Monday, December 25, 2006

The church’s celebration of the birth of our Lord

"Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

These angelic words express the heart of this celebration that gathers us here tonight/today. We celebrate the birth of our savior and sing with the Angels, “Glory to God in the highest”. For the past four weeks we have been preparing for the birth of Christ. We have been the people who have walked in darkness that long to see the wondrous light. Tonight/Today that light illimines our hearts with tidings of comfort and Joy. Yet, we cannot forget that we are really celebrating a real person’s birthday, the birthday of Christ. There are those families that will go so far as to bake a cake and have their children blow out the candles to remind themselves of the reality of this birthday.

Around the middle of November, a student who was writing an article for the Iowa State Daily came to me and asked me to comment on the status of Christmas. As you are undoubtedly aware, Christmas began about two weeks before Thanksgiving this year for most retailers. He asked if I thought there were really two Christmases, two different uses of the same word, that people were invoking. It was with regret that I admitted to him that I, in fact, thought that to be true. Christmas is a national holiday in the United States. Most Americans will celebrate it. Yet, I believe that a sharp division is being drawn between a secular understanding of Christmas and the true celebration of Christmas that takes place in the lives of Christians. While I’m not willing to say there is a war on Christmas, I believe we would be mistaken if we were to deny the schism that has taken place.

The secular celebration, as I said, begins at least a month before the actual date of Christmas. While there is still sentiments of good will towards men, for the most part it deals with buying presents. Radio stations begin playing our Christian Christmas melodies over the air for a month, which will end precisely at midnight on December 26. The Christian celebration begins with an acknowledgement of waiting and preparation, similar to the secular celebration. But, we don’t usurp the celebration by worrying about details like shopping and presents. I mean, let’s face it, if it were my birthday, you wouldn’t start singing happy birthday a month and a half before the actual date. You would at least wait until the day of my birth before you started to do that. And I would hope that you would worry more about the gifts that you were giving me than the gifts you were giving to those coming to the birthday party. To me these two realities identify the largest difference between the secular understanding of Christmas and our Christian understanding: we believe that Jesus was a real person and that his birth was a real event. The Lord of Life who created us and watched with pain as we succumbed to the temptations of the evil one decided to walk among us and come into this world as “an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” We believe that the prophecies from old have been fulfilled. “For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.”

And, for me, the most palpable difference between the two celebrations takes place in the days following Christmas. As the secular parts of society quickly turn from tidings of comfort and joy back toward the normalcy of life, Christians are just gearing up. The children may neglect the great presents Santa Claus gave to them. You may find yourself standing in line trying to return that one-size-too-small sweater that your family member gave to you. But you will come to church and finally sing the songs that celebrate Jesus’ birthday. Because, like our secular counterparts, we believe this celebration is too important to confine to one day. We want to celebrate it for about three weeks, until the celebration of the Epiphany. Yet, we also need to discover ways to live out this celebration of the birth of the Lord, to celebrate each day the God who dared to walk among us as one like us though free from sin.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you have to buy gifts for your family members each day of these three weeks. That’s really more a part of the secular celebration than the Christian one, though we can’t forget that tradition began when a certain Saint Nicholas gave candy to the poor children of his city. No, instead, let us focus on the side of things that our society tends to neglect: Good will towards our fellow human beings. Let this celebration be a time to love one another with even more gusto, especially family members that may be difficult to love. Let the good news of great joy continue to affect your life this Christmas season. Sing the great songs of praise for our King who walks among us.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Merry Christmas

Even though I plan on putting my Christmas homily up here before I leave for home, I want to wish you all a merry Christmas and hope you keep reading my blog into the next year. You are all in my thoughts and prayer in the hope of the coming of our Lord.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

finding forgiveness

In ministry, I often have to wear many hats. I talk to someone and realize that I can't share that with someone else. I know that a college student has a crush on someone and that person confesses he has a crush on her. It's strange when it happens to me. Recently, I got very angry with someone. I'd rather not go into details because it's not worth it. But, I had the opportunity recently to reconcile with that person, not in the sacramental sense but in the practical sense. We basically didn't talk and the avenue of communication just opened spontaneously. In other words, we both decided that, regardless of what divided us in the past. I hope the good will will continue between us.

Monday, December 18, 2006

New Hope in the midst of a deprived and twisted generation

I took two groups of students to the Twin Cities yesterday and today. One group went to St. Agnes and another went to St. Joan of Arc. St. Agnes church is known for its celebration of a Latin Mass at 10:00 Sunday Morning. It's a rather complex mass in many ways involving a lot of servers and bows and such. Some of the students said that they didn't feel as participatory as they would have liked, which told me that I need to be better prepared for Latin next year. The people responded and we didn't because we didn't know how. They also just needed a little more general preparation. Even though it's the mass as we all know it, there are a few changes that deserve explanation such as taking communion at the communion rail on the tongue while kneeling.

When we met up with the students that went to Joan of Arc they had a different reaction. Joan of Arc is known for its differentness. They actually strive to be different and do the barest amount possible to remain in the church. The students hated it. They couldn't see the catholicism in it and were worried about what made the children that went there actually love the church. They felt like they still needed to go to mass.

The people who went to St. Agnes were impressed with St. Agnes and were hoping to bring things back. They were perplexed by some things but genuinely felt like they loved the mass. It gives me hope that people don't want to be Protestants, don't want to make the mass into a "worship service". They want to learn how to love what is authentically catholic. If only we could make sure all the priests felt the same.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Bruskewitz vindicated

Vatican affirms excommunication of Call to Action members in Lincoln

By S.L. Hansen
Catholic News Service

LINCOLN, Neb. (CNS) -- The Vatican has upheld Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz's decision 10 years ago that membership in Call to Action "is totally incompatible with the Catholic faith" and results in automatic excommunication for Catholics in the Diocese of Lincoln.

In a Nov. 24 letter to the Lincoln bishop, made public Dec. 8, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Vatican Congregation for Bishops, told Bishop Bruskewitz that his ruling "was properly taken within your competence as pastor of that diocese."

"The judgment of the Holy See is that the activities of Call to Action in the course of these years are in contrast with the Catholic faith due to views and positions held which are unacceptable from a doctrinal and disciplinary standpoint," the cardinal said in his letter.

"Thus to be a member of this association or to support it is irreconcilable with a coherent living of the Catholic faith," he added.

Bishop Bruskewitz said he hopes Cardinal Re's letter will bring clarity to Catholics who have continued their affiliation with Call to Action, Call to Action Nebraska or the 10 other groups cited in the original "statement of extrasynodal legislation," a formal canonical notice that they would be automatically excommunicated if they remained members of those groups.

"My prayer will always be that when people understand they have taken a wrong turn, they will stop and take the right turn," the bishop said.

He said Catholics who wish to return to full communion with the church must repudiate their membership in the groups by sending a letter to the organization and having their names removed from any rosters or mailing lists. Then they can seek out the sacrament of reconciliation, where their priests can guide them in confession and penance.

Although the Vatican letter only dealt with Call to Action, the other groups named by Bishop Bruskewitz were: Planned Parenthood, Society of St. Pius X, Hemlock Society, St. Michael the Archangel Chapel, Freemasons, Job's Daughters, DeMolay, Eastern Star, Rainbow Girls and Catholics for a Free Choice.

The Hemlock Society works to legalize physician-assisted suicide, and Planned Parenthood and Catholics for a Free Choice both support keeping abortion legal.

Job's Daughters, DeMolay, Eastern Star and Rainbow Girls all are affiliated with the Masons. The Society of St. Pius X and St. Michael the Archangel Chapel both oppose the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council and celebrate Mass in the Tridentine rite.

After the Vatican decision, Bishop Bruskewitz said he felt a duty to lead the people under his pastoral care away from organizations perilous to the faith.

"Parents have to tell children that they can't test everything in the medicine cabinet or drink everything under the sink," the bishop explained. "The church is our mother and gives us these instructions as protection against dangers we might not perceive. ... It is liberating, not enslaving."

The bishop said he hopes people affected by his ruling will remedy their situations without delay.

"The Lord loves everyone and died for everyone, and he wants all to be saved," he said. "The best lesson that can be learned from everything that has happened is that one finds happiness, joy and satisfaction in obedience to the church."

Bishop Robert F. Vasa of Baker, Ore., was vicar general of the Diocese of Lincoln in 1996 and general secretary of the diocesan synod that issued the decree of excommunication.

Upon hearing of the Vatican's response, he said, "There never was any question of the bishop's right to do this and the suitability given the circumstances. I'm pleased to see that the Holy See has publicly affirmed Bishop Bruskewitz's decree and authority."

