Thursday, April 19, 2018

I love America!

Today, after Mass, I came back to the rectory as always. I start the coffee, and I remember, I am on my last bag of coffee beans. Then I remember, "Oh yes, I was going to look online to see if there's a company that can ship me coffee beans." I always buy beans, and always decaf, always the Spotlight brand from Krogers. It's the best price, and it's pretty good. But: they sometimes run out.

As I'm emptying the dishwasher, and then fixing my breakfast (bacon and eggs), I am thinking, "you have thought about this before, but you always forget. Don't forget this time!"

Properly chastened, as soon as I sat down at my desk with my coffee and breakfast -- after opening the office door, no one else is here; I'm hoping no one comes in till I've eaten my breakfast (And no one did, thank you, Lord!) -- I start browsing online for "bulk coffee beans."

Ah, it's like one of those bazaars in the Middle East (and I've been to them!); it's like Findlay Market in Over the Rhine, with all the wonderful choices! All the listings were calling out to me, "click on me! click on me!"

So I clicked on three or four.

So many choices! It all looked so delicious! Did you know you can get strudel flavored coffee? And many of these places will roast and blend your coffee just as you want. All for around $8-10 a pound.

Guess who won? Amazon -- because I have Prime membership, which costs $99 a year, but I think I save in shipping. On Monday I will have, delivered right to my door, five ten pounds of "European Fancy" decaf coffee, for the sum of $67.98. Ordering the extra bag got me a 15% discount. So that means $6.80 a pound, which might even be cheaper than what I pay at Krogers -- and I have to drive there!

This luxury that I just described didn't just happen. Most of humanity never experienced these wonders, and most today still don't. This is a product of freedom and hard work and rewarding industry and risk. What we have is precious, and it can be lost.

This is (one of many reasons) I love America!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What will Resurrection and the New Creation be like? (Sunday homily)

The last two Sundays, we have talked about heaven, 
because that is fundamentally what our Faith is about. 
To be a Christian is both to be about not only 
bringing people to heaven, 
but also bringing heaven to this world.

But today, I want to take this a step further. 
And I’m going to tell you something about our Catholic Faith 
that may surprise you; that may even shock you.

And here it comes:
Our goal, our destination, is actually something beyond heaven.
What am I talking about? I am talking about Resurrection.

When we speak of heaven, 
we mean that state of perfect union with God.
After our life on earth, we hope to be united with God.
If necessary, we will be made perfectly ready for heaven in purgatory.

But realize that in heaven, we will not have our bodies; 
and yet it is an article of our Faith that one day, 
we will get our bodies back. New and improved, I hasten to add.

Notice what we say every Sunday in the Creed: 
“I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”

Here’s how it all fits together. 
If we fully cooperate with God and our souls are in heaven one day, 
you and I will still be awaiting that great day of resurrection.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

In death, the separation of the soul from the body, 
the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, 
while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. 
God, in his almighty power, 
will definitively grant incorruptible life 
to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, 
through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.

I’d like to know what our resurrected bodies will be like.* 
Wouldn’t you? Here’s what I found.
I found an article by a priest, Monsignor Charles Pope, 
And he identified seven qualities our risen bodies will have.

First, we will have the same identity. 
That is to say, we will be ourselves, not someone else. 

Second is integrity: meaning, our bodies will be whole and complete.
Third, we will be youthful, without defect. 
Think of our Savior, Jesus, who was about 33 
when he rose from the dead. 
So don’t worry about getting back your need for 
bifocals, or shoe inserts, or a daily regimen of pills!

A fourth quality is “impassability,” 
which means you and I will be immune from pain and death.
That sounds very, very good to me! 

Fifth, we will have “subtlety,” 
which means our bodies will not face the limits we do now. 
So, for example, Jesus was able to pass through doors.

Sixth, we will have “agility” – which means traveling 
from here to there just the way the Risen Jesus did. 

Finally, we will have something called “clarity,” 
which means the perfect beauty of our souls 
will shine through our bodies. 

Jesus himself said that 
“the just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
This clarity, or brightness, may explain why, 
when people met Jesus after the Resurrection, 
they didn’t immediately recognize him.

Now, it occurs to me there are two natural questions.

The first is, so what does all this mean to me now?

And the answer is that our choices here, determine our future. 
Put simply, if you want to be friends with God in eternity, start now.

The fact of the Resurrection reminds us 
that our bodies are part of God’s Plan for us. 
This is why we treat a human body as sacred, even in death.
This is why, even if the Church gives permission for cremation, 
nevertheless the Church strongly encourages burial instead.

And if someone opts for cremation, those remains must be buried.
The body is sacred, and must be treated as such always.
But another question you might have is, 
What will I do in the New Creation, with my new, glorified body?

