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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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Check out the new link... Ave Maria Radio on the right in my box entitled "Notable Links." Listen live at any time to some good Catholic radio programming. Thats a great feature for someone like myself who lives in an area where there are no Catholic radio stations.


A Reformed Christian's perspective on a topic of interest to me: evangelization

Take a special look at footnote #2 of the post. Heddle has an interesting take on celibacy as spoken of by St. Paul in 1 Cor 7:32-34. While he thinks that the Catholic Church is wrong in requiring what he believes St. Paul is merely suggesting, he seems to level more criticism toward those Protestants who look with suspicion upon a potential pastor who never intends to marry.


Arrival of new books

Yesterday I received in the mail a new book and a new booklet from Catholic Answers. The new book was Carl Olson's Will Catholics Be Left Behind?: A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and of Today's Prophecy Preachers and the new booklet was Jimmy Akin's special report for Catholic Answers entitled: False Profit: 'False Profit: Money, Prejudice and Bad Theology in Tim Lahaye's 'Left Behind' Series. (There is no separate link for the booklet, it comes free from CA with purchase of Olson's book.)

It should make for some interesting reading. I've already completed Akin's report. It was very well written and points to the real danger of the Left Behind series for children and youth. He shows how the publisher of the series, Tyndale, was the spur behind the "Left Behind: The Kids" series and speculates that it came about primarily through a profit motive. Yet Akin is very concerned that the thousands of young people who read the series will have a very scary portrait of Christianity given to them, a portrait which has the real potential of ultimately alienating many of them from the faith.

An interesting fact that Akin failed to mention in his discussion on Tim LaHaye, the 'brains' behind the series, was that he was baptized in the Catholic Church. However, apparently his father became alienated from the Church while his son was still very young.

What do you think of the whole "Left Behind" phenomenon? Have you read any of the books? Do you think that they are basically harmless fiction or do you see a real threat in them? Do you think that they are truly "anti-Catholic"? Have you had Evangelical friends encourage you to read them? What effect, if any, have you seen from the books on fellow Catholics who have read them?


Archbishop O'Malley's homily from his installation Mass

...At the beginning of the new millennium, the Holy Father urged Catholics throughout the world to ask forgiveness for our sins and failings that have obscured the Church’s mission and compromised our efforts to announce the Good News over the centuries.

I dare say, we of the Church in the United States could not have imagined just how important this gesture of asking forgiveness would be for us. Little did we realize the dimensions of the problems that beset us. As Catholics, each time we celebrate Mass we begin by asking forgiveness of our sins. We are sinners and we say that we are sorry. For us Catholics the third millennium has opened with a long penitential rite. And, at the beginning of this installation ceremony, I again ask forgiveness for all the harm done to young people by our clergy, religious or hierarchy.

The whole Catholic community is ashamed and anguished because of the pain and damage inflicted on so many young people and because of our inability and unwillingness to deal with the crime of sexual abuse of minors. To those victims and their families, we beg forgiveness and assure them that the Catholic Church is working to create a safe environment for young people in our Churches, schools and agencies. It must never be business as usual, but rather a firm commitment of every diocese, parish and school to do all we can to avoid the mistakes of the past and create safeguards for the future. Even now, an audit of the compliance of the Charter for the Protection of Children is being done in every diocese. Much has been done, much needs to be done.

Many Catholics feel that it is unfair that national concern on sexual abuse has focused so narrowly on the Catholic Church without a commensurate attempt to address the problem in our contemporary society at large. Yet we can only hope that the bitter medicine we have had to take to remedy our mismanagement of the problem of sexual abuse will prove beneficial to our whole country, making all of us more aware of the dreadful consequences of this crime and more vigilant and effective in eradicating this evil from our midst.

How we ultimately deal with the present crisis in our Church will do much to define us as Catholics of the future. If we do not flee from the cross of pain and humiliation, if we stand firm in who we are and what we stand for, if we work together, hierarchy, priests, religious and laity, to live our faith and fulfill our mission then, we will be a stronger and a holier Church...

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Baptist Press News on the passing of Bob Hope

Funny, they didn't mention that he was Catholic...


A Laughable Moment on Good Morning America

Not only does Bill O'Reilly not understand the Catholic Church very well, it would appear that he also has trouble with math. On Good Morning America this morning, I heard him say the following:

"There's 20% extremists on the right and 20% extremists on the left. Its the 80% of people in the middle who really make the difference."

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Light Blogging Day

Today is my wife's first day to work since Michael was hospitalized. I'll be taking care of him today, so I'll probably be scarce from the blog, that is, unless Michael decides to take a good, long nap (yeah right!).

In the meantime, I'd recommend that you scroll down, read some of my posts over the past several days, and add your comments. Thanks.

Monday, July 28, 2003

A Humorous Side to All of the Rapture Talk

Private Tribulation, Public Rapture:

The Outline of A Best-Selling, Poorly Written
Novel About End Days, Last Times, and False Profits

By Carl the Snarl

Story Line A:

A middle-aged advertising executive named Mark Best wakes up one morning to find that his wife is no longer in bed next to him. He assumes that because they are fundamentalist Christians and he has been having improper thoughts about a girl at video store of late, his wife has been raptured, leaving him behind. In fact, his wife has been having an affair with the grocer for the past six months, and they are off to Aruba to start a new life as mail-order tycoons. Mark refuses to accept this fact, even though all clues point towards it.

Mark Best begins to go about in a haze, experiencing in his new private world of nervous breakdown-induced mythic symbolism the signs of the end times. In the end, having taken the local pastor for the False Prophet and the town mayor as the Beast, he eventually starts to realize that he is himself the Anti-Christ (see below for more)...


