Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Please bail me out of jail...

...in order to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

On Thursday, January 8, A.D. 2009, I'll be in "jail" at Gover's Harley-Davidson in Piqua, Ohio, from Noon to 1 pm.

"Bail" is $800; either that or I guess they keep me!

If you want to take part, you can do so by going to this site.

As you know, many people suffer from this debilitating disease, and research continues on it. Your donation will help send kids to camp, provide leg braces and wheelchairs, and above all, support progress for a cure.

Thanks for your help!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Most of the decorating is finished

Thanks to the seminarian who's visiting this weekend, the Christmas Tree now has ornaments on it; and we finally got the nativity scene put up in the dining room. You can laugh at me, it's okay, but I really do hold that Christmas is only part-way along, certainly not over. So I explained that at the end of Mass, when I wished everyone Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

God's Idea of the Family (Sunday homily)

I remember hearing this first reading as a teenager…
One of things I didn’t understand
was just how hard my parents had to work.
Only as an adult did I realize what an ungrateful brat I was at times!
We always had plenty—yet we would complain
if we didn’t have the finest things—none of which we needed.

Now as a grown man, a pastor and spiritual father,
it’s my turn to provide for a household,
and to make decisions, and sometimes say "no,"
and have members of the family be unhappy about that.

Parents, no doubt you find it hard at times
to say "no" to your children?
It’s tempting to let them have what they ask for,
because maybe it buys a measure of peace?

I think of that because of another question the readings raise—
and this is a delicate issue—
it has to do with what used to be a Catholic idea of the family—
an idea that, honestly, is vanishing.

We Catholics used to be known for large families—
But now, families with four or five children are unusual,
and considered large.
Some—under their breath—say, "too large."

It is part of our Catholic Faith
that couples reject artificial means of planning families.
It is part of our Faith that God gave us a gift
that leads us to love someone in a special way,
and that giving life is intrinsically bound up with that gift of love,
and what God has put together—lovemaking and lifegiving—
we have no authority or right to separate.

But let’s be candid—most Catholics ignore
what the Church teaches about natural family planning.
Many think it’s optional, or not a major teaching.
I’m sorry to say that’s not so.
This is something that goes back to the beginning of the Church,
and it is rooted in the Bible and our Jewish origins.

And it’s important because it goes to the core of who we are:
made in the image and likeness of God.

As creative as we can be,
we can never make anything out of nothing.
But there is one moment we are most God-like:
when a couple comes together,
and cooperating with God, a new human being begins to exist!

But again, let’s be candid—this teaching seems out of step.

Many parents rightly say,
they find raising one, two or three children more than enough challenge,

they cannot imagine going further.

Understood—but whatever the challenge,
we always say that, don’t we?
Abraham and Sarah might have said the same thing:
leaving the only home they knew, going to a distant land,
and then believing they could be parents in their old age.

Don’t we say the same

when our older parents need more and more care;
when someone is in trouble, and we must come to their rescue.
My resources won’t stretch that far—and yet, somehow, they do.

Above all, we must confront a mindset that sees children—people!
as a burden, rather than a blessing.

That’s the drumbeat we’ve heard for decades:
from government and the media:
too many people—that’s the problem.

Guess what? Now our leaders are starting to admit,
maybe they were….wrong.

Leaders in Russia, Europe, Japan, yes, even China!,
and many other countries—are all coming to grips with a problem
they admit will be huge very soon: too few babies!

People ask: why don’t we have more children in school?
More people in our city—in our pews?
People fear for the future of Social Security.

Despite all this, this mindset—people are a burden—
still gets a lot of play, now in connection to the environment.

It is right to be good stewards of our environment,
yet we must confront this flawed thinking,
that sees only a mouth to be fed,
rather than a head and hands and heart
that can and will make the world better.

Think about it: in Abraham’s time, a man plowed his plot,
with the help of an ox, and maybe could feed his own family.

Today—thanks to the creativity God gave us,
a farmer uses a tractor, and electricity, and many other helps,
and plow vast acres of ground, and feeds a whole town of people.
But who invented the tractor and harnessed the electricity,
and all the other advances that spread food worldwide?

If this mindset—people are the problem—were true,
then why should God have even come to save us—
if we’re more trouble than we are worth?
Why, for that matter, even create us?

As Christians, we see a child,
born to a poor couple, in troubled times,
and we see not a burden—but our Savior!

Our Savior saw a human family,
so many squabbling, fighting children,
not as a burden, but those for whom he would give his life.
He gave his all—to his last breath—
that we might be born to eternal life.

Aren’t we glad that God never said—
I don’t want too many children?
Rather, in the Eucharist, he said:
"This is body…this is my blood…given for you."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Piqua Christmas

I hope you are having a merry Christmas!

As some may have inferred, this year I did not get sick, Deo gratias, as in past years. I had a very fine Christmas Eve and Day, and everything seems to have come together.

Kudos to our musicians all, who did very well at all the Masses I was part of. At 4 pm, we had the children, and they sang very strongly, and were a blessing; at Midnight, the music was transcendent. We had some lovely pieces before Mass; then, at the stroke of midnight, the schola sang the proper Introit for Midnight, in Latin:

A: Dominus dixit ad me: Filius meus es tu, ego hodie genui te.
V. Quare fremuerunt gentes: et populi meditate sunt inania?
A. Dominus . . .
V. Astiterunt reges terræ, et principes convenerunt in unum adversus Dominum, et adversus Christum eius.
A. Dominus . . .
V. Postula a me, et dabo tibi gentes hereditatum tuam, et possessionem tuam terminus terræ.
A. Dominus . . .

This is from Psalm 2 (not Ps. 110 as I vainly imagined). My rough English translation:
Ant: The Lord said to me, 'You are my son; this day I have begotten you.
V. Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?
V. Kings on earth rise up and princes plot together against the LORD and his anointed:
V. Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and your possession the ends of the earth.

If memory serves, the schola chanted but the antiphon; I'm not sure; I was loading up the incense at that point.
Then we sang "O, Come, All Ye Faithful," and then after the altar, cross and crib were incensed, and after the Sign of the Cross (sung), I sang the Christmas proclamation from the Roman Martyrology: "On the 25th day of December..." I chanted the Gospel (and I would love to have cantors chant the first and second readings someday--it would help people realize the psalm response is not merely another song, but a proclamation of the Word of God); I chanted the Roman Canon etc.; the schola also sang the proper communion chant, "In Splendoribus":

Ant. In splendoribus sanctorum, ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
V. Dixit Dominus Domino meo: Sede a dextris meis: donec ponam inimicos tuos scabellum pedum tuorum.

This is Psalm 110: "In the splendor of holiness, from the womb, before the dawn I begot you. The Lord said to my Lord, sit on my right, your foes I put beneath your feet."

I hope you can see why this psalm--and psalm 2--are so important to use at this point; and why our music director and I think it is so good to use them. If there were a really suitable English version, that would be good to use as well.

Christmas, 9 am Mass came early for me, as I didn't get to bed until almost 3 am; I'm always keyed up after Midnight Mass. After the morning Mass, I sat down for breakfast, and as I was finishing up, I got a call to the hospital for someone dying. After I got back from the hospital--and a side trip to the jail to visit someone there--I was happy not to have anything else I needed to do.

One point of Mass, last night, moved me more than I expected. Before we began the Creed, I explained that we kneel for the words, "and became Man," and so when that time came, and we all knelt--and I heard everyone kneeling--it really hit me; I hope others found it as moving as I did.

Today--back to work: a funeral this afternoon, a wedding rehearsal tonight, plus I got sad news about another death in the parish this morning and had a visit to make to that family.

