Monday, May 16, 2022

FIFTY-TWO YEARS AND COUNTING

 Archbishop Thomas J. McDonough ordained me a priest on this day in 1970. This is the only photo I have of being ordained. In this photo, I believe I was making my Promise of Obedience before the Archbishop laid his hands on my head in ordination and before he anointed my hands with Sacred Chrism. 

Eight of us were ordained together for the Archdiocese of Louisville.  Three have died. One left the priesthood. Four of us are still hanging in there in various conditions. 


AN APPROPRIATE STORY FOR TODAY

Pope St. Pius X (1835-1914) was a very humble man who had a saintly mother, Margarita Sanson. Because they were so poor, she worked as a washer woman and a school janitor to earn enough money so that he could go to the seminary. (In those days, the family had to pay for the seminarian’s education.) When he was installed as Pope, his mother was present, and as was the custom, she kissed his large papal ring. She then presented her tiny hand with her wedding ring and said, “Now you kiss my ring—for without it, you never would have received yours!”

AMEN! HOW TRUE!


The next day, May 17, I celebrated my First Mass at Saint Theresa Church in Rhodelia, Kentucky. 


As a Presbyterate, we renewed our Promises of Obedience to Archbishop Kelly in June, 2012 at one of our Priest Assemblies in the Chapel at Saint Meinrad Seminary. 
Here is a photo of me renewing my Promise of Obedience to Archbishop Thomas C. Kelly forty-two years after I first made it to "Archbishop McDonough and his successors" on this day in 1970. 
My "Promise of Obedience" is not simply a solemn promise to "follow orders." It is a solemn promise to "not be overly attached to my own preferences and points of view for the sake of a unified ministry in the diocese."  In other words, it's a promise to be "flexible" when I am asked to take on an assignment in the diocese that I might not be excited about personally.  






Sunday, May 15, 2022

IF YOU DARE TO CLAIM THE NAME, THEN DARE TO WALK THE TALK


 

Saint Frances of Rome Church, May 14, 5:30 pm
Saint Leonard Church, May 15, 10:00 am   

This is how all will know that you are my disciples: your love for one another.
John 13

Some recent studies tell us that around 70% of us Americans claim to be "Christian," but that only a small minority let their understanding of "Christianity" affect their everyday lives. According to recent reports, despite 70% of us claiming to be “Christian,” in reality only a tiny minority of us American adults (6%) demonstrate a consistent understanding and application of biblical principles. So, the question to us is this, “If it was a crime to be a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?” 

Unfortunately, many of those who are most vocal about claiming the title "Christian" are making "Christianity" synonymous with bigotry, meanness and repression. I, for one, am not about to let them get away with it! I am not as angry at such religious fanatics, with their narrow political agendas and religious arrogance, who would have us believe that they are the only true Christians, as I am angry at the rest of us who are letting them get away with it! I consider myself a person trying his best to be a "Christian,” but I do not share their narrow political agendas nor their religious arrogance. I'll be damned if I am going to let them dismiss me and claim that only people who think “like them" are "truly Christian!” Hogwash! Rubbish! Nonsense!

How will people know that we are disciples of Jesus? The gospel answer is that it is our love for one another which should make us stand out in the community as "Jesus-like!" Yet, the facts reveal that some self-professed "Christians" can be just as nasty, just as hateful and just as selfish as anybody else! As the famous Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” 

Just look at the public behavior of some of the men and women who self-righteously proclaim they are "Christian," but engage in rhetoric that is intolerably non-Christian and language that would be profoundly offensive in any authentic Christian community. Venomous hate is now preached daily under the banner of reclaiming our "Christian culture!" The same people who scream "family values" are teaching a whole generation that it is OK, and even cute, to encourage vicious personal assaults on our duly elected officials. I do not understand that at all! I have voted for both political parties. I have prayed for and encouraged both those for whom I voted and those for whom I did not vote. I thought it was a "family value" to respect legitimate authority and then vote them out if need be. Can you imagine a country whose citizens refused to respect any elected officials except those they voted for? Well, we are already there! Can you imagine our church if individual members only respected Popes they "liked?" Well, we are already there! Nastiness and meanness are epidemic, even in so-called "Christian" communities and sometimes especially in some so-called "Christian" communities!

“This is how they will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.”

What does it mean "to love?" It means living out the ways, the works and the words of compassion. By doing that, we will leave God's signature on the church and the world. It's really millions of little things, done out of love by millions of Christians, that will transform this world, not the hateful words and mean-spirited actions of "wolves in sheep's clothing!" Christians are called to resist such behavior, even when those actions are coming out of the mouths of the enemies of Christianity. Did Jesus not tell us explicitly to "love our enemies" and "do good to those who hate you?" 

