Something Beautiful for God

Fr. John Bonavitacola

 

Dear Friends,

Was she a “lying, thieving, Albanian dwarf –less interested in helping the poor than in using them as an indefatigable source of wretchedness on which to fuel the expansion of her fundamentalist Roman Catholic
beliefs” as Christopher Hitchens, not known as a great humanitarian, wrote in his book Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice? Or was it true that she had, as a group of Canadian Academics once opined: “her rather dubious way of caring for the sick, her questionable political contacts . . . and her overly dogmatic views regarding abortion, contraception, and divorce.” Then there was always the criticism that the houses she set up in Calcutta for the sick and dying were subpar and the medical care was medieval.  In that view I guess it was better for people to die on the streets of Calcutta than die in a house that didn’t measure up to Western medical standards. And of course there was the accusation that she was in love with poverty and not the poor.

As the canonization of Teresa of Calcutta approaches we should be prepared for the usual hit jobs to reappear in the press. But why should we expect the world to understand the logic of the Gospel? It never really has. Of course we can’t forget that the witness and work of this little woman with immense charity shamed the rich and power, the intellectual elite and the arrogant. Saints in general tend to prick our conscience and make us uncomfortable. Obviously Mother Teresa hit a raw nerve with so many in our culture.  So let the world judge her by its own standards but the only judgment that matters in the end is God’s. She was willing to become humble like a little child and therefore Jesus declares her “greatest in His Kingdom”. (Matthew 18)

Here is one story in her own words that she told when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize:
One evening a gentleman came to our house and said, there is a Hindu family and the eight children have not eaten for a long time. Do something for them. And I took rice and I went immediately, and there was this mother, those little one’s faces, shining eyes from shear hunger. She took the rice from my hand, she divided into two and she went out. When she came back, I asked her, where did you go? What did you do? And one answer she gave me: They are hungry also. She knew that the next-door neighbor, a Muslim family, was hungry. What surprised me most, not that she gave the rice, but what surprised me most, that in her suffering, in her hunger, she knew that somebody else was hungry, and she had the courage to share, share the love.

There is a great lesson in there for each one of us. Despite our often-busy lives we have to train ourselves to notice. To notice even when we are hungry that there is someone else who is hungry, when we are lonely that there are others who are lonely, that when we are afraid there are others living in fear. It’s challenging to do amid the distractions our culture parades before us. One sure way out of the self-centeredness that so often absorbs us individually is to live a life of service as Mother Teresa did. Obviously not all of us are being asked to join the Missionaries of Charity or another religious community but all of us are being called to serve.

Next weekend once again we will hold the fourth of our four People Raisers for 2016. This one focuses on ways to Pray for the Living and the Dead as one of the spiritual works of Mercy. Specifically we will focus on ways to help serve at the Liturgy and some ways that are connected to the Liturgy. The Mass is our first and most important prayer. When we assemble for Mass we are praying for the living and the dead and doing “something beautiful for God”. But there are lots of details and ministries that go into making our Worship beautiful and for that we need lots of hands.

Also next weekend join us for our celebration of St. Teresa of Calcutta. Something Beautiful for God
is an evening with Tom Booth and a lot, a whole lot of other great musicians, many you are familiar with, some new faces. This will be a relaxed evening with some fantastic music and uplifting stories and testimonies. Invite your friends and neighbors, there is no cost.  As Mother Teresa once said: “We feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” Without your presence and without your willingness to serve, our Parish would be less without each one of you.

Love, Fr. John B.

P.S  For more information on our event Sept. 4 click here  http://bit.ly/2brL8cu

 

Sins Of The Fathers

Fr. John Bonavitacola

 

Dear Friends,

You might not be living in the past but the past might be living in you.

A current example of this is Germany. As much as Germany tries to not repeat the mistakes of its 20th century
past by being hyper vigilant with anything that smacks of Aryan racism, anti-Semitism or xenophobia it also makes it difficult to deal with current refugee challenges. Case in point: Bavaria’s intelligence gathering agency, announced “ISIS ‘hit squads’ had entered Europe with the flood of migrants that came across the borders over the last year and a half and irrefutable evidence that there is an IS command structure in place that will likely launch a coordinated attack on Germany.” Even with such evidence the German Chancellor still insists, “We can make this work”. At all costs Chancellor Merkel does not want to be seen in anyway as racist or xenophobic. If it wasn’t for her country’s past she might be more sensitive to the dangers that the tidal wave of refugees pose to her country.

