Pastoral Days in the City

IMG_20170527_075050 (2)During the past few days I have been giving a Pastoral Theology class in the middle of Manhattan. It seems like just the right place take on such a project, as the “flock” of New York City needs attention and care just as much as those in the Midwest countryside, where I usually serve. So far, I have been struck by the amount of people “moving around, like sheep without a shepherd” (Mt 9:36) but I am also moved by the fact that in city or in the country, we are all pretty much the same, and urgently in need of God’s mercy and a sense of community. The above picture of the Empire State Building was taken as I was on my way to celebrate Mass at an Opus Dei center near where I am staying. Although I like to be with all the people on the streets, still I enjoy the quiet and seeming emptiness of the streets in the morning. And speaking of buildings, I love how this panorama shot of the 9/11 Memorial seems to show the buildings around the memorial humbled and reverent.

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Into the Triduum

jesus-washes-his-disciples-feet_ethiopiaI love the Pascal Triduum (“three days” that are actually four days: Holy Thursday; Good Friday; Holy Saturday; and Easter Sunday) for many reasons. Of course, for Catholics, it is the holiest time of the liturgical year, when the ceremonies last long into the night, and special choirs and processions make their marks. This is really beautiful stuff. But it’s not only the ceremonies and celebrations that attract me. Rather, it’s some of the abrupt changes in my schedule and routines that I have come to appreciate. As a priest, this is expected; we need to be present at all the special ceremonies (on time!). But also, we priests need to be connected to the ‘ecclesial feeling’ that one should not be doing much else very distant from the holy Triduum. For example, Good Friday is not a good night for a popular comedy movie or maybe even watching a sporting event. It’s simply not a night for laughing and yelling, because the laughing and yelling remembered on Good Friday condemned Jesus to death. Likewise, Holy Saturday (sometimes referred to as “Black Saturday” commemorating Jesus’ burial) has always felt to me like a day to stay inside, or at least to not travel far.

It’s a good thing to be abruptly reminded that there are more important schedules out there than my own. Do yourself a favor in faith: consider cancelling some routine things in order to attend the Triduum ceremonies of the Lord’s Last Supper, his Passion and Death; and, of course the Vigil Mass of  his Glorious Resurrection. Help your friends and relatives get to these celebrations as well. Good Friday, for example, is often an excellent opportunity for many to receive God’s Mercy in the Sacrament of Confession. May we all celebrate these holy days in the spirit of the earliest Christians, the ones whose routine lives were forever upended by Our Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection.


Some suggested Lenten sacrifices (guest blog)

This week, SheepTrick welcomes to the fields, Rev. Rene Schatteman, a priest of Opus Dei, who offers some practical suggestions for a Lenten strategy in ordinary life. Don’t choose them all, but hopefully you can find a number of sacrifices that will help you carry the Cross with Jesus this Lent…

crossOur Lord has said: “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (Lk 9:23). And St. Paul has written: “With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. And the life that I now live in the flesh, I live in the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me.”(Gal 2: 19-20)

In his Message for Lent 2015, Pope Francis has said: “Lent is a time of renewal for the whole Church, for each community and every believer. Above all it is a “time of grace” (2 Cor 6:2). God does not ask of us anything that he himself has not first given us. “We love because he first has loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). He is not aloof from us. Each one of us has a place in his heart. He knows us by name, he cares for us and he seeks us out whenever we turn away from him. He is interested in each of us; his love does not allow him to be indifferent to what happens to us….” And after giving a number of suggestions on how to combat what he terms “a globalization of indifference” he concludes: “During this Lent, then, brothers and sisters, let us all ask the Lord: ‘Fac cor nostrum secundum cor tuum’: Make our hearts like yours(Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus). In this way we will receive a heart which is firm and merciful, attentive and generous, a heart which is not closed, indifferent or prey to the globalization of indifference. It is my prayerful hope that this Lent will prove spiritually fruitful for each believer and every ecclesial community. I ask all of you to pray for me. May the Lord bless you and Our Lady keep you.”

Our mother the Church gives us great freedom in selecting the ways in which we will deny ourselves, pray and show charity towards others. Here are some possible sacrifices; each person could freely choose to follow some of these points or formulate other resolutions in keeping with his/her age and circumstances.

Sacrifices in food: Fast; eat less; eat less of what I like most; eat more of what I like least; skip some condiment such as salt, sugar, ketchup, cream. Not eat in between meals. Hold off a few minutes before eating or drinking what is in front of me. Not take ice in drinks.

Sacrifices in rest: Go to bed on time; get up on time; skip naps.

Sacrifices in posture: Sit up straight; do not cross my legs; do not use the backrest.

Sacrifices in personal grooming: Take a cold shower; take a shorter shower; floss; keep use of the mirror to a minimum; offer use of the bathroom to others before taking my turn; clean up afterwards.

