Tag Archives: church

Connecting St. Francis with Pope Francis

September 25, 2014

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When Saint Francis saved the ChurchTake a refresher course in what it means to be Catholic.

Read John M. Sweeney’s new book, “When Saint Francis Saved the Church.”

Sweeney packs reminders about what faith, saintliness and the life of a Christian are all about into just 156 pages of this small Ave Maria Press book (not counting acknowledgements and notes). There are highlighter-worthy phrases, sentences and paragraphs galore, great food for thought and a bounty for discussion.

Sweeney’s hook, of course, is the connection between St. Francis of Assisi and the newest Francis on the Catholic scene, Pope Francis.

Throughout he links the revolution that St. Francis started to the hope that many in the Church today, what — entertain? predict? — with the pope who chose to be the first to adapt Francis is his papal name.

Sweeney writes about Francis of Assisi, “His spiritual vision from eight centuries ago is already familiar to anyone paying attention to Pope Francis and the changing atmosphere in the Catholic Church today.” And he adds:

“Many of us are watching carefully, and participating willingly, as that edifice softens into something less predictable, more godly. If something monumental happened 800 years ago to revive the Church, then it can happen again today; and the spirit that animated the earlier conversion may be quite similar to the spirit at work in the Church today. Much depends on what we ourselves will do.”

In sharing the historical background and development of Franciscan spirituality, the book points out dozens of interesting details of Francis’ thinking, including:

  • Faith is not something done only inside the walls of the church. Instead, “Faith today is readily seen as concerned with many things other than what you believe — it includes hope, passion, family, love, story, virtue, commitment, and identity, all of which may seem more important than matters of creed.”
  • St. Francis was relatively uninterested in theological debates and creedal statements. “When he states his beliefs in his writings it is most often regarding how one is supposed to behave toward others and the created world, not a matter of pure doctrine.”
  • The Gospel is not something to believe as much as it is a vocation to a changed life.
  • For Francis  there were no “others.” He responded to each person he met as if he were already a friend, developing a simple kindness, openness, neighborliness and looking out for their needs, an approach that is part and parcel of gospel living.
  • Francis befriended without judging, noticed and responded to people’s needs and expressed love for them simply because that person had been created by a God who says that every created thing is good.
  • Contrary to the prevailing thought of his time, he didn’t see the world as evil but instead embraced it.

Not a dissenter, a nonconformist

Sweeney writes that Francis of Assisi “rebranded” the idea of sanctity. He was never a disobedient son of the Church, although he was as nonconformist who had his own priorities.

He advocated for humble dress, fasting as part of one’s regular diet, grace before meals, nonviolence, hospitality and prayer. Sweeney notes:

“He placed such a priority on personal prayer, contemplation, charity and loving-kindness because the habits of the heart are important to God, as well as to the faithful who want to know God better.”

And all these things we not just for the friars of his community but for ordinary believers. That was revolutionary during Francis’ era, when the Church felt threatened by individual expressions of faith and priests were taught that they were the primary mediators between God and their parishioners. Along with forming the Order of Friars Minor that we know as Franciscans, Francis wrote a Rule for laity — Third Order Franciscans — that included many of the principles of his Rule for the friars, plus gathering together as community, aiding the sick and caring for those who die. These practices all became to be known as spiritual acts.

Francis lived during the height of the Gothic era, when it was believed that religious people should turn away from the coarseness of the world and lift eyes and minds upward, toward the rising height of steeples and images of angels and saints, the world to come. Francis found beauty in the ordinary things of the world.

Sweeney connects St. Francis with Pope Francis in the way that both seems to be advocates of a Church that is at times unpredictable, threatening to some, a Church listening to the Spirit. Francis the pope “meets people face-to-face as equals. He touches people who might seem untouchable. He loves to laugh. He is not afraid of change.” Pope Francis, Sweeney posits, “has begun to return the Church to a Franciscan understanding of friendship, relating to the other, poverty, spirituality, care and death,” and is “leading the Church toward greater humility; revaluing poverty, especial by his own example; and preaching as a last resort to explain the values that he wants to uphold as most important for Catholics and for all people.”

