Archive for the ‘Reflection’ Category

Three Common Catholic Misconceptions

September 27, 2017

Sometimes even the faithful can get things wrong (perhaps that’s why we’re called “practicing” Catholics.) I believe the following rank among Catholics’ most common misconceptions about our own Faith:

Myth #1: “The Immaculate Conception was Jesus Becoming Man”

Although Jesus’ conception is also a holy miracle, the Immaculate Conception refers to the creation of his mother, Mary. The Church has believed in Mary’s perfect sinlessness from ancient times. Consider that the loaded Greek word with which the Archangel Gabriel hails her at the Annunciation identifies her as ‘one having been graced by God in the past with the result continuing in full effect to the present.’ (Luke 1:28)

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly defined the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in these words: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.

Myth #2: “The Anointing of the Sick is Only for One’s Deathbed”

Among the seven sacraments, Anointing of the Sick is the one especially intended to strengthen those who, having reached the age of reason, begin to be in danger due to sickness or old age. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, this “is not a sacrament only for those who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as any one of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for that person to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived.”

Catholics on their deathbeds should certainly ask a priest for “the Last Rites,” that is, Anointing of the Sick with special prayers for the dying. But Catholics facing major surgery (such as ones involving general anesthetic) or those feeling elderly frailty should request this sacrament as well. Anointing may be repeated if the sick person’s condition becomes more grave during the same illness, or if they recover and then become seriously ill again.

Myth #3: “Divorced People Cannot Receive Holy Communion”

Faithful to Christ, the Catholic Church teaches that a consummated sacramental marriage endures for as long as the bride and groom both live. However, being divorced does not, in and of itself, bar someone from worthily receiving Holy Communion. (For instance, an abandoned spouse may bear no fault for his or her divorce, and in some cases—like domestic abuse or a gambling addiction—it can be appropriate for a spouse to procure a legal separation.) Merely being divorced is not necessarily a sin; it is divorce followed by remarriage outside of the Church that is the issue. Jesus said, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:11-12)

So what should a person who is divorced and remarried outside the Church do? The first step is to approach your pastor. Together, you can begin exploring seeking an annulment. A sacramental marriage cannot be undone by any power on earth, but if something essential to marriage was absent or withheld from the very beginning then such a marriage is invalid (not sacramental) and may be annulled. After obtaining the needed annulment(s), a person is free to be married in the Church. But what should remarried persons do if an annulment is not possible? Even these may receive Holy Communion following a good confession if they are resolved to begin living chastely, “as brother and sister,” in their present relationship.

Advertisements

Some Recommended Catholic Websites

September 22, 2017

If the Internet had been around during the first century AD, I’m fairly confident that St. Peter would’ve tweeted, St. Paul would’ve podcast, and the secular Roman press would’ve misreported Catholic news far and wide. Times may change, but the Church and the world both use new advancements in communication technology to promote their often competing messages in the marketplace of ideas. As Pope St. John Paul II wrote in 2002:

“The Internet is certainly a new ‘forum’ understood in the ancient Roman sense… a crowded and bustling urban space which both reflected the surrounding culture and created a culture of its own. …Like the new frontiers of other times, this one too is full of the interplay of danger and promise, and not without the sense of adventure which marked other great periods of change. For the Church the new world of cyberspace is a summons to the great adventure of using its potential to proclaim the Gospel message.”

In the years since the beginning of this third Christian millennium, the Church’s online presence has blossomed. The pope tweets (@pontifex), most parishes have websites (including both St. Paul’s and St. John’s), and many faithful sites provide Catholic news and commentary and resources for evangelization and personal growth. Here are some of my most recommended, helpful Catholic websites:

NewAdvent.com
I check New Advent daily for aggregated links to Catholic news and articles. This site also has online versions of the Catholic Encyclopedia, Aquinas’ Summa, Early Church Fathers’ writings, and papal documents.

Formed.org
This rich Catholic site presents feature films, documentaries, ebooks, audio books, video-based study programs, and more. This quality content is free for the families, youths, and adults of St. John’s and St. Paul’s parishes using our special code in the bulletin.

USCCB.org
That acronym stands for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Their site is especially useful for viewing upcoming Mass readings (via the front-page calendar) and reading the complete New American Bible.

ParishableItems.wordpress.com
I have posted hundreds of my homilies and reflections here on this blog since 2009. Use the main-page’s “Categories” menu or the search box to find something by Fr. Feltes you’re interested in.

