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Recalibrate this Lent

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

As we begin this season of Lent, what really matters is where it leads us. We know by our place in the history of Salvation that Lent ends in Easter joy. We prepare by rending our hearts to the Lord in fasting, prayer and almsgiving; a Lenten journey that seeks to raise our spiritual aspirations above what we demand for our bodily needs. To borrow a phrase from our Declaration of Independence, we desire pretty basic things: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The methods we use to attain these goals can complicate our spiritual life and lead us away from the Gospel of Christ and our goal of heaven.

Lent is more than giving something up for the sake of the season. At its core, Lent is a recalibration of our desires, habits and actions within the context of Gospel holiness. When we choose to ‘give something up’ or exercise a corporal or spiritual work of mercy each day, it is imperative that we place our sacrifices in terms of our own sinfulness and desire to be reconciled to God.

One thing that seems inescapable is the amount of noise in our lives. The television barks about the dire political and economic woes facing the world, our radios blare as we are putting on our socks or stuck in traffic and so on. We feel we have to be constantly engaged on the cell phone, on the computer and social expectations keep us on the run. “It’s life!” we say, but how important to our lives is the question. Even in the midst of our Lenten sacrifices, can’t we just slow down and disconnect a little more? If we could do this, we’d have more time to reflect and listen to the Lord instead of the constant jabbering of daily life.

We seem to refute the possibility that time can indulge us in the pursuit of quiet prayer and reflection. If we are too filled and preoccupied with the things in life, where will we ever find the Life that is Christ? One hour out of a week that has 168 isn’t going to leave us as filled as Christ promises or desires us to experience. Careful examination of time will lead us to surprising conclusions, foremost of which is the fact that we have more time for what is spiritual than we realize.

So even if we are giving up watermelon or something more substantive, try a little sacrifice of worldly television, radio, cell phone or computer this Lent for the sake of simple quiet. Read a holy book, sit in silence, pray the rosary or just pray….it doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of our responsibilities or for hours on end,; just enough to hear God and state your case for desired holiness.

The Church’s Wisdom is Imperative for our Time

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, For Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet. Until her vindication shines forth like the dawn And her victory like a burning torch.”

With the specter of so many worries hanging over the world today we must be vigilant and deliberate about which way we turn for consolation. The news in our city, state, nation and world is rife with bad news complete with all the sordid details. Open rejection of God and His Eternal Law is applauded with glee or met with a shrug of the shoulder. Saints and sinners alike are victimized by the way the world is going, which contributes to a sense of malaise that is increasingly difficult to avoid.

These days, it seems that any answer the Church gives is met with howls of derision and protest. There is an attractive convenience in the avoidance of truthful self-examination and spirituality based upon the Commandments of the Father and the Gospel of His Son; instead it is traded for a ‘don’t tread on me’ conception of freedom that demands liberty from any constraint or moral absolute. The Catholic Church teaches freedom for the truth … our culture continues down the path of freedom from the truth and we are experiencing the fruit of this philosophy now.

Pornography, perversion and anatomy is subject matter for cheap laughs on primetime television. Abortion providers are trumpeting the freedoms they have ensured for society and children think sexting is a grown-up way of acting. Lack of civility is rampant and the discord we all experience demands that God not be mentioned anywhere in the public arena. The United States Army this week was cowed into removing ‘For God and Country’ from their recruitment advertising. What are we so afraid of? Ordinary Time has returned to our Church calendar. Can we spend time studying and researching the vast treasure of wisdom as taught to us by centuries of theological thought emanating from Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? Culture brands the Church as irrelevant for the modern world, as if the arrogance of progress and technology somehow trumps the same human nature that has existed since the fall of Adam and Eve. If we don’t recognize this lie, the price we pay will be high. The issues that the Church takes a stand on are not going away, nor will they be solved through legislation, popular opinion or keeping our heads in the sand. There is no doubt we are paying a price now. The bill already due is all over the news and all over the world. One ready example was provided by Pope Paul VI when he prayerfully predicted the fallout from widespread use of contraceptives over forty years ago:

· The general lowering of moral standards throughout society
· A rise in marital infidelity & divorce
· The dramatic lessening of respect for women by men
· The coercive use of reproductive technology on women

Vigilant and deliberate about where we turn for consolation means we are going to have to do more than complain about these problems or complain about those with these problems. The first thing we can do is eradicate any filth from our lives now. We must learn what our faith teaches and why. We ought to fast and pray for our nation and the world. Life is short and our judgment will be thorough, and while we do not discount the compassion of a merciful God, if we are careless enough to think His mercy is summoned like a car insurance commercial, we are in big trouble. Presumption is a sin and an effective weapon of Satan. Instead of trying to outthink God and the Church, it is imperative that we learn what She teaches and why … then live in the freedom Christ extends to us through Her. This freedom will enable us to live in the world and be untainted by it.

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Are Our Excuses Lame?

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

The blame game never works. Retribution against an opponent on the playing field is the act the referee  always seems to notice, not the instigation. Trying to shift responsibility onto bosses or co-workers for less-than-optimal performance or results  never looks good and is a weak defense. As we see in the Gospel today, it doesn’t work with Jesus either.

When the servant was called to account for his fearful inaction he decided his best defense was not true honesty or self-examination, it was to accuse his Master for somehow forcing him to bury his talent. Was the Master as terribly demanding as  the servant accused him of being? We can reasonably assume by the manner in which he doled out his possessions that the Master was prudent with his treasure and just in dealing with his servants. All three accepted their Master’s generosity. Unfortunately for the third servant, he just didn’t get it…the Master wasn’t just giving him a task, he investing in the servant; and that servant took the easy way out. He did nothing and then blamed the Master for his deficiencies.

The blame game may be a popular strategy, but that doesn’t mean it works well. True intellectual and spiritual maturity allows us to see our own culpability and shortcomings so that we can honestly assess ourselves and dissect the chain of events like the one  we experience in today’s Gospel. The responsibility of this episode was not due solely to the fact that the Master was a demanding man as the servant tried to contend. His excuses were lame.

Are our excuses lame? It is like the time the man enters the Confessional to confess his sins to the old Monsignor. He begins, “Bless me Father, for I have sinned. My wife……”

As we continue through the month  of November praying for the souls in Purgatory, we also remain focused on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. A good prayer point for reflection is an assessment on how much and how often we employ the blame-game to exonerate our own actions or inaction in order to shift responsibility to others. Remember the words of St. Augustine. “The more we pay attention to the sins of others, the less attention we pay to our own.”  Our spiritual life and the custody of our souls is the most important ‘talent’ the Lord has entrusted to us. Careful reflection upon our actions and desires in the daily situations of our lives is key to our growth, maturity and holiness. We will serve God and ourselves if we use this time well.

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The Synod of Bishops

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

Over the past two weeks the headlines on most television networks, newspapers and magazines has been about what is going on in Vatican City with the Synod of Bishops. All the headlines seem to say that “change is in the air” but of course, most of that is simply speculation from the media. This Synod of Bishops does give us an opportunity to  understand the workings of the Church in a more profound way. How the Holy Father, Pope Francis, works in conjunction with the College of Bishops to  tackle difficult questions and challenges within our society and Church. Our world today is not the same place as it was 200 years ago,  we all know that fact. How the Church responds to modern problems, especially those that affect the modern family, are essential and need a clear teaching.

Shortly after the  Second Vatican Council in 1965, to continue the spirit of collegiality and communion among all the Bishops of the world, Pope Paul VI established the permanent institution in the Catholic Church called the Synod of Bishops. It is an assembly of Bishops from around the world who assist the Pope on important issues facing the Church. The Synod of Bishops can meet as a General Assembly in two different kinds of sessions – Ordinary or Extraordinary. The Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops are convened to deal with matters “which require a speedy solution” and which demand “immediate attention for the good of the entire Church.” The Synod that we have been hearing so much about for the past two weeks is an Extraordinary General Assembly, only the third ever held since the creation of the institution in 1965.

