The Laity to the Rescue

By , November 30, 2011 5:43 am


When I was a kid in All Saints Parish, on the north side of Houston, I would frequently get in religious discussions with my Methodist and Baptist friends. One of the things I remember always being so proud of was “my church never changes.” I was proud of that because it was true. The Church of the 1940’s was essentially the Church of the first and second centuries. It is true of its basic structure, its fundamental beliefs and its essential missionary nature. That fact is still true today.

Then, in the 1960’s, along comes a rather fulsome pope named John XXIII. He didn’t want the Church to change in any one of its essentials, but he felt that it had to change in terms of some of the crustaceans that had gradually attached themselves to it and impeded its effectiveness. One of the most graphic examples of change in the Church today is that of the role of missionaries, especially foreign missionaries, who so often in the past were priests, brothers and religious women, is gradually being assumed by lay people.

I was thrilled to see that Maryknoll, the official American foreign mission society, is preparing to send out another group of 13 lay missionaries. These are young and middle-aged American citizens who are walking away from the comforts and security of their traditional lives and taking themselves to Africa and South America and other places where they will help the Church, already established in those parts of the country, to build up and become evermore effective.

For information, contact Maryknoll Lay Missioners, P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, NY 10545-0307, (914) 762-6364, e-mail – info@mklm.org.

God bless Maryknoll. God bless the laity.

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Headaches for the Vatican

By , November 29, 2011 5:22 am


Running a small organization can be a difficult task but trying to lead, coordinate and keep in unity the world’s largest volunteer organization, namely the Church, is always loaded with difficulties. At the present time, the Church has more than its share of headaches. For example, a few of them are:

• The bishops of Australia called for a meeting with top Vatican officials to calm the situation in that country over the fallout from the abrupt manner in which one of their brother bishops had been removed.

• Ten percent of the priests of Austria are committed to liturgical disobedience on a number of issues.

• Tension is ongoing in Ireland. In the meantime, the Irish government has closed its embassy to the Vatican.

• In Kansas City, Missouri, the diocesan bishop has been indicted.

• In Washington, there is an argument between Archbishop Wuerl, Chair of the Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and a famous theologian, Sister Elizabeth Johnson, over who communicated with whom and when regarding the blistering criticism that the committee delivered against her book.

The common thread running through most of this tension is the very widespread view that Vatican officials continue to rollback one aspect or another of the Second Vatican Council. That means that the hope and confidence that was so evident in the Church in the 1960’s and 1970’s is gradually being quashed.

All in all, tension and conflict continues to ripple through the Church and a great deal more work will have to be done in order to return the Church to a relative state of peace and calmness.

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The Story of the Church: Faith, Courage, Violence, Conflict, Heroism and More

By , November 28, 2011 5:00 am

Photo from http://www.newsflash.org/2004/02/hl/hl109587.htm
When our Lord was among us, His favorite method of teaching was the use of the parable. Always a folksy story, drawn from very common aspects of the daily life of His listeners. You know them all: the Prodigal Son, the mustard seed, and the Good Shepherd. The purpose of many of them was to describe different aspects of the Church, which Jesus referred to as the Kingdom of Heaven. My favorite definition of the Church, which is much broader than the usual definition that appears in Canon law or dogmatic theology, is that the Church is the Community of Faith. That’s a definition that does not establish clear, precise, legalistic boundaries, but makes room under the Heavenly tent for anyone who sincerely places his or her faith in Jesus of Nazareth. That community has an extraordinary story, stretching over 2000 years, and it may very well be that this community of faith is still in its infancy. Time will tell.

While the Church has always striven to keep its members, the followers of Jesus, in true spiritual harmony and unity, humans being what they are, it has not been too easy a task. Two enormous ruptures have occurred during this history of faith. One, involving the Greek speaking half of the Roman Empire, rejected Roman authority in the 11th century, leaving a divided Christian world. It’s important, however, to know that both sides of that division believe strongly in essentially the same things. Of course, I am referring to the original split of Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholicism. Oversimplifying, the Greeks rejected the papacy.

The second great rupture develops 500 years later, with a religious convulsion that begins with Martin Luther and is followed by many other reformers going in somewhat different directions. While the Orthodox differences were over jurisdiction, and not dogma, the Reformation leaders rejected many important aspects of traditional Catholicism. The role of the papacy, the authority of Church structure, the number of Sacraments, and the roles of Scripture and the priesthood topped the list.