To be fair the US has its own past to contend with as well. The history of slavery has left a legacy of racism that we just can’t seem to shake off no matter how hard we try or how noble our efforts are at repairing the damage. We hear accusations of racism all the time and whether real or perceived they cause our country to be continually divided and our self-perception sags. But countries aren’t the only ones whose past can continue to affect its present. Families too are often plagued by things like alcoholism, suicide, mental illness and sexual abuse. While some of it may have a genetic component the sins of the fathers are often visited upon the children and grandchildren. How many times I have heard people declare: “I will not be like my father” only to turn out to be just like him.

Of course everyone who is old enough has his or her own past to contend with that often dictates how the present is lived out. Most of us can effectively deal with the past, make amends for harm done, find forgiveness for harms received and learn to leave the past in the past. But sometimes the past has consequences that live on beyond all of that. The fact is when we take the wrong action we don’t get to pick what the consequences will be. Simply put we can’t choose our dues.

I think of one young man convicted of statutory rape. He was 18yrs old and she was 17. He spent ten years in prison and now for the rest of his life will be a registered sex offender. He has had to learn to live under that and deal with the limitations it imposes on his life. Still while he is a different man today and is not repeating the mistakes of the past, the past is very much alive for him everyday. It’s now a choice for him as to how to live in the present without letting the past control his entire life. Of course the lesson for us is not to do things that create a past that we don’t want to live with.

If you read the Bible you will see the same dynamic at work. After King David commits adultery and murder the prophet Nathan tells him: “the sword shall never depart from your house”. In other words the monarchy in Israel will increase in its dysfunction and eventually collapse. But the ultimate way the past lives in us is through Adam and Eve. Original sin as we call it has been passed on to each and affects the world at large. As the great English writer G.K. Chesterton often quipped: “Original sin is the only empirically verifiable theological doctrine.”

A sin-sick world populated by people who bear the effects of that sin, as well as their own, needs to be set right again. That of course is what Jesus came to do. His death forgives our past and rights our future. Despite the continuing effects of sin on our world it will not have the final word. Neither does your past need to have the final word on your present or your future.

So while you might be done with the past, the past might not be done with you. But that’s ok because we who believe have the promise of a better future.

Love, Fr. John B.

Lock The Doors?

Fr. John Bonavitacola

 

Dear Friends,
I imagine that at night before going to sleep most people lock their doors, some might even put an alarm on, or live in a gated community. But what is the motivation for locking your doors at nighttime? Is it because you hate the people outside? No I doubt that is the rationale. Rather you lock your doors at night not because you hate the people outside but because you love the people inside.

Most of us don’t worry too much that our neighbors will come over at 3am to borrow a screwdriver or return the lawnmower. In fact the few people walking around the neighborhood at night are either walking the dog, coming home from the late shift or stayed too long at the casino. But still now and then there might be a person lurking around with bad intentions. So you take a simple measure like locking the door because you love your family.

Daytime is a different story. When you are home you keep your door open since you can easily identify who wants to come into your house. Your neighbor might stop by to return something they borrowed, have a cup of coffee or share with you the crazy letter that the pastor of Mt. Carmel wrote this week. Then at some point in the day the Girl Scouts might knock selling cookies, the Mormons stop by to do their thing, a few kids raising money for new uniforms for their sports team might come by as well. In these cases you are welcoming and hospitable and you do what you can. Now if your neighbor starts coming by a little too often, like when you are in the shower, or eating dinner, or watching your favorite show or doing your taxes you might have to have a talk with him or her about boundaries for the sake of the friendship. It’s not that you are closing the door to him but reminding him of some basic rules of civility.

Then again you might be someone who refuses to lock his doors at night. Maybe it makes you feel anti-social. Most of the time there is no problem. In fact 364 days out of the year nothing goes wrong. Then on day 365 someone enters your house while you and your family are sleeping. Maybe they steal some of your things, or maybe it’s your wife’s or your children’s things they take. Maybe even worse, they assault you or your wife or your children. But still you don’t want to be seen as anti-social, exclusive or intolerant so you continue to refuse to lock the doors at night and it happens again. At this point your wife, your children, the police, your insurance company might start questioning how much your really love the people inside your house. You might respond to that by saying that they are anti-social, xenophobic, intolerant bigots. Not only that but you are emphatic that locking the door at night is not a demonstration of love for those on the inside of your house but actually a demonstration of hatred for those outside you house.

