Tuesday, August 30, 2016

What Jeremiah can teach us about this election

In comments on a prior post, I suggested a reader -- who claims I am a bad priest because I won't support a particular political candidate as the blocking maneuver against another candidate -- read the Book of Jeremiah. Another reader asked what I meant. Here's what I had in mind.

Jeremiah was called to his prophetic ministry in a time of great peril for the Kingdom of Judah. After the invasion of Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 B.C., Judah is hemmed in by contending great powers. Now the threat comes from Babylon.

But Jeremiah's message to the people, the king and the priests is that the nation's true problem is apostasy from God; and God's judgment will take the form of Babylon's coming destruction of the temple and the city they have defiled by injustice, immorality and false worship.

In this crisis, many say that the answer to the peril of Babylon is to seek the help of Egypt; but through Jeremiah, God warns against that expediency:

And now, why go to Egypt,
to drink the waters of the Nile?
Why go to Assyria,
to drink the waters of the River? (2:18)

How frivolous you have become
in changing your course!
By Egypt you will be shamed,
just as you were shamed by Assyria (2:36).

Now, it's important to understand how the sacred texts present the nations surrounding Israel. They are presented not merely as places to go, and political powers that interacted with Israel; they are also presented as expressive of worldly values that compete with the covenant with God. Thus when the children of Israel end up in Egypt, during the famine described in Genesis, Jacob (i.e., Israel) makes his son, Joseph swear that he won't bury Jacob in Egypt: When the time approached for Israel to die, he called his son Joseph and said to him: 

“If it pleases you, put your hand under my thigh as a sign of your enduring fidelity to me; do not bury me in Egypt. When I lie down with my ancestors, take me out of Egypt and bury me in their burial place.”

“I will do as you say,” (Joseph) replied. 

But his father demanded, “Swear it to me!” So Joseph swore to him. Then Israel bowed at the head of the bed (Genesis 47:29-31).

So what does all this have to do with our upcoming election?

Lots of good folks are rightly anxious about the peril represented by one candidate winning -- and so argue that this means all good people must -- must -- cast their lot with the other candidate. Because I think they are both too flawed, and therefore, I won't vote for either, I was told I'm a shepherd who "cops out on his sheep and leaves them to be ravaged by wolves, or by satan in a pants suit." Take a look at Jeremiah to see what people said about him when he counseled not to rely on Egypt, but to trust in the Almighty.

The parallel is inexact; I do not claim it is sinful to vote for one of these terrible candidates. The bishops have said, in Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, that it is licit to vote for the lesser of two evils; but it is also acceptable to refuse to vote for any such candidate. Here are the relevant paragraphs, with key sections in bold:

34. Catholics often face difficult choices about how to vote. This is why it is so important to vote according to a well-formed conscience that perceives the proper relationship among moral goods. A Catholic cannot vote for a candidate who favors a policy promoting an intrinsically evil act, such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, deliberately subjecting workers or the poor to subhuman living conditions, redefining marriage in ways that violate its essential meaning, or racist behavior, if the voter's intent is to support that position. In such cases, a Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in grave evil. At the same time, a voter should not use a candidate's opposition to an intrinsic evil to justify indifference or inattentiveness to other important moral issues involving human life and dignity.

35. There may be times when a Catholic who rejects a candidate's unacceptable position even on policies promoting an intrinsically evil act may reasonably decide to vote for that candidate for other morally grave reasons. Voting in this way would be permissible only for truly grave moral reasons, not to advance narrow interests or partisan preferences or to ignore a fundamental moral evil.

36. When all candidates hold a position that promotes an intrinsically evil act, the conscientious voter faces a dilemma. The voter may decide to take the extraordinary step of not voting for any candidate or, after careful deliberation, may decide to vote for the candidate deemed less likely to advance such a morally flawed position and more likely to pursue other authentic human goods.

37. In making these decisions, it is essential for Catholics to be guided by a well-formed conscience that recognizes that all issues do not carry the same moral weight and that the moral obligation to oppose policies promoting intrinsically evil acts has a special claim on our consciences and our actions. These decisions should take into account a candidate's commitments, character, integrity, and ability to influence a given issue. In the end, this is a decision to be made by each Catholic guided by a conscience formed by Catholic moral teaching.

There's a lot more to be said about all this, but here's my point. Given a choice between the hammer and the anvil, I think the best answer is to do as Jeremiah kept begging God's People to do: return to the Lord:

Call to me, and I will answer you...
I will restore the fortunes of Judah and Israel, and rebuild them as they were in the beginning. 
I will purify them of all the guilt they incurred by sinning against me; 
I will forgive all their offenses by which they sinned and rebelled against me. 
Then this city shall become joy for me, a name of praise and pride, before all the nations of the earth, as they hear of all the good I am doing for them. 
They shall fear and tremble because of all the prosperity I give it (33:3, 7-9).

