Sunday, November 19, 2017

Do you have a lot or a little? (Sunday homily)

The first reading is about more than a “worthy wife.” 
It is about the personification of God’s Wisdom, 
which is manifest in this woman who excels as a spouse.

It’s worth considering the alternatives. 
The author could have spoken of a valiant queen like Bathsheba, 
or a prophetess like Deborah, or a warrior like Judith – 
all part of the history of God’s People. 
But instead, the author chose a wife.

To cite something St. Josemaria Escriva said: 
“Perseverance in little things for Love is heroism.”

And that is what we see in the Gospel. 
The three servants were all given different amounts of money. 
Don’t be confused by the word “talent” – 
in the Gospel, it doesn’t refer to abilities, but rather, to money. 
A “talent” of silver was approximately 100 pounds. 
In today’s dollars, that would be about $20,000. 
So one servant was given five talents – or $100,000; 
another was given $40,000, or two talents; 
and the third servant was given the equivalent of $20,000.

Now, $100,000, $40,000 or even $20,000 sounds like a lot of money. 
But if you have a home and a family, or if you are running a business, 
you know what things cost, and that money can go fast. 

These servants weren’t being given vast enterprises to be in charge of. 
Rather, they were being given relatively small shares 
of a much larger project. 
The challenge for them – as well as for the excellent wife 
in the first reading – is to make the most difference
in an unsung, unglamorous responsibility. 

It’s the same challenge for every parent here, 
every farmer and business owner. 

It’s the same for you students. 
You feel pressure from others around you 
to cheat on exams and papers, 
to try to fit in with the crowd that drinking and using drugs, 
and it seems so much easier to do that 
than to do the right thing, the honest thing. 

But the payoff is to hear, one day, Jesus say to you: 
“Well done, my good and faithful servant. 
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy!”

To quote St. Josemaria Escriva again: 
“Perseverance in little things for love is heroism.”

There’s a film called “A Bronx Tale,” and it tells the story 
of a boy who grows up in a neighborhood 
where there’s a gangster who seems really glamorous, 
and the boy is drawn into the mobster’s orbit. 

His father wants nothing to do with crime, 
even though there’s easy money in it for him. 
And one time he pulls his son away from hanging out with the crooks. 
His boy is upset, and parrots what the mob boss says: 
that working people are “suckers.” 

And the father tells his young son, 
"He's wrong, it don't take much strength 
to pull the trigger but try and get up every morning day after day 
and work for a living, let's see him try that. 
Then we'll see who's the real tough guy. 
The working man is the tough guy."

This year, Pope Francis has started a new tradition; 
he has designated this day the “World Day for the Poor.” 
This is as good a time as any to remember 
that whatever challenges any of us have 
with paying our bills or making ends meet, 
how blessed you and I are in comparison to 
the full reality of poverty and privation. 

Even the poverty we see in this country is far different 
from what people face in so many other places. 
When we think about it, we may be tempted to say, 
it’s all so overwhelming, what can I do?

That risks making the same mistake as the third servant in the Gospel, 
who said the very same thing. 
And he buried what resources he did have, 
and made absolutely no use of them.

As you know, there is a second collection today 
for the Campaign for Human Development. 
The bishops, who created this fund, 
have the purpose of helping people escape poverty. 

I will be very candid with you: 
I know that many people have serious questions 
about how these funds are spent, 
because over the years there have, indeed, been misjudgments 
in where the money was sent. 

I was as unhappy about that as you have been. 
All I can do is to repeat to you what the Archbishop has said: 
that he and the other bishops 
are making every effort to avoid having this money 
go to any organizations promoting abortion or same-sex marriage 
or other things in conflict with Catholic teaching. 

But if you have qualms, and do not wish to contribute, 
that is entirely your decision. 
That said, may I then make this suggestion? 
Look for another way to help people rise from poverty. 
Don’t just put your resources in a hole and do nothing. 

Just to wrap this up.

It’s pretty common for us to compare ourselves to others. 
There is always someone who has more money, more good looks, 
more ability, more opportunity, than it seems you or I have. 

But what really are the best gifts Jesus has given us? 
Is it money? Is it good looks or a great job or a fancy car?
No, of course not!

Here are the best gifts Jesus gives us.
He gives us forgiveness of our sins.
He gives us the Holy Spirit to guide us.
He gives us grace, that will – if we cooperate – 
make us saints and take us to heaven.
And he gave you your life, which you may doubt is worth much, 
but Jesus considers priceless, because he died for you.

