Friday, December 28, 2018

Somewhat Joyful (!)

I like to keep my daily schedule written down in a little book that I keep with me, and so I abbreviate things to make sure that I have room for all of it. I formed the habit, years ago, of writing "funeral" as "fnrl", because the natural abbreviation of the first few letters "fun" is not the way that I (or anyone with a godly understanding of death) wants to think of a funeral; they are not fun. That said, however, someone made a comment to me today that really caught my attention.

A few hours ago, I had just finished a funeral Mass for a dear parishioner that I knew a bit better than most. He and I hit it off when we first met, and although a priest should be careful never to be "too close" to his parishioners (for fear of looking like he is showing favoritism), he and I had a connection. I got to know he and his wife over the last couple years while he struggled with cancer, and today I helped her to say goodbye to him until they meet again in eternity. After the funeral, one of those in attendance said to me, "that was the first catholic funeral I've ever been to, and it was not as depressing as I had thought, it was actually somewhat joyful".

I am sure that he would not have said it was "fun" (as the avoided abbreviation may give the impression of), but he did say it was "joyful". Now, I should be perfectly clear, when I say a funeral Mass there is nothing about it that is "playful" or "fun" (as I have heard some priests attempt to do in order to encourage the people [shame on you my brothers!]). I do the Mass as reverently as I am able (though in the Novus Ordo that can be difficult). So that is not what he meant by saying it was "somewhat joyful".

As we spoke about it briefly, it was clear to me that what he found joyful was what a funeral should be: it was encouraging. A funeral is not (and absolutely never should be) a "celebration of life" but a recognition of death. If we attempt to ignore that the person is dead, then all we are doing is denying reality and not allowing people to mourn properly. When, however, we accept that the person has passed on from this life and keep that in the context of Christ (Who is always supposed to be the focus of every Mass--this is why a eulogy is forbidden in a Catholic funeral) only then are we able to be encouraged the way that God would have us to be.

If our focus is Christ (as it should be in every Mass), then we can be encouraged when someone has passed. It is natural, and proper, for us to mourn and grieve at the death of a loved one. Yet, how do we grieve? The Scriptures tell us "not to grieve as others do who have no hope". That is the point of a funeral, is it not? To grieve, but do so with hope! The only way that we will have hope is if we focus on Christ and His grace. If we focus on the deceased, then we will lose hope, because it is so easy to forget the love of our Savior when He is left out of things. No, we do not ignore the deceased in a funeral (of course not), but only in Christ can we remember them rightly.

Yes, it was truly sad; especially at Christmas time. Yet we can find hope in the darkest of life's trials; if we seek it in our Lord and Savior. We can find such hope and encouragement that people who have never been to a Catholic funeral before can say "that was somewhat joyful". Joyful it was, not because we are without our dear friend, but "joyful" because we know He Whom we are entrusting his soul to.

Friday, December 21, 2018

"I've Got Your Back"

One of the major problems of mega-parishes (and often with those that are just "big parishes") is that it is so easy for people to be forgotten. I read a story recently about a woman who had been active in a parish for years and then just quit attending when something bad happened in her life. Not the first time that has happened. The problem arose when no one seemed to notice; if anyone did notice, then they did not say or do anything about it. The woman apparently remained away from the Church for a long time before someone saw her in the store and asked how she was doing; no reference at all to the fact that she had not been to Church in 5 years!

Certainly there are ways to overcome problems like this, but it does not seem that many parishes are even trying. Of those parishes (or sometimes even whole diocese's) who do put an effort into it, it often comes across somewhat "cheesy" and ends up being mostly ineffective. Of course a major effort needs to be done to prevent people from leaving in the first place, but when they do, they need to be sought out, helped, encouraged, and warned (yes, that means we need to tell them the full truth, and not just "c'mon back, it will all be OK"). Abandoning the Church (for whatever reason) is a grave sin and we cannot pretend it is anything else. Yes, I agree, "woe to him by whom" people are driven to abandon the Church, but that is not the subject of this article.

In a "small parish" (less than 75 families) there is always the advantage that when someone does not make it to Mass, almost everyone notices. That dynamic has very few drawbacks. It keeps each of us accountable, and also helps the community to value one another's presence. It also prevents us from becoming a "pew sitter" who just sneaks in the back, attends Mass, and then sneaks out without being spoken to by anyone. In the early Church, every parish was small because they did not have giant Church buildings to meet in. This was likely how the parish model was created; as soon as one Church reaches "critical mass" you start a new parish (a model we would do well to reconsider).

Now I need to be clear: I am not implying that it is inherently wrong to have a large parish (the Heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21 is described as a massive community of God's people). The problem arises with the fact that we have fewer priests taking care of more people. Sometimes it is a priest who cares for a single large parish with no other priest to help him (years ago these larger parishes had three or four full time priests) or we have a single priest taking care of multiple parishes (the way that I do -- I have three parishes under my care, and just barely have time to keep tabs on what it going on in each of them).

It was proven long ago that the current shortage of priests is due largely to two things: first, the catechetical disaster of the 70's through the 90's that confused the majority of laity about the Catholic faith as a whole, and second the intentional actions of many sodomites (and possibly communists) to infiltrate the priesthood with immoral men who did not love the Lord. We can thank God (and some very good Bishops) that the tide is turning back to a solidly orthodox priesthood, but it is not there yet. In the meantime, it is hard for priests (who are stretched like "too little butter over too much bread") to be aware of every event in a parish on their own.

Priests are often dependent on input from parishioners: "Father, I haven't seen Mr. Smith lately, how is he?" "Thank you for mentioning him; I haven't seen him for a while either. I'll give him a call." (I always appreciate it when someone helps me this way.) It is always good to be concerned for one another and never presume that someone else will handle it. Yet, this does not mean that the faithful should just hand it off to the priest; each of them, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, can help each other when they are in need in the way that God has enabled them to do so. Yes, only the priest can do certain things, but that does not mean the laity can do nothing (a phone call, or text, can be a great encouragement to a fellow parishioner in need).

Until we see more priests to serve in parishes, or at least more small parishes and fewer "bloated" parishes, we have to be on the lookout for one another. As a retired marine friend of mine always liked to say "I've got your back"; we need to be saying that to one another. As a priest, I am happy to be there for any of my parishioners whenever they need me to do so. That does not mean, however, that the laity are supposed to ignore one another. Large parish or small parish (but especially the large ones) every one of the faithful are bound to each other for their mutual good. The laity are supposed to be helping each other, praying for each other, and reaching out to one another. This is what it means to be the Body of Christ; this is what it means to live in community.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Restoring the Influence of the Church

A natural consequence of the decline of faith in the Church is that she will inevitably lose influence in the world around. The more the Church flirts with modernism and accepts compromise, the less the world cares what she has to say. The world only pays attention to Catholics when they stand distinct in the truth God proclaims. Yes, we all know that the world wants the Church to be just like it. We also know, however, that the world mocks the Church whenever she is faithful to what God has revealed to her, but as soon as the Church starts looking like the world, the world sees no reason anymore to listen to her.

There are many clerics who were ministering in the Catholic Church back in the late 60's and early 70's who genuinely thought that if the Church were just more worldly that it would finally find success (I believe they actually said they wanted the Church to be more "relevant", but we can see now that they abused that word and used it to cover up their sin). Sadly, some of them are still active today and are continuing to lead people astray. The simple test to their "experiment" is to ask what the result of their actions has been. Looking at the vast number of parishes that (mis)behaved this way, what is their status now? Those that are still following this path (and there are a few) have lost parishioners, have little commitment to the sacraments, have increased ignorance (or outright abandonment) of the faith, and are ready to close the doors. I doubt that is what they intended.

When parishes (and sometimes whole diocese's) spend a generation or two destroying any vestige of Catholicism in their people's hearts (and this has happened more often that we know; usually under the guise of "updating the Church"), we should not be surprised if the results are worldly immorality and complete confusion about what the Catholic faith actually is. There are many dioceses where the Bishop has chosen the road to restoration, and although they do not all look exactly alike, they are acknowledging that we must do something to get back on track (the Ordinariate that I am a member of, and the local diocese of Springfield/Cape Girardeau where I also serve, are two good examples--for which I thank God).

Therefore, if the world has decided it does not need to listen to the Church anymore--which is due mostly to those who chose the path of compromise--then the rest must do something to overcome this. We who want the Church to be brought back to her central place in society cannot merely sit back and wait until things "get better". When the righteous do nothing, the wicked will hold the center. We must stand out as faithful to our Catholic heritage and be a patient and faithful example of holy commitment. This means that priests and their parishes must stand fast in the faith; families must return to Catholic order and raise their children to be saints (leaving their career a distant second!); and everyone must show the world joy in Christ in spite of everything.

It is not merely a "voice at the table" that we are seeking. We are seeking to be able to testify to the glories of Christ. Husbands and fathers must be able to say no to a pay raise so that they can say yes to being with their families. Wives and mothers must be able to maintain their domestic duties and love their husbands and children. Children must grow up knowing that the most important thing in life is to love God and neighbor. Parishes must exemplify a healthy fear of God, both in their involvement with the community around as well as in the liturgy. When the world sees this (like it or hate it), they will know that we are different and that we are available when they discover they are lost and need to know how to live. That is what we call "evangelism".

