Thursday, February 25, 2010

Q&A on the new translation of the Mass

One of the things I am working on today is a handout with "frequently asked questions" about the new and improved English translation of the Mass that is forthcoming in the next year or two.

I am aware of many questions people have, and also items of confusion or concern: "what does 'and with your spirit' mean?" and "why will the words of consecration be 'for you and for many' instead of 'for all' as we're used to?"

That last change, I predict, will generate a lot of questions, because the contrast of "many" and "all" leads to disturbing thoughts. But it occurred to me that wouldn't even arise--at least, not with the same intensity--if the translation had been "for many" from the get-go. Then, without any reference to "all," we might instead think of other contrasts...such as, "many" v. "few."

I'm not ready to publish it, but I've gotten started on it and just the exercise helps sharpen my own thoughts.

Perhaps you would care to help?

You can help two ways:

1) Suggest questions you think would be on the minds of ordinary folks, that it would be helpful for someone to answer, and

2) If you know of an article somewhere that provides some scholarly background on these issues--such as "and with your spirit" and "for many," etc., don't assume I know about them. I'd be eager to cite some scholarship, because I'm not in a position to do it myself as a pastor.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

An (unexpected) break in the action...

Until two minutes ago, I thought I was driving up to McCartyville for a penance service, and just as I was about to head out, a logic-check hit me: parishes never have their Lenten penance services this early! Did I write down the correct date?

Sure enough, it's March I have--in the words of the great Marty Brennaman, announcer for the Reds, "a break in the action" (or was that the late, beloved Joe Nuxhall?).

I am sorry I didn't post Sunday's homily; I had but sketchy mental notes, so it'll be hard to recreate; but I emphasized the idea of "taking a stand"--because in each of the three readings, that what we see. The faithful Israelite "takes a stand" in the temple, and acknowledges who his ancestors were, how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt, and now he stands before God, with the fruits of his labor, which God made possible. In the second reading, Paul describes taking a stand in professing faith in Jesus; and in the Gospel, Jesus stands between us and the devil.

I pointed out how this happens in baptism--when an adult comes forward, s/he stands up and declares the same faith Paul talks about--and then is baptized. (At 9 am Mass, we had a catechumen preparing for baptism at Easter, so I addressed some of my comments to her specifically, about standing up for Christ.) I talked about what is expected of the godparents and parents, in standing up instead of the child being baptized.

As you might expect, I gave examples of how we must take a stand for our values in the face of our culture, how we may face criticism or ridicule for doing so; and in other places in the world, we would face jail and death. I talked about how we can say something similar to what the first reading said, insofar as the Faith was shared with us, and now we are born again in Christ!

Sorry I cannot recall the rest.

You might find my Sunday schedule interesting.

After I had 7 am Mass, I picked up some coffee and something to eat from my friend Tim (Horton); then I had 9 am Mass at the other parish. I was able to cool my heels--a break in the action--till around 1 pm, when I had a baptism. During that time, I looked up some texts of baptism in Latin, because the family said they'd like that.

We had the baptism following Noon Mass; and four boys from the family wanted to serve, so I had them vest, and they preceded me to the font. I sang several parts of the baptism--the litany and the blessing over the water (I would have sung the Alleluia, but not in Lent of course) and then I administered the baptism per se in Latin: "____, ego te baptizo..."

After that, the family had a gathering the cafeteria, and I attended that for a bit--only to realize I had to get down to Dayton for the Rite of Election. That's a liturgy, usually led by the archbishop if he can come (there are four such liturgies that day, he does two), at which he greets those preparing to enter the Church at Easter and declares them "Elect of God." Most pastors don't seem to go, but I go if I can; I haven't missed yet.

After that, the catechumen and the candidates for full communion (i.e., Christians who aren't Catholic, but wish to become Catholic and will--in our case--do so at the Easter Vigil) went out for dinner together. I got back around 8 pm I think. Finished for the day.

Oops, times awasting! I have a meeting I thought I couldn't attend--now I can. Back to the action!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Question: Saints' images in church

I'm trying to track down an answer to a question: can someone who is a "venerable"* or a "blessed"--but not a "saint"--be honored with an image in a church? Last night, I went looking through the General Instruction on the Roman Missal and Built of Living Stones, the document the U.S. bishops put together several years ago on church architecture, but didn't find the answer there; nor was an Internet search helpful.

Any suggestions?