But that is the world into which God chose to be born!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

'Will there be room in us, for the Light to remain?' (Christmas homily)

A few days ago, in Germany, a priest went into his church to pray.
The church was decorated for the season,
as ours has been, the past few days—
including a nativity scene all set up, ready for Christmas.

He was praying, and suddenly he heard a sound—
the sound of a baby, crying—it came from the manger.

The priest covered the child to keep him warm,
and called an ambulance.
An investigation found a woman, a poor immigrant,
who had recently given birth,
and had left the child in the church’s crib,
hoping someone could care for the boy.

Every year, we prepare our church in a familiar way;
the nativity scene is all set up, and at the Mass on Christmas Eve,
we place the bambino in the crib—
but what if we—like that priest—found a baby already there?

What might that child look like?
What color would he or she be? What culture and background?

Of course, we would care for the child, feed and clothe her;
we would try to find a home.

This Christmas arrives, a little colder and darker—
and I don’t mean the weather.
There are always women, like that woman in Germany,
who need our help;
this year, there seem to be even more.
The children may not be placed here;
we will find them elsewhere.
We will find them on our streets, at the Bethany Center;
we will find them among our own family and friends,
and they won’t be children, but adults. People who need our care.

Another reason Christmas
may seem a little darker and colder this year
is because of a certain cynicism,
a world-weariness, in our culture.
On top of all the other cares of war and terror,
add bank failures, political failures,
and an economy that is cold and chill as well.
We don’t need any more mouths to feed!

And there is one more bit of chill—a chill on the faith of many.
We all know people who have drifted away;
there is a rising chorus, in the media, in the culture,
that mocks the values of faith and decency—
marriage is anything you want it to be,
all that matters is the choice I get to make!

On this dark night,
with a different darkness at work in our world,
we might wonder about the Light
that the Scriptures boast about.
We might even wonder, we might whisper:
is it true—or is it too good to be true?

I mentioned that baby—the unexpected one—
the one we would care for if some lost soul brought him to us—
but why? why would we care? Why should we care?
The world is dark—who are we to think otherwise?
Because one cold, dark night, an unexpected baby showed up.
The Inn had no room;
the powerful and the important had no room, and took no notice.
CNN and Fox News showed no interest; no one gave him welcome,
except some rough-edged shepherds, working all night.

We care because we believe—we choose—the Light.
We choose the Light who first chose us.
That we long for the Light shows us we were made for it,
and not for darkness.
God did not shrug his shoulders at the darkness,
and neither do we;
he sent a Child, and we receive a Child—
as many as he sends, of every color, shape and size—
because that Child told us, when he grew up,
"whatsoever you do for the least of these…"

To be a Christian is to know his Light—to be changed by it;
and more, to be faithful to the Light,
missed and mocked by so many.

Once a year, our church is all lit up,
and actually, for a little bit,
a little more of the world notices.
"Hmm..those Christians are having their Christmas again."

But it is between those Christmases, the other 51 weeks,
most of the world goes back to its darkness,
but we, who had Light poured into us in baptism;
we who confront the darkness week by week—
that’s when our task is so important!

Week by week, we bear witness;
week by week, we feel the darkness creep in,
and we return to the Light, first given on Christmas,
given again in the sacrament of penance and the Eucharist.

Tonight, our church, and our homes, are splendid with light;
in a few days, we’ll put it all away—and where will the light be?
That’s up to us: will there be room in us, for the light to remain?

Felix Dies Nativitatis

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Christmas Tree (Christmas Vigil)

Let’s talk about the Christmas Tree—
would you like to know where it came from?
I’m going to tell you.

You know the story of the Garden—in Genesis.
You know that Adam and Eve were at a tree.
Actually, there were two trees: the Tree of Life,
and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad.

Well, as you know, Adam and Eve disobeyed God,
and ate from the wrong tree:
for them, the Tree of Knowledge became the tree of death,
and they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.

This story has always fired the imagination of Christians,
because just as Adam and Eve came to a tree,
and their sin brought death,
so, a long time later, Jesus came also to a tree—the Cross—
and there, he turned death into life!

For all these long centuries,
priests and bishops told this story at Mass.
There was one day in particular they would tell this story:
this day—Christmas Eve!

Around the year of our Lord 1000,
people in Germany began putting on plays to tell this story—
just like the children at Piqua Catholic do!
And on December 24, they would tell the story of Adam and Eve.

Well, they needed to set the stage—so they would get a tree.
And only one tree is still green in December: a fir tree!
Like the tree in the Garden, it had to have fruit on it:
and the fruit you could get in Germany, in December, was…apples!

Because they were also thinking of the other tree,
the Tree of Life, they wanted to put something else on
as fruit that brings eternal life:
round, white wafers of bread!
That’s right—bread that looked like the Eucharist!
Because the Body and Blood of Jesus is the "fruit" of the Cross,
which is the true Tree of Life!
When we eat this "fruit," we live forever!

Can you picture that "Paradise Tree," now?
Set up in the town square,
just like we have a big Christmas Tree set up in our town square?
Decorated with apples—red and yellow, and maybe green?
Also decorated with lots of white discs of bread?

About the year 1400, they stopped having plays,
but people loved the Paradise Tree,
so they started putting them up at home.
Over time, they added other decorations—
fruit, nuts, candies, cookies.
Later someone invented glass ornaments; still later, lights!
And there you have the Christmas Tree we have today.

There’s one more connection, to the Gospel I just read.
That was a family tree—the family tree of Jesus!

It was a lot of names—because of all the generations
that connected Abraham to King David, and King David to Jesus.

Matthew, who wrote this Gospel,
wanted us to know that when God came to earth,
he came as part of our human family;
and he also came so that we could become part of his family!

Yes, that was a long Gospel—
but it reminds us how large the Family of God is,
stretching all the way back to Adam and Eve:
who although they were very sad because they turned from God,
had to rejoice when Jesus, their great-great-great…grandson,
came to undo the damage they had caused!

In heaven, Adam and Eve rejoice
because Jesus has added so many more to the Family Tree…
right down to the present, and each of us!
Through baptism and faith in Jesus,
you and I have been added to that list of names in the Gospel!

That Family Tree, of all who belong to Jesus,
is God’s Christmas Tree;
How bright and beautiful that tree must be,
with all the people who believe in Jesus!
You and I are part of that Tree!

When we come to communion, remember the tree.
Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree—
it brought sorrow and death.
You and I eat the Body and Blood of Jesus—
the fruit of the Cross, the Tree of Life—it brings us life!

Monday, December 22, 2008

My day off...

I thought you might find interesting what transpired today, my "day off"...

Around 4:40 am, the phone rang; I think it rang 3 times before I answered--to be honest, I was pretty dead asleep, and groggy in my conversation. The caller was someone from the police department; I was needed at the hospital. (Out of consideration for those involved, I will omit further details.) About 10 minutes later, I'd dressed and gotten behind the wheel, and was pulling out before I realized I'd forgotten my glasses! Don't worry, I'm only a little off without them...but agreed, not the best thing to do.

I was there until around 5:30--I won't say anything about it, except it was an extremely difficult situation but those involved were grateful a priest had come. I got back into bed a little before six--did I mention I'd been up pretty late the night before?--but I didn't get to sleep right away, and wondered if I should get up; but I think I was snoozing pretty well by 8 am...

The phone rang--the other priest answered it. Zzzzzzz....phone rang again--other priest answered it. Zzzzzz....the phone rang; the other priest let me know this was for me. A computer repair guy came by the office, something I'd arranged, I wanted to explain what we needed, so I did it over the phone--I confess, still in bed.

