Friday, October 31, 2014

All Saints, ad orientem -- Updated

Tonight was special -- we had a "high Mass" for the Vigil of All Saints, but with a twist: I offered Mass toward the Lord. We had a nice crowd, considering it isn't obligatory, and it was a nasty night.

One of the great things my predecessor bequeathed to me was a corps of young men who love to serve Holy Mass! They are eager, motivated, reverent, they know what they are doing, and they have fun doing it. It is a joy.

Big brother Luke brought along younger brother Max, who is growing in his skills and confidence. Don't tell me kids can't do it; they can and they will, if you challenge them, and the parents support it.

Some people think this is extraordinary; it's not. Is the ordinary form of the Mass, celebrated as the Second Vatican Council intended.

Update, November 4...

I wanted to add a little more about the Mass we had last Friday, on the vigil of All Saints. As mentioned, in addition to the Mass being sung and with incense, I also offered Mass "toward the Lord."

As I was at the altar, it occurred to me just how perfect ad orientem was for this feast day: All Saints. There is a very profound meaning in the way we have adorned our churches all these centuries, with the saints arrayed on either side of the tabernacle: it accurately reflects the relationship of the saints with the Lord. They are not only his friends and his collaborators; they are in perfect union with him. This is why the objection of our Protestant brothers and sisters, to praying to the saints, is so off-base. They will often argue that praying to the saints turns us away from the Lord. But Saint Peter, in Sacred Scripture, tells us that we become "partakers of divine nature"; and Jesus himself says, many times, that his goal is that we are to be "one" with him. Is this not what our life in Christ is all about? Is this not what the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, are about? To be a saint is to arrive at the completion of that "divinization."

I wish I had arranged for someone to take a photo or a video, because you would have been edified, I think, by the reverence of our corps of servers, all in cassock and surplice, and gloves, eagerly and prayerfully assisting at Holy Mass.

And this isn't a once-a-year thing; they serve at 9 am Mass every Sunday!

As far as ad orientem, I'll do that again -- with the ordinary form of Mass -- on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, December 12. But for the extraordinary form, I have that every Wednesday morning at 5:45 am; and on First Fridays at 7 pm. (I.e., this coming Friday.) It's a low Mass, however; I have not yet learned how to do a Missa cantata, let alone a true "Solemn High Mass" in the older form.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


While my friend Father Z eats high--er, low--on the hog in Rome, I'm tending parish business, eating lunch, as usual, at my desk. Today it is braunschweiger mit zwiebel auf weisbrot (actually leftover hot dog buns), with a side of cottage cheese, all washed down by a Coke Zero.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

To love as God loves (Sunday homily)

(Note: this homily changed significantly from 5 pm to 7:30 am.)

The Gospel gives us this challenge: to love as God loves. 
That’s what the two commandments, taken together, mean. 
To love God is to love what he loves; to love his children, 
all of whom are our neighbors.

So then the first reading gives us an opportunity 
To think in practical terms about that.

In recent years, we’ve had a lot of discussion about immigration – 
should we have more, or less? 
What do we do about people who are here illegally? 
Will anything we do to provide legal status 
to those who work in the shadows 
send a message that encourages yet more illegal immigration?

What do we do?

One of the things our bishops have reminded us of, 
is that when people migrate—
especially when you have folks who travel, 
not a few miles, but many thousands—
they are often doing so out of great suffering and desperation. 
Look at the way Iraq and Syria 
are being emptied of Christians right now. 
Many millions of Christians and others 
have been driven from their homes by violence and terror. 

Or, it is because they cannot find work; 
they cannot start a family, or provide for the family they have. 
And that, of course, is a big part of why so many people 
come here from Central America. 

I think it would be well – 
before we decide how to address these problems – 
if we posed a simple question. 
What would you do? If you could not feed your family, 
how far away would you go in search of work, 
so you could send money home?

And if you got to a national border, would you let that stop you, 
if you knew you could find work on the other side?

My point is not to take sides on how to remedy these problems. 
I’m only making the point that whatever approach we tend to favor, 
we have to ask ourselves, what really motivates our thinking?
If there’s one thing God is demanding of us, 
it is that we care about the human problem. 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Notice something else in the first reading. 
It talks about lending at interest. 
That may surprise us, because that’s pretty standard today.

This is one of those issues where our understanding 
has shifted over the centuries. 
A thousand years ago, Church teaching 
forbade charging any interest whatsoever. 
But in more recent centuries, 
the Church began to make a distinction between a reasonable interest, 
and something that is unreasonable.
And one reason for the shift 
was to take into consideration that money can lose value over time.

But notice what’s going on in this passage. 
The Lord says, if you take a man’s cloak as a pledge – 
that is, for a debt – return it at nightfall.

Someone might say, wait, that’s not good business.
If you give a loan based on collateral, 
you don’t give up the collateral that secures the debt. 

And the Lord might say, that may be; 
but when you are dealing with someone in need, 
compassion comes first, ahead of good business.

