Friday, August 31, 2012

C'mon... you know it is just bread and wine!

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

It is absolutely ridiculous to claim that a peace of bread or a sip of wine can somehow magically be transformed into divine flesh and blood. All that mumbling and waiving about and those incantations and then Catholics expect you to fall to your knees and worship a matzoh cracker. Ridiculous! I chuckle every time I remember that the words “hocus pocus” are a parody of the words of the old Latin Mass, “Hoc est enim corpus meum...” Hocus Pocus it most certainly is! It’s easier to believe in bigfoot and space aliens.

Maria “Ria” List

Dear “Ria”,

I am not sure about space aliens and bigfoot, but I have no doubt that bread and wine become the whole Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity. August 15, 1996 a consecrated communion wafer that had been dropped on the floor was stored in a container of water in a tabernacle. (video here) There it started to turn into what appeared to be flesh. A sample of changed host was given to  Dr. Ricardo Castanon Gomez who was, I believe, an atheist. He examined it and found it to be human flesh. He sent it to a famous pathologist, Dr. Frederick Zugibe in America. The pathologist determined that it was human myocardial tissue that was somehow still beating, though, he presumed, the person from whom the sample had been taken was long dead. Dr. Zugibe was shocked when he found out that he was looking at what had been a piece of bread, and, needless to say. Dr. Gomez  became a Catholic. You can hear Dr. Gomez sharing his story on the web simply by doing a web search for “Buenos Aires Eucharistic Miracle.” There are quite a few similar miracles.

Something like this happened in the 8th Century in Lanciano, Italy. A  priest who didn’t believe that bread and wine truly become the flesh and blood of Jesus was celebrating Mass.  The Communion wafer suddenly turned into a piece of human flesh in the doubting priest’s hands. That host is preserved to this day in Lanciano. In the 1970's it was examined by a doctor. Just as  in the Buenos Aires miracle, it is living tissue from a human heart. Dr. Gomez decided to compare the Buenos Aires tissue with Lanciano sample. They both seem to come from the same person. 

I can hear you say “that’s impossible! Have you contacted this Dr. Zugibe or Dr. Gomez?  Just because they both say it’s so, doesn’t mean it is so. I bet they are making a lot of money off  the scam.!!!”  I can hear another skeptic saying, “Unless I see the imprint of the nails in His hands, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). It’s not much different than saying “Unless I look through the microscope and interview the scientist....”

Sr. Briege McKenna tells a wonderful story about skepticism. She was directing a retreat for priests and one of the retreatant’s fathers was determined to go with his  son on the retreat. His doctors advised against it because he needed an amputation because of diabetic gangrene. The old man insisted that he would go on the retreat and have the operation as soon as the retreat was done. Another priest on the retreat had said to Sister Briege, that he was having real doubts about his faith. He told her that if he could just see one obvious miracle, a good case of “now you see it, now you don’t” he would believe. 

When the retreatants had finally all arrived, they gathered to pray for the man whose foot was gangrenous, and then retired for the night. Early then next morning. the house woke up to cries of, “I’m healed, I’m healed! It’s a miracle.” The priest who had asked for a visible miracle the night before looked at the restored foot and asked, “Did anyone read the doctor’s report? How sure are we that the foot was actually gangrenous? What kind of tests were run?” 

He had asked for a visible miracle. He had received what he asked for. It was not good enough, because he had decided not to believe. It is a true saying that faith makes miracle, miracles don’t make faith. Another fine book on the topic is The Healing Fire of Christ, Reflections on Modern Miracles (ISBN: 9780898708271) by another former atheist, Paul Glynn. The book among other things, talks about another skeptic, the famous Emile Zola who also refused to believe his own eyes and subsequently lied to the world in his book on Lourdes. He was not about to have beliefs shaken by facts that he could not explain. 

I cannot convince you that miracles are real. I could not even convince myself, if I wanted to. I believe miracles are real because I trust Jesus of Nazareth. He is the real miracle. His incarnation was and is the most reasonable fact of history. If there is a God, would that God not have visited his creation? This is wonderfully discussed in C.S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity definitely worth reading.

