Saturday, December 29, 2012

Jesus' formula for a holy family


A young boy greeted his father as he returned from work one day with a question: “Dad, how much do you make an hour?” The father was surprised and said: “Son, not even your mother knows that. Please don’t bother me now.” “But Dad, just tell me please! How much do you make an hour?” the boy insisted. The father finally gave in and replied: “Twenty dollars.” “Okay, Dad,” the boy continued, “Could you loan me ten dollars?” The father a bit irritated now with the said, “Why on earth do you need ten dollars?”  The boy replied, “Well, I already have $10.  If you loan me another $10, I’ll have enough to buy an hour of your time.”  

Today’s feast of the Holy Family and our Gospel has a message for this man and for all of us – we need to invest more of our time in our family life.  Today’s passage from Luke shows us Jesus at the age of 12 (boy He has grown a lot in the days since Christmas hasn’t he?).  At 12 in Jewish culture and law, Jesus would be considered an adult and so He was required to keep the law and make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem like any other Jewish man. In our passage, Jesus has been in the Temple talking about Scriptures, but without informing his parents, who cannot find him for two days.

What is most interesting about this passage, I think, is the way it ends.  “Then He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”  Remember, Jesus is already considered an adult.  But, we also know that He won’t begin His public ministry for another 18 years.  Why the delay?  Why did He go back to Nazareth instead of starting His public ministry?  It certainly wasn’t for a lack of capability.  Our own passage today tells us that “all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” So, He was ready and able to begin.

The reality is that we have to acknowledge that Jesus’ life in Nazareth until the age of 30 was as much a part of his earthly mission as His three years of public life. Our passage tells us that during these 18 years “Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.”  So, let’s do the math – for every one year of His public life, Jesus spent 10 years in family life.  Just think about what this tells us about the importance and priority that Jesus gave to family life.

We all have two parts of our lives – our private or family life and our public or professional one. Now, these two parts of our lives should be in harmony but more often than not they are in tension.  Jesus gives us a clear example that even in His own life He gave priority to His family life.  A big part of what ails families in our world today is that we too often try to resolve the tension in the wrong direction – giving that priority to our professional life, leaving our family life to suffer. Rose Sands writes about the unhappy man who thought the only way he could prove his love for his family was to work hard. She writes, “To prove his love for his wife, he swam the deepest river, crossed the widest desert and climbed the highest mountain. She divorced him because he was never home.”

I am coming to the increasing recognition that we have begun to build our families backwards.  As a priest, I have countless conversations with engaged couples who build a family in this order – live together first, buy a house second, get married third.  Right from the beginning of their relationship, they’ve got things out of order.  They then delay having children for 5 to 10 years so that they can travel, buy a bigger house, nice cars, accumulate the things they need and want.  Why?  So that they can provide well for our children.  We all know this reality today.

I don’t question the motives of such people – providing for a family is a noble motive.  But what we try and do is skip to the last page of the book, “And they lived happily ever after.”  We’ve forgotten where the book begins and all of the interesting parts in between.  Successful families can’t be purchased.  A nice house, nice cars, good schools, and all of the toys don’t equal a good and holy family. 

A Sunday school teacher was speaking on the importance of the family and things that money cannot buy. “Money can’t buy laughter and it can’t buy love” he told them. To illustrate his point he said, “What would you do if I offered you $1,000 to NOT love your mother and father?” The whole class fell silent. Finally a small voice spoke, “I’d take it to not love my big sister.”

My friends, our world doesn’t need more successful families.  But, it desperately needs more loving, caring, involved families.  A good and solid and holy family might mean a smaller house, one less car, more sharing, but most importantly it will mean more time together.  Let’s pledge in the year ahead to try the Jesus Family Formula – one to ten.  For every minute spent out of family life, let’s try 10 minutes with our family. Imagine what that would do for your family.

I often think in the life of my own family.  When I was about 10 years old, during the recession in the 70s, my father was out of work for two years.  Certainly a disaster on a materialistic scale.  But, our family always looks back on that time as a golden age for us.  As children, we didn’t know that we were in financial trouble, we didn’t care that things suddenly had generic labels and not name-brands.  What we knew was that Dad was home every day and that was wonderful.  During this time, I recall one Christmas where my parents had struggled to be able to buy Christmas presents.  But, just days before Christmas, another family nearby had experienced a hardship and would have no presents for their children.  And so even in our tough time, it was decided that our presents would go to that family.  It wasn’t a sad moment for anyone in our family.  It was the most joyful Christmas I can remember.  Just as with Jesus who was formed by his experience of family life, I look back and see those years as some of the most formative in my life.

The celebration today of the holy family of Joseph, Mary and Jesus reminds and challenges us to value our family life more than everything else.  Our family, along with the Holy Family, are the best gifts any of us could receive this year or any year.  We are all called to have holy families of our own.  Nothing could be more important than what Jesus came to do – save the world – and He teaches us by the example that even He made family life the priority.  So too, must we.

May Jesus bless and strengthen our families and may the Lord give you peace.

12 Things I Wish I Knew at 25: Spiritual Learnings on My 50th Birthday

NOTE: Great birthday reflection from Fr. Jim Martin (Happy Birthday Jim!) on Huffington Post today.  Words to live by!  - FT

Rev. James Martin, S.J.

