“The Real Vocation Crisis”- Marriage and Family

marriage-2We have  recently posted a number of blogs on vocation, courtship, and marriage, and it may seem like overkill…but here’s another.  Yesterday Catholic News Service published an article quoting Archbishop Timothy Dolan as saying, marriage and family is “where we have the real vocation crisis…If we take care of that one, we’ll have all the priests and nuns we need for the church.” Part of this crisis, he noted, is that only 50% of young Catholics are getting married.

How can each of us encourage young Catholics in their vocational discernment to marriage?

We can guide a young Catholic toward spiritual direction; we can support a friend who has just begun a courtship; we can speak about the vocation of marriage to a single son, daughter, neice, or nephew; and we can pray for the Spirit of Wisdom and Courage for all people.

Share with us what you’re doing to support marriage and family!

Note: I’m using the antiquated word courtship on purpose. To court is defined as “to seek the affections of; to seek to win a pledge of marriage from; to perform actions in order to attract for mating.” (Merriam-Webster) Courtship is what leads to marriage and mating…which leads to little boys and little girls growing up and consecrating themselves in service of the Church. It also leads to little boys and girls growing up and making the commitment to court and marry. The circle of life!

What Young Adults Want– Relevant Homilies

Preacher2Yesterday, I was on the phone call with a young adult leader discussing topics for an upcoming lecture series, when he made the following comment:

“There are so many topics that the media talks about all the time, but those topics aren’t preached from the pulpit. So we’d want to hear about those.”

Yikes! Are Sunday homilies so disconnected from modern life? I would hope not, but this young adult makes me think that the answer is yes.

As an example of what he’s referring to, I went to a popular news website and browsed for some topics.

End of Life issues
Cruelty to animals
Prayer in public places
Financial hardship
Same-sex marriage
Climate change
War in Afghanistan
Just wages

It’s true – I can only remember one homily in the recent past that addressed one of these topics.

What can parishioners do to support relevant homilies? First, love your priests and deacons in Christian friendship. Secondly, give them feedback about their homilies and suggest topics that you feel are more relevant to modern life.

Here are two encouraging excerpts from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal:

29. Although in the readings from Sacred Scripture God’s word is addressed to all people of every era and is understandable to them, nevertheless, a fuller understanding and a greater effectiveness of the word is fostered by a living commentary on the word, that is, the Homily, as part of the liturgical action.

65. The Homily is part of the Liturgy and is strongly recommended, for it is necessary for the nurturing of the Christian life. It should be an exposition of some aspect of the readings from Sacred Scripture or of another text from the Ordinary or from the Proper of the Mass of the day and should take into account both the mystery being celebrated and the particular needs of the listeners.

Is this the Body of Christ? – Absolutely!


In the previous post, Msgr. Pope gives us insight into a question that many Catholics fail to ponder.  As evidenced by his brilliant answer to a young Catholic, our Holy Father certainly does not fall into that category.  However, I fear that some of us who have been Catholic for a while may lose an appreciation for the gift of the Eucharist.

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”

A few years ago, one of my high school students was in the process of coming into full communion with the Catholic Church. We would dialogue often during her journey and like most converts, she had many questions. By the grace of God, I usually had the answers.

Is this really the Body of Christ?

I recall one issue that she had a hard time understanding and I had a hard time explaining – Transubstantiation. The concept that a simple piece of unleavened bread and wine can become the actual Body and Blood of our Lord was hard to explain and hard for her to fully understand.

Break through

During a break though conversation I said, “Listen. When the minister of Holy Communion says, ‘The Body of Christ’, they are really saying, “This is the actual body of our Savior. It is not a symbol. It is not a representation. It is the actual body of Christ.  This is true because this is how Jesus instituted it.” I went on to say, “When you say ‘amen’, what you are really saying is that you agree with that proclamation. With all of your heart, mind and soul, you believe that you have come into the presence of Jesus is a very tangible way!” After months of dialogue, my student finally seemed satisfied with the conversation.  She was finally able to accurately reflect back to me her own understanding of the Eucharist.


