Checks And Balances

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

In the Book of Revelation John begins by writing to the seven Churches that were near Patmos, the penal island on which John was incarcerated. He writes to these living communities with a word from Jesus, a word that affirms them and also a word that challenges them. These churches or Christian communities are referred to by John as the 7 lampstands among whom Jesus walks. As lampstands they are to give light to the culture around them otherwise their light will be extinguished. Their light will burn out if they are not faithful to Jesus the faithful witness.

These churches are in the seven cities of: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. The seven letters all begin with an address to the angel, the bishop or pastor of the particular Church. John was writing to the Church as a spiritual community of faith, the Body of Christ. He was also writing to the physical community celebrating the liturgy in house churches in the seven cities. The most interesting feature of these letters is their message that the real threat to the churches is not external persecution but internal moral and spiritual problems. How well we know this and yet it seems like we never learn the lesson. Let’s look at a few of the messages Jesus gives to the churches:

Jesus speaks to the Ephesians as a divine leader, holding a symbol of power in his hands: the royal scepter with seven stars emanating from it. After complimenting them on their astute rejection of harmful teachers, Jesus confronts the Ephesians with their fatal spiritual flaw: “I will hold this against you: you have lost the love you had at first”. Fear brought on by persecution damaged the Christian love which the Ephesians should have for themselves, others and God. They must repent, convert, return to the vision of love or else they will cease to be a lampstand, a light of true Christianity.

Jesus promises the Christians of Ephesus that their fidelity would assure them of the reward of eternal life: they will eat from the tree of life that is in the Garden of God. Already in the Eucharist they are partaking of the Bread of Life. The sooner they learned to permit Divine Love to possess their hearts, the quicker would they begin to live, even here on earth, in the love that characterizes eternal life.

How many of us lose the love we had at first? Why do we let it grow cold? Why do we let our hearts be consumed by other loves? Why are we so promiscuous with our hearts? A great custom that many Catholics had in the 20th century was to enthrone an image of the Sacred Heart in their homes. It was a simple but visible reminder of the great love that we are called to.

The last letter is addressed to the Church at Laodicea. The Christians at Laodicea were infected with selective belief. Cafeteria Catholics we now would call them. They picked those parts of Christ’s teaching that suited them and made easy their acceptance by the local community. They espoused what seemed to them to be a reasonable middle way, a theology of compromise with the culture. Jesus confronts them with their major weakness, he tells them: I know that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Some Catholics in today’s culture are the new Laodiceans. They select teachings of Christ which do not hinder their acceptance by the culture. They insist on being relevant. They reject those parts of the Gospel that make them stand apart from the culture. Such Christians buy into the culture’s position on birth control, abortion, sexuality, marriage, and other moral issues. Jesus speaks to them with affection, but also rebukes them in order to bring them to repentance and conversion. He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and chastise. Be earnest and repent”.

The messages to these Churches are really to the universal Church of every age of history. Inspired by the vision of Jesus, John sends his beloved people pastoral letters to call them to renewed faith. He uses imagery that lifts local problems above present circumstances to focus Christians’ attention on the final goal of history as well as the ultimate outcome of their personal lives.

What letter would John write to the Church here, that portion of the Body of Christ that is in Tempe? Would he praise us for our faithfulness and love? Would he call us to task for our acceptance of false teachings, would he confront us on our compromise with the culture, would he accuse us of being selective in what parts of his teaching we believe? Remember like the seven churches in Revelation we too are expected to be a lampstand shining brightly as a witness to Jesus who is coming soon.

Love,

Fr. John B.

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Walk The Walk 3/25/18

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

As we enter into the week we call Holy we begin with the crowds who sing “Hosanna’s” to Jesus as he enters Jerusalem but we will end the week with them by shouting “Crucify him”. There are moments when we want a Savior of our own making and moments when we reject the type of Savior that God offers us. How much do we want a God who comes to us on our terms yet spurn the God who comes to us on His terms?

Having a god of our own making is to have a god that is too small and too paralyzed to fix a broken world. Besides, a god of our own making would confirm our prejudices, bigotries, intolerances and fears. Such a god would also let us off the hook for our own infidelities, betrayals, and sins. And that is why we want such a god. But the God who comes to us on his own terms is not the God of our expectations. This is why the crowds turned on Jesus: he simply was not the Messiah they were expecting nor wanting.

