Sunday, January 27, 2008

Catholic Schools Week (Sunday homily)

This is Catholic Schools Week.
We highlight, first of all, the importance of simply sharing our Faith.
We just heard St. Paul say it wasn't he who was crucified for anyone, but Jesus Christ.
People were forming factions: "I am for Paul"; "I am for Apollos."

Today, it might be, "I am for Piqua Catholic"; "I am for homeschooling"; "I am for the public school." But we all have the same task: to share our Faith, starting with our own children.

Yes, during Catholic Schools Week, we do highlight the great resource we have in Piqua Catholic and Lehman High schools. After all, this involves sacrifice on the part of many, including the parish as a whole.

Will you forgive me if I point out a few reasons why our parish supports a Catholic grade school and high school? This is not to say anything negative, but to give reasons why we do what we do.

I cite a study by Georgetown University, which had interesting conclusions:

> 44% of Catholics who attend a Catholic high school graduate from college, while the figure is 28% for those attending a public school.

> Those who attend a Catholic high school are more likely, later in life, to say they would never leave the Catholic Church, and to say that Faith and prayer are high priorities.
Again, it gives a boost.

> Young men attending a Catholic school are more than twice as likely to consider a vocation as a priest, and the same for young women regarding a religious vocation.

That said, I stand before you, a priest, who attended only three years of Catholic education.
And I did leave the Church at age 19--and I did come back, in case you are wondering.
So it's not all one way. The point is, if the parish can give you, parents, a boost, a help--that's what it's all about.

We have a religious education program, with volunteers who deserve our thanks; we have programs from pre-K to grade 12 on Sunday mornings and evenings.
Our youth program didn't exist three years ago; now it's drawing interest from all over.

This is a good place to thank Sherry and Shawn Evans, and Kris and Dennis Pax, who are heading up the Seven Dollar a Month Club for both parishes. This raises funds for our religious education and youth programs. I finally sent in my check yesterday, so it's not too late for you!

In all these ways, we are doing what the Scriptures described: piercing the gloom with the light of Jesus Christ!

I come back to where Catholic education starts: in the home, even before the children are born. Studies say children begin to recognize their parents' voices in the womb. So for all that the parish can do to help, Catholic education is all about you, parents.

So, for example, we have families who send their children to a Catholic school, but don't bring them to Mass on Sunday; the same thing happens with our religious education program. That seems to me an odd choice.

I say it again: don't ever hesitate to bring even the youngest to Mass; they grow into it!
And if someone gives you the stink-eye, you give it right back!

The Mass is really where it all comes together. Vatican II reminded us that the Mass is "the source and summit" of our Faith. the more we discover what happens at Mass--and who is acting at Mass, that is, Jesus Christ--then we understand why this is the center of our Faith.

Any of the educators of our parishes, who are in our Catholic or public schools, will tell you, after all the studies and methods, what brings it all together in the mind and heart and soul of a child is still very much a mystery.

And when we set reason in the larger context of faith--which we do as Catholics--it's even more mysterious.

Just why did Peter and Andrew, James and John, drop everything and follow Jesus?
Was it a persuasive argument? A move of the heart? An impulse they couldn't explain? A miracle of grace? Or, maybe it was all that rolled together?

The lessons we teach, and the example we provide, and the choices we make, ultimately lead us here: to Jesus, the Light casting out gloom; to the One we abandon all to follow.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Just touching base...

I am back from the March for Life, and perhaps I'll post something about it, but last night I was too tired, and I have had a busy day in the office today.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

No blogging till Wednesday

...because I'm headed to Washington, D.C., very early tomorrow, for the March for Life. I'm flying, and unless I change my mind, I don't plan to bring my laptop--I don't need it.

Our bishops have declared Jan. 22 a day of fasting and prayer for reparation of sins against human life. I hope everyone will join with this time of prayer and action, in whatever fashion you can, either by coming if you can, or joining a demonstration or prayer vigil somewhere, attending Mass, making sacrifices, and praying.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Light to the Nations (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, the Father said to the Son,
“I will make you a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus Christ is doing that through his Church.
That makes each of us bearers of his light.

As I prepared this homily
I thought of how Father Rick used to use props, like this (pulling out a candle).

And I thought, “maybe the ushers could pass out candles?”
Then I thought, “oh, the Ladies of St. Clara won’t like paying for that!”

