Friday, May 17, 2013

Reflections on Pentecost

Dedicated to the Class of 2013
The Parishioners of Sacred Heart, Rich Fountain, MO
The Parishioners of St. Clement, Bowling Green MO

This weekend,  St. Clement School and Bowling Green High School have their graduations.  This weekend, the parishioners of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rich Fountain, Mo. celebrate their 175th anniversary of the foundation of the parish. I love the fact that these happen this year on the Feast of Pentecost.

The Feast of  Pentecost is among my favorites.  It is considered the birth of the Church.  It happens as the apostles, the Blessed Mother, and the disciples are waiting in prayer for the promise Jesus made of an advocate who would be sent to continue the mission that Christ had started and entrusted to those gathered in the Upper Room and to those who would come to believe as a result of their witness.  The previous couple months must have been rather trying for them.  They had triumphantly entered the city of Jerusalem to shouts of Hosannas!  At last, their belief that Jesus the Messiah was now going to establish the earthly kingdom they had so longed for looked like it would happen.  Within a week, those hopes would be completely shattered as one of their own would betray Jesus to the religious authorities who in turn would hand him over to the cruelty of Roman justice.  Their king would be put on a show trial, scourged within an inch of his life, brutally put to death by crucifixion, all while they ran and hid.  As fear enclosed them, within a few days, they hear stories of an empty tomb, and see the resurrected Christ.  One can only imagine what they felt, but one could assume that they were astounded, hopeful, perhaps a bit confused.  For 40 days Jesus is with them, then without much warning they watch him ascend.  Now they wait.  What would happen?  On Pentecost, they find out in such a powerful way.  Once the Spirit comes they become aware of what lays next.  Fear is replaced with courage.  Confusion is replaced with wisdom. From there, they begin the proclamation of Christ; not allowing anything to get in the way.  Pentecost assured them that their best days lay ahead of them.  They were to take what they had learned in the school taught by Jesus and now apply it powerfully to the ends of the earth.  There was no looking back...only ahead with what they had learned.

To those who graduate from their schools; be it from 8th grade, high school, college, or graduate school: You are at a juncture.  You leave behind that which is known for that which is not.  It is easy, I suppose, to think your  best days are now done. Nonsense!!  Your futures have yet to be written.  How it unfolds is more your decision that anyone else.  You have a choice to take the best of what you have learned, the best of your talents, and the best of your gifts and apply them to the next level.  No more that Jesus expected the apostles and disciples to move to the next level without any help, so He gives you that same gift of the Spirit to help you transform to something truly great.  It does not mean you will not have difficulties and will..I promise you will.  The early Church had to do its job in the face of internal dissension and external persecution.  She still does.  However, she still carries on powerfully because she is given the  gifts of the Holy Spirit.  For most of you, those gifts were deposited within at Baptism and Confirmation.  It is up to you to use them.  Use them and no adversity will hold you down.  Use them to write the next chapter of your life!  William Shakespeare called the future the 'undiscovered country'.  Use your gifts and God's gifts to explore that new land and see how it allows the next chapter to unfold.

To my former parishioners at Sacred Heart: you celebrate 175 years as a parish.  As I often reminded you when I was pastor, you are the current caretakers of a great legacy started by Fr Helias and your ancestors who settled the area.  You stand on the shoulders of giants.  Consequently, you are the giants on whose shoulders others will stand.  I would imagine there will be much looking behind and celebrating of what once was.  While that is nice, so much of the story of Sacred Heart parish is yet to be written.  The Holy Spirit is given to you as well to continue the work of Christ to the peoples of the Rich Fountain area.  I cannot emphasize enough the task at hand, especially in the formation of the next generations of parishioners.  Use well those talents, charisms, and graces in their formation!  Into their hands will be given the stylus which will write the next chapters.  May their great grandchildren be able to look back as the celebrate future milestones in the parish at the giants who cooperated with God is continuing the mission of Christ at Sacred Heart.

Finally, to my own parishioners of St Clement.  What holds true for Sacred Heart, holds true for us as well.  Whether it be the great advances we have made with youth, with getting the new building going, with the new areas we have expanded into; all of it is forging with God's grace into the 'undiscovered country' that is our future as a parish.  In 8 years we will be celebrating 150 years as a parish.  What we look like in such a short time from now is dependent on the choices we make now.  This parish has so much more to be written...this Pentecost, let us God for the grace we will need to forge ahead.  Let us ask God for the same courage and wisdom that drove the apostles and disciples from the Upper Room and onto the streets to live lives that proclaim Jesus.  Our undiscovered country awaits and God will give every grace necessary to rise to the coming horizon of hope, faith, charity, and courage!

