Friday, July 29, 2016

The Voting Booth And the Confessional

It is something that I suppose I will never understand. Nobody has ever given me an explanation that even comes close to satisfying me.

Passionate disagreement about the role of government, the best way forward in terms of the economy, the poor, education, gun laws, social security, immigration, taxes, the environment, foreign policy . . . I get it.  Nobody--though many act as though they do--has a claim to infallibility on the vast majority of decisions facing a nation. Higher taxes, lower taxes . . . sure, reasonable people can disagree. (For the record, I'd like my taxes to be lower. Raise everyone else's, fine. But just lower mine).  

But, there are certain issues that I just can't understand any Catholic, or any decent human being for that matter, simply overlooking or, worse, supporting. At the outset, let me say that I recognize that this current election season is the strangest that any of us has ever seen. I'm not suggesting in this post that someone has to vote for one or the other candidate.  What I am asking is this: How can Catholics and people of good will be "proud" to belong to a party that has the most pro-abortion platform in American history?  How does that make one feel proud? Isn't that something for which a person with a well-formed conscience would be ashamed? I'm not asking what kind of moral reasoning you might employ in order to unwillingly and grudgingly decide to vote for that party. What I'm asking is how could someone whose conscience is well-formed be happy about voting for it?

Let's suppose that one candidate's platform called for the use of chemical weapons on some peaceful country.  At the same time, the opposing candidate's platform called for the elimination of people who were sick and unable to contribute to the economic good of society.  In these circumstances, I could understand people struggling to vote for one or the other candidate, and making some unhappy decision based on a variety of factors.  "Sure, he wants to use chemical weapons on civilians in a peaceful country, but he won't kill our senior citizens and he's going to cut taxes." "Yeah, she's going to euthanize the sick, but she won't use chemical weapons and she promises health care costs will get lower." In the face of equally bad candidates, I can understand how someone begrudgingly casts a vote for someone who is terrible, but not as terrible. I get that.

What I can never figure out, however, is how any person with a conscience can be gleeful about supporting someone who wants to expand abortion, remove any limitations on it, and who wants taxpayers to fund it. If a particular party's platform was perfect in every way, but suggested that the homeless should be euthanized, one would hope that somebody wouldn't be gleeful about supporting that party. It would, I hope, sound rather odd at your dinner party to hear someone say, "Why yes, I'm not really in favor of euthanizing the homeless, but I'm so proud of the party for its stand on the environment." I hope that would leave most people of any kind of conscience, at least, mildly distressed and not feeling particularly proud.

And yet, Catholics gleefully support and vote for persons who are "really great . . . yeah, except for that whole crushing a baby's skull and killing it.  Other than that, he's a great speaker and has done a lot for public schools." It's difficult to have any respect for people who cheer for abortion the way normal people would cheer at the birth of a baby. No matter how many balloons fall from the ceiling, how many flags are on the stage, or how many people applaud, there is something dark and grotesque about people gleefully cheering for abortion. There is something sinister and grotesque about any candidate or platform that demeans human beings--whether those human beings are in the womb, the nursing home, the homeless shelter, the prison cell, or on the border. Being gleeful about dehumanizing anyone is not Catholic. 

One might feel compelled to vote for a candidate who supports the greatest evil of our day because of some equally grave concern about the other candidate or candidates. That, of course, is a very high threshold. But, this should not leave any person with a well formed conscience gleeful or proud. It should leave them filled with sorrow for a very fallen world. It ought to leave them filled with tremendous regret that in a country as great as America, the only candidates whom they felt they could support were the ones whom Planned Parenthood supports. It should leave them, not with giddiness, but with horror.

Catholics are familiar with the confessional box. You enter, pull the curtain, and whisper as quietly as possible your sins. We don't boast of our sins and, once it is over, we are happy to be done with it, never to speak of those sins again.  Those who feel compelled by their well-examined and well-formed conscience (a high standard) to vote for a candidate who "champions" abortion, ought to treat the voting booth like a confessional. Whisper it. Don't boast, be proud, or be gleeful about it. Have true sorrow in your heart that your well-formed conscience compelled you to make such an awful choice, and never speak of it again! You just voted for someone whose policies will mean the death of innocent life. It hardly seems something for which to be proud or gleeful.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fr. Jacques Hamel--His Blood Is Speaking

Several years ago while vacationing in Italy, I visited a church (whose name I have since forgotten) in the area of Bergamo.  What was most striking to me about the church was its sacristy. Very large in size, the walls of the sacristy were lined with beautiful wooden vesting cases.  At the top of the vesting cases, carved into them, were beautiful, albeit graphic, depictions of various martyrs of the Church.  There were carvings of people being burned, flayed, mutilated, drowned . . . , you name it, it was depicted.  And of course, like all good sacristies, there was a crucifix.

