Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bicycle Race

A few weeks ago, in the runup to the global climate summit in Copenhagen, NPR aired a story on cargo bicycles and the alternatives that they present for “green” transportation. These are pedal-powered bikes with a front bucket capable of transporting anything from beer kegs or groceries to school children too young to ride bikes of their own.

My first thought was that the practice of loading small kids into a basket on the front end of a bicycle and pushing them through traffic is never going to survive first contact with trial lawyers. The tykes will have to be properly restrained in a tested and certified roll cage and wearing approved safety devices – at which point it will be fabulously expensive and nearly impossible to move.

My second thought was climate-inspired. This was a December morning in Ohio, with about an inch of newly fallen snow on the ground. That makes the whole concept a hard sell. The last time that I rode my bicycle to work, I got caught in an afternoon rainstorm on my way home. I haven’t ridden my bike to work again since. It would take some pretty hefty incentives to get me to opt for a bicycle in sub-freezing temperatures or in any type of precipitation.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Something About Christmas

I would be negligent if I didn’t write something about Christmas. The fact is that every year, the holiday overwhelms me. Between the parties, the gifts, the atmosphere, the shopping (both before and after the big day!), the food, the drink, the house full of kids home from school, and everything else that I’ve forgotten to mention, I’m just not inclined to write much of anything.

And yet I have to write something.

Someday, I hope to be able to immerse myself in the spirituality of that Holy Night. When, in the fullness of time, God took upon himself a human nature and made his dwelling among fallen humanity, he did so in the most modest of ways. He was born into the barest of amenities, in a stable, to the wife of a carpenter. Mary and Joseph were not rich, and the census called by Caesar had required them to leave their home and travel to Bethlehem, the city of David, of whose line Joseph was descended.

The Son of God, Jesus, the “true bread from heaven” was born to descendents of David in a town whose name means “house of bread.”

The birth was not without its glory. Indeed, the event was announced by angel choirs, but not to the priests or to the sages of Jerusalem. Rather, the angels appeared to humble shepherds, tending their flocks. And so, the shepherds came to the stable to adore the new born Lamb of God. The found the Lamb, the Bread, the Son, the King, lying in a manger – a feeding trough.

The signs and symbols stagger the imagination. To think that God should come to earth in such a way!

The only gift that really matters at Christmas is the gift that God gave us 2000 years ago by becoming one of us. The circumstances of His birth demonstrate to us that the comforts of life are unnecessary luxuries. It should make us feel foolish for pouting if we didn’t find the gift that we wanted to find under the Christmas tree.

Meanwhile, the mad rush of “the season” continues. All the cheery carols flee from the radio and lopped-off trees stripped naked of ornamentation start to appear at curbside. Retailers try to squeeze the last few holiday pennies from shoppers’ purses while the media turn their attention to recapping the newsworthy stories of the last year and the last decade. The important things rarely make the top-ten lists.

There is so much more that deserves to be written, not just about Christmas, but also about the feasts that follow: St. Stephen, St. John, the Holy Innocents, the Holy Family, the Mother of God, and Epiphany. For me, however, the kids are still home from school, and once I get home from work, it’s family game time. All of the family members that we feasted with last week will gather again to ring in the New Year. I’ll be there in the middle of it, basking in the warm glow of good will, rushing to defuse ill will when siblings start to squabble, and above it all, trying to keep it all in the perspective of the greatest gift of all.

Merry Christmas, and may God bless the New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Types of John

Mark Twain famously noted (or so I am told) that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. The same can be said of the events recorded in Sacred Scripture. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The Church, as early as apostolic times, and then constantly in her Tradition, has illuminated the unity of the divine plan in the two Testaments through typology, which discerns in God’s works of the Old Covenant prefigurations of what he accomplished in the fullness of time in the person of his incarnate Son.”

Sometimes, the writers of the New Testament books explicitly link figures to their Old Testament types. In the case of John the Baptist, Jesus says that “he is Elijah who is to come” in Matther 11:14.

The Church also makes clear in the selection of Advent readings for December 19 that it considers Samson a type for John. It might be more accurate to say that the wife a Manoah is a type for Elizabeth. Both were barren, until God decided to bless each of them with a son. In both cases, the son of the blessing was set aside by God for a special purpose. The similarity between Samson and John is limited, however. By Christian standards, Samson is hardly a model of righteousness. Reading Judges 14-16 is downright scandalous by today’s standards, with Samson smiting Philistines hip and thigh with the jawbone of an ass and visiting prostitutes.

A stronger type for John might be found in the prophet Samuel. His mother, Hannah, was barren until the Lord heard her prayers. “The Lord remembered her; and in due time Hannah conceived and bore a son, and she called his name Samuel, for she said, ‘I have asked him of the Lord.’” (1 Samuel 1:19-20) As soon as the child was weaned, he was taken to Shiloh to minister to the Lord, in the presence of Eli the priest. Samuel would go on to receive the prophetic call and then to anoint David, the youngest son of Jesse, to be king after Saul is unfaithful. Similarly, John will baptize Jesus, whose legal father, Joseph, was of the house of David.

Ya gotta love the ways in which Scripture rhymes!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Agressive Mistresses and Unfaithful Husbands

Every now and then, I read an article or column that brings me to the brink of despair. I don’t know why it should produce such a reaction, but Maggie Gallagher’s take on the whole sordid Tiger Woods scandal is one such column. Marriage is important, as an institution, because it provides the vital center of the fundamental building block of society, the nuclear family. That foundation is under attack on multiple fronts. The latest front appears to be the aggressive mistress.

The unfaithful husband is breaking vows. The mistress, however, who knows that he is married and cooperates in his unfaithfulness is no victim, and she is deluding herself if she thinks the cheat of a man is going to be true to her.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

John's Doubt

Did John doubt? One school of thought is that John the Baptist was struggling with doubts, and so he sent some of his disciples to ask Jesus if he was the One. Sr. Ann Shields of Renewal Ministries, in her Food for the Journey broadcast for December 16, encourages us to confront our doubts and seek out the answers. The disciples, Sr. Ann suggests, returned to the Baptist with the report that the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cured, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. John then made a conscious decision to believe. Some of the sentiments expressed by Sr. Ann can be seen in the collection of Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s personal letters, Come Be My Light.

The other school of thought is that John did not doubt, but his disciples did, and in sending his disciples to Jesus, John was addressing their doubts, not his own. That’s the view adopted by Fr. Mary Mark in his EWTN homily this morning.

The scripture itself is ambiguous on the point, and individual Catholics are free to favor either view.


I have been accused of being a denier. No, not a denier of the Bishop Williamson variety – the holocaust of the Jews at the hands of the Nazis is a fact of history. What I have been accused of denying, if I understand my correspondent correctly, is climate change.

Just in case anybody reading this has been living in a cave for the last ten years, there is a wide-spread belief that humanity is bad for the planet. Human activity, so the theory goes, is causing the planet’s temperature to rise at an accelerating rate (the so-called hockey-stick curve). The main culprit, we are told, is carbon dioxide, which is produced in combustion reactions and animal respiration. Carbon dioxide is supposed to act as a greenhouse gas, allowing energy from sunlight to enter into the atmosphere to warm the planet, but trapping the heat so that less energy is radiated back out into space. Unless we do something, the polar ice caps are going to melt like Frosty the Snowman, and we’re all going to die horrible deaths.

To prevent this catastrophe, the alarmists say, we have to strictly control the generation of carbon dioxide. The “carbon footprint” of every person on the planet must be calculated and rationed. To advance the process, we must adhere to international protocols in which advanced western democracies accept upon themselves all of the responsibility for the sins of economic development and vow to do extreme penance.

For the record, I do not deny the possibility that the global mean temperature could be inching upward. Nor do I deny that man has an impact on the environment. What I do deny is the idea that punitive carbon dioxide restrictions are going to have any measurable effect, other than the utter destruction of western economies. Destroying the U.S. economy is not going to improve the economy or the environment in Swaziland.

Add to all of this the recent disclosure of emails and computer code from one of the major climate research groups, to the effect that the “science” is rigged to generate data in support of a pre-determined conclusion, and the hysteria of the global warming alarmists starts to look a little ridiculous. Much of the original temperature data from weather stations around the world has been destroyed. The only data now available from those weather stations is data that has been “adjusted” in ways that nobody seems willing or able to divulge.

Some people seem to be under the mistaken impression that those, like me, who don’t see global warming as an existential threat must want instead to remove all emissions controls and pollute the atmosphere. That’s simply not true. I like to breathe clean air – I just don’t think that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. Other pollutants can and should be controlled. We are stewards of God’s creation, and we have a responsibility before Him to care for the planet.

