Thursday, August 21, 2008

Catching Up

Damn, it's been a long time since my last post, but life has been very crazy! So here are a few random thoughts and updates...

#1 - We had baby! Lillian (Lily) Paige Ponchak was born on 8/5/08 and weighed in at 6lbs, 0oz. Mom and baby are doing well and we're still trying to adjust to less sleep.

That's four girls for those of you keeping score at home. I am humbly accepting donations to the Ponchak Daughters Wedding Fund.

#2 - We sold our old house & bought a new one! That's a picture of the new house. With another family member coming on the scene we've officially outgrown our current house (3BR/2BA, 1400 sqft).

We put our home on the market in early July and got an offer within 2 weeks. In this market, that is truly an act of God. We are excited about our new house (4BR/2BA, 2600 sqft) because it has plenty of room and a pool. We are set to close on both the selling & buying in early September.

#3 - It's been a year since we return to the Catholic Church. I have to admit that the transition has not been as smooth as I would have thought. We are struggling for a lack of meaningful community. It took 10 months before someone at our parish came up to us after mass and welcomed us. I've let some of our relationships with folks from our Matthew's House days slip away & become neglected, but I just have hard time finding time to reconnect, mostly due to points 1 & 2 above.

Well, that's all for now. I suppose I could offer some comments on the current geo-politcal goings on or our home town of Lakeland's recent "revival" or some other deep theological thoughts, but I've got to go help my tired wife take care of our infant and toddler and help my middle schooler and high schooler with their homework.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm Number One!!!

My oldest daughter, Anna (14), and her friends are planning a trip to the movies this weekend to see Prince Caspian. They were all told that the only way they could go is if an adult went wih them. Teenagers that they are they planned to have someone's older cousin be their chaperone. The problem is she's only 19 and some parents were not totally comfortable about that. So, they were discussing their dilema at lunch today and one of Anna's friends said, "We could ask Anna's dad to come. He's not that bad."

Apparently I am the least embarrasing parent in the group. I rock!

(Editor's note: According to Anna my blogging about this has cost me the title of least embarrasing, but I don't believe her because none of her friend's are un-cool enough to actually read this blog.)

Monday, April 21, 2008

Pope got it right, but did the Apostles?

I think Benedict had a very fruitful visit to the US. I was very impressed with the way he addressed the sexual abuse scandals head-on from the outset of his trip--on the plane before even arriving on US soil. I think it was healing to hear the pope say that he was "deeply ashamed" by what happened. He could have ignored it or brushed it off like so many Catholics as a media created problem. Instead he owned, embraced it and sought reconciliation for it. He met with victims and heard their stories. Very powerful, very healing.

On another note...

Yesterday's first reading at mass was from Acts 6:1-7. It's the story of the first deacons. Apparently, there were some issues between the Gentile & Jewish Christian widows not being treated fairly in the distribution of food. The Apostles gathered everyone together and said, "It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table." Then they asked for the community to nominate trustworthy men to handle this task so the could "devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." So my question is, "Did the Apostles get it wrong?"

Let's face it, the bible is full of stories of God's chosen leaders making mistakes. Abraham had Ishmael before Isaac. Moses struck the rock twice instead of once. Saul took a census. David had the Bathsheba affair. The Apostles themselves continued to miss the point throughout their time with Jesus. They argued over who was greatest among them. They tried to send the crowds away before Jesus fed them with a few loaves and fish. They tried to keep the children from Jesus. They grumbled when the woman anointed Christ's feet with oil. Peter cut off the servants ear then denied Jesus. All of them fled. Peter and Paul argued over treatment of Gentile converts.

So, why should we assume that in this instance they got right? In fact, this could be a case of them acting as they did with the crowds and children. Their actions seem to be very different that what we know of how Christ acted. He tried to teach them the importance of serving the "least of these". He wrapped the towel around his waist and washed their feet--to the dismay of Peter--to demonstrate the importance of leading through serving. They always seemed to be caught up in the leading thing, but not so much the serving thing. Is that what was at work in this decision? It seems like they were saying "We're too important & our time is too valuable to get caught up worrying about how the widows are cared for or how food is distributed to the poor so let's delegate this to someone else to worry about."

