Young Killers

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

After yet another mass murder, we find ourselves grappling to find answers to why this happens and how to prevent it. So far, we have employed a strategy that insulates us from the effects of a would be terrorist, assassin or mass murderer. After 9/11 we came up with the TSA to screen out the less than one percent of travelers bent on using a plane as a weapon. In our schools we have trained staff and students in disaster drills and now how to respond to an active shooter situation. We have also mandated seat belts and airbags in vehicles to protect against among other dangers, drunk drivers. But none of these strategies, while they may reduce harm, get to the heart of the problem.

For instance, the problem with drunk drivers is alcohol, or people drinking to intoxication and then driving. So why not just get rid of alcohol? No alcohol, no more intoxicated drivers, no more drunk driving fatalities. But you might say that too many people use alcohol responsibility and it is an ingrained part of our culture and we have plenty of laws restricting access to alcohol and penalties for abuse. Besides we tried it in the 20th century and it didn’t work as promised. The same argument can be made about guns: too many people use them responsibly and they are part of our American culture. Besides if we banned them, just like the bootleggers during Prohibition, people will find a way around any ban.

So, in the case of school shooters, let’s look at the actual shooters. In about 90% of the shootings the individuals were troubled to the point of having been recognized as mentally ill. These individuals were either taking psycho-active medications or had stop taking them (withdrawal can cause serious erratic, violent behaviors as well). These medications may well be the reason someone goes from thinking about and even planning an assault to having lost all self-control to actually take action. This may be a rare side effect from powerful drugs that disrupt brain chemistry, but when they happen the results as we have seen are deadly.

So here is a plan to weed out any potential drug induced violent behavior. (Remember the side effects listed on many of these psychiatric drugs include: suicidal ideation, suicide, violent behavior etc.). First any person prescribed these drugs must have an accountability partner. That means a third person is educated in all the possible side effects of these chemicals and reports any side effects, changes in behavior etc. to the prescribing physician.

Secondly, the person prescribed the drugs has to be temporarily banned from purchasing a firearm until it is demonstrated that the drugs are working safely, maybe six months to one year. If the person owns firearms they have to surrender them to a third party before being prescribed the drugs and can have them returned after treatment is completed. Or if they live with someone who possesses firearms that person has to store them in a secure location unknown to the person.

Since we know that the common denominator in 90% of the school shootings is in some form of recognized, if not diagnosed mental problems, along with different types of psycho-active medications, this would be a good beginning strategy to prevent a potential mass murderer from taking action. It certainly is not the only strategy that needs to be tried.

As someone who runs a school, I have a vested interested in preventing any more school shootings. But proposing politically unfeasible solutions or tinkering at the edges has not solved the problem. But we can come up with protocols that provide a troubled young person with the highest level of care, scrutiny and long-term care and treatments other than medication. Nothing is fool proof. But if we are going to take more actions to insulate us from the dangers we can also take actions that deal directly with the individual who potentially can cause harm.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

 

PS Two of our physicians are working on a really ingenious new tool to help diagnose potential violence in young people in our schools as well as effective interventions.  Pray for their enlightenment.

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Collusion

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Our beleaguered leader is really taking it on the chin these days. His election was a surprise to many, and many long for the days of his predecessor. The bureaucracy actively works against him and seems to dog him at every step. He is accused of colluding with the worst kind of dictator and even compromising with a foreign power. In fact, he has been accused of being a dictator himself. Grant it, some of the things he says leave people scratching their heads and his administration running to explain what he said. Every major news outlet from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal has recently editorialized against him and questioned his decisions. Does he deserve to be judged so harshly? I think not, which puts me in the minority position.

 

I am referring to Pope Francis, of course. The recent decision by Pope Francis to accept seven Chinese bishops that were appointed by the Communist government of China has drawn plenty of criticism. The worst of these criticisms is that he has sold out Chinese Catholics that have remained faithful to the Vatican. Even worse, he is cozying up to a dictator and compromising the freedom of the Church. One of the points of contention between the Vatican and the Chinese government is the appointment of Bishops. The Chinese government has insisted that it alone can appoint who becomes a Catholic Bishop. As a result, there has been a split in the Church between the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (only priests and bishops part of the Association are recognized by the Chinese government) and the Catholics that are loyal to the Vatican. For years now, the Vatican has been working to resolve this problem, and I think the recent move by Pope Francis was the right move.

