Do you want to be happy or be transfigured?

When I was in college I became friends with a young man who was what I describe as a natural Christian, meaning that all the virtues that you and I sometimes work so hard to try to cultivate, to him came naturally. For that reason, it seemed to me such a great incongruity in his personality that, although he was Catholic, he didn’t go to church on Sunday. One day I got the opportunity to talk to him about it and he was very straightforward with me. He told me exactly why he didn’t go to church. He said he used to go when he was younger, but then one day he was sitting in church and he looked around all the people sitting there and he said to himself, “Look at all these people! They have no clue as to why they are here and what’s going on. It’s all such a waste of time!” And so he became very disillusioned by going to Mass and stopped attending. I remember I said several different things to him. First I asked him, “How do you know what’s going on in the minds of the other people who were sitting there in church? Is it possible that what you claimed they were feeling was really what you were feeling and that you were projecting your lack of understanding upon them? There are some people that go to church that have a fairly good idea of what’s taking place and truly listen to the Scriptures and are praying and feel like they have encountered the Lord every time they go to Mass. And even if there are people who are not all that sure about why they’re there, why would you let that prevent you from having a good relationship with Christ at Mass?” Then I said to him finally, “Alright, I will agree with you that there probably are some people who come to church that don’t really have any clue as to why they’re there and what it’s all about. But at least they’re there! Nobody has put a gun to their head and forced them to come to church. They may not understand everything that’s happening, but they know there’s something good is going on and that there is a reason they should be attending. They’re looking for God and maybe in time they will find him.”

I reminded him of the story of the transfiguration. I said, “Look what happened when Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him. He was transfigured before them: his clothes became white and his face glowed with a radiance they had never seen before. Basically, Jesus showed them a hint of the glory that would be his when he was risen from the dead. It’s as if he took off the veil of his mortal image and let them see his true divinity; he let them see him for whom he was. Then Moses and Elijah appeared talking with him. Moses, the great lawgiver to whom God gave the Ten Commandments and who promised ‘A prophet like me will the Lord raise up from among your kinsman’ and Elijah, the great prophet who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind whom it was believed would precede the coming of the Messiah, and both of them were standing talking with Jesus about what he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Any good Jew would recognize the expression, ‘The law and the prophets’. That summarized the entire promise of Israel, everything written in the Hebrew Scriptures, or the Old Testament as we call it. It’s as if all of the promise that God had given from Abraham to that time was now standing there bearing witness to Jesus, saying ‘this is the one! The promise is fulfilled! This is the person you been waiting for!’ Peter sees all this and says, ‘Master, how good it is for us to be here!’ Good, Peter! Great response! But then he says something silly, ‘Let us build three booths here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah!’ Open mouth, insert foot, close, enjoy your meal Peter, because you just put your foot in your mouth big-time! Mark and Luke even apologize for Peter. They say he really didn’t know what to say because he was so awestruck by what had taken place. When they came down the mountain, Jesus didn’t say to Peter, ‘How could you be so stupid/! Didn’t you see what was going on there?’ Of course not! He knew Peter wasn’t a theologian; he was just a fisherman. He knew it was beyond Peter’s ability to grasp, and he didn’t expect it of him. Peter knew something good was happening there, and even though the significance of it passed him by and he didn’t realize the full ramification of everything he’d seen, he realized he’d seen something good, and that’s all Jesus wanted from him. I explained to my friend that Mass is the same thing. Yes, sometimes people are there and maybe don’t understand the fullness of the mystery, but they’re trying. So don’t sell them short. Give them the opportunity to grow in their understanding.”

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Thankfully my friend eventually did return to regular worship. But this story gives us an opportunity to look at our understanding of the Mass. Do we comprehend what’s taking place every time we come to Mass on Sunday? Perhaps sometimes we feel we do or maybe we’d honestly say “I haven’t got a clue!” That’s okay! As long as we’re there and trying to grow, leave your mind open to learning more about the Mass. Don’t be discouraged or disillusioned if it doesn’t make sense to you. After all, can any of us honestly say we truly understand everything that takes place in Mass? St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests, once said that if any priest realized what was actually taking place at his hands while he celebrated Mass he would die of fright for fear of what he was handling! It’s a mystery beyond our ability to fathom! We can’t even begin to comprehend the fullness of what’s taking place at Mass. We can have a basic idea, sure, but if we ever think we’ve gotten to the point that we understand everything perfectly well, were only deluding ourselves.

