Nota Bene

Humble (oh really...?) opinions on matters of faith
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What I'm Reading
(The Bible should always be assumed...)

The New Faithful
by Colleen Carroll

by Fr. Francis Sullivan, SJ

Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism
by Irene Lape

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Wednesday, July 31, 2002

More evidence on the good effects of breastfeeding

Here's a report from Reuters on a study that shows that women who breastfeed their infants for four monts or longer help keep them from developing asthma.


Is Fr. Shawn O'Neal "Nihil Obstat"?

Take a look at the comments on my post regarding Don KNOTTS and you'll see why I ask that question. You make the call...


Southern Baptist leader, Rev. Richard Land, weighs in on The Situation, VOTF

Last week, I pointed out to you how Rev. Land felt about the death penalty. Now here's an article from Baptist Press News that describes his views on The Situation. He has a lot to say about it. And as I am at home right now taking care of Michael, I'll give you the link and comment on it later. I'd also be interested in your thoughts on what he had to say.


Here we go again: the one world gov't is coming...

According to this report from Agape Press, English author Alan Franklin in his new book EU: Final World Empire, sees the supranational European organzation as the "new Unholy Roman Empire."

I wonder where the pope fits into his picture?


National Review Board Meets, Keating advises "lay Catholics should exercise "the power of the purse."

Well the newly created National Review Board met for the first time yesterday and basically did what most committees do at their first meeting: set another meeting date and determine its agenda.

But a lot things were said by the Board's members and by those who came to observe the event.

The Board's chairman, Gov. Frank Keating, felt that lay Catholics can have some influence on their bishops by exercising the "power of the purse:"

Keating also told reporters that lay Catholics should exercise "the power of the purse." If a bishop shuns his moral duty, he said, "it's time for the lay community of that diocese to say we're not writing another check until things change."

Of course this has been a topic that Catholic bloggers hased out quite a while back, with various bloggers maintaining various positions. I suppose that I agree with that posed by friend and former blogger Fr. Shawn O'Neal: don't withold your contributions; for if you do, the biggest, worst, and almost only effect will be on your local parish. I could go on at length explaining this position and justifiying it, but it seems to have been an argument that has already run its course. But, then again, maybe not if Gov. Keating's words have any effect.

And the potential effects of Gov. Keating and the National Review Board seem to be up in the air at the moment.

SNAP's national director, David Clohessy said 'board members are bright and well-intentioned but "it's simply too early to tell how effective the panel will be."'

On the other hand,

Peter Isely, of Milwaukee, Wis., said the Network told the board "you are the one group that might be able to hold bishops accountable for their behavior."

Time will tell I suppose.


Evangelical Guatemalans React to the Pope's Visit

According to this Reuters report, many evangelical Christians in Guatemala had strong reactions to the Pope's visit there this week. Most seem to have been negative. But not all.

"They are putting a man in place of God," Sergio Enriquez, head pastor of the Eben-Ezer neo-Pentecostal church in downtown Guatemala City...

Thousands of devout Catholics flocked to an open air mass dedicated to Betancur in front of Antigua's ancient cathedral in a leafy main square.

But the prayers were nearly drowned out by evangelical rock music and shouted praise blaring from a neo-Pentecostal church across the plaza.

Some evangelicals' interpretations of the pope's visit bordered on the apocalyptic.

Lucy de Brolo, a widow in her mid-60s who left the Catholic Church for Eben-Ezer in 1983, said the trip was meant to "prepare the way for the antichrist."

But others were more open to the pope's message.

"He's unifying Guatemalan society and that's something no one else can do," said the Rev. Vitalino Similox, a Maya Indian who heads the Conference of Evangelical Churches that seeks harmony among religious sects.

There was also an interesting link made in this article between the rivalry between Catholics and evangelical Christians and the impact that Guatemala's 30-year civil war had on the Catholic Church:

In 1983, when the pope first visited Guatemala, religion could be a matter of life or death.

Scores of Catholic priests and thousands of catechists accused of spreading Marxist ideology were killed by state security forces and many Maya Indians sought safety in evangelical churches.

The country's leader at the time, retired Gen. Efrain Rios Montt was a born-again Christian who preached what he saw as the gospel's moral message in long televised speeches.

In contrast, today President Alfonso Portillo does not make an issue of his Catholicism, and few Guatemalans are aware of his religion.

Maybe that last point is a small sign of why the Catholic Church is losing ground in Mexico, Central, and South America.


The Price of the Kingdom:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Ignatius of Loyola

Jer 15:10, 16-21
Ps 59:2-3, 4, 10-11, 17, 18
Mt 13:44-46

Jesus offers us some concise comparisons in today's Gospel. He compares the reign of God to a buried treasure in a field A man finds it and sells all he has in order to buy the field. And he compares the kingdom of heaven to a merchant who sells all he has in order to purchase "a pearl of great price."

These are the comparisons that he presents us. And that is also where the stories end. But lets think a little bit more about this man and this merchant. How would their lives be after they bought their field and their pearl?

At first glance, we might conclude that everyone lived happily ever after. That which they most desired was now in their possession. For them there would now be no more worries, nothing to disturb them. However, of course, such a vision is not accurate.

After taking possession of their respective treasures, both men now have to depend upon them entirely for the livelihood and their well being. They would have to protect their possessions against others who would desire to steal it or to destroy it. Thoughts of regret may even enter their heads. "Did I do the right thing? What if something better comes along? Maybe what I bought isn't that good after all."

Such questions and doubts seemed to have been the thoughts of Jeremiah as he came before the Lord in today's first reading. As a prophet he had found his life's delight in one thing: the words of the Lord. He "devoured" them and they became the "joy and the happiness" of his heart.

However, they led him to experience the hatred of his people and a lonely alienation from them. He proclaimed the words of the Lord to them and ended up seeing them destroyed. All of this then led Jeremiah to cry out to the Lord: "You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!"

Such may have also been the thought of the man who purchased the field and the merchant who bought the pearl. The kingdom of heaven as we experience it here on earth isn't some faraway paradise where all of our greatest desires are fulfilled and where no worries ever enter our minds. The borderlands of the kingdom are right where we live, here and now.

Living in the kingdom while on earth does not mean being without worries. It does mean that fear in the face of anxieties will not overcome us. It does mean that we will not only endure our trials, but that we will thrive because of them.

This is what Jeremiah learned after he had vented his anger againt the Lord. After the prophet had finished fuming his frustrations, the Lord promised to make him again his "mouthpiece" if he repented of his sins. In the end, it was not the words of the Lord that had caused him pain, but his own sins and the sins of the people. If he repented of his own sins, then the Lord would protect him against the sins of the others. The words of the Lord had in the past been the joy and happiness of his heart. They would be so again.

Likewise, when we, like the man and the merchant, sell all we have to buy our field or our pearl, God promises to protect us and to give us the joy of his kingdom. For us here on earth that field or that pearl might be our sacramental relationship with our spouse, the priesthood that Christ has shared with us, or our life in the midst of a religious community. And we bought this field or this pearl by selling all of our other choices.

At times we will have questions and doubts, we will have times of anxieties and trials. We will even cry out in anger to the Lord as did the prophet Jeremiah. But God's promise will always remain. The power of his promise reaches even into the borderlands of his kingdom. And his grace will help us find the joy that we seek in our field or in our pearl of great price.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Moral Theology according to Don Knots

Last night while driving home, I heard a commentary by Chris Norris on NPR that spoke of how various church congregations around the country are organizing Bible studies around various episodes of The Andy Griffith Show. Now I had heard hints about this in the past from a priest cousin of mine one of whose favorite pastimes is watching and collecting reruns from the show.

But now this movement seems to have gone digital. Enter At this website you'll find a whole series of lesson plans, linking various episodes with specific morals lessons and scriptural passages.

Now the commentator took the idea a bit further. He saw a connection between all of the various characters that Don Knots has played from Barney Fife to the Incredible Mr. Limpett to Ralph Furley. And who can forget the God-like television repairman that he played in the (rather forgettable) movie, Pleasantville? So he distilled Knots' moral theology into one all encompassing principle: "Be afraid. Be very afraid."


SNAP claims that the Dallas charter is not being followed consistently

'"We've seen a number of very clear violations" of the policy bishops adopted last month at a meeting in Dallas, David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said at a news conference outside a Catholic church in downtown Washington.

Standing alongside a map of the United States, Clohessy highlighted examples from parishes that he and other group members said show children remain vulnerable to abuse.

However, from the text of the article, it would appear that SNAP is now in many cases simply concerned about how quickly a priests are removed from their positions. Although there are certainly still some significant problems that need to be dealt with, this change in focus shows some improvment in The Situation. Maybe?


A Plant out of Place:

A Reflection on Today's Readings

Tuesday of the Seventeenth Week of Ordinary Time

Jer 14:17-22
Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13
Mt 13:36-43

My parents used to live out in the rural part of Shelby Co., Indiana. And out there they had a small garden plot fairly close to a farmer's field. The first year that they lived out there, my Mom planted some sunflower seeds. They grew quickly and quite tall and had beautiful blossoms.

