I’m away from the blog this week while on vacation in Colorado. I’m enjoying what might be called my first actual vacation since starting my assignment as a priest. My parents and I have so far enjoyed the beauty of Colorado Springs and yesterday drove north to Estes Park, the gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park. Along the way we stopped at the St. Francis Xavier Cabrini shrine in Denver and Camp St. Malo near Estes Park where John Paul II stayed and hiked when he was here in 1993. It may be a potential retreat location for me in the future. As I write today, it is a beautiful morning looking out the window as the sun is rising on the snow-covered Rockies. It’s cold but beautiful. We’re off to do some hiking and chase some elk.
Why King Wenceslas Was Good
St. Wenceslas died a martyr in the early 10th century, being killed by his own brother. Wenceslas used his authority as king of Bohemia to ensure that the poor were taken care of. He also very openly practiced his Christian faith, even though this brought him into danger with pagan members of his court and even his own family. Eventually his strong Christian witness would cost him his life. His love for the poor is memorialized in the famous Christmas carol about him. Though written in the 19th century, the full song tells an appropriate story fitting to the life of the saint:
Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel
“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”
“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather
“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”
In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed
Therefore, Christian men, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
Ye who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing
Unity in the Love of Christ
Our first reading and gospel today recount unfortunate stories in which people are performing good works in the name of God and yet are looked down upon because they do not belong to the “correct group.” How often do we do this today as fellow Christians? There are two key points that Catholics especially must keep in mind. First, we should rejoice when we see our Christian brothers and sisters in other communities doing the works of God and loving Jesus. This is a good thing! Too often we look down on our separated brothers and sisters because they’re not “one of us.” This division is a scandal and not recognizing the good that exists even outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church adds to the scandal.
However, secondly, we must also avoid falling into the trap of thinking that it doesn’t matter which church you happen to go to. Jesus really did found one Church and wants everyone to be a part of it. He really did give us leaders that he promised to guide and protect from error because he knew that was the only way we would be able to remain unified. He really did want us to have the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. He really does want everyone to be Catholic. While the Church does not have a monopoly on the truth, only the Catholic Church has everything that Jesus intended his Church to have, the “fullness” of the truth. It would be very offensive to Jesus to pretend that none of this really matters.
The challenge is to hold both of these points together at once, and to do it with love. The fact that as Catholics we have the fullness of truth doesn’t mean that we use it very well and it doesn’t mean that we don’t have a lot we can learn from our separated brothers and sisters. We should desire that everyone would be Catholic, but we should desire this from a knowledge that we love our brothers and sisters and want to share with them all the good things that Jesus wants them to have. There is no room for a triumphalist “I’m better than you” attitude in the Church. Let us thank God for the beautiful faith we see all around us, even outside the visible bounds of the Catholic Church, and let us work as Jesus prayed, “That all may be one.” Let us share the truth with love.
Grace is Given According to the Plan of Christ
Matthew himself thought that he was an unlikely choice to be an apostle. Yet, the words of the first reading remind us that “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Jesus chooses not those who seem most qualified in the eyes of the world. Rather, who gives his grace to those he chooses. He chose Matthew for a special mission and he has given each of us the grace we need for the special mission entrusted to us. May we have to courage to leave behind anything that would keep us from following Jesus on this mission.
Competition can be a good thing. St. Paul himself urges us to “compete well for the faith” and likens the whole of Christian life to the competition of a race. He reminds us that all compete for a single prize…”Run therefore so as to win!” Competition can indeed be a good thing when it causes us to strive to be the very best we can be. Yet, as is often the case, the devil can take what is good and twist it.
A good spirit of competition can degrade to the spirit of “jealousy and selfish ambition” spoken of by St. James in the today’s second reading. Instead of competing to be the very best we can be, how often to we instead try to bring others down? How often do we fall into the trap of thinking that putting someone else down somehow makes me higher? This is what is happening in our first reading today. Here we have a just man who is mocked and attacked all because he is trying to be holy and others don’t like it and try to tear him down. This is competition turned to jealousy and selfish ambition indeed.
We see this tendency in the corporate world too where getting ahead can often mean pushing back a bunch of others. In climbing the corporate ladder too often we see people not at all concerned about the people they are stepping on while trying to get to the top. All of this is summed up in one word, “use.” We can be guilty of using people for what they can do for us. We try to win friends and influence people by having the right friends that can get something for us.
As John Paul taught us, the opposite of love is not hate, but use. We should never use another person as a means to an end. To disrupt the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition of our society we need love. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel. In the face of selfishness and a desire for power, Jesus gives self emptying. He who is on top of the power chain, King of Kings and Lord of Lords, gives it all up. He uses his power to serve and wins with love.