I like to think of it as when you go to an art museum. If you were to go to the Louvre in Paris or the Uffizi in Florence, even the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York, if you go in and don’t know much about art it can be overwhelming! There are thousands of paintings there, and you look around and can be lost. Maybe we look at a picture or two here or there and that helps a little bit, but if you take try to take in the whole thing it can be an absolutely daunting proposition. I don’t think anyone expects anyone to go into a museum and in one day take a look at every single picture and take in everything that each picture has to offer. You just couldn’t do it in one day! So if we have just a few hours to go through museum, we’ll look at the few things that seem to strike us the most, even if it’s only the highlights. In the Louvre everybody goes and looks at Mona Lisa and maybe there are a few others that might strike people’s interest. In the Uffizi gallery, Botticelli’s Birth of Venus is the most famous one. Real devotees of art will go back to the museum over and over again and each time to try to take in another picture and get a little bit more out of each painting than they could at just one glance. Maybe they might go back one day and say “I’m only going into this one room here and only take in the pictures in this room or of this style.” Another day they take in another, and they would quickly discover that the museum is an inexhaustible resource. They could spend their entire lives going into the museum and never take it all in, but I think any curator of a museum would be thrilled if somebody came and even sat and looked at just one painting and took that in to the best of his ability: they’d say he’s gotten something out of his visit to the museum that day. Well, coming to Mass is in many ways just like that. We come Sunday after Sunday to hear a Gospel reading that we probably heard before; in fact, many of them we hear over and over again to the point that we might feel that we’ve got it memorized. But we never exhaust the meaning of that Gospel. We are fed on it, we are nourished by the word, and we discover that we can come back time and time again and be nourished and grow more in the mystery. And of course, most importantly, we come and receive the Lord Jesus in Holy Communion. We take his actual body and blood as our food and that strengthens us and brings us into full union with him. And that’s when we discover what Jesus really want to do for us and the full importance of the Mass, why we come Sunday after Sunday, many people day after day: to receive the Eucharist.

A lot of times I’ll hear people talking about what God wants to do for them and they say, “Well, God just wants me to be happy!” I just shake my head in despair when I hear that. Yes, God wants us to be happy but he wants so much more than that!  He has things planned for us that are far greater than anything we could even begin to comprehend, and our happiness is not going to come through the things that we think are going to make us happy, but by what God reveals to us as the true way to happiness. Sometimes people will discover the next step of that and realize that true happiness comes from living an upright moral life, which is a lot more meaningful than simply having the little pleasant things in our lives. Indeed, God wants even more for us than merely being ethical people or being kind to one another, being nice guys and helping us get along better. I’m not for a moment trying to make light of ethical living and of following the moral teachings of the Church and of the Lord. Don’t get me wrong! They are important. But they are only steps along the way to what God really wants to do for us. What does God want to do for us? He wants to deify us! The greatest thing that we can experience is deification – actually becoming part of God himself! The ancient Christians used to say that God became man so that man could become as God. He took on our nature so that we could take on his. He wants to draw us into all beauty, all essence, all goodness, all truth, total joy, total perfection. He wants us to be transfigured just as he was transfigured. Everything that Jesus inherited by his death and resurrection you and I will also inherit! All the glory that he now has in heaven he wants to share with us, and he has far more in store for us than when we often think about when we come to church and pray. Sometimes we pray for things that maybe are a little silly, maybe more serious. but God’s plan for us is always greater them what we have in mind. Maybe all we’re worried about is losing ten pounds to look better in that dress, so that when I go to so-and-so’s wedding, nobody will laugh at me and at how much weight I put on. Well, I have news for you! God is probably laughing at that, because if you think that the most important thing in life is losing ten pounds because otherwise everybody’s going to be staring at you at the wedding, no they’re not! Everybody will be looking at the bride! Probably few people if anybody are actually going to look at you and notice you put on ten pounds since the last time they saw you! Usually that’s one of our own vanities! Sometimes we pray about little more important things. If somebody is ill and we pray for their healing, that’s a good thing to pray for! Certainly, if somebody is out of a job, we pray for them to get work. Maybe sometimes it is a little frivolous: we just want a little more money so we can book a nicer room on our upcoming vacation, and maybe that’s not the most important thing that we should be praying about. It’s not to say that it is wrong to pray for the things we need here and now; but first we have to ask if they really are important – if they really are the things we should be worrying about, and sometimes we have to honestly admit that they’re not – Jesus does say to pray “give us this day our daily bread.” But God wants so much more for us than merely worrying about the things of this life. If we’re only worried about the here and now and not heaven, then were missing what God wants to do for us! He is not saying, “I want you to be comfortable! I want you to have an easy life! I want you to fit in and enjoy yourself!” No, he is saying, “I want to raise you up, I want to elevate you and lift you up to heights you can’t even begin to imagine, so far more important than anything this brief visit on earth has to offer! I have dreams for you that have never even entered into your consciousness!”

If we’re only concerned about the needs in our lives here on earth then were missing everything God wants to do for us. We will never find the joy that we can know when we know the heights of glory to which we are being called by God. And maybe that’s why we don’t follow our faith as strongly as we should and don’t evangelize others, because maybe if we honestly ask ourselves, “Do I really want to worry about heaven?” the answer is, “No! I’m only really worried about here and now. I’m not looking for God to save my soul. I’m not looking for him to make me the best I can be. I’m not looking for God to bring me to great heights. All I want God to do is make my life comfortable here and now. I want him to be Santa Claus and give me all the things I want.” Sometimes people even go so far as wanting God to allow them to believe in and practice things that contradict that call to holiness, that are completely opposed to it, and they want the church to teach that those are good simply because it will make them feel good now, it will make their life easier and help them feel good about themselves, and they end up sacrificing the very call to holiness simply to fit in here on earth. They flee from any talk about challenge, about changing our hearts, about carrying our crosses, about realizing that it takes much prayer and sacrifice in order to reach those heights that God has in store, and instead demand only to be left where they are and told that their lives are perfect, when they know very well they are not.

