Monday, September 28, 2009

Letting go of money (Sunday homily)

(These are my notes, adjusted by my memory of how I delivered this homily three times this past weekend...)

Looking at that second reading, we might make a couple of points:

1) St. James is not indicting everyone who has wealth,
but those who misuse their wealth, and the power that goes with it.

2) Many of us who wouldn't call ourselves wealthy would--nonetheless--
by James' standards be considered wealthy, if we:

> own our own homes
> have savings and investments
> own nice stuff
...because James is contrasting those who have security in wealth with those who do not.

James' point is not that wealth is bad, but that it has perils.
Have you not found that when we have possessions, what we own possesses us?
When you own things, or have responsibilities for a business and so forth,
these things occupy our thoughts and cares.

I experienced this when I decided to enter the seminary.
Before I did so, I had a job with some responsibility; I owned a nice car,
on which I had payments to make; and I owned a home, with a mortgage.
When I entered the seminary, I gave up the job; sold the car and bought a cheaper one,
with nothing owed; and sold my house.
While I was sad to give up those things, it was very freeing--
especially not to owe anyone a penny.

Well, I've come full circle--while I don't own a lot,
I do have plenty of responsibilities for this parish and the other parish
and it occupies my thoughts and cares.

When we find that these things overwhelm us,
the only thing to do is a prayer of surrender--
of turning these things over to God--and that can be very hard to do.
Often, we can only do that when our backs are against the wall
and we finally admit we can't handle it all on our own.

For me, it comes late at night, when I am turning things over in my mind,
and I can't sleep, even though I need to; it's when I'm finally exhausted that I let go.

But that letting go--loosening our grip--is what we need to do.
Not giving up, but giving over--to God who is ultimately in control.

A funny thing happens sometimes--people who have wealth or responsibility,
sometimes just decide to give it up.
This is not just a feature of the religious life, it's one of its principal attractions,
the vow of poverty.
St. Anthony--not of Padua, who helps us find lost things,
but of Egypt, from a long time ago, was one of the first monks.
He inherited a lot of money, and like many of us, decided to give part of it to God.
But that wasn't enough for him; so he gave most of it to God,
keeping a little for himself. Ultimately, he gave it all away.

Those who enter the vowed, religious life, this is one of the great attractions:
making this radical gift to Christ.
It was the same with St. Francis of Assisi, who even gave over his clothing.

But what about the rest of us, the majority of us who won't make a vow of poverty?

This is why giving part away is important--this is the spiritual rationale for that.
Just like fasting or penance or other spiritual exercises,
giving a part of what we have away helps us not hold the grip too tightly.
Of course, if we have money to give away, that's wonderful,
and thank you for your generosity to the church;
but it is also giving talent and time away too.

And when we give these things away,
we realize another kind of wealth we have: Christ!
His mercy and his presence are a bank account that is never empty.
As we take part in this Mass, perhaps we realize we need to let go a little more;
but take this opportunity to seize--with both hands!--
the great wealth that is Christ! He is our true wealth--in this life, and for eternity!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who can be ordained?

There's been some discussion in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer about who can be ordained as bishop, priest or deacon by the Catholic Church. I wrote a letter which appeared online; I don't know if it appeared in print.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Events in the life of a priest

Another "day in the life" post, although it will be about events from this week...

Monday (or what a priest does on his day off):

We had a funeral for a man who died last week. I met with the family on Friday afternoon to plan the funeral. I often have a volunteer do this, but in this case, I didn't know the family at all, so this was a way to get better acquainted. We spent about an hour going over the Mass, explaining everything as needed. The family suggested I pick the readings; I suggested some and they liked them. We talked about options: incense is used toward the end; it could be used throughout. Would you like that? (Yes.) We can do some of the prayers in Latin, or would you prefer English? (English.) We can use purple, black, or white vestments--and I explained purple expresses prayerful waiting and hope (Advent & Lent); black expresses mourning and sorrow; and white represents resurrection. Preference? (Black.)

