Saturday, October 29, 2011

'And with your spirit' (Homily 2 on the new translation)

As you know, we’re doing a series of homilies
the next few weeks on the new translation of the Mass.

If you pick up the red booklets in your pews,
we can take a look at one of the changes
that everyone will notice—
and which we may stumble over at first.

It’s right on page 1. The priest says, “The Lord be with you”;
and the people respond: “And with your spirit.”

Why the change? Well, there’s a lot to this.

First, of course, this is straight from the Latin,
which some of you remember:
Dominus vobiscum. Et cum spiritu tuo.
“And with your spirit.”

OK, but why did they say this in Latin?
It comes from the early church.

We aren’t sure where they got it;
however, it is a phrase that St. Paul uses several times
in the New Testament.
For example, in his second letter to St. Timothy,
he said: “The Lord be with your spirit.”

We do know what they thought it meant.

According to St. John Chrysostom,
this acknowledges the presence of the Holy Spirit
overshadowing the whole assembly—
and acting in a special way in the priest.

The same dialogue happens again when the priest approaches the altar—
you’ll see that on page 10 of these booklets.

And here’s what St. John said about that:
when the priest “stands at this holy altar to offer the sacrifice…
he does not touch” what lies on the altar
“before wishing you the grace of our Lord,
and before you have replied to him, ‘And with your spirit.'”

See that? The idea being
that only with the Holy Spirit does any of this have meaning—
and that’s exactly right.

Of course, the priest and people exchange this greeting once more,
at the end of Mass, before the blessing:
making the point that it is Christ himself who blesses you.

Now let’s connect this to what our Lord said in the Gospel.
But first I have to explain what this Gospel is NOT about.

It’s not about whether a title is good or bad.
Jesus did not object to calling your teacher, “teacher”;
he didn’t object to calling your dad—or your priest—“father.”

No, the Lord is telling us not to focus on the human being;
and not to accept that focus.
And that applies to the Mass.

Let’s look at one more change that goes along with this.

On page 9, right in the middle,
you’ll see what the priest says to you,
right after the bread and wine come to the altar.
The change is that the priest will say,
“my sacrifice and yours”—instead of “our” sacrifice.

Again, why the change?

It makes the point once more:
the priest approaches the altar not on his own steam,
but because he was ordained
to be a priest for Christ and for you.

When the priest says, “my” sacrifice, it reflects this.
And because being a priest means
being united to Christ in a particular way,
it is Jesus himself who says, “my sacrifice.”

Then the priest says, “your” sacrifice.

It’s what our Lord told us about the Cross.
He took up the Cross in a unique way—
dying for us so we could live forever.

But then he says to us: “take up your cross.”
He invites us to bring all our troubles,
our trials, yes even things very unworthy—
but when we give them to him,
he will make them of infinite value!

We often talk about “participation” in Mass,
but there is sometimes a misunderstanding.

Sometimes we talk as though
what really counts is whether we’re doing something:
singing, reading, bringing the gifts forward, and so forth.

As good as these things are,
they don’t determine whether people are truly “participating.”
Folks who sit silently—but intently—are surely participating too.
They may even be participating better than any of us.
Who can say?

Because the key participation is right here in this prayer:
joining our hearts and lives—warts and all—in the sacrifice;
offering them as our personal sacrifice.

That moment of the Mass—which will happen shortly—
is an excellent time to do just that:
in prayer, lay on the altar all the cares and troubles,
all the people you pray for, all the sins that trip you up.
Don’t be afraid of offering anything as part of your sacrifice. Jesus takes it all!

Friday, October 28, 2011

My week so far...

Here's how the week has gone...

Monday is my usual day off. I had a talk with 9th graders in the afternoon, on "moral decision-making," and a talk in the evening with RCIA, also on morality.

Tuesday I had Mass with the younger schoolchildren and the usual run of calls, messages and items in the office. My desk didn't improve much. I had a meeting in the evening. Dinner around 9, with youth director, home by 10:30 pm.

Wednesday I had both the morning and evening Mass; canon law says a priest should say but one Mass a day, a second in necessary cases. In this case, the retired priest who is with me was in the hospital, and I don't want to overtax the other retired priest in the parish. Usual stuff all day; finalized my homily, loaded it here so it'll publish Saturday; printed out two copies, one for each church sacristy; confessions before second Mass, Bible study followed; spent some time with parishioners at a nearby restaurant. Home by 10:30 pm.

