Friday, October 31, 2008

All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one

SOLEMNITY OF ALL SAINTS, November 1, 2008:

The famous mystic Benedictine, Thomas Merton, was once asked, “How does one become a saint?” He answered, “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.” Very often, when we think of the saints, we think of a way of life that for most – perhaps even for us – is unattainable. If someone spoke of us as a saint, we might say, “I could never be that.” But, that is exactly the wrong approach to sainthood and our Solemnity today of All Saints hopes to open our eyes to that fact that each and every one of us is called to be, one day, a part of that Communion of Saints in Heaven. “All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one.” And so, we must first desire to be saints, instead of saying to ourselves that sainthood is out of our reach.

Merton understood this so very well. Another wonderful statement from him about sainthood was this, He said, “For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”

So what does the word saint mean? Well, we often think of it in its formal sense as a title reserved for people who have lived such exemplary Christian lives that the church declares them to be in heaven. The Church’s official list of saints includes about 10,000 such people.
Let me share with you an excerpt from a letter written by one such saint. It is from St. Peter Claver who worked among black slaves in South America in the 17th Century. He wrote, “Yesterday, a great number of black people who had been seized along the African rivers were put ashore from one very large vessel. We hurried out with two baskets full of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits and all sorts of things. We had to force our way through the crowds till we reached the sick. There was a great number of them, lying on damp earth, or rather mud. They were naked without any covering at all. We took off our cloaks, went to a store, brought from there all the wood that was available and put it together to make a platform; then, forcing a way through the guards, we eventually managed to carry all the sick to it. You should have seen the expression of gratitude in their eyes! In this way we spoke to them, not with words but with deeds. Any other form of address would have been pointless. Then we sat or knelt beside them and washed their faces and bodies.”

St. Peter Claver wasn’t a martyr; he didn’t spend his days in prayer; he didn’t spend his nights doing penance; didn’t have any visions; didn’t write any great books on religion. He was an ordinary person – just like you or me. The purpose of today’s solemnity is to honor people like Peter Claver and to hold them up to us as reminders and as inspirations. First, they remind us of our own calling to be a saint – to desire that sainthood. They remind us that we are called to live our lives in a way that after death we too will merit eternal life. Second, saints like Peter Claver inspire us. They show us that it is possible even for ordinary folks like us to be saints. Sainthood is not something beyond our reach.

Being a saint doesn’t mean imitating someone who was martyred centuries ago. Being a saint means imitating ordinary people who lived in ordinary times, much like our own. It means imitating people who laughed and cried, just as we do. It means imitating people who sinned and used the Sacrament of Reconciliation, just as we do. It means imitating people who tried again and sometimes sinned again, just as we do. If such people had anything extraordinary about them, it was that they never stopped trying to live each day in a gospel way; each day trying to discover who we are; our truest self - in the light of Christ.

This is what the Solemnity of All Saints is all about. It is about honoring people like Peter Claver; and the endless number of unnamed saints like our grandparents, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. And in the course of honoring them, we are reminded of our own calling to follow them in our own lives of saintliness in the ordinary moments of each day.

“All that is necessary to be a saint is to want to be one. Don't you believe that God will make you what He created you to be, if you will consent to let Him do it? All you have to do is desire it.”
May the saints who have gone before us pray for each one of us here that we may have courage to desire the holiness that God calls us to.

May God give you peace.

History of All Hallow's Eve

Thursday, October 30, 2008

An election prayer

From Capitol Hill, the following Election Prayer's been composed by the Chaplain of the House of Representatives, Fr Daniel Coughlin of the archdiocese of Chicago:

Almighty and ever–living God,
bound in faithful love to Your people,
be attentive to our deepest needs;
for as a nation we place all our trust in You.
Since election day approaches,
we pray for all those who have placed their name before the people;
to seal their commitment of public service for the common good.
Purify the intentions of those who deserve the public trust.
Transform self interest into compassion for Your people,
as You make them harbingers of our future.
Empower each voter with Your Spirit;
so that as the free people of Your creation
they may recognize truth and personal integrity in those they choose.
May the representative government they place in service
mirror their own commitment
to search out the ways of peace with others
and establish an economic stability
where justice will flourish for all.
May a new era of patriotism dawn upon the United States;
a patriotism strong enough to carry us through difficult times
and flexible enough to embrace authentic creativity.
Drawing upon the resources of university and business,
may the legal and social development of Your people
help all citizens realize their full potential in Your sight.
For Your wisdom is revealed to us and in us both now and forever.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Quote of the day

"The Church does not impose but freely proposes the Catholic faith, well aware that conversion is the mysterious fruit of the action of the Holy Spirit. Faith is a gift and a work of God, and hence excludes any form of proselytism that forces, allures or entices people by trickery to embrace it. A person may open to the faith after mature and responsible reflection, and must be able freely to realise that intimate aspiration. This benefits not only the individual, but all society, because the faithful observance of divine precepts helps to build a more just and united form of coexistence".

--Pope Benedict XVIAd Limina Address to the Bishops of Central AsiaRome, 2 October 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A thought for the day

"Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia or willful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where men are treated as mere tools for profit, rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others of their like are infamies indeed. They poison human society, but they do more harm to those who practice them than those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonor to the Creator."

(Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, No. 27):

Saturday, October 25, 2008

To love God we must love one another


There is a poem by Leigh Hunt about a man called Abu Ben Adhem. Abu Ben woke from his sleep one night and saw an angel in his room writing the names of those who love God in a book of gold. Abu Ben asked the angel, “Is my name on your list?” The angel replied, “No, not you.” Abu Ben then asked the angel, “I pray then, at least list me as someone who loves his neighbor.” The following night the angel came again and displayed the names of those who love God and Abu Ben’s name was on top of the list.

This poem makes the point that true love of God and true love of neighbor are like two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist apart from the other. Abu Ben loved his neighbor, which was the proof that he also loved God. We find this same message in today's Gospel. Much like last week’s question about whether it was lawful to pay the tax to Ceasar, the Pharisees are again trying to trap Jesus by asking Him a loaded question: “Which is the greatest commandment in the law?” The textbook answer, of course is love of God. But, again like last week, Jesus does not stop there. He goes on to give an answer that exceeds their expectations and challenges them to a greater holiness of life. He gives the other side of the coin, which, of course, is love of neighbor. Jesus is making the point that anyone who truly loves God will necessarily love their neighbor; these are virtually one in the same thing. You cannot truly love your God unless that loves shows forth in love of neighbor. As Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Jesus is reacting against the Pharisees one-dimensional understanding of love. For Jesus, true love must express itself in three dimensions: the love of God; the love of neighbor; and the love of oneself. The commandment to love your neighbor as yourself presumes that you first love yourself as a beautiful person created in the image and likeness of your God.

Last week, Jesus wasn’t so concerned with what was due to Ceasar, instead He was more concerned with what was due to God, something the people were forgetting. In the same way, the emphasis on today’s question about the greatest commandment is not on the obvious love of God but on the love of neighbor, which, again, was being ignored.

Just look at the treatment that Jesus received. He and His followers were persecuted by well-meaning religious people motivated by what they believed to be zeal and love for God. The same people asking about the most important commandment are the ones trying to trap and eventually kill Jesus. They are so conscious about love of God. Why then are they so insensitive when it comes to love of neighbor?

This is, of course, a concern that reaches our ears and our world today. The error of the Pharisees is still with us. We don’t have to look further than the ever growing divide between rich and poor, the continuing problem of homelessness, the continuing scourge of prejudice, the violence, death and destruction that are so much a part of our world to wonder where is our love of neighbor? There are many Christians who try to separate the love of fellow human beings from their love of God. Their commitment to faith does not include commitment to issues of human rights; to economic and legal justice; to the call for peace; to equality and the ending of prejudice and persecution. We do well to heed Jesus in today's Gospel: true love of God and true love of neighbor are two sides of the same coin. Any attempt to separate them is a distortion of the message of Christ.

We hear in the First Letter of John, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Or from St. James, “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? Indeed someone might say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works…For just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.”

Let us pray today that God will shake loose from us any indifference we may feel towards our brothers and sisters – especially those in need. We ask God to give us the same love and compassion towards our neighbors as Jesus had. We pray, not only for the knowledge of how to love, but the wisdom to want to love in all circumstances.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

May God give you peace.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Memphis Bishop calls upon Catholics to avoid 'one issue' votes

Published: October 21, 2008

Memphis Bishop J. Terry Steib this week called upon Catholics to avoid being one-issue voters. He asked them to follow their consciences and weigh all the moral issues they face before casting their ballots.

“We must recognize,” he wrote, “that God through the church, is calling us to be prophetic in our own day. If our conscience is well formed, then we will make the right choices about candidates who may not support the church's position in every case.”

Citing words from a statement, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” a voting guide issued last November by the bishops of the United States, Steib wrote that "there may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position may decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil."

(Read the full text of Bishop Steib's remarks.)

“A person might choose not to vote, but voting is a necessary part of our witness to Jesus Christ and a witness to our baptism. So, sometimes hard choices will have to be made.”

Steib wrote that within the past few weeks some denominations have taken on the task of challenging the policy of the Internal Revenue Service concerning the church and politics and that they were deliberately endorsing candidates and urging people in their congregations to vote for those persons in order to force the IRS to determine if the current policy of forbidding such endorsements is proper.

He said he disagreed with the approach because of his “deep respect” for the nonestablishment clause in the First Amendment to the Constitution.

He wrote that some Catholics have been asking their bishops to endorse candidates.
Continuing, he wrote that he has been among those bishops who have received letters from “well-meaning people” telling him for whom he should vote and how he should inform parishioners regarding the candidates for whom they should or should not cast their ballots.
He wrote, “It is not my duty nor is it my role to tell the members of the community of faith in the Diocese of Memphis how to vote.”

Rather he felt the need, he wrote, "to proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ as announced in scripture and articulated by the church.”

“Politics,” Steib wrote, “is not just a game; it is instead a part of the commonwealth of our lives. Just as we cannot avoid drinking water in order to live, so also, as faithful Christians we cannot avoid being involved in the political process and remain good Christians. But if we are to be involved in the political process by voting, then we must have formed our consciences well.”
He called upon Catholics to be prudent when they form their consciences. “Prudence is not easy to define, but according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence helps us to ‘discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.’"

