Tuesday, February 09, 2016

God doesn't think about your sin the way you think he does (Sunday homily)

Here are notes from Sunday. The last week or so I've been under the weather to some degree, and really didn't have much energy. I'm feeling better.

The first reading and the Gospel have a lot of similarities. God reveals himself in both; and both times, the human being reacts by becoming deeply aware of his sinfulness.That’s often what happens when we draw close to God. We instinctively recognize sin as something that separates us from God, which it does.

But notice how God reacts – that is, how he does NOT react. God does not recoil from Isaiah in horror. Jesus does not turn away from Peter.

Think about that. 

How many times when we fall into sin, one of the things we may come to believe is that God is against us, God is offended, God is angry, God is going to punish us. The truth is, when we face the reality of sin, we’re projecting onto God our own horror and disgust. We’re right to be disgusted by sin. Would that we all had a true horror of sin, as Saint Louis urged his son.

Sin is indeed horrible, but God does not think you and I are horrible.

The next time you are in a situation wondering whether God can forgive you, remember what Jesus said to Peter: “Do not be afraid!” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid!

As we go into Lent – Ash Wednesday is this week – what great things might God do in our lives if we can these two things:
a) Not let our sins discourage us;
b) And not be afraid of where God might lead us?

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Always say what needs to be said, and always with love (Sunday homily)

Lent is about 2 weeks away. 
Are you thinking about what you will do with this Lent? 

Now, after listening to the readings, one theme is clear enough: 
when we live our faith and proclaim our faith, 
we won’t always get a good response. 
As obvious as that is, it’s striking to me 
how often people will fall for the counter-argument: 
that you can measure what’s true and good by what’s popular.

I can give you a few examples. 
One is the debate that occurred a year or so ago in Indiana, 
over a law to protect religious freedom. 
A lot of the big corporations came out against it. 

Their position was that if there came a conflict 
between, say, a same-sex wedding, and a baker or a florist 
whose religious beliefs meant they couldn’t participate in that, 
the chamber of commerce thought conscience should lose. 
And why? 
Because other organizations has threatened to boycott Indiana, 
and so it all came down to dollars. 

Another example, which could be told many times over: 
a priest comes into a parish, he shakes things up, 
he gives tough homilies, he tightens up some things; 
and before long, someone writes a letter to the bishop. 
And in the second or third paragraph, 
that letter will say something like, 
“X number of people who used to come to this parish 
don’t come here anymore.”

I don’t know if anyone has ever done it, 
but it could be a really funny bit 
if some comedian did a sketch telling today’s Gospel story 
as if it were a CNN broadcast. 

Wolf Blitzer would come on and say, 
“well, this once-promising rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, 
seems to be off to a rocky start, 
given the reaction of his own relatives and neighbors.” 
And then they’d interview someone from the synagogue, 
who’d say, “This smart-alecky kid thinks he’s the Messiah? 
Well, this is no way to start a movement, by insulting everyone! 
He really needs to be more positive and uplifting!” 

I started out by asking about Lent. 
Maybe one of the things we will do with our Lent 
is to ask God to help us purify ourselves 
of caring whether we’re “winning” or not. 
To stop caring what others think about us.

Not that this is permission for any of us to be jerks about it.
The words we heard from Saint Paul are so beautiful 
we might miss the practical application. 

Notice what Paul said: 
no matter what great things I might be able to do for God, 
if there is not love, they are—I am—nothing. 

Which means, if we have a difficult message to deliver, 
if we have a tough decision to make, are we sure it’s grounded in love? 
Jeremiah’s tough message was always about love: 
his nation was on the road to destruction, 
and he was working night and day to turn them back. 

I recently saw something Penn Jillette said. 
He’s the magician from the team, Penn and Teller, 
and you’ve probably seen them do their act. 
You may not know that Mr. Jillette is an atheist. 

And in the video, Mr. Jillette told the story of a man 
who came up to him, after his show, 
and gave him a copy of the New Testament. 
And Mr. Jillette was impressed. Here’s what he said:

“I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. 
I don’t respect that at all. 
If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, 
and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, 
and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this 
because it would make it socially awkward…
how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? 
How much do you have to hate somebody 
to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”

But let’s keep St. Paul’s words in the picture. 
If we do have a tough message to deliver, 
what effort have we made to purify our motives, 
to be sure that love is our motive? 

Here’s a practical suggestion: 
if you expect you will have to say something hard to say: 
whether it’s coworkers, brothers and sisters, children or spouse; 
make sure you are praying for that person, 
in addition to whatever things you say to that person. 

More than that, just to remove all doubt, 
why not go ahead and tell that person, straight out: 
I’m saying this because I love you?

Awkward? Probably. But if we can’t manage 
to communicate God’s love to people, 
then don’t even claim you’re speaking God’s message.
And if you’re not sure just how to explain 
some of the things we believe, in terms of God’s love, 
then we have more work to do ourselves 
to understand what God teaches and asks of us.

For example, perhaps we're not sure how to explain why marriage is a man and a woman, 
not two men or two women. 
And the answer is, because God designed humanity in a particular way--
the union of man and woman, in marriage, open to life, completes the divine image. 
And any alternative is a counterfeit, 
and while they may give us some measure of earthly happiness, 
they actually distort us, and if we persist in them, 
we will be unable to enjoy happiness with God forever.*

Which gives me the opportunity to remind you 
that in a couple of weeks, we’ll have “Symbolon, Part II,” 
and this is a chance to explore and understand our faith better. 
You’ll see the cards in the pews. 
The white card shows you the topics; 
the ivory card is what you use to sign up.

Look at the topics. Why do we need to be baptized? 
Why do we need to go to Mass? And confession? 
Why is marriage so important, 
and why did God design it the way he did? 
You can see that some of the subjects 
we have the most trouble talking about, are in this series.

Remember, this is all free, all available online. 
The white card tells you how to find the materials online. 
This weekend and next, you are invited to fill out the ivory card. 
The office staff will link you up with discussion groups.

To return to my opening question. Lent is coming. 
What will you do with it? 

* This paragraph was improvised several different ways.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 15, 2016

Sunny in Puerto Rico

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

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

Impressions so far?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 10, 2016

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

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

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

So why was Jesus there?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, January 08, 2016

A day in the life...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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