Monday, March 30, 2009

Ohioans: Hi-speed trains are going to pick your pockets!

This article from Sunday's Dayton Daily News caught my eye. It is very revealing, if you read it closely.

A high-speed rail link for Ohio?

Gov. Ted Strickland has requested $250 million in stimulus funds to develop the 3-C Corridor, a passenger train system from Cleveland to Cincinnati, according to Stu Nicholson, spokesman for the Ohio Rail Development Commission. Also requested was $7 million to study development of the Ohio Hub, a proposed system of crisscrossing high-speed train lines that would connect Ohio to other states.

So, let's see what we've learned: Ohio officials are seeking to spend $257 million on this. That's a lot of money--but what does it buy us? Something vaguely called "study" and "development."

When we read further, we get a better idea of the full cost: "Developing the Ohio Hub would probably involve installing new rails in existing right-of-ways, and the eight- to 10-year project would cost up to about $7 billion."

"About"? Ever notice how TV ads will say, "it cost you 'about a dollar a day'?" What do you immediately think? "It'll cost more than a dollar a day, because if it cost less they'd have said that." How much more than a dollar a day, you don't know till you read the fine print; same with that "about $7 Billion." And if you re-read that paragraph, the hedging about the time-frame and the cost leaves ample room for it to be a lot more than that. This from the same folks who built all those e-check stations at whatever huge cost, instead of licensing existing car-repair places to handle it.

OK, but let's call it $7 Billion on the dot and move on. What's the payoff?

The next paragraph is priceless; the reporter wrote it so artlessly, that either he didn't catch the joke, or he just played it straight. So just for fun, I'll hold back the key information for last, so you can get the full picture:

"An economic impact study by Wright State University economists, however, predicts the Hub would generate about ______ in economic benefit over 30 years. In addition to the jobs created by construction and operation of the trains, the study projects economic development around the train routes and stations, significant fuel cost savings and environmental benefits.

Oh, my think of all that economic benefit! Jobs! Trains! Development around the stations--which have to be built of course, more jobs! "Significant fuel cost savings"! And best of all: "environmental benefits!" Oh, rapture!

How much might all that add up to, you wonder?

"$17 Billion." (over 30 years).

Now, I realize not everyone is good with numbers; I'm not all that good. But I know a little about compounding interest, and my antennae popped up on that one. "Just how much return is that on the original $7 Billion," I wondered.

I googled "interest calculator" and arrived here. Here's how I calculated things, so that you can evaluate whether my method was valid:

I put in 70 cents initial outlay (representing 1/10 of $7 billion), adding the same for the first 10 years; then I took the total that gave me, and recalculated for another 20 years' growth, To arrive at $17 (i.e., $17 billion) required a 3.1% interest rate.

That means that this ballyhooed investment is equal to slightly more than a 3% return! Meanwhile, if you check the rates at the U.S. Treasury, you'll find 30-year notes are currently earning 3.62%.

In case you didn't get the joke: this is the rate of return on this so-called "investment"--based on the most sunny projection they could come up with! Just like the ads that say, "about a dollar a day"...if they could have said this would yield $30 or $50 billion in "economic benefit"--they would have! "Economic benefit" is an extremely loose term and from a strict business point of view, it's meaningless. Prove it to yourself this way: go open a restaurant (or any business) this week--empty your savings, or take out a loan, and get yourself all set up. Proceed to lose money every week, until you are broke. But be consoled--you will have generated an amount of "economic benefit" far larger than the amount you lost. Get the picture?

Notice something else: if they could have said this would make a profit, they would have! Go read the story--and you tell me if that single word ever appears. Hint: it doesn't.

If you still think this is a good idea, then I have an offer to make: send me money. As much as you want. As often as you want. I won't promise you any profit or return; but I guarantee to generate lots of "economic impact." Deal?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Today's homilies

I had two homilies this Sunday, because at 9 am Mass, we had the "Third Scrutiny" for the benefit of the Elect--those to be baptized at Easter. That means using the readings from "year A"; whereas at the other Masses, we used "year B" readings.

For the Scrutiny, I said something along these lines...

I explained why the last three Sundays featured the readings they do: the woman at the well, the man born blind, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead. They all serve to illustrate what baptism and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ is about: everything changes for us.

I also explained that central to our Faith is a kind of exchange: we choose to exchange our merely human life for Divine Life, by embracing the death and resurrection of our Lord. Another way to put it: our Lord offers an exchange: we exchange our mortality, our death, for his. We shall surely die; but we can embrace his death and his resurrection, in place of what we face without him. (I said more, but honestly cannot recall what else I said.)

