Saturday, December 29, 2012

It's not about power (Holy Family homily)

That second reading--about husbands and wives--
sometimes bothers people.

Now, everyone can relax--
I’m not going to advocate anyone having power over others.
Because that’s not what Paul is advocating.

You can’t understand what Paul is saying, 
without remembering that for him, 
it’s all about the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

And, in fact, when Paul addresses husbands and wives elsewhere, 
he says, point blank, submit to one another “out of reverence for Christ.”

Paul understood as well as anyone that our sinfulness 
leads us to put our ego out there, to lack trust, and so to grasp for power.

So when Paul talks about putting Christ in control, 
and being crucified with Christ, 
he’s driving a stake through the heart of that grasping power-trip.

When he became a man, and when people wanted Jesus to take control--
and he, of course, is the Creator!--what did he say?
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve--
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

OK, I think we can agree, no one is supposed to be a dictator--
but that doesn’t mean we don’t need parents, 
especially fathers, to be leaders.

Especially spiritual leaders.

Fathers, your spiritual leadership--at Mass on Sunday, 
and in the home during the week--is so important. 
Not only by setting an example: 
your children will learn how to pray mostly from their parents.
But even more, by being a leader who is, himself, “under authority.”

Now, last night someone noticed 
I mostly talked about spiritual leadership from men--
and he asked why. 
And my answer is, our mothers have been 
providing that leadership. 
But what’s needed is more men to do so. 
(Added after the Saturday evening Mass.)

If I can speak to the men here for a moment.
Do you know why it is so critical that we’re here every Sunday?
Why we desperately need to learn about Jesus, and to learn from him?

There is no stronger man I can point to.
He knew what he came to do. He never flinched.
Even when his friends lost their nerve, not him.

He endured hours of torture. And he chose that. 
He refused every escape.

A man of peace who was no weakling.

Now here’s the thing.

Show me anywhere else our society gives us anything like this?
Every other example of manhood in our society falls short!

Everywhere else, we’re told to seek comfort, to seek pleasure, 
to seek power, to seek adventure; 
yes, to seek challenge, but above all, to keep control.

Our culture tells men either to be thugs or con-men or wimps.

Only in Jesus Christ do we have someone really worth following. 
And only then will we--as men or women, children or adults--
deserve to have anyone follow us.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Making Egg Nog...

I'm having some of the seminarians over, and I'm making egg nog.

I long ago misplaced my mother's recipe, which I kind of remember, but I can't recall exactly. It wasn't complicated. So every time I make this, I find a recipe that is similar, and go with that.

Today I found Martha Stewart's--and despite what you might expect, it's not complicated; it's the same basic recipe, with three notable divergences: first, it called for the liquor to be added after the milk and cream, not before. I distinctly recall mom saying you add the liquor, slowly, to "cook" the eggs (which are raw); and the milk and cream goes in next.

Martha suggested a mixture of rum, cognac and bourbon, whereas I always just used bourbon, so I went with her mixture. It seemed like a lot more than I remember using, but hey! It's from Martha Stewart! She's not Catholic, as far as I know, but more of a Wasp-y type, so surely she wouldn't be too boozy?

The second divergence was that she suggested waiting until just before serving it, before whipping up the egg whites. That's a good idea; because when you whip up and stir in the whites, it all separates while it chills, then you break it up again. This way, it won't have time to separate again.

The third variance was her suggestion of adding a bit of whipped cream as well. I'll try that too.

It's supposed to be enough for 13 people, but I doubt it will go that far. We've got six folks over, and I think it'll disappear rapidly. We'll see.

If you're wondering what else we're eating, one of the seminarians--who likes to cook and can't in the seminary--will be making some pork loin and broccoli and acorn squash soup.

We're going to eat well on the Fourth Day of Christmas!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

How does giving up on Christ help? (Christmas homily)

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, we all notice the lights. 
House after house. Shopping malls and offices. Everyone puts up lights. 

On the radio I heard about an extravaganza in New Jersey 
featuring “synchronized lights, lasers, fog machines, strobe lights, 20-foot flames.” 
And, of course, pounding music as the soundtrack! It’s all lots of fun. 
Some of it is marketing; not all. But does it have much to do with Christmas? 

There are two things at work worth contemplating. 

 First, there is something here that has little to do with the intellect or a conscious act of faith. 

When I was in the seminary, I spent a year as an intern at a parish up north. 
And while there, I spent a lot of time teaching lessons to children of various ages. 
One time, the principal asked me to explain our beliefs about Mary to a group of first-graders. 
So picture that: I’m a theology student--no kids! 
And I’m trying to explain the Virgin Birth to 6 year olds. 
How do I do that? 

Here’s what I did: I created a skit. 
One child was Mary; one child was Gabriel, 
coming to tell her that God wanted her to give birth to Jesus. 
And one child was supposed to be Jesus, waiting to see what Mary would do. 
With a lot of coaching, I had Gabriel say his few lines, 
and Mary gave her “Yes, I’ll help with God’s plan!” 

But the best part--that involved no lines at all-- was what the child playing Jesus did. 
He was told to react--without words. 
And that 6-year-old jumped and jumped for joy! 
The mature reflection and grasp of Faith would come later. 
But long before that there is a profound experience of joy. 

Second, there’s something curious: 
lots of people celebrate Christmas, 
without much conscious attachment to the Faith. 

As Christians, we know it’s more than a baby; 
The baby became a man; and the shadow of the Cross was always there. 
For folks who don’t observe the faith, it’s not hard to skip over Good Friday; 
yet not too many people skip Christmas. 
They put up the lights, even if, for them, it’s not about His Light. 

So what’s going on? 
Is it possible there’s something deep at work? 
Of course there is--that’s obvious. 
What’s not so obvious--at least to everyone--is whether it’s God. 

You see, the act of Faith isn’t that easy. 
The problem is plain: if there is a God, 
why does He show up on this Day, 
when there are plenty of other days he seems absent? 

I. Don’t. Know. 

But putting out the lights doesn’t seem to be an answer. 

And if we say, “because there’s so much evil, I can’t see how there can be a God”--
Let’s take that one more step: “Therefore, there is no God”--
but you still have evil. 
How has giving up on God helped? 
It’s just putting out the lights. 

I don’t know why God waits--but I know he’s waited for me. 
I’m an ordinary man, not great either in virtue or vice--
but there are things I needed him to forgive, and he waited for me to ask. 
I have taken a lot wrong roads--he always offered a way; 
and he waited patiently for me to take it. 

And when I was ready, he was waiting, in a church in Virginia, 
in a priest hearing confessions. 
I thought: how long would it take, to go to confession after ten years? 
Not so long; no so bad! Not hard at all! 

I say that, as the one--then--seeking to be reconciled with my Faith; 
And I say it now, as a priest who gives God’s response of forgiveness. 
It’s not hard at all! 
The hardest thing was my head! And my pride. 

There is great darkness at work in the world. 
It is horrible and yet it draws. I don’t know why. 
But I can’t see how giving up on the light of Christ helps.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Too little...but not too late! (Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent)

Bethlehem was too small.
Elizabeth was too old.
And everyone involved was poor.

A lot of times, it seems as though what Christianity preaches is conformity.
And folks who don’t fit in well,
stay away because they expect they won’t fit in with us.

Like all stereotypes, there’s some truth to this.
There has always been the temptation to worship God for the wrong reasons.
Sometimes we think of religion as a kind of insurance policy.
If I do the right things, God will reward me.
So, when bad things happen, it calls the whole thing into question:
what did I do wrong?

This is what the Book of Job, in the Bible, is about.
Job figured that wealth and prosperity
were what he got in exchange for drawing close to God.
Only after he lost all those other blessings
did he understand that what he got for drawing close to God…
was God himself!

Our goal in sharing our Faith isn’t that those who join us here
come to be more like us;
But to be like Jesus Christ!

If our Savior walked into our church this morning,
I don’t believe he would have purple-streaked hair, or earrings, or tattoos.
But the people coming in with him might!

Now it is true that we Catholics make bold claims:
God spoke to us; God said, this is how to live.
It’s not because we are so close to God--
but because God chose to come so close to us.

Every time someone says, “this is too much!”
We remember Him who said, “Take up your cross.”
And when someone says, “you Catholics don’t live it!”
We admit it, remembering the sinner who begs for mercy, is us.

Yes, we are very bold to say that Christ invites us
to live by values that are cattywumpus to the values of our world.

