Saturday, December 23, 2006


ELECTRONIC EVANGELIZATION, WHO? ME? U BET!Oh, no, not another program! We have gone from the Christophers, to Bishop Sheen, to the Cursillo, the Catholic Family Movement, EWTN and now it is What is next? I was in a conversation with a very dedicated and very
spiritual person just this morning who could not and would not agree with me that there is such a thing as effective electronic evangelization.
Now come on, in the age of "" is there still someone out there who believes that electronic evangelization is not effective? Christians of all stripes and colors have been struggling for years to come out with powerfully
focused electronic, mass media formats to carry the message of Christ across the airwaves and into the hearts of His people. I was teaching a class the other night when I turned away from the white enamel board for a moment and when I
turned back, my scribbling was still on it. I wailed in pain and sorrow as I tremulously said, "My Guardian Angel has let me down." An older person in the group reminded me gently that I am not bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Now believe me,
everyone in the room laughed. I quickly took an on-the-spot poll, ready to assign a margin of error for safety's sake. But, what is this? Everyone knows who Bishop Sheen was? It's unanimous? Yes! Zowieeee! The crimson caped wonder
lives on! The 35 year-old "Whiz-Kid" even knew who Bishop Sheen was. Come to think of it, how many of you know what a "Whiz-Kid" is? Was?
Without daring to make any comparisons here, I can tell you honestly that I have yet to discover a soul in the classes that I teach in my parish who does not know EWTN. Most know Mother Angelica. No, no, not only because of her spat
with Archbishop Mahony. They actually like her and the other "stars" who appear regularly on the set.
Now that is television. What about the rest of us poor souls toiling in the vast and anonymous universe of the Internet? Who knows us? Who is finding God through our bleeding-finger rants? We don't know. In fact, as the phrase goes,
"Only God knows." It's a very strange pulpit that we occupy. That's what mystified my matutinal interlocutor. (No, I'm not going to revise that) Now don't go letting your brain start trying to convince you that this is a hick from
the sticks. Nope. This is a well-educated M.A. from one of the finest of fine universities owned, operated and managed by God's own army, the Society of Jesus. Oh, I nearly forgot, that is an M.A. in Catechetics! No electronics
there, my friend. Face-to-face, personal follow-up, written test, discernment for conversion. None of this anonymous hit-and-run stuff for me, my friend.
I know that you all have had discussions similar to this. It starts one day and then stops because other events come to take your time. You have to pay attention to them and so you leave the subject thinking that you'll never have to
worry about it again. But then, the very next day, on the 45 minute drive to the airport with your opinion ping pong challenger in the passenger's seat, along comes the famous, "maybe I did not explain myself as well as I could have
yesterday" flip of the coin for first serve rights for the next 30 minutes. Hey, this is fun! Go for it!
I think that the essence of evangelization is the deep knowledge that the teacher (use the word that you prefer) comes to acquire of the hearer of the message. Evamgelization is not a hit-and-run excercise. Evangelization is the
invitation to become a disciple. Now we all know that discipleship is a very intimate relationship between the teacher and the disciple. This relationship cannot be developed and nurtured electronically. The Word has to be preached
and taught eye-ball to eye-ball, heart to heart. So there!
Now you have to know that I am driving 70 MPH and she is slamming me 90MPH. You've already guessed that we are far from being eye-ball to eye-ball. The only protection that I have is that the passenger seat is on the side that only
hears 75%. (Wife-guard) But I have to say that I heard everything that this itinerant missionary had to say. But speaking of itinerant missionaries, oh yeah, there's my opening... my serve, now...
You know, says I, you are calling to mind a rather persistent and pernicious reality. I was once a "wandering Aramean" missionary, going from parish to parish. I would throw the word of God at people morning noon and night for one or
two weeks. Some period back in time I would talk to the males for one week and to the females for the second week. One day would be velvet gloves and dulcet tones and the other day would be hell-fire and brimstone, Sodom and Gomorrah,
you're all going to hell except me. Once I was finished bringing them all back to the confessional (Catholics don't have altar calls), I would count the number of "Father, it has been 10 years + since my last confession" and either pat
myself on the back for a win or shake my head in defeat. But I didn't follow anything up. I didn't get to know anyone. The follow-up was the pastor's job. After all, he was the one who had paid me for the job, right?
Then I told her about you people. If I say something that lights your fire, PRO or CON, you jump on your keyboard and say, (well, what came to mind there is not appropriate), but you say it and make my email server smoke, either incense
or burnt fish. I get back to you, sweet as can be, of course, and as it turns out, I get to know you, to some degree. I may even get to know you so well that I won't hit the "delete" button as though you live in Ethiopia or something
like that. Now, hey, that's follow-up, right? Top that off with my next "gotcha!". I ask, "when's the last time you gave 50,000 people the chance to attack you on a Biblical or Catechetical statement?" Now, isn't that
Now, the dimishing distance to the intended destination is on my side (full disclosure time). She says, "I have to ask permission to change the subject. I want to continue this discussion, but there is something very important that I
have to ask." I assure you, she did have a serious concern and we only had about 7 or 8 minutes left before reaching our destination. I also assure you that she has the URL and she knows how to find me. This discussion is not over.
She is reading this now, right alongside you and she is saying, "I didn't say that. Let me rattle his cheap, old fashioned monitor with my side of the story."
This is your chance to have some input to the debate. I still have a statement or two in store, but I think we could enjoy ourselves here by helping one another understand the true depth of electronic evangelization. The good thing
about it is that we will get to know one another electronically along the way. Then when we get to heaven I guarantee that we will recognize one another too. Hey, with a deal like that, you had better heed my ban on crying at my

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

HARDWORKING MISSIONARY, "Down by the River Side"

Missionary I am!

"Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age." ( Matthew, chapter 28, verses 19 & 20)

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?" "Here I am," I said, "send me." (Isaiah, chapter 6, verse 7)

Over the last few months we have been hearing a lot about the missionaries who have come to this country from abroad to help resolve the "shortage" of priests. They come from Latin America, Asia and India and other places around the globe. They are missionaries, all right. Just as much as the missionaries that we know who have left the United States and Europe to go abroad to spread the Gospel.
When we think "abroad" we picture Africa, Burma, China, Nepal, India, Philippines, Samoa, Micronesia, Northwest Territories, etc. Never do we think that Indians, Irish, Filipinos, Guatemalans, Bolivians and others think of us as being "abroad". I’m here to tell you that yes, indeed we are abroad. It takes as much of an adjustment for these immigrants to adjust to us as it does for us to adjust to them. Here are a few glimpses into the adjustments required.

