Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bailout: the people won round 1...

Congratulations, we did it!

I was surprised when the bailout of financial institutions was voted down yesterday; I feared the fix was in.

But stay tuned...they are gearing up for round 2, and it'll be a battle.

Something amazing is happening, openly, right before our eyes: our elites have joined hands and are making common cause, against us, the people. You saw it today, if you watched the news: both candidates for president are almost shoulder-to-shoulder on this. The crowd in Washington were sure they could muscle this through Congress, and they were stunned when it was voted down. But be clear what's happening right now--they are figuring out how to muscle the 12 or so members of the House they need to switch. They realize they didn't bring big enough guns the last time; they are preparing to hit them hard, with whatever threats and or blandishments they think it will take to peel off enough votes.

There is another lesson here: did you notice that those who voted this down are Congressmen facing competitive races this fall? I.e., it matters to them that the people are so strongly against this. They fear being defeated! But who was happy to go along? Those Congressmen who either have secure districts--or who aren't running again.

Now consider this: what if we had term limits? A certain chunk of these folks would be term-limited, and thus free from fear of their constituents wrath. How do you think they'd have voted then? This is why I am oppose to term limits.

Meanwhile, keep steady. I realize folks are worried about the markets, and the economy, and I am as well. There are steps Congress can take that would help that doesn't need to involve buying up vast amounts of mortgages that we're told (please note this): aren't valued by anyone else, so they can't be sold, but the taxpayers have to do it; and, we're told, this transaction will end up making us money! Now, this can be true--but it makes me, and it should make you, very concerned. Above all, it's the stampede: now, now, don't think, don't question, just give us the money and the power, NOW!

Yes, the Dow went down a lot of points yesterday--that's scary. "The worst drop ever"--in raw numbers; but nowhere near as a percentage of the total. Remember the Depression of 1987? The Market dropped 25% in one day! The economy did fine, the markets recovered. And, note, today, the Dow picked up a third of that, which surprised many, but not me.

No, I'm not saying there's nothing to worry about. I think there are real problems. But if you go to the doctor because you're sick, you need him to find the real problem and treat that--and the worse your illness, the more you need him to get it right. Congress is not, in my judgment, getting at the source of the sickness, and therefore I have no confidence in the so-called solution.

What is the source of this problem? It's very plain: the government made it policy, starting many years ago, to push banks to offer loans to high-risk borrowers, to the point that they would be punished by the government if they didn't. This is what they call "sub prime" loans. Why did the government do this? Because it wanted to encourage lots more people to become homeowners, who for various reasons hadn't become homeowners. Now, some of those was because of racism and discrimination. But a lot of it was because, well, they had bad credit--they were bad risks. This started in the 1970s, and the years go by, the more this push continued, it only stands to reason the next group to be brought in would be more and more high-risk.

This is what the government-created corporations, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, were created to help do; and they took these mortgages and packaged them as "securities" and remarketed them; and as long as the prices of real estate kept rising, you could keep it going. If a bank lends you the entire amount to buy a house (remember those "no money down" deals being promoted in TV infomercials?), and you have lousy credit, you can pull it off pretty easily, if you can count on selling that house a year or two later--or even less--for 10% more.

But what happens when real estate prices stop rising--and worse--start dropping? It only takes a little slippage to cause a real problem. And that's where we are.

So here's the question: when did Congress propose doing anything about this government policy of pushing loans to uncreditworthy people? When did they rein in Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae? None of that was in the bailout.

There's more to be said, but others are saying it better than I am. I just want to renew my insistence that you be heard by your representatives and senators, and do it now!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What will you give up for the salvation of souls? (Sunday homily)

This was one of those rare times I prepare a homily without writing it out; so I can only give you a summary of what I said last night and today.

> I began with the second reading, Paul's powerful description of the central fact of our faith: God gave up all his "riches" and emptied himself, becoming human, and further emptying himself, embracing death for our salvation.

