Category Archives: Christianity

More Peacemaking

Dear Folks,
Last week I talked a bit about peacemaking, and I mentioned Dale Carnegie’s book “How to
Win Friends and Influence People” and Ann Garrido’s “Redeeming Conflict.”
George Thompson’s book “Verbal Judo.” is about deescalating tense situations, and many
police and other first responders are trained in this method. When someone gets belligerent to
us, the temptation is to respond in kind. As the anger wells up in is, we can be like a pressure
cooker without a safety valve until it bursts out. If we have an alternate response at the ready,
we can treat this as another task to be done, and approach it deliberately. The difficult
question is how to deescalate. It involves receiving the other persons energy and directing the
conversation toward a more useful direction. One important feature of this approach is that it
does not require the other person to have the same good intentions. A lot of Christianity is
treating people better than they treat us (See, for example Romans 12:9-21).
“Thanks for the Feedback” by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen involves the dynamics of
getting and giving feedback, whether it is “affirmation, coaching, or evaluation.” It tried to do
a one paged summary of the book but failed miserably because there are so many facets to
this. I think the central takeaway is that how we see and hear ourselves is very often quite
different from the way that other people see and hear us. What we intend and what the other
perceives can be very different, and that disparity can doom a conversation if we are not
attentive to it.
One fascinating point they make is that there is a part of the brain “dedicated to taking in
language and reading tone and meaning (called the ‘superior temporal sulcus’ for those who
are curious).” Then this is critical: “When we ourselves speak, the STS turns off.” We don’t
hear our tone like we hear other’s tones. We do not naturally hear how angry we sound, or
how condescending, or how harsh. We hear it in the other person though, hear it very
clearly. C. S. Lewis noticed this tendency and included it in his “Screwtape Letters (Letter 3.).” Screwtape, a senior devil, is giving advice to his nephew Wormwood about how to lead a soul to hell. He shared a trick for encouraging his “patient” to quarrel with his mother:
“Your patient must demand that all his own utterances are to be taken at their face value and
judged simply on the actual words, while at the same time judging all his mother’s utterances
with the fullest and most over-sensitive interpretation of the tone and the context and the
suspected intention. She must be encouraged to do the same to him.”
It is my observation that communicating well is harder than we think. That means first that
we tend (strongly tend) to overestimate how well we are communicating based on how hard
we are trying. It also means that we underestimate how hard the other person is trying to
communicate based on the results of their efforts. It has been a common observation that we
tend to judge ourselves by our best intentions, and other people by the consequences of their
actions.
I would emphasize once again that I do not speak as someone who has all this mastered, but
as one who has made significant progress from where I used to be. It has made a huge
difference in my life, and I believe I am better able to serve God because of it. I plan to
continue to work on this until I die. I believe that striving to interact with others more
peacefully and more productively will help the world get better, and it is desperately needed. I
believe it will also please Jesus.
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Breaking Down Barriers

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

Handing on the Faith

Dear Folks,
Our Gospel talks about the Pharisees who would undermine God’s teaching by replacing it
with their own corrupt traditions. It is a temptation we all have to rewrite the Gospel
according to our preferences.
The Greek word translated “tradition” is “paradosis,” and it means “that which is handed
on.” St. Paul will use it to describe the faith that he has passed on to people in 1
Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thess 2:15, 3:6. The verb form in paradidomi, to hand on, and we see it
in Luke 1:2 and 1 Cor 15:3. Also, he warns about being taken in by “empty, seductive
philosophy according to human tradition (Gal 2:8).” Distinguishing human tradition with
divine tradition is key.
Acts of the Apostles 15 describes the Council of Jerusalem and gives an example of how
the Church is to deal with such questions when they can’t be solved just by dialog. The
Church was being torn apart by the question whether being in right relationship to God
came through works of the law of Moses or by faithfulness to Jesus. The next great
example is the Council of Nicea about the identity of Jesus. There was a group following
Arius that said Jesus is not God, but more of a super angel. The Catholic belief about the
divinity of Christ was upheld. This shows us how the Holy Spirit can work in the
development of doctrine that is faithful to the revelation given in the person of Jesus.
The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum) talks about
the nature of divine revelation and how the truth of the faith is preserved in the Church.
Chapter 2 (sections 7-10) talks about how Divine Revelation is preserved in the Church. I
haven’t the space to quote it extensively here, but it is worth looking up.
Catholic thought has trouble with the idea that right after the Bible was finished, the Church
as a whole, completely misread it for fifteen hundred years until someone finally figured
out what it really meant. So, part of what we talk about in Sacred Tradition is how the faith
has been understood for centuries and recognizing continuity of thought. We also have
trouble with the idea that God would reveal the fullness of truth in Jesus and allow it to be
lost over the years: if it is worth revealing it is worth preserving.
We also recognize that every era has its own prejudices and biases, and we would be
foolish to think we are unaffected by them. When something has been taught for centuries,
that helps us step back from our own perspective to a broader perspective.
One danger is that many people seem to assume that those who came before us were not as
smart as we are and not as good as we are. This leads to the habit of whenever something is
believed or practiced does not make immediate sense to us, we reject it without much
thought or hesitation. G.K. Chesterton said, “Don’t ever take down a fence until you know
the reason it was put up.” I was never one to do things just because that was the way we
always did them, but often it is worth looking a little deeper before dismissing something.
These days, I think our society could benefit from a bit more reflection and broader
perspective before we react. The Catholic Church is famous for moving slowly. That’s not
always a bad thing.
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