He posed the question facing many Catholics, asking what is a voter to do when presented with candidates whose views do not reflect the full teachings of the church.

To help answer the question he quoted the spiritual writer Fr. Ronald Rolheiser who wrote the following in his book Secularity and the Gospel:

“In an age of increasing violence, fundamentalism, and the myth that God wishes to cleanse the planet of its sin and immorality by force, perhaps the first witness we must give to our world is a witness to God's nonviolence, a witness to the God revealed by Jesus Christ who opposes violence of all kinds, from war, to revenge, to capital punishment, to abortion, to euthanasia, to the attempt to use force to bring about justice and God's will in any way."

Steib wrote that he understood Rolheiser to be saying Catholics cannot be one-issue people.
In a similar light, in an interview this week, Gabino Zavala, an auxiliary bishop in the Los Angeles archdiocese, said his fellow bishops have long insisted that "we're not a one-issue church," a view reflected in their 2007 document "Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship."

"But that's not always what comes out," said Zavala in the Los Angeles Times. Zavala is bishop-president of the Catholic peace group Pax Christi USA. "What I believe, and what the church teaches, is that one abortion is too many. That's why I believe abortion is so important. But in light of this, there are many other issues we need to bring up, other issues we should consider, other issues that touch the reality of our lives."

Steib and Zavala’s remarks come in the wake of a number of U.S. Catholic bishops who in one manner or another have called upon Catholics to vote to oppose any candidate that does not support an effort to overturn Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion in the United States.

The most recent in a string of such bishops are Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput and Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., Bishop Robert Finn.

Chaput recently labeled Barack Obama as “the most committed” abortion-rights candidate from a major party in 35 years. Chaput emphasized he was speaking as a private citizen and not as a representative of the Denver archdiocese. He made the case it is immoral to vote for Obama.
Chaput had already said that Obama running mate Joe Biden, a Catholic, should not present himself for Communion because of his abortion rights position.

Similarly, Finn wrote last week in his diocesan paper that pro-choice candidates are "inviting Catholics to put aside their conscience on this life and death issue." He added: “They want us to deny our conscience and ignore their callous disregard for the most vulnerable human life."
And earlier this month, Bishop Joseph Martino of the Scranton (Pa.) diocese issued a letter warning that "being 'right' on taxes, education, health care, immigration, and the economy fails to make up for the error of disregarding the value of a human life." He added: "It is a tragic irony that 'pro-choice' candidates have come to support homicide — the gravest injustice a society can tolerate — in the name of 'social justice.' "

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Yes, even the criminal

FRIARS CORNER, October 19, 2008:

A few weekends ago, on Respect Life Sunday, I gave a pro-life homily at Mass. After the homily, I received a tremendous amount of feedback. Now, you have to realize that we usually receive no feedback at all on our homilies, so really any feedback gets noticed. But, after the pro-life homily, I received letters, emails and phone calls. The overwhelming majority of the responses were positive and just two were negative either disagreeing or asking further questions. But, one of the questions that did come up was about my statement that as Catholics we are pro-life even when it comes to criminals on death row. Surely, not the criminal too? And so, since we still find ourselves in the midst of Respect Life Month, I thought this would be a good opportunity to talk about what it means to say that we truly have a consistent ethic that supports the dignity of all life from natural conception to natural death and all of the moments in between. The issue of the death penalty highlights much of this.

So, what does the Church officially say on the death penalty? In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we find, “If non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and are more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm - without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself - the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically non-existent.’” (CCC, #2267). The last portion quotes in the CCC is quoted from Pope John Paul II.

In certainly understand the challenge that some people face when it comes to the death penalty. We rightly feel outrage at horrific crimes when they occur in our society. We often even feel that the punishment warranted by such actions is death. The problem lies in the fact that God has clearly let us know that the power over life and death is not one that He grants to us. It belongs to Him alone.

I could quote you all of the statistics on the death penalty as to why it is a bad idea – it is applied unfairly and disproportionately against the poor and minorities; it has no effect as a deterrent (e.g. Texas with the highest number of executions also has the highest amount of capital crime); you can effectively buy your way out of it if you can afford a good enough attorney. These are all well known and firmly established facts.

The point is that if people can be against abortion and for the death penalty, then they have no understanding of what the Church teaches and believes. They are approaching the cause of life situationally and not theologically and consistently. The logic goes like this – who could harm an innocent baby? So, no abortion. And, who couldn’t harm a guilty criminal? So, yes to the death penalty. The flaw is that this mindset assumes (perhaps unconsciously) that we somehow earn our human dignity. In other words, the baby hasn’t done anything to lose the dignity and the criminal has. But, God says something different – the dignity of the human person is not a reflection of our action (when you’re good it is strong, when you’re bad it is weak). The dignity of the human person is inherent in us and given to us, not earned by us, from God. It is His divine print on us. We can accept and embrace it or we can deny it, but it cannot be taken away from us – ever. When we disrespect even the dignity of the criminal, we disrespect God’s presence in them.

