Archive for October, 2008

Everyone has value… everyone has a right to life… sometimes life surprises us!

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Notice that the video never mentions names. Is the distinction that clear? And if so, what does that say for our priorities?

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This was too funny to pass up, but nothing mean-spirited is intended.  Indeed, this corn maze is about my speed these days!

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Brothers Steve & Tommy set out on their annual Halloween jaunt with renewed vigor and enthusiasm. After all, their mom had told them this was to be “an Obama Halloween.” She explained that two well-known newspapers, the New York Times and Washington Post were sponsoring the event.

Knowing their mother’s zeal in support of Barack Obama, this could only mean good things for Halloween. At first, nothing could have been better. The two brothers were getting large amounts of candy. All of the candy givers seemed to be in a good mood. However, as the night wore on, the candy collection became more difficult for Steve. As his legs began to tire, he refused to make the long trek to some of the houses. Tommy, however, though he was equally as tired, continued in his perseverance and managed to get to all of the houses. Being the kind brother that he was, Tommy encouraged Steve to continue collecting. Unfortunately, Steve just did not have the fortitude and said it was just too hard to continue. Tommy conceded to Steve’s complaints, but did remind Steve several times that at the end of the night he wouldn’t have as much candy as he. He would have no one else to blame but himself. Steve nonchalantly shrugged his shoulders.

When they finally finished trick-or-treating, they headed for home. Tommy had a difficult time carrying his bag, as it was so full of candy. Steve, on the other hand, had a much lighter load and he skipped down the street. When they arrived home, their mother asked if they had stopped by City Hall. The boys responded they had not. Mother reminded the two that this was an “Obama Halloween” and a surprise awaited them at City Hall. The boys could hardly contain themselves as they raced with their bags to City Hall. A long line awaited them but seemed to move quickly. They saw a lot of their friends as their friends were exiting the building. Oddly enough, some seemed very happy yet others very sad.

As the boys reached the front of the line, they were asked to leave their bags on the counter to be weighed. They were then instructed to wait at the end of the counter until the “redistribution” was completed. The brothers were puzzled and mouthed to each other, “redistribution”? When they picked up their bags, Tommy noticed immediately how much lighter his was. Steve was surprised that his was so heavy. They asked a worker for an explanation. She explained that the average weight of all bags of candy collected that night was 3 lbs. Since Steve had only collected 1 lb., he was given two extra pounds of candy to bring him up to the “average” weight. On the other hand, Tommy had collected 8 lbs., therefore he had 5 lbs. taken away and “redistributed” to other kids with a lesser amount. The worker then stated that everyone should be happy, since all kids would now have an equal amount of candy.

It was a very quiet walk home. Neither boy seemed happy. Ironically, it was Steve who spoke first. “I am really sorry you had so much of your candy taken from you, Tommy. It just doesn’t seem fair. After all, I was the one who got tired right away; yet you continued on and worked so much harder! I like the extra candy that I received, but it’s not nearly as satisfying if I had earned it myself through my own hard work. In fact, it actually makes me sad to think that I got this extra candy, at your expense.”

“That’s okay, Steve. I’m glad you at least understand how I feel,” Tommy replied.

They both agreed that the “Obama Halloween” was not such a good idea after all. Their biggest hope is that it will not continue for the next four years!


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Exodus 25:18: And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat.

Numbers 21:8-9: And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.”

John 3:14: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

1 Kings 6:29: He carved all the walls in the house round about with carved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. (Also verses 32 and 35).

Above is the earliest known image of the Virgin and Child, dating back to the third century.  It is found upon the wall to the Catacomb of Priscilla.  Notice that the figure on the left (a prophet?) points to the star over head while Mary looks down upon her Son who is looking at us.

The prohibition against images was never absolute. Further, there is a new economy of images due to the incarnation. Jesus is the revelation of the Father. Our very humanity becomes reflective of God. The Scriptures show that God often used images to deepen religious commitment and understanding. The prohibition against “graven images” applies to idolatry, the sin of giving the adoration reserved to God alone to some mere thing. It is peculiar that some critics will oppose the Church’s use of sacred art and yet they often have trophies, statuary, toy dolls, photographs, and paintings in their homes. Images that inspire faith and remind us of particularly holy and courageous members of our faith are no more wrong than such pictures of family and friends in our homes.

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I tweaked and offered a few minor corrections to this text. It is posted under my SCARY STORIES. Happy Halloween!

A Catholic Ghost Story from Southern Maryland

The priest was happy to have a fire burning. It was a cold winter night and it felt good to be settled in for the evening. His small parish in Charles County, Maryland, was a good one with simple but hardworking and faithful people. True, the area was a bit remote from the power center of the Archdiocese, but that had a positive side as well. However, such sentiments were best left unexplored and never expressed. The wind howled outside like a woman’s cry, and it was ever so dark. Peaceful— that was nature of this assignment; it was like a perpetual retreat. Counting himself fortunate, the Catholic cleric opened his breviary to say his prayers; hopefully he would finish them before falling asleep. He had barely begun when there was a knock at the door. Perhaps it was just the branch of a tree? Knock, knock!— no, there it was again— who could it be at this late hour of the night?