Talk about Christians unwilling to think of Catholic as fellow Christians

(link thanks to Envoy Encore)

Here's an AP review of Carl Olson's new book "Will Catholics Be 'Left Behind'?: A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today's Prophecy Preachers". Many who promote dispensationalism in particular or a pre-tribulation rapture in general are often very wary if not unwilling from the start to consider Catholics as Christian.

This article ran in The Shelbyville News last Saturday on the same page on which my most recent column appeared. It was interesting for me to be published right next an article about an author with whom I correspond on a fairly regular basis (I wrote an article for Envoy which is planned to appear in its next issue).

The article had a huge headline and featured a large picture of the cover of Carl's book. I hope that it creates at least a little buzz around town. You see, starting two Saturdays ago, I've been running a placement advertisement in the newspaper bascially publicizing RCIA and trying to appeal to inactive Catholics in the area.

I hope I get a good response from the ad. I'd love to have lots of folks in RCIA and a good number of inactive Catholics coming back to the parish.


Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: Why do Protestants think Catholics are not Christians? Are we? I always thought we were.

I think that it must first be said that many Protestant Christians do in fact think Catholics are Christian. Some believe this as a general rule. Others would want to be given evidence of the nature of an individual Catholic’s faith before he or she would be willing to conclude that the individual was or was not a Christian.

There are still other Christians, however, who would say as a general rule that Catholics are not Christian. Some might even say that we are pagan. This is sad and perhaps frustrating to acknowledge, but it is true.

It is hard to explain why some Protestants do not think that Catholics are Christians because there are lots of different reasons for this conclusion. However, I would tend to say that many of the Protestants who either would not, as a general rule, say that Catholics are Christian or would be unwilling to say this in any case hold this position because of what they believe makes an individual a Christian.

For them, the fundamental way that a person becomes a Christian is through acknowledging that one is a sinner, that Jesus is Lord and is willing and able to forgive his or her sins, and then entering into a relationship with him by asking for forgiveness and allowing Christ into his or her heart. For Christians who hold this view, baptism may or may not follow. But, in any case, it would only follow such an event, which is often described as ‘being saved.’

If such an experience would not seem to be present in the life of a Catholic, many Protestant Christians would be hesitant to call that Catholic a fellow Christian.

This is not to say, of course, that for Catholics a conversion experience similar to the one described above is unimportant. It is quite important indeed. It is often this kind of experience which leads many adults into the Catholic Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA).

But we in the Catholic Church fundamentally believe that what makes an individual a Christian is experience of the sacrament of baptism (see Jn 3:3, 5, Mt 28:19-20, Mk 16:16, Acts 2:38, and many other verses). That is why we consider Protestants, as a general rule, Christians since most of them acknowledge the importance of baptism, even if they do understand it in a way that is radically different from us.

At the same time, we can fully acknowledge that baptism does not give a person a totally mature faith. Every person who is baptized must respond to the grace given to them by God in that sacrament in order to mature in the faith. This is obviously true for those who are baptized as infants. But it is also true for adults as well. In any case, it is often the grace of baptism that leads a Catholic into a process of a very real, lifelong continuing process of conversion.

A Catholic hearing from a Protestant that Catholics are not Christian can be a hurtful experience. If this is so, I would acknowledge the reality of that experience. But I would also in those instances lean on the grace given to us by God in the sacrament of baptism. It will be the grace of baptism that will allow us to respond to such potentially hurtful words with love.

I tend to think that God will work through such words and deeds of love from us to lead such Christians to a realization that Catholics are indeed their brothers and sisters in Christ.


Catholic Reasons for Hope appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If any reader of Nota Bene would like to submit questions for this column, he or she is welcome to do so by e-mail.


Hopefully the last word on Michael

Well, on his illness at any rate. He's been home for a week now. We found out that he lost over two pounds--a good bit for a little guy like him. But in the past couple of days he's really showing signs that his appetite is coming back.

He still has his central line in his chest through which he receives antibiotics twice a day. And he still has dressings over his various incisions which are changed twice a week by a visiting nurse. Hopefully the central line will be out in two weeks or less. And hopefully by that time his remaining stitches can be removed and his incisions will have healed enough that he doesn't have to have any more dressings.

We're still waiting to discover some reason why he became ill in the first place. He had had a vaccination for the bacteria that caused his pneumonia. Was it just a very rare strain that wasn't covered by his shots that got to him? Was his immune system down for some reason? Had he really been hit first by a viral illness, which attracted the attention of his immune system, and then soon there after hit by the bacteria at a point when the immune system couldn't react? We may have answers to some of these questions in the next few weeks.

We also hope to learn in that time the likelihood of Michael having any permanent scaring on his left lung. Before we left the hospital the infectious disease doctor felt that he wouldn't but that we would really need more time to tell.

I have all sorts of thoughts on the spiritual meaning of all of this for Michael, his parents, and all of us together. I began to share them last Saturday in my most recent installment of "Spiritual Reflections" (scroll down a little bit to read it). But just as with the unanswered questions about the physical nature of his illness, I think that it will take us all a good amount of time to discern the spiritual meaning of it as well.

But this I do know right now: I continue to be very grateful for you readers and so many others across the country and around the world who offered up Michael's cause to our heavenly Father in prayer.

Saturday, July 26, 2003

Is there an "unbroken chain" in the Catholic Church?

Lutheran blogger Josh S doesn't think so. Check out his post and the dialogue going on in his comment box.


This Week's installment of my column, "Spiritual Reflections"

The difference between the experience of time on earth and in heaven seems hard for us to understand, and naturally so. After all, we only experience time from one moment to the next.

And this experience is so fundamental that it seems to shape much of our understanding of the entire universe itself, let alone the various aspects of our own individual lives.

On the other hand, we are told in Psalm 90 that, for God, “a thousand years are…merely a yesterday” (Psalms 90:4). St. Peter, in his second letter, reflects upon this verse and expands upon it, saying “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).

