Monday, July 31, 2006

Questions to ask the 'women priests'

By now, you probably heard about the plan by a group of women to stage an ordination on a boat on one of the rivers near Pittsburgh -- today, I believe. This has gotten some attention in the secular media, such as this Washington Post article and of course, on Catholic blogs such as Domenico Bettinelli's.

This may have been obvious to everyone before me, but I think I see why the media is excited about this.

Over the years, they've reported on internal struggles among Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, etc., over ordination and sexuality issues -- and surely someone has noticed, "hmm, these things don't happen in the Catholic Church!"

Here, I think they believe they've got their "internal struggle" story -- they think this is a significant rebellion. In fairness to the media, why should they rule that out? We have faith that this will come a cropper; but even then, it could (I doubt it) be an ugly struggle nonetheless. In fairness, that is a story.

It would be appropriate, in my judgment, for the media to ask a lot tougher questions of these ladies and their movement:

* Is this only about women's ordination? Does that mean you aren't seeking any change in Church teaching on, say, divorce-and-remarriage, contraception, homosexual behavior, or other areas that are controversial?

* Do any of the women seeking ordination agree with the Catholic Church on these "hot button" issues? If not, why not? Doesn't that suggest this is about more than women's ordination?

* Where did you receive seminary training? What sort of training have you had? Shouldn't Catholic faithful expect their priests -- male or female -- to have had full training?

* You seem to think this is the "wave of the future" for the Catholic Church -- but what about what the Anglican Church is going through now: why isn't that a cautionary tale for you?

* Who ultimately decides this question? You say ordain women, the pope, backed up by a pretty long tradition -- the Church says constant -- says no. Do you believe the Church has no right to take this position? If it does, at what point do you accept the decision? And, if you won't, no matter what, isn't that what finally created a parting of the ways with Luther and other "reformers" of their time? I mean, if you give Luther full credit for sincerity, integrity, and even if you say he was right -- the fact is, he ultimately could not accept the authority of the pope or even a general council to define Catholic teaching, if that went contrary to his insights. How are you different?

* Where are the young women in your movement -- or, for that matter, young men?

* Isn't it true that you have to point to some connection with the male-only hierarchy in order to show the validity of your orders -- isn't that frustrating? And as the Washington Post author pointed out, isn't there something kind of odd about that? Either the Catholic Church has it, or it doesn't; either they're basically right, or basically wrong. Which is it?

Now, I'm not naive; I can think of at least three reasons not to expect such questions: one, because they presuppose far greater familiarity with the underlying subject than most reporters are going to have, or two, are going to want to develop (i.e., most reporters are lazy -- they freely admit this); three, such questions, while entirely fair, would be rather tough -- and few reporters, actually like grilling their interviewees.

What would be useful, however -- and may actually bear some fruit, down the road, would be for us to put a list of questions such as these "out there"; were I working as a media flack for the Church, either for a diocese or for the USCCB, I'd give a list like this to every reporter contacting me on this subject. It's just possible a few of these questions might actually get posed.

I wrote these off-the-cuff, and certainly they could be refined. Anyone who reads this, who actually does as I propose, is welcome with my thanks. You can give me credit if you wish, but I don't really care about that.

(By the way -- at some sites, this subject has excited some rather nasty, personal criticisms of those involved in these simulated sacraments. Let it suffice to focus on the wrongness of this venture, and avoid personal attacks. Puerile mockery of people's appearance or age is really not welcome here.)

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Primary Miracle of the Mass may not be what you think (Sunday homily)

Over the next few weeks,
Father Ang, Father Tom and I, in our homilies,
are going to focus on the Mass itself.

What we do is so familiar,
and yet we might ask:
“Why do we do that?

So, let’s start with a basic question—
why are we here?
What is the Mass all about?

The short answer is:
the Mass is about a miracle.

Now, you might think
I’m talking about the Eucharist, and I am;
but there is a more fundamental miracle,
that we might miss.

It’s not the Scriptures, not the homily,
not the miracle in ourselves, being his People;
not the priest,
being a living icon of Jesus Christ.

Even transubstantiation—that big word means
a total change in fundamental reality,
or substance, while the outward appearance
stays the same.

That’s what happens with the bread and wine.
It keeps the same outward appearances,
but the fundamental reality is totally changed:
truly Jesus, God and man,
body and soul, flesh and blood.

Yes, even transubstantiation
of bread and wine into Christ himself
is not the primary miracle of the Mass—
although we’re very close!

The primary miracle of the Mass
is the Sacrifice!

When the priest steps to the altar,
and there, Jesus Christ himself
makes real for us the very same sacrifice
he offered on the Cross…
That sacrifice is the primary miracle,
everything else flows from it.

So, while we try to be properly disposed
to receive communion, perhaps we aren’t:
maybe we need to go to confession;
sometimes there’s a marriage issue;
not everyone is Catholic;
maybe we neglected the hour of fasting
before communion.

Be that as it may, we are still part
of an awesome, world-changing event!

(By the way: the obligation of every Sunday
isn’t to receive communion, but to be at Mass—
to be present for the Sacrifice.)

In the Gospel, they were so impressed
with healings and with a big meal,
that they said, “Be our king!”
But “the kingdom, the power and the glory”
of Jesus is not realized in full stomachs;
nor in worldly trappings of power,
but only in the Cross.

To see the miracle of bread and fish—
that’s easy;
Seeing the miracle in the horror of the Cross?
That’s a lot harder.

For that, our hearts must be prepared for faith
by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Paul taught that;
it underlies his words in the second reading.
And the same preparation is necessary for us
to enter into the miracle of the Mass.

The Mass presupposes some things:
Catholic faith and unity:
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism,”
as Paul said;
It presupposes
“living in a manner worthy of the call”
we have received.

It presupposes faith when we look at this altar:
will we know it is Jesus truly acting there,
or is it just a fancy table,
with a guy in funny clothes?
Seeing that miracle isn’t so easy.
It takes a miraculous change in us.

This is what the opening rituals
of the Mass emphasize.
We acknowledge our sins,
to remind ourselves, why we needed his mercy;
and what we’re grateful for:
We were washed clean in baptism,
and we’ve been renewed
by frequent confession.

The more we have to be grateful for,
the more we enter into that prayer:
“Glory to God in the highest!”

If we come to Mass,
not able to come to communion,
we still know where that mercy comes from:
from His Sacrifice;
that’s the source of all mercy,
all the sacraments.

When I talk about “entering in,”
we ought to admit, sometimes,
we don’t want to do that.
We’d rather keep our distance.

Remember when we were kids…
or how your own kids, do this:
You take the kids to do something fun,
and what happens—they cross their arms,
dig in their heels, and say,
“Oh no—you can’t make me!”

Grownups do that, too!

Making that transition, from ordinary cares,
to the miracle of the Mass, is hard.

Letting go of cares and worries—it’s hard.
I’ve heard folks say,
“Somebody has to worry about that!”
Yeah—who says it has to be you?
God’ll be up all night, either way!

Let me say: if this hour, here,
is the only real time we pray,
we may find it a lot harder
to make that transition.

This is where daily prayer is so important.
Prayers like the Rosary are so powerful,
because they teach us to meditate,
we can develop the habit of inner quiet,
even when all around is insanity.

This is why quiet—here— is important;
We need a refuge—a sacred place.
This is why I try to calm
the busy-ness of the sacristy—
Why I am reluctant
to “do business” just before Mass.
I need quiet, beforehand, too!

Servers—this is why I ask you
to show up 15 minutes ahead of time—
you need it, as well.

Same for the readers and others.

Maybe a moment ago,
we weren’t really ready;
Maybe we missed our chance to prepare.
OK; let’s pause, then,
and let God give us another chance,
so that at this Mass—today, here!—
we really meet Jesus!

To be open to him, so he can change us.

It's Official: Polygamy* next after gay 'marriage'

Not that I was terribly original, of course, but I have made the argument that once one insisted on a "right" to gay "marriage," there appears no reasonable barrier to polygamy--or, for that matter, incestuous unions (the latter, especially, since we long since gave up--as a society--on the intrinsic link between marriage and procreation).

"Oh, how silly!" "You're just being alarmist!" came the responses.

Well, those folks who cannot abide not being "cutting edge" have -- shall we say -- "come out of the closet" on this one.

Here is a statement issued in -- where else? -- San Francisco. Found on its laundry-list are:

* "a new vision for securing governmental and private institutional recognition of diverse kinds of partnerships, households, kinship relationships and families." (Emphasis added.)

* "(Same-sex marriage) is a limited goal..." admitted the author of the statement.

* The statement lists relationships and households that would not benefit from marriage, including senior citizens living together, people in polyamorous relationships, single-parent families, extended families and gay or lesbian couples who raise children with other couples, among others. (Emphasis added.)

"But I'm sure they're just fringy wackos"--well, that goes without saying; but they appear to be from the "mainstream" of fringy wackoism, as it were: Current and former leaders of national gay rights organizations, such as the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, signed the 25-page statement, along with the likes of scholar Cornel West, Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem, essayist Barbara Ehrenreich and novelist Armistead Maupin.

After all, it is to such luminaries that Justice Anthony Kennedy seems to turn for "Deep Thoughts," when contemplating the Constitution bores him.

Biretta tip: The Cafeteria is Closed.

(* I suppose one could say, "hey--it's not polygamy but polyamory!" Okay--you got me.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do you want to send me money?

I've noticed a phenomenon I find curious--people with blogs will ask for money...and get it!

Well, however reluctant I am to do this, it occurs to me my parish should not suffer because of that. I'm trying to raise money to paint the school gym -- we had smoking at bingo for years, until I made it no-smoking; but as a result, the gym ceiling and walls are pretty grimy. I'd like to get it done before school starts, and time is running out.

I need about $16,000--and I have $3,000.

Well, I can't imagine why you would, other than the goodness of your heart -- but if that is what you choose to do with your money, who am I to refuse? For that matter, someone reading this may have oodles of money, and really have nothing better to do with it. So maybe God really does want you to send it to me; who am I to argue?

So, if you want to send me money--or, that is, St. Boniface Parish--you can do so by making checks payable to:

St. Boniface Parish
310 South Downing Street
Piqua, Ohio 45356

(By the way--if I raise enough for the school ceiling, do you want the money back? Or may I spend it for new pews, or for a new baptismal font, or for repairing the exterior of the church, or for repainting the rectory? You get the idea--I don't want to accept your money under false pretenses. So if you are kind enough to add a little note answering that question, my conscience will be clear...)

All kidding aside, your gift would be completely tax-deductible, and greatly appreciated.

Calling b---s--- in the blogosphere

One of the curious phenomena of the "blogosphere" -- at least, the theological segment of it -- is that certain subjects seem to draw out the worst: niggling, obscurantistic nitpickers who are determined to muddy things up when most folks would like a little clarity.

There are subjects that especially require great precision -- and the truth is, people who blog for fun, rather than as ones main vocation -- are not usually going to bring all the erudition and precision with them. That should be taken as given: if you want tight, in-depth treatment of weighty theological questions, what in heaven's name are you doing bopping around blogs for?

I think some people like to show off just how much they know. Well, I'm a reasonably smart person, but plenty of smart people don't have to carry all the facts and citations around in their heads--that's what books and such are for. If you ask me to look something up for you, I am pretty sure I could do it; but quote it from memory, in English, Latin or Greek? Nope, sorry. If you can, bully for you.

Now, I'm not faulting people who really can plumb the byzantine depths of particular subjects, only saying that most of the time, casually blogging, I am not equipt for that, so I try to stay out of those--I think I do, anyway. I think there's nothing wrong with attempting more summary discussions of the same subjects; after all, that sort of thing is far more helpful for most folks, anyway.

What irks me when this happens is that the nigglers and flea-combers shut down an otherwise useful discussion. Such happened, recently, in a thread on justification at The Cafeteria is Closed. One poster insisted on worrying a subtle aspect of "merit" the way a dog worries a bone, and I rose to the bait, for awhile.

I'm asking for trouble raising this here--except this is my blog, my rules. If the poster in question tries to pick up as he left off, that will be shut down immediately.

If someone wants to ask a question about justification, merit, grace, and ecumenism, fine; know that I'm going to answer with broad strokes, for no other reason than I can do that briefly; I simply lack the time to juggle the various source materials on my lap to frame extremely subtle answers, and if that's what you want, you came to the wrong place.

And know, "He who spouts the most esoteric rule, wins" ain't one of my blog's rules. I don't accept the premise that someone gets to set the terms of the counterpoint, simply by how one makes the point--i.e., your fancy claim doesn't mean I have to respond in equal, fancy measure. Sometimes, all it takes is to call b---s---.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pat Oliphant, Liar and Hypocrite

Here's the cartoon:

Now, who is Mr. Oliphant describing? President Bush? I'm not sure; but certainly, everyone who agrees with his veto of legislation using your tax dollars to murder embryonic human beings to harvest their cells for research?

Now, let us pause only briefly to note Pat Oliphant (whose work I admire--he's very talented, and in past years, before his monomania with Mr. Bush, insightful) is lying, repeatedly: (1) virtually no one opposes "stem cell research," the issue is such research that requires destroying embryonic human beings; (2) the veto was not of such research, but of legislation forcing taxpayers to pay for it; (3) he calls opponents of embryonic stem-cell research flat-earthers and people who believe the sun revolves around the planet--and that, too, is a lie...

But then, let us note the colossal hypocrisy of this cartoon: the opponent of embryonic stem-cell research (somehow, Mr. Oliphant can't be bothered to note this crucial detail -- part of his lie) also believes, "here's the kicker--that God speaks through him."

Uh-huh; now we all pause to chortle and guffaw at that groaner...I mean, how dare anyone be so presumptuous, so arrogant, so self-righteous? And, as the cartoon indicates, so brainless?

But then pause and notice the cartoon itself: note that Mr. Oliphant is, himself . . . speaking for God.

After all, according to Mr. Oliphant, God approves of embryonic stem-cell research--only brainless flat-earthers want to veto its tax funding.

And Mr. Oliphant knows this is what God thinks . . . how?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Learn to drive online--FREE

Thanks to the efforts of two members of Congress, it is now possible to learn -- and practice -- driving online!

I checked it out; there's no charge, the software is very easy to download and it takes only a few minutes to get into it.

Try it out here.

Biretta tip: Redstate

See Him, not me (Sunday homily)

A few minutes ago, you heard
what the Lord has to say to pastors:
Woe to the shepherds
who mislead and scatter the flock of my pasture.

The Lord Jesus is the only truly good shepherd;
the rest of us try, for better or worse, to point to him.

Of course, it helps if we, pastors, follow Him.
I am trying; but I am a sinner.
Pray for me, please. I know you do; thank you.

Also, I am aware that in recent years,
some priests and some bishops

have let down God’s flock;
on their behalf, I apologize.

It is not easy to be a shepherd of souls:
Aside from the obvious temptations
that all men are prey to,

there are the subtle ones:
“I know best”;

“I deserve it, because I work so hard”;
“That’s good enough.”

But if anyone here

is thinking about the priesthood,
certainly don’t be overwhelmed!

For one thing,

there is such a great joy in being a priest—
precisely because of what St. Paul,
who was a priest, said in the second reading:
“In Christ Jesus you who once were far off
have become near by the blood of Christ.”

Through his Cross,

Jesus reconciled God and humanity;
and that is what a priest’s whole life is all about:
bringing those “once far off” near to Christ!

I don’t mind the challenges of being a priest.

I imagine a father must burst with joy
when he sees his newborn child;
how do you suppose I feel

when I baptize someone?
When I lead someone to faith?
When I help someone

return to his or her faith?

You visit someone in the hospital,
and bring the peace only Jesus can bring,
and it’s all worth it;

You sit in the confessional,
And help someone find his or her way back to Jesus,
After wandering in the wilderness for many years—
And there’s nothing to beat that.

Watch children grow, not only physically,
but also in their faith, and what pride to say,
“I had a hand in that!”

Yes, it can be hard to be a priest—
well, it’s hard to be anything,
unless you don’t mind being mediocre at it—
but, oh, it’s worth it!

And the Lord knows what he’s working with!

You heard in the Gospel
how our Lord brought his Apostles—

his first priests—back together.
They were overjoyed
at all they’d helped make happen in his Name.
But he could see they were tired, too.
And he knew, better than anyone, all their limits!

He chose them, all the same.

One thing comes through—
for us priests, and I hope for you.

If we have any wisdom at all,
we know who really makes it happen:

Jesus Christ!

I really hope you know that!
When I stand at the altar,
Yes, that bread and wine is transformed—
It is a miracle, and it becomes Jesus himself!—
But it is not I who does it.

You see me, but it is Jesus here;
You hear my voice, but Jesus speaks the words,
his own words, and he makes it happen.

Honestly? I don’t have enough faith for this moment:
When I hold bread the wine,
and then it becomes His Body and Blood,
I believe it; but not nearly enough.
How can I remain standing?
How can I not fall on my face for my own sins?

It is not my faith that makes it happen,
But his Love—he is the shepherd,
He is the Bridegroom, who is faithful to his Church.
So for all the honor and awe of being his priest,
which I feel, and I need to recall as often as I can,
I ask you, I beg you:
Don’t see me! See him!

Ignatius Press lives up to its name

In an official statement, Ignatius Press stated, “It is with regret that we do this; Miss Church possesses a great gift from God, and in the past she has used her talent often to offer praise and glory to our Lord.” While Ignatius Press praised the sacred music Charlotte had done in the past, they said, “We cannot stand by a young woman who uses her stature in the media to mock the Eucharist, slander the Holy Father, and denigrate the vows of religious women. Therefore, our catalogs and website will immediately withdraw all compact discs, cassette tapes, DVDs and VHS tapes that feature Miss Church. Please join us in praying for this troubled young woman.”

I'm sorry to hear about Charlotte Church's recent actions; read more about it here.

But this is one of the many reasons I love Ignatius Press -- this outfit knows what it stands for.

Biretta tip to NCR(egister).

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Where's Father?

When I don't post all week, then you know I'm busy!

I'm sitting at the office, waiting for some folks to show up for a meeting in a little bit, and wondering if I told everyone the right time. We'll find out...

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Superman not so super

Last night, I finally went to see Superman Returns. Bleh.

I had seen some mixed reviews, but I figured the action scenes would be pretty cool; and some of them were. But not enough of them.

The film was 2-1/2 hours, which is long, but wow, did it drag! I think a good 1/2 hour could have been cut, and made it better.

This was one of those flicks were the director clearly has some techniques he carries through with great attention and skill -- and it really shows. He achieved a kind of soft, gauzy look, giving the characters, in many scenes, a kind of animated look -- which, I assume, was to convey the comic-book motif. And he really loved playing up the look of Metropolis (which looked a lot like New York, natch). So, the film had a "look" -- and it was all very well executed, very elegant, very snazzy.

Problem: in all that, the story seemed to get left behind. And, it turned out, this was far more a "chick flick" -- i.e., clearly it was a lot more a romance, and about poor Superman's feelings, than about a fight for "truth, justice, and all that stuff."

And, somehow, the movie managed to waste its best asset -- its villain! Don't actors love playing the villain in this sort of thing? Here it was Kevin Spacey, who is entertaining, as Lex Luthor. Turns out all his best stuff was in the trailer.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Israel Right or Wrong

There's a lot of discussion about whether Israel, in responding to undisputed aggression from Lebanese territory, is overreacting or -- in the words of Just War doctrine, being "disproportionate."

This situation highlights one of the difficulties in applying Just War doctrine: answering the questions posed by the doctrine depends on how much you know; and those of us who observe from a distance, who rely on the media to inform us, have to question whether we know enough.

It seems to me, the question of "proportion" applies not only to the aggressive acts that came immediately before -- i.e., the seizure and killing of Israeli military personnel, the launching of weapons against Haifa, etc. -- but also, what Israel can see is poised to come next. So a lot of folks are wondering why Israel, in responding to Hizbollah's attacks launched from southern Lebanon, is striking at the whole country. I make no pretense of being an expert in military matters, but what many say -- that Israel is knocking out command-and-control, cutting off information, sources of supply, and avenues of escape -- seems reasonable to me.

The idea that the government of Lebanon is somehow an innocent victim in this strikes me as odd. Understanding the mess in Lebanon, and feeling sympathetic for the plight of a fragile government is one thing; but when harm comes from across your border, you hold the government of the other nation accountable.

After all, these comments seem to assume that the government infrastructure of Lebanon is uninvolved -- do we know this? Insofar as Hizbollah is so powerful in Lebanon -- the central government has, notably, chosen not to challenge Hizbollah, let alone disarm it or drive it out -- one may reasonably wonder just how deeply Hizbollah has penetrated Lebanese society and government. Israel may reasonably wonder, too, beyond whatever its intelligence tells it.

Am I endorsing Israel's course of action? Nope. I'm basically saying, I am not fooled by all the data that is available on the Internet and TV into thinking I know enough about this situation; and I haven't seen anything that couldn't be reasonable. I have to wait and see.

Some might wonder if I am disagreeing with the Holy See? I don't see that I am. I understand the statements of the Vatican -- whether from the Secretary of State, or the Holy Father -- to focus on restraint and solicitude for civilians. Neither the pope nor his surrogates have disputed Israel's prudential judgment in these matters.

Some have accused the Vatican of being naive in this situation; I rather doubt that. Others have faulted the Vatican for seeming to equate Israel and its attackers. I don't see that, either; I think some of that is colored by an emotional attachment to Israel.

It's not "moral equivalency" to have in mind ways that Israel has misbehaved and contributed to the ledger of injustice and hatred. Not moral equivalency, because even after all that, it seems clear that Israel is willing to coexist with its neighbors, but few of Israel's neighbors are yet ready to do likewise. I think the "Israel right or wrong" attitude of Pat Robertson, many misguided Christians under the sway of Dispensationalist theology, and too many of our feckless politicians is goofy and offensive.

That said, I think it's abundantly clear Israel operates far more according to values of compassion and human dignity; and who can say that about Hamas, Hizbollah, Iran or Syria, with a straight face?

Sunday, July 16, 2006

All, or nothing at all (Sunday homily)

St. Paul’s Letter to Ephesus
raises the question:
What’s so great about being a Christian?

I'm guessing, most of us are Catholics
because that’s how we were raised.
These folks chose it;
and doing so put themselves crosswise
with everyone around them.

Why did they do it?
The other religions had "mysteries"—
ways to touch the divine.

What’s more, they offered,
not just one God, but a wide variety:
a manly god like Apollo,
or a strong goddess like Diana.

Those other ways
didn’t demand much change,
because they didn’t expect it—
they knew, as we do,
how hard it is for us to change.

Divorce was routine,
sex before or outside of marriage:
the attitude was, what are you going to do?
Abortion and contraception
were widely practiced;
these are not modern inventions!

And Catholic teaching
on these things hasn’t changed.
Then, as now, Christian marriage was holy,
and for life;
then as now, Christians waited for marriage;
then as now, Christians rejected
abortion and contraception as gravely sinful.

In other words, exactly what people, today,
say makes being a Catholic a hard sell.

So why would anyone go for this?

Listen again to what Paul said to us:

God "has blessed us in Christ
with every spiritual blessing in the heavens…
as he chose us" in Christ,
"to be holy and without blemish before him…
for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ."

Notice what Paul promised, two key things:
Forgiveness of sins,
and to be united with God in heaven.

First, about forgiveness.

I’m guessing, somewhere, in each of our lives,
we all know one moment, one choice,
when we say, "that was awful—and I did it!"

I have lots of things I’m ashamed of,
but one thing I remember, as a boy:
I scared my mother with a spider.

Big deal, right?
Only what you don’t know, is
(a), just how much
my mother dreaded spiders;
(b), I knew she was having a bad day,
that day;
(c), just how terrified she was,
for that moment—
and I saw it in her face; and
(d), for just that same moment—
I thought it was funny.

Hardly the worst thing I ever did;
but enough for me to know
I need forgiveness;
and to be changed—
to be other than as I am, now.

Forgiveness is not—"that wasn’t so bad"; or,
we learn to live with that dark spot;
Forgiveness is God has taken it away—forever!

That is a miracle—that is life-changing!

And that’s why I need Jesus Christ!

Part two is being united to God in heaven…

I think a lot of us assume
we all mostly make it.
I hope so, but—why assume?

Picture heaven, with all of us there.
Are we going to be there as we are now?

Do we argue? Sure; will we, in heaven?
Do some of us love the wrong things?
Are we selfish? Who isn’t?

Does that sound like heaven to you?

We have to change—totally.
How’re you doing on that front?
Me? Not so well!

This is where we need the Good News!
This is what drew people to become Christians,
regardless of the cost;
because this--being part of his Church--
is where it happens.

Here’s a funny thing:
how many folks somehow expect
they’ll be totally part of him, then—
without ever totally
giving themselves to him, now?

So, you see, this Good News isn’t something
we hear as a spectator, like a CNN headline:

"Jesus dies and saves the world;
in other news,
Italy beat France to win the World Cup…"
No, it’s Good News
when we accept it and live it.

And this is what being a Catholic is.
The Church is where His adopted children
are on their way to heaven,
becoming heavenly along the way.

You want to get there? Join his Caravan;
no promises if you set out on your own!

This is why I said it’s total commitment:
It’s all, or nothing at all.

And the supreme encounter with that
is the Eucharist: Jesus proves himself to us
the most total way possible:
his broken body and shed blood!

So for Catholics,
the Eucharist is deadly serious.
We never come casually.

This is why we don’t have
non-Catholics come, too;
not because they’re not good enough—
you and I aren’t good enough—
but because it is so total, a commitment.
We have to know
what we’re saying "Amen" to:
it’s more than that—the host or cup—
it’s all of it:
living his life as faithful Catholics.

When we receive the Eucharist,
this is not only what he’s gives us—
we’re saying, we’ll give back in like manner.
He gives totally; do we come to do the same?

That, too, is what our "Amen" means.

So, before we come,
is there anything we hold back?
I’m not saying, don’t come;
but better not to come,
then to come not-ready.

Yes, we’re all sinners;
but if we have serious sin,
we "hit the box"—confession—
before we "hit the rail."

Why do we do this—all of this?
We do it because we heard the Good News:
God chose us in Christ,
"so that we might exist
for the praise of his glory"…

Do you want it? Come get it!
But it’s not for spectators:
it’s not part-time.

It’s all, or nothing at all.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

'Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem'

Another scripture:

"When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, 'How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?"'Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been."

--The Book of Revelation, 6:9-11

Friday, July 14, 2006

Homily is finished...

Some folks ask how long it takes a priest to prepare a Sunday homily.

For this priest, this week, it took about eight hours direct time in composition, not counting time I thought about it, on and off, as I went about other business.

I started composing Wednesday, and spent several hours coming up with a lot of material--far too much. I got back to it today, rewrote most of it, adding, cutting, cutting, cutting...trying to get it to a manageable length, but also to try to give it some discernible flow and shape, attending to the imagery, the phrases, so they might be effective and memorable.

You'll see it Sunday, and your comments are always very helpful.

'High Speed Rail': Harder to Kill than Dracula

Another hydra-head of the "high speed rail" boondoggle popped up in the Cincinnati Enquirer today; read about it here.

Being fascinated with railroads, I like to read about this sort of thing; but having common-sense, I know this is a crazy proposal that should never go anywhere. I did click on the link, because one of those squiggly lines looks like it might come somewhere near Piqua.

You see, this is how this sort of thing has its corrupting effects. I am totally convinced this is a poor investment for the taxpayers; the very fact these folks have to get the taxpayers (and federal taxpayers, to boot -- folks somewhere else!) to "invest" in this tells the whole story. Did you read recently about the fellow out west who launched his own rocket, and is going to build his own space station? Sounds crazy, and perhaps it is, but he's committed $500 million to it! My point is, there are folks with lots of money willing to take risks; and if those hyping this as so "obvious" a good investment, then raising the $3 billion to build it should be a snap. What? People with money don't want to make money? Stop the presses!

As I said, note the subtle corrupting influence--I think this is a terrible idea; yet, if it were to come near here, I take an interest. I can't help thinking: we do need jobs and investment; and while I think it's awful to do that via the taxpayer, if it's going to happen, well at least the folks of this area will get part of it. Shame on me.

But don't you see this is precisely what these hucksters want? The materials emphasize a "28-state coalition" -- i.e., political logrolling: everybody gets a slice, only it's the taxpayer who gets carved up.

(By the way, if you go to the trouble, you'll find that the map that shows lots of lines is really made up of a relative few actual rail lines, plus lots and lots of "possible" lines "for future study." Ha ha, suckers!)

It is fascinating to note how little there really is here. Has $3 billion been found to build this? How about $300 million, or $30 million? What, actually, is there to this project?

All there is, it seems, is an office in Columbus (funded no doubt by state and federal taxes, plus probably some money from big-business leeches who hope to be first to the trough), paying someone to produce slick materials and send out press releases; and thus, periodically, these things appear in the media. Likewise, there's been an operation plumping for a "light rail" proposal in the Cincinnati area that also never dies. Similar method, similarly a bad idea.

Now, I've asked for it: but why is this such a bad idea?

Well, several reasons. First, it's clear not enough people even want to travel by railroad in order to make it work. As I said, nothing stops these folks to solicit investors to back this; everyone who is in a position to make money (or lose money) on this has, thus far, judged it a loser. What does that tell you?

Also, we do have passenger rail, and it doesn't work. "But it's lousy service, it doesn't go where we want," etc. Yes, and why? Because there isn't enough demand to justify better service. Rail simply can't compete with driving. Oh, riding a train is fun for a lark; but that won't make it a going concern. Long term, people are going to say, "oh, it would have been nice to take the train, but": we wanted to leave a little earlier/later; we wanted to take a jog over to see Aunt Sally in Washington Courthouse, we thought we'd stop at the outlet stores and shop on the way, and so on and so forth.

Please tell me when riding a train -- that leaves on its schedule, not yours, stops where it wants to, not you -- is preferable to simply jumping in the car, or on a plane, and going?

Trains work where there is very high population density: so they work reasonably well in Europe (although they still get subsidized there), and in the northeast U.S. Most of the U.S. simply doesn't have the requisite density. Trains work in part because enough people want to travel the same path, to the same chain of destinations, day after day. But in insufficiently populated areas, the pattern of where people want or need to go is too spidery and diverse; there isn't enough reliable traffic to sustain the track.

Now, one way to make this less daunting would be a "railroad" that didn't have to build its own "road" -- but could use as many existing roads as possible, and thus could be flexible. If you go to the expense of building a road from say, Cincinnati to Toledo; but then find that, gosh, Findlay is really taking off, but we bypassed it; so now we need to reroute the road--that's a very expensive proposition.

But suppose you didn't build a rail road; but ran your "trains" on existing, asphalt roads, which are already in place? Hmmm, what does that sound like?

Greyhound! How is Greyhound doing, on these routes? "Oh, but I don't want to ride Greyhound; I'd rather drive." Uh-huh; and if we took tax money, and made really, really nice Greyhound buses to ride? With really nice stations? Same answer?

Greyhound must think so; because Greyhound could, after all, try this approach -- try to upgrade, and attract all those potential rail-riders out there, supposedly pining away for the day this boondoggle is built. After all, for Greyhound to do it would cost considerably less than $3 billion; and lots less risk.

Now, someone will say, ah, but the idea was high-speed rail. Okay, let's see what that means.

At 65 mph, I can drive from downtown Cincinnati to downtown Columbus, non-stop, in an hour and a half. I can plan to do this during non-peak hours to avoid heavy traffic. Realistically, you don't go that fast at every point, but you can go a few miles over the limit, with no legal consequences; and a few more, with few. (I'm not advocating breaking the law, just describing reality.) When I make the trip, let's say I average close to 60 mph for the whole trip. The distance is just about 100 miles: so that's 100 minutes: 1 hour, 40; but doing it in less than 90 minutes is not that hard, to be candid.

If you take the train, how fast will it go? Top speed would 110 mph, the materials say. Wow! If you go non-stop, straight from downtown to downtown (and let us absurdly assume where the stations are, is precisely where your ultimate destination -- see, one of the advantages of driving?), you will do that in, what, about 50 minutes? So, allowing for no other travel time -- i.e., to/from the stations -- you've saved a whopping 40-50 minutes.

Only -- it likely won't be non-stop: the plan calls for four stops between Cincinnati and Columbus. So while I don't know what your average speed would be, you certainly won't go 110 mph all the way -- what, are folks going to jump on and off as it whooshes through? And the train will sit still for a few minutes at each stop, right? What do you think the average speed will be on that Cinti-Columbus trip? I'm thinking, maybe something like 80 mph? Now, your "high speed" trip takes what? About 80 minutes; you've saved a huge, 20 minutes!

Oh, but then there's the station; you have to go through a station at each end; and at the front end, you will face security. How much ahead of departure time do you think you will want to be at the station? Think it will be less than 20 minutes? Will you want to cut it that close? What if you have kids? Because, after all, the promoters assure us, this will be popular! So you'd better be there 40 minutes ahead of time, to get through security, and board with ease; assuming you aren't going for several days' stay, and you have luggage...

And if that's the case, you might have to plan time, at the destination, for renting a car to drive around; or else you have to may have to find limo or taxi service; or have friend pick you up.

"Gee, honey, why don't we just drive next time?"

Thursday, July 13, 2006

'My Day'

Was it the late, not-very-lamented Eleanor Roosevelt who had a column dubbed, "My Day"? Anyway, I am proud to say I'm the anti-Eleanor Roosevelt. I renounce all the Roosevelts' works, and all their empty promises.

But I'm happy to tell you about my day.

Today, I had Mass at my new parish, across town. I'm still learning how they do things. It has a communion service every day at 8 am, then Mass at 8:45; so I was there for both. The time inbetween was a good time of prayer.

After that, I stopped over to meet with the school's bookkeeper; then I stopped in the office at the other parish and did a little business. Then, I stopped at McDonalds for some breakfast, around 10 am, which I took home. I did a little blogging, then worked on a project for a couple of hours, more than I expected. Around 2, I stopped in the office at St. Boniface, did some phone calls and business, confirmed some appointments, checked in with staffmembers, and then prepared for something very important: time to bless the Sauce!

You see, this is our annual festival; and our venerable former pastor, Father Angelo Caserta, fixes a spaghetti dinner for Friday night. This afternoon, with his minions, he was in the school cafeteria preparing meatballs and sauce. And it falls to the pastor to "bless the Sauce!"

Well, of course I was there, around 4:15! There they were, pulling beautiful meatballs from the ovens, and endlessly stirring a massive vat of Sauce. (The vat was custom made by an auto shop so it covers all eight burners on the stove.) Father Ang always helpfully has some red Zinfandel wine on hand; both for the sauce, and as sauce, for the Pastor, among others.

So we toasted our festival, and I sampled the meatballs, con salsa: molte bene! Then, after some conversation, we blessed the Sauce, the meatballs, the workers, and the festival!

If you are anywhere nearby, do come to Piqua this weekend for our 51st annual festival; Friday and Saturday evening and all day Sunday. Father Caserta's famous Spaghetti Friday; pork tenderloins Saturday, and barbeque chicken Sunday.

All very good dinners last year; plus all kinds of fun and games, Texas Hold 'em, fried Twinkies as I recall, and all manner of fun stuff.

See you there!

Markos "Daily Kos" Moulitsas ZĂșniga and Anne Coulter to attempt gay marriage; Archbishops Milingo and Stallings to preside

Sorry, just a shameless attempt to boost my site meter statistics! Made you look, though!

Will gays desecrate the Holy City?

According to the Washington Post, a "gay pride" event and march is planned for the holy city, Jerusalem (click the headline to read the article).

Remarkably, this has united Jews, Christians and Muslims -- in opposition to the march.

Well, what does one make of this?

My thoughts:

1. Someone in the article said, it's "provocative" and "a PR stunt." Well, duh, isn't that what marches are?

2. I can't say I'm "for" it; but I don't like being on the same side as Muslim "clerics," either. Hmmm.

3. I do believe in freedom of speech; so I agree with the person in the article, identified as Catholic, who said, "they have the right to march." Of course, it would help if this group doesn't treat everyone to the usual freak show (and please don't get all huffy on me -- you know exactly what I'm talking about).

4. One group, supposedly Jewish, actually posted signs offering bounties for people to be killed. What can I say to that, other than vomiting? All this admidst all the ugliness that has stained this city seemingly forever. Who's really desecrating the Holy City?

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

On the go

I shouldn't be up this late, but I don't feel quite ready to go to bed. I was out late with the Knights of St. John. Their meeting started around 8:30; then some food, and some cards. I usually don't stay for the cards, but I do enjoy it, and I think it is important to do from time to time.

Folks like hearing about my day, so here goes. Today I got to sleep in, as one of the retired priests took the early Mass; I had the evening Mass. Today being Wednesday, I stay home in the morning to work on my homily. As often happens, I don't quite finish it before I need to head to the office, which I did, finally, at 2. So for those who ask, how long does a priest work on his homily, I'd say I started working on the homily around 10, so that's 4 hours today, and counting.

What takes so long? Well, I chose to try an exegetical approach. That means, I want to try, in my upcoming homily, to expound the passage at some length. (I won't say which one, because who knows, I may start all over on Saturday.) Well, of course, one can say quite a bit, far too much for a homily. And, along the way, one wants to make applications and connect to life today. So where I ended it was about 1,200 words!

I think that's too long; but that leaves the hard part undone: what to cut, how to focus? Plus, once away from the keyboard, I thought of other points to make. Sometimes, I have to start it one day, and come back another day. I can't always give that much time to a Sunday homily, but (a) I think it's important and (b) I do enjoy it.

Well, in the office around 2, and did some business: that means, making phone calls, talking to the chancellor of the archdiocese about a matter, answering email, talking to a local businessman about selling SCRIP, which is a program where the parish sells gift certificates or gift cards, and people use them at local businesses, and the parish gets a percentage. It raises a nice amount of money, and could raise a lot more if more folks got involved.

I needed to be in the confessional at 5, before 6 pm Mass; only my business manager had a problem she needed my help to deal with. I thought, I'll be a few minutes late; it was longer than that. You say fault me for that, saying, couldn't it have waited till tomorrow? Well, no it couldn't. As it was, no one was denied the sacrament. Mass at 6, finished around 6:30, then I chatted with folks in the parking lot for a few minutes, before heading over for a Bible study at 7 pm.

Before I did, I noticed a couple sort of lingering in the parking lot. "Hi, I don't know you," I said. They said, we're So-and-So, remember you said to meet you here? "D'oh!" I said, slapping my head -- I had: their daughter is getting married, and they had some paperwork they needed me to help them with. Right away. But after work. So I said, well, we can talk briefly in the parking lot after Mass! It worked.

After Bible study -- we are working through Genesis, and up to Abraham's conversation with the three visitors -- I chatted with a parishioner who is going to help on a project; meanwhile, an Ultreya group was finishing up, and this parishioner gave me an idea about something I needed to talk to the Ultreya group about; so I stopped in with them, briefly. Then to the Knights meeting. Home at 11:30, winding down.

This wasn't too bad; yesterday was a lot busier.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

No, it's not easy. So what? (Sunday homily)

Is it hard to be a Christian?

In the first reading,

God tells the prophet Ezekiel:
I’m going to send you to my people—
but they won’t listen! Go anyway…

Look at what St. Paul said:
He had extraordinary revelations from God—
So God gave him a “thorn in the flesh”—
some sort of trial or humiliation;
St. Paul wrestled with “an angel of Satan”!

How does that sound?

Look at the Gospel.

God himself comes into the human scene.
Jesus comes to the synagogue

in his home town,
he stood up to teach, as before.

Look at the hard time they give him!
They were so disinterested in him,
that only a few even came to him,

seeking healing.

To them, he was just “that kid, son of Mary,”
who grew up around here—that’s all.
So: is it hard being a Christian?
It was hard being Jesus Christ!

So, don’t be startled that:
It is hard to live for Jesus,
hard to follow all he asks of us.
Don’t be surprised when
others around us don’t have our backs.

You turn on the TV, go to a movie,

pick up a favorite CD;
you want to wear that outfit

that shows off your body;
Someone invites you to a party.

Then you think,

“Does this glorify God—is this right?”
And you get frustrated,

because you are torn
between something you want,

something popular—
and what is right.
No surprise!

Welcome to the struggle.
Anything worth doing, is hard.

You have heard of Tiger Woods?
He’s 31 years old,

one of the greatest golfers ever.
First time he played

the Masters Tournament, he won;
set a record doing it! He was 21!
How did he do that?
Yes, God gave him a tremendous talent;
and he’s had some advantages

others have not.
But none of that made it easy.
And it still isn’t;

he has to work to stay where he is.

I’m not finding fault, but:
he does all that for fading glory.
The money, the fame,

the girls, his own physical abilities:
It will all fade away.

As Christians, you and I

are striving for eternal glory!

How many people do we know who choose
fleeting pleasure and earthly goods,
over the eternal question of good v. evil?

Our nation is at war;

and ordinary men and women
from families like ours have courageously
stepped forward to defend us from terrorism.
How hard is that? And yet they do it!

Every one of us faces

a life-and-death struggle:
not on some faraway battlefield,
but right here, in the battlefield of our hearts.

Most of the battles are not like D-Day,
or Pearl Harbor, or 9/11,
when it is so clear what’s at stake.

Most of the time, it’s over small decisions.
For soldiers, the daily challenge

is just sticking with it.

Tiger Woods faced the same choice:
am I going to spend yet, another day,
filled with hours of practice?
How many times

did he have to hit that ball?

The battles we face are the same—
over seemingly small matters:
“Who cares what I look at

on the Internet?”
“The company won’t miss this;

they can afford it.”
“I don’t need to pray.”

And here’s another battle:
How often do we say,

“I’ll start tomorrow.”
Imagine if Tiger Woods had said that.
Imagine if Ezekiel, St. Paul,

or Jesus, had said that.

So: why would we want to say that?

Nothing against Tiger Woods, but:
He’s pursuing fleeting glory;
you and I seek eternal glory!
God never promised Tiger Woods

he’d always be great.
God doesn’t guarantee our nation

will win every battle.

But God has promised
you and me every strength we need;
he will be in the battle with us,
he will put us back on our feet,
striving with us to gain our eternal salvation.

No, it’s not easy. So what?

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Audio from the CMAA Colloquium

A fine fellow who attended the recent Musica Sacra Colloquium with me in Washington, D.C., kindly sent me a CD of the Mass I was privileged to offer, with lots of lovely chant and polyphony.

If someone will explain to me -- like I'm 8 years old (or, if you like, like a 44-year-old; 8-year-olds may well understand these things) -- how to snip off sections of this, and post an audio file link on my blog, then I will happily do so.

I'm currently listening to the Gloria . . . the acoustics in the chapel of the Basilica -- with all that stone? -- were awesome . . .

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day Soiree a success!

Well, the seminarian staying with me this summer (who shall remain nameless for the protection of his reputation) and I have just finished putting away everything -- well, everything we need to put away -- after the 4th of July cookout. The fireworks start at 10; I'm hoping I can see them from my porch, because I really don't want to drive up the 1 mile or so, up to the park, for that at this point.

The grill required far more assembly than I reckoned for; if you had driven by my house today, you would have seen me, in shorts and a tshirt, lying on the ground amidst cardboard and plastic wrappings, as I screwed this thing together. Alas, I couldn't find my socket-wrench set -- which I'll find once I get a new one; so I made do with a vise-grip and a wire-clipper (as well as screwdrivers). The directions told me, up front, I'd need a hammer -- but there was no call for it; I'm thinking, that was in case I got really frustrated. . .

I started assembling the grill around 1 pm; got it all finished around 4; everyone coming at 5! Plenty of time to get the lawn furniture out of the shed (the seminarian graciously volunteered to hose it all down -- his arm doesn't hurt too badly), then I put all the drinks outside in a cooler, then waited for folks to show up. It all came together, and the rain held off, and it was even kind of cool, since it'd been cloudy most of the day!

Believe it or not, some Spanish-speaking folks stopped by to talk to me -- they wanted their baby baptized, but we have to do it pronto! because some family from Mexico is heading back home Thursday! With some pidgen Spanish, I said we'd work it out for manana noche.

Musica Sacra Colloquium Report...with pictures!

As slavish devotees of this web site (really, what's wrong with you?) know, I was at the CMAA's Sacred Music Colloquium last month, in Washington, D.C. -- and I reported on it daily.

Click on the headline above for a report on the event; click here to see pictures, and here, me hard at work! (If you are wondering where the white, tab in my collar is -- what my sister calls the "tongue depresser" -- thereby hangs a tale. I did pack one...just one; and on the first day, I lost it. So I used someone's business card! Unfortunately, that didn't hold up well, so I kept taking it out, and saving it for when I really needed it--not that I wouldn't have opened my collar, in the heat of late June, anyway!)

'What a priest does,' Nth Episode...

About an hour ago, just as I was writing a response to a comment about my Sunday homily, the phone rang.

Alas, many times during the day, the phone ringing means either someone calling for a business that used to have this number; and, I've discovered, so it is still listed on the Internet, spawning consternated disagreement ("but--this is supposed to be _____!" "Well, you'll just have to take my word for it, it's not!"), or some sort of solicitation, which irks me because I don't want simply to hang up, and it is hard to interrupt someone in his or her spiel, and when I'm working on a homily, let's say, that 2-minute phone call can be a real disruption in my train of thought. Well, more and more, if I really want some peace and quiet at home, I turn off the ringer, and let the machine pick up; and either call back, or pick up once I hear who it is.

Well, in this case I wasn't doing anything thoughty, so I picked up the phone.

It was a nursing home nearby; a woman was "actively dying."

I was dressed casually, so I said it would take a few minutes to change into clerical attire, and I drove straight there.

As such moments go, it was a strong expression of faith: family gathered around, they clearly were attuned to prayer (so many times those gathered clearly aren't practicing the faith). They were open about their mom dying, so that helped: I could openly acknowledge that reality in our conversation and prayer, for the sake, first, of the one dying! and second, for those gathered, to name and confront the reality, rather than hedge around it. So it seems to me, anyway. But sometimes folks aren't ready for that, and it's not my place to force someone to deal with that; so unless someone there acknowledges--"____ is dying, as a rule, I do not "go there" in what I say; at most, I gingerly try to elicit that acknowledgement, before I offer to pray "prayers for the dying." This may seem all rather fussy; but this is an extremely delicate moment for folks; and as sorry as I am, I don't feel it as they do--this is their mother or father!

Also, one of the challenges of this is--how much time do I have? In this case, when I felt the woman's hand, it felt cold; I spoke to her, I didn't see movement; I waited...then I saw her breathe. While I don't over-worry about this, we don't administer sacraments to the dead.

So, I led the woman through the sacrament of confession: "tell the Lord in your heart what you are sorry we'll pray an act of contrition together...your penance is a Glory Be, let's say that I'll give you absolution..."; then the Apostolic Pardon, which is a remission from all temporal punishment--i.e., a plenary indulgence; then, anointing; then, if possible, communion; in this case, not possible (turns out, she received the Eucharist on Sunday, Deo gratias!). Then, a litany of the saints, and commendation of the dying, then any prayers the family wishes -- in this case, a Hail Mary and an Our Father (that was my goof; I should have led that before the anointing; but if one does anointing, with communion, it comes after the anointing, and I just forgot).

As we were finishing, another priest--one of the retired priests who lives here in Piqua--walked in; someone else had called him. Then we talked a little about "arrangements"--they had another priest in mind, no problem: they were welcome to contact me if needed.

All that in about an hour. The rest of the day, I'll keep that woman and her family in my prayers, in the likely but not certain event that the Lord will call her to himself sometime today, or tomorrow.

4th of July in Korea

I'm having a cookout today, my first in some time. This weekend, I got all the necessaries at the store, except a grill: I have one, a gas grill, here at my house, from one of my predecessors. My youth minister wisely suggested I make sure it works. I tried it out yesterday afternoon: gas worked, but no ignition. It looked pretty rusty, too.

Well, I had a choice: I could borrow my youth minister's charcoal grill, from his back yard (but I'd have to get someone with a pickup to drive it over), or I could run to the store and get a new charcoal grill; I did that latter. (I like charcoal grills better: low maintenance, and it'll work until the bottom falls out, seems to me.) While at the store (it was a surgical-strike, my favorite kind of shopping: I looked it up on the Internet, knew exactly what to get, so I could go in, collect the items, pay the ransom, and get out quickly), I picked up some lighter fluid and charcoal -- oh, and I needed some "Off" or something to drive the bugs away* (uh-oh, I began to think: I'm getting sucked in to shopping! I wisely withdrew after this); I got a massive can (it was the only size) of something that looks rather frightening and the directions seemed only to tell me what not to do, such as this helpful advice: "not for use on people." Dang! Whether the insects will be intimidated, we'll find out later.

Well, anyway, all that is in the trunk of my car, and the grill is in its box, in the back seat; God willing, "some assembly required" won't necessitate any welding, or else I'm SOL (if you don't like that expression, just remember it stands for "so out of luck"). After I've had all my coffee, and prayed all my office this morning, I'll go assemble it.

As I put off that task, I am reminded of the most interesting 4th of July I celebrated, 4 years ago, in Korea. (South.)

I was in Korea that summer as a seminarian; a Maryknoll priest, in Cincinnati, had gotten word from a confrere in Korea that the seminary of the Korean Foreign Mission Society wanted an American seminarian to come over for a month, and essentially hang out with a group of their guys, and help them work on their English. The rector announced it at dinner one evening, and I thought, "what an adventure!" So I was chosen to go.

Well, it was all a great adventure, and I could tell stories all day about it, but I will focus on the 4th of July. I remember waking up (I wonder how many of you have ever slept on a bed such as I had: a wood frame, with a solid bottom, and then, a fairly thin, dense, distinctly unspringy "mattress." Fortunately, they gave me several blankets, which I laid over it. I got used to it, but I had to turn over every couple of hours.) feeling a little blue to be away from the U.S.A. on the nation's birthday. It was just another day in Korea, of course.

Well, I was rather touched, at Mass that morning, when the priest included a prayer for the United States; after all, I didn't even expect anyone to know it was anything special. And I thanked him, afterward. The day went as usual; and toward evening, I was online.

Now, one of the weirder experiences involved the time-difference. I don't mean the physical effect: I quickly adjusted after arriving in Korea. I mean, rather, the experience of trying to relate to what was going on back home. The difference is 13 hours, and (this still boggles me) because of the date-line, it would frequently be one day where I was, another back home. The world's day begins where I was: so, by the time the 4th of July came round in the U.S.A., it was coming to an end where I was. In like manner, when I got up on the morning of the 5th, y'all were still celebrating the 4th.

So that morning of the 5th--in Korea--I wake up, and discover it's a huge feast day for Korean Catholics. This was St. Andrew Kim Taegon Day (the day for him, and his companion martyrs, in the universal calendar is September 20); and my brother seminarians excitedly told me, "this is a big day! We're going to have a big celebration later!" The big deal was . . . wait for it . . . a cook out!

Well, it was a great party, and a great cookout! They got out these huge grills, and cooked up loads of thin-sliced pork; a lot like thick bacon, only not cured.

This was the centerpiece of a kind of buffet table, featuring piles of food: leaves of lettuce and some other plant I didn't recognize (reminded me of my mother's house plants), sliced, raw garlic (very hot: my Korean friends were amazed an American would eat anything hot and spicy), a red-pepper sauce, Kimchee (a kind of fermented vegetables, akin to Saurkraut, but not shredded, and made with lots of garlic and red pepper; can be made from almost any vegetable, but most often cabbage. I believe Kimchee was on the table at every meal; I loved it), some other sort of dipping sauce, and of course, rice.

The way you ate this was to take one of the leaves, and fill it with whatever combination you liked, then popped it in your mouth. I dubbed it a "Korean fajita." To wash these down -- we all ate quite a bit! -- we had Maekju (beer) and Soju (rice wine). Most of the Korean Maekju I had was a lighter, pilsner-style, such as our mass-produced brands; but for this special occasion, they also had "black beer," which was Stout.

Well, it was all a great party; a number of dignitaries came down from Seoul (we were in a rural area outside Suwon, a city of over a million, I believe, about an hour south of Seoul), including the American, Maryknoll priests who had been there for many years.

And, although by the time of this cookout, it was the wee hours of the 5th back home, this was my most memorable "4th of July cookout," which I shan't try to replicate today.

Meanwhile, I'm looking at the sky; it's fascinating, but not very cheerful, mottled shades of grey. (There's a puddle of rainwater, from last night, in the gutter in front of my house, where no doubt the mosquitoes are donning their chem-warfare gear and plotting their attack). Hum-hmm...

*Not those candles! I've sat at a party with those, and watched a mosquito land on me!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

How does God bear it? (Sunday homily)

The first reading said:
"God did not make death,
nor does he rejoice
in the destruction of the living."
And, it said: "Justice is undying."

Compare that with the state of the world,
and we have a problem.

Every day, the living are destroyed.
A car bomb in a marketplace in Iraq;
an endless civil war in Sudan or the Congo;
a drug cartel protecting its cocaine
empire in Colombia.
An abortion mill in a suburb of Dayton, Ohio.

Only a few days ago, down in Dayton,
a group of kids, out late, in a car;
it flipped over.
A teenager died.
What can anyone say about "justice,"
to the parents in that situation?

Have I painted a bleak picture?
Welcome to a glimpse
of the world as God sees it!

How can he bear it? I don’t know.

I know what I would do, and perhaps you, too:
I would send lightning bolts! Zap! Zap! Zap!
Hell would fill up,
and the earth would be empty.
So much for my solution.

My point is, we fault God’s seeming inaction.
But what have we to offer instead?

Many consider all this,
and conclude, "there is no God."

OK; but when God is out of the picture…
does that lessen human suffering,
even one bit?

So, considering that no one, in all history,
has arrived at a solution…
maybe we could cut God a break?

The reading said, "Justice is undying."
The outrage we feel
inside us bears witness to that.
But, once again, if there is no God,
then the source of that outraged justice
is precisely the same
source as the injustice!

If the human heart
is the same source for both,
how can we trust our own notions of justice?
How can we have any hope?

Look again at the readings.
What has God done?

He came.
Instead of my plan—lightning bolts—
he offered healing.
A woman with a hemorrhage;
a family who lost a child.
What healing did they truly need—
and receive?

That woman had already found courage and faith—
the physical healing was confirmation of that.
That deeper healing is what changed her life.

Through her trials, she discovered
there is but one Source of Life—and it is Jesus!
And she came to the point
where nothing would stop her
from seizing hold of that Life!

Are you and I at that point?
How many of us let so many dumb things
get in the way
of our relationship with the Lord?
Or—do we take it all for granted?

I know a man who went to jail
for a very serious crime.
He writes and tells me how awful it is.
Every hour, he’s frightened. So alone:
no family or friends around;
no quiet place to pray.

He has nothing left…but God.

Of course, his story is far from complete.
But what he’s going through
may make a saint of him—
and who knows what
the alternative would have been?

I have not suffered very much in my life;
but what dark times I have known,
were when God was most real to me.
Has that not been true for you?

We ask God, what will you do?
There is something else God has done.

Al the suffering, the injustice—
the whole weight of it—
God took upon his shoulders,
when he took up the cross.

This, too, is why God became man—
to have shoulders to bear
that unbearable weight!

Our artistic crosses conceal
it’s true horror.

It is the sum of all human injustice:
a group of men, a human system,
crushed one man;
the powerful over the powerless;
the guilty condemn the innocent.
It is all too common.
And if it had been merely a man on that cross,
it would have been just another tragic episode,
and nothing more!

But on that cross was not only a man, but God!

We look heavenward and demand:
"God, what are you going to do about it all?"

This is his answer!

God could strike; instead,
he submitted to the blows.
God could condemn; instead,
he opened not his mouth.
We owed the debt; He paid the price!

You want healing? That’s your healing!
Embrace that—not as something we earn,
but purely as a gift!

Let that Gift be at the center of your heart—
and the Cross become the pattern of your life:
that’s healing!

If we wonder at God’s patience,
could it be we can have no idea
just how long it must take
to heal all that is broken
and crooked in the human race?
Destroy? Easy. Redeem? That’s harder.

The Cross is our healing.

You and I are transformed, when…
Exhausted from questions
and demands, we fall silent…
Bored with pursuing happiness in what we own,
or the approval of others,
we come, like the woman, empty handed.

Sickened by all we seek to feed our hunger,
we turn at last to the One true Bread of Life.

Only at the Cross
does our suffering find any meaning.
Only here do we find, not an end to suffering,
but a supernatural peace and power despite it!

We cry out to heaven:
"God, where are you?"

God has answered:
"On the Cross."

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Installation as new pastor

The first reading says
God hates suffering and death;
and yet, there is so much of it.
How can God put up with it all?

Heaven does not respond as we want:
Lightning bolts
do not come down on the evil-doers;
God does not take control
and force people to be good.

Instead, note how God does respond:
He comes!
God became man, like us—but without sin.

God came and walked among us;
and to those who were ready;
those who discovered all other remedies fail—
like the woman in the Gospel,
like the family whose daughter died—
they discovered
the one healing Christ can give
that’s worth having.

Jesus can give physical healing;
he gave it to that woman, and to that child.
But is that really the healing that mattered?
The physical healing
they received served as a vehicle,
and a confirmation,
of the deeper healing they needed:
the discovery of Jesus
as the one, true Source of Life!

If we define happiness
as an absence of hardship;
if we measure success
by what we gain in this life,
we are all doomed to fail—
for we shall, in the end, lose everything:
like the woman with the hemorrhage;
like the family whose daughter died.

So—what healing did they receive?
Yes, health and a child restored—
but that’s not it.
They discovered the power of Jesus—
in their suffering:
That’s the Gift they need never lose!

The woman in the Gospel
came to the point where nothing
would stop her from seizing hold of that Life!
Are you and I at that point?

How many of us let so many dumb things
get in the way of our relationship with the Lord?

You and I are confronted
with the uncertainty of things in a less severe way:
Today begins a new, uncertain chapter
in the story of our Catholic Faith in Piqua.

If we wish, you and I can find
much to discourage us:
Not enough priests;
not enough people practicing their faith.
The bills our parishes face weigh heavier;
our parishioners, facing uncertain times,
are stretched and strained.

So many problems. So much change.
And more is coming!
Father Tom and I have spent a lot time
the past few months,
with the help of folks from both parishes,
trying to find the best steps forward:
not pain-free; but perhaps,
without more than necessary.

I confess, I have found it a distraction.
So many other things I wanted to work on.
But perhaps I’m missing the point.

St. Paul said in the second reading that Christ,
in becoming poor, made us rich:
Obviously, this isn’t about material wealth—
that wealth never lasts!
But about the wealth
of having Christ, our true Treasure.

So often, we have to become poor
in order to discover this wealth.
And if there are things you and I
are experiencing as loss,
in all the transition and change
that comes now upon us—
I have to ask:
how might we discover, in all this,
the true riches
of possessing Christ, and Christ alone?

There is no purpose to this Parish,
St. Boniface Parish,
our school, all our endeavors—
unless we possess the riches of Christ himself,
and distribute that Treasure, freely,
to this Piqua community!

We face change; and there will be pain.
Will we focus on that—
or will we let go of everything,
that we might possess Christ, and him alone,
as the one Gift that no one can take away?

There are divisions in our community—
between the parishes—
that you and I must break down.
The more you and I can forgive,
heal past wounds,
let go of the past, and step out in faith,
in how we deal
in our own, Catholic community…

Then how much more will we, Catholics,
be a beacon of healing, a light of faith,
to this larger community
that needs Christ so badly?

One obvious thing: we need more priests.
I’m asking you to pray—every day—
for more priests.

At grace before meals,
offer this five-word prayer:
"Please send us more priests!"

And I’m asking you to live that prayer:
encourage sons, grandsons,
nephews, brothers, uncles, friends—to be priests.

You want examples?
Make what you want of me;
but consider Father Tom.

In the past year,
Father Tom has been
a rock of wisdom and patience.
I am not so patient,
and I am often slow
to see the wisdom others offer.

He has been patient; and, on many things,
I’ve come around.
Father Tom need not stay with us;
but he chooses to do so!
Father Tom is literally giving his life to us.
What more can we ask?

Father Boeke has shown his love for God’s people,
in gentle but profound ways.

Father Caserta—who can’t be here because
someone had to offer
the 4 o’clock Mass at St. Boniface—
has shown exactly the same quality.

Young men, you wonder
if you find meaning and joy
in being a priest?
Ask Father Boeke! Ask Father Caserta!

Father Boeke knows
I’m going to say this next part.
After so many years of service,
he decided, some time back,
that the time had come to move to Carthagena.

Father Tom and I tried to talk him out of it.
But we said: if this is your decision,
then we want to support you.

And—the parish will want
to show it’s love for you!
Father Boeke, as you can imagine,
kind of shrugged:
"I don’t need any recognition."

And I said: "Oh no; it will happen!"
and I added,
"you know you have to obey the pastor!"

So, in three weeks, on Saturday, July 22,
we’ll have a celebration for Fr. Boeke.

So…grateful for the priests we have,
we need more:
and you and I can make that happen
with prayer and work.

In the meantime,
I will need your help in other ways.
As change comes—as it will—please be patient.
Please be flexible; please give your parish—
and it is your parish, I’m only the pastor—
your full support.

In the weeks ahead,
I will be asking you directly
for various kinds of help.

I don’t know how to read our situation.
Are we rich or poor?
Are our times the best or worst,
or something in between?
Is it harder to be a faithful Catholic today—
or is it clearer what that really means?
I don’t know.

But this I know—and you too:
All we need, we have, in Jesus Christ!
Whatever we lose, or have to sacrifice,
in our two parishes,
here in the Eucharist,
we bring those sacrifices,
and join them to His.

Here is our mercy, our healing, our food—
Jesus is our health, our wealth;
Jesus Christ is our life…
that no one can take away.