Sunday, January 17, 2021

How would Saint Remy have handled Joe Biden?

 Today we celebrate our parish patron, Saint Remy. 

His day actually falls on January 13, 

but we’re allowed to shift the celebration to a nearby Sunday, 

and that’s what we do every year.


Saint Remy – or Remigius as he would have called himself, 

and that name, by the way, appears outside

on the stone up in the front wall of our church; 

if you’ve never noticed, go look at it after Mass! – 

lived at a time of great social and political upheaval. 


So while I am not saying our situation is exactly the same, 

I think he would have understood the anxieties 

lots of people face right now. He is a good saint for our times.


What Remigius had to deal with was, as I say,

really worse than our situation. His world was falling apart. 

And yes, I know some think that’s what you and I are facing now. 

I don’t agree, but there’s no point in arguing.

If that’s what you think – or if you know people who feel that way – 

then that’s where St. Remy can teach us some things.


In Bishop Remigius’ time, his homeland of Gaul – present day France – 

passed from being Roman to being part of the new Frankish Kingdom. 

Imagine driving through town one day, 

and where the U.S. flag was flying 

at the post office and the school yesterday, 

a new, foreign flag has taken it’s place. 

That gives you a sense of what the folks went through then, 

along with war and chaos along the way.


Now here’s the point, here’s what matters: How did Bishop Remy react? 


He kept his focus on his mission, 

which was basically the same no matter the situation: 

stay close to Jesus Christ, and be a witness to Jesus Christ!


So let’s just talk about what has so many people on edge right now. 

After a long and weird battle in the courts and on Twitter, 

leading to shameful events at the U.S. Capitol a couple of weeks ago, 

the question of who will be our next president is settled: 

it will be Joseph Biden. 


It’s no secret he didn’t get many votes around here, 

and the reasons are obvious: 

he takes terrible positions on so many issues. 

He is completely in favor of abortion on demand 

and he supports the redefinition of marriage.  

These positions, of course, are entirely contrary to the Catholic Faith, 

in which Mr. Biden was baptized and which he still professes.


Now, I am very tempted to make some observations 

about the political situation, but that will swallow up my homily, 

and that’s not why I’m here. 


Mr. Biden certainly wants to do some bad things, 

such as providing a lot more tax money for abortion, 

and that would be very bad; 

but you and I won’t be silent when he tries 

and I think he will have a tough fight if he goes down that road. 

There’s no reason to be fatalistic and just get panicky.


Meanwhile, other people are worked up; angry; losing sleep; frightened; paralyzed.


But this is not how Remigius reacted!


Saint Remy reached out to the new arrivals, the Franks. 

He befriended their leader, Clovis. 

And the result is on display in this window, right by Saint Joseph: 

Through the influence of his wife, St. Clotilde, and Remy, 

King Clovis was baptized. That changed everything that came after.


No matter what happens, your mission and mine 

fundamentally doesn’t change. We bear witness. 


I don’t blame anyone for feeling badly 

about the outcome of the election, but maybe it’s time to move on? 

Given the challenges ahead, does it do any good to lose sleep 

and get into angry conversations? How does this help? 

Especially the anger? How does that help?


Here’s an idea I have. Let’s notice something: 

Mr. Biden is – despite his terrible positions on several issues –

 a baptized, confirmed Catholic. And he goes regularly to Mass. 


He should not be receiving Holy Communion 

until he repents of his stance against these teachings of the Faith, 

but I am in favor of him going to Mass as often as possible; aren’t you?

Here’s something else. Notice who his patron saint is: Saint Joseph. 

And what did Pope Francis do a few weeks ago? 

Declare this a special Year of St. Joseph! Coincidence?


So here’s my idea. How about, starting today, 

you and I beg the intercession of St. Joseph, 

for our incoming president, also named Joseph?


Let’s pray for the conversion of his heart, 

and for the gifts of the Holy Spirit to work powerfully in him.


Doesn’t that sound like something St. Remy would do?


Thursday, January 07, 2021

There are worse things...

There are worse things than losing an election.

