Category Archives: America

Prophet Priest and King

Dear Folks,

In “Sign of Contradiction” by Pope John Paul II, he speaks of the three “munera” (offices, functions, duties) of Christ: to teach, to sanctify, and to rule. “Christ is alive in the Church as prophet, priest and king, thanks to the share in these functions enjoyed by the whole people of God” (Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 10-12; 31).

As prophet we are called to witness to the truth according to our own vocation. He emphasizes that people have a right to the truth, and many forces seek to deny it to us. He speaks about how the world will often manipulate the truth by disseminating some aspects and suppressing others (He said this in 1976; I wonder what he would say now). If we are going to proclaim the truth effectively in this complex world, Jesus’ advice that we be “cunning as serpents and innocent as doves” (See Matt 10:16) is as relevant as ever.

I have spoken a great deal about exercising the priestly function, offering our work and ourselves to the Father united with Jesus’ gift of Self. Also, we consecrate the world by praying for it and by work that develops creation so that it better helps people and show His glory.

The regal function requires special attention. How are Christians called to exercise leadership in the world without “forcing our religion on others” (an accusation frequently and often carelessly made)?

All laws and all governments are forcing certain practices on people based on some idea of what is right and what is wrong. People with little sense of history and philosophy often presume their basic ideas of right and wrong objective and obvious to everyone (and have always been), so that they can boldly assert and expect everyone else to recognize them, as well as condemn people in the past for not practicing them. They then believe that other ideas are biased and irrational, and if they are put forward by a Christian, they are religious beliefs and have no place in public policy. However, many of their ideas were not accepted or even heard of for much of human history. A strong case can be made that many of the moral beliefs that are now taken for granted would not be with us if it were not for the work of Christians. The notion that the life of a peasant is sacred in the same way as the life of an aristocrat or even the emperor would have seemed like madness in most of the ancient world. It was the Judeo – Christian tradition that made possible what was later incorporated into the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights … include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Christianity gets much criticism for not immediately abolishing slavery, as if it should have been obvious from the beginning. However, the notion that slavery was wrong pretty much did not exist until it percolated up from Christian thought. Of course, overturning millennia of human practice did not happen quickly or easily. It required many years of persuasion, but they could not persuade everyone. A pivotal moment in persuasion was when “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was written by the Christian woman Harriet Beecher Stowe. It aroused empathy for slaves, showed the horror of their situation, and shifted the conversation. It was not definitive, however. In the Civil War, they overpowered the forces that were pro-choice on slave holding, and those who profited from the slave industry lost power. Perhaps when slavery was abolished it became possible for more people to believe that society could work without this “peculiar institution.”

I have much more to say, but it will have to wait. How will history look back on Christians today? I hope it will show us tirelessly pushing to protect the lives, the dignity, and the rights of all people. We shall see.

Blessings,

Fr Jim

Pentecost and Peacemaking

Dear Folks,

This is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit, and the birthday of the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit came and brought people together, breaking down barriers between people, and enabling them to have relationships. This is a path to peace. This is the path to peace.

With the recent shooting that was in the news, I think it is good to talk about some violence in our society. There has been so much lately, such increases in different kinds of violence and cruelty, from shootings to rioting, to assaulting people on the subway, to suicide. What has caused this? I think as a society we need to put our collective energy behind building some values, some norms, and some habits.

On is empathy, an awareness and attentiveness to the state of another person. Often, we are focused on how things affect us, but deep awareness of what’s happening in others is precious.

This is built in good relationships, interacting sharing, and working together (texting is not enough). Essential is good fathering and good mothering. Could we agree that fathering and mothering are crucial, heroic vocations that should be honored and celebrated? Could we work to develop respect for people when we disagree, and try to understand them rather than insult them? This requires recognizing that the way things look to us in not always how they look to others, and we can’t just demand they see things our way.

