Another homily: “On no, I can never retire!”

Posted November 21st, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

BoudreauxSunday homily, Nov 19

Jesus told his disciples this parable: “A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them.  To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one–to each according to his ability.  Then he went away.

After a long time the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. The one who had received five talents came forward bringing the additional five. He said, ‘Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.'”

Well done, my good and faithful servant!   When I raise my hand would you repeat those words?

Good morning, Church.  In today’s Gospel parable Jesus is telling us to go out and invest in the stock market.  Right?  Everybody say wrong.  No, Jesus is reminding us through this story that he has a purpose for our lives. And, OH NO, IT IS A PURPOSE FROM WHICH WE CAN NEVER RETIRE. Most importantly, Jesus has given us the gifts we need to fulfill that purpose.  Jesus has called us together. He is with us right now, and he is telling us today what the master told his servant in the parable:

Well done, my good and faithful servant! 

The key to a proper interpretation of Jesus’ parables, and, indeed his whole life, is the concept of the “Kingdom of God.”  What is the Kingdom of God?  The answer is really very simple, and we say it every time we pray the Our Father.  We pray “hallowed by thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…”

There it is…so simple and clear…the kingdom of God is about God’s will being done on earth—within our marriages, families, work commitments, neighborhoods, jobs, businesses, and political structures.  Jesus’ mission was to make the kingdom happen by doing God’s will on earth two thousand years ago.

Our mission as Jesus’ followers is to make the kingdom happen by doing God’s will today.  Yes, God wants us to be successful at work, at home, in civic life, and here at the parish, not to build up our own little kingdoms, but together to build up God’s kingdom.

This is so important that we have even have patron saints upon whom we can call for help for every job imaginable.  We have patrons saints for butchers, bakers, bell-makers, beggars, candle makers, grave diggers, woman or man seeking a spouse, dentists, doctors, lawyers, politicians, beer makers, students, Italian prison officers, and, of course, anyone seeking a lost golf ball or car keys, to name a few.

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

Ultimately, to be gifted by God for the kingdom means to be gifted by God for love. Yes, we need to be competent at what we do, but more importantly, we are to infuse what we do with love, the self-giving love of Jesus, of the saints, and of our grandparents and parents.  As the popes have taught, ours is a vocation of love.

This vocation begins in Baptism.  Today at this liturgy, these beautiful babies, new disciples of Jesus, receive their call to a vocation of love.  As they grow they will discover certain qualities and talents given to them by God that will enable them to succeed at a career or job.  But their deepest calling as disciples of Jesus is to do all that they do with love.

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

teacher 1For example, if you are a teacher, you know that being a Catholic follower of Jesus means more than just imparting knowledge to students; it’s especially about loving and caring for each student in his or her uniqueness.  As a long-time school teacher told me, “Students don’t care about how much you know until they know how much you care.”

The same is true with parishioners.  Parishioners don’t care how much Father knows, until they know how much Father cares.  Fr. Jack isn’t successful here because he is an excellent homilist, though that is true, or a capable administrator, though that is also true.  He is successful here because you (and I) know that he loves us.

The same is true for all of us whatever we do within the daily commitments and relationship of life.  What is important is not simply doing a competent job with the task at hand, but being a witness for the Kingdom by doing each task with love.  As we get older and enter the so-called “golden years,” we may retire from our jobs, but we never retire from the kingdom.  The clearest example of that for me is my 87-year-old mother-in-law who lives at the Mount.  Paula wakes up every day with purpose, to get out into the Mount community, alert to anyone who needs a friend.

You and I have been gifted by God to succeed in the world for the sake of the Kingdom, a Kingdom of love. We will not love perfectly; we will not love all the time; we will make mistakes and fail at love.  But we don’t give up; we keep trying to find a way to love.  That’s why we come to Mass, to find strength from Jesus and one another, to continue living out our Baptismal vocation – to love!

Well done, my good and faithful servant!

Please post your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OH BOY, ALL SAINTS DAY!

Posted October 30th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
Illustration used with permission from Monica at www.equippingCatholicfamilies.com

Illustration used with permission from Monica at www.equippingCatholicfamilies.com

by Robert Fontana

I know, most people are getting excited about “All Hallow’s Eve” or Halloween. I do too, but I see it as part of a three-day celebration to honor the saints and pray for our beloved dead.

I have to admit that, in my Catholic fundamentalist days, I did not have a very favorable view of Halloween.  I   accepted the judgment of the evangelical Christians who see Halloween as a celebration of “evil,” with dressing up as scary creatures that represent the world of darkness who oppose God.  It is also a high holy day for practitioners of   Wicca, a modern natural religion that rejects Judeo/Christian monotheism.

I have a different view of Halloween today.  If it is any threat to Christianity, it is because the day has been totally secularized and commercialized, separated from its Christian roots.  Just as Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) helps us step into Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season, Halloween comes before the Feast of All Saints and the Solemnity of All Souls to help us step into the season of “remembering.”  As the earth in the Northern Hemisphere moves into a period of dormancy and cold, this is a transitional time, a “thin place” so say the Celts, for us to remember our beloved friends and family members who have moved from this life to the next.  But we Christians do not remember our dead like people who believe earthly existence is all there is:

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep.”

1 Thess 4:13-14

The fall trilogy of Halloween, All Saints, and All Souls helps us enter into this season of remembering our beloved with hope that they are now fully alive in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in communion with all the angels and saints.

Consider this: On the days leading up to   Halloween, you and your children/grandchildren are preparing31928409 - children curve faces in fairy costume on holiday halloween costumes for “trick or treating,” and decorating the house to welcome “trick or treaters.”  How beautiful, the giving and receiving of hospitality and kindness, one neighbor to another.  In the letter to the Hebrews the author encourages all:

Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.” Hebrews 13:2

You are having a fun event with neighbors and friends and anticipating the next day’s celebration, the Feast of All Saints, which focuses on the great women and men of the church who made hospitality a way of life in imitation of Jesus.

