Sunday, December 26, 1999


First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, on 12/26/99.

Although I like to watch movies, I don’t like to watch movies about Christmas, especially modern ones. In an effort to capture the spirit of Christmas without getting anywhere near Christ, these movies become stupider and stupider each year. Now, they will include angels. I guess they figure angels are harmless enough. Angels are sort of middle of the road. They just do good stuff and nobody has to shed any blood. Anyway, I’m not into any of this heart-warming stuff for Christmas. Bah, Humbug!

Let me tell you about the best Christmas I ever had. It was Christmas Eve, 1984. I was living on the island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands where I was employed as a high-school teacher. I was single yet and lived in a small cottage on the west shore of the island overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 

As dusk set in, and day died its usually spectacular death into the Caribbean night, I found myself sitting in on old rocking chair, wrapped in a blanket, nursing the flu, and staring out into a sky where the struggle between the sea and the dying sun almost always erupted into a magnificent explosion of flame and color that escapes language. It was a sight that never ceased to utterly move me, even, as was then the case, in drugged illness.

I had no family to share this Christmas with. They all lived in Los Angeles. My roommate had gone home to New Jersey for the Christmas break. Students and other local friends were all with their families. And I was immovably ill with the flu; the kind of deep illness that keeps you from even wanting to take care of yourself. 

There were no presents under the tree. There was no tree. There were no people to put presents under the tree. There was no phone call home, there was no phone. There were no Christmas carols coming from the radio, I had no radio...and no TV. Just me, the flu, an old rocking chair, the whisper of a quiet sea, and the dying sky.

I mused on Christmases past, as many of us do on this night; remembering that, as a choral conductor in the great city of Los Angeles, I was, for many years, the center of attention on Christmas Eve; bustling about getting the choir ready for the grand spectacle I had prepared for Midnight Mass. 

I was pretty important then. All eyes on me. The flashing conductor’s baton. The passionate upward move of the left arm exhorting the entire ensemble into a heaven-shaking crescendo. The slight downward twitch of an eyebrow that would pass a long diminuendo into silence and send the softly pulsating overtones of the final harmony out to glowingly hover over an awed congregation.

Ah, yes. And then there was my own glow from having commanded such a great performance, the congratulations after Mass, the "that-was-so-beautiful's," the adoring choir members and parishioners. Yes, this place was lucky to have me. What would Christmas be without my ability to create music that could seemingly approximate the glorious sounds of the first "in excelsis Deo"’s?

Well, I was finding out. I smiled with sad amusement at my present picture: sick, alone, thousands of miles from home, and except for the wind, the distant lapping of the sea, and the sound of my own labored breathing, there was...silence. I wasn’t supposed to be here. By now I should have been the director of music at the Los Angeles Cathedral or something, standing with wild hair and waving arms amidst the trumpet blasts, thunderous organ, and hundred-voice "Hodie"’s. But God knows best how to save us. 

Two years prior, He had washed me up on this island (that’s another story), and had torn me from everything I thought I was or was going to be. He had isolated me from everything and everyone that could remind me of me. He had cut me off from the adulation and praise on which I throve. I didn’t know why. I just knew it was Him. So though I cried and complained, I didn’t resist.

And tonight He had struck me with infirmity and crushed me with memories and loneliness. I didn’t know why. I just knew it was Him. But He was about to tell me why. He had done all this that He might be alone with me this night. That He might teach me at last about Christmas: that Christmas was about Him and not me. 

In my sad, lonely little state, he gave me a brief glimpse of the First Christmas.  His Mother’s Christmas. A sad, lonely little state, fraught with cold, loneliness, fear, and a hard dirt floor. What terror for this 16 year old girl, so far from home, with no place to deliver her firstborn save amid straw, dirt, and animal dung. And then to have to flee even further from her home lest her babe be murdered by a jealous ruler. 

Who was this child she held who was born to die? What heaven-sent pain would her soul be asked to magnify? What cross had exited her womb? And how sad Joseph’s heart to be able to provide no better for his frail wife and Son. Terror, loneliness, pain, sadness, fear? Does this sound like Christmas? 

