Street Cred on Healthcare

So many voices, so much disagreement, so many dollar signs, it’s pretty hard to stay engaged in the healthcare debate, yet we know it is really important—that it will make a difference in the lives of the people we love. You may be trying to figure out what questions are most important and what answers can be trusted.  I suggest you turn to the Catholic Church for answers—we are one of the largest health care providers in the United States

Street Cred

 We are a credible voice and a significant player in the debate. Where does our experience come from?

–624 Catholic Hospitals

–499 Catholic Long-Term Care Nursing facilities

–164 Home Health Associations

–41 Hospice Organizations

 In our facilities and through our healthcare professionals we have responded to:

–More than 16.9 million emergency room visits

— More than 92.7 million outpatient visits

— 5,542,314 admissions

 As an institution we are involved in all aspects of healthcare. As an employer we pay salaries and providing coverage. As a provider we stretch resources to meet needs. As a servant of the Gospel we respond to all those who come through our doors, always protecting the dignity of human life in all of its stages.

 Stay Informed and get involved – Make a difference!

 It’s important we participate in the debate and let our voice be heard.  It is an example where the voice of the Church has so much to offer the world—to be messengers of good news. To stay engaged in the debate, bookmark http://www.usccb.org.  (the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ website) and http://www.mdcathcon.org/(The Maryland Catholic Conference). Both of these organizations have professional lobbyists who follow the debate, read the fine print of the legislation, and reflect on it in light of the great tradition of Catholic social teaching. They are working hard to ensure that the healthcare reform legislation reflects a truly universal health policy with respect for human life and dignity providing access for all with a special concern for the poor and inclusion of legal immigrants. They advocate for the pursuit of the common good and preserving pluralism which includes freedom of conscience and variety of options restraining costs and applying them equitably across the spectrum of payers

If you think about it, from the time of Christ, it has been the mission of the Church to share in the healing ministry of Jesus, in a spiritual way through the sacraments and in a temporal way through active participation in healthcare, we bring to the table 2,000 years of healing the spirit, mind and body.

You can make a difference.  Click on and get involved.

If No one is Pope, Everyone is Pope

Some years ago I was privileged to bring a man into the Church who gave me some insight into the question of authority. He approached entering the Catholic Church with some misgivings. He had come from a Protestant tradition of a simpler but dignified liturgy that featured good preaching and hymn singing. As he looked at the state of Catholic liturgy he found mostly poor preaching and what he considered to be awful music. Also, some Catholic traditions, regarding the saints and devotion to Mary were not doctrinally problematic to him but just felt a little unusual.

But in the end he entered the Catholic Church and I remember that one of the chief reasons he was drawn was over the question of authority. He remembered thinking some years back as he sat in a Protestant service, “How do I know that this man in the pulpit has authority to preach in Jesus’ name?” In the end, authority to preach and teach had to come back to Jesus’ commission: “He who hears you, hears me” (Luke 10:16). But just because a person mounts a pulpit or gets a divinity degree does not mean they share in the commission of Jesus. Who actually does speak for Jesus and how can their authority be demonstrated?

In the end the Catholic Church (and also the Orthodox Churches) are the only ones who can demonstrate a direct connection to the Apostles. The laying on of hands is a direct connection to the promises of Christ that the apostles and their successors would speak in his name. All the Protestant denominations broke away from that line and explicitly rejected the need to have a connection to the apostolic succession through the laying on of hands. Who speaks for Christ? Only those who share in the charism of Christ promise to the first apostles “He who hears you, hears me.”

This promise of Christ serves as the basis for authority in the Church. It is the Bishops, in union with the Pope who call the Church to order and unity. It is the authority of Christ, but exercised through his designated representatives. A bishop unites his diocese and the Pope unites the college of bishops. Peter was told that he would “strengthen his brethren” (Luke 22:32), the other apostles. What happens when this system is discarded? It is not necessary to look far. Martin Luther, the first Protestant breakaway, substituted the authority of Scripture for that of the Church. The result? Some estimates now list over 30,000 different Protestant denominations. Why, because when no one is Pope every one is Pope. Without an authoritative interpreter the Bible can divide more than it unites. Put four Christians in a room with a quote from scripture and there my be six opinions as to what it means! Without an authoritative interpreter the text will divide the group. Pastor Jones says it is necessary to be baptized, Pastor Smith says not exactly. Pastor Jones says no to infant baptism but Smith says it is OK. Who is right, who is to say? Who speaks for Christ? Protestantism offers no answers to these questions since they have rejected any authority outside the Book.   The Bible is wonderful but what if there are disagreements over how to understand the Book? No answer.

