Saturday, February 25, 2012

Fill this ark! (Sunday homily)

Why do we have the readings we have for this Sunday?

Noah and the ark; deliverance through water; baptism.
Our Lord--who is a man like us--
driven to the desert to wrestle with evil.

The readings make sense when you remember
that there are people preparing for baptism.
We have three people from each parish
who look forward to baptism this Easter.

Lent is their time
to wrestle with that decision for 40 days.

For those of us who are baptized,
we wrestle with the things that are in our lives
that are at odds with our Faith--which pull us away.

Remember: when our friends are baptized at Easter,
all of us will renew the promises of our own baptism
at the same time.

And while the sacrament of confession
is a good idea all year long,
this time of year reminds us
that confession is a kind of second baptism.
Fresh and clean. New life. Start over.

There’s something else.
God chooses us to be like Noah,
offering life to a world inundated by evil.

Here’s a curious fact about the story of Noah.
You have to go read the whole story in Genesis 6 and 7.

Now, everyone knows that God sent Noah
to get a pair of every animal.
What many don’t notice is that God send Noah
a second time to get more animals.
You can see for yourself in chapter 7 of Genesis.

Why would God send Noah for even more animals?
Clearly there was more room
in the ark than originally intended.

Perhaps God was hoping for more people
than only Noah’s family?

Our Church, our Catholic Faith,
is the ark of our salvation.

Those folks preparing for baptism,
not just in our parish, but worldwide,
are the folks we’ve drawn to the ark.
Good work!

But look around: there’s a lot of room
in this ark for more people!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'40 Days of Spiritual Battle' (Sunday homily)

As you probably know, Ash Wednesday is this week.
So it’s time to get ready and make our plans.

Lent has two purposes that go together.
It’s a time of preparation
to celebrate the heart of our Faith:
Jesus dying for us and rising from the dead,
to give us life that lasts forever.

When someone has a wedding
or an anniversary coming up,
you don’t just put it together the day before.
That is…I guess you can if you want,
but I’ve never met a bride who was satisfied with that.
So, gentlemen…good luck with that!

If it’s really worth doing, it’s worth preparing for.

But Lent has another purpose: conversion.

At the heart of our faith we admit something that humbles us:
We are sinners. We turn from God,
we bring pride and greed and lust and wrath
to our daily lives, that creates conflict
and when you multiply that by six billion souls,
There’s the sad story
of most of the suffering in the world.

As bad as a tornado or a crippling disease is,
the disasters spawned
by our sinful choices or neglect are even worse.

Changing the world starts with changing ourselves. Ouch!

So, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
if you’re between 18 and 59,
and in good health, you are obliged to fast.
That means just one meal,
and maybe a snack or two besides.

Also on Ash Wednesday, as well as each Friday,
everyone over 14 is obliged to abstain from meat.
If you’re traveling or a guest of someone else,
use common sense.

Beyond that, we all make our own decisions
about some extra sacrifice,
Extra prayer, extra generosity, as what we “do for Lent.”

Why do we do these things?

It’s not that we’re “paying” for our sins.
Jesus already did that.
It’s because conversion is hard work.
These are the tools.

A lot of folks struggle with bad habits.
And they often fail over and over.
They ask, what can I do?

Well, one thing I suggest is go to confession frequently.

Yes, it does humble ones pride
to go to confession week after week,
or even more often than that.
Sometimes what we need
is to have our pride knocked down a peg.

But remember, these are sources of grace—
God’s power to help us change.
Why do people take vitamins? To fortify their bodies.
The sacraments are what we take to fortify our souls.

Also, if you find you have a habit involving appetite—
eating, drinking, or some other pleasure—
you may want to try fasting.

Now, let me be candid: I don’t like to fast!
As if that wasn’t obvious!

But the thing about fasting,
or other forms of self-denial,
is that it is kind of like
what people in competitive sports say:
they need to be “keyed up” and focused on the game.

Fasting does that.

When you give up something you like,
and then you get that craving,
it forces you to make a choice.

Either you can say, “Darn, God made me do this!”
Or, you man up and say, “No—I chose this!”

The truth is, we are engaged in spiritual battle.
Battle for our own souls and that of others.
But we can easily be lulled into sleeping through it.
Fasting and self-denial
help keep us awake to the battle—
It’s a way of saying, “I don’t want to be AWOL!
I want to stand for something!”

And this isn’t just about our own conversion—
it starts there, but it’s even more about
the conversion of others.

Most members of my family don’t practice the Faith.
What about your family?
When we pray for their conversion,
we’re like the men in the Gospel
who bring their friend to the Lord.

After all, a lot of us
are going to start Lent with big ideas;
and somewhere along the line, we’re going to regret it!

So when we pray intensely during Lent,
we’re praying to support each other.
I confess I will waver in my Lenten promises.
Pray for me, please!

