No Trick or Treat for Tony…

By , October 31, 2012 5:06 am

“Tony, Tony, Look around- something’s lost, and must be found!”

Today is Halloween, which makes tomorrow the great feast of All Saints Day. Let’s remember our special saint- St. Anthony- as we prepare for the feast…

Several times I have referred to the fact that religious life inside the enormous Roman Catholic family of faith is warm and cozy. We feel close to our parents and other relatives who have gone before us. We talk to them while we are driving the car. We call their attention to our problems as though we didn’t think they were aware of them, but of course, they are! If that is true of our relatives, it’s even more true about heroically holy men and women who the Church has given the title “Saints.”

When we head out to Dallas on I35, we ask St. Christopher to stay close to us. When a new pet is brought in to the house, we know he is a special friend of St. Francis of Assisi. On that great saint’s feast day, we frequently have a communal blessing of animals, because he saw every living being as a brother or a sister. In other words, he is a good friend of the pets!

The one that I turn to most frequently is St. Anthony of Padua, the patron of lost items. Do you ever misplace your car keys? Have you wondered around your house for 15 minutes looking for your eye glasses only to have your daughter tell you they are on your head? Well, those are light hearted items, but we really do believe that St. Anthony has a special interest in people who are in serious trouble because of something important having been lost. We don’t ask him to perform miracles, but we do ask him to help us use our brains, our memories and our eye sight more effectively. I have had this devotion my entire adult life, and I can tell you something- it WORKS! Maybe I should say, he works.

PS. A more serious prayer is:
St. Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find (name your lost item) which has been lost. At least restore to me peace and tranquility of mind, the loss of which has afflicted me even more than my material loss. To this favor, I ask another of you: that I may always remain in possession of the true good that is God. Let me rather lose all things than lose God, my supreme good. Let me never suffer the loss of my greatest treasure, eternal life with God. Amen.

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There Comes A Time…

By , October 30, 2012 4:21 am

On September 30th, I experienced what I think is an important event in my life. I celebrated Mass at St. John Neumann Parish in Austin. I had a difficult time getting through it and took this opportunity to tell the congregation that this would most likely be the last time that I would be the principal celebrant at a large Sunday Mass. I frequently tell people that I am not that old. I am really a youthful 82 but those altar steps have gotten too high for me.

With this experience in my life, I was profoundly moved by a comment on the same subject by a very important Brazilian theologian who is now a layman. He was a Franciscan, a proponent of liberation theology. He is still active despite his age.

Referring to that age, he recently stated that:

“Old age is the last stage of human growth. We are born whole, but we are never completed. We must finish our birth, creating our existence, opening up paths, overcoming difficulties, molding our destiny. We are always in genesis. We start being born, we continue being born, by stages throughout life until we finish our birth. Then, we enter the silence. And we die.”

“Old age is the last opportunity life gives us to finish our birth, to mature and finally, to end our birth. In this context Saint Paul’s words are illuminating: “To the same extent that the outer man perishes, the inner man is renewed.”
(2 Corinthians 4:16). Old age is a demand by the inner person.”

“What is the inner person? It is our deepest self, our singular way of being and behaving, our trade mark, our most radical identity. We must confront this identity, face to face. It is intensively personal and hides behind the many masks that life imposes on us. For life is a big stage on which we play many roles.”

As you may know, Liberation Theologians were condemned, silenced and persecuted for being “too political.” Making “political” choices, the Vatican opted to support murderous dictatorial regimes. I think that explains the difference between “good politics” and “bad politics.”

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Religious Hypocrisy- the Worst of All

By , October 29, 2012 5:50 am

We all have weaknesses. We all have foibles. We all make mistakes. Because we all share in human frailty, most of us tend to be rather patient with each other. One quality, however, that always turns everyone off is hypocrisy. All hypocrisy is despicable but religious hypocrisy is by far the worst. When we see people who are living behind a false front of holiness and fake spirituality and then we find out that they are actually mean and cruel, we naturally react with great negativity. We have no obligation to go around telling the whole world about our mistakes and weaknesses. We have a right to privacy. However, we should not project the image that those weaknesses are not there while basking in a spirituality that is a mere charade.