An American Martyr

September 13, 2017

Saturday, September 23rd, a U.S. priest-martyr will be beatified in Oklahoma City, OK, the first so honored by the Church in our country. Fr. Stanley Rother was born in 1935 and grew up on an Oklahoma farm. He served in several Oklahoma parishes after his 1963 priestly ordination before volunteering for mission service in Guatemala in June of 1968. While there he helped build a small hospital, a school, and a Catholic radio station. He also translated the New Testament into Tz’utujil, a local language of that region.

Political turmoil and violence escalated Guatemala during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. The government aimed to suppress Marxist revolution by targeting rebels and hundreds of their alleged sympathizers for death. In early 1981, Fr. Rother learned that his name was on a death list. It was determined that he should leave Guatemala and he reluctantly returned to Oklahoma in January 1981. However, he soon asked his archbishop for permission to go back: “My people need me. I can’t stay away from them any longer.” Fr. Rother’s brother Tom questioned him, “Why do you want to go back? They’re waiting on you and they’re gonna kill you.” He replied: “Well, a shepherd cannot run from his flock.” The pastor returned to his people that April.

On July 28, 1981, just after midnight, Fr. Rother was shot and killed in his rectory. His remains were flown back to Oklahoma and buried in his hometown. At the request of his Guatemalan parishioners, his heart was removed and buried under the altar of the church where he had served. He was one of ten Catholic priests murdered in Guatemala that year.

Last December, Pope Francis issued a decree affirming that Fr. Stanley Rother was indeed martyred in odium fidei (“in hatred of the faith,”) permitting him to be beatified without the usual confirming miracle. As St. Augustine once preached, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” Let us ask the prayers of this new American blessed that we may be courageously faithful and loving like himself in Christ.

A Wonderful Vacation

September 7, 2017

How was my vacation? It was a wonderful adventure! Missouri’s solar eclipse was beautiful; a black circle with white wisps extending over a surprisingly blue background. In the first seconds when the Sun began reemerging from the Moon there was a bright speck and then an expanding light so intense that it could not be looked at. It was like seeing the large stone rolled away from the mouth of the tomb on Easter morning at the moment of the Resurrection.

We touched the St. Louis Arch, a structure whose geometric simplicity belies the amazing landmark that it is. Ask yourself, how would you build such a thing sixty-three stories in the air?

In Arizona, I was pleased to providentially cross paths with Clare Shakal from Cooks Valley. I was surprised to learn she happens to work at the parish where a friend from seminary I was visiting is now pastor.

In  Southern California I saw the last line of light from a red Sun be swallowed by the ocean. Pedestrians paused on the pier to watch the Earth eclipse of the Sun (what we call a sunset) but there was nothing like the numbers who gathered for the much rarer eclipse the week before.

One morning, I body-surfed in the Pacific Ocean, and went to bed in Wisconsin that night. While flying home (over a distance it would have taken me months to travel on foot) I gazed down upon the Grand Canyon for the first time. Our pilot never mentioned it.

My trip had many highlights but the part I enjoyed the most and what seasoned all the rest was the good friends I was blessed to share my adventure with.

What makes something wondrous? Things we encounter often feel less precious and usually go unnoticed. If solar eclipses happened daily at noon they would be no less beautiful but they never make the news. Our world is filled with wonders but even when we live in appreciative gratitude we still long for more. This is a sign to us that we were made to live forever; in a loving communion of persons with an infinitely interesting and beautiful God.

A Solar Eclipse Q & A

August 15, 2017

What is it like to experience a total eclipse?

For places within the 70-mile-wide “path of totality” of this Monday’s eclipse it will be like sunset suddenly arriving in the middle of the day. The air temperature will drop, stars may appear, and animals could become confused.

Is this eclipse a sign of the end of the world?

Quite likely not. On average, total eclipses occur on earth more than sixty times every century. This particular eclipse simply happens to span across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. However, it is always a good time to “repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Will we be able to see the solar eclipse in Wisconsin?

The Moon will not completely block out the Sun’s light in Wisconsin, but about 80% of the Sun will be obscured here on Monday at 1:10 PM local time. (Click here to check for your own zip-code, and review this important eye-safety info on viewing the eclipse.)

How do we know this eclipse is coming?

