Wave Those Palms!

By , March 31, 2012 4:42 am

Palm Sunday, April 1st
Today is Palm Sunday, the first day of a week that we have always called Holy. The Church makes use of a very simple external sign or symbol on Ash Wednesday to remind us that ultimately we will give an accounting for our lives here on earth. So today, it makes use of the simple sign of palm branches. Ash Wednesday should remind us of the shortness of life. Palm Sunday should remind us of the glorious, triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, a triumph that all of us are called to share when we go into eternal life and celebrate his eternal triumph as the Lord of history.

The Passion story of all four Gospel writers – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – will be read this week. It is a crucially important part of scripture, the bedrock of our faith, the cause of our salvation and our joy. So, the Gospel will be read today, twice in the middle of the week and again on Good Friday. This is a story that we should never cease studying and should never cease seeing it as a crucially important part of the personal lives of each and every one of us. Jesus Christ died, he died for you and me and his death is the key to eternal life and eternal joy.

With the Church across the world, let us enter into this holy week and try and draw as much spiritual benefit from it as we can.

Happy Palm Sunday.

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Your Inadequate Lighting

By , March 30, 2012 4:42 am

For the last two years, most of my daily blogs have been on the serious side, ranging through theology, economics and politics, stressing the reality of human suffering in our age. However, I am also delighted that God has given us the gift of laughter and so occasionally I will slip one in when my editor is not looking. Try this for a change of pace.

Changing A Light Bulb The Christian Way

How many Christians does it take to change a light bulb?

Charismatic: Only 1
Hands are already in the air.

Pentecostal: 10
One to change the bulb, and nine to pray against the spirit of darkness.

Presbyterian: None
Lights will go on and off at predestined times.

Roman Catholic: None
Candles only.

Baptists: At least 15.
One to change the light bulb, and three committees to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad and fried chicken.

Episcopalians: 3
One to call the electrician, one to mix the drinks and one to talk about how much better the old one was.

We choose not to make a statement either in favor of or against the need for a light bulb. However, if in your own journey you have found that light bulbs work for you, you are invited to write a poem or compose a modern dance about your light bulb for the next Sunday service, in which we will explore a number of light bulb traditions, including incandescent, fluorescent, 3-way, long-life and tinted, all of which are equally valid paths to luminescence.

Methodists: Undetermined
Whether your light is bright, dull, or completely out, you are loved. You can be a light bulb, turnip bulb, or tulip bulb. Bring a bulb of your choice to the Sunday lighting service and a covered dish to pass.

Nazarene: 6
One woman to replace the bulb while five men review church lighting policy.

Lutherans: None. Lutherans don’t believe in change.

Amish: What’s a light bulb?

If you understand the humor in each one of these, you are very open to ecumenism because it means that you know some particular trait about that specific religious tradition.

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Hatred – Hatred – Hatred

By , March 29, 2012 3:48 am

Image: www.telegraph.co.uk/earth

As we go through life observing the world around us, we see many things that are destructive. Dams break and flood valleys. Cancer attacks our vital organs and calls us early to Judgment. Speeding automobiles spew out death, especially on long holiday weekends. Pain and suffering are all around us. However, none of these terrible things can generate the pain, the suffering, and the destruction as does human hatred- this frequently present aberration in the human psyche where one person or a group of persons or an entire nation develops tremendous dislike, antipathy and hatred for other persons or groups.

Psychiatrists have studied for years trying to figure this sad reality out but it is all really fairly simple. Most of us are uncomfortable with people or things that are different and when we are confronted by those differences we sometimes seem to react with fear. Since we can’t admit to ourselves that we are frightened, then sometimes we kick in another response which is hatred.

Would that all too vigilant, self-appointed night watchman have shot that young black teenager on his way home from the convenience store if he did not already have hatred in his heart for people who are different? I don’t know but God does. The American officer who shot men, women and children in that Afghan village – could it have possibly have happened at home in his own neighborhood? I doubt it. I am not judging the poor man. That is God’s chore. However, I do think that an enormous amount of damage is generated day-by-day, year in and year out, by people who allow hatred to develop in their hearts for different groups of people.

We are called to be loving people. We are called to respond to God’s love and we respond to God’s love best by manifesting it ourselves in our dealings with those around us. Let’s pray today that we can continue the never-ending task of lessening hatred within our ranks.

