Lift High the Cross!

By , July 31, 2012 4:41 am

Yesterday I spoke ever so briefly on the importance of having good choirs in our churches to enhance our worship of our Heavenly Father. (I admit to being spoiled, because for years the parish in which I reside, has been led by two wonderful musicians, Morris Stevens and Dan Girardot.) God has shortchanged me in many areas of life, and one is in the area of musical talent. When I was in the seminary, the music director requested me to simply sit on the back row and pop my knuckles! It was a blow to my pride that was difficult to overcome, but I knew that it was good advice and I followed.

My lack of talent does not block me from appreciating wonderful, cheerful, optimistic hymns that reflect important concepts in our holy faith. Allow me to mention two songs that I really love to hear. One of them is the very popular, “On Eagle’s Wings”. The lyrics are, of course, lyrical romanticism, but the concept is so beautiful. We all have an instinctive desire to soar. The eagle is a classic example of power, and in this case, a representative of Gods presence. So, when we sing that song, we need to think about the fact that we are going to be carried into eternity by the saving power of Jesus Christ that is reflected in our day to day world as being carried towards eternal salvation, hanging desperately onto the wings of Jesus, who is our eagle!
Onward into the sky!

A second hymn that I adore is one that is used frequently for the entrance procession for major Eucharistic celebrations, called “Lift High the Cross”. The lyrics and music don’t have the softness of Eagles wings. They are forceful, with a sure confidence about the salvific effect of Jesus Christ in our lives.

Lift High the Cross!

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By , July 30, 2012 4:40 am

Morris Stevens at St.Theresa Church

2000 years of experience with the human condition has given the Church a great deal of understanding as to what lifts people up, or in reverse, causes discouragement. Since it is the goal of the Church to lift ALL of us up to be more conscious of the reality of God and the historical reality of God’s presence among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Church makes wonderful efforts to create an ambiance- an atmosphere- a learning situation, that hs the possibility of taking our minds off dental bills, economic conflict and difficult neighbors. In an ideal situation, the Church celebrates the Eucharist in a beautiful, vaulted Church building, with light streaming through stain glassed windows, and soft organ music playing in the background. Such an atmosphere will not make us pray, but it makes prayer much easier- more thoughtful and gentle.

Since ambience is so important, I want to salute the 25,000 church CHOIRS that we have in this country. For the most part, the hundreds of thousands of Catholics who are generously giving of their time to improve Sunday worship for their fellow parishioners do it solely for the love of God, and a desire to give a true gift to their fellow parishioners. We all owe them a great debt of gratitude! If you appreciate what you hear on Sunday morning, try to be conscious of the fact that they gave up two hours on Wednesday night for rehearsal, and by the way- they do that EVERY Wednesday night.

This is not a strong area in the life of the Catholic church in the United States. Up until 1965, choirs were tragically ignored for the most part, and parishes budgeted virtually nothing for music. The janitor had to be paid, but the organist and the choir director were usually volunteers. We are making measurable progress, but much more needs to be done. What financial value can you put on seeing a congregation pour out church doors after mass with their spirits lifted, their hopes strengthened, their spirit of community enhanced, and joyfully preparing to return to their homes looking forward to Sunday lunch. It’s a great gift!

Let’s hear it for the choirs across the country! In a special way, let’s hear it for pastors, parish councils and other parish leaders who see the value in beautiful music, and see that music is one of the keys to joy and faith.

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The Eucharist Brings Unity

By , July 28, 2012 4:03 am

July 29th, 17th Sunday of the Year
Today is for me one of those delightful Sundays where the three scripture readings coalesce into a beautiful collage bringing forward an important message that the Church wants us to absorb. Spread over 2,000 years, the texts mesh together into a beautiful collage.

The Gospel is from the chapter of John and it creates a situation which enables Jesus to begin to tell his people that he is going to give HIMSELF as the nourishment for our souls in order that through him we can be united to God the Father. The first reading from the second Book of Kings frames today’s Gospel because it is a situation where the prophet Elijah is with a large group of followers, has no food and then miraculously produces enough food for all of them.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul beautifully gives the reason for all of this. He challenges his readers from the first century and from the 21st century to live a life worthy of our calling, that is such an important sentence and an amazing challenge to each and every one of us who claims to be a Christian. Life calls for humility, meekness, patience, helping those around us. Paul teaches us that if we do live a life worthy of our calling, we shall bring peace and have peace. We shall be united together in a way that was unimaginable apart from the Eucharist. Paul reminds us that if we live a life worthy of our calling, we become part of a new entity, a unity made possible by the actions and infinite power of Jesus, “This is my Body…this is my Blood.” That unity results in one body, one spirit, one hope…there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism and God our Father.