For the other Masses, I said:

I offered the illustration of watching a movie--there are two ways to do it. One way is to have the TV on, have a newspaper or magazine in our lap, which we're skimming, having a laptop nearby, as we check our email, and having the clicker at the ready if the action lags. That's how many of us do it (including yours truly). the other way is to turn off the phone, put away the laptop, not have a clicker, and simply focus on the film. For those who don't care for movies, the same lesson applies for a football or basketball game--you enjoy the game a lot more if you focus on it and enter into it; the person who comes in, during the last two minutes, doesn't really get why everyone is so enthralled.

Our Faith is like that; Lent is like that. We can choose to carry on our usual activities, and we'll miss what's going on; or we can focus in, and realize the drama of our Faith, especially during Lent.

The theologian Hans urs von Balthasar wrote a series on the Faith, which he called the "Theo-Drama"--he presented the idea that everything that God has done for us--not just in Christ, but the entire story of salvation, from the Creation, forward to Christ's coming, death and resurrection, and to the great conclusion--is all a kind of Drama. But it is not only a great story; it has the added benefit of being true. And we are not spectators; we are part of the drama; not bit players, but important to the Story. In fact, we are the reason for it--the whole thing is about our salvation!

We may find that Lent has gotten by us, and we wonder what happened. But we have two more weeks till Easter. The fourth quarter is just beginning, and there is still a lot of action! We might want to focus in during the next two weeks, and we will discover the power of the Drama of our Salvation. Yes, it's not easy; and while I don't know what each of you faces, I do know busy! And it happens to me, if I'm not careful--all of a sudden, it's Good Friday, and I have to rush over and lead prayers. Please pray for me that I will enter into this time, as I pray the same for you.

(I made some other points--about each Mass recapitulating this Drama, and I invited everyone to take part in Holy Thursday and Good Friday.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

One of those days...

Grabbed some coffee and donuts for breakfast on the way to the office. Plenty waiting for me, as always on Tuesday morning. Took awhile just getting through emails, and snail-mail and phone calls. Was in the middle of responding to an email when a call came--one of our parishioners had just died; the parochial vicar had been visiting, but he was unavailable. (He was performing a wedding at a nursing home--not for a resident, but for a couple who elected to be married there so an elderly parent could take part. That required special permission from the Archbishop, by the way.) I was also having a short meeting with a member of the staff, and we cut it short, and I went over to the house. Spent about an hour there, praying with and consoling the family, until the funeral director arrived.

Back to the office, back to the same stuff. That death--plus another one--meant planning funerals. Turned out both families wanted the funerals the same day and same time. Various phone calls and emails later, we worked it out.

In between all this, I'm preparing for tonight's penance service. Thank God for the parochial vicar, who was planning to preach. I put a program together and had my secretary run it off just before she headed home for the day. Oh, I forgot--someone stopped by, unexpectedly, needing to talk. That happens a lot.

Around 5, I ran to Rallys for a late lunch; back to the office, and wasted a little time, before heading over to set things up for the penance service. Opened the doors, turned on the lights, set up chairs in various places for the priests and penitents. Eight locations (including two confessionals), all but one had option for anonymous.

A nice number of folks showed up--but never enough. We finished in an hour. That's why I always get as many priests as we can accommodate. No one complains if you get done earlier, and we're ready if lots show up.

I invited the priests back for a drink--"a little conviviality"--afterward, but this time, everyone had to go. I got back home around 8:30 pm, ordered up some Chinese for dinner (some House Special Soup and some more of the Singapore Chow Mei Fun I ordered last week).

Sat back and watched the President's news conference; Bill O'Reilly was haranging about the President being "boring." Who cares? News conferences aren't usually anything else, and it's hard to see what's in it for the President to try to keep things other than boring. Actually, for the part I saw, I thought Mr. Obama handled himself pretty well--setting aside how much of what he advocates, I disagree with.

He sometimes fumbles around without a teleprompter, but he seemed reasonably good most of the time. I noticed, however, when he tried to describe the moral and ethical considerations of embryo-destroying "research," he fumbled a lot. I wondered--is this the first time he's tried to say, out loud, what those moral considerations are? Or was he aware that he might, unwittingly, give away the game? It sounded to me as though he was well rehearsed in saying things like, "I know many people have serious moral and ethical objections to this research, and I respect that..." but utterly lacking in comprehension of just why.

