Sunday, December 30, 2007

What does your Holy Family look like? (Sunday homily)

This time of year, we all see the Hallmark-Card images
of family that are hard—
no, make that impossible!—to live up to.

So it was with my family, growing up;
probably yours, too, I imagine.
One of the best things I ever did
was to accept the reality of my family’s brokenness,
instead of the ideal that never was.

Speaking of “best things,”
my father says one of the best things he did,
as a husband, was to take mom out for a date
every Saturday night.

This goes with something Pope John Paul the first said:
“Parents begin to educate their children
by their love for each other.”
This is one reason why,
when married people come to confession,
I sometimes give this penance:
“Do something romantic for your spouse.”

But what the pope said calls to mind
something truly amazing:
God, in becoming a true human being,
an infant at Mary’s breast, growing up in a home,
learned about love from Mary and Joseph!

This is the mystery of the Incarnation:
God becoming like us in all things but sin.
He whom all heaven could not contain,
into Mary’s womb came to dwell.
The all-powerful Creator became a defenseless child!
The Ancient of Days learned about human life and love
from watching Joseph and Mary.

And you worry about what you teach your children!

On this Feast of the Holy Family,
let’s acknowledge some things:
Sometimes, in church, we talk so much about married life,
we neglect those who are single,
or those whose marriages ended in deep pain.

We often don’t know what to say.
Well, we could start with, “I’m not going to judge you;
and I do want to welcome you!”

Some people don’t “fit the mold”;
some can’t marry as God and nature define marriage.
It’s not our place to redefine marriage;
but it is certainly our place—indeed,
it’s absolutely our obligation before God—
to embrace everyone without mockery,
without ugliness, as Christ in our midst!

We hold up the Holy Family as an ideal;
but Christ knows well how “dysfunctional”
our families can be.
That’s why he came to be part of our human family!

You and I know about messages in society
and the media that threaten family life.

Let me say this:
Father Tom and Father Ang and I, and this parish—
we want to help!
Please tell us what we can do to help more!

You and I are also painfully aware of family troubles
we don’t like to talk about:
Alcoholism or other addictions;
anger, emotional abuse or physical violence;
depression or other emotional problems.

Yes, Christ took a beating on the Cross;
but he never inflicted such abuse on anyone—
and neither should we!

To make matters worse, some of these issues
aren’t dealt with openly,
but instead become shameful secrets,
wounds that never heal.

Don’t we call this the season of Light?
Christ offers his Light to heal these wounds.
Will we let him?

Christ, who came to carry the Cross
of all our human sinfulness,
will give you courage and walk beside each of us
on our own Way of the Cross. Will we let him?

Our second reading talks about the role
each of us has in our families.

Christ is the child among us—should he witness
parents berating and demeaning each other?

Christ the teenager: we have no idea what music he liked.
But do you think he would have tolerated music
that demeans women and exults violence?

Christ was a worker;
but he did not make work an excuse to neglect his family.

Christ the man saw women as Images of God,
not as servants, or imaginary partners on the Internet.

Christ was strong enough to bite his tongue;
he didn’t need fists or words to prove himself.

Men, are you and I “man enough”
to follow the leadership of Jesus Christ?

And Christ the healer never shamed anyone he met;
not the prostitute, not the tax-collector,
not the leper or the alien.

And he will never shame nor despise any of us
for our sins, our wounds, our secrets…
whatever they may be.

Yes, our families are far from the ideal.
But they, too, can be “holy families.”
Not because they look like a Christmas card,
but because we let Christ bring courage,
and healing, and hope:

Not to the families of our dreams,
but to the real family life we actually have.

Friday, December 28, 2007

NCR: It's V2 or Trent, can't have both

I read the same editorial in the National Catholic Reporter as Father John Zuhlsdorf did, but he caught something I didn't:

If liturgy has characteristically been below the radar for most Catholics, opponents of Vatican II knew from the outset that the one way to preserve Trent was to halt liturgical reform.

As Father Zuhlsdorf observes: "Vatican II wanted to 'preserve Trent.' Unless, of course, the editor truly sees that Vatican II constituted a break with the ecclesiology of Trent. That would be a devastating (and stupid) admission."

Well, you might think it was just a slip--except the same editorial repeatedly pits the ecclesiology of Vatican II against that of Trent: and, as Father Zuhlsdorf observes, that is a "devastating and stupid admission."

Stupid because its not true. Again, as Father Zuhlsdorf catches, in his acerbic commentary, the editorial makes much of how Trent described the Church as a "perfect society" and had a "vertical" ecclesiology (and the editorial writer seems not to understand what that means; not impeccable, but complete, insofar as everything she needs, she has--and that is manifestly true of the Church: she has Christ!), and then how Vatican II was about "pilgrim people" and "Body of Christ"--to which Father Zuhlsdorf responds, "Why cannot the Church be seen as more than one thing at the same time?"

It's stupid because perpetuates a cartoonish understanding of Church history and belief, especially of Trent itself. To use the kind of language that the NCR crowd understands, it is to divide the Trent of history from the Trent of fevered progressive paranoia, and to make the latter what counts!

And devastating, because a lot of folks who, for various, differing reasons might have had sympathy with the NCR crowd on liturgy, the direction of the Church, and the meaning of Vatican II, are being led by a Pied Piper off the cliff. According to NCR, it's Vatican II or Trent, can't have both. And for NCR, it's out with Trent.

It has been a favorite tactic of many so-called "progressive" folks to marginalize their opposition as rejecting Vatican II. Don't tell me they didn't, I saw it over and over, as a seminarian, from people who should have known better.

Well, guess what? Now other folks can accuse said progressives of rejecting Trent, because the NCR let the cat out of the bag!

The trouble with that is it's not Catholic. It's intellectually incoherent. And if seeing these two councils in opposition did have any merit, the only possible conclusion that could be reached would be to validate the claim, made by critics of Vatican II (either in implementation or in substance), that since Vatican II was merely a "pastoral" council, its work need not be seen as infallible. I hesitate to bring that up, because I really, really, don't want to get into a discussion of that, it's too abstruse for this casual setting, I really, really don't want the advocates of that position to have a forum here, and I don't have the time or energy to respond. But I bring it up for this reason: if you tend to agree with NCR in general, then you really, really, don't want this anti-V2 crowd to be right, do you? Well, according to this NCR editorial...they are.

Meanwhile, that leaves Pope Benedict as, gasp, the moderate: he embraces both Trent and Vatican II, and he also happens to be a real scholar, he knows his stuff, and he also happens to have been a real pastor, and he also happens to have been there at Vatican II, and, ahem, he also happens to be the Successor of Peter! No wonder the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter seems to be getting rather shrill.

Only a few weeks ago, it came down on the side of conferring holy orders on women, despite Pope John Paul II declaring the reservation of holy orders for men an infallible, irreformable doctrine. Does NCR really think that's going to be overturned? How? Far more likely is that, as they and others quibble over whether John Paul really defined it as infallible, then one of his successors, with or without a council, will give them the most high-church, "monarchical" old-style infallible declaration of the matter possible, and then where will they be?

One wonders what the future holds for the NCR. Surely the NCR has noticed they don't have many friends left among the bishops: the only one they seem to be able to point to is Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, who I have no doubt is a holy man, but is theologically rather extreme. And after Gumbleton, who else do you have? How about that African bishop, who joined up with the Moonies after he got married? Hmm, that's promising, isn't it?

The future doesn't look bright for the "vision" the NCR trumpets; either the NCR will become more shrill, and fade away into irrelevance, or at some point, someone will yank it back toward reality.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why did Mike Huckabee take stem-cell blood money?