Call to Action, founded after the U.S. bishops' national Call to Action conference in Detroit in 1976, works to change church teachings in such areas as mandatory celibacy for priests, the male-only priesthood, the selection process for bishops and popes, and opposition to artificial contraception.

The Chicago-based national organization claims a membership of more than 25,000 people in 53 local chapters, and holds an annual conference in Milwaukee.

Talking about his 1996 warning that Catholics would excommunicate themselves by maintaining membership in Call to Action and/or Call to Action Nebraska, which drew national media attention, Bishop Bruskewitz said he was "determined to face up to the media so that it didn't look like I was ashamed of my decision."

The diocese was soon flooded with feedback, 95 percent of which supported his decision, he said.

The bishop said he did not anticipate a similar reaction to the Vatican's official ruling on the matter. "I can't imagine that there is much interest," he said.

The incredible gift of forgiveness

It happened again last night. We had the second of our communal reconciliation liturgies. It was truly powerful to sit and reconcile people to God. It was just one of those times when being the intermediary of God's grace is just incredible.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Dealing with Life's Hard Pathways

For some reason, I tend to think and preach about my three and a half month experience in Israel a lot around this time of year. I'm not sure if it is just because I was getting home on a frosty cold Minnesota day similar to the ones that we had this past week or exactly why, but I remember a time in Israel, when I had the opportunity to visit the area in which John the Baptist did his ministry. I imagine that, like me you don’t know that the best viewing time of the Dead Sea area is at sunrise, or at least that’s what my professor said. I remember feeling hostility at that professor while standing at one of the city gates by 6:30 in the morning waiting for two Jeeps to haul us Sout. Nonetheless, I was there along with the rest of my class and heading out of a very quiet and peaceful Jerusalem and into the cold hilly desert. The name Jordan means "coming down" and that's pretty much what we did for the next couple of hours of driving. There would be short periods where our driver would negotiate a small hill but, for the most part, we got accustomed to the perspective of a angular descent.

We passed by the area where the Jordan River empties into the Dead Sea. Of course, we were all trying to pretend that we were wide awake listening to our instructor tell us about the animals and plants native to the area when, in truth, we were all sleeping with our eyes open. We soon came upon this area that reminded me a lot of the bluffs along the Mississippi River. The main difference was that, instead of lush vegetation and beautiful houses lining these bluffs, it looked as barren as any other part of the desert. Our driver pulled over and we all got out of our Jeeps yawning and stretching. Essentially, we were out in the middle of nowhere. When our instructor pointed to the top of one of the bluffs and said, "That is cave one. We're going to climb up there." I thought to myself, "no sweat. I can make it. I've walked at Loras College in Dubuque, the college built on a hill that will never fall. I can make it up this thing." The problem was that there was no footing while walking in all that sand. We all struggled partway up the hill until our instructor taught us a trick. Instead of going directly at this kind of hill, it's best to walk at angles so that the hill is not so steep. Sure, it did increase the distance but it was a fair trade-off to not take one step forward and slip two steps back in the sand.

It made me appreciate the kind of difficulty that John the Baptist would have had when he lived in that area. And he didn't even have the luxury of cars and highway 30s that we have today. He would have had to walk everywhere in that sandy desert up hill and down. I think that's why both he and our first reading from the prophet Baruch sought the day when "Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight and the rough ways made smooth..." That way when they were doing ministry just getting there wouldn't be so hard. It is much easier to do ministry if you didn’t blow all your energy going from place to place.

But something even more profound than that is happening in our readings today. John and Baruch aren't just lazily trying to get out of hard work. They are also using this as an analogy to talk about life. Oftentimes, our church talks about us as a pilgrim people to describe our relationship to God. Our life on earth is really a journey of drawing closer to God. Sometimes there are mountains that get in our way when problems pile up and we wonder if God really is out there. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills, especially when we allow fights between siblings to destroy our families. Other times, there are valleys that get in the way of our relationship to God, like when we realize that we haven't taken the time to pray as we should and we feel like we could never get started because we are so far behind. We don't realize that God isn't keeping score. He just wants us to start! So often, we allow other things to take priority over building that primary relationship we have with God. Technology can slowly dig a hole between us and our family and friends. Sometimes the best thing we can do is turn off the TV or computer and spend some time talking to our family or our God. This past week, we began a tradition here at St. Thomas by inviting you all to come for catechesis on the Jesse Tree. Many of you responded and discovered how the Jesse Tree, from the book of Isaiah, connects us through out ancestors to great people of faith. We hope that you can see in that exercise the importance of getting rid of all the valleys and mountains that interfere with our relationships to our family and friends and how important it is to take time with one another.

Yet, sometimes we encounter a winding road that seems to waste our time with all its twists and turns. Maybe it’s a friend or a family member that seems to drift in and out of our life. Maybe it’s those days when work is full of frustration and home is anything but peaceful. Maybe it’s when we think that we have a free day and end up spending the whole day doing some unexpected job. These experiences seem frustrating and can leave us ready to rip our hair out. Yet, pay attention to these curvy roads because they are the ones that help us appreciate our straight paths. They can teach us about what we truly value in life.

Ultimately this path that we walk is one walked with others toward God. What kind of path are you on right now? How can you make it a little more straight and smooth?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Why we'll miss coach Mac

I've been looking for a video that clearly shows what Iowa State will miss in firing coach Dan McCarney. I finally found it at 3:10 in the morning. Here it is. It deals with a game that I actually was at when the UNLV coach decided to act like a 2 year old and protest the last call of the game. He chased the officials into the locker room and kept his team on the field an extra 15 minutes claiming that a play was not reviewed. Unfortunately for him it had been and had been ruled out of bounds. Some people refuse to take no for an answer.

It was shameful. If I was a UNLV fan, I would have immediately called for his dismissal. Coach Dan McCarney was and is a class act. This is not to say that man who replaced him is not a class act. I'm not going to lie. I have concerns about bringing in someone from University of Texas...that's mostly because I'm mostly because I'm a Texas A&M fan, the Texas equivalent to the Cyclones. But, I think it's worth mentioning that Coach Dan McCarney acts in a way that represents the institution for which he is coaching well. He made the Cyclones proud to be cyclones again.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Where's our snow?

I'm a little disappointed, to be honest, that we didn't get any snow in Iowa, at least not where I live. They told us we probably would and then there was none. It all went to the East...Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan. I look out and there's a lot of cold students walking past my window and the grass still has a bit of green in it, although even that is beginning a turn to the deadly brown of winter. I like the first snow and then I'm ready for spring. The snow is so clean and pure. Maybe I should realize that the first snow is just being put off for a while and be happy that every snowfall that misses us is just putting winter off a little while longer.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

From Catholic World News

Nov. 27 (AsiaNews) - Chinese officials plan to install another Catholic bishop without the permission of the Holy See, the AsiaNews service reports.

Apparently breaking a "truce" with the Vatican, which had stopped the illicit ordination of new bishops, Bishop Qian Yurong of Xuzhou will ordain his vicar general, Father Wang Renlei, as a bishop on November 30, reliable sources told AsiaNews.

Canon law bars the ordination of a new bishop without approval from the Vatican; the ordinary punishment for violation of that ban is excommunication. Chinese government officials said that the bishop-elect was chosen "democratically;" AsiaNews reports that the choice was made by the government's religious-affairs bureau.

Bishop Qian, a strong supporter of the Chinese government, is one of the relatively Chinese bishops of China's "official" Catholic Church who have not sought recognition from the Holy See, AsiaNews reports.

A book by the Pope....

I got an email from a friend that said Benedict is going to carry on the tradition of his predecessor of releasing a theological book aside from his formal theological tretises. John Paul II released two books, one called "Crossing the Threshold of Hope" and "Rise, let us be on our way" that were both personal reflections, basically. It's very interesting to think about the idea of a book in the context of papal documents but I'll spare you the disagreement over canonical identification. Instead, I am saying that I can't wait until I get to read this because it deals with understanding Jesus. Given the patently false assumptions that are out there by folks like Dan Brown, the Pope is going to address people that can't imagine the historical/church understanding of Jesus to be true. Here is a quote from what may be the introduction....

"Less justified in an historical "inquest" on Jesus, it seems to me, is the care with which Augias collects all of the insinuations about the presumed homosexual bonds existing among the disciples, or between Jesus and "the disciple whom he loved" (but wasn't he supposed to be in love with the Magdalene?), as also the detailed description of the sordid episodes of some of the women in the genealogy of Christ. One has the impression that this inquest on Jesus sometimes turns into gossip about Jesus.

