By What Authority Do You Say These Things?

The other night I dropped in on our young adult group and one of the young men asked me a question that he says friends of his frequently ask him: “With all the different denominations of Christianity out there, why should we worry about being Catholic?” I told him that the answer ultimately comes down to a question of authority. There are so many different denominations of Christianity in the world today, many of whom teach things that are drastically different from each other to the point that they can’t all be correct. While some things are differences of culture and custom, others disagree with each other about theology, and they can’t all be right. Therefore, with all the different churches saying different things that contradict each other, how do you know who’s telling the truth? Obviously, Christ is the truth, so we have to know who is teaching what Christ revealed, which means we have to ask the question, “Who has the authority to speak in the name of Christ?” We are the only denomination of Christianity that can point to a Scripture text that explicitly gives us that authority: Matthew 16:13-20. In this famous account Jesus says to Simon “…you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church and the jaws of death shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you declare bound on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you let loose on earth shall be let loose in heaven.” We as Catholics take that as a clear creation of the church by Jesus, that Jesus gave the authority to St. Peter to speak in his name and that that authority passes down through the centuries to Pope Francis today. Of course, lots of non-Catholics will disagree with us and claim that that’s not at all what Jesus meant. They try to disprove it with a variety of arguments, but one thing they can’t do is provide a Scripture quote to authorize themselves. No one can point to a Scripture quote that says Martin Luther was authorized by Christ to speak in his name, or John Calvin, or Zwingli, or Henry VIII, or the guy who just got religion last week and rented a storefront and made himself a minister. Ultimately, we have to ask these people “by what authority do you speak in the name of Christ?”

When I first realized that God was calling me to be a priest, I didn’t just rent a storefront and appoint myself a minister. No, I went to the Church that I was convinced was the only one that possessed the fulness of truth and asked to be given the authority to preach in its name, which was done to me on May 12, 1990 by Cardinal O’Connor, who had the authority to ordain priests given to him by Pope John Paul II, a direct successor of St. Peter. Of course, that means I must always preach what the Church teaches is the truth and not my own opinion. Just because I was authorized to speak in the name of the Church doesn’t mean anything I think up is automatically true. I will only be helping people when I teach what the Church has taught me is the truth that Christ entrusted to her.

Years ago I remember a man asking me the following question: “Why do you feel you have to parrot everything the Pope says? You have a brain; think things out for yourself!” I remember saying to him, “Thank you for the compliment! You think I’m infallible?” I am not infallible. I have been wrong in the past and I will be wrong at times in the future. If I love my people I will not get up in the pulpit on Sunday and tell them my opinion. First of all, that’s not why they come to Mass. and secondly, how can I tell them with certainty to follow something that I may later discover not to be true? My mind is not the source of all truth. But when I teach the Truth that Christ has given through the Catholic faith that he gave the apostles and is handed down to us today through his Church, then I can speak with certitude and tell my people they must follow it, for what the Church clearly teaches as the truth of Christ must be correct or Jesus lied to St. Peter!

truth-will-set-you-freeLots of times people follow individuals who are very charismatic and perhaps do a good job praying and leading people in prayer before the Lord. I don’t question for a moment the sincerity of any of these individuals. I’m sure they are very well intended and are doing their best to follow the Lord. But before we can say we speak definitively in the name of Jesus we have to be sure that what we’re saying is in fact what he has revealed and that we are well schooled in what he reveals. We firmly believe that Jesus gave the deposit of revelation to the apostles and told them to preserve it through the generations and that he gave Peter and the other apostles the authority to speak in his name; therefore, in order to say we are speaking the definitive truth of Jesus we must be in union with that Church, be well schooled in what we believe, and have the authority to teach in the name of Christ given to us by someone with the authority to do so, namely, a bishop, one of the successors of the apostles. Many people today don’t do that. They somehow find Jesus and come to believe in him, and they want to go out and bear witness to him, and that’s wonderful. But they go out without any authorization from him and without any schooling on their own and rent a storefront and claim that they are now a minister for Christ and that they’re speaking the truth in his name. But how do they know that what they think is the meaning of a certain Bible text is the correct interpretation, especially when so many storefront preachers and denominations of Christianity disagree with each other? I get the fact that many people listen to them because they can be very charismatic and very entertaining and that they feel very comfortable around the person. Perhaps he is a compassionate individual that makes them feel good and that’s all wonderful. But try this analogy: suppose you were sick and needed a doctor and a friend of yours told you about this wonderful guy that they go to who is very compassionate. He’s funny and his office is beautiful, and you go to the guy and he is a wonderful person and he really gives you all sorts of good sounding advice. Maybe he even tells jokes, perhaps he sings and he makes your experience in his office so wonderful, whereas the doctor you used to go to you just went in, he met you, he gave you a prescription and that was it. You decide that, from now on this is the doctor for you! Then you discover that this new doctor you are going to is not in fact a doctor; he never went to medical school and has no medical degree. All he did was pick up a couple of books on medicine and read them. Would you be comfortable receiving medical advice from this man? And if he’s not giving you any medicine – which he can’t do if he’s not a doctor because he doesn’t have the right to give you a prescription – in the long run, is he doing you any good? He may have been very comforting and compassionate, but when you leave your still sick. So just because the experience was a lot more enjoyable doesn’t mean the man in fact helped you in any way. It’s the same thing when we seek out denominations of Christianity or storefront churches or ministers or whomever it may be that say things that we like to hear or who give us a lot more of an enjoyable experience in our prayer but who are in fact not giving us the truth of Christ. All that warmth is wonderful, but if it’s not being accompanied by the truth of Christ then it’s not doing us any good.