This is one of the principal points Pope Francis, 
along with Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul, and Pope Paul VI, 
and so many popes before them, have been making: 
when we look at how our society is structured – 
when we talk about “the economy” – 
the highest value has to be compassion for human need.

The economy exists to serve people; 
people do not exist to serve the economy.

A lot of us hear that, and we say, great – so how do we do it?
And that’s where it gets hard.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times, 
we know a lot of good-intentioned approaches to poverty 
end up not working out very well. 
Our government has been fighting a “War on Poverty” 
for almost 50 years. 
Let’s say with mixed results, at best.

But none of that is an excuse to give up. 
It’s just another example of how we find that loving God – 
loving what he loves, and loving the people he loves – 
is a whole lot harder in fact than it is in theory. 

One of the things our Faith teaches us in these questions concerning poverty, 
or inequality in our society, or how our economy operates, 
is that “conversion” – change of heart – isn’t just a personal project.

There are ways in which we must call our society to conversion.

This is what we did, in the past, on questions of race;
It is what we’ve been doing for some time on questions of protecting human life, 
from conception to natural death;
And it’s what we’re going to have to do, now, on what marriage really is.

If we love God, we love his Creation; we love his children; 
we love as God loves. No one left out.
God always seeks—always seeks—
the salvation and wellbeing of every human being, without exception. 

The commandment the Lord gives us in the Gospel 
means that we do exactly the same. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Farmer Fox rides the combine!

Shortly after arriving here, one of the men of the parish invited me to ride his combine. I didn't get to it in the spring, so I knew I had to when fall harvest came around. After several false starts, today was the day.

First, the staff told me to change out of my black suit. I did keep my roman collar shirt on!

Then I drove out to the York Farm, to meet Dave, the Patriarch. He was driving this around when I drove up...

I petted the dog (Skippy) while Dave turned around his tractor, then we were in the tractor, and we're off to a nearby field of corn.

That's where we hopped on this bad boy:

I should have gotten more "during" pictures, but I was engrossed in what Dave was telling me about how the combine gobbles up the corn stalks, while separating out the ears of corn, before it shucks the corn off the cob and sprays it up into the bin behind. (I forgot to ask what becomes of the cobs, but I assume they get ground up.) We were rocking along, gathering up between 160-180 bushels per acre, according to a spiffy computer to Dave's right.

Here's a shot of me behind the wheel. I actually drove the combine a bit, but not without Dave. This is a very expensive piece of equipment!

And here's Dave's better half, Bonnie, who kindly drove me back to my car after a good hour of harvesting corn.

Now it's time for confessions!

Leftover chicken, what to do?

The chicken I famously roasted last Thursday is down to just a few remnants. I've made a few meals of it, but as often happens, I'm getting tired of having it around. Yesterday, I sliced up some of the breast meat, with the last homegrown red tomato I had, and had it on toast with mayo. Pretty good!

But with no more tomato, and no lettuce or anything like that in the house, I thought, what will make another chicken sandwich interesting?

Then I remembered, I have kimchi! (Yes, it looks exactly like the picture at Wikipedia.)

So I sliced up some more of the breast, put it on toast with kimchi in the middle, and also some mayo. I added a sliced apple as well:

Father Fox's Sliced Chicken with Kimchi Sandwich

How was it?

Pretty good! The kimchi added both crunch and a nice taste. But after the first half, I went back to the kitchen to put more kimchi on the sandwich. Delicious!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I am (Father) Spartacus! (updated!)

Surely you've heard of this? The mayor of Houston, was put out by people, including religious people, who circulated petitions to challenge a law she passed regarding nondiscrimination regarding sexual orientation. So she issues subpoenas, demanding texts of homilies, notes, emails, and other private papers from pastors who might have supported the petition drive. Note: after a heavy backlash, she's relented on the sermons, but she's still demanding other papers.

Time for a Spartacus Moment.

The pastors being harassed by the Mayor of Houston are 100% right if they refuse to obey the outrageous subpoena.

That said, I think every pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, etc. in the country -- not under subpoena -- ought to inundate the mayor's office with sermons. (Update) To be clear, this was the idea of Mr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention (article linked above). Credit him.

She wants sermons? Send 'em to her, till she's elbow-deep in them.

I plan on printing out a slew of my sermons this week.

Update, Oct. 22, AD 2014...

I assembled my packet of homilies and they are going to the post office today. A year's worth. Because my homilies are in BIG TYPE (so I can easily refer to the text at the pulpit), the package is somewhat bulky.

Here's the letter I sent along:

        Wednesday, October 22, AD 2014

Honorable Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
City of Houston
P.O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas  77251

Dear Mayor:

I have become aware that at your direction, the City of Houston has demanded, via subpoena, the sermons, emails, private papers and other notes and communications from area clergypersons who had the temerity to disagree with you. While I’m gratified that you have subsequently relented on the sermons, you are continuing to threaten private citizens, exercising their rights under the Constitution, with the hammer of the law if they do not surrender private papers of various sorts to your representatives.

I hope those individuals you have targeted defy you.

