Thursday, January 31, 2008

Penance and the Highway

I started my training for the Priesthood at a college seminary program in Cleveland, Ohio. Six times a year I would make the trek between my home in Nashville and our seminary campus in the middle of the snow belt on the east side of Cleveland. In January 1982, I left home to return to school after Christmas vacation. With my car packed to the gills, I set out on what started as a cold, rainy day in Nashville. By the time I reached Louisville, Kentucky, the rain had started to freeze. By Columbus, snow was falling hard on Interstate 71 and visibility was starting to drop dramatically. The final 160 miles to Cleveland were harrowing. As afternoon passed into evening and I drove into the darkness, I began to realize that my headlights didn’t seem to be working. I remember pulling off to the side of the highway to check them and I was surprised to discover that they were working just fine. They had been covered with snow, slush and debris that had frozen solid, cutting off the light. Taking my ice scraper, I got out of the warm car, waded through the muck to the front of the car, cut the stuff off the headlights and, after being pelted with slush from a passing 18-wheeler, headed off north for school. About every 50 miles or so I would have to repeat the procedure again, stopping and scraping, stopping and scraping, so that the headlights could do their job. When I saw the stories of the mid-western blizzards this year, it reminded me of this experience and I also realized that this was a good metaphor for what our experience of Lent might be.

Each year during the 40 days of Lent, we prepare ourselves in a special way for the great Feast, the Pasch, the celebration of Easter, just as Christians have done for 2,000 years. In ancient times, the Church would prepare to baptize its initiates. As the season of Lent developed, it became the custom for those who were already believers to perform penances, special acts of self-denial, in order to prepare their hearts for Easter and to remind themselves that their true home was not to be found in perishable human flesh, but in the glorious kingdom of God.

This desire to mortify the flesh in penance has led to some pretty strange beliefs, the most common of which is that God somehow benefits and we benefit in His eyes through our penances, our little sacrifices. But a little thought should show the folly of this. After all, God has no need of our penance. God is all-sufficient unto Himself. So why do it? Why give up coffee, or TV, or why say extra prayers? Why make any sacrifice if it is ultimately useless to God?

Maybe the answer lies not in God, but in us and our relationship with Him. Perhaps my trip to Cleveland in 1982 can shed some light on the question of why we need penance and sacrifice. If we think of ourselves as being on a journey toward God, we start out full of fuel and clean from Baptism. The light of Christ burns brightly in us and guides us on our way. As we head up the road, we encounter sins, difficulties, and doubts, all of which, like the ice and slush of the Interstate, cloud the light and freeze and harden on the glass making it impossible to find the way, a way which was so clearly visible before. Lent is the time when we stop by the side of the road, and we brave the rain and the cold, and we clean off our spiritual headlights so that the light of Christ can clearly guide us again. Our penance is like the ice scraper and it benefits not God, but us, in that it allows us to see the way clearly again.

So, as we prepare for Easter, let’s make our sacrifices, let’s do our penances. Let’s the clean the glass of our spiritual lamps, the lamps that are “the light of the world.” Let us walk together in holiness and penance during this coming Lent, so that the new Light of Christ which comes this Easter may ever shine in our hearts.

Yet Another Beautiful Vestment for your Cabinet

With Easter coming early this year, perhaps your parish will be interested in a new festive chasuble for the Great Feast. This comes from "what does the prayer really say," a traditionalist Roman Catholic blog.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

35 Years of Roe v. Wade

It's a tragic thing when you read a statistic that reports that 2005 marked the lowest number of abortions in 2005 than in any year since 1974, with 1,200,000 babies whose lives were prematurely terminated. Roe v. Wade what have you wrought? Lives snuffed out before they begin, women who bear terrible emotional scars from a procedure that many of them did not even fully appreciate, and a culture that becomes ever more numb to death.

