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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Friday, February 28, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Hos 2:16b, 17b, 21-22
Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13
2 Cor 3:1b-6
Mk 2:18-22

We know that Lent is coming soon. As a result of teaching here at Sacred Heart School, I have had the privilege to discuss some things about Lent with my classes. If you do not know, I teach the religion classes for both the 4th grade and 7th grade students. I love the 4th graders because they constantly force me to teach so as to be understood by the youngest of disciples. The 4th graders know not such terms as “mortification” and “asceticism”.

One student became very worried about fasting when I told him that it would be a good idea for him to reduce during Lent the number of hours that he watched television. He replied to me in a fearful tone that such a change in his life would be very difficult to bear. At that moment, I challenged him to something of an even greater degree of difficulty; I challenged him to do one new nice thing for his younger brother each day during Lent. You would have thought that I told him to eat worms.

At least I give this student credit for openly admitting that such things would be very difficult to change as they conflict with established daily habits. It refreshes me to hear that rather than hear someone say that such changes will be easy. Many people who say that something is easy return to their old habits within a brief amount of time. I am confident that the student with whom I spoke will choose to follow promises that he can truly keep. It will not be easy for him to do, but if he asks for God’s help, then he will be able to have a very prayerful Lent not feeling as though he missed anything important.

Put the student’s response in contrast with Gomer, the wife of the prophet Hosea from whom we receive today’s first reading. Gomer had no intention of keeping her promises. If you know nothing about her personality, then know that if Gomer had to endure Lent, she would have stopped eating candy and would have replaced it with cake – all the while saying, “I gave up candy. What else do you want from me?” It is difficult to accept that even with such a brazen attitude, the Lord still wanted Hosea to remain married to her. Their marriage was no different from God’s relationship with Israel. The people of Israel spoke of his love and fidelity only to show their fleeting love and fidelity to foreign gods. Israel wanted the best of all possible worlds. They wanted bold advertising to serve as camouflage so that they could live a hidden, secretive life.

The Lord has revealed unto us numerous times that his love for us is pure and faithful. No matter what we do, he wants us to be united with him. What we need to do during the forthcoming season of Lent is state our total and complete love for God. What we need to give up for Lent is everything that keeps us from keeping the promises that we want to make. What we need to do during Lent rather than merely give up something is to use the season to show proof of our love for God. We must do more than say “I love you”. That is a short sentence. Our lives need to be one continuous sentence of “I love you” addressed to God. As difficult as it may be to keep our promises to God, God promises to help us keep them. Have a blissful Lent with the one who loves you. Cast away all that keeps you from this love. I promise you that you will not miss anything more important.


The Mystery of Humanity Revealed in Marriage:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Sir 6:5-17
Ps 119:12, 16, 18, 27, 34, 35
Mk 10:1-12

"...from the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.
For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother
and be joined to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.
So they are no longer two but one flesh.
Therefore what God has joined together,
no human being must separate.
" (Mk 10:6-9)

"Whoever divorces his wife and marries another
commits adultery against her;
and if she divorces her husband and marries another,
she commits adultery.
" (Mk 10:11-12)

"A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter;
he who finds one finds a treasure.
A faithful friend is beyond price,
no sum can balance his worth.
A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy,
such as he who fears God finds;
For he who fears God behaves accordingly,
and his friend will be like himself.
" (Sir 6:14-17)

A human being is a mystery. On the one hand each one is unique and of infinite value. Each person has a dignity that is dependent on no other human. And yet on the other hand no human being can achieve fulfillment solely by himself. Human beings are, by their very nature, relational creatures.

Every person and every society has struggled with this mystery as long as humans have existed. And undoubtedly it will continue to confront us until the end of history. The resolution of this paradox is not to be found within a single individual or even the human race as a whole.

Throughout our history we humans have sought the answer to this dilemma in all places and through countless ways but to no avail. Little did we know in the past or even now that the solution was right before us from the very start.

The human race was created in the beginning as male and female. As a whole they were created in the image of God. Take one away and that image is incomplete. God brought them together to be one, just as he was with the Son and Holy Spirit. In bringing man and woman together as one and in the power of that unity bringing forth another life, another person, God did indeed create an image of himself, an icon of the Blessed Trinity.

That is why Jesus in today's Gospel is as clear as he is regarding the original unbreakable unity of marriage and of the sin that results from divorce and remarriage. But with divorce rates as high as they are today, many in the Church think either that Jesus' words are impossible to follow or that he meant something less strict than the way they've been interpreted in the past and currently in the Church.

People might look at his renunciation of the Law of Moses (which allowed for divorce) in this passage as difficult to understand and something that put the entire message of his words on marriage in confusion. After all, wasn't the Law of Moses divinely inspired?

Yes indeed it was. But it was given to Israel by the Lord while they were still unredeemed, still in the grip of both the eternal and temporal effects of original sin. With the coming of Jesus our redemption was at hand. A new age had begun. Our Lord had come to restore our original nature. That which was in the beginning was to be made possible for us again through the aid of his grace made available to us by his incarnation, his passion, death, and resurrection.

We still struggle with the temporal effects of original sin. Thus we see such a high divorce rate today. But if those who have truly heeded God's call and entered into the sacrament of matrimony, that icon of the Trinity, if they open themselves to the grace offered to them in that sacrament that is their relationship with their spouse, then God will lift them up over the burden of the effects of the sin of Adam and Eve.

The couple that does this is like the faithful friend that Sirach described in today's first reading. They will be for each other "a sturdy shelter" against the torrents of the sadness and sin of this life. They will be for each other "beyond price", for anything given to us by God cannot be measured against a merely human standard. And they will be for each other "a life-saving remedy." They will be for each other an eternal life saving remedy, a channel through which the sanctifying grace of God flows to the other, preparing that spouse for that union with God in heaven which is foretold in their marriage on earth.

Such a friend, Sirach says, such a spouse who fears God, will have a friend, a spouse, like himself. When God brings a man and a woman together in the sacrament of matrimony he brings a completion to each of them. By themselves they had struggled with the mystery of humanity: knowing their individual worth and dignity, yet knowing that this was not enough.

God solves this paradox for us here on earth through the mystery that is marriage and the life of the family, that which points to the ultimate end of all mysteries, of all sacraments: the life of the Trinity in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

The Quotable Mr. Rogers

"I feel the greatest gift we can give to anybody is the gift of our honest self."


Anticipating Lent:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Thursday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Sir 5:1-8
Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4, 6
Mk 9:41-50

Toward the end of the liturgical year the Church deliberately plans readings for daily Mass that call to mind the last things. We hear readings from Daniel one year and readings from Revelation the next, being given visions of the end of the world and the glories of heaven.

It would appear now that we are having readings that seek to prepare us for the start of Lent. I do not know if this is part of a deliberate plan on the part of the Church. Somehow I suspect not since the start of Lent changes from one year to the next.

Whatever the case may be, today's readings do serve well to help us look forward to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Today's first reading for Sirach exhorts us to rely not on our own strength and to never presume the forgiveness of the Lord. And close to its end we hear a very Lenten message: "Delay not your conversion to the Lord, put it not off from day to day."

Today's Gospel reading presents us with some harsh words from Jesus, suggesting to us ways to deal with our own sinfulness: "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off." He says similar things about our feet and our eyes. And he has particularly harsh words for those who lead simple believers astray: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea."

These readings andthe season of Lent which they anticipate try to move us out of our personal inertia and into a life of action. As much as our society seems to have historical amnesia and likes to turn its back on the tradition of the past, we are really a people that does not like to change.

We are very good at rationalizing our bad habits. Maintaining the status quo is so much easier than taking action to reshape our lives. Our new year's resolutions for change are now, for most of us, a distant memory of a not-so-distant past.

So right in the middle of the torpor of winter, when we are still hunkering down to protect ourselves from the cold, we are called by readings like these to venture out into the blustery weather of our sinful lives. Few of us relish this task. And naturally so.

But as we begin the process of self-examination and pray for the grace of conversion, we can be assured that though the season of Lent begins in the cold darkness of winter and the dreariness of our sin and mortality, it will end with the warm light of spring, the bright glory of virtue and eternal life offered to us by our risen Lord.

All of this is offered to us as a gift. But we must choose to accept it. We must choose to take the action of setting off on our journey, fueled by grace, through our winter of sin into a new springtime of blessings and eternal life.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Possible Light Blogging Today

Why? Lots of work. Religious education in the parish has been cancelled for the past two Sundays. So I'm having to do a lot of re-scheduling and contacting of catechists. I was out of the office on Monday due to hazardous road conditions. And I'll be out tomorrow taking care of Michael. Hopefully I'll be able to do some writing later in the day.