Sacrifices in entertainment: Limit TV watching or skip it for the duration of Lent; listen less to music; read more and better works; less use of video games or skip entirely. Avoid using the Internet without a clear, useful purpose; eliminate Internet surfing; cut back on texting, the use of social media and the need to respond to others instantly; refrain from constantly checking emails and news on line. Read only certain parts of the newspaper. Resolve not to look at billboards. Avoid shopping without a definite purpose. Try not to spend money.

Sacrifices in social settings and conversations: Think ahead and bring up good topics for conversations so as to avoid gossip and backbiting. Give others a chance to speak and listen to them attentively. Be courteous to other drivers. Don’t complain. Don’t blame others.

Consult your spouse; offer to do him/her one favor each day. Try to see the good in your spouse and compliment her/him more often; do the same for your children and for brothers and sisters. Use a cheerful tone of voice. Drop what you are doing to greet others in a friendly fashion. Have a great and blessed Lent!

Fr. Rene can be reached by email at

Be crafty this Lent


img_20170209_133519As Lent begins we consider what sacrifices will help us grow best in our love for the Cross of Jesus. Most people choose something to give up in the area of food and drink. This is natural and good because we eat frequently, and because personal likes and tastes are intense areas of potential self-indulgence. This doesn’t mean that all enjoyments have to go by the wayside during Lent. In fact, our mortifications (“self-death” practices) should be somewhat hidden, and our dispositions cheerful. On Ash Wednesday we hear The Lord’s admonition: “And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast” (Mt. 6:16).

So in addition to generous self-denial of personal comforts and tastes, an interesting sacrifice to consider is trying new things, and in particular new foods and drinks that aren’t part of our regular gastrological regimen. All the better if these new products please others around us and make them happy. For example, I recently discovered “craft” (specialty) sodas. There used to be many small soda companies, but most of these got pushed aside or ingested by the big companies. This is the way of business, of course. But now it is encouraging to see the rise of the “craft” products again, mainly beers and wines, but also sodas. So far, one of my favorites is an Akron, Ohio based company called “Norka” (Akron spelled backwards). There is also “Natrona” (a small town near Pittsburgh, not spelled backwards). Like all “craft” products, these sodas are more expensive than the popular name brand ones, but they also often taste better, and make great conversation starters as well, like local history and small business philosophies.

So whether you might be giving up the pleasures of alcoholic beverages or just want to try something different as a way of breaking from routine fasting practices, try something new this Lent, like craft sodas (in moderation!) which will bring a smile to your face, as well as those faces around you. Happy fasting!

Since first posting this article, a friend pointed me to Fitz’s pop products in St. Louis (yes, they say “pop” there). Enjoy this cool video of it’s root beer production and distribution. Sorry you can’t taste it here!



We’re all wayfarers

The initial shock and following outrage over the Trump Administration’s recent hold on travel into the US for selected countries are understandable and perhaps even merited reactions. Since we have always prided ourselves as an inviting welcoming nation, the idea and practice that some people should not be invited or welcomed into the USA smacks “Un-American”. Of course, like every country in the history of the world, the practice of border protection and immigration vigilance is nothing new to the United States, or anyone else for that matter. A country is like a home that needs safeguards of protection. (As I write this I’m preaching a retreat in Florida, and I’m amazed at all the manifestations of home protection: gated communities, fences and electronic surveillance to community watch groups. In fact, I’ve never felt so protected). 

We need to be realistic, reflective and patient in the Brave New World. With the rise of technology a timeless, spaceless, borderless community has risen. With applications like Facebook Live, Periscope, Google Maps (and now with Google Cardboard) we can virtually travel the world in real time in ways that were unimaginable even a few years ago. In fact we’re still digesting these new technologies. As a big fan of participating in public events I’m coming to the personally unthinkable realization that it really doesn’t matter if one actually attends events or not; video feeds are better (and much cheaper) than actually being there (Mass is a clear exception) . One challenge with this new immediate access to everything is that it be transferred to everything: “I can go wherever I want virtually, so I can go wherever I want actually”. Of course this isn’t, and cannot be true. The right of mobility isn’t absolute, and communities have a duty to carefully consider right of access to their goods and activities. The recent policy to temporarily restrict immediate entry into the US is a sudden (albeit rude) reminder of this reality. A priest friend of mine experienced this when he decided to take a two-day trip to Canada. He was detained at the border for a long time, and after two lengthy interviews became exasperated. When asked yet again “Now sir, why did you come into Canada?” he couldn’t hold it in: “Because I THOUGHT it would be fun!”. 

The bigger reality at issue, I think, comes into focus. We’re all wayfarers, strangers, pilgrims, and none of us are really at home in this life. My hope and prayer is that all the confusion and frustration over border controls and immigration vigilance will help us realize this truth more clearly with the eyes of faith, and that community policies compassionately reflect it. 

