Take the January Faithful Questions survey

A new feature of the website is the ability to take surveys so that I can better judge how I’m doing. If you went to the Faithful Questions session on January 14th, 2020, titled “How can I improve my marriage?” please do me a favor and take the survey:

Please don’t fear giving honest feedback even if you think it might be a bit harsh. I can’t improve things if I don’t know what people don’t like. 🙂

January Faithful Questions slides

I’m getting better! It only took me 9 days this time to get the slides posted:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Marriage.pdf

I was very happy with the attendance at the presentation and hope those of you who came found the talk both valuable and entertaining. Make sure to check back soon for a survey about your experience.

As far as posting video, here are my goals:

  • Post the December session (Faith and Science) by Friday 1/31
  • Post the January session (Marriage) by Friday 2/7

December Faithful Question Slides

I promised at the presentation over 4 weeks ago that I’d have these slides published “tomorrow”. Oops! Sorry about that. Nevertheless, I think I’m safer saying “better late than never” for these slides. In any case, here are the slide from the December Faithful Questions session titled “Is there a conflict between faith and science?”

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Faith_Science2019.pdf

This was a repeat and slightly updated edition of a presentation from both Ministry Days 2019 and from a 2018 Faithful Questions session.

My hope is to have video of this posted in the next few days, before the January session on the 14th.

November Faithful Question Slides

I know this is ridiculously late and really testing the principle of “better late than never”, but here are the slides from my November Faithful Question session titled “Why do we have the Liturgical Year?”

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Liturgical_Year.pdf

I do have video for this session and it’s currently 3rd in line to get turned into a YouTube video. Hopefully I can get it done by the end of January.

October Faithful Question Slides

I know this is ridiculously late and really testing the principle of “better late than never”, but here are the slides from my October Faithful Question session titled “What does the Church teach about the death penalty?”

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Death_Penalty.pdf

Sadly the video from this session didn’t turn out very well, so there may never be a video of it. When I get to it, I’ll see what I can do.

Slides for Ministry Days 2019 presentations

Here are the slides from my presentations at the Diocese of Sacramento Ministry Days 2019 (September 27th and 28th):

Do’s and Don’ts of Teaching Faith and Science:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/MinistryDays2019-Faith_and_Science.pdf

Re-Imagining RCIA Inquiry:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/MinistryDays2019-Inquiry.pdf

Re-Imagining RCIA Purification and Enlightenment:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/MinistryDays2019-PandE.pdf

Bringing family back to the Church Handout

Yesterday was the feast day of St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine. She is revered for a number of things, but perhaps most notably for her constant prayer and efforts to bring her son back to the Church. It took many, many years, but eventually Augustine came back to the faith and ended up himself being one of the greatest saints of the Church.

With so many Catholic parents struggling to keep their kids Catholic, one can see why St. Monica is popular for veneration and intercessory requests these days. And so Deacon Larry and I held a prayer service and a short talk afterward for exactly that.

Here is a link to the handout I gave with the talk about how we should go about bringing our families back to the Church:

How To – Bring your family back to the Church

Desperate for nuance

There’s a twitter war going on right now about a priest tweeting about women covering their shoulders at Mass. (I feel no need to link to it because the specifics aren’t the point.)

I find the tweet poorly stated and ill-advised. There are things that are best stated in long form, not in a tweet. If I was forced to give a thumbs up or down to the tweet, it would be a thumbs down. It lacked any nuance or tact.

But just as maddening are the reply tweets and blog posts. They too lack any nuance. They write as if covering shoulders is only about the shoulders and not the level of coverage of the torso as a whole. They write as if there is no nuance in the issue of distraction and men should be able to avoid being distracted by a woman no matter how she is dressed. They write as if there are no standards for men’s dress to ensure some level of modesty from them. They write as if a request for modesty in dress from women is mutually exclusive to the request that men control their behavior and their eyes. They act as if the Church can’t work on solving more than one problem at a time (specifically distracting with the issue of the priest abuse scandal).

