Thursday, February 15, 2018

Why do we use incense at Mass?

I’m continuing to answer questions that I know many parishioners have, so let's tackle this one, which I know comes up. And because I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, I’m going to borrow from Father William Saunders, who wrote on this for EWTN’s website.

Father Saunders points out that God “instructed Moses to build a golden altar for the burning of incense (Exodus 30:1-10), which was placed in front of the veil to the entrance of the meeting tent where the ark of the covenant was kept.”

Christians have used incense in worship for a very long time; we use it not only in Mass, but also for exposition of the Holy Eucharist and solemn Morning and Evening Prayer. To quote Father Saunders again: “The purpose of incensing and the symbolic value of the smoke is that of purification and sanctification.” Incense also “symbolizes the prayers of the faithful drifting up to heaven: the Psalmist prays, "Let my prayer come like incense before you; the lifting up of my hands, like the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141).

Above all, “incense also creates the ambiance of heaven.” Father quotes the Book of Revelation: "Another angel came in holding a censer of gold. He took his place at the altar of incense and was given large amounts of incense to deposit on the altar of gold in front of the throne, together with the prayers of all God's holy ones. From the angel's hand, the smoke of the incense went up before God, and with it the prayers of God's people."

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

We start with the Sign of the Cross (Ash Wednesday homily)

As I mentioned on Sunday, all my Sunday homilies 
will try to shed light on the Mass. 
This is especially appropriate because the Mass is, simply put, 
the most important thing we do as Catholics. 
The Mass is the most important thing that will happen today, 
anywhere in the world. 

Mass and Lent have a lot in common. 
Lent is a journey to Good Friday, 
when we remember that Jesus died for us, and to Easter, 
when we remember that he rose from the dead, 
and to the Ascension, when he returned to his throne. 

Holy Mass is all these things too; except that in the Mass, 
what we “remember” is truly and really present to us.

Since Ash Wednesday is when we start Lent, 
Let’s start our deeper look at the Holy Mass;
And let’s start with the simple prayer that began Mass: 
the Sign of the Cross.

Let’s do it right now: “In the name of…Amen.” Notice what we just did.

We marked ourselves with the Cross. 
When we were baptized, the priest makes the sign of the cross on us, 
claiming us for Christ for the first time. 
To be marked by the Cross is to be a Christian. 
The sign of the Cross summarizes our Faith: 
Jesus came, Jesus died, Jesus rose; and he is our only hope!

Notice we surround ourselves with the Holy Trinity. 
This is what Jesus died to give us: life in God. 
His Cross puts us “in” the midst of the Trinity.

Also notice that the Cross is what Lent is about. 
That’s why we fast today, and make sacrifices.
That’s why we have the Way of the Cross on Thursdays. 

In a word, the Mass IS the Cross. If you get nothing else, get that: 
when we are at Mass, we are at the Cross. 
No Cross, no Mass. No Cross, no hope. 
No Cross, no point to any of this.

For all the emotion we might feel about the Cross,
there is no escaping the hard reality of the Cross.
It is about pain. It is about cost. It is about work. 

And so is Lent. I don’t actually “enjoy” Lent. 
I get up earlier, I work harder, and I give up things I like. 
No, I don’t enjoy Lent, but I need it. I am glad for it.

The Mass is exactly the same way. Sometimes we complain: 
Mass is boring. It takes too long. I don’t understand parts. 
It is an interruption of my day. Why can’t it be easier?

Why should it be easy? Compared to the reality of the Cross,
Lent doesn’t sound so bad, and Mass isn’t really all that hard. 

The journey is challenging. Christ helps us, and we help each other. 
Our destination is Heaven. We start today.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

What does 'IHS' stand for?

