A 4th of July Regression

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

“Confirm thy soul in self-control” these lyrics from America the Beautiful seem to very pertinent as we observe this 4th of July. As we celebrate life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and equality under the law and the long road that we have had to travel to really get there as a nation, we seem to be backsliding some. Events lately have the vomit inducing taste of the days when things like, “we don’t serve your kind here” and “know your place, boy” were all too common.

What happened to the White House Press Secretary, Sarah Sanders, when she was refused service at a Lexington, Virginia restaurant, is that it was not the color of her skin that got her disinvited but rather political affiliation. I guess Virginia isn’t for lovers anymore. Mrs. Sanders apparently forgot her place and had to be humiliatingly reminded that her kind need to sit at another lunch counter and use a different water fountain. Strange how so many of the same people who have schooled us recently on the principle that a place of public accommodation must serve all comers are now applauding this denial of service. Maybe it is a case of inconsistent application of principles or just outright hypocrisy. Normally it would be identified as invidious discrimination.

This incident, along with other vile threats, speak to the fact that the neutral places in our society are evaporating. This is one of the reasons the NFL has been embroiled in controversy. Sporting events have been neutral places, where regardless of your political affiliation or where you come from or how you speak or what you look like, everyone can come together for a time and unite around their team. Once politics began to infiltrate the sports world it quickly became a turn-off for many people. Neutral public spaces, places of public accommodation are needed so that we focus on what unites us and where diverse people can share something in common such as a sports game, good meal, comedy or theatrical show and now frighteningly they are becoming sources of division that people avoid.

Things have gotten dramatically uglier in the last week. Those who oppose the President have become more open in their advocacy of violence – and in actions that are precursors to violence. Peter Fonda’s ugly rant, urging people to kidnap Barron Trump and put him in a cage with pedophiles, that they rape and murder Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen…Occupy Wall Street putting out a brochure on how to murder ICE agents, then putting their names and addresses online – and urging people to kidnap their kids…the chasing of Nielsen from a restaurant by an angry mob, none of these are good signs nor are they the way that we normally handle political and policy disagreements in the US. While these tactics maybe whipping up their base it doesn’t seem to be winning to many converts to their cause.

In all the years of protesting abortion only a handful of people called for and carried out acts of violence. Whenever that did happen the entire Pro-Life community and beyond condemned it immediately. Unfortunately, we are not hearing that kind of condemnation at this moment from the progressive left leadership. In fact, the silence can be taken as a way of sending the signal that violence and hateful rhetoric are acceptable.

Right now, we are seeing the use of violent, hateful rhetoric amplified many times too loudly by social media and the 24-hour news cycle. At any point this can spill over into actual violence and mob action. It is a difficult moment. But despite the darkness that surrounds us, we are still expected to be the light of the world. American Catholics have a big role to play yet in our society. God chose us to live in these times and therefore there is a part for us to play. Whether it is the lead role, supporting cast or behind the scenes stage hand, know your lines and your parts. Don’t expect a standing ovation, you might be booed off the stage, given the hook, but you will have played your role with resolve.

Our Sunday Mass readings recently had St. Paul remind us that we walk by faith. As such, at times we can only see a few feet in front of us but still we walk with the certain knowledge that God has a plan for our renewal and not our destruction. As we walk we should try our best to internalize the prayer of St. Francis so as to live it especially in the ugly circumstances we face.

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

So Christians, let’s make sure America continues to be the home of the brave.

Love,
Fr. John B.

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Separating Families

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

The City of Brotherly Love (Philadelphia) is showing itself to be less than loving. The City recently decided not to renew its contract with Catholic Social Services (CSS) Foster Care Program even though it rated CSS as number two in quality of services among the 27 Foster Care agencies the City contracts with. The reason for not renewing the contract with CSS, even though the City admits it has a shortage of foster families, is that CSS adheres to the Church’s teachings on marriage and the family and therefore does not place foster children with same-sex couples. The City has not received any complaints from same-sex couples about CSS and CSS policy states that it will refer same-sex couples to other Foster Care agencies.

It should be obvious that the policy of CSS Philadelphia does not cause harm to same-sex couples as they can work with dozens of other Foster Care agencies to receive foster children. But it clearly does harm children: more children who will have to stay in group homes since the hundreds of Catholic foster families are no longer eligible to receive them. But the other side will argue that placing children in homes where the parents do not support same-sex marriage harms the children worse. So better they languish in group homes than be exposed to Catholic teaching on marriage and the family. If orphaned and abused children have to go without homes, so be it, seems to be the attitude of City officials.

