30 September 2012

Homily - 30 September 2012

The Twenty-sixth Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

On April 23, 1886, Cardinal Simeoni said to then Deacon Augustus Tolton: “America has been called the most enlightened nation on earth.  We will see if it deserves that honor.  If the United States has never before seen a black priest, it must see one now.”  The next morning Deacon Tolton was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ and sent back to his home here in Quincy.

The most enlightened nation on earth?  I wonder, what did Father Gus think of that phrase?  Born in slavery, he only became free after his mother made a harrowing escape with her three children when Gus was seven.  Does an enlightened nation enslave people simply on the basis of the color of their skin?

When he enrolled at St. Boniface school in Quincy, many of the parents of the white children threatened to withdraw their children; young Gus – then ten years old – was the first black student there and withdrew himself.  Does an enlightened nation discriminate against others because of the color of their skin?  When he later enrolled in St. Peter school – at the insistence of the pastor, Gus found that, “As long as I was in that school, I was safe.  Everyone was kind to me.”[1]

Here, perhaps, we see something of an enlightened nation, but then we remember why Father Tolton left Quincy: the jealousy of Father Weiss, who told the first black priest in these United States that he could only minister to blacks and not to whites.  Even so, writing to Cardinal Gibbons, Father Tolton wrote, “The white people in this little Gem City of Quincy, Ills are really good hearted charitable and nonprejudicial, no feelings of bitterness at all against a man on account of complexion.”[2]  Following his death in 1897 and, in keeping with his wishes, Father Tolton was buried here in Quincy where his body remains today.

History will judge whether or not the America of Father Tolton’s day was indeed an enlightened nation, but I wonder: Will history judge the America of our day to be enlightened?

Is a nation that would require people of faith to violate their consciences and provide contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs an enlightened nation?  The recent federal mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services requires precisely this, in clear contradiction of our first amendment right of the free exercise of religion.

Is a nation that makes it illegal for a priest to baptize an illegal immigrant or even hear his confession an enlightened nation?  Such a law was been passed in Alabama last year.

Is a nation that seeks to alter the very structure and organization of the Church and to determine who is and who is not a “religious minister” an enlightened nation?  Such a restructuring was attempted in Connecticut in 2009.

Is a nation that tells student religious groups that people of a different faith must be able to be leaders of their religious groups an enlightened nation?  This happened at the University Of California Hastings College Of Law in 2009 and at Vanderbilt University this year.

Is a nation that forces Catholic Charities out of foster care and adoptions simply because their faith tells them they cannot place children with same-sex or unmarried couples an enlightened nation?  This happened this year in Illinois, in the District of Columbia in 2010, and in Boston and in San Francisco in 2006.

Is a nation that refuses to allow Christians to use public buildings but allows other groups to use the same buildings an enlightened nation?  This happens routinely in New York City and elsewhere.

Is a nation that refuses contracts to the best organization helping with human trafficking because it will not provide abortions and contraception an enlightened nation?  The federal government this year refused to renew contracts with the U.S. Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services for this very reason.

Is a nation that kills more than one million babies each year in their mother’s wombs an enlightened nation?  Blessed Teresa of Calcutta shed light on the horror of abortion when she reminded us that “It is a poverty that a child must die so that you may live as you wish.”

Is a nation that thinks more about its economic standing than even the right to life when deciding its future an enlightened nation?  I dare say it is not.  What good is a robust economy if few people may enjoy it?

Our Bishop wrote to us last week, saying, “you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy.”[3]  Many people have reacted strongly against the Bishop’s reminder, but the truth of his words remains.

Thinking ourselves more enlightened than our ancestors, we like to think that either Hell does not exist or that no one will go there.  The teaching of Jesus today stands starkly against such a notion.  “It is better for you to enter into life maimed,” he says, “than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).  Those who make their way to Hell do so by their own choice, by their free rejection of Jesus Christ and the truth of his Gospel.  Just as the Lord does not force us to be with him in this life, neither will he force anyone to be with him in eternity.

Those who make their way to eternal life, to heaven, to the presence of God, are those know that “the law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul,” that “the decree of the Lord is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple” (Psalm 19:8, 10).

In their recent document highlighting the increasing threats against our religious freedom, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty, our Bishops said:

As bishops we seek to bring the light of the Gospel to our public life, but the work of politics is properly that of committed and courageous lay Catholics. We exhort them to be both engaged and articulate in insisting that as Catholics and as Americans we do not have to choose between the two.[4]

Society today is telling us that the most important issues of the upcoming election are jobs and the economy; this is simply not true.  The most important issues of the upcoming election are the right to life and religious liberty.  Without life, no other right matters.  Without religious freedom, every other freedom will be taken away.  “What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society – or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it.”[5]

On the day of our Baptism, each of us was entrusted with the light of Christ and was told to keep it burning brightly.  Each of us must bring this light to the public square so that the warmth of the Light of Word and the truth of his words may bring light to a world and a society darkened by sin.

Some will undoubtedly say, “Father, you’re crossing the line of separation of Church and State.” Such is not the case for what we are discussing is not a matter of Church and State but of faith and politics.  “This ought not to be a partisan issue.  The Constitution is not for Democrats or Republicans or Independents.  It is for all of us.”[6]  We must remember that we are neither Republicans or Democrats or Independents; we are Catholics.  No political party fully supports the truth of the Gospel or the mandate Jesus Christ has given us, though some parties are in greater alignment with it than others.

