Sunday, June 30, 2013

Are my values Christ's values? (Sunday homily)

There’s something going on in the Gospel worth looking at.
But we may not like it.

Look at James and John.
They were certain in their judgment
about the way the Samaritans had wronged them—
and about what punishment they deserved.

They did what we all do.
They had all sorted out in their heads a hierarchy of values.
And in their line-up of values,
the Samaritans deserved fire from heaven.

Our Lord is not gentle in his response!
There’s something kind of comical here.
Imagine how this would play out today.
Someone in the crowd would call out:
“Jesus, you’re not being very sensitive!”

So, there again, we see a clash of values—
but now, it’s between Christ and us.
Not hurting feelings is important;
but our Lord clearly thinks other things are more important.

So let’s put ourselves—and our values—in this story.
Now, there are plenty of examples I could cite;
for time’s sake, I’ll only cite two.

Example number one.
Our Catholic Faith tells us that human dignity is non-negotiable,
and ends can never justify the means.

And yet, what has the government we elect
done in areas of war and national security?

How is it that the Catholic community
hasn’t been a thundering voice against torture?
Against the President ordering drones to kill people,
sometimes civilians, and it all seems pretty loose?

What about the President involving us
in combat without asking Congress?

And I don’t just mean President Obama;
we could be talking about President Bush as well.

If we approve of these things, or simply go along—
what values have shaped our thinking?

Are they Christ’s values?

Example number two: the question of marriage.
This is one more of us are wrestling with—
so I will say a bit more about it.

The reason this is a controversy
is precisely because of the way our culture exalts,
above everything else, the value of “choice” and freedom.

When put in those terms, a lot of folks say, sure,
change the definition of marriage.
That includes a lot of Catholics; and many are on the defensive.

Of course, choice and freedom are good values;
but are they the supreme values?

Our society says yes. Jesus says no.
For our Lord, truth comes first.
Truth about him; and truth about us.

And the truth at stake here is the truth of human nature:
either men and women are, in fact, made for each other—or not.
Either sexuality is bound up with God’s creative purpose—
and that’s why our Faith says “no” to the things it says no to.
Or else it’s not.

Now, some will say, oh these are just religious questions;
They don’t have anything to do with civil law.
To a point, that’s true.
And we don’t seek to include
everything our Faith teaches in our civil laws.

Still, all law in some way or another embodies moral values. 
Meanwhile, when our Church opposes redefining marriage, 
we aren’t just talking about what our religion teaches us.
We’re talking about what is true and evident in human nature itself.
And what we’re saying is, our society can’t really be one society
if we don’t have a common understanding of such basic things.

(I added the following extemporaneous remarks:
This is where this becomes a religious freedom issue.
When you have one group--us--saying, this is our faith,
and another group--those who seem to be winning at the moment--
saying, of us, you are bigots, then there is no way there won't be conflict.)

The question of what marriage simply is

both as a matter of law and as a central force in society—
can’t only be a private question.
It affects us all.

This is about what family is.
Our culture is tending to say,
family is anything anyone chooses.

But again: what about truth?
Is it true to say that it doesn’t matter
if a child has a mother and father?

These are uncomfortable questions,
But that’s the kind Jesus tends to ask—
and sooner or later, we all get put on the spot.
No exceptions.

As with James and John, sometimes our Lord turns to us and says, 
"those aren’t my values. Try again.”

Monday, June 24, 2013

You are our suffering Messiah, and we will follow you (Sunday homily)

(From notes and memory, here is an approximation of my homily this past weekend.)

As you must have guessed, I'm Father Martin Fox, your new parish priest. 
As soon as I walked out, you were able to compare me to Father Moran, 
and you have already sized up ways we're similar or different. 
I sing the prayers at Mass; I don't know if he did. 

I can tell you, I'm nowhere near as charming as he is. 
When I make jokes, the parts I expect people to laugh at, they don't laugh; 
but then when I'm not expecting it, they do. 

Father Moran is, I think, taller; but if I turn sideways, you can see another similarity.

Like Father Moran, I'm 51--which doesn't seem that old to many of you, 
but it's as old as I've ever been! 
The good news is, I've already made a good share of my mistakes--
and learned from at least some of them! 
The bad news is, I'm not finished making mistakes. 
For example, I'm going to get most of your names wrong, 
and I'll need you to tell them to me many times.

Saint Augustine famously said, 
"I'm with you as a Christian, but I'm for you, I'm your bishop." 
Well, I'm not your bishop, but your parish priest. 
In that spirit, let me say, I'm with you as a Christian, but for you, I'm a parish priest.

Our readings talk about baptism, the "fountain to purify us" 
which makes us all Christians and, as Paul said, joins us to Christ. 
But being a Christian also involves answering the question the Lord posed in the Gospel: 
who do you say that I am?

Pope Francis has made this point--
as did Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul before him--
that we need Christians who aren't afraid to answer that question. 
And, not uncertainly, but with conviction.

There are a lot of false values in our world, about money and status, 
about God, and vengeance and war, versus mercy and reconciliation, 
and about what gives meaning and worth to life. 
And these false values win converts, in part, because they have disciples with conviction.

The Truth--Jesus Christ--deserves disciples who have conviction!

Now, you might say, wait--in the Gospel Jesus told them not to say anything. 
So it's OK if we don't say anything. 
But that was only until they understood about the cross--
and were ready to take up their own.

There's an idea out there that says, our Faith shouldn't ask too much of us. 
If some part of our Faith is hard to accept, or hard to understand, or hard to live, 
somehow that's cited as a reason it's not true.

But it seems to me if we try to have Christ without the parts 
we don't like, or understand, or find difficult, 
we end up with a Christ without a cross--and that is no Christ at all. 
And that is the "Christ" he wanted them to be silent about.

On the other hand, when you and I take up our cross, 
by that act we are no longer silent.

We don't have to carry it perfectly. 
We have the example of our Lord (pointing to the Stations of the Cross), 
who accepted human weakness as his own, and fell several times. 
It's better that we try to be cheerful about it, 
but if we aren't, we have the example of Saint Simon the Cyrene: 
he didn't want to help, but he did. 
So for all of us grumpy about the cross, there's our patron saint!

But when we take up the cross, even--especially!--
after just dropping it (as I do a lot!) then we are answering the question, 
"who do you say that I am?": 

"You are the Messiah who suffers with us. And we will follow you."

Monday, June 17, 2013

A night on The Hill...

Tonight was my first on "The Hill"...

Mass at 7:30 pm; a group of pilgrims who showed up just as Mass ended--they were Spanish teachers, from all over the country, in town for a meeting, and they'd walked up to Immaculata from downtown! We talked a bit after Mass, and they took lots of pictures of our beautiful church.

After Mass, I walked over to...well--I'd rather not say, so I don't play favorites. But I walked over to one of the places on The Hill, to get something cold to drink, and something to eat. The fellow behind the bar, it turns out, played baseball in college; so we talked a bit about the Reds.

The Reds won! You can definitely hear the fireworks up here. It was a lot of fun watching all our guys come up to bat and hit home runs, one after another.

