Saturday, January 30, 2010

Speaking the truth in love (Sunday homily)

Three powerful readings from Scripture.
What do they have in common?

Why was it important that Jeremiah speak out?
Why did God send him?
God’s people were on a path to being destroyed;
they needed to be warned.

Why did Jesus,
right after everyone said how wonderful he was,
then proceed to infuriate them all so much
that his own friends and neighbors
tried to throw him off the cliff?

Love tells the truth; not as a weapon,
but as the call—often an urgent call:
“Here’s the right path, you’re going the wrong way!”

Both Jeremiah and our Lord found out
how unpopular that can be.

So why is anyone surprised that it’s true for us?

We Catholics often present to our world
a message it doesn’t want to hear.

What’s more, many of our own Catholics don’t agree
with parts of that message.
And the response we hear is, the Church is out of step; change the message—
not just how we say it, but change what we believe.

We might mention marriage:
what used to be common sense is now called “bigotry.”
But to say that marriage is a certain thing,
Rather than anything we want to make of it,
Is simply telling the truth.

There’s a story told about President Lincoln.
He asked some other politicians,
“How many legs does a sheep have?”
“Four,” they answered.
“What if you call a tail a leg, how many then?”
“Well, then five.”
“No,” Lincoln said—the sheep still has four legs—
because calling a tail a leg doesn’t make it so.

The reason we must keep speaking out, like Jeremiah—
and whether it’s about marriage, or the sanctity of life,
or about what real justice looks like,
or what the real ingredients of a happy life look like…

The reason we do it is because we have a life-giving message.
Our society needs it.
And like Jeremiah, God sends us to give it!

And no matter how young you are—speak out.
And the fact that our message
is sometimes unwelcome is just the same thing
that has always happened.
It hardly “proves” that what we’re offering isn’t true;
It only proves that what we’re offering is a challenge.

Chastity and self control…
Being open to God giving new life in families…
Forgiving our enemies…
Finding room for the poor, for the aged, the immigrant…
Telling people that “success” isn’t the main thing…

These are hard messages—not always welcome.
But here’s the thing:
For all these centuries,
Christians—and the Catholic Church in particular—
have been saying hard things like this to the world.

Before we Christians did it, the Jewish people did it.
The world never liked it,
but our world is a far better place because of it.

Think of slavery. It is so shocking to us.
And yet, in most of human history, it was normal.

It was common before Christianity spread.
Over the centuries,
it almost entirely died out in Christian Europe.
Then, when European explorers came to Africa…
They found it, they got dollar-signs in their eyes,
and brought it to the New World.

And it was another four hundred years’ long struggle
as Christians, our Church in particular, kept fighting it.

There were a lot of Jeremiahs over the years,
Their message wasn’t welcome…
They didn’t say, “I’m personally opposed, but…”
They were told, “Get with the times,”
They didn’t listen!
“Love never fails.”

So however long the odds may seem,
That our culture is going to listen to us,
We have a simple but certain fact on our side:
Our message is not our own invention.
We are presenting the message of Jesus Christ.

And while parts of the message are well received,
Other times, it inspires fury.

Some years back, I spent a month in Korea,
And there is a hilltop there where 150 years ago,
the King threw Christians to their deaths—
just like the crowd wanted to do to Jesus.
There’s a Catholic Church on that hilltop now;
And although Christians are still a minority in Korea,
they have had a huge influence for good.
Parents, you are the ones who often do this
when you draw a line or say “no” for the thousandth time.

You do it when you go the extra mile to share our Faith with your children.
This week we celebrate the great gift of our Catholic Schools
and we thank all those whose work and sacrifice make them possible.

But the key thing is that the family,
the leadership of parents, is what passes on the Faith.

As a former kid, I can tell you I eventually figured out that my parents were right!
Your kids will figure it out—and they may even admit it!
Meanwhile, it is love—love that speaks the truth—
that compels us to say,
“this is the path that leads to life.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

First Reconciliation

I thought you might be interested in how we did things here for our second-graders who participated in the sacrament of reconciliation for the first time.

The children--whether in religious education or Piqua Catholic grade school--have been preparing all year; last night we had a penance service for them and their families. We had a reading from Isaiah, a psalm and a Gospel passage from Luke, concerning the one lost sheep (later in that passage, our Lord talks about the lost coin, and then the lost son--i.e., the "prodigal" son). Yours truly gave the homily, which is below. The children took their turns, after which the adults were welcome to receive the sacrament. Several older children came as well. After receiving the sacrament, the children light a candle and can take a rosary, which I blessed at the end. We had four priests, and I decided we'll need five or six next year.

Afterwards, two of the priests, our religious education coordinator and I went out for something to eat; we ended up staying past closing (at 10, I mean), the conversation was so enjoyable. Thanks to Father Jason Bedel, from Sidney, who joined us!

You might be curious about our timing--we will have First Communion in May, so this gives time for the second-graders to receive the sacrament of confession again before then.

When Father Caserta read the Gospel,
You heard Jesus ask:
What man wouldn’t leave the 99 sheep…
and go find the one that’s lost…
Jesus said, “who doesn’t do that?”

