How to Help the Philippines

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Typhoon Haiyan was one of the worst storms ever recorded.

America dispatched forces, at the request of the Philippine government, to help with the devastation caused by Hurricane Haiyan.

From NBC News:

American forces were dispatched to the Philippines as the Pacific island country struggled to cope Sunday after one of the most powerful storms in recorded history killed thousands — possibly as many as 10,000 — and wreaked damage far worse than expected.

“At the request of the government of Philippines, Secretary Hagel has directed U.S. Pacific Command to support U.S. government humanitarian relief operations in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan,” the Department of Defense said in a statement late on Saturday night.  

The first wave of U.S. force  — a team of 90 Marines and sailors — flew to Philippines on Sunday to assist with search and rescue operations and provide air support, the Marines said in a statement.

The Pope offered prayers and urged Catholics everywhere to pitch in and help these people.

From Catholic Herald.co.uk:

Pope Francis led prayers for people hit by a deadly typhoon in the Philippines and surrounding region, and asked that concrete aid be sent soon.

During the Angelus with pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square yesterday, the pope expressed his concern and prayers for the estimated tens of thousands of people dead and others affected by Super Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated parts of the central Philippines over the weekend.

“I wish to express my closeness to the people of the Philippines and that region that has been hit by a terrible typhoon. Unfortunately the victims are many and the damage is enormous,” he said.

He asked the tens of thousands of people gathered in the square to join him in a moment of silent prayer “for these brothers and sisters and let’s try also to make our concrete help reach them.”

In response to the tragedy, Pope Francis made an initial donation of $150,000 for the relief efforts through the Pontifical Council Cor Unum.

The money, sent through the local churches hardest hit by the storm, was earmarked to support “assistance for the displaced and those impacted by the flooding,” the Vatican said in a written statement.

The pope also sent a telegram to Philippine President Benigno Aquino saying he was “deeply pained by the destruction and loss of human lives”.

In the message, he also encouraged civil authorities and rescue workers in their efforts and prayed that God would offer “the nation strength and consolation.”

Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based confederation of humanitarian agencies of the Catholic Church, reported today that more than 9.5 million people are in need of aid and 600,000 people have been forced from their homes.

Here is a list of places you can contact to give aid to the people in the Phillipines:

Catholic Relief Services

Caritas Manila

Save the Children 

Salvation Army

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

Samaritan’s Purse

Anglican Overseas Aid 

Philippine Red Cross

Supporting Our Troops

Remembering those who serve.

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Pope Francis: Sinners Repent. The Corrupt Do Not.

Pope Francis gave a hard-hitting homily during his daily morning mass.

“We are all sinners,” he said. “But we are not corrupt. The corrupt remain in a state of self-sufficiency and don’t understand humility.”

This is a homily for the “Christian” West, if there ever was one.

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Helping Others … Helps You

What sort of people take part in Catholic Volunteer Services? How does volunteering affect their lives?

The short answer is good people, whose lives are enhanced by the experience.

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Is Latin Making a Comeback?

Latin is an excellent way to learn English.

Does that sound counter-intuitive?

It’s based on my own experience of studying Latin. I don’t know that I learned much Latin, but the study of it taught me the English language inside out. Studying Latin was a beneficial activity for me that I do not regret in the least.

Nothing gets arguments going like the subject of the Catholic Church and Latin. I’ve seen remarkably exaggerated comments from people on both sides of this discussion. To me, Latin is a language, and like every other language, it is a tool for communication. The Latin that we use today is easy stuff, mainly because it’s a dead language. That means it doesn’t have the burden of idioms from common usage to muddy it.

We basically use the Latin of the great Roman poets, not the every day Roman. It is simple and clear. For that reason, studying Latin is an effective prism for viewing a huge mess of a language like English. Latin allows the student to boil English down to its skeletal roots and see how it hangs together from the inside.

I’m not quite so enthusiastic about Latin as liturgy. I think it had a place once upon a time, and still has a place in a limited usage, even today. But the mass is more than the language in which it is prayed. The mass is communion and communication. It is prayer, worship, and mystery, all rolled into one.

Wrapping all this in a language that is inaccessible to most people can easily push the mystery over the edge into magic. The mass is many things, but it is not an incantation. The Eucharist, which is the sum total of the Church itself, is the point where heaven and earth meet. It is the simple and plain way in which ordinary people can reach out and touch the living Christ and, like the woman who touched the hem of His garment, be healed.

It is not a magic charm and it is not a superstition.

For many people the Latin mass deepened the mystery of the mass to the point that it became inaccessible. Rather than the reverence which proponents of the Latin mass feel and miss, it became something that verged on superstition for a lot of people.

Mass in the vernacular is an antidote for that. By making the mass accessible, it allows people who are willing to bring worshipful hearts to their mass attendance to enter into the upper room.

The mass is a re-creation of Calvary. It is where heaven and earth meet in the Eucharist which is given for all. As such, it should be both beautiful and accessible. That’s why  I dislike it when the liturgists load it down with ugly words like “consubstantial.” Not only is this language inaccessible to many people, it is flat-out ugly. I think that it challenges the reverence that the mass is due with this ugliness.

As for the question of whether or not Latin is making a comeback, I hope it is. Latin is a beautiful language. Studying Latin is a useful enterprise. The Latin mass should be an option for those who benefit from it and who grow spiritually by participating in it.