Guess what, Christians: we are the misfits!

We believe in law and justice--but never vengeance.
We aren’t communists: wealth and individual freedom are good;
but we aren’t soulless capitalists, either: we don’t worship the Dollar,
And the marketplace doesn’t solve everything.

We enjoy the good things of life: wine, women and song!
When we do penance, we don’t give up bad things, but good things:
chocolate, meat, movies and beer.
They’re so good—because they reflect God’s goodness—
that we may be tempted to love them…too much.

In a world that worships power, popularity and success—
And we Christians bow down to them, too!—
We need to come to Mass each Sunday and holy day
to humble ourselves before a God who was humiliated, cast out, and killed!
So for all the folks who are too young, too old,
Too many sins, too many scars,
Too many failures, too many burnt bridges,
Too late…

Christmas—and Christ—is for you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

'Baptized in the Holy Spirit' (Sunday homily)

John the Baptist says that Jesus will baptize us
“with the Holy Spirit and with fire.”
What does this mean?

Well, consider first that the word, in Greek, means to wash or to immerse.
When John was baptizing, he was using an existing Jewish ritual called mikvah.
In that ritual, the person had to be completely immersed in water.

So to be baptized in the Holy Spirit
is to be drenched and completely soaked with the Holy Ghost.
That’s what Jesus offers us.
That’s where true joy comes from.

One of the temptations we face is to tame God.
We like being in control.
If we show up for a meeting, for an event, for Mass,
we want to know what will happen, and how long it will take.
We want to know exactly what’s going on.

Well, the thing is, God won’t force himself on anyone.
But if we were really willing
to yield control to the Holy Spirit, what might happen?
For you? I don’t know. But for me, I admit it makes me a little nervous.
Now, in the end, we’ll get that immersion: that’s what Heaven is.
If we want to go to Heaven, the Holy Spirit wins.
It seems to me that a lot of my struggles in life
are that tug-of-war between the Holy Spirit and my own will.

I’ve noticed, when you go to restaurants and order an unfamiliar wine,
sometimes they’ll bring a little for you to taste.

The Holy Spirit does that, too.
That’s a way to think about the sacrament of confession.
We first received the Holy Spirit in baptism—
but when we break our baptismal covenant through sin,
we renew it in confession.

A reminder: we have a penance service
at Saint Rose Monday, December 17, at 7 pm.
Also, I hear confessions here at Saint Rose
on Friday and Saturday mornings at 11 am.

And, how about this?
On Christmas Eve, I'll hear confessions before the Masses,
starting at 2 pm.

Give it a try. Take a sip!
You might find you like the Wine of the Holy Spirit.
Drink all you want!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe (homily)

There are so many things to say about this feast.

First, let’s talk about what happened on this day in AD 1531, 481 years ago.
Mary appeared to an ordinary person, 
who was, in turn, sent to the powerful, who didn’t believe the message. 

How often that is how it works! 
Think of Joan of Arc, or Bernadette at Lourdes, 
the three children at Fatima, or Gideon in the Bible, 
or Mary and Joseph themselves.

How about you? Have you ever had someone come to you,
Who maybe didn’t dress or speak well, who seemed…a little off?

Second, let’s talk about the image of our Lady of Guadelupe.

So much has been written on this, 
and I encourage you to read more about it. 

The image appeared on the cloak that Juan Diego was wearing; 
he had used it to gather up roses he found on the hill--
just as Mary said he would. 
When he came to the bishop--who asked for a sign!--
he unfolded his cloak, and there it was!

That image is on display in Mexico City. I’ve seen it.

She stands on a moon which seems to be made of snake-skin. 
That seems odd to us; however, in Juan Diego’s time, 
Mexico was under the influence of Aztec worship--of a serpent. 
That worship involved human sacrifice.

We in North America, almost 500 years later, 
see a fascinating image of our Lady. 
But the people of Mexico saw much more.

They saw God telling them they were valuable to Him.
They saw Mary, not as a European, but as someone of mixed-race.
They saw a message to reject paganism and embrace Christ.

I visited Mexico in 2008, and I was there on this feast.
It’s very hard to explain how important this event 
is to the people of Mexico.

Which leads to a final point. 
Why did our bishops make this a feast day? 
Neither Fatima or Lourdes are ranked as high as this day.

Our bishops are calling us to see ourselves 
in solidarity with the rest of the people of North and South America.

So often, those of us whose ancestors were European, or African, 
look at the people of Central and South America 
as very different people from us. Too often, we look down on them.

But we might remind ourselves that this key miracle 
didn’t happen in the United States.
God chose Mexico. Long before any settlements happened up here.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Baruch says, get up! John says, go to confession! (Sunday homily)

We heard from the Prophet Baruch today.

Baruch was an associate of the Prophet Jeremiah.
Along with Jeremiah, he saw God’s People taken into captivity.
Everything was in ruins, including God’s Temple.

So when Baruch talks “mourning and misery,”
that’s what he’s talking about.
When he says to look up and rejoice, he knew that wasn’t easy to do.

This isn’t a joyful time for everyone.
If we’ve lost someone we love, or if our economic situation is bad,
it can be hard to be festive.

I often think of how, as a boy,
we always expected there would be presents under the tree;
and there always were.
Looking back, I marvel at the sacrifices my parents made
so we kids wouldn’t have a sad Christmas.

And then I think of parents who have to see their children not have what I had.
Out of work. Powerless. It breaks my heart.

So here’s a thought. If this is a tough time for you, know you’re not alone.

Second, if God has given you the means to help others,
Maybe help some of those families I described?
Knowing you helped lift someone else’s suffering
Is a pretty nice way to feel good, when you don’t feel good.

Something else occurred to me as I thought about Baruch.
I thought about it, this past week, after going to confession.

You do realize we priests need to go to confession too?

And I’ll confess something else, here: I was slow in getting there.
Yes—I make excuses too!

But the sacrament always works!
Having God remind me that his mercy is always greater
than the force of my sinful habits never fails to lift me up with hope.

There are folks running around to get “highs” from all kinds of stuff,
and this is free! No bad side effects!

I’ll tell you what I heard another priest told his parishioners.
If you want to give a present to a priest, go to confession!
I can’t tell you what a joy it is, especially—especially!—
when someone says, “It’s been a long time…”

To be a Christian is to have Christ be born in your heart.
And yet we know—we go back on the invitation.
We become like the inn-keeper who says, “no—no room.”
How sad and dispiriting is that guilt we feel.

Let it go! Rise up! Get up! Be filled with the glory of God!

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Little Christmas

Last night, after the Vigil Mass for the Immaculate Conception, I was reflecting on how this great feast fits in with the Advent and Christmas season. Of course, many get confused about just whose conception is being celebrated; and December 8 seems like a good time for many to put out lights or put up Christmas trees. Last night, I surprised our veteran altar server-cum-sacristan when I opted for a gold vestment, instead of a white one. But these are Marian vestments, he said; I said, nothing is too good for our Lady!

This feast is something like a "little Christmas"--even in the readings, and prayers for the day. Consider this quote from Saint Anselm, which is part of the liturgy of the hours for today:
"The universe rejoices with new and indefinable loveliness. Not only does it feel the unseen presence of God himself, its Creator, it sees him openly, working and making it holy. These great blessings spring from the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb."

So, even though we aren't directly celebrating the birth--or even the conception--of our Lord, yet this is a feast directly tied to it.

It got me thinking about something else we do this time of year. We anticipate Christmas for several weeks--we can't wait for it, and increasingly, we don't. As a result, Advent kind of gets swamped by ever-earlier celebrations of Christmas.

Not that I'm endorsing that; but in a sense, that's what happens when we celebrate this feast: and in a way, that's what we are celebrating. The glory of Christ is so great, that it shines out in all directions--even in time; so that the glory of the Incarnation shines backward in time, to the first instant of Mary's conception. The brilliant light of the Logos completely filled our Lady, so that no moment of her life was left in shadow.

Well, I'll have to continue these thoughts in the confessional! Merry (Little) Christmas!

Friday, December 07, 2012

'Our tainted nature's solitary boast' (Immaculate Conception homily)

Before going any further, I want to explain something very clearly,
because I know many people get mixed up about this.

Today, the “Immaculate Conception,” is not the conception of Jesus, our Lord.
Nine months before Christmas is March 25—the Annunciation.
That’s when we mark the conception of Jesus.

