Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hobby Lobby, Little Sisters, Contraception

Many of us are waiting to hear how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule tomorrow on the twin cases brought by two businesses against the federal government (specifically, the Department of Health and Human Services) over it's mandate coercing employers to help employees obtain contraceptives, sterilization and certain abortion-causing drugs -- and to hell with their consciences.

Meanwhile, I was wondering, what became of the Little Sisters of the Poor who likewise have sued over this very mandate? Does this ruling affect them?

I'm not a lawyer, of course, but the Supreme Court could, I suppose, rule in such a broad fashion as to give the Little Sisters what they seek. Alternately, they might rule in such a way as to make it unlikely the Little Sisters will prevail. And, of course, they rule narrowly, and the lawsuit by the sisters will continue to work it's way through the courts.

When I went searching for an update, I found this at the website for the Becket Fund. The short update is: the Little Sisters' case is before a lower court; and if you recall some action by the Supreme Court, you're correct: the high court gave an injunction from obeying the mandate while the sisters seek judicial remedies.

In any case, prayer is the order of the day. I fear a negative outcome, because I think there are members of the U.S. Supreme Court who don't want to be seen as "at war" with the other branches, and/or do not like to be seen as too activist. In short, they are sensitive to the criticisms of the Washington Post and such folks.. And this term, the executive branch has lost, repeatedly -- and in spectacular fashion -- in several cases. The other case to be handed down tomorrow might also be cast as "activist." So will the High Court try to soften the blow?

Let us pray that is not so. Again I say, be sure to pray!

Is it true? What changes for you? (Homily for Peter & Paul)

When we are confronted with someone presenting a religious message, 
there are three ways we can respond.

First, we might say, “Isn’t that interesting?” 
When I was in Washington DC a week ago, 
I saw some Buddhist monks in their bright orange robes. 
That was my response: “isn’t that interesting?”

A second response is, “Is this useful?” 
A lot of people send their children to Catholic schools, 
even though they aren’t themselves Catholic, or even Christian. 
They do it because they see it in terms of being useful.
To be blunt, a lot of Catholic parents do this. 
How else to explain that there are many families 
whose children are in the Catholic school all week long, 
but are seldom seen at Sunday Mass?

Then there is a third response we can give. 
And that is to ask, “Is this true?” 
Really, isn’t the most important question?

Week after week, priests like get up and give homilies 
on the Church’s teachings, on the Scriptures.
Maybe we make it interesting, we may make you laugh, 
and maybe we give something practical…

But in the end, the only real question is: Is it true?

When Peter and Paul gave their witness – not in a beautiful church, 
but maybe in a synagogue, 
or else in someone’s home or on riverbank or in a public square, 
there was no reason for anyone around them to say, “is this useful?” 

The Catholic Faith was something entirely new; no one had heard of it. 
No one important believed it. 
It had nothing behind it, 
except extravagant claims by these odd fellows. 

Have you seen a preacher on Fountain Square? 
Or maybe seen these excited fellows on late-night TV? 
Don’t you think that’s how Peter and Paul looked to the Romans?

Think about how you would react, 
if instead of listening to me, here,
you were listening to Peter or Paul. 
On the street corner. 

Why would you stop? And why would you believe?

One of the conceits of our age 
is we think we’re smarter than anyone else ever was. 
So folks will think, oh, sure they believed, 
because they were so gullible. You think so? 

You think people 2,000 years ago never met a fanatic? 
Never had anyone try to sell them snake oil? 
They never said, as my mother always did: 
“If it seems too good to be true, it probably is?” 

Then, now and always, people ask what gives meaning to life. 
In every age, people have gazed at the stars 
and wondered what caused them to be there, 
and to move in the way they do. 

Even in AD 2014, scientists tell us so much about the universe, 
and the Big Bang that sparked it all. 
And yet they will admit how little they really know; 
and they still ask what Romans might have asked, 2,000 years ago: 
who started it all? And why?

Here come Peter and Paul – and others – who say, 
none of the gods you Romans believe in are true. 
They are false, every one of them. 
The one true God is the God of the Jews. 
He created it all. And he revealed himself, not to you, 
the Masters of the Earth, 
but to this odd people who you conquered. 
And to that people God himself came, became man. 
He became, not a Roman, not a Greek, but a Jew!

And do you know what you Romans did? You crucified him! 
The one true God died on a cross – and rose again!

That’s your hope! Not Caesar, but Christ! 
And God’s Plan was to send me—Peter, Paul—here, to tell you!

If you ever go to Rome, 
as you know I did earlier this year, 
you can visit the places 
where both Peter and Paul’s bones were buried. 
There are huge churches—basilicas—built over their graves. 

Their bones are still there; 
you can actually see the bones of Peter, they are on display. 
And while it would take too long to explain it, 
I tell you there is no good reason to doubt 
those really are Peter’s bones, and Paul’s, 
in the two churches that bear their names.

So while we might wonder about a lot of things 
about this Catholic Faith, 
here’s a good, hard fact which hard-nosed people can appreciate: 
their bones are in Rome. 

