Thursday, March 15, 2012

What the Iowa Catholic Conference is working on...

Sometimes, people infer that the Catholic Church only cares about abortion and contraception. I just thought you'd like to know what the Iowa Catholic Conference is lobbying for among legislators. And this just what's happening at the state level. The USCCB actually has a lot more that it's working on!

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1. HF 2380, the House Education Reform Bill
ICC does not support the expansion of the core curriculum found in the bill. ICC supports additional opportunities in online learning, competency-based instruction and an alternative path to teacher licensure. ICC also supports all forms of school choice but to implement additional charter schools without an equal measure of nonpublic school choice is problematic. In other states, charter school initiatives have led to the closure of private schools, as parents see an alternative to the regular public school that is “free.”

2. “Education Celebration” for Nonpublic Schools in Iowa
It will be held at the state capitol on Wed, March 21 at noon on the first floor rotunda. Speakers will include Gov. Terry Branstad (R) and Sen. Daryl Beall (D-Fort Dodge). The event is sponsored by the Iowa Alliance for Choice in Education. Please make plans to attend if you can.

3. HF 2429, Identity Theft
ICC opposes this bill, especially the provisions which create a new crime, stealing the identity of a fictitious person (a person who does not exist), and increase existing penalties for all identity theft violations to a felony. While identity theft is an extremely serious matter, this bill would have the effect of automatic deportation of some migrants for crimes against a person who does not exist.

4. SF 2275, Online Poker
ICC opposes the bill as it legalizes poker over the Internet sponsored by casinos in Iowa. We believe this is an unwarranted expansion of gambling in the state that will result in more problem gamblers and therefore more problems for families.

5. HSB 665
ICC recommends your support for this bill, creating a tax credit for 20% of a taxpayer’s contribution to a nonprofit regenerative medicine clinic in the state. The bill would be of benefit to the Pope John II Stem Cell Research Center, which focuses on reducing the barriers of translating basic stem cell research into clinical research for curing disease.

6. HF 2390 Human Trafficking
Along with the Iowa Network Against Human Trafficking, ICC supports HF 2390, which would, among other provisions, expand the definition of human trafficking. It would include knowingly purchasing or attempting to purchase services involving commercial sexual activity from a victim or another person engaged in human trafficking.

7. HF 657 Late Term Abortion Ban and HJR 6 Marriage
ICC continues to ask our Senators to consider HF 657, the late-term abortion ban, and HJR 6, a state constitutional amendment to recognize marriage as a union of one man and one woman. Your messages to Senators on these bills would be appreciated.

8. HJR 2010 Balanced Budget
ICC recommends your opposition to HJR 2010, a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget in Iowa and a 60% vote of the legislature before changing the state income or sales tax. Iowa currently is required by statute to have a balanced budget. The statute has proved effective. In addition, this amendment would make it more difficult for legislators to act when a tax increase or decrease might be called for to serve the common good.

9. Farm Bill
USCCB, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities USA, and the National Catholic Rural Life Conference are asking for support of a Farm Bill that provides for poor and hungry people both at home and abroad, offers effective support for those who grow our food, ensures fairness to family farmers and ranchers, and promotes stewardship of the land. Go to the National Catholic Rural Life Conference’s website at for the full letter.

10. Nuclear Force Reduction
Now is a opportunity to make our voices heard by pressing President Obama to make good on his commitment to "put an end to Cold War thinking" and pursue further, dramatic steps that would make us all safer from the threat of nuclear weapons. Before March 31, you can join thousands of Americans by adding your name to a petition at

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Matthew 5:11-12

"Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you [falsely] because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you."

I imagine every priest fears a time when they get called by their bishop informing them that they are being removed from priestly ministry. Most of the guys I've talked to fear a false allegation of sexual abuse from an angry former parishioner. Personally, I've thought about how I would react to being asked to perform a gay marriage for two Catholic guys. I worry that, if I refuse to do so, I'll be sued for equal protection and will end up in jail. 

That's what concerns me about this story about a priest who refused to distribute holy communion to an openly practicing lesbian. I know it probably shouldn't because the priest wasn't removed for not giving communion to the woman but for "intimidating behavior toward parish staff and others." It just seems very coincidental and the woman and her brother seem intent on connecting the two events and ruining any good reputation the priest has left. 

