Monday, February 13, 2012

A Step in the Right Direction?

Social Commentary 2-13-2012

Alert!  Because of recent comments, I point that the following should be interpreted according to the genre of satire.

The recent health and human services mandate requiring that all institutions, including those of religious affiliation, ensure women can have access to free preventive health care is a step in the right direction.  Since religiously affiliated institutions are not churches, they must ensure that they serve the needs of all of those who come to them.  Now, they need not pay for services that are contrary to their teachings, but they must ensure access to all those who they serve.  And so adjustments must be made, not only in healthcare, but across all levels of society.  For far too long, the needs of minorities and the poor have been neglected because of the restrictive and outdated religious tenets of a few religious organizations.

First of all, the healthcare mandate does not go far enough.  If we are really interested in providing comprehensive care, we must ensure that all women have access to free abortion services as well.  It is unfair to deprive women of the right to choose what to do with their own bodies simply because they work for an organization that has a religious affiliation.  Health plans should also include full access to fertility treatments and any other types of treatments that they decide are in their best interest.  In addition, we need to ensure that all people have the right to die with dignity by providing free consultation and services that will ensure that they are not needlessly being kept alive in misery because of the outdated ethical norms of a few. 

Secondly, since education is one of the basic social goods in every society, we must ensure that every child, regardless of where they go to school, has access to an education that meets their needs.  This means that religiously affiliated schools must provide options for non-religious students.  For example, students who are not of the same religious background must be offered classes in their own faith, or at least offered a class in world religions.  Curriculum must be tolerant of all family types, and present all parent/child living situations with fairness and compassion.  Sex education must be accurate and comprehensive, allowing children to be exposed to the various sexual orientations in a non-threatening environment, where all orientations are understood as equal.  If such classes are in violation of the core values of the religiously affiliated school, they will be accommodated by not having to pay for the curriculum or teaching salaries, which will be covered by the department of education.  However, they will have to set aside classroom space and time to ensure that all children have access to equal education.  Every religiously affiliated school will also be provided free religious and secular symbols and prayers so as to accommodate students of other faiths or of no faith, which  are to be hung in classrooms and chapels so as to ensure that all children are able to learn about their own faith tradition.

Thirdly, any social service agencies of religious affiliation must ensure that they provide options for those who seek their services while not sharing the same faith.  Soup kitchens and food pantries that operate inside churches must either consider using facilities that are more welcoming to all people, or should at least ensure that any overtly religious images are covered so as not to offend those of other faiths.  If it is the custom of a particular homeless shelter or counseling center to pray at the beginning or end of gatherings, they must first notify all so that they have the opportunity to opt out, and provide prayer resources and spaces for those of other faiths who wish not to participate.  Religiously affiliated social service agencies must allow volunteers of all faiths to volunteer, regardless of faith background or core beliefs.  In order to ensure that agencies treat all people with respect and dignity, all volunteers must undergo sensitivity training that will help them to respect all faiths and perspectives so as not to discriminate as they serve those in need.

It is very important that religiously affiliated organizations are able to act according to their core beliefs.  However, it is a duty of the state to ensure that all people have access to healthcare, social services, and an education that respects their core beliefs and lifestyle choices. 

As an accommodation, organizations with a religious affiliation will not have to pay for services that violate their core beliefs, though they must allow those who they serve or who work within their walls to have access to those services which the state deems to essential for the common good. 

This will allow a religiously affiliated hospital, such as St. Joseph’s, to still retain its Catholic name and history while at the same time ensuring that it provides critical reproductive care that meets the needs of all women.  And a religiously affiliated school, such as St. Mary’s, will still retain its name and be able to have religion class, while at the same time the state will ensure that all students receive a comprehensive education that responds to their individual needs and does not discriminate against them because of their religion or lifestyle choices.

That such a policy allows for true social cohesion and fairness by not discriminating against minorities or preferring certain classes because of faith of lifestyle choice can be clearly seen in the successful programs that exist in places like China or North Korea.

