me at 9 months

There was a time when, what would later become me, was just a mass of cells. These cells were raw biological material. It would not have been a tragedy if they had been destroyed for some good reason. While they would later be the physical ingredients for my existence, they were not me. They were contained partially within my mother and partially within my father.

One day, three “parties” joined together for my creation: my mom, my dad and God. My parents contributed the biological components that God had previously entrusted to them. The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life – took that material and breathed life into it. “It” was immediately transformed into “me” – a life, a person. I got my soul at that moment. Where previously I did not exist, through the miracle of conception, I became the mortal child of my parents. Where previously I did not exist, through the miracle of conception, I became a child of God. “I” was created by all three “parties” as their child and without them, I could not exist.

Ever since I was created I have been growing both physically and mentally. While I continue to grow a little bit daily, every day since I was conceived I have been no more a person than the day before. In my early years I was a toddler, learning from and dependent upon my parents. Before that I was a baby, even more dependent for basic needs such as being fed. Further back, I was more dependent still – physically connected to my mother’s body for nourishment within her womb.

The above paragraphs tell the story of my life. They also tell the story of your life. There have never been any exceptions other than Adam, Eve and Jesus.

My parents were married for life, 72 years ago. World War II threw a wrench into their plans to start a family. They tried to have children without success when my dad returned from the war. Finally, after a decade and a half, my mom was pregnant. She was again two years later with my brother.

Throughout my life there have been many milestones. Some big ones include when my daughter was born, when I was married, when I was baptized, when I was born and when I was created. I was not created when I was born. Leaving my mother’s womb no more made me a person than leaving the hospital did. It was a milestone in my life but somewhat arbitrary. It could have been days or weeks earlier. It could have been later.

Medical science has taught, and continues to teach, us a great deal. Today, few honestly believe that life begins at birth. Never-the-less, for their own selfish reasons, many refuse the fact that life begins at conception. They engage in an absurd debate to “determine” the exact point that life begins as if it is not already known. Some propose it is when the child can survive outside of the womb – or to even do that without assistance. Some have picked the age of 24 weeks; or 22 weeks; or 20 weeks; or some other number. Some suggest life is too real to end when the child can feel pain.

People who are playing these games are not actually interested in understanding God’s gift of life. They are interested only in redefining its creation to a later time in order to end it without legally being murder. Many with well formed consciences will try in vain to convince themselves of this too, in order to live without the guilt of what they have done.

Catholics know that life begins at conception and that God has quite clearly commanded us not to kill (Genesis 9:6, Leviticus 24:17, Matthew 5:21, Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Romans 13:9, James 2:11.

We are opposed to abortion simply because it is murder. Abortion is intrinsically evil. Your mother’s pregnancy was not a medical condition. It was a period in her life during which her body provided you with shelter and nourishment. Back when you were completely defenseless, she did not “choose” to “terminate” you by poisoning you, crushing your head, or ripping you from her body to let you die abandoned.

Your arrival into the world may have been inconvenient. Maybe your mom was not married or felt that she was too young. Maybe you were otherwise unplanned or part of a large family already struggling. Your mom did not have you killed so that it would be easier for her or your family.

Your mom may have been aware that some would say that you were less than physically perfect. She may have been advised that your life would be short. Yet, she did not condemn you to immediate death.

Your mom may have risked her life bringing you into the world. She did not take your life in an attempt to protect her own.

Your mom may have been the victim of a terrible crime such as rape or incest. She did not compound that tragedy by sacrificing your life as well.

Government morally exists to protect society, not facilitate the destruction of its members. Politicians who say that they are against abortion personally but are “pro-choice” are saying they will not murder but are not opposed to others doing so. They almost always are not only open to such murders, but work with great persistence and determination to facilitate them, make them widely available, obscure their true nature and pay for them from the public treasury.

In the taking of defenseless, innocent life, Catholics do not have the option of standing on the sidelines. We have the moral duty to participate in elections and may vote only for candidates who support life. Our bishops have again and again told us that no other issue, no matter how important it is, trumps life. No rationale, rationalizing, party loyalty or social justice considerations can possibly trump life itself. That is the firm teaching of the Catholic Church.

This is actually very simple. Abortion is always murder, it is always morally wrong and nothing is more important than life.

