Dickens Was Right

Dickens

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…” (opening paragraph of A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859)

Charles Dickens could have been describing many things that we experience in the early part of the 21st century. Before you move on, read that paragraph again and ask yourself if it describes any part of  life that you experience.

“It was the best of times…” Almost daily I find myself rejoicing that the Holy Spirit led me into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I anticipate going to 6:45 a.m. Mass and getting my day started with Jesus in the Holy Eucharist! I am energized by practices that give life to me in the Church.

“It was the worst of times…” Almost daily, at least since the end of July of this year, I find myself weighed down by the reality of what is going on in the Catholic Church. Everyday, it seems, a new revelation comes forth that keeps this “summer of scandal” moving into the “autumn of atrocity.” What makes things worse for me and many is that we want answers and those seem slow in coming.

“It was the age of wisdom…” There is so much “wisdom” running around. We see it daily on TV, in social media, etc. King Solomon warns us in Proverbs 3:7 NRSV, “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” So much of what we call wisdom today is not moored in the Author of all wisdom.

“It was the age of foolishness…” The absence of God’s wisdom leads us to another characteristic of our times, foolishness. We live in a “silly season” to put it euphemistically. Don’t get me started, but when we believe everything that certain folks with a Ph.D. behind their names tell us, it’s hard to look at ourselves in the mirror and see sanity.

“It was the epoch of belief…” Gallop tells us that 90% of Americans believe in God. Pew Research tells us 80% of Americans believe in God. Great! But the truth of the matter is that belief is not enough. In his letter St. James says: “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (2:19 NRSV). So you could say that believing puts us on par with the demons! Ouch!

“It was the epoch of incredulity…” As I mentioned a few days ago in this blog, church attendance in general, and weekly attendance at the Mass in particular, has dropped dramatically. For all the belief, there is a lot of incredulity. Fewer people believe in the distinct Christian doctrines, even some as key for Catholics as the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

“It was the season of Light…” I could go on, but you get the idea.

Last night I attended a wonderful event in our parish, the St. Peter Senior Ministry Fundraiser: “The Age of Beauty.” Our parish has the only senior ministry in south Jersey that ministers to beautiful seniors Monday through Friday. Because my wife, Charlotte, volunteers there, by extension I feel I am part of it. For this event artist Linda C. Dennin painted a portrait of each of approximately 60 seniors and staff of the ministry. What joy there was in the hall throughout the whole evening!

I engaged in conversation with many of these dear brothers and sisters, people who have loved Christ and His Church all of their lives, a half dozen of them in their nineties. I thought about how one by one they will leave a gap in our parish, a parish they love, and what will the next and succeeding generations do to take their place? Right now these seniors are confused and hurt that a cardinal they respected has been discovered to be a predator of seminarians and a child sex abuser. They are even more hurt that this was covered up by prelates they trusted to care for the flock. I tried my best to encourage them, to assure them that Christ has not given up on his Church, but the pain is deep!

In these times, good and bad, even very bad, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and He will make His Church holy. Let’s hold on tight and pray!

Dickens Was Right

In Silence No More!

One of my spiritual disciplines for 2018 is reading from “A Year with the Church Fathers: Patristic Wisdom for Daily Living” by Mike Aquilina. I find the excerpts challenging and edifying. Such was the case as I read from Day 264, an article that Aquilina titled, “We are all equal in God’s sight.” I was challenged to consider what should be expected of our political leaders and us who profess faith in Christ, and especially those who are  Catholic.

In the introduction Aquilina writes: “When riots broke out in Thessalonica, the emperor Theodosius (347–395) furiously ordered that the city should be punished. Thousands died when soldiers were let loose on their own fellow citizens. When Theodosius came home, the bishop, St. Ambrose, refused to let him into church until he had gone through months of public penance.”

Theodoret, a church historian, wrote about this in Ecclesiastical History, 5.17:

When the emperor arrived in Milan, he as usual went to enter the church. But Ambrose met him outside the outer porch and refused to let him cross the threshold.

“Sir, you don’t seem to understand what a bloody crime you have committed,” said Ambrose. “Your rage has settled down, but you still don’t understand what you’ve done.