Faith requires something of us. It requires that we love both God and neighbor and that every decision we make, every word we speak, and every action we perform, be in keeping with the love of God and of neighbor, even in the voting booth. Faith can never be laid aside, for we are servants of the Lord at all times and in every place.  If we remember this and live accordingly, America will truly be an enlightened nation.

In speaking these words some will praise me and others condemn me, but I speak these for neither praise nor condemnation; I speak them because they are true. I know that “the precepts of the Lord give joy to the heart” and I want you and every person to know this, as well (Psalm 19:9).  Because these words are true I must speak them, for at the end of my life I want to say to the Divine Master, with honesty and sincerity, “I am an unprofitable servant; I have done what I was obliged to do” (cf. Luke 17:10). Amen.

[1] Roy Bauer, They Called Him Father Gus: The Life and Times of Augustine Tolton, First Black Priest in the U.S.A., Part Eight.
[2] Augustus Tolton, Letter to Cardinal Gibbons, July 24, 1888.
[3] Thomas John Paprocki, “Think and pray about your vote in upcoming election,” Catholic Times, September 23, 2012.
[4] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Our First, Most Cherished Liberty: A Statement on Religious Liberty, 9.
[5] Ibid., 4-5.
[6] Ibid., 10.

27 September 2012

A vocation retreat for young women

My favorite community of consecrated women is the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George, whose motherhouse is in Alton.  You might recall they recently had thirteen Sisters make their final profession, two make their first profession, and three enter the Novitiate.  They have also had nine women enter this year as Postulants, and a few more a yet to enter this year.

Never afraid to have a good time, these Sisters are known to wear smiles on their faces and are often ready with a good joke:

Sr. M. Maximilia and Sr. M. Karolyn enjoy Pop Rocks candy with Bishop Paprocki.
At the same time, these women are deeply committed to a life of prayer and faithful discipleship:

Bishop Paprocki blesses some of the Sisters after the Mass for the Fortnight for Freedom
(some 40 of them came from Alton to pray with their Bishop).
On the weekend of October 19-21, 2012 the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George will host a Veni Si Amas retreat (Come If You Love).

Women between the ages of 17 and 30 are invited to spend a weekend with the Sisters and see what their life is like.

Do you love Jesus?  Do you desire to give him everything?  Do you long to know the deepest desire of your heart?  Why not join them?

26 September 2012

Paprocki: "A vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy"

Bishop Paprocki's most recent column in the Catholic Times, "Think and pray about your vote in upcoming election," has gone viral.

Regrettably, I've fallen rather behind on posting the Bishop's columns here, but gladly post this column (with my emphases) in case you have not yet had a chance to read it:

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ: 
Much attention was given at the Democratic National Convention held recently in Charlotte, N.C., to the fact that all references to God had been purged from the draft version of the party platform. After outcries of protest from outside as well as within the Democratic Party, the sentence with the same reference to God used in 2008 was restored to read, "We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential." 
Before anyone relaxes and concludes that all is well now that the Democratic Party Platform contains a single passing reference to God, the way that this was done should give us pause. Convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa had to call for the voice vote three times because each time the sound level for the "ayes" and the "nays" sounded about even, far short of the two-thirds necessary according to convention rules to amend the platform. That did not stop the convention chairman from declaring, "The ayes have it!" 
What is troubling about that is the blatant disregard for the rules and for the apparent wishes of about half the delegates. The reference to God is back in the platform apparently because President Obama wanted it back in. That may be fine for now, but if a future president wants references to God taken out, apparently that can be done regardless of the wishes of the delegates if that is what The Leader wants. That does not bode well for democracy in the Democratic Party. 
Even more troubling is that this whole discussion about God in the platform is a distraction from more disturbing matters that have been included in the platform. In 1992 Presidential candidate Bill Clinton famously said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare." That was the party's official position until 2008. Apparently "rare" is so last century that it had to be dropped, because now the Democratic Party Platform says that abortion should be "safe and legal." Moreover the Democratic Party Platform supports the right to abortion "regardless of the ability to pay." Well, there are only three ways for that to happen: either taxpayers will be required to fund abortion, or insurance companies will be required to pay for them (as they are now required to pay for contraception), or hospitals will be forced to perform them for free.
Moreover, the Democratic Party Platform also supports same-sex marriage, recognizes that "gay rights are human rights," and calls for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law signed by President Clinton in 1996 that defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman. 
Now, why am I mentioning these matters in the Democratic Party Platform? There are many positive and beneficial planks in the Democratic Party Platform, but I am pointing out those that explicitly endorse intrinsic evils. My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues. I would be abdicating this duty if I remained silent out of fear of sounding "political" and didn't say anything about the morality of these issues. People of faith object to these platform positions that promote serious sins. I know that the Democratic Party's official "unequivocal" support for abortion is deeply troubling to pro-life Democrats. 
So what about the Republicans? I have read the Republican Party Platform and there is nothing in it that supports or promotes an intrinsic evil or a serious sin. The Republican Party Platform does say that courts "should have the option of imposing the death penalty in capital murder cases." But the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (in paragraph 2267), "Assuming that the guilty party's identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor. If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people's safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person. Today, in fact, as a consequence of the possibilities which the state has for effectively preventing crime, by rendering one who has committed an offense incapable of doing harm — without definitely taking away from him the possibility of redeeming himself — the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity are very rare, if not practically nonexistent." 
One might argue for different methods in the platform to address the needs of the poor, to feed the hungry and to solve the challenges of immigration, but these are prudential judgments about the most effective means of achieving morally desirable ends, not intrinsic evils. 
Certainly there are "pro-choice" Republicans who support abortion rights and "Log Cabin Republicans" who promote same-sex marriage, and they are equally as wrong as their Democratic counterparts. But these positions do not have the official support of their party. 
Again, I am not telling you which party or which candidates to vote for or against, but I am saying that you need to think and pray very carefully about your vote, because a vote for a candidate who promotes actions or behaviors that are intrinsically evil and gravely sinful makes you morally complicit and places the eternal salvation of your own soul in serious jeopardy. 
I pray that God will give you the wisdom and guidance to make the morally right choices.May God give us this grace. Amen.
I am honored to be able to work for Bishop Paprocki and ask you to keep him in your prayers.