As former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee has moved up as a contender for the GOP presidential nomination, he's gotten more scrutiny and criticism. Many have faulted him for naive views on foreign policy (supposedly he thinks talking more nicely will solve our problems with Iran) and for insouciant big-governmentism--he speaks breezily of a federal smoking ban, and having Uncle Sam do something about CEO's being paid too much, and people getting too fat.

But what has rallied so many to his cause is the belief that he's the real deal at least as a so-called "social conservative"--meaning, folks count on him to be a determined advocate of the unborn.

So it is surprising to learn that in 2006, Huckabee received $35,000 in speaking fees from Novo Nordisk--a company that grinds up embryonic unborn children for the sake of "research." I had forgotten, but Mitt Romney got a lot of criticism because his blind trust invested in this same company.

This news comes out in the context of other reports that, as governor, Huckabee accepted quite a lot of such fees--over $370,000 from corporations as governor. So reports the Weekly Standard, here.

Huckabee has a lot of explaining to do; and folks who have high hopes for Huckabee may want to look closer, and ask him some tough questions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Don't leave Him hanging (Christmas Day)

Does this happen to you?
You’re talking to someone you think is listening;
Then you ask a question…
And the other person just nods…and smiles…
And your question is left hanging!

My sister catches me this way when I’m watching TV.

Sometimes after Mass, I’ll talk to the kids;
I’ll ask a question…
They will nod, and smile…
They leave me hanging!

It’s a humbling experience!

On Christmas Day,
Beyond the wrappings and tinsel,
You and I wake up to an astonishing fact:
God came to dwell among us: God spoke to us.

Will we leave him hanging?

We just heard the powerful beginning
of the Gospel of John
Open up vistas of discovery about God—and about us.

To call God the Word: What does that mean?

The Greek word is Logos:
Order, beauty, truth, which is knowable.

Yet, in this Post-Modern Era,
Many of us despair of knowing the Truth
that knits all things together.

With so many competing voices,
We throw up our hands and say, “Who can know?”

George Weigel,
who wrote a marvelous book a couple of years ago,
calledThe Courage to be Catholic,
Has now written Letters to a Young Catholic,
What one reviewer called “a vivid tour”
of what being Catholic means.

There, he called Catholicism “the antidote to nihilism.”
And by “nihilism,” he means
not the sour, dark,
often violent nihilism of Nietzsche and Sartre…

But a “debonair nihilism”:
the nihilism that enjoys itself on the way to oblivion,
convinced that all of this—
the world, us, relationships, sex, beauty, history—
is really just a cosmic joke.

Against the nihilist claim that nothing
is really of consequence,
Catholicism insists that everything is of consequence,
because everything has been redeemed by Christ.
And if you believe that,
it changes the way you see things.
It changes the way everything looks.

To say, “the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,” changes everything!
It is to say God has spoken—to us!
And we can know him!

God’s not only talking to us, he’s asking a question:
Will we leave him hanging?

What question?
John’s Gospel recalls Genesis;
That’s where God first asked “The question”—
Do you remember it?

After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves.
And God called out: Where are you?

Ever since sin polluted Creation and darkened us,
We’ve been afraid;
But God has never given up seeking, and asking:
“Where are you?”

Will we have the courage to answer?

You might have thought I’d say “faith” just now.
Yes, it does takes faith;
But almost everyone has some faith—
Gallup reports nearly everyone believes in God.

But more and more of us believe in a kind of…force…
A Presence that’s there—but that’s all.

To be a full-blown atheist takes courage;
Because then, we face a meaningless world alone.

Likewise, it takes courage to believe
Not in a “what” but a Who…
Someone who is talking to us.
Someone we can know—
And enter into a relationship with.

That takes courage.

We prefer a loosey-goosey idea of “Love”:
“Can’t religion just be about ‘love’?
“Can’t we all just ‘love’ each another?”
But in a real relationship, love is anything but easy.
A relationship demands hard choices:
Commitment, fidelity, honesty,
Sacrifice, virtue, and conversion.

Christianity isn’t about some vague God,
who loves us in some vague way,
And we do the same.

This is about the most intimate relationship possible:
God became one of us,
So we could become part of God!

So, yes, God’s Love—and our response—
Could not be more demanding.

That’s why it takes courage.

So is it any surprise to see in our time a revival
Of the paganism that pre-dated Christ?

Have you noticed the “Winter Solstice”
making a comeback?

This is an ideal solution;
We can have a holiday, we can even be “spiritual”—
But without the intrusion of a God
who might actually want something from us.

Impressive as the sun and the stars are,
There’s no relationship.
It’s easier—but it’s emptier, too.

No wonder the pagan gods of old
Looked so suspiciously like ourselves;
When man called out to those gods,
All he heard back was an echo.

But we have the Gospel: “Good News”:
We have Christ!

C.S. Lewis once said that
God pays us the “intolerable compliment”
of not leaving us “as-is,” or “good enough.”

God is head-over-heels in love with us.
But he is demanding.

This is the greatest adventure of romance possible,
Beyond heaven and earth, beyond time,
Beyond our imagining.

This is what Christmas is.

God’s here; he’s talking; he’s asking.
Will we leave him hanging?

Winding down and recuperating

Well, it's been a pretty great Christmas Eve and midnight. After getting things ready for the 4 pm vigil at St. Boniface, which the vicar offered, then I stopped by the drugstore for some pseudephedrine -- which is now sold from behind the counter, and one has to sign for it -- and by another store where I get my favorite beer for Christmas -- Anchor Steam. Then a bit of a breather before 6 pm Mass at St. Mary, which I offered. Kudos to the servers, who all showed up in plenty of time, and everything went splendidly. Missa altissima! My voice is a bit rough from my cold, and it cracked as I sung the Sign of the Cross, and I thought, oop! it's going to be a long night! But after I blew the dust out of the pipes -- and sent a server for water several times -- it all went fine.

Then to a parishioner's house for dinner; I was going to beg off, but I felt so good. Then to St. Boniface for Midnight Mass. Another most-high Mass, with ten servers! We even had the servers incense during the Eucharistic Prayer and we had them hold candles during the Prayer.

Also, for Midnight, I wore my biretta. As I said in my homily -- at Midnight Mass, father brings out his fancy hat!

I even sang the Gospel at Midnight, which I didn't do at 6 pm; I flubbed a few notes, given my rough voice; and as Mass wore on, my voice wore down; I couldn't sing the entire Canon, just the first part, unfortunately.

Anyway, we did have multos candles! More at St. Boniface, but St. Mary had more little lights. St. Boniface uses all white pontsettias, which was was controversial for awhile -- it preceded me, and I left that in place, while St. Mary uses all red. Both churches are splendid for Christmas.

The music was splendid; we had children's choirs for 4 and 6 pm; the schola and bell choir assisted at Midnight. We began the Mass with the proper introit, chanted by the schola, followed by "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

Well, I'm home now, having one of my Christmas beers. Earlier, I flipped on all the lights on the house, it's a tradition all my own: I think we should light up everything on Christmas night. I also put a candle in the window; if you don't know where that tradition comes from, look it up, it's pretty neat.

It's off to bed soon; I just finished my beer, and I'm tempted to have another, but it's rather late.

Oh, and our Midnight Mass drew a good crowd -- at least 400 I would say, which is pretty good, considering elsewhere parishes can't get people to come. They come here.

Make Room (Midnight Mass)

Right at the center of the Gospel reading
is a line that ought to haunt us:

She wrapped him in swaddling clothes
and laid him in a manger,
because there was no room for them in the inn.

There really isn’t any reason to find this shocking.
The inn might well have been filled.
Was the innkeeper supposed to kick out someone else?

Would you want a woman giving birth in your motel?
There wasn’t a lot of privacy in those inns.
And privacy was something
Mary and Joseph would certainly want.

