Sunday, October 15, 2017

The three responses we give to God's invitation (Sunday homily)

In the readings, we have a feast; a marriage; 
a surprise invitation; and a guest who was unprepared.

The question that always gets the most attention is this: 
why was the one guest unprepared? 
He wasn’t dressed properly; and people will say, 
but they took him off the street, how could he have been prepared?

That misses the point, which is that when God gives us an invitation, 
we will be able to give a response. 
And in this parable, there are three responses people give:

The first is what the original guests give. 
Their answer, not to say it too rudely was, 
“The King? Nuts to the king!” 
There are less polite ways to say it, that I won’t say, 
but you know what I mean.

Then we have the response of most of the guests who show up. 
The king finds them suitably attired. Their response was the right one. 
In a word, they said “yes, Lord,” not just to the invitation, 
but to everything that went with it. They changed their lives. 
They recognized Jesus as their King 
and rearranged their lives around that reality. 

And then we have this guest. 
He didn’t flatly refuse; but he also didn’t really say yes. 
He wants to be along for the ride. He wants to hedge his bets. 
He doesn’t really respect the invitation, or the King. 

There are plenty of people in our time 
who have the integrity to recognize that calling yourself a Christian carries great demands; 
and they are not ready to do it. 

So you will meet people and say to them, 
“weren’t you baptized a Catholic? Aren’t you a Christian?” 
And they will say, I was, but I am not any longer.” 
And it might be a disappointment or hurt; 
and many will admit they just drifted away; 
but again, there will be those who will say forthrightly, 
“I am not prepared to be a Catholic because…” and then explain why.

There is something to respect in people 
at least realizing that following Jesus Christ is not a trivial matter, 
but the most serious decision. 

Then we have the guest who gets thrown out. 
He takes it all very lightly. 

This is the person who says, sure, I’ll be a godparent for a baptism, 
even though he or she doesn’t make living the Faith a priority. 

How can someone agree to be a sponsor for baptism or confirmation – 
which means, you will model the Faith by your life – 
when you know you’re not doing that? 

And I know how painful it is not to be able to invite family or friends 
to be godparents, but it’s a very solemn responsibility. 
And if you can’t find suitable godparents, come and talk to me. 

This guest without the wedding garment 
is someone who fundamentally misunderstands what Jesus asks. 
Our Faith is not like sales tax. 
You go to the store, you pay the tax, 
and that satisfies the state. You go on as you like.
Some people imagine being Catholic is like that. 
I check off the boxes, I’ve done my duty, 
and then I do as I please.

But that is not Christianity. That is not our Catholic Faith. 
You know what that is? It is a warmed-over paganism. 

In the time of the Apostles, 
this is precisely how the pagans approached religion. 
Zeus or Aphrodite or Mithras or whatever gods you worshipped, 
were almost never the center of life. 
You made your periodic sacrifices, 
you showed up for a religious holiday, and then you lived as you like. 

But what does Jesus say? 
“I am the way, the truth and the life, 
no one comes to the Father except through me.” 
And, “If you are not with me, you are against me.” 
And, he said, “If you would be my disciple, take up your…Cross 
and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to be all in. He is the King.

What Jesus offers us is costly, but it is also a super-abundance of life. 
Nothing is more demanding, and yet it is to drink Life from the Source. 
What could be better?

Notice what was that guest invited to? To a wedding, to a feast. 
And remember, he wasn’t one of the rich swells who was used to this; he was poor and hungry.

The future that Jesus opens up for us? There is no upper scale. 
There is no upper limit to how much abundance 
of life and joy and peace and fulfillment will be ours 
on that mountain where death is destroyed forever!

You and I are bidden to that wedding; 
and all Jesus asks is, “give me your heart. Say yes to me, as your King.” 
The marriage is between the Son of God 
and the People he has called to himself. 
Our destiny is something breathtaking and shocking to say: 
we will be united with God! 

In three weeks our parish will have a mission, 
with Father Nathan Cromly. 
The title of the mission is, “Discovering Joyful Catholicism.” 

