Pull up a chair in my domestic church and let's chat!

I have worn many labels (Not in any particular order): Catholic, Wife, Mom,Gramma, Doctor, Major, Soccer Mom, Military Wife, Professor, Fellow.

All of these filter my views of the world. I hope that like St. Monica, I can through prayer, words and example, lead my children and others to Faith.
"The important thing is that we do not let a single day go by in vain without putting it to good use for eternity"--Blessed Franz J├Ągerst├Ątter

Friday, June 30, 2006

Our Real Mission

Dawn Eden’s post struck a chord with me today. She links to an account by Cassidy Bugos, a college student who worked for a few weeks with the Missionaries of Charity in Tiajuana Mexico. The insight this young woman gained during her interaction with one of the nuns is a true gift of grace. I feel blessed to have read her story.

She said that that in India, material poverty is much, much greater than anything she’s seen in the West, and so she is never really impressed by what she sees here. Here, people suffer from poverty, but they do not die just from it; there they will die tomorrow if they do not get food…

She went on. Here in the West, she said, it is different. Here most poor people have enough, even though they don’t understand how little “enough” is. But they are unhappy, she said (and she knelt to look through the rear window at the tired faces of the mothers gathered outside the van, as the other Sister led them in Santa Marias before distributing their food). They are unhappy, because they have no God. That is the real poverty. The farther North you go in America, she added, the more wealth you see, and the less joy you find. Those people, she said, looking seriously at us, the depressed, and the sad people “with no God and a great big house”, are the poorest of the poor. That’s what Mother Teresa meant. It is hard, she added with a sigh, to find Christ in them. Sometimes we must put Him there. And she added quietly, “That, girls, at your home, that is your real mission, no?”

That is a mission for all of us to embrace. We cannot ignore the material poverty around us. Yet the most dire poverty in our midst is often spiritual. May we bring Christ to feed the souls around us.

Website Reveals Parish Priorities

Yesterday I spent some time catching up on my favorite blogs. Somewhere I ran across a comment that referenced St. Bernadette Parish in Severn, Maryland. I know the context of the comment focused on the openly homosexual activities of the parish members. I am afraid I have not been able to find the comment again to properly reference it.

In any case, I did check out the St. Bernadette web site. You can learn a lot about a parish from studying the web site. The links to other Catholic information include the National Catholic Reporter, not the National Catholic Register. The St. Bernadette site has lots of references to the spirit of Vatican II. From the History of St. Bernadette Parish page:

Into this milieu, in July of 1976, Fr. Joseph Connolly arrived as our pastor. Acting in the spirit of lay participation that emanated from Vatican II, he led us into a planned program of discernment. Through this process, the community assumed the decision making that determined our future. Everyone was given a chance to voice an opinion. We then, collectively, made all the major decisions as to where, when and what would be done. It may come as a surprise to people today to know that during this process "no church building" was a viable option. The final consensus was to build a modest building and avoid a huge paralyzing debt. In this way, all of the program needs of our parish could be fulfilled and we would be free to reach out to the greater community.

Here is their description of their “Worship Space”.

Brother Mel Myers, a Marianist, from a liturgical design group, was commissioned to create a complete, unified worship area. The success of his efforts can be seen today in the frescoes, steel statues, furniture and stained glass windows.

Our worship space was designed to serve the needs of our post Vatican II liturgies. Brother Mel's philosophy of creative art is "making the simple common things do great things for us in our prayer life." His philosophy is visibly demonstrated in his design and decor for the worship space. The sanctuary walls were troweled in raw sand and cement, and while still wet Brother Mel spontaneously drew in the some- what abstract background using a simple construction nail. The fresco includes representations of the Virgin, nature, the road of life, baptism, joy, heaven and the resurrected Christ, light, the Eucharist and the Trinity. Stained glass and stations of the cross are combined in the windows.

Taking a look at the parish ministries one sees this parish is concerned with domestic violence, environmental issues, and foreign missions. There is not a single pro-life organization within the parish. There is no Eucharistic adoration. There are no Marian devotions. There is however, a very active gay and lesbian ministry. Go to the Gay and Lesbian Ministry page and it is prominently decorated with the rainbow motif of the Gay Pride movement. There is a parish group to support gay and lesbian teenagers. There are numerous links to support Catholics living the homosexual lifestyle. There is no mention of organizations like Courage that help Catholics with same-sex attractions live chaste and holy lives.

This parish is not unique. I noticed the same thing when I looked at the web site of the Paulist Center in Boston where Senator John Kerry worships. I do have to ask myself, why do these parishes feel so comfortable in openly supporting sinful behavior. On what authority do they defiantly reject the direction of the Magesterium? Don’t they believe in the reality of sin and the reality of Hell? Aren’t they leading souls astray by condoning and promoting homosexual behavior? Would they set up a parish ministry to help adulterers continue their infidelity and still be “Catholic”? Should I expect to see these parishes offer ministries for co-habitating unmarried heterosexual couples?

Fortunately, there seems to be a growing number of faithful orthodox parishes and fewer centers of dissent. I do wonder what Cardinal Keeler and Cardinal O’Malley are doing to shepherd these lost flocks. Keep them in your prayers.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Will the Guitars Gently Weep?

No more guitar Masses? At least that is what we are hearing in the blogosphere. Rich Leonardi at Ten Reasons and Emily at Shrine of the Holy Whapping are reporting on Pope Benedict XVI’s call for an end to guitars and a return to traditional choral music. Did he really say that? Not exactly, but you can read the Zenit report of his comments here.

"Sacred polyphony," the Holy Father said Saturday after a concert held in his honor by the Domenico Bartolucci Foundation, "especially the so-called 'Roman school,' is a legacy that must be carefully conserved, maintained alive and made known."

It will be of "benefit not only to scholars and enthusiasts, but to the ecclesial community as a whole, for which it represents an inestimable spiritual, artistic and cultural heritage," the Pope said, after the concert in the Sistine Chapel.

"An authentic updating of sacred music cannot occur except in line with the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian Chant, and of sacred polyphony," the Pontiff added.

