Friday, May 30, 2014

Peeking behind the curtain

I thought you might find interesting to get an insight into part of my weekly task of preparing a homily.

One of the things I do, obviously, is to look closely at the Scriptures that we'll hear at Mass.

(A little known fact: the priest or deacon giving the homily does not have to work from the Scriptures, although that's encouraged. I can't recall just now where, but I think in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document on the liturgy, it makes clear that the homily can draw from the readings, the prayers of Mass, the season or feast of the day.)

...One of the things I will do with the readings is to examine them closely for any key words or terms that may warrant further explanation; I may look up some commentary on the passages to understand them better. And then sometimes, I will write out my own notes, as a way to sort my thoughts.

That's what I did last week.

And today, as I began sorting my thoughts for the coming weekend, I found my notes from last week. If you care to, you can compare these notes with last week's homily. Hint: they are very different. Feel free to ask about that if you wish.

Here are my notes:

First reading:

This is the deacon Philip, who was one of seven Greek-speaking deacons ordained by the apostles to share in their ministry. The irony – which Acts really illustrates well – is that while the Apostles claimed they needed the deacons to take care of “waiting tables”—i.e., caring for the material needs of the widows—while the Apostles focused on preaching and sanctifying, what actually happens is the deacons are out front with preaching and baptizing, and the Apostles have to catch up!

The mention of Samaritans is important.

What’s happening in Acts is what is outlined by the Lord’s words when he ascended – as described at the beginning: You will be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth. And the deacons lead the way! I wonder what Peter and John were thinking as they scurried down there.

It’s also important because barriers are being crossed. Ironically, as Pope Francis visits these very places, there are new barriers. In the time of the Apostles, the barriers were race and religion. The Samaritans were the descendants of Jews who mixed with Gentiles who came into the land during a time of exile. So when those Jews who were driven out, returned, they didn’t look so favorably on the Samaritans. Not only that, the Samaritans’ form of worship deviated in significant ways from what God had told Moses. So here are the Jews who are being faithful, and here are those wayward Samaritans. The divisions were both faith and race.

It says the crowds “paid attention” to Philip’s message about our Lord. In this chapter of Acts, there’s more detail: there is a story of a magician named Simon, who had his own version of signs and wonders. The people were fascinated by that. But when Philip shows up, Simon is astounded: perhaps because he realizes that Philip isn’t doing “tricks”; rather, God’s power is at work.

1 Peter

Note what Saint Peter says: 

Christ in your hearts…be ready to explain your faith…be ready to be maligned…and keep a good conscience, so that the only thing anyone can complain about is…the good you do.


Love…Commandments…Father…Advocate…Holy Spirit…remain in me, I in you.

The world cannot accept the Holy Spirit—because it doesn’t “see” or “know” him.

We can’t see the Holy Spirit—but we can and do KNOW him. He’s with us. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Vorhis, Anti-semites, Sun circling the earth...wha?

Some people are taking crazy pills. I just don't get this.

First we have Michael Vorhis, who wants to stand up for the Faith, can get pretty strident. He's crossed the line a couple of times and taken some hits for that. No  defense of that, but not unforgiveable. He's had his knuckles rapped. And, on the plus side, he stood up to people who tend to be on his side when they trashed Pope Francis.

Enter Robert Sungenis, who has at various times presented himself as a Catholic apologist. Except that he also trashes the Jews. (Google it.) OK, so we know what to do with that, right? Right?

Sungenis decides to take on a new project: Nicolaus Copernicus was wrong!

Wait, what? Wasn't that the priest who discovered the planets move around the sun, rather than everything moving around earth?

Yes, that Copernicus. Mr. Sungenis is making a movie claiming that's all bogus. It all really, sort of, kind of, actually...

Revolves around the earth.

Come on, that's whack! I mean, right guys? We all know this?

Except not Michael Vorhis, apparently.

I just have one thing to say to you people.

Knock it off!

Let's review:

1. Catholics don't trade in bigoted conspiracy theories about Jews (or anyone else). Because -- to put it diplomatically -- it's moronic.

2. Catholics have no issue with the discoveries of science. We freakin' invented the scientific method, for criminy's sake!

Is this a test or something? Is this a Truman Show moment? Or is this a sign of the Apocalypse?

Just stop it! Plant some tomatoes. Watch a baseball game. Please stop the crazy!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Does anyone else cry during war movies?

I have to admit, I'm getting sentimental in my decrepitude. I am watching war movies on TCM, and this story got me  crying:

Five sons -- five! lost in the same battle. Can you imagine being the parent, given that news? The film portrays the parents being very stoic: no tears; pa goes off to his job on the railroad, and ma simply doesn't speak for a long while, before pouring a cup of coffee for the Naval officer who bore the news.

The movie ended, thank God, and I prepared some dinner. Some spaghetti and some red sauce, from the store. Pompilios; not bad! I opened some wine, and realized only upon opening it, that it's not really red wine, but rather, a bottle of Elderberry wine! How did that get here? No other red wine. Not much suffering, considering...

Meanwhile, lots of brave men and women are enduring risk and privation in many places around the world, on orders of our commander in chief, to defend our country. They'd be thrilled to have any crap wine offered, in sunshine and peace, back home.

Say a prayer for them. And then what? My friend Father Zuhlsdorf has a cause he's promoting, a good one: durable socks for soldiers in Afghanistan. I am going to chip in -- after I publish this post -- and maybe you'll want to as well. I wish I could do more for these excellent Americans, but at least I can send them some good, warm socks.

Henry VIII, Vatican II and fraudulent 'reform'

In the wake of the decision by a local Episcopal congregation (All Saints Episcopal Church) to host -- for pay! -- a sacrilegious ceremony that parodied Catholic sacraments, comes an article in the London Telegraph recounting some of the sordid history of the English "Reformation" that gave birth to the "Church of England" (of which the Episcopal Church in the US is a part).

What interested me about this isn't just the history, but the parallels. As we look at this, tell me if anything sounds vaguely familiar from recent times.

First, the article: How a Protestant spin machine hid the truth about the English Reformation. It is nicely done. The basic facts are not new:

> The Church of England was born of King Henry VIII's ambition to secure his heirs' control of the English throne. When he began to fear his wife, Catherine of Aragon, might not give him a male heir, he needed to be able to rid himself of her, and marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn.

> When the pope couldn't be bullied into giving the king what he wanted, the king makes himself head of the Church in England! And to buy support, he plunders English church institutions and distributes the spoils to his aristocratic allies; which also serves as a "burn your boat" strategy: no going back.

> After Henry passed from the scene, the way was cleared for Protestant theology to be introduced into what had been a Catholic church; and because all this was deeply offensive to the Catholic sensibilities of the people, it had to be imposed with oppression, dressed in lies, while all trace of once-Catholic England was destroyed.

The Telegraph article has some interesting tidbits:

The first thing to go under the reformers’ axe was the cult of saints. The ancient robed and flower-garlanded effigies were smashed up and carted off. Stone and alabaster were ground up. Wood was burned. In addition to the dramatic loss of these cherished protector figures, the parishes were also deprived of around 40 to 50 saints’ “holy days” (holidays) a year, when no servile work was allowed from noon the previous day. This was a dramatic change to the rhythms of life the country had known for centuries. The reformers were keenly aware this would boost economic activity, and welcomed the increase in output it would bring.

Did you catch that? Working people were deprived "40 to 50" holidays a year. Add that to the few days that might have been left, that works out to at least day for each week. That means, in Catholic England, working people would have had the equivalent of a five-day work week (factoring in Sunday); under the Church of England, they felt the lash six days a week. All the better to pay taxes for the Tudor "Empire."

As the Telegraph points out, this story is also told in the prize-winning Stripping of the Altars by Eamon Duffy.

The article mentions that "over 90 per cent of all English art was trashed in the period, and scarcely a handful of books survived the burning of the great monastic and university libraries" -- all in pursuit of the mandate to "take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, candlesticks, pictures, paintings and all other that there remain no memory..." (emphasis added).

