Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Darkness is Lifted

For those who read my prior blog post on my parish's long Good Friday, this is the follow up.  To those who haven't, I suggest reading it first.

This morning at 8 AM, a darkness lifted from my parish.  The darkness descended without warning a week ago today when our parish church was desecrated.  This morning, as our bishop, Bishop John Gaydos came to wield his apostolic authority to drive from our parish church the intense darkness, it was as if the sun was breaking over the horizon to let us know that the Light of Christ conquers the darkest sorrow the devil can inflict.  This morning was the bold proclamation that Christ conquers...Christ wins...Christ is victorious!

Bishop Gaydos did not flinch from calling what happened to us evil, nor did he flinch is reminding us that Christ conquers.  He powerfully reminded us to allow the theological virtue of hope to carry us beyond this moment and allow the new life breathed back into this parish to powerfully bear fruit.  As the various furnishings of the church, the statues, confessionals, books, ciborium, and altar were blest, it was as if someone were flipping on one light switch after another; until the darkness of the desecration was completely driven out from our church.  In the place of such a pervasive darkness, a powerful light now shown.

As we concluded the morning with a Eucharistic Procession around the exterior and interior of the Church as the people powerfully sung, "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent", ending with Benediction, it felt as if we had reclaimed completely what was snatched from us one week before.  Christ restored completely what Satan had taken from us.

As a pastor, we all wish that the lesson learned from such tragedies inform us of how to live the Catholic life.  We pray that where anger and wrath were infused, the healing balm of forgiveness and mercy may heal.  We pray that fear give way to hope.  We pray that we do not lose our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.  My parishioners have responded beyond any hopes that I would have expected.  Not one asked what we were going to do to the woman who visited this tragedy upon us.  Not one.  Instead I had multiple request as to how we might help her.  This is the way of Christ.  No vengeance.  No fear.  No overreaction.  Just mercy and forgiveness.  No one demanded we lock our church up, restricting its use as a sanctuary of prayer.  Not one.  No, we wanted our house of prayer back and accessible as it was before!

It was remarked by more than a few, that there was a palatable difference between the beginning and end of the ceremonies today.  Each remarked how without the Blessed Sacrament in the church, it felt empty.  With the Blessed Sacrament back in it again, it was like a life being breathed back into a lifeless corpse. That makes sense doesn't it?  If The Blessed Sacrament is what we say it is (more specifically what Jesus Himself says it is), then Christ has mounted His throne again at St Clement and we have great joy.

Today reminded my people and myself that Christ heals the brokenhearted. But as in all healings in the Gospels, the story doesn't end with the healing.  No, the rest of the story is finished out with what the person does after the healing.  It is here that the rest of the book is written.  How is it we will make good use of this healing to thrive as a parish who lives fully the Mission of Jesus Christ and His Church?  How do we allow the new life we were given to influence powerfully the parish and community around us?  Seeing as how my parishioners are powerfully gravitating towards mercy, I would say we look to respond well and powerfully to what lies next at St Clement Parish!      

Thursday, July 28, 2016

A Long Good Friday

My Church sits dormant.  It is lifeless.  No sacraments can be celebrated in her right now.  Late Saturday night, she was desecrated.  Her confessional, baptismal font, holy water font, presider's chair, lectern, altar, and tabernacle were smeared with human feces.  The Holy Oils were emptied into the carpet.  Her books used for Mass destroyed.  Her vestments soiled with wine.  Worst of all, the Blessed Sacrament within the tabernacle desecrated with human feces.  My church sits silent.  The fecal matter has been washed away.  The vestments cleaned.  The books replaced.  Like a dead body cleaned for burial, she lies dormant.  The hearts of my parishioners and my own heart hang heavy.  The violation of our Church was a violation of our parish.  It was a violation of our faith.

When I found out about the violation of my parish, I was away.  We were 3 hours away from beginning the second session of the summer camp I run.  3 hours.  My mind raced.  It was too late for me to switch out responsibilities or to cancel. The attack was perfectly timed.  As I was tormented about where to be, the diocese made the decision for me and told me to stay where I was.  At that time I did not know that my church was not allowed to be the place of celebration of the sacraments until the evil that had occurred had been exorcised and made reparation for.  This takes a bishop.  In place of being there, there were flurries of phone calls with parish staff, with law enforcement, with diocesan personnel, and with the media.  It unfolded like a slow moving nightmare. It seemed for 48 hours like every phone call added more hellish details. 