While I sincerely hope you realize how wrong your actions have been, and make a forthright apology, in the meantime, I thought I’d send along a year’s worth of my own homilies.


                                        'I am Spartacus' (hand-written)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Jesus doesn’t want Caesar’s coin. But he claims you.' (Sunday homily)

There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 
that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 
Specifically, when our Lord says, 
“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whenever we as Christians seek to have a say 
about government laws or policies, we often hear this passage quoted, 
as if to say to us, Jesus wants us to let the government do whatever.

A lot of us heard people saying that 
in the controversy over the government’s order 
that nearly every employer, including many religious organizations, 
would be forced to provide contraceptives 
and abortion-causing drugs 
as part of the insurance they provide at work. 

As you know, there were many lawsuits over that, 
and we’ve won a number of legal victories, 
including the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court. 
Unfortunately, the government is still looking for ways 
to continue its coercion.

And during this whole thing, 
we’ve heard people say, “Render unto Caesar.”

Well, they are misunderstanding what Jesus said. Let’s look at it.

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
not about broader questions of government power.

Second, Jesus is dealing with people he knows bear him malice. 
We might wonder what he’d have said, if they’d been sincere.
So our Lord says, “show me the coin.” Then he asks, “who is this?”

It’s actually kind of funny, if you think about it. 
These critics of Jesus are impressed with Caesar, 
as the ruler of mighty Rome, 
but they despise Jesus as a troublemaker. 

Meanwhile, we see Jesus – who is the true king, the King of kings, 
asking who is this? As if to say, is this someone famous? 

Notice what else our Lord said: “whose image is this?” 
If the coin belongs to Caesar – because it bears his image – 
then by that rule, God gets what bears his image, right?

What bears the image of God, and the “inscription” of God?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 
creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Can you picture it? Jesus, the Lord, holding in one hand, 
What bear’s Caesar’s image: a grubby coin.
And in the other hand, what bears his image? 
That would be the whole world…in his hand!

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 
is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 
before they created humanity: 
“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says its OK to destroy unborn children? 
And to torture people as part of war? 
Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 
Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.

Recall again what Genesis said: 
“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 
God is the Creator above all. 
While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 
you can build whole cities, 
but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 
you can’t make it out of nothing. 
The farmer can produce a great harvest, 
but he needs seed and soil and sweat, 
and the blessing of the right weather at the right time. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 
you can create people and worlds and histories—
but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 
or the silver screen. 
You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—
when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 
and comes whisper-close to being just like God,
and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,
actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!
And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—
another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.
Marriage – requiring a man and a woman – 
is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

The next time someone quotes this Gospel to you, 
as if to say, even Jesus says let government do what it likes,
you might quote back today’s first reading. 
It mentions Cyrus, 
who was the all-powerful Persian emperor in Isaiah’s time. 
But notice: it’s God who calls the shots; 
Cyrus does his bidding, not the other way around. 
Cyrus didn’t intend to do God’s bidding, but no matter.
God is one in charge.

Now let’s bring it forward to our own time.

When Jesus said these words, 
no one asked him, or anyone else, 
what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, we make those decisions. 
In a few weeks, we will have a great privilege 
of selecting a governor and other statewide offices, 
as well as the state legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress. 

When you go to vote in a few weeks, 
will you know whose on the ballot? What do they stand for? 
Do they respect what bears God’s image, or not?

Meanwhile, you and I are images of God. 
We bear his inscription in our hearts. 
A lot of times the coins in our pockets get pretty soiled, 
and they get distorted; the same with us. 
That’s why we have confession, to restore that image; 
and the Eucharist, where we unite once again 
with the Lord whose image we are.

Jesus doesn’t want Caesar’s coin. But he claims you.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Happy feet

I used to have some very comfortable slippers, but when I was wrapping up my time abroad, they were on their last legs, so I tossed them out before flying home from Rome. This week, I ordered some more from Amazon, and here they are on my feet:

Happy feet are important when you are sitting at your computer, writing your homily. (Just finished!) Now I must think about a talk on the Gifts of the Holy Spirit for the confirmation retreat tomorrow afternoon.

What are the sorts of things you do to get your creative muse to work?

(P.S. I'm tempted to wear these for Holy Mass. Would that be bad?)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Chicken dinner...

The other day I bought a fat chicken and froze it. A few days ago I took it out of the freezer. Tonight I'll roast it.

Step one was to brine it. I mixed a gallon of hot water, a cup of salt, and some herbs and such that I found in the cupboard: some spicy "Mrs. Dash" that my predecessor must have liked, because he had several containers of it, plus some oregano and Italian seasoning, which I like. For the salt, I used some "pickling salt" because that's what I had. No, I don't pickle, I bought it for something else. (You'll have to ask to find out.)

After rescuing the bag of giblets from the innards, I plunged the bird into the brine, put the lid on and put it all back in the fridge. That was yesterday afternoon.

A bit ago, I dumped out the brine, and placed the chicken on a plate, and put it back in the the fridge to dry out a bit. If the skin dries out some before cooking, it makes for crispier skin, which is my goal this time.

