Monday, June 25, 2012

This Road Goes Nowhere

Lorene Scafaria's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is an accurate reflection of where we are.  And for that reason alone, this movie should scare the hell out of every decent Catholic on the planet.

The film begins with Dodge (the ironically-named hero of this "light romantic comedy") in his parked car at night with a shocked looking woman, listening to a news report that a shuttle mission to destroy a large astroid headed for earth has failed and nothing will stop it from completely destroying all life on the planet in approximately three weeks.  The woman (his wife, we later find out) runs from the car and never returns.

Portrayed by Steve Carell, (who contends with Greg Kinnear as today's best onscreen everyman) Dodge returns to his NYC apartment and his depressing insurance job. The next night he finds Penny (Keira Knightley) a too-easy-going (if you know what I mean) British immigrant who is weeping on the fire escape.  He invites her in and she shares her despair that she missed her flight back to the UK and will never see her family again.  She then lights a reefer and sleeps for two days.  When she awakens, Dodge escorts her to her apartment where she hands him his mis-delivered mail that she has been holding for the last three years.  Among the letters is a "I wish I'd never left you" letter from his high school sweetheart.

Dodge attends one last party with his friends, who have decided that anything goes--and I mean ANYTHING.  His best friend's wife comes on to him, "Nobody belongs to anybody anymore" she says.  Parents are giving their kids mixed drinks, and otherwise straight, respectable people are trying heroin for the first time.

As the Big Apple erupts into rioting and chaos, Dodge persuades Penny to leave with him, promising to take her to someone he knows with a plane if she will help him find his lost love.  

From this point, the road trip romp leads them to a terminally ill man who has hired an assassin to kill him in advance of the asteroid's impact, survivalists in an underground bunker, a TGIFriday's lookalike restaurant that has devolved into a one-stop-hedonism shop, and his old girlfriend's parents house (searching for her address).  Dodge forgoes meeting his old flame because he's decided that he has at last found his true love, Penny.  And the feeling is mutual.

Finally Dodge surprises Penny by taking her to his estranged father's (Martin Sheen) house.  He makes peace with his dad, lets Penny dope herself to sleep again and places her in the passenger seat of his dad's Cessna, while his dad takes off to take her home (Really?  A single-engine Cessna across the Atlantic?)

At this point, Dodge sadly returns to his apartment with his last keepsake of Penny, her beloved record albums (heavy emphasis on Herb Alpert).  He lays on the floor, falling asleep to the Walker Brothers' The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore but is abruptly awakened when the electricity shuts down,  suddenly killing all the lights and the stereo too.  Penny returns in the window, scolding him for sending her off with his dad, who turned around and came back at her insistence.  They lay on his bed looking at each other as ongoing explosions signal the end that flashes out brightly with each of them smiling at each other with rapt devotion.

That's it?

Then what's so scary?

What's scary is that nobody in this film believes in anything, at least not in anything substantial.  Penny's religion is her records.  Dodge's religion is his belief in true love (and as a true lover, he lets his newfound love go when it is hardest).  But other than that, no one shows any concern for the state of their souls.  There are only passing references to God, almost joking in tone.  Only once, do we have any relief from this naturalist nightmare, a brief scene of families at a beach being baptized in the ocean by a clergyman of some unidentified denomination.  It's the most human moment of the movie, seeing families and strangers sharing their day in conversation with each other.  As for everyone else in the film, the only thing that matters is squeezing as much gratification into the last remaining moments as they can. 

There is not one iota of concern (or even consciousness) from any character that they are about to come face-to-face with their maker.

And that is what is so scary.  This film IS accurate.  We as a society don't believe in anything anymore.  

A society that believes in nothing has nothing to lose.  I don't think we appreciate what a dangerous position this puts us in.

Let us pray we don't find out very soon.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Parish Director of Religious Education
Probably Isn't Going to Like This

What a difficult time it must be for America's geriatric post-orthodoxy Catholics.  First the pope liberates the Traditional Latin Mass, lifts the excommunications of the so-called "schismatic" Society of St. Pius X (and is on the verge of recognizing them as a legitimate religious order in full communion with the Church), then the LCWR (Leadership Conference of Wanton Radicals) is censured by the Vatican.

If the return to orthodoxy isn't painful enough, there seems to be a sudden embrace of--gulp--COMMON SENSE returning to the ranks of our Church leaders.  

