NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

NO CRYING AT MY FUNERAL

Sunday, December 23, 2007

SOMETHING'S MISSING, MAYBE

Once upon a time there was born a story that is said to be true, but no one really knows for sure. Like so many stories that we know, it is true in the deep spiritual message that it carries, if not exactly in the strict historical sense of the setting in which it is placed. I am choosing to relate it during this Christmas season because my present situation reminds me of the story just about every day. I remember it in its San Diego setting, because that is where I first heard it. When I checked out the Google reference, I found out that what I have been taking for undeniable, non-negotiable historical truth for all these years is a parable that serves all of us who know the story, regardless of the source or the setting with which we connect it.

There was, and still is, a magnificent church in one of the toughest parts of the city of San Diego. The church, like many inner city churches sat on a magnificent piece of real estate. It has a nice, well-groomed lawn, neat shrubs and hedges and is generally very well kept. In the middle of the front lawn, dead center in front of the tabernacle on a beeline down the spine of the church stands this marvelous statue of Christ. One day, a long time ago, this statue was stolen. Clean as a whistle with not a clue left behind. The entire city and county turned its attention to finding this treasure that was not only a church property, but a symbol of the unity of the local community as well as the entire region. The search was not easy and time passed, in fact, a lot of time passed, and the statue remained unclaimed, and never replaced because it was always believed that the Savior would find His way back to His people..
One morning, several years after the disappearance and not long before Christmas, there was the statue. Intact except that the hands had been cloven clean off the arms at the wrists. People came to daily Holy Mass and were astounded that their statue had returned. They were also stirring a mixture of anger and relief inside of themselves. Anger at the vandalism that had claimed the hands but relief that they had their Savior back in their midst. The buzz was more like a roar. The present pastor was inundated with all kinds of suggestions about what to do with the statue and what to do with the perpetrators should they ever be found.
Christmas was drawing nigh and the pastor wanted to close the drama in a way fitting to the season. He prayed and he prayed. He consulted the bishop and his brother priests about the situation. No one came up with a solution that made his soul comfortable. Just a few hours before Midnight Mass on Christmas, Jesus gave him the inspiration that he needed. He was flooded with peace and happiness because now he knew what God wanted, and, might he say in no uncertain terms, needed.
The time for the Midnight Mass came. All the preliminary ceremonies and rites went off without a hitch. The baby Jesus was laid in His manger with a smile somewhat sweeter this year than in the few years past. The pastor had a glow on his face that had the congregation fired up too. Came the time for the homily. The happy pastor went to the pulpit, zealous and burning with the fire of God's house in his heart. He stood up straight and instead of preaching, he recounted the story of the stolen statue. A dropped pin would have sounded like a canon during the telling of the story. Then the pastor stopped talking because he was overtaken with emotion. He now had to announce his solution to God's people. He gathered himself and in a voice trembling, but forceful, pronounced his (and that of Jesus) decision: "We have a new statue to replace the old one." Murmurs in the church, but then quickly, heavenly silence again. "It is entitled, 'I have no hands but yours." The pastor could not see, too many tears. He couldn't hear anything either and wondered if he had gone deaf of a sudden. He had no sooner wiped one eye dry that a roaring chorus of AMEN's shook the rafters of the large church. God's people standing and shouting AMEN over and over again for minutes on end.
There is not a Catholic soul in San Diego who has ever contested the pastor's decision. True or not, the parish in question has a reputation, and deservedly so, for being the most socially active parish in the entire diocese. There is a statue to back this story up in front of the church of Christ the King. Everyone in that parish believes this story to be theirs. It has some variations, but, they point out, we have the statue to prove it.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Part two: This is the historically true section.
What's with the picture at the head of the story?

Almost four years ago my wife and I were minding our own business working for a pastor in Fremont, California. One day the pastor of St. Christopher parish in Moreno Valley, California called and asked us to move to Southern California to help him in this parish of over 6,000 families. It's too long a story for now, but, we came. In the process of gathering things to move, we found a plaster casting of the Christ that you see in the center of the picture. We had never encountered it before, but there it was. We looked at one another and wordlessly communicated all that had to be known at the moment. Since that moment, that handless casting of Jesus is a center piece of the Bible Meditation Corner of our dwelling. It always takes prominence on the first Sunday of Advent. This year it is highlighted by two miniature Nativity replicas, one Chinese and one (the plaster shell), Italian, from Assisi.

Jesus and your guardian angel do not want to see you crying at my funeral...not unless you can prove to them that it is out of the joy of seeing that I have gone to heaven. Capeesh?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

THE VISITING PRIEST

Sunday, December 16, 2007 started off quite well. I was in a city some 90 miles away from my usual residence. We participated in the first "Simbang Gabi" (Filipino traditional pre-Christmas early morning novena) Mass of the pre-Christmas novena at 7:30 AM. The weather was clear and crisp. The pastor was on
his game and the homily was worth sitting for. We left the church and went to the hall for conviviality around some simple Filipino food. We saw several people that we had not seen for a long period of time, so it was a happy moment. When we got home it became clear that my mother-in-law would need me as her companion for the 10:30 AM Mass. She had not come to the early morning Mass because of the sharp cold in the air. I brewed some "decent" coffee, checked my email, sipped my coffee and left The house at 10:15 at a slow walk with my 88 year old companion. We made good time, 125 yards in about 10 minutes. Met a lot of people who told us how impressed they were about how good the lady looked and we went down the center aisle looking for an aisle seat. We found one close to the "presbyterium" (we used to call it the sanctuary), knelt down to say "hello" to Jesus and before we could sit down, the entry of the priest was announced, so we stood and joined in the entrance hymn. In about thirty seconds it became obvious that there was a visiting priest among us this day. The pastor had located someone to help him for this weekend.

The introduction by the visitor contained a little humor. "It has been close to five years since I was last here on a Sunday morning. Those of you who were here then will noticed that I haven't aged a single day since then." There was muted laughter, followed by the proper liturgical greeting.

I personally was waiting for the homily. I didn't mind waiting because the first lector was a saintly lady who had been baptized after spending two years with me in the RCIA before being baptized at this self-same parish. She is a GOOD lector and her rendition of the Isaiah reading was right on. The second lector was not as good, but St. Paul's admonitions keep my attention sharp. The Presider at the Eucharist used a soft and subdued tone in his telling of the Gospel story, which features St. John the Baptist in jail at a point when he sends messengers to ask Jesus, "Who are you? Are you the one who has been promised or should we await someone else?"

I wondered what this priest was going to do with the story. He is no stranger to the people in the pews. I am quite sure that more than a couple were wondering the same thing. He did something I liked before the homily. He stepped away from the ambo, but did not pre-empt the altar by standing in front of it while he delivered the homily. He stood aside from the altar the entire time. Sweet liturgical move! Well, I have to tell you that the homily was good. I have to point out that I said a short little prayer before he opened his mouth so that I could be open to what the Spirit was going to tell me with this priest's voice. Well, the Spirit did a good job. A good job with the priest's voice and a good job with keeping my heart open to this part of the Word.

After the homily, the Mass went on as usual until the Our Father. Right after the Great Amen, the visiting presider led the congregation in the traditional Plain Chant version of the Our Father, in English, of course. This was a welcome change since we usually recite the Lord's Prayer in this parish.

On the way out after the Mass, I brought my mother-in-law to meet the visiting Bishop and ask for his blessing. You heard me, the Bishop. He drove his own car, (A Volkswagen, Passat), presided over two Masses, walked down the aisle himself, stayed at the altar all alone and for one day was the pastor's helper. He greeted people after the Mass and dispensed his blessings. He shook my mother-in-law's hand and blessed her after I translated her request for his blessing. This Bishop has the habit of doing this. He fairly often shows up and works with the priests of a parish. True, he has a lot of bad press, a rather lousy reputation and in fact has done many nasty things to laity and clergy alike. Despite all the good that he has done, it is easy to
find detractors of this person from one end of the diocese to another. It is just as easy to find them across the entire national Catholic community, from "sea to shining sea." This day, he was just a priest, bringing God to God's people. This should happen more often. Bishops might want to think that they can be the "voice in the desert" even if they walk down the aisle without the red carpet and the flouncing feathers and gleaming swords. Even without a good reputation and a with satchel full of bad press, the faithful will be grateful that the Bishop can respond to the sacramental needs of his people. They will be
happy to see the bishop helping his priests get through the demands placed on the pastors who in many instances work

through the demands of job without assistants. That is because when a priest is rendering service, the faithful recognize that

he's doing it because he believes. We who sit in the pews benefit from that faith because it matches our own.

I believe that about priests. I think that we all should. Join me and you won't want to cry at my funeral.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Encountering the Living Christ – “OM NAMAH SHIVAYA”

The case against Peter Phan author of the book "Being Religious Interreligiously"
by Paul Dion, STL

Below is an excerpt from a flyer distributed to participants last September during "Catechist Day" at a parish we will keep unnamed. Oh yes, the parish is very real, and this story we are sharing really did happen.

----------------------------------------------
"CATECHIST DAY"
ST. "It will remain unnamed" CHURCH

INTRODUCTION: We meet Christ with joy in our Creation and in each other. Jesus is here, we welcome Him as we journey together in prayer.
+In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

CHANTING: OM NAMAH SHIVAYA
(The eternal name of God, being one with His Creation)
----------------------------------------------


Huh? "I bow to Shiva." That's how OM NAMAH SHIVAYA really translates to English.

