Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Thoughts from the Supreme Knight of Columbus

I just finished listening to Carl A. Anderson's Annual Report of the Supreme Knight.

I want to pick up on a few things he said about the Culture of Life:

St. John Paul II taught us that only a civilization of love is worthy of human dignity and the truth about the human person. Building a civilization of love is the goal toward which our fraternal love of neighbor leads us.

At the center of the civilization of love is the culture of life. Each is inseparable from the other because each calls us to value and accept every human life.

Some in politics seem obsessed with publically opposing our Church’s teaching on human life. But we must differ with them. Our position is that every child should be loved, every child should be respected, and every child should be helped.

The cold child in need of a coat, the hungry child in need of food, the poor child in need of education, and the unborn child waiting to be born. All are on the margins of society, and all deserve to be supported and protected.

In good conscience we cannot abandon some and help others.

We will help all that we can. While some politicians try to divide the American people on social issues, we seek to overcome division, to bring people together and to help everyone. Even on abortion, an issue often considered the most divisive, our polling has found great unity among Americans. Our recent Knights of Columbus/Marist Poll revealed that more than four decades after the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, the vast majority of Americans do not accept abortion on demand. Eighty-four percent of Americans would limit abortion to, at most, the first three months of pregnancy, and so would nearly 6 in 10 Americans who identify themselves as strongly pro-choice.

A majority of Americans believe life begins at conception, and more than 6 in 10 think abortion is morally wrong. And, perhaps most importantly, more than 8 in 10 Americans say that laws can protect both the well-being of a woman and the life of her unborn child.

What are we doing to protect all of our children? I hope we are finding ways to show them our love, and God's love for them, in all that we do. What are we doing to continue to build a Culture of Life in our society?

The Cost of Catholic Education

Having spent a number of years working with Catholic Schools, I am often surprised by number of people who do not understand the cost of sending their children to a Catholic school.

Many parents seem to think that the cost of education is the price charged for tuition. There is often a misunderstanding that families are being asked to pay the cost for the children to be educated.

In reality, parishes with parish schools, and other Catholic schools, are being supported by the local parish, possibly the diocese and the fundraising efforts of the school. Many times, the tuition that is being requested is less than 50% of the cost of education.

Families need to realize the benefit of the "scholarship" (while not listed as such) that is being offered though low tuition rates, in addition to other scholarships that are being offered. In the case of my current parish assignment, the cost of educating each child is a little over $9,000. This cost is high because of our low enrollment. We are charging $4,125 for tuition. This amounts to a $5,000 scholarship to every student enrolled in our school. When I was on the School Advisory Committee for Great Falls Central Catholic High School, the gap was even more.

I mention this so Catholic school families and benefactors realize the importance of continued support over and above the perceived cost of education indicated by our tuition rates.

Please remember to be generous in supporting Catholic Education in our Catholic Schools.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Our Catholic School

Our Catholic Schools from Leo McDowell on Vimeo.

This weekend, we are celebrating the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. In the second reading for the Vigil Mass we heard,

I want you to know, brothers and sisters,
that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

As I attended the ordinations for Fr. David Wilkens in Great Falls Tuesday evening, and of Fr. Garrett Nelson in Billings on Thursday evening, I heard the bishop in both homilies reminding those to be ordained that it was not about them, but about Jesus Christ. I think that applies to each and every one of  us gathered here. We need to remember that our calling in life is not about us, but about Jesus Christ. It is a realization that the Gospel that is preached is not of human origin, but that is from Jesus Christ. Our baptismal call directs us to greater things.

Saints Peter and Paul showed by their lives, and their deaths, that they were preaching the gospel and spreading the good news, not for some sort of earthly honor, but for Jesus Christ, their savior.  In the gospel reading of the Mass of the Day, we hear Jesus telling St. Peter,

“And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

St. Peter was entrusted with a great responsibility which is still carried out in the magisterium of the Church today. Peter is the rock upon which our Church is built.  The building of the Church did not end with St. Peter. It continues today in a variety of ways and through the official teachings handed on to us by the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church).

Pope Benedict, while onboard a flight to the United Kingdom on September 16, 2010, stated in an interview:

“One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ.”

This brings us back to what Bishop Warfel shared in his ordination homilies: it is not about self, but about Jesus Christ.

The call to being a disciple, calls us to work to build up the “Kingdom of God”. It is not about what might bring us glory, but about what glorifies our creator.

In the life of the faithful, there are various ways that this should be happening. I would like to focus on one aspect of this expectation, Catholic Schools. We are celebrating the 100th year of St. Mary’s School here in Livingston. Our school has impacted the lives of many over the years, including several who are attending Mass here today.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document entitled,  Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. They begin that document by reminding all of us,

Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community—bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity—to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible, and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class. All Catholics must join together in efforts to ensure that Catholic schools have administrators and teachers who are prepared to provide an exceptional educational experience for young people—one that is both truly Catholic and of the highest academic quality.