Well, I decided to get up then, and made some coffee and some breakfast. Bacon and eggs, all fixed in the microwave--isn't that grand? Maybe it was just my mood, but boy did it all taste good!

Fast forward to the afternoon, time to get down to some business--I had to begin decorating the Christmas Tree. So I went down the basement, and got the lights, and--as happens to you, I had to untangle them. I know what you are thinking--why didn't I put them in good order last year? Well, in this case, I let someone else take down the lights last year, but...I'd probably have done it the same way myself!

Then the phone started ringing again. The computer guy again; the maintenance man, advising me of a furnace problem in the school, then again, telling me it was working; then the office; then the funeral home; seems like a few others.

This is a good time to mention the plans I had for the evening: a group of seminarians and possible seminarians were coming by; one of our seminarians had called me, a few weeks back, to see if I'd be host for a get-together, so I said sure. The plan was to have some drinks and snacks, then pray Vespers, and then go out to dinner. They were due around 5, and I wanted the tree to have at least lights on it.

Another phone call--I needed to run over to the office. So a quick trip over there, in and out; only it's not in-and-out, as several people had questions. While I was out, I ran by the grocery store and picked up some pop and beer and chips and such for the seminarians, then back home, and I finished with the lights. The first guys showed up as I was bringing out some snacks, and they were happy to help me set out some things.

Well, now, when I talked to the deacon about it, I figured we'd have four or five, and that would be well worthwhile. That afternoon, he called me, said he expected ten! Along with the other priest and me, that's a full dozen. So our living room was packed, and the various snacks disappeared rapidly.

After Vespers, we reconvened at Ruby Tuesdays in Troy, and enjoyed a good conversation over beer, cokes and mostly burgers. A good bunch of guys, ranging from one high school guy to several in college and two guys currently in the seminary. Several are studying theology and philosophy, but others are studying engineering. Several talked about their experiences with the older, Extraordinary Form of the Mass; they were interested in hearing more, from one of the seminarians, about our new, coadjutor Archbishop Dennis Schnurr. We also talked about the schools the guys are attending--several are at Franciscan University in Steubenville, one at Dayton, one at Ohio Northern, and one at the University of Cincinnati.

About this time, it occurred to me a photo might be nice--I asked if anyone had a camera phone; several came out. (I showed the guys my Nokia phone from around 2003, and they laughed at it--"I think they have those in museums, Father.") Sorry I didn't think to get photos earlier of church or my house, but here are some pics:

Here's the seminarian-deacon, Rev. Mr. Shawn Landewich, who organized this whole event--a seminarian out beating the bushes for more seminarians, how cool is that? Beyond him is Chris Osgood, a college student at a Baptist university, a valiant Catholic witness, and then our congenial vicar, Father Tom Grilliot.

Here are Mark, Tom and Eric--sorry to say, with such a big group, I didn't get last names. Mark described some "liturgical dance" that happens at Masses at the University of Dayton; with a serious look, I said, "sorry to say, Mark, they don't have classes in liturgical dance at the seminary." He pretended to be disappointed.

Here's Father Tom again, hogging all the pictures as usual, along with brothers Pete and Phil. Tom, above, had his brother, Sean, along with him, but he was omitted from the pictures, sorry buddy!


Finally, here is your humble correspondent, along with current seminarian, Dan Hess. The Germans always sit together...


After a good conversation, several of the guys had to drive back to Cincinnati; the others were headed north, and we all parted ways. I hope I see these guys again, in the seminary and, God willing, in the priesthood. This is what you're praying for when you pray for more priests!

Now it's a little after 10, and I'm reclining and working on my lap-top, typing these words.

Oh, I forgot to mention, while I was carrying boxes up from the basement, I tripped on the stairs and jammed my big toe. It's starting to throb a little, I wonder if I sprained it?

That's how I spent my day off.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The whole world awaits Mary's reply

(This was in Saturday's Office of Readings, I thought you'd enjoy it.)

A sermon of St Bernard

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator.

See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

If you want to access the Liturgy of the Hours online, you can do so at Universalis, from which I took this.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The House of God (Sunday homily)

When God tells David, through the prophet Nathan,
"I will build you a house,"
he is speaking to more than David.
He is speaking to those who would come from David’s line:
all the People of God, and very specifically,
He is speaking to the second David, Jesus, His Son.
"I will build you a house."

So, in one sense, the "house" is Mary herself.
She is the fruit of Israel, the glory of God’s People!
As the poet William Wordsworth called her,
"our tainted nature’s solitary boast"!
She is the immaculate temple, filled with the glory of God.

This is what we celebrated last week.
God acted, at the beginning of Mary’s life,
when she was conceived in Anna’s womb,
to keep her "immaculate," without stain of original sin.

God was preparing a house for his Son, the heir of David,
the King whose throne shall endure forever.

This is something marvelous to contemplate!
God not only came to his People
but he chose to do it by coming through his People:
becoming one of us, conceived in a human mother,
flesh of her flesh, and bone of our bone, a member of our family!

This is what we profess every Sunday in the Creed:
"For us men and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.
By the power of the Holy Spirit,
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man."

So awesome a statement is that, that we bow at those words.
And, twice a year, we kneel:
on the Feast of the Annunciation in March,
when Jesus was conceived in Mary,
and then on his birthday nine months later, December 25.

David longed to build a house fit for God;
and God’s response was, yes, but not in the way you imagine.
Instead, God himself would build the house,
and the house would be the People of God—us—
among whom God comes to dwell.

This physical house, our church,
which is consecrated for worship,
is a sign and expression of the House of God
which is made up of God’s holy people.

This is why we are right to take good care of this house.
Sometimes people will say it’s a waste of money
to make our church beautiful,
buildings don’t matter, anything will do.

But this building is not just to keep out the weather,
it is here to teach us, every time we come here,
what being God’s House means.
How clean and beautiful is the "house" of our own lives?
Is our spiritual life about doing the minimum—"good enough"?
Between Sundays, do we live lives that look like God’s House—
where he is welcome, and others will discover him in us?

You see, that is another purpose—to have a place of hospitality.
We invite people to our homes,
don’t we make things nice for them?
We do the same in God’s House, and we do it with our lives.
To be a Christian is to share Christ with others
and to welcome others to find Him in us.

I began by saying that God, in speaking to David,
was speaking beyond David, to Jesus and to us.
In like manner, when God, through Gabriel, speaks to Mary,
he is again speaking to us.
He tells us, "The Lord is with you!"—and we find it troubling.
What does this demand of us? Are we ready?

Every Mass is, as we say,
another Good Friday, and another Easter:
Jesus death and resurrection in the Sacrifice of the Altar.

Every Mass is also another Christmas:
The Holy Spirit comes upon this altar,
Jesus is conceived and born, as it were, in the Eucharist!

Do you know what "Bethlehem" means? "House of Bread."
Isn’t it interesting that when Jesus is born,
where does Mary place him?
In a manger—a feed-box for the stable!

We kneel in adoration of this honor and gift;
if we receive the Eucharist, we do so,
not as an afterthought or casually,
but struck with awe to receive God in this way,
being joined to him, flesh-and-blood!

Our best response is to ask God to make us clean of sin,
like Mary; and like Mary, to say:
"behold the handmaid of the Lord."

What's happening...

On this 20th day of December, as the daylight contracts, I am...

> Thinking about what I will say in my homily this weekend. I should have prepared it Wednesday, but I had other things intervene, including a meeting I mistakenly thought was Thursday...

