Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why is Oregon Catholic Press ruining Christmas songs?

We had a beautiful Christmas in Russia, thanks to many people, including our music director and many wonderful helpers in the choir loft, and our many readers, ushers, altar servers and others who each contributed.

I was especially moved at Midnight Mass -- my favorite Mass of the year; so much so, that the sad bowdlerization of the great hymn, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" did not much dim my joy.

Here is what I'm talking about.

In verse two, we hear:

Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Well, that is what you ought to hear -- and sing. But increasingly, the second-last line is changed to:

Pleased as man with US to dwell...

Grr! This is poetry, and that change wrecks it. But that, at least, doesn't render it potentially heretical. That prize goes to the change wrought in verse three. Again, the more traditional version first:

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth.

Here's how the last few lines are changed:

born that we no more may die, 
born to raise us from the earth, 
born to give us second birth. 

Before I explain just why these changes -- the last one in particular -- are terrible, can you figure out the reason for them?

No? Try again. Just look at the words that were excised. Can you see a theme?

It's all about feminism; to be precise, a very narrow, humorless, insecure subset of feminism, with -- I have no doubt -- extremely few adherents. But they do get the ear of editors of music, hence these changes.

The second change I highlighted is especially bad, because it turns this great hymn from stoutly orthodox to vaguely Gnostic. That is to say, instead of singing of Christ redeeming and divinizing our humanity ("born to raise the sons of earth"), we sing of Christ coming to deliver us out of our earthiness ("raise us from the earth"). This is Dan Brown stuff. Remember the Da Vinci Code? It walked the same path, feeding the insecure fantasies of the same narrow, humorless crowd with claims of a conspiracy to keep women down by suppressing something he called the "divine feminine" and other claptrap. And in doing so, Mr. Brown drew directly from ancient, discredited Gnostic texts.

The irony of it all? Gnosticism was anything but pro women. In addition to the Gnostics thinking matter and humanity being evils we should escape from, they especially thought femininity was something to abhor. Here's one choice gem from the Gospel of Thomas:

Simon Peter says to them: "Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!" Jesus says: "See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven."

The dis-incarnated text I quoted from, and which we sang at Midnight Mass came from Oregon Catholic Press, but similar poetry wrecking appears in other widely published hymnals. I was going to say the editors of these hymnals are theological nincompoops, but I don't know that. What I do know is that this is theological nincompoopery, and I am going to do what I can to stop it.

So I intend to contact someone at OCP and register my displeasure. I suspect that won't do much good, but I will try. And then, next year, regardless of what OCP does, we will sing a proper version of "Hark the Herald"; we will provide handouts if necessary.

Perhaps you know of similar mischief? Feel free to share in the comments.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

'What is the point of Christmas?' (Christmas homily)

What is the point of Christmas? What does it really mean?

Something fascinating and bewildering has happened with Christmas,
down through the ages; it has spread throughout the world,
evolving and complexifying
and spawning endless knockoffs and variations throughout the world.

In Japan, Christmas has very little to do with Jesus,
but for whatever reason,
it has a great deal to do with Kentucky Fried Chicken!

In Thailand, elephants where Santa hats.
In Oman, there are very few Christians, but a lot of Christmas trees.
Maddening, and yet delightful, too,
as is the news that just days ago, Saudi Arabia –
which prohibits Christianity and confiscates Rosaries –
recently announced that it would begin using the Gregorian Calendar:
named for Pope Gregory,
and which marks time from the birth of…Jesus Christ.

There’s quite a lot of Christmas music, Christmas specials,
Christmas movies and Christmas shopping; but I ask again:
what does Christmas really mean? What is Christmas?

The answer starts with a child, born in a particular place and time.
But we need a clearer answer. Why a child? Why was that the plan?

Christmas only makes sense if we realize this is not just a child,
but God become a child. God become human, one of us. And why?
So that you and I could see God; know God; be friends with God.
“Friends with God” – that’s a challenging idea.
I’m a priest, I study theology, read Scripture,
and prayer is my profession; and even then,
the idea of being “friends with God” is daunting for me,
as maybe it is for you. How do I be friends with God?

But another human being? Someone who wakes and sleeps,
who works and gets tired, who has a family,
who has a people and a history,
who gets up each day and prays,
who goes to the synagogue each Sabbath –
I can be friends with that Man.

That’s why God became Man. That’s why, Christmas.

We call this a time of light in darkness, and its true:
the light that breaks into the darkness of man, closed in on himself.
Never has that been more needed.

You and I live in a time when many think God is a relic of simpler times,
when people needed a way to explain the movements of the stars
and the hidden structures of life on earth;
but now that we’ve travelled to the stars and mapped the genome,
we don’t really need “God.”

Except that in cracking all these other mysteries, one yet remains;
Indeed, it has grown ever more impenetrable;
And that is the mystery of our own selves,
Which is also the mystery of good and evil.

The Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn,
writing about his years as a prisoner in a communist gulag,
explained it perfectly:

“If only it were all so simple!
If only there were evil people somewhere
insidiously committing evil deeds,
and it were necessary only to separate them
from the rest of us and destroy them…”

[But] “the line separating good and evil passes not through states,
nor between classes, nor between political parties either –
but right through every human heart…”

“And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”*

Man can explore and build, and crack things open;
but we are no closer to solving this mystery within ourselves
than we have ever been.

Only God, who knows us better than we know ourselves,
can disclose man to himself.
This is what the Second Vatican Council said:
only in the mystery of God become human
“does the mystery of man take on light”;
only Christ, born this day,
“fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.”**

So the joy and peace we talk about so much this time of year?
It only has meaning if we can bring it to that divided, human heart;
for that is where all wars begin and end.

Until there is a death of greed and wrath and envy and hatred
in human hearts, in our hearts, will war end – and not an hour,
not a minute, before.
That is the peace that Jesus came to give,
and he freely gives it to all who ask.

This is the real meaning of the sacrament of confession.
It’s not primarily about a box, or a ritual,
or formulas or prayers;
all these things serve a greater purpose:
to invite the Prince of Peace to reign in our hearts.
That is the where all the struggles that really matter happen.

So if you want to give yourself the best Christmas present,
if you want that peace and joy of the season,
nothing beats walking out of confession,
with a soul where all is calm, all is bright, within!

So what is Christmas? God came to make friends.
God took a human face so we could see it, so we could see him.
Talk to him. Know him.

He knows the path that is dark to us.
He penetrates what we cannot fathom in ourselves,
because he created us.
Nothing about us will make him ashamed to call us “friend.”
There is no one so low to whom he did not stoop to meet;
and there is no secret we need hide or fear to share,
for he knows it already, and died on the Cross to wash it all away.

And there is nothing that will keep him from our company,
if we will have him with us.

God was born one of us today
so that we could find him and know him as a friend.
There is no other real point to Christmas without this.
There is nothing worth doing this day as much as this:
To find him. Talk to him. Know him. Let him love you.
Let him explain you, to you. Let him be with you in struggle and strife.
Let him forgive you. Let him be your Savior.

Come, let us adore him!

* This is actually two quotes from Gulag Archipelago.
** Gaudium et Spes 22.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Recipe time: Chicken Salad for Lunch

One of my best friends drove up Monday for a visit, so I had to decide, what to do for lunch?

I thought soup and salad might be nice, so I found this recipe online. Before going with it, I read the comments; often other folks have made good suggestions. Based on the comments, I decided to add a bit of cayenne pepper (I didn't measure, but about 1/4 teaspoon), and I added a granny smith apple; I compensated by cutting back a little on the celery, almonds and grapes. Some readers suggested cutting back on the mayonnaise, so I did that as well. I forgot to buy fresh parsley, so I used dried.