In a conversation with my principal, we had both come independently to the same conclusion: Our parish is in a long Good Friday.  We mourn as did the Blessed Mother and the disciples.  We process the emotions that accompany this desecration. 

For me, the first 48 hours was all about anger.  It was a displaced anger.  I wasn't mad at the woman who had done the damage.  I saw the picture of a lost soul in need of mercy.  It is dangerous and perhaps even sinful to speculate to her motivation.  That is for the civil authorities to discern. I knew that if we as a parish was to stay true to our faith, that we must fight through the anger and tears and find mercy.  My public statements reflected this.  My internal struggles, though, were much more profound.  Why?

Like my parishioners, I felt deeply violated.  The confessional from which I have exercised my priestly ministry of the forgiveness of sins many thousands times over was desecrated.  The baptismal font from which I had baptized 100's over my 7 years as pastor had been desecrated.  The pulpit from which I had preached and instructed on the faith for so many cumulative hours had been desecrated.  The altar from which I had said thousands of masses, from which I had exercised my priestly ministry had been desecrated.  The church in which I had celebrated every major event in my parish; her funerals, weddings, 1st Communions, and ordination..the true parish center of my parish had been willfully desecrated.  The Blessed Sacrament, for which I have tirelessly made present by the grace of God, of whom I have preached for almost 2 decades had been desecrated.  I felt as if I had been gutted.  This violation had engendered deep anger at the situation.  That anger had no where to go.

That is always dangerous.  Displaced anger is a demon looking for a home.  It is our human nature to want to find someone and somewhere to make the focus of the anger.  I already knew that it couldn't be the woman or God.  I knew some in the parish were angry with me, with others, and with the woman.  All were harmful places to deposit the anger as it creates the strife and division that was the desired product of the demonic nature of this attack.  That's when it occurred to me about this being a Good Friday.  It was time for me to take my cues from the that 1st Good Friday.

What was the attitude of Christ from the Cross as His Body was being desecrated and tortured?  What was His attitude as His Blood was poured out and mingled with the earth into which it fell?  "Father, forgive them, they know not what they do."  As I reflected on those words from the Cross of Christ, I knew that not only was this to be the attitude I was to have, but the attitude I would need to press upon my parish family.  In His proclamation from the Cross, Jesus does not condone the evil visited upon Him, rather He asked that the Father not hold those responsible for this against them...for no one would be able to withstand such a judgement. Our attitude as a parish would have to be the same.  Jesus did not allow the evil that was visited upon Him to change Him for the worse.  Neither could we.  This, though, is not going to be easy.  It will be necessary.

When I had the first conversation with my bishop, he very clearly told me to not allow this event to change me or my parish for the worse.  He said this in response to me suggesting that maybe we needed to start locking up the church building for the first time in its existence.  In the past several years, our parish had come along way.  We are just starting to embark on a 3-5 year plan in which the major focus is re-catechesis, helping parents and youth, and evangelization.  In so many ways, we had expunged so much of the devil and his natural charism of division out of our parish.  Saturday night he roared back with a vengeance.  But no more that Satan was able to defeat Jesus at Calvary, will he be able to defeat us unless we allow him.  Our God is more powerful than he.  If our parish had been found worthy to suffer violence for the name of Jesus, then so be it.  For we know, the story doesn't end in the tomb on Good Friday.  Nor does our story end on this long Good Friday either.

Not often does a parish know the hour of its resurrection.  We do.  8 AM on Saturday, our bishop will be with us and exorcise the evil visited upon our Church and to make reparation for that desecration.  We will reclaim what was defiled.  We will, by the grace of God, watch the Holy Spirit breath new life into the dormant and lifeless church building.  We will have Eucharistic Adoration afterwards, as must happen where the Blessed Sacrament has been defiled.  When the time comes at 11 AM, we will punctuate our taking back of our Church building with a Eucharistic Procession which will encircle the outside and inside of the building. After our long Good Friday, we will experience our Easter.