"This is why," Benedict XVI said, "in the musical field, as well as in that of other artistic forms, the ecclesial community has always promoted and supported those who investigate new expressive ways without rejecting the past, the history of the human spirit, which is also the history of its dialogue with God."

Pope Benedict is not trying to confine liturgical music to that written centuries ago. However, he is giving the people in the pews more credit than many of our current music directors. Most congregations really are capable of appreciating liturgical music with more depth and complexity than a Peter, Paul, and Mary sing-along. Those who disagree are very much like those who opposed the new translation of the Mass because it used too many big words.

I really like these comments from the Australian press:

Melbourne Vicar-General Les Tomlinson said he did not believe the Pope intended to ban any particular music, he just wanted greater depth. Just as the church did not aim for the lowest common denominator in the language of worship, so the same desire was at work in its music.

Leading Melbourne Catholic singer and songwriter Juliette Hughes sympathised with the Pope. "There's lots of dreadful guitar music that is a stumbling block to people who want to come back to church — that dreadful 'I want to have a beer with Jesus' music," she said.

When I come to Mass, it is not about me and my feelings. I am not looking for catchy little ditties to uplift my spirit. The Mass is about Christ. His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. His Sacrifice. His True Presence. I am at Mass to focus on Him. To Praise Him. To Worship Him. The music should reflect this.

So will guitars be banned? I don’t think so. However, music that turns the attention towards the congregation and away from Christ should be banned.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Faithful Shepherd in Saginaw

Having just written about the very reverent and orthodox liturgies I enjoyed in New Jersey, I am happy to see Bishop Carlson is bringing order to his Saginaw diocese as well. Like Bishop Finn of Kansas City, Bishop Carlson is not afraid to demand changes to bring his flock in compliance with Rome. We need more of these brave bishops who are not afraid to disrupt the status quo.

Bishop Carlson is ending the use of the female pronoun for God in the “Saginaw Blessing”. It seems it has been common practice for everyone in the congregation to raise both arms as a sign of blessing and sing:

May the Lord bless and keep you!
May he make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
And give you his peace.

May the Lord bless and keep you!
May she make her face shine upon you and be gracious to you.
And give you her peace.

Bishop Carlson offers very good catechesis on the Naming of God. He then applies this teaching to discredit the use of the female pronoun in the second verse of this song.

The sung blessing currently in use in the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw employs in its first verse a paraphrase of the beautiful and traditional text from the Book of Numbers [*See Solemn Blessings #10, Ordinary Time I]. I encourage the use of this profound scriptural prayer. However, the second verse of the blessing as commonly sung does not maintain the necessary clarity regarding the naming of God which is part of our Jewish and Christian heritage and can therefore unintentionally bring about confusion or misdirection in our prayer. Therefore, the use of this second verse should be discontinued.

- Most Reverend Robert J. Carlson, Bishop of Saginaw

Keep Bishop Carlson in your prayers. And while you are at it, pray that more of our bishops will have the courage and grace to be faithful shepherds. We Catholics can be an unruly flock at times.

H/T to Dom for the links.

Enjoyed Mass in New Jersey

I am still trying to figure out what day it is after our long weekend in New Jersey. We spent four days in the lovely Garden State for the U.S. Club Soccer Region B Championship. My daughter’s team played great soccer and won the tournament. The prize is a no-expense paid trip to North Carolina for the National Championship so in a few weeks I will be reporting in from Greensboro. It should be fun!

Soccer has had us in New Jersey for the last two Sundays so we have discovered two very different but equally enjoyable churches. The first Sunday we attended Our Lady of Good Counsel in Moorestown, NJ. This is a beautiful old church that I am guessing has been renovated at some point since it looks freshly painted. However it retains its old church charm. Lots of beautiful stained glass windows and majestic archways. The tabernacle is front and center. More importantly, the newly ordained priest spoke boldly on the centrality of the Eucharist to our Catholic faith. He left no doubt that Christ is truly present, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, in the Eucharist. If he can hold on to this focus he will be a tremendous priest who leads many souls to Heaven.

This past weekend we found ourselves at St. Cecilia’s in Monmouth Junction, NJ. This was a much newer church. The architecture was decidedly more modern but fortunately it was not the “theater in the round” style. There was a definite altar not a “communion table”. A lovely tabernacle surrounded by two kneeling angel statues was prominently positioned behind the altar. The windows were decorated with a flower motif that used the flower stems to form notes on a musical staff. It was an interesting way to incorporate the identity of their patron saint. The liturgy was very reverent. The small congregation all bowed at the words of the Incarnation in the Creed. Our priest gave a very simple homily on putting our trust in God. His words were not eloquent but the message was profound.

I have written how our frequent traveling leads to some interesting Mass experiences. I am so grateful to have found two churches that offer faithful liturgies centered on the Eucharist. It does give one hope that the Catholic Church in the United States will continue to grow in faithfulness to the Magesterium.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Don't be a Spiritual Couch Potato

I’m back! At least for a little while. We will be heading to Texas in a couple of weeks so I have two weeks to get myself back in the blogosphere. Actually, you won’t hear too much from me over the next few days since I am headed back to New Jersey for yet another soccer tournament. We won the last one (Yea!) but this weekend looks like a bit stiffer competition. It also looks like it will be raining non-stop.

It has taken me a bit to catch up on the hot topics of St. Blog’s parish. Seems the Episcopalians created quite a stir with their recent gathering. Dave Hartline has an interesting report covering the issues.

In my own backyard, Washington D.C. has a new bishop. Amy Welborn has a good summary of the news about Bishop Wuerl.