On the Feast of All Saints, you want to keep the celebration alive especially for the children.  Remember, if an event at church is not also celebrated in the home, then its significance to everyone, especially the children, is greatly minimized.  Serve a family breakfast that continues the fun from the night before, e.g. put some vanilla ice cream on pancakes or waffles.  This can be done before or after Mass, but the key celebration, of course, is when you gather with the rest of the faith community around the Eucharistic table to hear the story of the Beatitudes and receive the Body and Blood of Jesus.  Now you have really transformed secular Halloween from a commercial distraction to get parents to spend money on candy and costumes to an event of faith connected to being a disciple of Jesus.  You are taking your children/grandchildren/selves on an otherwise ordinary work day to join with other disciples to be with Jesus present in the community, the Scriptures, and the Eucharist.

joseph maryOn this Feast of All Saints, you will continue the unique remembering that we Christians do every time we gather at this banquet table: we remember the love of God poured out for us in Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  This is the day we also especially remember that thousands upon thousands of unnamed followers of Jesus, including our parents and grandparents, uncles and aunts, who are not on the calendar of saints, are, nonetheless, saints.  At some churches parishioners are invited to write the names of loved ones who have died in a book of memory on display in a place of honor.  We gather in prayer to commend them to God, and our prayer continues to the next day, the Solemnity of all Souls, and throughout November.

Lori and I take out photos of our parents, grandparents, relatives, and friends who have died and display them prominently near our dinner table so that we pray for them every time we gather for a meal and say grace.

November is the season of remembering.  Halloween, the Feast of All Saints, and the Solemnity of All Souls form a wonderful trilogy of days that helps us enter into the season of remembering with great hope.  Oh boy!

Post your comments!

 

 

An open letter to my Catholic family – “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa”

Posted October 19th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

Joy and peace, dear Catholic family, clergy and laity,

midnight massHow much do you love the Catholic Church?  That question comes up again as I grieve the death of a great woman, Barbara Blaine, the founder and president of SNAP (Survivors of People Abused by Priests).  Barbara never knew that she was the reason that  Lori and I asked ourselves the above question as the sex abuse crisis unfolded before our eyes in 2002.  She, unknowingly, helped us reaffirm our love for this Church of saints and sinners and get involved with finding positive solutions to the clergy sex abuse crisis.

Yes, the Church is comprised of saints and sinners which does not describe two separate categories of people but every one us who  gathers for worship at the Sunday Eucharist.  And as a church of sinners becoming saints there have been times when we Catholics were less of a light of God’s love and mercy and more of a force for darkness, as in the Church’s treatment of Jews throughout its history, the Spanish Inquisition, and the current crisis of clergy sex abuse.

guardiniA great 20th-century Catholic intellectual, Romano Guardini. who refused a cardinal’s hat offered by Pope Paul VI, wrote:

 “ The Church is the Cross on which Christ is always  crucified. One cannot separate Christ from his bloody, painful Church.” 

What Guardini apparently meant by this is that, because the Church is immersed in the affairs of human society and led by fallible humans,  she has betrayed her fidelity to Jesus and the Gospels.  Therefore, the Church will always need some church members to love her enough to bear the suffering required to guide her back to faithfulness.

I thought I was such a person, I thought that I loved the Catholic Church enough to help her become a more authentic follower of Jesus.  Thus, I, with Lori, worked to end abortion, marched against nuclear weapons, lived low-income to befriend the poor, practiced    Natural Family Planning, and raised our many children Catholic.  Early in our marriage we were honored by the Knights of Columbus in our Maryland parish as “Catholic Family of the Year.”  

But there was one issue which I avoided, one issue in which I did not want to participate: the clergy sex abuse crisis. The crisis exploded onto the national scene in 1984 in my hometown when the egregious and criminal behavior of Fr. Gilbert Gauthe was uncovered.  Lori and I had worked with Gauthe on a confirmation retreat.  He    allegedly molested over 130 boys.  I knew the bishop and his associates who protected Gauthe and failed to reach out to the victims and their families.  As new incidents of other priests abusing came out in the late 80’s and 90’s, I kept it all at distance.  I did not want to get involved.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

When Boston’s Catholic community imploded and diocesan leaders across the country were exposed for protecting clergy sexual predators, I had a “come to Jesus” moment.  I was deeply, deeply convicted that I was part of the problem because I refused to get involved.  I knew what getting “involved” would mean: demanding the truth from my friend, employer, and bishop at the risk of losing his friendship, my job, and institutional support for my work in ministry. 

mary magdalenI remember in prayer hearing Jesus asking me, “How much do you love the Church?”  I understood what He meant: someone who loves the Church must bear the suffering for helping her do the right thing.  I  realized that, so far, change in the Church had only come because of the victims who demanded change through media pressure and lawsuits.  We faithful Catholics sat in the pews and dismissed the victims / survivors as, at best, agitators who would never be satisfied and, at worst, liars. 

Lori and I discussed and prayed and agonized.  We came to this crossroads: we can walk away from the crisis, but then we must leave the Church because we as Christians could not in good faith stay in the Church and remain silent and uninvolved. 

How much do you love the Church? 

If you have not done so already, please read the article on Barbara Blaine (http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/2017/10/03/barbara-blaine-21st-century-st-joan-of-arc/ ) and get involved.  Let’s not leave it to the victims / survivors of sex abuse in the Church and their families to do our job in demanding that church leaders act in just, honest, and compassionate ways.