They both came there—and died there. 
And early Christians marked their graves, 
and honored them for centuries, until those churches were built. 

Peter stood in the Lord’s tomb on the third day, and saw it was empty; 
later that day, he saw the risen Lord. 
When he was crucified about 30 years later, in Rome, 
do you think it was for any other reason but this? 
They killed him because he made people believe it. Same with Paul.

Let’s put it even more plainly: 
why were either of them even in Rome?

So we are faced with Peter and Paul, too. 
We hear their words. 
We see their witness, in their own blood. 
And I put the question to you:

Is it true? If so, what changes, today, for you?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

I finally gave the pope my advice!

While visiting the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C., what did I see?

Ohmygosh, its Pope Francis! Now I know why he's been rearranging his schedule! He's secretly in the nation's capital!

Before anyone could stop me, I rushed over to greet him. Good thing I always have my list of recommendations with me -- just in case!

You can see just how delighted the holy father was to receive all my ideas.

Expect changes, my friends! You saw it here first!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Sex, marriage and gays: The Church won't change, because she can't

While paying my biennial visit to DC to visit friends and family, I saw that I'd be in town during the "March for Marriage," and I decided to go down for the march. My decision was helped when I saw Rep. Nancy Pelosi -- no longer content to be an advocate for baby-killing and proud to cast aside those portions of the Faith that don't fit her political fashions -- had tried to bully the Archbishop of San Francisco into ducking out of the march. The Archbishop said nuts to Pelosi, and I wanted to join with him.

But I didn't go for all the talks. The plan was two hours of speechifying before the march; and as I was going to be all in black, standing in 90-degree sun, so attired, sounded like a bad idea. As it is, the talks were still going when I arrived at 1 -- they went about 20 minutes over. This happens at the March for Life every year in January; and as one of the many who has stood with freezing feet, listening to this go on and on, I have a solution for that occasion. Anyone who gets up to speak at the January March for Life must first remove his or her coat, hat and shoes. If it's raining, the umbrella is removed when their time is up. I'm not sure what would be an equally powerful incentive for June speechifying.

Well, look at me--talk about the pot calling the kettle black! Let's get to the subject.

A lot of folks, both non-Catholic and so-called "progressive" Catholic, are determined to see the abandonment, by Christianity, of all those fusty, unpleasant teachings that -- if we just shook free of them, would make everything so much nicer. In other words -- we wouldn't be embarrassed at cocktail parties and cookouts.

To be jettisoned are:

> No ordination for women.
> No remarriage.
> No sex outside marriage. (Wait, you Catholics still believe that? Next thing you'll tell me is you think solitary vice is still a sin! Erm, go here, look for paragraph 2352.)
> No sex in marriage that isn't ordered toward procreation.
> No contraception.
> Marriage is man+woman.*

Now, at some point, someone will shake his or her head and say, oh, you Catholics are just obsessed with sex! Which is like saying the Red Cross is "obsessed" with disasters. Like the Red Cross, we'd be delighted to focus on other things.

Also, someone might look at the list above, and think, which one isn't like the others? What's ordination doing there? Well, it could be there merely because it, like the others, is hated by progressives and modernizers as an obstacle to people flocking--flocking! to Christianity. But there's a second reason: it is intrinsically linked to the others, because it has to do with how we understand the identity of human beings as male and female. If you believe, with the Church, that human nature is bound up with sexual complementarity, then these all hang together. But if you don't, then they all seem obscure and restrictive.

Why doesn't the Church jettison these things? Because she can no more do that, than your body can live without a heart and lungs. The Church's teaching on these matters derives, not merely from Scripture, but also from Tradition and, above all, Natural Law. Or, to sort it another way, from both Divine and Natural Revelation.

Now, there is an interesting historical-theological question here: can Christianity coherently operate solely from Scripture? And I think the developments since 1930 -- the year the Anglican Communion led the way by other Christians to abandon the consensus on contraception and other forms of deliberate sterility -- are developing in such a way as to answer that question in the negative. To put it simply, and to address it to our dear fellow Christians who are Protestant, Evangelical or non-denominational: sola scriptura doesn't work. Rejecting Natural Law doesn't work. The Catholic understanding, however rejected by the worldly, nevertheless works. And since when does rejection by the world discourage us? Did not our Lord tell us this is a sign to expect? What does it say when so many of our fellow Christians have accepted the worldly view on contraception and divorce--and now find themselves no less hated by the world?

The next accommodation to the spirit of the world is to agree with the world that male-female are meaningless terms, interchangeable, redefinable at will.

The ground we needed to stand on was given up, long ago, when we yielded to easy divorce and to contraception. The Catholic Church has not yielded doctrinally, but so many Catholics (including priests and bishops) have, practically. We are mostly silent, and when we speak, it is the peep of a mouse rather than the roar of a lion. Yet our non-Orthodox fellow Christians have largely abandoned this field entirely.

So here we are, manfully opposing same-sex "marriage," claiming to defend marriage, even while many of us have muted our explanation of why sex between people of the same sex is immoral; and even where Christians haven't -- as in so many Protestants -- we've accepted the division of sex and procreation.