While all that was going on, I'm browsing the 'net, catching up on the news, and reading amusing things. I am saddened to read about what's going on at Notre Dame University; I think this is a major sell-out, and I fear this is a crossing-the-Rubicon moment.

Well, it's about 10:30--that's my day.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Should Our Lady's University honor Obama?

Sign the petition protesting the scandal of Notre Dame honoring pro-abortion President Obama with an invitation to speak here

A little exercise in reasoning and in politicized science reporting

The Washington Post had an article with this headline that caught my eye:
"Study Finds Eating Red Meat Contributes to Risk of Early Death."

Does the study really "find" that? Let's see what the article actually says...

The lead paragraph: "Eating red meat increases the chances of dying prematurely, according to a large federal study that offers powerful new evidence that a diet that regularly includes steaks, burgers and pork chops is hazardous to your health."

Oh my! Let us read on to see how this study demonstrates this. The next graph says:

"The study of more than 500,000 middle-age and elderly Americans found that those who consumed the equivalent of about a small hamburger every day were more than 30 percent more likely to die during the 10 years they were followed, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Sausage, cold cuts and other processed meats also increased the risk."

Hmmm...can you see the logical fallacy revealed here?

The second paragraph tells us the study discovered an association. People who eat certain meats are more likely to die. But is that the same thing as causation?

The answer, dear reader, is that it is not. Why not?

Well, for example--aren't you curious, as I am, to know anything else about these folks who died earlier? And about those who, despite stuffing all that meat down their gluttonous throats, did not proceed to die earlier? Why weren't they 100% more likely to die earlier?

Perhaps because of...other variables? Such as exercise, weight, smoking, stress, other vices...who knows what?

The article says, later, that the study accounted for those variables. Over a half-million volunteers filled out detailed questionnaires in 1995; then, "Over the next 10 years, 47,976 men and 23,276 women died."

Okay; that's concerning, no question. But again, this inquiring mind wants to know: how inquisitive were the researchers into other behaviors and stresses, and changes in habits, over the following ten years?

The article proceeds to say that "routine consumption of fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death by a small amount, the study found."

It occurs to me that they may have cause-and-effect backwards: perhaps people who lead healthier lifestyles tend to eat fish and turkey; and those attached to decadence prefer those "bad meats" we just heard about.

In the interest of full disclosure, I happen to love all those "bad meats" and I don't keep measures of how much I eat; and I am rather more, er, "ample" than I ought to be. Certainly, there may be a direct causation there.

Trouble is, there is also interesting evidence that folks who go on diets consisting overwhelmingly of such meat--bad plus good--lose weight! Hmm, how to factor that in?

Now, I would have ignored this article, as garden-variety sloppiness, until I read this:

"'This would be the Rolls Royce of studies on this topic,' said Barry M. Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study. 'This is a slam-dunk to say that, "Yes, indeed, if people want to be healthy and live longer, consume less red and processed meat."'"

I suppose it's rather uppity of me to cross swords intellectually with Professor Popkin, but--wouldn't the "Rolls Royce" of a study such as this eliminate other variables, in order to demonstrate, clearly, cause-and-effect?

The Meat Institute ("boo! hiss! we know their agenda) makes the reasonable--but not devastating--observation that "the findings...were based on unreliable self-reporting by the study participants." Which--if such self-reporting is unreliable (I don't know if it is, but it seems that it might be), it might mean anything: the early-to-die folks might have eaten rather more meat than they wanted to report, or done other unhealthy things they didn't like to talk about, or overstated how much they exercise, etc. Or it might mean something else; or it might be that self-reporting is, in fact, as reliable as other tools. Might have been nice to have had a rejoinder to that point; but the Washington Post didn't expect anyone would take seriously what a trade group would say in, harumph!, obvious self-interest!

After that offensive interlude, the article takes us back to the voice of sweet, non-profit wisdom: the National Institutes of Health, AARP, and the Harvard School of Public Health! Surely we can trust them!

Now, sarcasm aside, I concede the study itself may well be more probative than is clear from the article; my criticism is directed against the article, and I am, yes, skeptical about just what the study does, and does not, demonstrate. We would all do well to be skeptical of such things, particularly as reported in the media.

But it was the final two paragraphs that caused me to chuckle knowingly, and write this post. Just tell me if you can see what it might have been:

In addition to the health benefits of reducing red meat consumption, a major reduction in meat consumption would probably have a host of other benefits to society: reducing water shortages and pollution, cutting energy consumption, and tamping down greenhouse gas emissions -- all of which are associated with large-scale livestock production.

