Thursday, July 30, 2009

Philly meet up?

I'm headed back to Philadelphia tomorrow, and I plan on visiting the shrine of St. John Neumann; Mass is at 12:15 pm, I'm hoping the celebrant won't mind a concelebrant.

It's late notice, but if anyone is interested in a meetup for lunch, leave a comment.

I haven't a clue what's good around there, so suggestions gratefully accepted!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Don't stay in Atlantic City

...and don't believe Donald Trump when he says he does everything "first class."

Seduced by a great hotel rate, I'm sitting very near the famed boardwalk. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

My last visit to Atlantic City was over 30 years ago, as a kid, with my family. In 1977, the New Jersey legislature approved casino gambling, and I figured, with 32 years having gone by, the influx of casinos would have restored luster to at least part of Atlantic City. In one sense, it was a good idea--if Atlantic City ever flourished (maybe it was always this seedy?), it was as a playground.

Well, it doesn't seem to have worked. I suspect the crooks take too much of a rake-off--and no, I don't mean the Soprano-set; they would know to keep the resort and boardwalk area clean and spiffy, and keep the "cash for gold" stores (I counted at least 10 just walking and driving around) well out of sight.

I stayed at the Chelsea Hotel, which is nice enough; I'm in the old section, which I--the fool that I am--thought would be "charming." It's clean enough, but it's not charming. Threadbare--that's the word for almost everything around here, even the Trump resorts: as I drove by one, and walked by another, I noticed several places where things had been allowed to go to pot.

Now, maybe Las Vegas has changed, but I don't remember this sort of thing being allowed to happen there. When I worked in politics, I used to travel a lot, and I visited Las Vegas several times. As I recall, the old downtown was not as decrepit as this is--and since then, they spent a bunch of money and put a semi-dome over it. Again, it's been many years, and maybe Las Vegas has slid backward.

So, I figured--if Atlantic City is anything like Vegas, it should be nice. I know all the dings against Vegas, but my point is, one thing Vegas excels at is providing comfort and service. Back in the day at least, they really scurried to cater to you.

Anyway, walking down the boardwalk this morning, I thought about why this might have failed. I realize this is a bad economy, but this doesn't look like a place that was overly prosperous before 2008. As mentioned, the crooks probably are greedier here, or at least, they probably have more layers of graft, so the skim is skimmed, and skimmed again. Also, the climate is against Atlantic City. And third is Big Labor power. Nevada is (tenuously) a Right to Work state, and New Jersey is pretty much at the farthest pole from that.

Now, I expect someone in the comments to scream with outrage that I don't genuflect to union power, but if you want to do that, how about trying to defend this? As I drove into town, I saw several billboards with a slogan very close to this: in giant letters, "everyone loses at Name and Name Casinos"; in much smaller print, I saw something like, "if workers aren't given their due." Later, I discovered this was part of a campaign by the United Auto Workers to win a contract with monopoly bargaining rights over table dealers (yes, really, the UAW).

Now, yes, unfairness to workers is a bad thing. Of course, "fairness" is not defined by union-representation. Although the workers may indeed be better off with union representation; I doubt it, but that should be their individual choice. But please note how the union chiefs did this: they are attempting to get their way by damaging the business prospects of the employer. It's like something a friend of mine did, many years ago, standing outside a restaurant he left in anger (we'd been too noisy) as people walked in: "did you see that rat? boy, that was a big one, bigger than the last one!"

A union apologist will say this is just an exception, caused by a few bad apples--except it happens pretty often, and those billboard were hired by "bad apples" obviously running the whole show. It reminds me of what happened some years back, at the Frontier Casino in Las Vegas (Nevada being a Right to Work state hasn't prevented vigorous union activity, contrary to what furious opponents of Right to Work always claim), when some "overzealous" union-hired picketers actually assaulted customers of the casino as they dared to walk past the picket line.

That said, there is some of Las Vegas here. Last night, I walked up to a little mini-mall on the boardwalk, in front of Ceasars, and had dinner at an "Irish pub"called "the Trinity," which supposedly was disassembled in Ireland and shipped over! The beer was very good, and the place was well kept and the service good; the burger was average. I missed the water show that takes place every hour on the hour in the front of the building; if I'm walking by later at the right time, I'll check it out.

But wait till you get a load of this: I'm walking through the mini-mall, and I notice these beach chairs lined up along the south side, facing the evening sun coming through the window. Palm trees are planted there, very nice, just like the beach, even down to--get this: beach sand! I watched as people carefully shook the sand off their feet, put on their sandals, and stepped back onto the polished floor of the mall. All they needed was to pipe in purified ocean water so you could dip your feet in the ocean in climate-controlled comfort.

Then there were the fires in the fireplaces--first in the pub, then in another restaurant I walked by--yes, in late July, as it's 85 and humid outside, and the insides are cooled surely below 70.

So there's one upside: the hotel here is not hectoring me with little cards about saving the planet by reusing my towels and sheets. Not that I mind resuing my towels and sheets, but the whole idea that this meaningfully helps the environment is risible.

Oh, and the homeless people are perfectly nice here--no problems.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Yardley, Pa.

Last night I stayed in Harrisburg; tonight I'll be joining my nephew and his son at a Trenton minor league baseball game--I'll be meeting them shortly.

