Boring Mass?

July 21st, 2014

“Mass is so boring!”

          How often have you parents heard that from your kids on Sunday morning?  How often have our teachers and catechists heard it as they prepare our children for Mass?  And, let’s admit it, how often have we said it to ourselves?

What do we say to that unfortunate and almost sacrilegious statement?

Well, for one, we simply reply, No, it’s not!  You may find the Mass boring, but, that’s more your problem than the fault of the Mass.

We may find a lot of very important activities in life “boring”: visits to the dentist can be that way; kidney patients tell me dialysis three times a week is hardly a thrill; voting is no barrel of laughs.  But, all three of them are very significant to our wellbeing, and their value hardly depends on us being ecstatic while doing them.  The Mass is even more important for the health of our soul than those examples.

Boredom is our problem, and social commentators tell us we today, so used to thirty-second sound bites, or flipping the channel when we yawn at a program, are susceptible to it.

Thank God, a person’s or an event’s value does not depend on its tendency to sometimes “bore” us.  People and significant events exist not to thrill us, unless we are the most narcissistic and spoiled of brats!

This is especially true of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  We believe that every Mass is the renewal of the most important, critical event that ever occurred: the eternal, infinite sacrifice of praise of God the Son, Jesus, to God the Father, on a cross on Calvary on a Friday called “good.”

Come to think of it, the Roman soldiers were “bored” there, too, as they mocked Jesus and rolled dice for his tunic, the only property He had.

Two, we hardly go to Mass to be entertained, but to pray.  If the flowers on the altar are pretty; if the music is good; if the air conditioning is working; if the sermon is short and meaningful; if the folks are friendly . . . all that sure helps.

But, the Mass works even when all of the above may be missing – - and, sadly, they often are!

Because, the Mass is not about us, but about God.  And the value of the Mass comes from our simple yet profound conviction, based on faith, that , for an hour on Sunday, we’re part of the beyond, lifted up to the eternal, a participant in a mystery, as we unite with Jesus in the thanks, love, atonement, and sacrifice He eternally offers His Father.  What Jesus does always works, and is never boring.  The Mass is not some tedious chore we do for God, but a miracle Jesus does with and for us.

A gentleman was just telling me about his family Sunday dinner, the heart of the week when he was growing up.  The food was so good because his mom cooked it so well, and the table so happy because his dad was always there!

Even after he got married and had his own kids, they’d all go to his mom and dad’s for that Sunday dinner.  When his kids got a bit older they asked if they “had to go,” because, yes, at times they found it “boring.”  Yes, you, do, he would reply, because we don’t just go for the food, but because of love, because mom and dad are there!

He teared-up as he recalled that, as mom and dad got old, the food wasn’t as good and the company not as sparkling, but he’d never miss, because that Sunday event had a depth of meaning even when mom burned the lasagna and dad nodded off.

And now, he concluded, he’d give anything to be there again, because mom’s gone, and dad’s in a home.

So now he and his wife host it, and he hopes his three kids will one day bring their spouses and children to their Sunday table.

See, the value of that Sunday dinner doesn’t depend on how good the food is; how expensive the wine; how interesting the conversation.  All that sure helps, but it’s the event that has the real value.

Same with the Sunday dinner of our spiritual family: Mass.

Some folks think a game at Yankee Stadium is boring; some consider country music the same; some people tell me that values such as friendship, volunteer work, family, loyalty, generosity, and patriotism are “passe,” no longer “exciting.”

I’d say they got a problem!

And some tell me “Mass is so boring…

The Dignity of the Human Person

July 14th, 2014

A week or so ago, I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!”

It was un-American; it was un-biblical; it was inhumane.  It worked, as the scared drivers turned the buses around and sought sanctuary elsewhere.

The incendiary scene reminded me of Nativist mobs in the 1840’s, Know-Nothing gangs in the 1850’s, and KKK  thugs in the 1920’s, who hounded and harassed scared immigrants, Catholics, Jews, and Blacks.