A Blessed Pentecost to All!!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

On the Dignity of the Human Person

Life is beautiful.  It is amazing.  I love nature.  I am fascinated by its beauty whether that beauty is simple or complex.  As people of faith, we believe two essential things about life: that it is intended and that it is good.  This simple premise is the entirety of the the basis of all teachings that the Church has about life.  This reaches a summit in human life.  The totality of our morality is bound in the essential goodness and dignity owed to each person.  Not all have held this to be true over the ages.  In most ancient mythologies, the created order and especially man were seen as essentially disordered and a pox upon creation.  Most saw it as a divine mistake.  In the time that early Christianity arose, there was a group called the Gnostics.  They saw humanity as an evil and the body as a prison of the soul.  Adapting themselves within Christian circles, the saw the God of the Old Testament (Yahweh) as evil; a vengeful entity that showed his full sadism by creating.  They saw the God of the New Testament (Abba) as a loving God who conquers Yahweh and gives some humans a secret knowledge by which we could be set free from the flesh and the evil created order.  The Church quickly condemned this.  The Church never lost sight of the true beauty of the human person and saw that is was so good (even if it didn't look or act that way) that Yahweh sends His Son to redeem humanity; not from entrapment to a body, but from entrapment to what destroyed that beauty.  The Church seeks to see the full dignity and integrity of the person restored completely.

The Gnostics, though condemned, have never gone away.  In fact, they are alive, well, and forcefully dominant in our culture.  We, as Christians, must regain the ground we surrendered by adopting and integrating their ways of thinking in the ways we look at the person.  We are used to speaking of people in utilitarian ways.  Too often we talk about the person in terms of their usefulness.  We reduce persons to terms of viability and economic qualities.  We talk about 'affording' children as if they were a new car, a house, or some other economic reality.  Even good people do this.  This way of talking also allows us to base the usefulness of a person based on their skin color, gender, socio-economic class, educational level, health, and other criteria which allows us to subtly or blatantly judged others as not as equal as us.  This reduces the dignity of the person and allows in the monster that has judged some as not deserving of life.  This is incompatible with our Christian faith.  In fact, a 'science' developed in the 19th century called eugenics, by which we used certain methods and such to lessen or exterminate undesirables.  It is troubling but is so engrained into our society that we don't recognize where it rears its ugly head.

It has reached its most obvious peak' in the multiple genocides that have marked that last century of our existence.  We saw it in all its true horrors in Nazi Germany where 'undesirables' were literally loaded  by the train loads to be exterminated. Not only Jews, but the mentally and physically handicapped, the sickly, homosexuals, and other deemed as dangerous to the creation of the master race were systematically slaughtered.  In Stalin's Russia, millions were murdered as they were seen as undesirable.  In Mao's China, tens of millions were exterminated like a insect infestation.  In Pol Pot's Cambodia, a third of the population was exterminated. 

Now tens of millions are exterminated through abortion.  That may seem harsh, but reality is what it is. In this country, 90% of children diagnosed with Down's Syndrome are aborted.  Abortion is used for sex selection now.  In the black community, for every live birth there is an abortion.  25% of this new generation has been aborted.  Since Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton, 53 million babies have been aborted in this country.  This pales in comparison to what is happening in Russia and China, where the prevalence of abortion is now creating deep societal problems that endanger future stability in both nations.  In every single case of everything written in this paragraph, every human destroyed had to have its essential humanity ripped from it; if it isn't human then what is being done is no different than eradicating a vermin infestation.  These are harsh realities that we can no longer sugar coat with euphemisms like 'choice'.

Those is favor of abortion in this country like using terms like 'embryo', 'zygot', 'fetus', and 'blob of tissue' to deaden our senses as to what is happening.  None of these are specific to the human species. All animals go through these stages in life. I have two dogs and a cat that were also embryos at one time.  They were fetuses too.  I was a embryo and fetus as well, so were you the reader.  I can assure you, whatever you want to call what resides in the human womb, you have to add the adjective 'human' to it.  What is in the womb, scientifically, is a human person in its earliest stages of development.  What is growing in the womb is of the species and genus, homo sapiens.  No amount  of fast talk changes that reality.  As Christians we believe that this human person is owed the very same rights to its integrity and dignity as any other.  Abortion is incompatible with Christian ethics and morality.  Am I saying that those who gotten abortions are evil?  No, but most have been duped by this culture that sees human life as a disposable commodity.  As Catholics, we must fight to regain the lost ground. This will not come through vilifying people, but vilifying an action and a mentality that has enabled it.  When it comes to the eugenics mentality, the only thing that needs to be exterminated is the mentality itself.   