A few yays and boos:

> Yay to Lancaster Brewing Co. in Harrisburg—good beer, good food;
> Yay to Valley Forge staff and volunteers, you did a great job!
> Boo to Pennsylvania Legisture for a strange law disallowing beer and wine sales in grocery stores;
> Boo to Philly drivers, only slightly less obnoxious than DC drivers;
> Boo to me for not planning my trip to Philadelphia better: I arrived in the city about 2 pm, got some lunch at a Malay-Thai restaurant (yay to the restaurant and dish whose names I cannot recall); then I walked over to Independence Hall--only to find it was too late for tickets for a tour.
> Boo to PA legislature for strange law about beer and wine sales.
> Yay to Starbucks in Yardley for having wi-fi;
> Boo to Starbucks for charging me $4 for two hours--I won't use the rest of my two hours, so nice for them.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Charleroi, PA

I'm sitting in a McDonald's, drinking a diet Coke (with lemon!), across the street from the Coyle Theater. From all appearances, the town--nestled in the Monongahelia River Valley south of Pittsburgh, just off I-70, a few miles before it becomes the dreaded Pennsylvania Turnpike--has seen better days, and the theater looks the same.

Vacation officially began as I pulled away from the rectory at St. Mary Parish around 8:30 am, after taking the 7 am Mass. This was my first stop (not counting the McD's drive-through in Piqua for coffee and a biscuit). I was rushing around the last two days, tying up the loosest ends and getting my gear together. As I drove the tedious section of I-70 through Ohio, I thought of the things I forgot, as I usually do: a hat and a small cooler. Oh well.

Where am I headed, you ask? Ah, well, let's say I'm headed somewhere east of here. I plan to see some sights, see some family and friends, and spend a few days on the beach. I brought along plenty to read and I'm more grateful than you can imagine that my parochial vicar, the retired priest, and the staff all have things well in hand. If they can't handle it, I wouldn't be able to, either!

'The Eucharist takes you' (Sunday homily)

As I reflected on this Gospel, I thought of this question,
which I'll share with you for your reflection:
Why does this miracle, of all the miracles described in the Gospels, so lift our hearts?
It certainly captured the imagination of the early church,
because this is one of the few miracles of the Lord described in all four Gospels,
and always in great detail.

My first thought was that we can identify with this more than other miracles:
unless we've been desperately sick, we may not identify with a healing;
but everyone has felt the pangs of hunger, and had the joy of someone providing food.

In this miracle, we see our God reaching down and providing food for us.

This miracle is not the Eucharist, but it points to it.
Did you notice the twelve baskets? Twelve apostles!
This shows the Lord teaching and preparing the Apostles;
it's as if he is saying, "You will be the ones who will provide my people with the Eucharist."
Remember, the Lord Jesus did not provide the Eucharist
to anyone but the Apostles, on the night before he died.
They would celebrate the Eucharist and provide his Body and Blood to God's People.

We think of the Eucharist as something we take;
but it's actually the other way around: it is the Eucharist that takes us.
Jesus the Eucharist calls to us; not everyone hears that call, not everyone answers it;
but you have heard it--that's why you are here.
He seeks us, to take us, and make us part of himself.

This is why the Church has its rules about the Eucharist:
> Fasting from all food for a full hour before receiving the Eucharist;
> Being in a state of grace--no mortal sins unconfessed;
> Being in full union with the Church as a member.

It's not about the rules for their own sake, but because Christ seeks to take us, entirely,
to himself; and the question is, are we ready to be taken and transformed?

I say these words, and they are a condemnation of myself!
I live in my own skin, and know my sins very well--how far I am from that.
So I confess my sins, and I rely on him to take me as I am,
and transform me into himself.

In a moment, bread and wine will go to the altar;
I invite you to place yourself with the bread and wine;
you will see me, but it will be Christ who takes the bread and wine,
and it will be his words, transforming them into his Body and Blood.
Allow him to take you and transform you!
He calls you; you felt it and you are here: Give him all of yourself.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Introduction to Romans, continued…

For those interested, here is some more introductory material I presented to the Bible study I lead each week...

Makeup of the Roman Church: scholars spend a lot of time discussing whether it was predominantly Jewish or Gentile. Paul clearly is addressing both. Remember also the problem of Gentiles who were being influenced to embrace circumcision and the full, Jewish ritual law. That is a big issue in the early Church, it shows up in Acts and in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians—which is often paired with Romans because of the emphasis on “justification apart from works of the law.” But other themes in Romans line up with other writings: Paul addresses the unity of Jew and Gentile—a theme that is prominent in Ephesians, for example.

Influence of this Letter…can hardly be overstated. It figures prominently in much Protestant theology: because of the emphasis on justification. Martin Luther said that the Church “stands or falls” on his understanding of “the doctrine of justification by faith.” As the introductory comments in the Catholic Study Bible say,
It is the longest and most systematic unfolding of the apostle’s thought, expounding the gospel of God’s righteousness that saves all who believe; it reflects a universal outlook, with special implications for Israel’s relation to the church.
If you have ever heard Billy Graham preach, you’ve heard a restatement of much of what Paul says in Romans:
(1) all humanity is lost without God;
(2) God has acted to save humanity, ultimately in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ;
(3) we must put faith in Christ to be delivered from God’s wrath;
(4) becoming a Christian means living a new life.

If you need a really simple outline for Romans, that will due to start. But let’s look again at this, after we’ve gone through the letter.

