Sunday, October 15, 2017

The three responses we give to God's invitation (Sunday homily)

In the readings, we have a feast; a marriage; 
a surprise invitation; and a guest who was unprepared.

The question that always gets the most attention is this: 
why was the one guest unprepared? 
He wasn’t dressed properly; and people will say, 
but they took him off the street, how could he have been prepared?

That misses the point, which is that when God gives us an invitation, 
we will be able to give a response. 
And in this parable, there are three responses people give:

The first is what the original guests give. 
Their answer, not to say it too rudely was, 
“The King? Nuts to the king!” 
There are less polite ways to say it, that I won’t say, 
but you know what I mean.

Then we have the response of most of the guests who show up. 
The king finds them suitably attired. Their response was the right one. 
In a word, they said “yes, Lord,” not just to the invitation, 
but to everything that went with it. They changed their lives. 
They recognized Jesus as their King 
and rearranged their lives around that reality. 

And then we have this guest. 
He didn’t flatly refuse; but he also didn’t really say yes. 
He wants to be along for the ride. He wants to hedge his bets. 
He doesn’t really respect the invitation, or the King. 

There are plenty of people in our time 
who have the integrity to recognize that calling yourself a Christian carries great demands; 
and they are not ready to do it. 

So you will meet people and say to them, 
“weren’t you baptized a Catholic? Aren’t you a Christian?” 
And they will say, I was, but I am not any longer.” 
And it might be a disappointment or hurt; 
and many will admit they just drifted away; 
but again, there will be those who will say forthrightly, 
“I am not prepared to be a Catholic because…” and then explain why.

There is something to respect in people 
at least realizing that following Jesus Christ is not a trivial matter, 
but the most serious decision. 

Then we have the guest who gets thrown out. 
He takes it all very lightly. 

This is the person who says, sure, I’ll be a godparent for a baptism, 
even though he or she doesn’t make living the Faith a priority. 

How can someone agree to be a sponsor for baptism or confirmation – 
which means, you will model the Faith by your life – 
when you know you’re not doing that? 

And I know how painful it is not to be able to invite family or friends 
to be godparents, but it’s a very solemn responsibility. 
And if you can’t find suitable godparents, come and talk to me. 

This guest without the wedding garment 
is someone who fundamentally misunderstands what Jesus asks. 
Our Faith is not like sales tax. 
You go to the store, you pay the tax, 
and that satisfies the state. You go on as you like.
Some people imagine being Catholic is like that. 
I check off the boxes, I’ve done my duty, 
and then I do as I please.

But that is not Christianity. That is not our Catholic Faith. 
You know what that is? It is a warmed-over paganism. 

In the time of the Apostles, 
this is precisely how the pagans approached religion. 
Zeus or Aphrodite or Mithras or whatever gods you worshipped, 
were almost never the center of life. 
You made your periodic sacrifices, 
you showed up for a religious holiday, and then you lived as you like. 

But what does Jesus say? 
“I am the way, the truth and the life, 
no one comes to the Father except through me.” 
And, “If you are not with me, you are against me.” 
And, he said, “If you would be my disciple, take up your…Cross 
and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to be all in. He is the King.

What Jesus offers us is costly, but it is also a super-abundance of life. 
Nothing is more demanding, and yet it is to drink Life from the Source. 
What could be better?

Notice what was that guest invited to? To a wedding, to a feast. 
And remember, he wasn’t one of the rich swells who was used to this; he was poor and hungry.

The future that Jesus opens up for us? There is no upper scale. 
There is no upper limit to how much abundance 
of life and joy and peace and fulfillment will be ours 
on that mountain where death is destroyed forever!

You and I are bidden to that wedding; 
and all Jesus asks is, “give me your heart. Say yes to me, as your King.” 
The marriage is between the Son of God 
and the People he has called to himself. 
Our destiny is something breathtaking and shocking to say: 
we will be united with God! 

In three weeks our parish will have a mission, 
with Father Nathan Cromly. 
The title of the mission is, “Discovering Joyful Catholicism.” 

Our Faith is demanding, and yet it is a Feast.
There’s a funny old movie called “Auntie Mame,” and she says, 
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” 

That banquet is our Catholic Faith: 
an abundance of truth about who God is and who we are. 
Tables groaning with mercy for all who want it, 
and we can go back, again and again. 

A flood of grace that gives us strength to be people 
we could never be otherwise. 
And a life – in this world and the world to come – 
that is worth everything we give, to have. 
Because that life is Jesus Christ himself.

So, first, if you need your batteries recharged – and who doesn’t? – 
then come to this mission. The dates are November 6-8, 
and Fr. Cromly will give a talk in church 
on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. 
There are other events planned for our children and teens to meet him. 

Each night will include time for prayer and priests to hear confessions.
And if you need a reason to go, the theme is your answer: do you want, do you need, 
to discover more joy in your Catholic Faith? 
Who doesn’t?

Second, this is what Jesus sends us out to bring others to share. 
If you wonder what it costs to follow Jesus, how about this: 
Right now, it “costs” each of us looking around for people to invite. 
There are flyers at the doors, feel free to take one. 
We’ll have more next week. 