History and faith

Earlier today a friend shared this image on Facebook:

The image of Blessed John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism, contains one of my favorite quotes and reminds of a conversation I had when I did my Clinical Pastoral Education, a form of observed chaplaincy, at BroMenn Hospital in Bloomington, Illinois.

For the program, I joined four other students: a young man with the Disciples of Christ who sought to be a youth ministry; an assistant pastor with the Methodist ecclesial community (who didn't believe taught by the Methodist tradition); a female seminarian with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; and a woman studying to be a pastor in the United Church of Christ.  We got along very well and respected and loved each other; it was a very good experience.

Now to the conversation.  One day I was sitting in the conference room working on something when the Methodist man came in and sat down.  After a while he said to me, "Daren (I wasn't a priest yet), if you weren't Catholic what would you be?"  His question was straight forward and sincere.

After a moment's pause, I answered, "I guess I'd have to be Orthodox."

"No," he replied.  "I mean, if you had to be a Protestant, which one would you be?"

Without a moment's pause, "None," I said.  "From my study of history alone I could not be Protestant."  I went on to explain that Protestantism began in the 1500s yet claims to be the Church established by Jesus, a claim history can't defend.  It seems logical enough to me.

"Huh," he answered, and that was the end of the conversation; he never brought it up again.

Cardinal Newman is right: To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

23 September 2012

Food pantry needs donations

Saint Peter Claver often said of his missionary labors, "We must speak to them with our hands before we try to speak to them with our lips."

With this in mind, I pass on to you a message from the Holy Family Food Pantry in Springfield that I received last week (I'm a little behind on e-mail and Facebook messages):

The Holy Family Food Pantry is greatly in need of your assistance.  During the summer, food donations are reduced but the need increases.  Our shelves are still very low.  With the holidays fast approaching, we are in great need of food donations.  Please help by bringing food to your church or school  or directly to the pantry. All food items are needed at this time, however the most needed are as follows:  peanut butter, jelly, canned pasta, rice products, soup, canned fruit, and pork & beans. 
 Most of the time when we give something away, our share of that item decreases.  But the opposite is true when we give of ourselves to others.  When we give of ourselves we are showing Christ’s love to the world and it will come back to us ten-fold.  Your gift of yourself will provide hope and help to those in need (emphases original).
Please, be as generous as you are able.  Items can be dropped off at the food pantry at 1023 East Washington Street, Springfield.

To Live Pono: Learning from Hobbits

Recent travels to Quincy, Indianapolis, and Nashville (where I am now) have kept me from posting this first installment of an ongoing series titled, "To Live Pono."

Over the last several years it has become - sadly - acceptable to greet someone saying something like "How's it going?" or "What's up?" without actually expecting a response.  Indeed, it seems almost unacceptable to actually answer the question, let alone ask it in return.  Since I first detected this unfortunate reality, it has bothered me greatly.

I can't tell you how many times I've answered such a question and, when I have asked it in return, have received no response at all as the initial questioner simply kept walking by and likely enough didn't even hear my answer.

If you don't already, I encourage you to answer such questions honestly: "Great," Slow," "Boring," "Miserable," are all actual answers and they should also be acceptable answers.  Sometimes things simply aren't just "fine."

There is nothing pono/righteous in inquiring about another person without actually wanting to know.  A simple greeting of "Hello" would be much more appropriate.

Image Source: Corey Godbey
When pondering this lamentable state of American life - of the unfriendliness and apathy of one person for another - I'm often reminding of the greeting Bilbo Baggins of the Shire first gave to Gandalf the Grey.  Tolkien relates the encounter:
"Good morning! said Bilbo, and he meant it.  The sun was shining, and the grass was very green.  But Gandalf looked at him from under long bushy eyebrows that stuck out further than the brim of his shady hat.
"What do you mean?" he said.  "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not; or that you feel good this morning; or that it is a morning to be good on?" 
"All of them at once," said Bilbo.  "And a very fine morning for a pipe of tobacco out of doors, into the bargain.  If you have a pipe about you, sit down and have a fill of mine!  There's no hurry, we have all the day before us" (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: Or There And Back Again [New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997], 5-6)!
This is the first time Bilbo has encountered Gandalf.  He doesn't even know who the wizard is, yet he greets him warmly and authentically and invites him to join him in his morning pleasure.