I don’t know if it still there, but I remember when I was in the seminary and we would go down to the cathedral once a month to serve mass for the Cardinal we passed a storefront church in Harlem whose title was “The True Church of Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.” I realized right away what that minister was attempting. He realized that, with all these ministers out there saying such vastly different things, that people needed to know who in fact was teaching the truth of Jesus. He therefore decided to try to rediscover what Jesus taught the apostles to hand down to us, and that his church would be the place where people heard the true teachings of Christ. But what that man didn’t realize is that he attempted to re-create the Catholic Church! That is precisely what we are! We are the true Church of Jesus Christ of the apostolic faith. We are the only ones who can say that Jesus clearly gave us the authority to speak in his name. No one else can make that claim!

In the end, while it’s nice to look for exciting communities with uplifting music and powerful pray-ers, ultimately it is more important to find those who have the authority to teach in the name of Christ and who are faithful to what Christ revealed to the apostles. Neither exciting liturgy nor charismatic preaching will set you free, only the truth of Christ can do that, which he reveals in its fulness through the only Church he gave the authority to speak in his name: The Catholic Church.

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Dear Abby encourages a two-year-old boy to be clothed in dresses and pink clothes!

I don’t normally read Dear Abby because I rarely agree with the advice she gives, but today’s headline caught my attention and I was horrified at what I read. Did anyone else see it? Here is the column for today:


DEAR ABBY: My brother and sister-in-law have been dressing my 2-year-old nephew, “Charlie,” in dresses and pink clothes. They say these are what the boy has chosen. To me, a toddler will pick out whatever gets his attention at the moment, and children that age have only a rudimentary understanding of gender.

It would be one thing if Charlie were old enough to understand and still insisted he felt more comfortable in girls’ clothing. But at his age I feel what they’re doing will only confuse him. Keep in mind, I do not believe this is a transgender issue. I think people who are transgender should dress and act the way they feel. I just feel that age 2 is too young to determine this.

My parents (the boy’s grandparents) are worried and angry. My sister-in-law knows this upsets my mother and yet it’s like she’s taunting her with texts and pictures of Charlie in pink and/or dresses.

Should we be worried about this or should it be none of our business? Are we overreacting? Would it be best to approach my brother to tell him our concerns? — TOO YOUNG TO UNDERSTAND

DEAR TOO YOUNG: It is likely that Charlie is going through a phase and doing something he has seen other people do. But more important than what his mother buys for him is how others respond to it. A family’s negative reaction sends a strong message. If Charlie is innocently testing out his/her authentic self, his grandparents’ negative response will signal that they disapprove of who he is, which could have lasting ramifications for him.

Counselors at PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) have told me that many parents say that, looking back, they realize that by disapproving, they had sent their child the message that they couldn’t accept him/her. One child had suicidal thoughts at the age of 5 because of it. (And yes, sometimes children that young do act on the impulse.)


Hello??? The child is two years old!!! What two-year-old chooses his own clothing for the day? It is obvious to any sane person that the decision to dress the child in pink and dresses is the parents’ and not the toddler’s.

Why are these parents behaving in this way? Are they trying to encourage him to grow up believing he’s actually a girl? Did they perhaps want a girl but got a boy instead? What their rationale is I certainly cannot say, but whatever it is, what they are doing to the child is downright cruel. What parent would want to encourage their child to grow up gender confused?

As for Dear Abby’s response, this is a clear example of what I have repeatedly said is the dangerous afterbirth of an overly accepting attitude toward gender confusion. What started out as a perhaps noble attempt to understand and be compassionate toward those who are gender-confused has deteriorated into an effort to encourage people to be whatever gender they choose to be. There are even some people who will tell you that can change from day to day. “If I want to be a woman today, I’ll be a woman, and if tomorrow I want to be a man I’ll do so.” Don’t believe me? Look at one case that took place in a Ross department store in Texas.