I remember thinking that whoever designed that sacristy had a profound sense of the priesthood and the Mass. It is in the sacristy that the priest prepares for Mass. The sacristy is not simply a place to store things and to get vested. It is a place to become recollected before offering the Holy Sacrifice.  Whoever designed the sacristy for that church wanted the priest to remember exactly what he was doing when he offered the Mass. The Mass is the Sacrifice of Christ on the altar of the Cross. The martyrs who surrounded the priest in that sacristy before Mass each day would remind him that he--like all of us--are called to take up our cross and to lay down our life for the Lord. The priest is called in a particular way to imitate the Mysteries that he handles. He who daily offers the Sacrifice of the Mass is called to become increasingly conformed to that same Sacrifice.  That sacristy was the liturgical equivalent of a billboard.  It practically yelled to the priest who was about to offer the Mass, "Hey, this is serious and important stuff! People have given up their lives for the Faith! The Mass you are about to offer is the most important thing that will ever happen!"

I do not know if Fr. Jacques Hamel ever visited that sacristy in Bergamo, Italy, but he now joins those whose images are carved therein.  Fr. Jacques Hamel, an 84 year old priest from France, was attacked this morning while he offered the Holy Mass. ISIS terrorists slit the elderly priest's throat as he offered the Sacred Mysteries.  Fr. Jacques, in a way that he probably never anticipated, became more perfectly conformed to the Sacrifice which he had offered for the past 56 years.  Like the images carved into the wood of that sacristy, Fr. Jacques' death and his blood now serve as a reminder to all of us--especially priests--of the seriousness of the Holy Mass and the need to become ever more united to that Sacrifice. Fr. Jacques' blood calls out to us and reminds us of the seriousness with which we ought to take our Catholic Faith and the Holy Mass. This is what the martyrs do. They witness to us and they testify to what is truly important.

So often, sacristies--like our very lives--can become places of distraction. Instead of being places where we focus on the great Mystery of the Cross and of the Holy Mass, sacristies can become filled with chitchat and distraction. So too, our lives can become filled with too much foolishness, buffoonery, and banality.  Like that sacristy in Bergamo, designed to reawaken the priest to the seriousness of his vocation and life, Fr. Jacques' martyrdom this morning ought to awaken all of us to the seriousness of our Catholic life. Fr. Jacques' blood calls all of us to be renewed and strengthened in our Catholic Faith, to reject sin, to follow Christ, to love the Holy Mass, and to take our eternal salvation seriously. Fr. Jacques' blood speaks eloquently. Listen.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sometimes We Must Preach To the Choir

There is an old expression that says, "You're preaching to the choir." This usually means that what you are saying really doesn't need to be said because the people you are telling already agree with you.  There's no point in wasting your time preaching to the choir. And yet, as the United States finds itself immersed in the presidential election season, proof has been given that sometimes we most definitely need to preach to the choir. I am not delving into politics in this post. I am not preaching to the electorate. I am preaching to the proverbial choir. 

With great fanfare this week Senator Tim Kaine was selected by Hillary Clinton as her running mate. Like every candidate for office, he will have those who vigorously oppose him and those who wholeheartedly support him. Fair enough. I am not commenting on Tim Kaine, the vice-presidential candidate. I am commenting upon Tim Kaine, the public Catholic. In numerous interviews, Tim Kaine has suggested that while he is personally pro-life, there is nothing in his Catholic Faith which would require him to vote in a manner that reflects those personally held pro-life views.  At the same time all of this was going on, I read that Senator Kaine attends Mass each week and that this past weekend, while visiting a church, he sang in the choir. Those statements and that image made me feel compelled to preach to the choir.

My purpose here is not to judge Mr. Kaine's catholicity, or Mrs. Pelosi's, or the plethora of other Catholic politicians throughout the United States who may sing in harmony in the choir loft, but who are most definitely quite discordant when it comes to their public statements concerning the Catholic Faith. I have no doubt that these politicians (and many Catholic voters) arrived at these false notes because of the seriously deficient and, sometimes, outright vicious formation that they received from those who are entrusted with teaching and preaching the Catholic Faith. Some who teach this "personally pro-life but publicly pro-choice" nonsense are perhaps misled themselves. Some, however, are wolves in sheep's clothing. When they lure others away from the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Church on these matters, they are putting their souls and the souls of others at serious risk.

My reason for writing about this is not to make a determination about Mr. Kaine's fitness for office. I simply feel compelled to correct the story line that says Catholics can be pro-abortion as long as they first say, "But personally I am pro-life." It is particularly egregious when a public person makes these false claims because their power, influence and status can lure others along with them. They exercise the power of example. In this case, however, their example is dangerous, vicious, and seductive. It risks leading others far away from Christ and His Gospel, and into the realm of darkness and evil. Abortion is a great evil. Voting for abortion is voting for a great evil. 