"There's a big interplay between the global increase in animal food intake and the effects on climate change," Popkin said. "If we cut by a few ounces a day our red meat intake, we would have big impact on emissions and environmental degradation."

Nope, no political agenda there, is there?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

'I want to see!' (Second Scrutiny homily)

A lot of blind people in the readings today.
In the first reading, nobody sees anything special
in the youngest son,
Not even the Prophet Samuel!

In the Gospel, lots of people think they can see.

But what do they see?
A man born blind; a man who must be a sinner!
Someone of no importance.

Of course, the blindest one of all isn’t the blind man.
He sees better than most.

No, the blindest ones are those who say they see just fine.

Do you think you see?
Are you sure?

There’s so much goodness we fail to see in each other.
Rather, we tend to see what annoys or offends us.
We fail to see—or we forget to look for—
people of no importance, standing by the road, begging.

Whole parts of the world are like that:
Africa, North Korea, Haiti.
We can’t fix all the problems,
but if we start by learning more about them,
we might find we can do more than we first thought.

And there are people in our community!
Poor, unimportant, begging for help.
It’s easy to feel bad for them—and then move on.
What’s hard is to care genuinely.
At least, this is an attitude I am guilty of.

If we admit we are blind,
The Lord will help us see.

It’s a little distasteful the way he did.
that the Lord used saliva and dust.
Sometimes, the Lord offers to heal us,
but we don’t like how he’s going to do it.

He says, “go to confession,” but we say,
“Nah, I don’t want to do that!”
He says, “go apologize”—but we are too proud.

If we want to be healed badly enough,
We’ll want it any way we can get it!

This coming Tuesday evening, at 7 pm,
We will have our Penance Service at St. Boniface.
This is a great opportunity to be given the gifts of spiritual sight—
to restore our sight if we’ve lost it.

We only need ask:
“Lord: I want to see!”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

There is a Remedy (Sunday homily)

Our first reading would have been pretty depressing
if it had stopped halfway through:
“there was no remedy.”

But there is a remedy:
As we heard Saint Paul say:
“God, who is rich in mercy…
brought us to life with Christ
(and) raised us up with him.”

By grace we have been saved—not by our works—
And seated us in heaven in Christ Jesus.

This is what happens in baptism!

As you can see, we have our “new” baptismal font.
In fact, it is an old font,
rescued from Assumption Church in Walnut Hills,
in Cincinnati.
I don’t know who first donated it;
but surely they will be glad it will continue
to be the means by which boys and girls, women and men
are “brought to life with Christ.”

After this Mass, we will bless this font—
and, Deo gratias!—we have a baby to baptize as well!

Blessing a new baptismal font is a very special moment for a parish.
I hope you will stay and take part.

Just a heads up—so special is this
that the Church calls for the new font to be incensed;
So, fair warning for anyone
who would prefer to avoid the incense.

Let me read you something
from the ritual for blessing a new font:

The site of the baptismal font is rightly considered
to be one of the most important parts of a church.
For it is the place for celebrating baptism,
the first sacrament of the New Law,
through which those who firmly accept Christ
in faith and receive the Spirit of adoption
become in name and in fact God’s adopted children.

It goes on to say, in situating the font,

Everything must be arranged in such a way as to bring out
the connection of baptism with the word of God and with the Eucharist,
the high point of Christian initiation.

I believe we’ve done that—
because placing the font at the entrance of church
shows that baptism is how we enter into new life
in Jesus Christ.

Our journey leads us from baptism
to hear the Word of God, and to the Eucharist.

Likewise, when we leave this place,
We are reminded we are empowered by the Holy Spirit
to bring Christ into our world.

There will be blessed water in this font—
serving to remind us that the purpose of holy water
is to recall our baptism, and—
every time we bless ourselves with holy water,
we are calling on the power of the Blessed Trinity
for our protection and for our mission to the world.

The ritual also says:

"The baptismal font…should be stationary, gracefully constructed
out of a suitable material, of splendid beauty and spotless cleanliness…”

I hope you find this “graceful,” “suitable,” and beautiful.

My brothers and sisters,
there are times when I hear about
a complaint or a fear that people have—
someone is saying, “woe is us, what are we to do?”
Our Catholic community, our parishes and schools,
face challenges, to be sure;
but where do people get the idea
that they—we—are powerless?

That font; and this Word of God;
that altar where Christ is lifted up
at every Mass in his all-powerful Sacrifice;
and this tabernacle
where the King of kings and Lord of Lords
remains forever in our midst
demonstrate that you and I are not powerless!

