It should come as no surprise that I have never been married, nor have the vast majority of Catholic priests. However, in our role as a parish priest, many of us have spent countless hours meeting with couples who are struggling to hold together their union- often one that began in love and faith, but subsequently appeared to be in grave danger. Upon reflection, although every relationship is unique, a certain commonality exists in struggling marriages, and I believe those couples in the final preparations for a summer wedding might benefit from reflecting on a couple of these issues.
The first issue is whether or not you know the true nature of your spouse. I have always asked the potential bride and groom about their greatest attraction to their fiancé. If the response was that she is “so beautiful” or he is “just perfect”, I would be deeply concerned. I always hoped to hear answers such as “he is strong, mature and generous,” or “she is honest, caring of her family and faithful to her friends.” Those marvelous qualities reflect the real person that is there.
Another major concern is what I refer to as having a “low threshold for pain.” Life is hard- it comes with many discomforts, inconveniences, and real pain. Life sharing is always a challenge. Note that I did not say life sharing is frequently a challenge, but ALWAYS a challenge! How can couples rise to that challenge? Many traits and virtues will help, but maturity is the most important. Personally, I like to define maturity simply as “the ability to adjust to reality“. Couples that practice combining maturity with generosity will greatly improve their “threshold for pain”, and thus tremendously increase their odds for a successful marriage.
Obviously there are entire books and courses that analyze and reflect on relationships and marriages, and I have but a short space here to offer a few of my thoughts and opinions. I would like to strongly encourage couples considering marriage to take advantage of the many programs and retreats offered by our Church, and to approach them prayerfully and thoughtfully- not as a check off box on the path the wedding.
May God especially bless all those preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage this summer!
Share on Facebook
When you attend Mass as a stranger at a Catholic parish, you won’t have any trouble finding out who is the priest. He is the guy with the unusual outfit! Most people aren’t too curious about it. They just say to themselves, well that is the way that they do it and that it is. Curiosity often leads us into greater understanding as to what is going on around us, and I want to say a few words about that outfit the celebrant has on up there at the altar.
I have celebrated Mass in a thatched hut in the jungle with an unhappy mixture of mud and rain pouring over me. Sometimes I would be vested and at other times it was not possible. Vestments are always proper and should be worn except under exceptional circumstances. What are those vestments?
One is a long white garment that covers the entire body of the priest and is called an alb. Actually, it is an adaptation of the Roman toga which carries us back to the beginning of the Church in the first century of the Roman Empire. The second vestment, and the most important of the three, is a long slender garment that drapes around the neck of the priest. Maybe it was a necktie in the second century. Two thousand years ago, it was simply decorative but with the passage of time it has come to represent the office of the priesthood. It is called a stole. A priest will wear this whenever he is celebrating sacraments, whether it be baptism, penance, blessing objects, etc. Finally, there is the outer garment that most of us see all the time. That is called a chasuble. In the Roman times, it was simply a cloak or jacket for the purposes of warmth. Today, the Boy Scouts are all familiar with it and know it as the poncho.
So there he is – all dressed up in the best style from 200 B.C. But – oops – the colors keep changing! Most societies and cultures put various meanings on colors and the same is true in the Church. So, there are a half a dozen different colors that can be used in which the outer vestment, the chasuble, can be made, but the principal ones today are white, red, green and gold. In our Western culture, white symbolizes joy and purity; green represents life; red represents fire, the Holy Spirit, or blood for martyrs; gold is the color of triumph and is used especially for the great feasts of Easter and Christmas. The use of black was suppressed after the Second Vatican Council. It was utilized principally at funerals but now we see funerals, not as a tragic, sad event but as entry into eternal life and so we use white.
Share on Facebook
I have been a Catholic priest since 1956. Therefore, it goes without saying that literally thousands and thousands of times I have had the opportunity and the responsibility to stand up and preach to men and women as to how life ought to be lived. There is plenty about which to speak. Sin and virtue abound on all sides, but the preacher must be very careful and real courage is involved.
When you are speaking to 500 people in a church or synagogue, you can be sure that the vast majority of the people know that you are just like they are, a frail and limited human being. It is very important that the speaker always identify himself with the group to which he is speaking. It should never be you – you – you but we – we – we.
While the majority of my public speaking has been in the area of preaching, I have also had the opportunity to do a considerable amount of teaching in various areas such as history, pressing social issues, personal development and other subjects. Regardless of the subject, I think it is extremely important to keep three aspects of your presentation front and center. First of all, a speaker must know his subject well. Secondly, he or she must feel strongly about it. Finally, you must condition your remarks in the context of where your audience is. The factors involved are the information or values to be transferred, the attitude and personality of the speaker and, most especially, how that information relates to or could be of value to the listeners. If any one of those factors is missing, the speaker will bomb out. Regretfully, most of us have experienced a number of such failures.
