Wednesday, May 20, 2009

XXI Jubilee

May 14th was my 21st anniversary of ordination to the priesthood. May 28th is the same anniversary for my colleague, co-author and classmate, Fr. Ken Brighenti.

As I mentioned in my homily on EWTN last week (Friday, May 15th) priests NEED post-ordination ongoing formation. Daily prayer, regular confession and annual retreat are but the very minimum required by canon law. But why be content with being on life-support when you could be fully alive? Priests need IN ADDITION TO daily prayer, regular confession and annual retreat:

1. regular SPIRITUAL DIRECTION (monthly if possible; every three months at least)
2. annual workshops, conferences, seminars
3. good FRIENDSHIPS (clergy & laity)
4. healthy recreation, i.e., DAYS OFF and VACATION

Priesthood is about DOING priestly things (teaching doctrine; celebrating sacraments; shepherding a community) and about BEING a priest.

Elderly & retired and physically disabled priests are still ontologically priests AND they still exercise their priesthood by OFFERING SACRIFICE. Even when a priest is too old, too sick and/or too feeble to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, he can and must offer his internal suffering as a sacrificial oblation to save souls. Too many priests have fallen into the secular humanist trap of only seeing priestly ACTIVITY as important.

Ontologically, tu es sacerdos in aeternam

This means that priests can still offer sacrifice even when the world considers them redundant or obsolete.
Many GOOD and doctrinally orthodox priests ignore their right and need for a day off and/or for vacation. "I'm too busy doing my priestly work," they say. Even Our Divine Lord, Jesus Christ, had down time. He took time to take nap. He went to the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus to unwind and relax. He went to the home of Zaccheus for a good meal. He worked, He prayed, He sacrificed and He suffered. But He also took time to be by Himself and time to be with His friends. HE WAS NOT A WORKAHOLIC.

I see many good priests start out zealous and full of vim and vigor. Then if they fall into the trap of not making and taking time for their ONGOING SPIRITUAL, THEOLOGICAL and PASTORAL FORMATION, they are 99.9% likely to become angry, bitter, cantankerous and impossible to live with. No parochial vicar wants to live with them and no parishioner wants to talk to them. They become angry men because they resent the time they could have had with their family while still alive. Now that their parents and siblings are dead, they are bitter that their 'duties' kept them away.
I found in 21 years of priesthood, that people WANT their priests to spend some quality time with their family and friends because it makes us BETTER PRIESTS in the long run. Sure, every diocese and parish has had its share of goldbrickers, i.e., the occasional priest who does as little work as possible. He is never in the rectory, he never visits the sick, he can never be reached, he is rarely in his clerical garb since he is spending most of his time doing secular things. These FEW miscreants tempt some of us to overcompensate and become obsessed with spending ALL our time in the parish. The pastor's sanity requires him to get away now and then. His getting away will also bring some peace to his curate and staff and even his parishioners need a break from the same style of sermons day after day and week after week.

Priesthood is not a job or a career, but a vocation, hence, one never takes a day off from BEING a priest. But a pastor, parochial vicar, bishop, deacon, etc., can and must take a regular day off and some regular vacation time from the PLACE where they live and work. When on my day off or on vacation, I still pray and offer Mass and still wear my collar but since I am away from the parish, OTHER people may ask me for a blessing, for confession, for advice, etc. One time, while on my day off and doing some Christmas shopping, a police officer riding a horse stopped me and asked to go to confession. While on the subway in Washington, DC, I have been asked to bless a rosary or medal. While having a meal in a restaurant, a waiter, waitress or patron have asked for some catechetical or spiritual advice. That was being a priest in my estimation. Having people see that we priests are NORMAL, that we are not all pedophiles, that we are human like them and must be on our best behavior 24/7 because it is the right thing to do, is helpful.