If you look around a lot of churches, or look at a lot of Christian artwork, you’ll see some variation of “IHS” keep showing up. The origin of this is the name of Jesus, written in Greek letters. To help explain things, here is our Lord’s name – which is Greek – written first with Greek letters; then with the Latin alphabet, then as a Latin name, and then as we call him in English:

IHSOUS CRISTOS
IESUS CHRISTOS
IESUS CHRISTUS
JESUS CHRIST

In ancient times, and a long time after, lots of words were frequently abbreviated, which was very helpful before the printing press, and everything was written out by hand. It was common, therefore, to abbreviate Jesus by using the first three letters. In Greek, that gives you: IHS. But over time, this became Latinized into IHS. Sometimes you’ll also see Ihs, which is just a further development. You might even see IHC, which reflects the fact that a Greek Sigma (S) was sometimes written like a C.

But why did Jesus have a Greek name if he was Jewish? Another great question! The answer is that in the 300 years before Jesus was born, Greek culture became dominant in a large area stretching from Greece all the way to present-day Afghanistan. This was the empire created by Alexander the Great, who died in 323 BC (i.e., Before Christ!). Although Alexander’s lands were divided among his military commanders, Greek culture and language continued to exert great influence all through the region for a long time.

As a result, the New Testament as we have it was written entirely in Greek, as was some of the Old Testament – most of which was written in Hebrew. Even then, in Jesus’ time, the entire Old Testament had been translated into Greek. Even so, many Jews, very likely including Jesus, his mother, Joseph, and many (if not all) of his apostles, would have spoken Aramaic, which was a language derived from Hebrew, which was no longer widely spoken. This shows just how widespread the Greek language was.

One way we know this is by looking at the names of people in the New Testament. Some names are Greek: Andrew and Phillip, for example; others are very Hebrew: Simon and Jude; and still others are Hebrew names that have been rendered in Greek: James (from Jacob), John (from Yochanan). And this is the case with Jesus: it is a Greek rendering of Joshua or Yeshua.

We speak four languages at every Mass! By the way, while you may think the Mass as we are accustomed to it is all in English, that’s not quite right. A small part of it is Greek: Kyrie Eleison, Christe Eleison; a small part is Hebrew: Amen, Alleluia; and sometimes we use Latin, too: Gloria in excelsis Deo, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. The earliest Christians likewise would have dealt with Aramaic, Greek and Latin. They might have spoken only one, but they would have encountered some of the others as well.

(This is adapted from a recent article in St. Remy Parish Bulletin.)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

'This is something we do together' (Sunday homily)

Skin diseases might be an odd thing to talk about at Mass. 
But the point is that illnesses like these do more than make us sick. 
They separate us from others.

Being a leper meant a profound separation from others.
And even if you were able to be with other lepers, 
you still weren’t able to worship with the community.
Can you imagine how that must have felt?

We experience this now.
On the one hand, you have people with a cold, or the flu, or pneumonia, 
so they stay away because they are sick.
But then you have people who are taking chemo for cancer, 
and they stay away, because they can’t afford to get sick.
And there are so many others who, for various reasons, 
can’t get out, can’t do what they used to. 
It can all be very discouraging.

That’s why Jesus told the man to go show himself to the priests, 
so that he could come back to the temple.

Ash Wednesday is in a few days, and we of course begin Lent.
This gives us a chance to set the tone for our Lent.

I’m going to tell you something you may not believe, but’s it’s true. 
Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation.
It really isn’t! And yet, our churches will be filled. Why?

Ash Wednesday – and Lent as well – 
is one of those times when we realize 
our spiritual journey isn’t solitary. We are part of a family.

If you wanted to, you could put ashes on your head at home.
But that’s what we want to do.
We do this in a public way, and we do it together.
Not just the ashes, but the whole journey, 
the whole spiritual campaign of Lent.

Notice, we all do certain penances together:
Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday,
and abstaining from meat on the Fridays of Lent.
Many of the school students will come to daily Mass together.
We will come to pray the Stations of the Cross together.
There is power in that “together,” isn’t there?

As we go into Lent, I want to highlight 
some of the opportunities we have – together – 
to grow closer to Christ. That’s what it’s all for.

There are still forms in the pews for the Catholic Ministries Appeal, 
if you want to contribute.

In your bulletins, you will find a bright pink handout that looks like this, 
with lots of opportunities for growing in holiness in Lent.
We have some Bible studies; we have some prayer groups.
We have materials for you to use at home. 
You’ll see some free materials on the tables at the doors of church.