Isn’t this what’s behind all the usual chatter about how the Church needs to change its teachings on any number of issues? For these reasons we’re told the Church should cave into all our worldly ways of thinking in order to make the Church and the Faith “relevant”. In other words, Church leaders should make the Church into what popular opinion wants it to be. This is a backdoor way into creating a god of our own making. But a Pope or a Bishop or a pastor can’t give us the god we want but rather is bound to give God on God’s terms. Anything else is a product of our self-will.

That’s something to think about as we enter into Holy Week. What prevents a person from letting God be God? If we let God be God then we allow him to have sway over our lives, even the intimate details of our lives. If not, we spend most of our spiritual energy fighting God and forcing Him to meet our demands on our terms. And being very angry when He doesn’t.

Over the last few weeks, I have seen poll upon poll citing US Catholics positions on this or that Church teaching. The results are usually depressing to me until you realize that there is a big difference in the answers given to pollsters by Catholics who attend Mass on a regular basis and those who don’t. Catholics who attend Church regularly pretty much uphold Church teaching while Catholics who don’t practice their faith don’t uphold Church teaching but go along with most secular values just as you would expect. These are those who need to be the object of the “new evangelization” since these are those who fight the hardest to have a god of their own making. So often these are they who are closest to us, our families and neighbors who no longer accompany us to Church nor are willing to accompany Jesus to Jerusalem. These are whom we must first reach out to and invite back into the Church.

So, it falls to us to offer them a compelling understanding of Jesus Christ and why He and He alone can reveal the true face of God. This takes work to deconstruct the god made in the image and likeness of self so as to see our true spiritual bankruptcy. But before we go out to bring others back to Christ we must receive Him and welcome Him into our hearts.

We look to Jesus, Whom we welcomed today into the city and Whom we’ll accompany during this whole week, until His glorious resurrection, and we ask Him: Jesus, show me how to open my heart. Jesus, send Your Holy Spirit to open my heart. Send Your Holy Spirit to this city that it may open its streets, its homes, its families. Jesus, teach me to go out on the street and shout like those, on that day in Jerusalem: Blessed are You who come to save us in the name of God. May it be thus. -Pope Francis

Love, Fr. John B.

Not One Inch?

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

The NRA and Planned Parenthood don’t really have much in common except one thing. They both operate using the same strategy: never give an inch. No matter how reasonable a restriction may be, the old saying applies: “if you give an inch they’ll take a yard”. The NRA argues that since gun ownership was written by the Founders in the plain text of the Constitution and Planned Parenthood argues that abortion is a constitutional right as determined by the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade and therefore need to be protected against any encroachment. I find it interesting that a lot of the same restrictions we have tried to enact on abortions are the similar to the ones being proposed for firearms.

In the case of abortion, we have argued for the following restrictions: Waiting Periods/Informed Consent, limiting the age for obtaining an abortion, licensing and registration of abortion clinics and abortion providers, banning all partial birth abortions and banning abortions after 20 weeks. Currently proposed gun restrictions include: Waiting Period to Purchase a Firearm, raising the age to purchase a firearm, licensing and registration of firearms, banning all assault weapons and banning any person who is deemed mentally ill from purchasing a firearm.
Every single restriction we have tried to place on abortions has been met with lawsuit after lawsuit. The restrictions are usually blocked by Federal Courts and often by the US Supreme Court. I would imagine any restrictions on firearms will be met with the same unending legal challenges. This is simply because restricting a constitutional right is a very high bar.
But as we in the Pro-Life movement have found out, the law will only do so much. And when it comes to gun restrictions we have already seen that the law means very little. Most of our school shootings have happened in “Gun Free Zones”, criminals who commit crimes with a firearm are obviously not following the law, convicted felons often lose their gun rights but that doesn’t prevent them from possessing a firearm.

The law acts as a guide for a culture but it is not the culture itself. That is why we keep striving to build a Culture of Life. The goal of course is that no matter what the law on the books says, abortion will be something that is rejected as a solution to an unplanned, unwanted or difficult pregnancy. Changing a culture requires changing hearts and minds. Restrictions can be helpful in that they serve as walls that we have to climb over to get what we want. Maybe in trying to scale the wall we will come to our senses and make a better choice. But they will only take us so far.
We have to admit as a society that abortion and gun violence are related. Abortion coarsens our culture’s view of human life. The current debate over banning selective abortions based on the potential a child has Down’s Syndrome hardens the belief that some lives are not worth living, some categories of people are disposable. So why not the same for the kids who bullied me in school or the teachers who gave me a hard time? You can see how easily distorted our thinking can become.

