Sunday, July 21, 2019

God's urgent invitation (Sunday homily)

The Hospitality of Abraham by Andrei Rublev. You can watch this strange movie, or read about him here.

Notice in the first reading: God came to a meal. Why would he do that?
This was about friendship: 
enabling Sarah and Abraham to experience friendship with God.
“Friendship with God”: isn’t that a stunning thing to say?

Yes, it is! But that is why Jesus came; 
Friendship with God is our destination.

God comes to a meal in the Gospel, too.
Martha is all worked up about it, and she complains, make Mary help me!
Martha is right in one aspect: 
what an honor it is to have the Lord visit her house!

Would that more Catholics would recognize that.
What an honor that Jesus comes to be with us!
This is why we genuflect, if we are able.
More important is the disposition you and I bring to Mass.
One of the ways we express our attitude is in our clothing.
This is a minefield, so I want to be very measured here.

Not everyone has nice things to wear.
Some people have to come straight from work, or go immediately there.
Life can be complicated.
It can be a struggle just to get the family together.
When I was little, my mom would get me ready for Mass,
and then go do other things, warning me to stay put.
I didn’t listen! Sorry, mom!

Without pushing too far, I want to pose this question:
when you present yourself before the Lord, are you making an effort? 
Yes, I know it’s hot. You think I don’t know? 
I am wearing more clothes here than anybody;
I’d much rather be in shorts and a golf shirt and flip-flops.
Would that be acceptable? To offer Mass that way?

Oh? Do you think you are merely a spectator here?
That your presence isn’t awfully important?
Yes, I’m a priest, and my role is unique;
But you are a member of Christ’s body – aren’t you?

Let’s go back to Martha and her complaint, 
Because that leads to my second observation.
Not only did God come to a meal; he came to give a meal.
This is the “better part” Mary has chosen: to let Jesus feed her.
That isn’t only for Mary; Martha was welcome too. So are you and me.

This is why, coming to Holy Mass, it helps 
to read the Scriptures ahead of time, and if possible, 
have time before to calm down and recollect.
Now, parents with young children, what I just said wasn’t aimed at you! 
I’m glad you’re here! I know how hard it can be, and Jesus knows too.
Just keep coming and do your best! Jesus will take care of it.

If the Martha in you is saying, “but who’s going to fix dinner?”
Can’t you just see Jesus wink and say, “Oh, I think I can handle that!”

This is still about friendship with Jesus. That’s what he longs for.
And there is no short-cut. 
Friends only become friends because they talk to each other, 
they spend time with each other, and they love the same things.

Martha wanted to “do” for Jesus. Admirable.
But do you think you and I will go to heaven because of what we DO?
Because of good works, giving money, following the rules?
Remember what Jesus told us:
Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven;
They’ll say, didn’t we prophesy and do good works in your name?
“Then I will declare to them solemnly, ‘I never knew you.’”

These things matter after and only because we are friends with him.
He wants to know you; and for you to know him. 

You might say, I don’t know how to be friends with God.
I’ll say it once more: friends talk to each other; 
they spend time together, and they love the same things.
So: talk to Him, spend time with Him, and love what he loves.

Here’s good news: the Holy Spirit, 
already in you through baptism and confirmation, is Love, 
and he will help you love the Father and the Son. 
Ask him, again and again and again.
This, I believe absolutely, is a prayer God cannot and will not refuse!

So: God came to a meal; God came to give a meal;
And God is himself the meal!

Of course that makes us think of the Eucharist, and that’s right;
but not in isolation. Never in isolation. At best, this is sterile.
At worst, this is a grave sin and an abomination.

What do I mean by this?
I mean that Mass is a lot more than just receiving Holy Communion. 
And our life as Christians is about more than Sunday Mass.
It’s all connected.

It’s kind of like thinking about the tabernacle – see the tabernacle? – 
without the altar, where the sacrifice takes place; 
and the rest of the church around it, this holy place, 
where holy people led by a holy priest, gather for that sacrifice;
which Jesus himself offers, of himself, on this very altar!

It’s not just Christ and this church that are holy;
The priest must be holy. I am a sinner; so I go to confession.
Holiness, above all, is not primarily about how we behave,
but first and most important, it is about union with God:
everything else flows from that union with him.

So I go to confession because I fail in my friendship;
but my Friend, the Lord Jesus, 
is so good to me that he eagerly forgives me 
and helps me become the friend I want to be.

Your participation in this sacrifice requires you to be holy, too.
You might say, I’m not doing so great on that.
Well, receiving our Eucharistic Lord is itself the remedy for venial sins.
When friends spend time together, they grow in friendship.

