Sunday, November 18, 2018

Better believe Jesus is coming: sooner than you think! (Sunday homily)

When we hear words like these from Jesus, it can be frightening.
We wonder what he is saying, what this is about.
Is he talking about the end of the world? 
Or is he talking about something else?

This is about a lot of things altogether. 
First, Jesus’ supreme sacrifice on the Cross, 
in which he would atone for the sins of the world, 
reconcile humanity with God 
and open heaven for all who would believe in him.

Second, Jesus rising from the dead, with great power and glory.
Third, Jesus ascends to heaven 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Fourth, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, 
and the Apostles – his messengers – 
are sent out to the four corners of the world.

And then, 40 years after all this happens, 
the destruction of the old temple in Jerusalem;
this drew to a close the system of sacrifices 
that were meant to prepare for Christ’s coming.

And yet, as I said, these words not only describe events 
that would soon happen, they also foreshadow the end of time 
when Christ’s Plan is brought to thundering finality.

It can be challenging to think this way, 
but all these things I’ve described, stretching over thousands of years, 
are – to God – all one thing; all one moment.

Recall what Scripture says: for God, one day is a thousand years, 
and a thousand years, a day.

And at the center of all this is the humble, routine thing we do here: 
the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is like a time-machine, straight out of science fiction: 
It unites past, present and future; it unites earth with heaven.

You and I live in time – we don’t know anything different. 
And this moment in time can seem to last forever. 
When you’re a teenager and it’s a nice day, 
and you have to paint the garage? That seems an eternity!

When you’re hurrying to get where you want to be in life,
time can seem to drag on so…very…slowly.
But then you turn around and you’re 40. You’re 50. You’re 60. 
And you wonder, where did all that time go?

One day, you and I will actually wake up from this life, 
and we will fully be in eternity. What will it be like?

Jesus has told us so many times and so many ways.
You and I will not really be different people in eternity.
Do you realize that? You are not going to wake up in the next life, 
and be someone other than who you are in this world! 
If we are selfish and lazy and lustful and addicted to food and drink; 
wrathful and holding bitter grudges;
uninterested in the things of God in this life? 
Then that’s what you and I will be forever: “a horror and a disgrace.”

Like a statue being carved from stone, every action of ours, 
stroke by stroke, shapes who and what we are.

Eternity is where each of us will finally be what we are, now, becoming. 
This is why repentance and conversion are so critical; 
why frequent turning back to Christ, 
using the sacrament of confession regularly, are so essential.
And that’s why God gives us time in this world: in order to change.

Forgive me for being stupid on this point: 
but I simply do not understand how anyone can say, 
“I don’t really need the sacrament of confession.”

Perhaps someone who is truly saintly could say that – 
except that’s something the saints, in reality, never say. 
St. Therese, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis, Padre Pio, 
Pope John Paul, St. Philip Neri, I could go on…
The saints never say, “I don’t need confession.” Entirely the opposite.

Even if no one actually says that, out loud,
lots of people live that way. Yes, including in this parish.

Now, it could be that people are afraid. And that I do understand.
I don’t like confessing my sins to another priest. 
It’s hard for me to be anonymous.
But then, it’s also embarrassing to go to the dentist, 
and he sees that I haven’t been flossing the way I know I should.
Or to go to the doctor, and I’m not losing weight the way he told me.

And I’m guessing it’s pretty awkward for spouses to face each other 
when one or both has messed up, 
said terrible things, or failed to keep a promise.

If there is one truth that is universal, 
it is that we humans need to change. 
You and I need conversion. 
Get that? It’s not just your spouse; not just your parents; 
not just that person over there. It’s every one of us!

In the White House. In Congress. In the media.
In the Vatican. Among the bishops. Priests. Parishes.
In sports. Colleges. High schools.
Business. Unions. Corporations. Farmers. Everyone.

Who thinks everything is spiffy-keen just as it is?
Who – if this world stayed just as it is right now, forever – 
would call that heaven?

This is universal truth number one: everyone needs to change.
And part of that change is waking up to how much we need to change. 
In our pride, we think it’s just a little polish around the edges.
Odds are extremely high you and I are very wrong about that.