There are worse things than losing an election that is stolen.*

For example, losing your soul. And one way you lose your soul is to affirm as good what only weeks before, you declared was evil. What happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6 was evil; how do I know? Because it was evil when it happened in Portland, Oregon, over many months; and when it happened in Seattle and Minneapolis and in Washington, D.C., and in many other places last year, under the auspices of Antifa and "Black Lives Matter." 

Oh, you say the media and various politicians are hypocritical? Of course they are! But why do you make their hypocrisy your own?

When people argue, "well, they did it first," I recall trying that exact argument with my parents when I was 7 years old. They didn't buy it; no parents ever do.

There are people who are greatly discouraged about election results, especially the outcome in Georgia. Keep perspective. Elections go as they go; and if you think this is the first time anyone claimed there was widespread fraud, I refer you to the election of 1960, or how about the 1876 election? Check that one out. I don't blame people for not knowing history, but if you don't know much history, please stop with the histrionics about how our situation is the "worst EVER!" 

Also, let's actually review:

Former Vice President Joe Biden's victory is pretty narrow; not a landslide. You know who won by a landslide? Lyndon Baines Johnson: what an epic disaster he was! But we survived; and the political pendulum swung another way.

Even after putatively winning both U.S. Senate seats in Georgia, the Democratic Party has exactly 50 vote in the U.S. Senate; and they lost major ground in the U.S. House; this is an extremely fragile majority. It will be very hard for President-elect Biden to pass very much. In theory, if every single Democrat sticks together, they can enact almost anything. That's not very likely.

Meanwhile...

In the states, the GOP gained ground in controlling legislatures; that has implications for redistricting.

The courts are in the best shape they've been in for a long time, thanks to much better nominees from President Trump. Yes, of course Biden will name his judges, but Trump had a unique opportunity, as a result of a large number of vacancies, particularly in the appellate courts; Biden inherits, I believe, exactly zero appellate court vacancies. And, of course, Trump made a big impact on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Are you worried about election shenanigans? They didn't happen everywhere; and if you want a political environment favorable to addressing them, this is as good as you're going to get. Do you know what state did not have problems this time? Florida. Why? Because after the fiasco of 2000, the legislature fixed things. Now is the time for Georgia, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin and Michigan to do the same. And guess what? The GOP is well positioned in many of those places, and guess what else? There's an election in two years, and I would expect the GOP, if it is smart and mobilized, to make gains again.

And spare me the claim that there won't ever be another free election. Just have some soothing tea and cookies and calm down. 

President Donald Trump, in my judgment, had an extraordinarily successful term. However, he governed in a remarkably chaotic way, and his public statements and representations were especially so. I'd say at this point, he really shot himself in the foot in the last few months. For him and his team to be caught unprepared for whatever election fraud may have happened -- and to have failed utterly to have a legal strategy -- is all on him. And while he is not responsible for the violent behavior of those who stormed the U.S. Capitol -- I think it's pretty clear many of them were not even Trump supporters, but who knows for sure? -- he is responsible for organizing and supporting a massive rally, and saying, let's go to the Capitol, and then it blew up in his face. There is, thankfully, a very short list of incidents of people attacking the U.S. Capitol; but now included in that list will be reference to "Trump supporters" doing so, on the day that his defeat for re-election was finally determined. That is something he did to himself.

If I were advising President Trump, I'd say, "it's never too late to learn to be disciplined in your message"; but I am doubtful he's going to learn that lesson at this late date. The GOP really isn't impossibly stupid and they will, before very long, move into opposition to Biden; but they weren't going to do it while their supposed allies were breaking into the Capitol! And they aren't going to do it in the next few weeks when Biden takes his victory lap. Let him have his victory lap; it won't be long before all that fades and he actually has to do something. Blaming Trump won't work out very well for long, and as I said already, his field of action is very limited. He can issue executive orders (which can be overturned by his successor, and may be struck down by the courts). When Trump is out of the picture, the political landscape will change. Take some deep breaths and be patient.

Meanwhile, before and after all this is whether you have any faith, and what you have faith in. If you have faith in God, then learn to accept that God is more patient than you (and I!) want him to be. And consider also that what God considers a successful outcome isn't the same for us. God's will will prevail. That is certain. Whether your will, or mine, or any other creature's, will prevail? Very different.