If we had a nuclear reactor in here;
If every powerful politician and financier filled our pews;
If we could somehow lasso the sun and haul it down here;
we would not have as much power in our midst
as we do—right at this very moment—
in the Son of God who has chosen to dwell in our midst!

That power is not here merely to behold, however;
That power of God is poured into us in baptism!

Every time you feel powerless—overwhelmed—
Bless yourself with the waters of baptism, and remember:
what you are, and who are, in Jesus Christ!

If you’ve been brought down, weighed down, by sin—
Come this Tuesday at 7 pm to our Penance Service.
In confession we are given back
the purity and power of baptism!

May our tongues fall silent, if ever we forget this!
But we will not fall silent—
Because we know and we will tell our world
that this place is Jerusalem—
this is Holy Zion where our Lord in power reigns!

Another typical day...

Here's a quick run-down, in the few minutes I have at the moment:

> 9-10 am confessions; had some folks show up right at 10 am. It's not that I mind waiting, but...
> I had a 10:30 am appointment and I wanted to grab breakfast beforehand, so...
> After I'd taken care of the last folks, made a quick trip to Tim Hortons (didn't win anything), and back to the office.
> Couple came in to prepare for marriage.
> After that, I had another appointment with a parishioner who wanted to discuss a problem.
> After that, I needed some time to shift gears; I was thinking and praying about his situation.
> I had two homilies to write for this weekend (check back; they appear after I deliver them). Also, I had to prepare for blessing a new baptismal font, which will happen after 4 pm Mass tonight. Also, I had to make a call to the musician to coordinate that.
> I also help the National Pro Life Alliance, and I had a special project for that. I just finished that.
> I'll head over for Mass shortly; then the blessing and a baptism as part of it.
> A parishioner is taking me out for dinner after that.

Time to go!

Come to Piqua Sunday for Adoration & Message of Hope

Michael O'Rourke, of the Apostolate for Family Consecration, will be at St. Mary Parish, 528 Broadway, Piqua Ohio, Sunday, March 22, from 2-4 pm.

He will give two talks on personal holiness, the power and urgency of consecrating our families to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary; he will offer practical tips for families, and have materials to help families make good moves and decisions in the right direction.

What's more, in between his talks will be a time of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and two priests will be present for confessions.

All are welcome to come and be refreshed in your Faith!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Lenten day in the life...

Mass at 8:45 am with younger schoolchildren. Explained why St. Patrick is important, highlighted his forgiveness of those who enslaved him, and his courage in going back to Ireland. I asked them to think about how they might be like Saint Patrick today.

9:30 am -- quick trip to Tim Hortons, for coffee and a couple of donuts (breakfast). Back to office, spent several hours at my desk with email, phone messages and other matters waiting for me.

A few phone calls; a few meetings. A fellow from the company that publishes our bulletin was here, on the phone lining up ads for the bulletin. We talked a bit about the new contract we need to sign. Maintenance man for one of my parishes stopped in, we went over a bid for exterior work, talked about getting other bids; talked about several other projects, including our "new" baptismal font, to be installed this week, and blessed on Saturday, after 4 pm Mass.

Checked in with one of the parish's secretaries about several matters. Talked to our dear sister, about one parish's altar society wanting to buy some things for the parish. I called the person in the altar society to give some suggestions. They may buy a vestment; so I spent some time online doing a little research in preparation for that.

More emails and mail to open. Two stacks of checks to sign, one for each parish. I sent a package of flyers to the seminary, so a priest there can provide them to all the seminarians, about summer employment. I prepared a letter to the tribunal, asking a dispensation for a wedding, involving a non-baptized person. Several more emails, many of whom needed some research and phone calls in order to respond. Some involved planning meetings. Spent some time reading some materials sent to me.

Around 2 pm, I had an appointment out of the office; expected to be back around 3, got back earlier. Picked up a sandwich for lunch on the way back.

More of the same. Around 3:30, the maintenance man stopped back; we had a meeting with a high school student, who wants to do a project for the parish for his Eagle Scout badge. We were going to meet at 4:30 pm, but our maintenance man couldn't stay. He had some notes for me. I met with the boy, and his mom, and everything was straightforward. He's going to help plaster and paint one of the offices and get some buddies to help.

Actually, I think I surfed the net about the vestments around this time; hard to remember. Spent awhile working on the Mass and confessions schedules for April, May and June. Got a call from a friend around 6 pm, we talked for about a half hour. Had to ring off to wrap up a few things before heading to St. Mary to hear confessions from 7-8:30 pm, which we're doing every Tuesday during Lent. Got back here afterward, and ordered some Chinese--oh, there's the bell, hold on...