Pope Francis, in Sweeney’s mind, “is calling us to recreate God’s Church to better foster the art of true gospel living.” And he writes:

“Who knows what the next few years will bring. As a Catholic who is interested in the positive role the Catholic Church can play in sanctifying the world, I’m anxious to be part of the vision that Francis realized long ago and conscious that we live in a world ready for our making today.”

 

 

 

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Where you send your “ice bucket challenge” donation DOES make a difference

August 30, 2014

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If you’ve already gotten in on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge or are planning to, congratulations on your generosity of spirit.

Before you donate, consider the concerns being expressed that the ALS Foundation supports research that uses fetal embryonic tissue from abortions.

Father John Floeder, who teaches bioethics at the St. Paul Seminary and who chairs the Archbishop’s Commission on Bio/Medical Ethics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, offered the following statement to help people gain a better understanding of the moral and ethical issues involved:

Many human sufferings call out to us for help, and Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) is certainly among them.  Jesus Christ and the demands of love must lead us, as Catholics, to give our time, energy, and resources to those who suffer.  The awareness and contributions that have been raised because of the “bucket challenge” are a testament to that love in so many.  That said, authentic Christ-like love never can accept the deliberate taking of one life for the sake of another, which the use of embryonic stem cells does.  To really help the suffering of ALS in a loving way, Catholics should not only support only those organizations that do not use embryonic stem cells, but also express to organizations the need to cease support and funding of practices that use embryonic stem cells that destroys human life.

The U.S. Catholic Conference suggests donating to ALS research at several alternative organizations, including the John Paul II Medical Research Institute in Iowa City, Iowa, which is doing research in several areas including ALS, and does not support embryonic stem cell research. To donate, use the button for “Donate Now” on the institute’s main web page.

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Time for your Catholic parish to change?

February 12, 2014

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HolinessCultureDoes your parish have lackluster Sunday Masses where people mumble the responses, where only a third of the people sing and where almost everyone skips past the cup at Communion time?

Is the culture of your parish one that allows its members to come and go, live and die, without really being engaged in their faith?

If you’d like to get started helping to reinvigorate your parish so its members have the kind of encounter with Christ which leads to conversion, a richer community life and action that serves others — one that draws others to it because it is so attractive a lifestyle — then Bill Huebsch has a book for you.

“A Culture of Holiness for the Parish” (Acta Publications) is a mere 82 pages in the size of paperback that easily fits into a pocket or purse, but it’s filled with wisdom about the Catholic faith. Huebsch, who is director of pastoral planning, com and its online Vatican II Center, has grasped the meat of what the Second Vatican Council expects of Catholics, and his well-structured process to help Catholic parishes meet those expectations are presented in language others can grasp, too.

Pastors, parish ministers and core leaders of parish ministries and organizations show the way by sharing their own personal stories of seeing God active in their lives. As parishioners feel comfortable telling others about the holiness they feel and see, about the times they’ve been touched by an event or times they’ve felt God in their lives, “home lives are imbued with hospitality, forgiveness and love,” Huebsch writes, and “a new orientation of self-giving love seeps into parish life and reaches out in action to the wider community.”

Through “A Culture of Holiness for the Parish,” any parish can plan, launch and sustain a Catholic community which others will notice for the way its members love God and love their neighbor. Worth a try?

 

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U.S. air strikes and Church teaching on war, peace

September 13, 2013

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 St. Joan of Arc followed God's direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

Whether or not she studied just war theory, St. Joan of Arc followed God’s direction as she entered battle. Photo/dbking. Licensed under Creative Commons

God only knows if the U.S. will launch a military strike against Syria, but it looks like the threat has been averted for now.