Returning to our dream of Jesus’ desire for unity among His members, we have cause for hope. Orthodoxy has been consistently faithful to the traditions of the past, and no dogmatic conflicts have developed beyond the issue of the papacy. I’m happy to report that there has been real progress between Roman Catholics and the mainline Protestant traditions of the west. For years, separate discussions have been going on between these various groups, and the outcome is that removed from the terrible religious wars of the 17th Century, these Christians are now able to see and to stress their overriding commonality. We are not united, but we are moving in that direction. Thanks be to God!

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Here We Go Again…

By , November 26, 2011 5:01 am


November 27th, First Sunday of Advent
If you wished your friends a happy New Year today, you would be a little bit early as far as the general public is concerned. New Year’s will fall a little more than a month from now on January 1, 2012. But today is the first day of a new year – the Church year, the ecclesiastical year, the liturgical year – they are all the same thing.

The message today is from St. Mark and St. Mark, as he usually is, is brief and direct. He quotes Jesus as telling us, “Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake! You do not know when the appointed time will come!”

From then on, the message is simple. It is awesomely important. Our Lord is simply telling us that we must lead our lives in such a way that we are always prepared for a sudden ending of our lives. The faith that we committed to last week on the Feast of Christ the King is a faith that guides us day by day, a faith that gives us a sense of direction, proportionality and balance. God loves us, he has given us life, he invites us to share in his life for all eternity. Our response is to be loving, faithful, committed to him, to walking in the footsteps of Jesus.

Again Jesus says, “What I say to you I say to all. Be on guard!”

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Christian Unity? The Struggle Continues

By , November 25, 2011 5:13 am


We all remember that on the night before His passion, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father that His followers would be united. That they would be one with Him, and through Him, would be united to the Father.
That has always been the goal of Christianity, but it is a goal not yet achieved.

Recently, I have been stressing the major theological truths underlying basic Christianity. They are more complex than can be possibly described in a few paragraphs, but never the less, I tried. My points were:

God Himself, the Creator of all that is.
Humanity, endowed with an immortal soul
Sin- the abuse of the gift of freedom
And finally, Jesus, and redemption.

While we regret existing disunity in the followers of Jesus, we should take some very real consolation in the fact that virtually all Christians hold to these same truths. Where, then, is the difference? That difference is to be found in the unfolding story of Jesus and His redemptive acts. Those differences flow from the way the followers of Jesus have tried to live out their lives and their faith in keeping with His teachings. Those differences have developed within the Christian story, and have rent the unity of the followers of Jesus.

Tomorrow we will look at the two major divisions among the followers of Jesus. Stay tuned.

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Thankful for a Triumphant Ending and a New Beginning

By , November 24, 2011 5:19 am


Well, the cycle is almost complete.  The liturgical year, which is 52 Sundays centering on salvation history and the redeeming actions of Jesus Christ, is coming to an end.  Last Sunday we celebrated that Jesus Christ is the Lord of history realized by our very human expression “king.”  Next Sunday, we begin a new Church Year on the first Sunday of Advent and this season will, of course, remind us of the time between Adam and Eve and the coming of Jesus.  It was a time of preparation then and it should be a time of preparation for us as well as we anticipate the first great day in the liturgical year – Christmas.

The liturgical year is a great gift to all of us.  It evolved slowly over the centuries and while there is a certain simplicity in its design, centering as it does on the three great feasts of the year – the birth of the Lord, the Nativity; his resurrection, Easter Sunday; and the commission of the Church to bring the good news to the world, Pentecost Sunday – there are ups and down with Advent and Lent being serious times of prayer and meditation and Christmas and Easter being short periods of exaltation and celebration.  Ideally, in our own personal lives we should enter into those moods and create in our daily lives an atmosphere comparable to them; to think, pray and act in harmony with the Church.  When we do this, we should be conscious of the fact that we are thinking, praying and acting in harmony with our fellow Christians all over the world.

We are never alone on this journey. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Jesus, Our Redeemer

By , November 23, 2011 4:09 am


More on the basic theological concepts underlying Christianity. Today, it is Jesus Christ and redemption. To redeem, in simple English, simply means to get something back. Something awful that occurred in the human story, the deliberate misuse of freedom, had separated the human family from its Creator. God’s invitation to share his infinite life is still on the table. How do we reconnect a sinful humanity with an infinitely loving God? How do we buy back, redeem, that which has been lost by human sinfulness?

Into the human story comes that loving God who brought us into existence by his infinite generosity. He knows of our plight and steps into our story. The vast majority of Christians believe that the second person of the Blessed Trinity assumed a human nature and dealt with us in a way that we could understand and grasp and that while he was present among us, he offered an infinite act of love and obedience to his Heavenly Father to atone for human sinfulness.