Moving week...

As you know, I'm moving from Saint Rose, on the near East End, to Holy Cross-Immaculata Parish, on Mount Adams. So the past week or so I've been packing, or trying to organize my plan; this week I'm pulling stuff downstairs, and will begin moving into Immaculata.

Thank you, Saint Rose, for a great year. Dear folks on The Hill, I'll see you for Mass tonight, and we'll get to know each other over the coming weeks.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

'The more we are forgiven, the more we can forgive' (Sunday homily)

The Woman Who Washed the Lord's Feet with Her Tears. Cathedral Sint-Salvador, Brugge, Belgium. Photo by Javier Carro. (Source: Wikipedia Commons)
Before the first reader come up just now, 
I was tempted to stop him, and do my homily before the readings.

If I had done that, I might have invited you, as you listened, 
to see what all these people are like. 
One of them is you. Which one?

Are you Nathan? 
Have you ever had to confront someone about wrongdoing? 
Maybe an employee or a coworker, or a member of your family?

I wonder if Nathan thought about his own sinfulness 
as he denounced King David?

Are you David? Someone with power over other people?
One of the things we don‘t like to think about or face, 
is that our sins are never really private. 
They always affect someone else--more than we can imagine.

Are you Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba? She was a victim--
yet like so many victims of this sort of crime, 
people try to say it was really her fault.

She had every reason to be bitter. 
When we’ve been wronged, it’s easy to become bitter.
But when we refuse to forgive, 
and we harbor that bitterness, 
it isn’t the guilty who suffers, 
but we help inflict punishment on ourselves.

So: here’s an important point about forgiving those who wrong us.
It isn’t that they are let off the hook; 
it’s that we decide to let go of the fishing-pole. 
We let go--we give it to God. Let God deal with that person.

Are you the woman in the Gospel with the lovely hair?
The Gospel doesn’t tell us what sort of sinner she was; 
but people are always curious. Isn’t that just how it always is?
Always murmuring…

Maybe it doesn’t say because it doesn’t matter. 
Some people’s sins are on the inside, they don’t get stared at, 
the way Simon stared at this woman--whose sins were very public.

The good news is, no matter what our sin, or our history, 
we can always go to the Lord--in the sacrament of confession--
to be forgiven and restored.

The Pharisees don’t go to confession; they stand outside, 
staring, and assuming… 

But Jesus is in the confessional!
Don’t let the stares or assumptions of others keep you away, 
just like this women didn’t let anything keep her from coming to the Lord!

Are you Simon? 
Are you angry because it seems like people “get off so easy”?
Do you find it hard to forgive?

If there’s one thing the Lord is saying here--so simple but so hard:
It’s easier to forgive when we see ourselves, 
not as the judge, not as the prosecutor, 
Not as the defense attorney,
And not as someone at home, watching on TV--
but as that guilty person who’s on trial.

Can you see yourself as Saint Paul? Not the Saint Paul the Apostle, 
but Paul the persecutor? Paul the colossally wrong? 
Paul the angry and vicious? Paul, who helped murder Saint Stephen? 

This is why the sacrament of confession is so important--
and there is no one, not a single person, who doesn’t need it, often:
(Priests!--most of all!):
And the reason is because it ensures that we know--
not just in our heads but in our being--what it is to be forgiven. 

The more we are forgiven; the more we can forgive.

Friday, June 14, 2013

A Word for the Fretful

One of the things a priest learns as he hears confessions and counsels people (note: these are not the same things) is that many folks are given to worry and fretfulness, which can be a real cross to them. In some cases, it enters into what is called scrupulosity--but to be clear, not everyone who is given to worry is scrupulous.

There are so many times when I'm talking with someone who is getting more and more tangled up in worry, and what I want to do is find the one word, or offer a pill or something, to relieve them of it. But I haven't found it.

Perhaps with a few more than one word, here, I can offer some help? Pray for me that this post does some good!

What do we worry about? It seems to me it's possible for people to worry about almost anything. People worry about their own problems. They worry about the problems of others. About the problems of the world. About when the world might end, and is that soon? They worry about their worrying. They worry that they don't worry enough (I'm serious about that).

OK, here comes the one word--well, two: Stop it!

See, that didn't work.

So how about this:

1. For some people, worrying is a kind of hobby. I mean that while it isn't exactly a pleasant experience, it's something that is so much a part of that person's life that s/he wouldn't quite know how to get through the day without it. Sort of like smoking, or gossip, or complaining. It's a kind of hobby.

So one thing I'd say is, face this fact: however many ways this hobby is unpleasant, and self-destructive, it's still something involving an element of choice. You're doing it, in part, because it gives some meaning and structure to your life. You "get something from it."

2. What might that something be? Well, I'm not certain, but I think this is where our ego can be at work.

Part of what we do when we worry about things is play God. Why is President Obama doing thus-and-so? What a mess. Oh, it's terrible, terrible. Everything is going to hell. Why, if only (and here comes the ego) they would do thus-and-so...

See how that works?

How can someone be so certain things are wrong, without being certain about what "right" looks like?

In other words, the way I think things ought to be.

Now, there's a world of difference between having definite opinions and judgments about such questions (and I don't mean to limit it to politics or government; it applies just as much to family life, business, sports, etc.). I went to a Reds game recently with some friends, and we all agreed that the manager should have done a double-switch; he didn't; and subsequent to that, the Reds lost.

But I didn't lose any sleep over it. There are two good answers to that line of thinking:

a) I think I'm right, but at the end of the day, maybe I'm not.

b) All this is in God's hands; I'll let it be his problem.

And I think that works equally well for small things--such as who wins the pennant this year--or big, such as questions of national policy or war and peace.

Actually, there's another response that falls between "a" and "b," above: doing something.

I could write the Reds manager a letter giving him my opinion. I chose not to. (And if you're reading this Dusty, go Reds!) More seriously, on political questions, I get to vote, and I get to voice my views to those in power, and working with others, that can sway things.

But after that, then it's to the second answer: put it in God's hands.

So it occurs to me that, to some degree, worrying can be a sign we need to exert more faith.

And--when there isn't anything we can really do about what is worrying us, then that's when we know: we're playing God. ("Oh, what Susie needs to do with her husband is...hmm, how can I get her to do the right thing? Hmm...")

3. Another way this fretting and worrying shows itself is in how some folks over-analyze their own spiritual lives, and worry, worry, worry, worry about whether they're doing it right.

Again, my simple advice: Stop it!

Stop and think about your image of God. Who do you suppose God is? What sort of personality do you imagine for God?

Do you really suppose that God, watching you in your attempt to work out your salvation, is going to "flunk" you on a technicality?

More pointedly, consider this: what sort of image of God are you communicating to others in this approach? When you agonize over these things, does this make being a disciple of the Lord attractive?

Take a look at the Gospels. When did our Lord encourage this sort of thing? Meanwhile, you can find many places where our Lord waved it away. Martha fretted; and our Lord counseled her against it. Critics of his fretted and complained about his observance of the Sabbath, about his disciples eating grain as they passed through a field, and so forth. What did our Lord say? "Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you." And he said, "Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span?"