> Thinking of Hannukah, which starts this weekend, and wishing more Christians knew about this event in our salvation history: the defeat of the forces of oppressive secularization almost 2,200 years ago, and the rededication of the Temple of the Lord by the Maccabees. The key ideas of Hannukah are light and liberty; which reminds us of the great gifts Judaism has given the world--which reminds me of something I thought about last night, in the chapel. Supposing the athiests are right, and there is no God, how does one explain the power and beauty and truth that comes to us first through Judaism, then through Christianity?

> Not planning to join in the neo-heathen celebration of the "Winter Solstice" which has, in recent years, so delighted the chai-tea, NPR, Sunday New York Times crowd because then they can be rid, finally, of that embarrassing Child, you-know-who...

> Instead, I'll be putting up my Christmas Tree, hopefully starting to decorate it on Monday...

> Trying to figure out if I have a cold or not. You know how you feel right before a cold really hits? Kind of "off," with maybe a bit of a scratchy throat and a headache? That's how I've felt for two days, along with being really tired at times.

> Thinking about when I'm going to schedule a rehearsal for the servers for Midnight Mass; once again, our dear Sister--you know who you are!--came through for me and lined up six--count 'em!--servers, all stout fellows. The running joke anymore is whether I'll show up, since I have a habit of getting sick at Christmastime, and here we may go again! (Two years ago I didn't even make it to Midnight Mass, I was so sick.)

> Feeling pretty good that Christmas falls mid-week this year, giving me more time to do various things (like prepare a Christmas homily and decorate the Christmas Tree)...

> Wondering if I should start taking pictures of meals the way Father Z does; if so, I'd have pictures of the meal I prepared (yes, really!) last night, for the priests from the neighboring parish: we had some nice scallops, which I sauteed in olive oil and butter, with some garlic, some linguine, and a nice red sauce a la Paul Newman called "Sockarooni." I'd never cooked scallops before, these turned out nicely, although I think I should have cooked them a slight bit more; also I think they would have been better with some kind of oil and vinegar dressing than with red sauce. For dessert, we ate some rum cake a parishioner made for the parochial vicar and me--oh heavens is that good!

> Noticing my coffee cup is empty, and another cup is in the pot, beckoning to me from the kitchen...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Yes, I wore...

...Rose vestments, at least at one parish; the other does not have a rose vestment; but I borrowed it from one parish to the other for the last Mass of the day.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Gift of the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily)

As Christmas approaches,
I imagine you are either thinking about
gifts you still have to get for someone;
or you may be thinking about what gifts you hope to get;
or, you may be feeling badly
because you cannot do as much this year.

The readings focus on one Gift in particular—
a gift everyone needs—even if they already have it;
a gift everyone can give—whether you are very young or very old,
even if you haven’t one extra dollar to spend.

That is the Gift of the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah said: "He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor"—
he has sent us—
there are plenty in our midst who are facing poverty,
and many of us are suddenly facing financial hardship—
including our parish and our school.
We might pray for wisdom from the Spirit to "bring glad tidings."
This might be a good time
to forget about "my parish" and "us or them"
and instead think about, "we’re all in this together!"

"To heal the brokenhearted"—
many families are broken-hearted right now,
because of illness in particular.
Please reach out to them!

"To proclaim liberty to the captives"…
You might remember there are folks in nursing homes
who are often forgotten—
they would love a card or a visit.
And there is no liberty, no release, like the forgiveness of sins:
remember our Penance Service at Saint Mary on Tuesday,
come yourself, and bring someone with you!

The watchword for this Sunday is "rejoice"—in Latin, Gaudete!
It is a command, as we heard from Saint Paul.
It is the reason the color of the vestments
goes from purple to rose.
We are very close to the Day our Salvation dawned on the world.

As it gets dark and chill—both the weather and the economy—
our mood can also darken.
Many find this season not joyful but blue.
In a meeting the other day, discussing the financial situation,
one of our dear Sisters of Charity remarked:
"so much negativity!"
She is 100% right—it is far too easy to be negative in such times.

This is when what Paul commands: "Rejoice—in the Lord!"
becomes a real act of faith. An act of hope.

This, by the way, is one of the many reasons to be thankful—
and we are thankful—
for all our religious men and women
who have given so much to serve us.
We have been blessed, in Piqua,
with the Sisters of Charity,
teaching the Faith and calling us to justice and peace.
A sign of hope by their radical obedience to Christ.

So many religious orders have given us cause to rejoice;
and their elderly members now need us—through our generosity—
to meet their needs in their retirement.
That annual collection is today, and I ask you to do all you can.

First and last, it is the Gift of the Holy Spirit that is our joy.
We’d like a lot of other nice presents this year;
we’d love to see our economy turn around,
we’d love our finances get better.

Please Lord, come and deliver us—
especially those out of work, in debt, living in fear!

But it is the Lord who sends us to one another,
to meet one anothers needs, maybe in ways we never imagined.
Sharing meals, opening our doors in hospitality,
making sacrifices we only heard about earlier generations doing.

But in all that, we will be sharing the Spirit of consolation,
the Spirit of peace, with one another.
In all that, the fire of faith will be burning brightly in us—
and others will see it!

That is our joy—that is our one Gift
we can never lose or break or wear out or no longer need.
That is why we rejoice.

I am not the One

...who won the Mega Millions' $200 million jackpot last night--even though, according to the Dayton Daily News, the sole, winning ticket was sold right here in Piqua.

It was, actually, chilling to read that; because I had meant to buy one, and in fact, around midnight I was at a local store, picking up some items, and I saw the sign and asked to buy a ticket, and the clerk said, oh, it's too late for tonight's drawing. It got me thinking about Divine Providence and free will. Suppose the Almighty said, "yes, I do will that you win this jackpot"--but it was up to me to buy the ticket? Failing that...someone else won.

My next thought was...I hope the winner knows about Piqua Catholic School and our Catholic parishes! Oh, the good they could do! Then I thought about how all those who win, end up having everyone trying to get their hands on the money..."and now I'm one of those people!"

Father Tom and I talked about it just now--about the perils involved. I wondered, what if I had the winning ticket in my hands, right this moment? I'd be scared to death. I've got a fire going in the fireplace--get that ticket far away from the fire! I'd call a local banker, and have him escort me to the bank vault. I'd be wondering about all the phone calls I would need to make next; I'd be a bit paralyzed, not wanting to make a wrong move I'd regret long after. My mind would be racing and giving thanks.

Then it occurred to me, maybe the person just stopped on I-75 to buy gas, on his way somewhere else? Wouldn't that be a kick in the pants?

Friday, December 05, 2008

a blizzard of activity...and an invitation

Sorry, dear readers, for being scarce. The demands of being a pastor are great, especially these days.

The financial storm that has struck everywhere has, of course, struck in Miami County as well; and collections are down. Saint Boniface has had deficits for several years, and Saint Mary had many deficits for several years before having one up year when I first got here. Now both parishes face serious deficits, and I've been having lots of meetings discussing options, none good. It has not been easy or enjoyable, and I have learned from some mistakes along the way.

Meanwhile, the boiler in Saint Mary Church chose to die in November, and we have been getting by with minimal heat as the temperature dropped. I've been having a lot of discussions on that, and God willing, we'll settle on a recommendation next week. We had a temporary heater set up in the basement, which will, if it works, keep us in the 60s until the boiler is replaced.

Meanwhile, we are approaching--this weekend--a monumental celebration for our venerable Father Angelo Caserta, who had his 90th birthday today, and who will be a priest 64 years in February. Tomorrow evening, he will be celebrant for 4 pm Mass, followed by a carry-in dinner for all and sundry, at the Caserta Center in Piqua, next to St. Boniface Church. We expect at least 500 to show up, and the sky's the limit on how many will want to greet and give their love to Father Ang.