U.S. Priest, newly ordained

You say:“I am so happy, I am being sent to the Philippines as a missionary. Hurray, no more winters.”
You get there and you discover that there are no more Summers, Springs or Falls. The time difference between the solstices and the equinoxes is about 6o minutes, not 240. The coldest it gets in January is rarely 70 degrees F and next year you'll be running for your jacket when the mercury slides to 80°. In the meantime you’ll have to get used to 5:00 AM sunrises and 7:00 PM sunsets.
It is quaint for a while to deal with unpaved roads, outside facilities, corrugated metal roofs, ambient temperature running water, only; mosquito nets, bamboo slat floors strung on log joists of elevated houses, daily runs to the central market for the day's victuals and the barber's string quartet practice delaying your haircut. You’ve got two choices, enjoy it or leave and come back tomorrow. When it ceases to be quaint it means that you have either adjusted or it’s time to go home.
Language is always a fun challenge. Do you realize that some of the languages on the planet do not have the verb “to be”? Nope, it’s nowhere to be found. Now how do you figure that you’re going to say “I am” in that language? That’s easy, you don’t. Here's the mystery, in the language the Jesus spoke from birth, there is no verb "to be". So there, take that ! There is an equivalent, but you better believe that it doesn’t have the verb to be in any way, shape or form. That same language with no verb “to be” also always puts the action word at the very beginning of the sentence, just like Yoda, “running this big church for two years we are”, without the “are”, of course.
Just to make things a little more interesting, every municipality contains people who represent at least four or five different language communities, two or three of whom may get along, but never the same few with the other same few. Real fun for Mr. Missionary no matter how many Western languages he speaks.
For most missionaries who go into the third world, getting accustomed to the living arrangements takes some emotional discipline. For the most part cockroaches abound, both on the floor as well as in the air. You hear them before you see them. BBBBBBzzzzzzzzzzz / WWWhhhhapppppppppp! Then you see then, and then you hear them again as they slam into the wall. They fly well, but they can’t seem to steer. Then of course there are the house lizards, the mosquitoes, the geckos and the friendly scorpions in the shower. You learn to either never take a shower after sundown or without a flashlight sweep of the area if you really must wash before going to bed.
In the first world we see mold on our cheese and on the food that we forgot on the corner shelf for about a month. In the tropical third world, you live with mold as a constant companion. It’s ubiquitous. The only saving grace is that it has a nice shade of green. It looks good on the sleeves of your new red shirt. It’s also a dandy decoration on the only pair of brown shoes that you may have, but don’t wear too often.
I did mention food. It’s no accident that I mentioned it along with mold. Don’t get me wrong, not all food is moldy. Just the day old stuff. The good thing is that there is always someone hanging around to make sure that there won’t be any leftovers. Remember, what you don’t eat goes to people, not dogs nor cats. In the third world, people eat people food. Some of the people food of the third world would not be judged suitable for the dogs and cats of the first world. So, I guess it is but normal that the dogs and cats themselves turn out to be people food in much of the third world. Along with chicken legs, beetles, locusts and a variety of green water plants that are just yuc…uh…yummy. Even the fruit trees get picked clean. That’s because the minute the fruit gets to be about the size of a pigeon egg, still green and hard, it gets picked and someone has devised a way to prepare it for human consumption. By the time the low-hanging, tough, ornery green stuff has all been eaten, the higher- up fruit has had time to grow a bit and even get half ripe before someone climbs the tree to start harvesting it.
If water falls into the category of food, then I can mention to you that the missionary has to either learn to drink warm beer or boiled water or the well water. Now most missionaries are generally able to reline their intestines in about three months. That gives them the ability to drink the water. A missionary never sends a water sample to the lab for assessment. He already knows that by first world standards it is not fit for human consumption. That puts missionaries in a strange category of being. Actually, most of them train themselves to drink the local beer. Those who get sent to the Philippines have the greatest difficulty with this aspect of missionary life. San Miguel beer is hard to get used to---having just one.
A healthy missionary is one who thrives on “see” food. He sees it, he eats it. This is sometimes very daunting. Being offered a one pound head of stewed fish with the eyes wide open because you are the guest of honor at a house blessing will test your human resolve and your missionary zeal. Just grin and don’t start into it until after your third gin and beer boiler maker. You’ll never feel a thing. As a part of your instant therapy, remember what all the dads and moms of the little kids tell them, “The head is the best part”.
Being a missionary in a third world country is really quite an experience. Everybody caters to you, even if they don’t like you. You are the center of attention at all the important events. You know, you're the white guy, right? Even if the communists are hosting the thing, they will defer to you for a little prayer. This is especially true if you haven’t mastered the language yet. Once you become fluent in the local language, you will find yourself being asked to do the blessing at the very beginning of the event. That’s when there are only about five people there because no one ever arrives on time, especially the dignitaries who might be offended at your lack of cultural sensitivity and required political deference. But you’ll find yourself being offered beer with a rather substantial piece of precious ice in the glass. Yes, a glass, and Ice! Don’t ask me where it came from, but they ALWAYS have a glass for the priest, especially the White priest.
The missionary also notices that when he enters into a house or arrives in the dwelling area of friends or acquaintances, he is always presented with drink and some snack. He is never asked if he wants anything. It is proffered and to refuse is impolite. Later on, if it is an occasion where a meal will be served, there are different ways of refusing food that is forbidden to you because of health or some other such weak pretext, but you can never say “no” for any other reason.Conversely when the missionary has guests, he often makes the cultural mistake of asking his guests if they want to have something to drink or eat. They, of course, will politely refuse the offer. The missionary then says, “OK. If you get thirsty, don’t be shy, just help yourself.” HHHMMmmm! That’s going to be a short visit and fodder for the gossip mill for a long time. He’ll be lucky if he discovers his faux-pas for months. He’ll be lucky if one of the hearers of the gossip gets up enough nerve to tell him what he did wrong. You can be sure that it will be a long conversation, beating around a whole garden full of bushes before the Good Samaritan gets to the point. The missionary will climb back up into the good graces of the people because remember, we all know that the priest can do no wrong, right? Don’t worry; the people will take care of him.
Interpersonal relationships are really different in places outside of the United States. The art of circumlocution is a national sport in many countries. Until you’ve been there for at least three years, you’ll never know what people are thinking or what you thought they are trying to communicate, if anything. It can take as much as five years before you get to know the difference between yes, yes, and yes. You’ll never hear anyone say “no”. Trust me; it will take you a long time before you get the message. In fact, you will find that the people will be reluctant to teach you the word that directly means “no”. That’s only the most vexing of the language culture. Some countries refuse to say that something has been stolen. People go around saying that they can’t find their dog or that they lost their sow. It sometimes takes a missionary by surprise when after five years or seven years he is slow on the uptake in the face of these euphemisms.

Third World Priest, Newly Ordained:

Oh, my God, I am going to the United States! I can’t believe it. This is marvelous! I won’t have to learn another language! Oh, thank you God. This is going to be easy.
One month later, I am writing to my brother who is still living in Barrio Villafuerte, San Mateo, Isabela, Philippines and I am telling him that I am glad to be the United States, but that I am wondering what I have to do to understand what the people are saying. Why are they telling me that they do not understand my reading of the Gospel? When they come to the office, why can’t I understand what they are saying? I always was the best English speaker on my class! Why do so many of them speak Spanish?
It is true that we have a cook in our “convento” (rectory) but we do not have any rice to eat. There is no bago-ong and the breakfast is very small, also with no rice. My friend from India is wondering why there is no spice in the chicken and no curry in the vegetables.
The people here are so direct. They tell us what they expect us to do and they tell us how we should manage the affairs of the parish. Imagine, there was a parishioner who told me that I should go to school to learn how to speak English. He told me this while I was in his house when he invited me for a meal. I did not feel very comfortable because there was no one there but me and his wife and two children. When I arrived the lady of the house asked me if I want to have something to drink. I politely refused. She just said, "OK, my husband will be here in a moment." She never brought me anything to drink. I was lost when they invited me to the table and there were only the five of us, and the children, 8 and 11 years old were sitting at the table with us. The man of the house was the one to offer the grace and the blessing of the food and he did not invite me to do that.
It is so difficult to gather people together. During the day all the adults are at work and all the children are at school. During the evening some of the adults are available here at church, but many have to go to attend events at the school of the children. Meetings do not start until 7:30 in the evening. Sundown means nothing here. During the weekend, the adults and the children are committed to sports events and they will not attend to church commitments. When you are out in the city you will not see any people walking by the side of the street. Most of those you see walking are the school children before and after the classes.
The management of the parish is different here. The diocesan office has a lot of power and authority. If the parishioners do not agree with the directives of the pastor, if they are discontented with the work of the assistant in the parish, they are quick to report their discontent to the bishop’s office. This is not something that is easy to get accustomed to.
I am also surprised with the way the people here give money directly to the priest. They are very generous and they are not shy about giving the priest cash for even very little things. Sometimes when you are leaving their house after a friendly visit they give you a “small gift” of 10 or 20 dollars. I don’t know if I should be embarrassed to them or not.
Missionary? Who, Me?

The life of a missionary is not easy. The life of a prophet was not easy. We only have to read the stories of Balaam, Isaiah, Amos, Jonah, Judith, Jeremiah and the Apostles to understand what the missionary is expected to do. God does not call anyone to the “easy life.” God calls us all to the “impossible life”. We are all called to be the exceptional shepherd who would leave the 99 sheep behind to go seek the 1 who strayed. We are all called to be the 1 leper who came back to recognize the love and the power of the Savior. We are all called to be the missionary who does not stow away but who goes willingly to Niniveh to do the work of God for as long as it takes to get it done. We are all called to convert ourselves from blind to seer in order to testify to the divine love of God in our midst.
The missionaries, no matter where they go, even in this day and age have to face the same challenges of the early Jesuits, Jean de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues who came to the New World in the late 17th century. They faced human challenges on the natural front as well as on the supernatural front. They were murdered by the Hurons for their efforts and their faith.

The missionaries of today, like those of yesteryear devote themselves entirely to the call of Jesus. While it is true that there are creature comforts available to the missionary of the present day, the challenges of adjusting to culture, language, economics, climate, food and complex political behavior and expectations are the same as they ever were and are every bit as demanding.

Finally I say,
To all of us who think that we are not “missionaries”, I say, “Think again.” If we’re baptized, we are missionaries. We may not go more than one mile away from home, but we are missionaries. We are sent to our spouse. We are sent to our children. We are sent to our parents, to our In-laws (Now, that is foreign territory, right?); we have to answer the challenge of new eating patterns (just ask my new daughter-in-law); we find ourselves in new economic situations more often than we would like; we find out that even though we all think that we speak the same language, we often do not understand one another; we think that we have retired from raising children when all of a sudden we have a houseful of our children’s children, etc., etc.
We are SENT by God to everyone with whom we come in contact. Everyone around us has the right to reach out to touch the “hem of our garment” in the search for healing and comfort. We are all a piece of God in flesh and blood. We are all required to walk side by side with Jesus, all the way from the Manger to the Cross.
The Manger is just around the corner. It is time for us to renew our commitment to the God who created us in His image and likeness. It is time to renew our conviction that His image and likeness includes the creating and sanctifying Word that is about to come again. We missionaries are procreators in and through God’s Love, God’s Word and God’s Loving Spirit, now and forever.

Like Jesus therefore,
Let’s carry the wood of our own holocaust bravely, every moment; Lie down upon the altar of sacrifice; Never lose sight of Jesus who is just a few steps ahead of us showing us how it is done; Keep our sense of love and let the zeal of His house consume us.
After we’ve done that, there won’t be a tear shed at anyone’s funeral, especially not mine!


Thursday, November 30, 2006


The other day, someone asked this question:

"What is the Church's position on Email Chain Letters?"

