The lessons of Tobit

05-25-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear  Friends,

After firing its chief editor (Jill Abramson) the publisher of the NY Times shot down the reports that they had done so because she had demanded a salary equal to her male predecessor, which meant they were paying her less than a man for doing the same job. Imagine that, the NY Times angry with the mainstream media for coming up with a narrative that did not fit the facts! How rich is that? After all the NY Times is the master of setting a narrative that tells the story they want to tell whether or not it has any relationship to reality. I confess I took almost perverse pleasure in watching the owner of the NY Times come undone over the reporting by his colleagues in the media. I guess sooner or later what goes around comes around.

The irony here is that the NY Times has strongly shouted the narrative about the “war on women” and that women receive less pay than men for the same work. And now they, the champion of the narrative of women’s inequality are being accused of treating a woman employee in an unequal manner to men. You can understand why the publishers became a bit apoplectic over the reporting.

There is a spiritual lesson in there: the thing that we most pride ourselves on can be the thing that humiliates us. All of us have a soft-underbelly that is vulnerable to attack. Just think of the Church: the Church’s teaching on human sexuality is clear, concise and well defined. Unlike other churches we have not wavered on it even in the face of great opposition and calls for change and cultural shifts. And where was the Church the most humiliated recently: with the sexual abuse scandals by priests. The lesson is quite clear: humiliation will come in that area you are often strongest in. Which means pay attention so that does not happen.


Moral Hoops

05-18-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

How often do we hear, "if it feels right then its ok" with the caveat: "as long as it does not hurt anyone"? That seems to be the prevailing moral norm of our society. When you make a claim to objective moral truths or absolute values or that some things are intrinsically wrong you're usually told that you are some kind of right-wing control freak that is trying to "impose" your religious values on everyone. The problem here is that the truth is the truth and no matter how much you want to relativize it to a person's feelings it has a way of asserting itself sooner or later.

Case in point: the recent episode with Donald Sterling, the owner of the professional basketball team in Los Angeles. Mr. Sterling shared his feelings privately with another person, saying he did not want her seen in public with black people. Once his remarks were made public he was soundly condemned. Now if you use the prevailing moral standard he was just sharing his "truth", the way he felt with another person. What's wrong with that? Furthermore he really did not harm anyone as the remarks were private and he did not take action on them. Once the remarks were made public they offended just about everyone but doesn't he have a right to his own moral beliefs, especially if they "feel right" to him? After all if there are no objective moral truths that our reason can grasp then who are we to judge Mr. Sterling's feelings that he expressed privately?


Teaching the Wrong Lessons

05-11-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

A few recent headlines in the news show a rather disturbing trend in the lessons we teach our children. In one case a high school honor student took a picture with her phone of an image that was projected on the screen in the classroom. The image was pornographic and was generated from the teacher's computer. The student was promptly suspended. In another case a student recorded with his phone or i-pad an incident of bullying that was happening to him. The student was not only suspended but also charged with the crime of clandestine recording.

While I suppose the school administrators in these cases had what they considered good reasons for the actions they took they seemed to wildly miss the bigger picture. What lessons are they teaching their students?

The students in these cases pretty much walk away from these "learning" experiences thinking that adults are a bunch of liars who can't be trusted. Adults look out for themselves first and will throw children under the bus to protect their agenda. And worse, when students do the right thing they will be punished. So why listen to adults? Any wonder we have behavior problems in our schools?


How successful was Lent?

05-04-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Now that the Lenten Fast has turned into the Easter Feast we might want to ask ourselves how productive was our Lent? Some of us may be looking back and wondering what difference it all made if any. Did it have any effect? What was the point of all that penance and "giving things up"? It may seem like little growth was had or we just didn't get the Easter infusion of spirituality and grace. Did we make spiritual progress or just go through the motions?

The point of our Lenten practices, particularly fasting was to discipline the body so as to assert the primacy of the spiritual. Now that we have done that we need to tend to the interior effects of fasting and see if it has helped us overcome the corrosive vices that settle quietly in the soul.

I came across this quote by St. John Climacus, a 7th century monk who is a saint in both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches:

Let us not believe that an external fast from visible food alone can possibly be sufficient for perfection of heart and purity of body, unless with it there has also been united a fast for the soul. For the soul also has its foods that are harmful...