Priests who leave the active ministry do so mostly because they have stopped praying, stopped going on annual retreat, have not gone to spiritual direction since seminary and many have not gone to confession regularly either. Many of them do not have any good priest friends. Jesus picked three of the twelve to be His CLOSE friends. Peter, James and John were often alone with Christ as well as being with Jesus when the other nine were around. John was His best friend, His beloved, and every priest needs a good, best friend to stand by him through thick and thin. Father Ken Brighenti is like St. John to me. We have been best friends since 1983 and we went to seminary together and were ordained the same year (but for different dioceses). He is like a brother to me. We vacation together and help each other and we don't take each other too seriously, either, which is good for our egos and our humility. Just as Jesus had James as well as his brother John, I got Father Dennis Dalessandro to complement Father Ken Brighenti. Fr. Dennis has been ordained five more years than I have but we have been in the same, similar and subsequent parishes for the past two decades (and we have been very good friends since 1989). Every priest should have a friend (classmate) from his seminary days, from his ordination and from the diocese where he can hang out and give/get fraternal support. Having someone in the same diocese is critical because of distance and the sharing of similar concerns. Having a seminary/ordination friend is important because of longevity and history. Then, as Jesus also had St. Peter, I have Father Bob Levis, my mentor and hero. I still call him "Father" since he knew me when I was 14 years old in high school seminary. He was one of three who supported me even when the rest abandoned me and I almost did not get ordained. He stood by me when two dioceses rejected me and he was the one who got me into the third diocese which I have never left since. He vested me at ordination and he asked me to preach his Golden Jubilee and last year his 60th, too.

I think every priest needs to maintain friendships with at least one classmate from the seminary, one diocesan brother and one older, more mature and wise mentor to guide him. These along with daily prayer, regular confession AND SPIRITUAL DIRECTION and annual retreat, seminar and workshop, are invaluable.

Having some good, morally sound lay friends is also indispensible. I have some very dear friends like Tom McKenna, Michael Drake, Tom Lang and a whole family (Christina & Keith Burkhart along with their adult children Kyle, Karly, and Chris) which have become a second family to me. With these wonderful lay friends and my wonderful clergy friends, I feel abundantly blessed by God and with my spiritual and theological ongoing formation (thanks to the Confraternity of Catholic Clergy) these friends are just as important to my being and becoming a better priest (Deo volente). When I hear of priests who have no clergy friends and who either never take time off or if when they do, they 'escape' by impersonating a layperson in every way possible, then I fear that they are headed toward a meltdown. PRAYER and FRATERNAL SUPPORT go hand in hand. We need both and both help one another. I recently made a new friend thanks to the internet: Andrew Rabel from Australia. While we all have 'associates' and 'colleagues', just like Our Lord, it is important to have real FRIENDS and for priests and deacons, we NEED clergy friends and we NEED lay friends. We need to aggressively pursue ongoing formation and we need to support one another.

As I have done every year for the past 21 years, I reconsecrated my priesthood to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Queen of the Clergy and Mother of Priests:

O Mary, Mother of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, Mother of the Church, a priestly people, Mother of priests, ministers of your Son: accept the humble offering of myself, so that in my pastoral mission the infinite mercy of Eternal High Priest may be proclaimed: O "Mother of Mercy".

You who shared the "priestly obedience" of your Son, and who prepared for him a worthy receptacle by the anointing of the Holy Spirit, keep my priestly life in the ineffable mystery of your divine maternity, "Holy Mother of God".

Grant me strength in the dark hours of this life, support me in the exertions of my ministry, entrust me to Jesus, so that, in communion with you, I may fulfill the ministry with fidelity and love, O Mother of the Eternal Priest "Queen of Apostles and Help of Priests".

Make me faithful to the flock entrusted to me by the Good Shepherd, You silently accompanied Jesus on his mission to proclaim the Gospel to the poor.

May I always guide it with patience, sweetness firmness and love, caring for the sick, the weak, the poor and sinners, O "Mother, Help of the Christian People".

I consecrate and entrust myself to you, Mary, who shared in the work of redemption at the Cross of your Son, you who "are inseparably linked to the work of salvation".

Grant that in the exercise of my ministry I may always be aware of the "stupendous and penetrating dimension of your maternal presence" in every moment of my life, in prayer, and action, in joy and sorrow, in weariness and in rest, O "Mother of Trust".

Grant, Holy Mother, than in the celebration of the Mass, source and center of the priestly ministry, that I may live my closeness to Jesus in your maternal closeness to Him, so that as "we celebrate the Holy Mass you will be present with us" and introduce us to the redemptive mystery of your divine Son's offering "O Mediatrix of all grace flowing from this sacrifice to the Church and to all the faithful" O "Mother of Our Savior".

O Mary: I earnestly desire to place my person and my desire for holiness under your maternal protection and inspiration so that you may bring me to that "conformation with Christ, Head and Shepherd" which is necessary for the ministry of every parish priest.