Thursday I had the nursing home Mass. When I arrived they weren't ready; the two usual spots were taken, so we ended up setting up a table in a hall for Mass. After Mass back to the office. Got a lot done this day. Got a call about a death, likely funeral on Monday, had to wait for call back to confirm, which came around 6:30 pm. Had to call bereavement volunteer who will meet with family to plan details. Already have another funeral on Monday, with retired priest; if he gets sick we have trouble as funerals are simultaneous (he's been ill lately). Pastoral Council meeting at 7; that went well, accomplished a lot, finished by 8:30 pm. A member suggested getting some dinner so we did. Home by 10:30 pm.

Can't recall which days I did them, but this week I wrote a letter to send to folks at one parish, asking to volunteer for bingo. Wrote another letter for folks who belong to a "Seven-dollar-a-month" club which raises money for religious education, RCIA and adult faith formation. I also wrote up a plan, to present to pastoral council, about how we can get better volunteer participation. Those all took awhile.

Today: Mass with older schoolchildren, got some breakfast right after and took it to the office. More work at my desk (it's been a terrible mess). Now that I think about it, this week I also spent some time on upcoming Mass schedules, with calls to priests needed for help; a priest called me about helping in January with a class at Lehman, etc. Piled a lot of stuff in my outbox for the staff--I call them "presents"; wrote a talk for Monday for RCIA on Tradition. Chilling a bit before I go down to Trotwood to meet another priest for dinner. Maybe I'll write my homily for All Saints over the weekend? Not now!

Writing and now publishing this post...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homily 1: how we got the new translation

In about a month, all Catholics in the U.S.—
and in other English-speaking countries—
will begin using a new translation of Mass prayers.

And for the next few weeks,
all the priests here in Piqua are going to talk about this in their homilies.
If you know people who have questions,
maybe bring them to Mass the next few weeks.

Let me provide some history, first ancient, then recent.

While the Eucharist was celebrated in some form right away by the Apostles,
“the Mass” as we know it largely took shape between 4th and 6th century.
And while the first Catholics in Rome probably celebrated the Eucharist in Greek,
it wasn’t long before they began using Latin;
Latin has been the prayer of Roman Catholics for about 1,700 years.

Now skip ahead to 50 years ago.
Blessed Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council.
The bishops did two things that are relevant here.
First, they gave the OK to use local languages in the Mass.
Second, they called for some revisions in the form of the Mass.

So, once the Council ended, the pope asked experts to carry this out.
The Mass as we know it was revised;
and then that revised Mass—still in Latin—
was then translated quickly into lots of languages, including English.

At the time, they expected to revise their work eventually.

One of the things folks are asking is,
does our new translation mean the Mass in English,
that we’ve gotten used to, is “bad”? Have we been praying badly?

I wouldn’t say “bad”—how about this instead?

When I was in high school and college, I wrote a lot of papers.
I used a typewriter. It worked great. I was very comfortable with it.
Then along came the computer.
Even though it took some adjustments,
I was happy to have something that gave me even more advantages.

One of the notable changes is that the new translation has a different style.
Why is that?

In the 1990s, Blessed Pope John Paul laid out guidance
for how to approach the new translation.

When translating something, there are two extremes:
a very literal translation, and at the other end of the spectrum,
a loose paraphrase.

Neither extreme is what you want.

The outgoing translation was more on the “freestyle” side.
It tended to use very ordinary language.
That has benefits, but also drawbacks.

Some people will say they prefer the Mass in a common style of language.

But through our entire history, back to the Bible,
the language of worship has always had a special character—
its own vocabulary and careful ritual.

The Latin texts of the Mass, after they were revised, after Vatican II,
continue to have a formal, elevated style.
This is something the new translation will bring out more.

There are times to use casual English;
and there are times to use a more formal style.
Similarly, we have occasions when we use rituals, and we take them seriously.

Think of when the flag goes up and the National Anthem is sung.

If anything, as our culture has gotten much more casual overall,
we can see the value of stepping out of that,
so that when we do something that is fundamentally different,
it sounds and feels different.

One of the benefits of a more direct translation
is that it also brings out, better, the Biblical images and language
that were always included in the prayers of Mass.

You’ll notice phrases in the newly translated prayers
that echo the familiar Scripture readings at Mass.

