Category Archives: Pastor message

Pastor’s Message November 25th, 2018

Last week, I promised to continue a lesson on witchcraft and wiccans in a follow-up on my writing about Halloween observances. Since that festival has recently passed, I would like to write you about the seriousness of a problem of the occult that has some connection with the American #2 holiday with regarding to record breaking retail sales. Though Halloween may seem to be an innocuous enough festival, there are some disturbing statistics concerning the “darker” side of this premier American celebration that should not go unnoticed. Ironically, last weekend, we hosted the pastor of the Catholic parish in Anoka, Minnesota, a city which bills itself as the “Halloween Capital of the World.”
The number of Americans who claim to be witches has increased dramatically over the past 30 years. An estimated 1 to 1.5 million people say they practice Wicca or paganism, a rise from an estimated 8,000 Wiccans in 1990, and over 300,000 in 2008.
In 2014, a Pew Research Center survey found about 0.4 percent of Americans actually identify themselves as Pagan or Wiccan, a significant increase over prior years. If accurate, the Pew data would suggest that there are more self-identified “witches” in the United States than members of some mainline Protestant denominations (e.g., according to 2017 figures, there were 1.4 million practicing Presbyterians in the U.S.).
Wicca is a form of modern pagan witchcraft that was begun about a century ago in the United Kingdom. Those who practice Wicca often refer to themselves as “witches.” There are other people who practice other forms of witchcraft and may not identify with the “Wiccan” or “pagan” label – meaning that the number of self-identified witches in the United States might actually be higher than reported.
Online, witchcraft has become increasingly popular and mainstream. One of its hashtags has been used nearly two million times on Instagram, featuring images of crystals, pentagrams, and people sharing their experiences as witches.
A Catholic priest known to me, who is pursuing doctoral studies in exorcisms, said that he wasn’t surprised by the increasing number of Americans interested in dabbling in witchcraft. The priest, whom I will not identify because of the overwhelming attention exorcist priests often receive, pointed to the increasing popularity of spiritualism in general, which includes yoga and ouija, and the need for instant results in American culture.
He theorized that people who are dissatisfied with their religion begin to look for a “quick fix magic.” So, while some witches differentiate between “white magic” and “black magic,” with black magic being intentionally malicious, he rejected the idea there could be any such thing as “positive” or harmless magic. “Both of them are associated with Satan, and he’s in charge of that,” the priest said.
Likewise, he said that people who embrace one form of witchcraft, whether to find love or solve a problem, may find themselves “trapped” in the world of the occult. He also personally had many experiences of people coming to him with issues that stemmed from something initially thought to be innocuous.
He stated that the modern appeal of paganism may stem from Christianity’s early roots. When Christianity first spread to pagan areas, such as England, Ireland, France, etc., the people who lived there were incredibly superstitious. Christianity was able to provide a sort of spiritual reassurance for them. “Christianity always has good news, and the good news is that the devil is overcome,” he said.
Now, he says that as people have begun to turn away from the message of Christ’s lordship they have begun to “glorify their own reason and understanding.” As a result, Christianity has become less appealing–and people return to the superstitious practices of long ago. A lack of faith in the Christian God coupled with the “very hedonistic society” of modern times adds to the appeal of the supposed quick fix of magic. “Anything we want, we have to have right away,” he said. “I mean, if I suffer, I need to have a solution. Even if you go to a hospital, you look at the chart and they always ask you ‘how do you feel [on a scale] from one to 10?’ And if you feel that your pain is too high, they will pump you with opioid painkillers.”
An unidentified priest-colleague of his said that he didn’t find it surprising that some who have turned away from Christianity would turn toward pagan worship. “Man is essentially a spiritual animal who seeks meaning beyond the ordinary and so is prone to worship powers beyond himself,” he explained.
The increase of self-identified “witches” could also be as a result of Satan, he said, who “is actively at work in the world seeking to drive as many people away from salvation in Christ as he can.” Satan, he said, does this “under the guise of principalities and powers that some people think are more novel and powerful than Christ. Sadly, they couldn’t be more wrong, and they need our prayers.”

 