And I’m not saying the above as if there isn’t some appropriate balance. There’s a spectrum of dress from the very modest to the down-right hyper sexual. I’d hope those defending the priest would recognize that there are times when some scrupulous person takes offense at appropriately modest clothing. We should be wary of making overly black-and-white statements in defense of modesty.

I’d also hope those objecting to the priest’s tweet would recognize that there is a point where immodesty is distracting to even the most chaste eyed man. Along those lines, I’d hope they’d be willing to discuss the idea that clothing standards have value even when the specifics can create arbitrary lines. It can both be true that there can be clothing that meets an arbitrary standard and be more immodest than one that does not, but also true that a semi-arbitrary standard can still have the effect of keeping clothing appropriately modest.

I’d love to be able to discuss the matter intelligently with others. I’d love to have a productive and valuable discussion about how to avoid the worst of both extremes. But I feel like any attempt to discuss the matter in a nuanced and mature way will get shouted down by both sides and nothing of value will be discussed in any depth.

And it’s not just this topic. It feels like just about any topic these days has become polarized and lacking in any middle ground. It seems that in just about any topic, any middle ground statement will be met with condemnation from both polarized extremes. Or (and this can sometimes be worse) it can be embraced by one side and viewed as part of the polarized discussion, despite the evenhanded words.

And thus I am desperate for some nuance in our world.

Homily for 5th Sunday of Easter

Readings: http://usccb.org/bible/readings/051919.cfm

(FYI, what I said at Mass varied from the planned text a bit more than usual this week. I both deviated from the text and added some things on the fly (I put those in red). I’ll be writing a bit more about that in a separate post.)

In today’s Gospel Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.“  This command to us today is both unremarkable and very challenging at the same time.  We hear it over and over in the Gospels.  Jesus gave us two commandments:  Love God and love our neighbors.  In the sermon on the mount he tells us to love our enemies.  In our Gospel passage from 2 weeks ago, Jesus 3 times asks Peter if he loves Him.  In all Jesus uses the word love 56 times in the Gospels.  So in some sense, Christ’s command to us today is down right ordinary and mundane.

At the same time, if we understand what is being asked of us, this is an immensely important and challenging commandment.  The fact that Christ repeats it so many times and in so many different ways shows just how important it is.  Through repetition Jesus demonstrates its importance:  Love your enemies, love your neighbor, love one another.

But why is it challenging?  Isn’t love something we all have in our hearts?  Well, both yes and no.  But unfortunately to explain why I’m at a real disadvantage because we speak English.  We only have one word for Love.  In Spanish, there are 4.  And when we go to the ancient languages of Latin and Greek, we see even more.  The ancient Greeks had 6 words for love of others plus one for love of self.  That’s SEVEN words for love, as compared to our one.  And since Greek is the language today’s Gospel was written in, I’d like to spend time talking about their various words for love.  The lowest form of love of others is Ludus.  It’s a playful level of love, without much commitment.  It is what you would see on your average middle-school playground.

The 2nd lowest form is Eros.  This is where we get our word erotic. This is romantic love.  Many of us think of this as the highest form of love, but it is most definitely not.  The longing passion of Eros is unpredictable and unstable.  Passionate Eros love is just a couple of mistakes away from passionate hate.  I think we’ve all met a couple or two that one day were passionately in love and the next passionately hated each other. This is the instability of Eros. Additionally, Eros can too easily be confused with its evil twin, lust.  And lust is not love.  All forms of love are an act of giving to another person.  Lust is an act of objectifying another person for the purpose of using them.  Lust is an act of taking, not giving.

The next up the list is Pragma.  Pragma is where we get the word pragmatic.  It has a reciprocal nature to it.  We give to each other, but it’s with the understanding that both parties are giving and thus potentially lacks a permanence of the higher forms of love.  It’s a bit too contractual to be further up the list. Much divorce comes from the failure of Pragma. As long as the marriage is reciprocal, they’re fine, but it only takes one spouse not ‘doing their part’ for a short period for it to fall apart.