Christ was born into the middle of it. And that night he was born into mine. It was all in an instant. But in heaven an instant and eternity know not the other. And in that eternal instant I was thrust through with a deep recognition of Him who sat next to me in my lonely illness that night. A recognition of Him, without Whom there is no Christmas, without Whom there are no Christmas lights, without Whom there is never anything but shadow. 

Every year so many of us suffer during the holidays (Holy-Days) of loneliness, pain, sadness, fear and despair. And I’m not talking just about the homeless and infirm. I’m talking about those of us with lots of family, presents, and holiday cheer all about us. 

We only suffer from these things because we know not that it is the Holy Family who is visiting this Christmas and bringing with them the mood of the stable so that we may remember, amidst the tinsel and turkey, what He was born to save us from. Open the door and let them in.
Have a "Mary" Christmas

Tim Rohr
December 26, 1999

Saturday, December 18, 1999

The other side: A response to "Are there any wealthy people in heaven?

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, 12/18/99.

Judging by the response, my column last week, "Are There Any Wealthy People In Heaven?" seems to have caused a bit of distress or at least discomfort amongst some readers. During the week I also had a chance to address Fr. Dan Mulhauser’s morality class at UOG on the same topic and was told later by a student that it was good to hear "the other side". 
I found the words "the other side" both amusing and a true summation of my point in the original article: that the creation of wealth is somehow considered to be un-Catholic or even un-Christian. I believe the anxiety with my position lies in the definition of the word "wealth", which for many of us, is defined by the media, where examples of the misuse of wealth sell, and stories where the responsible use of wealth make no news.
But at further issue is that "wealth" is really a relative word. We may think that the man with the house on the hill and a yacht down at the marina is wealthy and hold him in contempt, labeling him with the dreaded "M" word (materialistic). But what of the poor family that lives on the side of the railroad tracks in Manila? Are we with our flush toilets and refrigerators not wealthy in their eyes? Are we not "materialistic" in comparison? So materialism is relative too, and is usually defined where our paycheck ends.
What’s really amusing to me is that so many of these heart-rending discussions over the world’s poor and the evils of materialism take place in multi-million dollar university buildings where the air-conditioning bill for the duration of one class alone could feed that hungry family on the side of those railroad tracks for half a year. 
For the sake of discussion, let me propose a definition of wealth, or at least the generation of revenue, as a by-product of having performed some service that others find worth trading their dollars for, be it mowing a neighbor’s lawn or the creation of a computer program. That, in essence, is the definition of capitalism as employed in the free-market economy upon which our country was built. 
I believe that many of us Catholics run into trouble trying to rationalize the real world of bills and financial responsibilities with what we are taught in parishes and universities because the people we learn from do not live in this free-market economy. Priests don’t get fired, and university professors have to mess up pretty bad before they are asked to leave. And their pay is not directly contingent on the quality and quantity of production (at least not on the day to day basis) as is ours in the private sector.
I am no economist and I propose no grand solution, but I do believe that there is much in the Gospels that points to the responsible generation and management of wealth, particularly the story of the talents (Lk.19:11-27) Meanwhile, I recommend that we who so easily demand that the "haves" give more to the "have-nots", become "haves" ourselves, so that we ourselves can give to the "have-nots". 
But I would urge Catholics to go beyond even this. For I believe that the truly charitable thing to do is not only to give monetary assistance to the truly helpless, which is definitely our Gospel responsibility, but to give an example to the many who would pick themselves up if only they knew that they could.
And why not be a financially prosperous and responsible Catholic? It would cut down on the fundraisers.
Tim Rohr
December 18, 1999

Saturday, December 11, 1999

Are there any wealthy people in heaven?

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, 12/11/99.