Human life, in all its stages must be afforded its dignity and respect.  This does not magically come into existence upon birth nor can the birth be the end of when such dignity is given.  That dignity is to be afforded throughout each human life.  Race and gender are irrelevant as to who gets respect and dignity and who does not.  Socio-economic class does not either.  Physical and mental disabilities do not lessen the respect owed.  In fact, there is no group, no tribe, no subsection of our human family that is not to be afforded this respect and dignity.  Each human life is special and a gift.  Each human person is a child of God.  If we understand this, it is a positive game changer.  We live in a society that focuses on what makes us different and divides us in to subsets; it is much easier to manipulate a subset.  We belong to a faith that tells us we are one family and we owe each other respect and dignity, not because it is earned or 'you're one of my kind', but for the base fact that each human life is special in the eyes of its creator.  If we want peace, justice, mercy, and compassion to be the hallmarks of the society we live in, then we must reclaim the ground and demand respect for all human person and extend that respect to all...born or unborn.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I am saying a permanent goodbye to TV

A television is an object.  It contains no intelligence of its own.  It does not create its own programming nor determine what appears on the screen.  It is  a conduit by which we allow information to be piped into our homes, schools, and businesses.  Truth be told, though, the overwhelming majority of it adds nothing to the home, business, or school.  In fact, my opinion, many times it is pumping in the intellectual, moral, and spiritual equivalent of raw sewage into those homes, businesses, and schools.  We pay for the privilege to be done.

I was one of those who justify keeping TV for the few things that were something of worth.  But they kept getting further and fewer in between.  I didn't like all of the negativity getting pumped into my home and I saw the effect it was having on me.  It was making me angry, provoking negative emotions.  Where with music, print, and the internet, I have much more control over what I view and listen to; with TV (and radio for that matter) I was at the mercy of the media much more.It was time to shut off the valve.

First, I grew tired of what was being  presented.  News has turned into largely propaganda which seeks to bully the opposition.  Long gone are any pretenses toward debating issues; more often than not, we get shouting matches where both sides (even the one agree with) come across as pretentious jerks.  I grew tired of the cruelty and decadence of sitcoms and dramas.  We get it...he is a whore...she is a witch...he is stupid...blah  blah blah.  Comedy is used as back door bullying.  'I am only joking' has been the cover line for much hatred, bias, prejudice, and intolerance. I tired of my faith being continually vilified (yeah...we get it, the priest is obviously a gay man, a hypocrite, an unloving dolt, or a child molester and all Christians are rubes, fools, idiots, and hypocrites).  If those in charge of programming want to do that or go there, okay.  Just don't hand me a bill for your  mocking.

Of course, it has led to other things as well.  First, is has contributed to a sedentary lifestyle. While the TV cannot make me watch it, I make that choice, it is an almost completely passive form of entertainment.  It requires no movement on behalf of the individual, no use of imagination, no use of active thought at all.  It robs the person of the use of their minds, bodies, and souls.  Even the good entertainment requires little to no input from the watcher.  It does help in teaching how to think, only pumps in information to be passively ingested.  Some may ask how this differs from education.  In modern education, it really doesn't...sadly enough (bu that is a different rambling)..but if education is done well it requires the person to process information, think for themselves, be tested on what is being ingested,  and integrate the lessons into day to day life. Good education calls for active engagement, not merely passive watching.

I figure that I have wasted enough of my entirely too short life sitting passively by and watching others do.  Time to unplug and engage more.  I didn't like the influence TV was having on me.  I find myself much calmer in that my emotions are not being constantly evoke to envy, lust, wrath, greed, and gluttony.  Because I want better for myself, it is time to turn the TV off for good.  I can watch uplifting movies or educational shows at my leisure and while on my elliptical or recumbent bike.  I am currently watching a movie on St Bakhita, an African slave with a remarkable life story.  I watch it in 20-25 minutes snippets.  I am back in control of this and am better off for it.