Christ did not write a book. He founded a Church, with apostolic leaders united around Peter to preach and teach in his name. They ordained successors and this system which Christ established comes to our day as the bishops of the world in union with the Pope. The Bible is precious but it emerged from the Church. It is the Church’s book and it must be authoritatively interpreted somehow. Otherwise, huge division.

This video by Fr. Robert Barron says more on this topic. It is a well crafted video and Father uses a sports analogy to explain Church authority. He also does a very good job of explaining the boundaries of that authority which exists not so much to micromanage the discussion of faith, but, rather to referee the discussion.

Altering Anthropocentric Attitudes

“Anthropocentric? What’s that?!”  you say. It is a word that means “man is at the center”  and its one of the chief problems we have in our understanding of masses and other liturgies in modern times. It seems that our general preoccupation is with what we human beings are doing and far less on God, the worship of God and what God is doing. I pray you my reader might be an exception to this modern tendency but I suppose we all struggle with it to some extent. Take some of the following examples as illustrations:

  1. I often hear people say they don’t go to Church because they don’t “get anything out of it.” Perhaps they are looking for improved preaching, better choirs, or more fellowship. Now all these are things worth striving for in the Church. Our liturgies should be well planned, joyful, with powerful preaching and fine music. So lets all agree that this should be worked at. But the truth is none of this should be the main or only reason we go to Church. Going to Church on Sunday is not about you, it is not about me. We go to Church because God is worthy. He is worthy of our praise, our time, our tithe, our worship. The worship of God is the central purpose of of the Mass and every liturgy not the entertainment of human beings. Yet we so easily think of ourselves and our comfort more than God. Mass should be “convenient, short and always suited to my taste” as so many think, almost as though it were all about me. And so we have an anthropocentric (man centered) attitude often on display. How about we all agree to work on high quality liturgies but lets also agree that the focus is on God, not on us and only what we want and how great or not so great we are. How about agreeing that the we go to Mass because God is worthy not simply because we get something out of it. An old Gospel hymn says, “Just forget about yourself and concentrate on Him (God) and worship him!”  I have found that when I have taken this view, I have gotten a lot more “out of it.”
  2. Weddings are often another time where God seems quite forgotten. As the wedding party files up the aisle cell phone cameras are flashing away, people step into the aisle trying to get the shot. The bride and her bridesmaids are the focus. Now, I’m all for appreciating feminine beauty, believe me. But once the Bride and Groom are up the aisle and the music stops I find it necessary to refocus the congregation. To remind them that we are here to worship God, pray for the couple and witness a great work of God called the sacrament matrimony. I ask that all the cell phone cameras be put away remind them that a professional photographer has been hired and then call the congregation to silent prayer with heads bowed. Only after 30 seconds of silence do I sing the opening prayer. Further instructions are necessary to encourage the faithful to listen carefully as God speaks a Word to them in the readings. More silent prayer after the homily and then a request that the congregation pray deeply as they witness the vows and glorify God in their hearts. Without these clear instructions the whole thing too easily becomes about the dresses, the various personalities, anything or anyone but God, in a word, anthropocentric. We can surely be joyful for the happy couple but how about a few accolades for God who pulled the whole thing off?
  3. Funerals too can become too anthropocentric. The first purpose of a funeral Mass is to worship God and to give thanks for having given us the gift of the life of the now deceased loved one. We also gather to pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased as they go to judgement. We can trust God’s mercy but we ought to be quite prayerful for we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ and render an account (Rom 14:10; 2 Cor 5:10). Seems like a good time to pray for the deceased. Now pray is not the same as “praise.” Here too many funeral Masses and funeral tributes focus too much on what a great guy Joe was and how he loved the Redskins and loved to tell jokes etc. Some remarks about Joe’s faith and how God worked in his life may be appropriate but the fundamental purpose of the funeral Mass is to worship God and beseech his mercy for Joe and for all of us who will one day die too and have to render an account. No amount of joke telling, and being a great guy is enough to purchase salvation. No human achievement can ever the pay the price. It’s only Jesus who gives any hope at the funeral that Joe or any of us even stand a chance. We ought to worship God and thank him for his mercy and grace at every funeral and recommit ourselves to Jesus.

