Memorare to St. Joseph

Daily prayer for the Synod on the Family:

Remember, O most chaste spouse of the Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who implored your help and sought your intercession were left unassisted. Full of confidence in your power I fly unto you and beg your protection. Despise not O Guardian of the Redeemer my humble supplication, but in your bounty, hear and answer me.
Amen.

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My Most Negative Reaction to a Homily Ever . . .

Is Clericalism Dead?

By Fr. William Moser:

On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of a priest of my diocese, I experienced the strongest and most negative reaction to a homily I can ever remember. I have heard lots of homilies, and lots of homilies that produced discomfort of one sort or another. So, what did this homilist say that caused me such concern? The priest-homilist had just deplored the evils of clericalism. Well, very good, you might think. O yes, very good, but not only did he fail to identify the true faults of clericalism – which, I admit, is a common problem – he announced that clericalism is virtually dead, a thing of the past by saying, and I will never forget this: “Thank God those days are over.”

My friends, those days are not over – far from it – if they will ever be over. This priest’s statement is grossly naïve at best and completely shallow at worst. I think, in fact, clericalism is far worse today than ever before. Therefore, I hope to help in an understanding of the nature of true clericalism and what is the only way to avoid it.

Clericalism is far from dead. Clericalism will probably be around as long as there are men and women. I say men and women deliberately because clericalism is not solely a fault among priests. It is a pervasive problem that affects priests, religious, and the lay faithful.

Clericalism

Is Clericalism Dead? by Fr. William Moser

 

 

So, What is Clericalism?

Clericalism means using one’s priestly office for some worldly advantage. It means being more concerned with the perks that come with the priestly state of life than being concerned with the responsibilities to be fulfilled. For instance, a priest or bishop who enjoys his title and vesture more than he likes to hear confessions or give counsel to the faithful is most certainly prone to clericalism.

This vice of clericalism is more commonly seen in a priest or bishop who fails to preach the full magisterium of the Church so as not to lose the good opinion of the people to whom he speaks. Jesus’ example is the cure. Jesus forthrightly faced the displeasure of His townsmen rather than hold back on the truth He preached. He faced the death of the cross in order to witness to the truth. A clericalist would have “prudently” avoided that calamity.

 

5 Ways the Laity Encourages Clericalism

Clericalism may seem to predominate among priests, but I think when one looks at things more carefully, it is far more common among the laity than it should be. Lay people even encourage clericalism. This can be seen in the easy applause and affirmation for the priest who tickles our ears and the disdain shown for the priest who faithfully preaches the truth. Lay people encourage this fault of clericalism when they threaten to withhold money or talent or their presence if certain things are said or not said from the pulpit; when they commend the priest who presents bad doctrine or who recommends bad or loose pastoral practices like giving holy communion to people who are living in sinful situations that are gravely wrong or scandalous.

Clericalists, be they lay people, religious, or priests, encourage those who defiantly place themselves above the divinely instituted and solemn authority of the Church Christ founded.

Clericalism is not dead; it has just been given new names and new forms. Clericalism makes itself appear, by dressing down, to be less so. But it only seems so, and is always false. For example, a priest who dresses down, that is, dresses in a layman’s outfit, is not necessarily less clerical than the priest who wears his clerical garb; he may even be more clerical. If he is known to be a priest but fails to live up to his priestly vocation and keeps the perks of his office, he is definitely a clericalist. If he abuses his priestly office with a lifestyle that is lavish or scandalous, he is definitely a clericalist.

A clerical priest is one who, whether in clerics or not, uses his position to maintain a comfortable lifestyle while avoiding his duties which often make him uncomfortable. Worse, he is always a priest who seeks the applause of the world and tickles the ears of the congregation. All the while he is not concerned about the faith of his congregation dying.

 

What is the Most Common Form of Clericalism among Priests?

Failing to preach the truth. Priests who avoid preaching the hard truths because they displease their parishioner are giving into clericalism.

 

What is the cure for clericalism? Jesus! Jesus never played to His audience. Jesus was always priestly. Jesus was willing to offer the sacrifice of the Holy Cross rather than give in to the demands of the crowd. Therefore, a priest who follows Jesus’ example is always willing to sacrifice himself rather than sacrifice the faithful for himself; that is, a true priest tells the truth and lives the truth and is not afraid to wear the sign of his state in life – whether cassock or clerical suit – in order, always and everywhere, to be available to people and to promote the truth.

So, really, being “anti-clerical” means being priestly because being priestly means being self-sacrificing, which is everything a clericalist is not.

Those who believe clericalism is dead because priests don’t dress up or who play to their audience haven’t really considered things too deeply. Clericalism will be alive as long as we have to battle wounded human nature, and, that my friends, will be with us until the end of time. The antidote to the dreadful illness of clericalism is the imitation of Jesus Christ, the eternal high priest.

Abandoned: The Spiritual Works of Mercy

by Msgr. Charles Pope: 

So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (Jn 6:24-27).

John chapter six calls us to recover a greater awareness of the importance of the spiritual works of mercy. I will list what they are in a moment, but for now consider that despite living in rather secular times, the corporal works of mercy are still widely appreciated and accepted as both necessary and virtuous. There is little dispute today that we should feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, or bury the dead (the seven corporal works of mercy).

There are at times disputes about how this should best be accomplished, whether by large government, private charities, and/or personal works.  There is also disagreement about how exactly each work should be understood. For example, some think that taking care of the dying can include euthanasia. And we have recently discussed on the blog some odd practices related to burying the (cremated) dead.

However the overall point remains: I cannot think of a single individual I know of, religious or not, who thinks that the corporal works of mercy can or should be neglected if within our power to accomplish. This is a great tribute to Christian culture and one of the few of its pillars that remain in the post-Christian West.

