Sunday, November 10, 2019

'There are only two possibilities...' (Sunday homily)

Click on image to go to site from which I "borrowed" this.

The first reading shows us incredible courage on the part of 
seven brothers on trial for their fidelity to the Lord God. 
But don’t miss one key ingredient in their fortitude: 
they are supremely confident of the Resurrection. 

They know they, and their persecutors, will face a Judgment Day, 
and they are certain God will give them 
a share in the Resurrection to Life.

Somewhere recently I saw someone ask this question: 
Can you name three things for which 
you would be willing to give your life? 
How many of us know the answer to that question? 
And is our Catholic Faith one of them?

Of course, it makes all the difference whether or not
you believe that there is life after this one; 
that you and I will get our bodies back, and – 
if we place our faith in Jesus Christ and cooperate with his grace
and live as he teaches us, repenting of our sins
– we will have a share in the Resurrection to Life.

That changes everything. There are only two possibilities: 
either this is all we get, and therefore, when we die, that’s the end; 
or, this is a prelude to something more. 

And all of us live according to one belief-system or the other, 
even if we don’t think about it very much. 

So, you can say, “Oh, I’m not very religious” or, 
“I don’t have time to work all that out”;
But in any case, how you live day-by-day tells the true story.
Is this world my true home? Or am I just passing through?

So that brings us to our annual celebration 
of Forty Hours of adoration of Jesus on the altar. 

We began our time of exposition 
of the Most Holy Eucharist Friday morning, 
and it will continue till 9 pm on Saturday, 
and conclude at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon. 

This devotion began in the 1500s 
with the blessing of Pope Paul III, with the purpose of 
“appeas[ing] the anger of God provoked by the offences of Christians,” 
and to seek God’s help against those 
“pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom…” 

That sounds about right! 
Boy are there a lot of offenses by Christians before God,
while our foes press hard on every side.

The anchor of our hope is Jesus Christ, and his Resurrection. 
Once again, the choice is binary. Either he really lived, or it’s all a fake. 
Either he really rose from the dead, or it’s all a lie. 
Jesus said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood”: 
those are HIS words, and so either he truly gives us 
his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – 
and therefore, the Eucharist is our Lord Jesus, our Lord God! – 
Or else it’s all nothing. 

You and must decide: what do we believe? What do we live for?
It gets harder to be a faithful Christian every day. 
We think we’re isolated and protected in Russia, 
and we are to some extent, but don’t kid yourself.

The ground is shifting under our feet even as we speak. 
Sooner or later, each one of us will face a moment 
when we must take a stand; 
it will probably be a small thing, at our place of work, 
or at a party with friends, or a family situation;
hardly a life-or-death situation. 

Yet in that moment, we will face a cost, a consequence, 
perhaps a lost business deal or a better job;
maybe embarrassment, or ridicule, 
if we stand up for the Catholic Faith.
And the thing is, it’s not just once, but over and over.
Either we learn the habit of cheerfully paying the price; 
or we learn the habit of shrinking back, again and again.

And the only solid ground, the only thing that is secure, is Jesus Christ. 
Forty Hours and this Mass, right now, are a good time 
to ask yourself what you believe, and what price you will pay for it. 
And further: ask Him, ask Jesus, to strengthen you.
Hear him say to you what he said to Peter: “Be not afraid!”

One day all this world will melt away, and either there we be nothing;
Or there will be Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Senor Jesus SI! Pachamama? Al infierno con eso!

Here are my summary reactions to the “Amazon Synod,” which appeared in the parish's bulletin last week:

Recently Pope Francis concluded a special meeting in Rome with selected bishops from around the world, as well as selected representatives from the Amazon region of South America. Even though the focus of the gathering was supposed to be on local issues, the event was held, not in South America, but in the “capital” of the Catholic Church, that is, Rome. Presumably Pope Francis wanted to make this as high profile as possible.

What did it do?

Mainly a lot of talking and more talking, culminating in a series of recommendations, which Pope Francis himself will evaluate and respond to. He has no obligation to do anything with the recommendations, but insofar as he promotes this process, it seems likely he will want to advance at least some of the synod’s proposals.

Nevertheless, there were three things that came out of the synod that deeply concern me. I will summarize them this week, and say more in a future column. While the synod had some good things to say about caring for the environment and respecting diverse peoples, especially those who are poor and powerless, it advocated two changes I think would be harmful: allowing married men to be ordained as priests, and creating female deacons of some sort.

What in the world is a 'pachamama'? 