My brothers and sisters, yes, the Lord does care about our everyday needs, and it’s okay to pray for them, but let’s make sure that’s not the only thing we ever pray for, that were not caught up only in the here and now. Do we ever pray for holiness? Do we ever pray, “Lord, help me to overcome sin! Help me to be righteous!” Do we ever pray, “Lord, change me! lift me up, Lord! Beam me up! Help me to be what you want me to be! Lord, let me worry not about what I want for myself but what you want from me! Transfigure me! give me the holiness and the joy that only you can give!” When we do that, then we will know true happiness, true peace.

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).

 

Virginity Linked to Greater Health in Teens, Says United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

This article originally appeared in the National Catholic Register

Virginity Linked to Greater Health in Teens, Says CDC

The sexual choices and values our young people hold have real-life consequences far beyond sexuality itself.

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In my nearly 25-year career at Focus on the Family as a social science researcher, I am constantly amazed and encouraged in my faith at how what God requires of us in our familial and sexual lives is never contrary to good, honest science. The two correspond in remarkable ways. And why shouldn’t it?  When sociologists study the behaviors of man without agenda, they unwittingly discover the rightness of God’s wisdom and care in His directions to us. The scholars just don’t realize it. We as believers should.

This is demonstrated in a new report from the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s the first ever of its kind, examining a very large and diverse array of health behaviors of high school students according to their self-reported sexual activity. What makes this report particularly interesting, beyond its categorization by sexual activity, is it examines widely varied safety and health behaviors from bike helmet and seat belt use to substance abuse, diet, doctor’s visits, exercise and even tanning bed use. The two major conclusions from the report are quite stark:

  • The virginal students rate significantly and consistently better in nearly all health-related behaviors than their sexually active peers. They do so by remarkably stunning measures.
  • Teens who have sexual contact with the same or both sexes have remarkably lower percentages of healthy behaviors overall than their heterosexually active peers.

An additional report conducted by Child Trends, a Washington, DC-based think tank focused on children’s health, adds to the robust research literature on this topic. It finds that teens from homes where mother and father have a healthy relationship, both have warm, monitoring relationships with their children and the family has regular, dependable schedules and practices at home are substantially less likely to be sexually active by every measure.

Here’s a sampling of various measures the CDC examined and the health disparities between the three categories of students: virginal, heterosexual and same-sex or bi-sex sexually active.

Seat Belt Use: Opposite-sex-active (OSA) teens are 143% more likely to never or rarely wear a seat belt than their virginal peers. Same-sex/bisexual active (SS/BA) teens are 317% more likely than their virginal peers.

Passenger w/ Drinking Driver:  OSA teens are 94% more likely to ride with a driver who’s been drinking than their virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 115% more likely than virginal students.

Dating Violence: OSA teens are 260% more likely to experience some form of physical violence in dating relationships than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 683% more likely than virginal youth.

Smokes Daily: OSA teens are 3300% more likely to smoke daily than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 9500% (you read that right) more likely than their virginal classmates.

Ever Binge Drank: OSA teens are 337% more likely to ever binge drink than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 375% more likely than virginal their peers.

Pot Use: OSA teens are 336% more likely to be currently using marijuana than their virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 483% more likely than the virginal.

Ever Injected Illegal Drug: OSA teens are 500% more likely to have ever injected a non-prescription drug than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 2333% more likely.

Felt Sad of Helpless: OSA teens are 48% more likely to report feeling so sad or helpless almost every day for 2 or more weeks in a row that they stopped doing some of their usual activities compared to their virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 181% more likely to feel this way compared to virgins.

Tanning Beds: OSA teens are 282% more likely to use indoor tanning beds than their virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 364% more likely than virginal peers.

Eat Breakfast Daily: OSA teens are 24% less likely to eat breakfast daily than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 48% less likely than virginal classmates.

Eight Hours Sleep: OSA teens are 21% less likely to get 8 hours of sleep a night than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 34% less likely than virgins.

Asthma: OSA teens are 24% more likely to have ever had asthma than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 48% more likely.

Physical Fight: OSA teens are 133% more likely to have been in a physical fight than virginal peers. SS/BA teens are 187% more likely.

Dentist Visit: OSA teens are 8% less likely to have visited the dentist in the last year than virginal peers. SS/BA teens, 20% less likely.

It is intriguing to note how many of these health measures have no seemingly direct relation to sexual activity and decision making itself, even tangentially; things like seat belt use, eating breakfast daily, smoking, dentist visits, illegal drug use, suffering from asthma, etc. Obviously, there’s a curious and meaningful relationship between our teens’ sexual values/activity and a substantial number of unanticipated but very consequential health behaviors.