If you are unsure that abortion is always wrong, consider cases such as Rebecca Kiessling who was conceived from a brutal, knife-point rape by a serial rapist:

Sex scandal

Sex Scandal

There are perverts everywhere. A government report by the US Department of Education said that 9.6 percent of public school children across the country have been sexually abused or harassed by school employees. Specifically teachers, coaches, substitute teachers, bus drivers and teacher’s aides (in that order). This is astounding, yet rarely reported.

As bad as US public schools may be for the safety of our children, they pale in comparison to the sexual abuse children suffer from family (30% of all cases) and friends (60%). In the other 10% outside of the home, children are victimized wherever they are subject to adult supervision. Public schools, youth sports, scouting and religious organizations for example.

This problem has historically been hidden by those in authority where it occurred. Children were reluctant to come forward and when they did, not believed. Parents, sometimes more concerned about shame, failed to report it or press charges. In the past, laws did not require that these crimes be reported to police. Mental health professionals advised that these behaviors could be effectively treated and cured.

Sadly, like every other organization, the Catholic Church was not immune to this serious problem. Catholics (both lay and clergy), more than anyone else, found it difficult to believe and shocking that it could happen here. We were naive. Every Catholic understands we are not perfect and are sinners. Even the pope goes to confession. Never-the-less, that any priest could be capable of ever doing such a terrible thing was just unimaginable. For all but a very small number, it truly was unimaginable.

Unfortunately we didn’t need to imagine it, it was shamefully real. In a Church of 1.3 billion members (growing 1.5% annually) and over 400,000 priests, more than just trust is necessary to address this widespread societal problem. It has been difficult for us worldwide with varied legal climates, cultural norms and local autonomy to universally take the necessary steps – but they are being made.

In the United States, we have aggressively implemented background checks, seminarian psychological evaluations, strict policies requiring multiple adults around children, zero tolerance, immediate removal from ministry when abuse is alleged, immediate police reporting, extensive annual audits and more. As a result, we have had our share of those falsely accused – but we must err on the side of protecting every child. Contrary to what you may read in the press, the Catholic Church may be the safest place for your children today – by far.

Last year there were a total of six credible allegations of sexual abuse in the Church. ONE instance is too many and absolutely NONE are tolerated. With 65,000,000 US members, this level of effectiveness is nothing less than phenomenal compared against any other organization. The US Catholic Church has set the standard for stopping child sexual abuse that everybody else should learn from.

This may surprise you because you will not generally hear about this in the mainstream press. They mostly ignore child sexual abuse unless it is related to the Catholic Church. Recent headlines along the lines of “The widening Catholic sexual abuse scandal” typically raise issues from decades ago and their errors of fact for even those are simply appalling. This is the reporting while actual abuse is occurring every day, right now all around us.

For us, dealing with the scourge of child sexual abuse that has spilled over from society into the Church is a shameful, extremely serious problem. It is a problem that we have done, and will continue to do, everything in our power to stop. For many in the press, the story is often not really about child sexual abuse at all.

How can the Catholic Church be “rehabilitated” in the eyes of many in the press? Embrace homosexual marriages and divorce. Tolerate sex outside of marriage. Be less family oriented. Ordain women priests. Remove celibacy requirements from the priesthood. Recognize abortion as a personal choice. Accept that sin is relative.

If these things were to happen, I believe that you might never see another story in the mainstream media about a “Catholic sex scandal.” Of course, these things will never happen. Those who are anti-Catholic in the press know this so the purpose of their attacks is to marginalize the Church. They will surely not succeed.

Regardless of some in the press and their misguided efforts, the Church is deeply sorry for its part in this tragedy. Innocent victims have been harmed. Peoples’ faiths have been shaken by the grave personal sins of the few. In a perfect world, a topic such as this would never need discussion in a blog like this. We live in a very imperfect world for which, as always — the Church is the answer, not the problem.

The Mass

The Mass

Sanctifying, renewing, reassuring, comforting, refocusing, amazing, community, fantastic, awesome, peace, joy. My friend Tom suggested that I explain the Mass in my own words so I will start with these.

Catholics participate in the Mass at least every Sunday and some, as often as every day. The Sacrifice of Mass is much more than a Christan “worship service.” It is a celebration in which we not only hear the word of God, but are in His direct presence. We encounter Our Lord in the literal sense. Heaven touches earth. If these seem like extraordinary claims – they are, and Mass is every bit that extraordinary!