In the meantime, you might check out the comments to the most recent "Catholic Reasons for Hope" column and the comments from my post from last week in which I asked the question, "Why are you Catholic? (or any other faith or no faith at all)" Feel free to add your own comments. They've been great so far. Thanks.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Should we watch the TV program “Crossing Over”? This is a daytime program where the host contacts the dead and gives messages from them to someone in the audience. Can we believe that this is from God or is it evil?

A: As a general rule, I would recommend that Catholics avoid watching shows like “Crossing Over.” Why? They simply do not, in my opinion, provide what they promise. Such shows appeal to the natural human desire to remain tied to those friends and loved ones who have passed away. But, when seen in the broader new age context of which they are a part, we can conclude that they are simply offering spiritual snake oil.

Actually, the Vatican has recently addressed this broader context in a document issued by the Pontifical Council for Culture and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue entitled, “Jesus Christ the Bearer of the Water of Life: A Christian Reflection on the ‘New Age.’” You can read this at the Vatican’s website.

Actually what we have seen appearing recently in television shows like Crossing Over and other infomercials is not really new at all. It is simply the latest manifestation of what is known as the ‘spiritualist movement’ which dates back to the middle of the 18th century and started in Western Europe as the societies there started moving away from their Christian roots.

People active in these movements would flock to individuals who would claim to be ‘mediums’ through which they could contact their dead friends and relatives. Séances and other similar practices are part of this spiritualist movement.

But the popularity of such mediums would often fade and disappear just as quickly as it arose. Why? I suppose because those who consulted them were not satisfied and unconvinced that this person was actually in contact with their deceased friend or relative.

But humans throughout our history have shown a great capacity to be taken in by charlatans and so, despite the history of the spiritualist movement, other ‘mediums’ usually quickly arise to take the place of those who have been discredited.

Exposing oneself on a regular basis to something that one knows from history is false about matters of eternal importance is never good and simply a waste of time. Such a show can indeed be evil if it draws believers away from the truths that God presents to us in our faith.

Does all this mean that it is unimportant that we feel a continuing connection between we who are living and those who have passed away? By no means. In fact, our Catholic Christian faith directly addresses this desire.

Those who have died in Christ are, in a very real sense, much more alive than we are. They who went down into the grave with Christ in Baptism are now fully alive with him in the eternal life of the Kingdom. And if, as St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Romans, that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Christ, then we who are living can be said to be even more strongly connected to those who have died in Christ than we were when they were still with us walking the earth.

Can we communicate with them? Most assuredly. We can pray to them, asking them to pray to Jesus for us. St. Therese of Lisieux once said that she hoped to spend eternity doing good on earth, that is, praying for those of us who are living here and now.

So, in the end, I would not recommend watching “Crossing Over”, even if you do not believe what its host claims to offer. our Catholic faith offers us a much more powerful way of ‘crossing over’: prayer and our faith in Jesus Christ. In the end, such shows are, in my opinion, a waste of time. Instead of flipping the channel to watch that show, turn off the TV for that hour and give yourself to God and the saints in prayer.


Embracing the Cross:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Sir 2:1-11
Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40
Mk 9:30-37

The life of the Christian is the life of the cross--nothing less, nothing more. We who profess faith in Christ should not be surprised when trials come our way, nor should we try to avoid them when they confront us. For it is in embracing the cross tha we will come to experience the fulfillment of the cross' promise: resurrection unto eternal life.

The unavoidable reality of the cross is the constant theme throughout today's readings. It is the first thing we read in today's passage from the Book of Sirach: "My son, when you come to serve the Lord, stand in justice and fear, prepare yourself for trials." Likewise, Jesus in today's Gospel tries to prepare his disciples for his passion, death, and resurrection to come. He also lays before them the challenge of being a servant leader.

Although the cross, by definition, is a trial, we are given opportunities to prepare ourselves for them. Will this time of preparation reduce the pain or anxiety that accompany our crosses? Probably not. But if, in the time before we are confronted by them, we can place our trust more and more in the Lord, then he will give us the strength to persevere through their trials.

Today's readings also open our eyes to the place from which our crosses come. We might expect them to come from people who are opposed to faith in Christ. And, in truth, they often do. But today's Gospel shows us that they can often come from within ourselves, from our own sinfulness.

After the Twelve had debated among themselves as to who was the greatest, Jesus told them in no uncertain terms that the greatest among them would be the least and the servant of all. In fact, the greatest among them will be like a small child.

This, of course, runs entirely counter to our society's assumptions about the nature of power and prestige (not to mention those of the Twelve as well). For so many of us power and prestige is equal to authority over others and the ability to manipulate them to our ends. It is a cross for us to abandon this vision and to embrace the trials of servant leadership.

It is a cross for our society to accept that the greatest among us are small children. Yes, we often pay lipservice to this idea. But do we really follow it up with our actions. I think that they are too often seen as burdens to be avoided through contraception, abortion, hours upon hours, day upon day of childcare, TVs, and videogames. Scripture does not avoid the challenges that accompany the arrival of children, but we also learn that through embracing this cross we will be brought to eternal life.

God has tried to prepare us for these crosses for thousands of years. Yet we still try to avoid them at all costs. And we can see the troubled world in which we live which is the result of this rejection of the cross. What might our world be like if all of us took the risk of embracing the cross instead of rejecting it? I imagine that it would be a vision of the Kingdom of God.

Monday, February 24, 2003

A Pro-Life Victory for Hoosiers (AP)

The Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for an Indiana state law that places some of the nation's most severe restrictions on abortions, including requirements that a woman be counseled face-to-face about the risks and offered pictures of what her fetus might look like.

The high court turned down an appeal from abortion clinics in Indiana claiming the in-person counseling sessions would force some women to forgo abortions or to risk their health by postponing the procedure far into pregnancy.

Still, not all pro-life supporters see this as a victory:

"Waiting periods will not end abortion," said Erik Whittington, spokesman for the American Life League. "Although these bills may be well intentioned, they do not address the fact that abortion kills a baby and should never be allowed under any circumstance."

Here's the Indianapolis Star's coverage of the story.

This news only broke a few hours ago. Here is the website for Indiana Right to Life and the American Life League (the spokesman for which was quoted above). They don't have any story up yet about the decision, but check back--I'm sure they'll do something about it in the coming hours.

On a personal note, the clinic that is named as the lead plaintiff in the suit is one of the clinics that my wife serves in front of as a sidewalk counsellor. When she learned of this and the Supreme Court's decision to let the law stand, she said, "Good. This will give us two chances to reach out to these women."


An interesting new blog

It would appear to be written by a young man who was once a Baptist pastor but who is now Catholic. Scroll down and read the series of posts that he has begun which are entitled, "Why Catholic?"

In these posts he is answering the question that I posed here last week, "Why are you Catholic?" By the way, you might scroll down to that post. There have been some interesting comments posted.


The Holy Father states the internet is an "extraordinary means of evangelization"

He made this assessment while meeting in Rome with the diocesan directors of the pontifical mission societies in the United States. This group now has its own website, which the Holy Father hoped would "draw many people to a deeper faith in Christ..."

I hope that the site will indeed do this. But I think that it needs some redesigning...


“I do believe! Help my unbelief!”:

A Reflection on Today’s Mass Readings

Monday of the Seventh Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Sir 1:1-10
Ps 93:1ab, 1cd-2, 5
Mk 9:14-29

We are surrounded by God’s creation. And in all of this we can discern his wisdom. In everything that is reasonable we can find God’s handiwork. And yet to acknowledge this requires faith. There are countless men and women around the world who can give reasonable explanations of this or that aspect of the universe and yet fail to acknowledge in this the wisdom of the Creator.

This need not shake the faith of us who believe. As the book of Sirach tells us in today’s first reading, God has poured wisdom upon all living things. From the perspective of we who believe we can acknowledge that something of the wisdom of God resides in anyone who speaks anything that is true, even if they reject the existence of God altogether.

Now, of course, it is natural for we who believe to feel some frustration about such a situation. But I think that it would be good for us to refrain from judging the quality of one’s faith too quickly and only on the evidence gathered from a few isolated comments.

The faith that is given by God to any person needs to grow. It could be present in one who seemingly rejects God. But it might be so buried in that person’s heart, buried deep beneath so many cultural prejudices, that this person might not be able for a long time to acknowledge its presence in a way that we believers would accept.