It was only last February that Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo said that Confirmation should be administered before First Holy Communion, as is the tradition in the Byzantine Catholic Church.  And what did the pope do with this renegade bishop making such dangerous opinions public?  He congratulated him!

Well folks, it's not just the bishops.  It appears that some parish priests are getting a bit fed up with the false construct of religious education day-camps that have become de rigueur in most parishes.  Today's example comes from Father Richard Simon of St. Lambert Catholic Church in Skokie, Illinois (pictured above).  His blog, Reverend Know-It-All, features this lively and sensible post today.  Read it and forward it to your bishop and pastor:

We are starting over....

(The Rev. Know-it-all is away at Mt. Flatten Monastery attending  a seminar on the creative pastoral uses of the thumbscrew and lash. As filler, we have a letter from a local pastor.)


You may have noticed that recently, at Mass, I asked the young people who attend our religious education program to stand up. Of the 250, give or take, who attend the program, I counted about 50 or 60 at all the Masses.  Our teachers have done wonderful work. They have made great sacrifices for the sake of the religious education of our children. They have not failed. The 50-year-old system that they inherited has failed. We are using a model that was created before cell phones, soccer practice, twitter, facebook and video games. The model we are using is older than the Beatles. It’s as old as I am.

We inherited a system from the good old days of flourishing Catholic schools another failure which was lovingly remembered in the book, “The Last Catholic in America,” a charming reminiscence about Catholicism during the 1950's in which young Eddy Ryan loses his faith.  Religious education was called C.C.D. or the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.  In this usage it refers to a form of classroom style religious education for children in public schools. It was, at least in my youth, the threadbare cousin of Catholic schools.  

Catholic schools, by and large, have become failures themselves. There are some splendid Catholic schools, but in my experience of 40 years in ministry, increasingly, especially in large urban areas, Catholic schools have become inexpensive private schools for middle class people who have little or no interest in the Catholic faith,maintained at great expense by Catholic parishes. Catholic schools are, for the most part, over. 

We may have a few parish schools still plugging along, but are they Catholic? It seems that all we have left to us is the threadbare cousin. All our resources and energies go to maintaining the private school in the building next to the church. While the world is starving for Christ, we are giving them bingo and bratwurst, raffles and dinner dances, all to keep the school going.  

“But,” I can hear you say, “this is our major form of evangelism!” Aren’t you paying attention? The few kids from our schools who go to church don’t go because the school has converted them. They go because they have parents dedicated enough to bring them every Sunday, even in summer. Even in soccer season. Those kids may end up Catholic, not because they went to our schools and religious education programs, but because their parents were the first and best of teachers. In a recent conversation with a local pastor who runs a school of 250, give or take, I asked how many of his students and their families attend Mass during the summer months. He said, “about thirty of them.”   

In order to commit a mortal sin, a sin that severs one’s relationship to God, one must have sufficient knowledge that what they are doing is mortally sinful. Our kids come to Catholic schools and religious education where, presumably, they learn that it is a mortal sin to skip Sunday Mass without a serious reason, such as illness or inability to travel. That means that by allowing children to come to religious education or to enroll in Catholic schools when their parents don’t come to Mass, we are enabling them to commit a mortal sin by giving them the sufficient knowledge to damn their eternal souls.That’s a plan.

We have tied our religious education to the public school system of kindergarten and eight grades. The sacraments of First Communion and Confirmation have become graduation rituals, rites of passage, instead of the beginnings of a life of faith and commitment. We have turned sacrament into sacrilege.  When you “get your sacraments” you’re “outta” there.  (“Out of there” for those who don’t speak Chicagoan.) The Sacraments are an ending instead of a beginning. I can’t do this anymore. I believe it is morally wrong. The last time I brought this problem up, angry parents called the bishop. I remember one agitated parent who railed at me for questioning his Catholicism. He said that he was perfectly good Catholic. He went to Mass every single Easter and every single Christmas without fail.

When I realized that Eastern Rite Catholics from the Middle East don’t have Communion and Confirmation classes, a light went on in my head. They receive first Communion and Confirmation when they are Baptized, even if they are infants. They have religious education for the rest of their lives and, consequently, they have a spiritual life. They are prepared for the Sacrament of Penance, but not for Communion and Confirmation. The result is that they have a vibrant spiritual like that they have maintained in the face of 1,300 years of unremitting persecution. In this country, we can’t manage a religious life because we are up against team sports.