Some months ago (May, 2007) ParishWorld.net presented some very clear teachings in line with the official position of the church regarding yoga, New Age and other ancient Asian spiritualities (theosophies). At that time we quoted extensively from a document that had been presented to the Holy See making the point that these ancient Asian spiritualities are at odds with Catholicism. You may refresh your memory by clicking here.

Also at about that time, a Jesuit professor at Georgetown University (Peter Phan) was being investigated by the Holy See because it was then, and still is, suspected that his assertions in his writings are at odds with Catholic doctrine. Specifically there is one book of his that in under very close scrutiny. It is entitled "Being Religious Interreligiously".

In this work Father Phan places several daring propositions on the table, all of which come close to being against Catholic doctrine. They are so close to being erroneous that they have caused the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to put out a statement warning Catholics that "Being Religious Interreligiously" presents Catholic doctrine in a downright confusing fashion and could easily lead the reader into error. This is the link to the USCCB document.

You can also click here to view a news article about the USCCB rebuke of Fr. Phan's assertions in his book.

Why? How?

THE USCCB REBUKES DR. PHAN'S LINE OF THINKING

In the interest of brevity, we will just quote three areas of concern in the thinking of Peter Phan as elucidated by the USCCB.

1. JESUS CHRIST AS THE UNIQUE AND UNIVERSAL SAVIOR OF ALL HUMANKIND (Phan seems to deny this)

"In contemporary theological reflection there often emerges an approach to Jesus of Nazareth that considers him a particular, finite, historical figure, who reveals the divine not in an exclusive way, but in a way complementary with other revelatory and salvific figures. The Infinite, the Absolute, the Ultimate Mystery of God would thus manifest itself to humanity in many ways and in many historical figures: Jesus of Nazareth would be one of these." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus: Declaration on the Unicity and Salvific Universality of Jesus Christ and the Church (6 August 2000)
Click here for referenced Vatican document.

Against such a misrepresentation, Dominus Iesus declares: "These theses are in profound conflict with the Christian faith. The doctrine of faith must be firmly believed which proclaims that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Mary, and he alone, is the Son and the Word of the Father." (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dominus Iesus, no. 10.)

2. THE SALVIFIC SIGNIFICANCE OF NON-CHRISTIAN RELIGIONS (Phan seems to downplay the significance of the Church and overplay the significance of other religions, particularly Asian ones.)

"The Church affirms that non-Christian religions do in fact possess certain elements of truth. Every human being possesses an innate desire to know God, who is the common end and origin of the human race. Those searching for God in other religions have established ways of living and formulated teachings that "often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men." The Church regards these elements of goodness and truth found in other religions as a preparation for the Gospel."

"Being Religious Interreligiously", however, rejects this teaching as an insufficient recognition of the salvific significance of non-Christian religions in themselves: The book defends the view that "the non-Christian religions possess an autonomous function in the history of salvation, different from that of Christianity," and that "they cannot be reduced to Christianity in terms of preparation and fulfillment."

3. THE CHURCH AS THE UNIQUE AND UNIVERSAL INSTRUMENT OF SALVATION (Phan seems to assert that the claim for her uniqueness and universality "should be abandoned altogether.)

Although "Being Religious Interreligiously" does not adequately uphold Jesus' singular and universal significance, it does maintain that one can and should present the claim for the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ in the context of interreligious dialogue, at least in a qualified form.39 As for the Church, however, it argues that the claim for her uniqueness and universality "should be abandoned altogether."

4. CONCLUSION OF THE USCCB (Click on USCCB - the link - for the entire document)

"While "Being Religious Interreligiously" addresses a number of issues that are crucial in the life of the contemporary Church, it contains certain pervading ambiguities and equivocations that could easily confuse or mislead the faithful, as well as statements that, unless properly clarified, are not in accord with Catholic teaching. Therefore we bishops as teachers of the faith are obliged to take action that will help ensure that the singularity of Jesus and the Church be perceived in all clarity and the universal salvific significance of what he has accomplished be acknowledged in the fullness of truth."

BACK TO "Catechist Day" AT OUR UNNAMED PARISH

We are using the example of the "Catechist Day"event at our unnamed parish to drive home one important point - Jesus Christ is the unique and universal savior of all mankind and the Church is the unique and universal instrument of salvation. The USCCB statement reprimands Dr. Phan and those like him - including the leaders of this Catechist Day in question - for either consciously or unconsciously not abiding by the unique role that Christ and His Church play in mankind's salvation.

On the flyer that was distributed to the participants of the CATECHIST DAY mentioned in the header of this article, the mantra OM NAMAH SHIVAYAH appeared above a parenthetical statement which reads: "The Eternal name of God, being one with His Creation."

It is perhaps impossible from this distance to assert that this parenthetical is meant to translate the mantra. If it is, it is completely erroneous. The translation of the mantra is, "Bow down to Shiva."

And who is Shiva? How is he related to Christ? Shiva is a male god in the panoply of old Indian religions. He is the tough "hombre" known as the god of destruction. ParishWorld.net does not think that this is a fair representation of the stated theme of the CATECHIST DAY" "ENCOUNTERING THE LIVING CHRIST."

In the light of this confusion between Shiva and Christ, we cannot help but to ask ourselves what is meant by the statement, "The Eternal name of God, being one with His Creation." Does it mean that "God is one with His Creation?"

Does it mean, "would that the Eternal name of God be one with His Creation?" Does it mean that the Eternal name of God is "other" than God Himself?" Does this erroneous translation (paraphrase?) refer to Shiva or to Christ?

Finally, in the name of the axiom, "as we believe, so we pray" (Lex credendi; lex orandi) it seems to be fair to ask, "For whom was the CATECHIST DAY organized?" The followers of Shiva or the disciples of Christ? If the answer is for Christ, didn't the leaders of the "DAY" trust in the strength of the divinity of Christ to provide the grace needed to help His disciples "encounter" Him through prayer?

It also seems fair to ask, "Why go to ancient Asian deities and spiritualities when our tradition goes back at least 3,000 years including the Essenes?" "is there not enough fodder for mantras in the Psalms?" Maybe like psalm 42, "My soul thirsts for God"? Or maybe psalm 69, "Help me Lord, I'm up to my neck in the swamp!" Or maybe, Jesus on the Cross, "I thirst?"

Oh, sorry, you want something in a Middle Eastern language, you know, something exotic. Why not "Marana-tha!" Or, facing Jerusalem, "Hallel!" Maybe a little Greek would have worked nicely, "Kyrie Eleison?"

THEY DO HAPPEN IN OUR PARISHES

Incidents like this have been known to transpire in one form or another in many parishes worldwide over the years. And since ParishWorld.net is a global publication, we thought keeping the parish name "hypothetical" in this story would make for a more effective teaching opportunity. Who knows, it could very well happen - albeit unintentionally - in a parish close to yours.

We came to know about this specific event because some of our readers – a few of whom are personally known to us - were present at the event and they provided the facts discussed here. They were of Indian descent and understood what the mantra really meant. They were offended by this brazen insult to our Catholic Faith. They are dismayed at the fact that it happened during a spiritual event for catechists which was being led by delegates from the diocesan office.

ParishWorld.net has covered this topic before. If you haven't done so yet, click here to refresh your memory.

THE US BISHOPS SPEAK OUT

And now, the bishops of the United States have joined the Holy See in sending out a warning about the confusion that exists in the minds of many about the relationship between Christ and other gods like Shiva.

Maybe the Catechist Day incident we described happened because the leaders were not fully aware of the meaning of the mantra they urged the participants to chant. We would like to think that is the case here. In any case, it is our hope that this article will drive our parish leaders to become more wary and aware of the true meaning of things before jumping into them.

We pray that you will heed the clarifications of the Holy See and the bishops of the United States and make them a part of your Catholic zeal. If you do, you will understand why you do not have to cry at my funeral.

CLICK HERE to view "Controversial Theologian Fr. Peter Phan rapped by Catholic bishops."

Friday, November 23, 2007

1962 Latinists...Ecce! Macies meus pedibus vestris jam jacet!


Notes from the Thanksgiving celebration of the 10:00 AM Holy Mass in a large southern California parish.

