Thursday, April 17, 2014

Homily - Holy Thursday, the Mass of the Lord's Supper 2014

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” So asks the youngest person at table at the beginning of the Jewish Passover meal.  The child continues, “On all other nights we eat bread or matza while on this night we eat only matza. On all other nights we eat all kinds of vegetables and herbs but on this night we have to eat bitter herbs. On all other nights we do not dip our vegetables in salt water but on this night we dip it twice. On all other nights we eat while sitting upright but on this night we eat reclining.” As the Seder continues, the ritual words and actions answer the youngest’s questions telling the great story of the Passover event in which the Lord delivered the Jewish people from slavery. Yet, there is more than simple story-telling at play here.  For those gathered at the table this is a time of encounter with a past salvific event not just in memory but in reality. They are not just participants in a ritual meal event but participants as well in the past historic event of Passover which freed their ancestors from slavery. The ritual act of remembering through word and gesture creates the reality of presence and participation in a salvific event.

This evening you and I gather in this sacred space to celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, a celebration alike in many ways to any celebration of the Mass yet different. Perhaps we could call upon the youngest in our midst to pose the questions for us, “Why is this night different from all other nights? Why is our music becoming more solemn and simple as the Mass progresses? Why is the archbishop going to wash the feet of twelve men and women? Why will there be no blessing and dismissal at the end of Mass? Why will we leave this church in procession with the Blessed Sacrament? Why will we sit in adoration keeping silent vigil?” 

Why is this night different than any other? The simple answer is that this night begins the annual commemoration of Christ’s paschal mystery – his life, death, and resurrection. While the celebration of the Mass is always a celebration of that salvific truth, this yearly ritual draws us even more deeply into a mystical encounter with that truth. Tonight we stand on the threshold of the Easter Triduum, three days in which through word and gesture we will be not only participants in the sacred actions here in this church but also participants as well in the past salvific events which occurred more than two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. These days are mystical moments of memory and reality.

Our celebrations tonight and tomorrow and Saturday are not intended to be three distinct moments of sacred action, three separate “silos” as you will, standing side-by-side in a field of time, but are, to our benefit and joy, three sacred moments of night, day, and vigil united in celebration and in meaning. One cannot understand the words we have heard tonight – “This is my body that is for you…. This cup is the new covenant in my blood…. Do this in remembrance of me…. As I have done for you so you should do” – unless one stands at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday and in front of the empty tomb at the Easter Vigil.  Good Friday points back to Holy Thursday and forward to Easter Saturday and the victory of the empty tomb that we will celebrate on Saturday evening is a victory over the events that we commemorate tonight and will recall tomorrow.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because on this night we begin our yearly celebration of the Easter mystery, celebrated across three days as one great liturgy of salvation. That is why there is no blessing or dismissal this evening or tomorrow at the end of each ritual; it is only at the end of the Easter Vigil that we receive the blessing and are told to go forth, thus ending this three-day commemoration.

Why is this night different from all other nights? Because tonight we stand on the edge of a great and mystical river of word and ritual and sacred memory and are invited to step off and fall into the currents of prayer, reflection, memory and worship, allowing those currents to take us deeply into a real encounter with Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, forming us more deeply into His image and likeness: “Jesus Christ yesterday and today, the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega. All time belongs to him and all the ages. To him be glory and power through every age and forever."

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Concerning the new book, "Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church" (2)

What is meant by the term "emerging adults?" Basically, the authors of this book pose that a number of cultural and societal factors in the United States have lead to a new phase in the "American life role."  No longer the simple movement from child to teenager/young adult to adult but now a new phase between teenager and adult which they call "emerging adult" - no longer a "child" but not yet an "adult." They point to seven "macro social changes" that have brought this about:

- the dramatic growth of higher education with a significant increase beyond just the four-year college   to graduate school. This delays the age at which many are starting a career or entering the workplace;

- a significant increase of the age at which people are getting married - between 1950-2006 the median age of first marriage for women rose from 20.3 to 25.9 years old and for men from 22.8 to 27.5 years old with the sharpest increase for both taking place after 1970.