This doesn’t mean we praise them or let them go. It means we do whatever we need to for our society to be safe. Perhaps too often in our culture, the problem is that life in prison doesn’t mean life in prison. These are the areas our attention should be focused upon. But the key is in understanding and embracing that human dignity wherever we find it.

If we don’t, how can we ever expect others to respect the dignity God has placed in us?

Love, Fr. Tom

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Give to God what belongs to God


“Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” What do you think that Jesus means when he utters this phrase in our Gospel passage today? Is this a tract on proper church-state relations? Does Jesus mean that there is only so much out there for Ceasar and so much for God? That it should be divided as a child divides candy – one for you and one for me; one for Ceasar and one for God? He can hardly mean that there are some things that belong to Ceasar and other things that belong to God because that would suggest that reality is divisible into the secular and the sacred, as if the things we do for the State have nothing to do with God. And that is surely not right. Life is unified, not divided. In the deepest sense, everything belongs to God. So what does Jesus mean?

First, we have to recognize that the question from the Pharisees is a trap: “Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?” If Jesus responds “yes” then He is allying himself with the Roman occupation and domination of Israel and that would put Him in trouble with His fellow Jewish patriots. If He says “no” then He is in trouble with the Roman authorities and is liable to be arrested as encouraging rebellion and revolution. Does Jesus fall into the trap? No, instead He asks them for a denarius – the Roman coin used to pay the tax in question. Once they produce the coin, He is saying in effect to them, “I don’t have one – you do.” You have Ceasar’s coin. By using his coinage, his currency, you are the ones allying yourself to his system, accepting his rule, recognizing his empire, his authority. So, if you have taken his money, give him back his money. “Repay to Ceasar what belongs to Ceasar.” Jesus doesn’t give them a straight answer because it is not a straight question posed to Him. It is a trap which He avoids.

But, as always Jesus surprises the crowd with the challenge He adds, “Repay to God what belongs to God.” Jesus is saying that the obligation to Ceasar stands under and is judged by an immeasurably higher obligation – to recognize the sovereignty of the Supreme Sovereign, to give what is due to the greatest emperor of all; that if you think you feel an obligation to the state, it can’t compare to the obligation you should feel to the God. Jesus uses this unexpected opportunity to remind the people of the first and greatest commandment, “You must do homage to the Lord, your God, Him alone must you serve.” Forget about smart questions intended to trap Jesus, instead, worship your God – not with mere externals as the Pharisees do, but from deep within your soul.

Jesus uses this chance to remind them of the importance of worshipping God. He reminds us today as well, that the Church we all belong to is above everything else a worshipping family. The Church reaches her full stature only when she falls on her knees in prayer. She stands straight and walks tall only when she bows her head in adoration. The care of the sick, the struggle for justice, the needs of the poor, the education of the young – all of these are essential to the mission of the Church, but they are meaningless unless they are connected to the highest function of the Church, which is the worship of the Almighty God. The Church is most supremely herself when she gathers in a building like this one to celebrate the Holy Mass. The Mass is the very summit of her activity, the apex, the Everest of her life. The spirit of the Church finds noble expression in the many works of service that we engage in, but it is to the worship of God that we must look to if we wish to discover her soul.

So, if we are a believing people, we must be a worshipping people. We cannot ignore the worship of God as a community. We have to look deep in our hearts and ask if we are all deeply and personally committed to that worship as individual members of this Church community. We see as the numbers of practicing Catholics drop, that worship is becoming less important in our lives. Many people rarely or never attend Mass, even more attend irregularly. Fewer and fewer are the number of people who understand their obligation to repay to God what is God’s and attend Mass every Sunday.

But, Jesus, the Son of God, came to remind us that we owe a special reverence and adoration to God, and always will. We owe Him that as the one who brought us into being, who sustains us through every second of life, who is Lord of a universe of which we are only a tiny part and who loves us with such an overwhelming love that He sent His Son to save us. Jesus reminded us of that when he quoted Deuteronomy, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength.” It is that same Son, who taught us that even when calling God “Our Father” praise should be uppermost on our minds as we acknowledge that “hallowed by Thy Name.” And no one took to these lessons to heart better than His mother Mary. She left us an ideal formula for adoring God and humbling ourselves when she said in her Magnificat, “For the Almighty has done great things for me. Holy is His Name.”

We cannot give in to the tragedy of our times that sees God as ordinary. There can be no other gods in our lives other than the One, True and Almighty God. He that is mighty has done great things for us too. Let us never lose sight of that. Let us never stop saying it. Let us never stop living it. Let us never stop praying it. Let us be, as a Christian community, a worshipping people – a people reaching up and reaching out to one another.

Let us “repay to God what is God’s.”

May God give you peace.

Friday, October 17, 2008

St. Ignatius of Antioch

October 17, 2008, Memorial of St. Inatius of Antioch.