Cicero drew this distinction between superstition and religion: "Superstitio est in qua timor inanis deorum, religio quæ deorum cultu pio continetur", i.e.
"Superstition is the baseless fear of the gods, religion the pious worship."

I want to start with that distinction in response to the question. Cicero is not known for his religious beliefs, so I find it important that someone as secular as he, writing 2,000 years ago had such a careful insight about this topic. In bringing this to your attention, I have answered the question. The Church's position is that these things are items that fuel superstitious beliefs of people. In the following paragraphs I will clarify why superstition is sinful.

There are four kinds of superstition:
1. Improper worship of the true God
2. Idolatry
3. Divination
4. Vain practices which include magic, occult arts and daily popular practices to influence life

The chief source of superstition is pointed out in Scripture thusly: "All men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen, could not understand him that is, neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman: but have imagined either the fire, or the wind, or the swift air, or the circle of the stars, or the great water, or the sun and moon, to be the gods that rule the world" (Wisdom 13:1-2).
Superstition is therefore a sin against the first commandment, "You shall have no Gods except me." (Exodus, Chapter 20, verse 3)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it this way:
"Superstition is the deviation of religious feeling and of the practices this feeling imposes. It can even affect the worship we offer the true God, e.g., when a person attributes an importance in some way magical to certain practices otherwise lawful or necessary. To attribute the efficacy of prayers or of sacramental signs to their mere external performance, apart from the interior dispositions that they demand, is to fall into superstition." (Paragraph number 2111)

Chain letters, either through United States Postal Service or Email fall into the category of vain practices which humans perform in order to influence their personal lives and those of others. They are vain because the true supporter of our lives is the one, true God, Creator, Savior and Sanctifier who fills us with Faith, Love and Hope every instant of our existence. To turn our backs on these gifts of Faith, Love and Hope and not use them to adore and worship and return the love that is given by the Giver, is sinful.
To put more faith in the turn of a card than in God, is sinful.
To put more faith in the forwarding of a letter than in God is sinful.
To put more faith in the path of a black cat than in God is sinful.
Do you want me to go on ? Not really. I know you get the point.
Oh, Boy!!! If that stuff is all sinful, how does anyone get to heaven? Come on, now. Everyone believes that Friday the 13 is bad luck. Nobody walks under a ladder. Everybody knocks on wood, etc.
Sinful? No way.

Lighten up, folks. I didn't say how sinful, did I? And I did say that it is sinful if we put more faith in the behavior than in God it is sinful, right? Some of our vain practices are so much a part of us and our culture that they practically become second nature. Well, now that you know and now that your conscience has been tickled, you have to start changing your second nature from "knocking on wood" to saying, "OK God, be God". Also, please remember that whatever is objectively sinful is not always subjectively sinful.
I want to remind you of the three elements required for an act to be subjectively sinful. a) full knowledge of the evil of the act; b) full deliberation; and c) full consent.

I am also saying that in the case of the email chain, we have a chance to think about what we are doing. We are tempted to do it just to be sure. Now, that's only us. What about those to whom we forward the email? They will be tempted too. Now we don't have the right to tempt them, do we?
Imagine, we pray every day, "Our Father .... lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil..." and there we go leading someone into a temptation to believe more in spreading an email than in trusting in God. OOOoooopppppsssss!

Wow! That first commandment is tougher than we think. We ought to think to be tougher on ourselves than we usually are.

So I have answered the question. I have given you some scripture and some catechism and you now know the Church's position about this stuff. If you are still curious about numbers 1, 2 and 3 from above, keep going. I put them at the end in case you ran out of time and got bored with my long winded answer.
1. I'll bet some of you are saying to yourselves, "How could you improperly worship the true God?"Let me tell you, it happens all the time. You perhaps do it yourself without knowing it. Some of our religious practices are so deeply engrained in us that we don't realize what we are doing. This simply means that we don't know the worship value of our actions, but we do them anyway, just because. Let me give you some concrete examples:
Putting more faith in the "secrets" that have come out of certain apparitions than in the true expression of worship through well defined liturgy, is superstition.
Having more faith in keeping a jug of holy water in the house than in pious family worship of God in the spirit of the Church is superstition. To live in fear that if the jug goes dry a sin would be committed and bad would befall the family is superstition.
To force a young adult to go through the motions of preparing and receiving a sacrament because something bad could happen to that person if the sacrament were not received is superstition.
Going to Mass on the day that Father So-and-So is scheduled to say the Mass because it is more certain that good things will happen if he is the one presiding at Mass is having more faith in father So-and-So than in the Sacred Sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the Mass and is superstition.
Stop laughing.
I have witnessed that and I still know of some who believe that way. In fact I know people who think that Latin Masses are holier than English Masses and that those who go to them will be blessed more. That, my friends is superstition.

2. I really don't have to tell you about idolatry. We all know that it is wrong. We all know that it is worshipping and adoring golden statues, totem poles and the likes of that. We don't do that, so we are safe there. Really now? What about the ashes of your cremated dog that you still have on the mantle piece, for good luck and the peace of mind that it gives you to have Ol' Buster's spirit around? That is superstition. It is putting more faith in a thing than in the true God. I went overboard and used your dog's ashes for the example, but I suggest that you think twice about your father's ashes about which you have the same feelings. So you see, we do have to guard ourselves against idolatry too.

3. Divination is something that we are all tempted to try every now and then. We have all had our fling with the Tarot Cards, the Ouija Board, the Palm Reader and the Crystal Ball. Every time we do that we forget the wonderfully comforting words of Jesus, "Notice how the flowers grow. They do not toil or spin. But I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass in the field that grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will He not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?" (Luke 12:27-28).
I encourage you to read Matthew Chapter 6, verses 25 to 34 as well as Luke Chapter 12, verses 22 to 32.

So now you know what the Church's position about chain letters is. One of these days I am going to die, just like everyone else. Before that happens, I am going to send everyone an email with my picture on it and you will have to forward it to five other people. It will be an invitation to my funeral. The penalty for not doing that will be one year in purgatory and not one single person will cry at your funeral.

If you delete it and come to my funeral with dry eyes and a big sunshiny smile, you will be forgiven and everyone at your funeral will cry and you will go straight to heaven because they will have washed your soul clean with the tears that I forbade you all from shedding at my funeral.

God bless you all. Do not forward this!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Nativity Story

"The Nativity Story"

By Paul Dion, STL

I was invited to the "sneak preview" of the new film, "the Nativity Story." This film is scheduled for general release on December 1, 2006. It is the only major Hollywood film that has ever been premiered in Vatican City before the pope. I had missed at least two other invitations, so I decided to not renege on this one.

I decided to go despite the fact that I make it a point not to attend films that follow a book that I have already read. I also make it a point not to waste my time going to films that that are made from Bible stories. Even though these two statements may seem to be logically connected, and they are, I have to say that there are different reasons why I refrain from going to Bible story films than those that keep me away from films that come from books that I have read.

For example, I read Puzo's book, "The Godfather". I knew what I knew about the book and about what Puzo wanted to say. I did not need my thoughts to be embellished by the director of the film. I read "The Last Temptation of Christ" by Nikos Kazantzakis. I assure you that I had absolutely no temptation to see Martin Scorsese's interpretation of that book. Nikos is a Greek lover of Jesus and Martin is an Italian lover. HHHmmmm, maybe I should go see that one. I will not go see the "Da Vinci Code." I read the book. I have my opinion of what Dan Brown's intellectual, artistic, linguistic and religious abilities are. No thank you.

I have some similar reasons for not going to bible story films. But the bottom line here is that a film is too flat. It only has two directions, what you see and what you hear, NOW. It doesn't reach into Moses' back pocket to see what the Biblical Author wants you to know about the Messiah. It doesn't see behind Mary's eyes to tell you what she may or may not know about how the Messiah was to come. It doesn't illuminate the spiritual convictions that Zachariah had about the miracle of Elizabeth giving birth to a son in her advanced age. I know that he could have been thinking about Sarah, Hannah and a couple others, but the Bible story film doesn't clarify these things. Bible story films are altogether too fundamentalist for me. Not because of the convictions of the director, but because of the medium itself.

So go ahead, ask yourself, why did I go to see "The Nativity Story?"

Three easy answers: My wife wanted to go. It was free. I wanted to tell you all about it.

I'm going to make this simple. I am not a film critic. I had a fine amateur career on the boards, but not in front of a beady-eyed camera. So be brave, forge ahead and see what I have in store for you.

What I liked:
It was short. Ninety minutes.
It was true to life in showing how children learned the tenets of their religion as they grew up in a Jewish community.
St. Joseph was a nice, ripe young gentleman.
The actors and actresses were really realistic images of small village, peasant folk.
The non-biblical conjectures were realistically portrayed. The actions of the Roman Soldiers; the reaction of the villagers to the pregnancy of Mary; the reaction of Joseph to the same phenomenon were all rather close to what you could expect from small village folk.
The desire of Mary to go to Elizabeth, her aunt is well portrayed.
The predominant language is English.
The Roman Soldiers speak English to the villagers and sometimes the background chatter is in Aramaic. This shows a distance between the Roman occupying soldiers and the natives.
What is in the Bible is in the movie. What is conjecture is artistically attractive and close to what you could normally expect.
The humor was well timed and high class.
The photography of the desert is the same as it always is in Mideast settings, it is always awesome.

