Remembering Father Timothy Murphy

The summer of 1996 I was planning to move from Ohio back to Massachusetts. I had finished up at Franciscan University of Steubenville and had a job that allowed me to work remotely from anywhere I had an internet connection. My friend, Randy, who was from Phoenix, had got a job as a youth minister in Salem, Mass., and so we agreed to get an apartment together. However, he then was offered by his new boss, the pastor, Fr. Timothy Murphy, to come live in the spacious, mostly empty rectory to save money. Randy was concerned about our agreement, but the pastor extended the invitation to me as well, letting me rent a room and receive board for monthly rent.

That was how I met Fr. Murphy, who would become a friend, a mentor, and a father-figure to me over the next two decades. Fr. Murphy retired from active ministry a few years ago and has now died after a short illness.

In 1996, Fr. Murphy was the newly arrived pastor at Immaculate Conception Parish in Salem, the second oldest parish in Massachusetts after the cathedral-parish in Boston and the oldest church dedicated to Mary in New England. Fr. Murphy was always proud of the history of the parish, including the fact that he was the second pastor named Timothy Murphy, his eponymous predecessor having lived in the 19th century.

Father Murphy had previously been pastor of St. Angela’s Parish in Mattapan since 1979, an inner-city parish with a very large Haitian immigrant population that had grown there as the neighborhood transitioned from mainly Jewish and Irish families who were moving out to the suburbs. Notably, Fr. Murphy was the first of his seminary class to be named a pastor (back in the days when not every parish priest became a pastor and if so after decades of ministry) and he learned of his assignment on the day Pope St. John Paul II celebrated Mass on Boston Common, October 1, 1979. He served St. Angela’s until 1995 when he took a sabbatical year in Rome before going to Salem.

That year in Rome was special to Fr. Murphy and he talked about it often in the following years and he stayed in touch with the other priests from around the United States who were in the same program year. It also prompted him to do more pilgrimages and international travel.

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Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too): A Book Review

There are lots of books that outline all the reasons one should give up atheism or other religions and become Catholic and with good reason: Because the path to the Catholic faith has its origins in many places and wends its way through a myriad of obstacles, challenges, and objections.

Brandon Vogt—one of the smartest, engaging, and energetic young Catholics out there—has written a new book, “Why I Am Catholic (and You Should Be Too),” that offers his own take on why one should consider the Catholic faith, a take that is aimed directly at the “nones”, the large and growing percentage of mostly young Americans today who tell pollsters that they have no religious preference, and does so in a way that should appeal to a younger audience, characterizing becoming Catholic as a way of “joining the Rebellion”, rather than giving into a massive institution.

I’ll admit it’s a weird decision. It goes against the grain. It’s radical. It is, in a word, rebellious.

In this concise, yet compelling book, Brandon outlines the reasons why anyone seeking the truth should become Catholic, using arguments both old and new. Brandon is an engineer by training and a philosopher by avocation so it’s no surprise that the book and its arguments are laid out in a logical progression, from whether God exists, to the necessity of religion vs. pure spirituality, to the supremacy of Christianity over other religions, to the Catholic Church. Read More and Comment

The Priesthood is Not a Path to Wealth

A longish blog post is making the rounds right now, in which a Catholic lay employee is looking at a new national study on what priests earn and concluding that priests have it easy compared to lay employees of the Church.

As someone who worked for the Church for a decade and who knows many priests (and even lived in a parish rectory for a number of years), I think I have some insight. Here’s my general reaction to A.J. Boyd’s article: While he makes some good points, he paints with too broad a brush, universalizing anecdotal data; being selective with other data to reinforce his point; and missing data that would undermine his point. He’s also unnecessarily hostile to priests1.

Now, I am on record as saying that I think the Church needs to do better by its lay employees. I think that some of the policies I and other have encountered are downright unjust and while others may be in line with secular practice, the Church should live up to her principles and do better. Let’s also stipulate that most lay employees of the Church give what’s often called the “Church discount” in their salary, i.e. they could make much more at comparable private sector jobs.

I’ll take his points one by one, but I want to first begin by refuting his premise:

Fr. Scrooge’s attitude got me thinking about the apparent disparity between compensation for equally qualified people with a vocation to ecclesial ministry.

Look at two people of reasonably comparable demographic – single, no children, with undergraduate and graduate degrees in theology/divinity, committed to a life of ministry in the Church – and consider them in a similar parish, similar ministry, with similar qualifications, experience, and responsibility. One is a priest, the other a lay ecclesial minister.

You can’t compare the spiritual vocation of a priest and the apostolate of a layman, even one who has entered a lay ministry position (e.g. youth minister). A priest has been called by God, formed by the Church, and ordained by his bishop in a vocation he will retain in most cases until his death. He has made a lifelong commitment that isn’t easily broken (albeit some do), while a layman can switch jobs whenever a better opportunity comes along.

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Catholic Wedding Hospitality Doesn’t Mean an Open Bar

It’s one thing to look at the state of the wedding-industrial complex in America today and bemoan it’s focus on the material and ephemeral to the detriment of the lasting and transcendent.1 Too often weddings become excuses for lavish spending so the bride and her mother can pretend at royalty or some such. However, it’s another thing to cloak a complaint about weddings today in a thin veneer of Catholic piety as an excuse to rant about your bourgeois sensibilities being violated.

