Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Why is Trump continuing Obama's war on the Little Sisters?

On these pages last year, I was attacked viciously by those claiming to be true Catholics (unlike the apostate they deemed me to be) for one simple reason: I did not think candidate Donald Trump worthy of my own support. I demurred, among other reasons, because I wasn't convinced of his sincerity of conservative convictions.

Now he is President Trump, and he has my support as a citizen, and my best hopes. Alas, however, his promises about religious freedom are going by the wayside. Two items:

-- Earlier this year a proposed executive order safeguarding religious liberty was being circulated, but then faded from view. Supposedly, it's still being worked on.

-- The Trump Administration is continuing with the Obama-era lawsuit against the Little Sisters of the Poor, which arose because of the former president's mandate that employers facilitate their employees obtaining contraception and abortifacient drugs. From the linked article: "As things stand now, it appears that Justice plans to continue defending the way the Obama administration applied the birth-control mandate, said Eric Rassbach, a Becket attorney.

'That just seems to be very contrary to what they’ve been saying publicly,' Rassbach said."

This isn't the Trump Administration we were promised, it seems.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

No mercy without the Resurrection (Sunday homily)

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday – 
a designation that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it a few years ago, 
based on the messages Saint Faustina Kowalska received from Jesus; 
so you would expect me to talk about that. 

But it is also the second Sunday of Easter, 
which means it’s about the Resurrection. 
So let’s start there, and come back to Divine Mercy 
and what that means.

They aren’t exactly separate things; 
because the mercy that we look for from Jesus Christ is only possible, 
it is only real, if the Resurrection is real. 

You might say, but I thought the mercy of Christ 
flows from the Crucifixion, from his death on the Cross? 
And that’s true; but if Jesus did not rise from the dead, 
then why would you believe his death would in any way save you?

If you say, well, because Jesus said so, my answer is, yes – 
and, he said that he would rise from the grave on the third day. 
So again, if that didn’t happen, why believe anything he promised?

So this is one reason why the Resurrection matters: 
because it gives us ground for believing Jesus is who he said he is, 
and will do what he said you will do. 
Or, to quote something Saint Paul said 
in his first letter to the Corinthians, 
“if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; 
you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). 
The second thing to notice about the Resurrection
is that this reminds us that our Christian Faith 
isn’t simply a collection of ideas. 
In our time, it is very common to treat matters of religion and faith 
as if they belong in a box, over here, 
way, way apart from the box we label, “facts,” 
or the box we label “science,” or the box we label “reality.” 

Not only do non-believers 
try to separate Christianity from science and facts, 
so do many Christians – 
although they may not realize that is what they are doing.

So, for example, more than once 
I’ve been asked by some of our young people this question: 
do we, as Catholics, have to accept the theory of evolution? 
And my answer is that God is supreme over all things, 
and whatever scientists discover 
about the origins of life and the age of the universe, 
and the development of life on earth, 
they are simply discovering more and more 
about the marvelous “how” of God’s creative work. 
You and I have no reason to fear or discourage scientific pursuit; 
on the contrary, we welcome it, 
because the result has always been 
to discover how even more wonderful God’s ways are. 

So back to the Resurrection. 
This is a reminder that we Christians propose a faith 
not only of ideas, but of facts. 
God became man at a certain time, in a certain place; 
that God-Man walked the earth in Palestine, 
he said things people wrote down, and then, at a certain point, 
he was arrested, beaten, tried, executed…
and on the third day, he rose again. 

That is, his body came back to life, 
and left the grave where it had been laid. 
These are bold claims of fact, which – if they are not true, 
then Christianity is false, 
and you should all find something else to do on Sundays.

Now, there are some remarkable things 
to say about the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

One is this: why would the early Christians even make the claim? 
That is, if it didn’t happen, why invent it? 

And if you say, well, but Jesus predicted it – and that’s true. 
But if that failed to happen, then you have three options. 
First, stop following Jesus, because he proved not to be the Messiah. 
Second, if you have to fudge some facts, 
would fudging over those predictions be a lot easier, 
than fudging over the problem of him not rising from the dead? 

But what we’re to believe is that those early followers of Jesus 
chose the most difficult and least promising option: 
they pretended Jesus had been raised from the dead!

Another remarkable thing: 
the Apostles themselves didn’t believe it – 
as we see in today’s Gospel. 

Now, Thomas’ reaction makes perfect sense. 
Wouldn’t we react similarly, 
if we were told that someone we knew had died, 
had later risen from the dead? 
He said what we would say. 
And Mark’s Gospel tells us that the other Apostles also doubted. 

This doubt is entirely reasonable. 
These people, in other words, weren’t credulous pushovers; 
they were sensible people; fishermen, farmers, construction workers, 
business owners – people not so different from us.

And yet they came to believe; 
and they staked everything on that belief, 
many of them accepting painful deaths, 
rather than deny what they saw and heard.

There’s one more point to make about Resurrection, and it is this: 
what Jesus shows us in his risen, glorified body isn’t mainly about him; it’s about us. 
He shows what you and I can look forward to with confidence.

Jesus not only promised to rise from the dead himself; 
he promised to call us back to life as well. 

You and I will experience the very same – the exact same – resurrection as Jesus. 

Our bodies will, one day, come back to life, 
and our souls and bodies will be reunited. We will live forever. 
And this will either be in the happiness of heaven, or the pains of hell.

You and I will no longer be subject 
to the limitations and frailties that we know in this present life. 
So fear not: when we get our bodies back, 
they will be “new and improved.” 
No more eyeglasses, no more braces, 
no more crutches and pain pills and all the rest!

So when we talk about the mercy 
God wants us to experience and trust in, this is the WHY of it. 

God wants you and me to live in hope. 
He wants us to know what great hope lies ahead. 
It all fits together. 
Jesus came to give us life, and that more abundantly. 
Jesus died so that we would know and have confidence 
that our sins are forgiven – 
so that we would return to him and know that abundant life. 
And he rose from the dead, not only to prove his word was true, 
but also, to SHOW us what that abundant life was like.

This is why we love the words Saint Faustina 
includes on her image of Divine Mercy, and we make them our own:
“Jesus, I trust in thee!” 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

What will you live for? (Easter homily)

All over the world, Catholics and other Christians 
are marking this night, this day, the day that the Lord has made. 
The day Jesus came back from the dead, 
conquering sin and defeating death, 
and opening the path for us to heaven. 
That is why Alleluia belongs to this day: praise the Lord! 
This is the day of victory!

But what victory, exactly? What is this triumph? 
Are we claiming that we will not die? We know that we will. 
Our victory is that we know what lies ahead for us: 
not a grave, but heaven!

And what do we mean by this defeat of sin? 
I still struggle with sin. I’m guessing you do, too. 

But we have seen God weigh into the battle – for us and with us. 
All our sins have been nailed to the cross – 
and when Jesus died on that cross, 
so did our sins and all our condemnation! 

So remember: when you go to confession, and the priest gives you absolution, 
all that power of Jesus’ blood is poured out for you.
Never doubt, never waver: all your sins are forgiven forever: 
Gone, gone, gone!

No one else can take away sin but Jesus. 
As we say at each Mass: 
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. 
This is that day!
Not everyone celebrates this victory tonight. 
Lots of people in our world either do not know what Jesus did, 
or they do not care. They do not believe. 
Many in our own country have only a passing awareness. 

The story of who Jesus is and what he did 
has become a steady, background buzz in their ears. 
Perhaps they were raised as Christians, but they have turned away, 
or tuned out. Maybe someone hurt them.
They may take more notice of the wrongs of Christians, 
And the saving work of Christ is a little distant.  
Some just sort of drifted, and haven’t found their way back.

What can we say?

Each of us must choose what we will believe; 
what we will give our life for. 
Do not think you can stand off to one side, and stay out of it. 
Not choosing is to choose. 

Lots of people live for enjoyment, for fulfillment, for pleasure. 
This sounds worse than it is. 
God created us, and pleasure, 
a desire for the new and exciting, is built into us. 
But these are blessings of a good life; 
they aren’t enough to be the focus of life. 