Is it really true that you don’t have much?
Is not rather true that you and I have everything?
Rich in Christ! Rich in his love. Rich in hope.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Four ways to grow in desire for Christ (Sunday homily)

This parable is one that I have found difficult to unravel 
over the years. Maybe you have too. 
This past week, I came upon an article online, 
and the author, a Protestant professor named Jack Crabtree, 
helped clarify it for me.

He points out what distinguishes the two groups of virgins – 
well, first, let’s point out what does not distinguish them. 
They are all virgins; they are all carrying lamps; 
they are all invited to the wedding; they all bring some oil. 
They all fall asleep; and they all wake up at the same time.

So far, all the same, right? 

So what’s different about the wise virgins, versus the foolish? 
The wise virgins were prepared for a long delay. 
Think about that: had the Bridegroom come right away, 
all of them, without exception, would have been part of the wedding. 
But there was a long delay, 
and the foolish virgins weren’t prepared, and they were left out.

So the reservoir of oil that the wise virgins have, 
is that perseverance that enables them to wait, and wait, and wait, 
and wait some more.

So where does this perseverance come from? 
I submit to you that it is a matter of desire.
A show of hands: how many people here can either speak, or read, 
a language other than English? Raise your hands.

Everyone here – every single person here – 
is capable of speaking another language. 
We all speak one; why can’t we learn another? 
I’m not saying it’s easy; I am simply saying it is possible.

So why don’t we? We don’t want it badly enough. 

In the case of this parable, the desire, specifically, 
is for Christ himself, and his Kingdom. 
That’s what the Wedding is; 
that’s what the foolish virgins missed out on, 
because they didn’t want it enough to endure a long wait.

So, how do we gain this desire for the Kingdom, 
before all other things?

I’m going to offer four ways today we gain that desire for Christ:

First, come to confession frequently. How frequently? 
Well, I can be wrong here, 
but I think more than once or twice a year. Monthly is a good rule. 

A lot of people look at it as, “do I have to go”  – 
which is the wrong way to look at it. 
Better is to ask, “will it help me to go to confession?” 

The obvious time to go is when our lamp has gone out, 
because of mortal sin. That is a true “need to go” situation. 

But even better is to go, precisely to keep that lamp from going out. 
Sometimes it’s fading, getting weak; and if we don’t do something, 
the flame will die. 

It is in confession that we get stoked up 
with more oil of the Holy Spirit, so our lamp burns brightly.

Second, make your time at Holy Mass more fruitful.

Now, what I am going to say next, 
you parents of young children should ignore this! This is not for you. 
It can be a real challenge getting your family to church, 
so that’s enough. Save this next advice for 20 years from now!

And that advice is, get here earlier. 
Otherwise, you will be ten or 15 minutes into Mass 
before you “check in.” 

OK, what do you do with that time? 
You can pray the Rosary; you can read the readings. 
And yes, these are things Father Cromly suggested this week.

The third thing is not so much something we do, 
as it is in how you and I respond; that is to say, 
how we respond to suffering. 

We don’t get much choice about whether we have pain and trouble. 
What we can do is see them as times of grace – and if we do, 
then they will be. 

One great grace of our trials of this life 
is that they help us realize this world is not our home; 
and we come to long, more and more, for heaven. 

The final thing you and I can do to grow in desire is the simplest: 
Ask for it.  Ask for the desire.

This has worked for me many times in my life. 
Before I entered the seminary, 
I wanted to start the habit of daily Mass, but I couldn’t get going. 
So I started praying, “God, give me the desire to go to daily Mass.” 
Let me tell you, it was a matter of days!

Now, it doesn’t always happen that fast. 
I know people who have struggled with terrible habits,  
such as alcohol and pornography, for years, even decades! 
I’ve known people who gave up; they lost hope. 
But they found it again, and they kept asking, begging God to help them. 
And finally, things cleared for them. 
In their own way, they were asking, “God, give me the desire!”

If you want to want the Kingdom, if you want to want Christ, 
you will find him in the confessional. You will find him in the Mass. 
You will find him when you are being wronged and when you are in pain. 
And above all, you will find him when you ask.

Ask daily; ask every hour. Ask, ask and keep asking. There is no magic. 
But it is in the asking, pleading, begging, that our hearts grow, 
and become great reservoirs to hold the Oil of the Holy Spirit; 
and it is the Holy Spirit who longs, who thirsts, within us, for Christ.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

Lots of activity, not much reporting, sorry!

As you might surmise, I've been busy lately.

Doing what, I hear you ask? Let me tell you.

