From 2012-2014, Benedictine University in Lisle, Illinois performed a survey for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois to discover the reasons behind serious declines in Mass attendance over the last decade in the Springfield Diocese. This study yielded major findings for both active and inactive Catholics in the Springfield Diocese.
As I was reading through the results of the survey, there was a major finding concerning active Catholics that I believe is worthy of some reflection:
“Parish priests or pastors were the most frequently given responses for what parishioners liked least about their parish and for those considering separating from their Parish, the Catholic Church or both.”
How is this possible? How did the priest acquire such importance? Why would someone’s relationship to a parish or to the Catholic Church itself depend entirely on an individual priest?
As many of you already know, I am an adjunct professor of Theology at Benedictine University in Mesa (the sister campus of Benedictine University in Lisle). In particular, I teach Sacramental Theology. At this time in our course, my students and I are reading through Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s (also known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), The Spirit of the Liturgy. In this magnificent theological work Ratzinger mentions something that I believe pertains to the major finding as noted above.READ MORE
Isaiah 2:2: “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it.”
Isaiah 25:6: “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wine.”
Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings glad tidings, announcing peace, bearing good news, announcing salvation, and saying to Zion, ‘Your God is King!’”
Matthew 5:1-2: “When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain, and after he had sat down, his disciples came to him. He began to teach them.”READ MORE
In light of this, we need to ask ourselves, “Is this how we normally act? Is this the order that we see in the decisions being made by ourselves and those around us?” Usually, the answer is no. What then actually happens? Unfortunately, we experience the opposite.
What normally happens is that we first experience an emotion. For example, another driver on the highway cuts us off and we immediately experience the emotion of anger. Then, we make a choice (an act of the will) governed by the experienced emotion. Concerning the example of the man who cuts us off on the highway, in anger we yell profanity out the window at the driver.
Third, after we have calmed down – after the anger has subsided, we then utilize our intellect to rationalize our behavior. For example, we say something like, “That guy deserved it because he was a jerk,” or “Someone needed to let that guy know that he was a bad driver.”READ MORE
When I was growing up, I enjoyed spending time at the mall. While my parents would make their way from Dillards to Footlocker, I would spend some time looking at the various vender carts outside the stores. One of my favorite vender carts was the Magic Eye cart. For those who are unfamiliar with Magic Eye, it is a series of books that contain autostereograms, which are patterns of shapes and colors that when looked at correctly cause some viewers to see three-dimensional images. At first glance, a Magic Eye image is uninteresting. It is merely a pattern of shapes and colors that are not very appealing. However, when looked at carefully, a three-dimensional image is hidden within the uninteresting pattern.READ MORE
One of my favorite stories about the life of Pope Saint John Paul II is the story of the beggar priest. One day a priest was walking through the streets of Rome on his way to a private audience with Pope Saint John Paul II when he recognized a beggar on the street as one of his classmates from seminary who had fallen into hard times, walked away from his priesthood, and become homeless. At the papal audience, the homeless beggar was so much on his mind that he decided to share his encounter with the beggar priest with the pope. To his surprise, the pope told him to find the beggar priest and bring him to the Vatican for a private dinner that evening.
The priest then found the beggar, bought him a change of clothes, allowed him to shower at his hotel, and brought him to the Vatican for the special dinner. Toward the end of the dinner, Pope Saint John Paul II dismissed everyone from the room except for the beggar priest. When the two of them were alone together, the pope then asked the beggar priest to hear his confession.READ MORE
On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court in the Obergefell v. Hodges case ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that "the 14th Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state." In the wake of this decision many Catholics have found themselves asking troubling questions. "What does this mean for the Catholic Church?" "Will the Church participate in same sex marriages?" "How should I respond to my family members and friends who are in favor of the Supreme Court's decision?"READ MORE
John 6:52-66: (52) The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" (53) Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (54) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. (55) For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. (56) Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. (57) Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (58) This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever." (59) These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum. (60) Then many of his disciples who were listening said, "This saying is hard; who can accept it?" (61) Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, "Does this shock you? (62) What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? (63) It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (64) But there are some of you who do not believe." Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him. (65) And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father." (66) As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.
For the longest time whenever I read chapter 6 of John’s Gospel I felt like there was something I was missing. I felt like there was some inside-story that I didn’t know about. There are several verses in this chapter of John that gave me this impression. In verse 52 we hear that the Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat. Then in verse 60 we hear many of the Jews saying, This saying is hard; who can accept it? Then, in verse 66, many of the Jews left Jesus and returned to their former way of life. Somehow in less than 20 biblical verses, Jesus managed to say something so controversial that he lost a majority of his followers. Why? What did Jesus say that made everybody so upset that they left him and returned to their former way of life?READ MORE
Venit Maria Magdalena annuntians discipulis: Vidi Dominum! Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples: I have seen the Lord! (John 20:18).