> We recall this in the Creed, and we bow at a certain point--"by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man"--and the reason we bow isn't because someone tells us to, but to express our profound awe and wonder at what we're saying in our Creed.

> But Paul says, "have this same attitude"--so in reflecting on this, the question struck me: what would we be willing to give up, to bring salvation to others?

> I am aware of all many do give up: your time to be part of the Mass; you bring others with you; you pray for them; your sacrifices for our parish and school. But the Son of God gave it all up--emptied himself--so is there more to do?

> If we knew, by giving something up, we could fill empty spots in church, we would do it, wouldn't we? What might those sacrifices be?

> One might be to give up a grudge--we make the first move to be reconciled to someone. We invite someone back. Not only tell people about RCIA, but take them along; bring people to the Bible Study, bring them to the chapel.

> Realize what Paul described in the reading is what happens in the Sacrifice of the Mass; we don't see it with natural eyes, but with eyes of faith. But that's what the Mass is. We can and should place our concerns, the people we're praying for, on the altar, so the Lord can lift them up to the Father in his great prayer.

> Realize also that in emptying himself, to make us rich--this is what he does in the Eucharist: all his wealth and glory is offered to us in the Eucharist! And Christ offers us a "deal," and here are the terms of this deal: He empties himself, of all his wealth, which he offers us, but we have to give something up: our sins, our self-will, our own way of doing things. We give up our poverty and he accepts that, and offers us his infinite glory and heaven. Wow! Wow!

> When we've received the Eucharist, the Mass soon comes to an end, and we are sent out: now we go and do as Christ did: we're rich in Christ, rich as can be, and we go into a world that is hungry for him. We go and empty ourselves.

What are we willing to give up, for the salvation of the world?

(Note: I used the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer.)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tell 'em to vote 'No' on 'the Bailout' -- and do it fast

I'm in Washington D.C., wrapping up my vacation; I stopped here to do a little business for a prolife cause I care about (look for NPLA in the links) and catch up with some friends. All the business about the markets and the astonishing Bush proposal to spend $700-plus billion on a bailout of troubled financial institutions hit while I was at the beach, and I had a lot of questions.

I still do; but what concerns me most is the idea that we're so up against it that we don't have time to ask questions about this, we should just go along like good sheep.

It's time to clean the Augean Stables in Washington D.C., and that's not what this is; this is, I think, an attempt to "manage" the problem and spray a lot of air freshener around.

If you care about this--and how in the heck can you not?--you darn well better contact your Congressman, and even more, your Senators, right away.

Why the Senate? Because it may take a filibuster, requiring 41 Senators, to slow this down enough to force the tough questions and give the people time to find out what's going on. You may recall, a few years ago, some folks were advocating wrecking the filibuster in order to get judges confirmed. I think a lot of folks are waking up to what a bad idea that was, and they should thank heaven it didn't go through.

I"m sure you'll wonder why I am against this; I don't have time to write more at this point. It may be that, with further reflection, I can see the logic of this; but I'm not seeing it right now. And, anyway, there's plenty being written about all this, you don't need me to explain it all--and I'm hardly a wiz on this stuff--I think think this is all a questionable deal, and I refuse to be stampeded.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Heading north to Virginia

Time for a quick post...

It's been lovely doing very little for a week here at Topsail Island, North Carolina. I did spend time at the beach, although less than you might suppose. I am one of those people who quickly sizzles in the sun--I get the highest "factor" sun goop and layer it on with a trowel. Laugh if you like, but if I don't put it on like frosting on a cake, I burn. My "tan" is a slightly dirtier shade of pale. Okay, so here's the thing: I go to the beach, I have to put on all that goop (at 6-2 and well-fed, I have a lot of real estate to keep track of); okay then, at some point, I want to go in the water; splash-splash, come out--time to put on more goop! Sit in the sun, bake for awhile, keep checking to see if another layer of sun-screen is in order. After awhile, back for a pit stop or a meal. This is a lot of trouble.