Most important, you’ll see times for the sacrament of confession; 
both here, and at nearby churches.

When we go to confession, we do that individually; 
and yet, even there, we’re together in a way.
I’m in that line; you are; your parents, your children, 
Archbishop Schnurr, Bishop Binzer, Pope Francis – all of us.

There’s another part of this. Lent is not only about holiness; 
it is also about reconciliation.  
Remember, we call confession the sacrament of reconciliation.
The leper, being cleansed, 
was also able to be reconciled with the community.

When we go to confession, as hard as it can be to tell our sins, 
that is still, really, the easier part.
The really hard part is what we do next – 
after we are absolved, after we do our penance.

The really hard work comes next. 

How about going and finding people at home or work or school,  
and apologizing? 
How about taking concrete steps 
so that we will be different toward others?
Seeking out someone to be reconciled with?

People say, “Oh, that’s just me, I can’t help it.”
Oh…let’s just say, hogwash.
Being Irish or German or Scottish or whatever is not an excuse.
And yes, change is hard; but we can do it, if we really want it, 
with God’s help. It’ll still be hard, but we can make it happen.

If you want a powerful conversion experience, 
ask the Holy Spirit to awaken you 
to how your sins affect other people.

If you are making fun of other kids, or bullying them, at school?
If you are drinking too much, too often? 
Cheating? Not doing a full day’s work? 
Those pictures on the Internet? They are real, flesh-and-blood people.

Even our most private sins – we think they affect no one else, 
but it’s not true. Eventually they always affect others. They always do.

So as we go into Lent, be mindful of the people around you.
Ash Wednesday can be a great time to bring someone along.

When I was in my 20s, I was away from the Catholic Faith. 
And I remember a co-worker saying to me, it’s Ash Wednesday, 
why not come along and get ashes?
And it was that same Lent when I went to confession 
for the first time in ten years. And then, to Holy Communion! 

That is something I will never forget.
Anyone and everyone, without exception, can get ashes.
Anyone can come to the Stations of the Cross.
Anyone can come and adore Jesus in the Eucharist.
Anyone can take part in Lent.
This is something we do together.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

No, the earth is not flat.


There really is such a thing as the Flat Earth Society. It is not a joke. At least, there really seem to be people who take this sort of thing seriously. My perception is that there are more of them lately; and I am not the only one who thinks so. Do an Internet search, and you will find articles here and there on the phenomenon.

Have you ever talked, face to face, with someone who believes this? I have not; but I have exchanged comments online with flat-earthers. Forgive this if it seems rude, but my impression is that the folks I talked to aren't very smart. But they aren't overly dumb, either. They are capable of bandying about a lot of patter, sprinkled with science-y sounding assertions and theories, which they draw from flat-earth websites.

I hesitate writing about this, because it's like getting near a black hole: you can't help being sucked in, and once in a black hole, everything becomes crazy. I am a firm believer that you pray for people who live in Crazyland, you wish them well, and even spend time with them -- but only outside of Crazyland. Don't. Ever. Go. There.

This has been confirmed by actual experience, as I am one of those people who can never quite give up hope in the ability to reason things out, no matter how many times that hope is dashed, and ground into dust by bitter experience.

So let me tell you what happened when I didn't follow my own rules recently, and actually read a thread somewhere on this subject. I didn't really read much of it; but it only takes a little for it to get into your brain and work like an "earworm," burrowing in and driving you crazy.

About 3:30 am Sunday, I woke up and couldn't get back to sleep. Before long, I was thinking about the stuff I'd read the day before on flat-earthers. I told myself, "No, don't start thinking about that! You'll never get to sleep that way!" But it didn't work, and before long, I gave up the ghost. I was awake the rest of the morning.

What was I thinking about? How would I refute the flat-earth theory without recourse to any complex science, which I, myself, am not master of?

