Sunday, January 19, 2020

How St. Remigius changed the world -- and you can, too! (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border of present-day 
France, Belgium and Germany; 
an area where many of the first settlers of this community came from.

As a boy, Remy was bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
The once-mighty Roman Empire was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have done so, 
had Remigius been mainly about being Roman
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Can anyone doubt that the prevailing values and beliefs 
of our society are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day?
We’re facing very much the situation St. Remy faced.

Bishop Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his soldiers were also baptized. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
What we do know is he did not retreat.

And even though his world and its challenges 
were very different from ours, 
his main response – his daily plan – was pretty much the same.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”

It’s not about how much you know, or memorizing certain phrases;
That’s what many of our fellow Christians do.
They tell their folks, memorize these scriptures or these arguments, 
and now go knock on people’s doors.

But Catholic evangelization is different.

That window, by the way, depicts St. Remy baptizing Clovis.
Behind King Clovis is his wife, St. Clotilda.
How did Bishop Remigius win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
There is no secret formula. It’s fairly straightforward.

First, Remy sought Clovis out. He offered friendship.

Second, what impressed King Clovis 
was not just words, but the way of life the Christians lived. 
In other words, the best tool for sharing our faith,
And helping others to find faith, 
is what they see in how you and I live our faith.

And, third, Clovis saw how generous Catholics were in helping others.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
This is one way our Archdiocese does today the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.

It provides food and utility help for people who need it, 
as well as counseling and family assistance 
through Catholic Social Services. 
I regularly refer people to Catholic Social Services.

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

You’ve always been generous to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.
Just a reminder: when we go beyond the goal set for our parish,
A portion of that comes back here to help pay for
our youth and religious education programs.

I think it’s safe to say that our times are not calm and boring!
Our society is changing rapidly, and we can either be worried,
Or we can, like our patron, St. Remy, be confident 
that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of all hearts, 
of all time and space, will use us to bring his Kingdom forward.

St. Remy planted seeds that grew in fantastic ways.
A lot of us here are descendants of those very people, 
in that corner of France, that Remy baptized! 
You have faith, today, because he led them to faith –
And, it was then faithfully passed down.

That’s our task today. Saint Remy…pray for us!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jesus in the confession line (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is the last of the Christmas season. 
It’s kind of a transition. 
With Christmas, we think of Jesus as a child; but now he’s a man. 
Christmas is usually about us coming to Jesus, 
but now Jesus is on the move; he’s coming to us.

What actually happens with his baptism
is pretty simple and very startling.

John was telling people: 
be baptized because you are a sinner and you are sorry. 
It was like coming to confession. 
To get in line on the bank of the Jordan, and waiting your turn,
Was a lot like getting in line outside the confessional.
You did it because you were a sinner and needed forgiveness.

So here is Jesus, getting in line with the rest of us.
If I were in the confessional, and Jesus himself came in, 
I would…beg for mercy! Right?

But I absolutely would not say, “OK, tell me your confession…”

That’s exactly how John the Baptist responds.
He says, wait, no…I need you to baptize me! Not this!
And Jesus says, right, but go along with it; it has to be.

The point was, Jesus was getting in line with us sinners.
That was always the point of the whole project.

The first thing we think about is our own baptism.
Christmas means, “God is with us” – that’s what baptism means.
But baptism also means, if you will, “us with God”;
That is, it means we are now citizens of heaven,
And if we hold on to that, not getting turned off the path,
we will be with God forever!

Never forget that you are baptized. You and I are different.
We belong to heaven. We’re just passing through.

The other thing we might think about is that confessional line.
Jesus got in that line. He was fine with that.

So one takeaway that’s really important.
If you ever think, I’m no good, I can’t be forgiven, 
God has finally had it with me!
You remember, Jesus came and got in line with sinners.

Another takeaway: if Jesus can get in that line, why can’t you?

Some might say, I don’t have anything to confess.
I suppose that’s true, how can I argue with that?
All I can say is, that never happens to me!

Now, what I’m about to say only applies to some here.
This is dangerous because some people will take this the wrong way.
Some folks – and you know who you are! – 
do their examination of conscience with a super-atomic microscope.

So if that’s you, what I say next does not apply to you!
But there are others who look in the mirror for 5 seconds, 
“hey, I’m good to go!” and that’s it. 
So just for you, I’m saying, dig a little deeper. Push a little.
That’s for those who say they can’t think of anything to confess.

But for those who already push themselves hard, 
that advice is not for you.  

St. Thomas Aquinas said, virtus stat in media; 
that is, “virtue stands in the middle.” That means, avoid extremes.
Some need to drill deeper; some need to ease up.