On the surface, these two radically different experiences of the passage of time seem impossible for us, who are stuck in the former, to reconcile. And yet I propose that we humans, who were created in the image and likeness of our eternal God, are much closer to the time of heaven than we might think.

In fact, we need only look at the experience of kids during the school year and during summer vacation to see that the passage of time is experienced in lots of different ways by us humans.

When I was in my school-age years, I would always hate it when I would start hearing locusts sometime in mid- to late July, just about right now, in fact. That noise was always a sign to me that the beginning of a new school year was just around the corner.

I would hear those locusts and try to grab a tight hold upon my summer days, which seemed to fly by so quickly. Now, granted, I didn’t experience a thousand years in one day, but my three-month summer vacation seemed to go by in just a few days.

On the other hand, the nine months of the school year sometimes seemed interminable, like a thousand years being fit into one day.

Now that I am a parent, I have yet another perspective of the relativity of the experience of time.

My son Michael was born just under 15 months ago. And yet so many experiences for me have been crammed into that relatively short span of time.

It seems like just yesterday he was totally immobile. Now he can walk like a big boy.

And yet, sometimes time for parents can seem to screech to a stop instead of flying by.

For 12 days during this month of July, my son Michael suffered mightily from a case of pneumonia and was hospitalized first at Columbus Regional Hospital and later at Riley Hospital for Children.

From the moment that I learned that he was going to be admitted, time just seemed to stand still.

Thanks be to God and the prayers of countless people, Michael made his homecoming last Monday. Time now seems to be moving forward again. But surely the value of each moment of my little boy’s life has increased for me.

Perhaps now I will try to clutch onto the passing days of his childhood like I grasped after my fleeting summer vacations so long ago. But the grip will not be the grasp of desperation, but the embrace of love.

Friday, July 25, 2003

An interesting dialogue

Go here for a somewhat caustic post by Lutheran Josh S about some admittedly dumb arguments (if left alone) that he has encountered from some Catholic apologists. The dialogue in the comment box is what seems to me to be most interesting.


Comment Boxes

In the immortal words of Bullwinkle J. Moose, "This time for sure! (but with haloscan...)"

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser regarding the James ossuary

(link courtesy of Envoy Encore)

Antiquities dealer Oded Golan was arrested by Israeli Police this week on suspicion of forging two religious artifacts linked to Jesus and the Jewish Temple. Golan continues to maintain that the so-called James ossuary, with the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus," and the "Joash inscription," a stone tablet with fifteen lines of ancient Hebrew detailing improvements at the Temple, are authentic...

When the ossuary was first publicized several months back several Protestant Christians who question or reject the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary tried to make a good deal of hay out of its unveiling. Although an arrest and a gathering of evidence does not yet prove that the ossuary is a forgery, I think that the critics of Catholicism who jumped on its bandwagon will have to do a good deal of convincing when appealing to it now.

In any case, even if it is authentic it by no means disproves the Mary's perpetual virginity.

What I'm curious to see is if atheists will start jumping on the bandwagon if the ossuary is indeed proven to be a forgery. Then they can claim, "See this Jesus fellow is just a big hoax."

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Dialogue on the Use of Images in Communicating the Gospel


A common topic that often arises when a Catholic discusses his or her faith with another (non-Catholic) Christian is the use of images in the life of the Church. These images can, of course, be found in the form of a statue, painting, icon, stained glass window, etc.

Some, but not all, Protestant Christians have grave concerns about these 'graven images.' Some of them honestly feel that they are a contradiction the Old Testament's prohibition against making such images for the purpose of idolatry (see Ex 20:4-5, Ex 32:31, Dt 4:15, etc.).

Why Images Are Biblical and Human

However, other scriptural passages show that the Lord actually commanded images to be made, if not for the sake of them being worshipped (see Ex 25:18-22, 26:1,31, Nm 21:8-9, etc.). In addition, it is important to note that the prohibition against making graven images were made before God revealed himself to his people in any sort of visible form, at least in a kind that was easily renderable in a sculpture or other man-made image.

But with the Incarnation, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, took on human flesh. He used the form of humanity to reveal Himself to it. Now while this does not mean that we should make statues of Jesus and worship them as if they themselves were Jesus himself, the fact of the Incarnation does give greater significance and meaning to the human body. It is redeemed by Jesus and made into a window through which we can catch a glimpse of the divine.

And more than that, through the Incarnation all of humanity, not just our bodies, are redeemed and renewed as the image and likeness of God. Again, this does not mean that we are to stand in front of a mirror and worship ourselves (although, ironically enough, this seems to be the implicit trend in mainline Protestant churches). What it does mean is that we can approach God in humility and, indeed, in fear through those all aspects of our humanity.

One aspect that is central to who we are and how we live is our senses. We are creatures that seek to understand other things, love other things, and, indeed, grow in communion with other things through our senses. Now as regards our relationship with God, this sensory aspect of our nature can be a two-edged sword. Yes, humans can, in their sinfulness, move toward worshipping the works of their own hands. But these same works can also become channels of grace through which we are drawn closer to the Creator of us all.

The first followers of Jesus seemed to have an almost instinctual understanding of this. Catacombs and excavations of other ancient Christian sites show us that images were used in the earliest days of the Church to express the faith of its members. At the same time, the extant written records of these first centuries of the Church contains no backlash against these practices, no cries of "Idolatry!" against their creators.

The Move against Images

Such a protest will only be raised during the Reformation of the 16th century. [Update: This statement obviously ignores the iconclastic controversey of the eighth century. However, this Eastern Christian movement against images was the result, in large part, of the influence of heresies (such as Monophystism) which the 16th century Protestants would probably have rejected and the emergence of Islam, which they certainly would have rejected.] Perhaps it was in reaction to what were the excesses of some members of the Church of the time, although even here I would tend to believe that, were such members of the Church to be pressed on the issue, they would have laughed at the notion that they actually treated a statue as God himself.