The truth is that even though priests are public figures, we aren't politicians. Sometimes we're going to say and do things that people will deem offensive. We have to be able to go into the temple and drive out the money changers and we don't have press secretaries to spin it into making us seem like we were the good guy. And we sometimes react poorly under pressure. Anyone who knows me knows that I could very easily have been this guy. I'd just hate to think that NBC, ABC, CNN and other media outlets could end it all for me...and seemingly ending it because I was standing up for Catholic teaching. Again, I know that's not why he was removed but just try to tell that to anyone reading the stories. I guess it should be a reminder to not take a moment for granted because it could all be done tomorrow. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent

My dear friends in Christ

Grace and Peace to you in abundance in our Lord Jesus Christ on this Third Sunday of Lent. The conventional wisdom when building a modern Catholic Church is that there needs to be a large room located right before you enter the church that is purely social in intent. A Lutheran or Episcopal congregation would probably refer to this as a Narthex. In the Archdiocese of Dubuque, I often hear the term “Gathering Space” for the same room. The reason we expect churches to build these has to do with the change in people’s expectations of the church. It used to be that people went to church and, immediately upon entering the building, knew that the loudest noise they would make would be a whisper. Nowadays, studies show that people want to feel a sense of community when they come to church; they want to be able to talk and feel welcomed. They want to be able to hang up their coats and feel at home. Yet, we also want to respect that our churches are supposed to be places of prayer, not places to eat donuts while carrying on a conversation about last night’s football game. So, we’ve added this room as a place you can go to chat and build community. And yet, In most of the churches where they’ve built these rooms, I still hear people chatting away in church. Most of the time, the noise from the Narthex bleeds into the body of the church making it virtually impossible to pray and seeming to give permission to the people in church to chat with the people around them.

I think of this every time I hear this particular passage from the Gospel of Mark. Jesus cleanses the temple of the money changers. How was it that the Temple became a place for currency exchange? Well, it’s rather simple. When it became less common for people to own their own animals, there had to be some sort of way for people to be able to purchase them so that they could offer them for their sins. And, since it would be immoral for a Jew to offer Roman coins to buy their sacrifice but the Romans forbade the Jews from using their coins anywhere but the Temple, it became clear that the Jews would have to set up something on the Temple Mount for them to exchange their Roman coins in order to purchase their sacrifice. It’s all perfectly logical…but completely wrong. The purpose God gave his people the Temple wasn’t so they could buy and sell things. It was supposed to be a place dedicated to God where the Jewish people would gather to worship and sacrifice to Him. And, instead, it became a mall, a marketplace where animals are bought and sold and currency is exchanged.

What do we expect of our churches nowadays? Do you know someone who has left the church or have you ever left the church? Why did they, or you, leave? I know people who say they don’t go to church because it’s boring. I know people who have left the church because they disagree the church’s stance on abortion, gay marriage, immigration, social justice, and a whole host of other issues generally associated with politics. I know people who left the church because their parish was closed. And I know a whole lot of people who left the church simply because they found it easier to miss mass on a given weekend than to get dressed up and go. Should the Catholic Church try and put on a program for each of these groups of people? Church is boring, so let’s make it more entertaining. I could tell jokes and we could get an awesome band. Church is too political so I could avoid ever saying anything that is even close to politics. I could never say anything that is even remotely controversial; make my homilies all about golf or how God loves us regardless of what we do. At what point do you think Jesus would come walking into our parish and drive me out if I were to do that?

For me, it all summed up in the second reading today. St. Paul said “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” When we come to church, we should expect to be challenged. We should expect to hear the message about Jesus Christ, fully God and fully human, who defeated evil by an act that seems like utter failure, by dying on a cross. We shouldn’t expect to be entertained or to have our political beliefs affirmed. We shouldn’t expect convenience. We shouldn’t even expect that we can always attend in the same place at the same time from now until eternity. We should expect Christ Jesus and him crucified, a stumbling block to some, but to we who have faith, our only source of salvation.