Saturday, April 28, 2012

What do we expect of each other at Mass? (Sunday homily)

When pastors work on their sermons during the week, 
we all have subjects we think about addressing… only to lose our nerve by Sunday. 

Well, I’m only here for a few more weeks, so I thought, what the heck, 
I can say what I want! 

 Seriously though, as the Gospel says, our Lord isn’t a hired man 
 whose main concern is getting paid. His concern is the flock. 
I’m not the Lord—but I’m not a hired man either. 

So…today I’m going to touch on etiquette in church. 
Here’s the thing: while I’m making my points, 
you’re not allowed to poke anyone, or give anyone a look. And no throat-clearing. 

To start off, I considered talking about when we show up for Mass—
except I think we do a pretty good job of that. 
And I recognize what a challenge this can be if you have children. 
So parents, I want you to know: when I see you hurrying in, children in tow, 
that is a good example to us all. 

But let’s talk about the end of Mass. 
We all have emergencies and tight schedules; but when after communion, 
whole rows have emptied out? That’s quite a coincidence! 

Second item: distractions during Mass. 
Once again, I’m not going to say what you may think. 
Some of us can give a look of death when a baby fusses or cries. 
But babies can’t really help that. Please keep bringing your children to Mass! 
By the way, it’s not true we don’t have a cry-room; we actually have two of them! 
See those confessionals? They’re not used during Mass; the walls are carpeted; 
if you want to sit in there, feel free. 

While parents can’t easily turn off a baby, we can turn off our cell phones. 
If you don’t know how, ask your kids. 
And there is no excuse for texting or gaming during Mass. 

Item 3: how we dress. What I would suggest is not that anyone has to wear fancy clothes; 
but that doing the bare minimum is too little. 

Now—I know what the rebuttal is. “Just be glad they are there.” And we are glad. 
But let me ask this question. Suppose I came up to you and I said, 
“I have great expectations of everyone else…but not you.” 

We aren’t strangers who pass in the night here; 
as Saint John said in the second reading, we’re born into a family; we belong to each other; so, yes, we have expectations of each other. 

The other comment is, “God doesn’t care what we wear.” And that is true. 
But then, God created us naked…. 

OK, let’s talk about the bathrooms… 
We all know some percentage of visits to the bathroom, during Mass, is not about need; 
it’s about being bored. Parents, please help with this. 

Another item: cleaning up around us. Sometimes the pews look pretty ragged after Mass. 
If you bring a bulletin to your pew, please don’t stuff it in the pocket. 
 Please put books back where they were 

One more item: being a good host. When we invite or bring friends here 
who aren’t Catholic, it’s our job to make them feel at home. 
So I’d ask that we be sure to show folks the red booklets, the song books, 
and let folks know what to do. 
And that especially includes explaining what to do at communion time. 

The reason there’s confusion is because many of our fellow Christians have other practices. When you think about it, there’s no reason to assume when folks come to our church, 
they know what holy water is; or how to genuflect; or whether they can sing along with us. 

And there’s nothing rude about explaining that while other churches have their ways 
about communion, our teaching is that receiving communion means 
we are actual, formal members of the Catholic Church. 
Some people just don’t know that; and they won’t know it, if you and I don’t explain it. 

All this becomes a great way for us to learn about other people’s faith; 
and to share our faith with people. 

Now, what sometimes happens is that when we try to explain our Faith, 
we realize we don’t know our Faith as well as we wish. 
But if we push ourselves a little, we’ll actually learn our faith a lot better. 
A lot of the time, we want to be in our own little zone. 
I go into a coffee shop, I want to sit by myself—leave me alone! 
When we go to the bank or store, we’re in and out. 

But that’s not what happens at Mass. 
As the Eucharistic Prayer says, God has summoned us here before him. 
Christ makes his death and resurrection real to us through a real sacrifice—
but not a bloody one—on this altar. 

We aren’t here as spectators. We’re here for two reasons: 
we need to be here for our salvation; we need his Blood in order to be saved. 
And we’re here to join with the priest in offering this sacrifice for the salvation of others. 

Our family, our community and our world needs us to be here. 
For me, as a priest, to offer this sacrifice, is a privilege beyond price. 
And that’s true for you as well.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Thank you Mom and Dad...thank you God...

Today is my birthday; I'm 50 today!

I've been having parties all week, and I'm very grateful for all the kindness and good wishes.

The retired priests here organized a surprise party, and they did completely fool me! That was fun!

Tonight, we had a gathering at the Knights of Columbus, after a gathering at the Sisters' house. The schoolchildren sang for me at Mass, and gave me cards and's all fun and I am very, very grateful!

But on my birthday, my thoughts go to my parents. My parents loved each other, and their love was God's means of bringing me into existence. I didn't do a single thing. My birthday is no accomplishment of mine. It is the day of my mother's trials and suffering--for my benefit. It's the day that must have been remarkably special to my father; and I wish I'd been sensible enough to have asked him what it was like, when I had the chance.