Then I thought of the Vigil of Easter.
At the beginning of Mass, the church is pitch-black,
and the deacon or priest crosses the threshold
with the towering Easter Candle, singing, “Christ, our Light.”
And as he comes forward, the church becomes brilliant
as each receives the light of Christ.

That’s our role in the world.
There’s a lot of pessimism,
and you and pierce that gloom with Christian hope.

Consider the current interest in the environment, which is a good thing.
But there are different messages, based on different mindsets.
Some efforts include God, others leave him out.

A more secular approach sees nothing special about humanity,
even going so far as to see people as the problem—their solution is fewer…of us!

This idea has been around for a long time.
With our tax dollars, Planned Parenthood goes all over the world,
passing out contraception and opening up abortion chambers.
To them, people are the problem.

Aside from the not-very-subtle racism
of wealthy white countries telling poor nations
with darker skins, “there are too many of you”…
is the simple fact that this is not true!

Our world has abundant resources.
But, too often, governments, ideology,
and special interests, get in the way.
A quick example: many poor nations aim to become less-poor
by selling us their goods.
But special interests block that through trade barriers.
So, those people stay poor; and we send billions in food aid,
and we tell them, “there are too many of you,”
and in case trouble breaks out, we sell them weapons.

Our Christian response is a message of hope.
People are not the problem;
people are why God created this world.
We affirm life!

This week we keep a sad vigil.
Tuesday is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Here’s another false choice.
The Court took the view that the dignity of women
depends on denying the dignity of unborn children.
That not only pitted mothers against their own hearts,
but it pitted men against women.
It is men who often pressure the woman saying,
“take care of that, or I’ll leave.”

That decision injected poison
into the relations of men, women and children,
at the very core of our society.

That’s why we Catholics
cannot and will not ever make peace
with Roe v. Wade or abortion on demand.

Our bishops declared Tuesday a day of mourning, of fasting, prayer, and action.
Our response is a message of healing and hope.
We refuse to choose between women and children:
we choose both!
We reject the idea that you lift people up
by pushing others down.

Our courage to do what we need to do
comes from the Holy Spirit,
who remained in the world through Jesus,
And he remains, still, through his Body, the Church.

If each of us is a light,
then the flame of that light is the Holy Spirit.
How brightly do we want to shine?
How much warmth do we want to offer?

That depends on how well we respond—with our lives—to Christ.
How much do we want Him to change us?

Here we are at Mass:
as far as God’s grace for the world,
this is Grand Central Station.
Here Christ offers himself, as Servant, to the Father.
He says, “Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.”
His whole life—the Cross—the Mass: that’s what it is.

How do we respond?

This is what it means to share the Eucharist.
We come to communion,
if we belong to him, in baptism and in his Church,
and, if we are ready to say,
not just with a word, but with our lives:
“Here am I Lord, I come to do your will.”

Ad Orientem

Ad Orientem*

The question of celebrating Mass ad Orientem has, and for most Catholics, remains, "under the radar." But the decision by Pope Benedict XVI to offer Mass ad orientem, on the Baptism of the Lord, in the Sistine Chapel, now makes this a subject that needs wider discussion.

Now, what is ad orientem? Translated from Latin, it means "to the East." What it means is the posture of the celebrant at Mass during most of the Mass, when he is not facing the people. It does not mean facing geographical East necessarily, although that is a bonus, for reasons I'll explain; but rather, it means facing "liturgical east" --toward the Lord, whose resurrection and return have always been associated with the East.

For example, Christians have traditionally been buried with their feet toward the East, in symbolic anticipation of the Resurrection; and I have asked, and apparently this custom is still widely followed; I don't know, but I won't be surprised to find out the cemeteries and grave-diggers don't know the origin--but I haven't asked.

Now, you will most often hear this posture referred to as, "the priest with his back to the people." Well, that's accurate to some degree but unhelpful. How often do we refer to us having our backs to each other? Even in "churches in the round," a good number of people sit with their backs to people behind them; yet no one seems to think this is somehow a slight from one to the other; and the reason is because we are concerned with what we're turned toward--i.e., toward the Lord. So why is it that we all understand the need for everyone in church to be turned toward the Lord...except for the one leading our worship, offering the Sacrifice for us, in our name, with our participation?

Now, some will say, rightly, that we are all focused on the altar; but if we press the point, then we're conceding we want the priest focused on the altar...not the assembly. Is that right? And if that is what we really want, then we've hit on the very reason this issue matters.

