Sunday, April 26, 2009

'The Plan' (First Communion Homily)

Imagine this conversation,
between God and an angel, and a long, time ago.
God calls the angel over for a talk.

He says, "I’m putting together a plan to save the human race.
My Son is going to earth, to become one of them."

"Wow, that’s pretty impressive!"
you tell God.

"Wait, there’s more.
They’ll call him ‘Jesus’— and he will suffer and die — and rise from the dead!
That’s going to show everyone the true evil of sin,
and also show them there’s a way out of sin, back to life!

"Wow, that’s awesome," the angel says to God.

"Yes, we think this will give the human race a totally new focus.
They’ll know they can be forgiven; and that they can change!
And, they won’t have to be afraid of suffering and death,
they’ll know they can share the very life of God!

"That will give them hope!"

"That’s a really great plan," the angel says to God.

"Well, there’s more.
We think it won’t work, unless the human beings are part of it, not just spectators.

"See, a lot of folks will come long after Jesus’ dies and rises again—
and they need to be part of it, too!"
"Have you noticed," God says, "how the baby humans want to touch everything?
And, everything goes into their mouths!
They love to eat!"

"So, I’m thinking: food!
Food could really help the human race get deeper into what
Jesus is going to do for them."
"I’m thinking of using bread and wine."

But you ask, "God, how can bread and wine save them?"

"Well, it can’t!
Bread and wine are nothing if that’s all they are!"

"So, would it be, like, a symbol?
Like a picture on the wall?"

"No, a symbol can’t save them, either!
It has to be really BE Jesus, or else it’s nothing!

"What they need is to eat and drink the life, and love,
the suffering and dying, and rising, of Jesus!
Eat and drink it.
That’s how it’ll be real to them; that’s they’ll experience Him
being part of them, and they’ll become part of Jesus!

"So," God says, "I want them to eat Jesus’ Body and Blood."

"But, God, that sounds kind of yucky…"

"Well, it is yucky," God says.
But Jesus is going to suffer and die—it is his Body and Blood that will save them!
They need to understand that.
But—so they won’t be afraid, we will use bread and wine!

"It will truly be Jesus—because only Jesus can save them;
but it will still look and tastelike bread and wine—
so it will be pleasing and attractive.

"This is how they will literally be united with Jesus!"

"Wow, God! That’s quite a plan!"

"Well, I’ve been working on it for all eternity," God says with a smile.

But you have another question.
"Gee, isn’t all that a lot for them to understand, all at once?"

"You’re right," God says. "That’s why they won’t do it just once.
They’ll need to receive Jesus over, and over, and over!"

"Even every day?"

"Yes, if they want to.
Certainly every Sunday; that’s the ‘maintenance plan’:
Mass every Sunday is how they’ll come to understand what Jesus did for them.

"Plus, Jesus will be present in their churches, in the Eucharist.
They’ll know how real he is!
They’ll be able to bring their friends, and say, ‘See? Jesus is here! Jesus is real!
We receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist!

"What’s more, sharing the Eucharist this way will show them a new way of living.

"When they come together at Mass, it’ll be everyone—
rich and poor, black and white, grownups and children,
healthy people, sick people—everyone!

"And they’ll realize that only in Jesus can the world be one!
And when they realize how much God forgave them,
they’ll be able to forgive one another."

So, finally, you ask: "Why are you telling me—just an angel—about this?"

"Because you’re going to be a guardian angel!

"Way in the future, in a place called Piqua,
someone will be born that you’ll be responsible for!

"You will help that child grow up, and grow into,
the life and love of Jesus Christ!
And the Eucharist will be absolutely central to that!

"Guardian angel, you will encourage that child:
to come to Jesus in the Eucharist;
not just one time, but week after week, even daily!

"I’m going to give that child a hunger for the Eucharist;
I want you to keep reminding that child:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

"So, let’s practice that, guardian angel:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

"Guardian angel, you whisper that into that child’s ear
every day of his or her life. Every day!
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A day with a great end...

Today was a long slog at the office.

I had an important letter to circulate around to the Pastoral Council in advance of the next meeting; and then I had to get it out via email. Alas, we had some confusion, so I fielded a couple of calls and several emails. I had plenty of mail to open and lots of checks to sign. I had some meetings--I missed one I didn't have on my calendar--and I had some conversations about some other meetings coming up. I had something extremely delicate come up and I won't say anymore about it, but it took a fair amount of time and some emotional energy.

We had an important meeting tonight, something planned for some time. It's purpose was to brief all concerned about some ideas being considered to strengthen our Catholic school, and to get feedback. It's very delicate, because all manner of rumors circulate. Many of us involved were concerned that it wouldn't go well. I didn't know what to expect.