Update: I may have found my answer...I read an article at the Catholic Encyclopedia about the distinction between beatification--declaring someone "blessed"--and "canonization," after which one it termed "saint." It made the point that once one is beatified, s/he can be venerated as a saint, but not universally; canonization makes the permission--or mandate--universal. Hence, depending on the locality--and perhaps with ecclesiastical approbation, I'm guessing a Blessed can have an image put on display for veneration; once canonized, no permission would be needed.

I'm not saying this is right; if anyone can shed light on it, I'd be grateful.

* I realize not everyone is familiar with the distinctions the Church makes about someone being "venerable," "blessed" or a "saint." This is not a subject I can address in detail, but here's a quick summary: the Church has a formal process for declaring someone a saint--i.e., "canonizing" a saint. It involves initially recognizing someone as a "servant of God," which is the very beginning step, after which "the cause" has begun.

Part of the process is to investigate fully the individual's life and writings, if any. The faithful are invited to ask the Servant of God to pray for various things, and then the Church waits to see if anyone can show a miracle happened as a result. Proof is demanded, and insofar as it involves a healing, medical experts are consulted. The idea being that if we ask the late Pope John Paul II to pray for a miracle, and God grants it, that is evidence of the late pope's sanctity and being in heaven--and thus, a saint. But the Church requires more than one round of that, hence the steps of being declared "venerable," then "blessed," and then "saint." The reason for it being deliberate is, of course, to try to get it right. I probably got some detail wrong in describing this--this is a very quick, "not ready for wikipedia" version of the process!

Ash Wednesday starts early...

Starting last year, I began having a 6:15 am Mass on Ash Wednesday. The origin of the idea was my desire to have Mass periodically for the hardy souls who show up each morning at that hour for a communion service. Given that the folks who come for that early communion service are on their way to work, Mass must be quick.

It may be I'm not skilled in the art of a "quick" Mass because as it was, with no homily, Mass took about 25 minutes. But we had a nice crowd of about 25 at that early hour, not bad considering it is something new. We'll have many more later, especially at 7 pm.

After having my morning "collation"--i.e., on a day of fasting, one has but a single full meal, but one can have two "collations" (snacks) that together do not equal a full meal--of coffee and a bagel (I had a coupon for a free one) from Tim Hortons, I'm thinking about my homily for Sunday, which is my usual Wednesday morning ritual, but which has fallen into desuetude lately.

Later, we'll have extra time for confessions--from 5-6:30 (or longer if needed), prior to Mass at 7 pm. Then while our retired priest has the evening Mass, I'll be having our Bible study, beginning the Gospel of John. We meet in the Caserta Center next to St. Boniface Church every Wednesday evening.

We did have Mass planned for the schoolchildren at 9:15 am; however, school is delayed two hours, meaning they can't come to Mass at that hour. So we're going to have the younger children come to 12:10 pm Mass--which happens at St. Boniface, where their classes are--and we'll have a prayer service this afternoon for the older children, who attend classes at St. Mary, at which they can receive ashes.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some events in the life of a priest...

Some recent commenters have suggested I must not be busy about parish business because I've offered teaching and comments on the true nature of marriage here in recent days.

Well, anything is possible, and a parish priest's work is never done; but here are some things I've been busy about lately, for those who enjoy an insight into the life of a parish priest...

> With others' help, I've been conducting job interviews for a position for one of the parishes. We're not finished; but soon I'll have a decision to make about hiring someone.

> I've been able to help--at a critical time--the same family as it experienced the death someone special. Two deaths in a matter of weeks. Twice recently I've been at the bedside, at the hospital, offering the final sacraments and prayers of commendation in Espanol. I am very sorry to have butchered the pronunciation, but it was the best I could do.

We had a funeral Mass last week, offered by a visiting priest, who is fluent in Spanish; and I just got off the phone, having made arrangements for a funeral service later this week for the second person in that family who died.

As it happens, I was called to the man's bedside around 1 am this morning--I had gotten back from a holy hour a little after midnight, and was about to head to bed when the call came. When the nurse rushed us to his bedside, she said, "hurry, hurry"; I was momentarily thrown off--I was going to do the prayers all in Spanish, but I couldn't find them quickly in the book, so I just said the words of absolution, the apostolic blessing and the prayer of anointing in English, and we prayed the final litany in Spanish. He breathed his last a few moments later.

> I also got called to the cemetery for a graveside service on Saturday morning, before some of the job interviews I mentioned. But for the family's privacy I'll say no more. As you might imagine, I have lots of conversations and encounters with parishioners that I never say a word about here, because its private.