The Sun, Earth, and Moon move through the heavens according to God’s physical laws like clockwork. This makes it possible to accurately predict when eclipses will happen in the future or to calculate when they have occurred in the distant past.

Has our part of Wisconsin ever been in the direct path of a total eclipse?

This has happened here several times since Jesus Christ was born: on April 2, 610[*]: the year Mohammad began preaching Islam; on September 21, 1205: the year after the Crusaders sacked Constantinople; on April 6, 1503: the year Leonardo da Vinci began the Mona Lisa; and most recently on June 30, 1954: the month “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

Did Jesus ever see a solar eclipse during his lifetime in Israel?

One solar eclipse’s “path of totality” went through nearby Syria on November 22, 29 AD and perhaps Jesus saw the Sun become more than 90% obscured that day. Luke’s Gospel records that “the sun was darkened,” or eclipsed, the afternoon of Jesus’ crucifixion. Since solar eclipses are not naturally possible when there is a full moon (as at the time of the Jewish Passover) this failing of the Sun’s light must be due to some other natural or supernatural phenomena.

[*] – All Julian calendar dates (October 15, 1582 and earlier) have been converted to Gregorian calendar dates.

Satanic Bicycling, Pagan Meats, and Yoga

August 10, 2017

Imagine if Satanists began ritually riding bicycles while chanting out to spirits other than God. (For them, this might symbolize rebellion against the three axles of the Godhead over whom they blasphemously enthrone themselves; stomping Christ underfoot while profaning the Trinity through the streets — or something like that.) Though silly to conceive, if Satanists actually began to do this, how would bicycling be affected?

First it should be noted that traditional cycling would remain what it is; its goodness as a healthy exercise and leisure activity would be unaffected. However, biking combined with false worship (whether done sincerely or ironically) would be harmful. If one of these satanic bicycling groups existed in our town, I would not ride with them. A Christian who silently biked along with the Satanists (to simply enjoy the ride) could be affected by the malevolent spirits invoked or cause scandal for others. I could still bike alone or with my friends, but we certainly would not voice unchristian chants while doing so. If I had formerly parked my bike by the church or rectory, I might begin placing it in a more private place, lest people be misled by misinterpreting my innocent behavior. This scenario is simply a thought experiment, but real Christians faced a comparable situation in the first century AD.

In the ancient Greco-Roman world, meats sold in marketplaces or served at restaurants had commonly been sacrificed to pagan gods. This gave rise to a debate within the church at Corinth, Greece about whether Christians could blamelessly eat such food or if this should be forbidden as second-hand idolatry.

St. Paul addressed this question in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians, first observing “there is no God but one… even though there are so-called gods” worshiped by the pagans. St. Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, warned that “what [the pagans] sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons.” Christians were never to offer pagan worship, but this did not mean pagan meat itself could not be eaten by well-formed Christians: “Eat anything sold in the market, without raising questions on grounds of conscience, for ‘the earth and its fullness are the Lord’s.’” But at the same time, a meat-eating Christian was to be careful not to cause scandal to others, leading them into actual idolatry. St. Paul wrote, “Make sure that this liberty of yours in no way becomes a stumbling block to the weak. … If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat whatever is placed before you, without raising questions on grounds of conscience. But if someone says to you, ‘This was offered in sacrifice,’ do not eat it on account of the one who called attention to it and on account of conscience; I mean not your own conscience, but the other’s.” That is how early Christianity handled the issue of meat sacrificed to idols. Today, we have a similar issue of live and local concern (which brings us to the ultimate purpose of this article.)

In our beginning, God created the human body, endowing it with sensation, flexibility, and strength. He designed every natural posture and movement and gave breathing and exercising their healthy and pleasurable effects. A long, long time after that, some of these bodily positions and exercises were appropriated by Hindus in India for the worship of their (so-called) gods and goddesses. In our time, this aspect of Eastern religion has entered into our culture as yoga. So, is it OK for Christians to practice yoga?

As with bike riding and meat eating, the unchristian use of good things does not taint them for everyone else forever after. Breathing and stretching are good gifts from God and, for some, yoga is simply exercise. Yet spiritual danger exists wherever and whenever these exercises are being joined to false spirituality or idolatrous worship.