That is a responsibility that I do not deny.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One of Many

Yes, it's regrettable that it only happens twice a year, but that doesn't make it any less glorious. I attended a reconciliation service Monday evening. What's particularly nice is that every Advent and Lent, approximately two weeks before Christmas or Easter, the communities of New Bremen, Minster, and Fort Loramie, each have a reconciliation service. The service is held on Monday in New Bremen, Tuesday in Minster, and Thursday in Fort Loramie. A smaller service is also held on Wednesday in Egypt. At each service, approximately six priests are available to hear individual confession of sins and give absolution. The lines are generally long.

It is a cause for joy to think of all the souls recognizing that their sins have damaged their relationships with God and seeking to be reconciled. It is glorious to think of all the sins being absolved. It is humbling and just a little bit comforting to know that I'm just one more in a long line of sinners to whom God offers his love and mercy.

[Clarification 12/18/09: What happens twice a year, once in Advent and once in Lent, is the penance service with multiple priests and long lines. Individual confession with shorter lines is available at various times and places throughout the week, and I try to make it every few weeks. Maybe I'm weaker than most, but twice a year isn't enough for me.]

Monday, December 14, 2009

Kingdom of Violence

Back in 2001, after the horror of the terrorist attacks on the morning of September 11, I sought solace by attending mass at a nearby parish. On that Tuesday evening, and in the days that followed, the priest prayed that we might be delivered from men of violence.

Last week, during the 2nd Week of Advent, the words of Matthew 11:12 stood out, and they continue to occupy my thoughts, begging for some interpretation that fits in with the entirety of God’s revelation.

My RSV translation gives the verse as “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.” A note in the text informs that some sources read, “has been coming violently” in lieu of “has suffered violence.” The two alternate texts have meanings that are almost completely out of phase with one another if parsed grammatically. I can sympathize with the translators, who had to try to decide which of two ancient Greek texts was more authentic – especially since Greek was not the language in which the words were spoken. The NAB translation used for the mass is similar: “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force.” The NIV, however, translates it a little differently: “From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forcefully men lay hold of it.” My NIV translation contains no mention of alternate texts, or of violence.

I am aware of two interpretations of the passage. One is that violence isn’t violence. That is to say that the verse refers to men who are willing to take extreme action in pursuit of sanctity. If there is violence to be done, it is to be self-inflicted. This interpretation sounds to me an awful lot like the jihad-as-internal struggle interpretation of the Koran. I will take it into consideration, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to buy it.

The second interpretation that I’ve heard is that of violence done to those who seek the kingdom. The prophets were put to death, and Jesus promises persecution to any who follow him. This interpretation tracks with the aphorism that the Church grows from the blood of the martyrs. This interpretation is also provided in the NAB note at the USCCB website, which states, “The meaning of this difficult saying is probably that the opponents of Jesus are trying to prevent people from accepting the kingdom and to snatch it away from those who have received it.”

Pope John Paul II referenced the verse in his 1979 encyclical Redemptor hominis. In section 11 of the letter, John Paul discusses the mystery of Christ as the basis of the Church’s mission and of Christianity. The Holy Father notes that “the mission seems to encounter greater opposition nowadays than ever before,” and salvation and grace are linked with the Cross in the mystery of the divine economy. “It was not without reason that Christ said that ‘the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force.’” He goes on to write, “We gladly accept this rebuke, that we may be like those ‘violent people of God’ that we have so often seen in the history of the Church and still see today, and that we may consciously join in the great mission of revealing Christ to the world. John Paul appears to start out with the second interpretation (violence to the kingdom), but then shifts to the first interpretation (violence for the kingdom).

If I really want to know what’s going on in this little snippet of scripture, there are a few things I can do. First, I have to keep in mind the context. John is in prison, and he has sent his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he is the messiah. After telling them (without actually telling them) that he is indeed the One, he sends them off, then addresses the crowd concerning John. The question that needs to be answered is whether John, the eccentric aesthetic in the desert, or Herod, the man responsible for imprisoning John, is practicing the violence to which Jesus is referring. Is it possible that Jesus is contrasting Herod in the first clause with John in the second?

A lot has been written about what Jesus means when he refers to the “kingdom of heaven” in the gospels. Pope Benedict XVI, in his book Jesus of Nazareth, argues for a Christocentric meaning: the kingdom of heaven refers to the incarnate person of Christ himself. That meaning might not fit in all places where the phrase is used. To be thorough, we would have to cross-reference every other use of the phrase in the gospel of Matthew.

It could come down to a matter of language and translation. The NAB and RSV translations both say that the kingdom suffers violence. An English-Greek concordance should provide the actual words used in the Greek for “suffer” and “violence”, along with any other places in scripture where those same word are used.

Finally, there should be some commentary available for just what Pope John Paul II means when he praised those violent people of God. I am fairly certain that he was not praising those who resort to physical violence in the name of religion.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Wisdom 13:5-9

by Timothy Murphy
Copyright (c) 2008 First Things (May 2008).

We worshipped moon and sun,
comets, the circling stars,
Venus and bloodstained Mars,
ignorant of our duty
owed to the unnamed one,
kindler of every beauty
and fire by which we find
the hand, the designing mind
of heaven’s artisan

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Kingdom Of Heaven Is At Hand

Rejoice! For the Kingdom of God is at hand!

What’s that? You mean that’s not what John the Baptist proclaimed? No, John came preaching a baptism of repentance. The Gospel of Matthew has him proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Mt 3:2).

Every year, on the Second Sunday of Advent, we hear about John the Baptist, and we can’t point to others in the crowd and say to ourselves, “He’s talking about them.” We are all called to repentance. We are all called to make straight the path of God by filling in the valleys of despair with hope and bringing low the mountains of pride with humility.

Advent might not be a season of penance, but it is certainly a season of repentance. It is a season not of atonement for sins, but of re-orienting ourselves in preparation for His glorious return. Contrition has its part to play, as we empty ourselves of our selves. Many parishes will celebrate communal penance services, in which the emphasis should probably be place on reconciliation between God and the penitent.

God came to us over 2000 years ago, and we celebrate His birth on Chistmas. He will come again, though we know not when. Let us use this time to prepare, that His path to our hearts might be straight and smooth.

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Deaf Shall Read

There is a line in today's mass reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah: "On that day, the deaf shall hear the words of a book." It made me think of a Cochlear Implant recipient using the read text feature of his Kindle to listen to the latest best seller.

The prophecy has been fulfilled!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Advent and Health Care

In my quest to enter more deeply into the spirit of Advent, I was delighted to read (via CNA) that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops "has created an Advent and Christmas website with suggestions for daily prayers, readings, reflection and action. A collection of Lessons and Carols is also provided for live listening or download."

I've visited the site a couple of times this week, but was disappointed with today's offering. The reflection was from an address by Pope Benedict XVI to the Jesuits on the subject of St. Francis Xavier. The prayer and action items had to do with the uninsured and health care reform.

I'm visited the site for Advent-specific content. I don't think that I got it today. I hate to think that somebody at the Conference is running a bait-and-switch.

Grasping at Advent

So often, I hear people say that the Church’s liturgical calendar ends with the Solemnity of Christ the King, as if the year ends with a bang. Not so. There’s a whole week of Ordinary Time left after Christ the King. New Year’s Eve, as it were, occurs on Saturday of the 34th Week of Ordinary Time.

The First Sunday of Advent kicks off not the Christmas season, but the Advent Season. Our culture, however, has swallowed up Advent. Christmas begins as soon as Thanksgiving is over and ends as soon as we return to work. Radio stations that go to an all-Christmas format for the shopping season return to playing light rock on December 26.

First Things has re-printed (re-posted? What is the proper thing to say in the digital age for something that was originally produced in print and is re-produced in pixels?) an essay by editor Joseph Bottum entitled, The End of Advent:

“Christmas has devoured Advent, gobbled it up with the turkey giblets and the goblets of seasonal ale. Every secularized holiday, of course, tends to lose the context it had in the liturgical year. Across the nation, even in many churches, Easter has hopped across Lent, Halloween has frightened away All Saints, and New Year’s has drunk up Epiphany.”

I disagree. Lent kicks off in a big way on Ash Wednesday. Not only do we go to mass and receive ashes (in the middle of the week, no less!), we fast and abstain from meat. We give things up. For six weeks we look ahead with anticipation not to Easter, which we know is coming, but to the Good Friday that preceeds it. Having reached and passed through Good Friday, we burst into Easter with full joy. Lent is penance and anticipation of the Passion; Easter is joyful celebration that death has been conquered. The seasons are distinctly different, and rightly so.