Perhaps the Pharisees, who knew a little bit about hypocrisy, can help shed more light on this. Jesus says, “There words are bold but their deeds are few…all their works are performed to be seen.” “…whoever exalts himself shall be humbled and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

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Blindness Comes in Different Forms

By , October 27, 2012 4:24 am

October 28th, Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Well, we are moving towards the end of the ecclesiastical year and the first Sunday of Advent is not too far away. A long period of thoughtful study that the Church puts in front of us under the heading of “Ordinary Sundays” in the year brings wonderful messages, ideas and dreams to each Sunday as we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist. Today is one of the best.

You know the story so well. A blind beggar by the side of the road, unable to be close to Jesus because of a large crowd, crying out desperately, “Son of David have pity on me.” The crowd begins to scold him telling him to keep quiet (the bureaucrats again!) He responds with more volume. Then Jesus said, “Call him over.” I love that sentence. Jesus of Nazareth, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, stands on a dusty roadside and says, “Call him over.” You know the rest. He begs for sight, he gets sight,and the crowd is moved realizing the need to follow after Jesus.

Retreat masters love this excerpt from Mark because it fits everyone who is attending the retreat. There is a blind man who cannot see. There is the beggar who has no resources. There is a faith that calls him to plead for help. And then again, there is that awesome response from Jesus to any person on the retreat – “Tell him to come over.” Which one of us does not suffer occasionally, frequently or even almost always from a spiritual blindness? Which one of us has the resources to provide for all of our needs? Which one of us is not a beggar when it comes to reaching out to the infinite powers of God.

It is not just a great story. It is a true story. We beggars should continue down the road. The Feast of Christ the King is not too far in the distance.

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Going by the Book

By , October 26, 2012 4:53 am

Regular customers on this blog are aware of the fact that I frequently refer to the importance of Canon Law in the life of the Church. I stress its importance while I am clearly aware of the fact that not one Catholic in a hundred thousand has ever seen a book of Canon Law. I want to take a day or two to talk about the what, the how, and the why of this cumbersome book of laws that governs almost every aspect in the day to day life of the Church.

The reality of Law in the Church can only be clearly grasped if we see the stark reality that the Catholic Church emerged as a force in the world as the Roman Empire, with all of its power and grandeur, was collapsing. “The Barbarians are coming! The Barbarians are coming!” were cries heard across the world in the 4th and 5th Century. And the Barbarians came! With the Roman governmental structure swept aside, who was going to tend the store? It soon became obvious that no one was able to do so other than the Church.

Let’s look at the Island of Sicily, and assume that the Empire had divided it into four jurisdictions. As the church began to grow there, it divided itself along those same organizational lines. The Prefect was out, but the Bishop is in. The mayor was out, the parish priest in. As the dust gradually settled, and the structure of the old Roman Empire faded and disappeared, and those of the Church stand out and dominate.

This is all well and good. But how does that bishop relate to the bishop on the other side of the river? Well, in a way very similar to, if not identical with, the way the Roman Empire did it. Quietly, calmly, and without giving it too much thought, the Church began to utilize the governmental structures of the Roman Empire, and suddenly Church Law was in place and operating with a moderate degree of effectiveness. Look at the words “the Roman Empire divided the whole world into governmental structures called provinces”. It divided those provinces into smaller entities called dioceses, and finally those dioceses were subdivided into smaller groups that we would today call parishes. If you are looking at this blog in La Grange,TX, today- you are a member of Sacred Heart Church, the Diocese of Austin, and the Province of San Antonio.

This to a certain extent is oversimplified, but it touches upon the basic point that in the collapse of the Roman Empire, certain jobs had to be done, and the Church stepped in to do them. Needless to say, while the Empire was concerned about taxes, soldiers, and raw political power, the Church is now concerned about… taxes, priests and religious, and raw Ecclesiatical power.