Let me give you three simple examples of what I think it means to love. The first example came in the mail when I was pastor of our Cathedral. It was a "thank you note" from a someone whom we had been helped from our community service fund to which parishioners generously contributed. It was addressed to all of us. "Dear Members of Assumption. Even though I don't attend your church, you didn't try to force me into your beliefs on the grounds that I needed your help. I know now that there is still unconditional love left in our world." This note was signed by a woman and her children. I kept the note.

The second example came from my mother. When we were growing up in the country with seven kids in the family, food was never wasted. When we had fried chicken, my mother even fried the chicken back and ate it herself. I grew up believing my mother loved chicken backs. I was much older before it dawned on me -- she wanted us to have the best parts. She was willing to take what was left over, out of love for us.

The third example occurred one Friday when I had the opportunity to go to the Islamic Center on River Road. The Muslim community invited some of us from the Cathedral Heritage Foundation for lunch and to attend a Muslim prayer service. We were reverenced and respected and welcomed. We had reached out to include them in our inter-faith Thanksgiving and rededication celebrations. They reached out to us in return with a loving gesture.

“This is how they will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.”

My friends, this is the heart of our religion. this is what it means to be a true Christian. This must be present in every Christian's life or else all of his or her religious practice is one big silly joke! This is not an optional activity. This is essential for discipleship. Often, religious people confuse loving someone else with approving or agreeing with everything they do. How ridiculous! How dangerous! Why can't we help another person for their good, and not for what we get out of it, as the Cathedral did for that struggling single mother? Why can't we freely and quietly “give each other the best pieces of chicken” sometimes, as my mother did, instead of always competing for the best? Why can't we be good, strong and faithful Catholics and at the same time have a curiosity about, and a reverent respect for, people who have a different religion and who sincerely try to live it? This is what it means to love one another. This is our trademark as Christians, as disciples of Jesus. This is the heart of the matter.

Religious militants are very frustrated today with the complexity and contradictions in our world and they feel they must change it by whatever means necessary, even by force, until it conforms to their vision of God's plan. Religious militants need an enemy, someone to hate. Once they identify that enemy, it isn't much of a jump to see themselves as superior people fighting the inferior elements in society. They pick and choose particular religious teachings, usually wrapped in some obscure Scripture passage that serves their needs and justifies their goals. This insanity is being passed off as religion these days in many of the world's religions, including our own!

“This is how they will know you for my disciples: your love for one another.”

It is time for us to go back to basic Christianity. Lived Christianity is what will attract people to our faith, not forced religious conformity. Lived Christianity is about all those small loving gestures in thought, word and deed carried out by millions of disciples. Lived Christianity, not another Christian "crusade," will transform the world. Don't let the religious crazies of this world seduce you with their hateful brand of religion. Christianity is, and always has been, about "love." Those of us who know this must respectfully and firmly disagree with those who spew their venomous hate without restraint, without hesitation, without compassion, and who call it Christianity! We must live love and let love's power infect the world. There are no short-cuts. If it isn't love-based, it isn't Christian! It's that simple and it's that hard!




 










Friday, May 13, 2022

MY CONNECTION TO UKRAINE'S NEIGHBORS IN SLOVAKIA


In October 2018, I had the unique experience of leading a priest retreat for the Bishop and priests of the Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. Bishop Milan Lach SJ, Bishop of the Ruthenian Eparchy of Parma, and most of his priests are immigrants to the USA from Slovakia. As Eastern Rite Catholics in union with Rome, they have a Jesuit Bishop. Their Bishops are celibate, but their priests may marry. Most of the Slovakian priests on this retreat were married.

Even though there are several Eastern Rite Christians in that part of the world, their cultures and religious ceremonies have some obvious similarities.

In this current Russian-Ukrainian war, Slovakia has taken in over 300,000 Ukrainian refugees so far. Sharing a short border with western Ukraine, Slovakia has seen a steady influx of mostly women and children refugees. According to Igor Matovic, Slovakia’s finance minister, Slovak households that provide refugees with shelter will receive financial assistance from the government. The country is also providing military assistance to Ukraine in the form of artillery ammunition and fuel.

Arriving refugees have been met by NGOs providing food and water, hygiene supplies, medical care, and legal advice. Veterinarians are even present to attend to people’s pets. The Slovak chapter of the Order of Malta, a Catholic human rights order, has been coordinating accommodations and rides for refugees who need to move to a different location.

Bishop Milan Lach, S.J. 



God bless Slovakia in its compassion! God bless Ukraine in its suffering!


