Posts tagged: priests

It Started With the Liturgy

By , April 15, 2014 5:47 am

Back in the 1940’s and 50’s, bishops, priests and theologians were for the most part very relaxed about the Church. Most of them thought that everything was just fine and they never dreamed that an explosive development was coming down the pike that would be known in history as the Second Vatican Council.

However, there had been certain glimmers of approaching change and they first began to appear in the liturgical life of the Church. In the Western Church, everything was in Latin, not just the Mass and the Sacraments, but it was the working language of the Church. It was really a good thing for people who traveled a great deal. If you were a Frenchman attending Mass in the Congo, you were right at home with the Latin, but for most of the faithful the Latin language served as background music. They understood nothing but found it comforting.

Pope Pius XII had worked hard to encourage theologians to go back to the scriptures and he unleashed a very strong surge of dramatically improved scripture studies. Scripture would soon be overlapping in the world of liturgy and question began to be asked about certain things that might be accented too much or not enough.

Liturgists began to organize, liturgical and scripture scholars began to communicate more effectively, and suddenly there came to be a sense that not all was well in the inner-life of the Church.

In 1958 a wonderful, fulsome, Italian bishop from the Alps was elected to the Chair of Peter and he took the delightful name of Pope John XXIII.

He had been listening to that questioning and wondering himself about the need for updating the inner-life of the Church and then finally he did it. He called for a meeting of all the bishops of the world to come together under the dome of St. Peter’s and to pray, study, test, debate and decide on how the Church could more effectively move forward. In calling the Council, it generated an explosion of excitement and hope. The bishops answered his summons and met for several months a year for four years. Needless to say, the first issue that they took up was the sacred liturgy and they published an extraordinary document that would have awesome repercussions around the world.

Let’s take a look at that subject tomorrow.

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The Importance of Values

By , April 8, 2014 5:06 am

Houston in the 30′s

I grew up in a church that was in many ways very different from what it is today. When I was a child the neighborhood was less than fifty years old and relatively prosperous. Since then, it has gone on to what seemed to be decaying and sliding off into a high class slum, but then gentrification arrived and the Houston Heights bounced back. Its greatest advantage was that the center of the Heights is only three miles from downtown Houston. With Houston spreading itself to being more than one hundred miles wide in any direction, living in the Heights has become a tremendous advantage and the prices responded accordingly.

A house could be purchased in 1905 for $6,000 and lived in for about 110 years. The house would become run down but if a new roof, central air conditioning and good landscaping can be added, that little house can be picked up for a bargain price of $700,000.

All Saints Parish, which served the Heights, built a magnificent church in 1927 and was able to maintain a good school until the 1960’s. The staff was fairly simple – a pastor, assisted by two younger priests, eight Dominican nuns in the school and a janitor. There was no business manager, no secretary and no parish council. It was a very simple world. The faith was strong and passed powerfully from generation to generation. Few women worked and the men themselves were carpenters, brick layers, truck drivers with an occasional insurance salesman thrown in. Hospital rooms cost $15.00 a day and doctors made house calls. White Oak Bayou ran behind our house and when we came back from the movies on Saturday we could all play Tarzan or the Lone Ranger without spending a penny. Milk was delivered on wagons and the garbage was collected in enormous blue wagons pulled by mules. That is in my lifetime folks! . It was a wonderful world but it is gone.

There were lots of problems in the ‘30’s, money being one of them on almost everybody’s agenda. I don’t kid myself by saying that everybody was gloriously happy but overall things were stable, calm, life had meaning and balance. When I was nine year’s old I was taught values in various fora. One was the parish church where a wonderful old German priest from Westphalia held forth with at least occasional references to hell’s fire. But my mother and he held a common value system. When we kids got to the school it was again the same system. If I had gone to a public school, even there the same values would have been proclaimed. When I went over to the Yale Theater on Washington Avenue the movies would pretty well concur with what I had heard at church and school and in the family.

That is not the way it is today. We are a nation bereft of generally accepted values. I know we are so free to pick and choose as to which one we will accept and be guided by. Today we struggle in a society that is tragically conflicted in every direction and we are paying a price for it. The Church is weaker in the society than it was in the ’30’s but has an even greater responsibility to try and convince, first ourselves, and secondly, the larger society, that a society without unified, sustainable, good moral values is doomed to destruction.

