Thursday, May 24, 2007

Our Last Post

This, the 159th post on this blog, will be our last. After an editorial meeting and brief discussion, the staff of the newspaper, and myself in particular, have chosen to close down this blog.

That's not to rule out a resurrection in the future -- it would certainly be a theme not foreign to Christianity -- but we simply have found that the time and sacrifice of running this blog is not worth the small amount of traffic it receives. We are and have been grateful to the number of you who faithfully checked in with us, but it was simply not enough (especially compared to the traffic at www.CriterionOnline.com) to justify continuing.

It is also true that in the past few months the number of posts has waned dramatically as I became busy with several other projects and The Criterion staff with their upcoming redesign and usual barrage of stories.

This blog was in part an attempt toward staying up with the latest trends in communications -- trends which change with a suspiciously un-rooted regularity -- and as it did not help us to make great strides in communications, we will focus our evangelical efforts elsewhere (striving to make both The Criterion and the archdiocesan website better).

So again, thank you, faithful readers, and we'll continue to see you in the print and Web versions of the largest weekly newspaper in the State of Indiana.

(This blog account will stay active for archival purposes.)

Monday, April 16, 2007

Happy Birthday, Pope Benedict!

A story posted by Catholic News Service about the 80th birthday of the pontiff:

Pope, turning 80, thanks church for surrounding him with affection

Also:

Pope Benedict at 80: Blowing on the coals of faith

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

You know what really grinds my gears?

For those of you that get the "Family Guy" reference above, shame on you for watching such a blasphemous show. For those that don't get the reference...consider this an annoyance post.

You know what really grinds my gears?

- Charities that send me a request for donations that include a nickel. Why would you send me a nickel? What in the world am I going to do with a nickel? It must cost a small fortune to throw a nickel into every envelope you send out, but it means nothing to me. DON'T SEND ME A NICKEL. Send a dollar, then we'll talk. Also, don't send me any more pennies with crosses punched into them or coins with angels on them. (I've started collecting the angel coins to see how many I can get -- my collection of about a dozen drives my wife nuts.)

- "UNRATED!" versions of movies. I mean, come on. It's bad enough that PG-13 movies will sneak every possible bit of sexuality, violence and language in that they can. But have you noticed how many of these movies make it to DVD in an "unrated" format? And in most cases you can't get any other version. I've heard that for several movies this merely means putting back in countless "F-word" usages or topless scenes or the like. As a habit, if a movie boasts that its DVD version is "UNRATED!" it usually gets "UNRENTED!" by me. (Note also that any movie that is unrated gets around that little label that usually appears on movies that explains the rating...parents have no idea what they're getting.)

- Technology driven by money. You know, I've got a cell phone from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis -- you've probably heard of the thing by now: the RAZR. Oh, it's very slim and all that, and it has a really cool program to keep track of the weather, but that's about it. The thing runs slowly and hardly lets you customize anything. Why does it run slowly? Because it is absolutely jam-packed with all sorts of features that you can activate for money. Download videos (for money)! Get online (for money)! Send pics (for money)! Get ringtones (for money)! Watch the news (for money)! And why can't anything be customized? Because they want you to see an ad every time you turn it on or off, and because all but one of the shortcut keys doesn't take you to a function you actually use but something that they want you to use (that costs, of course, money). The use of the phone is impaired by the fact that it seems designed not primarily to be a cell phone, but primarily to be a means to get you to buy other things. It's a battery-powered, flip-style, grey-colored commercial.

- Now that I think of it, acronyms are really starting to grind my gears. Want a cell phone? Get a RAZR or a KRZR or a ROKR! Even the Catholic world is not immune: our Office of Catholic Education has EXCEED and CSW and TAP and SPRED and so on. What's wrong with acronyms? Technically: nothing. Where are they forbidden in the Catechism? Technically: no where. All I'm saying is that enough is enough and that they really GMG.

- Presidential elections that start years before the polls open. That so much time is dedicated to a primary a year from happening sure does grind my gears. I have yet to hear any coherent explanation as to why I should care who is leading the polls at the moment. Each vote is important, but not so important that it takes two years to think about. I guess some people have sports, some politics. In that case, call me next spring on this one. But, but, but! Didn't you hear that Clinton and Giuliani are...hey! No! Not listening; don't care, don't care, don't care.