Posted: 12/30/10 10:28 PM ET
For a lark yesterday, on my 50th birthday, I Tweeted 12 things that I wish I had known at 25. Or more accurately, 12 things that, had I put them into action, would have made my life a lot easier. Some are bits of advice that wisdom figures have told me and took years to sink in. Others are the result of some hard knocks. A few are insights from the great spiritual masters that I've adapted for my own life. Maybe a few will help someone you know who's 25. Maybe one or two will help you.
1. First up: Stop worrying so much! It's useless. (I.e. Jesus was right.)
2. Being a saint means being yourself. Stop trying to be someone else and just be your best self. Saves you heartache.
3. There's no right way to pray, any more than there's a right way to be a friend. What's "best" is what works best for you.
4. Remember three things and save yourself lots of unneeded heartache: You're not God. This ain't heaven. Don't act like a jerk.
5. Your deepest, most heartfelt desires are God's desires for you. And vice versa. Listen. And follow them.
6. Within you is the idea of your best self. Act as if you were that person and you will become that person, with God's grace.
7. Don't worry too much about the worst that can happen. Even if it happens, God is with you, and you can handle it. Really.
8. You can't force people to approve of you, agree with you, be impressed with you, love you or even like you. Stop trying.
9. When we compare, we are usually imagining someone else's life falsely. So our real-life loses out. I.e. Compare and despair.
10. Even when you finally realized the right thing, or the Christian thing, to do, it can still be hard to do. Do it anyway.
11. Seven things to say frequently: I love you. Thank you. Thank you, God. Forgive me. I'm so happy for you! Why not? Yes.
12. Peace and joy come after asking God to free you -- from anything that keeps you from being loving and compassionate.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Why God?

By Maureen Dowd | NewYork Times | December 25, 2012

When my friend Robin was dying, she asked me if I knew a priest she could talk to who would not be, as she put it, “too judgmental.” I knew the perfect man, a friend of our family, a priest conjured up out of an old black-and-white movie, the type who seemed not to exist anymore in a Catholic Church roiled by scandal. Like Father Chuck O’Malley, the New York inner-city priest played by Bing Crosby, Father Kevin O’Neil sings like an angel and plays the piano; he’s handsome, kind and funny. Most important, he has a gift. He can lighten the darkness around the dying and those close to them. When he held my unconscious brother’s hand in the hospital, the doctors were amazed that Michael’s blood pressure would noticeably drop. The only problem was Father Kevin’s reluctance to minister to the dying. It tears at him too much. He did it, though, and he and Robin became quite close. Years later, he still keeps a picture of her in his office. As we’ve seen during this tear-soaked Christmas, death takes no holiday. I asked Father Kevin, who feels the subject so deeply, if he could offer a meditation. This is what he wrote:

How does one celebrate Christmas with the fresh memory of 20 children and 7 adults ruthlessly murdered in Newtown; with the searing image from Webster of firemen rushing to save lives ensnared in a burning house by a maniac who wrote that his favorite activity was “killing people”? How can we celebrate the love of a God become flesh when God doesn’t seem to do the loving thing? If we believe, as we do, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing, why doesn’t He use this knowledge and power for good in the face of the evils that touch our lives?
The killings on the cusp of Christmas in quiet, little East Coast towns stirred a 30-year-old memory from my first months as a priest in parish ministry in Boston. I was awakened during the night and called to Brigham and Women’s Hospital because a girl of 3 had died. The family was from Peru. My Spanish was passable at best. When I arrived, the little girl’s mother was holding her lifeless body and family members encircled her.
They looked to me as I entered. Truth be told, it was the last place I wanted to be. To parents who had just lost their child, I didn’t have any words, in English or Spanish, that wouldn’t seem cheap, empty. But I stayed. I prayed. I sat with them until after sunrise, sometimes in silence, sometimes speaking, to let them know that they were not alone in their suffering and grief. The question in their hearts then, as it is in so many hearts these days, is “Why?”
The truest answer is: I don’t know. I have theological training to help me to offer some way to account for the unexplainable. But the questions linger. I remember visiting a dear friend hours before her death and reminding her that death is not the end, that we believe in the Resurrection. I asked her, “Are you there yet?” She replied, “I go back and forth.” There was nothing I wanted more than to bring out a bag of proof and say, “See? You can be absolutely confident now.” But there is no absolute bag of proof. I just stayed with her. A life of faith is often lived “back and forth” by believers and those who minister to them.
Implicit here is the question of how we look to God to act and to enter our lives. For whatever reason, certainly foreign to most of us, God has chosen to enter the world today through others, through us. We have stories of miraculous interventions, lightning-bolt moments, but far more often the God of unconditional love comes to us in human form, just as God did over 2,000 years ago.
I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them. Second, I don’t look for the hand of God to stop evil. I don’t expect comfort to come from afar. I really do believe that God enters the world through us. And even though I still have the “Why?” questions, they are not so much “Why, God?” questions. We are human and mortal. We will suffer and die. But how we are with one another in that suffering and dying makes all the difference as to whether God’s presence is felt or not and whether we are comforted or not.
One true thing is this: Faith is lived in family and community, and God is experienced in family and community. We need one another to be God’s presence. When my younger brother, Brian, died suddenly at 44 years old, I was asking “Why?” and I experienced family and friends as unconditional love in the flesh. They couldn’t explain why he died. Even if they could, it wouldn’t have brought him back. Yet the many ways that people reached out to me let me know that I was not alone. They really were the presence of God to me. They held me up to preach at Brian’s funeral. They consoled me as I tried to comfort others. Suffering isolates us. Loving presence brings us back, makes us belong.
A contemporary theologian has described mercy as “entering into the chaos of another.” Christmas is really a celebration of the mercy of God who entered the chaos of our world in the person of Jesus, mercy incarnate. I have never found it easy to be with people who suffer, to enter into the chaos of others. Yet, every time I have done so, it has been a gift to me, better than the wrapped and ribboned packages. I am pulled out of myself to be love’s presence to someone else, even as they are love’s presence to me.
I will never satisfactorily answer the question “Why?” because no matter what response I give, it will always fall short. What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily

Monday, December 24, 2012

Pay attention or you'll never learn the story of Christmas

I don’t know how many of you read the comic strip, Family Circus, but I’m a fan. A few years ago, there was a great Christmas scene. In it, the young girl, Dolly, was sharing with her two young brothers the story of Christmas.  Here is how she recounted it, “Mary and Joseph were camping out under a star in the East…It was a Silent Night in Bethlehem until the angels began to sing…then Santa brought Baby Jesus in his sleight and laid Him in a manger… Chestnuts were roasting by an open fire and not a creature was stirring…so the Grinch stole some swaddling clothes from the Scrooge – who was one of the three wise men riding on eight tiny reindeer.”  And then Dolly says to her brother, “Pay attention, Jeffy, or you’ll never learn the story of Christmas!”

Although Dolly got the details a bit mixed up, she’s right – if we don’t pay attention we might just miss the real story of Christmas.   Certain media outlets at this time always like to talk about the War on Christmas.  Their coverage usually focuses on things like towns who no longer place a nativity on the public square or stores that won’t allow their employees to say “Merry Christmas” choosing something more generic like “Happy Holidays.”  And, although this perceived War on Christmas itself has become somewhat of a tradition, for me, ultimately it is a distraction. 

I think the real war on Christmas has less to do with public greetings and more to do with the ways in which we lose our focus and become more attentive to the worldly and materialistic details of this day – parties, presents, food and drink. I read a poll in the newspaper yesterday that said for 53% of people, there is no religious dimension to their celebration of Christmas.  They won’t go to church or services and Christ isn’t really a part of this day for them. But, just as Dolly warned, it can become to easy for us to miss the point of what we celebrate today.  Our Savior didn’t enter our world hidden under the form of a precious, innocent, helpless little child so that we could be a people of excess. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but this year feels like a different Christmas to me.  In the wake of what happened in Newtown just over a week ago, we’ve been reminded once again what Christmas is really about – it is about the preciousness of that little child; it is about a child who breaks into the darkness of our world and reminds us that we can be different; that we can be better; that we can be holy.  It’s about a God who wants to be near us in our sorrows and tragedies; who wants to lift us up to better possibilities. It’s about a God who loves us so much that He becomes one of us in the most tender and precious form possible – a little baby in that quiet manger on a silent night in that little town of Bethlehem.  This might be the first true Christmas we’ve celebrated in a long time – so completely focused on the preciousness of the Christ Child and what His entrance into our world means for each of us.

Children have such a wonderful power to shape the beauty of this holy day.  Perhaps most famously, in 1897, a young Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the New York Sun: “Dear Editor, I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?”

We all know the heart of the response, “Yes, Virginia there is a Santa Claus,” but let me share the rest of what Editor Francis Church wrote:  “Virginia, he wrote, “your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see….Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The external light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

“Not believe in Santa Claus! You might get your papa to have men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see…Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. No Santa Claus! Thank God he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

My brothers and sisters, we find ourselves tonight in a world desperately in need of belief in God, belief in Christ, belief in peace, belief in the power to heal, forgive, reconcile, and transform our world; desperately in need of the true story and meaning of Christmas.  We find ourselves in a world like that of 1897, “affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see.” Our world acts as though there is no Jesus. But, we, you and I, here tonight, can change that.  Just as Virginia asked the question at the heart of the matter, we too must ask in our hearts, “Tell me, is there a Jesus who can heal and save us, who can bring peace, love and joy to our world?”  And we must answer, like Mr. Church, “Yes, good people, there is a Jesus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Christ!” We live in a world that needs the true story of Christmas more now than ever before.

My brothers and sisters, O come, let us adore Him!  Let us be renewed by God’s love for us!  Let us open our hearts to this this precious, beautiful little Child who has come to be with us, to comfort us, to lead us, save us!  Let us be the truth of Christmas in our world.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

O come, O come, Santa Claus?!


Long ago, a wise and good king ruled in Persia. He loved his people and wanted to know how they lived – especially in their hardships. So he dressed himself in regular clothes and went to the homes of the poor. No one he visited suspected that he was, in reality, the king. One of them was a very poor man who lived in a cellar. The king spent time with him, talked with him, listened to him, ate his meager food with him and cheered him up before leaving. Later he visited the poor man again and disclosed his true identity. The king expected the man to ask for some gift or favor, but he didn’t. Instead he said in wonder, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark, dreary place. You ate the meager food I ate. You brought gladness to my heart! To others you may have given rich gifts. But to me you have given yourself!”

My brothers and sisters, beginning tomorrow night we will celebrate something very similar.  Christmas celebrates that the King of kings left His divine glory and came to our dreary world to share with us our poverty, our struggles and challenges. Like our story, Jesus didn’t just come to give us a gift or a favor, He came and gave us Himself.  

This has been the challenge of this entire Advent season, a challenge made ever more urgent as Advent comes to a close – who’s arrival are we preparing for?  When we think about it, there’s a choice, and most people are preparing for the arrival of one of two people. Are we preparing for the arrival of Jesus?  Or are we preparing for the arrival of Santa Claus?  We’ve all seen the bumper stickers and pins that say, “Jesus is the Reason for the Season,” or “Keep Christ in Christmas.”  We all know the challenge of the busyness of this time of year.  I’m sure that the malls and the roads will be crazy today.  I’m sure that people will be scurrying around picking up those last minute presents (I’ll be among them actually).  And as much fun as all of that is, Advent reminds us that we are preparing for something so much bigger, so awesome, so much more monumental than presents and Santa Claus.  So, who’s arrival are we preparing for?