So much has Protestant Christianity embraced Romans, especially its language, that many Catholics may feel uncertain how to approach this. Romans talks about being “justified by faith,” and we cite the Letter from James, “faith without works is dead.” Scott Hahn, a Presbyterian minister who is now an energetic Catholic writer, especially on Scripture, counters, “wait a minute: Romans is a ‘home game’ for Catholics!” The key is to understand what Paul really means about “justification,” “faith” and “works.”

We also want to remember that the divide between Protestant and Catholic that we have inherited was not only a product of the leaders of the Reformation taking a different, theological direction, but also a fair amount of misunderstanding and combativeness and pride—on both sides. Also, once a new movement had begun, both Protestant and Catholic began defining themselves as “not-them”—sharpening the differences.

Only in recent years has ecumenism borne fruit in letting go of some of that, and discovering that the real differences need not be so great. An important instance of that—which we’ll talk about—is formal discussions between Catholic and Lutheran leaders, and less formally, discussions among Catholics and Evangelicals: resulting in a Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification between the Catholic Church and the World Lutheran Federation, and then a couple of documents produced by a group called “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” We’ll take a closer look at that as we go along.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Saint Boniface Festival this weekend

Y'all come!

Tomorrow night we have Father Caserta's famous and delectible spaghetti and meatball dinner, Sunday we have barbeque chicken; we have fun and games for all ages, live music Saturday and Sunday, and rides rides rides!

Tonight till 11; tomorrow 5-11; Sunday Noon till 9 pm.

See you there!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Introduction to Romans

Last night, we began a study of St. Paul's Letter to the Romans.

For some time, I've had a Bible study each Wednesday at 7 pm, and we've worked our way unhurriedly through Genesis, Exodus and Numbers and a bit of Leviticus and Deuteronomy; then we began Matthew, then Acts, which we just finished; and now the Letter to the Romans.

You may laugh, but this is still part of our "year of St. Paul" observance; it took almost a year to get through Acts, and folks wanted to do one of St. Paul's epistles, so Romans seemed as good a choice as any.

I'm looking forward to it, because it's a bit of a challenge; this is different sort of Biblical literature from narrative, which is what I find most enjoyable to read together with folks.

My approach is as follows: take your time reading the text--what's the hurry? I would love to be able to get into the Hebrew or Greek text, but I don't know Hebrew and I have only a little acquaintance with Greek; and in any case, there simply isn't time each week to do that much preparation. I do what I can to look at commentaries, but I say again: simply read the text, line by line. Yes, there is much more you could learn, but you'll still learn a great deal. This works especially well, as I said, with narrative portions--where the author is telling a story. It isn't so simple with other Biblical literature, and this will be more of a challenge.

What follows is the text of the handout I prepared for folks as some background on Romans--we covered this last night.

Letter to the Romans

When did Paul write it? Probably around AD 57-58, while he was on his way to Jerusalem, to bring a collection he had taken up through many churches in “Asia”—i.e., present-day Turkey.

Paul intended to visit Rome after his trip to Jerusalem; the Acts of the Apostles tells us that, as Paul neared Jerusalem, he began to realize he would face trials in Jerusalem.

Why doesn’t Paul mention Peter? Paul doesn’t mention St. Peter, yet no one seriously disputes Peter came to Rome. Yet Peter may not have planted the church; it might have been visitors to Jerusalem, mentioned in Acts 2, who heard Peter preach on Pentecost.

The New Jerome Biblical Commentary says Peter probably arrived later in the 50s, as he was still in Jerusalem in AD 49 for the council described in Acts 15. On the other hand, Eusebius and St. Jerome tell us Peter arrived in Rome around the beginning of the reign of Claudius, thus AD 42, which would be well after Paul and Peter met in Jerusalem the first time as described in Galatians. In AD 49, Claudius ordered “the Jews” out of Rome because of riots caused by “Chrestus.” This is often taken to mean disputes among the Jews over Christ; and the Romans might easily have lumped them together. So perhaps Peter left Rome at that time, and thus was in Jerusalem for the council.

If so, when did Peter return? Claudius died in AD 54, perhaps Peter didn’t come back until then, when Jews were permitted back. Perhaps Peter didn’t come back until after Paul wrote his letter. Insofar as Paul had spent several years away from Jerusalem, in Asia Minor, when he wrote his letter, he may have supposed Peter wasn’t there.

Certainly many will make hay of this, and say the Church’s claims about Peter are unfounded. However, we have abundant evidence of Peter’s connection to Rome, beginning with the first letter of Peter, where he writes, “she who is in Babylon greets you”—Babylon being a frequent code for Rome, as in Revelation. Many, many writings from the early Church all speak of Peter’s connection to Rome; why would they make it up? There would be no motive for doing so until many centuries later. Archeological evidence also supports it. Tradition told us about the tomb of Peter, and the tomb discovered beneath the basilica—erected by Emperor Constantine over the site Christians continually venerated as Peter’s grave—was precisely where tradition said it was, and it matched the description handed down. Why would anyone at that time falsely claim Peter’s grave was in Rome? To what end?

The literary form of the epistle. Scholars sometimes make a distinction between a “letter” and an “epistle,” the former being private, personal and non-literary, written freely the way we write a lot of personal correspondence, and an “epistle” being a more conscious literary form, carefully composed and intended as a for publication. Of course, that’s a distinction scholars, centuries later, discerned; we don’t know if such careful distinctions were always made at the time, including by Paul.

