Pastor’s Columns

July 21, 2019

“The Eagle has landed.”

This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first men to walk on the moon. Their mission was not accomplished overnight, but after years of hard work by great teams of people. I do not remember the mission, but I did hear stories that my parents took the whole family to a neighbor’s house to watch everything. They did this because the neighbors were lucky enough to have a color TV. They didn’t know that the broadcast would be in black and white.

We can and should celebrate this great accomplishment. It required commitment and cooperation, investment in time and talent and resources. Some have estimated that over 400,000 scientist, engineers and technicians all contributed to the successful mission. Each person did his/her own part. I believe we can learn from their example. The same thing is needed in a parish. Every person here at Holy Cross is a child of God with unique gifts and talents. We can use them individually, or we can follow the example of all who contributed to the first moon landing. Together we can do great things.

 

On a different note, but somehow related to space, I have been thinking about and praying about immigration issues. Though the United States is far from the only country facing questions about how to deal with immigrants, my focus has been with what has been happening here.

Before getting immersed in the politics and proposed solutions, as Catholics I believe we need to first set a baseline. From our faith, that baseline comes from the fact that all people are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1). When Jesus was born, He was born a human. The incarnation, God becoming human, imparts inherent dignity to all people, no matter where they are on the planet – or up in space.

I believe the words we use are important when talking about issues. Some people refer to immigrants as aliens. Someone once said to me that you can trace our country’s attitude towards immigration through the way that aliens from outer space are portrayed in cinema: dangerous as in the “Alien” series, or perhaps good/benign as in “Men in Black.” I don’t know whether that is true. I do know that throughout history when one side wants to do bad things to others, they tend to use dehumanizing language (examples can be found in derogatory words for enemies in war to common racial epithets).

All people are humans. As Catholics, we should avoid calling anyone aliens. They are people. A proverb I learned when I lived and worked in Kenya is “mtu ni watu” – “a person is people.”

As Catholics, we believe that all people have the right to adequate food, clothing, shelter and healthcare. Humans should not be treated as animals. Children should not be separated from their parents or guardians. The well documented conditions of some of the detention centers in a country like ours is deplorable and disgraceful. They violate our Christian sensibilities. They also violate our country’s traditions that led to the Statue of Liberty proclaiming, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Our Catholic faith holds in tension the right of people to migrate on the one hand and a country’s rights to control its borders (see Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2241). It does not state how to a country has to resolve that tension. No matter what, our faith teaches that, when implementing policies, we need to treat every person as a child of God, with dignity. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 6:19). If our country could find a way to put a man on the moon, certainly we can find a way to approach issues of immigration that respects each person and treats them with dignity.

Fr. Eric

July 14, 2019

Archbishop Fulton Sheen, will soon be beatified. This past week Pope Francis approved a miracle attributed to his intercession. Beatification is one step away from canonization as a saint.

The miracle attributed to Archbishop Sheen’s intercession relates to a baby in Illinois whose umbilical cord had become knotted during delivery causing baby James to be stillborn. The boy’s parents prayed for the intercession of Archbishop Sheen, but the child was without a pulse for 61 minutes. Physicians prepared to declare little James Fulton Engstrom dead, but his heart started with a normal rhythm. Despite doctor’s assertions that the boy would suffer consequences from this ordeal (blindness, paralysis, brain damage, etc.), the boy is now a fully healthy, thriving 8-year-old. The parents praise God for the miracle. They credit Sheen’s intercession, but fully acknowledge that it was Jesus who healed their son.

As Catholics, we believe in the intercession of the angels and the saints. God does the miracle, but our older brothers and sisters in the faith can still help us through their prayers.

Archbishop Sheen was known for his great oratory prowess. From 1930 to 1950 he presented weekly teachings on the radio with his program The Catholic Hour. In 1951 he became a bishop and started his famous TV series, Life is Worth Living. The program ran for years, reached an estimated 30 million viewers and garnered him an Emmy Award. Though teaching on many aspects of our Catholic faith, Archbishop Sheen drew strength and inspiration from the Eucharist. He was known to promote prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament, time with Jesus physically present: the Body and Blood of Christ. Archbishop Sheen spent an hour in prayer daily before the Blessed Sacrament.

It is uplifting to know that the Catholic Church recognizes the holiness of this man who was born and lived his entire life here in the U.S. Holiness is possible here and now. We can be inspired by his tremendous teaching. For me, I see a man who was willing to not only live his faith, but also to share it.

