May God bless with peace those who are sorry for their sins and a change of heart for the unrepentant.
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! If you’ve not yet read Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, you’re missing one of the best books of the 20th century. Written in 1945, it tells the tale of the timeless truths about the transcendence of love and how humans must err often (or at least, so it seems) before discovering true love. From frivolous friendship to passionate romance, the book convincingly leads the reader to realize that love takes time to master. And there are oh so many obstacles along the way. At one point Charles (the main character) is confronted with the fact that he is “living in sin,” a phrase that as a non-Catholic he does not fully understand. And so his lover Julia, who is Catholic (albeit non-practicing) provides the following explanation: “Living in sin; not just doing wrong.. .doing wrong, knowing it is wrong, stopping doing it, forgetting . .. Living in sin, with sin, by sin, for sin, every hour, every day, year in, year out. Waking up with sin in the morning, seeing the curtains drawn on sin, bathing it, dressing it, clipping diamonds to it, feeding it, showing it round, giving it a good time, putting it to sleep at night with a tablet of Dial if it’s fretful.” From this point the book shifts profoundly and one is reminded that people can change... “To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often,” (John Henry Newman). And just as we change from infancy to adulthood in gradual and manifest ways, so too does the Church’s doctrine develop in ways that once might have been thought unlikely. Lest you wonder where this article is going, the goal is to convince you that the Catholic Church’s “new” teaching about the death penalty is one that is in continuity with all that has been taught in times past. Keeping in mind that the enemies of the Church want you to think that her teachings are arbitrary and can change at the drop of a hat, the truth is more along the lines of the fact that even though we change throughout our lives, we’re still the same person as we were when first held by our mamas in the hospital. Catholic doctrine is like that too, in that so much is unseen at first but as the centuries pass we begin to see more clearly and so come to a deeper understanding than we had at the beginning. When Pope Francis recently modified the Catechism of the Catholic Church to effectively ban the death penalty, he was following a trajectory that has been in place for a very long time. Both of his predecessors taught similar things and so Pope Francis’ conclusion is a sound one: namely, that given the circumstances (and the efficacy of incarceration), the death penalty is now inadmissible because we have more humane ways of dealing with people who are a threat to society. This is a valid development of doctrine that reminds the world that we’re still learning more about the mysterious ways of God from Scripture and Tradition. Keep in mind that Pope Francis is not saying that there could never be a set of circumstances that would allow one to use the death penalty as a just punishment (this would make the death penalty intrinsically disordered, thus claiming that it’s a sin every time it’s used). What he is claiming is that the circumstances that would require putting a criminal to death are not in effect at this time, therefore making it inadmissible to use the death penalty. This teaching reminds us quite forcefully that every human being has dignity, even the most abject and unrepentant sinner. Pope Francis’ recent teaching about the death penalty is therefore a development of doctrine, not a reverse course. Such a teaching gives the criminal time to change, to repent and to offer acts of reparation for his terrible sin. And as the quote above makes clear, rooting sin out of our lives takes time, effort, and a lot of grace. So please pray for all who are caught in the grip of sin, that they may find freedom in Jesus and His willingness to forgive and forget all of our sins.
May God bless with peace those who are sorry for their sins and a change of heart for the unrepentant.