Well, as far as I can see, it went extremely well! A large crowd showed up--a great testimony to how much our folks care about our Catholic schools. The chairman of the committee laid out the facts very clearly, and laid out various options. Many people asked questions and offered comments--exactly what we wanted! A lot of folks have been anxious that decisions would be made without them, and God willing, tonight's meeting helped allay that concern.

I couldn't be happier! The committee did so well--the work that led to this was considerable, and the success is due to that. The chairman handled everything so well. Part of what I , personally, appreciate is that there are so many things to manage in the parishes, and having our good folks step up and do so encouraging.

Of course, more work remains to be done. The next steps will depend on what we find in the written feedback. But I confess the great outcome of tonight's meeting is a relief and encouragement to me, and I have no doubt it is to the group that put it together.

When I got home, around 9:30, I had my dinner and am relaxing a little.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

What love is and is not (Homily for Divine Mercy)

If there is a word and idea that is misused, it is “love.”

We have so many songs and stories:
a boy falls for a girl; a girl is broken-hearted over a guy.
Movies about all the dumb and funny things we do for love.

That’s all fun.
But I confess some of what our culture gives us
makes me angry—I know many of us feel the same way.

Here’s a typical story line:
A man and a woman meet—sparks fly—and they’re in bed.
They enjoy each other; they use each other.
But they do not love each other.

Now, let me explain what offends me.
It is not that it is explicit.
It’s the manipulation:
a lie wrapped up in beautiful packaging.

Part of the lie is that love is something that just happens;
an impulse that comes and goes.
No; love is a choice.

It is the most powerful thing that can happen.
It is more than romance;
Not everyone experiences epic romance;
but without exception, everyone
has the choice and the risk of love.

It is all that’s wonderful and awful: a package deal.
Just like the Cross.
“Jesus loves me”: and he shows us his hands and his side.

Another part of the lie is that we can have it all;
we can be individuals, do what we like, and find happiness.

In the first reading, it says, they loved one another.
The price wasn’t just that they shared their stuff.
That is relatively easy;
being accountable to one another.
That’s what is really hard.

The pitfall—the counterfeit that can fool us—
is that sometimes what we count as part of “love”
is really more about us—our needs—
then about the other who we claim to love.

It takes a lifetime to discover—let alone unravel—
this complexity of ourselves,
this tangled mixture of our own virtues and sins.

This is how frequent confession can do us so much good.

Let me give you a very current—and very delicate—example.
Someone says, I want a child. I have a right to a child.
A single person—a couple—mix or match.
A woman out west used treatments to have eight babies.
was that about the needs of the children—or her own?

This whole controversy about some “stem-cell research”:
it arises because of attempting conception in a laboratory
rather than in human acts of love as God designed.
What did the President say?
These embryos are “extra”—they’ll “go to waste”—
So why not “use” them for research?

Our hearts ache for those facing this dilemma.
But a child is a gift.
A rose so beautiful—yet so fragile,
we crush it if we grasp too tightly.

We are critical of our President on the stem-cell issue;
Let us praise him on another issue:
He made it clear
that human dignity demands we never torture.
Yes: love is hard—such as loving our enemies.
Some things we never do because God’s law—
not “national interest”—comes first.

This is Easter. The Feast of Divine Mercy.
What’s the connection?

If Easter is about anything, it’s about the power
that has come into this world through Jesus Christ,
poured into our lives in baptism;
and through us, to change the world.
That power is love—Divine Mercy is another name.

Jesus says: I want a heart, a mind, a set of hands, consecrated to me—
I will change you, and through you, the world!

Jesus shows us his hands and his side:
“This is love—will you take part?
Will you join me in saving the world?”
It is a challenge hard to say yes to; yet impossible to refuse.

It is, also, the Mass, the Eucharist.

Sometimes we approach the Mass
in terms of feelings or likes and dislikes.
I’m aware of it; I hear both the compliments and complaints.
I am not dismissive; but I find myself thinking,
how can I ever hope to give everyone what they like?
Is that even what love does?
Someone said, folks at Mass are like “customers.”
Maybe so; but I think love takes us a good deal further.

If our community of believers
is to be of one heart and one mind,
likes and preferences can never be ground for unity.

The Mass is, first and last, not about us or what we do;
it’s about what Jesus Christ does:
He shows us his hands and his side;
and we respond: “My Lord and my God.”

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Lord is Risen!

I think I'm getting a little better at the Vigil.

That may sound funny, but--a priest only gets one go at this each year, and it's a pretty complicated liturgy; a lot of moving parts.