But the phenomenon has an explanation. There has always existed the tendency to dress Christ in the clothing of one's own time or one's own ideology. In the past, as arguable as they were, there were serious causes of great depth: Christ as idealist, socialist, revolutionary... Our age, which is obsessed with sex, is unable to think of him except in relation to emotional problems. I believe that the combination of an openly alternative journalistic outlook together with an historical view that is also radical and minimalistic has produced a result that is on the whole unacceptable, not only for the man of faith, but also for the historian."

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Christ is the King who reigns from the cross

About a week ago and a half ago two things happened for me. The bottom dropped out of what had been a very hectic semester. Most of the events I was planning came to an end and, as many of you now, I have to leave the students alone to be able to study and prepare for finals. Virtually simultaneous with that event came my first cold of the season, a cold that you can still hear in my lungs despite tons of rest, liquids, and even turkey noodle soup provided by some very caring students. So, with my extra time, I canceled every meeting that I felt I could and stayed at home doing what is my second love in life, reading history. I read over one of my favorite subjects in German history, a period that I believe to be the defining moment in the history of my ancestors. Now, you may think that I’m referring to the period immediately after World War 2 during the rebuilding project but you would be wrong. You may even think that I’m referring to the period after World War One and the failed Treaty of Versailles. But, alas, you would again be wrong.

No, the time period in German history I find fascinating is immediately after the Protestant Reformation. After all, arguably the most famous reformer, Martin Luther, was from Germany. And, unlike England and other countries that are far away from Rome, Germany is the Pope’s next-door neighbor. When Martin Luther nailed his theses up on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral, some were ecstatic and others less so. Literally, it made father turn against son and mother against daughter. Each European country dealt with the Reformation differently. England decided to make a wholesale switch to Anglicanism. Germany, on the other hand, decided that, basically, the local leader would decide which religion the county would be. So, to put it in modern terms, if the prince of Ames was Catholic, all his subjects would be Catholic too. If he were Protestant, all his people would be Protestant. And, of course, if there was a leadership change there may very well also be a religious change. If the Catholic prince came in and over threw his Protestant predecessor, everyone became Catholic. This marked a very confusing time in Germany history in which counties would fight against one another because of a difference in denominational leadership and secret groups of Christians would meet depending on who was in charge that week to overthrow the leadership.

I think there is an interesting parallel to this in today’s first and second reading, which sets the tone for this celebration of Christ the King. In the book of Daniel we hear that when the Son of Man comes, a title that Jesus used about himself, he would come from the clouds to destroy all the powerful armies of the world. The book of Revelation also shows this type of imagery, only they apply it to the second coming of Christ. Jesus will overcome the power of the enemy by his power. Both of these writings were done during persecutions not totally unlike post reformation Germany. The book of Daniel was written about 150 years before Jesus came when an evil Roman leader named Antiochus Epiphanes came to power. He sought to make all people follow the pagan religion of the Romans. Understandably, certain Jews had a problem with this. They stood up to this tyranny by continuing to practice the exclusive laws within Judaism, not the free flowing legislation of paganism. For their bravery, many died.

Similarly, after the death of Christ, Christianity became a forbidden religion. Many people died simply because they desired to follow the way of Christ. It is no surprise, therefore, that people needed to have hope during these persecutions. Think about our own time. I think all political pundits agree that the reason we had such a drastic change in leadership during the last election was because of dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq. We don’t know how to solve this problem that we caused and we are becoming increasingly distrustful of leaders that tell us we just need to keep trying. We hear no hope in that message.

In times of persecution, people need to hear that in the end the good guys will win. That’s what the books of Daniel and Revelation tell us. That even when we have corrupt leaders who make decisions that compromise human life, it will get better. Good will triumph over evil, God will triumph over sin and death and bring us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. But when you look closely at the gospel, you realize that it paints a wildly different image of Christ as King than that triumphal image from Revelation and Daniel. We hear from the Gospel of John, not from a victorious Son of Man who is coming in the clouds to topple the government of Rome. Not from the God who is the beginning and the end, the alpha and omega, the great Oz behind the curtain. We hear from Jesus Christ who has been imprisoned and is entirely alone. He is being interrogated by the local leader, Pontius Pilate, knowing full well that, for himself, being lifted up as leader will mean that he will be lifted up on the cross to die. This is the Son of Man in reverse. He wasn’t there to take over Israel in a bloody coup. He was there to take over Israel by dying on the cross so that death’s power would be sucked dry and we might have the hope of eternal life. That’s why Pilate couldn’t understand that Jesus was a King unlike any King that he had known, certainly not a political threat to him.

We began this month with the feasts of All Saints and All Soul’s, a time to pray for those of our loved ones who have passed away and ask for the saints to pray for us. We have done this each time we gathered together by reading names from our Book of Remembrance at the beginning of mass. We end this month by remembering how it is that there are saints at all – that Christ our King took his throne on the cross to die for our sins. We don’t have a king that will fight a bloody war with countless casualties on each side in order to gain power for himself, we have a King that models for us what it means to freely serve our neighbors even to the point of shedding our life. In this world of power and authority, we Christians must be like Christ and see our real authority in weakness.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

A great Thanksgiving

Today was so much day that it's hard to believe it was only 24 hours long!

I went to mass at my home parish in Marshalltown, which I love to do because I get to concelebrate in that beautiful familiar structure. Then we had our family Thanksgiving dinner, which is again so familar to me.

The one strange thing is that my nieces and nephews are getting older. The younger ones still want to play outside but the older ones don't anymore. It's strange to think that they may be coming to ISU sometime. I pray for them all the time because I know that if the world is getting this immoral at this point in history, what's it going to be like when they get here?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

More razzing from the disenfranchised....

I was looking around the net and found this article from (excommunicated) Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo affirms the vaticans decision that celibacy is integral to priesthood while simultaneously believing that "Celibacy should be a freely chosen charism and not a job requirement. Not every priest has the charism to be celibate and this is the problem because the church forces it on him or he cannot be ordained. It is a requirement that violated human freedom..."

First of all, priesthood is not a job. Priesthood is a vocation. It is a life/calling. While one is called to be the best janitor/police officer/doctor possible and is given gifts by God to carry that out, these jobs pale in comparison to priesthood. A priest is expected to live a different life because of his calling. He is expected to be a man of prayer, a man of holiness, a man in the world but not of it. He is expected to image Christ constantly in all his interractions. A janitor that goes home may have a very untidy house but still be called a good janitor. A doctor who smokes is still called a doctor. A priest who committs acts of sexual abuse destroys the very foundations of the church. A priest who swears scandalizes and diminishes priesthood. (I should know. I do it way too often.)

Secondly, but related, in an age of sexual confusion, the best thing that the church can do is recommitt herself to the mandatory celibacy requirement. Priests need to know why they are doing this, true, and they need to be supported in their celibate commitment by many people. But, there has been nothing that in any way shows the need to diminish the necessity of celibacy. The sacrament of marriage is a mess! Sex is a part of dating not the penultimate expression of love between husband and wife. Gender is something that you choose. Why would the church believe that adding sex and marriage to priesthood is going to do anything but make a difficult situation even worse?

Thirdly, why should the church listen to some excommunicated bishop that has founded a schismatic group? Like most schismatic movements in the church, this will die and 200 years from now people will say, "Married priests now? What the heck was that?"

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The exciting life of the sick campus minister

I tend to think that being a priest at a college campus is, at points, the most frantic lifestyle of a priest. I'm not sure if that's true or if just goes to show how much I'm willing to put into this particular assignment. Regardless, the last forty eight hours have been strange, even for the life of a campus minister

1. I have the flu and it seems as though it's headed for bronchitis. I used to get bronchitis around this time of year in college but it hasn't happened for quite some time. A couple of the college students got a cold that, more or less, was a 24 hour affair. I figured this was the same thing...on Thursday. Now it's Sunday and I feel about as bad now as did then. Clearly, I have it worse than they did.

2. There was a car accident in front of my house last night. Somehow, one of my parishioners got into his car, drove a block, and rammed it into a tree in front of my house. He died. I didn't really hear anything until I heard the sirens. How could I have missed that?

3. The students brought me turkey noodle soup. We had left over turkey from out supper last Sunday and they bought the rest of the stuff. It's awesome soup, too. If I hadn't sneezed all over it accidentally, I'd offer it to other people.

I'm looking forward to an easy week this week. The students are on a week break and I will be getting past this cold and enjoying Thanksgiving. It should be a good time to catch up on reading...something that I've not been able to do since August.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The meeting about married priests....a thought.

The Pope met with his closest advisors yesterday to talk about married priests. Of course, the media was all aflurry with the misguided conception that the pope would emerge from this meeting and declare priests able to be married. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when this never happens....