I think of this sad incident today, the feast of New York’s own Kateri Tekakwitha, a native-American (a Mohawk) canonized a saint just three years ago.  Unless we are Native Americans, like Saint Kateri, our ancestors all came here as homesick, hungry, hopeful immigrants.  I don’t think there were any Mohawks among that mob attacking the buses of refugee women and children.

Then on Saturday I watched another scene on the TV news.  Again there were busloads of shy, scared, immigrant women and children; again, there were crowds; this time – - in McAndrews, Texas – - the crowd was applauding the arriving refugees, and helping them into Sacred Heart Parish Hall, where parishioners and Catholic Charities workers welcomed them with a meal, a cold drink, a shower and fresh clothes, toys for the kids, and a cot as they helped government officials try to process them and figure out the next step.

 This time I was not ashamed, but relieved and grateful, proud to be an American and a Catholic.

We might argue and yell about policies, processes, and politics; we can never argue about the dignity of the human person or the sacredness of life, or yell at people who need our help.

Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States

July 3rd, 2014

In response to the ad on p. A13 in today’s New York Times, here’s my Catholic New York column:

I prayed, I hoped, that the notoriously anti-Catholic firebrands of the nebulous and anonymous “Freedom From Religion Foundation” (FFRF) in Madison, Wisconsin, would once again, as they predictably had in the past, print a full-page, drippingly bigoted blast in the hospitable pages of the New York Times.

So I smiled in relief as a friend called to ask me—ironically, on the day before Independence Day, celebrating what is most noble and freedom-loving in our beloved country—if I had seen the anticipated ad in the New York Times

Here I simply want to welcome the grey, full-page ad, and thank the anonymous militiamen at FFRF for giving me yet another handout for my students when I give my next talk on “Anti-Catholic Bigotry in the United States.”

…Would they take out such an ad (and would any respectable newspaper publish it?) claiming a Jewish congressman could not freely vote on aid to Israel?; or that a Mormon judge could not rule on marriage?; or that a Baptist legislator could not clearly vote on issues of liquor or gambling?; or that a Quaker president was unable to be Commander-in-Chief?; or that an African-American justice had no objectivity on a civil rights issue?

Read the rest of it here.

Actualización Haciendo Todas las Cosas Nuevas

July 3rd, 2014

Please click Actualización Haciendo Todas las Cosas Nuevas for the Spanish version of my July 1st blog on Making All Things New.

The Dignity of Work

July 2nd, 2014

A week or so ago, I was blessed with a visit by a group of very hardworking New Yorkers – airport workers at the two New York City airports.  These workers – both men and women – clean the planes, fill certain security and safety roles, help and transport passengers, and handle baggage. They told me of their current struggles for decent wages to support themselves and their families, and their hope to organize to gain a living wage and more respectable working conditions.  As I listened, along with Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, our neighbor in the Diocese of Brooklyn who had graciously joined us for the meeting, I also sensed deep pride in their Catholic faith.

I was particularly impressed with the story told by one of the workers…..

Gertrudes Contreras, a fifty-nine year old airplane cabin cleaner from Peru, has been working at the airport for nine years.  She spoke of the hard work and the modest compensation she receives.  Gertrudes’ dreams of becoming an American Citizen, and at our meeting she spoke of her love for this country.  Her hopes of uniting her family in this country, and her belief in the American dream, is what fuels her desire to fight for her right to organize, for herself, her family, and her coworkers, for a decent wage, for basic benefits, and, reasonable time-off.

She also took the opportunity to share her love for, and devotion to, “Our Lord of Miracles,” a title given to Jesus in her native country.

The humble laborers were joined by Hector Figueroa, President of Local 32BJ of SEIU, the union has been at the forefront of these organizing efforts.  Hector has been an ally in two very important NYS legislative education matters – the educational tax credit and the Dream Act.  I look forward to continuing to work with him on these items next year.

Why did they visit me and why was I was blessed to be visited by them?  A simple reason – these workers and the Catholic Church are allies in a common cause, the dignity of work: safe working conditions and decent wages to enable workers and their families to live in the dignity that is rightly theirs as made in the image of God.