04-27-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Elegy for a Pope

"I accept". 16 October 1978, then

Habeamus papem…Carol Cardinal Woytyia…bewilderment?...A Pole!
Joy: Viva il Papa!

Totus Tuus

No Pole, not Italian, not Mexican nor American or Asian, a
Voice of the Poor
Clarion of Justice

Your words: BE NOT AFRAID
Baruch a'schem
A salaam a-lakum
Splendor of the Truth
Gospel of Life
Luminous Mysteries
Divine Mercy


But for the Grace of God

04-20-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

One of the songs we have been singing during Lent titled: There By The Grace of God Go I, a new composition written by Chris Muglia. Chris said the inspiration for the song was Pope Francis' statement "who am I to judge". That statement is a strong reminder that those of us who are living a life of grace have been saved from so many of the hurtful behaviors we watch others engage in. And it is mostly an affirmation of the fact that it is only by the grace of God that we are not doing the things we rightly judge to be sinful. That makes us righteous not self-righteous. It is important to remember that loving someone does not mean accepting wrong behavior or not judging behavior that is hurtful but rather recognizing that that person could be me if it were not for the abundant grace of God. That gives things a different perspective.

This is what makes our Eucharistic Assembly so diverse and beautiful, so rich: from top to bottom, from rich to poor, from sinner to saint we are all present together only by the grace of God. What or who would we be without that grace? Maybe we would be the liar or cheat, or the addict or the unfaithful one. No matter how much we've cleaned up we know where we came from and what keeps us from going back: the grace of God.


Tolerating Intolerance

04-13-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

"Trouble, oh we got trouble, right here in River City, with a capital T".

Recently the CEO of Mozilla, Brendan Eich was forced to resign from his position because he had donated to the CA Prop 8 campaign in support of traditional (1 man- 1 woman) marriage. The supporters of same-sex marriage let it be known that no dissent will be tolerated and anyone who holds positions contrary will be shunned from polite society. Traditional Marriage supporters have been compared to Holocaust deniers, segregationists, racists, bigots, and mentally deranged persons. Not really the group you would want to belong to, right? So it makes lots of sense to join the other side, after all if you say you are gay/lesbian or much, much better trans-anything you get all the accolades, a cheering-section, special protections, designated safe places at schools and universities and the full support of our media and government. Who wouldn't want to sign up for this club? Nuts not to...

Still the lack of tolerance that this episode displayed is truly bone chilling. Even to the point that some of the biggest supporters of same-sex marriage found it revolting for a pluralistic society like ours. Andrew Sullivan, a long time advocate for same-sex marriage said, "Will he [Brendan Eich] now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us."


40 Days for Life

04-06-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

This always makes my head explode. A TV journalist, who generally does a fair job and is also a Catholic, said recently: "Catholics believe life begins at conception." NO, NO, NO, Catholics do not BELIEVE life starts at conception, it is a scientific fact, biology specifically that has empirically proven that once an egg is fertilized by a sperm then life begins. Now maybe you think this is just a matter of semantics or less than precise terminology. But it matters for several reasons. Firstly, the Pro-life side is often accused of being anti-science but the fact is that we have science on our side. Secondly, since human life begins at conception our position that human life no matter what stage of development has the same intrinsic worth and dignity and therefore right to life that other stages of human life have is consistent with science and ethics. Therefore to say that ending a newly conceived human life is killing is very logical. Since one of the foundational principles of our society is that it is always wrong to intentionally destroy innocent human life, abortion, the direct taking of human life at its earliest stages is killing. Which means to get around that you either have to deny biological science or agree that it is permissible to directly intend the killing of human life.

Most people probably don't think all that deeply about the issue or the logic of the Pro-life side or the illogic of the Pro-choice side. That's why when most women seek an abortion they are usually seeking a solution to the problem of an unexpected pregnancy. Our experience of working with women at our crisis pregnancy centers proves that point again and again and also proves that when we present solutions other than abortion many, many women tell us no one ever told them there were other options and that help was available to them.


Let's Party!!