The part about the Eucharistic miracles that fascinates me is not that they happened, but that the tissue when examined is heart muscle. We Christians believe that God is Love. God is a relationship that the Bible describes as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I used to wonder why was it that the second person of the Trinity came to earth to suffer and die. Why did the Son become Flesh and not the Father? Was the Father afraid? Was He busy at the time? It wasn’t until I was old that I realized, our children are our very hearts. How often have you heard, “I don’t care what you do to me, but touch my kid and I’ll kill you!”  That the Father sent His Son means that He loves us more than He loves His own life. He sent us His very Heart, and because I am a Catholic, that divine heart is placed in my unworthy hands every time I receive Holy Communion, though it appears to be only a piece of bread. It is a wonder beyond words, it is more impossible than a perfect poem, as incapable of being examined under a microscope as is true love. Perhaps a story will help.

There was a man who did not believe God existed. He particularly thought that the idea of the Incarnation was absurd. Were God to exist, how and why would he appear in the form of a helpless infant? His wife and children were practicing Catholics and one snowy Sunday, they piled into the car for the short ride into town from their home in the country. The atheist watched his family away drive and thought how pleasant the morning would be with a quiet house, a football game on the television and a log on the fire. As he watched his family drive off to church, he noticed a flock of birds had settled on his snow covered lawn. 

He somehow got it into his head that they hadn't managed to  fly south for the winter, so he decided to help them out. He figured that if he could get them into the heated garage that now stood empty, he could feed and water them and get them strong enough to make it to Florida. He put his coat and galoshes on over his pajamas and slippers and went out side to shoo them into the garage. Of course, every time they saw him coming they flew away and as soon as he was back in the house they settled on snow again. He tried and tried. He made a trail; of bread crumbs to the garage. He would try to sneak up behind them. He did everything he could think of. Finally he was reduced to sneaking up through the bushes, flapping his coat like a great  mother bird and trying to make bird sounds. 

He thought, “If only I could speak their language, if only I could become one of them for a moment and tell them not to be afraid!” It was just then that the bells rang out from town announcing the consecration, the moment when of bread and wine become flesh and blood, and he remembered words he'd learned in his own long forgotten communion classes. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son....” He fell, weeping,to his knees in the snow and realized that all the love that ever was, all the power that ever was, all the truth that ever was had appeared in the form of a baby in His mother's arms, and that it now appeared in the form of bread and wine in the church where his wife and children knelt in worship. 

God had become one of  us to say, "Be not afraid..."

the Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, August 24, 2012

Why do you always talk about being German?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

Why do you always talk about being German? Sometimes you actually sound proud of your cousins who fought on the Nazi side in the second world war. I find it rather irritating.

Sue Perraes

Dear Sue,

First of all I am not German. I am American. In fact, when my people left Germany there was no Germany. They came from Hesse, a small German speaking principality that was absorbed by Prussia, the north easternmost German state. I am not proud of being German. I am American. I don’t know that I can use the word proud of either German or American. I have always been very grateful that I was born in this great country, but what have I done to be proud of regarding nationality or ethnic origin? These things are just the circumstances in which I was born. Perhaps, had I been a soldier or an elected official I could talk of pride, but I am neither.  I just happen to have had the great good fortune to be born in a country so rich and free, a country with an amazing heritage, vast natural resources and a Constitution and Bill of Rights that seem at times, to have been inspired.  I have always been grateful for my citizenship and loyal to the nation. But....

My ethnic heritage givers me cause  to worry about the future of the land of my birth. My ancestors fled the home that they loved because they saw the storm of militarism rising on the horizon. They had a new government, a Prussian government that suspected Catholics of disloyalty to the new German Empire. The religious freedoms of German Catholics were in danger. My family came here for economic opportunity, and the opportunity to follow their consciences regarding religious observance. Slavery had been abolished. It was the American century. The West had been opened up.......  What had kept it closed?

According to “The Earth Shall Weep: A History of Native America” by James Wilson, in 1491, there were as many native Americans, as there were Europeans, perhaps 70 million. A century later, there were less than half the number of native Americans. Perhaps a tenth of that number. The American population was almost annihilated by unseen immigrants: Europeans viruses and bacteria.  In Latin America, the Indians, as the Spanish called the indigenous people of this hemisphere, tended to survive, though much reduced in numbers. The majority of them converted to Catholicism and as such they had the rights of citizens, at least on paper. The situation was often terrible, but Latin America was, for the most part, not methodically ethnically cleansed of its original inhabitants. That was not the case in English speaking North America. 