Monday morning, we had the funeral. Not a lot of folks besides the family and the American Legion. We did use incense throughout, and it was very nice. FYI, the way I did it was to load the censer with incense after we sprinkled the coffin with holy water and placed the pall--and then the incense led the procession to the altar. Then we did incense at all the usual places, including at the end which is most familiar. After this, I changed from my Mass vestments into a surplice (I was wearing my cassock) and a black stole, and we went to the cemetery for the burial. No one commented either way on the black vestments, but many did say they liked the Mass.

After the funeral, I came back to church, and was going to stop in on the St. Mary Altar Society lunch; however, I was needed for something in the office. By the time I got that taken care of, it was too late to go see the St. Mary Altar Society--sorry ladies! I wanted to tell them about the vestment I'd ordered for St. Mary, at their behest and with their pledge of funds. We are supposed to have it next month. I'll see if the maker can send me a pic when it's finished, to post here.

I didn't do much after that; I did head down to Dayton for awhile, ending up at Tumbleweeds for an early dinner (see prior post). That was my day off.

Yesterday, after Mass with the schoolchildren, and a quick trip to Tim Hortons for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I had a staff meeting in the morning, then plenty of office work. I met with the chairman of St. Boniface Pastoral Council in the afternoon, to plan for Thursday evening's meeting. Then some more office work--phone calls, emails, mail to open, etc.

We had a meeting Tuesday evening of our new liturgy commissions for both parishes. When I arrived, one parish did not have a liturgy commission, and the other was falling apart. I had other fires to put out, so this sat on the sidelines. I received some feedback from one parish that parishioners would like to see one.

My response was to say, yes, let's create one for each parish; have them work jointly to some degree insofar as we have one pastor; and I said I believed the key thing must be that everyone will study, and work from, the Church's own understanding of the liturgy. I sought advice from several people on who to name, and it took some time to make phone calls to all involved, and we finally got together last night. We prayed the liturgy of the hours together, then discussed some routine housekeeping matters, and then looked at the beginning of Sacrosanctum Concilium, aka the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. This weekend, I'll have a letter in the bulletins introducing these folks and explaining our purpose.

This morning, after Mass, I got together with our director of religious education and youth, because he had a project for me. "Have you ever seen 'MTV Cribs'?" I admitted I had. "We'd like to videotape you giving a tour of the church, explaining everything, sorta like that. I laughed...okay, but we need to do both churches. So that's what we did this morning--but we went to get some coffee and donuts while folks finished their rosary. If the video passes the censor (me), I'll post it here. That is, if it doesn't get accidentally erased.

I was at the Kiwanis lunch today, they signed me up for membership. I haven't found anyone who can tell me where the name comes from; but it's a good group, dedicated to volunteerism.

Then back here to work on some things, that seemed to take all afternoon, now I'm taking a break, and later we'll have our Bible Study--looking at Romans, about to chapter 5 I believe--then I'll hang out with some parishioners afterward.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glenn Beck

I'm sitting at Tumbleweed, waiting for dinner.

Glenn Beck (remember Howard Beale from "Network"? If not, rent it) is on TV, with a chart with lots of names of people and organizations, all connected this way and that. The sound is turned down, so I cannot comment on what he's saying (Deo gratias); but Morton Blackwell, one of the wisest men in politics, warned me about folks who draw complicated charts explaining how "it's all interconnected"--meaning vast, spidery conspiracies. It's a snare and a delusion--which is what Glenn Beck is--he who hap'ed upon his moment of success skewering the Obama Administration because it's a target-rich environment and most of the big-game hunters are all not interested.

I hold Mr. Beck no personal animus, but--I'm cautioning you, he's going to be a major embarrassment, sooner or later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Control or the Cross (Sunday homily)

My Sunday homily was not the same text as three years ago--but the same theme. But I had no notes; I just talked about how we (I!) behave behind the wheel as an example of a vain attempt to control things--leading to anger--in contrast to the release of control that brings peace. Another example I offered was the anxiety many feel about the political situation; which we influence, but we must ultimately yield to God's providence. In contrast to control, I offered the example of our Divine Savior on the Cross. And I invited everyone who had something they would like to let go of, to place it (figuratively) with the gifts of bread and wine, as they come to the altar, so they may be offered, with the bread and wine, to the Lord to be transformed--as we long to be transformed through union with the Eucharist--into Christ himself.