However, the blog that has my attention this morning is Fr. Jim Tucker of Dappled Things. He offers six steps to jumpstart your spiritual life. So often we approach our spiritual life in the passive mode. We are spiritual couch potatoes. We expect to go to Mass on Sundays and have the Church “fill’er up”. We are then disappointed when we don’t feel spiritually fulfilled. That is a very “me-centered” spirituality. The point is not to find all those warm fuzzy feelings. The point is to love and serve God with all our heart, all our mind, and all our soul because he is our God. Fr. Jim states:

We find that some of the most "spiritual" saints went through long periods of time in which they "felt" nothing spiritual -- times of dryness, lack of consolations, periods during which their steady prayer and good works weren't "rewarded" in this life with lovely "spiritual feelings." Paradoxically, they came to see these times as moments of great intimacy with God, because their religious acts, their prayer, and their obedience to the Commandments were done purely out of love for God, not for hope of "feeling good" after doing them. In other words, it can happen that we are in very good spiritual shape, and not feel it... and vice versa we can feel very "spiritual" and in fact be spiritually dead. Grace and charity are not physical phenomena, and so you can't necessarily "feel" them

That said, Fr. Jim goes on to offer six steps to make our spiritual life more active. He recommends daily Mass, confession, private prayer, Eucharistic adoration, mini-pilgrimages to a local holy place, and reading Scripture. None of these are monumental tasks. Yet they require us to put God on our daily calendar of activities.

The kids are out of school now. I know both they and I need time to unwind and enjoy the lazy days of summer. Yet I also know how easy it is to slip into a habit of slothfulness. I expect each of us to daily engage in activities that nourish the mind, the body, and the soul. Fr. Jim’s plan will certainly point us in the right direction for taking care of our souls.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Moral Personhood from the Moment of Conception

I have added a new book to my summer reading list. Mirror of Justice points us to Defiant Birth: Women who Resist Medical Eugenics. From the publisher description:

This book tells the personal stories of women who have resisted medical eugenics - women who were told they shouldn't have babies because of perceived disability in themselves, or shouldn't have babies because of some imperfection in the child. They have confronted the stigma of disability and in the face of silent disapproval and even open hostility, had their babies anyway, in the belief that all life is valuable and that some are not more worthy of it than others. This is a book about women who have dared challenge the utilitarian medical model/mindset.

What a wonderful collection of testimonies to the dignity of human life!

Contrast this with the companion post at Mirror of Justice entitled Who’s a Person? It Depends on what they Want… Rob Vischer notes the argument by Glen Whitman that determination of moral personhood depends on what political rights and requirements such determination would entail. In other words, what is the societal cost to awarding the status of personhood? If this cost is too high we should deny the status of personhood. Rob Vischer rightly objects to this utilitarian approach because it violates the very principle of moral personhood. Mr. Whitman’s philosophy embodies the moral relativism Pope Benedict XVI warned us about in his first address as pope.

Human dignity exists from the moment of conception because each of us was individually made by God in His image. That is the only requirement for moral personhood. Any other criteria are artificial and arbitrary. Who among us has the wisdom to assess the value of another’s life? That judgment belongs to God alone.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Worthy Life

A few days ago I wrote about my son’s classmate who died unexpectedly. Today my son and I attended the funeral Mass for this young boy. As was expected, it was very emotional with many tears but also many smiles as we remembered the joy this boy brought to those around him.

This child suffered from disabilities that made him a little “different”. His parents faced challenges as they dealt with a variety of therapies and special needs. At the end of the Mass today, his parents stood before the congregation and thanked Jesus he had given them this son. His father said, “Jesus could have given this child to anyone. I am so grateful He gave him to me.”

In this age of designer babies and abortions for any flaw or even potential flaws, this expression of gratitude is a true testament to the gift and dignity of all human life. I wish all those who think they can judge the worthiness of a life could have seen the congregation today. This young boy with his own set of earthly limitations, touched so many lives in such a profound way.

A New Translation of the Mass?

This week’s National Catholic Register is covering the upcoming vote by the U.S. bishops on the new English translation of the Order of the Mass. The new translation is more faithful to the original Latin. However, some bishops prefer the current more contemporary language. Leading the charge against the new translation is Bishop Trautman. Quoting from the Register:

But Bishop Trautman told the Register that he and about half of the nation’s bishops believe the proposed text contains too many complicated words, as well as sentences and phrases that are too long. The words “precious chalice,” for example, replace the word “cup” during the consecration prayers.

“To me, ‘precious chalice’ says something gold with diamonds all around it,” Bishop Trautman said. “Jesus used a drinking cup at the last supper, not a precious chalice”

Interesting. I don’t think of the “precious chalice” as covered with diamonds. I think of it as containing the Real Presence of Christ. That is why we call it the Precious Blood, not wine.

Actually, I think a key point to consider is Bishop Trautman’s effort to use current and contemporary language. We have a dynamic language. What is current and contemporary today will not be so twenty, thirty, or forty years from now. Anybody still saying “groovy”? The Mass on the other hand is timeless. Staying faithful to an unchanging Latin rite offers stability. The push to maintain a “current and contemporary” English translation is actually a very narrow and self-centered view.

I also find it very insulting to the laity to say we are not smart enough to learn and adapt to a translation that uses big words and long sentences. The Church and the Mass have existed for 2000 years. Only forty of those years have we been celebrating it in the vernacular. Is Bishop Trautman suggesting that during those other 1,960 years when the faithful learned Latin, they could not appreciate the liturgy as well as the faithful of the last forty years? Judging by the state of vocations and Mass attendance now compared to forty years ago, I would have to strongly disagree with such an assertion.

I believe Archbishop Chaput put it best when he stated in the Register:

“It seems to me that if the translations of the past are incorrect or inadequate, they should be changed. How we pray influences how we believe,” he added. “I’m convinced that the Church can find a beautiful translation that’s faithful to Liturgiam Authenticam

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Catholic Universities: What's a bishop to do?

I have broached the issue of what it means to be a Catholic University several times. Notre Dame, Villanova, and most recently St. Thomas University have each caused me to question their Catholic identity. This week Zenit posts an interview with Notre Dame's Father John Coughlin entitled The Identity of a Catholic University.

Q: What does it mean that a university is Catholic? What are the ways Catholic identity should manifest itself on a practical level?

Father Coughlin: A Catholic university is a community of scholars and students who are united by the love for truth and the desire to integrate faith and reason. The university is not simply a collection of individuals but a community grounded in Catholic faith.

