Monthly Archives: April 2023

Want a Better World? Start with “what does ‘better’ mean?

Dear Folks,

This is the second of a series of articles on building a less violent world. If we want a better world, we need to have an idea of what “better” means. You may think this is obvious, but I challenge you to think again. What seems obviously true to me might seem obviously false to someone else.

The book “Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong” by William Kilpatrick tells of values clarification in some school programs, where they teach children to form their own value system. He mentioned how shocked teachers were by the value systems they came up with.

“The Abolition of Man” by C. S. Lewis describes how, back in the 1940’s, people were already working to deconstruct our value system without considering the results (“They laugh at honor

and are shocked to find traitors in their midst”). Since then things have gotten stranger.

Imagine a society where most people have a fuzzy, undefined, inconsistent view of right and wrong, and when something happens that feels wrong to them, they scream, and if they can get

enough people to scream with them, they can dominate the conversation. Now stop imagining, because I think we have arrived. Why are we surprised that such a society has so much violence? If people excuse violence when they are sympathetic to the cause, why should they be surprised that people will use violence on the other side? If we believe in standards of behavior, it needs to be consistent with our allies and our opponents. It is easy to call out our opponents; it is more important to call out our allies and remind them they are hurting the cause.

When we disagree and are angry, we need to reject violence. We need to reject name calling. If we need to avoid reading people’s hearts, and saying because they disagree with us, they don’t

care about goodness. If we are frustrated that they reject our position, we need to make a better case for our position. We may think we’ve made a good enough case to convince any

reasonable person, but they clearly don’t think so. We can insult the other people, or we can make a better case. We need to do things that will move the conversation forward.

So often we see people talking past each other. When I see someone saying, “I long for a country where people love their children more than their guns.” I know that moves us away

from anything constructive. The very people they most want to convince are going to read that and say, “they have not even tried to understand our point of view. We need guns to protect our

children.” On the other hand, simply posting, “What part of ‘shall not be infringed’ don’t you understand?” is not going to help. It reinforces their opponents’ belief that they don’t care about

stopping violence. Wouldn’t it be so much more helpful to make a better case, that our proposed solution would actually make things better. Once again, it may seem obvious to us, but the opposite might be obvious to other intelligent people of good will. Our reasoning seems to us to be more reasonable, but we all have an unconscious thumb on the scale pushing us in that

direction. It will take much patient, persistent work to develop common messages about behaviors that build a better society.

Imagine a society where parents, teachers, entertainers, political leaders, and church leaders all reinforced a common message to reject violence and destruction to make our points, to build

constructive and respectful dialog, to value growing in virtue over gratifying desire, to value problem solving over complaining, and to respect the law and law enforcement? Would that be

a less violent society?


Fr. Jim

From Cain and Abel to a More Peaceful World

Dear Folks,

As we celebrate the Easter season, we remember it is a time of new hope and new possibilities. As we read Acts of the Apostles, we see things happening that the early Christians would not have thought possible at first.

There is so much violence in our world. I sure would like for there to be less. When there is a particularly horrific incident it will often dominate the news for a while. Then different people will repeat their usual talking points. Various groups will talk past each other, and then nothing changes. I think we could do better. Short term, we can harden targets and make them less vulnerable. The deeper solution is not being so good at creating savages.

We have to have a less violent culture, a more peaceful culture, or no law can save us, and civilization itself is in the balance. I think there are some concrete things we can do. We have to decide what kind of people we want to be. It would involve looking at our own behavior (let none of us assume we are guiltless). It will involve what kind of messages that we send, and what kind of messages we encourage (calling out people on our side would likely be more effective than calling out our opponents; the other side is easy to dismiss). It will require considerable thought on how we as a society encourage good behaviors and discourage bad behaviors.

Particular issues would include:

• Support law enforcement, and value law and order.

• Build a strong sense of right and wrong.

• Combat fatherlessness.

• Stop talking past each other.

• Don’t condemn or demean our opponents; make a better case for our position.

• Keep our feelings and thoughts in perspective: just because I’m angry about something important doesn’t give me license to be destructive. Just because my cause is right doesn’t mean I have license to be destructive. We can work toward a better world, but we can’t expect to fix everything in our time. Building a better world is an intergenerational project.

• Build empathy, especially with people who see things differently, and reject objectifying groups or individuals. Avoid ridiculing people we disagree with.

• Reject using others’ behavior as an excuse to misbehave ourselves.

• Have the same standard of behavior for those we agree with and those we don’t; not condemn destruction when we disagree with their cause, and condone or dismiss it when we agree with the cause.

• Value growing in virtue over gratifying desire.

• Have some serious humility about how much we understand and how much we don’t: maybe even people we disagree with have some things to teach us.

In the weeks to come I’ll try to expand on these issues. I hope it may stimulate some thought and some discussion. Civilizations do rise and fall, but when they fall, it causes much suffering. It would be worth a lot to keep ours going.


Fr. Jim

Abandon all Hopelessness

This is Easter!