As negotiations aimed at convincing Syria to surrender its chemical weapons continue, Catholics may be asking what the Church teaches about an attack. Would it be justified?

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has spoken quite a bit on the subject of war. At last week’s prayer vigil for peace in Syria, he said:

  …look upon your brother’s sorrow, and do not add to it, stay your hand, rebuild the harmony that has been shattered; and all this not by conflict but by encounter! May the noise of weapons cease! War always marks the failure of peace, it is always a defeat for humanity. Let the words of Pope Paul VI resound again: ‘No more one against the other, no more, never! … war never again, never again war!’

‘Never again war’ probably would be most people’s desire, but are there times when an armed conflict is morally permissible such as in the case of self-defense or to avoid a greater evil?

Conditions for Just War

The Church holds that there are strict conditions requiring rigorous consideration for legitimate defense by military force. The Catechism states, “the gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy.” (CCC 2309)

The conditions are laid out in the Catechism as part of just war theory, developed by St. Augustine and later by St. Thomas Aquinas. According to this theory about acts of war, at one and the same time:

  • the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of        nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be          impractical or ineffective;
  • there must be serious prospects of success;
  • the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modem means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition. (CCC 2309)

According to the Catechism, those with responsibility for the common good in their “prudential judgment” are to evaluate these conditions.

Resolve conflicts together

Since the US government’s potential action would not be for its own defense and because it could act together with other nations, the Church says that such international or regional organizations “should be in a position to work together to resolve conflicts and promote peace, re-establishing relationships of mutual trust that make recourse to war unthinkable,” according to the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. 

The best outcome of this crisis would be for our leaders to continue their current talks and reach a peaceful solution. If they exhaust that possibility, hopefully they will follow the tenets of just war theory in making any decision on the matter.

At Vatican II the Church Fathers left no doubt about their hopes regarding war:

 Insofar as men are sinners, the threat of war hangs over them and will so continue until the coming of Christ; but insofar as they can vanquish sin by coming together in charity, violence itself will be vanquished and they will make these words come true: “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” (Gaudium et Spes 78)

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Church job or not, ultimately we have the same Employer

August 30, 2013

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Parish sanctuary renovation in progress. Work done directly for the Church or for a secular employer is all work for God.

Parish sanctuary renovation in progress. Work done directly for the Church or for a secular employer is all work done for God.

Renovation of my parish’s sanctuary began this week, and along with fellow parishioners I enjoy checking out the progress. As workers rebuild the altar, lay marble tile and complete other project tasks working directly under the sanctuary crucifix, they clearly are laboring for the Church.

But next month when these workers are laying tile at a car dealership or in a private home, will they still be working for God? What about the rest of us who hold jobs in secular professions, is the Lord in our work as much as He is in that of a priest or others working for the Church?

God and our work

Since Labor Day is about celebrating the economic and social contributions of workers, I thought it would be a good time to look at the role God plays in our work.

Regardless of whether our work is manual or intellectual, religious or secular, we engage our whole selves—body and spirit–in what we do, Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical Laborem Exercens (On Human Work.)

There’s much more of a spiritual connection than we might think because ultimately, our work is really a sharing in the Creator’s work, Bl. John Paul wrote:

The word of God’s revelation is profoundly marked by the fundamental truth that man, created in the image of God, shares by his work in the activity of the Creator and that, within the limits of his own human capabilities, man in a sense continues to develop that activity, and perfects it as he advances further and further in the discovery of the resources and values contained in the whole of creation.

As Creator, God alone can bring something out of nothing, Bl. John Paul wrote in his Letter to Artists. “The craftsman, by contrast, uses something that already exists, to which he gives form and meaning.”

Creator and crafts-person

Even though we’re not all artists or craftspeople, we are co-creating in some way with God when we work. Bl. John Paul illustrates the relationship between Creator and crafts-person/worker by pointing out that the Polish word for craftsman, “Tworca” can be formed from the word for Creator, “Stworca”.