Is it too much to greet another person and actually mean and intend the greeting?  I don't think it is.  Is it too much to ask a question with sincerity?  I don't think so.

Let us, then, strive to break this cycle of un-caring and live pono!

15 September 2012

Where is the pono?

It has now been twelve days since I returned from Hawaii and still the memory of my last day on Oahu looms large in my mind.  Specifically, the drive back to the Cathedral from Hale'iwa Beach remains most clearly.

As I drove through the pineapple fields with the red dirt near the mountains on my back to Honolulu, I was listening to Hawaiian 105 KINE when two songs played back-to-back which seemed to summarize the emotions that I could not find words to express.

The first was "I Miss You, My Hawaii," by Na Leo Pilimehana.  The refrain sings:
Everytime I stop to watch the moon dance across the early evening skyEverytime I hear a country tune I can see the shores of Wai'aniEverytime I listen to my heart telling me it longsto go back homeAnd it makes me want to Cause I miss you, my Hawaii
Even as I prepared in my mind to finish packing before even being taken to the airport, I missed Hawaii.  I missed the natural beauty of the island, the mountains and the ocean, the red dirt and the beaches, the trees and flowers, the smell of the sea and of the flowers, the sound of the waves and the breeze across my face.  I already missed all of it.

But more than that, I missed the people of these islands.  They are the most warm, welcoming, and friendly people I have ever encountered and they have taken me in as one of their own.  They do indeed strive to live with aloha and to live in pono.  For whatever reason, on the mainland I sometimes feel somewhat out of place, but on the island I feel quite at home.

With this sadness - for lack of a better or clearer word - the second song - or, rather, one line of it - caught and held my attention.  The song is titled, "You and Me," by Celio and Kapono.  The line that caught my attention sang:
Can I take you home with me?
Immediately I thought back to the t-shirt I saw only a day or so before that read, "Keep Calm and Live Pono," a phrase which struck me so deeply that it became the basis for a homily I preached at the Cathedral (that Easter particularly enjoyed).  It occurred to me then what I needed to take home with me: Pono.

About three days before I had to return to the mainland, I said to my friends at the Cathedral - in all honesty - "I'm not ready to see white people yet."  Knowing what I meant, they laughed with me.  Let me explain what I mean.

That morning I went out to Makapu'u Point for an earlier morning hike to watch the sunrise.  As I passed by slower folks on the way up - and was passed by folks already on their way back down - I offered a greeting of "Good morning," or some other such words.

The islanders - those of Asian and Polynesian descent - always returned the greeting in kind and we would then wish each other a good day.  The white folks who had lived on the island for a while (you can tell) didn't always return a verbal greeting, but they would always at least nod the head in greeting or wave in greeting.  It was the white tourists who refused even to turn their eyes toward me.  Each time this happened - when a warm and friendly greeting was completely ignored - I couldn't help but remember life on the mainland.

Mainlanders do this to each other all the time without even noticing it.  Consider our usual "greeting," the question, "How are you?"  To this question I most always respond, "I'm well; how are you?"  A response is rarely given.

If someone asks me instead, "What's up?"  I answer either "Not much, you?" (or some other answer, depending on the circumstances) and a response is rarely given.

Where is the aloha?  Where is the pono?

It is this simple concern for others that I must bring back to the mainland, this spirit of friendship and warmth that is so evident among the Hawaiian people.  To live pono is simply to think more about others than about myself. It is, a very real sense, to live the Christian life, to love with the love of Jesus Christ.

To be sure, it is easier to live pono when others are trying to live it around it.  That is why, I think, it is so present on the island (and the natural beauty of their homeland doesn't hurt, either).

Here on the mainland we're often in too big of a hurry to carry about someone else, even simply to pause for a moment and see how their day is going and often a word of praise or of encouragement.

To this end, I intend to start a new series of blog posts that will be titled "To Live Pono" through which I hope to offer simple suggestions about living pono and bringing a little more love and happiness to the world.

I pray that I will indeed have taken pono home with me.  Won't you help me spread pono?

P.S.: If you want to hear the two songs, here they are:

Ridiculous advertising

It seems that each day I find yet more evidence of the thoughtlessness of American consumers, or at least of those who sell to them.

This morning I went out to pick up a couple of picture frames and settled on walnut frames that were on sale.  The packaging of the frames happily proclaims that they are "made with renewable wood."

Dare I ask: Is there such a thing as nonrenewable wood?

14 September 2012

Pope to Lebanese: I am happy to be here with you

Pope Benedict XVI arrived this afternoon in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, the only country in the Middle East where a person can convert from one religion to another without fear of death.  It is also a country in which eighteen different religions live in basic harmony and the Catholic Church is present is seven different rites.

Photo source: Osservatore Romano/Reuters
Prior to the departure of the Holy Father, John Allen discussed four possibles lenses, if you will, through which this Apostolic Journey can be viewed.  Reuters has a good article exploring the background and political and religious make up of Lebanon.

