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!

Monday, October 9, 2006

A Coat of Many Colors is a Blessing Indeed

St. Christopher Parish International Festival
October 7 and 8, 2006

Kickoff of the fiftieth year of existence for the community,
A community of many colors

I present you with one of my favorite "Country and Western" songs.
The Lyrics are from Dolly Parton
She wrote them with her hand,
Because her heart had lost her pen.

Don't just read them, listen to them,
Even though you don't know the tune.
They will tell you more about yourself
Than they will about Dolly, herself.
They will also tell you about the truth
That we all live here, at Ol' St. Christoph...

Back through the years
I go wonderin once again
Back to the seasons of my youth
I recall a box of rags that someone gave us
And how my momma put the rags to use
There were rags of many colors
Every piece was small
And I didnt have a coat
And it was way down in the fall
Momma sewed the rags together
Sewin every piece with love
She made my coat of many colors
That I was so proud of
As she sewed, she told a story
From the bible, she had read
About a coat of many colors
Joseph wore and then she said
Perhaps this coat will bring you
Good luck and happiness
And I just couldnt wait to wear it
And momma blessed it with a kiss


My coat of many colors
That my momma made for me
Made only from rags
But I wore it so proudly
Although we had no money
I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me

So with patches on my britches
Holes in both my shoes
In my coat of many colors
I hurried off to school
Just to find the others laughing
And making fun of me
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
And oh I couldnt understand it
For I felt I was rich
And I told them of the love
My momma sewed in every stitch
And I told em all the story
Momma told me while she sewed
And how my coat of many colors
Was worth more than all their clothes
But they didnt understand it
And I tried to make them see
That one is only poor
Only if they choose to be
Now I know we had no money
But I was rich as I could be
In my coat of many colors
My momma made for me
Made just for me

I had a similar experience in my childhood. It was a material experience, a story for another day. I have been living the same experience through the years, but it has turned into a spiritual one.

Like Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob (Genesis 30:23-24) I too was blessed to wear a splendid coat. I wore it well for a while, but unlike Joseph who triumphed over his brothers' betrayal and wore coats many times more beautiful than the first, I preferrred to return to the comfort of my rags and tatters. Like Dolly, I found true treasure in honest love and blessings that only true love can generate.

Coming off the experience of the International Festival of St. Christopher's parish as an observer, I find myself thinking about all these things because I have seen so much love and dedication fall into place to make this event successful. I have seen the manifestation of the different colors of ministry develop a tapestry of stunning beauty. I have seen the love streams of people come together and flow toward the sea that is the Bosom of Our Father God.

One of the saints of the parish told me today as the clean-up was nearly finished, "This thing worked because we did it by ourselves, for ourselves and that is why we are all so happy."

A Catholic parish is a mystery. It is a spiritual experience. It is a quilt of rags, some silk, some velvet, some cotton, some wool and some, ugh, polyesther. A Catholic parish is a gift from God that is like the cardboard box that enthralls young children. They prefer the box because they don't quite understand the gift yet. I only knew one person in the world who would give small gifts in big boxes to his grandchildren. That's right, my very own grandfather. He worked for the church for 50 years.

His ministry? He built beautiful cabinetry that no one but the priests saw. The priests though, were out there telling the world that this one handed cabinet maker was a saint. Had my grandfather ever heard that, he would have died laughing. But the whole parish knew that the priests felt this way about him. He was the gift, and everyone was enjoying the box.

During this same period of time there was an old spinster who cooked and kept house for the priests of the parish. She did it for about 65 years. She had come to the U.S. from France and the French Missionaries of Our Lady of La Salette who were in charge of the parish gave her refuge...65 years worth! Her ministry? She was so kind, so reserved, so modest and so humble that everyone in the whole parish called her by her first compound name, Marie-Luce, and bowed when they said it. She never made a decision that she did not have the authority to make, she never "protected" the priests from people who came to see them, she cooked for people who had to suffer through funerals when times were tight and she always attended the rosary at the wake of a parishioner, no matter who it was.

How do I know this? My grandfather used to wonder how sane Marie-Luce really was? He used to say, "If that is what it takes to be a saint, I don't want to go there. You got another beer?" Finally, when Marie-Luce had been there for fifty years, the entire parish threw her a very lavish party at the best hotel in town. She felt blessed by God that her youngest sister from France was able to come. She was the gift and everyone was enjoying the box.

This International Festival made me look around. I wandered around looking for the one-handed cabinet maker and the saintly housekeeper. Let me tell you, they are around. We don't see them much because that's the way they want it. The music people, the paint-ball guys, the Kenyan family, the "food runners" who kept going back and forth to town to assure that the booth did not come up short, the Guamanians who had to suffer my telling them that they goofed because they didn't have SPAM "sangwiches", and I suppose that I could go on, but hey, this is only one event.

Do you want me to bore you with the "unknowns" who make the SONshine Summer Bible Camp a success? How about the unseen catechists who dedicate themselves for our children for ten months of the year? How about the Food Bank team that rarely gets any recognition because we sometimes forget that this is a ministry too? Am I forgetting the Pre-School? Yeah, and I have to remember to tell you that we have been developing a very serious ministry of baby-sitting at St. Christopher. What about the people who cook every Sunday to maintain the cultural environment of conviviality around the church on Sunday? Enough about food already, we have to remember the Eaters Anonymous group that is here every Monday. All these people are the gift and we spend so much time playing with the box.

I want you to notice that most people who dedicate themselves to God around here make Him present to us without our knowing it as it is happening. We have to step back and feel it only after it happens. That's God's way. He is the Spirit who drives us all. He is the Spirit of our Baptism who sanctifies us all through the dedication of our brothers and sisters in the community.