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Moving Faster in Texas

By , April 3, 2014 4:44 am

About 25 years ago, I had the opportunity to travel with the Bishops of Texas to a wonderful part of France, the area around Lyon. When the Catholic Church in Texas was getting started in the 1840’s, ‘50’s and ‘60’s, the first bishops and most of its priests were from this area and we should all be grateful to those early missionaries. There were many aspects of that trip that made strong impressions on me. There were about 22 of us and we visited four villages to celebrate Mass in the birthplaces of the first two bishops of Galveston-Houston and one in what is today the Archdiocese of San Antonio. The little local paper ran a headline saying, The Texans are coming – the Texans are coming! It was a wonderful experience both for the villagers and for the Texas Bishops.

Most of those impressions were, of course, of a religious nature but I was also in awe of the fast trains! Remember, this was 25 years ago but the trains were already moving at 225 mph. We got from Paris to Lyon very quickly.

Fast trains have been used a great deal both in Japan and other Western European countries but not in the United States. Efforts have been made to develop them in California but they have not been successful. Now there is a great deal of talk about bringing fast trains to Texas. Austin sits in the middle of the great Texas triangle of Houston, Dallas and San Antonio. Those cities represent more than half of the population of Texas. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get back and forth to any one of them in less than an hour?

I am not in the railroad business and I don’t travel very much anymore, but I would love to see Texas lead in the competition for high speed rail.

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Death on the Missions!

By , February 13, 2014 4:24 am

The Pontifical Mission Society of the Holy See, based in the Vatican, puts out an information service on the work of the various missionary communities from across the world. Its publication Fides is an excellent source of information regarding missionary activities around the world. The following is lifted from that report.

In 2013, 22 pastoral care workers were killed worldwide, almost double the number who were killed the year before. For the fifth consecutive year, Latin America had the highest number of such deaths. In 2013, 19 priests, one religious sister and two lay persons were killed. Of these, in the Americas 15 priests were killed (seven in Colombia; four in Mexico; one each in Brazil, Venezuela, Panama and Haiti). In Africa, one priest was killed in Tanzania, and one religious sister and one lay pastoral care worker were killed in Madagascar and Nigeria respectively. In Asia one priest in India and one in Syria were killed, and in the Philippines one lay pastoral worker was killed. In Europe a priest was killed in Italy. Most of the pastoral care workers in 2013 were killed during robbery attempts. The status of a number of others is still undetermined. In Syria, the fates of Orthodox nuns abducted from the monastery of Santa Tecla, the Italian Jesuit Paul Dall’Oglio and the two metropolitan Bishops of Aleppo – the Greek Orthodox Boulos al-Yazigi and the Syrian Orthodox Mar Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim – remain unknown.

I am embarrassed to say that I probably do not pray enough for the safety of these heroic men and women. We should all be more concerned and grateful.

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The Holiness of the Church

By , November 5, 2013 4:06 am

Holy? Are you serious…holy? Over the last 10 or 15 years the Roman Catholic Church was torn asunder, badly wounded and humiliated by the actions of some of its priests. Despicable crimes were committed and the Church did not get serious about dealing with them until an extraordinary range of lawsuits costing hundreds of millions of dollars motivated the bishops to come to grips with the worst Church scandal since the Middle Ages. How can you call that Church holy?

Well, the tradition of the reality of holiness inside the life of the Church is centered on the fact, the belief and the awareness that it is nothing less than the presence of Jesus Christ who is infinite holiness who vivifies the Church. The holiness of the Church is dependent not on the goodness of its individual members but by nothing less than the presence of Jesus himself.

“Members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good weed of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s elation but still on the way to Holiness.” (Lumen Gentium)

When you look beyond the failures of individual members and you see the extraordinary goodness and faithfulness manifested in the lives of hundreds of millions, even billions, through the last 2,000 years, the reality of holiness begins to be seen and seen dramatically.

It would be wonderful if we could all be astronauts and look down at our spinning planet and able to see the Church making Jesus present in each one of the continents, see the heroism of the missionaries in the Amazon Delta, see the selfless work that the Church is ministering to in the prisons and jails in the dreary cities around the world, see the endless efforts to feed people, to heal people, to bring justice to people.

It is in this selfless work of millions of people that the holiness of the Church is so beautifully manifested. It is also manifested in the convents, monasteries and chapels where the Real Presence of Jesus is worshiped hour after hour day by day. As the globe turns a thousand miles every hour with the earth moving around the sun, the adoration of God never ceases with its unending worship by the community of faith.

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Holy Orders

By , October 7, 2013 5:08 am

On October 6th, the 27th Sunday, we saw that interesting excerpt from Paul’s letter to Timothy in which he described ordaining Timothy as his assistant and as his replacement as Paul moved forward across modern Turkey setting up new churches. This gives us an opportunity to think for a moment about this extraordinary spiritual force inside the Church which we call Holy Orders. Orders is not drawn from the word for keeping things in line or stacked up neatly. Here Orders refers to a whole group of people within the Church who are unified by specific responsibilities.