I am the youngest of seven. Can you figure out why I agree with the Church's teaching on the openness to life? Had my parents not cooperated with the Church's wisdom, and God's plan...I would not exist.

I am here because my parents valued the voice of God in the Catholic Church. Because they loved each other. Because God ordained that the love of a man and a woman would be the means of bringing new life into the world. Because God wanted me to exist--for his purpose.

And while some people think 50 is old, from the perspective of eternity? Not so much! I'm going to live for eternity, and I'm only 50; it's like being a few hours in my mother's womb.

It's certainly tempting to think about the things that lie behind. I was 20 once, and that was an interesting experience. How foolish it would be to pine away for days gone by--and yet, so many do exactly that.

I don't mind saying that there are other thoughts I have today: but they are private. My gratitude; my memories...they are not to be shared, except with my mother and my father, and with God, who has taken them to himself.

Thank you Mom. Thank you Dad. Thank you Almighty Father.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Confirmation Complete!

What a relief!

Being short-staffed, and having a lot of other projects in the works, I was concerned about not giving enough time and energy to everything associated with confirmation this year. It's that sort of situation in which details get forgotten; and what gets forgotten could be minor...or major. Forgetting to invite someone to a meeting is one thing; forgetting something--or someone--part of a one-time event can be a deep hurt.

Well, all the children showed up, all got confirmed, all were included. The bishop showed up, everything seemed smooth--well, as smooth as such complicated endeavors can be. The servers did well, despite my having very little time to train them; the church was packed--and because I forgot to recruit ushers, I am sure no one counted; however, I did recruit a couple of boys, plus their father, to be stand-in ushers and they made sure we got programs out and the collection taken up. They recruited another boy so we got it done.

The bishop ended up having far less time at the end than he and I expected, so he didn't stay as long as we all might have hoped. He never got over to the Caserta Center for punch and cookies, so I'm sorry about that. However, he did greet a number of folks.

After the Confirmation, I joined one of our families at a confirmation party and met some friends of the family who were visiting from Colorado. The young parents brought their six boys--what a delight it was to meet them! I kidded with the boys about becoming priests, and when the retired priest came along later, I introduced each of them to him as "Father ____." He loved it and so did they. Two of the boys came up with papers, asking Father C. and me to sign "so they would pray for us." Hard to argue with that! It was part of something called the "Blue Knights," and I joked with them about having swords and helmets and perhaps a knighting ceremony; they liked everything about the idea except for the oldest brother doing the knighting--"not with a sword!"

I was pretty exhausted yesterday afternoon, and I really slept last night. I'm still tired today, but not so much. I have a partial day off today; I have two meetings this evening.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lots going on...

It's been a long few weeks.

This time of year is very hectic; despite what folks may think, it doesn't get easier after Easter. The school and parish budgets need to be finalized (school is; parishes are not); this year, I have two hires pending and that's a lot of work. I have a construction project underway at one parish, and one of the parishes is looking at buying some property.

Meanwhile, we have confirmation tomorrow--and did I mention we don't have a Director of Religious Education (one of the hires); so a lot of things the DRE does, I'm doing. The teachers and volunteers are picking up the slack too.

Tonight we had our pre-Confirmation pot-luck and rehearsal. The rehearsal went well; I don't like barking at the kids, but we had to line them up and there was no need for any talking. It worked fine; we got finished with 4 minutes to spare!

Earlier today I heard confessions, I worked at the office finalizing things for Confirmation; I will finalize the program tomorrow and run it off (one consequence of no DRE is I was double-checking confirmation names at the rehearsal.

I worked up a homily, about resurrection, which I think went too long at 4 pm.

Then after 4 pm Mass, the teachers got the confirmation banners hung up; Mrs. T saved my bacon several times; we got the rehearsal and potluck finished and I came home.

Oh boy am I tired; I didn't get much sleep last night, about 3-4 hours.

I have early Mass and 9 am Mass, then get a bunch of stuff together for Confirmation at 2 pm.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Two movies: 'Hunger' for Hope

Last week, I went to see a movie, and had a choice: "Hunger Games" or "October Baby"; with a little guilty conscience, I chose "Hunger Games" last week. Today I saw "October Baby."

I enjoyed them both. They are very different. Do they have anything in common?

Last week, after seeing "Hunger Games," I found myself thinking about the way so many books, films and other forms of entertainment bear a dystopian message. So it seems; is it just me, or do few films today present a hopeful view of the future? If it's not jst me, why is that?

Somewhere, I remember someone saying that what our fiction says to us is coming from our cultural subconscious: we tell truths in fiction we don't want to say more explicitly. I wish I could remember where I heard that now.

So what does "Hunger Games" say? And what does "October Baby" have in common with it?