Pastor’s Message November 18th, 2018

Recently, I was delayed in getting to our annual parish golf-outing by a whole cadre of witch and wiccan-costumed riders on bicycles who came past the church on George Bush Boulevard and snarled traffic on many local streets. Previously, they would re-group on our campus without getting permission to gather here (think of all sorts of potential lawsuits). This year, I gave their leadership (professed Wiccans) advance warning that this was not the place to do so because of (among other reasons) safety logistics and sensitivities of morning church-goers. Some aspects of Halloween can be harmless; others, not so.
How did Halloween become such a big event in our country that only the celebration of Christmas outranks it as a commercial giant in the retail marketplace? Certain critics attack it for its bad effect on the true All Saints and All Souls customs, and religious leaders of the evangelical variety attack it as “Satanic” – something not helped by Wiccans (more about them next week) who claim it for their own. Just as Christmas may owe its holly and mistletoe to some long-forgotten Druidical rituals, Halloween may have inherited a thing or two of old Celtic customs brought to American shores by Irish and Scots immigrants. But it has been observed in the Catholic Church as the Vigil of All Saints since the 8th century.
Despite the attempts of followers of the one-hundred-year old religion of Wicca to link it to the Celtic festival of the dead – Samhain – the connection is no deeper than that of Christmas to the pagan Yule. That’s to say, it’s really more present in the minds of academics with an agenda than in the long generations of its practitioners. Proof of this is to be found in the similarity of observances over the three days of “Hallowmas”–(Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls) among Catholic or formerly Catholic cultures from Latin America, Louisiana, Quebec, etc. Prayers and Masses are offered for the dead, candles lit in cemeteries, and in different times and places, folk would go about offering to pray for the deceased of a given household in return for food and drink.
In Britain, this ritual was called “souling.” Food might be served for the dead, depending on the locale. Halloween being the eve of a major feast, fasting and abstinence were once required as well as a meatless supper. In Ireland this meant the savory mess called “Colcannon.”
Not surprisingly, if the spirits of the dead were out and about, it took little to suppose that demons, fairies, witches (and Lord alone knew what else might be out) haunting the dark. In many places costumes were worn, and Ireland saw turnips hollowed out to create makeshift lamps. This practice gave its name to a legend about a man rejected from Hell and forced to wander: “Jack O’Lantern.” When the Celtic immigrants arrived in America, they discovered the pumpkin, and the Jack-o-Lantern took on its new face and character.
In the 19th century, Halloween took root in America like an imported plant that has found incredibly fertile soil. All levels of society fostered Halloween parties featuring uncanny costumes, apple-bobbing, and fortune-telling, while the lower classes built bonfires as their youth wreaked destruction on unguarded property (now replaced by such pre-Halloween events as “Mischief Night” or “Devil’s Night”). After World War I, these activities caused local government to suppress it, and from the 1930s on, it was replaced with the “Trick or Treating” that characterizes the Halloweens of today.
In more recent years, it has once again become an adult holiday, but the question must be asked: why has the horrific side of the day always been so popular in America?
There’s a dark side to American culture which has always been with us. I believe it comes from Calvinism (an early predecessor of Presbyterianism). Think of Salem Witchcraft. In fact, all Europe has dark folklore. England and Ireland produced exceptional ghost story writers. Also, three major American writers – Washington Irving (of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle fame), Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe – were masters of the macabre, albeit with a touch, or more than a touch, of black humor. The same holds true with more modern writers as Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. So, this isn’t just New England-style ghoul stuff. The mid-West (think Garrison Keillor) and the South (“Gothic South”) have produced stories that can scare the wits out of the young and amuse older generations of Americans. The truth is that for whatever reason, Halloween seems to respond to a deep need in the American soul.
But, just as a Chinese Catholic may still revere Confucius and his own ancestors in some strange way bordering on religious syncretism, nevertheless – if he truly loves his country – he must ponder on how to evangelize it. So, too, for the American Catholics, Halloween offers several opportunities to do something similar. We can inform ourselves and our family of the Church’s teaching on such matters as ghosts, exorcisms, etc., as well as the sacramentals and other means provided by her to ward off the dark side. Also, we can return Halloween to its original role of ushering in the Month of the Holy Souls, by including requests for prayers for the dead in the “goodies” we give out on that enchanted night; and by praying with our children for the faithful departed of those who have, in turn, given them treats. I hope that such a transformed observance would become an indicator of an evangelized nation.

Pastor’s Message November 11th, 2018

The misnamed “’Catholics’ for Choice” pro-abortion group nastily attacked Pope Francis as a “villain” in an open letter signed by fifty abortion providers over his comparison of abortion to “contract killing.”

The group published the letter last week in response to an address that Pope Francis delivered last month in St. Peter’s Square (on October 10th), in which he said abortion is as unfair as hiring a hitman to do a killing. The group expressed “shock” that the leader of the Catholic Church, who has compared abortion to Nazi eugenics, would disparage abortion, and called his comments “a disappointment to abortion providers.” Their letter said that the villains here are not those who support abortion rights, “those who you chose to malign with your thoughtless comments. The ones who put women’s lives in danger are those who deny women access to these rights, blatantly ignoring the impact on their health and their lives.” The letter also repeatedly accuses Pope Francis of demonstrating neglect toward women’s safety and a blind-spot to “women’s rights” and needs, implying that “Catholics for Choice” includes Francis among those they consider “villains” for opposing abortion.  They said that he claims a devotion to the world’s poorest people, but he failed to show compassion or understanding about the impact that unsafe abortion has on the poorest women globally. My question to them is, “Is there such a thing as a “safe” abortion, in particular to the unborn child in the womb?”

While Pope Francis’ latest condemnation of abortion was his most unequivocal to date, the comments really shouldn’t come as any kind of real surprise. The teaching of the Catholic Church clearly states the Church’s opposition to abortion, given its belief in the sanctity of all human life beginning with conception. Pope Francis has also condemned abortion prior to his October 2018 address and, in one case, compared aborting babies that have any deformities to the Nazi’s methods of racial purification. He has been preceded by all of the last popes of this and the last century.

