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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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.

 

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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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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Integrity of Being and Action

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

Ontology is the study of Being. It is derived from the Greek word ontos; it points to reality and its truth, as opposed to what is false or the result of conjecture and false reasoning. Ontology is the backbone of philosophy; and philosophy is the foundation and handmaiden of theology. In other words, why we believe what we believe.

Our beliefs, while driven by faith, are predicated upon the sound and firm foundation of our Being; who we are, what we are, that we are. Our immortal souls are that place where our Being and the Truth of God are joined. This is where the Eucharist feeds us, our sins are forgiven and grace operates.

Our Being precedes our doing….hopefully. We are not defined by what we do; we are defined by who we are. This is the reasoning behind the theological adage ‘action follows Being’. When there is a disconnect between the two, trouble begins. We expose ourselves to the scourge of temptation and sin because human nature and its woundedness begin to drive everything from thought to word to action.

Integrity is not an action, it is a quality. When we speak of integrity in this sense, we are speaking of actions that flow from our Being into action. A truly integrated human is one who seeks perfection of the heart that expresses itself in action. Whether we call it our soul, conscience, heart-of-hearts or something else, we have a refuge from frustration, a wonder-counselor and friend in this place where God is always with us.

In today’s Gospel we encounter Christ beginning the ‘doing’ phase of His incarnate mission. As we continue to press on in Ordinary Time, He exemplifies how a well-ordered spiritual life can bear fruit. Our Lord was active in pursuit of expressing His being through doing, and this lesson is crucial for our lives as well.

Holiness is not passivity, nor is it a bull in a china shop. It is the integration of our souls in action, properly ordered. Penance and Eucharist, prayer and the exercise of virtue are the tools to the integrity of Being and action. Our salvation is won through Christ and is played out in the concrete, ordinary circumstances of our daily lives. When we live in this manner, time isn’t as excruciating, nor does our neighbor harm us as much as we think; this is because our hearts are with Christ, our actions are buoyed in the Spirit and our
eyes are on the prize of heaven.

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Pride and Lukewarmness vs. Gratitude and Love

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

It is not convenient or pleasurable to think or talk about the Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell. We like to sweep these questions underneath the rug and manifest the ability to overlook the contradictions in our life and actions with that of Christ’s Gospel. Part of this is human nature of course, but at the same time it is
symptomatic of a dangerous combination that hampers spiritual growth and maturity: pride and lukewarm faith.

Pride…everyone has it, some more than others. Now, if we didn’t have SOME pride, what would we ever amount to? We can be proud of the home team, our garden, even our accomplishments. Pride becomes a bad word when it governs our conscience and leads us to believe we are somehow above or exempt from the high bar our Lord has set. We know pride to be a Capital sin, because it engenders so many others.

Pride and narcissism affect our conscience because when the world revolves around us, the knowledge and practice of the interior law that our conscience should defend is instead preoccupied with ensuring our that actions obtain our whims. We choose in accord with our conscience, and when the conscience is me-centered, charity never prevails. We can’t serve two masters, and when our goal is heaven only one master can prevail.

In a world where putting words in Christ’s mouth is nearly as common as outright defiance of God and His Natural Law, we should carefully heed Christ’s teachings and actions in this month’s Gospels. There will be a judgment, and the way to prepare is to recognize His Cross while discarding our idols; starting with the way we all sometimes idolize ourselves.

Pride and lukewarmness are huge obstacles to prayer and a life of gratitude and love. Frequent sacramental Confession and reception of the Eucharist are great weapons in the battle against these sins. We have at our disposal in the confessional what is no less than a meeting-encounter with the mercy and grace of our Lord, and the Eucharist is His food for nourishment on our pilgrim way.

The way to conquer what ails us is found in going beyond taking and learning to receive and give. We receive what is good and true from the Lord and share it with others. It’s the way to live in competence and confidence as the children of God.

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The Season to Reflect on the Last Things

Posted by Fr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, St. Joseph Cathedral

The Cathedral choir gave us a special evening of remembrance Saturday night by their beautiful rendition of the Faure’ Requiem. As we reverently prayed for our parishioners, family and friends who died this past year, they also helped to set the tone for this month and our contemplation of the four “Last Things”; particularly Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

  November is the time of year we turn our attention more intently to these last things. This is not necessarily morbid because it is an acknowledgement of the reality of our biological life. In the spiritual sense, we place the inevitability of our earthly death in terms of the purpose of our existence; to know God, to love Him and live according to His ways for the sake of eternal life. We are at the end of the liturgical year, of which Advent will mark the beginning of a new one. We celebrated the Solemnity of All Saints on Friday, followed by the Commemoration of All Souls on Saturday. Their placement at the beginning of November aims to put us in a frame of mind that exhorts the faithful to focus on our biological mortality, while never forgetting the immortality offered through Christ. So November and the Last Things are really about life and the Gospel path to its promise.

  We profess our belief in the resurrection of the body after the homily each Sunday. Are we professing the Creed by rote and repetition, or do we pray it? Prayer leads to belief through faith. Merely saying the words leads to something less.

