Feast of St. Peter and Paul

By , June 29, 2013 4:28 am


June 29th
I have been putting this blog out for over three years and have had a consistent policy regarding the weekends. I attempt to make some meaningful remarks regarding one or another of Sunday’s scripture excerpts. That comes out on Saturday and then, following God’s direction in the Third Commandment, I do nothing on Sunday.
This week, however, I am going to let the scriptures take care of themselves. They are well able to do that and I would like to talk about today’s regular liturgical feast. Across the world today we celebrate the great names of St. Peter and St. Paul.
The Church has always kept these two men side by side because they are the key apostles in the first generation in the life of the Church. Peter was not just an apostle. He was the leader of the other apostles. While Paul was not one of the original twelve, he was certainly so filled with faith, zeal and effective missionary work that he declared himself an apostle and the Church has accepted that from the first century.
I think that we can take inspiration from these two wonderful men. They centered their lives on Jesus of Nazareth and the sacrifices in carrying out their missionary activities. Both experienced misunderstanding from others in the Church. Finally, both will die very close to each other in the year 66 in the first Roman persecution of this new community of Jesus’ followers, which at first was called “The Way.”
In addition to inspiration flowing from the example that they have given us, I think we can also find encouragement by the fact that as great as they were they both were very human. Peter was impetuous and at times inconsistent. Paul could be given to braggadociousness and anger. He fired two of his closest co-workers and had a face to face run in with St. Peter. I think that knowing about these very human blemishes is wonderful. We can draw inspiration and encouragement from Peter and Paul and all the saints without having to think that they were perfect. Their imperfections make their holiness even more important

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Doing Good At The Diocesan Level

By , June 28, 2013 4:39 am


I feel confident that every Diocese does a wonderful amount of good through its pastoral ministries and its organizational activities. After all, when you strip away the diocesan legal structure what you have is a community of faith, a gathering of men and women who are bound together because of their common desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus of Nazareth. If they are going to walk in those footsteps, they have to try to live virtuous lives and enormous good things for the world around them. Most of them do.

The Diocese of Austin is no exception and I am always impressed by the good that is done here. Many times I refer to this or that particular program, ministry or endeavor. Some are run directly by the Diocese, such as the Catholic Charities program or San Juan Diego Catholic High School. Others are run under the umbrella of a Catholic organization or religious community; for example, the Seton Family of Hospitals. Finally, a number of them are run by visionary and dedicated volunteers. In this category we see St. Louise House and our participation in Habitat for Humanity.
First a word about San Juan Diego Catholic High School. It is awesome. San Juan Diego enrolls a total of 185 students and 90% of the students come from minority families with median household incomes of less than $35,000. I am happy to see that the students are almost evenly split between male and female. Juan Diego has advanced placement courses in art, history, biology, calculus, English literature and composition. These courses provide a wonderful advantage for each one of them as they into college.

Besides the excellent academic program, San Juan Diego has an imaginative work program. The school day of the kids is longer but it covers only four days. On that fifth day the school provides them with jobs, not at hamburger joints but in banks, clinics, business offices or other environments where they learn the discipline and techniques of the commercial world.
When they receive their diploma at the end of four years of very hard work these students are not only moralistly set for the college experience, but they also have business and commercial experience. It is a double whammy. No wonder virtually 100% of their graduates are either in college or on their way.

My heartfelt congratulations to Pamela Jupe, principal of San Juan Diego. She has accomplished wonders and her example helps to generate the type of support that is needed. Student tuition pays only 10% of the cost of running this wonderful school.

Want to help? Send a check to Juan Diego Catholic High School, 800 Herndon Lane, Austin, Texas 78704.

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Is Mexico A Catholic Country?