From an academic perspective, a Catholic university requires a critical mass of committed Catholic scholars who are dedicated to the search for truth. It should be a place of lively and open intellectual discussion, and the discussion ought to be guided by the rules for rigorous intellectual investigation.

It engages the wider culture but always in accord with the truth of Catholic faith. It should not in any way be closed in on itself but should participate in a dialogue with the wider culture.

In particular, it contributes to the dialogue by explaining the great wisdom of the Church's tradition about the value of human life and the need for social justice.

From a liturgical perspective, it also offers ample opportunities for its faculty, staff and students to nourish their spiritual lives through the celebration of the sacraments.

From the perspective of Church's social justice teaching, the Catholic university not only sponsors academic discussion and research but should also afford opportunities for practical implementation of Gospel-centered service, truth and love.

From the perspective of canon law, a Catholic university must exhibit at least seven essential characteristics.

First, according to Canon 807, the Catholic university "promotes the deeper culture and full development of the human person in accord with the Church's teaching office."

Second, the majority of the faculty members consist of practicing Catholics, as explained in "Ex Corde Ecclesiae."

Third, Canon 810 states that the president and other officers of a Catholic university have the responsibility to ensure that faculty members are appointed who are "outstanding in their integrity of doctrine and uprightness of life."

Fourth, the president of the Catholic university must make the profession of faith at the start of his or her term of office, according to Canon 833.

Fifth, the bishops' conference and the diocesan bishop have the duty and right of ensuring that the principles of Catholic doctrine are faithfully observed.

Sixth, in line with Canon 812, theology teachers in a Catholic university must have a mandate from the local ordinary.

Finally, the use of the title "Catholic" is only with the consent of the competent ecclesiastical authority, as outlined in Canon 808.

Point number five is the one that caught my attention. Just exactly what are the bishops supposed to do? In the case of Notre Dame, Bishop D’Arcy has expressed his disappointment and disagreement with the school’s actions, but it seems he really has no authority to impose any standards. Closer to home, I have never heard Cardinal McCarrick chastise Georgetown, in spite of its defiance of Catholic teachings in so many areas. (Georgetown’s un-Catholic nature is probably worthy of its own blog post!) Bishop Wuerl will replace Cardinal McCarrick on June 22, 2006. There has been no public commentary on how he will interact with Georgetown. In theory it sounds great to say the bishop has a duty and right to oversee a school’s Catholicism. In reality, it is ineffective oversight at best.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fr. Duesterhaus

Some of you may have read the wonderful post, Real Men Kneel on Stone at Dom’s blog. The priest highlighted in the post, Fr. Michael R. Duesterhaus, is now grieving the death of his mother, who died this past Thursday.

He sent the following note:

My Dear Friends and CoWorkers in the Field of Faith,

I truly wished I had to the time to write y'all individually, but I have just returned from Iraq and need to pass word on things.

As many of you know, my mother passed away this past Thursday.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in the name of Judie and Rich Duesterhaus to So Others Might Eat (SOME) or Capital Hospice.

More later as life unfolds.

In Service of God and Country,

LCDR Michael R. Duesterhaus CHC, USNR
I MHG Chaplain
Fallujah, Iraq
Unit 42540
FPO, AP 96426-2540

"Keep your eyes on the crucifix,
for Jesus without the cross
is a man without mission;
and the cross without Jesus
is a burden without a reliever."

I have added the links for SOME and for Capital Hospice in case you feel inclined to donate in the name of Judie & Riich Duesterhaus. In any case, please keep Fr. Duesterhaus as well as the soul of his mother, Judie Duesterhaus,in your prayers. He is a very special priest.

Biting My Tongue

By swallowing evil words unsaid, no one has ever harmed his stomach—Winston Churchill

(Thanks to Julie D. at Happy Catholic for the quote)

I love my extended family and having them healthy enough to visit is a blessing. Because of our military life we have never lived within a day’s drive of our loved ones. So family gatherings are an extraordinary event. However, having too many matriarchs under one roof can lead to friction.

I know words that set my teeth on edge will be said. I know that when we all gather to prepare meals, whoever fixes the mashed potatoes will do it differently than I do it. Even though I have been keeping my own house for over twenty-five years there will be recommendations that I change my methods. And then the dreaded discussions of weight! I want to scream when one particular relative insists on analyzing everyone’s fanny size compared to the last time she saw them.

There is no point in countering their words with more words. The truth is I love my family and they love me. That love will survive in spite of mashed potatoes, housekeeping styles, and fanny sizes. Words over silly annoyances only obscure that love. Two weeks from now if I find I have permanent teeth marks in my tongue, the family visit will have been a success. The only words that are absolutely necessary are, “I love you”.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Let the chaos begin!

Deep breaths! Deep breaths! I am scurrying about getting ready for the next wave of company. My second son graduates from high school in nine days and family arrives in two. My daughter, my parents and I will be traveling to New Jersey over the weekend for a major soccer tournament. This means I will be leaving the men home to fend for themselves. I will also be leaving them home to make sure second son gets into his tux okay for prom. This should be interesting. In any case, all the activity and festivities will mean blogging may be sparse. I will keep you in my prayers so keep me in yours!

A Trinitarian Moment of Grace

Sometimes I just need to hear new words for a familiar concept. This morning Father spoke of the Trinity. (today is the feast of the Holy Trinity) Sure I knew the concept. One God. Three Persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I don’t know that I have ever thought too much farther than that. I am actually pretty happy to chalk it up to a mystery that I accept and press on. Today, however, a little tiny light lit up a bit of the mystery for me. Father explained God is of a single nature. He is God. Within that nature he is three persons. Nature is what you are. Person is who you are. God’s all knowing perfect nature can accommodate three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Three Persons of the Trinity exist in such perfect love and harmony, they can exist within the single nature of God.