This week -- Sunday to Wednesday -- we had a Parish Mission. That means we had a priest here who, in addition to talks in church Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, also met with our kids of all ages each day, as well as Sunday evening. That also meant a far amount of planning and activity leading up to it, and some hospitality on my part. For example, Tuesday -- at the request of the visiting priest -- we had a reception at the rectory; so I had to get some food together for that. On that occasion, giving time constraints, I cooked exactly nothing. Everything went well, however; not just Tuesday, but everyday.

So, at 6:30 am, our visiting priest was driven off to the airport, well fed and otherwise having worked very hard for our parish; and immediately, I had to turn to other activities.

First, I had to organize some reply forms we got back from the folks attending the Mission. We had passed out "Go Deeper" reply forms, and on the form was a variety of ways folks could deepen their faith, including an adult Bible study group, several prayer groups, and other choices. So today, after having Mass at a nearby assisted living facility, I sorted them all out into piles, and have parceled out the piles to various people so that everyone who filled out a form will be contacted, and invited to participate in the things in which they expressed interest.

Meanwhile, I have yet another project to work on: our annual Forty Hours this weekend! That starts tomorrow. I have things arranged for tomorrow morning; we have several fine altar servers who will assist with a procession inside church. The main thing I must get together is the dinner, on Sunday, for visiting clergy. So just now I was working out the menu, and getting my shopping list together. Alas, I have a narrow window in which to do my shopping! I have four appointments tomorrow, and alas, they are spread out through the day. If I can get my homily finished by tomorrow, however, I have a good window on Saturday. My menu is fairly simple, because with all I have to do on Sunday as it is, I don't wish to have a lot of food prep. So I'm going to have some simple snacks that go with drinks, and then have a slow cooked pork loin dish I tried out recently and was really good; alongside that will be some potato salad (made by others), and some green beans I'll throw in the oven while we're enjoying pre-prandials. And I'll get some cheesecake or something like that. It will be a good time.

So that's my quick report before I head over to hear confessions in a, that is, right now!

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Power corrupts, but service saves (Sunday homily)

The problem highlighted in the first reading and in the Gospel 
can be boiled down to: “power corrupts.”
In the first reading, the priests were playing favorites; 
in the Gospel, the Pharisees – who weren’t all priests – 
were more interested in accolades 
than in really helping people get to heaven.

So when Jesus tells his disciples, 
do not be called “rabbi,” “father,” or “master,” 
he wasn’t forbidding the use of these words altogether; 
rather, he was challenging them to think deeply about their motives. 
What did they think it meant for them to be his Apostles?

Other stories in the Gospels tell us what the Apostles were thinking. 
At one point, they are debating who among them is the most important. 
Another time, the brothers James and John 
want to call down fire on a Samaritan town that was unfriendly. 

So we have some sense of what might have been going on 
in the minds of the Apostles. 
Maybe they saw the high priests throwing their weight around,
and given great honor, and they may have thought: 
that’s what it will be like for us.
And that idea is what Jesus is shutting down.

Today we welcome two seminarians for the Archdiocese. 
They shared a few words before we began Mass,
And you can meet John and Stephen afterward.

I remember when I was first thinking about the priesthood, 
it is true that what I focused on 
was more of idealized image of the priest.
That’s to be expected.

When boys and young men are thinking about being a priest, 
I doubt many dwell on filling out paperwork 
or spending time reviewing bids on new phone systems.
There’s no particular glory in making sure the roof doesn’t leak 
or in paying the bills – but there is word that describes this: service.

And it fits with calling a priest “Father” – 
because these are things a father, a parent, does.

So, while the Lord warns, on the one hand that power corrupts, 
On the other hand he tells us, “service saves.” 
Thus in the second reading, we have Saint Paul reminding the folks 
that he was like a “nursing mother,” 
spending himself in order to nourish their faith. 

To bring it home: this is not only what my job is as a priest; 
it is what our job is as a parish. 
Namely, that our parish is a place 
where each of us helps one another to grow in faith.

So, for example, we have five hours of confessions each week. 
You’ll see in the bulletin that I’d like to add another hour, 
but I want your feedback on when would be most helpful. 

This week, we have Father Nathan Cromly leading a Parish Mission.
You will like Father Nathan, but much more important, 
you will be inspired and challenged. 
That’s why we’re having this Mission, 
and that’s a reason to join in: to grow in our faith.

For example, this replaces Religious Education on Wednesday, 
so I really hope our students – with their parents – 
won’t just see it as a “night off” but as a time to grow.

And then, looking ahead to the weekend, 
we will have our annual Forty Hours devotion to the Holy Eucharist. 
One way to think about our Parish Mission 
is that we want Father Nathan to help us hunger and thirst more 
to be with Jesus, to be his companion and co-worker.

