The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

Today, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we turn our minds and hearts to Jesus, to Christ the King. It's especially appropriate that we do so today as we look toward Advent, anticipating that season when we are called by the Church to meditate on both the Incarnation and the Second Coming of Jesus. Yes, we will celebrate His first coming as the helpless infant who humbled Himself to become one of us, but we will also celebrate that day when He will return in glory to judge the world and bring all things to their fulfillment.

The following is the homily I gave today -- my thoughts on this solemnity of Christ the King:

_______________________

Back in the mid-sixties, several of my classmates and I were invited to be escorts at a debutante ball in New York City. It was a very posh affair, held at the Waldorf Astoria, and we felt like fish out of water, like party crashers, since we had absolutely nothing in common with most of the people present. After a while we concluded that we'd been invited only because we were Naval Academy Midshipmen and someone thought we'd make a nice scenic backdrop standing around in our full dress uniforms.

It wasn't a particularly fun evening, but it was interesting, seeing how the other two percent lived. I can't recall much about it now, but I do remember that at one point in the evening, they presented each new debutante, presumably signifying her entrance into polite society. What amazed me at the time was that several of them had royal titles, with really terrific names like...Princess Beate Amanda von Hapsburg Johnson of Vienna and Brooklyn. Countess Margarite von Keutel Schmidt of Hungary and West Hempstead.

Everyone seemed suitably impressed. And these young women looked truly elegant in their long gowns and tiaras as they glided across the ballroom floor. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for them. For they were royals without a realm, remnants of royal families who had long ago been stripped of their kingdoms, their power and their palaces. All they had left were their titles -- titles that signified nothing but a seemingly desperate attempt to hold onto a world that no longer existed.

If there's one thing that history tells us, it's that kings and queens and kingdoms and empires come and go, sometimes quietly, but often violently, in the midst of revolution and war. For the kingdoms of this world, like all human institutions, are transient. They certainly can’t be counted among what T. S. Eliot called the "permanent things."

And yet today the Church celebrates a King and a Kingdom that are permanent, an eternal Kingdom that will outlast the world itself. During the past twelve months the liturgy has led us from Advent and the world’s expectation of a Savior, to His arrival among us as a helpless infant, through His ministry, His passion and His death, to His resurrection and His return to the Father. Then, beginning with Pentecost, we experienced the Church’s pilgrimage as it awaits Christ’s final coming in glorified splendor.

And so today, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the very pinnacle of salvation history, when all that is, ever was, and ever will be is subjected to Christ’s rule. As usual, St. Paul says it best in today's second reading: "...then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.When everything is subjected to him..."

For there can be only one eternal King, and all human authority must be subjected to Him. This is why the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King when it does. It not only brings the movement of salvation history to a decisive end, but also presents us with something wonderfully new...because God's Kingdom is a kingdom like no other. “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Jesus told Pilate.

Exactly so. For Jesus brought His kingdom into this world. Indeed, that he came to establish a Kingdom was clear from the beginning of His ministry. He affirmed it openly and unequivocally. Read the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then reread the Gospel parables in which Jesus reveals its mysteries. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…like leaven…a treasure hidden in a field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea.

Yes, Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world…but it’s certainly in this world. It’s in the Church He founded. It’s in each one of us who bears witness to the truth of God’s revelation. His Kingdom isn’t a place. It’s a people: God’s people of faith responding in obedience and love to the will of their King…a King who owns us body and soul, who purchased us on the cross with his blood.

And what kind of King is Jesus? Well, I’ve always liked the prophet Ezekiel’s answer to this question. It’s among the earliest portrayals of God as a shepherd lovingly tending His flock. "I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark...I will give them rest…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…" Yes, Ezekiel tells us, we have a loving God, a God who cares deeply about every aspect of our lives.

But Ezekiel doesn’t stop there, for our King is also a judge. "…the sleek and strong I will destroy…I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats..." – words echoed by Jesus in today's reading from Matthew’s Gospel.

Yes, He will judge us all. And I suppose the outcome will depend on the extent that we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, when, in faith, we do the Father's will. Empty words mean nothing. How did Jesus put it? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

How often do we plead with God to save us, and yet remain indifferent to His Will? God’s not looking for words; He’s looking for conversion. But conversion can occur only if you and I freely allow God’s grace to shape our wills to His, only if we allow Christ the King to rule over us.

