Saturday, June 15, 2002

What's Really Important

Yesterday afternoon I had an emergency call, to go and anoint a man who was dying. Some priests I have talked to have jokingly remarked on how emergency calls always seem to come at 3:00 in the morning. In my experience, they always seem to come either as I'm just sitting down to lunch or have just sat down and begun to unwind in the evening. Once a call came just after I had lit up a cigar and taken a couple of puffs (those of you who like a good stogie, you know how painful that could be).

So I drove out to the home, and most of the dying man's family was there. I hadn't met them before, but they recognized me, and were very glad to see me. I began the rite of Anointing, and the family alternated between trying to participate and quietly weeping.

Anointings are always moving for me, especially if the person is actually in the process of dying and I pray the prayers of commendation. I think the Prayers for Commendation of the Dying are some of the most moving, powerful prayers in our Tradition.

After the rite was finished, I stayed and talked to some of the family for a little bit. They were very profusely grateful. I always feel a little awkward about that: I think "it's nothing I did, it's the Sacrament working through me." But on the drive back to the rectory, I began reflecting on their gratitude. They weren't grateful to me, Rob Johansen. They were grateful that a priest of Jesus Christ had come to administer the Last Sacraments to their dying father.

While the Bishops were debating their important policies, rules, and position papers, the real Work of the Church was going right along, in obscure, unknown situations like me anointing that dying man. All of the policies and rules and Important Debates are just so much wind compared to that.

And I began thinking about my new blog, and blogging, and about all of the indignation and anger and feelings of betrayal expressed in blogdom about our corrupt and incompetent Shepherds. While it's important that we discuss these things, if they distract us from the Real Work of the Church, then we're part of the Problem.

All the bloggings, bleatings, and bloviations in the world don't amount to beans against the Sacrament by which I helped usher that one soul into eternity.

Blogging is fun, but Anointing that old man is why I Became a Priest.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

Whichever way the wind blows...

I read the recent remarks of Bishop Joseph Imesch, of Joliet, IL, enthusiastically endorsing "Zero Tolerance" (more on that in my homily, posted below), and calling for reform, in the Chicago Tribune and elsewhere, and I couldn't help but wonder at the sheer cynicism displayed.

This is the same Bishop Imesch who has been devoutly seeking the approval of the AmChurch establishment at least since the deservedly-dead "women's pastoral" letter he tried to ramrod through the Bishop's Conference in the early '90's.

This is the same Bishop Imesch who, a couple of weeks ago in the Chicago Tribune, said that he did not inform parishes of the history of abusive priests that he transferred, and then went on to say that he still "saw no need" to inform parishes of such matters today.

Does he think no one would notice?

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, how can we urge the high and hard calling of holiness upon someone who hasn't even acquired the basic virtue of integrity?

A note to those who may have tried in the last few hours to access my review of Goodbye! Good Men on the Culture Wars website. I just learned from the webmaster that the site's server is down. He should have it up again soon, so try again later tonight.

My Homily from Last Night's Opening Mass for the Prayer Vigil for Holiness:

Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
Joel 3:1-5
Romans 8:22-27
John 7:37-39

The Lord said to Joel: "I will pour out my spirit on all mankind." The spirit of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, has indeed been given to the Church. We are no longer like the disciples in that upper room: hiding, afraid, unsure of what to do. The Holy Spirit was given to the disciples, and they went out of that room as apostles, to preach the Gospel to the world. They were no longer afraid, but were emboldened. They were no longer unsure of what to do, because they had been inflamed with zeal. They preached in the face of opposition and persecution, because they had unshakeable knowledge of the Truth. And the same Holy Spirit which inflamed and emboldened the disciples has been passed on, through their successors, to us.

So if this is true, if we have the Holy Spirit, then how, many of you have no doubt asked yourselves, did we get to this point? How is it that we have to gather here tonight, to pray for our Church, and especially our bishops, who have failed us so terribly? I believe the answer lies in our reading from the prophet Joel. Joel says, "your old men shall dream dreams." What happened is that our "old men", our shepherds, stopped dreaming dreams. They stopped dreaming dreams of righteousness; they stopped dreaming dreams of holiness; they stopped dreaming dreams of the kingdom of God. Instead, they became enamored of other dreams: dreams of being favorably covered on the TV news; dreams of having their op-ed pieces published in the New York Times; dreams of being invited to testify before Congress; dreams of a new Cathedral, very modern and "up to date", designed by an avant-garde architect. They began dreaming the dreams of the world.

But if we stop there, we're not telling the whole story. Because, in many cases, those old men adopted the new dreams of the world because that's what we wanted them to do. We didn't want to hear about holiness: if we were holy, our neigbors would think we were weird; if we were righteous, people would call us "narrow-minded". If we put our hearts and minds wholly on the Kingdom of God, people would say we're not "relevant". If we are wondering how our bishops became so muddled and corrupt, look around: the World is muddled and corrupt.