We already believe that this is true in the infants that we baptize. My wife Cindy and I affirm that God poured faith into the heart of our son Michael at the moment that the waters of Baptism were poured over his head. We see the beginnings of this faith shine forth in him when he places his trust in us, believing that we will feed him and care for him.

If we can broaden our vision to acknowledge the sprouting of faith in infants like Michael, why can we not hope that something of a divine faith is also present, if still hidden, in adults who seem to have turned their backs on God?

Jesus did not require a fully mature faith in order to work miracles in the lives of those who believed. Consider today’s Gospel. The father of a boy with a mute spirit pleaded with Jesus, “...if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus remarked that his faith was not that strong, to which the man replied, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” Jesus then took action to cast the spirit out of the boy.

But notice, Jesus performed a miracle in the life of the boy who was not even able to express faith in him, at least not in the manner that we adults might have expected him to. Jesus performed this miracle, not as a result of the boy’s profession of faith, but because of the father’s weak one, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!” At any rate, surely the miracle that Jesus performed, in addition to healing the boy, also added strength to the faith of his father.

The father had never lost faith that his son would one day be cured. When Jesus asked him about his son’s condition, he said that it had been with him since his childhood, presumably many years in the past. And yet when he came to Jesus he did not come in a spirit of despair but one of faith-filled hope. Perhaps Jesus saw a strong faith in this long perseverance of the father and so acted upon it in healing his son.

Maybe, then, we can take the father in today’s Gospel as an example when we look upon those who, in their examination of the truths of creation, reveal the wisdom of God and yet still deny his existence. The father believed that his son would one day be made whole. We too need not see the current state of affairs in the lives of these people as permanent. Let us believe that there may indeed be the seeds of faith planted deep in their hearts.

You see, our faith might be weak, just like the father in today’s Gospel. It may be so small as to fail to trust that Jesus might touch the hearts of those that we think have no faith at all. If this is true, then each of us needs to cry out with this father, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”

Sunday, February 23, 2003

They've done it again

I just saw on a local TV station that the Psychic Spirtualist Church in Indianapolis has cancelled its Sunday evening services. This is the second time in about a month that I've seen them do this.

Like I wrote the last time this happened, you'd think that they would know that the bad weather was coming, tell their members and wouldn't have to announce it on TV. Heck, why didn't they tell the rest of us, then none of us would have to have all those announcements running along the bottom of our TV screens.

You know, with this second announced cancellation, I'm starting to lose faith in them...


Scroll down a little bit

A few days ago I posted a piece in which I asked you readers, "Why are you Catholic?" (or which ever other faith or no faith at all that you profess). Haven't had many takers yet. I know you are a thoughtful bunch. Maybe I'm just getting fewer and fewer readers...Oh well.

At any rate, please consider scrolling down to that post and sharing your answer to that question. Thanks


A victim of weather again

Last weekend, Cindy, Michael, and I were stranded overnight in Memphis on our way back from Tulsa. Last night we had to spend the night at my parents' house. That evening I had given a presentation on marriage and prayer in Richmond, IN. Its usually about an hour and a half drive from there to our home. Well, it took two and a half just to get to my parents' home and would have taken another hour at least to get to our home. We arrived at my folks' place at 11:30 so we didn't see any point in struggling against the blowing snow and snow and ice covered roads.

That was the end to a busy day. As I've already noted I gave a presentation a group of folks involved in engaged ministry in the parishes in Richmond. Earlier in the day Cindy, Michael, and I attended a conference in Indianapolis entitled, Nothing Between Us in which was explored various aspects of Catholic married life. There were some good presentations on NFP and the spiritual benefits that it offers couples.

Elizabeth Matthews, author of Precious Treasures: The Story of Patrick, gave a moving presentation, helping us see how all children are sources of grace for us. All in all it was a wonderful event for the relatively large amount of folks who attended it on a day that had such poor weather.

Well now I'm relaxing at home when I would usually be working at the parish. Because of the bad weather we had to cancel religious education classes for the second week in a row. We're going to have to significantly scale back our plans for Lent. Still, I believe that much good will come out of the tasks that God has given us to do.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Wheaton College loosens ban on drinking and dancing

According to officials at the evangelical Christian college they did so because they felt that the Bible did not speak firmly on those practices. Funny, I suspect that the officials of the college who instituted the ban over fifty years ago and subsequent officials would have felt that the Bible did indeed discourage if not prohibit such behavior. Has the Bible changed? Or, if it hasn't, how do we know which interpretation is correct?

By the way, I had a roomate who was a Wheaton alum when I was a grad student at Notre Dame. He was engaged to another Wheaton alum. Both of them had taken 'The Pledge' quite seriously when they were students there. So when they got married, the reception was a bit interesting. The wedding itself was on a Saturday morning. And so the reception ended up being more of a luncheon than anything else. It sure didn't last very long...

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Update on What I'm reading

If you scroll down a bit, you'll see a box along the left side of the screen that tells you what I'm reading at the moment.

I just did an update on it today. If you have read any of these books and have some coments on them, or if you haven't and have some questions, please let me and the other readers know in the comment box to this post. Thanks.


Sarcasm Is Frequent Form of Martyrdom Today, John Paul II Says

Martyrdom today is not only manifested in violence but also in sarcasm, says John Paul II.

"We know that the persecutor does not always assume the violent and macabre countenance of the oppressor, but often is pleased to isolate the righteous with mockery and irony," the Pope said, when he met with over thousands of pilgrims in today's general audience.

If that's the case, then there are a lot of Catholics (and Christians in general) in the United States who are martyrs. But is this a cheapening of the concept of martyrdom? I don't think so, provided that we who seek to live out our faith deliberately and obediently in the United States always remember the ultimate sacrifice and dying to self that Catholics and Christians in other parts of the world are called upon to offer because of the more extreme oppression that they experience there.

To read the entirety of the Holy Father's reflection in which he made these remarks, go here.


Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) Asked Pius XI to Intervene Against Persecution of Jews

Edith Stein addressed a sealed letter to Pope Pius XI, requesting his intervention at the start of the persecution of Catholics and Jews in Hitler's Germany.

The document, dated April 12, 1933, has surfaced thanks to the opening last weekend of the Vatican archives referring to Pius XI's papacy (1922-1939).

The papal reaction that responded most closely to the "sealed letter" was articulated in Pius XI's encyclical letter "Mit Brennender Sorge."

Published in German on March 14, 1937, the papal document on the situation of the Church in the German Reich pointed out the incompatibility between Catholicism and Nazism's racist and pagan assumptions.


On baby patrol

Cindy is working today so I'll be taking care of Michael today. I may get some blogging done, but I don't know. In the meantime, consider the question that a reader posed in the previous post. Add your comments if you wish.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Why are you Catholic?

Or, if you're not a Catholic Christian, why do you profess the faith that you do? Or, if you forsake faith altogether, why have you made that choice?

The original question was put to me by a reader, not out of any prying curiosity, but for a more important purpose.

Here is the motivation behind the question:

What I'm wondering is, are there right and wrong reasons to profess the Catholic faith, and are there right and wrong ways to live it out? I've always known that people have different reasons for claiming Catholicism and obey church teachings to various degrees, but I've never cared about it until now.

In trying to understand what makes one Catholic, I've been reading opinion pieces by Catholics about issues of faith and morals (long live blogs!) to try to get a sense for what Catholics really believe, what questions are up for debate, what questions are closed cases, and what is the proper way to express one's views. I mean, Protestants (as far as I know) draw from the Bible and whatever else they wish to decide what they believe about any given issue. Catholics, on the other hand, are sometimes in some ways bound by conscience to the teachings of the church. I'm trying to understand the right way, if there is a right way, to incorporate church teaching into one's life. It lies somewhere between blindly going along with everything the church says about everything and accepting or rejecting church teaching to suit one's fancy.

I've noticed on blogs that people often qualify "Catholic" by calling themselves orthodox Catholic, liberal Catholic, neo-Catholic, or any of a number of other terms, so it seems that people's takes on Catholicism can fall into categories. Again, are some of these views of Catholicism wrong?

For example, I have a friend who I would consider to be a good Catholic. Her words and actions are Godly, which makes her a good Christian, and she incorporates Catholic values in her life, such as regularly attending Mass and using NFP. When asked why she was Catholic, as opposed to any other type of Christian, she responded that she believed we can't know which Christian church is the true church (if there is such a thing) because of corruption, politics, etc. She is Catholic because most of her personal beliefs line up with those of the church (purgatory being the big exception), and she pointed to her confirmation as a time when she made an informed choice that she's going to stick with.

