Sunday, January 24, 2016

The three (faithless) ways people respond to Christ -- how will you respond? (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, we hear how Ezra was reading the Covenant – 
which was given at Mount Sinai to Moses and to God’s People. 
And they fell to their faces, did you notice? 
We might wonder? Why did they respond the way they did?

Then, in the Gospel, Jesus himself is reading from the Scriptures. 
This time, from Isaiah, from a passage describing the Messiah 
who will set free those imprisoned by sin and guilt. 
And Jesus tells them: this passage is fulfilled in your hearing—
it is fulfilled…in Me!

While this reading ends without telling us how people responded, 
that’s what interested me, about both these readings: 
how people reacted, and why.

In fact, next Sunday’s Gospel will give us the people’s response. 
There were three ways they responded. 
Some said, in effect, oh, isn’t he nice? 
Others said, he’s Joseph and Mary’s boy, 
there’s nothing special about him. 
And still others reacted by seeking to throw him off a cliff.

And of all those reactions, the one that makes the most sense? 
Those who tried to throw him off the cliff!

To this day, these are still the responses people give to Jesus. 
Lots of people today will say, oh, isn’t he nice? 
But I’m not sure that if people spent a day with Jesus, 
they would say that. 
Yes, he was nice when he healed people – 
but when he called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, 
and he turned over the tables? That was not so nice.

And there are lots of people who, likewise, 
claim that Jesus has nothing special to say. 
We all know the sort: gruff people, who think everything’s a con, 
it’s all bosh, and they aren’t going to be taken in! 

But I can’t help thinking of something 
the great English writer, C.S. Lewis, said: 
the person who sees through everything, in fact sees nothing at all.

So those folks who went to throw him off the cliff? 
That response made sense. 
Because if you don’t believe he’s the Messiah, 
then you realize, this fellow is trouble. Big trouble.
And someone who makes such big claims, but is false, 
is also anything but a good man. In fact, he’s a very bad man.

But no matter what, you can’t just pass on by, nodding amiably.
Whatever or whoever Jesus is, he’s not the same old thing. 

He’s Jehovah God, the One who separated the light from darkness, 
who breathed life into dirt to create Adam, 
the God of Abraham, Moses and Elijah, 
the God of fire and judgment, 
the one who divided the Red Sea and gave manna from heaven – 
and he’s come down to earth, 
and he’s standing right in front of you.

“Oh how nice!” is not a proper response!

One response we might have to Jesus is to want to know him better. 

The people in the first reading were filled with sorrow 
because they heard the words of the Covenant 
God made with his people at Sinai, 
and they realized they’d lost so much. 
Ezra and Nehemiah were telling them, don’t despair, rise up, 
and reclaim what is yours.

Many Catholics today are discouraged 
because they don’t know their Faith as well as they might. 
I’m here to say, one more time, rise up, claim what is yours.
We e have opportunities to learn our Faith – 
let’s seize those opportunities.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, 
we had a lot of folks take advantage of the Symbolon program, 
available online, and also the discussion groups. 
It all seemed to work: it was free, it was accessible, 
and a lot of people seemed to enjoy getting together with others 
to share their faith.

So—we’re doing it again. Believe it or not, 
Lent starts in about three weeks. 
So we’re gearing up Symbolon, Part 2. 
It’ll work the same way, but the materials we will look at 
are about the Seven Sacraments.

Now, to be clear, if you didn’t join in part 1, don’t let that stop you. 
Just jump in. If you don’t know how to sign up, 
see the cover of the bulletin today, or look for a mailing. 
It’s easy and it’s free. 

Also, while we’ll focus on the next part of the Symbolon program, remember the website,, has lots of options.
It’s all free, and it’s all for you. 

Another way we might respond to Jesus 
is to help him bring good news to the poor, and to set captives free.

This time of year, we talk about the Catholic Ministry Appeal, 
which is the Archdiocese’s annual fund drive 
to support six important missions of the local Church. 