While this salad could easily be made with chicken from a can, I got an idea from another recipe, which described how to poach chicken breasts. So I bought some boneless chicken breasts, and poached them in some chicken broth, with some dried parsley and thyme added, as well as a cut up carrot, onion and celery stalk. I saved the broth in the freezer for later.

With the chicken salad, I had some cheddar broccoli soup, which I picked up at Panera Bread. The soup was good, but pricey -- $15 for four servings. Four? More like two! As it turned out, I'd forgotten my friend can't eat broccoli, so...no problem!

Here's how I put it together. I had some boston lettuce, and I spread several pieces on the plate; then I put the chicken salad on top of that, with some sliced tomatoes and cucumbers on the side. Then I had some bacon, and some bread at the ready. My idea was that either this could be eaten as a salad, or easily turned into a sandwich. My friend and I opted for no bread. The bacon was good in the soup.

I had some leftover chicken salad that I shared with the staff, and one of them asked for the recipe, so I promised to post it here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

'Closed heart, open heart' (Sunday homily)

The theme of this homily could be summarized as, 
“Closed Heart, Open Heart.” 

In the first reading, we have a closed heart, in King Ahaz. 
The background is this: his country is in deep trouble, 
and he has set his mind on a course 
that Isaiah has come to talk him out of. 
That’s why Isaiah offers to give him a sign – any sign he chooses. 
But Ahaz refuses. A closed heart.

But Joseph, in the Gospel, has an open heart. 
Joseph has just found out something that is shocking: 
Mary, his wife-to-be, is expecting a child! 

Now, Joseph knew when he became engaged to Mary, 
that she had taken a vow of virginity. 
Their marriage was going to be different in that regard. 
Joseph was probably older, and it may be 
he was doing so as a way to provide her protection and security.

So when he heard about Mary being pregnant, 
Lots of things might have gone through his head.
Hurt, betrayal, anger.

Now, the question is, how do we have an open heart, 
rather than a closed one? And I’d suggest three things:

First, set aside anger and hurt. You may feel it, but move beyond it.
Second, fight the temptation to make rash judgments. 

For me, when I find myself playing that script in my head, 
trying to fill in all the blanks, I turn to some other project. 
Or, I start praying. It may take a while, but that helps.

Third, remind yourself – hourly, if necessary! – 
that God is in control, and you aren’t.

Let me say more about anger. 
This is something a lot of people struggle with, 
ranging from the little irritations and sharp words, 
all the way to really explosive anger. 

Let me suggest two major causes of anger – 
not the only ones, but two major ones.

First, we get angry when we feel we’re under attack. 
Think about how we respond if someone attacks us physically: 
the instinct is to defend ourselves, and, with a surge of adrenalin, 
we may suddenly strike back. 

Something similar happens when someone 
is criticizing an idea or project of ours; or kidding or mocking us. 
And it also happens when the attack isn’t on me, 
but on someone I care about.

The issue isn’t whether the criticism is fair or intentional; 
But whether getting angry is really the best move.
Most of the time, we regret it, because we lost control. 

So if that’s you, and if you want to do something about it, 
here’s my suggestion. 

Stop and really analyze the last few times you got angry. 
Look and see if it wasn’t a case of feeling attacked in some way. 
Making a habit of this kind of examination will help disconnect 
that button that other people always figure out how to push.

The other major reason we get angry is because we want control, 
and we don’t have it. 

Think of what happens when you’re a child, 
and the game doesn’t go your way; what do you do? 
You might cry, throw down the cards, scatter the pieces off the board, and stomp away. 
In a word: anger; and why? 
Because you’re not having your way.

Now consider what dad or mom does when driving somewhere. 

Someone is in the wrong lane; driving too slowly; doesn’t signal properly; 
doesn’t go on green soon enough. What do they do? 
Do they ever get red in the face? 
Shake their fist or say not-nice things about that other driver?
Try to get around that car, just to make a nasty face?

It’s the same thing. Anger, because we can’t get our way. 

And, if you think about it, it may explain a lot of the anger 
that shows up between spouses, parents and children, and so forth.

So if this is you, here’s the simple answer – 
simple, but not necessarily easy: 
accept that the things you can control are far, far, far fewer
than you think or expect. 
I say it’s not easy, because this isn’t something 
you just say to yourself one time. 
It’s a daily, even hourly confession: I am not in control. 
There is a prayer, many of us have heard of it, and it goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

This isn’t only a prayer, it’s a way of life. 
And I think Joseph must have understood it, 
because he was serene in the face of things he didn’t control, 
and that helped his heart be open 
to the message of the angel who came to him.

Behind this prayer – and behind Joseph’s whole story – 
is another saying you’ve heard: There is a God – and I’m not him. 
Recognizing, and trusting, that God is in control 
helped Joseph keep his gaze steady and his heart open, 
and the same is true for us.

Now, if you’re still with me on all this, 
and you would like to see these things happen in your life, 
then I have one more suggestion: Go to confession! 

And I don’t mean, go once.
I mean, if you aren’t in the habit of coming pretty regularly, 
make the decision that you will form a habit of coming to confession. 
How often is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is once a month.
And if you’re wrestling with some bad habits, 
you may need to come more than that in order to break them.

Some people are skeptical of this, and maybe that’s you, 
and you aren’t going to do it unless I can convince you. 
And I could spend the next few minutes offering several reasons. 
But I want to wrap this up. So let me say it this way.

If you asked me, how often should a field be plowed and fertilized, 
not being a farmer, I don’t really know. 
So I would call some of the farmers here, and ask them. 
And since this is what they do, I’d believe them.

Well, as a priest, confession and conversion are things I do know about. 
And I’m telling you, if you don’t turn over the soil of your heart 
often enough in the sacrament of confession,
your heart will be like soil in the ground that doesn’t get tilled: 
hard and resistant to change. 
But with regular confession, 
our heart becomes better ground for God’s word to grow, 
and grow well.

Going to confession isn’t the only thing we need 
in order to have open, receptive hearts – 
there are other steps needed as well – 
but it’s hard to get anything happening without regular confession.

This week, in preparation for Christmas, 
we’ll have extra confessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, 
as well as on Thursday and Saturday at the usual times. 
And then, after Christmas, 
we’ll still be having confessions every week, 
so we can keep tilling our hearts, 
and let the word of God take deep root.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ohio Right to Life torpedoes prolife bill, then lies about it

This past week two prolife bills passed the Ohio legislature and reached the governor's desk at the same time. One was a ban on abortion after 20 weeks; the other was a ban on abortion after a heartbeat is detected. Governor John Kasich promptly vetoed the more prolife of the two bills, while signing the bill that would protect far fewer unborn children.

Here's the shock: he did so at the behest of Ohio Right to Life, which later tried to cover its tracks.

Now, it should be pointed out that neither bill is what prolifers want. It isn't prolife to say that some babies should die because of an arbitrary delineation by law; whether that's birth, "viability" (a moving target), 20 weeks, 10 weeks, upon hearing a heartbeat, or anything else. The only rational and morally defensible law is one that protects all life once conceived, without exceptions. (This is why many committed prolifers during the recent election raised concerns about Donald Trump -- precisely because he supported keeping it legal to kill babies whose fathers committed rape or incest.)

Here's what the Columbus Dispatch reported:

But in a bitterly divided "pro-life" movement, Ohio Right to Life opposes the Heartbeat Bill as likely to be held as unconstitutional in federal courts and possibly detriment to other recently passed laws paring back abortion rights. The group asked Kasich to sign only the 20-week abortion ban.

Further, on its Facebook Page, an unidentified representative of Ohio Right to Life made this claim:

...the Heartbeat Bill hasn't saved any lives anywhere it's been tried. The Supreme Court actually rejected the opportunity to hear the Heartbeat Bill earlier this year. The only thing that has changed since that time is the tragic passing of Justice Antonin Scalia. The Supreme Court is stacked against us--and Ruth Bader Ginsburg has already told reporters that she is itching for the opportunity to write an opinion worse than Roe. We don't want to give her that opportunity--an opportunity that could set the pro-life movement back decades and lead to more deaths.

