Our Fathers, who art on Earth

You go to Mass, you see them at Church, ask them how they’re doing, ask them for confessions, or maybe to preside at your wedding day.  They teach, they preach, they work diligently and do their priestly work.

And yet, I ask you, how often do you seek the help of your priests for spiritual guidance and support?

When Jesus dwelt among us in the flesh, recall how often and regularly people came to seek his help.  Of course, it’s easy to recall the numerous times he healed the paralytic, or cured the blind man, and y’know, raise a person from the dead.  But, also recall, people came to Jesus seeking advice on how to live, what steps they should take, where to go next.  The rich young man asks, "Teacher, what good deed must i do, to have eternal life?" (Mt. 19: 16), Nicodemus seeks counsel, stating how they "know that you are a teacher come from God" (Jn 3: 2) and proceeds to learn of the mystery of the sacrament of Baptism, Peter says, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words to eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." (Jn. 6: 68-69), and all of Matthew 13, Jesus, speaking in parables, is sought to teach and explain the parables.  He was there to guide us, in truth and to restore us to what we were first created to be.

And, as we know, the bishops and priests carry on that good work for us.  Recall, Jesus tells the apostles,

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Mt. 28: 19-20)

Also, recall St. Paul’s words in 1 Timothy 3:

The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?

The Church is the priest’s household, and we are the children of the priest.  In a home, parents are responsible for nurturing and providing for their families.  They provide sustenance, a safe environment, teach their children of morality and right and wrong, how to survive in this world.  The same is true for our priests.  We are their children, and they are responsible for all the things that our parents are responsible for.  How then, do we treat our parents?  Are we negligent, or do we honor them?  Are we treating our priests the same way?

We know how valuable it is to take preventative measures to teach and gain wisdom for our regular and daily activities, preparing ourselves for our future careers, in managing our busy lives.  But, when it come to seeking guidance and support from protecting our souls, are we taking those same precautions?  When do we seek the availability of our priests to guide and lead us toward holiness?  When you have troubles and spiritual needs, are you actively seeking out your priests, trained and guided by the Spirit, to determine the right path before you turn the wrong way?  It is part of the priest’s responsibility to care for their flock, but if the flock is avoiding him, how can he minister to their needs?

It’s especially sad to see today that there are so many articles about priests who are at fault, when they break the bounds of trust and responsibility that they have.  Yet, I also have to wonder, is that because we haven’t been challenging our fathers to BE Fathers?  It’s so easy to be quick to judge, but perhaps these lapses are because we are not actively seeking that need from our fathers.  They need to do the work that they have been called to, and if they find themselves idle and bored, they too will fall to temptation.  Why not be pro-active and seek our priests to be strong spiritual guides for us, to challenge them to step it up? (Recall Proverbs 27:17)

I’ve been particularly blessed recently for meeting with one of the recent priests transferred to the parish of St. Elizabeth Seton in Pleasanton, and what he said at Mass this last Sunday really struck me.  He said, “We, the priests, are here for you whenever you need.”  They’re out there, ready to bring us closer to God.  Take advantage of the service they provide, offer them the satisfaction of fulfilling their vocation to the priesthood, sharpen their wits by presenting them your needs as they lead you on the path to Heaven.  Give our priests the chance to be the shepherds of the faith that we need.

-John

The Problem of Evil

Life goes on for us. We keep browsing FB and reddit, keep watching our shows and surfing Youtube. Other people around the world are being killed. Can we understand that? Maybe an even more piercing question, should we even try? I don’t know. What good does it do, to pretend that our facebook arguments can have an impact on the fears and angers of people on the other side of the world? Are we going to be the ones to move them, are our arguments the ones that will convince them to lay down their weapons?

What would you die for? What would you kill for? And can we comprehend what it is like for people to be pushed to that brink? The world isn’t made up of bad guys and good guys, cops and robbers. We are confused people, fraught with misunderstandings, filled with fear, overcome by hatred, motivated by our own interests, doing what we believe is best for ourselves and our own. The world is unjust. It is broken. And I am a part of it.

I’ve been thinking a long time about what one can say in times like these, when darkness and misunderstanding and hate rise up and everyone has an opinion on who is right and who is wrong, as if being on the “right” side justifies in some way or another the killing or neglect of innocent lives. What do I have to say to the pro-Russian rebel who believes in his cause enough to fight and die for it, who for that cause pressed a button and mistakenly sent nearly 300 innocent people to their death? What do I have to say to Israelis who in defense of their people rain death upon other innocents?

