Friday, February 01, 2013

Les Miserables and October Baby

I'll be brief.

I watched the new movie Les Miserables the other day. I've been listening to a concert performance of this musical since I was in High School. I was prepared for everything except one thing. I couldn't believe how well the church is portrayed. From the kindness of the bishop who changes Jean Valjean's whole concept of forgiveness to the convent that unintentionally provides protection from Inspector Javert all the way to the end (no spoilers) the church is portrayed doing the good works that it does most of the time instead of just the exceptional scandals that are usually the only thing we heard about.

Tonight I watched October Baby. Again, I was prepared for pretty much everything except for one thing. God plays, at best, a minor role in the whole movie until the end when a kindly priest offers the best advice of all. The main character even admits that she's baptist but the church was signficant in her life so she went there to pray. But the priest didn't sexually abuse her. He didn't turn into a demon and possess her. He just listened to her and gave her great advice.

The sad thing is that I am so accustomed to priests as sexual abusers, nuns as physically abusive, and bishops as power mongers that I just start to expect to see it in every movie. These two movies deserve to be praised for showing the heart of most priests, nuns, and bishops.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

What's the point?

One of the "lessons" I learned from my leadership training course was that you have to have a end-goal in mind for every project you are doing and you have to know what that end-goal is before you start the project. Even end-goals that are imposed from without need to be personally appropriated to be successful. In other words, even when someone else tells me the end goal, if I don't hear what the goal is or don't understand what the goal is, I will not be successful in achieving it and the goal is pointless. I have to accurately know what the goal is in order to complete it.

The challenge with some activities is that there are times when the activities have to change due to changes in society and church. It's hard to remind ourselves that activities that were more short term in nature can be eliminated if they get in the way of the larger goal. To use an example, the goal of a catholic parish is to spread the gospel message to all people in a given area until the coming of the kingdom of God. One way we do that is by helping people be connected to a part of a parish community so that they will make being belonging to the church part of their daily lives. So, let's say we have coffee and donuts after mass so that people will stick around and get to know parish leadership and learn more about some of the other activities the church has in the hopes that they will want to get involved in the parish. What happens when the coffee and doughnut attendees are the same people every Sunday, if the group is seen as cliquish and weird? Or what happens if you find that the cost of doughnuts is a lot more than either the amount of money you bring in at the event or the number of new volunteers you get because of coffee and donuts? Well, you then have to decide if you just want to cancel the event, repurpose the event, or change the event altogether. Do you want to tell the people to buy their own darn doughnuts, say that the event is to keep the people already involved motivated, or start serving hot breakfast with presentations of what is happening in the parish?

All of this is prelude to the question I have a the subject: namely, what's the point of a blog? For several years, I would use this one to post interesting things about Catholicism in an effort to counteract the negative press that seems to crop up on occasion. More recently, I've tended to use it as a dumping grounds for my latest homily. That's not a bad use but it's not the original intent. So, the question it prompts me to ask: Is that enough? My original goal was, "to give every reader another reason to love the Catholic Church." I can't say that's the purpose of my homilies and, to be honest, I personally feel like it's too broad of a meaning for what a blog can accomplish. It makes me not want to put anything controversial here or, if I do, to be exceedingly polemical about it to the point of being considered defensive and off-putting to those struggling with their faith. So, again I ask what is the point of this blog? What am I trying to accomplish by it?

I've been thinking that the point is, "to let others know a bit of insight into the mind of a Catholic, Midwestern priest." I'm not sure that really captures what I'm trying to do here either but I'm hoping that, by re-purposing that as such, it will remind me of two things: 1. This blog is a place for me to share some of the thoughts that have been a bouncing around in my brain NOT the official teachings of the Catholic Church. 2. It will motivate me to want to write more posts here so that people who want to know what's happening in my life can have know. Don't be surprised if I overuse the word "so," of if all the posts are pro-Iowa State Cyclone or pro-Catholic Church. I'm still a happy Cyclone priest. However, if I criticize the Republicans or the Democrats, I'm not doing so as the official spokesperson of the Catholic Church. I'm just doing so as a priest from the Midwest. Let's see if that helps me get back to my blog now.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Hearing and acting