Finally, we pray for our nation.
In the Scriptures, whenever
God’s people were faced with a crisis,
They put on sackcloth and ashes, they fasted and prayed.

The alarm bells are sounding for religious freedom
in our country.

I know you’ve heard in the media
that the President backed down.
But it’s just not true.
Most of you know
the President proposed to force all of us to accept,
as part of health care,
that we’d have to pay to provide
contraception, sterilization and abortion-causing drugs.

Then we all heard the President say
he would change his mandate—
and the media said, “problem solved.”
Now, let’s skip over, for a moment,
the fact that many problems remained
even with his proposed “accommodation.”
Let’s skip over that for a moment.

How many of you knew
that after the President promised a change…

He went ahead and put into effect—as law—
the original rules?

Let me say that again:
he didn’t pull it back to be reworked.
The mandate he put into effect as law
was not changed AT ALL.

In any case, as Archbishop Schnurr
explains in a letter in the bulletin today,
even that promised change
doesn’t do much about the problem.

Let me give you an example.

There’s a religious order called the Sisters of Life.
They are dedicated to promoting the dignity of life.
As sisters, of course, they take a vow of chastity.
They won’t marry.

Under either version of the President’s order,
they are forced to buy health care
that includes contraceptives and sterilization
and drugs that cause abortion.
Since they take a vow of chastity,
they obviously don’t need it.

More to the point,
it violates their conscience to have to be involved in it.
Yet if they refuse, they break the law,
and they will be fined and punished by our government.
Of course, it’s the same for all our religious orders,
all our Catholic schools and hospitals, for all of us.

So if you’re wondering why
you’re being summoned to 40 days of spiritual battle,
there it is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Vignettes in a pastor's life

Here are some events that arise in my ministry that you may find interesting:

> Several weeks ago I got an email from a parishioner--a relative had held back from becoming Catholic because of a marriage issue; he was now dying and wondered what could be done. I wrote back saying I'd be eager to talk to him, I had hope we could solve the problem.

> I met with the man. He was at the end of his tether. His marriage could be regularized, if time allowed (since he was never baptized, his prior marriage was not sacramental. A sacramental baptism cannot be dissolved, but if it wasn't valid in the first place, that fact can be ascertained and declared--i.e., a decree of nullity. But a natural--non-sacramental--marriage can be dissolved by the authority of the Church, if it has already ended); but in his case, no time. But if the spouses are living as brother and issue. I was able to baptize him, confirm him, give him his first communion, and the anointing of the sick, all in his bed.

> Not many days later, he went to his reward--as I said at his funeral Mass yesterday, to his second and eternal communion.

> I just got a call a bit ago about an upcoming parish event. The event usually takes place in the gym; however, since last year, we installed a high-grade wood floor, and we naturally don't want to damage it. So the subject has been on the rumor mill for some time--that I wasn't going to allow it. (Not true.) Instead, my proposal was, first: do we still want the event there or would it work elsewhere? If the latter, we will get a tarp to put down, as others do. Over the past few weeks, I've had people ask me about it, and I kept saying, no worries, once the person in charge contacts me, we'll work it out. That call came today, and we're working it out. I could have called myself; however the person in charge changes from year to year.

> Yesterday, after the funeral Mass, I returned home to work on notes for a couple of high school classes I'll be teaching this week at Lehman Catholic High School in Sidney. My friend, the pastor of Holy Angels in Sidney, is leading the class but couldn't be there today through Thursday, so I'm the substitute teacher. We're going to talk about contraception and related issues. I spent much of yesterday creating a "powerpoint"--something I don't do very often. I plan on giving the kids permission to laugh at my unartful slides--assuming the technology works. If not, I printed out the slides and I will take the Catechism, and another handout. Lesson: never assume your technology will work!

> Sunday night, I was headed over to St. Boniface to rub shoulders for a bit with the youth group, at their "Barbeque in the Snow" event. While there, I remembered I wanted to borrow the black vestment--from that parish's sacristy--for the funeral the next day. I went to the sacristy door--and my key broke off in the lock! Thankfully, I was able to fish out the broken end.

Now what do I do? Well, I knew someone in the chapel would be able to help me, so I went into the chapel. When I walked in, a parishioner was there, talking to the folks praying there. He had something on his mind and was very happy to see me: "I need to talk to you Father!" I said no problem and we walked into the sacristy where we could talk privately, and the folks in the chapel could pray. Of course I'll say nothing more about it--but note this fact: had my key not broken off, I would have had no reason to step into the chapel at the moment.

> I'm currently exchanging emails with a committee of parishioners who are assisting me on a project. We're going to have some difficulties coming up with a day and time to meet. Even exchanging emails takes a fair amount of time--in case you wonder (a) what father does all day and (b) why doesn't father get things done faster, and (c) why doesn't father get more input from parishioners.

