Monday, March 24, 2008


Last week ran a top story that was entitled, "Has the Notion of Sin Been Lost?" I looled at that headline and said to myself, "Sure, and why not? It should be lost, forever, and replaced with the notion of virtue." Sadly, both of these notions are on the endangered list. Sure we are surrounded by people who don't think that pre-marital sex is sinful; sure we are Surrounded by people who think that masturbation is not sinful; sure we are surrounded by people who think that euthanasia is not sinful and for sure we surrounded by people who think that lying is not sinful.

My attitude? So what? We are also surrounded by people who call in sick 20 days a year while they are perfectly healthy; we are surrounded by people who promise to get the job done by tomorrow, but they don't tell us tomorrow of which year; we are surrounded by people who are perpetually late for appointments; we are surrounded by people who come to church every
Sunday but who insult their fellow Christians in the parking lot; we are surrounded by people who say that they are Catholic but who don't educate their children in the faith, don't get them baptized and then make up all kinds of excuses for their negligence; we are surrounded by people who don't take care of their health because it takes too much time; we are surrounded by
volunteers who promise you one thing but then are not reliable enough to get it done. Do I need to continue? No, you get the point. We live in a world that not only is losing its sense of wrong, but its sense of right as well. The world we live in has no desire to replace the bad with the good. We live in a world that has no desire to understand that strong good habits (virtues in religioius speak) can actually keep us free from bad habits (vices, in religious speak). We live in a world that doesn't want to understand that prayer is better than sit-com TV. We live in a world where the leaders themselves do not repect the straight-talk truth. We live in a world where Catholic leaders prefer to negotiate the bottom line truth in order to accommodate Protestant friends. We live in a world where even Protestants try to cover up their core values by calling
themselves Christians. We live in a world where Muslims sell us the notion that Islam is a religion of peace and understanding while they murder Catholic bishops, priests and deacons because they refuse to stop practicing their Catholic religion in public.

It's OK to take polls and write articles about the decline in the notion of sin. Let's take a poll and write an article about why it is that the inhabitants of this planet have declined to the point where the reality of high expectations and the desire to achieve perfection have declined to the point where school teachers and even university professors feel comfortable in rewarding A+ to people. If A is the top grade, then everyone else would be less, right? Why are we diminishing the value of the A by making the top grade the oxymoronic A+? Oh, I forgot, we have to make little Johnny and little Janie feel good about getting an A even though their work doesn't really make it. It's like the teams who have losing records, you know, .390 or something like that, and still are included in the playoffs. It's like the employers who don't fire those who only report to work 200 days a year because they are "good employees". It's like giving every child in the league a certificate for good performance. It's like giving everybody a raise or a bonus, even those who are known in the board room as "Bozos".

Let me state this bluntly: This attitude of ours as a civilization is as deleterious to our existence and yes, to your eternal salvation as sin, the way we understand it, or think we understand it, will be. I hear it every day, "Jesus was kind; Jesus was merciful; Jesus was understanding." Yeah, OK. but go read Matthew 25 and get to the bottom line: Those of you who don't measure up are never going to have to worry about your heating bill again, for all eternity. You think that this is tough, what about this, "'So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth." (Revelation, chapter 3, verse 16)

I therefore urge you, Be Good! Be Virtuous! Stay Close to God! Stay Close to the Truth and don't negotiate it with anyone, not even yourself. I'm not afraid to tell you, negotiating the truth to water it down is the great sin of this century. We all have to learn to strive for perfection because God Himself orders us to do so. We are reminded of this by the Second Council of the Vatican. Our Christian life is a constant striving for improvement. We have to remember, an attitude of "it's good enough" is not going to get the job done over the long haul. Let's help one another to get it done and there will be not excuse, absolutely none, for us to cry at one another's funeral. Especially not mine!

If you do cry at my funeral, I will tell St. Peter on you.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


At every stage of the change of liturgical seasons I go back to my mother's missal from 1942 to see what the Church had to say about the new season. I was reading the introduction to the season of Easter this morning and it struck me that what the Benedictine Monks who put out this missal wrote there as an instruction is as true today as it was yesterday. We may have a
different reaction to the lesson, but the foundation remains the same.

At this point of our history as Catholics, when so much is made of the "old and reverential ways of Mother Church", I decided to translate the short paragraph entitled "Dogmatic Expose: Easter" for your reflection.

"The Church, who, each year renews the memory of the significant events of the life of the Savior through the liturgy so that we can take part in them, celebrates the anniversary of Christ's victory over death at the time of Easter. It is, in the words of the great homilist, Bossuet, 'the core event of all of history. It is towards this event that all history converges in the life and death of Christ. It is the culminating point of the life of the Church in its liturgy.'