I have just begun reading a book entitled God Wants You To Be Rich by the economist Paul Zane Pilzer. Just the fact that I’m reading it brings a smile to my face and a bit of a laugh at myself. Just a few years ago in my “Birkenstock days”, I was extolling the virtues of wearing thrift-store clothing and joining in the wealth-bashing that was common in my circle of pseudo-poor intelligensia. (What was really stupid is that though we all wore sandals as a way of  identifying with the poor, they were Birkenstock sandals, and as you may know, you can buy 3 pairs of shoes for the price of a pair of Birkenstocks.)
But such is the age of infinite intelligence, that period of time that starts somewhere in high school and usually (hopefully) ends after our 2nd or 3rd child. Nothing like having children and raising a family to get you thinking differently about a lot of things, most of all about money. 
But money is one of those subjects, like sex and parenting, that we don’t get much help on.  We’re supposed to figure it out on our own and we graduate from high school knowing more about dissecting frogs and solving trigonomic equations than we do about balancing our checkbooks. And while it may be true that  “money can’t buy love”, it’s usually not an argument over the location of a frog’s left ventricle that begins to unravel a marriage. 
Given the ever increasing financial stresses and strains of our modern predicament and the consequent scars left on marital and family relations due to quarrels induced by fiscal stress, our Church could do much for the betterment of marital and family life by the preaching and teaching of a proper Catholic perspective on the creation and management of wealth.
However, more often than not, we are treated from the Sunday pulpit with a regular fare of  something that amounts to “blessed are the poor in pocket”, followed by the inevitable passing of the basket. (And then we wonder why people only put in 1’s and 5’s.) I personally  have yet to hear any sort of teaching from teacher or preacher on the parish level that expounds on the financial in a positive vein. The business man or wealthy person is usually the bad guy in the story and more often than not is turned away at St. Peter’s gate. But who does the pastor go to when the parish needs a new roof?
I say on the parish level because I have heard and read some great things concerning the proper function of business, the free market, and profits taught and published by Catholic teachers. Our very own Pope is one of them. His encyclical, “Centesimus Annus” makes a case for the free market system tempered by strong moral and ethical principles and extols the roll of business in promoting a free society. (He lived most of his life in a society that wasn’t free.)
Another excellent teacher on the subject is Fr. Robert Sirico who’s Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty is dedicated to the education of the clergy on the role of the free market in promoting a free society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. You can access some very enlightening information at the Institute’s web site at
But meanwhile, let’s stop pretending that creating wealth isn’t important. It is. It’s what we use to fulfill our biblical responsibilities to “provide and protect”. It’s what we use to build our churches, schools, libraries, convents, monasteries, and hospitals. It even buys the very bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus at Mass. It’s what we use to advance the Kingdom as He commanded. We need money and we need more of it. But the key word here is “use”. Financial wealth is a tool and, like all things material, was given to us by God to be used for the greater glory of God...”ad majoriam gloriam”. 
So let’s hear about the rich man who did go to heaven. I’m sure there are many.
Tim Rohr
December 11, 1999

Saturday, December 04, 1999

What are giving up for Advent?

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, on 12/4/99.