A female customer complained that a man was changing in the ladies’ fitting room. When confronted by the manager, the man said “he was identifying as a woman today” and the manager told the woman who had complained that he had the right to change in there. see video here  Target has also had serious problems with abuses due to their policy openly welcoming people to use whatever bathroom they feel better matches their identity. See this link: click here

When it comes to a toddler (as it is in this case), whatever the motive of the parents is, trying to force their child to identify with the opposite gender is unconscionable! It is an unthinkable kind of violence to do such a thing to a child.

I think it’s time the world wake up and face reality: we are male or female down to every gene in our body, and with the exception of the rare case of people with genetic abnormalities, our gender was determined at the moment of our conception and does not change because we feel differently. Feelings don’t dictate reality; only facts do, and encouraging people to choose whatever gender they want to be is an insult to the Lord who “created them male and female” (cf Gen. 1:27).

 

Getting people to go to Church on Sunday: addressing the malady and not merely the symptom

This article was published in the ChristLife Magazine at the request of Dianne Davis and David Nodar of ChristLife.

As Christians, our “mission statement” is very clear: “Go out and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you, and know that I am with you always, even until the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20) Any parish that is truly striving to be faithful to our call to be disciples and to have a missionary spirit rather than simply being stuck imakediscipleswpn maintenance mode struggles with the question of how to bring in people who have left the faith as well as reach people who have never known Christ. When we especially think of the question of people who have left, there are so many different ways we have tried to reach out to them. My experience, however, has convinced me that we’ve been addressing the symptoms and not the malady. Lots of people, for example, say that they’re bored at mass or they don’t get anything out of it. While this is true, we’ve responded in all the wrong ways to try to make them “get something out of mass.” We’ve brought in puppets and balloons, we’ve told jokes and done shtick, all to no avail. As a priest I’ve tried all the gimmicks that are touted with the promise that they will get people to come to mass. Perhaps they work for a time, but none of them offers the permanent effect of faithful discipleship. I was told for example that if you want to get teenagers to come to mass you need to have a rock mass. So we did that. We got all of the teenagers who had ability to play musical instruments together and set up a rock mass once a month on a Sunday night and we rocked the church! That place was jumping and many of the people there enjoyed it very much. But what we noticed month after month was that it never brought any other teenagers back to church. The teens who told their friends about it found it was not enough to get them to start coming to mass. They weren’t staying away because they didn’t like the music – that was the reason we told ourselves. The real reason was that they didn’t come to mass because they saw no value in it. When it comes to little children and getting their parents to attend mass, we were told that we should have special masses for children because their parents will come. This is true – to an extent. When children are doing something at mass the parents will come, but that doesn’t make them come back the next week.

I have come to realize that all of the things that we’re trying to do to bring people back are simply addressing the symptom and not the malady. People are not staying away from church because they don’t like the music or because the priest is boring; those are the excuses they use. No, they are staying away because they don’t realize why we go to mass in the first place and why they need to be there. Most people don’t like to go to the doctor, but they go because they know it is important for them to do so. They don’t complain that they don’t like the music they play in the waiting room or that the doctor is boring and doesn’t tell jokes. If someone actually were to use that as an excuse for why they don’t go to the doctor, I doubt that anyone would tell doctors to learn good jokes and start playing different music in the office. Why, then, do we think this is the answer for how to bring people back to mass? This is not to say that we don’t strive to provide prayerful music, homilies, etc., but that we don’t make this an end in itself.

I have come to believe very firmly that the only way we are going to get people to return faithfully is to get them to see that “I need a regular relationship with Jesus that I will find not by praying on my own at home, but that I will find when I come to church every Sunday to receive the Eucharist for the forgiveness of my sins, to unite myself with Christ in his suffering, death, and resurrection, and be strengthened by my fellow Christians as we journey together to follow Christ and be a community.”

We’ve had lots of wonderful programs that have attempted to provide precisely this, yet many of them in my opinion have failed. I’ve used lots of retreat programs that had people giving personal witness talks about the power of Christ in their lives and the things he’s done for them, and they can be very powerful. The problem is that not everybody’s witness talk is appropriate, and some are questionable in their content or in their interpretation of what God actually did for them. I’ve heard peoplediscovering-christ say things that have made me cringe. In order to make sure every talk is appropriate the priest has to listen to every talk through beforehand to accept, modify, or reject it. Not only do most priests not have the ability to dedicate that much time to this, when he does suggest changes, some people’s feelings get hurt. Other times programs tend to become a clique. The people bind nicely to each other in the name of the program, but not in the parish and in the church, and it ends up creating a sub community of the parish rather than encouraging participants to be active members of the Church Universal. They tend to refer to each other as “my ‘Such-and-Such’ Program brothers and sisters”, but not “my fellow parishioners”, and certainly not, “my fellow Catholics.” Being members of the ministry program frequently becomes the end in itself to the exclusion of parishioners who are not part of the program. When this happens the program has failed in its stated purpose. It has brought people closer to each other but not together in Christ. They may strive to bring other people into the program, but it often becomes apparent that they are more interested in membership in the program rather than in the Church. ChristLife is different.