Flat-earthers love to cite all sorts of things. They claim all sorts of supposed evidence that proves their case. (Meanwhile, a little voice in my brain is screaming, "but it's all flipping nonsense, remember that! DON'T TAKE THIS SERIOUSLY!!!" I agree with myself, but real people are taking it seriously, and that is not nothing. Do you see what happens when I even get close to Crazyland?) They are like many of those folks who knock on people's doors on Saturday mornings; they have their prepared remarks and rebuttals, ready to deploy. Unfortunately for them, I really am an expert on theology and Scripture. I don't mean I have advanced degrees; but I do mean that I know a lot more about these things than the door-knockers. They've learned not to knock on my door (the church next door also has something to do with it).

But I'm not especially conversant in the science the flat-earthers are surely distorting, so I can't really call them on it. So what would work? (Remember, it's a sleepless 4 am when I'm pondering this.)

Then it hit me: geometry. Simple geometry. Let me know what you think. And if this is too long so you won't read it (tl;dr), skip down to where I show why this might actually matter.

Proof 1

The earth -- as a globe -- has longitude lines. They begin at a single point, the north pole; they widen to the equator, and then narrow again, until they converge at the south pole. But according to flat-earthers, the earth is a disk with the north pole at the center; they claim Antarctica is a ridge of ice that circles the disk, containing the oceans. If so, then these lines never converge, right?

Well, that creates problems for navigation, wouldn't you say?

Here's an easy experiment. Take an orange, and treat the navel as the north pole. Locate the equator. Take a marker, and just "north" of the equator, make a few dots, keeping them close to the equator.

Now, cut your orange in half. Take the "north" half, and clean out all the pulp, without tearing the skin. Now, take a sharp knife and carefully make cuts, so that this hemisphere can be laid perfectly flat. Notice what happens to those dots? They spread out apart, didn't they. Had you kept the skin intact, as a ball -- rather than cut the orange in half -- and then spread the whole sphere out, the portion representing the southern hemisphere would be even more spread out, wouldn't it?

So guess what? All the timetables for air travel, train travel, bus, truck and car travel, are all based on the globe. So if the flat-earthers are right, there is a problem. Do you see it?

Either Australia is much, much, MUCH larger than we all think it is -- and it takes many, many times longer to drive or fly across it...

Or else, it's the same size, but it's east and west coasts aren't at the longitudes we all think they are.

Either way, all travel along east-west routes that happens right now -- planes are in the air as I write -- simply must take vastly longer than it actually does. People will show up today who shouldn't show up for several days, because the distance would be so much greater if the earth is flat.

Well, I could go on to proofs 2 and 3, which had to do with triangles and something else, but you get the idea.

Meanwhile, there is the problem of arguing "conspiracy" -- which is exactly what these poor folks must argue. My proof, above, made their conspiracy vastly larger; I made it involve, I guess, many billions of people. But even without my help, they still concede there must be some significant conspiracy, in order to account for all the fake satellites and space travel and what-all.

Here's the thing about secret conspiracies: they mostly aren't real, because they don't stay secret and they don't stay well coordinated. It's one of the easiest things for people to believe: all the energy companies are in a conspiracy, or, the CIA conspired to kill President Kennedy, or...you get the idea. If you felt very smug so far about the poor flat-earthers, can you honestly claim you never took the bait on any conspiracy theory? I'm betting not. Most of us give them credence at some point or another. But it's all bogus; and it's not hard to see this, if you stop and think about how very hard it must be to pull it off. A conspiracy of even three or four people is pretty hard. For every new participant, it gets more and more certain that it will break down, and certainly become known.

My point is not really just crowing about flat-earthers. Rather, what interests me is why this sort of thing even has a few adherents; and why do more people seem susceptible to it (if that is indeed the case)? And I have a theory.

In recent decades, there have been three notable trends. One is that we aren't educating people so very well, particularly in how to think critically. That isn't as prized a skill as it used to be. Look at our college campuses: do they prize critical thinking? On the contrary: ask the wrong questions, disagree, and you are guilty of a "microaggression," you are a hater and you must be shut down and driven out. Quite a lot has been written about this. It is depressing.

A second trend is that we live in an era of disillusionment. One institution after another has been discredited before the eyes of the world. The Church. The free press. The government. Business. Sports. Entertainment. And, yes, Science.