“What are you giving up for Advent?” So rang the commanding voice of Sr. Mary Paul who presided over our 2nd grade class. The very question should tell you that this was quite a while ago (early 60’s actually). I can remember each Advent being instructed by this most holy nun to write down on a little piece of paper at least three things we were to give up for Advent. Then all the papers were collected and set upon the altar at the first school Mass of the Advent season. 
I can remember that giving up things for Advent was taken very seriously and we would brag about our little sacrifices to our friends in the schoolyard. We were all very proud of our pubescent attempts at asceticism. But somewhere around 6th grade, when our teacher, Sr. Mary Ephraim became Sr. Rose (and eventually just Rose), the whole idea of giving up something for Advent was dismissed and it became fashionable to ask not what you will give up but what will you do for Advent. 
I then recall that we no longer made individual commitments, but we decided to collectively do something as a class. Eventually our Advent resolutions evolved from little personal sacrifices offered secretly at the Altar to once a season class field trips to the local convalescent home, where, given our little sixth grade minds, we were moved more to jokes about the spooky looking old people than to any form of compassion.
By my high-school years (and I went to a Catholic high-school) the whole idea of giving up anything or even doing anything for Advent had disappeared. In Sunday sermons, the word “repent” was more and more replaced by the word “prepare” (a much nicer word), and instead of being marched off to confession on a Wednesday afternoon by Sr. Mary Paul, we were free to attend Fr. Chuck’s Reconciliation Service which was usually followed by a party and much food.
As I grew into adulthood Christmas Day became less and less meaningful, even a source of depression. I kept looking for the best music, the best liturgy. I tried Midnight Mass, early Christmas morning Mass. I rented videos and went to see movies about Christmas, restlessly seeking the elusive Christmas spirit. I started playing Christmas music in October. I bought magazines off supermarket racks that sold the secret of the Christmas spirit on their covers. I wore out “It’s a Wonderful Life” and partied many a night away at Christmas party after Christmas party. Still Christmas Day itself became more and more depressing and anti-climatic.
But this year is going to be different. Sr. Mary Paul had it right all along. There really is no Christmas without Advent. And there really is no Advent without repentance. And there is no repentance without giving something up, be it ever so small. The instructions for Advent are very plain in Scripture. What must one do to prepare the way of the Lord? “Repent!” (Mt.3:2). 
The Baptist does not cry, “spend some quiet time reflecting on the meaning of the Lord’s coming in your life”. He does not cry “visit the local convalescent home or work in the soup kitchen” (though we should do these things). He cries “Repent!!!” And THEN show evidence of your repentance by producing “good fruit” (Mt.3:8) lest you be “cut down and thrown into the fire” (Mt.3:10). Nothing nice here.
I looked in the thesaurus under “repentance” and here’s what I found: “sorrow”, “remorse”, “regret”, “contrition”, “penitence”, contriteness”, “compunction”. What struck me was that these words were describing my mood on Christmas Day. Why? Well, why shouldn’t they? I had been doing all the feel good stuff all through the season of repentance. I had reversed the seasons and I bet I’m not alone here.
By omitting or at least de-emphasizing repentance, signified most clearly by giving something up as Sr. Mary Paul had instructed, we have naively eviscerated the essence of Advent and  we can now begin our Christmas Season as early as we like...and we do. So, though we sing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, light the candles on the Advent wreath, and listen to the usual exhortations from the pulpit eschewing materialism and the commercialization of Christmas, we cross ourselves, genuflect, then jump in our cars and head for the malls or the office Christmas party, just like everyone else.
I submit that we Catholics have no business acting like everyone else. I submit that as Catholics we do something radically Catholic for Advent, so radical that you will probably have the best Christmas ever. I submit that we give up something for Advent. I submit that for Advent we give up Christmas. That’s right. Read it again. Give up Christmas for Advent. Let’s put the Christmas back in Christmas by keeping it out of Advent.
I realize that most of us won’t be able to go cold turkey on this, so go ahead and setup the tree, but no decorations until Christmas Eve. String the lights on your house, but don’t turn them on til Christmas Eve. Bake the cookies, etc., but no eating until Christmas. As a matter of fact, the bare tree might be a good idea, a new tradition. We could call it the Advent tree. It will probably teach our children much about what Advent is.. I know you’ll still need to do the shopping, but keep the presents in the closet until Christmas Eve. You got the idea. There’s really nothing new about this. When reading those lovely old Christmas stories we are told that all the decorations and preparations happened on “the night before Christmas”, not the night after Thanksgiving.
And what about the Christmas parties? Don’t worry our Holy Mother Church in all her wisdom has amply provided plenty of party time. For the true Catholic liturgical Christmas Season actually starts with Christmas Day. It does not end with it. The Christmas Season extends all the way to the Sunday after January 6, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord.
January 6 of course is the Feast of the Epiphany, and more traditionally Catholics have celebrated Christmas up till then, the original 12 days of Christmas. It was we Catholics who came up with the 12 days of Christmas, not Bing Crosby. And why not give a gift every day for the full 12 days just as the song says.  In some cultures, gifts are not even given until the Feast of the Epiphany. Now this makes a lot of sense. Not only is it the day celebrating the beginning of gift giving at Christmas (Gold, Frankincense, & myrrh), you’ll also find much better prices at the stores.  
When I was a child my mother would not take the tree down until January 6. We could tell who the Protestants were in the neighborhood because their trees would be on the curb with the rest of the Christmas trash by December 26. We were so glad to be Catholic because we could keep our tree and its magic for an extra 12 days. Catholics really do have more fun. 
But seriously, I believe that our Church in Her wisdom gave us 12 days of Christmas because this time splitting event which we celebrate on December 25 is too great for human nature to fathom in just one day each year. We need the whole Christmas Season to rejoice...and the WHOLE Advent Season to prepare for it. So what are you going to give up for Advent?
Tim Rohr
December 4, 1999

Sunday, November 28, 1999

Grinding Teeth

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, 11/28/99.