Thursday isn't the best time to prepare this, because I have confessions at 7:30 tonight, followed by Benediction. I could try to have it all ready to eat beforehand, but that's not my idea of a relaxing, enjoyable meal. So I am timing everything for when I get back around 8:45 pm or so.

So my plan is to get everything ready -- chicken, roast potatoes and sauteed broccoli -- ahead of time, pop the bird in the oven just before confessions, and it should be close to ready when I return. I may not have allowed enough time for it to cook, but I'm less worried about that, than that it'll overcook while I'm taking care of business.

So just now, I cut up some Yukon Gold potatoes and dressed them with olive oil and more "Mrs. Dash." Look! I remembered to take a picture:

When I come back after Benediction, I'll throw these in the oven, as they'll only take about 30 minutes to cook. They'll get some generous salting beforehand.

The chicken, meanwhile, I'll prepare later with a little oil on the skin, plus some heavy salt and pepper, and some crushed garlic inside. I saw something about letting the chicken rest on cut onions; we'll see if that works (I think it'll slide off).

Then, when the chicken is resting, I'll sautee the broccoli in oil and garlic, dressed with a little Parmesan cheese. That, plus some white wine, will be dinner. Check back for details, and -- who knows? -- perhaps more pictures...

Update, 7:25 pm...

I just got the chicken ready and into the oven, here are pictures...

Note the fresh olive oil; I drained the other bottle. Next comes the 'massage'...

Lots of pepper, followed by lots of salt. I didn't have enough garlic, so I'll use that in the broccoli.
Slicing the onions on which the hen will roost. Note I leave some brown skin on...

And she's ready to cook! No stuffing this time.

OK, time for confessions!

Update, 9:17 pm...

Back from Benediction, and I check the chicken -- it shows the right temp, but the color isn't as good as I'd like. I backed off the recommended temperature of 450, which helped keep it from getting done too soon; but that may have kept the color from what I'd like.

Also, there's a fine mist of salt in several places, so I may have overdone that part, but I think it'll be OK.

The potatoes go in immediately, and while they cook, I make a libation, and have an antipasto...

But before I eat my leftover cheese and Triscuits, I mash the garlic cloves and coat the pan with olive oil, in preparation for sauteing the broccoli. It's frozen -- sorry! -- so I simply heated it a bit in the micro, and then immediately chilled it, so it keeps it's green color. We'll find out shortly if that worked...

Update, 10:20 pm...

So here's the final report.

Here I am sauteing the crushed garlic a bit, to bring out the flavor, before I toss in the broccoli...

I ended up cooking the broccoli a bit much, adding a little brown color. Here are the potatoes, right out of the oven. I might have turned them, but my Martini distracted me.

And here is the completed plate: roast chicken breast (with a bit of skin), half an onion, the potatoes, and the toasty broccoli, finished with a bit of Parmesan cheese. Oh, and I poured a bit of the pan juices over everything. And a glass of Pinot Noir to wash it all down.

So what's the verdict?

Quite good, actually!

The chicken was done; a bit more time, and it would have been overdone. Meanwhile, the dark meat was slightly undercooked. That's the problem with cooking a chicken with the breast up; if you want everything to cook evenly, cook the chicken with the breast down. Why didn't I do that this time? Because then, you don't get that lovely, crispy skin.

The broccoli, despite little bits of brown, was rather good. I'd never sauteed broccoli before; fresh would work better, but this was nice.

A lot of folks would find it all too salty, but I love salt. (My blood pressure, last time, was 120/80, thank you very much.)  The skin was not crispy enough, but still pretty good.

I'm not a fan of Pinot Noir, but it worked well here.

But the real stars here were the potatoes, the onion, and the drippings. Oh, so good! I'm sitting here, wanting to go have more, but I won't, because I'm full. (Deo gratias!) I will enjoy all this again on Saturday, and I bet some leftovers will carry over to Sunday.

And then there's John Paul II's dire warning in 1976

“We are now standing in the face of the greatest historical confrontation humanity has ever experienced. I do not think that the wide circle of the American Society, or the whole wide circle of the Christian Community realize this fully. We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-church, between the gospel and the anti-gospel, between Christ and the antichrist. The confrontation lies within the plans of Divine Providence. It is, therefore, in God’s Plan, and it must be a trial which the Church must take up, and face courageously…”

--then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, 1976. Source here. (Note: in researching the source of this, I found this about a slightly different quote here.)

Our Lady's warning at Akita Japan...

"As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead. The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests."

"The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres...churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.

"The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of my sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them."

--Third and final message to Sister Agnes Sasagawa, in Akita, Japan, October 13, 1973.

FYI, as reported at EWTN, Bishop John Shojiro Ito of Niigata, Japan, after eight years of investigations," recognized "the supernatural character of a series of mysterious events concerning the statue of the Holy Mother Mary" and authorized "veneration of the Holy Mother of Akita, while awaiting that the Holy See publishes definitive judgment on this matter."