St. Augustine reminds us that evil is not a force, it is not a substance. It is not its own power. What evil is, is disorder, it is the misplacement or displacement of what is good. It is what happens when we substitute a lesser good for a higher one. What can speak to the evil of the world? I’ve heard retaliation, I’ve heard divestment, I’ve heard boycott and sanctions, dissolution, compromise. Probably the only thing I haven’t heard is the only thing that can: love.

Many blame religion for the violence and conflict in the world, and perhaps rightfully so. But what besides faith, hope, and love, can ever break us out? It makes sense for some to kill. It makes more sense for others to kill them. In the face of evil, in the face of injustice, it makes no sense to believe, to hope, and even less sense to love. And yet it is the most sensible thing there is. But it is also hard. Maybe that is why the world is as it is. These are just words. I won’t pretend that I can truly change the world with my arguments or my dollars or my votes, my pressures and demands (as useful as they may be). There is only one thing that can and really will change the world, and that is the transformation of the human heart.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Priest who shamed unwed mother faces investigation and sanctions ›

I was so sad when I first heard about this and am glad that something is being done to show people everywhere that this is not the character of our faith. Shame and accusation are not the tools of God, but rather the Evil one (Rev 12:10). Compassion and mercy are what God offers to us, not in acceptance of our sin but in the loving call to leave ourselves behind and discover his will for us, no matter what we have done. As GK Chesterton once said, some care for truth, but their truth is pitiless. Some care for pity, but their pity is untruthful. Let us walk in the third way, the way of love.

The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible: the spiritual and the divine.

St. John Paul II, Theology of the Body

Thoughts on Hobby Lobby (Anyone else think that’s a pretty lame name?)

Thought exercise: You own a corporation. A law has been passed that, in your true, genuine, moral philosophical opinion, forces you be a material accomplice to sin and in fact amounts to material cooperation with what you consider to be murder. Should you comply? Is it your duty to comply because of the fact that you own a corporation? Does the fact that you employ a certain number of people and your corporation is not explicitly religious and not-for-profit enable the government to make demands on you that violate your religious beliefs?

If your answer to the above is yes, then fine. It makes relatively little sense to me that you believe that because you own a corporation you are therefore obligated to kowtow to the government in violation of your conscience, but whatever. Maybe you do honestly believe that once you operate a corporation, your personhood and moral responsibility ceases with regards to its actions. If you can imagine any situation where your answer would be no, however, consider that this is what some people actually do believe about the current Hobby Lobby situation. We understand that most women want birth control. We understand why they want it, we understand why they think differently than we do, and it has been made abundantly clear (thank you very much) what they think of people who believe in values and faiths and morals that are different from the ones they hold. I get it.

At the same time, however, I see a very obvious effort to transform and distort some people’s religious conviction into everything that is detestable. In one scroll of the facebook news feed, I read about how this is just a manipulation of the courts by big-wig corporate higher-ups, how this is an explicit effort by men to oppress women, that this is a religiously motivated legislation of Christianity from the bench. Surprise, I am against those too. But is it so hard to believe that some people simply believe that abortifacients are morally impermissible and do not want to be complicit in providing them? And is it such an evil thing that the court suggests that there may be  solutions to the issue that can provide these services for people who desire them without forcing people to pay for them against their religious beliefs? It is fascinating for me to see so many people fighting for women’s rights telling religious women that in some way or another they are “lesser” women, that their opinions deserve to be trampled and disregarded because they are not the opinions that “true” women hold. I do know women who are celebrating the ruling; most of them won’t post it to facebook or twitter because they know the shitstorm that will be instantly unleashed upon them because they are women and because they hold this opinion. Religious-nut-shaming is the new slut-shaming, but who cares, they are in the wrong and we are in the right, right?