If you click on the headline, you can read my homily from three years ago. I didn't actually look at it beforehand, other than to borrow the theme; but I wouldn't be surprised if some of the same ideas resurfaced--I'm not that creative!

Monday, September 14, 2009

This time, 'District 9'

I have a thing for science fiction. I took in 'District 9' this afternoon. I was kind of bored with it at first, and thought about leaving (which I have done maybe 3 times). It had that jumpy quality that 'Blair Witch' and whatever that movie was where the aliens attack New York. I hate that stuff, it makes me want to throw up. But I moved back a few rows (in an otherwise empty theater); and after awhile, the movie became very interesting to me.

Warning: it is rather bloody and in some ways disturbing. But in many ways interesting and thought-provoking.

Meanwhile, let me digress back to the previews. Do you enjoy those? I try to arrive at the theater with enough time to see those. I noticed one preview for something called 'Legion,' in which God--this is what they said, I'm not interpreting this--was so angry at the world that he sent a bunch of angels to exterminate everyone. Another take on the creepy/dark supernatural/"we deserve to be punished" theme that shows up a lot. When does it open? January 22. What do you make of that?

While I was watching that...

...and it doesn't look like something I want to see, because among other things, I absolutely refuse to take part in a movie that depicts angels as villains or enemies of humanity. Sorry--absolutely wrong answer. Maybe it really won't be that way (it's amazing but true: movie makers will present a film, in the previews, in a way very much contrary to what the movie is really about), but that's my reaction based on their own preview.

...anyway, as I was watching that preview, I thought of something I've observed before--and now I'll share with you for your thoughts. Does it seem to you that a fair amount of films and literature is all about how we're gonna get it? We've got it coming and we're really going to be slammed? Put it another way: how often does a futuristic movie depict the future as something sunny and positive, or even something more or less like our world? In the former category, I'd put the whole 'Star Trek' series; they exude a great optimism about the future. In the latter, I'd put the Philip Dick movies, "Total Recall," "Minority Report" and whatever the movie was with Ben Affleck having his memory wiped. Not terrible futures, but not utopian, either.

Then we have the movies in which the future is bleak: Terminator; the new flick about the Mayan calendar, "2012" I think; and the animated movie out right now, called "9." Then there are the environmental apocalypse movies: "Waterworld" and "Day After Tomorrow" (which I think should be a double feature every Earth Day--but few would get the joke). And a lot more.

Is it just me, or does Hollywood have a widespread sense of foreboding? Here's an even more edgy idea: does this reveal something unconsciously at work in our culture? Someone said that if you really want to know what's at work in a culture, don't read it's non-fiction, but it's fiction; because there's something unconscious at work there. (Did Flannery O'Connor say that? I pick these quotes up like barnacles but never remember where I got them, sorry--maybe one of my readers knows?)

Anyway, that's what I thought about during the previews; then came the movie: "District 9.

What are your thoughts about any of this?

A few political observations

It's been awhile since I shared some political observations. Here goes:

> Opponents to misguided health-care "reform" should start hitting other issues than the so-called "public option."

It seems clear to me that the government-operated insurance program, called "the public option," is sinking fast. President Obama's handling of it suggests to me that, when it fails, he will say that he went to bat for it, but the votes weren't there. Now they are casting about for something approximating it, such as a so-called "co-op."

What I also think is happening is that the advocates of a big-government solution are setting up the "public option" as a kind of scapegoat. The term "scapegoat" comes from Scripture: God's people would take a goat, and symbolically put all their sins on that goat, and send it off into the desert. Likewise, the White House and its allies on this are preparing to cut the public option adrift, hoping that all the fears and opposition to their proposals will go off with it--and they can get through the rest of the proposals.

But there are a lot of problems with the bill.

The President said his bill would tell insurance companies all the things they couldn't consider when they wrote an insurance policy. They couldn't consider any pre-existing condition; they couldn't take into account actual differences between men and women in insurance costs; they couldn't put any caps on the benefits they would pay out. Big applause.

