Old Country Expressions

By , March 31, 2014 5:58 am


When I was a kid, the population of the United States of America was already well over half urbanized, but for millions of adults living in the city their roots and memories were back on the farm. I can remember many expressions back then that were sort of meaningless unless you could see the world through a farmer’s eyes. One of those expressions was “hold your horses!” and another one was “good fences make good neighbors.” That first expression merely was a way of saying “slow down and get control of yourself.” The line about fences was referring to the fact that well-maintained fences kept livestock from getting mixed up with your neighbors or his mixed up with yours. Good fences avoided unnecessary and sometimes dangerous arguments.

What was true in rural America is still true in the world today as far as natural boundaries are concerned. Look at Spain and France. You never hear of a conflict between them because the Pyrenees Mountains are a marvelous divide that keeps these two nationalities not only physically but psychologically separated and divided.

About two weeks ago, I wrote about the fact that there are so many divided countries in the world and that this almost always leads to tension. One of those divisions, and it is dominating the news stories today, is the Ukraine. Russia has already gobbled up the Black Sea Peninsula and the West is concerned that it may go for more of Ukraine proper.

Ukraine is very divided. The western half is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic. In the east, the Orthodox Church is dominant. Secondly, the west is composed to a very great extent, as you would expect, of ethnic Ukrainians. While there are plenty of them in the east, there is also the problem of a very large Russian population. These are double dividers and when you have those factors present, there is very real risks of conflict.

Russia seems to be interested in having neat boundaries and there is a real threat that she might occupy eastern Ukraine. At present the tension is very serious but actions like that will remind the West of September 1939. There is a boundary problem but let’s pray that it does not lead to tragedy.

Let’s pray that this conflict passes over and peace will reign supreme.

  • Share/Bookmark

David…God-like and So, So Human

By , March 29, 2014 5:51 am


March 30th, Fourth Sunday of Lent

It is hard to imagine that anyone who would be fortunate enough to be able to visit Florence, Italy would go there and not enter that wonderful building where Michelangelo’s statue of David is enthroned. Enthroned is the right word! It stands magnificently in the rear of the building and although there are other objects of art within those walls, Michelangelo’s magnificent statue generates awe and wonder to all who behold it. Michelangelo more or less idealizes David in perfect human form.

There is nothing wrong with that because the first reading of today’s Scripture from the Book of Samuel describes David as handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance. It is God’s plan that this young shepherd boy, called in by the Prophet Samuel, be anointed as the king of God’s people. This would produce a little tension. Saul was firmly in control of the Israelites.

Then begins the story of David and it is a wonderfully human story filled with courage, action, heroism, great accomplishments and tragically destructive sinfulness. Here we are late in Lent and I think it is important that we see David, not as a dim figure in our historic past, but something of a shadow that hovers over each one of us. The Church has always taught that human nature is essentially good but weak, and during Lent we celebrate our goodness but must do it in the context of an awareness of that weakness. Yes, we fulfill our basic responsibilities to our family, to our community but we are all rough around the edges. We are brittle, hypersensitive, short-sighted and sometimes very selfish. Lent calls us to look at those weaknesses, to attempt to smooth over the rough edges and march forward with a calm confidence that we are about to join in the Resurrection.

Onward to Easter.

  • Share/Bookmark

Reaction From The Right

By , March 28, 2014 5:12 am


Many times I have pointed out in this space that Pope Francis is manifesting great determination to make the day-to-day structuring in the Church more sensitive and more effectively pastoral. He has done that time and time again, not only by his words and directions, but also by his simple, loving manner of dealing with the people.

He has convened the bishops of the world to a special Synod to be held in Rome in October of this year and he has let us know that the Synod must consider many pastoral problems, not the least of which is the question of committed Catholics, living in civil unions, being denied the Eucharist as they are today. I have been raising this topic for my entire priestly life and so I am thrilled to see that the Church is going to make an effort to deal with this important issue.
Do not be surprised, however, that the right wing is manifesting vigorous opposition to any changes in our present pastoral policies. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, who is head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has stated that this change cannot be made. Happily, other bishops, including Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga in Honduras, have challenged Cardinal Müller pointing out with a bit of humor that since Cardinal Müller is a German Theologian, he can only see black and white and never anything in-between. Other Church leaders are also supporting the possibility of a pastoral solution to this long-time problem.