Plymouth Colony was established in 1620 and in 50 years, during “King Phillip’s War” the indigenous people who had survived exposure to European diseases were expelled from their homelands and New England was opened to English settlement. The story doesn’t quite end there. The French and Indian War, 1754- 1763 expanded the area of English colonization into the lands inhabited by the Indians west of the Appalachians. The American Revolution further expanded the area available to European settlers and touched off a series of events that led to the French Revolution. The case can be made that the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon so destabilized Europe in the 19th century, that the holocausts of the 20th were inevitable. 

It is curious to think that the match that lit the fuse of the era of World Wars may had actually been lit by George Washington. Washington and some of his militia ambushed the French ambassador Joseph Coulon de Jumonville just south of present day Pittsburgh. In 1753, Washington had been assigned by the English governor of Virginia to protect a land company that was building Pittsburgh. The French considered this their territory, though they pretty much shared it with the Indians. The killing of Jumonville was quite possibly the spark that ignited the French and Indian war.

The French and Indian War, and the American Revolution were all part of the drive to colonize America east of the Mississippi. Britain and France both restricted the access of European colonists to the lands west of the Appalachian mountains. English colonists demanded access to colonization of these lands. This was a major component of the American Revolution and it is rarely mentioned in the history books. After the revolution, the drive for empire continued. In 1811 (later President) William Henry Harrison ended an attempt at Prophet’s Town by the native Americans to unite and defend what was left to them. The battle of Tippecanoe insured that the old northwest, Michigan, Illinois Indiana and Wisconsin would be safe for European colonization. That’s when my people started coming here. 

I remember an old family story that some of the first of our relatives who left Hesse and settled in Michigan employed an old Indian to work on their farm sometime in the 1850's.  It struck me as unspeakably sad to think that the old man had to work on a farm inhabited by these foreigners, land that was formerly his.  Ever heard of the Trail of Tears? The Indian Removal Act was a law passed by the US congress in 1830. It authorized President Andrew Jackson and his successor Martin Van Buren to remove Indians from the southern United States to territory west of the Mississippi River. The Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole were  driven out of their homelands, rounded up into concentration camps and forced to walk hundreds of miles in the dead of winter to some foreign land west of the Mississippi, land that belonged to other native peoples. Untold thousands died.

Our Manifest Destiny was to conquer the continent from sea to shining sea, and beyond. The slave-holding South wanted to make Latin America part of “an empire for slavery.” In1848, after the United States conquered almost half of Mexico (the area that is now California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Nevada and Utah)  President  Polk wanted to buy Cuba from Spain and make it a slave-holding state.  U.S. Senator Jefferson Davis, then a senator from Mississippi agreed “Cuba must be ours,” he said, to “increase the number of slave-holding constituencies.” Spain refused to sell Cuba, so Senator, Albert Brown, also from Mississippi started attaching plans to conquer most of the rest of Mexico “I want Tamaulipas, Potosi, and one or two other Mexican states; and I want them all for the same reason—for the planting and spreading of slavery.” Though the U.S was unable to conquer Mexico completely, we managed to take Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines from Spain. We Americans joyfully jumped into the pool of empire and we were good swimmers. The drive for Empire not just Nazis and Marxists. It created us.

Why am I going in and on about history in a letter that should be religious? First of all, because religion and history are inseparable. Second, because it is true that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Romans (3:23) We Americans are just as capable of horrible injustice as all other people and sometimes I think we are better at ignoring our own weaknesses.  Have you ever heard of the murder of the Germans after the Second World War? Thousands of German soldiers died in American concentration camps after World War II. The allies in the West kept captured soldiers in tents during the winter after the war and fed them with substandard rations. My cousin Richard was in one such America camp in Holland. Thousands died of exposure. The death in the camps of our Soviet allies after the war cannot even be estimated. 

My point is this: we are all human. Humans are capable of great good, of great heroism and also of great brutality and great dishonesty. I fear for the nation. We are as capable of great evil as we are of great good. Someone once said that no nation survives the death of its gods. As a Christian, I would rather say that no nation can despise God and live. Our unfettered attempts to reject natural law by redefining the family, our unrestricted slaughter of children in the womb, our demand that the churches violate their deepest moral convictions by providing the means of murder to those who want to end the lives of their unborn children, these things make me wonder if this great American experiment is at its end. 

