Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Who is consecrated

In the Catholic Church we use the phrase “consecrated life” to talk about those who are professed to a life of poverty, chasity and obedience. While it is a useful designation, it can too easily let the rest of us off the hook.

In today’s first reading from Hebrews we hear,

He who consecrates and those who are being consecrated all have one origin. Therefore, he is not ashamed to call them “brothers” 

It is a reminder that while men and women religious are “consecrated” to Christ in a particular way. All Christians are “consecrated” at our baptism. We are washed clean in the water. We are filled with the Holy Spirit. We are anointed with Chrism. That anointing is renewed at confirmation. 

We are all consecrated, call into oneness with the sacred, with the Holy. This is why a daily prayer life is essential for the Christian. In prayer we are drawn deeper into that oneness. 

Our prayer needs to be routine, in the best sense of that word. Daily prayer cannot be something we do when we feel like it. All of have rituals, routines that we do every single day without even thinking about it. We shower, we dress, we brush our teeth, we drink coffee. We get in the car we turn on the radio. Look at the routines of your life and ask, is prayer on the list?  If it isn’t, it should be, it can be. 

Every habit begins the same way, repetition. We repeat something long enough it becomes a habit. The habit over time finds its place in the routine. 

On the day of our baptism, we were consecrated to the Lord. We love the idea of being brothers and sisters of Jesus. We can forget that the title comes with demands.  In this first week of ordinary time, let us look at the place of prayer in the ordinary part of our lives. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Living the ordinary faith

Today we begin the first week in ordinary time. There is not first Sunday in Ordinary Time, it was replaced by the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. For the next month, we will be carefully reading our way through the Letter to the Hebrews. 

For me it is one of the more interesting books of the New Testament because its origins are obscure. It is not called “The Letter from St. Paul to the Hebrews,” because we don’t know who wrote it. Nor do we know when or to what “Hebrews.” And yet, despite the lack of such information, the early Christians considered it canonical, official, part of the revealed word of God. The human author was of little importance. 

In some ways it is the perfect letter to read as we move into ordinary time. It is easier to live our faith on the great solemnities like Christmas or Easter, or even during seasons like Lent. It is much harder to live our faith day in and day our in the ordinary progress of life. As we read our way through the Letter to the Hebrews we will discover that the main problem it deals with is exactly this.

The Letter to the Hebrews is not primarily about holding on to the faith during persecution.  It is primarily dealing with the challenge of perservence when the demands of being a Christian seem to be too much. Striving for holiness can be exhausting. It is much easier to simply go with the flow, live like everybody around you.  

The letter opens by reminding us precisely who Jesus is. It reminds us that Jesus was not one more prophet. Jesus is not one more spokesperson for God. Jesus is God. 

In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe

In our creed we repeat God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God; and yet, at times we still don’t seem to get it. Yesterday’s gospel was not Jesus listening to the voice of God; it was the Son listening to the Father and the descent of the Holy Spirit, all three equally God. 

In Jesus humanity has a direct, immediate encounter with God. In Jesus we are not only told but shown directly by God wha we are required to do, if we want to have eternal life. And we cannot grow tired of it. We cannot give up. Daily we must continue to strive for holiness. 


Saturday, January 5, 2019

Constant binary choices

From the time we wake up until the time we fall asleep, life is a constant series of choices. What we can overlook is that every choice has a moral component. 

In the first reading today, St. John in his usual, direct fashion continues to discribe that act of choosing in the starkest possible lainguage. As he describes it, we are either children of God who do not sin, or children of the Evil One who sin. What distinguishes us are our actions. They are either evil or righteous. For St. John, there is no third, middle category. All our actions are one or the other. 

Perhaps we need to be forced to sort our actions this way.  

In the book Ther magical art of tidying up, the author uses this same methodology. She forces clients to take, for example, all of their shirt and put them in a pile on the floor. Then, one by one, they have to pick them up and decide, keep or don’t keep.  You keep only the ones you will actually wear. 
There is no third option of shoving it in the back of the closet or basement. 

St. John wants to us look at all of our choices in that same fashion,  In every choice, I choose evil or just. 