"The resurrection of the Savior is the most glorious event of his existence. It is the most explosive proof of His divinity and serves as the foundation of our faith. By right, we have resurrected with Christ. But in fact the force of this mystery operates in and through the lives of the faithful, and especially during the festivities of Easter so that we can pass from sin to grace here and now, and later be born into eternal glory from grace.

"At the Incarnation it is the soul of Jesus that was being born into the divine life through the experience of the beatific vision. At Easter, it is His body which now enters into the joy of the glory of God.

"The Easter Season is an image of heaven, a radiant image of the eternal Easter which is the goal of our entire existence."

(Missel Vesperal-Romain; Dom Gaspar LeFebvre, Benedictin de l'Abbaye de St. Andre, Bruges, Belgique)
(Roman Missal - Vesperal: Dom Gaspar LeFebvre, Benedictine of St. Andrew's Abbey, Bruges, Belgium) Copyright, 1942 My translation from the French

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Holy Week with Jesus

We share with you, our readers, the Holy Week spiritual journey of one who walked the streets of Jerusalem during Holy Week less than one full year ago. Please come back to this daily and be a part of "The Holy Week experience Live from the Holy Land."

If you have ever had a strong experience, you know that every time you talk about it you say, "I remember it like it was yesterday." Eleven months ago I made a daily report back from the Holy week celebration in Jerusalem. It is just like yesterday. I am going to share it all with you again because God is truly present in these experiences. You can follow me through the entire experience by clicking here. If you have the desire to visit the Holy Land and want some information about our September Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, you may click here.



Up and at 'em! 9;00 AM, we fill a bus and leave for a place about 7 miles away that is reputed to be the place near Bethany the Jesus would have broken bread with the disciples from Emmaus. It is here that the Crusaders built a church to commemorate the event of the meeting and the travelling of Jesus with the two disciples. The story comes to us from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verses 13 to 35.

The church is massive and it is beautiful in its own way. Some time in the distant past the property was given to some French Benedictine monks who occupy it and maintain it to his day. The monastery property is also occupied by a community of Benedictine nuns. Our director took us there to give us a sense of history about the place and also to allow us to appreciate a very high quality Palm Sunday liturgy. The liturgy was conducted in Latin and in French.

The music was mostly Plain Chant (Gregorian Chant) but there was some modern music as well. It was all "a cappella" since it was the beginning of Holy Week, the organ was muted. There were very few lay people there, mostly French people living in the Jerusalem area. The monks are not that numerous, so the liturgy was very intimate and very well done.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that I am not a fan of Latin in the liturgy when lay people are in attendance. I think that Latin Liturgy should be reserved for those who understand Latin. Latin in a monastery is understandable because the inhabitants of the monastery understand Latin. Since the monastery is their territory, they have Mass in the language of their territory. (You, dear reader are hereby informed that I understand Latin) To that last nasty remark I have to add that I also understand French fluently. In sum, the liturgy, outside of the chant was conducted in French for the sake of the audience.

My story is this. During the chanting of the Passion Story at the Gospel time (in French) I was very engrossed by the beauty of my mother tongue as the foundation for the chanted gospel story. When it came time for the episode concerning Peter's denial of Jesus, I was no longer hearing the cantor. I was listening to my maternal grandfather telling me the story, just as he so often did.

I got through the first two denials in good shape. I was starting to tremble a bit during the third one. I lost it completely when my grandfather said, "and immediately after Peter said that, the cock crowed." I'm full of goose bumps now, remembering the moment. Jesus hammered me with that one. The son of David got to me there, in David's town, by letting my grandfather tell me the story in my own mother tongue. That's one thing about God, he doesn't play fair. You can ask anyone, Noah, Jonah, Amos, Moses, Paul, anyone. God always gets His way. I know that He was letting me know that` this morning. Why is it taking me so long to learn?


Back to the Institute for a quick lunch and back out at 1:30 PM to join the procession from Bethany/Betphage to Jerusalem along the route that Jesus took on His triumphal trek into the City just before His condemnation. It was a real liturgy. Why, even the police and the military were there to see to it that the crowd didn't get unruly. Just like it says in the Bible, "Lord, reprimand your disciples. They're getting out of hand."

But you know what? We were "truly, ruly". We were loud too. Flashy too. International too. French, Italian, Nigerian, German, Polish, Spanish, USA, Croatian, Russian, Israeli Christians, priests, sisters, monks, Isabel and I. Three kilometers, up hills, down hills, up steps, down steps, across a main road that was closed even though it is a workday in Israel. But for one day, the Christians had them outnumbered. This was the day of King David's blood line. It seems that "they" know better than to mess with Him. Along the way there were some things that were notable. As usual, the Polish were singing most of the way. When they would sing an internationally famous hymn, we would all join in. Well, not all, after all the line was at least 1 and one-half kilometers long.