The oppressors' "spin" was, the people wanted this. But the English people apparently forgot, and periodically would fight back when the thugs showed up to smash their churches. A few heads lopped off and mounted on spikes served to correct the people's memories.

Read the rest of the story at the Telegraph.

Now, did any of that seem strangely familiar? I'm speaking to fellow Catholics.

What about what came in the wake of the Second Vatican Council? Certain folks, calling themselves "reformers," managed to worm their way into various places of leadership in the Church, and use their power to control just how the "vision of Vatican II" was carried forward.

And guess what? Shrines to saints, relics and treasures associated with worship disappeared, and what wasn't plundered was simply destroyed. Devotions to the saints, to Mary, and even to the Eucharist, were discouraged, if not suppressed. Altar rails were ripped out and--to make sure they were never reinstalled, smashed to bits. Out went catechisms and practices and devotions that made sense to people, replaced with "bare ruined choirs" (to use a Shakespeare phrase often applied to this period) -- both of churches but also of devotion. All that old art wasn't all that good anyway, the reformers said: so it was replaced with Brutalist concrete, squiggles of color, or with cruel mercy, whitewashed walls. In one church in the northern part of our archdiocese, statues and stations of the cross were permitted to remain, but only if their lively colors were covered in "non distracting" beige.

And it wasn't just physical iconoclasm; the sledgehammer was put to the structures of devotion and the formulae of faith. The old Baltimore Catechism -- which the reformers tell us must be sneered at, but they seldom are asked to explain why -- told us that a sacrament is "an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace." "Too simplistic" shriek the enraged reformers! "Rote memorization!"--smash!

When I meet with couples preparing for marriage, and I ask them what a sacrament is, and what grace is, they don't respond with that "simplistic" nine word definition. Instead, they offer embarrassed silence. Heckuva job!

A funny thing happens when you bring these things up now. Those so-called reformers -- many of whom are still around -- will look at you with wide eyes and say, oh no, that didn't happen. Well, it did.

What's more, it's still happening. A parishioner told me about how his daughter -- graduating this year from a local Catholic high school -- was told her group of students were supposed to bake bread for Mass on a retreat, with ingredients that have no business being in bread used for Mass (and call into question the validity of such a "Mass."). Thankfully, the girl had better sense, and they scratched the creative bread from the agenda.

Or we might think of developments at the University of Dayton with a planned "renovation" of their once-beautiful chapel, which aren't promising.

Now, the good news is that the tide of destruction has definitively turned. I know many Catholics aren't seeing it where they are, but if you take a look at larger trends, if you look at what is happening with restoration of old churches, restoration of liturgy, new construction, seminary, new priests, new lay movements, revival of devotion and reverence...

There's no doubt, the tide is receding. But remember, tides don't recede quickly; and even then, they reveal destruction that the waters concealed. And even after the water is well back from the coast, you can have plenty of pools of stranded water that will grow fetid before they finally dry up.

Slowly, the true teachings and message -- and reforms -- of Vatican II are being rediscovered as well. It will take time, but it's happening.

And you know what? Those who tried to hijack the Council -- and thereby, the Church -- know it full well. They aren't ready to give up, but they know their moment is fading.

So they are several things they are trying to do:

1) "Operation Memory Hole." That's my name for the effort underway now, on the part of so-called "progressives" who were complicit in the ugliness of the attempted hijacking of Vatican II, to hide their tracks. The responses range from staring at you as if you are crazy, to minimizing ("well, there were a few bumps along the way") to outright denial.

2) Reusing old tactics. One is whining intimidation. You see it in the reactions to the Archdiocese's new contracts for Catholic educators. Only the Archbishop isn't backing down, God bless him.

3) Meanwhile, they keep at their main project: covert, dishonest disobedience, aimed at eventually creating enough of a new reality that the powers-that-be will capitulate. This is how a lot of wreckage was created in Catholic liturgy.

And, this is what they aim at with these sacrilegious "ordinations" that All Saints Episcopal Church was happy to facilitate, as long as it got thirty pieces of silver for the deed. And -- mark my words -- it's what the "progressives" are aiming for with the whole drumbeat about communion for those who are in marriages the Church cannot recognize.

The parallels are striking between the Tudor-sparked revolution in the Church in England, and what their heirs aim at with the Church universal today. They pretend to want only a change here or there, but -- sorry, that's simply a lie. They want a revolution. And just as the English "reformers" were quite willing to ally themselves with ambitious politicians along the way, so the "progressives" today do exactly the same thing. Witness how a number of so-called Catholic groups allied with the Obama Administration to outmaneuver the bishops, when they were trying ensure any health care reform that was enacted was truly prolife.

If you really want to see something chilling, go to the site of the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter. Skip the articles that dish out heresy and condescending contempt for the pope and the bishops. Read the comments from the audience that is fed this daily diet. You will, if you can stomach it, find the most bilious venom directed against the pope, the bishops, priests, Catholic devotion, and authentic, constant Catholic teaching. It is unrelenting.

And you will also notice the enthusiasm the readership has for the government smashing the Church, if the Church doesn't bend to their will. In the showdown between President Obama and the Little Sisters of the Poor over the contraception mandate, they want the sisters to bow down. Lawsuits to force Catholic schools to abandon teaching Catholic doctrine? Smash the schools. The UN tries to slander and coerce the Holy See? They're rooting for the UN. (Regarding the latter, the words of Obi-wan Kenobi come to mind: "you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.")

But as I said, the "progressive moment" within the Church is passing. Unfortunately, the "progressive" tide outside the Church is far from cresting, but that's another subject. But we'll survive that too; the Lord promised!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

What do laws have to do with love? (Sunday homily)

What is the Lord trying to do 
with his words to the Apostles, which we just heard?
Well, it’s not that hard: “Keep my commandments.”
Which are those? I think he means all of them.

The Ten Commandments, the precepts of the Church, 
and all the commentary on them, 
serve to break it down into pieces we can grapple with.

I just mentioned something we don’t talk about often: 
the precepts—or commandments—
that come, not directly from the Lord, but from the Church. 
What are those?

There are six precepts which the Church—
acting with the authority our Lord gave to the Church—
impose on all of us, all members of the Church. 
And in case you aren’t sure, here they are:

First, to attend Mass on all Sundays and holy days of obligation, 
unless a good reason prevents you. 
This is a grave obligation—
meaning it’s something you must confess if you don’t keep it.

Second is to confess mortal sins at least once a year; 
Third is to receive holy communion at least once during Easter Season.

Fourth, to observe times of penance and fasting. 
Many people think this just means Lent; 
but actually, we are directed to do penance on Fridays all year long, 
in union with the Lord’s death on the cross. 

This is what the “no meat” thing was about. 
And when that changed, all that changed was, 
we could pick another penance. 
Never did the bishops say, no more penance. 
What they said was, choose your own. 

Fifth, to support the mission of the church materially if possible.

And, sixth, to marry according to the norms of the Church.

Now, people will often say, 
what do rules and commandments have to do with love?

And the answer is that while rules don’t replace love, 
they give shape to it. They help us see what it looks like.

Somebody could say, 
“Sure, I lied to you, but it doesn’t mean I don’t love you!”
And the answer is, “yes, it does; because that’s not love.”

We’re not angels; perfect love doesn’t come instinctively. 
We must learn how to love, especially when love isn’t easy. 

It’s not enough just to know the rules and follow them. 
A machine can do that.
We need to know the reason for a rule.

Father Mike Seger, who teaches at our seminary, 
explained it this way: 
rules exist to protect what we value.

So the law about attending Sunday Mass every week: 
what value does that protect? Several. 
It makes clear that Christ—
not the idea of Christ, but Jesus Christ himself—is at the center.

