About Time, A Good Confession, A Lofty Goal

I recently watched the Richard Curtis film, About Time. I love the movie and I’ve seen it many times but it never fails to inspire me.The movie always makes me want to be a better man. And, at least for a short time after seeing it, convinces me that I can be.

The film has been out for some time so I’m not going to worry about plot spoilers. Anyway, because the film holds up even after multiple viewings, I don’t think plot spoilers spoil it.

Curtis tells the story of a young man, Tim, who learns that all the males in his family have the ability to travel back in time. They can’t go to the future and they can’t go to a time they’ve not lived through. They can visit the past, but only their own past. And, by inserting themselves once again into the events of their own past, they can change their personal history.

This strikes me as something that might be an underlying goal of our time in the confessional. As a fairly new Catholic, I am awed by what happens in that little booth. I walk into the church with the weight of a current sin riding on my shoulders. I prepare myself to enter the confessional and generally, just before I go into the confessional,that weight becomes greater. I wonder how I can continue if that burden isn’t lifted. And , of course, I can’t. It needs to be confessed. I enter the booth opposite the parish priest. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” I begin. And then comes the confession. The marvelous confession. The beautiful confession followed by the life giving forgiveness. I want to be a better man. And walking from the confessional I believe I can be.

Confession is like the time travel in About Time. You can go back in time and revisit a sinful attitude, change it by repentance, and go forward as though it never happened. You have changed the past, and you can now walk forward into a different future.

But, the real point of our lives is not to wait for that time in the booth to unburden ourselves. I think it’s the living of our lives within the realization that life is fleeting. Time is short. We should live our lives in a state of constant post-confessional renewal. We need to appreciate the tiny things in our live that are really great gifts from our God. Let’s not muddy them with anger, conceit, greed, bitterness or envy. Each time I come from confession and each time I see About Time, I think I can do that. I think I can recognize that each day, every situation, each person I meet is an opportunity to enhance the daily bits of joy God has placed into my life.

And, of course, that’s the point made in the movie. The lead alters his time travel in that he begins going back in time solely to respond to events as he should have done in the first place. He corrects himself. He repents. He, in effect, goes to confession and exits a better man. But then, he stops travelling back in time altogether.  He doesn’t feel the need. Instead he purposes to concentrate on the present as he enjoys each tiny success and embraces each bit of pain.

The movie closes with Tim revealing his discovery. And it’s one we can all benefit from. He says, “And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life.”



With The Clothes on Their Back


My first exposure to Catholicism was through my aunt Thelma. My uncle Joe was Catholic also, but the image of Catholicism, for me, at an early age, was Aunt Thelma. I still have very clear images of her in the pews at St Mary of the Assumption. She was silent, attentive. My mother said she was devout. It was the first time I’d heard the word but it was an accurate one.

It was through my mother and aunt that I first encountered Ecumenism.  They were twin daughters of a Lutheran pastor. My mother stayed the course and was to remain a Lutheran her entire life. My aunt met my Uncle Joe and fell in love. He was Catholic. She converted for love. She continued as a Catholic her entire life, too. She continued because of the quality of devotion that my mother credited her with. She continued for love of her Lord.

The twins found it difficult sometimes, balancing their two faiths. There was a tension which they made every effort to avoid. But, they were successful. They managed their personal ecumenism well and religion never came between them. Each knew when to back off when things got awkward. I slept at my cousins’ house often but Aunt Thelma would never bring me to Mass without my mother’s permission.

Years later, the neighborhood surrounding St Mary of the Assumption was the spot where Mexican immigrants would come to live. The neighborhood had become pretty rundown. Most of the stores had closed and there was a great deal of illegal activity.  With the influx of immigrants, the previously distressed streets came alive. New stores opened. They were adorned with Mexican flags and their signs were bright green and red. A neighborhood that had been left for dead was alive again. Port Richmond Avenue was the site of a cultural and economic resurrection.

In my neighborhood, a mile or so away, the building on the corner of my street was rented to families from Ecuador and Mexico. Most summer nights they barbecued in the parking lot. The parents were right out there with their children, playing kickball and soccer. The older boys played three on three half-court basketball under a backboard made of plywood. Walking my dog past there was a delight. In some way, this scene reminded me of my own small town childhood. It made me feel good.  I learned a bit of rudimentary Spanish and we all became friends. We ate together. We visited each other’s homes. I held a small Bible study for Spanish speakers in my home. It was, in a way, cultural ecumenism. But, it was ecumenism without the tension.

