Challenges in the Trenches

By , February 28, 2014 5:02 am

Image: M. Poloskey

Pope Francis has sent a questionnaire to every bishop in the world asking them to involve themselves in an in-depth study and analysis of Catholic thinking and practice in regards to marriage and family life. This is a major component of preparation for a special Synod which will be held in Rome in October. Some reports are coming in early and what they reveal should not surprise very many of us.

The Swiss bishops published a report based on 25,000 responses. It was very similar to expressions coming from the German bishops.

“Most of the baptized have an image of the Church that on, the one hand, is family friendly in attitude while at the same time, considers her sexual morality to be unrealistic.”

Both the German and Swiss reports said that Catholics in their country accept the Church’s vision that marriage is a lifelong union of a man and a woman, open to having children, and they hope to realize that vision in their own family. However, they consider the Church’s public position to be unrealistic in terms of premarital sex, remarriage after divorce, and contraception.

The Freiburg Diocese encouraged divorced and remarried Catholics to speak to a local priest about their situation suggesting that their status could be resolved as a matter of personal conscience. The bishops said that most remarried people do not regard their original unions as null and void but rather as having failed, and they consider the existing annulment process “to be dishonest.”

The Swiss bishops said that about 60% of the participants in the consultation support the recognition and church blessing of homosexual couples. However, the traditional teaching has strong support and this issue generated a sharp division among the people.

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Loving Criticism

By , February 27, 2014 5:24 am

Father Thomas Reese, S.J. has long been one of my heroes. He did a magnificent job while he was editor of America magazine, the lead publication of the Jesuits in the United States. Reese was forced out of that office because he had the misguided idea that both sides should be presented in theological disputes. It was a loss for America and a disappointment to its readers.

Father Reese is now writing a weekly column in the National Catholic Reporter and last week he made some very interesting observations. His comments were serious and critical but as they are coming from a man who has tremendous appreciation for Pope Francis, I think they need to be taken very seriously by our Holy Father.

Father Reese is an expert on Vatican structures and modes of operation, and he has written several books on the subject.
Reese points out that the men heading various posts in the Vatican bureaucracy should be seen essentially as staff persons. In point of fact, however, for centuries these roles have been given to cardinals and archbishops. The staff ought to be working for all the bishops of the world but if a bishop from Paraguay or a religious superior from Romania wants to deal with them, it is a little more intimidating if he is facing a cardinal on a problem of miscommunications. It is a fairly well-established fact that cardinals do throw their weight around as they see themselves in very close proximity to the Holy Father and not just bureaucratic staff.

The Holy Father is in the process of setting up a wonderful communication system with the archbishops and bishops of the world. It would be more effective and more efficient for the papal staff to see themselves as servants of the bishops of the world and not their masters on issues dealing with the Vatican

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Those 1930’s Movies!

By , February 26, 2014 5:02 am

I think I know a great deal about the 1930’s. While I arrived with the beginning of the decade, I was soon conscious of the world around me and have great memories of my childhood years. That decade and the following were tough times for adults, both men and women, but in those families where food could be provided children were not affected in a painful way.

Another reason I feel I have a good understanding of the ‘30’s is that I saw so many movies of that period. I didn’t actually see them in the ‘30’s. I see them now, at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. Why then? Because that’s when Ted Turner puts those oldies on. He knows that people are very busy in those early hours and they don’t have time to sit around watching 80 year old movies. They don’t have time to sit around watching Jeanette MacDonald being infatuated with the handsome Canadian mounted policeman named Nelson Eddy. “Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found you.” These movies do give us insights into that period and remind the older ones among us the difficulties that existed for most Americans in that long ago period.

I don’t have statistics to prove what I’m about to say but I have long been fascinated that the movies of the Depression are all about one or two things. Either they are movies of desperately poor people fighting heroically to keep their families together, to survive in a cold, harsh and unproductive economy – OR – those movies are about stories of extraordinary wealth. The stories are played out in magnificent houses, enormous living rooms, swimming pools, lavish dining rooms and packed night clubs.

