Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year's Resolutions for the New Evangelization

Beginning tonight with First Vespers, the Church will celebrate the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. Culturally we will begin the festivities for New Year's Eve. It is a certainly a great a joy for us Catholics to welcome a new year and to offer true devotion to our Blessed Mother as we seek her blessing upon us and turn the calendar. We are also within the Year of Faith instituted by the Church as both a preparation for and an immersion in the work of the new evangelization. As you may be aware, the work of the new evangelization is an effort by the Church to re-evangelize those peoples and countries in the West that at one time were Christian but are no longer so. It is also intended to bring back to the Faith those who were once Catholic but for any number of reasons have left us. This work has been asked of each and everyone of us who bear the name of Christ.

As the new year begins, we often make resolutions and so, I offer the following possible new year's resolutions to consider if one is going to be serious about being an evangelizer. I offer them for myself as well as for those readers who chose to follow my advice. Many of these resolutions are already part of my life: confession, pray, etc.. My hope is that anyone of us who is serious about following Christ as a Catholic Christian and an evangelizer will be able to see oneself in some of these propositions. 

And so,

As a Catholic Christian committed to the Church and the work of the new evangelization, I resolve with the love of Christ in my heart and the guidance of the Holy Spirit:

- to strive to grow in my love for the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church everyday.

- to be someone who seeks opportunities to invite others to faith in Jesus Christ and then seizes those opportunities when they come.

- to try and talk about Jesus Christ and my faith to someone at least once a day.

- to strive to live as someone who seeks to love God with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and to love my neighbor as I would seek to be loved.

- everyday to wake up in the morning, put my feet on the floor, and before I stand up, bow my head in praise to God for all that he has done for me. 

- everyday as I prepare for bed, to sit or kneel at my bedside and thank God for the blessings of the day and seek His forgiveness for any of my human transgressions. 

- to attend Sunday Mass every week, arriving at least 15 minutes before Mass starts so I can properly prepare myself to listen to the Word of God and celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

- every time I eat, regardless of where I am, to give thanks to God for the food I am about to receive.

- to celebrate the Sacrament of Confession and Reconciliation at least once a month or more as needed.

- to meditate on the daily Mass readings. 

- to pray the Rosary once a day.

- to be someone who seeks to judge less and understand more.

- to remember that,"It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into the doing that matters." (Blessed Mother Teresa) 

 - to balance the way I talk about the Church. If I have to complain about something I do not agree with or like about the Church, I will remember to say something about what I love about the Church, especially around others who may not believe as I do.

- to chose one night per week in which I will not watch TV, use my computer, play on my phone, laptop, or tablet, text, tweet, or FB or anything like that. Instead, I will become involved: involved with my church, a charity, a neighbor, whatever the opportunity and the desire leads me. 

- to "tithe" some part of myself (time, treasure, and talent) to furthering God's kingdom in this world.

- to meditate seriously on the Corporal Works of Mercy and the Spiritual Works of Mercy and to strive to live them.

- to be meek but not "milquetoast."

- to comfort those who mourn.

- to hunger and thirst for righteousness.

- to be pure of heart in thought, word, and deed.

- to be merciful.

- to be a peacemaker but to also be courageous.

- to be righteous before God and others.

I resolve to be a child of God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit.

Monday, December 24, 2012

"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep ..."

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
and mild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

In 1863 the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote Christmas Bells, later turned into the Christmas carol, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by John Baptiste Calkin and others. Longfellow at the time found himself in the midst of great sadness dealing with the recent death of his wife and the serious injury of his son, Charles, in one of the battles of the American civil war. As he hears the bells on Christmas Day, the poet also hears the canons thundering in the South, 

and with the sound,
the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And so he reacts with a moment of anguish,

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

But Longfellow does not stay in that place of emptiness and grief. Instead, he hears the bells chime out once again and he finds his faith in God and the ultimate victory of good or evil renewed as he recalls the reason for the ringing of the bells:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

One cannot but begin to share the sadness and anguish of Longfellow's words as we prepare to hear the bells of Christmas Day this year. Many, like myself, have stood off from afar these past ten days and heard the echoes of the guns which thundered in the town of Newtown CT on December 14. We have heard the bells peal as families buried the twenty children and six adults who were murdered in the senseless slaughter. Just this past Friday, we were all invited to join in a moment of silence at 9:30 AM and then listen to the toll of the bells twenty-six times.  We cannot help but say, at moments like this, that "hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace ..."

