Saturday, July 30, 2011

Feeding the 5,000: A good start!

An older woman walked into the local church. The friendly usher greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. “Where would you like to sit?” he asked politely. ”The front row please.” she answered. ”You really don't want to do that”, the usher said. “The pastor is really boring.” ”Do you happen to know who I am?” the woman asked. ”No.” said the usher. ”I'm the pastor's mother,” she replied indignantly. Embarrassed, the usher asked, ”Do you know who I am?” ”No.” said the woman. To which he sighed and said, ”Good.”

“Those who ate were about five thousand” people. This story of the feeding of the 5,000 is one of the most compelling stories that we hear in the life of Jesus. It ranks right up there with the healing of lepers and the raising of Lazarus as truly miraculous moments that show with authority the true nature and identity of Jesus. I often reflect on this story in my mind’s eye trying to picture myself in the scene; to experience what it must have been like to be one of the disciples distributing the loaves and the fishes – in wonder and awe and the seemingly endless supply of food coming from those baskets. Imagine witnessing such glory?

As I have reflected on this miracle over the years, however, I have come to understand that this great event is really small potatoes in terms of manifesting God’s great power. As we reflect on what it might have been like to be present for the feeding of the 5,000; what would you think if I told you that you have been present for the feeding of the 5 million; 5 billion; 5 trillion; maybe more? The feeding of the 5,000 is not the highpoint of Jesus nourishing His holy people; instead, it is just a foretaste; a mere beginning.

On that beautiful day, on that beautiful hillside, Jesus was only getting started. You see this miracle is a sign of something to come. The feeding of the 5,000 is an event that looks to the future as it prefigures the gift of the Holy Eucharist. Just listen to the very language that Jesus used in this miracle – it is clearly Eucharistic language. “Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” This language reminds us of the words that Jesus would later proclaim at the Last Supper; and they prefigure the words that Jesus will say again today, through the ministry of my priesthood, in this Eucharist.

The key difference is that on that glorious day 2,000 years ago, Jesus said the blessing prayer and gave to the people ordinary bread to eat; which sustained them for a day. Today, Jesus again says the blessing prayer, but will give to us the Eucharistic bread from Heaven. And, my brothers and sisters, this bread will not sustain us merely for a day; this bread – the Sacred Body and Blood of Jesus Himself – will keep us going for a lifetime and beyond into eternity. In the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus fed a very large crowd miraculously for a day. In the feeding of the Holy Eucharist Jesus has continually fed a crowd that after 2,000 years must number in the billions or trillions of believers – including each and every one of us; we are all present for this miracle feeding - and Jesus isn’t done yet. Jesus promises us that this miraculous feeding will continue as long as we are on earth; and will continue on even into eternity. As He said to the disciples at the Last Supper, “I tell you, I shall never again drink wine until the day that I drink the new wine with you in the Kingdom of my Father.” Jesus is essentially telling us, “This is not the Last Supper; there will be more in the eternal life to come – and you will be there!”

So today’s Gospel is not just about a miracle in the past that calls us into awe and wonder. It is also about the gift of the Eucharist that we celebrate today in the present and it is about the promise of the Heavenly banquet in the future. All of these are divine manifestations of the great love of God for us that we heard in our other two readings today. As we heard in Isaiah, “Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare…Listen, that you may have life.” And the Letter to the Romans put it more directly, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?” Nothing! “In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through Him who loved us.”

So, how do we respond to our participation in Christ’s love for us – especially his gift of Himself in the Holy Eucharist? First and foremost, we need to be well disposed whenever we receive His Sacred Body and Blood. We need to be aware of what’s actually happening. We are about to receive the real Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus; we are about to encounter Him sacramentally in the flesh, to be as close to Him as we can possibly get in this life. “This is the Lamb of God,” you will hear me say, “Happy are those who are called to His supper!” Happy are they! Happy are you, my brothers and sisters! The trouble is that we who are called to be happy, are often elsewhere – lost in a daze, in a daydream, perhaps on auto-pilot, receiving reflexively rather than reflectively. It happens to us all. The encounter is over before we know where we are – before we realize who He is right before us. When we get in line for communion, we are not following the person in front of us – we are following Jesus Christ! Since Jesus is good enough, kind enough, gracious enough to come to us; we must be totally present. The Real Presence isn’t just about Jesus being truly present in the Eucharist, it is also about each one of us being truly present when we receive Him.

There is a casualness in our age that can lead us to lose the sacredness of this miraculous moment. We must approach with reverence, bow in humility, put out our hands invitingly, take the Lord lovingly into our bodies and into our hearts and lives.

