Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Singing Anti-Fracking Nuns

Yowsers!  I found it very interesting that when the producers of the story wanted to convey that these women were sisters, they played Gregorian chant and showed sisters wearing their habits (all very old sisters from days gone by). 

Maybe these women are protesting the slaughtering of children through abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc., the "redefining" of marriage, the loss of religious liberty in our country, etc. in the morning and then in the afternoon they turn their attention to non-intrinsically evil things like an oil pipeline.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Bottum-ing Out

So a Catholic thinker who once helmed the wonderful periodical "First Things" has come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

No big surprise, then, that the New York Times would trumpet this story to the nations as they did this morning.

I'm sure much more blistering and thorough destructions of  Bottum's meandering and fluffy essay are being penned at this moment by much more capable hands than my own.  I did want to share some reactions after reading the piece this morning.

1) The most stunning component to the entire essay is Bottum's belief that St. Thomas Aquinas's teaching justifies support for legalizing same-sex marriage.  This statement betrays hubris on a scale rarely seen in these parts outside of the executive branch of our government.   By comparison, Martin Luther believed that he was the first person to correctly interpret the Gospels over the course of 1500 years.  Bottum can perhaps console himself with the thought that he's only half as brazen as Luther, given that Bottum believes he is the only one to properly interpret Aquinas over the last 700 years.

Bottum doesn't say something like "I am starting to wonder if perhaps St. Thomas' teachings could be used to justify this" nor does he say something like "I plan to kick this idea around with lots of other people who are scholars of St. Thomas' teaching",...nope...he just writes that he has suddenly realized that St. Thomas's Summa DOES support legalizing same sex marriage.

Bottum has thought it...so let it be done.

2) Most of the underlying current of the essay centers around a gay friend of Bottum's, and how their friendship cooled over the past few years because of the Church's stance.

I would love to ask Bottum "SO THAT'S YOUR REASON?  You've changed your heart because the Gospel caused some friction in a relationship? Dude, have you EVER read the Gospels?  Have you heard what Jesus said his Word would bring?  If you haven't, He said division.  Have you heard what Jesus said he would do to relationships between mothers and daughters, sons and fathers, etc.?  He said he would pit them against each other.  But you've changed your heart because of FRICTION?"

I'm sorry, but the millions who have been martyred for their Faith through the centuries weep for the fact that your knees have buckled and your faith abandoned merely from a strained friendship while their bodies were crushed on this Earth because they held to the Faith of our fathers.

While still at First Things and defending things Catholic, Bottum wrote the following poem:

If I have seen geese low on the east horizon,
seen the cold reeds strain in the dawn to follow,
watched the first gray ice of the season take
roots for the winter,

that scene is no great moment in days that fathers
greet a half-born child with a knife and daughters
name the pain-free murder of mothers most
prodigal mercy.

And they that speak strong words in the failing season—
sparking new fires, stoking the dampened embers—
scorn the faint hearts nursing a private flame,
skirting the darkness.

But still the cold reeds sway in the wind and whisper,
"Leave the great voice blazing to stave the winter.
Autumn’s own soft music has need of songs
gentle and dying."

Joseph Bottum - congrats this morning on doing just about everything you lament in the poem above.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Re-envisioning Youth Ministry

I want to lay out what is getting ready to happen with "youth ministry" in my parish.  I think it might be a program that other parishes would be interested in, and I think it could be a big help in drawing more young people back to Church.

Youth ministry normally falls into one of two Categories:

1) Ridiculously drawn out and burdensome confirmation preparation - "Hi, welcome to our parish, confirmation prep here is 8 years, every Sunday night, plus a 30 day silent retreat at the local retreat center.  Please sign up after Church."

2) Non confirmation preparation (thus nothing to hold over the kid to make them come) so it is really just social time: "Hi, welcome to our youth group, we can't force you to be here (see scenario 1 above) so we just eat pizza, play video games, go skiing and hit up amusement parks, and, in order to call it ministry, we might, at some random point while you're snacking on pizza, essentially force you to violate some personal boundary of yours and share your "struggles" with the group.

