Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

You Gotta Serve Somebody

09-30-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

But you're gonna have to serve somebody,
yes indeed You're gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody.

—"Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan

The values we hold and the choices we make reveal to others who we are serving. The problem we face is that left to our own devices we tend to rationalize and justify choices that are really self-serving. So we need something outside of ourselves to hold us accountable for our choices. Being part of a community helps us to do that but only if we are willing to use the community of the Church to measure our choices so that they are made not by a self-deluded standard but by the standards of Christian service.


Effective Stewardship

09-23-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

One of the harder ideas to shake from our thinking is that the amount of wealth that can be had in the world is basically a zero-sum game. In other words if someone gets rich it is because someone else got poor. But this way of thinking has for centuries kept people in poverty. Today many economists are challenging this way of seeing wealth and the free market by pointing out that there is in fact a nearly infinite amount of wealth that can be created and in which everyone can participate in its creation and benefit from it. Markets tend to reward those who excel by serving others well and meeting the needs and wants of customers. Economic activity then should be pursued as mutually beneficial exchanges and not the domination of the strong over the weak. In this view each of us then is a potential producer of wealth and resources for others.

Transposing this from the temporal to the spiritual means that if each of us is the best steward we can be then each of us individually and the Body of Christ at large will have all that we need. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that when we observe our neighbor's success that we ourselves do not possess we should react with zeal for self-improvement. But too often, Aquinas noted that when we observe good in others that surpasses what we ourselves possess we grieve over it rather than rejoice and in a malicious spirit seek to destroy it. This is the sin we call envy. If that is us then the spiritual challenge we face is to rejoice over a neighbor's good rather than resent that we do not possess the same and to be inspired by it not to tear others down but to address our own flaws and weaknesses.


Are you loyal to your political party or to your Church?

09-16-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Singer and Songwriter, Neil Diamond wrote the song "Sweet Caroline" with a young Caroline Kennedy in mind. The artist says he was inspired by a photograph of the young Kennedy taken during those Camelot years in the White House. But now sadly it seems that "sweet" Caroline has turned rather sour. At the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte recently she proclaimed: "as a Catholic woman I take reproductive health seriously." Of course by reproductive health she did not mean having lots of children. And most people, including those living under a rock find her statement an oxymoron. Or at least not something a Catholic declares on National TV.

The fact is how could you (and why) call yourself a Catholic and be so willing to embrace a position that is at complete odds with essential Catholic moral doctrine? Caroline Kennedy is by no means the exception as there are numerous well-known Catholic politicians and public figures cheerleading for abortion. Yet the world sees them as "enlightened" and progressive and it never seems to matter that these public figures are taking a position that is radically different than the Church they claim to be a part of. Yet when a Catholic politician, like Rick Santorum holds the Catholic position he is called "extreme". The Santorums of this world are just ordinary Catholics and the Kennedys are the "extreme" Catholics.


Circumcising religious liberty from the culture - part 2

09-09-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

A few weeks ago I wrote about how a Court in Cologne, Germany ruled that circumcision was a violation of the right of a child to “bodily integrity” and that it amounted to a form of religious child abuse with no therapeutic benefit therefore the Court outlawed the practice. Well recently the first rabbi, David Goldberg of Northern Bavaria was charged with performing circumcisions. Frankly this should chill your spine. Are these people that unaware and insensitive to the anti-Semitic overtones? (The ruling affects only one state in Germany. I don’t want to castigate all Germans.) And think of the arrogance of the Judge who bans a religious ritual that has been performed consistently for 4,000 years. The Judge joins the company of Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Antiochus Epiphanes, Titus and other oppressors of the Jews.

Sadly European anti-Semitism runs deeps and wide. The circumcision ban was argued in the language of human rights but right below the surface you can sense a deep hostility to Judaism as well as a point of view that sees religious rituals as archaic and superfluous. But the fact is that the ritual of circumcision has helped Jews maintain their identity despite not having a homeland for centuries nor all the things that normally help maintain ethnic and religious identity. Circumcision is hardly superfluous to Jews.