 

If you remember when Pope Benedict XVI became the Roman Pontiff, he issued a long letter to the Chinese Catholics expressing his solidarity with them and promising to work to normalize the status of the Church in China. One of the things he wrote in that letter that was mostly unnoticed (but not by the Chinese officials) was to rescind the permission that had been given to Chinese bishops that allowed them to ordain a seminarian who had not gone through seminary formation, and that a bishop could ordain a priest a bishop without the usual two additional bishops normally needed for the consecration of a new bishop. The reason he rescinded this permission was to help in the negotiation with the Chinese government. He also realized that this situation was now causing more division than benefit to the Church in China.

 

One of the problems has been that some of the older bishops ordained with Vatican permission have refused to step down. Imagine if Bishop Olmsted, upon reaching mandatory retirement at 75, refuses to step down while a new Bishop, agreed upon by the Vatican and the U.S. government, is appointed for the Diocese. Imagine, too, that Bishop Olmstead insists that he is still the bishop, and the new Bishop is an imposter. You can imagine the division it would cause. This situation has been going on for years and has been a barrier to any rapprochement between the Vatican and China. The Vatican finally was able to reach an agreement in the case of seven bishops that both the Vatican and the Chinese government could agree on.

 

This caused a lot of upset especially from Cardinal Zen, the retired Bishop of Hong Kong. Cardinal Zen is no doubt a holy man who I am sure will one day be canonized a saint. But in this case, he got it wrong. The Cardinal lived through the torturous years of the Cultural Revolution and suffered greatly for his loyalty to the Vatican. Things have changed since then and the Chinese are slightly more open to working with the outside world than before. So Pope Francis took this opportunity to try to create something approaching normalcy for the Church in China.

 

The challenge for Pope Francis and the Vatican is that the Church has to find a way to exist under a Communist regime.  What we would consider acceptable is far from possible in China. The Vatican took this little crack in the door to try to move things forward. They are fully aware that the Communists are not trustworthy and are experts at manipulation and control. But that should not be a reason to refuse all cooperation.

 

A lot of ink has been spilled criticizing Pope Francis on this issue. But the situation in China is very complex, and there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than we know about. Therefore, any solution will be less than ideal and fraught with all sorts of possible traps. This move by the Pope may spur more changes in the Church in China, or it may go nowhere. But it is worth a try. Hopefully, this is the beginning of something good in China. Even a small opening can allow the Holy Spirit to move in China in powerful ways. Let’s pray that happens soon.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

No Shame

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

The great question to us is whether we are still capable of being truly shocked or whether it is to remain so that we see thousands of things and know that they should not be, and must not be, and that we get hardened to them. How many things have we become used to in the course of the years, of the weeks and months, so that we stand unshocked, unstirred, inwardly unmoved.

 

This quote comes from Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J., a German priest who was part of the Resistance to the Nazis and was convicted of treason and hanged by the Nazi’s in 1945. Maybe it’s because of the extreme horrors of the Camps that we too easily become unshocked by what we see today. The constant bombardment of the reality of the depth of human depravity like the Concentration Camps, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, the Gulags of the USSR, the Rwandan Genocide and so many other examples too often desensitize us so that our outrage is muted, and we become impotent, too overwhelmed to take action or raise our voice.

So here are two things that should shock us, one small and one very large. Recently, I saw a Girl Scout troop (not ours) selling cookies in front of a Marijuana Dispensary in Tempe. What kind of message does that send to 8 and 10 yr. old girls? So the girls come away thinking that the Cheech and Chong munchies are just really fun and harmless. It’s “just pot” after all, right? No, it is not a joke as it is an intoxicating substance with harmful side effects. They also were taught good old capitalistic greed: make a profit no matter how shady, tawdry or unethical your business practices might be. I would bet that these same adults who took the girls there also rail against corporate greed and exploitation (but, of course, not for their Girl Scout Corporation profits). Many of us fought hard to make sure the pot dispensaries were located far from schools, childcare centers, and playgrounds precisely so children would not be exposed to them.

Now for the much larger shock. Next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Lent, we will welcome Sr. Betty Banja. She comes from the country of South Sudan. Our Bishop recruited her and two other sisters to come to our Diocese to help minister to the many refugees settled here from parts of Africa and the Middle East. Sister Betty speaks 5 languages including Arabic. She needed all those languages as she spent the last 20 years ministering in the South Sudan and Sudan, Chad, Libya and other African countries where the Christian population was a small, very persecuted minority.