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They Are Stealing The Elections! They Are Stealing The Elections!

By , July 27, 2012 4:58 am

It seems that a new crisis has developed in the electoral process of this nation. While most political leaders, educators and political pundits urge and beg the citizens of the United States to please exercise their extraordinary freedom and vote on election days, the results are that even the presidential election itself, occurring only every four years, we only see 50% of the electorate exercising that awesome privilege.

While a large percentage of us can’t get away from the TV set long enough to vote, it seems that there are massive numbers of fake ballots being cast supposedly by illegal immigrants, the elderly, the poor. Of course, most of the suspects are drawn from the Black and Hispanic communities.

But don’t panic. A heroic counterattack has been launched from the right and every effort will be made to make voting difficult for a large percentage of our fellow citizens. Last year, 32 states introduced legislation to even lessen voter participation. This absurd development has been carefully documented by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “Allegations of widespread fraud by malevolent voters are easy to make but often proven to be inflated or inaccurate.” How is this for an indication of how serious this situation is? Missouri’s documented fraud rate was 0.0003. In New Hampshire, dishonest voters reached the level of 0.0002. There were no substantial reports of any intentional double voting in Wisconsin. Of course, Texas is different. The Texas law demanding a government issued voter ID was being upheld in the courts. The Harris County Tax Assessor testified that his office found at least 35 cases of foreign nationals applying for or receiving voter cards. Please note that he doesn’t say which percentage of the 35 actually got them. Nevertheless, you can see why he is concerned. Thirty-five cases of fraud out of Harris County’s one million, eight hundred and seventy-five thousand, eight hundred and eighty-two registered voters could result in a voter fraud rate of 0.00185.

Everybody to the ramparts. Our democracy is in the balance!

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Communication – Communication – Communication

By , July 26, 2012 4:57 am

The issue of communication is at the heart and the core of the Church. The Church has been sent. It has been sent into the world to tell the world of the good news of Jesus Christ, the joyful news of God’s love for the human family and of that family’s redemption by the life of Jesus Christ. Communication is at the very essence of the Church’s mission. How is it doing across the world? How is it doing in the Vatican and how is it doing in the United States?

Regretfully, we haven’t had a nationally famous episcopal speaker since the wonderful Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. He was outstanding and his television appearance captivated the entire country, not just the Catholics. Since then no one. The Vatican has several times admitted its failure in public communication and has since hired an executive from Fox News. If that is progress or not remains to be seen.

The Church is trying and I was very happy to see that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is sponsoring three media seminars during the coming year aimed specifically at bishops to help them with encountering the media and crisis communications.

Traditionally, there were two very important groups of people who will do almost anything to avoid being in front of a camera in a controversial situation and that is the leaders from the business community and from the churches. Let’s hope that these seminars will give bishops the technical skills and the confidence in the ability to articulate effectively in order that they might carry Christ’s word forward more effectively in their individual dioceses or even on the national level.

Each of these seminars, scheduled for Houston, Savannah and Buffalo, are to run for an entire day! The bishops will have to be fast learners. Before attending one or another or all three of these seminars, each bishop, or Church representative, should concentrate on the all-important underpinning of good media communication. TELL THE TRUTH!

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Concern For Others Is Paramount

By , July 25, 2012 4:04 am

I have great love for the Catholic Church but because so many of its members are human beings, there are always signs of blemish and failure within the community and in the relationship between the community and the larger society. Any reasonable person takes that fact for granted. However, there are so many wonderful aspects of the Church that I like to periodically sit down and discuss one or the other of them. Today, I would like to mention the fact that concern for others, especially the weaker and most vulnerable members of our society, is a paramount obligation of the followers of Jesus.

