Friday, February 29, 2008

Much Ado about Pew

[This is mega-long, sorry. I mean, von Balthasar long.]

It was Tuesday morning and I was tired. I still had the nasty morning taste in my mouth (despite brushing) of the previous evenings celebratory cigar after my nephew's baptism (Trinitarian formula). I was looking at a flight and then a 6 hour drive. Needless to say I wasn't thrilled to see every TV flashing the recent Pew poll regarding religion in America. As the comments scrolled across the bottom of CNN or FOXNEWS, I could feel eyes turn to me, the priest. I was in no mood to think.

Thankfully, a few days of clean living, some good exercise and lots of rest of helped me recover from travel and baptismal festivities. Now I can think.

I'm not going to address commentary that the U.S. Bishops' immigration stance is tied to pinning their hopes on Hispanics to fill the pews. Amy Welborn and Ireneaus handle it pretty well already.

Rather, I wish to address on the following statement from the NYTimes article that crunches the Pew Data has the following to say about Catholics. "The Roman Catholic Church 'has experienced the greatest net losses as a result of affiliation changes'."

Faith and Culture

Certainly alarming to anyone, especially if anyone is a Catholic, Catholic priest, or Catholic Bishop. I want to address Ireneaus' post on this issue, where he refers to a Tony Campolo speech. Of note: "Then he brought up Vatican II. In his most excited, sweat-drenched, spittle-producing tones, he lamented how Catholicism had fallen apart. It wasn't a matter of theology or politics, he said. I remember his exact words, seared in my brain: "They changed one thing. They changed the liturgy." And, in Tony's view, that's what precipitated the post-VII Catholic decline."

Ireneaus agrees with Tony, saying his analysis is "spot on." What Ireneaus isn't sure of is how it happened. Let me venture where the saintly and intelligent haven't yet elucidated...

When the external expressions of the Catholic faith- not simply the unique liturgy but the devotional exercises- were stripped away, U.S. Catholicism lost its sociological weight. I'm not a sociologist, but they seem to view religion in terms of human gatherings, distinct identities, and culture. Yet the Catholic faith cannot be reduced to culture. This was a guiding principle in a speech by Blessed Pope John XXIII at the eve of the council: "One thing is in fact the deposit of faith, that is the truths contained in our venerated doctrine, and another thing is the way they are enounced, maintaining nevertheless their same meaning and scope"

So Pope John separates the realities of culture and faith. Pope Benedict XVI recognizes this in his, now famous, "Hermeneutics of Continuity" speech in December of 2005 (see section on 40th Anniversary of Council).
This separation is not easy, we are not angels but souls united to bodies who live and communicate in physical realities. BXVI recognizes this, "In this sense, the plan proposed by Pope John XXIII was extremely demanding, just as the synthesis of faithfulness and dynamism is demanding...The nature of true reform lies in this combination of multi-levelled continuity and discontinuity."

I am beginning to think we are firmly in the depth of this demanding reform, awash in the turmoil of discontinuity as we strive to hold fast to continuity. BXVI continues, "We had to learn how to recognise that in such decisions only principles express what is lasting, embedded in the background and determining the decision from within. The concrete forms these decisions take are not permanent but depend upon the historical situations."

So what about Pew?

From Pope Benedict XVI illuminative speech, we can understand that the Council has wrenched us out of our comforts of form. Why? We must return to Jesus Christ in a truly radical way. Radical, meaning root. The crisis of these past 40 years is returning to our roots- Ressourcement. It seems that the Council forces us to let of the faith as sustainable cultural identity: I'm Irish so I drink Guinness, I'm Catholic so I go to Mass.

The source of our exercise of the forms of Catholicism needs to the real, personal, and life giving encounter with Jesus Christ who invites us to union with the Father through the Holy Spirit. Then faith becomes Faith and not simply a topic for the Sociology Department. When Jesus is wholly the center of the individual Catholic, then their external exercise of their faith becomes authentic and ennobling.

So my response to Pew and NYTimes and Campolo becomes: Yes, we've lost some of our flock. God have mercy on us and them. We have the opportunity to enter into a Season of Lent, stripped of the familiar comforts of the external exercise of our faith, to return to Jesus Christ. We may again embrace those external expressions as an authentic expression of our response to the saving work of Jesus Christ. As Pope Benedict said "we had to learn" the difference between expression and principle but now we must invite to those principles.

While we follow our Lord's example and abandon the 99 for the sake of the one lost sheep, I ask this question. Are our loses loses of true disciples rooted in Jesus Christ or loses of those who clung to the cultural expressions? I don't know. I know I must seek them both.