- "changes in the American and global economy that undermine stable, life-long careers and replace them instead with careers of lower security, more frequent job changes, and an ongoing need for new training and education;"

- the fact that today's parents (aware of the above factors) are more willing to extend financial and other assistance to their children well into their 20's and even early 30's;

- the widespread availability of contraception and legal abortion that has lead to a culture in which sex is seen a something more recreational than relational with "no consequences that might force one to settle down and take on parental responsibilities;"

- the rise of popular postmodernism which holds "that “absolute truth” does not exist, that reason is only one parochial form of knowledge, that truth claims are typically masked assertions of power, that morality is relative, that nothing is universal, and that nobody can really know anything for certain;"

- America's post-WW II prosperity - "Emerging adults today have grown up in a society awash in a sea of material products, media images, and purchased experiences that have inflated their expectations and sense of entitlement. It is all they have ever known and it is what they expect."

As a result, "the transition to adulthood today is as a result more complex, disjointed, and confusing than it was in past decades" while "marked by a historically unparalleled freedom to roam, experiment, learn, move on, and try again."

[Smith, Christian; Longest, Kyle; Hill, Jonathan; Christoffersen, Kari (2014-01-17). Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church. Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.]

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Concerning the new book, "Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church"

I am currently reading Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church, a new book out Oxford Press (Bibliographic information below). The book is based on the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR), an effort to "better understand the religious and spiritual lives of Catholic “emerging adults.”" The study draws upon a sample of 3,290 young people beginning in 2002 when they were 13 to 17 years old and has been been followed up with a new survey of the same respondents every other year or so.  These teenagers are now young adults between the ages of 23 and 27 years old.

Over the next few weeks, I hope to post a number of bog entries about this study and its implications for the work of the New Evangelization. For now, here is one initial quote/text I offer for consideration:

"Social and cultural changes in U.S. society, the American religious system, and the Catholic Church itself, they reported, profoundly affected American Catholics, such that younger American Catholics (“ post– Vatican II” and “Millennials”) are quite different in many ways from older generations (“ Vatican II”– and “pre– Vatican II”– era Catholics). As a result, young American Catholics were found by these studies to be:

• less well-educated and knowledgeable about their Catholic faith, reporting that they do not understand it well enough to explain it to any children they might have;

• more individualistic in their approach to religious authority and beliefs, viewing their own personal subjective experiences and sensibilities, rather than Church teachings, as the arbiters of truth and value;

• therefore very selective in what parts of their tradition they decide to believe and practice (e.g., adhering to core doctrinal truths about Jesus’ resurrection and the Eucharist, but discarding Church teachings on sex, birth control, abortion, etc.);

• more tentative and weak in their affiliation with the Church (“ loosely tethered”);

• less involved in the Church as an institution (by regularly attending Mass, making Confession, etc.);

• more liberal-minded about and tolerant of non-Catholic faiths and non-religion, viewing the Catholic Church as only one denomination among many in a larger religious system of voluntary participation;

• still largely adhering to a general Catholic identity, yet retaining the right to define that as they wish;

• less likely to place their Catholic identity at the center of their personal identity structures, but rather viewing it as one among many other competing identities;

• unable to articulate a coherent account of what it means to be Catholic."

[Smith, Christian; Longest, Kyle; Hill, Jonathan; Christoffersen, Kari (2014-01-17). Young Catholic America: Emerging Adults In, Out of, and Gone from the Church (Kindle Locations 92-106). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.]

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pope Francis' Message for the 48th World Communications Day 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today we are living in a world which is growing ever "smaller" and where, as a result, it would seem to be easier for all of us to be neighbours. Developments in travel and communications technology are bringing us closer together and making us more connected, even as globalization makes us increasingly interdependent. Nonetheless, divisions, which are sometimes quite deep, continue to exist within our human family. On the global level we see a scandalous gap between the opulence of the wealthy and the utter destitution of the poor. Often we need only walk the streets of a city to see the contrast between people living on the street and the brilliant lights of the store windows. We have become so accustomed to these things that they no longer unsettle us. Our world suffers from many forms of exclusion, marginalization and poverty, to say nothing of conflicts born of a combination of economic, political, ideological, and, sadly, even religious motives.

In a world like this, media can help us to feel closer to one another, creating a sense of the unity of the human family which can in turn inspire solidarity and serious efforts to ensure a more dignified life for all. Good communication helps us to grow closer, to know one another better, and ultimately, to grow in unity. The walls which divide us can be broken down only if we are prepared to listen and learn from one another. We need to resolve our differences through forms of dialogue which help us grow in understanding and mutual respect. A culture of encounter demands that we be ready not only to give, but also to receive. Media can help us greatly in this, especially nowadays, when the networks of human communication have made unprecedented advances. The internet, in particular, offers immense possibilities for encounter and solidarity. This is something truly good, a gift from God.