(Note from the author: the views expressed above do not necessarily reflect those of the author, nor of the Catholic Church).

Sharing in Christ's Healing Ministry

Homily from the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time, 2012

Every once in a while I touch base with a friend of mine.  We met in college – she was so interested in faith at that time, going to Mass often, in the choir, involved…  But she’s not been practicing her faith for years.  She just kind of slipped away. 

Often fallen away Catholics bring up as their reasons for leaving the big teachings about sexuality or gender issues.  Or sometimes they talk about scandal and corruption.  And often I have gotten involved in big long conversations, defending the Church’s teachings.  And I have all kinds of well articulated and thought out responses – all kinds of ways of defending why we believe what we do.  But I have left countless conversations simply feeling like I could never say enough, that there was something deeper that was keeping them away.

I am more and more convinced that, though sometimes the teachings of our faith are an obstacle, the true difficulty for many of my friends is that either they feel labeled “unclean”  or sometimes they are very close to someone who they feel has been labeled “unclean.” 

For example, I have begun to wonder to myself how many of these friends of mine care deeply for someone who has had an abortion? 
How many of these friends of mine have a close friend or relative who has made it known that they are gay?  How many of these friends are living with someone outside of marriage?  How many come from divorced families and have parents or good friends who are remarried outside of the church and no longer able to receive the sacraments? 

Now we must discuss and articulate the Church’s teachings, but in the end what is becoming more clear to me is that the problem isn’t an intellectual one, it is personal – it has to do with people and messy situations. 

So many people are directly caught up in or affected by a way of life which is increasingly at odds with gospel values.  Theoretical conversations accomplish very little because we’re not talking about theories or theology, we’re talking about people’s lives, their brothers and sisters and parents and friends.

A temptation I think we all face in these situations is to say “jeepers, well don’t take things so seriously.”  “Sure that’s what the official church teaches, what the Vatican teaches (we can always blame the Vatican, right?) but look, God accepts you as you are, and so as long as you’re doing what makes you happy and being good, everything’s fine.”  “You’re not unclean.”  And that might make us feel better, kind of.  Or it might just be the polite thing to say.  But if a vague spirituality is fine like it is, why come to church?  If everything is just peachy keen and we don’t need Jesus’ healing or redemption that come through the scripture and sacraments, then what are we here for?  Stripped of its teaching on sin and evil, Christianity really becomes nothing more than a bunch of washed out, superficial mumbo jumbo about loving the inner you and stuff like that. 

But you don’t need to go to church to love the inner you.  And that’s not the gospel, that’s not what Jesus taught.  And that’s not what people really need to hear, what will really speaks to their hearts.  No, people know the truth when they hear it.  And the truth is that often they or those they love are really in messy situations – situations that are in need of healing.

But so is everyone!  We are all sinned and fallen short of the grace of God, St. Paul says in one place.  And Jesus says in another place that the Pharisees who say they are not sinners are in sin because of their failure to admit their guilt.  The admission of sin, the admission of that we ourselves and those we love are in need of God’s grace: is a prerequisite for Christian faith.  Otherwise the sacraments and the scriptures and teachings of the Church will make no sense to us.   God entered into time and space because he loves us and wants to lead us from death to life, from sickness to health, from darkness into the light. 

I am convinced that many friends of ours who don’t feel welcome in our midst often have just no sense of that.  They often know they’re in need of healing, but they don’t think healing is to be found here.  They think this is where you’re supposed to go if you’re already healed, if you’ve already got it all together.  For healing they go to counselors, to doctors, to wherever – but not here.  They think that church is only about your ‘Sunday best,’ not your Monday worst.  They think that what they will find here is a group who condemn them and make them walk  through the streets shouting ‘unclean.’ 
And look – there have been plenty of people who have used the teachings of Christ as an excuse to act in horrendously unchristian ways.  Who have justified their bigotry and hate by distorting the truth to suit their purposes.  We have work to do. 