Onward through the fog!

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Workers Defense Project

By , October 25, 2012 5:19 am

All of my adult life I have been concerned about vulnerable, unskilled workers. They are agonizingly vulnerable because they have no strength, no resource other than the sale of their own muscle if somebody wants to “rent” their biceps for a few days. There have been some unions working in this area, but the potential members move and change jobs so often that they are very difficult to organize.

It is in the light of this reality that I have been so thrilled to see the development of a new cause for hope – the Workers Defense Project. The Workers Defense Project (WDP) has two offices in Texas; one in Dallas and one in Austin. The Austin address is 5604 Manor Road, Austin, TX 78723. The Project is not a union but an extraordinarily effective effort to bring low wage workers, churches, unions and community groups together to build a stronger and united voice for our low wage workers in Texas. Despite the blindness of the legislature on most social issues, WDP was able to see the passage of a groundbreaking Wage Theft law. The law now makes is easier to arrest employers who refuse to pay their workers and ensures workers families the ability to defend their rights anywhere in our state.

The Project does wonderful things, especially in the area of securing back wages where shameless employers have engaged in wage theft.

Construction work is innately dangerous. In addition to that 141 deaths in Texas last year, hundreds and hundreds more were injured. The Workers Defense Project is now providing in-house ten-hour OSHA safety classes that keep construction workers safe on the job and improve their earning potential.

I could go on and on but I want to just point out one more wonderful achievement. WDP has helped workers development leadership and grassroots organizing skills. Men and women who work ten hours a day attend organizing meetings with the goal of ensuring better working conditions for all workers. The goal is magnificent. Change can only be achieved by lifting up the voice of those most impacted by inequality to create a better world.

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A Servant Church Emerges

By , October 24, 2012 4:14 am

A few days ago, I described the mindset that dominated Catholic thinking prior to the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. It could described rather accurately with one word – triumphalism. We were the truest, the biggest, the oldest Church on the planet. Some theologians even had the audacity to describe the Church as “a perfect society.” They were not denying the human blemishes present within it but they were saying that it had all that it needed within itself in order to achieve its goals of faithfully presenting the Gospel to the human family age after age.

The bishops of the world began to view documents that were being redrafted throughout the half of the Council. The new documents were crucially important in bringing about a different accent and a changed focus. They were the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World and the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. In thinking prayerfully and intensely about the Church itself, its origins, its development through the centuries and its mission today, the bishops were wise to go back to sacred scripture and reactivate words and expressions that had not been forgotten but were not clearly in the forefront of people’s thinking. The bishops went to the Old Testament and saw the magnificent image of God’s people being formed by faith and, as a community coming out of the desert, towards the promised land. They were the people of God and as such, they were also servants in carrying out the mission that had been given to them. So soon there emerged a very strong image of the Church today as being a servant church, a church that is sent to the world, that is sent to lessen human pain across the world, give meaning to people’s lives, give them hope and encouragement in the midst of difficulties, pain, sickness, sin and corruption.

This image of the Church was certainly more attractive to me than the Church Triumphant. The essence of the Church is that it is Jesus Christ present in the human story. Is there any better description of the man from Nazareth than servant? If Jesus is the servant to all, then the Church must be a servant to all.

This new way of thinking has turned out to be much more important than some of the logistical things that were so obvious immediately after the Council, such as Mass celebrated facing the people or using the language of the area where Mass was being celebrated. We are all called to be servants and we should never forget that.

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The Council’s Effects Continue

By , October 23, 2012 5:15 am

Thoughtful, committed and informed Catholics across the world continue to thank the Holy Spirit for the reality of the Second Vatican Council. As I mentioned the other day, the Council brought about a different mindset in the Church. We went from the attitude of triumphalism, which marked Church life before 1962, to the concept of the Church being a servant present in the world. We realized our call to holiness had humility as its bedrock and realized that we were very much like the people of the Old Testament, the people of God, called by God and journeying towards our ultimate destination, never having all the answers but knowing that we were guided by the Spirit.