What was Hollywood trying to do? I understand, “The Grapes of Wrath” but I don’t understand endless lavish scenes. Was it telling viewers that if they worked hard, they too could be very wealthy?

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St. Edward’s Progress Continues

By , February 25, 2014 4:12 pm

I used to be on the Board of Directors of St. Edward’s University here in Austin. I have always been very interested in that wonderful school and the staff very thoughtfully continues to send me the materials that are needed at the board meetings. Maybe that doesn’t sound like exciting reading to you but it does to me. The U.S. News and World Report always gives St. Ed’s a wonderful ranking and this year they moved them to 15th in the western half of the country. They also rank St. Ed’s “an up and coming university” for the third time in four years.

St. Ed’s had the highest six year graduation rate for Hispanics and is praised for it in a recent issue of Chronicle of Higher Education.

How about the cash? The university achieved a record high in fund raising for the second consecutive year. The 2014 freshman class is the largest in the university’s history and the school achieved a greater racial diversity and gender balance in the 2014 freshman class.

Finally, and this is tremendously important, the university achieved a record high six year graduation rate of 71% and their retention rate increased was 82% or a 4% increase over the previous year.

St. Edward’s is many things. It is a great tribute to its founder, Father Edward Sorin, CSC, who launched the school on a South Austin hilltop in 1873. The pride of the Holy Cross Brothers Southern Province, it is a jewel in the heart of the Diocese of Austin and it moves forward into the future where greater accomplishments can be achieved.
May God bless St. Edward’s and congratulations to President George Martin.

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Good News for Cold Winter Days

By , February 22, 2014 5:03 am

February 23rd, Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

The people in Central Texas are used to the moaning and groaning that comes through our television sets on the evening news. Wow! What a winter they have had up north. Imagine Atlanta suddenly being completely shut down as a city and they are not even that far north! Well, we were hit pretty hard too in late December and early January and if a person were tempted to have his or her emotions affected by cold winds, gray skies and sad drizzle, they might have gone through a downer.

Not to worry! Almighty God sent us a wonderful message for the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time. Did you catch it? While you were at Mass on February 23rd, the inspired Word of God came to us through the Book of Leviticus and the sacred author challenged all of us to be HOLY and gave us a yardstick to measure that reality. He says many things but among them are, “take no revenge…cherish no grudge…love your neighbor.”

Following that, St. Paul chimes in when in his letter to the Corinthians he reminds us that each one of us is sacred, God dwells in each one of us, each one of us is God’s temple and, reaching back to Leviticus, he reminds us that God is holy and therefore we are called to holiness.

Finally, St. Matthew, in his fifth chapter, calls us to be truly loving, generous and fair, not just with our relatives and friends, not just with strangers who have not offended us, but we should manifest those qualities even to those who might be considered our enemies.

All of these statements from the Old and New Testament serve as a steady reminder of how we are to prepare ourselves in the Mass in order to join the offertory procession and move forward together towards unity with Jesus Christ and the Eucharist.

Okay, let’s get moving.

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Popular Misconceptions Regarding Baptism and Marriage

By , February 21, 2014 4:44 am

The Catholic faith is centered on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Catholics strive to center their lives on the teachings of Jesus and their faith is buoyed up by their belief that they are in frequent contact with him through the mysterious reality of the Sacraments. The Sacraments are seven gifts that Jesus gave to the Church in order that he might remain close – close – close with his followers. In baptism, we become the adopted brothers and sisters of the Lord. In marriage, the bond between husband and wife is made strong and permanent. There are, of course, five other Sacraments which are sources of grace and ongoing contact with Jesus. Let me touch briefly on baptism and marriage because there are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about each of them.