I'm assuming you are familiar with the general outline of the "Hunger Games" stories--which I haven't read; it portrays a world similar to ours, but whether it is supposed to be our world, sometime in the future, is ambiguous. It's a world that deliberately echoes pagan Rome; there is no overt religious elements to the story; the utter absence of any religion is noteworthy. And, if you've googled "Hunger Games" by now, you know that there is a "bread and circuses" theme at work, complete with human beings forced to die in the arena.

Father Robert Barron wrote this at National Review and it got me thinking; I'll let you read his remarks rather than try to summarize them. But his thoughts remind me of how Flannery O'Connor used to speak of her Southern society being "Christ-haunted"; that's a good description of our culture, today. "Hunger Games"--the movie at least--is Christ-haunted.

So now to "October Baby." This is a "message" movie, which is fine, but I admit I'm leery of them; sometimes the creators lay it on pretty thick. I'll leave it to others to say if they go too far here, but I think not. I went over just now--in the midst of writing this--to see what "Rotten Tomatoes" had on this ("Rotten Tomatoes" is a website that does a great job aggregating both critics' and audience reactions to movies); no surprise the critics mostly panned it. I'll grant some of their criticisms are valid; the critiques might be summarized as, "not the right way to tell the story." OK, fine: but the fact remains that "lesser" lights are telling stories like this--and "Act of Valor" and "Courageous," two other recent movies the critics hated, which perhaps laid it on too thick, and yet are striking a chord. Is it possible our creative elite actually thinks the themes of valor, faith, courage, forgiveness aren't worth telling? Why can't they tell such stories? They must leave these stories to others?

In the midst of this, I'm reminded of a video I saw last week--perhaps some of you saw it too--of a debate between Cardinal George Pell and noted God-denying scientist Richard Dawkins. One of the points I took from Mr. Dawkins was that he thinks belief in God is foolish and unnecessary; the world alone, without God, is enough. He has little patience for people who persist in the delusion of believing God is real, and he mocks religious accounts of reality, such as the Bible, the story of Creation in Genesis, the story of the Incarnate God coming to save us through the Cross.

So...ok, Mr. Dawkins, explain this: how is it that the realistic folks such as you, who have shaken off the delusion of God, cannot match the beauty that comes along with all those pesky believers? Where are the athiests' cathedrals? Where are the works of art created by materialists? Give us stories! On a purely evolutionary, materialistic basis, you must admit humanity craves a compelling narrative; man wants the transcendentals: the true, the good and the beautiful. Man wants hope: if you are correct about reality--there is no God--then why must man look to religion for these things?

It reminds me of this scene from C.S. Lewis's "The Silver Chair":

“One word, Ma’am,” he said, coming back from the fire; limping, because of the pain. “One word. All you’ve been saying is quite right, I shouldn’t wonder. I’m a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won’t deny any of what you said. But there’s one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things – trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies making up a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a playworld which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.”

"October Baby" offers something the world of "Hunger Games" doesn't--or at least, not much: hope.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not finding fault with "Hunger Games." By all means, go: if only to see what a world without Christ looks like. And go see "October Baby" to see what difference Christ makes.

And if Christ is fake, then it's a remarkable thing when what is fake is better than what is real.

Viva Christo Rey!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Divine Mercy (Sunday homily)

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday.

Our late holy father, Blessed John Paul the Great
declared this Sunday to be “Divine Mercy Sunday.”

Where did this come from?

Saint Faustina was a Polish nun, born in 1905;
she died in 1938 of natural causes.
She spent but 13 years as a nun.
And in those years, she received
the message of mercy from the Lord—
which she wrote about in her Diary.

Now, I should explain that when anyone
has a vision, or an encounter like this,
it is what is called a “private revelation.”

This has happened many times in our history.

We might think of Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Joan of Arc,
St. Theresa of Avila, The Mystical City of God,
the Sacred Heart devotion, the messages of Fatima, and so forth.

The fact is, anyone can receive a private revelation.
It may be pretty humble, and we may never tell anyone.

But stop and think about that: no one has a special “phone line”—
not even the pope.
And many times the word came not to the exalted,
but to the humble.

When the Church gives its blessing to a private revelation,
All that means is that we are welcome to believe it,
but we don’t have to believe it.

That said, when a message spreads and brings great fruit,
that itself suggests it is from the Lord.

So what did our Lord tell Saint Faustina?

It can be summarized in three statements:

Ask for mercy;
Trust in mercy;
Show mercy.

As our Lord said to Faustina:
Mercy is the greatest attribute of God.

Now, I am struck by the time and the place of this message:
Poland: 1930s.

We all know what horrors would soon happen in Europe;
Poland, in particular, was chosen by Hitler
as the site of his abominations.
If he’d had his way,
not only would have destroyed the Jewish people,
he aimed to wipe out Poland as well.

Poor Poland, surviving that nightmare,
then faced decades of communist oppression.