The “Golden Age” of Jesus’ birth


Often as I drive through the streets of Cleveland, I imagine what this great city was like in its “Golden Age”, which, like many cities of the industrial Northeast and Midwest, seems to be sometime in the late 1940s to about 1960 (at least from an economic point of view). The factories and steel mills, the storefront churches and neighborhood parks must really have been active. Now, great swaths of open lots and abandoned buildings remain as kinds of monuments to that era. But such is the fate of all human communities: there is growth, there is decline, there is recovery, there is redefining and innovation.

In a similar way, Advent invites us each year to imagine the “Golden Age” of the birth of Jesus. In my prayers and views of Christmas decorations such as cheap decorative lights and glowing Nativity scenes, I try to imagine Bethlehem in Year Zero, the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4-7). A longing can, and should, enter here, whereby we become, as St. Josemaria liked to say, another character in the gospel scenes.


The great thing, however, is that the “Golden Age” of the birth of Jesus really hasn’t ended or passed us by. Through our prayer and penances, and above all through grace, we spiritually enter into the real world of Jesus, Joseph and Mary. The Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity has become flesh, and still dwells among us (cfr. Jn 1:14). His humanity as well as his divinity are always with us in Sacred Scripture, the Sacraments (especially Holy Communion) as well as the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ. So, in this way, we really don’t have to long for a distant time or place. Look for the “Golden Age of Jesus” in your life, in your house, in your work, in your friendships, in your family, in your joys and sorrows… You will find it! As Jesus declared in some of his last words on this earth, “I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Mt 28:20).

David Bowie on Soul Train sings his classic ode to Nostalgia “Golden Years”:

As Pilgrims we end the Year of Mercy

img_20161014_141817As many commentators have remarked, what an extra-ordinary time it’s recently been in the USA! The Cubs win the World Series, the Cavaliers win the NBA championship, Bob Dylan wins a Nobel Prize, and Donald Trump is elected President of the United States. Did the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy (ending this Sunday) have anything to do with these events? Only God knows, but what is for certain is that the graces of the Jubilee Year have worked the most important miracles, on the inside of persons: conversions; acts of generosity and compassion; expansion of the sacramental life of the Church; and a particularly powerful World Youth Day in the land of St. John Paul II.

Since the first official Jubilee Year in the Church (1300), Popes and all the people have enjoyed the celebrations from the perspective of the interior life, and particularly in repentance from sin. As EWTN reports on the first Jubilee:

On Christmas 1299, in the wake of much suffering from war and plague, many people came to Rome, to repent at the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul. In response, Pope Boniface VII proclaimed a “year of forgiveness of all sins”. 1300 was thus the first ordinary Jubilee year.

While the places of pilgrimage for this Year of Mercy have been easier to get to than St. Peter’s Basilica (like St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, pictured) the spiritual effects of traversing the holy doors, getting to confession, and praying for the Pope and the Church were just the same: forgiveness of sin; a chance to begin again in one’s spiritual life, and a renewed desire to serve God and persons around us. We need to give thanks to God for this very special time of grace in the Church, and end it well, as Pilgrims strengthened by Our Lord’s Divine Mercy. Whatever resolutions you have made during the Year of Mercy, now is the time to make them specific, and like a good Pilgrim, keep moving.

Purgatory, All Souls Day, and the Chicago Cubs


When Game 7 of the 2016 World Series landed on All Souls Day 2016 I knew it would be interesting.

Like many rural Illinois kids, I grew up a Cubs fan; it was simply part of the social fabric, like American vehicles, violent thunderstorms, and lots of carbs. Our house only received a few TV stations, one of them WGN, home of the Chicago Cubs. Perhaps I would have liked the rival South Side White Sox, but we didn’t “have cable” (remember that?) and so I couldn’t follow them. Like most Cub fans, I felt and grew used to the anxiety of the team’s constant mediocrity and meltdowns, but I didn’t really know why, until November 2, 2016. You see, I now know that being a Cub fan in that era was a kind of purgatorial experience; one that, at least for the moment, has passed.

We can talk now, in fact, talk about a “Pre” and “Post” Nov. 2, 2016. The “Post” 2016 fans to come will perhaps never know the suffering of the “Pre” community, and maybe it’s better they don’t. To be a Cub fan in the 108 years of waiting (68 years more than Moses!) was a time of real purification, perhaps not from sin in the classic sense, but definitely from human weakness that results from sin. To lose year after year, with no foreseeable knowledge when the losing would end, yet filled with that pesky hope and surety that one day it would end, was a taste of Purgatory, if only on a human level.