Throwing on his cassock he went to the door and opened it. “Yes, can I help you?” said the pastor, somewhat irritated at the interruption.

“Father, you have to come quickly, my daddy is dying!” cried a young teenage boy. “You have to come as fast as you can; he needs the last sacraments!”

The priest became immediately alert. He grabbed his coat and sick kit and ran out the door with the boy. Journeying to the house, he noted that the boy was only dressed in a flimsy shirt and shorts. He was even barefoot. No doubt the boy had run out to get him at a moment’s notice, thinking only of his father. He put his coat over the pale cold skin of the child. “Goodness, boy, if you’re not careful you’ll catch pneumonia yourself!”

“I’ll be okay, Father. The main thing is that you take care of my old man. He meant to contact you before this, but, well, he never thought his health would go down so quickly. We don’t have a phone so I ran to get you.”

“You’re telling me that you ran all this way to get me? You’re quite some boy. But rest and warm yourself now,” replied the concerned priest. The boy pointed the way and the priest made good time driving to their home.

Upon arriving, the priest jumped out and ran into the house. If the fellow was as bad as the boy made out, there was no time to lose. Sure enough, there he was, lying in bed and quite sick. The priest heard his Confession, anointed him, and gave him Holy Communion— it would be his last.

Sitting alongside the old man, for that was assuredly what he was, the priest began to chat with him. “Ah, I see you have a picture here of your son,” said the priest picking up a photograph near the man’s bedside.

“Oh yes, Father, that’s my boy,” returned the old man.

The priest added, “You must be proud to have a son like that, running all the way from here to the rectory for the priest on a night like this.”

“What Father? What do you mean?” he asked.

“Your boy,” explained the priest, “rushing half-naked to get me to insure you would receive the Last Rites— that was quite a selfless feat of love.”

“But Father,” stammered the old man pointing to the picture, “my boy has been dead these eighteen years, it was summer and he drowned.”

This story was told and retold to me many times by my father. It is a wonderful testimony of the value of the sacraments and the bond of love which transcends the grave.

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Matthew 12:32: And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age [world] or in the age [world] to come. (Some sins can therefore be forgiven after death.)

1 Corinthians 3:13-15: . . . each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

2 Maccabees 12:45-46: (This is one of the Old Testament books omitted from the Protestant Bible). But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.

Revelation 21:27: Nothing defiled can enter Heaven.

While many Protestant critics reject Purgatory because the word does not appear in the bible, the actual reason is that such a teaching would make their view of justification by faith alone untenable. This Catholic teaching sustains our understanding of intercessory prayer for the dead, meritorious works done in Christ in reparation for sin, the temporal punishment due to sin, and transformation over imputation in Christ. Our justification is not a mere juridical rendering from God, but the elect are made into a new creation. They are changed. Purgatory allows this transformation to come to completion. The Scriptures uphold such a teaching, despite the protestations of so-called bible-Christians. The bible teaches that some sins are forgiven in the world to come, on the other side of death. We are not talking here about mortal sin that damns the soul. The Scriptures also indicate that some, although not all, are saved in the next world by fire. Literally the fire of God’s love purifies his own and makes them ready for heaven. In addition, the value of intercessory prayer for the dead is advocated by the bible. Like a bride who wants to look her best before meeting her bridegroom, Purgatory allows us to undergo a cleansing or purgation of any residual stain– venial sin, the temporal punishment due to sin, and the tendency (habit) to sin.

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1 Corinthians 7:10-11: To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, let her remain single or else be reconciled to her husband) — and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

Mark 10:11-12: And he said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and be marries another, she commits adultery.”

Luke 16:18: “Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”

Matthew 19:9: “And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity [actually incest] and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman, commits adultery.”

The meaning in Matthew is not that the innocent party is guilty if a spouse commits adultery. When circumstances are out of control, the wronged party may be allowed by the Church to live apart from the adulterous spouse. However, if truly married, neither can marry another validly as long as one of them lives.

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Matthew 19:6: “So they are no longer two but one (flesh). What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

The New Testament quite clearly teaches that sacramental marriage is indissoluble. God does not recognize divorce. A couple is married until one of them dies. It is worth mentioning that the Catholic Church is about the only institution that still teaches this. If a marriage is real, then no human power or even the Church can make it otherwise. Most people hold the Catholic view on their marriage day. It is what they promise each other in the sight of God. Catholics believe that we should keep our promises. This teaching has cost the Church dearly. Many leave Catholicism today for communities that allow divorce and remarriage. This stance, which comes down to us from Christ’s own lips, even cost us most of England under Henry VIII. A change or liberalization upon this issue would signal a breech from the true Church and the Church of the ages. The large numbers of annulments in the West are attributed to an appreciation that many marriages that fail were never true marriages in the eyes of God. Rather, due to a widespread immaturity and loss of genuine faith and commitment, many go through the motions of marriage but little more. The seed for failure was planted in the very beginning. It is still a terrible scandal.  One critic has contended that the tendency toward divorce and remarriage is nothing more than successive polygamy. The Catholic Church is the only major Christian church that still teaches perpetual monogamy.