Christ’s message to Faustina came before these awful events.
Just as he had to be strengthened before his Crucifixion,
So Poland needed to be prepared.

Now you might say, great—
but I’m not Polish, what does that mean to me?

Here’s what it means.

At various times in our history,
God would raise up a saint, or even a nation,
To play a key role for the benefit of all.

Because of Saint Benedict and then Saint Patrick ,
Irish monks spread through Europe in dark times—
and the Faith survived.

Because of Saint Juan Diego, Latin America was won for Christ.

What did Poland do for us?

Remember the Cold War—remember fearing nuclear Armageddon?
Remember when a pope was elected…from Poland?
A pope who almost died—a prediction from Fatima;
A pope who went back to Poland—
and helped end the Cold War without a shot being fired.

What difference does a Polish saint make?
What difference can you make?

You can change the world!

Through Saint Faustina, Jesus told us:
Ask for mercy: and he gave us the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

There’s free literature at the doors with details;
I’ll give an overview now.
You use a regular Rosary; or your fingers if necessary.

You begin with the Our Father,
then the Hail Mary, then the Apostles Creed.
In this way it’s similar to the Rosary.

But where the Rosary helps us see Jesus
through the heart of Mary,
The Divine Mercy Chaplet helps us see the world
with the heart of Christ.
To see the world from the vantage-point of the Cross.

On the larger beads of your Rosary, you pray,
“Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity
of your most beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ;
in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.”

Then on the smaller beads, say 10 times,
“For the sake of his sorrowful Passion,
have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Just as a Rosary has five decades,
you pray this set of prayers five times.

Then end with this prayer three time:
“Holy God, holy mighty one, holy immortal one,
have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

There are other prayers but this is the heart of it.

Holy Week and Easter are the time
when God’s mercy flooded the world.
Our only hope is to rely on his mercy.
The more each of us admits this,
the more we will learn to give what we have been given.

Thank God Jesus spoke to Faustina! Thank God she listened!
Through Saint Faustina, Jesus begs us:
Ask for mercy.
Trust in his mercy.
And then what you have received—give.
Share mercy.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Do you believe? Prove it! (Easter homily)

Yesterday I was out driving,
and I saw a car with a bumper sticker that said,
“my god can beat up your god.”

Now, my first reaction was irritation;
and then I had a sarcastic thought that I will keep to myself.
Then I wondered,
why does someone have that message on her car?
If it means--as I think it does--
that the person was skeptical about religion,
then what made that happen?

Was it because of hurts?
Was it a reaction to people
who claim to believe in God but fight with each other?

I bring it up, first, because it reminds us
that we as Christians do face skepticism and opposition.
But there actually two reasons for it.
I’ve already referred to one of them:
the criticism or mockery that comes our way,
because we act badly.

Someone looks at us Christians, and laughs,
“those Christians, they claim to be holy,
yet look how they live!”

No, we’re not perfect--
that’s why we need forgiveness of sins,
through baptism and confession.
That’s why we need
to be sealed by the Holy Spirit in confirmation,
and why we need the God’s life in the Eucharist.

But let’s stop and consider this.
If what we say about Jesus--and about the Sacraments--
is true; then our critics are right:
These things really ought to change us!

If we really believe what we say about the Eucharist:
it is Jesus’ Body and Blood--
then why wouldn’t we be here every week, or every day,
to receive Him?

If we really believe the Holy Spirit is poured into us,
shouldn’t we act differently?

If we truly believe God died on the cross for us to be forgiven,
how can we dare to refuse to forgive others?

Of course, someone could respond,
“Father, you’ve just disproven Christianity!
You’ve just pointed out that people don’t really change--
and therefore it’s all fake.”

Except that people do change.
People do act on the power of grace.

Behind me are the images of six people--six saints.
A saint is someone who makes that grace real in his life.
There’s Saint Francis, a rich playboy who gave it all up.
Grace was so powerful in his life
that we’re still talking about him 800 years later.

Or there’s Blessed Jose--
he was 14 years old in Mexico, in the 20s,
seized by troops and ordered to deny Christ
or they would kill him.
They cut his feet, made him walk to a cemetery,
but he would not deny Christ.

When he defied them, crying out “Viva Christo Rey!”
They shot him--and as his last breath left him,
he traced the cross on the ground in his own blood.

Over here is Mother Theresa,
who left her home and gave herself to the poor--
the poorest of the poor.

And for those of you who are becoming Catholic tonight,
here is someone for you: Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton,
who was a Protestant, who felt a draw to the Catholic Faith,
and when she answered that invitation,
her family did not react well--
any more than Francis’s did when he renounced his fortune.

Oh yes, the Holy Spirit can do powerful things.
I could go on and on,
and this really would be a sunrise service!

So back to our situation:
what will people see the Holy Spirit do in us?
If you meet that person who had that bumper sticker,
will she see God’s power in you?