What is more, this data seems to challenge the popularly held charge that same-sex and bi-sexual sexually active kids have these more troubling measures and higher risk of attempted suicide because their sexuality is not affirmed by the larger society. This is used as accusation against those of us who cannot support any non-marital sexual behavior. We are told that people like us are responsible for such tragic outcomes. It’s no minor charge. But is it true?

If it were, it would follow that opposite-sex sexually active kids are taunted and rejected for their sexuality as well given their remarkably high levels of unhealthy behaviors and higher levels of suicidality than the virginal. This, of course, it would also mean that the virginal are the most widely accepted, celebrated and encouraged students at school. Does anyone believe that?

This “accept-our-sexuality-or-we-die” accusation also faces stiff challenge by the fact that even in the most gay-affirming countries in the world, these imbalances in health measures and suicidality are present. In fact, there is nowhere in the world where the hetero and homosexual measures, in general are close. That is seen in research of same-sex identified adults in places like Scandinavia, the Netherlands and Switzerland. See here, here, and here for example.

It’s difficult to determine from this CDC report alone just how these various measures are related to one another. Does sexual activity drive the increase in other negative health behaviors, vice versa or if at all? This data does not say. But the fact that the CDC measured all these health behaviors by sexual activity and distributed it to health professionals around the world in this major report certainly indicates their relationship is of significant interest to health-care workers.

These findings should be very concerning to all parents and professionals concerned with our teens’ general health and well-being. The sexual choices and values our young people hold have real-life consequences far beyond sexuality itself. Thus, there are indeed compelling reasons to encourage teens to choose not to be sexually engaged with peers of the opposite or same-sex.

Our children should know there’s very compelling scientific evidence on so many levels showing how saving the precious gift of their sexuality for the safe harbor of marriage is not about old-time moralism or unhealthy sexual repression. Just the opposite is true. Chastity is related to so many substantial measures of human health and well-being that it should be strongly appreciated by parents, health and education professionals as one of the most important health boosting factors for our nation’s young adults.

I don’t like my parish! Should I leave and find another?

 

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Every once in a while I find myself sitting down with someone who wants to talk to me about a problem they have with their church. They don’t like their parish and they want to know whether or not they should start going somewhere else for Sunday Mass. I rarely give them a “yes” or “no” answer. What I try to do is to guide them through their feelings and to see if their transfer is warranted. Let’s look at just a few of the common reasons people use:

1. “I don’t like our pastor.” That’s a very common reason. Fair enough. My first question is always, “What is your reason for not liking him?” Was it because of something he did that wasn’t wrong but with which you were not in agreement? Seven years ago here at St. Ann’s we repainted the church and reappointed it with tile flooring, chandeliers, new paintings, new furniture, and recently a new memorial piazza in front of the church and chapel where people may purchase bricks in memory of loved ones or for special events. Before beginning the work, I shared my plans with the Parish Council and sought their opinion. I did nothing without consulting them and the people beforehand. While the response to our efforts was overwhelmingly positive and I received tons of accolades over the end results, nevertheless, there were some people who didn’t like it and even left the parish over it. No priest is ever going to get 100% agreement on any project and there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t like it. That’s just a part of life! (Actually, we did get 100% approval on one thing: when we first did a feasibility study to find out if the people of the parish agreed that there was a need to replace our leaking roofs, the responses to the survey were unanimous! 100% of respondents agreed that the roofs on the church & rectory needed to be replaced, and only one person did not agree that the same was true of the school roof!) Sometimes pastors need to make decisions for the well-being of the parish, and not everyone will agree with him. If your pastor made changes you don’t like, my advice is to accept it and move on without ruminating over it and letting it eat away at you. Maybe the next pastor will make changes you will like!

Is your dislike of the pastor due to something you yourself experienced or from a story you heard from another? Before you form an opinion, make sure you have your facts straight. I have had people not like me for reasons that were totally untrue. Sometimes they heard gossip or rumors that took a kernel of truth and so distorted it to make it sound like something horrible which was in fact quite innocent. For example, I once mentioned at a funeral that when news first broke of a particular person’s death, the phone began ringing off the hook with people wanting to know the arrangements. The point I was making was that the man had obviously been loved by many people who wanted to come and pay their respects, and I told the widow from the pulpit that I regretted not ever having met him, as I seemed to have missed meeting a very special person. Well, someone with a grudge against me twisted what I said and began telling people that in my homily I complained to the widow that when I got the phone call about his funeral, “the phone was ringing off the hook” with so many other demands that I was annoyed that I had to do his funeral! (I’m not making this up! This REALLY HAPPENED!)  Sadly, there are even some people who are also not opposed to stooping so low as to create conflicts that never in fact took place. One person once actually accused me of stopping the Mass and publicly chastising a lector for mispronouncing a word in the reading. I assure you that never happened! Other times stories are told in a manner that, while in their core are true, are missing critical information that changes the whole nature of an account. I remember a woman once complaining to me about the neighboring pastor who “refused to do her daughter’s wedding and threw her out of the rectory.” Since that didn’t sound like something that priest would ever do, I asked him about it. What happened was that the priest informed her daughter that her fiancé needed an annulment before she could validly marry him and that he could not perform the wedding without it. According to the priest, the woman’s daughter got angry at him and the Church for their “stupid rules” and stormed out of the rectory. Big difference! While some criticisms of priests are spot on and the priest did in fact act badly in a certain situation, make sure you have all the facts before deciding you don’t like someone. You could be reacting to faulty information and turning against someone unjustly. Remember also that priests are human and we too have our bad days. I’ve had to apologize on occasion for being a little short with someone, so one bad day should never be used to mar the otherwise stellar reputation of a very compassionate priest. Would any of us want to be judged by our behavior on our worst day?