Now comes Dr. Robert Fastiggi, a professor of systematic theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary. Fastiggi does not challenge the pope directly but rather goes after Cardinal Walter Kasper who gave a lengthy talk to introduce a February 20-21 discussion by the College of Cardinals on family life. Cardinal Kasper is conscious of the fact that priests all over the world are providing pastoral solutions based on individual cases rather than using the formality of an ecclesiastical Tribunal and there seems to be a greater acceptance of this temporary solution. Fastiggi challenges that and states that an ecclesiastical Tribunal could handle these cases more effectively studying them from afar and on the basis of written documents rather than a priest in direct contact with the couple. My guess is that Fastiggi thinks that the world operates with the neatness and simplicity of a classroom.

Onward through the fog, but the fog is beginning to lift thanks be to God.

  • Share/Bookmark

Solitary Confinement in Texas

By , March 27, 2014 5:10 am


The State of Texas has the largest prison population in the United States and possibly the largest in the world. At the present time there are approximately 123,000 persons in the prison system of the TDC.

It is tragic that so many of our citizens find themselves at odds with the laws of our country but, of course, it is also a fact that from time to time people are convicted unfairly or receive inordinate incarceration sentences. That is the human condition and while we should always be sensitive of the need to improve the prison system, there is one thing that I would like to bring to your attention today.

Can you imagine that 7,100 of our fellow citizens are sitting in solitary confinement? These prisoners are allowed out of their cells for one hour a day for exercise but those other 23 hours they are starkly alone. Have you ever been in a hotel room when you are caught there in-between planes? It is boring, boring, boring. Remove the window, take out the television set, take those pictures off the wall and you would find that this hotel room turns into a real prison. But that is alright. Your plane will leave in three hours and you can get out of the hotel.
Not so the prisoners. They spend hour after hour of timeless, boring days looking at those walls. This is a cruel policy that has been born out of the birth of the need to control possibly violent inmates. It may very well be that in this case or that case such punishment is required. But 7,100!

Happily, prison systems all over the country are finally beginning to realize the destructiveness of solitary confinement. These states, such as New York, Colorado, Washington and Mississippi, have set up new policies and have dramatically dropped the number of the so incarcerated.

One aspect of this is really frightening. Each year, in the State of Texas 1,200 inmates are discharged directly from solitary confinement and released straight to the streets without some type of orientation or rehabilitation. This is really dangerous. If they are too dangerous to be freely allowed to move around the prison, how can they be released straight to the streets?

  • Share/Bookmark

Real Ecumenism

By , March 26, 2014 5:09 am

Reverend Rick Warren

In 2013, the famous pastor of Saddleback Church in Orange, California, the Reverend Rick Warren, lost his 27 year old son from suicide. After that, he began to meet with Bishop Kevin Vann, recently appointed Bishop of the Orange Diocese having been the Bishop of Fort Worth the previous eight years. Out of this fraternal communication has grown an extraordinarily good development. The two churches have joined together with the National Alliance on Mental Illness and will convene a day-long conference. The subject is Mental Health and the Church. This is really a wonderful example to other dioceses. Mental and emotional illness racks modern American life and the Church has the potential to be a tremendous force for good.
The conference will explore how to increase the Church’s role in mental health and make available training for church management in integrating physical, mental and spiritual health.

The Diocese of Orange already operates a 24-hour counseling hotline called “New Hope Ministries” and it responds to about 40 calls a day! This ministry was part of the Crystal Cathedral when the Diocese of Orange purchased that church’s properties for its new cathedral. The diocese happily chose to continue that ministry and it is overseen by Catholic Charities.

God bless you Reverend Rick Warren and God bless you Bishop Kevin Vann. Texas misses you.