This morning protesters set fire to a Hardee's and a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the northern city of Tripoli as they chanted, "We don't want the Pope" and "No more insults" in response to a video that ridiculed Mohammed.

In recent days, violence has been spreading throughout the Middle East against the embassies of the United States of America and of Germany.  Despite the spread of this unrest the resulted in the murder of the ambassador of the United States to Libya, "No one ever advised me to cancel this trip and I never took that idea into consideration," the Holy Father said en route to Lebanon, "because I know that as the situation becomes more complicated, it is even more necessary to offer a sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. Therefore the aim of my visit is an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems."

In the midst of this civil result, at the Welcome Ceremony at Rafiq Hariri Airport, Pope Benedict reminded the Lebanese people that the coexistence of religions in one country "will run deep only if it is founded upon a welcoming regard for the other and upon an attitude of benevolence, and if it is rooted in God who wishes all men to be brothers."  He also expressed his confidence that "your country is preparing a fine welcome for me, a warm welcome, the welcome that is given to a beloved and respected brother. I know that your country wishes to be worthy of the Lebanese Ahlan wa Sahlan [welcome]. It is already so, and from now on it will be so even more," he said, adding, "I am happy to be here with you."

The Holy Father has traveled to Lebanon to sign the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, titled Ecclesia in Medio Oriente (Church in the Middle East), which he signed this evening in the Basilica of Saint Paul in Harissa.

Before signing the document, Pope Benedict XVI called the act of exalting the Cross an act of faith, love, and hope.

Pope: To exalt the Cross is an act of faith and of hope

Before he signed the post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reflected on today's Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, saying:
Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!

Photo source: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Do I look like Bilbo?

The official blog of the The Hobbit movie released today a character gallery from the upcoming movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, which will be released nation-wide December 14, 2012.

A friend of mine saw the picture of Bilbo Baggins and told me that I "totally look like Bilbo."

I've often fancied myself a Hobbit, taking the immortal words of Tolkien himself: "I am, in fact, a Hobbit, in all but size."

What do you think?  Is my friend correct?

13 September 2012

Pope to go to Lebanon, needs our prayers

Despite the civil unrest in Lebanon - and many Muslim countries at the moment - the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI is keeping his plans to visit that country September 14-16.

The decision of His Holiness - like his decision to visit Turkey when the best-selling book in Turkey at the time was a fictional account of his assassination during the visit to Turkey - demonstrates his trust in the Lord and the courage of his faith.

At his Angelus Address on Sunday, the Holy Father addressed those present, saying:
I will make an apostolic visit to Lebanon to sign the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, fruit of the Special Assembly for the Middle East of the Synod of Bishops, held in October 2010. I will have the happy opportunity to meet with the Lebanese people and authorities, and the Christians of that beloved country and those from neighboring countries. I am aware of the often dramatic situation experienced by the people of this region, too long torn apart by incessant conflicts. I understand the anguish of many Middle Eastern people immersed in daily sufferings of all kinds, which sadly, and at times mortally, plague their personal and family life. My concerned thoughts go out to those who, in search of a place of peace, leave their family and professional life, and experience the precariousness of being exiles. Even though the search for solutions to the various problems affecting the region seems difficult, we can not resign ourselves to the violence and exasperation of tensions. A commitment to dialogue and reconciliation must be a priority for all parties involved, and must be supported by the international community, increasingly aware of the importance of a stable and lasting peace in the region for the whole world. My apostolic visit to Lebanon, and by extension in the Middle East as a whole, is placed under the sign of peace, referring to the words of Christ: "My peace I give to you" (John 14:27). May God bless Lebanon and the Middle East! May God bless you all!
The greatest sign of peace is the Cross of Jesus Christ, the Cross of our salvation by which we have been reconciled to the Father.  It is no mere coincidence that the Holy Father will embark on this journey on the day celebrates the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

Please remember the Holy Father and the success of this Apostolic Journey in your prayers.

12 September 2012

A false history

Every year around Independence Day and Thanksgiving Day, Americans of all stripes bring out the same distorted notion of our history that President Obama referenced in this mornings in his remarks concerning the murder of the His Excellency Chris Stevens, the Ambassador of the United States of America to Libya.  President Obama said, in part:
Since our founding, the United States has been a nation that respects all faiths.
This is simply not true.  This country was established on the notion of religious freedom, but only for members of a particular faith.

To see the falsity of this statement (and those like it), one need only consider the difficulty of Catholic priests who stepped foot in Massachusetts on pain of death for no other reason than that we were Catholic priests.  One could also look to the Irish immigrants who were continually told they "need not apply" for work.

Anti-Catholicism in America: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, by Mark S. Massa, S.J. is an an excellent and readable account of the history of Catholics in this country.  It is a history that is too little known and too little discussed.

The history of the Catholic Church in the United States of America is a clear testimony that this country has, in fact, not been a nation that respects all faiths since its founding, and Catholicism is not the only faith whose history will bear this out.

President Obama continued,
We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.
Yet his administration continues to denigrate the beliefs of Catholics regarding the dignity of human life and of procreation.