Remember the words of our Lord: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his immortal soul"? Keep your soul. Keep to the law of love above all things.

Oh, and for all those on the left who suddenly discovered that rioting and intimidation is wrong? Welcome to the fight.

* I'm not really interested in litigating whether the 2020 election was stolen; but I'm addressing this point to people who are convinced that it was.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

'See the light; be the light' (Epiphany homily)

 This is going to sound hokey, but: 

the title of my homily is: “See the light – be the light.”


We start with the Magi, these Wise Men, these seekers, in the Gospel. 

They saw the light. A star caught their attention, and they followed it.


God has a lot of ways to get our attention. 

It may not have happened to you, but it has happened to a lot of us. 

A lot of folks here can remember a time when God set them straight, 

turned them around, answered a prayer. 

 

When I was 19, I was in my first year of college, 

and I was at a point in my life 

when I was starting really to ask questions about God, 

about being a Christian. And I was going to a Bible study. 


And out of the blue, I heard Christ speak in my heart. 

I can’t really put it into words, but it was clear: 

he was calling me to follow him, 

just like he did with Peter and Andrew, James and John and others.


That was my experience; other people have different experiences.

One way or the other, God gets your attention.

For these Seekers in the Gospel, it was a star. 

They saw the light, and they followed it.


And that light brought you here, whether you realize it or not.


But notice what the other readings talked about. 

Isaiah told us that the Light would shine first on his people, Israel. 

But then, the light would shine to the world. 


How does the Light reach the whole world? That’s your part, and mine.


The Magi did their part; later the Apostles, 

and those who knew them; 

and generation by generation, the light has been passed to you.


Children, do you know what happened when you were baptized? 

The priest handed a light – a lit candle – to your godparent. 

And that godparent’s job, with your parents and family, 

is to get that light of faith into your hands, so it’s not theirs, 

but yours.


That candle stands for the light you and I receive in baptism, 

and no matter what anyone says or does, 

nothing can put it out, only you and I can do that.


And, thankfully, if we do, God gives us back that light 

when we go to confession. God wants us filled with light.

Each one of us is then that light someone else needs to see!


Be the light. Let it happen in you.

You and I will not know, until eternity, 

how even the smallest words or actions of ours 

can set great things in motion. 


When you are out and about, eating a meal, don’t be afraid 

to make the sign of the cross and say grace. 

It’s a small thing, but powerful.

We’re giving out blessed chalk today with a prayer, 

so you can mark your house as belonging to Christ. 

It’s a nice old tradition, and if you have kids, they’ll love it. 


It’s a reminder that each year belongs to Jesus:

This is the year of the Lord, 2021.


Small acts of kindness; everyday faithfulness, 

when witnessed by others, over time 

become a blazing sign of God’s grace.


You and I are here: we have followed the light, 

whether we knew it or not, here we are. 

Christ brought you here to change you.

To be light through you.


Friday, December 25, 2020

What does it really take to have a Merry Christmas? (Christmas homily)

 This has been a difficult year, 

and just the past few weeks have been especially so. 

We’ve had the most funerals ever in 175 in at least 30 years, 

and many ever, of for our parish*, 

making Christmas pretty subdued for a number of our families.


So many of us have endured worry and tension over the virus, 

over the economy, over politics, 

or because of stresses at home at work, 

simply from having everything turned upside down.


To quote a popular song, “We need a little Christmas right now!” 

Maybe we need a LOT.


I don't know about you, but I've been looking forward to this Christmas like none I can remember.


Now, here are some news items you may have missed:


In Finland, a member of parliament 

has been criminally investigated four times – 

for remarks she made in public. What did she say? 

She explained what Christians believe 

about sin and marriage and Jesus’ coming again. 

She has managed to avoid prosecution so far. 

This is a democratic country in Europe. 


In Nigeria, just about ten days ago, 

several hundred school boys were kidnapped by Boko Haram extremists 

who have carried out similar kidnappings before. 

After ransom was paid, many of the boys 

were released to their families a few days before Christmas.


And this item is from Christmas, three years ago:


Two men in red outfits and fake white beards walked through 

the devastated city of Raqqa [Syria] and rang their bells, 

causing disbelief among the residents who haven’t seen such a parade since 2013, 

when the war came to their city.