But to a broader point: 
what so often keeps me – and maybe you – from going to confession; 
or – even if we go, from really making it fruitful – is pride.
To put it another way: one of the best things 
for knocking down our pride is going regularly to confession.

Perhaps someone might say, “I don’t really need it, 
and I don’t know why Father Fox keeps going about it.”
The answer is, because I’m dull and lack imagination!

But another answer might be this.
Jesus gave us each a toolbox, with just seven tools, called sacraments.
Baptism and confirmation happen just once. That leaves five.
Most of us will never be ordained; we’re at four.
Many of us will never marry; that leave three tools.

One of those is the anointing of the sick, 
which is only called for when we’re seriously or gravely ill; 
so we hope to use that one only rarely. 
That leaves just two – the Holy Eucharist and Confession – 
that are designed for us to keep receiving again and again.
My question is, you’ve got two that are meant for regular use,
Why would you leave one aside to get dusty?

Surely Jesus knew what he was doing 
when he put both of them in the toolbox?

Come to confession. Call me if you need me to come to you.
You may think, I don’t know why I’m doing this, 
But there’s at least one consolation.
Jesus is in that confession line with you.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Christmas is the 'message'; Epiphany is about our mission (Sunday homily)

With all the hustle and build-up to Christmas,
By this point of the new year, this feast of Epiphany gets lost.
Lots of people think Christmas is over.

Not so!

Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts; 
he came to do something. 

The two feasts, Christmas and Epiphany, are both super-important; 
they form the heart of this season.
One way to think about is “message” and “mission”:
Christmas is the “message” and Epiphany is about “mission.”

Christmas: God came to us as one of us. 
God became flesh and dwells among us. 
God became man so that men might become God.

That’s the message: from Gabriel to Mary and Joseph;
From the angels on Christmas night.
That’s our Faith and our hope.

Now, Epiphany is about mission: take that message everywhere.
“Go out to all the world,” Jesus said;
“Preach the Gospel to every creature”;
“And I will be with you until the end of the age,” he promised.

And it’s kind of funny the way God underlines this point:
Before he sends us to the world,
He has the world – in the person of the magi – come to Bethlehem!
In a way, it answers in advance the objections people always have:
Oh, we can’t go out and tell people about Jesus!
It’s too hard; we don’t want to be pushy; and, people won’t listen.

Now, it’s true, sharing our faith takes effort; 
it can even require sacrifice and risk. 

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people, including a lot Catholics, and – 
I’m sorry to say, even bishops – who perpetuate this idea 
that pretty much everyone is headed to heaven.

Along with this goes the notion 
that there really aren’t any important differences between 
Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or other beliefs.

These are much more soothing things to believe; 
They let us off the hook from the embarrassment of sharing our faith, 
or offering a counterpoint to the world around us.

The only trouble is that Jesus never said these things.
He said the exact opposite.

“No one comes to the Father except through me,” he said.
“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus warned,
because broad and easy is the road that leads to destruction; 
but “hard is the way that leads to salvation.”

You will find such blunt talk from Jesus on every page of the Gospels. 
I think he said it so much  
precisely because we would be tempted to believe those other voices.

That said, you and I certainly must not be pushy or arrogant.
On one side is indifferentism, which I just talked about.

The other temptation is to act superior.
“We are the Catholics!” Look at us!
You and I are not smarter, not better, not holier;
God does not love us more, because we are Catholic.

Sometimes we focus on the wrong stuff.
It’s not about impressing God by how often we go to confession,
Or how piously we can recite our prayers.
We don’t wear a cross or scapular to show off.
Rather, the point of it all is that you and I are sinners,
and we need every bit of help we can get.

Being a Catholic is not badge of accomplishment!
Maybe you’ve heard of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s a lifeboat for those who are drowning in booze.
And the Catholic Faith is a lifeboat for those who are drowning in sin. 
So maybe we could change our name to “Sinners Anonymous.”

If you’re in the life-raft, don’t brag; get busy pulling others in!

Is it true that people won’t listen? Of course! 
It happened to Jesus himself!
But that isn’t to say it does no good.
Seeds of faith often take many years to germinate.
That little bit of faith you share, by word or example,
May make all the difference, but you won’t know until heaven.
Pride says, “I want to be successful.” 
Love says, “I want to be faithful.”

It is intimidating to think about “sharing our faith”: 
What does it mean? How do I do it?

Let me answer this way. If someone asked you, 
“Do you love your spouse?”; “Do you love your family?”;
or “Do you love America?”
Would you know how to answer? I think you would.