But that work is not to mask problems and pretend that there is nothing to be healed.  It is to make it clear that the Church is a place for spiritual healing and redemption, it is a place where those who are struggling to live a good life can find refuge from the critical and judgmental eyes of others.

How do we reach out to these friends and family members who are in need of healing and help them to see that true healing is to be found here?  How do we reach out to those who feel that they through their actions they have been ostracized, that they have been rejected – not just by us, but by God himself? How do we help them to see that messiness does not preclude holiness? 

Our gospel today shows us how Christ did.  He did not gloss things over, he did not say “Oh well that’s not really leprosy, just dress normal and walk around like everyone else.”  No.  But neither did he condemn or distance himself.  Notice how when he looked upon the leper he was not repulsed, did not keep his distance, did not belittle or act superior in any way.  He saw the man’s suffering and he reached out to him, as a fellow man.  He treated him with dignity, with respect. 
He communicated his love of that man – he showed that he empathized with him, that he wanted him to be at peace, that he wanted him to be healed.  And he reached out his hand and healed him. 

Now we may not be healers like Christ.  But we can walk with those who need healing and we can beg Christ to heal them.  We can say with Christ “I do want you to be clean, I do want what is best for you.”  And we can hope and pray and fast and offer Masses and alms and all kinds of other things in the hope that Christ will heal whatever afflicts those who have fallen away or are struggling.  In fact, that is our job – that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. 

The Christian is a healer in the sense that through his or her prayer and through the sacraments he or she is united to the healing work of Christ.  As Christians we have been given the task and the joy of  cooperating with the divine physician, with God’s grace, so that those we know can find the healing they need. 

We do not share in Christ’s work as final judge – that’s where we often get things wrong.  We share in his work of preaching, offering sacrifices, and of service to those in need.  And we must preach the truth, in season and out of season – that is not judging, it is teaching, and there is a difference.  Helping someone to realize that they are not well is the a first and essential step in helping them find healing.  It is an act of love.  Judging, on the other hand, is a first step in condemnation, leading to ostracization.

And so we never, ever turn our backs on someone, never shut the door in their face, never tell them that our love is contingent on their being well.  True love descends even to the pit of hell in search of the broken – we know this because Christ went there out of love for each of us.  Christ continues to bring his healing love into the darkness of sin and suffering – and he has charged us to go there with him, to be a part of his work.  In the mystery of his great love, he wants us to be vessels of his healing love, bringing that love gently and with compassion to those entrusted to our care.

The Old Man and the Sea

Homily from the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2012

I was out at the bookstore on my day off a couple of weeks back and picked up a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s well known book “The Old Man and the Sea.”  I had never read it – this week I finally did. 

What a tale about that old man Santiago.  His suffering was etched into every page in an understated way that was just taken for granted.  Of course you suffer.  Life is not easy.  He could very well have spoken the words we hear today from Job:   ‘Is not man's life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of hirelings?  He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.  So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me.”

Such passages are not just the stuff of fiction or spiritual reflection, though.  Santiago reminded me of the men I met in Guatemala while there for a summer doing volunteer work.  It was the description of the callouses that rang true.  I remember feet like that – they are real. Feet that might as well be made of leather - all distorted and twisted from years of not wearing shoes.  When I went to India it was the same thing – and I was struck by how similar poverty felt on opposite sides of the globe.  The same smell: some sort of mix of wood smoke from cooking fires and sewage from the street combined from the exhaust from old cars and busses.  And the same sounds – of cooking and other domestic chores from the shacks packed together along the street as bicycles and large busses weave through crowds of people. 

I realized after the trip to India that most of the world knows those smells and sounds, calls them home.  That is what most of human civilization is like.  We are the exception.
With all of the talk of the 1% and the 99% someone recently told me that by global standards, to be in the 1% you have to have a household income above $35,000. 