1. The Pope isn't going to change long-standing church policy by meeting with eight people.

2. The priests that have already promised celibacy (myself included) will not be affected by this.

3. There is a legitamate reason why the church should not move in this direction at this point in history. The reason has to do with society's misguided fixation with sex. We are entering an era in which the very idea of celibacy is almost uniformly repugnant to larger society. Sex is a part of the dating process, not something that should be reserved to the married state. In the midst of this, an old heresy has reemerged that posits that Jesus was married and has children. The church needs to stand up against this heresy in all its forms. If, at the peak of this heresy, the church were to allow for married priests, the very people we need to image Christ for society, we would be sending a very confusing message. We would either be admitting that we believe sex is a necessary part of human development or we would be perpetuating the heresy that Christ was married with children.

All of this leads me to believe that, rather than declaring it possible for priests to marry the pope will likely seek to explain with greater clarity the church's theological rationale for "celibacy for the sake of the kingdom"....again.

Monday, November 13, 2006

wow! It's been a while

I'm sorry that it's taken me so long to post again. I've been busy with a retreat around the student center and unable to do anything but lock and unlock doors. But, aside from the thank you notes, I think I'm finished and will be able to start sharing my thoughts again.

I'll post this weekend's homiy tomorrow and, hopefully, have time to read the bishop's statement on homosexual pastoral care. We'll see.

Friday, October 27, 2006

We don't often hear stories like this.

Imagine, if you can, the persecution of several hundred catholic priests at a time. Imagine a state that would round up priests and hand out a death sentence for their faith. Sound like something that would happen in Afghanistan or Iran? There aren't enough priests there. How about France?

Read here and find out. Think it can't happen again?

Vox Clara more pastoral than most people expected

Toward the end of my seminary experience, a small but significant revolution took place in the english speaking catholic world. I imagine most people were totally unaware of it. Had I not been in seminary, the hotbed of catholic rumor mills, I'm quite certain I wouldn't have known a thing.

The vatican enacted a second group, called Vox Clara, to oversee the translation of latin liturgical texts (texts for mass and other sacraments and prayers) into english. It was thought that this group would make it almost impossible for english to be translated into anything but the most literal of translations. I find it intersting, therefore, to find this article on catholic news service this morning....


Commission looks for balance in English liturgical translations

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Work on a new English translation of the Mass continues to seek a balance between a highly formal prayer language and preserving liturgical phrases that have become part of an English speaker's prayer tradition, said Australian Cardinal George Pell of Sydney.

Cardinal Pell chairs the Vox Clara Commission, an international group of bishops who advise the Vatican on English liturgical translations.

Vox Clara met Oct. 23-26 at the Vatican to study translations developed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

Describing many of the texts as "outstanding," Vox Clara members also said they gave the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments an "extensive commentary on certain problems" found in the translations.

Cardinal Pell told Catholic News Service Oct. 27: "It is important to be clear that they are small problems. They are not major problems at all."

In general, he said, the bishops were concerned about "some interesting terminology that was different from the traditional -- unusual."

While declining to give specific examples, Cardinal Pell said the phrases in question replace phrases -- judged to be faithful to the Latin -- used in English since the Second Vatican Council.

"Provided the Latin is rendered faithfully, we are keen to keep terminology the people are familiar with," Cardinal Pell said.

He also described some of the phrases as "too grammatical" in the sense that they sound like they are the result of an advanced grammar lesson rather than a faithful translation into a living language.

Vox Clara's Oct. 27 press release praised the energy with which everyone is working to get a high-quality, faithful translation of the Mass into parishes as soon as possible.

It also said commission members conducted a final review of a congregation document meant to serve as a guide for English-language liturgical translations.

The congregation is expected to publish the guide, formally called "'Ratio Translationis' for the English Language," before Christmas.

When will we learn that it's just not that easy to move bishops into categories of "liberal" and "conservative"? These are pastors, shepherds who care a great deal for their flock. They don't want to impose any agenda other than Christ Jesus and the salvation of souls.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist

I was reading Catholic News Service this morning and came upon this story. I found it to be a very interesting story and one that will affect the American Church. As a priest, I'm glad to be able to shake hands with people as they leave and connect with them then. I sort-of take it for granted that someone else will be purifying the sacred vessels and I can take my time with the people of God. This may shorten the time that I spend there. It's to be determined if that's a bad thing or not.

This will have other affects as well. No more will I hear people say, "Time to go do the dishes!" with a heavy sigh. Nor will I see people pour the sacred species directly down the drain of the saquarium before I can correct them. I'm sure that some will say that this is another case of the vatican taking away the power of the laity and I'm also sure that they are wrong. This is a case of the vatican seeking to give the proper people the proper roles. The priest, acting in the person of Christ, confected the eucharist. He should be the servant whose responsibility it is to clean it up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A reminder of a great movie

Recently, a good friend was in town and we got to watch the movie 1776. It's a musical with some notable figures in the movie version and a great opening sequence...actually the opening sequence is the best part of the movie. You can see it on youtube here.

There's a great quote by the obnoxious John Adams that Starts it off.

"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more are called a congress."

I think in the church we could adapt it slightly. Bear with me on this. This isn't meant to be taken literally...

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a theologian, that two are called the tribunal, and that three or more are called the chancery/a committe....

Monday, October 23, 2006

Heroes....the coolest show ever!

Have you caught the new show on Monday nights called Heroes? Here's what it has going for it:

1. Great Actors
2. Great story/writers
3. SUSPENSE!

It keeps me riveted to the screen. It's a myth in the ancient sense of the word. I tape it every week and I'm going to keep the tapes until I have them all and then I'm going to by the DVD's. I have the idea that I will wear the Video Tapes out.

It's not trying to push an an agenda at us. It's just telling a story and doing it well.

I love it!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Monday, October 16, 2006

Sex Crimes and the Vatican

Sexual abuse is a tragedy. There is no excuse for priests who committ acts of sexual abuse and they should be removed from priesthood and civilly charged. There is no justification for it and bishops deserve the authority and responsibility to deal with it decisively.

The BBC is alleging that the church has a policy of covering up acts of sexual abuse in a secret document called "Crimen solicitationis" or the crime of solicitation. If they are right, this would be the equivalent to the "smoking gun" that lawyers in this country and abroad have been seeking to use to finally involve the Pope and the Vatican in sexual abuse lawsuits. They even claim in their forty two minute video that the man chosen to enforce this document was none other than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, the man we know as Pope Benedict the 16th.

There are a couple of problems with this theory.

1. It's a lie. The document deals with sexual abuse that is contracted in a confessional. In other words, if a priest were to solicit sexual abuse while hearing confessions, this instructs what needs to take place to deal with it. It calls such solicitation a crime and imposes the penalty of excommunication on any priest that committs it. But, it also imposes a statute of limitations on the person making allegations. Why, you may ask? As a priest, I'll tell you why. It isn't fair to bind a priest to the secrecy of the confessional and make false claims of sexual abuse months or years later. The priest cannot defend himself other than saying that nothng of the sort happened. He can't talk about details nor can he name people who may be able to corroborate the amount of time the person spent in the confessional. The church needed to set up some kind of way to protect the rights of the priest as well as the penitent.

2. Why keep it a secret? Perhaps because it deals with internal governance. It's not as though seminaries make this known to priests, trust me. This BBC documentary is the first time that I've heard of this. We are no more informed about this than anyone else is. It may be a policy that is still being worked out by the church. It may have been protected from insidious lawyers who love to use legal technicalities in less than scrupulous ways. The worst thing is that we automatically assume that the reason is insidious. Another possibility is that it is here on the Vatican website but that it's all in Italian. I don't know since I never learned Italian.

3. There is a deeper lie. They are alleging that since it's promulgation twenty years ago, Cardinal Ratzinger was in charge of enforcing it. It wasn't until 2002 that enforcement of this was moved to the congregation for the doctrine of the faith for enforcement, the same year that Cardinal Law came under such intense scrutiny and was, eventually, moved to a position of...let's just say...lesser importance. I'm not sure who was in charge of enforcing it before that, though I'd expect that is was the congregation for the clergy. However, the only thing that is clear is that it wasn't the Pope! The BBC knows this. They know that it wasn't Benedict's responsibility to enforce this but they have continued to put forth this lie.

The media will do anything to make connections wheather they exist in reality or not. They need us to hate the pope and clergy to make them our only trusted resource of truth. Will American Catholics stand together and not let them or die the suicidal death of self hatred?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fishers of Men

Sorry about not posting for a while. I hope to post every day but these past three weeks have not been good for me.

One of the reasons for that was the project Fr. Phil Gibbs did for the priests of the Archdiocese of Dubuque called Fishers of Men. I played a small part in it and, as usual, worried for weeks about what could go wrong. I was worried that some of my more radical brothers would use this as a day to call for ordinarion of women and ordination of married men. This really gets us no where. Instead, the theory behind this program is that preiests have the tendency to get down on priesthood and focus on what can be fixed. But, happy priests promote vocations. So, if we want the next generation of priests to step forward, we have to put the best foot forward.

