Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dinner with our seminarians

The parish's three seminarians are home from college, so I invited them for dinner during the Christmas Octave. We settled on tonight.

As I have Holy Mass at 5 pm, I have to get things mostly in order beforehand. So I've been working on this since yesterday.

I started with something new: a cheesecake, using this recipe.

Here is the ricotta and cream cheeses, with the sour cream and pretend sugar:

Here are the eggs, extra yolks, lemon juice, and vanilla. Next in is the cream:

Here's the batter, which I was careful not to "overwhip" (per the instructions):

Here is the cake in the water bath, going in the oven. (The water bath was there already.) Please don't notice the condition of the oven. Just today I figured out how to use the "self clean" option.

So that cooked for almost 2 hours, then it cooled in the oven for another three, then into the fridge. That was all last night.

This afternoon, I cleaned the chicken and dried it -- it's in the fridge, so the skin dries a bit more. I have to put that in the oven right before Holy Mass, and then hurry back to get it out of the oven right after. A little later, after the skin has dried some, I'll dress the chicken with butter and pepper, and stuff it with lemon slices and rosemary, a la Zuhlsdorf.

Meanwhile, I got the red potatoes ready. These will cook below the chicken -- meaning, they'll soak up all that wonderful goodness given off by the chicken. Here are the potatoes, washed, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with pepper, salt and fresh rosemary:

And, while I'm fooling around in the kitchen, I got out the cheesecake, and took the top part of the pan away. (Sorry, I should have gotten a photo after that!) I was a little disappointed in it's (lack of) height; but the little bit I tasted from the pan was good. I will offer the guys some chocolate sauce, or some raspberry-rhubarb sauce, if they like, to go with it.

OK, I just popped the bird in the oven. Fifteen minutes on high, then down to a lower temp for the rest of the way.

Here's the bird, before being dressed with butter, pepper and salt, and stuffed with lemons and rosemary:

Here it is with all that. The butter didn't spread very well -- the skin was still too wet -- so I rubbed some olive oil on.

Meanwhile, here's the dinner table, all set. In the upper left is our patron, Saint Remigius, depicted in a Russian-style icon. (Get it?)

In a few minutes, I'll turn down the oven, and then over to Mass. I hope the servers show up!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Three families (Holy Family homily)

On this Feast of the Holy Family, I invite you to reflect, with me, 
on three families.

The first family is our human family – our individual families. 
This is a time of year in which we emphasize family; 
we try to get together with our families and a lot of us look forward to that. 
Many of us have children and grandchildren visiting; 
people bring boyfriends or girlfriends to visit; couples get engaged. 
Gathering with family is really important.

An unintended result is that this can be a sad time for many, 
either because someone they love is absent; because of a death, 
or because of pain and division in their family. 
Some families are separated by long distances. 
But many families are separated by other things; 
and at this time of year, those wounds are painful. 
For some, staying away is the least-painful option.

May I offer a suggestion? 
If you know someone who isn’t with his or her family 
at this time of year, don’t ask too many questions. 
An invitation to be with your family is the best thing. 
And if you have the blessing of a happy, close family, 
stop and realize what a gift that is.

This brings us to our second family: the Holy Family.
We know that Mary was conceived without sin, and full of grace. 

We don’t know a lot about Saint Joseph, 
but he was a holy and prayerful man. 
God spoke to him in his dreams, and Joseph listened. 
That God chose Joseph to be the protector of Mary, 
and the foster father of the Divine Son, 
says all we need to know about Joseph’s character.

But in recognizing the sanctity of this family, 
don’t make them too distant from our families. 
Consider what they had to go through.

We know that Joseph and Mary were of humble means. 
Do you think if Joseph had had a bag full of gold, 
they’d have turned him away from the inn on Christmas night? 
They’d have found room for a wealthy customer, don’t you think?

We know that Joseph had to work hard. 
He had to pay taxes to the cruel Romans. 
He had all the same worries any business owner, 
any parent, might have.

And then consider what must have happened 
as a result of the special circumstances of Jesus’ birth. 
Everyone knew that when Mary became pregnant, 
it was before Joseph and Mary were still, as we’d say, “engaged.” 
So there were two obvious inferences for all the gossips to draw.