It may have been money.
With so many customers,
the innkeeper had a chance to charge double or triple.
That may sound mean and greedy—
except that sometimes he has to rent his rooms for ½ price;
there are times people skip out without paying.

That innkeeper likely had a family to feed, and bills to pay.
So we can well imagine the innkeeper saying:
“I’d like to help. I wish I could. But . . . no, I just can’t.”
No room.

Don’t we say the same thing?
Do you really think the innkeeper
knew the real identity of those he turned away that night?

Obviously, it’s about how we treat other people—
people who show up at the wrong times,
we didn’t plan for them—come back another day?

People who are tiny, at the beginning of life—
because they’re small, and dependent, and hidden,
we tell ourselves they aren’t really people,
so they don’t count.
They’re disposable.

People who speak another language,
why are they hear in “our” country—we have no room!

Maybe it was you who was turned away—
by friends; your family, your spouse;
by an employer, or by the Church.

If you were told the cold barn is good enough for you—
you’re in good company!

But sometimes, it isn’t even about other people—
it is just about God himself.
How often God himself knocks at the door of our hearts.

“What is it? What do you want?
Why are you knocking at this hour?”

Well, let’s be clear what he does NOT want.
God doesn’t want our things.
He doesn’t need our worship.
God doesn’t need anything from us.

All he wants is us.
He wants room.
Room in us, room in our lives.

How much?
Well, how much room would God himself take up?

Suppose Joseph had said:
We need all the room—everything!
Who can imagine the innkeeper saying yes to that?

God asks the same of us.
Does He get the best room in our lives?
Are there “guests” in our lives—
relationships or habits—
that really can’t stay when Christ comes in?
“I give God an hour at Mass.”
But God says, “Not enough. I want every hour.
I want to be where you are—at work, at play.”

“I give part of my income to charity.”
“Not enough. Treat every penny as mine.”

“Whoa, God—I can’t do that.
I’ve given you part of my life.”

“Not enough. I want it all.
Every decision, every corner. I want it all.”

“You ask too much, God.
What you ask is impossible. I can’t do it!”

“You’re right. You can’t. But I can.
Just let me in. Make room for me.”

Monday, December 24, 2007

Are you ready to burst? (Christmas Vigil)

“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.”

The Prophet Isaiah has Good News!
He’s bursting with it!

I’m sure it’s happened to you.

“I tied my shoes all by myself!”
“I got an ‘A’ on the exam”…
“I got the job we’ve been praying for!”

Sometimes we have News inside us, ready to explode—
and we have to share it.

Love is that way, too;
It grows inside you, like the Sun, burning and intense—
It has to get out.

Isn’t that why some are here tonight, with your children?

That’s why I am a priest.
Another priest planted the idea in me;
And the more I reflected on our Lord,
and what he’d done in my life, the more it grew inside me:

Love: for the Lord—and love for his People.
Young men, it may happen to you, too;
and you will be like Isaiah, the Prophet,
or like Paul the Apostle in the second reading:

“For Zion’s sake”—you have to speak, you have to act.

Now, who is “Zion”? Zion is God’s People.

In that long Gospel you just heard,
we heard a list of just some of those people.

They are mostly unfamiliar to us,
but for the first folks who heard this Gospel,
they would have recognized those names.

They would have said—“those are our people!
Our relatives—that’s our family tree.”

Abraham—our father in faith:
He and his wife were old and had no children;
One day God called them to follow him.
God said: “I will give you a son.
I will make your descendants as numerous
as the stars in the sky!”

It was hard for Abraham to believe; but it happened.

In time, one of Abraham’s descendants became King:
King David. And God told David:
Your kingdom will last forever!
Also hard to believe—
especially when the kings who came after him failed.

Eventually, they went into captivity!
It would have been easy to forget the promise of God.

But God did not forget:
And so the story continued, generation after generation.

Now, there were certain names
in that list that deserve special notice.

Who here goes on the Internet?
Do you know what a hyperlink is?

Some of these names are like “hyperlinks”:
when you “click” on them,
more of the story comes up, and you think, “wow”!

So let’s “click” on some of the “hyperlinks”…

Way back, early in the story was Tamar.
Without details, there was a terrible act—a crime.
And yet, God worked through her and her children.

Another “hyperlink” is Rahab.
She was—parents, you’ll get my meaning here—
a “lady of the evening.”
But she it was who gave shelter to Joshua,
way back, early in the story!

(By the way—the name “Joshua” is Hebrew—
do you know what it is in Greek?
It is a very famous name,
the most famous Name: JESUS!)

Rahab’s past did not keep God
from making her a key player in his wonderful Plan.

Yet another “hyperlink” is Ruth.

Ruth was a foreigner—an “outsider,”
as were several others in this story.
She is included to show that God has no interest
in treating anyone as an “outsider.”

One more “hyperlink”: Uriah.
We heard that David married the wife of Uriah.
The rest of the story is that he had Uriah murdered—
so that he could have Uriah’s wife for himself!

Sometimes our family stories
have ugly parts we’re not proud of.
But God can heal them;
and if we allow him, he will transform our ugliness
into something beautiful and powerful.

We follow the story, step-by-step,
and it brings us to familiar names: Joseph, and Mary;
and at last to Jesus,
“who will save his People from their sins.”

Is this the end of the story?
No! It’s a climax—and a new beginning.

Jesus is the promise kept to Abraham;
Jesus is the promise kept to David;
Jesus is the Good News that Isaiah’s heart
was bursting to share;
Jesus is the Salvation
that St. Paul traveled far and wide to tell people about;
Jesus is the Light for us in dark places,
when all other lights go out.

Now, one more thing.

You did not come here merely to behold that Light.
Jesus did not come simply to be marveled at:
“What a cute baby; what a nice story!”

The God who carefully wove this story, link-by-link,
has just as carefully brought you here:
you are part of this story!
Jesus himself brought you here—
he is a Question: How will you respond?

Will you be a link in the Story?
Will you be, not a beholder, but a bearer of Christ?

Be careful!
It is dangerous; it takes courage to say “Yes”!

Isaiah and Paul, Joseph and Mary: it changed their lives.
To accept Christ, to be his Light-bearer,
changes everything. The King deserves no less!

That’s what makes it a good story!
His Light casts out all our darkness—nothing else can!
His Light can never go out—
nothing else has that power!
Nothing else will last!

That’s the News that bursts in Isaiah’s heart—
and, O, I pray it bursts in yours:
“For Zion’s sake I will not be silent,
for Jerusalem’s sake I will not be quiet,
until her vindication shines forth like the dawn
and her victory like a burning torch.”

Sunday, December 23, 2007

'Cough, cough!'

Christmas must be near, because I'm coming down with something. Ah well, it does not seem to be the nasty bug I had last year, but a rather routine cough and cold. Physically, I feel moderately good; but I have a sore throat and my voice is raspy. I just asked the vicar if he'd take 10:30 am Mass; my fear was my voice might fail, or I'd get into a coughing jag. But I'm sure, fortified with some "cocktail" of caffeine and off-the-shelf potions, I will be just fine for Christmas. I am not missing Midnight Mass two years in a row! But, I may not be singing much of the Mass, if so, too bad.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Heaven spoke--will we obey? (Sunday homily)

Today’s Gospel shows us Joseph as someone very human,
someone we can readily understand.

A lot of tradition says Joseph was older than Mary.
If so, we might wonder if Joseph thought,
“I’ll just get out of the way.”

In any case, it wasn’t long
before a message came from heaven.
When the Scriptures say “behold,” that means—
it happened quickly.

Heaven spoke—and Joseph obeyed.
There’s not much better
that we could say about Joseph, or anyone.

But there’s a reason that happened so quickly:
Joseph wanted to hear.
By contrast, in the first reading,
the king does not want to hear from heaven.
So we might wonder if what the prophet said,
made any difference.