Well, no.

As currently constituted, the U.S. Supreme Court has four justices that are entirely pro-legal-abortion: Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan; plus one who waffles, Kennedy. There are three who are presumed to be votes to overturn Roe: Chief Justice Roberts, Thomas and Alito. Assuming President-elect Trump keeps his promise when he names a Supreme Court justice (and his pick is confirmed), that breakdown becomes 4-1-4.

So the reasoning of Ohio RTL seems to be that the Heartbeat bill loses Kennedy, but maybe he'll go for the 20-week ban, and it'll be upheld. However, this ignores two things:

1. Neither bill will reach the U.S. Supreme Court directly. The first challenge would happen in federal district court. The next stop would be the federal appeals court; and only then -- if the U.S. Supreme Court chooses to take it up -- would the case come before the High Court.

But that doesn't happen automatically. At least four members of the Supreme Court must agree to hear a case. Is that likely?

Probably not. The Heartbeat bills enacted in North Dakota and Arkansas were both struck down at the district level, and those rulings were affirmed by the appeals court.

But couldn't the U.S. Supreme Court still take up the case? Sure, anything's possible, but why would they? Assuming it's true that Justice Ginsberg is itching to do it, that's only one vote for review; she needs three others. In theory, the other pro-abortion justices would want to revisit the current precedents, but realize -- whatever outcome they hope for must win the vote of...Justice Kennedy; and to the extent anything is clear about Kennedy's position on...anything, it is that he doesn't want to go where Ginsberg presumably wants to go.

But here's the main thing: if five justices of the Supreme Court are eager to liberalize abortion law, why does it matter which of these bills reaches the court? Are we really to suppose that there are five justices, ready to issue a new, expansive pro-abortion decision...only to be deflated because, golly, the wrong anti-abortion law reached them? That's ridiculous!

So the claim by the unnamed Ohio RTL operative is false. A five-vote majority on the Supreme Court, eager to strike down prolife measures, will strike down either of these bills; and write whatever decision it wants.

On the other hand, if circumstances allow, either bill might be upheld. These cases take several years to work through the courts. Who knows if there will be yet another new justice on the High Court? Who knows but that our prayers for the conversion of those justices who have distorted our laws to protect killing unborn children may not work?

Ohio RTL's tactics drew a lot of protest from other prolifers, which may explain the attempt to cover it's tracks. On the same Facebook post cited above, someone acting for the organization posted this:

Ohio Right to Life was neutral on the Heartbeat Bill and supportive of the one strategy that could swing Anthony Kennedy to a pro-life decision. The Heartbeat Bill hasn't saved any lives anywhere it's been tried. Sadly, the Supreme Court actually rejected the opportunity to hear the Heartbeat Bill earlier this year.

Sorry, but backing a veto is hardly "neutral"!

The too-clever tactics of Ohio Right to Life are bad enough; but not being forthright about their actions make it worse. I'm sorry to see it.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Clericalism? Are the Traddies guilty?

I've been wanting to link to something by this admirable blogger priest, and I think this is it.

While there, be sure to browse around.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

How you can be like John the Baptist (Sunday homily)

You probably didn’t notice, but a Gospel reading about John the Baptist 
comes up every year during Advent. 
We don’t know much about John, but we do know that at some point, 
John went out to live in the desert, 
wearing simple clothing and eating whatever he could find there. 
And he began preaching repentance, 
and he attracted a lot of attention; 
lots of people came out to the desert to be baptized. 

After this, John ends up in prison, 
because he publicly scolded King Herod for entering into marriage 
with his brother’s wife; and, finally, he is beheaded.

Now why would John even want to go out into the desert like that? 
Why would anyone?
And the answer is, for some people, that’s how they draw close to God. 
Getting away from noise, from distractions, 
from the world: alone with God.

This is an impulse many of us can’t understand; 
but I suspect there are many of us who do understand it – 
and we wish we could do it. 
But what holds us back are the obligations to our families, 
or to our businesses or farms; or fear of what others might say.

Maybe we put it off for another day.
Or, maybe we can’t bring ourselves to give up 
the creature comforts we like – 
like refrigerators full of food, and hot showers, 
and heat and air conditioning, and beds!
By the way, this is the value of making little sacrifices, 
like getting up early, or giving up chocolate and beer and cookies 
and video games – and I don’t mean just during Lent, either. 

I saw a program about Saint Thomas More the other day, 
and it mentioned that he wore something called a “hair shirt” – 
which was designed to be uncomfortable. 
That may seem odd, but when he ended up in prison 
because of his witness to the faith, 
I bet those little sacrifices he made, day by day, paid off – 
don’t you think?

The point is to free ourselves, so we can seek what really matters.

We might wonder why people go out into the desert like John.
There is a longing that some people feel – 
to put everything else aside so that they can draw closer to Christ – 
and for thousands of years, people have been going out into the desert, 
or into monasteries and cloisters, 
so that they could give themselves entirely to the Lord.

There may be some here who feel that longing, 
and you may not be sure what to do with it. 
If that’s you, you’re welcome to come see me, and we can talk about it.
But don’t simply ignore it; try to understand what it means.
It could mean many things.

Wherever it leads, don’t be alarmed, be grateful: 
because if you follow that longing, 
nothing will make you happier.
Now, back to John the Baptist. 
We know very little about what he did with his life, 
apart from a few details. So what makes him so great?
And the answer is really simple: he had a call from God, 
a unique role to play in God’s Plan, and he answered it. 

As measured by worldly standards, 
his accomplishments might not seem like much. 

Let me put this in modern terms. 
Suppose someone we knew decided to walk away from everything, 
and go out into the woods and build a shelter, and live there. 
Your friend, your relative, 
decides to live off of whatever he can find to eat there, 
and to wash his clothes in the creek. 

We all know what we’d think about that. 
Who wouldn’t try to talk our friend out of doing this?

There’s a funny detail that shows up over and over 
in the lives of the saints, whether it’s Thomas Aquinas, 
or Joan of Arc, or Francis of Assisi, or Dominic Savio, and hundreds more. 
There were family and friends who tried really, really, hard 
to talk them out of it.

And I’ve often wondered, what would it be like, 
to be that person who tried to talk a saint out of being a saint? 
Who wants to go down in history that way?

Picture the scene in heaven; you’re meeting people, 
and you ask this guy who is.
“I’m Thomas Aquinas; I was one of the greatest philosophers in Western Civilization.”

Nice! And you, who are you?

“Um, I’m his father. I tried to stop him.”

Chances are, God isn’t calling you to go live in a cave or up a tree; 
but he may be calling you to something very different 
from what everyone else thinks makes sense. 
He may call you to give your life totally to him 
as a sister, a brother, a priest. 

And if you wonder what difference it will make, 
think of John the Baptist. 
God chose him for one brief, shining moment in history: 
to be the voice who cried out, “Behold the Lamb of God.” 
It might not have been much, 
but it was enough for Jesus to say of John, 
“among those born of women 
there has been none greater than John the Baptist.”

Whatever our task may be, whatever sacrifice we might have to make, 
won’t it be worth it, to have Jesus speak words like that of us, 
when we stand before him some day?

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Hail, Kecharitomene! (Immaculate Conception homily)

In what way does this depict the Immaculate Conception? See note below!

There is frequently confusion about what we are celebrating today. 
I am determined to correct this mistake every chance I get.

Pop quiz: whose conception – whose beginning of life – 
are we commemorating today? 
If you answer, “Jesus,” I’m sorry, that’s wrong.
Rather, it’s Mary’s conception; 
it’s Mary who is conceived immaculately, or, without sin.

