Archive for November, 2009

A timely old homily

Monday, November 30th, 2009

(I preached this homily on Good Shepherd Sunday, May 2004.  I decided to post it again here due to the recent exchange between Bishop Tobin and Patrick Kennedy)

I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and mine know me.

Our Lord presents Himself in John Chapter 10 as the Good Shepherd, the model for all religious leaders who spiritually shepherd sheep. The Good Shepherd, the Good religious leader, Jesus says, gently leads the sheep of his flock to where the safe Green pastures are; The Good Shepherd often leaves the 99 sheep safely grazing on the hills and seeks after the 1 lost sheep of his flock; The Good Shepherd guards the sheep against the wolves that seek to devour the sheep; Finally, if necessary, our Lord says that the Good Shepherd must even lay down his life for his sheep.

And some days, it is not at all easy to be a Good Shepherd. Some days, the combination of lost sheep, prowling wolves, and severe weather conditions can make shepherding extremely challenging.

Such has been the case these days, in the lives of our shepherds, the Bishops of our Roman Catholic Church in the United States. Because of certain current events in our country, an internal matter of Church discipline — something that deals with things that only go on behind the Church doors — has come to the forefront of the world’s attention.

The issue came to a head of sorts on April 23, 2004, when Cardinal Francis Arinze, the head of the Vatican Office for the Discipline of the Sacraments, stated at a press conference that Catholic politicians who are “unambiguously pro-abortion” are objectively speaking not to be given Holy Communion.

Since presently in the United States, there are a good number of high profile, “unambiguously pro-abortion” politicians who profess to be Roman Catholic, and since these unambiguously pro-abortion Catholic politicians are frequently seen receiving Holy Communion every Sunday at Churches across the country, this statement by Cardinal Arinze certainly caught people’s attention, and made the phones ring in Bishop’s offices throughout the U.S. from the likes of the New York Times and CNN for their comments. In response to the statement, the U.S. Bishop’s Conference has set up a task force to study the issue, and to decide whether or not every diocese should be denying communion to politicians who continue to support legal abortion.

Clearly our shepherds have their shepherding cut out for them. For to be Good Shepherds in this situation, they have no choice but to walk down two very narrow and very treacherous paths: The path of refusing someone the sacraments because they are publicly sinning and refuse to repent; And the path of getting indirectly involved with politics as Church leaders.

The Good Shepherd, even any Shepherd, realizes that it is best to avoid at all costs going down either of these extreme paths. But at times, these paths must be taken. At times if the shepherds don’t take these paths, they put the innocent sheep at great risk; they lose the one lost sheep; they cause others led astray by him to be lost as well; and they give the wolves free reign in the pasture. At these times, if the shepherds don’t take these treacherous paths they betray their calling and fail to be Good Shepherds after the Heart of Christ.

The paths our Shepherds must walk down are treacherous because many people today have big misconceptions about these two issues. Some times we hear people say “the Church shouldn’t be trying to influence political elections.” The Church for the most part agrees. The political realm should have a rightful autonomy from the religious realm, and visa versa, but this autonomy is not an absolute one. For example, when a priest or a bishop violates a just civil law, the state has every right to prosecute that man. Likewise, when a politician breaks a moral law, or legislates an immoral law, the Church also has every right and in fact a moral obligation to speak out against this injustice.

This is why when we look back on things like the Holocaust, slavery, and communism, we always ask the question “what did the Church do when this was happening?” Certainly, the bishops who were vocally opposed to antisemitism in Nazi Germany, the cruel slave trade in America, and the communist gulag in Russia were the Good Shepherds of their day, while the ones who were silent because this was a political issue were those Jesus calls the “thieves and robbers” (John 10:8). The Good Shepherds cannot be silent when innocent human lives are legally being killed in our country at a rate of thousands per day. As Pope John Paul II said in the Encyclical the “Gospel of Life,” all Catholics have a “grave and clear obligation to oppose” any law that attacks human life. If to fail to oppose such a law is a grave sin, how much graver a sin is it to support such a law?

Another misconception is that no Catholic can ever be refused Holy Communion by a priest, that the sacraments are never to be denied any Catholic who requests them. Again, most of the time, this is correct. To deny the sacraments to a person who shouldn’t be denied them would be a terrible sin on the part of the priest, and the Church teaches this. As the saying goes, “the faithful have a right to the sacraments.” But this also is not an absolute right.

I as a priest, and all priests, also have an equally grave moral obligation to deny communion to any Catholic who publicly and persistently is acting contrary to Catholic teachings. This isn’t saying the person is evil, or even that he should know better. The person may even be sincerely following his conscience, but since what he’s doing is both objectively immoral and well known to the public, that person must be refused the sacraments to avoid scandal and for the person’s own good.

Finally, Church law is clear (see Declatation by the Pontifical Counsel for Legislative Texts, June 24, 2000) that the shepherd who is to determine these tough and individual concrete cases is first of all the parish priest who is immediately responsible for the particular community. Since it is the parish priest who is so to speak “in the trenches” (or to keep the analogy going, “in the pasture with the sheep” (but not “out to pasture”!)) and knows most intimately the community and what is and isn’t public knowledge, it falls first to him to make the prudential judgment regarding who if any in his flock is “obstinately persisting in manifest grave sin” as Canon Law phrases it.

But what if a priest thinks a certain group of people should be denied communion, but his bishop tells him to not deny those persons? Unless the Vatican has made an official statement, the priest is bound to follow the Bishop’s order and give Holy Communion to those persons. But no Bishop could contradict Rome’s official judgments. (And by the way, Cardinal Arinze’s comment isn’t an official Vatican judgement, it was just a comment made to a press reporter.)