Is this the start of the separation of clergy & laity? Is this the birth of the idea that pastors are the ones primarily responsible for the "spiritual" jobs in the church? Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox, every denomination has this attitude seemingly built in to the congregation. Professional ministers are somehow more special than the rest of us & we need to set things up for them to devote all of their time to spiritual things. Is this a hand-me-down from the Apostles? Were they wrong to separate the spiritual and temporal? Am I wrong to question this?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sometimes it sucks to be me

My paying, day-to-day job is working as a claims manager at a local auto insurance company. About 6 weeks ago the management team was informed that our corporate office had decided to "reduce staffing" in our office. This was going to impact every level within the claims department from support staff to managers. I've had to spend the better part of the last six weeks going over the numbers and reworking staffing models all the while not even sure if I was going to be a part of the company's future. I've had to work with people everyday knowing that some of them were going to be "separated" from the company and they didn't have a clue. It was only just a few days ago that I learned that I was "safe" and would be retained. Today was D-Day. I had to meet with eleven people from my department that I've been working with closely for the past several years and deliver the bad news to them. I had to spend the evening, after everyone else had gone home for the day, packing up the personal belongings of those who had been "impacted" by the company's "reorganization" earlier in the day--they were not allowed to return to their desks. Today sucked.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter Reflections

Well the kids are in bed & the in-laws have gone home. I'm sitting on my porch enjoying a quiet Florida spring night by candlelight with a nice glass of wine. I guess it's a good time to reflect on Easter 2008.

This was our first Easter since coming back to the Catholic Church. Every year I would always miss being Catholic at this time of the year. There's just something about celebrating the Triduum that ministers to my soul. I would try to recreate as much of it as possible with our home church. In fact, it was just last year when our community was featured on the front page of our newspaper (and in a related story on our local cable news channel) for their Easter Sunday edition. However, nothing I put together could compare with the beauty of the Triduum liturgy.

It's really one liturgy in three acts celebrated from Holy Thursday night to the Easter Vigil. I love how the different liturgical acts--including the appearance of the church itself--invite us to re-live Jesus' final moments and his resurrection. While speaking with my dad today he said. "If you don't attend the Vigil, it's like you haven't really experienced Easter." I couldn't agree more.

Of course last night was made all the more special because I was the sponsor for Jacob, a single guy from our former community, as he was baptized and confirmed. Our two oldest daughters also made their First Communion last night as well. It's like we've finally truly completed our journey back to Catholicism.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

While I'm at it...

Upon further reflection of my last post I realized I forgot to mention another little issue I'd like to see the Catholic Church change...requiring spiritual discipline under penalty of sin. I think that setting aside special days of observance (holy days) or designating days for fasting (Friday's in Lent), but I really just don't get the obligation part of this. This just seems to have much more in common with the Pharisees than with Jesus. The message of the OT prophets consistently pointed out that God was more concerned with mercy & justice than with obligatory worship. I just really don't get this at all. I didn't understand it before I left the Church. I didn't understand it during my time away from the Church, and I still don't get it.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Faithful Dissent?

Can there be such a thing as faithful dissent, or is that simply an oxymoron? I'd like to think it's possible to be a faithful Catholic while respectfully disagreeing with certain practices and policies. Typically those embrassing dissent come primarily from the extremes of the Church--both conservative and liberal. I tend to see myself pretty much in the middle (ok, maybe slightly right leaning) but here are some of my pet peeves:

Celibacy Requirement for Priesthood. The first thing to keep in mind here is that this is a discipline not a doctrine of the Church. It is primarily the Latin Rite that maintains this requirement and even in the Latin Rite there are married priests. Pope Benny can wake up tomorrow morning in his Vatican apartment and decide to end this discipline. Perhaps that's what is so frustrating. A man who is raised Anglican (or even Lutheran in some cases) and married & ordained in his denomination can convert to Catholicism and be ordained as a priest. The church will allow this for a convert, but if you're unfortunate enough to have been born Catholic this is not a possibility for you. I'd be at the seminary door tomorrow if this rule were changed. This is one of the primary reasons I left the Church to begin with, because I felt called to marriage and pastoral ministry (priesthood). I'm holding out hope for change. It needs to change; not because of a shortage of priests, nor because of the recent sexual misconduct scandals, but becuase I firmly believe God is calling men to both vocations and the Church is acting as a barrier. It is ironic that men who left the priesthood to get married have been treated more harshly by the Church than those guilty of abusing children. Don't tell me that God won't call you to both because they are not mutually exclusive.

Public Recitation of the Rosary. Ok, this may seem a bit odd, but bear with me. I am all for the Rosary and I'm all for public or group prayer. The problem is that the Rosary is best used as a means of mediative prayer--you're supposed to meditate on the mysteries. This is best done in private. I'd like to see devote Catholics learn and use the Liturgy of the Hours in public prayer as this is the public prayer of the Church. In fact, the Council Fathers emphasized the importance of the Hours in Chapter IV of Sacrosanctum Councilium even stating that laity "are encouraged to recite the divine office." Of course, this leads me to my next pet peeve...