Then, Forty Hours is our “face time” with the Lord.
In other words, we want Father Nathan to be like Andrew, 
who said to Peter, “Come and meet the Messiah.”

I’m sure a lot of us have seen various news items – 
from Washington, from the sports world, and from Hollywood – 
detailing just how badly power can corrupt. 
None of us is really immune. 
Pray for me, help me, not to get a big head.

One of the ways that can happen – for me, and for you – 
is that we think we have it all figured out. We are in control.
Or, if we don’t have things in hand, we figure it’s on us to fix it. 
We’re going to do it our own way.

Instead, take some time this week to sit at the feet of Jesus, 
who is the only one who really does have things in control. 
He is the one who knows how to put things right – 
beginning with us listening to him, and learning from him.
Our Parish Mission, and Forty Hours, are a time for us to do that.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Who are least and lost in our times? (Sunday homily)

The Lord is clear in the Gospel: all the commandments, 
all the rules, boil down to two: 
Love God first and more than anything else; 
and, love your neighbor as yourself.

Then the first reading adds this: 
God measures our devotion, our religion, our love of him, 
by how treat the least, the last and the lost. 
In Bible times, they spoke about the widow, the orphan, 
the poor and the alien – that is, the foreigner. 
But in our times, who are these people – 
these last, these least, these lost?

I think we can figure it out, if we really want to. 
We know that our laws don’t protect the unborn child.
And our society increasingly pushes the notion 
that if you are too sick or too old, you should just die. 
In six states, it’s now legal to kill people who are sick, if they ask. 

God also says, “you shall not molest or oppress an alien, 
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.” 
We all know there are challenges associated with immigration, 
and with accepting refugees into our country. 
The laws ought to be obeyed, let us agree. 
And let us also agree that all countries 
have the right to regulate migration into their countries. 
And, third, we know that our country has been generous.

Having said that, can we find ways to continue to be generous? 
President Trump had some pretty harsh things to say last year 
in the campaign; it was not his finest hour. 
As Catholics and as citizens, we have the right, and the duty, 
to be a voice for policies that are fair and generous.

And then God has something to say about how the poor are treated. 
Speaking for myself, I find it frustrating and discouraging 
to contemplate the poverty situation in our country. 
I imagine a lot of us feel the same way. 
We devote sums of money to combat poverty. 
We spend mountains of money on education;
yet precisely where it is needed the most, in the poorest communities, 
the situation is the worst.

I’m the first one to say, “It’s complicated”; because it is. 
Yet the fact remains that we have a paradox in our country. 
We are a land of opportunity: people come here with no English, 
no money and no connections, and they build a great life. 

Meanwhile, we have people who are born here, 
and they are going nowhere, and they know it. 
They end up on drugs, in prison, and in a grave. 

Just because it is a really hard problem doesn’t mean we give up. 
There is a saying: “better to light one candle, 
than to curse the darkness.” 
So we light a candle. We do what we can.
For one, you and I can pray: pray for our hearts to open wider, 
and that we seek out ways to make a difference. 

You want to light a candle? Here are a couple of ways.
When you go to a restaurant, tip well. Really well.
The servers aren’t all poor, but many are, or they are just climbing out.
They don’t get paid much. Tip them well.

And if you ever go to a Mexican restaurant, 
there’s a very good chance the people fixing your meal 
and bringing it to you and cleaning up after you are not only poor, 
but they are our fellow Catholics. 
Do you realize that they often don’t come to Holy Mass?
Why don’t they come?

For one, they don’t speak English; for another, 
they may feel out of place. 
And, third, many of them are working all day on Sundays.

There is a priest in our Archdiocese who goes and offers Mass 
in the restaurants, in Spanish. 
That’s good; but still, it would be a more generous helping of justice 
if these our brothers and sisters were able to come to church, 
and we made them welcome? 

Maybe write a note on the check -- along with a good tip! – 
that says, “You are welcome at St. Remy Church in Russia.”

Let me say something more about being an “alien” – that is, an outsider.

Here in Russia, we have such a strong Catholic community, 
and so many blessings go with that. But there is another side to this. 
If you’re not Catholic, and you’re not married to a Catholic, 
and you live in Russia, 
I’m betting you feel like an outsider. 
And then there are people who, even if they are Catholic, 
they don’t fit the mold. Maybe their lives are a little chaotic. 
Maybe they’ve made some mistakes in life
and they feel like they don’t fit in. 

So if you’re wondering what this reading says to us, 
here in Russia, Ohio, 
maybe it is that you and I push ourselves to look around 
for folks to include. 

If you’re in school, and it’s a small school like ours, 
not fitting in can be really harsh. So Russia students, 
God is telling you: don’t oppress the outsider; 
Make those other kids feel welcome. Do right by them!