#1 fails because:
a) it is not what the Church teaches.  The Church says the person receiving a sacrament has to understand what they are receiving IN THE SACRAMENT, not that they understand THE CATECHISM.  Any catechist worth anything can teach a kid what the sacrament of confirmation is in one hour.

b) when kids are done, they want to run as far away from Church as possible. 

#2 fails because:
a) most kids don't need a youth minister to buy them pizza and help them have fun.  The average kid can entertain themselves for weeks at a time.  Sure some kids will show up if you have pizza, but how many?
b) you can't get hardly any substance in terms of Church teaching while skiing or riding the log flume.

Instead of treating kids like they are spiritual infants that have to be spiritually nursed because they don't understand anything about God, what if we, as a Church, tapped their power and wisdom?

What wisdom?  Most teenagers can navigate the internet about 8,000 times faster than an adult, most kids can quickly learn how to be photographers, cinematographers, graphic designers, digital musicians, web designers, film editors, etc.

I say instead of treating them like infants it is time to tap their skills and let them show us old folks a thing or two.


We're forming an elite squad at my parish - all 7-12 graders are invited, I just haven't decided what to call it.  Something like the "New Evangelization Ninjas" or the "Holy Spirit Hit Squad" or something like that - they can come up with the name when we're rolling.

Here's how it is going to go - every kid is going to pick at least one area of expertise.  They can choose from:
1) photography
2) cinemtagropher
3) film editor
4) actor/actress
5) lighting and sound
6) graphic design
7) web design
8) musician
9) music editor/sound mixing
10) painting
11) writing
12) film direction

Instead of saying to them, "Okay, kiddies, this is a cloverleaf, and this is like the Trinity" I'm going to tell them "We NEED you desperately!"  There are people out there who are hungry for the Truth, especially young people, but people of all ages, and we are going to reach them.

Pope Benedict, in his encyclical letter Spe Salvi, quoted Dostoevsky, who said "Beauty will change the world."

John Paul II called for a new evangelization.

I think our young people know how to evangelize in a new way, and I think they just need to be told that it is time.  They have the power, knowledge of the tools, and they have the spiritual capacity.

Is this youth ministry going to be free of doctrine and free of theology, much like the "pizza and amusement park" model above?  Absolutely not.

Our group will gather weekly, and we will come at it with the question - "what are issues young people are wrestling with, whether it is you or your friends?"  Is it sex?  Is it suicide?  Is it bullying?  Is it drugs?  Is it the questions like "who am I?"?

We have a discussion about that.  And then the question becomes, "Okay, how can we reach them?"

Is there a video we can put on YouTube?  Can we write poetry for the paper?  Can we paint a painting?  Is there some music some of you can work on?  Can we put all of our work together for these projects, or do we want to work on them from different artistic angles?

THEN AND ONLY THEN do we say, "Okay, what are we going to try to pass on to them?"  AND THEN the Catechism comes out and we look at what the Church has to say.  We might pull out the Bible and look for some relevant Scripture.  We kick it around and let it simmer as we start to put our heads together and figure out how to attack our mission together and in our groups.

Here are the ingredients:
1) minimal technological investment
2) bring in a parishioner who is an expert in one area once a month.  Bring in a photographer one week and have her show the whole group how to take good, beautiful pictures.  A month later, bring in a web designer and have him work with the techies in your group.  Then you'll have young and old in your parish interfacing.

There are several benefits:

1) the unchurched youth in your community might be reached through their peers.

2) the young people will actually show up because they'll hear you're doing interesting stuff as opposed to pizza and awkward, boundary violating forced faith sharing.

3) kids learn gobs and gobs about things they are interested in.

4) the kids will start to witness the POWER of God's Word and His Truth in the lives of the people they reach out to with their art, while at the same time experiencing conversion in their own hearts as well.

5) someday down the road, some of these kids will absolutely flourish and will become top-notch in their respective fields, and will always remember where they got their start, and we'll have produced a generation of "new-evangelization ninjas" whose work will echo and continue to ripple into a tidal wave of conversion on our world.

I end this with two videos that I think are relevant:

Dry Bones from danDifelice on Vimeo.

Save the Lost from Salomon on Vimeo.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Assumption Guest Homilist

Deacon Dave Marcotte, a transitional deacon for the Archdiocese of Indy, stopped by Brazil, IN this evening for our evening Mass.  Deacon Marcotte blogs (click here to check out his blog)

Who Cares About the French Revolution?

