Tag Archives: Joseph Garvin

Sunday Sermon: Giving thanks for modern religious

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Another day marks the return of another regular series to my website. This time it will be the weekly ‘Sunday Sermon‘ series geared towards religious/spiritual issues.

This series is one of my oldest, beginning all the way back in September 2005. It ran fairly regularly through 2013, but then disappeared for the better part of three years.

I briefly resuscitated the series a year ago, but it turned out to be for just three installments. The last of those was published nine months ago.

Well, ‘Sunday Sermon’ is back for good now with this, the 70th installment in its history. All of the previous articles and any into the future can be viewed simply by clicking on that ‘Tag’ found immediately following this piece when viewed in its web version.

Today’s piece covers a topic of vital importance, one that speaks specifically to the Catholic Church. That would be the difficult decision made by young people in the 21st century in joining a religious order.

The Archdiocese of Philadelphia is currently engaged in its annual St. Charles Boromeo Seminary Appeal. The appeal is an attempt to raise money for the seminary through donations from parishioners.

There are currently fifteen young men at St. Charles who are in the midst of their studies to become a Catholic priest. They come not only from Philadelphia, but from all across the country. They entered the Seminary from high school and college, from careers on Wall Street, and from service to our nation’s military.

During today’s Mass at St. Christopher’s Parish in the Somerton section of Philadelphia, Father Sean English was the celebrant. In his homily, Father Sean spoke of his own decision making process after college. Father told of how, once he knew that he did indeed want to enter the Seminary and become a priest, the process of telling his family and friends took another nine months.

Father Sean’s last name may indeed be “English”, but he is a young Irishman through and through. There was a time when it was expected that a young man from an Irish American family would become one of three things: a cop, a politician, or a priest.

You would expect that his family might be overjoyed at having their son enter the priesthood. But it was still a difficult decision for Father Sean to tell his parents of his decision. To tell them that their son would not be having children to pass along the family name.

The Catholic Church has to be thankful that he heard a call from Christ, and had the courage to respond positively. Father Sean is an outstanding young priest. He is exactly what the Church needs more of, both here in American and across the globe.

It’s a difficult decision, surrendering yourself to a life of service to others. It is not so very unlike the calling that I felt myself at one point, to serve my community as a police officer. It is not unlike the call that many feel to serve the United States as a member of the military.

When called to a vocation, rather than simply taking a job in private industry, you have to surrender a certain amount of freedom. You must accept that you are going to help as many people as you can, under the most difficult circumstances. Not only will you face ridicule, but at times you will face outright opposition.

That call to the priestly vocation has been made particularly difficult in recent years by the priest abuse scandals which came to light over the last decade or so. Those scandals were then exacerbated by denials and cover-ups from some in the Catholic Church hierarchy.

But here is a fact. No matter those scandals, the Church needs priests. The priesthood is a vital institution for the survival of the Church into the future. The Church needs good men to step forward and become priests.

As a police officer, I have seen radicals charge that the entire profession is corrupt. There are some who believe that every police officer is racist, abusive, or both. I know from firsthand experience that is not only false, but that officers who fit into those categories are extreme rarities.

Do they exist? Yes. They exist in every profession. When those officers personal beliefs result in abusive actions, they often become newsworthy, sometimes sensationally so. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of police officers are good, decent people like everyone else. They try to help their community every single day while raising their own families.

Priests are the same. The vast majority are good, decent men just trying to serve their community and their Lord and savior Jesus Christ. I’ve said it many times regarding this issue: you cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. No one should turn away from their relationship with the Church because of bad priests.

The number of men hearing and then heeding the call to the priesthood has seriously declined in recent decades. However, the number of women heeding the call to service as a Sister or “Nun” had always remained far higher.

In his letter to our parishioners this week, Monsignor Joseph Garvin wrote of the decline in the numbers of nuns as well. Here is what ‘Father Joe’ wrote:

“As you may have heard, religious communities of Sisters are going through a very difficult time. There are few younger Sisters. There was a time that Sisters outnumbered priests five to one. Now the numbers are getting closer to one on one.”