Advent has been swallowed up by Christmas. It requires a conscious, counter-cultural effort to make the season into what it is supposed to be. Bottum, in his essay, notes, “What Advent is, really, is a discipline: a way of forming anticipation and channeling it towards its goal.” Some well-intentioned souls want to turn Advent into another Lent, but I don’t think that the seasons share the same character. There is no analogy to Good Friday and the remembrance of the Crucifixion at the end of Advent. Christmas is the great celebration at the end of Advent, but immediately after celebrating the birth of our Savior, we remember the first Christian martyr, St. Stephen, and the slaughter of the innocents at the jealous hand of Herod.

Advent is harder to embrace – harder to keep separate from Christmas. We shouldn’t try too hard to keep it separate, lest we become scrooges to the Christmas frivolity that surrounds us. Yet, at the same time, we should not forget that Advent is all about waiting in joyful hope for the coming of our Lord.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Professional Priests

Earlier this week, I read a Russell Shaw column prompted by the remarks of Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy. The Cardinal spoke to a gathering of priests at the shrine of Fatima in Portugal and cautioned them against turning their ministries into “a kind of ecclesiastical profession.” Shaw then takes both sides, defending the idea that the priesthood is more than just a job, but at the same time defending it as a profession.

My biggest objection to the remark as reported concerns the slighting use of the expression “ecclesiastical profession.” What I suspect the cardinal meant – and what’s true enough – is that the priesthood isn’t just one more job alongside others. In making this perfectly reasonable point, however, it’s a mistake to say or imply that there’s something intrinsically wrong with, or at least inferior about, professions and jobs in general.

He then goes on to point out he need for priests to execute their duties and live out their vocation in a professional manner.

It should come as no surprise that my thinking on the matter of vocations is focused by the lens of my own vocation as husband and father. When the priest is ordained, he undergoes an ontological change. He takes the Church as his bride in the way that I took my wife as my bride. From the beginning, God has revealed that in marriage, the man and the woman become one. The husband, the wife, and their offspring become a living icon of the Trinity. The priest, in taking the Church as his bride, becomes a living icon of Christ.

The idea that I would approach my vocation as a husband and father in the same way that I would approach a profession seems a little inappropriate. Professionalism just doesn’t embody the kind of outpouring of self that is required. I can and should be professional in my job, and in fact, the State of Ohio has given me permission to call myself a Professional Engineer. But the idea that I could get a certificate proclaiming me to be a Professional Husband is a little creepy.

Every priest has a job, whether it’s pastor, professor, or vocations director. They should execute the duties of their job professionally. But the exercise of their priesthood demands something more. Professionalism just doesn’t cut it, for priests or for husbands and dads.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Advent Carol

From the December 2009 issue of First Things.
By Julie Stoner

Hush that anguished hymn you're humming:
"Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
Trumpet Christmas! Fix his coming
firmly at "The First Nowell."

He's already come in glory!
Why plead, "Savior, come at last"?
Let's talk Christmas! Tell a story
safely in the distant past.

Drown out John the Baptist. Edit
out "Prepare! Make straight the way!"
Cut to Christmas! But on credit.
Square things up another day.

Advent's dreary. Let's start living.
Christmas now! Wear red and green!
While we're at it, skip Thanksgiving!
Deck the halls at Halloween!

Then, when the Incarnate Verb
overnight becomes passé
carry Christmas to the curb.
Pack the Prince of Peace away.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


There is a scene from A Man for All Seasons, the play and film about the life and death of St. Thomas More, that stands out in my mind. Roper, who has been courting More’s daughter, asks More for her hand in marriage, and More replies, “Roper, the answer is ‘no.’ And will be ‘no’ so long as you’re a heretic.” Roper says to More, “That’s a word I don’t like, Sir Thomas.” Now comes the line from More that really nails it for me, “It’s not a likeable word. It’s not a likeable thing.”

Heresy is not the same thing as apostasy or schism. Heresy is defined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the obstinate denial after Baptism of a truth which must be believed with divine and Catholic faith.” Apostasy, on the other hand, is “the total repudiation of the Christian faith.” Schism is “refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff, or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” A heretic, therefore, is a Christian who refuses to believe an infallible doctrine taught by the Church, even after his error has been pointed out to him.

Recently, a friend of mine who is taking classes for the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program with the intention of continuing to the diaconate formation program came to our Saturday morning men’s group and announced that one of his instructors had called him a heretic. It wasn’t just him that she called a heretic, it was the whole class. I had had this instructor when I took the LPMP classes, and she had called all of us heretics as well. She calls every class heretical during this particular lesson.

The point of contention was the dual nature of Christ. It took the Church centuries and several councils to hammer out the doctrine. The heresies of Arianism (one person with one non-divine nature) and Nestorianism (two persons with two natures) arose and had to be corrected. Numerous creeds have been formulated and approved by ecumenical councils of the Church affirming that Jesus Christ was both god and man. In him is found one person with two natures. This instructor typically asks the class who believes that Jesus is God. When the hands go up, she declares that they are heretics. Then she asks who believes that Jesus is (or was) man. When the hands again go up, she again declares that the whole class is full of heretics. She then attempts to convince the class that the formula “god and man” is incorrect and the only acceptable way to formulate the nature of Christ is with the hyphenated “god-man.” She might have used “god-human,” I can’t remember for sure.

I never liked the hyphen. To me, it connotes some kind of hybridization, with the implication that in Jesus there are not two natures, but one nature that is a combination of the two. The god-man is like a demigod: more than human, but less than full god. That idea has been condemned by the Church and declared anathema. In other words, you can’t hold that belief and remain a member of the Church. My friend went on to relate that his entire class had decided that their instructor’s formulation was anathema.

We have been warned about heresy. I won’t go into the details here, but the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for heresy has a good roundup of statements from scripture and the fathers of the Church. I’ve been listening this week to The Great Heresies by Fr. Charles Connor. It’s a bit awe-inspiring to ponder all of the ways in which the Church could have gone astray and some tried to steer the Church astray. Indeed, in some cases, such as Arianism, it seemed that most of the church had gone astray before the madness was corrected.

Aside from the rare instance cited above, you don’t hear much about heresy these days. It is still not a likeable word or thing, and most of us want to be liked. The Second Vatican Council, I am told, was not a doctrinal council (nevertheless, the four constitutions produced by the council are doctrinal documents). There were no anathemas. It was not called to combat a persistent heresy so much as to complete the unfinished business of The First Vatican Council. During the course of the council, the culture of the world changed. The Church doesn’t corner well, so when the world zigged, the Church lost it’s footing as it tried desperately to zag, and some who weren’t wearing their seatbelts nearly flew out the window.

It’s been a long time since the last time the Church issued an anathema. Unless the eschaton is immanent (maybe especially if the eschaton is immanent), we might be able to use a few now, to protect the faithful from heresies that refuse to go away and the multiplying unidentified heresies that confuse those who want to be orthodox and provide cover to those who don’t care about orthodoxy, but just want to pick what they like from the buffet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You Cuss, Why Can't I?

Dear Daughter,

I was not happy that you took a quiz to discover your cuss word, then posted the result to your Facebook wall for all the world (or all your friends, they seem to be the same thing) to see. I noted my displeasure and, after a couple of days, you came back to me with a question: You cuss, so why can’t I? Since you ask, I will give you an answer, and I’m posting it to your wall for all the world to see.

  1. I try not to cuss. Sometimes I fail. That’s part of being human.

  2. When I do cuss (and by your own admission, it’s not often), it’s because my emotion overrides my reason. That’s not a good thing.

  3. Cussing diminishes me as a person and tarnishes my character. I don’t want that for you. I want you to be better than I am. I want you to aspire to be better than you are.

  4. Overuse of cuss words diminishes their impact. Since I don’t use them often, you know that when I do use them, my top has been blown.

  5. Frequent use of vulgarities reveals a fundamental character flaw.

  6. You’ll stand out more by finding creative ways to express your emotions than by falling back upon the basest words in the human vocabulary.

Whether you think it’s fair or not, people will judge you by the words you use. We all have negative traits to our characters. Even me. I hope that those aren’t the ones that you admire and choose to emulate.

You’ve called me to account on this one, and I promise that I’ll try to do better.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Protestants don't know what they're missing! Eleazar is my hero.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Blog On, Dude!

