Sunday, October 18, 2020

'Hands off, Caesar!' (Sunday homily)

 There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 

that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 

Specifically, when our Lord says, 

“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, 

and to God what belongs to God.”


This passage got brought up when the Obama Administration 

sought to force employers – including religious employers – 

to provide contraception and abortion-causing drugs 

as part of insurance.


As you know, the Catholic Church and many others fought this;

the Little Sisters of the Poor were on the front lines of this battle. 

I regret to point out that one of the candidates for President 

says he will revive that battle if he is elected.


All during this, we’ve heard people say, 

“Render unto Caesar.” As if Christ is supposedly saying,

what government wants, government gets.


Let’s just get this clear right now. That’s wrong!

That is not what Jesus is saying in this Gospel.

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—

And about a coin.


They show him the coin, and he asks, “whose image is this?” 

That word is the key: because the coin bears Caesar’s image, 

then it belongs to him. Let him have what bears his image.


Got that?


Then listen what Jesus says next: 

“And what belongs to God, give to God.”

The coin bears Caesar’s image; 

But tell me: what bears God’s image, God’s inscription?


Well, that would be all of Creation! 

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 

creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 


Above all, the image of God is the human race. 

“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 

is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 

before they created humanity: 

“male and female he created them.”


So when our government says it’s OK to destroy unborn children? 

And to torture people as part of war? 

Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 

Or to push aside the sick and elderly?


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


Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.

Recall again what Genesis said: 

“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 

God is the Creator above all. 

While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?


If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 

you can build whole cities, 

but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 

you can’t make it out of nothing. 


If you are a writer or poet or painter, 

you can create people and worlds and histories—

but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 

or the silver screen. 

You can’t breathe them into life.


But there is a moment—just one!—

when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 

and comes whisper-close to being just like God,

and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,

actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!


And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—

another divine image, a human being that will live forever!


It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.

Marriage – requiring a man and a woman;

I repeat, requiring a man and a woman – 

is when humanity is most fully the image of God!


Hands off, Caesar!


When Jesus said these words, 

no one asked him, or anyone else, 

what the laws should be, or who should govern. 


But in our time, you and I make those decisions,

And we have an election in just a couple of weeks.

You and I decide who will be Caesar, 

and what he will be able to do. 

 

Remember that you and I are God’s “coin”; 

We were inscribed with his Name when we were baptized 

in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, of the Holy Spirit!


As the coins in our pockets get soiled and disfigured, so do we.

Good news! 

There is nothing God loves more than to restore his image, in you,

to make it beautiful, to make it shine!


That’s what he does in confession, in calling us back to him.

In the Gospel, they were all concerned about that coin, 

bearing Caesar’s image. 


But notice, Jesus couldn’t care less about the coin.

What matters supremely to him is you.


Sunday, October 11, 2020

Catholic, not Marxist, or Racist, Social Justice (Sunday homily)

 Last week in my homily, for “Respect Life Sunday,” 

I touched on the duty we have to advocate justice for the unborn, 

for the elderly and others who lives are at risk in our country. 

This is the pre-eminent moral issue of our time, our bishops have said.


Having said that – and keeping that always in mind – 

there are other things deserving our attention with an election near.


One of the things that is so striking in the first reading 

is the abundance. There is more than enough for everyone, 

and what God provides is first-class. 


This calls to mind what our faith teaches us about “social justice.” 

I know that term sets some people’s teeth on edge, 

but the idea was Catholic long before 

some political types tried to make it their own. 

It is a Biblical idea: yes, you and I are indeed our brother’s keeper.


This past summer, what did you and I witness? 

In some places, people protesting – I mean, actual, peaceful protests – 

for the cause of justice, including racial justice. 

That is something we can all respect and applaud. 

But then we also saw people choosing destruction 

and trying to hijack calls for justice in pursuit of violent revolution.  


For example, some of these hijackers 

have a false notion of “racial justice.” 


The late Dr. Martin Luther King said it so beautifully: 

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day 

live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, 

but by the content of their character.” 


But many people today are saying we’ll never get there, 

and they want to keep sorting people by race and other categories. 

So you have some colleges that are actually agreeing 

to segregate campus activities by race. 

Others react with so-called “white nationalism.” 

As Catholics, you and I must speak up for the principle of solidarity:  

that we are all one human family, created in God’s image.


The Catholic Church in this country has advocated for measures 

to ensure working people are treated fairly 

and can find their own voice, acting collectively if that is their wish. 