- You know what really grinds my gears? People that disagree with me about anything. It's just not right. It's a TON of work trying to reason with all of you.

And that, ahem, is what really grinds my gears.

Supporting the Troops (Just War Style)

I was flipping around on the TV last night and came across one of the Christian channels. The talk show on at the moment was featuring an interview with Sen. John McCain, so my wife and I tuned in for a few moments.

One of the things that he and the interviewer (and the audience, apparently) were in agreement about was that neither could understand how you could call the cause of the war in Iraq unjust and still support the troops. This immediately made me wonder: is he saying that even if the war were unjust that we could not say so? Or that an unjust war is not possible given our duty to support the troops?

It must have strongly to do with the time that I was born, but I imagine that many in my generation have a different emphasis when it comes to "supporting the troops." Men and women who are willing to go to war -- to fight and to die -- for this country have a special place in my thoughts and my heart. They are, quite literally, heroes. The same goes for firefighters and all others go above and beyond to do the things that must be done in the defense of life and liberty. But for many people, the duty to support the troops goes beyond this -- it is almost a bit of divine law; a piece of the cultural code that cannot, for any reason, be broken or even seem to be broken.

It is obvious that any President is fallible, and obvious that not all wars are just. So then, if we find ourselves in an unjust war, should we not speak out against it? Can we not call real what is real? Or is our only role to support the troops and vote "the other way" next election?

To say that you honor and support our troops for the sacrifice they make is valid. To say that a war is unjust is also valid. Both can be statements of fact. I suspect that it is more the fickle, divisive, doomsday-predicting nature of pop-protesters that is more at the root of this problem -- people who, in reality, don't like the President and don't need much to ignore his orders. What McCain and others are most frustrating about (WARNING: this is just a guess -- I can't read hearts) is the individualistic tendency of Americans to all want to be little presidents and little popes -- everyone wants to decide what's right and wrong and we want everyone to know. That's why we all have blogs. Like this one. (Ignore my own hypocrisy)

What we need from more protesters is the clear restatement that a President's orders matter and should, in most every case, be followed (or at least tolerated). Sean Gallagher (a reporter for The Criterion and poster on this blog) reminds me as well that oftentimes we don't know all that goes into a President's decision until some time after the fact.

While troops must follow God first, it is the President who orders the use of force and who answers to God for it. It is a soldiers duty to follow orders unless those orders clearly and grossly violate the duty to faithful serve God and neighbor. Therefore, our troops are in Iraq doing their duty while protesters back home do there's by calling the President to reconsider his strategy.

Support the troops? Absolutely. Question the war? Sure -- but it should be done carefully, cautiously, and with every measure of intelligent, civil discourse possible.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The power of the blog and all that

As you can tell by the updates on the post below ("Your own little piece of holiness"), the story regarding the "relics" of the late pope has changed -- and I thought it deserved it's own post again.

Catholic News Service has posted this new story:

ROME (CNS) -- The Rome diocesan office charged with promoting the sainthood cause of Pope John Paul II has exceeded its postage budget because of increased requests for prayer cards and relics of the late pope.

"We were getting about 50 requests a day, but overnight it grew to between 500 and 1,000 requests," a spokeswoman for the office said March 2.

"We could not have foreseen this demand," she said. "It's an avalanche."

Franciscan Brother Chris Gaffrey, who assists the office with English translations, told Catholic News Service that the vast majority of requests in late February and early March were coming via e-mail from the United States.

CNS had published a story about the cards and relics Feb. 26 and dozens of Web sites and blogs, or Web logs, ran links to the story.

The prayer cards and relics, a small piece of one of the white cassocks worn by Pope John Paul, always will be distributed free of charge, but without an increase in donations the office cannot afford to mail them, Brother Gaffrey said.

- - - - - - -

An individual prayer card, relic and copy of the cause's magazine, Totus Tuus, could be mailed to the United States for about $5, Brother Gaffrey said.