I was invited to attend the confirmation of one of the boys. It was, of course, held at St. Mary’s. The church now had a vibrant congregation of Spanish speakers. Some were documented. Most were not. I sat with the family in the pew and marveled at the beauty of the ceremony. I understood only a few words but I was impressed. Later that night, we went back to my friend’s house and celebrated with cake and a delicious traditional fish stew from Ecuador. It was served during Holy Week and had ingredients to represent the twelve apostles.

When I began to be attracted to the Catholic Church, I viewed a video presentation by Father Robert Barron, He told a little humorous story about a wealthy man converting to Catholicism. The man’s mother told him she could adjust to the doctrinal differences but it would be hard to see him worshiping with the “help.” The “big tent” aspect of the religion was something on display that confirmation night and it was something I found attractive.

My parish now is fully inside that neighborhood. Due to budget cuts another parish merged with ours. It was, of course, St. Mary of the Assumption. The merged parishes now added to our congregation three hundred or more undocumented people, drawn to worship Christ together with us. It was a clear example of the Church welcoming all. I’ve gone to a few Spanish language masses there so that I could feel unity with both congregations. And, as I looked around, I wondered, without the Catholic Church, where the marginalized would worship? Who would be there to pray with them? How would they receive communion? Who would visit them in the hospital? Who would bury their dead?

Of course, it is the Church that will do those things. It would be the Catholic Church which dedicates herself to the marginalized. She has done that throughout history.  From the early Catholics who became known for caring for the sick and providing proper burial for the dead, to Dorothy Day, to Mother Teresa, the Church has extended open arms to the poor.

And, looking around the congregation, I see the pull that my aunt felt.  I smile to know I am in her lineal parish and I’m pleased to realize I am again attending Mass with my dear late aunt once more.



From The West Wing:

With the clothes on their backs, they came through a storm. And those that didn’t die want a better life. And they want it here.

(President Jeb Bartlett)




Abortion, Dignity and Consistency

by Ross Decker Sr

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men.”

Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they were no more.” Mt2:16-18

This was the reading on December 28, The Feast of The Holy Innocents. For his homily, my priest made the clear connection between those verses and abortion. But he didn’t stop there. He made the case that we, as the Church, should be aware that the abuse of innocent children doesn’t end there. It extends to children born in poverty. Children born in areas of the world where deadly disease spreads unchecked. Children who are killed and maimed because they were born in a country where the adults wage continual war. Children who meet that same fate as refugees trying to flee to safety.

It made me grateful to be in a Church where the Sanctity of Human Life is championed daily, not just on a single snowy, cold day in late January. And it made me grateful to be part of a Church where pro-life means more than just stopping women from getting abortions.

I always felt that there ought to be more to the pro-life movement than being anti-abortion. I learned that from my friend and pastor, Kevin Rhodes. In February of 1982, I invited Kevin, half in jest, to attend a conference for women with me. To my surprise, he accepted and we went there together. One speaker was a young man, a young college professor who spoke about how important it was for women to have access to “easy” abortions. Kevin, sitting next to me, boiled. He was convinced, and was able to convince me, that this guy’s entire agenda was built around creating an environment where it was not only easy to get an abortion but also easy to get college girls to have sex with young college professors.

Kevin felt the need to do something about what we’d seen and soon, the two of us were putting together the first Crisis Pregnancy Center in our borough of New York City. All services were to be free, no board members would be allowed to picket at abortion clinics and there would be nominal material support for mothers who elected to keep their babies. They would get diapers and clothing for their babies. And each year, around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, we sent a board member around to each Evangelical church on our island to remind our brethren about the sanctity of human life.

And then, I became Catholic!

When I entered the Catholic Church I got the chance to see what it meant to be pro-life everyday. What it meant to be pro-life, not merely anti-abortion.

From the start of that Crisis Pregnancy Center I saw the need to take care of the mother who didn’t abort. Now, I saw the need to get her counseling, formula, diapers and baby clothes. If we were going to ask a woman to do the right, though hard, thing, it was our responsibility to help her. We had to stick with that mother because it’s important to be as pro-life with a baby once born as it is to care for a pre-born baby. That’s got to be part of being pro-life.

The woman who had the abortion needs care too. There was a lot of stress, fear and confusion that led her to make that choice. Having an abortion doesn’t sort that out. She still needs to be cared for because of the human dignity God gave her. The care of that woman is a pro-life issue.