Jesus invites each one of us today to join Him on the hillside, on this beautiful day. We have gathered here today some simple bread and wine, but He invites us to partake in the miracle multiplication and transformation. The miracle goes on.

“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied.” May we too be satisfied at this and at every Eucharistic feast.

May God give you peace.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Kingdom of Heaven: A personal relationship with God


A teacher, a garbage collector, and a lawyer wound up together at the Pearly Gates. St. Peter informed them that in order to get into Heaven, they would each have to answer one question. St. Peter addressed the teacher wanting to make it easy and asked, “What was the name of that ship that crashed into the iceberg? They made a big movie about it.” The teacher answered quickly, “That would be the Titanic.” St. Peter let her through the gate. St. Peter then looked at the garbage man who was stinking literally to high Heaven, and decided to make the question a little harder: “How many people died on the ship?” As fortune would have it, he was a big fan of the History Channel and answered, “1,228.” “That's right! You may enter,” St. Peter said. And then, giving the lawyer the once-over, St. Peter turned to him and said, “Name them.”

Our Gospel this week has a Heavenly focus. Jesus gives us these images of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Praying with this Gospel this week, I couldn’t help but think of a time about 10 years ago when I had the opportunity to be at a Wednesday Audience with Blessed Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square. At that audience, the Holy Father reflected on the same passage we have before us today. The Pope spoke to the tens of thousands of people gathered there from around the world about the Kingdom of Heaven and reminded everyone to keep their minds and hearts on the things of God and not on the things of the world. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a place, he said, but an intimate relationship with God that can be experienced partially on earth. Heaven “is not an abstraction, nor a physical place amid the clouds, but a living and personal relationship with God.”

The Pope’s comments mirror those that we hear from Jesus today. Jesus speaks, as He often does, in parables about the Kingdom. This is clearly one of His favorite topics, particularly in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus is regularly speaking of the Kingdom. In His very first sermon recorded in Matthew Jesus said simply, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” and “Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Over and over again – a total of 51 times in Matthew – Jesus uses this favorite phrase of His: the Kingdom of Heaven. It should also be a favorite of ours.

So, what can we know about this Kingdom? Well, the Pope reminded us that it is not “a physical place among the clouds.” We can tend to think of Heaven as some far off place. We might imagine some sort of celestial castle nestled in the clouds, twinkling stars and bright rainbows. Angels everywhere, zooming around God’s throne; the air alive with the sound of magnificent music.

But, today’s Gospel tells us something different. Jesus compares the Kingdom to some very down-to-earth things. No castle, no clouds, no angels, stars or rainbows or music. Rather, Jesus presents us with a farmer sowing seeds, weeds growing in a wheat field, a tiny mustard seed, a piece of yeast and today – a buried treasure, a merchant’s find of a precious pearl and a fishnet thrown into the lake.

The point isn’t that the clouds, angels and music aren’t part of the reality, but that they are only part of the reality. The Kingdom that Jesus is talking about is both heavenly and earthly. Jesus makes this also when He gave us the Our Father, “Your Kingdom come…on earth as in heaven.”

So, our Gospel begs the question of each of us today - where is our treasure? And what might our treasure be? Is it in gold or riches, in power or fame? What is Jesus talking about, this buried treasure, this pearl of great price which we are supposed to have found? Where do we find this unique mix of heavenly and earthly reality?

The answer is right here in this Church. The closest we can ever come to this double dimension of heaven and earth is the Church and the sacraments. The Church itself is the sign of our intimate union with God in heaven and with all humanity on earth. The mission of the Church is to proclaim and establish the Kingdom of God among all people. The Second Vatican Council said that the Church “becomes on earth the initial budding forth of that Kingdom of God.”

So the question, again, today is: Where is your treasure? Do we really consider the Church, and our parish community in particular, to be our buried treasure and our pearl of great price? We are far luckier than the individuals in the Gospel today. They had to first sell all they had and buy the field where the treasure was buried and to buy the pearl. But for us, the Kingdom of Heaven is a free gift from God. Jesus is the one who found and bought the precious pearl and the buried treasure – and He paid for them with the price of His own life on the cross – all FOR US. But far from hiding and hoarding His treasures, He now and forever shares them with us freely. And, every time we gather to celebrate the Eucharist, we enjoy a taste of Heaven right here. The dividing lines between Heaven and Earth are erased; God comes downs and makes our gifts holy; we sing with angels and saints, “Holy, holy, holy.”