I feel silly trying to talk about the essence of redemption in a couple of paragraphs, but that is the constraint that this format demands. So, let’s just say that the next awesomely important truth is JESUS CHRIST and REDEMPTION. To date, we have had God, creation (including humanity), sin and now redemption. There is only one more major point to be touched on in this series and that is the story of faith carried out in history.

This is the story of the CHURCH. We will turn to that in a day or so.

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God the Creator

By , November 22, 2011 5:08 am


A week or so ago, I was commenting in this space that Christianity in general and the Catholic faith in particular can often be seen as being extraordinarily complicated and, at other times, viewed more simply and be contracted into five or six extremely important concepts.

The first such concept that I took up was the existence of GOD and the fact that there has always been virtually a universal faith in God. God is the author of all existence. A second great reality is CREATION itself and among the awesome works of God in the history of creation are human beings. Humans are unique in all of creation and although other entities may be larger, heavier and intricate, nothing compares to the human being. There are certain aspects of human nature that we have in common with cell life, plant life and animal life. What is more is that there is a certain aspect of humanity that makes us, in some very limited ways, like God himself, since he has given us the possibility of sharing in his life.

Alone in creation, HUMANS have the power to think or to know and to love or to choose. That is what makes us human. That is what makes us unique. Those two powers consist in the activities of the human soul. Speaking only from our perspective, human nature is at the center of creation. In our finite form, we embrace virtually every aspect of creation, every aspect of God’s creative enterprise. So we have it – an infinite God who chooses to bring into existence an awesome array of beings only one of which will be united to God himself.

Regretfully, this beautiful scenario will be disrupted at the very beginning of the human story. Humanity learned quickly how to revolt against God’s plan, how to rebel. Human beings, whose gift of intelligence enables them to know the difference between good and evil and his gift of freedom enables him to choose one or the other, very early on, decided to go on by themselves, thereby separating themselves from a loving God who had better plans for them. When we look at this simple and limited underpinnings of our faith, what we see is God, creation, including humanity, and sinfulness.

Next we will talk about Jesus of Nazareth, redemption and a faith lived in history.

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The Missionary to Waco

By , November 21, 2011 5:28 am


Both of my parents were Irish Catholics from the North and my mother grew up in Manhattan. She often told me that she did not know there was anybody out there who wasn’t either Irish or Jewish. However, when she came to Texas she found out differently. In the period of time in the early ‘20’s, and that was the heyday of the Ku Klux Klan, my parents lived in Waco and my mother described it as a terrible experience in terms of anti-Catholicism and bigotry in general.

The situation in Waco continued and would be unchanged until a young priest from Ireland came to that city in 1953. He encountered the same resistance and hostility that my parents did but he tackled it head on. I am talking about Monsignor Mark Deering, the retired pastor of St. Louis Catholic Church, who last month celebrated his 90th birthday. Monsignor Deering made breaking through that prejudice and hostility the goal of his life and he succeeded extraordinarily well.

“He is, in my memory, one of the shining stars of the religious community of Waco. Just outstanding!” said Rabbi Mordecai Podet, who himself is approaching his 90th birthday having retired from Temple Rodef Sholom. Those two men worked together for many years to change the mentality and have done us a great favor. Waco is a better city because of them.

Happy birthday to both of them.

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The Feast of Christ the King

By , November 19, 2011 5:33 am


Sunday, November 20th

Today is a glorious day in the life of the Church. It also brings to a close another liturgical year. The first and third readings are so inspiring that it is hard for me to choose one or the other today. I will try to touch on both even though the smallness of the space here can’t possibly do justice to the concepts that are unveiled before us today.

The Gospel excerpt is one of the most popular in the Christian community. It is that wonderful scene in Matthew’s 25th Gospel in which Jesus himself describes Judgment Day when He himself judges the nations, judges humanity, judges each and every one of us. What is His criteria for reward or failure? Simply, our commitment to our brothers and sisters, our willingness to help them, our willingness to sacrifice on their behalf. This text provides a great motivation to be both just and generous. We will all be there one day and we certainly do want to hear Jesus say to us, “Come you have my Father’s blessing!”

But let’s at least take a moment to look at the first reading from the book of Ezekiel, where the image is sheep, an enormous flock of sheep with Jesus as the shepherd. This text is written centuries before the birth of Jesus but the Church has applied it to Jesus himself as the shepherd of his flock, and that flock is the great community of faith also called the Church

In the final day of Judgment, the relationship between Jesus and his people is decided and the criteria is love and generosity. Let’s make the cut!

Viva Cristo Rey and Viva Christ the King!

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