“You rule, sir, over people whose nature is the same as yours. In fact, they are your fellow servants—for there is one Lord and Ruler of all humanity, the Creator of the universe.

“How will you look on the temple of our common Lord? How will you walk across that holy threshold? How will you hold up your hands, still dripping with the blood of unjust slaughter? How can those hands receive the all-holy body of the Lord? How will you lift the precious blood to your lips, when you in your fury poured out so much blood?

“Go. Do not try to add another crime to the one you have already committed. Submit to the restriction to which you are sentenced with the agreement of God, the Lord of all. He will be your physician. He will give you health.”

Theodosius was well learned in Scripture; he knew what belonged to priests and what belonged to emperors. So he bowed to Ambrose’s rebuke and went back to his palace, sighing and weeping.

Theodosius was excommunicated by the bishop of Milan, Ambrose, for the massacre. He was told to imitate the famous royal penitent David in his repentance as he had imitated him in guilt; Ambrose readmitted the emperor to the Eucharist only after several months of penance.

What would it look like if those in governmental leadership today were held to the same standard? The position taken by many Catholic prelates such as in the case of abortion and euthanasia is toothless and actually puts them and their sheep: Catholic political figures and Catholic voters in mortal sin and in danger of losing their souls. Tough language, but true!

Go back to 2004, when then Cardinal Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, conveyed in a letter to then Cardinal McCarrick (Washington) and Cardinal Gregory (Atlanta) that denial of Communion is obligatory “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia.” And further that a priest should warn “the person in question” of the consequences, including the denial of Communion. Ratzinger further said that if “the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it,” And then the final paragraph of the letter addresses those who knowingly vote for a pro-choice candidate: “If he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia,” that Catholic too “would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion.” (Quotes from The Washington Times, July 7, 2004).

Unfortunately ex-Cardinal McCarrick took it upon himself to misrepresent the direct order from Rome and told the USCCB that the decision was up to them. What happened next is “their bad” for voting 183-6 on a compromise statement allowing each bishop to decide whether to give Communion to pro-choice politicians or not. Fourteen years later we have to wonder what would have happened if the truth had been told, and even if not, if our bishops would have had the spirit of St. Ambrose.

We have an election on Tuesday, November 6, 2018. It behooves us to find out where the candidates for every office stand on the issues as they relate to our faith. I live in New Jersey where in the U.S. Senate race, incumbent Bob Menendez (D) is running against Bob Hugin (R). They are both pro-choice. I will not be voting for either one, and I have let them know that. I do appeal to Joseph Cardinal Tobin of Newark to take seriously his role of shepherd of Mr. Menendez, who is Catholic, regarding the grave position he places his soul to support abortion. I live in congressional district 1 where incumbent Daniel Norcross (D) is running against Paul Dilks (R). Mr. Norcross is pro-abortion and I have already informed him that I will be voting for his opponent, Mr. Dilks, who is pro-life.

I appeal to all Christians, but especially to my Catholic brothers and sisters to do the right thing. This is not something we dare take lightly.

St. Ambrose, pray for us!

In Silence No More!

Take COURAGE!

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Image: St. Matthew and the Angel | Guido Reni

Daily there is conflict in his soul as he makes his way to work. He thinks about what he will earn from “under the table” deals and the kickbacks from his superiors for the excess taxes he will charge. He is a rich man in his town. And therein lies the conflict. He is hated by that same town because he is perceived to be an enemy, an agent of the state. But deeper still is the turmoil in his soul, He seems so far removed from his righteous Jewish upbringing, what he learned in Torah school and the hopes and prayers of his parents that he would become a rabbi.

Then one morning as he is sitting at the customs post, having already taken in almost a full day’s quota, he sees a man he has seen before in Capernaum. Just a few minutes before some of the passersby were excitingly talking about a paralytic who had just been healed. They were in wonder of the miracle, but what seemed to have caused more notice was that the man who they called Jesus had forgiven the sins of the bed-ridden man before he healed him. Imagine that! Who can forgive sins but God?