The President was right, though, when he said that "there is absolutely no justification to this type of senseless violence" that resulted in the death of the Ambassador, a member of the Foreign Service, and two others.  May the Lord grant them eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon them.

Good news from Alton!

A few minutes ago I had the occasion to speak with one of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George who works at St. Anthony's Hospital in Alton.

After discussing the matter that initiated my call, Sister shared with me some very good news in regard to their community.

You will remember, I hope, that on August 15, 2012, thirteen women made their Final Profession and three women made their First Profession in the Community, even as two women entered the Novitiate.  Somehow, the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George remain one of the best kept secrets in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.

The good news that was shared with is this: three women entered the Community as Postulants last week, four entered this week, one will enter this week, and there are several more women who will enter as Postulants before the end of the year.

The Holy Spirit is moving in the hearts of the young people of this Diocese and across the country in very clear ways; we have seen this also in the increasing numbers of our seminarians.

Let us continue to pray that more young men and women will continue to respond with courageous and generous love to the call of the Lord to dedicate themselves to his service.

11 September 2012

Let us pray.

When the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI visited the site of Ground Zero on April 20, 2008 he offered the following prayer:
O God of love, compassion, and healing,

look on us, people of many different faiths and traditions,
who gather today at this site,
the scene of incredible violence and pain.

We ask you in your goodness
to give eternal light and peace
to all who died here—
the heroic first-responders:
our fire fighters, police officers,
emergency service workers, and Port Authority personnel,
along with all the innocent men and women
who were victims of this tragedy
simply because their work or service
brought them here on September 11, 2001.

We ask you, in your compassion
to bring healing to those
who, because of their presence here that day,
suffer from injuries and illness.
Heal, too, the pain of still-grieving families
and all who lost loved ones in this tragedy.
Give them strength to continue their lives with courage and hope.

We are mindful as well
of those who suffered death, injury, and loss
on the same day at the Pentagon and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
Our hearts are one with theirs
as our prayer embraces their pain and suffering.

God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.
Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.
Comfort and console us,
strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

Never forget?

Very soon after the terrible day of September 11, 2001, posters and banners went up across these United States of America declaring, "We will never forget."  Placards bearing this motto appeared almost instantly and simultaneously in homes and business across the country, and cars sported similar bumpersickers on the highways and byways of America.  Where are these signs today?

When first they appeared, I wondered how long they would remain in the windows and on the marquees and even on t-shirts.  If they remained for two years, I thought it would be a wonder.  I wasn't - I'm sad to say - surprised when the majority of these signs came down after the first anniversary of that dark day and now, just eleven years later, you would be hard pressed to find them in the windows of any home.  Only a few businesses still maintain this reminder.

I was taken aback this morning to see that in the "pre-packaged" petitions used by the parish at which I celebrated Mass this morning contained no reference at all to the terrorist attacks (such a mention could easily have been done without it becoming political).  I was also taken aback that the number of the faithful present for the celebration of the Holy Mass was no greater today than on any other Tuesday.  Have we forgotten so soon?

It is true that Americans (or at least the mainlanders; many of the Hawaiians still refer to Queen Lili'oukalani as "the Queen," though she died in 1917), as a general rule, do not have - and have not had - a long memory.  We quickly - and contentedly - forget the events of the past, even those important events that happened within our lifetimes.

We were told that September 11, 2001 changed our culture and society, and changed it for the better.  It brought us together, we said, and reminded us of the importance of family and faith and freedom.  How truly life-changing was this day if we have already all but forgotten?

I don't have the answer to this question, and I won't pretend to have it.  I offer this question, simply as something for each of us to think and pray about.

On this sad anniversary, may the Lord keep us close to himself, may he welcome into Paradise those whose lives were taken, and may God bless America.

10 September 2012

It's going to be one of those strange days

I thought it very strange this morning not to the see the business manager's car in the parking lot when I left to celebrate the 6:20 a.m. Mass at a nearby parish.  I thought it even more strange when the pulled into the parking lot as I backed out of my garage.

It was also strange that the stop lights did not stop me and allowed my swift progress through the streets of the capital city.

It seemed strange not to hear the local radio hosts discussing the morning news.

When I arrived at the church, there seemed to be no one present for Mass and it was now 6:13 a.m.  This, too, was strange.

After retrieving my vestments from my car, I looked up to the sky and saw the constellation Orion overhead (which is never a good sign) and thought that quite a lot had changed when I was in Hawaii (before I left, Orion was still below the horizon at this hour of the day).

When I arrived at the sacristy I found the doors locked and, as no one else was in the church, I wondered what I should do.  A moment later a parishioner arrived - who had a key - but also asked why I was present so early.  Apparently it was now about 5:20 a.m.

Thinking I must have missed a time change or something, I pulled out my phone which clearly read 6:20 a.m. (the parishioner also confirmed it, and showed that his phone clearly said 5:20 a.m.).

Apparently my iPhone decided that I am in the Eastern time zone, a falsehood it insists upon when it is set to automatically detect the time zone, but if it is not automatically detect the time zone it says I am in the Central time zone (which is correct).  What's going on?

With a few meetings this morning, a trip to Chicago and back, and Mass in 30 minutes, this is going to be a very long day.  I wish my body would let me take naps!