I myself have participated in secular yoga workouts in the past. My exercise instructor was a faithful Christian and I enjoyed them. However, together with Catholic exorcists, I would never recommend attending a yoga group with non-Christian spirituality because of the real potential for spiritual harm and scandal. If a yoga class, for instance, chants mantras (like “om,” or the names of Hindu gods); envisions becoming one with the cosmos, Brahman, or the Earth Mother; channels energies; or has participants breathe in the pulsating universe while exhaling all bad and evil from within, then that yoga class is certainly of the second sort and to be avoided. If my instructor or peers were using yoga in a non-Christian spiritual way, I would avoid that gathering for the same reasons that I would not attend a pagan sacrifice or bike with Satanists: the prospect of causing scandal and the danger from evil spirits.

St. Paul once said we are to “retain what is good” but “refrain from every kind of evil.” That timeless wisdom applies to us in all things; to bicycling, to eating meat, and also to doing yoga.

10 Things Catholics Don’t Believe

July 27, 2017

The Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen (1895-1979) Celebrating Holy Mass

Sixty-five years ago, Time magazine dubbed the Venerable Bishop Fulton J. Sheen “the first televangelist.” His Emmy Award-winning TV show, Life is Worth Living, was watched by up to 30 million people weekly, with many non-Catholics among them. Bishop Sheen once observed, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing.” The cause for the canonization of Fulton Sheen, who helped lead a great untold number into the Faith, is currently being advanced by his home diocese of Peoria, Illinois.

This is a list of ten popular misconceptions and what Catholics actually believe:

  1. Catholics don’t believe St. Mary is a goddess, but that she is the holy mother of God and of all Christians.
  2. Catholics don’t believe the pope is sinless or inerrant on every topic, but that he can teach infallibly about faith and morals as the successor of St. Peter.
  3. Catholics don’t believe in worshiping lifeless statues, but that art can help us connect with our friends in Heaven.
  4. Catholics don’t believe lay people should not read the Bible, but that no one soundly interprets Sacred Scripture apart from Sacred Tradition.
  5. Catholics don’t believe we are “saved by works” or “earn our salvation,” but that we must remain faithful by cooperating with God’s gifts of grace.
  6. Catholics don’t believe purgatory is a “second chance” or “temporary Hell,” but that God’s saved, flawed friends are perfected there to enter his holy presence in Heaven.
  7. Catholics don’t believe in cannibalism, but that the Eucharist is truly the real, living person of Jesus Christ.
  8. Catholics don’t believe Jesus suffers and dies anew at every Mass, but that the Mass re-presents (makes present) his one sacrifice and applies its power here and now.
  9. Catholics don’t believe couples must have as many children as humanly possible, but that separating what God has joined in the marital embrace is both wrong and harmful.
  10. Catholics don’t believe all non-Catholics are going to Hell, but we desire everyone to come into full communion with Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Many of our Protestant brothers and sisters continue to be separated from us due to myths like these. Correcting the mistaken notions of our acquaintances about what the Catholic Church truly teaches is both a spiritual work of mercy and an important step towards the reunion of all Christians. A great harvest is to be found in this field, so let us all labor in it!

Questions & Answers About My Cat, Leo XIV

July 17, 2017


Why did you name your cat “Leo the Fourteenth?”

So he wouldn’t be confused with Pope Leo XIII—who had the fourth longest papal reign (from 1878 to 1903) and died at the age of 93 as history’s oldest pope. The name “Leo” is Latin for “Lion.”

Why did you want a black cat?

Cats are great, and have you ever noticed cat hair on my clothing? … Exactly.

How does Leo like living in the rectory?

Leo enjoys greeting visitors to the parish offices (he is very friendly) and exploring our house. The dust and cobwebs I sometimes find on him indicate he likes the basement. I predict that Leo will leave a “gift” for me on my bed or office floor someday.

Do you think Leo XIV will go to Heaven?

Even though Leo is a very good cat, I am not certain. St. Thomas Aquinas argued that animals, lacking a rational soul such as humans have, cannot experience the Beatific Vision of God. On the other hand, the Book of Revelation foretells of a New Heavens and a New Earth while the Prophet Isaiah speaks of wolves, lambs, leopards, goats, calves, lions, cows, bears, cobras, and children peacefully living together one day on God’s holy mountain. (Isaiah 11) As I consoled myself when my previous, dear cat, Dexter died; if there is anything eternal about Leo, I trust that Jesus will take care of him. If we reach Heaven and find our deceased pets are not there, upon understanding their loving purpose in the divine plan, we shall thank God for the gift they were and be at peace.

