Tuesday, January 28, 2014

What on earth am I doing here????


One of the ministries I am involved in is to teenagers who are in trouble. These young men and women are usually locked up because of alcohol and/or drug use, running away, or because they are simply in need of supervision and the State does not know what to do with them. As my partner and I meet with them we often ask "What on earth are you doing here?" This does not mean "why are you locked up", it means "what could/should you be doing with your life?" Most of these teens have never considered where life may be leading them and how their choices are effecting their options. We encourage them to keep asking themselves the question "What on earth am I doing here?". We recommend that they take that question to God each and every night before they go to sleep and then spend a few moments in silence - just in case God might want to give them an answer. That way they will (hopefully) make choices that lead them to a life of fulfillment, true freedom and peace.
What about you? What on earth on you doing here? Do you have a sense of purpose and/or vocation in your life? The little tricolor illustration above is a good way to evaluate your self. YOU may have an idea of what you want to do with life - that's the yellow circle. As you consider your own talents and desires you may feel led in a particular direction. The blue circle we will call "other people and circumstances". You may have close friends or family members who advise you or encourage you to choose a certain path. But you must also consider the "circumstances" of your life. Not every path is open to every person due to education, location, skill, talent, etc. The Red circle is God. It can be difficult to hear the "still, small voice" of God in our culture. Prayer and listening is ESSENTIAL! Spend some quality time with God today and make a habit of spending at least 5 minutes with God EVERYDAY. God's advice to us in Scripture is to "be still and know" (Psalm 46). Begin today and allow your Maker to assist you in discerning your calling.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Obsessed? Who's obsessed?

Obsession is a word used frequently in our society today. There seems to be a growing obsession with being obsessed, you might say.  The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines the word as “a persistent disturbing preoccupation with an often unreasonable idea or feeling”. There are other definitions given as well but this is the first one listed. Words to note in that definition are “preoccupation” and “unreasonable”.
Do you know people who are obsessed with something? Could you be described as a person with an obsession? In our day, people get obsessed with Facebook, video games, sports, technology, and so on. While these seem like innocent obsessions, they can become harmful when they interrupt normal human interaction and preoccupy the person constantly. People also get obsessed about more disturbing things like drugs or pornography. These obsessions can rise to the level of addiction and they not only damage the person, these obsessions can have very negative social consequences.
Sometimes the Catholic Church is accused of having an obsession about abortion but I would disagree with that. Going back to the definition of obsession, I don’t think the way our Church treats abortion is a “disturbing preoccupation” nor is it “unreasonable”. If our Church were preoccupied with abortion you would be hearing about it CONSTANTLY. It would be the subject of nearly every homily, bulletin article and newsletter. But  that simply is not true, is it? Most of us hear a homily on the topic of abortion once or twice per year. We may never hear one on artificial contraception, embryonic stem cell research or other issues related to the earliest stages of life.
In a recent interview with the Boston Globe, Cardinal Sean O’Malley had this to say:
“The normal Catholic in the parish might hear a sermon on abortion once a year. They’ll never hear a sermon on homosexuality or gay marriage. They’ll never hear a sermon about contraception. But if you look at the New York Times, in the course of a week, there will be 20 articles on those topics. So who is obsessed? Now, the Church’s positions are very clear and very consistent. For us, life is at the very center of our social teachings. Life is precious. It is a mystery. It must be nurtured, protected, the transmission of life is sacred. And our defense of human life is a great service to society. When the state begins to decide who is worthy of living and who isn’t, all human rights are put in jeopardy, but the voice of the church is very clear. And we’re not just saying that life is precious in the womb but life is precious when someone has Alzheimer’s when someone has AIDS when someone is poor when someone has mental illness. Their humanity is not diminished – and they have a claim on our love and on our services. So the church’s position is a very consistent one. It is a consistent life ethic. I don’t think that we are obsessed, however, when the New York Times is writing 20 articles a week about these things and make reference to the Church in half of those articles, it gives the impression. But I think in the parishes, these things are talks, in a routine way, in CCD classes, along with the rest of the Catholic doctrine but all of our teachings fit together. They’re part of a whole. There’s a consistency in our life ethic.”
I don’t know about you, but I like that statement. It very clearly states that, as Catholics, we are respecters of life at absolutely every stage, that we honor and protect human life as sacred - no matter what.
I am writing this article on Wednesday, January 22nd, the 41st Anniversary of the legalization of abortion in the United States. Yes, our Church still prays, marches, and stands against that decision. We hope beyond all hope that the hearts of the people in our country can be changed so that life can be seen as the gift it truly is. We love every person regardless of their “stage” of life or state in life be it in the womb, in the prison, in the nursing home, the intensive care unit or in a hospice facility. We serve people in need with food, health care, clothing, shelter, counseling and a plethora of other services designed to enhance their human dignity. These are the things that make me proud to be Catholic.
If that means I am obsessed then so be it!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