Our Faith is demanding, and yet it is a Feast.
There’s a funny old movie called “Auntie Mame,” and she says, 
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” 

That banquet is our Catholic Faith: 
an abundance of truth about who God is and who we are. 
Tables groaning with mercy for all who want it, 
and we can go back, again and again. 

A flood of grace that gives us strength to be people 
we could never be otherwise. 
And a life – in this world and the world to come – 
that is worth everything we give, to have. 
Because that life is Jesus Christ himself.

So, first, if you need your batteries recharged – and who doesn’t? – 
then come to this mission. The dates are November 6-8, 
and Fr. Cromly will give a talk in church 
on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. 
There are other events planned for our children and teens to meet him. 

Each night will include time for prayer and priests to hear confessions.
And if you need a reason to go, the theme is your answer: do you want, do you need, 
to discover more joy in your Catholic Faith? 
Who doesn’t?

Second, this is what Jesus sends us out to bring others to share. 
If you wonder what it costs to follow Jesus, how about this: 
Right now, it “costs” each of us looking around for people to invite. 
There are flyers at the doors, feel free to take one. 
We’ll have more next week. 

Pray for the people who you might want to invite, starting today. 
Pray for you to have the courage to say the words, 
to family, friends and neighbors, 
“would you like to come with me to St. Remy’s Parish Mission?” 

And how about this? If someone pokes back at you, 
“well, you don’t seem all that joyful!” 
You tell them, “You’re right! That’s why I’m going! You come with me.”

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Our shepherds screwed up. So, what are you going to do? (Sunday homily)

When we listen to Jesus speaking in the Gospels, 
and we hear him hit a subject hard – as he does in this passage – 
we might say, like kids in school, “wow, he sure burned them!”

And, yes, he did!

But I don’t think the Apostle Matthew tells this story for that reason. 
The point isn’t so we can hear what Jesus had to say to other people.
Rather, the point is, what is he saying to you and me, here, now?

So if you ever have trouble understanding a Bible passage, 
this is a way to make things much clearer.
Just ask: what does this passage say about me? To me?

As we saw, Jesus was hitting the chief priests, the spiritual leaders. 
So this hits home with me, at least; 
I hope it hits home with our bishops. 

What I’m going to say next is going to be a little tough, 
and not pleasant to hear, but I think it needs to be said.

In recent decades, I’m sorry to say that 
your spiritual leaders didn’t serve you very well.

After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,
there was all this enthusiasm for “reform” and reorganizing everything. 
A lot of folks got carried away. 
A lot of it really had nothing to do 
with what the Church actually decided at Vatican II.

And now, looking back after 50 years, 
while there were good things we can point to – 
and I’ll highlight one in a moment – 
there were some real problems.

For example, the Holy Mass itself underwent change; 
again, some good effects, but some bad. 
We had a period of wild experimentation, 
and as a result, there was a loss of reverence in many places.

This is something Father Amberger worked hard to restore, 
and many, many parishioners have told me 
how important it is that our Mass is reverent.
Many who visit here say the same.
But if you visit other places, 
you will see a real loss of reverence.

Worse, it was our spiritual leaders – 
priests on orders from the bishops – 
who removed beautiful altars and statues;
and built some really strange-looking churches.
At the same time, there was this mindset 
that anything old-style had to go. 

People were told, don’t worry about going to confession, 
and penance on Fridays, and many forms of devotion.
Thankfully, these trends have reversed. 

Worse was the way handing on of the Faith was derailed. 
A whole generation of Catholics grew up 
without really knowing the Faith. 
I know, because I belonged to that generation, 
and I know I’m not the only one.

Worst of all – and this is the ugliest fact to acknowledge – 
was the failure to deal decisively with offenses against children.
As a priest, I am deeply ashamed of what happened,
and on behalf of those who ought to apologize, I beg your forgiveness.

Now, this is a sad litany, but the point is 
that what happened in the Gospel, still happens; 
sometimes our spiritual leaders fail us.