Above that is Philia.  This is where we get the words Fraternity and Friendship.  This is often called brotherly love.  Here, the expectation of permanence is higher.  Whether biological or not, once you have declared someone your brother or sister, your dedication to them is less shakable, even if your brother is not treating you so well right now.

Now we’re getting close to the top.  The 2nd highest form of love is (Store-jay) Storge.  This is best understood as the love a parent has for their children.  The expectation of reciprocation that exists with the lower form of love is now significantly reduced.  We give to our children with very little expectation of getting anything in return.  And this is the key to the highest forms of love.

Because if you think about it, just how giving is an act when you have expectations of a reciprocal act of love?  What is loving about an investment?  I give now, with the hope that my investment will bear fruit in the future.  Is that really love?  Perhaps.  It all really depends on how high and how specific the expectation is that it will be returned.

Which brings us to Agape, the highest form of love.  Agape requires no family affiliation.  Agape has no expectation of a reciprocal love.  Agape is the love that God has for us.  It is the love that Christ had when he died on the Cross for our sins.  And if we were to have read today’s Gospel in Greek, Agape is the love Christ commanded of us today.

This is why today’s command is so challenging.  We are called to this highest form love.  It is just as passionate as romantic love, but it has the unwaveringness of a parents love for their children.  It is completely without self-interest.    We all know love is patient, kind and not jealous… that’s the easy part.  What about not seeking its own interests?  What about radical forgiveness?  What about enduring ALL things?  What about never failing no matter what is done to you?

This is Agape.  And this is what we are called to.  We are called to a radical level of self-giving that transcends any human interests or any sense of reciprocity.  And this is my prayer for this morning.  That we can all have our hearts elevated to embrace this highest form of love, the form of love that God has for us.  Let us never again confuse the somewhat compromised forms of love like Eros or Pragma for the highest and most noble form of love, Agape.  The love that comes from God.  The love that we are called to give back to God and to everyone around us. It is the love that we are called to give to our spouse, our family, our friends, our neighbors and even our enemies. We are called to Agape love for everyone.

April Faithful Questions slides

OK, I know this is ridiculously late. I stumbled across the “finish line” of my Holy Week activities and April Faithful Questions session and then more or less collapsed for a week. It didn’t help that I caught some respiratory bug right about that time. By the time I started being productive again, I had a big backlog of things I needed to get done and thus posting the slides is now 2 1/2 weeks late.

In any case, here are the slides:

http://deaconken.org/presentations/Easter_symbols.pdf

Q and A topics

For my May Faithful Questions session we’re going to change things up a little and do a Question and Answer session. Hopefully I can get 6 to 10 questions that each take 5 to 10 minutes to answer. Use the commend section to propose a question for the talk.

A blessed Easter!

(Sorry for the lack of posts. I should have anticipated the busyness of the final weeks of Lent. I’ll get back to my series on the Extraordinary Form shortly.)

I hope everyone had a joyful and blessed Easter Sunday. I know I did.

Every year, the Holy Week and Easter Sunday services bring some new thought to my mind, some new little nuance of theology or grace or liturgical brilliance that hadn’t affected me previously. This year was a fascinating one, and one that might be due to it being my first year as a deacon and thus my first year where I was serving at all the liturgies.

There’s so much that goes on during Holy Week and just about all of it has a rehearsal. I had an all-day retreat for the RCIA Elect on Saturday before Palm Sunday, Palm Sunday Mass, performed 2 wedding for RCIA Elect on Monday, Parish Reconciliation service on Tuesday, Rehearsal for Holy Thursday on Wednesday, all 3 Triduum services including same-day rehearsal for both Good Friday and Easter Vigil. It was a pretty darned taxing week.

And for the last couple days, the Tabernacle was empty. That’s how I felt by the end: running on empty.