Much of this has already happened ("churches and altars sacked"). What do you think of the rest?

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Columbus Day!

Hail the great navigator! I'm celebrating Columbus Day, how about you? I'm headed shortly to an Italian restaurant for dinner. How are you celebrating this great day? Or do you think it's not so great?

This is not Columbus; but rather, Jan Sobieski. Does he have a day?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

'Where everyone is invited to bring everything we have, best and worst' (Sunday homily)

This weekend we have our annual Forty Hours, 
in which we adore our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist, on the altar. 
We began Friday morning, 
and many were here through the night and through Saturday. 

By the way, there are a few hours needing coverage 
tonight and tomorrow, perhaps you can check the schedule 
before you leave?

The readings sure seem well suited, don’t they? 
Isaiah speaks of a great feast on the Lord’s mountain, 
and the Gospel speaks of a wedding feast. 

Let’s start with the Gospel. How does that connect to the Eucharist?

Recall what our Lord Jesus called himself many times: 
“I am the Bridegroom.” 
In the Book of Revelation, there is a vision of a great wedding feast, 
when Jesus, the Lamb of God, celebrates his marriage with us, 
his people. All God’s people are the Bride.

We are also the guests. 
Notice how the Gospel says they went out and invited in everyone. 
We couldn’t be at the Passover Supper of Jesus and the Apostles, 
on the night before he died. 

At the cross, only the Apostle John, Mary the Lord’s mother, 
and a few others were present. 

But for Holy Mass? Everyone is invited. 
The Mass takes place all over the world, at every hour of every day. 
See how God seeks to bring everyone to the wedding feast?

Yet notice what happened in the Gospel. 
The king found someone not wearing a “wedding garment.” 
You might say, but he didn’t have time to get properly dressed; 
but that’s not the point here.  
This is a symbol of our readiness to do what the Lord commands.

When we come to the Lord Jesus, 
we only need one thing: faith. But what does that mean?

Here’s where there’s a great misunderstanding. 
Many people think faith is simply belief: 
I believe in God, so that’s enough. But they are mistaken. 
Faith includes acting on that belief. 
It includes the response of our obedience. 

The Lord says, “You shall not lie.” 
Yet I have lied; my wedding garment is stained by my sins. 
Jesus says, “Repent and believe!” 
So I repent, and I go to confession. 
My wedding garment is spotless!

Of course, sometimes repentance and obedience is demanding. 

To give generously as Jesus says? Not easy. 
As our culture and government becomes more and more hostile 
to our Faith, it will become harder 
to run a business according to Gospel values. 

In a time of war, it’s hard to avoid wrath. 
With our society soaked with sensuality, the virtue of chastity – 
either single or married – is often laughed at as impossible.

Let’s look at the first reading. 
It is more of a prophecy for the Eucharist than we may realize. 
Note that it takes place on a mountain. Why is that important? 

In the Bible, mountains are often where God and his people would meet. 
There are many examples – Mount Sinai, 
the Mount where Jesus revealed his glory to the Apostles, and others – 
but let’s focus on two in particular. 

First recall Mount Zion, where the temple was built. 
That’s where the sacrifices were offered, day by day, year by year, 
to atone for sin. 

And then, of course, there is the hill of Calvary, 
where our Lord was nailed to the cross. 
That, of course, is the true and final sacrifice offered for our sins; 
and it is what Holy Mass makes present. 
The Eucharist—the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus, 
which comes from the Sacrifice of the Cross—
is the great feast Isaiah foresaw.

After all, Isaiah also said that 
“on this mountain the Lord will destroy…death forever.” 
That is what the Cross did! 
That is why we come to Holy Mass; we are the people Isaiah foresaw, 
who gather at the Cross to receive life! To live forever!

The image of the wedding guest being thrown out 
isn’t about where we are now, in this life, trying to find holiness. 
It’s about Judgment Day: will we be found ready?

A better image for our “right now” is the Cross. 
There were saints and sinners there. 
Many didn’t want to be there. Many, perhaps most, 
had no real idea of what was happening. 
There was a criminal next to the Lord 
who offered what he could – and he entered Paradise. 
There was a soldier who helped kill the Lord, who was converted.

Again, the Cross is the Mass; the Mass is the Cross. 
Here Jesus makes the offering that destroys death and gives life.

So one of the most important things to appreciate here – 
and for you to take away from this homily – 
is how we realize all the power of the Mass, not just part.

The Eucharist is sharing in the sacrifice – and of course we want that. 
It’s right to want that. 
If only I hungered more for the Eucharist than I do!  

But there is another sharing in the sacrifice, equally tremendously* powerful. 
And that has to do not with what we get, but what we bring.

We’ve all heard people say, “I didn’t get anything out of Mass.” 
Maybe the homily was boring, or you didn’t like the music. 
Perhaps someone distracted you. 
And sometimes, when people cannot come to communion, 
they won’t come to Mass at all.