But it is a different matter today with the spiritual works of mercy. Even in the Church they are seldom mentioned. Very few even reasonably catechized Catholics could list all seven of them and many might not even be able to come up with more than one or two.   For the record, the spiritual works of mercy are these:

  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for the living and the dead

Comfort the Sorrowful: A Spiritual Work of Mercy

Here is a great gap in the thinking of many. We tend to reduce charity to caring for people’s bodies, forgetting the needs of their souls. Indeed this oversight often proves self-defeating, since many of the corporal works of mercy become necessary because of defects of the soul. Some (not all) are imprisoned, poor, hungry, thirsty, naked, and so forth as a result of deep spiritual issues in their lives or in the wider culture. Yet so easily we overlook these spiritual issues.

One might excuse the secular, materialistic world for this oversight, but for us who are believers there’s really no excuse. Sadly, we often consider that our care for the poor has been accomplished by having provided clothing, shelter, or food. It is astonishing that we almost never even ask them to come to church or to listen to a sermon. In the old days at the old gospel mission downtown, or the Salvation Army soup kitchen, or the Catholic cafeteria and shelter, the poor who filed in were often expected to listen to a sermon, receive some Christian instruction, and surely to pray before the distribution of the meal or before bed at the shelter. This is rarely true today and most Catholic outreaches to the poor are almost indistinguishable from those of the government or nonbelievers. I pray you know of exceptions and will inform me of them, but the general pattern is very secular and corporal in its focus.

Do the poor not have souls, which also need care? Do they never need encouragement and instruction or rebuke and correction? Why is this so seldom included in our outreach to the poor? It is difficult to say, but we seem to have taken to imitating the practices of government agencies rather than our own tradition.

We think we are done when we have handed out the Christmas baskets. But where will most of the poor, whom we have blessed with this food and these toys, be going to church for the Christmas feast?  Most of them, I can tell you from experience, are not going anywhere; they don’t belong to any church. And this is often part of the problem. Quite simply, many of them are disconnected from the wider community including the Church. Resources in times of crisis and longer-term solutions like jobs and personal reform usually arise from relationships that are healthy and encouraging of virtue, thrift, industry, and other good habits. Being part of the Church community can connect the poor to material resources as well as to people who will help them grow in personal accountability. The fact that so many of the poor are in broken families and live in dysfunctional neighborhoods makes their membership in a (hopefully) healthy church community even more critical.

And yet we who should be part of their lives and should invite them to become part of ours seem content merely to hand them the Christmas basket, say “Merry Christmas,” and go on our way. This is not really so different from what I do for our alley cats as I place food on the back porch. But these are human beings with souls! Where is the invitation? Where is the care for their souls? Where are the spiritual works of mercy that should anchor our corporal works of mercy?

Now of course it is not merely the poor who are in need of the spiritual works of mercy. All of us are blind beggars before God. It is even more important, then, that the spiritual works of mercy be more widely known and actively practiced, since the need for them is universal. Further, though one’s body may suffer for lack of provisions, one’s soul may be lost for all eternity for want of the spiritual works. Hence the need is not only wider but deeper, and eternal in its consequences.

So, what ever happened to the spiritual works of mercy?

This leads us to a critical moment in John 6. Jesus has just fed the multitudes by multiplying the loaves and fishes, a miraculous corporal work of mercy! But of course prior to this he had taught them at great length. Let’s just say that Jesus had them listen to a sermon before the food was distributed, just as in the old days at the Catholic shelter or the gospel mission.

That evening Jesus withdrew and sent the disciples in a boat across the Sea of Galilee. Some in the crowd seemed to like the idea of a free meal wanted still more. Here is where we pick up the story:

So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor his disciples, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (Jn 6:24-27).

In other words, Jesus admonishes them (and us) not to be concerned only about food for the bellybut also food for the soul (i.e., Himself in the Eucharist), which He really wants to give us so that we make it to eternal life. But as you may recall, the people persist in asking for the merely natural, belly-filling bread. “Give us this bread always … like Moses once did,” they cry out. Almost in exasperation Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life!” (John 6:35)

You can see that there is in them a dismissal of the needs of the soul and an emphasis on the needs of the body. The corporal works of mercy are all they seem to care about, less so the spiritual works. They prefer the food that perishes to the food that nourishes unto eternal life.

Thus the Lord admonishes them and us: Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you (John 6:27).

And so the question remains, “What ever happened to the spiritual works of mercy?” Why do we esteem the corporal more than the spiritual works of mercy? How does Jesus’ admonishment apply to you and me, to the Church, and to the world?

Should we practice the corporal works of mercy? Certainly! But we ought not neglect the spiritual works of mercy, as we so often do. If we neglect them, the rebuke of the Lord is on us just as it was on the people at the lakeside.

 

Slight editing.

Priest Defends Suspended Catholic School Teacher

Courageous Priest Note: Patricia Jannuzzi, a Immaculata Catholic High School teacher, was placed on administrative leave for comments supporting biblical Catholic teachings on homosexuality.  Fr. Peter West is defending her against attacks by actress Susan Sarandon.

Dear Ms. Sarandon,

Patricia Jannuzzi’s Facebook post.

I am a Catholic priest who supports Patricia Jannuzzi, the Immaculata Catholic High School teacher who was placed on administrative leave due to the campaign you supported against her. Objectively speaking, she said nothing hateful. She simply responded to a truly disrespectful comment by Dan Savage.

While we stand on opposite sides of the culture war, I admire you for having the courage of your convictions. I wish Bishop Bootkoski had been as resolute as you are in defending authentic marriage between one man and one woman.