It is very difficult to verbalize why hearing that phrasing of the mystery of the Trinity felt like a little epiphany for me. I just felt like I had a growth spurt of understanding. It was a moment of grace. Such a moment is why I need to keep praying, keep listening, and keep learning. The labyrinth of Faith is never ending.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Comfort of a Familiar Prayer

As you can see by my previous post, my youngest child had to face a tragedy yesterday. This is probably one of the first encounters with death that touched him so personally. We are very blessed to have all the grandparents still alive and well and even a great-grandmother who will be celebrating her one-hundredth birthday soon. He came home from school tearful, frightened, and bewildered. However, he also knew it was a time to pray.

We sat together snuggled on the couch for a little while. We talked about his friend. We also prayed for his friend and his family. He then pulled a piece of paper that was tightly folded out of his pocket. When he unfolded it I could see it was the Hail Mary, very carefully printed, with a cross decorating the top of the page. My son explained that one of his classmates wanted to pray but didn’t know how. My son had written out the Hail Mary for him. He prayed the Hail Mary and returned the paper to my son so he could share it with others.

I know that prayer doesn’t have to be a fixed set of words. God knows our thoughts even when we can’t verbalize them. But, there is something very comforting about having a familiar prayer to utter when we don’t know what else to say.

Prayers Please

A classmate of my sixth-grade son died unexpectedly yesterday. Please pray for the soul of this child as well as for the consolation of his family. Please pray for all the elementary school children who are coping with this unexplainable loss. Thank you.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Catholic MLS Standings June 9 2006

Eastern Conference Standings

McCarrick’s DC United (7-1-3)
Finn’s Kansas City Wizards (4-4-2)
Campbell’s Columbus Crew (4-4-2)
O’Malley’s New England Revolution (3-4-2)
George’s Chicago Fire (2-3-4)
Meyer’s New York Red Bulls (1-2-6)

Western Conference Standings

Grahmann’s FC Dallas (6-2-3)
DiNardo’s Houston Dynamo (5-3-2)
Chaput’s Colorado Rapid’s (4-4-2)
Mahony’s Chivas USA (4-4-1)
Nierderhaur’s Real Salt Lake (3-5-2)
Mahony’s Los Angeles Galaxy (2-9-1)

Suggestions for Adult Catechesis

One of my pet peeves is that most Catholic parishes have very minimal adult education. The state of adult Catholic catechesis is really abysmal. So rather than just gripe about it a group from our parish decided to come up with some ideas for adult education topics. I thought I would throw the question out to the blogging community as well:

What topic would you like to see covered in an adult education program at your parish?

My answers:

1. Church history (The whole Da Vinci Code brouhaha pointed out the need for that!)
2. Systematic study of the Catechism
3. Theology of the Body
4. Keeping your Kids Catholic (Bert Ghezzi’s book of the same name is wonderful. It even has discussion questions at the end of each chapter.)

How about you?

Who Decides the Need for STD Vaccines?

Human Papillomavirus(HPV) is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease and is the cause of most cases of cervical cancer. Condoms offer very minimal protection against the spread of this virus. The Centers for Disease Control fact sheet on HPV can be found here. Therefore,
it is exciting news that the FDA has approved a vaccine to prevent HPV infection
. The rub is this vaccine is most effective when given prior to a woman becoming sexually active. The current FDA approval is for the use of the vaccine in girls age 9 to 26. Should this vaccine be required for attendance at public schools?

The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices will decide June 29 whether to endorse routine vaccination with Gardasil. That endorsement is critical if a vaccine is to become a standard of care.

It then will be up to individual states to decide whether to add the vaccine to the list of others required before students may attend public schools.

Some groups including Focus on the Family oppose mandatory vaccination against a sexually transmitted disease as a requirement for public school attendance. Their position paper states:

Focus on the Family supports widespread (universal) availability of HPV vaccines but opposes mandatory HPV vaccinations for entry to public school. The decision of whether to vaccinate a minor against this or other sexually transmitted infections should remain with the child’s parent or guardian. As in all areas of sexual health and education, Focus on the Family upholds parents’ rights to be the primary decision maker and educator for their children regarding the potential benefits and risks of the vaccine.

The requirements for vaccinations before attending school have traditionally been based on preventing diseases likely to be spread in the school setting. Measles, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, pertussis, and polio are all risks among an unvaccinated school age population. Still, there is a precedent for vaccinating against a disease associated with risky adult behavior. The hepatitis B vaccine prevents against a virus that is transmitted sexually or via contact with blood and body fluids. It is a significant risk for IV drug abusers. It is also a risk for health care workers and emergency first responders. This vaccine is now initiated in newborns and a required vaccination in many school districts.

I suppose some have reservations about the mandatory use of the HPV vaccine because there is no risk of exposure to HPV outside of the sexual setting. Why should I have to utilize an expensive mode of prevention (estimated cost is $360 for the required 3-shot series) when I instruct my children in the virtue of chastity and teach them to be abstinent until marriage? The vaccine is going to be most effective if large segments of the population are vaccinated creating a “herd immunity”. Mandatory vaccination will accomplish this. While our daughters may be intending to remain chaste the tragedy of rape does occur. In spite of our best efforts our children will not always adhere to our teaching and will make mistakes. In addition our children may marry someone who carries the virus from a previous exposure.

Seeking protection against untoward circumstances does not compromise the lessons of chastity. Just as I hope my children are never exposed to hepatitis B, I hope they are never exposed to HPV. Still, the decision to protect them against possible exposure is a reasonable one. The question is, “Whose decision is this to make?”

Let the kids (and parents) relax a little!

Earlier this week the Washington Post ran an article about the hectic life of the classroom room mother. She is the one who is making phone calls, recruiting volunteers, and planning parties. She is the uber-volunteer. I’ve been there and done that. I used to have the helium hand. Every time someone asked for a volunteer my hand just floated upward. Perhaps because I am now on my fourth child completing sixth grade, I just don’t have the enthusiasm I used to generate for all these school parties, carnivals, and projects.

My lack of excitement may also stem from the fact these events have just mushroomed. Elizabeth Simon of Fairfax suggests this as well in her letter to the editor in this morning’s Washington Post.