My Dad, however, was a little leary about my Mom's decision to plant these seeds. He had once told me that a weed was a plant out of place. He knew that the sunflowers were beautiful. But he also knew that birds often came along to gather the seeds out of their large blossoms. Many of those seeds were dropped in the nearby field. And so soon in the midst of a field of soybeans we saw many sprouting sunflowers.

No matter how beautiful they are, sunflowers growing in the midst of a soybean field are weeds. They are plants out of place. They take up moisture and nutrients that could have been used for the soybeans. They shade the beans and so reduce their yield.

My Dad looked at this situation and he judged it. The sunflowers were weeds. But of course the sunflowers themselves had no minds with which to judge themselves. Neither could the soybeans give any kind of assessment of the plants growing next to them.

Yes, Jesus tells us that there are all sorts of weeds in our world. And you and I might wonder who they are, why they are here, and who planted them in our field. But Jesus also tells us that we are plants just like the weeds. We have no capacity within us to give a final judgment on those that we might think are weeds.

Who knows, we ourselves might be weeds. A soybean planted in a flower garden will be a weed, just as sunflower planted in a soybean field is also a weed. They are plants out of place.

Yet we plants who have been baptized are no ordinary sunflowers or soybeans though. Through our baptism we have been given a share of the life of Him who sowed our seed. And through his death and resurrection Jesus has given all the plants in the field of the world an opportunity to be planted in their place. He has given us all a choice. He does not will that we be planted out of place.

Let us plants who have a share in his life not confuse ourselves with the Sower or his angelic workers who will harvest us. Instead let us share his good news with those who might be growing as a weed, out of place. With the grace of the Sower such plants can be replanted where they ought to be. Through his grace our world can then be transformed into that beautiful garden which it was at the dawn of creation.

Monday, July 29, 2002

Tough Questions for "Liberal" and "Conservative" Catholics

In the last two installments of his column, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, has asked some tough questions of both "conservative" and "liberal" Catholics.

(I use quotation marks here because I agree with Mark Shea et al. that these terms are political labels, ones that do not apply well to an ecclesial context. Still, I basically understand what groups of believers that Rolheiser is referring to in both columns. And I trust that you will also.)

The first column is directed to those whom he describes as liberal:

Three Things for Liberals to Ponder

The second column is directed to those whom he describes as conservative:

Three Things for Conservatives to Ponder

As with the previous post, I hope to do some commenting on these columns sometime soon. Until then, I'd be interested in your comments.


An Evangelical's Perspective on 1 Cor 11

During my half hour commute to my office, I sometimes have the opportunity to listen to Dr. Michael Youssef of Leading the Way Ministries, based in Atlanta, GA. His syndicated radio show is broadcasted on a local Christian radio station. Well, last week he had a series of presentations on 1 Cor 11:17-34.

Of course in that passage, St. Paul comments on the way that the Corinthians celebrate the Lord's Supper. He then goe on to describe the way in which the Lord began or instituted this celebration at the Last Supper. This passage is very important to us Catholics. It serves as an important scriptural basis for the celebration of the Eucharist and other teachings and practices that are related to it.

So I thought that it might be interesting to see how an strong evangelical would interpret this passage. Unfortunately, it does not appear that Dr. Youseff has not archived on the internet his radio broadcasts (it may be due to the fact that he likes to sell them on cassette tape). However, there is a shortened three-part text commentary on 1 Cor 11:17-34. I'll provide the links for them below. I'd be interested to read what your take on them is.

You might be interested to know that, during his radio broadcast, Dr. Youseff said that the church that he leads in Atlanta celebrates what he calls the Lord's Supper every Sunday, something that is fairly unusual for evangelical congregations.

Why the Lord's Supper

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

I myself may later have some commentary on Dr. Youseff's message, but for now I'm interested to read what you think.


Take a moment and scroll down a little bit...

Last Saturday I posted a couple things that I would like some of the M-F visitors to take a look at. The first is a link to the latest installment of my weekly column, "Spiritual Reflections." I'm interested in reading your comments on it. The second is an extended reflection on George Barna, the former Catholic, now evangelical Christian who runs a research firm that does a lot of work for various Protestant congregations. Again, I'm interested in reading your comments on it.


Speaking of being busy...

It might be appropriate for me that this week begins with the Memorial of St. Martha because there is a TON of work to be done in this office: putting together handbooks for catechists, parents, confirmation students, etc, making final preparations for a confirmation retreat this weekend, and making preparations for a catechist meeting this Sunday.

St Martha, pray for me!


Martha: A Saint for a Busy World

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Martha

Jer 13:1-11
Dt 32:18-19, 20, 21
Jn 11:19-27
Lk 10:38-42

Sometimes I think that the interesting relationship of Mary and Martha is paralleled in my relationship with my wife Cindy. While Cindy can be a very good Martha at times, I can be more like Mary, although a very poor imitation of her. Cindy and I sometimes like to say that when she walks into a room, she can immediately see five things that she needs to work on while when I walk into a room, I can immediately see five different ways to relax.

But such a parallel works only if I understand the relationship of Mary and Martha in a particular way. It only applies to us if I see Martha as one who tends toward work and Mary as one who tends toward avoiding it. But it would seem that, according to Jesus, work is not the factor that distinguishes these sisters.

What does distinguish them according to our Lord is their degree of faith in him. As Jesus said, Martha was "anxious and worried about many things." She felt that she alone was responsible for many tasks. These many burdens then caused her a great amount of anxiety.

Had she had a greater faith in the Lord and taken upon herself his light burden, her anxiety would have decreased. She wouldn't have been so worried.. The "many details of hospitality" (as the NAB translates it) may have remained. However, with her trust in the Lord filling her soul, she would not have felt overwhelmed by them.

Mary had such a faith and so she was fully focused on Jesus. Martha may have though on this one occasion that she was being selfish. However, had she had the faith of her sister, she would have realized that one need not just sit at the Lord's feet in order to listen to his voice. When faith in him fills one's soul, one will seek to hear him at every moment of the day, no matter what one is doing. And, again, one will not feel overburdened by various tasks and responsibilities. Had Martha had this faith, she wouldn't have resented her sister sitting and listening to Jesus.

But it would seem that Martha heeded the Lord's words to her. For when the Lord came near to her home after the death of her brother Lazarus, she expressed a deep faith in him, recognizing him as "the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world."

Martha, then, is a holy model for all of us who lead anxious and worrisome lives and who seek a greater faith in Jesus. She is an intercessor for us who seek to hear the voice of the Lord speaking to us over the incessant din of the marketplace, over the cacophony of many kids playing throughout the house.

In the end, Martha and Mary were a good balance for each other, just as Cindy and I are also. Yes, Martha may have grown in faith and saw the anxiety that had surrounded her decrease. But such faith is often nurtured by giving oneself regularly to quiet prayer and solitude. Likewise, the experience of the presence of the Lord that Mary had when sitting at his feet is only enriched by her giving of herself in service to others. Then the Lord is seen in a variety of ways, not just one.

All of this, though, is founded on faith, enriched within each of us by the grace of God. On this feast of St. Martha, let us call upon her in prayer, asking her to intercede for all of us. And so may God give his grace to those who are anxious and worried with the world's concerns, helping them to find consolation and serenity in hearing the voice of the Lord. And may that same grace impel those of us who tend toward quietness and repose to seek the voice of the Lord in all places and so lift our hands to help those who labor under heavy burdens.

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Thoughts on George Barna

Amy Welborn had a short post yesterday on an article the evangelical researcher, George Barna, at the website of the magazine, Christianity Today. Barna's organization, Barna Research Ltd., also has its own website.

I went there last night and perused some of his articles, mainly those that I suspected would touch upon the Catholic Church. I had read the article at Christianity Today and I suppose that my emotional reaction to it was, in part, sadness. I have a deep love for the Church and I believe that this love is inextricably bound to my love for God. And so I am saddened when I see anyone deliberately leave the Church.

In the case of Barna, maybe I felt it a little more because I was already well familiar with him. I had heard him interviewed more than once on American Family Radio. And I had heard his statistics sited several times on that same radio network. However, I did not know until yesterday that he had been raised in the Catholic Church.

I am also saddened when I read this particular article: "Religious Beliefs Vary Widely By Denomination."

Why am I saddened when I read this article and the one from Christianity Today? Well, I suppose that I feel this way because I see in his results some evidence that some Catholics have a poor understanding of their faith. For example, in the second of these articles, Barna cites evidence that a large percentage of Catholics disagree with the notion that Jesus Christ never sinned in his earthly life. That some Catholics have only a partial understanding of even the most basic tenets of the faith is, of course, something that should be patently obvious to all of us. But it is still a real concern for me as a DRE. And it saddens me to see it revealed in a statistical study.

But I suspect that we Catholics are not alone in having some members with a limited intellectual understanding of the nature of the faith. I presume that other denominations experience the same phenomenon. It just seems to me that Barna's studies seem to highlight more clearly the deficiencies of some Catholics more than similar deficiencies that may exist in other faith traditions.