But the mass needs to be accessible. After all, the mass brings us into contact with a Savior Who spoke to us about rainfall and harvests, lost coins and wedding feasts. If He could be accessible, so should the celebration of His Body and Blood.

I know that those are fighting’ words. So now that I’ve said them I’ll back off and let the discussion begin.

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US Bishops Get Ready to Elect New President

Cardinal Dolan is stepping down as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I imagine that he has mixed feelings about this.

On the on the one hand, an enormous amount of responsibility, as well as the stress of being the public face of the Catholic Church in America, will be lifted off him. On the other hand, he’s so good at it, that he’s bound to enjoy it. I’m sure that after he steps down, he will both miss it and be glad it’s gone.

In the meantime, here is a run down on the list of candidates. Given the tumultuous times the Church is facing, I pray the bishops chose Cardinal Dolan’s successor wisely.

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Message to the Vatican: Traditional Families Need Your Help

After all the hullaballoo, it turns out that the Vatican is not seeking input from the laity about it teachings, procedures, or anything else.

The survey the Vatican announced a week ago is designed to collect raw data at the diocesan level. It is not, as the popular press implied, a poll of the laity on Church doctrine and discipline. The data will be used as a resource in the 2014 Synod.

I’ve seen the survey, and I hope that it is not fully reflective of the issues that will be considered in the Synod. I am concerned that it is too focused on the needs of “new” family structures and not enough on how the Church can better support the traditional family.

I realize that the problems and the noise from those in “new” family structures tends to focus Vatican attention. But while those in “new” family structures are making all the demands and creating all the fuss, traditional families are quietly foundering.

Men and women, husbands and wives, in traditional Catholic families need a lot — and I mean a lot — more teaching and support, both spiritual and practical, from their Church. I hope that the bishops do not have the idea that what the Church is doing now to support traditional families within their care is enough. It simply is not, and I point to the need for this survey on “new” family structures as an indication of how serious the problem is becoming.

The huge increase in these “new” family structures which predicates surveys and Synods on how to deal with them is, to a great extent, testimony to the fact that traditional families have been suffering and failing. Traditional family has been under unremitting, concerted attack for almost 5 decades now. The Church needs to change how it supports traditional families to reflect this reality.

We need new and more inclusive ways of nurturing healthy Catholic families for the simple reason that traditional Christian families are under such enormous destructive pressure in this post Christian society. This destructive pressure bears down on every area of family life, from the way jobs are constructed, to social pressures, to the propaganda our children are inundated with in the public schools.

As Yogi Beara said, “The future ain’t what it used to be.”

If the church truly is a community, building healthy Catholic families by providing practical support of many types has to be part of its ministry.

From the National Catholic Register:

Vatican Collecting Diocesan Data, Not Lay Opinions in Worldwide Survey (2030)

Multiple media reports have given rise to the misconception that Pope Francis is polling Catholics for their views on Church teaching and practices.

 11/08/2013 Comments (3)

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi and Archbishop Bruno Forte, special secretary of the 2014 Synod of Bishops, speak Nov. 5 at the Vatican.

WASHINGTON — Pope Francis wants to know about the state of marriage and the family in the Church, before the bishops meet in Rome for an extraordinary synod next year. However, the lay faithful should not expect to be receiving a survey on their views from the Vatican anytime soon.

For one thing, the Vatican’s survey is being handled at the diocesan level, and the aim is to collect raw data, not opinions on Church doctrine or discipline, in advance of the 2014 synod. The data will help inform the bishops as they develop pastoral solutions for the challenges faced by modern families.

“Each bishop determines what is the most useful and reasonable manner of consultation to assist him in preparing his report for the Vatican,” said Don Clemmer, assistant director of media relations at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

Clemmer said once a diocese completes its report, the data will be sent back to the USCCB and then forwarded on to the Vatican.

 

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/vatican-collecting-diocesan-data-not-lay-opinions-in-worldwide-survey?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+NCRegisterDailyBlog+National+Catholic+Register#When:2013-11-8%2022:12:01#ixzz2kAjgql7O

Will Illinois’ Proposed Gay Marriage Law Violate Religious Freedom?

If you don t like gay marriage

Will Illinois create discrimination in the name of ending discrimination?

Illinois’ bill redefining marriage to include same-sex “marriages,” is on the governor’s desk, awaiting his signature.

Proponents of the bill say that ti will end discrimination against homosexuals. Others are concerned that a lack of exemptions for individuals and small business owners, including one-owner businesses, will allow coercion and a violation of these citizen’s basic right to religious freedom.

One thing that is commonly (and I think, deliberately) overlooked in discussions of this issue is that religious freedom and freedom of conscience are basic human rights.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Illinois’ gay marriage bill that awaits the governor’s signature doesn’t force religious clergy to officiate at same-sex weddings or compel churches to open their doors for ceremonies. But similar safeguards aren’t spelled out for pastry chefs, florists, photographers and other vendors who, based on religious convictions, might not want to share a gay couple’s wedding day.

The lack of broader exceptions worries some who fear an erosion of religious freedoms, even as supporters of the law say it will eliminate discrimination.

“We’re going to have to wait for lawsuits to arrive,” said Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society, a socially conservative legal group.

President Requires Insurance Coverage for Mental Illness and Addiction

Drug addiction

President Obama has used his mighty law-making pen to require all insurance carriers to provide coverage for mental health treatment and addiction in the same manner as they do physical illnesses.