Either way, both a formal “epistle” and the informal “letter” used the same basic format: an opening sentence in which the sender greets the recipient in a stylized way: e.g., Romans 1:1-7. Then the body of the letter, which is the message conveyed. Then a “goodbye”: see the end of Romans 16. Many ancient letters also included a “thanksgiving” which came at the beginning. Jewish letters of the time, even in Aramaic or Hebrew, followed a similar form, with a blessing instead of a thanksgiving. Paul’s letters have the features of both Greco-Roman and Jewish letters.

Paul is known for wishing his hearers “grace and peace”: charis kai eirene. Charis also conveys the Old Testament idea of covenant favor, and eirene is the Greek word used in the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:24-26. Of course, charis is a key theme in Paul’s preaching, especially in Romans 5.

The same scholar, G.A. Deissmann, who argued the distinction between “letter” and “epistle,” classed Paul’s writings as letters, the position of Rev. Joseph Fitzmyer, writing in the NJBC—they were written for specific occasions, often in haste, and often written independent of each other. Yet Paul rarely wrote his letters as a private individual, but as an apostle.

Paul also often brought into his letters other texts or hymns which scholars believe he knew about from the spiritual practice of the early Church, and OT texts as well.

Who actually penned the letter? As is true now, people often have help to put a letter onto paper; it was the same in Paul’s time. In antiquity, if one didn’t pen the letter oneself, one would dictate, either word-for-word, or the sense was dictated, leaving the formulation to the secretary. Finally, sometimes one had someone else write a letter in ones name, but not directing the content. Note: all these things still happen today. Most often, in antiquity, the letter writer either penned it himself, or dictated the general content, not word-for-word. (This is common sense, as method two would be very tiring.) Many things in Paul’s letter suggest he dictated, sometimes adding a greeting in his own hand. This might also explain differences in style among the letters of Paul, that lead many scholars to question whether he authored a number of them.

Why is Romans first among Paul’s letters? Some point out the letters are in order of length; that’s true until you get to 1 Timothy. We do know that the Church in Rome exerted great influence over the development of the early church, and it may have been natural for Roman Christians to put their letter first! And it does seem a natural connection to the conclusion of Acts. But they are not listed in the order they were composed.

Drawn from the New Jerome Biblical Commentary, Prentice Hall, 1990.

Monday, July 13, 2009

At the Dayton Catholic Homeschool Conference

As mentioned a few days ago, I was one of several speakers last Saturday at the Dayton Catholic Homeschool Conference at St. Peter Church in Huber Heights.

I enjoyed it immensely, although I was rather concerned, as the end of the week drew nigh, whether I'd run out of time to prepare my talks. As it happened, everything seemed to go well.

The day started with Mass, with Archbishop Dennis Schnurr as the principal celebrant. With the addition of a children's choir, many concelebrants and a lot of energetic folks, this was no ordinary Saturday morning Mass!

Then Father Earl Simone, pastor of St. Peter, had a nice breakfast for the Archbishop and the clergy; the main thing was so the Archbishop could get acquainted with the homeschool association; I was merely along for the ride, and enjoyed a pretty fancy breakfast!

Father Earl Fernandes, Academic Dean of Mount Saint Mary Seminary of the West (our archdiocesan seminary)--and a good friend from seminary--and I were trading friendly jibes over cups of coffee; insofar as my talk and his were at the same time, I hoped he wouldn't feel too badly about no one coming to his talk. Well, we were having some coffee when it dawned on us that maybe the Archbishop--who had left--was about to make his remarks, and it wouldn't do for us to miss that! We didn't, thankfully.

Anyway, I had two talks, which I'll post shortly. One was for parents, on equipping children with spiritual armor, and the other was for the teens, on social justice, and how we must be God's "not-so-secret agents" in pursuing social justice. I was so encouraged by the fathers who were present, and the teens. After the latter talk, I had one boy, who I think was about 16, very respectfully question part of my interpretation of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man; good for him!

'Social Justice: Being God's not-so-secret agent'

(These are notes--I actually did this in a more dialogical fashion, but you can't tell that so clearly from these notes...)

First, I want to commend you…it's summer, and Saturday, and you're here!

Second, a lot of people think they don’t know anything about the Church’s teaching on social justice, but I am willing to bet you know more than you realize. Let’s see if I’m right…

1. Let’s start with this question: what is "justice"? St. Thomas Aquinas said, "to each man his due.’
2. What do we mean when we talk about social justice?

It’s not just about what’s due an individual, but also what’s due individuals-in-society.

What is the danger if we forget about the social aspect? What happens if you only look for justice concerning the individual?

How about this example. Later today, you go to a restaurant, or the store—you buy food and eat it. Have you done anything wrong?

Ø add: someone else in your community is starving. Lazarus and the Rich Man: what happened to the Rich Man? (He went to hell.) Why? (Not because he didn’t do enough, but because he didn’t do anything.

I.e., here is a case where from the standpoint of individual justice, what did you do wrong? And yet—there is a broader question of concern for more than your own individual actions.

Application: between 10-15% of folks are out of work; many more have not enough work. You’re working at a good job, good pay and benefits—while someone else has no work at all. Someone offers a plan to reduce wages and hours, so more can work; but the union blocks it. Are you the Rich Man to that man’s Lazarus? If cutting wages or hours might have ensured more people keep their jobs, maybe you are.

Now, that example raises a couple of issues associate with the Church’s social teaching, did you notice?


What do you think the Church says about unions?