Today’s Mass and that of the early Church have much in common. It is a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. Structurally, it is divided into two primary parts: the first focuses around the word of God and the second around the Eucharist (Holy Communion).

In the Liturgy of the Word, we hear Old and New Testament Bible readings. Not just any readings, but readings prescribed for that day. Any given day, Mass said in every Catholic church in the world will use the same readings. Over a 3 year period the daily readings cover most of the Bible.

Following the readings, a priest or deacon will deliver a homily related specifically to that day’s scripture. These usually range from 5 to 15 minutes and are optional for the daily Masses (but common and short).

The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the second part of Mass. Catholic bishops are direct successors to the Apostles who were present at the Last Supper. They, or ordained priests under their authority, act “in persona Christi” (“in the person of Christ“) to consecrate bread and wine (with a little water) into the real body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus, the Son of God. The Holy Body and Precious Blood maintain only the appearance of bread and wine, just as they did at the Last Supper.

Jesus sometimes taught by parables. Other times he was crystal clear and specific. Establishing the Church, the authority of the Apostles (the first bishops) and the gift of the Eucharist are examples of the later.

“I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”

As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

After the consecration of the Eucharist, we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” It has been said that the Eucharist is the only food you can not consume, it consumes you. In receiving communion we are truly united with Christ.

The Mass is no mere worship service! Nor is it a social event, entertainment or Bible study. It is solemn and treated with all the respect one should give in the literal presence of Our Lord. Non-Catholics are very welcome to join us, but only Catholics who fully understand the real presence of the Lord in the Eucharist and are properly disposed (including absolved of all mortal sins) may receive communion. Paul explains it this way:

Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself.

Our churches are beautiful, our priests dedicated and inspired, the homilies insightful, the music moving, our attention focused and hearts open. Usually. Sometimes in place of a church a tent must be used, the priest is tired, the homilies uninspired, music that you would rather not hear and our focus diverted by worldly concerns. Even then the tremendous blessings and benefits of Mass are received. St. Thomas Aquinas said “The celebration of Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross.” St. Gregory noted “The heavens open and multitudes of angels come to assist in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” Once, St. Teresa was overwhelmed with God’s Goodness and asked Our Lord “How can I thank you?” Our Lord replied, “attend one mass.”

Heaven on earth and literally uniting ourselves with Christ — that is the Catholic Mass. I will give St. John Vianney (Patron Saint of Parish Priests) the last word: “If we really understood the Mass, we would die of joy.”

Rules, rules, rules

Rules Rules Rules

The Catholic Church has too many rules. At least, that is what some people would have you believe.

If I may be so bold, let me ask what your position is on maintaining physical health? Is it something that concerns you? Of course – eat right, exercise, get sufficient sleep, don’t smoke, drink alcohol only in moderation, avoid fats, watch your cholesterol, brush your teeth, floss, don’t chew on ice, get annual physicals, follow doctors orders.

That sure looks like a lot of rules to me. How about if I just want to be healthy but determine my own rules? Instead of the above rules I will not sit in brown chairs (unless sometimes I want to do that). I will listen to the doctor when I am sick. I will get a physical whenever I buy life insurance. Yea, other than these rules which I have determined on my own, I can do whatever else I want and fully expect to remain in good health. This makes a lot of sense, right?

You may wish to drive a car. Be certain to buy a safe car, change its oil as recommended, put gas in it when it is low, have it inspected regularly, replace worn break pads, replace bulbs as necessary, check tire wear, turn into a skid, have a driver’s license, follow the numerous traffic laws.

Too many rules. I am sure I will be happy and safe with any car. When it stops moving I will look into it. I will drive as I please unless I see a cop. I will be as happy and safe as everyone else, right?

You get the idea.

When rules are applied to things like our health, vehicles and many other areas of daily life, we know that they are for our own good. We believe the rules are determined by those who are better informed and more knowledgeable than us. This is not a matter of restricting our rights, arbitrarily bulling us around or interfering with our personal prerogative.

Why then are rules bad for our immortal welfare? Why should we be free of rules when much more than earthly concerns are at risk? Why do we think our individual intellect might somehow be more foolproof than the word of God, interpreted by experts, guided by the Holy Spirit over a period of 2,000 years? Really, just because?