You are full-throated in what you believe, while some bishops are half-hearted. You have a backbone. You are not lukewarm. In the Bible, Jesus says “I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. (Rev. 3:16)

You support your friends and don’t mind harming your perceived enemies, as is natural if not exactly Christlike. You have essentially exercised veto power over what will be taught, not only at Immaculata, but at Catholic high schools throughout the country. What happened to Patricia Jannuzzi will create a chilling effect on other teachers who might be inclined to defend Catholic teaching on marriage and chastity in or outside the classroom. Congratulations, what a great thing one post on social media from you can accomplish!

I don’t expect to win your accolades but I want to emulate your courage by declaring my own convictions: Any union between two persons of the same-sex can never be a true marriage in the eyes of God. Jesus affirms God’s plan for marriage saying, “from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female.” (Matthew 19:4)

You will probably misconstrue what I have said here as “hate speech,” but my motive is not to cast aspersions. I simply proclaim what Jesus said: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” (Mark 1:15)

Father Peter West

Vice President For Missions

Human Life International

This is an open letter that was sent by the writer to actress Susan Sarandon.

God’s Great Gift to You: The Priesthood

Unveiled: The Vital Role of the Priesthood

By Fr. Daniel E. Doctor:

Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of two of the most important sacraments; the Holy Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.  For without the Holy Eucharist we would have no priesthood and without the priesthood we would have no Holy Eucharist.

“Jesus Christ is the great High Priest who has passed through the heavens.  Let us hold fast to our profession of faith. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness. But one who was tempted in every way that we are, yet never sinned. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and favor and to find help in the time of need.” These are the words of the Letter to the Hebrews – these are the wo

Priesthood: God’s Gift to You

rds of faith and hope that were preached to these first followers of Christ by their priests.

This Great High Priest Jesus Christ has not left us and His Church alone but has provided for our spiritual well-being with His very self.  Let us hold tightly to this teaching of the Apostles.  Let us profess it with great devotion and love.

St. Paul tells us, “what I received from the Lord I also handed on to you … proclaim the death of the Lord until He comes.”

Our Lord was not a priest because He was begotten eternally of the Father … the Second Person of the Trinity. He was a priest because of the human nature He assumed and then offers on the Cross, as a priestly sacrifice with Himself as both the victim and as the One who offers the sacrifice.  He does this out of love for us and our salvation.

Every priest is an alter Christus  “another Christ” because he has a vertical relationship to Christ in heaven and a horizontal relationship to every person on earth. This then forms the cross of Christ in every priest.  The priest is called by the Holy Spirit and has the responsibility, according to Church Teachings, to teach the Catholic faith.  Not his own beliefs does he teach, but that of Christ, the High Priest as revealed and passed on to us in both Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

The priest is called to govern, to regulate, and to celebrate the sacraments with the same love that Christ instituted them. The priest is called to sanctify not only his own life but the lives of sinners and saints, to make holy all who come to him in their need of the Church’s Sacraments and God’s sanctifying graces.  It is a very true statement that, to the point that others see Christ in His priests, depends on whether His priests act like Christ their Master ….  The reason the priesthood has lost its influence in the world is because in many circumstances we, priests, don’t appear to the world as different from anyone else.  It is in direct proportion in which the priest seeks what the world can give that the priest will become unable to give the world what it really needs most and that is Jesus Christ Himself.

Christ came to serve not to be served.  And, through His priests He has assured that He will be able to do this here on earth until the end of time sanctifying us, teaching us, and governing us as though He had never left.

Just as the Eucharist Lord is pure gift of Himself so too is His priesthood by which the Eucharist remains with us. And what has been true is always true.  God gives holy priests to holy people. So we all play our part in the kind of priests that we will have.

Through our prayers, devotions, penance, reverence, and worship of the Eucharist, by following the teachings of the faith we inspire young men to live their faith and in this way we truly ask God for good holy priests.

The Great Archbishop, Fulton Sheen said, “The search for priestly vocations begins on our knees in adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”

We your priests need your prayers.  We need your kind words of support, too.  Three out of every four seminarians indicated that their mothers were a major inspiration in the development of their vocation, a major inspiration!  We need to be good Catholic mothers and fathers who influence their children with more than just material successes.

Every priest realizes some time in his priesthood the words of Jesus, “You have not chosen me; but I have chosen you.”  And, He has chosen His priests to go out and bear much fruit to offer the
Church’s Sacraments and to offer Her sacrifices for the salvation of souls; to absolve sinners from sin and to cast out evil; to lead sinners to Christ and in Him find salvation and peace for their souls; to preach and teach a Gospel that is firm, truthful and counter cultural that “comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.”

Priests are meant to be instruments in the hands of Jesus Christ for the education, sanctification, and salvation of souls.  For it is in the Consecration and Elevation of the Body and Blood of Christ at every Mass that the priest exercises fully the power of his priesthood.

Bishop Fulton Sheen continued, “Every woe, every wound in the world is ours as priests … every soul is either a potential convert or a potential saint. No priest is his own he belongs to Christ, to the Church, to his people.” There is a dangerous tendency among many of us in these modern times to divorce Christ from His priests.

But we must remember it is the priest’s unity with Christ’s death, His sacrifice on the cross, that gives all the sacraments their power.  It is from the very side of our Savior that the Church and all her sacraments were born, including the priests who serve you.

St. Catherine of Siena taught that contained in the Sacred Heart of Jesus before His death was the Church, all of us, and His Sacraments.  When His side was pierced so was His Sacred Heart, and flowing out from His wounded Heart came His bride, the Church, and all of us as her children. In one instant, “all we need was provided for us by so great a redeemer.”

