Thursday, December 29, 2016

No One Should Die Alone



My Uncle Marcel was my mother's only sibling. He earned three degrees, was a member of the US Peace Corps in the early 1960s serving in the Philippines, was a tenured Associate Professor of Biology, and upon his retirement, was named professor Emeritus.

Uncle Marcel was one of those relatives who would pull you aside and ask you "what are you doing?"  As a late teenager I would look at him quizzically and ask what he meant.  He would repeat the question until I understood what he was really asking - what are you doing with your life?  His question was appropriate at the time, having dropped out of college to work at a local supermarket chain.  I can certainly credit him with helping me return to college and get myself on track for a career in computer science.

But later in life, my uncle was elusive.  He didn't attend any family events and did not stay in contact with his only sister after my grandparents passed away.  It was years before I heard from one of his best friends, a fellow colleague and professor, that he had fallen ill and wanted to see me.  His illness was brief and for a very short time, I visited him on several occasions.  But his elusiveness returned and it had been a few years between that time and the time I learned of him suffering a major heart attack just recently.

Along with my mother and my sister, we visited my uncle in the ICU.  We learned that he also suffered a massive stroke, most likely associated with his heart attack.  He was not doing well.  He seemed to slightly respond to our voices when we visited him but was generally unresponsive.  I was then contacted by an associate of his that was his Power of Attorney.  He was able to get arrange a discussion with the ICU doctor where we learned that he would not survive a day without his breathing tube.  My uncle had a do not resuscitate order, which we honored.  His breathing tube was removed and he passed away peacefully some ninety minutes later.

My uncle was a baptized and confirmed Catholic.  He stepped away from his faith calling himself an atheist shortly after receiving his PhD in Biology.  After we learned of his condition, we arranged for a priest to administer the Anointing of the Sick.  On the first night we saw him, we prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet over him.  After they removed his breathing tube, I stayed with my uncle until he passed away.  No one should die alone.  I prayed a Rosary for him while I was with him before he passed.

Praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet at the hour of death can bring many special graces:

"My daughter, encourage souls to say the chaplet which I have given to you. It pleases Me to grant everything they ask of Me by saying the chaplet. ... Write that when they say this chaplet in the presence of the dying, I will stand between My Father and the dying person, not as the just Judge but as the merciful Savior (Diary, 1541).
"At the hour of their death, I defend as My own glory every soul that will say this chaplet; or when others say it for a dying person, the indulgence is the same" (Diary, 811).
I pray that God's mercy was granted to my Uncle.

Eternal rest grant to him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him.  
May he rest in peace. 
Amen.




Please Call a Sin a Sin




In between my attempts to earn an undergraduate degree, I worked full-time for a New England supermarket chain.  There was a manager there who I admired for his hard-work and more importantly, his hard-hitting truth-telling.  I would fume over his words and comments about my work ethic and attitude.  But then, after getting over my self-centered and pouting self, I would understand what he was saying and began to think it made sense. I would hate him one moment and then love him the next.

My favorite teachers, colleagues, and relatives are those that humble me and make me think.  My Uncle Marcel was two of these: a relative and Associate Professor.  But that's another post for later.

I find myself starving for this hard-hitting and humbling experience at Mass. But I really struggle.  I hear the same spiritual cliches repackaged over and over again during most homilies.  It takes some serious concentration for me during Mass to find the nugget where God is speaking to me.  I am a sinner and often tune out or get distracted.  Perhaps this is the point where God is trying to reach me.

But there are very few hand-clapping, foot-stomping, standing ovations for most homilies I hear (of which by the way, these reactions if I had reason to do them would be irreverent at Mass - yet another post).  I get it: to call contraception, pre-marital sex, cohabitation, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage sins would collectively strike the hearts of nearly every Catholic in one or more ways.  It would hurt and anger all of us. I would guess that many would walk out of Mass right then and there; many others would never return. But it is the truth and we must hear it.  Instead, we hear safe and non-controversial messages, while in and of themselves are true, are not creating life-long Catholics that are confessing their sins nor adoring Our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration.