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Solipsists Society of America

I once tried to start a new support group for solipsists, but found that no one would show up. If you do not know what solipsists are, then that will not be the slightest bit comical. If, however, you happen to know that solipsists are those who do not believe that anyone else in the world exists except themselves, then you should be able to see the problems behind starting a "solipsists support group". Maybe I should have tried to start a club and call it the "Solipsists Society of America" (?).

Although I have never met someone who claimed to be a solipsist (nor, I suppose, would they say that they have met me either!), it appears that a large percentage of American society lives like practical solipsists. "I am the only person in this universe and I do not care about anyone else" seems to be the rallying cry of many people today. There are many ways that this shows its ugly head, but the most noticeable is a general behavior that we would politely call "inconsiderate". The basic principle of being inconsiderate toward others is the same as that present in solipsism. When we fail to consider others in just one instance, we are essentially behaving like a solipsist ("I am the only one here").

It does not take a genius to pause and ask yourself how the things that you are doing will impact other people. Now, of course, I will admit that there are times when we do things that are inconsiderate toward others that are very difficult to foresee, but those are few and far between. In general we can ask ourselves the golden rule: do I want others to treat me this way? That really is the heart of the matter, is it not? Considering how our actions effect others seems to be a forgotten art. In fact, while admitting that children are not born being considerate towards others, the majority of children today are not only disrespectful towards others, they are inconsiderate in ways and degrees that are unknown for much of history.

I have already referred to the impact that the public schools have on children today. This problem of people being selfishly inconsiderate has caused me to wonder if "solipsism" is a required class in public schools today. It is certainly an underlying principle in the curriculum! I know parents who (for one reason or another) have their children in the public schools and are completely exasperated because the children behave as though there is no authority over them in the entire world, and that they are the only being who matters (i.e. solipsism). It is sad to have to admit it, but this is what we have degenerated into.

With this problem being so widespread, it behooves us (yes, I said "behooves") to stand out all the more. Going back to the basics (which I have said many times) we all (especially children!) need to learn that "there is a God, and you are not Him". Do not miss the fact that the problem of being inconsiderate towards other people is only a consequence of the bigger problem. The larger issue at hand is being inconsiderate toward God (which, by the way, when it is done in the Mass, it is a horrendous sin). When people behave as "practical-atheists" it is only a small step to becoming "practical-solipsists". Their fate will be remarkably in accord with their behavior: eternal separation from God, and an agonizing loneliness that can never be overcome.

Let us each do some serious self-examination, and parents ought to think about this issue with each of their children as well. The very root and heart of our faith is the greatest commandments, to love God and neighbor. Solipsists love no one but self, and only those things that please self. As Christmas approaches, we will be thinking more and more about the birth of Christ; that event where God the Father gave His Son to us for our salvation. This is that event where He Who did not need us at all, thought about us more than we have ever thought about Him, and started the process that led to the ultimate sacrifice for our good. Will we continue to live focused entirely on self, or will we recognize that we are God's creatures, made to love Him and others?

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Naïveté of Vatican II?

There are probably many people who still believe that technological progress is always for our good, but they are a dying breed. More and more these days people are beginning to see the serious problems that exist in modern technology. I have even read a few stories about high level executives and various employees of major "tech" companies (Facebook, Microsoft, etc.) quitting their jobs once they realized the serious problems inherent in encouraging a societal addiction to technology. Some even came out and said that they forbid their children from owning a cell phone or surfing the internet.

I have been thinking for quite a while now that the "progress" of technology was going to come back around and bite us. Certainly there are some technological advances that we should give genuine and sincere thanks to God for. Many (definitely not all) advances in medical technology have enabled people to live longer and healthier lives. Some of the advances in communications are of great benefit -- no one should complain at being able to have a cell phone with them when they are out on the road and need to call 911 to report a bad car accident.

Although there are still many who are virtually worshipping technology as though it were our savior, the tide is beginning to turn. This is a good thing, and is helpful for us to get the pendulum to swing back so that we can gain a proper perspective on things. Interestingly, there are places in the documents of Vatican II that the council fathers expressed an almost idealistic perspective on "the progress of humanity" in the technological realm and other areas. Generally speaking, we would have to "read between the lines" in order to find even a hint that the "progress" might lead to problems (Humanae Vitae does not count as a document of Vatican II, but it does stand out as a wonderful example of a balanced perspective on medical "progress").

It has been mentioned in more than one place that some of the motivations for the calling of the second Vatican council is a bit suspect. No, I am not a "conspiracy theorist" (though there are a number of Catholic websites that fall into this category), but there were so many clergymen whose faith was compromised already by the late 50's and early 60's, and these very same men had a strong influence on the direction of Vatican II, that it is hard to believe that the "aggiornamento" was purely in accord with Catholic dogma.

Society was progressing, technology was progressing, so the Church should progress as well; that was the perspective of many back then. The question, of course, is progress toward what (you can progress toward a cliff)? It is often said that we just have not had enough time to get all the kinks worked out of what was intended by the second Vatican council, and once we do then everything will be fine. The problem with this is that some of the statements are so vague in the actual documents that is hard to determine just what they mean, and it causes vast disagreements (apparently Edward Schillebeeckx even said that this was intentional!). Although I completely agree with Benedict XVI that we should only interpret Vatican II with a hermeneutic of "continuity", others disagree because they see the aggiornamento differently (and the language of the documents allows this).

Therefore, let me say this: Vatican II happened and we cannot change the past. We are supposed to interpret it in complete continuity with official Catholic dogma. Yet, we can also say that there was a degree of naïveté going on and that some of the "allowances" that occurred afterward have led to various and sundry problems for the Church. Was it a good idea to call the council? I am not about to go there; I do not (and cannot possibly) have enough information to answer that. Yet, I can say that we are going to be dealing with the "ripples in the water" that occurred as a result of the council (and especially those who wanted to use it to corrupt the Church). Is it really "here to stay" (as Pope Francis apparently said a while back)? I will say this much; I know God will use everything for our good if we love Him, so let us seek to be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves" and do our utmost to glorify God in all things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Easier Way

"But it would be easier that way!" How many times have you said or heard someone else say that? It is natural for us to appreciate an easy way to do things rather than doing it in a more complicated fashion. The real question, however, is not whether something is actually easier, but whether it is necessarily better for something to be easier. In fact, I can think of many things where the "easier" method is actually not the better method.

Let me just pick on one particular area: pastoral duties. There are many ways that I could do things more easily than I currently do them. That does not mean that I choose the harder way because I do not know of an easier way, nor does it mean that I just like filling my time with busy work. There are many things that might be easier, but that does not mean that they are necessarily what is best for my parishioners (nor for my own spiritual well being).

Take, for example, the Mass. I could probably get by with a 30 second homily on Sundays, and rush through all the prayers and always do the shorter options for the readings (yes, I know that there are priests who actually do that). Would that be what is best for the people though? Many people who are immersed in modern culture will presume that "easier is always better", but the problem is that "better" in this instance would only apply to one's freedom in their schedule. Yes, freedom in our schedules does have a level of importance, but it falls far short of the priority of one's spiritual well being.

We cannot compare pastoral ministry to a construction project. Carpenters and contractors might always look for an easier way to accomplish a task, and that is probably a good thing, but there is nothing inherently better about ease in the spiritual realm for fallen people. In fact, when we are dealing with spiritual realities, the easier method is often inherently worse! Yet that sounds unpleasant to us -- because it sounds hard, and we like things easy. It is our sinful inclinations that are preventing us from attaining much of the grace that God offers to us.

Another serious problem with this "assumption of ease" is that we are Catholics. Traditional Catholic theology does not encourage the modern squishy-soft spirituality that is so common in America. Catholic teaching acknowledges (even if few Catholics themselves do) that suffering is a good thing for us, and that it can lead to our spiritual well being. The easy way, of course, is to avoid the suffering; but that also means that we are avoiding the blessings that go with it. Yes, some things in spirituality may be unnecessarily difficult, so this is not an absolute, but we should never assume that easy is better.

The Mass is one of those places where we should never seek out "easier". I was once describing something in the Mass, and another priest said "there is an easier way to do that". When I told him that I did not want an easier way, he responded, "you do know we aren't in medieval times?". That is the issue, is it not? Modernism encourages us to be "faster, easier, and more efficient" and in some things that might be good, but not here. Medieval times had some things that we would do well to restore.

We are so used to taking medicine for every pain, and running to the doctor for every sniffle, that we have drenched ourselves with antibiotics (and it is now coming back to haunt us). Now we have taken this bad perspective and applied it to our spirituality, and it is hurting us in more ways than we are aware. We have lost one of the best things of the medieval culture because modernism has infected us with the wrong view of the world. In some things, the "easier way" is useful and should be sought out, but that is rarely the case in our relationship with the Lord. "If someone asks you to go one mile, go two" does not sound easy; that is because it is for our good.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Virtue in Education

From St. Thomas More's letter to his children's tutor:
...put virtue in the first place, learning in the second; and in their studies to esteem most whatever may teach them piety towards God, charity to all, and modesty and Christian humility in themselves.
Where would be today if public schools had this as their goal? Where would we be today if (all) Catholic parochial schools or homeschool families had this goal? About 20 years ago, I read some books on classical education and was very impressed with the rigorous methodology as well as its medieval origins. Then a few years later I came across an article that pointed out a minor critique of the entire classical education movement. This critique said that man is not primarily an academic, but rather primarily a worshipper. In other words, if we try to educate the mind without educating the heart attached to that mind, then we are merely following another pagan methodology.