Marriage draws the vast majority of the Church’s members together in family life. The diaconate accents the need for internal service and assistance to every member of the Church, especially those in need. In addition to the deacons, of course, there is the Order of Shepherds or Bishops but today I just want to mention the Holy Order which joins together men who have been commissioned for everyday work in the life of the Church. Two thousand years later, most but not all priests work especially in established parishes, teaching assignments or missionaries.

Priests become representatives of Christ to the Church as witnesses of holiness and love, preachers of the Gospel, shepherd of the faithful, conveners of divine worship and builders of the Church. Wow! What a job description.

Those ideals are placed before us when we are ordained and regretfully many of us fail in their pursuit and some of us fail completely. There has been a great deal of discouragement in the ranks of Catholic priests across the world for the last 20 or 30 years because they have seen with sadness and disappointment the determined effort to roll back the hopes and dreams of the Second Vatican Council.

Not anymore! With the arrival of Pope Francis, his openness and commitment to the Council has spread across the world in only a few weeks. Zeal and enthusiasm go hand in hand and I am very confident that in a matter of just a few months we will see an exciting reawakening in the lives of the clergy as they recommit themselves to that which they were ordained. May God bless Pope Francis and may God continue to bless his priests across the world.

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A Disappointing Report!

By , September 16, 2013 5:35 am

Most older Americans remember with some degree of clarity that extraordinary changes took place in the United States in the 1960’s and in the decades following. The Vietnam War undercut our sense of patriotism and trust in the government. The sexual revolution challenged and frequently overturned ancient customs within our culture and traditions. A massive increase in government involvement in our lives had ramifications in every direction. The Church, like the larger society, was affected by these monumental shifts in opinion and values, and inside the Church we saw a dramatic drop off of young men and women desiring to enter into vowed religious life and ordination to the priesthood.

As far as priests were concerned, costs connected with their education and care for them after retirement could be sustained not without some difficulty, but by the basic structure of the diocese. For the hundreds of religious communities of women it was a different story. Each one was independent and at the same time responsible for itself and its members.
In the late 1980’s, it became apparent that the traditional policy of individual self-maintenance was no longer working. Fewer women were entering religious life and those who remained were elderly, less able to be employed in ministries and the costs of caring for them soared. In response to this painful issue, the bishops of the country established the Retirement Fund for Religious (RFR).

The Retirement Fund for Religious is essentially an annual collection to produce funds that will assist various communities that are struggling to maintain themselves. In a sense, it was a moderate success. Millions would be raised each year and I have the figures of 2012 when $27 million was placed into the Fund by the Catholics of the United States. I have just reviewed the annual report from the National Religious Retirement Office and it points out that 75% of the income was distributed to communities that were in pressing need. Twenty-five percent was allocated for promotion, educational and administrative expenses, along with some savings for future distributions. Together that accounted for $26 million. In a nutshell, the Fund took in one million more than it expended in carrying out its mission.

Oh, shame – shame – shame on us. Twenty-seven million dollars is less than fifty cents a Catholic, fifty cents a year to help maintain the heroic, generous, faith-filled women who built our schools, clinics, hospitals, etc. for the last 150 years. This fund should be receiving hundreds of millions of dollars each year, not fifty cents per Catholic. The dioceses should not be simply having an annual collection trying to raise this money by passing the basket on one Sunday morning but should allocate its own resources to enhance development of this program in every part of the nation. If that is not successful, then the dioceses should put a hard tax on themselves to bolster the resources of the Fund so that it can adequately handle unfunded retirement liability.

There has been progress. In 2004, the unfunded liability of the communities was $6.7 billion. Today, it has been reduced to $4.7 billion. Progress but not nearly enough.

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Heavens Above! The Canonization Process