We call our bishops "shepherds". And the chief job of a shepherd is to protect his flock, to safeguard his sheep. The bishops' failure to protect the most vulnerable members of their flock has its roots in a deeper and more serious failure: The bishops have failed to protect us from the World. No indeed, they let the world into the Church: The world said we needed to be more "open", more "tolerant", and we listened. We have been toying with just how much we can let the world into the Church. We have been playing with, experimenting with, just how much we can accommodate ourselves to sin. All too often, our shepherds were leading the way. The bishops allowed the boundary between the world and the Kingdom, the world and the Church, to become obscured. Not necessarily because they were bad men, most of them had the best intentions. But they were listening to the wrong voice, dreaming the wrong dreams. Because they were dreaming the wrong dreams, listening to the wrong voices, they lost that boldness and unshakable knowledge of the Truth that so characterized the Apostles. Our bishops have become like shepherds that allowed the fence around the sheepfold to be trampled and knocked down.

And even now, as their failure and its consequences become more and more starkly apparent, the temptation to listen to the world dies hard. There are many voices out there clamoring with this or that solution to the problem. "If only we adopted this set of guidelines," some say. "If only we allowed priests to marry," others say. "If only we turned perpetrators over to the authorities," say others, "then everything would be OK." But all of these policies and suggestions are just smoke and mirrors. What we need is not a policy, what the bishops need is not rules. What we need, as Amy Welborn, a Catholic writer, recently said, is for the bishops to just STOP IT. They need to stop listening to the world and start listening to the Holy Spirit.

Even the talk of "zero tolerance" is another red herring. "Zero Tolerance" may be a good slogan for a Mothers Against Drunk Driving billboard, but is a slogan a substitute for bishops acting like shepherds? Zero Tolerance has nothing to do with the Gospel or the Tradition. Zero Tolerance is more worldspeak.

The one consistent thing the bishops have been doing is listening to the world. First the world said we need to be more "tolerant". And they listened. Then, when they began to see problems, the world said, "You need to listen to the psychologists, they'll help you become 'better adjusted'". And the bishops listened to the psychologists. Then, when things started to really go bad, and people got angry, the world said, "you'd better listen to the lawyers." The bishops listened to the lawyers, and now things are in a complete mess.

Now, when the bishop's failure (and let's not forget, it's our failure too) has been made manifestly obvious, the world says "Zero Tolerance." And the bishops seem to be listening to that now. Will they, will we, ever learn? No committee, no policy, no law, is a substitute for holiness and fidelity to Christ. When a slogan is proposed as the solution to a problem, it's the world speaking. We need Shepherds, not policies.

It may seem presumptuous, maybe even arrogant, that I, a priest who has been ordained for less than a year, would speak of the bishops in this way. But I was a Catholic long before I became a priest, and I often wondered what it was going to take to shake us out of our infatuation with the World. I fear that God is allowing us to take some very bitter medicine indeed. The time for speaking in this way is long past.

We are gathered here tonight to pray: to pray for our Church and for our Bishops. Make no mistake, they need our prayers. Many of them have to re-learn, and some learn for the first time, the office of Shepherd. They have gathered in Dallas to debate crucial matters. They will debate policies, and we need policies. They will debate guidelines, and we need guidelines. They will debate canon law, and we need canon law. But more than anything else, they, and we, need to be on our knees. All of their meetings, debates, and polices will matter not at all if they are not united, as we shortly will be, around Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. We must pray that they will open themselves up to hear the voice of Christ. We must pray that the Holy Spirit would inflame them with courage and zeal. We must pray that they, and we, will repent and offer acts of Reparation. We must pray that they will heed the voice of the Spirit, and begin again to dream the dreams and see the visions that God is trying to give them.

To all 4 of my readers:

I'm very new to this blog thing, so I've still got a lot to learn. I'm experimenting with different aspects of the template and appearance of the blog. So if you have a suggestion, fire away!


Wednesday, June 12, 2002

Here's Something Important: Prayer!

Tonight is the first night of my parish's (St. Joseph in St. Joseph, MI) Prayer Vigil for Holiness. Some of you may remember that I first began trying to spread the idea for this about a month ago. Since we've all been urged to pray for the bishops and the whole Church during this time of purification, we're having two evenings of prayer in conjunction with the Bishops' meeting. The vigil will open tonight with Mass and continue with Eucharistic exposition, prayer, and adoration, and close with Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament. The vigil will open on Thursday evening with Solemn Vespers, and continue with Eucharistic exposition, prayer, and adoration, and close with Benediction. The purpose of the Vigil is to pray for our Church and our Bishops, to make reparation for sins, and to rededicate ourselves to strive for personal holiness.