This is part of a package of regulations designed to stop the mass shootings this country has experienced. The proponents of this action say that it will not result in a large increase in the cost of health care coverage. I do not believe that. I think it will cost a huge amount.

I have unhappy family experience with addiction, and I don’t have much hope that this measure will curb the plague of drug addiction and alcoholism that is warping our society. I’ve seen what happens when people are sentenced to drug treatment by the courts. I’ve also seen what happens when their family persuades them to go to an expensive treatment program.

The drug treatment plan my family member attended because of court order was a scam. The family member was supposed to be in residence 24/7 as part of their treatment, but they came and went as they chose. There was no effort to enforce the rules or kick this person out. The treatment facility was raking in government money and not even enforcing its own rules with people that were sentenced to it by the courts.

I’ve also had unhappy experience with an expensive (very expensive) private treatment program. I went to meetings for family members and did the whole nine yards. The place was full of doctors, police, and others who had been sent there in order to keep their professional standing. They were not sorry. About anything.

The viewpoint expressed in meetings was that their families, friends and colleagues were … I can’t repeat the language … for being angry with them for the things they’d done in their addictions. These were privileged people, doing the doh-si-doh required for them to keep their license.

My family member went through the program and then got out and went right back to using.

On the other hand, I have seen people stop using and rebuild their lives and reclaim their souls just by going to the entirely free and voluntary Alcoholics Anonymous program.

No drug treatment program will help people who don’t want to be helped, and if someone really wants to stop, the expensive programs aren’t necessary. Also, the ones I’ve seen are overpriced — massively overpriced — and catering to their clientele more than they are treating them. Many of them are just raking in government money and processing people with no real concern about treating them.

I am concerned that the mental health care that will come about as a result of this ruling will be somewhat the same.

We have taken the idea of “treatment” as a panacea for ghastly behavior to the max. I have read that some of the young men who have killed large numbers of people in these mass murders were mentally ill. However, most of them were also from privileged well-to-do families with access to any care they needed. In fact, at least one of them that I’ve read about was under treatment at the time he committed the murders.

I am not opposed to mental health care for mentally ill people. In fact, I support it.

But I think that using this treatment as a catch-all cure for what are much deeper social ills will not and can not work. I think it is dodging the real issues, which are complex and require more of us as a society than just paying for some “expert” to fix people for us. I also think that simply handing over the money without stringent requirements about the quality of care is a mistake.

Drug addiction treatment, in particular, is, at least in my experience, over-priced and under-effective unless the person receiving the treatment truly wants to change and is motivated to endure what it takes to do that. In that case, free programs such as Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous are effective. In fact, from what I’ve seen, Alcoholics Anonymous is actually far more effective and beneficial than expensive treatment programs.

I realize that desperate family members who drain their life savings to send their loved ones to treatment for their addictions are doing it because the person they love will not go to meetings, do the work and endure the suffering required to heal from their addiction. They are losing someone they love and they are willing to do anything — including destroy themselves financially — to save them.

I have felt the same desperation and grieved the same grief over someone I love who is caught in the living death of addiction.

However, I speak from experience with the tragedy of addiction when I say that it’s up to the addicted person to want to change. If they ever reach the point that they are motivated to get help because they want to change for themselves, then AA or AN will do a fine job of helping them heal. Otherwise, bankrupting yourself will not help them.

By the same token, forcing insurance companies to open their coffers to pay for these outrageously expensive drug treatment programs will not help people who do not want to change, either. Statements that this will not raise the cost of health care are nonsense. These programs are massively expensive.

Since health insurance is now on the government dole, it will almost certainly end up contributing to our burgeoning national debt.

I wish there was a magic cure for these problems, but there isn’t.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday will complete a generation-long effort to require insurers to cover care for mental health and addiction just like physical illnesses when it issues long-awaited regulations defining parity in benefits and treatment.

The rules, which will apply to almost all forms of insurance, will have far-reaching consequences for many Americans. In the White House, the regulations are also seen as critical to President Obama’s program for curbing gun violence by addressing an issue on which there is bipartisan agreement: Making treatment more available to those with mental illness could reduce killings, including mass murders.

In issuing the regulations, senior officials said, the administration will have acted on all 23 executive actions that the president and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced early this year to reduce gun crimes after the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. In planning those actions, the administration anticipated that gun control legislation would fail in Congress as pressure from the gun lobby proved longer-lasting than the national trauma over the killings of first graders and their caretakers last Dec. 14.

“We feel actually like we’ve made a lot of progress on mental health as a result in this year, and this is kind of the big one,” said a senior administration official, one of several who described the outlines of the regulations that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, will announce at a mental health conference on Friday in Atlanta with the former first lady Rosalynn Carter.

What Are You Gonna Do? Arrest Me for Praying?

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The Supreme Court heard arguments this week on whether or not the town of Greece NY had violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The reason?  Most of the prayers that opened its city council meetings were given by Christians. 

From what I’ve read, Greece opened its city council meetings with prayers from many faiths through the years, including Jewish and pagans. The argument is that most of the prayers were offered by Christians, which means …

What?

Evidently it means that Americans United for Separation of Church and State found a couple of people to say that this offended them and were who willing to be plaintiffs in a court case. This Court case has ended up at the United States Supreme Court. 

The issue in Town of Greece v Galloway, as described on the Supreme Court Blog, is …

Issue: Whether the court of appeals erred in holding that a legislative prayer practice violates the Establishment Clause notwithstanding the absence of discrimination in the selection of prayer-givers or forbidden exploitation of the prayer opportunity.