One was to point the finger at Joseph. 
The other, even more insulting jibe, 
was to say Mary had had another “friend.”
And when Mary and Joseph both said, it wasn’t Joseph, 
but the Holy Spirit, what do you think the poison tongues said then?

When Pope Paul VI gave a homily one time about this feast, 
he talked about how powerful it can be to contemplate the Holy Family. 
I’d like to invite anyone, who thinks the Holy Family is distant, and unlike us, 
to think through what these circumstances meant for Joseph and Mary, and Jesus. 
The gossip. The laughter. The insults. The temptation to strike back.

That this family was filled with holiness 
didn’t mean they knew no suffering. 
And just because our family situations feature pain and wounds, 
doesn’t mean we and our families can’t be holy.

And that brings us to our third family – and that is the Divine Family.

When God came to earth as one of us, 
his purpose was to expand the “family” of the Trinity – 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to include us. 
To adopt us into that Divine Family.

In baptism we are reborn; 
we are born spiritually as true children of God.

Think about what that means to say, you are a child of God. 
I am the child of James and Rose Ann Fox. 
Everyone who knew my parents can see the likeness I bear to them, 
for obvious reasons. 
As I get older, more and more of the things my parents said to me – 
which they thought I ignored – comes out of my own mouth! 
And one thing I knew about my parents, about my family, 
was that I belonged to them. 
I wasn’t a renter; it wasn’t a business arrangement. 
I was – I am – their son. 

And when we are baptized, we become part of God’s Family. 
God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. 
The Holy Spirit binds us as one. 

(Here I added a few words about the saints being our older brothers and sisters in the Divine Family, who show us how to be children of God.)

God became part of our family – our families. 
With all their pain and failure, with all that is both joyful and shameful. 
He wasn’t ashamed to call us his family. 
All so that we could be part of his Divine Family, 
both here on earth, and forever, in heaven.

Friday, December 25, 2015

All the world pauses for Christmas. Why? (Christmas homily)

There’s a funny thing about Christmas. 
Even though only about a third of the world is Christian, 
practically the whole world celebrates Christmas.

In North and South America, from coast to coast and pole to pole, 
this is a national holiday. 

As I mentioned the other day, businesses and entertainment media 
may try to repackage it as the “holiday that must not be named,” 
even so, everyone knows what that holiday is. 
Indeed, even Jews, Muslims and non-believers 
keep Christmas in their own way, because they are so often 
the ones who volunteer to work on Christmas, 
so their Christian friends and coworkers can have the day.

Across Africa and Asia, 
the world’s newest Christians are celebrating this day. 
Did you know that in Africa, 
in China and Korea, and other places in Asia, 
the Christian faith is seeing tremendous growth? Despite persecution. 

In China, the ruling Communist party tears down churches 
and forbids those that remain to show the cross; 
they’ve tried to create a puppet church 
and they throw you in a concentration camp 
if you are faithful to the pope. 
And despite all that, year upon year, millions are baptized. 
North Korea, the closest place to hell on earth, 
recently agreed to let Catholic priests visit from South Korea. 

In the land of our Savior’s birth, it’s a sad Christmas, 
because so many Christians are being driven out. 

And yet, on this night, Holy Mass is being celebrated 
in the very place where Jesus was born. 
And if you went to Jerusalem this very night, 
even though there are very few Christians there, 
you would know that today was Christmas Day.

Many of us can remember when communism held sway 
from the heart of Europe to the rice paddies of Indochina. 
And in that prison of nations, 
where fear and darkness reigned so cruelly, 
try as they might, they could not kill Christmas. 
Just like our corporations and media have done here,
they tried to reinvent it – but everyone knew the truth. 
The red star has long since been toppled, 
but the star of Bethlehem still shines.

Yes, we know that in many places 
where the Gospel was brought long ago, 
faith is thin and more and more want the trappings of Christmas, 
without the Christ whose day it is. 
And yet…despite themselves, they are still celebrating his birthday!
To steal a phrase from a very different context: 
you may not be interested in the Christ Child, 
but the Christ Child is interested in you.

In a faraway place you may never have heard of – 
Brunei, in the islands of Indonesia – 
where only 10% of the people are Christian, 
the mighty Sultan has decreed: Christmas is illegal! 
Only the Christian minority may celebrate it, 
and only with his permission, and then, only in private. 
No Christmas trees, no Santa hats. They are dangerous!