Many young men and women today appear to be lost. They come out of high school and college to face a harsh, divisive world. That includes right here in the United States of America.

These young people would be helped greatly by praying on their situation. In turning our concerns, our trials, our lives over to God in prayer we can often find the answers. Unfortunately, many of those same young people just don’t know how to pray, or worse, don’t know to pray at all. They simply don’t believe.

The answer to the problems facing many of these young people could also prove to be the answer to the problems of the Catholic Church. If we can get more young people to be aware of the priestly and sisterly option, to seriously consider that option, and to pray on it, we might kill two birds with one stone.

There are three concrete things that we can do, and all of us can do at least one of these.

First, we can pray. Every Christian, and especially every Catholic, should pray for more young people to hear and then heed a call to service from the Lord.

Second, we can donate. Support the current St. Charles Seminary Appeal with a financial donation. You can do that right here, right now: DONATE NOW.

Third, we can guide our children’s spiritual development with purpose. We can further encourage our children and grandchildren to consider a life of service as a priest or nun.

This coming Thursday marks the holiday of Thanksgiving here in the United States. We should all give thanks to any young person in today’s world who is willing to take on the challenge and reap the rewards as they surrender themselves to a life of service as a priest or sister.

Priestly bad apples

There is an old saying that I often reminded folks to consider: “don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.”

The meaning behind this simple old saying is that it is the baby which is by far the most important, precious thing. It may be sitting in a pool of filth, scum, and slime. So what? Toss the water, keep the baby.

The same theory can be applied to many things in life, but most especially must always be remembered when dealing with the most important things. One of those most important things is your spiritual life. Christians throughout history have far too often thrown the baby, in this case the Church, out with whatever bath water was mucking things up at any particular time.

In the past, Christians have left the Church, the only one founded by Jesus Christ himself, because they didn’t like things that were going on within the hierarchy, or because they didn’t believe in some matter of doctrine, or because they had been let down or felt betrayed by some scandal. This is exactly how Protestantism and Orthodoxy began.

The splits, or schisms, within the Church have left many wounds unhealed after centuries, and have left hundreds of millions of true believers in Jesus Christ susceptible to heretical teachings and practices.
The scars may never fully heal, and the Church may never be truly reunited, until the return of Christ himself in the final days.

There is a lesson to be learned here for Philadelphia-area Catholics in particular who are digesting and reacting to the news this past week of further revelations of sexual abuse of children at the hands of some in the Priesthood.

Current priests Charles Englehardt and Edward Avery, former priest James Brennan, teacher Bernard Shero, and sex-abuse investigator Monsignor William Lynn were all charged in the latest chapter of the scandals.

The lesson is that these unholy and abusive actions by people who claimed, to quote the Rev. Joseph Garvin in his homily today at St. Christopher’s Church in Somerton “to represent God but who in actuality represented Satan” were not representative of the Church, it’s priests, it’s teachers, or it’s vision.

Rather these rogue priests are, as have been all abusers uncovered in recent years, criminals and deviants who used the Church to destroy Christian lives and fracture the Church itself, Satan’s own avowed goal.

Priests, teachers, and other Church representatives who are the actual abusers need to continue to be weeded out and prosecuted.

It is not enough at the current time to simply fall back on the position, as Cardinal Justin Rigali has in his letter to parishioners this week that “..there is no admitted or established abuser in ministry.” That is an obvious defensive copout at a time when the Church needs to go on the offensive against it’s rogues.

The Catholic Church has promised to, as stated by David Clohessy in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer, “remove credibly accused clerics.” Clohessy is the executive director of the Chicago-based “SNAP” (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests”, and he is absolutely correct when he calls on the Cardinal to identify and suspend accused priests in furtherance of the protection of our precious children.

We as Catholics have a role as elements of this long-standing scandal continue to unfold. We must continue to insist that Church hierarchy aggressively investigate any and all allegations of abuse, be they past or current.

We must insist that the Church always err on the side of protecting children in every allegation case. We must also remember to hold ourselves accountable for our own conduct in representing our Church to outsiders as well as to other Catholics.

