Dear Folks,In our Gospel today (Mark 7:31-37) Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment, thus enabling him to connect to other people. I would suggest that the biggest barrier to people connecting nowadays is not a problem with the ears but a problem between the ears. We have people talking at each other but not making sense to each other, and the more they talk the more alienated they become. This is a huge problem for the world, and it seems to be getting worse.As someone who has spent a large part of his life talking to people without connecting, I have worked very hard on this problem for a long time. While I have a long way to go, I can state confidently that I have made a great deal of progress from where I used to be (trust me, you are lucky you don’t have to deal with who I was in my teens and twenties). Things can get better if we want them to.I started with Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It was eye opening, for the first time introducing me to the idea of focusing on what the other person wants and what the other person is thinking instead of just what I want and what I’m thinking. This alone would be a huge improvement in a lot of conversations we are seeing today.If I could recommend one book for people, I would emphasize “Redeeming Conflict” by Ann Garrido. I have mentioned it before, but it is time to mention it again. It is about twelve habits that can transform conflict and make it a spiritual journey. The twelve habits are 1. Sidestep the triangle (go directly to the person with which you have the problem). 2. Be curious (what is happening with the other person? What is that person thinking? What is that person seeking? What might this person see that I don’t? Is there more to the situation than either of us sees?) That is related to 3. Listen to understand (We usually listen to refute their point of view, but remember their beliefs make sense to them, so how do they fit together in their mind?). 4. Undo the knot of intention (we tend to judge ourselves on our intentions and others on their results, but good intentions don’t guarantee good consequences, and we need to keep that in mind for both parties). 5 Welcome emotion (our emotions give us clues to what is really happening inside us, and what this situation means to us). 6. Speak your voice (while we emphasize hearing and understanding the other, the situation cannot truly be resolved without your side of the story being articulated). 7. Know and steady thyself (some issues trip our triggers, and we can go off and say things we will regret. It is good to know and compensate for such tendencies). 8. Pray to forgive (Forgiveness is essential to dealing with conflict, and the ability to do so is a gift from God, so we need to pray for it). 9. Repent (very often, both sides have contributed to the problem, at least somewhat, and we need to own our part). 10. Problem solve (It really helps to develop creative solutions where both sides win).11. Be trustworthy, not necessarily trusting (not everyone is trustworthy, but we need to be, and Christians are called to do right no matter how much others do wrong). 12. Practice prudence (knowing which of these habits to exercise and when is more art than science). It is a very Catholic book, but I don’t think there is anything there to offend our non-Catholic brothers and sisters.Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9). Jesus took a whole beatitude to emphasize this point (I have a lot to say about how important the beatitudes are in the teaching of Jesus). If we want to follow Jesus’ teaching (we do, don’t we?) and we want to be called “children of God” (we do, don’t we), would we not be intentional about increasing our ability to be peacemakers?Blessings,Fr. Jim
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.
“This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.” Leviticus 19:18 commands
that we love our neighbors as ourselves, so what is new here? What is new is the standard
to love as Jesus loves. Great. How do we do that?
Many years ago, Joseph Fletcher wrote a book called “Situation Ethics”. In it he claimed
the only rule of morality we should have is to love others. Then he would pose situations
and say that the rules say this but what is the loving thing to do? I soon realized that he
thought it was obvious what the loving thing to do was, and that every honest, decent
person would come to the same conclusions. A moment’s reflection will tell us that is not
true. We have terrible disagreements on how to seek the good of others. First, we don’t
agree on what is good. Is getting what I want the greatest good? An addict most wants to
feed his addiction, but enabling the addiction is not the loving thing to do. As sinners, we
are all something like addicts, and our sinful state distorts our vision of goodness (This is
called concupiscence). Jesus came and showed us a greater good, one that often involves
letting go of things we strongly desire, for the sake of something greater. The other issue,
even when we agree on what is good, what will get us to that good most effectively. Can
we better fight poverty with more government programs or more free enterprise solutions (I
have opinions, but I won’t bore you with them now)? Sometimes we think the
disagreement is about ends when it is about means.
What does it mean to love as Jesus loves? Some people project their own prejudices and
desires. I remember an animal rights group who put up a sign that said that Jesus was a
vegetarian. When they were challenged how they knew this, they said that Jesus was a
good person, so of course He would be a vegan. Of course, we know that He was not a
vegetarian. In Luke 24:43, it very explicitly says that He ate a piece of fish. We also know
about His multiplying loaves and fishes, and miraculously enabling huge catches of
fish. Furthermore, He observed Jewish practices throughout His earthly life, which would
include eating Passover lamb. What is clearly happening is people are either not reading
the Gospels, or reading and missing a lot, and then presuming that Jesus would see things
the way they do.