03-30-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

Just a few days left until our annual Parish Festival on April 5, Saturday. The fun begins around Noon and continues to 9pm so please plan to join us with your family and friends. Our Festival Preview Dinner (so called since you can preview the Silent and Live Auction Items will be held on Friday Evening starting at 6pm. On the menu (since it is a Friday of Lent) are Baked Fish & Chips, Fish Tacos, a Fish Fry and lots of salads and desserts. Afterwards join us for a Casino Night, Hot Air Balloon rides and a chance to purchase some premium parking for the day of the Festival. Childcare will be available.

This weekend we are making it easy for you get your Festival tickets now and not have to wait in line the day of the Festival. Purchase your tickets for the Preview Dinner, ride tickets for the children, food and drink tickets, and Super Raffle tickets! Don't forget to get a Festival Tee shirt that was designed by one of our school children. On the day of the Festival we will have both a Silent Auction and a Live Auction!


Conception & Contraception

03-23-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

On March 25 the US Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case dealing with the Affordable Care Act's mandate of contraception/abortifacients. The question is whether or not the government can use its power to coerce employers to take an action that violates their moral beliefs. March 25 is also nine months before December 25, so it is the Feast of the Annunciation to Mary, also known as the Incarnation. Maybe it's a bit of divine irony that the Supreme Court is hearing a case dealing with contraception on the day we celebration the conception of Christ in the womb of Mary.

The Court decided to take two cases not involving religious employers or religious affiliated employers but rather two non-religious for-profit companies (Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.) So the question before the Court is: do owners of non-religious companies still retain their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion in their business practices? Or if they look at the issue through the Religious Freedom Restoration Act: does the mandate constitute a "compelling government interest" and if so, is it being applied in the "least restrictive manner"? That would be the broadest possible view the Court could look at but they often choose to take a much narrower approach leaving many questions unanswered.


Healing Surprises

03-16-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

This coming Tuesday we welcome Auxiliary Bishop Eduardo Nevares to our parish to celebrate our Lenten Healing Mass at 7pm. While Bishop Nevares was here to celebrate Confirmation and First Communion for our children this will be his first visit to our parish at large. So please come and welcome him. More importantly please come so that the Lord can have his way with you and bless you with the healings He knows you need.

Over the years as we have done these Healing Masses it has become apparent that often the healings come in unexpected ways and in areas of our lives that we didn't really think much about. Sure that out of control blood pressure or that cancerous tumor gets our attention but it seems that God knows what we really need even more than we do. So come with a spirit of expectation and openness for whatever it is that God wants to do in your life.


Discrimination or something else?

03-09-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

So what was all the fuss and panic about regarding SB 1062? Based on the hysterics and threats of the opponents you would have thought businesses were putting up signs saying: "No Gays Allowed" or that businesses were being given permission for wholesale discrimination. The proposed legislation never even mentioned same-sex marriage. And even though there were many sane voices coming from the gay community supporting the bill, the Gay Gestapo won the debate with their usual mantra of "you must applaud all things gay or else". And despite what Gov. Brewer claimed, that the bill was a solution to a problem that has not yet happened in Arizona. Do you wait for the house to burn down before getting fire insurance?

The other problem is that the word discrimination sets off red flags for most of us based on our country's history of segregation and our affirmation of human equality. Not all forms of discrimination are wrongful or invidious; the bartender who refuses service to a 16yr old is discriminating based on age but that discrimination has a rational reason. Maybe we should call it something like: opting out of providing a specific service on high moral grounds.


Discrimination or Religious Freedom?

03-02-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

When it comes to an issue such as AZ Senate Bill 1062 is trying to deal with, I suggest both sides take a deep breath and give some serious consideration to the issue. Remember it cuts both ways: a Christian not wanting to cater a same-sex wedding can easily be a gay couple not wanting to cater a White Supremist anti-gay, anti-black workshop. Should they be compelled to do so? The thought behind this legislation is to provide legal protections for conscientious objectors. Without some protection the long tradition of carving out a space for moral or religious objections can easily go by the wayside and yet with this legislation we run the risk of permitting lots of unintended forms of discrimination and a greater societal divisiveness.

The challenge in marking out what can legitimately be considered a refusal on moral grounds and when does it become wrongful discrimination, is where do we draw the line? Whether or not that can be carefully delineated in our legal code is something for legal minds to figure out. But for our purposes, how can we be sure we are upholding a moral principle and not discriminating based on persons? And how can we protect ourselves from malicious lawsuits whose only purpose is to punish someone for their beliefs?