What I didn't like:
The Magi looked like they were imported from a "b" movie. Very contrived. It just proved that what is parable doesn't translate into multi-dimensional communication and belief.
Ditto for the gathering of the shepherds at the manger.
Ditto for the plastic pose of Joseph and Mary in the manger at the simultaneous gathering of shepherds and Magi.
The intervention(s) of the angel Gabriel are not as good as they could have been portrayed given today's technology. I would have preferred some sequence with "Star Trek" beam transporter, light shower effect over what the director presented in this movie.
The portrayal of the birth of Jesus with the help of Joseph was tasteful but not according to Catholic Tradition. Catholic tradition holds that Mary conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit and that she remained a virgin even after the earthly appearance of Jesus through divine intervention. There is a theological discussion about this in certain circles and the screenwriter asserts in the glossy propaganda that was handed out, "We got the script into the hands of as many historians and theologians as possible. They have all helped elevate the authentic feel of this film. Not only visually, but from a standpoint of culture and tradition." (Mike Rich) I think that if this film was meant to be more Catholic than not, they missed the boat on this one.
The lack of connection between Jesus and the covenants between God and the Patriarchs. All we see is the preoccupation of Herod with Jeremiah's prophecy that there will be a new king.
The writer missed a golden opportunity to remind everyone of the peregrinations of Abraham, the father of our faith and Mary, and Joseph and the newborn child.
Maybe I'm getting old and deaf, but the conversational sound was difficult to appreciate because it was too low.
The credits show the name of the donkey, "Gilda" but they omit the name of the child who was used to portray the newborn Jesus. Maybe "Gilda" paid her union dues and the baby, or his(her?) parents are scabs.

If you're like me and you don't attend movies that are based on a book that you've already read, I don't think that you're going to get your money's worth from this one. If you have spent a serious amount of time meditating on the mystery of Salvation History in the pages of Sacred Scripture, you don't have to see this film. If you have spent a lot of time meditating the mystery of the Incarnation as it is to be found in the Bible, you don't have to see this film.

If you have children and you want to have a quiet night out together, you'll get something out of this presentation. It can serve as a good Catechism lesson.

If you have spent your money to go see "The Da Vinci Code" then you have to go to "The Nativity Story" as your penance to prepare for a Holy Christmas Season.

There are those of you who will go because you think I'm too grouchy, strict and pessimistic and you want to compare your judgment against mine. OK, go. But if I'm right, you get to drop the cost of your ticket in the Christmas collection basket (Double jeopardy). If I'm wrong, celebrate your happiness by contributing a nice fresh poinsettia to your church for altar decoration.

Either way, you'll be thinking of me, and I can use all the prayerful thoughts I can get, both from those who are celebrating and those who are repenting.

Now, how can you cry at the funeral of a guy with an attitude like that?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Some ignorant soul wished me a happy "turkey day" this morning. I simply answered him that I do not have a "turkey day" in my life. I am from Massachusetts and I am a Catholic Christian. I resent that downgrade of THANKSGIVING DAY to "turkey day". What's next, "Cows, Sheep and Asses Day" for Christmas, or is it "Xmas", or the "Holidays"?

The people who came here from Europe to Massachusetts and landed in 1620 were here because they had taken their lives into their own hands and crossed the Atlantic Ocean to escape religious persecution.

How many of you "turkey day" people have had to escape religious persecution in your lifetime? How many of you people have experienced a change of environment so drastic and succeeded in "making it" to the level of the Pilgrims? How many of you "Christians" can appreciate the victory over hardship that these new people were celebrating in a religious way? Have you ever spent any time on or over the water without a motor? Without four jet engines? Have you ever been anywhere where you had to settle and grow your own food where you knew not the chemistry of the soil nor the language of the inhabitants? Have you ever had to settle down where there was absolutely no one in sight who had the same basic religious culture than you?

There is so much human culture (including pre-historic culture) attached to harvest time rituals, there is so much Biblical reference to rendering thanks to God at harvest time that I bristle at the insult that has crept into our Stateside culture and made Thanksgiving "turkey day." Thanksgiving Day is the last vestige of our religious beginnings. I can't recall exactly how many of the first 13
colonies were theocracies, but I do know Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. Maryland was Catholic, but I'll bet they didn't have any "turkey day".

Finally, I would never have written this if the person who set me off wasn't a seminarian, a Roman Catholic seminarian who thought that he was being congenial and smart.

If by this short exposé of my deep convictions about this matter I have dumped your tea over-board, you won't be tempted to cry at my funeral. If you agree with me, go do something about it. Tell people that you do not have a "turkey day" in your life. Either way, you will not shed a single tear for me at my funeral. Don't forget to thank God for all that He has given you, not just today, but every single day. Say "thank you, God" before the first blink after opening your eyes in the morning.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Even the Vatican likes me

By Paul Dion, STL

Remember my first message, and my titular reminder about not crying at my funeral. Well now, the chaplain of the Papal household has given a wonderful meditation about the "Last days, the end of the world." It is so wonderful that I want you all to taste it.

Before you go there, let me tell you what happened in our parish last week.

There was a man, one who had evidently had a stroke in the past who was always in church, morning noon and night. He appeared to be a vagrant, knapsack and all, but didn't act like one. You know, he was not the stereotypical vagrant. He moved about with a purpose. Actually, most of us are convinced that his purpose was to spend as much time with God as he could. He smiled and waved at everyone.

I never spoke to him and he never spoke to me. Not his fault, I was never near enough to him to make verbal contact. In fact, I never made the effort to talk to him. My bad. I never even got to know his name, until last week. Imagine, nearly three years of "lurking" on the fringes of this saint's life and never even getting to know his name. I'm pretty sure that "God's gonna get me for that." (Loretta Lynn)

Yes, friends, Richard Ortiz's world came to an end last Wednesday. You know what? I haven't seen a wet eye in the house. Not because we were anonymous to this young man (He couldn't have been more than 60), he certainly was not anonymous to most regular church goers, but because we all know that he is now in that part of the Kingdom where he can really help us, if he ever finds time to tear himself away from enjoying the vision of God face to face, we are actually happy. This is a real life experience that we here at St. Christopher Parish in Moreno Valley, California are faced with. This what Father Cantalamessa, the Pope's chaplain is talking about here.

Take care of yourselves. Do not chase false prophets. (The 666 fundamentalists, for instance) Keep yourselves close to God and you too will not need anyone to cry at your funeral. It is the biggest compliment in the world. I don't think that you can come up with a bigger one.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Death Penalty? Not on my Watch!

By Paul Dion, STL

"Saddam Hussein - Vatican Asserts that Capital Punishment is not proper." This article was headlined in ParishWorld this past week.

I can't stand it when I am told in absolute terms that the Catholic Church is against the death penalty. When are people going to start reading # 2267 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church?
The Church still recognizes that there are times when capital punishment could be called for to protect the welfare of the community. Read it, and don't forget it.

# 2267 from the Catechism of the Catholic Church

"Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.

If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person.

Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm—without definitively taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself—the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity "are very rare, if not practically non-existent.""

Reading this carefully and thoughtfully, it becomes clear tht the Catholic church strongly prefers non-lethal methods of punishment. The words of the first paragraph are strong guides to the mind of the Church.

1. The competent authority has to be sure of the identity of the person before it.
2. The same authority has to have proof that it has the right person, the person responsible for the act.
3. The traditional teaching of the Church "does not exclude" "recourse" to the death penalty.
4. "...if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor."

The wording of this statement is important. One of the ideas that is key here is to remember that "not being against" something is not necessarily "being for" something. This is the position of the Church, "it does not exclude recourse to the death penalty", but it would like to see it abolished around the world.

Note that the word "recourse" means that you "resort" to the death penalty if there is no other way around it.

The meanings that I propose here are further sustained by the other two paragraphs of the statement.

The church says that non-lethal punishment is "more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity with the dignity of the human person."

The condition of the common good is that the community has the means to redeem the perpetrator. The dignity of the human person is that there is always an outlet for the spirit of the person to assert itself for the good and the comfort of others, even in jail. The Church urges the world to keep those principles in mind.

In this day and age when the possibility of locking the door and throwing the key away is very real, it is nearly always possible to resort to a non-lethal solution to punish the criminal, thereby leaving the door to redemption open.

So when I say that the Church is not AGAINST capital punishment, I say that she recognizes that there is still a possibility that it might be the one solution that would work. When I say that the Church is not AGAINST capital punishment, in the same breath I can honestly say that the Church is not FOR capital punishment.


Until about 6 or 7 years ago I was a pure, right-wing, hell-bent-for-leather capital punishment guy. Being of French descent, I was a big fan of the Guillotine.

Then, something happened. I became aware of a volunteer group in the U. S. that dedicates itself to investigating the cases of people on death row to see if they really "did it." I found out that in five years they had been instrumental in getting six "criminals" exonerated.

That was an eye-opener. Later, of course, along came DNA and more and more "criminals" were exonerated. It was like the epiphany that some of us had after the meatless Friday was shelved.
We asked ourselves, "What is Beelzebub going to do with all those people who ate meat on Friday?" So I went to the books. ( I didn't have Google then.)

I found out that the French had abolished the death penalty in 1981. Now I was hooked. Now I knew why the Foreign Legion was so important to France. Keep 'em alive but send them to defend the frontier in Africa.