It’s amazing that these hypocrites chose to criticize this pope in particular, but it shouldn’t surprise us that their audacity to blatantly dismiss defined teaching of the Catholic Church and praise abortion as a human “right” speaks volumes of their false use of the word “Catholic” and their phony appeal to issues of “health and safety.”

The abortion providers’ objection to the Catholic Church’s stance on abortion is par for the course, but “’Catholics’ for Choice” raises a distinct point of confusion, given the fact that they directly contradict the Church’s teachings while claiming to be Catholic. According to the New Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholics involved with this group are actually considered heretical, and their wayward leadership endangers the faith of many who struggle to deal with such serious matters of human life.

The group “is not affiliated with the Catholic Church in any way. It has no membership, and clearly does not speak for the faithful. It is funded by powerful private foundations to promote abortion as a method of population control.” Years ago, the U.S. bishops said the group, formerly called Catholics for a Free Choice, had “no affiliation, formal or otherwise, with the Catholic Church.” The use of the name ‘Catholic’ as a platform to promote the taking of innocent human life is offensive not only to Catholics, but to all who expect honesty and forthrightness in public discourse.

As Pope Francis also said, “Life must always be welcomed and protected.… from conception to natural death. All of us are called to respect life and care for it.” If there is a desire to help a woman in need who is facing an unplanned pregnancy, the solution, as a society, is to get her the resources and support she needs to care for her child – not help her dispose of it.

The CFC group has no members and no grass-roots work. Unlike the Catholic Church and other pro-life activists, Catholics for Choice provides no help for pregnant women or post-aborted women or children. It makes no effort to ground its claims in any authoritative source of the Catholic faith, which is rooted in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and is proclaimed by the Church. It fails to do so because the actual teachings of the Catholic faith embrace a consistent ethic of life from conception to natural death, and categorically condemn abortion as an act of violence against the most innocent and defenseless among us.

Pastor’s Message November 4th, 2018

Sadly, Saturday a week ago, while we were enjoying our annual Parish Golf Outing (for the benefit of our school), the world was stunned by the news of what took place in a Pittsburgh synagogue on the Jewish Shabbat (or Sabbath). Once again, a crazed individual took upon himself the role of judge and executioner, passing sentence based solely on the hate in his heart. Eleven worshippers were killed, and several others injured as gunshots rang out in a setting that is normally set aside for prayer and worship of the one, true God. This past Tuesday, I was invited along with my fellow ministers, rabbis and imams and our city’s mayor to participate in an ecumenical prayer service at Temple Sinai in memory of those victims, as well as for peace, consolation and reconciliation. The following is the text of my address to the over 200 participants:
The words of the ancient Psalmist rise from our hearts: “I have become like a broken vessel. I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life. But I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps.31: 13-15)
At this sad moment of our lives, the mind and heart and soul feel an extreme need for silence — silence in which to remember; silence in which to try to make some sense of the tragedy which has befallen us — which contradicts the essence of being called “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — silence because there are no words strong enough to deplore the terrible repetition of ‘man’s inhumanity to man.’
My own personal reflections at a time like this recall repeated visits to the memorials of the Holocaust at Auschwitz and Majdanek in Poland, Dachau in Germany and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, recalling what happened when the Nazis tried to take away the goodness God created in men’s hearts and replace it with their godless ideology and anti-Semitic hatred upon too many innocent victims. Though more than half a century has passed since, terrible memories remain.
Tonight, we are overcome by the echo of the heart-rending laments of all those who suffer the pain of loss. The voices of eleven men and women cry out to us from the depths of the horror that they experienced in Pittsburgh. It was at a time when they should have been at peace in God’s House, chanting and praising Him for the new life He created rather than screaming out in horror at the tragedy that the Evil One had unleashed instead. How can we fail to heed their cry? No one can ignore what happened. No one can diminish its impact upon our society.
We wish to remember those eleven victims with a firm purpose, namely to ensure that never again will evil prevail. But each time we take two steps forward, it seems we fall one step behind. How could anyone have such utter contempt for man? Perhaps it is because he/they had reached the point of contempt for God. Only a godless person could plan and carry out the execution of so many innocent people who came on their Shabbat to worship their God, not knowing it would be their last one on earth.
But not even in our darkest hour is every light extinguished. That is why the Psalms, and the entire Scriptures, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaim that evil will not have the last word. Out of the depths of pain and sorrow, the believer’s heart cries out: “I trust in you, O Lord; I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps 31:14)
Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we work to overcome evil with good. For us, to remember is to pray and work for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the terrible crimes brought on by hatred and a virulent anti-Semitism.
As a Catholic, I am deeply saddened by any hatred, acts of persecution and displays of anti-Semitism directed against my Jewish brothers and sisters at any time and in any place. I pray that our society will each and every day recall that the image of the Creator is inherent in every human being (cf. Gen 1:26). I fervently pray that our sorrow for the tragedy which the Jewish people suffered in Pittsburgh will teach us to forge a better relationship between Christians and Jews. I hope that out of this tragedy will arise a spirit of mutual understanding that we are all walking together on a pilgrimage to God, albeit each in our own way, but conscious of the need for all to work together, making that path and journey easier for the generations to follow. I pray that there will be no more anti-Jewish, anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim feelings among people of good will, but rather the mutual respect required of those who adore the one Creator and Lord and look to Abraham as our common father in faith.
The world must heed the warning that comes to us from the victims of this or any life-taking tragedy. Let the memory of those whose lives were lost live on and sear itself onto our souls. It should make us cry out: “I hear the whispering of many – terror on every side! – But I trust in you, O Lord; and I say, ‘You are my God’.” (Ps 31:13-15)