We would all answer in our own way.
Some might even be offended by the question, right?
Your answer doesn’t have to be fancy or intellectual;
it just has to be true; and then people will believe you.

And it’s the same here, except now the question is,
“Do you love Jesus?”

Sometimes you might not be ready with an answer
because you may not have sorted out your faith yet.
That’s where I was as a teenager, tagging along with my family.
We grow into that moment when it’s not just “our” faith;
Now it’s “MY” faith. I believe.

Then, I can look in my heart and give an answer.
“Sharing your faith”? That’s it. That’s how you do it.
And that is our mission. 

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

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

There are three things we emphasize on this feast day: 
Mary’s title as Mother of God; Jesus’ circumcision as a baby; 
and his naming. Let’s focus on the last one.

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. 

When you think about it, isn’t it obvious 
that one of the most consequential decisions parents make, 
is the name they give their child?

Our name goes a long way in defining who we are.

A couple of years ago, I read a story about a priest 
who was asked to baptize a baby with the name of Lucifer. 
That’s right, Lucifer!

Meanwhile, I’ve also heard about children being named for pagan gods, 
such as Thor, Jupiter or Aphrodite. 
Don’t forget about the famous tennis player whose name is Venus.

There’s no requirement to name your child after a saint, 
but I would like to encourage parents to do so – 
at least to have one of the names you give your child be that of a saint. 

And, by the way, that generally includes Bible names.
Except names like…Satan? No Satan. Or Herod, or Pilate!

The naming of Jesus, and his circumcision, 
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 was one of the first times 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.

While I know my advice on baby-naming isn’t heeded – 
if it were, we’d have lots of little Martins in the parish by now! – 
but I’ll plunge ahead and give some anyway.

First, may I suggest that you pray about what to name your child? 
Ask the Holy Spirit, ask your child’s guardian angel, 
to guide your decision. 

Second, if you pick a saint’s name for your child, 
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.

I don’t recall when my parents told me who my patron saint was;
But I seemed to know about him from an early age,
learning more and more as the years go by.
It’s a wonderful thing to have a saint (or two or three) 
who you can call your own!

Of course, lots of us have names that aren’t saints’ names.
No worries! You and I can always decide we want a patron saint,
Or to have an additional 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!

And this day is a special “thank you” to Mary. 
When I was growing up, on our birthdays, we would go find mom 
and wish her “Happy Mother’s Day.” 

That’s what the Church does today. 

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.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Wounded families can be holy families (Sunday homily)

This time of year, we all have those picture-perfect 
images of families – celebrating the ideal Christmas – 
that are impossible to live up to. 

Our families aren’t perfect, and sometimes are cause for tears, 
especially when we’re together.
So it was with my family, growing up; maybe yours, too. 

On this Feast of the Holy Family, 
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life, 
we neglect those who are single, 
or those whose married life together has been shattered.

We often don’t know what to say. 
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you; 
and I do want to welcome you!”

Some people don’t “fit the mold”; 
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage. 
It’s not our place to redefine marriage; 
but it is certainly our place—indeed, our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery, 
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!

Let me just say here something that may not be obvious.
The conflict in our time – between what marriage has always been, 
and how our contemporary culture has re-engineered it – 
is ultimately about diverging ideas of what happiness is;
and that leads to vastly different understandings of what marriage is. 
Look: everyone wants to be happy. 
No one in his right mind refuses happiness.

One view – which is almost completely triumphant today – 
is that you and I “create” happiness, 
as we create our own lives, our own truth.

With so many today persuaded of this, of course they will say,
Why can’t marriage leave children out?
Who says marriage is forever?
And why can’t we redefine marriage to suit ourselves?

The older view – which is basically Biblical – 
is that, instead of creating happiness,
you and I find happiness along the way;
That is, along the way to pursuing other things,
Like faithfulness, duty, generosity and courage.

The really hard lesson to learn is that 
when we make “being happy” the central thing, 
we may only achieve at best a pale imitation; or else, not at all.

On the other hand, when you and I set out to give ourselves away, 
True happiness comes to us, usually mixed with burning tears.

So when we talk about the Holy Family, 
it is not the family of self-creation and self-fulfillment.
The point of focusing on the Holy Family is not that it’s ideal;
But that this is how God entered our very broken, human family.

Christ knows well how “dysfunctional” our families can be. 
That’s exactly why he came!

Things happen in our families and our homes we don’t like to talk about: 
Alcoholism or other addictions; 
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence; 
depression or other emotional problems. 

Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross; 
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—and neither should we!