Well, someone back home gave me a good suggestion: get a beach umbrella! Good idea--so on the way down, I stopped at Wal-Mart: sorry, we don't have them this time of year, we get them in the spring. Next Wal-Mart had one, $14.95, so I bought one. When I arrived Monday afternoon, I trundled my beach umbrella, chair, towel, mini-cooler with snacks, plus sun-screen factor-kajillion in my pocket, over to the beach. I was set for the afternoon!

Only first I had to get that umbrella stuck deep enough in the sand--harder than I thought it would be. Then it turned out to be windy--the umbrella kept coming up.

Oh, and I did I mention the flies? These aren't your obsequious house flies--these bite!

The next day, I saw a couple of ladies with an umbrella that seemed cooperative--how do you do it? "Oh, you need one of these anchors"--she pointed at a plastic device around the base, stuck in the ground. They directed me to a store in town. So I got one that evening. Next day: I was armed with an anchor, plus some safari-strength bug repellant (I got the one with the highest quantity of "deet"--this stuff, called "REPEL/Sportsmen Max" is 40% Deet. Personally, I'd prefer 100% Deet, but that might kill me).

Now I have added to the ritual of slathering on the sun protection, finishing that off with a veneer of bug poison. Plus my umbrella. How did it work, you ask?

Well...it was windy again, so yes the anchor stayed anchored--but at one point, the wind pulled the umbrella out and off down the beach it went bouncing. I hadn't tightened the screw tight enough. When I did, then the problem was the umbrella getting turned inside out by the wind. So I turned the umbrella around, till it faced the wind and didn't get ruined--except that meant no longer turning it toward the sun.

Oh, and the flies? They loved "Sportsmen Max"! At first they would just hover, no doubt thinking, "uh oh, what's that I smell?" Until one of them actually landed, and called out to the others, "come on in boys--this stuff is great!" I kept spraying more on, even spraying the stuff directly on two flies who were having lunch on my ankle, bathing them in this stuff, and they wriggled around like it was the best high they'd ever had.

So, while I did swim in the ocean, and walked around a bit, I didn't spend a lot of time just sitting on the beach. Yes, it did occur to me that bringing snacks to the beach drew flies; so one time, I didn't bring snacks, and yes, the flies were somewhat discouraged. But then, one gets hungry or thirsty...

Anyway, I did enjoy myself, and I did enjoy walking on the beach, and when I could, sitting and contemplating the watery horizon. And I found myself gazing at the sea and the beach, and wondered about the past, thinking about what history transpired here during the war between the states; or about the settlers who arrived here 300 or so years ago, looking back across the same ocean, with nothing but wilderness to their backs, and every bit of civilization and comfort a long, long way away.

We are told that the ancients firmly believed the earth was flat; but aside from evidence of thoughtful people, very long ago, figuring out otherwise, one is stuck with this simple observation available to anyone: when you look out on the sea, you see not flatness, but a curve! Even if you didn't believe the earth was some sort of ball, you'd still have to believe the earth was some sort of "mound"--and wouldn't someone wonder how water could stay in that position, and not rush off to the sides to the lower places?

I mean, you can laugh at me for thinking this way, but my point is, I'm just observing what any ordinary person without any education other than lived experience could notice: the horizon is curved, and water always runs from a higher position to a lower position, and--if you walked a ways, or got on a boat, you never actually came to any change in the horizon other than land. The rounded edge always recedes. Surely anyone who took to a boat and sailed even 100 miles would have noticed this, and if even a bit thoughtful, would have deduced--at the minimum--that the world must be some sort of bowl, and we live on the outside of it. But "flat"? Only those who lived away from large bodies of water, and never met people who had seen large bodies of water, and also never walked about very far, could avoid such obvious, contradictory observations. And here's the thing--the people who wrote our Bible, and the early Greek and Roman philosohers--were not such untraveled people!

I really can't explain it, but here's the thing: I don't recall those who study the past, and tell us with certitude what those "credulous" people back then thought, raising these questions; which makes me wonder who really is credulous--the ancients, who gave us an intellectual inheritance we're still living off of, or the forgettable experts of later years?