> After Mass last night, the parochial vicar and I went out to dinner at a local eatery; as often happens, I saw many of our parishioners, some couples and families out for St. Valentine's Day.

> I have a parishioner to visit at the hospital this afternoon, I'll head there shortly. I came back home to have a bite to eat, post my homily, and then had the phone message about the funeral service (which I expected), and some calls to make.

> This evening, we'll have an "XLT" with the High School group. "XLT" is high-school-speak for "exalt"; we'll have time of praise and worship of the Lord before the Most Blessed Sacrament on the altar of St. Mary. Which meant that I had to remember to consecrate a host for exposition. I was going to do it at 5 pm Mass last night; I forgot, so I left a note for the vicar to do it at 9 am Mass, which he did. I've been thinking a bit about the talk I'll give as part of that.

> Amidst all that, we had a bulletin insert to prepare--for this weekend--that describes the many opportunities for prayer and confessions during Lent, as well as other opportunities such as my weekly Bible study (Wednesday at 7 pm at St. Boniface), which will be on the Gospel of John, starting this week; also we have Gospel reflection groups in folks' homes during the week, and so forth. We got a late change of another parish's penance service, so we had to throw out the copies we'd made and fix them.

> Oh, there were certainly many other things I could describe, but you get the idea.

Off to the hospital in a bit.

World values v. God's values (Sunday homily)

Here is my homily for this weekend; I worked from notes, so this is more or less a reconstruction of what I said at 5 pm and 10:30 am Masses this weekend...

Folks sometimes ask me how I come up with my homilies each week...
this Sunday I can give you some insight into that.
This week, I was talking to Father Tom about the readings--
he often gives me good ideas about homilies,
I don't know if he ever says that about any of my observations!--
and we were discussing what to draw out of them.
Later on, I was sitting, reflecting on the readings, and I took some paper--
here it is, you can see it was post-it notes!--
and I drew a line down the paper.
One one side, I wrote, "what the world values";
on the other, "what God values."

Now, if you don't take anything else away from this homily,
that right there wouldn't be a bad exercise for anyone to do on your own--
when you get home, try that: write each on a piece of paper, and see what you come up with.

Here's what I came up with.

What does the world value?
For one, how we dress, or the appearance we make.
When you show up for a job interview, or a party,
people will fault you if you're dressed the right way.
I was at a restaurant last night, and I saw someone and I thought,
"he's not dressed very well!"
Then I thought, maybe I should focus on eating my meal instead.

What does God value? I don't think our appearance matters to him.
But whether we walk humbly; whether we tell the truth with love;
and above all, is my heart and my life open and ready to receive God wants to give?
I think those are things God values.

Saint Augustine said that God has wonderful gifts for us,
but sometimes our hands our full--and he has to knock things from our hands,
so we can receive his gifts.

So when our Lord talks about being hungry...
being hungry means I'm ready and grateful for something more;
but if I'm full, I say, "no thank you."
If I have all I need or want, how ready am I for something more?

The Lord said, "woe to the rich"--what does that mean?
Does it mean they are going to hell? That God hates rich people?
I don't think so. What does it mean?

Perhaps it means this: if we find our meaning and purpose in stuff,
in what we have, that's a woe, not a blessing.

On the other hand, to be free of stuff, and its power over us,
to be free of worry these things, to be free of worry about what others think--
or what we have to lose for doing what is right...this freedom, that's a great blessing.

I remember when I left Washington, and drove back to Cincinnati to enter the seminary;
I'd sold my house, and I no longer had a mortgage, no more worries about that!
I missed it--yet it was very freeing.
Now I've come full circle, and I have all this (gesturing to the church) to care for!
But it's all yours, it's not mine; so I'm still free.

This was the insight of that great theologian, Janis Joplin, who had a great insight:
"freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose."

Freedom...what does the world think about freedom?

The world's idea of freedom is, "let me do what I want, leave me alone,
even if I'm destroying myself, that's not your business."
There's something to that--we don't want to run anyone else's lives.
But I don't want to live in a society that sees other people on a path of destruction, and says, not my problem. How heartless! How soulless!

God's idea of freedom is different: true freedom is nothing has power over me.
Free of the power of appetite, free of the power of stuff;
free to give myself away, to God and to others. No fear.

Lent--which starts this week--is our time to grow freer in these ways.
We fast to be freer of appetite;
we pray more to be freer from from the urgency of this world's demands,
and be reminded of the eternal, which is always there, but not always so apparent;
we give ourselves away--our money or our time--so we are freer from the power of things.