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! When Luis Martinez became the Archbishop of Mexico City in 1937 one of the first things he told his people was “I give you my life.” Martinez was wise in the ways of God and lived a heroically simple and sacrificial life – it’s no wonder that his cause is open and moving forward toward what one day will be his canonization as a saint. I “met” him the first time when I read his powerful book on the Holy Spirit titled The Sanctifier. This is hands down the best book I’ve ever read about the third Person of the Trinity! This weekend our confirmandi will be receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a powerful way and we will be supporting them with our prayers as they become full members of the Catholic Church. As they receive these gifts it’s important for them to meditate on an insight that comes from Martinez’s book, namely “It’s better to know than love things that are inferior to us; it’s better to love than know things that are superior to us.” Many times we get this mixed up: how many people take the approach that because they cannot understand God, they therefore refuse to trust Him (in His defense, He told us repeatedly that His ways are not our ways and that we wouldn’t always see the wisdom in the way He runs the universe). And we also frequently err in loving things that are below us and cannot save us (e.g. inordinate attachment to money or possessions or fame or cigars). Worthy of prayer and meditation is Martinez’s insight: loving God leads to proper use of the things of this world; trying to figure out God or thinking we know better than Him leads to discouragement and a weakening of our faith. Receiving the Holy Spirit gives us the grace necessary to spend our life fruitfully loving God and His people – and wisdom comes from living this way. For this reason Jesus said that it was not to the wise and learned that He revealed Himself, but to the childlike. Worldly people are anything but childlike. They adopt an air of sophistication and haughty self-reliance. The childlike spirit of God is one of awe and wonder, not to mention acceptance of our limitations as crosses that bring us closer to God and His people. One of my classmates is a priest and has had a stutter for all of his life. He told me some years back that his stutter has inspired more people than anything else – he said countless people have thanked him for not allowing his weakness to define him or keep him from serving God. When our young people receive the Holy Spirit, it’s not to make them more powerful and self-sufficient. To the contrary, they are asked to accept their struggles in a spirit of faith: God only allows trials to help us grow and learn to love others who struggle too. In my life Psalm 119 has haunted and defined me all at the same time: “Before I was afflicted I strayed.” When things were going well for me as a newly liberated college student, I felt indomitable and lived as if I hadn’t a care in the world. But the struggles began and they really shook my self- confidence and lead to some pretty dark places. Somehow the prayers of others must have kept me from turning my back to God – it was in those struggles that I began to truly experience God’s love for me, even though I hardly deserved it. And wouldn’t you know, retrospectively I can see that His love for me began to free me from the compensatory behaviors I was engaging to find some peace in this world. Our Confirmation students will go through many tough times in their life. But receiving the Holy Spirit is a pledge by God to help them find wisdom at the foot of their crosses. Someday when these young people stand before their spouse or before the altar they will say words similar to Martinez’s all those years ago: “I give you my life.” And that will be proof that the Holy Spirit is alive and working in their hearts and souls.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful, and enkindle in them the fire of Your love!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! One of the quickest ways to date yourself is to talk about the music you grew up with. It’s amazing how generational music can be, and it’s only the rare song that transcends its era. When I was a kid the radio was always on before breakfast so that Dad could listen to the daily news. In the morning there was a lot of country music, so I remember trying to imitate the bass singer from the Oak Ridge Boys who made “Bobbie Sue” sound like it was coming from somewhere deep below the surface of the earth. My brother Tom loved music and he was always a step ahead of me in introducing me to the latest bands and their hit songs. One that I remember understanding from the first time I heard it was John Lennon’s “Days like these.” The refrain was one I’d sing when I was sad or discouraged: “Nobody told me there’d be days like these.” During times of frustration or the disbelief that life can be so overwhelming usually brought that refrain to mind. And now we’re living in such times again. Before making a modest response to the horror of abuse against children, please know the first response of the Church must always be that of a mother. And everyone knows that a mother takes children into her heart forever – we who are members of Holy Mother Church do that best when we pray and offer acts of reparation for those who have been wounded by the sins of others. At some point as a Church we must begin to offer Masses of reparation for the sins committed by bishops, priests, and religious. The Bishop of Madison asked his clergy to join him in fasting on specific days this fall and that’s the right response to the evils that are saddening us to no end. Another wise response is to be very careful about what you read – a friend alluded to some of the sins (that are truly crimes that call out to God for justice) and it just about made me sick. It’s not a good sign if we have some insatiable curiosity about the sins of others. Sometimes we cannot avoid such things as it’s our duty to do something about it. But for most of us, the sins of clerical abuse took place years ago and miles away. For the good of your soul, be careful about ingesting the details of those terrible sins. And if you know of someone who has been abused by a member of the Church, please call the police and report it. Whatever the policies may have been in the past, the abuse of a minor is a terrible crime and must be duly revealed to the authorities who will rightly prosecute the perpetrator. As I’m writing this I once again remember the feeling I had as a kid when humming Lennon’s tune – it’s true, nobody told me there would be days like these. For as long as I’ve been a priest I’ve lived under the cloud of suspicion – the first major revelations of clerical abuse surfaced just two years after I was ordained. Please do not conclude that I’m fishing for sympathy. For priests who are innocent of these sins, God teaches us to offer our suffering the shame and humiliation of being stereotyped for the truly innocent young people who will spend years searching for healing and inner peace. Finally, as you know by now a letter from a high-ranking, retired Archbishop surfaced and it names people who colluded with the clerical corruption that birthed these scandals. While God will be the judge of each and every one of us, many of us are tired of a system that seems to have no desire to correct itself. And so we pray for God to send the Holy Spirit to heal the terrible pain the victims must feel, to purify the Church of clerical corruption, and to restore the hope that not even the devil can destroy Christ’s Bride. Nobody told us there would be days like these... but Jesus will not fail.
