Monday, February 10, 2014

When Professors Attack...Your Faith...

Almost every Catholic college students experiences it. You're in a lecture and your professor makes some claim that casts the Catholic Church in a bad light. I hear it often from students in courses on human sexuality or some such topic.

"The Catholic Church says rape is better than homosexuality."

"The Catholic Church is about to allow condoms to be used."

"The Church doesn't like to openly discuss sex."

What should a college student do?
  1. Stay calm
  2. Politely ask your professor for a reference citation. This can be done after class. You can even avoid the appearance of confrontation if you want, just go for general inquiry: "You said the Catholic Church is [insert crazy claim like "burning homosexuals in St. Peter's Basilica on Friday"], I'd like to learn more about that?"
  3. If your professor gives you a citation, investigate and look into things to see what might be distorted. In the case of one comment a student brought to me, I knew the professor was deliberately distorting St. Thomas Aquinas- even without the source.
    1. In this case, if you find discrepancies and outright errors, assume goodwill on your professor's part. Bring a citation that helps and corrects the misconception.
    2. If goodwill isn't present and error is clear, then you want to see what your resources are in your University- such as the evaluations, letters to deans, etc.
  4. If your professor does not have a source or even refuses to give you a source, then you have a couple options.
    1. If you wanted to protect your anonymity, you could wait for evaluations and make a comment like: "professor made disparaging/negative claims against an ethno-religious group and did not provide sources when asked"
    2. You could privately and politely ask the professor about why they are making blanket claims without reliable sources.
    3. You could go all 1960s on them and plan a protest. Though it might be good to talk to a faculty advisor/dean/advocate in that case JUST to make sure your academic future is covered.
The main thing to remember as a student is that you have rights. Just as your professors expect citations and sources, so should you expect it from them. Especially when making grand claims. Anything else is an abuse of their authority.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Why a Martyr after Christmas?

Merry Christmas!

Now, go celebrate a martyr. Seriously. Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, proto-martyr of the faith. You can and SHOULD read about Stephen's life and martyrdom in the Acts of the Apostles, chp 6 and chp 7. Great story, but why at Christmas?

I don't know the literal reason of the Church's placement of the feast here. But I can reckon my own thoughts. Archbishop Fulton Sheen is quoted: "Christ did not come to make us nice people, He came to make us new men." That is what St. Stephen is- a great and vibrant example of the New Man formed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Ask any one in the malls making returns today: "What is Freedom?" They will answer: "To do what I want, in the way I want, whenever I want." St. Stephen will tell them: "Freedom is to know and to do the good, no matter the circumstances."

Ask our countrymen going back to work today: "What is Love?" They will answer: "Love is the feeling in your heart about your beloved. The thrill, the sight, the smell. All those good things that stir you up." St. Stephen will tell them: "Love is choosing good for your beloved. See how I loved my persecutors? I blessed them as they killed me. I sought their good as they sought my death."

St. Stephen won the day. Amongst his persecutors was Saul (Acts 7:58) who consented to the execution of Stephen. Saul is later won over by love and grace and Christ. He is known as St. Paul. Imagine when St. Paul wrote about Love in 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps he was not simply writing about Christ but also about Stephen?

Merry Christmas! Merry StephenMass!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Advent Homily Plan

Just a heads up: My Advent homilies will follow this general outline.
  1. First Sunday of Advent: "Why Advent?"
  2. Second Sunday of Advent: "The Three Conversions Necessary for all Christians."
  3. Third Sunday of Advent: "Spiritual Poverty."
  4. Fourth Sunday of Advent: "The Gift of Christmas"
"It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said: “A voice of one crying out in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.’” Matthew 3:3

Cross posted at

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Be like Mary

Today, November 21st, is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. According to Jewish law, today would be the day she was presented in the temple after her birth on September 8th. In honor of that day, a repost of a beautiful homily by St. Augustine.
Stretching out his hand over his disciples, the Lord declared: Here are my mother and my brothers; anyone who does the will of my Father who sent me is my brother and my sister and my mother. I would urge you to ponder these words. Did the Virgin Mary, who believed by faith and conceived by faith, who was the chosen one from whom our Savior was born among men, who was created by Christ before Christ was created in her—did she not do the will of the Father? Indeed the blessed Mary certainly did the Father's will, and so it was for her a greater thing to have been Christ's disciple than to have been his mother, and she was more blessed in her discipleship than in her motherhood. Hers was the happiness of first bearing in her womb him whom she would obey as her master. 
Now listen and see if the words of Scripture do not agree with what I have said. The Lord was passing by and crowds were following him. His miracles gave proof of divine power, and a woman cried out: Happy is the womb that bore you, blessed is that womb! But the Lord, not wishing people to seek happiness in a purely physical relationship, replied: More blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. Mary heard God's word and kept it, so she is blessed. She kept God's truth in her mind, a nobler thing than carrying his body in her womb. The truth and the body were both Christ: he was kept in Mary's mind insofar as he is truth, he was carried in her womb insofar as he is man; but what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb. 
The Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, and yet the Church is greater than she. Mary is a part of the Church, a member of the Church, a holy, an eminent—the most eminent—member, but still only a member of the entire body. The body undoubtedly is greater than she, one of its members. This body has the Lord for its head, and head and body together make up the whole Christ. In other words, our head is divine—our head is God. 
Now, beloved, give me your whole attention, for you also are members of Christ; you also are the body of Christ. Consider how you yourselves can be among those of whom the Lord said: Here are my mother and my brothers. Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ? He himself said: Whoever hears and fulfills the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and my sister and my mother. As for our being the brothers and sisters of Christ, we can understand this because although there is only one inheritance and Christ is the only Son, his mercy would not allow him to remain alone.  It was his wish that we too should be heirs of the Father, and co-heirs with himself. 
Now having said that all of you are brothers of Christ, shall I not dare to call you his mothers? Much less would I dare to deny his own words. Tell me how Mary became the mother of Christ, if it was not by giving birth to the members of Christ? You, to whom I am speaking, are the members of Christ. Of whom were you born? "Of Mother Church," I hear the reply of your hearts. You became sons of this mother at your baptism, you came to birth as members of Christ. Now you in your turn must draw to the font of baptism as many as you possibly can. You became sons when you were born there yourselves, and now by bringing others to birth in the same way, you have it in your power to become mothers of Christ.

