Sunday, September 30, 2012


I don't know you can listen to the Letter of James in the New Testament and not feel a need to get busy. For the past five weeks, we have been listening to excerpts from his letter in the readings at Mass. In case you don't remember some of his admonishments, here are two that stick with me:

"Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourself."

"So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

As I meditate on these readings as well as the tendency of Jesus to associate himself with the poor of the world, it raises up in me a strong desire to serve and sacrifice for the poor. In the world over a billion people are hungry - more than any time in the history of the world. Approximately 25,000 people die every day of starvation and most of those are children. It can be overwhelming and paralyzing to think about. "Experts" will tell you that there is plenty of food in the world but that it can be difficult to get it distributed to the places it is so desperately needed. Which brings up a question - Do we not possess the will to solve this problem? I am a father and a grandfather. I cannot imagine what the parents and grandparents of these little ones go through each and every day as they watch their children suffer and die.

That's where Mother Theresa's advice is so appropriate - "Do what is in front of you. You cannot feed everyone - so feed one." Please join me today in committing to a simple promise. As you move about in your day and the problem of hunger and poverty confronts you do something about it. Give a few dollars to the beggar, donate to a good agency that works with the impoverished, or volunteer at an agency. Simply DO WHAT IS IN FRONT OF YOU!

Here is a link to a great organization that is fulfilling the mission of the Church in the world:

Monday, September 24, 2012

Guilty or Not Guilty?

(Be sure to watch the video at the end of this post.)
You have probably been asked at some time in your life "If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" A good question for any of us to ponder as we journey through life. This past weekend, while helping out at our parish's Confirmation class, this question was presented in a new way. "If you were accused of being a Catholic, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" What a great question. It was fun to discuss it with the high school sophomores that attended the Confirmation class. Most of them felt that they could indeed be convicted because they went to Catholic school, they attended Mass (most of the time), or because they were attending the Confirmation class. While none of these are bad reasons, by themselves they do not necessarily make a person Catholic.
Our Church exhorts all it's members to be "holy". One of the documents of Vatican II actually speaks of the "universal call to holiness". Whether a priest, a bishop, a nun or a lay person each and every Catholic is to have a relationship with God that becomes the center of their life and subsequently calls them "out" of the world. Certainly, we all have to live in the world and do our best to effect our culture in positive ways, but we are also supposed to take time away in order to listen to our God and renew our spirit.
Besides this call to holiness, and as an aid to it, the Catholic Church asks some specific things of its members - that they follow the precepts of the Church and that they engage in the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. In case you have forgotten what they are:


  1. Attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation, and rest from servile labor.
  2. Confess your sins at least once a year.
  3. Receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.
  4. Observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.
  5. Help provide for the needs of the Church.
  6.  Observe the Church’s laws on marriage.

  1. Feed the Hungry
  2. Give drink to the thirsty
  3. Clothe the naked
  4. Shelter the homeless
  5. Visit the sick
  6. Ransom the captive (visit/assist those in prison)
  7. Bury the dead

  1. Instruct the ignorant
  2. Counsel the doubtful
  3. Admonish sinners
  4. Bear wrongs patiently
  5. Forgive others willingly
  6. Comfort the afflicted
  7. Pray for the living and the dead
Based on these, could you be convicted of being Catholic?

Now, watch this video and decide how you would fare in this court:

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Where do you stand? - death penalty

The death penalty is an issue that will be front and center once again in South Dakota as Donald Moeller and the men who killed Correctional Officer Ronald Johnson are scheduled to be executed soon. The question of the death penalty has been an issue of public debate for years. Those who we would all call "people of good will" line up on different sides of this contentious issue.  I stand against the death penalty for a number of reasons:
  1. Everything I have read from the criminal justice sector would say that the death penalty is not a deterrent. A New York homicide detective that I saw interviewed on TV many years ago said that if death penalties worked, most crime would have ceased by now. The reasons he cited were that murders are committed in two basic settings - in an act of overwhelming anger or in a premeditated fashion. The "angry" person is not considering the consequences of their actions because of their state of mind so it really doesn't matter what the penalty is. The premeditated murderer thinks they are NEVER going to be caught even if they are sloppy in the execution of their crime.
  2. Death Penalty as Punishment?: This harkens back to the "eye for an eye" mentality of ancient times. Certainly, a person who has committed an intentional murder needs to be punished and segregated from the rest of society in our prison system. It could even be argued that a life-long prison sentence is even more severe than execution.
  3. For me, the most compelling reasons against the death penalty are moral. I believe that every person (even a murderer) is a child of God and deserves to be treated with dignity. Certainly, every precaution must be utilized to ensure the safety of correctional employees. (If I understand the news reports properly it seems that those procedures were NOT followed in the case of Ronald Johnson's murder). In almost every situation we are able to keep society and prison workers safe within the penal system so there is no compelling need for the death penalty. God's love can and does change people every day and the murderer deserves the chance to experience that love. Also, it can be argued that the execution of people by the state simply fuels the fire of violence in our culture. The state, representing all of the people, should act in ways that are more merciful and deliberate. After all, which of us wants what we truly deserve? Who could hope for heaven if God used a system of justice like ours?
Anyway, these are my thoughts on the death penalty. This is going to be in the news almost daily in the coming weeks in our area so tell me -  where do you stand on the death penalty - and why?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where do you stand? - my answer