The greatest ethnic component of the population of the United States is ethnically German. Fifty million Americans claim German heritage. This nation is in large measure a Germanic nation. German speaking people emigrated here from lands that denied them freedom. My question is this “When this country loses its soul, where will it flee?”  My ancestors watched the dissolution of their society and came here. Must we do it all over again? 

I talk and write about these things not because they are good, but because they are normal and real. The people I love back in the old country are among the dearest and finest people I know and yet they participated in one of the greatest evils known to history. Do you think we in the US are immune?  Evil is very work-a-day. It is easy to get used to evil and to tolerate it and to benefit by it. If we threw off the restraints of religion, who knows what evil we will be capable of?  Hitler and Stalin stopped the voice of the preachers in Europe and untold millions died horribly. Will we stop the voice of religion here also? It is my ethnic heritage that causes me to fear for this great land that I love. Heaven help me if I forget the evil of which I am capable!

Rev. Know-it-all

Monday, August 20, 2012

Of chicken sandwiches and societal decay -- part 2

Continued from last week… 
At the current time about one third of all Americans are receiving a government check.  Don’t get upset. A lot of, maybe most of these checks are absolutely legitimate. Pensions, social security, disability paychecks for government jobs that are necessary for the functioning of the society. These are part of the social contract. They were earned and the people who receive them are usually decent folks who have worked hard. I am not saying that government checks are a bad thing. I hope to receive one myself someday. Still, 70 percent of the federal government's budget is dedicated to paying those checks, but the Federal Government has to borrow 43 cents of every dollar it spends, and the level of government debt is so large and growing so quickly that we cannot even begin to comprehend the scope of the problem. The only way to pay the debt and keep the checks coming is to tax those who can be taxed. About half of Americans pay taxes. About half do not. If we keep increasing the taxes of the half the people of the country to support the other half, the paying half is going to say “Why bother?” 
This is just the situation of the federal government. The state and city governments are often in much, much worse shape. Ten States, California, Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Wisconsin are about to go bankrupt. These 10 states account for about a third of the population, so  33% of the USA is on the verge of bankruptcy. Colorado, Georgia, Kentucky, New York and Hawaii are approaching the same condition.  Cities die. Detroit, a city my family once called home had a population of 1,900,000 people in 1950. In 2010 it had 700,000.  There are wide open spaces where there once were homes and businesses.  Except for a few artificially sustained areas the city is a devastation. There are quite a few factors that made this situation, but needless to say, Detroit is a city on life support. I am unable to find out how many people in Detroit are dependent on the government for their income, but I would venture that it is significant and that it is those able to pay taxes who have left. The question is, how will they or dwellers in any city live if there is no government?

My Uncle Sylvester (I’m not making him up) lived in Detroit when the depression broke out. He and Aunt Stell’ moved back to her family farm and provided for the relatives back in the city until things got better. What farm will you go to if and when the government says, “sorry no check this month, we’re broke.”? “But I worked for this check. This is my pension. This is my social security. This is my workman’s comp. I worked for this. This isn’t fair.”  You’re right. It’s not fair. But in the annoying popular phrase, it is what it is. We spent the money we owed you, and now we are out of money.  No matter how just your complaint, when the money is gone, the money is gone.  We are living on the razor’s edge in this fragile society. People in Rome slowly packed up and moved away. They moved away because to stay was to die. There was no more water. The technology had failed because there was no money to maintain it. No one cleaned or maintained the aqueduct. We have aqueducts too, but more significantly we have power lines. Imagine what would happen to a city of 8,000,000 people if it had no power for a week or two. No water, no traffic lights, no telephones, no refrigeration, no elevators, no lights, no fire sirens, no 911 calls, no hospitals, no cell phones, no computers, no banks, no ATM’s,  no computers, no gas stations, no nothing.  And no money.