You see, God calls us to obedience, but never forces Himself on us. He lets us decide whether to serve Him or reject Him. In effect, God places the keys to His Kingdom in each of our hands. And what does He call us to do? Nothing less than His work, the work of the shepherd. Even as He hung on the cross, dying, Jesus was both good shepherd and king, loving and forgiving the thief hanging by His side and inviting him into the kingdom. Pilate had that sign tacked to the cross for one reason only: as a not so subtle way to ridicule both Jesus and the Jews. How ironic that a thief, seeing that sign over Jesus’ head, should be moved to plead: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

For Jesus suffered and died for us all, not just for a select few. Everyone, no matter how sinful, how separated from God, remains a child of God, a product of His infinite love. You see, Jesus is telling us that we can't separate God's two great commandments. When we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, we must also love each other. To deny one is to deny the other. To ignore this truth is to run the risk of one day hearing those forbidding words, "Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me."

In a few moments Father will recite the Preface of Christ the King which affirms a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” This is the kingdom we are called to serve.

The question is: are we willing to serve, to carry the Word of God to an unbelieving world?

Are we men and women of truth, conformed to God’s Will and faithful to His commandments and to the teachings of His Church?

Does Christ our King truly live in us? Will the grace we receive today in the Eucharist transform our minds and hearts, making us into new creations?

Can we put aside the pragmatism of human justice and accept God’s perfect justice into our hearts?

Do we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned? Are we fathers to the fatherless? Mothers to the motherless?

Is our love for one another as outstretched as the arms of Christ on the cross?

God knows, I am not accusing you. For my own answers to these questions only show me how far I am from the kingdom.

And so, brothers and sisters, until the king returns in glory, we all have a fair amount of work to do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Liturgy, homiletics, etc.

This morning, in my capacity as my parish's director of liturgy, I attended a diocesan workshop focused on liturgical issues surrounding the Lent and Easter seasons. It was, I am sorry to admit, the first time I ever attended one of these periodic workshops. (I'm really not a big "workshop" guy.) I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Fr. Bob Webster, our diocesan director of liturgy, gave an excellent introductory talk on the Lenten and Easter liturgies of cycle B, and then conducted an equally informative workshop during which he provided us with some valuable suggestions. I was anticipating one of those touchy-feely sessions filled with questionable liturgical "adaptations." But what we received was just the opposite: a sound discussion on these two very important seasons of the liturgical year.

The workshop actually tied in nicely with a seminar I attended a week or so ago. (I'm just becoming a seminar-workshop fool.) It was conducted by Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., New Testament scholar and President of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The seminar, attended by priests and deacons of the diocese, addressed Preaching in Cycle B, with particular emphasis on the Gospel of Mark. It, too, was a valuable experience for me and Fr. Senior offered many unique insights into Mark that I will certainly revisit when I sit down to prepare my homilies during the coming liturgical year.

I have attended far too many sessions in the past that did nothing but waste my time, so many, in fact, that in recent years I have tried to avoid attending them whenever possible. How nice that my time was so well spent by attending these two programs.

God's peace...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elections and other stuff

President Obama. The past few weeks have certainly been interesting, and not just politically. The American people have spoken and in doing so have elected Barack Obama as our next president. With the exception of Mr. Obama himself, how many people one year ago would have dared to predict this outcome? Back then, if you'll recall, most of the "smart" money was on Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the likely nominees of their respective parties. Just shows how smart the smart money really is.

I'm not going to address the politics of the campaign and its results, other than to say the American people often send mixed messages. In electing Senator Obama as their next president, they chose the senator with perhaps the most liberal voting record, and yet in all three states where same-sex marriage was on the ballot, the people voted to define marriage in the traditional way. I suspect that many people who voted for Senator Obama did so out of emotion, without considering such mundane things as his voting record or his public stances on specific issues. When it comes to electing people, voters tend to choose the most likable candidate; but when faced with a clearly defined issue such as same-sex marriage, they often instinctively know how they should vote. I really believe they simply liked Barack Obama more than they liked John McCain, and seemingly bought into Obama's campaign slogans and his promise of "change" without any real understanding what this change might involve. Even the president-elect himself doesn't seem to have a solid grasp on what he plans to do once he takes office.

One of the changes Obama did address during his campaign was a promise to sign a Freedom of Choice Act which would remove any and all restrictions on abortion up to the moment of birth. It would also prohibit parental notification for teens requesting an abortion. In effect it would overturn virtually all the state and federal laws that pro-lifers have managed to enact over the years. I would guess (hope?) that most people who voted for Barack Obama did not realize what this campaign promise would lead to if it were kept.