Trying to be diligent in examining our consciences, and in trying to be faithful followers is good. Thinking through the implications of our Faith, and trying to apply it fully, is good.

But God doesn't ask us to have perfect knowledge; God doesn't ask us to make perfect judgments.

But he does ask us to be forgiving, to be generous, to care for others, and to trust him.

Remember what the Lord said: if we are generous in our forgiving, we will be forgiven in a generous way.

4. Beware of Pelagianism--the heresy that says we can do it ourselves.

Catholics get accused of practicing "salvation by works," and it happens; but I think this is an error to which almost all people are prone. Because this is pride at work. We want to be able to say, we did it.

So anyone who thinks s/he has extirpated all pride within you? Now start looking for sloth. And presumption.

When it comes to our reclamation and our salvation, we won't be able to say that.

Even the works we do, which God--in his generosity--chooses to reward, are themselves a fruit of his grace. So said the Council of Trent.

When we worry--I mean, really worry so that we're fearful--we might ask ourselves: have we forgotten God? Do we forget that God created the world by choice, fully aware that humanity would sin? Do we forget that nothing surprises God? Do we forget that while we are stumped and see no solution, God is never stumped. He has a plan?

So we're back to playing God again; because maybe part of our reaction is this: we're impatient with God's timetable. He's too patient. He really ought to be acting, putting things right. Why isn't he?

But the main thing I would counsel those who fret and are fearful: remember that God is everywhere, and God is love. God is not stingy with his grace. On the contrary, the entire Creation, both in its origin and then in how God is working for its redemption, is all about God's love and generosity.

Everything that exists, exists for God, and for his purpose. His purpose toward humanity is salvation.

Therefore, all Creation, visible and invisible, is God's "conspiracy of grace."

You come to confession: it was God who brought you there. God is waiting there with a shower, a torrential downpour of grace and mercy. Do you really suppose God will say: tut, tut, you didn't cross that T quite right; no grace for you?

You come to Mass. It was God who drew you there. He wants you there; he meets you there. So you're tired. So you're grumpy. So you don't feel well. You do your best. You feel guilty about your bad attitude, or complaints. Or you are distracted (who isn't? I can't speak for any of the saints, but I just bet they were distracted). But you make your act of faith. You're trying to do it the right way.

Oh, but you don't "feel it." Did you blow it?

Again, do you suppose God, who planned his own incarnation, precisely so that he could hang in agony on the cross, for you and me--will say, "ah, she blew it; strike that name from the Book of Life"?

Sometimes our feelings are out of whack. There are many reasons why. I don't know them. I don't understand myself fully, so what hope is there I'll understand you or anyone else. But the fact remains, sometimes our feelings are in conflict with the reality. Something good happens--we receive absolution, or communion, and yet we don't feel it. Does that mean something? Am I bad? Am I doing it wrong?

See what happens there? Where does the gaze shift? From God--and what he's doing (absolving, giving himself in the Eucharist, or some other encounter)--to ourselves.

C.S. Lewis, in his masterful Screwtape Letters illustrates this phenomenon brilliantly and with great humor; he imagines a senior devil teaching a newer one on this tactic: get your "patient" (i.e., the one you are charged with tempting) to turn his focus, his thoughts, from God and his works, toward himself, his thoughts, his feelings, etc.

Can you imagine John the Baptist, when he cried out, "Behold the Lamb of God!" stopping, and muttering, "you know, I really could have said that with more feeling"? Or, "I hammed that up--who do I think I am?" John knew what we must remind ourselves constantly: "it's not about me. It's about Lord, who is here to save me. That's enough for me."

It's ego that says, I'm the worst sinner in the world. It's ego that says, my sins must really baffle the priest; I'm sure he's shocked. On the other hand, it's rather humbling to realize that sinner that I am, I'm a rather mediocre one; and my sins are terribly boring.

Before I close this out, a word about scrupulosity.

As indicated, some people can take this fretfulness so far that it becomes obsessive and even disabling. And I think sometimes this is partly explained not merely by habits of thought and belief, and by ego or vanity as I suggested above--but also by some emotional or psychological causes as well. Just as sometimes our bodies don't always work just the way we need or want them to, the same can be true of our emotions and our minds. This doesn't make us bad people, just people who have troubles we don't understand.

If you think that's you, do not--do NOT--try to work this out here. It won't work. I won't be able to help you through comments.

Go see a priest and talk to that priest in person.

And for all of us: God is love. He has offered us the helps we need to find him, and having found him, to remain in him. Do as he asks, and then trust that he will do as he promises.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Learning the old Mass and appreciating the reform

Over the past few weeks, I've written several times about my efforts to learn the older form of the Mass. At this point, I'm mostly comfortable celebrating a low Mass, with a few rough spots. I'm learning how to manage the calendar and I'm getting familiar with the Missal.

One of the things that I have found as I become more familiar with the older form of the Mass is a greater appreciation for the question of reform of the liturgy, which of course figured prominently in the Second Vatican Council.  While I've written before about how I think that was in many cases badly realized, that doesn't negate the validity of the question of reform. On the contrary--if what the Council was aiming at hasn't been well realized, the need to get going on that task is all the more urgent.

What are some things that stand out?

> Use of the vernacular. While I've become comfortable offering Holy Mass in Latin, I can't say that I find the readings easy in Latin. And, obviously, lots of folks in the pews prefer to hear the vernacular. I think it's been very beneficial.

> Loud voice v. low voice. Where the newer Mass often has too little silence, I can see where the older, low Mass has too much for some folks. 

> Use of the pulpit. If I'm offering Mass privately, doing the readings from the altar makes sense; but where there is a congregation, readings from the pulpit make more sense. 

On the other hand, there is something very nice about the symbolism of first reading and psalm being read on one side of the sanctuary, and then the Gospel being proclaimed toward the north. In a solemn, high Mass I attended recently at Old Saint Mary's, instead of this being done on the altar, the deacon stepped down into the sanctuary, and chanted the Gospel about the middle of the sanctuary, yet in Latin. 

One of the under-appreciated aspects of the reform after Vatican  II was to encourage more singing of the Mass, including the readings. The new Missal does take some steps to facilitate this.

> Prayers of the Faithful. While these are not mandatory in the newer Mass, and when daily Mass has to be brief, it makes sense to omit them; but for Sunday, when they are well composed, they are a powerful inclusion.

> Last Gospel. As venerable as this is, I can't say it upsets me that this was omitted in the reform of the liturgy. Alternately, what if the decision had been made to make it optional, or else to keep it for particular feast days, just as the genuflecting during the Creed was kept for two days a year?

> The calendar. While the rationale for some calendar changes is not clear to me, it does seem to me that the older calendar was rather confusing and I think it needed to be clarified. It would help a lot if a single calendar could be used, both for the older and newer forms of Mass, but I have no idea how that is to be accomplished, given the situation with the Society of Saint Pius X.