 

Pastor’s Message October 28th, 2018

This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced that Father Cantalamessa, a long-term  Papal preacher and Spiritual Director, will give the U.S. Bishops a week-long retreat at the beginning of the year 2019. The bishops called for this retreat in order to reflect upon the serious damage that has come upon the Catholic Church, in particular in America, by their failure to act as good shepherds of the flock. Other bishops’ conferences are expected to follow suit. I hope the retreat master will draw upon the works of Father Carletto, a mentor of his.     Father Carlo Carretto, who died in 1988, an Italian priest, was a member of the Little Brothers of Jesus. Having spent many years in the Saharan desert, leading a life of simplicity and prayer among the Bedouin, he wrote several books on spirituality. In one reflection, he penned a paradoxical love song about the Church. He begins the poem by saying, “How baffling you are, oh Church, and yet how I love you!” He then goes on to describe so many of the things that he has come to loathe about the Church. Despite all the negativity he feels, though, Father Carlo is overwhelmed by how the Church has also witnessed to him an incredible holiness. He says that, while the Church has made him suffer, still he owes her so much. Even though, at times, he had felt the Church was more devoted to the world than to heaven, yet, he says, “he has touched nothing more pure, more generous, more beautiful.” Even though the Church had given him scandal, it is that same Church that helped him to understand sanctity. It is as if, where there is light, there will always be darkness, but the light always overcomes the darkness.

The really telling line in the poem comes when Father Carlo asks whether he can free himself from the Church. “No, I cannot free myself from you, because I am you,” he cries, “though not completely. And besides, where would I go?” The Church may present challenges and obstacles, but ultimately God’s goodness shows through. Anyway, where else would one go to experience that truth and beauty? Can you recall the story of how, after Moses lead the Israelites out of Egypt and, having crossed the Jordan, they are about to enter the Promised Land? We hear how Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel together and said to them: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are now dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” Then we hear of how all of those who had been gathered replied: “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods. For it was the LORD, our God, who brought us and our fathers up out of the land of Egypt, out of a state of slavery. He performed those great miracles before our very eyes and protected us along our entire journey and among the peoples through whom we passed. Therefore, we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” This account makes clear that the Israelite people made their free choice to follow the Lord God.

Jesus posed a similar question to His disciples. At the end of what has come to be known as the Bread of Life Discourse at the synagogue in Capernaum, many of our Lord’s followers abandoned Him because they found His teaching about the mystery of the Eucharist too difficult to accept. Left with only His closest disciples, He asks them too: “Do you also want to leave?” To which Peter answers in the name of all the remaining disciples: “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

In this way, the disciples, much like the Israelite people in the first reading, made their free choice, for they understood that life without Christ would be life without meaning.
We are asked the same question and are given the same free choice. There are times when our inner anger may make it hard for us to recognize our Lord’s love and care for the Church. Nevertheless, we must remain convinced that Christ has not abandoned us, and so we must not give up on our commitment to live as His disciples. We must recognize that this is exactly what Satan, the Prince of Darkness wants. He wants us to turn our back on Our Lord and His Church. On the contrary, we must commit ourselves to live ever more fully for Christ as His disciples.
There are always going to be times when things do not seem to make sense; times when there is the temptation to turn away from God, when we are hurt, angry, and even scandalized. However, as difficult as the journey of life and the way of discipleship may be at times, there is the constant call to reflect on God’s goodness, and to keep making positive choices for Jesus. What is needed now more than ever is a profound spiritual renewal at all levels of the Church. We must dedicate our energy to grow in holiness by living as disciples of our Lord each and every day of our lives. Just as Father Carlo Carretto wrote, with regard to the Church, that he wanted “to shut the doors of my soul in your face,” yet, paradoxically, would say, “how often I have prayed to die in the safety of your arms,” so too we can put our negative reactions and angry feelings in perspective before the outweighing positive reality of God’s love. Jesus gave the disciples a choice. He presents us with that same choice. When Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel at Shechem, he asked them the same question that we are asked. Whom do you wish to serve? Considering how Jesus has brought us liberation from sin, freedom from despair, and the promise of eternal life, perhaps we will be able to echo Peter’s stunning statement regarding Jesus’ challenge that He is the light of the world, He is the bread of life, His promises are true. Where else can we go? We will serve Him.

