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This semester’s Life Teen meetings have focused on the Catholic Church: who she is, what she does, where she came from, and where she’s going. Of all the topics we have covered so far, this topic of the Church is the one where parents have stepped forward and said that they wish they could attend. Parents are curious and thirsty for knowledge about this area of our faith. This article will share with parents some main ideas of this Life Teen semester on the nature of the Church.
The Church is not merely a manmade institution. Yes, mankind plays a huge part in what the Church is, but at the end of the day, like the Bible itself, the Church is something of two worlds; both of God and man all at once. It is the aspect of the Church which is from God that guarantees the teachings of the Church to be perfect and free from all error.
The teaching authority of the Catholic Church is called the ‘Magisterium.’ The Church’s teachings are guaranteed by the Holy Spirit, particularly when the Church declares dogmas. We may experience trouble understanding certain dogmas, but this is not the same as having doubt. For example, I may not understand how a ten-ton metal Alaska Airline jet plane can fly in the sky, but I have no doubt that it does so. Similarly, a man could say, “I don’t understand how Mary could have been assumed into Heaven body and soul at the end of her earthly life,” but this is not the same as him saying, “I doubt that Mary was assumed into Heaven…” Difficulties are not the same as doubts. The Church has always been the home of scholars and great thinkers. The Church wants us to think and to ask questions. However, we also humbly admit our own limited knowledge, and we recognize that the teachings of the Church are from God, and so even if we cannot understand a particular Church teaching, we always remain humble and submit our minds to it.
No one has ever come back to tell us who was in Heaven, but the Catholic Church teaches that Heaven is at least a possibility for everyone in the world, even if they were born on a desert island and never saw a Bible or a baptismal font. The sin of Adam and Eve closed Heaven to all humankind. Jesus’ death on the cross opened up the way to Heaven so that we could again get there, but His Crucifixion still does not remove the drama of life and the work we have to do on our own. If everyone were guaranteed to go to Heaven, then the significance of all our choices we make each day would be lost. All the drama and importance of our decisions would be taken from us. We would have no reason to hope for Heaven if we were absolutely assured of going there.
By way of example, if a child has peeked into the basement and sees the new bicycle he is getting for his birthday, then he no longer has to hope he is getting a bike. Instead he would know. This is because the experience of hoping for something depends on not knowing the answer for sure. Therefore, part of being a Catholic is not knowing for sure how it will all turn out.
Consider that the Catholic Church has never officially declared a single person to be in Hell. When the Church canonizes saints, this is, among other things, a declaration that the sainted person is definitely in Heaven, but the opposite, a declaration that someone is in hell, has never taken place in the 2,000 year history of the Catholic Church. She always leaves room for hope. Our journey in this life is one of hope. We do not know the outcome for sure, but deep inside we are hopeful and trusting in God’s mercy. This idea of hoping and trusting in God’s mercy, much more than some kind of total assurance, describes the authentic Catholic stance towards our view of how to await the Final Judgment.
What we do know is this: as Catholics we are traveling the road to Heaven in a nice limousine. No matter how hard certain days seem, if we are practicing Catholics who obey the Church’s teachings and receive the Sacraments regularly, then we are greatly assisted on our way to Heaven. The advantages of being Catholic are so great that they can never be put into words. The graces of the Sacraments and the Truth of Catholic teaching give Catholics great advantages. Many saints have used the image of this world being a dimly lit path. By their analogies, the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Church would be the brightest lights and the strongest handrails on the path through this world.
The image I provided of a limousine is a metaphor, and no metaphor is perfect. Please take this idea of the Sacraments and teachings of the Church being a limousine carrying us to Heaven with a pinch of salt. Nothing about the limousine should imply that it’s easy to be Catholic. For some Catholics, such as Mother Theresa, or suffering souls, their ‘limousine’ looks quite odd from the standpoint of the world. Yet it is a limousine all the same because the Catholic Church gives souls great advantages and so much security on the way to Heaven. Who was more firmly on the road to Heaven than Mother Theresa? Or Pope John Paul? Or St. Francis of Assissi? Or any of countless other saints and blesseds? It is good to be in their company, as Catholics ourselves. GK Chesterton pointed out that many religions have good men, but only the Catholic Church produces actual saints, century after century.
