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.