Posts tagged: Freedom

The Struggle Continues

By , April 14, 2014 5:42 am

The other day, I commented on how wonderful it was to see four former presidents joining President Barack Obama in celebrating the great civil rights progress that was made in the 1960’s. America was changed, the United States is a better country but the struggle for true equality regretfully is far from being over.

I was delighted to see a statement in the Austin American Statesman on the fact that the struggle needs to continue. An article was coauthored by the Texas Senate Democratic Caucus and they touched briefly on very serious issues that still must be addressed. They state that as Texans:

“We rightly demand a fair system that provides meaningful freedom and opportunity for each of us….

“Instead we see a fixed system that consistently puts well-connected millionaire donors and corporations ahead of middle class working Texans. We still a school finance system that is so unfair and inadequate that most Texas school districts are compelled to sue the state over it.”

“We see a sustained attack on health services, women and the poor, along with efforts to revise history, whitewashing the record and ignoring the plain fact that Texas leads the nation in its percentage of uninsured residents.”

“And in clear echoes of 50 years ago, we see repeated efforts to make it harder for Texans to exercise the most fundamental right of all – the right to cast their ballots.”

The senators are very correct in pointing out that so much still needs to be done. I certainly hope and pray that Texans will continue to work for a more just and equitable society.

Onward through the fog.

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The Laity – Freedom and Responsibility

By , April 9, 2014 5:07 am

Oh, how blessed is this holy Catholic Church. Just think – we have at least one billion, two hundred million members and for all practical purposes they are all laity. Just think of the reservoir of talent and energy that resides in this enormous mass of faith-filled human beings. They could accomplish wonders if not miracles, but in point of fact they don’t because they are really not able to.

I am proud of the faithful. They do a great job in backing their pastors and bishops in developing the material sides of parishes, schools, hospitals, etc. But ultimately, our system does not give them real freedom and responsibility. Their role is to follow their shepherds and that is not all bad, but the fact is that many of the shepherds among us do not really trust their fellow Catholics who have not been ordained. Father knows best and the old joke about the laity was that they were to “pray, pay and obey.”

Happily, following the Second Vatican Council lay involvement, especially in the liturgy, has increased tremendously but we have a long way to go. Let me tell you about a happy story in my first assignment as a pastor. We had established a first-class St. Vincent de Paul Society and it was doing wonderful work on behalf of the poor in that section of the city. One day the president of the Society came to me and told me that we had a serious storage problem, but not to worry – he had signed a two year lease on an inexpensive warehouse about four blocks from the church. I was thrilled. He saw the problem, he knew we could afford it and he acted. I am not saying that pastors and bishops ought not to provide close supervision but they must avoid being control freaks.

The other day when I visited with you in this space, I talked about the value system that was dominant in the world of my childhood. I then went on to admit that many of the cultural strengths of 75 years ago are now gone, generating the need for yet a greater response from the Church to encourage its members to embrace and live by the teachings of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Today’s lay people are far better formed or educated than were the adults of my childhood. The Church has still not found a way through clericalism and antique ecclesiology to vest the laity, either in the parishes or in the dioceses, with a real sharing in power and authority. The Second Vatican Council had that as one of its principal agendas – convincing all of the baptized and confirmed on the planet that they had a vested interest and a very real responsibility to teach that “each individual layman must be a witness before the world of the resurrection life of the Lord Jesus and a sign of the living God.” How is that for a job description?

The Council Fathers then went on to say give the laity freedom and opportunities to breathe and act and be responsible. In paragraph 37 of Lumen Gentium, the Council stated that, “

“The pastors indeed should recognize and promote the dignity and responsibility of the laity in the Church. They should willingly use their prudent advice and confidently assign duties to them in the service of the Church LEAVING THEM FREEDOM AND SCOPE FOR ACTING (emphasis added). Indeed they should give them the courage to undertake works on their own initiative. They should attentively in Christ initial moves, suggestions and desires proposed by the laity. Moreover, the pastor must respect and recognize the liberty which belongs to all in the terrestrial city.”

Vatican II called for parish councils in every parish in the world but regretfully only a small percentage have functioned effectively. Why? Because they are deadly dull and do not usually come to grips with what that particular parish should be undertaking. Go check on the agendas of a dozen parish councils and you will see that much more time is allocated to painting the school auditorium than to how we should be advancing the message of Jesus in this neighborhood in this month. The challenge is awesome but sometimes not really heard.

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Our Nation’s Birthday

By , July 4, 2013 4:14 am

It is a great day to celebrate. Human beings really love to celebrate. They celebrate what they remember joyfully. I guess that this strong tendency flows from the fact that there is so much pain in our day-to-day lives and when an event occurs that really generates great happiness and appreciation we don’t want to forget it. We want to keep it going. Certainly that natural tradition is manifesting itself in the Church as the Church marks the great moments in salvation history with happy, joyful celebrations.