We started using Christ life a year ago, and like any other program I was optimistic but also skeptical, because I’ve been down this path before. What pleases me about ChristLife is that the heart of the program is not personal witness by individual volunteers but rather the videos that ChristLife provides. The videos are solid in their theology, but also touching. They have a way of communicating the need for Christ in his Church in a common sense manner that combines the beauty of being part of a community with an authentic encounter with Jesus. The programs do not turn in on themselves, having the people do merely a group huddle, but are founded firmly on Christ. Yes, there is certainly group sharing, and yes there is a great sense of community, but it is a community founded on Christ and not merely on membership in the group. We had members as young as twelve and as old as their eighties who started seeing the work of Christ in each other. ChristLife does what we want to do as a parish and what we need in a program: it brings people together in Christ. So many of the other programs have brought people together but the “in Christ” portion of it was somehow missing.

I am very happy with using ChristLife in our parish, and we are now planning to use it as our pre-catechumenate in hopes that people will experience the need for Christ and develop a desire to know and follow him before entering into the formal catechesis of the RCIA process. ChristLife is far less expensive than many of the programs that we have tried and the support from the Christ life staff is fantastic. The people on the ChristLife staff see their work as a ministry and not merely an occupation. I strongly encourage the use of ChristLife in every parish, as I think it is the only program out there that truly addresses the real malady and doesn’t merely spend time putting Band-Aids on wounds.

I don’t believe everything the Church teaches. Am I a hypocrite?

christian or hypocriteSomeone recently told me that he was having a discussion with a few people who were very much trying to follow the Lord, but they felt like fake Catholics because they don’t agree with the Church on some of the “hot button” topics today, and they wanted to know if that means they’re not good Catholics and are instead hypocrites. It’s an excellent question and I was very glad that these young people were considering it. There may be many others reading this who have the same feeling. Should you be considered a fake Catholic or a hypocrite if you don’t follow everything the Church teaches? My answer is, “not necessarily.” There is more information that needs to be looked at before anyone could judge himself and accuse himself of being fake or a hypocrite.

First of all, what does it mean to be a hypocrite? Hypocrites are not people who don’t understand or who don’t agree: hypocrites are people who claim they are doing God’s will and yet turn around and end up doing precisely the opposite of what God wants. I will give you an example of where I have found hypocrisy recently in some people in the church: Usually on my blog and in other places I find myself battling the liberal people who want the Church to change her teachings, but recently I have found myself in a strong battle against people on the extreme right who are condemning Pope Francis. I found myself in a conversation on a rather reactionary conservative site that is accusing Pope Francis of abandoning the faith in his new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia. They seem to have ignored all of the strong things the Pope said about the value of a traditional marriage and the things for families to do in order to keep their marriage strong and have focused their attention on a footnote in one comment about Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics. In the exhortation the Pope clearly reiterated the Church’s teaching that divorced and remarried Catholics who have done so without an annulment are in an irregular situation and cannot licitly present themselves to receive Holy Communion. In a footnote to that the Pope mentions that under certain circumstances some people may be able to be admitted to Communion. That has always been the teaching of the Church. For example, couples who are invalidly married but willing to live as brother and sister-meaning they refrain from any sexual activity-may present themselves for Holy Communion after confession provided no scandal to the faithful exists. Unfortunately, these reactionary people read only the footnote and seemed to be convinced beforehand that Pope Francis, by not just bashing people over the head as sinners, is somehow altering the Faith and has changed the Church’s teaching on the matter. I put a comment on a question board on this site asking people, “please someone showed me the quote where Pope Francis changed the Church’s teaching on Communion for divorced and remarried Catholics?” The reactions I got back from that were vile and obscene! While some very politely accused me of living in a naïvely Pollyanna world where I did not want to see the “serious danger of the Pope’s new teaching,” others told me I was doing the devil’s work and they were praying for my soul because I was in danger of being condemned for all eternity simply because I did not condemn Pope Francis! Another one said he would listen to tradition and not “the evil teachings of this evil Pope”. When I asked him where he found the justification to judge the Pope, he said to me “God has given me the right to judge the Pope!” Mamma Mia! That sounds like Martin Luther all over to me! That’s precisely what the Protestant reformers had said: they felt that the Pope had broken from Tradition and they had a God-given duty to correct the Pope and even broke away to “reform” the Church into what they thought it was supposed to be! I wrote a note to the editor of that website saying that I would no longer participate on the site because of the self-righteous and sanctimonious statements of some of the readers that they are attracting. I told him they are attracting people who believe they speak for God and when even the Pope says something they don’t like they believe the Pope is wrong and they are right; in other words, their minds and their thoughts are the ultimate judge of truth, and in their self-righteousness they have repeated exactly what the Pharisees did in condemning Jesus. The Pharisees were convinced they were defending God and attacking an evil person when they sent Jesus to his death, and I told the editor I would have no part of such an attitude! That to me is hypocrisy; the “I-am-right-and-anyone-who-disagrees-with-me-is-a-condemned-sinner” attitude.