I end with this:  We also know that Easter wasn't the end of the story. The Church, filled with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, was to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ.  By the same token, we are not purging a building for the sake of of merely having a place to celebrate sacraments. These avenues of grace have a purpose: to give us the means necessary to get about the business of the Kingdom.  Archbishop Sample of Portland Oregon reminded his flock a few weeks ago that the Church exists for the salvation of souls.  Given our Church back this Saturday, perhaps we stand our ground to Satan and double down on our commitment to the mission of the Church.   We will be given that chance.  So many churches attacked as of late, especially in Iraq and Syria, will have to spend much more time in their own Good Fridays.  Let us honor them and honor the mission of Jesus Christ Himself, and use this tragedy to  give stronger and bolder witness to Jesus Christ and the power of His mercy and forgiveness!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hate: the Fuel of Tyranny

I did a lot of reading over the last few weeks.  I noticed that the tyrants of the last 100 or so years have needed something to catapult their rise to power: hate.  The communists needed people to hate the wealthy, the middle class, land owners, ethnic minorities, and religion.  They fed the hatred of their target audience until critical mass was reached.  The death toll they mounted climbed into the tens of millions.  The National Socialists needed to incite hate towards Jews, communists, those that defeated Germany in WWI, Slavs, and a whole host of other non-Aryan types.   Their death toll also ran into the tens of millions between genocide and war.  There are other examples, as well,  where those who wanted absolute power incited, nurtured, and even manufactured hate as a way to gain power.

This comes straight from the devil himself.  Satan is the master of division.  He incites it wherever he goes.  To build his kingdom is a process of isolation, division, and conquering.   The devil, while supremely blinded by pride, is no fool.  As one, we cannot be conquered as that union is forged by God.  Divided against each other, though, we can be picked off like the weakest member of a herd until the herd is eventually destroyed.  What separates us from the herd is hate; a turning against the good of the other.  Evil needs us to see each other as the enemy.  As long as we are at each others throats, we are easily conquered.  Every power hungry tyrant know this.  The devil does.  So do his minions.

One of the reasons I fear the coming election is that it is following a pattern we have seen develop and severely deepen. The politics of destruction.  A scorched earth politic that requires pitting one groups of special interest groups against another.  Coalitions of groups are cobbled together to achieve power. They demand we see each other as groups and characterizations rather than human beings. That way we can strip the humanity away and then dispose of the isolated as we wish.  We have been cultivated to hate people based on race, gender, faith, culture, socioeconomic class, orientation, ethnic background, and even area of the country.  We are supposed to see each other as the enemy of my own interest; that you cannot exist with me because you are a threat.  Who shall we dehumanize today?  The unborn, blacks, whites, Muslims, Christians, Jews, the wealthy, the poor, Hispanics, the 1%, Democrats, Republicans, children, men, women?  Who gets to be on the outside looking in?  Who needs to be eliminated at worst and be silenced at best?  Whose liberties and freedoms are we go to strip away?  Who do we sue or legislate out of existence? Who do we make it legal to persecute?  Both political parties are going down very dark roads. 

It is ingrained into our society.  The unborn get dehumanized so we can feel secure with abortion on demand.  Women and children get dehumanized so we can feel okay with human trafficking.  Women and men  of all ages  get dehumanized so we can justify pornography, promiscuity, rape, molestation and a whole host of other sexual misconduct; so we can justify actual slave wages, slavery, and withholding the pay of workers.  We entertain ourselves with death and destruction: movies, tv,  and video games glorify i high death counts and sexualizing entire groups.  Our music, TV, movies, video games (doesn't matter what type, by the way) glory in the hypersexualization of human beings. One by one, sexual taboos fall like dominoes until we manage to justify any and all sexual activity no matter how stomach churning it might seem.  Is it any wonder is such a society drug and alcohol use are what they are?  Anything that makes the inherent pain that division and hate make possible go away for a moment.  All of this requires that I hold you is lesser esteem...that I do not care what happens to you as long as I am satisfied.  It reduces the others happiness as to how well they have pleased me.

The children of this hate are envy,  wrath, and entitlement.  If we see each other as the enemy by virtue of the fact you are not like me then it is permissible to resent anything you have that I don't. to inflict revenge upon you even though you have not done anything personal to me, and it permissible for me to demand that, to make things even, you give me what I want for free.  You owe me because you have a different skin color, belong to a different socioeconomic class, a different religious faith, or a different culture.  If you don't give me for free what I want then it is my right to forcibly take it or destroy what you have!  Ugly isn't it?  The ultimate goal of this hate?  Self-absolution of any and all sins and responsibility for my life choices!  So divided, all we need is a charismatic figure who promises to get what is yours utilizing the apparatus of the government.  Hello Vladimir Lenin!  Hello Adolf Hitler! Hello Mao Tse-tung!  Who shall be the next tyrant in the queue?