You can learn more, apparently, by logging on to www.JohnPaulIIBeatification.org, or by mailing the office at: Postulazione Giovanni Paolo II, Vicariato di Roma, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 6A, 00184 Rome, Italy

Monday, February 26, 2007

Your own little piece of holiness

Just saw this item on the client-area (no public link) on CNS: "Rome office issues prayer cards, relics to promote sainthood for JPII"

"Wow," I thought. "Who do you have to know to get a relic of John Paul?" Well, apparently you only have to know how to send an e-mail, fax or letter. That's right: Rome is giving them away. (actually, no longer free...see "second update" below)

Now, I had to clarify to a coworker that this isn't a "bone relic" but a "cloth relic." That is, it isn't a first class relic, but a second class relic (an item worn or used by the person in question, like a Rosary or a shirt.). In this case, Rome's diocesan office promoting the Cause of Canonization of the late pope is distributing a prayer card and a piece of one of the white cassocks worn by JPII.

These are the only authorized relics currently being distributed. So, do send for your prayer card and relic and let them help you do your part in praying for the sainthood cause of John Paul the Great!

Here's the pertinent info:

The e-mail address is: Postulazione.GiovanniPaoloII@VicariatusUrbis.org

The fax number is: (39-06) 6888-6240.

The mailing address is: Postulazione Giovanni Paolo II, Vicariato di Roma, Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano 6A, 00184 Rome, Italy.


(UPDATE: Apparently since John Paul II has not been beatified yet, the term "relic" isn't entirely appropriate -- and thus the piece of cloth that the office is distributing is only for private use, not public.)

(SECOND UPDATE: Read the comment left on this post. The office in Rome responsible for sending out these cards has received a huge spike in requests, and because of postage costs can no longer send them out for free. For a donation, they will send the card and piece of cloth.)

Monday, February 19, 2007

This Lent, instead of giving something up...

Not to get my rant on, but here's a homily/column/reflection topic that I'm getting rather tired of hearing:

"This Lent, instead of giving something up..."

You fill in the blank with any number of good things: "...try being a better person" or "...do something nice for someone" or some other such thing.

See, it was always my impression that you were already supposed to be doing those types of things -- especially in Lent -- in addition to fasting. It kind of falls under that fasting AND almsgiving type of thing. In the words of the old advertising campaign for Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis: "Why not both?"

Lent is a time that calls us to prayer, sacrifice and acts of charity. I have no doubt that many people find giving up sweets easier than helping their neighbor, and are quite content to do just the former. So I'm fine with homilies and columns that remind us of the orientation of sacrifice: to not only recall (and join) the suffering of the Lord during his time on Earth but also to teach us discipline. And when we grow more perfect in discipline, the avenues to virtue should open up to us more readily. Sacrifice open only to loving God without loving neighbor is a choked sacrifice -- so gear me up and count me as ready to hear a homily about how we mustn't forget almsgiving in the midst of our Lenten sacrifices.

But please, don't ask me to hold the fasting in favor of acts of charities. Those two things aren't enemies -- let's hear about how they ought to work together!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The faith of young adults

Whenever I see an article come across the wire on Catholic News Service about young adults and the faith, I shudder a little bit.

Young people can be notoriously hard to pin down statistically, and because of that stories that deal with sociological data can be frustrating. The religious education of youth touches upon how the future of the Church will look: whether less and less people will go to Mass, if we will have enough priests, if our faith will permeate the culture, etc. And how young adults believe regarding Catholic faith and morals effects the great debates that we have in the Church today.

Yesterday's article was about the same thing that I've seen in recent years: Youth love Jesus, spirituality, helping the poor; disagree with the Church on issues of morals and have little connection to the visible Catholic institution. Young priests are too conservative and don't connect.

It is depressing to hear the numbers when it comes to young Catholics, such as that only seven percent think the teaching on abortion is a core part of Catholic morality, or that the vast majority don't believe pre-marital sex is always wrong. It is, I think, a stinging indictment of Catholic religious education. While all the money and time and energy and thought were being spent on how to pass the faith on, young people passed the Church on and went into adulthood unprepared.

But what I take particular issue with in this article is the headline: "Sociologists see strong identity, less commitment in young Catholics." Do peruse the article and tell me, if you can, what exactly these young people are doing that gives them a "strong Catholic identity." I can't find it. Here's an excerpt quoting sociologist James A. Davidson:

Referring to the forum's theme, "Young Adult Catholics: Believing, Belonging and Serving," Davidson said, "Belonging is not a problem; they feel comfortable calling the church home. And I don't think serving is a problem. It's the believing that's the problem."

Young adult Catholics see the church as having "no credibility, no plausibility, no authority," he added. "They practice their faith by caring for other people."