What a brilliant strategy. Why don't we do that here? Why didn't we send these guys to carry out our dirty work? We wouldn't have to train them to kill, would we? And they would still be alive.

My path also took me to the Theology books. Ah, moral Theology. What a maze of conundrums! But seriously, there was no turning back for me. I was dead set against the death penalty. Everyone knows that there is no more rabid missionary than a convert.

Then I made the mistake of reading Genesis again. It wasn't because of my death penalty conversion. I just wanted God to talk to me from 3,000 years back. So four pages into the book I hear God telling Cain, "you shall be a fugitive and a wanderer over the earth."

I close the book and for a good hour I let the light shine. That's why we don't need capital punishment. All we need is the wisdom and the power to give these people something else to do. God, why do you do this to me?

So, I am now on God's side.

THE CHURCH POSITION (According to Paul Dion)

The Catholic Church's moral conscience is militating against the death penalty for the following reasons.

Church driven righteousness:
I'm a God fearing follower of Christ and a member of the holiest Church on earth. You have committed a heinous sin, in fact one that "cries out to God" (Gen. 4:10). You have to die in exchange for the life that you took. It is written, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth", (Exodus 21:23-27).
When it comes to murder, we Catholics love the Old Testament and we forget that Jesus taught a relationship with God based on love and forgiveness. The Church's moral conscience has been and continues to be formed by the life, passion and death of Jesus.

Slippery slope of revenge:
Listen to the victims as they pass in front of the television cameras. "He deserves to die." "Yes, we are going to request the death penalty for this heinous crime." "He died tonight. I don't have my child back, but he got what he deserved." How Christian of you! Didn't I see you carrying a "pro-Life" placard in last month's demonstration against John Kerry?"

I am convinced, and my conviction becomes deeper and deeper that this is nothing but "revenge homicide by state" akin to "suicide by cop." If you ask me, and you won't have to, I'll tell you that a heart full of revenge is guilty of the corporate sin of "unnecessary homicide by state". I'd hate to have to try to check into the Pearly Gates with that on my ticket.

Denial of the spiritual right of redemption through atonement:
"Well, we got rid of that guy. Didn't we?" Yeah, but he's had 15 years to think about it. Did you ever think that he might be St. Peter's Red Cap at the Pearly Gates? Did you ever think that he might be your next door neighbor in Purgatory? Or maybe you won't get a chance to meet him because you're carrying around an unrepentant heart about his actions. Maybe St. Peter is asking you why you were soooo keen about robbing this soul of the right to redeem himself with state usurpation of his right to live?

Consistency of the preservation of life:
See above. If you carry an anti-abortion placard, you should be carrying an anti-capital punishment placard -- at least in your conscience.

Fight against the cheapening of human life:
The concept of being able to substitute one life for another is repugnant. Every LIFE IS PRICELESS. Every life is eternal. Every life is part human and part divine. Life should not be quantified in flesh and blood. It should be valued because it comes from the Divine Creator, and is therefore irreplaceable.

Hey, the Church is about MERCY:
Have you read the Gospel lately? There is always a strong rudder in the Church steering toward mercy. Jesus keeps forgiving people. He keeps resuscitating people. He rescues adulterers from the death penalty. He dies on the cross, but doesn't take revenge on anyone directly or indirectly involved. All he asks of Peter is to confess his love for Him. Tell me, now, don't you think that Jesus knew all about Cain?
There is a movement in the Catholic Church that seeks the abolishment of the death penalty and an official statement from the Church that she is indeed against capital punishment, 100%.


This whole story and the surrounding comments starts and ends with Saddam Hussein. "Vatican Asserts that Capital Punishment is not proper." OK, I agree.

Hey, wait. What about his millions in the bank? What about his wide-ranging human contacts in the world? Who will he be able to see? With whom will he be allowed to talk? In what country will he be incarcerated? Will he have TV? What about a radio? A cell phone maybe? A computer? Would someone smuggle a Blackberry into him? Isn't it possible that somehow he could finagle a way to make contact with his "guys"? What about one of his wives? If he's not in Iraq, will they be able to get passports?

Goodness, gracious me, this is going to be tough. Where are we going to put this guy? Maybe Benedict XVI has a contact somewhere near the top of Kilamanjaro where we could lock him up in his T-shirt and skivvies.

These are tough questions.

Remember, the core of the teaching about the preservation of life is that the community will not be in jeopardy. In this case, the community is rather broad, wouldn't you say? So what would you do, short of hanging him by the neck?

Maybe we could ship him to the North Pole and hang him by the feet, for 25 minutes, once per month, while his jailers eat his portion of whale and seal blubber with a special treat of imported high quality Kentucky Rye Whiskey (fights the cholesterol, you know). The rest of the time he would be locked up in a palatial igloo that served as the regional assay office. His cell would look out over the assayer's work area so that Saddam would have to see all that panned gold get weighed and valued as he awaited his entry into Allah's ante room. (Any virgins here?)

See, non-lethal sentences can be pretty tough too.

If I have given you some idea of what the Church's teachings on this matter are, and you agree, remember that the price I require for these teachings is that you dare not cry at my funeral.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Quare quaerunt misam Tridentinam ?

Epistola Aperta Quibus Misam in Lingua Latina Quaerunt

Quia linguam latinam in misa auscultare volunt scilicet comprendere non possunt? Questio ista egometipsum quaero saepissime. Apparet tantum "oxymoron" similiter. Oppositum quod oratio videor debet esse. Deforis traditio Populi Electi Dei qui semper in ligua franca, vulga adintegrantes Templi orabant et discebant. In veritate, quando principes Templi viderunt quod multi gentes Hebraici deforis vivebant, committerunt translationem Sacrae Scripturae in linguam Ellenisticam. Isto modo, ergo, verbum Dei adherentibus Templi rediverunt . Ista translatio Septuagint nominatur. Premagnum periodum in historia Populi Electi fuit. Si
verbum Dei auscultare in sancta Misa in modo plenae comprehensionis desideramus, in lingua vulgata auscultare debemus.

Ut dixit Sanctus Paulus, "ergo fides ex auditu auditus autem per verbum Christi." (Rom. x:xvii)
Patres Ecclesiae enim, per temporem Concilii Vaticani II Bibliam nobis rediverunt. Nequeunt Bibliam nobis in Lingua Latina reddere, sed in lingua quae cervellibus cordibusque loquor. Illi inter vobis qui Misa Tridentina in lingua latina esperunt, videre si orare de profundis animarum vestrarum in lingua latina potestis.

Auguro vobis, gratia Domini sit semper vobiscum.

Mementote omnes, nequit funere meo flere.

Friday, November 3, 2006

November is dedicated to ...

In November Catholics remember that...

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God,and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But,they are in peace.
For if before humans, indeed, they be punished,yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect.
Book of Wisdom 3:1-9

You know that I have to tell you this. You know that I don't want any crying at my funeral. Now you know why. We don't die. Our sacrificial offering is finally consumed and God takes us to himself. Some of us get it done more quickly than others. That is because some of us live so intensely in God's presence that the fire of His love completes the holocaust earlier than in others. Some of us innocents suffer for such a long time that we are tempted to feel that we have been destroyed before our time. We need to run back to the line, "...their hope is full of immortality." In that hope, we intercede for our loved ones and God accepts our prayers for them and excuses their folly for thinking that our suffering is a punishment from God. Our Hope in God hones itself with every passing day that we give to Him, in joy and in pain. It is in this continuing sacrificial offering that we bring Him into our world and that of our friends and relatives.
There is a beautiful line in the book of Genesis about one of God's favorite people, Enoch by name. This wonderful, god-fearing man had lived for well nigh to "...three hundred and sixty-five years. Then he walked with God and he was no longer here because God took him." (Gen. 5:24) Hey, when God comes and takes me by the hand, put your handkerchiefs away, friends, I'm dancing all the way to the pearly gates.
November seems to be a great time to contemplate death. It is the drabbest month of the year. Dry, dormant trees, no leaves rustling in the wind, weather that knows not whether to be dry or wet, days getting noticeably shorter and shorter and the harvest is over and the gleaners take over to see what they can make of the slim pickings. It is also the time when here in America the poetry and grace of baseball have passed away for another year and we are battered by the violence of American football.
November is also a great time to contemplate the prayerful line, "...their hope is full of immortality." It is only in the hearts and minds of the foolish that this is death. We know that this is the time of invitation. We know that this is the sacrificial offering that we send up to God in the hope and faith that He will not hesitate to invite us to walk with Him and take our hand. We know that this is the time to invest in hope. We know that if our time hasn't come to walk with Him into the Eternal Mansion, we will be well accommodated in the Servants' Quarters of His Mission here below. He knows that there is plenty of work for us to do.
We live in strange times. We live in times when science confuses us with the promise of seven decades of life or seven weeks of life, depending on who makes the decision, God or Human. We live in times when science promises us weapons to battle the laws of nature that in earlier times would deliver us into the bosom of Father Abraham while at the same time treating the seeds of those laws as though they hold no intrinsic promise of their own. We throw away human embryos as carelessly as we throw away the unplanted seed from last year's corn crop. We spend millions training seeing-eye dogs rather than spending to train seeing-eye people to accompany the blind. At least one person can tell the other a joke every now and then. That would seem to be preferable to being accompanied by an animal. But more immoral that all of the above is the abandonment of old people, mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and everyone in between. The way I hear God talking to us, we are being told that suffering belongs to all of us. Those who suffer are engaged in the mission of passing on hope to those of us who are suffering less acutely than those who are really afflicted. When the old and infirm walk with God and He takes them, we are left with the investment that they made in God for us through their sacrificial offering. We do not have the right to squander it. We also do not have the right to hide from it in the first place. We have to confront the obligations of our own sacrificial offering for the sake of others. The great sin of our times is that too many of us run away from that obligation when we abandon the very creatures who are sent to deliver the grace of that engagement. By hiding from death and suffering, we are sinning against our duty to pass on the "...everlasting hope full of immortality" that God has given us.
Think of it this way, where would we be if Jesus had been afraid of blood? Where would we be if He had hidden from death? If He had not made his ultimate sacrificial offering, we would not have His life-giving flesh to eat nor His blood to drink to keep us strong for our own personal way of the cross. It is for a very good reason that Catholics keep Jesus on the Cross in their churches and in their houses. It is because we believe in the message that we are given by the very old saints of nearly three thousand years ago, human suffering and death in the presence of God is not punishment of the sufferer, it is for the salvation of those for whom the suffering is offered. Yaweh tells Job's friends, "Offer a holocaust for yourselves and let Job pray for you. I will accept his prayer and excuse your folly..." (Job, 42; 8) Jesus tells us, "Whoever loves his life, loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life." (John, 12;25) There it is again, "...our hope is full of immortality."
The Catholic crucifix is the ultimate reminder of our obligation to be disciples of Christ, Jesus. As His disciples we are like Job and we are like Jesus, we have to lift up our sacrificial offering to God not only for our salvation, but as an intercessory prayer for the saints around us. God is listening for our prayer. He is listening to hear us asking Him to forgive us our folly and to forgive our friends their folly.
If we take some of these thoughts to heart, when the "time of our visitation comes, we will shine,and shall dart about as sparks through stubble..." We will have arrived! Now tell me, why would any true believer cry at a funeral after that? I hope that all of us believe this so deeply that we will never be tempted to cry at one another's funeral.
Amen. Alleluia!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