Make me aware that "you are always close to priests" in your mission of servant of the One Mediator, Jesus Christ: O "Mother of Priests" Queen of the Clergy"Advocate, Co-Redemptorix and Mediatrix" of all graces.


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pro-Abortion President at Allegedly Pro-Life Catholic College (what's wrong with this picture?)


the logical fallacy of isolating and overemphasizing questionable issues while ignoring or distorting the fundamental and absolutely essential ones

President Barak Obama's recent address to the graduating class of 2009 at Notre Dame University demonstrated precisely WHY he should not have been invited to be the Commencement Speaker in the first place. Yes, as President of the United States of America he deserves every honor and respect due his office. When he walks into a room, American citizens should stand as a sign of respect for our Commander in Chief. As a pro-abortion politician, however, he should NEVER be invited to any Catholic college or university campus as the Commencement Speaker. PERIOD. He can visit any campus as President of the USA but the unique and distinct honor and privilege of speaking to graduating seniors is something reserved to those whose values reflect the moral teachings supposedly upheld by all Catholic educational institutions.

It is wonderful that the first African-American has been elected to the highest office in our nation. Someday, we'll also have the first woman, the first Hispanic, the first Jew, and even the first Italo-American. In all these cases, however, it is not the race, gender or ethnic background which matters, rather, it is their qualifications for the job. Competency is colorless, genderless and transcends all cultures and backgrounds. Speaking to graduating college seniors at Commencement is an HONOR not a right.  It is something bestowed to someone whose VALUES and MORAL PRINCIPLES coincide and support the very institution extending the invitation to speak. While is a lot of agreement and compatibility with President Obama's position on a variety of issues, there is one serious point of departure. More than a mere discrepancy, his vigorous pro-abortion rights stand and decisions totally invalidate his appropriateness to be Commencement Speaker.

While he waxed and waned the graduates, the faculty and the parents in South Bend, President Obama also demonstrated the oxymoron of his very presence on a Catholic campus. The right to LIFE is a fundamental natural and inalienable right. It comes from human nature and is rooted in the Natural Law. It is not a creation or effect of civil law. The Constitution does not give us our human rights, rather, it PROTECTS what we possess by virtue of being a human person.

He told the graduates that the economy and the environment are important issues for all Americans. What about the right to life? What good is a sound economy and a safe environment if an unborn baby cannot be guaranteed his or her right to live and grow up in that same world?

Here are the crucial parts of his speech:

Those who speak out against stem cell research may be rooted in admirable conviction about the sacredness of life, but so are the parents of a child with juvenile diabetes who are convinced that their son’s or daughter’s hardships can be relieved. The question, then, is how do we work through these conflicts?

Is it possible for us to join hands in common effort? As citizens of a vibrant and varied democracy, how do we engage in vigorous debate? How does each of us remain firm in our principles, and fight for what we consider right, without demonizing those with just as strongly held convictions on the other side?Nowhere do these questions come up more powerfully than on the issue of abortion.

As I considered the controversy surrounding my visit here, I was reminded of an encounter I had during my Senate campaign, one that I describe in a book I wrote called The Audacity of Hope.

A few days after I won the Democratic nomination, I received an email from a doctor who told me that while he voted for me in the primary, he had a serious concern that might prevent him from voting for me in the general election. He described himself as a Christian who was strongly pro-life, but that’s not what was preventing him from voting for me.What bothered the doctor was an entry that my campaign staff had posted on my Web site — an entry that said I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” The doctor said that he had assumed I was a reasonable person, but that if I truly believed that every pro-life individual was simply an ideologue who wanted to inflict suffering on women, then I was not very reasonable. He wrote, “I do not ask at this point that you oppose abortion, only that you speak about this issue in fair-minded words.”

Fair-minded words. After I read the doctor’s letter, I wrote back to him and thanked him. I didn’t change my position, but I did tell my staff to change the words on my Web site.

And I said a prayer that night that I might extend the same presumption of good faith to others that the doctor had extended to me. Because when we do that — when we open our hearts and our minds to those who may not think like we do or believe what we do — that’s when we discover at least the possibility of common ground. That’s when we begin to say, “Maybe we won’t agree on abortion, but we can still agree that this is a heart-wrenching decision for any woman to make, with both moral and spiritual dimensions. So let’s work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions by reducing unintended pregnancies, and making adoption more available, and providing care and support for women who do carry their child to term. Let’s honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion, and draft a sensible conscience clause, and make sure that all of our health care policies are grounded in clear ethics and sound science, as well as respect for the equality of women.”