Today we thank God for the country, for the brave people who brought it into existence and for all those who have fought, suffered and died to keep it free lo these last 237 years. Traditionally, on the 4th of July, we saw a great multiplicity of rallies, parades and political speeches. Elected officials or people who wanted to be elected to office would extoll the glories of the past and make vague promises that they themselves would do great things if they could just get elected!

People do appreciate the 4th of July. One reason is that we have made it a pleasant holiday with lots of banter, fun and coming together. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, we should celebrate joyfully. However, at the same time, we should be clearly conscious that what we are celebrating is the faith, courage and sacrifice. Our Founding Fathers had everything stacked against them. A developing colonial area on the 4th day of July in 1776, they took on the largest empire in the world. They declared themselves free on the 4th of July but that freedom would not be really settled down until seven years later when the British Empire relinquished its claim on the 13 colonies in the Eastern part of North America. The rest is history.

This 4th of July let’s celebrate! Let’s also be thoughtful and thankful.

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A Very Important Gift

By , May 27, 2013 4:05 am

As we become conscious of the extraordinary gifts that each of us have received, some will stand out more than others. One that I would like to mention in a special way is that the tradition in our country of remembering (or more importantly, not forgetting) that about 2 million human beings- men and women-have given their lives in order to defend and protect the United States of America. Everyone has experienced the loss of a loved one. You know the pain and sense of loss that marks a family at that time. Memorial Day provides us with a beautiful and much needed opportunity to feel the loss that we have experienced, not just as an individual family, but as a great national family. The pain is not just for this week, but the pain symbolically carries us back for well over 200 years.
You don’t have to dwell on the shattered bodies, the oceans of blood, the awesome heroism of aiding medics- we just have to be conscious of the fact that it has happened and each of us today is a beneficiary of the generosity and heroism of these 2 million Americans. We are here. We are FREE. And so is our COUNTRY!
God Bless America!!

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And Yet More Forgiveness

By , August 16, 2012 5:59 am

Sometime back I touched on the subject of forgiveness. It seemed a very ordinary topic to me because it is a need and a quality that all of us should both receive and dispense. I must admit that I was surprised at the response from viewers. Many people thanked me in person, on the phone and in writing. For that reason, I thought that I would go just a little further on the subject.

Because we are weak and frail human beings, because we have rough edges that consciously or unconsciously inflict pain and hurt into the lives of those around us, there is a never-ending need to be forgiven and the corresponding response is that there is a constant need to be open to receiving that forgiveness. Why is it so difficult for some people?

Forgiveness brings freedom. Forgiveness takes a load off our backs and enables us to relax and be at home and one with the person we have forgiven or who has forgiven us. Who has not experienced a bitter personal conflict with someone close to us and then a moment comes when one or the other is prepared to put it behind. They embrace, they laugh, they may cry but it is over. That is a wonderful sentence. IT IS OVER!

I realize that in some situations it is more difficult to bring forth forgiveness. Some people seem to be intentionally mean, others routinely selfish, etc., etc. However, these weaknesses cause the bearer much more pain and suffering than those who are hurt by their unkindly acts. If we would think about that, we need to generate sorrow in our hearts for these people who have hurt us because they are hurting too whether they realize it or not. In fact, it is their pain that is causing the meanness and the nasty temperament. What goes around comes around.

I want to say again that if we can all really concentrate on the fact that we are called to bring joy and happiness and not pain into the lives of those around us, our families, our neighborhoods, and this whole planet would be better off.

Onward through the fog.

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After the Fortnight

By , August 14, 2012 5:11 am

Older Americans remember that in the dim past we frequently made use of the rather poetic antique expression “fortnight” referring to a period of two weeks. Inside the Church in the United States, it recently came back into use over the last two or three months. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a series of public activities for a two-week period ending July 4th. The purpose of the program was to warn the Catholics of America, and all Americans for that matter, that there were tremendous threats to religious freedom. Some of the material distributed seemed to indicate that we were holding on that freedom with white knuckled grips.

The fortnight has come and gone and it is hard to say what kind of influence it has had in the differences between the U.S. Bishops and the Obama Administration regarding the all too narrow definition of exempt religious institutions. Time will tell as to whether or not the fortnight had any influence at all in this country. If you are worried as to whether or not you will be allowed to go to the church of your choice next Sunday, put that concern behind you. Religious freedom is alive and well in the United States. However, is that true across the world? By no means.