By , August 27, 2013 5:31 am

What does it mean when the Roman Catholic Church declares one of its deceased members to be a saint? The Church has no direct knowledge about specific individuals in life after death. While Michelangelo painted many famous people into hell on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, his brilliant artistry is, however, not an act of the Church.
On the other hand, however, the Church has throughout its history spotlighted certain men and women who have displayed extraordinary holiness, moral goodness and faithful commitment to our Lord Jesus Christ.
When the Church does this through a formal process, it will declare this or that person to be especially worthy of imitation and call that person a saint.
In the first thousand years, the process was very informal and came about simply by the continued veneration and respect of the faithful. When that veneration spread far and wide and perdured for decades, the people themselves gave the title “saint “ and it has held on lo these many centuries.
Gradually, however, the Church in Rome wanted a more formal and objective process and it established a special Congregation in the Vatican to receive from churches across the world the suggestion that this or that person, known to be extraordinarily holy, ought to be considered for sainthood. Rules and processes were set up and individuals would be appointed to collect information, more accurately to investigate that person’s life. Slowly the custom developed that a miracle or two must be observed in answer to petitions to the one being studied. This would strengthen the belief that the person was actually sharing the beatific vision. Regretfully, this process requires work and expense and this is the sad reason why we have so many priests and nuns declared saints and so few, comparatively speaking, lay people. Religious orders, would of course feel very blessed in having one of their members canonized and when they identify a possible candidate from among their members they are in a position to advance the process more easily. Mr. Slavinski, who lives down the street from you and who you know to be an awesomely holy person, is not in a position to do that.
I wonder if we should go back to the earlier system. In a sense it has already returned because most of us consider John XXIII and Mother Teresa saints. Who is to say that we are wrong?
While you were reading this blog, countless numbers of holy people have by-passed the system and have gone straight to their destiny; eternal union with God.

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The Missionaries of Maryknoll Continue To Move Forward

By , July 31, 2013 5:07 am

The other day I mentioned that changes in the missionary thrust of the Catholic Church in the United States had gone through major changes over the last two or three decades. In the past, most missionaries were either priests or nuns trained, sent and supported by religious communities back home. Changes in the Church and the world over the last fifty years have caused the number of missionaries to decline dramatically. The mission of the Church must go forward and to face that one of the dramatic changes that we have seen is the number of lay people who are coming forward to be willing to go overseas to serve for different periods. Some are for a year or two. Some for decades and others for as long as their health permitted. It is a beautiful story of generosity!

While the idea of going to South America or Africa is frightening for many people, others find that assisting needy people is a source of great joy and satisfaction. American skills and know-how can make tremendous differences in remote and undeveloped parts of these continents. Volunteers improve health care, education, leadership training, they teach economic development, they work for justice and peace and they give marvelous amounts of pastoral care. Those who make the decision to do this report to being extremely blessed.
Maryknoll Lay Missioners want to take the nervousness and fright out of the idea and they developed a faith and service experience for anyone who is willing to give it a try. There are eight mission awareness trips being planned and anyone interested in getting a brief experience of missionary life can contact Cecilia Espinosa, manager of the program Friends Across the Borders at P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, New York 10545, (914) 762-6364 X207. These trips are usually for eight to ten days.
My own life was dramatically changed when I began to visit Maryknoll Missioners in Guatemala in the 1960’s. Try it – you will like it!

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The Missionaries of Maryknoll Continue To Move Forward

By , July 29, 2013 5:07 am

When I was a kid in the 1930’s and 1940’s Maryknoll was but one of many missionary organizations. However, for us, it was the best one known. It was classically American. It was founded by diocesan priests from Boston early in the 20th century. The first mission field chosen was China. As kids that made the pictures that the Maryknollers sent home seem very exotic and romantic. China was then as it always has been a mysterious country and the Maryknollers made great strides. They had two separate organizations – the Maryknoll Priests and the Maryknoll Sisters. They grew rather rapidly and continued to do so until the years following the Second Vatican Council.
When I was in high school, two of my classmates became Maryknoll missioners and one of them would be martyred in Guatemala and the other would become one of Maryknoll’s most important leaders. When my classmates were ordained there were 59 other priests in the class. Can you imagine that!
Regretfully, the Church in the United States has not stressed the importance of missionary activity. Over the last 40 years, the number of ordinations has dropped down to a trickle.
However, Maryknoll has not lost the fact that the Church is essentially missionary and over the last few decades that missionary thrust has taken a different stride. As the number of religious vocations declined and the availability of priests and nuns were ever more scarce, a number of lay people began to step forward and commit themselves to carrying Jesus’ message of salvation around the world. Through the years, hundreds have come forward and others are planning to join them. Marknoll Lay Missioners are serving on three continents – South America, Africa and Asia. Although the lay missioners work very closely with their Maryknoll counterparts of priests and nuns, they are a distinct organization with their own leadership and responsibility for their own expenses. Needless to say, it is a real challenge. While the members are essentially volunteers, there is an expensive period of preparation, transportation and maintenance in their field. If you can’t go to Africa, then why not send a few dollars to help somebody else get there?
The National Director of Maryknoll Lay Missioners is Mr. Sam Stanton at P. O. Box 307, Maryknoll, New York 10545, (914) 762-6344.
Tomorrow I will tell you about an exciting new program Sam is developing for people who are interested at least in increasing their mission awareness can take trips to interesting places like El Salvador, Tanzania, Cambodia, Brazil, Kenya and Bolivia. Oh, to be young again!

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