Monday, July 29, 2013

What keeps people in church, what sends them away

I came upon the following information after following a link at Mark Shea's site. While the author was using this data to make a larger point about trends in the Church of England, I wanted to look more closely at this information. (I'm assuming it's valid; feel free to critique the data itself--which appears to come from this book--as well as my arguments.)

First: People choose and attend church for a variety of reasons: 1. 90% – Pastor/Preaching
2. 88% – Doctrines
3. 49% – Friendliness of Members
4. 42% – Other Issues
5. 41% – Someone Church Witnessed to Me
6. 38% – Family Member
7. 37% – Sensed God’s Presence/Atmosphere of Church
8. 25% – Relationship Other than Family Member
9. 25% – Sunday School Class
10. 25% – Children’s/Youth Ministry
11. 12% – Other Groups/Ministries
12. 11% – Worship Style/Music
13. 7% – Location

According to the summary information on the book at, this data comes from surveys of people who were unchurched, but have recently returned to church. I can't tell from the information at Amazon whether Catholic parishes were included; even if they were, the data must still skew heavily toward Protestant, and specifically Evangelical, congregations--if not, as I suspect, almost entirely based on the latter groups. As I go along, I'll highlight where I think that makes a difference.

Then there's this:

Why people leave church:

1. The church was not helping me to develop spiritually. (28%)
2. I did not feel engaged or involved in meaningful church work (20%)
3. Church members were judgmental of others (18%)
4. pastor was not a good preacher (16%)
5. Too many changes (16%)
6. Members seemed hypocritical (15%)
7. Church didn’t seem to be a place where God was at work (14%)
8. Church was run by a clique that discouraged involvement (14%)
9. Pastor was judgmental of others (14%)
10. Pastor seemed hypocritical (13%)
(LifeWay Research)

So let's look at this.

How much of this do you think applies to Catholic parishes?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Is your sin the sin of Sodom (it's not what you think)? (Sunday homily)

We might wonder what’s going on in that first reading with God and Abraham? 
Let’s take a look. 

We have Abraham negotiating with God. 
Will you spare the city for 50 innocent? For 45? For forty? 
And so it goes, until Abraham stops at ten. 

If you read the rest of the story in Scripture, 
you’ll discover that when God sends his angels to Sodom,
they find not ten, not even five righteous people, 
and yet the angel tells Abraham’s son-in-law, Lot, 
that he isn’t allowed to carry out the punishment 
until Lot and his family leave: a total of four people. 

So one lesson: God is more merciful than we imagine. 

While on this passage…
the “sin of Sodom” does include sinful behavior between males,
it involves more than that. There is cruelty and aggression involved. 
When you look more closely at the story, 
it’s clear that the community is completely warped; 
and sexual sin is only part of the depravity. 

The point of the story isn’t to stigmatize just one sin. 
Rather, it is about no longer being willing to repent. 

The really sobering thought is this: 
if we become comfortable with sin—any sin—
it becomes a prison from which we can never escape—
because we won’t want to. 

Those angels came and opened the prison doors: and only four people left. 
Even then, one—Lot’s wife—turned back. 

Second lesson: God’s mercy is ready if we repent; 
but without repentance, there is no remedy. 

Now what I’ll say next is delicate. 
But since this passage is used to focus on one, particular sin, 
the whole context of what our Church teaches needs to be stated. 
So I want to be plain, but not pound the pulpit. 

We believe that the gift of sexuality is designed by God 
for marriage between a man and a woman. 
But this is inseparable from our belief 
that this isn’t just about two people coming together, 
but about a couple always being open to life—to children. 

This is what we call chastity. 
And folks who think it’s only for someone else, you’re doing it wrong! 

I’m a priest, and I have to be chaste and celibate; and that’s not always easy. 
A married couple remaining open to the gift of life isn’t always easy. 
Waiting until marriage isn’t easy. Being single and chaste isn’t easy. 

And when Paul talks about bringing our transgressions to the Cross, 
he’s talking about all Ten Commandments, not just the Sixth and the Ninth. 