But let’s not be naïve: there are some nasty priests out there. I am appalled by the behavior I have at times experienced from pastors and parochial vicars with whom I have worked, who often behave that way on a regular basis. I feel sorry for good people who have to endure the rants of an angry curmudgeon or of an insecure pastor whose only method of dealing with people seems to be to intimidate them so terribly that they will fear to ever question him. What do you do then? Well, some people respond by saying, “Hey! I’ve been here for thirty years and he’s not chasing me out of the parish I love!” They decide they can endure his term, knowing he will eventually leave and perhaps be replaced by a more kindly soul. Others find his very presence an obstacle to their ability to pray and worship effectively, and they decide it’s time to change parishes. If your parish has a nasty pastor, can you withstand him, or do you need to leave in order to encounter Christ? Only you can make that decision.

2. “I don’t like what my priest/pastor preaches.” My response to this statement is always the same: “What does he say that you don’t like?” Is he preaching heresy? Then you have a valid gripe. You have a right to hear – and the priest has a duty to preach – the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed through the Church and nothing else. So if you are certain that the priest is preaching heresy or his own personal view of what he’d like the Church to teach; if he preaches that the Church is wrong in its position on moral issues, flee! He is a false prophet and he will have to answer to Christ as he stands before the Lord in judgment as to why he dared to preach as the Gospel something other than what Christ has revealed through His Church. As St. Paul said, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse!” (Galatians 1:8)

But how about if what he’s preaching is the Gospel and authentic Catholic teaching but you don’t like hearing it? Now the situation is different! Father has a duty to preach the Gospel and to not withhold the truth just because some people don’t like it. As St. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5) So if you leave your parish because you only want your priest to speak “sweet nothings” and what I call “marshmallow theology” – nice and sweet and fluffy but no nutritional value whatsoever – then you have a serious problem! Your argument is not with your pastor but with Christ! You are looking for a priest who will not tell you the truth for fear of offending you and who will never say anything you don’t want to hear. That would be like going to a doctor and telling him never to tell you that you are sick or that you can’t eat certain foods. “I want you to tell me I can eat all the junk food I want and not exercise and still lose weight and be healthy!” Well, if the doctor tells you that just because that’s what you want to hear, he’s not doing you any good at all; on the contrary, he’s harming you. The doctor’s job is to tell you the truth about what you need to do to be healthy even if you don’t like it. The same is true of a priest. I’m not saying a priest has to beat people over the head with moral teachings constantly (he has to be sensitive and give the truth in appropriate doses), but any priest who is afraid to say something the people will not like is not fulfilling his duty before the Lord. Whenever I find out that someone has left my parish because I spoke the truth of the faith, especially if they’re bad-mouthing me, unless I know I was unduly harsh in my delivery of the truth, I rejoice! As Jesus says in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) So be very careful when criticizing a priest’s preaching. Ask yourself honestly if he was wrong or if he is right but you just don’t want to accept it.

3. “There’s no life in my parish.” That may be true. While sometimes I’ve discovered that people claim there is nothing going on in their parish when in fact it’s a hopping place, some parishes do lack activities. Have you suggested anything to your pastor? Are you willing to work on the project? Lots of times people are full of ideas but no one wants to help out. If the pastor were to say yes to everything without anyone helping him out he’d be burned out very quickly! He can’t do it without volunteers. If you’re eager to belong to a group or an activity that your parish doesn’t or cannot provide, see if a nearby parish does. There’s usually no rule that says you must be a parishioner in that parish in order to participate, and you don’t always have to leave your parish just because a nearby parish is more active.

On the whole I try to encourage people not to leave their parish but to try to do something to make a difference. Sometimes we exaggerate the problems in a parish, and other times we give up too easily and don’t attempt to do things that are well within our power to change. Don’t think that by leaving you are spiting the pastor. He may not even know you’ve left! If you feel you must leave, don’t leave for his sake; leave for your own! Try and see if you can make a positive difference. Have you talked to the pastor about your complaint? Many times people gripe, complain, and leave, but never once speak with the pastor. Maybe he will listen to you. If, however, you have tried your best or things are beyond your ability to change, you feel a warmer connection with another parish where the Gospel is more faithfully proclaimed, where the Mass is celebrated with greater dignity, where’s there’s a greater spirit of family and a Catholic life about this parish, then I would think in good faith you should not hesitate to join that parish and become an active part of it.

Artificial Contraception: Pandora’s Moral Box

I recently came across this blog post about the effects of contraception on our society. It is well-written and deserves to be seriously pondered by all.

