Monday, March 31, 2008

Welcome, Pope Benedict XVI! What will he find in the USA?

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI is expected to make his first papal visit to the United States of America next week, 15 April 2008. With open arms the Catholic Church, young and old, welcomes the Successor to St. Peter and Vicar of Christ to our nation!

Yet, what will he find when he arrives? He is an ardent student of current events and is not ignorant of the reality we face as Catholic Christians here in the USA. You may be aware of the recently released survey from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, called the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey (you can find the results on-line), "The porportion of the U.S. population that identifies itself as Catholic has remained relatively stable in recent decades, but this apparent stability obscures the major changes that are taking place within American Catholicism."
The article continues, "No other major faith in the U.S. has experienced greater net losses over the last few decades as a result of changes in religious affliciation than the Catholic Church. Nearly one-third (31.4%) of U.S. adults say they were raised Catholic. Today, however, only 23.9% of adults say they are affiliated with the Catholic Church, a net loss of 7.5 percentage points. Overall, roughly one-third of those who were raised Catholic have left the church, and approximately one-in-ten American adults are former Catholics."
The survey acknowledges the tide of those who convert to Catholicism -- witness the numbers of adults who are received either as catechumens or as baptized candidates at each year's Easter Vigil. It notes that "The Landscape Survey finds that 2.6% of U.S. adults have switched their affiliation to Catholicism after bein raised in other faiths or in no faith at all."
However, it also notes that ". . . former Catholics outnumber converts to Catholicism by roughly four-to-one . . ." The survey points to the relative steady number of people who identify themselves as Catholics to immigrants -- particularly those from Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Again, "The Landscape Survey finds that nearly half of all immigrants coming to the U.S. (46%) are Catholic, compared with just 21% of the native-born population."
Finally, "The vast majority (82%) of Catholic immigrants to the U.S. were born in Latin America, and most Catholic immigrants from Latin America (52% of all Catholic immigrants to the U.S.) come from just one country -- Mexico." It continues to note that, ". . . Catholics are also represented among immigrants coming to the U.S. from Western Europe, Eastern Europe and East Asia; more than one-in-four of all immigrants form these regions are Catholic."
So, this is part of the reality of the U.S. Catholic Church which our Holy Father is visiting -- those who identify themselves as Catholic and are practicing; those who identify themselves but either practice sporadically or seldom; those who no longer identify themselves as Catholic and have left altogether; and the growing immigrant Catholic populations from Latin America, East Asia and Europe.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Resurrection! The Victory Belongs to the Lord -- and to Us!

Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

Proclaimed throughout the world for the Easter celebration (among those celebrating according to the Gregorian Calendar), this ancient cry proclaims God's victory in Jesus Christ over the ancient curse of sin and death.

What wonderful Good News for us and for the whole world! We see and hear such dreadful news, day after day, and perhaps find ourselves defeated with crime, war, terror, abuse and neglect. And then there's the economy!

Interestingly, the truth of the Lord Jesus' resurrection does not seem to change the political, economic, social or military realities. At least, not at first glance.

At the Easter Vigil (Latin/Roman Rite) we hear the solemn proclamation called the Exsultet, "This is the night when Christians everywhere, washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement, are restored to grace and grow together in holiness. This is the night when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death and rose triumphant from the grave."

It is a solemn proclamation by believers with small candles aglow from the single Paschal Candle proclaiming the Lord's victory over sin and death. I think of the late Archbishop Paulos Rahha of Mosul who apparently perished when kidnapped -- how is this relatively small Chaldean Christian Church in the Iraqi archdiocese suffers with his loss. Are they experiencing any joy as Christians this Easter?

And so, before the injustice that countless people suffer -- before the oppression of the Burmese and Tibetan peoples, before the wanton slaughter in Gaza, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan; before the drug lords of Mexico and Colombia; before the street gangs and organized crime bosses in our own country; before those who defy the laws of God in our civil society and take the lives of unborn children and threaten the lives of the weak and the vulnerable under the aegis of "euthanasia"; before those who take advantage of the poor and the elderly,those who attempt to undo neighborhoods for shameful profit -- we boldly -- and lovingly -- declare that Christ is risen! Indeed he is risen!

What makes the difference is our very lives! More powerful than policies, more eloquent than legislation -- as important as these may be -- the difference is the lives we live in the Risen Lord. St. Paul teaches us in his Letter to the Romans, which we heard again at the Easter Vigil (6:3-11), ". . . you must think of yourselves as dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus" (vs. 11).

Therein lies the victory of Christ, into which we are baptized. We are alive -- because of Holy Baptism -- in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are not dead, we are alive! And in our partaking in the Eucharist, we share in the Lord Jesus' own victory. Hence, we live holy lives -- filled with God's Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Holy Week 2008 -- Love measured in "feet"

It is truly amazing -- to me -- how quickly this Lent has been coursing. Here in Wisconsin I think it would be fair to say that we have had a very wintry and snowy Lent! In fact, the remnants of the large snow banks are still melting, even as the Canada geese, the herons and the red-wing blackbirds and robins have been returning. Sure signs of spring in the decline of winter's fierce hold.

We can see how the earth is changing, right before our eyes. Warm breezes occasionally blow, the bright sunshine contrasts with the periodic sting of Arctic chills. The marsh in back of our friary is coming alive (perhaps a bit too noisy for the friars whose rooms face it!).

But, how have we changed? Have our penitential practices brought us closer to the Lord? Have we found ourselves becoming more loving, peaceful, kind, modest (cf. Gal. 5:22-23)? In a word, has the fruit of the Holy Spirit begun to ripen more fully in our lives? Have we been willing to let go of that grudge we have held -- and that we have even justified(!)?

The daily readings in the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church this week (prior to Holy Thursday) are beacons to remind us of the Suffering Servant (so the readings from Isaiah) who is fulfilled in Jesus Christ and all that he voluntarily underwent for our salvation. Today, he allows a woman to anoint his feet! Astonishing! And, of course, he in turn will wash his disciples' feet at the Last Supper (according to the Gospel of John, chapter 13).

Greek icon of Jesus washing the Disciples' feet (cf. John 13)

There is a story about St. Francis of Assisi and his early friars. They were assiduous about reconciliation -- seeking to be reconciled as soon as a quarrel or disagreement or misunderstanding would erupt (cf. Col. 3:12-17). In one episode, two friars -- who went barefoot in those days -- had a dispute. Apparently even before St. Francis had the opportunity to reprimand them, first one and then the other, bent down to kiss the feet of the other begging forgiveness!
To live the Gospel of Jesus, really, is to have the same attitude as Jesus did (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). Is that what has been happening to us during the Lent? Is it what is happening to us this Holy Week? How about we let Jesus give us HIS attitude!