But since both Planned Parenthood and the NRA do their best to hold the line on any restrictions maybe a compromise is in order? Abortion control and Gun control? I certainly would support limits on firearms if we can get limits on abortion. But I am sure the arguments would come swift and direct: No, it’s a women’s right to have an abortion or No, it’s a citizen’s right to possess a firearm. Bingo we are right back to the status quo.
Maybe we should take another approach such as affirming in our communities, schools, and homes the principle of the sanctity of human life.

Love,
Fr. John B.

Came To Believe

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

And I came to believe in a power much higher than I
I came to believe that I needed help to get by
In childlike faith I gave in and gave him a try
And I came to believe in a power much higher than I

“Came to Believe” by Johnny Cash

Welcome to all our members, part-time members, sometimes members, associate members, family members of members, not-so-sure-you’re-a-member members, Spring Training visitors and anyone who just wandered in on this Easter Sunday to see what Catholics do on an Easter Sunday.

Last night at the Easter Vigil we welcomed, through the sacraments of initiation (Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist) almost two dozen new members. They each have completed a long process of discernment and by many different paths and circumstances, God has lead them to the Catholic faith. But why be Catholic?

The simplest answer is because they each came to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior of the world. The proof of that is His death and resurrection. Believing that means Jesus is their ultimate concern, their center of gravity, the meaning in their lives. That being so, believers are willing to organize their lives around the teachings of Jesus Christ as they have been expressed in the Gospels and in the teachings of his Church. This is what they believe.

They have also come to believe that Jesus Christ established the Church to be his continuing presence in the world and as such a force for good in this world. They are now full members of the Church and are commissioned to carry out its mission in the world. This is why they believe. At some point in their lives they each encountered the person of Jesus and His Church and sought to make a decision. Their entrance into the Church confirms their decision.

From the time of his conception in the womb of Mary until now, Jesus of Nazareth causes every person who encounters him to choose to be for him or against him. The shepherds and the magi bowed to worship him, Herod sought to destroy him, the apostles followed him, and his own people crucified him. There is no neutrality when it comes to Jesus. It is why his Church is at times the cause of controversy, the object of people’s anger as well as the source of much consolation and hope. The Church stands with the peoples of every time and place who must face the question posed by Jesus: “Who do you say that I am?” The Church then evokes in the soul a crisis that until resolved leaves us without peace.

Every person must therefore work out his or her relationship with the church. If you are like our newest members once were: questioning who is this Jesus and what about this Church, what’s needed now from you is a willingness to enter into a conversation with your soul with as little defensiveness as possible. This means a willingness to drop all biases, preconceived conclusions, past hurts or struggles and open yourself to the presence of God. In doing so God will come close to you and provide you the illumination to see what questions you really need to ask, what holds you back and what will move you forward.

Or maybe you are a baptized Catholic but just no longer or rarely practice the faith and God is still tugging on your heart. I realize that sometimes we see the Church as a parent we want to get as far away from as possible but we realize sooner or later that wherever we go, no matter how far we roam, we can never finally leave it. It remains with us because it is part of us.

If you are questioning, confused, uncertain or just want more information we invite you to any of our Inquiry Sessions. You can throw your best questions at us! All we ask is that you give us a fair chance. While the old saying is true: we ain’t what we ought to be, we ain’t what we want to be, we ain’t even what you think we should be, but thank God we ain’t what we used to be… we think you’ll like what you find.

Nothing worked out when I handled it all on my own
And each time I failed it made me feel twice as alone
Then I cried, “Lord there must be a sure and easier way
For it just cannot be that a man should lose hope every day.

Love, Fr. John B.

P.S. For information on our Inquiry Sessions or the Initiation Process (RCIA) contact Sr. Maria Jose at the Parish Office or by email: spdmariajose@olmctempe.com

Choose Wisely

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

In an episode of The Twilight Zone, entitled “A Nice Place to Visit,” Rod Serling narrates the following story:

 

After robbing a pawnshop, Henry, aka, “Rocky” Valentine is shot by a police officer as he flees. He wakes up to find himself seemingly unharmed. A genial old man greets him. He explains that he has been instructed to guide Rocky and give him whatever he desires. The two travel to a luxurious apartment. Everything is free. Rocky concludes that he’s dead and believes he’s in Heaven and the gentlemen is his guardian angel.