Vidi Dominum! I have seen the Lord! These were the joyful words spoken by St. Mary Magdalene to the disciples, announcing to them the good news that Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. What wonderful words from our patroness. What a powerful message.
There is nothing more joyful in the life of the Christian than an encounter with the Risen Lord. It is such a powerful experience that it must be shared. The Christian can't help but tell everyone the good news of this encounter. In his recent apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis remarked, "Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us." (1)
One of the great joys of being the pastor of St. Mary Magdalene Parish is that I am privileged with the gift of hearing the many stories of how Jesus Christ has changed the lives of the members of our community. Christ is very much alive and at work in our parish. The joy of these encounters with Jesus Christ are so powerful that I find myself sharing them as often as possible. The reaction that I receive from sharing these stories is that people love hearing them. Every community needs to know the fruit that is being born from the work of the Holy Spirit. Seeing the fruit of the Holy Spirit is a need for every Christian community. It is for this reason that we have chosen a new format for our bulletin, and have given the Latin translation of St. Mary Magdalene's testimony of her first encounter with the Risen Christ as its title: Vidi Dominum; I have seen the Lord!READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the longest time I could never understand why the solemnity of the Ascension was an important celebration. Why did Jesus have to ascend to Heaven? Why is this event so important for the Church? Why do the Gospel writers make such a big deal about it? And then one day in prayer, the answer finally dawned on me: the Ascension of Jesus Christ into Heaven is similar to the narrative predicament found in the Joseph Heller novel, Catch-22.
For those of you who have never read the novel Catch-22 before, let me give you a little background. In Catch-22, the main character, John Yossarian, a US Army Air Force combat pilot, wants to be grounded from combat flight duty. However, in order to be grounded, he must first be evaluated by the squadron's flight surgeon and then be found "unfit for flying." In order for someone to be found "unfit for flying," they would have to be considered insane. The problem is that to be declared "unfit for flying," the person would first have to submit a request for an evaluation. Such a request could only be submitted by a sane person and would be evidence enough to prove the sanity of the one requesting the evaluation. The message is that anyone who wants to get out of flying, isn't really crazy. Hence, pilots that submit requests for evaluations are sane and must fly in combat missions. At the same time, if a request is never submitted, the pilot will never receive one, will never be found insane, and must also fly in combat. Therefore, the Catch-22 is that no pilot can ever be grounded for being insane – even if he were.READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Cardinal Dolan, the Cardinal Archbishop of New York, in his book, Called to Be Holy, tells a story of an experience he had with Cardinal Angelo Dell'Acqua during Mass at St. Peter's Basilica while he was a seminarian. At the end of Mass, the Cardinal looked at all of the American priests, sisters, and seminarians and said, "I have a favor to ask each of you. As you walk the streets of Rome, please smile."
There is nothing worse than a Catholic who has no joy. It's essentially an oxymoron. There is nothing that drives more people away from the Church than bitter Catholics. Jesus says in today's Gospel (John 15:9- 17), "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy might be complete." Jesus desires that we live a joyful life. He wants us to radiate the joy of the Gospel to all people.
Often, a lack of joy is a sign of a lack of trust in God. If I do not believe that Jesus Christ loves me, forgives me, and has the power to transform me, then my response to God is going to be "joyless." However, if I have a relationship with Jesus Christ, if I communicate with Him on a regular basis and offer myself up to Him as a gift (without holding a part of myself back from Him), then I know that He will be there to give me the light I need when I find myself in a dark place. In a relationship with Christ, I discover that He has overcome the world and that there is nothing in this world that we can encounter that He cannot transform by His great power and love. A lack of joy is usually a sign that we doubt God's power and love.READ MORE
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For the past two weeks we have been reflecting on the theological virtue of faith. In particular, we have examined how the object of faith is the Person of Jesus Christ and the context of faith is the Church. Today, we finish our reflection on faith with an examination of the result of faith. In other words, what does faith produce in the life of a believer?
There is a famous Augustinian expression that says, "Faith is letting oneself be grasped by the Truth." The more we are "grasped by the Truth," the more we become witnesses of the Truth. This is the result of faith: it produces a witness. The more the faith becomes an active part of our life, the more our entire life becomes a witness to Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to "witness to Jesus Christ?" Although there are many ways we offer a witness to Jesus Christ, there are two that I would like to reflect upon in this letter. First, we offer witness to Jesus Christ through suffering. The late Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete, a Catholic priest who used to be a regular contributor to the New York Times, once wrote, "Suffering is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived." He who suffers well, offers a beautiful witness to Jesus Christ. How?READ MORE