What is the antidote to all this hate?  Love.  When I use this word, love, I do not mean what this world means.  The world means an emotion that is stirred becasue you have done something for me.  In the Roman Catholic faith, love is a virtue.  It is a theological virtue furthermore.  What this means is that it is a discipline that needs God's help.  What the virtue of love does is the exact opposite of what the emotion of love does: it helps me see your needs (not wants) and respond in a way so as to look to your good.  This love does not approve of sin and the division it brings.  No, it does look to the good of the person who has committed sin; not seeing the other as an enemy to be isolated, but as human being with which to be united.  Jesus commanded  us to love one another as He loves us.  He then turns around and prays to the Father: May they be one!  This union is not possible without the theological virtue of love!

For this to work, though, there has to be an essential transformation in each person.  Life cannot be about me anymore.  I cannot see the other as not me and hence ripe for whatever I want to do to the person.  I cannot strip the humanity away from anyone regardless of how they are different than me.  I do not have to approve of their choices, but I must recognize that isolation and destruction are not options either.  Love is the bane of tyrants!  If they cannot divide and conquer, they have to do the harder task of telling us positively what they bring to the table.  Unfortunately in so much politics, there is nothing positive being brought.  We must quit rewarding such behavior.  We cannot remain selfish toads and expect any consequence other what we are getting.  We have seen for millennia the consequence of hate.  We know that it doesn't merely not work, but that it exacts a terrible price on whichever populace it enslaves.  Jesus doesn't command us to love because it is nice and sweet.  no, He commands it because it is the only thing that will keep us from self-destruction: as individuals, societies, nations, and as a planet.

Each of us has a choice: to which side shall I contribute?  To that which is able to call upon our better selves or to those who sow fear, hate, and isolation?   Whom we contribute to will either mold a nation fit for destruction or a nation that will unite and be strong.  In a federal republic, such as we live in the USA, we create a government in out own image?  Who is it we wish to be?

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Buffet Must Close

Buffets, the home of comfort food.  Being a bit of a foodie, I avoid buffets.  I am not saying that there isn't filling food there, only that most of the food there has the nutritional value of wax paper.  I refer to most of it as molded salt and fat.  The few healthier options are so cooked within an inch of their existence as to have lost any nutritional value.  But I have seen people load up plates so high there should be snow caps in the tops.  Food isn't the only place these buffets exists.
Media is like a buffet.  Most of the mass produce stuff isn't worth the film or paper it comes on.  They are the mental equivalent of comfort food.  Junk consumed that has no positive effect on its partaker. I am a channel surfer on the few times I watch TV.  I  find most of what is there to be either juvenile, extremely predictable, or crude.  Shock seems to be the new comfort food. The commercials make the shows look like classical art.  Commercials seemingly break into three groups: awful stereotypes selling disposable junk, medications, and lawsuits about the aforementioned medications.  The media sells soul sucking lies meant to to tell you if you consume you will be happy.

The same holds true for the spiritual.  Some time ago, I saw a blog proclaiming the cafeteria was closed.  It was run by a newly minted Catholic agog about his faith.  For awhile the cafeteria was closed until, of course, a dish was served he didn't like and the cafeteria was open for business again.  The dish in question challenged him in an area he did not wished to be challenged, and so it goes.  He certainly isn't the only one by a long shot.  Cafeteria Catholicism, as it is called, has been with us since the beginning.  It is easy to pick and choose what we will believe and not believe.  It is at the heart of every single heresy, every split, and every sin.  When we view the Church as a buffet of many dishes that we can pick and choose what we want, we stray away from the essential call to conversion that is the call of Christ.  When we treat faith as a buffet, we close the Holy Spirit out of sections of our lives by our own choice.

Overcoming this is hard.  The world will encourage us to treat faith as a buffet if we must even pay attention to faith at all.  It will encourage us to mold something comfortable. It will encourage a faith that lets us keep our favorite sins.  However, like a food buffet, it may taste good for the moment but is largely unfulfilling and nutritionally sterile.  There are some dishes it will tell you to stay away from, especially absolutely anything to do with Catholic sexual ethics.  They will tell you it taste nasty; and like a person who loves the taste of junk food, it will.  Real food always taste different than junk food, but it is good for you whereas the junk food isn't.  By the same token, real faith (the kind of faith that brings transformation and growth)  taste different than the society in which we live, but it is good for you and will make you a better person.

