This and That, Uncategorized

A North Korean Christmas

Please take a moment to read this (thank you): At Christmas and year’s end, we consider our many blessings. After faith, life, family, and health, the greatest of all is the freedom we enjoy. So as you go to church, light a candle, say your prayers, eat your Christmas or Hanukkah feast, as you raise your toasts, and as you make your New Year’s resolutions, please think of and — most importantly —  pray for the people of North Korea (aka, DPRK), for here is how the Christmas season will look to them.

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Spiritual Reflections, This and That

Resolutions for the Liturgical New Year

Every year during Advent I want to Continue reading

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This and That

Has This Ever Happened Before, and What Does it Mean?

Over the July 4 weekend, and with the exception of the Washington Post, the national newspapers of record (e.g., The New York Times, New York Daily News, Los Angeles Times, etc.) all ran editorials weekend opining that far from being a force for good, America is the world’s greatest agent of imperialism, of hatred, of prejudice, of violence, and that it would be better if she had never existed.

None of these outlets ran pro-America pieces.

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This and That, Uncategorized

Why Young Adult Catholics Aren’t With It (i.e., the Church)

I’m doing an article on a local young adult group. In researching my article, I came upon an article reviewing a book I possess but which I haven’t finished. Hoping I could get some useful facts from the book via this review, I read it. It’s from Commonweal, a well-known liberal Catholic organ.

The article’s author starts off saying nothing with which I wouldn’t agree (more or less, as you’ll see):

Only 7 percent of these young adults who might have turned out Catholic can be called “practicing” Catholics—if “practicing” is tightly defined as attending Mass weekly, saying that faith is extremely or very important, and praying at least a few times a week. [Uhm, how else would we define it, sir? To “practice” something, you have to be its practitioner. I can’t call myself a practicing golfer when I get out and hit a bucket of balls once every three years … at best.] About 27 percent are at the other end of the spectrum, classified as “disengaged,” meaning that they never attend Mass and feel religion is unimportant. In between these two poles is a complex landscape of the marginally attached—perhaps willing to identify themselves as Catholic, attending Mass sporadically at best, and in general living life with their Catholic identity as a more dormant, if not entirely irrelevant, force.

Perhaps the most depressing chapter is one where we hear not numbers like these, but the actual words of some of these younger should-be Catholics, a small sample of whom the authors interviewed in 2008. Most were “out,” considering themselves estranged from the church or no longer Catholic, and only twelve met an expansive definition of “active.” For everyone, active and not, “church” seems associated primarily with morals [If Jesus didn’t care about “morals,” by which I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume he means sexual morals (in my experience, it’s a safe bet), then why did He talk in the Gospels about sex outside of marriage (i.e., “fornication”) as being something that pollutes us and as something that keeps us out of heaven? (cf. Matthew 15:19; Mark 7:21; Revelation 21:8, 22:15) If we look at someone with lust in our heart, we commit adultery. If we are aggressively angry with someone, we’re guilty of their murder. Same if we call them “fool/raka,” which also makes us “liable to hellfire.” Jesus does nothing but talk about morals.] and obligatory Mass attendance rather than anything that sounds like Jesus and the Gospel. [It’s “obligatory” because, well, there’s that pesky, darn Third Commandment, doncha know — “Thou shalt keep the Sabbath day holy” — which requires Mass attendance (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2168-2183). And didn’t Jesus say in at least one Gospel if not more than one that we have to keep the Commandments?] More disturbingly, their vague priorities of “being a better person” don’t seem likely to generate much of a desire for deeper answers to life’s questions, at least in the short run. [Pardon me for the question, sir, but isn’t that the whole bent of post-Conciliar catechesis, that Jesus loves us as we are, that we just have to try to be a better people, that concern over the deeper meanings to life’s questions is really just the purview of those “obsessed” with dogmas and doctrines? Just sayin’.] “It’s just easier not to follow a religion, is what it comes down to,” says a typical young adult—and even though I feel that way some of the time myself, it’s hard not to agree with the authors’ sense that this is a generation largely lost to what we oldsters think of as Catholic identity.

But then the piece’s author shows himself to be a typical smug liberal (don’t take it from me; take it from The New York Times‘ own liberal commentator Nicholas Kristof). The author writes of those “naïvely assuming that our crisis of membership and allegiance is primarily a failure of ardor in education and explanation.” [Smug, smug, smug, smug, smug.]

It seems to be an appealing idea to some that our bishops could have prevented the collapse of Catholic culture in the 1960s if only they had preached doctrine and Catholic obligations more heroically. [No. Really, it’s if they — and their priests and those priests’ catechists — had done so with any real conviction at all and not given us The Green Bay Catechism- and The Dutch Catechism-inspired garbage. For my First Communion, I heard nothing of Transubstantiation. I did, however, make some really nice felt banners.] However, from my years in business, I can tell you there are few sadder phenomena than a company that thinks its failed product could surely have been successful if only customers could have had its greatness fully explained to them.”