Although not initially impressed with the author's argument, over time I began to see how insightful it was. It is one thing to cram facts into a child's head, and it is another thing to make their learning be for their eternal good. Look again at what St. Thomas More was saying in the quote above. Virtue comes before academia. In essence, I am sure that he wanted both, but when we prioritize, he wanted the virtues to come before whatever schooling could provide. Better to be holy than smart (sounds almost like an Elwood P. Dowd quote!).

What is happening in many schools today is that the children are treated as though they are merely supposed to memorize a few facts and that ethical behavior is "hit and miss". Some schools presume that parents will teach ethics and the school takes care of the academic stuff. This, however, will always lead to trouble. You cannot fully separate truth and goodness as though they are unrelated. If you teach a pagan view of truth, or even an atheistic view of truth, you will be teaching ethics as well (usually an ethics of relativism or self-determination). It is comparable to taking poison in the morning, and the antidote in the evening; eventually the body will not be able to handle it.

More's list at the end includes "". Yet, these are not merely details of virtue that he wants taught. Notice that he says "in their studies esteem most..." This means that the academic subjects that he wants included must tend toward and help to foster these holy behaviors (for, as we all know, some subjects tend toward something far less than holiness!). Some Catholic parents today work on piety and charity, a few work on humility, almost none put an effort into modesty; sad, but true. What would our Churches look like if every parent and catechist took to heart this admonition from More? It may sound "old fashioned" to some, but this is merely our Catholic heritage, and if we ignore it, we are causing great harm to our children and to future generations after them.

I do not know the history of More's life enough to know how much personal effort he put into these things for his own children, but I am going to presume that he did not dump the entire duty on the tutor that he was writing to. Even if a parent chooses to allow a teacher or tutor to assist them, they are still responsible for what is being done by that assistant. St. Thomas More chose to give specific instructions on exactly what he wanted the tutor to do; which is far more than most parents do today.

Parents with their children is, however, only one application of this quote from More. We must each think of ourselves and our efforts. Certainly some people are more inclined toward academic studies than others; nothing wrong with that. Yet, for each of us we must put a serious effort into keeping priorities that accord with our Catholic faith. Virtue first, then academics; with virtue defined by the Church: charity, hope, and faith. It would be helpful to read a book about what is wrong with certain sins in order to help us overcome them, yet if we are not working on our own personal virtue before all else, then the information becomes just words on a page.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Did Mary Really Need to be Born Immaculate?

Those powerful words from the Easter Exsultet often come to my mind at different parts of the year: "O blessed iniquity". It refers to the sin of Adam that brought about the need for our Savior to come and accomplish our redemption. One of the times that it comes to mind is when I begin to ponder the Immaculate Conception. Essentially, Adam and Eve were created "immaculate", and all the rest of humanity would have been as well if it had not been for their sin. That is not, however, the way things played out, and their choice to sin led to the need for a Savior.

Therefore, when we consider the Immaculate Conception and what it led to, then we can realize God's wisdom. Some have asked "why did God let Adam and Eve sin?" and wondered if He should have stopped them. Give some thought to what they were doing in their choice to sin. The devil came in the form of a serpent and tempted them; they saw the disobedience before them and chose to say "no" to God. You can almost hear Adam saying, "that sounds good, I want to decide for myself and try it that way".

For Mother Mary, however, there is a different story. If she had been conceived in sin and then been spoken to by Gabriel, she likely would have said, "no thanks, I'll pass". In her immaculate state, however, she heard the angel's testimony of what God planned for her life and said "yes". It was not, though, a "yes" in a vacuum. She was able to look at the sinful world around her (it must have been difficult to have never sinned, and yet still live in a world of sin) and say, "I've seen how much evil there is in the world, and I will joyfully submit to helping bring salvation to mankind".

Essentially, the fallen nature of the world enabled Mary, being sinless, to compare what the sin of Adam had brought, and decide to participate in conquering it. To have been conceived immaculate may seem like it is fraught with danger ("what if she sinned before Gabriel showed up?" as one protestant asked me), yet it was the very means that enabled her to see the world as God sees it. Even in our most holy moment we still do not hate sin like the Lord does. There is always this slight taint of temptation to it until we reach the beatific vision in Heaven. The Virgin did not have this. Instead she was able to see sin for what it truly was and realize how important it was to accept the calling God was giving her.

This is why the Immaculate Conception is vital for our salvation. This is why we must remember how important it is that God chose to do things exactly the way that He did; nothing He did fell short of perfect. So, this year when you fulfill your obligation and go to Mass on Immaculate Conception, give thanks to God that He is the one in charge, and that He granted us exactly what we need. Pray also that He would give to each of us to be able to see our own sins with holy eyes, precisely the way that He sees them. That is how we will turn away from them, and turn instead unto Christ our Redeemer.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Who Was St. Nicholas?

Happy St. Nicholas day! What is St. Nicholas all about? If images of "Santa Claus" came to your mind, then you went in the completely wrong direction. Take everything you know about "Santa Claus" and toss it out. He has almost nothing to do with the real St. Nicholas. In fact, the only Saint I know of whose association is more distorted than St. Nicholas is St. Valentine. The celebration that occurs every year on February 14th in his honor is an awful distortion of what he was all about (the error is based on the fact that he performed marriages when the Roman Empire said it was illegal).

So then, what was St. Nicholas really known for? He was the Bishop of Myra (in modern day Turkey) in the 4th century. There are various legends that surround him and none of them directly relate to Christmas per se. The closest one that people have often heard of is that he put gifts into poor children's socks that were hanging to dry. It does not appear that it was in relation to Christmas, but rather to his commitment to give to the poor. If you are going to honor a Saint, it should be done in truth (not modernist myths that are known to be in error).

What he is more known for, however, is his fight against Arianism. Apparently, while at the council of Nicea in 325, he was said to have punched (or maybe just slapped) Arius himself in the face. He considered the arian heresy to be a horrible evil (it was, after all, an attack on the very person of Christ). As a result he was stripped of his episcopal insignia and sent to prison. Interestingly, the Lord appeared to disagree with that decision. Christ and the Blessed Virgin appeared to him in prison, restored him to his office, and freed him to return to ministry (!).

Is that the St. Nicholas that you are thinking about today? The devil would love it if you forgot who the real Saint was, and focused instead on an errant notion of a "fat, jolly guy who gives you stuff". Look deeper to see who he was (even if some of the stories are just legendary, they reveal the type of character he was known for). At the beginning of Advent, it would be wise for us to keep our focus on the truth, and look to honor our Lord and His Saints for who they really were.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Time to Vote With Your Feet

How do you determine if a marriage is in trouble? What would you do if you suspected that there were some problems with a couple that you know, and yet you also knew that they might not be completely honest about the situation? Just saying to them "is your marriage about to go in the tank?" might not be the most tactful way to approach it (though I know a few people who might think that would be acceptable!). One suggestion that could reveal much would be if you got the opportunity to come over to their home and have dinner with them. Just watching the two of them interact would be very telling.

Now, let us apply this principle in another area. How do you determine if a parish is in trouble? As above, you cannot walk up to the priest and say "is your parish about to implode?" There are probably a number of things that you might look for. Do the parishioners get along with each other? Is the priest personable? Are they financially stable? Yet, these things are merely some of the symptoms, and none of them really are the heart of the matter.

Do you want to know what the level of spiritual health is of a particular parish? Then, go to Mass when their pastor is the celebrant. What the priest does in the Mass will determine what the health of that parish is going be like. No, it may not have had the full impact if he has only been there a year or so, but it will reveal the direction that the spiritual state of the parish is headed (either for good or bad). The Mass is the heart of the Sacraments, and therefore it is the center of our relationship with Christ. If the Mass is done to entertain (which can only be done by breaking a large number of rules) then you can be sure that the spiritual health of the parish is going to go downhill, and that they will ultimately be moving away from Christ.

The Mass is not merely a "decoration" for the parish, like which color the drapes are at a home. No, just as the manner in which a husband and wife usually interact with each other will reveal where their spirituality is at, so also the manner in which the parish usually interacts with the Almighty God will reveal where the spirituality of the parish is at. The Mass is, after all, the primary place and event in which we interact with our Lord. All other things are secondary. If the Mass is being done reverently and with the intent of honoring and pleasing God, then it will impact the health of the parish for the good (though depending on where they are starting it may take some time). If the Mass is being done irreverently, or the rules are being broken regularly, then the spiritual health of the community will suffer for it (often, fairly quickly).

Things like the number of programs, the "happiness" of the parishioners, or the size of the membership, are not really proper gauges for the spiritual health of a parish. Programs really only tell how busy a parish is; regardless of what programs there are (a married couple can be very busy, but still have a rotten relationship). The "happiness" of the parishioners does not guarantee that they are finding their joy in Christ (I have known couples who were "happy" because they were enjoying something immoral). The size of the membership only tells you that they are able to get people in the doors, and not whether they are actually helping them develop holiness (there are married couples who have big families and lots of friends, and yet they hate each other).