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Approaching Holy Mass with humility (Sunday homily)

Let me begin by pointing out something you may have noticed: 
the second reading today was also the second reading last Sunday! 
You may be wondering, how that happened. 
It happened this way: 
while the readings most weeks are assigned, last week’s were special, 
for the anniversary of this church being consecrated, 
and they were chosen by…me. I didn’t notice the coincidence.

In any case, it gives us a chance to really reflect on that reading, 
which is really about the Holy Mass. 
It describes us approaching the heavenly Jerusalem, 
where the angels and saints gather 
in celebration of the salvation won by the blood of Jesus.

So what that describes is heaven – but how do we approach that? 
We do so in the Holy Mass.

Meanwhile, the first reading and the Gospel say a lot about humility. 
And let me point out, in passing, what humility is, and is not. 
Humility is not allowing yourself to be a doormat; 
nor is it denying that you have gifts. 

To be humble is to be at peace with who you and I are, 
with the gifts God gave us. 
The more you and I realize what it means to be a child of God, 
the easier it is to have that genuine humility. 

If I need to build myself up, 
then rushing to get the place of honor makes sense. 

But if I know, deep in my heart and being, that God loves me, 
that I am destined for heaven, 
then who cares where I sit around the table? 

So how does humility come into our approach to Holy Mass?

Here’s one thing that comes to mind: 
sharing your talents generously and without false modesty. 
I didn’t ask Carla if she wants new members of the choir, 
and new singers to help at Mass, but I’m guessing she’d love that. 
Being generous with your gifts, for the benefit of others, 
is true humility. 
If you’d like to share the gift of your voice, let Carla know!

Let me thank you, parents, for the efforts you make 
to bring your families to Mass. 
I am sure there are times when you are frustrated, 
when you feel you cannot enter into prayer during Mass, 
and you wonder if it even “counts.” Be assured, it does. 

Let me highlight another way humility is at work in the Mass – 
and that is in how those, who have particular roles in Mass, 
approach their tasks. The readers come up here, 
not to put themselves forward, but God’s Word. 

The altar servers are like the seraphim and cherubim in heaven, 
who attend to the Lord’s needs, and bow down before him. 
The musicians are here to let the light of Christ 
shine through their voices and talents. 

And the priest is here, not to put himself forward, 
but to surrender 
so that Christ is clearly the priest, the prophet, and the king. 

So that’s why, for example, many – 
such as Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah and others – 
have recommended a recovery of the practice 
of the priest and people facing the same way, 
when the priest is offering the Sacrifice at the altar. 

As you know, I’ve been celebrating Mass this way on Saturday mornings
 and I’ve started doing the same on Tuesdays. 
I’m not claiming there are no merits to the priest 
facing the people at the altar – which is how it will happen at this Mass, 
and how you’re used to seeing it happen. 
And I understand everyone has different preferences, 
and I respect that.

But when the priest and the people face in the same direction, 
it helps emphasize where our focus is – on the Lord. 
And I can tell you, for many priests, 
we are tempted to ego and to draw attention to ourselves, 
and we need help being humble before the Lord.

Finally, take note of what Jesus said in the Gospel, 
about inviting those who are poor, or blind, or disabled. 
This applies to Mass. 

If you know someone who has difficulty getting to Mass, 
what can you do, what can I do, to help them get here? 
Does someone need a ride? 
Or, do you know those who want communion brought to them at home? 
Let me know, please. 

But this also applies to anyone who thinks, oh, I’m not worthy. 
Or, I don’t have the right clothes. Or who feels out of place. 
Everyone here is unworthy. 
Clothes aren’t that important; we do what we can. 
If you know folks who haven’t been here, 
don’t beat them over the head about it, but do check in with them. 
Be a friend, including a spiritual friend, to them.

Something awesome happens at this and every Mass. Let’s share it. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Clinton and Trump: both evil. One may be worse than the other.

I've got a lot I could say -- and have said, elsewhere -- about this election, but I'm going to save my fingers. Both Secretary Hilary Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump endorse grave moral evil. Both of them. If you want to argue one endorses more than the other, I won't dispute it. But first, let's be crystal clear: they both endorse grave moral evil.

Both support abortion -- one supports some abortions (rape and incest), the other supports abortion pretty much all the time, and with your tax money to pay for it. Mr. Trump supports blurring -- if not erasing -- the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and deliberately killing terrorist's wives, parents, siblings and children. Mr. Trump supports the use of torture -- "worse than waterboarding," he has repeatedly said. Both of them support a war on terror that isn't too particular about the Constitution.

"But there's more," I hear you saying. Oh, I agree, there's a lot more, but my fingers can't type that much. The bottom line is, they both support grave moral evil.