Here's a link to a sobering article at American Thinker on the 35th Anniversary of Roe:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Epiphany I

The Holy Gospel is written in the 2nd Chapter of St. Luke, beginning at the 41st Verse.
Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast. And when they had fulfilled the days, as they returned, the child Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem; and Joseph and his mother knew not of it. But they, supposing him to have been in the company, went a day's journey; and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance. And when they found him not, they turned back again to Jerusalem, seeking him. And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. And all that heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers. And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing. And he said unto them, How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business? And they understood not the saying which he spake unto them. And he went down with them, and came to Nazareth, and was subject unto them: but his mother kept all these sayings in her heart. And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

I’ve always liked television games shows. When I was a boy, one of my favorites was To Tell the Truth. Remember that one? It came on once a week in prime-time. In my house growing up, the whole family would gather around the TV, watch To Tell the Truth, and eat the popcorn that my mother had cooked in a pot on the stove. Each week, three people would sit behind a desk each claiming to be someone who had accomplished something special. These three would be questioned by a celebrity panel, usually consisting of Orson Bean, Kitty Carlisle, Tom Poston, and Peggy Cass. (If you’re under 30, don’t worry who these people were. Trust me, they were famous.) The celebrities would then attempt to guess which one of the three was the real person and which two were the imposters. The pivotal moment would come after the celebrities had cast their votes and host Bud Collyer would then dramatically ask, “Will the real John Q. Public please stand up?” And at that moment, the true identity of the person of special accomplishment would be revealed. It was a great show and, believe it or not, has a lot to do with our Gospel reading today.

You know today’s story from the Gospel of St. Luke. It’s the story of the finding of the child Jesus in the Temple. St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin Mary had come to Jerusalem for the celebration of the Passover. As they headed home, they realized with some alarm that Jesus was not with them. Panic-stricken they searched the group that they were traveling with. Not finding him there, they headed back to Jerusalem to continue their search. Finally, they came to the Temple and found Jesus there listening and questioning the doctors, those learned teachers of the Temple. And here is where the story gets interesting. But before we can get to that, we need to understand one very important piece of information.

In this story, St. Luke identifies the Lord Jesus as being 12 years old. This is one of the few times that Jesus’ age is mentioned and it is highly significant in this case. When a Jewish boy reaches the age of 12, he is considered in many ways to have reached manhood. He was placed under the Law of Moses at his circumcision when he was eight days old, but now at age 12, he was considered to be a “Man of the Law.” The young boy at that age would come to the synagogue and read the Scripture and recite passages from memory. This coming of age, known today as a “Bar Mitzvah,” was as significant for the Jewish male as Confirmation is, or should be, for the Christian. In each case, the boy becomes a man and validates for himself the promises that were made for him by another when he was just a baby. So keep that in mind, that in this story, our Lord has just come of age as a man.

And what happens when his parents find him in the Temple? His mother Mary approaches him and says, “Son, how could you have done this to us? Your father and I have been worried sick about you.” And the Lord turns to His mother and says, “Why did you worry? Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business?” Now note this carefully. Mary says, “Your father and I have been worried sick about you,” referring to St. Joseph as Jesus’ father. Jesus responds differently, telling his blessed Mother, “Did you not know that I had to be about my Father’s business,” referring to his real Father: God the Father. In this moment, the child who had lived in the quiet of Joseph’s home and carpentry shop stood up and identified himself to his parents. In this moment we have the first indication of Jesus’ acknowledgement of his divine nature in the Scriptures. It couldn’t have been plainer if, all of a sudden, a game show host had said, “Will the real Son of the Living God please stand up?” But this isn’t the really interesting part. That comes next.

Immediately after his own acknowledgement of his special relationship with the Father, Jesus returns home obediently with his parents and grows in wisdom and strength. Now I think this is absolutely fascinating and it tells us quite a bit about God. Notice that Jesus does not at that point assume his throne and accept the accolades of the people. Instead, he returns to his home, and grows in the same way as anybody else, with the exception of sin. What tremendous humility is shown by our Lord. Rather than exalt himself, instead he lives in perfect humility with the earthly parents into whose care God has given him and he shares their life growing a bit here and there and finally reaching maturity just like you and me.

And this is the point: As we end our Christmas and Epiphany season it’s good to recall this about the Lord. In coming among us as a man, Jesus did not want to escape or be denied any truly human experience. He wanted to know the experience of birth, he wanted to understand what it means to earn a living, and – in order to save us from our sin – he had to know what it was to die. This was truly “his Father’s business.” This giving of himself to every aspect of life is why the Lord came down as at this time for us, to pitch his tent in our camp, to live and die as one of us. As our unusually brief Epiphany season draws to a close, maybe we can take just a few more moments to worship at the manger, to adore with the wise men, and to give thanks for the God who became one of us.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

And now for something completely different...