Second universal truth: you and I aren’t likely to change anyone else.
We can invite. We can offer help. We can give example. We can pray.
But that’s the limit of what we can do to change others.
Meanwhile, God has given us every help – all heaven and earth – 
for us to change ourselves. 
Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a huge lift. Still really hard.
Each of us gets a lifetime, and that’s about how long it usually takes.

And Jesus has told us: he’s coming.
He is coming finally at the end of time, we know not when.
He will come for each of us, when our life on earth ends,
and we open our eyes in eternity. 

And right here, right now, 
he comes to us in the power of the sacraments, generously, constantly;
in the cleansing grace of confession and in the miracle of the Mass.

So what is Jesus saying? 
It’s actually pretty simple, but sharp:
He’s saying, “Wake up!” 
We won’t have time forever. 
The time to change, the time to act, is right now.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

What's really there? So much more than you think (Sunday homily)

The widow in the Gospel, with her contribution of two coins, 
is an example of something very common. 
A couple of coins, what’s that? 

But what may seem insignificant when looked at one way,
Is in fact something tremendous, when measured a different way.

When I worked in politics, in Washington,
I would often go to these events 
where other political or media-type folks would be.
Even if it was supposedly a social event, 
most of us were there for work; 
we were trying to make connections with other people in politics.

We’d all have name-tags, that also gave what news organization 
or political group you represented.

So then you an uncomfortable ritual: 
People would move around the room, 
trying to scope out name tags nonchalantly, 
in order to avoid wasting time on a conversation 
with someone who wasn’t important enough! 

Of course, the other person might think you were a good “target,” 
and would reach out to shake hands, oops, you’re caught! 
So then you’d try to be minimally polite, 
even as your eye is roaming for a more powerful person to talk to.

That poor widow in the Gospel, where would she be in that?
Only Jesus had eyes to see her true value.
Students, keep this in mind when you deal with others at school.
It’s rough when other people make instant judgments about you;
But are you sure you aren’t doing the exact same them to others?

I remember making so many assumptions about others in high school. 
And so often, I was so, so wrong! 
People I thought were the best people to know? Not so much, actually!
Other people I ignored, or thought were “out of my league,” 
turned out to be really great people, and I missed out!

Here’s another way we make this mistake. Look at the Mass.
People skip Sunday Mass – obviously they think, it’s not so important.
Or, people come to Mass, and it doesn’t measure up.
The priest is tedious and talks too long; that’s probably true!
They don’t like the music, or people around them are annoying, 
or for whatever reason, they are bored.

Look: if Pope Francis were here to offer Mass,
Do you think all those folks skipping Mass would show up?
Why? It’s the same Mass! 
I realize it would be the Holy Father, but if he were here now, 
he’d tell you himself that what Jesus does 
in the Holy Mass is what counts!

That’s what the second reading, from Hebrews, is about:
Jesus is our eternal high priest, and what he did for us on the Cross, 
is what he now makes present and real to us in the Mass, 
and in the Holy Eucharist.

And we might think, oh, but when the pope, or the archbishop, 
or when my favorite priest offers Mass…
When we’ve got the right kind of choir, 
Or when the church is arranged the right way, 
Or when we don’t have all these distractions,
Or when it’s in Latin, or we have guitars, 
Or whatever it is that makes it our “perfect” Mass…

But then I think of a Russian Catholic priest, Blessed Leonid Feodorov;
He was thrown into prison by the communists.
His atheist captors forbade him to offer Holy Mass.

He had no vestments, no choir, no chapel, no altar.
The other prisoners would sneak bread to him 
from their meager rations;
and when they accumulated a few raisins, they would make wine.

And so with a crumb of bread and a few drops of wine;
Maybe using a tin cup for a chalice, his only vestments were rags;
and reciting the prayers from memory,
voice hushed so as not to be overheard by the guards:
thus would Father Leonid offer his widow’s mite of a Mass.

How easily and how often we look at others, or at ourselves,
even at the familiar Mass which happens every day in our parish – 
and think we see, but we don’t really see!