Now, if you choose to vote for one of them, because you think that's the only way to stop the grave evil proposed by the other, I understand. I will not condemn you. But please don't let's have any pretense about it. You're voting for a lesser evil -- and a lesser evil is still...you know how that sentence ends.

This is a dismal choice. I can't remember such a wretched pair of candidates. It hit me this morning: this is divine judgment. Secretary Clinton's nomination is a judgment on the Democrats, and Mr. Trump's, a judgment on the Republicans.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dedication of St. Remy Church (Sunday homily)

Today we are celebrating the anniversary of the consecration of this church. Now, to be precise, we don't actually know the date when this church, the third St. Remy's, was consecrated. However, we do know that the first St. Remy's was consecrated on August 18, 1852; and last year, I wrote the Archbishop, and asked permission to celebrate the consecration of our church on that date. And, since August 18 fell on Thursday, we are able to move it to the weekend for everyone's benefit. So that's what we're doing today.

But why? Why is it important to mark this anniversary. As you know, last year we put new doors on the front of the church; and Father Amberger had written above them the words, Domus Dei et Porta Coeli, which is Latin, and means, "House of God and Gate of Heaven." Some years ago, there was a movie, and then a TV show, called "Stargate." The idea was that these folks found a device that, if you turned it on, and stepped through it, you would be transported many thousands of light-years to another world. 

Now, wouldn't that be sensational if there really were such a thing? But there is: this church is a gate...to heaven!

This is why we do this.

Now, let me share a little history about our parish and our church. The first settler in this area was James Thatcher and his family, in 1805, about a mile and a half north of here. The first French Catholic families arrived in the 1830s. In September, 1839, Archbishop John Purcell sent the first priest here, Father Louis Navarron, who was given responsibility for Frenchtown, Versailles and Russia. The first church for this area was St. Valbert's, where the cemetery is now; but in those days, it wasn't easy getting there, through the forest -- so Father Navarron took up residence in Russia, and set up a chapel about a mile southeast of here, on a farm then owned by the DeBrosse family. By my calculuation, it's about where Versailles and Miller Road meet, or a little south of there. That's where Mass was first offered in Russia, and there was a cemetery there.

The first St. Remy's was consecrated August 18, 1852, and Archbishop Purcell came up from Cincinnati for that. Today that's a two hour drive; in those days, it might have taken a couple of days.

That first church, built of logs, proved to be too small, so in the 1860s, a second church was built of bricks, right around the first church -- then, the log church was dismantled and taken out the front doors! Then, in 1890, the pastor had to tell everyone that they'd built their 30-year-old church the wrong way, so they had to do it over! Imagine having to make that announcement! But they did build the third -- the present -- St. Remy's. As mentioned, we don't know the date it was consecrated, but they laid the cornerstone August 17, 1890; and it was probably dedicated in 1891. So that makes this church 125 years old this year. And, since then, of course, there have been additions and improvements.

Now, this is a good time to ask: why is this parish here? What is our purpose? As the first reading makes clear, God wishes this to be a "house of prayer for all people." I had a conversation with someone in the community recently, who is not Catholic, and she said she didn't realize she could come here, she thought it was only for Catholics. May I suggest we all make it our task, in the coming year, to communicate to everyone in our community, Catholic or not, that this is a house of prayer for all people?

But I want to return to an earlier point. I mentioned that fanciful "gate" to another world. It would be impressive -- but it's only impressive if people believe it's real. Likewise, folks will only be impressed by this place, this Porta Coeli, if they have reason to believe it's real.

So do people see in me -- in you -- some evidence that this place changes us, because we come here? 

Let me suggest some "markers" that might serve to convey this to others:

- First, when we come here, one of the things we can do is go to confession. There are many benefits, but let me highlight one in particular: it will make us humble. Nothing is more humbling than to kneel down, in the presence of another fallen human being, and confess your sins. And if we are humble, rather than arrogant, that will impress people.

- Knowing our faith and sharing it is great; but what impresses people is when they see that we live it, in how we live and how we treat others.

- Another marker is how we stand apart from worldliness. This is delicate, because I'm not saying we should shun people when they are drinking and smoking pot, and looking at trash on the Internet, taking God's name in vain, and all the rest; but what is important is that we communicate, in the right way, that we're not part of that.

- Finally, are we peaceful? Both in how we deal with others, and in our own lives? So many people these days are worked up about politics, about the situation in the world, about other things -- what does that communicate? If we're angry and fearful, does that suggest we've just been to heaven? 

These are some ways people will see this Gate of Heaven is real -- because it changes us. And that will draw people to this House of God.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Division and peace (Sunday homily)

(Sorry it took me awhile to post this. I had incomplete notes, and I just didn't get around to posting them. I think I'm leaving things out, that weren't written down. This is what I can reconstruct from my notes. I actually posted this 8/25, but I'm back-dating it for the Sunday it corresponds to.)