Discipline and Contraception: A Cause for Joy

Discipline and Contraception: A Cause for Joy

A few nights ago, well after our darling little three year old should have been asleep, she came running into our room crying hysterically. Something about her night light and a noise and now it wasn’t working.

Upon investigation, we found this:

Turns out, she was playing with a penny and placed it on the metal prongs of the plugged-in night light which caused the explosion, the noises, and the scariness. We are thankful that she is okay, and she cried over and over again that would, “never ever do that ever again.” We used the opportunity to reinforce why she isn’t supposed to be playing with coins in her bed  (we’ve already had to explain the choking hazards), and why she should not play with her night-lights or outlets in general. The next step is taking her coins away completely, because discipline requires consequences for behavior. It is because we love her that we want to discipline her so that she remains safe.

I started thinking about this incident again when I was reading about the Wijngaards Statement to the UN, encouraging the Catholic Church to change its stance on contraception.

Back when Humanae Vitae was written, Pope Paul VI warned that if we went down the road of widespread acceptance of contraception, we would see in our culture a lowering of morality, increased infidelity, less respect for women, and government coercion of reproductive technologies. He, like a loving father, warned us that if we were going to play with pennies in an electrical outlet, we were going to get burnt.

But for the most part we didn’t listen, and now look around you. Religious groups are suing the government over the HHS mandate, some countries forcibly abort babies past the second child, the Ashley Madison leak revealed thousands of names of men being unfaithful for their wives, pornography is a billion dollar industry and fuels sex trafficking, and we all know someone affected by divorce or infidelity.

We are experiencing the consequences of our actions, and I think many in the younger generation are now desiring the safety of discipline. You can tell us “no” to contraception because we have experienced the devastating effects of divorce, pornography, rape, and infidelity in our own families. I think deep down, like children, we want to obey and be protected from the harmful effects of going against the plan God has for us.

A group of 500 scholars have come out with a statement (and signed by hundreds of more with doctorates) denouncing the Wijngaard position and affirming all the Popes’ teachings on the inseparable unitive and procreative meanings of sex, as well as the language of the body as self-gift in the marital act, and how contraception distorts that meaning. You can read the “Affirmation of the Church’s Teaching on the Gift of Sexuality” and read all the signatures here.

Now back to discipline. Some of the Church teachings can seem hard at times. I see couples wrestle with these hard teachings during marriage prep all the time. I have wrestled with them myself. Even disciples in the bible struggled with accepting hard teachings. And then I see my kids struggle to put their clothes away when I ask, or clean up the toys in the basement, and I know that we all struggle with accepting doing the hard things. Still, it’s good for us to learn to obey and learn the value of discipline.  There is the fruit of joy in peaceful, loving families with faithful spouses and respect for all life. This fruit can only happen when we reject the rebellion of contraception and accept the sometimes-difficult way that is open to life.

“Endure your trials as ‘discipline’; God treats you as sons. For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline? . . . At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.” Hebrews 12:7-11

What is the Purpose of the Church?

My St Peter's_edited-1Last week at our teen club meeting I asked a question of the teenagers, and I was a little surprised at the answers I got. I asked the question, “What is the purpose of the Church?” I got back a variety of comments such as to help people, to show people goodness, to teach the gospel, to show people to follow Jesus, but only eventually did I get the answer I was looking for: to lead people to heaven; to save souls. That is the purpose of the Church, and when I said it of course the kids agreed, but it wasn’t what they first thought, and it occurred to me that maybe that is the cause of many of the problems that we have today with people who either do not embrace the Church, do not follow it as fully as they should, or do not understand why we hold the positions we do. Because they don’t understand what the Church is all about, they don’t understand our insistence on certain teachings. This is not the first time that I’ve come across this.

Recently I had a phone conversation with a man who was rather angry because a layperson I invited to speak after Communion mentioned that gay marriage was wrong. He was furious with me because he thought that the Pope had allowed gay marriage when he said “Who am I to judge?” When I explained to him that that’s not exact at all what the Pope said he started giving me his diatribe of “Well, see this is why people don’t follow the Church any more. The Church insists on holding these unpopular opinions and the Church has to change and say what people want to hear if they want to get people to come. When I asked the man, “What is the purpose of the Church?” he couldn’t answer me. He actually said, “I don’t know!” I said to him, “So you really don’t know what the purpose of the Church is, yet you can be firm in telling me that the Church is wrong in teaching that gay marriage is not permissible.” He then just yelled some more insults at me and hung up. Don’t we need to know what the goal of the Church is before we can assert with force that the Church’s teaching is wrong? Sadly, many people have totally lost track of what we’re all about.