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1 Corinthians 14:34: As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, even as the law says.

This is one of the verses that made the new disciplines regarding women readers, servers, and extraordinary ministers so problematical. Even now, officially installed Lectors and Acolytes must be men. During the biblical period, there was apparently a negative reaction to women taking over leadership positions in Corinth or possibly there was a needed disassociation from the nonsensical babble that pagan women and goddess worship employed. In any case, the priesthood was then and now reserved to men. While disciplines can change regarding the lesser ministries; the Holy Father has affirmed the tradition that ONLY men can be ordained to holy orders. Unlike Protestant churches, they cannot be true pastors or ministers over congregations. It should be noted that Catholic law prohibits them from proclaiming the Gospel at Mass and from liturgical preaching. This reservation is no incrimination upon their human dignity, rather, it is a guarded imitation of the pattern given us by our Lord and the apostolic community. Gender is not seen as an accidental of personhood, but as a constitutive component of our identity. As such the maleness of the priest resonates in harmony with that of Christ to whom he has been sacramentally configured through ordination. He can thus function in the person of Christ, the head of the Church. He is a true icon of Christ. He signifies Christ the bridegroom at the marriage banquet of the Mass to his bride, the Church. Women priests in this context would imply a sort of sacramental lesbianism.

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Titus 1:5: This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective, and appoint [ordain] elders [priests] in every town as I directed you.

Acts 13:2-3: While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The Scriptures make the strongest possible case for apostolic succession. Holy Orders is what we call this transmission of apostolic authority and power down through the ages.

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Last night, after a number of our teenagers had prepared peanutbutter and jelly sandwiches for the poor helped through SOME (So Others Might Eat), we had our special event, SCARY STORIES WITH FATHER JOE.

A good number of teenagers attended and they listened intently.

I heard one kid say that she would never turn off the lights again.

A few adults attended as well, and pretty much everyone found the stories SCARY!  They also included a Christian lesson about our trust in God and in his protection.




CLICK the thumbs to see the full-sized photo.

Father Joe’s Halloween Stories

Teenagers have enjoyed Fr. Joe’s SCARY stories for many years. Holy Family Parish teens and their friends came to hear what all the fuss was about. It was a good safe way to celebrate Halloween time while not forgetting the more important ALL SOULS and ALL SAINTS DAY. Why are his stories particularly scary? It’s because, he says, they are REAL.

Despite a few objections, the telling of ghost stories and the like have a long history among believers. Many themes in Christianity come to the fore: the resistence of the devil and the other fallen angels, life beyond the grave, the mystery of sin and death, the communion of the saints, prophecies regarding the end times and the anti-Christ, etc. Nevertheless, it may still seem particularly bizarre that a priest would annually tell scary stories, and yet, for many years that has been my practice in the month of October.

Why tell scary stories? We could also ask this of the inspired biblical authors, and yet believers regard the Scriptures as God’s living WORD to us, revealing himself and the message of salvation. Could it be that the light of the Good News shines all the brighter against the dark backdrop of human weakness and spiritual evil? I think so.

It also concerns me that many people live as if the resurrection is a hoax and that the prospect of judgment includes no dark possibility of condemnation. Many people today deny the existence of hell and reduce the devil to a fantasy character as on television and in movies. Others accept the occult lie that the devil is only the necessary flip-side to God. I even knew a “Catholic” professor in seminary, and a cleric no less, who denied the existence of angels, good or bad. While my stories are meant as juvenile entertainment, in some small part, they might function as an antidote to both the occult and the atheistic state of affairs. We are not alone. Some of us are being heavily manipulated by things we cannot see. It is essential that we place our trust in God alone. True religious faith needs to supplant superstition and doubt. Hopefully, we can avoid the extremes.

Turning to the subject of ghosts, there is a great deal of divergence on this question. Many theologians contend that the makeup of the afterlife excludes any type of spectral encounter. They would classify ghosts as flights of imagination, or in the worse scenerio, demons in disguise. Others fit ghosts into the category of souls in purgatory, crying out for prayer and remembrance. There are many stories told that seem to support this possibility. In any case, ghost stories remind us that the grave will not consume us and that the soul is immortal.

Scary stories tend to drive us toward sources of safety and strength. Note how many practical atheists and hedonists make the sign of the cross and recite HAIL MARYs in the face of immediate danger. God is almighty and omnipresent. If we trust in him, we have nothing to fear. Separated from him, we have every reason to be fearful. How do we stand right now with God?

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