As for others who don’t believe they agree with the Church, we must remember that Jesus during his lifetime made some very provocative statements and he challenged people. Lots of things that he said went against the grain. Sometimes people rejected him without hearing him through and understanding why he taught what he did, and so they ended up not following Jesus and not experiencing the salvation he could offer them. That is a mistake. Take for example the situation when Jesus gave the Great Discourse on the Bread of Life, telling everyone they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life (cf John 6). For Jews that was a horror! Contact with human blood made you unclean, and so it violated everything they believed in. In addition, Jesus did not tell them he was going to turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and so they must have thought he was talking about cannibalism. St. John tells us that after this many of Jesus’ followers abandoned him and would no longer be his disciples. He turned to the apostles and asked them if they too wanted to leave him, and Peter replies, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter didn’t understand any more than the others did, but he was so convinced in whom Jesus was that he accepted something that made no sense to him simply because Jesus said it and he knew Jesus could not be wrong. What Peter said is what Jesus was looking for: trust in him completely, so that even things that did not make sense to us we would accept because Jesus said it and then look for the answer and the explanation as to why Jesus said what he did. The apostles found that; those who left him did not.

So to people who accuse themselves of being fake Catholics because they reject the Church’s teaching on any number of issues, I ask them to ask themselves this: have you carefully looked at why the Church teaches what she does on this particular issue? Many times we reject something without understanding why it’s taught in the first place. Remember that we, thanks to Original Sin, are rewired in a faulty way whereby what is God’s will and what advances us on the spiritual journey to salvation is not natural to us. Because of that, our natural inclination is not to embrace the things that lead us to heaven but what makes us happy here on earth. Sometimes meeting a need here on earth would compromise our call to salvation. But we don’t see that, especially when to follow the Lord’s teaching would be to cause us inconvenience or even suffering here and now, and we end up rejecting the teaching because we only want convenience now and don’t see the high price we have to pay for that convenience.

So have we thought everything through and gotten complete and sufficient information to know that something that would satisfy our desire now will compromise our call to salvation, and then chosen to reject the teaching? If so, then I would say we are not authentic Catholics. But for most people we simply have our own opinions that have come from the world around us which we have openly accepted without even thinking through, and ended up rejecting the Church’s teaching without really thinking it through. So I’m not saying for a moment that it’s okay for someone to reject the Church’s teaching! At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to accuse either himself or another of being a hypocrite or a fake Catholic simply because he has not completely come to understand why the Church teaches something it does. So before you condemn yourself, do research and find out why the Church teaches what she does on certain issues. If you are of honest faith and a desire to follow Jesus, chances are when you do, you will find yourself understanding the teaching better and perhaps even accepting it. Only if someone has completely understood the teaching and chosen to reject it should he say that he is not a faithful Catholic.

Is there any hope for the world?

Someone recently asked me a question that I found to be quite profound: “Father, do you think there is any hope for the world?” (This question actually came from a young man who came with his fiancée to make arrangements for their marriage.) I was floored by such a deep question at a wedding interview. I told him, “Well, any hope we have can only be found in Christ. It won’t come from Washington!” In the midst of a presidential election year, we will continue to hear many promises from all the candidates for President until Election Day. We will listen, and we will ultimately Earth-clip-art-8each vote for the person we feel offers the most hope for America. But you know what will happen? No one we elect will deliver 100% of what he or she promises. We know all too well that much of the time candidates say what they know we want to hear in order to get our vote. At other times they promise things that they firmly believe they will be able to provide, yet once they get into office and face the reality of the situation, they realize they can’t fulfill the promise, and sometimes they even espouse the very opposite position to what they promised. Rarely do they actually make good on their promises. I don’t mean this as a blanket condemnation of all politicians but as an observation of fact: it is very hard for even the most honest politicians to keep the promises they make. That is because we are all fallen individuals and do not have all knowledge of reality. Only one person does – Jesus – and yet too often we listen to everyone but Jesus. For some reason that we’re hard pressed to explain, we dismiss the Gospel of Jesus as too “pie-in-the-sky” and unrealistic but we listen with devotion to politicians. We tend to see the Gospel as something that would be nice in a perfect world but which is not practical here and now. Dismissing the Gospel because the world is not perfect is like being lost and having a GPS but not using it because you’re lost! Does that make any sense? The Gospel is precisely the way to make the world the place we long for it to be. So why don’t we listen to Jesus. There is a plethora of reasons people will offer, but underneath them all is one common denominator: we are not in love with Jesus. We don’t trust him because we don’t really know him. We believe in him, but without falling in love with him, we don’t make him the foundation of our lives. I am convinced that we will only know true peace when we come to love Jesus with all our hearts and make him the center of our life. We cannot make the world love Jesus overnight, but we can learn to love him ourselves and change our own lives to have the meaning and purpose for which we always yearn.

