What I’ve Wanted to Tell Parents for a Looooonnnnnnggg Time

This priest nails it. Just. Nails. It.

For the past 12 years I have been a pastor of a parish or multiple parishes with parochial schools attached to them.

I’m not a pastor, but I’ve been involved in faith formation ministry for 15 years or so. I feel his pain.

Over the years they have been a great source of joy for me in watching these children grow and watching faith blossom….

One of my joys has been seeing that spiritual light bulb go off over their heads.

I know that their parents are partners in this endeavor. I see some parents make great efforts to get their children to Sunday Mass, teach them the truth of faith, support the parish and school, and carry the rest of load of their very busy schedules. I admire their dedication. I know my principals and teachers do as well.

This said, the same institution that exalts my heart also crushes it. I would estimate that about a third of my students over the years do not go to Mass on the weekend. That number rises significantly after they graduate from 8th grade. After 19 years of priesthood, I know what will usually happen. These young bright faces will wander further and further away from faith, mimicking the minimalism of their parents. I grieve that the blossoming of faith will be truncated and is actively being undone by those charged with the primary duty of handing on true faith in Jesus Christ. I had one brother priest refer to this as spiritual child abuse. Harsh words, I thought, but true words.

I love that phrase: spiritual child abuse. Quite accurate. We actually had one parent get in the face of one teacher and berate her for teaching that Sunday mass attendance was a requirement. “I’ll teach my kids about how often to go to church!” he said. Literally, someone unclear on the concept. I was dreading getting those children in my grade, which would have been three years later. Fortunately – or even more so, unfortunately – I never did. The parents never brought their kids back, even for just the Wednesday night classes. I’m sure their Sunday obligation turned into their Sunday sleep in late. /sigh

I hear plenty of excuses from these other parents. I know some work on weekends because of the nature of their jobs. But that is not the case for all. It is spiritual sloth. When we teach our children that it is okay and necessary to take from God the one hour of liturgical worship He asks for a week, what are we telling our child about the faith as a whole?

I told my students each year that I expect their respect for the hours I put into preparing the lessons, getting ready for class, taking hours out of my week for them, the money I put into supplies, etc. It didn’t mean I got respect, but I asked for it. I work full time and still volunteer, yet we can’t get parents to bring their kids to mass, or even to class each week.

The time we have for Mass built into the school schedule is not a replacement for the weekend Masses. That is on the parent who will stand before God and have to tell Him why they taught their children to treat God they way they did. When we teach our children that sacraments are like merit badges, that is, do the bare minimum and get your badge, what are we telling them about God’s grace and His desire to be a part of our lives?

I see parents who will go out of their way for a child to develop skills in a sport but will not go out of their way for Mass. Not all sports parents do this. I know parents who do both well. I appreciate and laud their effort. I know it is not easy. That is why I do not buy the excuses from the others: I know many parents who make the sacrifices and teach their children to do the same. I will respect those who do this.

We are asked to donate our time, talent, and treasure. It’s hard to get volunteers, but the worst is the collection plate. I’ve heard that the people who count the money each week get pennies, buttons, and other worthless items in the basket, from a mass full of people whose expensive cars are in the parking lot and have manicures and very nice clothes. Suck it up, and give up a meal out or something and put that money in the plate. God doesn’t ask much of you, but he does ask for something.

Furthermore, when we teach our children that making such sacrifices is unimportant or an undue burden, we take for granted God’s mercy and grace (the sin of presumption) and we teach them to take for granted the effort and sacrifices that parishes and parishioners make for that school to be open at all. Parishes are willing to give tremendous amounts of resources, energy, and time to make schools a reality. They do this as an investment in the future. When that investment is squandered, it is sinful.

I go one step further as a pastor in a diocese where we do not charge tuition to members of the parish. Our parishes give up a tremendous amount for these schools to be in existence; it is a slap in our collective face to be told we want you to heavily subsidize my children’s education and faith formation but I will teach my child to ignore most of it. I know that sounds harsh, but that is reality.

I know the conventional wisdom is to soft peddle or say nothing at all. We don’t want people to get upset after all. We are supposed to be the Church of nice. Wait, no we are not. The Catholic Church is supposed to call people to holiness and excellence; something we are trying to do in our schools. I want your children to be holy. I want your children in heaven. I know the two are tied together. I want you parents to be holy. I want you in heaven as well. I know the two are tied together. We need to be on the same page.

