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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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?
It has been said that the task of a prophet is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the
comfortable.” Reading the book of the prophet Isaiah, we see he can start with some fierce
“get your act together” talk, and then switches. Starting around chapter 40, he is talking to a
people in exile who are beaten down and discouraged and telling them wonderful things about
the tender love of God. Isaiah has some of the most beautiful and moving language in the
Bible about the tender love of God, and much of the imagery will be picked up in the New
God loves us very much, and in that love calls us to be the best we can be, what we were
created to be, and sometimes that means we need to hear things that are hard to hear.
Some people are alienated from the Church because they received hard sayings when they
needed comfort, and they were beaten down and fell into despair. We can try hard to avoid
that, but it is going to happen sometime.
There are others who are mad at the Church because they needed to hear something hard but
believed they should only receive comfort. Jesus was not shy about saying fierce things when
it was appropriate (see Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 23; Matthew 25:41-45, John 6, etc.).
Some have drifted away from the Church because they have only received happy messages
and have never been challenged (how long would you keep going to a gym that had
Styrofoam weights that took no effort to lift? It would be more comfortable but wouldn’t
accomplish anything worthwhile). Eventually people decide they have better things to do
with their time.
A pivotal question for all of us, then, would be: How ready are we to hear and respond to hard
sayings? This question is trickier than it sounds.
Some people want more “fire and brimstone,” but are quite sure that it should all be directed
to other people. Some people spend a lot of time talking about what terrible people they are,
but if you point out a specific behavior that perhaps they should examine and change, they get
M. Scott Peck in his book “The Road Less Traveled” talked about some people who were
neurotic and believed that everything was their fault, and some people with a character
disorder who believed that nothing was their fault. There will always be people who tell us
we are wrong, and there will always be people who tell us we are right. If we are too afraid to
stand by our beliefs and decisions we will be paralyzed, and if we are too certain we are right,
we will never learn anything new. Discernment and balance is needed. If, when we were
younger, we received harsh and unproductive criticism, we will find it extremely painful to
learn that we are wrong, and the temptation will be strong to rationalize our position and reject
any negative feedback. If learning we are wrong is not an occasion for great agony, but
opportunity to learn and grow, we can be much more open. Jesus was very patient and gentle
with those who were willing to look at themselves honestly and change their ways, no matter
how bad their sins had been. His anger was for those who were sure they didn’t need to
change, but only other people.
How is God calling us to learn from our current situation? How is God calling us to respond?