The good news is, that unlike what happened in the first reading, 
where God seems to walk away from the vineyard, 
what Jesus does is to send new leaders,
who will give him the “produce at the proper times.”  

And this brings me to one of the really good things 
that has happened since Vatican II. 

A theme Vatican II emphasized 
was that the mission of the Church 
is not merely the task of bishops and priests. 

Rather, it belongs to every single one of us.
If you are baptized, you are a Christian;
If you are a Christian, you share in the mission of Jesus Christ.
And while in many cases bishops and priests 
dropped the ball in recent decades, 
it was the lay faithful of the Church who picked it up.

One of the fruits of laypeople stepping up was to push back, 
asking for accountability; 
asking for their churches to be beautiful again, 
asking for Eucharistic adoration, which was discouraged for awhile.
What’s more, the bishops and priests 
who have corrected these mistakes 
started as laymen who decided they needed to step up.

So, if you are ever frustrated by our bishops, our priests – 
by the pope – then remember what you can do.

You can speak up – with charity and prudence;
You not only can, but you must pray. 
If there is one thing that we learned 
in the last few decades is just how powerful the Rosary is.

It was the Rosary that won the Cold War – Mary predicted it! – 
and there are many, many people here, right now, 
who witnessed that miracle: 
of the Cold War ending not with nuclear annihilation, 
but with barely a shot being fired.

And if you ever think we could have better bishops or priests, 
you are absolutely right! 

We need men with backbone 
who want to give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves, 
who aren’t concerned about whether they have an easy life 
and lots of money, but who want to be coworkers with Jesus Christ.

So, young men, maybe the better priests we need include you!
Parents, maybe it’s your son or grandson. 

And whatever our bishops and priests say, or fail to say; 
do, or fail to do, there is a whole lot that can be done 
in the Vineyard by you, the baptized faithful. 

Look at EWTN: it was founded 31 years ago.
What a change it has brought!
Look at the many great Catholic resources on the Internet.

With a few exceptions, these were created, 
not by bishops and priests, 
but by ordinary Catholics who just got down to work! 
The Holy Spirit did powerful things through them.

Just to give a very simple example here in Russia.
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is trying gather funds 
for food for our area soup kitchens. 

We’ve done a lot, but this time around, 
there hasn’t been a great response, 
so can we all give them a helping hand? 
They are making it easy, just a financial contribution, 
and they will get the food at the best prices.

How about this week, writing a check?
You can make it payable to the parish, 
but mark it, “food for the poor” so we know where it should go.

In recent months, it seems like we’ve been hit with too much bad news. 
Terrible violence as in Las Vegas. Natural disasters. 
Political polarization, some of which is affecting the Church.
It is so easy to get weighed down by all that.
We don’t ignore these things, 
but it is the devil who wants us to be discouraged.

Instead, listen to what Saint Paul said in today’s reading.
What is true, what is just, what is “worthy of praise, 
think about these things.”

There is one priest in this parish; there are 1,500-1,600 laity.
There are a couple hundred priests 
and three bishops in our archdiocese; there are a half-million Catholics.
That is a mighty, mighty army. 
Armed with faith; armed with courage; 
clothed with grace from the sacrament of confession, 
and made strong by the food of the Eucharist, 
you and I are powerful coworkers of the Lord.

So don’t ask what Jesus is saying, in this Gospel, 
to somebody else.
What is he saying to you?

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Which son are you? (Sunday homily)

In this Gospel passage, we hear about two sons.
But, in fact, there are three.
The third Son is Jesus himself, the Son of God – 
who is described in the second reading from St. Paul.

These three sons show us three paths:
The first son is rebellious and then repents.
The second son keeps up appearances, but is a hypocrite;
The third son – the Lord – takes the path of sacrifice and self-gift.

Notice something about the two sons: both have sinned;
But one son has the advantage of a good reputation to hide his sins; 
the other bears public shame even after he has changed his ways. 
This is a reminder that lots of us have the luxury 
of our sins being hidden from public view, 
while others’ sins are all very well known. 