This year’s Synod  was convened on October 5th and finished on Ocotber 19th in Vatican City. It assembled Bishops of many ethnic backgrounds and cultures from around the world along side Pope Francis. The Synod looked at topics that relate to the family and evangelization – The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization. A vast array of discussion items fell under this umbrella, a few of which have been highlighted by the news – Church teaching on the indissolvability of marriage, divorce, remarriage, same-sex attraction, openness to life, and contraception. The hope was that the “synod of fathers would thoroughly examine and analyze the information, testimonies and recommendations received from the particular Churches in order to respond to the new challenges of the family.” In 2015, an Ordinary General Assembly of Bishops, representing a greater number of Bishops from around the world, will continue the work of the just completed Synod and reflect further on the points discussed and distribute guidelines for the faithful and pastors to implement.

n the opening homily of the Synod on October 5th, Pope Francis laid the groundwork for the Bishops so that free, open and frank discussions could be held for the greater good of the faithful and Christ’s Church. He said, “Synod Assemblies are not meant to discuss beautiful and clever ideas, or to see who is more intelligent. They are meant to better nurture and  tend the Lord’s vineyard, to help realize his dream, his loving plan for his people. In this case the Lord is asking us to care for the family, which has been from the beginning an integral part of his loving plan for humanity.” May the work that our Bishop’s completed in this Synod continue to bear fruit in all our
families and in the family of the Church.

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Evolution

Confession from the administrator of BeopentoGod.com

Since I was a youth, I have always struggled with the idea of creation and wrote it off as a “man made” idea. As a youth growing into adulthood, I came to learn about evolution as a possible beginning that was explained through science. The following text summarizes a possible end to this mystery.

 

What difference does evolution make?

We must distinguish three meanings that evolution can have.

First: it can mean simply a theory about what happened – more complex species appeared on earth – and when, as shown by the fossil record.

Second: it can mean a theory about how this happened: by “natural selection,” “the survival of the fittest.”

Third: it can mean the absence of a divine design, as distinct from God using natural selection.

This third sense is not scientific at all, but philosophical and theological. One can accept evolution in sense 1 but not 2, or 1 and 2 but not 3. There is certainly a contradiction between the Bible and evolution in sense 3. But evolution in sense 3 is not a scientific theory at all.

If we evolved simply by blind chance, not divine design, then our lives have no overarching meaning, no preset divine plan, no script. The only meaning, purpose or values that exist are the ones we invent for ourselves. These can never be right or wrong, justified or not justified by a higher standard than our own desires, which created them. Thus there is no real reason to prefer Christian ethics to Stalinist ethics, for instance, except one’s own desires themselves. Desire (volitional faith) becomes its own reason, its own justification.

There is no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1 NIV) and the claim that once the earth was here, species evolved by natural selection. Science is like the study of the inner ecology of a fishbowl; the Bible is like a letter from the person who set up the fishbowl. Far from being logically exclusive, the two ideas of creation and evolution easily include each other or suggest each other. On the one hand, the Bible does not say that God “created” each species by a separate act, but that he said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures” (Gen 1:24). On the other hand, a theory of evolution that confines itself to empirical science does not claim to know whether or not there is a divine Designer behind these natural forces. But surely such an elegant and ordered design strongly suggests a cosmic Designer.

There is also no logical contradiction between the Bible’s claim that the human soul (the “image of God”) is “breathed” (“spirited”) into us from God, and evolution’s claim that our body evolved from lower forms. Genesis 2:7 even suggests just such a double origin.

— Kreeft, P., & Tacelli, R. (2003). Pocket handbook of Christian apologetics. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

 

Recently I was asked “if you could describe yourself in one word, what word would you choose?” My reply was that I am “developing.” So are our scientific discoveries, developing, in hopes that we may know someday. Believing that God is Creator, we still seek to understand how he creates. The relationship between faith and reason give us the freedom to explore this fullness of creation.

Faith and reason.

 

The Steadfast and Just Way of Life

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

If you were to ask my brothers and sisters which of my father’s greatest quotes is most memorable we would all respond in unison…”Who said its gotta be fair?”. His pearl of truth led to more arm-flapping, wailing in consternation at injustices rendered and downright disbelief at the reality of the world than any other answer he ever gave us to our problems with people, places or things.  It was a masterstroke of his intellect. It is also an unfortunate reality.