I mentioned another reason we face opposition.
And Blessed Jose--or Saint Angelo, here--show that to us.

These saints weren’t martyred
because they failed to live their faith--
but because they succeeded.

Following Jesus comes at a price.
Do not be surprised that there will be those
who try to dampen your zeal;
or who say ugly things about the pope, the Church,
even the Mother of Jesus or Jesus himself.

There are those who mock priests and religious.
Who actually hate what is holy.

And there are those who see the Catholic Church
standing in the way of their cherished goals,
and they won’t have it.

So we have legal battles and confrontations--
in the next few years,
we may pay a terrible price simply to be faithful.

So, when you profess your faith, when you say,
“I am a Catholic,” this is what you choose.
Like Abraham, or Mother Seton, it will cost you.
Like Isaiah, or Saint Paul and the Apostles,
you will have a something wonderful to tell.

And you can either plug up that spring of water
welling up inside you--or you simply must let it flow,
and give that water of life to others!

Do you believe Jesus rose from the dead?
Prove it.

Friday, April 06, 2012

A priestly Good Friday

I'm just sort of recovering, after having some dinner. It's been a very priestly Good Friday.

I lead Morning Prayer at Saint Mary's at 9 am--after driving over to Saint Boniface to borrow some prayer books from the chapel, and running through Tim Horton's drive-through for coffee and two plain donuts--the first collatio. Only one person came for Morning Prayer--we usually only get a handful--but that was fine.

I headed back to the rectory to finish my coffee, and to review the Missal for Good Friday--with the new translation, there are some changes--and then back to hear confessions. I was supposed to begin at 10 am, and I came 15 minutes early, yet I found about 5 people (I say "about" because I try not to look at folks waiting for confession!). I was in the confessional from then right up till 11:55, when I had to leave to get ready for stations at Noon. I'm sorry for the folks who were still waiting, but what could I do?

Stations went well; with the steady seminarian and two experienced servers, all went well. Then after stations, I went back to hear more confessions for another 45 minutes. At 1 pm, a group of parishioners began a "seven words" reflection--I was able to participate in the last 15 minutes, it was nicely done, I thought. then at 1:30 pm, I met with the severs to prepare for the Solemn Liturgy. We reviewed everything--same servers, so they were not easily flustered.

I can't describe what it means to prostrate before the Cross. I think of my ordinations as a deacon and a priest; but also I think of my sins, and I think of the cross above me.

My homily was--well, it's hard to describe at this juncture, as I'm tired; but I was trying to talk about the meaning of the Cross to all of us who suffer injustice; and the room that there is at the Cross for each of us. And I talked about why there is no Mass on Good Friday--because, in a way, there is; we have a "pseudo-Mass"; we replace the sacrificial part of the Mass with veneration of the Cross.

Then the solemn intercessions. I messed those up a bit, but I think it worked out all the same.

Then the veneration of the Cross--I used a relic of the True Cross (which I explained to all in my homily); as far as I can tell, it was well received. I want you to know I am always deeply moved to observe the faithful as they come forward to adore the Cross. If I did anything to encourage that faith and devotion, then I've done my job.

Then communion; and for whatever reason, there was no one assigned as an extraordinary minister. No matter; it was my privilege, as father, to feed my family. After everyone came forward, I went to the choir loft to bring the Eucharist to the choir, who performed so beautifully. The music was beautiful, elevating, heavenly. Thank you choir!

After the solemn liturgy, I led the Divine Mercy chaplet, initiating the novena. Then the seminarian drove me--with our Eucharistic Lord--over to Saint Boniface. As Saint Boniface did not have the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist consecrated at Saint Mary is taken over to the other parish. We do this every year. Over at Saint Boniface, I also did a few things to prepare for the liturgy there tonight--which the retired priests handled, as well as confessions and stations before--but also printed out my notes for rehearsing the Vigil with the servers tomorrow. Then back home to take a breath! It was about 4:30 pm.

Well, I kind of zoned out for awhile, then ordered a pizza--mighty tasty!--and now I feel revived.

Men, if you wonder what it's like to be a priest, I've tried, through some weariness at the moment, to illustrate it. I heard confessions for about three, solid hours. I can't say a thing about that, you understand; but that's priestly! It's wonderful to be the Lord's messenger of forgiveness. I did what I could to present the Passion of our Lord on the most solemn day. I did what I could to point God's people to the Cross, on which our God died. I lifted up the Cross; I gave his people his Body and Blood. What could be more priestly?

Can man be saved? (Good Friday homily--reprise)

(This is a homily for Good Friday from several years ago. I will give a different homily tomorrow, but I won't have a text. I confess I was moved when I prepared this; perhaps it will be edifying to you.)

With the exception of Easter Sunday, this is the day of all days.
This is the day we must face—must look at something truly horrible:
Look at it!
We see the Cross, and we ask “Why?”