I do not know Mr. Kaine. I have no ill will towards him. I hope for his happiness and for the salvation of his soul (as I hope for yours and mine)! I pray for Mr. Kaine. He is my brother in Christ and he and I should help one another live our Catholic life because all of us need help living the Catholic life. 

Mr. Kaine, however, is a public person who has made claims about how his Catholic Faith and his pro-abortion votes are harmonious. Mr. Kaine is seriously wrong about this and he is not alone. There is a whole section of the Catholic Choir that is singing out of tune with the Catholic Faith. No matter how loudly they sing their notes, no matter how many members they lure in to join their section, and no matter how long they are able to sustain it, they will never prevail. They are singing against the eternal truth, the truth that human life is given by God and no human being has the right to kill an innocent person. 

The fact is, Catholic politicians who support abortion are in serious jeopardy. I don't say that with any sort of glee. In fact, it is just the opposite. Wolves in sheep's clothing--and sometimes even in the clothing of shepherds--have done a grave disservice to Catholic people by providing them moral guidance that is contorted and disfigured. The Catholic who professes to be "personally pro-life" but who in every other way advances the agenda of the abortion industry in the destruction of innocent human life is in serious spiritual danger.  Far worse, however, are those who led them there. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea" (MK 9:42).  

This post is not about supporting one candidate over another. It's about correcting a serious disservice to the Truth. Do not let anyone deceive you or lure you away from the harmony of Truth. Anyone who says that you can be personally pro-life and vote pro-abortion is not singing in tune with the Gospel of Life and they are leading others away from that Gospel. That is very serious stuff. All we can do is to continue to sing the beautiful music of the Gospel and hope to draw those who have been lured away back into harmony with the Truth. We might all be in the choir, but that's not enough. We have to be singing in harmony with the Gospel.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Unlocking the Door of Priestly Vocations

When I was growing up, becoming a priest was always within the realm of possibility. It would always appear somewhere on the list of "what I might be when I grow up."  Sometimes it was near the top of the list and, at other times, it dropped down towards the bottom of the list.  But, for a kid who grew up Catholic, was involved in parish life, and lived in a Catholic culture, priesthood just seemed like a natural consideration.  I've always been grateful that I grew up in a situation where it was natural to include priesthood somewhere on the "what I want to be" list.

Although it always appeared on the list of possibilities, as I look back upon my life, I realize that I needed something more than just a mild interest in priesthood. I needed something more than a list of positives and negatives. I needed something more than my altar boy mastering of obscure liturgical facts and nomenclature.  Honestly, for me, all of the external things probably would have been enough for me to go to seminary. If we were talking about the law, you might say that there was plenty of circumstantial evidence that I had a vocation.  But, in retrospect, I realize that I needed something more.  And, I am grateful that I received that "something more."

I needed a call. I needed to hear Jesus speak to me and to say, "Come, follow me." The fact is, Jesus does speak to us through our circumstances. Throughout my life, the persons who surrounded me, the opportunities that presented themselves to me, the gifts that were given to me, and the desires of my heart, were all indications of a priestly vocation. But, I needed to be able to hear his voice. I needed, in a sense, for all of these circumstantial evidences to be united in a singular voice.

Although at the time, it simply felt like a good thing to do, as I look back now, I realize just how blessed I was as a high school student. My high school afforded me the opportunity to attend daily Mass. And, my local parish had a Eucharistic chapel where I would go quite frequently to pray. While  some may be able to hear God's voice in the midst of the world's noise, most of us need a place of quiet.  That chapel was an oasis. Located on the main street in the city where I grew up, each time someone would enter or leave the chapel, the noise of the traffic outside would intrude and then recede as the door once again closed. In some ways, I actually enjoyed the interruption because when the silence again returned, it was a reminder of just how great it is to spend time in quiet prayer.

It was there, in that chapel, praying before the monstrance, that I heard the voice of the Master.  It was there, in that beautiful chapel that Jesus called me to be a priest. I've often told people that the experience was so real that I had to get up and leave! It was too real. It filled me with joy, but it also filled me with that kind of fear that you hear throughout the Bible when people encounter God. In the Scriptures, we read various accounts of people becoming fearful when they encounter the Face of God or when they encounter the angel of the Lord. That's how I felt that day! I wanted to say, "Okay, that's close enough, Lord."