So then, what does one do when he finds himself in a parish where the health is deteriorating? If he is unable to make a change (and most laity are unable; sorry), then he must do something to protect himself and his family. We can compare to a marriage situation again. If a marriage is in trouble the couple needs to get help, and you--as an outsider--need to be cautious about being under the couple's influence. It can impact your spiritual well being also. In like kind, if a parish is in trouble the bishop needs to step in (yesterday!), and you need to leave and go somewhere that God is honored.

Yes, this might sound like a drastic bit of advice, but to remain in a parish that is encouraging disrespect for the Lord and compromise in holiness, means that you are supporting that same thing (even if you are "personally against it"). There is a reason that the Catholic Church is structured so that a Bishop has many priests to serve in his diocese. Firstly, of course, it is so that every area has a priest. Secondly, however, it is also so that unfaithful priests can be found out, precisely by the fact that the faithful refuse to support them (because supporting them keeps them hidden!). Your soul and the souls of your families are at stake. With all the abuse floating around today, the faithful must "vote with their feet" and refuse to support those priests that are abusing the liturgy (amongst other possibilities).

I know that it may be difficult to drive extra miles to a parish with a faithful priest, but it is a small price to pay for holiness. If more people took a stand in this way, and those priests that abused the liturgy were left without a sufficient parish body to maintain the community, then the Bishops would recognize the problem and remove them from office. Some Bishops are willing to remove abusive priests, but many today are unwilling to do so (for one reason or another). As I have said before, it is often the laity that help to move the Church to accomplish genuine repentance. Will you do your part?

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Worthiness and Humility

Humility in our spiritual lives is an absolute essential. To approach our spiritual growth with pride is always destructive. The Lord provides various means by which we can develop a godly humility (as opposed to the false humility so often seen in Christian circles these days). One of those means for priests might sound like the opposite at first. There is a Mass in the "Various Needs and Occasions" section of the Missal called "For the Priest Himself". It might seem as though it would be prideful for a priest to say Mass for himself, but it is not so.

After reading all the proper prayers for this Mass, I chose to say this Mass for myself the other day. Here is the reason why. The prayers in the Mass are directed in a wonderful way to the humility of the priest. I do not believe that any priest could offer this Mass and not be humbled (unless he completely ignored the words found in it). The prayers have the priest stating that he acknowledges his complete unworthiness even to be offering the Mass at all. They mention his total need for the grace of God to help him to fulfill his ministry. They are, in essence, a holy smite in the face to make sure that he knows that he needs grace just as much as his people do.

I pondered after the Mass, what it would be like if every priest was required to say this Mass privately (so that he can clearly offer himself to the Lord in what he does) at least once a year (say, during lent)? I am not about to tell Bishops what to do, but I would think it wise to consider this as a means of helping priests to keep themselves in focus about who they are, and also about how fragile they are. Where would many of these liturgically and sexually abusive priests and bishops be today if they had followed this kind of practice? Yes, they might just ramble through the words and ignore them, but I suspect some would be touched by it. The Holy Ghost can impact people in powerful ways.

One of the greatest temptations in being a priest is when people compliment you. Every priest appreciates when people tell him they liked a homily or learned something from him. Whenever we are complimented about our accomplishments, we can very easily be tempted to gain a sense of self-sufficiency. "Look at how much I am able to do!" The automatic result is that we forget about how much we need the Lord and His help. We never actually say that we think we are "worthy" of our vocation, but that does become the attitude of our hearts. Although we say it in every Mass: "Lord I am not worthy..." we can forget the reality of this truth. When a clergyman falls into this it can be even more detrimental than a layman since his spirituality impacts all the people under his care.

Do you pray for yourself during the Mass (maybe during the time of silence at communion)? If so, then what do you pray about? Do you just pray for things you want? Or do you pray for your own spiritual health? Do you pray that God would help you to become more humble (a scary prayer!)? We all need to come to a point in our lives where we can see ourselves the way that God sees us; both in how much He loves us, as well as in how much we need His love! As we begin this Advent season, let us make this a goal: to work on developing a greater humility towards the Lord, as well as a greater dependence on His grace.

I had said this Mass "For the Priest Himself" years ago in the Roman Missal, but for some reason it did not impact me then the way that it did this time. That is the way that things affect us though, is it not? We grow in our faith, and approach something a second time and it impacts us differently than it did before. This is why the repetition of the liturgical year is so good for our souls. So, just in case you are saying "I was humbled last year, I don't need any more!" you can realize how important it is for us to return, repeatedly, to the Lord and ask Him to humble us (gently).

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Toward or Froward?

What is the difference between "toward" and "froward"? Most people do not use the second word very much today. It does show up quite a few times in the old King James translation of the Bible, but I cannot recall seeing it anywhere in modern literature. For a person to be "toward" means that he is facing you (and thus willing to listen to what you are saying). For a person to be "froward" means that he is facing away from you (and thus unwilling to listen to you). The words, back when they were used commonly, were direct opposites. Instead of "froward" we often use words today like "obstinate" or "belligerent", but they do not have the exact same substance.

It is somewhat sad that we do not use the word "froward" much today, because in spite of its lack of usage, it is happening constantly. We have become a culture of froward people; all of whom refuse to listen to good counsel. It often does not make a difference whether a person is traditional or modern, liberal or conservative, young or old; you can find froward people at every turn. Whenever we become attached to a selfish desire, and refuse to be corrected, we become froward. It is those worldly attachments that lead us away from God.

There are a few particular areas that we each need to be aware of when it comes to these temptations to a froward selfishness. Let me list them and explain each:

    the desire to control things and others
This refers to the temptation of the abuse of authority. Those who fall into this sin presume that they know better than everyone else, and genuinely believe that if they were in charge of things, that they could do everything correctly. Far more people have descended into this behavior than we would like to admit. This is what we would often refer to as someone with "control issues" who has tendencies to fall into dictatorial actions.

    the desire to obtain knowledge to use against others
This refers firstly to the belief that one's personal intelligence is so far superior to anyone else, that people should immediately bow to their opinions. There are many different directions that this temptation can be taken, but it is seen in a few areas more than others. Some pursue scientific studies for the sake of using the "knowledge" for their own means. Others will fall into this by being a gossip. Still others are subject to the foolish notion that the Internet is the real world; they spend hours every day looking for one more juicy detail that will help them to be superior.

    the desire for influence over others
Not often considered in these discussions, this temptation is not related to the desire to bring the truth of Christ to the world. Rather, this is the obsession to lead for one's own purposes (which is what "clericalism" actually is). The media, journalists, and authors (and frequently, today, bloggers) all are subject to this sin (yes, I know this applies to me as well). To help others to find the truth of Christ and guide people in wisdom, is, of course, a good thing; that is not what we are speaking of.

You probably noticed that each of these overlaps the other two. Yes, there are similarities, but people tend to lean more to one or the other aspect. The problem is not wanting to lead, with wisdom, and guide people; the problem is those who do so and are unwilling to be corrected. These behaviors all can be described as an insistence in getting our own way; always. We have all heard of the "bridezillas" who demand everyone bow to their every wish, but there are a large number of other "zillas" roaming around these days (as a clergyman, I can say that there are a number of clergyzillas).

In one time or another each of us is tempted to behave in a froward manner. It is often called being stubborn or willful. The froward person, however, is the one who stands "facing away" and says he does not care about others, and his "delusions of grandeur" impact everything that he does. Do not start thinking about others whom you know to be froward (that is what froward people do!). Instead, I encourage everyone who is reading this to do some introspection and seek to determine if you are froward. Most froward people do not see their own error; do not be one of them.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Praising God for Everything He Does

How do you feel about eternal punishment? I know, that sounds like I am asking, "how do you feel about getting dental surgery without a pain killer?" Yet, when you think about the reality of Hell (and it is a reality) how do you respond to it? Does it make you shudder? Do you get squeamish? I sincerely doubt that any of us responds with joy. What if we were to find out that the Saints in Heaven actually praised God for the fact of an eternal recognition of His divine judgment on the wicked? Woah.

Today's readings for Mass give us a passage from the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) in the New Testament. In that passage we read that the Saints in Heaven praise God for three things: 1) His saving power and glory; 2) His punishment of those who lead people into sin; and 3) the continuing remembrance of her punishment (Apoc 19:1-3). The second one is tough enough, but that last one seems almost impossible to fathom. It reads this way in the Douay:
Alleluia. And her smoke ascendeth for ever and ever.
The Catholic edition of the Revised Standard Version reads similarly:
Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever.

It is not just a recognition of the fact that the smoke of Hell exists. It is specifically giving praise to God that He does not let us forget it. Judgment is not a pleasant thing, of course. Yet, here we find that those who are perfectly redeemed in Heaven are thankful enough to express praise to the Lord that the "smoke" rises "forever". We should note that it is not saying that they can see the actual punishment itself (as though they were watching the tormented souls in agony), yet it does say that they see a reminder of it. Just as you can see smoke rising from a fire even though you do not see the fire itself, so this is a sign that reminds them that God brings, and has brought, judgment.