What is the establishment clause that gives the federal government the right to intrude into small-town city council meetings and censure the speech of citizens who address those meetings? Just this: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.

That clause, (which, by the way is an accurate description of it, it is a clause and not a sentence) is the pry bar that those who hate religion in general and Christianity in particular have used for decades to attack the presence of religious speech in the public sphere.

Of course, the clause is not a sentence. Here the entire sentence in which this clause rests: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

Those of you who read the comments on this blog might have noticed that there is a group that decries the fact that these rights — all of them, by the way — apply to Christians as well as other citizens. 

“Christians can believe whatever they want,” they say, “but I don’t want them trying to force their beliefs on me.”

They are not talking about mobs of Christians showing up on their front yard carrying torches and demanding that they get baptized. 

No.

What they are talking about and speaking against and trying to stop is the exercise of these free rights by American citizens who happen to also be Christians. What they are objecting to is that there are people, some of whom are  motived by their Christian faith, who vote according to their conscience and petition their government either by contacting their elected officials or through the courts.

They steadfastly refuse to admit this, even as they maintain the position, but what they are objecting to is the freedoms of other Americans to disagree with them and to act on that disagreement. 

In other words, what they object to is the fact that Christians have and exercise the same rights that they do. They try to frame political involvement by Christians as somehow or another a violation of “separation of church and state” or, failing that, an attempt to “force other people” to do something or other. 

But it is not. All Americans, including Christians, have these rights. That is called democracy. 

This one-sided application of American rights and freedoms shows up with boring repetition in the com boxes and public debate. It also shows up in court cases. The establishment clause, it would seem, is the only part of the First Amendment that those who want to limit religious expression in the public sphere believe should apply to Christians. 

All that stuff about the government not interfering with the free exercise of religion, or everyone having free speech and the right to petition the government, including Christians, is nixed right out of their conversations and their court cases. These same people will make self-righteous statements about how they support the Constitution, but what they mean is they support their own interpretation of the Constitution and want to use that interpretation as a hammer to beat those who disagree with them into silence. 

For the past few decades, the Supreme Court has been playing catch to their throw. Every case that gets tossed to the Court ends up limiting religious expression in public situations. The Town of Greece v Galloway is particularly galling because it is aimed directly at one religious group, and that group is Christians. 

I don’t know what the Supreme Court is going to do with this case. But I do know that I, for one, will feel no compunction to obey any ruling limiting my right to pray in public. I say that as an elected official and an American citizen who has the right to free speech.

I’ll pray if I want. 

What are they going to do? Arrest me for praying? 

From Fox News:

The Supreme Court is wrestling with the appropriate role for religion in government in a case involving prayers at the start of a New York town’s council meetings.

The justices engaged in a lively give-and-take Wednesday that highlighted the sensitive nature of offering religious invocations in public proceedings that don’t appeal to everyone and of governments’ efforts to police the practice.

The court is weighing a federal appeals court ruling that said the Rochester suburb of Greece, N.Y., violated the Constitution because nearly every prayer in an 11-year span was overtly Christian.

The tenor of the argument indicated the justices would not agree with the appellate ruling. But it was not clear what decision they might come to instead.

Justice Elena Kagan summed up the difficult task before the court when she noted that some people believe that “every time the court gets involved, things get worse instead of better.”

Greece is being backed by the Obama administration and many social and religious conservative groups in arguing that the court settled this issue 30 years ago when it held that an opening prayer is part of the nation’s fabric and not a violation of the First Amendment. Some of those groups want the court to go further and get rid of legal rules that tend to rein in religious expression in the public sphere.

On the other side are the two town residents who sued over the prayers and the liberal interest groups that support them. Greece residents Susan Galloway and Linda Stephens say they and others who attend the meetings are a captive audience and should not be subjected to sectarian prayers.

At its broadest, the outcome could extend well beyond prayer and also affect holiday displays, aid to religious schools, Ten Commandments markers and memorial crosses. More narrowly, the case could serve as a test of the viability of the decision in Marsh v. Chambers, the 1983 case that said prayer in the Nebraska Legislature did not violate the First Amendment’s clause barring laws “respecting an establishment of religion,” known as the Establishment Clause.

Conversations with God

Prayer

Prayer is a conversation.

Prayer is an action.

Prayer is friendship, love, companionship and trust.

It is not a performance or a recipe you must follow to “get it right.”

I’ve read a trove of books and articles about prayer down through the years, all of them well-meaning, and none of them either wrong or right. The authors of these books and articles seek to give Christians instructions or a methodology for doing prayer right.

The most common advice is to avoid laundry-list prayers in which you just say “I want this. I want that.” as if He was your personal genie and prayer was the lamp. That’s good advice, by the way, for the reason that just listing your wants is not prayer at all for the simple reason that it’s not conversation. It is, at base, rude and presumptuous. How would you feel if the only time you heard from your kids is when they want something?

But the writers who give this advice usually try to help you out by giving you a formula to follow before you present your list of wants. Begin your prayers with another list, they tell you. List your thank-yous. Then move into a list of praises for the wonderment of God’s creation. Don’t forget to ask forgiveness for your sins. After all this, you can get back to the real reason for praying and trot out that list of wants.

The main problem with this advice is that it’s just another kind of clocking in. It is predicated on formulas found in the Old Testament (Think Abraham dickering with the angels over Sodom and Gomorrah) and also mirrors the formulas of many public worship services.