It was 1979. Bruce Jenner had won the gold medal almost three years earlier, and now he had everyone running. He smiled for the Wheaties cereal box and promoted the concept of jog-a-thons as a fundraiser idea. I was the class treasurer that year. Junior prom was two years away, and the fundraiser sounded like a good way to generate some cash so we would be able to put on a prom for the seniors that would really wow them.
So, we sent away for a jog-a-thon kit and passed out forms. The whole class was going to participate, and we begged family and friends to pledge a couple of bucks for every mile we successfully completed. Our class moderator, Mr. Canterbury, set aside a three-mile route through our home town and marked off the area with orange cones. The traffic was diverted in order to keep the runners safe. Sixty kids showed up in shorts and tennis shoes, ready to run, jog or walk. Three miles into it, I was done.
Some managed to run five or ten miles, repeating the three-mile route over and over again.
Darrin Ripley decided it was a good day to run his first marathon. We were in awe of him.
The folks who had made a per-mile pledge were not as thrilled with Darrin. Five dollars per mile adds up, especially when a freshman boy is trying to prove something to a bunch of freshmen girls – or maybe just trying to prove something to himself.
On Monday morning, the students turned in their earnings. I counted out the money. Darrin’s supporters had paid up. They probably swallowed hard as they did it, but Iowans know how to keep a promise.
I think it must be like that for some parents when their son or daughter discerns a call to religious life. The promise to raise one’s children in the faith suddenly has a higher price than expected. It makes eight years of parish religion classes or twelve years of Catholic education seem like a small sacrifice in comparison.
Some parents probably swallow hard as they dig deeply into their souls and promise to give their full support to a child who has discerned a call to the priesthood or religious life.
But I also think that there are some parents like Darrin’s dad. Mr. Ripley didn’t blink an eye when Darrin said that he’d run over twenty-six miles. Mr. Ripley was a coach – and he probably understood his son more in that moment than he ever had.
He probably smiled when he wrote that check to his son’s class at Riceville Community High School. Darrin turned the money in promptly that Monday morning, and we were in awe once again. The newspaper photographer came out to take our picture. I got to be in the picture because I was the treasurer. Darrin got to be in the picture because nobody else had even come close to running as far as he had. We’d won an award from Bruce Jenner and Wheaties. Our class of sixty students had come in third in the nation for Jog-a-thons that year.
And we gave the seniors one fantastic prom the year we were juniors.
In reality, though, the people who made good on their promise to pay had something to do with it. No matter how much we ran that day, we needed the support of those who signed our pledge cards.
And there’s a lesson in that as well. The faithful pray that God will send Mother Church more vocations to the priesthood and religious life. We make a pledge to support them, encourage them, and respect them for giving themselves so fully to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Moms and Dads, it’s time to encourage our children to follow God completely, even if the price is high. Even if the marathon ends with the Sacrament of Holy Orders.
It’s time for the faithful to sign their pledge cards and give their support. We do this when we remember to pray for vocations and when we make good on our promise to hold our religious up through prayer. We do this when we make good on our promise to respect them as one standing in the place of Our Lord. In persona Christi.
We aren’t investing in a junior prom. No, our celebration trumps all celebrations. We are investing in the future of Mother Church. We are doing all that we can to make sure the Mass is celebrated throughout the world and that the laity has access to the Sacramental life.
This is the eternal celebration. And it is worth every sacrifice.
God, Our Father, send us holy priests and more vocations to religious life – all for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, all for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, in union with Saint Joseph. Amen.
If you have been reading recent articles in the Catholic press and especially in The Southeast Alaska Catholic, you are probably aware that changes are coming in the translation of the Roman Missal (sacramentary) that we use at Mass. On Sunday, November 27, 2011, the First Sunday of Advent, we will begin using the new English translation of the Roman Missal.
To begin our preparations for these changes I will be joining Archbishop Roger Schwietz, Anchorage and Bishop Donald Kettler, Fairbanks, as well as by the priests, deacons and lay ministers of our three Alaskan dioceses, to learn in depth about the new English translation, about the changes to the texts we pray at Mass and about how to most effectively prepare our people for them.
I recently received a press release on new catechetical resources that can be used in preparation for the new Roman Missal from my friend Msgr. James Moroney, Executive Director of Vox Clara. (Vox Clara [Clear Voice] is an international committee that was established by the Holy Father in 2002 to oversee the translation of liturgical texts for the universal Church.) In an attached letter by the Chairman of Vox Clara, Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia, the cardinal noted:
“ …the Church now stands on the verge of implementing a flowing vernacular text suitable to the rhythm of popular prayer which has been translated integrally and in the most exact manner”[Liturgicam Authenticum, no. 20]. Yet, as the Council Fathers [at the Second Vatican Council] presciently reminded us, “it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it” [Sacrosanctum Concilium no.14]. This is why each one of us, bishops, priests, deacons and lay faithful alike, must devote ourselves to the opportunities for liturgical, spiritual and pastoral renewal provided by the occasion of the publication of this new Missal.
