Monday, June 29, 2015

St. John Bosco Parish Bulletin Letter for July 5, 2015

This weekend the United States celebrates Independence Day. It is the most important of our civic holidays, recalling our nation’s founding. It is a day to give thanks to God for the blessings we have received as a country, and the freedoms we enjoy. The Catholic Church, in particular, has thrived here because of the promise of religious liberty enshrined in the Constitution. The Church has also contributed much to our nation. The Catholic Church is one of, if not the largest private provider of heath care in the U.S. through our network of hospitals, and education by way of our schools. Catholic Charities, sometimes working with the civil government, sometimes working on its own, provides social services like work placement programs, emergency housing assistance for the homeless, and food and rent assistance for those in need, and much more. When all these service agencies and religious organizations are combined, we see that we are not only providing service to countless people, but the Church is also the largest private employer in Chicago, employing around 75,000 people. These are people who vote, pay taxes as well as rent or mortgages, shop at local businesses, contributing to the economic life of the community. I could go on, but I think you get the point. Catholics have proven to be good and faithful citizens of this Republic, while also remaining good and faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court of the United States decided that persons of the same sex could legally marry in all 50 states of the Union. While we respect all people, and their right to pursue happiness in their lives, this is a decision that simply goes against the Christian understanding of what marriage is. For a disciple of Christ marriage is about more than personal happiness or satisfaction. It is more than a private arraignment entered into for the good of the couple. It has always been seen as the foundation of the family, the best, if imperfect, setting for the raising, evangelizing and education of children. To separate marriage from family, and make its definition dependent on personal sentiments independent of its deeper responsibilities is to render marriage meaningless.

As citizens or residents of this great nation, we respect all our neighbors. As Archbishop Cupich reminded us in his statement on this matter, It is important to note that the Catholic Church has an abiding concern for the dignity of gay persons. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: ‘They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’ (n. 2358).” But as he also reminds us, “the Supreme Court’s redefinition of civil marriage has no bearing on the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony, in which the marriage of man and woman is a sign of the union of Christ and the Church.”

There are many people of good will on both sides of this issue. But there are, sadly, also a few who will use the Court’s decision to question our loyalty as citizens, and even try to limit our participation in public life. It is for us to move forward in faith, “with malice toward none, charity for all,” as Abraham Lincoln once said.  We should know our history, and the vital role Catholics have played in the life of the country, and that we are committed to continue as loyal citizens, but always first as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

Freed from Fear: From AOP

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Reflections After My Retreat

I spent last week at the Mary Town Retreat center in Libertyville, IL, completing one of the sweetest obligations I have: my yearly retreat. It's not the usual, or preferred way of making a retreat: apart from one our province sponsored retreats, but scheduling made it hard to fit one in. Our provincial was gracious enough to grant me permission to spend the week in prayer and reflection on my own, and I'm grateful for that. The Conventual Franciscans who run Mary Town, which includes the National Shrine of St. Maximilian Kolbe, as well as the entire staff (I'm a familiar figure in the gift shop) were gracious as well, in their hospitality.

The week was simple. I joined the friars for prayers and Mass, spent extended times in Eucharistic Adoration (Mary Town has 24 Adoration) and read through the Pope's encyclical, Laudato Si'. I also began reading Romano Guardini's book Learning the Virtues: That Lead You to God. I also saw a series of videos via You Tube of testimonials of Jewish Converts to Catholicism. This wasn't planned ahead of time, I was drawn to it. More on that later.

I know that there is a five hundred pound gorilla in room, which is Friday's Supreme Court decision concerning same-sex marriage. I saw the news just before lunch, and was shocked by the suddenness of the ruling more then the outcome. Earlier in the week Fr. Dwight Longenecker had made an educated guess that June 30 was going to be the "day," (along with offering a not so coincidental reflection on the Mass reading for that day), so it wasn't on my radar. I'll write on this more profoundly this week. I thought about giving a quick take on it, but I can see it will end up taking up the entire post. So patience. I will get to it, just not right now.

What insights did I walk away with this week? Here are a few points.

1. You have to put in the time before the Blessed Sacrament

As a Salesian religious I'm called to pray in community twice a day, celebrate Mass, pray the rosary and, in the spirit of St. John Bosco, make frequent though short visits to the Blessed Sacrament through out the day. The idea is the we are active, and spending long periods of time in prayer is not always possible. So we pray as we can, lifting our minds to God throughout the day, encountering the Lord in the young people we serve and the events of our lives. Very true. But as I've taken on the responsibilities of director and pastor I've learned that a Holy Hour is invaluable. It has to be right the first thing in the morning, because once the day starts it's impossible to find time for those short visits, let alone an hour. At night I'm just too tired. But that time in front of the Blessed Sacrament is essential. The greatest gift we have to offer others, no matter who we are or what our vocation is, is the gift of Jesus. If we don't spend time with him, foster a relationship with him, we are never going to be say that we know him and share our love for Christ with others. I can testify that getting up that extra hour earlier is not easy, but it is worth it.