I never thought it would happen, but...

Fraternal love
Paternal love
Conjugal love,
1. Romantic love.
Long hours on the telephone. Addictive behavior, like shirking responsibilities and making lame excuses for missing deadlines; slipping out of the house to buy the third bottle of hair glue in week; celebrating your thirtieth day of being together; avoiding asserting your opinion at all costs; running your credit card over the limit; making endless promises to yourself that this is stupid and that you'll never do it least not for the next five minutes! Since this is a family section of a church magazine, I will not push the memories too much farther.

I was sitting there on the couch today thinking about a lot of the things that I did during my period of romantic love. I was even thinking about the things that she did during that period. At least it seems that we did them. If we didn't do them, why do I remember them? Furthermore, how could we have done them since we were both on the slippery slope leading us out of our thirties. It's absolutely amazing how we got through it. How did we get through all the promises to think it over carefully, to not do anything stupid, to pray on it every moment of every day, to consult with friends and family, and on and on, and on... What I was thinking about today was that we've broken through the other side and Romantic Love is now a by-product of something that doesn't get much press as being love at all, Faithful Understanding.

2. Faithful Understanding.
Long hours together in silence. Telephone bills that don't surpass the minimum charge of keeping the apparatus. Addictive behavior like never making the bed alone in the morning; preparing soft boiled eggs every Wednesday; checking behind one another to make sure the stove is turned off before leaving the house; ditto for the faucets; having passwords on the computer that we both know. We have passwords because the computer asks for them, so we have to be kind to the computer. Don't we? She cooks, I wash; I drive, she sleeps. She earns, I'm the secretary. She has the elephantine memory for personal foible details; I admire that ability and I observe it and enjoy it in silent admiration. I have to admire her infinite assurance that she can ask for anything, at any time and get it from me. Where does she get that? Is she really unable to figure out that the first trouble shooting action to repair a computer is to shut it off for one minute and turn it back on? Like the light in the refrigerator her memory lights up as I open the door a crack on my way to the market for butter and salt. "Oh don't forget the olive oil, the sardines, the bread, the Tabasco sauce and the air freshener." Where does she get all these definite articles? When I get home I have the butter and the salt, plus the olive oil (Italian, of course), (Extra virgin too, natch), the bread, (French, naturellement), a nice Brie and a bottle of Beaulieu Pinot Noir (to go with the bread and the Brie) and a bottle of Tabasco Sauce (I once worked with a guy who date one of the McIlhenny girls). I dump all of this on the counter when I get home and she says, "you're going to get an attack of the gout with that cheese and wine. I never said to buy bread and of course you forgot the sardines and the air freshener." I say, in smug response dodging the gout prophecy, "There is some more air freshener under the bathroom sink because I bought two the last time." Then, thanking God that I bought time with the air freshener, I come back with, "I didn't forget the sardines. I couldn't remember if you like the ones with the spicy tomato sauce or the mild. I also couldn't quite decide whether to get Norwegian, Portuguese, Greek or New Zealand, large or small. I just gave up and decided that we would have them another time." By this time the laughter in the kitchen is musical and we fall into a loving hug. Hey, I'll take all the loving I can get at this stage of the game.

3. Matrimony
Matrimony is a grace from God. It starts growing when we're young and never stops. When two people are blessed with the same grace at about the same time, then the grace takes root. Like any other God-given gift, it gets better as it grows older. At first the roots are young and vigorous and the soil is rich and fertile. As time goes by the roots take on strength, the soil changes its chemistry and with it the relationship morphs into an ever growing oneness that neither person ever suspected could come to be. Romantic love doesn't grow, it changes into deep interpersonal unity that is stronger than romance. It is faithful understanding and acceptance that the mystery of God's gift is the most beautiful flower that has ever blossomed in our minds and our hearts. It never stops blooming. It never stops producing nectar; it never stops throwing off a sweet odor of grace.

Testosterone and estrogen are not the glue of marriage. God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the atmosphere, the rain and the sunshine that makes the matrimonial grace grow in two receptive souls that stay open to the flow of the spirit between them. The grace of Matrimony is love too. It is the creative love of God that takes on many forms over time. It
is an infinite mystery that cannot be described by mere mortals. I know that becaue I am not a mere mortal and even I can't describe it. I had "prepared" a lot of young couples for marriage, but how do you do that when you're still single?

After it happened to me I was arrogant enough to think that I had this stuff down pat. That was thirty years ago and I still have moments like the one I told you about earlier, "What is going on around here?" The answer, my friends, was not blowing in the wind. It was being planted into me by Our Father the Creator, His Outspoken Son, the Savior and their sweet and mysteriously shadowy Holy Spirit. They told me that LOVE is what was happening. Right there on the couch! Imagine my surprise at that answer! "Ol' What's Her Name Again?" wasn't even there! But I believed, and the grace of Matrimonial Love engulfed me even while my Better Half was out relaxing like most women do, shopping.
She's back. She didn't buy any sardines. Hey, I can handle that. She brought home two pounds of fresh, sashimi-ready salmon. Now answer me this, how can you cry at my funeral knowing that I am married to a God-send like that?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Restitution Required, or else...

Burning Question I bring you a clarification before I present you the Grand Inquisitor's comment.
October 24, 2006

Clarification: We will not use the numbers of the commandments in this response because the order of the commands is different for people who belong to different religious traditions. We will therefore refer to the specific sins by name and thereby avoid confusion. Thank you.

You all know that Catholics believe that sinful acts against God's wishes can be forgiven by participating in the sacrament of Penance. What is essentially required for this sacramental forgiveness is a truthful and complete confession to a priest, a firm resolve to avoid the behavior in the future and atoning reparation Contrition). The reparation can be a good act or several good acts of varying degrees of "difficulty" or proximity of relationship with the sin(s) for which absolution has been granted. There are however sins against three specific commandments that require restitution to effect complete forgiveness.

Burning Question: Name the three commandments.

First, your answers/comments

When Our Lord gave us life, he placed His Love within our hearts, and through Moses and the Ten Commandments he has shown, or commanded us, the manner in which we are to release and share His Love with our brothers and sisters.
The first three of His Ten Commandments are concerned with the way we express our love for Him, and require restitution to effect complete atonement and divine forgiveness.
I am the LORD Your God you shall not have strange God's before me.
You shall not take the name of the Lord Your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the Lord's Day.
The commandments were given to Moses, and then to us, in the order of their importance. Therefore, if we adhere to the first three, we should have no difficulty in loving our neighbor, as prescribed in the remaining seven commandments.
(This answer, unfortunately does not address the question)

Is it the 5th (Thou shalt not kill), 7th (Thou shalt not steal), and 8th (Thou shalt not bear false witness) commandments? In murder, one of course cannot bring the other person back to life, but according to the laws of the state, doing prison time and having a complete remorseful attitude would be in order ( to say the least). As you would forfeit all your freedoms in restitution for the one you have killed. In lying, because we are bound by our conscience to tell the truth, we would have to make restitution by admitting our untruth and vow not to do THAT again, (lying). In stealing, giving back the thing stolen, or paying back all the money or goods stolen and again, having a sincere repentant attitude to not steal again.