Spent the day running around, over to St. Boniface, to make sure all was set for tomorrow (no Vigil Mass there); almost forgot to put out the new Easter Candle--gee, wouldn't that have been embarrassing? Got antsy about the Vigil before 8--didn't need to be there early, but I went early, and piddled around. Everything came together pretty well, forgot a few things, nothing essential; I'm pretty sure I did the sprinkling rite out of order. Hint: the Ritual for Christian Initiation is laid out in an unreliable fashion--it tricks you into thinking you are on the right page. And I forgot the final blessing and skipped to "The Mass is ended..."

We did all the readings, the vicar was especially moving as he sang the Exsultet, and the Gloria was...glorious. We sang the Litany of the Saints as we led the catechumens to the font, then I sung the blessing of the water. We used the Roman Canon, and everything was complete in 2-1/2 hours. After Mass, we passed out Easter candy to the kids, and gave the new members of the Church Easter baskets, which I blessed. Then, I took a Host to St. Clare Chapel, to resume perpetual exposition (no exposition during the Triduum). The retired priest, who has the early Mass, will take care of the holy water at that time. (These are some of the awkward things about having one Triduum liturgy between two parishes.)

My homily? Well, I wish I had written it, but I never got around to it. I'll try to recall some details...

I began by talking about the scope of time represented by the readings: 4,000 years back to Abraham, untold millions of years back to the Creation. Although one could discern more than one progression in the readings, what I saw was God progressively getting closer to us--until we have God becoming one of us.

I talked about the Plan of Salvation, and how it makes clear the great concern God has for humanity. And we might be tempted to say, oh, isn't that convenient--someone came up with a religion that exalts man! But most religions don't do that; most religions see God as distant, and humanity as unable to attain heaven. The best we can do is appease God. (I had thought about saying something more on this, but I didn't.)

Well, I cannot recall just what I said next, but I touched on the added wonder that not only does God come to us, and enter our plane, but he then draws us up into his plane. Oh I remember--I talked about how the Story doesn't end with the readings; the next part of the liturgy is how God inserts us into the Story! That's what happens next, with baptism and confirmation. God became one of us; and God lifts us up into God--that is the meaning of baptism, confirmation and the Eucharist.

I talked about the new heart and new spirit mentioned in Ezekiel--and pointed out that we Christians the heart of the world--we are the ones bringing the Spirit into the world--until Christ is all in all. I said something like--if only our church could be 100 times brighter--that a geat beam of light would shoot up into space, and people would say, something is going on in Piqua--in Columbus--in Troy--in Cincinnati, Washington, Rome, and everywhere else! Until the whole world were engulfed in the light of Christ! That day will come. The story does have an end, when Christ is all in all; in the meantime, we are sent to bring that Light, to bring Christ to the world. That's also the meaning of baptism and confirmation, and I told the catechumens and candidates they were accepting a great responsibility. I ended with something like, "till the whole world knows Jesus Christ."

Well, I'm winding down with a beer; I have the 10:30 am Mass tomorrow. Thank God for the two holy priests who assist me!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Triduum begins...

The day started with a phone call...where's the Eucharist?

Last night, I transferred the Blessed Sacrament from the tabernacle of St. Boniface, to the chapel, where we have perpetual exposition. The rubrics say to do it sometime before the evening Mass of Holy Thursday, so I do it following the Wednesday evening Mass, insofar as the people can take part if they wish--but we do it simply.

I got into the office, and dealt with matters there; I still had one more person to recruit to have his feet washed, and that was taken care of. Then I ran over to church, to get chairs set up, and get everything else in order. Then a quick run to the wine shop for beer and wine for dinner.

Every Holy Thursday, I invite priests from the area for prayer and dinner, and we had lamb, ham, potatoes, green beans Piqua-style, rolls, butter, salad and dessert. The parishioners who help me with this were wonderful; they took some leftovers home, including some bottles of wine.

The priests all have to leave around 5 of course, for their own Masses; so I got a little rest before heading back to St. Boniface to rehearse things with the servers. We had more experienced servers, so all went well. They handled all the special parts just fine. We had incense throughout, of course, including at the elevations.

Father Tom preached, so I was grateful for that; I focused on offering the Mass. I confess it is a little spine-tingling to offer this Mass, thinking of that evening so long ago, yet so fresh in our minds.

The procession went well, and many came along to pray in the chapel afterward. After stripping church, I headed home for a little rest.

Then--a phone call. It was the police! "There's are lights going on and off in your school, the police think someone may be in there." So I shot over there, and we went was a just a bulb that was flickering, crisis averted! "Guess this won't make 'Cops!'" The officers said they wished their whole night could go like that. I seconded that wish for them.

So, now I'm back after that. Tomorrow is a busy day, confessions in the morning, then run over to St. Boniface to bring the Eucharist, consecrated tonight, for the Good Friday liturgy, then our version of the "tres ore," with stations, a talk on the Seven Last Words, then the solemn liturgy, then we begin the Divine Mercy Novena. Then I take the Holy Eucharist back to St. Boniface, for the evening liturgy there, which the vicar will lead. He, too, has confessions beforehand.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Sorry I haven't posted...