No one wants to be a meanie and explain why these are bad ideas. So let's apply this to other forms of insurance. What if companies that provide flood insurance were not allowed to take into consideration the history of floods in that area? You had six floods in 20 years? So what--you still are "entitled" to be insured against flood damage. What do you think will happen?

The obvious thing to do is to charge more. If you were the insurance company, what would you do? The alternative is a fast lane to bankruptcy.

Charging different premiums for men and women--how terrible! Well, auto insurance companies do it--and they do it, not because of some irrational bias against men (who pay higher auto premiums) but because of higher risk. After all, if there were not some fact to this, why doesn't some health insurance company come out and say, "we give women the best rates!" There are a lot of women in this country, and they are not powerless, politically or economically.

OK, at this point someone may say, but it's not about a business decision, it's about doing the right thing: meaning, it's not right to take pre-existing conditions or different costs associated with sex into account.

But in any case, the fact remains that these mandates will have real-world costs. And what the President is doing is airily mandating these insurance companies somehow to solve these problems. When premiums surge upward, or what is provided to everyone is diminished--and these are the obvious outcomes to expect--who will the President and his allies blame? Why, the greedy insurance companies (boo! boo!). This is a lousy way to do things--unless what you want is to lay the groundwork for another go at a government-run system.

Speaking of mandates, what about the individual mandate? Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government can do this? The comparison is made to auto insurance; however, it is not true to say the government (in this case, state government) actually compels anyone to have auto insurance. Rather, drivers or automobile owners are so required. The rationale is that this is a condition of venturing out onto public roads.

But with this, the only way to escape this mandate--other than begging for a special exemption--is to cease existing.

The target of this individual mandate are those "selfish" young people who correctly make the calculation that a comprehensive health insurance policy is a lousy deal for them. The spectre of a costly, catastrophic health emergency befalling them--and then being paid for by everyone else--is always raised. However: such a more limited policy would be relatively cheap, and very easy to incentivize folks to adopt. If that is what you want, give these folks a tax deduction or even a credit for that, and I bet millions of folks would happily purchase such a policy. After all, it is very reasonable to insure oneself against such an outcome. Part of the problem is actually finding such a policy.

But let's be clear--that stated reason is not actually what this is about. What it's really about is funding the rest of "the system." The idea is that these "selfish" healthy people should be made to pay steep premiums (which will escalate rapidly if the President has his way), to pay for others' health care, and that somehow, they can be assured that "when it's their turn," some other unfortunate folks will be tapped to provide for them.

Have we seen this before? Yep--it's called Social Security. And it's on its way to massive failure. And Social Security is more financially sound--or I should say, less unsound--than this scheme.

Let's remember what our supposed goal is: to find ways to assure as many people as possible (we can't do the impossible) have quality and affordable health care. I think we can all say that we favor some sort of "insurance" or risk-sharing. And we all say we want to keep costs from getting to be too much.

The question is, are these the way to do it? I think not. And I think an awful lot of Americans have sound reason to be concerned. The so-called "public option" is only the most visible problem, and the advocates of a big-government approach are about to toss it overboard. It's time to focus on the many other problems, some of which I've mentioned.

> I don't want the GOP to take control next year.

Of course this is premature, but even the President is now acknowledging what I've had in mind from before he was elected: that if Obama or Hilary Clinton were elected, the likelihood of the GOP taking control of Congress would grow. Those who despaired at the thought of Obama's election, you may recall I said don't assume he will just be able to do whatever he wants, without opposition, and without the American people having ways to bring pressure to bear. That is now happening--rather faster, I concede, than I expected; but nonetheless.

Some of my friends on the right will be very encouraged by the possibility of the GOP taking back even one house of Congress; but I am not. In my judgment, the GOP is simply "not ready for prime time." It is far from clear to me that the GOP has yet learned the lessons it needs to learn about the past eight--and really, I'd say 10-12 years--of its governance. It may be that the GOP wasn't really ready to take over in 1994, but I can't say I had that insight then. But I really think they aren't deserving of it now. Not yet.

I'm speaking, of course, as someone who believes in limited government.

