June 9, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Part two: Crediting Vegas for what is good

Last week, I shared some of the experiences my husband, Paul, and I had on a six-day trip to Las Vegas, a gift from loved ones.

Because Las Vegas is sometimes called “Sin City,” I jokingly claim we saw only “minor sin.”

After all, according to the Las Vegas “Yellow Pages,” there are 30 times more churches there than casinos. However, at our Sunday Mass, the homilist discussed one particular transgression even made by clergy, explained later in this column.

At church, in crowds on streets and at major attractions, we found Las Vegas to be enjoyable and benign, with many happy multigenerational and multilingual families everywhere in public.

Last week, I promised to share more of our experience at Guardian Angel Cathedral, just off “The Strip” in Las Vegas—the area where most major attractions are. (The original “Strip” is on Fremont Street, which features a dazzling light show.)

Guardian Angel Cathedral was packed for an 8 a.m. Mass. We felt very much at home—grounded in reality and spirituality. The building itself is modern with traditional touches. The main feature is a huge mural on the outside front wall with the words “Peace … Penance … Prayer.” The indoor art and stained-glass windows are also memorable.

The rector of the cathedral is Viatorian Father Larry Lentz. The Clerics of St. Viator have served the bishops and people of Las Vegas as administrators of the cathedral since it was founded in 1963.

Father Larry was also the homilist at Mass. He was inspired by an article—“Must they preach in their own words?”—which appeared the day before in The Las Vegas Sun, a locally-owned independent newspaper. The author of the story was Christina Littlefield, who opened her article with the phrase: “Is it plagiarism if it’s inspired by God?” (To read the story, type the author and title into the search engine at www.lasvegassun.com.)

Many clergy members, because of heavy workloads and little time to prepare sermons, often struggle with what their topics will be. Some legitimately subscribe to helpful publications that inspire ideas. Others go to the Internet for inspiration. Unfortunately, however, some even borrow material without crediting their sources.

Father Bob Stoeckig, senior pastor at St. Joseph Husband of Mary Parish in Las Vegas, said in a photo caption that accompanied the story, “Preachers have the same responsibility [as academics] to cite sources,” but consider themselves “a better preacher when using something from my own life or in my parish.”

In all my years of hearing homilies, I personally have enjoyed more the non-academic messages—and I have never suspected a priest of plagiarism.

Why did this topic interest me so much? Because even my work has been used without credit, ending up in unusual places. This might be flattering, but it is also wrong.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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