  • Share/Bookmark

High Unemployment Continues Tragically

By , March 25, 2014 5:20 am


The other day, the New York Times put out a story that looked ever so positive and optimistic. The headlines read “Employment Close to a New High” and the paper pointed out that 116 million Americans are employed in the private industry. That is good news but the leaders of this country are not paying enough attention to the fact that long-term unemployment, meaning being unemployed for more than six months, is tragically high and virtually nothing is being done about it.

It is wonderful that so many of us have jobs but millions of our fellow citizens continue to struggle in vain. Full employment should be a mainstay of public policy but it is hardly discussed in the halls of Congress. This is made all the more tragic by the fact that there is so much work that needs to be done. Our highways have been poorly maintained and hardly expanded at all. Thousands of bridges in this country are in disrepair and the state and national governments continue to fail to fill positions that are sorely needed, especially in our schools.

I would love to see the bishops of the United States take up the issue of full employment and constantly remind the general population that 7% or 8% of joblessness should not be seen as a cold statistic but a reflection of the fact that hundreds of thousands of us are suffering. The whole nation needs to be concerned and be willing to do what is necessary in order to move the whole country forward, not just those who are lucky enough to have jobs.

  • Share/Bookmark

Pope Francis Moves On

By , March 24, 2014 5:19 am


To say that I am thrilled with the direction that our Holy Father Pope Francis is providing to the Universal Church would be an understatement. Time after time during his first year, he has made moves and decisions that have thrilled and encouraged me.

First, he appointed eight cardinals from seven different countries, only one of them from the Vatican, to be a special committee to guide him in the restructuring of the Church. If you appoint a committee to restructure the Church, you are admitting that the Church needs restructuring and oh, how it does!

Next, Pope Francis sent out an extraordinary document to all the bishops of the world entitled The Joy of the Gospel (Evangelii Gaudium) and he asked the bishops to consult with ALL the people in their dioceses about their views on many aspects of the best way to conduct evangelization today. Regretfully, most bishops have not followed up on that as yet.

The position of Secretary of State is crucially important and that is the area where Pope Benedict XVI was having the most difficulty before his resignation. The new man is Cardinal Pietro Parolin and he is viewed by everyone as an excellent appointment to be the number two bishop in Church leadership. Then he gave the new Secretary of State a much heavier responsibility by announcing the convening of a world-wide Synod of Bishops in the Vatican this coming October. This will be a unique gathering. It is not being called a Council and since the Second Vatican Council we have had Synods of Bishops every four or five years, but regretfully these have proven to be ineffective and were attended only by a few elected bishops from each country. This gathering is convening ALL the bishops of the world. It will certainly be historic.

Now comes yet another message from our Holy Father. It was directed to the Congregation for Bishops, the Vatican office responsible for the selection of bishops from around the world. In this 3,000 word text, Francis told the cardinals that they should not look for bishops based on any “preferences, likes or trends” and likewise should not seek prelates who are mainly concerned with doctrinal matters. The Church, Francis said, needs,

“Guardians of doctrine not so as to measure how far the world is from the doctrinal truth but to appeal to the world, to charm it with beauty of love and to seduce it with a freedom bestow by the Gospel.”

“The Church does not need apologetics for its causes nor crusaders for its battles, but sowers, humble and confident of the truth…trust its power.”

Wow! Thanks be to God. The main thrust of the document is that our Holy Father is calling for only priests who are real shepherds, totally committed to the sheep and not bureaucrats who will run chancery offices neatly. God bless you Francis. We are all praying for you.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Importance of Water; The Symbolism of Water

By , March 22, 2014 4:49 am

Image: Grimes

March 23rd, Third Sunday of Lent

If you live in the Southwestern part of the United States, you seldom see an issue of the local newspaper that does not have a story in the first section about water. California is not panicking but it is very, very concerned. Here in Central Texas many of us report to each other on the levels of the Highland Lakes. After all, that is OUR water.