If this is the case (and I am, by no means presuming that it is), then I think it is related to what seems to me Barna's tendency to frame his questioning with evangelical categories. In his article "Religious Beliefs Vary Widely by Denomination", he analyzed each respondent's "theological purity of belief" according to seven criteria, asking each respondent if he or she...:

strongly agrees that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches

strongly agrees that they have a personal responsibility to tell others about their religious beliefs

strongly agrees that their religious faith is very important

strongly disagrees that Satan is just a symbol of evil

strongly disagrees that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others they will earn a place in Heaven

strongly disagrees that Jesus Christ committed sins while on earth

believes that God is the all-powerful, all-knowing perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today

says that they are absolutely committed to Christianity

Although the Church's teachings should lead us to respond to these questions in a way that I suspect Barna would personally approve (for the most part), the way in which they are framed could easily lead some Catholics to be confused. And they certainly do not take into account some beliefs that are very important to Catholics: the role of the sacraments, the nature and authority of the Church, etc.

And so I am also saddened by, at least what seems to me, a case where Barna is using evangelical categories and the limited understanding of the faith of some Catholics to place the Church in a poor light regarding the holding of traditional Christian doctrines, especially in comparison with evangelical congregations.

In the article in Christianity Today, the reporter stated that "Barna prides himself on realism", that, according to him, "the truth must be faced." In the end, the reporter reflected that Barna could be criticized for his "restricted vision."

All of this, as I have said, saddens me. It saddens me to see the Church that I love judged, in a very public way, according to the "restricted vision" of an obviously intelligent man who once was counted among our faithful.

I am interested to read what your thoughts and feelings are on this topic.


The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

Go to the website of The Shelbyvville News to read the latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections." I'd be interested to read your comments on it.

There's also a bonus(?) in going to the site. You'll get to see a picture of my mug. The newspaper has added that that to its website. I'd bet the folks who are responsible for that didn't talk to the folks in marketing...

Friday, July 26, 2002

Our duty to bury the dead

According to this AP report, a vicar of an Anglican parish near Cambridge seems to be troubled by the excavation of some 662 skeleton, all over 1000 years old, exhumed during a building project in the village of parish. Apparently no one knew of the presence of the skeletons before the digging began.

But now the vicar, Rev. Christopher Boulton, want to give "a proper Christian reburial" to the remains of these people who, it would appear were Christian. A cross was excavated near the bodies, all of which were faced due east.

Explaining his motivation for seeking to rebury these remains, Rev. Boulton had this to say: "These are ordinary ... people and common decency dictates that we treat our ancestors with respect. ... Each one was an individual who deserves a proper Christian reburial."

Now, since these folks lived betwen the 8th and 10th centuries, should they be given a proper Catholic Christian reburial?


Perspectives on The Situation coming out of WYD

Here's an AP story describing the perspective that some participants in WYD have on The Situation. Some may be more well thought-out than others, but it would seem that all share a hope in the future. Maybe we are hearing the Holy Father's recurring message: "Do not fear."


We Are a People of History:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of Ss. Joachim & Ann, parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Please Note: I am reflecting on the proper readings for this memorial found in my lectionary. The readings shown for the day at the USCCB's website are simply the ordinary readings for the day. As a result, I will provide links for the individual readings.

Sir 44:1, 10-15
Ps 132:11, 13-14, 17-18
Mt 13:16-17

Whether we like it or not, we humans are historical creatures. We gain much of the meaning of ourselves by learning about and connecting ourselves to the past of our families, friends, churches, and communities. When asked what our favorite subject was in high school, only a few of us might respond, "history." Still, we are a historical people.

When we hear vivid stories of relatives whom lived and died before we were born, we can almost feel a tangible connection to them. This is how I feel about my great-great-grandfather John Peter Gallagher who journeyed far to central Indiana from Cross Malina, County Mayo, Ireland back in the late 1860s.

It is the way I felt (and still feel in some ways) when I was in the monastery and would hear story after story about one monk after another who died long before I was born. One day, two men visited the monastery who long ago had been members of the community but had later left. I was able to create a bond with them quickly and easily because of the stories of those venerable monks that all of us had held in our memories.

When we sit and share stories with our relatives, our parishioners, with old friends, we are doing what the author of the Book of Sirach described in today's first reading. We are praising our ancestors, sometimes rightly remembering their virtue and wisdom, at other times ruefully recalling their faults and foibles. Their bodies may be peacefully laid away, but something very real of who they are lives on in us.

I will be partaking in this cycle of hearing stories and passing them as I tell my son Michael of all of the stories of the families of his mother and father. Hopefully the memories of long deceased relatives will live on in him through my faith-filled retelling of their stories.

But what makes this cycle even more important is its connection to our family of faith. All of us who believe are part of a family of faith that has a myriad of holy men and women from our past. They are now gathered around Christ. They are hearing from him those wondrous things that prophets had longed to hear. They are gazing on him whom prophets had longed to see.

And in some faded and faint way, we pass on the stories of Jesus and the holy men and women who are drawn to him when we share them with our sons and daughters, with our young people growing in faith, and with older ones coming to it anew.

We may know very few precise details of the story of Joachim and Ann, the parents of our Blessed Virgin Mary, but we still feel that we know them. We can see in them our own parents or grandparents, passing on to us the glorious stories of our ancestors. Surely that is what they did with Mary, helping to form her into the great model of faith that she would become. Maybe they even did this with Jesus as he grew in wisdom and in grace.

We remember Joachim and Ann on this day and our calendar has other solemnities, feasts, and memorials scattered about it because we are a people of history. And somehow, as we enter more into the history of our family of faith, stories overflowing with grace, we are given the strength to journey on, our eyes set not on the past, but on the future. We will strengthened by that sure hope that one day we will join together in praise around Jesus with those ancestors of ours whose stories so fill our memories.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

I swear, this is work...

The parish where I serve as DRE is hosting a fundraising golf outing today. And so I guess that I'll just have to make an appearance...with my clubs...on all 18 holes...


Richard McBrien compares the Pope to Bob Hope...and, no, I'm not joking...

(NPR doesn't yet have a link up for this story--I'll try to provide one later in the day)

In this segment from today's Morning Edition, Richard McBrien tries to explain why the Pope should not have gone to World Youth Day by comparing him to Bob Hope. And, no, he wasn't trying to be a poet in his comparison.

Instead, McBrien tried to explain that, just as the retired actor would not be sent out to entertain American troops around the world, so the Holy Father shouldn't be bopping around the globe to meet with young people.

Yeah, I know that John Paul was an actor in his younger days, but I think that he's known for a little more than some movies, hosting the Oscars, and doing USO shows. And, anyway, unlike Hollywood actors, what the Pope does isn't about himself.

St. Thomas Aquinas said that every analogy limps. I'm sorry Fr. McBrien, but yours doesn't even have legs.

In the same segment, Stanley Hauerwas tried to make the argument that the traditionalism that is present in a lot of Catholic youth and young adults is simply coincedental with John Paul's pontificate. He claimed that this generation is simply rebelling against their parents' more progressive views and that John Paul basically was at the right place at the right time.

Stanley, I think that you had already lost a lot of us with your pacifism.


(Former) Rep. Jim Traficant expelled from Congress

The vote to expel him was 420-1. Who was the one who voted to allow the representative convicted of bribery and kickbacks to stay in office? Rep. Gary Condit.


Well, as my friend, Fr. Shawn O'Neal put it, "He won't let the lynch mob run wild on the honorable gentleman from Ohio!
Condit for President!


From the "We've been telling you that for years" file...

As reported by Reuters, a study just released from the National Center for Health Statistics reports that "couples who live together without marriage are twice as likely to split up 5 years after they move in together than couples who tie the knot..."

Well yeah...

But in trying to explain the cause behind these results, the lead author of the study stated, "We don't have any underlying reasons to explain the findings..."

Well...did you ever consider a lack of commitment?


An Example for Us All:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Feast of St. James, apostle

2 Cor 4:7-15
Ps 126:1bc-2ab, 2cd-3, 4-5, 6
Mt 20:20-28

The feasts of the apostles are nicely spread out over the entire year. They keep coming up about every month or so. I remember how they used to recur when I was a monk at St. Meinrad. On those days there would be extra antiphons to sing and some special readings to be proclaimed, all to honor the apostle of the day and to remind us of his example.

This regular interval of the feasts of the apostles is a good thing for all of us. No matter what vocation that each of us lives, we can look to the apostles for an example of how we are to live out our discipleship. This is true even though we know very little of the historical details of their lives.

But this might simply make their examples more universal. The meaning of their lives isn't bound to a particular culture and society in a particular time and place. Still, these men are no idealized mythological figures, dreamed up entirely outside the realm of history.

No, we can learn of their lives of discipleship through the writings that they left behind. Today's readings from those texts tell us much about what it means to be a follower of Jesus, no matter what way of life a person might be living.