Sister Betty gave me a taste of what day to day life was like for Christians in those parts. To start with, for Christians to be even able to exist in the Sudan, one of her Sisters from her religious community, had to marry the King, becoming his tenth wife. As a result, the King allowed Christians to live in his Muslim nation. A modern day version of Queen Esther for sure.

Her stories tell a tale of daily struggle and persecution in the most horrifying terms possible. I admit I was not prepared for what she told me and the photographs she showed me. After 30 years of priesthood, you have pretty much seen it all, or so I thought. It is really hard to be unshocked by the witness Sister Betty gives.

Recently, one of her catechists was killed, beheaded to be exact. He was killed by a Muslim. But when the police came, they had to make up a story and say that the man was killed by another Christian. Otherwise, the police would start killing more Christians assuming they would try and seek revenge on Muslims. It is the only way to survive.

Now how do you swallow that kind of injustice? More than that – how do you get your people to not react in revenge and hatred? Beyond that, she showed me several pictures of other Christians who were crucified. Again, how do people hold on to faith? How is it they don’t say, “Give it up; it is not worth it.”  The horror stories got even worse. But I think you get the picture.

The great lesson that we can take from her experiences is that we, too, must learn to keep faith alive. We don’t face the horrors of religious persecution or physical torture or violence, but we do face a culture that marginalizes faith to the point of irrelevance. We also suffer from our affluence so much so that we wonder why we even need God. I hope Sister Betty can wake us up to the precious gift of faith we have and that we stop taking it for granted.

More than ever, we need Lent. Let the barrenness of Lent remind you of your need for God and offer your prayers, fasting, and sacrifices for our Christian brothers and sisters who live daily with the threat of death simply because they love Jesus. May this Lent be shocking and move you inwardly and stir up your passion for Christ.

 

Love, Fr. John B.

 

P.S.  The push to legalize recreational use marijuana is on again in AZ. So stay tuned for more info on the efforts to stop it and how you can help.

Friday Fone Fast

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

You are probably familiar with the infamous text messages of the two FBI employees that were found, lost, and found again. Reportedly, there were 50,000 messages between November and June. Wow, that’s a lot of texting even for two people having an intramural extra-marital affair. That works out to about 25,000 texts sent and 25,000 responses. That would be, without counting sleep hours, one text and response about every eight or nine minutes, every day for five months.

Maybe this is an extreme case, but it does give us all reason to evaluate our use of technology, especially our use of smart phones. More and more data is coming to light about the harmful effects of the overuse of these devices. Neurologically, repeated use over time rewires brain synapses, much like any addictive behavior would do. Socially, repeated use over time diminishes our capacity for interpersonal communication and intimate relationships. The case above really sounds like they were having an affair with their phones. The problems caused by overuse are especially acute for young people, teens in particular. Young brains are very malleable and can easily be reshaped by compulsive behavior. Young people need a lot of social interaction so they can learn to navigate the world of interpersonal relationships with all its ups and downs and disappointments and joys. Spending hours upon hours on a phone or computer game retards their ability to grow to emotional and psychological maturity.

Therefore, there are two suggestions I want to make. The first is for all the old timers, myself included, who grew up with only one phone at home, a rotary phone at that. It really wasn’t all that long ago. Share your memories with the younger generation. Tell them what it was like growing up in a world with one phone that you could not carry around with you. Let them know that there was such thing as a party line, not to set up parties, but to share a phone line with the person living next door. A party line meant that sometimes you had to wait to place a call. Also remind them that to make a long distance call, you had to dial 0 and ask the operator to place the call and then wait until the operator called you back when the call had been placed. But here is the part that will blow their minds: when you were not at home and the phone rang, nothing happened. It just rang. There were no messages to retrieve when you got home; in fact, you didn’t even know you received a call. And, most importantly, you were able to live your life in peace and happiness even though you missed a call from someone. The point is to let the younger generation understand that you can actually live quite well without 24hour access to a phone, the internet, or text messages.

The second suggestion is that as we come into the season of Lent, consider fasting from your smart phone. We’ll call it Friday Fone Fast. There are all sorts of possible ways to do this. You could completely abstain from using your phone for one day a week. Or you could just use your phone on Fridays to make/receive phone calls – no texts, no internet usage. You could also just restrict phone usage to work-related matters. It might be a good idea to let your friends and family know so that when you don’t immediately respond to a text message, they don’t send out the National Guard looking for you. You could do the same with other technology, emails, computer games, etc. I know it sounds really difficult, but it is possible to disconnect for just one day. It was done on a regular basis in the not too distant past.