May God protect us from the despair that comes from sin, and may He open us to the healing of His mercy!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! I think the first time I met Dan Kitzhaber was in the spring of 2002. We were attending a pro- life gathering hosted by the Servants of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Stevens Point. I remember the presentation Dan gave about the damage being done by pornography and for years I used some of his insights when I covered that topic with my students. Dan made a positive impact on me from the very start. As you already know, Dan has begun his new position in the office of Marriage and Family and is now officially employed by the Diocese of La Crosse. Dan served our two parishes for the past 18 years and I’ve wanted to take some space here to publicly thank him for all the good he did. In a perfect world I would back up my words of gratitude with an all-expense-paid trip to Disney World! But because my personal finances can only afford to send him and his family to Arpin and back, I’ve decided a nice tribute ought to suffice in accurately reflecting the way we feel about his time with us. A first point to mention is that no one this side of eternity will ever fully know the impact of his life. The remarkable movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” grants some insight into how powerful one person’s life can be in bringing hope and peace and light to others. I can only imagine all the young lives Dan affected by his constant witness to the splendor and challenge of living the Gospel in our world today. And from my own experience in working with young people, I imagine much of Dan’s work was rather unsung and sometimes may have felt unappreciated. Only in Heaven will Dan know the good he did, and I am very confident that such a revelation will be a powerful and happy experience. Again, another insight is the old mantra that “no man is an island.” This could be further spelled out by the words, “Behind every good husband is an encouraging wife.” Dan and his wife Christy are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary this weekend and God knows they’ve lived well the mystery of two becoming one. One way to thank Dan for his service is to pray for his family, all of whom are home to celebrate with gratitude the gift of married love. When a married person commits to working for the Church, the other spouse and children are conscripted into service too. So while Dan was the official employee of Saint John’s and Christ the King these past 18 years, Christy and the kids have been involved and supportive every step of the way. Just think of how many jar mixes they’ve made or brat barns they’ve sweated in or how often they rode the bus to the March for Life. So our public gratitude extends to Christy and Sister Anna Grace (Veronica), Zech, Rebekah, Catherine, and Elizabeth. We happily surround you with our prayers this weekend as you celebrate Dan and Christy’s silver anniversary. In closing, I’m reminded of the words of Coach Boone in the movie “Remember the Titans.” Shortly after the tragic accident that left star player Gary Bertier paralyzed for life, a press conference was held in advance of the state championship game. With obvious emotion in his voice, Coach Boone told the press, “You cannot replace a Gary Bertier.” And so it is in life – each of us in a way is irreplaceable. Each of us is unique and unrepeatable and nobody else does things quite the same as we do. And so as we bid a fond farewell to Dan Kitzhaber and the heroic work he did for us, we realize that no one can truly replace him. However, we must always remember that the flipside of the coin is also true: that life goes on without us. For example, while I was away 6 weeks for my hip replacement back in 2013, I was secretly hoping that the parish would flounder in my absence. Sadly, it seemed to actually flourish under the direction of Father Burish. I have forgiven you for that! The point is that Dan’s successor, David Alcott, will do things differently than Dan did and that’s all according to God’s design. Please welcome and support David as fully as you did Dan. And Dan, from all of us, thanks for everything that you did – our parishes are so much better from having been served by you!