What do you think? Feel free to offer comments.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

'What's my part of the task?' (Sunday homily)

Sometimes I feel sorry for Saint Paul--
we almost always read one of his letters at Sunday Mass, 
but then he’s got to compete with a vivid story, 
such as appear in both the first reading and the Gospel. 

Notice where he started: 
“I want you to know that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.” 

And there’s the question that perhaps matters most: 
Is the Gospel we profess as Catholics of human origin--or not? 

Or, to put it, perhaps, even more boldly: 
Is what you or I stand for, before others, the Gospel of God? 

Because the thing is, it’s only a Gospel from God 
that has the kind of powerful impact the other readings illustrate. 

We might ask a question: who has this kind of power we see in these readings? 
Who can raise people from the dead? 

I mean more than technology. 
Our doctors and nurses, 
with the best skills, the best tools at their disposal, 
in the end cry out in words just like Elijah’s.

Notice in the first reading, Elijah turns to God for a miracle. 
Notice, in the Gospel, Jesus does not look elsewhere. 
He speaks the word and it happens; just as he, being God himself, 
was Elijah’s answer centuries before. 

What sort of power from our Lord can any of us call on? 
Healings and miracles are pretty rare. 
But they happen. 
They don’t happen “on command,” as much as we’d like it. 
But I can tell you stories of healings 
that are very hard to explain, “coincidences” that are awfully striking. 

And I bet others here can do the same. Miracles happen. 
In the Gospels, they happen not for their own sake, 
but to create an openness to Christ. 
And I think that’s still true. 

If you’ve experienced a miracle, or a sign, 
or something that just strikes you in the pit of your stomach, 
ask the question: 
if that’s a “knock on the door” of your heart, have you opened it? 

But back to my earlier question: 
what sort of power might we be able to tap into? 
How can we see it at work? 

I’d say, first, what are we willing to put on the line? 
Let me talk about myself, to myself! 
Yes, I pray. But…I don’t know that I’m any great hero at it. 
Pray for me that I take another step deeper. 

One of the things I do pray for is for you. For all of us. 

What do you think? 
Do you think the world around us needs more of Jesus Christ? 
More forgiveness? More hope in what lasts forever? 

Scratch that--let’s not talk about “the world”; that’s too big. 
How about the part of the world that you and I inhabit? 
Our family--our co-workers--our friends? 

 And, lastly, what part of the task is mine? Yours?

Friday, June 07, 2013

How 'gay marriage' will change 'marriage' for all; and it'll be bad for women

Pro-'gay marriage' author and activist Dan Savage, who coined the term 'monogamish'

I ran across a very interesting article by Mark Regnerus at the National Review. I've been reading it, and I want to put it--and my reactions--out here for some further digestion of its points.

Here's the gist of it, if I understand it right:

Men tend to be more permissive toward non-monogamy, where women tend to be more uncomfortable with non-monogamy.

This explains the data that homosexual men, even in relationships, tend to have more partners, while they don't tend to have more sex overall. He doesn't claim this is because they are gay, but because they are men:

So gay men have more partners, but no more sex overall, than straight men. Why? In keeping with sexual economics expectations, it’s not that gay men necessarily wish to have more sexual partners than straight men. 

It’s that they are far more apt to be in relationships that permit them because their relationships are with men, who tend—on average—to be more sexually permissive than women. Men make poor gatekeepers when it comes to attractive others’ sexual advances. That is not news. 

Thus the tension around nonmonogamy is simply not as dynamic among many gay unions as it is among those with a man and a woman. NYU sociologist Judith Stacey, interviewed in the New York Times Magazine article on Savage, agrees:

“They are men,” she said, and she believes it is easier for them—right down to the physiology of orgasm—to separate physical and emotional intimacy. Lesbians and straight women tend to be far less comfortable with nonmonogamy than gay men.

I didn’t say it, but I believe it, and the data support it.

To buttress his argument, he cites data--admittedly very limited--that suggests lesbian relationships tend both to be more monogamous, but they also give sex a lower priority.

So here's the thing: notice how the complementarity of men and women forces a certain balance in a true (i.e., heterosexual) marriage.

And here's the upshot, as the author himself states it:

A key here lies, strangely enough, in the legitimacy that straight women already accord gay men’s unions. (Women support same-sex marriage at levels well eclipsing that of men.) Why does this matter? If gay marriage is perceived as legitimate by heterosexual women, it will eventually embolden boyfriends everywhere (and not a few husbands) to press for what men have always wanted but few were allowed: sexual novelty, in the form of permission to stray without jeopardizing their primary relationship.

See that?

In other words, if it's valid to say that in putative marriages between gay men a greater degree of non-monogamy is accepted--and then such marriages are treated as essentially the same as heterosexual marriages (or as a bumper sticker I saw recently said, "love is love"), then how long before men in heterosexual marriages say, why can't I have that?

Consider: several decades ago, our common approach to marriage was changed by laws introducing increasingly permissive notions of divorce. There's no getting around the fact that, as a result, even as the Catholic Church continued to teach the same thing about the indissolubility of marriage, more and more men and women coming for marriage brought with them the influence of the culture. And, as is well known, Catholics tend to seek civil divorce at approximately the same rates as non-Catholics.

So, did no-fault divorce change marriage as a social institution? Of course it did.

Now, someone may argue, the reason this won't happen is because the women in true marriages won't permit it. And many of them won't.

To which the Mr. Regnerus offers this point:

The terms of contemporary sexual relationships favor men and what they want in relationships, not just despite the fact that what they have to offer has diminished, but in part because of it. 

The supply of marriageable men (but not women) has shrunk—for lots of reasons left unexplored here—leaving the balance of those who are more marriageable (e.g., more educated, wealthier, more stable) with more power than ever before to realize their wishes in their relationships. 

Meanwhile, women no longer need marry to thrive, but most still wish to marry. As a result, women find themselves in a weaker position in the marriage market, competing with other women for desirable men. On the other hand, they have more power than ever—and often employ it—to leave relationships that have gone sour. Big difference. 

If women’s position in the wider mating market—and inside relationships—was more advantageous, they could not only generate fine and stable relationships but also eschew sex—if they felt like it—without relational consequences for intimacy or male unhappiness. But that, we know, is not the case.

Here's another interesting tidbit:

While seated next to an Army attorney recently on a flight to Washington, DC, I asked how his office would prosecute same-sex adultery cases in a military long known for defining the crime by penile-vaginal penetration. His response? “We’re awaiting orders on that.” My hunch? The decriminalization of adultery, as has long since occurred in civilian life.

His conclusion:

Many libertarians and conservatives, including Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron, assert that marriage is a conservative institution—which is true—one that will therefore function as such for those who enter it, whether gay or straight. While certainly the case for some, that claim is an unlikely future for many, not because gay or lesbian couples are liberal but because those in the driver’s seat of the contemporary mating market—men—are permissive

This, I predict, will be same-sex marriage’s signature effect on the institution—the institutionalization of monogamish* as an acceptable marital trait. No, gay men can’t cause straight men to cheat. Instead, the legitimacy newly accorded their marital unions spells opportunity for men everywhere to bend the boundaries. Dan Savage will be proud.