Our treasure, our precious pearl of membership in the Church as the chosen and beloved People of God is the gift that all the money in the world cannot even begin to buy. Our prize of the Sacraments is nothing less than God’s immense and intense love leading us to our ultimate prize - eternal life.

The pope said, “When this world has passed away, those who accepted God in their lives and were sincerely open to his love…will enjoy that fullness of communion with God which is the goal of human existence.” And it is possible to get a taste of heaven on earth through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist which is such a profound meeting place of Heaven and Earth, and through acts of self-giving charity which show us some of the happiness and peace which will reach its culmination in final, complete communion with God.

Where is your treasure? “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven.”

May God give you peace!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Judge not lest you be judged

A business man was sailing for Europe on one of the great transatlantic ocean liners of the last century. When he boarded the vessel, he found out that another passenger was sharing his cabin with him. After checking out the accommodations and meeting his cabin-mate, he went the purser's desk and inquired if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship's safe. He explained that ordinarily he never felt a need to do that, but after meeting the man who was to occupy the other berth, he felt it was a wise move. Judging from his appearance, he was afraid that he might not be a very trustworthy person. The purser accepted the responsibility for the valuables and remarked, “No problem at all, sir. I'll be very glad to take care of them for you. In fact, the other man in your cabin has already been here and left his valuables with me for the same reason!'"

We heard in our Gospel passage today, “His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull the weeds up?' He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”

Jesus gives us, through parable, these two images to consider: wheat and weeds. What is the Lord trying to tell us today about the nature of goodness and evil in our world? And, how does Jesus want us to respond to that evil? Jesus today is addressing the sometimes unfortunate side-effect of following Him. When we have been blessed enough to truly come to know God in our lives and at last give ourselves totally to Him; it also can make us aware of the sin that still surrounds us in our communities and in our world. The unfortunate side-effect comes in the form of the stereotypical “holier-than-thou” person who takes on, as a personal responsibility, to pull up the sinful weeds in the world.

History is filled with attempts by people to create the perfect society. We seem to have a natural human desire to root out and destroy all that is different. We seem to sense that those who are different pose some kind of threat to our way of life. Even those who have come to love and follow the Lord can fall prey to this mind set with the best of intentions. After all, don’t we all desire to be part of a society where sin is absent and everyone lives in unity of mind and heart and faith, dedicated to Jesus and His teachings? Isn’t this the promised Kingdom of God?

But, Jesus warns us today against just such behavior. When we become aware of all the weeds around us, we can be tempted to become warriors of the Lord intent on rooting out the evil in our midst. But, Jesus offers a different response. He says, “Let them grow together until the harvest.” Why does Jesus tell us to do this?

Jesus recognized – especially in the Pharisees – that even our holiness can become a temptation to sin. Our own experience of God’s goodness can become a temptation to judge others. We all know the type – we’ve all probably been like this at one point or another in our lives – we decide that we can condemn people to the eternal flames. Whether it is someone whose had an abortion, someone who committed adultery, someone who is just mean and hateful, someone who is gay or lesbian, someone who has stolen or even committed a horrible crime – we decide they’ve been consigned to Hell; we become the Judge and Jury; and that’s that. But, where is God’s mercy in that type of response? Where is God’s opportunity for reconciliation and forgiveness and healing in that type of response?

You see, we are not meant to be Warriors of the Sword, but just take away the “s” and you’ll know what we are called to – we are called to be Warriors of the Word; of God’s Word. It isn’t our task to cut down the weeds in our midst. Our job is to take that time until harvest to share God’s Word; to more importantly live God’s Word, giving good and holy example – all in the hopes that the weeds will want to become wheat too. Trust that God is in charge; that evil will not prevail. That in the end, only good will endure and it is God’s job, not ours, to take care of the weeds. Our job is to be holy and kind and loving and compassionate and giving.
Examples of overzealous servants trying to get rid of people they perceive as evil but who ended up doing more evil themselves abound. Just think of the young Saul. Before becoming St. Paul, he undertook a personal crusade to root out Christianity itself because he believed it was a bad idea and he committed many evil acts himself in the meantime in the name of this holy crusade.

The message of today's gospel is loud and clear: If we want to be faithful servants of God we must be ready to live alongside those we perceive as weeds and pray for them. Judge not lest you be judged. "Let both of them grow together until the harvest.”

God’s Kingdom will always bear the imprint of God’s patient desire that everyone repent and turn back to Him. God is both patient and lenient with all of us. He doesn’t seek to condemn anyone, but rather gives everyone the time to repent and be forgiven. And we should do the same.