So, how do we do that—nail our sins to the Cross? 
We do it, first, in baptism; and after that, in confession. 
That’s where what the Lord said in the Gospel is perfectly fulfilled: 
“For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; 
and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” 

Certainly, admitting our wrongs is embarrassing. 
I’m embarrassed admitting my sins—we all are. 
But if it helps any, speaking as a priest hearing confessions: 
I’m not shocked! I’m not embarrassed! 
And even if you somehow embarrass me, you won’t shock or embarrass God. 

We have confessions every Saturday at 3:45 pm;
and I’ve started hearing confessions at 10:15 am—
that is, before the Sunday 11 am Mass. 

Our Father in heaven readily gives the Holy Spirit…if we ask.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Saul Alinsky and 'Same Sex Marriage'

I stumbled across a blog this week, by a Protestant pastor, called Blog and Mablog. I don't know much about the fellow, and I haven't found anything on the blog that would make me sorry to link it via a post.

What caught my eye--and what I want to share with you--is his proposed follow-up on the move to redefine marriage:

Liberals like uppity women in theory, on their bumper stickers, but detest them in real life. So here is a proposal for a couple of genuinely uppity women (who need to be sisters) living in a state that allows for same sex mirage. 

They need to get themselves down to the county courthouse and apply for a marriage license, letting the fact that they are sisters be known to the clerk.

When they are denied, as they will be, they need to ask why.

Because that would be incest, the reply will come. Their response should be two-fold.

First, they should say, if we were going to be incestuous, why would that be any business of the state? Since we as a culture have abandoned the moral arguments, the reply would have to be pragmatic — because of the possibility of birth defects.

To which, the sisters should raise their eyebrows and inquire into how it is that a lesbian relationship could result in birth defects.

After they have flummoxed the clerk in this way, the second part of their response should be to reassure that longsuffering personage, to make up for their first line of argument. They should go on to assure the clerk that they are not lesbians at all, there is absolutely nothing sexual or romantic about their relationship at all. There would be no incest.

“We are just sisters. And we want to be married.”

But marriage has to be sexual, the clerk would reply.

Does it? they would answer. Well, yes, traditionally . . .

Traditionally? Like we care about that anymore?

Pastor Wilson goes on to recall Saul Alinsky, the infamous author of Rules for Radicals, who proposed--as a political strategy--making ones opponent live up to his own rules, especially when that will be impossible.


Saturday, July 20, 2013

No homily this weekend!

...because Holy Cross-Immaculata has, not one, but two deacons! And one of them is preaching this weekend. He did a good job, providing lots of interesting details on the Scriptures. I learned something new about the Martha and Mary story: that when Mary went and sat at the Lord's feet, she was doing something frowned upon in the culture. Sitting with the Rabbi to learn the Scriptures was for men; women would not take part. Mary was violating a cultural norm, and as often happens, our Lord was fine with disregarding such norms when they get in the way of sharing the life of God.

If I find out the deacon has posted his homily anywhere, I'll link it. But he didn't use notes, so I am not optimistic.

However, he will be preaching at 8 and 11 am Masses tomorrow! See you there!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

New wedding liturgy?

...not how it's done at Holy Cross-Immaculata.


Biretta-tip: Tradster at Fr. Z's blog.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

God isn't hard to find; we've made ourselves blind (Sunday homily)

What does Moses say in the first reading?
God’s commands aren’t mysterious.
They are frequently hard to live by—but they aren’t hard to find.

I wonder if anyone here does what I do.
If I can’t get the phone to do what I want, I say, “stupid phone!”
If the computer doesn’t bend to my will: “stupid computer!”
If I start the coffee and come back 5 minutes later
and it’s all over the counter, what do I say? “Stupid coffee pot!”

You get the idea? It’s never a failing in myself!
So it is with God’s Law.
If we find it hard to live by,
instead of considering that the flaw is in ourselves,
what do we say: “Stupid commandments!”

Before electric light was common,
when you walked out of your house at night and looked up—
even here in the heart of the city—
you could see the splendor of the Milky Way Galaxy adorning the dark sky.
Now, because of the wonders of electric light—and it is a wonder—
all that is invisible to us.

It’s not that the galaxy is hard to see;
but that we, in our opulence, have blinded ourselves.
And we’ve done exactly the same with God’s Law.