We might look at the two sides (holding up the paper) and wonder where we are--
the world's values or God's values.
I wasn't all that happy with where I found myself, either.
But in six week's time, where will we be?

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A primer on marriage, the state, the Church and gay rights--part 1

As I wait for the storm to settle--and having written my column for the bulletin--this seems as good a time as any to write this post.

It won't be as good or as carefully researched as it might be, but it will do till that happens. Perhaps a reader can provide a link to a resource somewhere that does a better job of what I'm going to attempt here.

But since my comments at a Washington Post blog, and then a subsequent post here, have generated many comments--including questions from (mostly anonymous) visitors who seem to be genuinely puzzled about what I'm saying about marriage, so-called "same-sex marriage," and what the state and the Church have to say about all this, I guess there are some things I'm taking for granted. So I'll outline some thoughts here.

1. What is marriage? Who says?

Marriage is an institution that arises out of human nature itself. It is not the creation of government, nor of religion. So--surprise!--marriage is not a religious institution at all! The proof of this can be seen so easily that I suppose it's so big we don't even see it at all, sort of like the sky: marriage--I mean between men and women--has existed everywhere, older than memory, in every culture, regardless of religion. The Christian Church did not present this idea to the pagan world; the Jewish People did not do so before Christianity. Men and women figured it out a really long time ago.

Now, it is true that monogamy does have a religious component: while marriage involving men and women is a universal practice, having it involve a single male and a single female is not universal. Since I am not an expert in world religions, I cannot say if other religions teach it; but it is clear enough that it existed at one time among Jews, and among pagans in the vicinity of the Jewish people, because the Bible bears witness to it.

It is also clear that monogamy emerged within Judaism, and Christianity has carried that forward. If I were doing exegesis on the Bible, I would explore here how the Jewish Scriptures (i.e., the Old Testament) implicitly, if not explicitly, favor monogamy. That isn't directly on point here, but it is of interest, because sometimes folks will assert that the Bible "approves" of polygamy, and I think that's not really the case, but it is the sort of thing someone might think I was presupposing here.

So as a matter of history and universal human experience, marriage is heterosexual.

Those who favor so-called "same-sex marriage" would certainly have a powerful argument if they could point to examples of human societies that developed along different lines. And while there was a day that you could say, "oh the evidence exists, but we can't get our studies published"--but those days are long gone.

The question has to be asked: if this assertion that heterosexual marriage is a universal fact of history is wrong, why has no one disproved it? The best one gets is either citation of the ancient Greeks and Romans, or some other citation of an obscure culture where some sort of homosexual behavior seems to have been winked at or even encouraged to some degree.

But take the case of the Greeks and Romans: the fact remains that even in this example, where--we are told--there was open tolerance, if not encouragement of homosexual relationships...even here, marriage was heterosexual. And this is actually very telling, because if there were a place where you'd be likely to find the sort of history you'd want, if you favored same-sex marriage, this would be the place. Yet the gay-friendly Greeks and Romans (I'm sidestepping the argument about whether this is truly accurate) still didn't see any reason to create same-sex marriage.

Now, at some point, someone will say, why haven't I appealed to the Bible for what Jews and Christians believe about God's role in marriage?

The answer is because Christians do not believe they--or the Jews--"invented" marriage; another way to put it: heterosexual marriage (the only kind there is) pre-existed both Christianity and Judaism; if the Bible never existed, this would be just as true a statement. Christianity (I won't speak for the Jewish people) never asserts marriage to be an essentially religious institution, but rather a natural one that takes on religious meaning within our own faith.

Be aware that those who now seek to deconstruct marriage operate from the premise that this is a religious issue; and we are foolish--and factually wrong--to go along with that. It's like saying that because we use water for baptism, water was invented by Christianity; rather, Christianity takes a natural reality and invests it with a new meaning. And in the case of baptism, we invest the natural reality with rather more meaning than we do the natural institution of marriage.

Back to "what is marriage" and "who says." Some might say, my claims are arbitrary. How can this be? Marriage arises out of fundamental human nature--human sexuality and the need to procreate. Biblical religion asserts these are good things; does any society uninfluenced by the Bible believe otherwise?

Of course, reason would say that the burden does not lie with me to prove these things. I do not accept the burden of proving what is patently obvious and has always been held to be true, until the curious, recent phenomenon of folks acting as if this is all some thing that came out of the catechism. Those seeking to reinvent marriage are the ones who have the burden of justifying making a radical (i.e., to the root) change in a universal, old-as-humanity reality.