America’s Greatness

July 5, 2017

In 1956, Peter W. Schramm’s family fled communist oppression in Hungary. The 10-year-old Peter asked his father, “But where are we going?” His father said, “We are going to America.” “Why America,” Peter prodded. His father replied, “Because, Son, we were born Americans, but in the wrong place.”

Other nations have been self-defined by their ancestral blood, but America has united people from all around the world. Other nations have self-identified by their ancient soil, but our country could fully incorporate other lands that desired to join our states. America is unique because America is founded upon an idea: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These providential words echo the great Christian doctrine of universal human dignity.

Where America has failed to embody these words, those are our greatest shames; such as our past crimes against Native and African Americans, and against unborn Americans today. Yet wherever we have honored and defended human dignity, those represent our proudest accomplishments; including our abolition of slavery, our liberty and legal equality at home, and our defense and liberation of peoples abroad.

When some people are asked what makes America great they cite our wealth and military power. But if these alone were our criteria for greatness, then the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate would be a great man and Jesus the Nazarene would not. The true measure of our greatness, like all true greatness, comes from our likeness to the Lord. May God bless America to be a greater, fuller blessing to all, until Jesus Christ returns and his kingdom is perfectly established on earth.

An Incomplete List of Things Fr. Rajen will Enjoy at his New Assignment

June 28, 2017

By Fr. Victor Feltes

  • Being able to visit the bank, fetch the mail, and get a haircut all from a single parking space.
  • A spacious rectory with great views all around.
  • The beautiful churches, especially the windows; Sacred Heart’s symbols and St. Wenceslaus’ portraits.
  • Scenic driving roads: County N, HWY 27, County F, and HWY 35.
  • The true fraternity of Christian leaders in the area, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
  • The pious help of well-trained altar servers.
  • Attentive bookkeepers, in Mary Walker, Luella Martin, and Larry Severson.
  • The living Eucharistic reverence: St. Wenceslaus’ patens, Sacred Heart’s intinction, and Adoration of the Lord at each.
  • Grassroots support for pro-life efforts.
  • The faithful company of daily Mass-goers.
  • A strong, local Knights of Columbus Council.
  • A solid baptismal prep program with Roy and Heather Kramer.
  • Parish Councils of Catholic Women that serve the best meals in town.
  • Eating deviled eggs and tasty meatballs.
  • Large parish savings in the bank and parish budgets in the black.
  • Sunday organ music played by Bob Martin and Aladean and Laurie Doll.
  • Hosting the “Nun Camp” sisters and playing “The Sock Game.”
  • Wise counsel from the Pastoral and Finance Councils.
  • The kids in the CCD programs, ably organized by Jessie Bird and Jane Achenbach.
  • The fun, dynamic Mercy Workers Youth Group.
  • Easter Triduum at St. Wenceslaus.
  • Sacred Heart with all the lights on.
  • And, of course, the people. Especially the people.

Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Liberty

June 28, 2017

Excerpted from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

What do we mean by religious liberty?

In Catholic teaching, the Second Vatican Council “declare[d] that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” Religious liberty is protected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and in federal and state laws. Religious liberty includes more than our ability to go to Mass on Sunday or pray the Rosary at home; it also encompasses our ability to contribute freely to the common good of all Americans.

What is the First Amendment?

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the following: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

What does “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Establishment Clause,” began as a ban on Congress’ either establishing a national religion or interfering with the established religions of the states. It has since been interpreted to forbid state establishments of religion, governmental preference (at any level) of one religion over another, and direct government funding of religion.

What does “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” mean?

This phrase, known as the “Free Exercise Clause,” generally protects citizens and institutions from government interference with the exercise of their religious beliefs. It sometimes mandates the accommodation of religious practices when such practices conflict with federal, state, or local laws.

What did our early American leaders say about religious freedom?

George Washington, 1789: “The conscientious scruples of all men should be treated with great delicacy and tenderness; and it is my wish and desire, that the laws may always be extensively accommodated to them…

Thomas Jefferson, 1809: “No provision in our Constitution ought to be dearer to man than that which protects the rights of conscience against the enterprises of the civil authority.”

James Madison, 1785: “[W]e hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

 What have recent popes said about religious liberty?

Pope St. John Paul the Great, 1996: “[T]he most fundamental human freedom [is] that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.”