> Oh, and I just remembered I have to finish our annual handout for opportunities for Lent--as Ash Wednesday is about 8 days away. I better get moving...

Saturday, February 11, 2012

'Be not afraid!' (Sunday homily--action on Obama mandate)

The Scriptures give us images of infection--
skin disease, and the fear that it will spread.
But there’s another kind of infection--the good kind.

Notice what St. Paul said: whatever you do, do it for God’s glory.

And notice what happened when our Lord healed the man with leprosy:
the news spread--like an infection!

Looking at the big picture, the state of our society:
What kind of infections are spreading?

The good news is, the Gospel is spreading.
Christianity is growing worldwide.

The bad news is that a lot of false gospels are spreading too--
and they have powerful forces behind them.

Take a look at the events of the past few weeks.

We were stunned to learn our government
was going to force us to act against our own faith.

As you know, the bishops spoke as one, saying
“we cannot--we will not--comply with this unjust law.”

A tide of protest began to spread--
so much so that the President had to acknowledge it.

So on Friday, he offered what he called an “accommodation.”

I realize a lot of the media--and some prominent Catholics--
have quickly said this solves the problem.

But let’s be clear--Christ did not give the
New York Times
authority to teach in his name;
he gave that responsibility to Peter and the Apostles,
and to those who would come after them: our bishops.

And if ever there was a time when we need to be clear
on who speaks for the Church of Jesus Christ, now is that time!

So let’s hear what Archbishop Dolan of New York--
who is the president of the U.S. bishops conference--
had to say on this.

He said this so-called solution, while a first step,
as it is, it is “unacceptable.”

Why? Because the government is still forcing everyone
to go along with contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs,
as part of health care.
Putting the mandate on the insurance companies
doesn’t really change much.

Here’s something not everyone realizes:
a lot of organizations, including many of our Catholic organizations,
act as their own insurance company.

It’s kind of shell game--as someone said,
it’s like a teenager saying, I didn’t buy the beer--
I got my big brother to buy it!

Archbishop Dolan also points out that the threat
is still hanging over our heads:
the power of a bureaucrat to sweep away our rights
with the stroke of a pen.

So our bishops are continuing to say we need legislation
that will take that weapon out of the government’s hands.
That’s why there are postcards in your pews today.
I’m going to come back to those in a moment.

At the outset, I said the Scriptures show us the power of infection--
both the bad kind, and the good kind.

And we’re seeing it.
Fifty years ago, Pope Paul VI issued a letter,
Humanae Vitae,
in which he addressed the subject of using
artificial methods of regulating birth.

And in that letter, he reiterated the Church’s constant teaching
that by God’s design, love, procreation, marriage and family
are all bound together.

We have means--such as Natural Family Planning--that respect this design.
But artificial means set aside God’s design--and we don’t get to do that.

Because many expected he would change the teaching,
his letter was ridiculed--even by many Catholics.

For various reasons, his words have been widely ignored.

So now, we have the humiliation of the President himself saying,
look the Catholics themselves don’t believe it.

For 50 years, people have vigorously spread the promise of contraception.

Meanwhile, a lot of bishops, a lot of priests, and a lot of Catholics,
have either gone along, or for whatever reason, chose not to say much.

So…I’m talking about it now.

In your bulletin you’ll see a handout like this.
There are a couple of talks this week--
one for teens and one for adults--that will talk about this.

I’m addressing the subject briefly; these talks will go into depth.
Please take advantage of them.

When Pope Paul VI issued his teaching 50 years ago,
he made some predictions. Let’s see what happened.

He said, first, that if these artificial means were to spread,
they would greatly lower the moral climate.

Who would say that the moral climate today is not much worse?

The pope said that this would damage marriages.

Can anyone claim that marriages
are in better shape today than 50 years ago?

In fact, those who promoted contraception claimed it would help marriages;
and they still claim it prevents abortions.

The facts all go the other way.
Divorce has skyrocketed;
Families are broken; more children than ever grow up without both parents;
birth control is freely available,
and we have a million abortions a year.

The promises were false. And yet, they’ve been spread far and wide.

And then Pope Paul said this:

Careful consideration should be given to the danger
of this power passing into the hands of those public authorities
who care little for the precepts of the moral law…

Who will prevent public authorities from favoring
those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective?
Should they regard this as necessary,
they may even impose their use on everyone.

And now we have lived to see that prediction fulfilled.

So we are left with a very uncomfortable fact:
Those who believe in this false hope
have done a far better job of spreading their message,
than we have ours.

So while we have to deal with the threat at hand from our government,
we might also do some soul-searching
about how well we’ve spread the message of our faith.