Oh yes you did, my friends: when you accept contraception, you accept that there is no intrinsic, unbreakable relationship. And when you do that, then you get the question you really can't answer: why can't two people of the same sex marry?

Yes, I know, the Bible says so. I agree it does. However, the Bible also is crystal-clear on marriage being always open to the gift of life. The Bible never conceives of a couple wanting to avoid having children; and the one time the subject is broached, someone is struck dead for "spilling his seed." Yet somehow, all this was got around.

The passages on homosexual acts are, by contrast, far fewer and easier to escape, if that's what you want to do.

What's more, just pointing to the Bible is an incomplete answer. Yes, it is. Because there is the obvious followup question: why does the Bible -- i.e., God -- say that? Why does God forbid two people of the same sex from doing these things together? Why does he care?

How do you answer that -- without Natural Law? "Well, because he's God, so he makes the rules" is an admission of defeat.

Meanwhile, here's a question for the progressives, which I haven't seen answered (I don't mean just here, but anywhere): when you reject Natural Law, what other criteria for sexual morality is there, besides consent?

If Natural Law is jettisoned, with it goes the sex-always-open-to-procreation part. That means contraception is OK. So why shouldn't people have all the sex they want before marriage? Why shouldn't adultery be simply a matter of concern for the couple? I.e., if they consent, is it still immoral?

And, of course, out goes any notion that it homosexuality matters. But why should incest matter? Polygamy? Again, if there is consent, on what basis would any part of the Christian Church teach that any sexual act is immoral? At best, you would have to say, it was immoral because you didn't use "protection."

All those who hope or fear the Catholic Church will change in this area? Abandon all hope or fear. The Church will not. Because she cannot. There is no coherence to her Faith if she were to do so.

*Someone will notice I could have included many other teachings that so-called progressives wish the Church would drop, particularly in defense of human life. But these aren't directly related to the issue of Natural Law as it relates to sexual complementarity.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Things I love about America

I'm walking back to my car, after having a pretty nice dinner in Clarendon, Virginia. And I remember, I forgot to bring shaving cream with me on my trip.

So I see the Walgreens -- I saw it before, but figured, it'll be open after I eat; and so it is. So I turn into the Walgreens, and the doors open for me. No waiting! So fast. And--as soon as they open, I'm blasted with cool, dry air. Enveloped. Surrounded. Before I even cross the threshold, I'm cool. Cool.

I know what I want. I want one thing. I look around. It's a cornucopia. Everything I can imagine wanting -- if I lived ten other lives -- is here. Makeup; shampoo; family planning; cold medicine; adult diapers; and all the other stuff. I roam the aisles. There are groceries here. Amazing stuff. If the bomb drops, there's a lot of good food, a lot of it fresh, right here. And this is just one "drug store" in one little corner of America.

I can't find it. I admit: I don't love that. But there's a young guy stocking shelves. I ask him for help, and he jumps up and leads me right where I need to go. He know where the "travel sizes" are. So polite. So helpful. "Do you need anything else?" No, man, thanks! Incredibly polite.

So I find my travel-size shaving cream and I head to the counter. I wonder where the worker who just helped me was from. Somewhere in Africa, I guess; I'd like to ask, but is that rude? It doesn't matter, it's just that I'm curious. So many interesting places, maybe he's from there. 

The guy behind the counter: I wonder the same thing. He's not from the same place, probably; but I don't ask. He tells me I got a discount. Great! No, I don 't need a bag, thanks man. I'm on my way. I hate to leave this wonderful coolness. It's really hot outside.

On my way to my car, I think, "I'd like some ice cream!" So I cross the street. There's a grocery store there: it's a Whole Foods. I don't really care; I know they have ice cream. I go in. Again: doors open for me. Again: a blast of wonderful coolness envelops me.

This is a special place. Everything here is organic and biotic and healthy and all that stuff. I don't care. Lots of earnest people who seem to care very deeply about organic-non-glutenous-free-range-no-anti-biotic stuff. I don't care. (Well, I do, a little; but not at the moment.) I find the frozen section. Ice cream! Now!

What? What? They have...Graeters! From Cincinnati! And not just one flavor; I stand there, with the door open, with artic blasts pouring over me, as I contemplate which of the ten or so flavors of Graeters I will buy. I ponder the fact that they have Graeters gelato--did you know Graeters is making gelato? Are they advertising that in Cincinnati, or is that something they are promoting out of town? I don't care; I'm not messing around, I'm getting good, old-fashioned Graeters. I opt for Mint Chocolate Chip; and when I look at the package, and it says something like, "half the sugar..." I turn around and exchange it for another package with no such offending language. This is no time to mess around! 

I'm in line. Every line is full. It's 9 pm, and every conscientious, organic-only shopper in Clarendon is here, buying groceries. This place is expensive! I can't imagine buying all my groceries here. Who can afford this? I pay for my ice cream, and blam! I'm back out in the sultry heat, but I'm clutching my cold, cold ice cream.

Now I'm back at the place where I'm staying. I ate my ice cream before writing this post. Am I crazy? No.