At Dinner, my Father recently said "I need a summary of the French Revolution in three minutes. I keep hearing about the French Revolution these days, but I have no idea what it was or why I should care."

Challenge accepted Dad.  Somebody time me!

In France, the aristocracy (rich people) made all the laws.  The Church was infused into the aristocracy.

Important question 1: how did the Church become infused into the power structure of countries?  Was the Church bent on world domination?  That is the main narrative, but there is another explanation as well - a lot of countries invited the Church in to help run their countries because the Church was much better organized, it was international, and it was disciplined with laws and so forth - if you were a disorganized collection of tribes being occasionally sacked by barbarians, the Church offered a way to get a nation started.

But I've already digressed.

In 1789, the people "stormed the Bastille" and the overthrow of the rich and the Church was on.  Government by the people and for the people ("equality, fraternity, and liberty" was the motto). 
The revolution is often celebrated because who doesn't want to see aristocrats knocked off their perch?

Had it ended with the "Storming of the Bastille" and then a drafting of a constitution, then it would have probably been praiseworthy to some degree.

What is lost, forgotten, not talked about, and miraculously glossed over by the celebrators of the French Revolution is all the ABSOLUTELY INSANE MADNESS that followed for many years in the wake of the "Storming of the Bastille."

What probably did not begin as an anti-Catholic movement quickly turned into a perverted and horrendous and lengthy and awful persecution of the Catholic Church.

The French did not just set up a Constitution and settle down.

The French created a "Rational State" that exalted reason and set "thinking for one's self" as diametrically opposed to Catholicism.  Catholicism was then hunted down and eradicated in every possible way.

In 1790, all religious vows were suspended and the property of monasteries and convents were seized.  

Later in 1790, all priests and bishops were taken over by the state and forced to either renounce their vows or make new ones to the country.  Those who didn't make the vow were prosecuted and treated as criminals.

Tell me this from George Garlin doesn't sound familiar - "Processions were forbidden; crucifixes and religious artifacts were stripped out of churches. Government priests were granted freedom to marry, divorce was permissible, and marriage became a civil procedure."

And how about this from Stephanie Mann - "The Blessed Sacrament was desecrated, church furnishings and artwork wrecked, and churches destroyed in a massive campaign of iconoclasm. More than 200 non-juring priests and three bishops—those who would not take the required oath—were brutally massacred in Paris on September 2 and 3, 1793. Priests and nuns were also tied together and drowned in what revolutionaries called “Republican Weddings” in Nantes and Lyon. The Ursulines of Valencienne, the Carmelites of Compiegne, and groups of nuns from other religious orders were guillotined."

France went on to eliminate the 7 day week because it was biblically based, and created a 10 day week with every 10th day as a day of rest, thus forbidding the Sunday celebration.  

Catholic Holy Days were replaced with civil celebrations, and some of the most blasphemous events in the history of the Church took place during this time.  The defacto leader of the Revolution, Robespierre, celebrated a mockery of Mass where a paper mache mountain was built in Paris, and he descended from the mountain as God.  

Robespierre sent people out to French villages to create similar mockeries of the Mass whereby 

"A delegate arrives some days in advance, accompanied by a goddess, if the town itself cannot supply a suitable one. She is attired in a Roman tunic of white satin, usually taken from a theatrical wardrobe, and wears a red cap trimmed with oak leaves. Her left arm rests on a plough, in her right hand she holds a lance.. . . .Installed on an altar. . .she addresses the people who in return pay her homage. . . .Wherever possible a priest is procured to abjure his Faith in public and to declare that Christianity is nothing but a fraud. The festival ends with a bonfire in which prayer-books, saints’ images, confessionals, and other pieces of church furniture are burnt. Most of those present stand looking on in silence, struck dumb with horror and amazement; others, either drunk or paid. . .dance around. . ." (Marlin)

"Lady Reason" is worshiped in a blasphemous service held at the Cathedral of Notre Dame

The guillotine was fired up as the only way to truly eliminate those who opposed the revolution, and at the height they were slaughtering 10,000 people a day.  Nuns and priests were not spared (see my post here on the Nuns of Compiegne). 