Well, I have to finish cleaning up--the deal here is you pay little, but you have to clean your quarters, and I'm putting off the bathroom for last. Then I head to the Hampton Roads area of Virginia to meet some friends this evening, then to Northern Virginia to do the same there on Tuesday and Wednesday, then headed home.

Monday, September 15, 2008

'Mother of Sorrows' on the beach

I arrived at my week's destination earlier this afternoon: I'm spending a week on Topsail Island, North Carolina, at a nice place called the Christian Family Life Center, a Marianist ministry that is, alas, set to close down in a couple of months. The idea was to have a place for families to come and spend a week -- only a short walk from the beach! -- and have some fun activities, some spiritual activities (the place has a chapel) and not spend too much money.

Sounds great, doesn't it? Alas, it seems it hasn't been doing so well, so it will soon close. I am sad about it because I have been here twice, and found it a perfect spot: a beach nearby, a chapel, a kitchen, restaurants, quiet, calm. Maybe things could turn around in the next two months? Or maybe someone reading this would like to take over the ministry and make a go of it?

Right after I arrived, I hit the beach, and prayed the office to the sound of the waves breaking. I thought about the choice of psalms for the office to our Lady, and it hit me (and this may have been obvious to you long before me): the Church chooses passages that speak glowingly of the temple, and of Jerusalem, Zion, Israel, because of how they apply to Mary. And here's how: throughout the Old Testament, the Scriptures heap praise and veneration on the temple, on Jerusalem, and on the nation of Israel, insofar as they are the dwelling place of the Most High. So then, if the temple, or if Jerusalem, is holy and precious for that reason, how much moreso the woman who was a living tabernacle?

I offer this for my Protestant and Evangelical friends who hold back from honoring Mary, and yet will be well aware of the passages I mean. Just consider how Scripture depicts the utter holiness of the ark of the covenant, and you will understand why Catholics and Orthodox give Mary such great veneration.

I don't know if I will post much this week; I'm just so happy to have the parochial vicar be a wise and level-headed priest, and to have a staff that can handle things, so I don't have to worry about things back home. The parishes are never far from my thoughts and prayers, but it is good to get a bit of a rest.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Triumph of the Cross homily

In the first reading, the Lord sends “seraph” serpents: “seraph” means fiery.
Maybe that’s how it felt if you got bit by one.
The Lord sends fiery serpents as a punishment.
But stop and consider the sort of “punishment” this is.

If you’re out walking with a group,
and someone sees a snake, what happens?
Don’t you yell out, “Watch out: snake!”
Then what do you do?
Some of you will stay cool—you’ll walk away; others—you’ll run!
But the point is, you’d change direction.
That was the point: God’s People needed to change direction.

Of course, some people are hard-headed; and they got bit.
Even then, God provides a remedy:
a bronze serpent, nailed on a pole.
They only had to look at it; and it was portable—they brought it to you!

So notice: it is not we who close the distance between us and God;
it is God who always goes the extra mile,
and closes the distance between us.
He comes to us, to offer us healing.

A serpent mounted on a pole—it’s rather strange:
why would God do that?

Well, consider this.
Because it’s so strange, it would command attention.
Everyone would turn and look.

How about a man on a pole?
An innocent man, a good man, the best there ever was?
Beaten so badly it would make you throw up to see it.
And not just a man on a pole—but God!
“Behold the Man!” “Behold your God, O Israel!”

That commands the attention of the world!
“If I be lifted up,” Jesus said.

There’s another reason for putting a snake on a pole:
Everyone who got bit would recognize,
“this is about my situation—this is for me.”

And when someone suffering on the Cross—
Suffering wrongly, cruelly—
We can say, “God knows what I’m going through.”
A poor man, a powerless man—“God knows.”

But it’s also a warning: “change direction!”
The Cross is a rude reminder of what sin really is.
But remember: that man is on the cross
because other people put him there.
How much ugliness and suffering
in our world is exactly the same?