This is not to say that certain problems do not exist. The speed with which information is communicated exceeds our capacity for reflection and judgement, and this does not make for more balanced and proper forms of self-expression. The variety of opinions being aired can be seen as helpful, but it also enables people to barricade themselves behind sources of information which only confirm their own wishes and ideas, or political and economic interests. The world of communications can help us either to expand our knowledge or to lose our bearings. The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us. We should not overlook the fact that those who for whatever reason lack access to social media run the risk of being left behind.

While these drawbacks are real, they do not justify rejecting social media; rather, they remind us that communication is ultimately a human rather than technological achievement. What is it, then, that helps us, in the digital environment, to grow in humanity and mutual understanding? We need, for example, to recover a certain sense of deliberateness and calm. This calls for time and the ability to be silent and to listen. We need also to be patient if we want to understand those who are different from us. People only express themselves fully when they are not merely tolerated, but know that they are truly accepted. If we are genuinely attentive in listening to others, we will learn to look at the world with different eyes and come to appreciate the richness of human experience as manifested in different cultures and traditions. We will also learn to appreciate more fully the important values inspired by Christianity, such as the vision of the human person, the nature of marriage and the family, the proper distinction between the religious and political spheres, the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, and many others.

How, then, can communication be at the service of an authentic culture of encounter? What does it mean for us, as disciples of the Lord, to encounter others in the light of the Gospel? In spite of our own limitations and sinfulness, how do we draw truly close to one another? These questions are summed up in what a scribe "a communicator" once asked Jesus: "And who is my neighbor?" (Lk 10:29). This question can help us to see communication in terms of "neighborliness." We might paraphrase the question in this way: How can we be "neighborly" in our use of the communications media and in the new environment created by digital technology? I find an answer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, which is also a parable about communication. Those who communicate, in effect, become neighbours. The Good Samaritan not only draws nearer to the man he finds half dead on the side of the road; he takes responsibility for him. Jesus shifts our understanding: it is not just about seeing the other as someone like myself, but of the ability to make myself like the other. Communication is really about realizing that we are all human beings, children of God. I like seeing this power of communication as "neighborliness".

Whenever communication is primarily aimed at promoting consumption or manipulating others, we are dealing with a form of violent aggression like that suffered by the man in the parable, who was beaten by robbers and left abandoned on the road. The Levite and the priest do not regard him as a neighbour, but as a stranger to be kept at a distance. In those days, it was rules of ritual purity which conditioned their response. Nowadays there is a danger that certain media so condition our responses that we fail to see our real neighbor.

It is not enough to be a passersby on the digital highways, simply "connected"; connections need to grow into true encounters. We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved. We need tenderness. Media strategies do not ensure beauty, goodness and truth in communication. The world of media also has to be concerned with humanity, it too is called to show tenderness. The digital world can be an environment rich in humanity; a network not of wires but of people. The impartiality of media is merely an appearance; only those who go out of themselves in their communication can become a true point of reference for others. Personal engagement is the basis of the trustworthiness of a communicator. Christian witness, thanks to the internet, can thereby reach the peripheries of human existence.

As I have frequently observed, if a choice has to be made between a bruised Church which goes out to the streets and a Church suffering from self-absorption, I certainly prefer the first. Those "streets" are the world where people live and where they can be reached, both effectively and affectively. The digital highway is one of them, a street teeming with people who are often hurting, men and women looking for salvation or hope. By means of the internet, the Christian message can reach "to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Keeping the doors of our churches open also means keeping them open in the digital environment so that people, whatever their situation in life, can enter, and so that the Gospel can go out to reach everyone. We are called to show that the Church is the home of all. Are we capable of communicating the image of such a Church? Communication is a means of expressing the missionary vocation of the entire Church; today the social networks are one way to experience this call to discover the beauty of faith, the beauty of encountering Christ. In the area of communications too, we need a Church capable of bringing warmth and of stirring hearts.

Effective Christian witness is not about bombarding people with religious messages, but about our willingness to be available to others "by patiently and respectfully engaging their questions and their doubts as they advance in their search for the truth and the meaning of human existence" (BENEDICT XVI, Message for the 47th World Communications Day, 2013). We need but recall the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. We have to be able to dialogue with the men and women of today, to understand their expectations, doubts and hopes, and to bring them the Gospel, Jesus Christ himself, God incarnate, who died and rose to free us from sin and death. We are challenged to be people of depth, attentive to what is happening around us and spiritually alert. To dialogue means to believe that the "other" has something worthwhile to say, and to entertain his or her point of view and perspective. Engaging in dialogue does not mean renouncing our own ideas and traditions, but the claim that they alone are valid or absolute.

