Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A day in the life...latest episode

Here is my day today...

Up around 7 am, a little after...over to the church before 7:30 am to turn on the lights (the doors open automatically)...then I prayed my office...

One of the older parishioners came in, asked me a question; then he explained, "I'm serving for you today"--the schoolchildren were scheduled during the summer, but school begins this week...

Holy Mass at 8:15; I explained what I could about Saint John Eudes and the Two Hearts: Jesus' and Mary's...

After Mass, I visited with folks a bit; then headed back to the rectory for some coffee and cereal -- I don't eat breakfast until after Holy Mass...

Since the office staff hasn't seen me since Thursday (they don't work Friday, I don't work Monday), they had many questions; I had my breakfast, and organized things a bit, in preparation for an appointment at 10 am...

"Father, Clara Jones stopped in just now, looking for you; she's in church; she wants to be anointed"...

I head over to church, just as the couple I'm expecting comes in--"I'll be right back"...

Clara was in the pew; "did we set this up?" "Yes, Father, don't you remember?" Just then, I did. Oops!

I take care of Clara, and apologize for rushing off, explaining I double-booked; then I apologize to the couple who were waiting. Note to self: never make any appointments when you're not at your desk with your calendar! (But people always ask right after church...and it's hard to say no all the time...)

The couple and I finish up; and I'm back to my computer. I have to get my email set up and my calendar organized, something I haven't done properly since I came here. A few phone calls and visits intervene...

Meanwhile, I'm thinking about my brother. He wrote me a couple of weeks prior, saying he would be passing through Ohio today, and when he got in the area, could we get together? The plan was to meet him down in Englewood, right near I-70; he'd call when he got close. When would he call? I had a lot this afternoon...

I remembered the appointment, with a couple getting married, that I wanted to reschedule to allow me to visit with my brother; I never heard back! Did I remember to call? I called again. We connect; we reschedule.

I keep working on office stuff, till around 1:10 pm, when I need to head over to Versailles (the next town over) for Holy Mass at the nursing home. I remember how, when I showed up last month -- my first time there -- I'd brought everything, and they'd already had everything I needed! So this time, I wouldn't bring all that stuff...

When I get there, I remember...they have everything...except wine! No wine. "We have some blackberry wine, Father..." "No, sorry, it must be pure grape wine..." A daughter of one of the patients kindly volunteers to run and get some; I emphasize, it must be pure grape wine... I pray that's what she brings back. Twenty minutes after we're supposed to start, after I've asked questions, told stories, and given a kind of homily in advance, she returns! Thank heaven, it's pure grape wine. We have Holy Mass, ending only ten minutes late.

As I leave, I look at my phone; no call from my brother. I head back to the parish. I fiddle around in my office. I'm a little bored; I help the secretary and her daughter count the candle money, and I enjoy quizzing the daughter about the people who are on the currency (I explain the difference between "currency" and "money" -- only she knows already!). After they go home, I head over to church, to set up for the very-early Mass tomorrow at 5:45 am...

When I walk into the sacristy, my phone beeps; it's my brother! The phone message is late! I have to go...now!

I race down State Route 48, to meet him and his wife in Englewood. They seem content to sit and read and visit, waiting for me; we have a nice visit, but after awhile, it's time for them to go; they have to press on to Zanesville (I tell them about Mr. Zane -- whose first name I cannot recall -- and "Zane's Trace," and how it was the path our ancestor, Adam Fox, likely trod on his journey from Virginia to Cincinnati). Off they go, and off I go...

Back home, around 7:15 pm. As I drive back, I remember I had some steaks I was going to cook, and I think, I'd better do it tonight, because I'm busy tomorrow, and Thursday, and then it's Friday...so I'll do it tonight. I have a new grill--donated by some parishioners!--so I decide to break it in.

I start up the grill; someone told me, rub oil on the grilles, but only after it's hot; so after I warm it up, I'm rubbing olive oil on the grates, while they get hotter and hotter; then I go inside and get the steaks ready...Yes, I do have a libation...out with the steaks, on the grill...finish the libation...check the steaks...not quite ready, inside to check voicemail...back to get the steaks...

Someone gave me some corn, so I heat that up...one steak on the plate, one put away for later,  plus a glass of wine...

Delicious! Now I'm writing about my day...and I remember: I never prayed Vespers! That's next...

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Jews, Christians and who can be saved? (Sunday homily)

There are three related things I want to dig into today:

1) What is this Jew-Gentile business?
2) What is God’s ongoing plan for the Jewish People?
3) What about Catholics and non-Catholics?