I intend to drop the classroom model and go to a discipleship model that is called Youthchurch. It will involve Bibles, catechisms and water balloons.  And maybe doughnuts. I will know the program is a success when I find that the kids are mad at their parents for missing Mass on Sunday.

I  no longer intend to prepare children for First Communion and Confirmation. There will no longer be First Communion and Confirmation classes. How and when will the children receive Communion and Confirmation? They will receive when they are ready.  When are they ready? They are ready when they want the Sacrament. How do we know they want the Sacrament? When they understand it, can tell the pastor what it is and why they want it. If they are not in ongoing religious education and they are not coming to Mass on regular basis, they don’t want the Sacrament.

I am tired to distraction of having to chase young people down the aisles in church to retrieve the Blessed Sacrament because they have no clue what it is. A year or so back, I was offering a funeral Mass and a teenaged girl came up for Communion, took the host, looked at it, turned it over and began to walk away holding it in her palm. I followed her and asked, “Have you made your First Communion?” She said simply, “I’m Jewish.” I smiled and said, “Perhaps I should take that from you.” Quite a few of the mourners were furious with me for my discourtesy.

At another funeral not long ago I saw a passel of tattooed and pierced adolescents coming down the aisle at a funeral. It was a large funeral so a number of priests were helping with Communion. I had finished my line so I stood about ten paces from the celebrant, a visiting priest. The first of the young Goths received the host, looked at it curiously and as she passed me I asked, are you Catholic? She said, “no.” I said “Perhaps I should take that.” So there began a curious ritual, of clueless youths. One priest would say “Body of Christ and the second priest would say “I’ll just take that.”

I’ve had it. My efforts will be directed to preparing people for the Sacrament of Conversion (Maybe you call it Penance or Reconciliation. Whatever.) Then maybe the little dears will understand that Communion is more than an edible poker chip. Registration will take place over the summer. I will be doing it personally. If you are registered in the parish and using envelopes, that will be the first step to getting your child in Youthchurch. How else can I tell if you are coming to Mass? As I’ve said before I don’t care that money’s in the envelope, I care that you are in the pew.

Fr. Simon
PS. How much will it cost? Books will cost something, but there will be no tuition. If you are coming to Mass every Sunday, I presume you are throwing in the basket already. I don’t want your money. I want your souls. On the other hand, I have nothing against your money. The west wall is still falling down.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Where's The Inquisition
When You Need Them?

Today's "Gay Voices" page of the Huffington Post features video and and a story from a Minnesota priest, Fr. Bob Pierson, delivering a talk that absolves Catholics from any guilt if they vote "no" on an initiative that would preserve marriage as an institution that can exist only between a man and a woman.

You can watch the video here:

First, let us be clear that we have nothing but the greatest respect for the priesthood, since this little event begs the need to separate the officeholder from his office--and separate we shall.

Second, why in heaven's name does everyone seem to know that this priest is homosexual?  (sorry, we won't be using the P.C. jargon "gay" here today).  This is certainly more information than we need, it's a deliberate snub to the Magisterium of the Church and a poor example for all Catholics, especially children who desperately need more masculine role models in the priesthood.  Yet "Fr. Bob" seems to be known all over the web as an "openly gay priest".  Of course, that's no surprise since, after all we're discussing a priest from Minnesota.

Fr. Pierson's talk is so riddled with bandwagon appeals, straw arguments and false need statements that it would be too time-consuming to parse the entire text of his speech.  However there are a few rhetorical fallacies here that are so blatant and, frankly so overused that they scream for correction.  So with all due respect to the priestly faculties of Fr. Pierson, let us address two of the most glaring problems contained in his speech:

Problem #1

"Too Many of us have been taught to think of God in terms of God's judgment  rather than God's tremendous love and mercy."

Actually, it can be argued that the exact opposite is true.  The idea of accountability for one's sin and the imminent judgment of God has all but disappeared from catechetics since the late 1960's.  Unless one ignores their parish's Director of Religious Education and purchases a Baltimore Catechism, their children are likely to hear of nothing but God's mercy with little or no mention of His judgment.  And while God IS infinitely merciful, He also has an infinite demand for perfect justice.