I know--"but won't that be better than what we have now?" Not necessarily. It could easily be worse. How worse? Having the so-called "small government" party repackage big-government, and thus helping the big-government party enact it is how. Hello--isn't that what we saw during the Bush years? Isn't that one of the big reasons so many are so viscerally disgusted with the GOP? It's certainly why I feel that way.

What's important to me is to have more voices in Congress for the prolife cause, for limited government, and for personal freedom, than we have now. Which help-yourself partisans actually control the gavel matters little to me--it's which causes can command the votes.

At this point, I think if prolifers and small-government folks saw a lot more of their advocates win--and their opponents sent to retirement--in 2010, without the GOP actually taking control--that would be the best-case scenario. That would mean enough votes to stop bad things, and even to do an occasional good thing, but without the GOP being given power it still lacks the vision or integrity to handle. We can have a prolife majority in Congress without a GOP majority; and the same on many other issues. It's the issues that matter, not the party label.

The damage President Bush and the Republicans in Congress did to their credibility and integrity is very deep, and it has not yet been addressed, in my view.

> Casinos in Ohio. What a rotten mess.

We're having a vote in November on whether to allow four cities to set up casinos--Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The advocates are making a big thing of "34,000 new jobs!"--of which 19,000 are construction jobs; and the remainder are permanent jobs as casino dealers, restaurant servers, and so forth.

Then we have the sordid spectacle of the advertising, in which we're told how terrible these casinos will be--by folks who run casinos themselves, but don't want any competition!

Now, some will say that the Church is engaged in the same hypocrisy. And to some degree, it is fair to fault us, to the extent we rely on drawing income from year-round gambling. We have a bingo at St. Boniface, and it has been a significant source of revenue; and I've said many times I feel uneasy about it. However, it should still be pointed out that the reason St. Boniface runs a bingo is to fund charitable operations; the folks who put in all the time and labor do not profit from it. They do it for the parish and the school.

However, there is nothing hypocritical about finding fault with the way government tends to handle this. Here's what they do: they call it "vice" and "corrupt"--right up until the moment the government sets itself up in the gambling business; then, presto-chango! what was corrupt is now virtuous and your patriotic duty! Either taking a chance on the numbers is morally wrong or it isn't; but it isn't made virtuous by the fact that one mob controls it, versus the other--especially when that mob controls the levers of government.

Of course, the government says, "we're doing it for schools too!" OK, but--you have the power to tax; and you alone have the power to regulate your "competition." How sweet an arrangement is that? The Church has no such power.

But back to this casino thing. My reaction was, these 34,000 jobs--of which most are temporary--this is the best we can do? This is a desperation play; it's what you (meaning those running things) do when you cannot or will not address the real problems.

Yes, we'll build the casinos and that will involve real construction jobs. But those will go away.

Yes, the casinos will hire waiters and dealers. And some of those will represent a net increase in jobs--but almost certainly something less than 15,000, although I'm not sure how much less.

Why do I say that? Because some share of the business and customers these casinos will draw, will be not from out-of-state entertainment and gambling sites, but from in-state businesses. Who believes 100% of the projected customers for the Columbus casino all currently drive many hours outside the state for gambling or other thrills--and now they will all stay in-state? Some portion of the folks hired at these casinos will be offset by folks who get fewer hours at other entertainment businesses whose customers will be drawn to these casinos for buffets, or entertainment packages, etc.

Is this really the best we can do to create jobs?

Plus, what's with this business of these four cities getting the "benefit"--taking the advocates at their word that this is a good thing--while other cities are left out? Why not Youngstown? Steubenville? Ironton? Sandusky? Dayton? Akron? Findlay? Springfield? Middletown? I could go on and on.

Of course, I can think of lots of reasons why you'd site a casino in the four cities mentioned--and not these others. But really, how should such decisions be made?

To me, this whole thing reeks. And it's a distraction from dealing with the real issues Ohio faces. Since the recession of the early 80s, Ohio has been hit harder than most states by that and subsequent downturns, and not recovered as well. A good chunk of Ohio was still waiting to recover from the 2001 recession when this one hit--i.e., a lot of Ohio is in permanent recession. And when this recession ends, and whatever recovery unfolds, unless something fundamental changes in Ohio, it'll be the same again.

