Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is it OK to let the kids go out for Halloween?

Dear Rev. Know it all;
I am worried. My next door neighbor who is a member of the First Church of the Separated Brethren with Signs and Wonders Following says that I should not allow my children to dress up and go trick or treating on Halloween. It will lead them into occult practices and they will end up demon-possessed and burning in hell. Is this true?
Yours sincerely, Mrs. Holly Weyan

Dear Holly,
   I suspect that forbidding trick-or-treating to children might have the opposite effect. I've met your neighbor's children and believe me I've been tempted to reach for the Holy Water a few times. Remember that forbidden fruit is sweetest. Children tend to develop a morbid interest in the things that their parents forbid most vehemently. Instead of saying no and hiding in the basement waiting for the apocalypse, perhaps you can encourage your children to dress as super-heroes and even saints.
   Halloween is a way to laugh at our own fears. It is a sort of whistling past the cemetery. I would not forbid moderate Halloweenieness (Yes, a new word. You heard it here first.) to children. I would forbid it to adults. Halloween has become an adult holiday, with all the attendant debauchery and drunkenness. An unhealthy fixation on things occult seems to be growing, not on the part of children but on the part of parents and older siblings. It is as if parents are refusing to grow up. I hold myself and my fellow clergy responsible, in part. There is a natural awareness of and hunger for supernatural reality. The modern church, in it's wholesale neglect of supernatural reality has sent people elsewhere for explanations of the invisible dimension of their lives. 
I think it is far more dangerous for adults and older teens to focus on the morbid and occult movies costume parties and what is up with the current popularity of sex vampires?  We Catholics are the possessors of supernatural realities: resurrection, and spiritual warfare and the casting out of demons. These thing really happen in the Catholic faith. It may sound odd, but compared to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the idea that vampires drink blood seems a demonic parody. We have the real thing. Hollywood is just mocking us.
In the past few decades, many have tried to reduce the faith to a sort of self help movement of meetings and committees and snazzy ceremonies. The pastor of St. Odillo's in Berwyn, Illinois makes the point that the struggle in the church is not between so called liberals and conservatives. It is between those who believe in supernatural reality and those who don't. We have neglected supernatural things at our own peril. The result appears to be that Halloween, once a harmless night for children to indulge in harmless fantasy and high fructose treats is fast becoming a sort of a "pagan Christmas." The message of the real Christmas is, "Be not afraid!" as the angels said to the shepherds. The message of the new paganized Halloween is, "Be afraid, be very afraid!"
This bathing in terror is really dangerous for children and adults alike. So my suggestion is that you let your kids trick or treat and laugh at the fake stuff, making sure they know it's fake. Let me suggest a simple rule of thumb. If it gives you a bit of a fright and then makes you laugh it's probably okay. If it leaves you quaking with fear and causes nightmares it is best avoided all together.
Grown ups should act like grown ups and make it a children's holiday once again. And don't be the kind that passes out apples and granola bars. Pop for the good stuff, like Almond Joys and Reese's peanut butter cups.  This year I think I'm going to dress up as a priest.
Rev. Know-it-all

PS As for the scary movies, "Abbot and Costello meet the Werewolf" is probably okay. All the dreck that's coming out of Hollywood now, I would keep off limits to children. If you think it will give them nightmares don't let them watch it. And certainly don't let them watch anything you haven't seen it first.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

How can a loving God allow suffering?

Dear Rev. Know it all;
I am currently taking a course titled “Providence, Suffering and Freedom,” and have recently come across the issue of innocent suffering. This is a very hard subject to understand and so far the nature of God has come into question. If God is all powerful, all loving, and just, how can he allow innocent suffering. Assertions that God is not all powerful have been made because God would not allow his creation to be harmed if he is all powerful and all loving. I am asking what the Catholic Church's position is on the issue of innocent suffering and the all powerful nature of God.
Miss E. Rable