In the Gospel we hear about the man who was thrown out of the wedding feast for not wearing the proper garment. He was not just asked to leave. He was ordered to be bound hand and foot and thrown out into the night to wail and grind his teeth. Talk about wearing the wrong suit!
Though I am not advocating the binding up of ill-dressed people hand and foot and throwing them out of church to wail and grind their teeth, it seems to this particular Catholic that there should be some point made here about the proper attire for the most glorious Feast of all, the Mass.
I am a relatively recent convert to the idea of respectful attire at Mass. Not long ago I was laying on the carpet of a university chapel, barefoot, unshaven, worn out jeans, tank top, the works, while “attending” Mass with several other similarly clad folks. “Hey God loves me for who I am, not what I wear” was the popular anthem amongst our age. It was fashionable to further justify ourselves by suspecting as a hypocrite anyone who dressed up for church.
I can’t say when it was, but probably after hearing this Gospel passage a few years ago, that I was struck by the fact that I put more effort into my appearance to go to a party and be presentable to my friends and business associates than I did to go to the Banquet of the Lord and present myself before the King.
“Hey, this is Guam”, I would say to myself, “It’s casual, man. Besides it’s hot, etc., etc.” But the fact remained that I would dress better to go to the Governor’s party than I would  to go to the King’s. It came down to this: Is this really the house of God? Is this really the Body & Blood of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? Do I really believe that I am going to kneel before the King? Well?
No, I don’t mean tuxes and gowns. We’re talking about respect here. You figure it out. (Though it would certainly help  if we could receive some occasional  guidance from the pulpit.)
Meanwhile, let us remember that this is The Mass, the Eucharistic Miracle, the precise intersection of Heaven and Earth, a window on Eternity, the actual Body and Blood of Him who made us and saved us and Who would bring us to Himself into all Eternity, to Fianl Banquet, the Feast of all feasts. Dress up, man. Shine your shoes! Eternity is a long time to grind your teeth.
Tim Rohr
November 28, 1999

Sunday, November 07, 1999

The Evil Beyond Abortion

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, November 7, 1999.