I know that some folks really didn't like the clown "Mass" and also that I've been a little serious lately. So, as my way of lightening up a bit, follow the link to this one. It's called "Liturgical abuses," but it's really more funny than abusive.

Here's the link:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

I've Got to Hand it to You! has posted a story about a man who chopped his hand off and cooked it in the microwave because he thought it had "the mark of the beast." The best line in the whole story:
"It is not immediately clear whether the man has a history of mental illness." Let me point something out to CNN that should be relatively obvious: It's now VERY clear that the man has a history of mental illness!

Here's the link:

Monday, January 7, 2008

Shoddy "Research" Exposed

As a practicing clinical psychologist, I have been bothered for sometime about a tendency in my profession to use absolutely abominable research to "prove" a social hyptohesis. For example, when I was in graduate school, we were taught that for psychological research to be considered competent a researcher had to have a well-defined working hypothesis. "Well-defined" means "operationally defined", that is, you had to be able to define the working hypothesis in ways that were objectively measurable. Secondly, social research, as with all research, began with the premise that the "null hypothesis," the hypothesis that the working hypothesis was invalid, was correct. Hence the job of any research was an attempt to disprove the null hypothesis Contemporary social science has turned this on its ear, often working to prove the null hypothesis rather than disprove it. In other words, much research works from the presumption that the experimental hypothesis is correct and the null hypothesis is invalid, the opposite of what should be done. This, combined with poorly defined experimental hypotheses, has created a real problem in social science research.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the area of gender psychology and the psychology of the LGBT culture. Now I'm not saying that the conclusions these researchers are reaching are necessarily wrong. What I am saying is their methodology is so slipshod that we don't have enough of a reliable and valid research base to make an informed judgment. Sadly, this "research" is often used to define social policy in our legislative offices.

Here's a link to an article from a Swedish writer that describes the problem as it is experienced in that country. Perhaps this should give us some pause for serious reflection on the potential impact of the lack of scientific rigor in the work of some social scientists.

For those that are interested, an interesting resource on this and similar issues is:

Wright, R. H., and Cummings, N. A., eds. (2005). Destructive trends in mental health: The well-intentioned path to harm. New York, NY: Routledge.

Also, a classic volume with strong implications for social science research is:

Rychlak, J. F. (1981). A philosophy of science for personality theory (2nd edition). Malabar, FL: Robert E. Krieger Publishing Company.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Epiphany of our Lord

Here beginneth the 2nd Chapter of the Gospel according to St. Matthew.
When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea, in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him. When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel. Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also. When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.


Several years ago, my wife and I had the opportunity to fly to Denver, Colorado, for the Provincial Synod. As our Delta flight cleared the Mississippi River heading westbound, the populated areas of the East receded into the background and soon we were left with mile after seemingly endless mile of unpopulated land, where not even a road was visible. This continued for several hours until we finally touched down at Denver International Airport. I remember thinking that night how incredibly big the United States of America actually is. And I realized that I, and probably most people, had very little idea of the size and magnitude of our great nation. In fact, most people’s view of the world is conditioned strongly by the area in which they live. It’s kind of like the poster that I used to have in my living room, “The New Yorker’s View of the World.” In the poster, the buildings of Manhattan were quite vivid, but everything beyond it quickly faded into insignificance. Now, what does all this have to do with the Epiphany, that charming story of the Magi, or the wise men, who came to visit the baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem? What possible connection could there be between the vastness of the American West and this Biblical story?

In order to answer that question, we have to understand a little history. Specifically, we have to know something about the Messiah and Israel’s expectations for him. First, it’s important to remember that the people of Israel considered themselves to be God’s chosen people, a people set apart by a Covenant, a special contract, between God and Abraham. In this Covenant, God said that, “You will be my people and I will be your God.” For their part, the people responded by promising obedience to the Law that would be given to Moses. The expectation of the Jewish people was that God would ultimately give them dominion over the world. As Jewish thought developed and as the land was conquered, not once, but several times, that salvation was presumed to come from a Messiah, a Chosen One or, more literally, “The Anointed One,” who would come and restore the Kingdom of God. The Messiah would then place Israel at the head of all the nations and God’s divine order would be in place for all time. The important thing for us is the understanding that the Jewish people considered the coming of the Messiah to be an event whose effects would be primarily for them and that this coming was not necessarily for people outside of the covenant. Also, it would occur at the end of time. So, the expectation of Israel for the Messiah was both apocalyptic and redemptive for the Jewish nation.