If a tree falls in a forest 

Again, this assumes that people have had it explained to them at all.

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Take for instance Mozart’s Requiem. I think it is the most perfect piece of music ever composed (and I’m a post-Beatles era 40-something).

I would never expect anyone to agree with me if:

a) no one had heard this piece exists;
b) had never had it described to; and
c) had never heard it and been shown it in all its beauty and grandeur, much less “fully explained to them.”

Let’s talk about sex, bay-bee

Take sexual issues, much less other doctrines (Transubstantiation, the Virgin birth, Mary’s perpetual virginity, etc.).

I’ve had confessors wink-wink/nudge-nudge at me in the confessional  when I confessed such peccadilloes in my own young adult years.

I remember once, I confessed two sins, one sexual and the other of anger. The confessor got purple with me of the sin of anger. Picture being royally castigated by someone whose voice sounded like Droopy Dog with an Irish lilt to his voice.

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“OK, Father, duly noted, but what about the other one?”

“Oh, yes, well, don’t worry about that too much. Try to do better, if you think you must.”

In confirmation and as a teenager, no one explained Humanae Vitae (click here for a summary; here for the short encyclical itself), much less the Theology of the Body, much less the glory of the Church’s other teachings in this realm. I didn’t even know HV existed until I was in my late 20s. When I discovered it, I thought, ‘Why was this hidden from me? It would have answered a lot of questions.’

Nike ain’t the only one sayin’ it, kna’m’sayin’, G?

So when the rest of the culture is telling you, “Just do it, especially if it feels good” (and what feels “gooder” than sex?), and most people — even Catholics loyal to the Magisterium — can muster nothing better than, “Well, the Church says it’s sinful … but we can’t really tell you why,” to expect a different result from today’s young adult is idiotic.

The problem with the publisher/author of this piece and the rest of the Commonweal crowd is this: Far from promoting a better understanding of the Church’s teachings and letting people accept or reject them on their merit without need of the typical liberal colorization, they feed into the culture’s rejection of these teachings.

They actually encourage dissent from them. They effectively say, “We have deemed the Church stupid and wrong in these areas. Therefore our young must think this way, as well, and we will do whatever is in our power to ensure they do.”

Then when the young do what the Commonweal crowd wants and rejects these doctrines — without ever knowing just what they’re rejecting in the first place — the Crowd points its long, accusing finger and says to the Church hierarchy, “See?! We told you this would happen! It’s because of these stupid ‘dogmas’ upon which you insist that they’re leaving. You must jettison them if you have any hope of getting them back.”

Or as the author puts it, stop making so many “doctrinal and moral pronouncements.” That, he averts, is the best place to start.

There be the door

There is a perfect Communion for people like the author and his sympathetic readers who believe this: Anglicanism. Or the Old Catholic Church. Or the so-called American Catholic Church.

Really, why union with Rome? You’ve already rejected so much of what is in the Catechism in your heart (even if you haven’t had the courage of your convictions to say so publicly). So why not just swim the Tiber in the direction away from the Vatican and find a home where you’re content and just leave the rest of us who do agree whole hog with the Church’s teachings in peace? You’d be happier. We’d be happier. Let’s all just be happier.

Otherwise stop being such obvious tools of the devil (I don’t say this lightly but from careful observation of history). For if you want to know why these young adults have left the Church, do your fair share of looking in the mirror. Realize that the finger you’re pointing is often pointing right back at you. (I realize this advice applies to me, as well, but I’m not the one in full-throated dissent.)

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Spiritual Reflections, This and That

Praying to the Saints … or Not

From the time I was a wee lad, my dear ol’ pappy drilled several lessons into me, one of which was, “If you’re going to do something, do it right.” Another was, “Don’t do something half-baked,” although he used a different word than “baked.”

Maybe this explains why I’ve always been a stickler for the rules, and why it’s always bugged me when people do things sloppily or don’t follow them.

Do it right or go home

So for instance, in my fraternity, when it came time to initiate new brothers, I couldn’t stand that some guys would wear a coat, tie … and sneakers. ‘This is important,’ I thought. ‘Dress accordingly. Show respect for the awesome ceremony in which you’re about to participate and are about to give witness. Don’t dress like some slob who doesn’t care. And if you truly don’t care, scram.’

Or when there was a portion of the fraternity’s “liturgy” that was supposed to be recited from memory … and the brother reciting that part read from the ritual book. It wasn’t as though he didn’t have time to learn his lines. He was just lazy.

For me it’s the same thing when a priest doesn’t “say the black” and “do the red” in the Mass.