Exceptions in the case of rape

09-02-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

What about "except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother"? This exception to permit abortion is one that generates intense emotional reactions, which makes it difficult to discuss without descending into highpitched arguments that usually end in personal attacks. Even though this issue has been in the news constantly as of late because of statements made by a candidate for elected office, very little serious reporting has been done which would shed some light on this painful and difficult subject.

The pro-abortion side always tries to make its case from the exceptions and not the rule. And the rule is that the direct taking of innocent human life is always wrong. This basic principle keeps us from sliding back into barbarianism. If it is always wrong then there really can be no exceptions, which is what the pro-life side argues. The proabortion side uses this against the pro-life side to paint them as crazy, heartless and irrational. They do this especially well by arguing from the worst-case scenarios which are heart wrenching and challenging to defend and which make most pro-lifers fold like a house of cards. Don't fold, the "exception cases" are straw men designed to get pro-lifers to back down and agree with the abortionists. It is a conquer and divide strategy.


Executive Orders

08-26-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Someone should order an Executive Order that orders that executive orders be rare and only for exceptional circumstances. Otherwise we get this:

President Obama issued an executive order that orders the Federal bureaucracy not to deport young undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children if they fulfill certain requirements and allow them to apply for work permits. The President said he was doing this since Congress failed to act on Immigration Reform. Some cheered and some jeered.

AZ Governor Brewer issued an executive order as well, which orders AZ State bureaucracy not to give state level benefits such as Driver’s license or in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who fall under the President’s executive order. The Governor said she was doing this to comply with AZ voters who did pass a Proposition that limited certain state level benefits to state residents with regular federal immigration status. Some cheered and some jeered.


Circumcising religious liberty from the culture

08-19-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Circumcising religious liberty from the culture…

A court in Cologne, Germany recently ruled the religious practice of circumcision on boys amounts to 'grievous bodily harm" and that the "fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity outweighed the fundamental rights of the parents". (It never phased the court that a fetus is denied the right to bodily integrity.) German Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised to overturn the court's decision but was met with opposition from medical and child welfare groups who view circumcision as religiously motivated child abuse. Both Muslims and Jews practice circumcision though it is primarily seen as a practice fundamental to Judaism, which would make you think a German Court would be a little more sensitive to the anti-Semitic overtones of the case.

Yet the decision by the high court in Cologne was believe it or not, not motivated by anti-Semitism (the case involve a Muslim boy) but by an insistence on pitting human rights against each other of human rights as well as a worldview that is hostile to religious practice. Once again we see every problem framed in the language of human rights. Here the religious rights of the child are pitted against the right to maintain bodily integrity as well as the rights of the child verses the rights of the parents.


The first of the Health & Human Services Mandates...

08-12-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

The first of the Health & Human Services Mandates stemming from the Affordable Care Act has gone into effect as of August 1. This first mandate requires health insurance plans to provide all FDA approved forms of contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, HIV testing, Domestic Violence screening and some other services to women/girls at no cost. (If you put your 12yr old daughter on the pill you probably have other issues.) So your insurer should be retooling your health insurance to accommodate this first of many mandates. I suggest that if you do access any of these services, figure out what your cost would have been and place that money in the Sunday collection as a sort of divine irony.

Religious employers have been given until August 2013 to comply with this mandate or as Cardinal Dolan said, “a year to figure out how to violate our consciences”. In the meantime various Catholic and non-Catholic religious employers have filed dozens of lawsuits. Since Chief Justice Peter Pan ruled that the individual mandate is actually a tax and not a penalty some of these lawsuits have been put on hold till August ′13 since you can’t sue until a tax is actually imposed and you have to pay it. Other suits are progressing along constitutional grounds.


Reflection on the tragedy in Aurora, CO

08-05-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

When I heard the reports of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado my first thought was “I wonder what chemicals the shooter was ingesting?” Street drugs or prescription? (Not that the brain can tell the difference). Simply put, average people even seriously mentally ill people do not carefully and intricately plan and execute mass murder. Some other precipitating factor needs be present: usually either mind-altering chemicals or psychological techniques aimed at mind and behavioral control. Terrorists, assassins, mass murders don’t just simply happen they are created one way or another.