This morning, I watched an excellent video put out by the Knights of Columbus.  I encourage you to watch it HERE Listening to this man share his vocation story, reminded me again of my own call. What struck me is that his call also came while praying before the Blessed Sacrament.  And this made me want to write and encourage any man who thinks that the Lord may possibly want him to be a priest to spend time before the Blessed Sacrament.  

All of the "plus and minus" lists that you draw up, all of the books that you read, all of the Internet searches that you perform, all of the benchmarks that you set for yourself, or all of the conditions that you set (like, "If I get this promotion then I won't go to the seminary, but if I don't get it, then I will go) . . . all of these things may contain valuable circumstantial evidence that is worth weighing. But, I propose the absolute necessity and priority of prayer. It is in prayer that the voice of the Master is most clearly heard. It is in silence that he speaks to our hearts. It is also in prayer that we discover that there is something greater than our lists, our ideas, and our self-will. In prayer, we discover that God looks upon us, loves us, and calls us. Our vocation does not arise from what we want, but from his call. Certainly, what we truly desire and what he calls us to be are not in conflict. But, in prayer we discover that the true joy of a vocation is that we did not give it to ourselves. "It was I who chose you and appointed you . . . "(John 15:16). 

There are many things that parishes and dioceses can do to promote priestly vocations. But perhaps the most important is often the one most overlooked. One thing that every Catholic parish has is a church. And in every Catholic church is a tabernacle. I would propose to any Catholic parish that is trying to promote vocations to the priesthood that a critical element to their plan is simply to find ways to make access to the Blessed Sacrament more readily available. And then, encourage people to come and pray before the Blessed Sacrament. Encourage through preaching, announcements, and catechesis the habit of making visits to the Blessed Sacrament. 

I know that there are many difficulties associated with keeping a church open. Safety issues, building issues etc.  But, I think it is worth trying to find ways to overcome these obstacles. In establishing goals of promoting vocations to the priesthood, I think every parish ought to have as number one on their list: Unlock the church. Unlocking our churches may well unlock a wellspring of priestly vocations.

Friday, July 15, 2016

The Mission Christ Gave to Us--Time to Report Back to Him

In the Sixth Chapter of the Gospel of Mark, after being sent out by Jesus to preach, drive out demons, and to anoint the sick, the apostles return and gather with Jesus.  They report to him all that they had done and all that they had taught.  It is reasonable to presume that they were filled with joy and enthusiasm about their missionary journey and were filled with amazement at all that had occurred. Jesus then invites them to go away to a deserted place to rest for a while.

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all that they had done in taught. He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while" (MK 6:30-31).

These few words offer us much to ponder. Like the parable of the man who gives to each of his servants money to attend to while he travels on a journey, the apostles were entrusted with treasures as well. They were given power and authority to preach repentance, cast out demons, and to heal the sick. Unfortunately, many Catholics do not live as though we have been entrusted with anything from the Lord or that the Lord expects anything from us. And yet, he has and he does! Every Christian is given the privilege, the authority, and the mission of going out and making disciples.

If we are honest, this mission entrusted to us by Christ is not something that always defines our lives. It is not what motivates our every action, shapes our every interaction, or serves at the catalyst for our daily decisions. We do not always live as people who are on a mission to serve and build up the Kingdom of God. We might pray for various things, but so often our prayers do not arise from a heart that knows itself to be a co-worker with Christ in the building of the Kingdom. We often fail to recognize that we are meant to live our lives in the world as men and women who are engaged in the greatest mission there is: The mission to draw others into friendship with Jesus Christ. This mission is about eternal salvation.  Do we think of this mission daily? Do we try to sharpen our skills, look for opportunities to advance the mission, or feel even a little bit enthusiastic about the mission?  Or, do we tend to think of this mission in some generalized way that really has no bearing on my every day life? Do we kind of shrug our shoulders when we hear that we have been commissioned by Christ to go and make disciples? 

In our daily prayer, perhaps we should consider that scene from the Gospel above. After being out and about, we have the opportunity to come and spend some quiet time with Jesus. Having been sent out by him to make disciples--in our schools, workplaces, and in social environments--we return to him. Everyone else is reporting to Jesus all that they had done and taught. What do you tell him? What do you share with him? Are you the man in the parable who said, "Lord, here is what you gave me. I buried it and am now returning it to you?" Or are you like the apostles who came back filled with joy and amazement at all that had been done in and through them?

There is not just one way of making disciples. The Lord has given to all of us various gifts and talents. What are the ways that I could help make disciples? Who are the persons that the Lord has placed in my life who may come to know him through me? Do I pray for those persons? Do I live as ta true friend to those persons and as a true model of Christian life to them? Do I talk to them about serious things and provide opportunities for them to consider the Christian life? Do I witness to them about my own Faith?