Pastor’s Message October 21st, 2018

Sunday, October 7th, marked a special day in our parish history. We received from the Vatican the blood relic of St. John Paul II during the entrance procession of the 11:30 a.m. Mass. The Mass was concelebrated by Father Matthew Hawkins, who was once our Deacon one year ago. He paid us a “last-minute” surprise visit and was able to offer the Eucharist for those who attended. We were happy to have the opportunity to hear him preach the homily once again. At the end of Mass, the congregation was blessed by him with the relic, and many of them came forward to be individually blessed with the relic. It is now in the John Paul II Room on the north side of the rectory building, where it will remain until the new narthex addition is added to our church (except on a few days in November when it will be brought into church for all to see and venerate).

That Sunday afternoon was also a blessed time for the two dozen or so men, women and children who joined in prayer as faithful witnesses for the annual Respect Life Pray In at the intersection of Federal Highway and Linton Boulevard. As we’ve been noticing each year, more and more people give us a very positive reception while we hold our signs and pray. It’s a far cry from the years when we were verbally assaulted and had the middle digit thrown out to us during those prayerful and sacred moments. It was an appropriate day to pray the Rosary because October 7th is usually the Feast of the Holy Rosary. While many were comfortably ensconced in their homes or at the beach or elsewhere during that hour, our prayer warriors demonstrated a powerful witness for their respect for life. Even though a light sprinkle fell in the last seven minutes of our rally, we were not dissuaded from continuing our prayers. May the holy and good example of these good people be justly rewarded by the God who sees all and knows all.

As you well remember from recent reports during the disastrous sojourn of hurricane Michael in the panhandle section of our state, so much destruction took place throughout the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee. The new bishop of that diocese told us that three parish churches, a convent, two rectories and two parish halls were totally destroyed or so severely damaged that they are beyond repair. Ordained to the episcopacy only fourteen months ago, the 51-year-old diocesan shepherd had his “baptism by fire” as he struggles to learn all about his “new” diocese and how to be a good bishop. He is calling upon all people of good will to help reach out to the needs of his flock through volunteer services in cleaning up and in re-supplying the parishes so badly affected by that history-making hurricane. Our Knights of Columbus, along with other Catholic organizations throughout the state and country, is responding with supplies, money and manpower to his appeal. When I spoke with him not so long ago, he seemed so “upbeat” in his efforts to reach out to the victims of “Michael” and to address the many needs of his flock. Undismayed by the depth of the daunting task that lies ahead, he has visited each of the sites of destruction and has sought information on the needs of his parishioners in each situation.

Our bishop has asked us to reach out in any way we can to lend a “helping hand.” Therefore, on the weekend of November 3rd and 4th, we will take up a special 2nd collection in our parish to help the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee get back on its feet. That collection will go directly from our diocese to the relief work in that diocese. Though you may see this as just one more collection “for a good cause,” I know you will be generous as you have so often been in the past when calamity strikes and badly affects our “brothers and sisters in Christ.” I also know that if the proverbial shoe had been on the other foot and we were the victims of a catastrophic disaster, that diocese would be sending us help. That’s the way it works with “brothers and sisters united in Christ.” Just as Jesus sent the Twelve, Our Lord sends us out to do our part in proclaiming the Good News in our daily lives. One of the dismissals from the Roman Missal is, “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” This is what the Apostles were called to do. We are sent out from each Mass renewed and refreshed to make the Good News of Jesus’ promise of love and mercy known to others. We are sent out to free all kinds of people from the things that oppress them and to help establish a kingdom built upon the values of justice, peace and love. We are sent out to bring healing and support to those who are hurt, distraught and weary. Like the Apostles, we are sent out to help make places where there is sorrow or sadness into places of joy and love. We may wonder why God has chosen us to do this; but like the Apostles, we may be surprised at what we can do in the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Pastor’s Message October 14th, 2018

Pope Francis has convened a Synod of Bishops on the topic of youth. Among the bishops elected by their peers to attend is the outspoken Archbishop of Philadelphia, Charles Chaput, who is also a permanent member of that synod. Here are two of his interventions there.

“I was elected to the Synod’s permanent council three years ago. At the time, I was asked, along with other members, to suggest themes for this synod. My counsel then was to focus on Psalm 8. We all know the text: ‘When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast established; what is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him’?” 

“Who we are as creatures, what it means to be human, why we should imagine we have any special dignity at all – these are the chronic questions behind all our anxieties and conflicts. The answer to all of them will not be found in ideologies or the social sciences, but only in the person of Jesus Christ, redeemer of man- which of course means we need to understand, at the deepest level, why we need to be redeemed in the first place. If we lack the confidence to preach Jesus Christ without hesitation or excuses to every generation, especially to the young, then the Church is just another purveyor of ethical pieties the world doesn’t need.”

In this light, I read Chapter IV of the instrumentum,* (paragraphs) # 51-63, with keen interest. The chapter does a good job of describing the anthropological and cultural challenges facing our young people. In fact, describing today’s problems, and noting the need to accompany young people as they face those problems, are strengths of the instrumentum overall. But I believe (paragraph) # 51 is misleading when it speaks of young people as the “watchmen and seismographs of every age.” This is false flattery, and it masks a loss of adult trust in the continuing beauty and power of the beliefs we have received.

In reality, young people are too often products of the age, shaped in part by the words, the love, the confidence, and the witness of their parents and teachers, but more profoundly today by a culture that is both deeply appealing and, essentially, atheist.