Be very clear:
No one made Jesus do this.
The Father did not make his Son do this.

Before time, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew man would sin.

God saw it all, from the smutty little sins that twist us—our vanities, our lusts,
our self-importance, our wrath, our gluttony,
our indifference--to the unimaginable horrors
men visit on each other,
from Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao, to Rwanda
and in our own country, abortion.

God saw it all…and He chose to go ahead with the world and us;
he chose to become one of us; God-with-us.

Was there no other way but the Cross? Of course there was. God is God. God chose this way.

Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—we did.
Had God never become man,
humanity would still have faced a cross, but now alone;
and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”:
“Any suffering of his, however slight, was enough to redeem the human race…”
The Cross is God’s exclamation mark on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.
What could be more extreme in generosity
than to give the maximum when the barest minimum was already generous?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:
I tell you that if God had not come down …and given us the supreme example of sacrifice,
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers,
men and women of countless ages, to do something greater, it would seem,
than God himself could do, namely, lay down their lives for a friend.

Why the Cross?
Consider an amazing image from our late Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the Great:
God came to earth—so man could put God on trial—
so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked, "Could God have justified himself
before human history, so full of suffering,
without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history?
"Obviously, one response could be
that God does not need to justify himself to man.
It is enough that he is omnipotent.
From this perspective everything he does or allows must be accepted.

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence
is Wisdom and—to repeat once again—Love,
desires to justify himself to mankind.
"He is not the Absolute that remains outside of the world,
indifferent to human suffering.

He is Emmanuel, God-with-us,
a God who shares man’s lot
and participates in his destiny.
"The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity
with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue.
He comes to us—offers himself for trial.
Pilate presides—and we are all in that court as jury.
We found him guilty—and sentenced him to death.
The price is paid. God himself atones.
God and man are reconciled.

We see the horror of the Cross;
we see the horror of human evil;
and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.
It is God saying “Yes.”

Thursday, April 05, 2012

My last Holy Thursday in Piqua

It was a great day!

I began with morning prayer with the faithful in Saint Clare Chapel, then I did a few things in Saint Boniface Church in anticipation of Good Friday (Holy Thursday Mass was at Saint Mary). Then back to Saint Mary to do a few things around the house, in preparation for dinner with the priests of the deanery, which I host every year.

The priests arrived at 3 pm, and we had prayer together; then snacks and drinks before dinner: Lamb and ham etc., same as every year--the lamb and potatoes were especially good! I watched a bit of the Reds game with our seminarian before we headed over to church. Lots of servers, all eager, and our seminarian Zach Cecil did a great job organizing them. What a relief! I took a moment to explain the vesting prayers, and what an amice, is to a couple of them. They liked the part about protection from the devil--I like that part too!

Well, we got the incense stoked up, and a good, steady server to handle that. The other priests came in, a few panicky moments not worth explaining (no, I wasn't panicking!) and a good complement of Knights of Columbus.

The music was splendid; Father Tom, one of the retired priests, gave a moving homily, emphasizing the encounter between our Lord and Peter. He talked about the trouble among the disciples; he cited the story from Sunday's Passion account, in which one of the disciples ran away, leaving his clothing behind! In other words, where many of them bragged that they left all to follow Jesus, here they were leaving everything to run away! So our Lord comes to Peter--and it's as if he really needed, really counted, on Peter. Father recalled how the Lord also said, "Satan has desired to sift you like wheat--but I have prayed for you!"

Father talked about the four men to be ordained as priests--including Deacon Matt Robben, who worked in our parish for a couple of summers--and he said that, in a way, the Archbishop comes to his priests, much like Jesus to Peter, and pleads: will you stand with me? Will you serve others for me? Will you plead mercy for them? Will you help me open their hearts to my message?

It was very moving--and Father seemed moved as well.

Then I washed the feet of six men; then, after the prayers, parishioners brought forward the oils blessed by the Archbishop on Tuesday. Then--a miscue--I went to the altar to begin the offertory prayers, forgetting I hadn't gotten the gifts! One of the priests signaled me, so, like a dope, I went down to the foot of the sanctuary to receive the gifts! Good thing, too--they brought forward 500 hosts to consecrate!

We had good incense--I used a different brand, and no one seemed to be bothered; however, the folks who can't take incense I am pretty sure don't come on Holy Thursday.

Then the Roman Canon--this has some variations special for Holy Thursday. That's when I thought--this is the last time I'll do this at these parishes. A little sad.

We had a good crowd, it seemed to me; and the procession to the altar of repose was moving to me, at least. Everyone seemed so focused in prayer--it's so powerful. I was grateful in particular for the Ave Verum that the choir sang--I love that!

Well, now I'm kicking back a little, in preparation for tomorrow's marathon. I may get a Lamb sandwich before midnight...

How was your Holy Thursday?