We mark Jesus’ conception on March 25, 
nine months before Christmas.
Today we recall when Mary was conceived 
in the womb of her mother, Ann. 
Mary’s birthday comes nine months later, September 8.

So, again, the Immaculate Conception is about how Mary began her life. 

The mistake is understandable, 
in part because the Gospel reading 
talks mostly about Jesus being conceived. 
Even so, this Gospel reading is still the right one, 
because it is the place where the Bible 
most clearly points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. 

First, we have a single, powerful word, in the original Greek: 
kecharitomene. This is the word we translate, “full of grace.”
Biblical scholars like to point out that kecharitomene
is a very unusual word – unique, in fact; 
it appears nowhere else in the Bible 
or even in secular literature of the period. 
That’s because it’s an unusual construction of the Greek verb 
meaning “to grace” or “to favor.”

Let’s notice a couple of things. First, it’s a greeting. 
This isn’t a statement about Mary; 
it’s the name Heaven gives to Mary; it’s who God says she is. 
And it isn’t something she did, but rather, something God did in her. 

So here’s the thing: “full of grace” is true, as far as it goes; 
but it doesn’t actually go far enough. 

Here’s a more literal sense of what the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary:
Hail, You who have been, and now are, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced.
Get that? Mary was, and remains, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced by God.

So here’s why that means Mary was untouched by sin, 
even from her first moment of existence:
Because if she had ever been touched by sin, even for a moment, 
it would not be true that she was “perfectly and completely” graced. For that to be true, she had to be completely free from sin, 
and completely full of grace, as full as full can be!

Then there is another detail in this passage that confirms this. 
Later, Gabriel says, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” 

This is an unusual phrase, used only a few times in Scripture, 
as  when the Glory of God overshadowed the tent of meeting, 
which was where God’s People gathered to worship the Lord. 
Let me quote a part of that:

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting,
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.
Moses could not enter the tent of meeting,
because the cloud settled down upon it
and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (Exodus 40:24-25)

Now, that primarily refers to Jesus being conceived in Mary, 
which, again, we commemorate on March 25. 
But here’s the thing. The tent of meeting, 
before it was filled with God’s Glory, 
was already perfectly prepared. 

In the chapters before this happened, 
God describes in great detail exactly 
how the tent of meeting was to be built 
by the artisans and craftsmen of Israel. 
Remember, Moses was up on the mountain for 40 days and this is why – 
God described everything in exact detail. It had to be perfect. 

So what Gabriel’s words mean is that Mary is that tabernacle, 
first made perfect by the Divine Craftsman, 
in preparation for being “overshadowed by the Most High.”

Here’s a beautiful quote by Blessed John Duns Scotus, 
who played a major role in understanding 
Mary’s conception without sin. He asked:

"Would the God of justice and mercy grant the first Eve, 
who He foreknew would betray Him, a greater glory in her creation 
than He would give the second Eve, 
who He foreknew would be His handmaid forever?"

And, of course, the answer is no!

St. John Chrysostom wrote a hymn about Mary; here are a few lines:

Hail, Kecharitomene, unreaped land of heavenly grain.  
Hail, Kecharitomene, virgin mother, true and unfailing vine.  
…faultless one carrying the immutable divinity.  
…habitation of holy fire. 
…golden urn, containing heavenly manna.  
…spiritual sea who holds Christ, the heavenly pearl.  
Hail, Kecharitomene, pillar of cloud containing God, 
and guiding Israel in the wilderness.

Yes, it can be a little confusing today, but it can’t be helped, 
because Mary’s creation, as the Immaculate Mother, 
is all about her Son. 
She was lovingly created, without any stain, 
in anticipation of the day she would give her loving consent 
to be the Mother of the Messiah.

Today is like a little Christmas.
Today, Mary begins her life, filled with light.
On Christmas, that light dawns into the world.

How does the image above depict the Immaculate Conception? I learned this when I was preparing a presentation for the people of Immaculata Church, in Cincinnati, about the lovely art that graces that church. This image is meant to show Mary's soul, at the instant of its creation.

From the cutting-room floor, some notes I didn't include in my homily, for the sake of brevity:

Contrast between first and second Adam:

1st Adam retreats from evil; 2nd Adam goes into battle against evil in the desert, and again in the garden.

1st Adam says nothing when enemy lies and seduces; 2nd Adam is always silencing demons.

1st Adam shrinks from fear of harm; 2nd Adam accepts the cup of suffering.

1st Adam lets his bride be ruined, and follows her; 2nd Adam sacrifices himself for his bride, and thus purifies her.

This doctrine and this feast is a powerful answer to all who demean women, or who think Christianity demeans women. It is not God, but sinful Adam, who demeans the woman. Notice how, when God confronts Adam about his failure, he doesn’t own up to it, but rather blames God and the woman for the catastrophe.

God puts a woman at the center of the drama of salvation, first in Eve; finally in Mary.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

What is hope? Where is our hope anchored? (Sunday homily)

In the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, 
he said that the Scriptures were written for us 
“that we might have hope.”

What is hope?

Elsewhere in this same letter, Saint Paul explained that 
The gaze of hope is fixed on that which lies ahead--
it isn’t something you already have.
That’s why it’s true to say that in heaven, there is no hope!

Sounds strange to say, doesn’t it?
But it’s true: if we make it to heaven, and we have the fullness of life,
the enjoyment of God’s love and beauty and truth--
if we have all that, then at that point, what would we hope for? 
Heaven is the hope!

So: hope looks forward.

But then the question comes to mind:
just what do we fix our hope on?
Is it really true that heaven is what we are hoping for?

I think a lot of folks around us set their hopes a lot lower.
A few years ago, I saw a survey about the British people,
that something like a quarter of them say,
well, there might be a God,
but they don’t think they can know anything about God for sure.

I didn’t find a survey for the U.S.,
But lots of people here think the same thing, don’t they?

So what that means is that if we have
some hope of good after this life,
it ends up being pretty vague.

So let me ask you – is that really hope? 

In the meantime, what we see around us,
what we can obtain here, all that is pretty definite.
So that’s what a lot of people focus on.

Let me give some examples of how we do that.

When we look at what’s on TV, or in the movies, 
or in whatever else we turn to for entertainment: 
how much is about what heaven is like – 
versus, what your next meal, or your next vacation looks like?

How much of our time do we spend with reading or entertainment 
that turns our gaze to what ultimately matters?
How much of our time is about the ephemeral and not the eternal?

Hope is an anchor we cast forward. 
Where have we anchored our hope:
In our job? Our own abilities and plans? 
In political candidates and causes?

Without realizing it, we fix our hopes here, in this world..
We set our sights on finding happiness here.
And the more we do that, do you realize what that means?
We’re people without hope--
because, as Saint Paul said, hope is what we look forward to;
but if we have everything we think we want,
there’s nothing left to hope for.

Pope Francis, in the letter he wrote a few years ago,
called the “Joy of the Gospel,”
talks about the “great danger in today’s world,
pervaded as it is by consumerism,”
which leads to “the desolation and anguish
of a complacent yet covetous heart…

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up
in its own interests and concerns,”
he writes--and with the “pursuit of frivolous pleasures,”
there is no longer “room for others,” for doing good;
and in fact, God’s voice is no longer heard.

This is where celibacy, in Christianity, is unique.
In other religions, it’s about denial.
In Buddhism, the goal is the negation of all desire.
But not in Christianity!

For us, celibacy is about the resurrection.
It’s about expectation--and hope!

If you’re on your way to a great dinner,
You don’t stop and eat on the way.

And therefore, when people see that you passed up
a really splendid, extraordinary dinner,
then that means
what you’re waiting for must be truly awesome!

That’s what it means for a brother, a sister and a priest 
who passes up marriage and family; 
it’s a sign that they’ve cast their anchor all the way to heaven.
Which reminds each of us to do the same in our own lives.