I recall a woman who once called me asking if I could do her wedding even though she needed an annulment.  She told me she knew that technically she needed an annulment. I said to her, “No, truly you need an annulment.” “Well, Father,” she asked, “can’t you just marry me anyway without it? The way I look at it God just wants me to be happy and marrying this man will make me happy so, why won’t you do it?” I tried to explain to her that she had it all wrong, that God doesn’t just want us to be happy. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die on the cross to help us figure out whatever is going to make you happy and then do it; that was Original Sin! In fact he’s called us to quite the opposite: not just to listen to what you think is right and what you feel is right but to listen to and follow what God teaches us. That was the whole temptation from Satan. God had warned Adam and Eve not to try to listen to their own hearts and heads and what they think is right, because they can be wrong, but God can’t. Basically God was saying, “I am God and you are not. I am all-knowing, you are not. If you follow your own heart and mind you can be wrong, but I can never be wrong. So do and follow all I tell you and your life will be perfect.” Of course, they didn’t listen to God, and when they decided to choose for themselves what was right and wrong instead of listening to God they destroyed Paradise. When I told the girl on the phone this she didn’t want to hear it and abruptly hung up the phone on me.

But that’s the problem we’re facing: in so many situations people somehow got the got the idea that the Church is here just to make people happy. No, the Church is here to show people the way through a fallen world to return to what we lost by Original Sin. It was the disobedience of Adam and Eve to the will of God that lost that unity – that Paradise – that we once had. Christ, by his obedience to the Father even unto death, reversed the disobedience of Adam and Eve, and now, when we are obedient to him we allow him to lead us to union with him – which is what “going to heaven” means – to be one with God. Our beliefs are not arbitrary and they are not decided by vote or opinion but by the truth revealed to us by God and preserved through the Church, what we call the Deposit of Faith.”  Just because the majority of people don’t agree with it does not make it all of a sudden wrong, or because now a majority of people accept it doesn’t automatically make it in fact a means to union with God.

eating-junk-food-can-cause-weight-gainIf you want to have a healthy body, you know that you can’t eat junk food. Well, imagine if people were to say “We like junk food; therefore, we think we should be allowed to eat all the junk food we want!” Nutritionists are simply going to tell you you’re wrong, that junk food doesn’t make you healthy. They tell you you have to severely limit your intake of it, perhaps even avoid it all together. You don’t like it. You want to be able to eat all the junk food you want and still be healthy, but your opinion or desire doesn’t change the fact that junk food is not healthy. Even if nutritionists should decide to appease people and tell them, “Okay. Since you believe there’s nothing wrong with junk food and a majority of you feel that way, then we’ll now declare that junk food is good for you,” does that now make junk food healthy? Your opinion can’t change the truth. In just the same way, when God reveals that something such as gay marriage, contraception, abortion, whatever it may be, is not healthy for your soul and does not lead us into union with him, all the opinion to the contrary doesn’t change the truth that these activities do not make us healthy but are harmful to that union with God, which is the definition of a sin.

Moral teachings tell us what leads us to union with God (salvation) and what harms that union (sin). If we were to say that something that was once revealed as a moral absolute has now changed, that what was once sinful is now holy, that would imply that God had changed, and that’s a metaphysical impossibility! We know that drinking rat poison would kill us. For rat poison to now be good for us there would have to be a complete metabolic change in the very structure and essence of the human body. If 96% of people now believe rat poison is okay and we should now be allowed to drink it, that doesn’t change the fact. Opinions don’t change truth.

rat poisonIf a doctor should have a patient who was insisting that the doctor allow him to drink rat poison, if the doctor cares about his patient and is doing his duty, he doesn’t tell the patient drinking rat poison is healthy no matter how much he whines, pickets, petitions, carries on, or threatens to go to another doctor who will tell him it’s okay. Imagine if the doctor were to say, “Oh, I don’t want to lose any patients, so I’d better allow him to drink rat poison or he’ll leave me,” and he tells him it’s okay, what is the outcome? A dead patient! What would then happen to the doctor? He’d be sued for malpractice, lose his license, and probably be sent to jail as a killer! His duty is to counsel his patients only in the truth. If he tells them otherwise he would be held accountable for their death. If they guy refuses to listen to the doctor and threatens to leave him, the doctor can only say, “Well, you are wrong. Drinking rat poison is not healthy, and if you drink it you will die. You may choose to leave and find a doctor who will tell you it’s okay, but that doctor will not be teaching you the truth, and if you follow his advice, you will die!” In the same way, if the Church truly loves her members, she does not tell them it’s okay to do something that God has declared is sinful no matter how much they demand it. If we were to do that, the person would die in sin and we’d be responsible for their death. We cannot change the truth because people don’t like it, and we cannot change the teachings because people may choose to leave. We may only teach the truth.

 

And so, my brothers and sisters, if you feel concerned or confused about what the Church teaches and don’t understand one thing or another, remember that the purpose of the Church is not to be a social club. Our purpose is not to try to win in as many people as we can by promising anything that will make people join us. Our purpose is to save souls, and the only way we do that is by teaching the truth, by pointing out what is sinful and calling people to avoid sin and embrace what is holy. No opinion, no changes in popular acceptance of an idea can ever change that. To do the work of the Church means simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus, the good news that calls us away from sin and to union with him, and nothing else. Lies destroy and kill. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly. That life is only found in obedience to the truth, the truth that will set us free.

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With all the different religions out there, why should I choose to be Catholic?