Jesus reminds us that if we become too concerned with rooting out the weeds, in the end, we might just become one of them. Jesus reminds us that everyone - wheat or weed – has a chance at salvation; so let’s not short circuit that chance. Oh, there’s a deadline – you’ve only got until the harvest, but until then, there is always a chance for conversion, renewal and holiness - even for the biggest sinner among us.

Building up god’s Kingdom requires time and has a rhythm all its own, as human hearts transform under God’s love just as yeast turns dough into bread. What it requires of all of us – wheat and weeds alike – is that our hearts be open and receptive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. That is where the seed of God’s Word can grow, ripen and blossom.

“His disciples approached him and said, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.’ Jesus said, ‘The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. The Son of Man will send his angels to collect the harvest…Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears ought to hear.’”

May God give you peace.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Civil marriage is for Caesar to decide, not the church | National Catholic Reporter

NOTE: I guess I'm on a Nicholas Cafardi kick today. Another good one from him that raises a lot of questions that I had myself.  Thoughts?

Jul. 05, 2011
Supporters of traditional marriage demonstrate in Annapolis, Md., prior to a March 11 debate in the Maryland House of Delegates. A bill, which would have made it legal for couples of the same sex to marry, was returned to committee March 11, tabling the legislation in Maryland for the rest of this year's session. (CNS/Catholic Review/George P. Matysek Jr.)
If you count the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament, a phrase he uses with some regularity is “Be not afraid.” He says it to the apostles in all four Gospels, and he even tells it to Paul twice in Acts, once in a personal vision, and once in the voice of an angel.
Yet, today, his church finds itself afraid: afraid of movements by state legislatures to define civil law marriage in such a way as to allow same-sex partners to marry civilly. Why are we afraid?
Civil legislatures cannot define for the church what sacramental marriage is, what matrimony is. The First Amendment protects us from that. No legislature can tell the church who to marry or who not to marry.
So if the state wants to say that a man can civilly marry a man, or that a woman can civilly marry a woman, why should the church care?
The church would respond that, by taking this action, the state is devaluing the natural union of man and woman in matrimony. But we have long since abdicated that argument. What arguably could devalue the natural union of man and woman more than the fact that, in all 50 states, through no-fault divorces, any heterosexual spouse can walk away from the other, basically by filing an affidavit alleging that the marital bond is “irretrievably broken”?
I recall a late-night comedian saying, “Let gays get married. Why shouldn’t they be as miserable as the rest of us?” Easy divorce is more destructive of marriage than anything else. And we have long since acquiesced in that, even rectifying its results in our annulment courts.
Obviously, in the same-sex marriage debate, the church feels a strong need to have the civil law reflect the church’s teachings. Confronted in the public forum with that attitude, many might cry, “Foul!” But the church would respond: The nature of marriage is not just our teaching. It is a matter of the natural law, and civil law should reflect the natural law. That is a very strong argument. Human positive law should reflect the natural law and not go contrary to it.
There are two vulnerabilities with this argument, however. The first is scriptural. There is a patently clear warrant for polygamy in the record of the original covenant. By New Testament times, though, that practice was abandoned. But the patriarchs of the Jewish scriptures very clearly had multiple wives; so how “natural” is the one man, one woman definition of marriage? Natural law, to qualify as natural law, must be true in all times and all places.
The second flaw is bio-political. In an ideal world, human positive law would reflect natural law. But, in a democracy, that can happen only to the extent that civil society can perceive or interpret that natural law to the limit of its scientifically demonstrable knowledge. Natural law, despite the church’s assertions, is not self-evident. The church, in a civil society, is free to say that, in its perception, the natural law requires that marriage can only be between one man and one woman. But it must also be ready to address the counter-arguments of our fellow citizens who would say that, in their perception of nature, some folks come out of the factory with sexual attraction to members of their own sex. That is their nature. Did the divine Creator make a mistake? And if it is assumed or accepted that this is their nature, why should civil society stand in the way of their civil marriage?
An unfortunate aspect of the church’s opposition to same-sex marriage in the civil forum is that it carries aspects of intolerance. Yes, I realize that the opposite is true. The church could say that those pushing same-sex civil marriage on those of us who, because of our faith, are unalterably opposed to it are also intolerant of our religious beliefs. But in the scales of intolerance, the weight will always go against those who would prevent rather than those who would permit.
We need to give it up. This is not defeatism. This is simply following Jesus in the Gospels, who besides telling us not to act on our fears, also told us to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s. Civil marriage is Caesar’s. If Caesar wants to say that you can only get married on Tuesdays, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, that is Caesar’s call. The sacrament of matrimony is God’s. It is valid only when invoked between a baptized man and a baptized woman, in the presence of two witnesses and the spouses’ proper ordinary or pastor or his delegate. Caesar has no say in this.
The church does have a legitimate claim here, namely that we should not be legally required to act contrary to our beliefs by being forced to recognize civil same-sex marriages in any way: not by sanctifying them; not by opening our parish halls to their celebration; not by opening our adoption agencies to same-sex partners; not by affording employment benefits to same-sex spouses; nor by any other accommodation that would make us act contrary to our beliefs. Those are our civil rights, which civil society must recognize, much as we recognize civil society’s right to define civil marriage as it wills. These rights of the church are worth fighting for. But how civil society defines civil marriage simply is not ours to dictate, whether from force or fear.
[Nicholas P. Cafardi is a civil and canon lawyer, and a professor at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh.]