Yesterday, I asked a simple question - where do you stand? Should the United States government have authorized the killing of Osama bin Laden back in the 90's when they had the chance? It is tempting in today's world to say "yes"! If only we had killed him when we had the chance the 9-11 attacks would have never happened.
Although that sounds like a compelling argument, I would have to say that President Clinton's administration did the right thing. Good moral reasoning would say that you cannot perpetuate an evil even if your intent is good. Evil, in some way, always begets evil just as violence begets violence and etc. Now don't get me wrong. There is a part of me that craves revenge by any means. There are things that happen in this world (including 9-11), in our country, in our own community that are heinous enough to make my blood boil with a desire to kill and maim and dismember the perpetrator. But is that the spirit that should lead us? As people of God, as Christians, and as human beings shouldn't we respond to a higher calling in our desire for retribution and justice?
Osama bin Laden (like it or not) was created in the image and likeness of God. He was (is) a child of God and, despite his own actions, deserved to be treated with dignity. He deserved to be brought in front of the proper court and tried in a fair way. (Who knows, killing him back in the 90's may have made him an instant martyr for his cause and inspired terroristic plots in intensity and number that would have killed and injured even more Americans.)
The principle is simple: you cannot do an evil even if your intent is good. Just look what it has done for the people of Afghanistan and Iraq and Osama himself.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where do you stand?

Lately, there has been some discussion in the news media concerning the killing of Osama bin Laden. This resurgence in interest springs from the fact that some of the military personnel involved in the operation that took his life have "gone public". It seems they are reacting against the fact that certain political officials have taken undue credit for killing bin Laden and say they are coming forward now to set the record straight.
This has reminded me that several years ago (in the 90's) the CIA or the military had found bin Laden somewhere (Africa?) and "had him in their sights". The president at that time would not give authorization to kill him. So, the "Where Do You Stand" question is this: Should the United States government have killed Osama bin Laden when they had the chance? Why or why not?
I will post the answer that my Catholic faith leads me to believe tomorrow. In the meantime, please respond and do your best to defend where you stand.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Civil discourse

It's presidential campaign time again and the negative, demeaning, and character assassination ads are on the networks and on Facebook and other social media. We live in a very fortunate time. With the help of technology we can learn the TRUTH about any candidate if we are willing to spend some time reading and studying. It doesn't take much effort to "Google" Mitt Romney or Barack Obama and find out what their positions are on economic stimulus, taxation, entitlement programs and abortion and every other issue. We can examine their past voting records and policy statements and find out all about them in a very objective fashion. But that is not where most of us get our information about candidates. We live in an age of slick marketing and sound bites. Candidates, like advertisers, appeal to our emotions and sense of "good looks" rather than tell about their own position on issues. (To that point, one of my college marketing instructors made the point that Abraham Lincoln could never be elected in today's culture because he was not a "good looking" man.) Many in our electorate actually believe the half-truths and bald faced lies that are told in those campaign ads paid for either by their opponent or by some political action committee.
My Catholic faith teaches that all of the problems facing our society can never be met by any one candidate, political party or election. At the same time we need to participate in the process and bring a personal witness of faith along with us. We are called to know our faith which means knowing what is intrinsically evil and can never be tolerated, and what issues, although serious and moral, may be approached from a variety of reasonable positions by persons of good will. I implore each and every citizen to examine their own hearts and determine through intelligent research which candidates to vote for this fall in national as well as local elections.
A great guide for Catholics and others is published by the Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops and is available in PDF form by clicking here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Vatican 2 "did you know?"