Pray for the people who you might want to invite, starting today. 
Pray for you to have the courage to say the words, 
to family, friends and neighbors, 
“would you like to come with me to St. Remy’s Parish Mission?” 

And how about this? If someone pokes back at you, 
“well, you don’t seem all that joyful!” 
You tell them, “You’re right! That’s why I’m going! You come with me.”

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Our shepherds screwed up. So, what are you going to do? (Sunday homily)

When we listen to Jesus speaking in the Gospels, 
and we hear him hit a subject hard – as he does in this passage – 
we might say, like kids in school, “wow, he sure burned them!”

And, yes, he did!

But I don’t think the Apostle Matthew tells this story for that reason. 
The point isn’t so we can hear what Jesus had to say to other people.
Rather, the point is, what is he saying to you and me, here, now?

So if you ever have trouble understanding a Bible passage, 
this is a way to make things much clearer.
Just ask: what does this passage say about me? To me?

As we saw, Jesus was hitting the chief priests, the spiritual leaders. 
So this hits home with me, at least; 
I hope it hits home with our bishops. 

What I’m going to say next is going to be a little tough, 
and not pleasant to hear, but I think it needs to be said.

In recent decades, I’m sorry to say that 
your spiritual leaders didn’t serve you very well.

After the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s,
there was all this enthusiasm for “reform” and reorganizing everything. 
A lot of folks got carried away. 
A lot of it really had nothing to do 
with what the Church actually decided at Vatican II.

And now, looking back after 50 years, 
while there were good things we can point to – 
and I’ll highlight one in a moment – 
there were some real problems.

For example, the Holy Mass itself underwent change; 
again, some good effects, but some bad. 
We had a period of wild experimentation, 
and as a result, there was a loss of reverence in many places.

This is something Father Amberger worked hard to restore, 
and many, many parishioners have told me 
how important it is that our Mass is reverent.
Many who visit here say the same.
But if you visit other places, 
you will see a real loss of reverence.

Worse, it was our spiritual leaders – 
priests on orders from the bishops – 
who removed beautiful altars and statues;
and built some really strange-looking churches.
At the same time, there was this mindset 
that anything old-style had to go. 

People were told, don’t worry about going to confession, 
and penance on Fridays, and many forms of devotion.
Thankfully, these trends have reversed. 

Worse was the way handing on of the Faith was derailed. 
A whole generation of Catholics grew up 
without really knowing the Faith. 
I know, because I belonged to that generation, 
and I know I’m not the only one.

Worst of all – and this is the ugliest fact to acknowledge – 
was the failure to deal decisively with offenses against children.
As a priest, I am deeply ashamed of what happened,
and on behalf of those who ought to apologize, I beg your forgiveness.

Now, this is a sad litany, but the point is 
that what happened in the Gospel, still happens; 
sometimes our spiritual leaders fail us.

The good news is, that unlike what happened in the first reading, 
where God seems to walk away from the vineyard, 
what Jesus does is to send new leaders,
who will give him the “produce at the proper times.”  

And this brings me to one of the really good things 
that has happened since Vatican II. 

A theme Vatican II emphasized 
was that the mission of the Church 
is not merely the task of bishops and priests. 

Rather, it belongs to every single one of us.
If you are baptized, you are a Christian;
If you are a Christian, you share in the mission of Jesus Christ.
And while in many cases bishops and priests 
dropped the ball in recent decades, 
it was the lay faithful of the Church who picked it up.

One of the fruits of laypeople stepping up was to push back, 
asking for accountability; 
asking for their churches to be beautiful again, 
asking for Eucharistic adoration, which was discouraged for awhile.
What’s more, the bishops and priests 
who have corrected these mistakes 
started as laymen who decided they needed to step up.

So, if you are ever frustrated by our bishops, our priests – 
by the pope – then remember what you can do.

You can speak up – with charity and prudence;
You not only can, but you must pray. 
If there is one thing that we learned 
in the last few decades is just how powerful the Rosary is.

It was the Rosary that won the Cold War – Mary predicted it! – 
and there are many, many people here, right now, 
who witnessed that miracle: 
of the Cold War ending not with nuclear annihilation, 
but with barely a shot being fired.

And if you ever think we could have better bishops or priests, 
you are absolutely right! 

We need men with backbone 
who want to give their lives for a cause bigger than themselves, 
who aren’t concerned about whether they have an easy life 
and lots of money, but who want to be coworkers with Jesus Christ.

So, young men, maybe the better priests we need include you!
Parents, maybe it’s your son or grandson. 

And whatever our bishops and priests say, or fail to say; 
do, or fail to do, there is a whole lot that can be done 
in the Vineyard by you, the baptized faithful. 

Look at EWTN: it was founded 31 years ago.
What a change it has brought!
Look at the many great Catholic resources on the Internet.

With a few exceptions, these were created, 
not by bishops and priests, 
but by ordinary Catholics who just got down to work! 
The Holy Spirit did powerful things through them.