… we take everything to the extreme, that parental involvement in our schools has become an extreme sport. I fail to see how the constant frenzy of activity benefits our children. Let's pay our teachers a decent wage to educate our kids and dial down the expectation that school needs to be a year-long carnival.

Amen, Elizabeth! I can’t stand the video arcade atmosphere of some classrooms. The kids are already involved in sports, church activities, scouts, music lessons, etc. Let’s let them chill a little bit and just learn.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Parental Guidance may not be such a bad thing

Many are surprised and offended by the PG rating for the film “Facing the Giants”. This low budget film with an overt Christian message was labeled as PG by the MPAA because of its “thematic elements”. It has an Evangelical Christian theme.

At first blush I thought this was absurd. But after reflection, I think this makes sense. PG does not mean children should avoid the movie. It means parents need to evaluate it first and decide if the move is appropriate for their children. This PG rating acknowledges some, not necessarily a majority of parents, will find a movie objectionable for their children.

What if the movie had the same plot but instead of finding his Christian faith, the coach attributes his life improvements to becoming a Muslim? What if he begins to practice Wicca? Christian parents might very well object. In the same way, Muslim, Wiccan, Atheist, or even Jewish parents might be uncomfortable with their young children viewing a movie that points to Christianity as the road to true happiness.

So I am not ready to condemn the MPAA for this PG rating just yet. If they show consistency so that a similarly themed Muslim or Jewish film received the same PG rating it is appropriate. On the other hand, if it is specifically Christianity they fear, then shame on them!

Natural Family Planning is not an "organic" alternative to "The Pill"

There has been so much discussion about Natural Family Planning (NFP) all over the blogosphere in the last few weeks. I’ve been leaving my thoughts in so many comment boxes I decided to finally publish my ideas on my own blog site.

I noticed an uptick in the discussion of NFP when the Journal of Medical Ethics published this article by Professor Luc Bovens. He asserts that the “rhythm method” is responsible for more embryo deaths than any other form of contraception. American Papist covered this ridiculous claim very well here and here. I published the following comment on the Dialogue blog:

As a physician let me comment on the "embryo destruction". Once an ovum is fertilized it becomes an embryo. This embryo must then implant in the lining of the uterus to establish a viable pregnancy. Factors in both the embryo and the uterus must be right for this implantation to occur.

It is thought that embryos with significant abnormalities are less likely to implant. If they do not implant they are shed with the monthly menstrual cycle. A woman will not even know that fertilization took place.

What Professor Bovens alleges is that the embryo conceived on the fringes of the fertile period are more likely to fail to implant. I have never heard this assertion before. However, even if that is true, it implies that the embryo conceived at the fringes of fertility contain fatal flaws incompatible with a viable pregnancy.

This is actually the same principle that makes it harder for older women to become pregnant. It is thought that the ova of older women are not as robust and less likely to form a viable embryo.

Contrast this with the abortifacient action of the IUD (the coil in Dr. Boven's comments). In this case, a perfectly viable embryo is formed but the IUD lodged in the lining of the uterus keeps it in such an inflamed state it is unable to support the implantation of the viable embryo. This is also the concern about the abortifacient activity of oral contraceptives. Sometimes the oral contraceptives do not prevent conception but the hormonal effects make the uterus unable to receive the embryo.

Now the discussion is heating up. The Pontifical Council for the Family has published a document “Family and Human Procreation. Once again, Thomas at American Papist has a good collection of the news about this important document. The quote that is ruffling quite a few feathers is”

When for the good of the entire family it is best to avoid having another child, couples can abstain from sexual intercourse during fertile periods to avoid a pregnancy

However, using natural family planning to have only one or a maximum of two children is nothing other than a kind of series of brief parentheses within an entire conjugal life willingly made sterile

The key point here is that just because NFP is “natural” and without chemicals or mechanical devices, it is not always moral. It is not an “organic” alternative to The Pill. If NFP is applied with the same contraceptive mentality that is used with artificial contraception the moral implications are the same.

The typical secular contraceptive mentality sets the default position as saying, “no” to children. For brief times during the marriage, the couple says “yes” and conception ensues. The Catholic teaching is the default position is “yes” to children. For a limited time during the marriage it may be better to avoid conception for the good of the family. During that time, NFP can be used to decrease the probability of conception. The legitimacy of a couple’s decision to avoid pregnancy is a matter of spiritual discernment. A bigger house, sportier car, or the avoidance of having to shop at Costco for large jars of mayonnaise are not appropriate reasons to avoid pregnancy. However, real reasons to put space between children do exist.

I have been married nearly twenty-two years and have four great kids. However, no one ever talked bluntly to me about Catholic teachings on contraception before I got married. All the pre-Canna classes danced around this issue as if the engaged couples would head for the hills if we were told the truth. It was assumed we all knew the Church forbid contraception but we were going to do what we wanted anyway so don’t worry about it. It took years of marriage, prayer, study, and reflection to come to a deep appreciation and love for the Church’s teaching on marriage and pro-creation. I can’t help but think that if I could have reached this understanding sooner, we might have had one or two more kids.

Our parish is enjoying the June surge of weddings. I will add a prayer for all these newlyweds to my petitions. I pray they will enjoy the grace of total self-giving love in their marriage. May their marriage model the love of Christ for his Church. May they grow to see the wisdom and beauty of Catholic teachings on marriage.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Episcopatus unus et indivisus

Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things points out this address by Cardinal Kasper to the bishops of the Church of England. His purpose was to confront the Anglican-Catholic issues that would develop if the Church of England chooses to elect women bishops. However, his words should be read and pondered by all the bishops of the United States before they convene this summer.

We are indebted above all to the martyr bishop Cyprian of Carthage for a thorough theology of the episcopal office. His sentence ‘episcopatus unus et indivisus’ is well known. This sentence stands in the context of an urgent admonition by Cyprian to his fellow bishops:

Quam unitatem tenere firmiter et vindicare debemus maxime episcopi, qui in ecclesia praesidimus, ut episcopatum quoque ipsum unum atque indivisum probemus. [And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the church, that we may also prove the episcopate one and undivided.]