I will speak plainly. Some women have indeed lost something by virtue of this ruling, and what they have lost is the right to coerce corporations into paying for certain types of birth control. Maybe this is a right they deserve to have. Corporations have indeed gained something by virtue of this ruling, and what they have gained is the right to refuse to materially cooperate in situations that they religiously and conscientiously object to. Maybe this is a right that corporations and the people that own them deserve to have. I understand that depending on where you fall along the scale, your feelings on this ruling will differ. But what I do not understand is the necessity to force ourselves into believing that one side necessarily stands on good and the other is a monstrous evil. Everyone can understand why someone should not be forced to cooperate with something they believe is evil, everyone can understand that this is a right all people possess, even in the running of their businesses. Maybe it is because we all understand this so well that we need to conjure up new images to horrify us and demonize others; we need images of corruption, of oppression, of (I actually read this, believe it or not) evil bosses forcing their employees to become pregnant to continue the patriarchal enslavement of the female sex. We could try to understand each other, we could try to love each other, attempt to dialogue and exist without the need for one side to oppress the other. We could try to find a solution in which a person’s religious beliefs could be accommodated in the running of a business while providing certain types of coverages people want through other means. That doesn’t seem impossible to me, and seems like a laudable goal if we soberly remember that our goal is primarily to cover people, not primarily to force corporations and religious people to acknowledge birth control as a right and force them to pay for it. But it so much easier to judge, to make conclusions, to conjure up a myriad of subtle and evil motivations that others hold. I don’t even care what the legal precedents and technicalities and who is in the “right” regarding the current state of Constitutional interpretation and judicial doctrine. All I can say is that the astronomical efforts being employed to judge others, to paint entire swaths of this country or people of particular faiths as savage, anti-woman, and oppressive are something any propagandist from any era would be proud of. If that is the way you see me, I guess that is your prerogative. To me and others who hold to similar beliefs with sincerity, we are simply people who believe in a person’s right to do what he or she believes is right. If you want to attack something, attack that, not the things you or somebody you know made up to conveniently “explain” away a faith and conviction you neither share nor even try to understand.

-Peter

None of us become Christians on our own. We owe our relationship with God to so many others who passed on the faith, who brought us for baptism, who taught us to pray and showed us the beauty of the Christian life… Whoever says they believe in God but not in the Church, has a direct relation with Christ outside of her, falls into an absurd dichotomy… God has confided his saving message to human persons, to witnesses, and it is known to us through our brothers and sisters.

Pope Francis, General audience 6/25/2014

Francis's latest homily: No one can judge (LINK) ›

A great homily by Papa Francesco on something that I think is somewhat foreign to us in a world that seemingly grows more polarized, cynical, and antagonistic by the day. Right, left, conservative, liberal, traditional, progressive, more and more it becomes easier and easier for us not only to believe that somebody is wrong (which is of course a necessity for any person who believes in anything) but for us to dehumanize those we disagree with. We so easily rationalize that because someone is different, or even because they are wrong, they are undeserving of our compassion. When we judge, we delude ourselves into thinking that not only are their ideas wrong (which deserve loving correction), but that their very persons deserve our derision and our contempt. We enter into a delusion of thinking that because someone else is wrong about something, that we are better than they are.

What a great reminder to us that the call to love and not to judge runs deeper than “tolerance”. Many people are tolerant enough to at least let others speak their mind and listen to them. Fewer are tolerant enough to suffer barbs and insults from those who disagree with them. But how few can make a claim on the example of divine love, in which the One who had the true right and the capacity to judge did not judge us, but rather prayed in our great moment of betrayal that we be forgiven, for we know not what we do! How foreign it is to consider coming to the defense of someone who is wholly in the wrong, praying for the good of someone who hates us, begging God for mercy on someone blindly but willingly committing the gravest of sins. But as Christ showed us the way, so we should follow. Underneath our failings, underneath our confusions and blasphemies and sin, God still beheld and still beholds his beloved creation in each of us. Even when the most grievous sin was committed, he offered not retribution, harsh rebuke, or even a “tolerant” but sarcastic, passive-aggressive quip (guilty). Rather he looked upon us with a loving sadness and prayed for our defense. What he needed to say had been said and what needed to teach had been taught. What remained, even despite our obstinacy, is the only thing that can and will remain in the end, the only thing that does not fail: a great love that always desires our good, a love that even despite our weaknesses and offenses, seeks to lift us and defend us, not tear us down and condemn us. How well we would do to try to live out this most holy and difficult example.

-Peter

Just came across this St. Anthony comic strip. Good find ;)

One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ.

Benedict XVI

Badass young Fr. Ratzinger.