I did not vote for Senator Obama. I could not; and in fact I have never been able to vote for any pro-abortion candidate in any election. I believe that the Church's magisterial teaching on this subject is right on target: to vote knowingly for a pro-abortion candidate when an alternative is available is seriously sinful. And considering the number of Catholics who ignored this teaching, I guess folks just aren't all that concerned about their salvation these days. The parable of the sower comes to mind. It would seem that for many Catholics the roots of their faith run very shallow indeed.

At this point about all we can do is wait and see, and pray that our new president will undergo a change of heart when it comes to abortion, marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and other life issues. Remember, with God all things are possible. I can't stress this enough; prayer is always our best -- and not simply our last -- resort.

The myth of human power. Maybe this is a good time for us to reflect on the fact that God is indeed the Lord of History, that ultimately He calls the shots in our world. Just because we like to play God doesn't mean we are gods. Just because we can decide which innocent human life is allowed to continue living and which will be killed, doesn't mean that we actually possess the authority to make these decisions. Life is a gift. It's not a gift from the President or the Congress or the U. S. Supreme Court or the United Nations. It's a gift from God to each individual human being. For us to treat that gift with total disdain and to ignore its true source is to replace God Himself with the idol of human power. 1,500 years ago St. Augustine preached and wrote against the vanity and futility of the cult of human power, and we apparently have still not learned.

Bishops speaking out. I must admit, I was surprised at the number of U. S. bishops who publicly spoke out in the final days and weeks of the campaign to remind their flocks that human life is sacred and that abortion is an intrinsic evil that may never be supported. I was surprised because so often in the past many bishops have either remained silent during the political season or stressed that abortion is just one issue among many that we, as voters, should consider when casting our ballots. Rarely did one hear the words "intrinsic evil" and "abortion" uttered in the same breath.

Of course some bishops continued to make the same sort of vague, dampened noises this time around as well, but that's to be expected. Like the rest of us, some bishops are simply moral relativists, the sort who still cringe whenever they hear the words, Humanae Vitae. Others are image-obsessed pragmatists whose overriding priority is to maintain friendly relations with the media, the politicians, and the big donors in their communities. And I suppose some are simply weak. But perhaps this is changing. Perhaps a growing number of our bishops have decided that enough is enough, that Catholic politicians who consistently legislate in direct opposition to Church teaching should be called to task.

Those bishops who did speak out in strong support of life should be commended. I guess my only complaint is that I didn't hear very much from them during the primaries or the early months of the national campaign. But our bishops can't do everything. We, too, have a responsibility to speak the truth and remind others that God's love extends to all, and especially to the most innocent and helpless among us. Sometimes the faithful have to set the example and remind bishops, priests, and, yes, even us deacons, that God's expectations of us are higher than we think. Pray for us all.

God's peace...

Friday, November 7, 2008

God's Word is for all

Among the many good things that have happened recently is the Synod of Bishops that concluded in Rome on October 23. The Synod, called by Pope Benedict XVI to address the Word of God, strongly encouraged all the faithful to read the Bible regularly, making Holy Scripture a part of their daily lives.

Sadly, too many Catholics never open the Bible and, therefore, are ignorant of the very foundations of their faith. The Holy Scriptures were not written for scriptural scholars and the clergy; they were written for all of us. They are a wonderful gift by which God reveals Himself to us and makes His marvelous plan for humanity known to us. It is a plan founded in God's love for us and stretches from the very act of creation to its fulfillment at some time still in the future. The Bible also tells us how God wants us to respond to His love. In other words, it tells us how to live.

While it's wonderful that the Holy Father and the synod's bishops are encouraging all Catholics to read and study the Bible regularly, that's all they can really do: encourage us. The actual work must be done at the parish level where, in effect, the rubber meets the church parking lot. Pastors must actively support those parishioners who take the initiative to start parish Bible Study groups, and they must continue to support these efforts by talking about these programs from the pulpit. Other than the sacraments themselves, I can think of nothing else that will have a more positive spiritual effect on God's people than regular reading and study of Holy Scripture. Bible Study is also an excellent starting point for deepening parishioners' knowledge of all aspects of their Catholic faith; for our faith is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.

I began a parish Bible Study two years ago and we now offer two sessions that parishioners may choose from. Although it requires a lot of preparation and additional work on my part, it has become one of the most enjoyable activities of my week. If you would like to check out our Bible Study web page, click here.