On the other hand, when a speaker (especially a preacher) pulls all these things together- we can be extraordinarily touched and affected.
Onward through the fog.
Share on Facebook
The 1960’s were an extraordinary time in the United States. They were filled with hope and chaos. Nationally, the Vietnam War raged on and on. Thousands of young Americans were dying and tens of thousands of Vietnamese were suffering the same fate. The draft was on and many young people were making every effort to avoid it because they instinctively knew that the war was so senseless, so wasteful and so unnecessary.
On the Church side of the ledger, things looked differently. Konrad Adenauer was leading a prosperous, peace loving Germany and the agony of the Second World War was beginning to fade, at least slightly. In the Church there was optimism everywhere. John XXIII, that rotund, little parish priest from the Italian alps, sat on the throne of Peter. He was loving and lovable. He looked at the problems in the Church and for the first time in more than 100 years called for a world-wide council of bishops. Change was in the air. Hope was in the air. Optimism was abundant. So there you had that decade. You had war and chaos and conflict, and you had faith, hope and optimism.
As a young priest, I had already been in several very diverse parishes and in the late ‘60’s was serving the national office in Washington, D.C. I had the thrill of witnessing close at hand the remarkable legislative accomplishments of President Lyndon Baines Johnson. In the South, the Freedom Riders were beaten and sometimes killed but the War on Poverty with all of its ramifications and the Civil Rights Act, the Voters Rights Act and Open Housing Act were all passed in that same decade. I remember the whole decade very well and I hope that I never forget it. No one should.
Share on Facebook
Picture from http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=159
Here it is again! The happy, joyous celebration of Valentine’s Day. Most of us don’t really stop much to think about it, except that we tend to think about it as a great promotional scheme developed by the candy and card makers. Actually, like so many aspects of the early church, it flows out of a really delightful story. St. Valentine was a very committed member of the church in the fourth century, but his timing was bad. He was caught for practicing his faith in one of the very last of the persecutions.
His crime? St. Valentine was arrested for fostering Christian couples to build solid communities of faith. He witnessed many of their marriages. We don’t know a great many details of his life, but supposedly while he was incarcerated, he healed his jailer’s daughter from her blindness, and before St. Valentine was executed, he sent that girl a note and signed it “from your Valentine”. Gradually his name became associated with romantic love, and he is the patron saint of young couples contemplating marriage (and bee keepers- why? I don’t know-maybe it’s the honey?)
Happy St. Valentine’s Day!
Share on Facebook
Back in the early 1960’s when there was a lot of tension between the Chicago priests and Cardinal John Cody, the priests formed their own organization to provide a voice for themselves in dealing with the Cardinal. The idea caught on and in a short period of time priests associations were being formed in dioceses all over the country. It seems so natural so that when the concept was endorsed by the Second Vatican Council, and then with the codification of Canon Law, it was structured into the law itself but under the title of the Priests Senate. The difference was that the new Code called for the diocesan bishop to be the president of the Senate, to set the agenda, to preside and have a very strong voice. Thus, the priests lost their very own voice.
Thirty years have now passed and the priests in this country are beginning to see that while the changes in the Code of Canon Law were well intentioned, the priests themselves once again lack a vehicle through which they can speak to the diocesan bishop, and to the larger community, with a unified voice. Thus, it seemed very interesting to me that a Milwaukee pastor and a number of priests in that diocese have come together to endeavor to call into existence a national organization of Catholic priests. The leader is Father David Cooper, a Milwaukee pastor, and he stated that, “More and more priests find themselves in isolated conditions.” However, Cooper pointed out that protest and disagreement will not be on the agenda of the new organization. Father Richard Vega, president of the National Federation of Priests’ Councils, the canonical entity, said that he supports the objectives proposed by the new group.
It’s a good start. We have not as yet heard from the bishops!
Share on Facebook
In early September, another Catholic priest was murdered in Colombia, the sixth to be killed in 2011. Father José Reinel Restrepo was a 36-year-old pastor of the town of Marmato in Colombia fighting forcefully against a mammoth Canadian mining company, which planned to wipe out the entire parish and town. Father Restrepo had taken his struggles to Bogota meeting with government officials trying to prevent an extraordinary dislocation of nearly 10,000 people. The mining company wished to remove the town in order to operate a new open pit gold mine in its place. Father Restrepo not only worked to protect his parishioners in dealing with the government, but he also spoke out on YouTube. His interview was posted with English subtitles on August 28th and on September 1st he was shot dead. This is truly an agonizing situation. Another young priest was assassinated a few months ago in a remote area of the Philippines, exactly like Restrepo, for speaking out against a mining company that was going to move his entire town.