If you do participate in the Friday Fone Fast, you will have extra time on your hands. So use it well. Spend time in quiet prayer; engage in some spiritual reading using a physically printed book in your hands. Or you can even spend time speaking face-to-face with another human being.

If you can’t forsake your phone or find yourself struggling to do it, it is probably a sign that you have already rewired your brain so expect withdrawal symptoms. But they pass quickly, and you will experience more inner peace and less turmoil in your life.

Lent starts February 14. This is a good time to demonstrate some love for yourself by fasting from the cold, harsh world of technology and engage in a more human lifestyle. Have a real love relationship with yourself, your spouse, your family and friends – and not your phone.

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

The Needs Of The 21st Century

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Well, lo and behold, you do learn something new under the sun. The President, apparently, now and then talks like a real estate developer on a construction site in Queens or Brooklyn. Who would have ever guessed? According to some, though he denies saying it, the President referred to some countries as feces pits. Unfortunate choice of words. Lots of outrage ensued. But if you flip it around and it is not the case that some countries are in bad shape, then it should be no problem to have people return to those countries who are here on a temporary visa status. Right? After all, we would be sending them back to economically vibrant, flourishing democracies, or would we? The truth is that some countries are in really bad shape, and we may be partly to blame. Take for instance Haiti. Haiti is a very small country (actually only half an island), and over the years they have received billions upon billions of dollars in financial assistance. For all that money, Haiti should be Hong Kong on the Caribbean or Monte Carlo or even Singapore. But that is not the case, and it’s people continue to live in very difficult circumstances. So maybe throwing money at the problem is not always the best solution.

Using immigration as some sort of safety valve to relieve poverty in third world countries is also an ineffective strategy. To make it effective, we would have to import a huge amount of the population from a poor country to even make a dent. The World Bank estimates that there are over 3 billion people in the world who make less than $2 dollars a day. How many of them do we take in to make a difference? There are also 5.6 billion people who make less than the average income of people living in Mexico. So do we admit them ahead of Mexicans? In fact, by allowing immigration from these poorer and underdeveloped countries, we may actually be doing them more harm than good.

When the topic of immigration comes up, we are quick to ask how immigration will benefit our country.  But maybe we should flip it around and ask how does immigration help the migrant country? Too often, we skim the cream off the top of a society. The people who are most likely to immigrate are usually the people with the most drive, the most snap, the most ingenuity, the most educated. Those who decide to make the long journey through immigration are willing to leave behind their former lives, their families, their culture, and often their language. They come ready to start at the bottom rung and work their way up the ladder of success. They tend to be willing to work long hours at remedial jobs for low pay. They are willing to sacrifice a lot to better their lives, their future, and their family. Think of how many immigrant success stories you know, and these facts prove themselves out.

These are the very people, who if they stayed in their homelands, would be the ones who could make a difference and change their society if given the opportunity. Maybe we should think about how we could help them do that with the goal of turning their countries from third to first world status.

The social teaching of the Church has a lot to say on this matter – particularly the teachings of the various Popes in the 20th century: Paul VI’s Populurom progressio, John Paul II’s Sollicitudo rei socialis, and Benedict XVI’s Caritas in veritate. What should the integral development of peoples look like? How does an economy serve the needs of its people? What is the proper role of the international community in assisting struggling nations? All these are important questions when discussing issues like immigration.

The immigration needs of the U.S. are vastly different in the 21st century than they were at the beginning of the 20thcentury. So who should we be admitting? Who should benefit from our charity? Should we be enticing the best and the brightest to abandon their homelands? How do we really help the suffering people of the world to better their lot in life? Would it be better to focus our efforts on where they live than to bring them to the US?

 

Fr. John B.

Catechism

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

This past October was the 25th Anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, commissioned by Pope St. John Paul II and the Bishops at the 1985 Synod. At the time, few people thought they would live to see its completion, but on October 11, 1992, it was officially promulgated by Pope John Paul II.

Many were expecting a Q & A format, much like the Baltimore Catechism. Instead the Catechism was modeled on the Catechism of the Council of Trent. The Catechism’s four parts reflect the four pillars of Christian initiation: the “Profession of Faith” (the Creed); the “Celebration of the Christian Mystery” (the Sacraments); “Life in Christ” (Christian Morality); and “Christian Prayer.”