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Different Times, Different Priests

By , March 28, 2012 3:34 am

Fr. John www.catholicstuffpodcast.com

For good or for ill, seminary education is fairly standard around the world. The basic courses – four years of undergraduate work with a major in philosophy and the second four years is in the various forms of theology as well as other ecclesiastical subjects – things that need to be known by someone who is going to function in a parish or most other priestly roles. Their curriculum may be the same but priests differ dramatically in different periods of time. I don’t know if that is true of the whole world but it is certainly true of the United States. Priests who started in the seminary in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s were profoundly influenced by the ‘60’s, the chaos of that period and the awesome hope generated by the Second Vatican Council. They would later be dubbed as “Vatican II priests.” Sometimes that expression was a compliment, sometimes it was derogatory depending on the frame of reference of the speaker.

There are always exceptions and no description fits everything or everyone, but the Vatican II priests were optimistic about the Church’s mission to the world. They were vitally concerned about bringing the message of Jesus Christ into the failing human structures of day-to-day living and society. The bishops of that period reflected the same thing. It is very interesting to look at the list of the subjects upon which the bishops spoke out in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. They were working for peace, for freedom for everyone, for a more just societies, for concern for the poor and the vulnerable. The episcopal statements coming out of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops today are overwhelmingly “in-house” being concerned about churchy issues and they reflect a dramatic withdrawal from the mode of operation of the last generation. Both groups are bishops, both groups are faithful to the Gospel but they are very different. Will the frame of reference turn again in the near future?

Only God knows.

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The Hope-filled ‘60’s – Looking Back

By , March 27, 2012 1:32 pm


The 1960’s were an extraordinary time in the United States. They were filled with hope and chaos. Nationally, the Vietnam War raged on and on. Thousands of young Americans were dying and tens of thousands of Vietnamese were suffering the same fate. The draft was on and many young people were making every effort to avoid it because they instinctively knew that the war was so senseless, so wasteful and so unnecessary.

On the Church side of the ledger, things looked differently. Konrad Adenauer was leading a prosperous, peace loving Germany and the agony of the Second World War was beginning to fade, at least slightly. In the Church there was optimism everywhere. John XXIII, that rotund, little parish priest from the Italian alps, sat on the throne of Peter. He was loving and lovable. He looked at the problems in the Church and for the first time in more than 100 years called for a world-wide council of bishops. Change was in the air. Hope was in the air. Optimism was abundant. So there you had that decade. You had war and chaos and conflict, and you had faith, hope and optimism.

As a young priest, I had already been in several very diverse parishes and in the late ‘60’s was serving the national office in Washington, D.C. I had the thrill of witnessing close at hand the remarkable legislative accomplishments of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In the South, the Freedom Riders were beaten and sometimes killed but the War on Poverty with all of its ramifications and the Civil Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act and Open Housing Act were all passed in that same decade. I remember the whole decade very well and I hope that I never forget it. No one should.

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Confirmation: Recognizing Our Strengths

By , March 26, 2012 4:25 am

For the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, He is still with us. Jesus is here. Jesus is walking with us. This awesome reality is brought into our lives and maintained in our lives by the mystery of the sacraments. The sacraments are spiritual gifts of awesome and unimaginable value. Through the sacraments, Jesus touches us and we, ourselves, reach out to touch Him.

This is true in all of the sacraments, but I want to say a word today about one that is very important, but that we tend not to think about a great deal. I am talking about Confirmation. Confirmation is a one time event surrounded by extra ceremonies, excitement and family jubilation. Speaking frankly, the jubilation is caused by the happy atmosphere that marks the life of the family when the Bishop comes and presides over this important event. There is nothing wrong with that, but a more important cause of happiness should be that this young developing adult is making a commitment to be a follower of Jesus. She is CONFIRMING the commitment made for her at the time of her baptism. She is walking into the future, strengthened by her faith, supported still by her Godparents and now by her confirmation sponsor. She is moving into a challenging chapter, but she has her faith, her friends, and the saving power of Jesus Christ to guide her and keep her on the track which leads to eternal happiness.

While it may be a one time event, the reality of our confirmation should be with us throughout our life and make us conscious of who we are, and to whom we have been joined-Jesus Christ. Now we can say, with St. Paul, “For me, to live, is CHRIST.”

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The End is in Sight

By , March 24, 2012 5:39 am

March 25th, Fifth Sunday of Lent
For all the followers of Jesus who have been making good use of this six week period of prayer and sacrifice the end is now very near. The holy season is approaching and John’s Gospel text, located in the middle of the 12th chapter, tells what is about to happen and what will be the results of this event.

Remember, that last week Jesus compared himself to Moses in the desert saying that, “The son of man must be lifted up so that all who believe may have eternal life in him.” This time we see Jesus dreading the approaching suffering but he recommits himself in carrying out the will of the Father. Jesus says again, “Once I am lifted up…I will draw all men to myself.” He is, of course, referring to his approaching crucifixion.