Dear Miss Rable,
I am always curious how anyone can walk into a Catholic church and ask such a question? We believe in redemptive suffering. In a Catholic church the center piece above the altar is usually a crucifix, not a cross, but a crucifix. A cross is two pieces of wood or some other material. A crucifix has a representation of Christ crucified. I am not supposed to say Mass unless there is a crucifix on or close to the altar, because I am offering the Holy SACRIFICE of the Mass.
I suppose part of the problem is that in our more enlightened times, we try not to have a crucifix as visibly displayed as we once did. Now we celebrate the Lord’s supper, the Eucharistic meal, the Table of the Lord, the Lord’s Banquet and so on. Bishop Annibale Bugnini, the architect of the current form of the Roman Liturgy, is said to have presented a new and improved Roman Missal (Mass Book) to Pope Paul VI. Paul studied it and said he couldn’t publish it. The word “sacrifice” was nowhere to be found in the new text. He sent it back and said try again. Thus was the sacrificial character of the Mass preserved and the promise of Christ to Peter proved true once again. The gates of Hell had not prevailed. It was Bishop Bugnini’s stated intention to create a Mass in which a Protestant would find nothing offensive. A real Protestant finds the idea of the Mass as a true sacrifice incomprehensible. Luther and Calvin rejected the idea that Mass was a sacrifice, Christ “having died once for all,” as one reads in the letter to the Hebrews, 10th Chapter, 10th verse.
Catholicism has always read that passage differently. “Once for all” can just as well mean that the one sacrifice of Calvary continues throughout all history made available not by the sacrifices of the old law but by the eternal and timeless sacrifice of the Mass. St Paul says elsewhere that “I make up in my body what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ.” (Colossians 1:24) What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Only that Christ did not offer himself in the twenty-first century in your neighborhood. Mass extends the one eternal sacrifice to every place and time that will receive it. Mass allows me to unite my sufferings with His for love of the world and for the hope of its salvation. Jesus said “what I have done and greater still shall you do.” (John 14:12) Because I am a Christian, I do what He did. What did He do? He redeemed the world by His suffering. Why suffering? We are fallen people who live in a fallen world.
Don’t forget that unfortunate incident in the Garden of Eden, the rebellion through which sin entered the world. One of the basic premises is that the innocent suffer. That any one is innocent is an assumption. St. Paul says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) I don’t know a single soul in this world who isn’t born a self-centered son of his mother. If God’s only requirement is completely selfless love, well, count me out. My sufferings are well deserved. But God works all thing to the good! (Romans the 8th chapter) In this fallen world God allows suffering to become the price of love. Love is not just the warm fuzzy feeling that the modern world believes it to be. True love is always sacrificial. True love says that I will do the best for you, without counting the cost to me. I will bear your sorrows and share your burdens. If by being weak I can make you strong so be it. If by being ill I can make you well, so be it. If by being broken I can make you whole, so be it. Love, true love, is always and only what we give away. Christ suffered and died for our sins, and risen, He invites us to become what He is. He invites us to join Him in the work of redemption, to join in Love’s sacrifice..
The premise you are discussing is a classic. “If God is all powerful and all loving, how can He allow or even cause suffering?” Some people like Calvin, Luther and the Muslims deny that God is all loving. He loves only the chosen. The rest He hates. There are those like Rabbi Klinghoffer, author of the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” who deny that God is all powerful. Then there are those who, when faced with the apparent contradiction, say there is no God. You would think that these three are the only possibilities. The message of the Gospel brings up another possibility altogether. The all powerful God, for the sake of Love, becomes powerless in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve told this story a thousand times before but, for me, it answered the question that you are asking.
When I was much younger I had been assigned to a very poor parish. The windows were in very bad repair. Summer and winter the wind whistled through the cracks. We might just as well have held services outside. One summer morning I was saying Mass and the fruit flies were hovering around the chalice. In my mind I said to the Lord, “I believe that this is no longer bread and wine, but has become Your body and blood, but couldn’t You convince the fruit flies of this great miracle for just a moment?” Then I heard that little voice that sometimes speaks in our imagination. “When My hands were nailed to the wood of the cross, I couldn’t even brush the flies from My face.” I was thunderstruck. I could almost not continue the Mass.
To think that the hand that set the stars to spinning couldn’t even lift itself to swipe the flies from His face. If Jesus is who we claim Him to be, the visible image of the invisible God, (Colossians 1:15) then the all powerful became powerless for love of us. “What wondrous love is this oh, my soul!” as the old song tells it. When the Bible says that God loves us, it does not mean that we are just the passive recipients of a shallow emotion. It means that He wants us really and truly to be His sons and daughters. We want Him to make it all better. He wants to make us like Himself, capable of infinite and perfect love. In this sad and broken world suffering is the price of love. If you cannot understand that, you have never really loved anyone but yourself.
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Isn't the Catholic view of marriage and morality just outmoded?