And just like that, Jesus is standing before him. Matthew feels his eyes boring deep into him, not in condemnation, although he certainly feels guilty. It seems this man is the very essence of all that is good and holy. And as Matthew wants to turn his head or look down to avoid his stare he hears surprising words: “Follow me.” In that moment, the path to more riches seems insignificant and the possibility of healing and hope for his future seizes him. He gets up from his post and follows Jesus.

Today is the feast day of St. Matthew, one of the twelve original disciples/apostles. Matthew is one of two known tax collectors that have a dramatic, life changing conversion upon meeting Jesus. The other is Zacchaeus. Why the big deal? Well, in the New Testament there were special categories of people who were known to be “honest to goodness” sinners, and probably unredeemable: tax collectors and prostitutes! Matthew, also known as Levi, was one of these.

Today St. Matthew is known as the Evangelist who wrote the Gospel that bears his name. His special focus in the Gospel is to convince his largely Jewish audience that Jesus is indeed the Messiah, the Holy One of God, who has fulfilled all the Old Testament prophecies to the Jewish people that God is now among them in the person of Jesus.

  • Matthew 1:22–All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means “God is with us”.
  • Matthew 2:5-6–They said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet: ‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.'”

And that’s just in the first two chapters!

St. Matthew is known as the patron saint of accountants, actors, bankers, bookkeepers, tax collectors, and taxi drivers. But I have discovered that Matthew has become very important as an intercessor for a group of dear Christians who struggle with same-sex temptations and sins. Not because Matthew struggled with same-sex realities, but because he calls people who are surrounded by a dominant cultural narrative to step out of that narrative and humbly and steadily cling to Jesus and his power that calls all of us to his love and mercy.

I regularly pray this prayer for my brothers and sisters who seek to follow Jesus in this way: “O Glorious St. Matthew, in your Gospel you portray Jesus as the longed-for Messiah who fulfilled the Prophets of the Old Covenant and as the new Lawgiver who founded a Church of the New Covenant. Obtain for these the grace to see Jesus living in his Church and to follow his teachings in their lives on earth so that they may live forever with him in heaven. Amen.”

I am so thankful for faithful faith siblings like Daniel, Rosaria, Christopher, and Bill who have taught me so much about what it looks like to get up and follow Jesus. And not only that, but they do as Matthew did by setting a table and inviting others to encounter our loving Lord.

St. Matthew, pray for us!

Take COURAGE!

Bizarro World

On the TV show “Seinfeld” Elaine learns about Bizarro World from Jerry. See it here. I remember learning about Bizarro World from Adventure Comics. It was a cube-shaped planet called Htrae (Earth backwards), and there lived Bizarro Superman and several other Bizarro superheroes. In popular culture Bizarro World has come to mean “a situation or setting which is weirdly inverted or opposite to expectations.”

I don’t how many times recently I have commented to someone that we are living in a Bizarro World. How do I explain what I mean without being insensitive to someone or something. Let me give you an example that was mentioned to me yesterday at work. This comes from the category of truth is stranger than fiction. On August 16 of this year, the Babylon Bee which bills itself as “Your Trusted Source for Christian News Satire” offered this “fake” headline:

Pope Says He Will Address Sex Abuse Scandal Once He’s Finished Talking About Climate Change

On August 28, just eight days later, an interview by the Chicago NBC station with Blase Cardinal Cupich produced this real headline:

Cardinal Says Pope Has More Important Things to Address Than Abuse Scandal Like The Environment and Immigration

Bizarro World can show up in most any place. It is especially embarrassing when it comes from people who should know better. Yet, I wouldn’t be surprised if you come across a news story today that communicates bizarre.

It should concern us anytime Christians make bizarre news. How do we avoid “scandal” that is not for the case of Christ? As St. Peter says we should make sure that the only “bizarre” we are involved in is because we are judged for not going along with the ways of the world. The early Christians were considered bizarre because they rescued babies that had been left to die under bridges (an ancient form of post-birth abortion), or because they would stay in the cities in the plagues to care for their dying neighbors instead of fleeing for safety as their fellow citizens did.

We should seek to live that kind of bizarre. St. Paul gives us some instructions to live by in Ephesians 4:17-23 (NRSV).

