July 2013

July 28, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

It’s summertime. For most of us it’s a time of increased leisure. Even when not taking a vacation in the formal sense, it’s often a time in which we seek to squeeze a bit more recreation out of our daily schedule. May I suggest – in view of the longer daylight hours and absence of engrossing sporting events right now! – that it’s also a perfect time to spend a little extra time in prayer.

In fact, in this Sunday’s Gospel passage (Lk 11:1-13), prayer is presented as a key point – I would even say a foundational requirement – in the life of any disciple of Jesus Christ. The first part of it, in vv. 1-4, recounts Jesus’ giving us the wording of His own prayer to be ours.

Just in doing this Jesus was not really doing anything unique. Many other great spiritual masters – in His own day and age as well as down through the centuries, up to the present time – have taught their followers a prayer or style of prayer that pretty much defines them. For us as Christians, the “Our Father” certainly falls into that category.

Before we come to the content of the Lord’s Prayer itself, it’s good to note that Jesus taught us to pray not only by words but by example. Jesus was a man of constant prayer. Luke’s Gospel remembers Him doing it often (see chapter 5, verse 16), and points out above all that He did so especially just before important events. For example, He prayed before selecting His Twelve Apostles (6:12-13), before asking for St. Peter’s “confession” of his faith in Him as the Messiah (9:18-20), before His “transfiguration” (9:28-29) and, lastly, before the beginning of His sacred Passion (22: 40-45). Clearly, Jesus’ prayer was something that showed itself externally in a very special way and that certainly affected His preaching and other ministry.

In fact, Jesus’ habit of praying, and the clear consolation He found in it, apparently aroused in His disciples the desire to pray in similar fashion. They asked Him to teach them, after all! The disciples understood that His prayer was quite different from those taught by other rabbis and religious masters of His era, and even different from the prayer of St. John the Baptist, His immediate forerunner. Thus the prayer taught to the disciples became a characteristic expression of their identity and priorities, one which expressed their way of relating to God and neighbor.

There’s not enough room in this Bulletin to delve too deeply into the text of Jesus’ prayer, but we can touch upon some important highlights. We run into the very first of these in the name of the one the prayer addresses: Father. The Lord’s first insight – and command! – is to call God “Father.” St. Luke’s Gospel, unlike that of St. Matthew (the other one which remembers the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer), does not add the adjective “Our,” and so gives an obvious stress to the individual, personal relationship between the one praying and God. Yet the communitarian dimension is not entirely absent: the very fact of each individual disciple invoking God as Father gives a corporate identity to the community of disciples.

Here’s where Jesus’ approach began to be quite unusual. For a Jew of His time – and indeed in every age – the standard relationship with one’s human father was one of intimacy and trust. Yet this was not how one’s relationship with God was commonly expressed. God was understood as creator and judge of the world, almighty in His power and commanding in His demeanor. There is no real historical evidence that the Jews in Jesus’ day used to call God “abba,” the intimate family form of the Aramaïc word “ab,” the common word used for earthly fathers.

The fact that Jesus used to turn to God in prayer and call Him “abba,” then, seems to have been a real novelty. It shows the new kind of relationship that He, and therefore His disciples, have with God: a relationship of closeness, familiarity and trusting love. It has become a Christian custom, if you will, to call God “Father,” and from a doctrinal standpoint one of the keys to a proper understanding of the person of the Creator within the Holy Trinity.

Those are just a couple of insights found in the first part of the “Our Father.” The initial part of the prayer (verse 2) references God, while the second part (verses 3-4) speak of our human needs. I suggest continuing on – by yourself now, since I’ve run out of room! – to discover the spiritual richness of this prayer. For many years I’ve recommended – often as a penance in confession! – praying the Lord’s Prayer as slowly as one can, savoring every word and phrase, and expanding them into other synonyms and descriptive words, in order to explore its meaning “in depth.” We’ve got some extra time. This weekend’s Gospel, then, provides a good opportunity and impetus to us all to do just that.

July 21, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

The last session of our first Catholicism 101 series of adult religious-education presentations will be this coming Tuesday, July 23, at 6:30 pm in the Parish Hall. Since I was the presenter at the first one, I thought I’d go ahead and do the same for the final one! The topic is one dear to my heart: Church History! I majored in history as an undergraduate, motivated in part by the excellent history professors then teaching at St. Joseph Seminary College, and in part by the memorable quote of the philosopher and writer Jorge Santayana (1863-1952), who said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The Church has enjoyed some wonderful successes over the past two millennia, as well as suffered some notable failures, and believers who wish to improve are well-advised to learn the lessons provided by the past. I hope you can join us!