I know what you're thinking. Isn't it the same everywhere? No, it's not. When I was in Europe, I went looking for a drug store. Looking, looking. I needed ordinary things. No, this isn't a drug store. This seems to be -- but no, what are "Tums"? Never heard of them. The pharmacies in Italy -- when they are open -- have few items out for your inspection. You must present yourself to the counter, and ask. Someone will find what you get; and it will cost you! I bought aspirin and some sort of antacid in Europe, after visiting many stores (many were closed! Too bad, you came at the wrong hours!), and it cost me dearly. No cornucopia. You want fruit? That's over there. Bread? There. Meat? Over there. Oh, but they open then, and they closed then, so good luck. Why would anyone do it differently?

In America, of course you want your drink cold. Blam! Ice! And plenty of it. Do you want more? More ice, here. Blam! You want something? We have everything! Right here! And we're open all night. 

In Europe, what do you want? That'll cost you. Ice? Why would you want that? This is how we do it. That's good enough for you! 

I'm not bashing Europe. It's great. I love it. But...some things we do...I love.

There's more ice cream...

Catching up with friends

This week is a series of reunions. I've got lunch and dinner plans all week with friends from my days in D.C.; I will be seeing my cousin, who lives near Baltimore; a group of us will be having a party Sunday, then I'll head down to the beach for a few days. There are a few I won't be able to see this time through; maybe next time.

This morning, I'm heading downtown to visit the Basilica. I may take pictures! Then lunch with some friends.

FYI, it's really hot in Washington this week; 90s every day so far.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sorry no homily, I'm on the road

I had 8 am Mass and packed and hit the road around 9:30am. Arrived in northern Virginia around 5:30 pm, including two stops.

Planning to see some friends from my political days.

Just my luck: Reds really gave it to the Brewers and I missed it!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Sam Adams hates Catholics. Goodbye.

I really love Sam Adams beer. It's amazingly good. Jim Koch was one of the pioneers in the micro-brewery movement. He makes great beers.

But -- Jim Koch doesn't love Catholics who keep their Faith.

Earlier this year, Sam Adams announced it wouldn't have anything to do with the St. Patrick Parade in New York City, so long as this Catholic event continued to uphold Catholic teaching (regarding chastity).

The Saint Patrick Parade group said anyone could march -- anyone! -- but the march was Catholic -- so nothing opposing Catholic teaching was allowed.

That meant no banners advocating sodomy. Oops!

They put the arm on Jim Koch -- who caved. How dare a Catholic event be...Catholic? Saith Jim Koch.

So I swore off Sam Adams.

Jim Koch of Sam Adams hates Catholics (who are Catholic). So why should you give him your money?

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The collapse of Iraq

I don't have any great thoughts. I'm deeply, deeply sad.

In case you missed it: extremist jihadists have seized several cities in Iraq; the national army appears to be fleeing and disintegrating. The Kurds -- who control the north -- are taking more territory. They seem -- from my poor vantage-point -- to be stable and sensible. The much-suffering Christians are fleeing there (they have no where else to go, but to martyrdom). The Iranians are moving in to gobble up things.

So many of our fellow Americans -- along with so many of our allies -- sacrificed so d*** much for a stable and free Iraq! So many men and women without arms and legs, with their faces disfigured, so many with minds and souls tortured from their experiences. So much was invested. So many fought so hard.

And a couple of years ago, against all odds, they seemed to have done it. So many here gave up on them. But they put it all on the line, at the behest of their nation. They did everything that was asked of them, however impossible. It looked like they did it.

The people of Iraq had suffered so much, and finally, it seemed, they'd reached a hopeful point.

And now, it's all going down the drain.

I was against this war; but once in, I thought (and I stand by this) that we should seek to win if we can. We had to make it work if we could.

One Vietnam was more than enough.

Again: nothing but profound sadness today.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

An unnamed hero priest

Here's the story, via Matthew Archbold at the National Catholic Register; as told by the late William F. Buckley, via David Niven:

"David Niven told the engrossing story (I had never heard it) of a single episode in the chaotic flight from France after Dunkirk in 1940.

One motley assembly, ‘Royal Air Force ground personnel who were trapped, Red Cross workers, women, ambulance drivers and, finally, the embassy staff from Paris with their children — by the time they got to St. Nazaire at the mouth of the Loire, there were over three thousand of them and the British government sent an old liner called the Lancastria to come and take them away, with three destroyers to guard her. They were just pulling up the anchor when three dive bombers came.
The destroyers did what they could, but one bomb hit, went down the funnel and blew a huge hole in the side, and she quickly took on a terrible list. In the hold there were several hundred soldiers. Now there was no way they could ever get out because of the list, and she was sinking. And along came my own favorite Good Samaritan, a Roman Catholic priest, a young man in Royal Air Force uniform. He got a rope and lowered himself into the hold to give encouragement and help to those hundreds of men in their last fateful hour.’

‘Knowing he couldn’t get out?’ ‘Knowing he could never get out, nor could they. The ship sank and all in that hold died. The remainder were picked up by the destroyers and came back to England to the regiment I was in, and we had to look after them, and many of them told me that they were giving up even then, in the oil and struggle, and the one thing that kept them going was the sound of the soldiers in the hold singing hymns.’”

Read the rest at the NCR, link above.

Just something to consider when people heap opprobrium on Catholic priests. Not that we are exempt from criticism, or that we don't often deserve it, but...

Monday, June 09, 2014

Speaking in tongues

Traditionally, the week after Pentecost was an "octave," in which the celebration of the feast was extended. In my first draft of this post, I went into octaves, and what I think about abolishing the Pentecost octave; but I cut all that out. If you want more, ask in the comments.

But in the spirit of that tradition, let me share something from the breviary prayers last Saturday (the breviary is the book of prayers formally called the Liturgy of the Hours, which clerics are obliged to pray, but which laity are also encouraged to pray). This is from the "Office of Readings," which features, after several psalms (or one long psalm) are recited, a passage of Scripture, then a non-Biblical text, which might be from one of the Fathers of the Church, from a saint, or a church document as recent as Vatican II. This is from a sermon by an unnamed "sixth century African author":

Therefore, if somebody should say to one of us, "You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?" his reply should be...

Before I give you the answer from 1,500 years ago, what do you suppose the reply should be?

Do you know what "speaking in tongues" is? Do you know people who experience this phenomenon?

If you go poking around the Internet, you can find lots on this. Sometimes it's called "glossalalia," and there are claims that some form of this shows up in many places in the world, including -- note this -- in other religions! You will find that there arose in this country, around the turn of the 20th century, religious movements among Protestant Christians devoted to experiencing the Holy Spirit in a more powerful way, which included, to a greater or lesser degree, the experience of various "charismatic gifts" or "gifts of the Holy Spirit," especially "speaking in tongues" and "interpretation of tongues."

And, of course, you will find references to this in Scripture, beginning with the events of the first Pentecost (Acts 2), but again several times in the Acts of the Apostles, and in the letters of Saint Paul. The various movements that focused on these gifts have come under the name of Pentecostal, Charismatic, and Holiness, among others. And while there are many Pentecostal and Charismatic movements outside the Catholic Church, there has been such a movement within the Church as well.

Although it's been awhile since I wrote about it, I had my own experience with this. When I was 19, I had a real conversion experience in which I believe -- to this day -- that our Lord called me to live for him. I didn't hear any voice or anything like that; I just knew his presence. I was in college, and had been, to that point, a middling Catholic. In my first year of college, I'd met many Christians who were impressively enthusiastic about their faith, and knowledgeable, putting me to shame. All this shook me up, and I began to question my own faith, ultimately leaving the Catholic Faith for a time.

I joined an Assemblies of God congregation, where some friends worshiped. One of the things that had shaken me was witnessing people stand up in a fervent worship service, and speak in tongues; followed by someone who offered an interpretation. So I gravitated to that congregation, and remained there for several years; when I moved to Virginia for a different job, I didn't find an AG church I felt comfortable in, and so gravitated to a non-charismatic evangelical congregation; from there, I wandered a bit more, until -- in God's providence -- I found my way back to the Catholic Faith, almost ten years after that initial conversion. Before moving on, let me say: as obviously glad as I am to have returned to the fullness of the Catholic Faith, I hold the good folks who were my friends and siblings in Christ from that period in great esteem. Many of them remain my friends, despite whatever concern my wanderings must have caused them. They are admirable Christians, from which Catholics can and must learn.

So what about this speaking in tongues phenomenon. What is it?

People with expertise in pyschology have studied it; you can go find them if you want their scholarly treatment of it. I conclude, from various reading but also from my own sense of things, that this has to be a physiological/psychological phenomenon on the base level, prior to it being a spiritual event -- and thus, miraculous -- as well. In other words, it would seem to me that it's not only possible that it occurs outside Christianity, it would have to. And for the same reason, it would be something that can be "faked," either deliberately, or in the course of someone, with the best of intentions, trying desperately to experience it.

After all, if you belong to a group that is all seeking this gift, it might be rather hard on someone who hasn't spoken in tongues. Some of the religious groups I mentioned above really do emphasize this gift: their point is that it is the only sure marker that you've been "baptized in the Holy Spirit." So until you speak in tongues, you can't say you've received this other baptism (as distinct from the traditional baptism).

So if it happens all over, and people can fake it, is there anything about it that's genuine? Sure -- I see no contradiction in this. All this comes under the broader heading of highly emotional experiences, trending toward ecstatic experiences. People get "transported" emotionally by lots of things. When people use various drugs, they often do so because the drug can induce or simulate this sort of experience.

The important point here -- pay attention to this, please! -- is that because we are physical beings, with all the chemistry and emotion in us, in all it's complexity, these sorts of psychological/physical experiences are something we are, as it were, "prepped" for, before the Holy Spirit does anything. Do you see that? (If this paragraph doesn't make sense, ask about it. Meanwhile, let's move on.)

Here's an analogy. We believe, as Christians, that God can, and sometimes does, speak to people through dreams and visions. But that doesn't mean we claim that every dream or vision is a divine intervention! Nor, because we understand that these things can be without any obvious divine prompting, that none of them can be a divine communication. See that? (If not, please ask.)