In the Lord,

Robert

 

 

 

Barbara Blaine, 21st Century St. Joan of Arc

Posted October 3rd, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

blaine 2No, Barbara Blaine did not hear voices of angels and saints telling her to organize an army to throw the English out of France or unfriend anyone who posted bad jokes on Facebook (I admit to having a bad habit of doing that).  What she did do was listen to the voice of God speak to the depths of her heart (conscience) telling her to expose the lies, duplicity, deception and cover-up of clergy sex abuse by Catholic bishops and associates.  They should have been leading the way to expose sexual predators in the clergy and those who protect them, reaching out to their victims and the families of victims, and working with legislatures to create policies and procedures that safeguard children from pedophiles.   But they have not done that.  Barbara Blaine and the organization that she created, the Survivors Network of People Abused by Priests (SNAP), get the lion’s share of the credit for forcing some change within the Catholic Church in its handling of issues related to sex abuse by bishops and associates.

Barbara Blaine died Sunday, Sept 24th, from a tear in a blood vessel in her heart which she suffered while on vacation, hiking with her husband in Utah.  I had the privilege of meeting Barbara on two different occasions.  She said that she was an adult when she first began to confront the reality of her being sexually abused as a teenager by a Catholic priest.  At the time of this realization, Barbara was a RADICALLY DEVOUT CATHOLIC, working and living at a Catholic Worker House, serving the poor and homeless.  She was very inspired by the life of Catholic social activist Dorothy Day.  At first, Barbara did not go to the media or the courts with her story; she went to see her bishop.  He assured her that this was the only allegation against this priest, and that he would be dealt with.  He thanked her for reporting this abuse to him and helping him protect children; and he asked her to keep their conversation confidential.

Barbara trusted the bishop and felt confident that he wanted to do the right thing.  A short while later, to her shock, she learned from the media of other accusations against this priest which the bishop knew about.   The bishop had lied to her, manipulated her good will, and tried to silence her with a commitment of “confidentiality.”   Barbara got her first direct lesson in clergy cover-up.  It was such a betrayal of trust, a spiritual and mental version of sexual abuse.  She was devastated…again.

blaine 1It was around this time that Barbara confronted a most disconcerting truth: the bishops and other Catholic leaders, lay and clergy, were not going to reach out to survivors and make the necessary changes to protect children.  Changes would have to come through the efforts of someone other than church leaders.  A voice deep in her soul kept telling her that she needed to do something, that she could at least reach out to survivors of sexual abuse, listen to their stories, and organize them into communities of support.  She did.  In 1988, Barbara organized the Survivors Network of People Abused by Priests (SNAP).  However, she quickly realized that merely focusing on supporting survivors of abuse was not enough.  The institutional system that enabled the abuse to continue was still firmly in place within the Catholic Church; and there was no evidence that church leaders were addressing the sexual abuse crisis in any serious way.

That inner voice kept urging Barbara to do more, to hold the bishops’ proverbial “feet to the fire” to tell the truth and stop the cover-up.  Under her leadership SNAP became more aggressive in using the media to get the support of public opinion to pressure bishops for change.  (Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Baltimore, admitted that the media “helped make our Church safer for children by raising up the issue of clergy sexual abuse and forcing us to deal with it.” https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/the-other-side-of-spotlight-how-the-church-changed-to-fight-sex-abuse-12508)

Additionally, Barbara and SNAP leaders encouraged and supported survivors as they sued dioceses to gain access to files that could reveal the extent of the cover up of sex abuse.  They also worked for financial compensation for the victims.

It was media coverage and lawsuits, and not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the examples of the saints, nor the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that led the bishops to finally make sweeping changes to protect children, remove sexual predators, and start a nationwide campaign of safe environment education.  In its 2002 meeting in Dallas, the US Catholic Conference of Bishops passed the now well-known Charter to Protect Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults.

joan of arcBarbara Blaine was a modern day St. Joan of Arc, the saint who, by the way, was burned at the stake by Catholic bishops from England, who accused Joan of being a witch.  Barbara has been vilified by church leaders and organizations, somewhat a modern version of being burned at the stake.  I think Barbara ought to be canonized.  St. Joan was not canonized until 1920 some 500 years after her death.  I hope Barbara’s canonization happens more quickly.  We Catholics need her prayers as we ask God for mercy and forgiveness for leaving to the victims / survivors of sex abuse the reforms that we, clergy and laity, should have taken on: protect children, expose sexual predators and those who protect them, and work for changes in our laws to keep children and vulnerable adults safe.  We also need “St. Barbara’s” courageous example as a role model when we too need to make a stand and do what is right against institutions and people who have great power and wealth.  This is especially vital when that institution is one in which we worship, learn our faith, seek comfort and healing, and rely on for moral leadership in a broken world.

St. Barbara Blaine, pray for us.

ACTION STEPS______________________________________________

Do you want to continue to protect children, youth and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse in the Catholic Church?  Keep in mind that every organization, from the military to the public schools to, yes, the Catholic Church, has sexual predators in their ranks.  They are not going to look like some evil caricature of a sexual predator in the movies.  In our church, they are going to look like your parish priest and/or parish minister.  We certainly have to be vigilant in keeping environments safe, but that was not the main problem in the Catholic Church.  The main problem in the Catholic Church was the coverup of sexual abuse by church leaders for a variety of reasons – protecting the image and finances of the church, protecting a friend, keeping that “friend” quiet because he (or she) had “dirt” on the church leader, and even protecting the gay subculture that exists in many dioceses.

What to do?  Insist that every diocesan and seminarian leadership program include a course on sexual abuse and its coverup.  Future leaders in the church need to be prepared not only to create safe environments for the protection of minors and vulnerable adults, but also to address coverup if it is suspected.

I once asked two seminarians if they have had any courses on the clergy sex abuse crisis so as to cope with its aftermath and prevent it from ever happening again.  Each said, “No.”  One said, “I only know from what I read in the papers.”  WE ARE NOT EQUIPPING OUR FUTURE LEADERS TO ADDRESS THIS CRISIS.  