Keep Holy Election Day | America Magazine

NOTE: Very thought-provoking article on how we should approach voting.


the cover of America, the Catholic magazine
When Mother Teresa won the Nobel Peace Prize, a reporter, cameras rolling, asked her if she was a holy person. She looked right at him and said, “It’s my job to be holy. It’s your job to be holy, too. Why do you think God put us on this earth?”
We were made to be holy. It is our job to be holy in everything that we do, including when we vote. How can we be holy when we vote? How can we transcend this world, which is what holiness calls for, and at the same time remain immanent, be a part of this world—which is what voting is all about? We know we can do it because our faith teaches that the Lord whom we worship is himself both a transcendent God and an incarnate human, and he asked us to follow him.

How Would Jesus Vote?

On a very basic level, we know that holiness requires the imitation of Christ, day in and day out. What is the mind and heart of Jesus, and what does it require me to do in these circumstances? That prayerful conversation with Jesus is essential to holiness.
What does it mean to be holy? We know Jesus’ answer: “Love the Lord your God with your whole heart, your whole soul and your whole mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus defines holiness in terms of love. If you want to be holier still, “Sell all your goods, give the money to the poor and come follow me.” This is completely selfless love.
A first characteristic of holiness in the voting process is that it does not think that there are easy and readily apparent answers to complex political questions. This does not mean that complex issues should paralyze us or lead us to believe that every answer is equally correct. That is not the case. It does mean that we have to strive to be holy in discerning those answers.
Holiness requires us to inform our consciences in weighing complex political choices. As our bishops have said, “Conscience is the voice of God resounding in the human heart, revealing the truth to us and calling us to do what is good while shunning what is evil.” Or, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it: “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right.”
So consciences must be informed. Untethered feelings are not conscience. Conscience is based on truth—the Scripture, the church’s traditions and teachings, the guidance of the Holy Spirit. All of these we are obliged to apply to moral choices like voting.

No Easy Answers

Because holiness is not a matter of readily apparent answers to complex political questions, we cannot use our church as a political question-and-answer machine. When the scribes and the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into a political debate about Roman power, he, knowing there was no good answer, refused to offer a specific response. Instead, he said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; and to God what is God’s.”
It is a good lesson. When the church has made openly partisan political choices in the recent past—that is, when it has acted more like Caesar than Christ—it has been as often wrong as it has been right. The consequences have led us away from holiness, away from the imitation of Christ.
The church has to preach, even when that preaching has a political aspect to it, as many moral issues today do. But in holiness, when our sacred pastors speak to the morality of an issue, they should not choose political sides. The church must leave the political answer, the “how” of solving political problems, even when those political problems have a moral component, to the informed consciences of the laity. Political strategy is not a question of holiness or even of faith. It is a question of effective political means, not simply political ends. And here the church cannot speak in specifics.
It follows then that the church cannot legally or morally tell us which candidates to vote for. We may on occasion vote in a referendum on a specific issue: We want a new sales tax or not; we want to revise our state constitution to say something or not. Those are single-issue votes, and their moral value is perhaps more susceptible to discernment than when we are choosing among candidates for public office.
In the 2007 edition of Faithful Citizenship, the guide to Catholic participation in the political process the U.S. bishops publish every four years, the bishops write about the single-issue voter: “A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who takes a position in favor of an intrinsic evil, such as abortion or racism, if the voter’s intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil” (No. 34).
If you accept the premise that a candidate takes a position in favor of outright evil and that the only reason the Catholic voter chooses that candidate is in order to advance that evil, then the bishops’ conclusion follows: the Catholic voter has done something terribly wrong. But how likely is the prospect that a voter chooses a candidate for one reason only, and that reason an evil one?
Normally the basis on which we choose one candidate over another is multifaceted, just as life is multifaceted. We weigh the candidates against each other, evaluating their character as well as their stances on particular issues, agreeing with some of the candidate’s positions, perhaps not agreeing on others, but preferring one candidate over another after weighing complex alternatives.