This last International Festival was a holy event. It was just us and God. It doesn't get any better than that.

I thank everyone who worked to make God present to us as we walked around and enjoyed the atmosphere. You have all practiced the ministry of your baptismal priesthood.

Keep it up and I will not spend any of my tears at your funeral...but then again, you're all younger than I am, so when you get to the Pearly Gates, just say, "I know Paul".

I will be sure to tell him that you are the gift, not the box.

Saturday, October 7, 2006


The "Numbers Game"
By Paul Dion, STL

We all know the legendary story about Thomas Edison who didn't discover the secret of how to make a working light bulb until after being unsuccessful nearly 1,000 times. When someone asked him how he had the courage to keep going after failing over 900 times, Edison responded, "those weren't failures, they were learning experiences".

We also know the story of the Samaritan Woman who met Jesus at the well. After a short conversation she ran back to the village and brought all her friends and Jesus stayed in the village for three days more.

Going farther back we all know the story of Abraham and his unfailing obedience to God's wishes. God picked the right person. He promised Abraham that he would be the father of God's people, whose progeny would outnumber the stars of the sky. Sarah, Abraham's aging wife, laughed out loud when she heard it. Look around, Sarah!

I am reminding you of these stories because all of us need to be reminded that God knows how to cultivate the seed that He asks us to plant.

We forget that. I forget that, all the time.

I start to do something and I set my goal at 200 participants. I am lucky to get 60, despite my best efforts. One time I set my sights on getting at least 15 participants in a class of 5 sessions spread out over 5 weeks. This is the precursor of the 2006 Mom and Pop Theology event - a highly successful parent Religious Ed program we launched at my parish of St. Christopher in Moreno Valley, CA. - that is now quite well attended.

I had to be blind! The first day, I had 6. I figured, oh well, half isn't all that bad. HHmmm, notice the optimistic math there?

Inside of myself I was thinking that the Lord was testing me for the first day and that the second session next week would bring me twice as many. So I plowed ahead. The next week, things did get better. I had a lot more room to move around in since only two people made it to the room. The good thing was that they had both been to the first session, so I didn't want to disappoint them by cutting off the effort. We went ahead and it was a nice session. It got to be a little informal, but quite effective in its sincerity.

Now I went to have a little talk with my Maker and told Him in no uncertain terms that I didn't appreciate the way I was being treated by Him and His heavenly minions. I told Him that I was doing His work here and that I didn't expect Him to hang me out to dry.

So He didn't.

The next Tuesday the only person who came was the prettiest and the youngest woman of the original six. I had the "Mom" but the "Pop" was nowhere to be found. I invited her in, left the door open, kept myself visible and smiled on the outside while my mind was letting God know that I wasn't totally happy with His pranks. She looked around and actually offered to leave because she felt as though it wasn't fair to take up my time just for herself. I think her guardian angel was slyly giving me an opening to take at shot at God.

I looked at her and simply said, "No, we will stay because both you and I have the same commitment to God for this subject." There, take that, You!

We finished the course. The two of us.

She went home and I went on about my business managing the project for which I was expecting at least two hundred. This was to be the first SONshine Summer Bible Camp for children at the parish. Things were going quite well on the organizational part of the project, but recruitment was slow. Milestones were coming and going, but the number of registered children was not increasing very quickly. I knew that we were not going to get to entertain 200.

As we got closer to the opening date I was still looking for a few volunteers, but three in particular were becoming difficult to find because they needed special talents. I was continuing my "conversation" with the "Man Upstairs" and I think that I was running out of diplomacy because nothing was happening.

So, one morning after the Holy Mass I told my wife, "You had better have a talk to God about the volunteer situation. It's so bad that I'm going over to talk to His Mother, you know, the Weeping One." Now, when it comes to prayer, my wife is an expert. I don't know why, but I think that Jesus is afraid of her.

After I had my talk with Jesus' Mother, I went home to work and wifey went to her office.

You know, I hate to tell you this, but by 11:00 AM spouse called me to tell me that the young lady from my Mom and Pop class was so enthusiastic about volunteering on the SONshine Summer Bible Camp Project I was working on that she didn't leave the office for two hours after hearing about it. As she left she gave us the name of another person whom she was sure would be very happy to volunteer as well. I called the other person and sure enough, there I was two out of three, all set for the time being.

I'm writing this to confess to "You-know-Who" that I'm sorry that I mistreated Him. He sure gave me a big lesson. My "student" told my wife that she couldn't stay home while there was someone working for God who would sacrifice his time for one person. She kept saying that she didn't think that she would ever come to meet a person who loved God that much. My wife said that she nearly choked on that one.

These two ladies that God sent us have been absolutely marvelous. Believe me, I didn't do a thing, God did it all, and He is still doing it. The seeds that these two generous ladies have sown in our parish are still producing sweet fruit. I was just the hick farmer who threw the original seed on the ground. Our parish will never be the same because of these two saintly ladies.

All of you out there who have grandiose dreams of going out and being the next Abraham and creating a new generation of God's people, listen to this: Abraham had two children, one of a slave and one of God. Just ONE of each.

Look at me, just ONE and she brought me ONE.

The project continues to repeat itself, and it continues to grow. Abraham's progeny repeats itself over and over again, and it continues to grow in number and in wisdom. The "Mom and Pop" theology grew out of those first 5 weeks of struggle and now has numbers in the hundreds.

Never call off one of God's projects based on numbers. God knows that His Son and His Spirit flunked math, so He covers for them. Talk to Him, talk to His Mother, tell Him I sent you in my waning years.

He'll support you and you won't have the least temptation to cry at my funeral.