But something astounding, world-changing, is there, 
if only we could see it! 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Orienting our lives around Jesus (Sunday homily)

In a video I watched last week, a Bible scholar I admire, Brant Pitre, 
pointed out that the words Jesus cited 
as the first and greatest commandment 
were also recited as a prayer by faithful Jews. 

To this day, they pray these words three times a day: 
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, 
and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

And Dr. Pitre also explains that “when you recite words like this 
three times a day, they are going to shape how you see reality; 
the way you live each day.” It’s hard to live apart from God, 
while you are saying these words over and over. 

That’s good advice, and it’s a reason why each of us 
does well to have a routine habit of prayer for each day.
That daily habit of prayer could include the following:

First thing in the morning, say the Morning Offering.
Try to give yourself a few minutes of quiet time in the morning, 
and use that time to talk to God about your day; 
maybe read a short passage of Scripture, 
a psalm or some other spiritual reflection.

At noon, maybe take time to pray the Angelus. 
If you stop by the parish office at that time, 
you can join parish employees and me in praying the Angelus.

Sometime during the day, pray the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. 
These are great to pray when you are driving or walking. 
This is a good time to include all the people you are praying for.

Always pray grace before a meal, no matter where you are.
No one will be offended, and you will set a good example.

In the evening, take a few minutes to look back on your day. 
Examine your conscience; admit faults to God and ask for help; 
and give thanks for the good things that happened.

No matter what your situation, what time you get up, 
whether you are at school all day, or at a factory or on the farm, 
everyone can do most, if not all, these things.

And as Dr. Pitre said, this helps orient our lives.

This is a good time to talk about 
our annual 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration 
which will take place next weekend.
Beginning with the Friday morning Mass at 8:15 am, 
our Lord Jesus will be on the altar for everyone to come and adore. 
The church will be open all night Friday night and all day Saturday.

Why do we do this? For the same reason, 
to orient ourselves and our parish as a community, 
on keeping God first, and at the center of our lives.
So much can distract us and become false gods for us.

I know from my own life how easily I can neglect prayer. 
I’m a priest! This is my business! 
If it happens to me, of course it can happen to the rest of us.

We have about 1,600 people of all ages registered in our parish.
I’d like to suggest something ambitious.
What if every parishioner tried to make a visit, 
even a short one, during 40 Hours? If you can, sign up for an hour. 

You could share it with others, each taking a half hour or 15 minutes.
Allowing for the fact that some are home-bound, 
some are away at college, and some are very young, 
if all the rest were to plan to come for 40 Hours, 
we’d have an average of 30 people here for every hour!
How awesome would that be? How powerful!

Someone might say, but why come to church? “Nothing’s happening.” 
But I would counter that something IS happening.
You are face-to-face with Jesus. 
What do you want to say? 
What frustrations and sins do you want to bring to him? 
Bring the prayers and needs of others at that time.

It really comes down to whether you believe the Eucharist IS Jesus. 
Because if you truly believe that, 
then how can anyone not realize this time of being with him 
is powerful? Life-changing? Peace-giving?

Now, I haven’t missed that Jesus gave two commandments.
When you and I spend time with Jesus, 
it is impossible to forget the second commandment. 
Jesus will remind us; he will challenge us; 
and he will send us to care for our neighbor.

Also, the order of the commandments is important.
When you and I put God first, 
we are better able to be truly loving to our neighbor. 

Part of it is remembering that our neighbor is made in God’s image; 
and it doesn’t matter if our neighbor is young or old, male or female.
No matter what color, what language, what kind of clothes or lifestyle;
No matter what someone’s past is, or how rough around the edges:
That person is my brother or my sister, a fellow child of God.

Again: from this Friday to Sunday, we will have our annual 40 Hours.
This year, I sent out a flyer to everyone in the community, 
whether they are Catholic or not, inviting them to our church to pray.

So I’d like to encourage every parishioner to sign up if you can – 
the sign up sheets are in the back of church – 
but in any case, to make a visit.
Let’s make some extra effort to enthrone Jesus 
in the center of our lives.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Grace turns us into saints, so get grace! (All Saints homily)

I borrowed this photo from a Facebook page about carotenemia. You can click on the photo to learn more.