It seems to me that the sharp feelings against the use of statues and other images in the life of the Church that emerged in the 16th century are still the ones expressed by those Christians who have grave concerns about graven images in the Catholic Church.

How Can This Topic Be Approached

How, then, can this topic be approached fruitfully by a Catholic in a discussion with a Christian with these concerns?

I think that there are many ways that a Catholic might approach it. And I am interested to read how you readers might suggest helping our separated brothers and sisters in Christ come to a more full understanding of the use of images.

But for now I will only suggest one way. I would state, in all charity, that Catholics and Protestants alike use images in communicating the Gospel. This is the ultimate purpose of any statue, icon, or stained glass window in a Catholic Church. But is it not also the ultimate purpose of The Jesus Film a motion picture which has been used by Evangelical Christians around the world in their work of evangelization? Is it not the purpose of various paintings of Christ that hang on the walls of countless Evangelical churches, or at least, perhaps, in their offices, classrooms, or in the homes of their members?

And this, of course, is to say nothing of the countless ways that the image of our Lord is commercialized by Evangelical Christians on t-shirts, collectors plates, and God knows (pardon the pun) how many other ways. One could perhaps make the argument that such commercialization isn't so much a contradiction of the prohibition against making graven images as it is a contradiction of the second commandment of the decalogue.

In the end, however, I would say this not to chide a Christian who had grave concerns about graven images in the Catholic Church, but merely to point out how Evangelical and even Fundamentalist Christians use images in their life of faith quite a lot, potentially as much as or even more so than Catholics, if in different ways.

Why do they do this? Because they are human beings, just like Catholics are. We human beings gravitate naturally toward images of those things and beings whom we love and with whom we seek to be in closer communion. This is the fundamental reason for putting up pictures of our loved ones in prominent places in our homes and offices, in our wallets and pocket books.

This aspect of our humanity is part of how we all, Catholic, Evangelical, and Fundamentalist alike, were made in the image and likeness of God. And it is an important part of the reason why God took on human flesh in the wonder of the Incarnation.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003


Michael was discharged yesterday afternoon from Riley Hospital for Children. He spent the night here last night in his home for the first time in 12 days.

But the discharge didn't happen without a fight, so to speak. When our arms were full of bags and we were leaving the room, a surgical fellow with about half a dozen residents in tow came into the room. He asked where we were going and without missing a beat we said, "Home!" He then expressed concern about Michael going home with his central line still in his chest.

A central line is basically a heavy-duty IV line. But apparently the surgical fellow didn't think that it was heavy duty enough, even though we had been told earlier in the day that surgery had signed off on Michael being discharged. So the fellow left the room to consult with an attending physician. He came back and said that his discharge was approved, all the while noting that sending a patient home with a central line was highly unusual.

Being in a teaching hospital was great--Michael was treated by some top-notch physicians. But with all of the fellows and residents around, sometimes orders don't get communicated down the line. Patients and families then can get caught in the cross fire.

This was, in the end, one of the only troubling moments that we had at Riley. All in all, the care that the professionals there provided was exceptionally good.

Cindy and I are happy beyond words for Michael's homecoming. We're thankful for all of your prayers for Michael and us. But we'd ask you to continue to pray. Pray for him in his recovery. He's very weak right now, not even able to pull himself up to his feet to walk. He's also lost a lot of weight. But, more importantly, please pray for the many patients at Riley who were there long before Michael arrived and who will surely be there long after his homecoming. Your continued prayers will be much appreciated.

The number of people across the country and, indeed, around the world praying for Michael has simply been amazing to me. It is surely a sign of the work of the Holy Spirit bringing unity of purpose to so many disparate people around the world.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: How long and how best should we pray for deceased family members until we assume or hope they are in heaven?

These are very good questions for all of us to consider in a conscious way. I believe that this is so because our tradition of praying for the repose of the souls of our deceased friends and relatives is taken for granted so much that it is almost unknown to many younger Catholics.

The practice of praying for the repose of the souls of the deceased faithful is related to our beliefs about purgatory and the more fundamental belief regarding the communion of the saints.

Regarding this latter, we Catholics hold that the Church that Christ established is not made up only of those believers here on earth. Instead, we believe that the Church extends from earth to heaven, that those who are in purgatory or in heaven are as much a part of the Church as we are who are living.

And so we can pray for those relatives whom we believe are in purgatory just as effectively as we can pray, for example, for those friends or relatives who are experiencing some sort of illness or disease.

The Church’s belief regarding purgatory is an ancient one, tracing its roots back to the beliefs and practices of the Jewish people recorded in the Second Book of Maccabees: “...he [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead that they might be freed from their sin” (2 Macc 12:46).

The Church has come to understand purgatory in the following way described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter heaven. The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification…” (CCC 1030-1031).

Although we can affirm the existence of this purification called purgatory, we do not know the length of time that it takes. This is, in large part, because of the radical difference in the nature of the experience of time here on earth and in the eternal ‘now’ after death.

So given that we cannot know how long any person would experience the purification of purgatory, how long should we pray for our friends and relatives that we believe might be there? I would only say that we should continue to pray for them as long as our conscience encourages us to do so.

What might be the best way to do this? I tend to believe that having a Mass offered for the repose of the souls of our deceased friends and relatives is the best way. The celebration of the Eucharist was called by the bishops at Vatican II as the ‘source and summit of the life of the Christian life.’

It is the summit of the life of our life in the Church in that it gives us who are alive here on earth a real foretaste of that endless joyous worship of God in the wedding banquet of heaven, that which the souls in purgatory await to experience.