May the image of the Good Samaritan who tended to the wounds of the injured man by pouring oil and wine over them be our inspiration. Let our communication be a balm which relieves pain and a fine wine which gladdens hearts. May the light we bring to others not be the result of cosmetics or special effects, but rather of our being loving and merciful "neighbors" to those wounded and left on the side of the road. Let us boldly become citizens of the digital world. The Church needs to be concerned for, and present in, the world of communication, in order to dialogue with people today and to help them encounter Christ. She needs to be a Church at the side of others, capable of accompanying everyone along the way. The revolution taking place in communications media and in information technologies represents a great and thrilling challenge; may we respond to that challenge with fresh energy and imagination as we seek to share with others the beauty of God.

From the Vatican, 24 January 2014, the Memorial of Saint Francis de Sales.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

An examination of conscience for those who work, study, dwell, or play in the digital culture

I offer the following "Examination of Conscience" for those who find themselves spending time in the digital culture. Digital media is a means to an end. Whether it is the internet, texting, television, email, video communication, etc., digital media is neither good nor bad.  It is given its content by human agency and it is that content that can be good, bad, or morally neutral. It is the act of the human person that is open to evaluation when it comes to the nature of sin.  This "examination" helps us to evaluate those actions.

This "Examination of Conscience" is not my own work but that of Deacon Greg Kandra over at his blog, "The Deacon's Bench." He has given me permission to reprint it here. It can be used by way of preparation for the celebration of the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation, as part of one's daily Examen, or as part of an occasional inventory of one's Christian presence within the digital culture. I have certainly found it helpful for all three.

I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange Gods before me.  Have I treated people, events or things as more important than God? Have I elevated the Internet to a deity?  Is commenting on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs supplanting my prayer life?
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Have my words, actively or passively put down God, the Church or people?   Have I inflicted wounds on the Body of Christ by showing disrespect, dissent or disdain?  Have I mocked online the leadership of the Church—whether it’s my pope, my bishop or my pastor?
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Do I go to Mass when I should? Do I avoid work that impedes worship to God? Do I spend too much time on Sunday surfing the Internet and chat rooms and forums, when I could be spending time with my family or with God?
Honor your father and your mother. Do I show my parents due respect? Do I maintain good communication with my parents? Do I criticize them to others, or online?

You shall not kill. Have I harmed another through physical, verbal or emotional means, including gossip?  Have I destroyed another’s reputation online?  Have I used comments to mock, disrespect, slander or attack? Have I gleefully ridiculed another person’s failings online and enjoyed their setbacks?  Have I resorted to petty name-calling to score points or make another person feel bad? Have I robbed another of  basic human dignity online?
You shall not commit adultery. Have I respected the physical and sexual dignity of others and of myself? Have I used the Internet to visit porn sites or engage in sinful conversations about sex?
You shall not steal. Have I taken or wasted time or resources that belonged to another?  Have I spent valuable time at my job on the Internet when I should have been working?
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. Have I gossiped, spread lies or embellished stories at the expense of another? Have I posted online something I suspect may not be true?
You shall not covet your neighbor’s spouse.  Have I honored my spouse with my full affection and exclusive love?   Have I made my life online, and the time I spend there, more important than my life with my husband or wife?
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods. Am I content with my own means and needs, or do I compare myself to others unnecessarily? Do I surf online shopping sites, wishing I could buy things I don’t need and being jealous or resentful of others?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Some Biblical New Year's Resolutions

During this new year, as a disciple of Christ:

I resolve to strive to "never let evil talk pass my lips; to say only the good things men need to hear, things that will really help them.” (Ephesians 4:29)

I will try to be a good tree that produces good fruit. "A good man produces goodness from the good in his heart; an evil man produces evil out of his store of evil. Each man speaks from his heart’s abundance” (Luke 6:43-45).

I resolve to be of one "mind, sympathetic, and loving toward others - compassionate, humble, to not return evil for evil, or insult for insult, but a blessing instead." (cf. I Peter 3: 8-9)

I will seek to use the treasures and talents with which God has blessed me to give "food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in need." (Matthew 25:35-36)

I will strive to worthily receive the Body of Christ (John 6), to live as a new creation of Christ by virtue of my Baptism "born anew ... through the living and abiding word of God (I Peter 1:23).