But, we also know, deep in our hearts that love is stronger than hate. We know this not only because of all of the good people and good deeds and good things that we have known that far outweigh the evil we see, but also because we are people of faith. Faith tells us that God did not order the world towards evil but towards the good. Faith tells us that it is not God who brings evil into the world but man. Faith tells us that God did not desire to leave us in a world fraught only with the randomness of evil and death but that He gave us the greatest gift of all; "For God so loved the world, that He gave us his only Son ...." Faith tells us that even in those moments when God can seem so far away, when evil can seem to be victorious, God's ultimate victory is still assured. We need only look to the ultimate evil of Jesus' death on the Cross and the victory of His resurrection to be assured of this.

And so one hears the bells on Christmas Day not as the mourning bells of the funeral's toll but as the definitive voice of goodness crying forth that right can and will prevail against evil, even if at times, it is difficult to hear.

[Note: I came across this blogpost as I was writing my own post and looking for various musical versions of "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." It seems others share my thoughts as well.] 

Friday, December 21, 2012

"The New Evangelization"

This is a video of a talk that I recently gave at the Catholic Center here in Indianapolis. The talk was primarily directed to catechists, youth ministers, and educators.  

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith Alive

Last week, I went on a one day pilgrimage with about fifty people from the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to the Cincinnati Museum Center to see an exhibition entitled, "The Dead Sea Scrolls: Life and Faith in Ancient Times." Allow me to quote from the museum's webpage to give you some background information on the exhibit: 

In 1947, a shepherd stumbled upon a hidden cave along the shore of the Dead Sea. Concealed inside were ancient scrolls that had not been seen for 2,000 years. After extensive excavation, a total of 972 remarkably preserved scrolls were found, including the earliest Biblical texts ever discovered. Now known as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they have been called the most significant archaeological find of the last century.... 

With an "audio tour" in hand (and ear), I spent a good two and a half hours making my way through the exhibit. There was a lot to see. Besides some of the actual scroll texts themselves, there were numerous archeological artifacts, imaginative recreations of houses and palaces, and a long exhibit describing the whole history of the finding of the scrolls, the subterfuge and political maneuvering around the question of ownership, and the recent scholarly arguments about who should have access to the scrolls for study. I found it all very fascinating.

But the highlight was pretty much towards the end of the exhibit when I got to see parts of the actual scrolls. The fragments are shown around a large circular table in the middle of an exhibition room. One can travel clockwise or counter-clockwise, jump around from fragment to fragment depending on the number of people looking, and spend as long as politeness and available time allows, gazing and reading. 

The fragments are all under a thick piece of glass but set-up in such a way that you can put your face right down to the glass and touch the glass if you want. The museum staff doesn't seem to mind. I found myself with my extremely limited and mostly forgotten knowledge of Hebrew, scanning right to left, only able to pick out the more obvious words like the Tetragrammaton or "Adonai." There was a fragment of a text from the Book of Genesis (part of the story of Joseph and Potiphar's wife), a fragment of Psalm 119, and a long fragment from the Book of Daniel. There were pieces from some of the non-canonical Wisdom literature and a text of a communal code of life. There was even a deed agreement granting a lease on a parcel of land owned by one man to another. All of this was written out in the neatest of lines, for the most part clearly legible.

I spent a lot of time over the text from Psalm 119. I can't remember the exact fragment as the psalm itself is a long one and repetitive in parts but it is a psalm with which I am quite familiar since the Church prays it a lot in the Daytime Office of the Liturgy of the Hours. I was able to kneel down and raise my glasses above my forehead so as to see the Hebrew text more clearly. I ran my finger across, right to left, line by line, tracing the almost perfectly straight rows of text. I wish I could have pronounced the Hebrew as I did so but my silent perusal had to suffice. When I finished I turned to the translation that was present just to the left of the fragment. I read it and then armed with English words in my head, I turned to the Word of God once again, right to left, line by line.