In this case a young, bright, comfortably middle class young man with a promising future and no reports of troublesome behavior or talk, doesn’t just wake up one day and decide to commit mass murder. Were there any warning signs? As the facts come out slowly, he was in fact under psychiatric care. (The treating physician had previously been censored for prescribing to herself, her husband and her employees and mainly saw patients for “medication management” in other words a licensed drug dealer.) Which means the shooter was probably put on powerful, dangerous mind altering pharmaceuticals and left unsupervised. If you read the warning label on these “medications” especially anti-depressants it clearly states: “May cause suicidal or homicidal ideation”. There’s the warning sign.


Opposing same-sex marriage is not anti-gay.

07-29-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Recently the daughter of former Vice-president Cheney was “wed” to her girlfriend in Washington, DC, where same-sex marriage licenses are issued. The Vice President and his wife were quoted in the media as “expressing great joy on the occasion”.

This really epitomizes the dilemma that so many of you face when confronted with the issue of same-sex marriage: these are often your children, grandchildren, siblings and closest loved ones that are entering into same-sex unions. The dilemma then is how to express love for your loved ones without approving wrong behavior? First it must be said that rejecting same-sex marriage is not the same as rejecting same-sex behavior as part of our culture. In other words opposing same-sex marriage is not rejecting your children and loved ones who are same-sex attracted. Though it is often presented as “if you don’t accept same-sex marriage you don’t love me” in order to guilt you into submission. After all what parents want to be at odds with their child?

Supporting a codification of a catastrophic redefinition of marriage as the law of the land is not the same as loving your gay children and friends. One does not require the other.

There are some permanent truths that the supporters of same-sex marriage do not want us to consider. First contrary to assertions, traditional marriage is not just a Christian or religious thing but something all societies have recognized as a union between opposite sexes. The reason for this is that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation and the nurturing of future members of society. Even in cases where polygamy was permitted, it was permitted for the increased propagation of offspring. And in societies that openly practiced same-sex behavior it was never considered as an alternative to marriage.


Natural Family Planning Awareness Week

07-22-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

The HHS Contraception mandate has brought into sharp focus the fertility fault lines in our culture. On the one side is the Church that insists that fertility is a gift to the human family and respecting its natural cycles is morally virtuous. On the other side is a culture that sees fertility mostly as an inconvenience that must be controlled and manipulated over and against its natural purposes for the sake of lifestyle choices. What fuels this view of fertility is an adolescent demand for equality and a consumerist attitude. The Church insists that men and women are equal but different while much of our society argues that men and women are equal and the same-- and where differences arise an advanced society will find ways to erase all differences and do so if necessary by force. Communism 101.

Our society has pushed hard for the equality of women with men with the understanding that equality means sameness. We have pretty much through public policy set up a structure where this can be possible. Except for the fact that women are the bearers of children and we have never found a way to make men bear children. So instead we have found all sorts of ways for women to not be bearers of children. Women can temporarily shut down their fertility (contraception) or permanently disable it (sterilization) and when neither happens then abortion. But this equality is still not equal enough.

What makes this still unfair is that women most often sustain the cost of shutting down their fertility and men do not. Hence the insistence on “free” contraception, sterilization and publicly funded abortions. But again even with women bearing no cost the playing field is still not yet level.


Happy Feast Day!

07-15-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Mount Carmel in the Holy Land has been a place of spiritual significance since biblical times. It is where the prophet Elijah took on the prophets of Baal and dared them to prove that their god was superior to YHWH. They failed, he won and slit all their throats (messy business being a prophet) thus claiming Mount Carmel as a place where the God of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob would be worshipped. This is also the place from where Elijah spotted the tiny storm cloud in the distant horizon that signaled the end of a devastating drought in Israel. For Christians that cloud symbolizes Mary, who would eventually come to Israel and bring forth the Savior who would end Israel’s spiritual drought. Hence she is called Star of the Sea.