I look at my bank statement and think “Oh good! I still have some money.” There is no real money anymore. We don’t even have much paper money. All my money and yours is just a bunch of bits and bytes floating in cyberspace, electrical impulses stored on a digital memory  system. Pull the plug, blow the fuse and it’s gone. So you’ve bought gold, have you?  What are you going to do with it? You can’t eat gold and unless someone will take your gold and give you chickens you are up the proverbial creek. Probably the person who has the chickens will just take the gold, especially if the chicken farmer has a shotgun. It has been said that in a societal failure, lead will be much more valuable than gold. We, like the Romans and every other civilization before us think that the city of man is a bedrock when it is in fact a swamp. I can hear some of you packing your things and looking for rural real estate. That is not my point. My point is that you must first question the values of the “Age of Wackiness.” 
The Christian believes that people are more important than things. The current age believes that things are more important than people, in fact, people are measured by the number of things they possess. Our problem is that all the things we possess need to be plugged in. The clueless generation has almost no interest in anything that doesn’t require electricity and I imagine if the government really runs out of money all those wonderful electric toys will make mediocre paper weights and nothing more. We need to teach the Clueless generation that they can’t always have their own way and that the love of God is the only thing that can’t be stolen from them. You’re saying it can’t happen. I’m saying it will happen. I don’t know how and when, but if we continue at the present rate of consuming without producing it will happen. I suspect that it will happen sooner than any of us would care to think. I don’t imagine things will end. I just think someone will come along who will help us out of our mess if we do as we are told. Then it will be someone else who decides what kind of chicken sandwich we will eat. So what’s the answer? I think that was your question. Simple: “Put not your trust in princes, nor in mortal man, in whom there is no help....How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, Whose hope is in the LORD his God.” 

Oh, by the way, the great city of Rome was in about the same shape as we are. Half the city of Rome worked. They were slaves. The other lived off of slave labor and government grain distributions. When the government failed, the Church took over the welfare system. The American state is currently trying to cripple the charities of the Catholic Church to extend its control over society. When the government can’t pay anyone anymore I imagine we Catholics will have to step in all over again. It would probably be smart not to destroy the churches charitable and educational institutions. You’re gonna need ‘em.  “Quomodo sedet sola civitas” (How doth the city sit alone. Lamentations 1:1)

P.S. As I finish this diatribe, the electricity in India has failed and about 600 million people are in the dark. Creepy, isn’t it!

P.P.S. I am very fond of Bratwurst. Also the book “A Canticle for Liebowitz” is fun reading on the topic.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Of chicken sandwiches and societal decay...

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

You and so many, many "Catholics"  know just what needs to be done to save the Church. Get rid of fluff and bratwurst, add water balloons and donuts, get the kids out of the trees, and completely disregard anything taught in a Catholic school for the past several decades. All written so "all encompassing" - where did you all come from?  Let's have a good old fashioned crusade...with swords and stuff. It should be great fun, or should it be humorless and dour....children trudging off to find true religion?  What's the answer?

 Sadie T. & Sol A. Civitas

Dear Sol and Sadie,

I am not sure that I know quite what you are driving at, but I’ll give it a stab. Before I begin my usual denunciation of everything and everyone I would suggest that we all do a web search for “The Laughter of John Paul II.”  St. Paul says that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in the 5th chapter of his letter to the Galatians, and we are all pretty joyless right about now, on the right, the left and everywhere in between. 

Now for the thundering joyless denunciation. A Rabbi once explained to me that since Jews have been around a long time, they don’t count on institutions the way that people with shorter memories might. For instance, in a Jewish wedding contract, a Ketubah, there are generally no references to states and countries. Cities might be referenced by name and physical features, such as “ in the city of Frostbite Falls, by the shores of Lake Gitchigoomi...” No country is mentioned because countries come and go. Large bodies of water, mountains and the Word of the Lord endure. 

Think about it. Israel outlived the Sumerians, the Egyptian empire, the Babylonian empire, the Persian empire the Greek empire and along with the Christian version of Israel, we have outlived the Roman empire, the Visigothic empire, the more or less Holy Roman empire, and a lot of other empires. Consider the interesting tale of St. Lambert of Maastricht who was martyred by the rulers of Austrasia in 700 AD. That’s Austrasia, not Australia. St. Lambert (or Landebertus as his mother called him) was the bishop of Maastricht. Pepin, the ruler of Austrasia had dumped his lawful wife, Plectrude, in favor of Alpaida, daughter of Dodo, a mover and shaker in the political hurly burly of Austrasia and its neighbor Neustria. Lambert denounced Pepin’s liaison with Alpaida, so Alpaida’s relatives murdered Lambert who thus became a martyr for his defense of traditional marriage. There is no more Austrasia, and the name of Dodo is quite extinct. There are still buildings built in honor of Lambert. There is a particularly lovely one in Skokie near the shores of Lake Michigan. I don’t think that Dodo even has a plaque in his memory.