It’s been a year and a day since I published (that doesn’t seem like the right word) my first blog post.

I’ll pause here while the sound of the one clapping hand slowly fades.

My reasons for blogging were laid out in that first post. I wanted to improve my writing. Frankly, I don’t think that I’ve accomplished that goal. I remain intellectually lazy, with disjointed thoughts that I have trouble organizing into a coherent thread of words.

On the other hand, committing my stray thoughts to text has forced me to focus those thoughts at least a little, even if not in as disciplined a way as I would like. Most of my posts are original reflections or items that I come across tat are of particular interest to me. I don’t have the time or the energy to be a portal site for Catholic news. I try not to be negative, but sometimes I just have to get something off of my chest.

Because Catholicism is such a huge part of who I am, I openly identify myself as a Catholic blogger. I have since discovered that there is a large and diverse on-line community of self-identified Catholic bloggers. It’s an unregulated field, and those who dip their ladle into the well of the Catholic blogosphere (or any part of the broader blogosphere) need to be aware of that. Not all blogs are equal. Some are operated by recognized experts with well-known organizations or publications. Other, like me, are flying by the seat of their parts. (Writing that clichéd phrase makes me wonder just what it means, exactly – but since I’m unregulated and unedited, I’ll just plow right ahead, hoping that I’m not headed toward a cliff.)

We apparently have not gone unnoticed by the Holy See. At the end of October, the Pontifical Council for Social Communications met for four days, and the Catholic blogosphere was a topic of conversation. There is come concern that bloggers claiming to represent the Catholic Church could present error as truth or opinion as doctrine. (The linked article doesn’t say that, but that would be one of my concerns.) Even when factually correct, the information provided by individual bloggers might be presented without charity. The anger and lack of respect that is in evidence on some blogs can be counterproductive in evangelizing the world through electronic media.

I try, on my blog, to be as charitable and positive as I can be, but I do occasionally level criticism when I think it is deserved. Even then, I hope that I do so in a respectful manner. When I do start to get a little negative, my dear wife kindly points it out to me.

Some bloggers choose to assume a pseudonym for their on-line presence. I decided early on to blog under my own name. These are my opinions. I don’t want to post anything that I am not willing to own. If I do post something stupid or wrong, then I want somebody to correct me. I don’t get many comments, but I know from bloggers who do get comments that criticism is much better received if it is not anonymous. Further, by identifying myself and my background to any readers who might stumble onto this site, I fulfill my duty to inform them that I have no authority whatsoever.

Last month, Catholic Answers Live featured an hour to The Rise of the Catholic Blogosphere. Jeff Miller, who blogs at The Curt Jester, was the guest for a discussion of Catholic blogs. The upshot of the program is that the number of Catholic bloggers is exploding – there seem to be more and more every year.

Please join me in raising a bottle of beer (I prefer Amber Bock) to my first year of blogging. May the second year bear a higher quality of fruit than the first.

Protecting Children

The evil that men do often has consequences that nobody could have predicted. All too often, these consequences are not the direct result of the evil deed itself, but of the reaction to that deed. In an effort to make sure that it doesn’t happen again, we institute policies that create a whole new set of problems.

I volunteer as an adult mentor in an apostolate for boys. All such volunteers and all parish staff members are required to undergo training. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, we have to read a policy book and view a video that, together, are called the Decree on Child Protection. The Decree outlines what we can and cannot (mostly cannot) do with youth. It is designed to protect young people from predatory adults, and most of the proscriptions are common-sense. However, at least twice, we have had to undergo an additional round of training after the Decree was revised. Most recently, the revisions consisted of the addition of explicit language to the lists of forbidden behaviors. We were told that some defense attorneys were actually arguing that the prohibitions in the Decree were too vague – their clients couldn’t possibly have known that they couldn’t touch certain areas of a child’s body unless those specific body parts were specifically named in the Decree. So now it does. Does anyone still wonder why lawyers are among the most despised professionals in the country?

In addition to the Decree training, I had to be finger-printed and subjected to a background investigation. On top of what the Archdiocese requires, all volunteers in this particular apostolate also undergo a separate background check every year and are required to complete an on-line child protection training module.

The effect of all this training should be some very safe kids; however, this is where the unintended consequences start creeping in. Any apostolate (or ministry, if you prefer the term) to children is going to require a large pool of volunteers. The new volunteer requirements guarantee that eligible volunteers will be harder to get, and those who complete the training will be paranoid about violating the smallest requirement of the Decree. Evangelical outreach to children will suffer in that programs unable to cajole enough people into volunteering will never even get of the ground, and those who find the Decree to be too burdensome might choose to take their programs underground, neither of which is in the best interest of the youth.

Perhaps an example from my own experience can better illustrate the point that I’m trying to make.

In our apostolate, we segregate the boys into three different groups based on age. Each meeting has two distinct parts – a sports phase (typically dodge-ball or similar games) and a spiritual formation phase (in which the boys might hear a story about a saint, prepare and act out skits illustrating virtuous behavior, answer catechism questions, etc. – boys in the oldest group also reflect upon and discuss a gospel passage). Experience has shown that the younger boys do better if the sports phase is first. The older boys enjoy doing sports last. So, for half of each meeting, we have the younger boys in the gym and the older boys in the Parish Center, and then they switch.

Several weeks ago, our younger boys were engaged in a competitive game of dodge-ball when three boys not in our program wondered into the gym and watched from the stands. When the time came for the younger groups to head over to the Parish Center, four of the five dads/volunteers accompanied the boys, because the Decree requires at least two adults per group. I remained behind to hold down the gym until the group of older boys returned (along with their two adult volunteers).

That left me alone in the gym with the three young strangers, and my over-riding concern was getting them out of the gym, because the Decree forbids me from being alone with them. They had questions about our program. It would have been a great opportunity to share with them what we were all about and to invite them to join us. But I missed the chance to share the love of Christ with them because my first concern was to never, ever, be alone with children to whom I am not related. Instead of engaging them in conversation, I shooed them away. I might have complied with the Decree, but those boys certainly are not better off because of it. I failed.

I hate the Decree. I hate that the Decree is necessary. I hate that unscrupulous lawyers looking for loopholes require the Archdiocese to include specific, vulgar, and profane language in a document designed to protect the innocence of children. I hate that when I see a priest dining with a boy in a restaurant, my first thought is “Oh my gosh! He’s violating the Decree!” I hate that some children, even with the Decree, will still fall victim to sexual predators while other children, because of the Decree, will miss the chance to enter into a life-giving relationship with Christ.

The evil that men do sends ripples outward, often with secondary effects that no one would have predicted.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Running to Win

The road race season wrapped up several weeks ago. The last race in the 5K tour was October 18 with a run through Tawawa Park in Sidney on a very cold Sunday morning. As last year, my time suffered significantly between the next-to-last race in the tour and the last race. It’s hard to maintain the motivation to train when the days get shorter and cooler.

I won my age group on tour points not because I was the fastest, but because I ran in more races. Thus, receiving the first place medal having never beaten the recipient of the second place medal was a pyrrhic victory at best.

Meanwhile, the Oktoberfest 10K was also run on the first Sunday of October. My time was slower than last year, and I was amazed that it wasn’t until we made the turn to head out of town that I was able to finally break into my stride. Nonetheless, I did well enough to win my weight class. The nice thing about the Oktoberfest 10K is that they have weight classes for heavier runners in addition to the usual age categories. Thus, I was the fastest runner that day in the over 220 lb class. I was about a third of the way down in my age group, with 21 other runners my age crossing the line ahead of me.

I was registered as a member of our corporate team this year. I ran fifth for our team, contributing to a second place ranking. It was the first time in many years that the corporate team beat the team from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. We had little get-together for lunch a week or so ago. As the conversation tilted toward marathons and training and repeat miles, I realized that these guys were in a different class than I. When they talked about struggling to run through the wall after twenty miles, I thought about my own sorry experience of struggling to keep running after a mere two miles.

And so for me, once again, as it has so often, running became a metaphor for the spiritual life. I know what holds me back physically, it’s just that I’m reluctant to make the changes necessary. At 230 lbs, with an atrocious diet and mercurial training habits, I’ll never improve much, and I’ll be lucky to avoid injury. I like my 44 ounce Mt. Dew, my Skittles, my coffee, and my bacon. I like being able to compete at Oktoberfest in the heaviest weight category, because I doubt that I’ll ever be competitive in my age category. If I want to run faster, though, I’ll have to reduce my weight, improve my diet, and train with more consistency.