Let's begin with an obvious point: the priest, the people, all of us are human; I mean, we're prone to human weakness. So, in our worship, we make allowance for human weakness, human needs, human ways of understanding, and human limitations. In the seminary, this--stated a different way--was called "the Sacramental Principle": God communicates with us in a fashion suited to our needs and limitations.

Well, here's the difficulty: when the people and the priest are facing each other at various points of the Mass, the most natural thing is that we look at each other. That is just plain common sense. On the other hand, it is rather difficult, although not impossible, that people can face each other, and not each other.

So, for example, there are people who watch me purify the vessels at the altar after communion. While it is edifying--if they realize what it means--I don't see why it is something anyone should feel the need to observe; and yet they do, because the priest is "doing something." Something in us is distracted by that. That's just human. I.e., the time of silent prayer, after communion, is probably more reflective if the priest is sitting or kneeling; which, when time is not an issue, I do after the purification. But when the clock is ticking, or a baby is screaming, then I move Mass to a conclusion.

Now, for some, the reason they like the priest facing the assembly is that they want to see what he's doing. At St. Boniface, I have put six tall candles on the altar, along with a crucifix, on the altar between the people and the priest, at the suggestion of the holy father. One parishioner said it is harder to see what I'm doing.

In reality, one can easily see in between the candles, and in any case, except where someone is not Catholic, or uncatechized, we know what the priest is doing. And really, very little of what I do physically is obscured: I put bread on the altar, I put wine on the altar--the mixing of water in the wine, and the handwashing, are done at the side and still visible. When I extend my hands over the bread and wine, that too would be partly obscured; but the elevations of the Body and Blood are lifted high enough for you to see! So it's not that people would miss much of what I'm doing--they can still hear me pray the prayers after all, and respond--but rather, that they wouldn't see my face as I do it.

I do not mean to dismiss what is positive about that: the priest is, after all, alter Christus; he makes Christ present in a unique way. But I would point out that where Mass is offered ad orientem, the priest is facing the people at many points of the Mass, precisely where this makes perfect sense: when showing the Gospel Book and then proclaiming the Gospel; when preaching; and he turns toward the people at several points (but not all) when in dialogue with the assembly.

If we view this negatively--"he's turned his back on us"--we miss some positive meanings: "we're facing the same way; we're in this together."

Now, we might compare these alternate approaches in the liturgy, and look for comparisons with ordinary life. When do we tend to be facing the same way as a leader? When we're going somewhere together. When do we tend to be faced by the leader? Some TV shows, lectures, classrooms. Perhaps you can supply, in the comments, more comparisons that might shed light: but note, none of these is necessarily more "active" or "passive"; and if you say, but the people in Church are not in motion as those walking would be, I would point out that, in fact, the Mass does call for the assembly to be "in motion" from the beginning of Mass to the end.

There was a trend for awhile of situating the celebrant's chair in the front row of the assembly; while this is contrary to what the Mass calls for, isn't it interesting what this meant: that the priest would, during Mass, sit...with his back to the people! Yet where did this come from? The Dark Ages before Vatican II? Nope; it was precisely an innovation to carry out the "new spirit" of Vatican II. Yet when the Mass actually encourages a similar posture at the altar, somehow this is seen in the opposite light. I think this is due greater reflection, without polemics.

See, this is going to be a touchy subject; because there are a number of Catholics who will be surprised by all this; it won't track with what they think Vatican II and its aftermath were all about (because in many cases, it won't track with what they were told), it will upset some, it will delight others, it will puzzle still others, it will occasion a lot of questions, and it will need a lot of explaining--since folks who may not be partisans about this will sensibly ask, "why?

My firm hope is that our holy father himself plans to talk more about this subject; I feel very confident he will offer Mass publicly in this fashion again. If he does not, that would be unhelpful in prompting the discussion that is needed. But if he continues, then we can correct the mistaken belief that Vatican II "did away with that" (in fact, Vatican II said not a single, solitary word about this subject), and that, therefore, a priest is not allowed to offer Mass ad orientem.

I was just reviewing the Missal, and it's right there, in red print: at various points of the Mass, it notes when the priest "faces the people"; why would the Missal highlight this if, as so many assume, the Missal expects him to be facing the people throughout? Rather, what the actual rubrics of the Mass say (as opposed to what people and even priests think they say) -- or, rather, don't say -- is which way the priest is facing at most of these moments, leaving the matter open. But at certain points, the priest is told he must face the people; meaning, obviously, he may--or may not--at the other times. It's all very clear, all one has to do is actually read the Missal.