What bothers so many of us is that we feel uncomfortable with the idea of taking pleasure in someone's pain, and that is a good thing. We should never rejoice that someone is suffering (anyone). The reason why this is so, however, is because in our fallen state we do not yet have a perfectly redeemed heart and mind that can perceive things the way that God can. We are prone to feelings of selfish vindictiveness and revenge and those are sinful. No, I am not saying that there is a holy "gloating" going on in Heaven, but I am saying that the Saints can give praise to God for all His works (including His judgments). Consider this: we are told many times in Scripture to give thanks "in good times and bad" and to "praise God for all His mighty works". If we can achieve praising God for His judgments, then the rest is easy.

Imagine the holy Saints telling God, "I like all Your nicey, nicey works, but I really do not like that judgment and punishment stuff; could You hide it back in the corner of eternity so I don't have to look it at?" Yeah . . . probably not. If, however, it is a holy and saintly thing to praise God for His judgments, then why do we here on Earth still get uncomfortable about it? Because we are still on the path to holiness, but have not yet arrived. I admit that I cannot stand talking about Hell in a homily (did it a few weeks back and stressed the whole way through!). Yet, each of us needs to be moving further along that path.

I do not expect anyone to be running around tomorrow yelling "hooray, God sends people to Hell!" Once again, in our fallen state (and in the current theological confusion of our society) that would be the exact opposite of speaking the truth; it would come across as a hateful vendetta (the Book of Revelation was sent to the Churches to read, not the pagan world). We should, though, be working on being able to give our Lord praise for everything He does; not just for saving us, but for bringing justice where justice is needed. That is what eternal punishment is all about: justice. If God did not cast the wicked into Hell, then He would be unjust--and an unjust God cannot be trusted in anything (even salvation). Let us each seek to praise Him for His glorious works; each and every one of them.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A Prayer For These Days

We humbly beseech Thee, O Lord: that of Thy unbounded mercy Thou wouldest grant unto the Holy Roman Church a Pontiff, who by his tender care towards us may ever find favour in Thy sight, and, studying to preserve Thy people in safety, may ever be honoured by us to the glory of Thy Name; through Jesus Christ Thy Son our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.
Although this prayer was intended for use in the Mass when a new Pope is being elected (Divine Worship Missal, For The Election of the Pope), I have found another usage for it. Notice the words "grant . . . a Pontiff". The intent of the phrase "grant . . . " is to say "grant us a new Pope". Yet, it is grammatically possible for it to mean "grant unto our current Pope that he would . . . " I have been praying this prayer (twice a day) with a two-fold direction. First, I am asking the Lord to grant Pope Francis to see his sins, and to repent of them; publicly, fully, and sincerely. Second, I am asking that if that is not going to happen, I am praying that the Lord would grant us a new Pope; soon and very soon. God is God, and I leave it in His hands as to how He answers this prayer.

No, I am not praying for Pope Francis' death (as I have heard many are doing). Yet, as I have mentioned before, Pope Francis is not, at present, a good Pope; he has clearly shown himself to be working against the Catholic faith in many areas. As Dr. Taylor Marshall said recently, it is time to "take the red pill" about Francis. The current Pope is not helping the Catholic Church to withstand the world, the flesh, or the devil. He is actually doing many things that are encouraging sinful behavior. We need a good Pope. We need either for Pope Francis to repent and be a good shepherd, or we need a different Pope (Cardinal Sarah would be a great choice!).

I would encourage all of my readers to begin praying this prayer on a regular basis. I would encourage you to make sure beforehand, though, that your heart be right about it. Do not pray it with anger or in a vindictive mood. Pray it with humility and holiness. Pray it with trust in our great Lord, that He will show us mercy in these times of great trial.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Christ the (One and only) King

Yesterday morning, Christ the King Sunday, I woke up with a terrible cold. I had felt fairly healthy the night before when I said the Mass at two of my parishes. The aspect that was an extra bummer for me, was the fact that Christ the King Sunday is actually my favorite day on the entire liturgical calendar. Yes, I like it even more than Easter and Christmas! I know I have said this before, but in principle Christmas and Easter would not mean much if Christ never sat down at God's right hand to rule as King of the Universe. It is that most important fact that we cannot do without.

Christ, being seated on the throne of Heaven, is bringing together all that He did in His life, death, and resurrection and applying it to the world now. If it were not for His current reign, then we would not be able to receive any of the benefits of His grace; they would all be lost. This is why it is my favorite day of the liturgy. If we lose that truth, we lose everything that came before.

Furthermore, the encouragement that we receive from knowing that Christ is ruling in Heaven goes far beyond the worst problems that the world or the devil can throw at us (and even beyond what we can do to ourselves!). Are you in pain? Do not worry; Christ is still on His throne. Are you confused? Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne. Are you fearful? Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne. That is really the answer to every challenge that can ever be encountered, because were He not on His throne, then we would have something to worry about. As it is, we can take full confidence in Him because His love for us is not useless; it is the love of the One Who is King of kings and Lord of lords.

So then, back to the beginning point. I was sick (and technically still am) with a pretty bad cold. I woke up on Sunday morning and thought to myself "great! now I can't deliver my homily that I had prepared for this day". What is it that I hear the Holy Ghost saying to me? "Do not worry, Christ is still on His throne". I respond, "but, I have such good things to tell them!" Holy Ghost: "They are not dependent on you for their salvation, they are dependent on Christ as their King and Savior". Me: "OK, smack down accepted".

It is those wonderful experiences (yes, I did just call it "wonderful" that I got sick and could not offer the Mass, but please remember the context), that help us to keep ourselves on track and remember Who really is in charge. It is easy for each of us to overestimate our importance, and what better day to get it straight than on Christ the King Sunday? Let us each keep in our hearts a remembrance of what it means to be servants of the King of kings. Let us each rejoice that He is in charge and we are not. Let us each be thankful that it all depends on Him and not on us. Let us each give praise to Christ our glorious King.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Working the System

Walking through the grocery store the other day, I saw a couple of teens that were a perfect example of what most people would consider "teenage rebellion". I had the sad thought about what their parents must be feeling; I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually did care (many today do not). We all know these types of children; we see them regularly and anyone with a concern for someone's eternal soul will agonize about it.

There are other categories of children. There are the ones who have troubles, and they regularly go back and forth through the cycle of rebellion-repentance-depression-normalcy-rebellion-etc. Most families have at least one child like this. They can usually be identified because they are not too good at covering up their problems in the long term. There are also those children who have an occasional struggle, but are generally what we would consider to be devout and holding their faith.

There is, however, one more category that is not as widely known. There are children in Catholic families that, for lack of a better phrase, have figured out how to work the system. I have seen them many times, and these are the ones that I worry about the most (even more than those in the first paragraph who are in open rebellion). You see, the rebellion of this category is hidden and many people do not see it. In fact, their parents are often the last ones to see it. Out of the natural desire to see their children do well, parents will often put all the weight on their children's good behavior and rarely ever peek into their hearts to see if it is sincere. These children know this and take full advantage of it.

When a child has degenerated into this behavior, it is because something has happened to their hearts that draws them away from Christ; and it probably happened long before. Hypocrisy (for that is precisely what it is) does not show up over night. It is most often a planned attempt to cover up a deep-seated evil that the person knows is wrong and does not want to get caught in. These children will often look "faithful" in general terms. They still attend the Mass with their parents (when they cannot come up with an excuse to avoid it), they ask religious questions, and will even participate in prayer. This is because they have learned how to mimic these actions while their hearts are far from God.

It is not hard to figure out how to say the right words and make the right actions. Children raised in Catholic homes are frequently around it quite a lot, so they have multiple examples of it to copy. All the while, they are ready to bail on the faith in a moment as soon as they get the opportunity (which usually comes when they finally get out on their own). When this happens, these parents are quick to say "we never saw it coming". It is, of course, hard to look into anyone's heart, and only the Lord knows a person's heart perfectly. The signs of hypocrisy, however, are easy to spot (even if the specifics are unclear).

Sadly, these children have learned how to put on a show; they are hypocrites in the deepest way. The reasons that they choose this path will vary, but generally it comes from an event where they open themselves up to some kind of doubt about the Christian religion (parents who are not in complete unison about the faith is a common cause today). They often have some semblance of faith, but it is severely weakened because they are seeking selfish pleasure first. What little faith they have is often just enough to blind those around them to what is really going on deep in their hearts. They are often just biding their time until they can be out from their parents' authority and be able to "come out of the closet" about their denial of the faith.

It should be obvious to all that there is only one way to deal with this type of problem. Parents must win the hearts of their children. It is easy to win their behavior (outwardly forcing them to comply), but getting their hearts is much harder. It takes a lot of self-sacrificial love that shows the children that the parents really do care. It takes a lot of talking things over, and reaching out to the children before they start down these corrupt paths. If you find that your children have already gone down this path, they can be brought back, but it is not done with just a few firm commands to "snap out of it". What it takes is protecting them from what will pull them away, and staying close to them with a loving authority that is willing to pull them back from the edge.