Pope Benedict XVI, 2011: “[Religious freedom] is indeed the first of human rights, not only because it was historically the first to be recognized but also because it touches the constitutive dimension of man, his relation with his Creator.”

Pope Francis, 2015: “American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.

 Where are the roots of religious liberty?

Religious liberty is inherent in our very humanity, hard-wired into each and every one of us by our Creator. Religious liberty is also prior to the state itself. It is not merely a privilege that the government grants us and that can be taken away at will.

How are marriage and religious liberty connected?

Marriage (the union of one man and one woman as husband and wife) and religious liberty are two distinct goods that are also related to each other. The protection of each good follows from the duty to protect the inviolable dignity of the human person. But even more directly, the legal protection of marriage as the union of one man and one woman also protects the religious freedom of those who adhere to that vision of marriage.

How does changing the legal definition of marriage have any effect on religious liberty?

Changing the legal term “marriage” is not one change in the law but amounts to thousands of changes at once. The term “marriage” can be found in family law, employment law, trusts and estates, healthcare law, tax law, property law, and many others. These laws affect and pervasively regulate religious institutions, such as churches, religiously-affiliated schools, hospitals, and families. When Church and State agree on what the legal term “marriage” means (the union of one man and one woman), there is harmony between the law and religious institutions. When Church and State disagree on what the term “marriage” means (e.g., when the State redefines marriage to include so-called same-sex “marriage”), conflict results on a massive scale between the law and religious institutions and families. Religious liberty is then threatened.

Truths About Our God

June 9, 2017

Based upon the “Litany of the Attributes of God” by St. Francis Borgia (1510 – 1572 A.D.) which itself drew upon teachings in St. Thomas Aquinas’ 13th century Summa Theologica.

O highest God, whom no one but yourself can perfectly know, who are the subject of theology, who in yourself are unknown to us, whose existence is perfectly demonstrable, who possesses existence in yourself, who are the highest good and perfect,  who contains in yourself most eminently the perfections of all things, who is infinite, who alone is everywhere, who alone is changeless, who is eternal, who is the height of riches and wisdom and knowledge, who comprehends all things that are and are not, who knows evil things by knowing good things, who knows the infinite, whose knowledge is unvarying, who is the one only truth according to which all things are true, who is eternal and unchanging truth, in whom is will, who freely will even things other than yourself, whose will is the cause of things, whose will is unchanging and always accomplished, whose will does not impose necessity upon free will, in whom is love, who love all that you have made, who love all with one simple act of will, who love better things more by willing a greater good to them, in whom is a justice that grants all things their due, who are merciful and compassionate, who govern all things by providence and by whose providence all things are subjected, whose providence does not impose necessity upon the free, who save us according to your mercy and not from our works of justice, who can do all things more abundantly than we seek or understand, to whom blessedness belongs, have mercy on us and bestow on us all good things, now and forever.     Amen.

Giving Our Idols the Axe

June 9, 2017

St. Boniface (675–754 A.D.) is called “the Apostle of the Germans” and spread Christianity amongst the pagans of that land. After 36 years of fruitful missionary efforts, as he prepared for a large, open-air confirmation liturgy on a Pentecost eve, a pagan band of robbers martyred the aged archbishop and his companions. The most famous story about St. Boniface (as recorded by his first biographer, Willibald, within thirteen years of the saint’s death) reflects the tensions between the old and new religions:

“At Geismar, surrounded by his companions, the saint decided to fell a gigantic oak, revered by the pagans as Jupiter’s Oak. A big crowd of pagans watched him cut the lower notch, cursing him in their hearts as an enemy of the gods. But when Boniface had scarcely chipped the front of the sacred tree, a divine blast from above crashed it to the ground with its crown of branches shivering as it fell. And as if by the gracious dispensation of the Most High, the oak also burst into four equal parts.

The bystanders could see four huge trunks, uniform in length, that had not been cut by Boniface or his associates. At this sight the pagans who had been cursing the saint, now, on the contrary, believed. They blessed the Lord and stopped their reviling. Then after consulting his companions, the holy bishop used the timber of the tree to construct an oratory there, which he dedicated to St. Peter, the apostle.”

