Sunday, November 19, 2017

Catholics Today Need to Suck It Up

Sorry, but not sorry, for the somewhat harsh title. I can safely say that the priest who gave the homily I heard at church today would not apologize for it. I have to say, the homily I heard today was absolutely amazing, and it was quite clearly from the heart of this noble priest. My family and I attended Divine Liturgy at the nearby Ruthenian (Byzantine) Catholic parish today, and the pastor began his homily by reminding the congregation about Philip's Fast which had just begun on November 14th, the feast of St. Philip the Apostle in the Byzantine calendar. Essentially, as he mentioned, it's the equivalent of Advent in the Latin Rite. Just as Advent is a time of penitence and preparation for Roman Catholics, so too is Philip's fast in the Byzantine Rite, except it is longer and there is much more fasting entailed, such as abstinence from meat and dairy on all Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays during the fast.
Presentation of Mary- Titian

He then mentioned how saddened he is that so many Catholics, both of the Latin and Byzantine Rites, are so reluctant to do anything extra, let alone, those things that they are obliged to do during times of fasting and penitence. He mentioned how he was recently talking to Bishop Milan Lach, the recently appointed apostolic administrator of the Ruthenian Catholic Eparchy of Parma. After serving as auxiliary bishop of the Slovak Catholic Archeparchy of PreŇ°ov, Bishop Lach has been wanting to get to know his new flock more, and asked the pastor what the deal was with the dispensation from the Philip's Fast the Friday after Thanksgiving. Apparently, in the past and presently, a number of Catholic bishops give a dispensation from abstinence the day after Thanksgiving so leftovers can be eaten, much like how some bishops in the United States give the faithful a dispensation from Friday abstinence during Lent if St. Patrick's feast day falls on a Friday.

Bishop Lach couldn't wrap his head around this, and the pastor mentioned that he had a hard time explaining to him why this was so. As it turns out, Bishop Lach was one of many Catholic Christians in Eastern Europe that was persecuted during the communist regime. To him, and indeed to many Catholics in the Middle East today, those in the Western world live a very comfortable Catholicism. All that Bishop Lach had was his faith. We here in the United States have so much more... yet we can't even bear to continue offering up small sufferings to our Lord by fasting and abstaining the day after Thanksgiving?

The pastor got very worked up, in a good way, that we Catholics in the US are, to paraphrase, lazy and ungrateful. That's what I gathered, at least. And he's right when he talks of us as a whole. We've embraced that "beige Catholicism" that Bishop Robert Barron has talked about. We've become so comfortable that we feel we can't be bothered to make sacrifices. He juxtaposed this with the sufferings that many Catholics are undergoing in the Middle East. Many of whom are making the ultimate sacrifice. Just look at Coptic Catholics and Chaldean Catholics; Syriac Catholics and Maronite Catholics. They are all being persecuted from Egypt to Lebanon to Mosul. And we can't stop ourselves from eating turkey on Thanksgiving? We, who have loads of food in our refrigerators and cupboards, can't stop eating leftovers for one day while our brothers and sisters in the Middle East are thrown out for their homes, raped and tortured. Father said that he couldn't even begin to talk about the atrocities that happened there because of all the children in the congregation listening. He implored us to donate to the Iraqi Christian Relief Council, with forms found in the parish's bulletin.

Bishop Milan Lach with Archbishop Christophe Pierre, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States
At this point, he apparently noticed someone who was falling asleep during his homily. He then exclaimed that we're so comfortable that we even fall asleep in Church. "Wake up!" he said to all of us. He asked us why we aren't taking our faith seriously. Because let's face it, many American Catholics aren't. We try to weasel out of anything we can from Holy Days of Obligation to the requirements of penitential periods such as Philip's Fast and Lent. He mentioned, to the church that was packed full, that a very special Holy Day was coming the following Tuesday on November 21st: The Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple, also known as the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Latin Rite. In the Eastern Catholic Churches, this is one of the 12 Great Feasts of the year. Father demanded that the church be just as filled on that feast as it was that Sunday. He said he's tired of the excuses; he's tired of the church being second fiddle. Instead of saying, "Oh I can't make church on this Holy Day because of this event", why can't we say "Oh I can't make this event today because I need to go to church this evening." Why is our Lord always on the back burner, he asked us.

He gave us a lot to reflect on today. Apparently, Bishop Lach will be visiting the parish next weekend. I intend to go so that I may meet him. The pastor said that if we don't show up for Mass on the feast of our Lady's Presentation, then we need to tell the bishop why. We need to tell him why we need to have a dispensation from meat the Friday after Thanksgiving as well. His homily was an exhortation to stop being selfish. It was a call to penitence as we prepare for the coming of our Lord on His Nativity. I truly pray it's a call that we Catholics living in the Western world can answer.

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