I have no answer for that. God has told us very little about that.
Instead, God’s Word to us has been focused on 
getting us to salvation. Maybe further instructions come later.

But consider this.
If you go out on a very dark night, 
you can gaze up at a sky sparkling with millions of stars. 
And we know that’s just a tiny fraction of all the worlds out there.

Then again, maybe you are like me. 
I like to watch programs about places 
in Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. 
Fascinating places, filled with interesting sights, tastes and people. 

And just like the vastness of the heavens, 
the thought of all that is wonderful about our world overwhelms me: 
I will never be able to discover it all, experience it all, take it all in.

But then again, maybe we will? 
God delights in his Creation. He works away at it, like an artist,
Fixing what is flawed in his masterpiece.
And above all, he wants to fill his Creation with life. 
Life that shares all his joy and wonder.

Maybe the New Creation will be something like that?

* I also want to give a biretta-tip to Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose off-hand comment on his blog got me thinking about this angle.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Heaven starts here (and so does hell) -- Sunday homily

I want to pick up the thread of something I said last Sunday.

All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 
But now we are past the Cross; we are at the empty tomb.
Now, our pilgrimage takes us to the next step: and that is heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.
Resurrection is about heaven. Easter is about heaven. 
The seven sacraments are about heaven. 
Christ went through all that he went through, 
because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: let’s talk about this. What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 
says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, 
and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 
then we “live forever with Christ,” and are “like God for ever, 
for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 
it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” 
with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, 
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 
of the deepest human longings, 
the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).
But the key idea is that 
“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 
So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 
Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 
And ask yourself: is that what you want?
Do you want to be with him?

This is a classic good news/bad news situation.
First the Good News: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.
The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.
If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 
if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

So what is the bad news? God still puts part of it on you.
You and I have to choose this. 
And that choice we make today – and every day.

You see, heaven is not some place we just end up at.
Heaven is a choice.
What is more, heaven is not something only after death.
Heaven starts here.
This is what the first reading describes:
God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

Now, it’s true that our lives on earth are often marked by the Cross.
But remember the good thief on the Cross. 
Jesus told him: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” 
Don’t you think Paradise began for that man 
Just as soon as he heard those words?
Whatever else, he was with Jesus. And that is heaven. 
If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 
then surely the opposite is true: 
that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
He knew he done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.
But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.
I don’t know if Judas went to hell, 
but if he did, his hell began before he died.

And let me tell you, that is where a lot of people are.
People who have decided they cannot change, 
they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.
It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 
The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.
And you get to the point 
where it doesn’t even make you happy; 
it’s just that you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”
That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I won’t try.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.
Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 
Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.
That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 
Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 
To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

Now, if I have a ticket to the Reds, and I lose it? 
Too bad for me! I have to buy another.

But if I have received absolution, 
but I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 
I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again; 
and I get another ticket! No charge to me, but it is not free:
It was paid for by the Precious Blood of the Lamb!

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:
“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

You might say, but even after I come from confession, I still struggle.
Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.
But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.
It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 
Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 
precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. It is hard; 
and I don’t know how to explain it, but it is true: 
you will change. It will happen.

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.
He will make you a saint!
But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;
But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Resurrection, Eucharist, Heaven (Easter homily)

 All during Lent, you and I have been on a journey – 
a pilgrimage to the Cross. 
And as you know, at the same time, with each week’s homily 
we have been moving through the Holy Mass.

As our way led us to Holy Thursday and Good Friday, 
it also brought us to that moment in the Mass, 
when those saving events are made present to us.

If you were here on Holy Thursday, we looked deeply at that.

On that first Good Friday, Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, 
and we heard him say, “It is finished,” 
And so, in a familiar moment of the Mass,
The priest lifts up the Body and the Blood, and he sings,
“Through him, with him and in him” – that is, through Christ, in Christ.

Scripture tells us that when Jesus died on the Cross, 
the veil in the temple was torn open: 
no separation between God and humanity.

So when we reach that point of the Mass – 
after the Eucharistic Prayer – 
it is like what we mark today: 
The Cross is over! The tomb is empty! Jesus is Risen!
Heaven is open to us, and Christ is leading us there!

Notice what happens at that point in the Mass.
Before we were kneeling, humbly begging God for mercy.
After, we are standing, calling God our Father.
We Christians have been praying the “Our Father” 
for almost 2,000 years, all around the world, in every language. 
There aren’t enough things that unite Christians, 
but this is one of them. It is a prayer that belongs to us all. 

It’s so familiar, we don’t realize what a revolution it is.
There are other religions in the world that take offense; 
to them, it is the height of presumption 
for mere mortals to call God “Father.”
You might recall that one time when Jesus called God his Father, 
people took up stones – that’s how offended they were.