* The article cited Dan Savage, a popular columnist who writes about all kinds of sex-related topics, who calls nine extramarital partners being "monogamish" rather than serial cheating.

A conversation with the servers after Mass (in the older form)

Today I offered the Holy Mass in the extraordinary form for the third or fourth time. This time, I had an old hand serving, as well as a very new hand, the teenage son of our parish secretary. "Daniel" (not his real name) had never served the older form of the Mass--although he'd attended it a few times--but he knew I was beginning to offer it, and wanted to be part of it; the older parishioner, who I was talking to after the Noon Mass (in the ordinary form), was eager to help and stayed and served Mass for me. Along the way, he showed Daniel the ropes. 

Sorry to say I made a couple of mistakes, but fewer. 

After Mass, I asked Daniel his reactions. What did he think of Mass in the older form.

This is what he said:

> "It seemed more focused on God, where (the ordinary form) is more focused on the people."

> "It seemed more about sacrifice."

I said, wait--is this what you've heard from other people?

"Well, yes, but--I had come to these conclusions on my own."

And what about the silence? Did that bother you?

"No. It felt prayerful."

Did you feel badly that I turned my back on you?


Before he and his mom left for the day, she came and said: "Daniel wants to know if you'll be offering the Latin Mass next week?" I said Monday for sure. Looks like Daniel will be back.

For priests: steps to learning the Extraordinary Form Mass

(Updated...I wrote this post in haste, and after returning from celebrating the holy Mass (this time in the Extraordinary Form), I added some thoughts below where they belong.)

Recently I was with some brother priests for prayer and dinner--a group that meets monthly. While talking over the dinner table, we got into a discussion of the Extraordinary Form of the holy Mass--i.e., the traditional Latin Mass. Some of us had already learned how; I was describing my efforts on that front; and several were expressing interest, but also reservations.

For simplicity's sake, here are some of the points brought up:

> Steps to getting there.

We talked about Latin as a hindrance. Some of our priests, like most of our faithful, find Latin very difficult.

Some thoughts:

* You don't have to be a Latin expert to offer Mass in Latin. Most of the prayers you pray at any given Mass are unchanging, and you already know their meaning in English, from celebrating the Mass in English. So you're not starting from zero.

Also, Latin pronunciation is really not hard at all. Many foreign languages have some complex vowel combinations or unusual consonant sounds. You find almost none of that in Latin. And unlike English, most Latin letters have one and only one way to sound them.

So how does someone get there?

* Start listening to Latin. There is plenty of beautiful music in Latin and plenty of texts and prayers, in Latin, available online.

* Start reading Latin aloud. I have a prayer book from the North American College that has many familiar prayers in English and Latin side-by-side. There are hand Missals set up this way as well. And again, plenty of resources online.

Today I prayed the Litany of the Sacred Heart, in Latin. "Cor Iesu, templum Dei sanctum, miserere nobis." Reading the petitions, side-by-side with the English, isn't that hard. And it's a perfectly good way to get accustomed to reading Latin aloud.

* Start offering the current form of the Mass in Latin. Or, if that's too big a step, offer parts in Latin, parts in English.

Chances are, you won't be able to do this in a scheduled parish Mass. But do you ever celebrate Mass privately? Do it then.

When I did this, I started by using some of the ordinary prayers in Latin, but would switch back as needed to the more familiar English. If you'll recall, the old sacramentary had both. So even though the new missal doesn't, do you still have some of those old sacramentaries around? If you have one you don't need to keep as an archive, take a razor blade and slice out those pages with the Mass in Latin. Create a booklet; now you have all you need to lay beside (or inside) your current missal.

The great thing about offering Mass privately is that you can take all the time you want. Even if you aren't learning to do it in another language, it's a good time to refresh and deepen your prayerfulness of offering Mass--because, as you know, when offering daily, and especially Sunday Mass, it's so easy to be concerned about time, about the servers, about the announcements, or be distracted by things that happen during Mass (even if you never, ever, ever want to show that, or say anything about it!).

Offering Mass privately is also a great time to fine-tune your ars celebrandi. When we offer the Mass for the people, the extent to which we are self-possessed, calm, reverent, and have a certain consistency to how we do it, we help the people to enter more into prayer, as well as ourselves.

OK, I know someone has already raised an objection: who cares about Latin? Why waste your time?

Well, I would push back against the notion that a priest being at least familiar with Latin is a "waste of time." Note: I'm not saying you have to become an expert--just more familiar.

In the old "Star Trek" series, there were a couple of episodes that revolved around the explorers arriving on a planet where things seemed kind of backward, or otherwise, the people lacked some knowledge or technology that would really help. Later in the episode, Kirk and Spock end up discovering the society actually has the knowledge--but it's "locked up" in some way, and they aren't able to benefit from it.

I'd argue that when Latin is "terra incognita" for us, that "locks up" a great treasury of our Faith for us.

And, like it or not, we'll never escape Latin; and it's far from clear why we should try to. From time to time, you or your faithful will come upon something composed in Latin--in a prayer book, in sacramental records, on a work of art, in a picture of a church, in music, or in your own parish church--and they will want to know what it means.

Plus, there is a beauty to music composed in Latin, and poetry written in Latin that is hard to convey in English. How else do you explain the fact that lots of people ask for "Ave Maria" at a wedding or funeral, but seldom do they ask it to be sung in English.

> Why even mess with the older Mass?

First, for the benefit of your own priesthood and understanding.

Learning the older form of the Mass, in a powerful way, "fills in" our understanding and experience of the Mass in the ordinary form. The Mass as reformed circa 1970 didn't drop out of heaven--it was a reform of what was in place for untold centuries. (FYI, there is debate about how far back one can say the older form existed as-is; many would argue for it reaching largely it's present form around the 6th century; others for even further back. This is one reason why I don't like calling it the "Tridentine Mass"--as if it originated at the Council of Trent, which is certainly not true.)

Not only is the older form of the Mass the matrix from which the "new Mass" came into existence; it's also the Mass of the vast majority of Catholic life and history; the Mass that so many saints experienced and, for priests, offered.

Even for those priests who don't care to celebrate it, I'd still urge learning the older Mass for the sake of better understanding of who we are and where we came from.

Another point: many of us observed that some values expressed in the current form of the Mass, in a very compact way, are expressed more fully in the older form. For example, the nature of the Mass as a sacrifice. Note, please: I'm not saying the newer Mass doesn't express this; but only that it's not as full an expression. Learning the older Mass helps understand better what the new Mass is about.

And I'll say this about the question of reforming the Mass: I am not--not!--taking the view that there was no need to reform the liturgy, and no value in doing so. I realize that many who are attached to the older form of the Mass take this view; but it is not my view.

