Monday, June 25, 2012

St. John the Baptist and Fortnight for Freedom

The following is the text from an audio message sent by His Excellency, Paul J. Swain, bishop of the Diocese of Sioux Falls. It was played at Sunday Mass, June 24th.

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. This is Bishop Paul Swain.

I come to you through this recorded message today with a heavy heart yet with resolve and hope. The Church today, indeed our country today, is facing a threat to the free exercise of religion and the sanctity of religious conscience by which we live out what we believe. Long protected in law and ever present in our hearts from the moment of our conception, we are being told we must condone and even pay for what know is morally wrong or face government penalties.

While the most prominent attack as come from the federal government with its attempt to define for us what is church and restrict us to ‘worshipping’ only. There also are actions by state and local governments to restrict religious freedom. Fortunately that is not the case here in South Dakota, though we must be ever vigilant.

Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est, God is Love, noted: “The Church’s deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, indispensable expressions of her very being.” It is exercise of the ministry of charity that is currently threatened by some government officials.

We bishops of the United States in a prophetic statement entitled Our Most Precious Liberty, had declared that “We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both, grateful for the gift of faith which is ours as Christian disciples, and grateful for the gift of religious liberty which is ours as American citizens. To be Catholic and American should mean not having to choose one over the other.” We cannot and we will not. I am convinced  that most of our fellow citizens would not ask us to do so.

Yet the history of the United States and of the civilized world shows us that liberty must be repeatedly and vigorously be defended. This reality has resulted in the great sacrifice of American men and women around the world which continues to this day. We pray for the souls of those who suffered the ultimate sacrifice in years past in defense of freedom and for the safety of those at risk today. History has also shown that faith and its free exercise at home and around the world must also continually be defended. The martyrs of the past embolden us. The threat to religious liberty is not limited to our own country and its violent results are seen every day around the world in vicious attacks on Christians in many lands and the burning of Christian churches by extremists representing many ideologies.

The challenge in the United States is more subtle but no less dangerous. An aggressive secular ideology has taken hold which seeks to remove religious based arguments from the public square and impose its own ideology on us all. Today it is seeking to force the Church to choose between living our moral beliefs and living our social teachings. Under a current federal government’s definition of Church, for example, your local parish is safe for now, but Catholic hospitals and clinics no longer are accepted as religious; neither are Catholics schools or Catholic social ministries like Catholic Family Services that serve those in need. In effect what is being imposed is that the ministry of charity can no longer be freely practiced. This applies as well to individuals in business and other enterprises where you seek to live the ministry of charity.

Explaining the technical legal and political details is difficult in a message such as this. Let me summarize it as best I can. We are called to live what we believe. What we believe is that there is a God to whom we and all people will be held accountable and in the eyes of God the dignity and equality of every person is precious. What we believe is that we are one family and therefore must care about one another body and soul. This must result in setting forth for public engagement the Catholic tradition that reflects Gospel values and witnessing in word and practice our concern for all persons from conception to natural death, for marriage and family life, and for reaching out to the poor, the vulnerable and those with special needs whether they are Catholic or not.

We do not seek to impose our beliefs on others but to live them ourselves, always calling others to discover the joy and peace that comes from knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. As someone has said, we do not reach out to others because they are Catholic but because we are Catholic.

I raise this with you to encourage you to become fully informed about the threat to religious liberty and the right of conscience that will remain with us beyond this year’s elections and current officeholders. The Church of course does not endorse candidates or political parties. While it is the role of bishops and the Church to teach and inform consciences on the great moral issues of the day, it is the role of you the laity to take by word and witness Gospel values into the public square and into public life. I urge you to do so with greater intensity in this time of challenge.

Currently Catholics across the country are participating in a Fortnight for Freedom, which began on the memorial of St. Thomas More, a layman, and St. John Fisher, a clergyman, who were both put to death because they would not compromise their faith or surrender their conscience under the pressure of government power. It concludes on the Fourth of July when we recall the courage of those who signed the Declaration of Independence declaring, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I ask you to join with me and Catholics around the country in prayer these days and to engage as good citizens in public dialogue on how to protect religious liberty and freedom of conscience for all.

“We are Catholics. We are Americans. We are proud to be both. To be Catholic and American should not mean having to choose one over the other.” We cannot and will not, and with the grace of God we need not.