At the first school Mass following her reception into the Church, I was distributing Holy Communion. In the distance, I could see this young women maneuver herself so that she would end up in my line. When she approached, I raised the Eucharist and said, ” The Body of Christ.” Her response was remarkable. Instead of the expected ‘amen’, she smiled and in all of her excitement replied, “Absolutely!!!”

Now, I knew that the proper response is ‘amen’ but theologically, that was probably one of the most correct responses I have ever heard.

Say and think what you believe.

If you have lost an appreciation for the incredible gift of the Holy Eucharist, the next time you are in line for communion and receive God, please say “amen.” But think to yourself, “Absolutely!”

Eunice Kennedy Shriver: From Gym Teacher to Special Olympics

A Washington Post reporter, Catholic special education and the Kennedy family

In October 1956, Ed Fouillard, a Washington Post political reporter, was covering Adlai Stevenson. At an event at a Knights of Columbus Hall in Elkins, West Virginia he sat next to Robert Kennedy. Fouillard, whose son Michael attended Holy Spirit, a fledgling school for “mentally retarded” children in Washington, DC, told Kennedy about the school and that he’d read in the Catholic Standard newspaper that Joseph Kennedy funded schools for the disabled. In a 1976 interview, reprinted in a history of the Kennedy Institute, Fouillard noted that Bobby Kennedy said nothing in response.

Fast forward to April 1957. Fouillard runs into the family patriarch, Joe Kennedy, at a Senate hearing. Joe mentions that “Jack [Fouillard says he thinks he meant Bobby] was telling me about your boy and about that school. I am interested.” Fouillard immediately calls the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to tell them. A few days later, Ethel Kennedy calls him and comes to visit the school, then in the basement of a convent at North Capitol and K Streets.

Next, Fouillard drafts a letter to Ethel Kennedy. The letter is forwarded on to Joe and a few days later, Ethel contacts Fouillard, saying, “Grandpa is willing to go for a half-million.” Then-Archbishop O’Boyle, who was deeply committed to providing education and services for those with disabilities, contributed the other $500,000 and the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute was founded. Now a program within Catholic Charities, on October 1, 2009, it will celebrate its 50th anniversary of service at 801 Buchanan Street, NE, Washington, DC.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver’s Role

As a 1970s-era history of the Kennedy Institute found in the archives of the Archdiocese of Washington notes that Eunice Kennedy Shriver, director of the Kennedy Foundation, “wanted to prove through model recreation and sports programs, that retarded children and youth could not only enjoy these leisure time opportunities, but that, through such stimulation, these youngsters would improve in all aspects of their personality – psychological, emotional and mental.”

Living out this belief, she became the driving force behind the physical education program at the Kennedy Institute. In January 1965, she established and funded, through the Kennedy Foundation, a Saturday Recreation Program. Students participated in morning activities either at the school or off-site. Believing more was needed, she next pushed for regular physical education as part of the curriculum and volunteered as a physical instruction teacher at the school from September 1965, for two years.

(Eunice Kennedy Shriver teaches physical education circa 1965 at the Lt. Joseph P. Kennedy Institute of the Archdiocese of Washington)

As Dolores Wilson, one of the founding staff of the Kennedy Institute recalls: “Each time [she came to teach], she brought along one of her own children, beginning at a ‘toddler’ age. The weather did not matter. All five classes were alerted that Mrs. Shriver was here and ready to meet them outdoors in the school yard for their exercises. She spent a half hour with each class. We bundled up the little ones who did not want to go outside in the cold and if they were too slow, Mrs. Shriver appeared at the classroom door with ‘Sista, sista, are the children ready yet?’ Mrs. Shriver came to our school for two years and was our teacher, our helper, the one who encouraged us and was grateful for the work being done to spread the word of caring for families and children with special needs. Mrs. Shriver became our friend!”

Inclusion Program at Our Lady of Mercy School

Eunice Kennedy Shriver, of course, went on to found the Special Olympics. She also obtained the funding – $150,000 – to start a model inclusion program for Our Lady of Mercy School in Potomac. The principal at that school today herself was inspired as a teen volunteer at Camp Shriver.