The truth is, everyone, without exception, 
“gets” something from Mass, if you want it. 
You and I get grace: God’s presence and power, poured into our life. 
We “get” to be in Jesus’ presence. 
We get to unite our hearts to his. Everyone gets that. 

Yes, even the infants; 
I am absolutely certain they meet Jesus here in a real way. 
He created them and they are his. He knows his own sheep. 

We think they don’t “get” anything 
because we measure that in grown-up terms. 
That’s our mistake!

But back to what we bring, instead of getting. 
We bring our own offering: as the Morning Offering prayer says, 
we bring our “prayers, works, joys and sufferings.” 

It isn’t limited just to the good stuff. 
We are invited to bring everything. 
Our hurts, our shame, our failures and sins. 
Right here, to the Cross. 

That’s what the Cross is: 
the worst thing in the world, that became the best thing in the world.

Where everyone is invited to bring everything we have, 
best and worst – but especially worst…

Where evil is transformed into good…
Where we are saved – and where we gain life forever.

* Changed after 5 pm Mass.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Do you soak your feet?

Don't you dare discuss among yourselves! Share it with us!

While I'm gratified that anyone reads this blog (and many do), I don't seem to be stirring up many of you to comment. I'm not sure why, but that's your business.

So I thought I'd try something different. Something mundane, like:

Do you soak your feet?

I soaked mine today, first time in I don't know how long. Reason? I've had a callous or corn or whatever you call it that's been bothering me. So my mother's voice in my head said, "Epsom salts." (By the way, do you know what else people use them for? It involves ingesting them. I had no idea.)

The trouble with soaking your feet is where and when. I didn't want just to sit with my feet in hot water, doing nothing else. So I had the bright idea of setting it up under my computer, while I did some reading online. (Only later did I think the close proximity of many electrical devices, plugged into the wall, might be a problem.)

What temperature do you keep your heat set to at home -- and why?

I have mine set at 63 currently. A little chilly, but I'm wearing a cassock; and I don't like it to be too warm upstairs.

Are you an adventurous eater? How adventurous?

Last night I had the ushers and their spouses over for snacks and drinks, after some time for prayer in church. One of the folks mentioned a competition where a relative had to down a chocolate covered cricket. Would you eat that? What's the most adventurous thing you've eaten? And is it something you'd eat again?

I described how reluctant I was to eat a raw oyster the first time. But I love them now. I'm glad I didn't think too much about what bleu cheese is, before I ate that. Same for lobsters and related creatures I love to eat.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Overcoming pornography

As I've written before, an awful lot of folks in our society have a real struggle with pornography. Mostly men, but not all. And for those who wrestle with it, porn can be a tremendously powerful thing.

And, as you might imagine, this is something people talk to me about -- and I want to help them. I'm frequently looking for resources.

Today I looked at a series of articles at the Art of Manliness, with a fourth and final installment due shortly. The author put in some impressive work on the subject. Here are some things he explains in plain (albeit sometimes crude and direct) language:

-- It's all about brain chemistry and survival. Dopamine in our brains "rewards" and thus motivates behaviors that further our life, and further reproduction. Of course, this same function can be triggered by sexual pleasure generated by imagery.

-- We tend to crave what gave us that dose of dopamine, and seek it out. That leads to habit, escalation, seeking novelty.

-- The release of dopamine is "also strengthening neural connections that are responsible for the behavior that keeps those neurotransmitter hits coming. Porn is literally rewiring your brain."

The author, Brett McKay, develops other consequences: we tend toward depression because our brain becomes desensitized to dopamine, which is supposed to make us happy, and we tend to lose focus and discipline as the part of our brain that contributes that is weakened.

That series, in turn, led me to another site I found fascinating: Your Brain on Porn. It has tons of information and links, way more than I could examine; but what I saw seemed to offer some good tools for those who are trying to break this habit.

If you check these sites out, please come back and let me know any reactions or observations you have.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Justice, not the false god of 'Choice' (Respect Life Sunday homily)

Today is “Respect Life” Sunday. And, as you’ve noticed, 
the readings are all about vineyards. 
The Lord is the owner of the vineyard. 
We’re the ones who are working. The Lord expects a good result.

All that is clear.

So what’s the crop that the Lord is looking for?

The first reading tells us: The Lord “looked for judgment, 
but see, bloodshed! for justice, but hark, the outcry!”

Justice is the crop the vineyard is supposed to produce.

What is justice?

Working from what the Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote, 
Saint Thomas Aquinas teaches us 
that justice is defined as, “to each man his due.” 

In the Bible, justice is a rich concept. 
It’s not only about everyone getting a share; 
it’s also about right relationship: 
with God, with family, with the community. 
And so, for example, a biblical idea of justice 
doesn’t have a lot of room for being overly individualistic.

So that puts a biblical, a Christian, idea of justice 
at odds with an American one, 
because our society is certainly hyper-individualistic.

The great idol, the great false god, 
before which our society bows down? “Choice.”
We love having things “our” way. 
And when a lot of us – our neighbors, our coworkers, or we ourselves – 
talk about marriage, and whether it should be redefined, 
note what people tend to say: 
“If that’s what someone wants to do, who am I to object?” Choice.