My Dear Friends in Christ

Grace and peace to you in God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. A few years ago, I was asked by my cousin to take a weekend off from my parish responsibilities in order to celebrate her wedding in Des Moines. It was a nice time to catch up with some extended family that I only get to see at these types of occasions and it offered some important rest from my parishes. Since the next day was Sunday and the wedding not only took place before 4:00 but was not focused on the Sunday Celebration, that meant my family still had our Sunday obligation to attend mass. Thank goodness there was a priest, namely me, available at the hotel (another good reason to encourage your son to become a priest, by the way). The hotel was good enough to give us a meeting room and I found members of the family to do all the ministerial roles, even someone to take up collection. I started mass, as I always do, with the sign of the cross, the greeting, and then an invitation to silence. I closed my eyes to remember how loving and forgiving God is only to have my nephew, about two seconds in, shout, “Wake up Uncle Dennis!.”

In thinking about what my nephew shouted, I couldn’t help but think that he’s got a point. There’s something that happens whenever we celebrate mass that most of us don’t experience anywhere else. We take time to allow for silence. So much time in our lives is filled with clutter. Television, radio, telephone, computers; all of these can be used for good and even necessary activities. The problem is that they also have two big difficulties: first they can clutter up our lives with a lot of noise and activity that make prayer and peace difficult. And, yet, a further problem is that these effects seem to linger. They shorten our attention spans and make us slaves to constant positive stimulation. If we aren’t being entertained by what’s happening, then we simply turn the channel and look for something that does entertain us.

In this constant search for stimulation and entertatinment, we lose something that is fundamental to our humanness, the need for quiet and rest. That’s partly why, when we gather here, we begin mass by taking the time to quiet ourselves so that we can be ready to hear the Word of God. Our readings today speak of how important it is to hear God’s Word. In the first reading, we hear of the priest, Ezra, gathering all of Israel together to hear the first five books of the Bible that our Jewish brothers and sisters call The Torah. For some reason, the scrolls for those books got lost and, when Ezra and his sons found them, they decided to read them all to the people. Can you imagine how angry people would be if they came to church and the liturgy of the word alone lasted several hours? Don’t worry. I’m not going to try it today. I did find it interesting; however, that it says they all listened intently. It’s true that Ezra took time to explain what was being said and that may have helped them to concentrate but, fundamentally, they paid attention to what was being said because it was a priority for them.

Similarly, in the gospel, Jesus reads part of the Old Testament book of the Prophet Isaiah. His reflection passage is short and sweet. He declares that he is the one who has been sent to bring glad tidings to the poor, proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord. It’s short, but as a set of goals, it’s packed! I wonder if Jesus were to preach that same brief homily in our church today, how many people would be too busy thinking about what they’re going to have for supper/lunch, reading the bulletin, or thinking about the last episode of their favorite TV show to hear what he actually said. And, I wonder which television show I’d be thinking about.

We especially need to take the time with what we remembered this past week. As you are aware, one of the reasons that our mass schedule is different this weekend is because Fr. Paul has taken people to the March for Life in Washington D.C. Part of the reason that we have abortion in our world today is because of a failure to listen to God and, instead, a willingness to listen to the voices that prize pleasure and selfishness. We have women who have listen to the call of radical feminism that prizes success at work over children who ruin your life, men who listen to the call of a childish machismo that says sex and sexuality is just a part of dating. And, we have politicians who listen to an abortion industry that makes millions of dollars by killing the most innocent around us. The question is: who is listening to the church calling us to respect life? And, even more imortant, who is listening to the child in the womb who is voiceless?

Maybe my nephew was right. It is time to wake up: The time to listen intently, as St. Paul said in the second reading, to the spirit calling us to be the body of Christ for a world so capable of harming those most in need of its care. Yet, all of this begins and ends in prayer. It begins and ends with quiet and, only in the middle has peaceful action. Therefore, I’d like to offer these humble suggestions as to how we do this. Begin by setting aside time before mass, not only as a time for fasting from food for an hour, but as a time for fasting from noise. Leave the TV, car radio, computer and whatever else that distracts you off. To go along with that, take an hour each day to turn off all the noise for a while. You can use this hour to converse with your family or sit quietly and pray the rosary or some other form of prayer such as reading the scriptures for next Sunday’s mass. Listen intently on how God calls you to be a person who acts in peaceful ways to make this a more just world and then act on it. For now is the time for fulfillment. Now is the time to wake up.