The Good Samaritan is not a cute story from the New Testament. It is a job description for people who are baptized into the Church and want to know and practice their faith. Prayer is tremendously important. One of the reasons that God brought us into existence is to worship Him, to reflect His infinite glory. Knowledge of the faith is a great gift and everyone should pursue that knowledge to the extent that they are able. However, those two realities are not enough to be a truly faithful follower of Jesus.

After Jesus finished the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was a simple and direct command that reaches across the centuries and touches each and every one of us.

“Go thou and do likewise!”

That is an order, my friends. We are to pick up the people who are beaten by life, people who have been robbed by injustice, people who are weak and unable to take care of themselves. I am so proud of the fact that the Church does an extraordinarily good job in this area. I realize, of course, that every Christian church, in fact all good humans, share in this responsibility, but I do think that it is possible that the Catholic Church has capitalized on the concept to a greater extent than others. We have covered the world with clinics, hospitals, schools for the poor, educational programs and struggles on behalf of freedom. It is a beautiful sight and I am proud. I only wish that the wonderful efforts that we have undertaken in these areas could be expanded evermore.

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An Old Alliance Grows Dim

By , July 24, 2012 6:03 am

The other day, in discussing the history of organized labor, I mentioned that one of the best assets that the union movement had in its organizing efforts was the active support of the Roman Catholic Church.

Why was that support so consistent? There are a number of reasons, one of which is that throughout the bible, both the Old and New Testament, there are endless references to God’s love for the poor and the need for people of means to be helpful and supportive of poor people. Jesus himself said that throughout his public life and throughout its history the Church put caring for the poor, the needy vulnerable at the top of its list of priorities.
With Leo XIII’s wonderful encyclical Rerum Novarum in 1891 both bishops and priests across the world were given a bright lit green light to step up on the side of working people. There were important scriptural and theological reasons for the Church’s stand but there are other down to earth reasons as well.

The Catholic Church in the 19th century was a Church of immigrants. Our people were all recent arrivals, mostly from European countries, and they could see that the individual worker was very vulnerable when it came to setting wages and working conditions. Only by being united could they struggle for their share of the economic pie. This means that the vast majority of priests grew up in working class families. They saw their fathers long work days and low pay, poor working conditions and no job security. When union organizers came around and offered them a possible solution to their many difficulties it was only natural that their fathers would join and these priests, when they were seminarians and then young priests, would see the advantage that the union movement brought to the hard working people of the country.

At this time, the majority of the priests have grown up in middle or upper-income families. They are not anti-union but they did not have the personal experience of being affected by the union movement. The small army of “labor priests” quietly passed on and has not been replaced. There have been recent efforts to rekindle an interest in organized labors efforts but, regretfully, they have not met with great success. Most of today’s union leaders have little or no experience of working with the churches. Over time there has been a gradual, unintentional separation, I feel that this is a great mistake; more accurately, a tragedy.

Today there is still a substantial amount of injustice and even oppression in the work place. Hi-tech employees are doing very well but tens of thousands of regular white collar employees learned how insecure their jobs were starting in 2008. Their jobs were simply eliminated overnight. But it is the low skills and the immigrant who is often the victim suffering most in the work place. WAGE THEFT is a major problem for low-income, unskilled, undocumented people who work hard and long hours, and frequently are paid below the minimum wage, cheated on the total amount owed and threatened with being reported to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. So their only choice is to take the inadequate pay and disappear.

These cruel oppressors of the poorest among us, however, are forewarned. Throughout the bible, Yahweh threatens the oppressors of the poor and especially those who deny them the fruit of their labor.

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An Awesome Symbol

By , July 23, 2012 4:03 am

People who take the time to read this blog often see me referring to the importance of symbols and symbolism. Words are important but sometimes they are inadequate and a symbol can frequently convey a much clearer idea than mere words. Let me mention now a symbol that comes from the heart of Roman Catholic worship, the celebration of the Mass.

If you were to ask the average Roman Catholic a symbol of what image would most succinctly and graphically represent the celebrating of the Eucharist, I think that the vast majority of us would say, “the elevation.” It is the word used to describe the action in the middle of the sacred canon when the priest genuflects, elevates the sacred host, genuflects and then elevates the sacred chalice. To most of us, that is the clearest and most graphic symbol of the celebration of Mass. Oddly enough, that is not the most important part of the Mass. The important part is simply the words of consecration when the priest, ordained and commissioned to fulfill this function, repeats the words that Jesus Christ used at the Lord’s Supper on the first Holy Thursday night. “This is my Body…this is my Blood…Do this in commemoration of me.”