As always is the case with evil, the "god" of the revolution, Robespierre, who initially fired up the guillotines, was himself guillotined.  "A house divided against itself cannot stand!"

This all matters for Catholics because many see comparisons and foreshadowings in our own country.  A revolution that looks like it is for "equality and liberty" where as at heart it is simply about one thing - the destruction of the Catholic Church should certainly sound familiar, especially on the heels of the passage of Obamacare and its attacks on religious liberty.  Another similarity with the revolution would be the fact that in the President's war room in the days leading up to the passage of Obamacare, one of a handful of people who had the President's ear was none other than Cecile Richards, the head of the greatest slaughterer of human beings in the history of the world - Planned Parenthood.  Is our country the land of "equality, liberty, and brotherhood" or is it slowly but steadily morphing into France at the turn of the 18th century.  Many people smart enough to look around are certainly warning that it looks like the guillotines are being dusted off and sharpened here in the United States.

You can't really understand where we are today in the USA unless you first understand the real story of the French Revolution.

You might also find my post (click here) helpful in explaining how both Christopher Nolan in his Batman Trilogy capper "The Dark Knight Rises" and Charles Dickens' "Tale of Two Cities" are attempts to warn us of what happens when a revolution rejects God, and thus inevitably spirals into madness, as the French Revolution did.  Is history bound to repeat itself?  

It was longer than three minutes...but some things need a little more time.

A Half Million Visits to the Blog as of This Morning

Thanks for all the love!  Doing this blog has been one of those amazing ways that I have seen God at work.  I would have never thought anyone would check this out, but the Pope said to start blogging so I did, and sure enough it has been something that, in some small way, God has used.

I am the opposite of Billy Joel's "Piano Man"...I know it is NOT me that visitors are coming to see!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Homily: 5 Things I Wish Someone Would Have Told Me

Here it should be noted that no priest thinks, in the seminary "I can't wait to preach on sexual sins, or to tell people they need to get annulments."  It isn't fun, and not something anyone looks forward to.  But no one thinks when they get married "I can't wait to have a difficult but important conversation with my spouse" and no one, during the pregnancy of their wife, thinks "I can't wait to have all the hard conversations with my child."  Are these rules and stipulations about receiving the Eucharist the end of the story...or the map that one has to follow to enter into a vast and marvelous and wonderful life?

I turn to G.K. Chesterton: "On the view that priests darken and embitter the world: I look at the world and simply discover that they don’t.  Those countries in Europe which are still influenced by priests, are exactly the countries where there is still singing and dancing and coloured dresses and art in the open-air.  Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground.”

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Pope Benedict Loves People Too

I have made no secret about how Pope Benedict was and is still a hero of mine.  I am not sure why some people believe that in order to praise Pope Francis, Pope Benedict must be put down.  The crowds are certainly up at papal audiences, and that is great!  I love and am inspired by what Pope Francis has to say.  But to believe that the new crowds are somehow an indictment upon Pope Benedict is an overlysimplistic reading of the situation. 

I've been at papal audiences of both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict, and I've talked to people who've been to many more than I.  The vast majority of people who are at papal audiences these days are Italians.  Generally speaking, Italians have a strong dislike for Germans.  It is only natural that Italians didn't turn out for Pope Benedict.  When people who would love to place a wedge between the two papacies celebrate the increased numbers at papal audiences, I wonder how many of them realize they are celebrating, to some extent, a nationalistic prejudice.

Anyway, I thought it would also be good to remind those who love to portray a division between Pope Francis and Pope Benedict that BOTH popes love people, and that Pope Benedict reached out to audiences as well.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Is God Just Testing You?

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration - the Gospel scene where Christ takes Peter, James and John to the top of the mountain, starts glowing in all His glory (the Great Oz, but for real) talks with Moses and Elijah, and then God the Father thunders, "This is my Son in whom I am well pleased, listen to Him!"

And then it all subsides back to normal, and they trudge down the mountain.

This raises a REALLY important question for us today, namely:

why didn't Christ "glow" all the time, and why didn't God the Father thunder from Heaven to every person on Earth "This is my Son, listen to Him!"?