The word he uses for evil is poneros. It comes from the word for pain. Is the action hurtful, to self or other? All our actions have consequences. What we say, what we eat, how we spend our free time – all things have some lasting impact on ourselves or others. Even a smal injury is an injury or in the words of St. John, evil.

Our other choice is dikaios, righteous, in accord with God’s law.  

All day every day each of us must decide, through our actions, whose child we are: child of God or child of the Evil One.  

The language sounds stark or even extreme, but perhaps we need that kind of language to keep us on the right path. 

Friday, January 4, 2019

Retreat Day Four

Today is the fourth day of a retreat by the bishops of the US called for by Pope Francis. The very fact that they are beginning with a retreat is a great sign that this time they are on the right path. The other great sign is the letter a Pope Francis sent to them as they begin the retreat. 

In the letter he addresses, with his usual directness, “the crisis of credibility” and the “culture of abuse.”  He addresses the all to common church as “evangelization business”model that we often see in the U.S. We have too often fallen into what he calls the “trap of functionalism and efficiency that govern the business world.” He is blunt about the seeking places of honor, jealousy, envy and machinations that are present in the Church. 

But he also reminds us that these things are not new.  We have only to read our Bibles and we will find that these issues have been with the Church from its beginning — James and John seeking to sit at His left and right. 

As Pope Francis reminds us, our current crisis will not be solved by creating more committees or redoing the org chart. Many people cried out when “Rome wouldn’t let the bishops” (that’s how it was portrayed) pass new rules. Pope Francis understood that binders filled with regulations will not solve the problem, unless there is first a true conversion of heart, a change in mind-set (metanoia). It is not a problem of “self-preservation, defensiveness” (the diocesan attorneys) or “marketing or strategizing to regain lost prestige” (the PR consultant); it requires pastors, shepherds whose first concern is the flock and a “collegial awareness of our being sinners in constant need of conversion.”

Will our bishops emerge from this retreat ready to remove the plank from their own eyes?  On a human level, it is completely understandable that every bishop is afraid of being sued, afraid of having to join the list of those who have filed for bankruptcy. Of course it will be embarrassing to admit what they knew and when they knew it and no one wants to be the one to “rat out” a brother bishop.  But sins of omission, when we fail to act, can often be the worst. 

Let us pray for our bishops. From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected. May they be given the courage to look inward. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The AntiChrist

Of those of us old enough to remember the Omen, few of us will ever forget the child that turned out to be ''the AntiChrist."  Unfortunately, too many of us never moved beyond the sci-fi version to actually reading The First Letter of St. John that explains who the antichrist really is. 
Whoever denies the Father and the Son, this is the antichrist. 


As St. John explains it, the antichrist is not a supernatural being with powers like one of the x-men.  It is a regular human being like you or me. In Monday's reading, he even used the term in the plural, 

so now many antichrists have appeared. 
Thus we know this is the last hour. 
They went out from us, but they were not really of our number;
if they had been, they would have remained with us. 


Clearly they were members of the community, but members who, as St. John describes it, never really bought into the message of Jesus Christ, and ultimately ended up leaving the Church.  

While the supernatural movie version is more entertaining and, perhaps, more interesting, what St. John is talking about is much more applicable to our daily lives.  If we're not careful any one of us could become the antichrist.  While we may not come right out and deny Jesus Christ, we can if we are not careful deny Christ by our actions. We can become complacent and accept sin as if it were not sin.  This is what gives scandal, when people see Christians apparently not even trying to be better. 

The Pope addressed this when he quite directly said, 

How many times have we witnessed the scandal of those who go to church and spend all day there or attend every day, and later go on hating others or speaking ill of people. This is a scandal,...It would be better to not go to church. Live like an atheist. 
If you go to church, then live like a son, like a brother, like an authentic witness, not a counter-witness.
All of us fall short of living the fullness of the gospel. We give into the passions and temptations of earthly life.  But when we do, we must acknowledge our sin, go to the Sacrament of Penance, and strive each day to more fully live the gospel. Tomorrow should always be better than today. 


Monday, December 31, 2018

Hope for 2019

In less than 24 hours we will begin 2019. For me personally, it will make an important milestone, because I will celebrate 30 years of priesthood. Nineteen of those years will have been spent also as a tribunal judge. 