Rocky visits a casino, winning every bet he makes as beautiful girls gather around him. But no one except Rocky and his “angel” is real. By and by, Rocky becomes thoroughly bored with having his every earthly desire instantly satisfied. No friends, no generosity, no love. Just absolute instant gratification. He calls the gentleman and tells him he is tired of Heaven and wants to go to “the other place” to join his friends. The gentleman’s response is the grand finale:

“Heaven? Whatever gave you the idea you were in Heaven, Mr. Valentine? This is the other place!”

During Lent, Hell should give us some pause. Or at least rethink it.  Why not think of Heaven and Hell as places we choose according to the respective merits of each?  Think of all the choices we have in this life, then think of living with those choices for eternity. Lent is the time to chose: to choose Heaven or Hell. To choose life or death. As Catholics we choose from which tree we will eat. Will we consume the poisonous fruit of the tree of Adam and Eve or will we choose the fruit of the tree on which Jesus was nailed?

Pope emeritus Benedict said:

“The Eucharist is the presence of the cross among us, the ever-present tree of life, inviting us to take the fruit of true life. When we receive the Eucharist, it means we receive the

crucified Lord and accept the parameters of his life, his obedience, as the standard of our creatureliness. When we receive the Eucharist, we are choosing the obedience of Christ over the disobedience of Adam and Eve. When we partake of the Eucharist we are strengthened to resist the temptation to not be who we are called to be.”

Lent helps us to free ourselves from our refusals and our doubt concerning God’s covenant, from our rejection of our limitations and from the lie of our autonomy. May our Lenten practices direct us to the tree of life which is our standard and our hope.

Lent helps us to free ourselves from our refusals and our doubt concerning God’s covenant, from our rejection of our limitations and from the lie of our autonomy. May our Lenten practices direct us to the tree of life which is our standard and our hope.

As we finish this final week of Lent and prepare to walk with Jesus the road to the Cross, we should bear in mind that all of our preparation strengthens us to stand with Jesus during His Passion. As Lent 2018 comes to its conclusion we do well now to remember how we began: marked with Ashes, begging forgiveness having recognized our faults so that the Kingdom of God within us could shine forth from us. Pope emeritus Benedict put it this way in one of his Ash Wednesday homilies:

“It {the Ashes} is essentially an act of humility that means: I recognize myself for what I am, a frail creature, made from earth and destined to return to earth, yet also made in the image of God and destined for him. I am dust, yes, but also beloved, shaped by his love, animated by his vital breath, able to recognize his voice and respond to him. I am free and therefore capable of disobeying him, of giving in to the temptation of pride and self-sufficiency.”

 

Love, Fr. John B.

Free And Fair? Or Just Free?

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Trade, tariffs and tirades. International trade is definitely not my forte, nor do I pay much attention to it. But my curiosity peaked when, after the President declared he would impose tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, heads started popping off, editorial writers with hair on fire declared the apocalypse. The reaction was sure and swift. According to some there is no greater sin that a president can commit than imposing tariffs. But why?

Here’s my take on it, though I am sure it is overly simplistic. There are those who support free trade and among them are most Corporations, Wall Street Investors and almost all elected Republicans. Then there are those who support free and fair trade and among them are obviously the President and the Steel and Aluminum Industry, Labor Unions and many elected democrats. Now the Free Trade group is pretty vehement that trade cannot be fair. Therefore, when a country imposes tariffs on US goods any retaliation in kind is unacceptable. However, they never explain why we should accept being treated unfairly.  The point they make again and again is that by reacting in kind, as the President has done, the cost of US goods will rise and the economy will be irreparably harmed. So, the soda and beer can will cost more, cars, houses as will anything even tangentially related to steel or aluminum. In other words, the US consumer will pay more. Something apparently, that Americans detest more than an internet outage.

Those on the Free and Fair Trade side argue, that, well, fair is fair. If a country imposes tariffs on the importation of US good or subsidizes various industries they are engaged in unfair trade practices. They also claim that tariffs will help US industries and workers by creating a more even playing field. So, what if we pay more for goods? The Free and Fair Trade side points out that the importation of low cost steel and aluminum decimated the US Steel Mills. The Free Trade side points out that this is just economic Darwinism. Besides, they say, that purchasing low cost goods from another country still helps the economy in that country (trickle down economics).

Now here is the crux of the matter, which has moral implications. Our economy is consumer based. Therefore, its flourishing depends on the increased allocation of goods. The more we buy the better things are economically. And the ability to buy more goods greatly depends on low cost goods. And low-cost goods depend on low cost labor. This is why when you look at where a low cost product comes from it tends to be countries that pay their workers very low wages.