Rediscovering the Mystery

Dear Folks,
In our Gospel today, people ask Jesus a seemingly simple question, “Rabbi, when did you
get here? (John 6:25).” This points to something much more mysterious. John had just
mentioned that, on the other side of the lake, there was only one boat, and Jesus did not get
in with the apostles. When other boats came, they got in and crossed, and were surprised to
find Jesus there. That lead them to wonder how He got there. We, of course, know because
we have read the Gospel and understand that Jesus walked on the water. He doesn’t tell
them, and so they are left to wonder. This should prime them to be open to mystery, to be
sensitive to the idea that there is more going on than they can see. This should have made
them more open to the Bread of Life discourse which is to follow (unfortunately, they will
still not be open enough).
Jesus prayed that His Church would be one (John 17:20-23) and so that people would
believe the Father sent Him. Unity is an essential part of our work as Church, and I suggest
that we have room to grow in that area. Recent events got me thinking.
You may have heard about Pope Francis putting out a document, Traditionis Custodes,
which severely restricts the celebration of the extraordinary form of the Mass (that is, the
way it was celebrated just before Vatican II, using the Missal of 1962). Some people are
angry and hurt, while some people are saying “good riddance.” Many, of course, don’t see
what the big deal is. It will not directly affect most of us. I’ve attended two such liturgies
as a priest, and I don’t remember when I attended it as a child.
The Pope’s stated goal is unity, moving us toward common worship, and I think that is a
good goal. The question is what is needed to accomplish it. Looking at the divide can shine
some light on essential issues with our worship.
Whatever else is needed, unity requires understanding both sides’ concerns, and that is what
is often not happening.
Pope Benedict says in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “In the liturgy the curtain between heaven
and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole
cosmos.” Now I ask you, how well does the way we celebrate liturgy convey that that is
happening? People will point to the extraordinary form and say that it better led them to
mystery. The Latin language conveyed that this was different from usual conversation. The
priest facing the same way as the congregation (called celebrating ad orientum, literally, to
the east) showed that he was representing the people to God, not just chatting with the
people. They find the modern liturgy friendly, but fails to point to mystery beyond what we
see.
On the other hand, many have had bad experiences of the Pre-Vatican II liturgy. I’m told
many have had bad catechesis and had very little understanding of what was going on.
Some would pray the rosary. Someone said it was like a magic show. They were not able
to learn Latin well enough to experience what was happening, and often the priest mumbled
anyway. The revised liturgy enabled them to connect like never before, and they thought it
was wonderful. Many of them have a really hard time with the thought of going back.
So, how do we get the best of both worlds? The way many just stop going to Mass tells us
that what we are doing now is not connecting (this is not just our little community, but
nationwide). How do we connect with people and at the same time draw people to the
infinite mystery? I suggest that to answer this well will take serious brain effort.
Blessings,

