authority structures in the Church, but they come around (usually).

Someone might be reading this thinking that I am writing about the subject because there is a big fight going on in one of my parishes. Let me put the rumor mill to rest. Nothing of the kind is going on. I merely was thinking about this subject in connection with a non-fiction book that I am reading, and I thought it would be a valuable thing to discuss on this blog. After all, we are always in need of being reminded of the good and godly truths that we have been granted through Christ's Church, and teaching on the hierarchy and order of the Church (as unpopular as it might be) is frequently needed. Additionally, the hierarchy of the Church is frequently being challenged today (often with just cause!).

With all this said, we can look out at the "lay of the land" in the Church today and realize that good leadership is less than abundant. We hear stories constantly of various clergy falling into grave sin (and many of them denying it in the face of overwhelming evidence), some Bishops are leading their dioceses like a corporation (i.e. with no true respect for the people within), and many Priests are either insensitive to their people, or are so "mushy" that they are useless as a spiritual father. How can the laity stand back in times like this and rejoice at the hierarchy of the Church? Let me make on thing clear: rebelling against the hierarchy (by doing things like leaving the Church or getting into power struggles within it) is never a solution.

The order that God has given to us for the Church is for our good. The Pope is at the top of the hierarchy; his Bishops are with and under him; their priests and deacons are under them. Yet, sometimes those given the responsibility to rule do not respect that responsibility and see it only as power (cf. the New Testament letter of 3 John to see that this is not a new development). Changing the system will not fix things; changing the hearts of those in authority will. In the past, when Church leaders got off track, it was most often the laity who helped turn things around. They did this, of course, through their prayers; but they also revived the holiness of their leaders through their humble admonitions ("Dear Bishop McGillicutty, please stop supporting impenitent sodomites and protect those Priests who speak the truth to their people.")

We see many examples of "the ruled" responding to problems in "the rulers" throughout the Bible, and different situations may call for different tactics, but there is always present the example of working humbling within "God's sheepfold". The principle that is being taught to us is not to look first for how we can have a say in things; it is, rather, to learn obedience first. As we learn obedience to our Church superiors (especially when we either do not like them or have a beef with something they have done) we learn obedience to God (and then we can figure out how to "have a say in things"). Yes, there are times when faithfulness requires us to separate from wicked rulers, but that should never be done rashly.

Let each of us seek how to find that obedience which God expects of us; and let each of us work to learn the right way (i.e. with humility) to "have a say" in what is happening. Only in this way will we genuinely find holiness and please Our Almighty Lord.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Pendulum Swings . . . or not.

I was speaking with someone recently about the fact that "modernist" parishes are generally shrinking in the Catholic Church and more traditional parishes are growing. No modernism is not fading quickly, but the signs are steadily increasing that show that Catholics (especially the younger generations) are wanting a return to our historic faith and practises. During the conversation, I was asked "is this just a pendulum swing?" The questioner seemed to be hoping that it was only a temporary situation, and that eventually things would "swing" back to modernist tendencies once again.

Yes, a "pendulum swing" is one possible interpretation of events. And, yes, it is also true that there is a certain degree of "reactionary" behavior in the traditional interests of many Catholics today. That is not, however, what I think is the best explanation of events. If it were truly a "pendulum swing" then we would be able to see the pattern in the past as well (modern, traditional, modern, traditional, etc.). Although there are varying fluctuations in Church history, there is nothing to reflect this kind of "swing" from modern to traditional going back and forth in history.

Therefore, we are led to consider another possible interpretation. Thus, we should compare the modernist tendencies of our day, and ask ourselves: is this similar to what the Church looked like prior to this development (which, although present earlier, had an enormous increase in the late 1960's)? The answer is an easy "no". This does not mean that the Church before Vatican II was perfect -- if it had been it is unlikely that we would have had a Second Vatican Council. Thus, the modernist trend was a new thing foisted upon the Church by those who hated Vatican II and wanted to change the Church into something else (yes, you read that right).

Rather than a swing of the pendulum, it should be evident that what we are dealing with is an attack on the liturgy that began 50 years ago (not counting the precursors that can be seen in the 1940's and 50's) and now today we are experiencing the beginning of its restoration. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, or read, Catholics who say that they "like" the "contemporary style" of the liturgy. I have heard many say that the contemporary music and casual attitude of the priest help them to "enjoy" the liturgy more. Yet, I have never heard anyone say that contemporary liturgy struck them with awe at the majesty of God. I have never heard anyone say that the modernist paraphrasing that many priests engage in for the parts of the Mass makes them feel more reverent in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. The reason should be obvious.

Enjoyment alone is not grounds to justify contemporary and modernist behaviors in the Mass. This is not a "pendulum swing" that we are seeing. It is an experience of enlightenment when the faithful realize that people made a mistake and not only took the ideas of the new liturgy too far, but also went about breaking most of the rules that were given to us for the liturgy. When this happens, people step back and say, "I cannot do it this way anymore". This is what I have seen from many of the faithful that I have spoken with recently; not just at St. George, my Ordinariate parish, but also elsewhere. People are tired of "liking" the liturgy; they want to be "awed" by the liturgy. This is what we call restoration.