Update: when I dashed this off, it was one, very long post. I came back and broke it into three posts, and bolded the questions, and fixed one small error. Otherwise, same content.

A primer on marriage, the state, the Church and gay rights, part 2

Continuing from part one...

2. How can you say marriage is about procreation when not all marriages involve procreation. Does that mean that those who cannot conceive cannot marry? What about Mary and Joseph?

That many families exist without a father and a mother doesn't negate that a family, normally, includes a father and a mother. That some people's eyes and ears do not see or hear, does not call into question the truth of saying that eyes are meant for seeing, ears are meant for hearing.

Likewise, that when a man and a woman are drawn together by natural attraction, and enter into marriage, yet they cannot conceive--and maybe they know it, maybe they don't--doesn't negate the origin and natural reality of where marriage came from and what essential purpose it serves for the human race, to the moment I am finishing this sentence.

3. You say marriage arises out of human nature--but doesn't homosexual attraction also arise naturally? So why doesn't that justify same-sex marriage?

I'll answer the question, but it's not really a question that challenges defenders of marriage-as-heterosexual; it actually is a problem for "gay marriage" advocates. If, as you say, homosexual attraction is nothing new, then how is it that only in the late 20th century, in one part of the world, has it suddenly become "obvious" that marriage has always been arbitrarily, and too tightly, restricted to heterosexuals? Blaming the Bible for stigmatizing homosexual behavior only explains what cultures influenced by Biblical prohibitions have done. How does one explain why all other cultures, whom the Bible has only recently influenced, yet have never had such a thing as same-sex marriage?

Once again, we might look to the example--so frequently cited by the other side--of the supposedly gay-friendly ancient Greeks and Romans. The usual narrative goes like this: they didn't harbor the narrowness that Christians are blamed for introducing into western civilization, and which is only now being overcome. So then, how explain they still didn't develop same-sex marriage?

4. What is the role of government in this matter?

This is an important and interesting question, and to a great degree, it depends on your understanding of the role of government.

As an American, with conservative and some libertarian views, I hold that our government is one whose powers are neither arbitrary nor unconstrained. I didn't invent that view, of course, but there are some who seem to think this a novelty. They view government more expansively and practically: if something needs to be done, it might be just as well to have government do it.

I asked the question in the comments in another thread, who gave the city of Washington, D.C., the authority to create "same sex marriage"? The other commenter seemed to be puzzled--as if to say, something needs to be done, the city is as good a way to do it as any other.

A lot of wish to live in a society in which the powers of government are tightly restrained. The Constitution doesn't specify our rights; it presupposes them, and specifies what powers government may undertake in our name. Only to the extent specified, may government restrain or step upon our rights. We retain our natural rights, even if unenumerated in the Constitution. Interestingly--although I fundamentally disagree with it--the line of Supreme Court decisions leading to Roe v. Wade included this argument, in explicating an unenumerated "privacy" right in the Constitution.

A primer on marriage, the state, the Church and gay rights, part 3

Part 3 of my "primer" on same-sex marriage, the Church, the state, and gay rights...

5. What is the role of the Church in this--or any religious body?

The Church--any religious body--has the same rights under our Constitution as any individual or group of individuals. Because we are a church, we do not have fewer rights.

Our tax-exempt status constrains our actions to some degree, but far less than people think. That tax-exemption means some limitation on political involvement, but only some. In practice, it means the Church cannot endorse or oppose candidates. It certainly does not constrain freedom of speech; nor does it constrain the Church from petitioning government on legislation (protected by the First Amendment) that affects the Church directly.

It certainly does not constrain me--I can say whatever I feel like, I can be as political as I wish, without running afoul of tax law...provided I am acting as an individual and not in my role as a part of the corporate body. For example, my posts on this blog. No court would ever find that my blog is "official" in any sense, any more than if I sat at a table in a restaurant, and gave my political views, that that represented "the Church" taking a political position.

Further, there is a very good argument to be made that the Church can, in fact, be as political as she wants, provided she is communicating internally to her own members. I.e., the government has no authority to regulate what is said within the organization; but it may place conditions--related to the tax status--on what the Church communicates to outsiders, i.e., society at large.

There are those who appeal either to the tax-status, or to an unspecified principle of "separation of church and state," as a basis for saying the Church should shut up about public policy. But there is a big difference between this unspecified principle and what the law--the Constitution, statute and their construal by courts over the years--actually says. And the actual state of the law is on the side of the freedom of action by religious bodies, constrained only to some degree by the tax status.