Now this I affirm and insist on in the Lord: you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of their ignorance and hardness of heart. They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. That is not the way you learned Christ! For surely you have heard about him and were taught in him, as truth is in Jesus. You were taught to put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

If it’s for Christ and his kingdom then be bizarre! Just be sure it’s for Christ and his kingdom!

Bizarro World

An Object in Motion…

SEPTemberdaysPriestly Fraternity of St. Peter

There seems to be a spiritual application to Newton’s First Law of Motion. “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

I see personal application to this in my own spiritual journey. I have known times in my life that there was little discipline to get up on time, and what I read was the news or sports stories or social media, and while I may have filled my mind with current events and other facts, it didn’t do anything to move me closer to God. So in this case my body at “rest” stayed at “rest” and the “rest” was not good for my soul. I can look back to those times and lament how much time I wasted being passive in my spiritual life.

Conversely, when I am actively engaged in my spiritual devotion, my spiritual life and fervor stays in motion and is fueled by the motion to continue to be in motion. For example, getting up at 5:00 a.m. and getting right into spiritual disciplines, followed by 6:45 a.m. Mass, praying the Rosary on my way to work, and sprinkling prayer throughout the day keeps me connected to the Source of my spiritual life. Motion begets motion and generates a daily commitment to stay in motion.

The turning point that changed the direction of my life was when I became structured and disciplined in my spiritual practices. I wasn’t Catholic yet, but I can’t help but believe that it was one of the portals God used to lead me to the Church. As I stated in an earlier blog it was a commitment to daily lectionary readings that gave me a foothold in the spiritual disciplines.

I share all of this to draw an analogy. As I have delved deeper into Catholic spirituality I am discovering that there are many practices and disciplines that once were commonly practiced among Catholics. For example, there were more holy days of obligation, fasts, Rogation Days, Ember Days, etc., and many of these things including the changes in the Mass go back to the years following Vatican II. For some reason, in the United States especially, the tendency was to deemphasize certain disciplines and decrease the frequency of others. My wife’s experience pre-Vatican II was going to confession every Saturday before Mass on Sunday. “But now only 2 percent of Catholics go regularly to confession, according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a nonprofit organization affiliated with Georgetown University—and three-quarters of them never go, or go less than once a year.” And now some are putting it as low as 25 percent!

In 1955, 75 percent of Catholics attended weekly Mass. That number has dropped to 39 percent in the period between 2014-2017. Why are we surprised that there is little distinction between Catholics and the general population when it comes to marriage and divorce, birth control, abortion, homosexuality and conduct in general? We also shouldn’t be surprised at the current state of affairs in the Church relating to sexual behavior in the clergy and the laity.

The theory of expecting less from the faithful and hopefully opening the door to those who were outside the Church was ill-conceived and now seems to be an idea hatched in hell. Thousand and thousands of people have left the Church, given up on the Church or never entered in because they were not challenged with a life-changing message and something worth giving up their lives for. Inside or outside, it pretty much seemed the same.

Thank God for faithful bishops, priests, religious, deacons and laity who over the past 50 years have carried the torch of spiritual life and discipline for the rest of us. May their number increase! May we take our place alongside of them! What can we do?

Pray the Rosary daily. Find an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel and spend time there. Make a commitment to go to daily Mass as often as possible. Read the Sacred Scriptures. Pray. Fast. Go to confession at least once a month or even twice a month. Observe Ember Days.

Okay! What are Ember Days? Check the link above. The September Ember Days are Wednesday, September 19, Thursday, September 20, and Saturday, September 22. These are ideal days to abstain from food, not a full fast, and pray for our Mother Church and our Holy Priests. And pray for our Holy Father, Pope Francis. Let’s turn the tide. Let’s be “objects in motion” that will remain in motion for the glory of God. Amen.

An Object in Motion…

Above My Pay Grade

At the conclusion of our interview on “The Journey Home” on September 10, I said these words: “I love being a layperson. Being pope was too much. It was above my pay grade.” And it’s true, I don’t regret not being a Protestant pastor at this stage of my life. It was a lot of pressure to always be trying to figure out what was what and having to speak authoritatively to my congregation on every topic–on my authority as it turned out.