Monday, April 02, 2012

Love and Life: what the Church teaches about contraception

Here's a talk I prepared for tonight's RCIA...

What does the Church teach about contraception?

We believe that love, sex, marriage and family are all bound up together by God’s design.

This is the design: that sex and love go together: so no sex outside of marriage; and sex, love and life go together: so marital acts should always be open to the gift of life--not altered or manipulated to exclude life.

So: no contraception or sterilization.

How do we know these things?

Again, from observation: sex is about giving life. And we observe that people find meaning when they give life.

What does Scripture say?

God created humanity in his image and likeness.

When a couple comes together in the marital act, it is the only time when human beings can do what otherwise God alone does--create out of nothing: and they create another image of God!

We also see in Scripture that God welcomes life: children are a blessing. Nowhere in Scripture do we see the mindset that there are “too many people.” That is a secular mindset that solves the problem of poverty and hunger, not by feeding and clothing people, but by getting rid of people.

Also, isn’t it interesting that when God made a covenant with Abraham, what was the sign? Circumcision. What a curious way to do it. While Scripture doesn’t explain this sign, we might note that the key promise God made to Abraham and Sarah was children. When Abraham and Sarah, and Jewish couples afterward, came together, they would be reminded of their covenant with God. We know that the misuse of our sexuality causes tremendous suffering. It’s almost as if God wanted to remind men in a powerful way, “I’m in charge here.” It’s a message our society could use.

Is this a new teaching?

No--it was always possible to avoid pregnancies; we have new technology but it’s not a new thing. Christians have always believed it was wrong to seek sex only for pleasure and deliberately excluding it’s life-giving power.

What did Pope Paul VI say in 1968?

A group of theologians were called together to study the issue, and there was some expectation that they would change the Church’s teaching. Many of them wanted to do so. But Pope Paul VI did not find their reasons persuasive. He issued a letter called Humanae Vitae--“Of Human Life”--that restated the Church’s longstanding teaching.

He said that the two aspects of marital relations--that they are unifying and they are life-giving--are bound up together by God’s design and it is gravely sinful to separate them.

But I’ve heard lots of people, even lots of Catholics, say that he was wrong and out of step.

This letter is now almost 45 years old; and the birth control pill was around for a few years before it came out. So we have a good 50 years of seeing how the spread of contraception has worked out.

And we have a chance to revisit Pope Paul’s words and predictions, and see how they stand up.

Pope Paul made four predictions:

1. “Open the way to marital infidelity.”

One of the arguments made for contraception was that it would promote marital harmony. It hasn’t worked out.

2. “General lowering of moral standards.”

Another argument for contraception was that it would prevent abortions; yet contraception has never been more easily obtainable, never been so widely promoted, and treated as routine--yet we have a million abortions a year, far more than 50 years ago.

3. “Men will forget the reverence due a woman, and treat her as a mere instrument.”

4. Public authorities would get involved.

Consider these words of Pope Paul--in 1968, remember:

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.

Notice how just in the last six months, our government has mandated, not so much the use of contraception, but that they be included in everyone’s health insurance, whether folks want that or not.

In fact, elsewhere in the world contraception has, in fact, been mandated. And we in this country aren’t far from that.

Meanwhile, there are other things that have resulted with Pope Paul did not predict. By separating lovemaking from life-making, notice that just as society has sought to have sex without procreation; it has gone the other way, too: have procreation without acts of love.

This has not worked out very well at all.

There’s no question that infertility is a terrible cross for those couples who face it.

But when you have technicians creating human life in a laboratory --so-called “in vitro fertilization”--notice what happens:

* Many babies will be created
* Several may be implanted in the mother’s womb
* The rest will be kept in cold storage
* When the children develop in the womb, sometimes the doctor will selectively abort some of them.
* In vitro clinics nationwide have hundreds of thousands of unborn children, in the embryo stage.
* Their parents either are keeping them “just in case”; or else they abandon them. They get treated as property in divorce cases.
* Remember the dispute over “stem cell research”? One of the arguments that was used was that all these embryos would “go to waste”--so why not use them for research.
* And that’s what we do: they are manipulated and destroyed in order to generate stem cells--one purpose of which is to test flavors for food items, including Pepsi products for example.

What about overpopulation and related problems?

That was the argument for many years--that we have too many people and not enough resources.

In fact, we have an abundance of natural resources in our world--the problem isn’t the supply but the distribution.

Also, the experts that used to talk about “overpopulation” for so many decades don’t say that anymore. Instead, they are increasingly concerned about a “demographic winter”: lots of older folks, but not so many younger folks coming up behind them.

A growing number of developed countries, including Russia, Japan, and many countries in Europe, are having so few children that their population is either declining right now, or else it will happen soon. Even China is facing this problem because of a forced, one-child policy. China will get old before it gets rich.

So what are couples supposed to do? Have 20 children?