Meanwhile, some people showed up with carved wooden figures of a naked, pregnant woman, and these were paraded around and finally brought into several of the churches. At one point, someone absurdly claimed it was meant to be an image of our Lady; others said it didn’t mean anything at all (so why parade around with something meaningless?). But with further research, it seems clear it was a non-Christian (i.e., pagan) symbol representing “Mother Earth,” which the Incas – and perhaps people today, pray to. This last is the key fact: in traditional religions of the region, people pray to Pachamama. Let that sink in!

How did this happen?

The most charitable explanation I can offer is that the people in Rome were clueless and didn’t want to be overbearing, but rather be “inclusive” and welcoming. Then, when controversy blew up, they circled the wagons as so often happens. Those preparing for this event ought to have headed this off, and such a symbol – regardless of intentions – ought not to have been displayed in a place of Christian worship! Of course, you’re thinking, how could Pope Francis let this happen? Remember, we believe God will prevent the pope from teaching error; that doesn’t mean he won’t ever make a bad decision, or fail to make a good one when needed.

No doubt, many in this country think, “big deal!” But remember, for centuries, certain Protestant sects have accused us Catholics of worshiping idols. In Latin America, such sects are converting ill-catechized Catholics by the hundreds of thousands. What a bonanza this will be for them! Meanwhile, a frequent Muslim claim is that Christians worship multiple gods. Imagine what besieged Christians in many Muslim-majority countries will have to face as a result of this episode.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Seek out more Zacchaeuses to win (Sunday homily)

This man, Zacchaeus, was someone everyone would have hated. 
He was a tax-collector for the Roman oppressors.
That also meant he was feared, 
because a word from him could bring you big trouble.

And this is who Jesus chooses to be friends with?

This reminds me of a great movie called “The Scarlet and the Black,” 
about a Catholic priest, Monsignor O’Flaherty, 
in Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II.
At great risk, the priest finds ways to save Jews from the Nazis.
The villain, Colonel Kappler, was responsible for many deaths,
and if he’d had his way, that would have included Father O’Flaherty.

But then things turn, and now the Nazi comes and begs the priest 
to help his family escape. At first, the Monsignor refuses; 
but then his heart softens, and he rescues his enemy’s family.

Kappler goes to prison for his many brutal crimes.
Every month one person visited him. It was Father O’Flaherty.
After 14 years, Kappler was baptized!

Jesus’ friendship with Zacchaeus had instant results;
But more often, it takes great patience, as with Kappler.

When you and I show kindness and mercy like this,
We will be criticized and mocked as na├»ve; 
and many times, it won’t seem to have done any good at all.

But one day you and I will stand before Jesus.
He will not mock us. We will not be embarrassed on that day!
Imagine being Monsignor O’Flaherty, appearing before Jesus, 
and saying, “Here, I brought my own Zacchaeus:
my friend, Colonel Kappler!”

Do you think he will regret that he was generous, 
that he persevered, all those years, in showing kindness and friendship?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Heaven is full; we need to be (All Saints homily)

A few years ago, there was a book and a movie 
about a boy who died for several hours 
and when he came back to life, he said he’d been in heaven. 
It’s not the only book that’s been written about heaven. 
A lot of us wonder: what might heaven be like?

Well, let’s look at what the Scriptures we heard have to say.

First, Heaven will be full of people. 
“A great multitude, which no one could count, 
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
That is hopeful!

Second, Heaven is full of holiness – and, therefore, joy.

The psalm we prayed tells us, to be in heaven is to have 
Hands that are sinless and a clean heart.
To be in heaven is to be pure, “as God is pure.”

How is this possible? 

We think of sin as something we have: 
we have greed, we have wrath, 
we have lust, we have bad habits.

But it would be truer to understand sin as being about what we lack. 
We lack the fullness of purity; of peace; of contentment; of truth.
We lack the fullness, finally, of God. 

Sin happens in our lives not because of what we have, 
but because of what we think we don’t have. 
Isn’t that what envy is? 
If I like my house, my car, my life – 
I have no reason to envy my neighbor.

Anger becomes sinful when we are not content 
to let someone else be the judge of things; 
and, ultimately, the final judge is God. 
The sin of wrath comes in when we don’t think 
God is doing a good job as the final judge of things. 

Heaven is free of sin, precisely because it’s full of God.
Which leads to my third point:

Just because heaven is full, don’t assume heaven is easy.

The standard way of thinking today 
is that pretty much everyone goes to heaven. 
Only really bad people, like Stalin and Hitler, go to hell.

Well, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said a lot about hell. 
He kept warning people about how likely it was they would go there.

If heaven were more or less automatic – 
the way lots of people think – 
there would be no point for the Bible 
to be more than five or ten pages long.
We wouldn’t need ten commandments, only one:
“Thou shalt not be really mean – like Hitler.”