Those who are the direct successors of the apostles--the bishops, and their co-workers, the priests and deacons--surely are given a clear message in today's Gospel. It is one that should continually resound in their hearts. Jesus is abundantly clear when he tells his apostles (and their contemporary successors) that they shall not lord it over those under their care, that they shall not make their importance felt. Instead, their only concern is that they be a servant of all. That is how they will be a living sign of the Son of Man.

Those among us who are monks or nuns, friars or sisters, who serve the faithful in religious orders, have an obvious message as well, given to them by Paul in the first reading. In it he described the meaning of the suffering he endured, a suffering surely shared by the other apostles. He recognized and proclaimed to the Corinthians that to suffer for faith in Jesus is to carry his dying in his own body. But he does this willingly because he believes that the new and undying life of Jesus will also be revealed in him.

By the vows that they profess our religious willingly take on the suffering of Christ. Sometimes that suffering is vitiated by the material wealth and comforts of their communities. However, there are still countless men and women who show us all in prophetic ways what it means to suffer with Christ. And their ministry of prayer and service they share with us his eternal life.

Those of us who are married have much to gain from the example of the apostles. From my own experience as a husband and a father, I feel that the work that I do to support the material needs of my family is important. And I also hold hopes that the work that I do might lead to some sort of greatness for me. But Jesus and his apostles remind me that the only real greatness to which I can aspire is being a servant to my wife and our son.

Becoming exalted through humility is the very paschal mystery of our Lord. It became embodied in his apostles. And now it is a way of life that has been passed on to us. We need to celebrate these great men, our apostles, in order to be continually reminded of and encouraged by their example. And we need to celebrate these men from month to month to, in a special way, call upon them to pray for us, that our Lord might always strengthen our life of humble discipleship with his grace.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Evangelizing the “Spiritually Hungry but Institutionally Suspicious”:

A Response to Amy Welborn's "Why bother?" question

Amy Welborn, at ther blog In Between Naps, has raised a question that has brought about quite a bit of comments and contention from her bevy of readers. It has to do with the very mission of the Church, evangelization, and she simply asks, "Why bother?" In framing this question in our own cultural context, she clarifies it in this way, "How do you evangelize a culture that doesn't think it needs evangelizing?"

In addition to simply raising these questions, Amy has also started to give parts of her answer to these questions. So I encourage you to read what she has to say. You might also go to Peter Nixon's blog, Sursum Corda, and read what he has to say on the topic.

A Question of Universal Truths

In the end, I think that this issue boils down to a question of valuing and accepting the existence of universal truths. The task of evangelization involves believers giving a reasoned explanation for their beliefs and practices. Often this means responding to those who have different understanding of the truths that are manifested in our doctrines. This is, in large part, the task of apologists. They often engage in discussion those folks who already hold their own strong beliefs and, to varying degrees, are hostile to the Catholic faith.

However, with many people in our society, a much more fundamental task needs to be taken up. There are many people around us who are indifferent to religious faith in general, and to Christian faith and Catholic faith in particular. There are still others who are hostile to faith overall on the grounds that there are no such thing as universal truths. Some hold this view quite consciously, others hold it by default.

Such folks might still describe themselves as spiritual, believing in some sort of God, even claiming to believe in Christ in particular. These kind of folks might gravitate to a certain mainline Protestant church in Indianapolis that advertises on the local NPR station and directly appeals to the "spiritually hungry but institutionally suspicious."

What would a person who is “spiritually hungry but institutionally suspicious” look like? Such a person might also be called a “seeker.” In their own lives, they would be seeking for themselves some sort of religious experience, a way to come closer to who they themselves believe God to be. And for them this is a task that only an individual can carry out.

Why? Because matters of belief to them cannot be spelled out with empirical evidence that anyone, in any place, and in any time could agree to be true. In fact, what we could be dealing with here is some form of fideism, the concept that matters of faith are beyond the capacity of human reason.

(Peter Nixon argued that we are simply being confronted by a pervasive agnosticism. I will have more to say about this idea later. But consider this now in relation to the thrust of my writing here. The etymological root of the word agnostic is from the Greek. And its basic meaning is “one who is without knowledge.” In our context, it might be understood as one who is without universal truths.)
For the spiritually hungry and institutionally suspicious, a bishop or a priest telling would be an attempt by these men to push on others what they have found in their own seeking. Or, more nefariously, they might be attempting to force a belief system on others that would protect their own positions of power.

And of course, for the past thirty or forty years we in America have been especially suspicious of all authority figures. This happens when many hesitate to give respect to people in elected office. But it might also occur when the “spiritually hungry but institutionally suspicious” question not only religious leaders, but also to the enshrined religious beliefs which stand for them as a symbol of that authority to be questioned.

A Response

How, then are we who are spiritually hungry and institutionally trusting (at least, most of the time) to respond to these folks? Giving an explanation about this doctrine or that practice isn’t enough. It probably won’t even get us in the door. After all, these folks either consciously or unconsciously do not accept the concept of universal truths. Trying to help these folks see, for themselves, the reality of such truths is where we need to start.

But lets consider what might happen in the life of this kind of people when they go from denying universal truths to accepting their existence. It will shake the foundation of their day-to-day worlds. They will be disoriented. They will be like Saul on the road to Damascus. They will be in the beginnings of their own conversion.

Conversion is the fruit of any effort at evangelization. But conversion happens through the grace of God, not just through our hard-fought efforts. So we also need to start and complete such an evangelization with prayer.

It will be through our grace-filled charity, and our honest desire to help these folks see the existence of universal truths that God will satisfy their spiritual hunger and help them see that the institution of which they were suspicious is not just an institution. It is in part that, but it is also more than that. It is also the People of God, the Mystical Body of Christ, and a Pilgrim People of seekers, all on a journey of faith together, seeking the face of God along the way.


Southern Baptist leader, Richard Land, weighs in on the death penalty

There seems to be quite a debate among the Mark Shea and the readers of his blog regarding the Church's teaching on the death penalty. Well, I thought that it might be interesting to see how other Christians view the same topic and compare it with our Church's teaching on it.

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, spoke about capital punishment yesterday on his syndicated radio call-in show, Richard Land Live. He spoke with listeners about this topic in the context of the killing of Samantha Runnion.

He argued that capital punishment is justified biblically by appealing to Romans 13:

"The word for sword in verse 4 is the word used for a specific kind of sword used to perform capital punishment, which was done by decapitation, on Roman citizens at the time of the writing of the Book of Romans..."

I believe that the Catholic Church would appeal to this passage (among others) as well in making its argument that the death penalty is not iherently immoral, that the state is, at times, justified in imposing it.

However, it would seem that the concept of "prudential judgment" regarding the rightful imposition of the death penalty that the Holy Father takes into account in his teaching on the topic is largely absent from Land's views.

Several callers voiced their concerns about the death penalty. Some felt that too much power might be given to the state in capital punishment, others were concerned that the innocent could be executed. These and other


Sowing the Word in the Fields of Prophets:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Sixteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Jer 1:1, 4-10
Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5-6ab, 15 and 17
Mt 13:1-9

Jeremiah seemed to have been shocked when he learned that he Lord had chosen him while he was still in the womb. When he heard the Lord speaking to him, calling him to be his prophet, he felt that he was too young for such a task.

This was a very natural reaction from him, one that many people in our society have re-echoed in the ways that they have chosen to practice their faith or not even accept it at all. "Religion is for old people." "I might start going to church when (or if) I have kids." "Going to Mass doesn't do anything for me." Such are some of the typical responses of folks not only in our own age, but in ages past as well.

Each one of us might indeed be the different kinds of ground that we read about in today's Gospel onto which the Sower sows his seed. If we were to take the attitudes that I described above into account, we might conclude that this seed is not sown until we are older and more disposed to the life of faith. We might conlcude that God ignores us until we want to listen to him.

But the words that the Lord spoke to Jeremiah in today's first reading show us a different view: God sows the seed of faith and the seed of his Word in us even while we are still in the womb. He is always calling out to us, at every moment of our existence.

Jeremiah, at his young age, heard the Lord calling to him and listened. He listened and obeyed. Jesus, in concluding today's parable, challenged us to do the same: "Whoever has ears ought to hear." Listening to the word of the Lord is an important part of being a prophet, it is an important part of being a disciple of Jesus.

In creating us in his image, God made each one of us a field that can potentially produce a hundred, sixty, or thirty fold. Each one of us can be prophets like Jeremiah. He gave us all ears to listen to his word. But not all of us choose to listen. The effects of our sins and the sins of others have an impact upon us at a very early age. And so the soil of our fields grows thin through erosion. Thorns grow up and quickly choke off the fruit of God's seed blossoming within us.

Nevertheless, God always continues to sow his seed in us, from the time that we are in the womb until the moment when we pass from this world to the next. He is calling each of us to be prophets. And, indeed, he is also calling us to see others around as prophets. He is calling us to listen to his word being spoken through them.