By repeatedly putting your family at risk you are now cooperating with evil and failing in your duty to protect the ones you love and for whom you are responsible. It is true that we have a moral responsibility to assist strangers but we also have a moral responsibility to care for those we are immediately responsible for. The latter trumps the former. Still the two are not mutually exclusive. Just because you love the people inside and try to keep them safe does not mean that you are ignoring those on the outside who need your assistance. It’s just that there is a priority for your family.

That’s the way I think about Immigration, Refugee Resettlement and Border security. Whether it is your home or your country loving the people inside and taking measures to keep them secure does not mean that you hate the people outside.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS. Our favorite parish son Fr. Scott Sperry, you may remember that while he was a seminarian he successfully battled leukemia. He has been in remission for 5 or 6 years and now the leukemia has returned. Presently he is undergoing treatment and battling it again. Keep him in your prayers and Masses. You can send cards and well wishes to Christ the King Parish: 1551 E. Dana Ave, Mesa 85204.

 

The Blood of the Martyr

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

Over the last few weeks we have witnessed mass murder and murder at Mass. Both shock the conscience. But the latter I take very personally: Je suis Jacques Hamel. Fr. Jacques Hamel, priest in Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Normandy, France, in his 80’s and had been a priest over 50yrs, martyred while saying Mass. Fr. Hamel was not the first priest to be killed at the altar and probably not the last. We have been down this road before.

Consider a bit of history: 732 Charles Martel at Tours in France, 1571 Don Juan and Andrea Doria at the Battle of Lepanto, 1683 the Battle at the gates of Vienna and the long line of Spanish martyrs that preceded them as the West fought back a very aggressive form of Islam. It was because of the victory at Lepanto that St. Pius V gave us the feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary (formerly called the Feast of Our Lady of Victory). St. Pius had asked everyone to pray the rosary as the battle commenced and he attributed the unlikely victory to the Rosary.

So here we are again, as the West was in 732, 1571 and 1683 since the 1990’s we have witnessed an aggressive Islam waging war against the West. But unlike the leaders in the past our present day leaders are content to live with denial as to what is going one. We are told again and again that this is not Islam, or when a terrorist screaming Allahu Akbar strikes “we are unsure of the killers motives” and most recently the rationale for the slitting of the old priest’s throat was that it was designed to cause a backlash against Muslims so we would be pulled into a war with them. The cognitive dissonance and ostrich head in the sand mentality is getting lots of people killed.

Then as soon as Fr. Hamel was killed Christians were quickly reminded that Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek”. Well yes he did. But that is when someone slaps you on one cheek not when someone tries to slit your throat. Turning the other cheek does not abrogate the principle of self-defense. The Catechism teaches thus: (2263ff)

The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing. ” The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . The one is intended, the other is not.”

Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.

Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others. The defense of the common good requires that an unjust aggressor be rendered unable to cause harm. For this reason, those who legitimately hold authority also have the right to use arms to repel aggressors against the civil community entrusted to their responsibility.

Thus parents have the right and duty to protect their families, priests have a right and duty to protect their people, bishops have a right and duty to protect their flocks and civil authorities have a right and duty to protect their citizens.

Fr. Hamel was doing just that: protecting his people with the blood of Christ when his own blood was shed. Jesus tells us in John’s Gospel: “no one who comes to be will be snatched out of my hands”. Even if the terrorist slit all our throats we still belong to Christ and His Kingdom. Fr. Hamel is now numbered among the martyrs of the Church, sharing the company of the blessed, the holy ones who have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb.

When I stand at the altar I now wonder, “will they come for me too and more importantly will I have the same fortitude as Fr. Hamel?” At the same time two of the spiritual works of mercy come to mind: bear wrongs patiently and forgive injuries as well as Jesus admonition to pray for those who persecute you. I will do that. We all must.

For now let us all take up the weapon of the Rosary and if we are faithful to it we will one day, soon please God, celebrate our Lady of Victory once again. And may St. Joan of Arc pray for us.

Love,
Fr. John B.

 

Which can’t you handle?