What an educational program should include:

  1.  Meet victims of sexual abuse and their families and listen to their stories of abuse and of being lied to by church leaders when they reported their abuse.
  2. Study what coverup looks like by reading investigative works on the crisis by the Boston Globe, the Philadelphia Grand Jury, and Jason Berry’s books “Lead Us Not Into Temptation” and “Vows of Silence: the Abuse of Power in the Papacy of Pope John Paul II.”
  3. Meet with SNAP leaders and other activists who have worked to challenge Catholic leaders to be fully transparent on issues related to sex abuse in the church.  They can help us learn how to challenge suspected abuse in their parish/school/diocese/Catholic camp work situation.

I once asked a seminarian what he would do if he suspected that his pastor was having inappropriate contact with minors.  He said that he would report it to the bishop.  And, I asked, “What would you do if the bishop told you, ‘I know about it, and I’m taking care of it, trust me on this.'”  The seminarian said, “I would trust the bishop. I owe him obedience.”

What do you readers think this seminarian should do?  Post your comments.

 

AGH! THE HOMILY NEVER GIVEN – “OFFER IT UP”

Posted September 19th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

Robert loveIt’s true.  I thought I was preaching at a local parish on Sept 3.  The Gospel reading was on “take up your cross and follow me” from Matthew 16:24-26.  However, I had decided to focus primarily on the 2nd reading from Romans 12:1-2.

I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.  Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:1-2

I prepared all month to give a homily that would engage the congregation; “work the text,” as the Protestant preachers say, and be within a 10 minute time frame.  I practiced with Lori over and over again and was SO READY! Alas, I got the date wrong and showed up to preach only to find out I was not on the schedule.  AGH!  I’m giving you the homily below.  Picture yourself at Mass (or Sunday worship). Notice the congregation’s response; post your comments!

Good evening, Church.  Wow, these are some tough readings. “Take up your cross…lose your life for my sake…offer your bodies as living sacrifices…”  But…wait a minute.  We know the meaning of these readings.  Our parents and grandparents and the good nuns taught us the meaning of these readings in this one succinct phrase:  “offer it up.”

When I say, “Rob,” you say, “Offer it up.”  Let’s practice. 

When I was a kid, and I complained when Mom would not let me go out to play baseball because I had to do homework, Mom would say, “Rob…”

All:  “Offer it up.”

When I was a teenager in religion class, and my friends and I asked Sr. Holy Agony what to do with all that hormonal energy as we saved sex for marriage, she said, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

And when I got married and was complaining to my wife about changing plans for grad school and getting a job because we were going to have a baby, she said, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

And when Lori was in labor and the pain was almost unbearable, she looked at me with fierceness in her eyes, grabbed my shoulders, and said, “If you tell me to offer it up, I will kill you!”  I had to let it go. I couldn’t use those words on her, so I just told myself, “Rob…”

All: “Offer it up.”

The Church today is reminding us to do what we have been taught since childhood: to bear the suffering that comes from being a disciple of Jesus in a crazy, mixed-up, and confused world.  And not only to bear it, but to give that suffering back to God as a gift. 

Let’s review what Paul wrote:  I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. 

When Paul writes, “offer your bodies,” he’s talking about the “whole self.”  Paul is writing about something Fr. Jack invites us to do week after week during the offertory of the Mass: along with the bread and wine, to place our lives, our hopes and dreams, our struggles and sufferings on the Lord’s table, and to surrender them to God.

So, we might ask, on a practical, day-to-day basis, how do we do this, how do we offer to God our very selves as a living sacrifice?  The key is found in Paul’s next line.  “Do not conform yourselves to this age…” Please repeat that phrase: “Do not conform yourselves to this age.” 

partyingWhat does Paul mean by “this age?”  “This age” refers to the dominant culture of human self-centeredness, selfishness, greed, and sin that has existed from the time of Adam & Eve.  Paul writes, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and revered and worshiped the creature rather than the Creator.”   Worshiping the creature rather than the Creator, or “self-worship,” is what Paul means by “this age.”  Paul is telling us that if we want to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice, our spiritual worship, we cannot conform to this age of collective “self-worship.” 

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr describes “this age” as the age of the Poison P’s: position, possessions, power, and privilege, all made possible by money.  He writes that all of us are immersed in the world of position, possessions, power, and privilege.  They are called the Poison P’s because, without even realizing it, we get sucked into seeking them for life’s meaning, rather than seeking God.  However, when we make the “Poison P’s” the goal of life, they suck the life out of us; we become “self-worshipers” rather than God-worshipers.  There is a religious version of the Poison P’s popularly known as the “Prosperity Gospel.”  To paraphrase Jesus, what good is it to gain the Poison P’s – position, possessions, power, and privilege – and to lose our life with God?

But wait a minute, Paul; we have to live in this world.  How do we keep from conforming to it?  Paul gives us direction in the next line; “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  Repeat those words.  “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” 

Paul is teaching sound mental health principles: that if we change the way we think, we will change the way we feel and behave.  Paul is saying “Live in the world of self-centeredness but don’t identify with it.”  Ultimately, we are not to define ourselves by our jobs, our looks, our favorite sports team, historical heritage, ethnicity, nationality, and/or children or grandchildren, however awesome they may be.  We identify as daughters and sons of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of the Holy Spirit.  We do not identify with this age of “self-worship, but to the age of the Trinity.

  • This age seeks power to rule over others; the age of the Trinity uses power to serve others.
  • This age seeks the accumulation of possessions; the age of the Trinity possesses only what it needs.
  • This age uses privilege to exclude and separate; the age of the Trinity uses privilege to include and unite.
  • This age seeks to win at all costs; the age of the Trinity follows Jesus who gave his life that others may live.
  • This age chooses to self-medicate with alcohol, porn, drugs, shopping, gambling, television, and video-gaming; the age of the Trinity copes through prayer, liturgy, and community fellowship.
  • This age abandons the unborn, the poor and elderly, ignores social justice, and cares little for the environment; the age of the Trinity carries the cross for life, justice, peace, and a greener world.

brown-1851-christ-washing-pThe law of this age is “survival of the fittest.”  The law of the age of the Trinity is LOVE.  Not the hippie-dippie love of 1968 but the self-giving, sacrificial love of Jesus. 