The Church’s new fiscal year began on July 1. All this basically means right now is that we’re totaling up all of the figures from the last fiscal year, so that we can see how we did. But the preliminary figures seem to be just what was expected. On the income side, gifts to our Together for Tomorrow capital campaign continue to be very generous (thank you!), and anonymous gifts from visitors to our lovely Cathedral building have been impressive. On the other side of the ledger, our maintenance and utilities expenses are significantly better than just a few years ago, a testimony to some of the good maintenance decisions made back then. But other costs – in particular in the area of liturgical music – have increased much more than we’d anticipated. Fortunately, the Cathedral Parish has enough money in savings to permit us to roll with these unexpected punches, but we don’t like dipping into our savings for operating expenses.

In any event, when the final figures from the 2012-2013 fiscal year are in we’ll be posting a more detailed report here in the Parish Bulletin. And our thoughts are turning toward the future. We know that this coming fiscal year will be an exciting one, especially since – due to the success of our Together for Tomorrow campaign – we anticipate beginning construction of our new Parish Hall. Of course, the excitement will also likely bring challenges, to our juggling abilities and nerves as well as to our financial resources! So please keep on being fervent in your praying … and being generous with your giving!

From a practical standpoint, one thing that you may wish to do is contact your own bank and make an “automatic bill pay” request of them. Your own bank may call it something else, but as more and more people handle their regular financial transactions this way it’s becoming pretty commonplace. If you ask them to send a set payment from your checking account to the Cathedral every week (or month, or however often you decide), you won’t have to remember to write that check yourself, and bring it to church or mail it in. It also avoids “transaction fees” and contractual costs to you and us – which other forms of “electronic giving” require. All of this is probably a big plus in your eyes, and certainly is an advantage for us here in the Cathedral Parish Office as well.

This being said, I want to reassure everyone who simply prefers to drop their check or envelope into the collection basket at Mass each week, that’s perfectly acceptable too! From a theological point of view, in fact, this is actually better: since at Mass we are uniting our own sacrificial giving to that of Christ, contributing while at Mass symbolizes this very, very well. One priest-friend of mine, though, recommends to his parishioners that they contribute “automatically” and then empty all their pocket-change and $1 and $5 bills into the basket on Sunday! It’s an interesting idea, especially since it makes a little giving “anonymous,” hidden even from the I.R.S.!

What isn’t good, of course, is putting God and the Church way, way down on our list of priorities. Since along with time and involvement spending habits are the best indicators of the real value we place on things, it’s impossible to pretend that God is very important when we routinely treat ourselves to entertainment and never give back to Him. The Lord is very understanding, of course, and wants us to take care of ourselves and our families first. Yet He also can read the real intentions of our hearts, and knows when we’re having a tough time breaking out of our selfishness and really doing good for others.

In any case, thanks for considering your responsibilities to God and to the community of the Church and your Cathedral Parish. I know I consider them often, and I appreciate you joining me in that reflection!

July 14, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,
Summer is a wonderful time to take it easy. Around the Parish at this time of year things are usually at their slowest. Now and then the other members of the parish staff and I have been trying to sneak away for a few days of vacation without being noticed. We’ve upgraded the telephones and computer network in the Parish Office, and hope to attend to a few other additional minor renovation and housekeeping chores in the rectory as well.

This doesn’t mean that everyone in our world and Church and nation has been idle. Some of this is good news. For instance, the Holy See announced last week that two recent popes, Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II, will be canonized as saints. Both of these beloved Churchmen have special ties to Louisiana: Pope John XXIII was the one who established the Diocese of Baton Rouge in 1961, and Pope John Paul II famously visited New Orleans in 1987. Their canonizations will be an occasion of great joy for the entire Church, since each had a profound, positive impact on the Church and the world. Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council; this most formal recent meeting of all of the Catholic bishops of the world (1962-1965) strove to update the timeless teaching of Jesus and His Church for the modern world. And, as we all know, Pope John Paul II was a tireless missionary and teacher of the faith. Their feast days are in October.

But not all summertime activity has been great. At the end of June our nation’s Supreme Court decided that it would leave all civil regulation of marriage to the States, thus paving the way for an increase in the legalization of unions which the government will call “marriage” but which do not correspond with God’s definition of it. It’s more than a terminological discussion, for when the State attempts to describe – much less control! – religious concepts it generally does so imprecisely. People then easily begin to think something erroneous, unaware of their mistake. Bishop Muench announced he was “saddened,” continuing to note that “The Catholic Church has consistently taught that marriage is the union between one man and one woman through which they participate in the procreative power of God, a relationship which Jesus raised to the dignity of a Sacrament to reflect nothing less than love of Christ for the Church. This objective and eternal truth can never be legislated or adjudicated away.”