The past few weeks, a hurricane blew through Haiti,
through Florida, through Louisiana, and now Texas.
Haiti got hit the worst.
Yes, it’s true, Haiti got hit several times, but—
Even the one time was still worst for Haiti of all.
You know one reason why?
They’re poor—they don’t have our resources.
their shacks are made of garbage.
And one reason they’re poor
is the country is run by gangsters.

But here’s the thing: what do we do about it?
We sent an army half way around the world,
we’re pouring hundreds of billions into rebuilding Iraq.
But poor Haiti, lies at our door like Lazarus at the gate.
We step over Haiti every time we go all over the world--
poor Haiti doesn’t have anything we care about.
Haiti is on its cross not only because of the cruelty of some,
but also the neglect of everyone else.

Maybe that seems too remote.

People look at porn on the Internet—it’s a huge problem.
They say, “what’s the harm?”
It’s also a huge industry.
Those people in the pictures—what’s their story?
Were they desperate for money? Those pictures are forever.
Will they catch something and get sick? What will become of them?
How many people are on the cross because of the cruelty of some,
and the neglect of everyone else.

We see on the cross, a ruined, murdered man:
that’s what sin does to humanity.

Yet we call today the Triumph—the Victory—of the Cross.
Victory, because God took the worst thing,
the nightmare, and that’s where he charged in with life and hope!

We are not afraid of the crosses in our lives, because God is on the Cross with us, beside us.
We are not afraid of the power of sin, because God has offered us a remedy, hope!

How many people carry the weight of sin,
when all they have to do is come to confession,
and in a few moments, it’s all gone!
“If I be lifted up…”

As you know, I was traveling this week; I reflected on this Feast, but I was only able to write out my thoughts on Saturday. And I didn't know how to end this homily.

Well, in a sense, you will end it: the sign of the Cross is before you, what do you choose?

New Site Prays for Priests

My brother priest and former instructor in the seminary (he may prefer I don't say that!) Rev. Rob Jack has created a new web site which is all about praying for priests. What a great idea, I really hope you will visit Ecce Sacerdos. Thanks to Father Jack for this; also visit his other site.

Some people think priests have a golden ticket to heaven; I truly believe it is the opposite.

Scripture makes clear that pastors and those with a prophetic or teaching role will be held to answer for whether they warned people from a path leading them to danger and eternal damnation. How many souls may end up in hell because I chose not to confront or challenge? And how can God not hold me accountable for that?

Then, when I do stand up and teach and challenge, I reprove myself! Do I practice what I preach? I certainly do not.

Priests are subject to every temptation of every other man, and a few others besides. We are tempted to misuse our power, and we are tempted to slack off. We are tempted to feel sorry for ourselves or to think our sacrifices or challenges are so much greater than others, when that is far from true. We are tempted to say and do what will win applause or will make things more pleasant. We are tempted to congratulate ourselves as being prophetic when all we're being is a pain.

So, yes, I know many people pray for priests, and I am grateful; I thought you might like some additional reasons for doing so.

Friday, September 12, 2008

'Dominus Vobiscum' (Back from Chicago)

I got back from Chicago a couple of hours ago, and have been catching up on things. Sorry for no posts about the workshop on training in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, but no real Internet access at the Cardinal Stritch Retreat House (someone told me I could go into the kitchen and use a PC there, but I figured the folks in the kitchen didn't need me bothering them).

More substantive comments will have to come another day, this post will have just brief thoughts:

> The older, "Tridentine" form of the Mass is a mystery to a lot of Catholics, including a lot of priests, and it should be noted that from the perspective of history, this is "the Mass" for most of the life of the Roman segment of the Church. This form of the Mass has not changed all that much since about the time of St. Gregory the Great, in the 600s! The rubrics and ceremonial are daunting; but don't let that deter you.