Now, if you are conscious of a mortal sin, then go first to confession.
When a friend has sinned gravely against a friend, 
you don’t pretend as if nothing happened: 
you own up and you ask to be reconciled.

To recap: God came to a meal; God gives a meal; God IS the meal.
He came to give himself, to unite us to him, forever.

This last week I was at a conference with Dr. Scott Hahn.
And he made a striking point. 
He described doing a Bible study 
on all the times the New Testament talked about 
the consequences of refusing Christ’s invitation. 
In his own words, he was “stunned” when he took in, all at once,
All the things Jesus said about what happens to those who refuse him.

Such as? Well, how about “He who believes and is baptized 
will be saved; but he who believes not will be damned.”
Or when he spoke about the house built on a rock – that is, Himself! – 
versus the house without Christ, built on sand:
“And great is the fall of that house,” Jesus warned.
Or what I quoted earlier: “Depart from me, I never knew you!”
Or recall the sheep and the goats: depart from me, you accursed!”

I could go on. The point is, everything hangs on this invitation:
Come to me, Jesus says. He comes to you. He wants to be with you.
He offers himself to you and to me.
Don’t leave church today without accepting, or renewing, his friendship.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Start with the person right in front of you (Sunday homily)

Sometimes the Scripture readings are pretty darn clear. Too clear. 
We see plainly what they are saying, 
but we don’t like what they are saying.

So it is with today’s Gospel. “Who is my neighbor?”
You and I know darn well what Jesus’ answer is. 
It is as plain as day. 
We know exactly what he’s saying, don’t we?
Does this really need to be explained?

It’s like this. If you are wondering, 
“what about that person? Or that person? 
But surely, not that person over there?”
You already know the answer, don’t you?
Of course you do! We all do.

Jesus died for absolutely everyone, no exceptions.
He considers everyone his neighbor.
So the rule is: go and do likewise.

The figuring-out part isn’t hard; we’re all there already.
What’s hard is the doing it. The will to do it: the “want to.”
And I can’t really supply that for you.
You know what Jesus wants. You know what he himself did.
And you know, in the depths of your heart, 
what sort of person you truly want to be. Me too.

Only the Holy Spirit – at your request – can supply the “want to.”
And by that I mean, to want it enough 
that you go beyond just thinking about it, and actually DO something.

Now, here’s a detail from the Gospel that didn’t strike me right away.
We often think about the call to be neighborly, to be generous, 
to share our faith, 
in terms of going out here and there and everywhere.
And Jesus has told us to do exactly that on other occasions.

But notice in this Gospel, there is no need to go searching.
The person who needs help is right there on the path.
The priest and Levite didn’t need to go even one step out of their way.
In fact, they had to go out of their way to avoid helping the man.

So here’s the point. Maybe you’re wondering, 
do I need to go on a mission trip? 
Should I go sign up at the soup kitchen in Sidney or Piqua? 
To help out with Rustic Hope or the women’s shelter? 
Am I supposed to volunteer in Dayton?

Those are all great things to do.

But a good start is to be exactly like the Samaritan:
Be generous with the person who God puts right in your path.
You don’t have to go hunting around. 

Just start with that. 
Be daring today, and tell Jesus that you’ll do at least that much.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

What's your focus? (Sunday homily)

Click to see where I got this cute dog picture.

Regarding these readings, one word stands out: focus.

In the first reading, we have Elijah seeking out the man
God had chosen as his successor, Elisha. Elisha is focused:
by slaughtering his oxen and giving away the food,
he shut the door on ever going back
on his resolve to be the Lord’s prophet.

In the Gospel, Jesus is totally focused on Jerusalem.
He knows what will happen there:
he will give his life as a ransom for many.
James and John’s focus is somewhere else.

They remind me of a saying a friend of mine has:
“Keep your eye on the main chance;
don’t stop to kick every barking dog.”
James and John are stopping to kick the Samaritans;
Jesus is keeping his eye on the prize,
which is the Cross, and the salvation of the world.

Paul’s advice in the second reading could be restated as following:
the reason you don’t want to give into temptations
is because they will keep you from gaining eternal life.
Keep moving! Keep focused!
Keep your eye on the main chance, which is heaven!

Our mission is to get to heaven,
and bring as many others with us as we can.
To the extent that we can,
we bring the law of the Kingdom into this world –
because Jesus isn’t just king of heaven,
he is the rightful king of this world as well.