You and I, everyone here, we are all destined to be saints. 
There are no non-saints in heaven. 
It’s all first-class seats, no economy section. 
So people say, “Oh, I won’t be a saint” – be careful, 
because what you are actually saying is, that you will go to hell.

But what about purgatory? 
Purgatory isn’t a final destination; it’s the preparation for heaven. 
Eventually purgatory will be empty, having purified us for heaven.

The saints help us to become saints. 
They pray for us and they give us their example. 
If you want to be saint – which you should, because otherwise, 
what do want, to go to hell? 

But if you want to be a saint, pay attention to the saints, 
learn from them, imitate them. 
This is why it’s important to have a patron saint. 
If you don’t know what saint you were named after, find out; 
ask your parents. Learn about that saint. Talk to him or her.
If you aren’t named after a saint, then pick your own patron. 
And of course, you can have more than one saint to emulate.

But the main thing I want to say 
is that saints show us what grace is and what grace does. 
We don’t talk enough about grace, and that’s a problem.
I think a lot of Catholics don’t even realize what the sacraments are.
They think, oh it’s just something you do; a rite of passage.
But they are far more than that. 
Jesus created the sacraments to give us grace.
So for example, when couples get married outside the church, 
Maybe they think, well, we’re still legally married, right?  
But they are denying themselves God’s grace.
If you know anyone who made that mistake, 
have them call me, because we can fix that.

Grace is what we need, we have no hope without grace. 
No heaven without grace. 
So it’s not too much to say 
that grace is the most important thing there is, 
and you and I need all we can get.

So what is grace?

According to the Catechism, grace is 
the “undeserved help that God gives us 
to respond to his call to become children of God”; 
and, “Grace is a participation in the life of God. 
It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.”

In other words, Grace is God’s own life, 
poured into our lives, to make us like God.
So what happens when that someone yields to that supernatural life, 
that grace, that power from God?

What happens is a saint.

So if you haven’t been to confession in a while, 
get there, and turn on the grace spigot. 
And for heaven’s sake, if you have a mortal sin, get to confession first, 
before going to Holy Communion.
Because receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin 
is itself a grave sin, and doesn’t bring us grace, but condemnation.
First get clean and get right with Christ,
and receive Holy Communion; and receive that Life!

When my sister had her first child, like any mother, 
she was determined to do everything right. 
She fed my nephew lots of carrots. 
She stuffed him with jar after jar of carrots. 
And believe it or not, he actually turned a little bit orange!

That’s a good image of what grace will do to us if we let it.
Grace turns us gracious; grace sanctifies us; 
Grace will, in time, make us saints. That’s the whole point!

So on this All Saints Day, realize 
there’s still a lot of open slots in heaven, waiting for you and me. 
It will take opening our lives to God’s grace to get there.
So ask your patron saints to help you. Ask as many saints as you can.
Watch them; learn from them; and seek often the sacraments 
Jesus gave us so that you and I can be stuffed and changed by grace.
Not turned orange; but turned into saints.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Pilgrimage to Italy Wrap-up

During my recent pilgrimage to Italy, I had hoped to give more timely reports. However, I had two problems: first, I did not have internet access as often or consistently as I hoped; second, when I did, the photos uploaded very slowly.

We were on the go; generally up around 6:30 or 7 am each day, and the only good time to post was on the bus; but the Internet connection phased in and out. By the time dinner wrapped up, it was usually 9 pm or even later; I should have done my posts then, but I kept hoping for better prospects the following day.

Some of this will be repetitive, sorry! But if I don't get all this done today, I never will.

Our first pilgrimage visit was Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict founded his first monastery, and where he and his sister, St. Scholastica, are buried. Here is the high altar:

And here is a monument, beneath that altar, marking the remains -- which are in a crypt below; we had Mass there; but I didn't take pictures, sorry!

Some art from the monastery:

A statue of Charlemagne that caught my eye. The courtyard had statues of kings on one side, and popes on the other.