In the meantime, the Mayor and the City Council have a newfound appreciation for family life. The Mayor of Philadelphia danced in his office when the City became a “sanctuary city”. Along with that he is also decrying the current practice of separating minors from their parents pending an Adjudication hearing before an Immigration Judge. Keeping foster children from foster families while decrying keeping immigrant children from their families doesn’t seem to be in anyway consistent with supporting the overall well-being of children.

While the Mayor and City Council have stated their strong opposition to the current Border Policy separating minors from their families, the City’s Department of Human Services had no problem with separating one special needs foster child from his long-term foster family. The foster mother said in a statement: I kissed him goodbye and told him how much I loved him. But every time the social worker tried to lead Doe Foster Child #1 out of our home, he would wriggle free and come running back to hold me. Doe Foster Child #1 finally had to be carried crying from our home. I watched from the window in my house as my adult son helped carry Doe Foster Child #1 out. While doing so, my son kept assuring Doe Foster Child #1 that it would be ok, that he would like his new family, and that we would always love him.

Shortly after the boy was removed from Doe Foster Mother #1’s home, she received a call from a social worker informing her that an emergency situation had occurred at boy’s new home and that he and all of the other children living there had been removed from that new home. She was asked if she would like to have the boy back, to which she replied: “Bring my son home.” Later that same day, she was informed that the city’s Department of Human Services had denied her request because she worked with Catholic Social Services. (As the boy continued to regress and no suitable home could be found, the boy was eventually reunited with his foster family.) Once again we are witnessing children being used as pawns to serve the ideology or political proclivity of adults. This is also another example of trying to figure out in the new reality we live in with diametrically opposed views, how do we all get along. Having one side take the ball and go home is not the way to play the game and get along.

While many foster homes sit empty some of the foster parents who are being denied children because of their connection to Catholic Social Services have asked a Federal Court to end the new policy of the City. Let’s pray for the sake of the children that happens.

Love,

Fr. John B.

PS: Recently someone created a fraudulent Gmail account using my name and used it to send out requests for money or gift cards. Please know that I would not solicit money using email. You would at least first hear it from the pulpit or read it in the bulletin. I have only two email accounts: frjohn@olmctempe.com and frbonavitacola@diocesephoenix.org . If you get an email from me you think is fraudulent just call the Parish Office and report it.

A Cake and the Court…

Fr. John BonavitacolaDear Friends,

Sometimes I impress, well, even myself, humbling speaking. In the run up to the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cake case (in which the owner declined to create a cake for same-sex wedding) I predicted the decision would be 6-3, it was actually 7-2 in favor of the baker. Close enough. I also said that one of the reasons Justice Kennedy did not retire was so he could write the majority opinion in the case as he wanted to shore up religious liberty that he had torn down in the Obergefell case. As predicted the Justice did just that.

The ruling is important because it helps protect religious liberty from cultural beliefs and practices that are often diametrically opposed to it. While the ruling gives religious liberty some breathing room, or as one Justice opined in his concurring opinion: religious liberty lives to die another day, it doesn’t mean that further legal fights will not be forthcoming. It also doesn’t mean that the cultural and societal conflict will be resolved. In fact, while religious believers may have constitutional protection, they are still exposed to the voices in the public square. For example, the CEO of Twitter recently got a serious slap down for eating at Chick-fil-A. He tweeted about using an app to pay for his meal at the fast food chain. Seems innocuous enough but he forgot that the owner of Chick-fil-A holds to the man-woman definition of marriage. For that crime he had to get on bended knee to apologize.

These are things we can expect if we don’t hold to certain views about any number of subjects. Which means that while you may have legal protections, you don’t necessarily have protection from other types of harms. While the Supreme Court noted that hostility towards religious beliefs should not play a role in any government agency or ruling, as it did in the Masterpiece Cake suit, it can’t prevent hostility in the Public Square. Such is the nature of a free society that allows you to make your case, pro or con.