Well…I think we would not do that!
If you’ve got 99 sheep, and one goes off into the woods,
Most people would say,
“too bad…that’s the cost of doing business.”

After all, if you are watching 100,
and one sheep wanders off,
what might happen while you’re gone?
They might wander off, or get in trouble, too!

So this is what happens: we feel badly,
but we let the sheep go.
And we do it with people, too.

We have an argument with someone,
and we are too mad—or too proud—
to be the one to go make up.
“No, she should come to me!”

Maybe there’s someone in our grade at school—
and we don’t know him or her very well;
or we may not like that person so much.
Someone makes fun of that boy or girl,
and we go along with it.

As you may know, everyone is not always
treated with respect in our society.

Sometimes we put people down
because their name sounds funny to us;
or their skin color is different from ours;
because of their clothes,
or their family doesn’t have a lot of money.

Many times, we know people who did wrong—
and we let them wander off; we’d rather they did:
“good riddance!”

Of course, everything I just said
not only applies to those other people—
those other sheep—it applies to ourselves!

We wander off because we get our focus
on someone other than Jesus, who is our shepherd.
We—or the other sheep we’re with—
would rather be at a soccer game.

We wander off because we decide
that we really don’t need a shepherd—
we know our own way.

I’ll tell you a secret—but you already know it.
Sometimes grownups say,
“now that I’m a grownup,
I don’t need my faith so much. That’s for kids.”

Let me tell you: I’m 48 years old, I’m a grown man.
But I am not so smart that I know every answer.
Today I needed Jon Paul to help me with my computer!
So how can I think I don’t need Jesus to lead me every day?

We might wander off, thinking, what I do is my business.
But caring for each other is our business.
Just like a team, we need everyone. Everyone counts.

So tonight, with the sacrament of penance,
We have the opportunity to get back.

Of course, this is a first time for many of us.
But I am confident it won’t be your last.

Now I know how hard you worked to be ready;
But if you are afraid you’ll forget, don’t worry!

Father Tom, Father Ang, Father Jason and I will help!

(Hint: that’s true for everyone!)

Parents, after your children have their opportunity,
I want to invite you to receive the grace of this sacrament.

Now, we might ask:
“Does this Gospel passage mean the sacrament of reconciliation
is only for the sheep who wander off?”

No! This is sacrament is very powerful to help keep us from wandering off.

After all, I suspect the lamb Jesus talked about
may not have realized, right away, he’d gotten lost.

He was happily chewing on grass,
and didn’t realize Jesus was farther and farther away.

This sacrament keeps us close to the Shepherd—
and teaches us to recognize his voice
in all the ways he speaks to us.

Kids, when you’ve driven with mom and dad,
I bet you noticed this: they will get lost,
but they don’t want to admit they are lost.
Or else, they won’t stop to ask directions!

That can be hard to do;
But it is what we do when we go to confession.
“I’m sorry Lord, I got off track. Help me get back!”
And the more often we come, the more easily we do that.

Finally, remember that when the Lord finds us,
He never says, “I came to find you to kick you out!”

No, we heard what Jesus does:
He gathers up his lamb, puts it on his shoulders, “with great joy!”

Let him find you tonight—
Let him keep you close to his heart.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What a marvel! (Sunday homily)

“What a marvel,”
St. Augustine said of today’s Gospel.
“God came to a wedding!”

When God chose to become a human being,
He made a marriage with Creation,
and with humanity in particular.
At the instant when Jesus was conceived
in the womb of Mary,
from that moment, and forever, without end,
God is united with human flesh and blood.

What a marvel! Let us count the ways.

On one level, we have an ordinary part of life:
a man and woman united in marriage;
But it doesn’t stay on the ordinary level—
Not after Jesus came to the wedding.

The ordinary becomes forever more than ordinary;
Changed, filled with grace.
Water becomes wine; human love becomes divine;
Regular life a place where God is real and present;
Heaven comes to earth, and earth is lifted up.

That’s what our sacraments are:
Ordinary things, which God takes and uses
to give his supernatural life to us.
Water—in baptism—gives the Holy Spirit.

A priest speaks ordinary words—in confession—
and through them, Christ gives total forgiveness.

A couple gives themselves to each other
in their “I do” and in acts of love—
and Christ unites them forever as one flesh.

Another marvel: this Gospel story of a wedding;
it’s a family scene, it’s earthy; it’s giddy;
the wine was flowing, it’s amorous—
you know there were knowing jokes and laughter,
like any wedding; some things never change!

And here is Jesus, he blesses it all!

Our Faith does not push aside the good things of life;
We are not ashamed or embarrassed by these things.
We’re the moderates, if you will, between two extremes.

On one side are those who make the things of this life their ultimate good.
Pleasure or money, health, sports, sex or power.

That way of thinking cannot fathom the value of self-denial;
or else it believes its impossible.
We’re animals, we can’t help ourselves.
The flip side is to see human experience negatively—
and this world as something to escape.

That includes a mindset in which being poor, or old,
or sick or handicapped means your life isn’t worth it;
that mindset gives us “assisted suicide.”