Several thousand people. All of them at peace. All of them wondering why the military was there. All of them pushing, shoving, shrugging, stepping, slipping, sliding and squeezing to get closer to the front of the line for the final blessing by the patriarch of Jerusalem in the garden of St. Anne's Church. If Jesus had shown up in person today, He would have felt right at home. We were ready. We were behaving just as everyone
else did in His time. We were having fun. The Poles were doing the praying, so the rest of us could do the celebrating.

On a final note. There was never any doubt that we were in Jerusalem today. But there is one powerful memory that will never leave me. The cadenced chant of the crowd that would break through and continue for about 15 or 20 minutes at a time during this 2 hour pilgrimage...Yup, you guessed it, "JERUSALEM! JERUSALEM! JERUSALEM!"


I have a friend whose elder brother is a Lutheran Pastor. He has had large communities in Illinois and in the South. As far as I can tell, he is a holy person. I am quite friendly with his brother and I know that the family has its foundations set firmly on Christian morality. This story may or may not be about Pastor W..., but it could be.

This came to me from Woody, Pastor W...'s brother, my immediate friend. My personal witness appears below the story. You are all invited to share your comments with our community.

Several years ago, a preacher from out-of-state accepted a call to a church in Houston, Texas. Some weeks after he arrived, he had an occasion to ride the bus from his home to the downtown area. When he sat down, he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a quarter too much change. As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, 'You'd better give the quarter back. It would bewrong to keep it.' Then he thought, 'Oh, forget it, it's only a quarter. Who would worry about this little amount? Anyway, the bus company gets too much fare; they will never miss it. Accept it as a gift from God and keep quiet.' When his stop came, he paused momentarily at the door, then he handed the quarter to the driver and said, 'Here, you gave me too much change.'
The driver, with a smile, replied, 'Aren't you the new preacher in town? I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I'll see you at church on Sunday. 'When the preacher stepped off of the bus, he literally grabbed the nearest light pole, held on, and said, 'Oh God, I almost sold your Son for a quarter. 'Our lives are the only Bible some people will ever read. This is a really scary example of how much people watch us as Christians and will put us to the test! Always be on guard -- and remember -- You carry the name of Christ on your shoulders when you call yourself 'Christian.'
Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
Thank you, George. I have seen this come true in my life. Marc and Jo-El (my sons) have remarked about how I am serious about equal exchanges at the cash register. I have also had more than one cashier tell me that I was an exception in her experience when I returned a very small amount. One time when I was a cashier at a taco place in the Bay Area of San Francisco, I short-changed a person (a regular customer) without knowing it and she did not notice it.
When I noticed it, I hoped that she would come back. When two weeks passed and she had not returned. I started to ask other regulars if anyone knew her. Finally, one person told me that she was her office mate. I asked her if she would tell the lady that I wanted to return her money. She did tell her and the customer came back. She told me how angry she was at the error because she was thinking that I had slipped one by her. Upon hearing her story, my emotions gathered in my throat. I gave her not only the change but the full amount of the
transaction. She told that it wasn't necessary, but I said that the necessity to make her totally whole came from my conscience, not from her graciousness. I told her that I thought that it was my duty to reward her for her agida.
She laughed at my choice of words (New York, Yiddish). We shook hands and parted on good terms. Whether the rewards are human, or human and spiritual, I believe that the balance of justice hangs from God's hands, so I try to maintain it good in His view, even for picayune amounts. If not for spiritual gain, sometimes those small amounts make for good stories.
When I recounted this little story to George ("Woody"), he told me this in response:
"That's a good story. My wife and I just left the Abelson's (Albertsons) Store a few minutes ago. The person in head of us forgot to take her change from the automatic change machine - it was about 46 cents. I noticed it and told the cashier and bag boy. The cashier told the bag
boy the lady had just left the store - meaning, there was time for the bag boy to run and catch her; but, the bag boy paused for a moment, took the change and put it in his pocket. ' So it is with most people. After we left the store, I told my wife, "The kid was too lazy to run after the customer and of course, he wanted the change for himself."
The three stories above are simple. They carry within them a serious challenge. is not just providing you these stories for your email "forwards".
When you get more change than is what is rightfully coming to you, do you give it back?
Do you think that it is a sin to keep it? What if you make the situation worse by doing it in front of your children; is that a worse sin?

Let's talk about this. Share your thoughts about this with your fellow readers. Believe it or not, this is a serious subject. It's not just a quarter or a half-dollar, it is about a way of life. Do you believe that?
Do YOU live as though your life is the "only Bible that some people will ever read?" Do you expect others to do the same for you?