But the thing is, there is something higher – 
and that something is called truth.

It’s a good thing that we have elections; 
we settle our differences peacefully, and we allow all citizens a voice. 
All that is very good, and it’s something our nation gave to the world.

But 51% of the vote doesn’t decide what’s true. 
Ninety percent doesn’t; no, not even 100%!

Now that’s philosophy, and maybe that’s pretty dry. 
Let’s put it in plain terms.

Three fellows are looking around the kitchen, 
and they find a jar filled with liquid. 
It’s not marked, they don’t know what it is. 
It could be something good to drink; or it could be poison.

So they take a vote! “Good to drink” wins 2-1! Bottoms up!

You get the point: they can vote what they like, 
but that won’t make poison good to drink.

So our challenge as Christians is that we have to say things like this.

And we know what people say in return: 
OK, you don’t have to drink it – there we are, back to “choice” again.
But tell me: can any of us really say 
that if we were with people drinking poison, 
we’d be content with not having to drink it ourselves? 
We could see all that evil happening around us, and be OK with that?

That’s not justice. That’s bloodshed.

This is the bankruptcy of the way people justify legal abortion. 
The obvious reason to oppose abortion 
is to protect the life of the unborn child. 
But there is another very powerful reason 
that we don’t talk enough about: 
and that is concern for the true well-being 
of the mother, the father, and all of us. 

The Harry Potter series gives a powerful image of what I mean. 
In those stories, whenever someone commits murder, 
it fractures the soul; and as the saga unfolds, 
everyone who cooperates with the villain, it’s clear, 
are becoming wrecked people. 

It is not justice to say, “you made your choice, it’s not my problem.” 
God’s response is love. 

This is where the Gospel stuns us. 
We see evil, and either we are filled with rage; 
or we respond with hands thrown up in despair; 
or we turn away, so we don’t have to see it. 
We see people who do evil, and we punish them, 
and maybe we forget about them.

This is not God’s justice.

God responds with love. A tidal wave—a tsunami—of love. 
This is so baffling to us, we often simply don’t believe it.

If you look at the stories many people give 
about having been involved in abortion, 
they say: they can’t believe God will forgive them. 
Of all the lies the enemy uses to mislead us, that one is the worst.

And it’s not just about one particular sin. 
There are lots of people who wonder, can God forgive me? Will he?

That’s why God went to the Cross. 
So we would always know there is absolutely nothing 
God won’t do to save us.

Let me return to this mindset of our time, 
that says, it’s your choice, it’s not my problem. 

That same reasoning slides over into so many other areas:  
now it’s doctors helping people commit suicide; 
after that, legalizing the doctor doing the killing. 
And it’s the same reason some people want to legalize drugs: 
who cares if someone wants to do that to themselves. 
And it’s why so much of our society 
is growing indifferent to indecency and pornography. 

That indifference shows up toward people who are poor and in trouble. 
Especially if they are far away; 
or if their trouble is in any way of their own making.

Look at our prison system. 
We’re really good at punishing people for crimes. 
And I am not saying they shouldn’t be punished.
But how many of us want even to think about what goes on 
behind those prison bars? What is done to prisoners? 
What they do to each other?

We know what happens. Does anyone do anything? 
When’s the last time any politician stood up and said, 
I’m going to work hard to make sure that prisons are humane? 
They would if enough people brought it up. 
Instead, they all compete to show how tough they are.

No human being deserves to be thrown away. 
Not a baby, not the handicapped, not the poor, not foreigners, 
no, not even those who commit the worst crimes. 

When Pope Saint John Paul began teaching against the death penalty, 
after I read what he wrote, I changed my position to be against the death penalty. 
And my reason is this: I do not want to be part of a society 
that kills people. Not if we don’t have to – which is what he said. 
If we can punish people without death, that’s what we must do.

Even if we don’t listen to him out of concern for the convicted criminal, 
we listen out of concern for our own souls. For the soul of our society.

This is what justice is: not only concern for my own needs, 
but for yours. 
And always a recognition that we’re all in this together.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

A talk about the Rosary

Here's a talk I worked up today for the children of the parish in junior and senior high school. After the talk, I led a Rosary procession around the parish.


Using beads as a way to pray is ancient, may predate Christianity.
Muslims use prayer beads, but they don’t pray the Rosary; they repeat various names for God.
The various prayers included in the Rosary changed over time; early on, it was mostly Our Fathers.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, around the year 800, when someone died, the priest would offer a Mass, while the monks would pray 50 – or even 150 – psalms for the one who died. But for those who couldn’t read, they would be asked to pray 50 or 150 Our Fathers. The string of beads they used to count them off wasn’t yet called a Rosary, but a Paternoster – which is Latin for Our Father.
Saint Dominic, who lived and worked in the early 1200s, is closely associated with the Rosary because he promoted it. There are stories that he received a vision from our Lady about the Rosary, but that’s uncertain.
The practice of meditating on events in the life of our Lord became part of the Rosary around the 1400s.