After becoming Catholic I learned some things about the Church’s compassionate nature that surprised me. I learned that the first AIDS clinic was started in New York City by Cardinal O’Connor. Why did he do it? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

I’ve learned that being pro-life means that we hope for fair immigration laws. Families come to America because they are hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. They’ve always heard that America can offer them a great opportunity. The decision to enter as undocumented isn’t made on a lark. There are real risks in going to America. But there is a dark future in their own country. We want families to be able to hold together. We advocate for fair treatment of immigrants because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see the human dignity in the marginalized. We seek to bring them in from society’s outskirts. We care that the worker gets a fair wage and is able to provide for his or her family because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We advocate against the death penalty because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We see war as a last resort because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

Yes, we know there’s a second amendment issue to gun control but we need to see gun violence addressed because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

We want to see the LGBT community treated with Godly love and respect. Why? Yes, because we are Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.

There’s so much more to being pro-life than being anti-abortion. Being against abortion certainly is an integral part of being pro-life but the issue is greater than that. When I came home to the Catholic Church I learned that the Catholic position on the pro-life is the most comprehensive and consistent position of all.

We see the human dignity in the faces of all God’s children. Why? Because we’re Catholic and it’s a pro-life issue.




Scripture, Tradition, and The Printing Press

I follow a page on Facebook which regularly identifies the “Six Things that” bedevil and otherwise hamper Protestant Church leaders. Often those things are lack of giving, hurt feelings, and style of worship. Once, it covered the four comedic rules to becoming a better leader. Recently, one caught my eye. It was a list of things that the author thought people mistakenly credited as being in the Bible.

The piece starts with a blurb “I was surprised how many of these I’ve heard in my church” and then attempts to list several unbiblical statements Christians believe. They were a collection of folksy sayings that, fortunately, I’ve never actually heard attributed to the Bible in any church I’ve been to.

Before he gets into mocking those statements, he makes one of his own that made my jaw drop. He writes, “anything and everything that we know about God comes from these Holy Scriptures, and they contain the totality of what we need to know about becoming a Christian and everything we need to know about living the Christian life.”

Where did he get that, I wondered. Certainly a statement so profound and succinct would be found in the Bible. But, of course, it isn’t. It comes from Protestant tradition, all of which is very recent.

I spent 37 years immersed in the Protestant culture. Obviously, it took me way too long, but I eventuallybegan to see things in Protestantism that were “man-made” doctrines which didn’t square with Scripture. And, when I could resist no longer, I began to wonder what was going on those first 1500 years where the Holy Spirit was guiding the Church without the help of Protestant doctrine? I went to the Catholic Church near me and signed up for RCIA.

It wasn’t a smooth ride, of course. I’d been indoctrinated over the course of four decades. A pastor friend of mine tried to halt my conversion by asking darkly, “Ross, are you saying that you no longer believe the Five Solas?” I took awhile and finally answered. Yes. I think that actually is what I’m saying. So, the wrestling began in earnest.

In my RCIA classes I learned Catholic doctrine and heard the word “magisterium” for the very first time. I began to get a grasp of what the Church believed when it was founded and really began to see what it meant that the Church began in the first century and not the sixteenth. What I learned made it fairly obvious to me that the Church Fathers, a group that all my Protestant teachers had never mentioned, were the key to understanding the proper position of the Church in history. And, a week or two before my acceptance into the church, I heard my (now) friend Matthew S. Leonard say on a radio show that “the Bible came out of the Church, the Church did not come out of the Bible.”

That was the epiphany for me. After that, I saw the Sacred Tradition argument with stunning clarity. There was no canon at all for centuries after the Resurrection. People did not have access to printed Scripture at all until the advent of the printing press. There is absolutely not a single verse of Scripture that tells us that Scripture itself would be our sole guide. On the contrary. Jesus told us He would send us the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. He never said there would be a book coming.

Even in the very Scripture Protestants and Catholics alike love, we are told that “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” So, it is the Church that is the Pillar and Foundation of the truth rather than the Scripture. It is the Church, not the Bible, charged with delivering the deposit of faith unblemished to all future generations.

via I stopped going to church and joined the Church.

The Pope, The Line, and Who’s Telling The Story?

by Ross Decker Sr

I was on a line with other ticket holders waiting to attend Pope Francis’ Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. The line was astonishingly long. We walked 13 city blocks away from the start of the line at from Madison Square Garden itself to get to the back of the line. Then we waited for the line to start moving so we’d be able to retrace our steps along that 13 Block route back to Madison Square Garden.