Water is one of the most crucial aspects of life on this planet. We can get by with limited clothing, pathetic roofing and live without food for several weeks. But water is essential to our wellbeing and it manifests that fact within a couple of hours without it. That is one of the reasons that in our history, especially Judeo-Christian history, that water appears in story after story. Moses is plucked from the river. Moses leads God’s people through walls of water. Jesus begins his public life by being baptized in the Jordan River. The Church will use water for its fundamental sacramental thrust, namely baptism, which carries us through the waters of salvation to being brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

It is such a beautiful symbol. Are your hands filthy? Water will change them. In today’s first reading, we see that wonderful story of Jesus and the lady at the well. I know this is going too long but I can’t control myself. What a story of history, faith and God’s revelation of Himself. It was to that woman who challenged his ability to produce water without a bucket that:

Everyone who drinks this water
will be thirsty again
but whoever drinks the water that I give him
will never be thirsty again.
No, the water I give him
shall become a fountain within him
leaping up to provide eternal life.

What a proclamation! Thinking like this is one of the reasons that Lent is really so joyful. Every reader of this text today should remember that each of us has a fountain of water within us that is providing eternal life. What a joy. Thanks be to God.

  • Share/Bookmark

Faith, Courage and Joy

By , March 21, 2014 5:17 am


The other day I wrote about the question as to whether or not sadness and joy can co-exist. The answer is that they certainly do. Sadness is an emotional response or reaction to one or more of life’s difficulties and usually when those problems are solved, sadness evaporates. But joy is a permanent relationship. I am of course referring to Christian joy.
Several weeks ago, Father James Martin S.J., editor of America magazine, wrote an excellent article on the subject. It is particularly important for understanding Christian joy.

“First let me distinguish joy from happiness. Unlike happiness, joy is not simply a fleeting fleeing or an evanescent emotion. It is a permanent result of one’s connection to God. While the more secular definition of joy may be simply an intense form of happiness, religious joy is always about a relationship. Joy has an object and that object is God. The ultimate response to the Good News is joy, one that is lasting and endures even in the midst of difficulties.”

And who does not have difficulties? We all have problems. We all face crises at one time or another, we all get tired and occasionally at least discouraged. The Gospels clearly tell us that Jesus experienced overwhelming sorrow. When he learned of the death of his friend he broke down and cried. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions and so we must assume that Jesus laughed. The Gospel of Luke, speaking of the Garden experience, used the word agonia and says that Jesus’ tears fell on the ground as in drops of blood.

For successful living, adults require a wonderful blend of faith, courage and strength. We should not attempt to avoid every possible problem. Sometimes it is easier to address them face on rather than wishing that they would go away.
Back to Lent! This is a time to evaluate our efforts to develop in these necessary virtues. We need to deepen our awareness of our faith in the presence of Jesus, and we certainly need courage and strength to move forward. Good Friday is coming but beyond that is the Resurrection. Let us go forward.

  • Share/Bookmark

Can Sadness and Joy Co-exist?

By , March 20, 2014 5:11 am


Well, we are nearly halfway through the Holy Season of Lent and this is a good time to ask ourselves how are we doing? Lent is not just a name for part of the liturgical calendar. Lent is a program, a spiritual program. In Lent, we are asked to set aside a very small portion of the Church year, roughly six weeks, and to use that time to systematically endeavor to improve and strengthen the quality of our spiritual lives.

This is a serious undertaking and it does not happen automatically. One must set goals and in daily prayer ask ourselves, did we do better yesterday? Am I really trying to improve at least a little bit today?

Lent should be a time of joy because we can become more conscious of our closeness to God. We can see more clearly that this awesome historical figure, the carpenter from Nazareth, did not just live 2,000 years ago, but is alive today within us and around us. Lent is a time when we can grasp more clearly that the Holy Spirit is a reality, is within us and around us, strengthening us. With our minds and hearts clearly focused on God’s love for us, everything else falls into place. Has sometime in the family developed cancer? Is your brother-in-law still out of work after 14 months? Does that distant aunt still seem to reject the rest of the family? And is the crisis in Crimea threatening world peace? All of these things are problems and all of them give us concern but if we are steadfast in our relationship to our Divine Lord, each of them will ultimately be resolved as we continue towards eternal life.

Lent is a time of joy not of sadness.

  • Share/Bookmark

Panorama Theme by Themocracy