Praying More Powerfully at Mass

Dear Folks,
Ancient Greek mythology talks about a wicked innkeeper named Procrustes. If you were
unfortunate enough to stay at his inn, he had only one bed. If you were too short for it, he
would stretch you until you fit. If you were too tall for it, he would chop ends off you until
you were the right length. The Procrustean bed is a classic image for trying to force
everyone into a single way of doing things whether it works for them or not.
In church, I find that many people have a good experience with a certain practice, a certain
prayer, a certain devotion, perhaps associating it with a better time or place, and decide that
everyone should be doing that particular thing. Many people say that that doesn’t work for
them, and so they rebel. It is most frustrating. An alternative approach is to have many
options, and people pick out the ones that work for them.
One of the ways we strengthen our community is by strengthening our worship. There are
many ways to do that.
Preparation:
From the moment of waking up, look at the path ahead and remember that each step is
a step toward the altar.
Extend Eucharistic fast to more than an hour before receiving communion. Two
hours? Three? More?
Fast from social media/videos/games.
Dress one step up from usual (how do you dress for something really important?).
Review the readings for the day, perhaps making a note of an idea to ponder.
Read Psalm 63:2-9, Psalm 100, or Psalm 122.
Make an examination of conscience for a more effective penitential rite.
If you have access to the hymns that will be sung, go over them and prepare to offer
them as gift to God.
Make a list of gifts from the previous week: Apostolic undertakings, family and
married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, and hardships to be offered to
the Father along with the Body of the Lord (See constitution on the Church #34 and
Constitution on the Liturgy #48).
Approach the church building, be aware of approaching the altar of God.
Entering the narthex, be aware of transition between the realm of the world and the
realm of liturgy.
Outside the church and in the narthex, we connect with other worshippers, being
aware we are the Body of Christ.
Entering the nave, have a Spirit of quiet.
Silence upon entering worship space. Shift from focusing on other people to being
united with them in focusing on the presence of God.
Pause. Recognize we are someplace special. Stand tall.
Speak softly, so as not to interfere with those trying to pray. Do that even when no
one else is there.
Walk deliberately so that simply coming to your pew is a ceremony.
Later I’ll have some ideas on how to strengthen the time during Mass and after Mass. In the
meantime, what if you tried one or more of these? Many people have success starting small
and being consistent, and then having something on which to build?
These are small things that can strengthen how we bring ourselves to God in worship, and
therefore strengthen our faith community. What do you think?
Blessings
Fr. Jim

Church: Customers or Coworkers in Mission

Dear Folks,
The Feast of the Ascension is a time to talk about mission. It is sort of the apostles’
graduation ceremony. To be Christian is to be on mission, and it is time to ask a very
serious question.
Consider, if you will, two models of Church: Catholics as customers vs Catholics as coworkers in mission.
Catholics who function according to the customer model will think about church like any
other consumer good, and it becomes about getting one’s preferences over all (Coke or
Pepsi? Or maybe Dr. Pepper?). Improving the church becomes about how services can be
provided as conveniently as possible. Volunteering in the church will be seen as
extraordinary, not normal. Adult faith formation is seen as “for those who like that sort of
thing” rather than a normal part of being a disciple. I believe it was Richard Neuhaus who
said that many Catholics thought their only duty was to show up to be served. Things like
faith formation and Christian service will be seen as extras to be sacrificed for the sake of
“basic functions: keeping the buildings open and the Mass schedule. Such people may be
more likely to quit if they don’t get things the way they think they should be.
Catholics who see themselves as co-workers in mission are going to be focused on how the
Church can better draw people to Jesus. They will ask more questions like how can we
better draw outsiders to Jesus? How can we be leaven, salt, and light in the larger
community? How can we inspire others to see the goodness, beauty, and truth about the
Catholic faith? What reasons do the surrounding community have to be grateful we are
here? Instead of asking “how much am I obligated to do?” the question is “How can I, with
my circumstances, do as much as possible?” Some, given their situation, can only do a
teeny bit, but if we do it with love, it is huge in God’s eyes. Learning more about the faith
becomes urgent, so that we can better witness to it. There is an urgency to growing in
holiness, so that God’s light will shine more brightly through us. There is an attentiveness
to how we represent the faith community to others; we are God’s ambassadors. Such people
will be more resilient when hard times come, when we lose things we are accustomed to,
when being church grows difficult. Such people will not watch helplessly when things go
bad but will build something better.
Parents’ first mission is passing on the faith to their children, and if we believe the Gospel
is true, then we believe that the faith is the most important gift they can give their children.
Many parents have suffered the heartbreak of watching their grown-up children stop the
practice of the faith. If they did the best they knew how to do at the time, they have nothing
to be ashamed of. As they grieve for their disappointment, we turn our attention to how
things can be made better. The task at hand is to become a church that better draws people
to the faith. The data makes it clear that what was done in the past does not give them what
they need. It will take all of us together to make that happen.
So, this leads to the question: what is our model? How do we see ourselves? And, most
importantly, how would Jesus want us to approach being Church?
Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Love: Easy to say; hard to do

Dear Folks,
“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.

Blessings,
Fr. Jim

Helping Those in Need

Dear Folks,
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:

  1. It will make Jesus happy (do we need another reason?)
  2. 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).
  3. We will encounter Jesus personally in the people we serve (Matthew
    25:31-46).
    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.
    Blessings,
    Fr. Jim

Prayer for Wayward Politicians

I have never thought it proper for me to use my position to endorse a particular politician. I have focused on teaching principles of Catholic social teaching, and thought that was not only more correct, but more effective. However, I do not believe that any faithful Catholic could object to this, and I think we all agree, there are many politicians who need prayer. Some people might get together and pray regularly for certain public officials who especially need it. Who knows what might happen. God clearly loves to take terrible sinners and make them great saints. https://www.catholic365.com/article/9502/6-sinnersturnedsaints-and-what-we-can-learn-from-them.html