Is this uncomfortable? Does this teaching demand sacrifice?
Do some wish I’d offer something more pleasant?
Of course!

He said, “take up your cross.”

In every age, in every society,
members of the Church have faced a confrontation
between the Gospel of the Cross, and all the counterfeits.

We’ve been around 2,000 years.
This is hardly the first time
we’ve faced government trying to push us around and it won’t be last.

He told us this would happen--why are we surprised?

As I said, there are three postcards,
one for Speaker Boehner, one for Senator Brown,
and one for Senator Portman.
They are three different colors so you can easily tell them apart.

If you haven’t already, please take one of each for yourself and fill it out.
Anyone of any age can sign one, it’s our right to speak out.

In a moment, the ushers will come and collect them--
we are going to have volunteers come next week
and put postage on them and mail them.

If you want to help with that, call the office Monday.

Sending three postcards costs about a dollar.
If you can afford to contribute a dollar, great, put it in with the postcards.
But even if you can’t, still put in your postcards;
someone else I’m sure will throw in some extra.

The ushers will come forward now and begin collecting the postcards.

In all of this, I admit I’ve been angry.
I think we have good reason to be angry.
I’ve been shocked and broken hearted--
To have the country we all love so much to go down this road.

And I think a lot of us are tempted to despair.
A lot are saying, we can’t stop it, everything just gets worse.

Don’t give into that temptation!
This is when we need fortitude--courage.
To quote one of our revolutionary heroes:
“These are the times that try men’s souls.”

Fortitude! That is a gift of the Holy Spirit through baptism.
Christ chose us, in this time, to face this challenge.
He trusts that we will be equal to it.
And He promises, with his own blood as proof, that he stands with us.

As our beloved Pope John Paul said so often:
“Be not afraid!”

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bishops term Obama offer a first step--but not enough

WASHINGTON— The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) sees initial opportunities in preserving the principle of religious freedom after President Obama’s announcement today. But the Conference continues to express concerns. “While there may be an openness to respond to some of our concerns, we reserve judgment on the details until we have them,” said Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of USCCB.

“The past three weeks have witnessed a remarkable unity of Americans from all religions or none at all worried about the erosion of religious freedom and governmental intrusion into issues of faith and morals,” he said.

“Today’s decision to revise how individuals obtain services that are morally objectionable to religious entities and people of faith is a first step in the right direction,” Cardinal-designate Dolan said. “We hope to work with the Administration to guarantee that Americans’ consciences and our religious freedom are not harmed by these regulations.”

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

More on Obama's War on Us

I can't take a lot of time on this, but here are some items...

> Two weekends ago, our Archbishop directed his priests to read a letter at all Masses, and to provide the letter to the faithful. A similar request went out from bishops across the country, in most dioceses. This includes the Archdiocese for the Military.

However, someone in the Army interfered; directed the letter not be read; and the letter that was posted was censored.

Stop for a moment and absorb that. This is in the United States of America.

> At Over the Rhine and Into the Tiber I read this:

From, as quote this morning in an article on American Thinker:

Most women — including 98 percent of Catholic women — who have had sex have used contraception, according to a study by the Guttmacher Institute.
“Have had sex.” Ever? “Have used contraception.” Ever?

As I posted there:

There is something worse at issue here. What bleeping business is it, of the President or any of his political allies, what percentage of Catholics (or members of any other religion) actually observe the teachings of their religion?

The claim may be true or false; it may give us Catholics cause for reflection or catechesis; but that’s all separate.

Where is the outrage that our President chooses to justify a policy on this basis?

Imagine if they passed a law–a la France–forbidding women from wearing veils–and Muslims protested that it violates their freedom; and the argument was, well, most of you Muslim women don’t wear the veil anyway.

The response is, “listen big government tyrant–whether we (Catholics/Jews/Muslims/etc.) are observant about our own faith is none of your business.

Once again, I think this is a huge deal. I cannot think of a time when any president ever involved himself in a theological or disciplinary matter within our Church. That was one of the great blessings of this country--that for the first time, the Church did not worry about interference from temporal authority.

Now it is President Obama who will go down in history as the first president--and God grant, the only--to transgress that understanding and to reach out to manipulate the Catholic Church.

> Postcards in the pews this weekend.

In Piqua, we're going to have postcards for parishioners to complete, which we will collect and mail. We'll be sending them to our Senators and Speaker Boehner. The text (for Boehner) is as follows:

Dear Speaker Boehner:

I urge you to schedule a vote for “The Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” (H.R. 1179, S. 1467), to block any attempt to force any American to buy or participate in health care that violates his or her conscience, such as the recent order by the Department of HHS concerning contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs being included in health care plans.

My religious freedom, protected by the First Amendment, is non-negotiable! All Americans, regardless of their faith, are in danger. We will watch closely to see how you vote.