Today is Mary’s conception. Nine months before she was born.
Her birthday is September 8. Go back nine months brings us to December 8: today.

Now, the Gospel reading is confusing, because it talks about the conception of Jesus.
There’s a reason for the readings we have.
The first reading is “problem”; the Gospel is “solution.”
The first reading describes how the first Eve—with Adam, chose to reject God’s way.
The Gospel, shows the new Eve doing what the first Eve should have.
No becomes yes; sin yields to grace.

OK, but what is this “immaculate conception”?
God had long prepared for this moment.
The Old Testament is filled with foreshadowings, including the first reading:
The offspring of Eve would one day defeat the enemy.

Part of God’s plan was to prepare Mary to cooperate fully in his plan.
She still came into existence through the love of her parents, Joachim and Anne.
But what God did was to protect her, at that first instant,
from the flaw we all have, of being prone to sin.
Mary was without sin: hence, “immaculate.”

Now, several questions arise.

First, how do we know this is true?

We know it’s true because Christians have always believed it.
From the beginning, Mary was known as the “all holy” one.

We know it’s true because Scripture supports it.
Notice what the Gospel says: “full of grace.” Not mostly full, but FULL.
To be full of grace is to be exactly what Adam and Eve were, before they sinned.
To be full of grace is the antithesis of sin; it is to be full of God; full of Life.

And we believe it because it’s fitting.
Which brings us to another question we might ask:
Why would God do it this way?

Because it’s fitting that the Mother of God
should be truly free when she responds to God’s Plan.

It was fitting that she not be under the power of evil to even the slightest degree.

And it is fitting that her “yes” to God’s Plan should bring with it such a suitable gift from God.
What gift would God give her? What gift could be better?

Finally, we might ask, OK, so what does it mean to us?

Mary is the first, not the only. She is not over us; she’s ahead of us.
She is, as the poet said, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast!”
She shows us what God will do in us—if only we say “yes.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Things that happen downtown on a short walk for lunch

At the Archdiocese, we either bring our lunch or go out for it. If there's an executive dining room, I haven't been invited yet. So I walked down to a place I'd passed many times, called "The Orient: Chinese-Vietnamese Food." I looked for "Pho," which is Vietnamese noodle soup; it was listed as "noodles." It's cooling now.

Walking back, I saw this old message painted on the side of a building:

THE Dennison Hotel (just that way--with the "the" all caps and italics--so there would be no confusion)...

And under that, this appealing information:

"105 rooms -- 60 baths."

A few moments later, I walked by a parking garage. The attendant was standing in front, and he asked me to stop. "Do you know a woman named Sue Jones (it was a very distinctive name, which is omitted for obvious reasons)?"

"I'm sorry, say that again please?"

"Sue Jones--do you know her?"

"; why would I?"

"Well, I've seen her around with one of you guys--a reverend."

"Well, I'm sorry, I don't know that name."

Time to eat my Pho; it's still pretty hot, though...

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The ox and the ass...

A few weeks ago, the media made a fuss over the Holy Father pointing out, in his latest book about our Lord, that there is no mention in the Gospel of animals being present for the birth of our Lord.

Oh! Crisis! We shouldn't have animals in our nativity scenes! So said the pope!


He's just pointing out, accurately, that the Gospels aren't the source for this. So what is?

Here's the first reading for the first Office of Readings for Advent--that is, for today:

(From the beginning of the book of the prophet Isaiah...)

The vision which Isaiah, son of Amoz, 
had concerning Judah and Jerusalem 
in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 
Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth, for the Lord speaks: 
Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! 
An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger
But Israel does not know, my people has not understood.

P.S. If you google "Nativity ox ass" you will see plenty of classic depictions of this from the treasury of Western art. However, you may get a prompt that I got: warning, this search may return adult content"! In my case, it did not, but fair warning!

Happy Anniversary to the new translation of the Mass!

Well, the new translation of the Mass is no longer quite so new. It's been one year since we started using it. When the Church in the U.S. was gearing up for it, many who opposed it were predicting dire consequences--none of which transpired. I particularly recall the predictions that the first Christmas, with the new translation, would be disastrous, because the return of "C&E Catholics" (who wouldn't have heard all the instructions the regulars had) would bring pandemonium.

None of that happened; the sky didn't fall, and folks are continuing to come to Mass. Some folks--such as me!--are still using helps for the Gloria and the Creed, but life goes on.

Now, let me acknowledge that the new translation isn't perfect. There are certainly some ways it could be worded better. If ever anyone in charge of such things calls (I'm not sitting by the phone), I'll be ready to offer some suggestions.

And, it is true that the prayers the priest prays are worded in a more complicated way. The reason is that the underlying Latin sentences are expressing complex thoughts. While there is a way to break up these Latin sentences into multiple English sentences--it's not hard--it also breaks up the thought. And this is an opportunity to reflect: is that really necessary? Is it wise?

After all, any priest who wishes can preach on a particular prayer, and explain the content of it. I've certainly made use of some of the Mass prayers in my homilies this past year. The prayers, being richer in content, lend themselves better to that now.

But let's acknowledge that the sentence structure is complicated. In fact, the bishops chose an expediency that I don't quite approve of; however, it was a concession in view of this complexity. Many of the prayers insert a period near the end, rendering a concluding sentence that frequently goes like this: "Through Christ our Lord" or "Who lives and reigns forever and ever."

Those are not proper English sentences; they are fragments.

But what I think is happening is that the period is functioning as a semi-colon; and it's being used, instead, so as to facilitate proclamation of the texts, for those priests who struggle with carrying through a very lengthy sentence the right emphases for subject and verb. Here's an example...

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

Now, without diagramming the sentence--which is too much work and this is a day of rest!--I will simply highlight the underlying structure of the sentence:

Grant your faithful, we pray, almighty God,
the resolve to run forth to meet your Christ with righteous deeds at his coming,
so that, gathered at his right hand, they may be worthy to possess the heavenly kingdom;
through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.

OK, let's re-arrange it to simplify it:

God, grant your faithful the resolve to meet Christ at his coming,
so that they may possess the kingdom through Jesus your Son...etc.

Now, don't misunderstand: I'm not suggesting that the omitted words don't matter; I'm simply using a simpler way to show the basic structure of the sentence. But go back to it now, and try reading the prayer aloud, giving emphasis to the bolded terms; and notice I changed the period to a semi-colon.

Does that work better? It does for me at least.

Here's another example. This prayer is used at every Mass, so I've had lots of time to think about it.

Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles:
Peace I leave you, my peace I give you;
look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.

Now, at first this prayer's wording bothered me, well before I got to the fragment at the end. But praying it day by day, I figured out what it's saying, and thus how to proclaim it. Let's see if some playing around with the word-order or the punctuation, I can show you what I saw.

Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you":
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.
Who live and reign for ever and ever.

Let's re-word it for clarity:

Lord Jesus Christ (who said thus-and-so), don't look at our sins, but at our faith, and grant your Church peace and unity according to your will...

Whoops, what about that last part? How do you fit it in?

Well, in reality, if this idea were originating in English, I don't think we'd ever end up with this sort of sentence; we don't say things this way. But Latin-speakers did. What's happening is this: a statement about the Lord--who is mentioned right up front--is being saved all the way to the end. We just don't do that in English; it's too complicated a sentence. So how might we write it, if we composed this in English?

Maybe this way:

Lord Jesus Christ--you live and reign forever and ever!
You said to your Apostles, "Peace I leave you, my peace I give you";
Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church,
and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will.

Now, maybe that would have been better in one regard, but it makes the prayer awkward in another way; I suspect that by putting the flourish of "forever and ever" up front, the idea being expressed--the actual thing being asked for--is not highlighted. One advantage of concluding with, "who live and reign forever and ever" is to emphasize that all things originate in our Lord, all things happen in him, and are complete in him. He is the first and the last, the beginning and the end. The old translation would frequently say, "for you live and reign forever and ever"--and, while others who are more expert in this area may have some good arguments to add here and correct me, I think that was a reasonable way to handle this.

But it's not the end of the world. One advantage of the new prayers is that, while they are chock full of content, they are expressed with a certain economy of words. Some of the awkwardness could be fixed by starting new sentences that refer to ideas expressed in the prior sentence; and the prayers could conclude--as they often did in the old translation--with, "We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ..." etc. Again, that "we ask this" wasn't itself a terrible feature of the old prayers, but in adding some clarity and flow, it flattens the grandeur of the statement somewhat.

