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!