Incidentally, this helps explain how I somehow spent an hour and a half last night catching up on Facebook and Twitter before bed; in reality, it had only been half an hour.

The Bishop and I were in North Arm last night, which is very near the Indiana border.  Apparently North Arm does strange things to phones.

08 September 2012

Homily - 8 September 2012

The Twenty-third Sunday of the Year (B)

Dear brothers and sisters,

In 1947, the Lord Jesus said to Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, “How it hurts to see these poor children soiled with sin … they don’t know Me – so they don’t want Me … how I long to enter their holes – their dark unhappy homes.”  But he didn’t simply express his desire to lift sinners out of their sin, he invited Mother Teresa to “Come be my victim.  In your immolation – in your love for Me – they will see Me – know Me – want Me.”[1]

In effect, Jesus asked Mother Teresa to put herself and her own desires aside and live for him alone by bringing his love to the streets of Calcutta.  He asked her to become the embodiment of his love; through her voice, her smile, and her hands, she was to make his love known to the poorest of the poor; she was to help them be rich in faith and to open their eyes to the love of Jesus Christ who became poor for them.  Through her, the poor of Calcutta were to come to know Jesus and, by knowing him in her, they were to want him and to love him.

My friends, is this not the same call that each of us has received, as well?  In the waters of Baptism and the anointing of Confirmation, we have become Christians, we have become other Christs.  We, too, must make the love of Jesus Christ known in our words, our smiles, and in our hands.  By encountering us, people should come to know Jesus and, in coming to know him in us, to want him and to love him.

Today, dear brothers and sisters, we have the profound opportunity to witness anew the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing” (Isaiah 35:5-6).  This privilege is ours because we will soon witness the rebirth of a child in the life-giving waters of Baptism, those very same waters Isaiah foretold when he declared, “Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe” (Isaiah 35:6).

After passing with Jesus Christ from death to life, this child will be made, with us, “rich in faith and [an heir] of the Kingdom that [Jesus] promised to those who love him” (James 2:5).  This child will become one with us in the Body of Christ, which is the Church, and will, we pray, learn to follow him in all things.

N., “great indeed is the Baptism which is offered you.  It is a ransom to captives; the remission of offences; the death of sin; the regeneration of the soul; the garment of light; the holy seal indissoluble; the chariot to heaven; the luxury of paradise; a procuring of the kingdom; the gift of adoption.”[2]

After you receive the gift of new life, I will say to you, as I touch your ears and your mouth, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak.  May he soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.”[3]  In this simple gesture, I will imitate Jesus Christ who touched the ears of that man as said, “‘Ephatha!’ – that is – ‘Be opened’” (Mark 7:34)!

From this day forward, this child must be open to hearing the word of God, to hearing of his love, and to hearing how we should respond to that love.  To this end, dear parents and godparents, you must see to it you live lives of authentic faith and seek the Lord above all things.  You must devote yourselves to a pursuit of holiness by reading the Sacred Scriptures and spiritual writings; by attending the Holy Mass on Sundays and holydays; by making frequent use of the Sacrament of Confession; by prayer, fasting and alms-giving; and by living your faith in a public, generous and humble manner.  If you dedicate yourselves to this pursuit, you will help each other grow in holiness and you will find the happiness your hearts’ desire.

By living the faith in a joyful manner, you will attract the attention of others who will wonder where you find your joy and they will want it, too.  If you seek to be authentic disciples – as is the task of each of us – you will be able to say to your child and to everyone who meet the same words Mother Teresa said so often: “The most important thing for us to remember is that Christ called each of us by name and that He said, ‘You are precious to Me, I love you.’  If you remember that, it makes all the difference.”[4]

The encounter with Jesus Christ and with his love changes a person; anyone who meets the Lord in a personal way can never be the same again.  This was the experience of Mother Teresa and it was the experience of the man in today’s Gospel.  This is why he was able, though he had never heard the sound of the tongues of men, to speak plainly after Jesus opened his ears.  What is it that this man said?

After with this encounter, surely he cried out, “Praise the Lord, my soul” (Psalm 146:1).  Never would he be able to forget that day when Jesus demonstrated for him his powerful words: “You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you;” he knew that he was wanted by the Lord (Jeremiah 43:4).

The opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ is all around us.  He is found in the Scriptures; in the community gathered in his name; in the silence of our hearts; in the Sacraments; and, above all, in the Eucharist.  To encounter him we must quiet our souls and be still.  Then, just as he took the man away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd, he will speak to us in the stillness and heal us.  He will say to us, “In your love for Me – they will see Me – know Me – want Me.”

This confidence in his love for us is what allows us to speak plainly of his love to others, to say to them, “Be strong, fear not” (Isaiah 35:4)!  May each of us, having encountered the Lord Jesus Christ and his love for us, seek to lead others to him, that they might also know the depths of his love for them.  Amen!

[1] Letter to Archbishop Perier, S.J., Corpus Christi, 1947.  In Mother Teresa: Come, Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta.  Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C., Ed.  (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 77.
[2] St. Cyril of Jerusalem, The Protocatechesis, 16.  In St. Cyril of Jersualem: Lectures on the Christian Sacraments.  F. L. Cross, ed. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1951), 50.
[3] Rite of Baptism for One Child, 101.
[4] Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, Instructions to the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, June 2, 1981.  In Joseph Langford, Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire: The Encounter that Changed Her Life, and How It Can Transform Your Own.  (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, 2008), 250.