Despite efforts by some to roll back the influence of the Council, it cannot be done! Thankfully, its affects continue to be seen at every level of the life of the Church, even areas where younger people have virtually no memory of this awesome historical event. With explosions in the area of scripture study and theological development, the people of God began to see themselves in a clearer light that they were free, that they had gifts, that their gifts and talents were needed, or, more accurately, were irreplaceable in the life of the Church in new and creative ways.

With the Council came a far deeper understanding of the theology of baptism. That deeper insight gave us a clearer understanding of ourselves. If our relationships with the larger society were changed as we saw ourselves as servants, then no one should be surprised that the Church, for the first time in centuries, began to see and react to other Christian faiths in a much more open, friendly, encouraging and supportive manner. Dialogues began everywhere and at every level. As Roman Catholic exclusiveness and triumphalism receded, Protestant openness and warmth increased and there has been a tremendous surge in cooperation while, at the same time, both traditions remaining faithful to their origins and positions. On the other hand, the world’s entire Christian community recognizes more clearly today than ever that it is still a minority on the planet and there are terrible forces aligned against Christianity all over the world. We need each other, we can help each other, we need to continue to pursue ultimately unity, but until then, be thankful and confident of the progress that we have made.

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A Religion of Peace??

By , October 22, 2012 4:17 am

The whole world was shocked last week when a wonderfully heroic young woman came very close to being assassinated by the Taliban. She grew up in Pakistan and when only 11 years of age she started her own blog, arguing day by day for the rights of women to be free and, most especially, to be educated. Today she is 14 years old. She has a very large following in Pakistan and in other parts of the world.

Her extraordinary work seems to have been a terrible threat to the Taliban. After all, this 14-year-old girl was undermining their sacred values. “Women should never be treated as equals. Why waste an education on females?” One or more representatives of that sick view got on the bus in which the child was sitting and fired two shells into her head.

Whether she lives or dies, she will be a heroine to women across the world. I pray fervently that she does survive and is a living tribute to the courageous women who are struggling against this evil and destructive view of human life. The man who pulled that trigger did it because of reasons of his faith. HIS FAITH! What a mindset!

The American born Muslim, Major Nidal Hasan, is appealing within the military court system because his beard had been removed without his consent. Driven by his religious convictions, this Muslim killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen. Hasan was just acting on the basis of his religious beliefs.

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World Mission Sunday

By , October 20, 2012 5:00 am

October 21st, Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Yesterday, I wrote about the magnificent heroism of Saints Isaac Jogues and John Brébeuf, French Jesuits who had the courage to come to the New World and work among the Indian tribes in what is today New York and Canada. Most of us don’t have the courage and generosity to do what these heroic men did but we all have the opportunity to make some type of contribution to the expansion of the Church. This Sunday is World Mission Sunday and we really need to question ourselves as to whether or not we have any real mission consciousness within us.

We have received the gift of the faith and through that faith we know about God’s infinite love for the whole human family. That love has manifested itself by Jesus of Nazareth coming among us to secure our redemption. If we truly believe that, if we really concentrate on that, then it seems to me that we ought to appreciate naturally this gift of faith and develop within ourselves the desire to share that gift. A little spiritual examination is effortless. Did I do anything last week to share my own knowledge and love for Jesus Christ? Did I do anything last month to help someone else develop a close relationship with our Savior? Do I think about the heroic men and women who are working in Nigeria, South Africa and the slums of New York City in order to bring the message of Jesus to the suffering poor of those areas? I ask this not to put a guilt trip on any one. I have to ask myself those same questions all the time because it is so easy to get taken up with my own problems and concerns.

We should joyfully and thankfully be conscious of the extraordinary missionary accomplishments over the last 2,000 years while at the same time endeavor to get a grasp of the task that is before us. We need missionaries – yes – thousands and thousands of them, but we need supporters – millions and millions – and we are there. Let’s be conscious of that challenge and respond with a commitment that is faith-filled, generous and brave.

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