The line was a happy one. There was no grumbling at all about the wait, a wait which was ultimately two and a half hours from where I joined the line. Everyone was talking about the Holy Father. They loved the news coverage. They thought the reporters were stunned by this Pope. They speculated about where he was along this day’s itinerary. Would he be late? would we be late? Would they start the Mass before we got inside? Oh, and yes, was that a rainbow?

Our Pope had charmed Washington and New york. He charms everyone everywhere. He brings the Gospel story in a fresh way, making that story present and relative to today. He reminds me of when I first heard Bishop Robert Barron say that the Catholic story was a beautiful story. It just hasn’t always had the right people telling it.

The Holy Father took DC by storm, telling Congress,  “Your own responsibility as members of Congress is to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation. You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”

A week before, I wasn’t planning on being here. I’d been to Rome and had seen him give the Wednesday Angelus blessing from his apartment window. The following Sunday was the better day, though. We had tickets to the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square and were seated right at the railing. The Holy Father came past us and we were only about three feet from his happily waving hand. So, I reasoned, what could top that?

I didn’t enter the drawing for the Central Park drive through. I reasoned that I may be far back in the crowd, without a good view, I might be uncomfortable, the weather might be poor. My parish had only 16 tickets for the Papal Mass at Madison Square Garden. They were to be given out in a lottery type drawing. I didn’t enter. I was quite happy to watch the Pope’s visit on television. I was. For awhile.

As the press began to amp up coverage of the impending visit, some desire to see the Holy Father began to stir. I heard a woman tell a reporter that she was hoping to see the procession through Central Park. It was, she said, a “once in a lifetime experience.” That made sense to me. I wanted to go, but it was too late.

So, when my daughter-in-law, Catherine, offered me the two passes she’d gotten to see the Central Park procession, I was delighted. I was going to see the Pope. To sweeten the pie, she’d gotten the handicap access I needed. Now, I had a whole new view of this Papal visit. I was in. I was a participant.

The only thing better now would be tickets to the Papal Mass. But there were none available. I told a few people that I was hoping to get a ticket should one become available. But none did. Then, after mass on Sunday morning, I was getting into my car. I saw someone I knew driving down the street and we waved to each other. He stopped for the traffic light and then, backed up and lowered his window to chat. We talked about the Papal visit and how energized we all were, how hectic the Holy Father’s schedule would be. As an afterthought he asked. “are you going to the Mass?” No, I said, I didn’t have a ticket. “How many do you need,” he asked. “I have extras.”

The line began to move quickly as we neared the entrance. There was NYPD security on top of the marquee. Police were assuring us that, as long as we had a ticket we’d get in. The line divided to those with and those without bags. I had no bag and slid off to the line on the right. There was one person in front of me. After a quick scan with the wand, I was inside.

I’d missed some of the performances. I got to my seat as Gloria Estefan was introducing Jennifer Hudson. Then came Harry Connick. There was time to buy souvenirs and get back to my seat a minute before His Holiness entered. I was caught up in the excitement. The Pope was in my city and I was seeing him.

“Knowing that Jesus still walks our streets,” he preached, “that he is part of the lives of his people, that he is involved with us in one vast history of salvation, fills us with hope. A hope which liberates us from the forces pushing us to isolation and lack of concern for the lives of others, for the life of our city. A hope which frees us from empty “connections”, from abstract analyses, or sensationalist routines. A hope which is unafraid of involvement, which acts as a leaven wherever we happen to live and work. A hope which makes us see, even in the midst of smog, the presence of God as he continues to walk the streets of our city.”

Capping his whirlwind visit was the trip to Philadelphia where he addressed the sexual abuse scandal.“God weeps for the sexual abuse of children. These cannot be maintained in secret, and I commit to a careful oversight to ensure that youth are protected and all responsible will be held accountable. Those who have survived this abuse have become true heralds of mercy – humbly, we owe each of them our gratitude for their great value as they have had to suffer this terrible abuse sexual abuse of minors.”

And then, it was over. He was on his way back to The Eternal City of Rome. But he didn’t leave before filling us with hope and love, reminding us of both our value and our neighbor’s. And not before humbly asking us to pray for him. He reminded us that the Catholic story is a beautiful story. And now the right person was telling it.