Today the Carmelites still have a monastery on Mount Carmel dedicated to the Mother of God who when she gave St. Simon Stock the brown scapular promised that her faithful children would be protected come the final judgment. The brown scapular is an outward sign for those who have been marked by the seal of the living God. It is a mantle of grace and love. Mount Carmel itself has always been a place of beauty and fertility in the midst of the barren wilderness of the Holy Land. Hence the description of Mary as the beautiful and most fruitful flower of Mount Carmel.

On the lower eastern extension of Mount Carmel is a series of hills sometimes referred to as Har-Megeddon that is probably the source of the name Armageddon, the valley where the battle of the last days will begin (Rev 16:16). This is a strategic area as it is a boundary between the Kingdoms of the North and of the South. It would make sense that if Israel were to be invaded this spot would be the location of a great conflict. The scriptures also say that when Mount Carmel withers God’s devastating judgment will come upon the earth (Nahum 1:4).


Fulton Sheen's thoughts on our contemporary ways

07-08-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

What are the odds today that a Catholic Bishop would win an Emmy Award? Slim to midland as they say. But in 1952 Archbishop Fulton Sheen won an Emmy for his show "Life is Worth Living." He can rightly claim title to being the first televangelist. Unknowingly he spawned an entire industry of sometimes-great TV shepherds of the flock and sometimes-iniquitous wolves in sheep clothing. His legacy is far more than groundbreaking celluloid reels and now the Vatican has officially noticed his real legacy.

Pope Benedict recently declared, (what we already suspected) that Fulton Sheen lived a life of heroic virtue and has taken the first step on the road to canonization and now to be called "venerable." His TV and radio legacy may be a past remembrance but his spiritual legacy is on going. And boy do we need that sharp mind, clever wit and tantalizing logic to speak to our country once again. One of the biggest deficits that we Catholics have today is an inability to make our case, particularly our understanding of the human person and all that implies, to our culture. We can ask Archbishop Sheen to beg God to send us another "voice crying out in the wilderness".


Freedom of worship or Freedom of religion?

07-01-2012Fr. John's LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Over this past year I've noticed that Secretary of State Clinton often refers to freedom of "worship" and not freedom of religion. I wondered why the shift especially coming from the US State Department, which historically has pushed for freedom of religion throughout the world for generations. Well it appears, at least according to the State Department that the reason for the shift is that talk of religious freedom sort of spooks out many Muslim nations. That is because religious liberty is not seen by them as a right and often is seen as a threat to Islam. (Christianity also was wary of religious freedom prior to the 18th century and the Church eventually settled on the position that Christianity and Religious Liberty are not incompatible. This is something Islam has yet to work out.) Hence the State Dept. believes it can push many of these countries to allow at least freedom of worship, that is; non-Muslims living in Muslim nations be permitted to non-Islamic worship so long as it is contained in the four walls of a church, synagogue or ashram. The official line then from the Secretary of State is that the Administration is demonstrating "sensitivity" to Islamic nations.

While this may work as a short term diplomatic strategy to work up to an insistence on religious freedom as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and inscribed in the U.S. Bill of Rights, it should not be the policy stance of the US. Unfortunately the Secretary of State has also used the term "freedom of worship" in reference to the US and seems to be adopting this limited notion of religious freedom as the Administration's official interpretation of the First Amendment in order to justify policies that run afoul of our long held and broad understanding of religious freedom. I must say it was a very subtle and clever shift, which I guess the State Department figured would go unnoticed or that people would equate the two as synonymous. But it has been noticed and they are not synonymous.

It is a bit of historical irony that the Church who initially held that a restrictive version of religious freedom was preferable to the more liberal vision held by our nations founders, now finds itself defending a robust right to religious freedom against national leaders who have a narrower view of religious liberty! In our own case we can thank Fr. John Courtney Murray, a US priest who provided a solid theological basis for religious freedom that put aside once for all any Catholic concerns with an unfettered right to religious freedom. His classic work: "We hold these Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition" is still worth a read. In it he successfully argues that the idea of a limited government and the separation of Church and state allows citizens the opportunity to have moral control over their own religious beliefs instead of being told what to believe by a paternalistic state. For us that is a no-brainer but there was a time when these ideas were new and threatening.