Which reminds us that God does, in fact,
speak to us very frequently,
in many ways, but we don’t hear it, for many reasons.

Maybe we, like Ahaz, don’t want to hear it,
because then, we’ll have to do something.

Then there is Paul—we heard him in the second reading.

We remember how Paul heard from heaven.
He was a hard-charger;
and heaven knocked him to the ground.
He was very certain he saw clearly;
he was struck blind for awhile.

Again, that’s an experience we can identify with.

In the end, we can say it of Paul, too:
“Heaven spoke—and Paul obeyed.”

Paul traveled thousands of miles
to tell everyone what we just heard:
Jesus Christ offers us grace and peace,
power over sin, the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Recently, Rome sent out a letter reminding us that,
even though it’s important
that we have good relations with other Christians,
and its important we never look down on people
who believe differently, the fact remains
that we have a Gospel—Good News—to share,
and it is urgent that we share it.

Can God save people who never become Christians?
Yes, God can do that;
and as far as what God actually will do? We don’t know.

But remember what we do know,
what heaven has told us, through Paul:
Share the Gospel—tell everyone about Jesus Christ!

When Paul encountered Jesus Christ,
we realize how deeply it changed such a strong man
that he would call himself “a slave of Jesus Christ.”

When we encounter Jesus Christ,
when we really let him speak to us,
when we acknowledge our sins to him
and are ready to let him take the lead,
we discover why He is Good News;
why everyone needs to know him.

Jesus is, as our pope recently said,
“the God who has a human face
and who has loved us to the end.”

Christmas makes this clear:
if you take Jesus out of Christmas, what’s left?
Fun and presents, pretty lights and good feelings,
but nothing really changes, no hope for eternity.

Even so, the whole world celebrates Christmas;
including so many people who don’t believe in Jesus.

Why do they do it?
Because they are looking for
what Isaiah promised the king:
A child is born, Emmanuel, God is with us!

The whole world longs for what you and I
have been freely given!
Emmanuel, God-with us!

Yes, it’s true, many resist; many say, “another day”;
many, like St. Paul, want God—
but only on their own terms.

But the fact remains, there is a longing for Christ.
When the time is right—
and that time is different for everyone—
who will be there to tell them
and to lead them to Christ?
That is our task.

That’s why it’s important we have silence…to hear Christ.
That’s why it’s important we be in the habit of prayer.
It’s why it matters that what our lives say
matches our words.

And, it’s why it is so important we know our Faith;
so that when someone asks us—
and they will ask you,
long before they will ever ask the priest—
“why do you believe that?”

When the time comes to speak, to share Christ,
what will you say? What will you do?

In a moment, the miracle that happened once in Mary
will happen again for us as it does day after day:
Jesus will offer his Sacrifice at this altar,
and he will give himself to us in his Body and Blood.
And we can say it in a way no one else can:
“God is with us!”

If we come to communion,
or, if we aren’t able to do that today,
and we make a spiritual communion instead,
let this be the moment for us that happened to Paul:
we discover Christ fully,
and we cannot fail to share him with others.

We might let this be the moment for us
that happened to Joseph:
Heaven spoke—and we obeyed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We don't need a Savior -- we have one already

No doubt you've heard about the ad prepared by former Arkansas Governor, and GOP presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, for the people of Iowa, in advance of Christmas -- featuring the so-called "floating cross." Gov. Huckabee says he didn't mean anything, it's just a bookshelf that accidentally looked like a cross; a commentator on TV last night said, you do things in a hurry in campaigns, and you don't realize what you did till it's too late; Peggy Noonan, writing in the Wall Street Journal, said these things aren't accidental. Dick Morris, on Fox News, thinks it was not intentional. While I have my suspicions, I am inclined to give Huckabee the benefit of the doubt.

I agreed with something else Noonan said: "Is there a word for "This is nice" and "This is creepy"? For that is what I felt. This is so sweet-appalling."

One reason I didn't like it was the symbolism, to me, of a floating, glowing cross. I certainly don't think Huckabee had any evil intent, but -- yes, given our nation's history, that is creepy.

Now, speaking more broadly, Huckabee and his supporters are complaining that critics are making too much of his religiosity. But that won't fly, because Mr. Huckabee himself has injected his religiosity into this campaign. He brought it up.

Meanwhile, we have the very interesting news reported by columnist Robert Novak, concerning Huckabee's loyalties in the internecine battles of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Now, this will seem obscure to many, but here goes. Some years back, there were great battles in the Southern Baptist Convention between "conservatives" and "moderates"--or "liberals" as their opponents called them. Folks in the SBC were fighting to keep their huge denomination from following the path taken by the United Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and to a lesser degree, the Methodists. (The current agonies of the Anglican Communion are instructive.)

So where, according to Novak, did Huckabee stand? "Huckabee embraced the liberal church establishment to become president of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention."

Update (12/22): The Novak story matters more than it otherwise might, precisely because Huckabee clearly tilts liberal on a number of other issues: he hiked taxes substantially in Arkansas, he talks about more spending, he sounds dovish on Iran, and he's gone to war with the Club for Growth, which is probably the leading free-enterprise/small-government advocacy group.

Then, we have another problematic report about Huckabee: he plans to preach this Sunday at Cornerstone Church, pastored by Rev. John Hagee. What's wrong with Hagee? Well, two things: one, he's virulently anti-Catholic, and moreover, he's gone over the deep end with his enthusiasm for the Old Testament and our Jewish brothers and sisters, to the point that he said, in a recent book, In Defense of Israel, some very odd things about our Lord--such as, "Jesus did not come to earth to be the Messiah." Well, as you might imagine, that didn't go down so well with Evangelicals, so Hagee has done some verbal dancing about a "failure to communicate"--which is pretty laughable under the circumstances (you can read all about it here).

So here's the thing. Huckabee has become the flavor of the week for a lot of conservatives, and I have a feeling, rather soon, many may have buyer's remorse. If not now, they will later. Yet why are they falling into this trap?

This takes me back to the headline I wrote: many conservative folks are desperate for someone--anyone--to save them from the unthinkable fate that the GOP candidate for president won't win the next election. I wrote about this in October, and called it "political desperation fever." For awhile Giuliani was the guy we had-had-HAD! to support, because stopping Hilary justified any compromise with principle. But Giuliani's problems caused too much indigestion; and along came Huckabee, and folks gravitated to him as to a life-raft.

I believe in the value and legitimacy of political activism; I'm proud of the work I did before becoming a priest, I have a little involvement still, and I have encouraged many, over the years, to be involved. But politics are not our salvation. At the end of the day, God must take care of the world, after we've done all; and even if we do everything right, and all goes perfectly...

The world will still come to an end, when our Lord returns in glory, and all the kingdoms of this world fade away.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Question for priests & rubricists...

Is it licit to combine a penance service and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament?

I have been thinking about how to make a penance service more meaningful and more attractive to parishioners. We just had ours, and while it went well, I thought. I mean, the music was simple but appropriate, we heard the Gospel proclaimed, the parochial vicar gave a very good homily, people were given good instruction in the sacrament, and many people said they found it meaningful. Yet, only about 150 people came, as opposed to 1200 who attend Mass weekly. That invites reflection: what might we do differently?

So I wondered about doing the following:

Have Exposition beginning about an hour before, with a period of silent adoration; then, at 7 pm, all the priests would enter, we would have a reading from Scripture, and a homily, and preparation for confession, as the priests then went to their "stations" around church. We would hear confessions while silent adoration continued--or, we might find it better to have instrumental music played (this is practical because so that nothing of anyones confession is even slightly heard).

Then conclude with Benediction.

Now, I have two questions: Is this licit? Even if it is, is it desirable?