Thus there was something very powerful watching a fellow deacon put Christ back in the Tabernacle at the end of the Easter Vigil service. It was the completion of a long journey. It was a moment that brought everything to completion. Christ is back home where he belongs after the long journey of Holy Week.

To say it moved me deeply is an understatement. The journey was both complete and in some way made more sense than it did than when I was struggling through it. And now all of that angst and taxing work was finished, it all made sense, and I was at peace.

Homily for 5th Sunday of Lent (cycle A readings)

(Our parish went with the Cycle A readings despite this year being Cycle C for the Candidates and Elect in RCIA. These readings center around the raising of Lazarus, not the woman caught in adultery.)

With such a long Gospel passage, I’m going to get right to the point.  I see a strong metaphorical connection between the end of today’s Gospel passage and confession.  When Christ tells the Apostles “Untie him and let him go!”, this is Christ commanding the Church to forgive sins.

You see, when the bible talks about death, it is a mistake to think solely in physical terms.  Throughout the Bible there is a strong connection between sin and death.  What’s the penalty for Adam and Eve’s first sin?  Death!  What was Christ’s victory in the resurrection?  It was a victory over sin and death.  So when we think of Lazarus lying in the tomb, in addition to a physical death, we should see him as someone who is buried underneath his sins.

And so when Christ says “Lazarus, come out!” he’s not just raising him from physical death.  He’s also calling Lazarus away from sin.  He’s telling Lazarus that it is time to leave his old life of sin buried in the tomb and rise to a new life.

But Christ knows it is not enough to call Lazarus away from sin.  He has one more command.  But this one is not for Lazarus.  Instead it is for those who witnessed the miracle, the Apostles.  “Untie him and let him go!”  He is telling the Apostles and thus the Church that we need to forgive those who have sinned.  In other words, he’s telling the Church the importance of the confessional.

We’re getting into the last couple weeks of Lent.  We’re getting to that point that it’s now or never if we’re going to make a change in our lives.  And I think the thing we most need to remember, is that if we’re going to make a change, it must start by confessing the sins we are trying to escape.

Because the reality is that sin crushes our spirit and buries our souls.  My worst habitual sin is Gluttony.  I gained a lot of weight this year.  And there’s no excuse for it.  It was foolish and sinful.  I feel very ashamed.  I feel crushed.  I feel that sin has buried me inside this body that has gotten way too big. 

Each of us has a different sin that buries us.  Everyone here has some sin they struggle with, something that they feel buried under.  And so, we are just like Lazarus.   We have been buried for a long time, so much so that there is a stench coming from us and our tomb.  And what does Christ say when confronted with that stench?  He says to us “Come out!”  Go to confession and leave that sin behind.

So let’s all make sure we go to confession before Lent is over.  You have 3 more opportunities at this parish:  You can go this Tuesday at 4 PM.  You can go next Saturday at 9 AM.  And finally, there is the communal penance service that includes individual confession, on the 16th, a week from Tuesday, at 6:30 PM.  And if those don’t work for you there are countless other opportunities at the surrounding parishes, including their own reconciliation services.

And so I ask of you to join me and go to confession before Lent is done.  If you want to be freed from sin: Go to confession.  If you want to see the Church acting out Christ’s mercy and His command to ‘Untie him and let him go!’: Go to confession.  And most of all, if you want to rise to new life, where you are no longer buried by sin, where you can respond to Christ when he tells you ‘Lazarus, come out!’: Go to confession.

First experience with the Extraordinary Form

My family started a new tradition last Lent: The Lenten field trip. We go somewhere faith related that the kids haven’t been before. Last year we went to the Cathedral in Sacramento. We both did a guided tour (which was fascinating) and went to Mass. Then, since we were already downtown, we combo’ed it with a trip to the state capital.

This year the original plan was to go to a Spanish California Mission, probably in San Francisco. Unfortunately our weekends in Lent got sucked down pretty quickly and we needed to find something smaller.