Also, the new translation does bring out more
the Roman character of our prayers.
Why is that valuable?

After all, when we call ourselves Roman Catholics,
that one, added word, expresses a long and vivid story
of how we came to be who we are.

Even if we don’t know that story,
it’s our story and it is part of us,
all the way back to Peter and Paul arriving in Rome—
and all that happened since.

This is our spiritual genealogy.
It’s worthwhile to keep it alive and become more familiar with it.

In the Gospel, the Lord teaches us the two commandments
on which everything rests: love God, and care for all his children.
They aren’t at odds; they go together.

We give God our best. Not because he needs it,
but because we are better people for it.
We’re better people when we recognize
our need for God and our need to worship.

Worshiping well makes us better people—
people who serve our neighbor better.
People who forgive more readily
because we know how much we are forgiven.

People who share more generously
because we know all we have comes from God.

People who work for justice in this world
because we know we will face God’s justice in the next.

So we want to worship well—
and the Mass is the supreme act of worship.
That’s why we want to do it as well as we can.

A busy Friday morning

Friday proved to be an interesting...

Let me first back up: several weeks back, I told Father Hess, chaplain at Lehman High School, I'd be happy to offer Mass on a periodic Friday with the students, as before. One of those assigned Fridays was yesterday.

Then, on Monday, I got a call from a local funeral home; we arranged for a funeral...on Friday.

I was away from the office, on my day off, when I took the call.

Come Thursday, it dawns on me--around 2 pm--that I had a Mass at Lehman at 10 am, and a funeral, back in Piqua, 13 miles away--at 11 am.

Add to that, the retired priest who lives with me is ill. I was counting on him for the 8:45 am Mass.

I was at a convocation Thursday with the Archbishop and the priests of the archdiocese, no ability to make phones calls. The retired priest made some calls to retired luck.

I made calls, asked some of the priests at the convocation...they were all tied up (as I expected).

The retired priest felt up to taking the 8:45 am Mass. While he got ready for that, I got things ready for the funeral, as I would be racing back from Lehman and might not arrive back in a very timely basis.

I advised the principal at Lehman, when I arrived, of the situation; thankfully, this wasn't their first experience with this, so with a P.A. announcement, all the students were in their places (with bright, shiny faces), and we started Mass right at 10 am.

My homily was, almost exactly as follows:

No homily today, I'm sorry. I have a funeral at 11 am. This is why we ask you to pray for more priests. Men: step up and answer the call.

I don't believe we rushed, but we omitted the petitions (which are optional) and a post-communion song. When the servers and I got to the hallway, I took off my vestments and, still wearing my alb, hurried to my car and drove back to St. Mary's with 15 minutes to get ready for the funeral. That went well.

The rest of the day was the usual busy-ness.

Meanwhile, today, I was on the phone arranging--at the last minute--for a priest to cover a Mass tomorrow, in case the retired priest with me doesn't feel better; and another priest to cover his confessions this afternoon. I have Mass, at the other parish, when those confessions are scheduled. Our backup plan was a sign on the confessional.

When your pastor says he has to make changes in the Mass schedule, this is why. It's not because he hates offering Mass. It's because he knows how easily things like this can happen. (And thank heaven I didn't get caught speeding, or have a breakdown, racing down I-75.)

Oh, and did I mention? I'm coming down with a cold.

I hope my voice holds up, I have four Masses this weekend, plus two celebrations parishioners are hoping I will attend; I am marrying a couple at the evening Mass tonight, and receiving someone into the church on Sunday. My off day is Monday, but I have two talks to give, one of which I still have to write.

Monday, October 17, 2011

'Render unto Caesar...' and? (Sunday homily)

Here are my recollections of my points from the weekend; I am sorry I did not find time during the prior week to write things out.

I began by pointing out that a line from this Gospel gets quoted frequently in conversation and political debate: "render unto Caesar"--and when that happens, it is often cited as if to say, Christians shouldn't be political because of what our Lord said; instead we should just keep quiet and leave politics alone.

However, that occurred at a time when there was no option for Jesus or anyone else to whom he was speaking having a role in politics. Had they organized a demonstration or a petition drive for a new Caesar, it wouldn't have ended well! We, however, do have this right--and we have a vote--and this is more than a right, it's a responsibility. In a sense, we are Caesar. What if our congressman never showed up to debate or vote? We'd find fault with that. So we should with ourselves if we don't take part in our government--and we bring our Christian values because that's part of who we are. I cited important votes on the ballot that we should be informed about that will affect our city and our state.