The standard answer is this: "God is testing us."  When we listen to the saints and the entirety of Scripture we see something - this idea that God is "testing us" is wrong.

To be clear, there are certainly passages in the Bible that refer to God testing human beings, but being Catholic, we don't have to read every passage literally, and so there are certainly times where we can understand that the Biblical authors were ascribing to God human characteristics to help explain the ultimately unexplainable.  So as Catholics we are okay with reading "God tests humanity" without believing that it is really happening quite that way.

As an aside, we see this phenomenon a lot in the Old Testament, where God is often times described as being quite moody and temperamental...but God is neither.

Back to the point at hand then - am I left to grope about in spiritual darkness while on this Earth simply because "God is testing me?"  NO! 

"Welcome to life!  Please use a number 2 pencil and make sure all the blanks are completely filled in.  You have an unspecified number of days to complete your test.  Good luck!"

God is not a proctor of an exam; God didn't make us for the thrill of having a bunch of people on Earth he could test. 

So here's the really cool takeaway: me not seeing floating Eucharistic Hosts, and me not seeing a glowing Christ all the time, and me not hearing from Heaven "This is my Son, listen to Him" is actually something God wants me to experience, and it is a GOOD thing for me to experience, and it is BETTER for me to experience my life as is than it would be to hear God's voice!

The "ordinary", the "boring", the "normal", every day life is something that God must know is BETTER FOR ME THAN SEEING A GLOWING CHRIST RIGHT NOW!

Let that sink in for a minute!  God is not testing you...you are experiencing, right now, the reality that God knows to be best for you.

And let's carry this one step further - if this isn't the case, if this life situation, this environment, these people that are in my life is not what God REALLY wants for me, if I think I would actually be better off in Heaven, then suicide makes a lot of sense. 

If you hold the "God as test giver" view of things, then the only reason you don't kill yourself is because you would fail the test, and that's just a dumb reason to stay alive.

"Why don't you kill yourself?"  "I would, but I'd fail the test, so I'm going to endure"

That is such a wrong view of God, but one that many people have. 

We know God isn't just testing us, but what is He up to then?

The saints don't necessarily say they can explain it all, but one common thing we hear from the mystics is that if we had "mountain top experiences" all the time, we would not grow or develop.  If I were beholding Christ in all His glory, I would just stay there, moving neither physically nor spiritually.  That makes a lot of sense to me.

God is not testing you.  Life is not just a test.  It is better for you to be alive right now, on Earth, even though we are immersed in and surrounded by sin, than it would be for you to be in Heaven. 

That blows my mind. 

Monday, August 5, 2013

If this is how you deal with me, then kill me!

"If this is the way you will deal with me, then please do me the favor of killing me at once, so that I need no longer face this distress.” - Moses to God (Num: 11:15)

We've all said something similar to God, at least in our heads.  "If you're going to treat me like this, just kill me."

We also know people right now who are in this situation...maybe even people who are feeling like giving up...taking their own life...or at least throwing in the towel emotionally or spiritually.

"If you're going to treat me like this, just kill me."

In this same reading from Mass today we see how it gets to this.  It is literally RAINING FOOD EVERY NIGHT on the Israelites.  They are in the desert, and yet every morning there is manna on the ground that they scoop up and eat and it tastes delicious.

And the Israelites come to Moses and say...I'm not making this up..."Where's the meat?"

"Where's the meat????  It is snowing food...in the desert...and you are complaining about not having meat???"

And yet isn't that how it so often happens?  We get to the point where we say "If you are going to treat me like this, just kill me" because we FAIL to see the miracles, often times an infinite number of miracles around us...and in our frailty we just think of life as God kicking us in the gut.

If you're in that situation...hang on...push through...call someone and lean on them...pour your heart out...be vulnerable...because one thing we know is that for some reason, these episodes of COMPLETE blindness to all the infinite miracles that surround us, these moments PASS!  It might last a day, or a month, or a year, but we've known it in our lives and we know it has been the case for others as well - the "miracle blindness"

This too shall pass, and soon the scales will again fall off our eyes, and tomorrow or the next day we will again be able to see all the miracles we're surrounded by.

Don't give up!