The apostles obviously don’t understand and famously argue about who it the greatest. They are still stuck in the cycle of jealousy and selfish ambition. To disrupt this Jesus gives the example of a child. If you think about it, what advantage is a child in this scheme of using people to climb higher. You really don’t gain anything by having “influential friends” amongst 2nd graders. A child has nothing to offer your selfish ambition. Rather, a child must be served. This is how we should see people, someone to be served without jealousy or selfish ambition.
The Seven Sorrows of Mary
Today’s memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows reminds us that Mary shared intimately in every aspect of the life of Jesus. This means that she shared in many great joys, but it also means that she felt, more than anyone, the sorrows of his life. The Church has traditionally reflected on seven events in the life of Mary that have come to be called the “Seven Sorrows of Mary.”
- The prophecy of Simeon that a sword would pierce her heart
- The flight into Egypt
- The finding of the child Jesus in the temple
- Mary meets Jesus as he carries his cross
- Mary stands at the foot of the cross
- The body of Jesus is placed in Mary’s arms after being taken down from the cross
- The body of Jesus is placed in the tomb
We remember that to be close to Jesus means to share in both the joys and sufferings of his life. No one did this more perfectly than Mary. We ask her to help us to carry our cross well through the difficulties of life that we may share in her joy and the joy of all the saints as we one day behold Jesus face to face. May we always stay close to Jesus as Mary did.
From Catholic Culture News with my comments
In an interview published in The Washington Post, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said that as a Cabinet official she supported PresidentBarack Obama’s pledge not to make abortion funding part of health care legislation but did not give her own opinion on the subject. She also refused to say whether she is heeding Kansas City Archbishop Joseph Naumann’s admonition not to receive Holy Communion, according to the interview transcript.
MS. ROMANO: You are pro-choice.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Yes.
MS. ROMANO: Do you think that the federal government should do some federal funding of abortions, personally?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the President has made it pretty clear that Congress and the new health insurance plan will not provide federal funds for abortions.
Despite what the President may have said, multiple independent groups point out that the actual details of each of the bills that have been proposed all do in fact fund abortion. Further, every time an amendment has been proposed to specifically exclude abortion from the bill, those amendments have been voted down. So, while Sebelius can say that the President has “made it pretty clear,” if he really wanted to be clear he would state plainly that he will veto any bill that does not explicitly exclude abortion funding. In the end, that is really the only legislative power the President has; until he promises a veto he’s really not promising anything.
MS. ROMANO: Well, I know that. I was asking you what you thought.
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I am the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and I will support the President’s proposal moving forward.
MS. ROMANO: You are also a pro-choice Catholic, and I was reading some stories out of your home state recently where one of the bishops took an action. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, the Archbishop in the Kansas City area did not approve of my conduct as a public official and asked that I not present myself for communion.
It is not her conduct as a public official that gets her in trouble with the Church. It is her conduct as a Catholic who creates a public scandal to other Catholics that gets her in trouble.
MS. ROMANO: What did you think about that?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: Well, it was one of the most painful things I have ever experienced in my life, and I am a firm believer in the separation of church and state, and I feel that my actions as a parishioner are different than my actions as a public official and that the people who elected me in Kansas had a right to expect me to uphold their rights and their beliefs even if they did not have the same religious beliefs that I had. And that’s what I did: I took an oath of office and I have taken an oath of office in this job and will uphold the law.
There are two key issues here. First, she uses the the excuse that public officials can behave immorally because they are just following orders. This is no different than if the leaders of Hitler’s Nazi party were to claim that they were personally opposed to slaughtering millions of innocent people but had taken an oath to separate this private belief from their public action. If the pro-abortion politicians of today can get away with the “just following orders” defense then we owe a huge apology to a lot of people we convicted of war crimes after WWII. An unjust law is no law at all. Further, the idea that Sebelius merely upheld the law is also false. She activelyvetoed pro-life legislation passed by both houses of congress duly elected to represent the will of the people to whom she claims she is beholden. Only 7% of the American people support abortion on demand as it is currently interpreted by our courts. Clearly it is not the will of the people that is being protected here.
Secondly, most dangerous is this attempt to turn abortion into a “religious” issue. Abortion has nothing to do with the “separation of Church and state” issue as Sebelius claims. Abortion is not merely a religious issue. This is an issue of civil rights. Can we continue to deny the rights of fellow members of the human race simply because of where they are located or what functions they are capable of performing? Any atheist can come to a logical conclusion that a baby growing inside its mother is a separate and unique human being that is alive. Every medical text book states this fact. The issue is whether we will continue to deny human rights to these human persons. That is a civil issue and separate from religion although religious people would no doubt fight for civil rights.