That being said, it’s sometimes very hard to let old habits die, or to teach an old dog new tricks. I discover this on a regular basis as I struggle with wanting to “pontificate” about every issue that comes up.

As Catholics we have a “three-legged stool” of authority: 1) Sacred Scripture, 2) Sacred Tradition, and 3) the Magisterium. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum (Word of God) addresses the relationship of these three “legs” as they relate to our Catholic faith. Allow me to quote from Chapter 2, paragraphs 9 and 10.

9. “Hence sacred tradition and scripture are bound together in a close and reciprocal relationship. They both flow from the same divine wellspring, merge together to some extent, and are on course towards the same end. Scripture is the utterance of God as it is set down in writing under the guidance of God’s Spirit; tradition preserves the word of God as it was entrusted to the apostles by Christ our lord and the holy Spirit, and transmits it to their successors, so that these in turn, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, may faithfully preserve, expound and disseminate the word by their preaching. Consequently, the church’s certainty about all that is revealed is not drawn from holy scripture alone; both scripture and tradition are to be accepted and honoured with like devotion and reverence.”

10. “The task of authentically interpreting the word of God , whether in its written form or in that of tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the church’s ongoing teaching function, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. This teaching function is not above the word of God but stands at its service, teaching nothing but what is handed down, according as it devotedly listens, reverently preserves and faithfully transmits the word of God, by divine command with the help of the holy Spirit. All that it proposes for belief, as being divinely revealed, is drawn from the one deposit of faith.”

A three-legged stool is stable and can hold weight. A two-legged stool, based only on scripture and tradition, will be less stable, lacking the authoritative magisterium. And even less stable is the one-legged stool that is based only one of these, usually scripture alone. I came to see that was largely the problem faced in the Protestant expressions that take one scripture and interpret and apply it in multiple ways. Common examples of these issues include the “security of the believer,” “the meaning of baptism and to whom it is administered,” and the “role of women in ministry,” among many others.

So when I no longer had to make those calls after serving eight years in a non-denominational setting where there was no final word on these and other issues, I felt a weight lifted and realized that “pontificating” was no longer in my job description, nor was it meant to be.

So back to my tendency to fall back into said practice. I didn’t, nor does any Catholic, surrender our brain and our reason at our baptism and confirmation. We are called to trust scripture, tradition and the magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, yet we are still able to discern and acknowledge that sometimes a deacon, a priest, a bishop, a cardinal, yea even a pope, God forbid, can teach or preach something that doesn’t jibe with what St. Jude wrote about in his epistle:

Beloved, while eagerly preparing to write to you about the salvation we share, I find it necessary to write and appeal to you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (verse 3).

This is where as Catholics in the pew, in our apostolates, and our vocations, we must be prayerfully alert and live into what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says in paragraph 92:

“The whole body of the faithful…cannot err in matters of belief. This characteristic is shown in the supernatural appreciation of faith (sensus fidei) on the part of the whole people, when, ‘from the bishops to the last of the faithful,’ they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals.” (Lumen Gentium, 12).

In blogs to come I will touch upon the freedom and responsibility these truths put on us as Catholic Christians. For now, let’s contend for the faith that has been entrusted to us!

Above My Pay Grade

Prayers for Our Pope

Now more than ever we need to be in prayer for Pope Francis. Let us lift him in prayer especially this week as he seeks the Holy Spirit’s direction.

O God, the Shepherd and Ruler of all Your faithful people, mercifully look upon Your servant Francis, whom You have chosen as the chief Shepherd to preside over Your Church. We beg You to help him edify, both by word and example, those over whom he has charge, that he may reach everlasting life together with the flock entrusted to him. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and Everlasting God, have mercy on Your servant Francis, our Supreme Pontiff, and direct him, according to Your loving kindness, in the way of eternal salvation, that with Your help he may ever desire that which is pleasing to You and accomplish it with all his strength. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Lord Jesus, shelter our Holy Father the Pope under the protection of Your Sacred Heart. Be his light, his strength and his consolation.

Prayers taken from “Our Catholic Prayers

Prayers for Our Pope