Here in front of me was a text that some nameless scribe from over two thousand years ago had copied out so clearly and beautifully. The written word itself was a thing of beauty. I wonder if, like the present day painters of icons, the scribe prayed as he wrote or did he see his writing as an act of prayer and worship in itself. Whatever may have been, I found myself in a place of prayer and worship for a few moments at least as I studied this ancient text. It is a wonder to me that those words which were the scribe and his community's words prayer to God are the words of prayer and worship for me and my community as well. While the scribe copied and read these word through the prism of his Hebrew faith, I read them now through the lens of that tradition and the faith I have in the Lord Jesus Christ.  This text may have been hidden for two thousand years in one the driest and deadest place on earth but the life that breaths in the Word of God itself was not something extinguished but something to be given new life and light today.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Concerning the Presence of the Minister on Twitter

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI entered into the world of Twitter by registering for an account as @Pontifex.  As of today, His Holiness already has 600,000 followers, the majority of whom are English speaking.  At this point the Pope has not posted a 'tweet.' So, I along with his other 600,000+ followers, await the first of what we hope to be words of encouragement and wisdom in helping us live the Good News and live a life of Christian Catholic faith.

I have been posting on twitter now for over a year as @bishopcoyne. During that time I have posted 7232 tweets. At 365 days that is about 20 tweets a day (On second thought, I must have been on Twitter for more than a year. This is no way I post 20 times a day. That would be obsessive and unbalanced, something of which I can only be accused of when it comes to following American football). I post almost everyday except Saturdays, usually 5-10 posts on FaceBook and Twitter about the Scriptures and/or saint of the day. I try and treat it like I would a homily at daily Mass - to the point and short. I have also recently added a quote from some famous person or author who was born on that day that has some wisdom for life or faith. All this takes about 45 minutes to an hour each morning but it is all done in connection with my Morning Prayer and my personal prayer and reflection on the readings and liturgical texts of the day so it is not a burden but a good thing.

In addition, I have "live-tweeted" USCCB meetings, the Jennings County Fair, the Indy 500 twice, Super Bowl Media Day and the Super Bowl itself. One of the surreal moments for me was when I was live-tweeting the Jennings County Fair and people were following my tweets while following me at the Fair. By the way, the Jennings County Fair was my first experience of a deep fried twinkie. With Hostess Baking Company going out of business, it will now be my last. Thank God.

Anyway, far be it for me to offer any advice to the Holy Father as how best to use Twitter (or any other item for that matter). That is way above my pay grade as they say so I will practice the virtue of prudence and not even go there. In addition, I believe it is up to each to find their own "voice" for communicating through digital media and much of what I have learned is particular to me and what I want to accomplish by being present on the 'net.  But I do have a few general observations that I would like to share with others in ministry who may be thinking of giving digital media a try. Just a few things that I have gleaned over time ...

First, the digital culture is for the most part a lawless society. Aside from some things that are prohibited by local, national, and international law (child pornography, some drug trafficking, money laundering, etc.), you can do and say pretty much what you want to in the digital culture. There are not a lot of rules. So that means you get to set your rules. You can determine how you will post, when you will post, and where you will post. As long as you let people know the rules up front, you can do what you want. You can determine how interactive and dialogical you want to be or not be. If you set up a blog where you will post what you want to post, you can set it up to allow comments or not allow comments. You can answer emails sent to you or not answer them. If you use Twitter and you don't like what someone is saying to you, you can block them. Now that doesn't mean that people can't "retweet" something you said and say nasty things (something no one has ever done to me ... really .... honest ...) but people can tell when a retweet is unedited or when it is altered by the way it appears. But my point is you can set the rules. If someone complains they don't like your rules, maybe you change the rules maybe you don't. It's up to you.

My second thought is particular to my understanding of why I as a bishop and a Christian use digital media - I do so to spread the Good News. I believe that God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that all who might believe in Him might have eternal life and that the fullness of that offer is found within the teaching and substance of the Catholic Church. My use of digital media like blog posts, podcasts, FaceBook, Twitter, and texting serves to spread that message. Having that as my starting point frames what I do and what I post. Now spreading the Good News also involves crafting a message that will be received by others. St. Augustine once wrote that the process of spreading the truth of the Christian faith involves the necessity of doing so as "to teach, to please, and to persuade." As "to please" he means to communicate in such a way as to keep the listener's interest. One must use rhetoric, humor, stories, and all other elements of communications as a means to "teach" so as to "persuade." Are there times when the things I post are not directly connected to an obvious Christian message? Yes, but I do so to attract the casual viewer and to retain the normal follower, not as an end in itself.