It is also most appropriate because we believe that the Eucharist is the ‘sacrament of salvation.’ We pray in Eucharistic Prayer III: “Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters and all who have left this world in your friendship.”

Praying for the repose of the souls of all of the departed is an important tradition in our Church, one that helps raise our hearts to the glory of heaven to which all of us are called and reminds us that the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, of which we are members extends even there.

Saturday, July 19, 2003

Fr. Shawn O'Neal's Sunday Homily

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Jer 23:1-6
Ps 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6
Eph 2:13-18
Mk 6:30-34

Few things sadden me more than when a person comes to me to receive the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation and they say to me: “Father Shawn, it has been a very long time since I have confessed my sins, but I am afraid of doing this. You see, Father, the last time I came here, the priest with whom I spoke treated me as if I was dirt. I do not mean to sound whiny, but he was mean to me. I was nervous and I was not proud of what I had done, but I wanted to leave the confessional feeling better than how I felt when I entered; unfortunately, I felt worse as a result of going to that priest.”

I pray that both God and those whom I have offended in the confessional may forgive me for those times when that statement described my conduct.

I could not help but think about that moment as I reflected upon the first reading today. I do not intend for this homily to deal strictly with the priesthood, but it is rather obvious that priests can act in a manner contrary to that of the High Priest whom we have been called to imitate. Moments arise when we must be firm, but that does not give us the license to be bullies. All that results is the scattering of the flock. At the same time, all the children of God deserve to be fed well by receiving Jesus in the Word and in the Sacraments. Catholics deserve to be taught what we believe as Catholics rather than what I want you to believe. Everyone who comes here deserves what Jesus wants you to receive rather than what I feel you need. Mindful of this, I seek to serve you with firmness and humility. I do not want to mislead you away from Jesus in any manner.

Married persons and parents, in their roles as shepherds for example, can scatter and mislead if they do not give proper love and care to their families. I find it difficult to believe that a true disciple of Jesus would declare love to another in the form of a wedding vow with the full intent of misleading them. If such is the case, then may their hearts be converted before they approach the altar. I find it difficult to believe that parents seek to mislead their child as they hold a newborn in their arms, but if such is the case, may their hearts be converted constantly so that they may imitate the love of God the Father at all times. No married person is a comprehensive expert on marriage. No parent is a comprehensive expert on parenting. The best marriages and families consist of disciples who are wise enough to know that they do not know everything, who are humble enough to lead with gentle but firm guidance, and who are courageous enough to know that they must seek first the Kingdom of God rather than first establish their own authority.

Jesus emptied himself and took the form of a servant. When we act in a manner other than this, we scatter families. When we act in a manner other than this, we mislead people through giving them our fleeting ideas. When we act in a manner other than this, we either drive people away from our Church or we create a Church filled with bullied victims. All of us have been called by God to serve Him. We must serve the Church for the sake of serving Him; no other reason can be higher. We must serve our families for the sake of serving Him; no other reason can be higher.

We serve best by being honest, loving, faithful, and trusting. We serve best by saying “Please” and “Thank you” to God and to His people rather than by saying either “Do this because I said so!” or “You should be so thankful that I am here!”

I pray that we gather more than scatter. I hope and pray that we bring the love of the Good Shepherd to all people so that Jesus need not have pity on them as He had for the people in the Gospel reading. Jesus wants us to be shepherds. Jesus wants his people to know that His sheep can trust both Him and those whom He has given authority over them.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Good News

Michael's surgery was successful yesterday. Praise God. I am very grateful for the healing grace that he has showered upon him through the wisdom and skill of the medical professionals at Riley Hospital for Children.

At the same time, I don't want to be too presumptuous that everything will now be smooth sailing. In fact, I know that today will be a tough day for my son. He'll have a lot of pain from the two incisions that were made on the left side of his chest and from the new chest tube that they inserted to relieve fluid and some blood that were products of the surgery. Overall, I still expect him to be in the hospital for several more days.

Still, it would seem that the darkest days of this illness are behind him. I simply can't thank God enough for the grace that he has given my son. I also can't thank enough the legion of folks out there who are keeping him in their prayers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

A New Update, A New Prayer Request

Today, July 16, is my birthday. It will certainly go down as the most unique one that I have experienced up to this point in my life. And it is one that I hope not to experience again in the years to come.

Most of it involved simply being around the hospital, keeping track of Michael as he slowly recovered from his pneumonia. At the same time, it also involved a lot of waiting, waiting to hear from the surgical doctors as to what we need to do to relieve the remaining fluid surrounding Michael's left lung.

They finally arrived at his room at 7:00 pm and told us that they needed to do a fairly invasive procedure called a 'decortification.' A small incision will be made on Michael's chest. A small camera will be inserted along with a device that will vacuum out the remaining fluid illuminated by the camera. The procedure will occur sometime tomorrow. No set time has been established yet.

If all goes as planned, Michael will suffer a bit in the short term. He may even have to go back on a ventilator. But in the long term this procedure should allow him to arrive at a full healing more quickly than the less invasive procedures.

I hope and pray that he will indeed be brought to that full healing. I hope and pray that it is the Father's will that this be so. Please add your prayers to mine.

Monday, July 14, 2003


Because of the hospitalization of my son Michael I have decided to take a temporary hiatus from the blog. The only posts that I might make would be to update his condition. I know that this blog is not about him. But many of you have kindly expressed your concern for Michael and his parents and your willingness to pray for him.

For this I am very thankful. And because of your interest in Michael's condition, I will continue to update you on it when significant changes occur and as time allows for me to do it.

Of course, in the meantime, my blog doesn't just take a back seat to Michael and Cindy, it gets thrown out of the car altogether. But do check back every now and then to see there are any changes in his condition. Thanks, again, for all of your prayers and concerns.