Hey, Father: We don’t need your improvisations. No matter how creative and wonderfully “pastoral” you are, nothing you can conjure is going to be as good as what the Church has given us. Plus the Second Vatican Council and the Popes since then have said no one has a right to change a single jot or tittle of the rubrics on their own. Ergo knock it off, will ya?

This disregard for rules and protocols, we see it everywhere today, don’t we? Maybe we even do it ourselves (yes, I’ve three fingers pointing at me; crossing at crosswalks is super difficult, after all).

Hard to miss that one

One big place we see it in the Church is with those who are on their way to possible beatification, the Servants of Gods and Venerables.

“Oh, come on,” some will think. “Don’t we have more important things to worry about?”

Of course. That doesn’t mean this isn’t important, however. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have any concern over this. If it’s true that “in the Mass everything matters” (as one seminary professor I know of teaches his students), shouldn’t we also be careful and diligent in the other things pertaining to God and what He’s given us through His Church?

For the Church tells us to do things and how to do them for a reason. We don’t get to – or shouldn’t – decide on our own where the Church is wrong. That will lead – and always has led – to some really bad things happening.

Saint So-and-So … pray for us!

What am I talking about, already? Simple: Prayers to the saints. Or in this instance, prayers to saints in the making.

If we’re praying to a canonized saint, we can pray directly to them. If we’re praying to a beato or beata (i.e., someone who’s been beatified), we can pray directly to them.

Why? Because despite the differences in titles, both saints and blesseds (aka, beati) are in heaven. We have the Church’s infallible assurance of this.

The same cannot be said of Servants of God and Venerables. They may be in heaven. They may be in purgatory. In some rare – hopefully exceedingly rare – instances, they may even be in hell. See the Catechism of the Catholic Church nos. 1033 and 1035 for the reason why.

Absent a miracle or a declaration by the Pope of a person’s or persons’ martyrdom—which are the ordinary ways we ask God to reveal someone is with Him in the Beatific Vision—we have no way of knowing the disposition of their soul.

Judge not

For Jesus’ injunction to “Judge not lest ye be judged yourself” speaks not to judging someone’s actions (we have to judge the rightness or wrongness of actions – stealing, murder, alcoholism, addiction, sexual crimes, sins of all types, etc. – or else we’d have chaos). Rather it warns against judging the eternal disposition of someone’s soul. He is the Judge. We are not.

That works both negatively and positively.

So we’re not to say someone is roasting in eternal fires, no matter how wicked, sinful, and evil they were while alive. You will notice the Church does not claim to know whether one single soul is in hell, even Judas or Hitler or Osama bin Laden or Mao or anyone.

Similarly we’re not to claim someone is in heaven without definitive proof. The Church will and often has made that determination, but only after thorough investigation and examination and God has revealed this.

Until we have that certainty, we are not to pray directly for that person’s intercession.

So while I could ask Bl. Miriam Teresa Demjanovich of New Jersey or St. Pietro Parenzo for their intercession, I can’t ask, say, the Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, SJ, for his.

The proof is in the prayers

Don’t believe me? OK, don’t take it from me. Take it from the beatification causes of two “saints-in-waiting,” let’s call them.

First let’s look at one of my favorites, the Servant of God Fr. Walter Ciszek, SJ, who spent years incarcerated by the Soviets, first in solitary confinement in the terrible Lubyanka Prison and then in Siberian labor camps.

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Here is a prayer asking for his intercession:

Almighty God, we love, adore, and praise You as our Creator and Loving Father. Look with compassion and mercy upon us. Hear our prayer in this time of special need and through the intercession of Father Walter Ciszek, grant the following favor if it is Your Holy Will.

(Mention the Request)

Most loving God, accept our gratitude for hearing this prayer. May the knowledge of the virtues and holiness of Father Walter be recognized and known to provide a lasting example to draw sinners to reconciliation and to lead souls to sanctity.

For You are our God, and we are Your people, and we glorify You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and forever. Amen.

What doesn’t happen in this prayer to the Servant of God? Nowhere do we say, “Fr. Ciszek, pray for us.” Instead the prayer is addressed to “Almighty God.”

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Now let’s look at a prayer from the cause of Ven. Pio Bruno Lanteri, founder of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary, who also is up for beatification.

O Father, fountain of all life and holiness, You gave Fr. Bruno Lanteri great faith in Christ, Your Son, a lively hope, and an active love for the salvation of his brethren. You made him a prophet of Your Word and a witness to Your Mercy. He had a tender love for Mary, and by his very life he taught fidelity to the Church. Father, hear the prayer of Your family, and through the intercession of Fr. Lanteri, grant us the grace for which we now ask…. May he be glorified on earth that we may give You greater praise.