My brothers and sisters in Christ, probably very soon we will get the official word (and perhaps, if not from our bishops, from Rome itself at the upcoming world Bishop’s synod) as to whether or not “unambiguously pro-abortion” Catholic politicians will still be given the Holy Eucharist in our country.

While good Catholics can disagree as to what the best sanction for these people should be, all Catholics must agree on the following: that to create and pass laws permitting the killing of innocent human life (which is what abortion is) is always gravely immoral; that those who actively support such laws commit objectively evil acts; and lastly, that even if they aren’t denied, they personally shouldn’t receive Holy Communion — not until they repent by going to confession and by publically renouncing their former pro-abortion position. May these men and women, to whom we otherwise owe the greatest respect and gratitude for their civil service, choose to repent of their pro-abortion stance by taking hold of the graces God right now so desires to give them as baptized Christians and as civil leaders.

And may the Virgin Mary, the Immaculate Conception and the Mother of Christ the Good Shepherd, guide the Shepherds and the Sheep to green pastures in this new springtime the Church now finds Herself in.

Traditional Latin All Souls Mass – November 2, 2009

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

Thank you to Giris Azize of http://www.immaculatephoto.com/ for taking these photos!

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More All Souls Day Images

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Thank you to Giris Azize of http://www.immaculatephoto.com/ for taking these photos!

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Homily – All Saints Day MMIX 11/1/09

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

Homily – All Saints Day MMIX 11/1/09

Every year on All Saints Day, for at least the past six years since I’ve been here, the entire  Catholic Regional School next door comes over to the Church for a 9:30 School Mass, and I’m the main celebrant (since it falls on a Sunday this year, the School is going to have a votive Mass of All Saints later this month).

What’s makes the All Saints Day School Mass different than the other school Masses during the year is that every 5th Grader in the School dresses up like one of the Saints, and at the beginning of Mass, these 30 or so little Saints come marching in down the center aisle in front of the priest.

And at the homily, I call each of these little saints up to the Altar and ask each one “What’s your name?” “Where did you live when you were alive?” “Why are you a saint?”

And they know the answers, the 5th Graders know their Saints. That’s because the Saints are as fun to dress up as as they are inspiring to learn and read about.

For example, there’s a little 5th Grade girl dressed up as St. Therese the Little Flower, wearing her trademark brown and cream colored Carmelite Habit.

St. Therese is carrying in one hand a Crucifix – to remind us that at age 24, she died the slow painful death of Tuberculosis without any pain medication to comfort her,

But in the other hand Therese has a dozen roses, to remind us that despite the tremendous physical and even worse spiritual suffering she went through, she nonetheless radiated joy and faith to all who came to visit her on her deathbed, cheering up those who came to cheer her up.

Then there’s another 5th Grader dressed up like a prisoner, in black and white striped shirt and pants, with the number 1-6-7-7-0 written on his shirt.

It’s none other than St. Maximillian Kolbe, the polish Franciscan Priest, who tells me that in the concentration camps during World War II he accepted death in a cramped starvation bunker so that an innocent man with a wife and children wouldn’t suffer the same fate.

Some little saints have swords on them (plastic ones of course): St. Joan of Arc, who tells me that at age 17, she led the entire French army to victory and drove out those bad Englishmen.

Then up comes St. Michael the Archangel, who God sent to help St. Joan of Arc, which was a good choice seeing as St. Michael leads the Heavenly Army of Angels to victory over Satan’s Army of Demons.

Then up come saints who ruled nations, like St. Louis King of France, St. Elizabeth Queen of Hungary, St. Thomas More Chancellor of the Realm of England.

Martyr Saints who shed their blood in almost every country: Charles Lwanga in Africa, 14 year old Anna Wang in early 20th Century China, Edmund Campion in England, Isaac Joques in North America.

Then some of the 5th Graders dress up as 5th Grade saints, children their age, such as St. Don Bosco’s little pal St. Dominic Savio, who would appear to Don Bosco in dreams after his death; and Bd. Jacinta and Francisco Marto, the Fatima children who died very shortly after the apparitions just as Mary said they would, and the 11 year old martyr St. Maria Goretti who died forgiving the man who murdered her.

And still other 5th Graders dress up as American Saints, such as Bd. Kateri Tekakwitha who was ostracized by her fellow Mohawks for converting to Christianity;

St. Katherine Drexel, who’s father worked with JP Morgan and who gave up a 20 million dollar inheritance to become a Nun and help black and native Americans;

Blessed Andre Bessette, the simple religious brother who miraculously healed thousands of crippled people, and who would come to Woonsocket to raise money to build what is now the biggest shrine to St. Joseph, the Oratory of Montreal.

And finally, the newest Saint in the Church, St. Damien of Molokai, a priest originally from Belgium, who for 16 years lived on a island of lepers in what’s now the state of Hawaii, being a father and a priest to these lepers until he himself came down with leprosy and died of it.

As we honor all these saints and more this All Saints Day, I’d like to draw our attention to just one more saint we should probably be praying to these days: Saint Sebastian.

Saint Sebastian was an early Roman Martyr who the Emperor had tied to a stake and shot with so many arrows that the ancient account said he looked like a porcupine.

He miraculously survived this first death by arrows, but was later martyred by being beaten to death.

Because St. Sebastian survived death by arrows, Christians down through the centuries have invoked him against the plague and other infectious diseases. Hundreds of Churches to St. Sebastian were built in Europe thanking St. Sebastian for keeping the plague or some other disease from coming to their town.

Let us pray to St. Sebastian, that the swine flu may not take any more lives, and that we and our children may be kept safe from it.

May St. Sebastian, Our Lady Queen of All Saints, St. Joseph and all the Saints protect us and help us to follow Jesus, that one day we may go marching in to Heaven to worship with them around the Heavenly Throne.