St. Ignatius was a convert to the Faith and a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. St. Chrysostom says that St. Peter appointed him Bishop of Antioch, which See he governed for forty years. The saint longed to shed to shed his blood for Christ but the opportunity was not granted him during the persecution under Domitian. While the short reign of Nerva lasted the Church was in peace, but under Trajan persecution broke out anew. In the year 107, the Emperor came to Antioch. St. Ignatius was seized and brought before him. Having confessed Christ, he was condemned to be taken in chains to Rome, there to be exposed to the wild beasts. During this last journey he was welcomed by the faithful of Smyrna, Troas, and other places along the way. He arrived in Rome just as the public spectacles in the amphitheater were drawing to a close. The faithful of the city came out to meet him. He was at once hurried to the amphitheater, where two fierce lions immediately devoured him. He ended his saintly life by a glorious death, exclaiming, "May I become agreeable bread to the Lord." His remains were carried to Antioch, where they were interred. In the reign of Theodosius they were transferred to a church within the city. At present they are venerated in Rome. During his long journey he addressed seven epistles to various congregations, in which, as a disciple of the Apostles, he testifies to the dogmatic character of Apostolic Christianity.

"I am God's wheat, ground fine by the lion's teeth to be made purest bread for Christ. No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire. The time for my birth is close at hand. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God."

Poverty and abortion rates

This is very interesting. A recent report titled "Reducing Abortion in America: The Effect of Economic and Social Supports" by Joseph Wright, assistant professor of political science at Penn State University and Michael Bailey, associate professor at Georgetown University, focused on figuring out why abortion rates dropped dramatically in the 1990s (the number of abortions dropped by from 18-21% between 1990-2000 depending on whose numbers you use. The higher number was by the Center for Disease Control, a non-partisan group. The number of abortions has steadily increased since 2000). They looked at welfare policy, aid to pregnant women, Medicaid and other factors.

They found:

* States that spent more on welfare -- or cut welfare more slowly -- had many fewer abortions. The authors estimate that if every state increased spending on welfare by $1,350 per person living in poverty, there would be a 20% reduction of abortion.

* States that spend more generously on aid to women, infants and children (WIC) had lower abortion rates. They estimate that if states were to increase spending on WIC we could see up to a 37% lower abortion rate.

* During the welfare reform of the 1990s, some states instituted "family cap" policies that would not pay welfare benefits for children born to women already receiving welfare. States that did not have a family cap -- and kept providing welfare even after new children were born -- had about a 15% lower abortion rate than states with a family cap. The authors estimate that getting rid of the family caps would result in 150,000 fewer abortions.

* States that had higher male employment had a 29% lower abortion rate.
The authors noted that other surveys have indicated that women often cite economic factors for having an abortion. They concluded therefore that women who had more economic help -- either from the government or a wage-earning spouse -- felt less pressured to have abortions.

These findings, they conclude, indicate that "pro-family policies reduce abortions."

The complete study can be read here:

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why did the chicken cross the road?

From the email file:

Why did the chicken Cross the Road?

BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!

JOHN MCCAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialog with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

HILLARY CLINTON: When I was First Lady, I personally helped that little chicken to cross the road. This experience makes me uniquely qualified to ensure right from Day One that every chicken in this country gets the chance it deserves to cross the road. But then, this really isn't about me.

GEORGE W. BUSH: We don't really care why the chicken crossed the road. We just want to know if the chicken is on our side of the road, or not. The chicken is either against us, or for us. There is no middle ground here.

DICK CHENEY: Where's my gun?

COLIN POWELL: Now to the left of the screen, you can clearly see the satellite image of the chicken crossing the road.

BILL CLINTON: I did not cross the road with that chicken. What is your definition of crossing?

AL GORE: I invented the chicken.

JOHN KERRY: Although I voted to let the chicken cross the road, I am now against it! It was the wrong road to cross, and I was misled about the chicken's intentions. I am not for it now, and will remain against it.

DR. PHIL: The problem we have here is that this chicken won't realize that he must first deal with the problem on this side of the road before it goes after the problem on the other side of the road. What we need to do is help him realize how stupid he's acting by not taking on his current problems before adding new problems.

OPRAH: Well, I understand that the chicken is having problems, which is why he wants to cross this road so bad. So instead of having the chicken learn from his mistakes and take falls, which is a part of life, I'm going to give this chicken a car so that he can just drive across the road and not live his life like the rest of the chickens.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: We have reason to believe there is a chicken, but we have not yet been allowed to have access to the other side of the road.

NANCY GRACE: That chicken crossed the road because he's guilty! You can see it in his eyes and the way he walks.

PAT BUCHANAN: To steal the job of a decent, hardworking American.

MARTHA STEWART: No one called me to warn me which way that chicken was going. I had a standing order at the Farmers Market to sell my eggs when the price dropped to a certain level. No little bird gave me any insider information.

DR SEUSS: Did the chicken cross the road? Did he cross it with a toad? Yes, the chicken crossed the road, but why it cros sed I've not been told.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY: To die in the rain, alone.

GRANDPA: In my day we didn't ask why the chicken crossed the road. Somebody told us the chicken crossed the road, and that was good enough.

BARBARA WALTERS: Isn't that interesting? In a few moments, we will be listening to the chicken tell, for the first time, the heart warming story of how it experienced a serious case of molting, and went on to accomplish its lifelong dream of crossing the road.

ARISTOTLE: It is the nature of chicken s to cross the road.