“Christ’s resurrection was not a return to earthly life, as was the case with the raisings from the dead that he had performed before Easter: Jairus’ daughter, the young man of Naim, and Lazarus. These actions were miraculous events, but the persons miraculously raised returned by Jesus’ power to ordinary earthly life. At some particular moment they would die again. Christ’s resurrection is essentially different. In his risen body he passes from the state of death to another life beyond time and space. At Jesus’ resurrection his body is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit: he shares the divine life in his glorious state, so that St. Paul can say that Christ is “the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:35-50). (Catechism of the Catholic Church #646).”

We humans tend to think that the best we can hope for is more of the same, but a little nicer. Many eastern religions envision an eternal cycle of reincarnation, and the best that you could hope for is being reincarnated in a higher caste, and there was always a chance that you could be reincarnated as a dung beetle. On rare occasions, television and movies would give some vision of heaven, not intending it be serious, of course, but what you’d see is pretty pathetic. In fairness, one could never do justice to heaven in a movie, not only our technology but our minds are far too feeble for such a task.

Part of having faith in God is trusting Him to keep His promises, including the promises we don’t completely understand and that He will not disappoint those who hope in Him.

In my office I have a sign that says, “Abandon all hopelessness, ye who enter here.” The greater our faith, the more we can endure the world disappointing us, because the One in whom we trust will come through. The less we trust the world to make us happy, the more we trust in God, the more we can endure the world failing us, whether in the form of other people, including people in the Church, our government, our society, our families, our health, our money, even our own wills (I continue to be a sinner, and much as the devil would like me to give up, God invites me to keep trying to be faithful). We still have to grieve loss; our faith does not make it easy but does prevent us from giving up. Jesus received the full force of the evil in the world and emerged triumphant. He can conquer the evils that threaten and attack us. During Easter we are called to celebrate. As we fasted and did penance during Lent, so we feast during Easter. Our goal, of course, is not just partying for partying’s sake (though it is a good thing) but witnessing to the world our joy in God’s great victory over evil. We also seek to deepen our confidence in the Jesus’ victory, so we can live as victorious people. We will read a lot of Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. We think of Acts as the sequel to the Gospel of Luke and the history of the early Church. It is also about how people act when they believe in the power of the resurrection. They were a tiny group, had few resources, and were surrounded by a very hostile culture. No one could stop




Fr. Jim

The Holiest Week

Dear Folks,

Today we begin Holy Week. Holy Week is the super bowl of the Catholic faith, and we get to the center of the Christian story. It begins with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the last

supper, the crucifixion, the time in the tomb, and the resurrection. Everything before this is leading up to this, and everything after this is because of this. During this week we try, as much as we possibly can, to avoid other meetings and other projects so that we can focus on this, our central mystery.

It begins with Palm Sunday. Jesus comes into His city as a triumphant king amid hosannas, but humbly, on a donkey instead of a mighty horse. We bless palms to be used throughout the year,

a sign of praise to Jesus, and for next Ash Wednesday we will burn them, a reminder of the fragility of our devotion (how quickly humans can go from “Hosanna” to “Crucify Him”). We

read the passion narrative from the Gospel for the year (this year, of course, is Matthew).

On Tuesday at the Cathedral, we will celebrate the Chrism Mass. Traditionally this was done on Holy Thursday morning, but it is celebrated on Tuesday evening so that more people can

participate. Even so, we can only have a cathedral full of people attending (as a priest, I get an automatic seat; it’s one of the perks of being a priest). We will bless the holy oils we use throughout the year. We have three holy oils (Don’t let anyone tell you they are WD40, 10W30, and Oil of Olay: that is not true). The oil of the sick is a sign of God’s healing, and is used for anointing the sick, and I keep a small container of it in my car just in case. The oil of

catechumens is a sign of God’s strength to fight evil and is used for people preparing for baptism. The Sacred Chrism is the holiest of the oils and is a mixture of olive oil and balsam perfume. It is a sign of the Holy Spirit, and is used at baptism, confirmation and the ordination of priests. During the Chrism Mass, the priests renew their priestly commitment, and the bishop reminds the people that priests need lots of prayers (he is not wrong).

On Holy Thursday we begin the Triduum, and that is one celebration that takes place over three days. It begins with Mass of the Lord’s Supper, celebrating the institution of the Eucharist, as

well as the institution of the priesthood. The Gospel is the washing of feet, and often the celebrant washes people’s feet at Mass. After the prayer after communion, we usually have a procession with the Blessed Sacrament, place it in a reserve chapel, adore Him, and leave in silence (don’t forget the silence). We don’t have a closing blessing because the liturgy does not end; it simply pauses until the next day.

Good Friday is the one day of the year we don’t have Mass. We begin in silence. We read the passion narrative from the Gospel of John. We have solemn intercessions. We show special respect and affection for the cross upon which Jesus won our salvation. We have a communion service with hosts that were consecrated on the previous day. We depart in silence. Then on Saturday we have the Easter vigil. By Church law it begins after sundown. I shall not

describe it; one should witness it, if at all possible. It’s the greatest night of the year.

I encourage as strongly as possible, for everyone to attend to Holy Week as best as their situation allows. What we celebrate is the center of everything.


Fr. Jim