I am finding that if I spend some time thinking about the prayers before proclaiming them--and in the case of those I use daily, I am thinking about them while I proclaim them--then the idea being expressed becomes clear. No question, some of the ideas are complex--but that's the nature of the Roman Mass.

Remember: these are the prayers that were produced by those directed by Pope Paul VI to carry out the reforms called for at the Second Vatican Council. This point cannot be stressed too much: translating these prayers accurately means accurately implementing the Council's plans. The "concilium" of experts who did all this work could, after all, have restructured the prayers more than they did; they chose not to. Shouldn't we respect their work?

Meanwhile, I think there is so much more meaning and clarity in the new translation that these adjustments are well worth it.

Get ready! (Sunday homily)

One of hardest things for many of us to say is four little words:
“I do not know.”

On the other hand, the Lord gives us some things to which we can say, 
“I do know”:

We don’t know how the economy will go next year--
but we do know where our treasure will not rot or be stolen--
and that’s in heaven.

We don’t know when this world will be put right--
but we do know the one thing that will put it right: 
and that is the law of Christ, no one else.

We don’t know when the end of the world will come--
But we do know that it will.
And when it does, we’ll be face-to-face with God.
That is a 100% certain. 

So here’s an easy way to handle it: be ready!

There’s nothing like a good confession to take your worries away.
We have confessions here Fridays and Saturdays,11 to Noon.
We’ll have a Penance Service Monday, December 17, 7 pm, here.

Here’s another way to be ready.

This time of year, 
a lot of folks think about their spiritual lives and take stock.
As you may recall, this December, we’ll see some ads on TV, 
encouraging Catholics, especially those who maybe aren’t very active,
“to come home.”

You might recall that we took up a collection to help pay for these ads.

So now, here’s my question: if someone you know sees these ads--
and wants to respond--will you be ready?

A lot of those folks will never call me--they’ll call you. 
They know you; they know you go to Mass.
They’ll ask you, “what’s this about?”
They might even say, “I don’t know how to get back into church.”

Here’s how you can be ready for that question:

> If someone says, “how do I get back?” 
Tell them, it’s easy; go see the priest, go to confession. Easy!

> If someone says, yes, but it’s complicated. Tell them: 
all the more reason to call the priest. 

> If someone says, I don’t really know anyone at my parish. 
Tell them, “you know me. Would you like to come with me?”

Don’t just tell them, “go to confession”; 
how about, “I’ll go with you”?

Now, I know what you’re going to say:
“Well…but…I’m pretty rusty.”
Don’t worry about it. 
This is what’s so great about confession.
You could show up and just stare--
because you really don’t know what to do--so you just stare!
Don’t worry--the priest will know what to do.

Don’t worry: just get ready!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

'It is right and just' (Christ the King homily)

In a few minutes, after the Creed and the collection, 
I’ll go to the altar and prepare bread and wine for the Sacrifice. 
Then I’ll sing, “The Lord be with you”… 
“Lift up your hearts”… 
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”… 

“It is right and just.”

What is “right and just”?

To give thanks…to worship.
If true, that means it’s wrong--and unjust--not to do so.

Now, we often admit we owe God our thanks. And that’s true.
The late Bishop Moeddel used to say 
that you are allowed to skip Sunday Mass--
if you have absolutely nothing to be thankful for.

Even so, no matter what we do, we cannot injure God.
But when we refuse to acknowledge Christ as king,
We do “injustice” to ourselves--we distort ourselves.
It’s natural--it’s universal--for children to respect their parents.
Now imagine showing no such respect.
What sort of people would we be?

The point I’m making is that in giving worship to God,
We’re not just doing him a courtesy.
We’re doing something essential to our own well being.
And if this is true, then it suggests that in our worship of God, 
something more than good intentions is necessary.

The way we worship as Catholics--through the Mass--
isn’t the result of some bishops or priests somewhere saying, 
“what would be nice to do?”

Now, I know folks will say, 
when I go to the mountains, or the beach, 
that’s my cathedral, I feel like I’m worshipping God there.
OK; and our Lord did spend time praying 
in the mountains and by the sea.
But just before his greatest work--on the Cross--
he gathered his Apostles and said, 
“do this in memory of me”: the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Of course the Mass as developed over the centuries; 
But the Sacrifice at the heart of the Mass 
came from Christ himself.

There is something here that bears reflection.

What person among us would--at the end our lives--
want to look in the mirror and say, 
“I had countless opportunities in my life, 
to deny myself, to give of myself, for others--
for a spouse, for children, for my country…

And I refused every single one!”?

One of the things I respect about my father is how he gave of himself:
for my mother, for his mother, for our family, for so many people.

How remarkable that the king--the God--we worship, 
himself came not to be served, but to serve; 
and to give his life as a ransom for the many?
I submit that:
Worshipping our God in this way, through sacrifice; 
By joining our lives to his; 
Not coming to God to impress him;
And not coming here to “feel good about ourselves”;
But instead to lose ourselves to the King who,
because he did it first, we can entrust ourselves to him without fear…
I submit that this isn’t just a nice thing to do, but a necessary thing.

It is right and just.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'So what do you do in your new job anyway?'

Here's a glimpse of what my responsibilities as Director of Priestly Formation entail:

> I'm planning a Gospel Workshop for next fall. Every year we have a Scripture scholar do a day-long presentation on the Gospel that will front-and-center during the coming liturgical year. Last week we had our annual workshop on Luke; next year it will be Matthew. The speaker does it all in Cincinnati one day, then again in Dayton.

I'm working with the speaker I have in mind for his preferred dates; then I have to check around with other folks at the Archdiocese to be sure they don't have big events planned for the same dates.

Lots of emails and phone calls. Had several of them today. I just left a message; I hope once I hear back, we can confirm the date.

> I'm working on a possible new program--I won't say much about it, because it may come to nothing; but my hope is to provide a resource that I know pastors and priests will need and benefit from. But before I put it out for all to use, we have to make sure it's completely sound. I've looked at it; I've invited other Archdiocesan staff to look at it. We raised some questions that we hope to resolve. I have someone outside the Archdiocese giving it a professional review. We don't want to put a lot of energy behind something and have egg on our face right away.

> Just got that call back. Our date is confirmed. Just sent the email.

> Two weeks ago, we had a convocation for priests; one of the subjects discussed was priestly fraternity and support. Some of our priests gather with other priests regularly for spiritual support and fraternity; the request was made to me to "get the word out" about "support groups."

Well, I thought about how to do that; and this morning I sent an email to all our priests--for whom I have an email--inviting them to advise me of their group, if they want me to publicize it; otherwise, for them to look around for guys to invite in. I posted something on this on my Heart of Christ blog.

> Several weeks ago, I had a parishioner at Saint Rose ask me to suggest a spiritual director. Not an easy thing to do, since spiritual direction is a special skill, and even those priests and laypeople who provide it, don't necessarily want me to send to them everyone who asks. That led me to look at the list I had of potential spiritual directors, and I decided it was time to update it. In particular, I needed to know if spiritual directors would accept laypeople (some do, some don't). That led me to write a letter to folks on my current list, and send an email to our priests. That generated lots of responses. Now I have to organize all that--that's what I'm putting off doing at the moment.

> I spoke to Bishop Binzer a couple of times today, seeking his guidance on some matters (he's my supervisor). One of them was a workshop he wants me to attend in January. Now I have to make those plans.

All that--plus several phone calls and emails about various matters, some office conversations and some paperwork--gives you some flavor of what I do.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are we ready for heaven? (Sunday homily)

One of the things I thought about, as I looked at these Scripture readings, was this: 
what do we think heaven--life after this--really is?

Listening to how people talk about heaven, 
some folks seem to think it’s just more of the same, only somehow better. 
So if we drink beer here, we’ll drink more, and better beer, there.

Well, I confess I like that idea! But that doesn’t make it true.

The other idea I think people have, which is related, I call, “home free.”

When I was in boy in school, I was always looking forward to summer. 
As the March led to April, April to May, 
and we scrambled to get everything finished--
we were thinking, “oh, we’ll just get past this, and then we’re ‘home free!’”

Of course, part of the problem is that we don’t really know much about heaven.
But it’s more than “home free.”

And the way we know that is by considering how much trouble 
God has gone to prepare us for heaven.

He sent the prophets, like Daniel, to give us hope. 
He gave us the Ten Commandments, to give us a way to live. 
He himself came--and he gave everything to us, at the Cross, 
which is poured into our lives through the Sacraments of our Faith.