We can learn something important by looking at some key differences between Jesus and Santa.  What does each of them do?  Tradition tells us that Santa Claus rides in an open sleigh giving gifts to children who have been good – so be good for goodness sake.  Santa leaves the gifts under the Christmas tree, perhaps enjoys some cookies and milk and then disappears until next year.

Jesus, however, does something very different.  Jesus does not leave a gift and disappear.  Instead, Jesus is the gift.  Jesus comes to live with us. He comes to share our human condition. His very presence is the gift. And, as the poor man in our story knows, being with the king is far more satisfying than merely receiving a gift from the king.  Most importantly, Jesus does not disappear not to be seen again for another year.  Jesus gives us all of Himself and gives us His real presence in our lives forever at each and every Eucharist.  Talk about the gift that keeps on giving!

So, who’s arrival are you ready for?  Preparing for Santa is a very hurried preparation, one that involves lots of activity, lots of rushing around, lots of hustle and bustle.  Preparing for Jesus is much more internal, much more prayerful, much more transformative.  The King of kings wants to visit our households, wants to visit our families, our friends, our lives.  Will we welcome Him?  Will we have the time or the quiet space to welcome Him into our homes and into our hearts? With the hours remaining, how will we prepare for His arrival?

Today we are just like the poor man in our story. Like him, our hearts should be full of joy, not in the extra gift the king will give us but in the fact that the king has come to be with us, to become one of us. Let us prepare well so that we can exclaim with the poor man, “To others you may have given rich gifts. But to me you have given yourself!”  Come, Lord Jesus.

May the Lord give you peace.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Bishops Call For Action In Response To Newtown Tragedy

USCCB Logo  

WASHINGTON—In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the chairmen of three committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued a joint statement to decry violence in society. The bishops repeated the call from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of USCCB, who expressed on the day of the horrible tragedy, deepest sorrow for all the victims and a call to work for peace in our homes, streets and world. They called on all Americans, especially legislators, to address national policies that will strengthen regulations of firearms and improve access to health care for those with mental health needs.
"As Catholic Bishops, we join together with the President of our Conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who on the day of the horrible tragedy expressed his profound solidarity with and prayers for the families, friends, neighbors, and communities whose hearts have been rent by the loss of a child or loved one," said Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
The bishops are chairmen of the USCCB's Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development; Committee on Communications; and the Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life and Youth, respectively. "Sacred Scripture reminds us time and again to 'be not afraid.' Indeed, we must find within ourselves the faith-filled courage to address the challenges our nation faces, both in our homes and in our national policies," they said.
They also addressed the need for healthcare policies that provide support to people with mental health needs, and called on the entertainment industry to address the proliferation of violence and evaluate its impact in society.
Full text of the statement follows:
Call for Action in Response to Newtown Tragedy
Bishop Stephen E. Blaire of Stockton, Bishop John C. Wester of Salt Lake City, and Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend
December 21, 2012
The Lord Jesus Christ, in his Sermon on the Mount, teaches us, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted," and "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God" (Mt 5:4, 9).
In the face of the horrific evil that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012, as people of faith we first and foremost turn to God and pray. We pray for those whose lives were robbed from them. As Catholic Bishops, we join together with the President of our Conference, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who on the day of the horrible tragedy expressed his profound solidarity with and prayers for the families, friends, neighbors, and communities whose hearts have been rent by the loss of a child or loved one. No words can capture your suffering. We look to Christ, his words and deeds, and ultimately to his Cross and Resurrection. It is in Jesus that we place our hope.
The Sandy Hook tragedy has caused great anguish for parents and others who attempt to safeguard our children. In addition to the outpouring of prayers and support from around the nation, understandably this tragedy has given rise to discussions about national policies and steps that can be taken to foster a culture that protects the innocent and those most vulnerable among us. It is time for our nation to renew a culture of life in our society.
Sacred Scripture reminds us time and again to "be not afraid." Indeed, we must find within ourselves the faith-filled courage to address the challenges our nation faces, both in our homes and in our national policies. These challenges encompass many areas with various complexities. Here, we offer particular words regarding the issue of the regulation of fire arms, the standards for the entertainment industry, and our service to those with mental health needs.As religious leaders, we are compelled to call on all Americans, especially elected leaders, to address these issues.
With regard to the regulation of fire arms, first, the intent to protect one's loved ones is an honorable one, but simply put, guns are too easily accessible. The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in their document, "The International Arms Trade (2006)," emphasized the importance of enacting concrete controls on handguns, for example, noting that "limiting the purchase of such arms would certainly not infringe on the rights of anyone."
Secondly, our entertainers, especially film producers and video game creators, need to realize how their profit motives have allowed the proliferation of movies, television programs, video games and other entertainment that glorify violence and prey on the insecurities and immaturity of our young people. Such portrayals of violence have desensitized all of us. The massacre of twenty little children and seven adults causes each of us to reflect on our own understanding of the value of human life. We must improve our resources for parents, guardians and young people, so that they can evaluate entertainment products intelligently. We need to admit that the viewing and use of these products has negative emotional, psychological and spiritual effects on people.
We must also reflect on our own fears as we grapple with our prejudices toward those with mental health needs. Our society must provide health services and support to those who have mental illnesses and to their families and caregivers. As a community we need to support one another so no one feels unable to get help for a mentally ill family member or neighbor in need. Burdensome healthcare policies must be adjusted so people can get help for themselves or others in need. Just as we properly reach out to those with physical challenges we need to approach mental health concerns with equal sensitivity. There is no shame in seeking help for oneself or others; the only shame is in refusing to provide care and support.
The events in Newtown call us to turn to our Lord in prayer and to witness more profoundly Christ's perfect love, mercy and compassion. We must confront violence with love.
There are glimmers of hope in this tragedy. Many people, including some of the victims, made extraordinary efforts to protect life. In particular, the teachers, the principal, the children, the first responders and other leaders showed tremendous courage during the tragedy. Some sacrificed their own lives protecting others.
In their memory and for the sake of our nation, we reiterate our call made in 2000, in our statement, Responsibility, Rehabilitation and Restoration: A Catholic Perspective on Crime and Criminal Justice, for all Americans, especially legislators, to:
1.Support measures that control the sale and use of firearms
2.Support measures that make guns safer (especially efforts that prevent their unsupervised use by children and anyone other than the owner)
3.Call for sensible regulations of handguns
4.Support legislative efforts that seek to protect society from the violence associated with easy access to deadly weapons including assault weapons
5.Make a serious commitment to confront the pervasive role of addiction and mental illness in crime.
As we long for the arrival of the Prince of Peace in this Advent and Christmas season, we call on all people of goodwill to help bring about a culture of life and peace.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The end is near - AGAIN!