There are four sets of mysteries for us to meditate on. The Luminous Mysteries were composed by Saint John Paul II. Here are the mysteries:

Joyful (Jesus’ hidden life)
  Annunciation Gabriel comes to Mary
  Visitation Mary goes to Elizabeth
  Nativity Jesus is born
  Presentation Joseph & Mary dedicate Jesus in the temple
  Finding of Jesus at 12 years old, Jesus is found in the temple after 3 days

Luminous (Jesus’ public ministry)
  Baptism of the Lord i.e., by John the Baptist
Wedding of Cana Our Lord’s first public miracle
Proclamation of the Kingdom Jesus begins calling people to conversion and faith
Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus shows his divinity, anticipating the cross
The Holy Eucharist on the night before He died.

Sorrowful (Jesus’ suffering and death)
Agony in the Garden Jesus accepts the Cross
Scourging at the Pillar “By his stripes we are healed”
Crowning with thorns Mocking crowning as king
Carrying of the Cross Way of the Cross
Crucifixion Jesus dies on the Cross

Glorious (Jesus’ resurrection and the fruits of that)
Resurrection The Lord rises bodily from the grave
Ascension Jesus returns to his heavenly throne 40 days later
Outpouring of the Holy Spirit Pentecost: 50 days after Resurrection
Assumption of Mary Mary brought to heaven
Mary crowned Queen of Heaven i.e., beside her Son

There is no “official” way to pray the Rosary, but there are long-held traditions. (For a detailed explanation, go here.)


1. There is something powerful about the Rosary. It is the most widely practiced Christian prayer; among Roman Catholics, it is almost universal. It has been associated with many remarkable events and miracles:

a. Battle of Lepanto, 1571: The Ottoman Empire was striking hard at Christian nations, seeking to conquer them; when conquered, the Christians would be persecuted, converted or driven out. The Ottomans were threatening all of Europe, and Pope Pius V worked frantically to organize some resistance. He found a leader, John of Austria, who led a badly outnumbered alliance against the mighty Turkish fleet.

All this was happening hundreds of miles from Rome, where Pope Pius V had for weeks called all Christians to pray the Rosary. On October 7, he spent the night in prayer, begging for a miracle – for that was the only hope.

The next day, while meeting with Monsignor Busotti, one of his advisors, Pope Pius V

stopped suddenly in the middle of the room and put out his head in the attitude of one listening, at the same time making a sign to Busotti to be silent. Then he went to the window, which he threw open wide, leaning out, still silent and in the same listening attitude. Busotti on seeing the face of the old Pontiff suddenly transfigured, his tearful blue eyes turned to heaven with an ineffable expression, and his joined and trembling hands raised; Busotti’s hair stood on end as he understood that something supernatural and divine was happening, and thus he remained for more than three minutes, as the same treasurer afterwards declared on oath.

Then the Pope shook off his ecstasy, and with a face radiant with joy, said to Busotti, “This is not the time for business. Let us return thanks to God for victory over the Turks.”

It took almost three weeks for news of the miraculous victory to reach Rome – and after some calculations, it was determined that the pope’s vision happened just as the battle was won!

b. Fatima, 1917: Mary appears to three children, giving them prophecies of what would unfold in the century, including the following:

You have seen hell where the souls of poor sinners go. To save them, God wishes to establish in the world devotion to my Immaculate Heart. If what I say to you is done, many souls will be saved and there will be peace.

The war is going to end: but if people do not cease offending God, a worse one will break out during the Pontificate of Pius XI. When you see a night illuminated by an unknown light, know that this is the great sign given you by God that he is about to punish the world for its crimes, by means of war, famine, and persecutions of the Church and of the Holy Father.

To prevent this, I shall come to ask for the consecration of Russia to my Immaculate Heart, and the Communion of reparation on the First Saturdays. If my requests are heeded, Russia will be converted, and there will be peace; if not, she will spread her errors throughout the world, causing wars and persecutions of the Church.

The good will be martyred; the Holy Father will have much to suffer; various nations will be annihilated. In the end, my Immaculate Heart will triumph. The Holy Father will consecrate Russia to me, and she shall be converted, and a period of peace will be granted to the world."

This all happened, including the surprising end of the Cold War!

c. Philippines, 1986: the people were protesting while praying the Rosary. The military was ordered to gun them down; they saw Mary appear, saying “do not shoot!” They didn’t; and the dictator stepped down and a democracy established.

2. The Rosary has an amazing power to help you focus and to impart peace. Is this because:

a. It involves rhythm and repetition?
b. It focuses our thoughts on our Lord Jesus and how he saves us?
c. We are praying with Mary, our mother?

3. Many times when Mary has appeared or spoken to people, she has encouraged us to pray the Rosary.

4. It’s easy and accessible: you can pray on your fingers; you can pray in “installments” – i.e., one or several decades – and you can pray it any way you find it helpful.

5. While many Catholics disagree over many things, they are united by the Rosary.