Update: After a weekend of high drama, Michael's condition appears to be turning into a slow battle. He had a CT scan today which showed quite a bit of fluid still around his left lung. There was less than what appeared in the first CT scan taken on Friday. The doctors will watch it for a couple more days and may do another, more invasive procedure than the the chest tube in order to relieve the remaining fluid.

The fluid seems to be the cause for the relatively high amount of pain that Michael continues to experience. As a result, he remains in the PICU so that it can be managed more closely than would be possible in a step-down unit. Because of this, Cindy and I are still unable to spend the night with Michael in his room.

Its always sad to leave him in the evening. Cindy goes to stay with my sister, 15 minutes away. I come home to Columbus (an hour and 15 minutes) to sleep and do some housework. Its nice to come home to my own bed. Still, except for myself, it is an empty house...

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Another Update on Michael

Cindy sent me home today to do a little work around the house and to pick up some more clothes.

About a day after Michael was admitted to the hospital here in Columbus it was discovered that he had a large amount of fluid around his infected left lung. The doctors there felt it best that he be transferred to Riley Children's Hospital in Indianapolis. This happened late Friday afternoon.

Soon after he arrived they placed him on a strong antibiotic, intubated him, and placed a chest tube in his chest. He was then placed in the pediatric intensive care unit. This morning, 36 hours after intubation, he was taken off of the ventilator. We were very thankful for that.

Yesterday evening Cindy and I went to Mass at a downtown Indianapolis parish and the closing verse to the Gospel reading hit both of us very hard: "The Twelve...anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them."

He'll still be in the hospital for several more days and could possibly be intubated again. While things are looking up, prayers are still need and very much appreciated.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Happy Feast of St. Benedict!

I'm only here at my office for a little bit (at the suggestion of my wife), so my words on the great saint are very short. As a former Benedictine monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, it is still a great pleasure to celebrate the feast of this great saint.

However, I would like to note that the monks of St. Meinrad do not celebrate their holy father's feast day on July 11. They have retained the older Benedictine date for the feast of March 21. On July 11 they celebrate the "Feast of All Benedictine Saints." By the way, St. Meinrad was founded in 1853 by monks from Einseideln Abbey in Switzerland, a Benedictine abbey that was founded over 1000 years ago, within just a few centuries of the life of the saint himself.

Now its back to the hospital for me.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

An Update on Michael

Thanks to all of you who have offered your prayers for Michael and Cindy and myself. But I would like to ask you to redouble them.

We had to admit him to the hospital today after a chest x-ray (the second in a week) showed that he has a severe case of pneumonia in his left lung (the first x-ray showed him to be clear). I've come home to get a few hours of rest. Cindy is now taking a shift there. But I left him sleeping well. He is getting fluids and antibiotics intravenously, oxygen, breathing treaments every two hours, regular doses of Motrin, lots of TLC, and many prayers to boot.

I am confident in faith that the Lord will pour his healing grace upon him. But its quite an ordeal for our little guy and very draining for Cindy and I.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Catholics without Qualifiers

Amy Welborn, as she is wont to do, has spurred a good bit of discussion among Catholic bloggers on the topic of “Catholics without qualifiers” (since this post she has written more on the topic). She presented the topic in this way: “Before Vatican II, the only subgenres of Catholics, it seems were lapsed ones and ethnic ones. Since then, no one is satisfied to be just Catholic and no one believes the person next to them in the figurative pew is a real Catholic. Why? How did this happen? What can we do about it?

In what I have to say, I think that I will be addressing the first two questions much more than the last. And what I have to say in this post won’t be systematic. It won’t reflect all of my thoughts on the topic. I would like to return to it and explore the meaning of this topic for ecumenical dialogues.

I think that what we are experiencing now in various folks using labels for themselves or others is something that the faithful in the Church have experienced in different ways throughout our 2000 year history.

What we in particular are experiencing has been shaped by the particular culture in which we live. But the general phenomenon of setting oneself off or someone else off into a particular group is something that I believe is deeply embedded in the human character.

I think that what can drive it to the forefront in the life of the Church is the fact that the Church is a mysterious mixture of the human and the divine. At one and the same time we are drawn to the highest ideals of the divine and are frustrated by brokenness of the human.

The fathers of the Second Vatican Council recognized this deep mystery in Lumen Gentium:

8. Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body. (emphasis added)

There are different ‘labels’ embedded in this quite pregnant excerpt. The Church is, at one and the same time, both ‘spiritual’ and ‘physical’, both ‘hierarchical’ and ‘visible’, both ‘human’ and ‘divine.’

We who are living on this side of the grave will inevitably have a difficult time dealing with a mystery, a ‘complex reality’, as deep as this. We who live in the West might have a more difficult time dealing with it than, say, some of our brothers and sisters in the faith who live in Asian cultures which seem to have a tradition of at least striving to hold in balance such contradictions.

Now in making this assertion am I saying that everybody is right and no one is wrong? By no means. There is a truth given to us by God and I believe that he has charged his Church to protect it and proclaim it.

But that does not mean that we, as the Church on earth living here and now, understand it wholly and entirely. Cardinal Newman, whose shadow is cast long upon Vatican II, showed us well the meaning of the development of Christian doctrine. I think that, in the fullness of time, that truth will be revealed to be both more complex and more simple than our present understanding of it.

Until then I think that we who like to label ourselves and each other by one title or another are not unlike what happened between the two great apostles Peter and Paul at Antioch:

…when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?" Gal 2:11-14 (RSV)

Other such conflicts and labeling has happened in every age and place in which the Church has found itself. It is emblematic of the struggle for us to reconcile the divine perfection to which we are called with the human brokenness in which we live here on earth. In such a reconciliation there will indeed be no labels at all, be they Jew and Gentile, liberal and conservative.

