Sunday, August 28, 2016

Approaching Holy Mass with humility (Sunday homily)

Let me begin by pointing out something you may have noticed: 
the second reading today was also the second reading last Sunday! 
You may be wondering, how that happened. 
It happened this way: 
while the readings most weeks are assigned, last week’s were special, 
for the anniversary of this church being consecrated, 
and they were chosen by…me. I didn’t notice the coincidence.

In any case, it gives us a chance to really reflect on that reading, 
which is really about the Holy Mass. 
It describes us approaching the heavenly Jerusalem, 
where the angels and saints gather 
in celebration of the salvation won by the blood of Jesus.

So what that describes is heaven – but how do we approach that? 
We do so in the Holy Mass.

Meanwhile, the first reading and the Gospel say a lot about humility. 
And let me point out, in passing, what humility is, and is not. 
Humility is not allowing yourself to be a doormat; 
nor is it denying that you have gifts. 

To be humble is to be at peace with who you and I are, 
with the gifts God gave us. 
The more you and I realize what it means to be a child of God, 
the easier it is to have that genuine humility. 

If I need to build myself up, 
then rushing to get the place of honor makes sense. 

But if I know, deep in my heart and being, that God loves me, 
that I am destined for heaven, 
then who cares where I sit around the table? 

So how does humility come into our approach to Holy Mass?

Here’s one thing that comes to mind: 
sharing your talents generously and without false modesty. 
I didn’t ask Carla if she wants new members of the choir, 
and new singers to help at Mass, but I’m guessing she’d love that. 
Being generous with your gifts, for the benefit of others, 
is true humility. 
If you’d like to share the gift of your voice, let Carla know!

Let me thank you, parents, for the efforts you make 
to bring your families to Mass. 
I am sure there are times when you are frustrated, 
when you feel you cannot enter into prayer during Mass, 
and you wonder if it even “counts.” Be assured, it does. 

Let me highlight another way humility is at work in the Mass – 
and that is in how those, who have particular roles in Mass, 
approach their tasks. The readers come up here, 
not to put themselves forward, but God’s Word. 

The altar servers are like the seraphim and cherubim in heaven, 
who attend to the Lord’s needs, and bow down before him. 
The musicians are here to let the light of Christ 
shine through their voices and talents. 

And the priest is here, not to put himself forward, 
but to surrender 
so that Christ is clearly the priest, the prophet, and the king. 

So that’s why, for example, many – 
such as Pope Benedict and Cardinal Sarah and others – 
have recommended a recovery of the practice 
of the priest and people facing the same way, 
when the priest is offering the Sacrifice at the altar. 

As you know, I’ve been celebrating Mass this way on Saturday mornings
 and I’ve started doing the same on Tuesdays. 
I’m not claiming there are no merits to the priest 
facing the people at the altar – which is how it will happen at this Mass, 
and how you’re used to seeing it happen. 
And I understand everyone has different preferences, 
and I respect that.

But when the priest and the people face in the same direction, 
it helps emphasize where our focus is – on the Lord. 
And I can tell you, for many priests, 
we are tempted to ego and to draw attention to ourselves, 
and we need help being humble before the Lord.

Finally, take note of what Jesus said in the Gospel, 
about inviting those who are poor, or blind, or disabled. 
This applies to Mass. 

If you know someone who has difficulty getting to Mass, 
what can you do, what can I do, to help them get here? 
Does someone need a ride? 
Or, do you know those who want communion brought to them at home? 
Let me know, please. 

But this also applies to anyone who thinks, oh, I’m not worthy. 
Or, I don’t have the right clothes. Or who feels out of place. 
Everyone here is unworthy. 
Clothes aren’t that important; we do what we can. 
If you know folks who haven’t been here, 
don’t beat them over the head about it, but do check in with them. 
Be a friend, including a spiritual friend, to them.

Something awesome happens at this and every Mass. Let’s share it. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

Clinton and Trump: both evil. One may be worse than the other.

I've got a lot I could say -- and have said, elsewhere -- about this election, but I'm going to save my fingers. Both Secretary Hilary Clinton and Mr. Donald Trump endorse grave moral evil. Both of them. If you want to argue one endorses more than the other, I won't dispute it. But first, let's be crystal clear: they both endorse grave moral evil.

Both support abortion -- one supports some abortions (rape and incest), the other supports abortion pretty much all the time, and with your tax money to pay for it. Mr. Trump supports blurring -- if not erasing -- the distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and deliberately killing terrorist's wives, parents, siblings and children. Mr. Trump supports the use of torture -- "worse than waterboarding," he has repeatedly said. Both of them support a war on terror that isn't too particular about the Constitution.

"But there's more," I hear you saying. Oh, I agree, there's a lot more, but my fingers can't type that much. The bottom line is, they both support grave moral evil.

Now, if you choose to vote for one of them, because you think that's the only way to stop the grave evil proposed by the other, I understand. I will not condemn you. But please don't let's have any pretense about it. You're voting for a lesser evil -- and a lesser evil is still...you know how that sentence ends.

This is a dismal choice. I can't remember such a wretched pair of candidates. It hit me this morning: this is divine judgment. Secretary Clinton's nomination is a judgment on the Democrats, and Mr. Trump's, a judgment on the Republicans.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Dedication of St. Remy Church (Sunday homily)

Today we are celebrating the anniversary of the consecration of this church. Now, to be precise, we don't actually know the date when this church, the third St. Remy's, was consecrated. However, we do know that the first St. Remy's was consecrated on August 18, 1852; and last year, I wrote the Archbishop, and asked permission to celebrate the consecration of our church on that date. And, since August 18 fell on Thursday, we are able to move it to the weekend for everyone's benefit. So that's what we're doing today.

But why? Why is it important to mark this anniversary. As you know, last year we put new doors on the front of the church; and Father Amberger had written above them the words, Domus Dei et Porta Coeli, which is Latin, and means, "House of God and Gate of Heaven." Some years ago, there was a movie, and then a TV show, called "Stargate." The idea was that these folks found a device that, if you turned it on, and stepped through it, you would be transported many thousands of light-years to another world. 

Now, wouldn't that be sensational if there really were such a thing? But there is: this church is a gate...to heaven!

This is why we do this.

Now, let me share a little history about our parish and our church. The first settler in this area was James Thatcher and his family, in 1805, about a mile and a half north of here. The first French Catholic families arrived in the 1830s. In September, 1839, Archbishop John Purcell sent the first priest here, Father Louis Navarron, who was given responsibility for Frenchtown, Versailles and Russia. The first church for this area was St. Valbert's, where the cemetery is now; but in those days, it wasn't easy getting there, through the forest -- so Father Navarron took up residence in Russia, and set up a chapel about a mile southeast of here, on a farm then owned by the DeBrosse family. By my calculuation, it's about where Versailles and Miller Road meet, or a little south of there. That's where Mass was first offered in Russia, and there was a cemetery there.

The first St. Remy's was consecrated August 18, 1852, and Archbishop Purcell came up from Cincinnati for that. Today that's a two hour drive; in those days, it might have taken a couple of days.

That first church, built of logs, proved to be too small, so in the 1860s, a second church was built of bricks, right around the first church -- then, the log church was dismantled and taken out the front doors! Then, in 1890, the pastor had to tell everyone that they'd built their 30-year-old church the wrong way, so they had to do it over! Imagine having to make that announcement! But they did build the third -- the present -- St. Remy's. As mentioned, we don't know the date it was consecrated, but they laid the cornerstone August 17, 1890; and it was probably dedicated in 1891. So that makes this church 125 years old this year. And, since then, of course, there have been additions and improvements.

Now, this is a good time to ask: why is this parish here? What is our purpose? As the first reading makes clear, God wishes this to be a "house of prayer for all people." I had a conversation with someone in the community recently, who is not Catholic, and she said she didn't realize she could come here, she thought it was only for Catholics. May I suggest we all make it our task, in the coming year, to communicate to everyone in our community, Catholic or not, that this is a house of prayer for all people?

But I want to return to an earlier point. I mentioned that fanciful "gate" to another world. It would be impressive -- but it's only impressive if people believe it's real. Likewise, folks will only be impressed by this place, this Porta Coeli, if they have reason to believe it's real.

So do people see in me -- in you -- some evidence that this place changes us, because we come here? 

Let me suggest some "markers" that might serve to convey this to others:

- First, when we come here, one of the things we can do is go to confession. There are many benefits, but let me highlight one in particular: it will make us humble. Nothing is more humbling than to kneel down, in the presence of another fallen human being, and confess your sins. And if we are humble, rather than arrogant, that will impress people.

- Knowing our faith and sharing it is great; but what impresses people is when they see that we live it, in how we live and how we treat others.

- Another marker is how we stand apart from worldliness. This is delicate, because I'm not saying we should shun people when they are drinking and smoking pot, and looking at trash on the Internet, taking God's name in vain, and all the rest; but what is important is that we communicate, in the right way, that we're not part of that.

- Finally, are we peaceful? Both in how we deal with others, and in our own lives? So many people these days are worked up about politics, about the situation in the world, about other things -- what does that communicate? If we're angry and fearful, does that suggest we've just been to heaven? 

These are some ways people will see this Gate of Heaven is real -- because it changes us. And that will draw people to this House of God.


Sunday, August 14, 2016

Division and peace (Sunday homily)

(Sorry it took me awhile to post this. I had incomplete notes, and I just didn't get around to posting them. I think I'm leaving things out, that weren't written down. This is what I can reconstruct from my notes. I actually posted this 8/25, but I'm back-dating it for the Sunday it corresponds to.)

In the readings, Jesus talks about both division and peace. So I'll talk about division first, then peace.

Jesus brings division, not because it's what he wants, but because the truth divides: between those who accept it, and those who do not. Our world is divided over truth. It has always been thus, especially over who Jesus is. There has always been resistance to him. So, understand: facing opposition because you are a Christian is normal! I repeat: it's the normal state for a Christian. So: if you haven't experienced any, why might that be?

In our time, you and I face an unusual situation. In times past, the division was over doctrine: who Jesus is, whether God is a trinity, over the Eucharist, or the priesthood, and so forth. But in our time, the battle lines are over objective truth, the truth of who humanity is: male and female, and male made for female and vice-versa.

That a male is male, and a female is female, not as a social construct but as a biological fact, isn't a dogma -- it's objective truth. And now, for me to state that, is deemed bigotry. It's important for you and me to realize what we're up against. 

I realize we don't like having this discussion, and you're right to dislike it, but there's no avoiding it. This is Jesus' point: "don't think I'm bringing peace..." as in, no conflict.

You and I are those people described in the second reading. This world isn't our home, our destination. We are bound for a city where Christ is king. So, may I suggest that we avoid being drawn into conflicts over things that don't matter for eternity? Whether politics, or sports, or whatever? The only really good reason to ever be in conflict, is over faith in Jesus Christ.

Jesus does, indeed, bring peace: but only when he is Lord -- over every heart and every nation. So, if you want that peace, start surrendering your own heart to him.


Sunday, August 07, 2016

Is this your last day? (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is read as part of the vigil prayers, for a funeral, 
which usually takes place at the funeral home. 
It’s easy to see why, because it offers us such an assurance: 
if we are ready for Jesus when he comes to us, 
he will not only take us to heaven, 
but he, the Lord, will actually wait on us! 
As I often say after I read this, at the funeral home, 
if you hadn’t heard me just read that from the Gospel, 
you might not believe God had made such a promise. But there it is.

So, these readings invite us to think about being ready – 
ready for God to call us. 
And it calls to mind what we used to call “a happy death” – 
that is, a well-provided-for death. 
So let’s talk about what that is.

A well-provided-for death means 
we have the chance to go to confession, 
and to receive the sacrament of anointing, 
and above all, to receive the Holy Eucharist. 

A well-provided-for death means 
we can make our peace with others 
and face eternity with a clean conscience. 
An especially beautiful way this happens 
is when family are gathered with the person who is dying, 
and they are praying together. 
If the priest is called – not necessarily at the exact moment, 
but in the last few weeks or days – 
then he can help the family with all this.

When this happens, it is a beautiful thing, 
not only for the one who is facing eternity, but for everyone. 

Now, here’s the thing. We don’t always get a warning. What then?

Well, then it comes down to how we live our daily lives, doesn’t it? 
My grandmother had a saying: “being a Catholic can be a hard life – 
but an easy death.” By that, she meant a faithful, practicing Catholic.

What’s “hard” about it?

Forgiving is hard. Keeping custody of the eyes is hard. 
Being honest and guarding our tongues is hard. 
Putting God first can be hard.

But, in another sense, it’s not hard at all. 
How to be faithful isn’t a secret. And we have a lot of help. 
That’s what the Church, the Body of Christ, is for. 
If you’re trying to live a Christian life, don’t try to do it alone. 
That makes it harder. 

Instead, seek out other practicing Catholics, and support one another. 
If you’re running with folks who are out late drinking and partying, 
guess what you’re probably going to end up doing? 

This is why God gave us each other, and above all, 
it’s why he gave us the saints, especially Mary, the Mother of God. 
If you ever think, I don’t know how to be a good Catholic, 
then take a long, hard look at the saints. 

Pick one. Who is your own patron saint? Don’t know? You can find out. 
Ask your parents if they had a saint in mind when they named you. 
If not, then look up your own name, 
and find out what saints had that name. 

And if that doesn’t work, then you can just pick a saint, 
and make him or her your patron saint. 
Patron saints are not like girlfriends or boyfriends – 
you can have as many as you want, and they don’t get jealous!

The thing about heaven, we’re not going to end up there by surprise. 
And we won’t get there by being kidnapped. If we get to heaven, 
it will be because we aimed to get there; we wanted to be there; 
because that’s the treasure we wanted most of all.

So, you and I can take our chances 
and hope we’ll get a chance to go to confession in your final hour; 
or, we can get to confession every month. 
You can hope that you’ll have a priest bring you holy communion 
at the end; or, you can receive Jesus’ Body and Blood each Sunday, 
or even daily, if you want. 
We can hope we’ll make peace with others, someday, or…

Well, you get the idea.

Is today my last day? Is it yours? We can’t know. But we can be ready.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

What price will you pay? (Sunday homily)

Father Jacques Hamel, pray for us!

As I think everyone is aware, last week, 
a Catholic priest was murdered in France, 
while he was offering the Holy Mass. 
In fact, he was martyred – at least, that is my own opinion. 
His name is Father Jacques Hamel. May he pray for us! 

I know this is disturbing; but remember, 
this is what has been happening in Iraq, and Syria, in Egypt and Turkey, 
and many other places, 
where Christianity has existed almost from the beginning. 
But those places seem so far away; 
we don’t expect this to happen in France. 

Let’s remember who the true author of persecution of the Faith is. 
It is the devil; and if we are faithful Christians, 
he hates us every bit as much as he does those 
Christians who are driven from their homes in Iraq or in Africa.
Let me say that again: if you and I are faithful, 
we face the exact same hatred and opposition 
that comes to those who are being martyred 
in so many places around the world.

So that raises a question:
What price are you and I prepared to pay, 
for the love of Jesus Christ?

Father Hamel paid with his life; but the truth is, 
most of us aren’t going to face that. 
You and I are likely to face rather different choices.

Two years ago, as you may recall, 
Brendon Eich, the CEO of Mozilla – a computer software company – 
was forced to resign from the leadership of that company –
 which he founded, by the way! – 
because he had donated money 
to a referendum defining marriage as a man and a woman. 

Now, I don’t know anything about Mr. Eich’s faith, but here’s the point. 
If someone who is rich and powerful 
like Mr. Eich can be forced out of his job, 
what do you think is likely to happen to the rest of us?

In the state of Washington, the governor imposed a rule 
that if you operate a drug store, you must – must! – 
distribute the so-called “morning after pill.” 
While its supporters claim it’s merely a contraceptive, 
a lot of people are concerned that it may induce an abortion. 

Several pharmacists sued, simply asking that they be able to opt out 
and not be made to cooperate with this.
Their case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. They lost.
So now their choice is: either do what they believe is wrong, 
or else stop being pharmacists.

Are you and I prepared to see the loss of a promotion, 
or a job, or a career, as the price we pay for the love of Jesus Christ?

If you speak up about the dignity of human life
every single human life truth about men and women* – 
you may be called some names. You may lose a friendship.

Let me say something to our students. 
Many of you will go off to college, 
either in a few weeks, or in the next few years. 
This community, the environment here, 
shelters us from a lot of ugliness. 

Some of you are in for a shock when you get to college. 
Not only will you be in situations 
where most people around you aren’t Catholic, 
but quite a lot of the Catholics around you 
won’t be very tuned into their Faith. 
A lot of the built-in supports that you experience here, 
a lot of which you may not even be aware of, will be gone. 

I’m not trying to scare you; and I’m not saying you can’t handle it.
What I am saying is, that in those moments, 
you’ll start paying a price 
for the love of Jesus Christ, and it may take you by surprise. 
There will be people around you 
who won’t be able to stand up to it.
Can you bear that scorn and rejection, 
as the price you will pay for Christ?

Don’t be overwhelmed. Be encouraged! 
When someone gets up in your face, when someone spits at you, 
or turns his back on you, for what you believe, 
and when the shock passes, something wonderful happens. 
Actually, several wonderful things happen.

First, you realize: I’m stronger than I thought.
Second, you look around, and there will be people with you. 
It may not be very many, but it doesn’t have to be many. 
Just one other person will give you great courage.

Third, you will feel a spiritual power unlike anything you’ve ever known. 
You will know it isn’t your strength, but the strength of Jesus Christ. 
And you will, in that moment, understand exactly 
How martyrs have such superhuman courage and peace. You’ll feel it.

And, finally, you’ll remember what Jesus said 
about being close to those who are maligned and attacked for his sake. 
You’ll feel Jesus right there. 
And nothing in this world means anything compared to that.

Most of us will never be martyrs like Father Hamel, 
but every one of us can expect to pay some price 
for being faithful to Jesus Christ. 
And consider this: how is it that Father Hamel 
Faced his martyrdom with courage and grace?
One answer is that it is supernatural grace, and that’s true.
However, there’s more to it than that.

The great and costly decisions in life 
are prepared for by small and boring ones. 
My parents never gave their lives for me all at once. 
Instead, they gave their lives for my brothers and sisters and me, 
little by little, day by day. 
I have yet to be faced with martyrdom, 
but every day I am faced with the decision to get up, pray, 
give myself to others as I meet them hour by hour, 
and be faithful to the Lord and to his people.

And it’s exactly the same for you.

So I ask you again: what price are you prepared to pay, 
for the love of Jesus Christ?

* I made this change after the 5 pm Mass.