Humans have a desperate need for agency. I have observed that we humans have a real need to make a mark in the world, ideally to do great and noble things, but if we feel we cannot, it is easy to make a mark by being destructive. We must nurture the potential greatness in each person, so they can see themselves as heroes and not victims. We must build the fortitude to keep going when that road gets harder than expected (which it will). We must focus on strategy and tactics for making changes large and small.

We need reverence for boundaries. Because we think we are right does not give us the license to use tactics that we would condemn in the other side (they think they are right too). We must measure violence by those on our side with the same scale we measure violence by our opponents. We need support and for law enforcement and consistent enforcement of laws.

Some people have been proposing what they consider the solution, and berating those who do not agree. They do not make a case for their solution but seem to presume it is obviously the thing to do, and they say that those who don’t follow their plan do not care and do not love children. I think this is the exact opposite of what we need. What if there are intelligent people of good will who do care very much, but believe that this proposed solution will not help, but will in fact do harm? This approach is guaranteed to fail. It completely neglects to look at other people’s point of view. It makes both sides feel more helpless and pushes people farther apart. No amount of browbeating is going to make me accept a solution that I think will just make things worse. Let people make a case for their proposed solution, recognizing that their other side has their case too. We need to go through how it would be implemented in practice. We need to recognize that we are all biased in favor of our own arguments, and we need to work harder on making our case than we think we do.

As a Christian, I believe that the starting point is Jesus, and I highly (very highly) recommend getting to know Jesus better. However, if anything I’ve said resonates with you, my efforts have not been wasted. Let’s move the conversation forward. Let’s make the situation better.

Blessings,

Fr. Jim

Subjects of Christ the King

Dear Folks,
This is the Feast of Christ the King. Jesus reigns over all, and His authority is greater than any nation or any government. What does that mean for us?
We are not in the business of imposing our religion on others, even though some may accuse us of it. We are, however, in the business of helping other people, especially those that are most vulnerable and most hurting. This must sometimes include advocacy when human rights and human dignity are under attack. Some say that when we refuse to participate in things that we think are wrong or refuse to support wrong behavior, we are forcing their beliefs on others.
Some say that when we are speaking up for human rights, we are imposing Catholic beliefs. No, we are being good citizens. The conscience formed by Christianity has as much right to be in the public discussion as any other kind of conscience.
The letter to Titus is advice to a bishop, and says, “Remind them to be under control of
magistrates and authorities, to be obedient, to be open to every good enterprise (Titus 3:1).” Historically, the early Christians were good citizens of the countries in which they lived and were careful to obey the laws until the laws required them to be disobedient to God in the slightest way, and then they would refuse even under threat of death. St. Thomas More, when about to be beheaded, said, “I die the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” He followed the law of England to the letter, until it meant disobeying God, and then he would not budge.
Many point to the bad things done by Church leaders in the present and the past. Most of those are done contrary to the teaching of the faith, and that just calls for holding more closely to the faith now.
There have been times when official Catholic practice has involved bad things. This is often because our understanding of what is good and right has been getting refined over time. There was a time it would have been unheard of to suggest that someone has a right to express wrong ideas on matters of importance. The maxim was, “error has no rights” and it seemed intuitively obvious. Only after centuries of reflection did people start to say that even if error has no rights, people who err have rights, and we should counter bad ideas with more good ideas, not legal sanction or punishment. Ironically, the Catholic Church has gone from being accused of stifling
free thought to people clamoring for censorship of many Catholic beliefs for being “hateful” and “(fill-in-the-blank) phobia.”
Some say that, on balance, the Catholic Church has done more harm than good. I would suggest that narrative has been a prejudice that has led to some slanted history. Now we are starting to see that narrative challenged. I would recommend “How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization” to get started.
We are very glad to learn about when the Church stood up for human rights and human dignity in the past, and sad for those who did not speak up when there was need. Let us live so that people can say of us that we were good American citizens, and servants of God first.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Blessed Father Michael McGivney’s work

Dear Folks,

This Friday, August 13, we celebrate the feast day of Blessed Michael McGivney, parish
priest. He lived from 1852 to 1890, and those were difficult days to be Catholic. Many
were poor immigrants, and in those days, there were signs on businesses that said, “Irish
need not apply.” Italians were discriminated against as well. Many had to take the most
dangerous jobs in mines, railroads, and factories, and if a man who was husband, father and
breadwinner died on the job, there was no provision for the widow and children. It is easy
to imagine many families in dire straits.