A gift received

I've often thought about framing a few of the pictures I have taken in my travels to hang in my suite or in my office, but I have not yet done so.

As she looked through the pictures I recently took in Hawai'i, a friend back home in Quincy asked if she could print one as a poster to hang her in home.  I gladly gave my permission and in return she offered to have a picture of my choosing printed as a poster.

The poster arrived yesterday and last evening I found a frame for it:

Initially I was going to hang it in my office, but now I'm not so sure.  It would go very well in my sitting room above my television or over my couch.  If it were to hang in my office I'm not sure I'd get a lot done.

Where do you think it should hang?

07 September 2012

Auxiliary Bishops ask Tolton's intercession for Cardinal George

This past Wednesday, His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., Archbishop of Chicago, began chemotherapy to fight cancer recently found in his kidney and liver, treatments which will continue over the next four months.

His Auxiliary Bishops today asked the faithful to pray for the health and healing of Cardinal George through the intercession of the Servant of God Father Augustus Tolton.  As we do so, they ask us to use the prayer for his Beatification and Canonization:

O God, * we give you thanks for your servant and priest, Father Augustus Tolton, * who labored among us in times of contradiction,* times that were both beautiful and paradoxical. * His ministry helped lay the foundation for a truly Catholic gathering in faith in our time.* We stand in the shadow of his ministry.* May his life continue to inspire us * and imbue us with that confidence and hope * that will forge a new evangelization for the Church we love.
Father in Heaven, * Father Tolton’s suffering service sheds light upon our sorrows; * we see them through the prism of your Son’s passion and death.* If it be your Will, O God,* glorify your servant, Father Tolton, * by granting the favor I now request through his intercession * (mention your request) * so that all may know the goodness of this priest * whose memory looms large in the Church he loved. 
Complete what you have begun in us * that we might work for the fulfillment of your kingdom.* Not to us the glory,* but glory to you O God, through Jesus Christ, your Son* and our Lord; * Father, Son and Holy Spirit,* you are our God, living and reigning forever and ever. Amen.
Father Tolton, pray for him!

"Rain, rain, and sun!

...a rainbow in the sky!"  So wrote Alfred Lord Tennyson in his Idylls of the King (I.401).  As I sit here in my suite at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception looking out my west north-facing windows, I note that the gathering clouds have arrived:

The clouds have come, but likely enough there will not be a rainbow as these as rather uncommon in this part of the world.  Even so, I wonder, when will it rain?

I'm attempting to spend the afternoon in my suite catching up on some things and working ahead on a few others.  Some progress has been made, but it slow going, as they say.

A few Hawaiian verses

One of my Hawaiian friends very kindly composed a few verses for me in Hawaiian that are very meaningful to me (some of you may have seen a similar post this morning in your Google Reader; I removed that post because the formatting wasn't working properly).  Here are the verses in Hawaiian:
'Auhea 'oe e ku'u kahuhipa
E ho'i Mai i ke ola o ka 'aina
Ke Kali nei no ka uka kalihune
I ke kani aloha
I ka laua'e moe
E hiki Mai i ka waimaka 'eha
E puka Mai i ka ua lani Mai
E ike ia Liliulaaloha
Aloha e-e-e
Translated into English, the verses are:
Where art thou, my Shepherd?
Return to the life-giving land
The gentle uplands await your loving echo
upon the laua'e fern which creates a forest bed
We [the laua'e] welcome your melancholy tears
The tears transcend into the heavens
Until you arrive at the fire of Divine love
May love remain
If you're curious, this is the laua'e:

2016: Obama's America

Last night a priest-friend and I went to see Dinesh D'Souza's 2016: Obama's America, rather than listening to President Obama accept his nomination as the Democratic nominee (I had a fairly good idea about what he would say and seem to have been largely correct in that assessment).

Though the movie has been in theaters now for a couple of weeks, last night was the closing of the Democratic National Convention, and the weather last evening was very nice, the theater had more people in it than I have seen at a movie since the last Harry Potter movie (even more than watched The King's Speech, The Rite, Brave, or The Dark Knight Rises in the theater when I saw them [and two of those movies I watched at the same theater complex]).  That, I think, says something significant that the Democratic party refuses to acknowledge (which, in part, explains why no major Democrat pundit has even commented briefly on the movie (or if one has I've completely missed it).

After the movie, I was struck at how many of the viewers stayed in the theater lobby to calmly discuss the movie; I haven't seen anything like that since The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

In his film, D'Souza convincingly describes President Obama's dream for the United States of America, which - argues D'Souza - is fundamentally different from that dream of the Founding Fathers and of any other Democratic President for these United States.  To make this argument, D'Souza uses President Obama's own words taken from his books and speeches and from the testimony of those who know him well and of the people whom Obama admits formed him.

Whether you are or are not a supporter of the President, this is a film that every American should watch:

05 September 2012

Say hello to my little friends

A friend and I visited the Lego Land store at the Ala Moana mall in Honolulu (when I was a kid I wanted to work at Lego Land; that would be an awesome job) and found this fun little set:

Very soon it'll make it's home in my office.