Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Another thought about Charlottesville...

It occurs to me this episode illustrates something Scott Adams -- creator of the cartoon strip "Dilbert" -- has observed about life. Namely, that when we look at the world, we all see different "movies."

So, for example, if you look at the events of last weekend, and you see a bunch of KKK and Nazi wannabes showing up with clubs and guns, and they are met by peaceable citizens, and then you hear that people were injured and one was killed -- then of course what you see is murderous racism and that's the whole story.

On the other hand, if you see a bunch of Antifa goons -- who have bloodied faces across the country -- storming a bunch of white supremacists and other uglies, holding a nonetheless legal march -- then you see a different movie. And so it goes.

I haven't seen Mr. Adams mention this, but there remains another category: those who actually see one particular movie; but then, after noticing how others describe what they saw, change their stories. We call those folks "politicians."

Charlottesville and the future of our country

Here and there folks are insisting that Catholic clergy have a duty to speak out about the events over the weekend, particularly in Charlottesville. OK, I will be happy to share my thoughts -- although I first will point out that leaders of the conference of U.S. bishops have had their say, so check it out (and this too). Also, here is Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia.

So, here's the thing. How you view something like this has a lot to do with how narrowly or widely you focus your lens. Some people are zeroing in on the events in Charlottesville. So let's start there.

First, I obviously wasn't there, and I am not prepared to accept the news reports as the last word. But here's what seems to have happened:

1. A local individual wanted to organize a protest to the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee from a local park; perhaps other statue removals were in the mix, I don't know. Whether this individual was a racist isn't obvious to me. No, I don't accept the notion that objecting to the removal of the statue makes someone a racist.

2. He wanted to get other people at the protest. Whether he explicitly invited racists and white supremacists, again, I don't know. But we do know that they showed up.

3. There was a legal dispute over the location of the protest; the courts sided with his right to have it where he wanted.

4. People who wanted to counter-protest also organized and showed up. From what I gather, the local authorities had time and information that would lead them to anticipate this.

5. Apparently, there was a third group that showed up, and they were legally armed citizens. Were they part of either of the groups? Not clear at all.

6. The police were there in some numbers, and appear to have been somewhat reserved about their response, such that they have been widely criticized, both from conservative and liberal viewpoints, about not handling this better. My reading so far inclines me toward that view.

7. All this climaxed with an individual who drove his car into a crowd of people, with one death and several people injured. That individual has been charged with second degree murder, and the federal authorities are contemplating charges.

So what do you want me to say? That white supremacy and racism are terrible? Indeed they are. Also terrible is anyone who thinks that violence and aggression are acceptable ways to make your point. But see, now I'm starting to widen the lens a little. Because, after all, if this were a peaceful demonstration in favor of white supremacy, that alone would deserve condemnation; yet that's not what we saw in Charlottesville. What we also saw was something we've seen before, especially in recent years: a ready recourse to violence attached to political sentiments.

Now we widen the lens a little more, to something that happened on Sunday in Seattle. Thankfully, no deaths, but people were hurt as a group that absurdly claims to be "anti-fascist" deliberately used violence to shut down a pro-Trump event. I say deliberately, because the Antifa group has admitted this is deliberate; and we've seen it happen several times already.

If every white supremacist and wannabe Nazi loser who lurks in dark places somewhere in this country had a Road to Damascus (please God!) moment, there would still be a huge problem with violence and extremism, right? Is there any doubt these folks are feeding on each other? Almost lost in all this is the question of Confederate memorials. I don't think they are terrible in principle; some might be, but as a general principle, I don't object to them being left alone. History is complicated, and if we start tearing down statues of people who don't measure up to our standards today, this will go way beyond the heroes of the Confederacy. Our American Revolution was fought for both good and bad motives too, including preservation of slavery and for a free hand to deal with Native Americans on the frontier. But now we have both the national socialists (i.e., Nazis) on one side, and the international socialists (Antifa) on the other side, happily agreeing that a statue of Lee is all about white supremacy (which Abraham Lincoln believed in, by the way); because, as I said, they are feeding on each other.