By , June 27, 2013 5:51 am

Two weeks ago, I made a passing reference in a blog to the fact that Mexico is not a Catholic country. A few readers shot back sharp criticism challenging my views. Their reaction is very similar to that of most American tourists who visit around Mexico. They see that churches are everywhere. Every cab driver has a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on his sun visor. Practically everyone has a baptismal certificate tucked away someplace. Does that make a country Catholic? Not at all.
What those tourists are really seeing is the fact that Mexico has very strong Catholic traditions and manifest them in beautiful meaningful ways. However, the government of Mexico has been hostile to the Church since the time of Benito Juarez in the 1860′s. That oppression became violent in the first half of the 20th century and there was even a terrible period of bloody persecution when being a Catholic priest was a crime and a number were executed. In those years, the government confiscated ALL Church property and that continues to this day. All those churches are actually owned by the federal government. The church is simply allowed to use them.
The situation is relatively quiet and peaceful. The government is not persecuting the Church but it simply acts as though the Church were not present. Bishops are usually very quiet but if occasionally they issue a strong statement on some public or social issue, the government firmly tells them to cease and desist.
Despite the government, is the Church alive and well in Mexico? Well, it is certainly alive but it is not as well as we would like to see it. It does operate a few Catholic schools and is using very round about measures, for example having the ABC Real Estate Company own this building that the Church uses Monday through Friday to teach, but there is really not that much of that and the religious education program is poorly developed. The Catholic Church in the United States has a relatively weak program of religious formation but it far and above what the poor Church in Mexico has been able to develop and deliver.
However, the Church in Mexico does have one quality or advantage that we would do very well to copy here in this country. I am referring to the teaching and informative power of the family. While the vast majority of Mexicans, especially in rural areas, are not overly well formed in the tenants of the faith, there is a basic commitment that is really beautiful and has carried them through the difficult last 150 years. Parents believe in and serve Jesus Christ. There is a tremendous belief in Mary, the Mother of Christ manifested as she was at Guadalupe, as a constant source in people’s lives. There is a desire, often frustrated by an inadequate number of priests, to live out their faith in a sacramental life, especially baptism and communion.
What makes a country Catholic? Well, it has nothing to do with whether or not the government is supportive or hostile. The country is Catholic to the extent that its members place their faith in Jesus Christ and live that faith in the community that was launched by our Lord in the first century. It is the people who are Catholic not the governmental structure, not the political world. Yes, the people of Mexico are overwhelmingly Catholic and their traditions have survived through extremely difficult circumstances. We can thank God for the faith that is still there throughout it all.

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What Is A Christian Country?

By , June 26, 2013 5:51 am


It is not unusual to hear public speakers, especially officials seeking re-election, to refer to the United States of America as a Christian nation. Whenever such statements are made you will usually find someone in the back row, or sending a letter to the editor, complaining that the United States is NOT a Christian nation. Those complainers are correct. A more accurate statement would be to say that the overwhelming majority of Americans profess the Christian faith. The Founding Fathers, understanding the great religious diversity among the American people, wisely designed a Constitution that no church or set of religious beliefs to be established as had been so frequently in the past. The system, extraordinarily resent in terms of the whole human story, has proven to be enormously beneficial not to any one church or set of religious beliefs, but to all, and this is important, to those who have no beliefs at all.
Separation of church and state are emblazoned in the First Amendment which says, “Congress shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion and the free exercise thereof.” The intent of those drafting the Constitution was that your religion, mine and theirs would be free, unencumbered by government coercion on one side and, at the same time, that the awesome force of government could not be used to advance any single religious persuasion.
While we can all be thankful for the wisdom and foresight of our Founding Fathers, we have at the same time a responsibility as a nation to make sure that if no religion can be established, then neither can hostility to religion be made a legal force in our society. If one particular church does not particularly care for another, that it their business but their prejudice cannot be enforced or enacted into law. Equally, anyone committed to opposition to religious beliefs cannot have their hostility enacted into legislation that would restrict or hamper the religious faith of anyone else.
Regretfully, that second frame of reference has gradually been expanding over the last half century. It manifests itself in a number of diverse ways but one of the most obvious and frequent is when religious leaders of any group speak out in the public forum there are those in the crowds who begin to shout violation of the separation of church and state. The truth is that while no faith tradition can be formally endorsed by the government of the United States, neither can the United States attempt to separate this or that religious faith with the right to speak out on their views not only in terms of their own specific faith but in terms of their views of the well-being of the whole country. Church leaders and teachers have the right and the duty to proclaim their views of how society ought to be organized. They simply do not have the right to force their views into the law of the land.
Onward through the fog