Let’s start with this Jew-Gentile language.

God chose the Jewish people for a very special mission. 
They were to be a holy people, set apart, 
a sign to the world, a light to the nations.

All the rituals and customs that were part of the old covenant – 
most of which are foreign to us – 
were all part of this vocation 
to be a living sign of holiness to the world. 

Again, I would bet that most of us 
are very unfamiliar with these various customs.

This past January, I made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. 
I had to change planes in France, 
and I had several hours to wait by the gate. 

An interesting happened. 
As others showed up, many of the men were clearly Orthodox Jews. 
I knew from their clothing, 
the way they allowed their sideburns to grow, 
from the prayer shawls they began putting on, 
and other things they were doing 
as they prepared to say prayers together. 
And there – in the airport – 
they gathered in a corner to recite their prayers, in Hebrew.

I did what you probably would do: 
I was intensely curious, but I didn’t want to be rude and stare.

We might ask, why did God give his people all these rules to follow?

What I just described shows why: 
to be a sign to the world of the one, true God.

So – an application: you and I have that same vocation. 
Are you willing to pray publicly, 
and to let your Catholic Faith, at times, be on display? 
Or are we more inclined just to blend in?

As Christians we have been joined to this Chosen People. 
This was our Lord’s purpose: he came to renew his people Israel, 
and also to carry forward the task of being a light to the nations. 

That’s why, in this same Gospel of Matthew, 
Jesus says, “you are the light of the world”; 
and that’s why, after the resurrection, 
he sends the Apostles to take the Gospel to “all nations.”

I emphasize this, so we can understand 
this strange episode in the Gospel. 
I’d love to go very deep into this, but time won’t allow. 
But to make it very simple: 
if it sounds like Jesus is denigrating this woman, 
and not interested in welcoming her, 
then you’re misunderstanding what’s going on.

So why does he speak this way?

What’s happening is this. 
He’s saying out loud what he knows is in the hearts of the Apostles. 
The whole point is to prod them to widen their hearts to the Gentiles.

Notice, the Lord lets the Apostles speak first. 
What do they say? “Send her away.”

So Jesus says out loud 
the logical extension of their restrictive mindset. 
And then, when the woman responds as she does, 
what does he say? “O woman, great is your faith.”

Do you recall what he said, just last week, to Peter: 
“O you of little faith!”

So let’s move on to the second item: 
what about those of the Jewish People 
who haven’t followed Jesus as the Messiah? 
How do they fit into God’s Plan?

Saint Paul gives us the answer:

God’s gift and call are “irrevocable.” 
There’s more to see if you read more in this section of Romans. 
But the key is this: the Jewish People are still God’s beloved; 
and Saint Paul was emphatic on this: 
they have a continuing role in the plan of salvation.

Does that mean that they don’t need Jesus? Absolutely not! 
Everyone – without exception – needs Jesus. 
Remember what he said: 
“No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So we still must share our faith with everyone 
who has not been baptized, 
and with those who have been, but are not Catholic. 
For that matter, we share our faith with fellow Catholics, 
to help them be faithful. 
That’s part of being a “light to the nations.”

But never forget that the Jewish People are part of God’s Plan. 
There is no place for any hostility or bigotry toward the Jews. 
They gave us Jesus! 

My personal belief is that the hatred directed at the Jews, 
often so irrational, can only be explained as spiritual. 
I mean, demonic. 
The enemy hates the people God chose; 
and has always tried to destroy them, 
because they continue to be precious to God.

So now we come to the third question I want to address. 
How do we understand this business of salvation 
for people who aren’t Christian – or aren’t Catholic?

We have to strike a careful balance.

It is the teaching of the Church that 
“outside the Church there is no salvation.”

What does this mean?

Let me use an analogy. 
Suppose you are in the ocean during a storm. 
And you have a lifeboat. And this boat is special. 

If you are in it, as long as you are in it, 
you can be absolutely, completely certain 
you will make it safely to port. I repeat: certain, if you’re in it.

But there are folks, in the water, who don’t get in. 
There are others, who are in, who fall out.

Are they doomed? Can they not find any other way to safety?

The answer is, maybe they can. God is not restricted to the lifeboat. 
With his help, they may yet find their way to safety.

But then again, they may not.

So with the Catholic Faith, or even baptism. 
Being outside doesn’t mean you can’t be saved; 
but why not just get in the boat?

Remember, salvation is God’s idea. 
So we have good ground for hope 
that he is working in people’s lives, 
even when they resist becoming Catholic. 