And, speaking of our religious sisters, 
remember them in the second collection next week; 
this is for their retirement fund, which needs bolstering. 

It isn’t for the parish – we have needs too, 
as I explained two weeks ago. 

It isn’t for priests of the archdiocese, 
it isn’t for my retirement; but rather, 
for those sisters and brothers 
who gave everything away to serve Christ. 
Many here were taught by nuns, 
including in Russia School at one time!
This is a way we can repay them.

But to return to the theme of hope, 
I want to say something about eternity.
It’s hard to know what eternal life might be like; 
it’s hard to visualize. 
But let me offer a theory: if we aren’t looking for something,
it’s a lot less likely that we’ll find it. 
Do you think that’s true? 
If we aren’t looking for something, we are far less likely to see it.

If someone told you there was a mineral, a rock, 
in the ground, around here, 
that’s very valuable – it’s needed for computers and medical research – 
and if you could find just small quantities of it, 
you would make a really big profit. 
And if you decided to go into that business, 
what would be the first thing you’d do?

Wouldn’t your first step be to find out 
what that mineral looked like?
In fact, wouldn’t you try to find out 
everything you could about it?

Well, there’s a place called heaven, 
and there’s a Savior named Jesus, 
whose our only sure way to get there. 
So our first step is kind of obvious, isn’t it?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Rorate Mass in Russia

An ancient tradition was revived in Russia, Ohio, this morning, at Saint Remy Church. I offered a Rorate Mass, although it was in the Ordinary Form, rather than the usus antiquor.

What is a Rorate Mass? Here's a nice explanation (pictures at the link):

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

We didn't need to have Mass at a special time; Mass on first Friday, during the school year, is always at 7 am, so I figured that would work. It was certainly before dawn. I told people ahead of time, of course, and I kept a few lights on in church before Mass. It would have been even nicer to have everyone enter church without lights, but that's a bit impractical.

We did use the proper chants, in English, which you can find here; our music director sang them beautifully, despite a nagging cold. I'm told the altar was lovely, light only with candles; it was striking to see everyone's faces, lit only by candlelight. I'm sorry I didn't think to ask someone to take a photo.

While this was a votive Mass for our Lady, I elected to use the readings of the day; they fit very well.
I pondered using incense, and maybe we'll do that next year; as well as trying it at the high altar (i.e., ad orientem).

Were you there? What did you think?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fulfilled in your presence (Sunday homily)

In the first reading we hear a prophecy of Isaiah: 
all nations shall stream toward “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” 
And perhaps you’re wondering to what that refers.

Well, let’s figure it out.

It refers to the “Lord’s House” – that means the temple. 
And that Temple was built on Mount Zion; 
which is also where the city of Jerusalem is.
It was also on that mountain – in the city of Jerusalem –
that Jesus gathered with his Apostles on the night before he died. 
It was there that he completed his “Mass” 
with his suffering and death on the Cross.

So if you’re wondering how that prophecy is to be fulfilled: 
the answer is in the Holy Mass – what we are doing right now!

Isaiah said that the Word of the Lord would go forth from Zion – 
and it did, especially after the Day of Pentecost;
And that all the nations would stream to the Lord’s House –
And that, too, has happened; the Holy Mass 
is offered throughout the world, 
in every language and nation and tongue, 
even in places where it is extremely dangerous to worship Christ.

So it is wonderful to consider that this passage has been, 
and is being, fulfilled, even as we gather here for Holy Mass!

 Now, the emphasis in the Gospel is on watchfulness 
for the coming of Jesus.
But let’s not misunderstand that. 
Many people talk about Jesus’ coming, 
as if he’s now absent from the world. 
They’ll say, “he’s coming back – as if, he’s not here.
But Jesus IS here, and has been, 
ever since he was conceived in the womb of Mary!

When we talk about Jesus’ coming again, 
it might be better to think of it as his coming in full; 
his complete coming.
Pope Benedict made this point one time, 
when he explained that Jesus is constantly “coming” into the world, 
and what we will witness at the end of time 
is the completion of  his coming 

Jesus “comes” every time we mention his name – 
which is why it’s a praiseworthy custom 
to bow our heads at the name of Jesus.
Jesus “comes” when his people gather to pray; remember what he said: 
“wherever two or three gather in my name, 
there am I in the midst of you.”

Jesus “comes” when we proclaim the Gospel – 
which is why we stand for that reading, while sitting for the others.

Jesus “comes” whenever someone is baptized, 
someone receives absolution in confession, and in all the sacraments.
And, of course, he “comes” in such a wonderful way 
when the Holy Mass is offered, 
and he himself makes present his sacrifice at the altar.
So, realize, that what the Gospel promises 
is likewise fulfilled right here, before your eyes!

Yes, there is a complete fulfillment yet ahead, 
and we don’t know when that will happen.
But there is a way that you and I can live, 
so that we need not worry about it.

Every day we live, eager to speak his name, 
eager to see him, eager to hear him speak to us.
If you’re looking at the materials on prayer on Formed.org, 
you heard Dr. Tim Gray talk about prayer as a conversation with God, 
who speaks to us in the Scriptures.

We don’t have to wait to hear Jesus or to see him.
He’s here, speaking to us, giving himself to us.
Seek him in confession. Seek him in Scripture. Seek him in silence.
Seek him in the Holy Mass.
Then, there will never be an hour we are not ready.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

'We have here no lasting city...' (Sunday homily)

I was reading an article this weekend by Father James Schall, commenting on the election last week. His summary of his own article was, "We have here no lasting city." That is also a good summary of today's Gospel.

Why did Jesus say about the Temple, "there will not be one stone left on another"? To scare people? No; rather, to make the same point as Father Schall: in this world, we have no lasting city.

For the people listening to Jesus, the destruction of the Temple was a horrible thought -- the end of the world. And when it happened 40 years later, it was pretty horrible. Scholars debate whether the rest of what Christ said in this passage was about events then, or at the end of time, but we needn't worry about that. The answer is both. Christians today are facing the same persecution as the early Church, which this Gospel describes well.

Now, this time last week, I think a lot of us were dreading this election. We had a pretty strong turnout for Monday night's prayer vigil, to pray for the nation and the election. And I know many think the results are the answer to our prayers. They may well be, but only time will tell. You and I have high hopes for President-elect Trump, but we had better keep praying hard. If the Gospel has one clear point, it is that what seems so solid is not solid at all.

Only one thing is truly solid, and that is Christ himself!

Now, I want to call your attention to the first reading. Did you notice the two ways it talks about fire? For the "proud" and "evil doers," it is fire that punishes; it "consumes" them. What does that sound like? It sounds like hell to me.

But for those who fear God's Name? It is a sun of righteousness with "healing rays." Healing? What does that sound like? Sounds like purgatory to me.

Yet it is the same fire; the fire of God's truth and love.

Think about that. God is the same. God is good to all. His mercy is readily available, even at the last moment, as with St. Dismas, the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus. Yet, on the other side was another thief, who did not seek mercy. What was different? Same Jesus; same mercy; same peril for the two thieves.

Beware the sin of presumption! People think, "Oh, I can sin now, God will forgive me later." But that assumes something: that you will ask later. The reason the fire consumes the evil doers is that they were proud; they refused to ask.

The same fire that heals those open to God, will torment those whose hearts are closed.

This is a good time to remind you of our prayer project for Advent. Deepening our prayer is how we root ourselves in the one thing that is solid, Jesus Christ. The cards are in the pews, with how to sign up; it's free, no obligation, you can view the material online. This weekend will be the last time the cards are in the pews. Even if you don't want to join a group, we'd be grateful if you filled out the card, because that way we know people are taking advantage of this. This program costs money -- not a lot, but something -- and we want to know that it's worthwhile.