Here at St. Ann’s we are introducing a new program entitled “Christlife.” it is a seven-week retreat series that will take place on Thursday evenings from 7:00 PM -9:30 PM in Fr. discovering-christAnthony Hall. Our first session entitled “Discovering Christ” will talk about precisely these things. We will not dwell on specific beliefs nor enter into catechetics or any hard sell of Jesus. Instead, we will talk about what life is all about and why we need a Savior, specifically Jesus. You will be fed a great meal and then we will have discussion about life and the role Jesus should play in it. Our team has people of every age from 15 through elderly adults, both male and female. If you live near Yonkers, come to Christlife! It may change your life! If you don’t live in our area, look for Christlife where you live. Catholic parishes are offering it all over the country. Make a commitment that will pay off for the rest of your life and into eternity! Come to know Jesus, and you will come to know yourself!

I’ve Been Vindicated!!!

I have been reading a book by Fr. James Mallon entitled: Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish. While reading one chapter in particular I found myself shouting out, “Halleluiah!” At last I’ve found someone else who agrees with me and sees what I have been complaining about going on in churches every Sunday. I’ve reproduced the one segment here. The entire book is worth reading.416NpYD2SML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Giving Priority to the Weekend:

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118: 24)

Over the years I have been accused several times of turning the celebration of Mass into a production. As often happens in such moments, what I could have said came to me later – responses that would have been amusing, if not necessarily charitable. To the accusation that everything is a production, I am tempted to say, “Thank you, I’m so glad you noticed.” Duh!

Eleven years ago, after being a priest for six years and a pastor for three years, the obvious occurred to me. The only time we see 80% of our people is on the weekend, yet only 20% of my time in any given week was invested in planning, preparing and executing weekend Masses. It is the classic 80/ 20 rule. In pastoral ministry, it is easy to expend the other 80% of time and resources on a small number of people. I remember thinking that if the Church was a business, it probably would have gone out of business a long time ago with this kind of strategy. The Church is, of course, not a mere business, it is mystery, but grace still builds on nature and there is an essential truth here. The priority of any parish, and any priest, ought to be about preparing for and celebrating the Sunday Eucharist to make it the best possible experience for the maximum number of people. Too often in my own ministry, and in many parishes, the weekend, and everything that happens, had merely been an afterthought, a mild interruption to the real work of ministry that takes place from Monday to Friday. Sunday Eucharist ought to be a “production” in the best sense of the word. It deserves to be so. I presume here, of course, a positive connotation to “production.” We are not speaking of showmanship, or anything shallow and insincere. We are speaking about being intentional about every aspect of the Sunday celebration. To give our best for the Lord so that people who come to our church can leave with a sense of “Wow!” Why not? If I can go to a sports event or a concert and say “wow,” why shouldn’t this utterance be genuinely on the lips of those who have been sent from Church to “glorify the Lord with their lives”? The days of the 50-minute get-it-over-and-done-with Mass must end. Jesus told us that the Kingdom of God was like a wedding banquet. (Matthew 22: 1-14) The Eucharist is to be a foretaste of this banquet, and so it ought to produce an exclamation of “Wow!” It ought to be “a production.” Many of the values and examples that follow in this chapter do refer to the experience of Sunday morning, so I will refrain from giving any detail here. I do wish to say, however, that if the weekend celebrations are to be a priority, then we must have sufficient time on Sunday mornings to gather, celebrate and connect afterwards. This can be a real pressure on priests as we see the quality of Sunday mornings compromised because of our tight Mass schedules. The parking lot must be emptied on the hour so that those coming for the next Mass can arrive, or the priest must sprint for his car and play loosely with the speed limit to get to the next location for the next Mass. We need to honestly look at our Mass schedules, and ask what we truly value. Do we value meaningful and transformative celebrations of the Eucharist, or is our primary value convenient and static Mass times? Are we willing to change our Mass times so we can have more breathing space during and after each Sunday Mass? In some pastoral situations, due to the size of the building, this may not be an option, but then there is another question: do we value our buildings over a meaningful and transformative experience of Sunday Eucharist? Saint Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians, “There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4: 5) I sometimes think that the typical Catholic version of this scripture would read, “There is one Lord, one faith, one hour.”