It's not enough to have a vague sense that there is something in the bible about us being called to make disciples. If we are Christians, then we are called to share the Gospel and make disciples, each in his or her own way. To do this, we need to live with the joy and enthusiasm of missionaries sent out into the world by Christ. 

Today, take five minutes and imagine yourself talking to Christ about what you've been doing to advance the mission.  If you find yourself struggling to provide any evidence at all that you are his missionary disciple, don't be discouraged.  But, perhaps you can ask him to show you and to provide to you clear opportunities to be a missionary. If we can't provide him much about what we've already done, we could show him that we are serious about this mission by making concrete plans for what we will do tomorrow: I will pray for this person who does not know Christ or who has left the Church. I will reach out to these persons. I will invite someone to Mass with me. I will mention to a friend at work that I went to Mass on Sunday. I will look for an opportunity to share with someone what the Lord has done in my life.

There is a world full of people whose lives would be made infinitely better by having a friendship with Jesus Christ. How will they be his friend if they are never introduced to him? And who is going to introduce them to Jesus if not you? 

It's time we all had a sit down with Jesus and told him what we've been doing with the mission entrusted to us. Let's start bringing him some awesome reports.

Monday, July 11, 2016

A Disciple Has A Face

Recently, I've been slowly reading through the Gospel of St. Mark.  The Sixth Chapter of St. Mark begins with Jesus being rejected. In the next breath, he sends out the Twelve and prepares them for rejection. Immediately after that, we hear that John the Baptist was executed by King Herod. Being rejected seems to be a common theme in this chapter!  And we should be hesitant to make such rejection sound too glorious or romantic.  John the Baptist was rotting in a dark cell and had his head chopped off. Suffering for the truth usually doesn't appear--at the time--to be a successful strategy.  It usually appears to be a total failure.  One need only look to Jesus' own example. When he was tossed out of his hometown, driven out of various villages, arrested, beaten, and ultimately crucified, nobody was thinking that Jesus was a success story.

There is a tension that exists in the Church today.  There are those who salivate at the thought of fighting with the predominant culture. Basically, they feel as though if they are offending everybody, then they are a good Christian. Unfortunately, like any group on the fringe, they often become the face of the Church. Their anger and self-righteousness often make it more difficult for the truth of the Gospel to be heard by others.

Unfortunately, an ecclesial response to this fringe group is to go in the absolute other direction. This is where the Church hides the light of the Gospel under a bushel basket.  Instead of joyfully proclaiming the full truth of the Gospel--including those aspects of the Gospel that touch upon sensitive, hot-button issues--the Church hides. To avoid being associated with those who are angry and self-righteous, many in the Church fall silent. They hear the noise of Herod's party--all the laughs and buffoonery--and decide that it would be a real downer to preach the truth. It's too late to do anything about it. Best just to keep quiet and go along with it. After all, do we really want to be known as the people who ruin a good party?  

The bushel basket often takes the form of a language that is so bureaucratic and obfuscated, that if the Gospel is actually contained within it, it is so well-hidden that nobody could ever locate it. It becomes the Gospel of subordinate clauses. Everyone was clear why John the Baptist was in prison. It wasn't ambiguous. The Gospel is not ambiguous. Even when the issues we face are complicated, the beauty of the Gospel is that it is light. It makes things clearer. It doesn't make things less comprehensible. 

Many in the Church think the only alternative to being vicious and harsh is to be silent or to speak in such an obfuscated manner that nobody will have any idea what you are saying. But, this is not the Christian method. Somehow, Jesus and his first disciples were able to speak clearly and with charity. They were able to speak about sin, marriage, adultery, anger, fornication, the poor, prostitutes, tax collectors, the sick, and so on, with clarity and with interior peace and joy.  Now, to be clear, this doesn't mean that it was always well-received. They suffered and died for what they preached. Following the Master, the disciples appeared to be total failures. This is what disciples do. They follow the Master. The Mystery of Christianity is that we follow Christ--in His apparent failure. We follow Him to the Cross. We actually claim that our only hope is in that Cross. We trust that we who follow Him to the Cross will also share in His Resurrection. 

We who are disciples of Christ are right to avoid being associated with the twisted and angry faces that are so often a caricature of the Christian. That is not the face of Christianity.  We, however, must not allow ourselves to become no face at all. We must avoid the trap of becoming a nebulous and ambiguous conglomeration of meaningless words.  We need to rediscover once again the beauty of the Gospel and allow it's light and its clarity to illuminate the world around us. Those who wear the face of anger and bitterness are not the face of the Church. But, those who wear the face of nothingness are also not the face of the Church. The face of the Church is the face of Jesus Christ. It is a face that speaks the truth in love. It is a face that was rejected and which is still rejected today. But, when we allow this face to become our face; when we allow ourselves to be faithful to Christ and His Gospel and to suffer rejection, it is then that the Gospel is most eloquently preached and most likely to be received. We must place our faith in the Gospel. It is light and this light enlightens and warms.