We ask this through Your Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Au contraire?

“But wait! But wait! The website promoting the cause of my favorite Venerable says, ‘Ven. So-and-So, pray for us’! What about that, eh?”

“But wait! But wait! Father always asks for the prayers of the Servant of God directly. Father would never do anything wrong or against the Church.”

It’s true. Various causes do this. That doesn’t mean they’re supposed to.

And Father may be unassailable in his orthodoxy and fidelity to the Magisterium.

That doesn’t mean in both instances ignorance isn’t involved. Very likely, it is.

Bottom line

In life, if we do something, we should do it right. Shouldn’t that especially be true when it comes to venerating the saints, especially if the person in question isn’t yet a saint?

Some people will pooh-pooh what I’ve written. But ask yourself: What do you have to lose being obedient to the Church? What do you have to gain by ignoring her?

You don’t need a saint’s intercession to discern the answer.

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This and That, Uncategorized

Why “Spy”?

Today is known as Holy Wednesday. That name is obvious enough because it is, after all, Wednesday in Holy Week.

But its traditional name is Spy Wednesday. Why “Spy”?

It would be neat if history gave us some super-mysto reason behind it, but it hasn’t. And the reason it hasn’t is that the name comes from a very simple fact. This is the day on which Judas – sneaky guy that he was – became a spy for the Sanhedrin and agreed to betray His Lord and Savior for 30 pieces of silver. You can read about it in Matthew 26:12-14, Mark 14:10-12, and Luke 22:3-6. (Fat good that money did him.)

The Old Testament prophecy of Judas’ actions is in Zachariah 11:9-12.

I like one writer’s commentary on this: “As believers in the power of God’s love and goodness, Spy Wednesday should provide a period for reflection and introspective prayer. We need to examine our lives and look for the moments that we have falsely shared intimacy with our brothers and sisters in faith. More precisely, contemplate of lack of true, ‘communio’ in our lives. With Judas’ false interrogatory response to Jesus, he reveals his true self [“Surely it is not I, Rabbi”]: Betrayer. Jesus sees right through Judas’ false piety and friendship. Jesus sees right through our own appearances when we falsely present ourselves as holy and faithful followers. Our frail human spirit reflects in our sinful acts and lack of faith.

“Jesus recognizes this and offers new hope to Judas and us. The ‘morsel’ which Jesus offers to Judas is an offering of friendship and love. Some biblical scholars have even indicated that the ‘morsel’ is symbolic of Jesus’ eucharistic manifestation. Judas does not partake of the meal with Jesus, but he was invited just the same. There is a sense that Jesus recognizes Judas’ confrontation with the powers of evil. Jesus does not admonish him or chastise him. [Rather He] permits Judas to engage in this struggle and reveal the implications of his actions and unfaithfulness. There is hope for conversion. There is hope for grace. There is hope in Jesus’ acceptance of the Father’s plan. There is hope for Easter glory.”

Another writer adds an interesting note: “Today and during the Sacred Triduum, the Matins and Lauds of the Divine Office are often sung in a haunting service known as the Tenebrae service (‘tenebrae’ meaning ‘shadows’), which is basically a funeral service for Jesus.”

Whatever you call it, be it Spy Wednesday, Holy Wednesday, Great Wednesday, have a blessed day and a grace-filled Holy Week.

Oh, and don’t be like Judas. It won’t end well for you.

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This and That

Martyrdom Declaration Shot for Pakistani Man

If any of you have followed the sad, sad history of Pakistan and how Christians are treated there, you’ll likely know the name Shahbaz Bhatti.

He is a former government official who, among other things, sought to defend Asia Bibi against trumped up blasphemy charges.

 

Asia Bibi 1

Asia Bibi when she entered jail

 

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Asia Bibi in a more recent photo. Still in jail.

He stood up for Christians and other religious minorities and their rights. He worked to change his nation for the better. And on March 2, 2011 …

He was assassinated for his efforts in a drive-by shooting.

Shahbaz Bhatti-assassination

Now the bishops of Pakistan are moving forward in their efforts to have Bhatti declared a martyr. You can read about it here. And you can read an article I did several years ago on the situation facing Christians in Pakistan here.

Certainly it was his faith that prompted him to do the work he did, he proudly proclaimed his faith, and it was hatred of the faith that got him killed. Hence it would seem he fits the criteria. But the Vatican has to make that call.

Let’s keep this effort in our prayers. Let us also keep all Pakistani Christians in our prayers. As I write this, a Pakistani Christian human rights lawyer has had to flee the country or risk a fate such as Bhatti’s simply because he stood up for his people. He has to wait to bring his family here, he is without a way of supporting himself, and his refugee status is being adjudicated, meaning he could get sent back. This is what life is like for these people. Please. Keep them in prayer.

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