The elders of the faith community have the task of passing the truth of the Gospel from age to age, undamaged by compromise or deformation. Yet, too often my generation of leaders, in our families and in the Church, has abdicated that responsibility out of a combination of ignorance, cowardice and laziness in forming young people to carry the faith into the future. Shaping young lives is hard work in the face of a hostile culture. The clergy sexual abuse crisis is precisely a result of the self-indulgence and confusion introduced into the Church in my lifetime, even among those tasked with teaching and leading. And minors – our young people – have paid the price for it.

Finally, what the Church holds to be true about human sexuality is not a stumbling block. It is the only real path to joy and wholeness. There is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic’, as if our sexual appetites defined who we are; as if these designations described discrete communities of differing but equal integrity within the real ecclesial community, the body of Jesus Christ. This has never been true in the life of the Church and is not true now. It follows that “LGBTQ” and similar language should not be used in Church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the Church simply doesn’t categorize people that way.

Explaining why Catholic teaching about human sexuality is true, and why it’s ennobling and merciful, seems crucial to any discussion of anthropological issues. Yet, it’s regrettably missing from this chapter and this document. I hope revisions by the Synod Fathers can address that.”

#2
In his opening Mass homily, the Holy Father described Jesus as “eternally young.” When I heard this, it reminded me of a song by the artist, Jay-Z, that was popular a few years ago. The song was entitled “Forever Young,” and it was a remake of a popular tune by the German group, Alphaville, from the 1980s. Jay-Z sang for the young — and for all of us –“I want to live forever and be forever young.”

The image of Jesus as “eternally young” is not only beautiful but powerful. As we deal with the many outside pressures on the Church today, and the problems we also face within our believing community, we need to remember that Jesus is alive and vigorous, and constantly offering his disciples an abundant new life. Thank you, Holy Father, for reminding us of that.
Of course, the Jesus who came into the world as an infant did not end his mission as a youth. He matured into an adult man of courage, self-mastery, and mercy guided by justice and truth.  He was a teacher both tender and forceful; understanding and patient — but also very clear about the kind of human choices and actions that would lead to God, and the kind that would not.

The wealthy societies of today’s world that style themselves as “developed” – including most notably my own — are in fact underdeveloped in their humanity. They’re frozen in a kind of “moral adolescence” – an adolescence which they’ve chosen for themselves and now seek to impose upon others.

The instrumentum does a good job of exploring the roots of that underdevelopment and the challenges to young people that flow from it. But it needs to be much stronger and more confident in presenting God’s Word and the person of Jesus Christ as the only path to a full and joyful humanity. And it needs to do this much earlier in the text.

* The instrumentum is the working document from which the synod members develop their various resolutions to present to the Holy Father for his final approval and proclamation.

 