We who believe, we who have ears of faith, are challenged to listen to the word of the Lord being spoken to us by all whom we meet, even those who might not even know that they are prophets. His word comes to us in babies still in the womb and in tiny infants. It comes to us in indifferent children and young people. It comes to us in faith-filled teens and devout adults. It comes to us in those who deliberately choose the Church, in those who choose it by default, in those who walk away from it by default, and those deliberately reject it.

God continues to sow his seed in all of these people. His word is spoken through all of them. It is us to us who believe to listen and respond. It is up to us to find the divine truths in these words and to re-echo them to a world that needs to hear them.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Hoping to hit the links...

I'm hoping to play a round of golf today. As a birthday present, my wife has "allowed" me to play a warm-up round before the parish's fundraising golf outing on Thursday. So I hope to play 18 holes with my Dad today, but right now (8:00am), its a little bit rainy...


As if sex scandals were not enough...

the Church now is dealing with shaky financial dealings. But we're talking about the Church of God here, not the Catholic Church. The Church of God, based in Anderson, Indiana (maybe they should change the name to Andersen, as in Arthur Andersen, get it?) has agreed to settle a lawsuit filed against them by the SEC.

The lawsuit alleges that Church Extension of The Church of God Inc. that "misled investors by hiding its shaky financial condition, overstating its income and using investments primarily for purposes other than its stated goal of providing loans for the construction of new churches..."

Hmmm...sounds like Enron, Worldcom, et al.


Violence for a new generation in Northern Ireland

I've made it a habit over the past few weeks to search Yahoo! News for news regarding the Church. Several times over this period articles have turned up reporting more and more violence against Catholics in Northern Ireland. I usually have chosen not to remark on them in my blog because I concluded that they were isolated acts, very much different from what went on in decades past.

However, the violence has been reported once again this morning. Last night a 19-year-old Catholic Gerald Lawlor was shot and killed on his way home from a pub. A Protestant anti-Catholic group has claimed responsibility.

Apparently I am not the only one that had concluded (incorrectly) that the days of pervasive violence in Northern Ireland had passed. Here is what Rory Stewart, a friend of Lawlor had to say about the shooting: "We're going back to the way it was back in the early '70s. My parents told me all about it."

A new generation that had grown up with negotiations for peace and attempts at shared governance is now learning the old lessons of violence that their parents learned not so long ago.


Becoming Humble Children of God:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Reading

Tuesday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time, Year II

Mic 7:14-15, 18-20
Ps 85:2-4, 5-6, 7-8
Mt 12:46-50

In the first reading the prophet MIcah prayed to the Lord, asking him to protect his people, to allow them to live in the lands they once possessed, and to have them see new wonders, ones like those that Lord did when he brought Israel out of Egypt. This prayer was probably offered up to God after the people of Israel returned to some of their lands following their exile in Babylon.

They were now a chastened people, having lived in a foreign land, far away from their promised inheritance. They knew that they had sinned and that their exile was a punishment for their infidelity to the Lord. Now they were willing to follow what he commanded.

When we consciously choose to do God's will, our eyes are opened to the many good things that he does for us. God is always faithful to us. He never stops blessing us. However, we are sometimes blinded through our sins and so unable to see these great gifts. Micah and his fellow Israelites were now able to see how God had remained true to them. Many generations had passed from the time of Abraham to their own time. And yet they were now able to see how the Lord had been faithful to that promise that he had made to that patriarch, so long ago.

Those who choose and strive to do God's will come to know him as their generous and faithful Father. They come to know Jesus as their loving brother. This is what Jesus tells us in today's Gospel.

What he says here seems to up the ante from what he said in the Last Supper discourse in the Gospel of John. There he said: "You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." (Jn 15:14-15)

But in today's Gospel, we are not just called his friends, but his brother, that is, if we choose to do his Father's will: "...whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother." I am trying to be precise by saying that we are Jesus' brother when we choose to do his Father's will. Its not exactly the same thing that Jesus said.

I am not trying to take liberty with the Gospel. I am only trying to be humble. Knowing that we can be children of God should be an occasion for rejoicing, but not one for pride. Surely the Israelities who returned to their homes after their exile were not prideful. In their humility they knew clearly that it had been the Lord alone who had brought them back to their inheritance. They were now simply choosing to do his will and seeking his help and protection.

In the same way, we can choose to do our Father's will. But on our own we can do it. We can only do it with the grace that he gives us. And so it is only through our cooperation with his grace that we can become God's humble children.

Monday, July 22, 2002

Christian and Moslem reform, from Chuck Colson's perspective

Chuck Colson provides more good food for thought in today's Breakpoint commentary.

In it, he tries to provide an explanation for why the largely Christian West is more culturally, economically, and intellectually free and dynamic when compared to the Moslem world. He wonders about this current state of affairs came to be when considering that "...while much of medieval Europe lived in squalor, Muslim Cordoba boasted street lighting, hundreds of public baths, and at least seventy libraries."

According to Colson, the switch is related to each religion's "capacity for self-criticism" and "reform of the Christian worldview." He goes on to argue that "the dynamism and freedom that characterizes the West is the product of Christianity's reforming itself and moving forward culturally...but by contrast, when Muslims speak of "reform," they mean moving back culturally to the legal and social arrangements of Muhammad's day."

This is an interesting distinction but one that breaks down at points. It would seem that Colson believes Christian reform and, in particular, the reform of the 16th century, had a forward looking impetus to it. But how can such a view be reconciled with the fact that so many of the original reformers (both Protestant and Catholic) and their contemporary descendants wanted to "go back to the sources" (ad fontes) and live the faith as the apostles did? Such a view of reform sounds more consistent with the way that he described the Moslem perspective.

And, at any rate, the aspect of Christian reform that sees itself as "moving forward culturally..." sounds to be more in line with Cardinal Newman's understanding of the development of doctrine, an idea that helps to affirm so many of the changes in the Catholic Church that many evangelical and fundamentalist Christians reject.

What do you think?


Changing of machismo due to growth in Evangelical Christianity?

In this Breakpoint commentary from July 19, Chuck Colson tries to show how the growth of evangelical Christianity in Latin and South America may bring about a reform of the machismo that is prevalent in the cultures of the peoples of these places:

...feminists, both in Latin America and North America, insist that machismo must be reformed if Latin American women are to enjoy full equality. And it appears that this may be happening. But what's ironic is that the basis for this reformation is something that most feminists dislike almost as much as they dislike machismo: It's Christianity.

Colson, however, does not address how the presence of machismo up until now is or is not related to the traditional Catholic faith of these peoples. I know enough about Colson that he would not hold a sometimes typical evangelical (or, rather, fundamentalist) opinion that Catholics are not Christian. But I do think that it is curious that Catholicism is totally absent from this commentary?

What are we to conclude from this? Since Colson is so big on promoting a "Christian worldview", where do Catholic Christians fit in to that vision?


Cardinal Kung Foundation

Earlier today I mentioned a story about 30 people who were recently arrested in China for participating in a Catholic religious education class. Much of the information for the story was provided by the Cardinal Kung Foundation, based in Stamfored, Ct.

This organization, named after the 95-year-old Chinese cardinal, now living in the Connecticut city. He had been a prisoner of the Chinese government for over 30 years. The mission of the Cardinal Kung Foundation is "to promote the Roman Catholic Church in China, now under persecution, through increased prayers, financial support and other appropriate projects."

A while back I had discussed the nature of Catholic missionary work around the world in light of the death of evangelical missionary Martin Burnham. There are many evangelical Christians working as missionaries in China and many more who work here in America to support their Chinese brothers and sisters and faith. We should pray for them. But we should also pray for and support the work of Catholic missionaries in that great nation, one that, in the Lord's eyes, is surely a field with an abundant harvest.


Typing to the sound of a chainsaw

As I was typing my last post, I started hearing a chainsaw outside my window, here at home. I then remembered that some folks from the county highway department were going to come by this morning and cut down a large fur tree in our yard that has grown so large that it is now a traffic hazard.

It is a beautiful old tree, probably 50 feet tall. However, the county road in front of our house gets lots of traffic and the tree sits at the corner of a T intersection. People pulling out from the road that goes along the side of our house could easily get hit and killed if they are unable to see a car coming at them at 50+ mph.

I am saddened to see such a noble tree cut down because people choose to drive so fast. But as my wife told me, it is better to have the tree down than to have a person hurt or killed because it is there. She is sensitive to such things. She is an ER nurse and has to witness the victims of such accidents.

She, too, wished that people would just slow down. Then maybe the tree could be saved. But working in the ER of our local hospital, she knews all too well the human propensity for sin. Am I going to far to say that it is our sinfulness that is cutting down this tree of life as I type out these words?


This story gives me a new perspective on my ministry as a DRE

According this AP report, a nun and 30 other people were arrested in southeastern China while they were participating in a children's religious education class.

Surely these people knew the risks that they were taking in holding such a class. And yet they believed that what they were doing was of such great value that they risked their own bodies in order to do it.