Not just talking or learning about him, but being with him: 
particularly in his sacrifice on the Cross, which is what the Mass is.
That’s the center. 

It also makes clear that being a Christian 
Is something we do together. 
Let’s face it: being holy would be a lot easier 
if we didn’t have to deal with other people!

Jesus came to gather a people to himself.
Our Sunday Mass requirement reminds us 
that if we want to be with the Lord, 
we’ve got to deal with all the crazy people he brings in!

I don’t just mean you nice folks! 
The Mass unites us with everyone in the world, and everyone in time—
past, present, future; earth, purgatory and heaven.

Monday is Memorial Day, 
when we remember those who died in service to our country. 
In the Mass, we are really united to those who have died. 
It’s not just “memory” but a reunion.

What brings all this together 
is the Advocate we heard about, the Holy Spirit.
The Spirit of God is God. 

We receive him in a powerful way in the sacrament of confirmation. 
That’s what the first reading describes.
And that gift of the Holy Spirit 
not only teaches us what is good and loving, 
but also helps us to love these things.

So, back to the question I initially asked: 
what’s the Lord trying to say here?
And I think he’s giving us a choice:
You and I can be an “orphan”; no one has claims on us, 
no one tells us what to do; we do what we like!
We make our own truth. 
We have our freedom:
We have ourselves.

But if we don’t want to be orphans, 
then we allow God to adopt us into his family. 
There are rules. There are truths that are bigger than we are, 
which we may or may not understand—or like. 
We answer to each other. Our family shapes us.
And we have the obligations that go with love.

Above all, we actually have love.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Life is good, overlooking the Ohio

Sorry, no pictures...

After a busy day:

> Holy Mass; breakfast with parishioners; morning prayer; in the office...
> Phone calls; parish business; trying to get started on my Sunday homily...
> More phone calls; more parish business; trying to get back to the homily...
> Meeting with staffmembers about an idea they have; working that out...
> Back to the homily...where is that %^*! muse?
> Sending the seminarian to the store: pick up some items for dinner...
> Wedding rehearsal, visiting priest, checking in, Father, would you like to stop over afterward? (No, sorry)...

So the seminarian gets back with: fresh scallops, some garlic, some breadcrumbs. Everything else I have.

We fix a drink--I show him how to make a Martini--then we sit outside on the patio and enjoy the view of the Ohio River.  Lovely evening. We discuss philosophy!

I start the water for the pasta. We pray Evening Prayer. Then we go inside and get dinner underway:

> Scallops sauteed in butter and oil, with garlic;
> Pasta with Parmesan cheese and butter:
> Mixed green salad;
> Chardonnay (little bottles leftover from the festival last August! Still good after all this time in the fridge! No waste here!)

The seminarian has not really done much cooking, so I'm showing him what I know. We dredged the scallops in a little oil and bread crumbs, then sauteed them in olive oil and butter. Don't cook them too long! Pasta was a little past al dente,  but still pretty good. The butter-and-oil-and-garlic goodness in the pan, after finishing the scallops, I dumped on the pasta. Tasty!

We ate all ten of the scallops; but some salad and pasta left over.

Now we're watching the Reds, up 5-3 in the ninth! Fireworks to follow, win or lose, and we'll run out and watch from the patio.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

All Saints gives terse non-defense of sacrilegious treatment of Catholic sacraments

This is about the decision of All Saints Episcopal Church in Cincinnati to host a sacrilegious, simulation of two Catholic sacraments: holy orders and holy Mass.

I wrote to the rector of the parish on Sunday, and received a reply this afternoon:

Dear Fr Fox

The event which took place this past Friday was a venue rental and was in no way sponsored by All Saints Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Southern Ohio.


Rev Eileen O'Reilly

A commenter on another thread said he received an almost identical response.

Here is what I wrote back to Rev. O'Reilly:

Dear Rev. O'Reilly:

I appreciate you writing back. 

You should know that I have written about this on my blog, and I will continue to do so, because this is a subject of great importance to me as a Catholic, as I'm sure you can appreciate.

I will be very candid in saying that response doesn't satisfy me, and I suspect that doesn't surprise you. There are many other questions I want to ask, in order to understand how this happened. I won't pester you, but I will tell you I've posted those questions at And if you are * in dialoguing further with you about this, I would be grateful.


Father Martin Fox

* Somehow the word "interested" dropped out.

Heaven and hell at the movies

I saw a couple of movies over the weekend. Sunday was "Godzilla."

Fun movie. Someone online wrote about Christ imagery in the movie. Yes, I kind of see it, so that's a plus; but mainly, I was in the mood for something entertaining, and monsters fighting while they absent-mindedly wreck various famous cities does entertain me! The movie is well done for what it is. While a lot about the movie is predictable, there was one thing that rather surprised me. Unlike so many disaster movies, this one didn't create some absurd corporate or military villain. You know the one: the rich and powerful guy who casts caution to the wind, and sets worldwide apocalypse into motion. Because, you know, rich and powerful CEOs have never heard of class-action lawsuits. In this case, I'd have to say there really isn't any villain. See it for yourself and judge.

Monday brought "Heaven is for real." This is the story of four-year-old Colton Burpo, his mysterious encounter with God and heaven while undergoing an operation, and how family -- including his father, a Wesleyan pastor -- deal with the boy's astounding claims and the reverberations in the community.

Here was a minister speaking from the pulpit about our Lord Jesus Christ -- and I'm thinking, when does this happen in a movie theater? And it was nicely done. Meanwhile, the film confronts us with something the Burpo family had to grapple with: did their son really see heaven? Did he really talk to people who are there? The power of the story depends on a claim that I cannot verify: namely, that there were things that the boy learned -- in heaven -- that he couldn't have known otherwise. If this is true; that is to say, if the things he tells his family weren't things he either guessed correctly, or else overheard at some point...then it's a powerful argument for the truth of his experience.

This is a good opportunity to explain something about private revelation -- that is, any experience anyone might have of God, whether a very personal and lowly experience, or else, say, a vision of Mary, or messages for the world, or maybe just the heir to the throne of France.

Little Colton described many things he saw; and many of them seem childish. Is heaven exactly as he saw? Or, rather, did he experience something that was shared with him, by God, in a way that would be meaningful to a four-year-old? After all, he had the difficulty of translating what he experienced. If a four-year-old did see heaven, what images or analogies would he use to describe it? How would you do it?

Let me back up now and mention something I saw in the previews for "Godzilla." It's an upcoming film; I won't give the title, because if you're foolish enough to go see it, despite what I'm going to tell you, then you'll get no help from me. But where Monday brought me a film that gave hope that heaven is real, the previews the day before promised a movie about hell. Specifically, a movie about demons.

Of course this isn't a new subject for movies. And maybe it is just me and my reactions to these things. But the preview was deeply disturbing. I was praying as it flashed, and I thought about leaving the theater rather than expose myself to it.

What I'm talking about is the fascination with evil, something the devil plays on to the hilt; and lots of very foolish people (and perhaps some knowing, malevolent people) do his bidding in this. But this fascination is at work whenever anyone publishes anything about hell or evil; when someone does a talk about demons and their activities; when people delve into questions of the occult, possession and exorcism. And it is appealed to in a powerful way when filmmakers make movies about these subjects.

Again, perhaps I am simply too sensitive to these things; but I trust my instincts on this one: avoid these things!

There are several dangers at work. One I mentioned -- being drawn to evil like the moth to the flame; or, to use a film imagery, like Gollum to the Ring. Related is the danger of thinking this is just a game -- hence, actual games involving communicating with spiritual forces. Another is the anxiety and fear that the enemy is happy to inspire. I am not talking about a healthy "fear" that recognizes a real danger, and avoids it; I mean a fear that oppresses.

But let's not go on. In Deuteronomy, Moses reminded God's People: "The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things are for us and for our children forever, to observe all the words of this law" (29:28). Our pope does indeed mention the devil frequently, but he soon turns to focus on the Lord.