MS. ROMANO: Do you continue to take communion?
SECRETARY SEBELIUS: I really would prefer not to discuss with you.That’s really a personal–thank you.
This weekend was a really exciting one for me. One of my many jobs as a priest is serving as the Scout Chaplain for the Archdiocese. I’ve been a scout for 23 years now and have always loved how the Catholic faith and scouting go together so nicely. When the Archbishop appointed me Chaplain for all the scouts I was very excited. I also had a few ideas.
One of those ideas was that I thought we should have an annual event that gathered all of the Catholic scouts together for a big campout. I thought maybe we could have a cooking competition, Mass, and maybe a Christian music concert. I went to the Catholic Committee on Scouting that existed at the time and told them my idea. I told them that I knew that there were wide open fields surrounding the headquarters of the Archdiocese and that I thought it would be great if we could fill those fields with tents and scouts. I think they thought I was crazy.
Eventually we agreed that it was possible, but I was told that events had been done in the past and that I could probably expect about 40 to 50 people. I was a little disappointed, but I thought we could start small and grow the event over the years. So we decided to do it.
I started praying a lot to the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t sure how techno savvy the Spirit is these days (have youever gotten a text message from the Holy Spirit? I’ve never even seen a Tweet from Him), so I also helped Him a little with some Facebook, Google, Web pages, and a lot of networking. The end result was that this small little event went big time really fast. We had over 300 scouts surrounding Savior of the World pastoral center. It didn’t occur to me until later, but if we had wanted to take over the Archdiocese, we actually had a pretty formidable army surrounding the place.
Fortunately for the Archbishop these scouts came not to invade, but to cook and have fun. We had beautiful weather and the day was everything I hoped it would be. Celebrating Mass that evening with all the scouts on the surrounding hill with the sun going down was just perfect. We then had an awesome concert by campfire light and I sat and tried to digest all the BBQ entries I had judged earlier in the day. Meanwhile the lights of scouts camped all around lit up the hill while Cub Scouts chased each other around with flashlights for no apparent reason.
The first annual Holy Smokes was a huge success. I might have had the idea, but it never could have happened without the support of many people, including our great new Scouting Chairman in the Archdiocese, Harold Bradley. Everyone that came said they had an awesome time and will be back next year along with more people. Maybe next year we’ll have a thousand! We better start planning now.
Check out more pictures on our Facebook group
A Heavenly Peace…and Justice
Jesus gives us many difficult examples in the Gospel today. “Turn the other cheek” best sums up all of them. He tells us when someone wrongs you, don’t try to get even. Not only are we not supposed to get even, but we’re actually supposed to give even more than the person has already unjustly taken. This is a hard teaching indeed. However, I think we tend to focus too much on the “what” of this teaching and miss the “why.” Jesus says that if we do these things, “Your reward will be great in heaven.” All of these difficult things Jesus asks are ultimately to remind us that we should live with our eyes fixed on the life to come.
Because we believe in life after death and that there is a heaven, we don’t have to “get even” in this life. We all long for a justice that ensures that everyone gets what’s coming to them. The difference for Christians is that we don’t have to get it here and now. If this world were all that existed then Jesus’ sayings make no sense. If there is not heaven then when someone wrongs you in this life then you’ve got to get back right here and now because that’s all there is.
Christianity and a “Christian world view” can be a great source of peace in the world. If everyone has to get even right here and now then we are doomed to endless war and violence. “An eye for an eye just makes the whole world blind.” Yet, if we as Christians are able to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile with our eyes fixed on a reward that comes later then we have a chance for peace. We still have to work for justice, but we as Christians work for justice in this world knowing that the true and lasting peace and justice we long for will only be experienced in the life to come.
In honor of the birthday of our Blessed Mother today and the upcoming birthday of the famous Matty Molnar, I thought this video to be a fitting tribute. This video was recorded live at the Mundelein Seminary coffee house night on May 5th, 2005. Matty was tragically killed in a car accident the following September 15th, so I believe that this video represents the last public performance of this famous song that Matty wrote in honor of Mary.
For some reason the camera wanted to focus on me way too much, but at any rate, that’s me singing off key on backup vocals (if you can call it that), former seminarian and now holy husband and man of God Ben Beier on drums, and Fr. Tien Tran on bass. This was a great night at the seminary. I’ll try to post some more videos of the event if people are interested.
Here’s to the Blessed Mother and Matty. Happy Birthday to you both.