Ø People have a right to form or associate with unions—Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII.
Ø Unions should be about advancing the good of working people but not at the expense of others’ legitimate rights and the common good
Ø Catholics should not affiliate with unions if they aren’t compatible with Catholic teaching in general.

What the Church does not say about unions:
Ø That working people must belong to them.
Ø That unions are always right or should always prevail.
Ø That unions should be about employee versus employer: Pope Leo suggested the possibility of unions including employers—what idea was he trying to cultivate there?

Solidarity: i.e., yes, I am my brother’s keeper.
Related to this is the "common good." The idea is that sometimes I have to ask, not just what’s good for me, but what’s good for…us.

Let’s go back to that example: you go buy food in the store. You pay for it. You eat it. But you decided to buy some extra food and drop it off at the food pantry on the way home: you remembered the poor man, Lazarus.

Now, are you finished thinking about "justice" in this case?

Ø What about the workers who produced the food or brought it to you?
Ø What about the way the food was produced—care for the natural environment?

The workers involved in bringing this food to you are entitled to a fair wage and just working conditions—did they have the ability to negotiate and bargain collectively if they wanted to?

Here’s something to think about, but you may not want to…

You hear about food contamination now and then, including produce.

Do you ever wonder if those who pick the food are provided a bathroom? See the connection?

The common good refers to the "sum total" of all that is good for people—some of those things are "indivisible" and we only have them together.

Examples of good things that are indivisible—we can only have them together:

Some things theoretically could be had in a solitary way, but practically, we don’t:
Most of the products we use or consume
Most of the services we rely on
Health care
Some things we simply cannot have in a solitary way:


Also, one of the key points here is that many good things aren’t reducible to a dollar value—yet they are important to a good life:

Common concern

OK, that’s a brief picture of the Church’s teaching on Social Justice—now let’s talk about being God’s "not so secret" agent.
Here’s the thing: when you talk about social justice, when you work for it, can you see how God could be left out?
Ø Environment—worship of nature; humanity is not primary
Ø Rights of workers—power & greed; economics above all
Ø Enough food for people—people are the problem
Ø Health care—rationing; illicit methods of research and treatment; people are the problem.

Question: why do we make the world a better place?
(I.e., what’s God got to do with it?)
If we’re not careful, we lose sight of…heaven.
Question: So why don’t we just focus on heaven? Who cares what this life is like?

Because this world is preparation for heaven or hell. We need a good life—"good" understood the right way (moral good, enhancing human dignity)—here, to help us gain the good life forever.
Suffering helps us, but it isn’t itself a final good: we don’t look forward to suffering in heaven.
Prosperity is good; but not a final good—our Catholic Faith teaches us that we can and should enjoy the good things of life, but not to make them our gods.

One of the hallmarks of Christianity is that it goes out of its way both to share the Gospel, but also to help the poor, and to improve the quality of life. Can you think of examples?

Ø Hospitals. Hospitals predated Christianity and occur outside Christendom: the Romans had hospitals for slaves, gladiators and soldiers, and we have evidence of hospitals in ancient Persia and India. But the Council of Nicea, among other things, called for hospitals to be established in every cathedral city. Later, they were staffed by religious orders, right up until very recently. Only in recent times have Catholic hospitals started to disappear, because of the collapse of the religious orders and rising costs.
Ø Slavery. It was widespread and considered normal in pagan society; it all but died out during Christendom, being revived—how, when? At the time of the "renaissance"—it means rebirth, rebirth of what? The rebirth of pre-Christian ideas and values! Also, the return of slavery was driven by greed and conquest, outside of Christian Europe. Eventually, it was eradicated, to a large degree as a result of folks motivated by their Christian faith. And by the way, the Church repeatedly condemned slavery and the slave trade, but the politicians and well-connected of those days ignored the Church’s "interference"—sound familiar?
Ø Civil Rights
Ø Working conditions
Ø Child labor

So keeping God connected keeps it truly human; and keeping God connected makes sure we have eternity in view.

In other words, you and I have to be the "salt"—and the "light":

Salt: we are the ones who keep this from going down the wrong path:

Medicine => human sacrifice
Improving living standards => anti human—contraceptive mentality
Environment => anti human – we’re a "virus"; world better off without us!
(Fill in the rest)

Economics =>
Workers rights =>
Civil rights =>

Light: we keep Christ in view so we draw people to Christ.
Our Gospel isn’t credible if we don’t care about people; but we haven’t evangelized if we only give food that perishes.

Get involved in social justice—but do it so that we are happy in this life in preparation for eternal happiness.

Finally, if for no other reason than this. Abp Chaput, commenting on sheep and goats passage (Matthew 25): "if we forget the poor, we go to hell."
Social Justice: being God’s not-so-secret agent

Key Principles:

1. Human dignity and true identity: made in God’s image, living in communion.
2. Justice is "to each man his due"; social justice means it’s not just about individuals.
3. Solidarity: we’re all in this together.
4. Common Good: not just what’s good for me, but good for us.
5. Without Jesus Christ, "social justice" becomes idolatry. What may begin as exalting humanity eventually degrades us.
6. Without concern for justice and dignity, our preaching of the Gospel fails.

Key Questions for you:

1. How do I keep a clear distinction between the bedrock truths of social justice, and the various ways to apply them, whether in individual, collective, or governmental action? What’s "negotiable" and what’s "non-negotiable?"
2. How do I keep Jesus Christ front and center in all the social justice activity I take part in? What about when we cooperate with non-Christians?
3. What do I say to those who think all the issues are equally important?
4. Should I get involved in politics, and if so, how do I keep my soul?
5. What change can I bring about, even in a small way, on my own?