In short, there's a larger problem here. A big part of it is so-called "identity politics," which started on the left, but is now leeching over onto the right. Over the years, I've seen similar things happen: namely, where people I know who are conservative lament a dirty or low tactic taken by the opposition, and who then decide, ok, fine, we'll do it too! For quite some time, we've seen folks on the left promote the idea that your political views are essentially defined by your skin color, your race, your nationality, your sex or sexual attraction. So why should anyone be surprised that someone would say, OK, let's apply that to whiteness, maleness, nativeness, etc.? Rod Dreher makes this point better than I, here.

All this leads to a really depressing conclusion. We will see more Charlottesvilles; the wave is far from crested. And it isn't mainly about racism, that's just added evil. It's about our country turning into two countries, which is about something more prosaic:

We may no longer be -- now, or soon -- a country with enough shared values in common.

Do you disagree? Then tell me what common values still unites our nation? Is it the flag? Antifa burns it, and we have well paid athletes treating it with disrespect.

Is it respect for law? Not when violence in the streets is justified. Is it due process? Not when people insist that regardless of what juries decide, the defendant is guilty and should be punished. I had exactly that conversation on Facebook a few weeks ago, and I've seen it before.

Is it the Bill of Rights? We have a growing number of folks who are constitutionally illiterate -- made so by incompetent education all the way through college -- who don't know what the First Amendment protects, nor do they care. Some want an exception for "hate speech"; some believe your right to promote ideas does not include spending money for it. Some think religious freedom is no longer about how you live, but only what goes on inside a place of worship, or inside your head. And we could go through all the Bill of Rights thusly. And -- when I say "some" -- I mean a politically significant segment of our society. All these assaults on the Bill of Rights have the enthusiastic support among "progressives," and more I might mention; meanwhile, if we get to the later amendments, we find amendments that some on the right don't like very much, such freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, the protection of due process and the ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Heck, we no longer even agree on reality! This is why I think the present moment is so different. With the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell -- reinventing marriage -- we are waking up to a fractured view of reality. What is a man? A woman? If you dare to insist these are questions of fact, not will, then congratulations, you are a bigot! Can a society be a society if it can't even agree on what is good and evil? On what is real?

I really hope I'm wrong. But I fear far worse is coming.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

What steals our joy; and what restores it (Sunday homily)

There’s a word for what is happening in all the readings; 
what is happening for Elijah, for Saint Paul, and for Saint Peter. 
That word is discouragement.

And there is a word for what cures it. And that is joy. 

In the first reading, Elijah has fled to the mountain 
because he is discouraged. He tried to spark revival of faith, 
and the queen seeks to kill him. He feels very alone and overwhelmed.

Paul is “in anguish” for his fellow Jews 
who have resisted the message of Jesus Christ.

Peter is disheartened by the storm raging around him, 
and he begins to sink.

Meanwhile, let me recall something we’ve been talking about as a parish. 
You have heard me issue the challenge 
that we, as individuals and as a parish, 
be much more intentional about how we live our faith 
and share our faith. 

I’ve met with many parish groups, and I want to meet with more, 
to ask a simple question: 
how does this group help its members, and others, 
come to know Jesus better? 

One of the things that always seems to come up: 
why don’t we have more success sharing our Faith with family members, 
with neighbors and friends? 
Similar to the concern Saint Paul has in the second reading.

Most of the answer to that question is known only to God. 
Only the Holy Spirit can move hearts, 
and God chooses the how and the when. 

That said, if you and I want to be powerful messengers, 
we require what Elijah needed to renew, 
and what what Peter lost sight of. And that is joy.

I was inspired by reading the words of Charles Chaput, 
Archbishop of Philadelphia, who said recently
while Christians need to see the world’s problems as they are, 
“we can’t let the weight of the world crush the joy 
that’s our birthright 
by our rebirth in Jesus Christ through baptism,” he said.