Spiritually, my selfishness, diet of pop culture, and immersion in noise and distraction are weighing me down. But I like indulging my appetites, watching television, and surfing the blogs for the latest political gossip, even though I know that it’s not good for me, hindering my growth, and keeping me from fully embracing my Christian vocation.

In both cases, what I need is a good dose of self-discipline and sacrifice. The things that I need to do physically and spiritually are not extreme. They consist, in essence, of say “no” to things that might not be bad in order to way “yes” to things that are better. The good can be bad when it gets in the way of the best. Unfortunately, recognizing the highest good is not the same thing as choosing the highest good. Even desiring the highest good is not sufficient; action is required.

Another 5K tour has ended. The next one will begin in April. Whether I run with the pack or ahead of the pack is largely up to me.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Old House

With a seventh child on the way, my wife and I are feeling just a little cramped in our home. The natural question that arises is whether we move to a new house or add on to the one we have. Moving would require selling our current house, and in this market, that seems doubtful, so we’ve solicited bids to add an upstairs dormer to the back side of the house.

It really makes no economic sense, however. Home ownership has turned out to be a bum deal – I don’t ever expect to recoup the money that we’ve sunk into our house by replacing the windows, renovating the bathroom, upgrading the front porch, or replacing the roof.

Our dwelling is not an investment vehicle, and so I can’t bear to think about it in those terms. Rather than asking whether the two new rooms that we hope to gain will add as much to the value of the house as they will cost us, we have to ask instead how much we are willing to pay for the additional living space. If we consider what we are getting to be fair for what we are paying, then we don’t need to be overly concerned about the market value. Being underwater on our mortgage should only be a problem if we want to sell – which we don’t. We love our current location.

Unfortunately, the bank might not have the same attitude. Our finances have taken a serious hit this year. We hope that we will be able to reorganize our debt in a way that allows us to expand and still keep our heads above water, even if the resulting mortgage isn’t.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Argument from Reference

In today’s gospel (Luke 17: 26-37), Jesus makes reference to the figures of Noah and Lot from the book of Genesis. Some apologists for a literalist reading of scripture jump upon such references to endorse their view that everything recounted in the Bible is a historical fact. I think it’s a weak argument. It’s not uncommon for people making rhetorical speeches to make reference to fictional literary characters or fictionalized events in the life of historical figures. Why should we assume that Jesus would not use common cultural references is his discourse?

I can imagine myself importing fictional characters to make a point. For self-sacrifice, I might cite Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog in Moria. For determination, I might refer to John Henry’s contest against the hammering machine. For pride and failure, what better illustration could there be than mighty Casey’s famous strike-out. No lengthy explanation of the back-story or literary origins of the characters would be necessary. I would assume that everyone knows who Gandalf, John Henry, and Casey are.

Do not misunderstand me. I am not saying that Job was a fictional character, that the flood never occurred, or that Jonah was not swallowed by a fish. All that I’m saying is that the argument for historicity from reference by Christ is a rather weak argument.

Your God, My God, It's All Good

Catholic Exchange today features an interview with a film-maker who has produced a film that chronicles his search for God. Peter Rodger travelled around the world, asking people “What is God?” Those he spoke to included people from across the spectrum of religious belief, including Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and indigenous cultures (i.e., what we would be inclined to call pagans). The results could be interesting from a sociological perspective. They could also be very dangerous.

For those who believe, as I do, that every man is created by God with a desire for God stamped on his heart, it could be interesting to see how this desire is manifested across cultures and across individual persons within any given culture. This is the natural law argument that man is inherently religious, and it is alluded to by St. Paul’s speech at the Areopagus (see Acts 17:16-34) concerning the unknown god. The Catholic Church has a history of inculturation, taking these manifestations of inherent belief and Christianizing those that are not inconsistent with Christian belief. They can be built upon to show the universality of the mission entrusted to her by Christ.

The danger, as I see it, is that some Director of Religious Education is going to think the film is wonderful and needs to be seen by all of the kids in the Parish School of Religion. These indiscriminating children will then be bombarded with a wide diversity of opinion about what God is without any context regarding what the Church teaches and why some of the ideas expressed in the film are erroneous. There is, unfortunately, a lot of muddled thinking and outright error out there concerning the nature of God and the moral implications that derive from that.

After viewing the film, some kids (and some adults) might reach the conclusion that everybody has his or her own ideas about God and either they’re all correct, or it doesn’t really matter. I fear that the film will contribute to the “spiritual, but not religious” mass of confused humanity.

Cultural Marinade

It’s unavoidable. We live our life immersed in the culture that surrounds us. We marinade in it. We can try to limit the negative influences, but once they’ve infiltrated our subconscious, we’re stuck with them. Our past, it sometimes seems, resists redemption.

I was reminded of this on Sunday evening. I was scheduled to meet with a priest for spiritual direction. Since the weather was pleasant, I decided to walk. As I neared our meeting place, the church bells tolled, announcing the hour. Of all the thoughts that could have entered my mind at that moment, what broke through to my consciousness was the opening strains of an AC/DC song: Hells Bells.

We are reborn in Christ through baptism. We have died to sin. The spirit that dwells within us is stronger than the body of death into which we are born. And yet, the cultural effects of the past and the present remain. Lord, save us from ourselves.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Do Not Run In Pursuit

I have a little book at home titled Hidden Treasure: The Riches of the Eucharist. In it is found a story about St. Louis (that would be King Louis IX of France) and an appearance by Christ.

In the person of St. Louis IX were the qualities which form a great king, a hero of romance, and a saint! With his death, the century of knights ended. One day a messenger, breathless with haste, burst in upon the king with surprising and exciting news. “Your majesty,” he cried, “hasten to the Church! A great miracle is occurring there. A priest is saying holy Mass, and after the consecration, instead of the host there is visible on the altar Jesus Himself in His human figure. Everybody is marveling at it. Hurry before it disappears.”

To the astonishment of the messenger, the saintly monarch calmly replied:

Let them go to see the miracle who have any doubt regarding the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Sacrament. As for me, even if I saw Jesus on the altar in His visible form, and touched Him with my hand, and heard His voice, I should not be more convinced than I now am, that He is present in the consecrated Host. The word of Christ is sufficient for me. I need no miracle.

I never quite understood the indifference of the king. Today’s gospel, though, gives an important clue:

Then he said to his disciples,
“The days will come when you will long to see
one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.
There will be those who will say to you,
‘Look, there he is,’ or ‘Look, here he is.’
Do not go off, do not run in pursuit.
For just as lightning flashes
and lights up the sky from one side to the other,
so will the Son of Man be in his day.
But first he must suffer greatly and be rejected by this generation.”

Luke 17:22-25

When Jesus returns, it will be in glory, impossible to miss. Yes, it is also true that he returns in a real and substantial way with every consecration at mass. Let us look forward with anticipation to his glorious coming, and let us appreciate as well the way in which he comes to us in a more mundane way through the Blessed Sacrament.

Psionic Clairvoyance

I’ve always been a fan of science fiction. As a youth, I was introduced to the world of role playing games through a game called Traveller. One of the components of Traveller which seems to be common across the genre is the concept of psionic ability. The idea has been popularized in television shows like Bablyon 5 with its Psi Corp and the movies like Push.

In Traveller, psionic abilities were categorized. Telepaths could communicate without speaking or could read others’ thoughts. Telekinetics could move things with their mind. Clairvoyants had visions – either of different places or times, past or future. It all made for wonderful make-believe entertainment.

It was a little jarring to read in the World Briefs section of The Catholic Telegraph about recent alleged apparitions at Knock, Ireland, where the local bishop has expressed skepticism. The brief quotes a “Dublin-based clairvoyant.” It’s the first time that I’ve ever seen a Church-based publication adopt the language of science fiction psionics. I’m accustomed, in church terms, to reading about visionaries or locutionists. I’ve never heard them called clairvoyants until now.

I suppose you could argue that it all reduces to semantics. Still, referring to mystical gives using psionic words tends to strip away the mystical and the supernatural. It seems to be conceding the verbal playing field to secularism. Unless, of course, that guy from Dublin was registered with Psi Corp as a level 5 clairvoyant.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Garage Sale Goodies

Every July, the ladies (to the best of my knowledge, there are no male members) of our parish Mission Commission host a garage sale at the local Knights of Columbus hall. The sale lasts several days. By the last day, purchases can be made by the bagful. Anything that’s left is packaged up and sent to the nearest St. Vincent de Paul facility.