May God bless all who labor for the salvation of souls! Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! Well, a new school year is about to begin and the kids are chomping at the bit. Fittingly, this column will be dubbed a back to school special and will demand that you put on your thinking cap. Are you ready? A classmate sent me the following canonical conundrum a month ago: Canon 916 states that “A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess. In this case, the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible.” What does this mean in layman’s parlance? Well, let’s say a Dad is with his family at Mass and the kids know that their Dad has not broken the one-hour fast. If all of them go to Communion and their Dad hangs back the kids might wonder “what did Dad do that he can’t even receive Holy Communion?” They would surmise that Dad must have done something really bad. Now you probably already know that the Church’s teaching is that one is not obliged to reveal publicly the state of his soul because doing so might have grave implications. In other words, nobody has a right to know whether or not a person is in the state of sanctifying grace or not. If the Dad knows his children will be fully aware that he has not received Communion and that this will cause them a real crisis in faith, he is allowed to receive the Lord (but only if he intends to go to confession as soon as possible so that the grave sin can be forgiven and forgotten by God). I share this anecdote here because I remember as a kid sometimes trying to get to confession before Mass but the line was too long for me to succeed. I was correctly taught that I could receive but that I must promise to get to confession as soon as possible. Nowadays there is also the possibility of coming up for a blessing – this is another way of loving Jesus enough not to receive Him when we’re ill-prepared. Again, this respects the state of our conscience but does not disclose to others that we need to go to confession before receiving the Lord. While I’m not exactly sure this will make sense as it’s written, it also gives me an opportunity to share my philosophy about sin and conversion. Some priests do not allow couples living together to get married in the Catholic Church (or they do not allow them to have a Mass, only a ceremony). I think this is a valid approach. Just the same, my take is to try to bring the couple to a place of conversion. In other words, I allow them to get married, but make it clear that they cannot receive Holy Communion without making a good confession. My hope is that such an approach will give the Holy Spirit room to move in their hearts and help them to recognize that sin only brings sadness and discouragement in the long run. Please hear what I’m saying: 1) Living together before marriage is morally dangerous – it’s sinful if the marital act is engaged; 2) God wills that all sinners find the path that leads to true happiness and love; 3) conversion is the process that results in the aforementioned happiness and love – and this conversion, an act of God, is best fostered with patience, truth, and charity. I would say that around half of the couples getting married in our parishes are living together before their wedding. More and more couples see the disillusionment that cohabitation entails and are choosing a narrower but more rewarding path. But for those who are living together, the Church opens her heart and invites them to taste and see the goodness of the Lord. Does this approach foster a higher rate of conversion than others? I suspect we’ll only know the answer to that on the other side. For now we trust the Lord best when we spend time with Him in Adoration, receive Him devoutly in Holy Communion, and confide in Him wholeheartedly in confession.
May God bless all students, teachers, and parents as we embark on a new school year!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! Did you know that Father Barry is the 5th priest I’ve lived with since coming to Saint John’s and Christ the King in 2011? And that doesn’t include the three international priests that spent time here too. Over the years I’ve watched the associates drag their feet as the time inevitably came for them to pack up and move to their next assignment. When it’s something we’d rather not do, it’s impressive the ways we find to procrastinate. For example, Father Sedlacek was intently poring over old parish directories and he was happy to share with me a page he found titled “Call Your Pastors.” It lists 7 times when you ought to at least consider calling your parish priest: 1) When you are facing a serious problem, 2) When someone is interested in the Church, 3) When there is illness, 4) When there is death, 5) When you must make an important decision, 6) When there is a wedding, and 7) When someone desires to become a Christian. These are generally very good reasons to call the priest. You know that we were ordained to serve and by the help of God and the support of your prayers, we’ve even been caught serving joyfully on occasion. In all seriousness, it would be desirable to complement the above list with a page titled, “When not to call your pastor.” Such a list could include the following: 1) When the Brewers or Packers are playing and it’s a close and exciting game, 2) When your cat is sick and is in need of the last rites, 3) When it’s after midnight or before 5:00 a.m. and you just feel like talking to someone, and 4) When it’s Christmas eve and you’re not sure what time the midnight Mass begins. Okay, by this point maybe you realize this is a light and frothy column that is meant to bring a smile to you and healing for me. Before I actually write something substantial, there is one more list I’d like to compose, namely “When to call the Associate Priest:” 1) When you’re angry with something or someone in the parish and just need to take it out on a priest, 2) When you’re certain that the Masons have infiltrated the Vatican and are brainwashing everyone, 3) When you realize you’re all out of holy water and it’s 3:00 a.m. on Friday the 13th, 4) When you have a crazy plan for bringing your fallen away relatives back to church and it involves a wild goose chase for the priest, and 5) When you need to know how to make beer. Now what you might not realize is that we are on-call pretty much all of the time and we do our best to respond in a timely fashion. And while I rarely answer the phone at night anymore (due to the bizarre nature of many of those calls), I always get up and check to see if a voicemail message was left. Moreover, we’re on call if there’s an emergency at the hospital – the folks there call our cell phones and we split up the days so that everyone gets a chance to help out. Typically I cover weekends at the hospital. Given the volume of phone calls, sometimes it does become a burden to answer the phone because doing so can completely alter the rest of the day. That’s why your prayers for priests are really important – we need your spiritual support so that we have sufficient patience and charity to do our job. Finally, allow me to conclude with one last list: “When to call your parish secretary:” When you’re sick and tired of all these silly columns and want to lodge a complaint!