Of course, pray for your children; of course be wise and clear in your leadership (and never, never, never, try to be their friends before being their parents). It is not easy to do, I know, but you must prove to your children that nothing else carries the importance that they do for you. Your job, your income, your personal pleasures, your comforts and conveniences; all these you must be willing to sacrifice in order to show your children what really matters to you; their eternal salvation. God never said parenting would be easy, and if all we do is a bare minimum, then we cannot expect to lead our children to Christ.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter . . .

I have passed an important point. After having seen the sad outcome of the US Bishop's meeting in Baltimore, and watching (on video -- I was not present) Cupich, Wuerl, and Mahoney walking around and talking as though they are innocent and orthodox, I have lost confidence. No, I have not lost hope -- but then my hope is not based in anyone other than Almighty God. I have lost confidence, which I was trying to hold onto and give the benefit of the doubt that maybe the Bishops (including Pope Francis) would be moved by a pastoral concern to do something good.

Therefore, the point that I have passed, is this: having confidence that there are enough good Bishops to make a difference. There were times in history past that God had to remove disobedient clergy from the Church and that may very well be what needs to occur today (I have heard that St. Charles Borromeo once said that most of the Bishops in his day were going to Hell!). If God is going to bring a temporal judgment on those "shepherds who destroy" (cf. Jer 23:1), it is obviously not in my hands. I will continue to pray for them, and for the future of the Church. No, I cannot just "move on" and forget it all, but I cannot continue to dwell on this.

If a parishioner of mine comes to me with an "abuse" issue, then I will (of course) minister to him. I cannot allow the problems in the USCCB (which appear to be very deep seated) to keep me from ministry; I have people to care for. The cares and concerns of the average parishioner (based on those I have spoken with each week) are not based in the problems of the Bishops. We all want them to get these things fixed, but we have lives to live. We have Masses to attend, children to raise, work to be done, bills to be paid, and prayers to be said. We should not forget the problems (and we should step up immediately when we encounter one in our own parishes!), but we have done our duty in calling those involved to faithfulness.

If those who want to maintain the problems (as though they were a good thing) have taken hold of the reins and outnumber those who still love the Lord, then we must sit back and wait for God to bring His judgment. Yes, there are good Bishops out there who are seeking genuine faithfulness, but they are a minority today and their hands appear to be tied. I know it may sound somewhat "defeatist", but if we become obsessed with all of this, then it will drag us down. We will end up unable to serve God in the manner we are called to do.

It is hard to have any hope at times like this. I know that Cardinal DiNardo said he ended with a hope that they may be able to do a better job if they take more time to work through things. I certainly want them to, but I do not have much confidence that they will be able to, especially when you realize how many prelates are against them. Further delays may very likely cause even more loss of hope in many. I pray that they will not lose their hope in Christ, and will realize it is time to "hunker down" and fight the good fight of the faith where each of us is able to do so.

Thinking as a pastor, if I were to delay dealing with a problem of this magnitude and just keep putting people off, I would be in grave sin. When I encounter a serious issue, I cancel appointments and go to "accompany" (Pope Francis' word!) those who are hurting. If Pope Francis had done this last summer when so many were hurting, things might not be where they are today. If a parishioner comes to me and begs for help with a crisis, for me to tell him "wait until next February" is a prime example of the behavior of a hireling (I believe the technical term is "clericalism"), and not the Good Shepherd (cf. John 10:12-15).

Let us fight diligently to maintain our faith in the Good Shepherd, and pray for those whom He has put over us. Let us make sure that we are getting on with the lives that God has called us to live. Even if your confidence is lost, like mine has been, you can still maintain a strong devotion to the faith, and continue to be a holy Catholic. Do not forget those who are hurting and always be ready to reach out to them with whatever grace God has given to you. Together we can endure and prepare for the future where our blessed Lord will grant us a renewal and restoration of His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.

Friday, November 16, 2018

NFP or NFA?!

I have read quite a bit of information about Natural Family Planning; some helpful, some not so much. My wife and I never actually practiced NFP since our philosophy was, "just let God give us as many children as He wants to, and trust Him in all of it". I have met a few other Catholic couples who have the same perspective, and it is quite refreshing to see (especially since it was pretty much the only position until the last century!). While the Church is working hard to teach the evils of any form of artificial contraception, and seeking to promote natural family planning, it seems to me that something has gone awry.

Someone once said to me, after I had given an explanation of NFP, that it seemed that the only difference it had with artificial contraception was that it was natural. "So the Church just wants us using natural contraception?" At first I saw it merely as a naive misunderstanding of things. Then, after a time, I began to find out that vast numbers of married couples were using NFP as a "Church approved contraception". They were still contracepting, just doing so in the way the Church approved of. They were not using NFP to put "space between" children's births, but to avoid more than their predetermined number of children. Rather than "Natural Family Planning" this should be called "Natural Family Avoiding".

We have become so convinced that children should only come when we want them, and when we decide to have them, that "some form" of contraception is being practiced by most. I am sure that there are couples who have 8, 9, or 10 children that practiced NFP (and not "NFA") but all the ones I met with large families had the "other" perspective I mentioned above: just trust God. Natural Family Planning should not be used to avoid more than two children, but that does seem to be the case in a number of instances.

In fact, much of the material that I have read, and many (not all) of those who teach NFP describe it in these exact terms. Although they never actually say "Church approved contraception", that is the way that it comes across in their talks (I speak from first hand experience). Quite often, the manner that NFP is explained sounds more like "here is the way the Church allows you to trust yourself in contraception"; as though we all know that you certainly cannot trust God in something like that (let Him give you a couple children and the next thing you know you will have 5 or 6!).

NFP is considered a godly practice of spacing out the births of children. One question has not been asked in this subject matter: in this day of modern advancements, great conveniences, and better living conditions, why do we need to "space out the births of children"? I am not saying that there are no advantages to having a certain amount of time between children being born (two of ours were born just a year apart--I know what it is like). I am asking when that became a proper motivation, and what is it that we are trying to achieve? I personally know a woman who had great difficulty after each of her children were born, and I can see a good reason for her to use NFP. Outside of circumstances like that, it seems many are still using NFP for entirely selfish reasons.

Yes, I am probably making a few new "unfriends" in saying this. My goal is not to harm anyone or cause strife and stress, but we each need to look at our motivations in what we do. NFP is supposed to be for promoting godliness, but it is hard to deny that it is used often to support an ungodly attitude, and becomes the very thing that it was developed to avoid: contraception. I even overheard one person encouraging another that "you have to use NFP since the Church does not allow artificial contraception". It was presumed that everyone wants to limit the number of children they have, so this is the holy way to do it.

My dear wife and I have only 5 children. Although we wanted more, that was not how things worked out for us. We rejoice in what God has given us, and are always thankful. Five children is not really that many though (I met an older woman the other day who is number 7 of 14 children, and knew someone years ago who had 19 children). It was not long ago that 8 or 9 was considered a normal Catholic family; nowadays it is almost unheard of. Do we really still believe that children are a blessing of the Lord? Do we really give Him our whole trust; especially in the area of children? What has happened to our hearts?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Bad Leaders

While driving to one of my parishes to say Mass the other day, I passed a truck going the other direction and could not help but notice the driver. She was a woman of about 25 or 30 years old and had two children with her. At least those were the ones I saw, there may have been more in the back seat. I was able to see the two quite well because they were in the front seat with her. Let me be even more specific. They were physically, in the same front seat with the woman who was driving. The one child was about a year old and she was holding that one with her left arm. The other child was about two years old and she was apparently standing on the center console with her arms around the woman's neck.

I suppose it is possible that there is a valid explanation as to why this was necessary, but I have yet to be able to come up with one. I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt and presume that she believed that she was keeping her children safe and that her actions were protecting them. What a vivid picture that is of what leadership has become today (clergy, parents, politicians, etc.). For someone who believed the same as what I am presuming of that woman, seat belts might seem to "too restrictive" and an "overreaction".

As Catholics, we all understand the importance and the need for leaders -- good leaders, that is. The problem, of course, is that there are so few good leaders and a large percentage of those in leadership positions today are not just "bad leaders" they are "horrible leaders". I am not as familiar with other countries, but political leaders in America are...well...ummmm...embarrassing. Yes, I know, that is a bit too vague. Maybe the phrase, "astronomically incompetent and childish" would be more clear (both liberals and conservatives)? I know that a lot of attention gets thrown at bad leadership in the Catholic Church these days (and we certainly do have a large collection of bad leaders), but it is not just in one area that this has occurred.

Examples of good leaders in any field are few and far between. This is why leaders are generally not trusted today. In the Church (especially here in America) we seem to have deepened that lack of trust so far that it seems impossible to restore it. It is possible, but not if we continue to practice the same kind of leadership that got us into this problem. Leaders have to change, and that means that their hearts have to change.

The horrendous moral compromise that took place over the span of the 20th century was not created "ex nihilo". It was the result mostly of the (so-called) Enlightenment of the 18th century (which was itself the necessary result of the Protestant apostasy of the 16th century). The more that people rebelled against authority and sought to recreate it in their own image, the more authority became corrupted. We went from the medieval concept of authority (under God, and for the sake of the people, not the leader himself) to a modern concept of authority (under no one, for the sake of getting what I want). This is true of vast numbers of politicians, clergy, and parents today.