Never to forget the vulnerable, Eunice Kennedy Shriver also was an advocate for the unborn, writing on their behalf in publications and encouraging support for pregnant women in need. She received the 1982 National Figure Award from the Archdiocese of Washington’s Catholic Youth Organization and the 1996 John Carroll Medal from the John Carroll Society.

In the 1990s, working with Archbishop Donald Wuerl (then Bishop of Pittsburgh) she helped develop the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Program, a religious education curriculum for children with special needs that has been implemented in dioceses nationwide.

For the salvation of the world

Clare of Assisi

Today, the Church honors Clare of Assisi, who was born in 1193 and as a young adult, inspired by Francis of Assisi, joined him and founded the first convent for women in the Franciscan tradition. Clare was from a wealthy family and had quite a comfortable life ahead of her when she decided that the Gospel and a life of poverty seemed more interesting.

A Charism for love

Clare had a hunger for God. She learned that a life of simplicity would teach her how to let go of any distraction that shifted her focus away from serving God. In the Decree on Religious Life, we learn  that religious life fosters a life hidden with Christ in God. Such a life is grounded in love of one’s neighbor and an abiding faith that this love rooted in Christ is a source of salvation for the whole world.

Build it and they will come

It was not long before Clare’s inspiration attracted other women, including her own mother and sister! What seemed like a good idea 800 years ago, continues to seem like a good idea to women today. In our own backyard ,in Brookland, there is a convent of Poor Clares (3900 13th St., NE) whose mission is to pray for the needs of the world and for the building up of the Church. They welcome anyone who knocks at their door to enjoy the silence of their chapel, to join them in prayer, to ask for their prayers or to share a conversation.  See www.poorclareswdc.org.

Clare and all the women and men who are  called to contemplative life teach us how to seek and love above all things the God who first loved us.


The sign of the cross and other”public displays of affection”


The greatest commandment

Christ said that the greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind.” (Matthew 22:36)  One of the ways we express our love for anyone or anything is with public displays of affection.

Examples of Catholic public displays of affection

As Catholics, our church’s tradition has been blessed with several ways for others to know we are disciples of Christ. The crucifix, the image of the suffering Christ, is decidedly Catholic.  Hanging it in our home or in our office is a public display of affection for God. Certainly our honoring of Mary, the Mother of God, in our prayer life, our jewelry and even for some of us, body art, is a visible sign of our discipleship in Christ. In ecumenical groups, others know that we are Catholic Christians because we visibly remind ourselves, and others, of our common baptism through the sign of the cross.

We have greetings that are in common – “The Lord be with you – And also with you.” We can go almost anywhere in the world and know that we are among fellow Catholics through our public displays of affection for God and his only son, Jesus Christ.

Don’t be afraid, be proud

I submit to you that Catholics have built into our religious culture a strong desire to let everyone know that we are disciples of Christ. But at times, we suppress that part of our religious culture. And this is a shame. It is the shared traditions that I described above that invite us to love one another.

How many of us say grace regularly at home yet, feel self-conscience about praying at a restaurant? And if we pray, do we omit a visible sign of the cross for fear of drawing attention to ourselves? If so, why?
We are taught by polite society that public displays of affection are at times inappropriate. But, I submit to you that a public display of affection for our God and for our fellow Christians is always appropriate!

How else will people know that we are disciples of Christ!  They will know us by our love and affection for God!

Sharing your faith in common conversations


“I am blessed and highly favored!”

I have a very close friend who is very friendly and outgoing. She is often the first to say hello to a stranger and greets all who come into her presence with a smile and maybe even a hug. However, she gets easily frustrated by what she calls, “mediocre Christian responses” to her greetings. I have learned to share in this frustration because its source should be obvious.  However, it is subtle and hidden.

Here is an example of a mediocre Christian response: When asked, “How are you doing today?” it is common for us to reply, “I am OK” or “hanging in there.” That is a mediocre Christian response. If we are made in the image and likeness of God, then we have to be doing better than “OK.” The Evangelist Matthew tells us that God cares even for the sparrow and therefore, he is deeply concerned for us. (Matthew 10:29). So, we have to be doing better than “Hanging in there.”