This urgent exhortation is followed by a precise interpretation of the statement ‘episcopatus unus et indivisus’. ‘Episcopatus unus est cuius a singulis in solidum pars tenetur’ [The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole.] (De ecclesiae catholicae unitate, 1,5).

Such statements and admonitions recur again and again in Cyprian’s letters (Ep., 55,21; 59,14 et al.). Most familiar is the statement that the Church is the people united with the bishop and the flock devoted to its shepherd. ‘The bishop is in the church and the church is in the bishop, and if anyone is not with the bishop he is not with the church.’ But Cyprian goes even one step further: he not only emphasises the unity of the people of God with its own individual bishop, but also adds that no one should imagine that he can be in communion with just a few, for ‘the Catholic Church is not split or divided’ but ‘united and held together by the glue of the mutual cohesion of the bishops’ (Ep., 66,8).

No bishop should feel free to march to his own drummer. (or dance to his own liturgical dance tune) When he does, he not only puts the spiritual welfare of his diocesan flock at risk, but that of the entire Catholic communion as well. Only prideful arrogance can account for a bishop’s decision to ignore the primacy of Peter and discount directives from Rome. As the bishops meet this summer, I hope they can grasp that they are Roman Catholic Bishops in America, not American Catholic Bishops. While America may set the standards for the world in economics, technology, fashion, and entertainment, Rome must set the ecclesiastical standards for Catholics in America.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Honor, Virtue, and Sin

Josiah Bunting III reflects in the WSJ Opinion Journal on the concept of honor.

In our culture of therapy, self-absorption and celebrity, "honor" has very little cachet. An abuse of honor--say, by perpetrating a public fraud or acting duplicitously in private life--is but the occasion for the administration of comforting words of understanding, the application of medicines to assuage lingering anxieties and the invitation to appear on "Oprah," the better to explain the forces that, overwhelming meager resources of conscience and character, impelled a dishonorable act. Next may come an invitation to undertake the labor of a book, more fully to explore and expiate the fall from grace. Closure (as it is called) will then, at last, be obtained.

In short, there is no shame in actions once known as dishonorable, and the virtues that supported honor seem moribund. Chastity and modesty--so important to honor in social relations--are treated as relics from Jane Austen and "Little Women." When a high-school girl defends a sexual encounter on the grounds that an American president said that her particular act was not really sex, both she and her role model are, if not completely forgiven, understood to be, as members of the human family, subject to the same vagaries of uncontrollable temptations as you and I.

Mr. Bunting is prompted to his musings by the book Honor: a History by James Bowman. This book traces the disappearance of honor as a standard for American behavior. Perhaps this isn’t really an American phenomenon. In the last forty to fifty years the concept of an absolute standard of behavior based on unchanging moral principles has diminished throughout the world. This is the moral relativism that Pope Benedict XVI spoke of when he gave his first address after being elected pope.

Our Catholic culture has only recently seen a resurgence in the use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation after years of precipitous decline. Our self-esteem focused society frowned upon the label sinner. We changed the words to the hymn Amazing Grace from “saved a wretch like me” to “saved and set me free”. To label any action as sinful was judgmental and uncharitable. We preferred to characterize behavioral shortcomings as diseases rather than as moral failings. Every character flaw became a syndrome. We removed the blame from the individual will and placed it on the environment or our dysfunctional families.

Christ never shied away from naming sins. He fully exposed wrong doings. However, he offered during his earthly life and still offers today his infinite Divine Mercy. We must, however, admit our sins without excuses. We must take responsibility for our failings. We then throw ourselves upon his Divine Mercy with the confidence our sins will be forgiven. “I firmly intend, with Your Grace, to do penance, to sin no more and to avoid all that leads me to sin”. How can I recite these words if I cannot understand the difference between sin and virture.

Enjoying the Conversation

Julie D. at Happy Catholic has a humorous banner for her blog today. Bart Simpson is writing repetitively on the blackboard, “Blogging is not a substitute for human interaction.” I can identify. Blogging has been very sparse these last few days since we’ve been enjoying the company of family visiting from Texas. We keep in touch via the phone and email, but an occasional in person visit is required to really keep family bonds intact. That warm person to person interaction trumps blogging.

I have had the pleasure of actually meeting bloggers and readers over the last few weeks. It has been a lot of fun to put a face with the comments. I can truthfully say those I have met are as charming in person as they are in cyberspace.

When blogging, I put my thoughts out there and know they are being read. I can watch my readership numbers on my Site Meter. But the real fun comes when someone comments and discussion ensues. In another week a new round of company arrives and blogging is likely to once again diminish. In the meantime, please feel free to share your thoughts. I enjoy hearing from you!

"Spiritual Injuries"

Curt Jester has an absolutely hilarious list of “Spiritual Injuries”. Read the entire list but these are some of my favorites:

Cranium Sprain: Occurs when straining to come up with a charitable explanation for someone's actions when none are evident.

Tabernacle whiplash: Happens to some looking back and forth in a rapid action trying to spot the tabernacle in a church.

Inclusive Language Twitch: A nervous condition experienced by readers at Mass who strain to convert male pronouns into inclusive language on the fly. Breakdowns after the realization that they forgot to add a "and sister" after saying brother are known to occur.

Vocal Cord Spasm
: Caused by attempting to sing unsingable liturgical music that resides in nobody's vocal range except possibly porpoises and whales.

: Disease that results in reduced mental capability where the sufferer thinks that liturgical dance is a good idea in bringing people closer to God in worship.

The Real Cookie Monster?

There has to be more to this story! According to news reports, an eighth grader at Hungary Creek Middle School in Richmond, Virginia was suspended for one day and kicked off the baseball team because he “stole” a cookie. The boy reports he was sent in to the faculty dining area to fill up the baseball team’s water cooler. In the process a cookie jar was knocked over and cookies spilled. As he picked up the cookies he ate one.

Caryl Maitland says her son, Jeremy, told school officials that someone knocked over a cookie jar in the Hungary Creek Middle School kitchen and he ate one of the cookies as he picked them up.