Going back to my original illustration at the beginning, leaders are racing down the highway with the presumption that they are doing what is good and right for their people, yet all the while they are putting those who are under their care at great risk. Leading people is much more than just knowing what is supposed to happen and then making it happen. The motivation behind leadership is crucial. It is certainly difficult to maintain a godly attitude in any leadership position (especially when those under one's care are malcontents). The Lord, however, calls us to holiness and service. For leaders that means that they are supposed to be doing their job for the glory of God and for the sake of the people. Selfishness and personal pride should never come into the picture.

I once heard someone say that if a leader likes being a leader, then he is doing it only for himself. That may be a bit exaggerated, but only a bit. As a leader in the Church and in my home, there are many days when I do not like being a leader -- helping those who are hurting, guiding the confused, juggling difficult schedules; it all can weigh down on you. If I were to imagine that I am called to lead for my own sake, and I come to find that I do not enjoy what I am doing, then I will manipulate things until the circumstances are pleasing to me. If, however, I know that I am called to lead for the sake of others, then my personal comfort is not going to be the primary factor in the decisions I make. In fact, I should be willing to surrender my personal comfort regularly for the sake of others.

Does it take longer to lead rightly? Yes, it often does. Do we have to have a greater knowledge and experience in order to lead rightly? Yes, we do. Is there a personal and spiritual dimension to godly leadership? Absolutely. Those who approach leadership humbly and with a servant's heart, will find that the Lord can easily assist them by guiding their daily actions. Those who approach leadership for their own good (especially those who try to claim it is for the good of others when it is not) are blocking out the Lord and preventing the Holy Spirit from granting them wisdom. Governmental leader, business leader, Church leader, or home leader; let us pray for them all, and ask the Lord to inspire penitence and restoration so that leaders can once again be trusted.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

"Train the young women..."

What if I said that married women have to love their husbands and children? Would anyone of my readers disagree with me? What if I said that married women are required to have wisdom and self-control in sexuality? Probably fairly safe there as well. How about if I told them that they had to make the home their primary duty and responsibility in life? I suspect that I might get a few grumblers who say that I have "crossed a line". Yet, what if I went all out and said that they have to be in joyful submission to their husbands? I suspect that most of my regular readers would be on the same page, but some "passers-by" might very well be planning my demise at this point. What if I told you that this is exactly what St. Paul said in today's first reading at Mass?
train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands
The Church has not cut out this passage and removed it from our Lectionary. We are still supposed to read it, hear it, and follow it. I am not making this stuff up; it comes from the word of God. In fact, the Church traditionally teaches this exact thing. Look at what is written in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (part 2, chapter 8, question 27):
It should also be a principal study of [wives] to train up their children in the practice of religion, and to take particular care of their domestic concerns. Unless compelled by necessity to go abroad, they should willingly keep themselves at home; and should never venture to leave home without the permission of their husbands. Again, and in this the conjugal union chiefly consists, let them always remember that, next to God, they are to love no one more than their husband, to esteem no one more highly, yielding to him in all things not inconsistent with Christian piety, the most willing and cheerful obedience.
This is something many today do not want to talk about. It appears that they have been frightened by feminists to the point of where they neglect (or outright deny) the truth. We have come a long way when you realize that just one hundred years ago, I could have spoken this without a pause, and today eyebrows go up just at the mere mention of women's submission to their husbands. It is not, however, just a matter of "controlling women" (as a feminist once told me), it for the sake of a much larger good. The rest of passage from today's first reading is as follows:
that the word of God may not be discredited
You see, the Apostle is arguing that if our homes are not ordered rightly, then the world will have reason to distrust God and what He says. We are always giving an example to the world; either a good example (of exactly what God says) or a bad example (contradicting what God has said). In fact, in the same passage when the Apostle is encouraging faithfulness among young men (which is just as important!), he says there that the reason why the family is to be ordered according to God's rules is,
so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say of us
This is not merely an issue for the first century that no longer applies. Disorder in the home can be seen by everyone. If the world is disordered, and our families are equally disordered, then we merely look just like them and have no grounds to encourage repentance. If, however, our families are ordered rightly while the world is messed up, then they will look at us and see that God must be doing something in us for us to be able to stand faithful in these difficult times. What example are you giving in your home?

Ladies, I know you have been told by the world to pursue feminist ideals, and reject the Church's historic positions regarding the distinctive roles of male and female in the world. Stop listening to them; I plead with you, stop now. Seek to learn what the Church has always held to, and seek to see the beauty in it. Parents, teach this to your children, boys and girls both. Help them to see that the order that God lays out for us is a wonderful grace that should not be forgotten. We must live as God's holy people in a dark and foolish world. As St. Paul said at the end of the reading, we are,
to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ

Saturday, November 10, 2018

How to Criticize (and still be holy!)

Criticism; no one likes to receive it, but we all know we need it at times. When you receive a criticism, how do you respond to it? Do you get upset and find ways to defend yourself (even if the criticism is accurate?)? Or, do you respond with humility and acknowledge that we can always learn from a criticism? Much of what makes us respond in a certain way is how the criticism is given. Even an accurate criticism can be delivered in a way that prevents it from being properly received (and thus completely wasting the criticism).

We should all consider what the right way is to criticize, as well as when we should criticize. Many today want to criticize the Bishops who have failed to bring proper discipline and/or have genuinely covered up grave sins. If, however, we proceed to criticize in a manner that is unhelpful (or even downright sinful), then we will be wasting the effort. It is comparable to serving a wonderful meal on dirty dishes; no one wants to eat it no matter how nice the meal itself happens to be.

Let us, then, ask the first question. When should you criticize a clergyman, and when should you not do so? It all depends on the particular circumstances. Some things are just "fishy" and it is obvious that a gentle criticism is needed; other things are a matter of personal preference (regardless of how passionate you are about it) and should be left alone. For example: you should criticize any priest's desire to be alone with your teen son; you should not criticize his choice of time for the Easter Mass. Another: you should criticize a priest who rejects Church dogma; but you should not criticize when a priest explains the Church's teaching just because it causes you personal inconvenience.

The real issue at hand is, what exactly is the subject matter that you are criticizing about? Many have told me that they could never criticize a priest -- by which, they mean, in regard to an issue of Church dogma or liturgy. This is generally a good thing, but what if the priest does something that all can tell is a grave disobedience (like, for example, allowing a woman to preach the homily in Mass)? Should you "just let it go" and leave it between him and God? No. If the Church has said "no" then the answer is "no" even if the priest does not like it. If you are unsure of the Church's position, then ask (you can ask the priest himself, or find another whom you know will be honest with you).

Then we have to ask the next question: how does one properly criticize a clergyman? It is not something that is easy to explain, but the simple principle of "always with humility" is essential. The manner of the criticism is key; anger or pride, should never be part of a criticism (to anyone). You must always show respect for the clergyman's position before God; any other manner of criticism is unacceptable and is like an attack on the Church itself. Deacons, Priests, and Bishops all sin, and at times need to be corrected, but that does not mean that you can do so with a domineering pride. Sometimes a simple question that asks for an explanation of a behavior or decision is all that is necessary.

So then, it is possible to criticize and correct, if done in the right way and for the right reasons. If the subject matter is of a nature that a criticism is necessary, then be sure to approach it in the right manner. Ask someone else about his opinion of things before you jump into it (at least in most matters; do not wait even a second if the priest is aiming at abusing someone). Never be presumptuous or prideful, and always recognize that you too may fall (even in the midst of your criticism). This is the only way that we can help one another on the path of holiness.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

God's People are Hurting

A few months back, when all the ugly stuff about sexually immoral clergymen started hitting the news, I had a few ideas about how this would all turn out. Then Archbishop Vigano's letter became public and that ratcheted things up a bit more. When Abp. Vigano's second letter came out, it was beginning to look like little was going to be done. Now that he has released a third letter (and basically says, "time to fish or cut bait") it is getting even more surreal. I will admit that I never thought that Pope Francis would basically just ignore the entire problem (he has clearly failed in his ministry as Shepherd). I also must admit that I never really thought that the vast majority of Bishops (even in America) would just stand by and say almost nothing about it.

Then, I went back and read some more history. Did you know that in the vast majority of the times when genuine renewal and restoration happened in the Church that it was not the Bishops or Priests who were leading the charge? It was the laity and often the religious as well. They were the ones (with humility and respect!) calling for holiness. They were the ones who were asking for the clerics to do something about the problems that existed. It appears to be the same today.

Serving three parishes means that I am working "in the trenches" and therefore I often get my hands and feet dirty. People come to me and talk about their struggles, and it is not uncommon for me to hear people ask why more Bishops are not taking a clear stand against what every honest person can see is the problem? Sodomy on the one hand (let's call it what it is), and liturgical abuse on the other (no it is not a "different style"); they are the two sides of the coin (those willing to abuse the worship of God, will be more willing to abuse their fellow man). One person suggested that Bishops laicize every priest who either has homosexual tendencies or who abuses the liturgy on a consistent basis immediately; he said "I'd rather be without a priest each Sunday, than have one who offends God, and is a threat to my son's virginity".