Watch Your Language

Holiness does not let us demonize the other, those candidates we do not like, those people on the other side of a political issue with whom we disagree. True, Jesus called some of his opponents “whitened sepulchres” and used some other choice phrases, but he had to be extremely agitated to do that. It was not typical of the Lord, who said more than once, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” who rarely demanded but almost always suggested and who forgave his murderers from his cross.
Holiness should lead us to question the tactic of condemnatory labels that are used in the political process. Many labels are particularly troubling, but let me use one as an example. I do not know anyone who belongs to the “party of death,” that is, someone who honestly as a matter of political choice prefers death to life, who joins a political party because that party sees death as a social good to be pursued. It is an ugly phrase and it should be used only in situations where it applies, which is almost never. This does not mean that a criticism of the “culture of death” is inappropriate, but on the list of “life issues,” like abortion, racial discrimination, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, euthanasia, capital punishment, unjust war, divorce, lack of chastity and lack of marital fidelity, no one political party has it all right or all wrong.
As believing Catholics, it may be difficult for us to accept that some people do not agree with our church’s teachings on life issues. But the people who disagree with us are not, simply because of that fact, supporters of death. And demonizing them is not holiness. The use of such inexact, deprecating terms coarsens the political dialogue and creates situations in which some people consider it acceptable to do things like carry guns to political rallies or even kill those who disagree with us because, after all, they belong to the party of death. Jesus would weep. He specifically said, “God sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that through him the world might be saved.”

Faith, Not Coercion

Holiness does not seek to control others, to take away their free will, their rights of conscience. We can seek to persuade them, to convince them; but holiness does not disrespect the religious and civil liberties of others. Our church used to teach that error had no rights; and that may, as a philosophical proposition, still be true today in the abstract. But rights inhere in people, not in propositions, and people are never abstract. People in error have rights, rights that Catholics, especially Catholics seeking to be holy in the political process, cannot ignore. In doubt, we bring faith, not coercion. And we bring faith primarily by example, by our respect for those who disagree with us, who do not share our faith or our values or our conclusions. “Truth can be only proposed. It cannot be imposed without violating the sanctity of the individual person and subverting the truth itself,” as one of our bishops has said.
This is the classic dilemma for U.S. Catholics. We are committed to religious principles that we hold to be absolute truths. But we are also committed to our Constitution, which not only guarantees our freedom to hold and practice these beliefs but also guarantees to others the right to disagree with those beliefs.

Voting With Freedom and Holiness

In sum, holiness does not lead us to think that there are easy or readily apparent answers to complex political issues; it does not make our church into a political answer machine; it does not let us demonize the other; it does not let itself become a tool used to control others.
Where does that bring us? To a final proposition: This world is imperfect and imperfectable. The kingdom is here and not yet here. The transcendent interacts with the immanent, but the immanent endures. Holiness understands this and puts up with it. This is perhaps the devil’s greatest tool: He has brought us to a place in our politics where the only choice is a Hobson’s choice, where no matter what we do, there is a risk of being wrong. We either participate in a political process that allows wrong choices—some might even say immoral choices—or we withdraw from our democracy. Trying to control someone with a morality they do not perceive is not holiness. It certainly is not reflective of the Lord who calls but never compels, the Lord who said, “Take the log out of your eye before you tell your brother to remove the splinter from his.”
Human freedom, given us by our Creator, is the proper intermediary of holiness. In the political process holiness endures actions by political society that might be wrong, perhaps even evil, because to do otherwise requires that we violate the consciences and the God-given freedom of others.
Be wary of anyone who claims to know exactly what political choices God wants you to make. Our pastors can tell us the ethical and moral principles that should govern human behavior; they can tell us the values that should be defended; and we must learn from them on these matters in order to inform our own consciences. We also have an obligation to look at Scripture, the teachings and traditions of the church, the people of God, over the centuries. And we need to pray, to ask the Spirit for guidance. None of this can be dodged. You cannot be holy in voting if you fail to do these things.
But once your conscience is properly formed, then, to paraphrase St. Augustine’s saying, “Love and do what you will,” I would say, “Love” —which means to be holy—“and vote how you will.
Listen to an interview with Nicholas P. Cafardi.
Nicholas P. Cafardi is dean emeritus and professor of law at Duquesne University School of Law. This article is derived from a volume of essays by Catholic authors, Voting and Holiness: A Catholic Guide to Participation in the Political Process, which will be published later this year by Paulist Press.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Can you hear Me now?

