Sunday, October 04, 2015

Our joy in Christ is the answer to the crisis of our times (Sunday homily)

As we know, in Rome, a group of bishops from around the world 
are gathering right now with the Holy Father, 
to discuss the challenges of marriage and family 
in these difficult times. 

How appropriate that these very readings 
will be heard by those bishops 
as they have Mass together with Pope Francis, 
as they begin their work!

We’re all aware of the deep confusion in our society 
about even these words, “marriage,” “family.” 
But the problem runs far deeper.

What I want to talk about today is the true nature of this problem; 
and the way you and I are called to respond.

There’s a growing trend to say 
that the identity of “male” and “female” 
are not really fixed, unchanging facts; 
but instead, are subject to change. 
It’s celebrated; we know what’s happening: 
folks in the politics and in entertainment 
are seeking to impose a new “normal.”

Something happened last week that shows the issue runs deeper.
This is a bizarre, sad story. 
A woman in North Carolina convinced herself 
that she was meant to be blind. 
She went to a psychologist; he agreed with her, 
and then helped her put poison in her eyes, making her blind.

Now, the common reaction was to say, “how terrible!”
But how is this really different from a man saying he’s a woman?
It’s not; it’s just the next stage of the confusion.

See, the real confusion is not what marriage is; 
but who we are: What does it mean to be human?

The first reading gives our answer: we are defined by our Creator: 
we have dignity and worth from God. 

But our society increasingly answers: we define our own existence. 
We aren’t created; we self-create.

This may seem abstract, but it’s not. 
You see, what makes a community a community 
is not that everyone agrees on everything, 
but that we agree on the essential things.
And when that consensus breaks down?
Then people who live side-by-side become strangers.
That’s where we are, and it is going to get worse.

Rebelling against God’s design for our lives isn’t new. 

In the Gospel, when the Pharisees ask Jesus about divorce, 
they wanted to settle a debate: 
could a man divorce his wife for any reason at all, 
or for only some reasons?
They were not prepared for the Lord’s answer: 
There are no excuses for ending a marriage. 
“What God has joined together, no human being must separate.” 

Now, I must pause to explain that when the Bible talks about “divorce,” 
it doesn’t make the distinctions we make today. 

Today, we use the term “divorce” solely as a question of civil law, 
and we say, OK, what happened at the courthouse 
doesn’t affect the true reality. 

It can be confusing, but there’s a good reason for this distinction. 
Sometimes a married couple has so many difficulties, 
A legal separation can become necessary.
And as strong as the Church is in favoring marriage, 
In those terrible situations, the Church will give permission 
for such a legal separation.

Still, a legal separation, a civil divorce decree, 
does not change whether a couple is married in the eyes of God.

So I’ve sketched the problem. How do we respond?

Pope Francis said something during his trip that is right on. 
He told the bishops, we can’t just look back at how things used to be. 
He’s right. We can’t just be sad. And we sure can’t be complacent.

So: what do we do?

You and I bear witness. 
And I don’t mean in a business-as-usual way. 
I mean that the moment has arrived for Catholics to be fired up, 
full-time, all-in followers and messengers of Jesus Christ. 

It isn’t easy anymore. Too bad. We can’t just look back.
In this new situation, you and I are going to have to tell people, 
patiently and repeatedly explaining what we believe and why. 
These readings are perfect for this task.

Why do we matter? Why does God care about our choices in life? 
Because we are made in his image. 

How do we know marriage is man and woman? 
Because man and woman fit together in a unique way. 
Only a man-plus-woman is “one flesh” – meaning it brings new life. 

And let me say, when people began to separate 
this one-flesh union from procreation, 
that’s when the confusion about marriage started. 
It didn’t just happen in the last few years.

This passage from Genesis was the springboard 
for Pope St. John Paul’s theology of the body. 
He taught that when a man and a woman come together, 
that union is an icon of the Trinity. 

The deacon who visited last week said it well: 
notice how love, by its very nature, 
breaks out of itself, and give life. 
The love of the Father and the Son calls forth the Holy Spirit; 
the love of a husband and wife calls forth children.

And who can fail to notice that in this Gospel passage, 
right after our Lord teaches about marriage, 
he says, “welcome children”?

As I said, we bear witness. But in a time of growing skepticism 
and even hostility toward our message, words aren’t enough. 

Our witness must be in how we live these truths; 
and not as a burden, but as a joy. 

Is that too much to ask? 
When people are facing suffering and pain, 
especially in their family life, 
how do they bear witness with joy?

We do it by realizing that our joy is not in our circumstances; 
but rather in who is with us in those circumstances!

Yes, we face crosses in our lives.
But we know that a life without the cross is a life without sacrifice; 
and a life without sacrifice is a life without love. 

Now here’s a hopeful thing: 
What I just said is everyone can understand, 
and see borne out in ordinary life. 
But do you see what God did? 
His plan – for our creation and our redemption – 
finds fulfillment in Jesus Christ! 

When Jesus came, and embraced the Cross, 
he took what was already the common destiny of all people, 
and placed at the center, as the means of our salvation. 

This is why, as Fulton Sheen said so well, 
You and I will never get anywhere 
talking about Christ without the Cross. 
But when we embrace the Cross, and live it:
That is something people will come to. 
What did Jesus say? If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me!

Our witness cannot be angry. 
I confess I feel anger about the times we live in; 
I’m sure many of us do. 

There is a place for what is called “righteous anger,” 
but the truth is, most of the time, it’s not righteous—it’s just anger. 
When’s the last time you met someone who was angry, 
and you said, “I want to be just like that person”?

Our joy comes from our faith being founded the right way: 
not on what we’re against, or even on what we believe. 
It’s important to know what we believe; 
but joy comes from knowing who we believe in. 
Knowing Jesus is real, he is our God, he is our brother, 
he is close to us, forgiving us, leading us, every day. 
That will fill us with joy and drive out anger and fear.

And here’s something else that is hopeful. 
When you and I meet people who have hope, and joy,
and fullness of life, those are people we want to be with; 
and when we are with them, we can’t help becoming more like them. 

Do you see? 

That’s how we witness. We live our joy. As Jesus said:
If I be lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

50 H.S. boys came to dinner with the Archbishop last night...

The event was an "Andrew Dinner," at Saint Remy Parish, arranged with the help of the Archdiocesan Vocation Office. The idea is to invite boys "to come and see" as Andrew invited his brother, Simon Peter, to become a follower of the Lord.

Who were these 50 or so boys? They were from many parishes around the area; but at least 30 of them came from our parish! In my years of attending these events, I've never seen such a large turnout.

What did we do to make this happen?

Well, I don't know all that the Vocation Office did ahead of time. I know that our vocation director sent me several letters, suggesting steps to take and reminding me, so I'm assuming he did similar things with nearby parishes.

What our parish did was:

> Schedule it on the same night as religious education (in cooperation with our director of religious education); that way, the boys had to be here anyway; the dinner simply started about 90 minutes earlier, and they got out a bit earlier. (As it is, not all our high school boys attended. I invited them, encouraged them, but did not compel them.)

> We promoted it through the religious education classes, at Mass, in the bulletin. I personally invited a lot of the boys. So did many of our parishioners. I know that many of the parents pushed their boys to come.

> Several of the boys promoted it themselves! They were recruiting other boys to come!

> We prepared a poster which I sent out to area parishes.

> And, we prayed. We have Mass every Thursday morning for the intention of vocations; and we encourage people to pray for vocations all day at exposition of the Eucharist.

Oh, and one more thing: the vast majority of the boys who came from my parish are altar servers.

Will any of these boys end up being priests? Who knows? But we currently have three young men in college seminary, and I know of four high school boys, as well as a out-of-college young man, who are interested. In any case, our vocation director explained, the point isn't that everyone of them has to become a priest; but that they ask, prayerfully, what is God calling me to do with my life? I tell the boys: I have no special gift for knowing who God is calling, so I invite everyone, simply to pray and think about it.

I might add...I think this outcome is both about something good about our northern parishes, where families are strong and the faith is more central. But I also think it has a lot to do with what we've been doing in this parish for many years: strong emphasis on teaching the Faith, strong emphasis on confession, on the sacraments, and on living our Faith, and on great care to celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

St. Remy Doors Update

Here's the scaffolding needed to set in place the final piece, called the tympanum.

Here's a closer look; although not close enough: at the bottom it says, Domus Dei et Porta Coeli: "House of God and Gate of Heaven."

Here's the tympanum being set in place a few minutes ago.

Dinner report: beer can chicken

I've made this before. I was going to get some steaks out and grill them, but I forgot; so on the way home from a movie, I picked up a chicken. Here it is, washed, dried, rubbed with butter, and coated with Cajun seasoning, and stood up on the stand (there's a can of Coors Light in there somewhere):

After about an hour, here's the chicken. (I think I left it on the grill just a bit too long, but it still tasted very good.) I'm not convinced the beer really does anything, because I doubt the temperature gets high enough for the beer to boil. One of these times I'll try it with an empty beer can.

While the chicken was "resting," I whipped up some sauteed spinach. This is really easy, by the way. You get some fresh spinach (not frozen; and if you wash the fresh spinach, be sure it's dry when you cook it), and after heating up some olive oil, throw in a generous amount of garlic powder. (Fresh garlic is even better -- just slice it fine and then gently cook the garlic, but not too much, before you throw in the greens.)

The spinach cooks fast; keep turning it so it all cooks evenly. At some point, add salt and pepper to taste, and I like Parmesan cheese on mine. Sometimes I see it with lemon, but I don't prefer that.

Here's the final dish. It was tasty! The chicken itself was a little scrawny, which is probably why it cooked so quickly. I ate almost half of it! You can't see it, but I had a glass of Chardonnay with this.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

God & guns

Here's one of my parishioners; here's his website; he trains people in self-defense and safe gun use.

He and his family are very faithful Catholics. I'm sure city people are appalled.

Bonus: go to the gallery to see pictures of folks around here shooting -- at targets!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Sunday homily: late report

Sorry for no post of a homily on Sunday, but it was one of those weekends where I didn't have a text; and, to boot, I had a tight agenda for the weekend:

> Saturday after Mass, I was at a parishioner's house for dinner, and then stopped by a Catholic Social Services fundraiser.

> Sunday I had the first two Masses, then drove down to Cincinnati for the Bengals, then Oktoberfest. I got home Monday evening.

So what did I preach about?

I decided to zero in on the second reading, and I talked about serenity as the disposition we need, in order to keep from either the problems of ego and self-importance, as shown in the Apostles in the Gospel, or from the anger and envy and greed that the Apostle James talked about in the second reading.

I gave examples of anger and greed that we are all so prone to, in contrast to a serenity that comes from accepting our smallness, and not trying to grasp too firmly on either possessions, or even life itself. I cited the example of the saints, particularly those who embraced the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience; along the way I said that some present were surely called to that life, and they would not be fully happy until they answered that call. And I talked about the one, and only one, possession we can be sure we will never lose, and that is Jesus Christ himself. I closed with the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference" -- as both a worthwhile prayer to pray, and also as a plan of life.

Thursday, September 17, 2015