JOHN LENNON: Imagine all the chickens in the world crossing roads together, in peace.

BILL GATES: I have just released eChicken2008, which will not only cross roads, but will lay eggs, file your important documents, and balance your checkbook. Internet Explorer is an integral part of eChicken2008. This new platform is much more stable and will never reboot.

ALBER T EINSTEIN: Did the chicken really cross the road, or did the road move beneath the chicken?

COLONEL SANDERS: Did I miss one?

St. Teresa of Avila

Enjoy for today's feast of St. Teresa of Avila.

Theological debate on the soul of a dog

You need to click on the image for it to be large enough to read - but it is very funny.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blessed Pope John XXIII

"Every believer in this world of ours must be a spark of light, a center of love, a life-giving leaven amidst his fellow men. And he will be this all the more perfectly, the more closely he lives in communion with God in the intimacy of his own soul. The world will never be the house of peace, till peace has found a home in the heart of each and every man, till every man preserves in himself the order ordained by God to be preserved."

--Bl John XXIIIPacem in Terris11 April 1963
Today is the memorial of Blessed Pope John XXIII. Here is a biographical account from the Vatican website:

Bl. Pope John XXIII was born Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli at Sotto il Monte, Italy, in the Diocese of Bergamo on 25 November 1881. He was the fourth in a family of 14. The family worked as sharecroppers. It was a patriarchal family in the sense that the families of two brothers lived together, headed by his great-uncle Zaverio, who had never married and whose wisdom guided the work and other business of the family. Zaverio was Angelo's godfather, and to him he always attributed his first and most fundamental religious education. The religious atmosphere of his family and the fervent life of the parish, under the guidance of Fr Francesco Rebuzzini, provided him with training in the Christian life.

He entered the Bergamo seminary in 1892. Here he began the practice of making spiritual notes, which he continued in one form or another until his death, and which have been gathered together in the Journal a Soul. Here he also began the deeply cherished practice of regular spiritual direction. In 1896 he was admitted to the Secular Franciscan Order by the spiritual director of the Bergamo seminary, Fr Luigi Isacchi; he made a profession of its Rule of life on 23 May 1897.

From 1901 to 1905 he was a student at the Pontifical Roman Seminary. On 10 August 1904 he was ordained a priest in the church of Santa Maria in Monte Santo in Rome's Piazza del Popolo. In 1905 he was appointed secretary to the new Bishop of Bergamo, Giacomo Maria Radini Tedeschi. He accompanied the Bishop in his pastoral visitations and collaborated with him in his many initiatives: a Synod, management of the diocesan bulletin, pilgrimages, social works. In the seminary he taught history, patrology and apologetics. He was an elegant, profound, effective and sought-after preacher.

These were the years of his deepening spiritual encounter with two saints who were outstanding pastors: St Charles Borromeo and St Francis de Sales. They were years, too, of deep pastoral involvement and apprenticeship, as he spent every day beside "his" Bishop, Radini Tedeschi. When the Bishop died in 1914, Fr Angelo continued to teach in the seminary and to minister in various pastoral areas.

When Italy went to war in 1915 he was drafted as a sergeant in the medical corps and became a chaplain to wounded soldiers. When the war ended, he opened a "Student House" for the spiritual needs of young people.

In 1919 he was made spiritual director of the seminary, but in 1921 he was called to the service of the Holy See. Benedict XV brought him to Rome to be the Italian president of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith. In 1925 Pius XI named him Apostolic Visitator in Bulgaria, raising him to the episcopate with the titular Diocese of Areopolis. For his Episcopal motto he chose Oboedientia et Pax, which became his guiding motto for the rest of his life.
On 19 March 1925 he was ordained Bishop and left for Bulgaria. He was granted the title Apostolic Delegate and remained in Bulgaria until 1935, visiting Catholic communities and establishing relationships of respect and esteem with the other Christian communities. In the aftermath of the 1928 earthquake his solicitude was everywhere present. He endured in silence the misunderstandings and other difficulties of a ministry on the fringes of society, and thus refined his sense of trust and abandonment to Jesus crucified.

In 1935 he was named Apostolic Delegate in Turkey and Greece. The Catholic Church was present in many ways in the young Turkish republic. His ministry among the Catholics was intense, and his respectful approach and dialogue with the worlds of Orthodoxy and Islam became a feature of his tenure. When the Second World War broke out he was in Greece. He tried to get news from the prisoners of war to their families and assisted many Jews to escape by issuing "transit visas" from the Apostolic Delegation. In December 1944 Pius XII appointed him Nuncio in France.

During the last months of the war and the beginning of peace he aided prisoners of war and helped to normalize the ecclesiastical organization of France. He visited the great shrines of France and participated in popular feasts and in important religious celebrations. He was an attentive, prudent and positive observer of the new pastoral initiatives of the Bishops and clergy of France. His approach was always characterized by a striving for Gospel simplicity, even amid the most complex diplomatic questions. The sincere piety of his interior life found expression each day in prolonged periods of prayer and meditation. In 1953 he was created a Cardinal and sent to Venice as Patriarch. He was filled with joy at the prospect of ending his days in the direct care of souls, as he had always desired since becoming a priest. He was a wise and enterprising pastor, following the model pastors he had always venerated and walking in the footsteps of St Laurence Giustiniani, first Patriarch of Venice. As he advanced in years his trust in the Lord grew in the midst of energetic, enterprising and joyful pastoral labours.