It won't be easy to spread God's Word to all His People. Our parish has well over 1,000 families and only 30 people attend these Bible Study sessions. In addition to general apathy, there are other obstacles as well.

For example, just to prove that old habits die very slowly, I'll describe something that happened to me this past week. One of our volunteers at the soup kitchen approached me with a question. She attends a local Presbyterian Church and had asked two of her neighbors, both Catholics, if they wanted to attend a concert of spiritual music put on by her church choir. They replied that Catholics weren't permitted to enter Protestant churches. When the conversation somehow turned to the Bible, they also informed her that the Church tells Catholics not to read the Bible. My friend, knowing that I conduct a Bible Study at our parish, asked me if what her neighbors had said were true. I filled her in on the Church's teaching, and explained that her neighbors were grossly misinformed.

Admittedly, both of my friend's neighbors are senior citizens and are probably overly influenced by what they may have heard 60 years ago. But this is less an excuse than it is a sad commentary on how poorly we have catechized adult Catholics over the years. Do they sleep through the Sunday readings and homily? Do they never read the parish bulletin or the diocesan newspaper? Or, perhaps more likely, are they what I call "semi-lapsed" Catholics who might occasionally stop by the church for a Saturday afternoon vigil Mass when they don't have a serious conflict like a late tee-time.

Let's hope and pray that our bishops, pastors, priests and deacons listen to the words of the synod and take the necessary steps to open the Scriptures to God's People.

To get a sense of what happened at the Synod, check out the US Bishops' website.

God's peace...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Catholics cooperating with evil

As Election Day approaches, more Catholic bishops have been acting like true shepherds and courageously speaking out on the inescapable fact that large numbers of Catholic voters will consciously cast their votes for openly pro-abortion politicians. Of course, the most evident of these is presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Dallas & Fort Worth. Two bishops who recently issued a strong statement on this are Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Kevin Vann of Forth Worth, who stated plainly that to vote for a pro-abortion candidate when there is an alternative available is to cooperate with evil. In a joint statement the bishops stated, "We cannot make more clear the seriousness of the overriding issue of abortion -- while not the 'only issue' -- it is the defining, moral issue, not only today, but of the last 35 years...This electoral cycle affords us an opportunity to promote the culture of life in our nation...As Catholics we are morally obligated to pray, to act and to vote to abolish the evil of abortion in America, limiting it as much as we can until it is finally abolished."

The bishops went on to say that, although voters must examine candidates' positions on many critical issues, "...let us be clear: Issues of prudential judgment are not morally equivalent to issues involving intrinsic evils. No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these issues, it does not outweigh a candidate's unacceptable position in favor of an intrinsic evil or the protection of 'abortion rights.'"

And that's not all. In the event Catholic voters didn't fully understand the above, the bishops said, "To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or 'abortion rights' when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil -- and, therefore, morally impermissible." They concluded their statement by reminding voters that their decisions may affect their individual salvation.

To read the bishops' complete statement, click here.

Denver. In a recent speech Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver made some very blunt comments about Barack Obama and the Democrat Party platform. Speaking as a private citizen and author, the archbishop stated, "...the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively 'pro-choice," it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child -- and let's remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer [who was murdered by Hitler in the final days of World war II] explicitly called abortion 'murder' -- the Democrat platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life." The archbishop also called Senator Obama the "most committed 'abortion rights' presidential candidate...since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973."

To read more about Archbishop Chaput's comments, click here.

Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri. Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, in his column in the diocesan newspaper, has asked the people of his diocese to join him in prayer in advance of the upcoming election.

Bishop Finn begins by quoting the choice Moses offered God's People (Deut 30:19): "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." He then goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI: "The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right - it is the very opposite. It is 'a deep wound in society.'"

The bishop asks his flock to pray, to pray for the protection of human life. He asks them to pray the Rosary and to invoke "the Guardian Angels of 47 million babies lost through abortion in our country in the last thirty-five years." He asks them not only to pray but to "make some sacrifices for our country." To read Bishop Finn's entire column (Oct. 24), click here.

Our bishops are finally speaking out strongly in defense of life. Perhaps they have come to realize they have nothing to fear, that their task as bishops is to work for the salvation of those under their care. Bishop Finn in his latest column (Oct. 31) states this clearly when he writes, "What is at stake in this battle is our immortal soul, our salvation. My responsibility as bishop is with the eternal destiny of those entrusted to my care. My total energies must be directed to the well being of those who otherwise may come under the spell of a radically flawed and fundamentally distorted moral sense, at odds with what our Mother the Church teaches. There are objective and transcendent truths. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a legitimate hierarchy of moral evils, and the direct willful destruction of human life can never be justified; it can never be supported. Do you believe this firm teaching of the Church?"