Sometimes other Christians outside the Catholic fold criticize the constant use of the crucifix in the Catholic Church and its members. We begin every prayer with the sign of the cross. When we bless objects we do it in the sign of the cross. Ideally, our churches are built in the sign of the cross. Many of the rooms in our homes and our classrooms have crucifixes on the wall. In so doing, the Church is not in any way denying the glorious reality of the resurrection but it wants us always to remember that Christ has been lifted up and we are to be drawn to him by that sacrifice.

On to Good Friday!

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Jesus Started Young

By , March 23, 2012 4:36 am

Never in its 2,000 history have Catholic leaders in the Church had so much information at their fingertips about the condition of the Church in this part of the country, in that economic strata, in that age group, in that nationality. One aspect of the modern world is we do have statistics on everything and for the most part that is very good. However, statistics can also be frightening! That is especially true if these numbers unmask serious problems within the Church that in the past we have had a tendency to ignore.

One of those problems is the massive defection of people from the Catholic Church in the United States and in Western Europe over the last half century. There are many reasons for it, but I am not sure that our leaders are really grappling with those reasons. Among those departed, a very high percentage are today’s young people. Since we are such a big Church, it is hard to see at first glance how many have left us. Our churches in most parts of the country continue to be full. New parishes are being built every year, especially in the Southwest and West. But yet, departing, they are.

The loss of young people is both dramatic and tragic. At 82 years old, I am not in any position to tell people how to effectively reach this new generation, how to involve them, to motivate them, to instill in them a sense of pride in this awesome reality which is the Catholic Church. I do know one thing. They have to be much more involved than they are today.

It is good that we have youth organizations and youth activity but most of them are, in a sense, set aside. They are not in the main structure and flow of the life of the Church. I think that should be changed as quickly as possible. Our young people need to be given real responsibility in the life of the Church, and be made to feel that their views and ideas are listened to seriously and when documented with good reason acted upon.

Jesus started his public life at an age that, in the United States, he would have been blocked from running for the presidency. But start his public life, he did.

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Working Across the Board

By , March 22, 2012 4:34 am

The pro-life struggle in the United States has now been going on for a half century since January 22, 1973 to be exact. Happily, this struggle for life is no longer waged just by the Catholics because there is an ever-increasing number of people willing to work to solve this divisive problem.

It would be impossible to be a Roman Catholic with normal horse sense or intelligence and not know about the Catholic Church’s extremely strong commitment to the pro-life cause. We are united on that. However, we are not united on what kind of a response we ought to take as a group or as individuals.

I was impressed by an article in America magazine two weeks ago by a new convert that documented and stressed his commitment to the pro-life cause. However, he went on in a very thoughtful way, and I think fair way, to say that sensitive, hardworking pro-life people turn their co-religionists off by making this the only issue on which they are involved. The author, a Mr. Ronnie Rubit from Houston, Texas, states that while he is constantly pressured into this or that pro-life activity, he is never called upon by the same people to join in the distribution of blankets and hot soup with sandwiches to the homeless, and is not asked to participate in weekend home repairs for the elderly and the disabled or other such efforts.

It is interesting to see a recently converted Catholic challenging his older co-religionists to mount an across the board attack on poverty and injustice, and stresses that abortion is certainly a major pro-life issue but so is hunger and so is an unjust legal system and so is wage theft and on and on and on.

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The World is a Better Place

By , March 21, 2012 4:23 am

When I was a kid in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, the nations frequently interfered with one another but it was usually on the basis of attack and invasion – Russia into Finland, Germany into Poland, Italy into Ethiopia, Japan into China and then finally the whole world was engulfed in what was truly a WORLD war. That was a terrible scene and while aggression frequently rolled over borders, as powerful nations abused weaker neighbors, no government that I knew of ever got involved in the internal problems of another country if they did not have to. Of the examples mentioned above, at the time of the invasions other nations remained neutral. While they might have criticized or condemned the attackers, they would never consider joining the fray in order to help an oppressed people.

Today is a better world! While nations were tragically slow on Rwanda, move they finally did. The United States and the U.N. stepped in dramatically in Bosnia when Serbia was attempting a modern form of ethnic cleansing. Recently, the whole world witnessed the fact that heroic revolutionaries in Libya received dramatic help from the outside world and thus toppled the tyrannical world under which the people had suffered for 40 years.

Now it is Syria! The Syrian people are suffering terribly by a government that is brutally murdering them. While citizens have the moral support of the rest of the world, the agonizing question goes on: will the outside world act to end this slaughter? I think they will because the mindset has changed across the planet and we realize that safe, developed nations don’t have the luxury of watching their neighbors being slaughtered by unjust and cruel governments.

The world is a long way from being “fixed” but we are certainly moving in the right direction.

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