Would that I, who am charged to lead a parish community in their own religious education, might value this task in the same way that these people did in China. Would that I might help to instill such a value in those who work with me and those who participate in the parish's classes.


Seeking Him Whom Our Heart Loves:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Mary Magdalene

Please Note: As I read today's readings from my lectionary, two options were given for the first reading: Song of Songs 3:1-4 and 2 Cor 5:14-17. In writing my reflection, I chose the first of the two options. However, when I went to the bishops' website, I found that the first reading for the day had been changed and was neither of the options that I found in my lectionary. Therefore, I am providing you with a link (found below) to the first reading alone. The link to the psalm and to the Gospel can be found above.

Sg 3:1-4
Ps 50:5-6, 8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23
Jn 20:1-2, 11-18

Mary wept at the entrance of the tomb because she could not find Him whom her heart loved. When she had arrived she saw that the tomb was empty and so she wept. To her, the dead body of Jesus had been taken away to some place that she did not know, and so she wept.

She had come to mourn and to be close to Him who knew her so well. He had known in clear detail her life of sin. And yet he welcomed her without hesitation. He knew her so well and so she had come to know Him well also.

In fact, she knew Him so well that she was the first to see and know Him after his resurrection, even before the Twelve. However, she was able to do this only after Jesus first showed that he knew her. When He said, "Mary", she immediately knew the One before whom she stood. She had found Him whom her heart loved.

To know and to be known is a fundamental part of a relationship of love. When two people truly love each other, they are drawn closer and closer to each other the more that they know the other and the more that they are known. Such knowledge and love of course implies acceptance. It is a wonderful thing to experience being fully known, being fully accepted, and being fully loved.

This is what happens through the grace of God in the sacrament of marriage. The deep and intense knowing and loving (spurred on by grace) that happens in a marriage is what makes it a sign of Christ's relationship with His Church. It is what even makes it a sign of the very life of the Blessed Trinity.

Mary experienced being fully known, fully accepted, and fully loved by Jesus and it drew her to Him. But remember, it was Jesus that initiated this relationship of love. At the beginning of their relationship He knew her sinfulness before she ever knew who he was. And at the empty tomb, he called her "Mary" while she still thought that He was a gardener.

Each of us who believe seek out to varying degrees the presence of the Lord in our lives. We want to hear his voice. We want to see his face. We want to know more and more Him in whom we place our trust. We want to find Him whom our heart loves.

But we always need to remember Jesus' words, "It is not you who chose me, but I who choose you." Similarly, we cannot know the presence of Christ in our daily lives until he reveals himself to us. The more that we seek it out by the sheer force of our own will, we will be like Mary who was making plans to find the dead body of Jesus and take him away. It is only when we are docile and hear him speaking our name that our eyes will be open.

At this very moment, he is standing behind us. Mary mistook him to be a gardener. Whom might we mistake him for? No doubt we will mistake him for someone else. But such a mistake will make our discovery of Him whom our heart loves all the more sweet when you do hear him call out your name.

Sunday, July 21, 2002

Thoughts on the formation of new Protestant churches from a new blogger

At his new blog, Flos Carmeli, Steven Riddle has posted some interesting thoughts on the formation of new Protestant churches.

Remember how this discussion began. On our way down to Memphis, my wife and I saw a church entitled "Unity Baptist Church." At the time I thought that it was an ironic title considering that I suspected that many Protestant churches were formed out of disputes and divisions at other churches.

A reader e-mailed me to show me other, more positive ways in which Protestant churches are founded. That person also claimed that few churches are founded as a result of disputes. Mr. Riddle responds to this in particular at his blog.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

The Latest Installment of My Weekly Column, "Spiritual Reflections

Go to the website of The Shelbyville News to read the latest installment of my column "Spiritual Reflections."

I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments on it.


What kind of high school would have Satan as their mascot?

A high school in Devils Lake, SD that is. But apparently, according to this AP story, one father doesn't like it and is wanting the Devils Lake School Board to change who their mascot is.

Maybe he could get the help of the ACLU and challenge it on the Church-state separation grounds...

Friday, July 19, 2002

Mail Bag

A few days ago I commented about seeing a church entitled "Unity Baptist Church." At the time I wondered about how it and other similar churches were founded. And I presumed that it came about because of a dispute in another church.

Well, a reader wrote this in response:

...most evangelical churches are started as either "mission" churches from parent churches, or as community churches originating from a group of people who say something to the effect of, "Hey, this place needs a [insert flavor of your choice] church!" Very, very few churches are started from disputes.

That's an interesting perspective that I hadn't heard very often. What I have read from several evangelicals that ended up coming to the Catholic Church is that they experienced various disputes and founding of new congregations in response. Of course, this does not mean that one of these views is true and the other false. I suppose that it just reflects different experiences.


This is like having a convict run the jail...

Fr. Robert Beale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston and the director of a rehabilitation center for priests accused of molesting children, has been placed on administrative leave after the archdiocese received what credible allegations that he himself was involved in the sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s. Here's a story on it.


Again, it's not just us...

Here's a story on a youth minister at a United Methodist church who has been charged with one count of child rape, three counts of rape, and seven counts of battery by an authority figure.


Breast Feeding Linked to Lower Instances of Breast Cancer

In this week's edition of the British medical weekly, The Lancet (prior registration required; here is a link to a Reuters newstory), results from a major study of the relationship of breast feeding to breast cancer were released. The results show that a woman who breast feeds significantly lowers her chances of having breast cancer.

According to the study,

"Along with having several children, breastfeeding is a key factor in the discrepancy between low rates of breast cancer in developing countries and the rising number of cases in wealthier nations."


"...for every year a woman breastfeeds, it cuts her risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent. Their findings help to explain why breast cancer rates are so low in developing countries where women have six or seven children, compared to two or three in western countries, and they breastfeed each child for up to two years."

And we think that we are doing women in developing countries a favor when we push contraceptives on them and "liberate" them so that they can go to work.

Now don't jump to conclusions. I feel that women can have a valuable place in the work world. But we as a society should not judge it to be more important than the real work done in the home.

I wouldn't be surprised if those advocates of women's rights in our society (the same one's who have been advocating more research on women's health...) will have a hard time spinning this story to fit their own values. After all, this is no small study, it analyzed the data of 47 other studies around the world of some 150,000 women.

Anyway, I'd bet that the Couple to Couple League and the La Leche League will be all over this story.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Sixteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A

Wis 12:13, 16-19
Ps 86:5-6, 9-10, 15-16
Rom 8:26-27
Mt 13:24-43

Our word of the day is "temerity", as found within our first reading. Anyone who knows the definition of "temerity" could be a very intelligent person but not necessarily a wise person. Those who act with temerity will not be found among the wise, or as Jesus said within the Gospel reading, they will not shine as the righteous will shine like the sun. "Temerity" is a five-dollar word, so to speak, but it provides a very rich lesson in human behavior.

I will share with you a few synonyms of "temerity": rashness, recklessness, and audacity. To start, I ask all of you if you prefer to be in the company of a rash person. You probably do not. Rash people seem irrational. Rash people seem to lack prudence. They're simply not good company. A person might be either highly intelligent or highly proficient, but if they are rash, then it is likely that they will be avoided. Unfortunately for all of us, the rash person can notice this avoidance, which then can make the rash person twice as abrasive - twice as rash. A rash person does not take the time to examine if either he or she has something wrong with them. The problem resides within either someone else or something else. It can't be with them.

The reckless person has an ego to feed and an immediate desire that must be acted upon. The reckless person cares little about his or her own self; the reckless person cares even less about anyone else. The reckless person has a goal, but there is no time to explain to anyone else what the goal might be. In fact, we must clear the way because there is a reckless person who wants to come through who believes that they are on a mission from God. But the only mission that he or she is on comes as a result of either pride or compulsion. The reckless person both forgets to plan and gives no thought to possible results of actions because such a person is too busy looking at their own reflection. Such a person can harm both his or her self and many other people while never accepting responsibility for anything. Reckless people believe that all bad results happen only as a result of bad luck. Bad things happen to good people, but many of these bad things happen as a result of reckless, irresponsible choices of other people. If reckless people were in charge of the field described within the Gospel, then the wheat would have burned with the weeds and self-congratulations would be given because of an efficient harvest.

Audacity can be good. An audacious person could very well be a pacesetter rather than an arrogant, reckless person. Yet most people are not good at pushing the envelope; they are much better at breaking it. A goodly audacious person defies the trappings of convention and supposed prudence, such as Jesus did when he told his parables. A badly audacious person defies convention simply for the sake of self-promotion. Remember Rev. Moon - as in the Moonies? He has begun an advertising campaign within which he claims that Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha have all told him personally that he is "the Saviour, the Messiah, and the King of Kings of all humanity". I'm not stopping this homily now. None of you look prepared to leave. I guess that means that we do not
believe Rev. Moon's claim. We probably share a collective reaction to his audacity. But despite this, we'll continue giving thanks and praise to the God who has called us to himself through all three of his persons and, as we have heard within the Book of Wisdom, is both the master of might and the giver of good hope for his children.