That doesn’t mean the rest of the world is depressed.  In fact, many people find great joy in the midst of their suffering and poverty, more than we do with all of our wealth.  Still, the misery of the condition of so many millions of people is a great evil when it exists in a world where some like us live so well.  Just a natural empathy should compel us, as Christ was compelled, to reach out to alleviate the suffering of others and work to help them build a better life. 

But what do we do?  Any solutions seem so complicated – beyond our ability to control.  So many news stories seem to show that the more we get involved in the affairs of other people the more we make things worse.  We cannot in good conscience ignore the suffering of others, yet simply throwing money at poverty can cause more problems than it solves.  We must live the Gospel, which calls us to be responsible and good stewards of the blessings that God has given us.  How we live that stewardship of the Gospel and the blessings that have been entrusted to us is a matter that we must carefully consider, as St. Paul makes clear.  He knew that he, like every other person, would be held accountable by God for how he responded to the Gospel, how he prioritized his life and used the blessings he had been given.  For him, that meant that he would give up everything and spend his days going from place to place preaching.

Now most of us have not been given that same mission, have not been asked to leave everything aside for the sake of the Gospel.  However, we are still entrusted with prioritizing our lives according to the Gospel and using the blessings we have been given in order to serve God.  Instead of preaching from pulpits, most of us are called to preach by our the choices that we make in life.

And in order to meet the demands that the Gospel places upon us, Christ makes it very clear that when faced with the poverty and misery of others, mere apologies or thoughtless handouts are not adequate.  We must use reason to evaluate our choices, seeking to avoid doing harm to others and to instead make use our resources to add value and meaning and goodness to life.

When it comes to the impact of our daily choices on the poor, those that have the greatest negative impact probably are related to our consumption.  Being a responsible consumer is difficult.  Try buying something not made in China today.  Yet let us not pretend that our consumption doesn’t have an impact.  It does.  I was told the other day about Chinese workers who polish laptops – they can tell who they are because they have a strange glistening to their skin from the aluminum.  Companies employ hundreds of thousands of people, housing them in the same complex where they work long hours.  And of course it’s not just China, it’s just about every country other than in the West. 

Until you and I stop immediately going for the cheapest product, this horrible cycle will never end.  Instead we have to be willing to get less bang for our buck.  We must be willing to wait longer, get less selection, and spend more time researching before we purchase something.  We have to be willing to pay more in order to ensure that those who make the products that we buy are being treated like human beings. 
And all of this probably means that we have to be willing to have less stuff.  But we don’t need half of what we have anyway.  We just need to stop consuming so much.  Me too…  I know how easy it is to go out and buy the newest and next best – but do we need it? 

The second piece – living generous lives that bring goodness into the world.

First: it means praying for the poor and suffering and being united to them in solidarity, being aware of their lives and of the places in this world where people are suffering.

Second: giving to charitable organizations that bring help to those areas that are in great need, like Catholic Relief Services.  Such organizations are especially important when unforeseeable disasters strike, disasters like the earthquake in Haiti that are too catostrophic for local safetey nets to cope with.

Third: Being generous with our time and resources at home. 
Often, those who are poor in other countries don't want us to give them our money so much as they would like us to use our money well.  And so we might ask, well, what are some of the more generous and life-giving uses for money and our gifts?

For most of us, one of the greatest acts of generosity will be raising children.  Yes, having children is an act of generosity.  And those who have more wealth can afford more children.  It is ironic to me whenever I hear people who live in this country say they can’t afford a child.  Children who grow up here have more than most children every dream of having.  Here we are buying all this stuff that has no lasting value, when we could be bringing new life into the world.  Our pets have better access to good health care and nutrition that most children in this world do.

Another act of generosity is to take care of those who are older.  To make the sacrifices that are necessary to ensure that we ensure our family members and friends can live in dignity and a reasonable degree of comfort in their final years.