I can find nothing in either the Rite of Penance or the Ritual for Exposition. Yet it often happens, and Father McNamara, who answers liturgical questions at Zenit, seems to think its okay. I am thinking about this for Lent.

Update: Some may find this a scrupulous question. However, so many of us have had our fill of priests who substitute their own judgment for that of bishops or the Church as a whole, and I can hardly complain when someone goes off this way in taking liberties with the rubrics, and then I do the same, but off in a different question.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

What's doing...

People all know that this is a busy time of year for priests, but sometimes for reasons they may not appreciate.

For example: I haven't, in fact, been as busy with confessions as in years' past. We have confessions for the schoolchildren every other month, and I scheduled those in November and January--away from December. And I've only been to three penance services this month, where in years' past, I would have had more. (Last night we had our three-parish penance service here in Piqua, so some running around getting things set up in church for seven priests, and a dinner beforehand. All went well.)

On the other hand, you may not realize that deaths seem to go up this time of year. I suppose its the cold weather; but we've had a lot of funerals lately. Thank God for our retired priest, who has been requested for most of them.

Also, as a pastor, I am an employer and supervisor. This time of year, I meet with employees for an annual review. That takes time for me to write things up, as well as to schedule the meeting.

Then, there's all the other busy-ness going on around me, that I get caught up into. Two weekends ago, the bulletin was stuffed like a turkey, full of inserts.

And then there's decorating. Last week, we decorated the office, last weekend we decorated the priests' house, at least partly -- the lights are on the tree, but no ornaments yet.

And there are the same parties everyone else gets invited to.

Finally, there are homilies to prepare: this morning I'll work on Sunday's, and I hope get to my Christmas homily later this week.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Why rejoice? (Homily for Gaudete Sunday)

The third Sunday of Advent is called “Gaudete Sunday”—
Gaudete is Latin, of course; the English is “Rejoice.”
The name comes from the Opening Chant
assigned for this Mass, which we didn’t use today;
but if we had, we’d have begun Mass to the words,
“Gaudete in Domino semper—"
“Rejoice in the Lord always! Again, I say, rejoice!”

We’re a little more than halfway to Christmas,
That’s why the vestments, for this Sunday,
are not purple, but rose;
the third, rose, candle, comes from the vestments
that priests have worn, on this Sunday, for centuries.

Now, we might wonder:
why do we need a command to rejoice?
This time of year, with parties and hoopla…
we may already be worn out!

Well, this reminds us what Advent is really about.

Someone asked me the other day,
why aren’t we singing Christmas carols at Mass yet?
My answer was, because it’s not Christmas yet!

It’s a shame many of us think
Christmas ends December 25.
It’s like we go to a wedding, we party hearty,
only to walk out, exhausted, just as the couple arrives!

No, for Catholics, Christmas just begins on the 25th;
and we celebrate for three weeks!
Through Mother of God, through Epiphany,
until the Lord’s Baptism, on January 13.

Advent is like what mom says:
“Don’t eat it all now, save some for later!”

But there’s something else:
not everyone is in a mood to celebrate.
For some, this can be a very tough time.
So how can St. Paul tell us we must rejoice?

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict,
recently issued a letter called, “Saved by Hope.”

He points out how often we place our hope in progress;
but the problems of the human heart stay the same.
He writes, “it is not science that redeems man:
man is redeemed by love.”

But most of the love we experience,
as powerful as it is, “remains fragile.
It can be destroyed by death.

“The human being needs unconditional love…
If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty,
then—only then—is man ‘redeemed’…
This is what it means to say:
Jesus Christ has ‘redeemed’ us.”

This time of year, we are told to celebrate, quote,
“the holiday season.”
Yes, but—what holiday do you mean?
We find no hope in some generic “holiday season”;
that ends up leaving us hollow.

To quote the pope once more:
“the greater and lesser hopes
that keep us going day by day…are not enough
without the great hope,
which must surpass everything else”:
“the God who has a human face
and who has loved us to the end.”

At the beginning of Mass, at the door of church,
we welcomed folks preparing for baptism.
It symbolized a step in their journey.
What has drawn them? Why are they coming here?

As the pope said: we long for God who
has a human face—and only in Jesus is that true.
We are drawn to Christ—
and to the Church he founded, the Catholic Church.
We are drawn by hope, which the world cannot give.

We’ve had some rough funerals this year;
what gets us through is knowing that Jesus said
he would conquer death…
and also knowing, he kept his word!
But if God was not born as one of us,
then God never went the Cross,
and God didn’t die for us,
and no one came back from the dead.

Jesus—and only Jesus—is the reason for the season!
Jesus—and he alone—is our hope!
This hope sustains us especially in our pain;
it is a light “in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

And this, this is the power of the Mass—
here alone is where bitterness and joy really can unite;
all our world’s sorrows, all the wretchedness of sin,
but also, all the perfection and promise of heaven,
are really made one: at the Cross and at this Altar!

And it’s all or nothing:
If the Eucharist isn’t Jesus—then it’s nothing at all!
Bread and wine? They can’t save us! That’s not hope!
On the other hand,
If it is true that Christ offers this Mass—and it is true—
then it his broken body, his shed blood, that we share—
Our God, come to save us!

That is hope.
“Christ has died. Christ is risen! Christ will come again.”
So—yes: “Rejoice in the Lord…always!
Again, I say, rejoice.”

It's beginning to look a lot like . . . (ahem), Advent

A major snow-and-ice storm is sweeping up through this part of the country, and its been snowing all day.

Today was also the day we put up the Christmas tree at the rectory. I had also gone out and bought some other decorations, so we went ahead and put some garland on the mantlepieces and staircase; and when we opened up the ornament boxes, we found Christmasy knick-knacks which I distributed around the house.

One of the seminarians who was here over the summer came up from Cincinnati last night, and he and a parishioner are putting the lights on the tree. I have some lights for outside, but we'll get those out after the storm passes.

By the way, this is early for me to put up Christmas decorations; I'm getting soft as I get older, in more ways than one!

...And, by the way, please remember, when the weather is bad, the obligation to attend Mass is subject to common sense and prudential judgment. Meaning, if you are uncertain if its safe, then that is a sufficiently good reason to miss Mass--it's not a sin!

The people who need to be concerned about the obligation are not those who actually are concerned -- the ones who will try the hardest to get to Mass, in bad weather, are the ones who are least likely to offend against the precept. But what can you do?

Bottom line: it's okay to stay home from Sunday Mass in such weather. Watch Mass on TV, or pray together as a family, read the readings perhaps, and maybe pray a family rosary and pray for all the various needs we are likely to remember at Mass.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Liturgy question: can a Gloria or Creed be added?

This is a shout-out to all who read this blog, and are familiar with the ins and outs of the Roman liturgy.

Question: could a Gloria be included, at a daily Mass, when it is not called for -- say, during Christmas or Easter season? Same with the Creed?

The reason for doing it would be two-fold: added solemnity and also didactic -- we are doing a monthly Mass in Latin, and it would be good to give people a chance to experience it.

But my thought is it isn't legitimate to do so. However, perhaps someone knows different? Please let me know.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

U.S. Bishops disown favorable review of "Golden Compass"

As I predicted...

Via The Cafeteria is Closed, I just learned the U.S. bishops have withdrawn the review its office for films had previously published giving a thumbs up to The Golden Compass. As I explained a few days ago, this film is based on the work of an author who aims to create an atheistic counterpart to C.S. Lewis's series for children, the Chronicles of Narnia.

The Catholic News Service dryly notes: "no reason was given." I think we all know the reason.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Golden Compass sinking like a stone

Apparently, atheistic fantasy for children isn't a big seller.

Steve Mason, an LA-based talk-show host reporting box-office receipts, says Golden Compass looks to get about $28 million for its opening weekend.