There is a saying that, “He who is married to the spirit of the age soon finds himself a widower.” You have heard of the age of Reason, the Baroque Era, the Middle Ages, the Jazz Age? We live in what history will call “the Age of Wackiness” in which entire nations decided to extinct themselves by means of a redefinition of the family, by making sterility drugs an insurance requirement, and by calling the wholesale murder of children a “medical service.” 

I suspect that the nation in which I live is pretty much over. It was fun while it lasted. In the country in which I grew up, most people could pretty much say what they thought, though there was a lot of prejudice against people who were different, especially people of color. We went through a whole social revolution in which the constitutional right to self expression was finally extended to everyone. I reveled in my right to self expression by wearing outlandish outfits that, I am now ashamed to say, included orange bell bottom pants.  It was a glorious 10 years or so. Now that era is over. If one thinks that it is probably not a good idea for guys to marry guys, one is not allowed to sell chicken sandwiches -- really good chicken sandwiches. In the past, religious zealots censored the speech and the thought of non-conformists. Religious zealots are doing it again, but the religious zealots of the present age have a religion that pretty much leaves God out of the picture, at least God as we Catholics understand Him. It’s really quite amazing.

What in my hippy-dippy youth was free speech is now hate speech. Like the game of whack-a-mole, you pound down bigotry to have it pop up in another place. The non-conformists of the present age are those people who, like me, believe in a traditional definition of family, marriage and faith. The zealots of the religion of modernity can tolerate everything but intolerance. Modernity is a religion in which all things are allowed and none are forgiven. Christianity is the exact opposite in which many things are not allowed, but all things can be forgiven. The New Zealots say that I must pay for their abortions and their recreational chasing around. I must celebrate their aberrations that fifty years ago all agreed were at least a bit odd.  They are not content with my tolerance. They demand my agreement, and I just can’t bring myself to agree, no matter how much I want a really good chicken sandwich. What’s the answer? I’m not sure, and I don’t think  that any of us going to like it when it arrives.

We are bankrupt, certainly morally, but far more interestingly to most, financially. When people talk about the trillions of dollar we are spending, eyes just glaze over. There is a simpler way to look at it. If you made $21,700 a year, but you spent nearly twice that, $38,200 even though you had an existing credit card balance of $142,710, you would be in big trouble. That’s what the United States Federal government is doing every year, except that the $142,170 keeps going up because the $15 or $16 thousand extra you keep spending, even though you don’t have it, gets added to the debt. I know! We’ll write checks! (For “writing checks” read printing money). By the time the grocery store cashes the check, we’re bound to have more money somehow! 

Thus the finances of the Age of Wackiness, and this approach is not new. The Roman government started to water down it’s currency with lead because it ran out of gold and silver. Pretty soon the Roman government wouldn’t even accept its own money as payment for taxes. You had to pay them in chickens or bushels of turnips or whatever they told you they wanted from you. The population plummeted. People quietly packed up and move across the border if they could. The government couldn’t even pay for enough soldiers. They actually outsourced their military needs! Finally in the year 400, the Rio Grande, I mean the Rhine River, froze solid and the Germans stormed across it, and it was good bye Rome, hello Visigoths. The same thing happened in Germany not too long ago, around 1930. The Weimar government after the First World War just kept printing money until it became more cost effective to burn money than to buy firewood. Along came this unpleasant little fellow from Austria, Hitler, who promised he would make everything better if people just didn’t ask too many questions. 

My point is this. We may quibble about chicken sandwiches and same-sex marriage, but all the while there is a great storm brewing. The generation that defeated Hitler and Hirohito is often called the greatest generation. They shivered in the trenches and starved and bled, believing that they were protecting the homes and families they loved. They risked their lives and many lives were lost so that freedom would not evaporate from the world. They swore that their children would not have to go through what they had endured and victorious, the greatest generation came home and raised the whiniest generation, my generation. We in turn gave birth to the clueless generation, raised without fathers, without faith and thus pretty much without a moral compass or marketable skills.  