It was a celebration of gratitude of more than 1,000 members of a multicultural community that knows how to pray together. It is a place where mutual support is the name of the game. It is a place where, such as yesterday, the celebration of the Eucharistic Banquet exhalts the ability of Catholics to excercise their faith and the religious expression of it in five or six languages all at the same time. Yes, we prayed in English, Spanish, Tagalog, Swahili, Hebrew, Greek and even, gasp, Latin. The happiness of the community was enhanced by the fact that we all knew that our Pastor had made it a point to rush back from the Philippines in time for this important celebration. If he was suffering from jet-lag (he was) it didn't show. After a grandiose
entrance procession, accompanied by singing and fervent applause, led by the exquisitely ornate Book of Gospels, he took his place at the altar accompanied by six other priest colleagues and one deacon, greeted the congregation in ritualistically correct liturgical language. There was then a blessing of water followed by a gracious rite of sprinkiing of the people with olive sprigs
dipped in the newly blessed water. It was so quiet that you could have heard a hat-pin drop, but none of the African Ladies who were wear wearing native head coverings dropped a hat-pin. The charming lady from Belize didn't need a hat-pin to hold her head-wear on, so there was no danger of her distracting the prayer. Many people celebrated their national origins by wearing their national, native formal clothing. I was all over the church yesterday morning and not a single person there was brazenly immodest about our common, God given birthday suit.
We then dipped into a little Greek with mellow Kyrie before giving full throat to a rollicking salute to Our Loving Trinity, in
Spanish. We couldn't help but appreciate the the musical offerings of this day. The piano gave way to the pipe organ (Yes, a real pipe organ) and the choir was in fine-tuned fettle.The "collect" (remember that word?) was meditatively proclaimed by the Pastor and followed by three clearly and reverently declaimed readings from the Sacred Scripture, Old Testament in English, letter of St. Paul in Spanish and then the Gospel, in Spanish and in English. The splendid Book of Gospels was placed on a throne of honor, right in front of the Ambo of the Word by the side of the Altar, for all to see. The homily was of very high tone, in Spanish and in English, evidently well prepared during the 14 hour flight from Manila to Los Angeles. It is always impressive to hear the story of the Ten Lepers for the "Nth" time and still hear reflections from a spiritually mature person that give you new insights to God's Message coming at you from that powerful parable. If God ever gives you the Grace to be able to visit the West Bank, you will thereafter never hear the word "Samaritan" without having a deep soul visit from the Spirit of God Himself.
We all stood and proudly proclaimed our faith, for the second time, this time not in song, but in deep-throated spoken conviction that didn't betray a single doubt. We continued standing as we joined together in the prayer of the "Great Petitions" that the present ritual calls for as a continuation of the traditional Good Friday moment which we all remember so well. (Five languages here. We saved the Latin for later.) This was followed by a sincere celebration of our shared Priesthood, Kingship and Prophethood when the preparation of the Eucharistic Altar took on epic proportions.
The incense bowls were still really smoking. Imagine, they had been going from the entrance and were continually fed and stoked by the assiduous altar servers. They led the procession of the altar cloths, the altar candles, the chalices, the wine, the water, the cash offerings, the food offerings and finally the food that many people of the community had brought to be placed around the altar to be blessed before they served it at home. HHmm, I shouldn't forget that many people remembered that the pastor appreciates fine wine (like Jesus?), so there were several offerings of that too, all carried by the offerers themselves, participating in the celebration of the Sacrifice. The Eucharistic prayers (canon) came after an original, multilingual composition of the "Sanctus" and was proclaimed in stentorian language (English), to the point where the Filipino accent disappeared and you would have thought that Tony Blair was in charge. It was so beautiful that the Great Amen was repeated three times, it sure feels good, sometimes.
When we stood up, we were ready to prepare ourselves for communion by a sincere, hand in hand recitation of the Lord's Prayer. We were led in the following doxology by the Mexican curate, followed by an invitation to share Christ's peace with one another while being led in a charismatic invitation to one another through the singing of everyone's favorite, "Da me la Mano...y hermanos seramos!" This was loud. This was organ pipes and drums (background) and singing people ready for the feast of Christ's body and Blood. Then, as quickly as it started, it stopped and the choir changed the mood back to Solemn Sacrificial by leading us in the Plain Chant "Agnus Dei". By the end of that, there were a lot of throat lumps in the pews. The communion of all these priestly people was a sight to see in itself. The music behind it was reverent and floated aross the sacred space in English, Spanish and Tagalog and ended with "Ubi Caritas et Amor, Deus ibi est."
Just like happens in so many families, the Pastor, still agog with jet-lag, was having a hard time to let go. The community was enjoying itself too and quietly and prayerfully participated in at least six or seven "special" blessings. One of the most touching was the recognition and the "commissioning" of the St. Christopher Parish security team of nine valiant men, certified guards all of them and constant in their vigilance over the church property every single evening when there is religious education and every weekend during all the Masses. We were sent back into the World to carry the message of Christ to all nations, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit with the sound of "Malo-Malo Thanks be to God." By now it was 11:45 AM and the "Mass" continued until at least 1:00 PM. with people congregating on the church patio. That is when my spouse and I left in order to be able to reach our Thanksgiving family celebration one and one-half hours away. After a spiritual experience of this magnitude, anyone would be convinced why you don't have to cry at my funeral.
Oops, I almost forgot, mementote, nequeunt flere in funebris meis.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

EARLY NOVEMBER MUSINGS

I’ve been waiting a long time to get to heaven
In fact, since nineteen hundred and thirty seven.
It is now two thousand and double “O” seven,
A wonderful stretch of ten times seven
To keep me waiting for the invite to heaven.

I’ve told you all not to cry at my funeral
Because I’m not one who’s fond of bereavin’
And mostly not one who’s going to fuss about leavin’
Since I have been waiting so long to get to heaven,
It’s too late to cry about things and beefin'

But,

This is the time when the barns have swallowed the harvest,
The artists have put the pumpkins to the carving test,
The turkeys are sure that they are approaching their oven test,
The chickens are scurrying to hide behind their feathered nest,
Mothers and Fathers will visit the child who cooks the best
And I’m thanking God that I’m still waiting for my eternal rest.

Then,

We all know that shortly Jesus is coming,
The two doves are a cooing
The three French hens are clucking
The four calling birds are calling
The five golden rings are blinging
The six geese are a-laying
The seven swans are singing (hmmm?)
The eight maids are a – milking
The nine ladies are a-dancing
The ten Lords are aerobically leaping
The eleven pipers are hotly piping
The twelve drummers are already drumming,
I am to Midnight Mass a-going
Because I don’t live where it is a-snowing
And I am happily one more year a-closing.

Dear God,

You have heard me time and time again say,
I am not afraid of your taking me by the hand,
For that last and glorious walk along San Diego’s sand.
I know that when you do that, I will recognize the way,
I will rejoice that you are taking me to the eternal day.

So,

Lord, you give us November, month number eleven
To remind us of those you’ve already taken to heaven.
You do it to remind us that all beginnings start with an end.
You do it to remind us what we will find around the bend.
You do it to remind us that our funeral is a beginning, not an end.

Friends,

At my funeral, no Kleenex required. Especially since I am a pure cotton handkerchief kind of guy.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

HEAVEN IS ALL TREATS AND NO TRICKS

This is a story of a family who found a better way to give meaning to October 31, Halloween.

The Velasquez family, Lily and Felipe and their two sons, Andy and Robert are devoted Catholics who participate in the Mass every Sunday. Three years ago we started a more systematic Home Faith Formation program in the parish in which the family participated. Once a month the families met together for family catechesis that included arts and crafts. Lily loves arts and crafts and so she dove in to help make this part of the Saturday meetings a success. She was happy to volunteer for this activity.

On the last family gathering day she signed up to be in charge of the Arts and Crafts component of the family gatherings of last year (2006-007). It was also the second year of the SONshine Summer Bible Camp at St. Christopher parish. We invited Lily and her boys to help at the camp.

Lily did a marvelous job as the leader of the Arts & Crafts last year that we asked her again to take charge of this component of the Family Monthly Gatherings this year. I don’t have to belabor the point, you’re getting the drift. This year Lily has recruited her Mother to help in the Monthly Gatherings of Families in the Home Faith Formation program.This family is discovering dimensions to faith that they never thought existed.

When I got home from helping an old friend of mine “The Voice from the Kitchen” asked me to read her articles for her column in the Parish Bulletin in case there were some errors that needed correcting. One of the articles is a story about Lily, Felipe, Andy, Robert and Grandma. They went out on Halloween night, (except for Andy who had to stay home because of school work) and they went to the homes in their neighborhood. No costumes or anything like that. They asked everyone for a donation of non-perishable food which they would turn over to the St. Christopher parish food bank. They were overwhelmed with donations. Everyone gave willingly and generously. When they got back home, Andy was wondering how anything could be so wonderful. He wished he could have joined the family. They could not believe what had happened.

They still can’t.

Right then and there, they prayerfully made a family resolution: this is their new family Halloween tradition

Now tell me, are you going to cry at their funeral?

Sunday, October 7, 2007

THE CATHOLIC INTERNET -- REALLY, NOW!

I wonder how many of you have been surfing the 'Net over the last few weeks or months looking for some doctrinal, spiritual, Catholic nourishment. Knowing that the Internet is a quasi boundless ocean of Catholic information, I have decided to step off the curb and venture to cross the "Information Highway" without getting hit too hard.
There are many attractive invitations that draw people into the personal or corporate space of people who have answers concerning Catholic "questions". There are "chat rooms" where lively exchanges of ideas and opinions take place. There are "forums" where comments about previous articles flow fast and furious. There are priests, nuns, deacons and laity bombarding the surfers with a flood of "Catholic truth". There are also Protestant and Orthodox presentations of the Christian truths. It is not always easy to tell what is Catholic and what is not.

The latest ploy to which I have been introduced lately is the E-mail Bible. I have twice in one week received a complete Bible. Protestant version, of course. There is a way that you can tell if the Bible that you have received is one that has the complete list of books contained in the Catholic Bible. Go to the table of contents and look for "Tobit", "Judith", "Wisdom of Solomon", "Baruch", "1 Maccabees" and "2 Maccabees". If you cannot find these names in the table of contents, then you do not have a Catholic Bible. ParishWorld.net offers you three links where you can find a Catholic Bible. Click in the "Resources" tab and you will find three perfectly high quality Catholic Bibles, The Jerusalem Bible, The New American Bible and the Vulgate, the Latin version of the Bible.