And then, third, we live in a time when fakery is quite impressive. Special effects in movies and TV are so routine anymore that we forget just how marvelous they are. This feeds the notion that pretty much anything can be faked.

Maybe all this is a flash in the pan, but maybe not. It may be we will see more and more of this.

And in the meantime, if you find yourself simply dismissing science as all "fake," and there's a conspiracy to keep this afloat -- i.e., evolution, or climate change -- maybe you have more in common with flat-earthers than you want to admit?

Sunday, February 04, 2018

'How Hope and Healing Happen' (Sunday homily)

If you want a title for this homily, it is, “How hope and healing happen.”

To set the stage for the readings, listen to a quote 
from John Bergsma, a Scripture scholar:

“The true virtue, the true courage, is to maintain hope 
(and also love, and joy) in the face of 
what can sometimes look and feel like an ocean of darkness.”

So, “hope.” Let’s focus on that.

Job is discouraged for two reasons. The first we usually remember: 
he has lost everything: his children, his flocks, and his health. 
But there is a second reason as well.

You see, at the beginning of the story of Job, 
he has the mindset that if he does his part – if he lives right, 
keeps the commandments and offers worship to God – 
then he can expect blessings and good fortune.
So when everything falls apart, he keeps asking God: 
What did I do wrong?

And the answer, coming from God himself 
at the end of the Book is to tell Job:
You didn’t do anything wrong. 
All that we have from God isn’t something paid to us,
As if we earned it, or as a reward for good behavior.
Rather, everything is a gift.
The difference between Job’s idea – 
that he got blessings like a transaction – 
and God’s correction, that blessings are pure gift, 
which either we respond to, or we do not…

Is the difference between whether 
we place our hope in ourselves, or in God.

You tell me, which is a better focus of hope?

Maybe this has happened to you. 
There are times in our lives when we really do think, 
“I can fix this; I’m in control.”

And then we have that harsh awakening: 
“No, I really can’t do it myself.”
That is when we either despair – 
or cry out to God, who truly is our hope.

That brings us to the Gospel. 
We see what can happen when we really do cry out to God.
When we say, from the depths of our hearts,
“I can’t do this God, only you can: please save me!”

There is a detail in this Gospel we shouldn’t miss.
Yes, it talks about physical healing – 
for Peter’s mother-in-law, for example – 
but much more, it talks about casting out demons.

I want to reiterate what I said last week:
The mission of the Church – 
which we have received from Jesus Christ himself – 
includes confronting and driving out evil.

There is a scene in one of the Harry Potter films, 
where Hermione says to Harry, 
the enemy wants to divide us and make us feel isolated, 
alone and powerless. 

And the devil does this too.

As a priest, I hear many things, and I repeat nothing.
But I can say that many people are weighed down with sin and troubles, 
and what makes it harder is they do not talk to anyone about it.

Sometimes it is seeking happiness in the bottle, 
to make up for unhappiness elsewhere. 
Or it can be work or volunteerism,
As an escape from trouble at home. 
Still others seek empty fulfillment in dark places of the Internet, 
Isolating them from the harder but true joy of real relationships.

Fear, isolation and shame are chains that hold so many bound.
Have the courage to talk to someone. If you don’t know who, well:
You can talk to me. 

I am not Christ; but if I can be Christ for you – 
to be someone you can approach – nothing would make me happier.

But then, there’s this: isn’t that something 
each one of us can be for each other?
When Christ showed up, everyone flocked to him. 
They weren’t afraid to open their hearts to him.

Can you just imagine how much it would transform this parish, 
this community, our families, and the lives of so many people,
If each of us could be that kind of person for someone else?

Think of it! 

How that would smash the chains of bondage, 
because people would no longer be isolated by shame.

If someone near us felt safe to say, “I am struggling, 
and it’s so hard to talk about, but I trust you: will you help me?”

And that “help” isn’t about expertise; it isn’t about being smart. 
There are always ways to find that expertise.

But the first step is simply finding someone – 
another real human being -- to talk to about
Alcohol, or bitterness in the home, or addiction, 
or feelings that don’t line up with God’s plan for marriage, 
or whatever else is weighing you down.