The true disciple has a face. It is the face of the Master.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Wounded Need A Good Samaritan

We don't really know anything about the man who fell victim to robbers. All we know is that he was traveling, stripped, beaten, and left for dead. We don't know his name, his history, or his personal biography.  He was a man...a human being.  We also know that after being beaten, robbed, and left for dead, he was ignored.  This, perhaps, must have been the worst part of the whole ordeal. Just when he thought things couldn't get any worse, they did. The people that he thought might come to his rescue ignored him.  But the Samaritan stopped. The Samaritan touched his wounds, picked him up, carried him, and cared for him.  

During the past weeks and months, it has become obvious that there is a lot of pain and division in the world right now. A lot of people feel as though they are laying wounded by the side of the road dying and ignored. But, nobody is stopping and listening to them. Nobody seems to care. So many people feel helpless and feel as though they don't count. All of us, in some way or another, are like the man laying by the side of the road. We are frustrated when it seems as though nobody really notices us or cares about us.  At the same time, all of us are also the people passing by on the road. We are probably all guilty of ignoring the pleas and wounds of others. It seems as though what is happening is that instead of stopping and attending to the wounds of others, we all just yell louder about our own wounds. 

Police officers feel as though nobody listens to them, hears them, or understands them. Many African Americans feel as though they are wounded and ignored. Pro-life people and Christians feel as though they are being mistreated and ignored. Gay people feel ignored and wounded. Immigrants and poor people, working class people, young people, old people, the list goes on and on. Even within the Church, all sorts of people feel ignored and wounded. Everybody feels, in one way or another, as though they were the man laying by the side of the road. 

In the parable, the man laying by the side of the road was ignored. Since the time Jesus told that parable, things have gotten worse.  That man would probably long for being just ignored!  Today, he becomes the subject of online debates.  Today, his photo would appear on Instagram or he'd be a meme on Facebook, or the victim of a pithy Tweet. Today, we do something much worse than ignore the man by the side of the road. Today the man by the side of the road becomes a topic of discussion and debate.  

Were the parable happening today, perhaps social media would explode with opinions on his plight.  Some would take sympathetic photos and say, "What is the government doing to stop robberies on the road to Jericho?" "This is a perfect example of why we need to get tough on crime." "It's his own fault. Everyone knows that road is dangerous. By traveling alone, he was putting himself and others in jeopardy." "This is the fifth man left for dead in the past year on that road. We need better weapons to defend ourselves." "If the economy were better, people wouldn't feel the need to rob people as much." Or perhaps, since the priest and the levite passed by, somebody might decide to publicly shame them, put their faces and addresses on Facebook, and incite violence against them. Or, perhaps we could use this as a great opportunity to talk about the hypocrisy of religious believers.  

In Jesus' parable, the two men simply crossed the road and ignored the dying man. In today's world, we do something worse. We give the impression of caring by endlessly talking and posting about the situation. But does anyone stop? Does anyone stop and touch the wounded, listen to their plight, or pick them up? 

Today, I think we find it difficult to accept that those with whom we disagree also feel wounded and ignored. Everyone feels as though they are the only ones truly hurting. And so, we shout more loudly over the voices of others.  It is logical. If we were wounded and thought nobody was coming to our aid, we naturally would shout more loudly. This is true in the Church and in the culture. We want somebody to care. Those who feel excluded from the Church because of their marital situation or because they have same sex attractions want to feel as though someone listens to their pain. Those who feel they are unfairly criticized by people in the Church simply because they teach and believe what the Church teaches  and believes about marriage and sexuality want somebody to listen to them and not dismiss them. Those who feel passionately about gun violence want somebody to care. Those who are passionate about the Second Amendment want somebody to listen to them. Those who are concerned about illegal immigration want somebody to listen to them. The poor immigrant who feels demonized and dehumanized wants someone to listen to him.

It seems as though everybody is shouting because they feel wounded and ignored. Everybody feels compelled to denounce the other wounded people as not really deserving of being listened to and helped. The more loudly each person shouts, the more difficult it becomes for them to hear the cries of the other. Nobody stops anymore. Frustrations build and animosities increase. Social media becomes a place not where we stop and care for the other, but a place where we simply shout all the louder. Social media--if we are not careful--becomes a way of deepening the isolation that others feel.  If we want to begin healing the divisions and wounds that are tearing apart our communities, perhaps instead of shouting more loudly, we all should stop and listen. We don't have to agree with the person in front of us, but we can listen to that person and love that person. The Samaritan and the Jewish man who was wounded were on opposite sides of many issues. But, what makes the Samaritan so heroic is that he used this opportunity to bind wounds, not deepen them.