So, what is joy? Well, it isn’t simply happiness, 
because we can know joy even in times of great suffering. 
Let me give you an example. Forgive me if I’ve told this story before.

I knew an older couple in Piqua, married over 60 years. 
The wife became ill, and got worse and worse; 
and I was called to visit her in the hospital. 
When I entered that small hospital room, it was packed – 
maybe 20 people or more. 

Everyone was praying, centered on their mother and grandmother, 
in bed, with her husband sitting by her, holding her hand. 
She was leading the prayers. 

Then came a moment when she couldn’t speak, 
but her husband kept praying. 
Then, he finally stopped. We all knew she was gone.
And he broke the silence with these words: 
“I’m heart-broken, but I’m joyful.”

What was that joy? It’s hard to put into words, isn’t it; yet we know.
He and his wife and their children and grandchildren had shared life and love; 
not just on a natural, but a supernatural level.

Death was all too real and cruel, 
but something else is infinitely more real, 
and that is Jesus Christ, and that is hope, and that is joy!
He knew he would see her again, and they would share that joy 
from the very source – in the life of God in heaven.

So we might ask, what steals our joy? Many things, 
including discouragement, resentment, 
and worry about the cares of the world.

If you and I want to, we can find 100 things every day to discourage us. 
Some of us pay too much attention to the news and the blogs. 
That would be me; but I’m not the only one. 
And we all know folks who let it get them down.

It’s just like what happened to Peter: we see the waves crashing 
and the wind howling, and we start to sink.
But it wasn’t the storm that sunk Peter; 
it was looking away from Jesus.

So if these things get you anxious and angry, there is a simple solution: Turn it off!

Our inflated ego that tells us, we need to know; 
it’s what some call “FOMO”: fear of missing out. 
But all that staring and poking at our phones and our computers 
steals our joy and fills us with anxiety. Turn them off! 

Put down that phone and pick up a Rosary.
Stop looking at the screen, and look instead at another human face. 
Human relationships are messy, 
but they are also where real love happens; 
and they are the only possession we can enjoy for eternity. 

This points to another way we lose our joy: 
when we focus on what we lack, and probably will never have, 
rather than on all that has been given to us.

If you feel envy or resentment, here’s an exercise. 
It will work; it will lift your spirit. 
Sit down with a full size piece of paper and a pencil, 
and start writing down everything – every single thing – 
for which you are grateful. Don’t stop till you fill both sides. 

I predict you may struggle at first, but then the dam will break, 
and you’ll run out of paper before you run out of blessings.

If you and I are people of fear or worry, who will want to share that? 
If we are focused on anger, on what’s wrong with the world – 
and plenty is! – then why should people be drawn to that? 

But if your gaze and mine is fixed on Jesus, 
what will shine in our face is the light of heaven, pure joy, 
and people will see that, and will want to know where it comes from.
They will want what we have.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Marriage & sex advice -- from a priest?

Couple celebrates 50th anniversary in same wedding clothes they wore in 1966

Actually not! Rather, from a divorce lawyer and a married woman. I just pass it along.

First the sex advice. I won't link it, because it includes an image that is not pornographic, but is...unseemly. But the author is Meg Conley, and her item appeared November 6, 2014, at the Huffington Post. She titled her article, "5 Reasons You Should Have Sex With Your Husband Every Night," and here are the gist of her five reasons:

1. Being a mother, one of the ultimate expressions of womanhood, can often leave a girl feeling stripped of her femininity. There is something about being covered in spit up and attending to the every need of another human being that makes one feel distinctly gender neutral.... There is something restorative about kissing the boy you love.

2. If you want your husband to act like a man, you need to treat him like a man. Hold the eye rolls.  Women need any number of criteria met to feel loved. Men are far simpler. They need to be fed, they need to be appreciated, and they need to have sex. That is it.