The issue isn’t how many children a couple has, but deliberately excluding life-giving from love-making. Church teaching allows for couples to space the birth of their children using natural means. There are several forms of Natural Family Planning, and they are fairly sophisticated. They use a variety of means of observing a woman’s fertility, so that a couple can avoid those days when she is likely to conceive.

This has many advantages:

--The couple must work together; as opposed to contraception being one spouse’s responsibility.
--The husband must learn to appreciate and respect a woman’s fertility--rather than expect her to “deal with it.” It’s part of who she is; it is part of the couple’s life.
--No massive doses of chemicals introduced into the woman’s body to cause distortions and long-term damage (which is still being researched). A lot of folks who aren’t particularly religious will use NFP for this reason alone.
--It does require some sacrifice--several days’ abstinence each month. Why is this a bad thing?
--It puts the Cross--dying to self--right at the heart of a marriage.
--This may explain why NFP couples report more satisfaction in their intimacy and fewer divorces.

A lot of Catholics don’t follow this teaching; and a lot of folks say it’s really up to individual Catholics’ consciences whether to follow it.

It’s true many Catholics don’t seem to follow it. I think a lot of the statistics you hear quoted are inflated; because there may well be a lot of Catholics who have used contraception at some point, but changed their minds--that doesn’t mean they disagree with the teaching.

But what does it prove to say that a lot of people don’t live up to this? All the Commandments get broken sooner or later--should we eliminate some of them?

As far as individual conscience--it is true that each of us must, in the end, choose whether to believe what the Church teaches. That is true not just in this case, but in the case of everything that makes up the Catholic Faith. Does God exist? Does he speak to humanity? Is God a Trinity? Is Jesus God? Are the sacraments real? And so forth.

What people sometimes mean is that the Church’s teaching on contraception isn’t as serious as other teachings. But the Church doesn’t teach that.

This concerns the moral law--the use of our gift of human sexuality, which always is a grave matter. Contraception, like marital infidelity, or sex before marriage, is a mortal sin. As are lots of other things.

While this teaching hasn’t been defined infallibly, that doesn’t mean it’s not true, nor that we aren’t obliged to believe it. It’s part of the Catholic Faith.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Piqua Palm Sunday

It was a nice Palm Sunday today. Here's how it went from my perspective...

Up at 6 am; I have to admit, when the alarm went off, I wondered what day it was; for a moment, I thought it was Monday and I was thinking, "why'd I leave the alarm on?" (Monday I get to sleep in.) Then I realized, uh, no, it's Sunday, you still have to offer Mass today etc....

At the 7 am Mass, we did the "simple" entrance for Palm Sunday: that means no first Gospel and no procession; we began Mass as we would any other Sunday. The Missal wasn't explicit on this point, but when it said, "in the usual way," I took that to mean a penitential rite--which was omitted at the other Masses. A little glitch in the proclamation of the Passion; the reader thought I would do a line, I thought he would; we figured it out. Mass went about 1:05, 15 minutes longer than usual. My homily, as you can see, was brief. I did use the Roman Canon.

Why the Roman Canon (the first Eucharistic Prayer)? Because it seemed to me to hit the right notes of sacrifice and salvation history. I was thinking, "Palm Sunday is supposed to take longer--that's how it is."

Quick breakfast before the 9 am Mass--at which we had incense and a full procession. Apparently my wireless mic didn't work from the walk in front of the rectory, so the folks in church couldn't hear me for the rites outside. Part of the choir came outside to intone the chant to begin Mass, and then began the hymn for the procession; and for the first time, we really did seem to get the folks inside and outside singing about the same time! (This is hard to do.) Incense wasn't so great; I think I'll throw this stuff away since I just bought a box of something else. This was stuff I found in the closet and was using up.

Yes, I wore a cope for the procession, and then put on the chasuble after incensing the altar.

The music was so good! Our choir has been using the propers at the 9 am Mass, and they were so suitable.

We usually end Mass on Palm Sunday with no hymn, no music--and it worked this year! (Past years it seemed everyone took that to mean to go--and the procession back down the aisle gets balled up.)

With the retired priests feeling reasonably well, each of them took a Mass, so I only had two this morning, as well as one last night. But I have to tell you, even after several years, Palm Sunday stresses me a bit, thinking about the various moving parts. But as far as I can tell, all went well.

Meanwhile, I've been having a heck of a time getting the new "solemn tone" in the Missal just right; took me till the last prayer to finally get it right!

I'd actually have liked chanting the Eucharistic Prayer, but I wonder if that would be too taxing for folks. I may try it for the Vigil, but in all honesty, I'm usually pretty wiped out by that point so we'll see.

The youth group had a showing of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" this afternoon--seems very appropriate.

We didn't veil the statues; I'd like to have started that tradition up again, here, but I never got to it.

I just realized I never ate lunch, so I think I'll go get some dinner shortly.