Monday, November 23, 2009


Occasionally priests are called upon to attend events to be a presence of the Church and to give benedictions or talks or whatnot. That was the case for me this past weekend. It was worthwhile event and I was seated with a number of very interesting people including a friend who was in the next chair. The program consisted of speeches and performances from various people. Then a person was called forward to speak that we were unaware was there at a second head table. When this person’s name was called my friend and I locked glances. We sat closest to the microphone and were in full view of everybody. The person is somewhat hostile to the Church in general and is, in particular, a radically devoted pro-abortion proponent with whom I have exchanged letters.

I am somewhat sure that nobody was as sensitive to the situation as my friend and I were. To us, every action meant something. To others it most likely was a pleasant evening of dinner and a program. Thoughts ran along these lines, “Would polite applause show tacit approval of this person’s position or would the refusal to clap during this completely unrelated and worthwhile event give fodder to those who are pro-abortion or who are on the borderline to say, ‘See? Do you want to be like those rude and radical people?’”

She, of course, had no idea that I was the person with whom she had exchanged letters but the sight of my collar would be a dead giveaway that we were at odds philosophically, morally, and religiously. That being said she was completely gracious it must be noted and there was no pushing of any controversial agendas.

It is interesting that we had grown up almost at the same time in the same neighborhood and had spent our youth hanging out in the same places doing the same things. Much of the memory portion of her talk could have been written by me. But now we could not be more different in our defense of life. Her focus is on a grown woman that she can see and talk to (and who can vote), my focus is also on that woman but also on the person in her womb that we cannot see, that we cannot touch, that we cannot talk to, that cannot vote, and has very little in the way of protection under our laws; a place that many persons in the history of man has held.

So we were polite; neither showing enthusiasm nor disdain. But through it I think that I am coming to a new insight into the pro-life movement. I think of all the times in history when being a churchman was unpopular such as in England during Henry the VIII or that a Church teaching caused a person to be in such direct conflict with the state such as in Communism, Nazism, or even during the Dioclesian persecution of our own St. Sebastian. Did it start with political correctness and politeness or was it flared by stubbornness and confrontation?

In any event the waters are troubled and it is difficult to navigate in these nebulous times. I would like to hear what you think you might have done given this situation.


I was asked the other day by a kind individual to stop referring to this parish as St. Sebastian and to refer to it as St. Sebastian’s; the argument being that St. Sebastian is a person who lived hundreds of years ago and that this is a place put in his care. So the parochial vicar and I went through some of the paperwork from the founding of the parish and looked at the Latin which side stepped the matter entirely by stating that this is the Parish of Saint Sebastian which we think could be translated either way.

Upon further reflection we came up with the idea that this parish while being placed into his intercession is not his, but named after him. If it is indeed possessive, would not also have to call a parish that is named, for example, Sacred Heart, Sacred Heart’s? or Assumption Assumption’s? or Divine Word Divine Word’s?

I am open to your input once again!


Anonymous said...

It drives me up a tree when a parish is referred to as St Sebastian's or St Vincent's. Sometimes the cantor will start off mass with "Welcome to St Sebastian's" and it strikes me as incorrect. Even if their intent was to make the name of the parish plural rather than possesive, that would be wrong too. I think it should be St Sebastian, or St Vincent or whatever the name of the parish is. It's not plural, nor possesive.

Anonymous said...

"Welcome to St. Sebastian" implies "parish" after it, even if the word is unspoken. I agree that to use the possessive form is incorrect.

Pat said...

Father, When (now) Blessed Mother Teresa spoke at a Washington D.C. prayer event, several prominent government officials and their wives applauded the words with which they agreed. When Mother spoke about the immorality of abortion and received a standing ovation from those in attendance, the prominent government officials and their wives remained seated and did not applaud. They looked uncomfortable but apparently did not feel moved to applaud Mother's words merely to be polite. I guess one could say that the officials were true to their convictions and sent a silent message to their supporters of like mind by failing to respond.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to see the Latin text of the parish's name.

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to see the Latin text of the parish's name.