> It was enlightening to tap into this great heritage. A lot of lights about the current form of the Mass turned on. On my drive home, I thought about the Holy Father's express wish that the two forms of the Mass influencing each other, and thinking through what that might look like. There are many ways the current form of the Mass could be celebrated in a way in more continuity with the Mass of the prior 1400 years: the priest and people facing the same way, or the use of Latin and chant, or greater use of silence are three examples that come readily to mind.

> But at the same time, one can see the merit of changes that came in the wake of the Council, such as restoring the intercessions and the procession of the gifts, and the change in how the readings are proclaimed. But many have the idea that such changes represent a repudiation of the classic Mass, when in fact, they are either restoring something that dropped out along the way, or were ideals imbedded in the older Mass but not often realized. A lot of people assume is the whole of the older form of the Mass--the very quiet low Mass--is but one variation of the older Missal. But the thing is, the sung and solemn forms of the older Mass were seldom experienced; in many ways, the reform after the Council aimed to make what was experience in the rare solmen Mass far more common.

> A great bunch of guys. I met several of the priests of the Canons Regular of St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago, several brothers who are part of the community, and they were very helpful to the eight priests, from all over the country, who came for training. We had a lot of fun. But it was work--studying the rubrics of the classic Mass, and then attempting to apply them; our priest-instructors patiently walked us through the Mass, continually reminding us of various details we were slopping up. We made a lot of progress, although there will be no substitute for a lot more practice.

> So what next? I have to obtain a 1962 Roman Missal--they cost $500, so I'd be delighted to find one used or tucked away somewhere--and I still have things to learn.

> What does this mean for us in Piqua? Well, nothing sudden or surprising. Recall that Pope Benedict said priests should "willingly accede" to requests from the faithful for the older from of Mass, and that's what I am going to do. I've had one request so far (for a man's funeral), and I expect more will come in time; as they come, I'll deal with them.

> In the meantime, I believe this will help me appreciate the Mass even more and approach it with greater reverence. I think everyone would benefit from understanding the older form of the Mass, and experiencing it.

I'm back for a bit, then heading off for vacation after Mass on Sunday.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

My homily today will be extremely brief.

Every year at this time I give a financial report. This year, I am doing it at the conclusion of Mass, to avoid taking anything away from the Mass itself with a report on mundane matters, and also, to allow you to ask questions.

I cannot force you to stay at the end of Mass for this report, but I beg of you to do so.

And now my brief homily:

(Sign of the Cross)

You just heard our Lord tell us how powerful our prayers and action can be.
The only limit is a hard heart:
if we place limits on what we will believe God can do,
and what we will allow God to do through us.

Christ is in our midst! The Eucharist is Jesus—and he is here now!
Harden not your hearts, and He will work miracles in our lives!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

What I'm up to...

Sorry it's been awhile, that tells you how busy a week it has been.

I've met with both parish councils and both finance councils in the past 10 days, both because that's the usual cycle (for pastoral council) and also, to discuss and approve budgets for coming year. It's been a crunch, due to the server problems I described the other day, which slowed down our staff from finalizing income and expense information.

This weekend, I present to each parish a financial report; next week, a letter goes out, asking everyone to do his or her best. I had to write those letters today, and prepare two talks (one for each parish), and finalize the spreadsheets, and run the copies. In a bit, I'll head over for Mass.

After giving a talk at all Masses...this year, I'm doing it at the end of Mass, not as a homily, which did not sit well with me. But that is a risk; at homily time, folks are a "captive audience."

Where was I? Oh yes...after the last talk after Noon Mass, I have to get ready to head out of town. I'm heading to Chicago for the Sancta Missa workshop on the extraordinary form of the Mass, what used to be called the "Tridentine" Mass. I will, in short, learn how to offer Mass. I am looking forward to it, but it is real work. Some will wonder why I do this--because the Holy Father said to pastors, be ready and willing to provide this Mass, if asked. I have had a few ask. More likely will, in time. What am I to say to people who ask for it for a funeral or wedding?

That said, this workshop will just be a start, but there you have it.

I'm back next weekend, then after that, blessed vacation in an undisclosed location.