Last week in the Gospel we heard the story of Jesus appointing 72 others to go ahead of him to every town and village. We know that there were 12 apostles. Who were the 72? The short answer is that we don’t know. I take inspiration from that. It can be easy for someone to say to oneself that I am not called to be a bishop, or a priest, or a nun and so I am not called to evangelize and share my faith. I am not a Fulton Sheen. That is the easy way out.

The 72 were never named, but they were sent forth to say, “Peace to this household” at every house they entered. They were to eat and drink with the people they encountered. Any of us can do that. They were told to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Our Gospel today calls us to be neighbor, treat people with mercy. That is one way to proclaim and share our faith, through example. But the mission of the 72 right before today’s Gospel speaks, to me, about the need to be courageous to share with people why you act as neighbor to others. We do so because we are Catholic Christians, followers of Jesus.

Some are afraid to do so and use the excuse that it is “impolite” to talk about religion. I sometimes wonder whether some do not share why they act in love and as neighbor because they are afraid that people may question them about their faith. Why do you believe what you believe? Why do Catholics do the strange things you do (like pray to saints)? Faced with fears of being put on the spot for our faith, there may be an inner cry, “if only there were another Archbishop Sheen available today to help guide us along.”

There is. Well, maybe not one person, but a wealth of places where we can still tap into our faith, to learn more about it, and to grow in it. The rise of mass media and the internet has had some negative consequences, there are also blessings.

Many people find strength and encouragement in their faith through EWTN – both on TV and the internet. To limit oneself just to EWTN misses many other incredible places to tap into our faith in different ways. Some people love Bishop Robert Barron’s Word On Fire found at www.wordonfire.org. Others, especially moms and parents, find down to earth faith connected to life at www.catholicmom.com. I have enjoyed videos on http://www.catholiccentral.com and Fr. Mike Schmitz videos from https://bulldogcatholic.org/video/.  Several of these resources have podcasts, articles, videos and blogs.

Following in the footsteps of Archbishop Fulton Sheen, many have come forward to help share our faith using the technology of our day. As we celebrate the great news of a man from our country soon to be recognized for his faith, may we strive to grow in ours, and to share it with others.

July 7, 2019

Hope everyone has been having a great Fourth of July weekend.

This time of year we celebrate many great things about our country. The Founding Fathers not only declared independence, after the Revolutionary War they established a government with checks and balances. They also created what now stands as the second oldest constitution in the world.

In recent years some people have battled over interpretations of the constitution. One area of contention is around religious liberty. Some contend that religious liberty stands under attack. Others brush aside such statements as propaganda of the “religious right.”

I learned in my theology classes that virtue (and often truth) lies in the middle. On the topic of religious freedom, one recent event does really concern me. At the end of May, California’s State Senate passed a bill by a vote of 30-4 that would require priests to violate the seal of confession. The seal of confession is the rule, codified in our Church’s canon law, that states “the sacramental seal is inviolable; therefore it is absolutely forbidden for a confessor to betray in any way a penitent in words or in any manner and for any reason” (Canon 983.1). The punishment for a priest to reveal what he heard in confession connecting sin to penitent is excommunication. The priest is not only stripped of his priesthood, he is kicked out of the Catholic Church. The excommunication is automatic, there does not have to be formal accusation or trial. That is how seriously the Catholic Church takes this issue.

We take this seal so seriously because we believe that the penitent confessing in the Sacrament of Reconciliation comes to access the healing and forgiving grace of Christ. During the sacrament, the priest is acting “in persona Christi,” so the penitent is really speaking to and hearing words of forgiveness from Christ.

The bill passed by the California Senate was done in light of the clergy sex abuse scandals, particularly with the idea that bishops and other priests hid these heinous crimes. Let me be clear: any form of abuse is horrible. Sexual abuse of the vulnerable by people in positions of authority – especially religious authority – is especially heinous, contemptable, and should never happen. The pain it causes is unfathomable. All priests, and all clergy members, are mandated reporters: legally required to report any case of     suspected child abuse or neglect to law enforcement. The one exception in the United States, and it applies to all religions, is for clergy who come by this knowledge in the context of “penitential communication” (see Bishop Robert Barron’s article in Word on Fire from May 7, 2019).

The California bill is aimed only at Catholics, no other religion. You can argue that Catholics have been the most visible offenders of clergy sexual abuse, but does that make this bill targeting only one religion correct or justified? The first amendment states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The framers of the Bill of Rights clearly stated that the State should not monitor the beliefs of legitimate religions. The proposed bill in California obviously intends to litigate the free exercise of our religion. They do this even though, despite the fact that among the incredible number of investigations into the clerical sexual abuse crisis, no data exits indicating the use of confession to either hide or perpetuate sexual abuse of minors (Catholic News Agency, May 24, 2019).