The task – which Christ calls each of us to – 
is to be a sign of love, a beacon of hope.

So here is the irony. We’ve already established that hope 
won’t come from ourselves, but only from God. 
Yet the twist is, that that hope, which only God can be,
He makes present to others, through us.

Now, I want to take a moment to talk about 
one practical way we do that.
And that is the Catholic Ministries Appeal.

Many of us have gotten mailings. 
I am sure many have already responded 
with either a contribution or a pledge.
But if you haven’t, there are envelopes in your pews.
You can either take it hope and send it in later; 
or, you can take a moment now, and fill it out, 
and put it in the collection.

The Catholic Ministries Appeal, as you know, 
supports several worthwhile projects.
It provides for the retirement of priests.
It helps prepare our growing number of seminarians.
This fund also supports prison and hospital ministry,
And a Catholic presence on college campuses.

The CMA fund also supports Catholic Social Services, 
which is a lifeline for people either in so many situations, 
whether poverty or personal crisis.
And this fund is helping address the growing challenge 
of sharing our Faith in an ever more challenging culture.

Every year your generosity exceeds the target, 
and that means some of those funds come back here. 
We use them for our children and youth programs.

The other thing in your pews is not an ask for money,
But rather, an offer of something for you.
It is an invitation to “go deeper.”
You’ll see on this card some options for Lent, 
which is only ten days away.

This parish, for all we love about it, 
Is really only worth anything if it is a place of life.
A place of healing and hope.
The CMA is a way to be that healing and hope for others.
This “Go Deeper” invitation is a way to tap into that for ourselves – 
and then also be hope for others.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Our true identity as the Church (Sunday homily)

The readings give us an opportunity to talk about what a prophet is.
But stay tuned – it’s also about who we are.

In the first reading, when Moses says a “prophet” 
would come after him, this doesn’t refer only to one person, but many. 

Look all through the Old Testament: 
you will find one figure after another 
to whom God gave the gifts and inspiration necessary 
for them to lead his people forward. 

Now, there are a couple of things to notice about all those figures. 
First, they didn’t all make good use of the gifts God gave them. 
One of the really tragic figures is Samson. 
He was given spiritual gifts of wisdom, and physical strength, 
which he squandered.
Or there is King David, who also made terrible mistakes,
but also showed great repentance.

The other thing to realize is that all these Old Testament figures 
foreshadow the final prophet and king, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Notice the Gospel shows us something 
you never saw anywhere before in Scripture. 
None of the Old Testament prophets 
ever exercised authority over demons. 

Only Jesus Christ does this. 
It’s a powerful sign that he is, of course, 
more than just a prophet, but God himself, become man.

After Jesus comes, something else changes. 
There are no more prophets.
Instead, the Lord calls the Apostles; 
and they are the foundation of the Church.

They go out in his name and – notice – 
Apostles do have authority over demons.
To this day, this is an attribute of the Church.
Christ gave his Church authority over evil.
It’s one of the proofs of who and what the Church is: 
The Body of Christ, the Voice of Christ, on earth.

Now, when I talk about power evil, I don’t just mean exorcism, 
which the entertainment industry finds so fascinating. 

Baptism is an exorcism: did you realize that?
Baptism casts out evil and welcomes in the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, going to confession. 

And when we use holy water, that’s a prayer against evil. 
And recall what we pray after each Mass: 
asking Saint Michael to cast down “Satan, and all evil spirits.” 
Indeed, all our prayer is rooted in this power 
that belongs to us as members of Christ.
There is a Protestant hymn 
that talks about “power in the Blood of Christ.” It’s true!

And there is also power in the Name of Jesus.
That’s why the devil wants us to misuse Jesus’ Name; 
to take what is precious and mighty and cast it aside as if it is nothing. 

This shows us who we are, as Christians, in the world. 
When Moses spoke to the people, 
he spoke about “a” prophet in their midst. 
And we believe that this was fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

But realize that Jesus’ presence on earth, by his design, 
continues in the Church – which we call the Body of Christ.

Look again at what happens in baptism. 
The person baptized is anointed with chrism, 
and the prayer talks about how we receive a share 
in Jesus’ identity as priest, prophet and king.