But Christ’s lifeless body was dead on the cross Who would now bring these sacraments that He borne for us by His suffering and death? Who would go out in loving service to bring these sacramental graces to the world? to those in need of His grace, His healing?? Who would go out to all the world and provide these sacraments of Christ for His Bride?

“Do this in memory of me” has echoed through the centuries.  Do these mystical things that Christ did that bring us life. Jesus says in the Holy Thursday’s Gospel, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.”  With these words the apostles were ordained His first priests, given the task of completing the work He started.  A life of administering the sacraments, a life of preaching His Gospel, a life of being the new ministers of this new covenant.  His Bishop’s/His Priest’s chosen to lead, to govern, to ordain to make holy all those who will come to them through the sacraments, He gave us, to give us this  holy and abundant Life.

This is the vocation of every priest who is ordained by a bishop who follows in the apostolic linage back to Christ Jesus Himself that on this night, Christ being “fully aware” as the gospel tells us. He instituted the sacraments of the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist so that His sacramental graces would continue to flow from His side through His Church, first and foremost, for our for sanctification and resulting in the final act of our salvation.

This is what we celebrate on this holy of nights this is our faith as Catholics. That the night before He died; He left us two of His greatest gifts; Himself in the Blessed Sacrament and His sacred and royal priesthood to continue this unbloody sacrifice of the Mass in remembrance of Him for the remission of sins until He comes again in glory.

How Wonderful a Thing it is to be a Catholic

Remember “My Brothers and Sisters in
Christ,  Heaven Comes with a Price.”

by Fr. Daniel E. Doctor:
Starting with Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week, the beginning of Christ’s Paschal mystery – His death and Resurrection. This should be a day of great mystery and deep reflection as we contemplate the great things Christ did for us and our salvation.

Jesus humbly enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He knows that many of the same people who welcome Him with great joy will in a few days being crying our for His crucifixion and death – but He also knows that He is doing His Father’s will and nothing will impede His faithful fulfilling of it.

It was not easy for Jesus to enter the place of His death but He did it with courage and confidence – with His head held high – because He knows His Father will ultimately save Him from evil men.

He bravely moves forward facing whatever lies ahead and we are no different from Jesus in this respect – we don’t know for sure what lies ahead in this life for us; it maybe illness, or major health or family problems, financial difficulties, uncertainties of all kinds. But Jesus is an example to us on how to move ahead and to bravely face whatever comes – knowing and trusting the Father is with us too.

 

Taking the Easy Road

Sure it is difficult to be strong and courageous in a world that is telling us to take the easy road and indulge our disordered appetites, immoral passions and self centered feelings….Sure it is difficult to be a good example of Christian values; to stand and defend life, liberty and marriage and then to be made fun of – or completely ignored – or considered irrelevant, irrational, and unreasonable because of them . . . .  Sure it is difficult to stand against the culture of death that surrounds us and to stand for life unconditionally like the Church asks of us . . . .  Sure if is difficult to have a moral conscience in a world that has lost its ability to know right from wrong or the courage to stand firm in its own moral convictions.

Sure it would be much easier if the Church would stop preaching against the tide of evil that is overwhelming us and our culture and just give in and give up and embrace sin and vice.

 

Betraying Christ

These are all excellent arguments, why the Church should compromise with the world and its evil; why the Church should give up and give in, go with the tide.  But, the fact remains that, when it does – when the Church or . . . you or I . . . as its members chooses the world over what is right, good, or true – Christ is sadly betrayed again!!!  Take a deep look at our 2000 year history as a Church – the Christians of the first through the fifth century – could not refuse to worship the Roman Emperor as a god.  If they did – they were punished with death and martyrdom and even if their life was spared by some miracle – they would be ruined financially. Since this time – it has been the case century after century – that Christians had to made a real choice between material success and loyalty to Jesus Christ. But chose Christ anyway!!!

Remember the words of Jesus and let them sink into your hearts and give you hope – “If they did it to me – they will do it to you also.”

What a great gift this is that Christ’s gives to us – to allow us to suffer like Him – to imitate Him – to be abused by the world like our Savior was. How excellent a thing to be treated like the thousands of saints and martyrs that have gone before us – our mothers and fathers, our brothers and sisters in the faith – whose blood and example are the seeds for the future, fruitful, lasting growth of the Church.  How wonderful a thing it is to be a Catholic – always be proud of it and learn it, live it, love it – it’s your salvation and the greatest joy in this life.

 

Heaven Comes with a Price

If we get right down to the heart of the matter, wouldn’t we rather stand for something – to become something real – to be holy? than to fall for everything that lacks any real lasting value? Don’t we want to gain a crown of glory and have eternal life with God? Well, my brothers and sisters in Christ – heaven comes with a price. It cost Christ everything to save us . . . . the reading of the Passion of Christ today – should show us just how important our salvation is to Jesus Christ and exactly what He did to obtain it.

Now, it is our turn to show Christ by our actions, prayers, and example to others – that His passion and death- does mean something to us.

 

Parents, Why Are Your Children Crying in the Confessional?

Honest Question. “When was the last time you received the Eucharist?”

Parents, Father Gerber has 4 questions for you.

By Father Anthony Gerber:

Questions in the Confessional

For the first couple years as a priest, I would go through the usual Lenten ritual of sitting in the confessional for hours at a time, hearing various parishes kids’ confessions during school—whether Day School or PSR/CCD. And every year, I would hear the same litany of sins: “I was mean to my brother; I lied; I didn’t do what my mom told me to do; I said a bad word; and… I didn’t go to Mass.”

As a young priest, I wasn’t yet jaded to simply chalk this up to the typical child’s confession. So, a little surprised that a child didn’t go, I asked a simple question: “Why didn’t you go to Mass?”

Are Your Children Crying in the Confessional?