 Lots of the “you all” to whom you refer in your kind though inscrutable letter, are hunkering down for the apocalypse. I am not one of them. I suspect that the apocalypse is not yet upon us, but another historical hiccup is.  People think the age in which they live will just keep on going on and on because we have reached the high point of history. Someone living in 350AD might say “Rome has not been conquered since the Gauls in 390 BC!  What’s all this defeatist talk about the Germans?”  So for 700 years Rome plodded on until she no longer had the will or the ability to resist her own demise. And when it came it was not so much with a bang but a whimper. 

Rome was a city of one million people. Rome! A city of one million people! Eating and drinking, selling and buying, throwing out garbage, voting for corrupt politicians etc.  A few centuries later she was a town of perhaps 20,000. She had lost 98% of her population. Rome nearly died not just  because of external enemies, but by the failure of her technology. Aqueducts. Rome had 111 aqueducts that watered, bathed, flushed and cooled one million people. They were maintained by the city and needed regular maintenance, cleaning and supervision. With the invasions of the Roman Empire, some aqueducts were deliberately destroyed to starve the cities but many more became unusable through lack of sufficient maintenance. While we argue about the moral significance of chicken sandwiches, our world is collapsing.

To be continued…….

Thursday, August 2, 2012

What's a Catholic funeral like?

Dear Rev. Know it all,

I am a member the First Church of the Separated Brethren with Signs and Wonders Following. Recently I attended a Catholic funeral. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be. The deceased had been dead for about three months and had been cremated. His ex-wife and his current girlfriend had a tough time agreeing on what to do for the funeral. Finally, it was agreed that his ashes would be scattered from the bridge where he had perished in a tragic bungee-jumping accident. The mourners assembled at the appointed time and the ceremonies opened with a bag piper playing “O Danny Boy”  There were then a few touching eulogies given by some of his friends from the bar. They reminisced much about the time they had all been on a pub crawl in Dublin and how there was nobody who hadn’t enjoyed time spent with the deceased. His ex-wife and current girl friend simply looked at their shoes. The ex-brother in law gave a kind of “celebrity roast” in which he laughingly shared all the times he’d had to bail “Bubba” out of jail both here and abroad. Apparently Bubba had been the life of every party. There were some people writhing about in diaphanous gowns and I was told these were something called liturgical dancers. Then a priest (at least I assume he was priest, he had a white robe and some sort of multi colored stole) read a few lines from the Bible and shared a brief homily in which he assured the mourners that Bubba was doubtless in heaven because he had been such a nice guy and everybody had really liked him and he regretted that he had never actually met Bubba in this world, but was sure that they would share a beer in heaven because Bubba had been unflinchingly devoted to his Irish heritage and his Catholic faith. He never missed the dyeing green of the Chicago river on St. Patrick day, nor failed  to eat the sacred meal of corned beef and cabbage, so great was his devotion to the faith of his great grandparents who had emigrated from Ireland. Finally, the bag piper droned “Amazing Grace” and the ashes were tipped over the railing of the bridge and, as if by divine intervention, an updraft scattered Bubba’s earthly remains over the mourners so that we all had a little bit of Bubba with us as we retired to Szatkowsiki’s Irish Pub for green beer and corned beef and many more humorous stories about Bubba’s rich life and humorous escapades. Is this a normal Catholic funeral?

Miss M. Balmers

Dear Miss Balmers,
Yours sincerely,
the Rev. Know-it-all.

PS. It wasn’t always this way. Catholic funerals were once noted for their dignity and solemnity. Now they are much more entertaining and usually canonize the deceased no matter what kind of reprobate he might have been. In the olden days of which I have some memory, they were about the brevity of life and the mercy of a just God. The old Requiem was the same for prince or pauper.

There are two ideas current in the funeral industry which have overpowered Catholic custom and teaching regarding funerals. The first is that the funeral is for the living. Catholics don’t believe this at all. The funeral is for the dead. The funeral Mass is said for the repose of the soul of the deceased. We used to believe that every soul stood before the judgment seat of God to receive the reward of their deeds, for good or for ill. Now we think that God is such a nice guy that he just says, “Well, let’s let bygones be bygones. The bar is over here and the Jacuzzi is over there. Dinner is at five. Enjoy!” There is no freedom. There is no justice.  We are all doomed to be eternally entertained.