The Council of Trent taught that no one can live 
a sustained life of virtue without the help of God’s grace. 
So all those people we know, who aren’t believers, 
but live virtuous lives? God’s helping them. 
That doesn’t guarantee their salvation; but it’s a sign of hope.

In the end, all who are saved, are saved by Christ – 
whether they knew at the time, or not. 
And in the end, everyone who is saved, will be part of him, 
and thus, part of the Church, in the fullest sense. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

I love my parish!

This won't be a complete list of the reasons I love my parish; just a start...

> Yesterday we had exposition all day, from the conclusion of the 8:15 am Mass until around 8:30 pm, when we had benediction.

> We interrupted it at 5:30 pm for the vigil Mass for the Assumption. Lots of people at that Mass.

> During the 90 minutes of confession time, I had about 2 hours of confessions (i.e, I ran over).

> At benediction, we had about 20 or so people. Not a huge crowd, but we do this every week. And people come. And they stay to sing all three verses of "Holy God we Praise thy Name." And all genuflect at the end of the third verse: "and adoring, bend the knee."

> I figured the 7 am and 11:45 am Masses would be light. Nope; church was more full than empty both times.

> Then we had 7 pm Mass tonight which was "high Mass": the folks told me, if you want to have "high Mass," just call So-and-so, and he'll round up the guys; we had eight servers, all in cassock and surplice, with incense and chant and torches lined up in front of the altar during the consecration.

> Oh, did I mention church was packed? Standing room only.

> Oh, and Knights of Columbus. All geared up.

> After that, a Rosary procession. From church to the school. With a statue of our Lady, on a platform. Well over a hundred people came, with lots of little kids. (Did I mention the folks here like making babies? Look out all you contracepting folks, my kids are going to take over your world. Because they'll show up.)

> After the procession, we had a skit; six kids acted out various apparitions of our Lady through history. Only not the famous ones, but cases like "Our Lady of the Snows" and "Our Lady of the Golden Heart."

> The cafeteria was packed.

> Remember, this was tonight: Friday night.

People here love the Faith. They love our Lady. They love to adore the Eucharist. The life of the parish is the center of the community.

And I get to be their pastor!

See what I mean?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bright, busy morning in Russia

I've been up two hours already...

Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form at 5:45 am; about 12 people showed up, about average. One was already in church when I turned on the lights at 5:33.

After that, some coffee and some zucchini bread for breakfast -- the latter courtesy of a thoughtful parishioner, who left it in the sacristy with a humorous note on fasting.

A bit of browsing through news sites after that. Meanwhile, outside, the workers are pouring concrete for our walkways, which are being re-done; and as I poured another cup of coffee in the kitchen, I noticed the air-conditioning contractor was at work again.

In a few minutes, I'll walk over and offer Holy Mass again, this time in the Ordinary Form. This is one of those days where the calendars coincide: Saints Pontian and Hippolytus.

I better head over...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Don't be cowed by the storms of persecution -- step out! (Sunday homily)

Today, August 10, is the feast of Saint Lawrence, deacon and martyr. 
We don’t observe him on Sunday, but I mention him because 
he recalls a time in the Church of Rome when martyrdom 
was not just something that happened, somewhere, sometime, 
but a day-to-day reality.

On August 6, AD 258 – four days before Lawrence was killed – 
Pope Sixtus and four other deacons were also martyred in the same persecution.

Just to give you a flavor of the times: 
Sixtus was the 24th pope; and all but three or four of them had died as martyrs. 
He knew what he faced.

I dwell on this because you and I are living in a time of martyrs. 
Not just the huge numbers that perished during the 20th century; 
but right now. Right now!

In Nigeria, West Africa, at least 750 churches have been set aflame; 
hundreds have been burnt alive. 
No doubt you recall the extremists who kidnapped hundreds of Christian girls. 
What I’m going to say now is difficult and delicate: 
they practice a kind of circumcision—on women. It’s unspeakable.

No doubt you saw the story of the woman in Sudan who, 
while pregnant, was in jail for being a Christian. 
Her name is Meriam – that’s Mary in English!
She gave birth to a daughter while shackled. 

She was told: convert or die. 
Thank God, she was released, 
and perhaps you saw her meet Pope Francis a few weeks ago.

In China, the government demands that it control all churches—
they must be “patriotic”—
so Catholics who are faithful to the holy father 
are often arrested.  
Meanwhile, the ruling communists are not happy to see 
so many churches continue to spring up; 
so they periodically demolish them, 
or else knock the crosses off of them.

In Saudi Arabia, the site of Islam’s holiest shrines, there are no churches. No churches
They are illegal, as is any celebration of the sacraments. 
What Christian worship happens, happens in secret. 
And lest you think, well, there must not be many Christians there, that’s not true:
the Saudi economy depends on hundreds of thousands of foreign workers,
large numbers of whom are Christians from poor countries; 
and many of whom are treated as little better than slaves.

In Iraq and Syria, a Muslim army is ruthlessly exterminating all trace of Christianity, 
which has been there since the time of the Apostles. 

First, they go through a village and mark the homes of Christians 
with an Arabic letter “n” – for Nazarene: those who follow Jesus. 
They take over the churches and knock down the crosses and destroy the artwork. 

An ancient shrine to the Prophet Jonah, venerated by Muslims and Christians alike, 
they loaded with explosives and blew up. 
A church from the 2nd century, 
containing priceless artwork and history, was likewise destroyed. 

Men and boys who refuse to convert are executed, including by crucifixion. 
Adult women and girls are taken captive. 
You know the rest--don't make me say it.

This is a genocide. 
It isn’t just Christians; it includes other religious minorities, 
and even other Muslims who don’t toe the line.

So why go through all this?

One: so you know. 
This is the greatest period of persecution the Church has ever faced. 
And we are not even touching on the ill winds 
starting to blow in Europe and our own country.

Two, to lay this question before us all: what will we do?

I have been wondering what our government would do. A little. 
To be fair, President Bush did not do much about this either. 
This is not a new problem.

And I have been waiting to see what our bishops will do. 
They are calling us to prayer and financial support 
for charities that help in these regions. 
They may, at some point, issue a call for greater action. 

But nothing stops us from acting as a parish, starting now. 

So here are some things I would like to propose:

First, I’m asking that we pray the Saint Michael Prayer 
after each Mass. Starting with this Mass.
The way we’ll do it is that I’ll kiss the altar, 
and then come down here, and kneel with the servers. 
You can kneel or stand as you are able. 
The prayer is in the booklets in the pews. 
Then we'll begin the final hymn.

I suggest we pray it together until the first Sunday of Advent; 
perhaps by then, the bishops or the pope 
will have suggested some other united action. 

Second, I ask everyone take this to prayer. 
Include it in your daily prayers, your prayers at meals. 
You can use the St. Michael prayer, or a Hail Mary or Glory Be, any prayer you like; 
but let us all unite in prayer for our fellow Christians who are being slaughtered!

Third, I ask that you consider what other penance or sacrifice you wish to make. 
I am going to give up something I love one day a week; 
maybe you will want to do the same. 
It could be abstaining from meat, or dessert, or beer, or video games. 
If someone asks, tell them why!

Fourth, may I suggest we all contact both our political leaders and our church leaders? 
I will include the addresses in the bulletin when I can; 
but we can look these up on our own.
Feel free to write the holy father and Archbishop Schnurr, 
telling them what you are doing, 
and asking them to lead us in united efforts. 
We can likewise ask our political leaders to do all in their power
to protect the innocent from slaughter.

In the readings, we see God’s power on display, 
but not the way we might expect. 
Elijah was all fire-and-brimstone. 
He was filled with righteous fury at the King and Queen, 
who were leading God’s People into idolatry and destruction. 
But God reminded him that his power isn’t always seen in fire and storm.

In the Gospel, the Lord’s chosen men were terribly frightened by the power of nature; 
Peter was bold to step out, but it didn’t take much for him to be overwhelmed.

We too may well feel totally overwhelmed by the storms that are coming upon us. 
What must our brothers and sisters feel as they are driven from their homes? 
As their churches are destroyed?
As their loved ones are brutalized? 
The other apostles needed to see Peter step out. 
Our persecuted brethren need to see us step out!

These storms are nothing! Jesus is everything! Amen!

Sunday, August 03, 2014

The Eucharist keeps us in the love of Christ (Sunday homily)

Inasmuch as I was traveling Thursday to Saturday, I never wrote down a homily. Instead I developed a mental outline and built on that. What follows is my reconstruction of things I said at Holy Mass at least once this weekend (i.e., I didn't always make all these points).

I began with the second reading from Saint Paul, who posed the question, what can separate us from the love of Christ? And I pointed out that there is one thing which Paul notably does not include in his list: you! (Me!) We can separate ourselves from the love of Christ!

Of course, being at Holy Mass, we don't want to be separated; we come because we seek to be in the love of Christ -- why else would we come to Mass? We are the people Isaiah was speaking to: "you who are thirsty"; we are thirsty for the Lord. Good news! We will have our thirst quenched! This prophecy is fulfilled at Holy Mass!

But to the question again: what will keep us in the love of Christ? That brings us to the Gospel.

Here I provided exegesis on the Gospel. I argued that this episode is primarily a lesson for the apostles. The Lord is preparing them for their role to come, after his ascension. At one Mass, I pointed out that our Lord never wrote anything; instead, he "wrote" his word in the Apostles; they would be the keepers of his treasure, like the baskets of bread they received.

And I pointed out something Father Tom Grilliot, of happy memory, used to say when I was with him in Piqua: notice in Scripture how the apostles' answer to people crowding in is, "send them away!" I cited a story I saw of a church that started a soup kitchen; but then so many people came, and it bothered them to have so many poor people around, that to solve the problem, the closed the soup kitchen!

But our Lord says, no, you give them something to eat. The Apostles will be the ones to give God's People the Eucharist and the word of the Lord.

The passage seems to suggest -- without saying it explicitly -- that the miracle of multiplication took place in the apostles' hands; since it says the Jesus gave the loaves and fish to them, and then they gave it to the people. If so, this is like what happens to me, as a priest, at the altar: in my hands ordinary bread and wine becomes the Body and Blood of the Lord! Since this would happen in the apostles' hands, it makes sense if it happened this way. And then, of course, they would be able to witness the miracle, and learn from this as they saw their own hands!

And to make the point even stronger, they gathered up the fragments: 12 baskets; 12 apostles. Not an accident! Can you imagine them carrying these baskets with them the rest of the day; overnight; the next day? This would likely be their next several meals. Imagine what they thought about!

Something else occurred to me after last night's Mass: the words in this Gospel are repeated, almost verbatim, in the Eucharistic Prayer; I invited people to listen for them: "took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples..." Except there is one thing added, that Jesus did not say, until the Last Supper: "This is my body"! It's as if he wanted them to connect it all. This episode anticipates the Cross, and then the Mass; our Mass does the same, as it were, in reverse.

So back to Paul's question: this -- the Holy Mass -- is what keeps us in Christ.

Now, if we are here and we want to have a greater hunger for the Mass, then ask. I told the story of how, in considering whether to enter the seminary, I realized I needed to start attending daily Mass; but I'd always failed to follow through on that intention before. So I prayed for the desire, and it worked! We can do the same, regarding either daily Mass, or a holy hour, or some other way we want to thirst and hunger for the Eucharist even more.

And I talked about what we do if we do get separated by sin -- go to confession. Each Mass I think I added more on this, talking about how silly it is that we think, oh, I won't go to confession until I'm worthy; totally wrong, like saying, I won't take a shower till I'm clean again! And I talked about the value of frequent confession, even if we don't have mortal sins. Sure, we can wait to take a shower till we're really good and dirty, but folks will appreciate us more if we don't wait! And frequent showers don't take as long!

I also talked about what the priest thinks. Here's what I think, I told them: (1) I'm glad someone came today! I get to give absolution, one of the best things I get to do! Spiderman sometimes runs out of webs, but my hand never "runs out" of absolution! It's free! Come and get you some! (2) I think about how courageous and admirable people are, coming to confess their sins. (3) I am humbled to hear, often, my own sins confessed to me! I think about my own sins, and that I need to be on the other side, confessing. I am strengthened by your good example and reminded to go to confession frequently myself.

And I invited people to realize how blessed we are to have so many Masses: four for Sunday (including the vigil), and at least one every day. In many places in central and South America, people have Mass only every four to six weeks; in the Middle East, they are too preoccupied just with fleeing those trying to kill them. I recalled the "priest holes" of Elizabethan England, and the origin of the candle in the window on Christmas Eve, in Ireland, as a secret sign to persecuted priests, to come inside for safety -- and, perhaps, the family might have Holy Mass for Christmas!

Finally, I encouraged folks to think about those who need to hunger for the Eucharist, who need to be at Mass. That is our task, to bring them, beginning in our prayers and sacrifices. And I invited everyone to include the names of people we wish were here, when we made our communion (or spiritual communion).

I don't recall just how I ended, but that's the gist of it. I talked a bit too long at the last Mass. (Which is why I usually have a text!)

If you were at Mass, and I omitted something here, feel free to mention it in the comments. For that matter, offer any comments whatsoever, whether you were there, or not!