It also includes those who go too far
in respect for Creation,
to the point of making the earth more important than people;
humanity becomes “intruders,” and they believe
the world would be better off with fewer of us.

But notice, Jesus did not say, “you invited too many people”!

God’s wine flows freely;
and when we care for our world and for one another
as God would have us do…
When we use our gifts to unlock this world’s abundance,
we have plenty of room for all his children.

There’s one more marvel: the Mass and the Eucharist.

The miracle of water-turned-to-wine
anticipates the miracle of wine (and bread)
turned into our Lord and God;
and with that, the change our union with Him makes in us.

We become part of God, sharing one life.
Marriage: two become one.

On the cross Jesus said, “it is finished”;
a better translation is, “it is consummated.”
The Cross is where He consummated the marriage with his Church.

This is what the Mass is.

This is why the Mass is the center of our faith.
This is why we come every week—and many come every day;

And it is also why we—as a Church—
so often have discussions
about the right way to celebrate the Mass.

This is the reason we don’t take lightly
the act of receiving the Eucharist;
some believe it is merely a ritual or a “reminder”;
but the reason we call it “communion”
is because it is a real, intimate union with Christ.

Something that special deserves our full attention!
This is one reason for the fast from food for one hour before communion.

And it is why we examine our lives,
to see if we’re ready for that intimacy.
Just as a married couple sometimes needs
moments of reconciliation first—so, too,
sometimes we need the sacrament of reconciliation
before we enter into this act of communion.

This is what Isaiah foretold:
“As a young man marries a virgin,
Your Builder will marry you;
As a bridegroom rejoices in his bride,
So shall your God rejoice in you.”

What a marvel!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Give Yourself--make a difference (Sunday homily)

Today we recall Jesus came to be baptized.
Picture the scene:
Here is John, baptizing;
on the shore, a line of people, waiting;
and here comes the Son of God:
He gets into line with all the sinners!

This is the next chapter of the Christmas Story:
God becomes man; he is revealed to the nations;
and now, the God-man comes to stand with us.

When God—human like us—comes where we are,
It means we humans are invited to be where God is!

As we prayed in the psalm:
“The Lord will bless his people with peace.”

Today, also, we call attention to vocations,
As deacons and priests, as sisters and brothers.
And you might wonder, what’s the connection?

When Jesus came to be baptized,
he accepted the challenge
of what the Father sent him to do.

He had already chosen it before time began;
Now, he chooses it again;
and he will choose it once more, the night before he dies.

We all go through that.
If we were baptized as a child,
we later choose to make the Faith our own.
Some of us drift—but then comes a moment
when our Faith matters more to us.

Maybe in high school or college we have tough questions.
When we think about marriage, or our first child arrives,
and you realize you want your children to have faith;
and you ask yourself, “what do I really believe?”

It’s a funny thing; some people believe
that being a priest, a brother or sister,
is somehow harder than being a husband or a wife.

In many ways, they mirror each other.

A priest can’t be much of a priest
unless he comes and offers himself to the Father,
and to God’s people, just as Jesus did in today’s Gospel.
But a husband is no husband, a wife is no wife,
unless they do just the same.
This dying to self blesses a marriage with peace.

Now, some people can’t get past the celibacy thing.

Our society is messed up on this subject;
we know how it damages the priesthood;
but it also damages marriages.
Any man who enters marriage
thinking he isn’t going to die to self,
particularly in this area of sexuality,
is in for a rude awakening.

When a spouse goes on a business trip;
or is far away in the military,
and there you are—you have to remain faithful,
despite opportunities, and the desire to be with someone.

What do you say, wives and husbands?
“No thank you—I have someone I’m waiting for.”

When you meet a brother, or a priest, and you say,
“why don’t you get a partner, a spouse?”
We answer the same:
“No thank you—I have Someone I’m waiting for.”

Celibacy reminds the world that Heaven is real,
it is where our true hope lies.
And most people get this on an intuitive level.

That’s why something lifts us up simply by meeting
a priest, a sister or a brother.
A little bit of heaven enters our ordinary life,
and we experience hope.

So, during Vocations Week,
I simply want to give the invitation:
Do you want to be that person—
that deacon, that sister,
who lifts this world up to the Father?
Will you bless God’s People with peace?

Parents, grandparents:
do you want your children to be that sister or priest?
I say this because it is family life
where the seeds are planted and nourished…or not.

A moment ago, I said that marriage, and priesthood,
are mirrors of each other.
We see this particularly at Mass.

Mass is when all that Christ did for us,
all that he is for us, is summed up;
it is summed up in the Cross:
everything for you; I give my life for you.

That is what a sister says in her vows;
It is what a priest becomes when he is ordained;
and it is what a couple declares on their wedding day.

Then…you live it, day-by-day!
We all live the Cross…or we’re sterile and empty.

But realize, we can only have the Eucharist,
because he died—he gave everything for us.
And we can only have the Eucharist,
because we have priests who do the same:
who die to self.
We have families because couples do the same.

It's the hardest thing we do,
but if you want to make a difference,
you must do the same!

When we come to share the Eucharist,
This is what we choose:
not just to receive, but to become:
Life-givers; Christ-bearers;
Thus does the Lord bless his people with peace.