Two priests were fishing on the side of the road one day. They thoughtfully made a sign saying, “The End is Near! Turn around now before it’s too late!” and showed it to each passing car.  One driver who drove by didn’t appreciate the sign and shouted at them, “Leave us alone, you religious nuts!”  The car sped by and then all of a sudden they heard a big splash.  They looked at each other and the one holding the sign said, “Maybe we should just write ‘Bridge Out’?”

Given that the world is ending tomorrow – at least according to the Mayans – I figured that was a good joke to start with.

The end is near.  This is a strange thing in our culture.  I think in my own lifetime how many times the end has been near.  My first recollection is when I was in high school in the 1980s and Haley’s Comet passed by which it only does every 75 years, there were those who thought the world was ending; of course at the turn of the millennium we had our Y2K scare with the same predictions; then just last year there was that guy out in California who predicted the world was ending Oct. 21, 2011 – maybe you saw the billboards and here we are again with impending doom.  Now it is already December 21st in other parts of the world and I haven’t seen any news items of destruction yet.  I suspect we’ll all still be here tomorrow and the next day.

But, the end is near.  The end of Advent.  Just a few days now until we celebrate Christmas.  And believe it or not, there is an apocalyptic dimension to what we celebrate.  We are all very good at the part of this season that asks us to look backwards – we look back to Christ’s birth 2,000 years ago and what that meant for the world – and rightly so.

But, this is a dual-natured season, one that looks backwards and one that looks forwards.  As we recall Christ’s first coming, we’re also called to look forward to His second coming; to His return.  We even pray it in the First Advent Preface, “When He comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which we now dare to hope.”

Notice that word at the end – hope.  The end is coming.  When?  Who knows.  And as a follower of Jesus we can also say, who cares?!  The end for us doesn’t bring destruction and death and calamity. The end for the believer brings the great promise in which we dare to hope.  The promise of a world made new; glorified in the perfection that only Christ can bring it.  The end is not a sad conclusion; it is a Grand Finale that leads to something greater, something better.

The birth of Christ 2,000 years ago told us something important – our God loves us and wants to be near to us.  Our God dwells with us and holds us close in our joys and in our sorrows; in our tragedies and in our triumphs and He came to show us the way. It is a way that if we dare to follow it will lead us all to the most glorious reality anyone could ever imagine.

And that’s where we find ourselves right in between the Christ who came and the Christ who is to come and we are being asked once again: Will you let that little child be born once again in you?  Will you welcome Him as did Mary and Joseph in the manger?  Will you follow Him so that He might lead you to Paradise?
My friends, the end is near…or not.  But we stand here together, united, in the presence of a God who loves and nurtures us and always wants to lead us closer to Him.

Merry Christmas and may the Lord give you peace.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Don't tell me it's not about guns

I know some people are saying this is a time for grieving and mourning and not the time to be discussing gun controls.  I respectfully disagree.  This is most definitely a time for grieving and mourning, but if this moment can be the catalyst for change to increase the safety in our world; especially of our children; then we would be fools for missing this chance. This tragedy is not about guns alone. I'm sure in the days, weeks and months ahead we'll see it for what most things are - very complex issues and situations.  But, to say this is not about guns is just naive.  This is most definitely about guns and a gun culture that is out of control.

Also understand that this isn't an attack on the Second Amendment.  This isn't a call to get rid of all guns or to take away someone's right to self-defense. This is simply a call to be reasonable. Certainly there can be such a thing as too much.  Let's make some reasonable change for the good of all.

A few facts to think about:

  • In the United States, 31,224 people die from gun violence each year and 66,768 other people are injured by guns yet survive. [Compare that to England (39); Canada (200); Finland (17); Australia (35); Spain (60); Germany (194)] 
  • A gun in the home increases the chance of being killed by a firearm 72%
  • A gun in the home is responsible for a vast majority of children killed by firearms
  • A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a suicide, homicide or accident than to be used in self-defense
  • A gun in the home triples the risk of homicide
  • A gun in the home increases the likelihood of suicide five fold
  • An abused woman is 6 times more likely to be murdered if there is a gun in the home
A final thought for those who think that the solution is more guns:
  • Columbine had two armed guards
  • Virginia Tech had its own police department
  • In 2009, at Fort Hood, the shooter walked into a heavily armed and weaponized military base with armed and trained soldiers everywhere.  They did not stop him from killing 13 and wounding another 24.  More guns are not the answer.
This is a simple post to say that now is the time and simply let's be reasonable in finding solutions.  Let's not let this moment pass without effecting real change for our future.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Do We Have the Courage to Stop This?