On the contrary: only in delving into the older form of the Mass did I fully appreciate some of the reforms that came after Vatican II. So, for example, I appreciate more the value of having the readings, at the very least, proclaimed toward the people, in the vernacular; and the value of more of the prayers being proclaimed aloud, or sung; and the people being encouraged to sing or say the responses. Some of the simplification makes perfect sense to me.

This is for my brother priests who may not see eye-to-eye with me on this: I think it is very possible both to appreciate the older form of the Mass--whether or not you celebrate it--and also appreciate Vatican II choosing to call for reform of the liturgy. If you will forgive me, it is maddening that these propositions are treated as mutually exclusive. For proof, I offer the example of Pope Blessed John XXIII, the caller of the council, who nevertheless deeply loved the traditional liturgy.

> Do it for the sake of your ministry to God's People.

Another reason to be familiar with the older form is for the benefit of God's People. One of the things we often say about serving God's People is: "meet them where they are." Sound familiar? We say this, rightly, about how we present Church teaching; about how we might bend on some rules; on how we approach some requests around weddings and funerals; about choices in liturgy; and in how we reach out to those who are from different cultures and who speak different languages.

So why doesn't this apply to those who--right or wrong--do not find the newer, ordinary form of the Mass edifying?

One of the things I've discovered is that there are those who like the older Mass, not because they are partisans in the ecclesial culture wars ("conservative v. progressive"), but simply because they crave the silence. Let's be very candid: however much you favor reform of the Mass, one thing that changed drastically was a shift from predominant silence--in the low Mass--to a lot of talking or singing. So much so that the current Missal stresses to the celebrant, several times, to provide silence.

Well, some people need more. Does that make them bad? Are they wrong? Does their need merit no consideration?

There's actually a reasonable question here about how the reformed Mass might continue to evolve. Isn't it possible that, at some point in the future, we can arrive at a "happy medium" in which the Mass is celebrated according to the reformed norms--yet has a lot of silence? Recall Pope Benedict--prior to his election--addressed this subject; specifically, he wondered if the Canon of the Mass could be prayed silently, or at least with more silence.

In any case, what we have now in our toolbox includes a form of the Mass that is worthy, sacred, edifying, and for certain folks, is very attractive and nourishing.

If we can see the rationale of offering Mass in Spanish for those who need it, in a charismatic way for those who seek that, and so forth--why not the Extraordinary Form?

> OK, you've convinced me. Where do I go to learn?

The priests at Saint John Cantius Parish in Chicago have a program every summer; I don't recall the date but it's soon. Also, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter has programs, I think over the summer as well. And there is a class every spring at Mount Saint Mary's Seminary.

Also, you can start with online tutorials. Check out for very helpful information.

If I can help, let me know.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

'Vatican II' priest group: forward or back?

Note to readers: when I posted this on June 6, it got a lot of attention, pro and con, which is gratifying. Some folks were critical, which is reflected in the comments; others were offered at a blog called PrayTell. (And welcome PrayTell readers as well as Fr. Z readers!) 

Much of that criticism was, I think, over the top; however some was fair. In any case, it occurred to me that too much discussion was about my writing style and aspects of my original post that weren't really very important to what I wanted to say. What's more, some--particularly some priests--said they were offended.

So, I decided to recast the article. But it could seem underhanded to have the original disappear, so I saved it as an "archived post" and it can be found here.

Note to priests: my purpose in posting this was not, and is not, to dismiss anyone. The news item I discuss is just that: a new item; and it's about a course of action, on the part of the group of priests, that affects all priests. I think it's entirely fair to discuss their proposals and to offer a critique.

But when a couple of priests said, elsewhere, they were offended--that concerns me. So, to them, and any others, I am sorry, and I'm glad to recast this in hopes my points and concerns are clearer.

Last week an item in the National (so called) Catholic Reporter caught my eye:

Fledgling national priests' group to tackle broad agenda.

Reinstating general absolution in the United States, consultation in the selection process for bishops, studying the ordination of women and married men, and collegial exercise of church authority are among topics of 15 resolutions on the agenda of the second annual assembly of the fledgling Association of U.S. Catholic Priests June 24-27. 

To be held at Seattle University, the gathering's theme -- "Lumen Gentium: God's Pilgrim People" -- is based on the Second Vatican Council's 1964 document, also known as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. 

The association was formed following an Aug. 25, 2011, meeting of 27 self-described "Vatican II priests" from 15 dioceses and 11 states at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, notes the group's website.

The organization's inaugural assembly in June 2012 drew 240 delegates from 55 dioceses to St. Leo University northeast of Tampa, Fla. 

Among its actions was approval of a letter of support to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. LCWR remains under controversial Vatican control and directives for reform. The association's board chair, Fr. Dave Cooper, said about the same number of attendees are expected at the Seattle conference. 

Let me come back to that agenda in a moment; but first, let me skip down to something later that is the most striking:

Father Cooper "said the organization is 'growing slowly' and that 'many priests do not know we even exist.' Confirming that the average age of members is about 70";

And then there's this:

"Cooper said there has been resistance from younger, more recently ordained priests, some of whom 'see us as disloyal if not downright dissenting.'

Here's the striking thing: I think the reasons why he's getting "resistance" might lie both in the agenda the group is pursuing, as well as in statements like this:

Alluding to recent studies that have pointed to differing views of church and authority between older and younger generations of Catholic clergy, Cooper described "Vatican II priests" as viewing the priesthood in terms of "service, of washing the feet of others" in contrast to clerics who hold a "priest as ruler" model. 

Father Cooper, that kind of sorting of priests is pretty unfortunate and off-putting. Describing your own group as being particularly devoted and faithful to Vatican II--strongly implying that's not true of priests who come after you--and then characterizing oneself rather favorably as about "service," and labeling other priests as "rulers," isn't a great way to win those priests.

And then there's this:

Asked how he might respond to those who would say the 15 resolutions sound like a party platform for the progressive wing of the Catholic church, [Father Dave] Cooper said, "Well, that's what Vatican Council II embraced." 

And there it is. No, Father, that is not "what Vatican Council II embraced." But that is the sort of claim too often made, whether by priests or laity, who often do seem to see themselves as the Vatican II faithful. And it's part of a problem that needs to be aired out: the fact that quite a lot of things have been wrongly credentialed as "from Vatican II," turning the content and message of Vatican II into something it wasn't, and thus appropriating Vatican II for one group within the Church--as if to say that others aren't faithful to it or are even hostile to it.

This is as good a time to address this point. This is not--not--about who loves, respects and adheres to the teachings of Vatican II more. This is where I find a maddening irony.

We have Catholics who have pointedly claimed the mantle of Vatican II. They are the true adherents. They express sadness, if not anger, that a newer generation does not revere the Council, does not embrace its teachings. And this naturally includes priests.

But here's the true irony: this is absolutely not true; and in many cases (not all), almost precisely the opposite of the truth.

The examples are too many to cite--yet facts are facts. During the past 40-plus years of "implementing Vatican II," we have all endured a revolution in the understanding of the Church, much of which has had to be corrected, and is still being corrected, precisely because what folks were told--"this is what Vatican II said"--was flatly false.