Yet, here in the US we rail against the idea of low wages. Consider the push to raise the minimum wage to $15/hour. We even passed a Voter Proposition in Arizona last year which incrementally raises the minimum wage. The higher the wage and benefits the higher will be the cost of the goods or services we purchase. Here is the moral consideration: why are we okay with purchasing low cost foreign imported goods knowing that the workers who made them are being paid a wage they can barely subsist on? Yet at the same time, we would not be okay with US workers being paid the same. It sounds like economic hypocrisy.

The fact of low cost goods and low-cost labor is really the ugly underside of a consumer economy. This is an issue that Pope Francis rails against frequently. While he is not proposing replacing capitalism with socialism, he is asking us to consider the effects of our economic behavior on laborers in much less economically developed countries.

The imposition of tariffs is clearly a hot button issue and my Economics 101 understanding hardly does it justice. But we can all take time during Lent to consider what economic choices we make and what moral implications they have both here and abroad. Being a good steward of your treasure means a lot more than knowing when to swipe and not swipe!

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

Pistol Packin’ Principals?

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

There finally seems to be a lot of willingness to come up with strategies to prevent future mass shootings at our schools. But the fact that we even have to discuss the issue at all shows how far our society has come apart at the seams. How did things change from the days of leaving your car unlocked and windows down to having to install alarm systems to prevent theft? Maybe I am just being sentimental and nostalgic but the not too distant past seemed a lot safer and saner.

One of the proposals being put forward to stop a shooter is to arm teachers or school administrators. While I see the logic in that and am not completely opposed to it, it certainly is not the first lever I want to pull. When you really look at it, considering the number of schools in our country and the number of school days each year, these horrifying shootings are rare events, though one is too many, for sure. So in effect, we would be preparing teachers to take action for something that is unlikely to occur. But we will still have to make sure teachers are regularly trained and updated without letting our guard down. Someone with a firearm that does not know how to use it or properly secure it, can be a danger as well. It is way too easy to let our guard down once we start to feel secure.

In a similar way, we conduct regular fire drills in our schools despite the fact that no major fires have occurred in recent memory in a school. But fire drills also teach children how to act in an orderly way in a dangerous situation, to follow directions and not panic. We have also reduced the likelihood of fires in schools by eliminating risks and dangerous practices, better building codes and regular fire safety inspections. While arming teachers may reduce the likelihood of a school shooting it does not address the causes of why someone would shoot up a school in the first place. Just as we try to eliminate the likely causes of fires we should look to eliminate the likely causes of students turning into killers.

Over the years our teachers have had to become social workers, especially as families’ break-up; we have had to train teachers to spot signs of child neglect and abuse and how to report that; more recently teachers have become behavior interventionists as out of control behaviors become more common in the classrooms. Do we now add to the list: armed security personnel? This may be news for people in 2018 but teachers are in the classroom to teach! Their primary purpose is to educate young minds and form character in young people. Each time we add another task we subtract from their primary purpose. We simply make it harder for teachers to teach. Arming school personnel should be at best a short-term measure until we can agree on more effective strategies.

The idea behind arming teachers is to give them the ability to take immediate and effective action in the face of danger. We need to extend that same principle to law enforcement and mental health counselors, parents, teachers, clergy and other concerned persons so that they can take immediate action when a person is identified as potentially violent. Specifically, we need to loosen up the mental health laws so that a potential psychotic killer can be taken off the streets and placed in a supervised therapeutic environment. Right now, it can be almost impossible to place someone for more than a few days in an inpatient treatment setting.

It is obvious now that someone like the Parkland shooter should not have been able to purchase a firearm. Putting in place a true universal background check system in which the states must participate rather than just the Federal government is key to keeping firearms out of the wrong hands. This should also include, just as we have mandatory reporters for child and elderly abuse and neglect, certain categories of people and professions should be mandated to report to NCIS real or suspected violent prone individuals based on an agreed protocol. Until a thorough assessment is done, just as is done with child abuse, a person should be temporarily prevented from obtaining/possessing a firearm. Innocent people can get caught up in this so there must also be procedures in place to adjudicate disputes quickly.

Still let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the proper procedures will change things once for all. People intent on violence will often go undetected and even if they are and they can’t get their hands on guns they can easily make bombs from fertilizer and chemicals purchased at the local Hardware Store as did the Oklahoma City bomber. No, what is needed is a complete change to our culture that exalts violence and death and undermines authority at every turn. There is lots of wisdom in the Church’s call to Respect Life.

 

Love,

Fr. John B.