They are: our seminary and the vocations programs; 
Catholic Charities and social services; campus, 
hospital and prison ministries; 
the fund for retired Archdiocesan priests; 
St. Rita School for the Deaf; 
and the Archdiocese’s programs for sharing the Catholic Faith. 

There are envelopes in the pews, 
and many of us will get mailings as well. 
Our parish has always responded generously. 
In fact, when we exceed the goal set, 
the parish actually gets a bit of money back, 
and that helps with our religious education programs.

These are all worthy causes. 
Personally, I write my check each year for the seminary. 
I give $500, which is a lot of money, but I don’t have any children, 
so I can afford it. You do what you can afford. 
Some can afford a lot more; others nothing close to that. 
Do what you can. 
Giving to help share Christ with others 
is a very good response to Jesus coming close.

Like the people in the Scriptures, you and I have heard God’s Word. 
In a few minutes, I’ll go to the altar, and once again, 
Through me, Jesus will offer the Sacrifice 
that makes him, the Messiah, the Deliverer, 
present right here, on this altar.

All this is fulfilled in your hearing, and before our eyes. 
How will we respond?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sunny in Puerto Rico

I'm in Puerto Rico for a few days on vacation. Why Puerto Rico?

Why not? It's part of the U.S., but assuredly warm; it's not too far; and I've never been here -- I like some adventure. But the clincher was, I got a bargain.

Impressions so far?

Well, American Airlines' customer service could have been more helpful -- and I could have been more assertive. My flight from Columbus was delayed for weather, leaving me only a few minutes to get to the next flight. One of those carts would have made the difference. I didn't ask; but then, I didn't know how far I had to go. Next time, I'll ask.

My car rental was all goofed up. When I booked, I didn't realize it wasn't at the airport. The guy at the airport explained. Ok, so can you rent me a car? Yes, but the taxes make it more. How much? He took awhile to discover it would add $500 -- tripling the bill! Dubious, but between a language barrier and my weariness, I was in no position to argue. The place where I'd gotten the reservation was closed -- thanks American! -- so it would have to wait till the next day. So I caught a taxi to my hotel.

That was the slowest taxi ride I've ever had, by the way. The driver was with her husband, I think, and rather nervous. 

So, the next day, I see there's a rental place nearby. I call. No cars. I couldn't find a number for the office that had my reservation, so I couldn't do much with that. The car finally came through yesterday.

Oh, and I found out why this place was a bargain. In the daylight, I discovered, across from the hotel, a country club that's out of business. The apparent plan was to have a golf club, with houses surrounding, and a couple of hotels. Well, it's all here, except the golf course has gone to seed.; the birds have taken over. I'm sure the homeowners, who banked on a golf course, are delighted. No doubt the hotels did too. They are both fine, but the one I'm in shows a little wear. Meaning, not enough money for upkeep. 

All that sounds too negative! And I didn't even mention my cold, which is about gone. I might have also mentioned the swaying palm trees, the lovely people -- people are nice to you, despite language, if you are polite, and at least try. I might also mention the curious night sounds, birds and frogs, that have made the abandoned golf course their home. The food has been good. The main thing is, rest, prayer, and relaxation. It is sunny, warm, and I am just finishing my coffee. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

What baptism means -- Jesus' and ours (Sunday homily)

I’d like to tackle a couple of questions with you. 
The first is relatively straightforward: 
why was Jesus himself baptized?

Recall that John was baptizing people 
as an expression of sorrow for sins. 
So when you came and lined up along the banks of the Jordan River, 
it was like lining up for confession. 
You were there to tell God you were sorry for your sins.

So why was Jesus there?

The answer is, Jesus was there for the same reason Jesus is here – 
for the same reason God became human. 
The whole point of the Incarnation, that is, of God becoming human, 
is that God was coming to be with us, to stand with us.

So it was entirely appropriate 
that Jesus was standing with the sinners on the riverbank. 
That’s why Jesus came. He comes to be with us.

Have you ever thought about that moment? 
If there were a lot of people waiting for John to baptize them, 
that suggests Jesus was standing there for awhile. 
Sure, he could have gone to the front; but what if he didn’t? 