My daughters went to the sale with some of their friends this past summer, and they returned home with their treasures, which included a pair of gaudy plastic bunny cups (the ears hang down the sides like handles – one cup is pink and the other is blue) and a collection of shot glasses, from which they enjoy drinking Pepsi and Dr. Pepper. I wasn’t sure how to feel about them bringing shot glasses home from the church sale, and I hoped that it wasn’t training them for a future life of debauchery.

But they also thought of me while they were shopping. For me, they brought home a paperback Bible for military families. I separated from the military years ago, but I was touched by their consideration. The Bible is the size of a typical paperback novel, and I keep it at my desk at work. I do have one minor quibble, though. The translation is the New International Version (NIV). I prefer the Revised Standard Version (RSV). Plus, it’s a Protestant Bible and does not include the deutero-canonical books. That means no Wisdom and no Maccabees (among others).

Still, it’s nice to have, and even nicer to know that my daughters thought of me.

Thank You Veterans

To all those who put on the uniform or have in the past, I thank you.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

God, Family, Country

Commentators are making much of the declarations by Major Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, that he is a Muslim first and an American second. He’s also claimed to be Palestinian, so maybe he’s American third (if not lower).

We might want to pause for a moment while we consider where we place our own priorities. I have often heard that we should place God first, then family, then country. As followers of Christ, we are called to be in the world but not of the world. We should have a certain degree of detachment from the nationalist passions of our neighbors, regardless of where we live. Our true home is heaven, and no matter where we are on earth, we are in exile from our true home.

Do I consider myself a Catholic before I consider myself an American? You bet! Fortunately, there’s no conflict between the two. History is marked, however, by the blood of martyrs for whom there was a conflict. Consider the first centuries of the Church, during the Roman persecutions. Consider figures like St. Thomas More, who declared, “I am the King’s good servant, but God’s first.”

If, at some point in the (distant, if ever, I pray) future, Catholics are deemed enemies of the American state, it is never too early to ask yourself where your loyalty will lie.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lectionary Wisdom

One of the joys that I’ve discovered over the past year has been the practice of reading the Bible along with the Lectionary. Throughout Ordinary Time, the Lectionary marches through different books and the gospels. Sometimes, the Lectionary lingers, such as in the meaty parts of Paul’s letter to the Romans. At other times, the Lectionary skips through books so quickly, choosing only select passages, that it’s hard to keep up if you’re trying to read and understand everything in between.

If we were taking all of our readings this week from the 32nd Week of Ordinary Time, we’d skip right through the entire book of Wisdom in six days. As it is, though, Monday is a feast day (the Dedication of the Lateran Basilica in Rome) and Tuesday through Friday are obligatory memorials (Saint Leo the Great, Saint Martin of Tours, Saint Josaphat, and Saint Francis Xavier Cabrini), all but the last of which have their own assigned readings.

I think that I’ll try to pace myself through Wisdom anyway, regardless of which readings are actually used at mass.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Several years ago, when I first saw the parody below, I thought it was hilarious. So much so, that I just had to share it with my friends. I showed it to several people whom I knew to be serious Catholics, including some that were taking classes with me in the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program.

I was disappointed in the response. I was disappointed because I had to explain the parody and its source. Once a joke has to be explained, it ceases to be funny.

The basis for the joke was today's (Saturday, November 7) Gospel. "No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Something written by one of the Blog Fathers three weeks ago has been slowly percolating in my consciousness, gnawing at the edges of my conscience.

The occasion for the blog post by Fr. Kyle Schnippel was the gospel for Friday, October 9 (Luke 11:14-20), in which Jesus was accused of driving out demons by the power of Beelzebul. Jesus responded with his “House Divided” speech. Fr. Schnippel used the occasion of this gospel passage to promote unity at three levels. First, we should be united to the Church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic) and her visible head on earth, the Pope. Second, we should be united to our local church (typically the diocese in which we reside) and to her head, the bishop. The good padre concluded by noting that we should also be united with our particular church, our parish, and to her head, the pastor.

I’m fully on board with respect to being united with the universal Church and the pope. After all, he is the one who enjoys the charism of infallibility. That charism, however, is so nuanced that its application actually becomes rather narrow. He has to be speaking or writing, in his capacity as pope, on doctrinal matters of faith and morals. Some theologians say that he has to explicitly say that he’s making an infallible definition. Then there’s the distinction between when the pope is making doctrinal statements versus offering his opinion on matters of prudential judgment. Nevertheless, you can point to the Second Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium 25) to see that the “religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” Does that mean that I have to agree with every word and action of the Holy See? I don’t think so, but obviously a lot of discernment is required before I can say, for instance, that the statements of the Holy Father on economics are prudential and not dogmatic. If I disagree on prudential matters, is that a violation of the principle of unity and of the submission of mind and will called for by the Council?

The farther you move away from the head, the more difficult it becomes to maintain unity above all else. The same dogmatic constitution noted that “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent.” There’s an important qualifying phrase in that statement. It would seem that we are to be united and obedient to our bishop to the degree in which he is “teaching in communion with” the pope. How are we to know? Any bishop who identifies himself as not being in communion with Rome is, by definition, schismatic. We certainly are not supposed to follow our bishop into schism! If I had lived in a diocese in which the bishop publicly disagreed with Humanae Vitae in 1968, should I have tried to preserve unity with my bishop or with the pope? The Second Vatican Council seemed to say that if your bishop disagrees with the pope, you should follow the pope, which takes us back to the preceding paragraph.

If there are limits to the degree of unity that we owe to our bishops, who are the heirs to the apostles, then what does that say about our pastors? The Code of Canon Law places authority within the parish in the hands of the pastor. In some dioceses, parish membership is strictly defined by whether one resides within the boundaries of the parish. In other dioceses, parishes enjoy a kind of “open enrollment.” Thus, even though I might live within the boundaries of Parish X, I can choose to belong to Parish Y. In our diocese, pastors are typically assigned to a parish for a period of ten to twelve years. If I move into an area and join a parish after determining that I can enjoy a degree of unity with that parish, but then the pastor rotates out, and the new pastor has a distinctly different spirituality (even if his doctrine is not questionable), what am I to do? Should I change my spirituality to more closely match my new pastor? Should I change my residence to a new parish that better fits my spiritual needs? Do I remain within the parish, but go elsewhere to worship? That hardly serves to promote unity. In fact, that is exactly what I’ve been doing, and it has led to feelings of estrangement. I no longer feel like a full member of my own parish, and I don’t feel like anything more than a visitor at the parish where I’ve been going for liturgical worship. That estrangement, that feeling of separation, is why my conscience has been troubled.

Unity within the Church, of course, extends beyond the visible. As we start the month of November, we are reminded that we are united with the entire Church – the Church militant here on earth, the Church suffering in purgatory, and the Church triumphant in heaven – and with her head, Christ Jesus. Our unity there is profound, by virtue of our baptism. We have been incorporated into the body. That is the unity that really matters and that we should strive, with all our might, to perfect. If we get that unity right, then the rest will work itself out.

The Saint Song

Friday, October 30, 2009

Reading Romans

The Lectionary recently turned to Paul’s letter to the Romans for the first reading at weekday masses. It started on October 12 (Monday of the 28th week of Ordinary Time) and will continue until November 7 (Saturday of the 31st week of Ordinary Time). I’ve been reading and re-reading chapters 4 through 8, and my feeble mind has been struggling to follow Paul’s logic without falling into a Manichean duality (spirit good, body bad!), but I think I’m slowly getting there. I’d like, therefore, to take this moment to whole-heartedly agree with St. Peter that Paul’s “letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” (2 Peter 3:16).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

She Is Beauty

The guest last week on Life on the Rock (I typically listen to the program on podcast the week after it airs) was Eric Genuis, a composer and concert pianist. I was previously familiar with his work only in connection to the Passion meditation performed by Radix (Doug Barry acting with Eric Genuis providing live musical accompaniment).

Toward the end of the program, Eric discusses some of his charitable involvement, and his enthusiasm for working with the pro-life movement. It turns out that some of his motivation comes from his own daughter.

I have a daughter with Down syndrome. She’s five years old. I call her the Master of Disaster. There is nothing in my house she can’t break. I promise you that. She’s a beautiful little girl. Through abortion, most – a high percentage, over 90 percent of these children – when detected early, they are aborted, and it just breaks my heart. I cannot tell you the gift this child is. If you gave me a magic wand, I wouldn’t change her for the world. This girl is love itself. She is beautiful.