In all my years studying Scripture, theology, the history of the Church, and canon law, I have not found any reference to Sunday celebrations having to be no more than one hour “or else.” Furthermore, in all the times I have crossed over (God forbid) the one-hour mark, I have never seen a single person turn into a pumpkin. Never! Where does this value come from? Sports events are never less than an hour. If we went to a concert that was only an hour long, we would demand our money back. Movies and theatre productions are usually about two hours long, but “Thou shalt not go over one hour for Mass!” Where Did That Come From? During my first year of ordination, I was assigned as an assistant priest at the Cathedral. Every other weekend, I found myself filling in around the diocese. I enjoyed this very much, as I was able to get to know the lay of the land. I will never forget my first experience of Palm Sunday as a priest. I was sent on Saturday afternoon to fill in at a local city parish. I was so excited about my first Palm Sunday celebration: a procession of palms, singing, the reading of the Passion and a chance to invite the people to enter into the riches of the Sacred Triduum in the days to follow. I arrived at the church and was met by a very grumpy usher who told me in no uncertain terms that there would be no procession and that there would be no homily. When I asked him why, he told me that people “were on medication.” By the time that liturgy was over, I needed to be on medication! I was the only person in the whole church, other than the cantor, singing Hosannas during the entrance, and in spite of the glares of the usher and his companions, I did dare to preach, even if only for five minutes. So much for my first Palm Sunday celebration, which did conclude, by the way, within the one-hour mark. My friends from Africa tell me that in their countries, people bring their lunch to Mass, and their celebrations can last well beyond the three-hour mark. I have been to Masses in the Vatican that regularly go beyond two hours. When Eastern rite Christians, Catholic and Orthodox, celebrate Divine Liturgy, it would be unspeakable to even try to bring it to completion before the 90-minute mark. Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians will sing for an hour, and you know that the pastor is not going to preach for any less than half an hour. So why are we so different as Catholics in North America and in Europe? The answer is so simple: habit. We formed the habit of fast-track Masses due to constrictions of pastoral practice at a time when our churches were full and it was a societal value to go to church. In 1950s North America, it was not uncommon to find urban parishes that had eight or nine Masses on a Sunday morning. These Masses would be on the hour from 6: 00 a.m. until noon, often with two different celebrations at once – one in the church and one in the basement. Parishes had to schedule in this manner for two reasons: 1) the sheer number of people who came to Mass, and 2) the discipline of fasting at that time. Before the Second Vatican Council, Catholics receiving the Holy Eucharist were required to fast from food and water from midnight the night before until they received the Eucharist. This explained the prevalence of early morning Mass, after which the faithful could break their fast at “break-fast.” It also explains why Masses did not usually go later than noon. Senior priests who remember those days have told me stories of how fainting and collapsing parishioners were a common occurrence. Today, we have vigil Masses on Saturday evening as well as Sunday evening Masses. The Eucharistic fast is only one hour before receiving Holy Communion, and we do not have the sheer numbers of people attending Sunday Eucharist as we did in the past. The context that conditioned Catholics in the Western world to get addicted to the 45-minute Mass no longer exists, but the practice lingers on. In the end, it is not really a question of how long the Mass ought to be or could be, but whether this value leads us to health. I believe it does not. It contributes to a “get it over and done with” mentality that turns our Eucharistic celebrations into something to be endured rather than something that endures. Serving the unspoken value of “convenience” may be the reason why, in spite of the change in context, we continue to value the one-hour Mass. I remember as a young teenager going to a Saturday afternoon Mass in town with a friend of mine. This Mass was held in a retirement home and was a Sunday Mass. Presumably, the residents of that home did need food and medication, and somehow the priest was able to move through the entire Sunday liturgy from beginning to end, including a brief homily, in 20 minutes (after being a priest for seventeen years, I still have no idea how he did this). The point of this story is not the amazing feat of rapid worship, but the fact that there were at least a hundred non-residents of all ages who crowded into the small common room and lined the hallways outside in order to avail themselves of the fastest Mass in the West. I cannot be too indignant on this matter as my best friend and I were there for exactly the same reason.

A Culture of Minimalism:

The fast-Mass addiction continues to be played out in parish after parish all over the Western world. During my first months at Saint Benedict, I had to address what I considered to be a major problem at our Saturday vigil Mass. We used to get about 600 people at this Mass, and at least 25% of them would leave as soon as they had received the Eucharist. That was bad enough, but the back wall of our church is all glass, and you can see the entire foyer from the front of the church. I will never forget the first time I saw this: I could not believe my eyes. Hundreds of people were leaving while I was still giving out Holy Communion. Over the weeks that followed, I addressed this phenomenon in the parish newsletter and during Mass. I was bold enough to say that, although there were indeed exceptional reasons to leave Mass directly after receiving communion, anyone who left at that time every week needed to seriously consider what they were doing. I suggested that they refrain either from leaving early each week or from receiving the Eucharist. This earned me a stream of anonymous letters, including a letter to the bishop and even a letter to the pope (a first). Some of these letters informed me that if Mass was not so long, then people would not feel compelled to leave early. Two weeks later, the priest who was assisting at the parish was presiding at the Saturday Mass. I was planning to make a few announcements at the end of Mass. I pulled into the parking lot at 4: 45 p.m. (45 minutes into Mass) only to see the usual flood of people heading for their cars. That’s why I am convinced that this phenomenon has little to do with the length of Mass and more with a desire to just get it over and done with. The sad truth is that we as pastors have often catered to this minimalist culture, but what other option did we have when we were working within a model of pastoral care that required the feeding of people who had no appetite? Remember that we come from a tradition that would discuss this question: How much of the Mass can I miss and still have it count? A commitment to the priority of the weekend means declaring this frustrating capitulation to be over. Minimalism and convenience cannot be the primary values of a healthy church. Minimalism and convenience have no place in the life of the disciple who is called to save his or her life by losing it. Someone once said that Jesus doesn’t ask for much – he asks for everything. If our liturgies are to be meaningful and transformative “productions,” they need to be able to breathe and not be constrained by a rigid one-hour rule.

Likewise, there needs to be enough time between Masses so that those who are hungry for God are able to linger with one another after Mass to encourage and support one another. We as pastors are called to facilitate this, even if it means – horror of horrors – changing Mass times, eliminating under-attended Masses, or even acknowledging that we are being confined by buildings that no longer serve the needs of this new pastoral context.

Mallon, Fr. James (2014-09-01). Divine Renovation: From a Maintenance to a Missional Parish (Kindle Locations 1417-1421). Novalis. Kindle Edition.

Is it Morally Permissible to Attend a Gay Marriage?

When the Supreme Court legalized marriage in all 50 states of the union this past summer I knew it would be inevitable that people would be asking whether or not they could attend the marriage of a same-sex couple. May we attend or should we politely bow out? Before we answer, let’s set a foundation.

By attending an event we implicitly show that we are giving approval to the event. Imagine, for example, if we were to show up at a celebration by the Ku Klux Klan. There would be no way we can claim that we were just showing up for the event but not approving of the Klan. Similarly, how could we show up for a marriage celebration that violates what we believe without giving tacit approval to the event? As a rule, therefore, those who oppose gay marriage should not attend a same-sex celebration. Naturally, there will be an awkwardness involved in turning down the invitation. Sometimes someone may feel that they are so close to someone, especially an immediate family member or very dear friends, that they feel it would harm the relationship by not attending. If that is the case, the only way we could attend without implicitly approving would be to clearly let the individuals know beforehand that our presence should in no way be interpreted as approving of what they are doing. I know thMale and femaleat many people will find that a difficult thing to do, but sometimes in life we must do things that are awkward or difficult in order to remain faithful to our beliefs. Others may feel that they are judging the individuals by not showing up; in fact, that is precisely what the gay-rights community has been doing to us: making us believe that we are judging them by not approving of their activities. Nothing of that sort is taking place at all. Do not let individuals put you on the defensive and make it sound like you’re judging them. Actually, there is a breach of charity on their part if they should do that. Charity dictates that we should never deliberately place anyone in a situation where their presence would violate their beliefs, religious or otherwise. Would you invite an animal rights activist to attend the opening of a new fur salon and expect them to attend and be supportive? That would be uncharitable. Similarly, same-sex couples should not invite to their wedding someone they know does not approve of gay marriage. To do so would be insensitive on their part. Same-sex couples may have won the legal right to marry, but they must understand that not everyone approves of what they’re doing and for them to put anyone in a situation whereby they would be forcing them to choose between their relationship with them and their religious beliefs is unconscionable. I find that the onus is on a same- sex couple to be sensitive to other peoples’ feelings and not put them on the spot. If they worry that someone would be offended by not being invited, I would suggest adding a note with the invitation that says, “You are a very important person in my life and so I welcome you to take part in my celebration; however, I realize that this may cause awkwardness for you, and if you feel you cannot in good conscience attend I will understand.” Similarly, it would behoove a same-sex couple to understand if someone says, “listen, you’re very important to me and I love you but you know what you’re doing violates my religious beliefs and I cannot in good conscience celebrate with you.” If they are people of integrity, they will understand. If not, they are merely trying to use their marriage as a means to force you to accept their beliefs, even at the risk of violating your own, and that is wrong of them. They should not turn their celebration into a moral battleground. Let them celebrate with those who support them and understand that some cannot. So if you are invited to a same-sex ceremony, very politely inform the person that you cannot attend because it violates your religious beliefs and you’re sure they understand that and know you mean them no ill will. If you feel you absolutely must attend the event, make it clear to the person beforehand that under no circumstances should they interpret your attendance as approval of what they are doing.