The US Supreme Court ruling also gives us room in the Public Square to figure out how we are to get along in this new 21st century reality. Living in a country with diametrically opposed positions is no easy thing. Capitulation doesn’t work since it sows the seeds of resentment. What works is persuasion and not heavy-handed compulsion. That has always been the task of the Christian believer: to persuade with words and deeds of love not with force or power.

So how is it that we can all just get along? I think we should start with acknowledging one principle that can help guide our choices. We need to always draw a distinction between objecting to a person and objecting to a procedure. In the Masterpiece Cake case, Jack Phillips did not object to serving all customers, regardless of status at this Bake Shop but he did object to participating at an event, in this case a same-sex wedding. Similarly, a physician, say an Ob/Gyn, shouldn’t refuse to care for a pregnant patient but can refuse to participate in an abortion procedure. If we keep the distinction in mind, then we won’t discriminate against a person but rather only the procedure or event we morally object to.

Admittedly there are many who strongly disagree with making any such distinction. Pressure continues to mount on physicians to perform medical services they morally object to and that are not life saving. The fact is that compromise means that your ideals will fall a bit short. So, if we are going to all get along in a society with differences that can span the ocean, we have to start somewhere. Hegemony on one side is not a recipe for a pluralistic society.

Love, Fr. John B.

 

50 Life Affirming Years

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Humanae Vitae, 50 years later… One of the lasting effects of “the late and not so great 1968” was a seething dislike for authority. I don’t think I go a day without hearing someone say things such as, “who are you to tell me” or “who says I can’t do such or such”. And then there is my favorite, “who is the Church to tell me what to do”!

This anti-authority position has had crippling effects on the various institutions that serve our society: government, school, corporations and religions. (Though I admit there have been positive elements such as better accountability). Hence, we began to pick and chose what church teachings we would follow or like or consider weighty. Unfortunately, this led to the out of hand rejection of the teaching of Humanae Vitae. That is more than unfortunate in that the teaching far from being the finger shaking of some old man in Rome, with a bad attitude toward human physical intimacy, is actually a challenge to us all to understand and practice the demands of authentic love. Not only that but it reminds us that our failures to love as we are designed, have some serious social especially demographic not to mention moral consequences. Adopting the attitude of the “privacy of the bedroom” cuts us off from the rest of the human family of which we are connected.

So our first challenge in order to effectively comprehend Humanae Vitae is to get rid of the notion that the only thing the encyclical did was to say no to contraception. This will enable us to see that its teaching is quite vast and encompasses not only the fertile married couple, but the unfertile, the “post-fertile” couple, the single person and the celibate all in their own position to be transformed by love. Next, we have to see the difference between authoritarian and authoritative. The first imposes its will and the latter speaks truth from a position of wisdom and experience. When trying to discern which is which ask yourself first, “Is this person/institution acting in my or others best interest?”, “Do they speak from a foundation built on reason and the range of human experience?”, “Have they earned the trust of the large society?” and “Is what they are saying keeping with their mission or area of expertise?”.

If we ask ourselves: “Is the teaching of Humane Vitae authoritative?” the answer is yes of course. The Church acts in our best interests because it is first concerned with our salvation, our ultimate ends. Secondly the Church is concerned for our happiness here and now, in that it springs from our moral side. The Church is certainly speaking from experience and an understanding of human nature. It also has consistently proposed that one of its roles is to interpret the natural law with the aid of divine revelation especially as new situations or moral questions arise. Does the Church have expertise in this area? It does in that one of its primary teaching aims is to apply the teaching of Jesus on married life (Mark 10). But to make sure this teaching took into consideration all the relevant data and modern developments Paul VI consulted with a wide body of experts including married couples.

The question then comes down to “Is the Church trying to tell us what to do?” What the Church is trying to do is to instruct us on what is good and to warn us about what is harmful both now and for our salvation. In this case Humane Vitae puts forward a coherent teaching on the nature of marriage as well as the proper use of conjugal rights and the duties of husbands and wives that follow from such rights. In looking at the moral solutions that have been proposed in modern times the encyclical gives us a reasoned basis to reject them and a lot of foresight as to what would come if we accepted them.

Once we get over our antipathy towards authority especially the tyranny of self-will and see the need for it we can give ourselves and our world a solid foundation for moral living whose by-product is happiness, here and hereafter.

Love, Fr. John B.