Referees weren’t fair. Teachers weren’t fair. The taxman, tests, traffic laws, bosses, and not being allowed to go to every party was unfair. His response each time brought a howls of protest from his child and a wry grin of triumph to his face… and darnit, he was correct.

Fairness is a wonderful concept, yet rarely is it a complete reality. Someone always gets the short straw it seems..and boy do we get indignant when it happens to us.If we were as good at being fair in our day to day affairs as we are at keeping score about the times we were somehow shortchanged by being treated unjustly maybe life wouldn’t seem so unfair at times.

‘Steadfast and just’ is a description we hear many times attributed to St. Joseph. His adherence to this way of life was a cause for joy that we can experience as well. It is not the kind of joy that makes us hoot, holler and celebrate though; it’s the kind of joy that perpetuates itself by seeking the same thing over and over again because it resonates with and finds its roots in what is good, true, just and beautiful… and these are the hallmarks of God.

Our resolute mindset  in living the steadfast and just way of life is the only real protection against the disappointment and indignation  we experience when treated unfairly or unjustly.

The steadfast and just way of life is our safety net when we react poorly at first to these disappointments as well. It helps us shake off the anger and betrayal we may feel toward the perpetrator of the offense, even when we accuse the Lord for being the offender.

I can never blame the Lord for my woes. It always comes down to the way I use/misuse my freedom or the way in which my neighbor has. The steadfast and just way of living protects us in both instances and helps us to carry on for the sake of our true and ultimate purpose: to know God, live his ordinances and strive for virtue.

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Prayer of Abandonment

Father,
I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me, and in all your creatures.
I wish no more than this, O Lord.

Into your hands I commend my soul;
I offer it to you
with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord,
and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands,
without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Charles de Foucald

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A Meeting Encounter with Christ in Confession

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

Jesus put a lot of leg work into his mission of mercy and redemption, didn’t he? He was all over the place preaching, healing and revealing the joys of the Kingdom. Great throngs gathered in His presence, and His simple, truthful message of love and justice revealed not just His power as God, but the will of His Father.

Seeking the Kingdom of God is not merely a spiritual exercise; it takes some leg-work as well, confirming our intention through action. We physically arrive at Mass, expend energy in our worship, drive to visit the sick, perform works of mercy for others, etc. This spirituality in action is an expression of our humanity, the synergy of body and soul that orients and impels us to heavenly pursuits.

Confession is a heavenly expenditure as well. It is a meeting encounter with Christ that avails us to his healing and grace, not to mention the joys of a clear conscience. Frequent confession is a valuable tool in our quest for holiness, since we are forgiven our sins, returned to a state of grace and aware of our personal weakness that led to sin in the first place. In other words, we are put on guard by the grace of the confessional. Frequent confession is not an admission of anything more than your good intention and desire for holiness.

At the same time, be wary of viewing the Sacrament of confession in the same light as a trip to the dentist office or getting the oil in your car changed. Confession is not a check-up or a clearing of the air with the Lord. It is a tool and a gift that keeps the bond of charity between us and God taut and strong. Mortal sin breaks that bond, and denies our proper reception of the Eucharist. In other words, we don’t receive Communion if we know we are in a state of mortal sin.

If our sins are venial in nature, the Sacrament of confession remains a valid and effective way to safeguard against more serious sin. The best remedy for sin is the Eucharist itself; so ensuring our proper reception of this grace-filled gift is paramount to our pilgrimage. Please turn to the confessional; it is a Sacrament of great grace. It clears the head, opens the heart and keeps our eye on the prize of heaven.

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The Value of the Mass

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

Often times people ask us at the parish, “What does it mean to have a Mass ‘said’ for someone?” We respond that having a Mass “said” or “prayed” for someone means that the intention for that Mass is for a specific person or in some cases a group of people.  This is a beautiful practice and tradition of the Church. The Church considers the mass the greatest possible prayer of intercession since during the Mass we not only remember the sacrifice of Christ on the cross out of love for us, but we make that sacrifice truly present upon the altar – Christ giving us his body and blood.