Sunday, we will have a "Roast & Toast" in honor of Father Ang, at the Fort Piqua Plaza, 116 W. High Street, in downtown Piqua, 6-9 pm, as a fundraiser for the critical needs of Saint Boniface Church and the school: we expect to have 200 present (tickets still available at the door, $100), and the proceeds will enable us to restore at least several of the century-old stained glass windows in church.

Oh, and then I have all the other usual projects, and tasks of a pastor!

If you have no plans, please come to Piqua this weekend, especially for the Roast & Toast--it'll support a good cause!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rich in what counts (Sunday homily)

In the second reading, the Apostle Paul is confident
the Lord will keep us “firm to the end”
because “you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”

Saint Paul says we are rich;
but a lot of us aren’t feeling very rich right now.
Like you, I have to put money aside for retirement,
and I have not looked at a statement in months.

When I visit St. Clare Chapel,
I look at the prayers people write in the book—
a lot of us are praying for jobs, and for money to pay our bills.

What can we say? The economy is out of our hands.
But listen again to Paul: you and I are rich all the same,
in the only thing that will count
when the Lord returns to judge the earth.

Now, more than ever, is time to examine that balance-sheet.
Now is time to draw on these reserves—
and if our spiritual reserves are low—
now is the time to build them up!

One way in particular is to visit our Saint Clare Chapel—
open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Along with the Prophet Isaiah, we might cry out:
Lord, tear open the heavens and come down!
But he already has!

Come to our chapel and gaze at Him,
and let Him look intently at you.
The worry and fear so many of us face, and we can’t shake:
This is the one place we can find relief.
A lot of people struggle at prayer;
but the heart of prayer is intimacy;
“intimacy” describes the energy that holds a couple together;
but it also describes the easy closeness of best friends.

This intimacy doesn’t just happen, it takes time and effort.
As it grows, it becomes so powerful
and sustains us on the deepest level.

Well, it’s the same in our relationship with the Lord.
And, as with any other relationship,
there’s no substitute for time together.

Many of us keep a regular hour in the chapel,
or else we drop by sometime during our day.

You do realize that most parishes
do not have a chapel such as ours,
open all day and night, every day of the year?

Our chapel is an engine of prayer;
It is the storehouse of spiritual riches beyond measure!
It is the throne-room of heaven, come down to earth, for us!

We do need people to commit to each hour;
We have a few hours that are vacant.
If you ever said, “one of these days…”
Maybe this is the day?
Please see the bulletin and make the call.

Of course, that kind of commitment holds us back.
So how about this? Sign up for two months; or just a month.
Give it a try!

Soon, we are going to begin bringing our younger schoolchildren
across Miami Street to make short visits to the chapel,
so they learn to pray before the Blessed Sacrament—
to see Jesus lives right here in our midst!—
to help them build their lives on him.

Parents, I’d like to suggest you do the same—
bring your families for visits!
It doesn’t have to be long;
but think of the message this will send:
your children will see that you know how much you need the Lord;
you will give them an example of humility and trust.

What family doesn’t face trouble?
Bring those troubles to the Lord side-by-side
is a powerful way to bond your family together.
Some have tried everything else…

In the Gospel the Lord gave us a one-word command: “Watch!”
We never know how long we have or when the Lord will come;
but when we are close to the Lord in the Eucharist,
that’s something we don’t have to worry about.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King homily

Sorry, once again I did not have time and/or energy to write out my homily, so what follows are the points I tried to make, as I recall making them:

> I explained the origin of the feast, established by Pope Pius XI, in 1930.* To understand why he felt the need for it, consider what was happening in the world in that year: so much of the world was under the thumb of dictators who needed a reminder of who was the rightful king. Almost 80 years later, many things have changed, yet many in government, entertainment and business need the reminder still.

> We recently had an election and exercised our vote, and we must live with the result--but we have a right and duty to communicate to those elected the reminder of Christ's law, and their duty to care for the weakest--"I mean the unborn, the poor, the disabled and the elderly."

> The first reading struck me particularly as a human shepherd--the Lord said, "I myself will shepherd my people." We human shepherds often fail--"it is hard when you know that some percentage of your decisions are almost certainly wrong!"--and I thanked the Lord for being the shepherd, and ask him to continue to help me, for I cannot do it.

> I talked about how if we want Christ as king of the world, we begin by making him king of our hearts, that is where we can have the most say. That's what we do in the sacrament of confession. I talked about going to confession many years ago, before I entered the seminary, feeling great as I left, and on the drive home, all of a sudden I reflected on this Gospel passage of the sheep and goats, and realized--every time I was curt or rude in driving, every time I was sharp or harsh to anyone, every time I was sarcastic, every time I refused someone help, every wrong I ever did--I did to Jesus! It hit me so hard, all at once, that it was all I could do, not to make an immediate U-turn, and go right back to confession! That was, for me, a moment of deep awareness of what this Gospel passage means.

> At St. Boniface, I talked about the Infant of Prague, because we returned the image to public display and I explained a little about the image's history.

> I concluded by talking about how receiving the Eucharist is when we invite the Lord to be enthroned in our lives in the most personal and profound way; and that if we long for Christ to be king of our world, it is up to us to show the world what that looks like.

* Oops--I realized after my last Mass that I was off by four years, it was in 1926. It doesn't really change anything else I offered.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Invest your Faith that the Kingdom may increase (Sunday homily)

What did we just hear?

A man went on a journey,
and entrusted his possessions to his servants…

The Lord Jesus is the man,
and he has entrusted care of his Kingdom to us.

This is not so much about how we use our natural gifts,
but how we use the supernatural gift of Faith.
And how readily and with how much real investment of ourselves,
we put ourselves on the line, so that his Kingdom can grow.
If you and I put your Faith out there, at risk—it will grow.
If we bury our Faith and do nothing with it, we will lose it.

And when I say, the investment of our Faith will "grow"—I mean;
we really will see other people drawn to our Catholic Faith.
But they will only be drawn, our investment will grow
only if they see our lives are really changed.

The early Christians won their world and even their persecutors
because people said, "they really do forgive their enemies";
"they really do love one another";
"they really do live as if Jesus is Lord—and he’s this close."

Our Catholic Faith, our Catholic parishes, our Catholic schools,
will grow, only if people see the same in us.

I am sorry to say, it is discouraging to me and many others,
that there remains pettiness and division
between our two Catholic parishes.

As soon as I say that, someone brings up something from the past.
You want to bury something—bury that:
all those grudges and bad memories!

What must people in this community think,
when there are Catholics
who won’t pray in each other’s churches?
Do you realize how much I have to walk on eggshells because of this?
What a waste of time and energy—mine and yours!

And, yes, I’m saying the exact same thing at both parishes.

When we talk about the investment of our faith,
putting it at risk, rather than burying it…
let me apply that, to our times, this way:
a lot of folks talk to me about fears and discouragement—
why are things the way they are?
why don’t more people come to church?
why do we have the troubles we do?

If you and I want to avoid experiencing these doubts and fears,
the only way is not only to bury our talents,
but to climb in the hole ourselves,
and pull the dirt over our heads!

Yes, it’s hard—but this is what it means
to put our Faith on the line, to put it at risk.

Remember who we are: we are Christians!
The first Twelve…one was a traitor,
the leader melted like ice on a skillet,
and the rest scattered.
The early believers were nobodies, they had nothing,
and they were hunted and arrested and killed.