I have found it shocking and distressing that at least some folks in the pews do not consider the pope's wishes and guidance on these matters to be of overriding importance. This came up as I have introduced a bit of Latin (my critics would not call it a "bit"--but anyone who cared to compare the ratio of Latin to English words used in our Masses here would find I am right; they are reacting to Latin per se, not to its quantity); when people asked why, I cited the Second Vatican Council and Popes Paul, John Paul II and Benedict; to which came the response, from some: who cares? One parishioner accused me of worshipping the pope.

Now, in fairness, in one homily, I said that some had told me they didn't care about Vatican II, and that drew audible gasps from the assembly; and when I was installed as pastor, at each parish, part of the ritual is that the pastor publicly swears--on the Gospels--that he will teach and celebrate the mysteries faithfully. That was very well received. (If you have never seen that ritual, it may be because it doesn't have to be done publicly; but in this diocese, a pastor must make this oath.) So I am confident most parishioners reject this mindset; but it's out there.

So, this will require quite a lot of discussion and explanation--which is why I'm posting this. I know many parishioners read this and I want to get people reflecting on this.

It is necessary to say that I have no immediate plans actually to offer regularly scheduled Masses ad orientem; I think it would be best for all concerned that any change such as that be discussed, explained, and handled without too much abruptness; and given all else that is going on in our parishes, I just don't know when the right time will be for any of that. So those who think I'm up to something, well, I'm showing my cards right now. After all, I didn't make the pope do what he did; and when the pope acts, it means something! So I am inviting reflection on, and consideration of, what the pope is teaching us. But I do think there will come a time it would be good to try this. When, where, how? I have no idea. I am trying to proceed calmly, I hope others will observe the same approach.

* Sorry for the second headline. For some reason, on my laptop, the main headline doesn't appear, but it does on my office computer. Since others may be similarly affected, I did this to have a headline for everyone. Sometimes blogger acts goofy.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Will you bless God's People with Peace (Homily for Baptism of the Lord & Vocations)

Now, today, we recall Jesus came to be baptized.
Picture the scene:
Here is John, baptizing;
on the shore, a line of people, waiting;
and here comes the Son of God:
He gets into line with all the sinners!

This is the next chapter of the Christmas Story:
God becomes man; he is revealed to the nations;
and now, the God-man comes to stand with us.

When God—human like us—comes where we are,
It means we humans are invited to be where God is!

As we prayed in the psalm:
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.”

Today, also, we call attention to vocations,
As deacons and priests, as sisters and brothers.
And you might wonder, what’s the connection?

When Jesus came to be baptized,
he accepted the challenge
of what the Father sent him to do.

He had already chosen it before time began;
Now, he chooses it again;
and he will choose it once more, the night before he dies.

We all go through that.
If we were baptized as a child,
we later choose to make the Faith our own.
Some of us drift—but then comes a moment
when our Faith matters more to us.

Maybe in high school or college we have tough questions.
When we think about marriage, or our first child arrives,
and you realize you want your children to have faith;
and you ask yourself, “what do I really believe?”

It’s a funny thing; some people believe
that being a priest, a brother or sister,
is somehow harder than being a husband or a wife.

In many ways, they mirror each other.

A priest can’t be much of a priest
unless he comes and offers himself to the Father,
and to God’s people, just as Jesus did in today’s Gospel.
But a husband is no husband, a wife is no wife,
unless they do just the same.
This dying to self blesses a marriage with peace.

Now, some people can’t get past the celibacy thing.

Our society is messed up on this subject;
we know how it damages the priesthood;
but it also damages marriages.
Any man who enters marriage
thinking he isn’t going to die to self,
particularly in this area of sexuality,
is in for a rude awakening.

When a spouse goes on a business trip;
or is far away in the military,
and there you are—you have to remain faithful,
despite opportunities, and the desire to be with someone.

What do you say, wives and husbands?
“No thank you—I have someone I’m waiting for.”

When you meet a brother, or a priest, and you say,
“why don’t you get a partner, a spouse?”
We answer the same:
“No thank you—I have Someone I’m waiting for.”