Treating faith like a buffet or cafeteria leads to spiritual schizophrenia.  We fall into a compartmentalized existence which will be maddening.  I will allow God in in this area but not that area.  It is also the easiest route to seeing God as a servant who is to come at our beck and call and otherwise leave us alone.  It will also engender resentment against the Church, a deep seat belief that it is the church that much change its teachings to suit the dishes I wish to ignore. This will lead to either an empty faith or a departure from faith.

So, how do we combat this? I would imagine that if people could see what the bad food is doing their bodies they might well stop.  I would imagine a good dose of real knowledge of nutrition paired with an emphasis on self preservation would go a long way.  Sure, some would still chose poorly.  By the same token, knowledge about why we believe what we believe, presuming that what we believe is known, would go a long way as well.  Knowledge about the faith would lead us to a inescapable understanding that all of the teachings of the church are intertwined in a simple dictate: to love God with all our soul, might, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  This divine love is the heart of every single Catholic teaching.  To treat the teachings as a buffet is to say there are places where I do not need to love God, my neighbor, or myself.  Hence, coming to a true knowledge of the faith is important.

Knowledge is not enough on its own.  People might well know that junk food is bad for them and eat it anyway.    The next step in moving away from the cafeteria and buffet is the cultivation of the virtues.  By cultivation, I mean acquiring and using the disciplines necessary to grow in faith.  As love is the mother of all virtue, the selflessness of divine love is the surest and healthiest food available.  As good food and drink can be acquired taste after years of junk food, so selfless love will take some effort after years of the junk food  that is the emotion we call love.

To my brother clerics: we must make these thing available in our parishes.  We must take care that what is being taught in our schools, RCIA programs, PSR/CCD programs and such isn't the intellectual  and spiritual equivalent of cotton candy; but is solid and real food; the truth applied with charity.  Too often we have been like nutritionists who play cashier at the buffet line.  Sometimes we grow weary of trying to teach the truth to shut ears.  Sometimes we don't know what we should know ourselves.  Sometimes we just don't want to be hassled and hide behind the ubiquitous "just follow your conscience " to absolve ourselves of the effort and risk involved in proclaiming the truth.  It is an occupational hazard that some will walk away in anger; they did so to Christ Himself, we cannot imagine being treated better.  I know it's hard, but we must remember that our job isn't to teach them to be nice, but to be holy.  Holiness will require real will require an unapologetic adeherence to truth.

The buffet must close.  It is killing us.  It is emptying out our churches, driving our youth away, driving our men away, and gutting our faith to be little more than empty comfort food.  Pope Benedict XVI once said, "The world offers you comfort. You were not created for comfort, but for greatness."  Greatness will never be found in the buffet line.  Comfort will be found at the buffet line, but greatness will not. Greatness comes from truth, it comes from our willingness to love.  Step away from the buffet and its empty worth and move towards that which will feed you with truth.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Pray that the Lord will Send More Laborers for the Harvest

"And he said to them: The harvest indeed is great, but the labourers are few. Pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he send labourers into his harvest."  Luke 10:2

Being away from my parish for vacation, I did not preach this morning at Mass.  Nonetheless, as this topic is near and dear to my heart, I can't pass up the opportunity to write down what I probably would have said this morning at Sunday Mass, reflecting on this weekend's Sunday Readings.

On my vacation, as we were traveling through Kansas to get to Colorado, we traveled through mile after mile of crop lands, stretching for as far as the eye could see (and well beyond in truth).  Harvesting all of that must be an incredible undertaking.  I wonder if that is what Jesus sees now....tons of fields for harvest...stretching beyond what the eye can see.  Indeed the harvest is great.

So what is the harvest?  What is the purpose of the harvest? The harvest is not just merely human souls, but their faith.  Both the person and their lives.  Every single person who has walked on the face of this planet is supposed to be part of this harvest.  Not all will be.  Some will lives of weeds and not grain.  Jesus tells us this will be collected to be burned.  The end time harvest, of which Jesus speaks in many parables, is when all that belongs to Christ will be eternally gathered to Himself.  Until then, the harvest to be gathered is the faith, love, hope of the People of God and their souls for eternity.