We, through our own efforts alone, will always fail in our attempts at such a reconciliation. It is only through the grace of God that we will be brought to it. Pray always that we will be given the strength and wisdom to cooperate with it. For in cooperating with the grace of God here and now we may not experience the fullness of that reconciliation but we will experience a sweet foretaste of it. That flavor which we will savor will impel us on forward in our life of faith. It is nothing less than what we will be set before us in its complete richness in the great wedding banquet of heaven.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

A Prayer Request

Please say a prayer for my 14-month-old son Michael. He's been battling an upper respiratory infection since last Friday. His temperature has been going up and down. Its been as high as 103.3. We've taken a late night trip to the ER and another visit to his doctor.

I'm taking care of him today since my wife Cindy is working. I would appreciate your prayers. Thanks.

Update: Today is Thursday morning and Michael's sickness is just more and more mysterious. Yesterday his fever seemed to be going down all day, none over 100 degrees. Nevertheless, he was still very 'clingy' yesterday. Then last night his fever spiked again to 103.7.

Needless to say, we're taking him back to the doctor this morning. This has been going on for almost a week now. Please keep Michael and his parents in your prayers.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Catholic Reasons for Hope

Q: The definition of ‘the rapture’ is different between Catholics and Protestants. Why is this?

The definition of this term is not only different between Catholics and Protestants but also among the Protestants themselves.

The word ‘rapture’ itself comes from the Latin word ‘rapere’ which means ‘to seize.’ The Christian usage of the word has been applied in a couple of different contexts.

The first is related to the experience of a deeply contemplative form of prayer where the person praying almost seems to be ‘seized’ by the Holy Spirit. It can be said to an ecstatic form of prayer. About this sense of the word ‘rapture’ there is little disagreement among Christians.

The difference emerges in the second sense of the word. This sense refers to the belief that at or near the end of time Christ will take, or ‘seize’, his disciples who are still alive directly up to heaven. The primary verse from the Bible that explains this event to us is 1 Thes 4:16-17:

For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord.

The word ‘rapture’ has been used to describe this event in large part because St. Jerome, when he translated the Bible into Latin in the fourth century, used the Latin word ‘rapiemur’ for that word ‘caught up’ that we have in the above English translation.

For most of the history of the Church, Christians have believed that this event will happen at the very end of time. This was the belief of most of the Church fathers in the first few hundred years of the history of the Church. It was even the view of most of the leaders of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. And it continues to be held by Catholics as well as many ‘mainline’ Protestants.

But starting only about 150 years ago, some Protestants, interpreting the above passage from 1 Thessalonians 4 in light of Revelation 20 as well as other scriptural passages came to believe that Christ will return in a secret way some seven years before the end of time. It is in this secret coming that he will ‘rapture’ those who are his true believers, saving them from the seven year period of tribulation for the Church.

This view has also been called ‘premillennialism’ because of its reference to the ‘millennium’, the so-called thousand year reign of Christ described in Rev 20. It is called “pre”millennialism because of its belief that Christ will rapture his true believers before the tribulation that is supposedly to precede his millennial reign. This new teaching has no solid basis in this historic understanding of the Scriptures by the Church. The Catholic Church has never taught and has specifically rejected it (see CCC 676).

This relatively new understanding of the rapture was popularized in the 1970s through fundamentalist author Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth and more recently through Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind series of novels.

These novels have had a wide audience of readers, including many Catholics. But it is important to know that the theology underlying the books are both erroneous and also highly anti-Catholic.

What I have explained here only scratches the surface of both the Catholic understanding of the rapture and the premillennialist understanding of it. If you want to read more about this topic and the different understandings of the rapture, I would recommend either Paul Thigpen’s The Rapture Trap or Carl Olson’s Will Catholics Be Left Behind?.


Catholic Reasons for Hope is a question and answer column that appears weekly in the bulletin of the parish where I serve as DRE. If any of the readers of Nota Bene would like to submit a question for the column, they are welcome to do so by e-mail.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Baby Patrol

Cindy is working today, so I'll be taking care of Michael. And since he is so mobile now, I'll just have to wait and see if I'll be able to do any blogging today.

In the meantime, I'd recommend that you take a look at some recent posts and share your thoughts on them, especially the ones from last Friday on evangelization & culture and on good dialogues.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Big Changes, Little Changes

Yesterday saw the announcement of a rather big change in the national public face of the Catholic Church in the United States when Bishop Sean O'Malley was chosen to succeed Cardinal Law as Archbishop of Boston.

Well starting today and in the days to come I suspect lots of other more little changes will happening in the Catholic Church across the nation. This is usually the time of year when priests move in to their new assignments, whether it be as a pastor, a parochial vicar, high school, hospital, jail chaplain, a chancery position, etc.

Former blogger Fr. Shawn O'Neal will become pastor for the first time in the coming days. He will lead the parish of St. Joseph in Bryson City, NC along with its mission church of Our Lady of Guadalupe in nearby Cherokee, NC.

The parish where I serve as DRE will also witness the arrival of a new pastor today, Fr. Donald Quinn. I am anxious to see what changes the coming days and months will bring to the life of our parish because of this change.

The 'size' of the change, however, is often dependent upon one's perspective. For the parishioners of the parish where I serve as DRE, the arrival of Fr. Quinn will be a much larger change than the appointment of Bishop O'Malley to Boston.

Those of you who are Catholic, are there any similar changes going on in your parishes? How do you feel about the change (or lack thereof)? Those of you who are Christian but not Catholic, please tell us about how changes in leadership happen in your congregation.

Some denominations change pastors in a manner quite similar to the way it happens in the Catholic Church, at least here in the United States. For example, I was once a student hospital chaplain with a woman who was studying to be a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She told me that, at least as it worked in the Indianapolis area, the bishop made changes in pastorates on his own with no consultation of local congregations.