I suggest that we all find a dictionary when we can and look up both the definition and the synonyms for the word "temerity". We need to see how both the definition and the synonyms apply to us. Then we need to remember that God rebukes temerity. Through this exercise, we can seek healthy conversion so that we can grow in maturity. Through such prayer work, we can look upon the perfection of God - and while we look, we can understand how God calls us to share in his perfection. At the same time, he calls us to help others share in his perfection. To think that this perfection was meant only for us as individuals would appear rash and reckless in the eyes of others who are righteous in the eyes of God. To presume perfection would show much audacity.


A Prophetic Turnaround:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Is 38:1-6, 21-22, 7-8
Is 38:10, 11, 12abcd, 16
Mt 12:1-8

I thought that when a prophet spoke in the name of the Lord that that was it, there was no turning around. How trustworthy is a prophet who speaks for the Lord one way on a day and says the opposite in his name on the next?

This is exactly what Isaiah did in the first reading today. One day he spoke the word of the Lord and told King Hezekiah that he was going to die. But soon after he went back to Hezekiah, again, speaking in the name of the Lord, and told him that he would recover.

On the surface, such a flip-flop might be disturbing, especially to Isaiah himself. Prophets are supposed to be people who speak the enduring truth and justice of the Lord. "Waffling" isn't a word that should be used to describe a prophet.

But maybe "merciful" would be a more accurate adjective for them. When the Lord spoke through Isaiah, he revealed the glory of his mercy. And surely this mercy did not in any way show him to be changeable or fallible. No, it revealed for all to see his loving concern for us. It shows that he listens to our prayers, as he did to Hezekiah's.

The eternal truths of the Lord which prophets boldly proclaim are now embedded in the steadfast doctrines and dogmas of the Church. Maybe the Lord's mercy is revealed in the changeability of the Church's practices and laws.

The Pharisees did not acknowledge such a distinction when they complained about how Jesus' disciples on the sabbath picked grain to eat. They were concerned that a particular interpretation of a particular law was being ignored.

But the disciples picked that grain because they were hungry. They were travelling with Jesus on the sabbath. They very well could have been like so many other poor, landless workers in Palestine at that time, wandering from place to place. After all, Jesus had earlier said that the Son of Man had no place to lay his head.

In such cases, then, Jesus wanted the Pharisees and would want us to imitate the mercy of our heavenly Father (the mercy he showed to Hezekiah) instead of sacrificing these poor and lowly ones to the precise dictates of the law.

Church practices and laws are important. They should not ignored. They should be followed whenever possible. But they should not be equated with our doctrines and dogmas. We have a hierarchy of truths given to us from our God. And surely one that is near the top is that we are to be merciful, as he is merciful.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Long meetings, slow traffic, no blogging--'nuf said


For those of you coming here from Relapsed Catholic...

You'll have to scroll down to the first post from yesterday to find the post to which Kathy was referring. However, scroll down slowly and take a look at my other posts...


Meetings Today

I have a couple of meetings out of the office today and so I may be delayed in my regular blogging.


Finding Rest from Our Burdens:

A Reflection on Today’s Mass Readings

Thursday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Is 26:7-9, 12, 16-19
Ps 102:13-14, 15, 16-18, 19-21
Mt 11:28-30

The words that Jesus speaks to us in today’s Gospel reading may sound very comforting. And in many respects they are. Who could not find solace in words such as, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”, or “…you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.?”

But in order for us to experience the relief in Jesus’ words to us we must have suffered through many labors and heavy burdens. Maybe an even better message from Jesus would have been, “Hey, don’t do that or you’ll regret it. Before you make a mistake, come and learn from me.”

However, Jesus does not address such words to us today. He only calls us who are already in the midst of the challenges and crosses of our lives. This is the message from our Lord. But in the first reading, the prophet Isaiah seems to speak for us believers.

He and the people of Israel don’t receive peace from the Lord as a kind, gentle blessing. Instead, the Lord “mete[s] out peace to them. “To mete out” has a connotation of harshness. After all, we sometimes say that a punishment is “meted out.” And Isaiah himself remarked soon after his words about peace that “O Lord, oppressed by your punishment,
we cried out in anguish under your chastising.

Doe this mean that the Lord himself is giving us our punishments, that he wills the crosses that we bear? Such questions seemed to have been the occupation of some of bloggers over the past week or so. I tend to believe that, while God does not directly will the crosses that we experience in our lives, he still can and does directly use them to bring us closer to him. I know that this is a simple answer that could and probably should be elaborated upon. But it still reflects, I believe, a basic truth.

This may be one reason why our Lord invites those of us “ who labor and are burdened” to come to him so that he can give us rest. Yes, we may have, in our faults and failings, stumbled across our crosses and dragged them along in our day-to-day journey.

Surely the Lord gives us directions at other times that would help us avoid these crosses from the start. However, even if we do not heed his unfailing word at various points in our lives, he still does not abandon us. He is always there, offering us rest. And it is through this rest that we learn from him. We learn that the words that he spoke to us earlier were indeed true and spoken for our good. Our crosses, then, can be occasions for us to come closer to our Lord.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Stumbling along in Blind Pride:

A Reflection on Today’s Mass Readings

Wednesday of the Fifteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year II

Is 10:5-7, 13b-16
Ps 94:5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 14-15
Mt 11:25-27

In today’s first reading, Isaiah, speaking the word of the Lord, tells us how the Lord used Assyria as an instrument of punishment against the people of Israel. However, the prophet took note that the Assyrians never recognized how the Lord had used them. They felt that their power over the nations was a result of their own might, not from the Lord.

In response, the Isaiah asked these questions: “Will the axe boast against him who hews with it?
Will the saw exalt itself above him who wields it?
” He is convinced that the Assyrians were indeed only the axe or the saw and that it was the Lord himself who wielded these tools. And so he concluded that the Lord would show that nation in another way how he was the only source of their power.

Instead of showing revealing himself to them through his glory (which they might in their pride confuse as their own), he would do it through their downfall: “Therefore the Lord, the Lord of hosts, will send among his fat ones leanness, and instead of his glory there will be kindling like the kindling of fire.

This problem that Isaiah identifies was not unique to Assyria however. Israel had it too. Assyria was a pagan nation that was simply being used by the Lord. But the people of Israel should have known better. They were the Lord’s chosen people. He had led them out of Egypt and given them the Law through Moses.

At base, it is the problem of blind pride. Humility helps one recognize with 20/20 vision the nature of one’s relationship with God. It helps us see our own limits and God’s boundlessness. But instead of living in light-filled sight, Israel also lived in the darkness of pride. They saw themselves as boundless and the Lord as having no effect on them at all.

A week ago today, the prophet Hosea told us in the first reading about how Israel moved away from the Lord in their prosperity. As they believed that they created their own wealth, they would also created their own gods for themselves: “The more abundant his fruit, the more altars he built; the more productive his land, the more sacred pillars he set up.

But this problem isn’t limited to Assyria and Israel either. We believers, here and now, have it in spades. When, like Assyria, God uses us to show others his glory through a good word spoken or a good deed done for another, we can mistake it for our own glory. In days when we experience hardships, we might it difficult to see how God might allow them to happen in order to bring us back to him, as when he allowed Assyria to bring down punishment on Israel. Instead, we might wonder along with Job why such things happen to us, who do not deserve them.

In our blind pride, we might think that we know all of the answers. Like those whom Jesus mentioned in today’s Gospel, we might think ourselves to be wise and learned. But it is to such self-styled geniuses that the “Father, Lord of heaven and earth…[has] hidden these things.” It will only be when we become more “childlike”, more truly humble, that this same Lord will reveal his presence and the presence of his Son in our lives.

We will come to know how boundless is his loving action for us, in the small limits of our own lives, let alone in the life of the entire world.


An ironic church name

As Cindy, Michael, and I were approaching Memphis in our trip down there, we saw a sign for church that read: "Unity Baptist Church."

That immediately seemed a bit ironic to me. For I suspect that if I had been able to ask some answers to questions about that church's origin, I would have heard that it began when some Christians in another church felt alienated in some way from the pastor and/or the rest of the congregation and so left them and started their own new church. How is this unity?

Update:Maybe I am being presumptuous in my suspicions. What are other ways that such a church could come about? Or what are some justifications that such a church could make in name their congregation in this way?


Archbishop Buechlein on Screening Priesthood Candidates

In last week's edition of The Criterion, the weekly newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel Buechlein wrote on the screening of priesthood candidates in his weekly column, "Seeking the Face of the Lord."

This is a topic that has interested me in the midst of The Situation. Many in the press and other groups interested in the scandals have called for better screening in seminaries. However, I have felt that such a call ignores the fact that the first and often most important screening happens at the diocesan level, before a man ever arrives at a seminary.

Archbishop Buechlein seems to support this view:

Long before the acceptance process begins for a potential candidate, our vocations director interviews him and spends time with him in order to determine whether affiliation with the archdiocese should be pursued in the first place. Sometimes this takes more than a year, partly due to the fact that it is a time of more direct vocational discernment by the interested fellow.