So the backup plan, that we exercised yesterday, was to take the family to Saint Stephen the 1st Martyr parish in Sacramento. The parish is served by the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter. This is who they are in their own words:


The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter is a Society of Apostolic Life of Pontifical right, that is, a community of priests who do not take religious vows, but who work together for a common mission in the Catholic Church.  The mission of the Fraternity is two-fold:  first, the formation and sanctification of priests in the cadre of the traditional liturgy, commonly called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite, and secondly, the care of souls and pastoral activities in the service of the Church.

http://www.fssp.org/en/

In other words, they are experts in the Extraordinary Form, aka the Latin Mass. If someone in the Sacramento region wants to see the Extraordinary Form, this is the place to go. They’re the priests who know it best and do it at it was intended.

And the simple reality is that I’ve been wanting to go for a long time. I’m a fan of “smells and bells” Catholicism. I’m often frustrated by movements to make the Church “more relevant” or “more accessible”. They very frequently run roughshod over beloved Catholic traditions without any consideration for what they’re so willing to discard.

And the worst part of movements like that is that they are backfiring. If you talk to young people, they find “Youth Masses” boring and uninspiring. The attempts to find music that moves them merely shows how “out of touch” the choirs at your average Catholic parish are with the music teens enjoy. It’s like Grandma trying to dress like a teenager. It comes off ridiculous.

If that weren’t bad enough, if you talk to young Catholics about what they see in the Church that inspires them, it’s exactly the opposite: The Extraordinary Form. This year alone I’ve had 3 RCIA attendees, all young, leave our parish for St. Stephens. And I’ve got a 4th who just started coming to RCIA who may go the same route.

Thus, it was time for me to go and see what it was all about and the family Lenten field trip was the perfect excuse.

I’m going to break my observations into a number of different posts, one per day. Today I’m just going to focus on pre-Mass portion.

We arrived at the parking lot 20 minutes before the lone High Mass of the day (there were 3 other Low Masses) only to find that there were no parking spots left. (Ever seen that at your average parish?) Luckily there was plenty of street parking and so we were able to find a spot just outside the parking lot. As a seasoned Catholic I know the first thing to do when encountering a full parking lot is to rush inside and see if there’s going to be an available pew for the family.

Upon first entry into the Nave of the Church, I was optimistic. It was half full, perhaps a little more. But it turns out that was quite deceptive. Every single open spot had a Missal or a sweater over it. Clearly this is a Church that allows for people to save lots of seats. (This by the way is a pet peeve of mine, but I’m willing to accept every parish has their traditions.) Everyone gets there early, it looks like a half hour or more early, saves a seat and goes on to other things. The courtyard was indeed full of people.

We managed to find 4 folding chairs in the back of the Nave so we had the kids sit down and Wendy and I stood, knowing we’d be standing the whole time. Oh well, right? At least the kids had seats

But not long after we sat, I realized the back of the Nave was also where the confessional was. And in fact, there were 3 of them, all occupied with both people and priests. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, as this was the norm back in the day, but for me, I haven’t seen confessions just before Mass on a Sunday in my entire life. (I’ve seen them before the Saturday vigil Mass, but when I’ve seen that, it always ends ~30 minutes before Mass starts so the priest can prepare to serve at Mass.)

So while I saw the doors there, I didn’t think much of them. I didn’t think to consider whether they might be confessionals because who would be using them right now even if they were? I was so focused on finding a seat, getting the lay of the land wasn’t my top priority.

The next thing I learned, after the first person came out of the confessional, was the back two rows of pews, behind the main entry way, was not for general seating, but instead for the confessional line. Thus we were amidst that line and generally in people’s way.

Everyone was nice about it, they knew we had nowhere else to go.