To circle back to where we began: in this world, we have no lasting city. But we do have a lasting hope: Jesus Christ! may he be praised, now and forever, amen!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reacting to Trump

When I turned on the TV Tuesday evening, my plan was as follows:

- If Secretary Clinton is winning, watch Fox;
- If Donald Trump is winning, watch MSNBC.

That way, I figured, I would avoid any gloating, and perhaps indulge in a little schadenfreude (not too much). Well, as you can guess, I started with Brett Baier, and ended up listening to Rachel Maddow's gasps and groans. 

As my readers know, I wasn't for either of them; I wanted them both to lose. Not impossible, but admittedly, unlikely. So on Wednesday, I told folks I got half of what I wanted. I'm not celebrating Mr. Trump's win, but I am unabashedly celebrating Secretary Clinton's loss.

Apart from the profound problems with Mr. Trump, which remain (and will manifest themselves before long, I suspect), there was a lot for conservative and prolife folks to celebrate in Tuesday's results, in the races for Congress and state offices. I am elated by the success of the pro-Right to Work candidate for governor in Missouri, making it likely to become the 27th Right to Work state; and developments in Kentucky and New Hampshire move them closer to being numbers 28 and 29 in the next few years.

It's not all good news for conservatives and pro lifers, however. The success of the GOP makes it more likely that many of them will fail to learn the right lessons, just as Mr. Trump's success may well be attributed to the wrong things. A lot of folks are either celebrating, or dreading, the sudden uncorking of right wing policies and laws. Brace for disappointment. I'm not saying nothing will happen, but I am saying it won't be what you expect. On pro life, for example, it's going to be a lot harder than you may think. The right move is the Life at Conception Act, which would declare unborn children persons under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and thereby overturn Roe v. Wade. Mr. Trump, along with lots of GOP Representatives and Senators, said they favor it. But it will be a tough fight just to get it on the floor. Similarly for lots of other things conservatives would expect and liberals loathe.

Meanwhile, I'm just soaking in all the reactions from folks on the left, including many people close to me. While I admit I indulged in some schadenfreude (look it up!) in watching or reading the news coverage, I don't wish to take any pleasure in any actual suffering; so with Facebook friends, who really are describing their feelings in the bleakest terms, I am not gloating or taunting. After all, I partly agree with them. But, given my desire for them both to lose, I'd already come to terms with my disappointment weeks ago.

These are my reactions to the weeping and gnashing of teeth on the left:

- This is what losing in the cultural war feels like. You haven't experienced much of it, so you're not used to it.

- Obama led to Trump; just as Bush led to Obama. You might do well to reflect deeply on that.

- Is limiting the power of the federal government, and of the presidency, sounding good to you? Great, welcome to the club!

- You're kidding yourself in a big way if you just want to explain all this as a sudden surge of racism, sexism, "homophobia" and hate, etc. It may make you feel better, but it doesn't match the facts.

- If you're wondering how, HOW people could vote for Trump, just entertain, as a thought-experiment, that it wasn't because they are haters or stupid; and if you like, keep your assumption that Trump is horrible-terrible. Now, with these new assumptions, can you figure out what the decision of so many to vote for Trump says? Hint: if you face the devil and the deep blue sea, what do you do?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Just before the election...(Sunday homily)

This coming Tuesday, a lot of people will be elected to Congress, 
to our state legislature, to local offices in Shelby County, 
and the same will happen across the country. 
And, of course, someone will be chosen as President. 

As we all know, there is a tremendous amount of energy and intensity 
about this election, as there usually is, every four years.

A lot of people are really anxious 
at the thought of one or the other major party candidate winning.
Perhaps you’ve noticed, in a lot of conversations, 
folks who will emphasize how important it is that “we win.”

Here’s the thing: if you search the Scriptures,  
Is this something God talks much about?
I mean, winning in the worldly sense:
Winning battles, winning in court, or gaining political power.

Instead what you do find on nearly every page 
is God telling his servants to be faithful,
even in the face of sure defeat.
Isn’t that what happens in the first reading?

So, for those of us who have the privilege of voting, 
then certainly we must use that right well.
The main thing we must do as Christians is cast our votes, 
and raise our voices, faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Be guided by your conscience – 
which must be guided and shaped by the Catholic Faith.
And when the election is over, brace yourself.
Beware the temptation to view things in terms of “win” or “lose.”

For a brief moment in time, the king in the first reading, 
and those in league with him, were riding high. 
But that moment passed; it always does. It always will.

The mother and her sons look like losers when you look at them 
through the eyes of power and politics and worldly measures. 
But when you look at things through the lens of eternity, 
everything changes.

What would it mean to look at these matters 
through the lens of the Resurrection?

It means that everything we hold onto, we will let go of. 
It means that the future is not in our hands. 
Yes, our choices matter; but our contribution is like dust on the scales 
compared to God’s power.

The heart of the king is in the hands of God; 
he can raise them up and bring them down.

God causes babies to be conceived and hearts to beat their last. 
Everyone who is riding high today will stand before God 
before very long. 

Before Mass, we met Aaron Hess, who is preparing to be a priest. 
I hope you will take a moment to greet him after Mass.

To be a priest, to be a member of a religious order 
as a brother or a sister, is to live, not for time, but for eternity. 
Otherwise, it makes no sense. 

Tell me, who is more powerful? 
A president, or an ordinary Catholic? 
Well, let’s add it up. 

A president can appoint other powerful people; 
he or she can sign or veto laws; 
she can issue orders that govern our lives; 
he can make decisions of war and peace. 

In fact, a president can do wonderful or frightening things 
to make our world better, or worse. 
So, I guess the president is more powerful, 
because none of us can do any of those things.

But anyone can, in need, pour water and say the words of Jesus, 
and create a saint in baptism. 
A priest can say three more words in confession, 
and wash away a lifetime of sin. 
There is no sin so great that cannot be absolved. 

Any believer, armed with the name of Jesus, 
can drive back the forces of hell, 
and instantly gain an audience in the throne room of heaven.

A priest can stand at the altar, 
and the altar becomes the axis of all Creation; 
and on that altar, God comes; 
God the Son offers himself, through the hands of a priest, 
to God the Father. 

So who really is more powerful? 
Those politicians, or those who pray?
It’s all a matter of how you see things.

So if this is really what we believe – and we know, it is! – 
then let’s put this to practice. 
There will be a special prayer vigil Monday night at 7 pm, 
to pray for the elections and our country. 

And remember the information in your pews 
about the program on prayer 
that we will take part in, as a parish, for Advent. 
This week and next are the time to return the forms 
so you can take part in the discussion groups. 
Our task is to grow together, not in power as the world measures, 
but as God measures. That’s the only “win” that really counts.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

Recipe time: Meatloaf, briaciole style

I've been cooking a bit more lately; mainly because, the other day, I got some items out of the freezer with the thought, "I've seen that stuff in the freezer long enough!" So, that meant getting out a chuck roast, and some ground beef, that was down at the bottom.

So, I figured I'd make meatloaf; but I wanted to avoid using bread or oats. So I went a-googling, and found this recipe, and decided to try it. Of course, I modified it: I used carrots and celery, rather than green peppers, because I had those on hand; and because I was in a hurry, I wasn't so careful about measurements.

Anyway, let's see how it turned out!

First I opened up some tomato paste and crushed tomatoes (no tomato sauce on hand), using my new can opener. It worked great, as you can see:

These went into the pan together, and I simmered them a little bit. The recipe didn't call for it, but I thought it would help the ingredients mix together better. Oh, and I didn't add any fake sugar, I didn't see any need for that. (Please ignore the spots on the stove top.)

Next, I put all the other ingredients together. I had some chopped garlic in a tube, so I used that, and I think all the other ingredients matched what the recipe called for. I tried mashing this with the spoon, but I knew that wouldn't work. So, I washed my hands and had it all mixed pretty quickly.