So I'm leading toward the question I hope you're asking: what does the Catholic Faith say about all this?

If you look in the Catechism, I think you'll find very little about it. We don't deny what Scripture says; we don't deny what science says; and the Church doesn't take a restrictive approach on spirituality. There is no prohibition on seeking these charismatic gifts, or on using them, if you believe you have them. Even, as far as I can see, in the context of formal liturgy. I don't know how common "charismatic" Masses and prayer meetings are in Catholic settings these days, as I haven't heard about it for awhile; but it was all the rage 20 or 30 years ago. There were Masses in which people would have very loud and fervent spontaneous prayer and praise, and would, I understand, speak in tongues. This would also happen outside of Mass in adoration of the Holy Eucharist.

If this started happening in my parish, what would I do?

Well, I'd pay attention! I'd want to learn about it, and try to see what was at work. I'd seek not to forbid, but to direct it in a suitable way: i.e., I'm pretty sure Saint Paul would agree with me that folks offering tongues, interpretations and prophecies, etc., should not disrupt the sacred action of the sacrifice of the Mass. So I'd seek some accommodation, as well as to give some guidance.

And above all, in my parish, I would call the whole community to pay attention to the fruits.

Human sinfulness means that we can always find pitfalls, even along the best paths. The various charismatic gifts, while legitimate, need purification and discretion. If you really want to be a prophet, pay attention to what all the prophets experienced: a huge amount of suffering, particularly the grinding down of their ego. I've bought lottery tickets and told God what good things I'd do if I won, so would he please grant it? I've yet to win; for all I know, because God knows what a shipwreck I'd make with all that money.

One of the things the Church does insist on, however, is that our baptism in water is also our "baptism in the Holy Spirit." Note well: that is not to deny that someone can, later, have a more profound experience of the Holy Spirit; or that the Holy Ghost might not "fall" on someone, prompting genuine "signs and wonders." I'm not sure who said it first, but we believe that while God surely acts through the Church and the sacraments, God is not bound solely to them. The sacraments are primary, not because the are the only way to be graced (transformed; converted; made Godlike), but because they are sure means of grace.

Another thing the Church is firm about is the distinction between public and private revelation. The sacraments, after all, come from the Lord Jesus himself. Yes, they've been elaborated in the life of the Church, but their origins are clearly from him. You can see it in Scripture, yes all of them.

And public revelation is what we call the totality of what God wants to reveal to humanity for our salvation: Jesus is the total and final "word" of God to man. The Apostles--and by extension, the Church--are the chosen messengers of this revelation. Some of it is written down, which we call scripture; some of it is handed down, which we call tradition. But it's one revelation of the Trinity. And for the sake of the faithful -- so that they need not be in doubt or fear about responding properly to God's revelation -- the task of interpreting with authority this revelation belongs to the "teaching office" or Magisterium of the Church.

Doesn't this just make plain sense? Or would you rather have to wonder if there was some new revelation somewhere, and God wants you to know it -- implying you may have to respond to it -- but who knows where it is? It could be priest in Mexico, or some ascetic in the Himalayas, or a young girl in an African village, or a nun in a European convent. You never know! So you exhaust yourself pursuing all of it! And you'll still never know, until you go to your judgment day; and woe betide you if you didn't work hard enough!

This is not the Catholic Faith!

God wants us to come to the knowledge of the truth, and so has given us a sure means of having that truth; he knows it's hard enough living by it. Conforming ourselves to the truth is our task, not seeking prophets and seers and visionaries worldwide, or else seeking every new form of prayer and spirituality. We're not forbidden to do these things; but don't have to be dragged along if we don't want to.

Which image of God makes more sense? God who treats you the way video games do: with every successful level, you get a prize, but: another, yet more difficult level! Like Hercules and his labors! Or God who gives the full means of grace to absolutely everyone, accessible by the greatest intellect or the humblest, and suited -- as Saint Francis de Sales taught -- to the life and circumstances of every walk of life?

To conclude, let's go back to the wisdom of the 6th century, which I interrupted, and see what the answer is:

Therefore, if somebody should say to one of us, "You have received the Holy Spirit, why do you not speak in tongues?" his reply should be, "I do indeed speak in the tongues of all men, because I belong to the body of Christ, that  is the Church, and she speaks all languages.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

What became of the Easter Candle? (Pentecost homily)

Today we celebrate Pentecost. 

I want to call your attention to this candle. 
Were you here at the Easter Vigil, 50 days ago? 
This was new; we gathered outside, in the dark; 
and this Light of Christ shone out over the city.

Deacon Tracy carried it in, chanting, “Light of Christ!” 
The light rapidly spread to everyone’s candle,
and soon the dark church was bright. 
Then the deacon sang the Exsultet, 
the prayer that the deacon sings just one time a year, 
on that one solemn night.

No doubt you’ve noticed: it’s a lot shorter. 

All during the Easter season, 
I’ve been mentioning to servers, “make sure you light it”—
even during daily Mass, when we’re in the chapel. 
“Let it burn” I kept saying; don’t worry if it burns down. 