  Christ points the way for us in all He says and does. The resurrection of His own mortal body reassures us that the power of God wills that we all be reunited body and soul in Heaven before Him one day. The Profession of Faith is a great prayer for outside of Mass as well. It is a prayer of affirmation in times of doubt, difficulty or despair. Through it we confess the great mysteries of our faith. Our Creed can console us to continue in fighting the good fight because it helps us focus on why we endure the crosses and difficulties of life and keep our eyes on the prize of Heaven.

  These next weeks are a time of sober reflection on the state of our souls as we pray for our dearly departed family members and friends. Use this time wisely and fruitfully. It’s an excellent way to prepare for Advent.

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Pope Francis Doesn’t Cease to Surprise Us!

Posted by Fr. Andrew Young, St. Joseph Cathedral

We can read all throughout Scripture where our Lord surprises, amazes and astounds the crowds as well as His own disciples. Whether it be through His miraculous healings, seemingly contradictory practices or His simplicity and humility, He surprises.

Pope Francis in many ways carries out some of these same characteristics in how he has served as our Holy Father whether it be in his actions, writings or decisions. He doesn’t cease to surprise us!

Actions: Just last week he decided to go to Lampedusa, a small island off the coast of Italy, to show his support for immigrants. Weeks ago, a group of immigrants were trying to make it to the island from Tunisia, but the small boat ended up sinking causing the death of many. Pope Francis went to this small island to show his support and love for the marginalized, particularly the many immigrants that have died while trying to make the dangerous journey from Africa to Italy. Not something I would have expected of the Holy Father, especially without at least six months of planning or organizing!

Writings: Additionally, Pope Francis released his first encyclical, Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith, which was not only written by him, but also Pope Benedict XVI – four hands, not two! Not something that has been done or at least publically acknowledged in the past. I encourage you to pick up this encyclical either at the Vatican website or eventually at one of our local bookstores. As we read this document, the hope is that it will surprise us at the gift of faith that is in our life. So often we just take our faith for granted – something we just have or do. We forget that our faith helps lead us to a true encounter with Jesus Christ and if we don’t nurture it, our faith begins to fade. In the encyclical, Pope Francis says,

“There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that faith is a light, for once the flame of faith dies out, other lights begin to dim….faith, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time.”

Decisions: Not only that, but Pope Francis also announced the approval for canonization of two of our most recent Popes – Blessed John Paul II and Blessed John XXIII. This is cause for surprise as well, since Blessed John XXIII only has one recorded miracle and not the required two miracles for canonization – but he is the Pope!

 One thing is for certain, Pope Francis does not cease to amaze us in his role as the Holy Father. TIME Magazine agrees when it reported that religion is “IN”. Why? Because of the example – and might I say surprises – of Pope Francis. Let us pray that we too can draw people to believe in Jesus Christ through our own actions, words and decisions – our own little surprises. The Good Samaritan in our Gospel today, surprised the man who was injured along the side of the road. Who are you willing to surprise today?

Virtue Matters

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

We are lucky to live in America. Hopefully, when we approach the Lord in gratitude for His many abundant gifts, we place the land we live in near the top of our list. From our abundant resources and natural beauty to the freedoms we enjoy, our nation provides more than enough to live fruitful, productive and holy lives. At the same time, we all know our country is far from perfect. War and scandal has disheartened us all, and the worries and concerns about the future we are handing to our young compound the disquiet in our hearts and minds. We ask ourselves if the freedom we enjoy is really our Achilles heel; will the self-interest and greed of individuals lead us to ruin?

The Founding Fathers of our nation called it ‘the great experiment’. A people to be governed by the people; a system of government bound by checks and balances in the distribution of power that ultimately refers back to the life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of its individual citizens. It is a great plan on paper, but one that is
absolutely dependent on the virtue of its people. Without virtue, the great experiment will not succeed. It will unravel, and chaos will ensue.

There is a bumper sticker still seen on many cars driving around Sioux Falls that came out years ago concerning the environment that reads “Think Globally, Act Locally”. The same can be said for our life of virtue. If we want to change the course of our nation and world, we have to start with ourselves.

There is a cosmic dimension to individual sin. Each individual sin has a ripple effect not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others and society as well. Pornography causes estrangement in interpersonal relationships, and promotes sin. Unchecked corporate greed preys on the unsuspecting, destroys wealth and ruins retirements. Meanspirited and jealous gossip wrecks reputations; not to mention the integrity of the gossiper. Not following traffic laws causes death. These examples are not far-fetched; they are real and happening right now.

Virtue matters. It’s not old fashioned, it is timeless. We are called to live in virtue for the sake of our individual souls and the building up of the Kingdom of God. It’s crucial for the well-being and progress of our nation and her citizens as well. Freedom does not mean we get to do whatever we want, or to do whatever it takes to get ahead. True freedom consists in being unhindered to live for and in truth as we know it through the Natural Law written on our hearts by God.

Success is not a virtue. If this is what society succeeds in teaching us, where will Christ be? Success can be a byproduct of virtue, but in terms of Christ’s purpose and teaching, true success means goodness in this life and the attainment of heaven. Popular culture exalts sin and says it really doesn’t matter. When we place this point of view next to Christ and His teachings, hopefully we will see quite clearly that the virtue of American citizens is what will keep us united in freedom, one nation under God.
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