Crisis offers up this article by Anne Maloney under the headline “Some Wedding Planning Violations of Catholic Hospitality.” The author assures us that the problem of people shacking up before marriage is understood and so that’s not one of her complaints. Instead her complaint is that people don’t throw weddings like she thinks they should and that’s wrong, so she searches out justifications for her preferences in the Catechism and the Bible.

We’re not talking about key aspects of the sacrament here. For one thing, she believes it is so gauche that couples today don’t register for china or silver anymore because they wouldn’t use it.

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Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

Losing My Old Parish, But Can Something Be Saved?

From the “You should have listened to me before” file: The Archdiocese of Boston parish collaborative that includes my former parish in Salem where Melanie and I were married is in deep financial trouble, so now they’re going to turn one parish into a Polish shrine to St. John Paul II and merge my old parish and another one.

Three years ago, Salem was one of the first collaboratives under the Disciples in Mission pastoral plan and had Salem’s four parishes included. They quickly determined that four was too many and St. Anne’s was split off, leaving Immaculate Conception (my old parish), St. James, and St. John the Baptist, which was previously a Polish national parish. The pastor of the collaborative was unable to get the finances of the collaborative under control and ended up resigning last year.

Now the temporary administrator and the parish leaders have come up with this new plan to turn St. John the Baptist into a Polish shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II and merge Immaculate Conception and St. James into one parish while keeping the two churches open, which will let them sell off redundant property.
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Asking Pope Francis to Canonize Pier Giorgio Frassati

I’ve had a devotion to Bl. Giorgio Frassati for over two decades and built the first web site dedicated to him (which now exists as part of this site).

This past May 20 marked the 27th anniversary of the beatification of Pier Giorgio and in that time, devotion to this remarkable young man has spread throughout the world.

Now, the Spirit has moved those closest to Frassati to ask the Holy Father to move to the next step, to canonize PGF, perhaps at the upcoming Synod on Young People in October 2018. This is part of the cause for canonization, showing evidence that devotion to the blessed has spread throughout the Church, which it most certainly has.

To that end, they have asked everyone to go to PierGiorgioLetter.org to sign the letter to the Holy Father and then to spread the word to let everyone know to do so. I hope you’ll join me in this effort.

Cancelling Mass on Christmas?

At first, I was going to comment on this article, “Why Churches Shouldn’t Cancel Services on Christmas Day,” by pointing his out as an essential difference between Protestants, on one side, and Catholics and Orthodox, on the other.

It seems many Protestant churches, especially of the Evangelical and mega-church variety, won’t have any services on Christmas Day, even though it’s a Sunday. That’s because they don’t usually do Christmas services so people can spend it as a “family day.” Instead, many of them are planning candlelight services on Christmas Eve, but many don’t even do that.

But it’s Sunday! The Lord’s Day, the feast of the Resurrection in which we commemorate the passion, death, and resurrection of the Lord. Remember the first commandment? Keep holy the Sabbath. As a Catholic, I can’t even conceive of not going to Mass on a Sunday. Or can I?

The fact is that we Catholics have started to fall prey to this as well, except in a slightly different way. How many Christmas Eve Masses will there be at your parish this year? Our parish has four. Most parishes around here have similar numbers. I know one parish where the parish tried to reduce from five to four and got an earful from parishioners. Everybody wants to go Christmas Eve so they don’t have to get up and leave the house in the morning, so they can stay in their pajamas amidst the gifts until it’s time to make Christmas dinner.

That’s sounds nice, but it kind of misses the point, doesn’t it? If we’re braving the scrum on Christmas, packing in like sardines, barely able to hear or participate in the Mass, checking off our obligation in order to say it’s been fulfilled so we can have Christmas Day for ourselves, are we really putting Christ in Christmas? Oh, of course, I applaud those who actually make the effort to go to Mass at all. That sets you apart from most, to be sure. But is that really what we should be offering?
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Let Your Yes Be Yes

I’ve noticed a distressing tendency among public leaders to avoid being definitive. While it’s most common among politicians and business leaders, it’s also too common among priests and bishops.

On the flight back to Rome from Sweden, Pope Francis held one of his now usual press conferences on the plane and he was asked by a reporter if women would ever be ordained Catholic priests:

“St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” Francis said.

Francis was referring to a 1994 document by Pope John Paul that closed the door on a female priesthood. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible part of Catholic tradition.

The reporter then pressed the pope, asking: “But forever, forever? Never, never?

Francis responded: “If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction.”

I know what we have here is a translation of the Pope’s words, probably from Italian, which we know is not his first language, and thus some imprecision in conversation is possible. But why can’t he just say, “Yes, forever”? Why is it “going in that direction”? It sounds like he’s hedging his bets and leaving a glimmer of hope. How does this help?

You hear this all the time from other bishops too (although some are admirably direct as well). Is it that they don’t want to offend? Is the appearance of public certainty now unacceptable in polite society?

“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37

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