Her last reason was that it would feel wrong in her heart not to be Catholic. So, she seems to me to hold a Protestantized view of Catholicism. That being, she believes Catholic teaching not because of the idea that it is teaching free from error by the grace of God but because the Church happens to hold the same beliefs as her that she came to on her own, mostly through reading the Bible and through thinking about all of the questions that the athiest(?) she was dating during the year of her confirmation had asked her. Such a view doesn't seem to jive with what the Cathechism says about the Church, and part of Mass is professing to believe in the Catholic Church during the creed.

Quite a motivation, huh? What's your answer to the question? Why are you Catholic? Why do you profess the faith (or lack thereof) that you do? Do you have any response to the motivation behind the question? I'd be interested to read your responses. I'm sure the reader would be as well.

I've already offered my own answer, at least to the initial question. I'll let you see it later on, after I've seen some of your thoughts.


Blogger problems

I've been having problems with blogger all day. I contacted Mark Shea if he was having similar problems and he told me that he wasn't. He also said that I was probably being punished for something sinful that I had done as a child.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily from Last Weekend

Editor's note: Fr. Shawn's homily is usually posted on the Friday before the Sunday on which he will deliver it. In this instance I was out of town that day.

Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Lev 13:1-2, 44-46
Ps 32:1-2, 5, 11
1 Cor 10:31--11:1
Mk 1:40-45

We do not know what happened to the leper. In all honesty, we can speculate about whether the leper within this particular Gospel story truly recovered from his condition. His healing was conditional. His healing would have been based upon the full practice of the law. The leper would have known the law; he acted according to the law while he was sick. He knew that he was to remain in a specific location and to keep a certain distance from ritually pure people. He knew that he had to pronounce vocally that he was unclean. The law, as presented within Chapter 13 of the Book of Leviticus, provided an explanation of the whole leprosy examination process. The law declared that priests had the final say as to who was clean and who was unclean.

Chapter 14 of the same book provided both priests and followers with a comprehensive guide for what was meant to take place during the arduous ritual healing process. A person who believed that they were healed did not simply approach the priest so that the priest could simply nod his head and say, “You’re clean now.” It was much more complex than that. I will now read a description of the purification process to you.

(I read Leviticus 14:2-9 and then tell the congregation goes all the way until verse 32.)

The leper in the Gospel would have known that part of the law if he knew the first part. He should have known that the healing that Jesus offered was conditional. The condition was that the leper had to carry out the law and present himself to the priest who would declare him to be clean again. Recall that Jesus said within the Gospel of Matthew that he came to fulfill the law; in turn, he wanted the faithful to fulfill their obligations. The ritually impure faithful were not exempted from this. They received grace, but they did not receive exemption. The leper might have grown very angry toward Jesus because his sickness remained with him, but it did not remain with him because Jesus did not perform his share of the bargain. The leper forgot that he also had a part to play.

What the leper has to do with us is that each of us has a tendency to act as the leper acted. Many people want healing, but they do not always want to follow the instructions that either the doctor or the Great Healer provides in order to have a complete recovery. Many people want absolution, but they do not want the penance. Many people want God to do things for them without them having to do things on behalf of God in return. We are not clean simply when we believe that we are clean; we are clean only when the High Priest declares us to be clean. If we do not take the time to receive this declaration from the High Priest, then either we have refused to follow his instruction or we are in a state of delusion.

Remember that we have a High Priest in Jesus who prefers to be meek more than be mighty. We have a High Priest who prefers to wash our feet more than beat us. Even when he speaks in a stern tone to us, he does this only so that we may share in his joy and not take for granted one moment of new life in Him. He wants us to share in his life forever, but his desire is conditional. The condition he places on us involves living according to how he has taught us to live.


What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Sixth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Gn 6:5-8, 7:1-5, 10
Ps 29:1a and 2, 3ac-4, 3b and 9c-10
Mk 8:14-21

A traditional way of understanding the sin of Adam and Eve is to see it as self-centered pride. There surely is truth in this. A quick glance across the span of recorded history confirms also the continuation of this original sin in all of humanity. So much of the evil that is experienced both now and in the past is a result of self-centered pride.

Surely one of the effects of this age-old sin ins poor communication. Each person is so focused on him- or herself that people end us not really listening to others. They end us attaching their own meaning to common words. Therefore, when others speak to them, they hear one meaning while the speaker intended something different.

There are examles of this in both readings from today. Humanity had been shown the evil effects of sin through what happened to Adam and Eve and their son Cain. And yet in the time of Noah they simply continued sinning and sinning. The Lord had tried to send them a message but they failed to understand it. Likewise, in today's Gospel, Jesus shows great astonishment when his disciples continually fail to grasp the meaning of his words and deeds.

Surely he would have the same reaction were he to live among us today. The eternal effects of original sin may have been wiped away in the waters of Baptism, but their temporal effects still fall heavily upon us.

Today one can buy countless books and videos which seek to increase the positive effects of communication between men and women, between businesses, and between generations, to name only a few. One can spend thousands of dollars going to workshops and conferences at which some guru will reveal the secret knowledge necessary to speak and listen effectively.

But I venture to argue that we can save all of the money that we spend on these books and conferences by simply learning the language of Jesus' Good News. The only cost for the courses to learn this language is faith--and this in itself has already been given to us by Jesus free of charge.

When we start applying our faith to the ordinary events of our day-to-day lives, we will start to see the fruits of the gifts of the Holy Spirit given to us at Baptism and strengthened in us at Confirmation. As we live our lives of faith more and more deliberately, our communication with others will bear a more striking resemblance to what happened on that first Pentecost.

Like those simple apostles from Galilee, who earlier had been unable to understand the Lord, we will, having been empowered by the Spirit, speak the words that others will be able to understand and, more importantly, need to hear.

It is only the loving mercy of our heavenly Father, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that is able to turn us from our self-centered pride and our inability to communicate toward a humble focus on others, an eagerness to listen, and an ability to speak well with them.

Right now so many of us are still struggling mightily against the effects of original sin, unable to understand fully the language of the Gospel. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ open our ears to hear him and those around us and free our tongues to speak his praise.


Why no blogging yesterday?

Cindy, Michael, and I were still trying to get back to Indiana from Tulsa. When we left there on Sunday, I knew that central Indiana was getting hit hard by the big winter storm that shut down the east coast. When we arrived in Memphis, the flight to Indy was still on time. However, our home is an hour and a half south of the airport--on a good day. And the flight was not going to arrive there until midnight.

I called my folks, heard about the nasty road conditions, and decided to call my uncle who lives in Memphis to arrange to stay the night at his place. At any rate, on Monday we got on a packed flight for Indy. And, as a nice treat, we got bumped up to first class.

While in the Tulsa airport on Sunday afternoon we happened to sit next to a group of folks that was heading off on a missionary trip, sponsored by the United Methodists, to Tanzania. After they made some remarks about Michael asked a few questions about him, the conversation turned to what the each of us was doing. The missionary group was going over to Africa for a three-week trip. They were being led by an interesting looking minister: fairly tall, fairly large, gray balding hair, a long pony tail, a go-tee beard, wearing something of a Roman collar with something of a pectoral cross around his neck.

When I told him that I had been teaching Church history to a group of men studying to be ordained as deacons in the Catholic Church, the first thing that he asked me was if I had told them about Pope Alexander VI (probably the pope with the most scandalous behavior in the history of the papacy). I told him that I hadn't gotten up to the Renaissance (when Alexander lived) in this class session but that I would cover it in the next. I did tell him that I had explained how Pope Gregory VII had deposed Emperor Henry IV. I got the impression that he hadn't heard of Gregory...

At any rate, we and they were on the same flight to Memphis. When we got into the terminal, we were walking together to our respective next flights. When we had to part ways, the minister stopped us and asked if he might give a blessing to Michael. We agreed and he pulled out a small container which he said contained frankincense oil from the Holy Land. He said a nice blessing prayer while making the sign of the cross on Michael's forehead with the oil. It was a graceful ending to a somewhat interesting encounter. May God bless that group in their ministry.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

I'm outa here

Cindy, Michael, and I will be leaving early tomorrow morning for Tulsa and won't be arriving back until late on Sunday night. Keep us and the deacon candidates whom I will be teaching in your prayers, if you would. Thanks.


The latest installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

“Snow before Christmas is nice. Snow after Christmas is a nuisance.”