The Catholic Church sees baptism as a potentially great unifying force of all the Christians of the world. The Church recognizes all of the Sacraments of the Orthodox Churches as well as the baptisms of the great majority of Christian Churches. Many people fail to understand this and they may not realize how close we actually are in terms of union with our Divine Lord.

There are many more misconceptions about marriage. The Church teaches that for a valid sacramental marriage, the couple must be baptized (in any Christian church), must clearly know what they are doing at the time of the marriage, must be entering into the union freely, intend a permanent union until death and be open to the possibility of having children. Each one of these conditions is essential and if any one of them is missing, a Church matrimonial court can grant the petitioner a Declaration of Nullity. Such a decision relates to the sacramentality of the marriage and not to any civil aspects of it. A Declaration of Nullity by a church court gives the couple the freedom to remarry but says nothing about the legitimacy of the children. That legitimacy flows from civil law which has jurisdiction in this regard.

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Has It Become A Dirty Word?

By , February 19, 2014 5:05 am

We are all used to dealing with people who tend to be extreme, maybe in one area or maybe in another. Some of us over-exercise, some suffer from anorexia and certainly we have many different views in the world of politics. Liberal and conservative are never completely accurate because there can be so many nuances in one’s views, and some of us might be liberal in one area, such as fiscal responsibility, and conservative in another, for example, the government’s role in the economy. But there has always been one word that people respected and tended to avoid any unnecessary tension or conflict. I am thinking of the word “moderate.”

Being moderate describes someone basically in the middle with good judgment and not in any way extreme, but is that beginning to change?

Mark Jones, a Houston political scientist, remarked the other day on the rightward drift of the State Republican party. Jones asserts that, “Only in Texas do candidates feel that it is necessary to vehemently deny claims that they are moderate.” That makes for a difficult situation. If moderation is in absentia, harsh conflict is inevitable.
Let’s hear it for moderation. Thankfully, most people live in the middle!

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The Pope..What is He?

By , February 17, 2014 5:57 am

Last week, Gail Collins began her regular New York Times column with the statement that Pope Francis was the most popular man in the world. She did concede, however, that Rush Limbaugh was not going to go along with the rest of the human race!
The pope is somewhat mysterious. What is he? Magic? Mysterious? Miraculous? Of course, we all know that a major aspect of the prominence of the pope is the extraordinary speed of modern communication. One unusually funny remark, one simple act and most of the world knows about it almost instantly. When these acts continue to be surprising and beautiful you can understand the interest in audiences spread across the world.

There are two recent pictures that made a special impression on me. One was the photograph of the pope embracing and kissing a young boy suffering from cerebral palsy. Another shows the pope kissing a man disfigured by severe tumors. Think of what that did for parents and relatives across the world who are burdened with the fact that someone they love is disfigured or disabled. May God bless Pope Francis.

What about ourselves? It is all well and good to say that we are happy that we have a kind and sensitive leader of the Universal Church but isn’t it more important that we follow his example in our day to day lives? We all have the opportunity to do so.

How do we react when we see someone with a badly disfigured face suffering caused by an extreme skin disease? How do we respond when we find ourselves in a situation with a person who is hobbling with great difficulty on two crutches? Do we show any unease when we find ourselves talking to someone with a serious speech impediment?

For most of us, there seems to be an implicit desire to be with and surrounded by people who, at least as far as their public appearance is concerned, are normal and look pretty much like the rest of the people around them. Without being overly ostentatious, I think it is important that we be aware of the fact that millions of our fellow citizens, and especially across the world, are disfigured, deformed or visibly handicapped in some manner.

We ought to be conscious of those who don’t fit our cookie cutter image of how the people around us should look must travel with these burdens day by day and year after year. It is very important that the followers of Jesus Christ really take a page from Pope Francis’ notebook and make sure that we never add to the discomfort or actual suffering of those who fit in this category. Every situation, every set of circumstances are differing so it is up to the individual follower of the Lord to see how they can bring dignity and encouragement to those around them.