3. You need to have a moment in each day that is just about the two of you. Remember that boy? The one that made your heart thump and hands sweat? The one that called when you hoped he would, that made you run hot and high up to the stars until you thought you would never come down? He is still there. Under the years and bills and worries, that smiling boy is still in love with and needs his smiling girl.

4. Sex relieves stress. I don’t know that this one needs much explanation.

5. It is so much blasted fun.

And here's (some of) the divorce attorney's advice (I left out the last point which I cannot endorse). Joanna Molloy wrote: "10 tips from a world-famous divorce lawyer to save your marriage," but the world-famous lawyer, whose advice is recounted, is Raoul Lionel Felder. This appeared August 9, 2017, in the New York Post; and again, questionable images, so no link:

1. Open your ears.

Take a break from talking about yourself. Ask your spouse how they feel, what happened to them at work that day, what their opinion is on politics, or cars, or food — anything that shows you care about what they have to say. I had one husband who filed for divorce, and on the stand he told the judge, “I love my wife; I just wish she would listen to me.”

The judge then called the wife to the stand and asked her if she still loved her husband. The wife said yes. So judge asked, “Well, would you be willing to start hearing him out? Start really listening?”

“Yes,” said the wife.

My client dropped the divorce action.

2. Quit streaming adult sites.

 -- I've read in many places that porn figures in a lot of divorces; this is surely confirmation.

3. Match your money attitudes.

-- This is a subject I discuss with every couple I help prepare for marriage.

4. Don't cheat.

5. Allow for changing bodies.
Wedding vows should really include “for fatter, for thinner.” This is a delicate area, but I’ve seen real conflict occur when spouses drift into different fitness levels.

6. Go easy on the plastic surgery.

-- Agreed, but is this really a thing for most people? Or just upper-income folks?

7. Don’t travel under tension.

-- Yes, but...doesn't this miss the point? The issue isn't the being together; it's the tension. By all means, be together!

8. Don’t shop together.

9. Act your age. 

People are living longer, and those little blue pills can make men behave in hurtful ways. 

-- This I did not know.

And the tenth? "Get a pre-nup" -- i.e., a prenuptial agreement. That maybe good advice for divorce, but it's terrible advice for marriage, because it means you are planning to fail. And, just so you know, it most likely renders the marriage invalid.

So what do you think of this advice? With the exceptions noted, I think it's pretty sound.

Here's the way I put it: husbands and wives should never stop courting each other. Treat each other as king and queen.

Your thoughts? Your experiences?

Thursday, August 10, 2017

My letter to the Knights of Columbus about Crux

Last week I wrote about an absurd article in Crux that enthusiastically embraced the falsehood that men can turn themselves into women.

This week, Crux is at it again, with an insulting and condescending item that derides converts to the Catholic Faith as "neurotic" because they find fault with some of Pope Francis' approaches. Here's what Father John Zuhlsdorf had to say; here's what Father Tim Finigan, who blogs at The Hermeneutic of Continuity, had to say.

And here's the letter I sent to Carl Anderson, the Supreme Knight of the Knights of Columbus:

The purpose of this letter is to convey to you my growing concern for the content that I have been reading in Crux, the online publication that the Knights of Columbus decided several months ago to take on as a project. Further, I want to urge you to take a good, hard look at how Crux is being run, and see if you think this is the right use of our funds.

Attached are two examples from recent weeks. First you will find a July 25 article entitled, “Nun ministering to transgender women gets thumbs-up from Pope.” Second, “Pope Francis and the convert problem,” which appeared two days ago. Let me briefly outline my concerns with each. 

Regarding the “Nuns” article: I have a blog, and I wrote something about it, a copy of which is also attached. Briefly, the article fails in a most fundamental way: it treats as true what we know, not even as a matter of faith, but as a matter of fact, to be false. The individuals the nun commendably assisted are not women at all, but men. At no point did the article even bother to explain this; in fact, the article again and again endorsed the proposition that these individuals have indeed become “women.”