This is the rule of thumb that I have created to judge the relative worth of the weather that we often experience in the wintertime. These words came to mind the other morning as I was driving to work up State Road 9 through yet another snow storm. My usual half-hour commute easily turns into one that takes an hour during such weather.

I’ll admit it. I don’t like winter. I don’t like the sun coming up late and going down early. I don’t like having to spend several minutes putting on three layers of clothes just to go out to get the morning newspaper. I don’t like having to contemplate my propane bill when the furnace runs half the night because the temperature has dropped into the single digits yet again.

Such were my brooding thoughts as I gripped my steering wheel in the my dark morning commute the other day, making very sure that my car stayed on the snow-covered state road.

But, somehow, when I least expected it, a ray of light broke through my somber mood. Somehow my thoughts, perhaps inspired by God’s grace, turned to what old Fr. Leopold might have said on a day like that. Fr. Leopold taught a biology class that I took when I was a student at Marian College in Indianapolis.

Fr. Leopold is a Franciscan priest, a man who belongs to the religious order founded by St. Francis of Assisi. The twenty-first century descendants of that thirteenth century saint often follow his spiritual lead and seek to find the goodness of God in the creation that surrounds them. It was St. Francis who composed a poem of praise to God in which he addressed himself to ‘Brother Sun’ and ‘Sister Moon.’

During my treacherous drive to work it would have been hard for me to look at the creation around me from the perspective of St. Francis. But the words of his follower, Fr. Leopold, rang in my ears nonetheless. I remember going to class one day, some ten years ago, a day that saw weather not unlike the kind we’ve had recently. At the start of class Fr. Leopold always offered a prayer. That day, he paused in silence for a moment as all of us students could hear the freezing rain bouncing against the windows. Then when he began his prayer his words went something like this:

“We give you thanks, O Lord, for the cold, harsh storm that you have given us this day for it helps us to be more thankful to you for the bright warm weather that we experience in the summer…”

More often than not when I think of the prophets that God sends his people, I think of men like Elijah or John the Baptist, rough men living in the wilderness, their wild eyes burning holes in the hearts of their hearers, their harsh words bringing down the judgment of the Lord upon a nation that had sinned. But I see now that God can send us prophets in quiet, pleasant men like St. Francis or Fr. Leopold.

No matter how they convey their message, prophets call us out of pride and back to a humble walk with the Lord. The prophetic words of Fr. Leopold, spoken so long ago, rang in my ears once again the other morning, calling me to be thankful to God at all times, even on a cold, dark winter morning.


I would appreciate any comment that you would care to offer on any of my published writers such as this column.

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Another Catholic blogger is back

This time its JACK over at his blog, Integrity.


Amy Welborn returns

On a limited basis, that is. She'll be doing limited blogging on Mondays.

It kind of reminds me of what Michael Corleone said in Godfather, Part III: "They keep pulling me back in!"


Ranger Rosaries

(thanks to Relapsed Catholic for the link)

Catholic students in several states are making rosaries for members of our armed forces being deployed to the Persian Gulf, according to this article from Catholic News.

It didn't come as news to me, however. The students in the religious education program (REP) of which I am the administrator made such rosaries back in December, 2001 for those soldiers being sent to Afghanistan. Now we're joining in the effort to make them for those being sent to the Persian Gulf.

A Catholic army chaplain has requested some 200,000 rosaries. They have to be big enough to wear around the neck. They have to be black, brown, or dark green. And they have to be made out of cord with plastic beads. Nothing metal with bright colors here. They make easy targets.

The older REP students participating in this are also making rosaries for all of the some 200 students in the program. During Lent we will be focusing our prayer in the program on the rosary, as this is the 'Year of the Rosary.' We will culminate our observance of the season by praying a living rosary in the church on Palm Sunday, praying the sorrowful mysteries. Grades 5-9 will each be assigned one of the mysteries and will, as groups, write reflections on their own mystery. This will be read at the start of their decade.

Several parishioners have begun to learn how to make these 'ranger rosaries' and will be teaching our students. They have also begun a rosary making club in the parish.


Dropping the "the"?

Apparently Prince Charles has toyed with the idea of dropping the "the" in the English monarch's title of "Defender of the Faith" when he is crowned king. Such a change would reflect many people's belief that England is not an exclusively Christian nation. It would also please many critics of the special relationship between the English monarch and government and the Church of England.

Well, apparently, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams opposes such a change.

"Unless something really radical happens with the constitution he is, like it or not, Defender of the Faith and he has a relationship with the Christian Church of a kind which he does not have with other faith communities," Dr Williams said.

Any reform would be "a large issue", he added. "It wouldn't just be a matter of words. The fact is that the monarch is the supreme governor and is such in virtue of being the prime lay person of a Christian Church."

I wonder. I just wonder if the fairly liberal Williams is more concerned about the loss of pounds and prestige through the disestablishment which might follow from such a change in the monarch's title as he is about some expanded notion about the religious identity of the monarch?


Mega-church springs up from small beginnings

LONGMONT, Colo. -- The Lifebridge Christian Church is envisioning a big future for its congregation.

According to the Greely Tribune, since beginning more than 100 years ago as a hodgepodge of home Bible studies, the Longmont church has grown steadily and then sharply -- from 700 in 1991 to 2,700 at present.

Lifebridge now is considering using 315 acres it bought for $5 million in 2001 as the site of a new church campus.

The open farmland would become a 150-acre church campus including three chapels, a 5,000-seat outdoor prayer garden, a worship and learning center, a 6,000-seat auditorium, a performing arts center and a recreation center, plus space for activities, adult education and administration offices.

The remaining 165 acres would be used for housing, parks and trails.

"What the church is looking to do is to create a space to grow into over the next 50 years," administrator Bruce Grinnell said.

I think that it is interesting how the Catholic Church gets criticized by some evangelicals as being a Church of great wealth and then you see *one* congregation like this one able to buy a 5 million dollar plot of land before any building is put up at all.

Apparently some folks living near the land purchaed by the church aren't too happy about the zoning changes needed for the development to go forward. Fourteen of them have filed letters of protest.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Evangelical blogger locdog asks the question, "Where do babies go when they die?"

In the question, he is presuming babies who have not been baptized and, in particular, those who were aborted. I give what I believe is the position of the Church in his comment box.


Speaking of Permanent Deacons

Here's the latest statistics about the ordination of such deacons worldwide during 2002.

Nearly half of all permanent deacons are in the United States. Any significance in this statistic?


Have I said that I have a great wife?

Today she and my son are doing sidewalk counselling outside of a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Indianapolis. Last night she called the man who coordinates this ministry to tell him that she was thinking twice about doing it because of the cold weather predicted (the overnight low was going to 10 degrees and she had to be at the clinic at 8:00 am).

The man convinced her to go anyway because, without her present, there would only be one counsellor. If any complaints were brought against that person, it would be good to have a witness to back up his story. Its sad that we live in a society where those who reach out lovingly to uphold the dignity of life and to help women in need are seen as a threat.

Well, when we both left at about 7:00 am this morning, it was not only cold, but snowing heavily as well. The Indianapolis area received at least four more inches of snow. Perhaps the bad weather will keep the clinic's customers away. It won't keep my wife and son away.

Update: A "security guard" escorting the clinic's "customers" into the building said several times, in a loud voice, how bad a mother my wife was for having her child out in the cold. Cindy responded charitably that Michael was warm and well taken care of. How would you have responded?

She also started a conversation with two women in a car, coming from the clinic, who made the same criticism of her. In the midst of the conversation, one of the women said that it would be better to have an abortion than to bring a child into the world when there was no possibility that the child would be well cared for. Cindy immediately responded that there were many couples out there who would love to give all the care that any baby would ever need. She seemed to have made an effect on their outlook on the matter. How would you have responded?


Calling a Blessing a Curse:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Gn 1:20-2:4
Ps 8:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
Mk 7:1-13

Sometimes that which seems most familiar to us is, in fact, the least known. Consider today's first reading. It is the second half of the first account of creation. We've heard this story again and again. We might think that we've learned for it all that there is to know. But I think that if we look at the behavior that is acceptable and even encouraged in today's society, we will see that the truths of this seemingly so well known passage are far from us.

Look closely at the passage. In creating the sea creatures, the birds of the sky, and the land animals, God seemed to have worked indirectly. Yes, he commanded that these creatures come into being. But notice the way in which he spoke his command: "Let the water teem...", "on the earth let birds fly beneath the dome of the sky...", "Let the earth bring forth all kinds of living creatures...". It is almost as if the sea creatures were a product of the sea and birds and land animals a product of the earth.