And the kids would answer in one of three ways: “Because I had a [sporting event/vacation]”; “Because we slept in”; or (and most frequently): “Because my parents don’t take me.”

“Because my parents don’t take me.”

I would hear that answer a lot. And what really struck me about this—what really shook me to the core—was not simply the frequency that this was said, but that most of the children were saying this with a deep sorrow in their heart and a deep longing to go to Mass. They knew they were supposed to be at Mass and they thought that they themselves were to blame for their not going. They didn’t yet realize that if their parents didn’t take them, then it wasn’t their (the kids’ fault), but the parents.

Quietly, there began to develop a righteous anger in me at the parents and a desire to “propose” certain questions to our parents, questions such as “Do you realize the impact you are having? Do you realize the sorrow that you are bringing to your child’s heart?”

But those questions I kept to myself. And the anger I brought to prayer and the tempering that experience would likely bring. Maybe I had an oversight; maybe I was being harsh and not compassionate. My anger subsided into a kind of pity for the whole situation.

Cultivating Indifferent Consciences

That is, until last year. Last year, I started to notice that, by the time the kids were in the seventh grade, they would confess this sin of missing Holy Mass with a kind of nonchalance. They would go through their litany of sins, but totally dispassionate. Some would even confess with a smile on their face.[ii] Why was this? During their earlier years, they confessed this with sorrow. But now, with lukewarmness? Why?

I started to think about this and I came to the following reason: at some point during the past few years, the child felt that she had to choose. She felt, in her limited and child-like understanding of things, that she had to choose between God and parent: to love God and upset the parents or to love parents and hope that God would be ok with not-choosing Him.

It’s a child’s hope. But it is a hope that easy devolves into presumption. And presumption accounts for the disappearance of the sorrow. If God doesn’t mind if we miss Mass, then why should we feel sorrow for it?

This presumption would further devolve into indifference when the child realizes that her parents—the parents whom she chose over God—are indifferent to Holy Mass.

So, by the time the child is in seventh grade, she sees both God and parents as indifferent to Holy Mass. Conclusion: Mass couldn’t be that important as to call missing it a “sin”—much less a sin to be sorry about.

By the example of their parents and by the love the children have for them, the kids’ consciences were slowly killed—and with it, any sense of sin and sorrow for it.

Questioning the Indifference

At which point, I was angry again. But it wasn’t a righteous anger at the parents. It was an anger of helplessness. I didn’t see how this situation could possibly be remedied without some kind of miracle. I was angry that there had been decades of indifference and that it seemed as though no one had done anything about it.

So I tried doing something about it: invitations to confessions, hearing confessions more, treating it as important, teaching on the Holy Mass, etc. I even—when giving the kids their penance—I even told them to offer prayers for their parents.

And there was some improvement. But I was still very much swimming against the stream.

I too was tempted to think that maybe this is just how things are and maybe this is all part of the whole becoming a “smaller Church” thing that Pope Benedict had talked about.

Until this year.

This year, I heard confessions all throughout the Archdiocese. And I had long ago stopped asking why kids were missing Sunday Mass. I knew the answer to that question. But I started asking a new question:

When was the last time you received the Eucharist?

That’s a different question. And that’s a whole lot different than simply asking about whether one is going to Mass. This question puts the crosshairs square on the target: on receiving Jesus.

When was the last time you received Jesus?

Indifferent Answers and Answering Indifference

I wasn’t ready for the answers I received. On average, fourth and fifth graders have not received Jesus since their first holy communion… in second grade. That’s two to three years without receiving Jesus.[iii]

I wasn’t angry any more. I was sad. I was deeply sad for the kids who haven’t had Jesus for two or more years.

When the seventh and eighth graders started coming to me for confessions, I started to ask them the same question: when was the last time you received the Eucharist. For the vast majority, it had been over a year. For some, it had been a full five years—again, since first communion.

Some seventh and eighth graders would smile as they told me that. At which point I would echo their answer: it has been five years since you have received Jesus.

And I added a new question:

Isn’t that sad?

Immediately, their conscience—just as it was way back when—was alive again. Every single one admitted that it was sad. Lukewarmness became sorrow again. And they missed Jesus. They knew it.

And maybe that might be seen as mean of me. But I am trying to keep their consciences alive. Trying to keep alive the notion that Mass is important. A notion that is being killed Sunday after Sunday by the example of their parents.

Trying to Find Answers to the Usual Questions

A couple years ago, I did an (anonymous) study at a Catholic day-school. I asked seventh graders a few questions. Those questions were:

1)      How often do you go to Mass?

2)      When was the last time you went to Holy Mass?

3)      When was the last time you went to Sunday Mass?

4)      How often do you go to Sunday Mass? [options: every Sunday, once a month, twice a year, twice a year or less, never]

Every child said that they went to Mass every week. On “Tuesday” (which was the day the kids went at school). 30% said they had gone to Mass in the last month. 70% said they go to Mass twice a year or less or never.

I did the same survey with the PSR/CCD program. And the results—save the part about going to Mass every week at school—were the same.

That probably would shock most day-school parents. It shocks every engaged couple that I’m preparing for marriage. Every time, the engaged couple says, “That’s odd. I thought that day school families would be going to Mass more than the PSR families. Seems like a waste of money otherwise.”

The natural question to ask here is: Why?

Why—not only why day-school and PSR families’ sacramental lives are nearly the same (despite one group spending thousands of dollars on the particular parish school), but also why some have the erroneous perception that day-school families are more faithful than PSR families.

A few months ago, I stopped asking why people aren’t going to Mass. After all, the answers to that question are usual and somewhat obvious: liturgical banality, secularization and frenetic pace of life, lack of examples of integrity of life and joy of faith, the killing of conscience, etc.