At the death of Pius XII he was elected Pope on 28 October 1958, taking the name John XXIII. His pontificate, which lasted less than five years, presented him to the entire world as an authentic image of the Good Shepherd. Meek and gentle, enterprising and courageous, simple and active, he carried out the Christian duties of the corporal and spiritual works of mercy: visiting the imprisoned and the sick, welcoming those of every nation and faith, bestowing on all his exquisite fatherly care. His social magisterium in the Encyclicals Pacem in terris and Mater et Magistra was deeply appreciated.

He convoked the Roman Synod, established the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canon Law and summoned the Second Vatican Council. He was present as Bishop in his Diocese of Rome through his visitation of the parishes, especially those in the new suburbs. The faithful saw in him a reflection of the goodness of God and called him "the good Pope". He was sustained by a profound spirit of prayer. He launched an extensive renewal of the Church, while radiating the peace of one who always trusted in the Lord. Pope John XXIII died on the evening of 3 June 1963, in a spirit of profound trust in Jesus and of longing for his embrace.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Respect Life Sunday

TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, Respect Life Sunday, October 5, 2008:

As we gather here, we find ourselves in the midst of “Respect Life Month” and in particular today we mark Respect Life Sunday. Today, as always, we are called to reflect on God’s priceless gift of human life. We acknowledge with gratitude the many blessings we enjoy as creatures made in the image of God – our capacity to make moral choices, to know and love God and to love and serve one another. On this day we also take stock of our nation’s progress in fostering a culture where every human life is respected and defended. Here, the outlook is decidedly mixed. God is very clear on what He would like. God calls each of us to revere all life; to see the inherent dignity in all life.

The great scourge of our age in this Culture of Death is, of course, abortion, which is perhaps the greatest attack on the dignity of human life in our time; in any time. Since the 1973 Supreme Court decision, there have been approximately 50 million legal abortions in the United States. There are on average 1.6 million abortions each year, some years that number is as high as 1.8 million abortions. Let us put that into some perspective. Our nation ends more lives each year through abortion than have died in all of the wars this nation has fought. All of our wars combined over the course of more than 200 years from the Revolution through the current conflict in Iraq have taken the lives of approximately 1.2 million Americans. That number alone is tragic. But just 35 years of legalized abortions have taken the lives of about 50 million Americans – 50 million unborn Americans. Just sit with that figure a moment.

Most people who make pro-abortion arguments cite the possibility of rape or incest or to save the life of the mother as reasons for supporting abortion. But, statistics show that 93% of all abortions are for social reasons or serve as a form of birth control. In other words, 93% of the 50 million abortions were for done because having a child would have been inconvenient.

Pro-choice people will often criticize priests for speaking out so vocally because they say, “What do you know? You’ve never been pregnant or had a child.” True enough. But, let me tell you what I do know from my experience as a priest. As a priest, the most common major sin that I hear in the confessional is the sin of abortion. As a priest, the most difficult confessions that I have heard have been from the women who have had abortions. In my experience I can tell you that eventually these women come to realize that the life within them was not a choice, it was a baby. And, I would add that these have also been some of the most incredibly healing moments I’ve witnessed in ministry. The healing power of God’s forgiveness to a woman who has had an abortion is an incredibly awesome and powerful thing to witness.

Our society wants to have us believe that we can be guided by the pleasure principle, by the convenience principle – and all of this at no emotional, no medical, certainly no spiritual cost. But, of course, there is always a cost. God reminds us that we are all precious in His sight – even the unborn baby. God reminds us that not even a law passed by our nation can take away that dignity.

We are also called to be conscious of the fact that being Pro-Life is about more than just abortion too. The beauty and the power of the Church’s teaching on the issue of life is its consistency. The Church usually phrases it this way: we are called to respect the dignity of all human life from natural conception through natural death and at all of the moments in between. This means that if we are to be truly pro-life, we are called to be concerned with the poor, with the homeless, with the immigrant, with the one who has no health care, who lives in danger, and yes, even with the criminal standing firmly against the death penalty. The Catholic upholds the dignity of all human life, not just some or sometimes.

In our world, however, we see what appears to be a never-ending assault on the dignity of human life: the death penalty rages forward; we see the possibility of cloned human beings, the inappropriate use of embryonic stem cells, we see an ever growing gap between the rich and the poor, we see any sense of sexual morality thrown to the wind, we see injustice on top of injustice – all of these things take precedence over God’s ways. God calls us to more.

Being pro-life is not an optional Catholic belief – it is at the very heart of what it means to be a believer in and follower of Jesus Christ. We cannot call ourselves Catholic and leave this church each week supporting a cycle of death – in any of its forms. We either believe in the dignity of each and every human being; created in the image and likeness of God; or we don’t. Being pro-life isn’t situational; it is the way of life that God calls us all to.