A quote further down by a campus minister says that young people believe serving the poor is more important than Mass (as if the two are in contrast). So again, I posit, how exactly can people who have virtually no association with the Church, no participation in its liturgical or parochial life, and distrust any teaching that runs afoul of their own preferences be labeled as having a "strong Catholic identity"? It's more like they have the basic Christian building blocks and not much else. They could be members of any number of Christian denominations.

A companion story to this one, posted on The Criterion Online Edition for the next 30 days, gives a voice to some young people (voices that generally echo the story above). But the quote from one young lady really hit the nail on the head:

Carrie Gladstone of Shaker Heights, Ohio, who will graduate this year, said the Catholic Church is "the community I know I can always go back to for strength and encouragement."

But although being Catholic is "part of who I am," Gladstone said she sometimes finds it difficult to articulate why she is Catholic instead of being a member of another Christian denomination. "Some of the things I disagree with the church on are where they differ from other Christian sects," she said.

And that's my point from above. All the Scriptures do really boil down to loving God and neighbor, and all the Church's teachings come back to how we live those two commands and become saints in doing so. But that doesn't mean that all we need do is have a vague, spiritual love for Jesus and generally try to be nice to our neighbors and help out at food drives. If that's all Christianity is then we would have no real need for the Church, or her teachings, or her sacraments, or really, for that matter, for the witness of the Apostles and the Saints and the Scriptures. No need for doctrine, or dogma, or truth. Just love God and be a good person -- you figure out the rest. It's a ludicrously easy path: we chose our sacrifices and our pleasures. Keep God in mind and its fine.

I have no doubt that there are many catechists and teachers and priests who actively believe some form of this. But we owe more to our youth than to leave them with only the faintest threads of Christianity -- we owe them more than cutting away all of the history and the beauty and the truth that the Catholic Faith has brought to us in favor of vague platitudes. We know they want to love Jesus -- the hard part is helping them learn just what loving him looks like: a life of holiness, fidelity to Catholic teachings, a rich and active liturgical life, constant prayer, outreach in all ways to the least among us, etc.

If Davidson and the rest are right, and I think they are, our youth love Jesus and they love helping the poor. That's a fabulous start. But they're also hungry for more (as the article notes). We have a lot more to give, so lets show them the rest with passion and courage.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Photo Caption Contest


With the prospect of this coming Sunday's Super Bowl XLI matchup between the Colts and the Bears, Indianapolis is working itself, even in the midst of a blast of bitterly cold air from the north, into a near dionysian frenzy about their hometown NFL team, as this photo from today's rally in downtown Indianapolis attests.

(Ok, the reference to "dionysian frenzy" was about the closest I could get to a religious connection with this photo. Maybe readers could do better than my efforts in the comment box with their own captions.)

Go Colts!!!

In case you haven't already, do go check out reporter Sean Gallagher's excellent story about the Colt's chaplain: Father Peter Gallagher, one of our archdiocesan priests.

Excerpt:

The Indianapolis Colts had just completed a 38-34 heart-pounding victory on Jan. 21 that would send them to the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 in Miami.

With blue and white confetti streaming through the air, team owner Jim Irsay and head coach Tony Dungy stood on a stage on the field at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis to receive the Lamar Hunt Trophy, which is awarded each year to the winner of the American Football Conference Championship.

At that moment—arguably the greatest in the history of the Colts’ franchise since its move to Indianapolis in 1984—both men expressed thanks and praise to God.

Standing nearby, Father Peter Gallagher, the Colts’ chaplain, appreciated their words.

“I was grateful that [Irsay] said that and I thought, ‘Man, thank you,’ ” said Father Gallagher.

All of us here at The Criterion wish Father Peter the best as he travels to Miami this week -- and more importantly, we wish the best (and victory) for our Indianapolis Colts.

Go blue!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

I'll have a slice of piety, please

You can get the CNS news brief of this story on the CNS Web site, or the for the next 30 days you can view the full version on our Criterion site:

English cardinal calls for revival of traditional practices of piety

An excerpt:

Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor said he lamented the decrease in acts of piety such as fasting, abstinence, Stations of the Cross, praying the rosary and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament because they are a "good means of deepening our faith."