We Catholics have pushed for a “safety net” to make sure 

everyone has the most basic things. This is why, back in the 1880s, 

Father Michael McGivney founded the Knights of Columbus. 


This safety net has included government measures, 

but that isn’t what social justice is only or even mainly about. 


First and last, it is about our own hearts, 

whether you and I are open to others, 

despite all the attempts to divide us from each other. 

Our human family has God as our generous father, 

who demands we imitate that generosity.


That calls to mind another principle of Catholic social teaching, 

which is that the good things of this earth, which God created, 

were given for the benefit of all people, not just some.

Maybe you’re thinking, OK, fine; how does all this connect 

to the election? 

Well, I’m asking you to keep these things in mind.


Being a Catholic citizen includes being a voice for equity and solidarity.

Be light, not darkness; choose hope, not cynicism.


What’s not acceptable for a Catholic 

is to think only in terms of self-interest – 

what’s good for me and mine – and to forget about the common good.


There is a lot of “us and them” talk these days, 

and some really want to stoke hostilities: 

rural against urban, race against race. 

Don’t get sucked into this; push back against it. 


Meanwhile we have this hapless figure in the Gospel. 

He had been invited to this great party by the King, 

but he couldn’t be bothered to make even a little effort. 


God gives us so much. 

What will God say to us if we don’t make the effort 

to help make our society better,

by speaking up for what is right, 

by getting involved in positive ways? 


Sunday, October 04, 2020

Respect Life Sunday homily

 The first Sunday in October is always “Respect Life Sunday.” 

Given so many negative trends in our society, the need is obvious.


Meanwhile, we have a big election in a month, so that makes this even more timely.


And, meanwhile, every year I give you a report on parish finances. 

I know that’s a boring subject, and some would rather I not bring it up, 

but you work hard for the money you contribute to the parish,

and I want you to know it’s being used with care.  


Let me start with the financial stuff and move on from that. 

Last week we inserted a summary of the past fiscal year, 

with some history from prior years, 

and as usual, we included a proposed budget. 


I’m not going to go over it in detail now, but after the 5 pm Mass Saturday 

and after the 11 am Mass Sunday, 

I will stay and answer any questions anyone has – 

and that goes beyond the financial report. 


But let me give a brief overview.

We planned for a tight budget and all was going well – till March!

Then, of course, the virus hit, and everything went sideways.


But something amazing happened: despite the shutdown through May, 

you continued to be generous; weekly collections only dipped a little.

So we were all pretty nervous back in April, but God was good; 

you were faithful, and we came through.


We applied for and received a so-called loan from the government; 

I say “so-called” because if we fulfill the conditions, 

we keep the money; and I am entirely confident that will happen.


Now, for the current fiscal year: 

your weekly giving continues to sustain the parish. 

Losing our annual festival was a big blow.


But again: God is good, our parishioners are wonderful, 

and a number of those who sponsored the Queen of Hearts event 

chose not to take their money back even after we had to cancel it. 


All that means less of a deficit than we feared. 

We never want to plan for a deficit, but the thing is, 

most of our expenses are pretty fixed.

The help from the government was contingent on not laying people off, 

and if we’d not accepted that help, we’d have a much bigger hole.


With so many people being out of work or facing reduced hours, 

I am reluctant to stand here and ask anyone to dig deeper.

If we stay steady, we’ll be fine. That’s why we have reserves.


Now let’s talk about what we try to focus on this Sunday every year: this is “Respect Life Sunday.”

When this comes up, especially in election years, 

there’s no avoiding the fact that this is, in part, a political question.


I say that because there are always folks 

who don’t think anything political should ever be brought up in a homily. 


Talking about respecting life rings hollow 

if it never results in any change in society and in laws. 

It’s not only about changing laws, and – in an election year, 

about voting – but it certainly includes these things. 


And for those who say a priest isn’t supposed to talk about politics, 

let me explain something. 

I can pretty much talk about anything that crosses paths 

with the teachings of our Faith, and that is pretty much everything. 


The only thing the Archbishop wants me to avoid 

is endorsing or opposing candidates, which I’m certainly not going to do.


When we talk about respecting life, obviously that has wide application;

It’s entirely fair to say that it’s more than about legal abortion, 

or euthanasia, which is helping people kill themselves,

or the death penalty. 

So it is true that issues of poverty and bigotry and war

and how our country interacts with other countries are all connected. 