Each of these four parts is then subdivided. Part One begins with a reflection on divine revelation and our response to it before examining the twelve articles of the Apostles’ Creed, the baptismal creed of the ancient Roman Church. Part Two is structured around the seven sacraments. Part Three begins with the Beatitudes and our vocation to blessedness, or happiness, which sets the framework for the exposition of the Ten Commandments. Part Four begins with a meditation on Jesus and the Samaritan woman, explaining the Lord’s “thirst” for souls as the beginning of prayer, before illustrating Christian prayer through the seven petitions of the Lord’s Prayer.

Parts One and Two of the Catechism illuminate God’s action in seeking us out. The Catechism’s very first section speaks of the divine invitation to communion, and the sacraments are described at the beginning of Part Two as the extension of Christ’s earthly life in us. Parts Three and Four then outline our response to God’s action through the moral life and prayer. Part Four speaks forcefully of “the battle of prayer,” the fight “against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God.”

The Catechism subsequently has been adapted for different audiences. The U.S. Bishops have issued a version for adults and more recently the YouCat version for young people. All in all, the Catechism has been instrumental in our times in clearing up confusion about Church teaching and providing a solid foundation for our catechetical programs for our Schools, Religious Education Programs, RCIA and Seminary formation.

Pope Francis on the anniversary said this: “For this reason, our Catechism unfolds in the light of love, as an experience of knowledge, trust, and abandonment to the mystery. In explaining its structure, the Catechism of the Catholic Church borrows a phrase from the Roman Catechism and proposes it as the key to its reading and application: “The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching must be directed to the love that never ends. Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at love” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, No.25).”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church provides a profound exposition of Christian belief and Church teaching. Parts of that teaching are challenging and difficult, no doubt. But as Pope Francis rightly points out, when we divorce Christian doctrine from love, namely the love of Jesus Christ, it often becomes unintelligible.

 

I hope that every one of you has a Catechism in their home and that you take time to read it and reflect on its words. Pope St. John Paul II left us a great legacy and perhaps none better that the Catechism. On this Silver Jubilee, take time to treasure that gift.

 

Love,

Fr. John B.

International Norms?

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

One of the arguments that’s made in favor of abolishing the use of capital punishment in the US is that we as a country are not in sync with international norms. The larger international consensus has rejected the use of execution which means the US is in company with those countries that still use it: China, Iran, Singapore, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and a few other despotic regimes.

However, for some reason, this logic is not extended to abortion. International norms limit abortion to the first 20weeks of gestation. At twenty weeks, a fetus is considered viable outside the womb. But the US allows elective abortions up to the moment of birth, not in line with the international consensus. This puts the US in company with China, North Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, Canada. Why doesn’t the US follow the international consensus and join the developed world in rejecting abortion past twenty weeks?

Another argument often used in the anti-capital punishment debate, is that executions in general and especially those that take longer than anticipated inflict intense pain and therefore amount to cruel and unusual punishment. But the same people who make that argument also argued against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. That law would have restricted abortion to no more than 22 weeks as scientific evidence demonstrates that a child in the womb, recoils from the abortionist instruments. Somehow, they argue, that tearing apart a child in the womb, limb by limb doesn’t constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

All this is to say that the supporters of abortion reject logic and reason in favor of pure ideology. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to argue against abortion. Sooner or later, the facts will prevail. Just as China found out that their one child policy wildly distorted the population distribution of men and women, the pro-abortion supporters will eventually have to face facts.

So, we will just keep making the case for Life. The bad news is that we have been at it for 45 years now. But the good news is that we are still at it 45 years later! We have not given up, given in or been silenced.

This month we will observe the 45th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision to allow abortion on demand. All over the country, especially in Washington D.C., pro-lifers will march, witness and demand justice for the unborn.

Our local March will occur on Saturday, January 20. The March begins at 11:30 AM at Cesar Chavez Memorial Plaza (2nd Ave. & Washington). Rally at Wesley Bolin Memorial Park from 12:30-2:00 PM. Visit http://www.azliferally.org for additional details.

We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until all the elderly who have run life’s course are protected against despair and abandonment, protected by the rule of law and the bonds of love. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, until every young woman is given the help she needs to recognize the problem of pregnancy as the gift of life. We shall not weary, we shall not rest, as we stand guard at the entrance gates and the exit gates of life, and at every step along way of life, bearing witness in word and deed to the dignity of the human person – of every human person. (Fr. Richard John Neuhaus in 2008)

Thanks to all of you for not growing weary and not resting in this most important of all civil rights battles.

Love, Fr. John B.

PS Attached to this Bulletin is the envelope for our annual Sanctity of Life Collection. We’ve moved it from October to January. Your support enables our Parish and our Diocese to continue to promote the Sanctity of all Human Life.