NOTE: This is what I think is a very balanced look at the gun problem.  The debate isn't all or nothing when it comes to guns. The debate is this: can we be reasonable?  - FT

Published: December 15, 2012
Children ages 5 to 14 in America are 13 times as likely to be murdered with guns as children in other industrialized countries, according to David Hemenway, a public health specialist at Harvard who has written an excellent book on gun violence.
So let’s treat firearms rationally as the center of a public health crisis that claims one life every 20 minutes. The United States realistically isn’t going to ban guns, but we can take steps to reduce the carnage.
American schoolchildren are protected by building codes that govern stairways and windows. School buses must meet safety standards, and the bus drivers have to pass tests. Cafeteria food is regulated for safety. The only things we seem lax about are the things most likely to kill.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has five pages of regulations about ladders, while federal authorities shrug at serious curbs on firearms. Ladders kill around 300 Americans a year, and guns 30,000.
We even regulate toy guns, by requiring orange tips — but lawmakers don’t have the gumption to stand up to National Rifle Association extremists and regulate real guns as carefully as we do toys. What do we make of the contrast between heroic teachers who stand up to a gunman and craven, feckless politicians who won’t stand up to the N.R.A.?
As one of my Facebook followers wrote after I posted about the shooting, “It is more difficult to adopt a pet than it is to buy a gun.”
Look, I grew up on an Oregon farm where guns were a part of life; and my dad gave me a .22 rifle for my 12th birthday. I understand: shooting is fun! But so is driving, and we accept that we must wear seat belts, use headlights at night, and fill out forms to buy a car. Why can’t we be equally adult about regulating guns?
And don’t say that it won’t make a difference because crazies will always be able to get a gun. We’re not going to eliminate gun deaths, any more than we have eliminated auto accidents. But if we could reduce gun deaths by one-third, that would be 10,000 lives saved annually.
Likewise, don’t bother with the argument that if more people carried guns, they would deter shooters or interrupt them. Mass shooters typically kill themselves or are promptly caught, so it’s hard to see what deterrence would be added by having more people pack heat. There have been few if any cases in the United States in which an ordinary citizen with a gun stopped a mass shooting.
The tragedy isn’t one school shooting, it’s the unceasing toll across our country. More Americans die in gun homicides and suicides in six months than have died in the last 25 years in every terrorist attack and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.
So what can we do? A starting point would be to limit gun purchases to one a month, to curb gun traffickers. Likewise, we should restrict the sale of high-capacity magazines so that a shooter can’t kill as many people without reloading.
We should impose a universal background check for gun buyers, even with private sales. Let’s make serial numbers more difficult to erase, and back California in its effort to require that new handguns imprint a microstamp on each shell so that it can be traced back to a particular gun.
“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years,” President Obama noted in a tearful statement on television. He’s right, but the solution isn’t just to mourn the victims — it’s to change our policies. Let’s see leadership on this issue, not just moving speeches.
Other countries offer a road map. In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands.
The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings.
In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.
Or we can look north to Canada. It now requires a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun, and it imposes a clever safeguard: gun buyers should have the support of two people vouching for them.
For that matter, we can look for inspiration at our own history on auto safety. As with guns, some auto deaths are caused by people who break laws or behave irresponsibly. But we don’t shrug and say, “Cars don’t kill people, drunks do.”
Instead, we have required seat belts, air bags, child seats and crash safety standards. We have introduced limited licenses for young drivers and tried to curb the use of mobile phones while driving. All this has reduced America’s traffic fatality rate per mile driven by nearly 90 percent since the 1950s.
Some of you are alive today because of those auto safety regulations. And if we don’t treat guns in the same serious way, some of you and some of your children will die because of our failure.
I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Hope in the midst of tragedy


Like you, I come to Church today with a heavy heart.  A heart that is trying to make sense of the tragedy that took place in Newtown on Friday.  In one of my prior assignments, I was stationed just two towns over from Newtown in a parish in New Milford, CT.  These types of tragedies always confound us; always challenge our minds and our hearts; but somehow it seems even more difficult when it happens so close to home.  In the past when we’ve heard of these kinds of things they have been further away – out in the Midwest, somewhere in the South.  Not in our picturesque and peaceful New England. These things are not supposed to happen here.  And yet, here we are today.

What are we to make of all of this?  Some people say things like, “We don’t understand it but it is part of God’s plan” or “God needed another angel” or some other attempt to find an understanding or something that makes sense.  But, I think step one for us has got to be to acknowledge that it doesn’t make sense.  That God didn’t do this; that there wasn’t just a need for another angel or saint or some other story.  Instead, it is the most difficult reality of our lives on earth – that sometimes horrible things happen and they leave us confounded and confused.  Sometimes evil breaks into our otherwise peaceful existence and we are rocked by it.

But, that doesn’t mean that we just have to accept that reality.  Instead, I think that as always God does speak to us in these most challenging of moments.  God is not the author of these tragedies; He doesn’t plan them or condone them.  In fact, they are the exact opposite of Him. God, as St. John tells us, is love itself.  Anything so that is not of love, is not of God.  This act was not of God. 