Periodically, politicians angered by the Church or other religious bodies winning on a point of public policy will issue threats to revoke that tax-exemption, but that comes to nothing. You can easily look this up: you will find that actual examples of tax-exemption being revoked came because of very specific and egregious violations. It is rare. I'm not saying the Church shouldn't obey the law; but the law is what the law says it is, not what people who don't like the Church's influence imagine it is.

6. What's the "harm" of allowing same-sex marriage? Why not go along with it?

Well, that's a good question. Someone said in another thread that he couldn't see how allowing "gay marriage" has hurt his marriage. (Shrug.) That doesn't really answer anything. Does that mean only a law becomes a bad law when it affects him? Does a law have to hurt everyone before we decide it was a bad idea? Silly argument.

Others may have other points to make, but I would offer these thoughts on this for now.

a) The "harm" comes in imposing on everyone a new definition of (part of) reality. It is an act of aggression.

"Marriage now means such-and-such." "Well, I don't agree with that." "Well, you're wrong--the city/state/courts voted. Once again, I ask--who gave any of these folks the right to change what marriage is? Instead of these these proposed laws and ballot measures, how about something like this: "I favor giving the state of Ohio the power to decide what marriage is, rather than merely regulate it for good order" or some verbiage like that. Government did not create marriage or family, these things pre-existed government. Government regulates these matters, as may be necessary. Personally, I prefer less such regulation than more.

After all, it is not true that two men or women cannot "marry" each other in an absolute sense. They can find a minister to perform a ritual of marriage, and they can deem themselves married to each other.

They can tell family, friends and neighbors that they deem themselves married, they can live as a married couple, and others can choose to treat them that way. They can even, to a great degree, create legal relationships to carry this out. (One argument used here for legalizing "same sex marriage" is to point to problems of access to hospital visitation, power of attorney, and other legal arrangements. I strongly suspect if these matters were tackled directly, it would be very easy to enact changes in state laws to eliminate these problems. I, for one, do not have much energy for preventing this.)

But what one cannot do in most states, and what is at issue, is to have the civil authority, i.e., society in a formal way, affirm that this is marriage.

If you want to call a sheep's tail a leg, and say a sheep has five legs, go ahead. I'm not going to make a thing about that. But when you pass a law saying I must agree, then I'm going to have a problem with that, as do most people, judging by the outcome of these legislative ventures in most states thus far.

b) The harm comes to the degree that it is even important that there be some social notion of marriage, as opposed to merely private notions. And this, I think, is the major harm: i.e., harm to the very cohesion of society.

What makes a society? What makes one society, one? One can give a lot of answers, but ours, in this country and in our western tradition, tends to be, a common set of values.

And really, those seeking approbation of "same sex marriage" seem to get this, because they either try to appeal to some other common value to justify this, or else they sense that in order for this to succeed, a new value has to displace an old one.

Hence, for example, when the District of Columbia created "same-sex marriage" in D.C., it also imposed obligations on others to go along--in this case, obligations on those accepting tax funds to carry out programs. Those programs had to go along with this new value; something the Archdiocese of Washington would not do, because it could not. And don't kid yourself--the further we go down this road, the expectations and compliance imposed on others will only increase. This is the narrow edge of the wedge.

c) So what is happening here is "radical" change in the truest sense: radical not meant as a pejorative, but meaning, change at the root. Marriage is at the root of society; it's primordial; it goes to basic human identity. What is at stake is redefining what these things are for all of us as a society, because if such fundamental things are "privatized," then the cohesion of society falls apart.

d) An additional harm lies in what comes through the door once opened. I.e., the law of (unintended) consequences.

This is a legal argument, for which I am not fully qualified, but I think I'm on good ground. As mentioned, marriage-as-heterosexual is not, as some claim, religious in origin. But monogamy is. So, supposing the campaign for "gay marriage" prevails, especially as a product of litigation, then one is left asking, why--if we liberalized marriage laws to allow what was forbidden--are polygamous marriages still not allowed.

This is not speculation; there are people who practice polygamy, at home and abroad. Unlike fictional "same-sex marriage," there is a real history and tradition to polygamy. And our laws against it do not rest on appeal to universal human experience. They rest on a claim that social order demands no polygamy; or else they rest on an attenuated relationship to Christian tradition. (And while we don't like to say it out loud, a lot of our laws, that's where they come from.)

Another "what's next" issue: once we sever any remaining essential connection between marriage and procreation, then why should we defend any essential connection between marriage and sex? I.e., why should the law prohibit any two people, any at all, from "marrying"? Two friends--with no sexual interest whatsoever--nonetheless wish to be married, to have the "benefits" of marriage (this is the argument we hear now)...who are they hurting by being recognized by our laws as "married"?