He established his Church as an ark of salvation to bring us to heaven. 
And despite all the efforts of bishops and priests, 
kings and knaves, to shipwreck the Church, she’s still here!

God has gone--and continues to go--to a lot of trouble to get us to heaven. 

So maybe we ought to think about what we need to do to be ready?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Get ready to be bullied (and worse) over "gay marriage"

Over the past couple of years, I've noticed something that seems to occur only when I write about certain topics: namely, issues arising from same-sex attraction and so-called "same-sex marriage."

What I've noticed I'll call bullying: among those who comment, who don't agree with my views--which are simply my attempt to present what the Church teaches (but in humility, I may not always get it right)--are folks who don't simply disagree, and post counter arguments; frequently they attempt to shut down the discussion.

That's what I see in the recent thread, "Questions..."; and if you go back and look for threads on related subjects, you can see the comments and discussions that form the basis for my conclusion.

Now, while I'm on this subject, I'll say this here. I had a conversation with a regular reader, who kindly said I wasn't as charitable as I might have been in the comments on the "Questions" post. My reply was, it's possible, and I told him I appreciated him telling me. I don't bring that up here to debate that point--I mean, unless that's really necessary. But I mention it to acknowledge, yes, we do bring strong feelings to a subject like this, and maybe that's all that's going on.

But is it only "strong feelings" that explains the increasingly frequent claim that those of us who oppose redefining marriage, and relatedly, believe that same-sex behavior is wrong, are "bigots"?

I'm going to push back on explaining the "bigot" label as merely "strong feelings." It's a deliberate strategy. And to the extent it's based on a real conviction, on the part of those who hurl that charge, it's wrong, based on false premises. To the extent it's not just a passionate outburst, it's pretty important that we push back on that.

Why is it wrong?

Well, others have addressed this point better, but let's spell out some distinctions and some facts.

First, racism and the sorts of prejudice we think of in connection with racism, are based on invalid distinctions. The term "discrimination" is wrongly used without a modifier. "To discriminate," strictly speaking, is to make distinctions: I "discriminate" in favor of food I like, and against food I don't.

Of course, when we use the term "discriminate" in most usage, our implicit meaning is, "unfair" or unjustifiable "discrimination." To make a distinction between, say, the innocent and guilty is valid, and we don't usually call that "discrimination"; to treat two people differently, because of race, almost always does involve invalid distinctions--that's what we mean when condemn that as "discriminatory." Rightly so.

Does this framework necessarily apply to "same sex marriage" or even to persons with same-sex orientation?

Yes and no.

Yes, insofar as society has, in the past, discriminated against gay people in unjust ways. Same-sex attraction doesn't mean you can't be a good employee, or neighbor, or citizen.

But as to marriage, no: because laws that barred couples from marriage, based on race, made invalid distinctions. Your skin color does not in any reasonable way prevent you from entering into a valid marriage. You are as capable of all the things that make a marriage, if you're white, as if you're black or Asian or what have you. And, if my historical recollection is correct, we knew that even when we had those laws!

The reason I say that is--and here is where my recollection could be incorrect (but I don't think so)--those laws did not treat marriages between blacks or Asians as invalid, did they? They were deemed valid. A black or Asian was deemed as capable of entering into marriage as a white person. That wasn't the reason anti-misegenation laws were passed. As the term I just used, indicates, the purpose of those laws was to prevent race-mixing. Those laws had nothing to do with safeguarding the right understanding of what constitutes a valid marriage.

But that is the issue with the current battle over "same sex marriage." Those of us who oppose the proposed changes do so because we contend "same sex marriage" is a redefinition of the term, and we don't consent to redefining it.

The advocates like to term it a "justice" issue, and they are free to make that argument, but we are free to push back. "Justice," Saint Thomas Aquinas said, is giving to each his due. All persons are "due" equal protection under the laws, and access to the goods of life. Some argue that includes access to marriage. Except that begs the question. Can people of the same sex "marry"? Is it possible? If it's impossible, then saying so is no more "bigotry" and "injustice" than it is to say that it's impossible to go faster than the speed of light. It would seem to be be wonderful if Einstein were proven wrong on this point--because then we might someday build starships and launch on great adventures. But so far, such speed seems impossible.

Of course, that is an impossibility that--if it bears out--can't be fixed by legislative or social change. Is marriage between people of the same sex impossible in the same way?

Not exactly. We can, as a society, "redefine" what we mean by marriage. Heck, it may even be true, before long, to redefine what being human means. I'm going to get all Buck Rogers here, and some folks roll their eyes at this--but you don't have to look that far in your reading to see the things I'm going to talk about now, however weird they may sound, are potentially very close on the horizon.

We have efforts to develop "artificial wombs" so that the changes begun by "in vitro fertilization"--moving conception out of a human act of love--can result in a total divorce of begetting from the family. Heck, we've already mimicked this with wombs-for-rent and mothers being surrogates for their children's children, bearing their own grandchildren. We have a movement--google it--called "transhumanism," which covers a broad swath if ideas, some of which has to do with maximizing what we can do with our present capabilities, including dramatic lengthening of life through medical advances, to "designing" some sort of new sort of human being, with "augmented" capacities, different enough to qualify as a new species--hence, "transhumanism." And, we even have moves on various fronts to mix genetic materials, and produce "hybrid" species. Yes, even mingling human and non-human genes. All for the sake of "science," so don't worry!

In short, the effort to redefine what it means to be human is not hypothetical. It's underway. It is a problem that will unfold for us in coming decades--and given the escalating pace of change that has marked modernity, it stands to reason the problems will arrive on our doorstep far faster than we can imagine, and take shapes vastly different from what we can predict.

So why not just go along with it?

Well, of course, if something really is "inevitable," then in 500 or 1,000 years, we'll have "gone along with it" and that'll be that. But what's the rush to reach that conclusion? Who is it who insists we should just relax and enjoy it?

There are folks, of course, who aren't merely observing--they're seeking to bring about this brave new world. They want to re-invent what it means to be human.

And that includes those who strain against the realities imposed on human beings by biology and sexual complementarity. In other words, those who insist on validating same-sex attraction as "normal" and just another variation, and along with that, redefining marriage. Along these lines, you'll find folks who use "sex" and "gender" interchangeably, in pursuit of the idea that sexual identity is, itself, a fluid and non-intrinsic quality to being human. These are the folks who, when they encounter someone who says, I may seem to be a man, but I'm really a woman, "solve" this problem through surgery, hormones and "therapy." Problem solved, right?

Well, let's see how that works out. Without seeming to be up on all the literature, I think I'm correct in saying that such "therapy" hasn't solved the problem; it's created new problems. As I recall, many of those who once pioneered this approach are now moving away from it for that reason.

Plus, the whole area of sexual attraction is not neatly organized into a discrete number of categories. Even the advocates of the brave new sexual world concede this. They don't just talk of "gay," but "lesbian and gay"--no, "lesbian, gay and bisexual"--scratch that, it's "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender!" Whoops, it's now, "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning."

I'm not saying these experiences of sexual attraction, and the conflicts that arise where they conflict with either social or physical constraints aren't real, or shouldn't be treated as serious issues. They are real; and there is real pain involved, sometimes reaching despair.

My point is that we're kidding ourselves if we think we can "liberate" ourselves from these difficulties through reinvention.

But my larger point is to say that what's going on here isn't just a tussle over this or that law. At issue is a struggle over something very fundamental--so fundamental that many don't even realize it's at issue: What does it mean to be human? Because one side says, marriage arises out of the human experience, out of sexual complementarity, and is essentially related to attraction and sex, and sex and procreation.

Oh no it's not! cries the opposition. But they aren't basing their opposition on reality, but wishes for a different reality, which for many of those in this fight, consider profoundly liberating.

It's no accident that many of the same folks seeking this revolution likewise are adamant about contracepting and sterilizing the human race, and divorcing procreation from sex. It's the same broad purpose: "liberating" humanity from being human, at least as the entirety of the race has known itself to this point.

So a battle is underway, and realize that it is increasingly going to be ugly. Don't be surprised by it.

Don't give into it. I get strong feelings too, so I don't want to fail in charity. If I do, let me know.

But let's not kid ourselves about what's coming. It's not a garden party, it's war. Even a soldier has to be charitable, but he still has to wade into battle. So must we.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sundry thoughts on my day off...