My close friend is so deeply bothered by these mediocre Christian responses that she refuses to give any herself. In fact, when asked, “How are you doing?’ she most often says, “Blessed and highly favored!” Even if she is having a bad day, she is blessed and highly favored by God and does not mind saying so.

Last fall during a homily, I challenged members of my parish to avoid mediocre Christian responses. I challenged them to respond to a greeting from each other and even those outside of church with a proclamation of God’s goodness and love. When asked, “How’s it going?” try saying something like, “God loves me, so it’s going great.” I challenged my brothers and sisters to do this because, I had already given this a try and I found, it really works. I tried it at my school. I tried it with my family and neighbors. I even tried it in the grocery store at the check-out counter. Each and every time, my answer was received with a least a smile if not a reciprocal affirmation of faith.

Even at the end of a conversation, rather than saying “good-bye” or “see you later”  we said, “God bless!” To date, no one has reported a negative response. No one got offended and no one rejected our good will. In fact, we often get a sincere, heart felt “Thank you” or “God bless you too!”

Brothers and sisters, Christ is everywhere and it is our calling to bring His presence and His grace to the attention of others. I challenge you, just as I challenged my parish, to avoid mediocre Christian responses and to remind yourself and others that you are indeed, “Blessed and highly favored!”

See you later – I mean – God Bless!

Wake up Call: Contraception is Cultural Suicide!

vesalius1In the article just below, Susan Timoney has called to our attention that latest notion of the “culture of death.” What is the “culture of death” you might ask.  Essentially what it amounts to is that the “solution” to problems seems (increasingly) to be the death(or non-existence) of a human being, or of human beings in general. If a baby is inconvenient or has birthdefects or is in somehow not preferred, abort (kill) the baby. If a prisoner has committed serious crimes, kill him. If a person is in the final stages of life and has difficulties that minimize the quality of life, kill the patient, or let him kill himself. Even our entertainment is deadly in nature. The typical adventure movie begins by some injustice or act of violence. Then our hero steps on the scene and, after about an hour and a half of killing people, breaking things, crashing cars, blowing up stuff etc., justice is restored and our hero walks off the scene with the girl in his arms. What was the solution to injustice? Why of course, death.

Save the Planet by Dying! And now, in order to save the planet what is the solution? Our old friend, death, or in this case, the premeditated non existence of people through contraception. You see we have to minimize our “carbon footprint” as a species so to “save the planet” we should block the existence of new human beings. (Ever notice how, only people who are already alive suggest that others should not exist?)  OK, so lets all agree that a clean planet with well managed resources is a good thing. But not if no one is around to enjoy it. The secular worldview sees the planet as an end in  it itself. The Judeo/Christian worldview sees the earth has having been made for the human race and given to us by God (cf Gen. 1:28) who told us to be fruitful and multiply.

Malthus was Wrong – For well over a century now the alarmists have told us we would run out of food and other resources. We have not. We have gotten smarter. We farm more efficiently and manage our resources better. There is plenty of food to go around. It is corruption and injustice that keeps some of the poor from being well fed, not a lack of resources.  But the culture of death insists on death and non-existence as a solution. Most of this kind of talk comes from the affluent West and western-style cultures.

Getting What We Want? – Well, perhaps the affluent West is about to get what it wants to dole out to others: increasing non-existence. It seems we are slowing going out of business. With birthrates plummeting throughout Europe and other Western democracies the writing is on the wall as never before: non-existence is looming ever larger. In France the birthrate is 1.8 children per family, well below the replacement level of 2.1 Ah! Good News! says the culture of death crowd. Not so fast. There is another birthrate in France that is quite different. Muslim families in France have a birthrate of 8.1 children per family. Europeans who have lost their love for life are simply being replaced by others who do love life. Europe as we know it today is going out of existence. Everywhere, in Germany, Italy, England and Spain, Japan too and other western style democracies too are being replaced.