It was in 1998 that I went off to Rome to study canon law at the Pontifical Gregorian University, founded by St. Ignatius Loyola. We can easily forget that the legal system of the Catholic Church has inspired and influenced legal systems around the world. In American history classes, we tend to jump from the Roman Empire, to the Magna Carta, to the Declaration of Independence. If the Catholic Church is mentioned, it is only as a caricature of something evil.

My time in Rome only deepened my faith and trust in the Church. We have laws rooted in the gospels. We have a judiciary. We have clearly articulated obligations, rights, and procedures. We believe in the concept of justice.  

Sadly, it was not long after my return in the summer of 2000 that I began to see the flaw in the system. Contrary to some conspiracy theorists, the problem is not this Pope or some secret cabal in the Vatican. The problem is more mundane and closer to home. 

While the Code of Canon Law is law for priests, deacons, reiglious and laity; in the mind of too many bishops it is merely a “Compendium of Suggestions.” Bishops are acutely aware that their only superior is the Pope and he will only intervene in the most egregious cases.   Locally, every member of the judiciary in a diocese serves at the pleasure of the bishop. When a bishop or one of “his people” violates the law, there is no practical system to address the violation. The one who complains is likely to be the one who gets punished.  In theory, bishops are bound by the law. In practice, they (and their inner circles) are free to violate any law they don’t like with no consequence expect perhaps a stern letter from a Vatican bureaucrat. 

After 2002, in the US we got  the charter and review boards. But even now, each bishop chooses the review board and is free to ignore or simply rewrite the regulations that govern the review board. 

In February Pope Francis has called for a special meeting with the heads of bishops conferences from around the world. This may we’ll be our last chance to regain our credibility. But all the new law in the world will not mater, if there is no functioning systems for holding bishops accountable, when they choose to violate or simply ignore the law. 

There can be no doubt that 2019 will be a turning point in the history of the Catholic Church. If we get this right, the faith of the people and our credibility can be restored. If we fail again, generations may be lost to the Church. 

Despite all that I have seen in my almost 30 years as a priest and part of the chancery, I still believe that the Holy Spirit guides our Church, and Jesus is the Head. I do believe that we can be the Church that we are called to be. Tomorrow we begin the new year by celebrating Mary, Mother of God. As the mother of Jesus, she is also the mother of the Church. Through her intercession, may our Church truly be reborn in the new year. 






Thursday, December 27, 2018

White, Red, White, Red

When we celebrate Christmas we often think of the colors red and white, but we rarely think of the fact that those are the liturgical colors that get alternated on the first four days.  Christmas Day was white. Yesterday, Sr. Stephen the Protomartyr was Red, then today we jump back to white for St. John the Evagelist. 

It is St. John whose gospel we read on Christmas Day. It is St. John in the introduction to his gospel is able to span all of time. He takes us back and reminds us that Jesus is the Word through whommthe universe is made. Then it brings it all the way forward to our time in verse 12 when he says,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God;

St. Iraneus, Athanasius, and Aquinas are all quotes as the catechism explains what it means for us.

The Word became flesh to make us "partakers of the divine nature":78 "For this is why the Word became man, and the Son of God became the Son of man: so that man, by entering into communion with the Word and thus receiving divine sonship, might become a son of God."79 "For the Son of God became man so that we might become God."80 "The only-begotten Son of God, wanting to make us sharers in his divinity, assumed our nature, so that he, made man, might make men gods."81

To some this can sound like heresy. 

Perhaps the reason we are so reticent to embrace this truth is because it is easier for us to think of ourselves as frail sinners. If we were to embrace the notion that we are in any way sharers in His divine nature, then what excuse would we have. It we were to embrace the transforming power of grace, then we would be forced to embrace the fact that sin is always a free choice. We choose to be uncharitable. We choose to act contrary to the gospel. If an act wasn’t a free choice, then it cannot be called a sin. Yes, there are accidents, but by definition they are not sins.  Yes, there are those who suffer from mental illness and cannot control their actions, but neither are those sins. 

St. John reminds us not only what we should be, but what we can be, what we are. How do we do it? — one choice at a time. To us has been given the power, if we would only believe.