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Years ago, I remember reading an article someone had written in the local newspaper to the effect that she was Catholic and her sister had become a Jehovah’s Witness. She mentioned how she struggled with her sister’s decision until she eventually reached the conclusion, “To each his own!” She said that being a Catholic worked for her, and if being a Jehovah’s Witness worked for her sister, then that’s great! Her ultimate conclusion was that everyone should find whatever religion he likes and stick with it, as they’re all fine. I disagree.

Religion is not a country club. Religion is our response to the revelation of God. We worship God according to the truth we believe he reveals about himself. Virtually every society on the face of the earth has come to believe in the existence of God. Many people have shown how belief in God can be deduced logically, and many of these arguments are quite compelling. But while we can logically deduce his existence, there is wide disagreement on what he is like. Ancient civilizations believed in many gods, and most of these were angry gods that needed to be appeased with sacrifices, incense, throwing virgins into volcanoes, even child sacrifice! If we came across such religions today, I don’t think any of us would merely say, “To each his own!” No, we’d be horrified! In time we’ve come to realize that certain religions are not true and have rejected them. But there are many others still widely practiced across the globe whose adherents will die for their belief that this is the truth. The beliefs of different religions sometimes contradict each other, thus they cannot both be true. For example, Hinduism believes in several gods, while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam believe in only one. Logic tells us that Judaism’s claim that God has said, “I am God, and there is no other” prohibits the possibility that we could reconcile Hinduism with Judaism. At most only one of them is revealing the truth about God, but not both.

So why be Catholic? I can best respond to that question by relating my own process of reasoning which led me to believe that the fullness of truth subsists in the Catholic Church.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was automatically launched on the program of preparation in my Catholic grammar school which would get me ready for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I was told about the “big decision” I was making to choose Christ and his Catholic Church. Being the person I was, I could never consent to anything without asking myself if I agreed with it. I therefore launched myself on an exhaustive soul-searching enterprise to see if this is in fact what I believed.

Since we are talking about religion and not science, I knew I had to start somewhere with a leap of faith. I certainly believed in the existence of God. I took the leap of faith to believe in the God of Israel. To me that made sense. With that as a foundation, I asked myself, “Okay, Judaism or Christianity?” I discovered that the crux in the whole question here was the person of Jesus. Israel had been longing for a messiah, and Jesus ultimately claimed to be that messiah. If he was truly the messiah, then Christianity was true; if he was a false prophet, I would be duty bound to become Jewish. It seemed obvious to me that the belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead was the key issue: did he or didn’t he rise? If he did, I felt he had proven himself to be truly what he said he was. If he did not rise, he was a fake. So could anyone prove he had risen from the dead?

It seemed strange to me at first that the accounts of the resurrection claimed that Jesus only appeared to his followers and not to Pontius Pilate, the Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, or King Herod. But then I realized that these unschooled men went out and boldly proclaimed to the very people they had previously been afraid of that they had seen Jesus risen on numerous occasions. They couldn’t have all been mistaken or have hallucinated. No, they firmly believed they’d seen Jesus risen, and they went to foreign countries preaching his name and died horrible deaths defending it. I couldn’t conceive of eleven of the twelve apostles willingly dying for something they knew they’d made up or if they couldn’t be sure they hadn’t hallucinated. No, they were crucified, boiled alive, sawed in half and skinned alive convinced they’d seen Jesus risen. That to me was proof! They wouldn’t have suffered so terribly for something they knew was a lie! So I realized I beleived in Christ. That also valdiated my leap of faith in the God of Israel. If Jesus rose from the dead, and he was the fulfillment of the promise to Israel, then the God who made the promise was real!

Okay, so I was a Christian, but how about Catholic? Many verses of scripture convinced me that Jesus gave the apostles his authority and sent them as his witnesses, and that we had to remain one with them and the tradition they handed down. That tradition is what Ignatius of Antioch first called “The Catholic Church” around the year 107 AD. I knew that, since Jesus had given his authority to them, only he could take it away. Even though there were periods in history when everything wasn’t rosy, when some of the popes and priests were not giving the greatest of example, even sinning terribly, that still didn’t take away the authority that Jesus gave them.

I thought of it this way: suppose a President of the United States committed a serious crime and had to be removed from office, maybe even sent to prison for his crime. He was an embarrassment to his Office, no doubt. But what do we do now? We get a new president! No one would say that the Constitution of the United States was rendered null and void by the sins of the president. Similarly, even if some popes had sinned and were a disgrace, that still did not remove the authority Jesus gave to St. Peter. In order for the Catholic Church to lose her authority to speak in Jesus’ name, Jesus himself would have to return to earth and formally remove it and give it to another. He never did that with Martin Luther, John Calvin, Henry VIII, Zwingli, or any other reformer, and none of them ever claimed he did! I therefore concluded that the Catholic Church still possesses the authority to teach in the name of Christ and not any of the other denominations of Christianity, that those who separated from the Catholic Church were not in full Communion with Christ, and I was therefore duty-bound to embrace the Catholic faith. On October 16, 1976 at 11 AM, I did so at my Confirmation and have not looked back since.