Can you imagine standing next to him all that time? 
What went on during that wait? 
Maybe everyone was praying silently, 
the way folks do while waiting outside the confessional. 
But maybe they were talking. 

Imagine standing in the confessional line, 
and Jesus is standing behind you. 
What would you talk about?

That’s what the Incarnation—God becoming human—is about.

God chooses to take part in all that he asks of us. 
Each of us is baptized, beginning our life in Jesus, 
beginning our life in the Holy Spirit. 
Jesus didn’t need baptism – 
he enjoyed the fullness of the Blessed Trinity – 
but where we go, he goes. 

And so, you may recall from other Scripture accounts of this event, 
that John was startled. In Matthew’s Gospel, 
John says, “I need to be baptized by you—yet you come to me?”

This event also serves to show how 
Jesus is both the heir to the kingdom of David – 
that is, he’s the Messiah – as well as showing he is the Son of God.

In the first book of Kings, when Solomon was anointed king, 
first he went down into the river, and received a ritual bath. 
That is, he was baptized. 
And then, coming out of the water, he was anointed. 
This ritual was overseen by the chief priest, and the prophet.

What we see here is a new and better Solomon – 
the true King, entering into his kingdom.

And there is an anointing: but this comes from heaven: 
the Holy Spirit, in the form of a dove. Why a dove? 
Why not flames of fire, as on Pentecost? 
Why not thunder and lightning, as at Mount Sinai?

Well, I don’t know for sure, but here’s a thought. 
A bolt of lightning tends to send people scurrying for cover. 
God’s purpose here wasn’t to intimidate. Is a dove frightening? 
In the story of Noah, a dove is the sign of life and of hope.

The second question I want to tackle is, what does all this mean for us?

When the Father speaks from heaven, he says: 
“You are my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” 
Of course that means Jesus. But don’t stop there. It also means us.

Get that? That’s the whole point of the Incarnation. 
God came to be with us, so we could be with God. 
Or as so many saints put it, 
“God became man so that men might become God.” 
Which is to say, to become partakers in divinity, to share God’s life.

So what happens when Jesus is baptized 
shows us the meaning of our own baptism. 
When we are baptized, we receive the Holy Spirit. 
After the baptism, as the priest anoints the person with chrism, 
He prays these words: 
“As Christ was anointed priest, prophet and king, 
so may you live always as a member of his body, 
sharing everlasting life.”

Jesus’ baptism isn’t the end, but the beginning. 
From here he goes into the desert to do battle with Satan. 
After that, he goes to Galilee; 
he performs his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. 
We’ll hear that Gospel next Sunday. 

From that point on, Jesus is on the move, 
constantly seeking out the lost sheep of Israel. 
He is also on the move, heading toward the Cross and the Resurrection. 
This baptism is the launch, as it were, of his Messianic ministry.

Pope Francis often speaks of the need for the Church to be missionary; 
to go out to the “peripheries,” as he says – 
meaning, to those on the margins, to those most in need, 
to the lost sheep. 
And you’ve heard me talk about the task of sharing our faith. 

This is why we’re anointed with the Holy Spirit. 
It’s what we’ve been prepared, spiritually, to do. 
You may think you can’t do it; that you aren’t equipped. 
But God says otherwise.

Friday, January 08, 2016

A day in the life...

Here's my day (so far)...

First stop, after the bathroom, was the church sacristy. I turned on the lights and put on my vestments for Holy Mass. As I am in the habit of preparing my chalice the day before, I only needed to double-check it. Then I sat down to pray the Divine Office. As the faithful are usually praying the Rosary about this time, I pray in the sacristy, contemplating the crucifix and the relics that are kept there.

The seminarians, home for Christmas break, come in; they vest to serve Mass, and take care of the candles and so forth. The volunteer whose turn it is to take Holy Communion to the sick checks in just before Mass.

After Mass, the servers take care of business. I greet a few folks after Mass, then I get the altar set up for the Traditional Latin Mass (low) later on. I like having things set, just in case I get called away.