It gets all the more difficult to tell Catholic apart from Non-Catholic, especially in some of the more "open" forums where some Christians, Catholic and otherwise allow themseves to be quite ferocious in exposing their personal opinions about people, behaviors and events. Christianity, and Catholicism in particular is really very complex. Catholicism alone has five prime sources from which it derives its understanding of God. a) The Bible; b) The Catechism; c) Church Tradition as communicated through the decisions of the 22 Ecumenical Councils; d) The Code of Canon Law and e) Timely letters of instruction from the central seat of the Church, Vatican City, the "White House" of the Church. As if that is not enough, the Catholic Church respects and accepts many of the pious practices and religious traditions that Catholics around the globe have developed and practiced over the centuries. It is clear that such a complexity of truth is not easy to keep organized even in the most intelligent brain that any of us may have. Yet, as you all know, we seem to have in us a sensitive corner that whispers something to us when we start to feel that what we are reading or hearing isn't ringing true. We call that the gift of Faith. This is a gift from God that gives us the light of truth about Him as we Catholics understand it. It's not always easy, but it is always there. We even have this sense of "feel" about what we hear or read from another Catholic person or article. So, let's always keep our hearts open to the "feel" of God.

There are some Catholic spaces on the Internet that are really vicious. It pains me when I read Catholics tearing their Pope, bishops and priests and teachers (universities and theologians) apart with terrible accusations in language fit only for the street. A dark street, at that. I want to jump through my monitor and choke them. Civility has never hurt anyone. The greatest orators in history succeeded at saying what they had to say very effectively in high language. Jesus hasn't been caught in a cruel attact yet, but He sure had a way of putting certain people in their place, did He not? He always based His assertions on facts. This is not always true when you tune in to some of the inter-active forums that I am talking about here. So I tell you, be careful and keep yourself sensitive to the statements that you read there.

There are Catholic spaces on the Internet that are very interesting, very useful and technically very satisfying. Some of them are generally quite correct in their doctrinal statements. Some of them are rich in 21st century technology, offering podcasts, video presentations by renowned theologians and interesting discussions about simple doctrinal questions. (Are there ANY of those?) These are places where the core expertise of the owner of the site becomes apparent after a few visits and at that point it is up to the visitor to stay if the information proves to be solidly orthodox, or leave if it is not, or if the style of the owner doen't fit the visitor's personality. Here again, the surfer must keep sensitive antennae connected to the gift of Faith so as not to be led into a dark corner. It could happen.

Do not be totally trusting of sites whose name starts with "Catholic..." Visit it a couple of times. Look at the source of its material. Look at the direction in which the site is driving the material. If you don't feel comfortable at the gift of Faith level, leave and don't go back. Remember too, you can always inquire from someone you trust if the site that you have visited a time or two is generally trustworthy. Remember also that on the Internet everyone is anonymous, even though the name of the person appears on the site. We rarely know with whom we are exchanging ideas. It could be anybody from Beelzebub to the Archangel Michael, from the Pope to the altar boy in Buenos Aires. We have to stay sensitive to that. If we care about the quality of doctrinal truth that we seek, we have to stay sensitive to the source that we are mining.

I suggest that you go directly to the site. Do not use Google unless it is quite necessary. Start by visiting the Vatican City site and use the search button there. Go to sites whose names you already know, Liguori, St. Anthony Messenger, Sisters of St. Paul, ParishWorld.net and click on the "resources" button where you will discover a boatload of trustworthy sites.

I leave you with a prayer that the Church uses to close the day. It is a quote from the first epistle of St. Peter, chapter 5, verse 8 through 11.
"Brothers, Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for (someone) to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings. The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ (Jesus) will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little. To him be dominion forever. Amen."

Pay attention and you will not have to cry at my funeral.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY -- WHAT LIFE?

RESPECT LIFE SUNDAY

This is one of the days that causes me to wonder, wonder, wonder. What is it that we are respecting. Are we respecting the life of the planet? Are we respecting the life of the microbes, the insects and the germs? Are we respecting the life of the animals with which we share the earth? Are we respecting the living plants in their multitudinous forms? Are we respecting the old humans who are approaching the statistical limit of life? Are we respecting the human youth in the flower of Their age? Are we respecting the humans who live on the margins of what we call our civilization? Are we respecting the lives of the youngest among us ? Are we respecting the lives of the prospective mothers who face some of the most daunting decisions presented to humans? Are we respectful and worshipful of the fact that the temporal life we now have is but the beginning of the eternal life for which we are destined? Are we respectful of the divine life from which the temporal life that we now lead takes its source?

When we say that we respect life do we forget every other form of life but that which is forming in the womb of pregnant females around the world? I'm afraid that we do. I'm convinced that the narrowness of this attitude doesn't help us in our crusade to live more respectable lives on earth. Even the words that we use lock us into a very narrow thought process with regards the respect for life. We hide our respect for life behind politically charged words that force us into legalisms, not virtues. There is no true moral or ethical meaning behind the expression, "pro-life" other than it states that we are "anti-abortion". There is no other real reason for it than to give "anti-abortion" people the space that they need to be legally and politically correct, without being militant against the law of the land which allows abortion. My disappointment is that the pure anti-abortionists have fallen into the trap of not testifying to their true position openly. It is further disappointing because there are any number of "pro-lifers" who are not pure "pro-lifers". There are many "pro-lifers" who have no problem hastening the end of life of those who are suffering terminally diagnosed illnesses; there are many "pro-lifers" who are in favor of the death penalty as it is practiced here in the United States and elsewhere; there are many "pro-lifers" who diminish the quality of life of their aged and incapacitated parents by placing them in depersonalizing jail-like nursing homes. They are "pro-life" when it comes to the terrifying decisions required of others, but "pro-choice" when it comes to salvaging their personal comfort.

There are perhaps not too many of you alive who are reading this who are aware of the cruelty of the dictator Mobutu of the Belgian Congo and then a little later of the Thalidomide disaster.
The first reference is of a cruel individual and his taking over of the government of the Belgian Congo. His miitary goons attacked everything that was Belgian, including religious institutions and schools. Nuns were killed and raped. Many of the heroic missionaries became pregnant. Inspiring stories of saintly nuns and of their missionary congregations abound. Not one single abortion took place. The Belgian people took some of them in and helped with the raising of the offspring. Some of the infant girls were raised by the nuns themselves in the convents. The children of these "victims" are now approaching 50.

The Thalidomide disaster still throws its shadow across the European landscape. There are still hundreds of survivors of the effects of this drug in Europe. Perhaps as many as 400 in Great Britain. Perhaps more in Belgium, France and Germany. The drug was never marketed in the U.S. Some victims are still alive in Canada. It was a drug declared safe for the relief of morning sickness. So women took it in the early stages of their pregnancies. It was then discovered that the foetuses of these women were being adversely affected. Many were born without arms or legs. There is no doubt that many women had abortions, but there is also ample proof that a legion of women brought their children to term and still live while helping the adult offspring to lead comfortable lives.

Everywhere in the world there are people who heroically remember to respect life. These are the ones who remember where it comes from. These are the ones who know that God is in charge.

I bring this reflection to an end with a personal testimony.
My wife and I were married at an advanced age (early 40's). After a little while the inevitable took place, she was given the privilege to carry a child. So, she went to the doctor, and to the hospital. The doctor is Catholic and the hospital was a church entity. After the usual examinations, some were added to the procedure because of her age. Then there was a meeting in the office with the doctor and the representative of the hospital. During the meeting they educated my wife about the risks involved for a woman of her age. At one point they offered a test of the amniotic fluid in order to determine if there was an imminent danger of her giving birth to a Down's Syndrome baby. It was explained that this test would allow us to "make a tough decision" should the test prove positive. My wife was shocked, angry and despondent at the same time. She left them without further ado and came home. I found her in a near rage. We talked about it. The situation, not the "decision" . There was no decision to be made other than the one that had been made two months before. We didn't sleep that night. The next day we went to the hospital and told the people in charge what we thought of their morality and left.
I knew then and I know now what happened. The hospital was taking federal and insurance company money, of course. It therefore had to be able to prove that it offered all possible options to all patients. I still feel that "someday God is gonna get us" who put our church in that situation without thinking of the consequences.
We always knew that God knew what He was doing. You should see that guy of ours these days! Not only is he beautiful, he is kind and generous. I could write all night about his relationship with his grandmother. The problem I would have if I did that is that his brother (11 months younger) would want equal space. He deserves it, but I don't have the time and you don't need to be bored.

Finally, I have to remind you to respect the life toward which we are traveling. Every time you read this blog remember that I am ANTI-ABORTION, ANTI-EUTHANASIA, PRO OLD PEOPLE, PRO HEAVEN and ANTI-CRYING AT MY FUNERAL.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

PRODIGAL SON -- HE LIVES ON

Dear Readers, this Sunday the world is going to consider the folly of the man who has come to be known as the Prodigal Son. It is a parable that is perhaps better known than many of Aesop's fables. It is going to be a boring Sunday for many of us, because this is one of those days when it will be difficult to find a real creative presentation of what Jesus intended when He told the story. I have been tossing and turning this story around in my head for many years and a while ago, I got inspired. I listened to what the father told the stay-at-home-son, "My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours." (Luke, chapter 15, verse 21) It struck me then that both sons were wrong- headed and the father was the wise person in the family. (Sorry, ladies, but the mother is not mentioned in this story.)

I got this inspiration when it came to me that Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a man so bright and so holy that he is known as a Doctor of the Church proposed a key to the understanding of the parables. He suggested that in all parables Jesus, His Church and the Faithful all appear symbolically as in Salvation history. He applied this spiritual insight first and foremost to the parable of the Good Samaritan. It works very well here too. The father is Christ, the Savior. The house (home) is the Church. The boys are the faithful (the people). Think about it.

The beauty of the story is that both sons start out on equal footing and even though the younger one does something stupid, he gets feted and his brother gets silenced. Isn't that the way God is. We all start out on the same footing. We can all relate to God assuring us that "...all that I have is yours." Isn't it true that we don't get it? In this story neither the younger nor the elder was convinced of this truth. The younger displayed his ignorance by asking for his share before his father died. The elder stayed around but never came to believe the truth of how rich he really was until he too challenged his father for what he thought was rightfully his. His father told him straight-up about the reality of his situation.

The challenge that comes to us from this story is the same that comes to us from Jesus in all His stories: "Until you hate your mother and father you cannot be my disciple." "If you don't leave the 99 sheep to look for the one who got away, you are not my disciple." "If you don't eat my flesh and drink my blood you will not have everlasting life." "Blind? If you were, you would not be guilty, but since you say, 'We see', your guilt remains." This is exactly what happens here in today's story. The younger brother goes from being blind to seeing. The elder brother remains self righteously blind, not accepting that "all I have is yours."

Some of you reading this can relate to the story first hand. Some of us "cradle Catholics" take what we have for granted. We begin by not seeing our own sinfulness and unworthiness, and we fancy that we are much better than others, and that nobody is worthy to be put by our side. We find ourselves unable to take pleasure when others are forgiven and accepted.
Some of you "returning Catholics" are grateful for the love and understanding that the Church has extended to you despite your "folly". In this passage, Jesus teaches us that the conversion of any soul ought to be an occasion of joy to all who see it. Our Lord shows us this by putting the following words into the mouth of the prodigal's father--"We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!"

Some of you started from afar and came to find the house where the party is. You followed the younger one to the house and have been included in the all embracing hug of Jesus himself.

The lesson is one which we shall all do well to lay to heart. Nothing ought to give us such true pleasure as the conversion of souls. It makes angels rejoice in heaven. It ought to make Christians rejoice on earth. What if those who are converted were lately the vilest of the vile? What if they have served sin and Satan for many long years, and wasted their substance in riotous living? It matters nothing. "Has grace come into their hearts? Are they truly penitent? Have they come back to their father's house? Are they new creatures in Christ Jesus? Are the dead made alive and the lost found?"

We have a daily banquet table around which to gather and celebrate. Let us warm ourselves in the loving embrace of Jesus, always leaving some space for the lost sibling who is fighting his way back into the family. If you know whom it could be, extend the invitation. Make it easy for this courageous soul to come home. Trust me, the more that happens, the fewer will be those who cry at my funeral, and maybe even yours.

Monday, September 10, 2007

HOLD YOUR APPLAUSE

I am 74 years old. I have an advanced degree in Theology. I don't think that I have missed a Sunday Mass 10 times in my life. I have participated in the Holy Mass hundreds of times on Sunday and during the week. I have done this in hundreds of churches in at least 10 countries plus the West Bank. Needless to say I have listened to countless homilies and slept through more than I can count. But not long ago, September 10, 2007, four days after the 70.5 point of my first glimpse of the light of day, I had a new experience. After the homily, the church broke out in applause. I was flummoxed.

What on earth were you applauding? It is now 4 years after the event and I still can't believe it happened. I still can't figure what you were applauding. In church! After a homily that was laughable? yes; deserving of applause? no, no and no!

My take:

1. This was a bombastic display of misplaced human energy. 15 minutes of high volume blasting into a Lavaliere microphone while stalking back and forth across the front of the altar. Yelling and stalking in front of the ALTAR. The holy ALTAR, the TABLE of the Eucharistic banquet. The ambo is off to the side of the Altar because the Altar has the primordial position in the church. The Tabernacle is off to the side of the church because the Altar is the center of our worship during the Holy and Sacred Sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharistic Banquet. This man desecrated the position of the altar and he got applause!

2. He described two sacraments of service: Matrimony and Holy Orders. In describing these he didn't forget to mention that wives have to render service to their husbands and children. He somehow forgot to describe the husband's role in this relationship. That was because he was on a roll and was in a hurry to say that the priest is ordained to serve, and has chosen to serve people rather than the business complex of the world. "That's why you call me Father." Is that what you were applauding?

3. He worked his way down to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Peter. Of course he was high on St. Peter being the Rock and all that. Then he said how wonderful it was to see the Blessed Virgin bow down and humbly accept St. Peter as the head of the church without complaint. Excuse me! When Mary was around, she, pure Judean by birth and upbringing and marriage (she was born in Jerusalem and Joseph in Bethlehem) would not bow down humbly to this smelly, Galilean fisherman. Let me remind you of a few things about Mary. She raised the Child. She protected Him by running down through the Sinai desert to Egypt to protect Him. She scolded Him in front of the rabbis in the Temple. After His cavalier twelve year old retort, she took Him home to Nazareth where He grew in age, stature, wisdom and grace while being obedient to her. Jesus never got the last word with her. Check out the story of Cana. "Do whatever He tells you." Finally, where was Peter when she was standing at the foot of the cross where the One that he had denied was hanging? You applauded this guy for saying that Mary bowed down humbly and accepted Peter as the head of the Church?

On top of all that, while Mary was around, Peter was having zero success in his mission to the Jews. So he was on the coast in Caesarea, talking to the Gentile Romans up and down the coast. Mary was in Jerusalem where St. James was the head of the church. You can look it up in the Acts of the Apostles. If you look it up, I hope you will feel that applauding after a homily, this one in particular, is a mistake.

The priest giving this male triumphalistic bluster is a Missionary of Our Lady of La Salette. God did not send St. Peter to La Salette in France when He had a point to make to the world in the same year that Marx promulgated the Communist Manifesto (1846). He sent His mother, Mary. And she didn't sound too humble either. Listen:
"If my people will not submit, I feel constrained to let the arm of my Son fall upon them. It is so strong and so heavy that I can hardly hold it up and protect you any more. It has been such a long time that I suffer for you. If I do not want my Son to let His arm fall upon you, I must pray for you all the time and yet, you do not pay attention..."
And this is only the beginning. "Those who drive the carts can't swear without putting my Son's name in the middle of their curses. You have six days to work. Yet you do not worship when you go to Mass. When you go to Mass you just go there to mock at religion. During Lent, you go to the meat market like dogs." Did this La Salette Missionary forget this during his endless swagger? Where is Peter, Father? And you in the pews, you applauded?!?

I think that you applauded for the "cute" way he speaks English. I admit that for a Filipino who has never lived in the United States, his English is really quite articulate, grammatically correct and his syntax is good. He is full of Filipino/Tagalog Anglicisms, some of which are humorous and some of which made you laugh. Is that why you go to Sunday Mass? For a performance? Since you applauded, did you give more to the collection? I'm going to check the numbers next week.

I don't think that you applauded for his witty and intelligent reference to Exodus and Leviticus at an early stage of his homily. How many of you have read Exodus? Leviticus? How long would it take you to find these Scriptures without looking at the table of contents at the front of the book?

If you applauded because you like any of these things, it was wrong. The church says that the homily is part of the lesson of the Sacred Scripture for the day. It is not a performance by the priest. It is a liturgical act on the part of the priest. It is a liturgical moment that belongs to the Scriptural lesson that the Church gives us for that Mass. It is a liturgical moment during which the presider of the Sacred Eucharistic Banquet shares his spiritual convictions with the participants in the Mass who are sitting in the pews. This is not Paul's moment. Nor is it Tim's, or Jake's or Jim's. It is God's moment. It is the moment when the priest speaks in the living faith that he has that the Spirit is guiding his tongue. The Mass does not belong to the presiding priest. It belongs to Jesus; it belongs to the Church. The priest does not deserve any applause for any liturgical moment that he provides according to the rituals of the Church. God deserves our prayer of thanks for giving the priest the inspiration to say things that move us in the direction in which God wants us to go.

I don't care whether you applauded for the content or for the style. In both instances, you should have contained your enthusiasm and given it silently to God. Why? well, for starters, the content left plenty to be desired and the style was downright offensive and liturgically erroneous.
I know that after reading this you're sure as shooting not going to cry at my funeral. In fact, you're probably wondering why it is taking so long for it to happen. Talk to God about it. Maybe He'll tell you. He sure isn't letting me know what his schedule is. If it will make you feel any better, make a comment about what you have just read. Don't be shy. I'll even answer you. I will never change my mind. Applauding a homily is wrong.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

LETTER TO THE PUBLISHER

Dear Publisher:
I have just spent an hour reading selected articles from ParishWorld.net. I have to be totally frank with you. I rarely, if ever do this. I invest a lot of time in the creation and upkeep of the material in the publication, but I rarely read more than what I have to in order to accomplish my mission to the end product. Today, though, I am taking it easy because I am trying to get a vicious attack of the gout to subside.
I am impressed. Like a friend of mine yesterday, I am practically left speechless. Decidedly a rarity for me. You can tell that I have since recovered from my initial lingual stricture. I am all the more in awe of the publication because I know that I was playing around in only one third of the "sandbox". I didn't open any if the specific sites maintained by individual parishes. [30 some odd]. I also am not a fan of the audio and video features offered, but I know that this is a highly prized section of ParishWorld.net.

As I sit here I am reminded of an article that I read on the Internet a few weeks ago that reminded us consumers that the vast majority of us use about 2% of the computing power that we own and control. I can't help but think of myself. 1 PC, 2 laptops, 1 Treo and one state of the art 10.1 megapixel, watch pocket sized digital camera with a 2 gigabyte chip, that takes very good video as well. As you read that last sentence, you were convinced as I am that I am one of the two-percenters.
I split my living arrangements in two, between Moreno Valley and San Diego, but that doesn't stop me from communicating and producing. I have access to the Internet no matter where I go. I spent over one month in Asia Minor and Europe in March and April and never missed a beat. I even contributed a daily blog about my stay in the Holy Land, pictures and all. You saw it all, and can still access it in ParishWorld.net.

