Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From May 2nd, 2010 Bulletin

…we may be what we receive…

St. Augustine teaches us that when we receive the Eucharist, as many children are receiving it (Him) for the first time this weekend, we ought to be prepared to become “what we receive”. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ we are transformed, even as the species of bread and wine are digested we are “digested into his body and turned into his members….” Augustine speaks of the Mystical Body of Christ that is united by one common Eucharist.

The children who are receiving First Communion are becoming further incorporated into the Body of Christ [‘Incorporation’ comes from the Latin ‘incorporare’, that is to unite in one body]. There are three Sacraments of Initiation: Baptism, Eucharist, and Confirmation. The Archdiocese of Seattle offers Confirmation to 16 yr olds to complete their initiation into the Church. But that does not stop a child from living fully in the grace of God between the time of First Communion and Confirmation. It is up to the parents to form the children in the faith during this time, with weekly Mass, daily prayer and a moral life.

There is another meaning to becoming what we receive that is more individual. While we are a body with other Christians, we are each a unique expression of the image of God, the Imago Dei. As Christians we are not just incorporated into a Body of other people, we are at the same time ‘incorporated’ into the inner life of the Holy Trinity as ‘sons (& daughters) in the Son’. This makes us and calls us to be Christlike. Our Gospel this weekend summarizes this call in Jesus’ new commandment, “Love one another.”

Love One Another

What a beautiful command to focus our attention on. Appropriately, it falls on the weekend we have chosen for First Communion. The greatest gift that parents can give their child is Jesus Christ. He promised us to be with us always and that if we receive His Body and drink His Blood we “…live forever”, we will have “eternal life”, and we will remain in Him and He in us. (John 6:54-58) What greater gift can you give? You have given your child physical life by God’s grace, now you are giving them the grace to live forever. May God bless you!

This Eucharist is also the answer to how we are going to love one another. We try and fail. On our own it is impossible, but with Jesus’ presence living within us, all things are possible. We can overcome faults, we can forgive those who have harmed us, and we can intercede for the needs of our world. Christ can do all things and we can do all things in Christ who strengthens us with this spiritual food.

For parents bringing your children for First Communion, I encourage you to consider carefully their Second Communion. Too many children don’t come back to church after their First Communion. And so, sadly, they walk in objective mortal sin according to their parents’ example. They are taught that Church (and Communion) is an optional thing: we go when we feel like it, when it is convenient. All too soon, relationship with God follows the same course. He becomes a spiritual pop machine that we go to when we need something and kick the machine when things don’t go our way. Children are perceptive and learn this from their parents.

Why not put God first? He made all of us His children and we owe everything to Him. I don’t say this to create a guilt trip, but to teach the truth. Neglecting Mass is to do so at the risk of your eternal soul. To set that example for your children makes you culpable for their failure to attend Church and grow in the faith. For me not to tell you that, would be to neglect my own duty (as ‘father’ to spiritual children) to inform you of the truth. I believe I do it out of love without any judgment in my heart. I hope this class of children and parents is different. It is a new day. Returning to Our Lord’s commandment to “love one another”, I can only ask you to consider what love is on a week to week basis in relation to the Eucharist. Is it love (for yourself, your neighbor, or God) to not have Him living in your heart?

So the Eucharist is our daily bread;
but we should receive it in such a way that our minds and not just our bellies find refreshment.
You see, the special property to be understood in it is unity,
so that by being digested into his body and turned into his members
we may be what we receive. Then it will really be our daily bread.
(Augustine, Sermon 57, 7)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From April 18th, 2010 Bulletin)

Thank You
To all who contributed to our beautiful Holy Week and Easter Week celebrations I thank you for the whole parish. What a wonderful Triduum we celebrated culminating in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist at the Easter Vigil. Thanks to the RCIA team who helped prepare the catechumens and candidates for reception into the Catholic Church.

Scandal and the Fallibility of the Pope
I preface these remarks by saying that I am without accurate knowledge of what Pope Benedict XVI did or did not do in relation to several abuse cases brought forward by the media. I leave that for any ecclesial or civil court that is competent for such things. The Pope is a human being like all of us and capable of failure. But I am also a Catholic who believes what Scripture says about accusations against elders, “Never admit any charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim 5:19) I would not take the New York Times as an objective witness in regards to the Catholic Church.
Pat Buchanan wrote this in response to the New York Times’ accusation:

That diabolical priest, Lawrence C. Murphy, was assigned to St. John’s School for the Deaf in 1950, before Joseph Ratzinger was even ordained. Reports of his abuse of the deaf children surfaced in the 1950s. But, under three archbishops, nothing was done. Police and prosecutors were alerted by parents of the boys. Nothing was done. Weakland, who became archbishop in 1977, did not write to Rome until 1996. And as John Allen of National Catholic Reporter noted last week, Cardinal Ratzinger “did not have any direct responsibility for managing the overall Vatican response to the crisis until 2001. … Prior to 2001, Ratzinger had nothing personally to do with the vast majority of sex abuse cases, even the small percentage which wound up in Rome.” By the time Cardinal Ratzinger was commissioned by John Paul II to clean out the stable, Murphy had been dead for three years.

This is not to forestall an objective, fair voice of accountability. I don’t know if the New York Times is the best judge of virtue.