As we share in God’s work, we also need to share in His rest, as Genesis tells us He rested on the seventh day. And we should be aware that we’re participating in God’s activity even in our smallest ordinary tasks.

Work isn’t just about making and improving things, we also improve ourselves by working. We learn, develop our faculties and transcend ourselves, according to the Vatican II document, Gaudium et Spes. This growth is more important than the value of what we produce and the document goes on to say,

“Technical progress is of less value than advances towards greater justice, wider brotherhood, and a more humane social environment. Technical progress may supply the material for human advance but it is powerless to actualize it.” (35)

As a worker Himself, Jesus undoubtedly made technical improvements in his carpentry work. In his preaching he spoke frequently about ordinary jobs done by men and women. Bl. John Paul writes in Laborem Exercens that we unite with the Crucified Christ when we go through the toil of work and in a way collaborate with Him for human redemption.

A “new good” from our work

Whatever work we do, when we take on our work we accept a small part of the Cross and “accept in it the same spirit of redemption in which Christ accepted His Cross for us.” As a result, according to Bl. John Paul, a “new good” springs out of our work which is a kind of foreshadowing of heaven.

Sometimes after a long week it’s hard to imagine “new good” springing out of work. But when we consider the Source and object of our work, whether or not it’s directly for the Church, it’s easier to understand its spiritual and temporal value.

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Separating human-made law from natural law

July 11, 2013

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There's a reason behind every law--even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

There’s a reason behind every law–even ones governing ducks on the head. Not all laws have reason on their side, however. Photo/keepon. Licensed under Creative Commons.

Cross the Minnesota border with a duck on your head and you may face legal consequences. Tap your foot to the music in a New Hampshire tavern and you’ve violated the law. Throw pickle juice at a Rhode Island trolley (if you can find one) and you could receive a citation.

These old laws must have made sense when they were enacted but now we just wonder what legislators were thinking.

Those studying our laws 100 years from now might also scratch their heads at some of our statutes—and they may already feel the effect of some of our human-enacted laws that diverge from God’s natural law.

All human-made statutory laws are considered positive law. What exactly is positive law? What’s the difference between positive law and natural law? Do they have anything to do with each other? And what happens if positive law doesn’t align with natural law?

The term “positive law” was first used by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes in his 1651 work “Leviathan:”

Positive, are those which have not been for Eternity; but have been made Lawes by the Will of those that have had the Soveraign Power over others; and are either written, or made known to men, by some other argument of the Will of their Legislator.

Positive law also refers to the establishment of specific rights for an individual or group.

According to one legal definition:

Positive laws may be promulgated, passed, adopted, or otherwise “posited” by an official or entity vested with authority by the government to prescribe the rules and regulations for a particular community. In the United States, positive laws come in a variety of forms at both the state and federal levels, including legislative enactments, judicial orders, executive decrees, and administrative regulations. In short, a positive law is any express written command of the government.

Positive law can also be divine. Canon law and other Church laws are humanly instituted but inspired by God’s revelation. Natural law, on the other hand, refers to God’s laws governing the nature of things. Positive divine law can’t contradict natural law, instead it confirms and further defines it.

Separable or inseparable from our nature?

Natural law is proclaimed to us by the natural light of reason and is inseparable from our nature, whereas positive law is made known by outward signs—word of mouth or writing and is not inseparable from our nature.

Natural law is the foundation and root of the obligation of all positive laws. We can’t violate the natural moral law and the positive laws that are rooted in it without opposing God’s will.

Human-enacted positive laws can be amended or rescinded. Natural law, however, comes from the unchanging God and can’t be revised or avoided. When a positive law violates natural law, as sure as the former is temporal and the latter is immutable, there will be consequences.

A law governing pickle juice and trolleys doesn’t challenge the natural law, although maybe someone was spared inconvenience or even injury because of it.