Mr. Campolo

Finally, for Tony Campolo, who spoke to Ireneaus about prophets and priests, you forgot one aspect Mr. Campolo. Pastors. Shepherds. "At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved for pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd." Mt. 9:36 "Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?' He said to him, 'Yes Lord, you know that I love you.' He said to him, 'Tend my lambs...'" Jn 21:15ff. Shepherds guide sheep, steering them clear of rocks, wolves, and thistles so they can eat, grow, and play. Christ has given us shepherds to guide us so we may be formed to Him and invite others to follow Him.

Jesus has left us with shepherds to lead us through this, and what shepherds! I think I'll go reread the 2005 Christmas Address on the 40th Anniversary of VII and thank God for his Shepherd.

Baptism as Jesus Commissioned

Today the Vatican released a document clarifying that only Baptisms done in the Trinitarian formula are valid. "I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." Why will nothing else do?

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Matthew 28:19.

Some priests and parishes in the past 40 years, concerned that the language of Jesus might be offensive to some women, altered the wording of baptism to say: "I baptize you in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sanctifier," or " the name of the Creator, the Liberator, and the Sustainer." The impact is that, because they didn't do as Jesus commissioned, these people are not really baptized.

Let that sink in.

Then remember: "Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can be enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Holy Spirit." John 5:3

No matter how fervent their belief, their desire, they have not been baptized as Jesus commands. The above Vatican statement says: "Clearly, the question does not concern English but the formula itself, which could also be expressed in another language" This isn't a matter of potayto/potahto. This is a matter of fidelity to Jesus Christ. I hope no one believes this is much ado about nothing.

The Impact
Remember that baptism is the foundational Sacrament of Christian Initiation. Without baptism there is no confirmation, no admittance to the Eucharist, no sacramental marriage, no valid ordination. YIKES!

So we must question our baptisms over the past 40 years. Once we know that reality, then we can proceed. If you have a serious question, contact your parish and especially your baptismal parish.

The blog "American Papist" has a lucid summary with sage advice at the end.

What will I do as a parochial vicar? I have no clue at this point.

Basic lesson? Do what Jesus commands. Follow the liturgical books, even when we think we know better, out of love for all souls to know Jesus as He commands.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Homily for 3rd Sunday of Lent

I don’t know if many of you like to swim. Swimming is good fun, good exercise and I love it. I grew up swimming in the Missouri River in Yankton, I took swimming lessons at our municipal pool, I can handle myself pretty well whether in freestyle, side stroke and breast stroke. I like swimming. Do you know what I love most about swimming? How hungry I am afterward.

Have you noticed that? You go swimming, indoor, outdoor, off of a boat, wherever, and when you are done you are famished. I’m not sure what it is, the full body workout, the waves, but I am ravenous! When I was in college a bunch of us would go swimming on Friday nights just so we could go to Perkins or Happy Chef or Pizza Hut afterwards and gorge ourselves.

Now, that probably wasn’t the healthiest or the most virtuous habit, exercising to eat. I’m probably still carrying some of those delicious “Deli-Ham and Lots-o-Cheese” omelets on me somewhere. But the power of that hunger was amazing.

Today’s Gospel, concerning the Samaritan woman, begs the question, “Have we aroused our appetite for God?”

This woman begins with no discernable need. She is comfortable and confident that what she is doing is just fine; she has no need, no hunger, and no thirst for anything else. She goes to the well, she eats on her table, and she is satisfied. Enter Jesus, who whets her appetite with a spring of living water dwelling up to eternal life. The Samaritan woman is moved and asks for this water: “So that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Jesus sees that she is only thinking on the physical level- labor, or the psychological level- thirst, and so, like a microscope that focuses deeper into the specimen he asks a different question: “Go call your husband and come back.” Immediately he has found a sensitive area and the woman says, “I have no husband.” As Jesus reveals her past he also reveals her own need for God, her need to worship in Spirit and Truth.

How do we approach this Sunday Mass? Do we come as part of the routine? Monday I shop, Wednesday I play volleyball, Saturday I do laundry and Sunday I go to Mass? Do we come as part of a social group? I always go to Mass with Eric, Bobby, and John so that afterward we grab a bite. These reasons are fine and good, but do they block us from the deeper appetite for God?

Jesus wants to awaken us to our inhabitable desire that only He can satisfy. Jesus wants us to discover our thirst, our hunger, our appetite for God as a profound and penetrating part of our life. Pray with me: “Lord Jesus Christ, You know the depths of our hearts, ‘you know when we sit and when we stand’. Use this season of grace to awaken our appetite for You. As the swimmer and the runner realizes the need for water and food, so awaken our need for Your goodness, beauty and truth in the midst of our daily life. By our fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, shine through our blindness and shout down our deafness to see You here in this Eucharist, that we may be satisfied and bring Your joy and peace to our world.”