Overemphasis on Mary & the Saints (boardinging on idolatry). This is one of those areas where the Church's formal teaching is correct, but there are a wide range of abuses that need clearer correction from the Magisterium. I believe in the communion of the saints. I have no problems with seeking their intercession. Mary as Mother of God is due a special honor by the children of the Church. Unfortunately, in reality there is a good amount of practical idolatry; and I'm not just talking about the weird crap that goes on in Latin America. It's been my expereince that many Catholics have an image of God as a taskmaster Judge keeping score of our rights & wrongs and generally disappointed with us. There's an unhealthy fear of God that causes many to feel that they must go to Mary & the Saints because they don't feel worthy of going to God directly. This causes people to worship Mary rather honor her. I've even heard of people developing a personal relationship with Mary while never thinking the same relationship is possible with Jesus. Too often the Church is too quiet or too slow to correct abuses and superstitions. Only when you have a healthy understanding of God can you have a healthy understanding of the communion of saints.

Technophobia. I know, this one isn't exactly a theological problem, but it's still a problem. Have you actually seen what passes as websites for some dioceses and parishes? OMG! It's the 21st century people, get with it. People do not rely on the Yellow Pages and phone calls to get information about your organization whether its a church, school or business. They rely on the internet and your online presence is often your first impression. I don't even think this is on the radar for most churches. My own parish's website (when it's up) is still advertising events for the fall of 2006! The Vatican's site actually isn't bad, and there are some dioceses and parishes that do a good job, but they're the exception to the rule.

Spectator Mentality. This is my last one (for now). There's an institutionalized segregation between the clergy & the laity, between the saints & the rest of us, that leads to a spectator mentality for most pew warmers. Now, this isn't necessarily confined to Catholicism. There is the old 80-20 rule--20% of the people do all the work while 80% consume it. However, by emphasizing the role of the clergy most lay people feel that doing ministry is not for them. By emphasizing stories of the Saints it's implied that only super-holy people have access to God for their prayers to work miracles. The Church needs to open up areas of non-sacramental ministry to the laity and actively train them & encourage them.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

One of "Them"

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released the results of a study it conducted examining the religious affiliation of more than 35,000 Americans. The study was reported by various media outlets like this one and this one. One major finding of the study is that more than a quarter of Americans have changed their religious affiliations.

I’m one of them.

Raised in a faithful Catholic family, I was active in my faith in my youth. As a young adult I earned a degree in theology from a Catholic university and spent several years working at the parish level and teaching at a Catholic high school. Then my wife and I left Catholicism for a nondenominational Evangelical church.

We didn’t leave because we were at odds with any particular teaching of the Church, nor were we upset or offended. Simply put, we were looking for something more. In our early to mid twenties we desired to be part of a close-knit community of like-minded people. Our faith was very personal and real to us, and we wanted to be with others who shared a similar devotion. At the same time, I could not shake the feeling that I was called to pastoral ministry and didn’t see much of an opportunity as a layperson.

So, we joined a nondenominational evangelical church with a touch of charismatic flavor. I became involved in youth and young adult ministry while also learning the ropes as a pastoral intern. After several years of being an understudy I was finally given the opportunity to plant and pastor my own church. My wife and I intentionally chose to adopt a house church format. We became involved in the emerging church scene—a grassroots movement within Evangelicalism emphasizing relational ministry, shared leadership, and nontraditional approaches to church.

Following a model we saw reflected in the New Testament, we met in homes and reached out to others through building relationships and eating meals together. We had finally achieved our goal of creating a small Christian community built on sharing our lives with one another. Only then did my wife and I realize that there was still something missing. Community for community’s sake without a connection to the depth and richness of the historical church fell short of what we hoped to achieve.

We began exploring our options. We researched other traditions and denominations such as Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and various offshoots of Catholicism. Finally we came to the conclusion that what we needed to do was to go home to our Catholic roots. We wanted our children to have the same depth of faith that we experienced. Most of all, we desired the sacramental life of the Church.

And so, after ten years away we have come home to Rome. We are changed and hopefully better for our sojourn in the varied religious landscape of America. I look forward to being able to share the insights gained from being involved in a nontraditional church with the tradition rich parish to which we now belong.

The Pew study revealed that 10-percent of Americans are former Catholics. These have left for various reasons from disenchantment in the wake of the recent scandals in the Church to those seeking more personal experiences of faith and community. My experience has taught me that there is plenty of room within Catholicism to welcome back those who have left and to draw in those who are searching for a place to experience their faith in a deeply meaningful way.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

What do "they" know?

We just watched Amazing Grace, the story of Wiliam Wilberforce & I highly recommend it, especially for all those who think that a politian's faith shouldn't impact their politics. Wilberforce's commitment to seeing a peaceful end to slavery is a testament to the power of faith and perserverance and a stark contrast to America's handling of the same issue.

Here's the trailer for the film...

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Yep, We're Catholic

and now...

Baby #4 is due this summer. Please pray for Lisa to have a safe & uneventful pregnancy.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Happy 2008

I'm back from a self-imposed hiatus from blogging & blog reading. I'm looking forward to being more active with this going forward & hope both of my regular readers are still with me.