The Islamic State seized Raqqa in 2014 

and…imposed a strict interpretation of Islam on everyone, 

but the jihadis were expelled…in October [2017].


The Father Christmases stopped by…an Armenian Catholic church…. 

reduced to a concrete shell…  


The celebrations were put on by the U.S.-backed Kurdish-Arab alliance that ousted the jihadis. 

There was no priest…

Loudspeakers belted out hymns 

as some set up a large wooden cross on a pile of rubble, 

near a Christmas tree decorated with red and yellow balls.”


“There are no words to describe how we feel right now,” 

said Christian SDF member Harou Aram.


All of which raises the question: what, precisely, 

do you and I need in order to have a Merry Christmas?


If you aren’t all tuckered out on Christmas movies and stories, 

maybe take time to read a story by O. Henry, 

called “The Gift of the Magi.” There’s probably a movie or TV version.

It’s the beautiful story of a poor couple, 

having almost nothing to give each other for Christmas but their love. 


With all we’ve been through, the thing that we all had was each other. 

Our families, friends and neighbors. 

When we had some funerals this year, with the church almost empty, 

the streets of Russia were full. 


As people have faced needs for food and furniture 

and utilities and rent, behind the scenes, 

things get delivered, bills get paid. 

Our seminarian, Isaiah Callan, helped butcher his first steer – 

the meat was for hungry people – and I think he’s been back again.


A lot has gone wrong, to be sure, 

but don’t miss the fact that a lot has gone right. More than we realize.

You and I can take so much for granted!


Our church is not a bombed out rubble, and its doors are – 

and always were and with God’s help, always will be – open.


All this is a reflection and an effect of what brings us here, now: 

that God has entered the world, and given birth to hope. 

The light of heaven shines in the face of a child, 

and is reflected in your face and mine, 

and we cannot help but smile and feel joy and courage. 


You and I can only avoid hope by staying away…


But a funny thing happened this year, in Russia. 

Despite all that we’ve been through, and all that can discourage us, 

we didn’t “stay away.” 

I’ve hated having to ask people to attend Mass on weekdays, 

instead of Sunday, and God willing, before long, 

that advice will no longer be needed. 


But it’s an encouraging thing to say, 

“I’m sorry, Archbishop, but people just keep coming to church!” 


And I can report to you that for months, many months, 

more folks have been coming to confession. 

After the New Year, I’ll be adding some times for confessions. 

Whatever else that it is, it is more proof of God’s grace.


It has been rough. But our Lord chose to be born to a poor couple, 

oppressed by pagan Romans, huddling in a barn with farm animals. 

Lots of reasons to be discouraged, 

and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple, 

they found out even more trouble lay ahead for him and them. 


The joy of Christmas is not our prosperity or our stuff, 

or our national strength, or our success in business or sports. 


No, it is the realization that Heaven has stooped down to earth, 

become one of us, and said to each and all: 

“Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, 

and I will give you rest.” 

The Son of God, born a child of earth, 

came that you and I can be reborn as children of God. 

And a little child will lead them – all the way to heaven.


What does it take, exactly, to have a Merry Christmas?


* After Midnight Mass, I realized the original claim might be overstated.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Whose House? (Sunday homily)

 In the first reading, King David wants to build a house for God. 

God tells David: he doesn’t really need it. 

Instead, God says that what David really needs to do 

is to allow God to build Israel’s “house.”


What does that mean?


First, it means that David – and those who would be king after him – 

are to be concerned with the spiritual welfare of the nation. 

If the nation is founded squarely on God, and centered on God, 

the nation will be secure. 

Then the house of God to be built will serve its purpose.


That was advice David’s son, Solomon – 

who ultimately built the temple – failed to follow. 

And so the kingdom of Israel gradually turned away from God; 

and the temple was destroyed.


But notice, as important as the temple was, 

what determined Israel’s fate was the faith of the people.


And what applies to the nation 

applies to the community, the parish and the family.


This church, which is beautiful, 

thanks to the sacrifices and care of many generations,  

is not something God needs. 

It is something we need, however. 

We need this house of prayer, this place of sacrifice. 