In the same vein, it is likewise true that other issues on people’s minds, 

like questions about the environment, or taxes and spending, 

Family life, protecting the true nature of marriage,

law and order, respect for democratic norms, and more,

are also moral questions and they are important.


That said: our bishops have said some issues matter more,

And common sense says that as well.


Obviously with a lot of issues, one side isn’t clearly morally wrong, 

and when we debate things like climate change, 

people can legitimately take different approaches 

on how serious you think that is – compared to other things – 

and also on how you tackle the problem.


But certain issues aren’t like that. 

There is no moral justification for legal abortion. None at all. 

Same for euthanasia. 

There is no justification for redefining marriage, 

because that is ultimately an attack on the family as God designed it.


So it is not possible to be Catholic and support legal abortion,

any more than it was possible, 50 years ago, 

for a Catholic to defend race segregation. 

And it’s the same for redefining marriage.


Let me say a word about the death penalty.

The Church argues that we would be better off 

if we got rid of capital punishment; 

but Church teaching does not put it on the same level as abortion, 

because we have always recognized there are situations 

that can justify executing a guilty criminal, 

but nothing can ever justify killing executing an unborn child. 


In the first reading, God reminds his people: 

you are my vineyard, I formed you with great love and care – 

but I want justice, not bloodshed, God warns them.


God expects the same of us. 

Each of us has a solemn duty to work for justice, 

especially protecting the right to life 

of the unborn, the aged and the vulnerable.

There are lots of ways we can do that, 

but it certainly must include 

how we exercise our precious right to vote.


Sunday, September 27, 2020

How to build a 'Eucharistic' marriage (Sunday homily)

 I hope you noticed the opportunity we have here at St. Remy Parish 

starting Friday evening, October 2. That’s this week!


Greg Schutte, who has been here many times over the years 

with his wife, Stephanie, will be leading a series of evenings 

for couples, whether married or engaged. 


Even if you are, as they say, “pre-engaged” – 

everyone knows you’re getting married, 

but you haven’t actually exchanged the ring – you come too.


Greg calls this series “Building a Eucharistic Marriage,” 

which is a great thing to emphasize. 

In fact, I don’t know how you can do it any other way.


What does it mean to say, our marriage is “Eucharistic”?

Well, that’s what Greg is going to explore over seven weeks.

But it seems to me that you can’t do it without the Cross – 

without putting the Cross right at the center.


And that’s what Saint Paul is talking about in the second reading.

The Cross is at the center – not only of a marriage, but everything, 

because God saw the mess we human beings had made – 

of our relationship with him and with each other –

and he knew that the only remedy was the Cross.


God planted the Cross at the center of human history,

And then he put himself – God put himself! – on that Cross.


So when we talk about the Holy Eucharist,

Remember that the Mass and our sharing in the Mass, 

in the Holy Communion, is all about the Cross.


OK, so then what?


See, the other readings are about the problems the Cross solves:

And what are those? Our sin problem, which means our fighting with, 

and hurting each other problem; 

our gossip and backbiting and blaming problem; 

our resentment and retaliation and vengeance problem…


which is what splits families and creates feuds, 

and eventually means violence and war.


The Cross is the remedy – and it is the only remedy.

But the Cross means surrender and turning the other cheek 

and forgiving them, Father, because they know not what they do.


See, the Pharisees – like us! – we always saying, “But he did…” 

and “She was always…” and “You don’t realize how terrible they were!”


And Jesus’ answer is, I’m God, I see it all; believe me, 

I know exactly how bad people can be!

And when Jesus is willing to pay for it all, with his life, on the Cross, 

then Jesus gets to forgive, and we don’t get to complain about that.


Well, let me correct that: sure, we can complain if we want;

But we’ll be complaining from hell, 

because you and I don’t get forgiven, ourselves, 

if we don’t share it as generously with others.

That’s the whole deal: 

“forgive us our trespasses, 

as we forgive those who trespass against us.”


So I keyed all this off the program with Greg Schutte – 

starting this coming Friday – about making our marriages “Eucharistic.”


But the Eucharist – and marriage – isn’t just the Cross – 

it’s Resurrection; and resurrection is about heaven.


It’s not only about the sins and baggage of our past;

it’s even more about God giving us grace 

for the daily hard work of conversion, 

or change, of conquering bad habits and dying to self 

and becoming the saint God knows you and I can be.


