Saturday, February 25, 2012
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Now is the time to prepare ourselves to be ready when Lent begins. We often look at Lent as a time in the desert. We are called to the disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. In many ways Lent is meant to be a time of retreat from what we normally experience. Our Lenten retreat should cause us to reflect upon our relationship to God and how God is working in our lives. We should be asking ourselves, "What can draw me closer to God during this holy season?"
Usually we set the parameters for how our Lenten experience will develop. Sometimes other events play a hand in what direction we focus our Lenten disciplines.
That is the case for me this Lent, and I suspect it will affect some of your Lenten experiences as well. Many of you have probably noticed that we've had one or more Masses each week said for my dad. In part that is because many of my family members and family friends requested a Mass be said after his death. There is another reason why I am saying those Mass requests so quickly. Three weeks ago I received an e-mail from bishop Warfel informing me that I would be moved right after Easter. The bishop had mentioned to me before Thanksgiving that he was considering moving me to plug a hole that would need to be filled when he placed a new pastor at St. Pius in Billings which became vacant with Father Steve Tokarski's death in October. The bishop was planning on appointing a permanent pastor at St. Pius on July 1st and thought I would be a good person to fill the new hole that would be created. Because of a need to move the timing up at St. Pius, the week after Easter I'll be replacing Father Wayne Pittard at St. Mary's in Livingston with responsibility for the parish elementary school and the communities of Big Timber, Gardiner and Clyde Park.
Needless to say, the sadness that I will experience as I start the process of saying good-bye here will have an impact on my Lent this year. This is not to say that I am not looking forward to a new challenge in my new parish assignment. As I've been known to say at funerals, there is a sadness as we say good-bye, but a sense of hope as we look to the future. They are not exclusive.
As we are thinking about the beginnings of Lent your Lenten observances might include additional prayer for our own communities and for yourselves. The last word I had from the bishop is that the Masses between Easter and July 1st will be covered by priests from Great Falls. I'm sure there will be some variety of priests coming for Mass depending upon who is available to say Masses on a given weekend. Maybe one or two will be said by the bishop himself. There may be the appointment of a full-time priest in July. Praying for more holy priests in our diocese during this Lenten season will surly be fruitful as we look to the future.
Fasting, foregoing some good for a greater good, can lead to a deeper spirituality. This past week, while attending the Symposium on the Charism of Priestly Celibacy, the value of fasting was made even more evident. When we are without a good thing because we are focused on a greater good thing, we appreciate all the more the good we have and the greater good as well. I would like to suggest that you consider extra fasting during this Lenten season and pray that the fruit of the fasting may somehow help a priest in his sacred duty to bring Christ to the people.
Alms-giving during Lent could take the form of additional giving to the parish. During the few months without a resident priest the expenses of the parish should go down since the parish will not be paying a salary for a full time priest. This would be an ideal time for the parish to replenish its checking account so that if another priest is assigned there will be money to pay for the related expenses of that priest.
I want to tie in a little with the readings today about forgiveness of sin. Bishop Warfel has asked that we adopt a program that came from Boston -- "The Light is on for You". In an effort to help people make it to confession during this season on Lent, churches around the diocese will be open several evenings during the Lenten season for people to stop and go to confession. For our parishes we'll be open on Tuesdays in Geraldine on the weeks we have Mass there. I'll start confessions after Mass and then stay in the confessional until 8 pm. In Fort Benton, we'll have confession on Thursday evenings except for March 1st and March 15, from 6 pm until 8 pm. You are all invited to come and experience God's healing presence.
This Lent we will truly experience a time in the desert and Easter will bring something new. It is up to us to determine if we will let this season help us grow spiritually to be ready for the new beginning or not. As Lent is about to begin, I ask for your prayers and I'll remember you in mine.
Saturday, February 18, 2012
Perhaps, though, my mind was not completely trashed from three days of travel, meetings and more travel for I had a thought that might help put a few things into perspective. I can't remember if Senator Tester has any cattle with his wheat farm or not, but here is a thought I had.