Well, hopefully I’ve made my point. Like most things liturgical I’ll bet you have a few points of your own and I hope you’ll share them. I hope you don’t think I was being too harsh, I actually mean a lot of this in good humor. There’s something a bit funny about the way we think things revolve around us and how easily forgetful we can be about God. Our culture surely doesn’t help us put God first and so it is easy for us to slip into a kind of anthropocentrism in a culture that almost never mentions God and which constantly tells us that we have a right to have everything our way. Simply being conscious of the tendency can help us name the demon and thus alter our anthropocentric attitudes.

In this video, newly ordained Archishop Augustine DiNoia avoids the usual modern tendency to go on at great length about all the worderful people who made the liturgy and the day possible. Instead, he focuses on praising God. And to the degree that he mentions people it is always in reference to how God has worked through them and prayers that He will continue to do so. The video is is only 3 minutes but if you listen to nothing else, listen to the first line. He is not insensitive but it is clear he will not take the focus off God for any reason.

Guardian Angels are Real Angels not Hallmark Angels

See that you do not despise one of these little ones,
for I say to you that their angels in heaven
always look upon the face of my heavenly Father
(Mat 18:10)

In this text Jesus affirms the truth that we have Guardian Angels. Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels and it is a beautiful truth that God would assign an angel to have special care for us, it is a sign of his very specific love for each of us as individuals. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has much to say on angels. Here are just a few verses:

The whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels….In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God….From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.” Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God. (CCC #s 334-336 selectae)

All this said, I would like to propose to you that, to some extent we have tended in modern times to sentimentalize the role of the angels in our lives and to drift from the Biblical data regarding them. I would like to propose a few corrective ideas to balance the sentimental notions we may have. I do not say that sentiment is wrong, but it needs to be balanced by deep respect for the angels.

  1. Angels have no bodies. They are not human and never have been human. Human beings never become angels or “earn wings.”  Angels are persons, but persons of pure spirit. Hence they have no gender. Now we have to envision them somehow,  so it is not wrong that we portray them with masculine or feminine qualities but it is important to remember that they transcend any such distinction.
  2. Biblically, angels are not the rather fluffy and charming creatures that modern portraits often depict. In the Bible angels are depicted as awesome and powerful agents of God. Many times the appearance of an angel struck fear in the one who saw them (cf  Judg 6:22; Lk 1:11; Lk 1:29; Lk 2:9; Acts 10:3; Rev. 22:8). Angels are often described in the Bible in warlike terms: they are call a host (the biblical word for army), they wage war on God’s behalf and that of his people (e.g. Ex 14:19; Ex 33:2; Nm 22:23;  Ps 35:5; Is 37:36; Rev 12:7). While they are said to have wings (e.g. Ex 25:20; 1 Kings 6:24;  inter al)  recall that they do not have physical bodies so the wings are an image of their swiftness. They are also mentioned at times as being like fire (Ex. 3:2; Rev 10:1). And as for those cute little “cherubs” we have in our art, those cute baby-faced angels with wings and no body? Well read about the real Cherubim in Ezekiel 10. They are fearsome, awesome creatures, powerful and swift servants of God and more than capable of putting God’s enemies to flight. And this is my main point, angels are not the sentimetal syruppy and cute creatures we have often recast them to be. They are awesome, wonderful, and powerful servants of God. They are his messengers and they manifest God’s glory. They bear forth the power and majesty of God are immensely to be respected. They are surely also our helpers and, by God’s command act on our behalf.
  3. What then is our proper reaction to the great gift of the angels and in particular our Guardian Angel? Sentimental thought may have its place but what God especially commands of us toward our angel is obedience. Read what God said in the Book of Exodus: Behold, I send an angel before you, to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. Give heed to him and hearken to his voice, do not rebel against him, for he will not pardon your transgression; for my name is in him. (Ex 23:21) So our fundamental task is to hear and heed the voice of our angel. How, you might ask do we hear the voice of our Guardian Angel? I would suggest to you that we most hear the voice of our angel in our conscience. Deep down, we hear God’s voice, we know what is true and what is false. In terms of basic right and wrong, we know what we are doing. I am convinced that our conscience interacts with our Guardian Angel. Now be careful, we like to try and rationalize what we do, explain away bad behavior, make excuses. But in the end, deep down inside, we know what we are doing and whether or not it is wrong. I am sure it is our angel who testifies to the truth in us and informs our conscience. God’s command is clear: listen to and heed this voice. Respect this angel God has given you not so much with sentimental odes, but with sober obedience.
  4. Finally, an on a less important note, we often think of angels in choirs singing. But there is no Scriptural verse that I have ever read that describes them as singing. Even in the classic Christmas scene where we depict them as singing “Glory to God in the Highest,” the text says that they SAY it not sing it (cf. Luke 2:14). If you can find a Scripture text that shows the angels singing please share it, but I’ve looked for years and can’t find it. Not a big point except to say that perhaps singing is a special gift given to the human person.

