Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.
Survey Says…! In November I asked you to fill out the Gallup ME 25 Survey. Thankfully many of you did which allowed the survey to have some statistical teeth. Before getting into the details of the results a word about surveys is in order. I believe it was Mark Twain who once quipped, "there are statistics and then there is the truth". The challenge with survey results or any kind of statistical analysis is that they are a lot like bikini's: they reveal a whole lot but leave the most important parts concealed.
What we (myself and the Parish Council) were looking to measure was the "condition of the spiritual condition" of the parish. So we were not looking for a demographic analysis or a customer satisfaction survey. While those things are important and can yield worthwhile information the heart of a Catholic Parish is really found in how well we are fulfilling our mission as disciples of Jesus. From that point of view we opted for a survey that attempts to measure the spiritual side of things.READ MORE
"Beware the Ides of March", so wrote William Shakespeare in his play Julius Caesar. The ides of March (the 15th) is generally considered the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated and the Roman Republic turned into the Roman Empire. Simply put this happened because there were some in Rome that believed the country could be better ruled by an Emperor than by the People and the Senate. (If you go to Rome today you will see SPQR, Senatus Populusque Romanus, the Senate and the People of Rome stamped everywhere. Even after the Emperor took over they continued to use that phrase to make the people think their government was still a government of the people or a Republic.) The republican form of government tried people's patience with its never-ending political gridlock and so the thinking went that an Emperor could solve that problem. There is a good lesson in there for us.READ MORE
Recently I have watched Rev. Franklin Graham (son of Rev. Billy Graham) interviewed several times on News shows about the slaughter of Arab Christians by ISIS. Each time he began his answer he started with: "First let me say that God loves all people. And to the terrorist who torture and murder, God will forgive you if you open you heart to Jesus Christ and accept his forgiveness." Rev. Graham always finds a way to proclaim the Gospel. How refreshing.
Yet as he sneaks in his proclamation of God's love for all people, the TV host is polite but doesn't quite know what to do about it. Instead they move right along and ask him about political solutions to the problem. Therein lies the challenge: while politics is part of the solution it is not the whole solution. We are engaged in a theological battle over the true nature of God and yet we don't know how to talk about it or even take on the challenge. We hide behind secularism and act as though we are embarrassed by our religious history. We act as though if standing up for the biblical values upon which Western civilization was built is a grave offense against Islamic terrorists. The God of the Bible clearly rejected murder and slavery and violence. The answer lies in whether the Islamic world will permanently reject violence, slavery and theocracy in the name of God or not.READ MORE
One of the very celebrated rages to hit college campuses in recent years (including lots of Catholic Colleges) was a play entitled "The Vagina Monologues". The play is a series of monologues by women about, well figure it out. Recently one college, Mt. Holyoke College, an all women's college in Massachusetts has now cancelled any further performances of the play since it is not in conformity with its values. The reason the once Christian college gave for cancelling the play on its campus is that it is exclusionary. The play excludes 'women' without vaginas (wwov's) and is not in conformity with its new admissions policy of admitting any "qualified student who is female or identifies as female" (i.e. wwov's).
While acceptance of transgendered persons (people who dress and try to act as the opposite gender) is all the rage in our society and our government and even our military are going into overdrive to push the cause not everyone is on board. A group identifying as radical feminists "insist on regarding transgender women as men, who should not be allowed to use women's facilities, such as public rest rooms, or to participate in events organized exclusively for women" according to an article in the August edition of the New Yorker. The article quotes Robin Morgan: "I will not call a male "she"; thirty-two years of suffering in this androcentric society, and of surviving, have earned me the title "woman"; one walk down the street by a male transvestite, five minutes of his being hassled (which he may enjoy), and then he dares, he dares to think he understands our pain? No, in our mothers' names and in our own, we must not call him sister." So now we have women with and 'women' without at odds.READ MORE
In Luke 14:28 Jesus tells us: "For which of you desiring to build a tower does not first sit down and count the cost whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish it, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'this man began to build and was not able to finish'."