Even though it is based on legitimate foundations, when you go through it as you kneel beside your bed at night, it is not genuine. You may be following the recipe, but your heart is really only in the end piece where you ask for the things you want.

There is nothing wrong, in fact, there is a whole lot right with saying thank you to God for the blessings of your life. There is certainly nothing wrong with pondering His greatness. We all need to confess our sins and ask His forgiveness. It is wise to do this daily.

But you don’t need to go through this whole list of worship stuff in order to pray. In fact, practicing prayer in this way can lead to, well, practicing prayer instead of actually praying from the heart. If it’s a performance, God sees through it, even more clearly than you do — and if you will admit it, you see through it too.

Other people advise that you use a totally formulaic approach. The most common formula used by Catholics is the prayer-meditation of the Rosary. Protestants urge the laying on of hands and a sort of rotational prayer among friends. They also advise “claiming God’s promises” by quoting a verse of Scripture and telling God you are “claiming” His promise in that scripture.

I’m a big fan of the Rosary myself. Prayerfully meditating on the Gospels through the heart of Mary is a powerful experience. I’ve also had groups of people gather around me, lay their hands on me and take turns praying for me. That’s an incredibly powerful experience, as well.

I am, however, not so much in favor of the “claiming God’s promises” stuff. The prayers I’ve heard that were done in this way sounded more like an attempt to bully God than worship Him. But maybe I just haven’t heard it done right. I’ll leave that to people who know more about it.

Still other authors advise that you meditate on a painting or crucifix to focus your mind while you pray. There are those who tell you to set aside a place in your home for your prayers.

None of this is bad advice in itself — except perhaps for the effrontery of reminding God of His “promises” like a lawyer carping at a witness on the stand — and all of it can have positive applications.

However, these various pieces of advice and formula can leave the average Christian with tongue-tied brains where prayer is concerned.

I know.

I’ve been there.

I never could get into the first, say thank you, then praise god, then confess your sins, then ask for what you want formula. I tried it a couple of times, and it was dead as dirt for me. God and I both knew I had reduced Him to a little g god of doing it right instead of the big God Who is a living being. So I chucked that bit of advice almost as soon as I considered it.

However, I did drink deeply of the notion that I should not just ask God for things. Unfortunately for me, this led to a deeper and almost immediate shut down of praying altogether. Somehow I morphed this into an admonition not to bother God with my itty bitty stuff.

I almost quit praying for a time, simply because I’d read too many books telling me all the right ways to pray, and the sum total of them was to make me feel that my little prayers were unworthy.

I reached the point that I never asked God for my wants, stopped talking to Him about my hurts and fears and pits and stains, aches and scars. I felt that all this stuff of my life was unworthy of Him and since it was just about everything I had going on in my mind, I didn’t have anything much to say.

When I first found Christ, I chattered to Him almost like a stream of consciousness prayer. I would fall asleep at night, just talking to the Lord about whatever was in my mind. But somewhere along the line, I become too sophisticated for that. I began to try to pray “right” and in the process, I found myself praying to a wall instead of entering into conversation with my heavenly Father.

My prayers got drier the more I censured them. When I read enough books to become convinced that it was wrong for me to go to Him with my picayune wants and needs, that I should only approach God with problems that were worthy of God, my prayers verged into formulaic deadness.

I stopped praying except in church because I didn’t feel that my prayers were worthy to be prayed.

It was a strange time of living faith without conversation with the One in Whom I had such faith.

In all this time, God never left me. His presence was right there with me, but He was quiet, letting me bumble around in my unworthiness.

What saved me was, ironically enough, a prayer. I had a personal problem, a family problem, that was driving me up one side of the proverbial wall and back down the other side and then back up again. It was one of those things I couldn’t solve and didn’t think I could bear. I just burst out saying, “Lord, I know I’m not supposed to talk to you about this, but it is more than I can handle.”

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but I realized as I was praying my desperation prayer about my desperate little problem that I had it all wrong. I was supposed to be talking to Him about these “little” things that make up my life. Because …

My prayers are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.

I are not “worthy” of Him. Ever.

That is the point of Calvary. The cross on which Jesus died is the bridge. We walk through Calvary onto the cross and into God’s loving arms. Not because we are “worthy” but because we are loved.

If you love God, you will find yourself thanking Him spontaneously. When you look into your baby’s eyes. When you finally get that new house. When you find a job. When you lie down at night in a comfortable bed. You’ll say “Thank you” from your grateful heart without any formalities.

If you love God, you will find your awe of His greatness spontaneously. When you look up at the night sky. Or down the tube of a microscope. When you see your child on an ultrasound or stand on a ship and watch a whale break through the water, glistening in the sunlight. You’ll know that He is God.

There is no reason to turn your prayers into formal worship sessions. Prayer is talk. Not God talk. But talking with God, your heavenly Father, Who loves you beyond your ability to comprehend.

It’s not only ok to chatter to God the way you did to your parents as a small child, it’s good. Prayer is putting your hand in His hand and walking through life beside Him.

I still pray the Rosary, by the way. I also pray a prayer of consecration to Our Lady. I do not ever refuse to have people lay hands on me and pray for me. Every single one of these things blesses and sustains me.

Real prayer is conversation and these things are just another type of conversation.