2. Practicing traditional devotions make the celebration of the Mass a more heightened experience.

When I grew up popular devotions were simply not promoted. I'm talking about things like novenas, the rosary, the use of sacramentals like the Miraculous Medal or the Brown Scapula, even Eucharistic Adoration, which were given little, if any mention. To be fare, we did learn the rosary, but even this central devotion was not promoted as it should have been. I chalk this up to a misreading of the Second Vatican Council. With Vatican II the Liturgy was renewed, and it's proper place at the center of Christian worship was emphasized. Popular devotions were to be revised so that they both harmonized with Sacred Scripture and lead the faithful more naturally into the celebration of the Mass. The Divine Office, aka the Liturgy of the Hours, which priests and religious pray, was recast as the prayer for all Christians, not just the "professional" ones. Again, all right on. But there was an interpretation that set popular private devotion against the official public liturgy. The rosary and novenas were what the people did when they couldn't understand the Mass, but now that we have the vernacular liturgy those things are unnecessary, or even harmful. As for sacramental, at best they were nice reminders of holy things, and at worst superstitious anachronisms.

I can tell you nothing is farther from the truth. Since discovering, and really surrendering, to the Divine Mercy devotion, I've found my attentiveness, reverence, and devotion (for lack of a better term) at Mass has increased incredibly. It's not to mystical proportions, but I've found that I am "in the moment" during both he Liturgy of the Word and of the Eucharist on a much more consistent basis. Any priest will tell you that with all the preoccupation of parish or school administration keeping from being distracted during Mass is a challenge, and not every celebration has the same level of focus. I would say that forming a habit of more traditional, devotional prayer, which includes the Divine Mercy Chaplet along with the rosary (which is already apart of our Salesian routine), that augments the Office, has lead to a more consistent, reverent and profound experience of the Eucharist.

3. We owe a great debt to our Jewish brethren 

As I mentioned before, I found myself drawn to videos on You Tube featuring testimonials of Jewish converts to the faith. The most controversial of the three I saw, Roy Schoeman, accepts the term convert, but prefers to call himself a "fulfilled Jew."  And I think that's what the the big take away was for me, because all three witnesses were strong in saying that are still very much Jews who have now recognized the Jewish Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. Schoeman, as well as Rosalind Moss (who is now a nun) and Ronda Chevin, a philosopher who is now widowed, all talked about how they discovered how Jewish the Catholic Church is when they first began investigating it. For Chevin this was not a positive point. She entered Christianity by way of evangelical Protestantism. Her brother, who had already converted to Catholicism, dragged her to Mass one evening, and she was horrified to see how much the Mass resembled a synagogue service. She kept thinking that St. Paul tells us that Jesus came to abolish all this and make something new. It was only over time that she came to understand that Jesus came to fulfill, not abolish the Old Law.

As I wrote, Schoeman is a controversial figure, who has definite ideas connecting the Holocaust with the End Times that Jews, as well as many Christians, would have serious problems with. He's not blind to the Church's shortcomings visa vi her relationship with the Jewish people over the centuries, and isn't afraid to quote the truly disturbing words of otherwise saintly Church Fathers about our elders in the faith. He's evenhanded in his assessment of Pius XII, noting the pontiff's personal efforts to save Jews from the Nazis, to the point of hiding Jewish refugees in Castel Sant'Angelo, but also saying he could have done more in his official capacity as pope to make the situation known to the world.

I walked away from these presentations with is a greater appreciation for the richness of the Catholic faith, and how ever ancient it really is. Also that we owe a great deal to our Jewish brothers and sisters. I understand better now Jesus' words from Matthew, that he came to fulfill, not abolish. We do need to be sensitive to the history of our relationship with the Jewish people. I know Schoeman would like to see a more deliberate evangelical entitative taken toward the Jewish people, but we are sensitive to the history, and our own sins. It's for us "cradle Catholics" to discover the Jewish roots of our faith, and, in not be afraid to share the riches of the Catholic Church with others, even Jews, which we've been afraid to do since World War II.


That was my take away from my yearly retreat. As for the big picture, I believe the Lord is calling us to greater devotion. We shouldn't be deceived about this Supreme Court decision; it's going to be rough times ahead for the Church here in the United States. But I'm optimistic. In 2,000 years we've faced pretty tough times. But if we stay close to Christ he will see us through, no matter how rough the going may get.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Fr. Robert Barron on Pope Francis' Encyclical "Laudato Si'"

Here is Fr. Barron's initial take on Pope Francis' encyclical letter Laudato Si'. He places the Holy Father's words in the context of traditional Christian cosmology, that views human beings as a part of creation, that while having a special role with in the created order, is still a part of it. We are to harmonize with nature, not dominate it in the sense that it is a mere object to be bent or manipulated to our purposes.