Vatican II never said:

> We're birthing a new Church. Vatican II was about re-presenting the wholeness of the Faith in a new way. Got that?  Not new doctrine; no new doctrine; just a new way of presenting what we always held.

> Overhaul our parish churches, destroying altar rails, smashing altars, removing artwork, and building churches that no longer look Catholic.

> Throw out catechisms and no longer teach doctrine. Yet this happened for quite awhile. When Pope  John Paul II proposed a new catechism, remember who resisted it? Yep--the same crowd.

> Turn the altars around. Not a word.

> Downplaying devotions, particularly adoration of the Holy Eucharist.

> Removing tabernacles from the central point in a parish church.

> No more Latin and chant. Instead, it said, add the vernacular to the menu of choices, keeping Latin on the menu, and using it.

> It's no longer important to celebrate the liturgy faithfully according to the norms set by the Church, but now priests and the faithful can improvise and reinvent the liturgy "for pastoral reasons."

Now, as I said, these things are being corrected. But when the faithful join with priests in correcting these things, guess what they're accused of? "You're against Vatican II."

So let's come back to the question I posed in my headline. Which way forward?

The agenda that the group proposes seems to me to be not very forward-looking. In some cases--such as a "study" of women's ordination or pursuing "general absolution," I think these very ill advised, to say the least.

By "general absolution," what they mean is the provision in the rules for the Sacrament of Penance for a priest to give absolution to an entire group of people. Currently, this can only be done (a) in an extreme emergency (i.e., the priest is on a sinking ship or falling airplane), or (b) with express, specific permission of the bishop.

But to what purpose? You might say, to save penitents the trouble of actually confessing any sins--they just get absolved and that's it. However, this is not true. The actual norms of the Church are that when someone receives absolution without confession, s/he is bound to go to confession when the opportunity arises. I suspect that what the group intends is to bring back the practice of giving general absolution, with no followup confession ever happening.

I think this is a bad idea--and I can explain that in the comments if desired. But in any case, it's going nowhere. There is next-to-zero chance either Pope Francis or the bishops would agree with this. The one argument that someone could offer--that priests don't have enough time to hear confessions--is simply not true.

> "Studying the ordination of women and married men..."

Another pointless exercise. Pope Blessed John Paul II closed the door on ordaining women and at the time, then-Cardinal Ratzinger said the teaching is irreformable. What point is served by calling for a "study," other than to make trouble for the bishops and the pope, and to feed the false notion that this is an open question? Honestly, this is mischief-making and serves to mislead the faithful on this part of the Church's Deposit, and I don't see that as the role of priests.

As far as "studying" ordaining married men--to the priesthood, they mean, as we already ordain married men as deacons--well...OK, but to what end? This is about changing the Church's discipline on this. And while that's not an irreformable teaching, again I ask, what's the point? The notion that allowing for married priests to be ordained as priests will mean any great increase in the number of priests is without foundation--which if anyone wants to know why, ask in the comments and I'll go into it.

Then there's some talk about "consultation" and "collegial exercise of church authority."

Well, that's pretty vague and doesn't sound bad; but as the saying goes, the devil is in the details. I suspect this is mainly about a dissatisfaction with how the bishops and the Holy Father have been trending in their decisions. And the implication is--and it's been claimed outright elsewhere--that we don't have "consultation" and collegiality now.

But I don't think that's true.

The bishops in the U.S. are collegial to a fault. For example: there is an ongoing scandal--yes, scandal--of public officials who take deliberate stances and actions contrary to the Faith--and yet very little is done to enforce existing Church law and hold them accountable. Why is this? I don't know, but I am pretty sure one reason is because few bishops want to stand out on this issue; they would like all the bishops to be a united front. Meanwhile, the credibility of the Church's teaching is undermined.

And in any case, back to the question of this group building; I'm not sure those are the sorts of questions that are going to engage a lot of the priests they say aren't responding so far.

In my first iteration of this commentary, I pointed out something that the article itself highlights: this isn't a youth movement. My point was not, and is not, to diminish the value of our older priests. On the contrary; I'm grateful to them.

But if this group is going to have a future, it sure needs to offer something to priests that, as I see it, it doesn't seem to know or understand, and thus far, hasn't shown signs of wanting to.

Cooper said the association is working hard to "build bridges" and to "hold hands with the laity and at the same time with the bishops." 

Father Cooper, here's a suggestion that would actually make a difference. Would you like to "build bridges" to the priests who you're not recruiting very successfully?

How about this? Avoid any suggestion that you and your group are the true embracers of Vatican II, not to mention being more humble than your fellow priests.


> Seek out laity and clergy who disagree with you, and seek to learn from them?

> Acknowledge openly that a lot of what happened after the Council was misguided.

> Show respect for the fact that those Catholics (lay and clergy) who disagree with you, love Vatican II as well.

After posting this, I made some comments on the story at the NCR website.

Here's something I wrote there that, honestly, I wish I'd thought of when I first wrote this. After someone asked me to clarify a point I was making, I said:

A growing number of ordinary Catholics simply don't see Vatican II the way its seen by the generation of priests here described, and the laity who share their perspective (and usually age). 

For a growing number of Catholics, Vatican II is simply another part of Catholic history, they're not passionate for or against, it's just "there." So when some try to rally the troops with, "we must save Vatican II," more and more of the faithful aren't buying it. And rightly so. 

What's coming, not too far in the future now, is a re-appraisal. That will be deeply painful for the "Spirit of Vatican II" crowd, as what will happen is a more sober assessment of Vatican II's strengths and weaknesses, and a rediscovery of what Vatican II really says. This is already happening, but it hasn't taken center stage yet. 

When that happens, I think the old, V2 pro or con dialectic will be as gone as the dinosaurs. Then it will be more about a true appreciation and application of Vatican II, as well as a recognition that Vatican II isn't the first or last word on what it means to be Catholic. Vatican II will take its place as part of the Church's treasures, not as the sole treasure, nor as the sole lens through which everything we believe is viewed.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

'The Catholic Church is necessary for salvation.' Arrogant?

Tonight is the last of a series of talks on what we believe as Catholics at Saint Rose. Join us, if you can, in the undercroft, at 7 pm; we finish at 8:15 pm. We'll be discussing death, judgment, resurrection, hell and heaven.

Last month, we talked about the Catholic Church--and one of the points made by Peter Kreeft, the author of the series of booklets published by the Knights of Columbus was that the Catholic Church is "necessary for salvation." When that came up last month in our discussion, one of our fine parishioners was put off by it. It's "arrogant," he said.

Well, we talked about it a bit, but because we had a lot of material to cover, and since he felt so strongly, I didn't want to press the point. But I did want to come back to that and write a post about it.

So here we go!

What does it mean to say the Catholic Church is "necessary" for salvation?

The short answer is, it means that the Catholic Church is being described as an extension of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Trinity. Only in that sense can it be true that the Catholic Church is "necessary" for salvation.

But what do we mean by "necessary"? Do we mean that God couldn't have done it another way?