It makes me think of what I have been going through for the past 35 or 40 years. I live in San Diego. The reaction of people who come to find out where I live is invariably, "How lucky! San Diego is sooo beautiful." As a wise man once said, "Luck is the residue of design." He was right, whoever he happens to be. I know that I made a conscious decision to live in San Diego because of my appreciation for the region. It was not luck. I admit that I did not make a conscious, seriously pre-meditated decision to come to ParishWorld.net because of a deep appreciation for something with which I had become intimately familiar. Nope! It was simply because I am an adventurous and curious person who loves the feel of change and the challenge of conquering the new. I also have to say that the publisher had plied me with wine, food and music on the night of my decision. I have never looked back. I knew then and know now that God had just tickled the whale's throat and it threw me up on the beach at ParishWorld.net It was not luck.

It is with totally unabashed pride that I say that, unlike Jonah, I am glad to be here. I can say that Wally's brain child is indeed a beauty of world class quality. I can assure you that once you have tried it and stay with it a while, you'll look forward to having it in your E-mail week after week. When did you ever have such an interesting magazine that you don't have recycle? When did you ever subscribe to a Catholic magazine that was not censored, therefore making it all the more interesting? When did you ever subscribe to a magazine that did not make you feel guilty and sloppy because you were storing it in your bathroom for toilet reading? When did you ever subscribe to a magazine that provides you with a search engine to help you find that one idea that you just have to find now, but can't remember where you saw it last?

Finally [a], when is the last time that you, Mr. Joe Catholic and Ms Jane Pew had a magazine delivered to you that brought you the Grace of God in the form of interesting news columns?
Finally [b] click on the "Choose your Parish" block and click on the Model Parish. Read it well by using the tabs. Then go tell your Pastor that this is how you would like to get the information about your parish. He, and your colleagues in Christ will love you for it.

A year or so ago, God called me to a new form of evangelization. I am happy that I had the common sense to say "yes" to this new vocation. It's a good thing too. This way I know why I didn't die young. He still had a few things for me to do. He still needs some time to clean the old man up. I don't know when He is going to decide to fire me. I just hope that when He decides that I have done all He ever wanted me to do, He'll do it
quickly, with no second thoughts. When that happens, you will have absolutely no reason to cry at my funeral.
Paul Dion, STL , ParishWorld.net Theology Editor

Monday, September 3, 2007

GOD'S PLAN OF SALVATION CALLS FOR HUMAN WORKS

This is simple. The Catholic Church teaches that human works, in and of themselves do not have the power to save us. Check this out:
Council of Trent, 1547, the Church convened to issue a proclamation on justification. In Canon 1 the Catholic council declared:
“If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works, whether done by his
own natural powers or through the teaching of the law, without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
Canon 3 says very clearly::
“If anyone says that without the predisposing inspiration of the Holy Ghost, and without His help, man can believe, hope, love or be repentant as he ought, so that the grace of justification may be bestowed upon Him, let him be anathema.”

That having been said, works are necessary adjuncts to our faith, fruits of the inspiring grace of the Holy Spirit.

Look at it this way:

God worked for six days straight before taking a breather.
He delegated Adam and Eve to manage (have dominion over) His creation. After the fall, he really put them to work, to earn their bread by the sweat of their brow.
He loved Abel because of his sweet smelling sacrifices.
He punished Cain, not by taking work away from him but by forcing him to learn a new trade.
He put Noah to work to help Him save the good people and the innocent animals. All except those silly Unicorns (You have to hear this) who were too busy playing rather than working.
Can you begin to imagine the work He had Abraham do?
Jacob surely didn't have much time to himself with his 12 children.
Joseph, Jacob's son was instrumental in getting food to the Chosen People during a vicious famine by being an "insider" in the Pharaoh's court.
Then Yaweh called Moses to organize the Israelites and lead them back home. Forty years in the desert!
Joshua takes over and struggles to get them all safely into Jerusalem.
Samuel takes over the lead of the army.
Saul is chosen but turns out to be a bad choice. He spends a lot of his time chasing David in order to kill him.
God is on David's side. Twice David could have killed Saul and twice he spared him.
David centered worship in Jerusalem.
Solomon takes over and builds the Temple, among other things. (This is a family publication)
God is really putting these people to work, right?

I'm going to take a breather here and just briefly mention all the work that God gave the prophets. Some famous, some not, but all gave their lives to God. It was tough. God told Isaiah, "...Go to these hard hearted people. Beware, the more you speak, the deafer they will become..." Paraphrase of Isaiah 6: 9+ 10.

I'm not going to forget my favorites, the Maccabee brothers. Their revolt against the Greeks brought the Temple back under the control of the Israelites.

So, OK, we will talk about the New Testament movers and shakers,

John the Baptist, preaching and baptizing and calling the King out for his sexual escapades.
Jesus didn't exactly sit still either, now did he?
He also kept His disciples on the move.
He never cured anyone without telling them to go now and do something, even if it was a simple, "sin no more."

Finally he tells us to go and baptize all nations. Now that's a direct commandment to get to work.
There is no room in God's plan of salvation for lay-abouts. If Yaweh works; if Jesus works; if they tell us to help them in their work, who are we to say "no" and then proclaim that we that we believe because faith alone in Jesus Christ is all that is expected of us? We have to take the parable of Jonah to heart. We can't wait until we get swallowed by the whale. We must believe and work at the same time.

What about Paul in 1 Corinthians, 9;16, "For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel." I am under compulsion. God is making me do it. If it weren't for him it would be my work and I would be proud of it. But because it is His, I don't boast and He therefore gets the credit for work well done. He then reaches in and touches the hearts who listen to Him through me.

By the way, to whom was Jesus talking to when He talks about the final judgment? Sounds like He's telling us to work or loose heaven.

I therefore invite you all to Believe and to bring your belief (faith) into gear. If you don't, I'm going to leave you behind after having lived a full life of faith and works for Him. I can't help it, my name is Paul. If and when you cry at my funeral, I will joyfully cross the Red Sea of your tears and hope that when your eyes clear, you'll get to work so we can enjoy the sweet angelic music of heaven together as we "Whistle While we Work."

DEAD SEA SCROLLS in SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA

The Dead Sea Scrolls are our bridge to a period that laid the foundation of western traditions, beliefs and practices throughout the past two millennia. My wife and I went to San Diego to visit the exhibit. It is touted to be the largest ever to be assembled outside of Israel since the discovery of the Scrolls.
The exhibit is being presented by Joan and Irwin Jacobs of San Diego, California. Mr. Jacobs is one of the two partners who founded Qualcomm. This is the company that invented the CDMA format that makes cell phones work. This family is one of the leading philanthropic families in the United States.
The exhibit covers 12,000 square feet of the Museum of Natural History in San Diego's Balboa Park which is located just south of the famous San Diego Zoo.
We went on a Friday afternoon and there were quite a few visitors. The entry fee is rather steep for my tastes, some $27.00 for adults. There is a discount for children and seniors and the prices are lower from Monday through Thursday. Security is tight and remiscent of our visit to the Holy Land which was detailed here some months ago. In fact my wife said, "Hmm, this is like crossing over to the West Bank." Somewhat, but without the need for a passport. You will be asked to produce I.D. A driver license will suffice.
The Dead Sea Scrolls are important biblical manuscripts that were discovered in the caves of Qumran, a city some 40 miles south of Jerusalem, not far from the Dead Sea. None of the scrolls are related to the New Testament. All of them on display are fragments. The amount of work and patience that it takes to put them back together and make sense of them is staggering. Part of the exhibit is a demonstration of how the people who are dedicated to this work do it. The scrolls make up one of three parts of the show.
The first part is a series of stunning photographs of Israel itself. It is interesting to see these photos because they tell so much about the land of Israel. I was impressed at this introduction to the scrolls themselves. Part of the photograph study takes the visitor through the site of the discovery itself and introduces the key players in the recovery and study of the artifacts. There are different hypotheses as to the way the discovery, recovery and study of the scrolls. The exhibit is presented in such a way as to conduct the visitor through one of the theories, the oldest one, and the one that was constructed by the Dominican who was first put in charge of the project, Father De Vaux.
The second part of the exhibit is the showing of the scrolls themselves. They are not easy to see and the lighting is not always sufficient for old eyes like mine. When I go back, I will bring along a loupe to help me out when I get to this part of the layout. There are only 12 scrolls, but I found that it is enough to give a flavor of what it is that was found. Each fragment is accompanied by its biblical or in some cases, its non-biblical reference and its translation.
Down the hall the exhibit comes to its conclusion with a stunning array of ancient illuminated bibles.
The first part of the exhibit is guided by plaques on the wall. The other two parts are self - guided with the help of hand held recorders. The rental of this apparatus is included in the entry fee. The exhibit is not meant to be for the technical experts in the field of Bible Study or archeology. It is aimed at the general public, and the general public can enjoy it and learn much about the question of where the Bible comes from and how it is assembled into one common sense piece of work. The exhibit is also not meant to stir controversy. It puts forth one story, and one story only. It is a very plausible theory and stands quite strongly to this very day. The tri-folds that are available at the site provide schedules of professional presentations dedicated to providing more insights to the various questions being raised about the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some of that information can also be obtained by clicking here.
The exhibit will be open to the public until December 31, 2007. It is my opinion that thoses of you who live in Southern California, or will be in the area between now and the end of the year should make it a point to spend the 2 to 3 hours that it takes to make the tour. There are more specifics about it here. If you go to this one, you will not have to cry at my funeral.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