So here we are, addressing God in the most intimate terms. How?
Because of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

Again, Lent and the Mass are both about leading us to the Cross. 
But once we arrive there, then what?

Then, the Cross – and the Mass – are about leading us to heaven.
As I said on Holy Thursday, when the priest offers the Sacrifice 
on the altar, on our behalf, he is addressing the Father on the throne.

When the priest shows the Father the Body and Blood of the Son,
Heaven is opened to us. 
We address the Father not as strangers but as children.
Nevertheless, all because – only because – of Jesus.
Because Jesus gave all on the Cross.
Because Jesus went down to the grave.
Because Jesus rose from the dead!

After we pray the Our Father, it is fitting 
that the prayers are about peace. 
It is fitting that we offer peace to each other. 
Christ has given us all the peace we could ever want: 
forgiveness of our sins, and heaven as our home!

And it is likewise fitting that as the priest prays all these prayers, 
he is gazing at the Eucharist. He is gazing at Jesus. 
He is peering into heaven.

So, yes, the Mass is about the Cross. 
It is also about Resurrection. Let’s talk about that.

Easter is first about Jesus’ Resurrection.
And let us be blunt about this:
Without question, Jesus died. 
If you ever wonder why Jesus was treated so cruelly,
Perhaps God allowed it, so as to close the door on anyone claiming,
“Oh, Jesus didn’t actually die.” 
Yes, Jesus died. And he was buried.

In Jerusalem, the tomb of Jesus is there. I have been there.
I was with a group of priests, and we had Mass right there.
The stone on which Jesus lay is covered over 
with another piece of stone – 
And that is the altar on which we offered the Mass.

Only one or two priests could be inside at a time; 
but when it came time to receive Holy Communion, 
each of us went inside the tomb to eat and drink the Body and Blood.
What a moment! But realize what happened there:
The two most important signs of our Faith:
The empty tomb, and the Holy Eucharist. 

You can’t have one without the other.
There is no Christian Faith if Jesus did not truly rise.
But the Resurrection wasn’t just for Jesus, it is for us.
He didn’t show himself to his Mother and the Apostles 
simply to show off, but rather to show us what lies ahead for us.

And that is Heaven.
In the Holy Eucharist, you and I taste Heaven.
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, born of Mary.
The Eucharist is the Body broken, and Blood shed, on the Cross.
This is the Risen Body of him who conquered death and hell!

And this is the Body of which we became part in baptism.
During Lent, we have had every opportunity to renew our baptism 
through penance and confession.

Hopefully we have taken advantage of these opportunities,
So that we can approach the Eucharist in a state of grace;
Because, as I said, this is about heaven.
Heaven will not be heaven for us 
if you and I do not let heaven change us, here and now, day by day.

This is the secret of heaven; this is how you “go to heaven.”
No one goes to heaven by surprise. 
We come to in heaven in the end, precisely and only because 
we let heaven come into us, in this life.
That’s what baptism is; that’s what confession is; 
that’s what a life of conversion is. 
We let heaven into our lives here, and heaven makes us heavenly.

That is what the Eucharist is: heaven! Heaven!
And that is what the Mass is. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Axis of History (Good Friday homily from 2014)

(I won't have a homily today, thanks to our fine deacon. Here's my homily from 2014.)

This day, which stands at the center of our Sacred Three Days,
Is the day of all day.
Good Friday--the Cross--stands at the center of time, 
and all Creation, all history, 
revolves around it as the earth revolves on its axis.

Thus everyone, without exception, 
must come and stand before the Cross. 
So it is a mercy that God has draws us here, year by year, 
to face the truth we must face, 
while we can still be changed by it.

We see the Cross, and we ask “Why?” 
Be very clear: No one made Jesus do this. 
The Father did not make his Son do this.

Before time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew man would sin. 

God saw it all, 
From the vanity and self-importance,
Wrath and pride, lust and greed and gluttony;
To the cruelty people visit on each other large and small,
From Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao,
To the crack of a whip, the prison of a slum, 
The office of an abortion doctor, 
and the uncountable forms of our indifference.

Before anything began, God saw it all…
And He went ahead. He chose to create us.
And then he chose to become one of us.

Was there no other way but the Cross? 
Of course there was. God chose this way. 
Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—we did. 
Had God never become man, 
man would still have faced a cross, but now alone; 
and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”: 
“Any suffering of his, however slight, 
was enough to redeem the human race…” 
The Cross is God’s exclamation mark 
on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.

God did the maximum where the minimum 
would already have been generous!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:
“I tell you that if God had not come down …
and given us the supreme example of sacrifice, 
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers, 
men and women of countless ages, 
to do something greater, it would seem, 
than God himself could do, namely, 
lay down their lives for a friend.”