That’s why as All Souls Day had to set the stage for the last game of the 2016 World Series. A Cubs victory would bring relief from the bonds of waiting and anxiety. The bizarre rain delay at Midnight, at the beginning of the 10th Inning, provided an almost “baptismal” moment from which flowed the victory, and with it, “redemption”. While fans now know about the now historic and inspiring Rain Delay Speech by Jason Heyward in the clubhouse, I like to think the intercession of the souls in Purgatory being released into Heaven on All Souls Day  (perhaps many, many of them Cub fans) had something to do with it as well. For us, who by geography, history, and technology found themselves connected to the experience of patience that is rooting for such a seemingly hopeless cause, mercy was granted. Who knows? I guess it will all come together at the Big Victory Parade at the end of time, when God raises the final “W” on history. But we might have to wait a lot longer than 108 years for that.

This museum in Rome features relics of visits the dead have made to the living. It’s a good commentary on the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory.

Subsidiarity 101

img_20160926_134825-1It’s a rare occasion that theological concepts make the main-stream media, so whenever they do, one shouldn’t waste the opportunity to talk about them. Recently, the Catholic social doctrine principle of Subsidiarity came up, albeit not in the most reverent light. In a WikiLeaks email exchange from 2011, it is lamented that some Catholics try to sound sophisticated by using terms like  ‘Thomistic thought’ and ‘subsidiarity’ “…because no one knows what the hell they’re talking about.” That might well be true sometimes, as Catholics are, like anyone else, subject to temptations of arrogance and boorish verbosity. In any case, it makes for an occasion to review this essential concept of the Church’s social doctrine.

While pastors like Pope Leo XIII and Bishop Wilhelm von Ketteler in the late 1800s, as well as the writers Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton in the early 20th Century, developed the concept of Subsidiarity, its fullest expression was offered in 1931 by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno (On 40 years after Rerum Novarum of Leo XIII). In numbers 79-80 Pius XI claimed that:

Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.

The supreme authority of the State ought, therefore, to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of “subsidiary function,” the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State.

The principle of Subsidiarity simply means that when people and communities are able to take care of their own affairs (keeping in mind the good of other communities) they should be given the opportunities to exercise these responsibilities. Local organizations and governing bodies are, as a rule, more connected to the real needs of any given community, and will most likely (so the theory goes) make more informed, accurate, and beneficial solutions for that social body. Of course, this doesn’t give local governments free reign over everything; history is full of examples of localities suffering from  xenophobia, prejudice, and other community-sanctioned abuses of justice. Nonetheless, and trusting in a community’s efforts to secure the common good, a healthy deference to local decision making is a goal worth promoting and protecting. As the popular environmental saying goes, “Think globally; act locally!” How Catholic.

Pastoral Reading of ‘Amoris Laetitia’

img_20160927_151542-1As is well known by now the apostolic exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Laetitia, has generated much attention and many commentaries. Although the document deals primarily with the sanctification of family life and culture though holiness in marriage, popular (and excessive?) emphasis has been made on the issues surrounding the question as to whether or when divorced and civilly remarried Catholics may be admitted to the sacraments of Penance and the Eucharist. That possibility is alluded to in number 305 and footnote 351 of the document:

305. Because of forms of conditioning and mitigating factors, it is possible that an objective situation of sin, which may not be subjectively  culpable, or fully such, a person can be living in God’s grace, can love and can also grow in the life of grace and charity, while receiving the Church’s help to this end.

Footnote 351. “In certain cases, this can include the help of the sacraments. Hence I want to remind priests that the confessional must not be a torture chamber, but rather an encounter with the Lord’s mercy. I would also point out that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak”.

Below is a brief bibliography of works related to this pastoral issue. It includes commentaries from the perspectives of theology  and canon law. Where possible, links to the articles are given. The entire collection could be read in perhaps one hour.

JIMMY AKIN, Pope Francis’s New Document on Marriage

CODE OF CANON LAW (1983), Canons 915 and 916

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, 2nd ed., Numbers 1650-51

ROBERT CONNOR, Why the Resistance to Amoris Laetitia?

POPE FRANCIS, Amoris Laetitia

MAGGIE GALLAGHER, Why I’m Still Catholic

ANGEL RODRIGUEZ-LUNO,  Amoris laetitia: Doctrinal Guidelines for a Pastoral Discernment

SAINT JOHN PAUL II, Familiaris Consortio, number 84

EDWARD PENTIN, Full Text and Explanatory Notes of Cardinals’ Questions on ‘Amoris Laetitia’

EDWARD PETERS,  On the Buenos Aires Directive

ARCHDIOCESE OF PHILADELPHIA, Pastoral Guidelines for Implementing Amoris Laetitia

ROBERT ROYAL, A Bizarre Papal Move

CLAIRE CHRETIEN, Archbishop Sample Corrects ‘Troublesome Misuses’ of Amoris Laetitia