So back to "Heaven is for real." As the film credits rolled up the screen, I realized that I'd heard the name of our Lord Jesus repeatedly in the film. And not once had his name been spoken, except out of reverence. Too seldom that happens when we go to the movies!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

'Womenpriests': why should we care?

Yesterday I reported on the sacrilegious simulation of Catholic sacraments last week at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pleasant Ridge.* And I can imagine two reactions. First, of course, from those who don't accept the Church's teaching and practice, and so aren't terribly upset by this action. The second would be those who might say, well, they don't agree with it, but is it really a big deal? Why not just ignore it?

On one level, the "just ignore it" response has some sense. I have no doubt that the efforts will fail in their ultimate objective, which is to force the Church to change her teaching. That will fail. Sad -- very sad -- to say, this means that many people will have invested themselves heavily (if not totally) in a dead-end project. So why not just sadly pray for them, but say little about it? Am I not giving them the attention they crave?

But I think not. For one, I myself didn't know anything about it until a parishioner asked me. He's an active Catholic; and he was very confused about this. The confusion was created, not by me, but by what he saw on TV. And he came to me for an explanation. Of course he's not the only one.

What's more, do not make the mistake of thinking that this is only about ordaining women. As a friend pointed out to me, there is a much fuller agenda for those who are promoting this cause. And it's pretty much a wholesale remaking of the Catholic Church.

What do they want to do:

> Jettison Catholic teaching on human nature, including the essential complementarity of human beings--i.e., male and female. This means tossing out what we believe about sexual morality and marriage and essential human nature.

> Silencing the Church's total opposition to abortion.

> Eviscerating the Church's teaching (that is, the Lord's own teaching, see Matthew 19) on the indissolubility of a sacramental marriage -- thus meaning that a civil divorce doesn't undo the bonds of marriage.

> Abolishing the Magisterium -- that is, the teaching office of the Church, which is held by the pope and bishops.

> Overturning the Church's teaching on the infallibility of the teaching office (i.e., pope and bishops) on matters of faith and morals.

> Denying the real change that happens in the reception of holy orders, replacing it with a purely functional notion of bishops, priests and deacons. (This goes hand in hand with the prior two points.)

> Denying that an ordained priest is needed in order to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass -- replacing it with the notion that the assembly makes it happen.

> Approaching the Deposit of Faith with a corrosive "hermeneutic of suspicion" -- i.e., always understanding the sources of our Faith (Scripture and Tradition, as expressed in liturgy, practice, and all texts) through a interpretive lens that assumes it's not trustworthy and/or is "corrupted."

This last one is huge: because it means pretty much everything is called into question.

In short, this is the worst possible combination. It joins the rebellion of the most anti-Catholic elements of the Protestant movement of the 1500 and 1600s, with the acid of 20th century Modernism.

What do you suppose will be left?

You think I'm overstating it? Then you haven't read what these folks write (which is a good idea!). 

But if you read what they write; if you pay attention to the company they keep, and the causes they endorse; if you look at how they approach both their attempted "ordination" and then the Holy Mass, it's crystal-clear.

They aren't seeking to change just one thing; but everything.

Of course, they are free to believe what they like, and to advocate it.

But if they were being honest in saying, we want to bring it all down, do you think they would get the sympathetic hearing they often get? And would anyone -- even a news reporter -- continue to buy the notion that they really are still, at heart, Catholic?

I am sad about this sterile project in which some folks are investing themselves. But I am also concerned for their immortal souls -- and for those who they mislead. That they will ultimately fail doesn't mean they can't cause a lot of damage beforehand.

* As of late Tuesday, still no response whatsoever from anyone at All Saints about their participation in an offensive, sacrilegious parody of Catholic sacraments.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why would a Cincinnati Episcopal church choose to slap the Catholic Church in the face?

Welcome Fr. Z readers. Feel free to look around!

In the story I wrote about this morning -- about Mrs. Paula Hoeffer, who took part in an attempted ordination as a Catholic priest -- I noted the curiosity of the location being kept secret.

It seems to me if you want to do something "prophetic," you don't keep it a secret. And that is the claim, isn't it, that ordaining women as Catholic priests, in defiance of current teaching, is prophetic, right?

In any case, I think area Catholics have every right to know where what is -- for us -- a sacrilege, was sponsored.

So I did a little checking. It didn't take long.

The Women's Ordination Conference published an invitation, online, to the event (see below).

In addition, the video that appears on WCPO depicts a church interior that looks identical to what appears at the church's Facebook page. And the church is located in Pleasant Ridge, where WCPO reported the ceremony took place.

I've reached out to the church, whose Rector is Rev. Eileen O'Reilly, for comment, but I haven't heard back yet.

But the questions I have are as follows:

1. Did this in fact happen at your church? With your permission?

2. Do you realize that because this is a simulation of a sacrament for Catholics, it's deemed a sacrilege and is deeply offensive?

3. You have joined yourself to an attempt to overturn the constant teaching of the Catholic Church. Do you really think that's any business of the Episcopal Church?

4. Would it similarly be appropriate for Catholic parishes (or any other religious organization) to begin hosting ordinations for Episcopal/Anglican clergy, for individuals who are explicitly determined to overturn various longstanding doctrines of your church?

5. Many churches host their own version of Passover seders, despite the objections of Jewish organizations who consider this offensive. What is your policy on that, for example?

6. The Satanic Temple at Harvard is looking for a site to host a so-called "Black Mass"--for "educational purposes." Would you host them?

Perhaps you can think of other questions while we wait to hear from the church.

Meanwhile, here's the page I linked above, in case it disappears.

Update: I can't find this information, below, at the Women's Ordination Conference, despite appearing to be from them. So I'm not sure just who originated it. Also, I noticed I'd left someone's email and phone un-redacted, and I fixed that. I'm sorry about that; fixed.

Company Logo
Upcoming Ohio OrdinationsMay 16th in CincinnatiMay 24th in Brecksville



Paula Ivory Hoeffer 

Kathleen McShane Bean
Friday, 16 May 2014, 6:00 PM
All Saints Episcopal Church
6301 Parkman Place
Cincinnati OH 45213

Joan Hoak, RCWP-USA, Great Waters Region 
A reception will follow the Ordination and Eucharist. 
Clergy of all faiths are invited to gather at 5:30 p.m.
to vest and process. Red stoles suggested. 
Contact Paula Hoeffer, xxxxxxx@xxx or xxx-xxx-xxxx
Founded in 1975, the Women's Ordination Conference is the oldest and largest organization that works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Catholic church.  WOC also promotes new perspectives on ordination that call for more accountability and less separation between the clergy and laity.
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Mary Bergan Blanchard
Mary Eileen Collingwood
Irene C. Scaramazza
Marianne Therese Smyth 

Barbara Billey
Susan Marie Guzik

May 24, 2014 - 1:00 PM
Brecksville United Church of Christ
23 Public Square
Brecksville, OH 44141  

Balcony will be reserved as a photo free zone.
Reception following the ceremony in Church Hall. 
Contact Bridget Mary:  xxxxxxx@xxx

Founded in 1975, the Women's Ordination Conference is the oldest and largest organization that works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Catholic church.  WOC also promotes new perspectives on ordination that call for more accountability and less separation between the clergy and laity.

Cincinnati woman claims ordination as priest

Saturday evening, before Mass, the genial parishioner who often serves that Mass asked me about a women he'd heard about, from Deer Park, who had been "ordained a priest."

"Is she really a priest?"

"No. She can no more become a priest than I can give birth."

"If she came here, could she offer Mass here?"

"Absolutely not."

I explained that Pope Saint John Paul II defined the matter infallibly in his 1994 apostolic letter regarding ordination. Then we started Holy Mass.

Now, of course, there are those in my parish who will disagree with this teaching. Surveys say lots of Catholics do, and I don't see any point in disputing those claims; because survey results don't dictate truth. Lots of people don't accept the theory of evolution. Would a majority rejecting that theory make it not true?