When we were laying by the side of the road wounded, ignored, and unable to help ourselves, God did not send out a Tweet. He sent His Son. Jesus comes and stops where we are. He hears the cry of the poor. He lifts us up, touches our wounds, carries us, and takes care of us. If we want to be like Christ, we all need to stop and care for the wounded. Not the wounded whom we think deserve our attention, not the wounded whom we think fit into our particular paradigm. We need to stop at the wounded who are right in our path. We need to listen to others even if they disagree with us. That goes for ALL of us.  

Everyone we encounter this week suffers from the wounds of a broken humanity. Everyone who shouts this week is crying out and begging not to be ignored, mocked, or discounted. Instead of trying to change the world this week, let's look for opportunities to change the life of one person--the person in front of us--the person who is wounded and feels ignored. That's the person God has placed in our path. Touch the wounds of that person. Treat that person with mercy.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Soldiers in the Social Media Wars or Disciples of Christ?

If you spend much time on social media or reading articles, watching television, or listening to the radio, then you know that you are defined by those who disagree with you. It's all or nothing.

Support Trump? You're a bigoted, uneducated, moron.
Support Hillary? You're somebody who is either a snobby, elitist know-it-all who wants to aid and abet terrorists or you are somebody who doesn't work for a living and wants to live off of other people's hard work.

Support gun rights? You are heartless and uncaring about children being gunned down in schools.
In favor of gun control? You are just another example of what oppressive governments do in order to control their people.

In favor of Brexit? You're acting out of fear and out of dislike of immigrants.
Against Brexit? You're cowardly and lack patriotism.

Speak highly of the police? Then you don't think black lives are important.
Concerned about black persons being shot? You don't think police lives matter.

Against gay marriage? You hate gay people.
For gay marriage? You're an ideologue committed to the overthrow of Western Civilization.

It's not only happening in the world of politics, but it is also happening in the life of the Church. 

Like Pope Francis' style? You must be a heretic.
Like Pope Benedict's style? You must hate sinners.

Like the Latin Mass? You must hate Vatican II.
Like Praise and Worship Music? You must lack substance.

Are there people in the world who do commit horrifically evil acts? Of course there are. But, couldn't we all agree, that for the most part, the people with whom we are friends on social media are probably not in the same league as Hitler or Osama Bin Laden?  Couldn't we agree that, while we have certain liturgical sensibilities, persons who disagree with us are not actively trying to destroy the Church? 

Social media and the media in general seems to be the battlefield of the new civil and ecclesial wars.  Obviously sometimes social media is just good fun and banter. But, sometimes, instead of being friendly debate or even serious and thoughtful debate, it turns into a war; a war that is not designed to persuade others ,but designed to provoke, antagonize, and anger others.  (By the way, I'm not pontificating here. I'm guilty too). 

This morning, I was reading the Gospel of Mark where we are told that Jesus was rejected in his hometown.  It's probably fair to conclude that if Jesus wanted to win the debate with his detractors, he could have done so handily.  Instead, he did something that kind of shocks our social media sensibilities.  He just left. He was rejected and left.  Immediately after this, He sends out the Twelve, two by two, instructing them that if any place rejects them, they should just shake the dust of that town from their feet and leave.  Disciples follow the Master. 

Do we need to cry out when there is injustice? Yes. Do we need to vigorously defend the weak and the vulnerable? Yes. Do we need to defend the Catholic Faith? Yes. Should we make our voices heard as citizens who have the right to express ourselves on all manner of issues? Yes. But, we must learn to do it with hearts filled with the peace of the Gospel, a peace that enables us to speak the truth in love and then, if rejected, to walk away. Our hearts must burn with the fire of his love and not with the fire of anger.  

When it comes specifically to proclaiming the Truth of the Gospel, there is a lot at stake. Those who love the Gospel and the Catholic Faith do so because they know that it contains what is man's ultimate happiness. When we see it threatened, opposed, misrepresented, or maligned, we are tempted to throw another battalion into the battle. But, Jesus left Nazareth. They rejected him and he left. Jesus allows himself to be rejected. He allows himself to be crucified. The martyrs--the great company of witnesses to Jesus--followed the Lord and allowed themselves to be rejected.  The Church teaches us that it is through the blood of martyrs that the seed of Faith is watered. 

Today, throughout the world, many Christians are, in fact, being martyred. They are being killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. Maybe those of us who share their Faith but not their circumstances could nonetheless unite ourselves to them. Perhaps we could be willing to preach the Gospel, be rejected, and then leave. Not leave Nazareth, but leave the heated social media arguments. Maybe, this method might water the seeds of faith more than our heated debates and clever name-calling. 