I was not going to take on this subject so early in my weekly-columnist career. In fact, with this article I may be inviting the end of my career, for this subject is probably the most unpopular subject in all of Catholicism. However, here goes. But before I begin I must beg the forgiveness of those who are the exception and to please bear in mind that this is only a "view from the pew", and really only one guy in one pew of one church. (Also, it is a given here that God opens and closes the womb as He wills.)
I applaud the Bishop and the other writers who advanced the pro-life position in last week's Pacific Voice. There can be no doubt that abortion is a great evil.. Not even science doubts now that life begins at conception. The question being debated is not whether this center of activity in the womb is a life, but whether or not it has a legal right to exit the womb alive. I, for now, will leave that debate to others.
As a Catholic community, we may or may not be able to overturn Roe vs. Wade in our lifetime. We may or may not even succeed in having abortion banned in our own island. We can however accomplish, in my view, something more significant and eternal. We can do something, as Catholic parents, teachers, and preachers, that all the pro-life marches and speeches and petitions can never do. 
We can teach our children of God's sacred plan. We can teach them about what sex is for. We can teach them how our almighty and omnipotent Father, maker of heaven and earth, ruler of all creation, humbled Himself beyond all understanding by relegating to lowly man and woman, the power to create the one thing He wants more than all the stars and solar systems: immortal souls. 
For though we do not create the immortal soul ourselves, God has mysteriously deigned that there be no other channel for creation of this soul than that of the human seed. Thus, we hold within our bodies the key to God's ultimate desire. For without our cooperation in creation there will be no future citizens of heaven. We need to teach our children that not only CAN we have babies, but that we MUST. 
In fact, the very FIRST commandment ever given to man was, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth..." (Gen. 1:28) . Notice it does say "multiply" and notice that it also says "fill the earth". We have not yet fulfilled this command. Just for the record, and especially for the "standing-room only" anti-populationists, the current population of the world, which is figured near 6 billion could fit in its entirety in the state of Texas with approx. 1300 square feet per person. (You can do the math yourself.). We have a long way to go.
But I am not here to argue logistics. My real point is that we will never make any headway in the abortion battle so long as we simply battle abortion. For abortion is not the real evil here. It is only a symptom of the evil. The real evil is our denial of this very first commandment by our unquestioning embrace of the Enemy's ultimate weapon against God in denying Him souls, CONTRACEPTION!  For what is abortion really other than the most extreme means of contraception. 
I can hear the howls already, how it's not the same thing, that abortion kills and contraception prevents. I've heard it all. But the effect is the same. Whether we use the knife or the pill we have interfered with God's absolute right to the womb and new life- the only possible home for the immortal soul. 
For it is here, in the deepest intimacy of two united beings, in the eternal dance of the sexes, cooperating in unison with God for that which He created them, man and woman, that the Lord of Hosts comes down from highest heaven and His word becomes flesh once more. The precise intersection of the human and divine. Oh, if we only knew what we were doing.
"Oh", but you say, "we are Catholics, we don't believe in artificial contraception." Really? Where are the once glorious witnesses of large Catholic families? Have Catholics suddenly become naturally infertile in the last 20 years? "Oh, but you must understand, economic times have changed", etc., ad nauseum, etc...(By the way, this isn't me talking to you, this is us talking to ourselves...called rationalization.). Odd, we now have more TV's than we have kids.And kids have more nintendo games than brothers and sisters. For want of cars and comforts we forsake children and the conjugal command.
"Oh, but we practice Natural Family Planning (NFP), it's been okayed by the Church." And of course you are right...partly. BUT! It is critical for us as Catholics to remember that the use of NFP is morally permissable only when there are serious reasons for spacing offspring. 
When this natural form of birth-control first came to be known, Pius XII told us "that observing the non-fertile periods alone can be lawful only under a moral aspect", and that to avoid children always and deliberately without an exteremely serious reason would be "a sin against the very meaning of marriage." (Pius XII-"Address to the Italian Catholic Union of Midwives" to warn against the selfish use of natural family planning, Oct 29, 1951)  
Lest you think that I am some sort of self-righteous moralist, allow me to offer a bit of personal testimony and confession here. I am a product of the 70's, which should say enough about my doctrinal background-almost none. I, like many of you fell under the pseudo-doctrines of "if it feels good do it", and  "whatever turns you on", etc. At 29 I was not only still not married, I had no intention of doing so, let alone any thought of children.  I was living in the Virgin Islands at the time and my philosophy of life was " Two coconut trees, a hammock, a bottle of rum, reggae music, and Caribbean women...oh, and I also played my guitar at Saturday night Mass.
God of course always has the last say, and now at 43, a beautiful wife and 8 children (and counting) later, I can attest to His much referred to sense of humor. I don't have time or room here to recount the conversion story, but it really wasn't till after our 4th child that I totally let God in and gave Him control of "that" too. 
Of course, parading around the town with 8 children draws attention and almost certain questions. My wife usually answers them all kindly with a smile. "Yes, they're all mine." "No, I don't run a day-care." "No, we're not done, we're leaving that up to God.", etc. But the question that always irks me is, "How are you going to put them all through college?" Oh, if only we were half as concerned about getting our children into heaven as we are about getting them into college! 
We just happen to believe, by the grace of God and courageous teachers, that  the best way to direct our spritual charges towards heaven is by living in loving response to that very first commandment. Indeed, it is only through the obedience to this command that there is even another soul to show heaven too.
And it here that we give thanks for the wonderful gift of the Catholic Church and those who have the courage to teach its truths. For we have a Church that is not only willing to condemn the evils of abortion, but is now practically the only mainline Church left standing still crying out in the wilderness that the use of contraception is a grave violation of the moral order, that "each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church). 
It is only in the Catholic Church that we are taught that of the two inseparable aspects of conjugal sex, the unitive and the procreative, the unitive must remain subordiante to the procreative, wherein is hidden the key to the lasting mutual love we burn for.
And until we understand, embrace, and teach this, the babies will die.
Tim Rohr
November 7, 1999

Sunday, October 31, 1999

Helpless, Hopeless

First published in View from the Pew, a column for the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, October 31, 1999.