In these United States, in this year of our Lord 2013,
our culture and society are evolving in ways no human society has ever developed.
Never in history has any nation been so collectively prosperous.
Think about the sort of “food crises” we have in America. Not shortage—too much.

We have such abundance that we actually have “gourmet pet food.”
They offer “pet breakfast”; “pet appetizers” and “restaurant-inspired” cat food.

I didn’t know cats had restaurants.
In fact, I’m pretty sure when cats “go out to eat,” it’s a trash can!
This is pure, human vanity.

Look at our technology. We think we can do anything.
We have pushbutton war; and there is nowhere to hide.
We have taken control over life, from it’s very conception.
We routinely manipulate unborn children from the earliest stages—
some are allowed to live, some are destroyed,
while others are turned into commodities for science.

At this late stage of our culture,
we have convinced ourselves that everything can be reinvented and reconstructed:
Marriage, family, human life itself.

But here is the weirdest thing of all:
That everything I just described (and more) is considered “normal.”
It’s not normal. Not even “the new normal.”
It’s the greatest experiment in human history.
And it’s a little early to congratulate our success.

We tell ourselves we’re finally “in control”—but are we really?

It suddenly occurs to me that we may have an answer
to one of the most difficult questions ever:
why does God allow poverty and suffering?

And the answer might be this: that when we face—
not on TV, but right before our eyes—
a fellow human being, hungry, poor, in pain, in distress,
That explodes the illusion created by our vanity and pride.

What did our Lord say: “the poor you will always have.”
He didn’t mean, so don’t bother.
What he might have meant, however,
was that whenever we think we can handle anything—
look at the reality of poverty.

We think we can fix anything? Well, we haven’t fixed that.
So much for our pride. Pride says, “we’ll fix it!”
Humility says, “we’ll do what we can.”

And so it also occurs to me that God’s decision to enter history
by becoming one of us, in Jesus Christ,
is more important and more necessary than ever.

Just as coming face-to-face with true poverty
and suffering blows up the illusions of our power,
so the encounter with Jesus, God become man,
exposes as hollow our claims that God is invisible: we can’t find him.

We don’t have to find God. He found us.
The Light of God, like the light of the stars, is there,
if only we can humbly dim the lights of our own vanity.
Then we’ll see Him again.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Catholic Health Association flouts bishops (again!) on contraception coverage

I'm not sure what's going on with the Catholic Health Association (a trade organization for putatively Catholic hospitals) recently giving it's stamp of approval to the Obama Administration's latest iteration of the mandate concerning contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs being included in health insurance coverage. It's odd that, after earning a public rebuke when the CHA parted company with the bishops over this very issue, that the group would do it again.

In any case, it's not helpful and it doesn't inspire confidence in the so-called "Catholic Health Association."

Some history might be in order here.

You might recall that as the Obamacare juggernaut ran into serious trouble when the bishops insisted that the legislation include very specific safeguards regarding abortion and conscience considerations. There was language the bishops backed that was included in the House version of the bill, but which was removed in the Senate. The bishops said "no deal" to the Senate offering--and the legislation stalled.

At that point, the administration cooked up an executive order, which the bishops, rightly, said was no good--because that's a far cry from being written into the law itself.

At this point, the CHA rode to rescue of the White House, and gave its blessing to the executive order "solution." Riding to the rescue of the White House was the head of the CHA worked hand-in-glove with the Obama Administration to defeat the bishops' efforts to get better provisions in the health care law regarding prolife and conscience. And then, Sister Carol Keehan could not have been more tickled when her efforts helping the Obama Administration defeat the bishops earned her a special pen, used to sign the law.

Sr Carol Keehan, President of the Catholic Hospital Association, with the pen
she received at the signing of the Health Care Act. From Catholic Online.
And then when the administration's first version of the mandate met with widespread criticism, the CHA, in almost-certain coordination with the White House, was all too ready to give it's blessing to the initial, hollow "compromise"--a stance it was forced to disown when the bishops did not react well to yet another attempt to undermine the teaching authority Christ himself gave to them.

So here we are. For whatever reason, Sister Keehan and the CHA have decided--in a showdown between the bishops and the Obama administration--to sidle up beside President Obama.

And, more importantly, the CHA is simply wrong. Wrong to buck the bishops; and wrong on the substance.