Next was to spread all this out on wax paper, thusly:

Over this went slices of ham and provolone. The recipe suggested prosciutto, which is hard to find around here. Instead, I got what passes for Virginia ham hereabouts (hint: the real stuff is so salty you have to soak it); when I laid out the slices, I realized I might have asked them to slice it thinner.

Now the hard part: rolling all that up, and then safely transferring it to the pan. It worked:

Over this I slathered some of the sauce I made:

And that went into the oven, just before heading over to church for the evening Mass for All Saints. Because I knew I'd be back later than the time called for, I turned down the oven to 275 degrees. When I got back, I checked it, and it looked like this:

With cheese oozing out, I felt confident the insides were properly cooked, so I took it out, and drained off some of the fat. I let it cool a bit while I ran upstairs to catch a shower. After something cold to drink (it was unseasonably warm in Russia yesterday and today), I had a slice of this with some leftover red wine from the night before. Then I had another slice!

Verdict: Prosciutto would have been awesome, but this was very good. I'll be interested to see how it works when re-heated, however. I'm not sure just how "low carb" it is, with all that tomato sauce, but the flavors were very good. And it wasn't hard to make; it took about 30 minutes to prep, not bad!

I'm calling this meatloaf "briaciole style," because that's what it is; when I looked up how to spell "briaciole," I found other examples of this. Something to try another time!

Monday, October 31, 2016

Recipe time: Pot Roast (again)

This is one of my favorites, because's relatively easy, and I'm getting better at it all the time, it's delicious, and the leftovers are great.

This was Saturday night dinner (and Sunday lunch, and probably Monday dinner as well). 

I started with a pan in which to brown the meat. This time, I used a giant Dutch oven. I put it on the burner and melted some bacon fat. (I always keep some bacon fat in the fridge and so should you. It keeps fine and adds that wonderful flavor.)

While the fat is getting hot, I dry off the chuck roast. See those veins of fat? That's what you want. That will make the roast juicy and tender and cause it to fall apart nicely.

Then I coated the roast with garlic powder, black pepper and salt, and lots of it. Then I coated both sides with flour, about a teaspoon for each side.

That went into the pot, and I browned it on both sides. While that took place, I chopped up a couple of onions, four carrots and four ribs of celery. When the meat was ready, I threw the vegetables in. In the past, I've transferred the roast to another pan, but this time, I decided to keep it in the Dutch oven.

On top of this, I poured about a half cup of leftover white wine, and I had some leftover broth. Remember the sloppy joes I made the other day? That involved cooking up 16 lbs. of beef, yielding a lot of fat, and some broth. I saved the drippings and put them in the fridge. It was mostly fat, which I discarded; it was a little tricky chipping through all that tallow, but I did it, and had a nice bit of broth with only a little fat left behind; and who minds that? That got dumped on top as well.

 This went into the oven set at 275 degrees, and I went over to church for confessions and Mass. About three hours later, it looked like this:

On my plate, it looked like this:

I opened some Merlot, and that tasted pretty good with it; I think I'd have liked Cabernet better.

Verdict? Delicious! Maybe my best pot roast yet! I decided to turn down the temperature this time, and I think that made the difference.

Again, this is easy, and it would be easy to vary it. Potatoes or tomatoes would work, and if you wanted a little heat, you could add some red pepper flakes. I added more salt when I ate it, but I like a lot of salt. It might also be good with spinach, except it would make sense to add the spinach late; I think it might not be so nice if it cooked for three hours.

If you want to make any suggestions, I'm all ears!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Gaze of Christ (Sunday homily)

The other day, I was looking up some passages of Scripture; 
and I pulled off my shelf a bible, which I bought many years ago. 
And when I found the passage I was looking for, 
I looked in the margin, and saw some notes 
I wrote there many years ago, on a sermon I heard, 
about a passage in which God said, “seek my face.”

The Protestant pastor, whose sermon I listened to, 
was a man named Clyde Miller. 
And he asked: why does God want us to seek his face? 
And he made several points:

First, because that’s not what we naturally or necessarily do. 
Instead, we avoid seeking God’s face. We give a nod and move past. 
Seeking God’s face takes effort.

Second, because God wants to communicate with us: face-to-face.

And, third, because “who we keep an eye on is our role-model;
 what we keep our eye on is our goal.”

And then a few days later, I looked at today’s Gospel. 
Notice what Zacchaeus does: he wants to see Jesus. 
He climbs a tree, which isn’t an especially easy or dignified thing to do. 
He really wanted it!

And, notice, of course, 
that Jesus really wanted to see Zacchaeus as well!

Let’s pause and picture that scene. 
Zacchaeus is clambering up the tree. 
Even once up the tree, 
it might not have been easy to find a good perch.
And then he waited, while Jesus came closer.

Then when Jesus reached the spot, “he looked up.” 
Zacchaeus was gazing down, and Jesus met his gaze. 
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to consider?

That kind of encounter doesn’t happen that often. 
Parent to child; friend to friend; lover to beloved. 
Only certain times are we ready for it, ready to be that open.
But God wants that encounter with every one of us. 
If we are willing to risk it, we can meet his gaze!

Of course, what I’m talking about is prayer. 
But I mean more than the ritual, the form of prayer; 
I mean the very heart of prayer, which is an encounter with Jesus; 
my gaze, meeting his. 

The heart of prayer, the heart of faith, 
is that meeting, that openness, 
when in whatever words, or even in no words, 
Jesus calls, as he called his Apostles, as he called Zacchaeus:
I want to be friends with you! 

And we meet his gaze, and respond: 
Yes! Jesus, I want to see you, know you, serve you, and love you! 
When we seek his face, his gaze, and he seeks ours, 
anything can happen. That spark lights the fire within us.
In your pews you’ll see cards. 
As we did a year ago at this time, 
in anticipation of Advent and Christmas, 
we have an opportunity for everyone to grow in our faith. 
And if you look, you’ll see the topic is prayer.

Prayer is a tricky thing: we think it’s easy, but it’s hard; 
we think it’s hard, but it’s easy. 
It’s both as easy and as hard as meeting the gaze of Christ, 
and letting him look back at us.

As was the case last year, 
the material we will be looking at is available online. 
And we’ll also set up some discussion groups, 
because a lot of folks find that is really helpful. 
It’s a way to meet people, so if you don’t know many people, sign up! 

It’s a way to sort out questions. 
And a lot of folks sign up for the group 
because it keeps them accountable, 
and it kind of forces them to review the material. 
Sort of like having a workout buddy who knocks on your door at 6 am, rain or shine!

So, this is an opportunity. It won’t cost anything. No obligation. 
And you can use this any way you want. 
Look at the material on your phone, 
or during lunch at work, or sometime at home. 
Look at some, not the rest. Take what you want.

Come to the discussion groups if you want – or not!
Create your own group with family or friends.
This is a resource and a tool; make the most of it.

Prayer is something a lot of folks would like to be better at, 
but aren’t sure just how to do it. 
I hope this helps. 
So, if you want to, fill out the card and return it in the collection, 
this week or next. 

Now, let’s notice something about Zacchaeus. 
Gazing at Christ, who gazed back, changed everything. 

It gave him the courage to become a new man. 
He was a tax-collector; which sounds bad enough in our time, 
but in those days, 
it meant he helped the Romans rob and exploit people. 

Zacchaeus needed to become a new man; 
but conversion means more than just saying, “I’m sorry – are we good?” 
That’s cheap grace. 
All the people who had been threatened and robbed by Zacchaeus
wouldn’t be good with just an “I’m sorry.” And Zacchaeus knew it. 

So he is moved to do something radical: 
he gives away half his fortune, 
and make generous reparation to all those who he wronged.