Understand — I do not suggest that the debate surrounding abortion can or should go away. No matter how much we may want to fudge it — indeed, while we know that the views of most Americans on the subject are complex and even contradictory — the fact is that at some level, the views of the two camps are irreconcilable. Each side will continue to make its case to the public with passion and conviction. But surely we can do so without reducing those with differing views to caricature.

Open hearts. Open minds. Fair-minded words.

. . .

In this world of competing claims about what is right and what is true, have confidence in the values with which you’ve been raised and educated. Be unafraid to speak your mind when those values are at stake.

Hold firm to your faith and allow it to guide you on your journey. Stand as a lighthouse. But remember too, that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt.

It is the belief in things not seen. It is beyond our capacity as human beings to know with certainty what God has planned for us or what He asks of us, and those of us who believe must trust that His wisdom is greater than our own.

I could not help rhetorically ask myself, how can one 'be unafraid to speak your mind when [your] values are at stake" while at the same time find common ground with those who claim the unborn have no right to life?  Either abortion is evil or it is not.  If evil, it must be opposed. The unjust killing of innocent human life is never justified. The ends never justifies the means. Was this not the rationale for the Nuremburg Trials after WWII? 

For if there is one law that we can be most certain of, it is the law that binds people of all faiths and no faith together. It is no coincidence that it exists in Christianity and Judaism; in Islam and Hinduism; in Buddhism and humanism. 

That ONE LAW is the Natural Moral Law which the Gentile knows by reason and which the believer knows by faith, according to Saint Paul. Neither Caesar nor the Senate can abrogate any citizen from it, according to Cicero. No President, no Congress and no Supreme Court can dissolve or distort, remove or alter the ethical principles governing every human being on earth from the beginning of time to the end of the world.  Abortion was, is and always will be a grave moral evil. Original Sin and its after-effect of concupiscence have darkenend the human intellect, weakened the human will and disordered the human passions so that it sadly and regretfully took time for society to see the intrinsic evil of racism, slavery, apartheid and segregation. Now that their sinfulness have been recognized, they can never be reincorporated into civil society. Abortion and euthanasia are grave immoral evils since they target innocent human life with the ultimate natural threat, i.e., death itself. When death is intentionally imposed unjustly on innocent human life, it is MURDER plain and simple.  How can there be common ground?  Should Rosa Parks have given up her seat on the bus in the name of COMMON GROUND?  Should Dr Martin Luther King, Jr not marched from Selma to Montgomery in order to gain common ground with those who espoused the legitimacy of racial segregation? Racism and segregation are moral evils which cannot be tolerated just to prevent discord.  PEACEFUL CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE is what the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement embraced.  They did not dilute their moral outrage nor did they restrain their legal opposition in order to foster 'common ground' with those who took the opposite position. Certainly, we can and must employ non-violent, peaceful and legal means of public discourse to express our disagreements.  Civility and politeness need not be alien to our cause.

Nevertheless, President Obama tells graduates at a Catholic college that the abortion debate is simply IRRECONCILABLE. Would women be able to vote today had the Suffrage Movement just said that they had irreconcilable differences and we need common ground? The Pro-Life movement is no different from the Civil Rights Movement or the SUffrage Movement. Denying human beings their inalienable right to life can never be condoned or 'legalized'.  Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa tried enacting immoral laws which denied human rights to human beings and yet they were as immoral as ever.  Whether Congress, the Supreme Court, the President or any State Governor or Legislature enacts any so-called laws to contrary, human beings have intrinsic rights, like the RIGHT TO LIFE. Otherwise, if this is not the case, then we had no business condemning war crimes after WWII or any conflict. 

Would a Jewish college have invited an Arab politician to speak at Commencement if he or she publicly espoused their belief that the State of Israel should not exist?  Of course not.  Why then, did an allegedly Catholic college like Notre Dame invite a pronounced PRO-ABORTION politican to speak at graduation ceremonies? This President has unraveled all the prolife progress done in a quarter century since Roe v. Wade by his signature and policies to make abortion available across the nation.  SHAME ON YOU NOTRE DAME. 

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