Regarding Mr. Ivereigh’s item on the so-called “convert problem.” What “problem”? The problem is in Mr. Ivereigh’s mind. 

To be clear, I am not faulting the author for agreeing with the Holy Father, and disagreeing with those who criticize him. But those points could have been made far better, without the insulting and condescending approach Mr. Ivereigh takes toward people he dismisses as “neurotic.”

I write you, not only as a fellow Catholic and as a parish priest, but also as a fellow 4th degree knight. I’m very proud to be a Knight – my father was a lifelong Knight and he was present for my 3rd degree. I’ve tried always to give the Knights of Columbus every support and I am grateful for the kindness and support of many, many Knights over the years, both as a seminarian and as a priest.

When the Knights of Columbus took on Crux as a project, I was hopeful for what it would accomplish. But lately, I am wondering if this is a good use of what must be a considerable sum of money. To be plain, I think changes are in order, and I hope you will take a good, hard look.

Thank you for your kind attention...

Let me add something I decided not to include in the letter. Not only does Crux surely cost the Knights a lot of money -- I doubt it generates substantial revenue -- but further, I would bet the Knights' move represented a bailout. But for the Knights, I have no doubt Crux would have folded. Crux badly needs the Knights of Columbus as a patron; but I'm hard-pressed to see what the Knights need Crux for.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

If Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them? (Sunday homily)

(My Sunday homily was a mess, at least I thought so. I only came up with some notes about an hour before the first Mass, and I kept reworking them with each Mass. What follows is more or less what I said.)

If there is a theme to my homily, it is this: When Christ gives you graces, what do you do with them?

In the Transfiguration, described in the Gospel, what's happening? Well, two things in particular. First, it shows that Jesus really is God; and, second, that he is truly Israel's promised king and Messiah, as foreshadowed in the Scriptures -- such as the first reading.

But there's something curious -- perhaps you wondered about it: why did Jesus only bring along these three? Why not bring all the Apostles up the mountain to experience this?

We don't really know, but you might notice that these same three are invited to pray with him in the Garden of Gethsemane; and we do know that Peter was the leader of the Apostles. So we might guess that James and John were also leaders, and Jesus needed them to be strong for the rest of the Apostles.

Notice something else: if they did what Jesus asked, they couldn't tell anyone, not even the other Apostles!

Sometimes we end up getting invited "inside"; we are called into the meeting, we're given greater responsibility, we have more access and information, and what happens? We get a big head!

Jesus didn't need these Apostles to react that way; he needed them to help the other Apostles.

So: if you are one of those who is given more gifts, or more responsibility, ask yourself: Am I using these to serve the rest? And if not, what will you say to Jesus on Judgment Day?

Now let's look at this from the perspective of the other Apostles. Sometimes we see others being given opportunities we wish we'd gotten. We see others called in, and we're on the outside. And what happens? Envy, resentment, a bad attitude.

We don't know if that's how the Apostles reacted in this case, but they might have. And, again, that's not what Jesus needed them to do. We do know that after the Resurrection, they worked together to launch the Church, and it might have been different if they'd had a bad attitude.

So again, if we find ourselves resenting the fact that others are given opportunities we don't get, what will we say to Jesus if we let a bad attitude get in the way of the mission Jesus gave us?

A third point occurs to me. Normally, Jesus presented himself to everyone in his ordinary humanity; but then this moment happens, and his inner reality is fully on display. What if that happened to you or me? If people got to see, not just the outside, but all the inside, too. How does that sound?

I'm not so sure I want that! You and I both know that on any given occasion, we might not want what's inside, on display. Will it be brilliant light--or darkness?

But Jesus wants us to be filled with light. He never shows us anything he doesn't want to share with us. You see, none of us is an outsider; we've all been given access, and invited up onto the mountain. Jesus has given this to us in baptism, and he renews that light in us in every sacrament.