Matthew Kelly puts it very well when he talks about the Seven Levels Of Intimacy.  We are stuck in cliches and facts. We are fearful of expressing opinions, of being judged, and of not being accepted. We are afraid if people really knew us, they wouldn't love us.  We are also afraid of submitting ourselves to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and accepting its authority about how is the best way to live.

It's not easy for us though on many levels. We face progressive and modernist priest and deacons that won't call or acknowledge a sin as a sin; parishes with protestant-like hand gestures at the words "And with your spirit" or hand-holding during the Lord's Prayer; parishes with ecumenical work camps and ecumenical vacation bible schools; and parishes with youth ministry programs that still use barbecues, ice cream socials, and mountain hikes as a means of raising life-long Catholics.  None of these things work - the Pew Research Studies that show that adults who self-identify as Catholic is declining and those who identify as "nones" is increasing, Declining Mass attendance, use of the Sacraments, and empty pews prove it.

Let's stop staying safe with the small talk. Let's learn and be eager to be engaged with the hard-hitting, intellectual high ground. Let's ask more of ourselves, our family, and our parish.  And most of all, let's step up and call a sin a sin, seek God's forgiveness in the Sacrament of Penance, and accept the authority of the Catholic Church.  

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Youth Ministry Shouldn't Be What It Used To Be




I answered the call to youth ministry from the pastor of my parish back in 1990.  I tried to meet kids where they were at by organizing youth group meetings, planning fun events, holding retreats, and by just listening.  At the time, Holy Hour, Eucharistic Adoration, the Sacrament of Confession, and the Rosary were far from my planning worksheets. I was worried I would turn kids off and lose them if I threw that "holy" stuff at them. I didn't want them to get bored or tune out (in fact, these things were far from my own common practices - the real reason).  In essence, I was trying to carve out some social time with youth away from their stressful lives with some caring adults in a church hall.  Not a bad idea I suppose. 

Later on, years later, in fact twenty years later, when researching for an evangelization effort for my last parish, I came across some very interesting information.   The Dynamic Catholic Institute and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate released findings from their recent studies:[1] 
  • 6.4 percent of registered parishioners contribute 80 percent of the volunteer hours in a parish.
  • 6.8 percent of registered parishioners donate 80 percent of financial contributions.
  • There is an 84 percent overlap between the previous two points. 
  • A little more than three in ten adult Catholics (31.4 percent) are estimated to be attending Mass in any given week.
  • While a majority of adult Catholics, 57 percent, say their belief about the Eucharist is reflected best by the statement “Jesus Christ is really present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist,” There are still 43 percent who said their belief is best reflected in the statement, “Bread and wine are symbols of Jesus, but Jesus is not really present.”
  • Sixty-two percent of Catholics agree “somewhat” or “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without celebrating the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once a year” (33 percent agree “strongly”). Even 54 percent of weekly Mass attendees agree at least “somewhat” with this statement.
  • About a third of respondents (34 percent) agree “strongly” with the statement, “I can be a good Catholic without going to Mass every Sunday.” More than two-thirds (68 percent) agree with this statement at least “somewhat.
  • 80% of youth who are confirmed leave the church by the time they are 30. Yikes!
The adults among this data are the typical youth of my youth ministry days. At least for me, I concluded that what I was doing didn't work at some level. Isn't this what this means? I'm not saying that anything I did didn't work. I mean, I was following my youth ministry training as well as the advice of some of my favorite Catholic-industry youth ministry resources.  What could go wrong with that? Saving one sheep for the sake of the ninety-nine - that's how the parable goes, right? 

There are lots of contributing factors that have led to these statistics. But, how can we be happy with this current state and continue the path of icebreakers, barbecues, ice cream socials, and youth masses on mountain tops?  

I've concluded that youth ministry has to be more evangelization than social time. Evangelization is what leads to life-long Catholics, not game nights. Youth ministry evangelization efforts need to be split (that's 50-50 of our time, planning, and resources) between youth and their parents.  