What would happen if someone came and treated all of the cows carrying calves this time of year to stop the disease that was afflicting them? Do you think the ranchers would appreciate that? I mean, after all, why should cows be afflicted with such a horrible thing as motherhood? You'd think the ranchers would know by now the secret it to always keep the bulls in a pasture that is separate from the cows so there would be no worries.
If pregnancy is the disease, why are we putting so much effort into keeping the buffalo with brucellosis from having contact with our livestock? Since brucellosis causes cows to abort their calves, would this not be a cure for their disease of pregnancy?
It would be interesting to ask our current Governor, Senators and Representative from the House to give us some thoughts on this issue. Why is it that a baby cow (calf) is more worthy than a baby human?
Thursday, February 16, 2012
There are times when I wonder if those participating even know what it is that they are doing, or why they are doing it. I've also asked myself if they know what the priest is doing, or why the priest is doing things at different points of the celebration?
I have a feeling that many of those in the pews, or surrounding the altar (some priests included) lack belief in many of the basics truths we hold as Catholics.
I've noticed ministers who look like they are tolerating the Eucharistic Prayer. I've noticed sacristans, EMHC's and altar servers who treat the corporal more like a table cloth, scattering crumbs around the altar. I've noticed when I've tried to mention some of these issues in homilies, the ones most likely to be the offenders appear to be ignoring what is being said.
While the liturgical elements are sometimes more obvious, the signs of unbelief are not limited to strictly liturgical issues. Where are the majority of Catholics when we have our "40 Days for Life" each year? Are they praying for an end to abortion at the abortion clinic or at home, or are they not praying for the end to abortion? Where are Catholics when we are talking about a push to recognize gay relationships as marriages? Are they standing strong for the true meaning of marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman? Have a lot of Catholics fallen away from a true understanding of marriage as a sacramental covenant? What about the whole issue of contraception that seems to be in the news today? I keep hearing that 98% of all Catholic women are using contraception. That statistic is not accurate as can be seen in this article, but it raises another question. Are Catholics striving to understand what the Church teaches and are they willing to stand up for those teachings? Are they willing to live out those teachings?
Will there come a day when all those who claim to be Catholic will actually practice what the faith of the Church professes? I think Francis Cardinal George makes a good point as it relates to what is happening on the political stage today.
"This is the first time in the history of the United States that a presidential administration has purposely tried to interfere in the internal working of the Catholic Church, playing one group off against another for political gain. What isn’t always understood is that the Bishops of the Church make no attempt to speak for all Catholics; they never have. The Bishops speak for the Catholic and apostolic faith, and those who hold that faith gather around them. Others disperse."-Francis Cardinal George, Archdiocese of Chicago
I guess a question I have is really this, when it comes to the end, will we be believers in the Church established by Christ, or in ourselves and our favorite cause? If we are not believers in the teachings of the Church, why do we stay?
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Unfortunately, with the inclusion of "birth control" into our society, sexual liberty seems to have taken over in the minds of many people. We may have to ask ourselves why this is the case. I want to say some of the blame falls upon us Catholics. After Paul VI released his encyclical Humanae Vitae, a group of Catholic theologians came out denouncing this prophetic message. Many Catholics came down on the side of the theologians, instead of the teachings of the Church. Priests hesitated to proclaim the official teachings of the Church boldly. Some even encouraged dissenting from the practice of NFP in favor of the pill. Sex in our society became more important than religion. We are all tempted at times to fall into this trap.
I commented on this topic the other day on the Billings Gazette webpage say that the purpose of sex is procreation, not fun. Someone replied back, but it is fun. I acknowledged that he was probably right, but that is not the purpose of sex. He want to argue that the purpose was for fun. This is the mindset we are fighting against.
What serious Catholics need to do is recognize the trap for what it is and rise above it. Catholics who are actively practicing the Church's teachings in matters of sexuality need to boldly proclaim the positive effects that it has in their lives. The testimony coming from a married couple means so much more than dogma preached by a celibate priest. We need both the preaching and the reinforcement of testimony to start changing minds and hearts.