Thank you for listening, please pray for our country, for our Church, and for one another. May Mary Immaculate, patroness of our country, watch over and guide us all.

Monday, June 18, 2012

11th Sunday in Ordinary Time. Father's Day

Fathers give many beautiful and important things to their children. The first gift they can give is their love for the child’s mother. Cherishing her and caring for her, even as the child is in the womb makes a huge difference in the child’s life. The mother knows she is loved and the child knows that they will enter into a family of love. The first moment the child is born, fathers give them a new gift, holding them gently and saying “I love you.” These simple words will resonate in a child’s ears for the rest of their life. Fathers can give their children a foundation of love.

 Fathers give their children the important gift of support. Children don’t often realize the sweat and struggle their fathers go through to provide necessities for them. Roofs, walls, beds, toys, clothes, school, and food all cost fathers. Perhaps you’ve seen a father who worked at a job he hated for a family he loved?

 Fathers call their children by name and they give them special names. My brother was Champion John and I was A is for Alert Andy. Fathers care about their childrens’ day: “Was the water wet today?” my dad would ask when we got back from the lake. When I was studying to be a priest, my dad was very careful to make sure that I was becoming a priest for God and myself but not for him. In fact, when I decided to study to be a priest it was the words of my father, spoken many years ago, that encouraged me. He would say: "Andy, I don't care what you do with your life. Whether you're a truck driver, a doctor, a lawyer or a garbage man, do three things. Love God, love your mom and myself, and drive within a tank of gas driving distance so we can visit." Oddly, he didn't remember ever saying it. I remembered.

 Fathers, love your sons. They want to know they are beloved sons. How many times do we see in movies the dynamic of a son who waits for his father’s approval? Fathers, love your daughters. They want to know they are special and beautiful in your eyes. They need to know they have a secure base in your love which depends, not on what they do but upon who you are. How different would the lives of some daughters be if the first man they knew loved them was their father with a pure fatherly love? 

But what is the most important gift a father can give? Let me tell you a story. A young man near the end of high school is out driving with his family. An accident happens and one of his younger sister is killed. The young man isn’t to blame, because it truly was an accident. But death marks us. Death marked the young man and it marked his whole family. Three months go by and the young man’s father is so distraught he can barely pray an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be but he keeps repeating them daily, hourly. He asks his son, the driver, how he is doing. The young man, his son, is distraught as well. The father asks his son if he is praying. The young man, his son, says, you never taught me.
Virtue of Fortitude. Courage in the Fight

 The most important gift a father can give is spiritual life. Your children’s souls will live on LONG past their bodies. Your children’s souls will live on in heaven, as testaments to the mercy of God or in hell, as testaments to the sadness of sin. God wants you fathers to be spiritual leaders in your families. God will bless you for doing this. What father would be comfortable entrusting their children's welfare to another, yet how often do fathers feel fine entrusting the spiritual welfare of their children to someone else. How do fathers lead their families?

Mainly, by example. Be a man of prayer. If you don’t know how, learn how. You can not be a good leader if you are not a good follower. Do you have committed time of prayer daily? Do you have committed time of prayer for your family? If a mother takes her children to Mass every Sunday, they are 60% likely to go to Mass every Sunday when adults. If a father takes his children to Mass every Sunday, they are 90% likely to go to Mass every Sunday as adults. But we must pray for our fathers.

As St. Paul says, we must be courageous while we are away from the Lord. It seems that men feel this division and this separation from God in a profound way, especially when we are called to lead. But we must not fear, there will be divine assistance from your heavenly Father. I spoke to a young couple at a wedding reception on Saturday night. They told me they were expecting their first, four months along. They expressed the nerves of a earnest Catholic family, one that was eager to please God in their family. I reminded them that if they believed God wanted them to have those kids, then our Lord will also give them the grace needed to raise that child. Father, lead us by your trust in the Father.

Posted at Pius XII Newman Center as well.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Homily from May 13th

This homily was preached several weeks ago on May 13th, Mother's Day Sunday and the Sixth Sunday of Easter. It was also four days after President Barak Obama gave his "evolutionary" decision to support Same Sex Marriage. This homily was originally going to have to be short, as I had a tight schedule to fly away and catch up with some students at a summit. Thankfully, United Airlines cancelled and then rescheduled my flight so that I could give a full homily to both my parishes. This is it.