A new pastor was assigned to a local Church. As it would happen, several members of the parish seemed to have waited for their new pastor arrive before they died. Consequently in his first four weeks he had eight funerals. He was so busy that he didn’t have time to write a new homily each Sunday so he used the homily from the Sunday before - 3 more times. A group of parishioners promptly went to the Bishop complaining that their new pastor had used the same homily 4 times in a row. The Bishop asked a simple question, “What was the homily about?” Stunned, they looked one to the other – not one of them could remember. So, the Bishop said, “Let him preach it one more time.”

There’s also the joke about the three things that St. Peter will ask you at the Pearly Gates to get into Heaven: What was Sunday’s First Reading? Second Reading? And Gospel Reading?

My friends, our readings today cause us to reflect on the Word of God itself. What place does Sacred Scripture hold in our lives? How important do we rate God’s Holy Word? And, how receptive are we to hearing what the Lord has to say to us?

Isaiah, in our first reading, places Scripture in the highest of terms: “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; my word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.” And Jesus gives us the parable of the seed and the sower that are meant to be a reflection and a model of what our relationship to Scripture should be. “The seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

In Jesus’ times fields were harvested in June and then left barren during the hot, dry summer. By the fall the ground was quite hard. However, the farmers knew that the rain would be coming soon, so in the fall the farmers would plant the crop for the next year’s harvest. The farmers then didn’t plant like modern farmers. Modern farmers plant in three steps: they plough, then sow the seed and then cover the seed with soil. Ancient farmers planted in two steps: the sower would go through the fields scattering the seed all the while he was followed by a ploughman who would plough the seed under the ground. That’s why the seed that fell on the footpaths was useless. The ploughman wasn’t about to plough the footpaths. And, the seed that fell on rocks couldn’t develop strong enough roots to survive. As far as the thorns were concerned, the Near East has world class thistles plants which grow over six feet tall. And so, the only seed that had a chance of surviving would be that which fell on good soil. This is the message today: an invitation from Jesus to be that good soil. And, of course, the Word of God is the seed.

And so this causes us to ask, when it comes to Sacred Scripture, what type of soil am I? When I hear God’s Word, am I like the pathway where the seed cannot even sprout, or like the rocky ground where the seed sprouts but has no roots, or like thorny ground where the word of God is choked to death by worldly cares, or am I like the good soil that bears much fruit?

One day Eric was sharing with a group of church people about the turnaround in his life since he started to love the Scriptures. “Two years ago,” he said, “I had no appetite for the Word of God. On Sundays, I would shop around going from church to church to find the priest that gave the shortest homily. My idea of a good Mass was one that took 40 minutes or less! The shorter, the better.” But, once Eric became open to hearing God’s Word; once he became good soil, all of that changed. He became like the writer of Psalm 119 who said, “Had your word, O Lord, not been my delight, I would have perished…I will never forget your words; through them you give me life.”

Jesus is calling us all to become people who do not merely respect God’s Word, or appreciate it; but who love the Word of God. A priest delivered a homily in 10 minutes one Sunday, which was about half his usual length. He explained to the parish, “I regret to inform you that my dog, who is very fond of eating paper, ate the portion of my homily which I was unable to deliver this morning.” After Mass, a visitor from another church shook hands with the priest and said, “Father, if that dog of yours has any pups, I want to get one to give to my priest.” My friends, if our favorite part of God’s Word is when it is over, then we are missing the point.

Loving God’s Word, being good soil, all begins with our openness. Can we surrender to God’s Word? Can we believe in our hearts that there is nothing more important than God’s Word? Can we be people who pledge to live as St. James calls us to, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only…The one who peers into the perfect law of freedom and perseveres, and is not a hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, such a one shall be blessed in what they do.”

So, what type of soil will you be? The seed of God’s Word has been placed in each of us again today at this Holy Mass. Will it grow and be fruitful? Or will it wither and fade? My friends, the answer is in our hands.

May God give you peace.

Monday, July 4, 2011

We hold these truths to be self-evident...