Basically, as I understand it, here's what the government is doing, in order to "accommodate" Catholic objections. The insurance that Catholic institutions, beyond a fairly narrow category, provide to employees, must include coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs. But, according to the government's account, the Catholic institution isn't paying for it--the insurance company is: the insurance company will have to recover its costs from something called "Federally Facilitated Exchange user fees." Wait--what's that? Here's an explanation. If I understood the info at the link, such user fees are basically what any and all insurance purchasers pay. Something like a tax.

Being skeptical of the government, I'm not convinced the problem of religious institutions paying for these services is really solved. But--for the sake of argument--let's say it is. That doesn't solve all the problems!

Let me give you an example.

I have friends who are alcoholics. While I have no issue with drinking (I like a drink myself), I would not want to have any part of my friend--or anyone else--having a drink when it's clearly harmful to him or her. So, if a friend of mine who is alcoholic wants to put him- or herself in harm's way, that's one thing. But if my friend--or anyone else--asked me to facilitate it, my answer is no. If I can't persuade my friend not to do something destructive, then at least, leave me out of it.

To continue to apply the analogy, what the government is doing is telling me, yes, Fox, you must facilitate bringing your friend, and a drink, together. Oh, but don't worry! The government will see to it that the drinks are paid for. But your job is to drive your friend to the bar--that's all!

How, you might ask, is the health-insurance mandate doing this?

By government edict, the health insurance package/program, offered to employees by the employer, is the vehicle by which an employee is offered, and may obtain, the morally objectionable services.

To use another analogy, imagine we were talking about, say, a commissary run by a hospital. Here comes the government, and says, we are going to send someone to stock your shelves with condoms and over-the-counter abortion drugs. But don't worry! We will bill someone else for them, not you.

The point is, that those of us who object to these "services" aren't simply objecting to paying for them; we consider them gravely immoral. Not just a little immoral, mind you, but you-can-go-to-hell-for-this immoral.

And that, obviously leads to the following necessary conclusions:

1) We are against anyone using them, and it is our duty to warn others against them. In the case of contraception and sterilization, we haven't done anything lately to seek laws regulating them--but we're not against that in principle. In the case of abortion, we do seek legislation to control and ultimately outlaw it.

2) Where we can't stop others from using these evil things, the least we ask is to have nothing to do with them. And this is where the government is intruding.

Again, to explain: we aren't against these things in the way Jews keep kosher: as far as I know, Jews don't consider non-Kosher foods something that are intrinsically evil and destructive to human happiness; and therefore, they don't object to non-Jews enjoying them.

No, we object to these things because we believe they are destructive to the full good of the human person. That is, they are evil by their nature.

Of course, not everyone believes this, we know that. Given our situation in this country--both religious pluralism and our mode of limited government--the Catholic Church has, for now, largely accepted the legality of contraception and sterilization, but not abortion. So, while that means other people are free to pursue contraception and sterilization, that doesn't mean we still don't think they are terrible things. We've just accepted the limits of what self-destructive things we can regulate through civil law.

So the point is, this so-called accommodation doesn't really address the key issue: cooperation with evil.

And that's why, aside from the CHA simply being wrong in claiming the so-called "accommodation" solves the problem faced by religious employers, the CHA is wrong in its attitude toward employers and business owners whose consciences are being trampled upon.

And what is the CHA's attitude toward these folks: Too bad for you--not our problem.

In this case, the bishops are doing the exactly right thing. Thus far, they've not only spoken up for Catholic institutions, they've spoken up for any religious institution that is being coerced--and, for that matter, they've repeatedly gone to bat for everyone else who's religious freedom is being violated.

That is simply doing what our Lord says in the Gospel we'll have this coming Sunday, when the scribe asked: "and who is my neighbor"--i.e., for whom I am responsible? And the Lord's answer, of course, is everyone.

Here the bishops have it exactly right, and the CHA is wrong: we don't just go to bat for our own rights, but everyones.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Immaculate Conception: not obligatory in 2013

One of the things a parish priest does--at least, this parish priest--is to look ahead to various feasts that will be special for the parish, in order to do some planning.