Catholics believe, or at least used to believe, that when one stood before the throne of God, even if one had died in His grace, there was still the matter of judgment, which we call purgatory, and that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, which is what the Mass actually is, both saves and redeems us. The funeral Mass, like all Masses is that sacrifice which is of infinite value for our eternal happiness. It was celebrated at each requiem for the benefit of the person who now stood before God. In effect, at the funeral Mass we stood with the beloved as he faced his Judge.  The Mass was thus not for the mourners, but for the one who was mourned as he faced judgment. It was not about us. It was about God whose mercy and whose justice are all important to mortal man.

Now, of course, it is about the guests at the funeral. The Catholic Funeral has been thoroughly Protestantized and is in the process of being thoroughly secularized. Remember that Luther, the founder of Protestantism, said that the Mass was not a sacrifice. It exists for the consolation and instruction of the faithful. Mass is about ME and MY FEELINGS. Not about God or the deceased. Mass has no objective value, certainly a funeral Mass has no objective value to the poor departed, so if Mass doesn’t do anything for me, then let’s skip it and get straight to the funeral banquet and the humorous speeches. If the Catholic theory is right, then there are a lot of souls standing at the throne of God saying “What?!? They’re not having a funeral Mass? But I need a funeral Mass!! I don’t need dancing girls and bagpipes. I need the people who claim to have loved me to pray for the repose of my soul. You mean they’re just going to sing a few songs and then go get liquored up????” 

The Wake is for the living. Have the comic roasts, the bagpipes, the meal, the eulogies, the pictures and the speeches there. But at church have a Mass. Not a Mass/Celebration of Life. A Mass. A real Mass which is the un-bloody re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary which is the only good reason for any of us to attain heaven anyway.

The second innovation which has made life much easier for all of us is the “Memorial Mass.”  I have no idea what a memorial Mass is. In the Catholic Church we have Masses in the book for the funeral, for the anniversary of death, for the remembrance of the dead and for something called the commemoration which is offered when news of a death has been received or when the final internment of the body takes place. I suppose this final category is partly what is meant by a “Memorial Mass,” but in my experience, a memorial Mass is a Mass celebrated when everybody can coordinate their calendars. It is the big funeral at a convenient time. I will never forget when I was asked to do a memorial Mass a few months after the death of someone I had never met. I assumed that a few friends would gather to pray for the deceased who had died quite a while before. No such luck. Up pulled a white hearse and a funeral procession and a crowd of mourners who were expecting the whole enchilada. I had no musicians and none of the other trimmings and had not been to the wake. I had no idea that there would even be a wake. Needless to say the customers, none of whom I had ever met, were not very happy with my service. Some friends of the beloved cremains who was not a Catholic actually wrote my bishop to say that my performance had not met expectations. My performance? 

It is a great sadness to me to see  un-churched un-catechized adolescents who need some quick religion to feel better about a death in the family. They know nothing about the Catholic faith, but there they are wearing uncomfortable  clothing, mystified by a “performance” that they don’t understand. I had a funeral a few weeks ago at which the children of the not-so-recently deceased had been invited by the undertaker each to choose a reading. There were two Psalms and two Gospels. I said nothing. It was just painful, for them and for me. I have no idea if it was painful for the deceased. It seemed that the participants needed some religion at the moment, but only for the moment not for life. They had no idea of the Catholic way of living and I gave them nothing better. I just tried to be “pastoral” and not to upset them in their time of delayed grief. 

We Catholics believe that we have been given the Secrets of the Kingdom, the Keys of Heaven, the Bread of Angels. The modern world wants a performance. The Catholic funeral has been hijacked by  some members of the funeral industry just as the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony has been hijacked by wedding planners and Bridal Magazines. (by the way, I have met some funeral directors who are people of deep faith and great compassion. I have met some however, whose motto is: “Head ‘em up, move ‘em out”) When will we say “Time out! Let’s do this right?” The world doesn’t need the show no matter how much they want one. The world needs Christ.