It is different, however, with human beings. In creating them God took a direct role: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." This special connection between humanity and our Creator is further described in this passage in the way that God blessed us: "God blessed them, saying: 'Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.'"

So, we are to see our fertility as a blessing. And yet do we? I think that we see it too often as a curse to be avoided, a sickness to be treated, a disease to be cured. We go to great lengths to rid ourselves of this blessing: we take pills, wear patches, get injections, and have elective surgeries which intentionally mar our God-given bodies.

And we take the same attitude toward the blessing of the world in which we live. It was intended by God to be a blessing for us and yet we seek to manipulate and destroy it for our own selfish purposes. What we do with our fertility is writ large in what we do with the environnment.

In treating these blessings as a curse we do what Jesus accused the Pharisees of in today's Gospel: "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." Aren't we disregarding God's word when we, by our actions, call a curse what God calls a blessing?

And when we seek to justify our contraceptive mentiality and our destruction of the environment by creating convoluted theologies aren't we really "nullify[ing] the word of God in favor of your tradition that you have handed on"?

Indeed, we are trying to hand on these traditions by encouraging our young people to take pills or use condoms. We hand them on by seeing the birth rate in developing countries as a curse and trying to bless them by showing them the "benefits" of contraceptives.

And yet, sadly, this is a tradition that has been handed on to us. It was begun by our first parents. They sought to put themseles in the place of god by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We continue this tradition of treating ourselves like gods when we call a curse what God has called a blessing.

But it need not be this way. Jesus came to free us from this tradition. He came to renew our hearts and our minds. He came to give new life to our bodies. In redeeming us Jesus no only reconciled us with his heavenly Father, but also with all of creation and our own selves as well, created in the Father's image and likeness.

We can choose to embrace this reconciliation or we can choose to shun it. We can go on telling ourselves that we know the truths of the story of creation and yet show by our actions that we "disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition." Or we can return to God with everything thing that we are: our bodies, minds, and souls. We can choose to be reconciled with him, with creation, and with our selves and each other.

The choice is there. What will you choose?

Monday, February 10, 2003

Thinking about Church History

This coming weekend I'm going to be in Tulsa, OK teaching the first half of a course on Church history to the deacon candidates of the Diocese of Tulsa. From Friday evening through Sunday afternoon I'll be teaching for a total of about 12 hours. I'm teaching for St. Meinrad School of Theology's Office of Continuing Education, who is administering the deacon formation program for the diocese.

This will be the third time that I will have taught this course. Previously I have taught it in the Diocese of Richmond and in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston.

On this weekend the candidates will speed through the history of the Church up to the Reformation. I already have my outlines all worked out. But I would be interested to hear from you as to what you think are some things about the first 1500 years of the Church that I should emphasize in the short amount of time that I will be with them.

I look forward to reading your comments.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: When did the official language of the Church become Latin and why was it chosen? What was the major reason for the Second Vatican Council to change it back to the language spoken in any particular country?

A: Latin became the language of the Catholic Church in the western part of the Roman Empire (current western Europe) in the 4th and 5th centuries. During this time, Latin became the only language spoken in these lands. Before, both Greek and Latin would have been spoken there. Latin was, at that time and in that place, the language of the people.

That is why the Eucharist began to be celebrated in Latin. It is also why the Bible was translated from Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic into Latin. This was done in its entirety by St. Jerome. Before his time certain books of the Bible may have been translated into Latin, but not all of it.

Latin has never been the official language of all Catholics however, but only for Catholics (like ourselves) in the “Latin Rite.” Catholics in various Eastern rites have used different languages.

Latin remained the official language of the Latin rite after other western European languages (e.g. English, French, etc.) developed because of many reasons. It took a long time for these languages to develop and they underwent many, many changes, as they still do today. The leaders of the Church wanted a language that could communicate the beliefs and the worship of the faith in a way that would be precise in any time or place. Latin, since it was no longer spoken and so not subject to change, served that purpose.

The bishops at the Second Vatican Council, however, also recognized the necessity of allowing the Eucharist to be celebrated in the language of the people, wherever they lived. They felt that this would allow the Gospel to be more effectively proclaimed to all the ends of the earth.

Latin still remains the official language of the Latin rite. Any document issued by the pope is still written in Latin and then translated into other languages. Again, this helps to maintain the preciseness of our understanding of the beliefs of our faith.

Q: Why is the Mass called ‘the Mass?’

A: The term ‘the Mass’ comes from the last words said in Latin at the celebration of the Eucharist, either in the past when it was only said in Latin or now (the Mass can still be said in Latin).

Those words are “ite missa est.” These are the words spoken by the priest to the faithful gathered for the Mass. In English it basically means, “You are sent out.” Today the priests say, “The Mass is ended, go in peace.” The word ‘Mass’, then, comes from the Latin word, “missa.”

There is a deep importance in the use of the term “Mass.” It refers to the fact that each of us who are baptized are ‘sent out’ by Christ to share his Gospel with the whole world. Just as he sent out his first apostles (by the way, the title ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek for ‘one who is sent out’) to proclaim the Gospel, so we are also sent out, having been given his grace in Holy Communion to do this sacred task, the very mission of the Church.


Praying for a Miracle:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Memorial of St. Scholastica, virgin

Gen 1:1-19
Ps 104:1-2a, 5-6, 10 and 12, 24 and 35c
Mk 6:53-56

God is the master of all creation. He set it all in motion through a word of command as we saw in today's first reading, the beginning of the first account of creation from Genesis. He allows it to continue to this very day according to the laws that he created for it. But he can work above those laws at times in order to reveal his glory in extraordinary ways.

This happened in today's Gospel reading. A person with a disease is not, according to the laws of nature, supposed to be made well simply by touching the tassle of a man's cloak. But the man in question here was no ordinary man. He was Jesus Christ, the Word of God, he through whom all of creation came to be. In his presence on the earth he revealed the glory of God by rising above the laws of nature, by allowing the sick to be cured, simply by touching him.

In the proces, not only did Jesus rise above the laws of creation, he also lifted up those around him as well. The people of Gennesaret in today's Gospel reading, in the trust they placed in Jesus, did not feel bound by these laws. If they had, they would not have brought their sick to him.

Thankfully for us, instances of our Lord lifting people up above the laws of nature are not restricted to the stories of the Bible. They have occurred throughout the history of his people all the way up to our own day.

It happened once in the life of the holy woman whose feast we celebrate today, St. Scholastica. Once, when her brother, St. Benedict, was visiting her, she was saddened when he told her that he must leave and return to his monastery. She immediately bowed her head in prayer. God answered that prayer and brought about a great storm, forcing St. Benedict to stay with her longer. The holy man recognized what had happened and lovingly scolded his sister but also accepted the situation given to him by God.

This story from the life of St. Scholastica, along with today's Gospel reading, show us clearly what can happen when we place our trust in God. So often we shape our prayer requests around what we think is possible within the bounds of human reason.

Perhaps, in the back of our minds, we don't ask God for what is extraordinary out of fear that our faith will be shaken if our prayer isn't answered according to our expectations. But I suspect that if we have enough faith to ask God for the extraordinary that, even if were not to occur exactly as we had wished, our faith would still remain.

Actually, I think that God works real miracles in our lives all of the time. In his providence he shapes our lives so that we might be able to becme the people he has created us to be. You might, at the time that it happened, see the event in which you met your spouse as happening by chance. Later on, in reflection, you might see some reasonable explanation for the event. but might it not have been a small miracle worked by God in your life and the life of your spouse?

What could be more miraculous than the bringing together of tow totally unique, highly complex, and utterly independent lives? And not only are these lives simply brought togethet, they are brought together in such a way that they become one. This is indeed a miracle worked by God in our lives.

God is indeed the master of the creation in which all of us live, of which all of us are a part. He is, then, the master of our lives as well. In this knowledge, let us, like St. Scholastica, place our trust in him, asking him to do the extraordinary in our lives, opening our eyes to his glory present all around us.

Friday, February 07, 2003

The latest installment in my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

A few months ago I wrote about how my son Michael was in the “letting go stage.” At that time he was in the habit of grabbing anything within his reach. But as soon as he would take hold of it, he would almost as quickly let it go.

Michael has now moved past the letting go stage and has entered what I call the phase of exploration. This is one that I hope will endure for a long time. Michael is not yet crawling, but he is certainly mobile. Just the other day I took him to my office and I sat him on the floor in front of my large desk with some of his toys that he usually prefers.