And what does the Church say to us about God's justice when it comes to the sin of Sodom?  Simply this:  It is one of four sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance (along with willful murder, oppression of the poor and defrauding laborers of their wages). 

It is also instructive to remember that in 1917, after showing three visionaries a glimpse of Hell, Our Lady of Fatima told them, "More sinners go to Hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason."

Problem #2

"The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in number 1782, 'The human person has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions.  He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience, nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.'...A young theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger whom many of you now know as Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way in 1967 and I quote:  'Over the pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, even, if necessary, against the requirement of authority.'  Our Holy Father taught in 1967 that we must obey our own conscience, even if it puts us at odds with the pope."
(Followed by smug, "gotcha" look and enthusiastic applause)

Fr. Pierson selectively chooses not to mention two important facts:

1)  If he were to move on to article 1783 from The Catechism of the Catholic Church, he would read:

1783 Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened. A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the wisdom of the Creator. The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.
1784 The education of the conscience is a lifelong task. From the earliest years, it awakens the child to the knowledge and practice of the interior law recognized by conscience. Prudent education teaches virtue; it prevents or cures fear, selfishness and pride, resentment arising from guilt, and feelings of complacency, born of human weakness and faults. The education of the conscience guarantees freedom and engenders peace of heart.
1785 In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path,54 we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord's Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church.55

It is also instructive to review the General Catechetical Directory, published by the Sacred Congregation for the Clergy, which states in article 63:

Christian freedom still needs to be ruled and directed in the concrete circumstances of human life. Accordingly, the conscience of the faithful, even when informed by the virtue of prudence, must be subject to the Magislerium of the Church, whose duty ibis to explain the whole moral law authoritatively, in order that it may rightly and correctly express the objective moral order.

Further, the conscience itself of Christians must be taught that there are norms which are absolute, that is, which bind in every case and on ail people. That is why the saints confessed Christ through the practice of heroic virtues; indeed, the martyrs suffered even torture and death rather than deny Christ.

2)  Yes, as a young priest, Fr. Ratzinger held some rather liberal views.  However in 1968, he got a cold dose of reality that changed him forever.  While a University professor in Tubingen, Germany, Fr. Ratzinger was appalled by the lack of clarity, disregard for truth and downright diabolical attitudes held by many of his students and fellow faculty members.  Anyone who follows his writings can see that Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict XVI are very different characters than young Fr. Ratzinger.  Or, as Winston Churchill once quipped:  "Any 20 year-old who isn't a liberal doesn't have a heart and any 40 year-old who isn't a conservative doesn't have a brain."  

Fr. Pierson is certainly older than 40--but let us not digress...

3)  That statement from young Fr. Ratzinger has no magisterial authority.

Why a priest, who has the grave obligation to teach truth and morality to his flock, neglects to mention these points is troubling, to say the least. To try to make the pope appear as a maverick bucking the very authority the Church has given him is shamefully dishonest.

While there is much more that can be refuted in Fr. Pierson's highly-biased adventure in moral relativism, these two statements seem the most glaring to this blogger.  However, Fr. Pierson almost begs for comment with one other point: 

"It was in November of 2005 that I was offended to learn the Vatican had released a document that said gay men cannot be priest because they are, 'seriously obstructed from properly relating to men and women.' (snickers from the audience).  I couldn't believe what I was reading.  I knew that I was gay when I was ordained.  Did that mean that my 21 years of ministry was a mistake?"

With all due respect to the priesthood, with nothing but reverence for the sacred office of the priesthood, it must be said:


If you are not teaching the truths of the Church, you are abusing your sacred vows and duties as a priest.  If you are mocking the teaching authority of the Church, you are abusing your office as priest.  If you are ignoring the reality of original sin and misleading people with unnatural sexual orientations to believe that they can persist in sin and be all right with God, you are assisting the devil in bringing souls to eternal perdition.

The most hopeful thing about this video presentation is when the camera pans the audience:  A largely geriatric crowd, typical of those who embrace the dying, "liberal Catholic" agenda.  Biology will solve that problem.  But this should, by no means make us feel any better either.  What of their souls?  Will no one teach them the truth before it is too late?

Fr.  Pierson, God bless him, is not shepherding these people.  He is doing grave harm to them, to himself and to the reputation of the priesthood.  May he find the truth before it is too late.