Last Friday, it was wonderful
to have so many men and boys of all ages come out
for our annual Men’s Prayer Walk.
It was a good time of friendship; and the cookout was great,
with good food and games.
But what was the focus?
Prayer; and lifting up Jesus Christ before our community,
and praying for him to bless the people of our parish.

I walked right behind the older boys
who were taking turns lifting up the Cross. That was the focus.
And it seemed like all those taking part understood that.

This coming Friday, we have a group of folks
who are going to be keeping vigil in the church,
after the First Friday Mass,
which they do every First Friday.

We have an all-night vigil before the Blessed Sacrament.
They will be praying for conversion, seeking to consecrate themselves,
and our world, more deeply to the Two Hearts:
the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
You are welcome to come and join in.

So what really is your focus?
Now is a good time to re-focus: Jesus and his Kingdom.
Bringing our families and our community to know him.
That’s all that really matters, here and hereafter.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

At Mass/at Calvary: there is no other moment (Corpus Christi homily)

In two of these readings we hear the name Melchizedek, 
and we also hear that name in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
So we might ask, who the heck is Melchizedek?

As the passage says, he was a king, the king of Salem, 
which we know better as Jerusalem.
The word “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness”;
“Salem” means peace, so he is also, “king of peace.”

An even more important detail: he is a priest;
he offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. Note well: bread and wine.
Early in the first book of the Bible, 
we have a foreshadowing of Jesus himself, 
of the priesthood he would establish, 
of the Holy Mass, and of the Eucharist.

On this feast established to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, 
it is fitting to point out that these three things all go together:
The priesthood; the Mass; and the Eucharist. 
It is all a package deal.

What is essential to priesthood is that a priest offers sacrifice; 
by virtue of offering sacrifice, 
the priest is a mediator between God and humanity.
But if there is no sacrifice, there is nothing special a priest brings.

The sacrifice which Christian priests offer is the Holy Mass. 
The Mass is not primarily about the readings or the homily.
Rather, the Mass is essentially about the altar;
Or, to put it more bluntly, the Mass is really the Cross.
What happened on the Cross is made present on the altar.
This is why, traditionally, the altar was elevated, so it is central; 
so that everyone’s gaze naturally goes there. 

This is why it matters that we do things with reverence and dignity.
It’s why our altar servers’ role is so important.
It’s why how we behave here, how we dress and act, matters.
As many know, the Church went through a period of madness 
in recent decades, in which our churches were wrecked 
and the Mass was celebrated with all the decorum of a backyard picnic.

To this day, we sometimes bring a minimalistic attitude.
If only Father can hurry things along! Do the minimum.
Can you imagine being at Calvary, Jesus is on the Cross,
And saying to him, “Lord, can we hurry this along?”

The fact is, when you are at Mass, you ARE at Calvary!
That is the most important thing to know about the Mass.
If you understand nothing else about Mass, wake up to that fact!

And to those who complain about having to be at Mass – 
which means, remember, being at Calvary – each and every week, 
I respond: “have to”? Have to? You and I GET to be at Calvary! 
In fact, if you want, you can be at Calvary, with Jesus on the Cross, 
every single day, at daily Mass!

Jesus’ mother Mary and the Apostle John and Mary Magdalene 
and a few others were with Jesus at the Cross; 
then when St. Peter and the other Apostles offered Holy Mass 
the first time, they were there as well.
Do you ever wonder what St. Peter was thinking and feeling,
As he celebrated Holy Mass? He could have been at Calvary, 
but he wasn’t there, because of his cowardice.

The whole point of the Mass is to enable you and me really to be there.
And just because someone drops a hymnal, or cell phones go off, 
or maybe the people near you don’t sing very well,
or the priest talks too long and is plain boring…

None of that changes the fundamental reality;
And none of that prevents you from experiencing the truth, 
the reality of the Holy Mass;
I’ll say it again: you are really at the Cross with Jesus!

And if we don’t get that, then we miss what the Eucharist is.
I’m going to be blunt here: a lot of people just go through the motions.
Sit, kneel, stand, go up front; 
get the white thing and put it in my mouth, go back, 
sit, stand, and go home.

When you and I take the Eucharist, 
that means we are uniting ourselves to the sacrifice. 
When you and I take the Body and the Blood, 
we are saying a lot of things all at once:

- That we are prepared to live for Jesus, united with Jesus, 
        living and dying with him. It means we’re “all in.”
- It means we’ve been to confession if we have any mortal sin.
- It means we accept the Cross as the shape of our own lives; 
- Being all about giving ourselves, just as Jesus did;
- Embracing trials and suffering as being full of hope, 
        even as the Cross is ultimately about hope.