There comes a point when we realize: 
I can live for me, or I can live for others. 
Those who choose self, who live for themselves, 
that’s all they have in the end: themselves, and nothing else.

Many people give themselves to their careers, to sports, to causes. 
Again, nothing wrong with this; indeed, there’s a lot to admire.
Still, it’s not enough. All these things can and will fail us.
Men and women around the world give themselves for their families. 
Is this not a worthy thing? Certainly it is. 
Or for their country? Do we not admire this? 
With all our hearts, we do!

But again, for what purpose? 
In loving our country, or loving our family, what do we want for them? 
Do I simply want a United States of America to exist, 
without having any sort of idea of what my country will BE? 

If I sustain and protect my family, is it for any purpose? 
What do I teach my sons and daughters? Does this matter? 
Just as I must discover some purpose for my own life, 
and seek it with all my body and soul, 
is this not what I want for my children as well?

Shall I follow Mohammed? But Mohammed is not God, who became man; 
Mohammed did not die for me. 
He may have some things to teach me, but he did not rise from the dead.

Shall I seek out Buddha? Buddha, too, is not God. 
Buddha teaches that peace is found on the path of negation. 
Empty, empty, ever emptier, until there is no desire, 
no need, nothing at all.

But Jesus says, this Creation is very good, even if it is broken. 
He came, not to escape this Creation, but to redeem it. 
”I came,” he said, “that they might have life, and have it to the full.”

Brothers and sisters, we have completed our time of penance. 
You and I have faced the reality of our own sinfulness 
and, even more than that, our own radical dependence. 
You and I cannot live a day, not an hour, without God’s help and grace. 

We are not so foolish as to think that our share of the battle is over; 
but we have seen the Captain of our Salvation triumph, 
so we know what lies ahead! The outcome is certain; the battle is won! 
We have been forgiven, and we can dare to be generous in forgiving! 

This is our victory, this is what Jesus has won for us. 
This is why we sing victory tonight; this is why we celebrate. 
Jesus has risen! Jesus has conquered! We are free!

So I put the question to you, the question everyone faces: 
what will you live for? What will you fight for? 
What will you give your life for?

Be not too quick to answer. In Egypt, just a week ago, 
those who claimed Christ paid with their lives. 
This is happening, almost daily, in Syria, in North Korea, 
in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, 
in Africa, and many other places around the world.

In our country, your answer may cost you a friendship; 
it may cost you a promotion. 
It may bring you derision and embarrassment. 
Being faithful to Christ has cost others 
their jobs and their businesses; so it may be for us.

The question is before you. We can postpone it, but never escape it. 
We will live our lives for something – what will we choose?

Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Triduum is the New Passover (Holy Thursday)

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 1,990 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.

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. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar?
Then Saint Justin goes on to say 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.

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 has been emphasized since the 70s.
There was a feeling that this wasn’t emphasized enough, before.
Unfortunately, I think the opposite has happened:
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, 
Doesn’t that help emphasize that something else is going on? 
The priest is acting for you. He’s offering a sacrifice.

Well, of course, the Holy Mass is both, as is Passover, 
which the first reading describes. 
In fact, what we are celebrating between tonight and Sunday, 
is the New Passover.  
That’s what Jesus meant when he referred 
to a “new and everlasting covenant” -- 
something the Prophet Jeremiah foretold.

Notice, I said that the New Passover takes place over three days. 
Three nights, to be precise. Tonight we remember the beginning.
Tomorrow is when the Passover Lamb was slain.
And then, late at night on Saturday, we celebrate the Resurrection.

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

What people remember is the act of profound humility. 
As Jesus said, “as I have done for you, you should also do.” 

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. 
Well, 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.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Walking in the footsteps of American saints

I'm organizing a pilgrimage! Would you like to go?


This trip is my own idea; I've been working on it for a couple of years. To my surprise, I couldn't find anyone who was already doing it, and the first outfit I approached decided it wasn't worth pursuing.

Corporate Travel was recommended to me by Steve Ray, who told me this is the company he uses for his many pilgrimages. (How do I know Steve Ray? He's visited Saint Remy Parish a few times -- he likes us!)

So what's the plan? We're going to visit and pray at the shrines of the North American Martyrs and Saint Kateri Tekakwetha in upstate New York; then visit the National Shrine of Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. If time allows, on the way to New York City, we'll stop in New Haven to pray at the shrine for Venerable Michael McGivney, founder of the Knights of Columbus.

In New York, we will visit shrines for Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and Mother Francis Cabrini, and pray at the tomb of Pierre Toussaint in New York's majestic, and newly renovated, Saint Patrick's Cathedral. While in New York, we'll have a panoramic tour of the city, with a stop at the 9/11 Memorial. Plus there will be time for your own sightseeing, or to take in a show.

This is a true pilgrimage: we will have Mass every day at the shrines of the saints, and time for personal prayer. I will have some information to share about the lives of these and other American saints who helped shape our nation and our Catholic Church on these shores.

If interested, click the image above to visit the webpage for more information.

Edit: I posted this too fast! I meant to explain that when I first began organizing this, I developed quite a longer list of American saints and blesseds; but visiting their shrines would take us to points west (Missouri, California and Hawaii, for example). Even when I tried to keep it to the northeast, my list of saints was more than was practical for this trip. For a young country, we can take virtuous pride in the number of saints and blesseds associated with our nation!

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Journey with Jesus this week (Sunday homily)

You may not have realized it, but one of the features of Holy Week 
is that there is a series of processions.

On Palm Sunday, the people are invited to enter the church 
in procession – just as Jesus entered Jerusalem long ago.

On Holy Thursday, the priest and the people carry the Eucharist 
from the main altar to a side altar – 
recalling the journey Jesus and the apostles took 
from the Upper Room, to the Garden of Gesthemane.

On Good Friday, the Cross is carried in procession 
so that we can adore the instrument of our Savior’s suffering, 
and our redemption.

And at the Easter Vigil, there are two: the Easter Candle, 
representing the light of Christ, 
is brought into the pitch-black church; 
and then those who are seeking Christ 
are led by that same light to be baptized. 

What does it mean?

It means that you and I are invited to walk this week with Jesus. 
We remember the journey he took from heaven, to Mary’s womb, 
to Bethlehem, to Jerusalem, to the Cross, to the tomb, and to life.

Don’t be a spectator! Let’s walk with him. It’s a hard journey, 
but we’re walking with Jesus; we’re walking to life!

Sunday, April 02, 2017

'Untie him and let him go' (Sunday homily)

When Lazarus came out of the tomb, Jesus said: 
“untie him and let him go.” 

In those days, when someone died, 
the body was wrapped in strips of cloth. 
The power of Jesus’ word – 
the same word that spoke the worlds into existence – 
had called him from death back to life. 
And yet, those funeral cloths still bound him, 
and they had to be taken away.

In the book we’ve been reading together, 
The Seven Secrets of Confession, 
we come to “secret” number seven, 
and our author makes a very similar point: 
when you and I receive the Sacrament of Confession, 
Jesus speaks directly to us. He revives us.

And yet, in order for us to live new lives,
there are still things binding us, holding us back. 
In his book, he calls them “chains,” 
but Jesus has the same word for us: 
“untie him and let him go!”

So what are these chains? Mr. Flynn mentions three:

One is “lack of faith.” Look deep inside: 
do you truly believe that resurrection power 
is at work in the sacrament of reconciliation? 
Is this just a ritual, or do I believe real power is working here? 
If you’ll forgive me, it reminds me of the old spiritual: 
“There is power, power, wonder-working power, 
in the Blood of the Lamb”! 

When we prepare to confess our sins, 
The words of that song would be good to repeat to ourselves, 
because let’s be honest: many times, 
we go to this sacrament hoping for forgiveness, 
while expecting little to change. 
Don’t sell short the wonder-working power of His Blood!