Defying natural laws

But positive laws that disregard natural law are still subject to it, much the way someone who exercises a legal right to “fly” from a 15-story building will quickly become acquainted with the more established law of gravity.

In the case of some of our newer laws, especially those dealing with sexual morality, it just might take a little longer to hit the ground.

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Take a peek inside the Vatican

March 8, 2013

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Vatican Diaries coverJohn Thavis, who covered the Vatican as a journalist for 30 years, betrayed his Minnesota roots when he wrote, “Attending these Rome academic conferences was like fishing on a slow day — you waited a lot and hoped something would bite.”

Thavis, a native of Mankato, Minn., and a graduate of St. John’s University in Collegeville, hooked an author’s dream: His book on the inner workings of the Vatican was ready to be released when Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly announced his decision to retire.

Viking moved up the release date, making “The Vatican Diaries” as timely a read as a writer might hope for.

Thavis, whose byline ran in The Catholic Spirit for many years, retired just last year as Rome bureau chief for Catholic News Service.

That post and the many friends and sources he made in and around St. Peter’s often put him in unique position to observe and hear of any number of interesting goings on, some foolhardy, some machiavellian, some scandalous.

Anecdotes, even atrocities

There is, for example, the blatant disregard for an ancient cemetery by one Vatican City functionary, who is intent on bulldozing the monuments and the remains to add more parking to the cramped tiny space.

A lengthy chapter on the finally denounced, cult-like Legion of Christ gives a vivid picture of how power works in the Vatican, and it’s not a very nice portrait.

Thavis details how the once-revered founder of the Legion of Christ was protected by people in high places who refused to believe accusations made against him over the course of decades, and it was only when Father Marcial Maciel Degollado’s double life was revealed — that he had fathered children by two women, sexually abused his own son and hidden secret assets of nearly $30 million — that the Vatican finally intervened.

The incident has left an obvious black mark on the late Pope John Paul II’s record, but Thavis presents insight here that echoes in other Catholic locales around the globe.

He writes, “To a good number of Vatican officials, the calls for transparency and full accountability [in the Maciel case] were typical of moralistic (and legalistic) Americans, but not necessarily helpful for the universal church. . . As one Vatican offical put it, ‘We have a two-thousand-year history of not airing dirty laundry. You don’t really expect that to change, do you?’ ”

Thavis dives into the ongoing squabble over the ultra-conservative, breakaway Society of St. Pius X, sharing probably more than the typical Catholic would want to know about the battle over the validity of Vatican II by this hard-core group of naysayers.

Superb reporting, writing

There’s a terrific chapter that’s really a personality profile of the American priest who was one of the Vatican’s top Latin language experts — the fun, enlightening and eccentric Father Reginald Foster.

Foster — Thavis eschews his title throughout — is a reporter’s dream, someone on the inside who knows a lot, isn’t afraid to share and shares in colorful language. The chapter on “The Latinist” is of the quality of a piece you’d expect to read in the New York Times Magazine or The New Yorker.

Thavis went along to some 60 countries with John Paul II and Benedict XVI, and “The Vatican Diaries” includes hilarious anecdotes about life as a reporter on papal trips. There’s plenty about life covering the Vatican to enjoy reading, too, including the story about the pope’s preacher admitting he used Google as a source.

Readers will find that the halo they may have imagined above the heads of some high-ranking residents of Vatican City ends up, shall we say, “less glowing,” to describe it the way a Vatican official might, avoiding the use of the more accurate “tarnished.”

And that may be what Thavis does best here.

Important contribution

He offers sound reporting and analysis, to be sure. But he’s at the top of his game explaining how “The Vatican” sees things.

He translates Vatican-ese, putting in plain language what official statements really say, and in many cases what those statements say by not saying something directly.

Even when he gets into such minutia of a story that you wonder if all these details are necessary, Thavis seems to perfectly sum it up by interpreting the event’s significance. It’s as if, without using these words, he’s says, now here’s why this is important.