As Fr. Barron points out, this is a lengthy, though not necessarily a difficult read. I'm going to finish it up today (I hope), then spend my retreat next week going over it again, then giving a more thoughtful reflection of my own.

I look forward to Fr. Barron's analysis and will post it as soon as it becomes available.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

New Papal Encyclical "Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home" Released. Details to Follow

At about 6:00 AM local time the latest papal encyclical was released, Laudato Si'. It's caused controversy since it was still a gleam in Pope Francis' mind's eye, and now that it has actually hit the presses I'm sure more consternation will follow. I've begun reading it, and yes he does write about climate change, probably the most contentious part of the document. But from the introduction the Holy Father indicates that he is going to try and show the connection between care for the environment and other issues that we wouldn't automatically associate with ecology (think life issues and human sexuality). So while conservatives may condemn the document as being "liberation theology" or "socialist," progressives shouldn't get too giddy yet. I'm guessing that it we take off the ideological glasses we'll read enough to make us cheer and think twice about Pope Francis.

I'll finish reading it, and invite you to do the same. I'll be back soon with my take.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fr. Robert Barron on St. Charles Lwanga

N.T. Wright is Right, Mostly

This is is one of those uncomfortable situations where I'm commenting on someone who has probably forgotten more about Biblical scholarship than I've ever known. Which is to say, I shouldn't be commenting at all about the thought of New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright. But what the heck, as in the words of one of my old professors, I'm not some big time scripture scholar worried about my reputation. I can pretty much say what I think!

Bishop Wright is a favorite of Fr. Robert Barron, and gets quoted by Catholic apologists, as wells being well respected in his own tradition. I have not read his books, but have caught a number of his lectures and interviews on You Tube, and I can see why he's so well respected. He walks that fine line of quite vigorously defending core Christian beliefs, like the bodily Resurrection, while explaining with equal vigor the subtleness and complexity of the sacred texts that defies a fundamentalist reading.

I don't have a problem with the content of his talks. There is little I've heard so far that a faithful Catholic couldn't sign off on. There was one comment about purgatory that was complimentary of more recent Catholic scholarship on the topic, while at he same time giving a gentle back of the hand to more "traditional" doctrinal formulations; small stuff in the the end.

What's nagged at me a bit is what I'm not hearing Bishop Wright say in his talks more than what he is. He correctly observes that Jews and gentiles of the first century and late antiquity looked at history, mythology and the natural sciences in a different way then we of the post-Enlightenment world. Our culture has bought into the notion that the scientific method is the only way that we can judge what is true or false (how this jibes with the current gender wars we're having, where objective physical evidence is rejected in favor of subjective dispositions I'll never know, but that's a subject for another day). Even fundamentalists see things this way without even knowing it. They tend to get caught up in the minutiae of whether the earth was created in six literal days or historicity of the Jonah story that they miss the deeper theological truth that renders such arguments somewhat useless.  But in appealing to a more nuanced approach to reading the Scriptures he appeals to the ancients and the Apostolic Church but ignores the post Apostolic Fathers of the Church, whom all understood the various senses of scripture. He gets to the right conclusions but seems to take the really long way around to avoid tipping his hat to the Catholic tradition.

I want to make clear that I don't believe Bishop Wright is anti-Catholic or anything like that. He's man of his ecclesial tradition, speaking to people, for the most part, of Christian groups that are farther removed from Rome then the Church of England, which maintains a liturgical life and claims Apostolic Succession along with the Catholics and Orthodox. Even though they are commonly referred to as being Protestant one can debate the validity of that identification: a discussion best left for another time. He's going to frame things in a way his audience understands, and in the case of Evangelicals he's already proposing a reading of the Bible which is fairly radical to many in the rank and file. The last thing he needs is come off looking like a papist.

That Bishop Wright is critical of transubstantiation as a way of explaining how Christ is present in the Eucharist, or has issues with traditional explanations of purgatory, I have no problem with. When we read thinkers of different faith traditions we shouldn't be afraid or shocked that we're going to disagree on some things, even fundamental things. But as a wise man once said, (and I paraphrase) you're entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own history. Bishop Wright doesn't try to rewrite history so much as gloss over it, giving the impression that somehow we're rediscovering a way of reading revelation that's been hidden since the distant past. No, the Western Church has long understood the subtlety of the ancient texts, and there is a long 2000 year history of reading the Bible on the level of metaphor and, dare I say, allegory, while recognizing the historicity of the history and the poetic nuance of the poetry, and not seeing a conflict between the two things. It strikes me that at times he's getting off at the right exit but taking a much longer route to get there so as to avoid driving in or around Rome.

That all being said, I am dust, and all I've written is as so much straw in comparison to the work of N.T. Wright. So, I whole heartedly recommend him. He's right on target when it comes to the core issues, offering invaluable insights that will help the pastor and apologist as well as the scholar, be more effective in their ministry. He's not Roman Catholic, nor should we expect him to be, so we take what is good, let the disagreements be fodder for discussion, and give thanks to God for such strong, wise voice.