Nevertheless, my main concern in writing this article is for those of us who may be scandalized by the mere possibility that Benedict could do something wrong. This can come from a misunderstanding of the doctrine of infallibility. The pope, in most matters, at most times, is a fallible man. John Paul II would go to confession once a week to confess personal sins and failings. There is no guarantee outside the grace and mercy of God that prevents the Pope from making mistakes in matters that do not affect the principle definitions of morals and the content of our faith. The infallibility of the Pope comes only when he wants to make a definitive proclamation ex cathedra (from the chair) in the Church’s expression of faith and morals. This has occurred only twice in the history of the Church. (1854 Immaculate Conception and 1950 Assumption)

Most decisions of the Pope deserve our respect and deference, but they are not all protected by the Holy Spirit from error. For example, our current Pope once caught criticism and outrage from the Muslim world when he quoted an historical document that claimed that Islamic beliefs could lead to violence. Taken out of context, this medieval quote was used as a reason for outraged Muslims to commit acts of violence, including the killing of a Catholic nun in Africa. (Evidence in favor of the quote) We could look back on Pope Benedict’s use of this quote as a mistake and not violate the doctrine of infallibility.

There are other cases in history where the Pope was about to make grave changes in the Church’s practice and they were prevented by the grace of God and external circumstances. All this is to say that if the Pope were to make a mistake, it should not shake our faith. While the effectiveness of our Church depends on the sanctity of her members, and in a special way the pope, ailing members should not be a cause of our own drawing back from the font of our own personal sanctity. To use the abuse crisis as a reason for not going to Mass and receiving Our Lord accomplishes the destruction of our own spiritual life.

Remember that Peter says, “…it is time for the judgment to begin with the household of God; if it begins with us, how will it end for those who fail to obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) Judgment will come on the world soon enough. In a recent review of abuse cases in Illinois, of the 2000 cases 1 involved a priest. What were the others? Teachers, counselors, newspaper reporters? But we are God’s people and he desires to purify us. May each of us respond with generosity and humility, praying for one another, for victims of the abuse crisis, and for our Pope Benedict. May the Lord bless and protect youth from future abuse and may all of us embrace our Church’s call to chastity in our relations with one another.

New Website
Please note that we have a new website, www.ststephenslife.com.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Words from Fr Ed (From April 11th, 2010 Bulletin)

Mercy Sunday

Mercy, the bottom line of our Christian faith, continues to be recovered in our post-Vatican II Church through a devotion introduced by a Polish nun. St. Faustina was 25 (1931) when she was given a vision of Christ with white and red rays of light coming from His Heart. He went on in other visions to describe a devotion called the Chaplet of Mercy which we have been praying daily since Good Friday. The prayers include a simple refrain asking for God’s mercy on sinners. Using a rosary, each decade of petitions begins with a powerful invocation reminiscent of the Mass. It goes like this:

Eternal Father, we offer you the Body and Blood,
soul and divinity, of your dearly beloved Son, Jesus Christ,
in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

This petition captures the essence of the liturgical reform of Vatican II. One of the primary movements and requests of the council’s document on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, invites the laity to offer Christ to the Father during the Mass. Article 48 reads:

‘The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. They should be instructed by God's word and be nourished at the table of the Lord's body; they should give thanks to God; by offering the Immaculate Victim, not only through the hands of the priest, but also with him, they should learn also to offer themselves; through Christ the Mediator, they should be drawn day by day into ever more perfect union with God and with each other, so that finally God may be all in all.’

The prayer of the Chaplet of Mercy, with which we will conclude a Novena of Mercy today (Sunday the 11th), is a beautiful way to exercise the priesthood of all believers. It takes the essential action of the Mass as sacrifice and turns it into a prayerful meditation. Please join us on Mercy Sunday at 2:30pm for the finale of our Novena of Mercy.

I promised last week to write about the current scandal surrounding the churches of Ireland, Germany, and our Pope’s possible involvement in them, inclusive of a case from Wisconsin that has surfaced. I can only approach this subject with caution as I know little about them. Frankly, I’m too busy as a parish priest to spend much time studying other people’s problems. But the reality of the Body of Christ is that we are all connected and one person’s suffering belongs in some way to all of us, whether that is a victim of abuse, a victim of false accusation, or a victim of the scandal caused by human sinfulness. Hopefully we can find God’s mercy in the midst of this.

A few keys I believe are important that I shared with someone who was rather shaken by the possibility that the Pope was somehow involved in two cases, one I believe where an abuser was transferred, and another where an abuser was not punished more severely given his age and medical condition. The first key is that I wouldn’t depend on the press for accurate reporting. They are not the judge and arbiter of truth. There are civil and ecclesial courts in place to discern the verity of such things. I’ve heard convincing evidence that contradicts the New York Times report on this issue. Secondly, I would be wary of any movement intended to judge a person. Too often, fault-finding has nothing to do with the healing of any victims involved and more about discrediting the Church or simply despoiling her of resources.

In a recent study of abuse cases in Illinois, of the 2000+ cases reported to CPS, 1 involved a priest. The other occupations of abusers, whether they be teachers, counselors, lawyers, or anything else was not given. That does not excuse a man who is supposed to represent the holiness of Christ from his guilt. Christ however, in His mercy, forgives every sin if we are willing. That does not mean a person should be allowed to continue as a priest. As one recent punishment read, the priest is assigned for the rest of his life to ‘prayer and penance’ without the possibility of returning to ministry. This alone does not heal a victim of abuse. Healing requires the grace of God, the grace of the truth about victimhood. As one counselor recommended to a victim, “It was not your fault.” May all find Christ the Healer during this season of Easter.

Next week I plan to include some notes on scandal and the fallibility of the Pope.