May God help us serve generously and find joy in His service! Your friend in Christ,
Praised be Jesus Christ! “You see that mountain over there, yea, one of these days I’m going to climb that mountain,” (Alabama, “Mountain Music”). I’m back from my annual trek to the Rocky Mountains and my goal this year was to climb three of them: Mounts Democrat, Lincoln, and Bross. Each standing over 14,000 feet tall, that brings my tally of 14ers to six. A former student of mine who is now a Nashville Dominican Sister has climbed at least that many and because my goal is to beat her I must keep going! As I’ve mentioned in the past, setting a goal of climbing a mountain has been a great motivator for getting me out of the office and out on some glorious walks these past three summers. This summer has been extra challenging because of a plethora of bugs and more heat than I can remember in years. Early in the summer I walked from Marshfield to Spencer and back a number of times to increase my endurance. But once the deer flies take over that route is almost unbearable. Then I switched to the Marshfield-Hewitt loop which varies from downright delightful (especially the Hewitt-Marsh trail) to oppressively hot insofar as you’re usually walking on concrete or asphalt. Just the same, if I’m diligent about my preparation, climbing a mountain, while still incredibly challenging, is manageable. The spiritual life is similar. Saint John of the Cross even wrote a book titled, The Ascent of Mount Carmel and patterned spiritual growth on the efforts necessary for climbing an arduous mountain. Pope John Paul II was an avid mountain climber and skier as a young man and at some point he became friends with an Italian named Lino Zani. Zani wrote a book about their many adventures together – it’s titled The Secret Life of John Paul II and I highly recommend it. It shares stories of the many times John Paul snuck away from the Vatican for a day of skiing in the mountains. At one point Saint John Paul asked Lino why he climbed all those mountains. Before giving Lino a chance to respond, the Pope went on to ask, “What are you looking for when you climb those mountains?” Lino realized the Pope was asking a spiritual question, which is to say a deeply personal and introspective question. Henry David Thoreau once wrote that “We need to witness our own limits transgressed.” In other words, we go to the ocean or climb mountains to find our place in this universe. In a way we want there to be more to life than just us and our seemingly insatiable desires. We want there to be things bigger than us that remind us that we are not the center of the universe, that whatever the meaning of life may be, it’s certainly not reducible to who we are and what we want. The mountains, the ocean, Jesus in the Eucharist – these things tell us that we are very recent arrivals on the scene and long after we’re gone life will go on. While some might conclude that our lives are therefore meaningless, the more profound conclusion is that it’s a miracle that we exist at all. And as if that wasn’t already incredible enough, God gave us an interior life complete with the ability to imagine, dream, contemplate and believe. For time immemorial people have found the great outdoors to be a means for awakening and inspiring this deep interior life. But nature can only awaken such stirrings – God alone can satisfy them. So get outside and enjoy the world God made for us, but please don’t turn it into an idol. Nature is not our mother but our sister – God made her too and He did so to lead us to Him. So why do I climb those mountains, what am I looking for? For a Christian, the answer has everything to do with Who – we climb to meet the One who made the mountains, and even more wondrously, who made us!