In every age, the Church has had trouble—
in fact, when we thought all was well,
that usually meant we had even worse problems
that we didn’t even recognize.

So, here we are, the Year of our Lord 2008,
and we have so many problems.
We are tempted to discouragement and fear and defeat.
We are tempted to turn against one another—who is to blame?
We’re going to want to bury our faith in a hole, and figure,
it is only a matter of time before we close up shop.
I have heard the rumors—and all I can say is,
if you want them to come true—keep repeating that nonsense!

I don’t know what the future—even the next six months—will bring.
But I know this: We have Jesus Christ!
He has put everything on the line, everything at risk,
investing in us!
He believes in what we can be and what we can do,
if only we let him be in charge.

In a few moments, we will behold his Sacrifice for our sakes,
and we take part in the Eucharist,
his greatest Gift, of his own Body and Blood,
please, pray for one another—pray for me, as I do for you—
that we will realize how rich we are in what really counts,
and how much we really can do to increase his Kingdom,
to be ready for Him.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Firefox-Blogger problems again

I wonder if anyone else is noticing a problem with blogger, using Firefox. Yesterday and today, I couldn't log into this blog using Mozilla Firefox, my preferred browser, but using Internet Explorer, which I dislike, I did fine.

I assume it's the conglomerates Google-Blogger and Microsoft ganging up on Mozilla, but I don't really know...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

'Provide Fresh Water for our Community' (Sunday homily)

"Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink"—
maybe you remember that line from the "Rime of the Ancient Mariner"—
that poem I think all high schoolers learn.

But you and I have fresh water—water that gives life—
the Water of the Holy Spirit.

Ezekiel tells us that Water flows from the Temple:
you and I receive this Water from Jesus Christ.
We are baptized here, born again in the Holy Spirit.
We come here to be made clean again in confession.
We come here for the Mass and the Eucharist.
This temple, this House of God, is where we receive the Life of the Spirit.

The occasion we are celebrating today
is the dedication of the Church of St. John Lateran in Rome.
You might wonder why we do this.

Because the Bishop of Rome is the head of the Catholic Church,
Rome is the mother Church for us all as Catholics.

When our Lord was on earth, he said to Peter,
"You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my Church."
Peter went to Rome—as did Paul—
and thus Rome is the mother Church for us all.
Benedict XVI is the Bishop of Rome, and St. John Lateran is his Cathedral.

So we celebrate the Gift of the Holy Spirit,
and we are grateful that Gift comes to us
through being part of the Catholic Church.

But notice what St. Paul was telling us:
we not only receive the Gift of the Spirit through our Catholic Faith;
we are the building-blocks of the Church,
we are the Temple that gives that Gift to our community!
The water flows out from us to make salt water fresh.

I see this wherever I go in Piqua. Our parishioners are everywhere.
Thursday, I was asked to give a blessing for a new business in town.
A group of people came from the Chamber of Commerce,
decked out in spiffy red jackets—and half of them were our fellow Catholics.

So we have been given a great privilege,
and we can have so much good influence on our community.
That puts an obligation on us:
to share our faith, we must know our faith.
Whether its RCIA, or my Bible Study, or the CDs we offer in the vestibule,
take advantage of ways to know your faith better.
If you have an idea, a suggestion—please let me know!

And to be able to provide Fresh Water to our community,
our own temple, the temple of our lives, always needs attention.
The Lord didn’t tear down the temple—but he did clean it up.
He wanted it to be a place of life,
and that’s always what’s trying to do in our individual lives.
If there’s something he wants us to clean up or clear out, in our own lives,
this is why—so that more Fresh Water of the Holy Spirit
flows out of us, into the lives of others.

When we go to confession,
we’re cooperating with the Lord to do that work in our own lives.
When we find time for daily Mass, or to make a holy hour,
or we give time to the needs of others,
we are opening ourselves up even more as channels of his grace for our community.

The Lord is building a Temple, made up of us, living stones.
He wants it to be a House where our whole community receives life.
That’s a great privilege for each of us! That’s an important task!
The Lord needs us and has a lot of confidence in us.

As we participate in this Mass, we might want to ask the Lord to show us
if anything in our lives needs cleaning out.
As we pray, we might ask the Lord to show us how he wants us to grow in Faith,
so we can share it.
As we take part in the Eucharist, we might ask the Lord to strengthen us
so we’ll step up and step out,
to make the difference he wants for our community.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Our first black President

Instapundit tipped me (and everyone else) to this article which I think makes some good points. I'll make my own in my own way.

None of us who are committed to the prolife cause can be happy to have another president who is committed to legal abortion. We would rather be celebrating the election of an African-American president who didn't have that terrible baggage.

That being said, we can--and should--celebrate something remarkable about our nation. Our nation elected a black president; even five years ago, who would have thought it would happen so easily? It says something good about our country, because don't we want to live in a country where anyone can rise to positions of public or private achievement, regardless of race or ethnicity or their family history?

Why shouldn't we celebrate the fact that our nation, which has things to be ashamed of as far as prejudice and denial of rights to blacks in particular, has come so far, so fast (from a historical point of view), so easily, as compared with so many places in the world? Consider how racial, religious and tribal differences have meant so much shed blood, in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, and here we are, we have made the transition from Jim Crow to today, not without some shed blood, but so much less than anyone could have hoped.

We are accused of being a terrible nation, racist from top to bottom. Well, we're sure not perfect, but this mostly-white nation just elected a black president! And did you notice? The polls actually did not conceal a "Bradley affect"--people claiming to be for an African-American candidate, but actually not voting for him.
And while there is anxiety and distress on the defeated side, there is not a terrible sense of disaster...because we elected a black president. Those who are upset, are upset because of the agenda they expect him to press, which is normal, same every four years.

One more thing. I've seen, here and there, some early signs of what might be called "Obama Derangement Syndrome." Whether anyone likes it or not, Barack Obama will be our president. We have a duty to pray for him, and to help and support him in his responsibilities. That doesn't mean we don't oppose him when we disagree. But there's a right way to do it, and a wrong way. It does no one any credit to be hateful or ugly, and really will only work to the advantage of the very agenda you will be opposing, unless it really is just about hate?

I talked to the schoolchildren today about praying for our new president, and about the remarkable fact of this historic moment, and I said we wanted to encourage him to be mindful of protecting all people, including the weakest and most vulnerable. I even suggested they might want to write to him and wish him well, and tell him what hopes they have for him, including in defending human dignity. That's our right, and our duty.

Fear Not!

The election is over, the victors are crowing and the defeated are fearful. But there are some things to notice:

I found this article yesterday via Instapundit, which originally appeared at National Review Online, entitled, "He's not the Socialist Superman":

This nation still self-identifies as conservative. Bill Clinton thought he had a mandate to socialize medical care. That miscalculation effectively destroyed his entire agenda. Obama is not going to enter office with anything resembling a popular mandate, either. (And at this very late date, I am beginning to question whether he will enter office at all). I still think he’ll pull out a squeaker, but he’s not going to enter office on a rising tide of popular demand for his socialist policies.

No, it wasn't a squeaker--but Obama's victory is very similar to Clinton's, both in the Electoral College total, and really in popular vote, when you factor out Ross Perot's role in taking votes from Clinton and Bush.

And let me remind you: Here is the makeup of Congress on the day Bill Clinton took office.

Senate: Dem - 57 GOP 43
House: Dem - 258 GOP 176

Obama may end up with a similar bulge in both houses - but what did that buy Clinton? If Obama is stupid enough (as was Clinton) to believe he is being elected because people want him, rather than want the previous President (in both cases, a Bush) gone, he will probably indulge in the same sort of over-reach, with, I predict, the same sort of results.