A second chain that binds us is “idolatry.” 
That is to say, in order to see real conversion and change, 
it’s not enough to say “I’m sorry for my sins.” 

If you or I are wrestling with a sinful habit, 
it may be something we need fully to dethrone and renounce.
It isn’t enough just to take it from the top shelf, 
and move it somewhere else; it has to be cast away, forever. 

To give a concrete example: for some of us, alcohol is too important. 
We can make excuses, deny, minimize, point at others, 
have resentment – but none of this really changes the truth.
For some of us, the only answer is to renounce it and remove it. 
And the same point could be made 
about lots of sinful habits and attachments we cling to.

The third chain – and often hardest to let go of – is unforgiveness. 
Our author reminds us of the sobering words of the Catechism: 
God’s “outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts 
as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us.”

Look: forgiving someone isn’t saying what he or she did wasn’t wrong. 
It doesn’t mean what happened was OK. 

No, what forgiveness means is simply this: 
you are giving that person to God. Let God take care of it. 
Most of us have learned this lesson in life: 
that there is no perfect justice in this world. 
True justice waits for God. So those who have wronged you, 
give them to God. Let go and let God. 
And if it helps, realize how much you, yourself, 
will benefit from that letting go of a chain that binds you.

Mr. Flynn gives some excellent practical advice 
about how we really can change our negative feelings and words
into blessings and peace. 
But because I’m trying to be brief today, 
I’ll just point you to his advice, on page 152.

This is the last Sunday we’ll look together 
at the sacrament of God’s restoration – 
that is, the Sacrament of Confession. 

Next Sunday begins Holy Week, and our focus will be 
on Jesus’ journey from the hosannas of Palm Sunday, 
to his suffering, his death and his resurrection. 
Try if at all possible to take time during Holy Week 
To enter into these mysteries. 

The more real these are for us, the clearer and more surely 
comes the answer to the questions that haunt us:
How can God love me? Does he really forgive me? Can I really change?

Do you want Jesus to call you to life? Come to confession!
In addition to our usual times this coming week, 
during Holy Week, we will have confessions 
on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday. 
Jesus wants to untie you and let you go free.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Confession takes us to the Cross -- and then Heaven (Sunday homily)

As you know, we’ve been working our way through a book together: 
The Seven Secrets of Confession, 
and I want to look at “secrets” five and six today. 
Let’s start there, and then find our way back to the readings we heard.

These are two of the most powerful chapters in Mr. Flynn’s book. 
In Chapter 5, he points out 
that when we receive the Sacrament of Penance, 
we are brought to Calvary, to the Cross. 
And in Chapter 6, he explains that the whole story – 
of his book, and of the Sacrament – 
is that this is about more than a clean slate; it’s about a whole new life.

In short, the Sacrament of Reconciliation takes us first to the Cross – 
and then to heaven. 
So let’s look at that.

Did you notice in the book, 
where Mr. Flynn was at church on the Feast of the Holy Cross, 
and when he came to kiss the Cross, 
the priest instead pressed it against his chest, 
and held it there for a long time, against his heart? 
And the author said he found himself praying, over and over, 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.” 
And then, when he came to communion, same prayer: 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.”

That’s what happens in the Sacrament of Penance: 
we are at the Cross, and Jesus’ love pours down on us.

Can you use your imagination? 
Put yourself there, at the Cross. 
Picture the scene: cruel soldiers, angry, mocking crowds. 
The Blessed Virgin Mary, along with a few of Jesus’ followers, 
are distraught with grief. 
Two thieves, one insulting Jesus, the other begging for mercy. 
Can you see it? 

And there you are. What would you say? 
And, more than that, what would Jesus say to you?

Sometimes we wonder if God will forgive us. 
Did you notice what our author said? 
He realized that “Christ isn’t forgiving me now in the confessional. 
He forgave me 2,000 years ago! I’m just receiving it now!” 
Allow me to quote Mr. Flynn one more time: 
“(Jesus) pulled all your sin, all my sin – all that awful stuff – 
into his pure body, and when his body was destroyed on the cross, 
our sin was destroyed, too.”

This is a good time to bring in the Gospel passage we just heard. 
Jesus sees a man blind from birth, and he stops. 
He seeks him out. He heals him.

But why did Jesus do it the way he did,
by spitting on the ground, and then smearing the mud on his eyes? 

I’ve always wondered that myself; and last week, 
I read an article that explained something about this. 

Do you remember how, in Genesis, 
God created Adam from the dust of the earth? 
In Jesus’ time, many Jews believed that when God did that, 
he first spat on the ground, in order to make clay – 
and then he formed Adam. 
So Jesus’ action here shows his purpose: not just to heal this man, 
but to re-create him. To reshape and re-orient his life.

And this is exactly what Jesus aims at with the Sacrament of Penance! 
Yes, he wants to take away our sins. 
Yes, he wants to restore us as friends. 
But all that is still for something else, 
something great and exciting and overpowering: 
Jesus wants to recreate us, to make us new. 
New lives, new direction – and that direction, of course, is heaven.

Yes, getting there is a lot of work. 
There are a lot jobs in this world that are hard work: 
And changing ourselves is the hardest of all. 
But this is what Jesus longs to do in us. All his will is bent upon it.
He can – and he will remake us, brand new, if we work with him.
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to know?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baptism & Penance: Deep in the Holy Trinity (Sunday homily)

As you probably know, we’ve been looking at a book together this Lent, 
called The Seven Secrets of Confession, and today, 
I’m going to look at the third and fourth “secrets.” 

Meanwhile, the readings are all about baptism. 
So what do the sacrament of penance and baptism have in common? 

Well, a lot actually.

Let’s back up and talk a little about baptism. 
I would bet almost all of us 
were baptized as babies – sometime in our first six or eight months. 
We forget that it isn’t always that way; and in the early Church, 
most baptisms weren’t of babies, but of older children, or adults. 
And in many places around the world, that’s still true.

The thing is, when those who are above the age of reason – 
around 1st or 2nd grade – come to be baptized, 
it’s significantly different. They have to prepare for baptism. 
In fact, they would spend months, or years, 
of prayer and learning and penance. 
In fact, the last six weeks, before their baptism at Easter, 
would be a time of intense mortification, with daily prayer and fasting.

That is the origin of the 40 days of Lent.

During those days of intense preparation, 
they were challenged to examine themselves closely, 
and acknowledge their sins, for which they wanted to be forgiven. 
Then on the Vigil of Easter, celebrated between midnight and dawn, 
when they would line up, and one by one, come forward to be baptized, 
and in that baptism, they would have all their sins taken away.

Now, what do we do with the sacrament of penance? 
We examine ourselves, we come forward, one by one,
we acknowledge our sins, then? 

Instead of the priest extending his hand and pouring water over us, what does the priest do? 
He still extends his hand, 
and if you will, he “pours” absolution over us! 
So it’s not exactly a “re-baptism” – I don’t want to mislead you there. 
But at the same time, we should recognize the resemblance. 

In the sacrament of penance, we renew and if needed, 
revive the life that was born in us in baptism. 

In the early Church, they would speak of two “planks” of salvation 
for someone who is shipwrecked by sin: 
the first plank was baptism; and the second was penance. 

So let’s dig into what our book talked about. 
In chapters 3 and 4, the author emphasizes first, 
how personal our confession is for each of us; 
and also, how our time in the sacrament 
is a very personal encounter with the Holy Trinity.

Mr. Flynn points out that, yes, we do have 
these ready-made lists of sins, which help us to examine ourselves. 
But we want to beware a “one size fits all” mentality. 
It’s not just a matter of running down the list, 
check, check, check, done! For our grade schoolers, 
that’s often how they do it, and that’s a fine way to start; 
but the goal is to go beyond that. 

So, for example, our author explains in some detail 
the distinction between mortal and venial sins – 
and, also, how even in the case of mortal sins, 
one person can be more to blame than the next person. 
Same sin – but different circumstances. 

I can remember when I was a boy, 
sometimes one of my older brothers or sisters 
would get in more trouble than I would, for the same thing. 
And what would my parents say? Same as your parents: 
“Because you knew better!” That’s sort of how it works. 
It’s one thing to steal something from a store on a dare; 
it’s another to do so with cool deliberation. 

Here’s where it gets challenging: 
each of us should be seeking a dialogue with God, 
so that we aren’t just checking boxes, 
but we are really opening our heart – every corner of it – 
to the One who created and redeems us.

We might think of the dialogue that happens in the Gospel. 
Jesus seeks out this woman. When she first starts talking with him, 
little does she realize how important this meeting will be; 
it will change her life!

And so it is with us. The sacrament of penance can change our lives, 
especially when we get beyond the routine, the quick in-and-out, 
and open ourselves to a dialogue with God. 
You might say, I know how to talk to God, 
but I don’t know how he talks to me.

It’s not the same for everyone, but I truly believe 
if we want to experience this – in some fashion! – we will. 
Note I said, “in some fashion.” 

Some people really sense God’s voice inside them; 
maybe they hear words. 
Some of us have been involved in “Charismatic” prayer meetings, 
and maybe you’ve even had someone speak up, 
and say something they believe comes from God. 
This isn’t for everyone, but God can do all these things, and more – 
so we shouldn’t be too quick to rule it out, either. 

For others, we do some reading, especially of Scripture, 
and we just know – “this is for me.” 
Sometimes people just feel it in their “guts” – 
they know when the Holy Spirit is pushing them to make a change, 
or to take some action. 

A priest I know says, if we don’t ask for miracles, we won’t get them. 
I agree, and I would add: if we don’t even seek 
to hear God in some way, we make it a lot less likely we will.

But I reiterate: God is speaking. I think it’s sort of like this. 
Have you ever been up late on a summer evening, 
and everyone goes to bed, and you turn off the TV, 
and maybe you have the window open, and finally, finally, 
when everything is totally silent: you start to hear things? 
Crickets, frogs, and if you really listen, 
you can hear things from even miles away. 

If we want to hear God speak, it’s like that. 
Other things have to be “turned off.” 
That kind of preparation, when it becomes a habit, 
helps us come to the sacrament of penance less as something to dread, 
or as a quick drive-through, and more as it truly is: 
a personal encounter with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, 
who created us, who died to redeem us, 
and who longs to fill us and change us and make us supremely happy, 
in this life, and the life to come.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Defend the Faith series at St. Remy

Next Tuesday, March 21, I'll give a talk on “Assisted Suicide and End of Life issues.” Our first talk was March 7, and the topic was "What Marriage is and What it is Not." The crowd was great, more than expected!

Just to explain – the reason we aren’t meeting this week is because, at the Archbishop’s request, every parish in the archdiocese is having confessions this Tuesday, March 14, from 7 to 9 pm. Spread the word!

The other topics planned for our Tuesday series: “There’s something about Mary” on March 28, and “The Mysteries of the Eucharist” on April 4. Each talk begins at 7 pm and ends by 8. All are welcome! We meet in St. Remy Church.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How confession heals us (Sunday homily)

The key word in my sermon is going to be “healing,” 
because as we go through our book for Lent, 
the Seven Secrets of Confession, this is the second “secret.” 

And, looking ahead to next Sunday, 
I’m going to cover the next two chapters at once, 
so you may want to read ahead. 
And if you don’t have this book, there are some at the exit.

So, pop quiz: when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, 
the main thing we are there to get is…

No, not forgiveness – as important as that is, and it’s very important!

But that is really a part of something larger that we need, 
and that’s healing.

It’s like when you build a house or a barn. 
You have to dig a solid foundation, or else the whole structure will fail; 
but the foundation isn’t the house. 

Similarly, forgiveness is the foundation of the healing 
that we really need.

So to drill into this, let’s think about 
how healing works in general terms.

One of the first thing that comes to mind 
is that you have to restore wholeness. 
So if you have a cut or a wound, what do you do? 
You have to clean it and close it up. If there’s a broken bone, 
it has to be set, so the body can knit back together.

So what would be a spiritual wound? 
Well, if every time I come, I am confessing fights with my wife, 
or with my coworkers – that’s a wound. 
Yes, I will be forgiven for my harsh words and yelling; 
but there’s still something that needs to be repaired and reset: 
Like how I deal with my family, or what I expect from my coworkers.

In the same vein, getting healed often requires a course of treatment. 
Maybe the doctor tells us, take these pills twice a day for ten days. 

Now you might do what the doctor ordered 
and take the whole course of pills. 
Or maybe you don’t bother with it.

But would it make sense to take one pill, 
then wait months or years, and take another?
You know right away, that won’t work.

It’s the same with this sacrament. The real healing in our lives happens, 
not because we go only when things get bad enough, 
but when we regularly receiving the grace of this sacrament.

And yet, this causes frustration, because we end up 
confronting the same sins and habits. 
But there is a real grace here. 
This forces to face reality; and it also leads us to humility.

I’m forced to admit: I really can’t do this without God; 
and I can’t do it unless my pride is bowed down.

A lot of us don’t even like going to see the doctor. 
Even if our insurance pays for it, we put it off. Why?

Isn’t it because you and I know the doctor is probably going to tell us 
something we don’t want to hear. “You have to lose weight.” 
Or, “no more spicy food,” or “you have to start exercising more.”

In other words, the doctor is going to ask us to change, 
and we’d rather not deal with that.

And it’s the same in the spiritual life.

When folks come to receive this sacrament from me, 
I don’t always have any special advice. 
And if I do, time is short, and sometimes the line is long.

So sometimes I will invite you 
to pursue this with me outside the sacrament. 
I can’t make anyone do that of course, but the thing is, 
sometimes, for healing to happen, more needs to be talked about.

This is where we can make a connection 
with the Scripture readings we heard. 
It may not be obvious, but something similar is at work 
with both Abram in the first reading, and the Apostles in the Gospel.

Why did God tell Abram to get up and move hundreds of miles away? 
Why couldn’t he stay where he was? 
The answer is, because God knew that’s the change Abram needed,
to become a new man of faith. This was the healing he needed.

Likewise, Jesus knew what Peter, James and John needed.
This revelation of Jesus’ full divinity 
happens not long before Jesus is arrested and crucified. 
That would be a grave crisis for the Apostles.
This is the inoculation that will get them through it.

As it is, Peter loses courage, 
and James is nowhere to be found on Good Friday. 
But what would have happened without this booster shot?
Notice the other apostles aren’t there. 
Could it be that he was relying on these three 
to strengthen the others?

That leads to another reason why it matters that each of us 
receive this sacrament of reconciliation frequently. 
It isn’t just for me; it isn’t just for you.
If you’re not healthy, does that affect anyone else in your house 
or at school? And of course it does.

As your priest, I go to confession two to three times a month. 
What if I only “took the treatment” once or twice a year? 
What if I never received this sacrament? 
Would you be OK with that? 

I can hear you say, “No, but you’re the priest.” 
But is it really true that I am the only one 
whose spiritual health affects you, and affects this parish? 
We know that’s not true.

Our parish has a lot of life, but that doesn’t just happen. 
It happens because there is health in the Body of Christ, 
of which each of us is one member. 

So if you’ll forgive me borrowing words 
from President John F. Kennedy, 
this isn’t just about what Christ is going to do for you; 
it’s also about what you will do for Christ, 
by growing in grace through this wonderful sacrament. 
This Tuesday, every parish in the Archdiocese, including St. Remy, 
will have two hours of confessions, from 7 to 9 pm. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

GOP Health Care Flim Flam in 'three phases'

“Rep” Congress, salesman:  OK, Mr. Citizen, we’re ready to replace the car we sold you. Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t run very well, and it costs you way more to operate than you were promised.

Joe Citizen: No s*** Sherlock! That’s what I’ve been telling you for years! I complained in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. Gah! What does it take for you folks to listen?

Congress: No, you’re right. As you may know, your complaints got my predecessor fired—

Citizen: That was over four years ago!

Congress: Yes, I know, terrible; but the company has a new president, and he takes a different view. That changed everything.

Citizen: Well, that’s great to hear, finally. So what’s the deal?

Congress: Well, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to completely replace your car! Your new car will work much better, it will get you where you need to go – and won’t take you places you don’t want to go. We stripped off the extras you didn’t want—

Citizen: And which you made me pay for all this time!

Congress: Yes, terrible. And, the new car will be cheaper! All the things we promised you! Here’s the paperwork…

Citizen: Wait – what’s all this? It’s awfully hard to read…

Congress: Oh, don’t worry about that; all these contracts have, you know, codicils and addendums. Perfectly normal. “Fine print.”

Citizen: Hmm. I think we better look this over.

Congress: Oh, absolutely! Take all the time you need. Say, would you like some coffee? We have an espresso machine now! Would you like a Caramel Kiwi Latte? I’m having one…

Citizen: Err, no thanks. What’s this? This says that today, I’m only getting parts of my new car. What’s that about?

Congress: Oh, that? Well, you see, we can only deliver your new car in three stages…

Citizen: three stages?
Congress: Yes, I’m afraid those are the rules.

Citizen: So what does that mean? How will these three stages work?

Congress: Well, first, let me tell you, it’s gonna be great! You’re going to love it! Your modified car is going to be awesome! You—

Citizen: Hold on. You just said “modified car” – you promised me a new car.

Congress: Oh yes, well, eventually…

Citizen: “Eventually”?

Congress: Yes, don’t worry! Here’s how it works. We’re going to take your car, and we’re going to install some new parts on it. We’ll make it work, trust us. We’ve gotten in a good supply of baling wire and duct tape! This duct tape, boy, my dad could do wonders with this stuff!

Citizen: But you promised me a new car.

Congress: Oh yes, for sure. But, see, we have to wait. That’s phase two and three. See, next we are waiting for the President to tell the research department to issue new rules, so that we can get rid of those extra items you didn’t want…

Citizen: New rules? You mean…

Congress: Yes, our service department isn’t allowed to take them off. Not yet. But we’re working on it.

Citizen: So when does that happen?

Congress: Oh, soon, soon!

Citizen: Do you think I’m stupid? You guys – in fact, you yourself! – have been telling me that since 2012!

Congress: Well, you got me. I shouldn’t have said that then. But I mean it now! And, then…

Citizen: Wait. Something weird just happened. There’s…there’s an asterisk floating over your head! How did that happen?

Congress: (under his breath: “Dang!”) Er, that’s… “The Footnote.”

Citizen: “The Footnote”?
Congress: Yes, it’s right here. (Points to even smaller writing at the bottom of the footnote.)

Citizen: (Straining to read) “New rules and regulations will be issued pursuant to directives of the President of the Corporation regarding accessories and mandatory options, at the discretion of the President, according to his timetable, provided they are in accordance with existing corporate policy, and are not overturned or modified by the Board of Directors.”

So what does that mean?

Congress: Oh, it’s nothing to worry about…

Citizen: I’m not so sure about that. Tell me what it means, or I’m walking out.

Congress: Wait! Don’t be hasty! Look, all that means is that the new regulations, that we need to give you the full car you want…well, it’s like this…we…ahem…

We don’t know exactly when they’re coming.

Citizen: (Eyes narrowing) And? I can see there’s something else.

Congress: Well, there’s just the slightest chance that the new rules won’t be found to be…legal.

Citizen: Wait, what? What did you say?

Congress: It all depends on the head of the review board. She’s a swell gal, that Sue Premecourt! I’m sure she won’t find any problems. Not this time!

Citizen: But what happens if she does?

Congress: Well, then we may not be able to give you the full package, but look! No reason to get dire! It’s gonna be just fine! Just fine!

Citizen: And at that point, I have my new car?

Congress: Well, not exactly. That’s only phase two. There’s still phase three.

Citizen: “Phase three?” What the h*** is this? Why is it in three phases? Why can’t you just give me a new car, like you promised?

Congress: Well, see, it’s like this. We have a board of directors, and, boy! are they a strange bunch! Under the rules of the company, we have to get 60% of the board to sign off on a bunch of this. It's all the fault of this one fellow, Filibuster. But not all! No Sirree! Only on some of it! That’s why we’re doing it this way.

We can give you parts with only a majority of the board – so that’s phase one. The stuff with phase two? Those crazy birds won’t even get to look it! And all the stuff the board doesn’t like…well, we’re saving that for phase three! We’re no dummies!

Citizen: So let me get this straight – the reason you aren’t doing it all at once, is because you can’t get it past the board of directors, right?

Congress: Yes, but just some of it, only some…

Citizen: But without that “some,” I don’t get a new car, right?

Congress: Well…technically. But it’s fine, really! Say, how about I turn on the TV? Steve Harvey’s doing this special on Dallas Cheerleaders – you don’t want to miss that, huh?

Citizen: No thank you. I’m still wondering about the rest of the car you owe me.

Congress: Oh, but I already explained that. That’s phase three. It’s all baked in. Nothing to worry about.

Citizen: But you said the board might not approve phase three. Because of that Filibuster guy.

Congress: Oh, but it’ll be fine.

Citizen: How? How do you get past Filibuster?

Congress: Well, that's a trade secret! But believe me, you'll have a new car. Or, at least, you’ll have most of your new car. At least a majority. Maybe two-thirds. It's gonna be great, I guarantee it!

Citizen: No, I want to know: what do you do about the Board? That seems to be the real problem. You can't do anything about that?

Congress: Oh, I didn't say that. The members of the board are elected, so...

Citizen: So, you're saying we could get new board members?

Congress: Well, yes, technically...

Citizen: And who votes on that?

Congress: Well...you do.

Citizen: So, why don't we do that?

Congress: Oh, that's too haaard! This is better, really! We've got a secret plan for getting past Filibuster. (Winks)

Citizen: Uh huh. And if not... then all I’m getting is "most" of a new car? But I’m getting rid of all those expensive options, right?

Congress: Well, that’s one of those things that the Board has to approve. I shouldn’t tell you this, but ole Sue has been a little unpredictable lately…

Citizen: And what about my payments – they’re going down, right? You promised me that four years ago!

Congress: Well, see…that depends on Sue…and and also, getting phase three through. That Filibuster, he's a tough bird.

Citizen: This is really screwed up! So tell me, what, exactly, am I getting today? Right now?

Congress: Floor mats!

Citizen: (Incredulous) FLOOR MATS?

Congress: But they’re really nice Floor Mats! And you’ll only pay another $99 a month! Isn’t that a sweet deal? Wait – Mr. Citizen? Where are you going?

(Sigh.) Sheesh. There’s no pleasing some people!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sin turns us from God; confession turns us back (Sunday homily)

As you may have noticed, there are copies of a book 
at the doors of church called the Seven Secrets of Confession
We are providing this to everyone to help us all grow this Lent. 

If you’ve started reading it, in the first few pages 
You saw the author describe the idea he had 
about confession growing up: 
it was something he had to do; it was a chore;
he went unwillingly, with his “grocery list” of sins, and moved on quickly. 

As he said, this isn’t bad, but there’s so much more. 
And he added, this understanding kept him, and keeps others, 
“from discovering the real beauty and value of this sacrament.”

So for the Sundays of Lent, we will go through this book, 
in order to discover all that’s wonderful about this sacrament. 
After all, Jesus gave us seven sacraments – seven special gifts.
Not six, not eight. This is one of them.
Why should any gift from God cause us unhappiness or worry? 
Surely we are missing something if that is the case.

Now, let’s look at the Scripture readings, and as we do, 
let’s bring the first chapter, about the first “secret,” 
which is that our sin doesn’t change God – rather, it changes us. 
And in that chapter, Mr. Flynn quotes a wise priest 
who told him that “sin is turning your face away from God.”

And that’s what you see in the readings: 
Adam and Eve turn their faces from God, while Jesus never does. 
And that makes all the difference.
It’s a shame the first reading ends where it does, 
because if you read on in Genesis, here’s what it says next: 
“When they heard the sound of the LORD God 
walking about in the garden…the man and his wife 
hid themselves from the LORD God….
The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: ‘Where are you?’”

This is one of the saddest lines of the Bible. 
Think of it: God has created his beautiful Garden, 
and created his son and his daughter, and given this garden to them.
Now, something has wrecked it all. 
Worst of all, his children are wrecked. 

As our author said, our sins don’t change God – but they do change us. 
So Adam and Eve went from being happy in God’s presence 
to being fearful.

Of course, isn’t that how we approach the sacrament? 
A lot of us are afraid to go – but why? Why are we afraid?

Well, because it’s embarrassing to admit our failures and our vices.
And, second, it’s humiliating to own up to our repeated failures, 
week upon week.

True enough. But how often have we also thought this: 
God is angry. Just like Adam and Eve. See how that works?

On the contrary, God has not changed toward us. 
Nothing we can ever do, nothing at all, can ever change God. 

Many here are parents. Isn’t it true that, 
despite all that is frustrating and all your own weaknesses, 
the love you have for your children…
it just can’t be put into words, can it? 

I saw a video last week of a new father, 
holding his tiny child, born prematurely. 
As he gazed as his daughter, with just a finger, 
he kept stroking her back, over and over. 
Every father and mother here knows what that is like. 

And that’s just the flicker of a match 
compared to the heat of a thousand suns 
with which our Father in heaven loves us.

When we come to confession, 
it may feel like we’re being called to the Principal’s Office, 
but in reality, we’re being welcomed back into God’s friendship. 

God, for his part, has not changed toward us! He never does. 

OK, you may ask, then why does anyone go to hell? 
And the answer is, because sin changes us: we turn our faces from God.
And some, after turning, never turn back.

The danger of neglecting to come to confession 
is that we get used to being away, it gets to feel normal,
and whatever makes it hard to go back only gets worse, 
the longer we stay away. 

At some point, our stubborn pride kicks in. 
Or laziness, or procrastination, or waiting till we’re “good enough.” 
The devil will tell us a thousand different lies, 
all aimed at the same outcome. 

Sin takes us from enjoying the light and warmth of God’s life, 
to the darkness of being off by ourselves.
As with Adam and Eve, that may not have been the sales pitch; 
the enemy convinced them they were putting one over on God. 
So it can be with us. When temptation comes, 
it looks pretty fine, doesn’t it? 
But we always end up somewhere cold and empty.

The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us Jesus, 
who despite all that assails him, never turns his face from his Father. 
That fact alone explains everything* so much about Jesus. 

How can go through all these temptations? 
How can Jesus face the frustrations, the misunderstandings 
and the rejection, as he walks that long road to the Cross? 
His face and the Father’s face are always toward each other. 
Love can inspire unbelievable courage.

And the reason this Gospel is good news for us 
is that Christ came to share this courage with us, 
by sharing his Father with us. 
This gives us the courage to turn from sin 
and turn our face back to the Father.

Now, we all know that this doesn’t just happen all at once. 

When we’re in the habit of turning to the bottle, or to anger, 
or to gossip, or to dark places on the Internet, 
we will find ourselves so easily returning to those sins, 
and be ashamed that we turned from God’s love so readily.
Once again, the voice of the tempter will say, “God has had it with you!”

But Christ meets us in the sacrament of reconciliation, 
as often as we return, again and again – as often as necessary.
His courage becomes our courage. His strength is ours.
He will teach us, if we let him, to fix our gaze on the Father.

* I made this change when I delivered the homily.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Trump's 'Russia connection': my theory

So, I've been thinking a lot about the Russians. 

The story this week about complaints that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wasn't properly forthcoming in the testimony he gave in the process of being considered for his present job, is only the latest in the drip-drip-drip of items in this "Russian interference" file. The whole thing has become so unwieldy that it's hard to keep track of just what we're talking about. But it all seems to boil down to two things: 

-- an attempt to influence the 2016 election, and 

-- a claim that the someone in the Trump Campaign was coordinating with the Russians.

My cogitations always come back to the same place: does this really seem plausible?

I have a theory, but let me get there through a bit of a circuit. Let's start with some assumptions. Let's assume both the assertions above are true. Here are the questions that occur to me:

1) Regardless of whose idea it was (Russia's or Trump's), why would the Trump Campaign think this was a good idea? Why trust the Russians? If Trump's people pursued this to any degree, doesn't that give the Russians a juicy bit of blackmail material? Are we to believe no one in the Trump organization could see that?

Think about it: the Russians would have all the cards in such a negotiation. They could always decide, later, that they didn't need the deal, and make the whole thing public. If they decided Mrs. Clinton was going to win, such a move couldn't do them any harm. Alternately, they could wait until Trump is elected, and then blackmail the new administration for even more than was called for in the original bargain. What leverage would the Trump side of this ever have?

2) If you are the Trump people, considering this sort of deal, how do you know the Russians will deliver? 

3) It also occurs to me that if the Russians wanted some sort of deal, it's no good unless Trump is certainly on board; after all, who else can deliver whatever consideration they sought out of the deal? So if there was a deal, it must have included Trump.

4) The thing about conspiracies (this is one of many reasons you should automatically reject conspiracy theories with extreme prejudice) is that they are really, really hard to keep secret. Doubt me? Look at this conspiracy! 

5) What would the Russians really have to gain by a deal with Trump? For that matter, just why would tipping the election his way be to their advantage? What could he do for them, realistically? Yes, he was negative about NATO, but think about it: what do you think would happen to any President who wrecked NATO, to the advantage of Russia? (Note that Trump has moved to give strong support for NATO.) What else could they realistically expect?

Other than his noise about NATO, what else about Trump's campaign would appeal to the Russians?

6) If there was a deal, why was there all this activity which we're learning about now? The thing the Left is glomming onto is the very thing that makes me doubt the story: the supposedly abundant contacts between Trump's people and the Russians. If you were going to make a sordid deal like this, the one thing you would certainly do is keep it as quiet and hidden as possible. 

If you're not with me, I ask: if there was a corrupt bargain between Russia and Trump, is there any scenario under which either side wants it to become known? I can't think of one.

There's a scene in the film, Minority Report, where one of the characters -- a police officer -- comes on a crime scene with all manner of evidence, spread out in full view. He calls it an "orgy of evidence," and explains that it's cause for suspicion -- it was all obviously planted in order to be discovered.

That's exactly what all these "contacts" look like to me.

If you think there really was an attempt at a corrupt bargain, you have to wonder why neither anyone on Trump's side, nor anyone on the Russian side, had sense to make sure the contacts were as minimal and secret as possible. In short, you have to claim they were all idiots, and that seems utterly implausible. A businessman like Trump -- and certainly a former KGB officer (i.e., Putin) -- would know better.

So what would be the possible reason to have all these contacts, all this sloppiness, this "orgy of evidence" that you can guarantee would be discovered?

That's the point: the Russians weren't looking for a deal, and no deal was made. Instead, the Russians wanted to create confusion and chaos. If their goal was to destabilize and undermine the new President, whether the information becomes public or not, they win. If secret, it might be useful as leverage; if it becomes public, it undermines the new President. 

What do you think?

'Salmon Scampi' and a first sung Latin Mass

This has been an adventurous week, helped along by preparations for Lent, Ash Wednesday activities, and a special funeral Mass.

With Lent coming, we had to get some things together. The daily Mass moves an hour earlier, allowing schoolchildren to attend; and we have high school students serve as readers and altar servers. So we had some things to do with that this week. I dug out our supply of ashes -- enough for 20 years, I calculate.*

Ash Wednesday itself wasn't any great chore; in fact, I got to sleep in! I usually have a 5:45 am Mass each Wednesday, but since Ash Wednesday has two additional Masses, I drop the super-early Traditional Latin Mass. Maybe someday we'll have the 7 am Mass as a TLM, but we're not ready for that.

The first two Masses (7 and 11:45 am) had to be quick, given work and school schedules, so I used the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer, which I really don't like doing. The 7 pm Mass was a "high Mass" -- with incense and lots of servers and the Roman Canon, which is our default Eucharistic Prayer.

As the day went along, I was thinking about dinner, which I had after the 7 pm Mass. I had some shrimp left over from Monday, and I figured, I'll fry that up with some butter and garlic: Shrimp Scampi!

Well, when I finally got to the kitchen to get everything out, my stomach growling, I got a whiff of the shrimp. Eew! I tasted one (they were cooked) and spat it out. Now what? I didn't have any soup without meat; no other fish; no bread. Hmm.... Then I noticed a can of salmon. How about "Salmon Scampi"?

That's what I fixed up...but I wouldn't recommend it. The bones don't make it better.

But what really kept me on my toes this week was preparing for a funeral Mass, in the older form. While I offer the Traditional Latin Mass regularly, I've never offered a Requiem Mass; in addition, I wanted to do it as a sung Mass, because it's a funeral. Thankfully, I had some warning several weeks ago, and so I begun at that time to get things together.

This meant calling around for singers who could form the choir, and also to find someone to serve as a liturgical Master of Ceremonies -- that is, someone who could guide me through. Thankfully, I found some folks who could advise me, and we got everything together. Part of what I needed was a black cope and a black pall for the casket, which the TLM parish in Dayton kindly lent to me, along with a supply of books for those attending. A gentleman who has served as an MC for the older Mass was extremely helpful in providing advice, sending me sound files to listen to for practice, and many other helps. And he graciously offered to drive up the day of the Mass to serve as MC.

With all that, I was still stressed. I had wanted to practice more than I had. In addition, I'd had some difficulties rounding up the six servers we needed. The hard part was finding men who had experience with the older form. Thankfully, I saw one of our college men at the 7 am Mass, who had such experience, and he mentioned he was on Spring Break! So I asked if he'd be willing to come back for the funeral? He graciously agreed.

So, at 11, he showed along with the others I'd recruited, plus another gentleman who'd been recruited by a parishioner who'd told me she'd "put the word out." Everyone was on time and we were ready for the MC, who was due at that hour, and was going to put everyone's mind at ease.

We were still waiting for him at 11:15. And 11:30. The funeral was at Noon. I had been waiting on him to be sure we lit the right candles; at 11:40, I sent the boys to light six of them. I was going to let the MC decide where to stage the various things we'd need; I made my best guess about that. At 11:45, I looked at the college student, who I'd recruited that morning, and who I knew had the best experience, and said, "You know the old saying, 'No good deed goes unpunished!' Can you serve as the MC?" He didn't blink an eye (but he did gulp a little I think).

So, at Noon, we executed the first sung Requiem Mass at Saint Remy in about 50 years. God helped me a lot! It all seemed to go reasonably well -- having great servers makes a huge difference. There were a couple of flubs, but nothing major. By the time we got to the cemetery, I was unsure about which parts I was supposed to chant and recite, and ended up reciting the last bits, including some I think I was supposed to chant. The schola was great; they even walked out the cemetery, undeterred by the cold and blowing snow. The family was very happy.

The MC never made it, and now, a day later, I still haven't heard anything, which concerns me. I know he wouldn't just blow it off; but I don't know the man, and other than call him as I did afterward, I don't have any way to contact him or his family. I've been praying for him.

Would I do it again? In a minute! But there are two things we need. First, we need our own schola which can execute the music, and that takes dedication. Second, we need someone who can serve as the MC. If there are folks who are interested, let me know. I'd love to be able to do sung Latin Masses more often.

Now, with that behind me, I have to begin working on my Sunday homily; it's going to be part one of a series of sermons on the sacrament of confession. Back to work!

* Is it bad that we don't have new ashes every year? The strict tradition is to burn old palms each year, and these become the ashes for that year. But collecting and burning palms is a chore -- they have to be thoroughly burned, and then the clumps strained out -- and you end up with a pretty good supply of ashes; why not keep using them? Am I bad?

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Deeper into the Mystery this Lent (Sunday homily)

In the 2nd Reading we hear about “the Mysteries of God.” 
For Paul, mystery didn’t mean something opaque 
or unable to be penetrated; but rather, 
something that we can explore endlessly. 
Mystery wasn’t something hidden, 
but something we were invited into by God. 
That’s the whole point of God’s Plan, to bring us into his life.

We often talk of mystery in our faith. If you listen, 
you’ll hear the word a lot during the prayers of Mass. 
What does this mean? 

Think of someone flying over the surface of the ocean – 
from above, you’d see the water and the waves. 
But once you go below the surface, what you see? A whole new world – 
coral reefs in brilliant colors, 
fish and clams and other fascinating creatures. 
But you never see any of this unless you enter in. 
This is what we mean when we refer to “mystery”

Lent starts this Wednesday – the point of Lent 
is to help us enter into the mystery of our own human nature, 
damaged by sin, as well as the mystery of God’s plan of salvation, 
which culminated in Jesus Christ being born, living, teaching, healing – 
and then going to the Cross. 
Like that world below the surface of the water, 
we can miss it if we don’t take time and effort to enter in.

Lent gives us tools to do this. 
We deny ourselves things and we step up our prayer, 
in order to leave behind what is familiar and go deeper – 
to challenge ourselves.

Reminder: during Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday 
are days of fasting, meaning just one full meal, 
although you can have just a little something to tide yourself over 
at the other times. 
This applies to everyone 18 to 59. 
Also, be sensible: if your health situation 
makes fasting risky or harmful, you are not obliged to fast.

And remember that Ash Wednesday and every Friday 
are days of abstaining from meat, 
and this applies to everyone over 14 years of age.

So now is a good time to think about, and make our plans for Lent, 
so we can enter into these mysteries – again, the mystery of my sinful, fallen self, 
and the mystery of how Jesus Christ is saving me and changing me so I can be a saint.

Let me highlight some things we’ll be doing during Lent that might help.

First, the books at the exits of church, Seven Secrets of Confession. 
These have been paid for – they are free to you, please take one. 
I thought about not doing this, given the tightness of the budget, 
but if folks kick in a few extra bucks in the collection, 
we can cover the cost of this. But be sure to take one if you want one.

Each Sunday in Lent, my homily will tie into a chapter from this book. 
That way, we’ll go through the whole book.

When we talk about the mystery of our faith, 
The sacrament of confession is right in the middle of it. 
What do we always say about why Jesus came and died for us? 
To save us from our sins, right? But did you ever stop and ask, 
OK, exactly how does that apply to me? 

The answer is the absolution we receive in confession. 
On the Cross, Jesus said, “It is finished!” 
But where do I go to claim my part of this?
Well, yes, first in baptism, but after that, what do I do when I sin again? 
I get that forgiveness in confession.

I’m going to go so far and say this – 
and this may sound pretty aggressive, but it’s absolutely true:

If you’re not going to confession, 
you’re fundamentally missing out on what our Catholic Faith is about. 
It’s about Jesus forgiving us and changing us. 

Yes, the Eucharist is at the center, 
but in order to receive eternal life from the Eucharist, 
we must first receive forgiveness in confession. 
Confession is the door that leads to the Holy of Holies.

Second, I’m going to have a special event 
for the women and girls of the parish, of all ages! 
on Saturday, March 11. Mass – adoration + confessions –
 a talk on prayer – I’m calling this 
“A woman’s prayer is the heart of the church,” so that’ll be the topic. 
After that, we’ll have brunch and we’ll finish by Noon.

Now, men, here’s what I’m asking from you. 
I’ve already recruited some men to do the meal. 
The rest of you, I’m asking you to step up that day,

and take care of chores, take care of the kids, take care of whatever needs to be taken care of, 
so that the women – of all ages! – can attend this. 