We gathered together to talk about what gives us life about priesthood. And, as I hope I communicate in this blog, there are a lot of life-giving experiences in priesthood. It was refreshing to sit down with my brother priests and remind ourselves of that. I sometimes wonder if we should do more of this type of reflection and less where we feel like we have to involve staffs and parish councils and committees and everyone else who wants to show up. As married couples remind me, there are things that I will never know about marriage because I've never been married. There are things that you can't understand about priesthood unless you are a priest. We need to help each other succeed and not think that we can succeed in a vacuum.

Friday, October 06, 2006

A thanksgiving offering for my priesthood

Don't worry! I'm still a priest. I haven't done anything that would make that not true. And the last thing in the world that I would ever want is for that to happen.

Sometimes, however, I think about what life would be like if it did. What would I do? How would I react? It reminds me of how thankful that I should be to be a priest. It's a great life.

We can't forget that. Even on my worst days, this is a great life. I hope that more men would consider doing this. I wish I could explain why but part of the reason that makes me love this life are the things I can't talk about; those times when someone comes to me with deep concerns that they can't tell anyone else and they leave in peace, those times a family calls me in the middle of the night because they need to know that God has not forgotten about them, those times when it's not about Dennis Miller showing up but about Father being there.

I complain about meetings and schedules and couples that aren't supposed to be married and so much. I pray that God will always keep me thankful for this great gift of priesthood.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A beautiful August Day

What a great day! It was in the upper 80s, which would normally be too warm and even though I don't like running my air conditioner in October, I had to keep reminding myself that it's not going to be long before it's December, January....May. You know, Iowa winter. No Fun! You can't leave your house. I need to enjoy these days of warmth before it's just too darn cold again.

It was a sad day for another reason, however. The darn Texas Longhorns brought a clearly sterroid rudden volleyball team into Hilton Colliseum and beat my Cyclones in three staight sets. Of all the teams to do it, why the darn Longhorns. I kept wanting to sing the A&M fight song. Saw Varsity's Horns off...short! But my Iowa State kids wouldn't let me. Darn you Longhorns!

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Whos is your Eldad and Medad?

A couple of weeks ago, my mother’s side had a family reunion. I love Family reunions for the time to catch up with relatives that you only see once a year. When I got out of my truck I made the rounds to different Aunts, Uncles, and cousins to say hello and hear a one minute summary of the their year and then I saw my nephew who thinks I’m pretty cool. If you are an aunt or uncle to multiple nieces and nephews you probably know that there are some that like you more than others. I’ve always considered it my job to love them all the same. This one nephew, however, is the daredevil of the family. He loves to have me throw him around and I end up feeling more like a jungle gym than an uncle or a priest. I saw this little guy out of the corner of my eye and, as usual, he came running up to me. But, just before he did his usual leap into my arms for a bear hug, he stopped and said, “I hate your shirt.” Now, of course he hadn’t suddenly become a fashion critic, I had writing on my shirt that he didn’t like. He lives in Iowa City and, thus, is a Hawkeye fan. So, since I was wearing my non-priestly outfit of jeans and one of my varied Iowa State sweatshirts, he was expressing displeasure at my allegiance to Iowa State. So, when my nephew repeated, “I hate your shirt”, it caused my other nephew, whose dad is a graduate of this august institution, to start to defend me. I tried to tell them both that, now that the game was over there is no reason that we can’t cheer for both teams. I mean, let’s face it, if you live in Iowa you should want Iowa to beat Minnesota and Wisconsin and Illinois. It only makes our state of Iowa look better. No offense to our out of state student parishioners and their families. You have to understand I was trying to get my nephews to work together. But my nephews would have none of this reasoning. The University of Iowa is for turkeys according to one nephew and Iowa State is for cy-clowns according to the other.

Isn’t it amazing to see the kinds of lines we draw in the sand to differentiate ourselves from others. Sometimes they are used for purely evil purposes, for example instances of unfair discrimination like racism, sexism, class discrimination, and other sinful acts. Sometimes they are more mundane like differences between different team affiliations and where we born or grew up. Our readings challenge us today in this manner. In both the first reading and gospel, people are given gifts that someone else thinks they don’t deserve. In the gospel, it was an unnamed person who was driving demons out in Jesus’ name. In the first reading, it was these two elders, Eldad and Medad, who didn’t respond to the invitation given to them to go to meeting tent in order to receive Moses’ spirit but are given it nonetheless. In both cases, someone decides that these people who have been given spiritual gifts outside of the normal way they should have been given them, don’t deserve them. Jesus response is good, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Yet, I think Moses’ response is just as good for us to ponder if not better, “Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on them all!”

If only the Lord would bestow his spirit on us all in the same way! I mean, don’t get me wrong. He has bestowed his spirit on us in baptism and, throughout our lives, we continue to discern those gifts that God has given to us as a fruit of baptism. Yet, jealousy can be the unfortunate result of the gift of the spirit, the jealousy that posits one person against another in a war of dominance. It’s hard to be satisfied with the gifts and talents that God has given to us and not wish that we could have the other person’s gifts and talents. It’s much easier to draw up sides and claim that one person or group is wrong and, clearly, the spawn of Satan. It’s much harder to consider that we may have to hold together two ideas that seem to contradict one another because both are true. But, if we do, this will challenge us to a greater understanding of truth, and, therefore, of God.

I believe this is what the Pope was talking about recently in his controversial speech in Regensburg, Germany. Despite what some consider a gaff on his part, the pope was making a point that too many people believe you have to believe in either faith or science. For a long time, religion was the closed minded structure that believed itself superior to natural sciences. This is evidenced in the quote had gave. Nowadays, however, it is science that believes it can operate in a theological vacuum and even, sometimes, disprove the very foundation of religion and theology. Pope Benedict was turning to a group of intellectuals; scientists, philosophers, and theologians, and inviting them to eat from the same table, to not turn the other into an ostracized Eldad or Medad.

We all have Eldads and Medads in our life and each of us need to hear the call of God in that first reading in a new way, "Would that all the people of the LORD were prophets! Would that the LORD might bestow his spirit on us all!" What person or idea have we turned our back on that may need to be heard again?

Friday, September 29, 2006

cape dies

Yesterday's reading said...

The eye is not satisfied with seeing
nor is the ear satisfied with hearing.

which I think is a good way of describing the way most college students can feel.

The book ecclesiastes is named after the the lead character, qoheleth, the Hebrew word for a gathering. This qoheleth fellow believes that the same thing happens day after day, year after year, and that there's no hope. Regardless...you will die and come to an end. You may thing that there is change but it's just hubris...there is no change.

Qoheleth evidences the hopelessness of someone stuck in a situation of apparant powerlessness. You can buck the powerless situation and try to take back power..the solution of the world. Or you can relize that true power comes from God who gives power to those who are powerless. God is the power in our life and we are his people, the flock that he shepherds.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

And another thing...

In the last two days, I've heard two different bishops speak about their rold in vocational promotion. And, even though I know that it's unfair to believe that every bishop is gifted with the same gifts, I want to applaud these bishops for what they do.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of the Twin Cities runs two seminarys, one at the college level and one at the graduate level. I remember meeting personally with Archbishop Flynn during my last year there for a "check-up" meeting. He is an incredibly caring individual with a listening ear. It is obvious that he cares for both his seminarians and his newly ordained priests.

Bishop Robert Carlson was also obviously very supportive of vocations in his diocese. He said that, of all the priests that were ordained in his diocese, all of them lived with him at one time. He, apparently, has seminarians live in his basement during formation in order to get to know them. And, to his credit, of his 33 ordinations in his diocese, not a single man has yet left priesthood. I think it speaks to the openness of this shepherd in knowing his sheep.

Like a shepherd without any sheep...

I have enjoyed my time here...for the most part...at the National Conference for Diocesan Vocation Directors. I am a "New Vocation Director", which means I got a blessing and everyone is very supportive since they know this is my first time. They were sure to put a green sticker on my nametag letting everyone know I'm new.

The tough thing is that I miss my people. This is the third professional workshop of the year for me. I was supposed to be here until later in the evening on Wednesday but, partially because of a situation in the parish and partially because of my yearning to go hom, I'm leaving after the last conference tomorrow.

I have learned a lot about being a shepherd these last four years of priesthood and it's hard to be away from my people. I know I need to remember these times for when my people are annoying, when they are unfairly criticizing me, or when they disappoint me. I know my sheep. My sheep know me. Now let me get back and be their shepherd!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Back in the Twin Cities

I definitely have a love/hate relationship with the Twin Cities.