This is not only to be done in terms of our spiritual lives. There is a very important place for it in civil rights as well. Our nation took a step forward in 1990 when it adopted the Americans with Disabilities Act but sadly Congress has refused to ratify the international agreement which would extend that to individuals worldwide. That is a mistake that could be corrected if more of us were aware of this discrepancy between our values and our policies.

Last week, America magazine challenged church communities to undergo a process of self-examination. “Too many Catholic schools and churches do not have adequate resources for people with disabilities. Elevators, song books in Braille, better sound systems for the hearing impaired, sign language interpreters – developments like this would send a strong signal that all are welcome in our church communities.”

If you want to make a contribution in this area, contact the National Catholic Partnership on Disabilities, 415 Michigan Avenue, NE, Suite 95, Washington, DC 20017, (202) 529-2933,

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What A Gift – What a Goal

By , February 15, 2014 5:02 am

February 16th, Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

My readers may be getting tired of my many references to the fact that the Sunday readings are a catechetical process. Think of it. All the Catholics of the world who are attending Mass on Sunday are sitting in the same Scripture class and the teacher is no one other than the Holy Spirit.

Each Sunday, the three readings or excerpts from the sacred texts form a collage with a special message. Sometimes the message is very clear. Sometimes you really have to reach for it. Today, the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, is very clear but I must admit that you do have to reach for it.

The class carries us back to Sirach, two centuries before the birth of Jesus, and Sirach tells us that we need to live our lives according to God’s wisdom. In other words, we must make judgments that will keep us on life’s right path and protect ourselves from disaster.

St. Paul picks up the same theme while writing to the Church in Corinth and he talks in a very interesting way that God’s wisdom is “mysterious, a hidden wisdom.” However, if we live by God’s wisdom, we will have a marvelous reward because Paul reminds us that “eye has not seen nor ear heard….what God has prepared for those who love Him.” Sit and think that over quietly. Wow! How wonderful!

Matthew’s Gospel ties in as usual with the first reading and is all about good judgment – how we ought to live with each other fairly, generously and in keeping with the Commandments.

The message of today’s liturgy all ties together that we must use the two great gifts that God has given us – our intellect giving us the power to use our will, our decision making capability. All sin is is the deliberate misuse of those two awesome gifts. We must direct our mind towards God and with our will choose those things which draw us to God.

Onward towards the Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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The Sad Story of Philip Seymour Hoffman

By , February 14, 2014 5:04 am

Every one of us who follows the media with some consistency knows that Philip Seymour Hoffman died a tragic death. A wealthy, Academy Award-winning man of great talent, he had many years to live. His life was cut short not by an assassin’s bullet or a destructive form of cancer, but by his own choice to begin to utilize the awesomely destructive drug that we call heroin.

I really have nothing to say about this. The media has rolled over all of us with far more details than we would really care to read or watch. I do think, however, that such an unnecessary, tragic, highly publicized death would grab the attention of many people and help them to realize that drugs in general, and heroin in particular, are not toys to be played with but explosives that when self-detonated destroy not just the life of the user but that person’s beloved family and friends.

There are international aspects of the drug crisis that are undermining so much of the life in this country. Cartels in Mexico have developed an industry in securing and delivering dangerous drugs for the ever expanding market north of the Rio Grande. A new complication is the fact that for various reasons there is a surge in heroin production in Afghanistan, and it is much cheaper and more easily secured than was the case in the recent past.

For decades, our government has wrung its hands in frustration while spending billions of dollars in opposition to this evil, and continues to face and admit to the reality of defeat. We are not overcoming the drug trade in our nation. It is threatening to overcome us.

And what is the role of the Church in all of this? While the Church cannot compete with the resources of the U.S. government, it certainly has the moral power that could make a difference in thousands of individual families, and hopefully through those families reach a large portion of an American society that feeds itself on drugs due to selfishness, loneliness, meaninglessness. The Church has the answer to these needs but the Church, like the government, is proving itself to be woefully ineffective.

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