In the past, St. Mary’s has tried to fulfill this mandate at the expense of our teachers. However, in the same document, the bishops stated:

We unequivocally committed ourselves and the whole Catholic community to the following set of goals:
• Catholic schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality.
• Catholic schools will be available, accessible, and affordable.
• The bishops will launch initiatives in both the private and public sectors to secure financial assistance for parents, the primary educators of their children, so that they can better exercise their right to choose the best schools for their children.
• Catholic schools will be staffed by highly qualified administrators and teachers who would receive just wages and benefits, as we expressed in our pastoral letter  Economic Justice for All.

This last commitment has not been an easy one to fulfil. For years, the teachers at St. Mary’s were not provided many of the benefits offered to other teachers.  Two years ago, we started offering our teachers a full benefit package to include health insurance and retirement. When we look at the salary scale for St. Mary’s, which was developed in 2007, we see that, today, our teachers only being paid about 60% of what their counterparts are making in the public schools. The lack of benefits over the years, and the low salaries, have led many wonderful teachers to seek employment elsewhere. Some highly qualified teachers have chosen to stay at St. Mary’s out of a sense of ministry and because of second incomes within their families that have allowed them to continue despite the sacrifices required of them while earning next to nothing. The turnover of a majority of our teachers over the years because of these sacrifices has hampered our ability to grow our enrollment.

The efforts to rectify these issue benefits has not been without a cost. As a parish, we’ve been trying to find creative ways to increase our contribution to the school, or assume a greater portion of some of the expenses of which we already pay a share. We've also increased the tuition that is paid by our students while using scholarships and other means to keep our tuition affordable to those in need. Yet, what is still not being addressed is a fair and just wage for our teachers.

The bishops continued in their document to state:

We call on the entire Catholic community—clergy, religious, and laity—to assist in addressing the critical financial questions that continue to face our Catholic schools. This will require the Catholic community to make both personal and financial sacrifices to overcome these financial challenges. The burden of supporting our Catholic schools can no longer be placed exclusively on the individual parishes that have schools and on parents who pay tuition. This will require all Catholics, including those in parishes without schools, to focus on the spirituality of stewardship. The future of Catholic school education depends on the entire Catholic community embracing wholeheartedly the concept of stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, and translating stewardship into concrete action. . . . Our total Catholic community must increase efforts to address the financial needs of our Catholic school administrators, teachers, and staff. Many of our employees make great sacrifices to work in Catholic schools. The Catholic community must not ignore the reality of inadequate salaries, which often require these individuals to seek supplemental employment (Lay Catholics, no. 27) to meet living expenses and expenses due to limited or non-existent health care and retirement benefits. 

I want to continue to improve the salaries that we are offering to our teachers. It is not going to be an easy task, but as we heard, it is incumbent upon all of us to keep our Catholic schools open.

I have heard some concerns about the “Catholic” portion of the education offered at St. Mary’s school. I am also working on addressing those concerns. Changing the financial and spiritual life of the school will take some time, but now is the time to start the changes. We can not wait to begin what must happen to ensure the sustainability of our parish school.

In March of 1977, the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican issued a document entitled, “The Catholic School”.  In paragraph 9 of that document the Congregation stated, “The Catholic school forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith.” This document will be a guiding principle as we move forward as a school.

Let’s tie this back into today’s feast. We celebrate Saints Peter and Paul and the work they did to build the kingdom of God. They preached a Gospel handed on to them by Christ. We, too, have the same Gospel. We need to hand it on. The success of St. Mary’s School, and our parish for that matter, depends upon us realizing that it is not about us, but about Jesus Christ. Praised be Jesus Christ, both now and forever. Amen.

Friday, May 30, 2014

8th Grade Graduation Homily

8th Grade Graduation Homily 2014 from Leo McDowell on Vimeo.
This was an attempt to record a homily using my GoPro camera. I had planned on the camera being at a slightly different angle, but it did not want to stay there when I placed it just before I began.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Litany of Humility

The readings this weekend reflect on the nature of sin in our lives. It all started with the serpent tricking Eve into tasting the forbidden fruit and Adam following.

We have faced temptation ever since.  In his final attempt to tempt Jesus, the tempter tried to offer him everything. He was striving to capitalize on a sin he knew so well, pride.

In our own lives, pride often raises its ugly head. We think we know it all and we are the best.  I don't want to downplay the importance of having pride in our faith or our Church, or the pride for a job well done. It is important to want to do well and to do the best that we can. I am thinking about the pride we sometimes see in our children when they do not think they need to obey.  It might come about in a conversation like this:

Child: "I want to go to the party at the lake on Saturday night."