Committing Suicide – And What of the Church? Last year the Roman Catholic Church was displaced as the largest religion in the world by Muslim believers who have taken the top spot. Not only is Western Culture committing a kind of suicide but so are the Catholics and other Christians there. The Catholic Church has warned of the dangers of contraception for years and the world, even many Catholics, have laughed at this “archaic” teaching. Well, it is time to wake up. We are committing suicide, we are going out of existence. It is almost as if the judgement of God is upon us, saying, “If you do not love life, you will be replaced by those who do.” God often strengthened Israel’s opponents in the Old Testament in order to punish and purify Israel. I wonder if something similar isn’ t happening here. The Christian West has cast aside its love of life and kicked faith to the curb. The Muslims who DO love life and have NOT kicked faith(though not our faith) to the curb are thriving. Pay attention.

Can’t Happen?? “Well”, you say, “It cannot happen. The Cathedrals of Europe will not become Mosques.” Think again. Ephesus was once the thriving center of a large Christian community in Asia Minor. This great city had some superstar Bishops. Paul had been there three years, possibly Peter, Then John the Beloved Apostle became its Bishop and Mother Mary according to tradition lived there in John’s household. But the Lord warned Ephesus: Yet I hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first. Realize how far you have fallen. Repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev 2:4-5). Today the Church in Ephesus is gone, the city lies in ruins. The other six Churches are also gone. Modern Day Turkey, though officially secular is predominately Muslim. North Africa was once a thriving Catholic area. There were over 500 bishops, among them the great Augustine and Cyprian. Many Church Fathers too: Athanasius, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Cyril. Today the ruins of the north African Church lie buried under the sand now trod by a population that is almost 100% Muslim. At least these ancient parts of the Church had the “dignity” of being conquered. We, it seems, at least in the Christian West, have prefered the  more cowardly way of suicide instead of courageously living our Catholic Faith and insisting on its truth in the midst of ridicule and opposition.

A Very Different Future is on the Doorstep – Ah, but some may say, Msgr. Pope is bigoted in suggesting that there is anything wrong  with Muslims replacing Christians. Well, I have nothing personally against the Muslims. I have just praised their zeal for their faith and zest for life. But the fact is, they do not, as a group, share our most basic beliefs and values. The Muslim World and faith are not known for accepting pluralistic societies. Religious tolerance is not a widespread concept among them. It could get very difficult for Christians and other religious traditions in the future. We just have to be sober about this. Western style democracy and Islam have had a troubled co-existence. It is not an unknown pair but it is rarer. Sharia law will likely replace many western notions of Law. And frankly, I wonder how much the cultures that replace the West will really care about environmental issues. I hope to be wrong about all of this but the world of the future is going to be very very different. And the future isn’t that far away. In less than 40 years France and most of Europe will be majority Muslim. The fact is I do love my Christian and Western Culture and DO want to preserve it. This does not make me a bigot. We have something worth saving, something different and to my mind much better than Islam. Western culture is ailing to be sure but if we can return to our Judeo/Christian roots there is something great to be saved and preserved. We ought to be alarmed to see our way of life so sick. We ought to seek healing from our God and hope to preserve the best of what we have achieved by God’s Grace.

Shame on Us – And we Christians collectively have brought most of this on ourselves. This has happened on our watch in a culture where Christians are the vast majority.  We have ignored our own Christian tradition that forbids contraception and embraced the culture of death. It looks like we are getting just what we want: death and non-existence. The Church has warned us but we have rejected her teaching and, at least collectively in the West, seem bent on contracepting and aborting our selves right out of existence. Shame on us.

The Remnant – If you are reading this you may be an exception. There ARE Christians who still love life. My brother and sister-in-law are expecting their 6th child. My other other brother and his wife have three. Both famlies practice their faith. Perhaps you who read this are doing your part too. But too many Christians, too many Catholics  have allowed themselves  to be deceived, to prefer death to life.

The following video depicts the demographic implosion at work in Europe and other Western cultures. It presents some very sobering truth. Watch it if you dare. Share it if you care.