Let’s get to the last point Paul made: he wants us to conform ourselves to the age of the Trinity so that we “may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”

Paul understands that life is complicated.  We have to make difficult moral decisions that are shaped by our unique circumstances, personalities, and histories.  Pope Francis, Fr. Jack, and Helen aren’t sitting at our kitchen tables helping us to decide what to do in this situation and that.  If we confront our challenges with a transformed mind – as sons and daughters of God, disciples of Jesus, and servants of the Holy Spirit – we will be able to discern how we are to act in our own situations, in a way that is pleasing to God.

Let me give you an example from my own life.  My mother suffered from mental illness, bi-polar disorder.  Once or twice a year Mom would sink into a world of depression, darkness, and despair that could last a month or two months.  If my father were a man of this age, how would he have coped?  Have an affair?  Drink or turn to porn?  Divorce her? 

Probably.  But Dad was a man of the age of the Trinity, the Father, Son, and Spirit.  He had a cross to bear as a man of the Trinity, and he bore it by serving Mom.  He found strength from personal prayer, from his neighbors and prayer group, and from going to Mass.  Though many doctors and treatments were tried, there was no curing the mental illness that gripped my mother; there was only managing it.  As a man of the Trinity, Dad was guided by sacrificial love.  During the dark days of depression there was no romance; he “offered it up.”  There was no friendship; he “offered it up.”  There was no joy; he “offered it up.”  Eventually there was a “payoff” for all that “offering it up.”  When Mom came out of her depression, she knew what Dad had done for her.  Romance, friendship, and joy returned.

Church, the word of God for us today is a demanding one, but it is not a new one.  We have learned since childhood that there is a suffering we must bear in following Jesus.  Sometimes we get tired of it, sometimes we don’t like it, and sometimes we want relief; we want to zone out.  At these times we don’t have to be able to quote Jesus or St. Paul.  We just have to recall that age-old wisdom from the nuns and, say it with me, “offer it up.”

How many Catholics does it take to change a light bulb?  Change?

Posted August 14th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

youth group 051By Robert Fontana

Of course, change certainly does happen in the Catholic Church.  However, it is usually excruciatingly slow.  There is a fight for change going on these days, and two dominant forces in this fight are Pope Francis, Bishop of Rome, and U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke.

Burke wants the church to return to the glory days of Catholicism in the 1950’s.  For him the Church is a monarchy established by God through Jesus to the Pope/Bishop.  Authority flows from the top down, and obedience to truth through the Church is the clearest sign of holiness.  Burke has history on his side, but not Scripture.  The biblical model of Church is a community of disciples with leaders who work together to preserve the unity of the Church (see Galatians 1).  The Church as “Monarchy” has been the dominant model at least since the time of Charlemagne (747-814 AD) and the Holy Roman Empire.  The councils of Trent (1600’s) and Vatican I (1870), which Burke embraces, reaffirmed the structure of the Church as a monarchy.

Pope Francis advocates for changes which are inspired by the example of Jesus, as interpreted by the Second Vatican Council, and by his own experience of living and working among the poor in Buenos Aires.  Pope Francis rejects the notion that the Church is a monarchy.  He sees the Church as a missionary community of Disciples of Jesus, with ordained ministers who are servants within the Church rather than an aristocracy.  He wants love and mercy, not rigid adherence to rules and regulations, to be the defining characteristics of the Catholic people.

Historian Garry Wills argues in his book, The Future of the Church with Pope Francis, that change is the great story of Catholicism.  It is change, states Wills, which has permitted the Church to survive for two thousand years when empires of one kind or another have come and gone.  Change, however, has not necessarily made Catholics closer followers of Jesus.  Here are two significant changes that have happened in the Church.

jesus and childrenJesus practiced and taught non-violence:  Jesus was a pacifist, and, for at least the first three centuries of Christianity, so were his followers.  Yet, for the past 1,700 years, the Church has taught that war waged for a just cause is moral and consistent with Christian faith under certain conditions.  Eventually this led to popes having armies which they used to wage war against heretics, the Christian kings in Europe, and the Muslim nations.  Was this change from pacifism to a just war theory good or bad for the Church?

Catholic/Christian oppression of Jews:   Anti-Jewish sentiments fill the pages of early Christian writings, beginning with the Scriptures – the Gospel of John, and including church councils, and writings of great saints and popes.  Here’s one example from Pope Eugenius IV in 1442:

“We decree and order that from now on, and for all time, Christians shall not eat or drink with Jews…shall not allow Jews to hold civil honors over Christians, or to exercise public offices in the State… All and every single Jew, of whatever sex and age, must everywhere wear the distinct dress and known marks by which they can be evidently distinguished from Christians. They cannot live among Christians, but in a certain street, separated and segregated from Christians…”    (see www.talmudunmasked.com/appendix  )

This vicious anti-Semitism did not formally end until the Second Vatican Council in 1965 when the Bishops declared Jews to be our elder brothers and affirmed the teachings of St. Paul, that the covenant between God and the Jews still holds true today (see Documents of Vatican II, Nostra Aetate).  Was reaffirming God’s covenant to the Jews after almost 2,000 years of denying it, good or bad for the Church?