Vitam Aeternum

So my brother likes to complicate things. I am my nephew's uncle, Godfather, as well as a priest. John David II (a.k.a The Deuce) is no longer pagan! Yeah! Here are some handsome photos from the baptism at St. Francis de Sales Oratory in St. Louis, MO. They practice the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, which was quite beautiful. As Godfather, I supplied the Faith for John David II, as well as answers. His grandmother really liked the way his name sounded in Latin. Here are some photos:

Fr. Avis and the rites of exorcism and I in my loose fitting cassock

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations..."
even if you forget to change your stole from purple to white!

In front of our Lady's Altar with Fr. Avis

Proud Family Photo:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Wheat Prices Tripled Since August

I'm no economist- though I sat by one at a meeting today! There is a lot of talk around Aberdeen of RECESSION!!! Yes, I said, RECESSION!!!, again I am not an economist, but it as this article says, wheat prices have tripled. When will that cost be seen on bread, pasta, and other prices?

Just something to consider when contemplating what to do with the money being loaned to you by my niece and nephew in the form of "tax relief."

Aberdeen American News: "Its 'in no-man's territory.'"

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Homily for 2nd Sunday in Lent

Growing up here in South Dakota, I never really knew the mountains. Sure, I saw the Black Hills in 1989- but I was focused on the State Soccer tournament. When novelists would write or musicians sing about their meager existence in the shadow of mountains- I would have no clue what they were talking about. Even when I moved to Denver, the mountains were simply something there- a compass rose to point me west in a strange city. I skied and snow shoed but was not moved. Then, in February of my first year there, we went on a week silent retreat, in the mountains.

On the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park in Boulder County, Colorado, St. Malo Retreat Center sat at the foot of 13,991 ft. Mt. Meeker. Imagine my head as the peak of Mt. Meeker and that St. Malo’s sits right here, at my waist. The shoulders of the mountain frame and shelter St. Malo’s as you look from the road. Your whole time there, inside or outside, you are aware of Mt. Meeker, like a guardian and sentinel, keeping watch on your prayer.

Until I lived at Mt. Meeker for that one week, I never knew the majesty of mountains. I never knew how the mountain could call to my soul. I never knew the ambition that led sherpas of Nepal and Sir Edmund Hillary to climb Mt. Everest. “Why did you climb the mountain?” “Because it was there!” It isn’t logical but it is human, in the depth of our heart.

Today, on Mt. Tabor- Jesus is transformed and transfigured before the eyes of His disciples. Peter, James, and John had seen Jesus and known Jesus. They knew His miracles, His healings, His teachings, and the ways Jesus spoke to the heart. But today is something different. Today they see the glory of Jesus, the true reality of who He is- beyond the miracles, healings, and teachings- they see the one who is “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God.”

Like myself in the shadow of Mt. Meeker, like Sir Edmund Hillary before Mt. Everest, St. Peter is moved to a response. His heart cries out in the presence of the unveiled glory of Jesus, breaking through the bonds of his normal life. Bursting with glory the human heart needs to respond, the human heart needs to react, the human heart needs to offer it’s very self in return. Peter cries out “Lord, it is good that we are here! If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!”

So what of our hearts here at the foot of this Mass? Do we see the majestic, the beautiful, the otherworldly Christ? If we have not yet met Jesus in such a way, if we have not met Jesus in a way that calls to us in the very depths of our souls, we must act. We must begin to live with Jesus, to talk with Jesus, to listen to Jesus in new ways. We must seek the face Jesus in the Sacraments- in confession and the Sunday Mass. We must ask Jesus to break through the deafness, to shine through the blindness of sin so that we may hear and see and be moved.

I never saw the mountains until I lived in Denver- and even then it took me a week’s immersion in their beauty before I really knew them. Sts. Peter, James, and John never saw the unveiled glory of Christ until Mt. Tabor. If I called my self a mountaineer, if I said I was equal to a Nepalese sherpa, but I never left Aberdeen, you’d say I’m crazy. Let us use this season of Lent, this season of conversion, this season of grace to encounter Jesus Christ in a new way. Shout through my deafness, Lord, shine through my blindness Lord, let me hear and see You, and move my heart to follow You.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

John David

As of 5:12pm on Tuesday, February 12th, I'm an uncle again. Woo Hoo! John David II aka Jack aka Deuce. My brother wants to know if there is a Saint Deuce. His wife isn't thrilled. About the Deuce alias not the Deuce himself. Here is Deuce with his big sister, Libby. From some basic browsing of Catholic Encyclopedia at, we find a couple saints.
Saint Deicolus
Saint Deusdedit- archbishop of Cantebury d.664
Saint Deusdedit- Pope d. 618