Today I was at the seminary in the morning for another session with Fr Schehr, talking about Mark. Then over to Newport on the Levee for the day. Lunch at an Irish place named something like Claddagh. Then to the bookstore. I like to look to see what's new in Sci Fi (really alternate history); and I saw some books that looked misplaced. You know the types, with guys without shirts, showing off impossible chests and abs. Turns out they are a series of "vampire" stories--shirtless buff vampires, I guess--with titles like "Till Passion Burns"...I kid you not. There were two or three there, the only difference I could see was which way the shirtless guys were turned.

Over to the history section; I found a book I wanted to read all day: a series of historical "What if?" Questions. What if the Franco-Prussian War never happened? The author argued, then no WW I and No WW II, no holocaust, etc.

I got a ticket to see "Skyfall": best Bond movie ever. While waiting in line, I noticed a special event you won't want to miss: a "Twilight" marathon--all five movies! Did you know there were FIVE of them? Can you imagine watching all of them in one sitting? What would that do to a man unlucky enough to be dragged along? I should say boy, because grown men should not go to movies with teenage girls.

The HallowThanksmas trees and decorations are up. Tis the Season!

Now sitting down to dinner, so more on that later...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In hoc signo vinces (Sunday homily)

The Gospel today gives us an illustration 
of how God overturns our value-system 
just as surely as he overturned the tables laden with money 
on the day he entered his own temple.

We sort things out based on rich and poor.
We care a lot about money--and power.

We just had an election in which politicians 
pitted “rich” and “middle class” and “poor” against each other.
We’re told what really mattered was who gets what?

Meanwhile, voices in both parties say, 
what we need to do is stop talking about protecting human life, 
stop talking about protecting marriage and religious freedom,
stop talking about God’s Law. 

I know we’re all tired of the election. 
But there are some lessons to be learned, 
and now’s the time to reflect on them.

Some of us may be thinking, “we won”; others, “we lost.”
If you think you won, what did you win?
If you think you lost, what did you lose?

One of the grave temptations we face is 
to think that a show of hands decides what the truth is.
The Roman Senate, centuries ago, 
had a statue of the goddess Victory--
and as more and more Romans became Christians, 
they took it down.
Are we going to put it back up, and say, that’s what we seek?

Our totem is the Truth. 
It’s necessary that we be involved, 
and it is good to win elections, but above all, we must win hearts.

In the first reading, 
the land was suffering a severe drought; 
it represents the consequences of turning from God.
And the widow’s response--we’ll eat our last and give up--
is what many say today as we look at the direction of our society.

Once again, God’s values are not ours.
I can’t explain why it’s so, but I will point out that 
God often seems willing to be on the “losing side”--for quite awhile.

God’s People ended up in slavery in Egypt--for 400 years.
When they got to the Promised Land, 
it wasn’t long before they were in exile.

When our Lord came, people wanted him to lead an army--
to drive out the Romans. 
His apostles wanted to call down fire from heaven.

He wanted nothing to do with that.
He set his face for the Cross: 
a demoralizing, humiliating defeat.

On that Good Friday, on that “election day,” 
the show of hands was in favor of crucifying him. 
The Cross will triumph; have no doubt.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Questions for 'same sex marriage' supporters

Now that a good number of jurisdictions have--one way or the other--successfully redefined marriage to include spouses of the same sex, a few questions come to mind. These questions are specifically intended for those who favor this development. Not that others aren't welcome to answer; just that I think I already know what your answer will be.

It's how those who think "same sex marriage" involves no contradiction would answer these questions that interests me:

1. Is there any necessary connection between marriage and romantic or sexual attraction?
2. Is there any necessary connection between marriage and procreation--and by extension, child-rearing?
3. Why shouldn't people with a close familial relationship (parents-children, siblings, etc.) be able to marry?
4. What difference does the number of people consenting to marriage make?

My answers:

1. Under the until-recently-universal understanding of marriage, there actually wasn't any necessary connection to romance--marriages have been known to be arranged, and still are, and--while I'm not advocating this approach, they have been successful. It's no secret that people will marry not so much for romantic reasons, but for financial reasons. After all, you can have all the romance you want without marriage, right? Wasn't one of the arguments for redefining marriage that same-sex couples were being denied "the benefits of marriage"? I don't recall anyone arguing that not being able to married diminished anyone's romance.

The connection to sexual attraction was assumed--but, again, who can say whether a couple who married ever felt it? The issue for validity--at least as the Catholic Church understands it--is that it has to be possible. I.e., if a man and a woman utterly lack the ability to consummate their marriage, it's not a valid marriage. But simply failing to consummate it doesn't invalidate it. We believe Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage, yet it was valid, on the assumption they were perfectly capable of doing so, but never did.

This may sound odd, but think about it: an elderly couple marries. Presumably they enjoy each other's company and are affectionate--but they may bluntly tell you, if it ever came up in conversation, that they are "past all that." Yet there has never been an issue of their getting married.

You may wonder why I ask: because one of the powerful arguments for redefining marriage is that gay people love each other, and they should not be denied something heterosexuals have access to.

But once the law allows for same-sex marriage, what prevents any two people who are not in the slightest way homosexual from entering into a same-sex marriage? Two widows who would prefer to mingle their lives and households and finances with each other--after years of friendship--over against finding a male mate, especially when there may not be so many suitable men around. An elderly parent and his or her divorced child. Two friends.

Why not--if there is no essential connection between marriage and sexual attraction?

2. Of course those opposing redefining marriage insist there is an intrinsic connection between marriage and procreation; but this is the very point that advocates of redefining marriage dispute. Which means, doesn't it, that questions of who can adopt are--or ought to be--unrelated? (This is one of the likely harms of redefining marriage: children who are raised in "same sex marriages" will suffer.) But if, as redefinition advocates insist, there's no essential connection between marriage--as they conceive of it--and procreation and family, then why should redefining marriage change how people are evaluated as potential adoptive parents?

3. Related to that: the longstanding objection to incest was, beyond the fact that it was morally repugnant, that it might result in malformed children. Now that procreation and marriage are effectively autonomous--and we no longer frame laws based on such "repressive" notions as "moral repugnance"--why not allow incestuous marriages?

4. Once again, once marriage is (a) no longer essentially connected to procreation or (b) defined in terms of social good, but no primarily in terms of self-fulfillment, why should those who want multiple husbands and wives be denied? Why be so "mean"?

I gave you my answers. Advocates of redefining marriage, what are yours--and the rationale for them?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Be not afraid!

I was up very late last night, watching the election returns, and then watching the candidates' speeches. One lasting effect of having a deep interest in politics is that I can't go to bed on election night while races I care about are still at issue; and then I'm keyed up.

This morning I hit the road early, to drive up to Centerville for the priests' annual convocation. A lot of the event is my responsibility, and today was my first time being responsible. Guys said things went well--although I did notice a few things I want to do differently next year and a few miscues. I know there were some who didn't care for the topic--I hope they will convey that, not only to me, but to those who plan these things each year.

But the big topic on so many minds is the election. I know many of my readers will be deeply disappointed, if not downright gloomy. Certainly several of my brother priests were gloomy. So I'll offer some thoughts.

First, I would suggest that in politics, it is rare that things are really as bad as you think, and as good as you think. The day after an election, one side is exultant and the other often looks for scapegoats. Hang tight.

Second, the real challenges we face aren't going to be solved by an election, nor made insoluble by an election. I know a lot of my friends placed great hopes on Mr. Romney; I did not. I sincerely believe that he would have proved a great disappointment. He was the focus of so many folks' hopes not so much because of his actual merits, but because of the terrible positions embraced by the President. Of course, I can never really prove I'm right about that, so there's no point in arguing over it. But I mention it to explain why I'm not so depressed as many may be.

Third, our ability to fight back has not changed. When President Obama handed down his forced-contraception-participation mandate, I saw the hand of Providence. I still do. It sure seems as though a spotlight is shining down on the Church, at this moment, with the opportunity to bear witness.

That moment hasn't passed. It may be coming to its full.

It's obvious we face a confrontation over the redefinition of marriage. The solution to that did not lie in the election of any one candidate. (And even with the President's re-election, I think we have plenty of political resources available.)

Look, I don't mean to sound breezy about such confrontations; but they are coming, and there comes a time when you just say, let's get to the battle. Do we believe that what we're fighting for is true and right? We know it is! We know that marriage is a man and a woman. Trying to pretend 2+2=5 will eventually crash and burn. We already have evidence accumulating that attempts at same-sex "families" result in real problems for the children raised in them. This will not end well. You and I must be ready to help pick up the pieces.