Just to give a very simple example here in Russia.
Our St. Vincent de Paul group is trying gather funds 
for food for our area soup kitchens. 

We’ve done a lot, but this time around, 
there hasn’t been a great response, 
so can we all give them a helping hand? 
They are making it easy, just a financial contribution, 
and they will get the food at the best prices.

How about this week, writing a check?
You can make it payable to the parish, 
but mark it, “food for the poor” so we know where it should go.

In recent months, it seems like we’ve been hit with too much bad news. 
Terrible violence as in Las Vegas. Natural disasters. 
Political polarization, some of which is affecting the Church.
It is so easy to get weighed down by all that.
We don’t ignore these things, 
but it is the devil who wants us to be discouraged.

Instead, listen to what Saint Paul said in today’s reading.
What is true, what is just, what is “worthy of praise, 
think about these things.”

There is one priest in this parish; there are 1,500-1,600 laity.
There are a couple hundred priests 
and three bishops in our archdiocese; there are a half-million Catholics.
That is a mighty, mighty army. 
Armed with faith; armed with courage; 
clothed with grace from the sacrament of confession, 
and made strong by the food of the Eucharist, 
you and I are powerful coworkers of the Lord.

So don’t ask what Jesus is saying, in this Gospel, 
to somebody else.
What is he saying to you?

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Which son are you? (Sunday homily)

In this Gospel passage, we hear about two sons.
But, in fact, there are three.
The third Son is Jesus himself, the Son of God – 
who is described in the second reading from St. Paul.

These three sons show us three paths:
The first son is rebellious and then repents.
The second son keeps up appearances, but is a hypocrite;
The third son – the Lord – takes the path of sacrifice and self-gift.

Notice something about the two sons: both have sinned;
But one son has the advantage of a good reputation to hide his sins; 
the other bears public shame even after he has changed his ways. 
This is a reminder that lots of us have the luxury 
of our sins being hidden from public view, 
while others’ sins are all very well known. 

The result is that we, who only know part of the story, 
judge some people harshly; and don’t kid yourself, 
many of those folks are very aware of that judgment.

Our bishops call this Respect Life Sunday, 
and they want every Catholic to grow in awareness 
of the value of each and every human life – 
and to bring that awareness to bear in questions of public policy. 

The obvious issue is legal abortion; 
and not only working to protect unborn children, 
but also to care for the mothers and fathers who are wounded. 

And we know there are other concerns, such as research that destroys human embryos – 
that is, early human life. 
And it should be mentioned that there are alternatives 
that do not destroy life 
and we Catholics are 100% in favor of those alternatives.

Yet another obvious task – becoming more urgent – 
is countering the push for “assisted suicide.” 
Suicide is always wrong, because it is simply self-murder. 
You and I don’t get to decide when anyone dies, 
and that includes ourselves. 

That’s not to minimize the suffering many people experience; 
but the answer to suffering is not to kill people, 
but to help them relieve their pain and discover new purpose. 

Also, we’re not talking about those situations 
when people are nearing the end of life, 
and all they want is to refuse intrusive or extraordinary means of care. 
I don’t want to get too detailed here, 
but if anyone has any questions about this, 
please don’t hesitate to ask me, and I will gladly help you out on this.

Thankfully, many people are pushing back. 
But this form of murder has been legalized in six states 
and the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital. 
And there are powerful forces and lots of money behind this. 
Don’t be surprised if, in the near future, 
someone will try to legalize it in Ohio.

Meanwhile, here in Ohio, it is legal to execute people 
who have committed terrible crimes. 
And while that is not the same thing, 
because we are talking about a punishment of a guilty person, 
rather than the death of someone innocent…

We might remember what Pope John Paul II said on this: 
that while the state has the right to apply this punishment, 
it would be better if we chose non-lethal means wherever possible. 

For that reason, our bishops have been urging a change in the law, 
so that the death penalty would not be used 
unless there really was no alternative.

The other thing our bishops would remind us, 
is that being pro-life isn’t just about this or that issue; 
it is about how we treat all people, 
from the very beginning of life to its natural end. 

And if we really want to be pro-life, 
then what about making sure that women who are in trouble, 
are helped to choose life? 

We are so blessed to have organizations 
like the Elizabeth New Life Center and Rustic Hope 
that support women and families in these situations. 

I encourage everyone to support these efforts. 
And if we can, find ways to do even more.

There are a lot of ways government policy 
can either foster human life and the family, or else degrade life. 
If we are truly pro-life, then it is incumbent on us as citizens 
to bring compassion to bear in every way we can. 

And to return to the Gospel passage we started with. 
We have two sons, one who sin against his father is very public, 
and another, whose sins are more hidden.
Pope Francis has often talked about how the Christ’s Church 
is called to be a “field hospital,” that brings people back to life.
And that is the task the third son makes his own.

So where do and I fit into this picture?

We are not the Son of God, we know that. 
However, you and I have been given the invitation to imitate him, 
and to share in his work.

But first things first: take the path of the first son 
and own up to our wrongs, rather than be the second son 
who has a good reputation to be proud of, but nothing else.