Back to the house. I fix some coffee and some eggs. I bring my breakfast to my desk, where I check emails and do some online reading while I eat. My assistant stops in with some questions.

I have a column to write for the bulletin; also, I need to look at the readings for Sunday and get started on a homily. And I need to get some things in place for while I'm out of town the next two weeks. That, plus some things from my assistant, keeps me busy most of the day. (One of the things my assistant and I talk about is having another educational opportunity for the parish during Lent, to follow up what we did in Advent, which seemed to go well and was well received. But she also reminds me about the upcoming Catholic Ministry Appeal, so we have to think about how all that works out. We solve some conflicts -- that's always good.)

In the midst of all this, I make some calls and take some calls. I print out some documents. I send a copy of my column to the person who will set it up in the bulletin. Writing the various things involved some research along the way, which took me to the Internet. Somewhere in there, I got some lunch, but I can't recall what it was. Maybe I didn't have lunch? I did have a cup of hot chocolate around 1:30 pm...

That's when a couple came in, preparing for marriage. We met for 90 minutes -- actually, a little longer. I talk too much. They pretended to find it helpful!

I had another meeting at 3:30; in between, my assistant had some checks for me to sign. That takes time, especially when I review the invoices, which is what I really should do. This time, I was a little hasty. Sometimes people say priests shouldn't worry about such things. But I'm a father, right? My father always handled the bills. He didn't "shop it out" to anyone, unless it was my mom. That's what the head of the household does.

My second appointment just left; afterward, I saw a few more checks needing signatures. I just finished that. Now I have some time before the Traditional Latin Mass tonight at 7 pm.

FYI -- before Mass, I not only prayed Morning Prayer (Lauds), I also prayed Daytime Prayer (Terce), because (a) it's allowed and (b), I know how a parish priest's day goes. I'll pray Vespers (Evening Prayer) before Mass tonight; and if possible, Matins (Office of Readings) for tomorrow.

I still have my Sunday homily. I didn't neglect it; part of my decisions today had to do with whether I did a homily on the Catholic Ministry Appeal -- since I won't be able to do it on the 17th when I'm away -- or else, do it January 24. I opted for the latter. Sometimes homilies don't come together until the last minute. Tomorrow, in addition to a morning Mass, and the evening Mass, and two-plus hours of confession, I have two appointments. With God's help, I'll come up with some sort of homily before the evening Mass.

Even though I didn't eat lunch, I probably won't have dinner until after Mass tonight. Because we'll have exposition and devotions to the Sacred Heart, that means around 8:30 pm or so. I don't really like to eat, and then go to have Mass or a meeting.

This is a pretty typical day, although not so typical for a Friday, because I don't usually have meetings on Tuesday.

Oh, and I still have some phone calls to make. Maybe I'll do that next...

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Pork roast report.

Last night I fixed a pork loin. I originally planned to fix this on New Years Day for some friends I'd invited over, but one after another called the day before to say they couldn't come, so that party got cancelled. As I had other plans for Saturday and Sunday, Monday was my next opportunity to prepare this.

My original plan was to use rosemary and garlic; however, when I stopped at the store last Wednesday, the rosemary was gone; but there was a "mix" that had some rosemary, plus some sage and thyme, so I got that. It had enough rosemary both for the chicken I prepared Thursday, as well as for this roast.

Then, when I went to the cupboard for some garlic, I found the bulbs all dried out. So I used powdered, which works pretty well.

So this was pretty simple. I stripped the herbs off the stems, and chopped them up. Then I put them in a bowl with a generous amount of garlic, and added some olive oil to make a kind of paste. This I spread on both sides of the roast. I did this a couple hours before roasting it, so it could marinate the meat. If I had it to do over, I'd have done it much earlier. Here's the slab of meat in the pan. I tucked woody parts of the sage and thyme under the meat, figuring they might add some flavor. I didn't add any liquid. You can't tell, but I also generously salted and peppered the roast. (The side shown, below, ended up down. I cooked this fat side up.)