Think about it this way: if aging hack John McCain, unable to enthuse his own base, running after a disastrous eight years of a George W. Bush administration, in the face of an utterly hostile mainstream media, a collapsing economy, and the as-yet undetermined aftermath of an unpopular foreign war, can still be near or within the polling margin of error, this is not a liberal nation, or one panting for an Obama administration.


I also found this article, substantiating the facts about the basic orientation of the nation:

No matter the results of the election on Nov. 4, and despite the tarnishing Republicans have given to conservatism, America remains a center-right country.

The Battleground Poll is a comprehensive, bipartisan public opinion poll sponsored by George Washington University and conducted by the Republican Terrance Group and Democratic Lake Research Partners.

In January 2000, the poll asked participants to describe their views of politics and government. Fifteen percent described themselves as very conservative, 39 percent as somewhat conservative, 13 percent as moderate, 24 percent as somewhat liberal and 6 percent as very liberal.

Here are the results of the same Battleground Poll question in October 2008: Twenty percent described themselves as very conservative, 39 percent as somewhat conservative, 3 percent as moderate, 26 percent as somewhat liberal and 10 percent as very liberal.


Did you catch that? After all the problems of the last eight years, just last month, the number of Americans seeing themselves as somewhat or very conservative went up--and it was all in the "very" category!

Yes, the Democratic Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, was crowing today the GOP wouldn't dare filibuster--but that's a bluster on his part. He knows he doesn't have enough votes, particularly on the most contentious issues.

One more fact, courtesy of Father Zuhlsdorf, concerns how Catholics voted. It is true, and dismaying, that Obama got a bigger share of Catholic voters this time; but: when you break out weekly attendees vs. non-regular Mass-goers, it's like this:

Mass-goers: McCain 54/Obama 45 Bush 56/Kerry 43
Non-Mass goers: McCain 37/ Obama 61 Bush 49/Kerry 50

That tells me something very significant: that regular Mass-goers, who were just as affected by all the other concerns, understood the prolife issue as much as they did four years ago. Obama did not improve his position with them significantly, in a year when he had every reason to do so, but for one: the prolife issue.

Of course, many will see the 45% that voted for Obama, and be unhappy about that; all I can do is point out Kerry got very nearly as much, and remember, folks were talking about what an accomplishment it was that Bush got 56% of these folks only four years ago. McCain got only a little bit less in a terrible economy.

There's more to say, but I have to run. But be very sure that tens of millions of prolifers are gearing up and they will hold President Obama accountable to his words to be president of all of us and to hear our voices. He's going to start hearing prolifers' voices very soon. And it will be deafening.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Our 'Life Teen Mass' for All Souls...

It is an old tradition and norm under Church law to allow a priest to celebrate three Masses on All Souls. A lot of folks will be puzzled by this: why "allowed"? Isn't a priest always "allowed"--even encouraged--to offer more Masses day-by-day? The answer is no; the norm is to offer Mass once a day during the week, and perhaps two in need; twice on Sunday (for the sake of the people), three times in need. "In need" is the rationale for priests offering even more Masses, daily or on Sundays and holy days--but the value at stake here is to emphasize the specialness of the Mass and to preserve the priest's spirituality, of which the Sacrifice is the core, by not having him "crank them out."

So why the exception for All Souls? (And also for Christmas, if memory serves; parish priests tend not to worry about these things, because we seldom lack for opportunity to celebrate additional Masses!) For the good of souls, particularly the holy souls in purgatory.

As All Souls fell on a Sunday, the opportunity to offer three Masses was no trick--I had the 4 pm Mass on the Vigil (I am puzzled by the bishops said the Saturday evening Mass would be for All Souls, when All Saints outranks it, but again, I don't have time to puzzle over such things; perhaps I missed something), then the 9 am Mass on Sunday, and then a special, 7(-ish) pm Mass with the high school group. This is our Life Teen group; I thought you might be interested in how our "Life Teen Mass"--first ever--went.

Our excellent coordinator of religious education and youth ministry has wanted to have an evening, around Hallowe'en, on which we'd turn the basement of the former-rectory-now-parish-offices into a "catacombs," and have the high schoolers gather there, after dark for catechesis and perhaps Mass. We'd talked about for a couple of years, but didn't do anything until this year.

I was reluctant to have the Mass in the basement of the building--there is no altar there, no chapel, and one has the Mass outside a sacred place only for very special reasons. There were certainly practical reasons as well--no ventilation--but I can see why he liked the idea. Well, instead, we decided to have a period of catechesis in the "catacombs"--including the basement's whitewashed walls adorned with early Christian symbols--about this part of our history. Then we had a candlelight procession from there, outside, and around to our perpetual-exposition chapel (also in the basement of the church), for Mass. As we walked, we sang a Litany of the Saints.

Mass was not terribly out of the ordinary; I would like to have used incense, however the chapel is a very close space, and we do have at least one high-schooler who has serious allergy issues. We did chant many of the prayers, including several in Latin--the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei. I gave the homily you see below, but added some about Hallowe'en and emphasized the idea of our joining a procession of the faithful that stretches across the ages, and forward into eternity, connecting to the catechesis we'd had beforehand. I used the Roman Canon, which has so many saints included.

We had over 20 of our high-schoolers turn out, plus a number of adults, about 30 in total. Not a lot by big-city standards, but good for us. At the conclusion of Mass, I mentioned to those present that next week, I'd do a "dry Mass" (meaning not an actual Mass, but a "show-and-tell" explanation of Mass) and that being part of that would be an excellent follow-up. And I pointed out one of the ways the Mass itself shows evidence of being a procession, reaching way back; we used four languages at Mass: English (rooted in the present); Latin, taking us almost all the way back; Greek (Kyrie) which is the language of the New Testament, and Hebrew (Alleluia, Amen), taking us back to the liberation of God's people from slavery.

Oh, and yes, I used black vestments.

No, we don't routinely do a Sunday evening Mass. Many would like it, but for a number of reasons, I have declined to start one. But a one-time, or once-a-year thing, is a lot easier to say "yes" to.

Before and after Mass, we had a fire going outside--with a parent keeping watch, have no fear!--which provided an opportunity for 'smores' after Mass while we waited for the kids' parents to pick them up.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

All Souls Day 2008 (Homily)

All Souls Day only falls on a Sunday
about every five or six years,
so this may be unusual for many of us.
It’s not a “feast day” exactly—but it is a special day.
The music, the priest’s vestments*, are different.
You might say, it seems like a funeral. Exactly.

November is when we reflect on how fragile life is,
and contemplate what comes after this life.
We recall the “four last things”:
death, judgment, heaven and hell.

We might compare how our culture handles these things
versus how we handle them as Christians.

Our culture tries to buy time!
Remember the Spanish explorer, Ponce de Leon?
He was looking for the Fountain of Youth,
and he found Florida instead!
A lot of our technology is all about finding that fountain.

Even when death is near,
it can be hard to acknowledge openly.

If we or someone we love is facing death,
bringing it out in the open can do everyone a lot of good.
Sometimes family, sometimes the sick person,
has things they need to talk about.
This can break the ice.

As a priest, I will often come to a bedside,
and I don’t always know if the end is near;
it may even seem obvious to me,
and yet the person in the bed, the family,
are not facing it.

No one comes out and says, “give him Last Rites”;
And it can be upsetting to offer it in those cases.
The shame is, the priest will leave,
and not get called till its too late.