Contraception is, in every regard, a disaster. It is not merely a thing we Catholics have an irrational opposition to; it's a poison, it's an ecological hazard, it's destructive to marriages, and now we know it's a social disaster. Daily--right now!--the truth of what Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 is being confirmed. Before very long, the reality will come crashing upon us. As the Prophet Habakkuk said, 

Then the LORD answered me and said: 
Write down the vision; 
Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run. 
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. 
If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. 

The fourth thing I will say, simply about the political arena: a lot of folks, I think, continually make the mistake of looking merely at the commentary and the surface stuff, and focus only on what's highly visible. A lot of good things are happening in House races and in state races. And, unlike 2009, the President does not have the ability to do whatever  he likes. We live to fight another day. Finally, the thing that happens all too often is the twist and turn that nobody (or very few) anticipated. History is full of surprises. Providence works like that.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What keeps our life upright? (Sunday homily)

A few years ago, I recall a neighbor who was rebuilding his garage.
He’d knocked down the old one and started a new one.
And I noticed how hard he worked to get the frame just right.
Or else it wouldn’t stay standing.

The first commandment our Lord mentions: put God first.
That’s the frame. It keeps the rest of our life upright.
It helps us stand firm when the winds of pressure or desire blow hard.

We’ve all been in situations where someone said,
we have to compromise.
That is the excuse for our government using torture
or cutting corners on the Constitution.

In our personal life, we make compromises.
As a priest, I am frequently tempted to put the work I do first,
and I’ll pray later. God won’t mind.

If a priest can be tempted to do that, how about you?

The second commandment gives us purpose. What are we for?
We’re here to make a difference in others’ lives.

As each year goes by, I learn a little more
just how self-centered I can be.

Think of a baby. He points to his mouth and says, “feed me!”
She points to her diaper and says, “change me!”
Little ones run to dad: drop everything and “fix it, daddy!”

Somewhere along the line we recognize
God didn’t give us our talents, our time, and treasure, just for us.
We discover the joy of helping others is the only treasure that lasts.

There are a lot of applications, but two are obvious.

First, a lot of our fellow citizens are hurting
because of the recent storm.
Others because of the economy.
We don’t have to think hard to find a way
to love our neighbor in those situations.

Second, we have the privilege and duty of voting this week.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.
But in deciding how to vote,
what can matter more than these two commandments?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The exciting life of a parish priest

Today was one of the more interesting days for me.

It started in an ordinary way: I had an appointment at 10, so I was able to sleep a little late, and have a leisurely breakfast before the couple, preparing for marriage, arrived. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, and black coffee. Priceless!

The couple arrived, and we talked about what it means to call marriage a sacrament--the third meeting (see below). When I prepare couples for marriage, I routinely do the following:

First meeting: begin by reading the account of the wedding of cana, and then a short discussion of the reading; then I ask the couple to tell me their stories, and we talk about how what "discernment" means--how they tried to discern what God had for them, in each other, and how God led them to this point. I explain that this same discernment is what a man seeking the priesthood goes through--and it's what they are trying to do as they prepare for marriage: discerning God's plan for them. I explain what we'll do together over several meetings in that light, and ask if that sounds like a good plan. We do an inventory called "FOCCUS" which measures communication, and then we schedule another meeting. And I give the couple homework: NFP classes, strongly encouraged; or else Pre-Cana.

Second meeting: we spend  almost all our time reviewing the results of the "FOCCUS" inventory--which is not a test, even  though it seems like one. I have, over the years, developed a series of "vignettes" that I tell, from real life, that serve to help illustrate some useful insights from the inventory. I hope it's truly helpful. The couples say it is. Homework: a set of questions on various subjects, which we talk about in the...

Third meeting: we discuss the questions, and I focus on the questions about what it means to call marriage a sacrament, and what it means to say the couple are "ministers" of the sacrament "to each  other. I explain the classic Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament: "an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace"; I use passages from Genesis and Ephesians to explain both natural and sacramental marriage and I touch on issues such  as cohabitation and openness to the gift of life. I talk about John Paul II's theology of the body--briefly.

Fourth meeting: prepare for the "big day" and plan every detail--so that the rehearsal goes smooooooothly.

Well, as often happens, I go a bit past the hour and so I had to race over to church to open the doors for confessions. Apologized to those waiting. Raced to the confessional. Did my job which is a joy.

Mass at Noon. Did you know that, in the Archdiocese, today was a special feast day? The anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral. That meant different readings, a Gloria, etc. I did all that, and preached on the meaning of the feast. I hope it was edifying for the folks present.

After Mass, I had some downtime. I watched the Bearcats win, and read the news online. But I also had to get my Mass kit in order, because this evening I offered Mass for a special group.

Did you know that, from time to time, a call comes into the Archdiocesan office, asking if a priest could come and offer Mass for (a) the Reds; (b) the Bengals; (c) a visiting team? Earlier this week, such a call came in, regarding the Broncos. Guess who got the call? Yours truly.

So, tonight, I was scheduled to run down to one of the hotels downtown and have Mass for members of the Broncos organization. I never did that before.

I was asked to begin Mass at 7:30 pm--and I had 30 minutes! Be quick, Father! I said I'd do my best.

Well, I didn't want to be late--that would reflect badly on our Archdiocese! So I arrived before 7 pm! I followed the directions, and headed up to the third floor. The escalator from the second to third floors was closed--but the fellow working for the hotel let me through. When I got up there, I understood: all the ballrooms and meeting rooms had signs reading, "quarterbacks' meeting" and such; and sure enough, one said, "Mass." No one was there yet; so I got about getting things set up.

So, I got everything set up--I was told to expect 30 folks, maximum--and I vested, and sat down and waited. Eventually, some of the guys showed up. The players introduced themselves to me; and I asked one of the coaches to let me know when we were ready to go. And off we went.

I did everything "by the book"; I preached a homily and everything. It wasn't a big group--less than 30--but the guys were praying. I tried to make a joke, after Mass, about being a Bengals fan, but it didn't seem to work. They were pretty keyed up. They headed out pretty quickly afterward.

Did I mention that they were rather generous to yours truly? Two tickets to the game tomorrow, plus a gratuity. The gracious pastor here has told me I am welcome to keep such things, so...woo hoo! On top of that, one of the players gave me an extra gift. I told him that wasn't necessary. Wow!

So I packed up--the players, I think, were either off to a meal--I saw a buffet set up--or maybe another meeting, or perhaps they got to relax. I shook their hands and wished them well.

So now I'm going down the escalator, with my Mass kit in tow, dressed in all black, my roman collar visible--and I see assembled at the bottom of the escalator, behind a rope line, a gaggle of girls!

To my unpracticed eye, they looked to be between 16 and 25. About eight of them, I reckon, all gazing eagerly up the escalator.

"Did you meet someone famous?" one of them asked as I came down.

"How do you know I'm not someone famous?" I replied.

"Oh, sure, you are, but what about the players?"

"Who did you see?"

"Did you meet Peyton Manning?"

"What were you doing up there?"

"Did you get any autographs?"


"Why not?"

"I had Mass for some of the players and coaches."

"Can you get us past security?"

"Um, no."

"But you have the power of God!"

"Yes, but that isn't to be misused."

They seemed impressed with that answer.

I asked them: "what are you girls doing sitting here?" They laughed--but didn't give any other explanation. So I wished them well, and moved on. My moment was over.

So I descended the escalator, took the Mass kit back to my car, and thought--maybe I'll eat at one of the really nice restaurants downtown on the Broncos! So I drove over to the Archdiocese's offices, and parked in the lot, and walked down to--gasp!--Jeff Ruby's! This place is really expensive! Should I go in there? I almost didn't--it seemed so extravagant. But...I did!

When I got inside (my first time), the place was crowded! I backed out.

I walked down Walnut, and looked at the menu at Nicholsons: all bar food with a Scottish angle. I wished the fellow in the kilt well and moved on.

I ended up at Roma Trattoria on Sixth Street. I've never been there. It didn't look very Roman, but the food was good, and it cost half of--or less than--what Jeff Ruby's would have. Another time, perhaps.

Back here around 9:40 or so, and I wrote this post and now I'm going to watch a little football before I hit the hay. I have three Masses tomorrow, before a priest-friend meets me after Noon Mass, to race down to Paul Brown Stadium for the game. Seats on the forty.