Don’t worry about praying worthily. Just consider that the same God Who made everything, everywhere; Who holds all of existence in existence with a single thought, enjoys your conversation that same way you enjoy listening to the talk of your little children or, as in my case, my elderly mother.

Consider that miracle of miracles. And be grateful.

Then talk to Him from your heart.

How Sweetie Catches Pedophiles and What You Can Do to Help

Sweetie doesn’t suffer because of what these men do.

However, your daughter will.

Webcam sex tourism is the name given to the action of pedophiles who use the computer to hire children to participate in on-line sex with them. Sweetie is a computer-generated avatar that the non-profit organization Terre des Homes has used to gather the names of over 1,000 pedophiles which they have since turned over to the police.

Sweetie may look like a little girl, but she is not. She will not be degraded and emotionally deformed by the action of these men. However, your daughters are not avatars. They are vulnerable to pedophiles who hang out at on-line chat rooms.

Part of your job as parent is to make sure you know what your kids are doing on-line. I know this can be difficult, but the damage one of these pedophiles can do to your little girl’s emotional and sexual development is enormous. Protect your daughter.

I congratulate Terre des Hommes for their innovative work in this area. At the same time, I question why the many police agencies around the world have not done more to catch these guys.

If a nonprofit with motivation can do this, why can’t the police?

“The laws need to be enforced,” says Maria Santo Pais of the United Nations.

Duh.

This video has a petition at the end of it that you can sign to help end the practice of webcam child sex tourism. I also put a link to the petition below.

In the meantime, I’m going to see what Oklahoma law can do about it.

Stop webcam child sex tourism!

Help Terre des Hommes help the kids behind the web cams.

Sign the petition now!

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Vatican Bans Medjugorje Apparitions in US Churches

Medjugorje

I don’t much about Medjugorje.

I’m not even really sure how to pronounce it.

For those who are even more uninformed that me, Medjugorje is the site of what has been regarded by a lot of people as authentic visits by Our Lady.

I know people who’ve gone to Medjugorje and experienced profound spiritual awakening as a result of the trip. Was that because of the Marian apparitions, or the work of the Holy Spirit, Who is always there when two or three are gathered together in Jesus’ name?

I don’t know.

It appears that the Vatican doesn’t know, either.

In a move that evidently surprised those who are promoting the validity of the Medjugorje apparitions, the head of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a letter concerning Medjugorje to the USCCB for distribution to all American bishops. The letter instructs that “clerics and the faithful” may not “participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations in which the credibility” of the Marian apparitions at Medjugorje “are taken for granted.”

After a bit of consideration, this instruction makes sense.

The Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is investigating these apparitions to determine whether or not they are valid. They are simply asking the bishops — along with the rest of us — not to indirectly put the Church’s imprimatur on the apparitions before they have made a decision about them.

It seems that this letter was prompted by a planned tour of the United States by Medjugorje visionary Ivan Dragicevic.

I think what the Vatican has done with this letter is a reasonable action. I know that Medjugorje inspires deep emotions. If the Church decides that these visions are valid, I will accept that and not worry about it. I will do the same if the Church decides that they are not valid.

At the same time, I believe the things my friends who’ve been there have told me about their personal spiritual awakenings. Since I believe that God works with all of us, all the time, I don’t see the two things as contradictory.

I think it’s good for us not to get ahead of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and promote the Marian Apparitions at Medjugorje as valid before they have made a decision about it.

I trust the Church in these matters.

From Medjugorje Today:

“His Excellency wishes to inform the Bishops that one of the so-called visionaries of Medjugorje, Mr. Ivan Dragicevic, is scheduled to appear at certain parishes around the country, during which time he will make presentations regarding the phenomenon of Medjugorje. It is anticipated, moreover, that Mr. Dragicevic will be receiving “apparitions” during these scheduled appearances” the papal nuncio opens his letter to the US Bishops that has been obtained by the Catholic news portal Spirit Daily.

Archbishop Gerhard Müller, the Prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on whose behalf the papal nuncio writes his letter to the US Bishops

CDF is also the body to which the current Vatican Commission for investigation of the events of Medjugorje is going to report, the fact next addressed by the papal nuncio:

“As you are well aware, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is in the process of investigating certain doctrinal and disciplinary aspects of the phenomenon of Medjugorje. For this reason, the Congregation has affirmed that, with regard to the credibility of the “apparitions” in question, all should accept the declaration, dated 10 April 1991, from the Bishops of the former Republic of Yugoslavia, which asserts: “On the basis of the research that has been done, it is not possible to state that there were apparitions or supernatural revelations.”

The complete letter from the papal nuncio to the Catholic Bishops in the United States (click to enlarge)

“It follows, therefore, that clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such “apparitions” would be taken for granted.”

“In order, therefore, to avoid scandal and confusion, Archbishop Müller asks that the Bishops be informed of this matter as soon as possible” papal nuncio Carlo Maria Vigano ends his letter.

ENDA and Bully Politics

GAY RIGHTS march

The United States Senate is quietly passing a law, known by the acronym ENDA, (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that will place homosexuals in the same protected class as African Americans.

Personally, I am in favor of civil rights for gay people. They have the right to live their lives as they chose and to love whomever they want. They definitely should not be subjected to unjust discrimination. Homosexuals are human beings and American citizens.

However, I want the laws we pass to be just for everyone. Laws that seek to create a super category of citizen whose rights trump those of other citizens are, on their face, unjust laws. I am particularly concerned about issues of religious freedom.