Additional Resources:

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, 2004. Available online at:

Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI, 2009. Available online at:
Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. 161 Ottawa Ave. NW, Suite 301
Grand Rapids, MI 49503; (800) 345-2286. Internet: E-mail:
Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Catholic Social Action Office. 100 East 8th Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. (513) 421-3131 ext. 2660. Email:
Dayton Office: 266 Bainbridge Street, Dayton, OH 45402; (937) 224-3026. Email: Internet:

'Equipping your children with spiritual armor'

(We began with a reading from Ephesians 6:11-20.)

I am glad to be with you—I’ve never taken part in a conference for home-school families, although I have gotten to know several families who have their schooling at home, and I am on your side, you have my admiration!

I had a bunch more great things I was going to say about how wonderful homeschooling is, but the Archbishop stole all my good comments!

Now, let’s get to the topic at hand: equipping your children with spiritual armor.

That sounds like something they really need, doesn’t it?

This comes from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, a part of which we just heard. And it should be reassuring to us to remember that children needed spiritual armor just as much in his day, if not more, than they do today. We are sorely tempted to believe our times are terrible, things are as bad as ever, and still getting worse.

Remember the world St. Paul lived in:

Ø Slavery was a routine, normal state of affairs.
Ø Children were the property of the father, who could leave them to die.
Ø Watching real people really kill one another was a normal form of entertainment.
Ø Worship of false gods was everywhere—and a lot of it included sexual indecency, which was bound up with that false worship.
Ø The Emperors of Rome were known for having people murdered, for visiting brothels, orgies, pornography, and incest.
Ø This was a world without most medical treatment we take for granted, including two in particular: painkillers and antibiotics.

Worth thinking about when we complain about our bad times.

Also remember that in St. Paul’s time, only a few people were either Christians or Jews, and that few were at odds with each other.

My point is, while we may find the parallels between Paul’s world, and ours, alarming—we can also find them comforting. Not only did Christianity survive that world—that was the world in which the Church was born! We thrived in that environment!

So let’s talk about spiritual armor.

Notice the passage we heard begins with "finally"—this is the conclusion of Paul’s Letter to the Church in Ephesus. He has written about the nature of the Church, one Body, united to the Head, as the central actor in a cosmic drama; and then it’s about our dignity in Christ; and then, about how each of our roles is different because of this. So he gives guidance to couples, to parents and children, even to masters and slaves. All that, before he says, "finally…"

Facing the might of Rome—facing our world situation…
Facing a tide of immorality and cynicism and faithlessness…
Paul says, "draw your strength from…the mighty power" of the Lord!

Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit.

Remember, you made sure your children received the Holy Spirit in baptism; in confirmation, you make sure they are fully equipped! In confession and in the Eucharist, they have their spiritual strength renewed. Remember the power of confession particularly, because that’s the hospital where wounded soldiers are healed—and even those with mortal wounds are brought back to life!

This advice of Paul’s is addressed to everyone—including the young. He tells them, you can stand fast against the evil one—you can "hold your ground."

Paul first tells us to gird our loins—wrapping our limbs—with the protection of truth.

One of our advantages is that we know there is no conflict between reason and faith; no conflict between science and faith.

Now, I’ll go ahead and be controversial here; I imagine there are different views on the question of evolution in this group. But there can be no conflict between our Faith and what science genuinely discovers. We don’t have any problem with them digging up bones and figuring out how they fit together. Be patient.

Of course some draw conclusions that we don’t accept. But this whole subject isn’t something to avoid; actually, this and other areas are great ways to teach your children the rigorous process of thinking. If you teach your children how to sift the actual facts from the conclusions, that would be a great skill to have.

Also, I know from homeschooling families that it’s when you start teaching your kids that you finally get the subject down for yourself.

The ability of thinking critically and embracing the intellect is something we Catholics can take a little ownership of. The university? That was our idea. The scientific method? We came up with that.

We can’t—and shouldn’t try to—shield our children from the truth.

Early in my priesthood, when I’d touch on a delicate subject in a homily, some parents would squirm at words like, "homosexuality," "abortion," "contraception" and "sex." One comment was, "I don’t want to have to explain what those are to my children."

I certainly respect that parents should be in the driver’s seat, so I found other ways to make the same point. But it also seems to me parents have no real choice but to explain these things to their children, sooner or later. I am confident you can do it the right way.

This may seem so obvious, but—be honest with your children.

I don’t mean you can’t have secrets; but don’t lie or shade the truth. If they figure out you made some bad choices when you were younger, it seems legit to say, "we didn’t tell you because it was our private business," and—"why would our making a mistake that we regret be a reason we should go along with you doing the same thing?"

And you know better than I do that kids will figure things out.

They will figure out when there’s trouble or stress. If there’s an elephant in the room, it is especially hard on children to see the adults pretend it’s not there and to say, "what elephant? Go to your room!" Level with them.

What a treasure it will be for your children to know that, whatever else, they can trust their parents always to be truthful with them.

Next, Paul says put on "righteousness as a breastplate."

I mentioned frequently receiving the sacraments of penance and the Holy Eucharist.