The reason the Church teaches this is straightforward: we lack the authority to do it. Our Savior chose men as his apostles, and the apostles -- who remain the best interpreters of our Lord's teaching --chose only men as bishops, priests and deacons. This is not in serious dispute. (I say "serious" because those who advocate for ordaining women frequently rely on sad, even embarrassing claims of historical research to butress their claims. Remember, being able to get something published doesn't mean a whole lot.)

The other question that comes up is why--why did our Lord do it this way? And of course, that's not a question anyone can definitively answer. We can only offer surmises. But I think it actually is connected to the other burning issue of our time, the redefinition of marriage, and the deconstruction of all notions of sex and gender.

Our society increasingly is buying the notion that sex and gender are simply constructs, and the desire to reconstruct these "identities" should prevail. So that means, for example, that if at your neighborhood school, a child "decides" he is now a she, everyone must agree with this, and that boy-now-girl will use the girls washroom and locker room, play on the girls sports teams. Oh, you think I'm making this up? Just two weeks ago, the Department of Education said this very thing.

Ultimately, this is a primal rebellion. Against God. God created us as humans, "male and female he created them." And it was the serpent who told Adam and Eve, eat this fruit, and you shall be as gods.

Here's the common point: do we believe that God creating humanity male and female is something essential to the truth about us, or not? If yes -- and this is what the Catholic Church believes -- then it seems reasonable to say that there is something masculine about priesthood, something fatherly. Note that in the history of Israel, there were women political leaders, women prophets, but never women priests. It wasn't unheard of; on the contrary, there were women involved in priestly/cultic activities among the nations around the Jews. And it isn't as if the Jews didn't absorb lots of things from these other cultures and societies. They did.

Advocates for ordaining women will dig for some obscure figure, either in the history of the Church or in the Bible, and say, "see, a woman priest!" But the really telling fact is that there is one woman who stands out as being as truly priestly as any woman might be, and yet they never point to her: Mary, the mother of the Lord.

What human being, male or female, was more united to the heart and mission of Jesus than her?

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed out, she is the one human being who could look at Jesus and say, "this is my body...this is my blood." And no one made a greater and more costly sacrifice than she. Abraham was prepared to offer Isaac, but he was spared that. Mary really was asked to sacrifice her son, and she was not spared that. And she was there, at Calvary, when the offering was made.

And yet, who claims Mary was a priest? No one; because there's nothing whatsoever to support it.

Tell me, does it demean Mary that she wasn't a priest? A bishop? Please explain how.

I'm sorry for Mrs. Paula Hoeffer, because by her sacrilegious action, she has excommunicated herself. And by all appearances, she doesn't even realize that. Further, she has given scandal; there are likely to be a number of people who will follow her bad example.

One interesting note. The WCPO story that I linked says that Mrs. Hoeffer didn't want anyone to know what Protestant church hosted this attempted ordination. Why would that be? Why wouldn't they be proud to host it? (I think I know what church it was, by the way, but I'm checking on that.)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Clippers' Sterling, Mozilla's Eich, 'gay marriage' and you

Courtesy U.B. David & I'll B Jonathan
Unless you have been installing a parquet floor in your bomb shelter, you are surely aware of the brouhaha over Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise, who was taped saying racist things (and then, when we went on TV to try to salvage the situation, he said even more stupid, racist things.

And you're aware he was banned for life; and the NBA is attempting to wrest his team from his control.

Also, do you recall Brendan Eich? He is a software guru, he helped found Mozilla, which brought you the Firefox browser.

But when it came to light that he donated money to support Proposition 8 in California -- to reinstate the language in the state constitution that protected the since-the-dawn-of-time understanding that marriage is male-female -- he was hounded from his job.

That's right. He was forced out as head of his own company.

What do they have in common, you ask?

Let Ron Fournier explain it. He writes for the staid, mainstream National Journal, and according to him, in today's edition, if you oppose redefining marriage, you might as well be a supporter of segregation and Jim Crow.

Get the picture? As far as the advocates of "inclusion" are concerned, Brendan Eich = Donald Sterling.

Mark down that I told you this. Before the decade ends, we will see many more people given the Brendan Eich/Donald Sterling treatment, simply because they believe that marriage remains male-female.

If they can do this to very rich and powerful business owners, what will protect the rest of us?

King Nebuchadnezzar had a golden statue made, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, which he set up in the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon. He then ordered the satraps, prefects, and governors, the counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the officials of the provinces to be summoned to the dedication of the statue which he had set up.

The satraps, prefects, and governors, the counselors, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the officials of the provinces came together for the dedication and stood before the statue which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. 

A herald cried out: “Nations and peoples of every language, when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, you must fall down and worship the golden statue which King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall be instantly cast into a white-hot furnace.”

Therefore, as soon as they heard the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, the nations and peoples of every language all fell down and worshiped the golden statue which King Nebuchadnezzar had set up.

At that point, some of the Chaldeans came and accused the Jews to King Nebuchadnezzar: “O king, live forever! O king, you issued a decree that everyone who heard the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, and double-flute, and all the other musical instruments should fall down and worship the golden statue; whoever did not was to be cast into a white-hot furnace.

There are certain Jews whom you have made administrators of the province of Babylon: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men, O king, have paid no attention to you; they will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.”

Nebuchadnezzar flew into a rage and sent for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were promptly brought before the king. King Nebuchadnezzar questioned them: “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you will not serve my god, or worship the golden statue that I set up?

Now, if you are ready to fall down and worship the statue I made, whenever you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, dulcimer, harp, double-flute, and all the other musical instruments, then all will be well; if not, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace; and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?”

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “There is no need for us to defend ourselves before you in this matter.

If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, you should know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up" (Daniel 3:1-18).

Update (a few mins later):

Oh, and I forgot about these fellows:

Enemies of the People! Shun them!
While waiting to make your obeisance, here's some music you might want to learn...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

When you don't have an argument, invoke Notre Dame

While this image is mainly to draw your attention, it's actually relevant to this blog post.
The Cincinnati Enquirer posted a column ("Pichler: Will Catholic contract drain teaching talent?") last night from Mr. Josh Pichler, who covers business news, weighing in on the controversy over the Archdiocese of Cincinnati's revised teacher contracts. Mr. Pichler tells us he's a 1996 graduate of Notre Dame; he doesn't say whether he is Catholic. I make no assumptions in this regard, either way.

Let's see what kind of argument he offers:

If you want to see how a Catholic institution makes the gay community feel welcome without violating its principles, check out a recent video produced by the University of Notre Dame.

The university promotes a message of not just tolerance, but acceptance, for openly gay students in the two-minute video released last week and narrated by school Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick.

It features athletes from various sports repeating this message: If you can play, you can play. You're welcome at Notre Dame.

Well, the video is nicely done, but neither it, nor the article actually demonstrate the claim Mr. Pichler makes -- that Notre Dame hasn't violated its principles. He simply expects us to take his word for this.

But, let's go with what's offered: Notre Dame says "gay students" can participate in sports. How is this even relevant here? Is he suggesting that the Archdiocese won't let students with same-sex attraction play sports in our schools? (Not true.) Or is he suggesting that the Archdiocese won't allow teachers who have same-sex attractions? (Also not true.) He doesn't come out and make the accusation explicit; but it's hinted at. (Not nice.) And if he's not hinting that, then how is this relevant?

Ask any employer across the country and you'll hear about the war for talent. It's one reason Kroger, Procter & Gamble and Fifth Third Bank are among the sponsors for Cincinnati Pride 2014, the annual gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender community parade and festival.

Fortune 500 companies want to make sure there's a large welcome mat for their employees. It's how they attract and retain their best workers.

OK, so now it really wasn't about gay students at Notre Dame at all. Instead, he seems to be comparing how big companies recruit gay employees, with the Archdiocese recruiting teachers? Is that it?