I am also concerned about the way that Congress approaches legislation these days. I would wager that there are two incentives behind this particular bill. One is to pass a “hero deal” for the gay rights community. The motive for his is to pull gay activists and their dollars even closer to the Democratic Party. The other is to force the Republican House to either pass the bill and thus enrage a large part of their own base, or to kill and it and thus motivate the Democratic base.

One thing I’m reasonably sure is not under serious consideration is the impact ENDA would have on the lives and freedoms of ordinary Americans. I doubt if the question as to whether or not this is a good piece of legislation has been seriously discussed in the halls of Congress by either side of the debate.

According to a letter that the United States Conference of Bishops sent to members of the United States Senate, this proposed law would threaten religious liberty, support the redefinition of marriage, and reject the biological definition of gender. Those are serious charges, which should open the legislation for debate and amendment.

In the current climate, it is a stand-up action for the bishops to speak against this legislation. They, the Church, and faithful Catholics along with them, will be excoriated and called bigots and worse for having the temerity to suggest that the language of this legislation is flawed and too one-sided.

All this raises a couple of questions. First, is every piece of legislation that the gay rights community supports, by definition, good legislation that should not be debated, amended or critiqued for its content? Second, is expressing concern about bad language and specific components of a piece of legislation that is supported by gay rights advocates automatically, and by definition, an act of bigotry?

Have we reached the point where people of good will are unable to discuss legislation on its merits because of the mindless rhetoric and name-calling that is used to promote it?

I have the impression that Congress has moved past being a deliberative body and entered the arena of bully politics and don’t-read-the-bill-it-will-only-make-it-harder-to-vote-for-it.

I’ve done some of this myself, so I know a little bit about the emotions that push it. When a powerful special interest group wants something, every law-maker knows that the political price of opposing it will be terrible. If the special interest — in this case, gay rights advocates — wants something, and they are known for being a group that can turn on a dime and attack with intent to destroy in a personal way anyone who opposes them, the stakes grow higher.

If the special interest in question is also one that a law-maker has supported and been supported by in the past, the hill to climb to vote against or even amend a piece of legislation the special interest wants becomes a job-losing mountain.

Hence, the motivation to not read the bill. It’s easier to vote for a bad bill if you don’t read it or think about it or let yourself listen to requests to revise it.

I imagine the bishops would be happy to support a piece of legislation that addressed genuine discrimination against any group of people, and certainly something that addressed genuine discrimination against homosexuals.

It is truly a shame that Congress no longer deliberates about the legislation it passes, but just lines up the votes according to political consideration and then rams things through to see if they will hurt the opposing party in the next election.

I miss Congress. Congress matters.

Here is a copy of the letter issued by the USCCB concerning this law.

 

Bishop s end letter

Bishop s letter 2

Computer-Generated ‘Sweetie’ Snares Online Predators

An on-line sting set up by Dutch charity Terre des Hommes, identified 1000 predators trying to pay a child to perform sex acts. These predators included 254 Americans.

The sting was based on a computer-generated avatar of a little girl named “Sweetie.” As Angus Crawford, the author of a BBC News article about the sting described it, “…. a researcher logged on to a chat room as Sweetie. Within seconds, like sharks, men were circling.”

I am glad for stings like this. I hope there are more of them.

If you suffer from addiction to porn, I hope that you will seek help. Pornography is the objectification of another human being. It reduces women and children, who are made in the likeness and image of God, to the level things. It degrades and humiliates women and children. It also degrades the person who uses it.

Using pornography is using people. It is deeply sinful.

As for those who sexually abuse and exploit children, we should put them in prison and leave them there.

From BBC News:

70913692 sweetie

Sweetie, the computer avatar used to catch on-line sex predators. Source BBC.

More than 100 Britons were among 1,000 men caught trying to pay a computer-generated child to perform sex acts online, after a Dutch children’s charity set up a fake profile.

Terre des Hommes carried out a 10-week sting near Amsterdam, posing on video chat rooms as “Sweetie”, a 10-year-old Filipina girl.

Some 20,000 men contacted her, with 1,000 found to have offered her money.

When I visited the charity’s operations room – in a warehouse on the outskirts of Amsterdam – I watched as a researcher logged on to a chat room as Sweetie – incredibly life-like but created by a computer.

Within seconds, like sharks, men were circling.

Of the 1,000 men who were willing to pay Sweetie to take off her clothes in front of a webcam, 254 were from the US, followed by 110 from the UK and 103 from India.

Researchers used evidence including profiles on Skype and social media to identify the suspects.

Project director Hans Guyt told a news conference in the Hague on Monday that the crime “requires a new way of policing”.

“The predator won’t come forward. The victim won’t come forward,” he said.

“We identified ourselves as 10-year-old Filipino girls.

“We did not solicit anything unless it was offered to us.”

Even if I Die, I Should be the First One

Putharayil Fr Benny

Father Benny Putharayli

Even if I die, I should be the first one.

That was how Father Benny Putharayli evaluated the situation when the gunman who had invaded his church during mass gestured for him to step forward.

Father Putharayli’s parishioners were already on the floor, taking cover. A gunman had walked into the Church of St Michael in Ray, ND during mass and yelled, “Stop Father!”

“It was a shocking moment because I was preaching,” the priest recounted. The parishioners hit the floor and that left Father Putharayli the only one standing.

When the gunman gestured for the priest to come forward, Father Putharayli thought, “Even if I die, I should be the first one.”