We received THE call on September 15. You know, THAT call. The one that as you begin to move through your 30’s you know you will get sooner or later, and you hope it’s later. 
“Leone, Mommy’s in the hospital and it doesn’t look good.” Leone is my wife and her mother has been in and out of hospitals for the last year or so, another victim of what is called Adult Onset Diabetes-a failing heart, failing kidneys, blindness, and the general debilitation of her health.
In our case it wasn’t just drop what we’re doing and rush to the hospital. Leone’s mom lives on the other side of the world on the island of St.Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Four planes and thrity-six hours later, Leone and all eight of our children arrived on St.Croix to see Grandma and to spend whatever time might be left to her. I stayed behind to man the financial fort, but of course have been keeping in daily touch with Leone via phone calls and emails.
We all know the story, the hanging around hospital corridors, the hopeful talk to help your helplessness, the day to day wondering, and the waiting, the waiting, the waiting...And then there are all the practical complications, the endless forms to fill out, the finances, the logistics of setting up 24 hour care, the insurance, etc., compounded by the fact that you are dealing with a very ill person who may be responding irrationally to the reality of the situation. The despair is compounded by frustration, and frustration by despair. Again, you know the story.
There is in all this, the tremendous human desire to “fix” this, something my wife would desperately like to do. And wouldn’t we all.  We pray, we plead, we hope, we even make deals with God. We hate our helplessness. We fight for awhile, but soon our insides die, our hopeful gazes turn to blank stares, our emotions numb, and our brain seemingly grinds to an exhausted halt still echoing the word “Why?”.
With your permission, though, I would, in the next few lines, like to share the thoughts of a relatively uneducated layman (theologically, anyway) on what I believe to be the unique Catholic answer to what seems to have no answer.
I don’t know the theological term for this, but I believe that as Catholics, we have a special perspective on suffering. We have the ability, through Christ, to take on the sins of another and advance that person (or persons) towards heaven.
 It isn’t just through rosaries and Masses that the sins of the souls of the dying and dead can be expiated. We can (again in my limited understanding) share in the redemptive mystery by offering our very helplessness as sacrifice to Him who took on all helplessness for our salvation. I believe, as a Catholic, that  we do that by embracing, not just enduring, the utter helplessness that befalls us in times of sorrow.
We have, of course,  the most powerful, poignant, and encouraging example of all in our Blessed Virgin Mary as she stood in the most utter and desolate helplessness at the foot of the cross on which hung her most beloved Son, tortured beyond recognition, brutally pierced, and in the throes of an incomprehensible agony. Mary teaches us to unite our sufferings in silence with Christ when things no longer make any sense. For it is precisely here that helplessness is not only saved from hopelessness, but opens out into holiness and into the eternal light of our salvation. 
Thank God I am a Catholic. It must be so hard to live (and die) otherwise.
Tim Rohr
October 31, 1999

Sunday, October 24, 1999

True Love Waits

October 24, 1999

Jaci Velasquez, without a doubt, is one of the premier talents in the Contemporary Christian music world, if not thee music world. An awesome voice for a brand new 20-year old. I’m sure anyone who witnessed her concert last Friday night at the Southern High School auditorium or on Saturday night at the UOG fieldhouse would certainly agree.
In the past, this listener had personally paid only passing attention to Contemporary Christian music in general until I heard her “God So Loved The World”. Now the car radio is pre-set to  KOLG and the CD’s are piling up.
Surely, many were moved and touched by her performance. The depth of lyrical interpretation, the breadth of her vocal range-especially the low, even sensuous alto, the fluid oneness of an exceptionally together band, and certainly her intensely vibrant personna combined to create a rare magic moment of technical, musical wizardry and soul-filled praise.
But, at least to this attendee, the real import of the evening was her personal witness and commitment to “True Love Waits”- a program wherein young people commit themselves to remain a virgin until marriage. I don’t know if being the father of five beautiful young girls (and three handsome young boys) had anything to do with it, but I was moved to voice my full-hearted approval of such a program.
The irony though is that the virtues of virginity, and indeed the very commandment, in order to be preserved and promulgated, have to be formulated into a program and taught from the secular stage via a Christian music artist.
And thanks be to God for that. But, meanwhile, where is that same beautiful teaching to be heard and lifted up in our Catholic Churches and homes, taught from sacred stages and spaces via our priests and parents?
Please forgive me if you are the exception, but I had to ask myself when was the last time I heard anything seriously taught from the pulpit about the virtues of virginity and God’s most sacred plan for the body he created? Sadly, though a weekly (and sometimes daily) Mass-goer, I can’t remember.
It strikes me as ironic that here we are, the Catholic Church, almost the sole keeper of the flame when it comes to defending God’s absolute right to the womb, have to be reminded, or perhaps even first hear, about the fundamental virtue of virginity from the stage of a public school, from the voice of a non-Catholic 20-year old girl.
Thank you Jaci. Continue to preach this most basic Christian virtue to our children until we as parents and priests have the courage and inspiration to teach our own that “True Love Waits”.
 Tim Rohr
October 24, 1999