I've been gratified that a number of other priests and parishes throughout the country have picked up on the idea and are doing something similar. All of the proposals and guidelines and strategies in the world will avail nothing if we don't get on our knees.

If your parish isn't having a special time of prayer set aside during these next few days, you can nonetheless join us by offering prayer for the following intentions:

1. For the bishops themselves, that in their meeting they will be open to the Holy Spirit’s call to zeal and holiness, and that they will address the scandal and issues it has raised with courage, prudence, and fidelity to Catholic teaching.

2. That our bishops would be emboldened to act courageously as shepherds and speak out prophetically in defense of chastity and purity, in the face of a culture that belittles them.

3. For the victims of abuse, that they know that Christ suffers with them, and that the Church reaches out to them with compassion and love, and that they might be healed of the injury and pain that they have experienced.

4. For those who have committed acts of abuse, and for those who have enabled or tacitly condoned abuse through neglect, inattention, or complicity: that they might be moved to true contrition and repentance, and offer acts of penance and reparation for those they have injured.

5. For priests, for their encouragement in this time of difficulty, that they live as counter-cultural signs of God’s salvation given to us in Christ. That they might live in ever greater fidelity to the teaching of the Church and their own vows.

6. That God would inspire young men of zeal and holiness to follow Christ in the priesthood, and that those men will be open to hearing the call and respond generously.

7. For Catholics everywhere, that they will support their priests and bishops when they speak in defense of Catholic teaching, and boldly live out that teaching themselves. That all Catholics would rededicate themselves to strive for the virtues of purity and chastity.

Please make the time for prayer in the next few days. If you can, it would be even more effective to offer some sort of sacrifice in reparation for the sins that have brought our Church to this low point.

Well, I took the leap, and started my own blog! Thanks to Amy Welborn, Jenny Roback Morse, Fr. Jim Tucker and others for their encouragement. Greetings to all (hopefully more than 1) of my readers!

I hope, in my blog, to comment on events of day, but to go beyond that to examine what Dr. Russell Kirk would have called "The Permanent Things". The Permanent Things are ultimately the only things worth talking about. Events, circumstances and problems, in and of themselves, are just ephemera.

Why my blog? Well, one thing I have plenty of is opinions. Some of them are insightful, prescient, scintillating (no doubt most of those are the opinions I have borrowed from others) and possibly infuriating. Some of them, I'm sure, are ill-considered, foolish, ignorant (many of these are the ones I came to on my own) and infuriating.

I've been writing now with a pretense of seriousness for about five years. I've had some book reviews and essays published here and there in journals such as The University Bookman, The Texas Education Review, and Culture Wars. I hope to have some of my writings linked or archived soon.

What I love: Christ, the Mass, the Holy Catholic Church, learning the Truth, my Mom and Dad, good music (I'm a singer, a cellist, and I do some conducting as well).

What I like: honesty, integrity, loyalty, Macintosh computers, single-malt scotch (Laphraoig and Lagavulin are my favs...) good USDA Prime beef, good cigars (Fonseca 10-10's, La Gloria Cubana Medaille D'or, and Hoyo de Monterrey Excaliburs will win my heart), fishing and hunting pheasant or quail.

What I dislike: intellectual dishonesty, deliberate obfuscation of the truth, suffering fools or foolishness (though charity requires me to do so with some regularity), deception, Windows/Intel boxes, sauerkraut and brussell sprouts.

The basic biographical information: I am a priest of the Diocese of Kalamazoo, Michigan. I'm serving at St. Joseph Catholic Church in St. Joseph, MI, which is on the Eastern shore of Lake Michigan almost directly across the lake from Chicago. I was just ordained last year, on the Feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of diocesan priests. So I'm what they call a "baby priest", though if you take a look at a picture of me (I hope to have some posted soon) you'll see I'm not exactly baby-sized.

I graduated from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. I also attended St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Phildelphia for two years, before a stint in Rome studying Latin with Fr. Reginald Foster, OCD, who is famous as "the Pope's Latinist." Prior to seminary I attended graduate school at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. I studied Classics and patristic Greek and Latin. I have taught Latin and Greek at the high school and college level.

Oh, and a note about the title: I'm indebted to Fr. Peter DiMaria, a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, for the inspiration of my blog's title. Since those of us of a more conservative bent are often referred to as "Throwbacks", he turned the pejorative into an adjective. Somebody that's "thrown back", therefore, looks to the Tradition for guidance, not feeling the need to constantly "improve" things to suit the whim of the day.

That's enough about me. My next post, I promise, will be about Something Important.