By way of background, the Roman Missal is the book containing the prayers of the Mass that we use for Sunday and weekday Masses throughout the Church year. The original and guiding text of the Missal is in Latin as are all of the liturgical texts and other official documents of the Roman rite of the Catholic Church. After the Second Vatican Council, the Latin texts of the Roman Missal were revised and an initial translation from the Latin was prepared for English speakers around the world. That was almost forty years ago. This new translation has been revised to more accurately and fully reflect the meaning and style of the original Latin.
This process of translation has taken years. The final text, once approved by the bishops, was submitted to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in Rome. In August 2010, Rome sent back the approved text so that the new English translation of the Roman Missal would be available this coming October.
Why is the Church doing this? As the first document of the Second Vatican Council, The Sacred Constitution on the Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium) so eloquently declares: “…the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; it is also the fount from which all her power flows.” The entire liturgy and especially the Eucharist are at the very center of the life in Christ that we share together. To grow and deepen in faith with our brothers and sisters throughout the world, we need to be faithful to the wording and style of the original Latin. The universality of our Church adds to the spiritual and theological depth we experience in our Catholic faith.
At the same time, our challenge is to prepare so we can make these changes in a smooth and orderly way. Between now and the beginning of Advent we will be doing catechesis on the Mass in general and on changes in the words that we pray, in particular so that we will be able to make the transition as seamlessly as possible.
Pope Benedict XVI recently said, “Many will find it hard to adjust to unfamiliar texts after nearly forty years of continuous use of the previous translation. The change will need to be introduced with due sensitivity and the opportunity for catechesis that it presents will need to be firmly grasped.”
It is my hope that the preparation and catechesis will help alleviate the frustrations that will come with these liturgical changes. I urge you to enter into these changes with an open heart and as an opportunity to deepen your relationship with the Lord in the Eucharist. As we move closer to the First Sunday of Advent, you will hear more from me and your pastors about the changes in the Roman Missal. In the meantime, let us continue to grow in appreciation for the Universal Church and in love with our Eucharistic Lord.
Like many of you, I look around and see the people who are hurting and in need of healing. Images in the paper, online, or on the nightly news show the faces of those affected by war, famine, suffering and evil. There is such a need for healing. When looking at the people in the Church, I see the same need – a need for healing in their personal lives, for family members, for their community, and most disconcerting, for the Church.
The Church is wounded. I just returned from Ireland after being on the team for the Apostolic Visitation of Seminaries in Ireland, a process requested by Pope Benedict XVI as a result of the reports of clergy sexual abuse that had taken place there. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was the appointed visitor and he selected a team of five of us to help him in the process. During my ten days in Ireland, I saw a wounded Church. It was my first trip to Ireland and I had always imagined it as the bedrock of faith. Growing up, I experienced the wonderful gift of the Church in Ireland here in the United States. It seemed as though we always had a number of priests and religious from Ireland living out their religious vocations in the various dioceses and communities in this country. Archbishop Dolan, in his opening remarks to the seminary community of St. Patrick’s in Maynooth, said, “It pains us [the visitors from the US] to see the Church in Ireland suffering so much because of the clergy sexual abuse scandals. We have always looked to Ireland as a great source of strength in the faith.”
The Church is wounded and weary. These stories continue to come and we wonder when it will end. It is important for us to know the truth, and the truth hurts. It hurts when we are asked about this by non-Catholics and it hurts when we lose confidence in Church officials. But it is important to hold on to the truths of our faith. At the last supper, Christ sat with one who had betrayed him. We, too, have been betrayed by some in the Church, just as Christ was betrayed by Judas, and some in the Church continue to act out of their own selfishness.
It is necessary for us to pray for God’s grace, wisdom and healing. Through the Sacraments we are able to know and experience God’s grace. As I celebrate the Mass in our parishes and missions, I cherish the ministry of proclaiming God’s word and celebrating his presence in the Eucharist and of witnessing the great expressions of faith found in the people of Southeast Alaska. It is by the grace of God that I continue to see people solid in their faith even after the news of scandals breaks.