Remember that the sacrament of penance is necessary when we’re guilty of a mortal sin; but it’s good for us in any case. Remember that mortal sins "kill" or rupture the life of grace in us, while venial sins only damage it—but we’re still spiritually alive. Going to confession, then, either revives us from "death" or gives our life an added boost. Good for us either way!

Remember also that if we are not guilty of a mortal sin, our venial sins do not prevent us from receiving holy communion. On the contrary, that is all the more reason to receive the Eucharist.

Sunday Mass goes without saying—vacations too! Your children will learn a valuable lesson from how you make this a priority. Daily Mass is great if you can. Confession once a month is a good rule, weekly is not necessary, but what a great habit!

But the key is, don’t send them; go together as a family.

The other tool is prayer; and I’m sure you try to teach your children all the various ways of praying. That’s another gift we Catholics have—we have a lot more ways to pray than most of our fellow Christians, who don’t pray to the saints, don’t have the Rosary, don’t have adoration or litanies.

But I especially invite you to take them before the Blessed Sacrament. Even a brief visit. Scripture tells us that Moses had a kind of glow from his time in the Lord’s presence.

How about this? If you live anywhere near a church or chapel open all hours—my parish in Piqua, St. Albert used to have a 24 hour chapel, and other churches do too—why not make it a new custom that before you go on a trip as a family, or an outing, you pay a visit to the Blessed Sacrament? Even a brief one.

I guess the obvious point here is praying as a family. And while sometimes prayer requires real work and perseverance, it doesn’t have to be; weaving lots of small prayers and customs and sacramentals and rituals into our lives, a lot of which are fun, and add some color and variety to life, is also something we Catholics get to do! May crowning, "Tony, Tony, turn around!" and Eucharistic processions, and the seasons of the church year, all add some variety don’t they?

I might add the same for the liturgy—and make a pitch here for the liturgy to be celebrated, certainly faithfully—but also with a view to its fuller and best form.

I mean not that every Mass should be a "high" Mass; but some Masses should—and I think more than what most parishes experience.

Now, I owe it to your pastors to explain a couple of things. First, that it’s harder to do that than people realize. It takes time and energy to get there. A lot of priests sing badly or they are self-conscious about it. A lot of priests were taught a "low Mass" approach in the seminary. And what’s more, a priest will get very few complaints if he takes that approach, but if he starts singing the Mass, or gets out the incense, or takes "too long" or spends too much money on the liturgy—he will hear about it.

And—some of you may be among those who want the Mass "businesslike" and not too long. You may not be with me on this point.

When I was a seminarian, helping out in a parish one year, I was given the task of doing lessons for each of the grades, week in, week out. And when I was asked to give a talk to the younger grades—I don’t recall what topic, but it was in church. And that’s when I became a complete convert to all the artwork that fills our churches! Young children don’t grasp abstract ideas so well! But images? That works.

The imagery that has filled our churches for at least 1,600 years serves a huge role—and it was a mistake, totally contrary to what Vatican II really said—to rip it out or leave it out.
The liturgy is a mirror of the same insight; and the same mistake was made in the liturgy. That is not what Vatican II intended; much more the opposite, but that’s a secret that is only now beginning to leak out!

And notice, the situation is unstable. If you have a bare church, it isn’t long before someone starts bringing in ferns or banners or pots filled with dead sticks. If the liturgy is too sparse, Father or the liturgy committee will want to "liven it up."

My advice to you is to be a voice in your parish, for the authentic liturgy, celebrated not in a minimalistic but in its fullest form. I’ll tell you a secret: that’s actually what Vatican II called for.

I’m not sending you to give your pastor fits, but to support him and help him.

And if you aren’t experiencing the liturgy celebrated both faithfully and fully, then I would really encourage you to find a parish where it is. Not necessarily to quit your parish, but at least so your family can regularly experience the Sacred Liturgy both faithfully, and with the dignity it deserves.

I know that isn’t always easy.

Some will say, that’s just not that big a deal. But I can tell you, even small changes in what people are accustomed to, at Mass, generate bigger reactions than you would ever guess.

This proves just how important the liturgy is in penetrating us and forming our approach to the Faith. So of course it matters that we get it just right. And why wouldn’t you want your children to experience it to the fullest?

Let’s keep putting on our armor. Paul says we need feet "shod in readiness for the Gospel of peace."

All this armor only makes sense if we’re advancing, if not "standing our ground." Not hiding or retreating.

You and I, and our children, are enlisted in Christ’s army to advance the Gospel. Our feet need to be ready to go anywhere to bring the Gospel to others.

A lot of our parishes are facing stagnation or even decline in numbers. A lot of the time, we get into a negative mindset, taking decline for granted.

Think a moment: we’re Christians; think of our history…

Isn’t that the craziest thing—to plan for decline?

What did General Patton say—did you see that movie? In his famous speech at the beginning, he said, "I don't want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We're not holding anything, we'll let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly, and we're not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy. We're going to hold onto him by the nose, and we're going to kick him in"—

You get the idea!

I encourage you to foster in your children a sense of being missionaries, evangelists. And here again, don’t just tell them—let them see you doing it.