Why the Cross? 
Consider an amazing image from our late Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the Great:
God came to earth—so man could put God on trial—
so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked, "Could God have justified himself 
before human history, so full of suffering, 
without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history? 

"Obviously, one response could be 
that God does not need to justify himself to man. 
It is enough that he is omnipotent. 
From this perspective everything he does or allows 
must be accepted. 

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and—
to repeat once again—Love, 
desires to justify himself to mankind.

"He is not the Absolute that remains outside 
of the world, indifferent to human suffering. 
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, 
a God who shares man’s lot 
and participates in his destiny.

"The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity 
with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue. 
He comes to us—offers himself for trial. 
Pilate presides—and we are in that court as jury. 

We found him guilty; we sentenced him to death.
The price is paid. God himself atones. 
God and man are reconciled.

We see the horror of the Cross; we see the horror of human evil; 
and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.
It is God saying “Yes.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

'The Mystery of Faith' (Holy Thursday homily)

Whether you realized it or not, 
all of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 
We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 
so that we, like the Apostles, 
can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 
instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 
No one else was present.

That alone would have caused the Apostles to ponder.
Then he takes the task of a servant, and washes their feet.
Next Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.”
Judas leaves, and the Gospel of John says, “it was night.”

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.
God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 
God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 
it helps to remember what happens 
when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 
but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 
how the tent of worship is to be arranged,
how the altar is to be constructed, 
and how all the sacrifices offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 
to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 
“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.
All this is background to what happened at the Last Supper, 
and what happens in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.

Did you ever wonder why the altar traditionally was elevated?
As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 
on your behalf – I will address our 
“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.
You and I will join the armies of angels that cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

As I said on Sunday, there is a sense in which the priest is alone before God; 
and yet he is not alone at all. He stands for you. 
And he comes not in his own name, but in the name of Christ, 
who is the true Priest.

What you and I offer – ordinary bread and wine – 
is brought before Almighty God.
And in that moment, the priest prays for the whole Church, 
including “all gathered here.”

It is fitting that before going any further, the priest acknowledges first of all, 
the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.
Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 
and then forward, toward Christ. 

And in heaven, that is precisely the seating arrangement. 
Psalm 45 says, “the Queen stands at your right hand.”
Then the priest acknowledges the Apostles – the first priests.

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –
 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.
It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 
go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 
That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 
On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.
In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings
“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 
face the same way, 
is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.
But the next day, on the Cross, 
he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 
His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

Very important: the Mass is not a recreation of the Last Supper.
Rather, the Mass is the representation of the whole Sacrifice, 
Which in Jesus’ own words, was completed on the Cross.

Sunday I referred to the roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Roman prayer – which is the one we use most of the time – 
goes back to the early Church. And there is one tantalizing detail.
Notice the priest refers to “this precious chalice.” 
What would make a chalice “precious” to the Church?

Bishop Peter Elliot of Australia suggests that perhaps Peter 
kept the chalice used at the Last Supper; 
and so brought it to the early Christians of Rome – 
and our prayer refers to it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 
had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 
to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

Yet when he takes up the bread, and the wine, and refers to his Body, given for you, 
his Blood of the new and eternal covenant – 
which they were to eat and drink – this must have been puzzling; 
even if they had heard him say things like this before.

However: after his death on the Cross; 
and then, after his Resurrection, the Gospel of Luke tells us 
he met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, 
and along the way he explains to them “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…
what referred to him in all the scriptures.”

That’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.
While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.
Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.
Remember, this is a Sacrifice.
Christ offered himself to the Father.
The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

And this – this moment – is “the mystery of Faith.” 
This is why he came. This is what saves us. 
This is how we come before the throne and behold God face to face.

Notice after this, the priest’s gaze is no longer upward, 
but toward the altar. Why? Remember what Jesus said to Philip:
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

And so, from the moment the bread and wine become Christ, 
the priest’s gaze – and words – are on the Body and Blood, 
even when the priest leads us in saying, “Our Father.” 
Jesus is the Face of the Father.

After we sing, “Mystery of Faith,” 
the priest’s gaze is on Jesus on the altar, 
but he begs the Father to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”
We know there is no doubt the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 
and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 
Everything in the Old Testament led to this.
This moment is the pivot point of all human history.
Kings and conquerors, scientists and statesmen, 
think they are doing great things; 
but nothing is more powerful than this: this Mass!

That is why it is astounding that anyone can say, 
“I have better things to do” than be here.

When the Jewish people keep the Passover, 
they believe it unites them to that moment of deliverance in Egypt, 
and the sealing of the covenant at Mount Sinai.
It is God who “remembers,” and in so doing, brings them there.

And so Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” – 
and we quote those words to his Father in heaven. 
And we know: God remembers!

And so, tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.
We are there at the Cross.
The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 
The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.