But within a few minutes I heard the sound of CD cases falling off some shelves that were about five feet from where I had put him. Michael had scooted himself across the floor and was pulling dozens of CDs off of my shelves, chewing on the cases.

I just had to smile. I wasn’t mad. When I saw that he had moved across the floor like that, I knew that he had entered the phase of exploration. He wanted to reach out further and further beyond himself. When he had been born only a handful of months earlier something like this could never have happened.

And so the growth that I had witnessed in him gave me a physical confirmation of what it means that we human beings were created in the image and likeness of God. Still, with every tumble he takes, with every struggle he makes, I also see the reflection of how all human beings strain against the effects of original sin.

Throughout history human beings have striven for that transcendence which is of God. Men and women have sailed the seas, climbed mountains, gone to the top and bottom of the world. They have thrust themselves past the bonds of earth and reached into the stars. Others have explored the depths of wisdom and knowledge. Mystical souls have, by the grace of God, soared to the heights of the Spirit.

And yet we are still just creatures made in the image and likeness of the Creator. We are not the Creator himself. In all of our attempts for transcendence there have always been failures, there have always been disasters, as we saw last Saturday when the astronauts of Columbia fell to their deaths.

But the constant threat of doom and our struggles with the effects of original sin need not fill us with despair. For although our first parents Adam and Eve fell from that pristine image of God in which they were created, God has redeemed us through his Son. Through Christ each one of us who believe and are baptized are born anew, born as the adopted sons and daughters of his and now our heavenly Father.

Surely our Father looks upon us in our striving for transcendence just as I look upon Michael as he struggles to move across a room. Just as I take love-filled wonder in his every movement and lift him up when he tumbles down, our heavenly Father marvels in his own redeemed image shining forth in us in all of our exploration. Yet when we fall because of our own brokenness, he is always there to lift us up with his grace.

My son Michael has indeed entered the exploration stage. May it be a stage that he never leaves behind.


I'd appreciate any comments on my column that you care to share with me.


Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jb 7:1-4, 6-7
Ps 147:1-2, 3-4, 5-6
1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23
Mk 1:29-39

Have you ever read the Book of Job? Many people refer to Job as being a patient person because that is what they have been told about him. A few people know his story and they know that it is a twisted one. If you thought that what we have just heard from the seventh chapter is depressing, then you should read the rest of the book. It is a rather distressing book on many counts.

It helps to understand the first reading if we place it within its greater setting. The comments from Job that you have heard come as a rebuttal to those comments made by a so-called friend named Eliphaz the Temanite. He lacked sensitivity to Job’s situation. The Temanite referred to the disasters that Job painfully endured as the culmination of a logical sequence. According to the beliefs of many people during those times, Job and his family must have received due justice. Children suffered as a result of their father’s sins. The salt in the wound here is that Job had the reputation of being a very upstanding, reverent, and morally good man. All of the misfortune that God allowed to happen to Job served as a sign to his friends that Job lived a secret life of sin; after all, God did not allow bad things to happen to good people. They had no idea what Job did, but they assumed that his offense must have been very serious.

So today we observe a very angry Job. He was forced to endure suffering for reasons that he neither understood nor brought unto himself. Through no means did God charge him with any crimes; therefore, Job did not understand why he received such punishment. As I have said, his friends speculated that he had been a secret sinner. As a result, Job gave us a huge “Life is not fair and it should be” speech that is powerful enough to make pale in comparison any speech of this type delivered by a schoolchild.

If Job would have been in a much more peaceful and stable situation, then he could have accepted the words of Eliphaz the Temanite – as insincere and as misrepresentative as they were in places. When Eliphaz speculated about Job’s potential sinfulness, he also said that Job should be blessed. In Chapter 3 of this book, Eliphaz said: “Happy the man whom God punishes for his faults. He wounds, but only to heal. The same hand that strikes also heals.”

Life is not fair. Life is better than fair. Life is a gift from God. Life is joyous. Life is precious. Life is better than fair. Despite this, tragedies could happen to some of us that are going to make us respond as Job responded throughout the story. Many Christians will have a moment when they look up to heaven and ask why this thing or that thing has happened to them. At our worst moments, we might say what Job said at the end of our first reading: “I shall not see happiness again.” It can be very difficult to remember that Jesus has already defeated death and evil, but that is something that a Christian must always remember to do no matter the circumstance. The devil wanted Job to forget that God was all-powerful. The devil wants us to forget that God is and always will be all-powerful.

We are not at a point where we can understand the depth of the power of God. We cannot understand completely why some good things happen and why some terrible things happen. All of us must avoid acting as Eliphaz did. He thought that he completely knew God’s ways. None of us knows fully the ways of God; therefore, let us not act as if we know how things are and how things will be. The time that we use for speculation and criticism is time that could be better used for being the healing hands of God at work or being builders of the Kingdom so that any and all children of God can see happiness again.


Focus on the Family is downsizing

When I first saw that they were cutting 34 employees I thought that it was a lot. Then I learned that they employee 1300 people and have an annual budget of 130 million dollars!


And we thought that there was some trouble in the Church over the cause of Pius IX

A bitter rift has opened in the Russian Orthodox Church over a campaign to canonise Rasputin and Ivan the Terrible...


The Timelessness of Jesus:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Friday of the Fourth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Heb 13:1-8
Ps 27:1, 3, 5, 8b-9abc
Mk 6:14-29

Today's first reading contains a list of various moral admonitions. It ends, however, with the statement: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." I've heard these words used a lot in homilies and sermons and often in an effective manner for the occasion. But I don't recall it being explained from the context of the passage in which it is found.

Perhaps it is because it seems to come at an odd place. Why would such a statement be placed at the end of a list of moral teachings? Maybe the author of the Letter to the Hebrews was trying to tell his audience and us today that the presence of Christ endures and is always close to us. He is, in the Spirit, as close to his disciples who never saw him face-to-face as he was to those disciples who had.

Therefore in all of our relationships with our fellow men and women we should seek out the timeless face of our Savior. Remember what we heard a few days ago in the chapter just before this one: "Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus."

Such a vision of faith should, then, have an impact upon our moral decisions, on our thoughts, words, and deed. We should think, speak, and act toward others as if each one of them was Christ, whether the person be (as was described in the list of admonitions) a Christian, a prisoner, one who is in need of hospitality, one's spouse, or the leaders in the faith.

This last group was mentioned immediately before the statement about Jesus' timelessness. And here we might see a special connection for the author exhorted his audience to imitate their leaders who (it is suggested) died for their faith in Christ.

So perhaps in the witness of their death, the disciples who received this letter, who had not seen the Lord in the flesh, could still know his presence in an especially powerful way through the death of their leaders.

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, is indeed revealed to the world in any time and place that his followers die to their selves, up to the point of complete martyrdom itself. The truth of his paschal mystery cannot be bound by time or space. It was prophesied in the death of the prophets. Jesus' prayer for forgiveness from the cross was also spoken by St. Stephen, the first to die for the faith, as he was being stoned. And Christ continues to be revealed in the suffering and death of those persecuted Christians in China, Indonesia, and the Sudan.

Even those who are ignorant of our Lord's real identity still attest to his timelessness. The story of King Herod in today's Gospel demonstrates this. In trying to determine who Jesus was, the king ended up exclaiming, "It is John whom I beheaded. He has been raised up."

Herod may have indeed believed or this or, at least, feared it to be so. And while we know that Herod's words are not literally true, we can see an important truth suggested in them. John, in his execution, stood at the end of a long line of prophets who died in witness to the word of the Lord. John and so many other prophets before him were figures of the Word to come later who would also die at the hands of unjust men, but whom also could not be held bound by the power of death.

The example of John the Baptist, the prophets before him, and the leaders in the faith up to our own day who give up their lives for Christ are shining examples of our Lord's timelessness. We can follow their example here and now by choosing to die to our selves in the countless opportunities given to us every day. Let us seek out and find the face of Jesus in all of these events and the people whom we meet. Let us die with him so that we may live with him, he who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

More interesting comments today...

down at this post. They're between reader Evan Donovan and myself on the nature of the communion of the Church and its relationship to salvation.


Church stained glass window displayed in court house to be covered during sessions

The old stained-glass church window that's been displayed in Mansfield Township's municipal courtroom for the past year must be covered during court sessions, under a directive issued by Burlington County state Superior Court Assignment Judge John Sweeney.

Judge Sweeney, who sits in Mount Holly, said his office recently received a complaint about the religious overtones of the window containing a verse from the Bible.