So what kinds of rules are we talking about? Fear the Lord. Love each other. Go to church. Sex is not a recreational sport. Marry for life. Do not sin. If you slip, repent and seek absolution. Killing another person is wrong, even if that person is defenseless.

Yes, that is an incomplete list but so are the above health and driving rules. Rules make it easier for us. They guide us so that we may avoid the negative consequences of other paths. If Catholic rules were put into a book, it would be very, very thin and entitled “Christian Rules for Dummies!!!” It is not rocket science, but might not always be what we want. Consider once again whose will we profess to follow.

The fact is, what few rules Catholics have are a blessing and not a curse. They make Christian life easier and bring clarity. We may ignore any or all of them without fear of detection. Catholics do not have brain implants that alert the Catholic police when we are in violation! We happily follow the rules for our own good. We are not brainwashed, but understand the teachings of our faith and are thankful for straightforward, sure direction.

In a strange land

In Strange Land

Normally as we participate at Mass we are following a comfortable and routine path through the liturgies and rites. That is a good thing. Mass is anything but ordinary. It is a holy celebration during which heaven touches earth, if only briefly! By comfortable and routine I am referring to our familiarity with the rubrics. This frees us from focusing on what to do so that we may instead focus on prayer, God’s Word and being infused with the Holy Spirit.

Things were a wee bit different during the Holy Week Triduum, particularly on Good Friday. That was a communion service, not a Mass. The Eucharist was not reserved in the tabernacle either before or after. The tabernacle door remained open from Holy Thursday and the tabernacle lamp was not lit. We venerated the Crucifix and read the Passion. It seemed like everything was changed and unfamiliar.

It wasn’t just me, still a new convert (that is my excuse and I am sticking to it!). Some people knew exactly what to do, others seemed confused. When do we stand? When do we kneel? Is it time to get up? What happened to the embolism immediately after the Lord’s Prayer and “For the kingdom…”? Why did we do that part later, after the Eucharist processed into the sanctuary? Some folks genuflected entering and leaving their pew. You get the idea.

Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t mayhem. The service was very nice, appropriate and spiritually fulfilling. Communion was received. There may have been a little confusion, but enough of us were “winging it” that no one would have felt they stood out.

Later I had a minor epiphany as I thought about it. In a small way we were humbled and put into the shoes of non-Catholic visitors to Mass – wanting to participate, but not stand-out too much. Like them we were in an unfamiliar setting and a little distracted.

The analogy stops there however. Visitors have many other distractions. If they are Protestant, some of the elements of the sanctuary such as the prominent Crucifix, Saint statues, stations of the cross, prayer candles and so on – which are comforting and familiar to us – are often strange to them and differ from what they know. We recognize our priests, deacons and other parishioners while they do not. They may be wondering where is the “order of service” bulletin, what is the purpose of the thin book next to the hymnal and how does everybody just know what to do and pray? Why are there two collections? Was that the sermon or just the introduction (it is often much longer for Protestants)? Why does everyone keep crossing themselves (and how is that properly done anyway and should they do it too)? Should they kneel getting into and out of the pew? Should they receive communion?

One of the things we are good at is welcoming visitors. We are not pushy or judgmental. If we know they are a visitor, we greet and try to make them feel comfortable and welcome. By some wonderful grace they are joining us for worship and may possibly be taking the first, tentative step on a great faith journey.

If you are not Catholic, know that you are always sincerely welcome to join us at Mass (or even Good Friday communion services!). Don’t worry about the details and just follow our lead on standing, sitting and kneeling. You don’t need to genuflect when you enter or leave the pew or make the sign of the cross. Really, it is okay! The only thing you should know is that only properly disposed Catholics may receive communion (just remain in your pew for that part).

Many, many of the people you will see at Mass were not born into the faith. They joined anywhere from decades to months ago. Some were atheists, agnostics, Jewish or other non-Christian religions. Others were Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Anglican, Episcopalian, Mormon, Pentecostal and many other Protestant denominations. We know where you are coming from and were once there too! One last thought, joining us for Mass does not mean you want to join the Catholic Church. It just means you are joining us for Mass – that is all. Feel free to do so as often as you like and know that you are always welcome here.