Thats a bit more strict than how it is done in many American Catholic dioceses, at least in ordinary situations. In the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, in ordinary circumstances, there is usually some amount of consultation between the chancery and the parish about what kind of pastor is needed for them. This doesn't always work, however. Sometimes, as with the change in the parish where I serve as DRE, the change was simply announced without any prior consultation.

At any rate, I would be very interested to learn about how various Christian congregations handle changes in pastorates. Please share some of your knowledge and experiences in the comment box.


Bishop Wilton Gregory on the Lawrence decision

In its decision, Lawrence vs. Texas, the Supreme Court has chosen to view homosexual behavior between consenting adults as a matter of privacy.

However, human sexuality cannot be viewed this way. Sexual activity has profound social consequences which are not limited to those immediately engaged in sexual acts. For this reason, the larger society has always shown a concern about what is and is not acceptable in sexual behavior between individuals. The very fact that this case came before the Supreme Court is evidence of that concern....

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Two posts of note

I made a couple of posts last Friday that I would like you readers to look at and comment upon. One was about the role of culture in ecumenical dialogue on evangelization and the other was about good examples of dialogues between Catholics and Evangelicals.

Please scroll down a little bit to those posts and share your comments (that is, if YACCS is working--grumble, grumble). Thanks.


My Thoughts on Bishop O'Malley

I don't have a lot, since I do not know that much about him.

But I have read that one of the reasons that he may have been asked to succeed Cardinal Law in the Archdiocese of Boston was because of the good way that he dealt with the troubles surrounding the infamous case of Fr. James Porter in the Diocese of Fall River several years ago.

I remember seeing some television coverage of the Porter case. But it attracted no where near the attention that the story of Paul Shanley attracted. I wonder why? Perhaps it could be that Bishop O'Malley dealt with it in a way that both brought healing to the victims and to the local Church in Fall River as a whole. This is something that we have not seen happen yet in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Perhaps we will begin to now.

Oh, I can't pass this up. Bishop O'Malley can't be all that bad since he and I share the names "Sean Patrick."


Separation Pains:

A Reflection on Today's Mass Readings

Tuesday of the Thirteenth Week of Ordinary Time, Year I

Gn 19:15-29
Ps 26:2-3, 9-10, 11-12
Mt 8:23-27

It is sad but true. Sometimes the most effective way to show love for another and to take proper care of oneself is to separate oneself from that person, at least for a period of time. This is often the case in abusive relationships or in those where one person is manipulating another.

What is true at this micro level is also true at the macro. Sometimes there are aspects of a society or culture that are so corrupt that it is best simply to separate oneself from it, at least as regards the aspect in question. The Birmingham bus boycott is a good example of this. But this example should amply remind us that separating oneself from a part of a culture still means that we who are Christian are to engage the culture as whole so as to bring to bear on it the values of the Gospel.

Being this kind of witness against what is evil in our culture requires much faith and courage. Each of us were born and raised in the prevailing culture of our society. To deliberately choose to separate oneself from a part of that culture can be scary. After all, we’re going away from that which had giving meaning to us for so long. In addition, we will also surely receive much criticism and harassment from many in our society, many who have a vested interest in maintaining that which is corrupt in our culture.

Taking a stand for the dignity and sanctity of life and against the culture of death that surrounds us can result in having one insult thrown at oneself after another. My wife Cindy has experienced this first hand in her work as a sidewalk counselor. I have experienced it when a column of mine on a pro-life topic was rejected as being ‘too preachy’ (to replace it I wrote on how Christians should expect persecution).

Publicly setting oneself apart from certain aspects of our culture requires the courage and faith which the disciples of Jesus needed in today’s Gospel. They and Jesus were in a boat that was being swamped in a storm. Jesus, however, remained asleep during the crisis. When the disciples awoke him he chided them for their lack of faith and courage.

But wasn’t their calling upon him in the first place a sign of faith? Perhaps. But Jesus wanted their faith to grow. There will be times in our lives when we are faced with daunting challenges and God seems asleep, like Jesus laying on the floor of the boat. It is at these instances where our faith is to stretched and allowed to grow and where we are to act with a courage given to us by God that we didn’t even know we had in our possession.

Witnessing against the culture of death takes courage and faith. When one is standing in front of an abortion clinic it is easy to feel that God is absent or asleep. But God is not absent. It just seems that way because the people connected with the clinic, who have a vested interest in maintaining the culture of death, have turned their backs on him, even if they believe they have not.

What is happening to them is much like what happened to Lot’s wife in today’s first reading. The angels who had visited Lot told him to take his family and flee Sodom and never turn to look back. Lot’s wife did look back and was turned into a pillar of salt. She felt drawn back to the city where she had lived. She refused to turn her back on its corrupt culture and so, instead, turned her back on the Lord.

In other parts of the Bible salt is spoken of as something that preserves life, as when Jesus called his disciples the ‘salt of the earth.’ But salt, when used too much, can take life away. When the armies of Rome defeated once and for all the armies of the Carthage in the Third Punic War, they spread salt on the fields that supplied the grain for the people of that city, thus insuring that it would not rise again to threaten Rome’s security. In a similar way, the life of Lot’s wife was taken away from her and she was made into a pillar of salt when she showed that she was attracted to the culture of death of Sodom.

We who are Christian today should hear echoing in our ears the words of Moses to the people of Israel: “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live…” (Dt 30:19). We are living in the midst of a culture of death. Like Lot and his family who were told to leave Sodom, we can most effectively be a witness against the death dealing aspects of our culture by separating ourselves from them. But to choose life and to be a witness to the gift of life to our culture, we need the faith and the courage that Jesus offers to us each and every day.