And he’s right. Christmas is dangerous. 
Herod understood it; so did Pilate; so did Caesar, 
and all their heirs, down to the present day. 

The child born in poverty is destined to reign – 
and as we’ve seen, he’s gained a foothold in every corner of the world. 
The Sultan is right to be nervous.

It’s fashionable to treat all this as a fable. 
A nice story, a story that’s simply too good to be true. 

Now, here’s a curious thing. If it’s all a fable, who first told it? 
There are those who will tell you, 
it was all a plot long ago by the Emperor Constantine and the pope. 

But they are wrong. 

The story of this King was told centuries before he was ever born. 

It was a prophet Micah who said, 700 years before, 
That he would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David – 
and yet would be, somehow, eternal. 
It was Isaiah who foretold his virgin birth; 
and that he would save his people from their sins. 

And here’s another curious thing. 
Do you know what “Bethlehem” means? 
It means, “House of Bread.” 
In the House of Bread was born the one 
who would give his people the Bread of Life; 
and where did his mother place him? In a manger – a food bin.

The story is so amazing – the twists and turns so improbable. 
He was crucified, that ought to have finished him. 
Why would anyone want to follow a defeated and humiliated king? 
“He saved others; he cannot save himself,” they mocked him. 

Peter and Paul, tax collectors and prostitutes, 
such absurd witnesses and leaders! 
And yet, if you go to Rome this day, 
you can venerate the bones of both Peter and Paul. 
And there bones have no business being in Rome, yet they are;
and for just one reason: because they, with others, 
saw Jesus rise from the dead, 
and so they, in turn, gave their lives rather than deny what they saw!

Now, a bit more than 2,000 years has passed 
since that night when the king was born. 
And with all the things that are hard to explain 
about the Catholic Faith, the hardest may be: 
why does the Catholic Church even exist—at all? 
Babylon is fallen, the Roman Empire has crumbled, 
the winds of time have swept away everything in their path. 
And yet, against all odds, the Church Jesus founded still stands.

And the strangest thing of all: 
on this day, the world celebrates his birth. 
Much of the world doesn’t know why – or exactly what it’s celebrating. 
A child was born, in a nowhere place; 
Yet now, the whole world can’t help but pause, and notice.

The Light has entered the world, and the world can’t deny it. 
Much of our world fights the light, and tries to extinguish it. 
Many who belong to Christ neglect his light and ignore his inspiration. 
The world is a long way from being filled by his light, and changed by it. 
And yet across the ages ring the words of the Apostle John: 
“the light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.”

What has brought you here? Many things; many paths.
You and I, with the world, cannot help but be fascinated by this child, and his light. 

Pause and behold him. And, more than that, let him behold you!

Let his gaze meet yours. Meet the king that half the world, 
without half knowing him, cannot help but pause, on this night, to adore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Where the Christmas Tree came from (repost from 2011)

Originally posted December 21, 2011.

(This is a talk I gave today to the Piqua Kiwanis Club, of which I am a member.)

By now, if you put up a Christmas tree, you’ve already got it up. Actually, I have not! But I like to put it up this week, for reasons that will become clear shortly.

In any case, I bet you have heard different stories about the origin of the Christmas tree.

Some of you have heard the Christmas tree was a pagan thing that Christians “baptized” at some point--meaning they converted it from having a pagan meaning to having a Christian or at least innocuous meaning.

Some have heard that there is some connection between the Christmas Tree and Saint Boniface, who brought the Gospel to Germany.

How many simply have no idea where it came from?

In order to explain it, I have to explain something most people don’t know.

The Catholic Church assigns a day on the calendar for every saint, including saints of the Old Testament. So the Prophet Elijah is considered a saint, and his day is July 20. Moses’ day is September 4.

You may not know that Adam and Eve are also considered saints. Do you know what their day is?

December 24--Christmas Eve.

Now, I don’t know why December 24 is their day, but I would guess--and it’s only a guess--that it was done precisely as a lead-in to Christmas.

So let’s go back in history to approximately the year AD 1200. Let’s land in Europe, where many, if not most, of our ancestors came from, and where the search for the Christmas Tree takes us.

Remember, in the year 1200, there are very few books, because books must be copied by hand, which is time consuming and expensive. That’s why people didn’t read. It would be like saying, did you know in the year 1980, no one knew how to twitter? It’s true!