I talk about her at every concert, because you know there’s going to be someone in that audience who has a relationship in the future – some cousin or aunt or uncle – that may end up with a child or know somebody who may be pregnant with a child who has Down syndrome or with other defects. You realize we are made in the image of God. That alone gives us dignity, not what we accomplish. But my daughter has the same dignity. She’ll never be a beauty queen, she’ll never be a rocket scientist, but she is beauty, just inherently because she is made in the image of God. And so, I think more than ever, we have to really fight for life now.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Return of Masculine Catholicism

Inside Catholic recently ran a feature that first appeared in the July 2007 issue of Crisis Magazine, The New Catholic Manliness. The opening paragraph hooked me, and I had to read the whole thing.

It is a source of no small irony that, even as radical feminists within and without the Church have railed for two generations against patriarchy and phallocentrism, it can be quite plausibly said that the post-conciliar Church in this country has, for all intents and purposes, been run by women.

What I found was a refreshing defense of masculine Catholicism, of which I, being a man, am a big fan. The author, Todd Aglialoro, goes into the past and traces the arc of the pendulum from what it could be argued was a male-dominated Church in the 1950s through what came to be a feminized Church following Vatican II, to what in some ways is a Church re-discovering its masculinity today.

Let me say now, as clearly as I can, that I believe there is room for both masculine and feminine spirituality within the Church. I even engage in and benefit from some pious devotions and practices that tend toward the feminine side of the scale. But men need masculine ways to relate to God and to live out their vocations as husbands and fathers.

The Psalmist declares, “For you light my lamp, O Lord; my God brings light to my darkness. For with you I will attack the enemy’s squadrons; with my God I will leap over their wall.” (Psalm 18) The imagery is distinctly masculine, as it is when the Psalms speak of the blessed man contending with the enemies at the gates (Psalm 127). Elizabeth Scalia notes that St. Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory XI, “Be a manly man. . . I wish to see you as a manly man so that you may serve the Bride of Christ without fear, and work spiritually and temporally for the glory of God according to the needs of that sweet Bride in our times.”

Men need models of authentic manliness in order to clearly distinguish virtuous masculinity from its macho imitation. Women also need to see models of masculinity in order to know that it does not in any way demean or subjugate them or their femininity. Our children need to be very carefully taught that godliness is not a sign of weakness, and that real men are selfless and sacrificial.

The future of our civilization just might depend upon it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Value of Special Needs Children

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver seems to be everywhere these days. Most recently, Catholic News Agency reported on remarks made by Chaput to the Phoenix Catholic Physicians’ Guild, where he spoke at length about our societal attitudes towards those with physical and mental disabilities, especially those with Down syndrome.

“Parents of children with special needs, special education teachers and therapists, and pediatricians who have treated children with disabilities often have a hugely life-affirming perspective. Unlike prenatal caregivers, these professionals have direct knowledge of persons with special needs. They know their potential. They’ve seen their accomplishments. They can testify to the benefits – often miraculous – of parental love and faith. Expectant parents deserve to know that a child with Down syndrome can love, laugh, learn, work, feel hope and excitement, make friends, and create joy for others. These things are beautiful precisely because they transcend what we expect. They witness to the truth that every child with special needs has a value that matters eternally.”

The full text of his remarks can be found at the Archdiocese of Denver website, and they are well worth reading in toto. They will resonate with any parent of a special needs child.

This is not the first time Archbishop Chaput has made public comments about our need to welcome in life those with special needs. In August, he wrote a column for the Denver Catholic Register, Health Care and the Common Good. In it, he argued against any system that allows or funds the killing of unborn children or discrimination against the elderly and persons with special needs. He cites an email that he received from a young mother on the east coast whose second child was born with Down syndrome. She worries that the health care overhaul bill that eventually emerges from Congress will put bureaucrats in charge of making decisions regarding the care received by her daughter and she believes that they “don't know -- or don't care to know -- the value and blessedness of a child with special needs. And I don't trust them to mold policy that accounts for my daughter in all of her humanity or puts ‘value’ on her life.”

Archbishop Chaput understands and shares the concerns of parents who have special needs kids. He understands that the common good does not reduce to a return on investment calculation. And he shares our concern that the health care reform that we end up with will be the wrong sort of health care reform.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Small Town Law Enforcement

Living in a rural village is not like living in a city. I’ve often commented that the bad thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business, but the good thing about living in a small town is that everyone knows your business. You sacrifice your anonymity, but that’s not a bad thing. You become accountable to others, but you know that your neighbor’s got your back.

The lack of anonymity transfers in unusual ways to law enforcement practices. We appreciate the efforts of our police officers, even if outsiders might sometimes consider them extreme. Our officers don’t typically sit idly in their patrol cars – they drive the streets and, you know, patrol. In doing so, they become familiar with the territory. If they spot an unfamiliar vehicle, it’s not unusual for them to run the tags as a precaution.

And if you’re passing through town, you might want to drive very carefully.

Our Knights of Columbus field agent shared with us a story about an encounter with our local cops. He was driving through town, and got pulled over. The officer told him that he (our agent) had Montgomery County tags, and he (the officer) had been looking for an excuse to pull him over and check him out. When our agent failed to use his turn signal, the officer had his excuse. For those unfamiliar with our local geography, we are located three counties away from Montgomery County, home of the big bad city of Dayton, Ohio. Our agent, after having his driver’s license run through the system, was sent on his way with a warning.

Some people might consider this harassment. However, those of us who our men in blue have sworn to serve and protect, can draw no small measure of comfort from their vigilance.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reflections on Turning Forty

“Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Different variations on this quote have been attributed to Abraham Lincoln, which is somewhat odd, given that what I’ve read of the great man indicates that he often found himself in a mood that was definitely not happy. It is possible, I suppose, that Lincoln was speaking of the happiness that transcends mere emotion.

The quote came to mind to me on the occasion of my 40th birthday. My person, unfortunately, is not so tightly integrated that I can tell myself how to feel about something. My emotions are what they are, and the most I can hope to do is manage them and keep them from by-passing my intellect to influence my actions. No matter how often I tell myself that this milestone doesn’t really mean anything, it’s impossible to shake the nagging feeling that a threshold has been crossed.

When I was in my thirties, I could run or lift weights, secure in the knowledge that I was taking care of myself. Now, in my forties, it suddenly seems more like a vain and futile attempt to stave off the inevitable. That’s a sentiment that’s not born in any rational part of my brain; it comes from somewhere else.

Perhaps coincidentally, Joe Carter over at the First Thoughts blog posted an excerpt from a book on spiritual depression, which seems to suggest that if we listen to ourselves less and talk to ourselves more, we’ll be more emotionally happy. I already do a lot of that, and I have yet to argue myself into a good mood. At some point, I have to rest my argument, for fear that my self will devolve into a parody (!) of an old Al Franken skit on Saturday Night Live.

Here are some considerations. If eighty is an average life span, then forty is middle age. According to the 2005 actuarial table published by our federal government, at the age of 40, I have approximately 37.3 years left. I actually entered middle age somewhere between my 38th and 39th birthdays.

I expect that I’ll probably have to keep working for at least 30 more years. I functionally became an adult (i.e., started paying my own way) when I graduated from college 17 years ago, and I’ve really only been contributing to the private sector for 12 years. I could argue, therefore, that I’m nowhere near the middle of my adult life.

Age itself is only a statistic. It can’t be anything more than a general indicator of health, wellness, and maturity. I should really avoid comparing myself to other men on the basis of age alone. I should really avoid comparing myself to other men period. I am my own man! And yet age determines when we can drive, vote, drink, and qualify for senior citizen and retirement benefits. It might someday be determinative of whether we will receive life-saving or extending medical care.

Should I live my life any differently at forty than I did at thirty? Only to the extent that I find myself in different circumstances – time marches relentlessly on; there is no going back. At thirty, I had three kids with one on the way, and the oldest was five. At forty, I have six kids with one on the way, and the oldest is fifteen. Different circumstances demand different behavior. I have to believe that if I were 35 or 45, my choices today would not be any different.

I keep telling myself that age doesn’t matter! Forty is a meaningless number! If I keep repeating it to myself, I might even believe it.

Now where do I get in line to buy my sportscar?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Interveiw With a … er, With Me

A few weeks ago, I was approached by Fellman Anthony, a Catholic blogger who, for some reason, was interested in interviewing me for a project on his blog. I eventually took the time to sit down and answer his questions:

1. What is the biggest challenge to your faith that you have faced so far?
2. What scripture do you find yourself turning to most often?
3. How do you think God is revealing his presence to us in the world today?
4. Do you have a book that you would recommend to people trying to develop their spirituality?
5. Why do you think bad things happen to good people?
6. What have you found is the most effective way to introduce the word of God to a nonbeliever?
7. Do you have a favorite saint and if so, why?