Celibacy reminds the world that Heaven is real,
it is where our true hope lies.
And most people get this on an intuitive level.

That’s why something lifts us up simply by meeting
a priest, a sister or a brother.
A little bit of heaven enters our ordinary life,
and we experience hope.
So, during Vocations Week,
I simply want to give the invitation:
Do you want to be that person—
that deacon, that sister,
who lifts this world up to the Father?
Will you bless God’s People with peace?

Parents, grandparents:
do you want your children to be that sister or priest?
I say this because it is family life
where the seeds are planted and nourished…or not.

At the end of Mass, the ushers—
helped by the Knights of St. John,
and Knights of Columbus—
are going to pass our these prayer cards for vocations.
I ask everyone to pray faithfully for vocations.

The back of the card says,
“there are rarely trumpets or midnight visions.”

But if, when the priest offers Mass—
or when see how our sisters share faith and life—
and something in you responds…that’s the call!

A moment ago, I said that marriage, and priesthood,
are mirrors of each other.
We see this particularly at Mass.
Mass is when all that Christ did for us,
all that he is for us, is summed up;
it is summed up in the Cross:
everything for you; I give my life for you.

That is what a sister says in her vows;
It is what a priest becomes when he is ordained;
and it is what a couple declares on their wedding day.

Then…you live it, day-by-day!
We all live the Cross…or we’re sterile and empty.

But realize, we can only have the Eucharist,
because he died—he gave everything for us.
And we can only have the Eucharist,
Because we have priests who do the same.

And to make a difference, you must do the same!

When we come to share the Eucharist,
This is what we choose:
not just to receive, but to become:
Life-givers; Christ-bearers;
Thus does the Lord bless his people with peace.

'Piqua Porn'

Someone googled "piqua" and "porn" and ended up here!

Well, this had to be quite a disappointment, but...I hope you find something worthwhile here!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

After New Hampshire...

Hilary's back! It was premature to count her out, and I agree with Paul the Regular Guy that abortion is a huge issue for Democratic activists who turn out for primaries. Hilary Clinton raising that issue against Obama may well explain her resurgence. But also: Clinton had "the Machine"--meaning she may well have done a better job on getting out the vote. And, maybe some women voters realized if they didn't vote for Hilary this time, she was on her way out. Finally, some are speculating about the "Wilder Effect"--referring to how the former governor of Virginia, Douglas Wilder, who was the first black governor of the Old Dominion, polled way better than his actual election results; the inference being that people will tell a pollster they will vote for the African-American candidate, but they don't actually pull the lever for him.

What about Hilary's tears? I don't care to accuse Hilary of calculation (since everyone else has, what can I add?), but I do think they help her. When you are routinely called "Ice Queen," "Iron Maiden," and "Lady MacBeth," among the nicer epithets, maybe you can afford a little softening.

Again, I wonder which the GOP would rather oppose, Obama or Clinton? My question for you: if you knew the Democrats would win the White House, which would you rather see get it, of these choices?

McCain's Back! This is truly remarkable, but it tells me how weak the GOP field is. At this point, it's a three-man race; Thompson hasn't done anything yet, but we'll see if he has any juice in South Carolina; ditto for Giuliani in Florida. Meanwhile, Ron Paul, the happy warrior, is right where he wants to be.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Danke Gott für einen Deutschen Papst!

Danke The Catholic Report for the link to Per Christum where this picture, plus a blessing of beer, appears.

If you don't know Him now...(Sunday homily)

I never use anyone else’s sermons;
I always prepare my own homilies.

But I found a quote,
from the novelist, Flannery O’Connor.
I thought I’d share it with you for this Feast Day.

In her novel, “The Violent Bear it Away,”
Flannery O’Connor describes a 12-year old girl,
Preaching in a ramshackle, store-front church.

Here’s part of what she said;
I invite you to listen and reflect on these words:

“God told the world he was going to send it a king
and the world waited.

“The world thought,
a golden fleece will do for His bed.
Silver and gold and peacock tails,
a thousand suns in a peacock's tail
will do for His sash.
His mother will ride on a four-horned white beast
and use the sunset for a cape.
She'll trail it behind her over the ground
and let the world pull it to pieces,
a new one every evening.

“Jesus came on cold straw,
Jesus was warmed by the breath of an ox.

“‘Who is this?’ the world said.
‘Who is this blue-cold child and this woman,
plain as the winter?