Dear Rev. Know it all;
Why are you so intolerant? I was infuriated by your last article. You make these blanket statements that just aren’t universally true. There are a lot of fine people who live together for a while before marriage and have very successful marriages. I lived with my husband before marriage and we have been married for almost thirty years. We have a son who lives in Seattle and is involved in environmental causes and we have a daughter who is employed at the UN, also in environmental issues. We are quite proud of them. Your insistence on traditional Catholic teaching regarding marriage and birth control certainly don’t resonate in my life. I’m glad my children are doing something to undo the damage that spiraling population has caused the world’s environment, no thanks to Catholic “Tradition.”
Connie Cubinage
Dear Connie,
Why do you think that children cause pollution? Machines cause pollution. There are quite a few countries that have successfully limited their population, the United States, China, Russia, for instance. These are also the countries that have caused the most ecological damage. As machines replace people, carbon emissions replace air. Children are biological beings who are part of the planet’s life cycle. Human beings are, in effect, biodegradable, if they live simple lives. We are born and live and die. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. It is the fast paced, do-it- now disposable consumerist society that is trashing the world. I am sure that your little gems return to see you at least twice a year. How much pollution do they cause as they jet back to the old home stead? Do they drive SUV’s to the airport and, on the way, pick up a designer coffee in a large Styrofoam cup? I imagine they are important people in a hurry. If they lived upstairs they could visit the old folks without all the pollution. No, babies aren’t ruining the earth. We consumerists are.
How nice that your rejection of tradition has worked out so well for you. I wonder how well it’s worked out for the world you inhabit. Wasn’t one of the first questions, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Excuse me. I should have said “sibling” instead of “brother.”) Our generation defied moral restrictions without concern for how it affected the world we live in. We had our rights, after all. Our concern about the pollution of the physical environment was laudable, but we have caused a kind of moral pollution which our narcissism makes us unable to perceive. I, too, am an aging ex-hippie. I remember when we said groovy and meant it, but I have changed because I am old enough now to see the harm we have done. We have filled the world with loneliness. There is a saying, “Home is where you’re safe.”
You and I created an atmosphere in which no commitment was necessarily forever and then we had our 2.5 children. I feel so sorry for kids in their early twenties. So many of them seem so rootless. They don’t seem to feel very safe. They struggle trying to make a living that meets their expectations, the consumerist expectation with which we raised them. They struggle to establish some kind of meaningful existence. From us they learned to expect a life of absolute freedom and now they seem incapable of the limitations committed relationships require.
I know so many young people who have to have a place of their own, though they can’t afford it. They have to go away to school, though they haven’t the resources. They would never consider living at home while they establish themselves financially. They need their space, their privacy, their freedom. They get married and then they find they still need their space, their privacy, their freedom. They divorce and then they have to move back home because they are buried under a mountain of debt, because space, privacy and freedom are expensive. Meanwhile mom and dad would like some space, privacy and freedom in their declining years. We are not meant to live in space, privacy and freedom, at least as it is currently defined.
Another early statement about human nature reads, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have taught our children that they have a right to leave any commitment, any relationship they please. Have you noticed that the first relationship they leave is usually us? By being lawless and calling it freedom we have created a climate that does not really value relationship. It may have worked out for you, just like that SUV and the Styrofoam cup of pricey coffee, but it isn’t working out so well for those who have to breathe your moral pollution. You see, we are all in this together. Just as I have to live with your mess in the physical world, I have to breathe the moral and spiritual pollution that baby boomer narcissism has created.
I had an Uncle Sylvester. No really, Sylvester. We were city people for centuries, but Sylvester married a girl who’d grown up on the farm. When the depression hit, they went back to the farm and pretty much made sure the rest of family could eat during the worst of it. Old Uncle Sylvester didn’t refuse to live in crowded conditions with his in-laws and they didn’t refuse to share their meager resources. After all, they were family. I ask you, where will you go to flee from the wrath to come? Home, as the poet says, is where, when you go there, they have to take you in.
The sexual revolution has made a world that is magnificently housed, but homeless none the less.
Yours, the
Rev. Know-it-all

Monday, October 5, 2009

A rant on weddings...