The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is not a Fortune 500 company, but it has to attract talent and take care of its staff like any other organization.

Right -- so why do you bring up the example of large employers? What would you have the Archdiocese do that P&G and 5/3 do? You don't make the ludicrous suggestion of the Archdiocese sponsoring "Cincinnati Pride" -- because everyone would ridicule that notion. But what are you suggesting they do?

The archdiocese's new contract for its teachers – which forbids public support of gays in any manner – puts many of its employees who have gay friends or relatives in a horrible position.

Mr. Pichler might want to proofread his own column before sending it in; or else someone at the Enquirer made an embarrassing edit: "...public support of gays in any way."

So you think if any of our teachers has a gay student at, say, Notre Dame, and s/he plays on a sports team, and the athlete wins an award, the parent will get fired for posting this on his or her Facebook? Because the kid's gay?

Seriously, Mr. Pichler?

He goes on...

The archdiocese told The Enquirer that this year's contract says the same thing as previous contracts, which were half as long: Teachers will not publicly act or speak against Catholic Church teachings. Archdiocese spokesman Dan Andriacco said Monday that the contract's new language will not change.

But words matter. There's a huge difference between telling teachers they can't advocate for gay marriage in the classroom, and telling teachers they can't publicly support what the contract calls a "homosexual lifestyle" outside of school.

Imagine you're an archdiocesan teacher and one of your loved ones is gay, getting married and invites you to the wedding. Even if there's ultimately no risk to your job for attending, how would you feel about signing that contract? How would you feel about your employer?

Note the admission there: "Even if there's ultimately no risk to your job for attending..." Let's not slide past that so quickly. Is there risk or not?

My understanding, from various statements made by the Archdiocese in recent weeks, is that attending an event like this would not be in violation of the contract. Does Mr. Pichler know different? He doesn't offer anything here. He wants you to think the contract is that constricting, yet not actually make the accusation.

But let's look at Mr. Pichler's question: "How would you feel about your employer?"

That's actually a great question. Because it goes to the heart of the issue. How you would feel depends on...whether you agree with "your employer." Right?

Or does Mr. Pichler recommend that among the things parents should do, when their children tell them they are attracted to the same sex, and are acting on to sacrifice their own beliefs and values?

In this view, there is simply no possibility of a conversation like this, after the "wedding invitation" is given:

"My child, your father and I love you dearly, as surely you know. And you know that we're Catholics and that we believe what the Church teaches about God's plan for human sexuality. You know that's what we taught you.

"So this puts us in a tough situation. You know that. We love you, even though you know we don't agree with some of your decisions. We can't endorse all your choices -- and surely you can't expect that of us, can you?"

"No mom, of course not. But this is important to me."

"Well, let's work together on this. You don't ask us to compromise our beliefs, and we don't ask you to do that, either. How can we resolve this?"

And from that point on, the parents and the child figure out something everyone can live with, that (a) affirms love while (b) doesn't expect anyone to sacrifice conscience.

By the way, this is a common dilemma, and not just because of so-called "gay marriage." The issue comes up when Catholics marry outside the Church, and when Catholics who are married, attempt to marry again.

And after all, if we really take a marriage seriously, how can this not be a dilemma?

Let's take this out of questions of sexuality and whether people's failed marriages should be deemed as enduring (and thus preventing them from marrying without a decree of nullity).

Suppose a friend of yours has an unfortunate habit of making spectacularly bad choices, particularly in relationships. Can you imagine meeting that friend's new "significant other," and ever saying, "that person is bad news; you need to get away from him/her"?

I sure can. I've had couples come to me seeking to get married, and in the course of meeting them, I've seen huge warning signs.

You know what I do?


In fact, in our initial meeting, that's what I tell them I'll do. To quote myself: "because while it would be the easiest thing just to rubber-stamp this and send you along saying, 'it's their life, not mine,' I have a conscience, and I don't want to go to hell. So I'm going to tell you if I see warning signs."

I've never had a couple say that I was being mean and callous.

Because I assume Mr. Pichler is a decent person, I imagine he, too, might well see someone he loves embarking on a disastrous relationship; and in the end, saying, with great pain:

"I know you believe this is the right thing, but I simply cannot agree with you. And I cannot come and celebrate this. What would I be celebrating?"

So it all really hinges on something Mr. Pichler doesn't seem interested in: is the Catholic Church right about human sexuality? Is the Church right in saying that two people of the same sex attempting "marriage" is no marriage at all. Because it's contrary to God's plan for humanity ("unnatural"), it won't really lead to ultimate happiness. It cannot. It involves mortal sin -- which, if unrepented of, means eternal loss in hell.

And if I believed that -- and I do! -- then how can I be all smiles while this path in life is celebrated?

Mr. Pichler may not believe this; he doesn't say. But if Notre Dame really is the ultimate expression of the Catholic Faith ("You don't get more Catholic than Notre Dame"--uh, yeah you do; and Mr. Pichler really ought to be embarrassed to resort to this sort of bromide. Will he quote George Gipp and sing the Alma Mater next?), then he knows full well what the Catholic Church believes.

So I'd love to hear how he solves this problem. Unfortunately, he isn't interested in actually taking Catholic teaching seriously.

Which is why his argument fails. He thinks the Catholic Church should operate like Procter and Gamble. But as much as I appreciate P&G's contribution to our city, P&G isn't concerned with my eternal soul. The Church is.

Catholic schools offer an alternative to the public school system, and archdiocesan schools are lifelines to disadvantaged children across the region. The Catholic character of those schools – which is so much broader than the church's teaching on homosexuality, and so inspirational – is an important differentiator.

Another puzzling non-sequitur. Is Mr. Pichler suggesting that the Catholic Archdiocese needs to sacrifice its beliefs so as to serve better all those who want an alternative to government schools? Is that it?

Here's what I think Mr. Pichler is hinting at, without coming out and saying it. He's voicing the sentiment of two groups who, he imagines, are reading his op-ed.

First are those parents who send their children to Catholic schools, not because they're Catholic, but because they are significantly better than government schools. Our schools are--for these parents--an affordable private school. The Catholic part is fine, if it's not too intrusive or doesn't cause them embarrassment at summer cocktail parties.

Second, I think Mr. Pichler is thinking of the business community, which has been very supportive of the inner-city Catholic schools, precisely as "lifelines to disadvantaged children." And I just wonder if he isn't trying to say, the business community may not be so supportive in the future if the Archdiocese takes this route. In other words, it's a threat.

To close out, Mr. Pichler decides to try an insult. He sets it up with a quote from Coach Swarbrick, who narrates the video:

"Because the university values LGBTQ students in the Notre Dame community, as indeed it values all of its students, the university is committed to fostering an environment of welcome and mutual respect that is grounded in its Catholic mission," Swarbrick says in the video.

Swarbrick has an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame, a law degree from Stanford and was a major player in the Indianapolis business community before taking his current position.

Apparently, he's not the kind of talent the archdiocese's schools want to attract.

See that? Now we know why the opening example was so key; it sets up this insult (that the Archdiocese just doesn't like gay people, unlike the Vatican-on-the-St.-Joe, Notre Dame) I mean, consider this: imagine this article without any reference to Notre Dame, which, for all the times he invokes his alma mater, brings nothing of relevance to the argument.

Here's his argument:

Notre Dame! Gay people are great!

You should be like the Fortune 500. They don't care what their employees believe and do, so why should you? It's not like what the Catholic Church says is, like, true or anything; it's just...

Hey, did I mention Notre Dame? Who's Catholicker than them? So there.

Anyway, you have great schools, and that's all the Fortune 500 cares about. Don't you forget it!

Go Notre Dame!

Update (5/16): I neglected to give a biretta-tip to Rich Leonardi for this column...

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The faithful shepherd will tell you what you don't want to hear (Sunday homily)

Notice who we hear a lot from this Sunday: Saint Peter.