It feels like everybody is looking for a fight these days. Everybody is looking to demonize those who disagree with them. Everybody is trying to divide people into one camp or another. In a world marked by so much hatred, division, pride, anger, and cynicism, we have the Gospel of love, communion, humility, joy, and hope! The world is ripe right now for hearing the Gospel! There are so many beautiful examples of how Christ is working in our lives. Sharing the Gospel through social media is a tremendous idea, but, our methods--whether we are speaking about the Gospel itself or our opinions on any topic--ought to transform social media rather than succumb to social media's darkest and most vicious side.

There is so much anger, violence, and hatred in the world right now. Our social media posts shouldn't contribute to that. We should preach the joy of the Gospel and witness to it. And, if rejected, we ought to do what disciples do--get up and follow Jesus wherever he leads us next. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

In the Face of Death, The Love of Christ Over Platitudes

There are moments in all of our lives when the seriousness of life and of death are placed before our eyes. Suddenly, we come face to face with the fragility of our existence. We are confronted by the reality that we are mortal, and that what seems permanent is only temporary, what seems stable is only fleeting, and what seems central is only peripheral.  When we are confronted by the reality of death, there is a great temptation to find solace in trivializing the reality.

We start speaking of people becoming angels, floating on clouds, them living forever in our hearts, and so on. Sometimes, the death of a loved one produces an immediate reaction that appears to be so powerful that it would be impossible ever to return to living a shallow life again. But then, the days pass and we soon settle back into living in a way that suggests that the next party, the next election, or the next championship game is what defines life.  It's as though reality is too much for us to bear. We need to find an escape hatch and so we resort to platitudes and distractions.

There is, however, something better. There is the Catholic way of approaching life and death. Unfortunately, we run away from this approach because it is all too real. Sometimes, we run away from reality because we are afraid that we cannot handle it. Sacraments are real. Sacraments are very real. But so often, we run away from them. People don't want the priest to come to anoint their loved one in the hospital because . . . it might mean this person is near death. In marriages, people often cringe when the vows mention "until death do us part." Why? In part, it is because it puts before us the reality that this union is serious. It is so serious that only death can break it. People avoid confession because it is about something serious. It puts in front of us our relationship with God and that I am a sinner who needs mercy. My sins are serious. Confession points that out. Avoiding confession allows me to live in a world that pretends that everything is fine. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. Sometimes, we tend to avoid thinking about that because if I face that reality--the most REAL thing there is--then it might make some serious claim on my life.

When we are confronted in our life by the reality of death, the easy way out is to leap headlong into platitudes. But, the Church offers something so much better. It offers to us an opportunity to live life as the gift that God intended it to be. It offers us the opportunity to go to confession and to be reconciled to God. It offers to us the opportunity to follow Jesus in a more committed way, to leave sin behind, and to strive to imitate Christ more perfectly. It offers us the opportunity to recognize our own mortality and not to run away from that, but rather to embrace Christ and His Cross. 

When we are confronted by the the reality of our mortality, the Catholic Church holds before our eyes what is truly real. What is truly real is all that really matters and all that really brings comfort. We are made by God. He loves us. He loves us so much that He sent His only Son to save us, to rescue us from sin and death. By following Him, listening to Him, receiving Him through the Sacraments, we prepare ourselves for death. By allowing Him to conquer the power of sin at work in us and by allowing Him to perfect us through His Grace, we are made ready to spend eternity with Him in Heaven. We are people who need to be saved and He is a Savior who stretches out His hand to all those who will grasp it. Christ seeks to live in us and to draw us into His Divine Love. His love is very real. It is so real that we are sometimes afraid that it might crush us, and so we flee from it.

In the face of death, it is tempting to hide in the realm of platitudes. But we all know that these platitudes are empty. They provide anesthesia, but not true consolation. God did not send us a platitude. He sent us His Son. His Son died for us. His Son loves us. His Son is everything. When we live the Catholic life, we experience God's love for us, a love that is real.

To those who today feel the weight of reality....the weight of life and death: Don't run away from it! Take life and death seriously . . . because they are serious. When we live the reality of our life and death within the context of the Church, something quite extraordinary happens to us. We realize that our life is something truly great because it is something given by God and is something destined for eternity with God. Living and dying in the life of the Church is so much greater than anything else because it is REAL!  When we live without the Church, so often all we are left with at the moment of death is the anesthesia of platitudes. But, when we live and die within the life of the Church then reality is not something to be feared or avoided. Instead, reality--in all of its pain, suffering, and sorrow--is met, not with platitudes, but with the embrace of Christ, with confidence in His great love, with certain hope in eternal life, and with joyful expectation in the resurrection.