So…how do you teach people the Faith in those days? Well, you do what I bet Pastor Wells often does at his church--and we do in ours--we organize plays.

Just like today, a community would have celebrations through the year. What do we do in Piqua? We have festivals and parades and folks love to come, particularly with their kids. Some things never change.

They would do the same, but instead of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, they would gather on saints’ days and feast days. If they didn’t come into town to attend church every week, they’d come then.

And these would be great occasions to have plays to teach people the Faith. The plays would take place in the church, or the public square--and, naturally, they would be fun occasions for everyone to come together.

So, we’re in our time machine; let’s land in Germany--and imagine showing up for one of these plays; maybe some enterprising businessperson--like Peggy H____ or Gretchen R___--those are good German names!--is out selling bratwurst und streudel to feed the folks who came to the festival!

So here we are in December. And the mayor of the town--or the pastor--is organizing the celebration n of Adam and Eve day, December 24th. I’m not guessing about this, we know they did this.

But imagine you’re the person who is in charge of the play. The pastor says, “we need props for the play!” If you want a props for a play about Adam and Eve, what would you need?

How about a tree? What sort of tree are you going to find--that’s not bare--in December?

A fir tree!

Now, it is true that the story of Saint Boniface connects here. Saint Boniface, in preaching to my ancestors running around in the Black Forest, confronted those who worshipped trees. And when he saw them worshipping a mighty oak, he took an axe and brought it down, and said, “how stands your god now?” The story goes that because Thor didn’t strike him down, my great-great-great….grandfather and his brothers all listened as Boniface told them about Jesus Christ. And, the story goes, a fir tree sprung up in the place where the oak was felled.

So some claim that this is how the fir tree was involved; the trouble is, I don’t have any evidence for that. But we do know they had the plays; and we do know that, in December, in Germany, no other trees are green.

So you come back: "Hier ist ein tree!" "Gut, gut!” says the pastor. “Now, getten zome fruiten for das tree!"

Fruit? Why would you need fruit on this tree?

Adam and Eve, remember?

Now…Pastor Wells can tell us, what does Genesis say is the type of fruit on the Tree of knowledge of Good and Bad?

That’s right--the Bible just says “fruit.”

So, what fruit might you find in Germany in December? Well, nothing on trees, of course, but maybe in a basement? How about apples?

You may also be interested to know that in Latin--the Scriptures were in Latin then--the word for "bad" (as in "the tree of the knowledge of good and bad") is "malum"; and the word for apples, is "malum."

So while those are guesses about how apples came to be chosen, we do know apples were placed on the tree.

They also placed another decoration on the tree: discs of bread.

If you’re wondering why, recall that in the Garden of Eden, there were two trees mentioned by name. Not only the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but also, the Tree of Life. We know that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge; but there remained the Tree of Life--which they couldn’t eat from once they’d sinned.

And what they were attempting to teach was about the Eucharist--holy communion--being a sharing in the death of Christ; who, remember, died on a “tree”--it was Saint Paul who called the cross “a tree.“

So the “Paradise Tree,“ in these plays, was both trees in one, with the fruit that brought death, and the fruit that gives life!

Over many years, these plays were performed in Germany, but along the way they got out of hand--hmm, a play about Adam and Eve, with forbidden fruit? How could anyone take that the wrong way? So Church authorities called a halt to the plays. But folks liked the "Paradise Trees" so they continued setting them up--at home.

Now at this stage, the decorations gradually change; there are different stories about when glass ornaments came along--either in the 1500s or the 1800s. But what seems to have happened was that other fruit or nuts were placed on the trees, and along the way, the discs of bread were replaced by cookies. I’m curious: who here has, or has seen, cookies-baked to be very hard--as ornaments? How about fruit-shaped ornaments? I bet some of you even have apple-shaped ornaments; I have.

Who knows the story about the lights on the tree? The story usually told is that Martin Luther added candles; I couldn’t find any source for that, but I don’t have many Lutheran sources! My mother, who was born in 1914, remembered candles from her childhood. Has anyone here ever seen real candles on a tree?

So, with all this information, I think we can answer the claim made by some that the Christmas Tree is something pagan. It is not; it is Christian and Biblical--meant to point back to Adam and Eve, but also to Christ, and the Cross.