I am a strong believer in the power of words.  As we gather today to celebrate our nation's independence, we are also celebrating the power of a specific set of words - the words written in the Declaration of Independence.  It has become something of a tradition with me, but I encourage everyone to take a moment today to read these words.  And don't just read them to yourself, read them aloud, they contain a very different power when read out loud for others to hear.  Maybe this will become a tradition for you too.  - FT

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:

Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton

North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton

John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton

Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean

New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark

New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott

New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We could use some more gentleness

Note: I'm enjoying my second week of vacation, so here's another homily from the archives. I delivered this on July 8, 2008.  I'll be back next weekend!  Happy 4th of July to everyone!
One of the famous Aesop’s Fables tells of a dispute between the sun and the wind over which of the two was stronger. One day a person dressed in a coat was walking down a deserted country road. The sun said to the wind, “Whoever makes that person remove the coat faster will be the winner.” The wind agreed and decided to go first. He blew and blew, but the more he blew, the tighter the person held on to the coat. Finally, exhausted, the wind gave up. Then the sun took over. It merely shone in all its glory. Within minutes, the person took of their coat. Aesop said that the moral of the story was this: you can achieve more by gentleness than by violence.

In our world today, gentleness is not as highly regarded as it once was. There was a time when the best compliment you could receive was to be called a gentle person. Our own word “gentleman” testifies to this reality. Today, however, it seems in our culture that violence is more popular than gentleness. Just look at the media. The average child spends 25 hours a week watching television, more time than they spend in school or engaged in any other activity except sleep. It is estimated that by the time an average child is 18; they will witness 200,000 acts of violence, including 40,000 murders. One study concluded that teens who watch more than one hour of TV a day were four times more likely to commit aggressive acts in adulthood. And just listen to the titles of the four most popular video games today: “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” “Battlefield,” “Grand Theft Auto” and “World of Warcraft.” It shouldn’t be surprising that our world and even our families reflect the violence of our age.

How different from what Jesus taught us. He said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.” As we heard in our first reading today, Zechariah foretold the gentleness of Jesus, “Your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, he is meek…and he shall proclaim peace to the nations.” A beautiful example of the gentleness of Jesus is the way he handled the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was gentle not only with the woman, but also with her self-righteous accusers. He didn’t shout or rave. He didn’t yell or scream. He simply bent over, gently, and wrote in the sand with His finger. His action stood out like a clap of thunder in the silence of a summer’s night.

Jesus taught us to be gentle also. He held up for our imitation the shepherd in the Parable of the Lost Sheep. He didn’t beat the sheep or drag it home. He placed it gently on his shoulders. Or the father of the Prodigal Son. The father didn’t shout at his wayward son. He didn’t hassle him; he hugged him, loved him and welcomed him home.

Joseph Lahey tells this story of himself in Guideposts magazine. As a child, Joseph ha a crippled back, twisted and distorted. Fully clothed, he could pass for all right, but when he took his shirt off, it was very noticeable. Joseph hated his deformed back. As a boy, one day he stood in line at school waiting to be examined by the school doctor. He always dreaded the moment when the doctor would say, “Remove your shirt.” Finally the terrible moment came. Joseph fumbled with his buttons, his hands shaking badly. At last, his shirt was off. The doctor looked at him and then did something very unusual. He walked around the desk, held the boy’s face in his big hands, looked right at him and said, gently, “Do you believe in God?” “Yes sir,” Joseph responded. “Good! The more you believe in Him, the more you believe in yourself.” The doctor went back to his desk and wrote something on Joseph’s chart before stepping out of the room for a moment. Joseph was curious what the doctor had written, so he quickly looked at the chart. Under the heading “Physical Characteristics,” the doctor had written, “Joseph has an unusually well-shaped head.” Joseph couldn’t believe his eyes.

That brief episode in Joseph’s life took place many years ago, but the boy never forgot the gentleness and the encouraging words of that kind doctor. Today’s Gospel contains a similarly important invitation for all of us. We are invited today to learn from Jesus because He is “gentle and humble of heart.”

What does this mean concretely for us in the week ahead? First, it means we should try to respond to people as the sun did in Aesop’s fable – with gentleness and warmth. Second, it means we should try to respond to those who have wronged us as Jesus did with the woman caught in adultery; and as the father of the Prodigal Son – with compassion and understanding. Third, it means we should try to respond to people with heavy burdens just as the doctor did with young Joseph – with tenderness and sensitivity.

Let me conclude with a prayer. I invite you to close your eyes and pray silently with me. Lord, during the week ahead, help us to remember the gentleness and warmth of the sun in our dealings with one another; help us to remember the tenderness of the doctor as we meet people who are weary and burdened; help us to remember the words of Jesus, Your Son, who said, “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart.”

May God give you peace.

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...