I am not expert enough to get into the specific details of the negotiations that are underway.  I do not know the precise solution to every issue.  However, I can affirm that when both sides to an issue sit down, and in good faith, bargain together, most times good things happen for both sides.  That’s the reason the Church is a strong advocate for the rights of workers to bargain collectively. I was happy to hear that the airlines, the Port Authority and managers with whom they are negotiating have been listening, and that some progress is being made.

In a personal way, I was moved by these workers who are often in the background as many New Yorkers – including myself – quickly pass through the airports onto planes to take them on business or vacation.  We barely pay mind to those who are making sure that this operation functions well.  I do know this, I will walk differently through the airport the next time I do so.

Making All Things New Update

July 1st, 2014

+ Feast of Blessed Junipero Serra

I was actually dreading the meetings of yesterday and today…

Attending these all-day sessions were the priest council members, the vicars, and the working group for Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning process.  The only steps left after this would be, as required by Church law, the views of the College of Consultors, and then my decision.  So, these were very important gatherings.

Over a year of consultation, meetings, conversations, criticism, and intense process, involving all our parishes, had preceded these two days.

The agenda for the ten hours of meetings was a vote of approval, or disapproval, of the list of recommendations from the cluster groups and the advisory committee about the future of our 365 parishes.

Why was I dreading these sessions?  For one, this was the first time I ever saw “the list” of recommendations about which parishes should close, merge, or cooperate more closely.  Of course, the cynics claim I’ve had “the list” of parishes I wanted to close for over a year, and that all this exhaustive “process” was a sham.  All I can do is assure you again that the first time I ever saw “the list” of parishes proposed for closure or merging was yesterday morning.

The second and more ominous reason I had heartburn anticipating these meetings was fear of fierce controversy.  I could envision arguing, lobbying, and protests.

I should have listened to Jesus tell me, “Fear is useless…what is needed is trust!”  The gathering was uplifting, uniting, and enlightening.

I left with some clear observations:

For one, the process has worked!  The data gathered was most comprehensive, the pastoral needs of God’s People was convincingly presented, and the participants in the meeting were seen frequently to be nodding in assent as the recommendations were reviewed.

Two, the priests on the council, and the vicars, were wonderfully invested in the conversation, asking insightful questions about where the people would go if their parishwere closed, or if a merging were logical and do-able.  In a few cases, the recommendations of the clusters and the advisory committee about parish mergers were not accepted.  However, 90% of them made eminent sense, and got the council’s support.

Third, the reasons given for approving (or, on occasions, turning down) a recommendation were all pastoral: conserve and better-use our priests; utilize the churches and parish properties that are better maintained and in much better shape; sensitivity to our elders, and our poorer people who depend on walking or public transportation to get to Sunday Mass and parish activities; changing demographics of parishes, with either the flight or influx of Catholic people into the area; and, in many cases, special considerations for unique groups.  For instance, one parish suggested to close was also serving the deaf community, another welcoming people who desire the Latin Mass, another the Vietnamese Catholics, all of whom, while not living within the parish neighborhood, were still in need of pastoral care and a spiritual home.   The priests wanted to make sure they were not forgotten.

After the meeting; I did not even need the Alka Seltzer I had brought along!

Now, to decide, and I must do so by the end of September.

At that time, I’ll show you the entire list of recommendations, and, more importantly, will let you know of my decisions.

All I know is that I am very grateful to Bishop-elect John O’Hara, the clusters, advisory committee, and staff.

All I know is that the process is working.

All I know is that it’s going to be neuralgic to see some parishes close.  But, as we’ve often all observed, while the closing of a parish is always painful, it’s less painful if there has been extensive, patient, consultation.  And these last two days assured me that’s the case.

Stay tuned…please pray!

Some Great Hobby Lobby Responses

July 1st, 2014

In case you missed them, here are some excellent responses in today’s papers to yesterday’s Supreme Court pro-religious liberty decision in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop of Louisville, wrote an outstanding column in today’s New York Post.

The Post also has an excellent editorial, as does the New York Daily News.

And Kathryn Jean Lopez, of Catholic Voices USA, one of the best writers around, has an op-ed in the News.

Enjoy!