Pray for our Holy Father and our bishops, that they continue to speak out courageously in defense of life.

God's peace...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Did they really say that?

Browsing some of my favorite websites this morning I encountered some interesting comments that I believe are worth sharing. They represent the not so wise utterances of some very confused people, but each in its own way helps us understand the nature of the battle we face in a world increasingly hostile to the Church and its teachings.

"No human being can ever be God, and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that."

The most interesting thing about this comment is that it was made by an Australian Catholic priest, Fr. Peter Dresser. The comment comes from a booklet written by Fr. Dresser. The booklet, which inexplicably is for sale at several parishes in Brisbane, goes on to deny the virgin birth and a number of other truths included in the Nicene Creed. Indeed, if one denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, one must also deny the Trinity itself. And so, it seems to me that a priest who publicly denies the foundational beliefs of our Catholic Faith can safely be labeled a heretic and should be sent on his way. If you would like to read more about the alleged reverend,
click here.

"Justice Breyer has devoted his life to the public good...[He is] a brilliant, influential, and path-breaking scholar...[whose] opinions have been marked by thoughtfulness, balance, rigor and a commitment to justice and liberty. He has been an eloquent and forceful champion of judicial integrity."

These words, praising Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, whose decisions have consistently supported the evil of abortion, were made by William G. Treanor, dean of the law school at Fordham University in New York. The occasion was the university's award of its 2008 Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize to Justice Breyer. In case you don't know or have forgotten, Fordham is reportedly a Catholic university run by the Jesuits.

Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, strongly and publicly opposed the university's action but was rebuffed by the school. Fordham went ahead and presented the award to Breyer in a private ceremony. So much for listening to your bishop...

It is so sad to witness the virtual apostasy of so many of our once-Catholic universities. I attended Georgetown University for one year in 1962, before accepting a congressional appointment to the Naval Academy. Back then, almost a half-century ago, Jesuit-run universities like Georgetown and Fordham were still Catholic and would never have considered giving an "ethics" award to someone who strongly opposed Church teaching on such a fundamental issue as the sacredness of human life. I've come to believe that the only reason schools like Fordham still call themselves "Catholic" is to fool the parents of future students who continue to pay big bucks under the mistaken belief that their children will actually receive what was once called a "Catholic education."

To read the full story on Fordham's award to Justice Breyer, click here.

“From…the persecution of homosexuals under Nazis to today…full equality for gay and lesbian couples has not been achieved…there are forces which even would like to roll back what has been achieved.”

This comment, in essence comparing those who oppose same-sex marriage to Hitler's Nazis, was made by Germany’s Consul General in San Francisco, Rolf Schuette. Schuette was defending
German Federal Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries who, along with Schuette, has campaigned actively in California to defeat Proposition 8, the state's voter initiative to defend traditional marriage. That a diplomat and a cabinet-level government official from another nation would interfere so blatantly in an American domestic matter is unbelievable...well, it would be if it weren't such a politically correct issue. It's also interesting that the above comment would be made by a German whose parents and grandparents probably lifted their arms in Nazi salutes. Is this a case of overcompensation?

To read more about the Germans and California's Proposition 8, click here.

"It's too dangerous for you to come out as gay to your superiors, but I believe that if you work for the ordination of women in your church, you will go a long way toward opening the door for the acceptance of gay priests."

This comment was made by openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson at a "confidential retreat" he claims to have conducted for homosexual Catholic priests a few years ago. According to Robinson, the retreat was attended by 75 Catholic priests who did so without notifying their bishops or religious superiors. The most interesting thing about his comment is that, as far as I can see, "gay priests" are already pretty widely accepted by far too many bishops. In many dioceses in the US, open and active homosexuality among large numbers of priests is simply overlooked by their bishops who have no intention of ensuring that future seminarians are not homosexuals.

Click here to read how the secular press (AP) covered this "story."

I think that's enough. Perhaps tomorrow I'll share a few of the wiser comments I encountered on my brief cyber-journey.

Do not despair. No matter how we try to frustrate His will, God is always in charge. His will be done.

Thank God for today, and don't worry about tomorrow.