It all comes back to God’s Word and God’s way. Do we believe it? Will we follow it? Will we allow God’s Word to take route in our hearts and direct our lives? To be Christian, to follow God’s Word, is not easy – it challenges us into places we weren’t prepared to go, to hold beliefs that are not always accepted by other people; to hold beliefs that are even sometimes challenging for us to hold. But, when we trust in God’s actions, when we truly believe God’s Word and follow it, the results are amazing. The love that God calls us to is challenging, but it is not optional.

Brothers and sisters, you and I are here, worshipping at this Mass today, precisely because we believe in God, we acknowledge Christ as Lord, and we worship the Holy Spirit. God, from the beginning of Scripture to the end, is the God of life. He speaks of himself as the Living God. Our Lord Jesus Christ said, "I am the Life." The Holy Spirit, as we say in the Creed every Sunday, is the Lord and Giver of Life. Therefore we, the people of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, are by that very fact the people of life. To stand with Christ is to stand for life and to stand for life means that we stand against whatever destroys life.

God’s holy Word calls each and every one of us to this today and every day. God’s Word calls us to support life – all life – from natural conception to natural death and all the many and varied stages in between. We must all look deeply in our hearts and rout out any error that might be there. We must embrace the Culture of Life that God established in creation and see the sanctity of all life.

As we hear in Deuteronomy, God says, “Today I have given you the choice between life and death. I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Choose life.”

May God give you peace.

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

FRIAR'S CORNER, October 5, 2008:

Saturday (October 4) is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor, better known as the Franciscans – the religious Order that Fr. Mike and I are members of. I thought about writing about his life today, but I think most people know the broad strokes of his saintly life: lived in the 13th century, radical reformer of the Church, founder of three great religious Orders, first saint ever to receive the sacred stigmata (the wounds of Christ). Instead, though, I thought today I would just share with you a few of his prayers that are favorites of mine and perhaps of yours.

When I mention prayers of St. Francis, most people immediately think of the prayer beginning, “Make me a channel of your peace.” This is a beautiful prayer and it certainly captures the spirit of St. Francis, but most scholars today tell us he probably didn’t write it. But, my favorite prayer of St. Francis is one that he did write and it is called the “Prayer Before the Crucifix.” I pray this prayer every day at Mass just after receiving Holy Communion:

Most high, glorious God,
enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me Lord,
a correct faith,
a certain hope,
a perfect charity,
wisdom and understanding,
so that I may carry out Your holy and true command.

I will share one more with you. St. Francis had a great devotion to the Blessed Mother. He wrote many prayers in her honor, but here is one:

Hail, O Lady, Mary, holy Mother of God:
you are the Virgin made Church
and the one chosen by the most holy Father in heaven
whom He consecrated with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is the fullness of grace and every good
Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Home!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!
And hail all you holy virtues
which through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit
are poured into the hearts of the faithful
so that from their faithless state
you may make them faithful to God.
These are just a few. There are many more which you can find on the internet or in a good book store. I hope you take a moment to learn a bit more about this great saint.
May God give you peace! (By the way, that is another tradition St. Francis gave us, asking us to always wish the peace of God to everyone.)
Love, Fr. Tom

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Christian one-liners

Don't let your worries get the best of you; remember, Moses started out as a basket case.

Some people are kind, polite, and
sweet-spirited until you try to sit in their pews.
Many folks want to serve God,
but only as advisors.
It is easier to preach ten sermons
than it is to live one.
The good Lord didn't create anything without a purpose, but mosquitoes come close.
When you get to your wit's end,
you'll find God lives there.
People are funny; they want the front
of the bus, the middle of the road, and
the back of the church.
Opportunity may knock once, but temptation bangs on your front door forever.
Quit griping about your church;
if it was perfect, you couldn't belong.
If the church wants a better pastor,
it only needs to pray for the one it has.
God Himself does not propose to judge
a man until he is dead. So why should you?
Some minds are like concrete thoroughly mixed up and permanently set.
Peace starts with a smile.
I don't know why some people change churches;
what difference does it make which one you stay home from?
A lot of church members who are singing
'Standing on the Promises'
are just sitting on the premises.
We were called to be witnesses,
not lawyers or judges.
Be ye fishers of men.
You catch them - He'll clean them.
Coincidence is when God
chooses to remain anonymous.
Don't put a question mark
where God put a period.
Don't wait for 6 strong men
to take you to church.
Forbidden fruits create many jams.
God doesn't call the qualified,
He qualifies the called.
God grades on the cross, not the curve.
God loves everyone, but probably prefers 'fruits of the spirit' over 'religious nuts!'
God promises a safe landing,
not a calm passage.
He who angers you, controls you!
If God is your Co-pilot - swap seats!
Don't give God instructions -- just report for duty!
The task ahead of us is never as great as the Power behind us.
The Will of God never takes you to where the Grace of God will not protect you.
We don't change the message,
the message changes us.
You can tell how big a person is
by what it takes to discourage him.
The best mathematical equation
I have ever seen: 1 cross + 3 nails = 4 given.

Changing the impossible

HOMILY FOR THE 2nd SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, January 20, 2019: When my parents got married more than 50 years ago, my Mom came from a pract...