There are times in our lives when we need courage 
to take a huge step, a huge risk. 
Perhaps, like Zacchaeus, it is in admitting a wrong 
and making it right, even at great cost.

As you know, there are businesses around the country 
who are being pressured to give their endorsement 
to so-called “same sex marriage.” 
There are pharmacists and doctors and nurses 
who are under growing pressure 
to distribute contraceptives and abortion drugs, 
and now, drugs to help people kill themselves. 
It takes great courage to stand up to these pressures.

When young women think about the religious life, 
young men about the priesthood, 
what gives them the courage to take that step? 
It is meeting the gaze of Christ.

Thankfully, you and I don’t have to wait for that. 
At this and every Mass, Jesus is lifted up – 
as once on the Cross, now he is lifted up upon the altar. 
And, if we are properly prepared, spiritually, 
we approach him, and he enters under our roof in the Holy Eucharist.

Seek his face. Seek his gaze. Today. Now.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Recipe time: Sloppy Joes

This month, the St. Vincent de Paul Society is sponsoring another Casserole Crusade: they ask parishioners to prepare homemade casseroles, using recipes and pans the committee provides after Mass. Then the casseroles are collected two weeks later, and will be delivered to area soup kitchens.

I've taken some, and the last couple of times, I took four pans, and I challenged other folks at Mass to do the same.

So, today was the day to make the casseroles. I chose Sloppy Joes, using the recipe provided, times four:

4 lbs hamburger
12 oz. tomato paste
1 cup onions, chopped fine
4 tbsn prepared mustard
2 tbsn Worcestershire sauce
1 cup catsup
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup water

First, I ran to the store to get my supplies. I got those things I figured I wouldn't have enough of at home. Later, I discovered my mistake...

Here is a picture of all 16 lbs of ground beef in one pan. I quickly realized that wouldn't work, so I got out another pan.

As the meat browned, I got my other ingredients together. I used my food processor to chop up the onions, which made me cry -- a lot!

As I'm measuring out the other ingredients in a bowl -- in between checking on the meat -- I discovered I didn't have enough catsup. So what to do? I decided I would use another can of tomato paste, of which I had plenty in the cupboard. That's when my cheap can opener decided to fail, after I'd opened one can, and half-opened another. So what to do?

I got out my old fashioned beer-can opener -- you know, the type with the pointed edge for opening juice cans. The result looked like this:

The cheap can opener was thrown away, with the rinsed out cans. (Then went in "recycling.")

As a result of this complication, It was a trick getting the tomato paste out of the cans cleanly, so I resorted to some water, and while the recipe called for it, I lost track of how much I'd added. I didn't want to make it watery, so I didn't add any more. In retrospect, I probably could have added more.

Anyway, here's the sauce, with all the other ingredients.

Here's all the meat (less what ended up on the floor, or in my belly!)

 Here's the final product, portioned out in the pans (two more not shown).

I put the lids on these and stuck them in the freezer. They have to be frozen solid when they are dropped off.

So, how did it taste? Pretty good, a little strong on mustard. I thought about adding some barbeque sauce, but wasn't sure -- including, how old that bottle of barbeque sauce was! Better to leave it alone.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

'Lessons in Prayer' (Sunday homily)

If you’re looking for some thread 
that links all of today’s readings together, 
may I suggest it is “Lessons on Prayer.” 
Let’s see what they tell us.

The first lesson – from the first reading – 
is that if you want God to hear you, then hear the cry of the poor. 
Scripture couldn’t be clearer: 
if we stop our ears to those in need around us, 
God will stop his ears to us.

Some practical applications: if you’re in school, 
chances are there is someone who is smaller, 
who might be new, who doesn’t fit in. 
Will you stand up for that boy or girl?

As a society, there are lots of ways we hear the cry of the poor. 
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is doing a great job 
organizing efforts to feed the hungry. 
Today you can pick up casserole pans after Mass, 
and bring back home-cooked food to go to area soup kitchens. 
I took four pans; it’s not that hard; 
who else can make four casseroles for the hungry?

But beyond charity are issues of justice. 
No one in our society is more poor and abandoned 
than the unborn child. 

So it’s critical that you and I never stop working 
in every way to help them, 
by helping their mothers who face terrible difficulties, 
by bearing witness, and by working for laws to protect the unborn. 

So, again, let me highlight some ways you can help. 
Rustic Hope is gathering diapers for mothers, 
and on Tuesday, many of us – including me – 
will go down to Kettering to bear witness at the abortion facility there. 
And in a few weeks, we’ll cast votes 
for who will serve in many public offices. 
Will the people we elect hear the cry of the weak, 
the left out and the forgotten?

The second lesson we can learn about prayer comes from Saint Paul. 
And that is to realize that prayer 
isn’t about our telling God what to do; 
but rather, it’s about us opening our hearts to God’s voice. 

I’m not saying you and I shouldn’t pour out our hearts to God.
Look at Paul: he must have prayed for many things 
while facing prison and trial and execution. 
I imagine he prayed fervently for God to save him from death.
Yet that prayer wasn’t granted. 

On the other hand, Paul also prayed 
to be a faithful and powerful witness for Jesus Christ. 
And that prayer was answered abundantly!

There’s a good reason why the Our Father says, “thy will be done.” 
Isn’t that what Jesus said on the night before the Cross: 
“not my will, Father, but thine”? 
Or, to put it another way, 
we recall the beautiful words of the poet Dante: 
“In your will is our peace.”

The third lesson we can learn is from the Gospel. 
Do we come to God in humility? Do we recognize our true need? 
The Pharisee did a good job saying thank you, and that’s good, 
but did you notice, he didn’t ask for anything?

Saint Augustine once said that God longs to give us good gifts, 
but sometimes, our hands are full, and we aren’t ready to accept them; 
we need to lose the things we’re holding onto, 
before we can accept what he offers. 

When things are going well, it is tempting to forget how needy we are.

If you and I lived in that time, 
and we met both the Pharisee and the tax collector, 
most of us, I think, would be more comfortable with the Pharisee. 
He was respectable, lived an upright life, he followed the rules; 
he was a good neighbor. He had it all together.

The tax collector, on the other hand, was a cheat, a thief, 
someone who took sides with the Roman oppressors. 
He might have had money and power, but he couldn’t be trusted.

These two men couldn’t be more different, 
and yet they were equal in having access to God. 
They were both able to come into God’s presence and pray.

So why did one go away justified, as Jesus said, and the other did not? 
Because one came in humility, in need, and asked for something: 
“have mercy!” The Pharisee could have done the same, but did not.

If we want our prayer to be heard, try starting with those words: 
“have mercy on me, a sinner.” 
And it’s not just words, but a profound recognition: I am a sinner. 
I need God in the most fundamental way. 
It’s not just that I need this or that thing from God, 
and then I’m done; but that I need GOD. I need MERCY.

So, practical advice: 
we might find our prayer gets deeper and more real 
if we make regular visits to confession; and face our real needs. 
Not avoid them; face them. “Have mercy on me, a sinner.”

One final lesson on prayer, 
and it comes from the backstory of today’s Gospel. 
Did you realize that we’ve heard 
Jesus teaching about prayer and perseverance 
over the last four Sundays? 

These episodes come from the journey Jesus was making, 
with the apostles, to Jerusalem. 
And along the way, he kept teaching them about prayer. 
Why might he have done that?

He knows what lies ahead in Jerusalem: his suffering and death! 
He’d told the Apostles, yet they didn’t understand.

But Jesus did. He was preparing them.

Well, Jesus is preparing us, too!
You and I don’t know what crises lie ahead, 
whether for ourselves, our community, our country, or our Church. 
But lots of storms are brewing. 
What can help us weather the storm? 

Pray: pray admitting we need God. 
Pray not to tell God what to do, but to hear God’s will, 
and to accept it. 
And remember the poor and needy who pray beside you; 
God wants you to be their answer.