In other words, bringing the Body and Blood of Jesus to your lips 
is a solemn moment; nothing actually is more solemn, more serious.
If you are married, your vows come close;
If you were sworn into the military, or swore an oath in court, 
that is a pretty big deal, but nothing compared to this!

If you receive Holy Communion today at Mass, 
this could be the last time you ever do. This is it!
That can be true for any of us. 

Receive the Holy Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ own self, 
offered on Calvary, if you are prepared to do so. 
But if you do, recognize what you do! 
Realize what a powerful moment this is. There is no other moment. 
Here is Jesus; he gives his all to you. There is nothing else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Critical path for a party

Last Friday I had some friends over. With three couples, the seminarian and me, that was a total of eight. I had been looking forward to this party, and I had definite plans for it.

Do you know what a "critical path" is? When I worked in Washington, my boss at the time taught me this technique: in short, it means figuring out what part of a project will take the longest and is least time-elastic. By looking at that information, as well as all the other things that need to be complete -- and in what order -- it becomes possible to work backward and figure out both the time needed, as well as the best order in which to proceed. In other words, if you want to have a party begin at 5 pm, it's pretty important to know when to start getting things ready. Moreover, certain things can be done further out, while some things really need to be done right before. This helps you sort it all out.

I thought you might be amused to see the critical path I worked up last Friday for this party. Here it is verbatim:

Critical Path

2:00 pm Prepare other snacks – 10 mins
2:10 pm Set up table – 20 mins
2:30 pm Glasses, silverware, plates on porch – 20 mins
2:50 pm Prepare bar – 10 mins
3:00 pm Prepare antipasto – 30 mins
                Slice cheese
                Open olives
                Open artichoke hearts
3:30 pm Prepare potatoes – 10 mins
                Drizzle with oil
                Season w/rosemary, salt, pepper, red pepper
3:40 pm Fill cooler with ice & drinks – 20 mins
4:00 pm Prepare vegetable kabobs – 10 mins
                See recipe
4:30 pm Prepare bleu cheese olives – 10 mins
4:45 pm Prepare meat – 10 mins
                Dry off, let stand at room temp

As it happens, there were a few things I didn't include, but that's OK; this got me all the main things.
I might explain, the table was set up outside, under a tree; and that meant I had to watch the weather; if it was either too hot, or too windy, or if rain threatened, I'd go with Plan B, which was the dining room. The temperature was perfect and no rain fell, but it was gusty while I was setting things up, so I held off on the glassware; which, as planned, I kept on the table on the porch. That's where we ended up having drinks and the antipasto, but we moved to the table for the main course, dessert, coffee and digestivos.

So what was for dinner? It went as follows:

1. Apperitivos: cocktails & drinks; chips, nuts.
2. Antipasto of ham and sopressata, assorted cheeses, olives and marinated artichokes
3. The Main Course was brined pork chops, with vegetable kabobs, rosemary potatoes and buttermilk cornbread. (My recipes for the chops and potatoes are below.)
4. Dolce: Graeters ice cream with cookies and pretzels.
5. Coffee & digestivos followed.

The pork chops were sliced thick: 1-1/2"; I brined them overnight in water, kosher salt, garlic powder, dried rosemary, and black pepper. I usually use red pepper, but I didn't have any this time. In the morning I poured out the water, but a good amount of the seasoning remained on the chops. I layered them between paper towels to reduce the moisture; the one downside to brining the chops is that you don't get as good a sear on them. After bringing them to room temperature, I grilled them on each side for a few minutes, and let them sit at a lower temperature for a few minutes more.

For the potatoes, I found a mix of smallish red, yellow and blue potatoes (otherwise red would have been fine); I cut the larger ones in half but left the smaller ones whole. I drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over all of them, then seasoned with rosemary, salt, pepper and red pepper and tossed them to be sure they where well covered. I placed this in the oven, along with the cornbread.

How did it all turn out? During the preprandials, I was able to introduce a couple of my friends to my own particular version of a martini. They said they liked it, but alas, I suspect they did not love it! It is an acquired taste. We had several wines to choose from, and one friend chose a Pinot Noir, which worked well. For digestivos, we had Amaro, Limoncello, Cognac and Strega. The Strega was much scorned.

As for the food, aside from not being seared as nicely as I like, the pork chops were excellent. I cooked a dozen chops, so my grill was pretty crowded. I was being cautious with the veggies, and they could have used a little more time. Also, the butter sauce for this I found later in the microwave, but they were still pretty good. The cornpone was good; the potatoes would have been better with more roasting.