It’s more than half gone!

But don’t worry; it’ll last until next year. 
After Pentecost, we move it over to the baptismal font. 
And then, between now and next April, 
we’ll only light it a few more times till next Holy Week; 
only for baptisms and funerals. 

Why am I focusing on this?
To reflect on what this candle means. 
It’s marked Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end. 
These stand for the five wounds of Christ.
The candle stands for Christ. There is no light but him!

Here’s what the deacon prayed that night:
“O Holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, 
the work of bees and of your servants’ hands…
a fire into many flames divided, 
yet never dimmed by sharing of its light.”

That’s why I wanted to burn the candle: 
because that’s what it’s for!

God became man and dwelt among us for no other purpose but this: 
to spend himself fully as a ransom for many. 
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, he poured himself into us.

The flame is divided – amongst us all – “yet never dimmed.”

Fellow Christian, you aren’t supposed to be there, just looking good. Burn! Give light! Make sure it shines forth, 
above all in the darkest places!

There is no other light – no true light. Only Jesus Christ!

Are you afraid of being burnt down, used up? 
Not enough wax to last?

We could have saved this candle; barely lit it, 
and then just as quickly, put out the light right after Mass. 
We could have conserved this candle, 
and it would be taller, prettier.

And then, when the year was up, 
we’d take it out and replace it with a new candle. 
More to recycle, because it was never used!

Christ did not die for us to be that! 
He did not pour the Fire of God into us to be stored away!

From the prayer on that Easter Night:

“May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: 
the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, 
who coming back from death’s domain, 
has shed his peaceful light on humanity,
and lives and reigns forever and ever.”


Saturday, June 07, 2014

Liturgical dancers storm Normandy Beaches!

No, really! I'm not kidding! Here it is.

OK, I am kidding about the "liturgical" part; this is styled "interpretive" dance. But anyone who has had to endure this sort of thing at Holy Mass will recognize it immediately.

I didn't watch the whole video. It's over 50 minutes, am I crazy?

Think about what I just told you. The leaders of most of the powerful nations in the world were forced to endure this...for fifty minutes!

The next time you are forced to endure something absurd, perhaps you will find solace in contemplating all the world's top poobahs, sitting on Normandy Beach, enduring this. I know I will.

The occasional shots of their reactions, as this train-wreck happens before their eyes, are priceless. Prince Phillip is grinning cheerfully: what does he know? Or is he just laughing at the whole thing, realizing that given his age and position, he doesn't have to behave? Queen Elizabeth? She looks like she's sorting mentally through her predecessors, pondering which ones' various abdications of royal power is to blame for putting the heir to Henry V -- and Elizabeth I! -- in this humiliating position.

Putin reminded me of Boris from the Bulwinkle cartoons: "Zees Westerners are decadent and soft! Zay vill be easy to crush! Hahaha!"

If I kept at this, I'm sure I could come up with more attempted witticisms, but you get the idea. If you take a gander at the video, feel free to supply commentary, just keep it clean and not vicious.

What's been keeping me busy

I'm sorry for no posts for several days, it's been a busy week.

A good portion of my time was on preparing a budget for the parish. It just takes time to review the figures, check, double- and triple-check them. I'm not finished, as I'm doing some digging into the past year's expenses to see if they meaningfully indicate what to expect for next year.

Meanwhile, I've been working on a talk I'm giving this weekend after all Masses on the artwork in Immaculata Church. Feel free to stop by!

Monday, June 02, 2014

Peeking behind the curtain: Ascension homily

More of my homily notes...

Before you read this, realize what they are: they are notes. That means they may be incomplete thoughts. You may or may not see connections between these notes and the homily that resulted. One reason I share this is because not using it doesn't mean it might not be worthwhile to someone.

Meaning of the Ascension – Departure – Outpouring of the Holy Spirit:

1. While the Lord Jesus was physically on earth, our encounter with him was limited: “But during the forty days when he eats and drinks familiarly with his disciples and teaches them about the kingdom, his glory remains veiled under the appearance of ordinary humanity” (CCC 659).
2. Only with his ascension, can we realize the power of Christ in the sacraments.
3. Only with his ascension, can we realize the identity of the Church as his Mystical Body.
4. What Scripture tells us in several places is that the full glory of the Lord has not been revealed. As Jack Nicholson said in the movie, A Few Good Men: “you can’t handle the truth!” There is a full reality of our Lord yet to be experienced; as wonderful as it is that God became man, there is a pitfall: that we see only the man, and don’t see all that there is to Jesus who is also God.
5. It’s hard to imagine the Apostles going out to the nations had Jesus remained on earth.
6. The ascension makes sense of his claim to be God: the one who “descended” from heaven in the Incarnation now “ascends” to his rightful place: the throne.
7. All this causes us to clarify what we really mean by heaven. We do not mean up on top of the clouds, or some vast distance out into space. Heaven is not a planet somewhere in the universe. But what is heaven? Where is it? The simplest answer is, wherever God is. God in himself, God experienced fully, purely and joyfully.
8. And hell: hell is God experienced fully but hatefully; to reject God utterly, yet be unable to escape him, sounds like hell to me.
9. And purgatory is the experience of God joyfully, yet with “impurity” or “dross” to be purged away.
10. Very important: notice what the Ascension means for humanity: A human being sits on the throne of heaven! We are brought “higher” or, if you prefer, to the “heart of it all.”
11. This is also about his priesthood. Jesus is the mediator between God and man: both God, and man, he is the perfect and complete mediator. Where the priest of the old testament would pass beyond the curtain into the Holy of Holies, Jesus passes into the sanctuary of Heaven.
12. Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father (whatever that fully means). Note the section of the Gloria: “you are seated at the right hand of the Father, have mercy on us.”