Too often we are tempted to think that the Gospel is about personal belief in Jesus Christ that will help us get to heaven.  But it is not merely that.  Jesus spent the majority of his ministry healing the sick, driving out demons, curing the blind and the lame.  We cannot turn a blind eye to the poor of this world.  We must be good stewards of the Gospel that we have received.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Celibacy: A Gift to the Church

Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B, 2012

I should like you to be free of anxieties, St. Paul tells us in the letter to the Corinthians.
And I don’t imagine there are many of us here that would not say amen to that!
So what is his advice?  Don’t get married!  Well, it might seem that way from a quick reading of the passage that we hear today.  If it weren’t for your spouse, you could just worry about pleasing God, not about the things of this world.  Goodbye anxiety.  Not quite.

In order to understand the passage that we hear today, we really have to delve into the whole of chapter 7 of St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  And the chapter is not particularly easy to interpret. 
St. Paul is working to address the concerns about marriage and about virginity in the Corinthian community.  It seems that they had posed to him some form of this question: since time is running short and we know not when Christ will return, what are we to do?  Should we still get married, given how tenuous each day is as we wait in eager expectation?

And St. Paul speaks to them as a pastor, in very practical terms.  First, he writes eloquently about the importance of husbands and wives not separating or neglecting the duties of their marriages under a misguided notion that their faith calls them to leave earthly things behind.  No, he tells them, be faithful to your promises.  As for those who are not married, he writes, there is not a commandment of the Lord, but his own suggestion is that he would encourage those who are living a celibate life to consider remaining celibate, unless they do not possess the ability or feel called to marriage.  He sees great value in the life that he has embraced, a life entirely dedicated to service of the Church, or as he puts it, to the Lord’s work.  So that is the context for this passage we hear today, in which he speaks of the what he sees as the gift of celibacy.

Celibacy is a gift, he tells them, because it removes a certain kind of anxiety from ministry.
A spouse who is working to provide for a household is anxious about providing for the household, the things of this world.  Children and community and livelihood.  And St. Paul seems to be saying that this is necessary and important – he is not disparaging marriage.  He believes that husbands and wives must be preoccupied with such things.  But, St. Paul says, the person who is single, who is celibate, is anxious about the things of the Lord – how he may please the Lord.  His attention need not be divided between putting bread and butter on the table and service to the church.

Now in those days, virginity was a positive thing, something to be aspired to.  It was seen as an honorable and good way of life – for a man or woman to be consecrated to a celibate way of life so as to be entirely dedicated to Christ and his body, the Church.  Celibacy was seen as a positive and healthy way of life, an enrichment in the life of the Church, a blessing to her.  The early church understood that when the married life and consecrated life are lived out in harmony in the Church they are complimentary vocations that serve to build up the Kingdom of God.

Today we live in the shadow of Sigmund Freud.  Freud taught that underneath whatever ideals or moral aspirations we may have, we are really governed by base animal instincts.  Psychosis happens, Freud taught, when we don’t express these natural urges, and instead suppress them.  And so in our culture, which his heavily influenced by Freud’s thinking, celibacy is often portrayed as an unnatural restriction that is unhealthy and that priests are forced to obey because of some medieval notion of purity and holiness.  Sometimes it is even insinuated that those who are celibate cannot have healthy relationships or intimate relationships, and after the scandals I have even heard people say that they think those who are celibate are more prone to acting out in disordered ways.  In short, the discipline of celibacy in the priesthood as lived out in the West, in the Roman Catholic Church, is often viewed as a negative – even, I have found, by many Catholics.  People sometimes will come up to me and it’s almost as if they were offering their condolences…  “Sorry about that….” 

And so I think it is important today to take a moment and try to regain the positive Catholic perspective on celibacy and marriage with St. Paul as our guide. 

He is very practical.  He is not saying black or white: that everyone must be celibate or that everyone must be married.  He doesn’t elevate his celibate state in life, saying that it is better, and nor does he elevate the married state.  But particularly in the passage that we hear today, I think St. Paul really illustrates the beauty of a celibate clergy, showing us why a celibate clergy is a gift.