The cardinal said the acts, as well as confession, which is also in decline, were "truly part of Catholic tradition and devotion and are a nourishment to our faith, and I would encourage them," he said in a letter read at Masses Jan. 7 in the Archdiocese of Westminster.

He said there are many other ways in which Catholics "can develop those practices which are truly rooted in Catholic tradition" and bring them closer to Jesus.

"How many people pray before meals or, indeed, after them, recognizing that all we have is a gift from God?" he asked. "How many parents pray, not only for your children, but with your children as they grow up?

It is indeed sad to see these things practiced so little -- either because of our busyness or skepticism of the good they do. Good job, Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor!

Monday, January 08, 2007

An Earthquake in Poland

Tremors had been felt throughout the Polish Church for months as speculation increased about the number and identity of the its clergy who had collaborated with the secret police of the country's former communist regime.

But on Jan. 7, those tremors turned into an earthquake of major proportions when Archbishop-elect of Warsaw Stanislaw Wielgus announced his resignation from that office at the start of the Mass at which he was to be installed as Poland's leading prelate.

Ever since his appointment to the office by Pope Benedict XVI had been announced in December, there had been accusations made that he had collaborated with Poland's secret police for more than two decades and subsequent calls for his resignation.

John Thavis, Catholic News Service's Rome bureau chief, has written a fine analysis piece picking apart well the mult-faceted implications of this historic turn of events in the history of the Polish Church:

..."disaster" is how it's viewed inside the Vatican, for several reasons:

-- Archbishop Wielgus became the highest-ranking church leader to admit that he agreed to spy for an East European communist regime, raising suspicions about the rest of the hierarchy in the eyes of the simple faithful. To many, the archbishop's qualifier that he "never inflicted any harm on anyone" seemed disingenuous.

-- The debacle was played out in public, crowned by the painfully embarrassing "installation" Mass Jan. 7 that turned into a resignation Mass. It was the first time anyone could remember that an archbishop was sent home on the day of his scheduled installation, an "emeritus" after only two days in office.

-- Pope Benedict was drawn directly into the controversy. A Vatican statement Dec. 21 expressed the pope's "full trust" in Archbishop Wielgus and "full awareness" of his past. But sources now say it appears the archbishop had not told the pope everything -- that he had admitted contacts with the secret police, but not that he had agreed to collaborate in a spying effort.

And now that the initial earthquake is over, the aftershocks have started. According to this AP article posted on the Web site of the Houston Chronicle, the Father Janusz Bielanski, rector of Krakow's Wawel Cathedral, arguably Poland's most historic church, has resigned from his office today after allegations had been made about his possible collaboration with secret police agents.

What will happen next? It's likely that the earth under the feet of the Polish Church will be shaking for quite some time.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Who is a Church father?

Basing itself on passages from the New Testament, this online article from the 1917 edition of The Catholic Encyclopedia described a Church father as "a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ."

It goes on to note that in the Western Church, the last of the Church fathers was St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) and in the East St. John Damascene (d. ca. 754) was the last. It goes on to note that, for some in the West, the line of the fathers extends as far as St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153).

However, it quickly dismisses such a notion saying that the limits of the period of the fathers into the high Middle Ages is "evidently too wide."

I would tend to agree. As with defining just about any category, the broader the definition becomes, the less meaning that it really has.

That having been said, if my own preferences in reading the works of those who are teacherrs of spiritual things would be a guide in determining who is a Church father, I would certainly include John Henry Cardinal Newman (1801-1891).

Now for general usage, that is certainly stretching the limits of the period of the fathers too far. But in my own experience, his works have certainly been a means by which my soul is born again into the likeness of Christ.

Granting that different people respond to different writers in different ways, I still would not hestitate to recommend the writings of Cardinal Newman, who may be now on the verge of being beatified, to anyone who wishes to grow both in the knowledge of the faith but also in how that knowledge is to be applied to the way the faith is lived out from day to day.

To that end, I heartily refer those interested in reading the works of Newman (both before he became Catholic in 1845 as well as those subsequent to his reception into the full communion of the Church) to the Web site, The Newman Reader, maintained by the National Institute for Newman Studies.

Cardinal Newman was a prolific writer and I believe that all of his published writings as well as biographic material about him in the public domain are all housed at this terrificly useful site. Visit it and enjoy the spiritual insights to be gained from this father (?) of the Church.