Every day is a holiday

A uniquely Catholic greeting

One of the teachers at my school and I have an amusing manner of greeting one another. Rather than a simple “hello” or “good morning” we always recall the feast day the Church is celebrating. For example, this morning, we said, “Happy St. Wenceslaus Day.” Tomorrow, it will be “Happy Feast of Saints Michael, Gabriel and Raphael!” Even on days when, in the United States, no feast or solemnity is designated, we challenge each other by researching a feast day in another country. Some days, we come up with the most obscure of Catholic feasts but, in 2 years, we have never had to do a simple “Hello.” Last week, I discovered St. Finbar of Ireland – Who knew?

It is a Catholic thing

One of our non-Catholic colleagues asked about this tradition one day. She confessed that beyond Easter and Christmas, she did not realize there were other “holidays” celebrated by the Church. Once we broke out the Catholic calendar and showed her the various feasts, she commented, “It seems like the calendar we follow is based on the Church’s calendar.” How true that is!

Christmas is really “The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord.”

Easter is really “The Solemnity of the Resurrection of Our Lord.”

Even Saint Patrick’s Day is listed in the Divine Office as, “The Commemoration of Patrick, Bishop.”

Governments and societies celebrate these events on days designated by the Church, not the other way around.

What is today’s date?

Brothers and sisters, go beyond the ordinary when starting your day. A great way to center yourself in Christ is to refer to the Catholic calendar. Trust me, there is something affirming about knowing that somewhere else in God’s creation, a fellow Christian is reflecting upon the exact same feast or solemnity as you. And, if you are unsure about who else in the world is sharing that prayer with you, rest assured, there are at least two people at a small Catholic high school joining you.

This is a great guide to the Catholic liturgical calendar:

http://www.catholic.org/saints/calendar/

“Same-Sex Marriage”is Contrary to Biblical Teaching on Marriage

Marr_JamWr09_webThis week in most parishes of the Archdiocese of Washington, priests are being asked to review with their congregations some basic teachings on marriage and to explain why the Church opposes (so-called) “same-sex Marriage.”

The Archdiocese has issued a flyer to be placed in every bulletin and you can read it here:  MARRIAGE FLYER. But rather than repeat what is said there I would like to add some additional insights.

There are many good reasons to oppose same-sex “marriage,” some of them sociological, some of them psychologicalal. But, at the end of the day, the most fundamentalal reason that the Roman Catholic Church opposes a redefinition of marriage is that the Church is the steward and guardian of the truth God has given us in the Scriptures and formal Teachings of the Church. Many people want the Church to do what she simply cannot do. The Church is NOT ABLE to throw scripture and natural law overboard. We must continue to insist on what scripture teaches. We cannot nullify it. The Church has received the mandate to preach and teach God’s word whether in season or out of season. Whether popular or unpopular (2 Tim 4:2).

God established marriage in the Book of Genesis and we are taught the following essentials about marriage there:

  1. It was not good for Adam to be alone. He needed a “suitable partner.” (Genesis 2:18) Now notice the word “suitable”  a word which the dictionary defines as “apt, proper or fitting.”
  2. The suitable partner for Adam is first of all human – for none of the animals proved to be suitable for Adam. (Gen 2:20)
  3. The suitable partner for Adam was a woman. God created Eve, a woman, not Steve, a man. (Gen 2:22)
  4. The suitable partner for Adam  was one woman. For God did  not created Eve and Ellen and Jane and Sue. Hence polygamy is not of God’s design. True enough a number of the Old Testament Patriarchs DID have more than one wife. But what the Bible reports as a fact does not necessarily imply approval. Fact is, the Bible shows how polygamy ALWAYS leads to trouble. As Biblical  history unfolds, polygamy begins to disappear.
  5. Adam is to enter a stable relationship  with his suitable partner Eve for the text says that man should leave his father and mother and cling to his wife (Gen 2:24). To cling means to adhere, to stick like glue. Hence, divorce and disunity are not part of God’s vision for marriage. Husbands and wives are to strive for unity and stability by God’s grace. The easy (no-fault) divorce of our culture is hostile to God’s plan for marriage. Couples should not seek easy ways out, they should do the work necessary to preserve union and stability in their commitment of marriage.
  6. Adam and Eve are told to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen 1:28). Now here is the essential rationale as to why their marriage should be stable and heterosexual. In the first place marriage should be stable because that is what is best for children. Secondly, the procreation and rearing of children is an ESSENTIAL end of marriage. Some argue that gay couples can adopt. True enough, under civil law, they can adopt but they cannot procreate. Their ability to procreate is instrincally impossible. It is true that some older couples cannot have children and they are able to marry in the Church. But their infertility is due to a natural quality given by God. It is intrinsic to the feminine nature that fertility decreases with age and ultimately ceases. Homosexual union is intrinsically sterile an can never meet the requirement of being fruitful and multiplying. Adoption is not procreation.
  7. Jesus reiterates the teachings of Genesis in Matthew 5 and 19 (inter al.) saying that “At the beginning God made them, male and female….hence a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife and the two  of them become one flesh.” Jesus does not say a man clings to his partner, rather his “wife.” Jesus then says with his own authority: “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” This text surely forbids divorce but one might also argue a wider interpretation wherein Jesus forbids us to tamper with what God has established. (cf Matt 19:varia)

Here then is the data of Scripture. The Church is the guardian of Scripture. We are not free to tear out pages, cross out sentences, substitute words etc. Some claim we are simply bigots, homophobes, or whatever the latest name or label  they wish to attach. But in the end the Church can do nothing other than to uphold what God definitively teaches us. We are to do this in season and out of season. Right now, insofar as popular culture goes, we are “out of season,”  but faithful to the Word of God anyway we speak. We can do no other.

Connecting the Dots

What happens to a Church when:

  1. Its Sunday attendance drops from over 80% of members to only 27% of its members attending weekly?
  2. When the Birthrate of its members drops below replacement due to contraception and abortion?
  3. When it’s members have seldom been trained to evangelize?
  4. When It’s members prefer to fit in to the world around them?
  5. When the majority of its members see faith merely as a private matter?
  6. When the majority of its members see the sacraments merely as rituals rather than saving medicine?
  7. When the majority of its members are more influenced by popular culture than by the teachings of the Church and Scriptures?
  8. When catechesis in that Church has been poor for decades?

Start connecting these dots and they spell trouble. They also spell “church closings.” Throughout the Nation Catholic Schools are closing at an alarming rate. Parishes are closing too: Last year Scranton closed 90 of its Catholic Parishes, Cleveland closed 50. These churches were once filled and busy. They grew empty as Church attendance in the US dropped from over 80% in the 1950s to 27% today and as the average number of children in Catholic families shrunk from almost 7 in the 1950s to less than 2 today.

I am aware that there are demographic shifts too. Some city centers have depopulated as people moved to the suburbs. But that only explains a litle of the drop. In the end the Church is about people and when people loose the sense that their presence is essential to the Church’s health, then the Church suffers. There are more Catholics today than ever before in this country (Almost 70 million). The only denomination that even comes close are the Southern Baptists with 16 million members. And our overall numbers have been growing each year thanks especially to immigration. But the number of PRACTICING Catholics keeps dropping. And now it has become critical. We can no longer sustain and maintain the praishes, schools, hospitals, seminaries and convents we once did.

Consider well how essential your faithfulness and attendance are:

If you are steady in your attendance, recommit yourself to this and become and evangelizer, drawing back to God’s House your family members who have drifted away.

If you are one who has drifted or fallen away from the practice of your faith, please see your  attendance as absolutely critical. If you have never been told this, I am telling you now: we need you, we need your gifts and talents, we need your support and prayer. Without you we perish.

All of us have to be serious about the situation and start connecting the dots. The Church is currently very injured by a great falling away. We have to commit, recommit and become better eveangelizers. Otherwise we will see more of what is displayed in these videos. Church and school closings are a great loss, not only for us but also for the communities we serve. In the end the Church is about God with his people. Commit to God and the Church!