If the previous posting is correct, my question is how, exactly can one pay restitution for killing or adultery? Stealing, I figure, would be easy enough to figure out, but it's not like you can un-kill someone, or un-sleep with someone. Where in the New Testiment does it say anything about restitution? I thought that Jesus's words to the woman at the well were, "Go, and sin no more" I don't remember him saying how to un-do the sins she'd already committed. I thought that price he had already paid for us. This kind of Church doctrine contradicts the Gospel, and causes me doubt.

The Grand Inquisitor comments: Biblical background

The Catholic faith relationship with God requires that the balance of justice be maintained. Catholics believe that each human being carries the responsibility to strive to become perfect as Jesus was perfect. To Catholics it is reprehensible (bad) to sin and not submit the sin before the Church community and atone for it by spiritual and physical good acts. One of the chief acts of renewing our relationship with Jesus is the confession of our sins to the Church through the priest, who in the place of Jesus, says, "Go, and sin no more." It is important to note that Catholics believe that Jesus conquered sin once and for all by His Life, Passion, Death and Resurrection. He also left us with the commandment of love, mutual support and clean living as a saint in the Kingdom of God. He knew that we would make mistakes, so He left the disciples whom He set aside for service in the Kingdom with the assurance that "whatever they loosed on earth would be loosed in Heaven and whatever they bound on earth would be bound in heaven." (Matt. 18:18)

What does this mean to us in the discussion about restitution? In the Tradition of the chosen People of God restitution was a very important act. Chapters 21, 22, 23 of Exodus and chapter 4 of Numbers are full of directions and mandates concerning restitution. In fact in those days restitution was to be five-fold the value that had been stolen. The final chapter of Job has a powerful lesson about restitution owed back to God for having subverted His wishes by speaking wrongly about His relationship with Job.

The New Testament is more subtle about restitution, but Jesus does not turn a blind eye to it. In the final comment above there is mention of the woman at the well. The woman at the well in the 4th chapter of John goes to town and comes back and repairs her transgressions of the law by spreading the good news about Jesus. The woman in John's eighth chapter, the one caught in adultery was told, "Go and sin no more." This is a requirement to do two things, make her reputation and the reputation of her partner right again in the temple community, and to bring good and honest behavior into the community. It is also advice to stay repentant because through continued repentance she will return the gift of a clean and renewed soul to God.

The New Testament also has the story of Zaccheus the tax collector. ( Luke 19; 1-9) This man new the religious law. He knew his Torah. He knew that he had to make restitution for his ill-gotten gains. So before dinner with Jesus, he makes the promise to pay back everyone to whom he has caused financial damage four times more than he took. Further, he promises to give half his goods to the poor. Jesus is happy and declares that "salvation has come to this house today."

Human Conscience / Moral Teachings Based on the Commandments

Restitution is not only a part of the moral code of all human beings, it is also a part of the civil code. It is seen most often when it comes time to sentence criminals who have stolen goods or cash. So actually, there isn't much to say here except that unless a person brings the balance of justice back into the community that has been damaged by this illegal and immoral rearrangement of assets, the sin, even though confessed to a priest, will not be forgiven. The lack of restitution is a sign of lack of repentance. An attitude of this nature will not call down the forgiveness of God and the grace of a continued, uninjured personal relationship with Jesus. Restitution is essential for forgiveness of sins against the divine commandment, "Thou shalt not steal."

Malicious defamation and libel are lies that require restitution if the sin is to be forgiven. Every effort must be made to restore the reputation of the person who has been the topic of the damaging lie. These can also be civil crimes and the guilty party will be held to some kind of restitution, even in civil life. Now I know, everyone is going to read it on the Internet that Jane Trappenclog is going to jail because she defamed her next door neighbor Scott Nosretep. That could be considered sufficient reparation civilly, and maybe even spiritually. The point is, it must be a part of the human reparation if Jane wants to continue walking with God.

I've had so many people tell me, "how can you un-kill someone?" I wish I knew how! If I did, do you think I would be sitting here writing this? This is the toughest restitution of them all because the perpetrator doesn't want anyone to know. You just know that Sheamous Shatterdipikous isn't going to go drop a huge wad at the corner funeral parlor during the pre-funeral rosary. He's on the lam and he knows that he can't un-kill the dude that he iced. But, make restitution he must, even if he never goes to jail. The dead man was supporting someone and had children counting on him. Sheamus therefore has to make restitution for the support that he "stole" from them. If he does go to jail, then restitution in kind becomes impossible and the time in the big house becomes a part of the resetting of the balance of justice.

Many of you have made remarks about how to make restitution for adultery. One comment, as you can see above was, "You can't un-sleep" with your partner. Nope. Right again. And you sure don't want to trot down to the house and drop off a few bucks to make it right, now do you? Oh, that would be sweet! Now, let's get serious and look at it another way. Adultery often results in pregnancy. Now you're talking restitution big time. We all know how long it takes for a child to grow out of Mom and Dad's wallet. Believe me, restitution is essential here too. It is not easy, but it is also non-negotiable. Frankly, now, do you want me to include abortion too? In the Catholic church that will get you excommunicated, yes, even you, papa, if you aid and abet the action. Oh, you can get absolution from it, indeed. Plus, believe me, you will be directed to share in the costs of the action as your penance. This will not be a "three Hail Mary's for the souls in Purgatory" and you're gone.
Under the same heading I include all the damage that is caused by the molesting of minors. It is not morally correct to go to confession, get the priest's absolution and think that you can walk away from the reality of the trauma. Iste, stercus taurorum est. Without restitution, the lion can't sleep tonight!

Guiding Principle -- Impact on the Community

Remember the Communion of Saints. Everything we do has spiritual repercussions. It is not acceptable to abdicate our spiritual relationship with Jesus to damage the spiritual welfare of our brethren. Occasionally we do get caught up in our selfish gratification behavior. Every time we do, we cause damage to the community. Sometimes it's a "ding" and sometimes it is a "CLANG". We have to remember that when the angels all us to the judgment, sitting on the clouds at the right and the left of the Judge, trumpets blaring, the unrepaired behavior is going to the there for all to see. Especially HIM! Yikes! We do nothing alone. We touch the community with our soul every moment. Every moment someone in the community is praying for us. We are occupying someone's spiritual space all the time. We too, carry souls in our spiritual being all the time. When we trip and fall and damage something, we have to repair it. The least we can do it to embrace the spirit of thoe we carry in our prayer life and in our accompaniment of Jesus. When we renew this relationship with Him and them, we are whole again. Even small acts of repentance and atonement are restitution of some kind.

The welfare of the community is of utmost importance in judging what is good and proper spiritual behavior. When the spiritual harmony of the community is damaged, even a slight bit by our bad behavior, we owe it to the communion of saints and to the savior of us all to have enough courage to fix it.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


By Paul Dion STL

So you say, "I went to Catholic school from elementary through high school. I know all I need to know."

OK. Get at least 18 correct answers out of the next 36 questions and I will (perhaps) agree. Click here to view the correct answers.

1. A man must be at least 35 years old to be eligible to be elected Pope. Yes___ No____
2. The Pope must be a Bishop. ____Yes No____
3. The marriage of two non-baptized people before a judge is valid. ___Yes No____
3a. The marriage of two baptized, non-Catholic people before a judge is valid. ____Yes ____No
4. Confirmation under duress is a valid sacrament.____Yes ____No____
5. God talks to us exclusively through the Bible. ____Yes ____No
6. First communion is necessary to be eligible for marriage by Church___Yes ____No
7. The Catechism of the Catholic church teaches Caholic Doctrie Infallibly.____Yes ____No
8. The Church is an object of Faith. ____Yes ____No
9. The greatest commandment is "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. " ___Yes ___No
10. We have been baptized in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ ___Yes___No
11. Baptism may only be conferred by a priest____Yes ____No
12. I must receive communion on my tongue and kneeling down____Yes ____No
13. People who commit suicide may not be granted a church funeral nor burial in blessed gound_____Yes ____No
14. Vatican II was a worldwide meeting of bishops meant to "open the Church's windows of spiritual understanding" to the modern world_____Yes_____No
15. Catholics must refrain from eating solid food at least 60 minutes before receiving communion at the Mass they will attend that day ____Yes ____No
16. Catholics must present themselves to the participation of the sacrament of HOLY communion at least one time per year, preferably during the Easter season____Yes _____No
17. All people are called to salvation ____Yes ____No
18. Jesus is true God and True Man ____Yes ____No
19. It is strictly forbidden for lay people to touch the Host from the Altar____Yes ___No
20. Any priest can hear confessions and give absolution to anyone, at any time, anywhere in the world ____Yes ____No
21. The ten commandments can be found in the Old Testament_____Yes _____No
22. We Catholics adore Mary _____Yes ____No
23. We Catholics pray to pictures and statues ____Yes _____No
24. All seven sacraments are equally important for our eternal salvation ____Yes ____No
25. The sacrament of Baptism is required before any other sacrament can be received ____Yes ____No
26. Catholics believe that all people who die must suffer first in purgatory before going to heaven ____Yes ____No
27. Catholics believe that homicide is always a mortal sin ____Yes ____No
28. Sins against the seventh commandment are not fully forgiven until after restitution is made ____Yes ____No
29. All people are called by God to strive for moral perfection during the course of their earthly lives. ____Yes ____No
30. It is a sin to believe in the theory of evolution ____Yes ____No
31. If you are not Catholic, you cannot be admitted to heaven ____Yes ____No
32. The pope is infallible in everything that he puts on paper ____Yes ____No
33. The Communion of Saints includes the angels ____Yes ____No
34. There are three Theological Virtues, Faith, Hope and Charity and four cardinal virtues, Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude ____Yes ____No
35. Jesus is the fullness of God's revelation to us. We therefore will no longer receive any further essential Revelation ____Yes ____No

Go ahead. Give these questions a try. It is a very good refresher course on our Catholic faith and beliefs.