If we want religious liberty, we need to get away from the idea that all we need is sexual liberty. We need to pray for our priests and bishops that they will uphold the truth with courage. We need to pray for all Catholics that they recognize the need for right priorities in life directed towards God and not self pleasure. (This is not to imply that sex within marriage is a bad thing.) We all need to pray for our young people that they will make wise decisions as they mature. We need to pray for our Catholic politicians that they will let good morals guide their decisions and not personal pleasure or the desire for power.
In addition to the prayer, we need to let our voices be heard -- that we will stand with the official Church in these matters. People need to know that we will hold our politicians responsible by our voting. Our courageous bishops and priests need to know that we support them because we tell them that in person, or by means of a letter or e-mail message.
Let us all fight for our religious liberty.
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
It has been brought to our attention that a press conference was held this morning by out of state attorneys focusing on a lawsuit that was just filed dealing with child abuse claims involving clerics and other unnamed priests and nuns previously assigned in the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. It appears that some of these claims relate to Jesuit clergy assigned to the Diocese years ago or relate in incidents occurring at St, Thomas Home a non-Diocesan facility previously operated by the Sisters of Providence. This lawsuit is similar to those recently filed against the Diocese of Helena in which plaintiff’s out of state attorneys engaged in the same efforts to publicize claims, make sweeping allegations and then try these claims in a court of public opinion in hopes of generating new potential claimants. Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has not been served with any complaint, and when it is, these claims and any valid defenses afforded the Diocese will be properly handled in the Courts. In the meantime, it seems inappropriate for any involved attorney to comment on the litigation.
What the Diocese can make known is that the Diocese has a zero tolerance policy for any sexual abuse involving minors. To this end, the Diocese implemented in the early 1990’s a sexual abuse policy, which includes the services of a victim assistance coordinator, who is trained to assist victims of sexual abuse and respond to the pastoral and spiritual needs of individuals and families. Further, this policy has provisions for receiving complaints about sexual misconduct on part of anyone associated with the Diocese as a member of the clergy, Catholic Schools, parish employees or volunteers. Churches throughout the Diocese have information posted regarding the process of making a complaint. This information is also regularly published in The Harvest, our diocesan newspaper. Under this widely disseminated policy, anyone wishing to report an allegation of sexual abuse of children is afforded the opportunity to contact the victim assistance coordinator, the Bishop himself or responsible persons of the Chancery Office. Here, with the exception of Fr. Ted Szudera, the Diocese is unaware of any reporting under its sexual abuse policy as it relates to the claims or clerics which we understand were mentioned in the filed complaint and by Plaintiff’s attorneys. As it relates to Fr. Ted Szudera a claim was reported approximately 6 years ago and thoroughly investigated by an independent criminal investigator who concluded that allegations against Fr. Szudera were unfounded and not credible. This conclusion was unanimously affirmed by the Diocesan Independent Review Board when Fr. Szudera was not a member. As to all other asserted allegations, rather than bring these claims to the attention of the Diocese through its publicized reporting procedure so the Diocese could respond and assist any victims, it appears the claimants have instead chosen to file a lawsuit while their attorneys’ engage in inflammatory rhetoric
In addition to the reporting mechanisms afforded under in the sexual abuse policy, we also point out the Diocese in 2003 implemented a Diocesan-wide safe environmental awareness and training program. People associated with the Diocese and who have contact with young people must participate in the awareness training and be subject to background checks as a condition of employment or volunteerism. Moreover, for the last two years, Bishop Warfel has held “Services of Atonement” in various communities in an effort to bring solace and healing for anyone who has been abused in any way at the hand of the Church personnel, volunteers and the institution itself. These services are becoming a tradition for the Lenten season in the Diocese which are scheduled to be held in Havre on February 23 and in Miles City on February 24, both at 7 p.m.
Despite any allegations to the contrary, the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings has in place policies and procedures aimed at addressing and preventing abuse of any children under our care and will maintain our continued vigilance to protect these children and care for any victim of abuse. Bishop Warfel further personally expresses his willingness to meet with anyone who requests an opportunity to discuss allegations of sexual misconduct toward minors and continues to urge any victims to reach out to the Diocese for the help they deserve.
+BMW [Bishop Michael Warfel]