Parent: "No.  There are too many things there that can get you into trouble."

Child: "Why can't I go!!!  I hate you!!!"

It is important to remember that for most parents, giving placing limits on their children is not done out of hatred for the child. It is often done to protect the child from problems that may be a result of participating in an event or activity.  The pride of the child often keeps the child from seeing or understanding the larger picture.  The same can be said about a lot of us in relation to the teachings of the Church.  We let our pride, and desire for immediate gratification, get into the way of listening to what the Church says. This is especially true in areas of the sexual teaching of the Church.  We think we, in our limited lifetimes, know more than the Church has learned in her 2000 year existence.  This pride disrupts us in many ways.

I want to place the challenge upon you to think about how we can grow in humility.  A few years back, when I had a priest from the Fathers of Mercy doing a parish mission, he brought up the idea of praying the Litany of Humility.

I'd like to share that with you today.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, Deliver me, Jesus.

That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

The key to this prayer is the last line in my opinion: That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should.  Are we striving to become as holy as we should?  Are we admitting that, as our responsorial psalm stated today, "Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned",  we are sinners in need of God's grace?  Are we letting the pride of the serpent/tempter lead us down the path of excessive pride that will be detrimental to us in the future and stand in our way of a true conversion this Lenten season?  I want to challenge you all again to take a deeper look at the Litany of Humility and consider making it a part of your prayer routine.  It may be difficult at first, but it will start to make a difference in our outlook and our faith if we make it a heartfelt prayer.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Why are you here? Homily for Ash Wednesday

Why are you here today?  This is similar to a question that Jesus asked those who would go out to see John the Baptist.

As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: ‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you; he will prepare your way before you.’ Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent are taking it by force. All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear. “To what shall I compare this generation? It is like children who sit in marketplaces and call to one another, ‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance, we sang a dirge but you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they said, ‘He is possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking and they said, ‘Look, he is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is vindicated by her works.”
So I ask you again, why are you here?  Did you come today to because you were told it is a Holy Day of Obligation? It is not. There are days that reflect upon the life of our Savior and his Blessed Mother that are holy days when we ought to attend Mass.

Are you here to receive ashes? What does that mean? Today, many Catholics will hear the question, "Do you know you have something on your forehead?" For some, they think we've forgotten to wash our faces.  We can get our face dirtied by digging a hole. It is more than getting dirt upon ourselves.

Early in the Church, when one would go to confession, it would usually happen only once in their lives and it would be public. The penance would also be public. Penitents would be in front of the church dressed in itchy sack cloth. They would be required to stand and sit on ashes. The ashes are a lot different from the ashes we place upon our foreheads today. Think about the rough ashes from a fireplace. They are much more course. They would make small cuts through the skin. It was not comfortable. This penance would be a sign to others of a true understanding of the need to turn away from sin and the desire to return to the gospel.

Why are you here today?  I hope it is because you understand the need for conversion in your lives.  That you are not simply following through on a family tradition, but that you will make this season a time of transformation in your lives.

In today's gospel, Jesus gives us some direction on what we ought to be doing; praying, fasting and giving alms.  Last year I spent a little time breaking down these concepts.  I hope they are things that allow us to work on changing our lives.

Why did people go out into the desert looking for John the Baptist? I'll bet for many it was out of curiosity. As they came out, some started on the path of conversion. Others simply went away after hearing his message. They lived the life they wanted to live, not the life of conversion.

As you are here today I ask you one more time, why are you here?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Believe it, or not?

This past week I was made aware of articles posted on the internet, which were a part of journals around the country, concerning believing by Catholics in America. One article, written by Damon Linker who would be presented as a liberal in the Church, reflected upon an article he had written earlier about Pope Francis and the change the author hoped would come into the Church under the new pope. He could not understand the gushing over Pope Francis that was still taking place among many of his fellow liberals.  He had hoped Pope Francis would be working to change Church teaching on issues such as contraception, gay relationships, married clergy and the role of women in the Church.

Mr. Linker, in an article this past week entitled “What do liberal Catholics want?”, reflected back upon an interview he had on NPR where he was discussing his original article. A caller by the name of Trish, who styled herself a progressive Catholic, could not understand the concern of Mr. Linker for the need to change Church doctrine. As she put it, "Doctrine for a Catholic, now, is not even an issue. Catholics do not care about doctrine," she said, adding, "It's irrelevant. It's a non-issue for Catholics."