I agree. Priests need to slap their congregations upside the head with a spiritual 2×4. I get so tired of our parish getting the short end of the stick because parents and members aren’t called on the carpet for their selfishness. We keep getting warnings about the money we owe, that our collections aren’t enough to run the church, yet nothing changes – because we have to be nice and not hurt anyone’s feelings. Screw that, I say. Shame is helpful when it is justified and needed. If we cannot support our parish, then we deserve to lose it. Maybe the freeloaders will do better when they have to drive to a parish further away. Our parish gets taken for granted because the priest doesn’t insist on NOT being taken for granted.

To not say anything is a severe breech in my duties as a pastor and a grave disservice to the parents who do make the effort and the sacrifices. I take my duties seriously. All of my parents in the school, home school, and public school need to do the same. I would rather have you angrier than wet hen at me now and convert than have you happy with me and watch you drift further away!

So to my school parents reading this: To you who make the sacrifices and make your way to Mass Sunday in and Sunday out, who show up to help despite your busy schedules, who volunteer…thank you. To my school parents who don’t do these things, challenge yourself to excellence, want your child’s eternal salvation as much as I do, want your salvation as much as I do…make the effort, the sacrifice…we’re right there with you! I will keep doing my part, I will insist that my school and other education programs do the same, but each parent needs to do theirs as well.

Those who have had me as the pastor know it is not my nature to shrink away from a struggle and that it is my nature to call to holiness and excellence and nothing less. I need partners in this…and you parents are just the partners in this I need.

It’s not just the school parents, though. It’s every single parishioner, including me. We are all part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s not about me. It’s about our community.

I think I can put my soapbox away now. For now.

PS: I have forwarded this link to my parish. Let’s see if it gets used. Or pokes someone into action.

Homeless Guy Open Comments

I was visiting a church on Sunday and, since I wasn’t sure about their particular culture, I chose a seat halfway into the pew, and not too far from the back. That way, I could see how they filed up for communion, for example. (My church lines up back to front, for example, due to the layout of our pews and aisles.)

Shortly after I sat down and joined the rosary in progress, a homeless guy came in and sat down and the end of the pew to my right. His arms were covered in tattoos, he wasn’t dressed well, his long hair was matted, and overall, the guy needed a bath. My first reaction was to draw back, but I fought that instinct. I gradually began to feel glad that he came. Jesus welcomed everyone, didn’t he? And I am to follow his example, aren’t I? I tried not to notice that faint aroma that wafted my way and began to focus on the mass to come and not the dirty guy next to me. He joined the rosary, and stayed on his knees in prayer after. Mass began and I shook his hand in greeting, with a smile, and everyone around him did the same. By being welcoming, I felt welcomed as well. We were all one in the Lord.

Shortly after mass began, he suddenly jumped up and left. A few people took his place. I looked around a couple of times to see if he had simply given up his seat to the young mother and her son and the elderly lady at the end, but I could not see him.

His leaving saddened me somehow. Why did he leave? Did he feel out of place? Did he not feel welcomed, despite the smiles and ready handshakes? Was his self esteem so low that he felt unworthy? I was actually thinking about treating him to lunch after, and I was disappointed that I would not get to hear his story.

I have heard it said that it’s possible the poor are in our midst to test the rest of us. I hope I passed the test. I pray that he finds acceptance in whatever form he needs. And I remember that, there but for the grace of God, go I.

Friday Open Comments

Possibly one of the best articles for snowflakes everywhere that I’ve ever seen.

The problem isn’t that life is unfair – it’s your broken idea of fairness
Unless you’re winning, most of life will seem hideously unfair to you.
The real rules are there. They actually make sense. But they’re a bit more complicated, and a lot less comfortable, which is why most people never manage to learn them.

Rule #1: Life is a competition
But never fall for the collective delusion that there’s not a competition going on. People dress up to win partners. They interview to win jobs. If you deny that competition exists, you’re just losing. Everything in demand is on a competitive scale. And the best is only available to those who are willing to truly fight for it.

Rule #2. You’re judged by what you do, not what you think
Society judges people by what they can do for others. Can you save children from a burning house, or remove a tumour, or make a room of strangers laugh? You’ve got value right there.