But a harvest is not meant merely to be stored ad infinitum.  Harvest are meant to be used to nourish.  What is nourished is the relationship we are supposed to have with God and one another.  One does not throw love, hope, faith, or souls into a vacuum...they have a directionality.  The virtues, especially the theological virtues are meant to deepen our relationship with God.  God receives these as an act of thanksgiving and in return gives us the supreme grace of His Body and Blood so that more may be harvested.  The harvest is brought here to Church as a thanksgiving sacrifice to God.  He turns that harvest into nourishment which He in turns gives to us.  But, let's be clear, there would be nothing to even harvest if it were not for God Himself who gives us the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love through which we can have something to offer back.

But who are the laborers, then?  That is twofold.  First, you are.  You are the one that brings in your thanksgiving sacrifice here and now in this church.  You bring them and they are handed over to the other laborer, the priest, who collects those offerings and offers them with his own to God.  Do we not pray over the priest "May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands ..." after he has asked "Pray brothers and sister,  that my sacrifice and yours, may be acceptable to God, the Almighty Father."?  We do.  The harvest is brought weekly before our God.  It is offered to Him by His priests.  We are given the great peace offering in return through what the grace of God does as the Eucharistic Prayer unfolds.  

This leads to two further things worth pondering.  First, are each of us doing our part in the harvest.  What thanksgiving offering, harvested from your response to God's call to faith, hope, and love did you bring today?  Simply showing up is not enough, for Exodus 23:15 reminds us that no one shows up before God empty handed.  What are you handing to me to be joined to the thanksgiving sacrifice?  In the Roman Canon I will pray later : "Remember, Lord, your servants and all gathered here, whose faith and devotion are known to you.  For them, we offer you, this sacrifice of praise or they offer it for themselves and all who are dear to them..."  What harvest of faith and devotion are you offering, that is joined to mine and the whole Church?  I can not offer what you do not bring. I cannot offer it if you don't come to offer it.  You must do your part in bringing a harvest of the love, faith, and hope you have shown God and each other.

The second thing to ponder is this: As the Mass is the supreme thanksgiving offering, it is necessary that a priest, who acts in union with the Person of Christ, as the intercessor between God and humanity, brings forth that offering.  He in turn acts in the Person of Christ in providing for the lay faithful that which they cannot provide for themselves: The Body and Blood of Christ; we are given our daily bread and our share in the eternal peace offering of the Cross.  As the number of priests continues to go down in our diocese, it will curtail the availability of this exchange of sacrifices to take place.  Sure, you will still have a harvest of thanksgiving which you may well offer to God, but the other necessary sacrifice goes undone and the life that it gives is withheld.  This priest also has another major job connected with Mass, namely, that He gives us the opportunity to receive God's grace to have that thanksgiving sacrifice  made pure by God's grace through absolution of sin; for mortal sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and for venial sins in the Mass itself.  Without this purification of both ourselves and our offering, we court disaster by bringing God a tainted offering or even a blasphemous offering.  Again, without priests, this is made hard if not impossible.

So, yes, we need to pray that God does send more harvesters in the form of priests because of the work that needs to be done.  The sacramental necessities are far from the only things a priest must do in offering to God what is right and just, but in helping us to understand how to better bring a harvest that is worthy before the Lord. We need to pray that God indeed sends more harvesters, but that those called say yes.  That my friends, in so many areas, is not happening.  God forces His will on no one.  They must answer positively.  The lack of response is deafening.  I was stationed in one of the most Catholic areas of not just our diocese, but of the country, at one time.  This county has failed to produce any priestly vocations for this diocese since the foundation for the diocese...nearly 60 years ago.   While it not their fault entirely that we are in the situation we are in as a diocese, it contributes to a decline in the availability of sacraments in this diocese which will get worse before it gets better...if it gets better.  I am not trying to scare you, only stating what is the reality.  Our willingness to pray and encourage is that important.  

The thanksgiving sacrifice will continue on, but where it continues on is up to our ability to hear, answer affirmatively, and give generously.  Pray, then, as the Lord directs, that more laborers may be sent into the harvest.  Be sure, as well, that you bring a harvest collected from the faith, hope, and love you have shown this week.  Be sure as well, that you sacrifice is not tainted by sinfulness.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Worshiping Rhea: How Our Quest for Ease Will be Our Undoing

Rhea , in Greek mythology, was the mother of the gods.  She was associated with comfort and ease. She had no real cult in the time of the Greco-Roman times, but has certainly found one in today's culture.  Ours is not the first culture to be inebriated with the concept of ease.  The Greco-Roman patrician class was all about comfort.  As was the Mandarin Chinese upper class.  In both cases it made them ripe to be destroyed.   It is probably a sure sign of a civilization in collapse that ease and comfort become the goal; it is introducing a cancer into the civilization.