Tuesday, September 14, 1999

The Belly of a Whale

First published in the Umatuna, the newspaper for the Archdiocese of Agana, Guam, November 14, 1999.

I stayed away from the Sacrament of Penance for 20 years. Somewhere in the 70's I had picked up the teaching that confession was only for serious sin. And thanks to Vatican II (or so it seemed) very few people, if any, actually had serious sin. As a matter of fact there were so few serious sins being committed by the mid-70's that confessionals were closed or torn out altogether. What a relief to a young guy in his early twenties who was looking to rationalize his hormone-driven behavior.
Like others of my generation, I was further aided in distancing myself from any consciousness of sin by the fact that I didn't hear about it anymore, at least not personal sin. Sin was now the domain of society in general. The social sins of injustice, homelessness, world hunger, poverty, & war were the topics in vogue from pulpit, podium & pen.
Wow, this was great, man. No reminder of personal sin, no confessionals, no confessors (visible anyway), no confession. What a relief. No guilt. It was a new world and I was a new "man" . (Note: obviously not the new man Paul had in mind). Boy, I'm sure glad they got together on that Vatican II deal. Of course, Vatican II, the real Vatican II, had nothing to with this new consciousness or a multitude of other aberrations committed in its name.
Our generation forsook confessionals for college cafeterias and campus ministry centers where we sat in comfortable chairs and flailed against the evils of America and capitalism. Instead of saying "3 Hail Mary's, 3 Our Father's, and 3 Glory Be's" we waived anti-nuke signs, walked in "Tortilla Marathons", and marched for peace and justice in El Salvador. 
And the Enemy smiled. For all the while, our bodies and souls were being torn asunder by the personal sin we no longer thought was there. How much easier now was his work on my soul. For the road to hell is....
I was an easy mark to be sure, the kind Satan instructs his minions to look for.  I was the leader of the much-applauded Sunday night folk group. I taught Marriage and Morality to Catholic high school seniors. I was head of the University Campus Ministry and much sought after youth group leader. I wrote weekly articles for the college paper defending the faith. 
How softly and comfortably the "great seducer" of Revelation 12:9 slips one into hell, the very fires of which he disguises as flames of  fervor for our imagined just cause. If I had just been a regular slothful sinner I might have been easier to save. 
Fulton Sheen once said that not going to confession is like walking around with a dirty diaper. Is it any wonder that many of us are sick of ourselves? But I had not come to this recognition yet. I mistook the stench in my soul for the social sewers I was taught to condemn. (Oh, how clever is the evil one.) So for years I continued on my merry way, on my own private road to hell, all the while whistling "Be Not Afraid" and "Here I Am, Lord". 
I can't put my finger on any actual moment where the Holy Spirit turned the light on. But once baptized, the "Hound of Heaven" never really leaves you alone, and even amidst the swirling sea of stupidity in which I was happily drowning, the Lord somehow rescued me from myself.
It would be easier to recount the story if it had been a whale or something, but nothing so dramatic.  I'm not sure how I found myself on my knees in a dark confessional once more. I do know though that it was not Jesus who pushed me in, but His Mother who carried me in. After all, there was this problem with the diaper. 
There were no spiritual gushings, no beating of the breast, no dramatic mea culpas or tearful resolutions, just "I confess to almighty God and to you, Father, that I have sinned. My last confession was 20 years ago..." and the deep knowledge that I was right where God wanted me.
And here is a good place to thank Sr. Paul, the Benedictine nun who drilled the confessional formula into my head in the second grade. I believe she's in heaven now and probably had something to do with me remembering what to say when the time came so many years later. And I also want to thank that priest on the other side of the confessional screen who did not know that he had been waiting 20 years for me.
To be continued......
Tim Rohr
November 14, 1999

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