That can be a huge missed opportunity.
“Last Rites” are a lot more than just anointing—
which we can receive throughout our lives.
Part of it is simply going to confession;
the most important part is receiving the Eucharist,
and even people who can’t swallow can still receive
the Eucharist in the form of wine—
just give the priest some notice, and we’ll do it!

Think of receiving complete absolution,
and the Body and Blood of Christ, at that moment!
What peace! What a gift!

The final part of “Last Rites”
includes a litany of the saints, as if to say,
“Saints, we want you to lead our sister, our father,
safely to Christ.” It’s gives great peace.

This is the Gift of our Christian Faith!
We can’t see what lies ahead, but we fear no evil,
because we know who is there.

We need not be afraid; we have hope!

Every Mass is always offered for the dead,
and prayed in union with all the souls in purgatory.
Purgatory is “finishing school” for heaven
and we offer prayers and penances to help.
God purifies them like gold;
but they are safe in his hands.

We have Masses for the dead, and All Souls Day,
to be consoled by the confidence they aren’t gone;
they are only out of sight. They are ahead of us.

I just found this out recently—
do you know where dressing up for Halloween came from?
It came from France, in the 1500s,
and they did it on this day, All Souls Day.
The idea was to represent the procession of the Faithful,
at all the stages of their journey, from this life,
through death, hopefully to purgatory, finally to heaven!

This is our lives as Christians:
born again in baptism, we stay close to Christ,
with frequent confession, Mass, the sacraments.
My wise grandmother said it best:
being a Catholic can be a hard life—but an easy death!
When the saints go marching in,
we want to be in that number!

At every Mass, we “march” in a procession
at three points: at the beginning, the priest,
in our behalf, goes to kiss the altar;
then the people bring their gifts forward;
and then, after the Sacrifice,
we have a march of saints-in-training,
our hearts hungry for the Eucharist.

We join a long line that stretches through the ages;
it leads from this life, through the dark valley,
through purgatory, right to the throne of heaven!

This is why it is called communion—
it is the culmination of full union
with the entire body of Christ—
it is what those learning about the Catholic Faith seek:
union with the Catholic Church on earth,
union with those who are ahead of us, drawing us on.
They draw us forward to the Lord.

Addendum on Hallowe’en

(I decided to cut this out of my homily so it wouldn't be too long; but I thought readers of the blog would enjoy it.)

Our culture also tends to make death something dark and horrible.

Look at how what Halloween has turned into, all about “the dark side.” That’s a shame, because a lot of folks don’t know Halloween was originally, completely Christian, not pagan at all. It started simply as the celebration the night before All Saints’ Day.

Why did people wear costumes? This is something I didn’t know: it actually came from today, All Souls, in France in the 1500s, as a way to remember the dead.

The origin of “trick or treat”? That came from England, from the time when Catholics were persecuted, anti-Catholics would visit Catholic homes and ask for a treat—beer and cakes!—or else they’d face a “trick.”**

In a way, all we’re doing is the game kids play: I say “boo!”; you jump; you chase me around, and hopefully we end up laughing.

* Yes, I did wear a black vestment at St. Boniface; St. Mary has no black vestments, so I will wear purple.

** The footnote fell off when I uploaded this to the blog; this information came from Rev. Augustine Thompson, O.P., who posted an article at Beliefnet about this. As I add this note, I don't have that citation handy; I'll come back and post it when I get a chance.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Anniversary of Dedication of St. Boniface

This weekend, we celebrated the anniversary of the dedication of St. Boniface Church in October, 1865.

The readings differed from the regular lectionary, as this is a solemnity for our parish. I chose a passage from 1st Kings, recounting King Solomon's prayer as his temple is dedicated; Psalm 84, with the refrain, "Here, God lives with his people"; the Epistle was from 1st Peter, about the Living Stone that is Christ, and we are also the living stones with which Christ is building his Church; the Gospel was the meeting of Zacchaeus with the Lord as told by Luke, which I chanted at 10:30 am.

We had incense and the bell choir at 10:30 am, and began Mass with "Laudate, Laudate Dominum!" a very nice chant with English verses. Scroll down the links column to "Laus Deo" to see all the music. I chanted most of the prayers, including the Roman Canon.

I am sorry I don't have the text of my homily, but my principal points were:

> Solomon was right--God did not dwell in the temple; I described the layout of the temple and the ark of the covenant, containing the tablets of the 10 Commandments and the jar of Manna--and those have disappeared; but we have the Word made Flesh and the Bread of Life in our tabernacle--God truly does dwell here!

> These are difficult times, we are concerned about the parish, the economy, the city, the nation and the future. Recall when this church was built: the 1860s, dedicated 1865. What was our nation going through? Only our worst crisis, the War Between the States! How many parents cried over sons that would never come home? How much wealth was consumed by a destructive war? Our forebears had less than we did--and yet, they built this church. They made an act of faith, in God and in those who would follow--in us.

> Each generation has built on what they did, and we are doing the same. Some requests are out for funds, including to restore our windows--will you pray for success of that? We are making an act of faith in those who will come after us.

> We might wonder, why did God put us here--in this place, in these times? Because as St. Peter said, we are called to make Christ present. This building, strong as it is, can fall; but Christ will never fail, and we, bound together by the Holy Spirit, will not fall! We are here to be Christ to those in pain, those in need, especially in the months ahead. That's why we're here; and Christ has, as it were, made an act of faith in us!

> At 4 pm Mass, I cited Zacchaeus caring for the poor as something we can do in this community--maybe that's why we're here--but I neglected to repeat that point this morning.

Friday, October 24, 2008

A swinging night in Piqua

Wednesday night was a great night for the City of Piqua, and I had the privilege of being there.

Over the past few months, the city has been renovating and restoring the old Fort Piqua Hotel, a massive edifice in the center of the city, built in 1891, but which fell on hard times some years back, and finally sat unused and decaying for the last few years. For years people have debated what to do. The cost of simply tearing it down would have been substantial, and no one really liked that idea, but the cost of doing something else always seemed too great.

Well, the city finally pulled together enough money--about $20 million!--from federal and state funds, and private funds, to redo it top to bottom. The plan was to relocate the city library there, and rent space on the first floor for a restaurant and a coffee house, and have the ballroom and other meeting space available for rent.

Sunday, the ribbon was cut, and fireworks exploded over the city. Wednesday night, we had a gala celebration, featuring the Glenn Miller Orchestra (under new leadership) and a duo that carries on the tradition of the Mills Brothers--who, you may not realize, were from Piqua.

I was at this black-tie celebration, in a packed ballroom, along with lots of my fellow Piquans, including many of the upper crust as you might imagine. It was a very nice event, and I'm grateful for being provided a ticket.

One striking thing was that almost no one danced! If I weren't a priest, I certainly would; although the Jitterbug is the one dance I never mastered, I always managed to improvise. A bunch of high schoolers were there, splendid in tuxes and evening gowns--they were there as go-fers and helpers--but most of them didn't dance either! Too bad, because this was some of the best music ever composed for dancing. Someone told me the dance floor up front was pretty crowded with tables, and that could be, I was sitting in the back.

The ballroom at the Fort Piqua Plaza (that's what it's called now that it's no longer a hotel) will be the site of a Roast and Toast in honor of Father Angelo Caserta, on December 7, 2008, from 6-9 pm, in celebration of his 90th birthday and 64 years of priesthood. It will be a fundraiser to benefit repairs and restoration of St. Boniface Church and Piqua Catholic School. The tickets are $100, only 320 will be available, and many have already been purchased, so if you are interested, send a request for tickets to:

"Roast and Toast for Father Caserta"
c/o St. Boniface Parish
310 South Downing Street
Piqua Ohio 45356