And I’ve learned that, sometimes, when we ask the same questions and get the same answers, maybe it is time to ask new questions.

I’ve also stopped asking questions about what I should do about it. Because, it’s not a matter of what I should do, it’s a matter of what people think they should do about it. And, right now, 70% of day-school and PSR parents believe this is not something to do anything about.

My 4 Questions for Parents

So, like Lent, different questions should be asked before we embark on projects that we think will solve the problem. But they are questions that I do not ask myself, but I think we should ask the parents. I’ve answered them for myself already. It is now time for parents to answer them. Here they are:

  • parents, do you know that you children cry in my confessional because you are not taking them to Mass?
  • parents, do you know that your seventh-grade child has a killed conscience, the victim of indifference?
  • parents, do you know that if you continue in the way you are going, you will not see your kids married in the Church, they will likely not have kids, and all of this time and money you are spending is really wasted?
  • And parents, isn’t that… sad?

Maybe the parents’ consciences were killed long ago too. Maybe an examination is in order—an examination with questions meant to clarify and purify.

Maybe then we can ask the next logical question, which is: What should we do about it?

 

Bishop James Conley: Contraception Robs True freedom

“I Exhort you to Reject the Use of Contraception in Your Marriage.”

Bishop James D. Conley, STL: A letter to the Catholic Families 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Twenty years ago, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta stood before the President of the United States, before senators and congressmen, before justices of the United States Supreme Court. She spoke about her work among the world’s poor. She spoke about justice and compassion. Most importantly, she spoke about love.

“Love,” she told them, “has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is no true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.” [1]

 

Sacrifice is the language of love.

Love is spoken in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who poured out his life for us on the cross. Love is spoken in the sacrifice of the Christian life, sharing in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. And love is spoken in the sacrifice of parents, and pastors, and friends.

We live in a world short on love. Today, love is too often understood as romantic sentimentality rather than unbreakable commitment. But sentimentality is unsatisfying. Material things, and comfort, and pleasure bring only fleeting happiness. The truth is that we are all searching for real love, because we are all searching for meaning.

 

What is Real Love?

Love—real love—is about sacrifice, and redemption, and hope. Real love is at the heart of a rich, full life. We are made for real love. And all that we do—in our lives, our careers, and our families, especially—should be rooted in our capacity for real, difficult, unfailing love.

Bishop  James D. Conley, STL

Most Reverend James D. Conley, STL

But today, in a world short on love, we’re left without peace, and without joy.

In my priesthood, I have stood in front of abortion clinics to offer help to women experiencing unwanted pregnancies; I have prayed with the neglected elderly; and I have buried young victims of violence. I have seen the isolation, the injustice, and the sadness that comes from a world short on love. Mother Teresa believed, as do I, that much of the world’s unhappiness and injustice begins with a disregard for the miracle of life created in the womb of mothers. Today, our culture rejects love when it rejects the gift of new life, through the use of contraception

Mother Teresa said that, “in destroying the power of giving life, through contraception, a husband or wife…destroys the gift of love.”

Husbands and wives are made to freely offer themselves as gifts to one another in friendship, and to share in the life-giving love of God.

He created marriage to be unifying and procreative. To join husband and wife inseparably in the mission of love, and to bring forth from that love something new.

Contraception robs the freedom for those possibilities.

God made us to love and to be loved. He made us to delight in the power of sexual love to bring forth new human beings, children of God, created with immortal souls. Our Church has always taught that rejecting the gift of children erodes the love between husband and wife: it distorts the unitive and procreative nature of marriage. The use of contraception gravely and seriously disrupts the sacrificial, holy, and loving meaning of marriage itself.

The Church continues to call Catholic couples to unity and procreativity. Marriage is a call to greatness—to loving as God loves—freely, creatively, and generously. God himself is a community of love—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Christian marriage is an invitation to imitate, and to know, and to share in the joyful freedom of God’s love, an echo of the Holy Trinity.

___

In 1991, my predecessor, Bishop Glennon P. Flavin, wrote that “there can be no true happiness in your lives unless God is very much a part of your marriage covenant. To expect to find happiness in sin is to look for good in evil…. To keep God in your married life, to trust in his wisdom and love, and to obey his laws…will deepen your love for each other and will bring to you that inner peace of mind and heart which is the reward of a good conscience.” [2]

God is present in every marriage, and present during every marital embrace. He created sexuality so that males and females could mirror the Trinity: forming, in their sexual union, the life-long bonds of family. God chose to make spouses cooperators with him in creating new human lives, destined for eternity. Those who use contraception diminish their power to unite and they give up the opportunity to cooperate with God in the creation of life.

 

I Exhort you to Reject the Use of Contraception in Your Marriage.

As Bishop of Lincoln, I repeat the words of Bishop Flavin. Dear married men and women: I exhort you to reject the use of contraception in your marriage. I challenge you to be open to God’s loving plan for your life. I invite you to share in the gift of God’s life-giving love. I fervently believe that in God’s plan, you will rediscover real love for your spouse, your children, for God, and for the Church. I know that in this openness to life, you will find the rich adventure for which you were made.

 

Children are not a Burden

Our culture often teaches us that children are more a burden than a gift—that families impede our freedom and diminish our finances. We live in a world where large families are the objects of spectacle and derision, instead of the ordinary consequence of a loving marriage entrusted to God’s providence. But children should not be feared as a threat or a burden, but rather seen as a sign of hope for the future.

In 1995, Blessed John Paul II wrote that our culture suffers from a “hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and… a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. ” [3] Generous, life-giving spousal love is the antidote to hedonism and immaturity: parents gladly give up frivolous pursuits and selfishness for the intensely more meaningful work of loving and educating their children.