I also was particularly impressed with the balanced, commonsense response and explanations issued by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is not only archbishop of New York but also the current president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. In commenting about the Supreme Court decision, in part, he said:

In recent decades, this fundamental relationship of marriage has been under dramatic pressure: no-fault, easy divorce; living together like a husband and wife before marriage, or even for years without the formal bond; glorification of promiscuity; and even same-sex “marriage.”

In the face of each threat, people of faith, and thoughtful, reflective people of no faith at all, have expressed genuine concern that the ordinary, intended, given definition of marriage was almost becoming the exception. People of faith have tried — not always successfully, I admit — to do this in a non-judgmental, calm way. In other words, we discourage divorce, without harshly judging those who have to suffer through it; we oppose same-sex “marriage” while never condemning those with same-sex attraction (a bigotry God also abhors); we consider adultery wrong, while forgiving adulterers. In other words, we’re pro-marriage, not anti-anyone … We love many people: our parents and siblings, our good friends. But we don’t marry them. Marriage is about love, yes, but a unique love that procreates children.

This past Wednesday, marriage as classically defined, naturally understood, and historically defended, took a big hit. That makes us sad.
What to do? … We better start with ourselves, because, a good chunk of people of faith, even among our own Catholic people, do not share this sense of sadness and worry over Wednesday’s decisions. Part of the New Evangelization is to present the timeless teachings of our faith – like true marriage – in a cogent, coherent, fresh way, re-convincing our people … [and] … We remind ourselves of what Blessed John Paul II called our duty to be counter cultural: that our beliefs are often at odds with contemporary trends, but that this reality only encourages us to live them out more heroically.

You can read the entire piece on his blog. In particular I want to emphasize that we call all people to deeper holiness, whatever their situation in life. We do not condemn, but gently clarify and correct persons who hold positions with which we cannot agree.
Finally, we’re swiftly coming to the conclusion of our Catholicism 101 series of adult religious-education presentations. Last week we dealt with morality. This week will be dealing with those sacraments we have not yet dealt with: those known as the “Sacraments of Vocation,” that is, Matrimony and Holy Orders. Our presenter will be Father John Carville, who says he’s retired but stays very busy helping out with Masses and classes all over! As always, it’s just an hour-long session, in the Parish Hall on Tuesday, July 16, at 6:30 pm; I hope you can attend.

July 7, 2013

Dear Parishioners and Friends,

A couple of weeks ago the office in Rome responsible for the official texts of the Mass (it’s known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, if you ever get asked this in a “Catholic trivia” game!) made public a decision by Pope Francis to definitively add the name of St. Joseph, our patron, to the principal Eucharistic Prayers of the Church. This means that, throughout the world now, just after mention of Mary, the Mother of God, the words “with blessed Joseph, her spouse” will also always be prayed at Mass.

It isn’t a huge change. In fact, every Parish’s patron saint is regularly added to that Eucharistic Prayer which is identified as especially suitable for Sundays, so in those parishes having Saint Joseph as a patron – like ours – his name has regularly been heard already. But I like to think that it stresses some things that are important: those closest to Jesus in this life are honored, and remain close to Him in the next life.

This not only rightly exalts Saint Joseph, for next to our Blessed Mother no one was closer to Christ Jesus during His life on this earth. It also serves as inspiration to us, for we seek to be close to our Lord too. Not only by our prayers but also by our quiet efforts at dedicated service to God and to those He loves – especially the most innocent and needy – we imitate Saint Joseph. We can share in his heavenly reward!

Since we have room in the Parish Bulletin this week, we’ve printed on page 5 the traditional Litany of Saint Joseph, adapted for our Parish’s use. You may wish to clip it out and keep it, to include in your daily or weekly prayer. Saint Joseph is a powerful intercessor before God for us: among others, he is the patron of working people, especially carpenters, confectioners, craftsmen, and engineers. He is also the patron of fathers and of families, of travelers, and of the universal Church. Finally – pun intended! – he is the “patron of a happy death,” something which Church tradition says he enjoyed and certainly something which all of us hope for.

Since I’ve mentioned prayer, let me thank you for your attention to last weekend’s Stewardship of Prayer focus. In many respects prayer is the distinctive distinguishing mark of the believer: it separates out the real Christian from those who lead good and helpful but merely secular lives. For the person of faith, prayer is an invaluable, advantageous aid to salvation.
Lastly, in our Catholicism 101 series of adult religious-education presentations this week on Tuesday, July 9, we will enjoy a special treat. The “baby” priest of our diocese, newly-ordained Father Joe Vu, will speak on morality. His presentation has the fun title of “Why Can’t I Just Do What I Feel Like Doing?” I hope you can come. As always, it’s just an hour-long session, in the Parish Hall at 6:30 pm.