To kill or not to kill?...

If you live in South Dakota you should know that there will be a bill introduced in this legislative session entitled "An Act to Repeal the Death Penalty as it Applies to All Prospective Homicides". It has not been introduced yet and all that is available is a draft copy. In this form it is a very simple bill - it reclassifies 1st Degree Murder as a Class B felony thereby taking the death penalty off the table of sentencing options.
This bill is being introduced by a man who was a strong supporter of the death penalty at one time, Rep. Steve Hickey. In a recent article with KELO TV he said that he changed his mind after realizing that the death penalty is not a deterrent, does not save the state money and does not increase public safety.
I would like to state my support for this action to repeal the death penalty. Besides the reasons that Rep. Hickey states I would add that we do not have the right to take life  - that responsibility rests with God and with God alone. Certainly, state and local governments are responsible for public safety and need to do what they can to protect us from dangerous individuals. Fortunately, we have the means to do that in our state prison system. Killing an individual does nothing to enhance the state's ability to ensure the safety of the people. (There was an unfortunate incident in the Sioux Falls penitentiary recently where a guard was killed by men serving sentences for terrible crimes. If I understand what has been reported about that incident it seems that protocols and policies were not followed. If they had been these men would never have had the chance to kill this public servant.)
Naturally, I could go on and on with many other reasons of my own but I would rather hear from you. So...

Where do you stand? - and why? - please weigh in!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Immigration, immigration. What's a Deacon to do?

As a person who grew up with strong politically conservative views my opinions on immigration (legal and illegal) were quite strict. It seemed to me that migrants were just going to be a burden on our economic, governmental and social structures. As a lawful society we should simply round up these "illegals" and get them shipped out - and do it quickly.
But then something happened that I didn't expect. Through my ministry in the jails, detention centers, homeless shelters, and prisons I started meeting some "illegals" face-to-face. Their stories are much different than the stereotype I had in my mind. I thought they just came to the United States to take jobs from our people, to take advantage of our health-care, and become a drain on our welfare systems. The reality (at least for most) is quite different. Many were brought here as infants or young children with their parents. They have lived here most of their lives and really have no connection to another country. Their parents came here to escape a severe poverty and economic situation that left them no opportunity to even feed their children. Most work in menial jobs and are paid in cash at a wage that is much below the minimum. If they are caught they are held in jail and then (usually) deported to their home country. Often this leaves their spouse and children here with no means of support.
I guess the point I am trying to make is this: The problem is NOT a simple one, it is a HUMAN one and therefore demands a humane response - especially from the Catholic Church and from all Christians. Certainly, we should do our best to know who is entering our country and what their intentions are and that's the job of the people hired to regulate the borders.  But just as certainly we need to realize that ALL persons in the world are our brothers and sisters in Christ regardless of their migration status and that's our job. In the Catholic Church we call this the principle of Solidarity. Obviously, these people need help and assistance and an understanding response from us.
At this time of year it may be beneficial to remember that Mary and Joseph had to flee from their home country and enter a foreign land to protect Jesus from an unjust ruler. We can assume they found people willing to take them in and give them a helping hand. In assisting or denying the "strangers among us" today we are saying "yes or no" to Jesus, himself (Mt 25: 31-46). 
I realize that this is an emotional and political hot button issue. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.