Much about this bill alarms me. The way that the bill is worded is troubling, applying only to one religion and attacking one core component of our faith – one of our 7 sacraments that celebrates the infinite mercy of our Lord. If it ever goes into effect, its logic creates a slippery slope. Currently the law is only aimed at Catholics. If allowed to pass and stand, will it become precedent to monitor and police behaviors of other religions? What other crimes will be deemed so dastardly that priests must reveal them as well: murder, rape, spousal abuse? All are hideous crimes. All should be punished. When I was in class learning how to hear a confession, I was taught that I could, and should, encourage people who have committed any of these crimes to seek help outside of confession (though I cannot force them to do so). They are not just spiritually wounded, but psychologically so as well. The side effect would be bringing the person to admit what happened outside of the context of a seal and be able to be reported.

I do not like to overreact nor sound the alarm. However, just twenty years ago would anyone have thought it possible to have a     30-4 vote in favor of legislation directed at determining how a sacrament can be performed? This is but one event that indicates to me a growing disdain for public practice of faith in the least. At worst, it marks an attack on our religious liberty enshrined in the constitution.

Together let us pray for all victims of sexual abuse, for their healing. We pray for those who love them who are also affected,   directly or indirectly. We pray also for the conversion of the perpetrators and for appropriate justice. As we remember the work of the Founding Fathers of our great nation, I pray that we may all live as “one nation under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

Fr. Eric

 

June 30, 2019

Happy first full week of Summer!

This past week I had the blessing of taking Wed – Sat morning off to travel to the Washington DC area to visit some friends. While there, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon visiting Fr. Brad. He sends his greetings to everyone and is doing well. You may recall that a couple weeks ago he wrote something for the bulletin. In that column, he mentioned he visited Mount Vernon and was a little jealous of the gardens there. This past week I have been able to clear a portion of the big garden that Fr. Brad has been cultivating and then planted some things there. Pray with me that we will have good fruit (and vegetables) that will help make him proud. You are invited to do more than pray with me. You can also help me cultivate the crops in our parish garden. This is my first real foray into gardening, so those who have experience are invited to share advice. Fair warning, that sharing may need to be in the garden itself with me as I am a visual learner. Join me, we’ll have fun!

Last Sunday we introduced Brendan Mahoney as our new youth minister. He was at both the 8:30 and 10:00 am Masses. This past week he has jumped in with both feet starting to bring new ideas to the youth room and planning different opportunities for our youth. You will be hearing more from him soon.

This is the last week of the Catholic Charities Appeal See All the People. We are a little behind our contributions last year, though the needs remain the same – or bigger – than they have been. This year the foundation created a couple nice, very short, videos to help people better connect to where their contributions are helping. Here are a couple of links to them: www.catholicfoundationsema.org/jerry,  and https://www.catholicfoundationsema.org/tony/. There are many people in need. As someone relatively new to Holy Cross parish, I am uplifted by the many ways that I see people here reaching out to help. Thank you for doing so.

For the last couple of weeks you have found in your pew 2019 Parish Council Nomination forms. The goal of these forms was to have parishioners nominate people to serve on the Parish Council. I had hoped to follow the practice of previous years in which nominations are open for about three weeks, and then a drawing at Mass this weekend. In the past, we required prospective council members to have three people nominate them for consideration. At this point we do not have enough people who have garnered three or more nominations to fill all of the positions. Therefore, we will keep the nomination process open until late August. If you know of someone who could be good as a member of the parish council, feel free to take a form home, fill it out, and drop it in the collection the next week at Mass. You can also drop it off in the parish office.

As we celebrate Independence Day this week, the parish office will be closed on Thursday. More importantly, let us thank God for the gifts we have been given to live in a country with so many blessings. We also thank God for the many people who have sacrificed over the years so that we can have our independence and maintain our freedoms. Meditating on the holiday and the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, perhaps this week we can hold in our hearts the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians found in our second reading this weekend.

For you were called for freedom, brothers and sisters.

But do not use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh;

rather, serve one another through love. . .

But if you go on biting and devouring one another,

beware that you are not consumed by one another.

As Christians who enjoy the blessings we have in this country, may we live our faith by choosing to build up rather than tear down, to use our freedoms to serve one another through love.

Have a Happy (and safe) 4th of July!

Fr. Eric