Let's see, what did I get? Hot & Sour Soup and Singapore Chow Me Fun (which I've never had). Going to eat this while I watch some basketball...

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Final Journey to Easter

During the next three weeks, the Church provides options for Mass, for those who are preparing for baptism at Easter. These are called "the scrutinies," and I know some don't care for them.

Here's how it works, in case you're unfamiliar--or maybe you've seen something other than this.

The readings are from "year A"--which was last year--so they aren't the same for this Mass as those used at all other Masses this weekend (same next weekend and the onee after). The Gospels are taken from John, and they are longer -- although an abbreviated lection can be used. This week, it was "the woman at the well"; next week, "the man born blind"; and then, "Lazarus raised from the dead." The Mass prayers are also different. Everything emphasizes preparation for the Easter sacraments.

In my homily I talked about the water having a double-symbolism of baptism and the Holy Spirit, and talked both about the thirst the catechumens have for the Holy Spirit, and the wonderful gift each of us has in our baptism. I also mentioned how much I look forward every year to giving this gift at the Vigil, and I invited everyone to take part.

After the homily, the catechumens and their sponsors are called forward; I invite them to kneel, we offer our prayers of the faithful, and then I pray a prayer over them called an "exorcism" (but I don't tell them that, since that might sound a little scary); it is about protection from evil, recognizing that the evil one would like to derail them. After that, I impose hands silently on them, and then dismiss them for reflection on the Word of God. The Creed follows, and then the rest of Mass.

I used the Roman Canon, in particular because there is an option for prayers to be inserted for the godparents, and those to be baptized.

The only other thing you might experience is two sets of intercessions--one for the catechumens, and then the regular ones; but I exercise the option of combining them.

I like this because it gives an opportunity to focus on the sacraments and also invite everyone to be aware of, and pray for, those entering the Church; it reminds us of our mission to share the Gospel. On the other hand, I don't like that the folks at that Mass didn't hear the other readings.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

True Worship (Sunday homily)

Probably most of us have seen the movie,
“The Ten Commandments.”
It a fun movie, but it misleads us a bit,
about why God sent Moses to Pharaoh.

When you simply read the Book of Exodus,
You will discover the key issue at stake:
“Let my people go to worship me.”
The point of the deliverance from slavery
was that God’s People
may offer true and worthy sacrifice to the Lord.
When you see that repeated
throughout the story of Exodus,
you realize what a major issue that was.

The Ten Commandments as we heard them just now:
Did you notice, the first three commandments
were all about worship of the Lord:
No other gods; no false images; keep holy the Sabbath.
Notice how much God said about that?
The other seven commandments were extremely brief.

So, what do we make of that?

To me, it suggests that true worship,
the way we really are supposed to worship,
is not something that comes from us, to God—
but it is God who tells us how to do it, and we respond.

In other words, we don’t create worship;
we learn how to do it, from the Lord.

God does not need our worship.
It is we who need it—
it is the foundation for everything else.
A back doctor will tell you:
If your spine is aligned, everything else falls in place.
It’s the same with worship.

But I don’t just mean, it’s important
that we worship—although that’s true;
I mean even more that it’s important how we worship.

Remember, when God’ People arrived at Mt. Sinai,
they did not form a liturgy committee
and to plan how they would worship God.
God already had a plan for them—
which he gave to Moses, on top of the mountain.

Well, let me correct myself.
While Moses was up the mountain,
they did form a committee.
And the result was the golden calf.

You realize, with the golden calf,
they weren’t seeking to worship some different god.
This was their plan for worshipping the same God.
It was what they liked better.
Think about it: how can we human beings imagine
we even know how properly to worship God?
We need God to show us
what will point us in the right direction.

That’s what he did on Mt. Sinai.
When he came, as man, to the temple,
He made the point a different way—
“get this stuff out of here!”

And then, on the night before he died,
he said to the Apostles,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

It was the Apostles who, in his Name,
taught the early Church how to offer the Sacrifice
of the new and everlasting Covenant: the Mass.

No, I don’t mean every precise detail;
but if you study the Mass,
you would be surprised—and I think, encouraged—
to discover just how much of the Mass, as we know it,
goes back to the early Church.

And the Sacrifice of the Mass, in turn,
draws from what God told his people at Mt. Sinai!
Even the design of our churches for 2,000 years,
reflected what came from Mt. Sinai!