“‘Is this the Word of God, this blue-cold child?
Is this His will, this plain winter-woman?’

“The world said, ‘Love cuts like the cold wind
and the will of God is plain as the winter.
Where is the summer will of God?
Where are the green seasons of God’s will?’

“They had to flee into Egypt….

“You and know what the world hoped then.
The world hoped old Herod would slay the right child
[and] wouldn’t waste those [other] children….

“He didn’t get the right one….

“Jesus grew up and raised the dead…
and the world shouted, ‘Leave the dead die!
What do we want with the dead alive?’

“[T]hey nailed Him to a cross
and run a spear through His side
and then they said,
‘Now we can have some peace,
Now we can ease our minds.’

“And they hadn’t but only said it
when they wanted him to come again.
Their eyes were opened
and they saw the glory they had killed.

“‘Listen world,’” O’Connor’s young evangelist cried out.
“Jesus is coming again!
Will you know the Lord Jesus then?

“If you don’t know Him now, you won’t know Him then.”

Who is that blue-cold child?
Who is that woman, plain as the winter?

If you don’t know him now, you won’t know him then.

Political musings

As you know, I have some interest in politics, having worked in politics for many years before choosing to enter the seminary. I follow the presidential contest with interest, as do many others.

I learned, from my work in politics, never to make predictions; because predicting what will happen is, to my thinking, no more than an educated guess, and if it proves right, it's more a matter of "luck" than predictive skill. Why do I say that? Because a prediction must presuppose certain other things that no one, but God, can know will happen. So when these pundits get asked about their predictions not coming true, they will cite the event that made it go awry, as if that somehow let's them off the hook; my comment to them would be, but if you're so smart, why didn't you foresee that and many other things might have happened, and not made the prediction in the first place? I.e., what's the real value of your prediction, other than to make you look smart if you happen to be right?

So...what follows are not predictions!

About the Iowa results...

I won't hazard too many guesses about what happens next for Sens. Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton. Obviously Obama has a great advantage, and I agree that his victory was a historic day; but then, folks would have said that had Clinton won: first woman, rather than first black candidate. In case you missed it, Rush Limbaugh observed, Thursday night, that the media was making so much of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee's triumph in the GOP caucuses, because they wanted to downplay how negative this was for Clinton--i.e., they're rooting for her. Interesting.

I found interesting the claim that a significant number of GOP voters caucused with Democrats, and supposedly went for Obama; I wonder if that's true, and if it is, I wonder why. Of the two, Clinton is somewhat less liberal; she is more hawkish, and between them, I would expect her to be tougher as president in war policy--I suspect she will believe she has to be, if only to prevent any nation or terror group to think she'll be a pushover "because she's a woman." I may be wrong, but I don't see why a President Hilary Clinton would want that. I rather think she'd prefer people say, "hmm, don't wanna mess with her"--and I'd think the first one who thinks it amusing to test her, may take quite a beating, if only to send a message to everyone else.

So why would GOP voters caucus for Obama? Would they prefer to run against him, over Hilary? Hard to see that. For one thing, it might not be so comfortable attacking "Mr. History" (i.e., the first black man in history to be nominated by either party for president); but Hilary's teflon is long worn off, and the "don't beat up on a girl" line isn't going to work in the general election any better than it has in the primaries. Of course, there is the obvious reason for GOP voters to caucus for Obama: they like him better than any GOP candidate. In which case, folks, that's a bad sign for the GOP this fall, and folks better start paying attention to Congress.

What about former Senator John Edwards? Does he start going after Obama now? If what you're selling is "I'm not Hilary," then Obama sells that better. Now Edwards needs to sell, "I'm not Barak" better than Hilary, who keeps say, "risky, scary, hmmm." (And, I have to say--between them, I think Hilary probably would handle a crisis better than Barak. Edwards--the Breck Girl, as Anne Coulter styled him? Gimme a break!)

As far as Kucinich, Richardson, and Gravel? I will stick my neck out and predict they won't be president this year...

Moving on to the GOP...