Not in that sense. God is free to do as he wishes, consistent with his own being. He doesn't do anything contrary to what is true and good. But saving humanity without the use of a "church"? Sure, that is entirely reasonable.

So if there is a "necessity" to the Church, it is in the sense that God chose to save humanity through a particular plan, and the necessity is his creation. In the same way we speak of the necessity of our Lord's death on the cross. Nothing external to God imposes this necessity on God; the necessity of the Cross, the necessity of the fulfillment of Scriptures in the way they were fulfilled, came about because God chose to plan for human salvation in that way.

Similarly, we believe that God did indeed plan not only for the incarnation (God becoming man), the suffering, death and resurrection of the Son of God, but also the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon those brought into relationship with God through baptism and confirmation. In short, the Church!

God's Plan provided for there to be a Church, the Body of Christ. He didn't have to do it that way, but he did. And that makes the Church a "necessary" part of salvation.

In the same sense, baptism is necessary for salvation. God himself is bound by no necessity--and we can suppose that God provides for those who never get baptized, but inculpably. Even so, when you look at what our incarnate Lord said, he made it clear that the Church was bound to bring baptism to people, and people were bound to respond by being baptized.

Well, baptism makes one a member of the Church.

"Wait, are you saying everyone who is baptized, in whatever denomination, is a member of the Roman Catholic Church?"

Well, not the "Roman" part, but yes. When Catholics speak of "the Church," we mean that Church which Christ founded, and which is his mystical Body. "Catholic" is the proper name for this Church, when understood as all those who share the Church's teachings, discipline, sacraments and governance. "Catholic" most properly means "pertaining to the whole"--and the term came to be used, early on, to distinguish between the true Church, which embraces the whole, as opposed to "sects" which turn inward or pull apart.

Of course, we know that human sinfulness leads to division--and the Church has suffered from divisions from the beginning. Some have been healed, but not all. Hence the division "Catholic" and "Orthodox"--even though both "lungs" of the Church have the fullness of the Faith and sacraments. (Some will quibble with me about whether they both have the fullness of the Faith--but that seems to be the judgment of the Catholic Church, insofar as Canon Law is concerned.)

Later, of course, were other divisions, the most famous of which is the Protestant-Catholic split, which in turn has led to an amazing multiplicity of flavors and sects of Christianity, and then some not-very-Christian but Christian-sounding sects.

But, in any case, anyone who is truly baptized (with water, at least poured, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is a member of the Body of Christ, the Church. Yet other differences in teaching or discipline result in that union being imperfect; wounded. That's the state of things today.

So does this mean God cannot--or will not--save anyone but through the Church?

Yes, in this sense: that everyone who is saved, will be saved, first, through the work of Jesus Christ. He is the source of all grace to the world. He is the second Person of the Trinity--of course salvation must come from and through him!

And because the Church extends his presence on earth, then the Church--understood precisely as the Body of the Lord--is as necessary as he is.

Remember, this is why the Church exists: to save humanity. Why do priests offer the Mass daily? For the salvation of the world. Everything the Church does, to have any value, must be about salvation.

Yes, I know what you may be thinking: I'm saying that only practicing Catholics can be saved.

Not exactly.

I'm saying that everyone who will be saved, will--upon looking back--be able to see how Christ--united with this Church--did something essential for that person's salvation.

No one--not a single soul--who will be in heaven, will be able to look back and say, "wait: I got here without Christ."

There probably will be many people who, upon being admitted to heaven, will be surprised that it is Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis said it best when he imagined people saying, as they meet the Lord on the day of their particular judgment, "So it was You all along!"

Nevertheless, anyone who makes it to heaven, will, at some point--even in the last infinitesimal microsecond--have to put faith in God, and at least implicitly, in the Son of God. There is simply no way for anyone to be in heaven and say, "I don't believe in Jesus Christ" or more broadly, "I don't believe in God."

They may be atheists now, but they won't be atheists then.

Recognizing the necessity of the Catholic Church also means waking up to the responsibility every Catholic has.

When we think of our particular judgment--and what deeds of omission or commission we will answer for--what about being asked about how much we did to save others? Or what we failed to do?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

What does a priest do? (Corpus Christi homily)

The readings all say something about the priesthood--so let’s start there.
What really is a priest about?
The essential thing is that a priest offers a sacrifice. 

Melchizedek brought bread and wine.
The priests of the Old Testament offered lambs at Passover.
All that points to our Lord, who offered himself on the Cross.
And a Catholic priest? He offers the Sacrifice of the Mass,
In which the Cross becomes present here, for us;
In which bread and wine become the Lamb of God.

So then we come to the Gospel reading.
And the miracle here is really aimed first at the Apostles,
Who the Lord was preparing to be the priests of his new covenant.

When the Apostles said, it’s time to send people away for food,
Our Lord says, you give them some food yourselves!

Then, when they don’t know how to do that,
The Lord shows them where the power--where the life--comes from.
Something every priest needs to understand.

When I offer the Holy Mass, this isn’t about me.
Whether I’m cheerful or serious isn’t what matters.
My task is to show you Christ!

In baptism, each of us becomes part of Christ, 
and so we each have a share in his priesthood.

So one of the things a priest must do is show you the priestly people 
what that looks like--how you do it.

Let’s keep it simple. When I was a boy, 
I learned a prayer called the “morning offering” from my father, 
who prayed it every day. It goes like this:
“O Jesus through the immaculate heart of Mary,
I offer thee my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day,
In union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass,
For the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins,
The repose of the dead 
and the intentions of the Holy Father this month.”

That simple prayer is a powerful spirituality.  
And it answers how we live as a priestly people.
What do we bring to the Lord to transform?
Our work, our trials, our joys, our failures.
We might also think about who we bring to the Lord.
Family. Neighbors. Coworkers. Those people who annoy us!

You are here, now, and shortly I’ll offer the Sacrifice of Christ;
When you leave here, what will you take from here, to the world?

(At the 7 pm Mass:

At this Mass we will do something very special. 
A young man, who will be married soon in our church, 
was baptized but was never confirmed 
and never received his first holy communion. 

Today with the Archbishop’s blessing, I will confirm him 
and he’ll receive the Lord’s Body and Blood the first time.

His fiance is his sponsor.

_____, confirmation is the anointing we receive 
that seals us with the Holy Spirit, 
and completes in us our sharing in the dignity of Jesus Christ, 
our priest, our prophet and our king.

Recall what I just said: each of us has a share 
in the work of Christ to consecrate our world to him. 

Today is when you get kitted out with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, 
and fed with the true Body and Blood of our Lord--
so that you have everything you need.)

Of course, it might be convenient if we only needed to come here once.
One time at Holy Mass. One time receiving the Eucharist.

But then, our Lord could also have said, 
you only get to go to confession once.
It could have been that we’d get our one time--
and if we blow it, or miss it, well too bad for us.

It could have been that we’d only have one day of life!
Some people do only get a short moment of life; but most of us get more.
And the way we consecrate our lives, offering them to the Lord;
The way we make our difference, is not one-time-only, but day-by-day.