Dear Rev. Know it all,
I visited your church once and am thinking about having my wedding there. How long is your main aisle?
Mary O’Burne

Dear Mary,
I am often asked that question, and never quite understand it. Are brides curious about the length of the aisle because they think a longer aisle may give them a few more minutes to back out of the whole thing? Or, as I suspect, does a long aisle prolong the glorious promenade of which a young girl dreams as she thumbs through bridal magazine as she contemplates her special day, when all eyes focus on her as she approaches her enchanted prince and all the world thinks she’s gorgeous and knows that she has bagged her man just as surely as a Wisconsin bricklayer bags a deer and ties it onto the roof of his pick up truck? I have certainly seen a few grooms who look like a frightened deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming truck.
Why is it that weddings cause people to spend so much time, energy and money? And more money. The average American wedding costs almost $29,000, according to “The Wedding Report”, a market research publication. $29,000!” Oh, by the by, the usual donation to the church is about $200.00. That $200 goes to the church, not to the priest. The usual gift to the priest is a hearty handclasp. The usual cost of the photographer is $2,000.00. All this tells me that the photographs are ten times more important than the grace of the sacrament, in most peoples’ estimation. The usual fee for the DJ is $1,500.00. I am consoled by this. It means that painful, occasionally obscene music loud enough to cause brain damage is only 7.5 times more important than the grace of the sacrament.
You must be thinking why is this guy so down on weddings? I am down on some weddings because I am very “up” on the sacrament of matrimony and really in favor of marriage. That’s why the modern method of marrying and the wedding industry make me crazy. They militate against marriage. Here is the heart of my complaint. IT IS STUPID TO SPEND MORE TIME AND MONEY PREPARING FOR THE WEDDING THAN YOU DO PREPARING FOR THE MARRIAGE!!! I have known people who are still paying the credit card bills generated by the wedding years after the marriage is over.
The Modern Method of Marriage, a Reprise. The following is taken from my own experiences and things people have told me (outside of confession, you’ll be glad to know.) Here goes.
A young man and a young woman meet and have a few dates. They go for a weekend at a bed and breakfast where they bed one another, and then have breakfast. If he isn’t too much of a jerk and she isn’t too picky, they are then an item. She goes to the doctor gets a prescription and goes on to a more permanent form of birth control. At some time during this stage, the uncomfortable meeting with the parents happens. Everyone is polite and “supportive.” Secretly the father of the young woman who knows exactly what’s going on, contemplates buying a gun and the mother of the young man begins gossiping with whomever will listen about how her little boy could do better. After a while, if things hold up, they begin to have the conversation about taking their relationship to the “next level” by which they mean shacking up, as we used to call it. Now, I think it’s called moving in together.
Mom and Dad buy housewarming gifts in an attempt to, once again, be supportive. They don’t want their little dears to hate them and besides, it’s what everyone is doing these days, so it can’t be wrong. They have vague thoughts about getting married at that point and mom explains to grandma and to friends at church that they are just doing it to save money for the wedding. At this stage an engagement ring may appear. At some point, when they think about getting the house and the kids, because that’s what you do, they decide to have the wedding.
They rent the hall and then go see the priest. He tells them there are four other weddings that day and they respond, “but we’ve rented the hall already.” Someone suggests a garden wedding if the church is occupied. The priest says we can’t do garden weddings. (More on this later.) The young couple begins to complain about how narrow-minded the Church is with all these rules and regulations. They eventually pick a date. Then the bottom drops out. It seems the groom is not Catholic. He was baptized in the First Reformed Church of the Druids, though he never practiced. This means there must be a dispensation for the marriage, another irritating Catholic invention, and the wedding date cannot be confirmed until the dispensation is received.