Demanded complete loyalty and unlimited sacrifice (Matthew 10:37-39). Jesus threatens
with hell. A Lot. I found Matt 5:22; 29-30; 7:13; 19; 23; 10:28; 33; 39; 11:23; 12:32; 37;
13:30; 42; 49-50; 16:25; 18:3; 21:43-44; 22:13-14; 24:48-51 in Matthew alone (I did not
count the times in Mark, Luke, or John). By the way, that doesn’t mean we should be quick
to threaten people with hell. What works for one audience will not work with another. Part
of loving service is taking the effort to get to know people well enough to understand how
to connect with them.
Jesus’ teaching on marriage was fierce in Matt 19:1-15. His teaching is based on natural
law, the way we were created. We notice that He doesn’t talk about love (we are to love
everyone), but on the fact that “From the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and
female.’” The consequences were so serious that He scared the disciples who said, “If that
is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus said marriage was not for
everyone, “but only to those to whom that is granted.” Marriage is a heroic act if one takes
it seriously, and it takes a great deal of courage. To teach that nowadays would get you
called “unloving” or even “hateful” in some circles.
Jesus loves all people; He does not love all behaviors. Jesus taught things that were hard. If
we think we have it all figured out, we are probably wrong. It takes a lifetime of
discipleship to learn how to love as Jesus loves. Then we have to do it. We need a lot of
grace. Let’s pray hard.
As we continue to celebrate Easter, we are reading a lot from the Acts of the
Apostles. It is a continuation of the story of the Gospel of Luke, and the story
of the early Church, and a wonderful picture of how to be an Easter
people. This is what the first Christians did as a response to the resurrection
and the descent of the Holy Spirit.
In our first reading this week we see the early Church worked together as one
body. They each cared, not just for themselves, but for the good of all the
members of the Church. Soon we will see Christians helping others who were
not members of their faith community. This was not something people did in
the ancient world, and it made Christians stand out as different. It is one of the
reasons many people decided they wanted to learn more about Christianity. It is
a way of proclaiming the Gospel that not only gets people’s attention but earns
a good deal of credibility.
Right now, as I understand it, the Catholic Church does more to help those in
need that any other organization. However, could we agree there is room to
grow? As a rough guess, what would you figure is the proportion of our
church’s resources that are dedicated to keeping the church itself going? Now,
what proportion do you think is dedicated to helping people in need beyond our
church? What proportion would Jesus want, if the church worked the way He
would like it?
Imagine a central database of opportunities to help those in need, so that
everyone could find some need that would match their gifts, abilities, and
circumstances. Some can do more, and some can do less, but if all one can do
is a teeny amount, if it is done with love, it is huge in God’s eyes (Mark 12:41-
44; Luke 21:1-4).
This will accomplish three things:
- It will make Jesus happy (do we need another reason?)
- It will proclaim the Gospel in a way that connects to people who are not
impressed with institutions or rituals (at least, not impressed yet).
- We will encounter Jesus personally in the people we serve (Matthew
We are called to do two things: encounter Jesus and share Jesus. The more we
do those two things, the more we will flourish as church, the more we will
flourish as disciples, and the more we will flourish as human beings.
For the past year we have been playing defense. It is time for that to
change. We will revisit the survey that had been taken. I will share the work
that has been done as a result, some mistakes that I made and what is to be
done in the future. One of the things that needs to improve is messaging. I am
determined to do better with that myself, and everyone can play a role in
making that happen. I believe there is much reason to approach the coming
year with hope.
“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.
Dear Folks,We have all been told that life is not fair. This phrase has been used in various ways. Some say it to say they don’t care that your rights and your dignity are getting violated. It can alsobe an acceptance of the complexity of life. There are many factors that affect our lives that we did not choose, and it seems that sometimes we get handed the dirty end of the stick. Other people seem to have it easier, and we see people giving them slack like they don’t seem to give us. Ever had that feeling?Our Gospel today (Matthew 20:1-16a) deals with the issue of envy, and people who seem to be handed a better deal. This is a common problem in life, and in the early Christian community there was the issue of pagans who became Christian. Some of the Jewish Christians were perhaps thinking, “We have been doing the hard work of trying to follow God’s commandments for generations while these people have been worshipping false gods and practicing drunken, perverted debauchery all this time, and now in the Church they are equal to us? What gives?” You know how we human beings get. St. Paul was dealing with that question in Romans, and he said, “But who indeed are you, ahuman being to talk back to God? Will what is made say to its maker, ‘Why have you created me so?’ Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the samelump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one (Romans 9:20-21)?” St. Paul is remembering the text “Yet, Lord, you are our father; we are the clay and you ourpotter: we are all the work of your hand (Isaiah 64:7).”