He offers these comparisons:

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire - $102.6M opening
Harry Potter & the Prioner of Azkaban - $93.6M opening
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone - $90.2M opening
Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets - $88.3M opening
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King - $72.6M opening
The Chronicles of Narnia - $65.5M opening
The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers - $62M opening
The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring - $47.2M opening
The Golden Compass - $27M opening (estimate)
Eragon - $23.2M opening
Bridge to Terabithia - $22.5M opening
Stardust - $9.1M opening

Lesson? Don't mess with the Magisterium!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

John the Baptist stood out--do you? (Sunday homily)

One time I was giving a talk to some junior high kids,
explaining John the Baptist to them.
When I asked them, later, what they remembered,
they said,
“Oh yeah, that was that crazy guy,
who wore camels hair and ate bugs!”

No question, John the Baptist stands out;
even in his own time.
While everyone else is just going along,
here’s John, crying out,
“brood of vipers!” and “repent!”

While I don’t recommend camels’ hair or locusts,
still, you and I, as Christians, are supposed to stand out,
and at times, stand apart, from our society and its values.

So, for example, consider our buying habits.
There is the practice of “voting with your pocketbook”—
from time to time, we might decide not to buy
certain products because of the way they advertise,
because of the causes they support,
or the way they treat their employees.*

We can’t boycott everyone;
but still, it can be a way to make some difference—
particularly if we tell the business:
saying something in the store, or writing a letter.

I’ve mentioned this before:
that it is very troubling the way some clothing companies,
the way some in the entertainment industry,
target our young people,
pushing the boundary of what’s decent.
I think of Abercrombie, MTV and others.

Parents, I imagine you feel alone sometimes,
having to say “no” to what the culture promotes.
Just like John the Baptist.

Here’s a question, especially for our younger folks.
In a couple of weeks, we really hope St. Nicholas
will be bringing us a new Nintendo, or a new bicycle.

What if, on Christmas Day,
you found a card from St. Nicholas, that said,
“I took your present to a child in Haiti.
Merry Christmas!”?

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with gift-giving.
But I remember the Christmas that happened
at our house, only it was a child in South America.
I don’t remember many presents I ever got,
but I remember that girl who was helped.

John the Baptist was a startling figure,
and I am sure people reacted in his day,
the way those kids I mentioned did: “that crazy guy!”
That will happen to any of us when we stand up.
But people will also be drawn to your example.
You may feel funny making the sign of the cross,
and saying grace at a restaurant;
but that simple gesture is a powerful witness.

I think about those who choose to give their lives
in religious orders as a brother or sister.
We are blessed to have our dear Sisters of Charity—
Sister Ginny, Sister Joan Clare, and Sister Mary Alice.

Their lives are a constant reminder; and an invitation.
When Sisters and brothers take vows,
and embrace a life of celibacy, a life of poverty,
and a life of service.
The world doesn’t understand that;
until you realize that it points to a world to come;
it shows the world that we must have
found something truly awesome, in Jesus Christ!

Just like John the Baptist, who said:
there is one coming, who will baptize you
in the Holy Spirit, and in Fire, and,
“I must decrease, that he may increase.”

There are some here who wonder if God is calling you
to be a Sister, a brother, a deacon or a priest.
And sometimes others, without meaning to,
discourage that: they will say, “it’ll be too hard”;
or, “you’ll be lonely,” or, “do something more meaningful”!

Well, it is hard; but being a quitter,
backing away from a challenge, is even harder to live with.
“Lonely”? I’m anything but. I have all of you!
You are my family!
Our dear Sisters of Charity sow seeds of faith
that will be harvested both in this life, and for eternity.
What could be more meaningful?

By the way—remember, today,
you have the opportunity to say thank you
to all our religious brothers and sisters
who have served us so generously.
Today we take up the collection
for their retirement and health care needs.
You are always generous; for them, I say thank you.

Yes, John the Baptist stood out;
he might even have seemed a comical figure.
But his life of prayer and penance gave him a clear eye:
he saw through all that impressed everyone else,
because he saw things in the light of eternity.
Above all, St. John wanted us to be ready for Christ.
He didn’t want anyone to miss the King.
In his time, he called out, the King is coming;
but for us, the King is here!

* Somewhere at this point I ad-libbed some comments on justice, keying from the first reading and psalm, but I cannot recall just how I addressed it--something about Christ bringing justice, and we are sent to do the same.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Missa Altissima

...well, not really, but that was my joke to the servers after Mass this evening.

I am not sure why, but I really enjoy this feast. The Immaculate Conception seems to me like a suitably generous "down payment" from heaven to earth; the kind of gift a doting Son can give if that Son is also the Creator. It fills us--me, anyway--with hope.

Plus, I had Mass for this feast in a church named for Mary, which is even more special.

We opened Mass, suitably enough, with "Immaculate Mary" (yes, I look forward to the day we use the antiphons regularly). Of course, incense; didn't smoke enough for me, but apparently enough for some, who cough! coughed! at strategic moments. Per the option in the rubrics, I incensed the image of Mary after the altar and cross.

I sang almost all the prayers, including the Eucharistic Prayer -- Roman Canon, of course. I noticed, as I prayed the prayer (note to brother priests: if you sing prayers regularly, you may find, as I have, that it ceases to be nerve-jangling, and you really can pray the prayer as you sing) that it further had the advantage of recalling salvation history, in its references to Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. Yes, I included all the saints, all included in the super-nova of grace that was heralded by Mary's immaculate conception.

We had a nice, up-tempo contemporary hymn for the offertory, I can't recall it, but I enjoyed it as I was incensing the gifts. Backing up, our music director did a nice job with an a capella chant of the psalm. I dunno, I felt the joy of the preface as I prayed it; I was sorry it had to be followed by a mundane "Holy, Holy," but the Latin Sanctus hasn't caught on as much as the Agnus Dei (which we did sing).

Communion provided a particularly moving moment for me. Our music director has a nice composition that intersperses an English refrain with the Ave Verum (which I just love), which I offered during communion. In our church, we distribute from the back of church as well, and that is where I was doing so. After everyone had received, I ran up to the choir loft to bring the Eucharist to the cantor and music director, since they were singing for us. I waited while the music director finished the last two lines of his piece; there I stood, with a ciborium full of our Lord Jesus, as he sang, "Lord, you are here with us. We do this in memory of you"--interspersed with phrases of the Ave Verum. It gave me chills. Then, of course, I had the privilege of giving our music director the Eucharist.

After that, the cantor sang Gounod's Ave Maria, which I love, but isn't heard very often. The silence after that was so full, I hated to break it. I stood up, sang the post-communion prayer, the blessing, and the dismissal. Announcements have their place, but -- so nice to move with the rhythm of the liturgy. Our closing hymn was "O Sanctissima." The music director admitted he was a bit free with Latin tonight. In fairness to him, Latin aside, all his choices were first-rate.

Oh, and I did wear gold vestments. "Only the best for mother!" I told the agreeable servers.

Filled with the Sun (Immaculate Conception)

Have you ever been up very early and watched for dawn to come?

You stare at the dark sky, waiting for light. After a long wait, it does get lighter.
As dawn nears, the sky gradually fills with a spreading light.
That’s when you realize how dark it was,
and just how dazzling the light really is.
All this before the sun itself crosses the horizon.

Which calls attention to how much light the sun casts even before its rising.
Then the sun itself comes, and Boom! your eyes are blinded by the brilliance.

So with the sun in the sky, so with the Son of God.

Long before Christ dawned on the world, his light reached way ahead to fill the life of Mary.
That’s what we celebrate today: her Immaculate Conception.

Now, we get confused about this. Many think we celebrate Jesus’ conception today.
No, it is Mary’s conception we celebrate.
"Immaculate" refers to what God did for Mary,
at that first instant, inside St. Anne, to preserve her free of any stain of sin.