Peter, who failed. Peter, who the Lord knew would fail. 
Peter, who the Lord clearly was counting on, 
because he didn’t let him go, but instead reeled him back in. 

Remember? Jesus asked three times, “Do you love me?” 
And then said, “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep; feed my sheep.”

So Peter had reason to reflect deeply 
on what it means to be a shepherd. 
Especially on the fact that Jesus chose him twice.

The Gospels tell us a lot about the Apostles’ weaknesses.
But realize they were telling on themselves.

And they did it because after Jesus rose from the dead, 
and poured out the Holy Spirit, they were changed so greatly.
So it was important for everyone to know 
how different they had once been.

We all know a song like that:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved…a wretch!—like me.
I once was lost, but now…am found; was blind…but now I see.

That’s every Christian’s story.
Each in our own way, 
we all come to realize we totally need Jesus Christ!

If that’s true for every Christian, 
It’s even more true for our human shepherds.
Sometimes we have a hard time getting the right balance here.

There’s a funny cartoon making the rounds. 
First Pope Francis calls to order a pizza, and says, “hold the anchovies.”

The next scene, the pizza guy says to his coworker, 
“huh, so the pope doesn’t like anchovies.”
Every time the story passes along, it changes, 
till we see a news reporter announcing,
Today in Rome the pope “announced eating seafood is a sin!”

That joke’s on us, not him. 

But then we go off-balance the other way, 
and people dismiss the pope entirely because he’s human. 

But remember, it the Lord’s own plan 
to put human shepherds in charge. 
It was Jesus who left the Apostles 
to be the ones who would keep his promises!

So as Catholics we believe 
that when the pope and the bishops act together, 
they act with the authority of Christ. 

And when they teach on matters of faith and morals, 
in a formal way, they have the protection from God 
of not teaching error. This is what “infallibility” means.

That’s part of him keeping the promise of being a good shepherd.

But did you notice in this section of the Gospel, 
Jesus doesn’t call himself “the shepherd.”
He calls himself the gate.

And he says, the thief tries to sneak in, 
While the one who enters by the gate? That’s the shepherd.

Now, we might wonder, 
why does our Lord think he needs to say all this? 

Because he knows there are a lot of false shepherds—
and there is a danger that people will listen to them, 
rather than to the shepherds who are faithful to the Lord.

The reason people try to get in over the wall 
is because they don’t want to deal with the Lord, who is the gate. 

There are things our Faith teaches that people don’t like. 
But the Lord himself is the source of them. 
He took the tough line on marriage. 
He clearly said it was man and woman. 
Throughout Scripture he made it clear that sexual intimacy waits for marriage; 
and that marriage always welcomes the gift of children.

It is the Lord who says, love your enemies, 
and pray for those who persecute you, 
while politicians and talk radio people say, let’s torture them. 

And to be clear, loving our enemies 
doesn’t mean we can’t defend ourselves. 
But it means that we never have permission
to treat even our enemies as less than human. Never.

Right now, Pope Francis is very popular; which is great.
He’s making some good moves. 
But sooner or later, he’ll say and do things folks won’t like.
He’ll have to, because he’s a faithful shepherd.

There’s a good reason we often call the Church our mother,
because their roles are similar. 

What our mothers often do, the Church does: 
telling us the truth we need to hear, 
not necessarily that we want to.

Father Ted Ross, who taught for many years at our seminary, 
and who taught me, used to say this. 
We don’t need the Church to tell us when we’re right. 
We need the Church to tell us when we’re wrong.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Archbishop is sending me to Russia

When I was appointed to Holy Cross-Immaculata by Archbishop Schnurr, my appointment was as “administrator,” meaning that it might be long or short.

This week, I found out that it will be short. The Archbishop has asked me to become pastor of Saint Remy Parish in Russia. That's the Village of Russia, in Shelby County, west of Sidney. A lot of folks don't realize that's in the Archdiocese, but I do. I spent a number of years in the northern part of the diocese, where folks will tell you, that's the real archdiocese.

I will take this new assignment July 1.

The priest who will come to Holy Cross-Immaculata is Father Jeff Bacon, who will also have duties at the Archdiocese offices downtown. He will be named pastor, which means the Archbishop intends him to stay for awhile.

When Bishop Binzer – who oversees these matters – asked my preference, I told him I’d rather stay here; but if that wasn’t possible, I’d be happy to go to Saint Remy. I was familiar both with the parish and their outgoing pastor from my many years in the northern part of the diocese, and I’ll be honored to follow such a fine priest.

But I will be sad to leave here, and not because of the view, but because of the lovely community here who has been nothing but kind and helpful to me.

Pope...redistribute wealth--what?

The holy father gave some comments recently to a UN agency, in which he uttered this sentence:

"A contribution to this equitable development will also be made both by international activity aimed at the integral human development of all the world’s peoples and by the legitimate redistribution of economic benefits by the State, as well as indispensable cooperation between the private sector and civil society."

And there, in the midst of that is the phrase highlighted.

So I'm getting questions about this.

My answers are brief, because I have to get ready for confessions soon. But here goes:

1. Churchmen, including popes, don't speak the same language we do. I don't just mean in the sense that they speak German or Italian or Spanish; but they talk about these issues in a philosophically dense way that often comes across as rather turgid. Often this is because they're trying to be careful; other times, it's because they don't know how else to talk about it and they choose not to have someone "translate" it into something more engaging. This statement is emblematic of that.

2. Most of the rest of the world presupposes a very different role for "the State" than how Americans do. What's more, I don't think most of the world imagines such things even being subject for debate, because they've lived with the existing understandings of how state, church and civil society interact for so long. And, because they understandably shudder at the notion of revolution, not realizing that we have a constitution that "builds in" revolution.

So they tend to take for granted a deep interpenetration between government, religion and civil society.

3. When the pope says anything about anything, he assumes you know what level of authority to assign to it -- and how to relate it to everything else not just he, but the Church, has said about this.

So for example. Pope Francis says "X" about economics, or social teaching. Here's what he is definitely not saying: "Everything the Church has said on this is now set aside; my statement represents the current 'stance' of the Church."

But that's how people react. "What? We're supposed to believe what now?

The Church is not a political party; and Church teaching is not like a political platform. Too many of us have been too politicized -- in particular, the media, which really doesn't get the Church at all. It would be as if you'd never seen an animal before, only machines. Suddenly you see a horse -- but if your only reference point is machines, what sort of machine is a horse? Your account of the horse will thus be distorted.

So it is with media coverage of papal statements.

Memorize what follows, and repeat it every time you see one of these stories: "The pope is not saying anything new about ___."

Now, I'm not saying he'll never say anything new. But I'll make a bet (I mean, a real bet, if someone wants to work out the details): every time someone thinks there's something new, upon further investigation, it'll prove otherwise. I'll win this bet because...

Popes do not aim to say anything really "new." Instead, they aim to say the same eternal truths in new ways; or apply them to new situations.

Got it? They don't create new sacraments. They don't change what Jesus did. And they don't overturn what the Church has taken ages to understand. Even in the area of social teaching, which is the most fluid of Church teaching; they always seek to build on what went before.

So they assume you have all this in mind.

When Pope Francis says X, he's expecting you to place that, mentally, next to what Pope Benedict, Pope John Paul, Pope Leo (pick 'em), Pope Gregory, Pope Innocent, and all the rest...

Along with the councils, and the fathers, and...

Of course, the Apostles, conveying what the Lord said.

Get that?

OK, so all that goes for anything the pope says on any topic. If he really is going to say something really new, he'll tell you. Otherwise, he's attempting to present the old stuff in a new way. (Remember, for the Church, being old isn't bad. Being old is good.)

So...what about this particular statement?

I wouldn't have recommended the pope go to the UN about this, but he did. The pope has high hopes for the UN. And considering that the Church thinks in centuries, it may be that in another 400-500 years, the UN will prove to be useful.