The Ku Klux Klan was very powerful in the south, though it had reach up north as well
(we remember that they burned a cross on St. Charles’ lawn in 1924). There were various
other secret organizations, not necessarily violent, but many had beliefs and practices
contrary to Catholic principles. Many Catholic men, feeling hemmed in, were sorely
tempted to join one.

During these years, alcohol consumption was at its historical peak. Many, working in soulcrushingly tedious, meaningless, and stressful jobs in factories, would go to the taverns on
Friday, spend the rent and grocery money, and come home and beat up their wives. This is
how the temperance movement began. There was a great need for men to gather to
encourage each other in virtue and support each other emotionally and spiritually. There
was a great need to promote a positive vision of Catholic manhood.

To make a (very) long story (very) short, Fr. McGivney met with 24 Catholic men in the
basement of St. Mary’s Church in New Haven, Connecticut, and founded the Knights of
Columbus. In 2016, there were almost 2 million members who contributed more than 177
million dollars in charity and more than 75 million hours of charity.

Fr. McGivney died at age 38, having been a priest for only 13 years. I remember what I was
like after 13 years of priesthood, and with the skill level I had then, I could no more have
formed a such an organization than I could have jumped to Jupiter. What Fr. McGivney
had accomplished in such a short time leaves me awestruck. Not only that, he was also
known for his great compassion in helping those in need, and wonderful dealing with
troubled souls. He was beatified in 2020, and many are praying for his canonization.

If you want to learn more, there is an interesting book called: “Parish Priest: Father
Michael McGivney and American Catholicism” by Douglas Brinkley and Julie Fenster.
Don’t forget the prayer service Friday August 13 at 6:30 pm at St. Charles.

Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Children in the Ancient World

Dear Folks,
This week we talk about the testing of Abraham, in which God tells him to sacrifice his son,
his only son, the son whom he loves. There is a lot to be said about this, but many people
ask how could Abraham do this? Why would he believe that God wanted him to do such a
terrible thing? It is important to remember that in Abraham’s time, what God was asking
was not at all unusual. It was very common for people to sacrifice their first-born sons to
Moloch, presumably in the hopes that they would get more children. What was remarkable
at the time was not that God demanded such a thing, but that He stopped it. What was
remarkable at the time about Abraham’s response was that Isaac was the son of his old age,
and it was a miracle (literally) that he was there at all. It was an incredible act of faith.
We tend to think that moral principles that seem obvious to us have always been obvious to
everyone, but much of what we take for granted had to be learned and developed over
time. In the Old Testament we see gradual development of thought. The Hebrews started
out being very like the people around them (as could be expected), and God lead them
along with more refined principles. It is easy now to look down on the notion of an eye for
an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but we remember it was a big step up. In Genesis 4:24,
Lamech says he will be avenged “seventy-seven times.”
God had to include in the Law of Moses “You shall not offer any of your offspring for
immolation to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord (Leviticus
18:21).” It was not something that could be taken for granted. And it was not always
followed (2 Kings 3:27, 16:3, 17:17, 21:6. See Isaiah 57:5; Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35;
Ezekiel 20:26,31; Ezekiel 23:37). It is amazing how often that comes up.
Offering the first fruits of one’s produce to God is a Biblical concept (e.g. Exodus
34:26). The first-male of the livestock were to be offered, and the first-born sons were to be
consecrated and redeemed (Exodus 13:1-16). The presentation of Jesus in the Temple
(Luke 2:22-39) was in fulfillment of this command. The problem is when people see their
children more like products or possessions than people.
I once had a conversation with a woman in which we were discussing the ancient Aztec
practice of offering human sacrifice, cutting their still beating hearts out of their chests and
offering them to their god. She said that she couldn’t understand how people could do that,
that there would be something inside them that would say no. I said that we humans have
quite an ability to accept all sorts of things and mentioned how many abortions there were
every year. She said, “Oh, you’re against abortion? I’m not. We won’t talk about it.” I
didn’t push it, but I figured that she had definitively refuted her idea. We can be led to
accept anything if we are not careful (and perhaps even if we are).
Looking at history, there have been many times societies have set apart groups of human
beings as not worthy of respect, dignity, or empathy. The danger of this can hardly be
overstated. During our journey of Lent, perhaps we should be reflecting on how that works,
and how that might be happening now.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Sheep in the Midst of Wolves