If you’ll pardon the metaphor, I wonder if the Ascension isn’t kind of the “stepchild feast” of the Christian calendar?

We get the meaning of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost, even Epiphany, better, I suspect, than we do this day.

One of the challenges is this: on every other day, we literally “get” something: Jesus is born on Christmas; he’s made known to the larger world on Epiphany. Good Friday and Easter are about us getting his salvation. We get the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

But Ascension? It seems to be about something we lose: Jesus goes away!

Let’s try to look at this a little differently.

Jesus ascending to heaven opens up possibilities we would never have thought of otherwise. Had Jesus stayed on earth, we’d all have to go to one place to be with him.

I’ve never met a President; I’ve never met a movie star. I’ve never met a pope. Maybe someday I might meet the pope; but if I do, it’ll be for about a minute, and that’ll probably be it. And most people will never meet him.

Imagine that’s how it was with Jesus Christ!

A lot of people think that is how it is with Jesus Christ—but I hope none of you have that wrong notion.

We meet Jesus Christ anytime we want!

We know him!

Through the Holy Spirit, through his Church, and through the sacraments.

But without him returning to heaven, I’m not sure that would have worked. The Lord himself said, elsewhere in Scripture, that if I he didn’t “go,” he couldn’t send the Holy Spirit. This may be what he meant.

If Jesus stood right here, he would be as real there as in the tabernacle. Different form of presence, but the same presence: which is why we speak of his “real presence” in the Eucharist.

But perhaps only his returning to heaven makes it possible for us to grasp that.

And it’s not just about taking seriously the nature of the sacraments, although that’s important; but also the nature of the Church herself as the Body of Christ.

So: the Ascension helps make Jesus more present to us, not less.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

'If you want to understand the Ascension, think about a marriage' (Sunday homily)

If you want to understand the Ascension, think about a marriage.

Traditionally, if a man seeks to a marry a bride, 
it is his responsibility to prepare the way for her; 
to prepare a home and to provide a living. 
And when that’s ready, he comes for her.

Do you recall what Jesus said? 

That he would go to heaven to prepare a place for us—
and then come back for us.

Now, this imagery isn’t perfect, 
because at this stage of the game, 
we Christians aren’t merely betrothed. 
Being baptized, and confirmed 
and sharing in the holy sacrifice of Christ’s death and resurrection – 
that is, the Mass…
All these are marital acts!

When we are baptized, we make vows, don’t we? 
If our parents and godparents do it for us, 
our turn comes when we make them our own. 

And only then do we share the body and the blood. 
The Eucharist is a sharing with the Lord’s Body; 
his life poured into our lives. 

On the Cross, Jesus gave everything. 
That’s why what he said on the cross 
is so often translated, “It is consummated.” 
The Cross is the consummation 
of the marriage between God and humanity. 
The Eucharist is our participation in that.
There’s a good reason we call it…“communion.”

And, like a marriage couple, 
if there are wrongs, they must be confessed. 
You tell me, married folks: 
does it work better to refuse to admit you’re wrong 
and not to seek forgiveness? 
And—does it work not to give forgiveness?

Now: Jesus never has any sins to confess to us; be we certainly do.
And with the sacrament of confession, the more we use it, 
the healthier our marriage – 
both to human spouses and our divine spouse – will be.

Now, when we think about it this way, 
everything we believe as Christians about marriage comes into focus: 
waiting for marriage, marriage being open to the gift of life, 
marriage being for a lifetime, and who marries.

It would make no sense for us, as Christians, 
to close ourselves off to his gift of life;
(Added at 8 & 10:30 am Masses:)
to ask to join with him, and yet to say, don't give us the Holy Spirit!
But that's what contraception does: it closes out the gift of life.
so with that, we Catholics have always believed 
that marital intimacy must be open always to the gift of life—
because like the Cross, it’s about giving life.

In the Ascension, the Lord went to prepare a place for us. 
While he’s there, he’s amply provided for us:
the Holy Spirit, in grace, in mercy, in the sacraments.

This is way better than a mere human marriage. 
Couples that are separated physically can ache for each other; 
but while we long for the Lord’s return, 
we never have to feel his absence!

In the meantime, the bride prepares, too. 
And that’s the meaning of our time on earth. 
We prepare. And that’s what the command in the Gospel is about: 
Go gather the bride. The whole Church. 
When Jesus returns for his bride, we don’t want to leave anyone out.