Now this leads to my third point. Post for a reason, not just to increase the number of one's followers or for empty self-promotion. There is nothing more vapid than someone who just simply "shouts out" what they are doing or someone who just posts funny cat videos. Tweets like "Hey, just celebrated an awesome Mass at St. Dymphna's. Folks really liked what I had to say in my homily" or "Just bought a triple pumpkin lattecino at Bankrupts Coffee. Cost me $6.25! What's that about?" do nothing to further the spreading of the Good News and make one look ridiculous. And while videos like "Hey, Charlie the cat bit my finger!" might have some comic value, they are best left for others to share, not ministers who have a serious message to communicate.  Now I know I am walking a fine line here as one who has done live-tweet events but those are few and far between and not part of what I normally do. I am not saying that a bishop or priest can't just have fun at times in the digital media but it should be the exception not the rule.

And now my final point: be yourself. If you are going to have a personal Twitter account or a FaceBook page that is listed as yours, make it yours. Don't have others post for you. Don't just post aphorisms, quotes from Scripture, Church teaching or the lives of the saints. While they are good to read and remember, as posts in themselves they do nothing to connect us as persons to our brothers and sisters. People want to know what we really think and what we really believe. We speak best about the Incarnation, God made man in Jesus Christ, when we make that message incarnate in ourselves. This means we need to be vulnerable to others - as He was, we need to be present to others - as He was, we need to be authentic in our dealings with others - as He was, and we need to be passionate about what we know to be the Truth - as He was. If we can do so by our personal presence in the digital culture, then that is where we need to be.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Plans for the Future

Greetings to all. Just want you to know that with Archbishop Tobin having been installed as the new archbishop of Indianapolis, my schedule is now a bit less hectic. As a result, I am going to try and get back to being a lot more active with my blog and podcasts with a regular blog post on Mondays and, hopefully, a podcast post on Wednesdays.  We'll see how I do. After all, it is Advent, the season of hope.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Homily at Evening Prayer for the Rite of Welcoming Archbishop Tobin to the Cathedral

Your excellencies Archbishop Tobin and Archbishop ViganĂ², brother clergy, religious brothers and sisters, friends and guests: I am honored this evening to speak a few words of instruction and praise in thanksgiving to God as we welcome our new Archbishop, Joseph Tobin, to his cathedral with this celebration of Evening Prayer. It is certainly an occasion that is marked well by the theology of this First Sunday in Advent as we look for God to break into our lives and make something new. Certainly the words of the Scripture passage, which we have just heard proclaimed, redound well in this place tonight, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again, rejoice!”

 You heard me say just now that I am honored to speak a few words of instruction and praise. By instruction I mean words that are intended to form us more deeply into life in Jesus Christ by opening up for us the mysteries we celebrate in the Church’s liturgy. Indeed, even apart from what I have to say in this homily, the Church’s liturgy by its very nature as an encounter with the real presence of Christ in His Sacraments and worship, draws us more closer to Him and His offer of salvation if we but allow ourselves to be lead by the Master. The liturgy does so not only by words but also by gesture and by ritual. And so we come to this evening and this evening prayer in which we welcome our new archbishop to his cathedral church.

 At the beginning of this celebration, Archbishop ViganĂ² and Fr. Noah Casey, the rector of the cathedral, welcomed Archbishop Tobin at the door the church. At a glance, we might consider this a nice tradition in which we simply welcome our new archbishop as he takes possession of his Cathedral, kind of like welcoming someone to your home for the first time. And that is sort of what is happening here. We are welcoming Archbishop Tobin to the cathedral for the first time. But, and here is an important point - it’s his house. From this point on, he is going to welcome us. Oh, by the way, Archbishop Tobin, here’s the keys and a couple of heating bills for the electricity and heat. I’ll give them to you later on.

 But there is more than that going on here, especially if we consider how often the Church’s liturgy begins particular celebrations at the door of the church. In the “Rite of Infant Baptism,” the priest or deacon welcomes the family and their young child at the door the church and asks some questions, “What name do you give your child? And what do you ask of God’s Church for your child? In doing so, you are accepting the responsibility of raising your child in the practice of the faith by loving God and your neighbor. Do you clearly understand the responsibility you are taking on today.” And then to the Godparents, “Are you ready to help these parents fulfill their responsibility as Christian mother and father?” The priest then welcomes the family into the building for the celebration of the Sacrament.