When a Catholic attending Mass is really thinking about this reality of his faith, he should be struck momentarily with awe. Something wonderful has happened. The bread and the golden chalice are the material vehicle through which God’s plan, the continuing the presence of Jesus among us, is made real and concrete. Jesus of Nazareth is present and when we come forward to receive our Lord, Jesus of Nazareth is within us. We are intimately close to our Divine Savior and through him united with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. We are one with the Triune God!

Since I love symbols, I have a special love for the chalice. If the church or the individual priest can afford it, it is frequently made of gold. We utilize the most precious material possession in order to, in some sense, contain the Real Presence of Jesus. It is awesome. We are on our knees. We look up. We see the chalice. Our eyes see and focus on the chalice but in our minds and hearts, through faith, we see the presence of our Savior.

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A Floating Pulpit

By , July 21, 2012 3:02 am

July 22, 16 Sunday in Ordinary Time

I love the scene described in today’s Gospel excerpt of Jesus and the apostles walking slowly beside the Sea of Galilee when they are suddenly surrounded by overwhelming crowds. In an earlier comparable situation, Jesus had the apostles pile into the boat and push out a little from the shore but for some reason today, he disembarks and begins to teach the vast throng of people.

What did he say? Well, he talked throughout the years of his public life. While we don’t have detailed quotes in the Gospels themselves, we can learn a lot from what is written in the epistles and in the tradition of the first generation of the Church. Take a look at the excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. He is telling his listeners about the profound realities that are related to Jesus Christ, what has been accomplished by his life and death and that his sacrifices for our sins has brought peace. In response to that, we should be peaceful people. He goes on to point that, “In his own flesh, he abolished the law with its commands and precepts to create in himself one new man from us who have been two and make peace reconciling both of us to God in one body, through his cross, which put that enmity to death.”

St. Paul here is talking about what the Church would later call the mystical body of Christ – that when we are united to Christ we are united through him to the Father and to the Holy Spirit and when this happens we are also united with all of our brothers and sisters who also are united to Jesus and through him to the Trinity.

Sometimes I feel a little silly in trying to talk about a subject like that in the two or three paragraphs that I have each day so I am going to be coming back to that in a day or two. In the meantime, take a few minutes today to meditate on the reality of God – the reality of God. It should not frighten us but it should make us humble as we kneel in the presence of the infinite power of God.

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Shepherds Beware!

By , July 20, 2012 5:43 am

Time after time in the New Testament, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, a shepherd who has infinite care for all of his sheep and strives to keep them together and bring them forward to union with God. In the 23rd chapter of Jeremiah, the image is used again. In it Jeremiah is warning the religious leaders of the Old Testament that they need to be very careful and fulfill their responsibilities serving God’s people well and protecting them from sin and idolatry. Yahweh tells those shepherds:

“You have scattered my sheep and driven them away! You have not cared for them but I will take care to punish your evil deeds. I, Myself, will gather them in the midst of my flock from all the lands to which I have drive them and bring them back to their meadow where they shall increase and multiply.”

Look at that sentence! “I, Myself, will gather….of my flock.” We are so used to having a subconscious awareness of Jesus’ divinity that unless we make a determined effort to grab that fact and hold on to it with greater clarity, its importance can be missed. “I, Myself (the second person of the Blessed Trinity) will gather my sheep.” We believe that the second person of the Blessed Trinity, God, stepped into the human story in order to be one with us, unite us to Jesus and, through that union, draw us all towards God. This is a tremendous cause for optimism.

A quick glance at the Gospel shows how gentle and concerned Jesus is for his followers. Our Lord and his apostles have been working their way through hectic, demanding crowds and, aware of their tiredness, he says:

“Come by yourselves to an out of the way place and rest a little.”

Those words can be good advice to nearly all of us. We need to take some time for quiet, to make a retreat, to sit in a comfortable living room chair and just think about Jesus and our relationship to him and through him. Who among us does not need to listen to Jesus’ words? Take it easy. Take it easy. Rest a little. Think about the ultimate reality of God’s love for each one of us.

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