For us these are instructions from Jesus himself to measure if we have what it takes to build the Kingdom. Very specifically it means we need to sit down and understand the necessary ingredients that go into becoming one of his disciples. We do this as Catholics by building communities or parishes that embody the Faith of Christians and pass that faith on generationally. As I pointed out previously though 93% of Americans state that they believe in some sort of deity and 95% of those agree that Jesus is the Son of God, a full 50% of those are unconnected to a Church or Parish. We ourselves are not "churchless Christians". So what should a Catholic Parish that is successfully carrying out its mission look like? How do you measure that or sit down and count the cost of discipleship?READ MORE
Ash Wednesday throws a bucket of cold water on the culture. "Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return" is just about as heretical as you can be in our culture. For the culture far from being non-religious is in fact very religious and dogmatic at that. It embraces not the faith of Christians but the faith of Peter Pan. The faith of Peter Pan simply states that those who age will die. The secret to immortality then is to remain perpetually a child, wishing on a star and having a Nanny to take of you.
With all our nips and tucks and anti-aging formulas and creams we can at least fool ourselves temporarily into thinking we are perpetually young. The push toward being "trans-human" promises that we will fix our nature so as to never actually die. That's why smearing ashes on our foreheads and denying ourselves the pleasures of the flesh are considered morbid and hopelessly masochistic. I know Jesus tells us to accept the faith like a child but he doesn't extol childishness. In fact he tells us to "deny our very selves" in order to find ourselves. Quite different than wishing on a star.READ MORE
In light of the recent measles out break and discussion on vaccines here is some helpful answers from the National Catholic Bioethics Center:
What is the Church's teaching about the use of certain vaccines that have a distant historical association with abortion?
There are a number of vaccines that are made in descendent cells of aborted fetuses. Abortion is a grave crime against innocent human life. We should always ask our physician whether the product he proposes for our use has an historical association with abortion. We should use an alternative vaccine if one is available.
What does it mean when we say that these products are made in "descendent cells"?
Descendent cells are the medium in which these vaccines are prepared. The cell lines under consideration were begun using cells taken from one or more fetuses aborted almost 40 years ago. Since that time the cell lines have grown independently. It is important to note that descendent cells are not the cells of the aborted child. They never, themselves, formed a part of the victim's body.
Because I have friends who love me a lot I was able to attend the Super Bowl for the first time. As a long time football fan and someone who appreciates the precise nature of the game watching two teams that execute the game with amazing precision and detail was quite a thrill. So here are some first thoughts, last thoughts and miscellaneous thoughts.
My first impression of the whole Super Bowl experience was overwhelming and unapologetic GREED. The fans who week-to-week go to the games, cheer on their teams are mostly an after thought when it comes to the Super Bowl. The face value of a ticket is exorbitant and very difficult to come by. The NFL releases a percentage of tickets to the teams to offer, by lottery, to the season ticket holders. Corporate sponsors like Pepsi, Verizon then can buy up more than their share. Any one else who wants to go must go through a ticket broker. That's where the real greed comes in.READ MORE
From the start the Catholic community in Tempe has provided for the education of its parish children. As far back as the 1880's a Catholic school was part of the Mt. Carmel community. Our present school has been in operation continuously since 1945. Which means this year we celebrate 70 years of Catholic Education at Mt. Carmel! That is a history we can be proud of and a reason for hope for the future.
Today the educational landscape has become quite diverse: Public schools, charter schools, private schools, parochial schools and home schooling. Diversity in education certainly is a benefit to our society. Still there are many voices that push very strongly for a single educational system run by the state. That however might provide uniformity but it would also most certainly create a sort of educational inbreeding that would not benefit society. The fact that so many parents and communities fight hard to keep Catholic Schools open or to form Charter Schools gives parents greater choice in providing for the educational needs of their children.READ MORE
"Rep. Joe Crowley, a New York Democrat, is asking his fellow lawmakers to help defend a member of the House who has endured online attacks because of his religion. Rep. André Carson of Indiana, who took office in 2008, was recently appointed to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The appointment has fueled online commenters to levy personal attacks at the 40-year-old Democrat, reports Politico."