So with this background, let’s look at the Gospel today. Jesus is born in Bethlehem because his father is from the House of David and the actions of the Roman Emperor had brought Joseph and the pregnant Mary to the city of Joseph’s ancestors. In that small town that exists just five miles due south of Jerusalem, the Holy Family was resting following the birth of our Lord. Into their humble dwellings come Wise Men from the East. Wise Men probably would have been astronomers, men who studied the stars and sought the signs of the age in them. This differs significantly from astrologers who seek to divine the future from the stars.

These Wise Men, the Bible doesn’t really tell us how many there were, had followed the star from the east, hoping that it would lead them to the Great King. They didn’t necessarily know where it would lead them and they didn’t what or who they would find. But they pressed on for what was probably hundreds of miles because they knew that they had to follow this star. First, it led them to Herod’s court, but Herod was not the King they were seeking. So they followed the Star and it led them to the stable, that glorious stable, where the Lord Jesus lay surrounded by Joseph, Mary, and the lowly creatures that dwelt there. They offered him gifts for a King: Gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Much has been said about the significance of these elements but we’re not going to talk about them today. Instead, we’re going to look at the Wise Men’s visitation from a slightly different perspective.

As recounted by Saint Matthew, the coming of the Wise Men from a strange and foreign land changes completely the understanding of who the Messiah is and who he came for. The Messiah was not one who would come in power and glory. Instead the Messiah came as a helpless little baby. The Messiah was expected to be for the Jewish people only. But the visit of these Magi from foreign lands who came to worship him demonstrated a more powerful truth: That the love of God is not limited to this people or to that people. Instead, the love of God is for all who gaze upon and worship Jesus Christ as Lord. The Gospel today shows us that the plan of God is much bigger than we can ever imagine.

Down through the centuries, we have continued to follow the Lord. Here in Athens, we meet on this special hill and celebrate the Messiah who came to redeem all people. But Christianity and its saving message is so much bigger than our little church. It extends to every continent and every nation. Where we worship in freedom and with the protections of our Constitution, in other nations our brothers and sisters risk their lives every time they gather for the Holy Eucharist. And, in terms of time, Christianity has encompassed literally billions of people who have found hope and freedom from their sins in Jesus Christ for over 2,000 years. The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles that we call the Epiphany stands as a witness of God’s love for all people and His desire that all people accept him and Jesus Christ, whom He has sent. Only now, this Manifestation does not find its fulfillment in the following of the Star. Now its fulfillment is the following of the way of the Holy Cross.

The grandeur and expanse of the American West defies any one person’s ability to conceive of the size of our great nation. How much greater is the Lord, whose coming was announced by a Star and who won our redemption on the Cross.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Pay Attention to This

In Great Britain, some ministers of Parliament are questioning Catholic Bishops about "fundamentalist teachings" in the Roman Catholic Church. Here in the United States, the First Amendment should protect our churches from this type of behavior, but when this is combined with recent US governmental investigations of evangelical preachers led by a REPUBLICAN Senator (Grassley, R-IA), it suggests that all Christians, including Anglican Catholics should be vigilant.

Here's the link:,,2233421,00.html

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

What Are These Clowns Up To?

Oh, my! Just when you think you've seen it all, along comes another one. I don't know where this "Mass" allegedly took place, but it has to be seen to be believed. I've never witnessed a "Clown Mass" before seeing this video. Note, please, the use of a punch-bowl for the wine, and the bubbles for incense. Of course, if we start listing all of the offending pieces, this post will have no end. In fact, strap yourself into your chair, wrap some duct tape around your head to keep it from exploding, and follow the link to this site:

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Activism and Religion

One of my major beefs with many contemporary priests and ministers is that they tend to define ministry simply as a social activity that could be just as easily carried out by a social worker. Sadly, no one in ministry has seemed to embody this activism more than Jim Wallis. See the following article at for more: