Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Picture time!

I had a bunch of photos from the past few days, so I'm just going to post them all together. Is that bad?

While in Cincinnati on Friday -- in anticipation of the Deacon Ordination Saturday morning -- I drove by Eden Park. It was a lovely afternoon, and many people were enjoying it. Here's a famous monument, commemorating Cincinnati being a sister city to Rome. By the way -- do you know which famous world leader presented this (remotely) to Cincinnati? The next picture explains it.

While I was snapping the photo of the she-wolf, I heard one guy nearby say, "everyone takes a picture of that!"

Here's why you don't see more pictures...

That was supposed to be a picture of a couple, in wedding attire, having their picture taken.

Here's a view of the mighty Ohio, looking upriver (i.e., east). It's flooded a few weeks ago; and it still looks a little high to me, but I think that's normal for this time of year:

And here's downriver.

Here's last night's dinner, with the Neapolitan Ragu again. I did the recipe a little differently this time. Instead of spare ribs and braciole, I used Italian sausage and some meat balls I bought. A second change involved the tomatoes -- I had bought an Italian brand before, but this was a Kroger brand.

The sauce was quite good, but it needed salt and pepper; and the meats weren't as good. The Italian sausage was too mildly spiced, for one. Next time, I'll get a better sausage, and I may try my hand at meatballs.

Here's an update on Russia's "Big Dig." You can see the workers have built the walls of the channel, and they are preparing to create the cover. A couple of parishioners walked over after Holy Mass with me to see it: a grandpa and his grandson, who just made his first communion on Sunday, and wanted to go to Mass every day this week. Isn't that awesome?

Monday, April 27, 2015

First Communion in Russia (and more!) -- updated with pictures!

It was First Communion Sunday -- and I confess that each year, this fills me with both joy and, yes, some dread. The joy is obvious; why the dread?

In years' past, the other priests I've worked with in my prior parishes and I have agreed the First Communion Mass can often be a "zoo Mass": a lot of irreverence and disruption, due entirely to the adults who are scrambling for seats, angling for a better view, snapping constant photos, and yakking loudly whenever possible. It's not edifying.

This year was the best ever -- and while I am a bit jaded, that's not the main reason. The people of this parish, with the encouragement and good work of my predecessor, have a strong sense of reverence. The church is normally very quiet before and after Mass (I am probably the worst offender, greeting people in the vestibule). For the First Communion Mass, there was some commotion in the back as folks gathered for the group picture beforehand, and some chatting in church before Mass, but far less than I've seen. It helped that someone started the Rosary, as usual, about 20 minutes before. 

Have I mentioned the outstanding altar servers we have? We have a crew of high school boys who love to serve; and whenever we have a "high Mass" (which now is every 9 am Sunday Mass), we have a crew of six to eight who don cassock and surplice, white gloves, and take care of the incense, the torches for the consecration and for communion. We have a battery-operated clicker that triggers the tower bells during the consecration, so that everyone in the village can know the miracle has happened! 

Well, we had our regularly scheduled "high Mass" at 9, and then another crew (one carry-over) for the 11. 

Then there's the special way we distribute Holy Communion to the first communicants. We set up three kneelers, and the child comes up with his parents. Everyone kneels down, and I give the child, then his parents, the Body and Blood at once, by intinction; which means, on the tongue.

This has many advantages:

> The child comes up with his parents; that's easier and very appropriate.
> The child doesn't have to make two stops; again, easier.
> There's far less problem about what communion tastes like: sometimes the children don't like the dryness of the host, or the taste of the Precious Blood. This solves both problems.
> The child is settled; sometimes, when they receive standing, they don't stay still. 
> This teaches the age-old practice of both kneeling and receiving on the tongue. (We only do it this way the first time.)
> It's all very calm and peaceful for the children.

The Mass went about 80 minutes or so -- the church was packed so communion took awhile -- and then we had individual pictures with the 30 or so children. After that, one of the families invited me over, so I joined them for a very nice party. (Another family invited me, but it was later, and I had a conflict. Yet another family invited me, but it was in passing, and I didn't write it down, so I couldn't remember, I'm sorry!)

Later that afternoon, we had our boys' program, the Knights of Saint Remy -- attendance much reduced due to First Communion. I gave a talk on the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence), comparing them to parts of the armor a knight might wear. Fortitude was the breastplate that wraps all around, temperance the mouth-guard, justice the sword, and prudence the helmet. After that -- at the end of a very busy weekend that had me in Cincinnati Friday afternoon, for the deacon ordination on Saturday morning, then back to Russia for Mass, then the high school prom (they invite the priest to come! I've never had that anywhere else), then all I just described -- I was pretty tired! But a great weekend; I love being a priest!

Update, April 28...

Here are pictures!

The children entering...

 Here's one to warm Father Z's heart (you have to look closely to see why):

Don't we have a beautiful church? My venerable predecessor did all this.

By the way, we would have had more torches, but we had the "High Mass Crew" at two Masses straight, and a lot of our high school boys had been out at the prom the night before.

Here's the kneeling-intinction method I described. Everything worked like clockwork. It helps (a lot) to have well motivated, well trained altar servers.

These boys are brothers, not twins but they made their First Communion together.

And here you see me in my biretta'ed splendor...

Jesus' Eternal Word -- the Eucharist -- transforms us into God's children (Sunday homily)

This was one of those weekends where I never wrote down my homily. What follows is my best effort to recall the main points -- I didn't necessarily do it the same way at each of the four Masses...

As I reflected on the first reading -- on Peter, as he stood up so courageously, despite the great risk, a question came to mind, which I'll share with you: why did Peter -- and the rest of the Apostles -- place their faith in a crucified Savior? If they can kill him, how can he be God? How can he be the Messiah? After all, that's what many said at the cross: come down from that cross, then we'll believe in you.

We know that Peter's faith was shaken when Jesus was arrested, and so for all the apostles. But they didn't despair, as Judas did. Why?

As I thought about that, I recalled an episode described in John chapter 6, where our Lord was telling people about the Eucharist, that it would be his true Body and Blood, and there were people who couldn't accept that. And so they left him. Jesus turned to the Apostles and said, are you going to leave me too? And Peter replied, no Lord, because you have the words of everlasting life.

That, I think, is why Peter believed in Jesus: he spoke words of eternal life (and I wonder if Judas didn't believe that; and so he gave up).

One of the things I like to do is read about science topics; not that I am any kind of expert, but I want to learn more. And I've been reading about scientists who claim -- very seriously -- that they may be in the verge of making discoveries that would dramatically lengthen human life. Hold onto your hats: they claim by hundreds of years!

And we've all seen the movie stars and celebrities that are as old as Methuselah and they try to pretend they are in their 30s; and after awhile, it just becomes silly.  See, there are people who think this life is all their is, so they're trying to make it go on and on. That inspires them; but the prospect of this life going on and on fills me with despair. I want more than just this life, endlessly. And we all hunger for that: for eternal life.

Eternal life isn't just this life, forever; it's the fullness of life. So when people do extreme things, they climb mountains and jump out of planes and ride roller coasters and try to eat and taste everything, they are expressing that longing. But this life is only a foretaste. Of eternal life.

Jesus has the words of eternal life -- above all, in the Eucharist. We hear those words of everlasting life spoken: "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood." The Eucharist is the food of everlasting life.

Last week, when I spoke about the Eucharist, I quoted something many of the saints said; and I hoped it would get you thinking: "God became man so that men might become God." And that's just another way of saying what John the Apostle said in the second reading: see what love the Father bestows on us, in calling us "children of God."

(Here I illustrated how we, as children, bear a likeness to our parents. I told the story of a man who approached me on a street in downtown Cincinnati some years back, asking me if I was "Rose Ann Dehoney's son." And I was -- but that's my mother's maiden name, and this man hadn't seen her since before she was married; which was over 30 years prior. Yet he recognized me as her son! And I talked about how we take on the attributes of our parents; and we all become our parents!)

So when we say we become "children of God"--that means we are like God, we love what God loves, we have life with God. And it is the Eucharist that brings us there. Not just one time, but week after week, even every day, all through our lives.

(I might add, the 11 am Mass was First Communion, so I tailored this toward the children and their families more at that Mass than the others. And I don't recall just how I moved to the conclusion, but I mentioned how it's the Good Shepherd who does all this -- laying down his life to give us his flesh and blood in the Eucharist, so that we can become children of God. And I talked about how a lifetime of receiving the Eucharist leads us to what the Apostle John also said: we don't know what we shall later be -- and I cited how we really can't see the true reality of the Mass -- yet we know that we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is! And I talked about how, when we close our eyes the last time, if we've been seeking Jesus all our lives, and receiving the Eucharist, we open our eyes in eternity, and "we see Him! As he is!")

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'Clean out the icebox'

When I was a boy, one of my favorite meals was what my mom called, "Clean out the Icebox." It might be soup, or a casserole, baked or fried, but I always liked it. My older siblings have somewhat different recollections. 

What's "Clean out the Icebox"? Just what it sounds like. Whatever leftovers mom found that could, reasonably (to her) be combined. 

Yesterday I made my own attempt. I had some leftover pot roast, as well as a little bit of the ragu I made weeks ago. (It had been frozen and thawed in the meantime.) Plus I had some vegetables that were wilting, and some leftover beef broth.

So, I chopped up the roast and the vegetables left with it. I dumped in the broth; I chopped up some carrots and celery from the fridge, and set all that on the stove to simmer. At some point, I added some salt, pepper, and garlic; later, a bay leaf; and later, a handful of broken up spaghetti (because I had neither barley nor noodles). I simmered it some more, and had some last night for dinner. It was helped by some Parmesan cheese. Here's today's lunch:

Yes, it does rather taste like what mom would have cooked!

Oh, and FYI, this is an icebox. (There are pictures at the link.) We actually had one, growing up, but we also had an electric refrigerator, so mom used the icebox to store other things. My clever mom sawed off the bottom of it, so that it was just tall enough for the top to be a great work area. I think my brother has that now.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why the Eucharist is so important (Sunday homily)

At the beginning of the Gospel passage I just read, we heard,
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

Let me explain what that refers to. 
The day Jesus rose from the dead—the first Easter Sunday—
two of his disciples were walking from Jerusalem 
to a nearby town called Emmaus. 
Jesus met them as they walked along, 
but they didn’t recognize him at first. 

I think it’s pretty clear Jesus did this on purpose, 
for a reason that will become clear in a moment. 

As they walked, they talked to him as if he were a stranger; 
and they told him about the crucifixion 
and the stories of resurrection—
which, it appears, they are hesitant about.

Then the Lord Jesus—again, while they still think he’s just a visitor—
explains how all that happened was foreshadowed in the Scriptures. 
As they reach their destination, 
the two disciples invite the visitor to stay with them, 
and as they sit down to eat, 
Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. 
And it is at that instant their “eyes were opened, 
and they recognized him”—in the breaking of the bread.

Then these two rush back to Jerusalem, 
where they find the Apostles—and they tell them what happened. 
And then Jesus appears in their midst—and what we heard follows. 

I said a moment ago that the Lord Jesus had a purpose in all this. 
Here’s what I think it is: 
Jesus was showing them how important the Eucharist would be.

Let me ask a question: haven’t you ever wondered 
what was going on with the followers of Jesus between the day of Resurrection 
and the day Jesus ascended to heaven? 
For all the information the Gospels give us 
about Jesus’ teaching, his miracles, his death and resurrection, 
they say very little about the 40 days after he rose from the dead.

I think what was happening was that they were making sense of it all, 
especially after the shock of his death.
And after they started sorting this out, then what?

The Eucharist, that’s what.

They remembered the miracles of the loaves, 
in which so many had been fed—
and there were twelve baskets’ full left over. A light went on. 
This is when they began to realize what Jesus meant 
when he said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of Me.”

Do you want to see Jesus? Is there any Christian who wouldn’t say yes? 
Don’t we all long to see him? 

We do see him! He is made known to us “in the breaking of bread.”
In the Holy Mass. In the Holy Eucharist.

This is why the Holy Mass is so important. 

Now, there’s a question many of us wrestle with. 
We say that the bread and wine become Jesus—
his body, blood, soul and divinity. 
And yet, at the same time, 
we admit that the taste, the appearance, 
and the chemical properties don’t change.

So let’s acknowledge the question easily comes to mind: 
why should we believe that the Eucharist 
is really anything more than merely wine and bread? 
Why not just agree with those who say, 
it’s only a symbol, but it’s not really Jesus himself.

Let me offer three answers to that.

First, the reason we believe the bread and wine aren’t just symbolic, 
but they really become Jesus, is because that’s what he said. 
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John—
which we’ll hear at Mass in August—he said, over and over: 
“eat my flesh, and drink my blood”, 
for “my flesh is real food, and my blood, real drink.” 

And, on the night before he died, he took bread, and took wine, 
and said, “this is my body”; “this is my blood.” 

Second, this is clearly what Saint Paul believed and taught, 
as is clear from what he wrote about the Eucharist. 
And it’s what the early Christians believed. 
They were very explicit on this point—
so much so, that pagans accused them of “cannibalism.” 

But let me approach this in a third way. 
Try to think about this from God’s point of view.
This is your plan: you’re going to come to earth as a man, 
suffer and die for the rest of humanity, and rise again. 
And, based on the rituals of sacrifice, and the Passover, 
from the Old Testament, 
give the faithful a new rite: the Eucharist. 

If this is what you are going to do – 
and you want people to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” – 
tell me, just how would you do it? 
I don’t mean to be gross, but—
would you do something involving real flesh and blood? 
That would be repulsive. 

OK then, so what do you do? 
Just tell people, here, eat bread. Drink wine? 
OK, so we do that. But the question remains: 
how do bread and wine save us?

Even if you give me the best bread and wine, 
if that’s all they are, so what? 
I don’t want to be united forever with bread and wine. 
Do you? Does anyone?

But I do want to be united forever with Jesus. 
That’s what he promised. That’s what the Eucharist is!

So it seems to me Jesus hit upon the perfect solution. 
It’s his Body and Blood—it’s really him; 
but, in a manner that is human and approachable.

The Eucharist reminds us that Jesus didn’t just come to be a teacher. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that. 
Oh, he was such an admirable teacher.
Well, that’s true. But it’s weak tea. 
They didn’t crucify him because he was a teacher.
God didn’t need to become human in order to teach us. 
He sent Moses. He sent the prophets. They did just fine as teachers. 

God became human to be one of us. 
And then, as one of us, he suffered and died with and for us. 
And to come back to what I said a moment ago: 
the point was that we would be one with God—forever. 

Look, if you’re a student in our school, you listen to the teachers; 
you learn from them; you may even want to imitate them. 
But who says you have to become “one” with them? 

God became man so that men could become God. That’s what it’s about.

I’ll say it again: God became man so that men could become God! 
Not “become God” in the way only God can be God—
but “become God” in the sense of being sharers 
in all that God is and has. 

That’s why we have the Mass—and that’s why we need the Eucharist! 
As Saint Augustine explained, when we feed upon Christ, 
unlike all other food, the Eucharist does not change into us—
but rather, Christ says, “you shall be converted into me.” 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's exciting in a small town? Digging a hole...

Across the street from the parish, the village is doing some work on Nine Mile Creek.

The retaining walls are being redone, a concrete basin is being poured, and then a "cap" will be put over it, followed by soil and grass. The mayor, who was watching the guys work when I walked up, explained that the existing wall is deteriorating, and "if it were to fail, we'd lose Main Street and have to shut it all down."

The area where the yellow bulldozer (is that what it's called?) will actually become a small park down the road, after all this is complete.

And -- ha! -- I have a scoop on the Fish Report!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tax Day, Pot Roast Day

Today was tax day for me. I filed my federal and state taxes online, no problems -- although I ended up owing a lot more to Uncle Sugar than I thought. Remember the payroll tax cut that expired in 2013? Well, I forgot; and my tax withholding was based on the prior year's total owed. Hopefully Uncle Sugar doesn't assess a penalty.

My state taxes, as always, were a breeze. By the way, did you know that there's a $50 credit for giving money to a politician? If you have someone you like, give him or her $50, and you get a credit on your taxes. Meaning: the campaign contribution costs you nothing! I think $50 is the max, however.

I also found out that the amount I can contribute to my IRA was higher than I thought. So I have a check on my desk which I'll run over to my friend in Piqua tomorrow.

It also turns out that in Russia, I have to file a tax return. Only that must be done on paper. So I printed off the papers and spent a good hour trying to fill it out correctly. I think I got it right. I owed nothing; I get nothing back. 

After that, I got working on a pot roast I was planning. I found a recipe at Allrecipes.com, with which I've had good luck. Especially helpful are the reviews, where I often see variations that look better than the original.

Anyway, this recipe started with a roast (I can't recall what cut of beef), some flour and pepper (I added garlic powder), and some butter. I was a little short on the butter, so I used the rest of the oil I had.

Here's the roast, after having been dredged in the flour/pepper/garlic mixture, browning in the butter and oil. As a matter of fact, it did smell good!

Meanwhile, I chopped up these vegetables for the pan. I will add some potatoes shortly.

And here's everything crammed into the pan. Over this I poured about 3/4ths cup of dry Vermouth (per the recipe), but omitted the dry onion soup mix and the cream of mushroom soup. Instead, I added some beef broth. Now I'm thinking I might have salted it. What do you think?

Stay tuned, as always, for further developments.

Update, 5:47 pm...

After cutting up some red potatoes, I got the roast from the oven and pulled back the foil. Why, yes, it does smell good! As you can see, it's rather brothy. That's good, I think. Remember the butter and oil I used to brown the meat? I saved that. That, plus this, will make some splendid gravy, don't you think? And since I won't want to explain that later, this is a good time to tell you how I do that...

Gravy is easy. The basics are some flavorful juice from the meat you're cooking, and/or some added broth, plus some fat and some flour. Yes, flour, not corn starch. First you start with the fat, and add a bit of flour, making a roux. The flour won't be lumpy that way. Then you take the broth -- this pan, for example, after the meat and vegetables are removed -- and this should be cooked down a bit, being careful to scrape all the crusty, tasty bits into the broth. If you don't have a lot of liquid, but you do have lots of browning on the pan, You can add some liquid and "wash" that goodness into the liquid. This is called "deglazing," and you can't miss with this. Any liquid will do, but I wouldn't use water unless I had nothing else. Wine works nicely, although you may want to cook it a bit if you don't want to taste the alcohol. The roux -- which can be browned, by the way, but I tend not to do that -- goes in, adding thickness. I happen to like gravy that's not overly thick; mainly because that's how I remember mom doing it.

I was thinking of sauteing some spinach, but I'm not sure now. What do you think?

Oh, and about the salt -- I decided to add some Kosher salt, along with some more pepper and garlic powder. Can't go wrong with that!

Update, 7:18 pm...

OK, it's time to take the roast from the oven. Here it is...

While that rests, I whip up the gravy. Sorry I didn't give you a shot of the crispy bits left over from the browning, but you can see them if you look closely. I had so much broth, I decided not to turn it all into gravy. I can always make more. Here I am stirring it so it's a little bit thick, as I like it.

And here's dinner, with a bit of gravy on it, and some red wine from the next county over. The containers in the picture hold the remaining broth (bottom) and gravy (top). The pan full of meat and veggie goodness is nearby. Now I eat! (Actually, I started before I posted these pictures!)

The Verdict?

Quite good! After all that, it needed a bit more salt and pepper, and more garlic wouldn't have hurt. The carrots, despite cooking for three hours, were perfect. The onion was a little soft, but I don't mind that. I really like onions baked this way. The meat was nearly fork-tender; which means it'll be even better after it sits a bit in the fridge. The potato was good, although the half left on my plate might benefit from a bit more gravy...Which was very good. Even the wine was good, if a bit...thin.

I can't believe this would be the first pot roast I've made, yet I can't remember doing it. This is something I'd definitely make again, and with guests, next time! This wasn't hard, and I didn't need a crock-pot for this, although that would work. Nor did I need to keep a close eye on it, which is good!

Anon comments now enabled

Since almost no one comments, I decided to take a chance on allowing "anonymous" comments.

Here's the deal. If you post anonymously, still please sign some name. It doesn't have to be real; but it's helpful so that I or others can respond to you -- it helps sort out different "anonymouses."

If I start getting spammed with fake comments, I may have to stop this. But let's try.

And please comment when you read my posts, if only to say, "I was here!"

Sunday, April 12, 2015

It's the needy who are generous (Divine Mercy homily)

It was Pope Saint John Paul II who declared this Sunday 
to be “Divine Mercy Sunday.” 

Now, it often happens 
that popes will promote a particular devotion or spirituality. 
And when they do, it’s not a matter of faith or morals, 
so it’s not an exercise of their infallibility. 
No one has to pray the Divine Mercy chaplet.

Still, it’s worth noting how this devotion 
has caught the imagination of so many. 
That suggests that the messages it is based on are genuinely from God. 
It was a Polish nun, Saint Faustina, who, in 1931, 
began receiving visions of Jesus, 
telling her about his eagerness to forgive sins; 
and later, she received messages about 
creating the image that is displayed, 
as well as the Divine Mercy chaplet.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a new message. 
In the 1600s, it was the devotion to the Sacred Heart, 
which was spurred by messages 
received by another nun, another mystic, Saint Margaret Mary Aloque. 

By the way, this is a good time to talk about 
why the Church needs religious brothers and sisters. 
We often talk about the priesthood. 
I talk about it because it’s what I live. 
But it’s important to realize how much the Church benefits 
from the various religious communities 
that have sprung up over the millennia. 

Some of our religious societies got started 
because someone saw a need and got to it. 
Saint Vincent de Paul, for example, in helping the poor; 
or Mother Seton, in fostering Catholic schools in this country. 
Some of our religious congregations began around a way of life, 
such as Saint Francis or Saint Clare. 
Some were formed around a devotion to intense prayer, 
such as the Benedictines; 
some were about calling people to conversion, such as the Dominicans.

Faustina joined the Sisters of our Lady of Mercy. 
She was drawn to them 
as a result of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. 
The Lord spoke to her heart, 
drawing her to a life of intense prayer and intercession for mercy.

Now, I can imagine that when men or women 
consider entering religious life, 
the thought comes to mind: well, what will you be doing with your life? 
Don’t you want to do more than just…pray?

Can’t you just picture people saying such things to Faustina? 
Or how about when Therese, the Little Flower, 
revealed her longing to join the Carmelites? 
Or Mother Theresa, when she entered religious life?

What do you think? Do you think these three women – 
Faustina, the Little Flower, and Mother Theresa – 
have made an impact? 
And there are so many men and women we could add – 
Saint Benedict, Saint Francis, Saint Katherine Drexel, and more – 
who told their families they knew their call 
was to give their hearts totally to Jesus, 
in a life of prayer and caring for others. 
They not only changed the Church; they changed the world!

We all needed Faustina to make herself available to the Lord in prayer; 
not just a few minutes a day, but for hours. This became her life. 
It’s not for everyone; everyone has a role to play, 
and my vocation isn’t necessarily yours. 

But I say it again: we all needed Faustina to answer the call she received. 
And as a result, she became the Apostle of God’s Mercy.

And if you feel a call to the religious life, as with any other vocation: 
you won’t find full happiness doing anything else. 

The thing about the message of Divine Mercy – 
in all the ways God has offered us mercy – 
is that it only makes sense if we have something to be forgiven for. 

If I saw in the paper that Gov. Kasich had granted me a pardon, 
I’d be…concerned! I hadn’t known I needed one! 
But if I did; I’d sure be grateful.

We all need God’s mercy. Not one of us can say, “I have no sin.” 
But being reminded of God’s ready mercy 
may help us face the truth about our sins. 
Many carry a terrible weight of sin – God is eager to lift it.
Yet there are others who have a prior problem:
They don’t think they have all that much to be forgiven of.

That isn’t just other people. Quite a lot of Catholics think that way.
It’s an easy temptation. Oh, I’m sarcastic, occasionally; 
I gossip…a little. I’m a little selfish. But that’s all. 

This will never happen, but what if we had to bring our children, 
or our spouse, a neighbor, or a coworker, to confession with us? 
Do you think they might offer a rebuttal?

So the flip side of Divine Mercy is human honesty: 
I am a sinner, in more ways than I care to admit. 
The more I know myself that way, the more I come to God for mercy.

One of the things many people say they struggle with is forgiving – that is, giving mercy. 

It reminds me of something that is certainly true, and I’ve seen it: 
sometimes the most generous, and giving, people, are poor people. 

I read a story last week about a man who travelled the world, 
relying solely on others to give him food, shelter and transportation. 
He told the story of meeting a homeless man, 
who gave him food and clothing. Another beggar did that. 

That’s how you become someone who freely forgives. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Zombie Week

OK, I wasn't a zombie all week. Just the first few days.

I love Holy Week, but I was tired afterward. I am very grateful I didn't get sick. That can happen.

It was nice having bacon several times this week (including this morning), as I gave that up for Lent. Also coffee. That tasted good, too!

Monday I did very little. On Tuesday, I wished I'd planned to rest as well. Maybe next year, I will. All the same, it was a lighter week. I feel no guilt.

And, actually, I did get some things done. I cleared some junk off my desk. I had a nice visit with a reader of this blog; we had a lovely time sampling some wine and enjoying some pasta, all graced with a very enjoyable conversation. Yesterday morning, I took our 2-1/2 seminarians (one has applied, but not yet accepted) out for breakfast. We agreed that as delicious as the Sweet Shop's doughnuts are, we can't really tell the difference between them (although one had white icing). And I contemplated filling out my tax forms.

And I do feel pretty well rested, as the week comes to a close. Life is good!

Burning up the Easter Candle

Courtesy of Jo92
One of my Easter-Octave customs is to burn the Paschal Candle as much as possible. As a result, I had several people remind me the candle was still burning in church. "It's all right; it's supposed to." My reasoning is as follows. The Paschal Candle is mainly used during Easter Season; afterward, it's only lit for baptisms and funerals. Plus, a candle's purpose, it's telos (look it up), is to be burned. Recall the prayer that is sung at the Vigil:

On this, your night of grace, O holy Father, accept this candle, a solemn offering, the work of bees and of your servants' hands, an evening sacrifice of praise, this gift from your most holy Church.

So, notice: the Paschal Candle is a "solemn offering" to the Father, an offering of "praise," a gift from the Church.

Well, shouldn't we actually...offer it? When the year is up, and we replace that candle, shouldn't it be mostly...offered?

The Exsultet also compares the candle to the pillar of fire that led Israel out of slavery. And the prayer goes on to say:

Therefore, O Lord, we pray you that this candle, hallowed to the honor of your name, may persevere undimmed, to overcome the darkness of this night...

May this flame be found still burning by the Morning Star: the one Morning Star who never sets, Christ your Son, who, coming back from death's domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity, and lives and reigns for ever and ever.

"May (it) persevere undimmed...(and) be found still burning" by Christ.

So I keep it burning, all day, during the Octave. I'm tempted to let it burn all night, but I'd worry about that. After the Octave, I try to light is as much as possible, whether we're having Mass, or I'm hearing confessions, or during exposition.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 05, 2015

'It all comes down to a tomb' (Easter homily)

After all our Lent, with penance and fasting,
after all of Holy Week, after all those readings,
it all comes down to a tomb.

This part of the Church’s year we call the “triduum”—“three days.” 
But it would be more helpful to understand them as three nights.

Thursday evening: the Lord Jesus and his Apostles 
celebrate the last Passover supper before his death; 
but it is also the first of the New Passover, 
which is what we celebrate as Christians – 
every year, every Sunday, and at every daily Mass.

Thursday night he and his friends prayed in the garden; 
Many of us prayed through the night in this church.

Sometime in the night he was betrayed and arrested. 
In the morning he is brought before Pilate. 
He is beaten savagely and then carries the cross to Golgotha.

It was about noon when they nailed him to the cross, 
and it was about three when he died. 
Because there were so many pilgrims in Jerusalem for Passover, 
it’s very likely many celebrated Passover the night before, 
as Jesus and the Apostles did. 
The Gospel of John makes clear that as our Lord was being crucified, 
the chief priests were preparing for their Passover.

When Jesus died on the cross at 3 pm, 
do you know what was happening nearby at the temple? 
The lambs for Passover were being slain. 
That’s when Jesus cried out: “It is finished!”

And so his death came at the time of the evening sacrifice. 
That’s the second evening.

They hurried to take his body from the cross, 
and lay it in the tomb, before night fell. 
Then it was the Sabbath. 
And after the night fell again, on Saturday, 
the Sabbath had ended. The third night.

Sometime in the dark, before dawn, is when Jesus rose from the dead. 
Mary Magdalene and the other women came early in the morning. 
The sense of the Scriptures seems to be 
that they arrived just as darkness was giving way to the morning.

Now, you have to look at all the Gospels 
to get all the details I will share with you. 

After Jesus died, his enemies demanded 
a guard be posted at the tomb, and Pilate granted it. 
When the resurrection happened, the earth shook, 
the stone was rolled aside, and the guards, witnessing this, 
were badly frightened and ran away. 
The chief priests bribed them to say that they had been asleep.

When Peter and John arrived later, 
after hearing the account of the women, 
but not fully believing them. 
When Peter and John entered the tomb, 
they saw only the linen cloth that had covered the Lord’s body. 
Now, this is a very important detail that many people don’t notice. 

If, as the guards claimed, the disciples came and stole the body, 
who would take time to unwrap it? 

Also, remember that when Jesus died, myrrh and aloes 
were used to anoint his body. 
In other words, the burial cloths would have been very stiff.

Do you know what Peter and John saw? 
They saw the burial cloths, still there, in the right position – 
but empty! When Jesus rose from the dead, 
he left them behind, just as they were!

Now, here’s why that detail is important.
If someone made up the story of the resurrection, why include that?
Who would even think of it?

You may wonder how we know these things.
We know them because people saw the empty tomb. 
Many more saw and heard Jesus after he rose from the dead, 
including all the Apostles. 
Thomas, as we know, was absent 
the first time the Lord came to his Apostles, and he was skeptical. 
Jesus came back the next week, and said: touch my hands and my side.

These witnesses began to tell their stories right away. 
They began within a matter of weeks. 
They were arrested, beaten; 
the Apostle James was killed right away, as were others. 
They were so convinced he rose, 
that they were willing to give their lives, 
even die terrible deaths themselves, 
rather than deny what they saw.

If Peter lied, if Paul lied, if the other Apostles lied, why? 
What did they gain?

In the end, it all comes down to a choice: do you believe?

In a few minutes, I’m going to ask ___ here that question. 
He’s been preparing for this night, 
for his baptism and his confirmation and his first holy communion. 
But before you are baptized, ____, I will ask you, in several questions, 
whether you believe this happened – 
do you believe Jesus died and rose, and lives forever?

I know that you do – that’s why you are here.

In the Apostles’ time, it was very dangerous 
to say “yes, I believe in Jesus.” 
In many places in our world, it is just as dangerous. 
In Kenya, terrorists invade a college, and ask people: are you Christian? 
And if they said yes, they killed them. 
In Libya, in Iraq, in Syria, and many other places, 
people are dying just as the Apostles did.

In our country, it is becoming costly to follow Jesus. 
You may be called a bigot; you may have your business taken from you. 
You may lose your job. 

So it’s a very important question, do you believe? 
It’s actually the most important question.

It all comes down to that tomb.

Saturday, April 04, 2015

A variety of things today...

It has been a long week. Holy Week always is, but I don't mind. It's the best time of the year, spiritually, and it is very rewarding for a pastor.

Having a packed church for Holy Thursday and Good Friday helps. Holy cow! Everyone came!

Good Friday was a marathon. Morning prayer, fiddling around the church, communion calls, confessions, stations, confessions, liturgy of Good Friday, more confessions, dinner, more stations. My treat last night? Some grapes.

Today: morning Prayer, confessions, breakfast, work on homily, make a cake, work on homily, cook the brass toppers for candles in the oven (that's how you get the wax off of them), work on homily, confessions, fiddle around in church (if you came by around 4:45 pm, you heard me practicing the Exsultet), make some dinner. Now I'm chilling for a bit. Dinner was a steak I picked up at Buschurs next door, some frozen spinach I sautéed with some garlic, and a glass of red wine. Sorry no pictures, but I was hungry!

Now a little TV till the Big Event.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Last Supper - Good Friday - Our Mass: one and the same (Holy Thursday homily)

When we come to this night, we come to the three days 
that are “Ground Zero” of our Faith.

Everything we do, everything we pray, everything we believe, 
is grounded and given meaning only in what we commemorate now.

It has been about 1,985 years 
since the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 
The events of the lives of Moses and Abraham, 
and the Biblical texts that tell us about them, 
take us back another 2,000 years.

Century upon century. Layer on layer. 
All of this has come down to us 
through the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt, 
their captivity in Babylon, and waves of conquerors.
Then, in turn, through all the history of the Church 
as she went from Jewish to Greek to Roman, 
and finally arriving on our shores.

Given all this, it is understandable that people think it’s all so remote – 
perhaps even unreachable. Still, it’s not the case.

With all that is different in how we celebrate the Eucharist tonight, 
from how our ancestors did when they cleared this wilderness, 
and from how the first Christians did so, 
some things have never changed.

For example, we have this description from Saint Justin Martyr:
On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members,
whether they live in the city or the outlying districts.
The recollections of the apostles
or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time.
When the reader has finished,
the president of the assembly speaks to us;
he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue
we have heard in the readings.
Then we all stand up together and pray.
On the conclusion of our prayer,
bread and wine and water are brought forward.