The global economy may be good for the planet as a whole, but it certainly has its drawbacks and a terrible price is being paid by the most vulnerable of our citizens. May God continue to strengthen the courageous Church leaders, both clergy and laity, in their heroic endeavors to defend their people.
Share on Facebook
I’m going to be talking about the Sacrament of Penance for several days, but I think first and foremost, we have to understand what we mean when we use that simple three letter word called SIN. Most of us throw it around constantly, often jokingly. “A second piece of pie would be sinful!” But the question of SIN involves profound spiritual reality. One is incapable of committing a sin unless he or she uses both of those awesome faculties of the soul in a manner that is at variance with what God expects of us. The first faculty is the intellect, the power by which we KNOW. The second is the WILL- the power which enables us to decide. Both of these faculties must be in play for a sin to be committed.
We must KNOW that something is wrong. We cannot commit a sin “accidentally”. We must freely CHOOSE the evil that is before us. Without that freedom, something terrible may happen, but it would not be sinful. A third component of sinfulness is the matter itself, which can vary from genicide to uncharitable gossip. In other words, the potential for human evil is as wide as the human experience itself.
Let me repeat: You cannot commit a sin unless you know that the issue before us is wrong, and that you freely choose to do it. Without these criteria, there are mistakes, tragedies, mishaps, etc. but not sinfulness.
If a small child slips out of sight and falls into a swimming pool and drowns, this is a tragedy, yes, but not a sin. Frequent daily prayer is a good thing, but many people CONFESS that they missed morning or evening prayers. There is no obligation to pray at a certain time. This is not a sin. But should we PRAY? You betcha!
Share on Facebook
Catholics are big on blessings! We bless ourselves before meals. We bless ourselves upon entering our churches. We bless our children. Sometimes, we get so upset that we have a hard time distinguishing between a blessing and a curse…which is because when we are very emotional, our minds turn towards God, success, joy, and occasionally, panic. Panic and joy can produce similar reactions in some of us.
One custom that is very common is to have a new home blessed. We usually ask our parish priest to come and do that, but the act of blessing is not restricted! Anyone who believes in God can turn to Him and in some sense, dedicate the object being blessed to His service.
When we bless something, mentally we lift it up towards Heaven. Everything we have is from God, so this house, this meal, this child, this car- are all things we have received from God. Giving these things a blessing is merely the external recognition of God as their source and at the same time, asking that in His infinite wisdom, they will be used prudently, effectively and joyfully.
I am happy to see that many of our Christian brothers and sisters are also beginning to use this simple, easy, down to earth acknowledgement of God in our lives as we go throughout the day, blessing Him and thanking Him for what we have received.
Share on Facebook
For several days, I have been talking about the agonizing reality of hunger in America. Over one-third of the country, 17 states, have more than 20% of their children living in food insecure households. This means inadequate learning ability, poor health and lives that are not properly developed. This is very sad but let me turn to something more positive – the need for prayer.
Most Americans believe in God but we are all over the place when it comes to our conversations with him. Most Americans would not consider themselves and many protest that it is rather difficult to talk to God since so often it seems to be a one-sided conversation. God is our friend. God loves each one of us individually with an infinite, all consuming love. If we can grasp that wonderful fact, that conversation with God should not be difficult at all. We should talk to Him about what it is that we are happy about, what causes us our distress, what we need to do in order to get through the next week or the next month, and about our concern for that high school nephew who is suspected of having cancer. While this conversation should take place rather easily, because it is based on love and acceptance by God. However, it is necessary to try to discipline ourselves to keep this conversation ongoing in our life. We should try to think about God and talk to Him briefly as we awaken in the morning and the same when we are shutting ourselves down at the end of the day. When wonderful things happen in the course of the day – we see a new grandchild, an extraordinary movie, make the right turn on the freeway thus avoiding a back traffic jam – we should try to instinctively thank God for his blessings and his gifts. When things go wrong, we should almost instantly turn to God who has created, who sustains us, who loves us and will carry us through life’s difficulties.
Prayer is necessary and prayer is easy. As the priest says repeatedly at Sunday Mass, “Let us pray.”
Share on Facebook