So that suggests that the right form
of celebrating the liturgy
deserves serious attention.
Is it the only important thing? Of course not;
But it may be more important than we think.

I know I’ve stirred up some people.
Some say, “I love this,” or, “I can’t stand that!”
May I suggest that misses the point—both ways?

When we come together, we are entering into a mystery.
The most important realities of the Mass
are hidden from view—although what we see,
points to what is unseen.

The Mass really isn’t about what we like—
or what we want.
It’s about what we need.
And we, ourselves, don’t fully know that.

What we need is Christ himself to offer worship;
Christ himself offers the Sacrifice.
He is the Passover lamb; he is the priest.

Letting Christ do that—
and realizing it is Christ who does it—
we don’t have to worry;
every Mass will provide all we need.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's up with the pope?

My bulletin item this coming weekend:

What’s up with the pope?
Many have heard bits and pieces about the pope lifting an excommunication of four breakaway bishops, one of whom said awful things about the Holocaust, and then there was a firestorm, and now the pope has sent out a letter explaining what he did, and why.

Here are some key points:

> This is about healing a wound in the unity of the Church.
The pope is taking steps to resolve a longstanding dispute between a small, but significant group of tradition-minded Catholics who have been at odds with the larger Church since 1988. The issues are many, even European politics and history which won’t concern us—but the key is Vatican II.

The group, the Society of St. Pius X, grew concerned that Vatican II—or at least its presentation—was fundamentally at odds with longstanding Church teaching—and that is unacceptable. They have a point: Vatican II cannot teach anything contrary to our constant tradition. So what to do?

Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have tried to resolve the issues and build bridges—which is what “pontiff” means.

> What was it originally about? Pope John Paul excommunicated the four bishops in 1988 because they became bishops without his permission. That is a grave danger to the unity of the Church, because it could easily give rise to a breakaway Church. The excommunication was meant as a warning and a call back to unity.
> Why did Pope Benedict lift the excommunications?
Because of signs of thawing, and that the Society sought reconciliation and healing. That was the goal all along.
> What about the bishop denying the Holocaust? The pope doesn’t agree with it of course and everyone knows it. The bishop—Richard Williamson—hasn’t been given any role or responsibility in the larger Church, and won’t. By lifting the excommunication, the path is opened for full reconciliation.
> Why didn’t the pope leave it alone? Protecting the unity of the Church is uniquely his job! He believes this is a key opportunity. What if a past pope had prevented the Protestant rifts and divisions of the 1500s? Much suffering would have been avoided.
The pope agrees the Vatican has some lessons to learn about the modern media. But the pope cannot be held back by those who want to stir trouble or undermine his efforts. Some actually don’t want reconciliation—on both sides. They should not prevail. Our Lord wanted us to be one. I hope we all agree that the pope should succeed in keeping the unity of the Church.—Father Martin

Monday, March 09, 2009


I'm feeling a lot better, thanks for all the prayers and good wishes.

I spent most of the past four days sleeping or resting, taking it easy. I started feeling a lot better yesterday afternoon: happily, after offering the Sacrifice of the Mass!

Some strange kind of virus. Maybe it was the flu? (I had a flu shot first time in my life last fall.)

Reread Atlas Shrugged, for a laugh, several ways!

Well, since I've been out of the office for several days, I'll be plenty busy tomorrow! Catch you later in the week, perhaps.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Total Commitment (Sunday homily)

(I'm still under the weather; I expect to have Noon Mass, but not much of a homily, if anything at all. This is my homily from three years ago.)

That first reading is odd.
The Bible always condemned child-sacrifice.
So how do we explain that first reading?

As Paul Harvey says, let me tell you
the rest of the story…

This passage is the climax of a long journey
for Abraham—a journey to total commitment.

Recall that Abraham and his wife, Sarah,
tried to have children, but could not.
Yet in their old age,
God promises they would have descendants
like the stars of the sky.

Abraham struggles with this promise.
He thinks about making one of his servants his heir;
God says, "No, you’re not getting it!"
Abraham goes and has a child with another woman;
God says, "No, you’re still not getting it!"

Even after Abraham and Sarah
receive the promised child—Isaac—
Abraham still struggles with…
total commitment.

That’s what brings us to today’s reading.
Up to this point, Abraham has failed the test.

The point of this episode is simply this:
Abraham needs, at last, to pass the test!

Note that: not, "God needed"—
God needs nothing—but rather, Abraham needed this test,
and God went along with it for Abraham’s sake,
finally stopping him before he harmed the boy.