So, where was God in all of this?  We heard it in our first reading from Zephaniah, “The LORD, your God, is in your midst.”  Evil spoke for a moment on Friday; a horrible moment.  But in the moment-upon-moments since, God has been speaking, present in the police and other workers who ran to the scene.  In the teachers and other staff at the school for whom even the word “hero” doesn’t seem quite adequate to explain what they did; protecting their children, some in even the most extreme way possible.  God has been present in the overwhelming love of parents rushing to the school and taking their children home; in the community that has already gathered and will continue in the days, weeks and months ahead together – holding each other, crying together, comforting one another, helping them get through.

Certainly one of the things that many have said is how this is an added tragedy being so close to Christmas.  That it will be difficult not to associate this time of year with what happened.  And that is true.  The singing of happy songs; the laughter around the dinner table; the ripping open of presents will be muted; perhaps for quite some time.  But, I think that this moment also brings to mind what Christmas is really about.  It’s not about those superficial – even if joyful – things, as much as we love them.  Christmas is about what we celebrate all through Advent leading up to Christmas day; as we heard from Zephaniah.  It is about a God who is in our midst.  Christmas is all about Emmanuel – a name which we hear over and over again means “God is with us”.

What we celebrate in just over a week is the incredible reality that in the darkness; in the struggle and pain that life sometimes brings; in our challenges and in our sorrows – our God chose not to remain distant from us, but that He came into our midst; that He entered our world as one of us; that He came to comfort us; hold us; cry with us; laugh with us; and to be with us in every way possible.  The famous dramatist Paul Claudel said it this way, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

This is the hope of Advent.  This is the hope of Christmas.  The darkness is never the end of our story; death never wins the day.  Tragedy is not our curtain call.  For the believer in Jesus Christ, there is always another chapter; one that begins with the Word becoming Flesh.  One that ends with a Savior who conquers even death itself; who even in the midst of the most horrible things we can imagine brings life right out of the grip of death.  In the shock of this moment; in the newness of the pain we feel, it may be hard to see that today; but in faith, in our hearts we must believe it.  This is not only the hope of Advent and Christmas; but it is the hope of Newtown and of this town. It must be the hope that dawns in our hearts.  Jesus wants to fill this moment with His presence.

So, if someone asks, where was God in all of this, you can answer: Evil spoke for a moment; and God has been speaking since – speaking words of love, and comfort and care and hope. Our God is not far away and distant from us, but He is Emmanuel, He is with us; He is here holding us in His arms and comforting us with His words and with His sacraments – His abiding presence in our midst.    

Our God has welcomed 26 new saints into the glory of Heaven.  We pray for them today.  And our God seeks to remind us once again that He is right here in our midst; in our hearts; in our world – reminding us that as we welcome Him with hearts full of grief, we also welcome Him with hearts full of hope in His Son.

May God give birth in our hearts to a renewed sense of hope this Christmas; may He help us to become more and more a world of peace, safety and joy.  May all those holy innocents who are now saints in Heaven, rest in peace. And may all those who grieve their loss be comforted by a God who wants to fill their pain and struggle with His loving presence. “The LORD, your God, is in your midst.”

May the Lord give each of us His peace.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Words fail us: Priests respond to the new Missal a year later

NOTE: We've been praying the new Mass for a year now. What are your thoughts? Good? Bad? Much ado about nothing? Love to hear from you on this. - FT