At some point, when marriage may be anything, then it is nothing. Then marriage has been successfully deconstructed. And it may be that we will find--if this is how it plays out--that it won't matter. Perhaps we really don't need marriage to be a certain thing as a fundamental feature of our society--or perhaps after all this experimentation, the truth of what marriage is will remain largely undimmed, or even triumphant.

But it strains credulity to suppose that all this experimentation will have no real-world effect on anyone. What effect have other social and legal changes--such as easing divorce laws--had on men, women, children, families and society? Don't know? Google it and find out.

It is quite true that I am unable to predict these matters. No matter. Instead of having to show the harm, or else the venture goes forward, I insist: why should we engage in this sort of wholesale restructuring of society? That's a lot to ask. The burden is on you to make the case--and given how much change you want to effect, I'd say the threshold should be set rather high.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A (winter) day in a pastor's life...

I'm cooling my heels (almost literally) this morning as the latest snowstorm blows over. Seems like a good time to give you another peek into how things are for a pastor.

The big project these days is snow. Everyone got hit last Friday and Saturday, then again yesterday, and more today. Here in Piqua, the mounds are pretty high. The job of clearing snow in such situations is more than any one person can do; whether you are out and about, or staying home, say a prayer for all those who are clearing snow in these storms.

That included me this time. I am a little chagrined to admit it, but until recently, I haven't been all that familiar with how a snow blower operates. Before I entered the seminary, I always used a shovel to remove snow, and so I did since. A few times, here in Piqua, I've asked someone to show me how to use a snow blower, but it didn't happen. Well, last night I finally got a tutorial, and managed not to mow down a bush or run into anything; but I can't say that I was all that efficient.

We had a funeral this morning--with a priest scheduled to come up from Cincinnati, at the request of the family. About 8:15 pm last night, the four of us who were cleaning up the snow all around St. Mary Church and the school--pretty much a full city block--we're looking with satisfaction at every walk cleared, the lot cleared, and all the walks and steps salted.

Then this morning, I didn't even look that closely right away...but when I did, oops! So we got out and cleared things up again. The other folks did most of it, I did a little, because I was also checking in with the family that arrived around 9 am, along with the funeral home, for a visitation in church before the Mass. I didn't look very priestly, I'm afraid, because I'd put on work clothes that were going to get soggy while working in the snow. After doing a bit with the snow, I came back, cleaned up and dressed appropriately, and went over to see if the visiting priest had made it. If not, I was there to offer the Mass.

But he had made it, as had two of the four servers. The Mass was to be in Spanish, which I cannot do; I can manage a few words, that's all. I chatted with him, making sure all was in order, then left him to take care of things.

Meanwhile, I'm making calls around to folks. We have a 24-hour chapel, that usually never closes, but when we have bad weather like this, we do close it. I called the retired priest who was scheduled for Mass this evening, and suggested I take the Mass, since I will have to be out and about, and that way he doesn't take any chances.

The question comes up, what about cancelling Mass? My answer is, if the priest can get there, we'll have Mass; what is the alternative? If I don't show up, someone else, who didn't get word Mass was cancelled, may still show up. So even if I put it on TV and radio...I still have to be there, "just in case." Besides, the Mass must be offered for the intention designated--if not that time, then on another occasion. So as I say, it comes back to, if the priest can get there, Mass will happen. In my situation, St. Mary is a few steps away, St. Boniface is a half-mile away. It would have to be very bad for me not to be able to walk that distance.

In a moment, I'm going to write my column for the bulletin; meanwhile, I'm fielding calls about this and that, but not going anywhere till the storm settles down. The city crews are out on the roads, and they don't need me getting in their way, and besides, everything is cancelled. The vicar and I are here, deciding who is going to handle the burial for the funeral this morning (the visiting priest cannot go), and who will take care of a visit to a nursing home that needs to happen sometime later today.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

How dare a priest come here!

Earlier this week, I read a column at the Washington Post, and posted a response there, that led to a conversation that developed along interesting lines.

The column--which you can see here--was by an ex-priest who was criticizing the Archdiocese of Washington in how it responded to a move by the District of Columbia government to create "same-sex marriage" in the District. With that move came requirements, imposed on those who accept city funding, that the Archdiocese found in conflict with our Catholic Faith and its Gospel mission. So, the Archdiocese said, if that passes, we will have to forgo the funding that was then flowing through the Archdiocese into various services to the poor.