 In the “Rite of Becoming a Catechumen” the same elements take place: the priest or deacon greets the candidates at the door of the church, there is some form of interrogation, and the candidates are welcomed and recognized now as catechumens who seek further entrance into the life of the church. There is also the celebration of our funeral rites, when the family who is bearing the mortal remains of their loved one into the church is greeted at the door by the priest, the deceased is named once again, his or her baptism is recalled with water and gesture, and the pall is draped upon the coffin.

 Notice something here. At each of these liturgical moments, something new is about to occur, not only for the persons celebrating but for the Church itself. In each of these moments when we ritually greet people at the door of the church, a new status, a new way of life in Christ is being initiated. In the case of the infant to be baptized or the catechumen, it is entrance into the life of the church via the sacraments of initiation. In the case of the Church’s funeral rites, the mortal remains of a Christian believer are brought to the church for the last time to then be laid to rest in the tomb, and entrance into a new and eternal life is prayed for as we say, “for those who believe life is changed not ended.” In the different ritual moments, the bonds of life in the Body of Christ are strengthened and renewed in the sacraments of initiation and the hope of eternal life is recognized once again in Church’s funeral rites as a son or daughter is laid to rest. Each moment is both personal and communal: the person being welcomed at the door of the church is entering a new existence and the church recognizes something new happening within Her life as well.

And so it is tonight. When we welcomed Archbishop Tobin at the door of the church this evening, we the local manifestation of the universal Church, recognized and acknowledged him as our new archbishop, our new shepherd, a successor of the apostles, named by the Holy Father to govern this local church to help us to manifest the living presence of Jesus Christ in this world. This is especially true in the celebration of the Church’s liturgy, most significantly in the celebration of the Mass, when gathered around our archbishop we encounter the Real Presence of Christ most completely. As our archbishop, Archbishop Tobin is called to govern, instruct and lead us more deeply into a personal and communal relationship with Jesus Christ. Notice something important here. It is that word “relationship.” Jesus Christ calls each of us to Himself. He calls us to a relationship with Him that invites us to come to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him. This call is manifested clearly in the Church’s announcement of the good news of salvation.

 Archbishop Tobin, here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis so many men and women of incredible Catholic faith are living that deep relationship with Jesus Christ. As someone who has been fortunate to be a part of this local church for almost two years, I can say to you, that there is a sure foundation of Catholic faith here that is yours to build upon. We are a people who are living the good news and are ready to spread the good news even more so “that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son, that who ever believed in Him might have eternal life” and that the promise of eternal life is most perfectly manifested in the Church. We all know there is work to do, personally and communally. We all know we are still works in progress but we stand with you ready to follow your lead as we hear in you, the voice of the Shepherd.

 But it would be incomplete for me to simply just recognize the ritual meaning of our welcoming you to your cathedral – the communal - without mentioning what this means for you as one who stood on the other side of the door – the personal. Just outside of the door of my apartment, I have a welcome mat that reads, “ Welcome. When you’re here you’re family. Do you still want to come in?” If I were to be playful perhaps I could ask that question of you. “Welcome. When you’re here, you’re family. Still want to come in?” Certainly, being a bishop has never been any easy call of service to the Church. Just ask St. Athanasius or St. Augustine. Maybe, if you had given it any thought as you stood outside of the door of this cathedral tonight you might have been tempted to say to yourself, “Now what have I gotten myself into?” Perhaps you did, perhaps you didn’t, but Archbishop, you still entered this church and you still said “yes” to serving us as our bishop and we thank you for that.

 From this, though, may I draw one more connection to the various moments of our life as a Church when the door of the church plays such an important role? It is the “Rite of Infant Baptism.” Do you recall the questions that the parents are asked just prior to entering the church? “What name do you give your child? What do you ask of God’s Church for your child? Are you ready to accept the responsibility of raising your child in the practice of the faith by loving God and your neighbor.” And then the Godparents are asked, “Are you ready to help these parents fulfill their responsibility as Christian mother and father?” My brothers and sisters with me here in this cathedral tonight, our brother Joseph, named by the Holy Father as Archbishop of Indianapolis has accepted the responsibility of proclaiming the good news of the Catholic faith by teaching us to love God and neighbor. Now I ask you and myself: Are we ready to help him fulfill his duty as our new archbishop? Can we answer with a resounding “Amen?” Welcome Archbishop Joseph Tobin to your cathedral and remember, “when you’re here, you’re family.”
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