She says the family received a letter from the assistant principal telling them the cookies were a staff member's personal food. Jeremy, who's been suspended twice before this year, was disciplined under the school's theft code.

School officials cite privacy restrictions prevent them from giving more details, but state it is more than just the theft of a cookie. It is a matter of integrity.

Okay, maybe the boy initially lied about eating one of the cookies. Even his mother acknowledges punishment is in order. But suspension from school and expulsion from the baseball team because he invoked the “five-second-rule” and ate one of the spilled cookies seems extreme. If comments on the local news website are any indication, Hungary Creek Middle School may be inundated with boxes of cookies as those disgusted by this seemingly disproportionate punishment try to assuage the sweet tooth of the offended faculty.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Passage to Manhood

Very little blogging has been going on because I have family members visiting from Texas. We have been busy preparing for and celebrating a big event for Second Son. He is eighteen and a senior in high school so one would think the big event is his high school graduation. While that is a huge event, we will not dive into the graduation festivities for another three weeks. This weekend’s milestone was his Eagle Scout Court of Honor.

He had completed the requirements for this, the highest rank in Boy Scouts, several months ago. However, we waited until Oldest Son (also an Eagle Scout) was home from college to mark the occasion. Both of my older boys were older teens when they achieved the rank of Eagle. The Court of Honor to mark this accomplishment became a time to commemorate their passage from being boys to being men. I certainly felt this yesterday as I watched him stand so straight and tall on the stage. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverent. What more could we ask?

We are blessed to have a Boy Scout troop affiliated with our parish and a parochial vicar who has committed himself to being the Troop Chaplain. He is there to give the boys a blessing as they embark on a campout and celebrate Mass for them when they return. Catholicism is woven into the fiber of the troop. The instruction in the Faith my boys received when they earned their Ad Altar Dei award was the best formal catechesis they have ever received.

Troops like this do not just happen. It takes adults committed to their Faith and committed to the ideals of Scouting who are willing to generously give of their time and talents. Moms are welcome in scouting. They go camping, teach merit badge skills, serve as part of the troop administration, and generally cajole, prod and nudge their boys forward. I often think I have earned my nagging mommy merit badge a few times by now. But the real strength of scouting is the opportunity for boys to be led by men. In the case of our troop, they are led by strong Catholic men. Men who model their Faith whether they are in the pew or on the trail.

In three weeks we will celebrate another passage. Another set of relatives will be visiting and we will joyfully mark Second Son’s high school graduation. When my son walks across the stage to receive his diploma it will be a man walking across the stage. A young man to be sure. But a man nonetheless. A strong Catholic young man.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Does Charity Entrench Poverty?

Both Amy Welborn and Fr. Jim Tucker refer to the article, Do helping hands in Appalachia do more harm than good?, in the National Catholic Reporter. The author, Lucy Fuchs, questions the benefit of the charitable work done in the Appalachians. Has charity entrenched poverty?

When Fr. Beiting first came to Kentucky in the late ’40s, he was appalled at how badly many people lived. At first, he just gave people food and clothing and arranged housing for them. Then he organized fundraising and gathered volunteers, trying to reach out to anyone in need, not only giving them help but trying to maintain their dignity.

In those days, the people of East Kentucky were either coal miners, disabled or unemployed, or on their way north or west out of the state. Fr. Beiting fell in love with the natural beauty of this part of the country and he genuinely loved the people. There were few Catholics in East Kentucky, and people were often suspicious of Catholics, especially Catholic priests, so he had to work to overcome that problem, too. He even took to street preaching to show that Catholics too were Christian, and he named his organization “Christian” (not “Catholic”) Appalachian Project, making it clearly ecumenical, as it is today.

Things have changed dramatically since Fr. Beiting’s initial work in the ’40s and ’50s. For one thing, President Lyndon Johnson declared a war on poverty in 1964, and the front lines of the war were right in Appalachia. People came to Appalachia for many reasons. Some came to take pictures and write articles about the deprived mountain people sitting on their rickety porches while their dirty, raggedy children stayed home from school. Others came and volunteered their medical and educational help. But the most significant changes came through government aid in many forms.

These government programs probably helped some people, but ultimately they destroyed the spirit of the proud mountain residents, who used to disdain any outside aid. Today most observers will say that the single greatest harm to the Appalachian people can be said in one word: welfare.

My sons have participated in our Diocesan work camp. For one week, high school students live in a rural, economically poor community, sleeping on the floor of a local school. During the day they work to repair homes of local residents, who are often elderly. Similar to the situation Ms. Fuchs noted in her article, these residents often have younger able-bodied relatives who do not lend a hand. Part of the preparation to attend the work camp is being prepared to see things that seem incongruous with poverty. A young relative may be driving an upscale car. Grandchildren may have the latest electronic gaming systems. The work camp participants are prepared to move beyond the frustration and confusion of this picture and focus on the very real, immediate needs of the resident they are helping.

The first summer my sons participated, my oldest was working on the home of an elderly woman. Her teenage grandson sat in the family room watching television as the teens around him steadily worked. He asked my son why they were working on his grandmother’s home. My son explained this was a way to serve the community. The grandson’s response was, “I didn’t know Crackers ever got community service!” How sad. He didn’t know that people really do look outside of themselves and seek to serve for reasons other than satisfying a judicial sentence.

Many factors contribute to poverty: poor education, dysfunctional family life, breakdown of family structures, alcoholism, drug abuse and so many others. It is erroneous to believe providing food and shelter will cure poverty. The root causes must be addressed. However, immediate needs have to be met as well. If we ignore the acute hunger and homelessness of poverty because we are solely focused on a long-term solution, many will suffer while we ponder the possibilities at our drawing boards. This suffering will hamper the implementation of any long-term solution.

The only answer is to simultaneously attack short-term needs and long-term solutions. Charity must address the acute issues of food, clothing, and shelter, but always with an eye towards eventual self-sufficiency through education and family stability. As always, the devil is in the details. How to do this is the burning question. As Ms. Fuchs notes, there is no easy answer.