Some wonder about the “how” of this; others about the “why” of this dogma.

Remember what I said about sunlight, how it goes out ahead of the sun’s actual rising?
It’s the same with the Light of the Son of God.
The light of Jesus’s “dawn” reached so far ahead,
all the way to the beginning of Mary’s life, casting out all darkness,
even from the first instant of her life.

Mary didn’t just look at the Sun; she was filled with the Son.

Can you imagine it? Can you imagine it?
Think of the sun in the sky:
all that power, all that dazzling brilliance;
imagine being filled with that!
What shadow could remain?
How much more to be filled with Christ?
The Son of God, more dazzling than all galaxies,
dawned into the world through Mary!

Mary brought that Light to us—will we let him in?

Those places inside us we keep sealed off,
where we, not God, have the final say?
Those drawers where we keep an addiction;
those corners where we nurse a grudge; will we let in his healing Light?

There is no shame so dark his Light cannot cast out;
no sin so foul his Light cannot cleanse;
no hardness his Love cannot melt;
no coldness his Light cannot warm.

Mary is just the beginning.
She is the New Eve, the mother of a New Creation.
And we are her children.

When all the world lay in darkness, Mary stood waiting for the Dawn.
When it came, Mary said “Yes.”
No wonder Gabriel said: “Hail, Mary!”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Hymn to my glorious patron saint*

Can I sing you, Brother Martin,
saint whose hands know work, like mine?
Would that we could sit together,
tell our cuentos, sip some wine.

Soon I'll close the church till morning.
Please guide me walking home alone.
Not a safe place for a woman.
Justice this old world postpones.

Speaking to our sweeping rhythms,
let us plot for those in need.
Can't you scare these stubborn faithful,
with your powers intercede?

Bread you gave to those in hunger,
kindness to the child alone,
held the trembling hand that suffered,
kindness from a man disowned.

Is it true when you were sweeping,
cats and dogs would come to chat,
telepathically you'd answer,
query disbelieving rats?

Brother Broom, with just a handshake,
you could cure a soul in pain.
Oh, I wish that you could touch me,
make these old joints fresh again.

Would that you had time to teach me
bilocation, such a trick,
not that I deserve the honor
and pleading seems impolitic.

You liked flying and liked gardens,
so practice aerial delights.
Come see roses, tulips, daisies.
Can't I whet your appetite?

Ay, that I had seen the shining,
from your oratorio,
in your habit, man so prayerful,
that your very self would glow.

How we come, the dark-skinned faithful,
comforted to see you here,
able to confide our sorrows
to a black man's willing ear.

Your corrido I must finish
for priests frown at such casual songs,
frowning is their special talent,
but still, protect them all night long.

Help me listen to my garden,
cease wrinkled judgments based on skin,
our colored sacks like bulbs or seeds
that hold our fragrant selves within.

From the excellent book, 'Aunt Carmen's Book of Practical Saints', by Pat Mora.

* That's Martin
de Porres...ahem!

Biretta-tip to Archistrategos at Ecce Ego, Quia Vocasi Me for posting this, and graciously allowing me to repost it here.

St. Martin's Feast Day: November 3; November 5 or so, in Piqua...

Missa Latina (Latin Mass) tomorrow...

Just a reminder, the monthly Mass, (mostly) in Latin, will be at St. Mary Parish, Piqua Ohio, tomorrow at 8 am, as on every first Wednesday morning of the month.

Remember, this is according to the current Missal -- not the old, "Tridentine" Mass, but the form of the Mass as modified after the Council. When I say mostly in Latin, that means the collects, readings and petitions are in English. Everything else in Latin, a fair amount will be sung.

Oh, and this is snow or no snow. Mass must be offered, even if it's only the Lord and me!

Monday, December 03, 2007

Energy, global warming and the marketplace

At Vox Nova, a I offered comments on this post praising a move by Congress to force automakers to make cars that get better mileage. I probably should have done what I'm doing now, offering my thoughts here.

Why is it a bad idea for Congress to do this?

Underlying this is the assumption that it is good if Americans consume less oil. That may be true, but let's analyze this. Why is it good? Some would say because it means consuming less foreign oil, and that is desirable because of the way oil is entangled in our foreign affairs (more on that shortly).

But if the foreign source of oil is the main issue, then it would also make sense to look at producing more oil at home; there are a number of places we know are very promising sites for pumping oil: the northern slope of Alaska, and off the coasts of Florida and California. But many of the same folks pushing this bill--as I say, to force automakers to make cars that currently don't sell--oppose those efforts, for reasons that, to my mind, aren't very strong. Yes, drilling oil does involve some disruption of the environment, but I simply don't find it believable that you can't go in, drill, build derricks and pumps and what all, and then have the local environment recover nicely. What, the deer and the antelope will be traumatized by the sight of an oil derrick? I don't believe it. "What about oil spills?" That's bad; but when oil is $100 a barrel, do you suppose the owners of that oil wouldn't rather get it safely to market than dump it out on a beach?

Back to the question of oil distorting our foreign policy. No question oil is a huge issue; but it would be, even if we didn't get a single drop of oil from outside our borders, because the rest of the world would certainly rely on that same oil, and what affects the rest of the world, affects us. So while it might indeed be a good idea if we drew less oil from places like Iraq or Venezuela, it wouldn't necessarily mean we'd have less reason to care about access to oil worldwide; and if we did care less, that might not be a good outcome. To the extent the U.S., and other nations, act to keep world trade humming, and to keep the prices of important commodities more or less stable, that is good for everyone. Isn't that rather obvious?

So, again, why is it important, to those who are backing this bill, that we use less oil?

For some, it's about global warming. I'm obviously not a scientist, but there's enough about all this hype to make any reasonable person skeptical of what is being fed us. And you have to separate out the issues. First: is there such a thing as global warming? Sure seems so; okay, say there is. Second: what is the human responsibility for this? That is the big question, that I do not believe has been adequately addressed. But even if you grant that one, you still have this next set of questions, that really get ignored: How significant will the consequences be of said warming; what can we reasonably do about it; what will sad measures against global warming cost in money, resources generally, trade-offs, social consequences, and in what will be left undone if we make this our main focus?

And finally, given all the possible environmental problems we might choose to invest lots of political energy, lots of money, and lots of social change into, is global warming the one that wins the prize (as opposed to providing clean drinking water, eradicating malaria or hunger, etc.)? People a lot smarter than I am are all over the map when it comes to the actual, foreseeable consequences of the warming supposedly underway: will sea levels rise a small or large amount? That really makes a big difference, doesn't it?

And don't assume all the effects of global warming are bad: there are many good consequences, and you have to weigh it all if you're going to make policy about such things. And it's rather naive to think this is how our esteemed solons in Congress go about this--don't kid yourself! And there remains good reason to question whether this warming is really a human-caused, or more fundamentally a natural, cyclical phenomenon. After all, no one disputes that there has been warming, as great or greater than what is supposed to be happening now, in centuries past; and absolutely no one claims the warming in the middle ages, or in ancient Roman times, was human-caused.

But, okay, to move this along, let's assume it is a good thing for the government to make Americans use less oil--because, at bottom, that's what this is all about. Is this proposal concerning the mileage cars get, the way to go?

Here's the thing: why is it even necessary for Congress to do anything? The automakers are already able to make such cars and they do; why don't they make more? There's only one reason...people don't buy them! Either because they cost more (the hybrid cars that are likely to proliferate as a result of this can cost several thousand dollars more); and if they require extra batteries, or have less power, then there are other trade-offs too; higher-mileage cars are not as big, they have less power, and they are not as safe--or at least, so many people believe.