Then I mentioned the other part of the Lord's comments that get left out: "...and repay to God what belongs to God." The coin bore Caesar's image; what "coin" bears God's image? The human being. If we are to let Caesar have his taxes, then Caesar must keep hands off the human person. This is why we must speak up for defense of human life from conception to natural death; why we oppose abortion, baby-destroying stem-cell research, euthanasia; this is why we work to avoid the death penalty, and we are against torturing terrorists.

Then I called attention to the scene itself. From a human point of view, Jesus seems just a poor man--maybe he wore all the clothes he owned; maybe had a few coins, or none. Powerless--and they handed him the coin bearing the image of great Caesar, someone impressive, who was worshiped as a god. Of course, when you realize who Jesus really is, it's a comedy! Picture him beholding the coin, and asking, perhaps wryly, "oh--is this someone important? Who is this?"

Because, of course, the Lord had seen many Caesars come and go through the ages. The first reading recalls Cyrus--who, in his time, was a great emperor who is now forgotten. Many coins bearing many great figures have been placed in the Lord's hand over the ages, none of them matter in the long run.

Consider what that coin represents: money, wealth, things we work for, power, who's up and who's down...these things matter, but do they matter too much? Do we give them too much thought and concern? Meanwhile, we miss...the Hand that is outstretched. All those material things come and go, but His Hand remains. Perhaps we might take a moment to consider if some things dominate our concern...and instead reach out for that Hand.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Another weekend...

Saturday wasn't too bad...

Pet blessing in the morning (every year near St. Francis Day); worked (fitfully) on homily till confessions at 3:30; Mass at 5 pm. Had to run over to other parish before confessions to take care of a few things, took a little longer. After Mass, retired priest who lives at rectory and I had dinner, something that happens rarely.

Sunday up for 7 am Mass; visited children in religious education classes at 9 am, presented Bibles to 6th graders. Mass at Noon; baptism after.

From 3-4:30 pm I was with junior high, giving them some information about the Bible. Back to St. Mary for evening Mass. After Mass, a distraught parishioner needed to talk about a problem, we could only speak a short time before I headed to the nursing home to visit a parishioner. Turns out the parishioner was sent to hospital, so I went there (after visiting other parishioners).

After that I had dinner around 8 pm. Around 9 I remembered I was going to try to stop in at another church in town for a tribute to a soldier who died in Iraq, but the call to the nursing home prevented that.

Sorry no text of homily. I developed some points but never wrote it out.

Briefly, my homily was about heaven. And I explored three points:

> Heaven is good--we don't know a lot about it, but it will be good. However, it may be good in a way we don't, at present, like (and not everyone wants it; note the folks who refused the wedding invitation); because we may have to give up other things for heaven. I compared how some say heaven sounds "boring" with those who say the same for Mass; and pointed out that if you view Mass in a worldly way, it is boring. But the true reality of Mass is anything but. What's more, I said, "let me tell you a secret: when you're at Mass, you're in heaven." And I explained that.

> Heaven is a gift--we don't earn it, we get invited. I said: "we don't go to heaven because we're good; we're good to the extent we're being influenced by heaven." Our spiritual life is the back-and-forth between heavenly influences and what we want that's not heavenly. If we allow it, heaven will draw us and make us ready for heaven. I touched on purgatory here.

> But we do have to get ready for heaven. I explained the fellow who lacked a wedding garment; it seems unfair to have him thrown out, but that detail serves as a warning for us: get ready; be ready in case you are summoned quickly.

The possibility of missing heaven and going to hell is real; or else so much in the Scriptures would be pointless. But God is working really hard to get us to heaven, so we have hope.

I said other things but that is a quick summary.

Today I had my day off, and I'm taking it easy. I saw "Moneyball" which was enjoyable but slow at the beginning. Too much navel-gazing.

Monday, October 03, 2011

What a priest's weekend looks like...


9 am confessions; I was in the confessional till around 10:15 am.

Grabbed some breakfast on the way back to the rectory at the other parish. Made some phone calls after breakfast to take care of some parish business.

Watched a little football! Not often able to do that. But I'd gotten my homily finished earlier in the week.