But here's the thing: the primordial act of evangelization is answering a deep, deep call to holiness. Answering this call emerges from personal participation in prayer, the Eucharist, and Penance which are the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth of love that God has inscribed in the theology of our bodies.”[2]  The call to holiness extends to all – parishioners, staff, and volunteers. We must commit ourselves to immerse ourselves into a deeper relationship with God, Jesus Christ, Mary the Mother of God, and the communion of saints through the Sacraments and prayer; it is only then that we can begin in total and complete earnest to gain Catholic families to join us.

Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and Catholic apologist (did you know this about him?) concluded  “there exist three basic types of people: Those who seek God and find him, those who are seeking God but have not yet found him, and those who neither seek nor find.”   Our social-infested means of catechizing to youth is producing adults that stop seeking and finding. Then later as adults, we can't come to terms about our sin.  We may be filled with guilt; we may be bitter of those who have done us wrong; we may be enjoying our current sins too much to give them up. The data proves it and we need to take responsibility. 

Let's remind ourselves that the Sacrament of Confirmation gives us "the special strength of the Holy Spirit to spread and defend the faith by word and action as true witnesses of Christ, to confess the name of Christ boldly, and never to be ashamed of the Cross" (CCC 1303),   The long-last effects of youth ministry that we are seeking is rooted in the call to holiness.  This call to holiness includes the ability to come to terms with our sins and formulate the uniqueness of Catholicism within Christianity and the ability to defend the Catholic Church from the great heresies of our time. How do we best prepare youth for this sacrament?  Every event or retreat or meeting should do the following:
  • Teach them to pray: the Rosary, the Divine Office, the Animus Christi, the Divine Mercy Chaplet just to name some of my favorites and the most important few.
  • Study the lives of the saints:  subscribe to The Catholic Company's Your Morning Offering to get a brief biography of the saint of the day - amazing, amazing people!
  • Teach them to be silent and reflective: our Catholic faith is unique in its appeal to our intellect, instead of our emotions (the center of a Catholic Church is the altar; the center of a Protestant church is a stage). Eucharist Adoration is a wonderful means for teaching this.
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation: remember the “infallible and indispensable means for living the truth"
How do we best evangelize to parents (and ourselves)? Either as a goal of a youth ministry program itself or a parish-wide effort:
  • Remind them how to pray
  • Help them pursue the adult study of Catholicism (Lighthouse Catholic Media's Formed.org, DynamicCatholic.com, ChurchMilitant.com serve as a few examples)
  • Remind them how to be silent and reflective
  • Reinforce the use of the Sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation
It can't be business as usual.  The data proves that we are not producing life-long Catholics.
So let us press on toward the future God has envisioned for us and for the Church. It is time for us to become a people of possibility again. Too much of what we do is governed by a very limited way of thinking. We gravitate toward what is manageable, rather than imagining what is possible. We have lost touch with best practices and settle for the way things have always been done. Now is the time for us to reimagine what incredible things are possible if we walk with God. Now is the time for Catholics to become a people of possibility. Imagine what sixty-seven million American Catholics are capable of. Imagine what more than a billion Catholics worldwide are capable of.
One thing is certain: Whatever we do or do not do will determine the future of humanity and the world. - Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Catholicism.


[1] Compiled from research conducted by Dynamic Catholic appearing in The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic, 2012, by Matthew Kelly and the 2008 USCCB-sponsored study conducted by Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate “Sacraments Today: Belief and Practice among U.S. Catholics” (http://cara.georgetown.edu/sacramentsreport.pdf).

[2] Blessed Pope John Paul II, TOB 126:5.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

After Friday, It's No Longer Business As Usual




Not a word was said at Mass today about the SCOTUS decision to legalize same-sex marriage across the country on Friday, June 26, 2015.  It was business as usual.  Reacting to news on Friday has its challenges. But plenty of Catholic bishops reacted.  Did yours?  What does your diocesan's web site home page look like this morning?  Let's take a look at a few:

My own diocese - nothing.
Diocese of Manchester: catholicchurch.org
Archdiocese of Boston, in the ground-zero state; see red circle - sort of lame:

Archdiocese of Boston: BostonCatholic.org
USCCB's - same lame-ness, although two references:

USCCB: USCCB.org

Now, www.marriageuniqueforareason.org is an initiative of the USCCB: Nothing on the home page, but I did find this:

http://www.marriageuniqueforareason.org/2015/06/26/usccb-statement-on-marriage-ruling/
Now, here are some mainstream media (MSM) newspaper front pages on Saturday, June 27, 2015:




The differences are shocking are they not?  The Catholic Church is not keeping up.  Michael Voris from ChurchMilitant.com sumamrizes it well.