The result is that we, who only know part of the story, 
judge some people harshly; and don’t kid yourself, 
many of those folks are very aware of that judgment.

Our bishops call this Respect Life Sunday, 
and they want every Catholic to grow in awareness 
of the value of each and every human life – 
and to bring that awareness to bear in questions of public policy. 

The obvious issue is legal abortion; 
and not only working to protect unborn children, 
but also to care for the mothers and fathers who are wounded. 

And we know there are other concerns, such as research that destroys human embryos – 
that is, early human life. 
And it should be mentioned that there are alternatives 
that do not destroy life 
and we Catholics are 100% in favor of those alternatives.

Yet another obvious task – becoming more urgent – 
is countering the push for “assisted suicide.” 
Suicide is always wrong, because it is simply self-murder. 
You and I don’t get to decide when anyone dies, 
and that includes ourselves. 

That’s not to minimize the suffering many people experience; 
but the answer to suffering is not to kill people, 
but to help them relieve their pain and discover new purpose. 

Also, we’re not talking about those situations 
when people are nearing the end of life, 
and all they want is to refuse intrusive or extraordinary means of care. 
I don’t want to get too detailed here, 
but if anyone has any questions about this, 
please don’t hesitate to ask me, and I will gladly help you out on this.

Thankfully, many people are pushing back. 
But this form of murder has been legalized in six states 
and the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital. 
And there are powerful forces and lots of money behind this. 
Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, 
someone will try to legalize it in Ohio.

Meanwhile, here in Ohio, it is legal to execute people 
who have committed terrible crimes. 
And while that is not the same thing, 
because we are talking about a punishment of a guilty person, 
rather than the death of someone innocent…

We might remember what Pope John Paul II said on this: 
that while the state has the right to apply this punishment, 
it would be better if we chose non-lethal means wherever possible. 

For that reason, our bishops have been urging a change in the law, 
so that the death penalty would not be used 
unless there really was no alternative.

The other thing our bishops would remind us, 
is that being pro-life isn’t just about this or that issue; 
it is about how we treat all people, 
from the very beginning of life to its natural end. 

And if we really want to be pro-life, 
then what about making sure that women who are in trouble, 
are helped to choose life? 

We are so blessed to have organizations 
like the Elizabeth New Life Center and Rustic Hope 
that support women and families in these situations. 

I encourage everyone to support these efforts. 
And if we can, find ways to do even more.

There are a lot of ways government policy 
can either foster human life and the family, or else degrade life. 
If we are truly pro-life, then it is incumbent on us as citizens 
to bring compassion to bear in every way we can. 

And to return to the Gospel passage we started with. 
We have two sons, one who sin against his father is very public, 
and another, whose sins are more hidden.
Pope Francis has often talked about how the Christ’s Church 
is called to be a “field hospital,” that brings people back to life.
And that is the task the third son makes his own.

So where do and I fit into this picture?

We are not the Son of God, we know that. 
However, you and I have been given the invitation to imitate him, 
and to share in his work.

But first things first: take the path of the first son 
and own up to our wrongs, rather than be the second son 
who has a good reputation to be proud of, but nothing else.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

His Grace, our work (Sunday homily)

What does it mean to say, the first shall be last 
and the last shall be first?

One way to understand it is this. 
Those who came in last serve to make God’s generosity very vivid. 
In that sense, they are “first” in gratitude.
Meanwhile, those who were first in the vineyard, 
are most at risk of missing this point. 
They – and maybe we with them – are tempted to think 
that we’ve “earned” whatever reward we have from God.

People say it all the time: So-and-so will surely go to heaven, 
Because…why? He or she “lived a good life.” 
That may prove to be true, but do not get confused 
about the cause and effect.

Listen closely, because I’m going to tell you something lots of people, 
including lots of Catholics, get wrong. 
Listen: you and I do not go to heaven because we are good. 
I repeat: we do not go to heaven because we are good.

If we go to heaven, it is because of God’s grace working in our lives. 
To the extent we are good, it’s God’s grace that makes us so. 
Grace always comes first.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (2008) says, 
“The fatherly action of God is first on his own initiative, 
and then follows man’s free acting through his collaboration, 
so that the merit of good works 
is to be attributed in the first place to the grace of God…”
To restate that: any good in us, any good deeds or actions, 
they only happen because God gave us the help and power to do them. 
It is God’s grace that first calls us to him, 
it is God who sustains us day by day, 
and finally, it is his grace that brings to salvation.

So, to say we “go to heaven because we’re good” is false. False. 
That gets the cause-and-effect backwards. 
Rather, the truth is, if we are in any way good, 
it is because heaven – that is, God – is helping us and drawing us.
If we make it to heaven, no one will dare say, “I did this!”
Rather we will all say, “God, this is all you!”

So those workers in the vineyard complained 
because they worked all day. They totally missed it!
They got to be in the Lord’s company the longest of any!

This also reminds us of how Christians should understand work.
Work can be hard and tedious, 
and we all know what it’s like to look forward to quitting time.
Still, we remember that work has an essential dignity. 
We naturally respect those who work hard, 
while those who are lazy, not so much.

When you and I work at something honest and upright, 
No matter how ordinary or minor it may seem,
God considers us his co-workers. 

What’s more, you and I can join our ordinary tasks, 
whether at work, at school, at home, to the saving work of Christ. Jesus wants us to do this. 

This is the meaning of the Morning Offering. 
My father taught me to pray it every day. 
The version I learned goes like this:
“O Jesus through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 
I offer thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day, 
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the salvation of souls, 
the reparation of sins, the repose of the dead 
and the intentions of the Holy Father this month.”

When you and I make this daily offering, this is a priestly action. Notice what happens at Mass. 
The priest takes ordinary bread and wine, the work of human hands. 
Once offered to God, He transforms it into Jesus, the Lamb of God, 
the perfect Sacrifice that redeems the world and saves souls.

You and I cannot begin to know how God 
will transform the ordinary things of our day 
when we offer them to him. 

We may be tempted to pooh-pooh it, but be careful! 
Who are you or I to talk down what God can and will do?

(At the ‘Dedication’ Mass…

Students, I’m pleased to have this day with you. 
As you know, we’ll meet later at Maria Stein for a “Mini Retreat.” 
I know you take your preparation for Confirmation seriously. 
There may be times when it seems like just work, toiling away, 
along with all that school and your parents give you to do.

But remember, it’s not just about a series of tasks. 
It’s about the Lord drawing you close to him.)

I invite you again to notice what happened in this Gospel. 
The landowner goes out looking for people, hour upon hour. 
Jesus invites you to come work in his vineyard. 
He works right along with you. 
Many of us work on farms, or we have family who do, and we know: 
when harvest time comes, it is all hands on deck, 
just like in this Gospel. 

If all we do is see the immediate task, and the long hours, 
we are missing out. Jesus is inviting us to work by his side. 
If we ask him, he can and will work through our hands and our labors, 
to make great things happen for others. 
That’s what we get to do.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The problems with Father James Martin

You may have heard something about Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, who has written a book called Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity. What's more, you may have heard that he was recently "disinvited" from some speaking engagements, and there are people who are upset about that.

To hear Father Martin's defenders tell it, the problem is that Father Martin is just too nice. He's too friendly to gays and lesbians, and "traditionalist" Catholics can't have that. Poor Father Martin versus mean old fussy traditionalist Catholic meanies.

Unfortunately, even Father Martin chooses to further that account, by blaming his troubles on "anger or fear" over his book, and that his critics are "motivated by fear, hatred and homophobia."

Here's the thing: there probably are some Catholics, somewhere, who would object to approaching "the LGBT Community" with "respect, compassion and sensitivity," but I will bet real money it's so small a number as to be insignificant.

And, to give Father Martin his due, this is a worthy subject to address. Our witness as Catholics will be greatly helped if we are more attentive to the needs and concerns of those who experience these sexual desires, and who have been drawn into various "communities" organized around them. It is certainly Christlike to seek people out, wherever you find them, and offer them friendship and what our Holy Father calls "accompaniment."

So far so good. But what many more people are saying is, well, it all depends on just what you have in mind, Father Martin; and specifically, whether it means calling Catholic teaching into question.

I haven't read Father Martin's book, so I will offer no commentary on that. But Father Martin has said things apart from his book, including in interviews about the book; those things I have read, so I will limit my comments to those remarks. And my assessment is that Father Martin is, at best, being deliberately ambiguous. At worst, he is indeed calling Catholic teaching into question.

There are four specific points Father Martin has made that I think are problematic; plus there are two notable problems of omission. I will simply mention them, and then give an overall response:

1. Father Martin faults those of us who don't use the terms "gay" and "lesbian" without qualification. He claims we're being needlessly rude.

2. Father Martin objects to the Church's description of homosexual sex acts -- and the inclination to them -- as "intrinsically disordered." He endorses an alternate formulation: "differently ordered."

3. Father Martin has spoken favorably -- but with studied ambiguity -- of the "love" between two men civilly married to each other as true love, and how can anyone object?

4. Father Martin has chosen to associate himself with organizations that dissent from Catholic teaching. That doesn't equal dissent itself, but it raises a flag, doesn't it?

Meanwhile, two notable silences on Father Martin's part:

... About the call for all persons to be chaste, according to their station, and

... About the unacceptability of a society redefining marriage to be other than based on male-female complementarity.

Now, a line-by-line explanation of these problems would be helpful, but it would also be very tedious; and in any case, it's all been said before.

But to boil it all down, what is really at issue here: will we adopt the ideological mindset driven by the Sexual Revolution, in preference to what is Biblical, Christian, and, in fact, better grounded in observable facts?

This is why calling people "gay" and "lesbian" is problematic. Indeed, calling people "heterosexual" and "homosexual" is likewise problematic, although few people point that out. Why is this? As I said, it defines people by their sexual appetites, even to the point of assuming there are actually two (if not more) sorts of human beings. The error of this sorting into two categories has now metastasized into "bisexual" and "fluid" and "transgender" and "polyamory," and so on. But none of this is really about science; rather, it's about affirming people's experiences and preferences, which is something else entirely. Meanwhile, in case you haven't noticed, the one bifurcation of humanity that really is grounded in science -- male and female -- is obscured, and is even denied, science be damned.

If what we cared about was real science, letting the chips fall where they may, wouldn't there be a great deal more concern about the hazards of contraceptives? Not only is there accumulating evidence of harms to women who take massive doses of synthetic hormones (something common sense would raise a flag about), but there is some evidence that these chemicals cause harm in the ecosystem. Trace amounts of lead and arsenic in drinking water are a crisis; but massive amounts of estrogen? Crickets.

So again, Father Martin suggests with colossal disingenuousness that "differently ordered" is just a nicer way to say "intrinsically disordered." Nay, rather it is to claim that God's design is not "male and female," but rather, this, that and the other thing. And to point out again, what Father Martin prefers is not biblical, not particularly scientific, but it is congenial to the reigning ideology.

Even more disingenuous is his lament that mean, "homophobic" "traditionalist" Catholics can't see any "love" happening between two men who are civilly married. (He made these comments at a recent forum at Fordham University.) This is so tendentious that I must attribute it to Father Martin not being very bright, or being dishonest, or else having a bad day that day. In charity, let's say it's the latter.

In the example given, Father Martin spoke of a couple in which one spouse is ill, and the other is caring for him. Well, of course there is "love" here. Who would say otherwise? Produce actual examples. I hereby offer a bounty of $1,000 for every example Father Martin can cite of a Catholic who will actually say that there is something immoral about gay people providing care for one another's illnesses. But my bounty comes with a kicker: if Father Martin can't produce as many as 20, then he owes me a bounty of $100,000. This is obviously a straw man, and Father Martin is too smart (isn't he?) not to see it.

What it looks like, to me, is a rather studied ambiguity; because what he spoke about was a generalized "love," which can mean acts of care and compassion (to which no one objects), to sexual acts proper to marriage, which are simply impossible between two men -- or two women, for that matter.

Is that what this "bridge" amounts to, deliberate ambiguity? People representing different points of view using the same words, but knowingly meaning different things? What's valuable about this?

Moreover, isn't this awfully condescending? Suppose someone comes to me, who appears to be male, and who gives the name "Eddie" -- but who I learn along the way is actually a female who "presents" as male (and perhaps has even undergone physical modification to that end). On a superficial level, I will call this person Eddie and I will be polite; but as we go beyond superficialities, at some point or another, my own honesty and integrity will force me to demur -- however politely and gently -- from Eddie's claims about his/her identity. I can't stop Eddie from claiming to be male; but I refuse to say I believe it, and it's mockery to all concerned to insist that I pretend.

As I say, this is all about the Sexual Revolution, which it is heresy to question. The fundamental issue is the truth of the human person -- and the desire of modern man to be liberated from the truth about himself. The complementarity of sex (i.e., that male is made for female, and vice versa) and the procreative reality of sex are the truths that modern humanity rebels against; as well as the consequence that sex can't be an end in itself. The Sexual Revolution is all about overthrowing these truths.

And for the moment, Father Martin seems to be seeing how much of the Catholic patrimony he can trade away in order to gain a hearing among the devotees of the Sexual Revolution. Let us assume he means well, and aims to trade away only the least amount. This is still a bad idea, and we all know it won't work. I hope Father Martin figures this out sooner, rather than later.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Mercy Plan or the Justice Plan (Sunday homily)

So...what our Lord Jesus said is crystal clear. 

So 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. 
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?
No! You and I need God’s help every single second. 
Every breath. Every good impulse. 

Now, this is a good time to remember something 
The American author Flannery O’Connor demonstrated in her stories. 
They were odd stories, with even odder people.
Her point was that God’s grace isn’t always pleasant. 
So, no promise that when God gives you the grace to forgive, 
that it will still not be hard, or even involve pain.

God never promises that his grace will always feel good. 
He does promise that his grace will always draw us 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. Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying, “Act is if.” 
That’s how you start. Say the words out loud, even if you mostly don’t mean them. 
Keep saying them: “I forgive Joe. I forgive my Mother.”

And on that subject: it occurred to me, as I was reflecting on this, 
that sometimes we harbor resentments, and the reason behind them? 
We haven’t forgiven someone. I saw that in myself last week.
So if you have some resentment or coldness, 
Maybe you are holding onto a hurt? Once again, 
try saying the words out loud: “I forgive…”

A third point: if you want the grace to forgive, think about hell. 
That’s right; think about hell.

Some people don’t think hell is real. 
Or, they figure maybe only the 100 worst sinners in history go there, 
and the rest make it to heaven.
Could be, except Jesus never said that. 
He warned lots of ordinary people about hell. And he would know.

A priest friend of mine sometimes poses this question: 
try to imagine the first ten seconds in hell. What would that be like? 

When you and I refuse to forgive, we are wishing someone in hell. 
Isn’t that right? We don’t want him or her to be forgiven? 
So we are wishing them in hell. That’s what it means.

Or, is it possible that we can want God to forgive, while we refuse? 
We want God and that person to be friends, 
but we don’t want to be part of it? 
Then that means we are sending ourselves to hell. 
“God, you and my enemy, you be friends, but count me out.” 
Where does that leave you?

If you and I are in heaven and those who wronged us are there, 
we’re not going to avoid each other forever. 
Parents, on a scale of 1 to 10, 
how much do you dislike when your kids won’t get along with each other. 
About a hundred, right?
You think God wants to put up with that forever?

So 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.

So, to review: if you want to gain the grace to forgive, first ask for it; 
second, pray for those who hurt you, and third, 
think long and hard about hell, 
because that’s where all unforgiveness leads.

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 exactly what we deserve. 
Nothing is forgiven. 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. He 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!

Accept Mercy? Give it. That’s the deal.