Here's what I love; There are a million great places to go in the cities. There are awesome churches that are beautiful, there's the Guthrie theater, there's Grand Avenue. And you can actually get to those places, unlike other big cities that made it too complicated to get from here to there. One of my best friends in the world lives here, Fr. Bob Hart. And this place will symbolize a huge triumph in my mind: the kid that wasn't supposed to graduate from college managed to get a graduate degree.

Here's what I don't love: I had the most intense experience of education while here and there are some really negative things that happened during those four years. I met some great people, true, but I also met some people that should never have been priests. And, along the way, I had some pretty powerfully hurtful experiences of rejection...those things that take a million experiences of affirmation to undo.

I'm here for a vocations conference...the third conference I've been to this year. And this is my last for this year. And, when I drive in, I'm always glad that I can go see Bob instead of having to drive toward the seminary. It's nice to be done for a while with schooling and to know they don't have priesthood to hang over my head anymore.

So, I'll probably be posting this week about my experiences at this conference for vocation directors. I'll be interested to know just how it is they are going to tell us to get young men to consider priesthood. What works. What doesn't.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Who should apologize: the Pope or the firebombing muslims?

As you are, undoubtedly, aware, the entire muslim world is on fire because of the following quote...

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God's nature.

This is a quote that Pope Benedict gave in a lecture at Regensburg to a group of academicians. I've been asked about it several times and, the more I read it, the more I realize that the Pope has nothing to apologize for. What the pope is doing is using a past conversation to illustrate the need for modern conversations. This is what he means by "a brusqueness that leaves us astounded..." The modern conversation that needs to happen is christianity's intrinsic connection to faith that, while intrinically connected to Judasim, is a historical development that is unique to Christianity. Islam struggles with violence because it lacks the intrinsic understanding...though it can also be open to it.

But, the Pope continues by criticizing European society for giving up on an intrinsic connection between faith and reason, which is tantamount to the very Islam that it seems at war with; it's just that Europe puts scientific reason in the forefront and Islam puts faith.

It seems to me that the Pope is challenging us, once again, to bring both sides into dialogue.

This isn't killing muslims who have come to pray. Muslims are killing christians in prayer. they need to apologize.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reflections on a college football game

Today the number 16 University of Iowa hawkeyes defeated the unranked Iowa State Cyclones. There were some huge mistakes on the Cyclone cyde and some great plays by the hawkeyes. It was hard to come to the realization that my beloved Cyclones were going to lose to the hawkeyes and that I was going to have to hear all my hawkeye friends rub it in. Ugh!

It's tough to be a Cyclone fan. They showed marked improvement from last week and they continue to improve but they still aren't great. I think of the Cyclones as somewhat like our struggle with sin. Sometimes you win but often you lose. It's easy to get frustrated and want to give up but you know that you can't. You can get better...you just have to pick up and try again.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Iowa/Iowa State football

I'm an an Iowa State Fan. I've said it in the blog before. I will say it again. I went to Loras College but I was sold on Iowa State when my brother brought me here for little brothers/little sisters weekend.

I got this joke from a friend this week that describes my feeling for Iowa State really well....

An Iowa State Cyclone fan used to amuse himself by scaring every Iowa Hawkeye fan he would see strutting down the side of the road in their obnoxious black and gold colors.

He would swerve his van as if to hit them, and then he would swerve back on the road just before hitting them. One day, as the van driver was driving along, he saw a priest. He thought he would do a good turn and pulled the van over.

He asked the priest "Where are you going, Father?" "I'm going to give Mass at St. John Neuman's Church, about five miles down the road," replied the priest.

"No problem, Father! I'll give you a lift. Climb in!" The priest climbed into the passenger seat, and the van continued down the road. Suddenly, the driver saw a Hawkeye fan strutting down the road, and instinctively, he swerved as if to hit him.

But as usual, just in time, he swerved back to the road, narrowly missing the guy. Even though he was certain he missed the guy, he still heard a loud "THUD." Not understanding where the noise came from, he glanced in his mirrors, but he didn't see anything.

He then remembered the priest, and he turned to the priest and said "I'm sorry, Father. I almost hit that Iowa Hawkeye fan."

"That's OK" replied the priest. "I got him with the door."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

On Notice

A friend sent this link to me a while back and I thought this week was a good time to use it. The first one is "Coach" Mike Sanford of UNLV, by the way. Please note that Staph meetings are above Staph infections....

Once again impressed with Jack Trice Stadium

I had the oppertunity this last Saturday evening to watch the Fightin' Iowa State University football team play at Jack Trice Stadium. It's the second time I've had that chance since my childhood. It tells me a lot about what has changed here at ISU since then.

Back then, we never knew whether we were going to score, let alone if we were going win. It was dreadful and embarrassing. I went to the game to listen to the band.

When I went the other day, I had hope that Coach McCarney would pull out a victory and my hope was rewarded. Iowa State beat UNLV despite the whiney protests of one of the sorest loser coaches in football history, Mike Sanford. Can you imagine a coach that is so terrible that he keeps his team on the field for 15 minutes after the game because he disagreed with a call? And the UNLV players went out and stomped on the ISU logo...no class whatsoever.

What had great class, as far as I'm concerned, were the Iowa State University students. I was incredibly impressed with their positive attitude and support of the Cyclones. They got frustrated with eight minutes of time out that UNLV got when they reviewed one play right before the end of the game. But they sang Sweet Caroline to entertain themselves. And they did cheers. Athletic Director Pollack should be commended for his adjustment of the stadium to put the band and student sections together. I'm just glad that Iowa State students have something to rally around.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

He does all things well

In talking with student, I've learned that one of the reasons they love Iowa State University is because of a certain emphasis that is placed on internships. It might seem as though they are saying that they like to be able to get away from campus but what they are really saying is that they like to be able to know that all work they put in their classes will be utilized for something. They like to know that there's a use for it in the "real world". And, to be honest, I can sympathize with that. I had four internships in my years of seminary, one of which took place here at STA. I found them all to be times when I felt like I was being validated on my journey to priesthood. Yet, there were also times when I felt like I was being challenged and totally unworthy of being a priest. One of the most difficult times happened at the end of these internships, when I would sit down with the director of seminarians and the internship director to reflect on my growing edges that need to be knocked off. A particularly hard evaluation took place when I opened up the written evaluation and started reading glowing reviews. Dennis preaches well. Dennis sings well. People feel like they can talk to and relate to Dennis well. There wasn't a single negative comment on the sheet. I thought to myself, "I'm not perfect! This isn't right. Where's the negative feedback?"

That was kind-of my reaction to today's gospel. We're used to criticism being heaved at Jesus from all sides. He gets criticism from the Pharisees, Sadducees, disciples, and crowds. It's very rare that people say, "He does all things well." Now, admittedly there's a larger theological construct going on called the messianic secret, which is a fancy phrase indicating times in the gospel of Mark when Jesus wants the crowd to be silent in order to prevent them from spreading a false understanding of what it means to be the messiah. As we heard in the first reading, there were correct understandings of the messiah but there were also misunderstandings of temporal leadership associated with the messiah. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus tries to prevent crowds from spreading this misinformation, though he almost always fails.

Yet, I think Jesus' instruction is applicable to us too. The fact that he ordered them to tell no one is not just about humility, I think it has a lot to do with stewardship. Stewardship is the notion that God gives gifts to his people and we are expected to use them. Jesus was merely using the gifts that God has given to him. In so doing, he is teaching us not only to be humble in their utilization but to not be afraid to actually use them.

Each of us have been given gifts and talents by God to be used in the service of the body of Christ. There is a way that each of us have of underutilizing our gifts out of a false sense of humilty; basically by saying that we aren't good enough. This is, kind-of, what James was cautioning against in the second reading. James reminds us that there have only been two perfect people God has called to his service, Jesus the Son and Mary his mother. The rest of us feel imperfect in need of God's perfecting grace. Maybe you feel like you aren't good enough to serve in some role in liturgy; musician, extraordinary eucharistic minister, lector. Maybe you feel like you aren't good enough to reach out to the poor in loving service. Maybe you don't feel like you are good enough to consider being a priest, sister, brother, or deacon. God has given us these gifts. The question we must ponder isn't what we aren't good enough for. The question is, "What has God called you to do well?"

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The danger of blogs

At noon, I thought of something to post.

11 hours later, I can't remember it.

If it comes to me, I'll put it here.