When we go to confession, we are filled with his light. But that takes an act of faith; and many people struggle to believe that Jesus really does take away our sins -- but that is exactly what he does. And when we receive Holy Communion in a state of grace, we receive that Light at the source.

Jesus has given us such graces and opportunities. What do we do with them?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Eucharistic Prayer Facing Heaven, not the People

This is a slight reworking of my bulletin column for the upcoming Sunday.

In June, the Archbishop gathered all the priests of the Archdiocese for a three-day convocation; this happens every five years. The topic was the seven sacraments; and in the course of answering questions, the speaker made a point that I want to share with you about the Eucharistic Prayer. And it is this: that the focus of the prayer – the one to whom the words are directed – is God the Father in heaven.

Why is this important?

Because many people think the prayer is addressed to them. Indeed, they have been encouraged to think so! Howso? Because many, many priests treat this prayer as an exposition, and a kind of sacred “show and tell.” If you’ve been at a Mass where a priest tends to do this, this is what happens: the priest is standing at the altar, but his gaze, his focus, is on the assembly. And when he comes to the part that recalls Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper, he will treat this as a kind of re-enactment of those events.

But that is not what is going on. Instead, what is happening is the priest is speaking to God the Father, in heaven; and the prayer is recalling what Christ did at the Last Supper (and on Good Friday, and on Easter, for that matter). Moreover, the focus on the Father in heaven begins several minutes earlier, but you may not have noticed.

The most decisive shift* comes after the priest has placed the bread and wine on the altar, perhaps incensing them, and then washed his hands, what does he do? He looks at the people (and turns toward them, if he is not facing them at that moment), and says, “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours be acceptable to God the almighty Father.” And what do you say? “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of his holy Church.”

It is at this point when the priest begins addressing God the Father at length; and then, when all have said or sung “Amen,” he invites everyone to join in the prayer to the Father. This is when the priest sings or says, “Lift up your hearts,” etc. Then the priest prays another prayer – to the Father – and then all sing “Holy, Holy, Holy” – again…to the Father. And after that, the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer – alone – to the Father.

Here’s why this matters: it is important to realize that what we are doing at Mass is not merely or mainly “horizontal” – i.e., directed toward one another – but much more “vertical” – i.e., directed toward heaven. Mass isn’t just talk, talk, talk; but rather, it is action, action, action – by the Holy Trinity. People wonder why folks don’t come to Mass – I think this is a big reason why.

Now, I don’t want to make other priests out to be bad guys. They are trying to be helpful. What’s more, this is what they were taught to do. And…this is why the direction the priest faces at this point of the Mass matters.

Most people have only experienced the priest facing them across the altar; they don’t realize that there is any option. In fact, there is: the priest has the option of offering Mass at the altar while facing the same way as the people (aka, ad orientem). Some say the priest has his “back” to the people, but this emphasizes the wrong thing: where is his face turned? The same ways as yours!

My point being, that having the priest facing the same way as the people – at this very point of the Mass – can do a lot to clarify what’s going on. When the priest faces the people, it’s very easy for both him, and the people facing him, to think that the focus is on each other. Whereas, when the priest and the people are facing the same way, together, then it’s much clearer who the focus is: it is God, and what we look for him to do for us.

FYI, in order to give more parishioners a chance to experience this, at the 7 pm Mass on Tuesday, August 15, for the Assumption, I will offer the Mass in this fashion: meaning, when I am at the altar for the sacrifice, I will use the high altar. I realize this will be unfamiliar to some, and also that some may not prefer it – but give it a try. And do let me know your reactions, whether pro or con.

* In reality, the entire Mass is focused on the Father; but when you have readings proclaimed to the assembly, and a homily, this is obscured. (And readers who prefer the Traditional Latin Mass are smiling knowingly right now.) The point I'm making is that, in the context of the Ordinary Form, there is a distinct moment when the heavenly focus should be crystal clear.