The Vortex - American Rome

We should test the fairness of the MSM coverage of this issue by publishing full-page ads of this image from /www.marriageuniqueforareason.org in the New York Times and Washington Post, to name a few.



Tuesday, June 23, 2015

On the Tongue and From A Priest



In fact, the faithful regarded themselves as guilty, and rightly so as Origen recalls, if, after they had received the body of the Lord and kept it with all reverence and caution, some part of it were to fall to the ground through negligence. (para. 58, Mysterium Fidei, http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-vi_enc_03091965_mysterium.html)

I stopped receiving Holy Communion in the hand about 5 years ago.  Around the same time, I stopped being an Euchartistic Minister.  I typically will not receive the Precious Blood.  And almost always, I will receive Holy Communion only from a priest (I do make exceptions for a deacon).

Mother Theresa
www.motherteresa.org
I can recall at least two of a few things that have brought me to this point.  The first is the outstanding series from ChurchMilitant.com series "Sleight of Hand: The Reception Deception (http://www.churchmilitant.com/video/series/shrd/section?video_section=reception-deception).  The second is my experience as an adult altar server.

I learned from the ChurchMilitant.com series that from Pope Paul VI, to Saint Pope John Paul II, to Pope Benedict XVI, and to Pope Francis, receiving Holy Communion in the hand was and is not a favorable practice to them.  In fact, none of them recommended it.  If you attend a Papal Mass in Rome, you can only receive Holy Communion on the tongue from the Pope or (only) a priest (there's plenty of footage of Papal Masses on YouTube that you can see for yourself). The practice of receiving only on the tongue at Papal Masses is not meant to showcase the steep tradition of receiving Holy Communion on the tongue only in Rome.  It is meant to show the entire Holy Church how it should be done.

The abuse of receiving Holy Communion in the hand started after Vatican II, during the time of Pope Paul VI.  It started in Germany and in the Netherlands.  This abuse was not new - it was used by Protestants centuries earlier to protest their beliefs that our Blessed Lord did not mean literally what he said in John 6 and at the Lord's Supper.  

Of the 16 official documents that were released as part of Vatican II, only one, Sacrosanctum Concilium, pertained to the liturgy.  There was no mention of changing the manner in which one was to receive Holy Communion in this document. In fact, the document called for "Latin to be retained and Gregorian chant to be given a place of preference in the liturgy."

http://maniplesmatter.blogspot.ca/2013/01/keep-those-fingers-together-message-to.html
Pope Paul VI asked his fellow bishops what they thought of the reception of Holy Communion in the hand - the majority of the bishops were not in favor of the practice.  From this survey of bishops arose three ways to handle the current abuse: no concessions, the practice must stop; allow both forms of receiving Holy Communion; allow a concession only where the abuse had started and was difficult to stop.  The bishops were in favor of the first option; Pope Paul VI chose the last. Through a series of other attempts to find a balance between cease-and-desist and conciliatory approaches, reception of Holy Communion in the hand was approved by the then NCCB (USCCB) in 1977, through the use of a very narrow exception to Rome's petition process.

I recall my time as an adult altar server where I assisted the deacon with preparing the altar.  The altar was prepared with reverence and care.  At one particular Mass, I observed the priest putting down the chalice using his middle, ring, and pinky fingers, while keeping his index finger and thumb together.  This is to prevent particles of the Precious Host from falling!  

If so much care is given to handling of a consecrated host by the priest, what business do I or anyone have as a lay person touching the host for its reception or distribution?