Every one of us has a share in that. We’re a mighty force! 

We’re tempted to think we don’t make enough of a difference. 
On one level, that’s true, 
because so many Christians don’t realize who they are. 
We don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Now, if you hear me saying that, and you think, 
OK, but how do I live in the power of the Holy Spirit? What do I do?

My answer may surprise you, but it’s actually really simple:
Go to confession. Go soon, and go regularly.
Go, not only to have your sins forgiven – great as that is!
But go also to chart a new path.

Confession does two things for us: take away all our sins. 
And I do mean “all”! 
And, second, confession gives us the grace to change.

A lot of people will say, but I don’t feel like I’m changing.
The thing is, change is hard, and usually, slow. 
And in our modern age, you and I don’t want either hard or slow. 
We want “click” and “now”!
But if you make frequent use of confession, 
and if you go with a true desire to change, you will change.
But it will probably be painful and costly,
And it will require patience and perseverance.
And that is the process of letting the Holy Spirit be in charge. 

So to return to my main theme, 
about the true identity of the Church; 
that we are Christ’s Presence on earth; 
we have authority, in his name, to defeat evil.

Remember that any time you feel overpowered or discouraged.

Remember that when you are tempted to sin. Christ needs you!

Whether we face opposition for doing what is right, 
or we are tempted to give up, 
I think the right response is what Jesus says in the Gospel: 
Shut up, devil, and get out of the way!

God didn’t give us the power of the Holy Spirit to be passive,
but to make a difference. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

How St. Remy changed his world; and how you and I can change ours (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border between France and Belgium. 
As a boy, Remy was very bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
He lived at a time when Roman society was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have, 
had St. Remy been mainly about being Roman. 
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Under President Obama, we were put in that position. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of contraception, 
and will help the government distribute them. 
Our government was saying that good Americans 
are in favor of same-sex “marriage” and in the misdirected, 
immoral sexual behavior which that is really about.

And yes, we’ve gotten something of a breather under this President; 
but less has changed than you may think. 
The prevailing values and beliefs of our society, and our government, 
are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day.

St. Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his cohort were baptized that same day. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
He probably was, at times, as are we all.
What we do know is he did not resign himself; he did not retreat.

Again, we don’t know what special challenges 
he and his fellow Christians faced at that time. 
Yet we do know that his main response – his daily plan – 
was really no different from ours.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”
It’s not about saying or doing any special thing.
It’s simply about being who you are, 
and sharing yourself with others.

How did Remy win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
It was pretty simple, really. 
He sought them out; he offered friendship.

One of the things that impressed King Clovis 
was the way of life the Christians lived. 
He saw their dedication to prayer and the generous way 
they responded to people’s needs.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
Remember, this is the way our Archdiocese does the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.
It provides food and utility help for people who need it, as well as
counseling and family assistance through Catholic Social Services. 

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

I will be traveling next weekend. 
Some parishes will play a recorded message from the Archbishop. 
Here, we’ll put the text of his remarks in the bulletin instead, 
and we’ll talk more about it when I get back.

The Catholic Ministries Appeal is just one of many ways 
you and I can do in a practical way 
what we prayed in today’s psalm: 
“Here we are, Lord. We come to do your will.”

Sunday, January 07, 2018

'See the light--be the light' (Epiphany homily)

This is going to sound hokey, but: 
the title of my homily is: “See the light – be the light.”

We start with the Magi, these Wise Men, these seekers, in the Gospel. 
They saw the light. A star caught their attention, and they followed it.

God has a lot of ways to get our attention. 
It may not have happened to you, but it has happened to a lot of us. 
A lot of folks here can remember a time when God set them straight, 
turned them around, answered a prayer. You may not want to tell too many people, 
but you would even say, “yes, I heard words. I really did.”

I can say that; I will say that. 
When I was 19, I was in my first year of college, 
and I was at a point in my life 
when I was starting really to ask questions about God, 
about being a Christian. And I was going to a Bible study. 
And out of the blue, I heard Christ speak in my heart. 
I can’t really put it into words, but it was clear: 
he was calling me to follow him, 
just like he did with Peter and Andrew, James and John and others.