Hard to deny Huckabee his triumph, although I wasn't surprised, given what was being reported; I'm surprised others are surprised -- and that tends to validate Limbaugh's theory, that the media's surprise is a bit insincere. Hard to see how this helps former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, but maybe he really can win it all later. Reports are, McCain is surging in New Hampshire, so we'll see. If former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney loses two in a row, that makes it pretty tough for him. And former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson? Columnist Fred Barnes called him a "dead man walking, politically speaking." I'm not so sure; but the fact that a lot of people can win does not change the brutal fact that still, one--and only one--actually will. So however winsome they all look, they are all, still, "losers" except for one. These guys spinning their poor showings all remind me of what I say, playing Euchre, and I'm down 9 points to one, rubbing my hands together: "ah, now I've got you right where I want you!"

I do agree with those pundits who said, now Huckabee needs to broaden his appeal. He's doing well, it seems to me, on the strength of his stance on prolife, so-called "gay marriage," and related issues. The anti-tax, anti-big-government Club for Growth has gone after him, and that will count more against him, if he's still in, but others drop out. He has the advantage of having opponents who may not be so convincing on that issue: McCain opposed Bush's tax cuts, Romney is unconvincing because he has had too many conversions on other issues, and for all that Giuliani has going for him on taxes and spending, he's still the former mayor of New York City! for heaven's sake--meaning, people for whom taxes and spending are the number-one issue know that NYC isn't a hotbed of small government thinking.

I haven't checked, but I'll be curious to know how the GOP candidates answered the survey from Right to Work: Iowa is a Right to Work state, meaning workers cannot be forced to pay union dues. My guess is Huckabee answered 100% right, and Thompson should have; McCain probably did, unless they asked him about freedom-of-speech issues, where he's bad because of his so-called "campaign finance reform" law. I'd be pleasantly surprised if either Romney or Giuliani even answered their Right to Work candidate surveys. Maybe one of my Right to Work friends will post and give the information?

Final thought...we keep hearing about how this year, we'll have a "brokered convention" for the GOP. This is when I wish the host on these talking-head shows would respond, "given the predictions you just made, let's see how your past predictions have borne out..." But they'll never do it, because then none of these pundits would go on the air!

This "brokered convention" prediction (i.e., the convention would begin without any candidate already having a clear majority, and so, supposedly, "anything could happen!") would be one of the most embarrassing: it comes up again and again. The real story is the pundits and political junkies (who fill in for the big-name pundits during the off hours of these talk-a-thons) are projecting: they'd love a "brokered convention"...why wouldn't they? I know my own: political junkies (I'm somewhat reformed) want this to go on, and on, and on. It's like how some baseball fans go ga-ga when the game goes into extra innings.

Yes, it could happen; but 'tain't likely. Hasn't happened since...not even sure when. Closest convention was the 1976 GOP convention, when Reagan had hopes of denying President Gerald Ford the nomination, but the fact remains, Ford entered the convention with a majority; Reagan thought it might be possible to undo it, and he tried; and it might have worked. My point is, it still didn't. Very unlikely to happen now.

Some thoughts on Epiphany

As I prepare for the Feast of the Epiphany, here are some stream-of-consciousness thoughts, you may find interesting, and may wish to comment upon.

In the Roman Rite, it seems Epiphany is an anticlimax. A lot of that is the culture, and the mindset it encourages. But it's also true that traditionally, Western Christianity has placed more emphasis on Christmas Day, while the East has made more of Epiphany.

Certainly that's true liturgically. All the "bells and whistles" are for Midnight Mass on Christmas.

Also, you may have noticed certain parallels in the Church's liturgical year: Advent has a number of similiarities to Lent; you have two Octaves, one at Christmas, one at Easter; you have Good Friday, then a kind of mini-Good Friday six months later: the Triumph of the Cross; you have Holy Thursday, then 40 days later, Corpus Christi.

So, you have, in the Easter Octave, the 1st day is really big--with its late-night beginning--then the end of the Octave is not as big a deal, i.e., "Low Sunday" as it was traditionally known, now "Divine Mercy Sunday." With Christmas, you could see that both in the actual Octave-Day, but also with Epiphany, which marks a 12-day period that is some ways parallels the Octave.

A side-note...does anyone know about any history or theologizing around the 12 days, i.e., making anything of that significance? I.e., the rationale for the Octave is that, for Christians, "the eighth day" is very significant: God created in six days; the seventh day is the day of rest; and in Christ, it becomes the day of resurrection; and the eighth day is the beginning of the new creation. Baptismal fonts (I still need one!) are often eight-sided.

