I know that I am very prejudiced but I really do enjoy reading the history of the State of Texas. The story has many rough edges but overall the movement has been one of steady development over the centuries. It was inhabited first by what we call Native Americans. The Spaniards began to arrive in the 16th century. They would face competition from Anglo Americans in the 1800’s and the fusion of those three people would open itself up to people from all over the world until you have what is today the great State of Texas, and great it is despite its weaknesses!
The Catholic Church, of course, shares deeply in that story. Most of my readers know the name of the diocese in which they are currently residing, but I wonder how many of us ever stopped to think about whether or not that geographical spot where you are standing has ever been under another ecclesiastical jurisdictions. Today, if you live in San Antonio, Texas or Brownsville or even Austin, you were once under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of Havana, Cuba. Of course, Cuba itself was not on the scene as yet. As the Church kept growing in Mexico, the jurisdiction for this area was turned over to Mexico City and subsequently to the Diocese of Guadalajara. In 1879, there was enough development in Northern Mexico and the Spanish missions in Texas to bring this area under the spiritual administration of the Diocese of Linares, a prosperous town somewhat south of what is today Monterrey.
Soon after Texas split from Mexico in 1836, requests went up for a diocese in Texas but the Vatican delayed for many years because Mexico did not recognize the independence of Texas. It was only after the Mexican-American War that the Vatican would establish the Diocese of Galveston in 1847. Then we began the impressive growth of the Church in Texas and today the Lone Star State is served by no fewer than 15 diocesan bishops. Until Galveston-Houston was made an Archdiocese in 2004, the Province of San Antonio was the largest province in the world. Archbishop Patrick Flores presided over 14 Suffragan Sees.
It is a great source of sadness for me that despite these extraordinary historic years very little really good history of the Catholic Church has been written. There was a marvelous summary written by Sister Loyola Hegarty, CCVI but it has not been updated for many years. More recently, a priest in Houston, Father James Moore, has written a considerable amount but in two volumes. The first, Through Fire and Blood, covered the Church in Texas from 1836 to 1900. The second volume he called Acts of Faith covering 1900 to 1950. While diocesan histories are quite numerous, these are the only ones we have that attempt to cover the state as a whole. These books are woefully inadequate in terms of the material to be covered but at least we are blessed to have them.
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I have been fortunate to have a natural love of history, all history, but I find especially interesting the history of the Roman Catholic Church. The saga of the Church could be described as twenty centuries on a roller coaster.
The first three hundred years entailed terrible persecutions and oppression. The next few centuries involved rapid expansion after the end of the period of suffering. In the 8th and 9th century, a period of decay sets in as the Church is a dominant force in Europe and susceptible to all of the temptations that come with money and power. Early modern times bring both good news and bad news. There is an extraordinary period of accomplishment with the missionary expansion of the Western Hemisphere, Asia and parts of Africa but this period also marks the tragic division of Western Christianity between Catholicism and the many Protestant faiths that would sprout up as a response to corruption within the Church. Finally, there are modern times with the Church’s heroic struggle against totalitarian governments and its greatly increased sensitivity about the need to protect the poor and the vulnerable in the modern economic systems which are in place today.
It is a collage. There is a mix of beauty, grandeur and pathetic corruption. You see extraordinary courage and indecisiveness. Those who look back at those twenty centuries see a whole range of human life, expectations, accomplishments and failures. Although there is much in the story that is sad and discouraging, the great majority of it is a tremendous story of faith, generosity, courage and heroism.
Today, at the beginning of June of 2012, the Church is getting some very bad publicity that is generated by incompetence and ineffective leadership. With all this bad news, why do the hundreds of millions of members of the community of faith stay within its confines and continue to live out their lives as Roman Catholics? This is always an important question but I think it is especially important at this particular time and I am going to take the next few days to talk about why people choose to remain in the Church. There are lots of reasons and I will be happy to talk about them.
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Everyone makes mistakes. I may write a magazine article on that subject someday since I feel so experienced in that area. Regretfully, a troop of U.S. Marines recently stumbled into a major mistake hopefully due to ignorance of modern history.
A troop of about 12 Marines posed in Afghanistan in front of a flag bearing the SS emblem, the shape of lightening blots. The SS was the police arm of the Nazi Party. A lot of terrible things happened in the Second World War but the SS ranked at the top for cruelty and brutality. The best explanation of this embarrassing and humiliating event was that those 12 grown men, American citizens all, did not know anything about the SS. In this instance, they are guilty of bad manners and ignorance but it is a reflection of a bigger problem for life in the United States.
I am told that most Americans do not know the maiden names of their two grandmothers. If we don’t know our own story, that is regrettable but if we don’t know our story as a nation, that is dangerous.
The generation of the fathers of these 12 men lost their lives by the tens of thousands fighting the SS and what it stood for. All of us are living today but need to be planning for tomorrow. I don’t think you can successfully plan for tomorrow unless you have a fairly strong understanding of what happened yesterday. A knowledge of what has happened before can help us avoid repeated mistakes.
Onward through the fog.
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The Church has a long memory and it should because there is a lot to be remembered. Ever since Jesus commissioned the apostles to go forth and bring his message to the whole world, promising that he would be with them in the struggles that were before them, the story of the Church has been unfolding. Two thousand years have now passed. They are years filled with faith, courage, beauty, etc. They are also years that have been filled with sin, crime and human failure. That is the reality of life.
The universal history of the Church is well documented. How many Church history books do you want? How many books on one aspect or another would you like to see? In the United States at least we have also seen an increase in first-class history of individual dioceses, at least the larger ones like New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, etc.
But what about the parishes? Every parish is a micronism of the Universal Church. It is all there – the spiritual leader, the teachers, sacramental life – all centering on faith in Jesus Christ and a hope regarding our eternal destiny. However, those stories don’t get remembered. Occasionally, when a parish anniversary comes up, 25 or 50 years, some heroic volunteer will come up with a history and although they represent well-intentioned and generous work, they are not real histories. When did Monsignor O’Toole build the new parish hall? When did the parking lot get paved?
Such facts need to be recorded but they do not get at the heart of what a parish is. Parishes should give insight into the mood and temperament of yesterday’s pastors. Outstanding leaders in the parish need to have their accomplishments recorded. Failures must be recounted and the struggles coming after defeats should always be remembered.
Let’s tell the whole story
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Tomorrow is the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time and for this day the Church has chosen as the Gospel an excerpt the ninth chapter of St. Luke, verses 51 to 62.
The scene has Jesus journeying towards Jerusalem. In this short excerpt, several men came up to him and expressed a strong desire to join his followers. In each case, they had other things they needed to take of first, namely settling things out with their families. Jesus challenged them that he required a solid commitment and that they should not be looking back. While the main point of this brief scene is that Jesus does expect solid and true commitment to his cause, a more important concept is to be found in the overall Gospel of St. Luke. The whole Gospel is about the fact that Jesus set his face to Jerusalem. Time after time throughout the Gospel, the expression will be seen, “And Jesus continues on to Jerusalem.” In other words, the whole Gospel can be summarized by the fact that Jesus’ public life was a journey that was to culminate in Jerusalem with his triumphal entry and then suffering death and resurrection.
All of us are challenged in our own lives to clearly let our ultimate goal and let nothing deviate us from that journey to that goal. For Jesus it was to achieve the redemption of the human condition. For us it is to make sure that we benefit from what Jesus has done for us. Jerusalem is a symbol of our eternal destiny. Let us not be confused by other goals.
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