But a beautiful church doesn’t keep God at the center. 

That depends on us, and the choices each of us makes every day.


Above all, it depends on doing as we see Mary doing in the Gospel. 

She makes herself a house of God; a home for God.


As Saint Augustine said so beautifully of our Lady: 

she first conceived Jesus by faith in her heart, 

before she conceived him in her womb.


Your task and mine is to make our lives homes for Jesus. 

That is, someplace he lives – as opposed to being a guest.


I wonder: is Jesus really welcome to live in our lives? 

Or is he merely a guest? 


Guests don’t expect to go into every room, 

and they know not to stay too long. 

Some parts of the house remain private, because it’s not their house.


What would change in our lives – 

or for that matter, in our actual houses – 

if, instead of greeting Jesus at the door as a guest, 

we instead handed him the keys?


“It’s your house now, Lord; do what you wish with it.”


So with our house; so with our business, our farm, our car; 

so with our talents and gifts; 

so with our money and savings; 

so with our time, every day. 

So with all of our lives.


“It’s all yours Lord. Do with them as you wish.”


Sunday, December 13, 2020

Called to be mirror of eternity (Sunday homily)

 You’ve heard me say before that Advent is mainly about eternity; 

it is about Christmas because that is a down-payment on eternity.


One of the reasons this is worth emphasizing 

is because it helps us be clear about Christmas too;

so we don’t misunderstand Christmas, the way our society does.


Stop and consider the way we celebrate Christmas as a society; 

and you’ll see that it actually distorts our focus. 

We start seeing ads and TV specials hinting at Christmas 

back in September, even August.


Once Hallowe’en is over, it’s all Christmas, all the time, for two months.

More, more, MOAR! Till we arrive at December 25, CHRISTMAS! Exhaustion! It’s over! Here come the bills, ouch!


See what we’ve done? We’ve turned Christmas into the climax.

But what if that’s all wrong?

Christmas isn’t the END; it’s the BEGINNING. 

It is the down payment on the complete redemption of humanity; 

on the New Creation, on what lies ahead for each of us.


Christmas is the first, concrete beginning of salvation –

of a relationship with God being possible, of heaven being opened.


If someone asks, why be a Christian, the short answer is, 

because of the eternity Jesus offers us.


Jesus came to fix what went wrong with humanity.

That’s why he was born; that’s why he died and rose.

You and I join our lives to his, living for him, watching for him, 

Till he comes again to bring us to that fullness of life.

Our life is to be what Advent models for us:

Keeping our gaze on the far horizon of eternal life.


This is a good time to recall the ancient Christian practice 

of giving up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom, 

which lives on in priests and religious, of course. 


Why should anyone give up marriage for the sake of the Kingdom?

So many people, especially in our time, simply do not understand it.

Nor do they get why anyone would take vows in religious life, 

and enter a convent or monastery. 


Is it because we think marriage is something bad? 

Hardly: we call it a sacrament. Marriage is something very, very good.


And that is precisely the point. 

There’s nothing noteworthy about giving up a bad thing. 

But when someone gives up something extraordinarily good, 

the natural question is, why?


And the answer is, they are looking to something better. 

To eternity. That is why when you see religious sisters and brothers, 

their faces are lit with an other-worldly light. 

They have given up possessions and the world and marriage, 

and they are full of joy.


To embrace the religious life is to be a mirror of eternity,

so that people see in your life, not the ordinary things of this world, 

but the New Creation that we hope for.

People see that you are dressed and ready for the Kingdom.


How do you know if you are called to the religious life?

Well, if you find yourself longing for more: for more prayer; 

for more Mass; for more than this world can offer; for more Christ:

Then this calling may be for you. 


And I want to remind you we have a second collection today 

to benefit those retired brothers and sisters 

who gave up so much of this world, 

precisely to be a shining witness of what lies ahead.

You are always generous, thank you in advance.


All the same, it is not only priests and religious 

who are called to be a witness to hope. 

Every single Christian – every one of us – 

is asked by Christ to be such a mirror of eternity.


And if that sounds demanding, it is. 

But then, realize that life makes more sense 

when we keep our focus on what we’re working toward and waiting for.