In the Diocese of Lincoln, I am grateful for the example of hundreds of families who have opened themselves freely and generously to children. Some have been given large families, and some have not. And of course, a few suffer the very difficult, hidden cross of infertility or low fertility. The mystery of God’s plan for our lives is incomprehensible. But the joy of these families, whether or not they bear many children, disproves the claims of the contraceptive mentality.

Dear brothers and sisters, Blessed John Paul II reminded us that, “man is called to a fullness of life which far exceeds the dimensions of his earthly existence, because it consists in sharing the very life of God.” [4] The sexual intimacy of marriage, the most intimate kind of human friendship, is a pathway to sharing in God’s own life. It is a pathway to the fullness of our own human life; it is a means of participating in the incredible love of God. Contraception impedes our share in God’s creative love. And thus it impedes our joy.

The joy of families living in accord with God’s plan animates and enriches our community with a spirit of vitality and enthusiasm. The example of your friends and neighbors demonstrates that while children require sacrifice, they are also the source of joy, meaning, and of peace. Who does not understand the great gift of a loving family?

Yes, being lovingly open to children requires sacrifice. But sacrifice is the harbinger of true joy. Dear brothers and sisters, I invite you to be open to joy.

___

What are the Valid Reasons to Delay Children?

Of course, there are some true and legitimate reasons why, at certain times, families may discern being called to the sacrifice of delaying children. For families with serious mental, physical, or emotional health problems, or who are experiencing dire financial troubles, bearing children might best be delayed. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that couples must have “just” reasons to delay childbearing. For couples facing difficulties of various kinds, the Church recommends Natural Family Planning: a method for making choices about engaging in fruitful sexual relations.

Natural Family Planning does not destroy the power to give life: instead, it challenges couples to discern prayerfully when to engage in life-giving sexual acts. It is an integrated, organic and holistic approach to fertility care.

 

The Gift of Natural Family Planning

Natural Family Planning is a reliable and trustworthy way to regulate fertility, is easy to learn, and can be a source of unity for couples. To be sure, using NFP requires sacrifice and patience, but sacrifice and patience are not obstacles to love, they are a part of love itself. Used correctly, NFP forms gentle, generous husbands, and selfless, patient wives. It can become a school of virtuous and holy love.

Those who confine sexual intimacy to the infertile times of the month are not engaging in contraceptive practices. They do not attempt to make a potentially fertile act infertile. They sacrificially abstain during the fertile time precisely because they respect fertility; they do not want to violate it; they do not want to treat the gift of fertility as a burden.

 

The Dangers of Using Natural Family Planning as a Contraceptive

In some relatively rare instances, Natural Family Planning is used by couples with a contraceptive mentality. Too often couples can choose to abstain from fertility by default, or out of fear of the consequences of new life. I encourage all couples who use Natural Family Planning to be very open with each other concerning the reasons they think it right to limit their family size, to take their thoughts to God, and to pray for his guidance. Do we let fear, anxiety, or worry determine the size of our families? Do we entrust ourselves to the Lord, whose generosity provides for all of our needs?

“Perfect love,” scripture teaches, “casts out fear.” [5]

Dear friends, I exhort you to openness in married life. I exhort you to trust in God’s abundant providence.

___

Tragically, a majority of people in our culture and even in our Church, have used contraception. Much of the responsibility for that lies in the fact that too few have ever been exposed to clear and consistent teaching on the subject. But the natural consequences of our culture’s contraceptive mentality are clear. Mother Teresa reflected that “once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.” [7] She was right. Cultural attitudes that reject the gift of life lead very easily to social acceptance for abortion, for no-fault divorce, and for fatherless families. For fifty years, America has accepted the use of contraception, and the consequences have been dire.

Dear brothers and sisters, I encourage you to read the encyclical by Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae with your spouse, or in your parish. Consider also Married Love and the Gift of Life, written by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Dear brother priests, I encourage you to preach about the dangers of contraception, and to visit with families in your parish about this issue.

Dear brothers and sisters, if you have used or prescribed contraception, the merciful love of God awaits. Healing is possible—in the sacrament of penance. If you have used or supported contraception, I pray that you will stop, and that you will avail yourself of God’s tender mercy by making a good heartfelt confession.

___

Today, openness to children is rarely celebrated, rarely understood, and rarely supported. To many, the Church’s teachings on life seem oppressive or old-fashioned. Many believe that the Church asks too great a sacrifice.

But sacrifice is the language of love. And in sacrifice, we speak the language of God himself. I am calling you, dear brothers and sisters, to encounter Christ in your love for one another. I am calling you to rich and abundant family life. I am calling you to rejoice in the love, and the sacrifice, for which you were made. I am calling your family to share in the creative, active love of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I pray that in true sacrifice, each of you will know perfect joy.

Through the intercession of Our Lady of the Annunciation, the Holy Family, and in the love of Jesus Christ,

+James D. Conley

Bishop of Lincoln

 

 

Mastering the New Evangelization

3 Ways to bring Souls into Communion with Jesus Christ

By Bishop James Conley; Lincoln, NE:  In Technopoly, Neil Postman says that overly technological cultures, “driven by the impulse to invent, have as their aim a grand reductionism in which human life must find its meaning in machinery and technique.”

The “grand reductionism” is becoming increasingly apparent. We focus too often on becoming good processors and producers, manipulators of data, rather on than on becoming good human beings—critical minds, and noble hearts, capable of appreciation, engagement, and thought—and hungry for adventure and romance.