The Virtual Illusion

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

During a recent meeting with the priests of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Francis made this observation in relation to a question about young people:

What is the cry of young people? The cry of young people isn’t always conscious. I link it with one of the gravest problems, which is the problem of drugs. The cry is: “save us from drugs,” but not only from material drugs, but also from alienating drugs, from cultural alienation. They are in fact an easy prey for cultural alienation: the proposals made to young people are all alienating, all alienating — those that society makes to young people. Alienating of values, alienating from insertion in the society, alienating even from society: they propose a fantasy of life. It worries me that they communicate and live in the virtual world. They live like this, communicating so, they don’t have their feet on the ground . . .

On Friday I went to the closing of a course of Scholas Occurrentes with young people: they were from Colombia, from Argentina, from Mozambique, from Brazil, from Paraguay and other countries; some fifty young people who had had a course here on bullying. They were all there waiting for me. When I arrived they made a din, as young people do. I approached them to greet them and few shook my hand. The majority were with their mobile phone taking photos, photos, photos . . . selfies. I saw that that was their reality, that’s the real world, not human contact. And this is grave. They are “virtualized” young people. The world of virtual communications is a good thing, but when it becomes alienating it makes one forget to shake hands. They greet with the mobile phone – almost all do! They were happy to see me, to tell me things . . . And they expressed their authenticity thus. They greeted one thus. We must make young people “land” in the real world, touch the reality, without destroying the good things that there can be in the virtual world, because they are useful. This is important: the reality, the concreteness. Therefore, I go back to something I said earlier on another question: the works of mercy help young people a lot. To do something for others, because this makes them concrete, makes them “land.” And they enter into a social relationship.

I read those words just as news was breaking about another school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas. While there is not one single solution to the problem and we need to look at it from many angles, each of the young killers was clearly alienated from himself, his peers, his family and his God. While the use of technology is not the cause of the alienation it accelerates it and deepens it. The consistent lack of authentic human contact causes a young person to forget his common humanity, lose all empathy for others and become engulfed in a sense of worthlessness. So, gaining even twisted notoriety can appear to be a source of some level of personal worth and validation. The virtual world can easily push a young person into a life that is delusional and a reality that is an illusion.

How can we then find ways to limit our use of impersonal technology and not allow it to become a substitute for interaction with another human being. I find it odd that one of the burning issues in our culture is the use of therapy animals (as opposed to service animals). Airlines, restaurants and other places of public accommodation have had to come up with a policy on this issue. Animals can and do serve a therapeutic value. But could the explosion of the need for such be another sign of a lack of human interaction caused by overuse of technology?

At our finger tips, with one or two clicks is the entire vast trove of accumulated human knowledge. But also, there are lots of dark corners, that our young people particularly, can access without our knowing it and who would likely never have encountered it except for technology. Much of it is not age-appropriate.

Parents need to monitor their child’s internet and social media usage. You don’t need to be sneaky about but rather let your child know that you will frequently check their social media posts as they are, like everything in the cyber world, in the public domain. Doing so will allow parents to have frank and open discussion about what’s going on in their child’s life.

The virtual world created by technology is a whole new reality that we are only beginning to adjust to and to comprehend its short and long-term pluses and minuses. So far, we are finding out that living in the virtual world can never replace living in the real world with flesh and blood human interaction.

Love, Fr. John B.

Live Well, Pass in Peace

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

Dear Friends,

As we remember on this Memorial Day Weekend all those who gave their lives in service to our country, we would also do well to consider our own dying. Specifically, how we die but not in the sense of the cause or the circumstance. Rather what condition will our hearts be in when we enter the last phase of our lives?

I bring this up because recently it was reported that a well-known public figure who is coming to the end of his life stated that he did not want another well-known public figure attending his funeral. I don’t know whether he actually said that or it is just chatty, tabloid journalism. But for the purposes of this letter, let’s posit is as true. I don’t make any judgements on this person but just use the example as something that can teach us a few things.

First, it is important to remember that a dead man has no rights. His estate might have rights but once dead you tend to lose control of what everybody does on your behalf. While it is true that you can communicate your final wishes to your loved ones, there is no way you can insure that they follow through. I’ve seen this lots of times, sad to say. While I highly stress you plan out your funeral as this helps your loved ones navigate the process, planning is all you can do. Execution is left up to others. I had a coworker once who had an irrational fear of being buried with white shoes on (for some reason she despised white shoes) and every time she did something I didn’t like, I would tell her that I was going to make sure she was buried in white shoes! You can’t orchestrate your funeral from the grave.