Certainly we all know that celibacy does not make people holier.  It does not bring them closer to God, necessarily.  But let’s be clear today: being celibate is not unhealthy.  Most people live vast periods of their lives in a quasi-celibate state, even when they are married.  There are many, many people who have found great joy in a celibate life – and not because they are different from everyone else, as if there were some kind of celibacy gene - but because it was the life they had been called to and they found meaning in the vocation they were living.  Celibacy is a discipline, a spiritual discipline that is undertaken by the clergy in our tradition for a purpose: to unite them more closely to Christ who was also celibate and consecrated to his heavenly Father, and to give our priests greater freedom to minister to the needs of the Church. 

And I thank God that the priests I have known over the years were celibate.
I did not have to worry when we spent long hours talking about God whether they were neglecting their wives.  They were able to be over at my family’s home for dinner on a weekday night without missing the baseball game of one of their kids. They went and visited my ailing grandparents at all hours of the night without waking up a spouse.  They were able to go to the places where the bishop needed their ministry quickly, without fear that their families would resent the Church for making them move.

And as a priest I thank God all the time that I don’t have a family.  I mean, I know that sounds weird to say.  And, trust me, it’s not that I don’t value or think that families are beautiful - in fact, it is the opposite: it is because I value the family so much that I know I would not want to split my life between the parish family and a family of my own..  I understand what St. Paul is saying:  he was happy to be able to give the Church all that he could and not worry that he was neglecting anyone.  He was able to preach the Gospel – sometimes when it was not popular and caused him to endure incredible hardship – think of how many towns ran him out, how many times he was whipped and beaten – but at least he did not have to worry about a wife and children being hurt.

Would he have preached so vehemently, would he have been able to give so much as a married man?  Probably not.  St. Paul’s celibacy was a gift to the Church – a gift that he gave freely and that every Roman Catholic priest gives freely.

Certainly celibacy doesn’t ensure that their ministry is free from anxiety or challenges  –  St. Paul’s life is a case in point.  Nor does it mean that you have to be celibate in order to minister in the Church.  But I think we must be clear: celibacy does allow for a certain single-minded-ness of purpose and availability that is beautiful and good and is a gift to the Church.  It is a vocation that has existed in the Church from the beginning – dating back to Christ himself and to many of the first disciples.  And it is a vocation that will always be a part of the Christian faith – whether it is lived out in the priesthood or in religious life or those who are called to the single life.  Not everyone is called to find happiness and fulfillment in marriage.  Saint Paul reminds us of this for our own benefit, he says, not to impose a restraint upon us.  We have been called by Christ to seek first the kingdom of God.  This great apostle teaches us that we will be blessed and be a blessing to the Church when are faithful to the vocation that God has given to us, whether that be marriage or the consecrated life.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bible and Myth: the Atheist Narrative Our Children Must Endure

Homily on the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year B, 2012

This week, the Holy Father addressed some of the bishops of the United States who were in Rome for their ad limina visit, a visit that each bishop makes to Rome every 5 years to discuss with the pope the state of the church in their diocese.  Over the course of this year, which the pope has declared the year of faith, Pope Benedict is focusing on the Church’s efforts to hand on the faith.  The particular reflections that he offered to our bishops were centered the theme of evangelization and resonate with the readings today, which speak to the urgency and critical nature of our work to teach and hand on the faith. You can find the full text of his address to the bishops in the bulletin this week.

“It is imperative,” he said to our bishops, “that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church’s public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life.”

Now, some might say that there have always been those who are opposed to the Church – look at the anti-Catholic attitude in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.  And that is true.  However, after a rather brief period of social acceptance in the American main stream, in recent years there has been an increasingly concerted effort by some to undermine the role of the Church in society.  In the last 10 years, these efforts have become more focused on the young, on our children.  And it is not overstating the case to say that the threat is grave. 

It is imperative, to use the pope’s words, that we do not underestimate what is happening.
I have been working with the youth a lot over the last year or two.  It is not an overstatement to say that the youth culture today is blatantly hostile to religious practice. 