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Catholic Media

By , June 25, 2013 4:59 am

The Roman Catholic Church in the United States is a very large organization having probably 70 or 80 million members who would identify themselves as Catholic if they were talking to a census taker or checking into a hospital. That does not mean that this number is present every Sunday at Mass. But the Church is here and it is large, but it is also extraordinarily diverse. Membership in the Catholic Church can be broken down in a number of ways. One of the most common has been lines of ethnicity. We have German Catholics, Italian Catholics, Hispanic Catholics, Black Catholics, Nigerian Catholics, etc., etc., etc. With the passage of time, ethnic identification is gradually becoming blurred.
Another big line of division has only been around for about 50 years and it is very regrettable and even damaging. We frequently divide Catholics into liberal, conservative and moderate. That distinction is not made on the basis of political orientation but rather on differences in ecclesiology or, more simply put, where one stands in relationship to the Second Vatican Council. Needless to say, there are other breakdowns we could use, such as along the lines of education or finance, but they are meaningless in terms of the essence of Catholicism – solid faith in Jesus Christ and membership in the community of faith which we call the Church.
With all these distinctions and divisions within the Church in the United States, we are blessed to have a large and well developed media ministry. We publish books, make movies, run radio stations, publish newspapers and, this is the most important to me, we publish excellent, thought-filled magazines. I want to mention three of them especially. America magazine, published by the Jesuits out of New York City; Commonweal, produced in that same village by an extraordinarily talented group of laymen; and finally, out of London comes the magnificent Tablet.
These three magazines write about issues both in the Church and in the larger society. Most of their articles bring the two into interaction. All three endeavor to deal with the issues of today in a very substantive way providing us with sharp analysis, clear thinking and objective evaluations. They are really worth your time. America magazine, 106 West 56th St., New York, NY 10019-3803. Commonweal, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 405, New York, NY 10115. I am not listing the Tablet because it is on the expensive side.
Most of the other publications do not have the time or the resources to be profoundly thoughtful and intelligent. Many are simply house organs provided by the institution that produces them and aimed at the special needs of one particular group. The three magazines mentioned above are in a very different category. You would be very blessed if you could subscribe to at least one of them.

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Reaching Out To The Whole World

By , June 24, 2013 4:01 am


In the first 1,000 years of the history of the Catholic Church this vast community of faith was constantly reaching out, pushing forward, trying to bring the message of Jesus to every group in which they came in contact.
That slowed down during what is euphemistically called the Dark Ages, roughly the time from 1000 to 1500 A.D., and then after the Protestant Reformation the missionary thrust of the Church cooled somewhat as it was primarily concerned about its own survival.
An exception to this contraction of missionary activity was the awesome work accomplished by Portuguese and Spanish missionaries in Central and South America. Their work can be clearly seen today.
In more recent years, missionary activity has slowed partially because of all of the dissension and conflict inside the Church that flowed from the changes following the Second Vatican Council. Sometimes enthusiasm for missionary activity was at a very low ebb. I think that this period is now over.
Catholic leaders have frequently manifested a refusal to speak to anyone with whom we do not completely agree. Remember the explosion of criticism when the president of the United States was invited to speak at Notre Dame University?
Our new Holy Father has just given us a wonderful example of openness in reaching out to the world. In remarks at the end of May, he stated that, “good works” is not the exclusive domain of people of faith but rather a place where they and atheists can meet. Referring to non-believers, “If we do good to others, if we meet there doing good…we will make that the culture of encounter and we need that so much!”
Wow! To me that is truly wonderful and I think it reflects that the Church is moving into a new period of vigorous outreach, not just to those who agree with us but people of good will everywhere. Hallelujah!

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Both Human And Divine

By , June 22, 2013 4:00 am

June 23rd, 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes placing your faith in Jesus of Nazareth seems to present a real challenge. The first century AD seems so far away that our imagination has only a foggy picture of this bearded man in sandals walking about the countryside in what is today Israel gathering large crowds and preaching to them about God’s love for the human family. The followers of Jesus believe that this man was truly human. When he failed to eat he was hungry. When he was struck he hurt. If the reality of the historical Jesus is a challenge to some people, his divinity is even more elusive and it should not be. Jesus revealed to his followers that he was from God the Father and that he was sent by God the Father to bring about the redemption of the human family.
“I have come forth from the Father.
Before Abraham came to be I am.
I and the Father are one.”
So his statements continued through his public life. Jesus asserted his divinity and proved it in the resurrection.
All of this leads me to the beautiful story in today’s Gospel excerpt from Mark. It is all there. A mother, a father, a sick child, faith, disbelief, calmness, earthiness (and he told them to give her something to eat). In that story we see the wonderful aspects of his humanity and at the same time the awesome reality of his divinity.
Of course, this is all based on faith and faith comes when our understanding of what it means to follow Christ, which comes when we are willing to risk placing ourselves in the hands of the living God.