And, more than that, Jesus would never have died on the cross.
Remember, he agonized about it the night before.
If heaven was easy, he could have told his Father:
“It’s not like they need this, Father – 
they’re all coming to heaven anyway.”

It is critical for each of us to understand – 
is that we will make it to heaven 
only because we surrender ourselves to the grace of God.

We profess that Mary, the Mother of God, is “full of grace”—
which is the same thing as saying, she is without sin.

But here’s the part we miss: what Mary received early, 
every one of us is destined to receive.
Every one of us is destined to be full of grace.

In other words, every single one of us is meant to be a saint.

Let me make the point even more strongly.

If you and I don’t make as saints?
Then we will be in hell.

There is no middle option.
No, not Purgatory. Purgatory isn’t a destination; 
it’s the last stop before heaven. 
And everyone who makes to Purgatory will be a saint.
Purgatory is the finishing school for saints.

So, unless you want to go to hell – 
and I don’t know anyone who really wants that – 
then you and I had better get serious about being saints.
Heaven will be full of joy – and as saints in heaven, 
We will be full of joy – because we will be full 
of the presence and knowledge, 
the love and the life, of Jesus Christ.

You and I – along with countless others – 
will be those saints, whose lives are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Project 88 Complete!

Last week -- October 13-15 -- I visited the final four counties and thus completed my personal project of visiting all 88 counties in Ohio. Here is the report of this last outing.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed off for my tour of Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll Counties. First stop: Summit County, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. My original ambition was to ride a scenic railroad that makes trips through the park each weekend; but in October, the late-afternoon trip drops off the schedule; I couldn't get there for the earlier trip.

Along the way, I stopped in Boston Township, where I snapped these pictures:

The plaque above was in front of the building below:

Across the way is the G.A.R. Hall. "G.A.R." stands for the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a pretty prominent organization at one time in American society, but now gone with the wind.

The GAR Hall seems to have found a new life as a concert venue...

Looks nice!

When I got to the park, I looked for the visitor's center. I saw a building labeled "Visitor's Center," but parking was a little distant. I walked over, only to find this sign:

So then I went back to the old center, only to arrive 3 minutes after closing.

I went and got dinner, and then to my hotel, where I found this. What do you make of it?

The next morning I drove around the park. By the way, I only discovered at this point that much of the park is actually in Cuyahoga County, but some in Summit. There are lots of trails for hiking and biking. Since a lot of my tour was by car, not so many pictures. Here are two:

Here's some history of Brandywine Falls, including a village now all but vanished:

After this, I drove down to Akron, the county seat of Summit, coming into town along Riverview/Merriman Road, through a lovely part of town. I passed this building with a for sale sign outside the Temple Israel, which relocated in 2014:

Once downtown, I chanced upon St. Bernard Church. I didn't get a photo of the outside, but it is huge. When I got inside, all I could say was "wow!" Several times.

 The free-standing altar is unfortunate, but perhaps someday it will be removed. The bench on which the priest sits has absurdly been turned to face the people; it ought to face the altar. But overall, I was thrilled that very little damage was done to this church, or else has been undone.

What do you make of this? Was the altar rail always arranged this way?

This window is rather unusual. All the figures have a flame over their heads, which I take to refer to Pentecost. The Lord Jesus is not in the scene, but Mary is. If you count the figures, it adds up, if I recall correctly, to 14, which leads me to think they put Paul in, except he wasn't there. Let me know if you have a theory or more information.

This Baptistry impressed me because of its size, and its seating.

From here I headed down to Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I spent about 2 hours there, but didn't take a huge number of photos. Here are some:

The Hall of Fame is just one part of a large and growing complex. Inside I saw plans for a $1 Billion' worth of construction.

Visiting the hall of fame is rather humbling for Bengals fans, as only only four people associated with the team are there, and only one whose work was primarily with the Bengals: Anthony Munoz of course. There is plenty to see, and its enjoyable and informative, but there is definitely a weird vibe about the place, as the mural above might suggest: it's almost a kind of religious shrine.

After the hall of fame, my goal was to visit the last two counties that day, so I could celebrate my project that evening; the next day I would take in any additional sights as desired on the way home. I dipped down into Carroll County, so I could legitimately count it, but with plans to return to see more the next day. I passed through Minerva, but sorry, no pictures!

I was charmed by this little Methodist church, somewhere between Canton and Robertsville, but I can't read the sign out front. Can you?

This is a post office. Again, I can't make out the sign.

This is a marker near West Point, Ohio, in Columbiana County, where Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's daring raid through Indiana and Ohio came to an end.

The is the Grange building in Robertson, Ohio. Never heard of The Grange? It's a farmers' organization, organized somewhat along the lines of the Freemasons, although I don't know how true that still is. Grange buildings can be found all over the country.

This is St. Agatha Church in West Point.

Eventually, I made my way to the mighty Ohio, which forms not only the southern, but a substantial part of the eastern, border of the state. This is East Liverpool, which -- you will discover, as I did -- has a plethora of historical markers:

Not many yards further up river from this point, the Ohio emerges from Pennsylvania:

One of the many libraries built coast to coast by Andrew Carnegie:

A marker right near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, indicating where...well, read it for yourself:

After this, I headed to Salem, Ohio, in northwest Columbiana County, for the night. There weren't many options for hotels and restaurants in this county, but Salem seemed to have more options, so I headed there. When I went online, I was intrigued by "The Stables Inn" and headed there. It turned out to be a 1959 hotel that had closed ten years before, which some local investors had reopened and were trying to make go. It certainly has promise. The restaurant was nice, but the ribs I had weren't as good as I hoped. I'd certainly give it another try.

Alas, I got no other pictures in Salem but this house with unusual chimneys. Have you seen anything like this before?

After a enjoyable dinner at "Boneshakers," the restaurant in the hotel, and sleeping late, I got up for a little more visiting in Carroll County, and then the long drive home. My route was along State Route 9, from Salem to Carrollton, the county seat of Carroll County. My first job was to hunt down some breakfast, I think I ended up at McDonalds. Then I needed gasoline, which I got in Carrollton. I looked around the town, but honestly, I was ready to head home. Here's what I saw took pictures of on the way back:

And now, my trek is finished! What project should I tackle next?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Get to work! (Sunday homily)

When I was a boy, all I wanted to do on Saturday mornings 
was eat big bowls of cereal and watch cartoons. 

My parents had other ideas:
Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, taking out the garbage, 
cleaning my room, helping get the house in order,
or working with my dad in the garden or with his business. 

Whether I liked it or not, I had to do my part in the family.
And our Father in heaven operates according to the same principle.

Everything I have, everything I am, was a gift.
My parents did so much for me! 
I didn’t earn what I received and I can’t pay it back;
And, again, it’s the same in the spiritual life.

None of us deserves God giving us life, 
and giving us salvation in Jesus Christ. 
None of us is worthy of having our Lord come to earth 
and live among us and giving himself for us on the Cross.

And then to have God continue to forgive us, over and over, 
in the sacrament of confession? 
To have the Lord Jesus give us his own flesh and blood, 
his own life, in the Holy Eucharist? 
To receive the help of the Holy Spirit, of the angels and saints, 
throughout our lives, all the way to heaven?
How can any of us dare to think we either deserve this, 
or can ever repay this love?

Even so, it remains that each of us has a job to do.
We’re part of a family. 
It’s only right that we contribute our part.

What is God’s work? It is redemption and conversion of hearts.
You and I are messengers, 
ambassadors for Christ in a world losing its bearings. 
Saint Paul told Timothy to pray and know the Scriptures, 
so that he could better share his faith 
and point people in the right way.

If you agree that God has been good to you, unbelievably good to you,
 maybe one of your chores is to know your Faith better?
So that when topics come up in conversation, 
you can give a helpful answer?

In the first reading, God’s People are in the thick of battle.
Moses is praying, his arms so weary that the priests are holding him up.

Jesus Christ is our Moses, who leads us, and intercedes for us.
Yet he also said: to be my disciple, “take up your cross.”
One of the most important ways you and I share in Christ’s work is with prayer.

When I was in Piqua, I had a priest visit who talked about
the power of spending time adoring the Holy Eucharist. 
And he said something surprising that I never forgot. 

He said: “we really don’t like to pray.” He’s right!
Sure, there are some of us have a gift for praying for hours.
But most of us, if we are honest, it’s a chore.
There’s always something else we’d rather do.
You and I try to pray, and we can’t keep on it – our mind wanders.
Maybe our back hurts or we get impatient.

What really wears us out is that we have to keep asking, asking, asking.
The same sins and habits every time you and I go to confession.
Don’t be surprised, and don’t be discouraged. It IS work!

What is true for our personal prayer, is true above all about Holy Mass, 
which is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of us, as his Church.

Where did people get the idea that Mass is supposed to be convenient, 
catering to our needs, and certainly not demanding too much?

Do you know what the Mass really is?

It is a lot like Moses being up on that mountain, begging God’s help;
and you and I are standing there, holding up his arms.

Because, in fact, it is not Moses, but Jesus: on the Cross, 
pleading for us and for the world, that grace will be poured out on us.
And none of us is a spectator. Jesus asks our help!

Look down on the battlefield, and tell me: how’s it going?
Does it look like our side is winning? 

Then there’s more work to do. For each one of us.