And when you enjoy looking at your Christmas Tree this year, think of the passage from Revelation, that describes the New Jerusalem, the City of God, with no sun or moon, because the Lamb is its light; and in the center, along the River of Life, is the Tree of Life, giving twelve kinds of fruit all twelve months of the year.

“In Defense Of The Christmas Tree,” by the Very Rev. Daniel Daly, published in The Word Magazine, December 2002; accessed online at:

“The Christmas Tree,” by Rayn Blair; appearing in Celebrations: a social studies resource guide for elementary teachers, Fall, 1996, published by Department of Elementary Education, College of Education, Utah State University; accessed online at:

The Christmas Tree, by Daniel J. Foley, Chilton Co., 1960.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Invite people back this Christmas (Sunday homily)

Many times you’ve heard me talk about the importance of sharing our faith. This week, I saw an article in the National Catholic Register – and I decided I wanted to talk to you about it.

The headline is: “The No. 1 Thing I’ve Learned From Talking With Fallen-Away Catholics.”

The author, Katie Warner, has worked for ten years with a group called “Catholics Coming Home.” From time to time, you may see some ads they run on TV, that invite Catholics who have gotten away from their faith, to get back to it. They are very nicely done. A few years ago, the Archdiocese ran a series of those ads right around this time.

In this job, she would talk to a lot of inactive Catholics, and she said, “the messages I receive from (them) range from cordial to scathing, and it didn’t take me long…to see that there are common threads in their conversations.”

She goes on to say:

“Many of these people are hurting; many are angry; many are lost. All have stories; all have reasons for leaving — reasons ranging from ‘I just drifted away’ to ‘I don’t believe in these teachings’ to ‘Someone in the Church wronged me.’” She also explained that the first and the last reasons are the most common. That is to say: either that people drifted away or someone wronged them.

But the most important lesson she drew was this: “Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.” That someone notices they aren’t there. That we’re sorry to see them go. That it matters to us.

There is cause for hope. Ms. Warner reported that often, people would go from being angry, to opening up. And I can confirm that from my own experience. Many times I’ve spoken with someone who was hurt, years before, by a dispute in a parish – maybe with the priest, maybe with other parishioners. And the person was angry. But the fact that I or someone else reached out to them made a huge difference. Hearts can be softened.

Our gaze is toward Christmas Day. It’s a few days away. One of the things I learned from a wise priest, Father Tom Grilliot, who has gone to his reward, was that this is a time of year when people are more open spiritually. All around us, there are TV specials and marketing campaigns, and even though they try to avoid mentioning the word, we all know it’s about Christmas! Now, we may want to be irritated, but don’t be. Instead, seize the advantage: we all know this is the Christmas season – we all know it. So don’t be afraid to talk about it.

People are hungry. They are like the people of Israel who were waiting, and longing, for a redeemer. The trouble – both now, and when Jesus was born – was and is that we all have reason to be cynical. Time and again, people have their hopes raised, only to be dashed. It was true then; it’s true now.

So what do we do? 

Well, Ms. Warner says that when we talk to people who are away from the Church, the first thing to do is “tell them they are missed and that you care that they are away.” Second? “Invite them home.”

There are about 800 folks who routinely come to Mass here every weekend. That’s really good. A lot of my priest friends are envious, because our church is mostly full on the weekend.

But there are about twice that many Catholics in our parish boundaries. Some of them are away at college; some are homebound. But many of them are just…drifting. 

There’s never a bad time to invite and welcome people, but this is a particularly good time. If people want to know, I’ll be hearing confessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8 or so.

There’s no need to hit people over the head. Just invite. Ms. Warner said that when they would ask people who returned to the Church, why they returned, they’d respond, “because you invited me”!

Sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest things. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two ways we sabotage joy; three ways to increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass. 

Several months ago, I described how it’s become habit 
to replace the assigned entrance chants with other hymns. 
But had we used the entrance chant, we’d have sung together, 
either in Latin – “Gaudete in Domino semper,” 
or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Joy” is not the same as being happy or cheerful. 
Although we often speak of joy as a synonym for happiness or success, 
in the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is how we react when we realize God loves us, 
and when we experience 
the goodness and wonder and glory of Creation, 
of all that God has done and will do.