 

  1. mary magdalenLay people fund the church but have no effective voice. The laity pay for clergy recruitment, training, salaries, housing, vacations, retirement, the purchase of all properties, construction of buildings, materials for ministry, and salaries/benefits for lay employees. Yet, every board of lay people, from the parish pastoral and finance councils, to diocesan councils, to the pope’s council on clergy sex abuse, the laity role is advisory.  The laity have no legal rights in canon law and exercise no power over how money is spent, though we provide all the funding.  This needs to end.  Lay members of boards and committees ought to have decision-making authority regarding how money is spent in the Church.  What do you think?
  2. The Mass reinforces the notion that the priest is “king.” Pope Francis has complained that too many bishops and priests act like aristocrats.  I think the structure of the Mass supports this clericalism.  When Mass begins, the priest processes into the church with ministers of different ranks, much like royalty at court in a 17th-century European monarchy.  Only the ordained are permitted to preach.  This needs to end.  Let the priest presider welcome all to Sunday worship at the beginning of Mass from the pulpit and then invite the community to stand to welcome the Scriptures, the Word of God, as it is brought into the assembly for the proclamation of the Gospel.  And let the priest presider welcome gifted lay people, men and women as preachers of the Gospel.  What do you think?

pope francisChange today.   Just because Catholics have taught something and acted in a certain way for 1,800 years is not enough reason to continue doing so.  Pope Francis is trying to inspire Catholics, clergy and laity, to change how we see ourselves – Missionary Disciples of Jesus– which will effect a change in our behavior.  He urges us to become a field hospital for a suffering world.  This will eventually effect change in Church structure and worship.  My guess is that Cardinal Raymond Burke thinks this is a mistake; I don’t.

A Sunday Homily (I Preached!)

Posted July 27th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

I was asked to help the pastor and give the homily at a local Catholic parish.  I spoke at all three Masses.  Here it is:

jesus“He spoke to them at length in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up.  Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots.  Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it.  But some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. 
Whoever has ears ought to hear.”  Mt 13:1-9

I’m going to need your help with this homily.   When I ask you, “Who’s the word of God?”  Would you reply, “JESUS!”

Let’s practice: “Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

What is this “seed” that Jesus is “scattering?”  It’s a relationship with God!  And it’s a relationship with God offered to EVERYONE, good, bad, and indifferent!  Remember this.  The “Word of God is not fundamentally a doctrine, a moral concept, rules and regulations, or even a book, but it is a person, Jesus the beloved Son of the Father.  Jesus risen and in our midst.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

Back to the parable, I want to suggest to you that the various types of soil receiving the seed, describe us. We are all these kinds of soil all the time, at any given moment of our lives.  I am at once rocky soil, shallow soil, soil choked with thorns, and good soil.   Let me give you an example from my own life.

I was raised in the south during segregation.  Church for Whites, another one for “Colored.” Theater for Whites, a separate one for “Colored.”  Drinking fountain for Whites, another one for “Colored.” As a boy I could call a Colored man who was an adult by his first name because I was his equal.  And when I became an adult I would be his superior.  If I had called an adult who was White by his first name my momma would have smacked me for being disrespectful.

confederate flagI read the history of the war of “Northern Aggression,” and grew up with Robert E. Lee and other Confederates as my heroes.  My favorite college football team was not LSU, it was the Old Miss Rebels.  I hung a large Confederate flag in my bedroom at home; and I brought it to college where I hung it on my dorm wall at St. Joseph Seminary. My family did not think we were racist.  We didn’t wear white hoods, burn crosses, or use racial slurs.  We did regret that we had “lost” the civil war; but yes, glad that the country was united and slavery ended.  My culture taught me to believe that Whites are superior to people of color especially Blacks.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

In this Southern culture, what kind of “soil” was I when I was 13, when I first began sensing the stirring of faith, and yet I flew a Confederate flag? Good soil?  Bad soil with rocks and sand, and choked with thorns?

During a marital crisis, my mom and dad had an experience of God’s love and power that transformed their lives from being Sunday Catholics to daily disciples of Jesus.  One day my father came into my room to share with me about his new relationship with Jesus.  He was “planting a seed” hoping that his story would open me up to a relationship with God; it did.  As I listened to him talk, I had a burning in my heart.  I wanted to know Jesus like he did.

I began to pray, go to daily Mass, read the Bible daily, and, I joined the Legion of Mary.  My apostolic work was visiting people in the local nursing home and the county jail.

Did this new relationship with Jesus in the Church challenge my Confederate identity? NO!  Not one bit.  That seed was planted in rocky soil and wasn’t ready to grow.  Where I did grow was to discipline my teenage sexual energy, treat girls with respect, and visit the elderly and imprisoned.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

abbey_frgil_seminarians_4130 (1)My relationship with Jesus in the Church led me to St. Joseph Seminary and a friendship there with an African American monk.  Brother Aaron was my first friend who was Black.  He was from New Orleans and had a strong “Black Consciousness.”  One day he came into my dorm room and saw the Confederate flag hanging on the wall.  He asked me, “What’s that?”  I had no idea that it was offensive to him.  I said, “Cool, huh?”  Aaron could see that I was a “benign racist.”  He took me by the hand and taught me about racism in the Catholic Church.  He was planting a seed.  I went with him to Catholic worship at an African American parish and experienced firsthand the different cultural expressions between Black Catholics who were swaying to “Soon and very soon…” and White Catholics from my home parish who were singing “Come Holy Ghost.”

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

What kind of “soil” was I back in the seminary?  Fertile? Rocky? Shallow?  All of the above. Seminary helped me deepen my prayer life and continue my commitment to visit the elderly, and gave me a deep love for the liturgy and liturgical year.   The seed of the Gospel to break down racism in me was planted.  However, it would be another 10 years before I could fully admit that I carried racial prejudice within me, and that it was time to “lower the flag.”  The culture of my youth shaped me to believe that White people were superior to Black people.  My ignorance around that fact meant that I did nothing to change the vicious racial prejudice that my friend Brother Aaron and his family faced every day.  I was complicit in the sin of racism, and didn’t know it.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

Once I became aware of this, I became that good soil that Jesus spoke about in the parable, the one that produced a 100 fold of good fruit, right? No!  I’m still a complex mixture of good and bad soil, rocky and fertile, who is in a relationship with Jesus in the Church.  I believe this is true for each of us.

flowersJesus, the Sower, sows the seeds of a relationship with God in whatever soil we offer him.  Jesus wants to meet us exactly where we are in our lives, but he is not going to leave us there.  He’s going to grow something good, beautiful, and life-giving even with the “rocky soil.”   In my counseling I sometimes hear a client say that he cannot pray or go to Church because he is ashamed of his life—of his sins and past mistakes.  I would say to all of us, please do not stay away from Jesus because you feel unworthy, because you feel like a hypocrite, because your spiritual soil is too shallow, or rocky, or choked with thorns. You are also “GOOD SOIL.”