The wisdom of God is what I pray for most frequently. Coupled with God’s grace, I need to know that we are doing God’s will and not our own. We all have the tendency to add our own egos and desires into our decision making process, but within the Church, we are called to surrender our will to that of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ and as members of his Body, we should seek to conform our thoughts, words and actions to that of Christ.
As Christ was wounded at the scourging at the pillar, as he received the crown of thorns, as he carried his cross to Calvary – the Body of Christ, the Church, continues to experience serious wounds as a result of those who have betrayed us – especially through the cases of sexual abuse by those who were to be trusted. Through the rich tradition of our prayers, in particular the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, we can come closer to Christ who is with us through these moments, recognizing that he calls us to be one with him. Christ remains the source of our strength and he alone can heal us.
The healing process will be a long one. In fact, I do not see the end in sight, but I surely do see signs of healing. First of all, the firm faith of the people of God has been an inspiration to me and to the priests of this diocese. We wrote about this in our pastoral letter to you last year (http://www.dioceseofjuneau.org/pastoral-letter). It is encouraging to see this, especially in our young people. Secondly, I continue to see quality men discerning the vocation to priesthood. Many of them step forward recognizing that they are not part of the problems in the Church, but they want to be part of the solution and to help the healing process. Lastly, our focus on Christ will be our only hope. When we take our eyes off Christ, much like St. Peter on the water (Mt. 14:27-32), we begin to falter. Members of this Church have failed us, but our faith in the Lord will save us and heal us.
Last summer I received an invitation to be part of a “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” workshop for bishops sponsored by the Catholic Leadership Institute. This workshop was established through a grant of some very generous benefactors who saw the need for bishops in the United States to be given an opportunity to grow in their skills as effective leaders within the Church. It seemed easy for me to make the decision to attend this workshop since I knew the key people of this program and, indeed, it proved to be a worthwhile experience. The Catholic Leadership Institute has done a great amount of work in helping leaders within the church.
It always seems to be the case that when I sign up for a workshop and agree to be present at an event, I am filled with remorse as the time approaches, because so many other things seem to creep into my schedule that it makes leaving far more challenging. Nevertheless, I attended the workshop from January 24 – 27. In preparation for this, I was asked to have a number of people evaluate me in my work and ministry as a bishop. After reflecting on who could provide such an evaluation, I decided to have all the priests of the diocese, as well as the entire staff of the diocesan chancery, complete the online evaluation of me. I jokingly said at a staff meeting that I wanted to make appointments with me so that I could help them answer the evaluation questions. While it is not always easy going through valuations, I know that it is important as I strive to provide the best to the diocese through my ministry as its Bishop. One thing that I am aware of is that we are blessed with good priests, deacons, religious and lay people who faithfully serve this Diocese.
The staff of the Diocese have indicated that they get concerned about my return after a trip because I have had time to reflect on the works of the Diocese and have identified more tasks in order to continue its work. In completing this “Good Leaders, Good Shepherds” workshop, I am in a better position to discuss with the staff and our priests what foundational ministries are necessary within the Church of Southeast Alaska and what our three top priorities might be. I look forward to talking to them about their thoughts.
From my perspective, I see that we are called to celebrate our faith – the Sacraments, our lives with others, and our lives within the Church. The Body of Christ has varied descriptions and definitions. The body of Christ has an entire wealth of depth and mystery that speaks to the person of Jesus Christ: the Sacrament that we receive in the Eucharist, the people of God who gather around the table of the Lord, and the very essence of our beloved Catholic Church. As shepherd of the Diocese, I recognize the responsibility to help keep all the work of the Church in Southeast Alaska in line with the Universal Church, the teachings of our Holy Father, renewing ourselves in our baptismal call and dedicated to following Christ the Lord as his disciples.
I do see a lot of things I would like to improve in my ministry and a few things within the Diocese of Juneau. I am aware that these things are not going to occur overnight. Nevertheless, I recognize that we should have our priorities and focus our attention on some specific needs. It’s true, I will be coming back from this workshop with some ideas for how to streamline the work of the Diocese. The priests and the staff will be a part of the establishment of any future endeavors we embrace. Along with the deacons, religious, full-time ministers and dedicated faithful parishioners, we seek to bring about a vibrant church in Southeast Alaska. It is my hope that we understand our roles and the great importance of celebrating the Body of Christ – the Sacrament, the people, the Church.