Before we break for summer…

June 25th, 2014

As we approach the summer vacation season, I wanted to catch you up on several things that have been on my mind!

1.  Congratulations to John Woods and the entire staff of Catholic New York (CNY)!  At last week’s Catholic Press Association convention, CNY once again walked off with an armful of awards, including the coveted General Excellence Award for the second year in a row, plus first-place honors for stories that they did on last year’s papal transition, and the Year of Faith!  I am honored that my own column was given a first place award as well.  All of which reminds me of the importance of CNY as part of our communications ministry in this archdiocese.  Over the summer, we will be hard at work getting a new online version and App for CNY ready for distribution.  Using technology creatively as a way of staying in touch is vitally important these days, — as our kids tell us! — so we are also going to be rolling out a brand-new archdiocesan website, plus Flocknotes for our parishes, which we hope will enable pastors to be more in touch with their parishioners about parish activities, as well as allow me to communicate more directly and immediately with Catholics throughout the entire archdiocese. We are also implementing a new video conference system, with nine sites throughout the archdiocese (in Catholic high schools), each able to accommodate over 200 people, so that, among many other uses, we might have archdiocesan-wide “town hall” style meetings while people are able to stay in their own communities.  Much more to come on all of this, but I’m excited and enthusiastic about the changes that are coming!

2.  Our school year has come to an end.  A huge “Thank you!” to our parents, students, teachers, pastors, school administrators, and board members, for all of your efforts this past year; part of the genius of Catholic schools is that everyone has to be involved in order for our schools to succeed, and that was never more evident than it was this past school year. Dr. Timothy McNiff and his staff deserve a huge round of applause as well, as our regionalization plan, developed through the Pathways to Excellence planning process, is working!  Yes, there are still some unresolved questions and snags which we continue to tackle.  But, every parish in the archdiocese can now say that it has a parish school, even if that school is not situated on the parish grounds.  And, for the first time in recent memory, none of our archdiocesan schools are closing this June. (Mother Cabrini High School is sadly closing, but that decision was made by the religious order that ran the school, not by the archdiocese. We have worked with the parents and students of the school to try and help find them places in other Catholic high schools.)  Now, even some of the schools that opted-out of the regionalization plan are asking to be included as a regional school, proving how successful our new school plan has been.   Dr. McNiff tells me to expect an increase in students enrolled in our schools next fall, especially in the early childhood and elementary school level.  Hallelujah!

On a more somber note, we remain hugely disappointed in the failure of our elected leaders in Albany, including Governor Cuomo and Senator Skelos, to pass the Education Investment Tax Credit, which they all said they supported, and which would have been a great benefit to Catholic and other religious and private schools, as well as to the public schools as well.  I hate to bring this up, but I sense our politicians know that our Catholic people are not as organized or vocal as other groups, so they can overlook us, knowing that there is no political cost. Still, we’re not giving up.  Our schools, and the kids they serve, are too important.

3.  The pastoral planning process, Making All Things New, is nearing another milestone. I will soon receive the recommendations of the Archdiocesan Advisory Group, which has been studying the suggestions and feedback from the 368 parishes and 75 parish clusters that have been hard at work since last September, all so that archdiocese can better prepare for its future.  Up until now, I have deliberately kept a “hands-off” approach to the process, wanting the people of the archdiocese to be able to share their ideas, insights, and wisdom about the best way we can serve the people of God now and into the future.  I look forward to receiving their recommendations, and will spend the summer consulting with the Priest Council, archdiocesan staff, and other advisory groups, with an eye towards making an announcement this Fall.  Would you do me a favor, and please keep this very important pastoral planning process in your prayers this Summer, that the Holy Spirit might guide my decision-making?

4.  In my thirteen years as a bishop, I’ve been asked to give depositions on many different topics such as religious freedom, Catholic schools, Church finances, and, sadly, on the difficult issue of the sexual abuse of minors. This week I will be giving another deposition on this latter topic, this time in a lawsuit involving the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, about a priest who was laicized 14 years ago, in 2002, while I was a bishop there.