But how we perceive things doesn’t give the whole picture. I think life is like running an obstacle course with a backpack. We can feel how heavy our own backpack is, but we don’tknow how heavy everyone else’s is. We can perhaps make an educated guess by how they look, but we might be horribly wrong. At the end of the course we get to see how heavyeveryone’s backpack is, and there could be some surprises. We might find out that some people we thought weren’t trying very hard were actually carrying a much heavier load, andwere actually working harder than we were, even though they did not get as far as fast. Perhaps some people we envied for their situation were carrying a much heavier load thanwe thought. We might have thought that ours was one of the heaviest but find out that many had heavier. On the other hand, we might find that ours was heavier than a great manypeople’s, and we accomplished greater things than we thought.We know that sometimes it is a journey to accept that, and that can mean asking the very questions of God why He is doing what seems so wrong. Intellectually, we know He isright (always), but parts of our minds have not yet accepted that. We turn to the great school of prayer, the Psalms. We see “I will say to God, my rock: ‘Why do you forget me? Why must I go about mourning with the enemy oppressing me?’(Psalm 42:10).”Of course, the journey is to go from there to recognizing and rejoicing in God’s wisdom andprovidence. I suggest a meditation on Psalm 73 to follow that journey.The goal is to move more and more to embrace the situation we are given, and from here to do what we can to make things better, to be as faithful to God’s call as possible. The morewe are focused on that, the less and less we will worry about how our situation compares with others’ situations. That will save us time and energy. Growing in faith means realizing more and more that God knows what He is doing.Blessings,Fr. Jim
Right now there’s some really important conversation going on, and I am distressed that it is not being done well in many corners. There are three concerns: the spread of the virus, the destruction of the economy, and the deterioration of civil liberties. They are all huge, and how we navigate the current situation is going to be enormous for human well-being in the future.
We must work together and follow proper procedures to defeat this virus. It is only with the cooperation and sacrifices of all of us that this can be dealt with. We remember that our actions impact many other people we cannot see.
Poverty kills. We cannot keep food coming without an economy. We cannot keep our healthcare system going without an economy. When people bring up the economy, some will accused them of prioritizing money over human lives and being willing to kill people for their greed. Wait a minute here. Think of how we usually work. Can there be any doubt that if we made all cars so they couldn’t go faster than 25 miles per hour that would save lives? Think of how many terrible accidents would be avoided. It would inconvenience us and slowly reduce productivity, but it would save lives. Why haven’t people made the same case? Life does have some risk, and absolute security does not exist on this planet. We can have the discussion of how we balance the risks and the harms of the decisions involved. We don’t have to rule the discussion off limits.
If we are going to destroy someone’s life’s work, hope and dreams, and reduce them to poverty, they are going to want to ask if the particular rules that do it are necessary for our safety, or if they were just put together arbitrarily. When people think that rules are made that are inconsistent to the point of being capricious, that concern needs to be addressed. When someone says, “You are just being inconvenienced” they are demonstrating a lack of awareness and sensitivity. Some people are being inconvenienced. Some people’s lives are being destroyed.
I’m not a historian, but as I understand it, totalitarian governments often start during a crisis, and, of course take extraordinary steps to deal with it (so far so good). But then, there continue to be more and more authoritarian decisions that seem less and less necessary to deal with the crisis, but if you question them, you are immediately attacked for being unconcerned about the crisis and the well-being of the nation. It is the nature of human beings that people in power tend to think they should have more power. Our country was founded on limited government with checks and balances to keep this in check, and many countries that did not do this fell into totalitarianism. This was dramatized in George Orwell’s book Animal Farm. If it ever becomes out of bounds to challenge government practices, we are in dangerous territory.
That said, I cannot overemphasize the importance of being responsible when challenging. When people who are protesting details of the lockdown leave their cars and gather close together closely without masks, they are making their opponents’ case for them. When someone says, “If you are afraid you can stay inside, but don’t make everyone else do it.” They are not taking into account that they are affecting more than themselves and risking more than themselves. They are risking other people they come into contact with. We think of the people who work in grocery stores who can’t control who they come into contact with. We think of the health care workers who have been working long hours and who have not been seeing their families for fear of infecting them. These are unprecedented times, and strong action is called for, so it would be good to be careful about assuming the worst too easily about our elected officials.
How we deal with this time will have deep and lasting effects on our future. The conversations we have are essential to that. If we want others to take our concerns seriously, it would help to take their concerns seriously. If we want them to give our motives the benefit of the doubt, it would help to give their motives the benefit of the doubt. May charity rule our hearts.