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God Bless The Immigrants

By , June 21, 2013 4:58 am

Well, the debate is finally really joined. A number of bills have been introduced in both House and Congress and are beginning their torturous move forward. For the last six months or so, the discussion of the issue has appeared to be rather balanced and there was really a certain amount of confidence that Congress would be able to discuss this important but complex issue in a bipartisan manner. But now that some of these legislators have a real concrete target in front of them the criticism is often sharp, bitter and sometimes tilts towards the hysterical.
How to craft the legislation is certainly complex but the issue in objective reality is rather simple. Approximately 12 million human beings are living within the United States of America without any legal identity.

They live in the shadows, fearful of being discovered and possibly expelled regardless of their situation with property, family, jobs, etc. Nearly everyone agrees that a solution must be sought and it must be seriously sought. But how?

There is one idea that circulates that is erroneous and I think that if more people understood the reality that is involved the conflict and the bitter discussion would lessen and then hopefully even disappear. Here are the simple facts. Immigrants have contributed billions of dollars more to Medicare in recent years than the programs have paid out on their behalf. No less than Harvard Medical School has done a detailed study on this issue. They have measured immigrants contributions to the part of Medicare that pays for hospital care, a trust fund that accounts for nearly half of the federal programs revenue. It finds that immigrants generated surpluses totaling $115 billion from 2002 to 2009. Harvard School contrasts that fact with the reality that American born population during that same period incurred a deficit of $28 billion over that same time frame.

Let’s continue to argue and discuss of how best to handle this but let’s at least have the facts in front of us as we struggle to make a decision. Surely, this nation of immigrants ought to solve this problem with a clear memory. Our family once was where they are now. If we do that, we certainly ought to be a little more sensitive.

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Marriage – Conflict and Confusion

By , June 20, 2013 4:57 am


We are all conscious of the fact that there is a very embittered struggle taking place in this country over the issue of marriage. Something that was unheard of 25 years ago is now not only present among us but moving forward forcefully. I am referring to the subject of same-sex marriages. Today, nine states now recognize a marriage which involves two partners of the same sex and there is every reason to think that this number will only expand over the next few years. In addition, the Obama Administration has given strong endorsement to the legalization of same-sex marriages. In 1996, Congress itself took up the issue and enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. So far, the law has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts and is moving towards the Supreme Court itself where five cases are pending.

Part of the conflict is due to the fact that there are many different definitions as to exactly what the title “marriage” refers to. Those who pursue the legitimizing of this new situation are asserting that a single sex union should be accepted on a par with tradition values regarding marriage.

On both sides of the debate, marriage is seen, first of all, as a civil contract overseen by the government. The Church has always recognized the civil government’s right to do this. So many issues connected with marriage involve legitimacy, economics, property rights, etc. Inside the Church, we make a distinction which is not always obvious in the larger society. In a secular sense, a valid marriage is a civil contract, but in an ecclesiastical sense, a valid marriage is a sacrament, a sacred bond between two baptized persons, one man and one woman binding themselves to each other until death and open to the possibility of children.
Recently, some Church leaders have been fighting rather forcefully to block any changes in civil law regarding same-sex marriage. Personally, I think that it is very likely that their battle might be lost, but even if it is, Divine law on marriage will not change. Again, remember, civil laws are distinct from Church laws.

The institution of marriage is crucially important to everyone and to everything. How a society handles it will affect the economy, education, family life, religious practice, etc., etc., etc. It is so important that we need calm, thoughtful people helping us to resolve the conflicts that are present among us and to find a way to live and work together without conflict and discord.

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An Extraordinary Priest

By , June 19, 2013 4:48 am


He made the front page everywhere from New York to Los Angeles and everything in-between. He was not an elected official. He was not a bishop. He was simply an extraordinary Catholic priest. I am talking about Father Andrew Greeley, a priest who was ordained for and loved Chicago and the Archdiocese that served it. Andy Greeley was an extraordinarily productive writer most of his books falling either into novels or very meaningful social studies. He made lots of money but gave most of it away.
Along with being priest, author and sociologist, Andy Greeley was also an outstanding critic. With a blistering pen, he would deflate much of the political nonsense that surrounds us. But with both tongue and pen, he could do the same thing with ecclesiastical bureaucrats. Andy loved the Church with all his heart and served it generously until his death last week, but he knew that in this chapter the Church has a tremendous need for both honesty and integrity. Andy delivered on both!
He loved and admired Monsignor George Higgins, my boss in Washington, D.C., and we were all very good friends… until I became a bishop, at which point Andy was afraid I had “gone to the other side”.
The Church benefitted greatly from this man’s courage, but even more from his extraordinary faith!

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