In a growing number of other places around the world, there is decidedly a literal war on religion underway and Christians are often its primary targets. We are lucky to have the Rome based Asian News Service which keeps track of atrocities carried out in the name of religion and they document that the vast majority of these crimes are against Christians, making Christianity the most persecuted religious community on the planet. We need to become more aware of this unjust reality.

Congratulations to the U.S. bishops and the Catholic University of America. They have joined with Catholic Relief Services to plan a conference entitled “International Religious Freedom: An Imperative for Peace and the Common Good” to be held in Washington on September 12th. A concrete plan of action needs to come out of this that will sensitize Christians to the dangers that they face across the world and provide models for action to assist and protect men and women who are suffering because they believe in Jesus of Nazareth.

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In Memory Of…Our Memories

By , July 5, 2012 5:43 am

Dementia can mean many things, but mainly refers to loss of memory. Do you ever think about the fact that you never hear kids in their twenties complaining about their memory? The reason is easy- their’s works! But get around a group of people in their later decades, and you’ll find a non-stop bemoaning of memory loss, or at least memory weakening. The difference between the two groups is that as long as this gift is working, we take it for granted. Once it ceases to work perfectly, we immediately begin to pay the price.

Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said Wednesday…

And most of all, where are the car keys?

Memory is an awesome gift that enables us to function day by day with minimum tension and fewer mistakes.        
 Let’s try to remember to thank God for it, and pray for those suffering from memory loss as well as all those who care for them!

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Put Your John Hancock Right Here!

By , July 4, 2012 4:03 am

It’s been 236 years since a courageous group of men lined up behind a desk to sign a document- a document that would immediately threaten their lives and fortunes, but more importantly, would change the course of world history. These heroic signers announced to the world with the Declaration of Independence, that these thirteen small colonies- outposts of the British Empire- were declaring themselves to be a free and independent nation.
If you are planning on going swimming, golfing, barbecuing or whatever, go ahead and enjoy it! But please don’t enjoy it without thinking of the vision of these signers and the courage that enabled them to take all the risks of launching one of the greatest nations in human history.
God Bless America!

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Different Times, Different Priests

By , March 28, 2012 3:34 am

Fr. John

For good or for ill, seminary education is fairly standard around the world. The basic courses – four years of undergraduate work with a major in philosophy and the second four years is in the various forms of theology as well as other ecclesiastical subjects – things that need to be known by someone who is going to function in a parish or most other priestly roles. Their curriculum may be the same but priests differ dramatically in different periods of time. I don’t know if that is true of the whole world but it is certainly true of the United States. Priests who started in the seminary in the late ‘40’s and early ‘50’s were profoundly influenced by the ‘60’s, the chaos of that period and the awesome hope generated by the Second Vatican Council. They would later be dubbed as “Vatican II priests.” Sometimes that expression was a compliment, sometimes it was derogatory depending on the frame of reference of the speaker.

There are always exceptions and no description fits everything or everyone, but the Vatican II priests were optimistic about the Church’s mission to the world. They were vitally concerned about bringing the message of Jesus Christ into the failing human structures of day-to-day living and society. The bishops of that period reflected the same thing. It is very interesting to look at the list of the subjects upon which the bishops spoke out in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s. They were working for peace, for freedom for everyone, for a more just societies, for concern for the poor and the vulnerable. The episcopal statements coming out of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops today are overwhelmingly “in-house” being concerned about churchy issues and they reflect a dramatic withdrawal from the mode of operation of the last generation. Both groups are bishops, both groups are faithful to the Gospel but they are very different. Will the frame of reference turn again in the near future?

Only God knows.

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Christian Unity? The Struggle Continues

By , November 25, 2011 5:13 am

We all remember that on the night before His passion, Jesus prayed to His heavenly Father that His followers would be united. That they would be one with Him, and through Him, would be united to the Father.
That has always been the goal of Christianity, but it is a goal not yet achieved.

Recently, I have been stressing the major theological truths underlying basic Christianity. They are more complex than can be possibly described in a few paragraphs, but never the less, I tried. My points were:

God Himself, the Creator of all that is.
Humanity, endowed with an immortal soul
Sin- the abuse of the gift of freedom
And finally, Jesus, and redemption.

While we regret existing disunity in the followers of Jesus, we should take some very real consolation in the fact that virtually all Christians hold to these same truths. Where, then, is the difference? That difference is to be found in the unfolding story of Jesus and His redemptive acts. Those differences flow from the way the followers of Jesus have tried to live out their lives and their faith in keeping with His teachings. Those differences have developed within the Christian story, and have rent the unity of the followers of Jesus.

Tomorrow we will look at the two major divisions among the followers of Jesus. Stay tuned.

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