But perhaps most importantly we must remember to not “throw the baby out with the bath water” in this situation. The Church is still the family and faith founded by Jesus Christ, and as such it is the single most important institution in all of our lives, including our own families.

We must stand by the Church, not flee from it. We must pray for and embrace the Church, not abandon it. We must strengthen the Church with our lives and our faith, not allow the devil to weaken it further.

Tough times don’t last, tough people do. The Catholic Church has lasted for over two millenia because we are a tough people, that toughness forged on the cross by Christ himself in our name. For the steadfastness in suffering that he undertook for our sakes on that afternoon at Calvary, we must willingly suffer and boldly overcome today.

As of 1995 there were almost a billion Roman Catholics spread throughout the world. As of 2005 there were more than 400,000 Catholic priests serving them. There have been over 4,000 American Catholic priests accused of abuse over the past half century, just 4% of the more than 109,000 American priests serving during that time.

There is no way that we can allow these Satanic priestly bad apples spoil our entire bushel of a beautiful Church.

It is what it is

Father Joseph Garvin was wrong. Man, I hope that doesn’t get me in any trouble.

In his homily at the 10:30am Mass yesterday our Pastor at St. Christopher’s Church in Somerton said that he hated the phrase “It is what it is.” When the words came out of his mouth they hit close to home because I use that phrase all the time.

But as he went on to explain his opposition to the sudden popular usage of this phrase, I came to realize that there has obviously been a misunderstanding in either his interpretation or the use by some of the phrase.

Father Joe was making the point that the phrase lent itself to our having to accept certain situations, when in fact those situations were indeed subject to change, if we just wanted it bad enough and worked towards such change.

For instance, the statement “I am an alcoholic, and that isn’t going to change. It is what it is.” Now we all know that the alcoholic can indeed make a change in his or her life. Buying that bottle is a choice. Drinking the bottle is another choice.

Change our choices, we change our lives. Under these types of conditions “It is what it is” just doesn’t hold water, and that is what Father Joe was pointing out. No one says it will be easy, but we can accomplish change if we really want it bad enough and are willing to dedicate ourselves to it.

However, anyone who would use the phrase in that manner would, in my opinion, be using it improperly as a cop out or a crutch. That is not the proper use of the phrase, and when examined in its proper usage even Father Joe should change his opinion and embrace the phrase.

When I use the phrase, I take it as a modern shortening of the old idea “Don’t cry over spilt milk.”

The phrase “It is what it is” is meant to address events, activities, situations that have occurred in the past, whether a decade ago, a year ago, yesterday, or even just a moment ago. It is about getting past situations that in fact we simply cannot change.

Dinner is about to be served. The food is on the table. The only bottle of juice is carried towards the table, but is dropped before reaching the family. The bottle shatters, and all of the juice spills out onto the floor. There is no more juice, and aside from tap water there is nothing else to drink in the house.

Here is what will happen: you will clean up the mess, and move on to dinner. Folks will make due with water, or they will have nothing to drink. It is what it is. Period.

Now some would say that you could run out to the store to get more. Ridiculous. Dinner is served, the food is warm on the table, the family is ready to eat. In the vast majority of cases, going to the store is going to require time way from the meal that you just don’t have on a practical level. You move on without crying or whining about something that is in the past and that you cannot change. It is what it is.

You are a New York Giants fan this morning. The Philadelphia Eagles have just knocked your team out of the playoffs despite the fact that you were the defending Super Bowl champions. The Eagles won the NFC playoff game 23-11 after your Giants had the best regular season record in the league.

You can cry. You can curse. You can call for the head of the coach. But the fact is that the Giants lost. You have to live with it. You’re not going to kill yourself. You’re not going to quit your job and become a hermit. It is what it is.

That is the true nature of the statement. It is a positive, not a negative. It is not meant to be a cop out, it is meant as a rallying cry for folks not to let a situation beyond their control, or a situation that is over and cannot be reversed, knock them down and keep them down.

“It is what it is” means deal with it, get over it, learn from it perhaps, and move on from it.

I believe that Father Joe is wrong to hate the statement, although I give him props for hating the attitude that allows someone to wallow in a misery that may often be of their own creation, and that they can indeed change if they want it bad enough.