This was actually a second answer for why there were so many pew spaces reserved. What otherwise appeared to be people already standing along the back wall of the Nave was in fact a long line for the confessional. These people would be waiting for and going to confession all the way up through the 1st 30 minutes of Mass. The 3 priests in the confessional were not scheduled to serve at Mass that morning, and continued hearing confessions as Mass started and continued. When people finished saying their confession, they’d go to the pew spot they had reserved well before Mass.

I must admit, if there’s a good reason to have reserving of seats before Mass, being in line for the confessional seem to me to be one of them. Although it seemed by the time Mass was in full swing that this accounted for only about half the reserved seats, perhaps even a bit less.

The other thing that was notable, and it became more clear as more people filtered in to take their reserved seats, was the demographics of the group. My home parish has a pretty good makeup of families, but we wouldn’t dare to hope for the demographics at St. Stephens. The group was almost entirely young families with lots of kids. The average number of kids was somewhere in the 6 per family range. Tons of babies. I’m sure there were some elderly people, but they were so overwhelmed by the number of young families, I sure don’t remember seeing them. Pope’s St. John Paul II, Benedict and Francis have all talked about what a thriving parish should look like. There’s no doubting that both by the demographics and by the frequent sounds of children and babies, this was it at it’s pinnacle.

And they all started filling the pews, so that the place was packed by the time Mass started.

(and I’ll pick it up there tomorrow)

Reminder: Debt enslaves

I was watching a documentary about the Fyre music festival debacle and subsequent fallout. Among all of the other massive moral failings, most notably fraud piled on top of fraud, with a large helping of arrogance and pride on the side, was a more subtle re-occurring theme: The promoters had no way out once they got the ball rolling due to the debt they had incurred.

Basically, they had a vision for a large music festival and they went about promoting it and organizing it. Somewhere along the line they realized they were unlikely to be able to deliver on what they were promising. Depending on who you believe, this was somewhere between 6 months and 2 months from the start of the event.

And of course the ethical thing to do at that point is to call off the event and refund all of the money for the tickets sold. The problem was the money was already at least partly spent. They had leased property and bought all sorts of materials, as well as had many laborers and subcontractors working for months to prepare for the event.

Thus if they had called off the event, someone who was owed money wasn’t going to be paid. Whether it be not refunding the tickets or not paying for the materials and salaries, or even some of both, they just didn’t have the money to meet all of their financial commitments. Someone was going to be shorted.

As a result, even when the organizers had grudgingly come to realize they couldn’t successfully hold the event, they couldn’t admit it to themselves. The only solution was to find a miracle that would save the event. If they could somehow pull it off, even if it was much less than promised, the ticket money wouldn’t have to be refunded and they could pay all of their people.

In other words, they were enslaved by their debts. They had no choice to walk away. They had to push forward, even though at some deep level they were marching towards their own demise.

I think we all need to be more aware of this… the way that debt enslaves. Whether it is a large mortgage, a car that is hard for us to afford, or our credit card bills, they force us into behavior we otherwise wouldn’t do. How many people keep working for an unethical company because they can afford to quit, because of the debts they owe? How many people make career choices they otherwise wouldn’t because of their debt, particularly their college debt?

We all must be much more careful about incurring debt. If we want the freedom to follow Christ, we must have the financial freedom to do so. Yes, we need to earn enough money to live and that can at times limit our financial freedom. But for someone truly committed to service, it is amazing how little one can live on. And at any point in our lives we can choose to live much more frugally if we feel called to some sort of service by God. But we are robbed of that freedom if we have debt.

Even if we can afford our debt service based on our current careers and income, we are prevented from changing away from those careers and income levels because there is debt to be paid that relies on that level of income. We become a slave to our current lifestyle.

If you don’t have debt, I ask you to seriously consider the above before incurring it. If you are already in that trap, the good news is it is merely an indentured servitude and I encourage you to make the changes needed in your financial lifestyle necessary so as to be able to pay off that debt as quickly as possible.

Because the simple fact remains, you are not truly free the way God wants you to be free as long as you are in debt.