Third, I’m going to give a series of talks every Tuesday at 7 pm –
 just one hour – on “How to defend the Faith.” 
We’ll talk about marriage and divorce and same-sex issues; 
assisted suicide; devotion to Mary; and the Eucharist. 
There are two Tuesdays when we’ll have confessions, 
but the other four, we’ll have these talks. 

If you look in today’s bulletin, you’ll see a handout that looks like this. 
It gives lots of opportunities to grow in Lent. And of course, there are more besides these.

Whether you or I go deeper into the mystery of our Faith 
is a decision we have to make. It won’t just happen. Go deeper! 
Find Jesus and know Jesus better, and let him change you, this Lent!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

NPR: sex isn't objective reality, it's religious dogma!

I was appalled and amused this morning by an interview on NPR's "Morning Edition," discussing the decision by the Trump Administration to revoke an Obama-era letter that mandated how schools should handle access to bathroom and changing facilities for "transgender" individuals. In the course of the interview with an official from the Obama Justice Department, co-host Rachel Martin made the following assertion about why people oppose letting men who claim to be women into women's locker rooms:

"And especially conservatives say this is, this is a moral issue. And this is now the federal government telling me how to understand an issue that I think of in religious terms." (Sorry there's no transcript posted at the link; Ms. Martin's comment comes at about the 5:20 mark on the recording.)

I might add, my transcript of the quote omits the many uhs and ums by Ms. Martin as she clearly struggled to articulate the position of those who objected to such an enlightened policy. I strongly suspect Ms. Martin has not really absorbed -- if she has even encountered -- the actual arguments opponents make; we appear to have been given access to the actual moment in which the poor woman attempted to process this idea for the very first time; and the quote above is what resulted.

The mind boggles. According to Ms. Martin, to believe that penises and vaginas exist, and have some actual significance -- is now in the same category as believing in the Holy Trinity and transubstantiation. Now, I firmly believe in in the existence of all the things itemized in the prior sentence; but I have always understood that sexual attributes (and their effects and consequences) belong to the objective realm and are capable of verification, whereas belief in the Real Presence and the Trinity require faith. But not according to NPR! It's all dogma.

Elsewhere in the same program, there was another segment: "Should Scientists March? U.S. Researchers Still Debating Pros And Cons." This reflected a concern that respect for science and actual facts -- as opposed to "alternative facts" -- was declining in our present age. Perhaps the scientists might want to march past NPR's offices? Would it do any good?

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Our plans as a parish to 'step it up' (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel we just heard, the key words are when Jesus says this:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

That is the key.
Jesus is what Moses and the Law and all the Prophets hoped for.

Another way to understand what Jesus teaches is this:
Moses gave us the bare minimum.
Jesus says, “let’s step it up; let’s get to the heart of it”:
which is, that we don’t just follow rules,
we seek to know God, to follow him closely, to share his life.

We might think of what happened when the Apostles James and John,
and Andrew and Peter first met Jesus,
he didn’t give them commandments or any task,
but he simply said, “Come, follow me” – and they did.

This is a good time to talk about something
that I’ve been working on for two years, something big.
It’s time to make an announcement.

If you read my column a few weeks ago,
you saw me mention some “Pastoral Priorities”
that I’ve been working on with the staff and the Pastoral Council.
It’s time to share this with you. But I have to back up a bit.

When I first came to Saint Remy,
and after talking with so many parishioners,
you may recall what I said that,
despite all the good things going on in our parish,
I wanted to make sure we weren’t complacent.

So I began sharing with our staff and the Pastoral Council
a book I had just finished,
called Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Waddell.
I’d heard her give a talk in Dayton three or four years ago,
and I’d been impressed: she made sense.

But the first thing she talked about that was so powerful
was her diagnosis of what’s wrong with the Church in our country.
If you pick up this book, prepare yourself:
the first two chapters are brutal!
Let me share some of that with you now.

Ms. Waddell shared the following points – all carefully documented:

- Of all American adults who were raised as Catholics in this country,
how many still practice their faith? 30%.
- One in ten American adults were once Catholic, but no longer.
- When people leave the Catholic Faith,
4 out of 5 of them are gone by the age of 23.

Where are they going? Many are joining other religions,
especially Evangelical Christianity.
But many others are becoming so-called “nones,”
meaning they have no religious affiliation.
And one more sobering fact:

- Mass attendance, by age group, breaks down like this:
of those over 65, it’s almost half. Of those between 41-64, it’s 20%.
And of those just out of college, so called Millennials? Only 10%

What does this mean? It means that something is badly wrong,
and if things don’t change, a storm is going to hit.
Churches that are accustomed to seeing 500-600 people
on a Sunday will, before very long, see only 100-200.
The word for that is “collapse.” There is no other word.

Now, this isn’t what we’re experiencing in Russia,
and in this part of the diocese.
But we’re not walled off from the rest of the world.
So let’s not kid ourselves; we’re affected by this too.

Ms. Waddell says it simply:
“what worked before doesn’t work anymore.”
And I think she has that exactly right.

OK, that’s the end of the bad news.
I didn’t come here to deliver an obituary.
All that was simply to get your attention.
Now you see why I feel this strongly,
and why I’m now coming to you to communicate this urgency to you.

The reason I like Ms. Waddell’s book so much
that the staff and Pastoral Council and I took a year
to read it together, is this: after two chapters of bad news,
she lays out a compelling – and practical – way to respond.

And it boils down to this: the new way
must be to go beyond just following
the rules and emphasizing checking the boxes
of baptism, confirmation, first communion and marriage.
The way forward must be helping one another
to grow in our personal and intentional relationship with Jesus Christ.

Just what Jesus said in the Gospel:
following the commandments is good; that’s a starting point.
But he called us to step it up: get to know him –
that’s the whole point of it all!
That’s the whole point of the sacraments;
of the Mass; of our parish; of the Bible; of the Catholic Church.

The whole point is knowing Jesus;
following Jesus; letting Jesus change our lives.

There’s more to say, but that’s our task in one sentence.
From today, the reason this parish exists,
and the goal everything we do must aim at,
is to help everyone to know Jesus, to follow Jesus,
and to experience him changing our lives.

One more data point from the research.
When people were asked,
why they left the Catholic Faith to become Evangelical,
70% said, “my spiritual needs weren’t being met”;
62% said, “I felt called by God.”

In short, people don’t leave because they want LESS;
they leave because they hunger for MORE.

Now, let’s get into the specific priorities
the Pastoral Council and I have identified. They are as follows:

Our first priority is devout worship.
The first commandment, after all, is to love God and put him first.
As a parish, we will “foster worship and prayer that is full and faithful,
especially through the Mass and other forms of prayer.”
That’s not to say we aren’t doing that now;
but we identified that as the starting point.

Second is more disciples: it will be my task and yours
to help each other
“discover and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
I will be asking every organization, every group,
from pre-school to senior citizens,
to ask how they can grow in a personal encounter with the Lord.
As part of this, we will be seeking to discover
the spiritual gifts Christ gives us,
and how these can be put at his service in our parish.

A third priority is “better welcome.”
This means how we open our doors in every way:
here at church; in our encounter with our friends and neighbors;
in all our activities.
It also means how we reach out to those who are mourning,
those who have experienced a crisis, perhaps a divorce,
and how we treat those most in need.

The fourth priority is, quote, to “seek out.” Who? Everyone.
Catholics who are inactive; people who have no church home;
people who have never really met Jesus.
We will help each other find the ways
to share the gift we’ve been given.

And the final priority is simply “to pay for it.”
Not very exciting, but it’s important to mention
that some of these things may cost something,
and that’s something we’ll talk about as we go along.

Yes, there are storms and troubles out there, and sooner or later,
they will come here. But there’s no reason to be fearful,
and absolutely no reason just to sit still.
Jesus told us in the Gospel to step it up; know him in full.

It’s hokey to say, but it’s so true:
you and I don’t know what the future holds,
but we know who holds the future, amen?
We don’t have to reinvent anything; we don’t have to discover anything.
We only have to share with others what God shared with us:
Jesus Christ!