Meanwhile, a lot of our political class has a vision for our future: Detroit! A city that is imploding, but look at our pretty casinos!

Why don't we instead insist Gov. Strickland and the legislature take a hard look at what makes Ohio a place where new businesses don't want to locate? Why do they prefer to go almost anywhere else? I think that should be the issue they face in 2010. Fellow Ohioans, you and I must insist on it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

'What price are we willing to pay to follow Jesus Christ?' (Sunday homily)

The readings pose a question for us:
What price are we willing to pay in following Jesus Christ?

Many of us change our buying habits,
because we don’t want to do business with companies that mistreat their workers,
or whose advertising promotes immodesty,
particularly to young people.

It can mean letting go of things, such as some sports activities,
because they keep us from coming to Mass
on Saturday evening or Sunday.

Others will think less of us or criticize us as being weak
when we hold back from harsh judgments against others,
or we are too generous and forgiving.

It is not easy to practice chastity in this culture;
I am filled with admiration for our families
who make so many sacrifices to welcome the gift of life with a new child,
and to make sure their children know Christ comes first in all things.

We have so many who generously share their talents,
their time and their treasure,
for no other reason than to make things better
in their parish, their community,
and the lives of other people.

Another way to look at it is this:
In many places in the world, following Jesus
is extremely hazardous.
In Saudi Arabia, simply having Catholic Mass is illegal.
We would be arrested.
In North Korea, we might well end up starving
in a forced-labor camp.
There are many places in the world
where our fellow Catholics go to Mass on Sunday,
only to face angry mobs burn down their churches.

Our Lord told us it would be very, very costly to follow him.
We do it because we are convinced—as Peter was—
that Jesus alone is the Savior of the World,
who has the Words of everlasting life.

He is the Pearl worth giving up everything to have.

What price are we willing to pay in order to follow Jesus Christ?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Go to this--please pray for us priests!

This great event, featuring prayer before our Eucharistic Lord, reflection, a talk from our new Archbishop (in waiting) Dennis Schnurr, and a chance to meet other folks who care about the Church as deeply as you do...

Will also happen in Sidney, Ohio, at Holy Angels Church on October 11, 2009. Same time I believe.

We had this last winter at St. Mary Parish in Piqua.

Go--it's great! We priests need your prayers a lot!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Romans Chapter 3

Here are some notes I prepared for last night's Bible Study on Paul's Letter to the Romans. We meet at 7 pm every Wednesday at St. Boniface, in the Caserta Center (across Miami Street from St. Boniface).

Romans Chapter 3

Verses 1-8
Paul poses a series of questions that should be understood in two ways. First, they seem to be questions a reader or listener—or someone debating with him—might ask. Second, they also are chosen, by Paul, to advance his argument.
The first question is, “What advantage is there then in being a Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” If we asked this, in our own way of speaking, we might say, “Paul, it sounds like there is no advantage to being Jewish (or circumcised).”
First, we have to recall that Paul always went first to his fellow Jews to proclaim the Gospel, as the Lord Jesus commanded. The question might be asked because Paul here might seem to be denying that there is anything special about the Jewish people, as God’s chosen and specially favored with the Covenant. Paul has no intention of denying that—he’s making a point about sin and the need for Jesus Christ.
Thus Paul responds, certainly the Jewish people were favored by God in many ways, particularly to be the recipients and bearers of God’s self-revelation and his Covenant.
The next question is posed: weren’t they unfaithful—what about that? We might understand that several ways: (1) “If they are so special, why were they unfaithful?” Or (2), What does it say about the covenant and the revelation of God, that those chosen to receive it behaved so badly? Or (3) it might be an even more subtle question: “Did God’s fidelity to the covenant depend on his people’s fidelity?” (See New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 51:34.)
Paul’s response is that the sinfulness of the Jews does not call into question either God’s salvation nor the truth of what he has revealed to humanity, principally through the Jews. God will still be faithful to his covenant: “God must be true, though every human being is a liar.”
The next question might seem even more obscure: we might paraphrase it as, “are you saying, Paul, that God’s plan is advanced by human sinfulness? If our sinfulness is all part of the plan, why then does God punish it?” Paul spends less time on this question, other than to deny it. The question confuses two things. Yes, it’s true that God is able to bring good about despite wickedness—but that doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t cause real damage and suffering, both to others, and to the one who chooses sin. So the fact that God overcomes evil doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause harm.