Today at this gathering, at this Eucharist, don’t be afraid to bring to Jesus the whole you, the good and the not-so-good, the rocks and weeds of your life as well as the fertile soil.  Ask Jesus to grow something beautiful, good and life-giving in your personal life.  You know he will do it.  It may take time, as in my case, but he will do it.

“Who’s the word of God?”  “JESUS!”

 

 

 

 

“I support the many good works of CLM”

Posted July 16th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew
Comments Off on “I support the many good works of CLM”

Dear Friends, we are raising money for Catholic Life Ministries.  We do work that you believe in.  When you    invest in CLM with a tax-deductible donation, we become your hands, heart, and feet in the work of awakening faith, strengthening marriages and families, counseling the deeply troubled and mentally ill, and building up the  Christian community.  Here’s why one CLM sponsor supports our work:

malletMy Witness/Testimony to C. L. M. Ministries, Msgr. Charles J. Mallet – Lafayette, La..

It all started some 62 years ago!  I was Ordained in 1955, I was appointed assistant pastor at Tony & Evelyn Fontana’s [Robert’s parents] parish church in Abbeville, La.  Robert was “very young.” His youngest brother John is my god-son!  When the time for his [Robert’s] wedding came, I was privileged to be “the Church’s official   witness”!  

 Since 1981, Robert & Lori have dedicated their lives to the “service of the Church” in the area of “Family Life – Marriage Strengthening – Divorce prevention through family counseling – Building strong Christian communities – Youth Camp retreats – etc…etc…. in Washington state &         Oregon…..Montana, California, New Jersey, Texas, Alabama & Louisiana……and even       internationally (e.g. Belize, Central America)!

 To better prepare himself for this precise & complicated ministry, Robert has [through the years] returned to Universities and has sought &  earned degrees (Master’s & Doctorate’s) in related fields…..and with the help of God, has developed a particular competence, creativity, and grace in this most important rock-foundational ministry! 

mallet 2With remembrance at daily Mass & prayer and, with a monthly donation-stipend, I    support the many good works of C.L.M.   May I ask you to please do the same!

 Msgr. Charles J. Mallet – Senior Priest

 If you support CLM, here is where your money goes: 

¨ Your donations pay my (Robert) salary.  I make $36,000 a year.  You are hiring me (with Lori volunteering lots of time too) for CLM’s work – work you believe in: marriage enrichment & preparation; days of prayer, study, and service; youth outreach.

¨ Your donation helps me provide counseling for couples, families, and individuals from a Catholic Christian perspective.  This does not mean I impose my faith on my clients.  It does mean that I pray for them, and   prepare to utilize all the psycho-spiritual resources available to me and them for their healing.

¨ Your donation allows us to offer program scholarships for low-income people, to stipend outside speakers and teachers, to rent office/retreat space, and to pay for office expenses including this newsletter.

Ask the Lord.  Lori and I understand that you get many appeals to help wonderful organizations from across the country.  You know the integrity of our lives and the quality of our work.  Please pray about joining us as partners in ministry to do the work that you believe in.  Should the Lord give you a nod our way, please use the enclosed pledge card to help you determine your level of support.  We have people of modest means who send us $5 a month. Others, who are able, donate $50-$150 a month.  Please also make a commitment to pray for us.  We commit to pray for you every Thursday. You may include your prayer intentions on the enclosed form.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken Little, the Holy Spirit, You, and Me

Posted May 30th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

chicken littleThis is Pentecost week.  Naturally the story of Chicken Little comes to mind:

There was once a great knight riding upon a mighty horse when he came upon Chicken Little running around the countryside shouting, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”   Suddenly, Chicken Little threw himself to the ground, lay on his back, and thrust his legs and wings towards the sky. 

The great knight leaped from his mighty horse and said to Chicken Little, “Why art thou thus lying in the dust?” Chicken Little calmly responded, “The sky is falling.”  The great knight laughed out loud with incredulity and dismay, then said, “And you, little bird, think that you can hold up the sky?” Chicken Little responded, “I does what I can do.”

Francis of Assisi once said, “I have done what is mine to do, now you must do what is yours to do.”

Fr. Thomas Judge, the founder of the Missionary Cenacle Family (1909) counseled his associates similarly.  I do not have the direct quote but it was something like: “Do what you can do.  Do not worry about what you cannot do, but do what you can do!”

There is so much to be done.  It is mind-boggling.  There are so many pressing needs; truly, it seems the “the sky is falling.”  And what I am actually able to do is so small, surely what the great knight said to Chicken Little applies to all of my efforts, “And how can such a little bird hold up the sky?”

fr judgeFr. Thomas Judge, a Vincentian priest, felt like the sky was falling as he, an Irish-American from Boston, tried to minister to the throngs of immigrants filling the slums of the great urban centers of 20th century America.  He had an epiphany when he realized that he was taking way too much responsibility for work that was not his to do.  It belonged to the average Catholic (and Christian) in the pew who was a neighbor to these immigrants, who met them at the grocery store, the warehouse, the butcher shop, and sometimes at the parish church.

He realized if each person would simply take responsibility for being a power for good within the relationships and commitments of his or her own life, something he called the “providence of everyday life,” then much good could be done to alleviate suffering, strengthen community, and provide care for the least among us, especially poor children and the elderly.