One of the best ways I can think of to make the point 
is with a story about a couple I knew in Piqua. Call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married for over sixty years. 
When his wife became very ill, 
the family gathered around her in the hospital, and they called me. 
I vividly recall how crowded that hospital room was; 
and everyone was praying. Bill was sitting beside his wife, 
holding her hand. They were praying one Hail Mary after another.

And then Ellen couldn’t speak. Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.

And that’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

Now, in reflecting on these readings, 
it occurred to me that sometimes we sabotage joy, in two ways.

First, in getting balled up in anxiety. 

Paul says “have no anxiety at all.” How do we do that? 
Well, Paul talks about prayer, petition and thanksgiving. 
So the next time you are anxious, try those three. 
Try to pray, including petitions to God about the things that worry you, 
and then take time to recall all that you are thankful for.

The second thing we do to sabotage joy is holding onto sins, both our own, and others’.

In the reading from Zephaniah, we hear, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Recall the parable Jesus told of the servant 
who begged for mercy over a great debt; 
then he went and was very harsh on someone 
who owed him a small debt. 

When his Master heard about it, he had the servant thrown in prison. 
And Jesus said: “So will your heavenly Father do to you, 
if you do not forgive one another from your hearts.”  

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.

But when I looked at the Gospel, 
I noticed three ways we can increase our joy:

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
Notice, that means giving away half! 
Some – maybe more than we realize – really are that generous.
Still, for a lot of us, we tend to give from our surplus. 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 
What if we decided that whatever we planned to spend on presents, 
we would give an equal amount away for those in need?

I confess, I am not that generous. But I will say this: 
when I have those moments, it lifts my heart, 
while it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

Today we have an opportunity to be generous 
to the retired members of religious orders who need our support. 
Remember, they took a vow of poverty. 
They don’t have their own IRAs and savings. 
They rely on our generosity.

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 
John told the tax collectors and the soldiers 
not to take more than was honest, 
and not to extort or misuse their power. 
A lot of our practicing our faith seems focused on our own choices, 
and on our personal spiritual life. 

But never forget Jesus told us to hunger and thirst for righteousness; 
This is why we will never stop being prolife. 
This is why a group of parishioners makes regular trips to Haiti. 
This is why we oppose torture and the death penalty, 
and why we stand up for the poor and the powerless. 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
John described Jesus coming to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. 
While some of our fellow Christians take this 
to refer to a special encounter with the Holy Spirit, 
the Church has long understood this as referring to 
how we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. 

But that doesn’t mean those are the only times 
we think about, or seek the help of, the Holy Spirit! 

Some of the best things we can do 
for ourselves and our spiritual life are the simplest. 

If you aren’t sure how to open yourself to the Holy Spirit, 
start this way: pray to the Holy Spirit. 
Ask God to help you be more open to the Spirit; 
to thirst for the Holy Spirit. 
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you obey his promptings. 
There are so many things that don’t happen, because we don’t ask. 

And yet Jesus said, “ask, and you shall receive.” 
He didn’t mean winning basketball games or getting good grades; 
but he did mean, asking for more of his life. 
Ask for the Holy Spirit, and you SHALL receive!

And that is what true joy is.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Why a 'Year of Mercy'? (Sunday homily)

I thought today might be a good time to talk about the Jubilee Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared several months back, and which starts this Tuesday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Why did Pope Francis call for a “Year of Mercy”? In his letter explaining his decision, he said this: 

At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.

So there it is. The Holy Father is calling us to be a more effective sign of God’s actions in the world; to be more effective witnesses of God’s love.

We might wonder, why the emphasis on mercy? If the pope had asked, I’m sure there are people who would have said, maybe we should talk about marriage and family; or about the dignity of human life. Maybe the focus should be on reviving the practice of the Faith; perhaps the emphasis should have been on the reality of hell and the hope of heaven.

Why focus on mercy, of all things?

And Pope Francis had an answer to that as well. His first words of his letter are these: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Those words are worth pondering: I’ll repeat them: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

And that is exactly the truth.

What did Jesus say? “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” And he said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That giving—that ransom—that mercy—is the heart and soul of our Faith. It is what we witness and participate in at each and every Holy Mass.

Mercy, mercy, mercy!

Now, we often have a shallow notion of mercy. If I am a student, and I play video games all night, and don’t study – and then I arrive at school and flunk the test, I may plead with the teacher: “please don’t me an ‘F’ – have mercy!”