Lino Rulli, Eating Fish, And Being kind

by Ross Decker Sr

“When they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the world have come here also;” Acts 17:6

I listen to The Catholic Guy on Sirius Radio often. Near the end of this past Lenten season, the host, Lino Rulli, came up with an innovative idea that would make the Lenten experience more powerful in the lives of Catholics as well as making the Catholic witness more relevant to non-Catholics. Lino wondered why, instead of the ancient discipline of not eating meat on Fridays, wouldn’t it make sense for Catholics to perform a Friday corporal work of mercy. Let me tell you, that idea woke me up. Lino’s point was both amazingly simple and eloquently profound. If we were to make a statement with our Lenten penance, let’s not do some disciplinary trick. Let’s do a discipline that could turn the world upside down.

Before I went through the RCIA program and entered the Catholic Church I’d never heard of the Spiritual and Corporeal works of mercy. I’d been a member of an inter-denominational church for twenty two years where I never heard the works of mercy mentioned. That’s actually pretty odd because the Works of Mercy lend themselves quite well to a list. And we were a church of lists. We knew the five steps to a life God blesses, the ten steps to powerful prayer. We knew the six steps to financial freedom. Mostly, in that particular church, we knew the seven steps to resolving youthful conflicts. So many sermons were wrapped around the Bill Gothard acronym, DAROS-FS. Perhaps those letters don’t mean anything to you. If so, be grateful.

From there, I moved to an Evangelical Free Church. The corporeal works of mercy were not mentioned there by the pastor either. But, for that pastor, Glenn Blossom, the corporeal works of mercy were a daily way of life.

What would happen if the Church adopted Lino’s proposal? There are seven Fridays during lent and there are seven corporeal acts of mercy. The more I think about it, the more I think that the Church is missing out on a great opportunity to rock the world.

Imagine if a majority of Catholics fed the hungry on the first Friday of Lent. The church would have a foyer overflowing with canned goods and non-perishable food to share with those who needed it. The food could then be donated to a ministry that feeds the poor. Or, it could be as simple as each parish opening a food pantry for just that week. People would be lined up outside churches and the weekend papers would be full of  stories about Catholics doing good. It’s our heritage, isn’t it? We believe in and act in accordance with a belief in the Preferential Option for the Poor. And, I don’t think anyone would be surprised to see that caring for the marginalized on one day is the strongest impetus for doing it again.

The second Friday would be the day we gave drink to the thirsty. My friend Hugh Hollowell works with the poor every day and suggests that we could buy a sleeve of bottled water and keep it in a cooler in our car. Or we could pick up an extra bottle of water on our way in to work so we’d be ready to share with someone who needs it. We may also share the spiritual water of our Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus says in John 4:14, “but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up unto eternal life.”

What would be the impact on the watching world if on the third Friday of Lent we were to run a clothing drive and bring clothing down to homeless shelters or Crisis Pregnancy centers? We could overflow the clothing bins that are in every strip mall parking lot. We could literally clothe the naked.

The fourth week is a bit tricky. It is the week where we would shelter the homeless. This might take a bit of ingenuity to accomplish. In simpler times it was not that unusual to take strangers into your homes for at least a short time. The Shunammite woman of  the Old Testament built a special room onto her house for Elisha. I know that some people still do a version of that but I don’t imagine it’s practical for most of us today. Large cities have homeless shelters. There may be an option to volunteer there. I’m certain that mopping a floor or two or just sitting with someone whose life has been shattered could do a great deal of good.

Most parishes regularly list the sick of the parish in the bulletin. We’re a family. Families visit each other in times of sickness. We all do that, don’t we?  Well, I don’t. But we could. Sure, it should be something we always do, but it would be a great start if, on the fifth week of Lent we could stop be to visit our sick church family members. I’m sure a covered dish and a half hour visit could brighten someone’s day.

Have you ever done prison visits? That is something I’ve had the opportunity to do. My wife is blessed with a great voice as well as a tender spirit that moves people when she sings. I’ve visited prisons with her where she would sing and someone would share a devotional thought. As Catholics we are to visit those who are incarcerated. The sixth week of Lent could be the time to do that. You could brighten the day of someone who goes long stretches of time without a visit. Your smile would go a long way.

Truthfully, I don’t know how you’d complete the last work. It’s the burying of the dead. I guess you’d need some special cooperation on the part of the person you’d be helping!

I think we could truly make a great impression on people were we to perform regular acts of kindness. It was Tertullian who noted that the early Christians would “support and bury poor people, supply the wants of boys and girls destitute of means and parents… and of old persons confined now to the house; But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See, they say, how they love one another.”

If only today, we could give our world a reason to say, “See how they love one another.”

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