Friday, November 1, 2013

All Saints Day Homily

Listen to the podcast at

Find the readings for All Saints Day here.

Why does the Church celebrate All Saints Day? It is the feast of the Heavenly Jerusalem, our Mother, where the Saints and Angels are citizens of heaven. It is the feast of our homeland.

This feast reminds us to enliven our imagination about what holiness really is. When I was young, I would have thought holiness was the same as boring! Our culture has lost the ability to portray real and substantial goodness. Yet real and substantial goodness exists. Being a Saint is more than being free from sin and guilt. Being a saint is being truly human and really alive.

If we are to invite people to heaven and holiness, we have to know what it is. Holiness and saintliness is real virtue. Unwavering courage, piercing wisdom, justice that shows no favorites, faith in the face of doubt, generous love and more are what make up holiness.

Study the lives of the saints so you can learn how to be really and truly holy. It is possible for you by the grace and power of Jesus Christ.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Football Lessons for your Prayer Life

You can learn about your prayer life from football. Actually, a lot. But here is one lesson.

This past Saturday I caught the last 20 minutes of our SDSU Jackrabbit football team's loss to Missouri State. It wasn't pretty. As I watched the Jacks- students I love as sons- struggle back from a 27-7 deficit, I could hear the criticisms mounting. I sometimes sit in the season ticket section, thanks to generous people, and I know there are chat sites where people criticize and Jackrabbit football. "Sumner is going to get ripped in the chat rooms for this!"

Now, when teams lose, do they need criticism? Yes! Do they need internal criticism and self-scouting? Yes! Do they need an outsider's opinion too? Yes! But a team and players need to learn which criticisms to accept.

On a team, you need to learn how to filter those ON YOUR OWN TEAM who give criticism. On a team you need to learn how to filter those OUTSIDE YOUR OWN TEAM who give criticism.

You find those voices that are true AND encouraging- those are trustworthy voices.

It is the same in the spiritual life. St. Ignatius of Loyola describes this very well in his Spiritual Exercises, especially his Rules for Discernment of spirits.

Second Rule: In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.

Notice how St. Ignatius doesn't debate whether inspirations are true or not. The evil spirit may speak something that is real but does so in a way as to prevent your growth. The Lord, when He inspires, always does so in a way to encourage you in rising to better life.

So, how do we apply this?

  • If we are living the moral life (rising from good to better in service of God our Lord) then we can discern between the good and evil spirits from how they move us. 
  • When a particular spirit prevents or discourages us from the Christian life, it isn't from our Lord.
  • When a particular spirit encourages us then it is from the Lord.
The great news about the Christian faith is that REAL guidance exists for the Christian life. It isn't just trusting your feelings (like Star Wars) but real guidance for real life. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What the Church Needs

Click here for the podcst of my Sunday homily.

The Sunday scriptures can be found here.

This past week the priests of the Diocese gathered with Bishop Swain for annual meetings. One area of discussion these past years has been future planning for the Diocese. One thing we find, that doesn't get much attention is our Sunday Mass attendance. Our numbers show only 35% of Catholics attend Sunday Mass. That means, on any given Sunday, probably 65% of our Catholics are committing a mortal sin!

Why is it that people don't live their faith? Is it something unique to our time? No. The Gospel tells the story of ingratitude. These 10 lepers were outcast from their communities but now restored to friendship and support. Only one comes to give thanks.

It wasn't unique 800 years ago in the days of St. Thomas Aquinas either. He said there are five reasons why hearts do not respond to the power of God, the gifts of the Holy Spirit given in the Sacraments.
  1. Lack of Faith
  2. Lack of Understanding
  3. Lack of Desire to Live a New Life
  4. Lack of Repentance
  5. The priest omitted the pre-baptism exorcisms
What to do? First, build up your own life of prayer. Stir up the gifts God has given you. Just as chocolate syrup needs to be stirred up from the bottom of your glass of milk so to do you need to stir up the gifts. So, if one of the 5 causes of St. Thomas Aquinas caught your attention, deal with it! Go to Mass more often. Pray and beg our Lord to awaken your heart to the gift given to you. Finally, perform works of charity- they always awaken the gift of God.

Second, learn how to reach out to those who's faith is asleep or dead. Bishop Swain wants to assist you with that with a conference on October 26th: Encountering Jesus Christ. This one day faith conference will strengthen your faith and empower you to find others and aid others who's faith is asleep.

Finally, remember the generosity of our Lord. He does not portion the Holy Spirit but pours it in abundance to those who ask. Notice that Jesus does not withdraw the gift of physical healing from the 9 lepers who did not return to thank Him. He gives the gift and the gift endures, in hope of their return.