If only I could remember what it was about.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The soviet's watched JP II

An interesting story from Catholic world News

"Last year the Institute for National Remembrance charged that Father Konrad Hejmo, a Polish Dominican priest stationed in Rome, had been on the payroll of the Polish secret policy, providing information about the Pontiff. Father Hejmo-- who did not work at the Vatican, and did not have access to secret information-- denied that he knowingly cooperated with Communist authorities. But he did say that Pope John Paul was keenly aware of the likelihood that he was being watched. During a meeting with Polish priests in Rome, Father Hejmo recalled, the Pope made it clear 'he knew he was being spied on.'"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Labor Day - A day to take a break from laboring.

As a kid, labor day was the last really good camping weekend of the summer. After this, we knew that we'd have to leave later on Friday afternoon because of school and arrive earlier on Sunday to get homework done. This summer will make me value the fall weather more than most, I imagine.

I find myself rather philosopical today. I'm using that term somewhat loosely, a dangerous prospect for a philosphy major. Nonetheless, as I sit watching Lord of the Rings, it occurs to me that I know between now and Thanksgiving, I will get very little rest. I will have to work six and sometimes seven days out of the week. Saying that I'm behind is both an understatement and an exaggeration.

This labor day, it is tempting to try to get work done...to work on my homily for this weekend or make some preparations for a retreat I'm working on for November. And, even though I know I will have to be working on a barbecue at five today, I also know that this labor day is also my day off...my sabbath day of rest to reconnect with my God. This is the challenge I face this semester: to not work seven days a week, to not let sloth throughout the week defeat the day that gives life meaning. I hope to be like Benedict and realize that if I'm a failure as a campus minister, it is bad. But if I am a failure as a man of God, I am doomed.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person

Ever since the sexual abuse crisis began, I've heard a continously incresing fear of being put in compromising situations. Part of this is good. A priest who makes the decision to "groom" a boy into being his victim is, at least, a little easier to recognize.

Nonetheless, I have made a conscious choice in my ministry not to move to the extreme of religious separatism. What am I talking about? I think it's still important to engage people on a personal level. I think it's important to meet with people who are in need on a one on one basis. I think it's still important to be willing to put ourselves in those situations in order to show people the love of a father.

We cannot become absent fathers. The solution to the sexual abuse crisis isn't withdrawl. While we need to take time for ourselves, we still need to show the love of a foster Father for the children the heavenly father has given to him.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Two sides to a coin

I work for college students. I live among college students.

We live in a time in which people don't recognize authority...at least most don't. People want to know that an authority figure is a human being not entirely different from themselves. They want to joke with us but they also want to know that, despite that, I'm also holy, that I live up to what I preach.

So, the question that keeps coming up for me is when do I tell students that I can't go with them, that our journeys must go in different directions. I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm never going to a bar with a group of students on a weekend night. I know priests who have done this because they met and ministered to students that they wouldn't have otherwise met. I can't get past the fact that bars tend to be places students go to get drunk. They lose inhibitions and act in ways that are inappropriate. It just seems unseemly.

Yet, sometimes students invite me over for a movie and, when I arrive, I realize one or two have a beer. They will even offer me a beer and, to be honest, I will have a beer or two with them. I'm not going to get drunk obviously but I'm not going to be puritanical either. I tend not to leave because the plan is not to get drunk but to have a drink and relax. I've had incredible conversations with students in this context because the questions that they've always wanted to ask but couldn't get the courage or didn't know how to ask them tend to come out. I feel like there's an opening for very good for ministry.

Yet, I sometimes fear that I'm getting too close; that I'm becoming too much like the "older brother" and not maintaining the "other side of the coin" that allows them to see in me the image of our heavenly Father. For me, this is what I'm learning here at St. Thomas. I'm learning how to be a priest to the current generation and how to figure out what the current generation needs in a priest. I tend to learn the hard way and there have been times when I've made mistakes, nothing that would in any way compromise my ability to be a priest but definitely times when I think that I wish I could pull those words back into my mouth or not act that way to this particular student. But, I feel blessed because students are very forgiving and very honest. They tell me when something is "not cool" and they tell me that they appreciate my willingness to walk among them now...to minister to them where they are.

I just hope that God will continue to give me the grace to minister to these students and help me be there for them when they need me. It's amazing. This has been one of those weeks where I , again, started asking if this is the right ministry for me and, if I'd stop listening to the voices that deform the gospel and listen to the people who I minister to, it would be to patently obvious that God has put me here. It doesn't matter if it's always comfortable. God wants me to be here. That is sufficient.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bats in the bellfrey

Have you ever had a bat in your house?

I've had two circling my apartment in the last couple of weeks. One was above the drop celing in my kitchen. I called our janitor over and he took removed it from my house. Then, the other night, one was on my kitchen window. I thought I could get it out on my own but, one half hour of circling my living room later, I had a bat sleep-over in my apartment.

I found something out about mysel that night. Some people are scared of bats. I'm terrified. I didn't know this about myself. For all intents and purposes, this bat was trapped in my living room behind a stack of books in my book case. It couldn't have made it into my room because I had shut my door and put a pair of jeans below the door and hung a blanket over the entrance to the hallway (there's no door there so I used a blanket instead). I bet I got 15 minutes of sleep that night because I kept convincing myself that there was a bat in the room. Irrational? Absolutely! But that's what my brain told me was reality. Each time that I heard something in the room, each time that I felt movement close to my cheek, each time that I had an itch, it was the bat!

We rely on our brains to provide sensery data to us. Yet, our brains are not infallible. If there's one thing about the human person of which we are sure it is that. Look at history and we will see people who thought big rocks fall faster than little ones, the earth was flat and stationary with a bunch of star satelites revolving around it, and that the French are cultured. We search for hard and fast laws to define these realities. Isn't the true hubris of any civilization when that civilization believes it has all the answers or is capable of defeating all quandries?

I pose this because, quite often, the intellectual community will say that religion believes that it can answer questions that it cannot. Some of this criticism is justified. It's not fair to say that a four thousand year old document was trying to answer modern scientific questions about the creation of the earch, let alone the origin of human beings. The Bible was written to answer the question of who did it, not how was it done. They did an excellant job in keeping us focused on God and did the best they could with how the whole thing took place. I know fundamentalists give us a black eye by believing in a literal interpretation of Genesis (despite the discrepencies between the TWO creation stories) but isn't it AT LEAST ironic that some in the scientific community believe that they can bring about an end for the need for God. There are some people who believe that the time will come when all the questions we have will be answered and we will figure out that there is no God.

To this I quote a friend, "poppycock"! The more answers we get the more questions we have. When you answer one quandry it opens up a dozen more. Human beings are insatiably curious. That's why the Bush Administration can see a connection between 9-11 and Iraq and why the Democrats can see a connection between religion and terrorism: because we thirst for simple answers in a complex world, especially if those answers help us feel good about ourselves. Yet, in the end, there will always be things that we simply cannot resolve. I'm not being pessimisstic. I"m being optimistic in human society as a whole. We won't stop exploring because, when we do, we will die. Mystery is a necessary part of the human person. Some explain it away and, in the process, begin down a trek toward utter hopelessness. I prefer to allow it to exist and learn how to love it. I do so because I believe it loves me and wants me to know that.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

keeping the traditions

I've been reflecting on a phrase from today's reading....

"Therefore, brothers and sisters, stand firm
and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught,
either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours."

I've been thinking about how Paul had to get them to think "outside the box" or, better "outside the book" every once in a while. He had to remind them that the written word can be distorted and that God didn't just leave us an instruction book and abandon us. That just doesn't make sense that God would do that. God has been clarifying his relationship to us througout time, the fullness of that revelation being in the Catholic Church. We are the ones who have held "fast to the traditions (we) have been taught".

Fear not. Stand firm. Be proud to be Catholic.

Monday, August 28, 2006

murmuring

The disciples this past Sunday were murmuring. Our liturgy was very packed since we spent the first ten minutes, or so, introducing our rather large staff. So, I had to be brief and focus on what I thought the point of the homily was. Give them something to go home and think about.

I tried to focus on what it means to murmur...how that tears apart a group. I encouraged people that have complaints to approach people who can answer questions rather than simply complaining. I also encouraged people to not stay on the fringes but to get involved. I thought that was, in essence, what Peter was saying when he said, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”

I wish I could have preached about the second reading about wives being submissive to husbands and such. And I wish I could have highlighted that, once again, Simon Peter is the one who has faith. But, you can't say everything.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Catholic Church not against Science

In a shocking development, this story will not make CNN or any of the major news networks.

Cardinal Christoph Schornborn of Vienna, Austria says we should study Darwinism as a science. Here's the thing that the church wants: you shouldn't have to choose to believe in God or believe in Darwin. You can believe in God, believe in the truth of revelation and still believe that we descend from Monkeys.