Well, the city proceeded as it announced--and while I'm not up on the exact state of things, if the Archdiocese hasn't withdrawn from those activities, it will before long.

And ex-Father Tam excoriated the Archdiocese, accusing it of refusing to serve the poor.

Bogus charge. A lie, in fact, and so I said on the thread.

Well, you may or may not be interested in what followed. One child of God showed up and dowsed me with condemnation as "dishonest," "prejudiced" "sanctimonious," a "hater" etc. I thought it rich with irony that he would attack me like this...yet I'm the "hater." In the end, he pretty much said I had no business being there.

It's true I had other things to do. It's also true that someone needed to speak up in defense of the Archdiocese of Washington's defense of the truth and defense of the rights of Catholics and others who disagree with the city's high-handed actions.

I thought you might find it interesting.

Where we expect Him and where (maybe) we don't...(Sunday homily)

My homily may well have been less well ordered today, because I planned on preparing it today, and then got caught up in many other things (such as dealing with lots and lots of snow), and had a real time trying to focus my thoughts.

I didn't write any notes, so all I can share with you are some points I attempted to make; along the way, I'll share the thoughts that lay behind my homily tonight, such as it was.

What caught my eye was the contrast between the first reading and the Gospel: in each case, an encounter with God. The first happens in church (in the temple)--where we expect and hope to encounter God--that's why we come. The second happened at work--where we may not be expecting to encounter God, but we need to, as do those we work for.

Look at what happened in this Gospel story. Simon is hard at work, and he's ready to go home. Jesus comes and choose his boat to sit in; now he can't go home. How long will this preacher talk?

When our Lord finishes, he says, put out over there--you'll get a catch.

When we had the workers painting the outside of church this past summer, imagine if I'd come along, and said to the workers, you know, you could do a better job if you did it this way. Imagine what would they say? "Oh, you think so, do you?" I wonder if that's what Simon Peter said to Jesus! But then he gets a catch--and he realizes the miracle. He knew there wasn't any fish in that lake! That's when he falls to his knees and calls out Lord.

This got me thinking about how Christ needs to be heard and met in the workplace--who will go? Who will take him there? We may think this is the priest's job; but my calling as a priest is to sanctify you; and you--as laypeople--in turn, are called to sanctify the world. That is your role and privilege through your baptismal priesthood. You meet folks I never see; and you have credibility with folks where a priest won't.

This got me thinking along another line as well. Something about this passage seemed to say something in particular to us men. Let's face it, men--when we come to church, we are in the minority; for whatever reason, a lot of our fellow men don't see spirituality as their thing. But was there something unmanly about Isaiah being overwhelmed by God's presence? We all need that--and hopefully, we all experience that at some point in our lives. You and I as men need to be speaking to our fellow men, and calling them go deeper and to encounter the Lord.

So what do you say folks? Are you ready to fishing for the Lord? To catch souls for him? Who is sending? He's sending you--into the workplace, wherever you go, to bring him there, so people meet him. We encounter him here, in church--like Isaiah; but the whole world needs to meet him. We can wait till they come here; or we can go fishing for the Lord.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Holy Water in Lent...

Just passing this along, came through via email today, from the Worship Office of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati:

Recently, Archbishop Schnurr received a letter concerning the removal of holy water from fonts during the season of Lent. Archbishop Schnurr asked that I clarify for parishes the appropriate liturgical practice.

There is no liturgical directive or norm that states that removing holy water from baptismal fonts (or holy water receptacles) is an acceptable practice.

While the original intent of some parishes to remove holy water from fonts during Lent was well meant, pastoral practice and reflection has taught us that this practice is not well founded. Perhaps some explanation might be helpful.

For those of us who are baptized, Lent is a season in which we walk with the Elect as they prepare for their upcoming baptism and when we prepare for the renewal of our own baptismal promises. We are not “fasting from our baptism,” but rather, during this season, we renew our baptismal call to discipleship through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

Thus, the purpose of “fasting” is to allow more space in our hearts so that we may walk more closely with the Lord and the Elect, and that we might be moved to greater charity, greater love, greater justice in our lives. Because the Lenten season is understood in this baptismal light, it is most appropriate to leave the holy water in the fonts reminding us of our baptismal commitment.

Therefore, if it has been your parish practice to remove holy water from the font (or holy water receptacles), we would ask that you refrain from doing so during the Lenten season.

However, it is appropriate to remove holy water after the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday until the blessing of water at the Easter Vigil.