Fr. John Bonavitacola

 

 

Dear Friends,

A lady that I know just came from Columbia, She smiled because I did not understand. Then she held out some marijuana, ha ha! She said it was the best in all the land.

And I said,
“No, no, no, no, I don’t smoke it no more, I’m tired of waking up on the floor.
No, thank you, please, it only makes me sneeze, And then it makes it hard to find the door.”

No, No Song by Ringo Starr

Marijuana is the most dangerous drug simply because so many people think it is harmless. Which means you have an intoxicating substance that has potential serious consequences being used by people who think it almost innocuous. People thought the same thing about cigarettes and cocaine until the consequences became undeniable.

Arizona voters will decide in November whether or not to legalize marijuana for profit and recreational use. How did we get here? Most of the legalization or decriminalization of marijuana laws were voter-approved initiatives (including AZ’s Medical Marijuana Law). It seems today many people have bitten the libertarian apple of the supremacy of individual rights. What that position fails to account for is the rights of others or the fact that even indi- vidual rights exist in the context of other people. Take for example the model for the individual rights obsession: No- Fault Divorce: any spouse has the right at anytime to terminate a marriage for any reason or no reason without consideration for the rights of the other spouse and more importantly the rights of any children in the marriage.

The fact is that most of us are a little too enthralled with the idea of individual rights, of no one telling us what to do or how to live our lives. But we have to realize that part of being in a family and in a community means that at times a claim to sovereign individual rights is not absolute. Considering how a right affects us and not just me needs to be part of our consciousness. Just because I may theoretically have a right it may not be right to exercise it in all cases.

Unless we start thinking and making decisions and voter choices with an eye to what’s good for us not just “me” then, well, our society might just go to pot.

In this marijuana mania sweeping the country whether for medical or recreational purposes we seem to forget that keeping bad behavior limited to “free adults who have a right to determine their own existence” is nearly impossible. Have we kept cigarettes out of the hands of young people, have we kept pornography out of the hands of young people, have we kept alcohol from the hands of young people? So why do we think that marijuana which harms the unformed psyche of teenagers will be any different, any less harmful? Especially since we already know that teen use of marijuana is epidemic.

Lot of parents who smoked pot and still like to now and then justify its legalization and use with the line of thinking that says: “ I used it when I was young and I turned out OK.” That’s a very risky answer. Just because you did it and got away with it certainly is not a predictor that your child or any other child will not suffer some serious consequences. Too often those who experience no detrimental effect from occasional pot use think that a universal experience is the norm. Yet our society’s problem with drug abuse proves that way of thinking very wrong. When a parent who used drugs or uses drugs looks at their young child and asks, “Do I want my child to use drugs?” how do they answer?

I realize that the generation pushing for legal status for marijuana is the same generation that grew up watching “Reefer Madness” and Cheech and Chong both of which made the anti-pot position a laughing matter. Unfortunately too many of that generation got stuck in that way of thinking and rather than fixing the problem they are making it worse. Life is not a Cheech and Chong movie folks.

Drugs, it is often said are for people who can’t handle reality. Well reality is for people who can’t handle drugs. Which can’t you handle?

Love,
Fr. John B.

God Is In Control

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

I keep telling you to trust in the plan of God, His timing and His ways. God has a way of making things happen when they need to and we just muck it up when we try to force the issue, exert our own will on events or try to control the outcome. If there’s one thing the Bible demonstrates again and again or that the lives of the Saints teach us is that God gets His plan accomplished right on time. And for those who trust God, God has a way of arranging the circumstances of our lives to get us where we need to be, when we need to be there and at the right time.

God has a funny way of bringing it right back to me: dealing with the bureaucracy of the Immigration Process is a real trust God opportunity! When we submitted the paperwork for the Servants of the Plan of God to obtain R-1 Visas (religious worker visas) we submitted it for premium processing. That level of processing usually takes around three months or less. We did it that way since we have already had priests working here at Mt. Carmel with R-1 Visas which meant we were approved by Homeland Security to employ holders of R-1 Visas. But the Department of Homeland Security disagreed and as a result we must have a site visit as part of the approval process. What that means is that our requests for premium processing were denied and now fall back in the regular queue which right now is about five month processing time. So I am hoping for an October arrival of the Sisters.