 On this Mother’s Day weekend, I usually like to speak about the power and beauty of motherhood, especially Christian motherhood. Instead, today I’d like to take some inspiration from good mothers. Good mothers not only give us life, but they teach us HOW to live. Sometimes, moms will use candy, sometimes a wooden spoon across the knuckles. Hopefully, today, I’ll bring you the Church’s teachings like a mother with candy, but perhaps a wooden spoon.

 This topic is difficult one but is one brought up by our President this past Wednesday, May 7, when he announced his support for so called: “gay marriage.” This will be an important topic for our life in the future, not only as Catholics but also as Americans. I’d like address three things. Our President’s referencing of Scripture, Church teaching on marriage, and Church teaching on homosexuality.

The President's Reference of Scripture
In President Obama’s address to ABC’s Good Morning America, he cites the “Golden Rule” from St. Matthew’s Gospel as his reason. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In his context, President Obama interprets this passage as permitting whatever one wants to do. “Allow others to do whatever they want as you wish no one would stop you from doing things.” Unfortunately he is using this passage incorrectly. We interpret scripture with other scripture. You’ve heard me say this before. In other scripture we know that this Golden Rule doesn’t allow us to do whatever we want. To reduce Scripture in this fashion is like reducing mom to a cook or a cleaner. Not fair to either Scripture or mom.

Church Teaching on Marriage
Secondly, what does the Church teach about marriage. The Church teaches that marriage is something natural to our human experience. It is not dependent upon Sacred Scripture but available to all intellects by nature. We see this in how bride and groom approach the altar together. They take something that occurs in nature and bring it into the Church.

 Also, marriages are of public interest, we attend them because we need them and receive benefit from them. On May 11th two of our Newman students had a BEAUTIFUL wedding and we were there at that public event because it is of public concern. President Obama and other proponents of gay marriage would have us believe that it is a private affair between two consenting adults but we know and we ACT like it is more. Because it is not a private affair but a public action, there must be public consideration on what marriage is and what to do about it. Marriage is a natural occurrence that gives structure and security, especially to women and children, not just a name for "private actions."

In his effort to redefine marriage, President Obama joins past presidents who sought to redefine reality to their own whims. Among those efforts, President Bush redefined torture while President Clinton redefined the word “is.”

Church Teaching on Homosexuality
Finally, what does the Church say about homosexuality? Whenever we want to know Church teaching, go to the Catechism. If you don’t own one you can find it online: Catechism of the Catholic Church in google. Whenever people say: “Catholics are horrible and teach this…” Ask them “Where is that in the Catechism?”

There are three paragraphs about homosexuality in the Catechism. 2357, 2358, and 2359. We look at a couple teachings form there. 2357 says They [homosexual relations] are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity [meaning physiological and psychological]. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” Notice how the Church teaches from natural law, not revealed scripture or dogma. We believe the truth about human sexuality can be known by all souls of good will. This teaching is also based upon the nuptial meaning of the body and the natural connection between sex and babies. In this way, we Catholics are “green,” practicing an ecology of the human person.

The next paragraph, 2358, is also worth our attention. It focuses on how we Catholics—both corporately and individually should aid those with same sex attractions. The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.

Here we consider that those who have these attractions are in a trial, which should be met with compassion, respect, and sensitivity. What President Obama proposes might be construed as compassion but in disrespecting the nature of marriage, it is a false compassion, doing no good for anyone. We always tamper with nature to our own detriment. We must give them aid and help.

Some will ask, “Isn’t this unfair? Isn’t it unfair that they have these desires and we tell them they cannot act on them?” It is difficult but it is only unfair if they suffer on their own. Here the Catechism recommends the remedy of the Cross. In the Cross we remember that God has entered into our sufferings and in suffering he is accessible to all who seek him. Our mission as Catholics in our culture then is to know Jesus Christ in our own sufferings and trials so that we can console others with the same consolation given to us. This is true compassion.

In this regard the burden does not fall alone on those who struggle with same sex attractions but on all Christians to know Jesus Christ crucified. In that spirit, I invite anyone who struggles with these attractions to come into the light of the Church. Seek my help in confession or in spiritual direction. If you know of a friend who struggles, seek my help as well. I am available to those who suffer and I pray in solidarity for those who suffer. Christ is risen.