In one of the high schools of our parish, the world religions class is called “Bible and Myth.” 
In another high school in our parish, one of our children has to listen as the teacher, chair of the department, goes on tirades about how ridiculous Christian belief is, and about how horrendous the Church has been over the centuries, while classmates snicker and laugh over the absurdity of religious belief. 
In another of our high schools, at a so called ‘voluntary’ assembly, hundreds of students listened and applauded as Christians were ridiculed, as they were blamed for every sort of social evil and conflict.  They wanted to walk out but feared social reprisal. 
In yet another of our high schools, after winter break students will be putting Pope Urban II on trial for the crusades. 

4 different high schools.  There aren’t that many around here. 
I do not believe that I am overstating the case to say that you should assume that if you have a child in high school they will have a class, and perhaps a number of classes, in which their faith is openly ridiculed.

Now in theory, there is nothing inherently wrong with a secular school, so long as the school is secular.  Teachers should not be espousing religious beliefs in the classroom.  And that goes two ways – atheists should not be espousing religious beliefs in the classroom either.  Faith should not be ridiculed in the classroom.  Period.  And if it is, parents and grandparents have a moral obligation to say something.  I know there is fear of reprisal from the teacher in many cases, and I know that the last thing that you want is to get a reputation for being some kind of shrill religious nut.  I think that many of our children don’t tell us about what is happening precisely because they don’t want us to make a scene and embarrass them.

And you know, sometimes we may decide that it is not wise to directly confront a teacher – but that cannot be the end of it.  We must then be directly discussing what is happening in the class with our child, making sure that the subtle but powerful agenda that they are hearing day in and day out is countered by the truth.  We cannot simply allow our children to be indoctrinated out the doors of the church right under our noses.  Our children need to hear the truth – they need to be educated Catholics - if their understanding of faith is akin to other forms of mythology, they will reject it as they grow older, just like they leave behind Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.  If all they hear about is the crusades and the inquisition and abuses of papal power, they will reject the Church as an obstacle.  The 5th most watched you tube video this month, at 15 million views, is a diatribe against religion titled “Why I love Jesus but hate religion.”  What age group do you think is most influenced by this narrative, this story that is being told?  It is our children.  We have the duty to answer in a calm, clear, and coherent way – we must speak to our children, our grandchildren, giving them a compelling reason for our faith in Christ and his Church. 

In his address to the bishops this week, pope Benedict spoke of the great “need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society….”

It is so encouraging to me to see parishioners engaging in the life of our parish and seeking to learn more about their faith.  Many of you have participated in the weekly adult Bible study groups over the last year.  This coming week is Catholic school’s week.  Many make great sacrifices to send you children to our Catholic school so that they can receive a strong foundation in faith that will help them to navigate the challenges of high school.  The new religious education program this year involves the whole family and requires greater sacrifice and time commitment.  So many of you have responded with such enthusiasm and a willingness to give of your time and be inconvenienced so that we can provide the children of the parish with a more robust program.  This summer we will have week-long programs for all age groups in the parish: vacation bible school for grade-school children, a summer summit for the junior high youth, and summer conclave for high school youth.  I want to encourage you who are young to be involved in these opportunities to deepen your faith, and to dedicate yourselves to regularly attending youth ministry meetings so that you can continue to grow in your knowledge of Christ.

I will close with the concluding words of the Holy Father to our bishops:
“No one who looks at these issues realistically can ignore the genuine difficulties which the Church encounters at the present moment. Yet in faith we can take heart from the growing awareness of the need to preserve a civil order clearly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as well as from the promise offered by a new generation of Catholics whose experience and convictions will have a decisive role in renewing the Church’s presence and witness in American society. The hope which these "signs of the times" give us is itself a reason to renew our efforts to mobilize the intellectual and moral resources of the entire Catholic community in the service of the evangelization of American culture and the building of the civilization of love.”