Many people would probably argue that the Second Vatican Council had little or nothing to say about birth control -or- the "regulation of birth" but that is not so. They might even say the Council basically left it up to the conscience of the individual - also not so. The longest document that the Council produced is "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World" (Gaudium et Spes). In the first half of the document, a foundation is laid for the necessity of the Church's activity in the modern world and in the second half specific issues are examined including marriage, family life and birth control.
As you may be aware, the more definitive document on this topic is an encyclical written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 entitled "Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life)". But the council has a few things to say about it as well in the Pastoral Constitution. There are a few long paragraphs and sections dealing with conjugal love and I will quote just a couple of sentences. In section 51 this paragraph sums up what the Church wants all of humanity to be aware of in regards to these matters:
"For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons and daughters of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law." (emphasis added) 
When I was newly married and deciding about these matters I did not follow what the Church taught but arbitrarily made my own decisions - something I deeply regret today. As I read the documents now and understand more fully the Church's teaching on the human person and human sexuality I finally "get it". The Church is NOT our enemy regarding marital love but teaches in a way that allows the spouses to live it out in beautiful and meaningful ways. I challenge all who have read this post to go the links below and read all of Humanae Vitae and sections 47-52 in Gaudium et Spes.
Comment and let me know what you think. Do these teaching surprise you?
Humanae Vitae

Gaudium et Spes:

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

People and work and things...

As I continue to study the documents of the Second Vatican Council statements like the one above take on a deeper meaning. In "The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World", no small amount of space was dedicated to human labor. This realization comes first from the fact that Jesus Christ was a skilled laborer. He was a carpenter, one who worked with His hands to fashion items to make life easier for others. In our world today, indeed in my own work experience, people are often used - often with their permission. Such was the case with me. I worked very hard and stayed on the job for long hours in my previous state of employment because I wanted to get ahead. I wanted to please my boss and I was self-driven to excel. Although in one regard there is nothing wrong with any of those motives, it is when I allowed them to become obsessive and when they actually obscured (rather than supported) my vocation as husband and father that they became sinful. In other words, I allowed myself to be used.
In doing so I was worshiping work and the things I could get from working. I often fooled myself into believing I was doing these things for "the good of the family" but oftentimes I just wanted more stuff or nicer stuff. 
In a document written several years after the Council (Laborem Exercens, On Human Labor), Pope John Paul II (a huge contributor at Vatican II) says this: "The Christian vision of reality focuses on the human person and their dignity as created in God's image." This means that the PERSON must always be the priority of work. In other words, work is for the person and NOT the person for work. The Pope goes on to say: "Work is a great thing but man in incomparably greater. Man is sacred and this sacredness is inviolable."
The questions become these:
  1. Are you aware of what the Catholic Church teaches about human labor and the reality of work?
  2. What is your personal view of your own work? Are you a workaholic? Have you allowed yourself to be "used" in the workplace?
  3. Have you "cheated" your employer by not putting forth the reasonable amount of time and effort requested?
By the way, I found the image at the top of this post on Fr Bob Lacey's Facebook page.

Recognizing Jesus

In the Gospel reading for Mass today, Jesus is recognized for who is REALLY is as Messiah, Son of God, the Holy One of God, etc. etc. This recognition does not come from one of His followers, friends, or disciples but from a demon! (Luke 4:31-37) This causes me to question my own perception or image of Jesus. Who is He, to me? Do I see Jesus as a human, specially blessed, but still just a man? Do I see Him as a convenient friend who can work His magic and get me out of a tight spot? Is He, for me, something like an aspirin that I only reach for when I need it? All of these are common and erroneous ways of relating to Jesus. He is who the demon described - the Holy One of God! He is the Savior, the Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and Messiah. Jesus is who He is regardless of who I want Him to be. Many of the Jews who followed Jesus thought he would be the one to throw off Roman oppression and restore the Davidic kingdom to Israel. Many of us today think Jesus is going to overthrow our enemies so we can live the life of wealth and convenience that we desire.
Today, take a few moments to ponder how you would recognize Jesus. Is He, for you, the Holy One of God? Is He your savior? (Which means that you need to be saved.) Do His peaceful, humble, and tough love ways make you uncomfortable?  If you can answer "yes" to these then you are well on the way to true recognition of, and relationship with, the One who loves you best.