Mr. Linker went on to write in his recent article,

For all I know, many or even most liberal Catholics hope and pray for doctrinal reform. But what if Trish is right? If so, the question I'd want to ask these liberals is: Why do you continue to attend church and think of yourself as a Catholic?
If you attend for the beauty of the liturgy, why not just become an Episcopalian? If it's the sense of community you crave, why not join the Unitarian church? Either way, you could certainly continue to be spiritually moved by the pope's public utterances, in the same way you might be stirred by an inspiring presidential speech.

Sadly, this is not limited to liberals or conservatives in the Church.  There are many who have fallen into this trap of not caring about the teachings of the Church.

Matthew Schmitz wrote a blog in response to Mr. Linker’s article which he entitled “Why Catholics Don’t Care”.  Mr. Schmitz put some of the fault on dissent within the Church, but directed more of it toward those responsible for sharing the correct teachings of the faith. After the release of Pope Paul VI encyclical Humane Vitae, many Church leaders made confusing statements about contraception. Mr. Schmitz makes the observation, “The hem-hawing of Church leaders led to confusion in the pulpit and pews. Unwilling to deny Church teaching directly, disoriented by conflicting signals, homilists and confessors fell silent.”

The same can be said about divorce, abortion, and the other issues that Mr. Linker would like to change in the Church. Not hearing about it from the pulpits, many of these issues have slipped from the consciences of many Catholics. Over the course of time they seem to have taken on the status of  “non-issues”. As Mr. Schmitz says near the end of his post, “Modern man, in this view, is twice fallen. Bishops ceased to believe the faithful were capable of following Church teaching, and so they ceased to teach it by discipline and word. In light of this, the reaction of the faithful is more than understandable. Why would they take seriously a teaching their pastors refuse to?”

What we are beginning to see in America is a change in attitude. Steve Skojec, a blogger for CatholicVote.org, wrote an article, “Millennials Are Seeking Tradition, Sacramentality, and Liturgy”.

He states:
But what about the younger generations? In a world that grows increasingly secular, that seems more rabidly anti-Christian than it has been since the bad old days before Constantine’s conversion, what does faith mean to them? Today, at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead brings to light an interesting development in the religious inclinations of Millennials:

America’s youth are leaving churches in droves. One in four young adults choose “unaffiliated” when asked about their religion, according to a 2012 Public Religion Research Institute poll, and 55 percent of those unaffiliated youth once had a religious identification when they were younger. Yet amidst this exodus, some church leaders have identified another movement as cause for hope: rather than abandoning Christianity, some young people are joining more traditional, liturgical denominations—notably the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Orthodox branches of the faith. This trend is deeper than denominational waffling: it’s a search for meaning that goes to the heart of our postmodern age.
The trend isn’t entirely new. It’s also the subject of Colleen Carrol’s 2002 book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy. But if Olmstead (and the polling she cites) is correct, it’s a shift that is continuing to gain momentum.
Unlike Trish who called Mr. Linker, young people today seem to either embrace all the that Church offers, or, as Mr. Linker had commented, they leave the Church to which they have only a nominal connection. We for our part, must present the faith in the fulness for our young people to experience. It may mean there is some challenge for each of us as we look at our lives in relation to the life expected of us as faithful Catholics.

As a priest, I need to continually remind myself not to water down the faith to make it palatable for those who are listening. My task as the pastor is to help you grow to be Catholics in fact, as well as in name. It does not matter if it is in relation to conservative issues such as marriage and abortion, or liberal issues such as caring for those around us. I want us all to care about our great faith and to live it to the fullest.

That being said, I have one other issue I’d like to bring up today. Wednesday is the 41st anniversary of the Roe vs Wade decision.  Next Saturday it will be a chance for us to put some of our faith into action.  In Bozeman, at 10 am, in front of the courthouse, across from Holy Rosary Church, the fifth annual March 4 Life will take place. Please take some time to come and stand with the unborn and witness to the value of life. Despite the silence of some priests, and even bishops, the sanctity of life from the very moment of conception has been held by the Church. Despite the desire of some Catholics, Pope Francis is not going to change this teaching. He alluded to this on Monday, as he addressed members of the Vatican Diplomatic Corps:
“Peace is also threatened by every denial of human dignity, firstly the lack of access to adequate nutrition. We cannot be indifferent to those suffering from hunger, especially children, when we think of how much food is wasted every day in many parts of the world immersed in what I have often termed the 'throwaway culture'. Unfortunately, what is thrown away is not only food and dispensable objects, but often human beings themselves, who are discarded as 'unnecessary'. For example, it is frightful even to think there are children, victims of abortion, who will never see the light of day; children being used as soldiers, abused and killed in armed conflicts; and children being bought and sold in that terrible form of modern slavery which is human trafficking, which is a crime against humanity.”
Let us become Catholics who care about doctrine. Let us listen to the words of our Holy Father and find ways to make positive changes in our lives and in our societies.