“The Vatican Diaries” is not only informative and entertaining. Published as the Catholic Church prepares to welcome a new leader, it gives us valuable insight into the organizational challenges the new pontiff faces.

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What does the Church have to do with politics?

October 4, 2012

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Photo/KitAy. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s been an interesting year and I’m not surprised that I’ve heard some interesting questions like,  “Why are the bishops interfering with politics?” and, “Why is the Church trying to tell me how to vote?”

These questions reveal concerns that the Church is trying to manipulate voting and that it’s placing itself in the political sphere when it shouldn’t.

In a culture unreasonably fearful of Church encroachment on the State–even though the founding fathers proposed separating the two mostly for the opposite reason—some are skeptical when the Church speaks on controversial social issues, especially near an election.

What is the Church trying to do and where in Church teaching does say she has the authority?

History of speaking on policy issues

The bishops have long spoken out on issues affecting public policy. During World War I, they created a council to enable U.S. Catholics to contribute funds for the spiritual care of Catholic servicemen. For the better part of a century in this country, they also have promoted Church teaching on issues including education, care for the poor and immigration.

The Church should always have the freedom to preach the faith, to proclaim her teaching about society, “and also to pass moral judgment in those matters which regard public order when the fundamental rights of a person or the salvation of souls require it,” the Vatican II Council Fathers wrote in the document Gaudium et Spes.

Informing Catholics—and even non-Catholics—about Church teaching on important social issues is especially the U.S. bishops’ responsibility, they write,

The Church’s obligation to participate in shaping the moral character of society is a requirement of our faith. It is a basic part of the mission we have received from Jesus Christ, who offers a vision of life revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and Tradition.

While the Church’s position on certain important social questions is motivated by our faith-based moral conscience, it is on the level of the social and societal impact of these issues that the Church addresses them with us and our fellow citizens with a view to promoting the common good of all, according to Father Timothy Cloutier, judicial vicar for the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Faith helps us see more clearly the truths we discover through reason regarding the sacredness of human life and the dignity of each person, which is the heart of Catholic moral and social teaching, according to the bishops, who add,

“Because we are people of both faith and reason, it is appropriate and necessary for us to bring this essential truth about human life and dignity to the public square.”

Why so outspoken about the HHS Mandate?

Why has the HHS Mandate, the federal government’s requirement that many employers who fall outside the government’s definition of a religious institution must cover contraception and sterilization through health insurance, so essential that the U.S. bishops have been so outspoken about it?  Especially since polls say a majority of Catholics think employers should supply this coverage in their health plans?

Of course, it’s a complicated issue.  There is the Church’s opposition to contraception.  Most notably, the bishops have emphasized that they are speaking out for protection of the Church’s own institutions, “the care of the souls of the individual faithful, and with the common good.”

Of especially great importance in this case is the freedom to practice religion. According to another Vatican II document it’s a matter of human dignity—one of those core teachings the bishops mention.

As for the Church trying to tell us how to vote, I’m pretty sure there will never be a sample ballot stuffed into my parish’s bulletin telling me how to choose  “Catholic-approved candidates.” Also, IRS law prohibits clergy from preaching at Mass about political candidates.

Helping to form consciences

But by illuminating and clarifying Church teaching on important issues, the Church helps me form my conscience so I can make sound moral voting judgments based on the truths of the faith.

Whatever you think of the Church’s involvement in the public arena, Pope Benedict XVI emphasized in his encyclical Deus Caritas Est that it’s not her place to directly enter politics to make a more just society. At the same time, she plays a role in promoting justice. The Church:

cannot and must not replace the State. Yet at the same time she cannot and must not remain on the sidelines in the fight for justice. She has to play her part through rational argument and she has to reawaken the spiritual energy without which justice, which always demands sacrifice, cannot prevail and prosper. A just society must be the achievement of politics, not of the Church. Yet the promotion of justice through efforts to bring about openness of mind and will to the demands of the common good is something which concerns the Church deeply.