See, again, the pharisees – and this can easily be us! –

were only seeing how people were failing to be holy.

Jesus was saying to them, what I’m interested in is conversion;

Not what people were, but what they can be.


This is where, I think, so many people 

misunderstand the sacrament of confession. 

For so many, it’s all about getting forgiven, 

which – don’t get me wrong, is awesome!

But that’s like clearing the table before the meal.


The main thing – the central point – of the sacrament of confession, 

and really, our whole Catholic Faith, is to change: to become saints!


So the grace of the sacrament of confession first takes away our sins.

We are free of guilt! That is awesome! 

And I don’t mean just the sins you remember; ALL our sins.

One confession takes them all away.


But we need something else: to be new people, going in a new direction.

To overcome vice and habit and self-love;

And while forgiveness is instant, conversion takes time.

And God, in his mercy, even gives us Purgatory as a way to finish up.

But Purgatory, too, is about conversion: making you and me saints.


I don’t know if Greg will touch on any of this in his series,

But I’m guessing he will.

And if you’re preparing for marriage, and certainly if you are married, 

you already know all about needing to change, and needing to forgive.

Letting go of the past? You’re thinking, hmm, yeah, that’s a thing.


So sign up: just call or email the parish office. 

There’s no charge, but we’re asking the couples 

to bring some snacks and stuff to share, it’ll be a nice date-night.


And, date-night? I could do a whole homily on that, but I’m overtime.

Still, a chance to remind yourself why you fell for her, for him?

To remember why you wanted to give each other everything?


It might start as purgatory, but it ends in heaven!


Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Justice Plan and the Mercy Plan (Sunday homily)

 So: what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 


Let’s talk about forgiveness. It comes up all the time: people say, 

“Oh, it is so hard to forgive.” Of course it is hard. That’s the point.


Now, let’s be clear what forgiveness is and is not. 

Forgiveness does not mean the other person did not hurt you, 

nor does it minimize the wrong. 

Forgiveness means you are letting go of that person 

and giving him or her to God. 

Let God take care of justice and repayment.


Let me also add, that forgiveness is not a feeling; it is a choice. 

Just like the person who chooses to give up smoking. 

She knows she did the right thing, 

but still feels terrible about it, for a while at least.

That’s normal.


So, how do we forgive? 

Here are some things that might help us get there.


First, ask God for the grace to forgive. 

And I mean, more than once. Ask, ask and ask again.


We can’t do it on our own; we can’t do anything on our own. 

This is a humbling truth we may take a lifetime to learn. 

Do you think you need God’s help only now and then?

  

This is a good time to remember something 

The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories;

Namely, that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 

It may not make you feel good.

But God’s grace will always bring you closer to him.

Remember: the purest expression of grace is the Cross!


A second point: if you want the power to forgive, 

pray for the people who hurt you. 

Again: not just once, but over and over.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” That’s how you start. 


A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 

That’s right; think about hell.


I suspect a lot of people don’t take hell seriously.

They figure only people like Hitler go there, that’s it.


The trouble is, Jesus certainly takes hell seriously,

And he is always warning ordinary people about hell.


A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 

try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 


Let’s try (count to ten).


When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 

Right? Because you don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 

That means wishing those people in hell. 


Or, do you mean you want God to forgive, while you refuse? 

That means you want God and that person to be friends, 

but you don’t want to be part of it? 


Then that means you are sending yourself to hell. 


If you want to go to heaven, 

and you want those other people to go to heaven, 

our grudges and hurts can’t go to heaven. They go to hell!

And if we hold on to them, so will we.


See, God has two plans for humanity. 

He offers the Justice Plan, and the Mercy Plan, 

and they are both on display in this Gospel. 


What’s the Justice Plan?


Well, that’s where we are measured by strict justice; 

no excuses, no mulligans, no leeway. We get precisely what we deserve. 

So, if you have wronged no one, and have a perfect score, 

you can apply for the Justice Plan.


Don’t like that? No problem. God also offers the Mercy Plan. 

God will forgive: absolutely anything and everything. 

That first servant owed a debt that, in today’s dollars, 

would be in the BILLIONS. Wiped away.


But there is a condition: to gain the Mercy Plan,

you and I must apply the Mercy Plan to everyone else, 

without exception. 

Not because it’s easy, not because they deserve it, 

not because they are good enough, 

not for just certain categories,

and no, not even only if they ask for it. They don’t have to ask for it!


It is Jesus, the Supreme Judge, who commands it. 

You want mercy? Show mercy, even to your enemies.


In a moment, in our presence, 

the Sacrifice of Mercy will be offered on this altar – 

you and I will witness it! – and then we will have the opportunity 

to receive Jesus’ Body and Blood. 


And if we do that, you and I are accepting the Mercy Plan. 

We’re receiving infinite, precious, eternal-life-giving Mercy!


Do you want Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.


Sunday, September 06, 2020

Practicing trust as we watch over each other (Sunday homily)

 The first reading – about a watchman, looking out for Israel –

got me thinking: who is our watchman?

Who is supposed to be looking out for us, 

warning this community against danger?


I guess that would include me, as the pastor of this parish.

It would include our mayor and school superintendent 

and those who work with them.

And for each of our families, it’s you mom and dads.


We have this virus which has been hanging around too long,

and we’re all sick and tired of it, but it hasn’t gone away.

On the contrary, just in the last couple of weeks, 

it’s finally showing up in Russia.


I find myself wondering if I failed to be vigilant enough.

Our seminarian, Isaiah, is going to be quarantined 

because he sat with someone at breakfast last week; 

he’s living in one part of the rectory, and I’m at the other end.


And while it doesn’t appear that I have to quarantine, 

I’ll take a few extra precautions for the next week or so.

I won’t be distributing Holy Communion, 

so I ask for an extra helper to come forward.


Meanwhile, our school is trying very hard to be vigilant; so is the mayor.

And they, in turn, must rely on state authorities 

who provide the guidance on how best to manage these things.


All this involves the question of trust: do we trust each other?


It doesn’t take long before trust breaks down.

There’s not a lot of trust for the governor and his staff;

or for the people in Washington.

Does anyone trust the media anymore?


So when the governor – and the Archbishop – 

ask us to wear masks and not crowd together,

a lot of people don’t want to listen.


I see friends of mine on Facebook circulating things 

about how this is all fake, the numbers are all skewed, 

and masks are terrible – and forgive me for asking, but: 

why do trust these sources you’re circulating?


I get pills at the pharmacy and I trust they will give me the right ones. 

What else can I do? 


It’s not about blind trust, or unconditional trust.

It’s just that, like it or not, we simply can’t function 

without a fair amount of trust; there is no choice. 


So when it comes to the governor or the Archbishop,

Or the school or your boss – or me, your pastor –

it is 1,000% certain that everyone involved is going to make mistakes.


The reason we follow our leaders isn’t because they are so wise, 

or so beyond reproach; that rarely happens.


You and I listen and try to cooperate 

because a nation, a society, cannot function without trust;

and it’s the same for this community.


And right now, with greater incidents of this virus,

some of the trust we take for granted is fraying.


The easy thing at a moment like this is to see who is to blame.

Who didn’t enforce precautions well enough? Who didn’t listen?


This is a really good time to notice something else Jesus gives us: 

a way to combat the special virus of gossip.


Notice Jesus’ advice is the opposite of what we prefer to do.

Jesus says, go directly to that person.

We would much rather go talk to everyone else about it.


Understandable, but it only makes things worse.


This covid virus is a serious thing. Most of us will be fine,

but some are vulnerable;

and going the extra mile, if for no other reason but 

to ease the anxieties of others 

sounds to me like a pretty Christian thing to do.


So, to that end, I want to reiterate some of the precautions, 

which we’ve been slack about lately.


I ask that we keep the ropes on the pews in place 

and continue to spread out.

Some of us may have to sit outside, 

that avoids crowding into the back of the church.

I am not going to force anyone to wear a mask, I’m just asking.


If you are able, maybe come to Mass during the week instead.


And when it comes to events at the hall, we have hard limits.

If you have an issue with that, don’t blame our hall manager,

blame me: I’m the one setting the policy.


Also, for those who distribute Holy Communion, 

please use hand sanitizer, please wear a mask,

and please frequently sanitize your fingers 

with the disinfectant provided in these silver bowls.


This virus problem has gone on way too long, and we’re all frustrated.

It won’t go on forever. 


And this I can say with absolute confidence:

If you and I keep praying and keep close to Jesus,

These trials WILL help us grow in holiness.


It is already happening in ways we can’t see yet.

But I can tell you: more people are coming to confession, 

all during this period.

Keep good cheer and good humor.

And let’s each be a watchman looking out for each other.