Let's be clear: behind this is a moralism that says it's bad for people to drive big, gas-guzzling cars. They "should" drive smaller cars, drive them shorter distances, and less often. Maybe they shouldn't drive at all, they should walk, or ride bikes, or ride buses and trains.

Now, of course, I'm in the morality business, so I'm not against a moral argument per se. But I do think such moral claims need to be supported, otherwise it's a cheap sentiment, and I like my cheap sentiments better than yours.

This moralism argues that we're bad because we--Americans, and/or people who live this post-industrial lifestyle--use "too much" energy, we're thoughtless, we're using it all up, we're hurting the environment, we're hurting the future, we don't need it, we could live better, etc.

Well, I don't know how much is "too much"; depends on the alternative. What we do know is that we have a very advanced, very prosperous society, and it runs on energy. Energy isn't just "consumed," it's used--to do things, all manner of things, from exalted to debased, important to trivial. God knows what the optimum is, and how we might reshape things to get there; but the rest of us use our best judgments, and collectively, we are where we are. If, for example, we all washed our clothes by hand, and dried them on clotheslines, that would save a lot of energy. Whether that would be "better" in the broad measure? I don't know. We do know that all the energy we use serves to produce things, move things and people and information around at remarkable speeds, and all that brings great benefits that we take for granted.

Yes, oil is finite, but it also happens to be extremely useful. As of now, it happens to be about the best fuel we have, all things considered. Every means of generating energy has pros and cons; oil is widely used for the obvious reason that it has the most pros and fewest cons. If we can do the same with grass and hay, or with wood chips, or corn, swell; but for the present, these bio-fuels are in use only because of a huge, government "thumb on the scale." And I have too little confidence in politicians to think they are getting that right. Meanwhile, thanks to the government promoting corn for ethanol, corn prices are climbing, and that affects food prices.

Of course oil consumption affects the environment; but again, what is the alternative? Coal? Nuclear? Solar? Wind? Incinerating garbage? Exxon and BP and the rest all are happy to make money, and so do other people with money to invest. They'll make solar work, if it can, because they want to sell it to you. Why haven't they? Maybe because it just...doesn'; at least, not yet.

Meanwhile, left out of this is the bigger-picture alternative. Would humanity be better off with less advancement? Fewer appliances? Less travel? Less electricity? All of this has mixed consequences: the Internet can both save lives and destroy them. That's Original Sin and free will. Till we get rid of one or both of those factors, it'll always be "a mixed bag." But really, does anyone dispute that overall, we live better, live longer, overcome disease and illness and suffering far better, as a result?

Yes, there is some optimal way to live, an optimal use of technology, energy, an optimal commute to work, an optimal amount of usage of fuel and so forth. But I don't happen to know what it is for myself, let alone for you. The marketplace is an imperfect instrument of regulating such matters, and yes, you do need to monitor the marketplace, regulate it, and occasionally, intervene, but in general, I trust it more, because it's the cumulative action of lots of individual decisions and judgments, with greater freedom and rationalism, than the alternatives, certainly the politicians.

Golden Compass author: ‘My books are about killing God.’

Parents can’t always keep up with popular culture—and when a movie is promoted as a fun adventure, featuring children riding enchanted polar bears, all in time for the Christmas season, what’s not to like?

Unfortunately, the film’s makers have an agenda. The film is based on the works of author Phil Pullman, who has written a series of entertaining stories called "His Dark Materials." In his own words: "‘I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief,’ says Pullman. ‘Mr. Lewis [C.S. Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia] would think I was doing the devil's work’" (from the Washington Post, Feb. 19, 2001). And, "I've been surprised by how little criticism I've got. Harry Potter's been taking all the flak…. Meanwhile, I've been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God" (from the Sydney Morning Herald, Dec. 13, 2003). Now that he is getting criticism, Mr. Pullman is telling a very different story.*

And for whom are Mr. Pullman’s books—and now, this movie, The Golden Compass—intended? Children.

I am aware the bishops’ film office gave this a thumbs’-up. But that may change; several years ago, the same office initially praised Brokeback Mountain, until someone with more sense pointed out the obvious moral problems in that movie.

Some will say, "but it’s just a story." Don’t underestimate the power of a story. Stories are powerful ways we form our moral imagination and how we shape the "lens" through which we see the world. Particularly for children.

Yes, it is frustrating when we have to say "no" to popular things. But as followers of Christ, we are not surprised our culture often works against our Faith, and we sometimes have to take a stand. Instead of the $20-50 you may spend at the theater, stay home with a good video and have pizza; you’ll have money left over, you can give to the hungry. That will be a golden lesson that will point your children in the right direction.

* Update (12/4/07): I failed to note, here, my debt to Jimmy Akin, who had a post a couple of days ago, that provided the quotes I used. I originally wrote this for my parish bulletin, where it would be distracting to include that attribution, but fairness requires I do a little more in this, more public, forum. My apologies to Jimmy Akin.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Peace (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, they say, "Come, let us climb the mountain of the Lord."
What do they find there?

Isaiah tells us: they will find
instruction. They find peace.

Do we want peace? Saint Paul tells us: set aside rivalry and jealousy.
So for example: let the other person have the last word!
That's hard, isn't it? It is for me.

Another example:
When I was a seminarian, one summer I lived at a parish in Cincinnati,
along with two other seminarians.
It was a well-to-do parish; and on Sundays, we'd look out the rectory window,
and see the cars in parking lot: Buicks and Cadillacs and Lexuses and Range Rovers.
As seminarians, we had old, beat-up cars;
and we'd laugh about which of our cars
looked most like Jed Clampett's truck, amid all that splendor.

My point is, we can crave these things, and resent others for having nicer things;
or, we can let it go...and have peace.

Paul talks about promiscuity and lust.
If we're not happy with our mate...
if we're on the Internet, or thinking about "greener pastures"...
if we're single, there's plenty to tempt us.
The peace we need, and the strength to be chaste,
comes from seeking the quietness of heart only the Holy Spirit can give.

Peace...this time year, we want to be peaceful, but instead, if can be stressful.
It might be because we aim for "the Perfect Christmas."
We might find it more peaceful, if we set our sights a little lower. the end of Mass, you're going to hear a parishioner
give you an opportunity to sign up as an adorer in our Blessed Sacrament chapel.

If you want peace...
Peace of mind, quiet in your heart...
Spending time with our Eucharistic Lord will do that!
But it takes effort, to set aside time, and to guard that time on your schedule. the end of the evening, when all is quiet...
When everyone has gone to bed...
If you turn everything off, and you really listen...

What will you hear?

Maybe a train whistle; in warmer months, you may hear frogs or crickets.
Can you hear the bells of St. Boniface?
If we're really quiet, we can hear our own heart beating.
And if we quiet our minds, we sense the Lord. We know He's there.

That quietness of heart and soul comes from our daily conversation with the Holy Spirit;
it is what helps us know the Lord is with us all day long.
That quietness of heart and mind also enables us, when we come to Mass,
to enter fully into prayer, to feel how much his presence
fills this space!

Sometimes we battle against silence. We resent if someone tells us to be quiet.
And when we come into a quiet place, first thing we do is turn something on--
tv, radio, computer--that makes noise.

Don't avoid it. Don't be afraid of it.
That silence is not empty; it's full of God.

This Mass is full of God, if we look for him. Jesus Christ is here!
The Mass is Christ offering everything to the Father;
the Eucharist is his total offering to you and me.

If we want peace...
If we want the Holy Spirit to quiet our hearts...
If we want to let go of lust and greed and resentment...
The Eucharist is Christ's full gift to us.

We don't have to go looking for the mountain of the Lord, and climb it: we're already there!
This is the top of the mountain!
The Lord will come at the end of time; but we don't have to worry about that,
if we look, and listen, and watch, for his coming, right here, right now.

He's here. That is Peace.