When you are done, you can click here to view the correct answers.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

SOLA SCRIPTURA ? Be careful what you ask for, and how you ask for it

By Paul Dion, STL

Be Careful what you ask for, and How you ask for it.

"Next time make the topics less 'Sola Scriptura' (Bible Alone) and more about sin, Virgin Mary, confession, hell, the Eucharist." (Anonymous suggestion from a participant in Mom and Pop Theology session )

Well, dear readers, I finally made it to the Protestant Hall of Fame! I am now a "Sola Scriptura" guy. I never aspired to the title, but somehow it crept up on me, and here I am.

I honestly don't know what it means for a "topic" to be less "Sola Scriptura". This Latin expression is a technical theological term that has nothing to do with catechetical themes.

"Sola Scriptura" is a belief system that has as its fundamental axiom that all things necessary for salvation and concerning faith and life are taught in the Bible clearly enough for the ordinary believer to find it there and understand. This is the basic Protestant belief system.

The Catholic belief system states that elements necessary for salvation and concerning faith are taught in the Bible and through TRADITION with the help of the Church.
It is evident that the petitioner does not appreciate the true technical meaning of the words that make up the suggestion. But there is an indication there of something more sinister going on in the community. I know this because I have heard it in passing during conversations around the church yard. I didn't pay too much attention to it at the time. Now that it has appeared in black and white, clearly in a sense that does not fit its true definition, I feel that it is time for me to throw it back over the fence.

If you say "Sola Scriptura" to accuse a catechist of using the Bible too much in the instruction of our religion, I urge you to read this to the end.

The humorous side to this suggestion is that if the petitioner is asking for topics with less emphasis on Bible references for the teachings about sin and the Virgin Mary mentioned right at the top doesn't accomplish anything of the sort.

If you're looking for sin, the Bible is the perfect place to go! Hey, Adam! Hey, Eve! Hey, Satan! Hey, Cain! Let's go to Sodom and Gomorrha! Let's check out the latest golden calf in the desert on the way out of Egypt! Have you read the story of the ten brothers who sold their other brother into slavery? That's a sin, isn't it? He forgave them though, and several years later saved their lives. Let's go peek through David's fence, maybe Bathsheba will be in her back yard! Oh, did I forget the Samaritan Woman? HHHmmm, there's that tax collector Zaccheus, too, let's throw him in the hopper!

Peter. I know that he has the keys on him, but I still got to say that what he did was a big, big sin. Can we call it the first Apostasy? Peter, how could you? Oh, oh, I forgot all about temptation, that's related to sin too, isn't it. How about Satan making Job's life miserable to test his faith? How about Jesus being tempted in the desert by the same wonderful Leprechaun, Satan? How about the Father putting His Son to the test in the Garden of Gethsemane?

Now, if you have enough of sin, turn to Luke's gospel and check out the great stories about the sweet young maiden called Mary and enjoy yourself. Notice how she grows up, scolds her Son when she finds Him in the Temple (I thought that women weren't supposed to go into the inner precincts of the temple), follow her to Cana and hear her tell Him to help out the groom with the wine shortage and then go to the Cross and listen to her Son tell her to adopt us all as her very own children. I could resist the temptation to tell you that she is the second Eve, but I won't. Just like I could resist the temptation to tell you that Jesus is the second Adam, but I just told you and you can look that up in St. Paul. (Google has it too, for sure)

Heaven and Hell? Matthew 25, ladies and gentlemen. Go check out the description of the last judgment. You might want to look up Jesus telling his disciples that there are many rooms in his Father's house. The mother of John and James asking Jesus to make sure that her sons would be seated one at His right and the other at His left. I have to draw your attention to Martha, you know, Lazarus' sister when she confesses her faith in the resurrection to Jesus. OOOppppssss! I almost forgot the promise made to the good thief as they were on the cross.

The Eucharist? I'll bet you're saying to yourself that I can't find anything in the Old Testament about the Eucharist. Go on, admit it. You're daring me aren't you? You should already have thought of the the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden? How about all the other trees that were there for food and delight? Have you forgotten the manna that was given to our forefathers as they trekked across the desert coming home from Egypt? Jesus even mentions this in St. John's gospel. There are even some of you out there who remember the story of the widow who was able to make bread for one year to support herself, her son and the prophet Elijah. There are mentions in the psalms that Yaweh feeds His people with the finest wheat.

So, fine, I'll take pity on you and come to the New Testament and tell you what you already know, "that unless you eat my body and drink my blood you will not have life everlasting."

Go ahead, make my day. Dare me to teach a 45 hour course on the Eucharist without once opening the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Compendium of Ecumenical Councils. Nope. Not one single anathema would pass my lips. Look at all I've written already and I'll bet you're wondering if I'm looking this stuff up as I go or not. I have not run a single reference while I've been sitting here writing.

Do I know my Bible? You bet. Do I know my TRADITION? You bet.

BTW:Do you know what makes up our Catholic Tradition? Go ahead, answer me without looking it up. (and be honest about it...remember, it's a sin to tell a lie.)

What about Jesus? Where do you suppose He learned His religion? Did He have to go to CCD? What did He use to pray? I'll bet that He was a Bible guy. Look at all those wonderful Bible quotes He uses in the Gospels. Don't you wish you knew your Bible that well? He knew His Prophets, His Psalms, His Torah, for sure. He beat the Devil at the battle of the quotes in the desert, by golly. He was even a Lector, when Lectors had to give a comment about the reading.

You don't believe me? Look it up. It's in the part where He tells His disciples that "no man is a prophet in his home town." Look at us. We should be as sharp as He was. We go to Mass every single Sunday where we hear three readings from the Bible and we can't remember what they were, we don't ask ourselves what the stories mean, we are not curious enough to see how the first reading is related to the third and then we have the blindness to tell one another not to teach our religion from the Bible. Huh? Are we better than Jesus?

What about Jesus [2]? Where do you suppose he learned His religion [2]? I'll bet He heard a lot of stories from His family. After all, His uncle, Zacharias, you know, John the Baptist's father, was a Temple guy who had the right to enter the Holy of Holies. So you know that Jesus was a big Temple guy.

Yes, indeed, He knew His TRADITION. He knew the Rabbi teachings. He knew the beliefs and the faith of the 12 Tribes of Israel. He knew the dietary rituals. He knew how to behave in the Temple. He knew what was considered a grave sin and what was not. He knew the virtues that were expected to be lived out by God-fearing gentlemen. He was not afraid to discuss religious themes and topics with Temple scholars. You know that because that's what He was doing when His mother and father found Him after they lost Him in Jerusalem.

We know for a fact that He believed in the resurrection and life after death which was not necessarly a main stream belief of the Judaism of His time. We know for a fact that He was not bound by the letter of the Torah but was filled with the spirit of its meaning as witnessed by the lives of the prophets and other religious heroes who had come before Him. We know for a fact that His behavior in the spirit of the Law rather than in the letter of It caused Him to suffer a lot of grief. We read a lot of stories in the gospel that show He related more to His (Our) Father through love than through the strict teachings of the Temple People (Rabbis), all the while remaining true to His religious faith.

All of this to say that Jesus was a true Prophet, a true King and a true Priest, in short, a true disciple of His Father's Way. We know all this because it is in the Bible and in the TRADITION.

I am not a "Sola Scriptura" Protestant. I am a Bible lover. I am a firm believer in Judeo-Christian TRADITION.

I have had opportunities to defect to other religions. I turned them all down without batting an eye. Because I am Catholic, my belief system tells me that Sacred Scripture and TRADITION lived in the footsteps of Jesus Christ in His Church is the truest and safest way to eternal salvation.

When I teach I know that my sources are 1, the Bible; 2, TRADITION as they are accepted and elucidated by the official teachers of the Church. I am strict and unwavering in my faith, even though you may not think so. I feel that I am in good company because many Temple people and garden variety Jews did not think that Jesus was a very faithful believer either.

I also feel that I am in good company because like Jesus, I have no secrets about my beliefs. The only secrets I have are His Mysteries, not mine, nor yours. Like Jesus, I know the sources of my relationship with His Father, Him and the Holy Spirit. Unlike Jesus, I am stained by sin, original, actual and personal. I'm working on it. Not the sin, the virtue.

So pray for me now so that you won't regret not having helped me escape damnation, at worst, or purgatory, at best. Do that and you won't have the slightest temptation to cry at my funeral.

Oh, by the way, I will not close my Bible in my classroom!