This reminds me of a minor wonder that occurred during our Confirmations last month at St. Wenceslaus. During the Mass, driving winds blew down a large branch into our parking lot. Ron “Butch” Colson, who was monitoring the storm for us, was amazed that this heavy limb had fallen between two adjacently parked vehicles without harming either one. You can still see the blackened spot on the tree from where it fell. Though this branch had appeared sound and strong at the time of our tree-trimming project this spring, it was actually rotten and hollow inside. I would not be surprised if Jupiter’s Oak had likewise become dead and weakened within, allowing a providentially-timed wind gust to take down the whole tree after a few swings of St. Boniface’s axe.

Today we do not worship pagan idols—gods of metal, wood, or stone—yet whenever we let created things have priority before God we turn them into our idols. Our worship of idols—be they people, possessions, or pleasures—is sin. At first glance, sins can appear harmless or even healthy, but God would cut down and convert us away from them. And the Lord, who works all things for the good of those who love him, can build great things from our sins’ wreckage and rubble.

In C.S. Lewis’ 1945 novel, The Great Divorce, a ghost considers journeying to join God and the saints in Heaven, but he is prevented by a little red lizard on his shoulder who whispers lustful ideas into his ear. A mighty angel of God offers to kill the ghost’s loved-yet-hated tempter and, after a great struggle of will, he consents. Once the lizard is slain, the ghost transforms into a man of glory while the lizard becomes a great white stallion with mane and tail of gold. Then, like a shooting star, the man rides his horse up the slopes of God’s holy mountain in a flash.

St. Boniface boldly felled Jupiter’s oak and built a place of worship from its timbers. This day, let us turn away from our sins, handing over our idols to God, that he may remake us more perfectly into his awesome, holy, and glorious likeness.

The Case of the Prophet Caiaphas

April 29, 2017

Once word got around how Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead,

[T]he chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do? This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone, all will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our land and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish.” He did not say this on his own, but since he was high priest for that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God. So from that day on they planned to kill him. (John 11:47-53)

Caiaphas speaks the wisdom of this world, recommending evil means in hopes of a desired social end. Yet St. John notes that this earthly-minded high priest prophetically reveals the plan of heaven without knowing it — Jesus has come “to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28) Like Balaam in the Book of Numbers, Caiaphas prophesies despite himself.

After Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection, the Sanhedrin convenes anew — this time to address the issue of the Apostles’ continued ministry in His name:

When the court officers had brought the Apostles in and made them stand before the Sanhedrin, the high priest questioned them, “We gave you strict orders did we not, to stop teaching in that name. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and want to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Caiaphas is threatened by the vitality of this Messianic movement that won’t die and stay dead. He fears the social rebellion and personal vengeance that its followers may seek out. Once again, the high priest’s misplaced concerns unknowingly speak spiritual truths.

The Apostles indeed wish to bring the Savior’s blood upon the Jewish leaders and everyone. When the Old Covenant was inaugurated, “[Moses] took the blood and splashed it on the people, saying, ‘This is the blood of the covenant which the LORD has made with you according to all these words.’” (Exodus 24:8) Likewise, in instituting his New Covenant, Jesus “took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.’” (Matthew 26:27-28)

And the Apostles’ teaching is not merely filling the ancient Jerusalem found in the earthly Promised Land. In his visions, St. John beholds “the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and he notes that God’s people “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 21:2 & 7:14)

Recall what Joseph told to his brothers who had sold him away as a slave: “Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve this present end, the survival of many people.” (Genesis 50:20) Remember what St. Paul writes to the Christians in Rome: “We know that God works all things for good for those who love Him…” (Romans 8:28) The case of Caiaphas reminds us that even those who make themselves the enemies of God will be used as instruments to accomplish His ultimate will. At times this truth can be painfully inscrutable to us, but we trust that every evil, even the murdering of God, shall be turned to the good of those who love Him.

“Egyptian Christians are made of Steel!”

April 23, 2017

Last Palm Sunday, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, a terrorist detonated a suicide bomb in a Coptic Christian church. 27 were killed and 78 wounded. Then, just hours later, there was another bombing at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria. The Coptic patriarch had just finished celebrating Palm Sunday Mass when another terrorist attempted to get inside that church. At least 17 were killed and 48 wounding, but many more may have been murdered if the killer had not been prevented from entering by security guards at the gate.

These attacks are a reminder that Christian persecution and martyrdoms are very much alive today. An Egyptian TV news show interviewed a Christian woman whose husband, AmNeseem, was one of those gatekeepers who restrained the second terrorist and died in the blast. The mourning widow’s words and the reaction of the Muslim news anchor in the studio are remarkable: