Monday, February 26, 2007

The 'Jesus' Bones' Story: Providential

Well, it must be Lent, because someone has come out with the annual "shake the foundations of the Church" blockbuster. After testing the waters the past few years to see how directly they can get away with attacking Christianity -- the Da Vinci Code film was the boldest attack yet -- this year a "mainstream" cultural figure took direct aim at the very jugular of the Faith. James Cameron, who produced Titanic, has produced a film supposedly documenting Jesus didn't rise from the dead. The Discovery Channel is going to broadcast the documentary, that tells the story of remains and ossuaries (bone caskets) found in Jerusalem. Blah blah blah.

Well, this will shake everything up, and usefully, if I may say so.

Just now, I watched Shephard Smith on Fox News -- an entertaining fellow who seems, to me, to be reasonably perceptive -- bill this story as "explosive" . . . because it proves Jesus was married!

No, Shep, that's not what's explosive: it's the claim that Jesus didn't rise from the dead. That would, indeed, be explosive.

Not to pick on Smith, but that he -- and whoever wrote the copy -- missed this is amazing. And more concerning than the Cameron-Discovery Channel assault on the Christian Faith. It suggests to me that a fair number of people don't seem to realize just what Christians assert when they say, Jesus rose from the dead.

Now, I have little to say about the merits of this story at this point. Others have already started tearing it apart, including archeologists, notably those actually involved in the original discovery. Time Magazine wrote a skeptical article, noting that the fellow originating this claim was involved in that "James the brother of Jesus" story of a couple years back -- i.e., that he found an ossuary proving Jesus had a "brother" named James -- and he stands by that, despite the ossuary now deemed a forgery by experts and giving rise to criminal charges (against someone else). Suffice it to say, here, that this claim is riddled with holes, factual and logical. It's the sort of thing that will impress those who either don't think very well, or are eager to be impressed with something like this.

Unfortunately, you have folks like the "Jesus Seminar" avatar John Dominic Crossan (is he a priest? An ex-priest? Hard to tell), who claims that if someone found Jesus' body, it wouldn't affect his faith. Oh, well, what do you expect from a pig but a grunt?

Well, charity prevents me from saying what I want to say about that. So, I'll say this: if Jesus did not rise, then Christianity is all crap, and we should all find something else to believe.

Don't kid yourself, the people launching this attack know exactly what they are doing.

It does seem to me to be a suitable sequel to the Da Vinci Code -- that, too, was a frontal assault on Christianity. And it, too, was providential, insofar as it revealed the rottenness in people's thinking that they can buy the DVC claims, and still say they are Christians!

It's providential insofar as it will occasion quite a bit of discussion about what Resurrection means.

Another way it's providential is that it will help clarify who stands for what, and help Christians realize the scalding hatred that is and always will be directed against our Lord.

This escalation in the war on Christianity is disturbing. What does it signify? What lies ahead for those faithful to the Lord? Dire predictions of a rising tide of persecution seem less extreme every day; yet the future belongs to the Lord, not to our theories or fears.

But if this is a sign of worse to come, that that too is providential. The Lord told us to watch for the signs of the times.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

So, you think you're traditional, huh?

Late-Roman Empire attire came to the streets of Piqua today.

Their pastor strode the streets of downtown, attired as a cleric of Rome, circa 5-6th century. Cassock, alb, cincture, stolam et casulam; purple for Lent, of course.

Now, while I probably am crazy, this is not further evidence--it was one of those things.

We had a rite at the 10:30 am Mass, at St. Boniface, for those entering the Church at Easter, and Mass ran a little long. I had to be at noon Mass at St. Mary; I departed St. B at around 11:53 am.

So, I left my Mass attire on. Which meant, after Mass at St. Mary, I had to return it all to St. Boniface.

And, I had to make a stop downtown along the way.

Now what's all that gas about our clergy not being traditional enough? Top that!

He fights; we win (Sunday homily)

Today’s readings are about baptism.

The first reading has a “creed,”
that reminded the Israelites where they came from,
and who saved them.

We profess a Creed, every Sunday.
We first professed that faith at baptism.
Or, someone did it for us when we were a baby.

At a baptism, we were asked:
“Do you believe…?”
On Easter, we will be asked those questions again.

The second reading is also a creed:
We believe Jesus Christ is Lord:
He is the Almighty God
who delivered the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt,
and he delivers us from slavery to sin.

That, too, is what we profess in baptism—
It’s not a formality.
Like the encounter in the Gospel,
it has eternal consequences.

That’s what the holy water at the doors means.
You re-make those promises every time
you dip your hand in the water.
So we, too, have a choice:
Will we accept the deliverance Jesus won for us;
Or would we rather go back to slavery in Egypt?

That brings us to today’s Gospel.
You and I often face a struggle with temptation.
But notice, there is no battle in the Gospel!
It’s not an equal contest—not even close.

Do you ever wonder why Jesus
went through this encounter with the devil?

He doesn’t need it for himself.
He has nothing to prove.
It is for us!

Behind this story is another encounter:
Between the devil, and a man—Adam.
You might say, no, it was the serpent, and Eve.
Yes—but you see, Adam was standing there…
saying nothing; doing nothing; going along.

The first Adam failed—he failed to trust God;
and he failed to fight for his beloved!

In the Gospel, Jesus, the new Adam, comes to fight
the battle the first Adam failed to fight.

Who’s the first Adam’s beloved? Eve.
Who’s the second Adam’s beloved? We are!

Jesus fights this battle, not for himself, but for us.
And when we choose baptism, we accept that:
we accept Jesus as our Lord;
we accept a union with Jesus like that of Adam and Eve:
it is a kind of marriage, “the two become one flesh.”
That’s the Eucharist—his flesh, our flesh!
We become one!

People bring their children for baptism…
We come to the Eucharist…
We say, “Jesus is Lord”—
It means a lot more than we might realize.

See, we could say, “No thank you, Jesus”—
I’ll fight my own battles.
In truth, that’s what we often do:
we say, “Jesus is Lord”—
but then, we try to do things our own way, not his.

It’s what I call “My way” spirituality.
Remember Frank Sinatra’s famous song:
“I did it my way.”
Great song. Lousy spirituality.

To be a Christian—to be baptized—
Is to reject “my way” salvation,
and to say, “Jesus is my Lord—he saved me.”
And we no longer do it “my way.”

How often when the Church teaches us something,
we don’t like it, we find a reason it doesn’t apply to us?
Even when Jesus himself said it: “yeah, but…”

Notice how Jesus “fought” this battle:
No force; no demonstration of power;
He simply quoted Scripture.
He didn’t prove himself—because he didn’t have to.

This is the daily struggle you and I face:
Could we go a single day with that much trust in God?

For myself: No.
Someone challenges me, a decision I made,
I’m going to be defensive, try to justify myself.

Each of the temptations in the Gospel is about
the enemy trying to separate Jesus from trust in God.
And he does exactly the same to us.

Will God supply our needs?
If you want to win—you have to use power and force;
Hmm…does God love you? Better test it and see!
Jesus doesn’t argue with the devil,
and neither should we.

Jesus trusts his Father—that is the foundation.
How many people we know, without jobs, money…
yet they know peace?

We are often tempted to resort to power and force.
As a nation; as members of a family; as people in charge.
But the deeper our trust in God,
the easier we will find it not to respond in kind.

The devil says, “Are you sure God loves you?
Some people are very destructive toward themselves…
because they can’t believe God loves them.
Others are overwhelmed by sin and guilt,
To the point even after going to confession,
they doubt God’s mercy.

As I said—this Gospel story shows Jesus,
fighting this battle for us.

If we do it our way, we’ll have to fight—and we’ll lose.
We let Jesus be Lord—he fights. That’s how we win.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Liturgy question-box: Cope for Stations? Ceremony for Holy Thursday?

This is the sort of question I suspect I might know rather easily, if I took the time to dig it out; but alas, there are some questions one never gets around to investigating. This is one, for me.

Does a cleric wear a cope leading Stations? If so, what color?

Here's another question, a little more significant.

On Holy Thursday evening, the Mass of the Lord's Supper begins with the tabernacle empty; the Blessed Sacrament is removed, beforehand, to another, suitable location.

Question: has anyone a recommendation on the proper ceremony -- if any -- for the actual removal?

Last year, after a Wednesday evening Mass, I invited parishioners to join me in a low-key but reverent procession to our chapel, where the Eucharist would be reserved. This year, I plan to do the same at one parish. At the other, the place of reservation (as in many parishes) is a tabernacle in the sacristy. I was planning to have prayer -- None (mid-afternoon prayer) with some priests for dinner, and I thought about taking the Blessed Sacrament to the sacristy after that. But again, I don't know of any ceremony or ritual for this.

Any references to recommend?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Awesome Ash Wednesday

Last night's celebration of Ash Wednesday was beautiful.

As described several days ago, this Lent we are doing some different things at Mass: we will begin with an Introit, or a "psalm-antiphon" as I described it in our bulletin; we are using instruments less -- so, last night, we had almost no instrumental music, only voice; we used new music for the Memorial Acclamation: "Dying you destroyed our death..." and the Lamb of God; and we introduced the chant Sanctus.

Church was full, which is always a wonderful sight. Handouts were in place, and the music director reviewed the music with the people a few minutes before Mass. I was in the sacristy, chatting with the reader, and I interrupted her and said, "just listen to that": the people were practicing the Sanctus and it was stunning.

The music worked well, I thought; unfortunately, the memorial acclamation and Lamb of God were also new to folks, so that was a little weak. Also, the Sanctus, because people weren't holding their handouts at that point, and aren't used to that. But that said, folks did sing the music well, and the power and beauty with which they sang it prior to Mass clearly proves they can and will sing it! So, with time, I believe it will work well.

As my music director observed, part of what made it beautiful was that the singing was unaccompanied. It's amazing to me how seldom one hears this on Sunday -- as if there were some "rule against it" or it was "too hard." It is not "too hard"--people sing unaccompanied all the time. Could it be that some music directors either lack the skill to do this; or they don't want to have (seemingly) less to do?

Other music sung: Parce Domine during the imposition of ashes: Latin refrain, English verses; "Hear us, Almighty Lord" (Attende Domine) in English, at the offertory. At communion, we did something contemporary, but I cannot recall what it was (perhaps my music director will wander over here and post the title); but it was well chosen, and it fit, and it worked far better as part of a mix, than it would when everything has the dreary sameness.

At the end, we sang "The Glory of These Forty Days" which seemed a hopeful finish.

I did something a little different with the ashes--I wonder if anyone wants to offer a liturgical critique on this: I set them up on a table, in front of the baptismal font, which is in front of the Mary altar. The Easter Candle was there, unlit of course. I blessed the ashes, and sprinkled them with holy water (which comes from the baptismal font when possible), then imposed ashes on the extraordinary ministers who came forward and met me there. Why do it that way?

Well, the other way is to set it up on a table at the foot of the sanctuary -- where the altar rail used to be -- or, to have the server hold them on a tray. Anyway, I thought the connection with baptism useful. That is, after all, a major theme of Lent (and Easter); we are either preparing for baptism, or recalling the initial conversion of our baptism. Liturgically, our path of Lent will lead us right back to that font, on the Vigil, and on Easter Sunday.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A delicate lesson

I don't say this lightly, but the matter is so public that I don't see how my commenting makes things worse...

Our Anglican brothers and sisters have been going through an agony these last few months, and the ordeal is not over. The latest, for those who may not keep up on these things, is that the worldwide Anglican Communion has given the U.S. Anglican body something of an ultimatum: no more dallying with blessing gay unions or any such ambiguity on marriage, and no more bishops who are in a same-sex relationship. (I haven't seen anything about other clergy, but I think the point is clear enough.) The rest of the Anglican primates (chief bishops from various nations and regions) have assigned a date, a kind of deadline.

I have refrained from commenting on this, since (a) the Catholic Church has its own ordeals and (b) I'm not Anglican or Episcopalian (for those who wonder about the distinction between these terms: basically, "Episcopal" is the U.S. "version" of Anglican, in the main--you do find congregations and associations that specifically call themselves "Anglican" in the U.S., which seems to be a point of emphasis, rather as "traditional" often is among Catholics).

The trajectory of this drama seems clear enough, I think: either those pursuing a "reinterpretation" of Scripture and Tradition will back up, or there will be a schism. In today's Washington Post, several "liberal" bishops say they prefer schism. Even if there should be a "backing up," the question is, will it be permanent or will there be yet more struggles down the road?

Now, the punchline: for all those who want the Catholic Church to "rethink" her ancient teachings and constant tradition, in all those areas where they rub painfully against contemporary expectations and desires . . .

What the Anglican Church is going through -- that's where it would lead. Only it would be ten times worse (Anglican Communion = less than 100 million worldwide; Catholic Church = over 1 billion.)

Ash Wednesday cancelled!

We had a nice Mass planned for the schoolchildren this morning; all the grades were going to come together, and that always occasions some excitement, as we have two campi*, and so for most school Masses, the younger grades are at one parish, and the older at the other. They would receive ashes -- something absolutely everyone can receive.

Alas, the weather intervened. The relatively warm weather, combined with rain yesterday, and I guess a drop in temperature last night, has produced a "saturated snow pack" and something the Dayton Daily News calls "freezing fog." So, first school was delayed; then cancelled.

Of course, Mass went on as usual at St. Mary, and we will have Mass this evening at St. Boniface -- at 7 pm, preceded by two hours of confessions.

*plural for campus if you are a Latin snob

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Purple for Lent

This is the thread where you tell me if you like or don't like this look for Lent...

Monday, February 19, 2007

We're having a heat wave...

Today the temperature crossed the freezing line for the first time in many days; not only that, it's actually sunny! so all that wretched stuff God throws at us from time to time is melting, melting! And, it's actually going to stay above freezing, overnight!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Lent: God's Boot Camp for future Saints (Sunday homily)

This week we’ll start Lent.
As if the snow and cold weren’t penance enough!

Lent teaches us a basic truth: we need a Savior.
A lot of our world doesn’t think it needs saving.
Sometimes, we can think that way.

"I’m pretty good—surely good enough for heaven!"
Well, I don’t know.

But I do know what G.K. Chesterton said.
When asked, "what’s wrong with the world?"
he answered: "I am."

Heaven is not this world—aren’t you glad?
Heaven is heaven because it’s 100% saints; nothing else.
You and I have a hard time even picturing what that’s like.

So maybe we’ll need more than a passing grade.

Lent is God’s gift to help us see that need,
and to allow him to make that happen in us.
Of course, we don’t just do that during Lent;
I hope we do it every day.

A good daily habit is an examination of our conscience.
We look back, with the help of the Holy Spirit,
and we ask: what did I do today that was wrong?
And we ask God’s pardon.
We look also for moments of grace:
and we say, "Thank you."

We hear the word, "grace"—what is it?
Grace is God’s own life, poured into our lives;
so we become, through Christ, with Christ, in Christ,
the New Adam, who lives forever.

The first Adam wrestled with temptation and failed.
Jesus Christ came, wrestled with the enemy, and won!

And so, for 40 days, we confront our sins.
We need to know them, to be rid of them:
And we really can be!
That is Amazing Grace.

If we could change on our own, we’d have done it ages ago.
Humanity has cracked the atom; we’ve touched the sky;
but we cannot change the human heart!

Lent is when we admit to ourselves we are powerless:
we ask God to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves.

We have three "tools" for Lent: pray, fast, give alms.
We pray, not to tell, so much, but to hear.

We fast—not to pay for our sins—Jesus already did that.
But because self-denial can transform us like nothing else.
What do we say at the gym? "No pain, no gain."

And, we help others: if our spiritual life is all about
saving ourselves, we may not even do that.
Becoming more like Jesus will mean caring for others.
So, we give to charity; and we practice social justice.

I said a moment ago we all want to go to heaven,
and heaven is only for saints.
Lent is God’s boot camp to make saints;
it’s spring training for the big leagues.

Now, this a moment to say something about Mass.
It’ll be more sober. No flowers, including in the chapel.
A different tone to the music.

As you know, over a year ago, we began learning
the Latin "Lamb of God" prayer;
and I propose we do the same
for the "Holy, Holy" prayer, this Lent.

Many say they like it; a few say they don’t.
Yes, it stretches us.
In any case, you might wonder, why do it?

The Mass—like our lives as Christians—
is the intersection between the ordinary-and-familiar,
and the infinitely mysterious God who bends down
to draw us into the depths of his glory and holiness.

So Mass should be both "familiar"—and "other."
"Down here"—and beyond our reach.
Contemporary—and ancient.

It’s a balance; and in my judgment,
the Church in recent years has done far better
at the "familiar" and contemporary;
not so well at the ancient and timeless.
So—I’m aiming for a little balance.
By the way: our holy father says the same.

Now, just to prove my point about "balance":
there are folks who think this is somehow
contrary to the Second Vatican Council.
Some actually take offense to have Latin used, at Mass,
in the…Roman Catholic Church!

It’d be like going to a synagogue and saying,
"What’s all this Jewish stuff doing around here?"

Here’s what Vatican II actually said, to pastors:
teach people these prayers in Latin, and use them.*
Is that not what we’re doing?

I think the Council’s purpose was for us to remember
who we are, where we came from,
and that we’re part of a Church
that is worldwide and timeless.

Further, my hope is that, once we get past
the "newness" of something so ancient,
we might find we experience the beauty
of chanting those timeless words
in our Church’s ancient language!

In any case, you go to any Mass, anywhere,
there’s always something not to like.
If nothing else, this, too, is an opportunity, like Lent,
to die to self, and to go beyond ourselves.

We begin Lent in the cold and grey of February.
When we come to its end, how different it will be!
May the same be true for each of us!

* Here are two pertinent paragraphs from Sacrosanctum Concilium, aka, The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, from the Second Vatican Council:
36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.
54. In Masses which are celebrated with the people, a suitable place may be allotted to their mother tongue. This is to apply in the first place to the readings and "the common prayer," but also, as local conditions may warrant, to those parts which pertain to the people, according to tho norm laid down in Art. 36 of this Constitution.

Nevertheless steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.

I remain non-award-winning

The Catholic Blog Awards have come and gone without me.

I was nominated in several categories, which was flattering; I was certainly curious to see what would come of that. (Imagine drumroll beginning in the background...)

Many blogmeisters whose work was nominated encouraged their readers to vote; I was tempted to do likewise, but decided not to. While it would be nice to win an award, I decided it didn't matter to me, and I didn't want to tempt myself into wanting it or caring about it. None of that changes whether this blog is worthwhile...or not.

Anyway, what was I saying? Oh yes, those awards... (Drumroll changes pitch...)

For Best Apologetic Blog, the winner is: Jimmy Akin with 218 votes (I got eight);
For Best Blog by a Clergyman/Religious/Seminarian, What does the Prayer Really Say? with 91 votes (I got 37 votes);
For Best Individual Catholic Blog, Amy Welborn's Open Book with 89 votes (I got 2);
For Best Insider News Catholic Blog, Rocco Palmo's Whispers in the Loggia with 135 votes (I got 5);
For Best Written Blog, Amy Welborn snarfed up another with 53 votes (I wonder how many books she "discounted" to get that? Huh? Huh?); I got four votes;
For Smartest Catholic Blog, Jimmy Akin bought--I mean, "won" another, with 77 votes (I got five votes).

To all my loyal fans, I just want you to notice what happens when you SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER--THE MAN JUST HAS TO SMACK YOU DOWN, BECAUSE THEY JUST CAN'T ALLOW IT TO GO ON...

(Long pause)

(Okay, I'm all right, it's fine, let me type...)


(Scuffling noises; keyboard clatters to the floor)

Um...hello? Father Martin should be back after awhile; the medics are gonna give him some kind of shot. Bye for now.



Hey...this is kinda neat! Can, uh, maintenance guys have blogs too? ("GET OFF MY BLOG!") Um, gotta go...

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

What would you serve with Leg of Lamb, or Ham?

My predecessor at one parish had a tradition, which I'm going to revive, of having area priests for dinner on Holy Thursday. One of the less-visible ministries of priests is to other priests. After all, the Lord did not train his Apostles in a solitary fashion, and it was vital that they remain a college after he empowered them with the Holy Spirit to carry out his plan.

So, anyway, I promised I'd fix a leg of lamb; and I figured I'd have a baked ham for those who may not care for lamb. (I confess I'm going to get help for this).

So: what's good with lamb? Ham?

Hint: let's keep this simple, both for the sake of those cooking it, and for a variety of tastes represented by 20+ priests.

Also, if anyone knows of any particular small-t traditions associated with Maundy Thursday, this'd be a great time to take them into consideration...

What's different for Lent (from my Sunday bulletin column)

Food for the Flock

Lent is 10 days away. Next Sunday, Father Ang and I, in our homilies, will “set the tone” for these weeks of fasting, praying and caring for the needs of others.

In this bulletin is a handout with many Lenten opportunities. Our prayers should especially focus on: conversion for ourselves and others; those preparing to enter the Church at Easter; the needs of the poor.

Monthly prayer. In consultation with the Adult Faith Formation committee, each month we emphasize a different prayer as a parish. For February, it will be an “Act of Love”; for March, the Prayer to St. Joseph; and in April, the Divine Mercy chaplet.

A different tone at Mass:

* Sober music, less instruments.
* Except for 4th Sunday of Lent, no flowers at all in the church or chapel.
* Like last Advent, we will use a psalm-antiphon at the entrance, instead of a hymn. This is the norm, seldom followed.
* We will use the Confiteor—“I confess to Almighty God…” for the Penitential Rite. We strike our chest, one or three times, as a sign of sorrow.
* The Kyrie follows, the choir will lead; no Gloria.
* The priest has an option of two Eucharistic Prayers “for Reconciliation.”
* We’ll use the “Dying you destroyed our death” memorial acclamation for Lent; for Easter, “Lord, by your Cross and Resurrection.”
* We’ve been learning the Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”) in Latin; for Lent and Easter, we’ll try the Sanctus (“Holy, Holy”). I know change is challenging, but not only is Latin part of our heritage, Vatican II specifically said to do this: “steps should be taken so that the faithful may also be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them.” Please be positive; the melody is simple and beautiful. It is a shame never to use it as a parish. Our musicians will review new music before Mass, and we’ll have handouts.
—Father Martin

NPR is clueless

Today is St. Valentine's Day, although the Church decided, in 1969, to take him off the general calendar. St. Cyril and Methodius, co-patrons (with St. Benedict) of Europe, are commemorated today.

While I have no problem with these two significant saints, I think it a shame St. Valentine got bumped. After all, this is one of a handful of saints who actually have high name recognition among the larger society -- that's quite an advantage, which the Church should press.

Alas, the "Saint" in St. Valentine is slipping, such that you have reasonably intelligent people, such as those pleasant folks on NPR, who seem not to know Valentine is a saint.

So, yesterday, they had an item with Susan Stanberg, on the color red. It was introduced by the host with the words, "how did red come to be associated with love?" Well, the pleasant Ms. Stanberg rattled on about it all, but managed deftly to avoid the rather obvious fact that since Saint Valentine was a martyr, and the color associated for long centuries in Christendom with martyrdom is . . . red, the only remaining link to be formed is, how did Saint Valentine's day come to be associated especially with love? The especially is important, insofor as it is rather obvious -- at least to anyone not deep in the bowels of secularism such as those nice folks at NPR -- that people died for Christ out of, um, er, . . . love! Well, instead of all that, we heard about illegal, Japanese red underwear. No, of course, that's far more likely an explanation than mine. How silly of me.

Admittedly, we don't know anything for sure about St. Valentine, but there seems no reason to dispute there was a St. Valentine. The claim that oh-so-smart people assume -- without ever actually proposing and attempting to prove -- that the early Church just made up these saints willy-nilly, seems dubious to me. Why should they have? They had more than enough indisputably real saints, an abundance of them -- that is utterly beyond contestation. There were martyrs everywhere, far more than they could keep track of. That they would set all that aside, and then invent saints, seems totally ridiculous to me.

The very fact that seems to demonstrate the truth of so many of these saints is precisely the absence of information about them. If you invented a character, you would also invent a story about him or her. Yet for so many of those saints, we know next to nothing. Why, then, would devotion to such a saint survive? The only reason is the preservation of a memory of a real person, to whom someone felt a real debt.

Have you ever noticed how certain trappings of Christian culture capture people's imagination? St. Blase -- who knows anything about him, other than the blessing of the throats and the candles? St. Francis of Assisi is far better known, but what lives best in folks' memory? Blessing of animals. So the development of St. Valentine's Day is hardly surprising. What's alternately dismaying and amusing is that bright people can walk down the street of our culture, and see these obvious signs that our culture substantially is the product of Christendom, and yet miss it all. You do have to feel pity for the occasional, insightful athiest who actually sees all this; it must invite despair.

Another thought: have you noticed how a number of these things that have imbedded deep in the culture occur in cold months? Before electricity and easy travel, cold winter months would have meant far fewer interesting things to do; so it's not hard to see why the day of an otherwise obscure saint might become a big deal. It's the middle of February--who cares what the occasion is, anything to break the monotony!

Anyway, I wish the Church had left poor Valentinus his day; but then a thought occurred to me at Mass: on a ferial day -- that is, a day of Ordinary Time, which has no mandated saint's observance -- a priest can offer a votive Mass for a saint at his discretion. Perhaps next February 13, I shall offer Mass for St. Valentine? Who knows, maybe when it next falls on a Friday, we could have an evening Mass, and a social event following? Then when they see the priest wearing, um, red!, they'll get the connection.

The storm is over...

The snow seems to have ended, and the sun is bright. It looks like about eight inches. I was just shoveling snow, I cleared my sidewalk and driveway, not as neatly as I'd like, but there's a good, clear path. There is a dirty iceberg in the running down the middle of the street, between my driveway and the mushy middle; I tried chopping at it, by my lightweight, plastic shovel just bounces off it like marshmallows; so I'm betting the snow plow, when it comes by, will chop it up. After all, it's going to leave a mound of stuff for me to clear away anyway.

I was going to back my car up, and clean around it; only I ran out of gas! I knew I was low, but how about that? Fortunately, there's some gas in the shed at the parish, so I'll walk over and get that, later.

Nothing left to do but come inside and have breakfast: some coffee and oatmeal.

I had Mass this morning; the music director told me last night he'd be there, so I asked him if he'd pick me up. He has a big Pontiac something-or-other that seems to do well in snow. For Mass it was he, I of course, and our dear Sisters of Charity, who hiked over from their convent. After communion, as we prayed silently, of course everything was so quiet -- one benefit of all this snow. And I heard the sound of a gas engine, and my thought was -- someone's mowing the lawn! Then reality reasserted itself. But it was a very pleasant thought!

Well, on the way back, the music director's tank got stuck in the snow. We got it out, and he got me back to my house, when I began shoveling, which took me about an hour.

Now I'm sitting in my easy chair, about to work on Sunday's homily. My boots for snow are drying over the register.

Oh, and it's 83 degrees, partly cloudy in Miami. In case you were wondering.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I started this post 9 hours ago...

This morning a little before 8, I started a post; then the power went out. Not a busy, but an active day, intervened -- despite the nasty weather.

We are getting hit by the same storm afflicting much of the eastern U.S. There were about 4 inches or so on the ground at 8:30 am; the coordinator for our perpetual chapel recommended closing it -- meaning, letting adorers off the hook so they wouldn't try to walk, or worse, drive over; so with a small bit of ceremony, three parishioners accompanied me as we transferred the Blessed Sacrament from the chapel to the tabernacle upstairs. On Thursday morning, assuming all is well, we'll reopen the chapel. (We'll still have Mass there Wednesday evening, but since adorers were told not to return till Thursday morning, we'll wait till the morning to return the Blessed Sacrament.)

After that, the office; one of our dear Sisters of Charity -- who works for the two parishes -- made it over, walking 1/2 mile. The business manager also made it in. Good thing, as she was available to drive me to the hospital when I got a call about a dying man in ICU. Her car was ready, mine was two blocks away, covered in snow. Two people were better off, if we got stuck, than either alone.

That was the plan when a parishioner pulled up in a big, muscular SUV; I don't know what brand, but it's big and not easily intimidated by a storm. He volunteered to take me to the hospital. When I got in, I saw he had his wife, two girls, and the dog! So we all went down to the hospital; they waited as I went in.

The man was in bad shape; the wife told me they didn't expect him to live. So I "heard" his confession (I told him to tell God in his heart his sins, I said the Act of Contrition and his penance -- one Glory Be -- for him, then gave him absolution and the apostolic pardon, which is a plenary indulgence, then anointed him, then blessed him with the Eucharist (he couldn't receive it), then the prayers for the dying. I assured him, if he had faith, he had nothing to fear, he was ready, as ready as I could help him be.

When I got back to the car, I told the girls, one in 3rd grade, one in kindergarten, about the visit; that the man's heart had stopped five times before I got there! The Lord must have wanted that rendezvous -- perhaps that moment of prayer saved his soul; if so, they had a part in it (they prayed the Divine Mercy chaplet while waiting), and what's better than that? They liked that idea. Their dad drove me back to the office, and I went back to work. Answered some mail, made some calls, prepared some invitations for a dinner for some area priests, etc. Decided to go home way early, around 4 pm.

Walking home, I saw some guys valiantly trying to budge a car. I saw there was no way it was going anywhere, but I did my civic duty and tried to help. "Where are you trying to go?" Turns out he was just going to park it in a nearby parking lot. He decided it wasn't so bad where it was; hopefully, the city won't tow him. It was getting nastier this evening, more wind, and some ice pellets instead of snow. Some roads had been plowed, but can't tell if mine has.

A bit ago, a parishioner came by with a snow-blower to do my walk, which was not necessary; I was fixing to shovel it in the morning, which I will have to do anyway, but this makes it somewhat easier.

All meetings cancelled tonight; everything is cancelled tonight I expect, hereabouts. In the morning, I have Mass at the north parish, 1/2 mile away. Unsure if I'll walk, or drive. I'll be curious to see if anyone else shows up.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Will the Lord say 'Woe' to us? (Sunday homily)

Note: this is the unedited version.

This weekend, at all Masses, the Sisters of Reparation to the Sacred Heart are here promoting the message of Divine Mercy. (They will give a presentation tomorrow afternoon, at 3 pm, along with Exposition and Benediction, at St. Mary. Feel free to come!) So, at the end of Mass, Sister Mary Grace came forward to give a preview. Well, I forgot about that when I wrote this, so when I delivered this homily, I cut it short for her sake...

The Lord’s words just now are shocking—
at least, they should be.
If they didn’t hit us like cold water in our faces,
we aren’t listening!

“Woe to you, rich!”

Are we rich? Many of us in this community are hurting.
Not enough work, and many can’t pay their bills.

Compared with the rest of the world, we’re blessed.
Yet the burden of debt is still crushing.
Being out of work is soul-bruising;
not being able to provide for your children—
I cannot imagine that pain.

This is an opportunity to talk about
the Church’s social teaching.
Caring for the poor; doing justly;
making the world a better place.

We don’t talk about this enough;
it can be rather overwhelming,
talking about poverty, racism, economic justice.
And it often becomes too political.

In the Gospel, Jesus didn’t say anything
about politics or minimum-wage laws,
taxes or government programs.
Yet Scripture says, failing to pay a worker’s wages
is a sin that cries out to heaven!

Some make it all politics;
some say it has nothing to do with politics.

Both are wrong!

As I said, this topic can be rather abstract.

So let me be very concrete:
Here’s what Archbishop Chaput of Denver said—
“If we forget the poor, we will go to hell.”

I repeat:
“If we forget the poor, we will go to hell.”

We can legitimately disagree about how to do it;
but if we think we don’t have to do it all;
the “woe” the Lord promised will fall on us.

Let’s stay concrete.
Our Catholic Faith says
everyone deserves a “just” wage.

We can debate government policy and get nowhere.
But as a parish, we can do something, immediately.
So, let’s ask the question: Do we pay a just wage
to our school employees and parish staff?
We try—but I think we come short.
Our battle against deficits tells us
we can’t afford what we’re doing now,
and we surely can’t afford to do more.

So—what shall I do?
Raise school tuition $500 a year?

No? Then we get more from the parish?
Only the parish doesn’t have it.

No, I know how generous many are.
Some can give a lot—and they do;
Others struggle to give $5—and yet, they do!
Still others give sacrificially of their time.

I am grateful.

You have heard me make the pitch for buying SCRIP,
as a truly pain-free way to help our parish and school.

Again—many do that.
But I have to tell you, many do not.
Many do far less than they could.

This parish could raise over $100,000 a year
from SCRIP—but we don’t come close to that.

Some say—the line is too long;
my answer: you volunteer to help sell it!

Some say, I don’t what to do; you can ask!

See, we can get all theoretical about this,
but this is as nuts-and-bolts as it gets:
Buy SCRIP! How’s that for practical?

If we had the money, I wouldn’t push SCRIP.
(I wouldn’t beg you to work Bingo.)

But we, as a Catholic community,
aren’t providing just wages—
because we don’t have the money.

SCRIP is a remedy in our hands, already.
And yet…

I use SCRIP to buy all my groceries.
I know most of you don’t—because if you did,
We’d already have $100,000 or more a year!

So what else, really, is there to say?

Now—I didn’t decide to talk about SCRIP
until Saturday afternoon.
So I didn’t arrange extra volunteers to sell SCRIP.
So, obviously, everyone can’t respond, today.
Here is what I’m asking you to do, right now:
Will you commit yourself, right now?
Will you make it your own, personal responsibility
to buy SCRIP, especially for your groceries,
since, obviously, we all have to eat?

Folks say, “be practical”—this is practical.

SCRIP is easy, costs you nothing, it’s pain-free!
The minor inconvenience
isn’t even worth complaining about,
when you consider people’s wages are at stake!
Together, we’re the employers—we’ll answer for it!

On Judgment Day, what will you say?
“I’d like to have helped,
but Father Martin didn’t ask enough times;
he didn’t ask the right way;
he didn’t make it easy enough.”

I don’t know what the Lord will say;
But we did just hear him say, “Woe to you.”
Please God, let it not be for us.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Mass in my socks...

Well, let's see what is happening this week . . .

Monday I really did get the whole day off, that was nice. Cold as Pluto here, so I didn't get out much on Monday, but I enjoyed vegging at home. I have a free trial version of "Rise of Nations," and I can amuse myself endlessly enough with the free version, no reason to buy it. It's not nice getting your behind handed to you by the computer, however.

Some people may look amiss at me taking a day and vegging; but I would argue that when you're doing nothing, you're not being unproductive. It's not only recharging your batteries; it's also giving your mind space to do a different sort of thinking. When I worked in Washington, I did a lot of copy writing, writing fundraising letters, which is an art that may seem declasse; however, as the saying I learned there goes, you can't save the world if you can't pay the rent. Fundraising is worthy when the cause is worthy, and admirable when the cause is admirable. I raised money for a cause I deeply believe in, and I do not apologize. And I was pretty good at it.

Well, anyway, the point I started to make was this: my boss would say, we need a letter about such-and-such. We'd set a deadline. And I'd go back to my office. And think. I might stroll over to our resource library, do a little research (nowadays, I'd go on the Internet). I'd go back to my office. I might do any number of things; I might read the papers, or I might sit and play on my computer. And somewhere along the line, who knows when, I'd start writing. And maybe later in the day, or maybe two days later, depending on the deadline, I'd have a letter, along with a proposal for what the whole package (the envelope, the inserts) would look like.

Now maybe I spent 3 hours, actually typing out and editing the first draft; but if you think that's all the time it took to do it, that's not how it works. In my own experience, I needed that time when I wasn't (seemingly) working on the project, to get ready for the project. Maybe other people's minds don't work that way, but mine does, and I doubt I'm all that unique.

Tuesday: I worked on "The Pile." That's what I call that which is on my desk and seems on the verge of crossing over from inanimate to a rudimentary form of life. When my outbox is piled high, and my trash can stuffed full, that's a good day of working on The Pile. I have a grudge match with The Pile; one day, I shall slay it utterly, and reclaim my desk. This week, I have struck it many blows, and yet it seems to shrink but a little. (Of course, I am a double-agent; I often add to The Pile myself! Can no one be trusted?)

Part of Tuesday was spent dithering over whether to cancel a meeting due to weather. About 3 o'clock, I did, but I figured, someone might show up anyway, so I'll be there just in case.

About 5, I left to go over to the convent for a monthly Mass with the Sisters of Charity. They always invite me for dinner, which is nice, but I had that meeting! So I told them I couldn't stay. The convent is at the parish on the north side of town, a half-mile from the south parish, where the offices are. So with the snow coming down, I walked. My youth minister thought it strange when I said it would be easier -- "In this snow?" "Exactly!" He's from Lewwwwww-zee-yanna; first snowfall last year, I had to talk him out of calling the Department of Homeland Security.

The sisters had the same reaction. But here's the thing. If I had driven, I would have had to clean off the car, and clean out the driveway; or, if I didn't clean the driveway, maybe I can't pull back in, when I came back. Plus, I'd have to clean my car the second time.

The walk over, I was out in the snow for maybe 10 minutes; how long would I be out in the snow, doing all the shoveling and cleaning? Which I preferred to do, the next morning, when the snow was finished. So I actually was out in the snow for less time, simply by walking -- not to mention I could pray my breviary as I walked over and back, and I was a lot safer, walking, with little traffic, versus trying to drive on roads that hadn't been cleared yet, under conditions when it'd be oh-so-easy to slide or spin into a parked car.

But when I got over to the convent, of course my clod-hopper snow boots, which I only wear a few times a year so they'll last forever, I took them off at the door. That's how I came to offer Mass in my stocking-feet. I don't think I've done that before; even when I had Mass on vacation, with another priest, in the condo where we stayed (we went to Hilton Head in February, on a special deal -- cheap!), I had my sandals on. The sisters said they wouldn't report me to the Archbishop.

So, anyway, after Mass, one of the sisters said, I'll drive you back. Okay. Back to the school, not my house, around the corner; I was going to wait for anyone showing up for the meeting. I actually stood outside, because it was, I confess, very pleasant to watch the snow come down, and see the snow completely untouched. This is a rare moment, enjoy it while it lasts, dear reader; I usually am an unreconstructed Scrooge when it comes to snow, not a whit of romance or good cheer about it. But my dirty little secret is I have brief bursts of liking it, but when that happens, I remain still and quiet until the moment passes.

Five minutes till 7, not a soul around. When I heard the bells chiming in the steeple, I started walking home. No one showed. Everyone got postcards, probably today, saying the meeting is next Tuesday.

Wednesday. A funeral, of a sort, at 9 am. A parishioner who had been at a nursing home in Dayton died, and was to be buried here. But no Mass, no service. Just a graveside service. Would I meet the family at the cemetery? About 8:30, I'm out cleaning the car and driveway (cemetery is 2 miles away; chose not to walk), and I go back inside, to put on my cassock and the phone rings. My secretary; funeral home called; family in an accident coming up 75; go on without them.

So I went to the cemetery, met the hearse, along with two cemetery workers. I helped them carry the coffin to the grave; the guys chatted a little while I got my book, and I said, we'll, we're going to pray the prayers. The guys were very respectful, took their hats off, and we prayed for the poor woman, this was her funeral, no family there. (By the way, if you ever have a bottle of holy water, in your car, and it freezes, holding it in front of the heat vent, at full blast, will do wonders.) I told the funeral home fellows, "tell the family we prayed all the prayers," which we did. It didn't take that long.

Back home; parked on the street (a shout-out to the city workers of Piqua; they did a great job cleaning the streets overnight; I hope you got some rest, guys!), and proceeded to shovel out my driveway. Shoveling five-six inches of show, in bitter cold, when you're out of shape? Probably a bad idea, but I did it, and felt fine, didn't even feel sore today, so how about that? It's a point of pride to me to have my driveway cleaned out, and to do a proper job on my walks. None of this clearing a skinny little path, so that if two people pass, someone has to step into the snow; I clean the entire sidewalk; I usually salt it, but didn't have any handy, I keep forgetting to restock. But the sun did the work anyway, and it is mostly dry now.

When I grew up in Cincinnati, my father told me that was what you did; it was your job to clean your sidewalk; that's how all the sidewalks got clear. And if someone couldn't do his own, he hired the kids in the neighborhood (such as yours truly!) and if someone maybe couldn't afford it, you cleaned that person's walk for him or her, or at least part of it.

Because, if you don't do that, then folks have to walk in the street; but some folks didn't get the word -- they didn't have my dad for theirs, and their walks don't get cleaned. My dad said it was a law, but it doesn't seem to be enforced, and I am not urging the city to get people; there's altogether too much of that these days. Instead of wishing the city would pass out tickets, people should just go out and clean their walks. Every time.

Well, I was supposed to write my Sunday homily on Wednesday morning, and I had time to think about it, but as I said above, sometimes nothing comes right away. So maybe I'll write it tomorrow; or maybe I'll extemporate, but God help the folks if I do that, because who knows how long I'll talk. Somebody quoted a Keith Richards line to this effect the other day: Any fool can get up and talk for an hour; to get up and make the point in five minutes? That takes a lot of work.

Wednesday afternoon, I stole yet more life from The Pile, but it only laughed at me as 5 o'clock rolled around and I had to go hear confessions in the chapel. After 6 pm Mass, I had a Bible study with folks -- we're nearing the end of Exodus -- and then to the Knights of Columbus. Hung out with them for awhile, home by about 10, when I had some leftover chicken for dinner.

This morning, Mass, breakfast, The Pile. The double-agent in me struck as I actually started some new projects. Cleared out some phone messages, and finally left to visit the hospital around 4 pm. That meant I'd probably still be visiting when they started bringing dinner around, at 5 or so. Had nine Catholic patients on the list, a lot for this hospital.

One boy about 22 in the ICU, mother didn't explain why, I didn't ask. He couldn't talk, lots of tubes. Not what you expect. Couldn't give him communion. A old woman whose gown was not exactly arranged as it should be; I knocked, looking away, giving her a chance to fix it. She did, sort of. How do I say this delicately; it wasn't a question of, shall we say, modesty, but dignity. But she was somewhat confused. She couldn't say much, but she said a little. She didn't seem able to swallow, so I didn't give her communion, either. She was happy to hold my hand, otherwise she kept turning partly away.

A man sitting in the room -- no bed. Are you "____" -- a name that could be a man's. "No, she's at dialysis. Be back at 8." Oh, I won't be here then, sorry I missed her. Talked to him; they don't go to church, but she is Catholic. He told me how frustrated he was with the doctors and nurses, they don't seem to know what's wrong. "Too much stupidity." I listened. Told him I'd pray for her, and them both, and if they needed a priest, the hospital would call me or another priest.

There were others, of course, only two people I recognized -- they aren't all from my parishes. Left there at 5:30, home briefly until I went to the school board meeting. Big discussion was the budget; another increase in tuition, and more subsidy money from the parish, money I don't have. "What are we going to do, father?" "I don't know." Not enough students; not enough Catholics; not enough jobs in Piqua. Home tonight by 9:30.

I had a pot-pie for dinner -- did you know you can microwave those? They actually are designed for that! First time I had one of these, I took it out of the box, throw that away, and cooked it in the real oven. That's so old-fashioned! The box is designed with a shiny surface inside, so it cooks it right; it worked? Only 5 minutes.

Tomorrow I have a school Mass; the earlier one, this week, was cancelled due to snow. Then I'll meet with a parishioner who wants to buy some new furniture and make some suggestions in using the existing furniture, so she's going to take a look at what we have. Then I will go to the office and make war on The Pile once more.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Can you answer this question?

This question came up in a thread from last week:

Dear Father,

how did the Universal Church develop from a hierarchy of
Father, Son + Holy Ghost


Father, Son + Holy Ghost
Religious Brother and Sisters

Some of them I can see clearly, St. Peter - Benedict XVI makes sense, even Apostles - Cardinals, and Deacons - Deacons, but the others aren't so clear cut to me, please could you explain.


I gave my answer here; care to give your own answer?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Go Fish! (Sunday Homily)

Have you ever considered how often the Lord met people at work: farmers in the field; women, caring for the household;shepherds, out all night with the flock.

Do we find Jesus during our work day? He’s there; do we pause to talk with him? This may surprise you, but even as a priest, if I don’t make the effort, I can go from morning to night, and not pray!

The Lord is ready to be with us at our work. In the Gospel, he seeks out fishermen. He catches Simon, Andrew, James and John, at the end of a long, unfruitful night.

And he tells them, “Put out into the deep!”

We know it’s about more than fish—and yet, it is, still, about fish! See how that works? Our encounters with the Lord always go deeper; and yet they still are about our daily lives, as well. Daily devotion and prayer doesn’t get in the way; rather, it helps get past the shallows, into the Deep.

Put out into the Deep, the Lord said: one of the reminders from Vatican II was that every baptized believer is called to sanctify the world through our ordinary lives. That’s not the job of priests and deacons! Our job is to sanctify the Body of Christ, the Church. It is the members of his Body—all the baptized—whom he sends to sanctifying the world.

Some of us, some of our friends and family, are called,
like Simon, Andrew, James and John
to be his priests.

How do you hear that call? As in today’s Gospel—you encounter the Lord! Rarely is it a dramatic moment. More often, it comes through our daily lives, as we pray, go to confession frequently, and faithfully take part in Sunday Mass. However it happens, when we realize Jesus is calling us, “leaving all to follow him” isn’t a question of easy or hard; it’s just what you do.

Parents, don’t be afraid to promote
the priesthood or religious life for your children. It’s not that you’re going to “talk them into it.” Just realize how many other voices there are going the other way. Your task is to give them every advantage so they know they can freely hear, and respond…to whatever the Lord calls them to.

This week, we emphasized Catholic education. We focus on our schools—and they are vital; but we remember, being well formed in our Faith happens in lots of ways, first and foremost in the family; and it is a lifetime project. Part of putting out into the Deep is realizing that “the minimum” isn’t enough. When we share our Faith, people will ask questions…and most won’t call me—instead, they’ll ask you.

Will you be ready to answer those questions? Are we willing to put out into the Deep?

But the call is not only for some; he is calling every one of us, out into the Deep.

We might ask ourselves, candidly: do we see it as our responsibility to make a catch for the Lord? Are we out there, fishing for souls, everyday? It does matter whether people follow Jesus—He is the world’s only hope! And it is our job to help as many find him as possible. The task is urgent; so many on the wrong road.

We might be afraid; we are certainly unequal to the task. Simon fell to his knees, overwhelmed. He was sure his sins would get in the way. But the Lord had only this answer: Don’t be afraid. "And they left all, and followed him."

Thursday, February 01, 2007

I suspect this is low...
LogoThere are:
people with my name
in the U.S.A.

How many have your name?