May God give us the desire to ascend the mountains of faith, hope and love!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! By now you know that I enjoy a good movie and am grateful when someone makes a solid recommendation. For whatever reason I was reminded recently of the movie “The Fugitive” that came out in 1993 and starred Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. Ford plays the part of a doctor who is wrongly accused and found guilty of murdering his wife. He spends the bulk of the film trying to exonerate himself while simultaneously avoiding Jones who is a highly competent U.S. Marshall. One scene I always remember is when Ford is working with a former assistant as he searches for clues as to who really killed his wife. The assistant whose name is Bones is completely unaware of the manhunt being conducted to find Ford who is a fugitive and on the run. In one of the most poignant scenes of the movie Bones asks Ford, “Whatever happened with that thing about your wife?” Ford’s response is one for the ages: “It’s not over yet.” And isn’t that the truth about so many sagas in our lives? For people who prefer closure and a happy ending, life just doesn’t allow us as much peace as we’d prefer. “It’s not over yet.” How many times do we work toward an expected goal when circumstances change and all of a sudden what was once certain now hangs in the balance, sometimes never to be completed? And when it comes to human relationships, we struggle to know just what to do to help loved ones who refuse our assistance and seem determined to self-destruct no matter how hard we try to deter them. Life is full of struggles that cause us seemingly endless worry and this takes its toll as the years go by. But Ford is right to point out that hey, “It’s not over yet.” And that’s the good news – things can have a happy ending. As Christians, we believe that life will have a happy ending for all who trust in the Lord. After all, for Jesus it is over – His battle with His ancient enemy ended the moment He walked out of the tomb, never to return again. It’s this reality that buoys our spirits when we find ourselves once again down in the mouth and ready to throw in the towel for good. We live in the tension between the already – Jesus’ victory over sin and death once and for all – and the not yet – our salvation, which is not certain until our final breath. And so when we come up against a hopeless situation we do well to remember that “It’s not over yet” – in Christ we know that good will prevail in the end, no matter how long the odds and hopeless the situation appears to be at the moment. As evidence that the battles rage on, this past Father’s Day Planned Parenthood weighed in on the immigration crisis: “In our hearts and minds today: all of the fathers and parents who have been separated from their children at borders.” Of course, for the level-minded person, the realization comes swiftly that no organization in the history of our country has separated more children from their parents than Planned Parenthood. It’s in these moments when we do well to remember that “It’s not over yet.” In other words, the battles continue as the evil one works feverishly to bait us into destroying ourselves. As followers of Jesus Christ, we have the hope of His final victory, but also the realization that our salvation is to some degree contingent on our willingness to live our faith in a hostile world. Thankfully we have the example of Our Lord, who like Ford, was accused of things He did not do. However, unlike Ford He did not flee from His unjust punishment: embracing His Cross He gave His life that we might live. And on that first Easter morning the devil, scorned by the most unlikely event in the history of our universe, must have thought, “It’s not over yet.” But that’s where he erred – Christ’s victory means it is definitively over... all that’s left to decide is whether we trust Him enough to enter the fray.
May God grant us courage, so that our faith will awaken a slumbering world to the thrill of the fight!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! The movie “Romero” came out in 1989 and became a staple for Catholic students as it was shown in religion classes for many years. I remember seeing it and being impressed by Archbishop Oscar Romero’s courage and his true solidarity with the poor. I was shocked when he was gunned down while celebrating Mass in March of 1980. This October 14th Pope Francis will canonize Archbishop Romero a saint and that means the poor of this world will have another true friend and intercessor in Heaven. His feast day is March 24th, the day he was martyred in the hospital chapel of Divine Providence. At some point it would be great to show the film and have some discussion about the impact of his life... keep your eyes peeled for this later in the fall. You might be familiar with the spiritual axiom that nobody goes to Heaven alone – in that spirit Pope Paul VI will be canonized a saint on the same day as Oscar Romero. Born Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini (I’m not kidding – what a mouthful!) in 1897, there is a famous story of how he came to Rome with his parents shortly after his 1st Communion. Pope Pius X was so moved by how pious little Montini looked in his 1st Communion outfit, that he suddenly took off his white skull cap (a.k.a. zucchetto), put it on the boy and said, “Ecco, quel papalino!” (Look at that little Pope). And lo and behold, in 1963 Pope Pius X’s prediction came true. For those of you who remember him, Pope Paul VI was austere in appearance and followed in the formidable footsteps of the affable Pope John XXIII. Whereas “Good Pope John” was gregarious and open-hearted, Paul VI was more melancholic in temperament (leading some to dub him “the sad Pope”). And while both became saints, the circumstances in which they did so were radically different. Pope Paul VI served as Vicar of Christ from 1963-1978, arguably some of the most tumultuous years the Church has endured since the French Revolution (1789-1799). This year we remember the 50th anniversary of the year that will forever be connected to Pope Paul VI: 1968. It was then he issued the encyclical Humanae vitae (“Of human life”), the document that affirmed the Church’s perennial teaching about openness to life and to God’s will for procreation. Saying it was not received well in some quarters is putting it extraordinarily mildly. The birth control pill had received full FDA approval in 1960 and the Supreme Court decision Griswold vs. Connecticut in 1965 had decriminalized the use of contraceptives. The expectation of many (including myriads of priests and religious, as well as some Bishops) was that the Church would follow the lead of the Anglican church and allow discerning couples to use the pill in a responsible fashion. Pope Paul VI shocked the world when he affirmed that the way of love according to God’s design could never endorse contraception, as it closes our hearts to trusting in Him in the marital act. Many dissenters were given a megaphone to tell the world that Pope Paul VI was wrong and that his predictions about this being bad for marriage and especially bad for women were roundly ridiculed. But the verdict is in: contraception has been very bad for marriage and family. Many people in our world still do not believe this. The best answer is in the families who are trying to live the way Christ teaches through His Bride, the Catholic Church. Our parishes are getting younger with many vibrant, faithful families, and that is in some part due to soon-to-be Saint Paul VI’s courage in teaching an unpopular truth. As Pope Liberius pointed out nearly 1,700 years ago, “The truth of the faith is not lessened by the fact that I stand alone.” We thank God for these two new saints who inspire us by their courage and assist us by their prayers.