A view of a cemetery near the monastery, where are buried many brave Poles who helped win a terrible battle here in World War II. The Allies struggled hard to dislodge the Nazis from this mountain; in the process the monastery was bombed by the Allies.

These next three photos are a poor man's panorama of the Bay of Sorrento:

This is the Cathedral in Amalfi where St. Andrew's remains are venerated.

People who received healings prayed for would bring silver items as expressions of thanks. The votive offerings are in the shape of the body part that was healed. There were many more display cases of such offerings.

Here we are taking a boat across to the Isle of Capri.

Here is a view of the walking path up to where we were, followed by several other pics of Capri.

By the way, if you are wondering about other things we saw, what this shows is that I am not a very good picture-taker. 

This floor was in a church in Capri -- at least, I think that's where it was! It depicts Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. Curiously, it does not seem to take into account the Tree of Life, but perhaps I am missing something. No one is allowed to walk on the floor; note the boards around the perimeter. Obviously this church is not used very often.

Here is Padre Saint Pio's school in his home town:

A view from Pietrelcina, where young Pio grew up:

After Mass in the parish church -- where Saint Pio offered his first Mass -- I went out for lunch; I launched out on my own (but was joined by several fellow pilgrims later). I asked someone to point me toward something "authentic"; and in the restaurant, I asked for something typical of the region. That resulted in the following two dishes. This was a kind of potato pancake, with pork meat and mushrooms in a kind of stew, with tomatoes, as you can see. It was very tasty; but if you think all Italian food is highly spiced, you would be mistaken; this was very mild (but not bland).

This was pumpkin ravioli. It was good; but not my favorite thing.

After our visit to Pietrelcina, we drove over to the Adriatic Coast, to Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo sul Gargano. This church is built over a cave, where the Archangel appeared a really long time ago. (If it seems like this post is being written in haste, you are correct. I started it around 10:30 am; it is now 2:19 pm; lots of coming and going on my first day back in the office; I am not going to let this post remain unfinished today!)  There is a thing about the "Sword of St. Michael," that connects to this place; look it up and form your own opinion.

Here's the grotto. We had Mass in the sanctuary to the right.

Here's the altar where I wanted to offer Mass:

This again was Monte Sant'Angelo:

Here is one of the more memorable meals. The dish to the right was called Pancotto Montanaro. I went crazy for this. Just now I typed that name into the search engine, hoping I would find out more about it. No luck! If anyone has any information, I'd like to hear more. I'd like to recreate this dish, if possible.

This was a meal we had in Lanciano, where we had Mass in the presence of a famous Eucharistic miracle. Unawares, we arrived at this restaurant before it actually was open for business, but the staff graciously took care of us. This was a seafood pasta:

That restaurant:

There was a second Eucharistic miracle in Lanciano -- who knew? A local pointed us in the right direction. This is the church...

Here is a shrine to the miracle. We could only look in through a plexiglass window.

This, I believe, is the church where the second miracle occurred:

This is a memorial to the war dead in Lanciano:

OK, now we're in Rome. I took even fewer pictures, sorry! This is from the Church of the Gesu, which is the Jesuit "mother church" in Rome. They have something special they do at 5:30 pm every day, about which Father Stechschulte was rather cryptic. It was called the "Baroque Machine."

Well, here's what happens. All attention is given to the tomb of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits); a narration is given -- in Italian -- during which different portions of the elaborate tomb are lit. I am guessing the narration included some brief information about St. Ignatius, but mostly it sounded like scripture passages or prayers.

The climax comes when the portrait of St. Ignatius is drawn down, to reveal a statue of the saint. Here is a before and after:

Here is the ceiling of the Gesu. No photo can do it justice.

One day we took a trip out of Rome to Civita di Bagnoregio. The town is atop a steep hill, reachable only by a narrow footpath which donkeys can navigate; but also really small police cars. The Wikipedia page linked above tells the story.

Here's the town square:

Here is the wild boar I ate. Delicious!

This was the papal audience. Everyone is looking to see where the popemobile was...

And here's the pope:

OK, those are all the photos I have. It was a wonderful trip!