PRAYER -- GOD AND THE CALIFORNIA LOTTO

"My prayers are always heard and answered. God either gives me what I want or He takes away the desire I have to make it mine." (Dennis Sheahan, Resident Sage and Keeper of the Aphorisms)
Strive for success and remember you won't get what you want unless you want what you get. (Yogi Berra, Native of St. Louis where English was rarely spoken)

The other night my wife and I were finishing our night prayers when a flash of my guardian angel's sword brought me to a cold sweat. I thought that he was trying to beat back the "devil who is prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking whom to devour." (1 Peter; 5, 9) But no, I was the one that the angel was looking for. I ducked, but his spiritual sword got me anyway, right in the heart. Before we could finish the doxology of Compline, I was chuckling heartily. Of course the Mother Abbess of the Saint Maximillian Kolbe Mobile Home Monastery was not
smiling. With pursed lips and flashing eyes glaring she demanded, "Why are you laughing?" I immediately snapped to attention and said, "My guardian angel just stabbed me in the heart." "Good," says she, "you deserve it, I know. What did you do now?"
"Well, I think that God must be just a little bit on edge with me for something that I did today. I mean, now that I think of it, it was really personal. All week long I knew that the California Lotto was going to have an $80 million jackpot. I prayed every single day, many times every day, that God would give me the winning ticket. So, of course, all week long I decided that I was going to buy my usual $20 dollar array. I mean, I was really into this. I was even kneeling on my arthritic knees during the Mass instead hooking my bum to the pew behind me. I was holding my hands piously, bowing profoundly before taking the host for communion, smiling and really being gentle when shaking a lady's hand during the exchange of peace. I mean, it got so bad that I was even listening to the short homily with my eyes open, for goodness sake. Now this was really a full court press."

Comes Friday afternoon and I am full of sass and I have a crunchy new Jackson in my pocket. I just know that God is going to do this for me. I get a moment of freedom from the Abbess and I run down to the liquor store that is owned and operated by the Chaldean Catholics. No messing around here. You gotta hit the halos. I get my twenty tickets and on the way home, in a moment of weakness, I figure, "What the heck, a little bribery can't hurt." So I say to the Man upstairs, "I'll give you back 10%, before taxes, every year." Now, I am sinning big time. Not
only do I bribe Heaven but I am feeling like I'm unbeatable. Hell, man, I just gave up 10% of the proceeds. I know that the Abbess is going to be livid. My sons, God bless 'em, are going to bathe me in acrimony for hours. Ten percent! When are you going to learn? But I decide that it's worth the money to get God on my side. I'll go through the human torture to get the money that the charity is bound to bring. Then a brilliant idea sneaks out of the cracks. "Not a word until after you know for sure that you've got the pot, you hear?" Oh, perfect. So that's what I do.

So the Abbess, AKA "The Voice from the Kitchen", says, "You are so rotten. You're lucky that your guardian angel just nicked you. I would have done away with you." I say, hurt to the core, "He couldn't put me away because I would have gone to hell."
"You're a crazy old coot. Why did you insult God that way? You kiss up to Him and then you insult Him by buying twenty tickets. Don't you think that if He wanted you to win, all He would have needed was ONE ticket?"
"All right already. I'll apologize to Him before I thank Him if I win. If I lose, I'll know why, and I'll apologize anyway. I'll tell him that I got the point."

Well, let me tell you. God is a humorous guy (ooppsss, person). He answered all my prayers, despite my insult. He made me win. I actually won. I checked the numbers and when I saw the results I was laughing so hard I nearly fell off my chair. I won...$1.00. One, big beautiful picture of George Washington. So God and I kissed and made up and we're friends again. I mean, I won. My prayers, bribery and all worked! But I have a sense of humour too. I'm still praying and everything, but Now I'm hooking the pew and I'm closing my eyes during the short morning homily.

Now that was Saturday, and none of the other people who were sacrificing, fasting and flogging themselves with whips to impress God and get Him to give them all that money walked away totally happy. So on Sunday morning I tell Him, "Look, I get the joke. That's neat. So I'll tell you what, I'll put the single back into Arnie's coffers and you are going to make it a winner on Wednesday, right? Forget all those other half-hearted praying and sacrificing christians and remember the sweet old man who writes for ParishWorld.net, the best evangelizing
magazine in all creation. Right?" Well, I've been praying now for four days. I did buy one ticket, because even God can't make you win if you don't buy a ticket.
If you'll give me a moment, I'll go check the results so that we can celebrate together. Hang on a bit.

Well, the buck that I gave back to Arnie because it came from God will make someone happy, I'm sure. The Abbess still loves me, and my children haven't started proceedings to put me in a home yet. I'll have to go on wondering if He does all this stuff to me to save me from a long stint in Purgatory. That's what I like about prayer. God always gives you something to be happy about. Mostly it's the ability to be happy knowing that He is there enjoying your life with you. It is filling you with the grace of being satisfied with what you have and not going crazy over the useless things that you don't have yet. Having Him is all we need, and He knows it. That's the best lesson that we can all learn a little bit better every day of our lives. Let's do it together. We'll get to be better people that way and you won't feel the slightest need to cry at my funeral because Old Peter, and Jesus Himself and I will be laughing at the day that I was stupid enough
to throw sand in the eyes of God with those extra nineteen tickets.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

MARRIED PRIESTS NOT SEEN AS A SOLUTION

Archbishop Defends Celibacy (I do too)


ADELAIDE, Australia, AUG. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Allowing priests to marry is not the answer to the shortage of priestly vocations. Archbishop Wilson of Adelaide, who is also the president of the Australian bishops' conference, wrote a letter for the National Vocations Awareness Week that began in his archdiocese Tuesday.
"You often hear it said," the archbishop started, "that 'the Church should let priests get married and then we would solve the problem of the shortage.' However, he explained, "I think that it is important to reflect on the positive value of celibacy."


Community context


"We need to see a vocation as more than just an individual or personal life choice," Archbishop Wilson said. "Each vocation is a call from God in the context of the Christian community and for the service of the community.
"If we only see a vocation from the individual's point of view, we will find it hard to see beyond the thought that priests and religious are missing out on something if they are not married. John Paul II reminded us that 'No one is called to walk alone.'" The 56-year-old archbishop continued: "The context of a loving, supportive Christian community is important. At the heart of the ministry of Jesus was the proclamation of the Kingdom of God. In fact in his very person he made the Kingdom of God present in human time and history.
"The Kingdom of God is among us and includes our human endeavors, we know that its fulfillment lies beyond us and only in the mystery of God and in the next life."
"Celibate priests and religious are clear signs of this mystery. They continually challenge us to look beyond," the archbishop explained.


Human loss


Archbishop Wilson continued: "You hear it said 'how can priests be helpful to married people and for families if they haven't experienced it themselves?'
"However, there's a deeper way that priests and religious share in the human experiences of others and so can relate to them. It is in the experience of loss and letting go."
Archbishop Wilson underlined the "deep wisdom in the Church continuing to ask priests to be celibate and in upholding the enduring religious vow of chastity." "Of their very natures," he concluded, "these vows only exist and are possible because of God's grace. Let us not lose faith and confidence in the gift of this grace. Let us confidently pray for it."


My Comment


This is a short but very powerful letter. It proposes some thoughts that had not yet occurred to me. The intimate connection with the rest of the community that celibacy gives to priests through the "loss and the letting go." This brings us to the feet of Jesus who told the rich man: "There is still one thing left for you: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have a treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." (Luke, 18; 22) This is the foundation of the Archbishop's teaching, "these vows only exist and are possible because of God's grace." This grace is given not only to the individual but to the whole community. It is in the community that the priest lives his vows. It is the spiritual priesthood of the community that provides the spiritual support to the priest so that the practice of his vows will have fruit. By the same token, the practice of celibacy is a lived martyrdom and a heaven-on-earth witness to the dynamic presence of God. Martyrdom does not always end in death. "Martyr" is an old Greek word which means "witness".
Witness is only given while we are alive. Sometimes it ends in death, but it is always public and it takes as much strength to live it out over time as it does to die for it. We all know that this kind of courage is required of a good priest, a strong missionary.
I will now say that I think that having married priests in the Latin Church is a good idea. I think that the Greek churches have a good method. I think that there is room in the Latin Church for the same system. But I do not, I repeat, I do not think that the Latin Church should, nor would, go the married priest system to solve the priest shortage reality. For those of you who do not know what I mean, a short and quick explanation.


In the Eastern churches, it is acceptable for a married man to be ordained to the priesthood. However, it is not possible for an ordained priest to get married.



This is a very important practice to be kept in mind.
Just because I think that there is room in the Latin Church for such a system, I am leaving it up to the Church to determine if and when this practice should be accepted and encouraged. I am with the Church and the Archbishop from Adelaide on this one. The Church needs signs. The Church needs holy and living martyrdom to place before the World. St. Paul himself shouted that out to his people. He wanted them to understand him, and by the same token he wanted them to understand how the grace of God works in us. The celibate person is a sign
from God to all of us.
Martyrs are not easy to find. But the efficatiousness of martyrdom doesn't depend on numbers. Just as Faith is not a numbers game just as it is not an intellectual exercise, so martyrdom is the same. It is an exercise of carrying the light of the Word through the highways and byways of the World. Martyrdom is a highly spiritual exercise of righteousness for the good of the community. The priesthood therefore is a calling to witness to the presence of God through the sacrifice of HiS Son, Jesus Christ, founder of the Church. This is not impossible
for a married man to accomplish but look around you. How many celibate priests are there who are living a true martyrdom? How many of them are more dedicated to the administrative tasks of the parish than they are to a life of witness? You're right. Too many. So the Church's position is that it is not a question of numbers, but a question of quality. It is the Church's opinion, and mine, that the solution to the mediocrity problem is not by taking away the challenge of celibacy, but by keeping it in front of everybody as God's challenge to both, priest
and faithful as human community's martyrdom for His sake.