Thursday, March 6, 2008


(I am on the left)
The other day my son asked me how I felt at my age. I said that I didn't know yet because this is the first time I've ever been this age. I asked him why he didn't ask me how I felt when I was 18 or so. I remember that quite well. After all, I've been 18 nearly four times now. Now that, I can handle. It seems that every time I am 18, I get a change of life. The first time I was 18, I came to the conclusion that I would never be able to compete in professional baseball. It was rather difficult to face that realization down, but God helped me through it.
The second time I was 18 I had another change of life. It was time to make another life-changing decision. I did it. I had the spiritual strength and the emotional drive to do it. So now I have a lovely and loving wife and two marvelously loving and generous children.
The third time I was 18 I was living in a location that was about 180 degrees away from that to which I had become accustomed. I learned a lot during that period and it was almost like I was in my 30's again. It prepared me for my my latest change of life, just before the fourth 18 year cycle.
You would not be reading me here if I had not been prepared for this. This is my "JONAH" moment. A priest friend of mine (Father Romy Seleccion, MS, weekly contributor to called my wife and me to come to Moreno Valley, California to help in his parish. We are here. I met here and it gives me the opportunity to talk about God all the time and to walk with Him, hand in hand every day at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
To all of you I say, stay 18 years old all your life and no one, NO ONE, will cry at your funeral. Isn't that what you want? God bless you all.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Here we are, two days after the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress and I am trying to fight off an ear-worm that keeps asking the question, "Why San Bernardino and no one else?" For two years now I have spend the majority of my time at the Congress in the exhibit hall of the Anaheim Convention Center. This is a forest of commercial exhibit booths where the denizens of Corporate America hawk their church wares. They have everything from olive wood rosaries direct from Jerusalem (4 New Israel Shekels = $1.00) to some of the best modern Church furniture (a four-candle stylized Advent "wreath", $10K) including some of the best liturgical vestments you've ever seen. Should I mention books, medals, trinkets and rear view mirror dingle-dangles?

There are two exceptions: the space is dominated by the exhibit of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, which includes an online chat facility with Cardinal Mahony himself. Then, we get back to my question, "Why San Bernardino and no one else?" You see, San Bernardino Diocese is the only other diocese that has a "booth". The bishops of San Bernardino Diocese immerse themselves in the ebb and flow of the human tide that throws itself up on the beach of their simple enclave. There they are, unprotected, in the open, standing in the aisle as the current of humanity washes by them, swirling back to form a small eddy and drop off a gracious "Hello" and get a warm handshake back. had a booth not 40 feet away from the position of Bishops Barnes and del Riego and I was able to observe the action from pretty close. I can say with no fear of error, they had never a dull moment.

They are two different people, these two. Bishop Barnes, quiet and low key. Bishop del Riego flitting about like a butterfly wearing Jack Nicholson sun glasses, "working" the crowd and giving and taking graciousness for the sake of the Lord. I observed that for three days and couldn't stop asking myself, "Where are the others?" Where is San Diego? Santa Barbara? San Jose? Fresno? San Francisco? Honolulu? After all, there are 40,000 Catholic people gathered here in one place. There is n0 surprise about the schedule. Why are the bishops staying home? I am simply asking the question. Like Marc Anthony, I must admit "non appareo ante populi ut sepulteo Caesarem, sed ut laudetur." (I am not here to bury Caesar, but to praise him.) I am here to raise a glass of cheer and grace to the two bishops of San Bernardino Diocese. I think that they "get it." They know where the people are, and they go there. Like Jesus who stood in the boat and preached to the people on the mount, these two left their ordinary tasks and brought themselves to the place where they could make a spiritual impact on the flock. "Why are they the only ones?" Like Francis of Assisi (even in nice shiny shoes and expensive "shades") they placed themselves in the center of the populace and even if all they ever said was, "Hi, there! How ya doing?", it was God preaching through them. What would it have been if there had been 20 more bishops there among their (and others) people? I never visited the San Bernqardino Diocese booth. Bishop del Riego visited the booth twice. Bishop Barnes imparted his episcopal blessing on Wally Arida, our Publisher, somewhere in the hall, I forget where. Outside of the Cardinal and a couple of bishops from the Los Angeles area (Bishop Clark being one of them), the bishops of San Bernardino, not a mainstream metropolis for sure, were there carrying on their missionary calling.

Bishops Barnes and del Riego have a lot of challenges, just as every other bishop does. The wonder of these two is that they are not afraid to engage with the faithful entrusted to them in the taming of their challenges.
It is to be hoped that their colleagues in the episcopate will follow their courageous example. I personally invite other bishops to come to join us in Los Angeles next year and the years to follow. If you do, your rewards will be so great that you won't have the slightest inclination to cry at my funeral. I know for a fact that neither Bishop Barnes nor Bishop del Riego will...