Mass at 4 pm.

Retired priest and I went to dinner after Mass--he had a gift certificate a parishioner had given him. We had a chance to talk for first time in a week, even though we live in the same house.

This wasn't too bad a day; many Saturdays feature meetings with couples, more time on the phone, writing my homily, or other running around.


9 am Mass

Breakfast after Mass. Chance to pray the office.

Noon Mass

Quick lunch; joined Life Chain in Troy

Back to parish around 3:15-3:30, brief break before 5 pm Mass. (I prayed my office at the Life Chain.)

After 5 pm Mass, I thought (erroneously) I was finished for the day. Went to area restaurant for dinner.

Remembered I was supposed to join youth group; drove back, arrived a little late to happy faces all around.

Had dinner around 8:30 pm.

Finished for the evening? Not so: call from hospital around 12:30 am; back from hospital around 2 am.

Today's my day off; I only had two emails and phone calls regarding parish business.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

'The fruit of the Kingdom is Justice' (Sunday homily)

Let’s pick up on the last words we just heard:
What is the fruit of the Kingdom?

The first reading tells us: the fruit of the Kingdom,
the fruit God is looking for, is justice.

In Biblical terms, justice is about the good of the whole;
the good of the whole of each person,
and the good of society as a whole.

God’s definition of justice doesn’t fit our political system very well.

You have one group that will say, it’s all about economic justice.
They’ll pursue every avenue to shift the resources around.
The striking thing is, it’s all supposed to be for the poor;
and yet the poor somehow always stay poor.

But I also have to admit my own bias.
I can afford to be dispassionate about poverty,
When I’m warm and well fed.
It becomes a lot more urgent and real
when you don’t know where you’re sleeping tonight.

But there’s also a disconnect here.
We have some who are hard-chargers for economic justice,
but when it comes to passing laws to protect the unborn,
they’ll say, “that’s different.”
And it happens in reverse, too:
Folks who will work tirelessly for the unborn,
but economic justice? “That’s different!”

Whether or not you like the laws we have,
we do have laws regulating business and the economy.
And yet, somehow,
a law protecting the unborn is too much to ask?
We protect unborn fish and unborn birds—
but not unborn human beings!

Another way God’s justice doesn’t fit our categories
is when we draw lines: marking how far our concern will reach.
Parish lines, family lines, national boundaries.

Sometimes we draw a line between justice and compassion—
As if they can’t go together.
So when someone breaks the rules or breaks the law,
they no longer get compassion.

Case in point: our prison system.
We all know ugly things happen in prison.
When’s the last time you heard a politician
run for office promising to address it?

In God’s Vineyard, justice is not only the fruit God expects,
it’s also what’s needed to make for a good crop.

God knows his Vineyard can produce abundantly.
But the tenants somehow come up empty-handed.
There’s not enough.

If there is one truth both Scripture and experience confirms,
it is that scarcity is a result of human sin, not God’s failure to provide.

Our world has abundant food.
Here and in many countries, we throw away perfectly good food
just because it doesn’t look good enough.
We turn a lot of our food into fuel.
We have countries that can grow food, but don’t,
because of war and corruption.

And yet the claim keeps being made that there’s not enough,
And the solution is fewer people.

So our government has, for years,
used our tax money to distribute birth control worldwide.

Well, turns out the experts who pushed this message all these years,
are now changing their tune.
China, they now admit, will get old before it gets rich: too few children.

Europe, Japan, Russia are all facing the same problem.

We’re the stewards of the Vineyard.
And we’re the ones saying to God, there’s not enough.

Is this why our economy is a wreck? Our world is in crisis?
How badly we’ve mismanaged his Vineyard!

Instead of telling God—and each other—
the problem is his Vineyard,
we have to admit, whether as individuals or as a society,
that the problem is how we approach it.

Sometimes we measure “enough” by the wrong things.
I didn’t like my brother’s hand-me-downs as a boy—
but I had plenty of clothes.
We didn’t have a lot of extra food, but we had enough;
And when mom gave leftovers a French name,
that make all the difference.

These are hard times, and we can’t minimize that.
But I think a lot of us are rediscovering values we forgot about.
The “enough” we have may be a lot simpler.
Not cable or new things, but time with family and friends.

The gift of Faith; the gift of compassion.
These are things we never have a shortage of.