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, already special to our country, is also this parish's patronal day. And, as it happens, the next day--December 9--is the anniversary of the consecration of this church, which is also a very special day for the parish. Thus, two in a row.

So, I looked ahead in order to see what days of the week they fell, in order to think about how we could commemorate both.

In doing so, I discovered December 8 falls on a Sunday--and because the Sunday of Advent takes precedence, the observance of the solemnity moves to Monday. Then, in the pages of the liturgical calendar published annually by Paulist Press, I read something that struck me wrong:

"USA: not a holy day of obligation."

Hold on, I says to myself! All this business of holy days being sometimes obligatory, and sometimes not, has confused the faithful hereabouts for years! So some time back, I took it upon myself to drill into my head the actual facts, so that whenever anyone asked, and doubted the answer, I was really certain of the matter.

And the answer I found was that whenever a holy day of obligation falls on a Saturday or a Monday, it's not obligatory--except for Christmas, and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. (You can read this here.)

So, I'm thinking, this must be an error. So, I call downtown and leave a message for our archdiocesan director of worship. She calls back, I'm tied up, so she leaves a message: no, not an error. But since I didn't get to talk to her, I didn't know her reasoning. Bullheaded, I press on. I know what I'll do--I'll check with the bishops' conference!

To the website! Search, search! I don't find anything, so I fire off an email: "please explain this!"

Well, I should have looked a little further; because not long after I hit the "send" button, I did find the answer, in a back issue of the newsletter the bishops' office of divine worship sends out. Here is that answer:

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2013

In this year of 2013, December 8—normally the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception—falls on the Second Sunday of Advent. In accordance with no. 5 of the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, the observance of the Solemnity is transferred to Monday, December 9. Such a transfer is seen as a pastoral concession to the desire of the faithful to observe a beloved Feast even though it is impeded liturgically by a higher observance. The obligation of the faithful to attend Mass remains attached to the day itself (December 8), however, and so it does not transfer with the liturgical observance.
Or do you find this confusing?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Harvest time (Sunday homily)

When you have a new parish priest, 
people are often looking to take the measure of him. 
What are the things he cares about? 
What “agenda” might he have?

So I know people are asking those questions about me!

Today, I’m going to make it easy for you to answer those questions--
because the Scriptures make it easy.

What did Saint Paul say today:
“May I never boast except in the cross of Jesus Christ!”

But that’s not just “my” agenda--it’s our agenda, together.

So, here’s my question for you: 
What is the purpose of this parish? Why are we here?
How do we justify asking one another 
to share our time, our talents and our treasure?

Same answer: to make Jesus Christ known, here and now.

And I think we are doing that in so many ways.

Archbishop Purcell wanted a Catholic church here as a beacon--
and here we are!

Each year, on Good Friday, of course, 
many thousands come here to meet Christ Crucified.

Now, if we develop that further, in light of the Scriptures we heard, 
what does that mean?

Well, as both happened to Saint Paul, and to the 72 disciples in the Gospel, 
not everyone will receive the message.

That’s why Paul reminds us: it’s Christ crucified!

The measure of our success, as parish, 
will never be that everyone likes us, 
or likes the message of our Faith.

It happened to our Lord--it will happen to us.

In fact, if we don’t bear “the marks of Jesus” on ourselves--
“the marks” of people’s disagreement or criticism--
then we should ask: have we really been sharing our Faith to the full?

The other thing we might take from the Scriptures 
is the importance of inviting others boldly.

You will notice me inviting men and women 
to consider a vocation to the priesthood, religious life and the diaconate.

I love being a priest,  I’m glad to be here with you,
And I am eager to invite young men--and not so young--
to consider being a priest or deacon!
I’m eager to invite men and women to consider religious life.

If you answer that call, you’ll see happen what the Gospel describes:
God acting powerfully in your life and the lives of others.

While religious and deacons and priests 
carry this out in a particularly intense way, 
that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook.

The 72 weren’t all apostles, or priests, they weren’t all religious--
but they were all followers of the Lord. 

When you walk of church after Mass, pause and take in the view.
Look at the fields! Look at the harvest, waiting, ready!

And then, I ask you: pray to the Lord of the harvest, and ask:
“Lord, what would you have me do?”

Between now and next Sunday--in order to help with the harvest--
what will you do?