In the readings, Jesus talks about both division and peace. So I'll talk about division first, then peace.

Jesus brings division, not because it's what he wants, but because the truth divides: between those who accept it, and those who do not. Our world is divided over truth. It has always been thus, especially over who Jesus is. There has always been resistance to him. So, understand: facing opposition because you are a Christian is normal! I repeat: it's the normal state for a Christian. So: if you haven't experienced any, why might that be?

In our time, you and I face an unusual situation. In times past, the division was over doctrine: who Jesus is, whether God is a trinity, over the Eucharist, or the priesthood, and so forth. But in our time, the battle lines are over objective truth, the truth of who humanity is: male and female, and male made for female and vice-versa.

That a male is male, and a female is female, not as a social construct but as a biological fact, isn't a dogma -- it's objective truth. And now, for me to state that, is deemed bigotry. It's important for you and me to realize what we're up against. 

I realize we don't like having this discussion, and you're right to dislike it, but there's no avoiding it. This is Jesus' point: "don't think I'm bringing peace..." as in, no conflict.

You and I are those people described in the second reading. This world isn't our home, our destination. We are bound for a city where Christ is king. So, may I suggest that we avoid being drawn into conflicts over things that don't matter for eternity? Whether politics, or sports, or whatever? The only really good reason to ever be in conflict, is over faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus does, indeed, bring peace: but only when he is Lord -- over every heart and every nation. So, if you want that peace, start surrendering your own heart to him.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Is this your last day? (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is read as part of the vigil prayers, for a funeral, 
which usually takes place at the funeral home. 
It’s easy to see why, because it offers us such an assurance: 
if we are ready for Jesus when he comes to us, 
he will not only take us to heaven, 
but he, the Lord, will actually wait on us! 
As I often say after I read this, at the funeral home, 
if you hadn’t heard me just read that from the Gospel, 
you might not believe God had made such a promise. But there it is.

So, these readings invite us to think about being ready – 
ready for God to call us. 
And it calls to mind what we used to call “a happy death” – 
that is, a well-provided-for death. 
So let’s talk about what that is.

A well-provided-for death means 
we have the chance to go to confession, 
and to receive the sacrament of anointing, 
and above all, to receive the Holy Eucharist. 

A well-provided-for death means 
we can make our peace with others 
and face eternity with a clean conscience. 
An especially beautiful way this happens 
is when family are gathered with the person who is dying, 
and they are praying together. 
If the priest is called – not necessarily at the exact moment, 
but in the last few weeks or days – 
then he can help the family with all this.

When this happens, it is a beautiful thing, 
not only for the one who is facing eternity, but for everyone. 

Now, here’s the thing. We don’t always get a warning. What then?

Well, then it comes down to how we live our daily lives, doesn’t it? 
My grandmother had a saying: “being a Catholic can be a hard life – 
but an easy death.” By that, she meant a faithful, practicing Catholic.

What’s “hard” about it?

Forgiving is hard. Keeping custody of the eyes is hard. 
Being honest and guarding our tongues is hard. 
Putting God first can be hard.

But, in another sense, it’s not hard at all. 
How to be faithful isn’t a secret. And we have a lot of help. 
That’s what the Church, the Body of Christ, is for. 
If you’re trying to live a Christian life, don’t try to do it alone. 
That makes it harder. 

Instead, seek out other practicing Catholics, and support one another. 
If you’re running with folks who are out late drinking and partying, 
guess what you’re probably going to end up doing? 

This is why God gave us each other, and above all, 
it’s why he gave us the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God. 
If you ever think, I don’t know how to be a good Catholic, 
then take a long, hard look at the saints. 

Pick one. Who is your own patron saint? Don’t know? You can find out. 
Ask your parents if they had a saint in mind when they named you. 
If not, then look up your own name, 
and find out what saints had that name. 

And if that doesn’t work, then you can just pick a saint, 
and make him or her your patron saint. 
Patron saints are not like girlfriends or boyfriends – 
you can have as many as you want, and they don’t get jealous!

The thing about heaven, we’re not going to end up there by surprise. 
And we won’t get there by being kidnapped. If we get to heaven, 
it will be because we aimed to get there; we wanted to be there; 
because that’s the treasure we wanted most of all.

So, you and I can take our chances 
and hope we’ll get a chance to go to confession in your final hour; 
or, we can get to confession every month. 
You can hope that you’ll have a priest bring you holy communion 
at the end; or, you can receive Jesus’ Body and Blood each Sunday, 
or even daily, if you want. 
We can hope we’ll make peace with others, someday, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Is today my last day? Is it yours? We can’t know. But we can be ready.