To see how I answered, visit Fellman’s blog at Learning to be Quick to Listen

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Lamp of the Body

I noticed an interesting thing when I sat down last night to read today’s Lectionary readings. The Lectionary skips over Luke 11:33-36. This morning, I dug through the Lectionary to see if perhaps the passage is used anywhere else. Nope. I could find no instance in which Luke 11:33-36 is the Gospel read at mass (granted, it was only a five-minute search, based on an online version of the Lectionary – I welcome corrections). It’s passages like this, which the typical Catholic is likely never to have seen or heard, that I find among the most fascinating, and this one is fairly cryptic.

No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it (under a bushel basket), but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.

I read the passage once, and then I read it again. Then I got my wife’s attention, and I said to her, “Hey Amy, what do you make of this?” Then I read it to her. “The lamp is our talents,” she said matter-of-factly. “Okay, but this says the lamp is the eye. What’s all this eye stuff about?” She shrugged, and then asked, “Why are you trying to interpret it? We’re not supposed to do that, are we?” So then I had to go into an aside about the four senses of scripture and how we are indeed supposed to interpret scripture, provided we follow the rules. Both the senses and the rules are covered in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (109-119).

What we came up with, using the lamp as talents analogy and the immediate context of Luke 11 as a guide, is that each of us has been endowed by our Creator with certain natural gifts. St. Paul might extend that to include spiritual gifts as well. We can use those gifts for good or ill. If we put our talents or gifts to uses that are at cross-purposes with what God intended when he made us and gave us those gifts, then our eye is bad, and our body is in darkness. If we cooperate with God’s grace, then we will see clearly, and our body will be in light, and our actions will lead others to the light. We have to have a certain clarity of vision in order to properly use our gifts so as to be a light to others. We have to be diligent to remove even the splinters from our eyes, once we’ve removed the planks. Deliberate, conscious hypocrisy simply will not do.

As always, it seems like it should be so much easier than it actually is in practice. As much as we want to be good, our fallen nature makes it difficult. Even when we see clearly, we can’t always subdue our will. It’s like trying to follow directions while driving. Sometimes we know that we have a right turn coming up, but we see the street sign too late to make the turn. In my struggle to conform myself to Christ, I often pray the three-fold prayer: to see thee more clearly, to love thee more dearly, to follow thee more nearly. Knowledge of Christ leads to love of Christ, which leads to imitation of Christ, through which others will see Christ in us. Lord, let us be children of light! Banish from us all darkness that clouds our vision, that we may be light to others.

What's Your Favorite Food?

My dear middle daughter (one of them) came to me last night with a question. “Dad, what’s your favorite food?” I thought for just a moment, then answered, “Bacon.”

“What?!” The look on her face told me that I had given the wrong answer.

“Uh, steak?” Her expression told me that she still wasn’t getting the answer she expected or wanted. “Ooh, asparagus!”

“Oh, never mind.”

It occurs to me today that she might be planning something special for my birthday. A thick juicy steak, wrapped in bacon, with a side of asparagus would be nice.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What We Teach Our Young Athletes

Do you mind if I vent a bit? I’m just being polite; the vent is going to happen whether you mind or not. This vent or rant or whatever you want to call it really doesn’t have anything to do with the things that might normally lead someone to read this blog. As a parent of two kids in school sports programs, I’ve got some things that I’ve just got to get off my chest.

Let’s start with high school football. My son is a freshman, and I’ll grant you that he’s not the greatest athlete in the world. I wasn’t either as a high school freshman. But the kid’s got lots of genetic potential that could blossom during his junior and senior year. The problem is that I don’t think the program is seriously interested in developing potential.

Our school has a small squad of freshman players. Some of the freshmen were called up to play at the varsity level, so after only two freshman games, the rest of the freshman schedule was cancelled. The varsity and junior varsity squads were recently decimated by a scandal that resulted in seven players being suspended for the remainder of the season. And so, on the most recent Saturday, the junior varsity game saw a total of 18 players suited up. One of those players had his arm in a cast, and another spent the entire second half of the game with ice on his leg. The quarterback was only playing on offense, leaving a total of 15 players available to play defense. You would expect, therefore, that all of the players would be rotated in, so that they could get some experience. After all, the JV game matters about as much as a varsity scrimmage. That is to say, the final score doesn’t matter at all, because there’s no conference JV trophy awarded at the end of the season. The whole purpose is to develop the younger players (unless I’m missing something). But there were two freshman players (my son being one), who got next to no playing time.

Playing time is not the root of my complaint, development is. During practice, the players will occasionally run drills in which they go head-to-head with another player. During those drills, my son is always paired with the other freshman tackle, who just happens to be the other freshman who gets next to no playing time. The other freshman tackle also happens to be the smallest player on the team and, until recently diagnosed with a pulled muscle, thought that he had a hernia. How are either of these two players supposed to improve their skills?

Another example? My player informs me that they never run the plays. The varsity squad runs the plays, and the JV players are expected to learn the plays by watching the varsity squad and studying the play book. I hope you’ll excuse me if I say that I think this is nuts! On the rare occasion that my son does get to play, he’s expected to execute plays that he’s never had the chance to practice! I can, to some extent, forgive him, therefore, when he has to concentrate on remembering what he’s supposed to do during a play. During one play on the one defensive series that he played on Saturday, the running back for the opposing team ran past him on the line. I asked him about that after the game. His response was that the back ran through “B” gap, and on that play, he is supposed to plug “A” gap. The center was responsible for “B” gap. I can tell him that he needs to react to the ball, but at the same time, I can forgive him for not wanting to mis-execute a play that he’s barely had time to practice.

Can I make one more football complaint? Before the home games, in the locker room, the players are force to listen to music by Taylor Swift. I have nothing against Taylor Swift; she seems like a sweet girl. But her music is not going to get football players pumped up for what is, inherently, a violent, full-contact contest. The junior high volleyball players get to listen to more aggressive music! But I also object to the obnoxious and vulgarity-laced rap by Ice Cube (with vocal assist by Snoop Dogg) that was played following the team’s sole win of the season. Team captains should be given some leeway in selecting the locker room music, but not free rein!

In spite of this, my freshman still looks at the pre-season poster, with the photos of the seniors around the edge, and expects to see his picture there three years from now. I hope that he still feels that way next year.

I can’t say the same thing regarding my eighth-grade daughter. The eighth grade volleyball team has nine players this year. With six on the court at a time, that leaves three subs. Two of those subs get next to no playing time. In one recent match, the eighth grade team lost both games (the first team to win two games wins the match, so all matches are either two or three games), and my daughter didn’t get to step foot on the court until the last three points of the second game. We complained after that, so in the next match, after not playing at all in the first game, our daughter played one full rotation in the second game, during which she made no mistakes that cost her team a point. When she left the game, the score was tied. The team went on to lose, with my daughter spending the rest of the game on the sideline. She gets to watch other girls make mistakes that cost the team points, while she doesn’t even get the chance to contribute either way. She’s frustrated, her mother is frustrated, and it is very unlikely that she’ll even be interested in trying to play at the high school level. Whatever flicker of potential there might have been has been effectively crushed.

This past summer, she played pony-league softball. Our village fields teams that compete against other villages with schools in the same athletic conference as our school. We didn’t quite have enough girls to field three teams, so we ended up with two teams with large rosters. During games, ten of the girls take to the field at a time, but all of the girls on the roster are included in the batting line-up. To make things a little bit manageable during the season, each girl on the team was asked to pick two games to sit out. This gave all of the girls on the team a chance to get a little more playing time in the field. I could understand this. But when it came time for the tournament, the coach asked certain girls not to show up, so that he wouldn’t have to include them in the lineup. Understandably, those asked not to show were a little miffed.

Sports are a wonderful thing, or at least they can be. I’ve been able to draw a lot of life-lessons from my own experience with running. The things I learned from my own participation in high school cross country and wrestling were that perseverance and hard work paid off, mostly through the principle of delayed gratification. Sometimes, however, I have to wonder just what it is that our children are supposed to be learning from all of this. My daughter is displaying an impressive amount of stoic poise, and my son is learning to accept defeat. Beyond that, the lesson seems to be that only the starters matter, and that is the wrong lesson, not least because it is short-sighted and ensures that any team success will last only as long as the current group of naturally-talented players.