That’s not how we judge ourselves though. We judge ourselves by our thoughts.
But in reality, social reward is just a network effect. Reward comes down mostly to the number of people you impact:

You may hate this. It may make you sick. Reality doesn’t care. You’re judged by what you have the ability to do, and the volume of people you can impact. If you don’t accept this, then the judgement of the world will seem very unfair indeed.

Rule #3. Our idea of fairness is self interest
The problem isn’t that life is unfair; it’s your broken idea of fairness.
Similarly we love to hate our bosses and parents and politicians. Their judgements are unfair. And stupid. Because they don’t agree with me! And they should! Because I am unquestionably the greatest authority on everything ever in the whole world!

It’s true there are some truly awful authority figures. But they’re not all evil, self-serving monsters trying to line their own pockets and savour your misery. Most are just trying to do their best, under different circumstances to your own.

Maybe they know things you don’t – like, say, your company will go bust if they don’t do something unpopular. Maybe they have different priorities to you – like, say, long term growth over short term happiness.

But however they make you feel, the actions of others are not some cosmic judgement on your being. They’re just a byproduct of being alive.

Why life isn’t fair
Can you imagine how insane life would be if it actually was ‘fair’ to everyone? No-one could fancy anyone who wasn’t the love of their life, for fear of breaking a heart. Companies would only fail if everyone who worked for them was evil. Relationships would only end when both partners died simultaneously. Raindrops would only fall on bad people.

Most of us get so hung up on how we think the world should work that we can’t see how it does. But facing that reality might just be the key to unlocking your understanding of the world, and with it, all of your potential.

Zombie Genes Thursday Open Comments

When do we actually die?

Doctors in a Canadian intensive care unit have stumbled on a very strange case – when life support was turned off for four terminal patients, one of them showed persistent brain activity even after they were declared clinically dead.

For more than 10 minutes after doctors confirmed death through a range of observations, including the absence of a pulse and unreactive pupils, the patient appeared to experience the same kind of brain waves (delta wave bursts) we get during deep sleep. And it’s an entirely different phenomenon to the sudden ‘death wave’ that’s been observed in rats following decapitation.

Then there the cases of genes that actually FIRE UP after death!

Led by microbiologist Peter Noble, a team from the University of Washington has been investigating the gene activity in deceased mice and zebrafish, prompted by previous research that identified a handful of genes in human cadavers that were active more than 12 hours after death.

The researchers ended up identifying more than 1,000 genes that were still functioning even days after death, but it wasn’t like they were taking a bit longer to sputter out than the rest of the body – they actually increased their activity.

In mice, 515 genes were seen kicking into gear, and were functioning at full capacity up to 24 hours after death. In the zebrafish, 548 genes retained their function for four whole days after the animals had died before showing any signs of winding down.

Some of these zombie genes are developmental, some of them not so beneficial:

What’s maybe even stranger than that is the fact that these ‘postmortem’ genes weren’t just any genes, they were the kind of genes that ramp up during emergencies.

As Mitch Leslie reports for Science Magazine, we’re talking about tasks like stimulating inflammation, firing up the immune system, and counteracting stress. Some of the genes they identified usually switch on to help form an embryo, and then are never heard of again… except after death, apparently.

“What’s jaw-dropping is that developmental genes are turned on after death,” Noble told Leslie.

It’s not all beneficial genes, though, the team also found that certain genes that promote cancer growth also sparked after death in these animals, prompting the researchers to suggest that in a newly deceased corpse, the body reverts to the cellular conditions of a rapidly developing embryo.

“While transplantation is a life-saving therapy… it also puts recipients at an increased risk for developing cancer, in part because of medications…,” says Eric A. Engels of the US National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Cancer Institute.
The crazy amounts of immune-suppressing drugs transplant recipients have to take to make sure their body doesn’t reject the organ could partly explain the heightened risk of cancer, but active postmortem genes in the organ could also be at play, Noble told Science Magazine.

Interesting. When we die, it seems our body tries to revive itself up to days later, and in the process turns on developmental genes AND cancerous genes as well. That makes sense – they are both involved in rapid reproduction and growth of cells. The impact this could have on transplant patients is profound – treating them for cancer as part of their rejection therapy.

Maybe this is why zombies look the way they do.

Puts “born again Christian” in a whole new light, too.