We have a Parish Mission in a week, 
and obviously we want to invite others to take part. 
But if you really want to welcome someone, 
to make a neighbor or coworker or classmate feel welcome, 
don’t just invite them to church. Sit with that boy or girl over lunch. 
Invite those folks into your home. Share a part of your life with them.
That’s how “aliens” become friends. 
That’s what loving your neighbor as yourself looks like.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Caesar, God & you (Sunday homily)

There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 
that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 
Specifically, when our Lord says, 
“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whenever we as Christians seek to have a say 
about government laws or policies, we often hear this passage quoted.

A lot of us heard this in the controversy over the government’s order 
that nearly every employer, including many religious organizations, 
would be forced to provide contraceptives 
and abortion-causing drugs 
as part of the insurance they provide at work. 

As you know, the Catholic Church and many others 
who objected to this violation of freedom of conscience 
have been fighting in the courts over this for many years.  
We won some key decisions.

But recently, the Trump Administration issued new guidance 
that finally allows all employers – not just religious organizations – 
the right to refrain from participating 
in the provision of contraceptives. 
I want to reiterate this: all employers 
now have the right to refuse to cooperate in this.
While contraceptives may be legal, they are never morally acceptable.

In any case, all during this, we’ve heard people say, 
“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is saying,
what government wants, government gets.

Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!
That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.
First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
And about a coin.

They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 
That is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image, 
then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.

Got that?

Then listen what he says next: “And what belongs to God, give to God.”
The coin bears Caesar’s image; 
But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 
creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 
is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 
before they created humanity: 
“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says its OK to destroy unborn children? 
And to torture people as part of war? 
Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 
Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.
Recall again what Genesis said: 
“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”
When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 
God is the Creator above all. 
While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 
you can build whole cities, 
but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 
you can’t make it out of nothing. 
The farmer can produce a great harvest, 
but he needs seed and soil and sweat, 
and the blessing of the right weather at the right time. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 
you can create people and worlds and histories—
but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 
or the silver screen. 
You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—
when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 
and comes whisper-close to being just like God,
and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,
actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!
And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—
another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.
Marriage – requiring a man and a woman – 
is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

The next time someone quotes this Gospel to you, 
as if to say, even Jesus says let government do what it likes,
you might quote back today’s first reading. 

It mentions Cyrus, 
who was the all-powerful Persian emperor in Isaiah’s time. 
But notice: it’s God who calls the shots; 
Cyrus does his bidding, not the other way around. 
Cyrus didn’t intend to do God’s bidding, but no matter.
God is one in charge.

Now let’s bring it forward to our own time.

When Jesus said these words, 
no one asked him, or anyone else, 
what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, you and I make those decisions. 
Did you know there is an election in a few weeks?
There are just a few items on the ballot. 
Statewide, there are two issues; 
and in various places there are tax levies.
For example, there is a levy for our Russia Volunteer Fire Department, 
and there is a levy for the Houston Ambulance District.
Obviously it’s vital to have our fire and ambulance services, 
who save lives every day. 

And I want to reiterate: it isn’t Caesar or someone else who decides.
You and I who are voters have the responsibility;
And everyone has freedom of speech to influence the decision.
People died to win and defend these rights for us!

And a year from now, we will have elections for our statewide offices, 
for state legislature and Congress. And these are really important.
These people make life and death decisions.
So: you’re on notice! You have a year to get ready.
And realize, there may be elections in the spring 
to choose candidates in the fall. This is our responsibility!

In our country, you and I decide who will be Caesar, 
and what he will be able to do. 
Our government often fails to respect the divine image, in unborn children, 
in the elderly, in the poor and outsiders, 
in how it deals with other countries. 

Our Supreme Court, with supreme, breathtaking arrogance, 
gave itself the right to reshape marriage, not after God’s plan, 
but after its own whims and theories.

Well, Caesar is in our hands. They answer to us! 
You and I have the right and therefore the duty – before God! – 
to hold them accountable;
and to protect what belongs to God.

Meanwhile, that applies to each of us.
You and I bear that sacred image of God.
We are his coin; we bear the inscription of his Name,
When we were baptized 
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!

Like the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.
If you’re feeling that, I have good news, the best good news!
There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,
to make it beautiful, to make it shine!

That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.
And I want to remind you, in two weeks 
we’ll have a Mission with Father Nathan Cromly, 
and he’s going to be reminding us, and teaching us, 
about the joy you and I have as God’s sacred image, God’s People.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 
bearing Caesar’s image. 

But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.
What matters supremely to him is you.