When he says -- note wording -- "redistribute" "economic benefits," I find that curious choice of words noteworthy. He didn't say, redistribute wealth; and if you read the rest of the statement, he had lots of other qualifiers about freedom and individual initiative and respecting private property etc. And he talks broadly about what we all do, with the state as one element.

So here's the shocker: Father Martin Fox is in favor of "redistributing economic benefits."

But the way I want to do it is to have more jobs, high school diplomas that mean something, more family integrity (because poverty and family instability go hand-in-hand), and all of this making it possible for people to escape poverty and find a decent life.

If we have more of that as a society, more people share the wealth, right? You might even call it a "redistribution" of "economic benefit."

Obviously some people will use the pope's words to endorse their agendas, including more government intervention, more taxation, more confiscation of wealth. But that's not what the pope said. Even if he, himself, believes in that (who knows?), he didn't say you had to believe in that.

I wouldn't have advised him to do it this way, because of the potential for misunderstanding.

And, if indeed the pope's notions of economics and free markets and what the state can do to help us along is not mine, that doesn't particularly trouble me. Because I'm not under the impression that the pope asks me to share his particular political theories.

What he does ask me -- and you and all of us -- to accept is that being a Christian means we don't leave anyone behind. The needs of every human being are everyone's concern. The goods of this world are intended to benefit all humanity; so that private property, a great good, is a relative good, in relationship to God, who is the only real owner of anything in Creation besides our own souls.

So Catholic teaching holds that how the goods of this world are distributed for the benefit of all are a matter of public policy. Those of us who argue for free markets and limited government, argue that these things work better, and are more consistent with Catholic values, than big-government-ism.

And the pope is -- in his own way -- reminding us that the troubles of the poor must always be our concern; and not just that we remedy them with charity, but also with a better social order, with "better" being measured by how well we help people escape poverty.

Does this help? I gotta go...

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Supreme Court's prayer ruling

You've probably heard by now that the U.S. Supreme Court, by a bare majority, upheld the practice of a town council in New York to open meetings with prayers.

And, no doubt, you've heard both the celebrations of those who consider this a great victory, while others wonder when the burkhas will be passed out to the women.

Ms. Jennifer Rubin, who writes a column in the Washington Post from the point of view of the establishment GOP, reacts in turn to what SCOTUSblog had to say (back to that in a moment). Her conclusion:

Here's the arduous "test" such prayers must pass, as explained by Lyle Denniston at the respected SCOTUSblog:

1. Such prayers are not confined to meetings of Congress or state legislatures, but may also be recited in the more intimate and familiar setting of local government meetings.
2. The prayer portion of the meeting must be conducted only during a ceremonial part of the government body’s session, not mixed in with action on official policy.
3. The body may invite anyone in the community to give a prayer and (if it has the money) could have a paid chaplain.  The officials on the body may also join in the prayer by bowing their heads or showing other signs of religious devotion, such as crossing themselves.
4. The body may not dictate what is in the prayers and what may not be in the prayers.  A prayer may invoke the deity or deities of a given faith, and need not embrace the beliefs of multiple or all faiths.
5. In allowing “sectarian” prayers, the body’s members may not “proselytize” — that is, promote one faith as the true faith — and may not require persons of different faith preferences, or of no faith, to take part, and may not criticize them if they do not take part.
6. The “sectarian” prayers may not disparage or discriminate against a specific faith, but officials need not go to extra lengths to make sure that all faiths do get represented in the prayer sessions — even if that means one faith winds up as the dominant message.
7. Such prayers are permissible when most, if not all, of the audience is made up of adults — thus raising the question whether the same outcome would apply if the audience were a group of children or youths, such as the Boy or Girl Scouts, appearing before a government agency or a government-sponsored group.  (The Court did not abandon its view that, at public school graduations or at events sponsored by public schools, prayers are not allowed because they may tend to coerce young people in a religious way.)
8. A court, in hearing a challenge to a prayer practice, is confined to examining “a pattern of prayers,” and does not have the authority to second-guess the content of individual prayer utterances.  In judging such a pattern, the proper test is not whether it tends to put forth predominantly the beliefs of one faith, but whether it has the effect of coercing individuals who do not share that faith.

Now, what do I think about all this?

I think there's a lot of misunderstanding of this subject.

First, contrary to what you hear constantly, our Constitution says nothing about "separation of church and state." Those words never appear in the Constitution; nor does the Constitution call for any such thing.

What the First Amendment actually says is that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Over the years, "Congress" has been understood to apply to state and local government as well (because of the 14th Amendment).

Establishing religion doesn't mean any official sanction of religion; that would mean you can't have "In God we trust" on our money, and it would raise the question of what actions by government count as "establishing": did President Roosevelt, when he led a prayer over the radio during World War II, "establish" religion?

The phrase "establishment of religion," historically, has meant giving official recognition and privilege to one, particular religious body. Example: the Church of England in the UK. Over the years, many have tried to argue for a much more expansive idea of "establishment," meaning in effect any seeming endorsement of religiosity whatsoever. The courts seem to draw back from going all the way, but then end up with mishmash compromises like the eight-part test above.

Obviously I'm not an attorney, but: I'd have said there's no constitutional violation here. Whether it's a good or a bad idea to have such prayers, that doesn't mean it violates the Constitution. And folks who say it does, let them point to the exact language it violates.

The trouble with the First Amendment is that folks tend emphasize one clause, forgetting about the other. If any official sanction of religiosity counts as "establishment," what happens to "free exercise"?

For example, in the U.S. Senate, when members hold the floor for a filibuster, they will read things, like the Constitution. Recall the film, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington": Senator Smith reads from the Bible. In real life, would that violate the First Amendment? The idea that we would interpret our Constitution as creating a speech police for anyone holding public office seems mighty strange to me.

Now, the counter argument is that these things make some people uncomfortable. No doubt. But I ask again: where in the Constitution does it say speech or actions by public officials cannot make anyone "uncomfortable"? And if you say, well, it's only "religious" speech or actions, then I ask: does that include citations of Scripture or religious sources? Does it include religious gestures or symbols? Every year the President sets up a Menorah at the White House for Hannukah. Does this mean that, for the eight days of that feast, Judaism is "established" in the United States?

"Well, no one has complained about that yet." What happens when someone does?

Now let me throw you for a loop. I'm not necessarily in favor of these sorts of prayers. As others have pointed out, there tends to be pressure to "blandify" them. 

Similarly, there will be occasions when someone will bring together clergy from all different religions, and then everyone ends up offering anodyne observations and good wishes -- and I wonder, who really is satisfied by that "prayer"? There has to be some commonality. Obviously Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic Christians can find that both in Scripture texts, and even common prayers like the Our Father. So can Jews and Christians -- we can pray the psalms. After that, commonality breaks down -- especially when you have religions that don't even agree on the number of divinities.

Worse, there is a real tendency to bring in the preacher more for show than because prayer is really a priority. That's how I feel about prayers at political conventions, and even moreso, about those "God and country" rallies that used to be very popular, but thankfully have waned. Politics is a noble profession, but if I'm ever invited to give an invocation at a political rally, I'm not sure they'll ever invite me back. 

That makes me think as well of the trend, a few years back, of setting up Ten Commandment monuments in front of public buildings. I'm for the Ten Commandments, but I was not for that. First, if the politicos want really to honor God's Law, instead of sticking a slab of granite out front, how about they, personally, start carrying a copy of the Ten Commandments with them? And demonstrate their devotion to the Word of God? Maybe just try focusing on one commandment at a time, any of them: "I am the Lord your God" or "Thou shalt not steal" or "Thou shalt not commit adultery." People would notice that, and there is no question of violating the Constitution.

But I keep coming back to what the Constitution actually says. And to something Justice Antonin Scalia has said many times: lots of bad ideas and bad policies don't violate the Constitution.