But 12 days--has anyone theologized about that? How about this: 12 is the number of the Tribes of Israel, and our Lord came first to Israel--he was born in a Jewish family, in the family of Abraham and David; but with Epiphany--on the 12th day--he is revealed to the world, by way of the (presumably) Gentile magi, who have traditionally been depicted of different races--hence, standing in for all nations. In the Gospels, Our Lord talks about sending the Apostles first to the tribes of Israel, but then, "go to all the world" are his parting words. I can't believe I'm the first to make that connection; I probably read it somewhere but forgot just where.

Finally, I offer this question: do we Romans anticipate Epiphany on Christmas? I mean, do we, on Christmas Day, move immediately to what Epiphany is meant to commemorate--hence, making the day anti-climactic?

I suspect I do: my Christmas homilies tend to focus on what Christ's coming means to the world; where perhaps that might be more meaningful for Epiphany. Perhaps a Christmas homily could focus more narrowly on "God-became-man"...except the modern mind tends to respond, "and what's that mean to me?"

It's not going to make me rewrite my Epiphany homily, which I'll post later this evening, after I deliver it the first time at 4 pm Mass...but it's food for thought; discuss amongst yourselves.

Oh, and Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Thank you, Theotokos (Mother of God homily)

This feast honoring the Mother of God is the eighth day of Christmas--
the birth of the Savior is too great an occasion
to be contained in a single, 24-hour day;
so we have an "octave," an eight-day "day."

In our home, growing up, we had a tradition:
our birthday was also "mother's day"--
so we went and said "thank you" to mom.

That's what the Church does today.

The title, "Mother of God," translates the Greek,
Theotokos: "God bearer."
To this day, many of our Protestant friends
find fault with Orthodox and Catholics over this title.
The Church declared Mary

at the third ecumenical council in AD 431, in Ephesus.

But here's the thing: what made the bishops do that
was not a need to honor Mary, but to resolve a question about Jesus.
The issue was the two natures of Jesus:
He is both God and Man--but how? How does this work?

This is crucial because, if you keep his humanity, but lose his divinity,
he's no longer our Savior: we need God to save us.
But if you keep his divinity, but lose his humanity,
then he's no longer our savior; no longer God-with-us:
we're back to God, far away.

The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus
lose all meaning
if he is not both God and man.
Either it's God, play-acting at dying and rising;
or just another execution at the hands of the state.

A bishop Nestorius started this problem
when he argued that Mary is mother of only part of Jesus--
the human part.
But there's the problem: dividing Jesus into parts.

Think of it this way: suppose Jesus did as my family did,
and he came to his mom on his birthday, and said, "thank you"--
did only part of him say thank you?
Of course not!

Jesus did not have a dual personality.
It comes down to this: how committed is God to us?
His commitment is as total and irrevocable
as the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ.
Start pulling that unity apart, and where does that leave us?

So, the Church had to settle this--thus the ecumenical council.
St. Cyril of Alexandria was there, and here is his account:

"The whole population of the city, from earliest dawn until the evening,
stood around in expectation of the council's decision.
nd when they heard that the author of the blasphemies
had been stripped of his rank,
they all began with one voice to praise and glorify God."

When the bishops came out of the church,
the people led them in torch-light parades, swinging incense, and singing,
"Praised by the

We can imagine that, perhaps, Jesus as a boy,
came to say "thank you" to Mary on his birthday.
But he certainly says "thank you" through us, his Body.
That's what we do today.

Some thoughts on New Year's Day

New Year's Eve is the only event celebrated by the entire world.

New Year's Day shows the influence of: Christianity; the Church; and the state.

"A.D." always goes before the year. It stands for Anno Domini, which is Latin for "in the year of our Lord.

I don't go in for "common era," because I am a Christian, because everyone knows the dating is from the birth of Christ, so why try to pretend otherwise, and because while I assume most people who opt for "bce/ce" do so without any animus toward Christianity, some do opt for this language as a way to stick it to Christianity.

I haven't taken part in a New Year's Eve celebration for a few years; I'm not against it, but it doesn't do much for me. So I took the early Mass this morning, allowing the other priests to sleep in. I was still up till almost 1 am; even had I wanted to sleep, the neighbors were out in the street around midnight, banging pots and pans, and shooting off fireworks.

How do other nations celebrate New Year's Day? Too bad they don't have (U.S.) football, but I'm sure they don't feel terribly deprived.

In the old calendar of the Roman Rite, this day was the Circumcision of the Lord; so was there another day for the Theotokos?