 

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“Remember who brought you to the dance!”

September 18, 2012

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Remember who brought you to the dance!

We have all heard it; “I believe in God but I don’t go in for religion” or “I don’t need church to have a relationship with Jesus” or “Who needs the Church anyway?”

We as Catholics have to respond to these statements and occasionally it seems difficult to come up with the reasons why we need the institution of the Church. It seems especially difficult when we have been confronted with a militant church lady, political pastor, an unorganized youth minister or decisions made by the church that affect us like closing or merging of our parish or dealing with the politics of the marriage amendment. It is at times like these that we may ask ourselves why we need the bureaucracy at all. I, myself, work for the Archdiocese Central Corporation and it can sometimes feel more like an institution than a community of people united to serve God and others.

I recently spent an evening with a few friends discussing our varying opinions on the stance of the church on different issues. We have all felt some frustration on some level with the bureaucracy and politics of the “Church” from the local parish all the way to the Vatican.

Then, we received a phone call about a member of our parish who was hurt in an accident. There was nothing we could do but pray. So there, amongst our wine glasses and appetizers we prayed together as a community of people united to serve God and others. It would seem that this was “church” not the building on the hill, not the Cathedral in St. Paul, not even the Vatican.

We are a faith of and/also not either/or.

Then it occurred to me that Yes, the church is this group of friends spontaneously praying for one another and/also the institution of the Church. Without the institution of the Church, capital “C”, the church of us praying together wouldn’t have happened. What brought us together as friends is our faith, what taught us how to pray is the Catechism, CCD classes and our Catholic schools, what taught us the value of prayer at all and the idea that prayer even means anything is the institution of the Church – capitol “C”. Without the bureaucracy, doctrine and dogma i.e.; without the institution – we wouldn’t have had our faith handed down to us for over 2000 years.

So, if you ever feel like the church is just an institution and you are tempted to leave, tempted to stay at home on Sunday morning, tempted to say “I believe in God, but not formalized religion,” or if you ever want to just give up on the dogma, doctrine and doo doo that we sometimes see as the Church– just remember who brought you to the dance.

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Enjoying a drive in the country

July 13, 2012

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Not many folks in the country live within walking distance of their church. Pete and Regina Poncelet are fortunate enough to enjoy this blessing.

After visiting with them this morning, I went on a drive up Highway 47 near Goodhue to see their church, St. Columbkill (pictured above). Because they share a pastor with two other churches, they only have one Mass on Sundays. Sometimes, they walk.

It’s hard not to envy people who are surrounded by this type of rural scenery every day. I make any excuse I can to get out into the country.

The Poncelets don’t have to. They can just go into the garage, get out their bikes and start riding. Sitting down with them and four of their five children (their oldest, Laura, is down in Miami where she is studying to be an architect), their wholesomeness was as easy to spot as the cornstalks in view out their back window.

Because both of our families have kids around the same age, we thought it would be fun to get together and compare notes on parenthood, faith and life. I enjoyed the discussion, not to mention the beautiful drive down Highway 52, with a detour  through Cannon Falls.

That area seems to have rebounded from the flooding a month ago. In fact, the Poncelets say that the whole region now could use some rain.

Fortunately, rain fell overnight and there was a sprinkle or two left as I drove down. With more forecast for tonight, I think farmers will be in good shape. The corn stalks I saw looked thick and green – and high! The old saying used to be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” It’s closer to chin high now.

One of the Poncelet children has taken a special interest in all things farming. Michael, about to turn 15, has wanted to be a farmer since he was a toddler. With both Pete and Regina having relatives who farm, Michael is getting plenty of opportunity. He seems very determined to do it for a living someday.

We need many more like him to keep farming going strong.  There aren’t as many small, family farms as there used to be, but the Poncelets noted that organic farms are now dotting the landscape and doing well.

I just hope the rural landscape stays unspoiled until long past Michael’s retirement!

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