After about an hour or so, here's the roast. I cooked it to about 150 degrees, a little past where I wanted it; but as I was finishing the roast, a friend called and needed to come by. So I had to delay dinner a bit. He actually joined me for dinner, although he'd already eaten, so he just watched me eat.

For my friends who didn't make it on New Years, I had plans to make rosemary potatoes with this; but I decided to let that go, as I had some spinach, so I sauteed that. My friend helped me dispose of a bottle of sauvignon blanc, as well as some of the cheesecake I made for the seminarians. I had two slices of the roast, and the rest will be my meals for the rest of the week.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Are you paying attention to the signs? (Epiphany homily)

Today we celebrate the Epiphany. 

What is an “epiphany”?
If we have a sudden moment of clarity, 
we’ll call it an “epiphany,” or, an “‘aha!’ moment.”

So it works like this:

Christmas: God is born a human being. But only a few learn of it.
January 1 is the eighth day; that’s when a newborn boy is circumcised;
And also when his name is given publicly for the first time.
Epiphany: now the child is revealed to the nations.
He’s not just a Messiah for the Jewish people, 
but as Isaiah said in the first reading, light for the nations.

And that’s where the Magi come in—they are a symbol of the nations.
That’s why, even though they probably came from present-day Iran,
They are often depicted as being different races.
And their arrival is the beginning of the world having it’s “aha” moment.

Notice Matthew doesn’t call them kings, but “Magi.” What are “Magi”? 
Magi were sort of like priest-philosophers
of the religion of Zoroastrianism.
And one of the things they did was to study the stars, 
expecting them to give signs and meaning. 

Now, the interesting thing is, 
the stars and planets often line up in curious ways, 
and you can have several seem to “meet” in the sky, 
making for an unusual light which—
because it might happen so rarely—
no one alive had ever seen before. 

There’s so much artificial light in the sky today that we miss a lot.
But in those days, everyone saw a night sky full of light; 
and if you watched it, you saw lots of interesting things.

So while the sign might have been a miracle, 
it also might have been one of the delightful surprises 
that happen in the long course of the stars 
slowly moving through their million-year cycles;
a delight that only God—
who planned it before time began—
can fully appreciate.

For the magi to make that arduous trip—
it must have been quite a sign. 
No wonder Herod and the whole city were so troubled.

So let me sum this up with some questions to ponder.

They only saw that star because they were paying attention;
What signs might you have missed—because you weren’t looking?
Or, maybe you sort-of saw, but…because you didn’t want to see it, 
you told yourself, nothing was there?

Sometimes the message is troubling. It doesn’t have to be. 
Herod could have welcomed Jesus.
I don’t know how many times 
I’ve had people come to confession who came in afraid—
but left so very, very, VERY happy 
they didn’t ignore the prompting of their conscience.

I meet couples about every week who are preparing for marriage.
They are always glad they didn’t ignore 
the signs and promptings that led them to each other.

And I tell you right now, I am not sorry 
I followed the star that led me to be a priest.
But had I missed it, 
and at the end of my life found out that I missed it?
I think I would have reason to be sorry!

Finally, we are sometimes tempted to think 
that our particular part isn’t important. 
But great things almost always start with tiny beginnings.

A baby is born. Far away visitors come to see.
But little by little, the message spread; 
until the year of our Lord 2016 when a third of the world 
calls Christ their king. 

There are still Herods, striking out in violence.
Even so, the light keeps spreading. 
The word of Isaiah is being fulfilled.

Today you are the Magi who came to visit.
What have you seen? What will you lay at his feet?
And, what will you tell others that you saw?

Saturday, January 02, 2016

What's in a name? (Mother of God homily)

There are actually three things we recall on this feast day, 
and none of them has anything to do with the New Year.

First is the circumcision of Jesus; second is his naming; 
and third, is the Motherhood of Mary.

According to the law of Moses, 
a boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day; 
and at that time, he receives his name publicly. 
This is what observant Jews do to this day.

The Gospel also emphasizes his being named on this day. 
Of course, we remember that the Archangel Gabriel 
told both Mary and Joseph, “You shall name him Jesus.” 
Don’t forget what the name Jesus – 
in Hebrew, Yeshua or Joshua – means. 
It means, the salvation of God, or God saves.