Verses 9-20
Scholars debate the best way to translate verse 9, but whichever way they go, it comes to the same place where Paul wants to go: whether Jew or Gentile, we are all sinners, and we to be saved from sin. Paul cites a string of Scripture passages, all linked together to support his point about the problem of sin which affects us all. We might wonder—did Paul do this from memory? Or did he look them all up? Notice that many body parts are mentioned—perhaps suggesting that the whole of the human person is caught up in sin (NJBC, ibid.). This “catena” or chain of scripture passages may be one already familiar to Paul or his letter’s recipients.

Verse 20-26
Now we come to a climax in Paul’s argument: “no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law… the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.”
We begin to get into the heart of Paul’s teaching about justification by faith—and now we come upon that section of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that has been the subject of much debate and division in the Church since the time of Martin Luther.
Be very sure that every word in these lines of Paul has been analyzed, debated and picked over extensively by lots of very smart, and very determined people! These notes are much humbler in purpose!
It was in reading these passages that Martin Luther hit upon his claim that the whole Gospel, the whole Church, “stands or falls” on the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” To that, Catholics respond in two ways:
First, that we agree about justification by faith—but we question what Luther means by adding the word “alone.” And he literally did add it at one point, saying it brought out the meaning of what Paul is saying.
Second, we agree this is important—but we do not agree to a narrowness about how to understand this doctrine on its own merits, or in relation to the rest of what has been given to us in the Deposit of Faith—that is, the whole body of what we believe about God and his action to save us through Jesus Christ.
We might, for example, respond (along with Eastern Christians) that theosis—being transformed by God and unified with God, as expressed in the startling, yet perfectly orthodox statement of Aquinas (reiterating what many other Fathers of the Church, theologians and saints have said): “God became man that men might become God.”
And we might say further that this doctrine of theosis is another way of talking about justification—except that it won’t fit into Luther’s narrowing of the doctrine—because Luther would go on to emphasize that in justification, God imputes or attributes righteousness to us; he does not—at least initially—make us righteous.
Luther saw sinful humanity, “justified” by Christ, as a dunghill covered in pure snow—but note that the dunghill remained what it was. But Catholic teaching is emphatic that when God declares someone righteous, his creative, all-powerful word effects what it declares: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).
We might wonder why it was so important to insist on this idea of imputed righteousness—it seems an exceedingly subtle point on which to take a stand. While I have not extensively studied Luther, and the other leading figures in the Protestant movement, the argument seems to be as follows: if God makes me righteous, then I can say that is my righteousness and thus, my salvation is no longer wholly gratuitous, but in some sense, deserved.
To this the Catholic Church responds, no, because this righteousness, which becomes who I am, is nonetheless a gift of God. I do not earn it!

Some excerpts from the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification ()

14. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.
15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.
17.We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God's saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.
18.Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts.
23.When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one's life renewed. When they stress that God's grace is forgiving love ("the favor of God"), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian's life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.
24.When Catholics emphasize the renewal of the interior person through the reception of grace imparted as a gift to the believer, they wish to insist that God's forgiving grace always brings with it a gift of new life, which in the Holy Spirit becomes effective in active love. They do not thereby deny that God's gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation.
26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative word. Because God's act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of "justification by faith alone," a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one's way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.
27.The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through baptism as hearers of the word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him. This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God's graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God's unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Rom 3:27).

Mass for Bishop Moeddel

Last night, we had a Requiem Mass for Bishop Moeddel at St. Boniface. It was simple, but it was a privilege for me to offer the Mass. John Wright and the Schola Cantorum provided music; Father Tom and Father Ang concelebrated with me (all in black vestments); my homily talked some about Bishop Moeddel, but more about the importance of praying for those who had died, and thus joining ourselves to the Mass for someone who has died, to be purified in purgatory. We did use some Latin; I didn't use incense, because I knew some would avoid the Mass if I did.

Sorry I didn't give you a head's up, I do what I can.