I grew up with the saying being said over and over again, "Nothing in life worth having comes easy."   This didn't mean we were to work until we dropped, but that nothing was ever going to be gained by being a spectator in life.  Ease and comfort could be a good bi-product of hard work, but were to never to be the goal in and of itself.  The nanosecond hard work is frowned upon, a fixation with the trivial with arise in its place.  In that fixation, we become ripe for destruction.

We can see this is society.  Comfort and ease are gods.  Manufacturers, for decades, have strove to make our lives easier and convenient.  It is not a bad intent.  However, to make things easier means that things are not made as well and are largely disposable.  I think back to when I was boy: milk and soda came in reusable glass bottles.  Clothes were line dried.  Very few places had AC.  We used the car when things were not in walking distance (anything over 3 or 4 miles), otherwise we walked or rode our bikes.  Plastic bags were rare, paper bags , which could be used for a multitude of other things and were re-used for shopping again, were the norm.  With all that, less garbage was generated, less energy used, and less chemicals consumed.  Many had vegetable gardens and knew how to grow, can, and preserve their own food.  We were in better shape.  Obesity was rare.  We knew our neighbors and neighborhoods.  I'm not saying there were not problems.  There were.  But now out waste dumps teem with mountains of garbage, we are at the mercy of the food distribution apparatus in our country,  we are isolated behind our front doors and our e-life.  All because ease and convenience became the touchstone of American life.

Ease isn't enough.  The more we worship ease the more it permeates into our lives.  Notice how everything has to be free?  We want everything free!  We want our education, food, housing, clothing, healthcare, and every other single aspect of life for free.  In our country, we have that apparatus in place,  Politicians promise more and more every election cycle.  Over the last several decades it has been like a slow drip IV of cancer introduced into the American psyche.  It is never enough.  The worship of ease will be our undoing as a country.  As it did for the patrician classes and their empires in centuries past, so it will do for us as well: it will lead to our destruction.

Why?  Because the whole enterprise of ease and comfort as an end comes from the deadly sins of pride, sloth, and later greed and gluttony.  Pride, because the whole enterprise has a large degree of selfishness necessary to become so self-consumed that it is everyone else's job to sate me.  The focus is personal comfort.  In this, the person must first focus on the self.  Sloth, because in our pride we believe that effort is not necessary, the natural child of sloth is entitlement.  It is the warping of love: in the theological virtue of love we make the other the focus of our effort, in sloth we make ourselves the focus of other people'e effort.  This toxic combination lead to the birth of an insatiable greed and gluttony.  I am owed!!!!  I didn't develop job skills worth anything. I didn't take education seriously.  But, by the damned, I want to be paid for whatever measly labor I wish to give as if I did these things.  It leads the presupposition that those who have, have because they stole it from me.   Hence envy is brought into our lives.  It becomes the  monster that devastates not just society, but every institution within that society.

Look at what it has done to our families.  It destroys marriage.  If I come into a marriage believing that the job of my spouse is to make me happy, I have stabbed the heart of the marriage from the beginning.  When both spouses believe this, it is the death knell of their union.  In families, it seeps into a belief that the role of the children is to make mom and dad proud; to make it easy for them to provide.  What happens in a marathon of activities in which the child is rushed from one thing to another.  As children want to please parents they play along.  It isn't to the good of the child though. The toxic stew fed them becomes the toxic stew they feed their children. The children, in turn, believe that mom and dad are little more than taxi driver and butlers whose job it is to cater to their every desire.

Nowhere, though, has the worship of comfort and ease been so devastating as to our faith and spirituality.  Before I go much further, I wish to say that the answer is not going to be Pelangianism, a early heresy that taught we could essentially earn our way into heaven by a tough regimen of prayer, mortifications, and works.  This was condemned very early on in Christianity.  The heresy arose in the belief that God's grace was unnecessary.  God's grace is very necessary, but to the person who worships comfort and ease, God's grace will be vilified or redefined so as to slip into the great modern heresy of universalism, a heresy by which everyone effortlessly makes it to heaven...a heaven which is defined by its perpetual self-indulgence...where God is little more than a supernatural butler who lives to please me.  The more one worships ease and comfort, the more one will resent the very concept of God.  It is no wonder that as our society grows in its worship of ease and comfort, the more it grows into a deep antipathy to God...especially the Judeo-Christian God.  The more ease and comfort become gods, the faster our houses of worship will empty out.