I would guess that Father’s thoughts were almost instantaneous. This doesn’t sound like the kind of situation where someone has time to weigh their ideas and contemplate consequences. Moments like this strip away the intellectual boundaries we place between who we are and who we would like to be.

It sounds as if that split second thought was Father Putharayli, offering his life for that of his parishioners.

The gunman was a killer. He had murdered two people, including his 82-year-old mother, before coming to the church. Fortunately, he only wanted money from the parishioners. But Father Putharayli didn’t know this when he was looking down the barrel of that shotgun, and given that he was dealing with someone so depraved that he had killed his own mother, things could easily have turned bloody in that church that evening.

The world gets crazier and violent acts multiply. But, even in the midst of this violence, individual acts of heroism and self-sacrifice witness to the best that’s in us. That is one of the messages we need to take away from the many terrible events in our society. Good happens, and it happens in the worst of times.

I’m tired of asking the question “Why?” about the senseless violence in our society? The operative word about these terrible crimes is that they are senseless by ordinary thinking. There will never be a comprehensible answer to the question Why? or at least not one we want to hear.

The truth is, our society has become a psycho-breeder. We don’t want to face that and the implications it has for some of our cherished misbehaviors. But without a willingness to forego easy answers and quickie fixes that will not work, the eternal whys of the victims have no answers.

As I said a few months ago, we are going to have to learn to live with this. This is our new normal.

I understand the shattered victims who ask Why? That is the first and deepest response of the grievously wounded. Coming from those whose lives have been shattered, Why? isn’t a question so much as it is a statement. I am worth something it says. My loved one who is dead or injured is a beautiful gift from God and their worth is beyond counting. Don’t you see that?

That is what Why? means when it comes from a shattered victim.

But as a rhetorical question from a stunned public, it has ceased to resonate, at least for me. I am tired of asking Why?

I refuse to go where these rhetorical Whys? lead to, which is a fixation on the monsters who do these things. I don’t want to talk about them. I would rather we never spoke their names and, when the times comes, that we salt their graves so nothing can ever grow there again.

So, if you want to gabble about the various shootings and tragedies of this week or the weeks before, go elsewhere. The silence on this blog is my salt on the monster’s graves. They are anathema to me. When I speak, it will be about the beautiful acts of heroism and love that ordinary people rise to as a result of these pitiless assaults.

We need to focus on the brave and selfless people who look down the barrel of a shotgun and think Even if I die, I should be the first one. 

Because, even in the worst of times, good happens.

From Chicago Sun-Times.com:

The Rev. Benny D. Putharayil was conducting Saturday night mass at the Church of St. Michael in Ray, N.D. when a man armed with a shotgun barged in.

“It was a shocking moment because I was preaching,” Putharayil recalled Monday night, only after learning the man had been wanted for murder. “He stepped in with a gun and shouted, ‘Stop, Father.’”

Heads in the pews turned to catch sight of 54-year-old Billy Varner, who has since been charged with the murder of two women in north suburban Antioch, according to the priest and authorities.

Nearly three-dozen parishioners hit the floor, taking cover in the pews, leaving Putharayil the only one standing, the Catholic priest said in a phone interview.

Then the man gestured with his gun for Putharayil to come forward.

“My thought was, ‘Even if I die, I should be the first one,’” Putharayil said. “By God’s grace I was a spared.”

Guess What? Heaven and Hell are BOTH in Oklahoma!

Hell Fire

It seems that a number of the Catholic Patheosi are blogging about hell.

Since all I know of hell is what I’ve learned during the last week of session in the Oklahoma Legislature, I’ve decided to talk about that other place.

Enjoy.

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Supremes Dump Oklahoma Court Case and I Am Bummed About It

PodiumandSeal

There are times when I get up and walk off the House floor.

I go to my office and tell my secretary not to let anyone in. Or, I will go wandering around the rotunda.

But I get away from the mike on my desk and its ever-beckoning invitation to let fly and say whatever I want.

Because what I would want to say in that heated moment is not what I would want to say later, after the dust has settled and I’ve found my inner sane.

I am in a similar situation now, which is why I am not going to weigh in on the only bit of news today that has anything directly to do with me. Because I know that what I would say now is not what I would want to have said later.

Sometimes, it’s better to just keep your mouth shut.

The Supreme Court of the United States has decided not to hear a case based on an Oklahoma law concerning the prescribing of drugs used in chemical abortions. I co-authored an amicus curiae brief in favor of this law, along with my friend House Majority Leader Pam Peterson. That’s why I’ve been mum on this case up until now.

I will talk about it more. Later.

For now, here are a few facts (which I will have some thoughts about in the future) from the Washington Post:

The Supreme Court left in place Monday a decision by Oklahoma’s highest court that a major provision of that state’s new abortion law is unconstitutional because it effectively bans all medication abortions.

The high court last summer had tentively agreed to consider the issue but asked the Oklahoma Supreme Court for clarification on exactly what the law proscribes. The Oklahoma court issued an opinion last week that the law would effectively end the early-term practice of medication-induced abortions, and was thus unconstitutional.

Upon receiving the Oklahoma opinion, the Supreme Court then announced Monday that it will not schedule the case for briefing and consideration. As is customary, the justices gave no reason for deciding not to hear the case.

It is clear, however, that there are other ways for the issue to reach the Supreme Court. A number of states have passed similar restrictions on medication abortions, and the issue is working its way through the courts.


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