The test was Abraham’s need to make…
total commitment.

There are two, key, lines left out of this reading:
When Abraham goes up the mountain, he tells his servants,
stay here; the boy and I will go worship, and then come back to you.

As they go up the mountain Isaac asks his father,
"Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep" for the sacrifice?
Abraham responds,
"God himself will provide the sheep."

This shows just how ready Abraham finally was.
Abraham goes up the mountain prepared to sacrifice his son.

Total commitment.
And yet, somehow, he knows his boy will come back alive;
Somehow, he knows, "God will provide."

Abraham only knew a little,
and he filled in the gaps with trust.
That’s what we call faith!

Faith is easy when the bills are paid,
and everyone is safe at home.

But when the bills aren’t paid—
when people you love are in trouble?
That’s when faith is hard!
That’s what Abraham was going through
as he walked up that mountain.
That’s total commitment!

Now, let’s take this to a deeper level.

Think about something we often do:
We demand a test—from God:
we demand God prove himself to us!

Isn’t that an outrageous thing for us,
his creation, to demand from our Creator?

Now, notice how God responds to this outrageous demand.
He doesn’t come down and destroy us!
Instead, God comes down and becomes one of us.

And in Jesus Christ, who is God become man,
God presents himself to the human race,
and says: "Here I am—I’m ready!"

God didn’t need a test—we did!
God didn’t need a sacrifice—we did!
"Prove yourself!" we said to God;
And God comes and says,
"Here I am—I’m ready!"

To prove himself to God, Abraham offered his beloved son; God refused.

To prove Himself to us, God offered himself!
Humanity took God up the mountain,
and laid Him on the wood of the Cross;
and God said, I’m ready!

Many of us experience our Christian Faith being attacked.
We might not know how to answer the question,
"What’s so special about Jesus, and Christianity?"

This is what’s so special.
This is the Good News of the Gospel.

Every religion tells us about a God—out there;
But only in Jesus does God come to us, here.

Every religion talks about making sacrifices to God;
Pagan religions said, sacrifice your children;
Judaism said, sacrifice goats and rams;
Islam says, sacrifice yourself.

Only Christ shows us God, saying to man,
"I don’t want you to die: instead, sacrifice Me!"
Who is Jesus Christ? And what is the Cross about?
This is God’s total commitment to us!
This is our Faith!

This is what we journey to discover during Lent.
Our little sacrifices of Lent
aren’t about us proving anything to God;
rather, they help us discover the depths
of God’s Great Sacrifice—the Cross—that saved us!

And the power of the Cross is the power of the Eucharist;
the "then" is real for us now.

The more we discover that, the more we want to change,
to turn from sin, to deepen our lives in the Spirit.

The awesome reality of the Eucharist—God—Jesus—
Total Commitment—on the Cross—
Now in his Body and Blood given for us—
This should blow us away!

So we never take the Eucharist casually.
Clean hands, clean heart, clean lips; clean lives;
All for Him.
The Eucharist is Jesus,
God’s total commitment to us;
This demands our total commitment to Him:

So, we fast for a full hour before—is He worth that?
We go to confession; we examine our lives.
This is why we must be in full union
with the whole Body of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
in order to receive the Body of Christ, the Eucharist.

Folks wonder:
why can’t anyone come to communion?
Because it’s about total commitment.

When we realize who Jesus is, what he did?
The Cross? The Mass? The Eucharist?
The words God spoke to Abraham,
become our words to God:
"Now I know how much you love me—
you did not withhold your own beloved Son."

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A brief report

Sorry my posts have been infrequent. It's been very busy lately, plus I haven't been feeling well, and I've been very tired. Yesterday I did very little except rest, and that helped.

My homily this past weekend was about baptism. I highlighted a little about the first reading, about Noah: you have to look closely at the passage in Genesis, but if you do, you'll see that the Almighty sends Noah to get additional animals at one point. Why would there be unanticipated space on the ark? Perhaps God hoped more people would seek refuge than the eight who did. (Father Tim Schehr at the seminary makes this point.)

I spoke about the folks preparing for baptism, and the Rite of Election that happened Sunday for them. I spoke about the reason the folks came to our parishes seeking Christ; it was because they saw or experienced Christ in us. I referred to an article I read about at Rich Leonardi's site, about the rarity of mass conversions. And I talked about continuing to share our faith to draw more people to the Lord.

Time did not allow me last week to write out my homily, so that's from memory.

Today I'm trying to handle some paperwork; alas, I've got a killer headache, so I'm not moving very fast.