Saint Louis is my home archdiocese, and for eleven months in 2001-2002, I served there as an auxiliary bishop and Vicar for Clergy.  One of my responsibilities during that time period was to meet with victims of sexual abuse, work with law enforcement about allegations of abuse, and deal with those priests accused of wrong doing, seeing that those with credible allegations against them were immediately removed from ministry.  While it was an unusually intense, challenging and sad period for me personally, as it was for the victims of sexual abuse and the entire Church, I believe the Archdiocese of Saint Louis responded to these allegations with integrity, transparency, and sensitivity for all concerned.

I cooperate willingly in the deposition, and while I am not supposed to discuss any details about my deposition, I wanted to let you know it was occurring this week, because the last time I participated in such a deposition, and despite a judge’s order that the process remain confidential, a newspaper here called, tipped off by the other side,  asking about the “late breaking news” that I was being deposed, just as the deposition was beginning   So, I’d prefer you hear about this civil deposition first from me.

5.  I always relish my visits to Fordham University in the Bronx, and recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with two outstanding Fordham students, Michael Menconi and Ken Ochs, for a stimulating interview on ethics and society.  They’ve published the full interview here, if you’d like to give it a look!

You’ll continue to hear from me over the coming weeks, but I pray you have a restful, reinvigorating Summer!

A few words on the Education Investment Tax Credit

June 23rd, 2014

On Friday the New York Post published an op-ed I wrote on the Education Investment Tax Credit:

The concept of the tax credit is simple, and similar plans have already been passed in 21 other states and the District of Columbia.

Donors would be encouraged to contribute to scholarship funds for private schools, or to donate to support public schools, for which they would receive a credit on their tax returns…

Gov. Cuomo told us he supported the bill, as did Senate leader Dean Skelos. Eighty-eight members of the Assembly had signed on as co-sponsors. It had overwhelming support in the state Senate. We were assured that passage would be a “no-brainer.”

Read the rest here.

Also Friday the New York State Catholic Conference released the following statement on the proposed credit:

“Along with Catholic school families across the state, we are deeply disappointed and angry at the failure to pass an Education Investment Tax Credit, which would have generated needed scholarships to help families afford parochial schools, yeshivas and other non-public schools, as well as benefitted public schools and all teachers.”

Read the rest of the statement here.

We are not giving up!

Sunday Mass: the Most Significant Event in the Life of a Parish

June 23rd, 2014

Yesterday’s beautiful feast of Corpus Christi (The Body and Blood of Christ) allows us to renew our commitment to making Sunday Mass the priority of our Catholic life, of every parish family.

One of the valuable lessons we’re learning from Making All Things New, our strategic pastoral planning initiative, is that people want a reverent, uplifting, joyful, welcoming, meaningful Sunday Mass.  They crave good lectors, inspirational (not overdone) music and singing, and a solid, succinct (i.e., short) sermon.  They want to participate – – ushers, offertory procession, lectors, choir, servers, trained Extraordinary Eucharistic ministers (where called for and allowed by liturgical law), and some fellowship afterwards.  They love seeing and greeting their priests and deacons.  Our people tell us they appreciate sensitivity to ethnic needs (Masses available in languages needed by parishioners).  They also tell us they don’t like “long” Masses (over an hour) cluttered by extraneous stuff (too much added verbiage from priests, deacons, lectors, and in the announcements, or too many “gimmicks”).

Although the outcome of our planning is far from over, it’s already clear that, if a parish is alive and stable, we know it makes Sunday Mass, as described above, the priority.

Over the next weeks, many of our priests will be “on the move,” to new assignments.  Most of them know from experience that they have to make Sunday Mass the priority in their new parish, as they did in their old one.

Studies are showing us that parishes with a reverent, quality, participative Sunday Mass, with a solid (short) sermon, report large numbers, good stewardship, (high collections!), many new members and converts for the RCIA, effective programs of service and community outreach, vocations, keeping the youth involved, and engendering parish loyalty.  Not bad!

Savvy pastors – – I’m trying to be one, like most of my priests and deacons – – know that the parish is the front line of the Church.  And the most significant event in the life of any parish is Sunday Mass.

Let’s do it!