I wouldn't really take time to post now, except I'm waiting for a phone call back. What I really need to do right now is make calls; except I keep missing someone's call, so...I wait.

My homily for Palm Sunday was brief, which it always is that day. Most of the priests I know give very brief homilies. Of course, in a less time-conscious culture, it might be a great day to give a fuller homily...but there it is.

My homily made these points:

> This week is so important, please make time; pray for God to help you. Let us pray for each other in that regard.

> If you thought you missed a chance to go to confession, we'll have confessions Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, and twice on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

> I shared a passage from the Office of Readings for last Saturday, which invited us to think of ourselves as the Good Thief, or Joseph of Arimathea, etc.

As you might imagine, I'm busy these days. Not just Holy Week details.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Another thing a pastor does...

Today started with Mass at 8 am, mostly in Latin, as we do on the first Wednesday of the month. Attendance is good, and people are praying the Latin prayers better and better.

Then I picked up breakfast on the way to the office, here by 9 am.

A fair amount of paperwork (I have a vast supply in reserve); some phone calls and emails. But the major project today was to write a grant.

As you may know, since 2006, I've been working on a variety of projects for Saint Boniface Parish. When I arrived in 2005, the maintenance crew and many other parishioners made me aware of many urgent projects. I launched a "Rebuild Saint Boniface Fund" drive in 2006, with a goal of $580,000. It seemed so far out of reach, and yet, with prayer, a lot of events and hard work by many people, plus some big hitters, we've just about reached it. We still need to raise some funds for windows in the school; the rest of the projects are all funded.

Although the name of the project might lead you to think it's all for the church, in fact almost a third goes to the school: new windows, roof repairs, resurfacing parking/play area, and painting the gym. A chunk goes to the parish office (former rectory): interior and exterior repairs, plus improving electrical service so our computers don't trip our circuit breakers. The bulk of it goes to the church: the exterior stone-facing (a kind of stucco) needs significant attention, trim paint, the front vestibule roofs had major leaks we had to repair, thus the vestibule needed plaster and paint, the stained-glass windows needed restoration before they began to fall down in chunks, the pews need major attention (if we can save them; we may not be able to), and the like.

But there remained one element I didn't include--because it wasn't a critical need: repainting and beautifying the interior of the church. In addition, even though I anticipated a need for new flooring, should we replace the pews as may prove likely (fear not, they will have classic design; and when folks ask, "will they have kneelers," I say, "this is me!"), I didn't include the cost, because again, not a critical need as everything else was.

So, today, I was meeting with my director of maintenance to review costs, and prepare the proposal for a $75,000 grant to provide for new flooring, and most important, new painting. And not just a fresh coat of paint, but a real improvement in the interior decoration.

Some of you wonder--will the new flooring be carpet--or something harder?

Well, that depends on several factors. We priced carpet and tile. Carpet came in at around $6 a square yard, tile at $10; other options such as wood or stone, much higher. There are other options we are exploring, such as stained and polished concrete, that may give us most of the benefit of tile at a carpet price.

I'd very much like a hard surface if possible. The benefits would be beauty, far better acoustics for music--the carpet does such a good job at absorbing sound, people don't hear others singing, so they don't sing, unless church is very full--and permanence: we would not have to replace it for a very long time. The downsides are: added cost, higher maintenance cost, and greater risk of slipping in wet and icy weather. We can compensate for the latter to some degree; so if I can bring down the initial cost, the longer life-span may compensate for the increased maintenance cost.

Also, I have a dream that someday, somehow, we will get a real pipe organ back in Saint Boniface Church. A new one would be over $300,000; but if we made the right match with another church, we might be able to obtain one for the cost of moving it--still many thousands, but well worth that to have such beautiful music back. If we ever had a pipe organ, carpeting would be a very effective way to negate its power and beauty.

As I see it, re-adorning the interior of Saint Boniface is the crowning task for the church, so that other projects can be pursued. (Meanwhile, other projects are being pursued, for the benefit of the school--but it's too soon to talk about those.) I am blessed, as a pastor, that my predecessor--who also happens to be my parochial vicar--saw to a variety of needs at Saint Mary, and the people of Saint Mary helped me with several items, such that the school, church and rectory are all now in top shape. So as these projects come to fruition for Saint Boniface, we will have two beautiful and well-maintained churches in Piqua.

Anyway, I spent several hours on this grant application; my maintenance man is getting some visual aids put together, so God willing, we will submit it by week's end.

Please pray!

(And if you want to help--especially if you have a pipe organ--write me at