So, if in that planning process you start disinviting people to your funeral you might want to check if your heart has become bitter. You see dying is the time to have a heart filled with gratitude for the life you lived. One of the great temptations we often face is the impulse to keep an up to date account of harms received. It is a naturally human response to injustice, but the resentment it engenders becomes a spiritually toxic weapon of self-destruction. Bitterness, no matter how small will always occupy a disproportionate amount of space in your heart. It tends to consume your heart and push out any gratitude. That sets you up to die as a bitter, unforgiving person. And what legacy do you leave if you die a stingy, bitter person? Don’t miss a chance to teach others, even through your death, how to live and die as a gracious, generous person, who is bigger than the small mindedness of your foes.

I am frequently around those who are dying. I always tell them as they are surrounded by their family and friends, to be grateful for the life they lived and the difference they made, whether big or small. The problem is that if you have allowed bitterness or un-forgiveness to take root, those roots can be long and deep and the dying process anything but peaceful and happy.

I know all too well that lots of pain can be inflicted upon us by others during life. But holding on to that does nothing to the person who abused us, insulted us or demeaned us. But it does do significant damage to our hearts.

The time to start considering all this is now, not when you are planning your funeral. This means that if any corner of your heart is occupied by bitterness then you need to do some spiritual work. I always recommend praying for the person who harmed you by name. Pray for the them every day by name, asking God to bless them in every way that you wish to be blest yourself. You don’t have to be sincere, just start praying, God will purify your motivations over time. Then one day you will realize the resentment is gone and there will be more room in your heart for gratitude.

Planning your funeral is the easy part. Planning how to die well requires living well now.

Love,
Fr. John B.

PS Speaking of saying farewell, Sr. Maria Alejandra has been reassigned to another Convent in Peru. She has served us well as one of the original 5! We thank her for making our Preschool an even happier place and for her tremendous love and compassion which she so generously shared with the sick and shut-ins of our Parish. She will depart on June 6. Many of you have already met Sr. Monica who is already here and to stay and who we look forward to getting to know!

Still Counting

Fr. John Bonavitacola
Dear Friends,

“Half-time goes by, suddenly your wise, another blink of the eye, 67 is gone, the sun is getting high, we’re moving on.” 100 Years sung by Five for Fighting

Lord Jesus, Eternal High Priest,
Thirty years have passed since that day when my name was called at the Cathedral
and I responded: Here I am.Well Lord, here I am,
still, despite myself—

Over the years Lord you have shaped me, molded me to conform me
to you the Eternal Merciful Priest.
Yet I admit I have not always made it easy for you to do that.
In fact, at times you’ve had to break me because of my inflexibility and
my unwillingness
to yield to You. Thank you for making me teachable.

In those early years I was filled with so much zeal and enthusiasm
but lurking beneath was lots of my own arrogance and self-righteousness.
Forgive me for all the good I thought
I was doing that just ended up making a mess of things.

Actually, nothing turned out the way I thought it would because I too often tried to make it what I thought it should be. It took me way too long to figure
out that what mattered was
what you wanted, what you willed. Then amazingly it all turned out
so much better than
I could have ever imagined.

Lord, help me to have unwavering confidence in Your will. Prevent me from becoming
a jumble of self-will. Your will not mine be done. Always.

I know you have given me tremendous capacity to do good
and yet I am painfully aware
of the frightening capacity I have to do harm. Protect me Lord always that I may do
only the good you wish.

Thank you for these past thirty years. Thank you for all the companions you have sent
that have helped me carry your cross and lift your chalice. Thank you for all the gentle
Bishops that have guided me, thank you for the many pastors and brother priests and
consecrated women that have challenged me and encouraged me, thank you for your
people who reflect your love to me better than I reflect it to them. Thank you for my
family that has sacrificed for me. Thank you for allowing me to share in your priestly
ministry even when I have done so poorly.

And so, Here I am. Every bit as willing, albeit a bit more sober, as I was then
to offer my life in service to You, the Eternal High Priest. I am here.

Stay with me Lord. Amen

My deep thanks to all you and for the gift of sharing 18 of these 30yrs here with you!

Love, Fr. John B.