Shocking? Not if you had given even the slightest bit of attention.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

completing my interviews

As I said in a previous post, I've been interviewing priests for an upcoming meeting of priests. I did the last one I will do last night. I didn't get all the ones I was responsible for done so I hope my brother priests will forgive. That's why I haven't posted in a while. I'm hoping that, once this is done, I'll be able to look around and find out what's been happening in the church. This feels way too much like the conclusion of finals week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Great pastoral letter

Bishop Braxton of the Belleville, Illinois has written what I think is a great pastoral letter. You can find it here.


Pay particular attention to his critique of the direction of the church in the US. Very good for a pastor who has been there just one short year.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

I am the bread of Life

I can remember, in my younger days, seeing a female friend walking down the hallway of my High School. I ran up behind her, threw my arms around her waste, lifted her up in the air, (as was our custom) only to realize that this wasn’t my friend at all. This was a poor stranger that I was triumphantly holding up in the air…right next to her boyfriend. I apologized, put her down, and walked, red-faced, in the complete opposite direction. I imagine most of you have not had quite that huge of a mistake but we all get names and faces confused. After a year at St. Thomas, I still marvel at the number of people who I should be able to call by name that are still a mystery to me. I’d rather not call people by any name than call them by the wrong name and, being a man, I’ll definitely not ask them their name any more than I’ll ask for directions.

In the gospel today, we heard Jesus say, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” It’s hard to believe that a seemingly simple statement such as this caused as much turmoil as it did and I have to be careful here because, two years ago, my homily got me in trouble. People complained loudly about it for this Sunday and I think part of the reason had to do with leaving out the context. You see, to understand why this statement is so controversial, you have to know what comes before it. You might remember that two weeks ago we heard the story of the multiplication of the loaves. Jesus looked out over the crowds and had pity on them. Last week, we briefly interrupted our regular Sunday schedule to celebrate the feast of the Transfiguration. We should have been hearing the first part of this reading in which, one day after the multiplication of loaves, a group who had been fed seek him out in order to be fed again. Most of us can probably sympathize with both Jesus and the crowd. When someone does something nice for you, you are more likely to turn to them in need, right? And, likewise, it seems like there are some people that constantly turn to you for help if you offer it once. In what was supposed to be last week’s reading, Jesus sought to help them understand that he wasn’t just giving them a hand-out, he was giving them salvation. They ask for a sign similar to the one that Moses had given their ancestors. So Jesus reveals to them that the bread that they were eating was his flesh that would, through his suffering on the cross and his glorious resurrection, redeem the world.

That brings us to our present reading which is, in some way, trying to clarify how Jesus’ flesh is this bread of life. There is an allusion to the Old Testament Exodus event in that, just as the Jews murmured through the desert on their way to the promised land, so this group of Jews are murmuring about Jesus’ identity. In some ways, this story reminds me of the story that we heard a few weeks ago when Jesus was in his home town but he could not perform a miracle for them because of their lack of faith. These Jews have the same objections. They ask, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” You can almost hear the sarcasm seething through each word. As scripture scholar Diane Bergant said, “In a clever turn-of-phrase, (Jesus) explains that only those drawn by God will be drawn by the one sent by God.”[1]

What would only become clear later was that, in this instruction, Jesus was calling them to a new identity. He was calling them to become Christian. Not just to break bread with him, but to believe in him and, through that belief to see in the bread the reality of his flesh, his very self. The action of the Eucharist was to manifest and enliven the faith that was given them by the Father. Now, please don’t get me wrong. If you know me you know that I have a profound love for the Jewish People. I get frustrated by the statements of some liberal Jews and I get frustrated by some of the actions of Israel. But, especially given what has happened surrounding Mel Gibson and the military activity in the Middle East, I think it’s once again important to understand that Jesus was inviting the Jews to a fuller, deeper understanding of their relationship to God, not nullifying their past understanding. Our Jewish brothers and sisters remain in a relationship with God, even if it is incomplete without an understanding of the messiah.

In our present circumstances, unfortunately, the Eucharist not only separates Jew from Christian but, as we are all painfully aware of, it also separates Christian from Christian. In our ecumenically charged world in which we tend to emphasize what unites us as Christians and even find ourselves frustrated by certain Christian denominations that don’t even consider us Christian, we may feel tempted to obliterate the differences and expect that anyone is allowed to take communion. As we look more deeply at this reading, we are confronted by a very divisive Christ that does not tolerate half-hearted unity. Either, we understand that, through the body of Christ that we receive and the faith that we cultivate, we are being led to the Father or we do not have eternal life. This isn’t simple bread that appears from heaven, this is the flesh of Jesus Christ that connects our lives to the cross. In our exuberance to be one, we cannot deny the differences that painfully separate the body of Christ even as we continue to pray and work for those differences to be eliminated. We, as Catholics, must continue to take seriously the gospel call, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”

[1] Bergant, Diane Preaching the New Lectionary Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Mn c. 1999

Don't use American Express

This post is one of those "my own opinion" pieces. There is no sin involved with those people who disagree with me and I'm in no way proposing that the church has any agreement with this post.

But, I'm one of those people that sends a request to credit card soliciters that they stop doing it. I use their own "no postage necessary" envelopes when I do so by circiling my name and saying something like, "Please do not contact me as I have no desire to use your credit card." Sometimes they will send a second time and I will write, "Second Time" and repeat the above or a variation with a more direct message (something along the lines of "cease and desist").

I think the all of the credit card companies have figured out that they are annoying me not making any positive impression...all except American Express. I have asked them three times before to cease and desist but they continue to waste paper and IGNORE what I have to say. So, here's my request. There are tons of good credit cards out there that listen to people. They solicit but they don't waste all kinds of money and paper when people make it quite clear that they don't want their product. If you have an American Express, your card does this. So, why do you want to use it? I think it's time to destroy our American Express cards and let them know that we are doing so because of unethical solicitation practices.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

myspace worries

A while back, a friend talked me into making a profile for myspace.com. I believe that if you go to www.myspace.com/fatherdennis that it will send you to the site. So far, I've connected with three guys that I thought had fallen off the face of the earth and it's proving to be one way of finding those college friends that I just kind-of lost.

In the process, I've received several inquiries from attractive young women to become their friends or start conversations with them. I wrote to the first three asking if I knew them and received no response. I don't know think it's healthy to meet friends via the internet. I don't mind reconnecting with people but, just like I don't dial random phone numbers just to meet people, so I don't just look up random people and try to correspond with them.

But, it does make me wonder how many men have done this. Hoe many married men are cheating on their wives, even if it is just in the heart, by corresponding to these women? How many men are writing to desperate housewives, so to speak, in order to do the same thing? I just find this troubling.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

first bat of the season

Usually I post profound theological posts here on my blog. I imagine all of you know that by now. But, I'm on vacation. So, here's what I did today.

I was sitting in my dining room listening to the radio and watching TV when I heard movement above me. I thought a mouse had somehow got into the drop ceiling of my kitchen but, then, it moved really fast from one corner over to the other. I was tempted to move the ceiling and see what was there when I thought to myself, "what are you doing? What would the Archbishop say if you got rabies because you were trying to get a bat out of your apartment. So, I called the building manager and told him that I had a critter in my ceiling.

It was small and, according to the janitor, laying in the corner. But, he's not in my house anymore. And, for the second year in a row, I have the first bat of the season in my apartment.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Homily Panic

I had put the final touches on my homily at around 11:00 Saturday night. It was a very eventful Saturday as some of my extended family came to my apartment for a visit and supper. While it was good to see them and good to travel to the Iowa Cubs baseball game, I was short on homily preparation time. But, I got a decent one prepared and, right when my brain seemed too tired to function, I heard the knocking on the back door. It was a couple of friends, one of whom is beginning doctoral studies at the University of Evil...I mean Iowa. So, after a couple of relaxing beverages, I told them that it was time for me to go to bed and thanked them for their visit. Before one left, however, she asked me if I had looked at the second reading. I said I had...one of Paul's lettters. She said that it was one of Peter's, which made me think she was crazy. I brushed my teeth, prayed my night prayers and entered into night silence. Precious sleep.

Then it hit me.

This Sunday is not the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time. This Sunday is the Feast of Transfiguration! I had prepared the homily for the wrong celebration. I shot out of bed and found my "lost cause" website. Thank goodness I could re-work it slightly and use it instead of having to make no sense with my other homily.

What's truly ironic was that my other homily was going to be based on the predictability of the church...how you can go to church most every sunday and receive the same body and blood, hear the same prayers and readings, etc. This is a source of consolation for us that we don't have to make stuff up. I had to change it up, though.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

youtube

I found this great website that posts a few great television shows from times past. When you have some time and need a blast from the past, click here.

Introduction

Mahna Mahna

Swedish Chef making sweedish meatballs