 

Thursday, May 12, 2022

THE BENEFITS OF PRIEST RETIREMENT - NUMBER EIGHT


A time when you can't recall your seminary classmates' names, but you don't have to fret any more because they can't remember yours either! 


A time when your long-term memory is still not a problem, but your short-term memory certainly is! 






 


Tuesday, May 10, 2022

MY SEMINARY CLASSMATE - A DEDICATED MISSIONARY IN CAMBODIA

One of my classmates at Saint Thomas Seminary here in Louisville between 1958 - 1964 is doing great missionary work with the deaf on the other side of the world. I am proud of him and keep up with him a bit by way of modern technology. I get his parish bulletin every week by e-mail. 

Fr. Charles R. Dittmeier
serving
Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme
English Catholic Community
Phnom Penh
CAMBODIA

Father Charlie lives in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and serves as the Director of the Maryknoll Deaf Development Programme. The program offers sign language, education, vocational training, and basic life skills to deaf individuals. Besides efforts to promote a national sign language, the program fosters leadership skills and the establishment of deaf organizations in various areas. It has three community centers for students and members of the deaf community to participate in social activities, sports, and adult education.

Father Charlie is also the pastor of the English speaking Catholic community in Phnom Penh.

He is Secretary of the Maryknoll Lay Missioners Board of Directors.

Father Charles (Charlie) Dittmeier, is a diocesan priest from Louisville, Kentucky, and a Maryknoll Associate Priest. He began working with deaf people in the seminary in Baltimore and has continued that ministry in assignments in Louisville and in deaf schools and deaf communities in India, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, and now in Cambodia where he has lived since 2000. He was also a parish priest in Louisville and a teacher, chaplain, and counselor in a high school here for thirteen years. His hometown is Peewee Valley, Kentucky, (outside Louisville). 


This little notice in his weekly church bulletin grabbed my attention. It summarizes my own approach to ministry especially when I was pastor of our Cathedral of the Assumption here in Louisville between 1983 - 1997. We specialized in welcoming home "marginal, disaffected and rejected" Catholics, They came from 67 zip codes. This approach has been central to my own ministry, as well as his, over the last 52 years. Since Father Charlie and I were ordained on the same day in the same place, it is not surprising that we share this same perspective! Below is his quote below in yellow. I have also added a Lenten article from AMERICA Magazine that supports his and my thinking. 

ALL ARE WELCOME  
   
No matter what your personal history, age, background, race, sexual
          orientation, nationality, etc.,
     No matter what your present status in the Catholic Church,
        No matter what your own self image,
   You are invited, welcomed, accepted, loved, and respected here.



A Reflection for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday
 Sebastian Gomes

“Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk 5:30).

In Lent, we often ask ourselves, “What will I give up?” We default to denying ourselves something enjoyable or even important in our lives. I once abstained from the Eucharist during Lent in order to intentionally reflect on the mystery of the sacrament and hopefully reignite my spiritual hunger for God.

One of the biggest stories we covered over the past year was the infamous Communion war—a raucous debate over whether or not priests should deny the Eucharist to President Joe Biden. The second Catholic president in U.S. history is a regular Massgoer. According to the head of the U.S. bishops’ conference, some of Mr. Biden’s political positions advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity, namely in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage and gender. That’s very serious.

So, it is understandable that some Catholics would adopt an attitude of protectionism and argue for denying him the Eucharist. It was a noble compulsion: to protect the integrity of the sacrament that is so central to the life of the Catholic community and a corporeal connection to Christ. And yet, this drive to arbitrate the altar conflicts, ironically enough, with another cornerstone of the Catholic faith, namely Jesus’ own ministerial practices around meals as described in the Gospels.

Jesus did many things to unsettle the religious authorities of his day. But the one that got him killed was eating with tax collectors and sinners. We hear about one of these encounters in today’s Gospel.

Tax collectors and sinners were not individuals who periodically slipped up by skipping synagogue, lying to a spouse or wishing harm on their neighbor. These were individuals who deliberately made life decisions and pursued occupations that set them outside the established moral norms of the community. They were deemed outcasts and totally unacceptable in sacred spaces like the temple.

In today’s Gospel, we see the impulse of the Pharisees and scribes to protect the sanctity of sacred spaces and the entire community on full display. Yet this story, and so many others like it in the Gospels, is about how Jesus challenged that prevailing attitude and system by leaving the confines of sacred space to eat and drink with the unclean, the unworthy, the broken—people like Levi.