"Come to [the Lord] a living stone, rejected by humans but chosen and precious in the sight of God and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be built into a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." [I Peter 2: 4-5]

Thursday, October 3, 2013

An incredible message of faith from a young man I know.

All I can say is "wow! I asked his permission to publish this. He said, "If it helps one person to find faith ..." When I read this the first time, I was just overwhelmed

Please read this if you get a chance ... and pray for him and his brother. They were adopted over 17 years ago and have had to overcome a lot in their young lives. And so, in his own words:

"To each and everyone of you I am writing to express my sincere love and thanks for being in my life.
I am facing a turning point in my life and I am a little frightened about my future. I have spent many sleepless nights since last Monday when I was given the news that my heart condition has changed and will change my daily life. Of course they are doing further tests but, the damage found on my echo and my stress test is not something that can or ever will repaired. The Doctor has told me the best we can hope for is to stabilize my heart as it is today and avoid cardiac failure and further decline right now.

The problem is there is no cure for restrictive cardiomyopathy.

My dearest twin brother who suffers everyday has the same condition but they talk around him and say right now he has a good quality of life and that must be weighed in the decisions they make for him. What I hear them saying is if, God forbid, he were to go into cardiac failure it would be okay [to let him go] because his other problems are life long and his death would be a relief for him because his life holds no promise.

That just makes me angry [my brother] teaches more than he learns. He teaches me about accepting pain, seizures,
shaking and shivering bones, his description of Parkinsons, and his mental challenges with such courage and strength, he is my Hero! No one gets to dismiss him and what he has to offer to a world that just not get what it is to be challenged or be different. When I stand with him I feel so small because his work is to truly change the world and the way they think about the weakest in our society.

Having said that I will undergo all these tests so that they can help him and me! For him I will endure what I must.
As I reflect on my last 17 years so many of you have been there in my failures and my triumphs for I had my fair share of both.

I have leaned on you when I was weak and could not carry the Cross sent my way. I have celebrated with you on the days I have overcome the odds and made baby steps toward a bright future.

Reflecting it is the way of the Cross and always knowing My loving Father in Heaven rejoices in my successes and hears my every prayer and sees my every tear. He never leaves me alone and I know I have been placed in this life within this family and this community to spread the Gospel in word and action.

I can not say not today I am too young because in the depth of my heart I have been called in the silence of the night. I have heard my name called and I can not refuse who I am nor say "no" to His will.

This week I ask each of you to walk with me. I am weak and need to know that you all are there as was Simon of Cyrene to be called when I fall under the weight of the cross. I have my own mother who is following me and her eyes are filled with tears but, she too believes she is but the instrument of her loving merciful Father who heard her "yes" to His will in her life many years ago.

Then there are you all who will wipe my brow and, yes even weep for me. Yet, do not weep for me for I was born to fulfill His will and accept all that comes with this. Weep rather for those who can not accept the pain and suffering that alone will bring peace into our world.

I ask nothing more than your prayers, love, and support in the week ahead. You all hold a very special place in my Heart and today it is broken to the point of tears. Healing is what I pray for as Jesus spoke to His Father in the garden " if this cup could pass from me let it pass but, not my will but, yours be done." He taught us all to pray, praising God, accepting his will, and pleading for forgiveness for those whom we have transgressed against. I do the same this morning. Forgive me if I have ever wronged you and know I have forgiven you without your asking.

Be kind, at peace, and loving to everyone in your life. Hug them and forgive them and from near and far hug and forgive me.

Know I love each and everyone of you and will offer each tear, each fear, and each pain for you and all those you love in your life.

I find my inner Peace because each of you has shared your love and compassion with me on my journey!

I hope this brings you as much Peace as it has brought me.
I find it somewhat prophetic that this Friday at noon I will be walking the halls of the hospital toward my test where they will lay a machine weighing about 25-30 pounds on my chest for this test! Jesus knew as I do the weight of this present day Cross is what I must endure!! I will be praying for each of you on that day! Because you all have shared so much of your faith with me!

I have heard my mother's quiet fingers on her Rosary every night of my life and she has the greatest Faith of anyone even greater than some religious! She has been ever true to her name, Mary the Mother of Jesus who said the first "yes" not knowing what would come to be. My Mother said "yes" some 18 years ago in faith and is forever faithful to that yes though her heart has been pierced over and over!

Pray for me one and all,


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