I told Sister Veronica that their arrival is delayed and she responded true to form: “We are in God’s hands!! We are servants of the Plan of God, I believe it will be the certain time our arrival there. I gave this intention specially to Our Lady of Guadalupe. God wants us there, it will be in His time!”

Well that zapped my annoyance at the system! So much for my screed about the red tape… My homiletics professor in the seminary was fond of saying that the first person you preach to is yourself. He was right. Trust God, John, it’s His plan and He figures out the How and When.

Then when it comes to the Convent everything has gone swimmingly well! The gift registry we set up is now closed since you enthusiastically purchased all listed item. The refrigerator and patio furniture have been spoken for and lots of furniture, beds, dining room table, couches, chairs, have been donated as well! Once we get everything in place I will let you know if there are any other items still needed. We are presently working on the Chapel and we might need some items donated.

Many thanks to all of you who have stepped up to make a Mortgage Payment whether it was for half a month, a month, two months, three months or more. Remember we have the next ten years to pay off the loan so at any point during that time if you can donate (the monthly payment is $2500) just specify that your donation is for the Convent.

It’s nice to know that the Sisters even though they are not here yet are already teaching us something about the plan of God!

Love,
Fr. John B.

Mans Justice Is Not Blind

Fr. John Bonavitacola

Dear Friends,

My years as a prison chaplain brought me into close contact with the criminal justice system and gave me a lot of firsthand knowledge of how the system works. Sadly I discovered that the justice system was often unjust. While the virtue of Justice is blind, human beings who administer that justice often are not. The system is often tilted in favor of the politically connected, economically advantaged, and educated. Probably the biggest corruption of our legal system is caused by the fact that it is so often politicized and reduced to serve partisan viewpoints. That is seconded by the imbalance of power that loads up prosecutors with unlimited resources and virtually no accountability for misconduct and political bias. No matter how fair on paper and how many safeguards are in place including ethical standards in our legal system, no average Joe, yet alone, a poor minority can really compete with the power that a Prosecutor, District Attorney  or Attorney General has.

Even with this sober understanding of how the system actually works in the real world I still found the statement of the FBI Director in regards the conclusion of the Clinton E-Mail Investigation jaw-dropping in its naked honesty. This was the part of the statement that really got me:

 To be clear, this is not to suggest that in similar circumstances,
a person who 
engaged in this activity would face no consequences.
To the contrary, those
 individuals are often subject to security
or administrative sanctions.

            Please reread that statement. I had to read it several times. What the FBI Director is saying is that there are two sets of rules: one for the powerful and one for the rest of us slobs. He made no attempt to pretend that justice is blind, fair or impartial or even hide the duplicity of the application of justice. In a nutshell he was saying, whether he realized it or not that there really is no rule of law, it’s just what the powerful decide it is.

This is like a weird episode of adults behaving badly. Dad sits around in his boxer shorts but when his son does it he tells him to put some clothes on. What a joke the kid will think and Dad loses credibility.  And so the FBI Director declares no consequences for a high public official but don’t the rest of you dare think you can get away with it. What are the rest of us to think but that the whole system is a joke?  More and more we are seeing that the emperor really has no clothes not even a fig leaf. So it really is true that politics is the last refuge of scoundrels.

A timely concurrence is that our daily Mass readings have been from many of the 8th century B.C. prophets of Israel. As Israel became a very prosperous nation the prophets were quick to point out the moral rot that was quickly growing within the nation. The prophets were biting in their pronouncement of what the nation was becoming. The Kings had committed outrage upon outrage as they violated the law with impunity. This trickled down throughout the society. The temple priests became hostile guardians of the faith, the moneychangers and tax collectors became extortionists, the business people perfected the art of cheating and embezzlement and soldiers abused their power.

The prophetic message was simple: the nation will collapse under the weight of all the injustice. God does not take injustice lightly.  The prophets were despised, run out of town and often stoned. When you are getting away with violating the law and living off the spoils of your injustice you really don’t want to hear otherwise. The prophets were dismissed as doomsday preachers, unpatriotic disloyal scolds. But history proved them right.

Still the prophets would offer a way forward. Micah would instruct those who would listen: “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” And there’s the message for our moment. Even if those in power or charged with the administration of justice pervert justice and demonstrate mercilessness to the rest of us, we who walk humbly with our God must not act in kind.

 

Love, Fr. John B.