Part of my rationale for this menu was I didn't want to have anything taking a lot of time, and that worked out pretty well. I'd do this menu again.

Everyone stayed till dark, so pretty obviously we all had a good time. I'm planning two more parties in August; it may be too hot to sit outside then. We'll see!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Show God's Face (Holy Trinity)

Today is Father’s Day. Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. 
And I think I’m going to keep this pretty simple.

Here’s something that can be a shock
when you realize it the first time, but:
we turn into our parents!

My father had funny little habits.
For example, whenever we’d drive somewhere, 
from time to time he’d say, “there’s a Burger King,” 
or “there’s Dairy Queen.” 
So I’d ask, “did you want to stop?”
“No,” he’d say. It was just something he’d do, pointing places out.

So guess what? Now I do exactly the same thing!

And I tell the exact same goofy jokes my father told!

The point being, that our parents play a huge role, 
And a big part of that is showing us who God is.

So when you and I talk about God being our Father,
That will be shaped by the father we grow up with.
For some people, obviously, this can mean some real trials of faith, 
because sometimes those relationships are a mess.
That can make it hard for some people to draw close to God; 
So the natural question, if that’s you, is: what do I do about this?

Honestly, that’s not easy. But one thing to do is to look at Jesus. 
The Son of God became human, and came among us, 
precisely to show us the face of God. 
Drawing close to Jesus helps us realize who God the Father is.

Another thing we can do is look around at other people in our lives.
Who has been there, steady and faithful and giving?
That person is showing you the face of the Father, 
you just didn’t know it.

And a third thing we do – we all do – 
is learn to be more forgiving of our parents’ flaws and limitations, 
especially as we reach that stage in life.

All that said, I don’t want to emphasize the negative. 
Rather, I want to stress how powerfully God’s love 
works through each of us, as imperfect as we are. 

That’s what each of the readings is talking about:
God was filled with a longing to create this world, 
and fill it with life – us, above all; 
that’s what the first reading is about.

And when humanity fell into sin and darkness, 
The Father’s love did not abate, but rather overflowed;
This is why Jesus came, why Jesus died, 
and why he gave us the Holy Spirit. 

You and I cannot begin to comprehend 
the height and breadth and depth of that love of God for each of us.
But if you are a parent, then you have a sense,
Because that’s the love you have for your own children.
They may defy you, disappoint you, drive you crazy at times,
But you never stop loving them. 
Not only can you not imagine doing so, 
even thinking about that is terribly painful.

That’s the love you – a flawed creature – have.
Multiply that by infinity, and that’s God’s love for each of us.

Everything I’ve said applies to both mothers and fathers.
But on this Father’s day, 
I do want to say something just to men, just to fathers. 

We all see how our culture denigrates fatherhood. 
Boys and men are routinely labeled “toxic.”
Movies and TV depict men as threats, or else fathers as a joke.
Or else they are simply absent.
And, of course, in reality that is often true.

Before it seems I am pointing the finger elsewhere, let me say this:
Too many of our spiritual fathers – priests and bishops – 
have degraded themselves and shamed the Church. 

So what do we do? Again, specifically addressing the boys and men:
You are a father now, or else you hope to be. 
I accepted the call to be a spiritual father, 
and I am confident there are other men here 
who God wants to be priests as well. 
Whatever our path, what we do is we stand up and be men.  
You’ve heard this before: we guard, we guide and we give.
If other men, other fathers, are dropping the ball, let’s pick it up!

Your spiritual leadership, here at Mass and at home, 
play a huge role in leading your children to a healthy and lasting faith.
No guarantees, but it will give you and them every advantage.
Lead your children to Mass; lead them in prayer; 

Above all, show them what true generosity, true love, looks like.
My father has been gone awhile, but his lessons are with me always;
And it will be the same for your children long decades in the future!

And if you will forgive me, I’m going to give a plug 
for our annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
Every year at this time – coming up on Friday, June 28 – 
all the boys and men of every age are invited to come together 
to walk a couple of miles around the perimeter of our parish, 
after which we have a meal and fellowship.

We’ll meet behind my house by 5:30 pm, board some hay wagons,
Ride out to the road where we’ll walk and pray, and then come back.
If you can’t walk, just ride on the hay wagon, or bring your golf cart!

Why do this? To be men; to be fathers, 
who provide spiritual leadership, and spiritual protection, 
for our parish. To teach our sons and grandsons.
And in all that, we show God’s face to our community.