In the same letter, he wrote this:

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels,
handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do.
They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said:
Do this in memory of me. This is my body.
In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said:
This is my blood.

Saint Justin wrote this in the year 155.  

The words I will speak at the altar in a few minutes – 
you’ve heard them so many times – 
are the same words you just heard Paul recount. 
Saint Paul wrote that around the year AD 55, 
or about 25 years after Jesus died and rose from the dead.

Despite all the centuries and all the layers, 
at the heart of our Mass, we do what they did. 
We are doing what Jesus said to do.

A lot of the focus tends to be on the Eucharist as a meal. 
That was something that came after Vatican II. 
There was a sense that this aspect had been lost.

But then, I think the opposite happened after Vatican II. 
With so much emphasis on the meal, and on a “table,” 
that the reality of the Mass as a sacrifice became obscured.

That’s why, for example, there was so much interest 
in having the priest face the people when he is at the altar – 
where, for uncountable centuries, 
the priest and people together, faced the same way: 
toward the Lord where our hope comes from.

Do you see what I’m saying? 
When the priest stands here, and speaks to you across the—
well, doesn’t that seem like it’s a dinner table?

But when the priest is on the same side as the people, 
then it’s clearer, isn’t it, that something else is going on? 
The priest is acting for you. He’s offering a sacrifice.

And the thing is, the Holy Mass – like the Passover – is both.

Now, a lot of focus at this Mass every year 
is on the Lord washing the feet of the Apostles, 
as described in the Gospel. 
But what many people don’t realize
is that there are two distinct meanings to this, 
only one of which people seem to remember.

One, of course, is Jesus humbling himself to wash his disciples’ feet. 
And, as we heard him say, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

And this applies to far more than washing feet. 
It applies to everything we do. 

How a priest serves his parish; 
how parents seek the best for their children. 
How we forgive one another. 
And how we serve those who are poor or most unlike us.

But there’s another meaning, which has almost been lost. 
And it has to do with the priesthood. 
In the Old Testament, at God’s direction, 
Moses washed Aaron and his sons when they became priests. 
These men are Jesus’ priests; and so, Jesus washes them. 
Remember: this is the night Jesus 
instituted both the priesthood, 
and the Holy Mass.

The way the Passover worked, 
first the lamb was offered at the temple. 
It was slain – sacrificed – as the first reading describes. 
Then the lamb was brought to the home, 
and there the meal that followed the sacrifice was shared.

And that’s what we do in the Mass. 
The priest is at the altar, offering the Lamb of God. 
That’s what I am doing, when I stand there. 

If it helps, you might notice the following things happening 
in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
Let me point out several things to listen for.

The priest begins by addressing God the Father: 
“Accept and bless these gifts, these offerings”—
that is, the bread and wine we bring to the altar.

Then we remember all the other members of the worldwide Church, 
especially “your servant Francis our pope and Dennis our bishop,” 
and “all gathered here.” 
And we recall the Blessed Mother, and the Apostles, and some of the saints.

When you see me extend my hands like this over the bread and wine, 
that’s nearly the last moment they are merely bread and wine. 
That prayer asks the Holy Spirit 
to turn our “oblation” of bread and wine 
into Jesus’ offering of his Body and Blood.

Then, of course, the priest speaks the very words of Jesus, 
from that night before he died. 
That part of the Eucharistic Prayer links to the Last Supper.

Now, after this, listen carefully to what I pray at the altar. 
I’ll say, “we offer to your glorious majesty…
this pure victim, this holy victim, this spotless victim”—
the Victim is Jesus, on the Cross! 

When I pray that prayer, 
it is both Christ speaking, as he offers himself, 
and the Church is speaking, as we join that offering. 
We ask the Father to accept this offering 
just as he accepted what was offered, long ago, 
by Abel, Abraham and Melchizedek. 
But this, this offering is supreme. 

That’s why I bow at that point, 
and ask that an angel bear this offering “to your altar on high.” 
When Jesus had completed his offering on the Cross, 
he bowed his head and died. 
How can we not bow down in awe of this?
At the end of the Eucharistic Prayer, 
the priest lifts up the Lord’s Body and Blood, and prays, 
“Through him, with him and in him…almighty Father…
all glory and honor is yours.” 
The offering of the Lamb is complete! “It is finished!”

Then we rise and pray as he taught us. 
We exchange the peace he gives us. 
And then the Body and Blood of the Lamb – who died and rose again – 
is shared. 

These are the things Jesus did 
and which the Apostles witnessed so long ago. 
This is what the first Christians did, in memory of him. 
This is what we do. 
The place has changed, the language is different, 
and we’ve added some things along the way; 
but it is the same Eucharist, the same Sacrifice, then and now. 
Jesus is the same. One Lord, one hope, now and forever.