That’s what happened to me. Other people have different experiences. 
Maybe not dramatic; but one way or the other, God gets your attention.
For these Seekers in the Gospel, it was a star. 
They saw the light, and they followed it.

If you’re thinking, I’m not sure I’ve ever had that experience, 
that may be true. It hasn’t happened for you yet. 
But consider this: is it possible God’s been speaking, and you missed it?
Because a lot of times, we know what God’s saying. 
We aren’t ready to listen. 
To put it into the terms of this Gospel, who knows 
if many other people saw that star; 
but they didn’t do anything about it?
These Seekers did. 

So they followed the light, and it led them to the Light: the True Light.
They brought treasure; but indeed, they were led to Treasure.
Nothing they brought Jesus could equal 
what Jesus himself offered them.

So: here we are. We were led here today. 
Maybe your parents didn’t give you a choice.
Maybe it’s just habit.
But there are people here I know were determined to come. 
It fills me with admiration, because I know some of you 
have aches and pains and it’s cold; and if it were sleeting and snowing and blowing, 
you’d still be here! 

In 15 years as a priest, I’ve learned that 
no matter how bad the weather is – it could be “Snowapocalypse” – 
and there will be two or three intrepid souls in the pews on Sunday.
You know who you are. You are like the Magi, following the star. 
Remember, Jesus said: “Ask, and you shall receive!”

Seek the Light; receive the Light.

But now let’s notice what the other readings talked about. 
Isaiah told us that the Light would shine first on his people, Israel. 
But then, the light would shine to the world. 
“Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.
[L]ook about; they all gather and come to you…from afar.”

How does the Light reach the whole world? That’s your part, and mine.
The Wise Men in the Gospel did their part. 
We have no record of it, but tradition tells us 
they went from Bethlehem and spread the light.
They finished their time on earth and were called to eternity.

Likewise the Apostles, and those who knew them 
and heard their witness.
Generation by generation, the light has been passed to you.

Children, do you know what happened when you were baptized? 
The priest handed a light – a lit candle – to your godparent. 
And that godparent’s job, with your parents and family, 
is to get that light of faith into your hands, so it’s not theirs, 
but yours.

When I was a kid, I found my baptismal candle, 
and I didn’t really appreciate its meaning; I burned it up. 
I’m sorry I did that; I wish I had it today. 
It stands for the light you and I receive in baptism, 
and no matter what anyone says or does, 
nothing can put it out, Only you and I can do that.

And, thankfully, if we do, God gives us back that light 
when we go to confession. God wants us filled with light.
Each one of us is then that light someone else needs to see!
OK, so how does that work, exactly?

It isn’t something we “do,” like going to work, 
or completing our assignments for school, 
or even like coming to Mass each week.

Sometimes people will say, “OK I want to share Christ with others! 
So what do I say? I don’t know how to handle this or that situation! What do I do then?”

It’s not mainly what you say or do; 
it’s a matter of who you are.
To put it in theological terms, it starts not with our efforts, 
but God’s grace. 
Christ brings the light – it lives in us. 

This candle? This is me. This is my life, your life.
But the light? (Light candle.) The candle can’t do that for itself.
That comes from Christ. Let him change you. 

To our eyes it may seem small, maybe almost invisible.
Don’t worry about it. That’s God’s work. 
Be the light. Let it happen in you.
You and I will not know, until eternity, 
how even the smallest words or actions of ours 
can set great things in motion. 

When you are out and about, eating a meal, don’t be afraid 
to make the sign of the cross and say grace. 
It’s a small thing, but powerful.
We’re giving out blessed chalk today with a prayer, 
so you can mark your house as belonging to Christ. 
It’s a nice old tradition, and if you have kids, they’ll love it. 

It’s a reminder that each year belongs to Jesus:
This is the year of the Lord, 2018.

Small acts of kindness; everyday faithfulness, 
when witnessed by others, over time 
become a blazing sign of God’s grace.

You and I are here: we have followed the light, 
whether we knew it or not, here we are. 
Christ brought you here to change you.
To be light through you.