12694841 - shining dove against golden raysJudge recognized that the needs of families in general, and of the poor in the slums and barrios specifically, were so great, that it was impossible to create a social program to address them all.  However, if Catholics and other Christians were guided by the Holy Spirit, then the Spirit would direct them to the work that needed to be done within the “providence” of their everyday lives.How do we gain the interior freedom from our own shortsightedness and sins to even be able to act in the service of others?  And where do we get that capacity for discernment to determine what we are to do in this situation and that one, where we are to direct our energies, and what we are to leave for others to do?  Our guidance comes from the “breath of God,” the indwelling Spirit that draws us into the heart of God, the Spirit written about in John’s Gospel.

Lori and I, led by the empowering and indwelling Spirit, have directed out energies towards being a power for good by inspiring deeper faith in God and building strong marriages and families.  We do this through spirituality workshops and reretreats,  marriage enrichment events, marriage preparation classes, family camps, and divorce prevention, if possible, through marriage counseling.  There is so much more “falling sky” that pulls at us – pro-life work, outreach to migrants and refugees, and problems related to homelessness.  All of these important concerns tug at us, they are matters close to our hearts and certainly are within the providence of our everyday lives.  But, at least for now, we hear the Spirit say to us, “Do what I have already given you to do, and leave these concerns for someone else.”  This is not easy.  Saying “no” to important issues and leaving them for others to do feels inadequate…unsatisfying…feeble…and yet, the right thing to do.

Sunday, June 4th, is Pentecost, the great feast of the Holy Spirit. All around our world, “the sky is falling;” there is so much to do.  Do you have a personal relationship with this empowering and in-dwelling Spirit so that you can benefit from the Spirit’s guidance? Ask and the Holy Spirit will help you to discern what is yours to do within the providence of your everyday life.  Then the power of the Holy Spirit will help you (and me) do it!

Post your comments!

IF YOU LIKE WHAT YOU READ ON THIS BLOG SITE, PLEASE CONSIDER MAKING A DONATION TO SUPPORT THE WORK OF CATHOLIC LIFE MINISTRIES.  OUR MISSION IS TO AWAKEN FAITH, STRENGTHEN MARRIAGES AND FAMILIES, BUILD COMMUNITY, AND EMPOWER THE FAITHFUL TO BE A POWER FOR GOOD IN THE WORLD!  Go to: http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/donate/

 

Praying the Stations of the Resurrection

Posted May 14th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

resurrectionCatholics have grown up praying the “Stations of the Cross.”  We have been trained since childhood to walk the path of sorrow and suffering in imitation of Jesus.  We do this so that we are strengthened in our resolve to accept the “crosses” that come our way as we seek, like Jesus, to do God’s will, not ours.  Maybe this explains why outsiders who attend Catholic services often complain that there is, “not much joy coming from the Catholic faithful.”

What if we placed an equal amount of emphasis on Easter and encountering the Risen Jesus as we do on Lent and walking with the suffering Jesus?  What if we sought to encounter Jesus alive and present to us today just as He was present to His disciples in the days and weeks following his resurrection.  Remember, Christian faith in its Catholic form (or any form) is not primarily a doctrine to be believed or a moral code to follow.  It is about encountering a person, Jesus, God’s beloved Son, who is as alive for us today as He was 2,000 years go;  Jesus, who loves us with all the passion and energy of God, and who fills us with His life and breath; Jesus, the Risen One, who frees us to love and be loved.

joyWouldn’t such an encounter bring joy to our difficult and demanding lives! Wouldn’t such an encounter liberate us from the emotional roller-coaster of placing our hope and well-being on how people treat us, the ups-and-downs of the economy, or the latest political news out of Washington.  We would look forward to the Sunday gathering of disciples with joy in our hearts, knowing that the One who is convening this gathering is none other than the Risen Lord Himself!

Lori and I have developed the Stations of the Resurrection to help us and you pray through the stories of Jesus’ resurrection, with the knowledge that the truth of these stories, Jesus alive and present, is happening right now!  The “Stations of the Resurrection” are 13 different episodes from the resurrection stories of Jesus, arranged so that the reality of Jesus’ risen life will unfold before us we pray through them.  These stations are best prayed with others and in a garden or a park if possible.  If you mark 13 stations and move from one to the next, be sure to sing a familiar hymn or Alleluia when moving from station to station.

Each station is followed by a comment from a disciple of Jesus from history (a saint) who knew the risen Jesus personally as we are trying to do so today.  They are living proof that the Risen Jesus continues to be an active presence accompanying all who love Him, regardless of time, place, and station of life.  We are meeting the risen Jesus!  We are hearing His voice!  We are receiving the Holy Spirit!  Alleluia!

The Stations of the Resurrection are too long to put on this blog site.  I’m posting the first two stations so that you have a sense of how they work.  If you would like the entire set you can download them at:  http://www.catholiclifeministries.org/archives/

Post your comments!

Station 1: Jesus is placed in a tomb.

L – We adore you, O Christ, and we love you.  All – Because by your death and resurrection you have set us free.

Joseph of Arimathea…asked for the body of Jesus…he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb.  Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.   Mk 15:43-47

All:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

 From the Saints: I know of one means only by which to attain to perfection: LOVE. Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else. Love!…that is what I ask…I know but one thing now – to love Thee, O Jesus! Glorious deeds are not for me, I cannot preach the  Gospel, shed my blood …what does it matter?   St. Therese, the Little Flower

 Station 2: The Women and the Empty Tomb

L – We adore you, O Christ, and we love you.  All – Because by your death and resurrection you have set us free.

The women who had come from Galilee with him followed behind, and when they had seen the tomb and the way in which his body was laid in it, they returned and prepared spices and perfumed oils. Then they rested on the Sabbath…But at daybreak on the first day of the week they took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb.  They found the stone rolled away from the tomb; but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.  Luke 23:55-24:3

All:  Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

From the Saints:  O living flame of love that tenderly wounds my soul in its deepest center… How gently and lovingly you wake in my heart, where in secret you dwell alone; and in your sweet breathing, filled with good and glory, how tenderly you swell my heart with love.      St. John of the Cross