By Scott Alessi| 

The new missal has made priests watch their language, but after one year most say the meaning of the Mass is getting lost in translation.
There was plenty of chatter in the pews when the new Roman Missal landed in parishes last November, as Catholics fretted about the at times awkward or confusing responses that would replace their old familiar prayers. But the challenges parishioners faced in adapting to the new translations were nothing compared to what was in store for the men on the other side of the altar.
And judging by their responses to a U.S. Catholic reader survey on the new missal, priests are still struggling with the changes one year later. “I still find it very difficult to say the prayers and, because of the stumbling, Mass is less prayerful,” says Father Adrian Fischer of Monroe, Louisiana. “I would go back to the other translation in a minute.”
Fischer is not alone. His feelings are shared by many of the more than 1,200 priests who responded to our survey, designed specifically to gauge how the clergy have handled the transition. Most seemed to relish the opportunity to speak openly—or in some cases, vent their frustration—about the new translations, though nearly half requested that they remain anonymous in doing so. More than a handful even said they would fear for their jobs if their name were to be printed alongside their true feelings on the missal.
“Most priests have just obeyed and did not say what they really thought since they were never consulted beforehand,” says Holy Cross Father Thomas Shea. He touches on a complaint identified by numerous respondents: the fact that priests and the laity weren’t asked for their opinion at any point in the process. “No one asked the presbyterate’s input on the new translations,” says Father Jerome Katz of Syracuse, New York. “Once again decisions came from the top down—no dialogue, no conversation.”
Among the priests who responded, 58 percent indicated that they still dislike the new translations after one year. For priests like Father Charles Shelby of Chicago, having now had 12 months to get accustomed to the new language hasn’t helped. “In the beginning I tried to keep an open mind until I had experience using it,” Shelby says of the new missal. “The more I use it the worse it seems.”
The biggest complaint among priests seems to be that the new missal contains clumsy or confusing wording. Or, as Father Thomas Colgan of Buffalo, New York plainly puts it, “It is lousy English.” Father Bob Cushing agrees, noting that the translators clearly did not have a good grasp on the English language.
“I am an English teacher when I am not a priest and both practices make me deeply discouraged to realize that our language could be so badly abused,” says Cushing, who ministers in Cordele, Georgia. “Vocabulary, syntax, diction, and simple uncompleted sentences are so abundant. It is a tremendously sad experience because the way the bishops publicized this was utterly out of touch with the reality that they foisted upon us priests.”
Clerics like Father Arthur B. Schute of Port Charlotte, Florida point out that the language of the translations is less meaningful for many Catholics. “Theological words are used that make no sense to God’s people,” he says. “Making these translations closer to the original Latin has made them too aloof, flowery, and unintelligible.”
In many cases priests find the same flaws that have elicited complaints from the pews. “Christ used a cup and not a chalice. Christ died for all and not for many,” says Msgr. Robert M. Diachek of Chester, New Jersey. “There seems to be a contradiction in theology here.”
Of all the words or phrases that priests criticize in the new translations—incarnate, oblation, and dewfall, to name a few—the one word they cite the most as one they’d strike is consubstantial. “ ‘One in being with the Father’ and ‘consubstantial with the Father’ mean the same thing. Why use jargon?” asks Vincentian Father Jim Beighlie of House Springs, Missouri. “I’m trained in biblical studies and have never used the word pericope with parishioners.”
Not all the reviews, of course, are quite so negative. Sixteen percent of priests surveyed say that the new translations have had a positive impact on their prayerfulness during Mass and some have even praised the new wording.
“A more accurate and more interesting translation of the missal with richer vocabulary was long overdue,” says Norbertine Father William Fitzgerald of Orange, California. “To be honest, I felt held in bondage to a flawed, inaccurate, boring, and prosaic text since I was ordained in 1979.”
Vincentian Father Milton Fleming Ryan of Perryville, Missouri says that he was “overwhelmed with emotion” by the words of the second variation of the new Eucharistic prayer. “The beauty and simplicity of the texts touched my heart,” he says.
Several clergy, like Father Ken Bartsch of Mount St. Francis, Indiana, remarked that the change has made them focus more on the prayers of the Mass. “I pay more attention to the words and try to pronounce them distinctly,” Bartsch says. “I have come to believe my prayer is in paying close attention to the printed words.”
Regardless of their own views on the new missal, many priests worry about how the translations have affected the people in the pews. For some, like Father Bruce Fogle of Earlington, Kentucky, the transition has been smooth. “My parishioners loved the new translations and remarked at the beginning how much richer and more prayerful the new translations were,” says Fogle.
In Reynoldsburg, Ohio Msgr. David Funk has had a different experience. “This has been totally unnecessary and detrimental to the prayer life of my parish,” he says, adding that parishioners still ask why the changes had to be made. Father William Elliot of San Diego reports that his parishioners have felt a sense of helplessness about the new translations. “They feel it has been imposed on them and they can’t do anything about it,” he says.
Carmelite Father Leopold Glueckert of Washington worries about the implications that such reactions will have for the church. “With the obvious disorder and turmoil in church leadership we don’t need another thing to drive people away,” Glueckert says. “Let’s use prayerful language that people can adopt and make their own.”
Several respondents agree that a different approach is needed. “We should start over and write English texts for U.S. Catholics to use,” argues Jesuit Father Joseph Appleyard of Boston. “U.S. bishops should approve them without meddling from elsewhere, and then they should encourage presiders to adapt them to the needs of congregations.”
Father Robert G. Tamminga of Tucson, Arizona also feels the church should go back to the drawing board on the translations. “But this time,” he says, “listen to and implement the intelligent and urgent criticisms of tens of thousands of laypeople, linguists, scripture scholars, theologians, and pastors.”
Regardless of who is involved in the process, priests like Jesuit Father Neil Ver’Schneider of Philadelphia argue that the goal should be ensuring that the missal serves the needs of the people. “It makes no sense to be more faithful to the Latin rather than to opt in favor of helping all grow in prayer through the Mass,” he says. “The focus should have been on what will help the people and make them comfortable in celebrating the Eucharist together.”

And the survey says...

1. Which of the following responses best describes your current attitude as a priest toward the new Mass translations:

I dislike the new translations and still can’t believe I’ll have to use them for the foreseeable future. - 58%
I don’t particularly like the new translations, but I’ve come to accept them, and they’re not that big of a deal to me. - 17%
I personally enjoy the new translations as much as, if not more than, the old version. - 9%
I was unsure about it at first, but I’ve grown accustomed to the new translations. - 4%
Other - 12%
Representative of “other”:
“Some parts I like more, some parts I like less. But overall it has been much ado about nothing.”

2. If it were an option, I would still use the old translation of the Roman Missal when presiding at Mass.

Agree - 76%
Disagree - 16%
Other - 8%
Representative of “other”:
“There are certainly defects in the older translation; perhaps the best option would be a choice of combining parts of each version.”

3. Sometimes I still slip up during Mass and find myself using the old translations when I’m presiding.

Agree - 84%
Disagree - 10%
Other - 6%

4. The new translations have had a positive effect on my own prayerfulness during Mass.

Agree - 16%
Disagree - 75%
Other - 9%

5. My parishioners have pretty much stopped remarking on the new translations.

Agree - 49%
Disagree - 36%
Other - 15%
Representative of “other”:
“They have just surrendered and recognize that no matter how they feel about it they will not be listened to.”

6. Members of my parish have told me they were leaving to worship in other churches over the changes in the Mass.

Agree - 10%
Disagree - 74%
Other - 16%
Representative of “other”:
“None have specifically said it, but I feel the new texts have contributed to more infrequent Mass attendance. ”

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...