You may be asking, what are the different intentions that might be offered? Many times in the Church we have Masses prayed for deceased family members where we pray for their departed soul that it would be welcomed into the Kingdom of Heaven, which we heard in last weeks’ readings, is our greatest treasure! Theses Masses can be prayed anytime but more often than not they are prayed on the anniversary of their death or even on the day they were given the gift of life – their birthday. Parishioners have Masses said on other special days as well such as: wedding anniversaries, baptismal anniversaries, for a friend, in thanksgiving for a blessing received, family member who is ill and a variety of other reasons. On my birthday, I always like to have a Mass said for my parents “Dad and Mom” for choosing to give me the gift of life, something that is truly precious, and to thank them for their sacrifices in giving me life.

One question that often comes up is, “What does a Mass cost?” We accept an offering for Masses that are said for a given intention. Diocesan policy simply suggests a $10 offering. Masses do not cost anything; you can’t buy a Mass. This offering, called a stipend, is given to the parish and is a way in which the person making the request for a Mass to be prayed offers part of themself, making their own sacrifice for the specific intention. By making this offering, the person parts with something of their own and associates themself more intimately with Christ’s offering on the cross. The parish accepts this offering and the celebrant for that Mass commits himself to fulfilling that intention, which he is bound to in justice.

No value can be placed on the graces, which flow from the Mass and for the intention that is offered by the priest acting in the person of Christ. What an opportunity we have to give something beautiful to our friends and loved ones.If you have never read the children’s book, The Weight of a Mass, I suggest you do so. Set in a fairy tale background, but based on a true story, a poor widow begs the local baker for just a few pieces of old, stale bread. The only offering she can make is a Mass to be said which she wrote on a piece of scratch paper. Scoffing at the precious gift, the baker decides to determine how much this Mass would be worth when placed on a scale, surely no bread would be given to the woman. But to the amazement of the baker and the towns people, nothing in the entire store, not even the gigantic wedding cake made for the king, outweighs the simple piece of paper representing the true worth of the Mass.

What are some of the intentions you have that you would like the Church to pray for given the weight and value of a Mass? Call or stop by the parish office and give a gift to someone, which truly is priceless!

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Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, Rector of St. Joseph Cathedral

The main steps to the entrance of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome are flanked by two huge statues: one of St. Peter holding the keys of the kingdom, the other is St. Paul holding his epistles and a sword. In these two great saints of our Church we commemorate not just the example of their lives in Christ, but the Church itself as well; One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic.

These four marks of the Church are attributes really, “inseparably linked with each other,
indicating essential features of the Church and her mission” (CCC #811). This paragraph in our Catechism goes on to explain that “the Church does not possess them of herself; it is Christ who, through the power of the Holy Spirit makes His Church One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, and it is He who calls her to realize these qualities”.

That’s right; we are called to realize these qualities….to make them happen. From teaching our children the faith to avoiding the sins our culture readily encourages us to partake in, our unity as the People of God is the reflection of our union with Christ. The source for our Church is Christ Himself, and the mysteries that surround her cannot be reduced to what we think or want them to be. We must be careful to avoid forming Christ in our own image, but to be formed in the image and likeness of Christ. The dissension, conflict and selfishness we see at work in the world today are directly attributable to the fact that God is being ignored. Luckily, these two great saints we remember today did not ignore Christ. Sure they made mistakes and struggled mightily to live in holiness, they readily admitted their weakness; but they stayed in the game, a living testimony to the faith that remains today as proof that the Church is alive despite the frailty of members. Christ is alive; hence the Church lives as well.

Every time we enter the Cathedral through the main doors we pass under the gaze of St. Peter and St. Paul who flank the depiction of Christ the King. Each year we commemorate these great saints while at the same time proclaiming yet again “Christ yesterday, today and forever”. Our unity as Church means we never forget the treasures the past has provided for us in the present as we continue to proclaim and teach the faith for the sake of future generations. This is our unbreakable bond with Saints Peter and Paul because it is our bond with Christ Himself. It is our treasure, blessed assurance and joy. Happy Feast Day!

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