 

The Faith of Young Americans: Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

Bishop James Conley “The Art of the Beautiful”

Christian Smith is a sociologist at the University of Notre Dame. He’s conducted extensive research on the religious beliefs of young Americans from every major faith group. And he’s concluded that regardless of their religious affiliation, young Americans tend to subscribe to a faith he calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

The dogma of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is this: God exists, and desires that people are good, nice, and fair to one another. God can be called upon to assure happiness and to resolve crises. Being good, nice, and fair assures eternal salvation in heaven.

 

The Youth Develop No Virtue, No Charity, and No Heroism

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is the “grand reduction” of religious thought and practice to a set of sentimental and affirming principles, absent the presence of a transcendent, personal, and transformative God. It is a religious faith of mediocrity, of insularity, and of loneliness. It requires no greatness of soul. And it engenders no virtue, no charity, and no heroism.

 

Christianity is not Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.

Christianity is the faith of unmerited greatness—the faith of heroic virtue, unsurpassed hope, and unbounded charity. The Christian life elevates humanity in the great sanctifying process of theosis. By our very baptism, in fact, we are given the capacity to love precisely as God loves. And at the core of the Christian life is a transformative religious relationship with a living person—Jesus Christ.

 

The Mission of the New Evangelization . . .

The mission of the New Evangelization is to proclaim the living person of Jesus Christ to those for whom God is a benevolent, impersonal, and mostly impotent figure.

We have a tendency to respond to reduction with more reduction. Religious minimalism fits well with our iconoclastic, puritan American heritage. And too often, we approach the New Evangelization from a technocratic perspective. We are in danger of reducing even our evangelical and catechetical efforts to the mere transmission of information, to technical processes honed by data analysis to produce a particular outcome.

Forming personal relationships cannot be reduced to metrics and algorithms. Instead, forming personal relationships depends on love. And love begins with an appreciation of the beloved’s beauty. Nine hundred years ago, Richard of St. Victor wrote “ubi amor, ibi oculos”—where there is love, there the eye is also.

John Senior, in The Restoration of Christian Culture, explains the phrase this way—“the lover is the only one who really sees the truth about a person . . . we can only love what we know because we have first touched, tasted, smelled, heard and seen.” Knowing and loving Christ begins with seeing glimmers of divinity in the beautiful things of this world.

 

3 Ways to bring Souls into Communion with Jesus Christ

I’d like to suggest three ways in which beauty can bring souls into communion with Jesus Christ.

The first is the restoration of the beautiful to the world of art, architecture, and culture. We now suffer from a cult of ugliness and utility. And this is manifestly apparent in much of contemporary architecture. The architectural maxim that “form follows function” is a way of saying that design only exists to facilitate production. Architecture is overwhelmed by technocracy. Oscar Wilde recognized the danger of this kind of thinking. “Put usefulness first, and you lose it,” he said. “Put beauty first, and what you do will be useful forever.”

My second suggestion is the rekindling of the Christian imagination through literature. I had dinner recently with a very good friend of mine—a former roommate in fact. He converted to the faith shortly before I did. He was from Kansas City, and his father was the foreman of a bag factory. While we were in college, his father lost his job. My friend, Alan, went home for the summer, and saw that his father was struggling with his recent job loss. His father had never attended college, or had any liberal arts education. Alan gave his father the dialogues of Plato. During that long summer, his father read them carefully—often rereading chapters three or four times. Alan told me during that summer, he and his father had the most extraordinary conversations—about truth, and hope, and justice, and love. A new sense of wonder was awakened in my friend’s father.

Literature opens our imaginations to wonder. Reading good books exposes the contemplative part of our humanity. Good books can spur in us a sense of justice, and charity, and generosity. They can expand our souls and inspire our hearts to strive for greatness. We ought to begin forming book clubs and literary circles, comprised of ordinary believers, reading and reflecting on important ideas and beautiful stories.

My final point is about recovering a sense of wonder in the liturgy. Common worship—liturgy—is a place for formation in Christian wonder. In Modern Culture, probably his best book, Roger Scruton remarks that “enlightened people often mock the controversies surrounding the liturgy, and profess not to understand the desire for the old words, save for ‘aesthetic reasons’. They are right to see a resemblance between aesthetic interest and the act of worship. But they are wrong in thinking this resemblance to be merely accidental. The quasi-aesthetic absorption in the holy words and gestures is a component in the redemptive process. In participating, the believer is effecting a change in his spiritual standing. The ceremony is not so much a means to this end, as a prefiguration of it. In the ritual the believer confronts God, and is purified by standing in God’s gaze.”

The absorption of holy words and gestures is a component of the redemptive process. Without our even knowing it, holy liturgy effects change in our hearts. Because good and holy liturgy lifts up our hearts—sursum corda, as the Roman Canon reads—to an experience of transcendent and ineffable mysteries.

Today, Pope Francis says that the pathway to Christ is the “via pulchritudinis.” Beauty responds to the flat-souled, reductive culture in which we live. Pope Benedict wrote often that beauty is an arrow that wounds—by that, he meant that it penetrates hearts which might never be turned by reason or virtue.

If we are serious about transforming culture for Jesus Christ, beauty has a role to play. Of course, after this lecture, we might all look at our phones for a moment, and when we go home, we might turn on the television. But we need to create space for beauty. We need to foster its cultivation. Beauty will move us to contemplation, and contemplation to Jesus Christ. Beauty will move us to the incarnate Love of God.

Dostoevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.” It might. But only if we foster beauty, and then invite others to the experience, in order that they might experience the harrowing and transcendent beauty of the Most Blessed Trinity.

James Conley is the bishop of the Catholic diocese of Lincoln. 

 

The essay is adapted from remarks given at NYU’s Catholic Center as part of the Thomistic Institute’s “The Art of the Beautiful” Lecture Series. The remarks in their entirety can be read here