Jesus’ pastoral strategy was so creative: Instead of hosting an exclusive meal and guarding the door against sinners, he went to where sinners were. We can only conclude from stories like this one in Luke 5 that Jesus would have eaten with anybody! But why? It seems that he believed that grace operates in such encounters. Our faith is built on the witness that grace did operate in those encounters. If Catholics want to protect the integrity of the Eucharist, then studying Jesus’ habits around the dinner table, written plainly on the pages of the Gospels, is a good place to start.

I mentioned that the impulse to protect the integrity of the Eucharist—Jesus really present to us—is a noble one. Maybe President Biden should be denied Communion, or maybe he shouldn’t. But if Catholics want to protect the integrity of the Eucharist, then studying Jesus’ habits around the dinner table, written plainly on the pages of the Gospels, is a good place to start.

I don’t intend to abstain from the Eucharist this Lent. Instead, I will be praying for the grace to be more like Jesus and expanding my dinner table.





















Sunday, May 8, 2022

A LITTLE GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN



The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
He will shepherd them and lead them to springs of 
life-giving water, and God will wipe away every
 tear from their eyes.
Revelation 7:9

Today is Mother's Day! It's not a feast on the church's liturgical calendar, but it is a day dear to the hearts of so many Americans.  How many of you have living mothers? How many of you have mothers who have passed on from this life? 

My mother died of breast cancer May 12, 1976 - 46 years ago this Thursday. She was only 58 years old. Not only did she suffer a long an painful death from breast cancer, she suffered through an exacting marriage, gave birth to and raised seven children, worked long, back-breaking hours, with little rest, every day of her life as a typical country woman of her day. I was the second child. I was born at home, delivered by my grandmother and the both my mother and me almost died in the process. 

Today's second reading reminded me of her. I can imagine her being in heaven in the throng of people hugged and protected by the Good Shepherd from any more suffering. I can imagine a section in heaven for the martyrs who suffered,  but I can also imagine a very special section marked off just for suffering mothers. In that section reserved just for suffering mothers, I can imagine my own mother, Mary Ethel Mattingly Knott, standing there with Mary, the mother of Jesus, and millions and millions of mothers who have died in childbirth, who have died from disease and violence, who have died in wars and those hundreds of Ukrainian mothers who have died just in the last few months. When I think of them, I find the words of our second reading today so very comforting. 

The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
He will shepherd them and lead them to springs of 
life-giving water, and God will wipe away every
 tear from their eyes.

The Book of Revelation is a complicated piece of writing called "apocalyptic literature." "Apocalyptic writing, with all its highly complicated imagery and symbolism, started to become very popular in the two centuries before Christ. It is richly symbolic. It is filled with images, persons, places, animals, actions, objects, parts of the body, numbers, measurements, stars, constellation, colors and garments. It cannot be understood literally, but must be interpreted to capture what the writer wanted to communicate. 

Today, especially among those fundamentalist preachers, who claim to have been given personal revelations as to its meaning, there is a tendency to treat it as a book of "predictions" about the future. People who tend to read it literally are even prone to label certain people and situations today as being "predicted" in such and such a passage. They especially like to use it to predict "the end of the world," even though Jesus pretty much put a stop to that kind of predicting. He said in Luke 21:8, “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them."

The Book of Revelation was written mainly to encourage the people of its time, not scare them. It was written during a period of bitter persecution to increase the hope and determination of the Church in its very early days. It was written to comfort beleaguered Christians undergoing great persecution, hardship and martyrdom at the hands of a sadistic emperor.  It was written to encourage Christians to to remain faithful and to give them a glimpse of what awaited them in heaven. 

It basically tells those who suffer and those who remain faithful to Jesus that they basically have nothing to fear, that they may have to suffer a while for him, but in the end they will triumph. The Book Of Revelation is an epic of Christian hope, a victory song of a persecuted Church. 

The Book Of Revelation has since become a source of comfort for all Christians who have suffered through the ages and still suffer even today. After all the centuries since it was written, it still offers suffering people a "glimpse of heaven" and something to look forward to, especially those among us who wait for relief from what seems like endless physical, emotional and psychological suffering. Think of all the people of the world who are suffering today as I read this passage for a third time.

The one who sits on the throne will shelter them.
They will not hunger or thirst anymore,
nor will the sun or any heat strike them.
He will shepherd them and lead them to springs of 
life-giving water, and God will wipe away every
 tear from their eyes.

Before I leave this pulpit, let me say a few words to my own dear mother! Even though she has been gone 46 years now, I still miss her especially on Mother's Day. "Mom, I am so sorry you had to suffer so much in your life here on earth!  I am relieved to know that you are so very happy today! I miss you, I thank you and I love you! Save me a place close to you and I'll see you soon!