Pastor’s Message October 7th, 2018

Next Sunday, October 14th, Pope Francis will canonize two men as saints; both were bishops. One became a pope; the other was martyred. Both men suffered hurt and insults from within the Church as well as from outside of it. Both lived in the 20th century. I met the first of these and had an opportunity to speak with him in his Vatican apartment in 1967. The other, I wish I had also met in this life, and I pray that I may meet him in the next.
Pope Paul VI was born Giovanni Battista Montini in 1897, in the Lombardy region of Italy. He was ordained a priest at the unusually young age of 22. Later in his career, because of Vatican political intrigue at that time, he was exiled from his high-ranking position in Rome and sent off to become Archbishop of Milan. When Pope St. John XXIII was elected, among the first things as the new pope he did was to make Montini a cardinal. Montini continued as archbishop before his election as Pope in 1963, succeeding that same Pope St. John XXIII. He died in 1978.
While Pope, he oversaw much of the Second Vatican Council, which had been opened by Pope St. John XXIII. He also promulgated a new Roman Missal in 1969. Perhaps best remembered for his prophetic but controversial 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae,” which upheld the Church’s teaching against contraception, he also affirmed the merits of priestly celibacy. His cause for canonization was opened in 1993. In December 2012, Pope Benedict XVI recognized the “heroic virtue” of Paul VI, giving him the title “venerable.” He was beatified in Rome on Oct. 19, 2014.
The first miracle attributed to his cause is the healing of an unborn child in the fifth month of pregnancy. The mother, originally from Verona, Italy, had an illness that risked her own life and the life of her unborn child. She was advised to have an abortion. A few short days after the beatification of Paul VI, she went to pray to him at the Shrine of Our Lady of Grace in the city of Brescia. The baby girl was later born in good health and remains in good health today.
This second required miracle closely resembles the one that opened the way for beatification. That miracle took place in the 1990s in California, when an unborn child was found to have a serious health problem that posed a high risk of brain damage. Physicians advised that the child be aborted, but the mother entrusted the outcome of her pregnancy to the intercession of Pope Paul VI. The child was born without problems and is now a healthy adolescent and is considered to be completely healed.
The other man to be canonized this Sunday is Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, the fourth Archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador. Romero was born in 1917, in El Salvador. One of eight children, by age 13 he entered the minor seminary. Later, he enrolled in the national seminary in San Salvador. Completing priestly studies in Rome in 1941, he had to wait a year to be ordained because he was younger than the required age. Remaining in Italy to work on a doctorate in Theology In 1943, he was summoned home by his bishop to serve as a parish priest. In 1966, he was chosen as Secretary of the Bishops Conference for El Salvador and became the director of the archdiocesan newspaper, which became fairly conservative while he was editor, defending the traditional Magisterium of the Catholic Church teachings.
In 1970, he was appointed an auxiliary bishop of San Salvador, and in 1974, was appointed the Bishop of the Diocese of Santiago de Maria, a poor, rural region. In February 1977, Romero then returned to San Salvador to serve as the new archbishop. While his appointment was welcomed by the conservative government, many priests were disappointed, especially those liberal priests openly supportive of a Marxist ideology. Those priests feared that his conservative reputation would negatively affect their radical commitment to the poor.
Deeply affected by the murder of his friend, Father Rutilio Grande, just weeks after his own appointment as archbishop, he gradually developed into an outspoken social activist and began to denounce human rights violations of the most vulnerable people and defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposing all forms of violence. On March 23, 1980, Romero delivered a sermon in which he called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. The next day, while offering evening Mass in the Sisters’ chapel of the Hospital of Divine Providence, he was assassinated by right-wing militants.
When asked: ‘Do you agree with Liberation Theology?’ He answered: “There are two theologies of liberation: one is that which sees liberation only as material liberation; the other is that of Paul VI. I am with Paul VI.” He also expressed disapproval for divisiveness in the Church, saying, “There is only one Church, the Church that Christ preached, the Church to which we should give our whole hearts. There is only one Church, a Church that adores the living God and knows how to give relative value to the goods of this earth.” Romero faithfully adhered to Church teachings on a preferential option for the poor, desiring a social revolution based on interior reform.
More than 250,000 mourners from all over the world attended his Funeral Mass, overflowing into the streets. During the ceremony, smoke bombs exploded near the cathedral and rifle shots came from surrounding buildings, including the National Palace. More than 30 were killed by gunfire in a stampede of people running in panic. Throughout it all, Romero’s body was buried in a crypt beneath the sanctuary. After the burial, people continued to line up to pay homage to their martyred archbishop.
In 2014, El Salvador’s main international airport was named after him, becoming Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport.

 

 

Pastor’s Message September 30th, 2018

Filmmakers Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney have produced a film titled, “Gosnell: America’s Biggest Serial Killer.” The film, in theaters beginning Oct. 12, follows the true story of Kermit Gosnell, a Philadelphia abortionist who was convicted of murdering newborn babies and numerous other crimes inside his “house of horrors” abortion facility. It stars Dean Cain (“Lois & Clark”) and is directed by Nick Searcy (“The Shape of Water,” “Justified”).

The filmmakers have been hitting roadblocks since they began their project more than four years ago. Their struggles with the liberal media and Hollywood continue. Undaunted, the filmmakers said the abortion industry will not keep their movie from being released. At least 750 theaters across the U.S. will be showing the film beginning Oct. 12.

Last month, NPR rejected the filmmakers’ ad because it used the term “abortion doctor.” NPR claimed the term is not “value neutral,” but it has used the term in its own reporting numerous times. Many pro-lifers will remember how the mainstream media ignored Gosnell and the horrors of his Philadelphia abortion practice. It appears many still are trying to keep the story quiet. “NPR might have covered up Kermit Gosnell’s crimes, but we won’t,” the filmmakers wrote last week.

In 2013, a jury convicted Gosnell of murdering three newborn babies and contributing to the death of a female patient, along with numerous other crimes. He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms in prison. The movie is rated PG-13. For more details, visit gosnellmovie.com.

The famous blind Italian tenor, Andrea Bocelli, who has sold over 70 million records worldwide, interrupted his concert to recount the story of a pregnant woman who was admitted to a hospital with acute appendicitis. He said, “The doctors had to apply ice on her stomach, and when the treatment ended the doctors suggested she abort her unborn child.” “They told her it was the best solution because the baby would be born with some disability. But the brave young wife decided not to abort, and the child was born. That woman was my mother, and I was the child,” he said. He added, “Maybe I’m partial, but I can say that it was the right choice and I hope that this could encourage many mothers who sometimes might find themselves in difficult situations but want to save the life of their baby.” Shortly after his birth in 1958, Bocelli was diagnosed with congenital glaucoma, which made him partially blind. Then, by age 12, he lost total vision after being hit on the head during a game of football.

In his tribute to his mother, he didn’t explain why the doctors recommended an abortion at a time when it was still illegal in Italy. Before 1978, the procedure was permissible only when the fetus was severely disabled, or the mother’s life was in great danger. Bocelli failed to say if his mother underwent surgery for appendicitis, nor does he describe the medical condition with which the doctors suspected he might be afflicted. He simply praised his mother for rejecting the “advice” of doctors to abort him on the grounds that he would be “disabled.”