To make matters worse, some of these issues aren’t dealt with openly, 
but instead become shameful secrets, wounds that never heal.

Don’t we call this the season of Light? 
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds. 
Will we let him?

Christ, who came to carry the Cross 
of all our human sinfulness, 
will give you courage and walk beside each of us 
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?

Our second reading talks about the role 
each of us has in our families. 

Christ is the child among us—should he witness 
parents berating and demeaning each other?


Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked. 
But do you think he would have tolerated music 
that demeans women and exults violence?

Christ was a worker; 
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.

Christ the man saw women as Images of God, 
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.

Men, are you and I “man enough” 
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?

And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met; 
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector, 
not the leper or the alien.

And he will never shame nor despise any of us 
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets…whatever they may be.

Yes, our families are far from the ideal. 
But this is the great human family Jesus chose to make his own!
Precisely by welcoming Jesus into this mess is how
We make our families “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card, 
but because we let Christ bring courage, 
and healing, and hope:

Not to the families of our dreams, 
but to the real family life we actually have.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

I'll be home for Christmas -- in heaven! (Christmas homily)

This time of year, there is a strong emphasis on “home.”
It’s great to have our college students and many others back again.

Many times I’ll meet people after Christmas Mass 
who are strangers to me;
then I learn that while they grew up here and moved away, 
this parish is home to them – to you – 
and it is I who am the stranger.

Many years ago, a singer named Perry Como sang a song, 
“Home for the Holidays.” 
Like so many Christmas songs, it was catchy and made you feel good, 
but otherwise, it doesn’t seem to say much.

Yet the more I thought about it, 
I realized there is a lot more to that idea of “home” and Christmas.

It isn’t just some of us who are away from home.
Every single one of us is.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.
And he created a place for humanity – to be home with him. 
The Book of Genesis calls that the “garden.”
That’s a good name; that sounds like someplace we want to be.

As we know, our first parents were not content to stay there.
Their lack of trust led them to sin and they chose a path away;
They left the Garden; they left home.

And all the rest of the story is God longing to bring us home!
He called to Noah, to Abraham, to Jacob, to Moses.
God made covenants with them, to give them – and us –
What the cold world of time cannot give us:
Forgiveness of sins, reconciliation, and eternal life.

In the Gospel of John, while Jesus is talking to his fellow Jews,
He says something odd: 
“Your Father Abraham saw my day and rejoiced in it.”
What could that mean?

It means this:
That when God called out to Abraham, saying, “I’m here, I’m here!”
In that call was a promise that God would one day be here – 
for Abraham and everyone else – not just in a prophecy or ritual, 
but in flesh and blood. 

In other words, it’s always been about the Incarnation: 
God becoming one of us.

And it’s always been about the Cross, 
because what does it mean to say God is with us,
if it doesn’t include the full measure of suffering and death?

Even so: dying with us is cold consolation, if that’s the end.
I’m dying, you’re dying? We’re all dead.

So it was always about Resurrection, which means,
Not Jesus rising and escaping our humanity,
But Jesus rising and living, forever, in our humanity!
What a way for God to make his home with us!
And as those annoying commercials always say, “Wait: there’s more!”

God came and made his home with us, in our exile;
Always with us, often hidden, often ignored;
Or else, despised and rejected: on the Cross, and down to the present.

This is his birthday. How many will have a great party, but ignore him?
How sad that so many people know the word, “Christmas,” 
but not what it refers to?
What good is a “season of lights” 
That is about no more than electricity or candles?

God came to make his home with us, for one more purpose:
To bring you and me home: home to him.
That is “joy to the world”;
Only God’s life filling our lives can mean “Peace on earth.” 

And what you and I see before our eyes – 
what the prophets and patriarchs
could only glimpse darkly, as in a mirror – 
that is what makes us fall silent on this (Christmas) night.

This church, this place, 
this circle of familiar faces, is our home – for now.
Yet we are not yet home, and God is not content to leave us here.

With baptism, you and I became citizens, not of this place,
But of that Place – of heaven.

In the incarnation, God became man;
By faith in Jesus, following him, you and I will become God!
Sharers in everything God has to share, even his own infinite life!

All the sacraments serve to restore us and to prepare us, 
to make us long all the more for our true home,
the home of which this home is a shadow and a promise.

I am so glad you are here. We are all glad to be together.
We all try so hard to make Christmas special,
to make everything sparkle and glow;

As hard as we try, it is never enough. It never can be.
Christmas isn’t about satisfying our longing,
but rather making us hunger and thirst all the more:
We want to go home! 
To be with Jesus, not just for a few golden hours, but forever.