Writer said...

The way I see it, Father, you should have told the person that you are using a shortened form of St. Sebastian Parish, the word "parish" being unspoken but understood.

If your questioner objected, you could have said: "If you were about to step in front of a speeding (and very quiet) train, I would warn you by yelling 'Stop!' The 'you' would be understood, although I would not have said the word."

Of course I totally agree that using the possessive does--literally--indicate that the parish belongs to St. Sebastian. This, of course, is ridiculous because our dear patron died long before our church was built!

Anonymous said...

I belong to the cathedral parish of Christ the King. We do not refer to it as 'Christ the King's' - and if He can't get possessive case, how could anyone else make a claim?:)

Anonymous said...

My guess is that the speaker from the second head table was a columnist from the Plain Dealer. Being hostile won't help, but strong, polite and logical defense of life and the Church is probably the best way to go even though anti-Catholic "Catholics" are tough to take. As far as the name of the parish goes, St. Sebastian is correct. The parish is named after him, but it belongs to God and the people he has put in it.

Anonymous said...

Father, as a priest in public, you are a representative of the Church, as you well know. I think it it would be permissible to applaud the this individual so long as she isn't making statements that contradict Church teaching. Most people at this event would applaud anything this individual says, whether they agreed with it or not simply out of political correctness, politely keeping silent and not applauding is a call to conversion and an outstanding example of conviction.

Anonymous said...

But your parish isn't just St. Sebastian, it is St. Sebastian Catholic Church, the short form St. Sebastian.
I would not add the possessive unless I were referring to something in or owned by the parish because it can become confusing.

frival said...

The parish is not merely named after the Saint, it is placed in his or her special protection. The possessive is used not to indicate specifically possession but this specific patronage - the parish is St. Sebastian's special honor and duty to intercede for. I know I'm outvoted here but I consider it a venerable tradition to remember the special patronage. It's akin to saying "John's daughter", indicating not possession but his special relationship and duty to the other.

I grant that in the case of non-saint names the issue becomes rather moot. Then again, I'm not a huge fan of those to begin with. :)

bill7tx said...

Because there is, in either case, no chance that anyone would misunderstand what you are referring to, it seems to me that "St. Sebastian" vs. "St. Sebastian's" is a distinction without a difference in ordinary speech.

In written works, one would be guided by whatever Manual of Style the editors have chosen. In my case, that's the Chicago Manual of Style, which says that "St. Sebastian's Church" is correct. The New York Times probably handles it differently, but who cares?

bill7tx said...

I should add, in the case of a parish dedicated to the Sacred Heart, the Divine Mercy, the Holy Eucharist, and so forth, the Chicago Manual offers no guidance. So, my editorial sense says that in speech it would be less awkward to simply say, for example, "I belong to Sacred Heart Parish" or "We went to Mass at the Church of the Assumption." In print, it would be preferable to use whatever name the church or parish was given at the time of its founding, for example, "Father Smith is pastor at Divine Mercy Parish" or "The bishop visited the Church of the Holy Eucharist."

bill7tx said...

Applause during a speech means approval of or agreement with the point the speaker has just made. If you don't agree or approve, don't applaud.

At the beginning of a speech, applause is simply a welcome. Unless the speaker is a truly odious person, it's safe to welcome them, although one need not clap overlong or overloud. At the end of a speech, provided the content was not overwhelmingly objectionable or offensive, applause is appropriate and just means "Thank you for sharing" -- without any implied approval, and again one need not overdo it. Facial expression should be appropriate to one's feelings about the speaker and what the speaker had to say.

And if you don't feel like applauding, don't. Chances are, nobody is going to notice.

Fr. V said...

THANK YOU! A lot of good advice here. I'll get the Latin for you but I don't have time for today.

Opey - up and until last year I would have agreed with you. Our bishop however is emphasizing that we are not churches - the Diocese is the local Church and we are parishes within that Church so we are no longer able to call ourselves St. Sebastian Church - But the parish of - or - S. S. Parish of the Roman Catholic Church.

Interesting no?