Next Sunday, which is the annual Respect Life Sunday throughout the U.S., you and I will be given the opportunity to help stop abortions and to advance the defense of human life by spending one hour (2 to 3 pm) in silent prayer. Doing this, we, too, can to promote the cause of that little life gestating in the wombs of mothers. All across America, there will be hundreds of similar prayerful moments along our nation’s busy streets and highways. Our location for the prayerful witness will be at the intersection of Federal Highway and Linton Boulevard. We park the cars in the lot by Carabba’s Restaurant, though closer to the bank on that intersection. We then pick up our placards (with printed prayers on the back of the placard) and man the four corners for a silent demonstration. Bring a hat to shade you, and some suntan lotion to protect you. I invite you to bring your family along for that occasion, for “The family that prays together, stays together.” You’ll be teaching many valuable lessons to your youngsters.

Pastor’s Message September 23rd, 2018

This reflection on the 9-11 tragedy is presented to us by our own Deacon Gregg Osgood. 

  
Seventeen years this past September 11th, around midnight, Lieutenant Thomas Colucci of the NYCFD sat down exhausted – collapsed really – on the massive pile of smoldering debris that once was the World Trade Center, muttering “I was there, right there in the middle of it all, and I still had a hard time believing what had happened.”

Five men from his firehouse were killed at Ground Zero. He would come to learn of many other firefighters, personal friends, who died there as well. “After the first couple of days we knew we weren’t going to find anyone else alive. Mostly we just helped each other as we cleaned that place. And I went to funerals, sometimes three a day. Grief, it was just grief.”

Many firefighters knew, and other workers came to know, the kind of man Tom Colucci is. As they worked, many approached to ask him, “Why did this happen? Where is God, Lieutenant?” “I would tell them, ‘Christ is here. He’s here… in the workers, in the volunteers. He’s here’.” Lieutenant Colucci became Captain Colucci. Then, in another fire in another place, flames ignited an explosion. He was badly hurt. He underwent two surgeries, one of which nearly killed him. Months later he was forced to retire. He went to a Benedictine monastery. That is where he told me his story. As I listened to him the one word that came to mind was: Serenity. He never thought (who could have?) that he would see anything like what happened that day and the days after at Ground Zero. Yet he was at peace. At the urging of the monks, Brother Colucci- once Lieutenant Colucci- entered the seminary, was eventually ordained and became Father Colucci. He had thought about the priesthood from time to time over the years. But there came a time, when he knew it was time- to respond to God’s call. He used to fight fires to help save lives; now he fights alongside God to help save souls.

Vincent Druding was one of the volunteers at Ground Zero. Vince had won an internship in New York, a long way from his home in Indiana. As he had practiced the night before, Vince took the subway downtown; and when he came up to street level he saw people coming toward him, trying to get away from the Towers. Then he saw a plane – the second plane- plunge into the second Tower. He saw people jumping to their deaths rather than stay in the burning building. He told me, “Deacon, once my head started to clear, all I could think was, ‘What can I do? What do I do to help’?” So, he began helping people get to safety. After the Towers collapsed, he joined the others digging in the rubble looking for anyone who might still be alive. He related, “Over the next days, I started to lose it. I was depressed, exhausted. I had nightmares when I tried to sleep. My hair began falling out. And then I saw a priest- in the middle of the night – blessing the remains of a firefighter. On Sunday morning another priest gave me the Eucharist.” After Vince received, he found a place to lay down. He fell asleep for a couple of hours. It was the first real sleep he’d had since the Tuesday before.

When he awoke he was surprised to find that he felt at peace. It was a deep, comfortable peace unlike anything he had experienced before. Though nothing had changed outside – Ground Zero was still as it was – he had changed inside. “It was the hand of God, Deacon,” he said. “I encountered Christ in a very real way two or three times in that hellhole.”

He said these words with intensity, but with placid conviction. His eyes were vibrant as he spoke. Vincent once was a promising young business man. Now he is a priest.
Both men decided to forgive and then they gave themselves to God and God’s people. Ground Zero is a term that means the point of maximum impact. In the case of 9/11, it usually refers to that place of massive destruction at a time when evil won. Yet both men encountered our living God in the middle of it all.

There is peace – meaning the lack of turmoil. There is a greater Peace, that is serenity, even in times of turmoil. This is God’s peace. This is being at peace with God, resting in the hands of God, not denying reality but rather accepting reality and responding as God would have us respond – Faithfully; giving and receiving forgiveness; trying as best we can to attain holiness; looking for ways to help others.

We’re not all called to Holy Orders; but we are all called to always, in every circumstance, do what God would have us do. We’re also called to help others attain eternal safety and perpetual joy with God in heaven. This is living a life of maximum impact; this is life at Ground Zero.
The Alleluia verse, “I chose you from the world, that you may go and bear fruit that will last, says the Lord,” (Jn 15:16) comes to mind when helping people, whenever we can, to get to heaven. That is for all of us. And we can’t forget the last part – that is bearing fruit that will last. When our time here is done what we all want to hear is, “Well done good and faithful servant. Come share my happiness!” Please pray for the innocent souls that died on 9/11. Pray for those they left behind. Remember the ones who remain, wounded in body or spirit; and forgive those who need to be forgiven.