The bride goes back to her doctor, this time for a prescription for valium. Her mother joins her on this visit. Finally the dispensation is granted, The groom’s druid will do one of the readings at the wedding, the loans are taken out, the banns are published. Then there is the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner. The best man comes to the rehearsal drunk out of his mind, the groom only slightly tipsy. The bride is furious at everyone for some reason known to her alone. Probably because the groom is far more interested in drinking and watching the football game on his hand held computer thing than he is in gazing lovingly into her eyes in anticipation of the great day. In fact they haven’t been, well... friendly in weeks. It is, after all, football season.
The special day comes, the best man is still drunk, the groom is hung over, no one knew about that interesting tattoo that the maid of honor had way low on her back, now revealed by the plunging back of her dress that is held up only by wishful thinking. Grandma, upon reading the logo of the maid of honor’s tattoo, has fainted. Somewhere in all this the vows are exchanged, and quite a few of the wedding party receive their first Holy Communion that day, however one of the ushers puts the host in his suit pocket not having a clue what it is. (This actually has happened to me twice.)
The pictures have been taken. The noise level in the church reaches that of an English soccer match after the riot has broken out. The children are jumping off the altar and the priest is scowling at everyone. Now on to the pictures in the forest preserve, a “must” at every wedding. There the wedding party is attacked by mosquitoes, one of the children falls into the lagoon and the bride is having a hard time smiling for the photos. The best man passes out. On to the reception.
The bride loses it because the shade of fuchsia in the floral center pieces clashes with the shade of fuchsia in the wedding party’s outfit. The groom adjourns to the bar where the game is on the television. The wedding dinner is served as music is played at a mind numbing volume. Grandma is better now. She has turned off her hearing aid. The priest is seated with the pious relatives in plaid suit coats and leaves shortly after the grace before meals.
The best man makes the toast which drones on about how he loves the groom and one begins to wonder. The college roommate/maid of honor does the same for the bride, going on for fifteen minutes about how she knew the bride would find eternal marital bliss the moment she met her in the third grade and they have been like sisters ever since. Then at some point, there is a video presentation of embarrassing photos not unlike the ones that are now shown at wakes.
The bar opens up again. The music reaches levels that cause blood to drip from some peoples’ nose and ears. The joyous event ends with the bride and groom being the last to leave the hall. They are slow to go up to the room they have rented in the hotel because nothing new or beautiful awaits them there. The groom promptly falls asleep, being heavily sedated already, and, as he snores away, with his shoes still on, our blushing bride, having shed her dress of virginal white, thinks back on this day, her special day, the most important day in her life, the day she has dreamt of since she was a little girl.
They will stay an extra day at the hotel, but cannot afford the time or money to go on a honeymoon because on Monday they will both be back at work in order to pay off the colossal bill that their special day has incurred. For some reason, the bride is depressed. Perhaps she is realizing that the high point of her life is now past and the rest of it will be spent with the lump that is now snoring beside her with whom she has never really had a serious conversation, except about the proper shade of fuchsia for the floral centerpieces. So it is that we celebrate the marriage of Christ and His Church in these enlightened and tolerant times.

Remember, none of these things happened at your wedding, thank God and don’t think from reading this that I am down on marriage or even weddings. I love a wedding celebration when there is something to celebrate. Also, it is never too late to begin again by taking Christ and His gospel seriously.

Rev. Know-it-all

P.S. Garden weddings. They look good in all the bridal magazines but they are just opportunities to feed biting insects and suffer from sunburn. It is however amusing to watch the bridesmaids sinking in the mud as they try, after a few margaritas to maneuver the newly laid sod in spiked heals. The bride is generally exhausted from not having slept for three weeks as she worries about the weather reports which are promising a 50 percent chance of typhoons and earthquakes that day. And destination weddings. Don’t get me started on Destination Weddings! You want to be married with just your closest friends on a beach in Maui. That means that Grandma can’t go because she hasn’t flown since the Hindenburg Disaster, and is thinking of cutting you out of the will, and all the friends and relatives who aren’t with you on the beach in Maui realize they aren’t very close to you after all. And I haven’t a clue how long the aisle is here at St. Dymphna’s.