May God be praised in His Saints – the holy men and women who were faithful in their trials!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
Praised be Jesus Christ! Do you ever listen to Relevant Radio? It’s a great source of Catholic formation and has brought countless souls back to the practice of their faith. Recently Father Simon was expressing his frustration with what he calls “garden weddings.” And as a priest I could completely relate. Now before you read further, some of you are not going to like what is written and some will complain about feeling judged. Let me begin by pointing the finger of blame toward me and my brother priests. We have not done an adequate job of teaching and explaining that Catholics have a very specific and beautiful understanding of the sacrament of marriage. Some of us have not explained clearly enough that Catholics who marry outside the Church without a dispensation (i.e. permission from the Bishop) are not in a sacramental marriage. And this is a problem because if affects the communion that we share with Christ – what happens is that a Catholic marrying outside the parameters of a sacramental marriage are now in an irregular situation and should not receive Holy Communion until this is remedied. My guess is that many people do not know this (that’s why I write about it every year: repetition is the mother of learning); a deeper discouragement is that some priests do not teach this and that divides us and makes us appear uncertain. If more priests were team players and had the courage and confidence to teach the truth, more of our faithful would be receiving Jesus in Holy Communion in an efficacious way. People who receive Jesus but are in an irregular situation are simply not able to receive the grace God wants to give. Grace builds on nature, but only if our nature is humble and obedient. Getting married in a park or on the beach is not a bad thing. But it is not a Catholic thing. One of the least enjoyable aspects of being a priest is trying to explain to people when they’re not disposed to receive Holy Communion. This could be a person who went through a divorce and remarried but never had the first marriage annulled (which is important because it makes sure that the person is free to marry again). Again, a person living with someone as if they were married when in fact they are not damages communion with Christ, meaning they are not objectively in the state of grace. And Catholics that are civilly married but have never had their marriage blessed are also in spiritual limbo because their marriage is not a sacrament. Okay, by this point many reading this might be discouraged and wonder, “Now what?” The good news is that each of the aforementioned situations can be remedied. The annulment process is not difficult and can bring extraordinary healing. I’ve helped dozens of folks go through the annulment process and it has brought real hope and healing. We can also help with the financial aspect for those worried about the cost. As for the many “garden weddings” happening, if you would like to practice your Catholic faith and resume receiving Jesus in Holy Communion, having your marriage blessed is eminently possible (thus raising it to a sacrament, complete with all of the sanctifying graces). Please do not hesitate to contact me or any priest who teaches what the Church teaches. Blessing the civil marriage shows trust in the Lord and an honest awareness of our need for God’s divine assistance. For everyone reading this, please pray for those who find themselves in spiritually difficult situations – we’re all in this together and our prayers are a powerful means of loving and not judging God’s people. And while Father Simon and I might be frustrated by the widespread confusion regarding Catholic marriages, we work for a Boss who can draw straight with crooked lines – in Him we trust.
May God sanctify our love and renew the beautiful sacrament of Holy Matrimony!
Your friend in Christ, Father Martin
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Welcome from Our Pastor
Welcome to Christ the King Catholic Church! Ever since 1938 this parish has been assisting souls in their quest for deeper union with God. Our mission statement is essentially found in the stained glass window above the main altar: “For Christ our King.” Insofar as God made us and we belong to Him, we have come to... Read More