Dear Folks,
“Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd (clever/cunning/
crafty) as serpents and simple (innocent) as doves (Matthew 10:16).” The greater the evil
that we fight, the more important to hold ourselves to a higher standard of behavior. On
Amazon I saw a book called “In Defense of Looting” that apparently suggested that looting
was an effective tactic of protest. (Wasn’t Amazon the group that de-platformed Parler?
But they allow this?) If we say that our tactics are justified because our cause is so right and
just, we want to remember that Everyone’s cause is right and just in their minds, and those
tactics may be used for causes we don’t approve of. Many have pointed to those who
defended the rioting last summer as making it easier for others to believe they should break
into the capital. I highly recommend Ann Garrido’s book “Redeeming Conflict.” Her habit

4 is “Undo the knot of intention.” Good intentions do not guarantee good actions. The

scribes and Pharisees who opposed Jesus certainly thought of themselves as the good guys,
but they lacked self-reflection. They had a mighty lens for seeing any hint of fault in
others, but were blind to their own shortcomings, or dismissed them because they
considered themselves so good.
Of course, the Bible has some helpful stuff. Ephesians 4: 26 “Be angry but do not sin; do
not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.” James 1:19-20
reminds us to be “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath” and that our wrath “does not
fulfill the righteousness of God.” Matthew 12:36: “You shall be held accountable for every
idle word that you utter.” When we are about to say something or type something, imagine
talking with Jesus on the last day and explaining how this comment is serving the kingdom
and showing His goodness. Jesus was sometimes fierce, but He wasn’t mean for the sake of
being mean, no matter how much someone deserved it. Jesus was very angry in Matthew
23, but he didn’t stay there; he moved to sadness and mourning for Jerusalem. Then He
went to work.
In Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” he says, “In any nonviolent
campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices
are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.” He knew that their efforts needed
to be based on facts that would stand up to skeptical scrutiny. He did not just grab a few
tidbits of information that seemed to support his narrative. He describes their purification
like this: “We started having workshops on nonviolence and repeatedly asked ourselves the
questions, ‘Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?’ and ‘Are you able to endure
the ordeals of jail?’” This was disciplined and they held themselves to a very high
standard. They showed their power not with physical force but by imitating Jesus.
After the murder of George Floyd, there was a lot of consensus in this country, and a great
moment to have some serious conversation about how to prevent such things in the future.
There could have been serious steps taken so people could be confident that when they
interact with the police their lives would be protected and their dignity respected, as well as
the police being confident that if they do their jobs wrong there will be consequences and if
they do their jobs right their superiors and the community will stand by them. Then there
were riots night after night. The country was divided, and the moment was thrown away.
That may be the greatest tragedy of all.
I think we can heal as a nation. It will take a lot of self-examination. It will take many
deciding to look beyond their anger at what is wrong, to some well thought out strategies
for solving problems. It will require being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Refusing to Hear