Once it is determined that the potential candidate wants to make formal application to become a seminarian for our archdiocese, a formal process is set in motion. First, there is substantial psychological testing and a psychiatric interview. There is a criminal background check of all potential candidates. The applicant is interviewed by a pastor and given the Priest Perceiver Test, which measures aptitude for ministry; he is also interviewed by a religious and by a married couple. If all find the applicant acceptable, he is recommended to the archbishop for acceptance as a seminary candidate.

He also noted that the screening and annual evaluation processes of seminarians that go on in seminaries have improved over the past decade or so:

...I wonder if you have noticed, as I have, that in all of the publicity surrounding sex abuse among priests, it was the rarest of cases where such abuse happened within the last decade or so. Almost all cases go back 20, 30, 40, even 50 years. Might that indicate that more recent screening protocols have been more effective in preventing such problems? It would seem to indicate that our seminaries have learned more effective ways to help seminarians in their personal, spiritual and moral development. It must also mean that seminaries are rather effective in assisting candidates with serious developmental deficiencies to pursue other walks of life.

He doesn't let seminaries off the hook altogether, but I think that Archbishop Buechlein shows well that the problem of screening does not necessarily lie wholly or even primarily at the seminary level. Screening goes on in many different arenas. They all need attention. What do you think?


Busy at the office

When you work in an office like mine, where you're the only person there, no one seems to do the work when you go away on vacation. Therefore I'm playing a lot of catch-up this morning. However, my new part-time secretary starts today. So I'm also spending time training her.

Therefore, I'll be blogging as soon as I can. I hope to post a reflection on today's Mass readings later on today.

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

I'm back...

No, Michael Jordan hasn't taken over my blog as Fr. Shawn did in his short lived junta on Sunday ("I'm back" is how MJ announced his first comeback to the NBA--but, hey, I do have my own little MJ in my family--Michael Joseph).

Cindy, Michael, and I were on vacation since last Thursday. The majority of it was spent in Memphis, staying with relatives. And, no, I didn't go to see Graceland. Hey, it may have appropriate to do so now that a remix of the King's song, "A Little Less Conversation," has hit the top of the charts here in the US. But I've got a streak to maintain. I've been to Memphis close to a dozen times since 1976 and I haven't even yet driven by Graceland.

On the way down we spent the night at St. Meinrad and got to pray Vespers with the monks on July 11, which they celebrate as the Feast of All Benedictine Saints. Then we spent the night there on July 15. We went to Mass this morning. They celebrate today as the Feast of Our Lady of Einseideln, the patroness of the Archabbey Church. Einseideln is the motherhouse of St. Meinrad. It is an abbey in Switzerland and is over 1000 years old. It also has been a Marian shrine for much of that time.

Overall it was a very relaxing trip, filled with good visits with my aunt and uncle, some cousins, and a bunch of little second cousins. And it was holy too, for our time at St. Meinrad was very prayerful.

Oh, by the way, today is my 32nd birthday. You can send any kind of gift that you like, but cash is preferred.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

O'Neal: Thanks for the plug, Kathy!

To those of you who have are visiting this blog for the first time, know that Sean's posts are highly intelligent and his humility is a breath of fresh air. Make sure to bookmark this blog if you have not done so. You'll learn good things here. He'll return to blogging this Wednesday.

But temporarily, my junta team has seized control from el jefe de la republica as we promote the liberation of the people from the tyranny of the present state.

Now it's time for Your Daily Inflammation:

Wouldn't you love to see a tag-team "Celebrity Deathmatch" with C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton teaming up against H.L. Mencken and Jorge Luis Borges? It would be the greatest "quote-off" fight that we could ask for!

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Feast of St. Benedict, kind of...

Today, Latin Rite Christians celebrate the Feast of St. Benedict. However, some Benedictines, including the monks of St. Meinrad (where I was a novice and junior monk for 21/2 years), still celebrate it, with permission, on the pre-Vatican date, March 21.

So today at St. Meinrad the monks celebrate what they call the 'Feast of All Benedictine Saints.'

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Want to study and discuss the Catechism?

If so, then the CCCISG might be for you. CCCISG stands for "Catechism of the Catholic Church Internet Study Group. And, I'm happy to say, it is run by some of the faithful here in Indiana.


A Continuation of A Spiritual Commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter One: The Kind of Monks

There are clearly four kinds of monks. First, there are the cenobites, that is to say, those who belong to a monastery, where they serve under a rule and an abbot.

Second, there are the anchorites or hermits, who have come through the test of living in a monastery for a long time, and have passed beyond the first fervor of monastic life. Thanks to the help and guidance of many, they are now trained to fight against the devil. They have built up their strength and go from the battle line in the ranks of their brothers to the single combat of the desert. Self-reliant now, without the support of another, they are ready with God's help to grapple single-handed with the vices of body and mind.

Third, there are the sarabaites, the most detestable kind of monks, who with no experience to guide them, no rule to try them
as gold is tried in a furnace (Prov 27:21), have a character as soft as lead. Still loyal to the world by their actions, they clearly lie to God by their tonsure. Two or three together, or even alone, without a shepherd, they pen themselves up in their own sheepfolds, not the Lord's. Their law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy. Anything they believe in and choose, they call holy; anything they dislike, they consider forbidden.

Fourth and finally, there are the monks called gyrovagues, who spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites. In every way they are worse than the sarabaites.

It is better to keep silent than to speak of all these and their disgraceful way of life. Let us pass them by, then, and with the help of the Lord, proceed to draw up a plan for the strong kind, the cenobites.

It would appear that Benedict’s description of the four different kind of monks was derived out of his own experience. As monasticism developed the third and fourth centuries, the categories that Benedict lays out here did not develop as formal distinctions between various groups of monks.

There were indeed different developing differences between what would be known as the eremetical life, with its focus on the individual life of the hermit, and the cenobitic life, with its focus on the life of a community of monks. But even here, in the eremetical life it would often happen that a group of hermits would gather around a particular master, forming something of a community. And in the cenobitic life there was always a tension between the life of the individual and the life of the community. The word ‘monk’ itself is derived from a Greek word meaning ‘one who is solitary.’

The categories that Benedict describes, on the other hand, seem to show two ideals and two corruptions. There are the strong hermits and cenobites and the detestable sarabaites and gyrovagues.

These distinctions by themselves I think provide us some spiritual meaning today. Benedict offers us here two ideals, two different ways of life that are strong and reflect the truth of the Gospel. Of course we know that within the Church there are different ways of life that lead those who live them to holiness. There are different vocations that guide those who respond to them into an ever closer union with God.

One can be a husband or a wife, a father or a mother, a bishop, priest, or deacon, a monk, brother, friar, sister, or nun. These ways of life not lead to the holiness of those who live them, but they also act as a channel of grace to those with whom they interact. They can even be means of holiness of others whom they will never meet through their lives of prayer.

But even within a specific vocation, there may be some variety. Just as among monks there may be either hermits, cenobites, or even others who came along later who a combination of these two, so also there can be married couples who lead each other to God in very different ways. After all, we are told that women are from Venus and men are from Mars. There can be very different kind of priests or religious, but all of whom are faithful to the teachings of the Church. Truth is, as Hans Urs von Bathasar said, symphonic.

But if truth is symphonic, then error is cacophonic, it forms a cacophony. It is discordant, dissonant, and harsh. The sarabaites and gyrovagues that Benedict described were men who tried to portray themselves as true monks, but were revealed by their actions as false. There was a dissonance between the way of life that on the surface they seemed to profess and the actions that they actually showed forth.

Such cacophonies are not limited, however, to the monastic life. Unfortunately, our world is filled with countless men and women who live discordant lives in the roles as husbands and wives, as mothers and fathers. And the same can even regrettably be said about deacons, priests, and bishops.

How is it, then, that we can avoid such cacophonies, such dissonance and harshness? In the end, it will be through humility that we can live out the harmonious truth of the way of life to which God has called each one of us. When we live in humility, we recognize that God has blessed us with many gifts. But we also acknowledge that we are very limited beings. So we are called to use the gifts with which we have been blessed in obedience to his word.

Benedict describes cenobites as the “strong kind” of monk, those who “ serve under a rule and an abbot.” That is, they, unlike the sarabaites who, “ with no experience [presumably from an abbot] to guide them, no rule to try them,” recognize their own limits and their need for a more reliable guide than their own minds and desires. And unlike the gyrovagues, who are blown hither and yon by their obedience to their own appetites, the cenobites are obedient to someone other than themselves.

For all of us to trust in the Lord, to have faith in him is to refuse to trust only in ourselves. To have faith in God is to hold that he, and not just ourselves, has the truth and the grace to lead us into our own fulfillment. Let us be the “strong kind” of believers and live under the rule that is the revelation of God given to us in scripture and tradition and the abbot, a father, that has been given to us in our ordained leaders: our local pastor, our bishop, and ultimately, the holy father himself.