And maybe the teacher will show mercy. But that mercy doesn’t mean I don’t have to learn the material; or that there won’t be consequences to laziness. What it means is that there is an avenue back, a way of reconciliation.

If there is one thing I have learned as a priest, it is that many people really struggle to forgive. And I have come to see that in myself as well. For those who struggle with this, I wish I had some simple prayer or mental trick, but I don’t. 

Here’s all I have. I have come to believe that we find it easier to forgive when we know, in a powerful way, what it is to have been forgiven ourselves.

On the other hand, if we don’t feel we’ve been forgiven all that much, we may find it hard to give it.

I invite you to stop and think. Have you ever felt your soul was in real peril of hell? Have you had the experience of forgiveness lifting weights off your shoulders and your heart? Have you cried at the realization of being forgiven? It’s not necessarily an experience everyone has. But if you have – then you know the power of forgiveness. And I’ll say it again. When we know more powerfully what it is to be forgiven, the more we will find it possible to give that to others.

We often pit mercy against justice – but this is false. 

Mercy does not replace justice; rather, mercy directs justice to its true purpose. True justice is always concerned with restoration and wholeness. So, if I am a thief, justice requires that I pay back – if I can – what I stole. But God’s Justice aims at something more than balancing the scales. The truth we learn sooner or later in life is that we never quite get those scales balanced just right, do we? When I get to my car in the parking lot, and I see a dent someone left in my car, I’m furious! How could someone be so dishonest? Maybe I don’t choose, at that moment, to remember times I accidentally dinged someone else’s car, and rationalized driving away without leaving a note. And even if we can fix a problem fairly simply: I lie – and then I own up to it, and apologize, will that be enough to restore the broken trust?

And when we come to the worst offenses, what justice can there truly be? We know that there are wrongs that no punishment can ever put right. Even when murderers are executed, does that really heal the harm? How can it? 

Do you recall, last June, when that man went into a church in Charleston and in the middle of a Bible study, murdered nine people who were praying one night? As terrible as that crime was, something happened in that story that shines out even more powerfully. It is when family members of the victims stood up in the courtroom, and one after the other, said they forgive him!

Let me read something from an ABC news report:

"I forgive you," said Anthony Thompson, the husband of slain Myra Thompson, 59. "But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happened to you and you'll be OK. Do that and you'll be better off than what you are right now."

I don’t know how Mr. Thompson and the others found the grace to forgive that man. But they did. We do know where that grace came from. As Mr. Thompson said, it comes from Jesus Christ. All this serves to remind us of why the Son of God – in coming to earth – chose to go to the Cross. Not because he had to. Not because God the Father demanded it, and would not be satisfied unless there was a sacrifice. Many people say that, but that’s not true.

No, the truth is this. We are the ones who hunger and thirst for justice, and for too many, there is no justice in this world. And yet God tells us to forgive! How can we forgive?

We forgive, because Jesus on the Cross absorbed the punishments and wrongs and injustices, and took it all on himself. And then he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Holy Father is inviting us to be about mercy. To receive it, and to give it. The world needs it. Our community needs it. Each of us needs it. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

No room at the inn -- but there are cookies!

Tonight we have our annual "Journey to Bethlehem" program for our children. They dress up like Mary and Joseph (and perhaps shepherds, I'm not sure -- everyone seems to dress pretty much alike) and have several stops to make along the way. One of the stops is the inn, where the grumpy innkeeper sends them away. Guess who is the grumpy innkeeper? Yours truly!

Last year, I played my part a little too well, and one very young Saint Joseph, filled with righteous indignation, had cross words for me! I will try to do my best not to scandalize these little ones.

We ask folks to make cookies for the little wanderers; and I thought, it's been awhile, let's see if I can make some. From what I had on hand, I was able to make peanut butter cookies.

By the way, this is very easy! I worked from this recipe, but I did add some vanilla, and a little extra flour, based on the recommendation of some of the reviewers.

Here's the completed batter:

Here is one of the batches, ready to go in the oven. (One thing I added to the recipe: I roll the cookie balls in sugar, before flattening them on the sheet. That makes them sparkle nicely when they are finished, as well as have a pleasing texture.)

And here are the finished cookies, ready to go to Bethlehem!