We don’t have to be experts. Often times the best witness is to tell our story. "I am a Catholic because…" "I go to Mass because…" "I put Jesus first in my life because…"

Now, maybe all that sounds too Protestant, and maybe that is intimidating. I understand. Some of you loved all that, some slunk down in your seats—I saw it!
Here are some easy ways for anyone to evangelize:

Ø Invite friends over.
Ø Don’t be shy about saying grace—ever.
Ø Don’t be pushy; be welcoming. Never be apologetic.
Ø The stations of the cross in Lent, penance services in Lent or Advent, and other things apart from Mass, are great things to invite people to take part in, Catholic or not. In Advent and Lent, especially, many folks want to get back to Faith but don’t always know how. Bring them along.
Ø We have a Eucharistic adoration chapel in Piqua; and some of the folks who come aren’t Catholic. There’s nothing that says you have to be Catholic to visit the Eucharist.
Ø Nothing wrong with bringing your children’s non-Catholic friends to Mass, but explain and help them, especially about communion. That’s just good hospitality. If your son brings his buddy, maybe that should be his job, as the host? Then maybe over breakfast afterwards, you can answer the questions that will come up.

I bet you can think of even more ways.

My point is, that in our spiritual warfare, being passive and retreating is more dangerous than being alert and going forward. All our armor is designed for that.

Paul tells us our Faith is a shield.

There are a lot of things to say about Faith, but let me highlight three aspects.

Faith is about knowledge—it matters that we know our Faith;
Faith is about obedience to what Christ teaches—it matters that we live our Faith;

And above all…

Faith is a choice of the will—which is why the habits of faith matter, because they’ll help us stand our ground and keep our choice strong when it’s not easy.

Notice Faith is a shield—not the sword. Our Faith is not mainly an offensive weapon, but a means of defense—against the attacks of the enemy.

"Flaming arrows" sound pretty scary, but St. Paul assures us our shield of Faith will do the job.

Remember, our Faith is not just ours—when we speak of our Faith, we mean our personal, individual choice of faith, but we also speak of the Faith of the Church. Remember that from the Ritual of Baptism?

Right before the child or the adult is baptized, the deacon or priest asks that person—or others to speak for her—to renounce the devil, and profess faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Everyone joins in, and then the priest says, "This is our Faith. This is the Faith of the Church. We are proud to profess it in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen!"

When we recall that people die for that profession, even at this hour, those words take on new meaning, don’t they?

My point is, we have as our shield not only our personal faith, but the Faith of the Church, the whole Church. But it has to be personal, too; we have to be used to holding it, with a familiar grip—or we’ll fumble and drop it at the first sign of trouble.

Our helmet is salvation. I had some trouble on this point, and I have some seminarians staying with me this summer and I asked their thoughts. One of them pointed out sometimes a helmet doesn't just sit on your head, but it comes down and frames your view. We might want to make sure our view of things is always framed by salvation. Father Jim Manning was my first pastor as a priest at St. Albert in Kettering; and in the evenings, we'd often sit and talk, and he'd often ask the question--in Latin, but I can't recall it now--that translated, "what does that mean for eternity?" We want to see all events and all our actions and have a concern for others, based on eternity--getting there ourselves and bringing others with us.

And our one weapon is "the Sword of the Spirit"—which is "the Word of God." The key is the Spirit; everything here only makes sense when we're empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Remember, in Paul's time, they wouldn't have all had bibles; so they carried the Word of God in themselves; they heard it, and reflected on it, so it became part of them. We do this certainly by studying Scripture, but also by praying Scripture; maybe pray the psalms? (Here is actually where I made my points about the liturgy, rather than earlier--I did it out of order.)

(I didn't have this part written--I ran out of time!--so I ended extemporaneously and took questions.)

'Spiritual Sight' (Sunday homily)

Once again, I didn't have a text for my homily, so here are some bullet points as best as I can recapitulate them:

> In the Gospel we see our Lord sending the Apostles to cast out demons. Curiously, although you see miracles of feeding, healing and even folks being raised from the dead in the Old Testament, you don't see any prophets or leaders of the Old Testament casting out demons.

> In the Old Testament, when they performed these miracles, the prophets had to turn to God to bring them about; when Jesus does them, he just does them--it serves to show just who he is: God. And when he casts out evil, it emphasizes it.

> This makes the Apostles pretty impressive--having the power to cast out demons. But we might wonder, where did this power go? It passed into the Church.

> You may not realize it, but we have all received an exorcism! No, not the Hollywood version; but just before our baptism, the deacon or priest prayed a prayer (I read a part of it); then we are baptized; it helps make clear what happens in baptism, that we receive the Holy Spirit.

> We don't talk much about spiritual evil, but demons do exist and we want to take them seriously. We might want to be mindful about movies and video games and things that can be too dark.

> How do we strengthen our "spiritual sight"? What we're doing now: taking part in Mass, putting Christ at the center. Also the sacrament of penance really helps. And trying to give ourselves even a few minutes' recollection and prayer each day.

> Above all, we unite ourselves to the Eucharist. The more we do that, the more we will come to see the world as Jesus does from the cross: seeing people who need salvation--seeing things from the point of view of eternity--and we will act for their eternal well being.

I said more than this, especially on the latter two points, but just how I did it I cannot now recall.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Dayton Home School Conference

Among the many things I'm working on are a couple of talks I have to put together for the Dayton Homeschool Conference, coming up on Saturday, July 11.

I promised to give two talks: for the parents, I'm going to address "Equipping your children with spiritual armor"; and with the teens, my talk is called, "Social Justice: being God's not-so-secret agent." I promised to give the talks--now I have to prepare them!

If you are interested in this conference (I'm sure the other talks will be good at least), click on the link embedded in this post to go to the web site. Don't ask me any questions, I don't even know yet what I'm going to say!