This is a tacit awareness though of truth.  Truth is that concupiscence (the desire to sin) makes life difficult.  It is concupiscence that drives us to seek ease and comfort as an end.  Concupiscence leads us to cultivate vice.  Vice is all about ease and comfort.  Why learn to love when one can more easily lust?  Why learn generosity when it is much easier to be greedy? The list goes on.  Our Christian faith is not easy because it means answering God's grace and using it to cultivate virtue.  Virtue looks to put concupiscence in its place and so order the goods of sexuality, nourishment, ease in their proper perspective.  Virtue, though, is about restraining the passions.  That is not easy.  Christianity demands we look beyond ourselves and learn to love others.  In this we seek not to be the object of comfort, but be the means of comfort to others.  We do not seek for others to make my life easier, but for me to make other people's lives easier.  Relationships no longer become what can you do for me, but what can I do for you.

This includes the relationship with God Himself.  Modern faith has been largely defined by a wish for a convenient God.  We want God  to be the bellhop who shows up when summoned.  We want the God that we can find anywhere convenient to our lifestyles.  Prefer fishing and hunting to church?  No problem!  We'll just say we find God in nature and then make a snarky comment about Church to assuage our guilt about being spiritually slothful. Prefer partying and living it up to Church?  No problem!  We'll just say God (if there is God) loves me just as I am and then making a snarky comment about church goers to mask any twinge of guilt I feel about knowingly rejecting God.  This by no means  is to reduce the entirety of faith to going to Church; in fact we do what we do in Church (especially as Catholics) is necessary because of how we are to act for the rest of the week.  The relationship with God cannot be reduced to an hour a week...however that hour a week is as necessary to the development of the relationship with God as eating is to the development of our bodies.  We cannot cultivate the Godly by ignoring the God who is its source.  If Mass is such an imposition to the person, then ease and comfort have completed their stranglehold on the person's soul!

Our faith is an answer to God.  Our lack of faith is an answer to God.  The answer we make to God determines our  eternal fate.  Those who presume heaven to be a right will most certainly find hell their fate.  Those who worship ease and comfort will be denied it for eternity.  Those who were willing to allow the grace of God and their actions to cultivate virtue and relationship with God will find the eternal comfort of heaven.  Ironic isn't it?

In the physical realm, if we want good health and strength, it will come through discipline.  We will have to exercise and eat correctly.  If we fail to do so, believing that sitting on our rear ends and playing video games, watching TV, and eat bad food and believing we will be physically fine will not shield us from bad health.  In the mental realm, if we want to be smarter, that means study and the consumption of intellectual stimuli that will stretch our intelligence. Again, it is a discipline. If we believe merely watching TV and reading junk fiction (like books about glittering vampires as an example) we will grow wiser, then we will find it unable to stem our ignorance on the things that matter.  Remember, tyranny counts on ignorance.  So to in the spiritual realm.  Discipline is necessary. If we truly want heaven, then what we cultivate here and now, vice or virtue, will determine that fate.  God tells us what He wants; for us to love, have faith, build relationship, be holy.  He gave us the Scriptures and the Church so we could know.  It is not as if we have to wonder.  Of course if we cut ourselves off from the Church or reduce the learning of our faith to a relative few years when we are young (unless something more important came leisure activities), then we will not only have to wonder, but will be ripe to be destroyed.  Submission of our wills to God's is hard work, but He gives us His grace to do it.  God will neither do everything for us as we sit back nor will He demand we do it on our own.

If we are to ever recapture greatness, it will be by cultivating virtue. Vice cultivates isolation.  Virtue cultivates relationship.  Vice turns inward.  Virtue turns outward.  Ease and comfort can not be ends in and of themselves.  No, they are the natural byproduct of virtue, as is self-esteem.  So, to my reader, get off your rear end and do the hard work of cultivating virtue, in the mental, physical, and spiritual realms.  The camp I run is all about cultivating virtue.  Pope Benedict XVI once said, "The world offers you comfort.  You were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness!"  Greatness is never achieved by those who worship ease and comfort.