"Crowley wrote to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle Thursday about the issue.
"It has … come to my attention that there have been a shocking amount of comments made in conservative publications and on social media to the effect that Rep. Carson's integrity is somehow in question as a result of his religion," Crowley wrote."
"One of the great strengths of our nation, and indeed the Congress as well, is the diversity of experiences and beliefs that we are able to draw from to inform our policy goals," Crowley wrote. "It is a true tragedy if members are targeted for their religious beliefs as somehow weakening their ability to serve, as opposed to strengthening it."READ MORE
Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, a fierce defender of the Church and an expert at sniffing out anti-Catholicism got himself into a bit of a rabbit hole over comments he made about the recent terrorist attacks at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine is an equal opportunity offender, printing vile and the worst kinds of stereotypes of Jews and Catholics as well as Muslims. The editors I'm sure knew that Jews and Catholics would react to their publications by writing letters to the editor, organizing protests and boycotts or filing defamation lawsuits. But they also knew that printing the same kinds of satires on Islam and Muslims could bring extreme reactions. Much to their credit they understood this and accepted it because they felt standing up for the principle of freedom of speech was worth it. In that way they chose not to be victims. That does not in anyway justify what happened or imply that they deserved what they got, which is what Bill Donohue was accused of implying.
I share Bill's outrage at the vulgar way in which religious figures of all stripes have been depicted by the French magazine. Still it is important to note that satire is a necessary and important tool for a healthy and free society. Unfortunately a publication like Charlie Hebdo used poorly those tools often passing off adolescent bathroom humor or borderline pornography as serious satire. Satire can often effectively speak truth to power and is especially important in a society where political speech is policed. At the same time poorly done satire can be harmful by dehumanizing and demonizing others and help create cynicism in a society where people do hateful and harmful things based on untrue stereotypes. While there are dangers in satire there are worse dangers in regulating it.READ MORE
Over the past several years Switzerland has become famous not for its cheese, chocolates or Alps but for suicide, specifically assisted suicide. The Swiss have permitted "suicide clinics" to open where you can go and do yourself in. (Though I do applaud the Swiss for forbidding medical professionals from participating as the clinics are lay run. Physicians and nurses should not be in the business of killing their patients.)
Those who come to the Clinics, especially from outside of Switzerland are referred to as "suicide tourists". Suicide tourism is becoming its own industry in Switzerland. One elderly couple from the United Kingdom, Sir Edward Downes (85yrs old) and his wife Joan (74 yrs. old) decided to go to Switzerland since Sir Edward lost most of his eyesight and decided assisted suicide was the bon vage for him. His wife, Joan who was healthy, decided she did not want to live without her husband of 54yrs and decided that she would also participate. So husband and wife with the help of others took their lives.
The couple had many supporters and many who cheered on their "right" to die in the manner they choose without interference.READ MORE
These exotic figures we call the Magi, traveled a long distance to bring their gifts to the child born in Bethlehem. They represent the first people who were willing to put their gifts at the service of Jesus Christ. Since that time disciples of Jesus have been doing the same. And what is so wondrous about it is that no matter how small the gift or seemingly insignificant, like the widow’s mite or the seven loaves and two fish, Jesus uses it in a big way.
Next weekend we will be blessed once again to have with us Eddie James and many of his “kids”. I say “kids” because Eddie travels long distances, like the Magi, to bring the gift of faith to young people who are abandoned, hopeless, family-less, abused, drug addicted or suicidal, and they in turn consider him their spiritual father. The last time Eddie and his Gospel Singers were with us was an Easter Sunday. After that Mass we had to put a new roof on the Church because they ripped it right off! I am sure this visit will be no less an energetic worship experience.READ MORE