won't hear

Dear Folks,
Now we are past Matthew 10 and are into Matthew 11. Chapter 10 was about being attacked by those who did not want to hear the Gospel. Chapter 11 challenges people unwilling to hear the Gospel. In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of things revealed to the childlike that have been hidden from the learned and the clever. The Dunning-Kruger effect is about people who know the least being the most likely to overestimate how much they know. I think sometimes one of the biggest obstacles to learning is the assumption that we already know. I think that one of the marks of a good education is a frustration with how much we don’t know. There has been much debate about what Jesus means when He speaks of becoming like a little child (See Matthew 18:1-5). It is certainly a call for humility. I would also suggest that children are so often wonderfully curious. I’ve noticed they take in a lot of what is around them (I was warned not to say anything around them that I don’t want to hear repeated). Perhaps one of the things that Jesus calls us to is hungrily soaking up what we can about being disciples.
Next week we will get into Matthew 13. This chapter is packed with parables, and some might be more familiar than others. It is worth reading as a chunk, and then pondering the
point Jesus makes in verses 51 and 52.
As we continue to open up after the lockdown, we shall continue to refine our practices based on experience and based on changing directives as they change.
There has been some discussion of streaming the Mass less often, and by the end of July the thought is to stream perhaps one weekday Mass each week for shut-ins. We are trying to
strike the balance between reaching as many people as possible on the one hand, and avoiding defining down the practice of the faith on the other. Some of you remember when there was no Saturday night Mass. It was added with a view to giving access to those whose work schedule on Sunday did not allow them to get to Mass, and they could at least come to the vigil. However, what wound up happening is many people come on Saturday evening so they can sleep in and lounge around the house in their bathrobe on Sunday. People have actually told me that this is what they do. The Lord’s Day has now become their personal
day. What was supposed to help people connect to the Lord’s Day has now diminished the meaning of the Lord’s Day for many people. We want to avoid doing that again.
Of course, this is 2020, and all plans are subject to change when our situation changes and we learn new things. This is Fourth of July weekend, and a good time to remember that, whatever difficulties our country may be going through, whatever flaws in our practice of the American ideals, we are very blessed to have this country. It is important to remember how many people have
sacrificed so that we could have these blessings, and may that inspire us to use the gifts we have to pass this country on to the next generation in the best possible shape.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

July 4th and Tug of War

As we celebrate the forming of our nation, I’ve been reflecting over the principles upon which we were founded.  One of the underlying ideas is the limited wisdom and trustworthiness of any one person. This is why we were set up with checks and balances, and freedom to express ourselves, even if our ideas are unpopular.  This allows there to be a free exchange of ideas, and if we are wrong, there are countervoices to help bring us, or perhaps the community, closer to the truth. It is hard work. It requires patience and persistence. It require enough humility to accept that we do not see all truth ourselves, and some people we can’t stand might even have something to teach us.  These virtues are key to the American way of life. This tug of war of ideas can lead to deeper truth and understanding than we can achieve on our own.

In 1924 the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross on the lawn of St. Charles’ church. They couldn’t be bothered going through the process of sharing their concerns and debating ideas, seeking to shift thought in their direction. They sought to terrorize and intimidate.  I think of that when I think of mobs destroying statues of the saints and of Jesus. I think of people getting fired, doxed, harassed, and attacked for having opinions that others disapprove of.  This is fundamentally un-American, and fundamentally contrary to what it means to be human.

I watched a documentary on the American Revolution and it mentioned the Boston Massacre.  The British soldiers who shot the American protestors were put on trial. John Adams was their defense attorney.  He, of course, was one of the strongest voices for rebellion, but he believed it was critical that they uphold the principle of due process for the accused.  He didn’t do a half-hearted job, either.

I think of the old quote (attributed to Voltaire, but some say was written by Beatrice Evelyn Hall): “I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.”

How we debate, deliberate, share ideas and handle disagreements will say a lot about how we honor what is best about America.