Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King of our world; and of me (Sunday homily)

This feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 
It wasn’t an idea that just came out of the blue. 
The Holy Father was reflecting deeply on the trends of his time. 

This was the time in which communism had taken power in Russia 
and was threatening Europe; 
Mussolini and his Fascist party had been in power in Italy 
for several years; and two years before, 
Hitler had tried the first time to seize power in Germany, 
and had published his manifesto for Nazism. 

The pope knew the times, and knew that the world 
needed to be reminded: Jesus Christ is the only rightful king!

Pope Pius said the following when he declared this feast: 

…manifold evils in the world 
were due to the fact that the majority of men 
had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; 
that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: 
and…as long as individuals and states refused to submit 
to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect 
of a lasting peace among nations. 
Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.

It’s just as true today as nearly 100 years ago.

Now, let’s think about what it means to proclaim 
Jesus Christ the sole, rightful king of this world. 
Again, Pope Pius said that this concerns the spiritual life. 

But his authority is not limited to that. Let’s be very clear: 
every government, every official, every society, without exception,
 is subject to the reign of Jesus Christ! 

We can understand political figures, who are not Christian, 
not recognizing this. 

They do not realize Jesus is the Lord and we pray that, 
through our faithful and loving witness, 
they will come to know Jesus is Lord.

But then we have people who profess to be Christians, 
who seek public authority, who seek to exercise power, 
and yet they claim that they will not let 
Jesus Christ and his teaching influence them. 

Pope Pius taught that they are in “grave error” 
to think that “Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs.”

Let’s take this another step, however. 

In our country, the real rulers 
aren’t the President and Congress, governor and legislators and judges; 
“we the people” are sovereign. 

We choose who makes the laws, and we can replace them. 

So Pope Pius’ words are really directed to us. 
And that means, it seems to me, that each and every Catholic 
has a grave duty—a grave duty, I repeat—to do the following things:

1) To be well informed as we reasonably can, as citizens.
2) To be registered to vote, and to then to cast our votes at every election.
And, also,
3) To cast our votes at all times in a way consistent with Christ’s Law.

We will often complain about 
how our judges and elected officials do not protect the unborn, 
and do not stand up for true marriage—
meaning between a man and a woman. 

But who gave them the power? 
President Obama is militantly pro-legal abortion – 
yet he was elected with the help of millions of Catholics. 

And, lest you think I am being partisan, let me point out: 
the last time the Supreme Court upheld abortion-on-demand, in 1992, 
the five justices who did that were all Republican appointees. 

And in the upcoming election, there are candidates 
who say they are willing to use torture, 
and to treat some groups as second-class citizens. 
Let us be very careful not to give our endorsement 
to any of these grave offenses to human dignity.

When Catholics leave their faith outside the voting booth, 
they are pushing King Jesus outside the voting booth!

Some will say, but look what Jesus said to Pilate: 
“my kingdom is not of this world.” 
That’s true: his kingdom does not originate in this world, 
because it originates in heaven. 

No one makes Jesus king; he is God.

But if he did not seek to bring his Kingdom into this world, 
for what reason did he even come? 

When people say that Jesus’ kingship is only about heaven, be careful – 
what you are saying, without realizing it, 
is that we don’t have any reason to seek justice or compassion 
in this world, but only in the world to come! 

But we know Jesus himself said no such thing. 
On the contrary: when we stand before him, 
on the Last Day, he will separate to both sides of him, 
those who showed mercy, and worked for justice, 
and those who did not.

When his Kingdom will come is up to him; 
our part is to be faithful messengers and citizens of his kingdom, 
each day of our lives.

We might ask: even if Jesus is not allowed to be king of our country, 
then where do you and I allow him to be king?

Do I let him reign over my thoughts? 
Or, do I let bigotry and vengeance find place in my mind and heart?
For that matter, if Jesus is king in our hearts, 
how can worry and fear find a place there?

Does Jesus govern my hands? Or do they sometimes strike in anger? 
Does Jesus control my tongue? Lord, have mercy!

Is Jesus king over our computers and our TVs? 
Or are there places we go online that dishonor him and his creation?
If we claim Jesus is king over our lives, 
one proof of that is how willing we are to bring our lives to him 
in the sacrament of confession.

You and I cannot make our society recognize Jesus as king, 
but what about our own homes and our families? 
What about the priorities of our time and money? 
These things we can surrender to Jesus Christ, our sovereign king.

And to quote Pope Pius a final time: 
“When once [we] recognize, both in private and in public life, 
that Christ is King, society will at last receive 
the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, 
peace and harmony.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees? A cautious yes

In the wake of the terror attacks in Beirut and Paris last week has come a wave of politicians and others calling for refugees from the Middle East not to be settled in Europe and the U.S. As typically happens, the strength of emotions voiced in this protest -- directed, in this country, against President Obama and his administration -- is matched by an equally emotional response: people who object to admitting refugees are stupid (one Facebook commenter kept calling everyone who disagreed with admitting refugees "a**hat"), not very Christian (so says Mark Shea), cowardly (so said the great uniter, President Obama); well, you get the idea.

Well, it's not an obvious call.

So said, of all people, far-left Mother Jones: Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees.

In the Mother Jones article cited above, you'll see reference to screening of refugees, which "is already pretty tight." If so, this is good to know. So says Mr. Shea, in one of his less bombastic moments. He provides these links about that screening, which I pass along to you. (Full disclosure: I comment periodically on Mr. Shea's blog, but not under my own name.) Let us note, for example, that the proposal is to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria; and if the NPR report cited above is correct, "half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age."

Ah, but this comes from the Obama Administration. Do we have reason to be skeptical? Yes, I think we do. The Obama Administration has tied itself into pretzels trying to be politically correct about all this, with only grudging acknowledgement of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, avoiding any reference to the obvious fact of so much of this terror being rooted in an extreme expression of Islam -- not to mention this administration's choice to be a hand-wringing, impotent observer during the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War.

A cartoon I saw recently aptly illustrates the President's strange approach to all this:

So, do Americans have reason to be distrustful of President Obama, given his record? Sorry to say, but yes, I think we do.

And yet, with all that, I think there is no question that we -- we who are Catholics, we who are Christians, we Americans who want to be true to our national values -- ought to accept refugees.

No, this isn't like the decision to turn away Jews fleeing Europe in the World War II years. The analogy is false every which way. To refer back to the Mother Jones article, above: the reason people are voicing alarm is rooted precisely in the problem of would-be terrorists entering in the same wave. I defy anyone to show where there was any serious concern, in the '30s and '40s, that there were terrorists or saboteurs among the Jewish refugees. If President Obama -- instead of aggravating the situation with his taunting -- were to announce that 100% of the refugees we accept will be Christians, or non-Muslim minorities, or else only women, elderly and children, I predict the opposition would evaporate.

It's also outrageous to indict the American character, which is what the President's "progressive" allies do reflexively. No nation on earth is more open to refugees, to immigrants, and to diverse cultures. And it is precisely because of this openness that there is a real vulnerability.

By the way, one of the points being made against resettling refugees here is that they have found refuge elsewhere. And that's true. However, let's note that three countries in particular are harboring vast numbers of refugees: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. I listed them in order of their stability, because this is a major concern. There is a very good argument to be made that alleviating the destabilization of these countries -- on the frontline of the area where ISIS is operating -- is most definitely in our national interest, as well as a manifest humanitarian interest. If you do a little searching online, you'll discover that millions of refugees are living in these areas. Perhaps these three countries can handle it; but if not, is that really hard to believe?

It also occurs to me that helping Turkey with its refugee problem may well be a price to be paid for them to acquiesce in the U.S. helping the Kurds fight ISIS. As it stands, the Kurds seem to be our most reliable allies on the ground, shooting back at the ISIS. It seems obvious to me that the best course of action for the U.S. is to partner with the Kurds; but Iraq, Iran and Turkey all have reason to oppose any such move, because it threatens the creation of an independent Kurdistan, or something short of it. While the U.S. can reasonably get away with ignoring Iranian and Iraqi objections, ignoring Turkish complaints is not so easy.

Now, I have no idea is this is, indeed, what the administration is doing, it's just possible; I saw recently that we are doing more to help the Kurds. If so, good for the President. But the question remains, how are we keeping the Turks happy? Accepting refugees may be part of it.

I am not ignoring the danger of would-be jihadis entering along with these refugees. I have three thoughts about that.

First, if indeed, only 2 percent of the refugees we are accepting are males of military age, then it wouldn't be so hard, would it, either to refuse that 2 percent?

Second, the reality is that our borders are fairly porous -- and not only because of insufficient immigration policies, especially regarding our southern border. We have problems with unaccounted immigrants, not to mention home-grown jihadis, because ours is an open society. Aside from the many millions who come here illegally, our nation admits millions of people legally -- and a good number of them stay longer than they should. This is very hard for a free society to prevent.

My sense is this -- and I say this without bombast or chest-thumping moral superiority -- that refusing to help these refugees isn't going to make much difference, if any, regarding the real threat of jihadis entering our nation. If, indeed, the refugees are carefully screened, my guess is the bomb-throwers will seek other ways in.

Further, being compassionate toward these refugees doesn't mean we have to give them the run of the place. We're admitting them so they can be fed, housed and live in a decent fashion. There's nothing uncompassionate about this being temporary -- i.e., until such time as they can return home safely. That is to say, admitting refugees isn't the same as granting them permanent residence or citizenship.

Finally, as Christians, obeying the Lord's commands are not conditional on risk. Following Jesus means risking ridicule and opposition, giving up everything for him, and finally embracing the cross. At some point, we have to place some trust in God that when we do what honors him, he will respond generously.

Please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Four Last Things (Sunday homily)

Sorry for the delay in reporting on my homily. I was traveling most of last week, so I didn't really have much time to write out my homily. Then, Sunday afternoon, I drove over to Columbus to take our parish seminarians out to dinner; so I didn't take time to write a post Sunday or Monday.

All I can do at this point is summarize my homily:

- I explained what the "four last things are": death, judgment, heaven and hell, and why they are associated with this time of year (the end of the liturgical year; moving from fall to winter in northern hemisphere, the readings).

- We all die; but we often imagine death is far away. Referring to my recent travel, I said that being in an airplane -- a tube of metal, 30,000 feet high, with nothing but air beneath me -- has a way of making death a little more real. I described my own practice of an act of contrition and the St. Michael prayer on take-off, and a Glory Be and Hail Mary on a safe landing; and lots more prayers if we hit a rough patch! And, I said that being on a plane, knowing I wasn't in a state of grace, isn't fun. Better to go to confession!

- I talked about Father Tom Grilliot, who in his last several years, spoke candidly about his mortality because of his cancer. It's important to talk about death, not avoid talking about it.

- There are two judgments: our particular judgment when we die, and the general judgment when Jesus brings things to a close. We are judged on our faith and works; but we can't do works to make up for lack of faith. No one can impress God with his or her good deeds. Faith -- love of God -- is necessary; but works must follow. As Saint James said, faith without works is dead. We also have a choice: we can be judged strictly or with mercy: recall Jesus said, by the measure you measure, so shall it be measured out to you. If we are harsh, the standard applied to us will be as well.

- I talked a bit about both heaven and hell. We can't expect to enter heaven without friendship with God; because, what would we do in heaven if we don't want to be with God? It would be like being in a Baskin Robbins store for eternity, but not liking ice cream.

- I talked more about the resurrection, which comes at the Last Day. We get our bodies back, yet new and improved. Our bodies aren't shells; we don't wear them, and then discard them. We are body-spirit; that's how God created us and that wholeness will be restored. This has implications. First, that our bodies matter, and what we do in the body matters. Second, Creation matters. I mentioned Laudato Si in reference to respect for creation as reflecting God's glory.

- I cited something St. Augustine said (although I rephrased it): if we are friends with God, why are we afraid to meet him?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Jesus calls you. What will you answer? (Sunday homily)

The Gospel we just heard poses a very simple question, 
but it cuts deep, right to our very core: 
how much are you and I willing to give to Jesus Christ?

It’s not necessarily a matter of money. 
The widow in the Gospel didn’t just give a donation. 
As Jesus said, she gave everything she had to live on. 
She put everything on the line.

How much will we put on the line?

Blessed John Newman, the great English protestant 
who became Catholic, gave a sermon one time 
in which he posed a similar question. 
He asked whether we are really putting anything at risk for our faith. 
And he made the point that quite a lot of us 
probably would make most of the same decisions, 
whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not. 
We would probably have the same job, the same life, and so forth.

I think that is more true than it is comfortable to admit.

At the end of Mass, you’re going to hear a few words 
from Marty Arlinghaus, who is a seminarian 
for our Archdiocese from Clifton, in Cincinnati. 
He’s putting his life on the line. 
If he becomes a priest, his life will be rather different 
from what otherwise it might have.

He wouldn’t be doing that if he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. 
I wouldn’t have done it.

And I know many of our parents 
have rejected contraception, 
and made sacrifices in welcoming more children 
because they want to share the life of Christ, 
eternal life, with their children. 
They are thinking not only of this world, but the world to come.

I am confident there are a lot of stories that could be told – 
but we don’t tell the stories – 
about making a sacrifice, forgiving a wrong, taking the harder path, 
because of the words of Christ and for love of him.

Still, there’s that widow. Not a rich person. A poor widow. 
She gave not just something, but everything she had.

At this moment, I really think I’m in the way; 
I’m in the middle of a conversation 
which is really between each of us, and Jesus himself. 
He’s the one who makes the invitation.
He is the one who calls us: 
come, follow me – and Peter and Andrew, James and John 
left their nets; their livelihood; everything they had.

Jesus calls you. 
Your Creator and Redeemer speaks to you as only he can. 
He has prepared your life and given you your gifts. 
What will you answer?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

What will heaven be like? (Sunday 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. 

Notice what the Apostle John said in the first reading:
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, 
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.

That is hopeful; and hope is something we need; 
especially when our business isn’t going well, 
or we’re out of work, or we have problems at home. 

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.”

So am I now contradicting my claim, earlier, about hope?
Not at all. But what I am saying – 
and which it’s 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.

This is a good time to highlight the cards in the pews. 
If someone on the ends can pass both 
the white and blue cards down the aisle.
If you were here last week, 
you heard me talk about the Symbolon program, 
which we have available to everyone, for free.

This is a high quality series of videos, accessible online; 
And my proposal to you is that together, as a parish,
We watch the first part of the Symbolon series.

Now, if you look at this card, you can see there are ten topics, 
and they are good topics: about who God is, what he has for us; 
about the Bible, how we got in the mess we’re in; 
who Jesus is and what he does for us.

If you look at Week 4, you’ll see a discussion of the Holy Spirit, 
and the Church and the sacraments – 
there’s where we’ll talk about how we get to heaven.

So if you want to commit yourself to this project, 
fill out the blue card. Go ahead and do it now. 
You can just check the first one, 
committing to watching the video series.

But, if you would like to be part of a weekly discussion group, 
check the second one.

Now, don’t agonize over this; it’s not a contract or anything.
This isn’t a class; no tests, no grades! 
If you’re not sure you can attend all the sessions, don’t worry about it. 

This is an invitation and an opportunity. 

And here’s another idea: 
maybe you want to form your own discussion group, 
with your family or with some friends. That’s fine! 
Just note that on the card as well.

When the collection comes around, you can put the blue card in today; 
or next week, if you prefer. 
Or you can drop it off at the office.
The white card is for you to take home. 
On the back side are the instructions you need 
for finding the materials online.

I looked at the first video, and it was beautifully done. 
It was very moving, actually. And I was so proud 
to see something so high-quality being available.
And I am excited to think about people coming to know who Jesus is, 
and giving their lives to Jesus, as a result of this program.

Because that’s what heaven is. Heaven is giving our lives to Jesus, 
who responds by giving his life to us.

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.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Lots cookin' today...

Can you figure out what I'm preparing here?

How about now?

Another hint...

Why yes, it does smell good...

Figured it out yet? (By the way, there are hints of later things in this picture. I cooked more than one thing today...)

Wait, what?

This couldn't all be the same thing, could it?

Yes, this is definitely a second thing...

So what did I make?

1) I made some Neopolitan Ragu (that was the first five pictures).

2) Then I made six chicken-noodle casseroles; four for St. Vincent de Paul, the remainder for me. (That was the last few pictures.)

But was that enough? Oh no!

3) I decided to bake a cake. (Hints in pictures above.)

4) And now I have dinner to make. I got some tuna steaks from Krogers I'm going to grill in about an hour. They are marinating in olive oil at the moment. (I've never cooked these, so I'm using this recipe. We'll see what comes of it!)

5 (Oh, and I forgot...there was chicken broth left over from cooking the noodles; so I had some frozen chicken innards and leftover bones in the freezer, so I threw them into a pot with the leftover broth, and cooked that a couple of hours. That's now in the freezer.

If I feel up to it, I'll snap a picture of the sauce when I go into pull the cake out of the oven. Stay tuned...