The 9-foot-by-3-foot window contains a quote from Psalms 127:2, which says: "He giveth his beloved sleep."

"If the window did not have a phrase, I would have let it go," said Judge Sweeney. "But the saying is of a religious nature. People should not be confronted by that if they do not choose to be."...

The historic church window was found last year in an old municipal garage by Marion Reeves, chairperson for the Special Events Committee. She said she knew it was a window from the First Presbyterian Church of Columbus that used to be located at the municipal complex site.

"We put it in the town hall as part of the history of the town, not as a religious symbol," Mrs. Reeves said. "We thought the people of the community would like it."...


An amazing story of a Catholic family doing missionary relief work

The Borle family is from western Canada (I'm not sure which province) and spent ten months in Belize. Both parents and all six children, ranging in age from 19 to 10 went along and participated.

Belize, of course, is already a largely Catholic country, so they weren't doing what is called 'primary evangelization.' However, they helped the faithful in building up the life of the local Church there and gave a great amount of help when a hurricane hit the country during their stay.

This is the type of mission work that Catholics in developed countries need to take up. We need to reach out to our brothers and sisters in faith in less developed nations who might find it difficult, in part, to grow in the faith because of a lack of material resources. However, this is not all of the story. The Borles learned much about the life of faith and grew much in it by the example given to them by the faithful in Belize whom they had come to serve.

Perhaps if there were more interaction like this between Catholics of different nations, there might be less evangelization of the peole in Central and South America by evangelical and pentecostal Christians. Through the fruit of such cooperation among Catholics they might see that these are really Christian people after all and so do not need the primary evangelization that is often carried out down there by them (mistakenly in my opinion).

But the example of the Borles also brings up another topic which I've discussed before: parents (and families) doing foreign mission work in foreign lands. Yes, everyone who is baptized is called to proclaim the Gospel. But there are, of course, many ways of doing this, not the least of which is living a faith-filled Christian marriage and having a faith-filled family in the midst of a society such as ours that so clearly needs that witness.

Does that mean that foreign mission work by parents is out of the question? Not necessarily. However, I think that the place of the mission needs to be chosen with great discernment so that the lives of the parents are not put in any reasonable danger. Their first calling is, after all, to be caring parents of their children.

And, if possible, I would say that parents who seek to do mission work should do what the Borles did and do it as a family. I simply do not like it when a couple feels called to do foreign mission work and leave their children in the care of relatives far away or other mission workers for months at a time. In the end, I guess that I'd go by the principle that my father-in-law (a father of 11) uses when he gets invited to a wedding where children aren't allowed: "You don't my children? You don't want me."

However, it should be noted that the children might not want the mission trip and so it should not come down as a mandate from on high. It should be discussed and prayed about within the family in detail before any decision is made.

Take a look at the article. Let me know what you think of it. Let me know what you think of my commentary in light of it.


I'm on baby patrol today...

...and Michael hasn't been feeling well the past few days. He's taking a nap right now. We'll see how long it goes.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

Some of you folks must be interested in this whole rapture thing...

...because I keep getting some interesting comments on my post on which I commented on Paul Thigpen's The Rapture Trap. Scroll down to last Friday's post or take the link I provided to it and let me know what you think.


The Asian edition of Time does it's darndest to make the case for contraception...

...but it would seem that the president of the Philippines isn't biting. She wrote a letter to Fourth World Meeting of Families in which she said that the government should promote ""fertility-awareness education" using "modern technology" and "birth spacing." Sounds like something that could have come out of a Couple to Couple League brochure.

However, the president also noted her belief that poverty and the birthrate are connected. Yeah, they are, but not in the way that most folks would have you suspect. The poverty of developing nations isn't so much tied to a (relatively) high birthrate as it is to lots of other factors: natural resources present, the ability to take advantage of them, and, oh, the manipulation of some of those country's resources by many folks in developed countries--often the same ones who want to push contraceptives on them (like the folks at Time).

Its been noted by various folks recently that the economies of various developed nations in Europe as well as in Japan are at risk because of an alarmingly low birthrate. Somehow the two arguments--one, trying to connect high birth rate to poverty, the other trying to connect low birth rate to declining economies--just don't match.


Pope Urges Catholic Hospitals: Be True to Identity at All Levels

In saying 'levels', he was referring to the administrative and financial aspects of hospitals as well as the obvious medical ones. However, he could have just as easily, and much more regrettably, been referring the different floors of a hospital. This Catholic hospital in Austin, TX will have one of its floors operated independently from the rest of the hospital so that it can still offer 'reproductive services.'

(I remember finding this post about the Austin hospital on Amy Welborn's blog.)


Light blogging this morning

My son Michael was sick this morning and so I had to make a run to the pharmacy during what would have been my prayer time. No reflection on the Mass readings today.

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

Dear Abby on Evangelization--or is Proselytization?

I hardly ever read Dear Abby. But this column caught my eye. I had happened to read the column when the original note showed up (from "Happy Hindu in the Bible Belt"). Here's the situation. "Happy Hindu" had received some baked goods from a Christian neighbor who had put a Christian tract in with the treats. The letter-writer didn't like the tract but wasn't sure what to do about it. At the time, the columnist advised that the writer throw away the tract and enjoy the treats or give them away to those who would like them.

Well that advice didn't sit very well with many of the columnist's readers, as can be seen in today's quotes. And the columnist has changed her tune to fit the sentiment of her readers.

I'd be interested to see what some of you think about the original situation, the columnist's original advice, the various reader responses, and the columnist's change of advice.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: As I try to explain different aspects of the Catholic faith to various friends and co-workers who are not Catholic, it seems that my efforts keep running up against a stigma about Catholics that many Protestants have. It seems that they often feel that Catholics boast about partying, drinking, gambling, etc.

How did Catholics get this stigma? And what does the Church have to say about those practices that so many see as being done by Catholics?

A: I suppose Catholics have gotten that stigma because of something that every human being (Catholic or otherwise) lives with: the effects of original sin. Many Catholics struggle with addictions to alcohol, gambling, etc. But, then again, so do many who are not Catholic.

I find it a bit ironic that one of the criticisms leveled against the Catholic Church by many Protestants is that it has complicated the Gospel by adding so many rules while, at the same time, many of them belong to churches that have very strict rules regarding style of dress, hair length, alcohol drinking, gambling, etc.

All of this—both the sins that all of us commit and the rules that we make to try to lessen them—is reflective of all Christians’ attempts to be honestly aware of the power of sin in our world and to grapple with it in the best way that we can.

Regarding practices such as drinking alcohol and gambling, the Church does not expressly forbid them on all occasions. Indeed, if it were to be true to biblical principles, it would be rather difficult to forbid at all times the drinking of alcohol seeing that it is a central part of Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist.

But the Church also recognizes that the drinking of alcohol can be a grave sin for those who are addicted to it. Likewise, it would be sinful for us to put such a person in an occasion of sin by drinking around him or her. This is based on the principle that St. Paul laid out in his first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 8:1-13).

He had been asked if it was sinful to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols. St. Paul noted that, since there really is no god except the Lord it was therefore not sinful to eat it. However, he also noted that there are some followers of Christ who did not yet have this knowledge. Therefore, eating in their presence meat sacrificed to idols could be a cause for scandal and confusion for them.

In the same way, many of us struggle to make our God our only God. We are struggling to have no other gods beside him. We are grappling with the idols of whatever we are addicted to. So, for example, if we know that a brother or sister in Christ is addicted to alcohol, it would be sinful for us to drink it around him or her.

This way of looking at things is a bit more complicated than simply saying that the drinking of alcohol is sinful in and of itself. This is the way that some non-Catholic churches view the issue. But we Catholics believe that we are following the principles of the Bible in what we are teaching.

In refusing to call such practices sinful on any occasion, the Church is not denying the horrible effects that they can have in the lives of so many people. In fact, we should pray ceaselessly for those who are so heavily burdened by addiction. Perhaps though humble practices like this one the stigma that seems to be attached to many Catholics might go away through the grace of God.


If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit a question for "Catholic Reasons for Hope", I encourage you to do so by e-mail.


Inside the Vatican's 'Top Ten Catholics of 2002

Interesting that we're seeing it only in February, 2003. Most of the top ten lists we see in the regular media come out sometime in early December. Just goes to show you that time moves a little more slowly over in Rome.

Take a look at the list. Its an interesting mixture of those known to us in the US and others who are unknown to us. Who would you have put in your own list?