See what interesting things happen when you're a priest? Give it a shot!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

'I want to be in that number' (All Saints)

Let’s not mess around. Being a saint isn’t hard. 
It is impossible—that is to say, on a merely human level.

But with God’s help, with the help of frequent confession 
and the sacraments, learning our faith, 
yielding our pride to the will of Christ, putting him first…
We can—and we will—be saints.

Having the saints in our lives, and part of our spiritual life, 
is one of the great things about being a Catholic. 
All of us ask the question, how do I live my life the best way I can? 
What does living for Christ look like, in my world?

And with the uncountable multitude of saints, 
we have endless examples. 
Whoever you are, wherever you are in life, 
there is a saint whose life is like yours. 
Sports saints, artist saints, scientist saints, 
single saints, married saints, 
saints rich and saints poor, saints in every profession. 
Saints who got converted early, 
and those who came in at last call.

How important to know who the saints are! 
To teach our children about the saints.

When I  go to the altar in a moment, I’ll use the Roman Canon--
and, yes, I will use the full list of the saints mentioned.

Time won’t allow me to go through that prayer in detail--
but I ask you to notice how the prayer expresses 
the reality of what the Church--the Body of Christ--really is.
Here in this one place, we connect with believers everywhere 
in the world, past, present and future.
We are praying with the saints in heaven--
and praying for the souls in purgatory.

The focal-point of our worship is right here, this altar.
At one point you’ll see me bow before Jesus on the altar--
and I’ll ask the Father to send his angel, 
to “take” this offering to the altar in heaven.

What that makes clear is that the worship here 
is a direct connection to worship in heaven. 
If we could see it, what would we see?
In your imagination, can you see countless multitudes of saints, 
above and around us, as we all worship the Lamb of God?

“Oh I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in!” 
Don’t you?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What does Obama have to do?

...for self-described, "pro life" and "peace and justice" Catholics to say, "that tears it--he's gone too far?"

Sunday an ad appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, listing lots of names, saying the following:

We are committed to promoting life at every level, the common good, and the consistent ethic of life — basic Christian tenets that guide our daily lives, and our role as citizens. All humans are sisters and brothers and therefore called to share life with one another.

The Gospel of Jesus and Catholic social teachings compel us to consider a broad range of moral, social, and economic issues, such as poverty, immigration, health care, unemployment, environment to name a few. We conclude that the Obama/Biden ticket better reflects our Catholic values and concerns and will best nurture the dignity and health of all Americans living today and in the future.

Just to review, President Obama has:

> Endorsed legal abortion to the greatest extent possible. He even voted against legislation to require intervention and protection of a child born alive in a failed abortion.

> Included abortion-causing drugs--along with contraception and sterilization--in his mandate regarding health insurance; meaning that, with very narrow exceptions, people will be forced to cooperate with the provision of these things as part of health coverage. Some religious institutions are exempt; but religious orders are not. The ordinary citizen, who works at a non-religious organization, is not. Your conscience be damned. The Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal George, has said that if this order is not overturned, he will be forced to close Catholic hospitals, rather than violate Catholic teaching. This was too much for Michael Sean Winters, the self-described pro-life, peace-and-justice Catholic columnist at the progressive National Catholic Reporter. Read his cry of the heart here.

> Endorsed the government redefining marriage, contrary to God's Law and Natural Law.

> Opposed an amendment to his health care reform law--which the U.S. bishops backed--that would have clearly and completely barred tax dollars going for abortion. He signed an executive order instead. Despite this, the HHS has mandated that private citizens, seeking health coverage, will be assessed a $1/month "surcharge" that will pay for abortions. So it's not, "tax funding for abortions"; it's forcing you to pay your private money for abortions. See Life Site News on this.

> Sought the power to order the assassination of "enemies," including American citizens, anywhere in the world, if they are deemed--by him, without judicial review--as "enemy combatants." See what this writer for the progressive Nation said about it in the Obama-endorsing Washington Post.

> Launched a war in Libya without any attack from that nation, and did so not only without any authorization from Congress, but in defiance of calls by members of Congress to seek Congressional input under the War Powers Act. Here's an article in the progressive Huffington Post about progressive, anti-war Rep. Dennis Kucinich's lawsuit over the matter.

Let me be clear. I'm not endorsing anyone. I am not for Gov. Mitt Romney--because he has problems too.

This isn't even about Mitt Romney. I'm not asking what's good or bad about him. For the sake of argument, let's stipulate he's the worst candidate ever to be nominated for any office, anywhere, past, present and future. OK? Not about Mitt Romney.

My question is, what does President Obama have to do before self-described "pro life" and "peace and justice" Catholics say, "too much"?

That--and that alone--is the question.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

'What are you prepared to do?' (Sunday homily)

Father Tim Schehr, who teaches Scripture at our seminary-- 
and if you ever see that he’s giving a talk, or having a workshop, 
I can’t encourage you strongly enough, to go; you will be blessed. 

Anyway, Father Schehr made this point recently: 
In the Gospels, when our Lord heals someone, 
 it isn’t merely for the purpose of a physical healing. 
It’s always in order to give an invitation 
 to some other change or step that leads to deeper faith. 

Notice, for example, in this Gospel, that Jesus asks, “what do you want?” 
Our Lord had seen him coming; 
it must have been obvious the man was both blind, and also in need. 
Why ask the question? 

Because it gave the man both a choice and a responsibility. 
He could have said, “will you give me a donation?” 
or “something to eat?” 
Much easier things to ask for. 
He asked to see--that demanded faith. 
That is what Jesus wanted to heal and strengthen in him. 

Maybe that’s why the Lord expects us to pray for things. 
He already knows what we need and want. 
Why not just give them? 

Until we ask--and ask--and ask again--we don’t change. 

Stop and think a moment. 
Are there things you wish God would do, 
but which you haven’t prayed for recently? 

You want to change? Get rid of a bad habit? 
Be reconciled with someone? 
See family or friends be converted? 
See our society return to God? 

What are you prepared to do?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

'How do you get to heaven?' (Sunday homily)

Here’s a question:
How do you get to heaven?
How do we avoid going to hell?

A lot of people think, you do it by being good enough.
Sort of like passing a test.

But that’s not correct.
None of us can be good enough on our own.

Instead of thinking of heaven as a place…think of it as a relationship.

Heaven is being united with Jesus Christ.
If we are truly and fully united to Jesus Christ in this life,
we’re already in heaven.

You might say, wait--I’m baptized, I go to communion every Sunday--
Am I in heaven? I don’t feel like I’m in heaven.

Remember, I said heaven is perfect union with Christ.
That is the struggle I think most of us have;
that’s where sin and pride come in.

Even though we can be in heaven right now,
we’re also still on earth; meaning, we’re still in time.
We change; we go hot and cold.
I’ll be here, in church, and think,
“Jesus, you’re awesome! I’ll do anything for you!”
Later today may be a different story.

That’s why we have the sacrament of reconciliation.
We go to confession to heal those times we are unfaithful to Christ.

Think of our union with Christ as a marriage--
except our Lord truly does forgive and forget.

Still, after all that, we have cares and burdens--
is that part of heaven too?
No, but letting go of those things
is part of finding our way there.
The path to heaven is covered with litter:
All the opinions once worth fighting over,
All the ambitions we neglected our family for,
All those possessions we once cut corners to obtain.

As we get closer and closer to heaven,
we no longer see their worth.
Throw them away!

To see what heaven on earth looks like, look at the saints.

Saint Francis of Assisi gave it all away and become free;
Saint Rose was only interested in pleasing the Lord,
no one else’s judgments mattered.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe was thrown into Auschwitz--hell on earth--
yet those who were with him saw the light of heaven on his face.

And while I’m talking about the saints, let me mention something.
Hallowe’en is ten days away, and a lot of our children
are figuring out their costumes.
Have you noticed how strong is the assumption
that Hallowe’en is about devils and monsters?

Hallowe’en is the eve of All Saints:  All Hallows Eve
(and it’s a holy day of obligation this year, by the way).

Now, I’m not telling anyone what costume to wear, but--
isn’t it curious that a holiday that has always been
about the people who show us what heaven is like,
has been turned into something that looks more like hell?

So maybe one practical thing we can do is not help that along?

Saints James and John figured it out--
so did the other Apostles who were initially upset.
In the end, one thing matters.