All this still would have taken place at home, not the temple. 
Most likely, after Jesus was born in the stable, 
Joseph found some more suitable quarters for the Holy Family. 
And it would have been there 
that this first ritual in a Jewish boy’s life took place. 

This day recalls the first time the Gospel was announced: 
when Mary, or Joseph spoke up and said, “His name is Jesus!” 
That is to say, “Here is the salvation of God!”

This is a good time to talk about the importance of the names 
that we give our children, and the names we bear.

We all know that lots of things go into what names 
parents give their children. 
Even though no one seems to listen to my baby-naming advice 
(I’ve been dropping hints about “Martin” for over a decade, 
with zero success!), I’m going to give some anyway.

First, may I suggest that you pray about what to name your child? 
The name we bear is a powerful sign of who we are. 
And your child’s life will be shaped by the name he or she bears. 
Ask the Holy Spirit, ask your child’s guardian angel, 
to guide your decision. 

Second, I want to echo what the Church 
has always strongly, strongly encouraged the faithful to do: 
to choose names of saints, including Biblical names.  

Remember, when you pick a saint’s name for your child, 
you are giving your child a patron saint. 
Thankfully, lots of names are saints’ names, 
even when people don’t know it. 
You can easily look it up either at the Patron Saint Index,* 
or a site called Behind the Name
Please give your child at least one saint’s name, if not two.

Which leads to another suggestion: 
know what patron saint you have in mind. 
I’ve talked to a lot of kids over the years 
who had no idea who their patron saint was. No one had ever told them! 

That made me sad, because my parents told me who my patron was: Saint Martin de Porres. 
As I grew up, I learned more about him. 
It’s a wonderful thing to have a saint in heaven 
who you can call your own!

Now, if your name, or your child’s name, is “Oak” or “Summer,” 
what do you do? No problem. You can still choose a patron. 
Give it some thought. Pray about it. 
For example, if I ever meet someone named “Oak,”  
I’ll suggest Saint Boniface as his patron. 

Finally we come to the name of today’s feast: “Mary, Mother of God.” 
That title isn’t mainly about Mary, as much as we love 
to honor and celebrate her faithful cooperation with God’s plan. 

The point of the title is to emphasize who Jesus is. Son of Mary, yes; 
Son of David, yes; Savior, yes; but also: True God from True God!

This is why Mary was called “Mother of God” early on, 
and when some attacked this title, the Church’s bishops, 
at the Council of Ephesus in AD 431, 
reaffirmed that Mary truly is the “God-bearer.”

Even though this title, “Mother of God,” 
is mainly about who Jesus is, 
that doesn’t keep us from taking this opportunity 
to honor Mary as well. 

Some of our fellow Christians find fault with this; 
as if to say that somehow, Jesus isn’t happy 
when we his disciples shower our love on his mother. 

But once I say that, doesn’t that seem silly? 
Why wouldn’t Jesus, like any devoted son, 
be delighted to see his mother treated with great love?

It reminds me of a custom we had in my home, growing up. 
On our birthdays, we would go find mom 
and wish her “Happy Mother’s Day.” 
Because, after all, isn’t that true? 

And so, that’s what the Church does throughout the world today. 
We come to Mary, still holding her Son, our Savior and our God; 
we adore him; and to Mary, we say, 
“Hail Mary!” “Thank you Mary!” “Happy Mother’s Day!”

How fitting then that the Church grants a plenary indulgence 
when the Faithful recite on Dec. 31 the Te Deum
and on January 1, the Veni Creator. 

The indulgence is granted 
when we also make a good confession and receive holy communion – 
within eight days is a good rule of thumb –
and say a Hail Mary and an Our Father 
for the intentions of the holy father. 

So at the end of Mass, instead of the Saint Michael Prayer, 
we’ll pray the Te Deum/Veni Creator together, 
plus an Our Father and a Hail Mary. 
The prayers are in the books in your pews, and are in English.

* I just discovered this site is now called Catholic Saint Info.