That's my story and I am going to live and die with it. Love it or hate it, you won't have to cry at my funeral because of it.

WHAT DID YOU FIND WHEN YOU LEFT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ?

I start the answer to this question by saying that I have never left the Catholic Church. All I can do is to recount what I observe, what I read and what I hear, especially from those who come back to the Catholic Church after having "strayed", their word. I also start this by saying that I am originally from New England where there was and still is a high percentage of Catholics despite the fact that the original colonies were very often theocracies founded by the Pilgrims. It happened just as often that over time the Pilgrims were outnumbered by the Italians, the Portuguese, the Polish and the French, Catholic populations all. The Irish came a little later, but they were mostly Catholic too. All of that just to say that I am not a child of a religious monologue, nor of a religious monoscape. To use a word that I have come to find distasteful, but it fits here, I come from diversity. No, I am not Anglo-Saxon. Yes, I am diverse.

Now a short parable.

I was in the Holy Land for four weeks some months ago. I spent a lot of time in Old Jerusalem as well as in Old Bethlehem. There is in the center of Old Jerusalem a majestic Lutheran church dedicated to the Holy Redeemer. This church is a few steps across the road from the church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is also the only Protestant church in the Old City. While we were there it was very often locked and inaccessible. This did not perturb us, of course, but our curiosity was certainly piqued because as time went by it was the only church in the Old City that we had yet to enter. Two days before our scheduled departure we decided to go to Jerusalem one last time. It so happened that during this last pilgrimage to the Sacred City, the church of the Holy Redeemer was open. We went in. The huge portal closed quietly behind us. In front of us and all around us there was nothing but space. Four grey walls. No pews. An altar and a pulpit. No odor. No noisy, jostling, international herd of tourist-pilgrims. No statues (of course). No pictures (heavens, no). Not even a cross on the front wall. Finally, what really surprised us was the fact that there was not even an open Bible anywhere. There were no people praying, just three or four more tourists such as we. We looked at one another, shrugged and left quietly.

Just as quickly as our Catholicism had been stripped from us as the door closed in on us, we were thrown back into the reality of Mix-Master, multi-national, multi-cultural, multi-colored, noisy, sweaty Jerusalem-style biblical religiosity. Mental pictures of people I know who had left the Catholic church for another religion flooded my imagination. Words of wonder coming from them filled my memory.
"There are no colors to set the environment."
"I missed Jesus on the cross, looking at me, keeping me honest."
"I missed taking Jesus in communion."
"I missed being reminded to beg for forgiveness for the sins I committed in the past week."
"I missed the interesting stories from the Old Testament."
"I missed the candles and the incense."
"I missed special feast days like Ash Wednesday, Pentecost and days like that."
"I missed the Blessed Virgin Mary."
"I missed the other saints too, like St. Rose, St. Therese and my patron saint, Felicity, the martyr."
"I missed the catechism. I never, ever thought I would say that, but I did miss it."
"I missed the Mass at weddings and I missed it especially at funerals."
"I missed the rosary at the viewings of the deceased."
"I missed the unity. Every church was different. There was no moral or doctrinal unity."
"I was surprised to hear so many bad things about Catholics said from the pulpit."
"I met so many disgruntled Catholics that it was hard to be happy."

I left because I was fed up with all the rules and regulations about so many things.
Everything was regulated from what to do to get your baby baptized, to who the godparents could or should be.
Marriage in the church was a nine months preparatory period.
It was just one thing after another.

Then I suddenly had two children and there was nothing for them to aspire to that I could relate to. True, we had our Bible and we did read it and study it, but I did not feel that I had what it takes to bring the fullness of its meaning home to my children. I found myself teaching them the Our Father and the Act of Contrition because I was afraid for them if they could not go to confession. I have to admit that I was disoriented because there was no unified, well focused teaching. Believe it or not, I found myself looking for a priest who would hear my confession. It was then that I brought the entire experience together in my conscience and realized that I had to rethink my situation.

At about this time, John Paul II died. The world stopped for a week. Everyone centered in on Rome. The television went on for long hours without commercial interruptions. It was almost impossible to tell the Catholics from the other players, except the prelates from the East with their strange garb. That did it for me. I knew what I had to do. I talked to my husband about the state of my conscience. Not surprisingly, he agreed. He told me that he too was not comfortable. Some days after the funeral of J.P. II the two of us went to see our pastor and simply told him what had been happening to us over time. We described the clinching moment to him. He looked at us and told us that he understood fully. He assured us that no matter where we went, we would be close friends of God. He confessed to us that he too had been a practicing Catholic. He wished us well and we left quietly, our hearts throbbing with joy.

When we reached home we called the local Catholic church and made an appointment to talk to a priest and present ourselves to the sacrament of Reconciliation. The meeting and the confession that took place are a story for another day. The Sunday after that was one of the most glorious days of our lives.

This is a composite story, woven together from the threads of my ministerial memory. I offer it to all the readers of ParishWorld.net as an exhortation to invite someone to fill in the blanks by coming back home. If you do that and someone does turn it around, I know that you will not cry at my funeral.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

FROM WOLVES TO DOGS TO PEOPLE

Is there someone in the United States of America who has not heard about the dog fighting story involving Michael Vick? For the record, here is my personal take on animals in general.
Animals are creatures of God and as such they are to be respected. They are creatures that have a degree of mental capacity. They have the abiblity to live side by side with us. We recognize that from the moment of creation, we human beings have been entrusted with the management of God's handiwork, one part of which are the animals with which we share the planet. Animals in general do not need our direct and continued intervention for their survival. Some, however, have entered our circle of life and have developed a degree of necessity for our presence, not just for survival but to maintain a style of life that is generally better than they would have in their natural habitat. Some have entered our circle of life for the purpose of sparing us the difficulty of hunting them in the wild. We call them domesticated, but that doesn't necessarily equate to a longer life for them. Some have been domesticated and tamed to help us with work that we could do but with a lot more effort than what we can usually maintain for long periods of time. Finally, we keep some of them for no other reason than for our companionship and some respectful amusement.

In the case of dogs, it is generally accepted that they have been co-existing with humans in a friendly relationship for some 30,000 years. Our relationship with them is rather complex. The beginning of the friendly relationship between humans and wolves, the source population of our domestic animal, remains a mystery. According to one scenario, it would be the wolves themselves who took the first steps to approach humans. They are said to have learned to approach camp fires of hunters, both for warmth and scraps from the meals that had been incompletely consumed. It is believed that wolves and dogs can read the intentions of humans more than any other animal. Dogs provide many important things to us, from food to highly trained companions for the weakest of our brothers and sisters. They even make good movie stars! Lassie, Rin Tin Tin and Bengie are good examples.
I don't know if Scooby Doo qualifies, being but a 'toon.

One of my favorite stories about dogs cooperating with high human achievement is the saga of Roald Ahmundsen, the Norwegian explorer who was the first to reach the South Pole. Roald was in a heated race with the British explorer, Robert Scott. Roald won because he had the best strategy. He rushed in with his dog teams and his sleds heavy with equipment. He got there first, left a note and the Norwegian flag for Scott, unloaded all non-essentials from the sleds, turned around, empty sleds, extra dogs and all and ran back to the base camp. On the way he chopped up the extra sleds, used the wood to cook the weaker dogs and came home safely, soundly and proudly. Sad to say, Mr. Scott and all members of his team reached the Pole but perished on the way back.

I like this story because it is a strong illustration of how creatures of vastly different existential capabilities can work together to cause advances in scientific knowledge. We are accompanied by animals and plants on this earth for their good and our good. We are entrusted with the dominion [management] of the earth by God. It is not for us to play games with. It is not for us to exploit beyond repair. It is not for us to disrespect. In the case of training dogs to fight to the death, such as happens more often than we like to think, I am convinced that this is a level of brutality towards animals that should not be tolerated. It is so brutal because it contributes to the degradation of the humans who participate in the activity. The immorality of the behavior has a two-fold source, the unnecessary destruction of a living being as well as the demeaning and degradation of the human spirit. I have to say that I see this as a sin against creation. It is a sin against the commandment of God to care for his creation. True it is that as humans we have the right to use creation for our own good and to perfect it as we go along. We are called and mandated by God to be pro-creators. When we fail to live as such, we harm not only ourselves as individuals but our actions reflect poorly on the community of humans.

I am not an animal lover. I respect them. I don't give them any of my emotional currency. I don't abuse their bodies and I respect what psychology they have. When I think that this is one more life that can contribute to God's glory, I can't help but respect it. I dare say that this respect for animal life is tucked away in a small corner in the back of our human conscience. Rarely, if ever, do we mention animal life as a "pro-life" issue. It is true that animal life exists for the service that it can provide for human beings. I maintain that this life has to be at the service of noble human activity, not to be destroyed for humans to exercise their base desires. I also know that I may never hear a pro-life presentation that will include a plea for respect due to animal life, but the crass and brutal activities of dog fighting, cock fighting and bull fighting don't ennoble the human reason for living, and should therefore disappear from the face of the earth.

So, brothers and sisters, don't expect to ever see me with a pet. The reflections presented here address an extreme action. There are other ways that humans abuse animals. Some are more reprehensible than others. They should all be avoided. Let us all maintain a high level of regard for the animals that God gives us and with which we share the earth.