That is the real issue here that seems to be hindering genuine godly progress. Many seem to be afraid that the priest shortage will get worse. Yet, it appears that most laity would be willing to do without some good in order to avoid a horrible evil. Will the Bishops follow this pattern and do the serious work to "cut off the hand that offends" us all? I will confess that I hope and pray that something of this nature is what they choose to do when the USCCB meets next week. It is not my place to tell a Bishop (any Bishop) what to do, but it is the place of every one of us to call for a "cleansing of the temple". Even Canon Law says that the laity are supposed to speak to their Bishops about their problems. The offense of sodomite priests is in many ways worse than the offense that caused Jesus to drive people out of the temple in the first century. Some today need to be "driven out" by the Bishops!

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it is hard to be a parent and bring proper discipline on children. The tendency of many today is to let things slide and hope for the best. It should be obvious that this sin has "slid" all the way to our spiritual fathers as well. Many of them are committing the same sin of neglect as are parents, and the results are the same -- disaster. Those who are abdicating their parental responsibilities (even a little) need to take to heart what it means for them to be screaming at the Bishops to "fix things" when they refuse to "fix things" in their own homes. Compromise breeds further compromise, and these Bishops who have failed in their calling were raised in homes that experienced the exact same failed parenting techniques as the rest; how can we possibly be surprised at what it going on? Looking at the problems in the home over the last 75 years, we should have seen this coming.

Therefore, those in positions of leadership need to be doing the hard work to overcome this plague which has hit the Church. While the faithful are crying out for truth, holiness, and traditional reverence, there are Cardinals and Bishops who are seeking to promote lies, abominations, and modernism; they have sold their souls for a pot of beans (Hebrews 12:16). God's people are hurting terribly right now and as a pastor they come to me to express their suffering. I have been making it my regular effort to give them hope. Yet, there are not many signs of hope when those over us are so unclear about what needs to be done. We, as the Church of God, have been betrayed, and not just by a few laity who have fallen away, but by a band of clergymen who want to abandon our Church's historic faith and follow the path of Judas Iscariot (remember how he ended up?).

My own faith is strong; strong in Christ and His power. Yet, it becomes harder day by day for many to keep the faith. There were times when God went through ancient Israel and wiped out large portions of the leadership for their disobedience and failure to protect those under their care. I truly pray that does not have to happen today, and yet we all need to be praying that God will do something to protect His people when those called to do so fail in their task. My Patron Saint is St. Jude. Starting today I am going to be saying the novena to St. Jude. It will end on the last day of the USCCB meeting in Baltimore. I encourage all of you to do the same or find some similar set of prayers. Pray for our Church; pray for holiness; pray for reparation.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

No, really, I want to know . . .

Back when I was a protestant pastor (Presbyterian at the time) there was an instance after one Sunday service that I will never forget. My children were 7, 4, 3, and 6 months. My wife Catherine sat in the pew by herself with all four of them, since I was always up front leading the service. A parishioner came to me after services and said, "OK, I've gotta ask it. How does your wife keep all four of your children quiet through the entire service?" (you need to understand this was a traditional Presbyterian service; not 50-60 minutes like many Catholic Masses, but closer to 90 minutes with a 45 minute sermon!).

My response was simple and straightforward (since we had been asked it many times before). "I just do what it says in the book of Proverbs". He stood there staring at me as though I had just told him that I received a message from aliens on the planet Venus. He clearly did not believe what I was telling him. Finally he spoke, "No, really, I want to know." I quoted a few passages to him as examples, and he acted like I was insulting him with a fake answer. I never did convince him of it, and it has been the same for many other people that I have spoken to about this same subject.

To this day, I am saddened that so few people believe me when I tell them this. It is as though they think that it is just too simplistic to be true. I do, now as a Catholic, have the added advantage of being able to refer to the book of Sirach (Sirach, also known as Ecclesiasticus, was deleted from protestant Bibles back in the 17th century), but it has not had an apparent change in people's responses. Most seem to be looking for a magic trick, or some sneaky ploy that we press upon our children to fool them into behaving properly. It appears that the idea that God's written word has an actual set of guidelines for parenting is just too hard to believe.

Let us face the facts here. The parenting methods of the last 75 years have completely failed; they do not work; they cause more problems than can be resolved; and have led countless souls (of both parent and child) away from God (and possibly into eternal hell). It is time for something old. Yes, you read that right: "OLD". The older way of doing things was perfect -- God's way of doing things is always guaranteed success. His ways never fail, it is we who fail to follow them consistently. The failure is always in us, never in what God has said. When we do not follow through with something, or we choose our own path, then we fail (remember the story of Adam and Eve -- they sort of displayed for all of us the paradigm of self-will).

Someone may say, "then please just outline for us what the book of Proverbs says". Here is an outline: Proverbs chapter 1 through 31. In other words, you need to read the entire book, not just little excerpts. It needs to be read regularly, so that it can become second nature to your thought process. Yes, it would be helpful to have a guide in it (that is what priests are for anyways), but many of the basics are simply straightforward and can be understood by any parent. You just have to do them; and that is the hard part. In fact, it is harder for parents to implement God's guidelines than it is for the children! As parents we get lazy, we let things slide, and look for a way to compromise the rules. That is what leads to the behavior problems that most Catholic children have.

The book of Proverbs says right at the beginning the words, "hear, my son, your father's instruction" (1:8). It is clearly aiming at teaching children. The book of Sirach begins chapter 2 with an admonition to "my son" on how to deal with temptation (2:1), and then continues this train of thought throughout the 51 chapters. If this is what we call the "wisdom literature", why do so few people seek wisdom from it? Whenever a parent steps away from God's word in the raising of children, it is a guarantee that problems will arise. Those problems will create temptations for the parents. Those temptations will always lead to even worse parenting habits (compromised morals, lack of discipline, etc.).

In summary, I can put it this way: a lack of wisdom regarding the godly manner of parenting leads to bad parenting; this in turn leads to bad discipline (or a complete lack of discipline by compromising God's law); this, then, leads to anger in the parents at how things are not going well; the outcome of that is some form of abuse (mental, emotional, or physical), or a complete neglect of godly instruction. When this occurs it always leads to even more bad parenting (it is a perpetual cycle). It is possible that some parents hit on some of the right methods without actually drawing them from Proverbs or Sirach, but that will often be somewhat haphazard rather than clear and organized (and it rarely remains consistent).

Is it difficult to do this? Of course it is. I never said it was easy. I will say, however, that it is easier than the alternative. God's word guides us in learning what it means to avoid temptation and gain self-control. Only when we are on that path, can we as parents guide our children down that path. Furthermore, when we do guide them down that path, we find that they are able to find a genuine joy in obedience, not merely a tolerant acceptance of it for the sake of maintaining peace. In doing this, we and our children, can "understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God" (Proverbs 2:5).

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The Grim Reaper at the Church Doors!

This last Wednesday I said a vigil Mass at one of my parishes for All Saints Day. Across the street there is protestant church (which I will leave unnamed to protect the guilty). They were having a "Halloween" celebration and parents were bringing their costumed children to the church, entering in, and after about 15 minutes coming back out and leaving. I have no idea exactly what the celebration was like, but there was one thing that was hard to ignore; it was the man standing at the door greeting the families as they entered. He was dressed like the grim reaper. No sickle in hand, but the costume could not be mistaken.

I could not help but notice a stunning imagery that was being presented there. When the grim reaper greets you at the door of the Church, how can one not think that something is amiss? I am not criticizing the observance of Halloween, but rather asking: what is being said by that particular choice of the "greeter's costume"? I pray that no one noticed the imagery and that it was just a matter of ignorance (otherwise, someone was saying that entering that church leads to death!). What does protestantism lead to? It is hard to say that it leads clearly and definitively to Christ, especially when there are so many errors in it.

Now I know that there are a number of protestant churches that are much more Catholic than they wish to admit (and many, like high church Anglicans, who willingly admit it). Yet, we have to acknowledge that protestantism is not merely "another church". Protestant churches are better referred to as "ecclesial communities". As I have said many times, the Church's position on protestantism is not a neutral acceptance. As with my previous post, the Church has had a very hard time since the vast misunderstandings of Vatican II began (right after the Council ended). It appears, as I speak with many Catholics (and even some clergy) that the confusion has not been gotten rid of.

No, we do not want to demonize our protestant brethren who remain in their churches--if it is done in ignorance. Yet, at the same time, we must admit that there is nothing in Catholic dogma that guarantees that those who are baptized, but out of communion with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, will be able to enter into the presence of Christ in eternity. It is a hope based on the mercy of God, and how He deals with those who desire to serve Him but are ignorant of the right ways (cf. Romans 2:14-16).

If a person eats a "pretty good" diet, but avoids certain essential nutrients, we can presume that his health will suffer for it. In the same manner, if a person has some of the historic Catholic faith, but his protestantism has rejected portions of it, we expect that it will be that much more difficult for him to stay on the path to eternal life. How can one believe the faith if he only has some of it?

This is even more serious a matter when it comes to considering our Catholic brethren who are living and believing things that are contrary to the faith. They are fully accountable to believe and practice the faith, and, for many (especially the clergy!), a rejection of it is not likely a matter of ignorance. What will we do in these days, when there is so much ignorance? Parents, catechize your children; adults, seek to teach the truths of the faith to those around you; and everyone, live a life of faithful devotion to our Lord, so that others will be drawn into the Barque of Peter; outside of which "there is no salvation".