Friday, August 17, 2018

From luxe to lean

After the fancy meal I prepared for the seminarians on Tuesday (and leftovers thereof on Wednesday, this was Thursday dinner:

Along with this I threw some frozen green beans in the micro, with some butter, garlic and red pepper, and I had a can of diet pop with this. I prepared these chicken pieces with olive oil, and generous amounts of garlic powder, red pepper, black pepper and coarse salt. If I have oregano, I will use that. Cook for about an hour at 350 degrees, give or take. I really judge it by the look of the chicken. This is pretty easy and tasty and the leftovers will make several more meals. If you live alone, this is a pretty painless way to do this. If I weren't avoiding carbs (mostly unsuccessfully of late), I could have put some rice in the pan below with a little chicken broth; with the drippings on top of it, that would have been out of this world. If you like other flavors, like Cajun or Chinese or Jamaican, Indian or barbeque, that would work just as well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Dinner: Beef Wellington by Gordon Ramsey

Every year I have seminarians working in the parish for the summer, and the Solemnity of the Assumption serves as a kind of farewell dinner; as well as an opportunity to get out the best china and so forth and have an elegant meal. So yesterday, I was busy getting things together. I decided to attempt Gordon Ramsay's version of Beef Wellington. (Here's a video.)

First, one issue I have with Mr. Ramsay is that if you look up his videos, you'll see he doesn't always do it the same way. For example, the written recipe linked above calls for cooking the mushrooms with some olive oil; but then in the video, he doesn't do that. But overall, I was able to follow his lead and it worked pretty well.

Since I was having four seminarians over for dinner, I decided I needed to make at least two of the Beef Wellingtons, and to be sure there was enough for seconds, I made a third. On Monday I got everything I needed at the store.

Beginning yesterday, I wrapped the meat into little packets. Ramsay suggested doing it overnight; I was planning to, but forgot; so I ended up chilling them for several hours yesterday. Honestly, I'm a little unclear about what this accomplishes. Ramsay says it gives them "shape," but as far as I can tell, the shape was unchanged from how they came from the store.

Next I prepared the mushrooms. I used the food processor as Ramsay suggested -- with trepidation. I've not had success with it; but I'm sure that's because of my lack of skill. One of the seminarians had a helpful suggestion, and it worked! So the mushrooms were nicely chopped down, but not completely turned to mush as I feared. Ramsay emphasizes really getting out the moisture, and I kept cooking and cooking. I was a little nervous about burning things, so I probably could have done it at a higher temperature; and based on how things ended up, I probably could have cooked them a little longer than I did.

I try to clean as I go. The pile on the left also includes some breakfast dishes, but it's mostly this project. It's still early!

The menu included mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Since we were planning dinner to follow the 5:30 PM Vigil Mass, I had to get as much ready beforehand as I could. So I decided to wash, peel and cut up the potatoes beforehand. At Ramsay's suggestion, I cut up the potatoes into roughly even pieces; I hadn't thought of that before.

Here are the mushrooms cooked down. After they sat on the counter for a bit, I noticed yet more water, which I soaked up with a paper towel. Several times. Only later did I realize I could have simply returned them to the pan.

Next I made the red wine sauce. The Kroger butcher didn't have any "trimmings" left from the fillets, so he offered me some pieces of chuck roast. I cut them up further and used them for the sauce. I decided not to triple the amount of sauce I made, and I'm glad I didn't; we didn't use up what we had.

In case you are wondering, yes, the mushrooms and this both smelled wonderful. And, again, I was being cautious with this, so it likely took me longer. Ramsay suggested straining this sauce, when finished, through cloth. I didn't do that; I just used a colander. It ended up looking like not much sauce, so I strained out some of the shallots and added them back into the sauce. In fact, there was more than enough sauce when dinner time came. Still, I liked the look of the sauce with the shallots in it. This was my first deviation from Ramsay's directions.

I might explain that there were pauses between all this when I attended to other parish business. But, yes, this project did have me in the kitchen for several hours. Here is the puff pastry, right out of the box. I let it thaw for about 30-40 minutes before I rolled each one out, and then returned them again to the fridge. I ended up needing three of these, so I gave the fourth to one of my staff members, because I had no idea what to do with it.

When the time came to assemble everything, I was rushed for time -- Mass time approaching! -- so no pictures. I tried my best to do everything as Ramsay suggested, but I didn't manage exactly. First, the pieces of meat I had were fatter and shorter than what he works with in his videos. As a result, the ham-and-mushroom layer didn't quite encircle two of them. Second, I found the "duxelle" -- i.e., the mushroom paste -- wasn't staying put, and I didn't use it all. (The leftover duxelle I put in the fridge to have with this morning's eggs, and I forgot until just now about that plan.) Third, I forgot to put mustard on the meat after searing it -- which I did exactly as GR suggested -- so, I did it after wrapping the meat in the ham, but before wrapping in the pastry. Finally, I did use dijon mustard, because I like it, and that's what I had. Sorry Gordon!

As I was rolling the final product together, because of the stoutness of the fillets, I had to do some stretching with the dough; I hadn't rolled them out enough. But I was able to re-roll the second and third sheets, and it worked. Then I remembered Ramsay saying to "trim" the pastry, but I couldn't remember just how he did it, so I just folded up the ends and hoped for the best. After it came out, I see why he suggested that, and I re-watched the video to see how he did it.

Surprisingly, I got all this done before Mass, even with the egg wash and little fancy cuts on the sides. All this was in the fridge waiting for Mass to be over. Back to the kitchen, potatoes on the boil, and three Beef Wellingtons into the oven. One final defiance of Ramsay: I didn't take time to add more egg wash. It looked fine as it was. While the meat and potatoes were cooking, I sat down with the seminarians and had a drink. My staff had presented me with a bottle of Basil Hayden Bourbon, and I decided to open it up. Yes, it is very good! Meanwhile, I'm checking the meat, and it's cooking very slowly; I don't understand, I put it in at 200 degrees, just as Ramsay said...wait: was that Celsius? Indeed it was -- that means 450 degrees Fahrenheit! So I cranked up the oven, and it cooked nicely. Here are two of the three little bundles of goodness:

So how was it? Overall, very good! The meat was cooked just right. The pastry came out pretty well, but a little soggy. That could have been because I didn't start with the right temperature, or the mushrooms not being dry enough. That also meant the pastry fell apart when I tried to serve it, but it still tasted very good. We ended up eating every bit of these two, saving the third for dinner tonight. Everything else turned out really well and we had a very enjoyable evening. We had red wine with this.

For dessert I picked up a "tiramisu" cake from Krogers; it didn't taste that much like tiramisu, but it was pretty tasty. Then digestivos for any who wanted them. Afterwards, we watched a film called "Argo," about the thrilling rescue of six American diplomats from Iran, who got away from the embassy when the Iranian mob stormed it, and were shielded by the Canadian ambassador.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Why can't everyone go to communion? Because the Eucharist is like sex (Sunday homily)

There is one thing in particular that we Catholics are known for,
that confuses people, or causes offense. 
We get embarrassed about this and we don’t know how to explain it.
Sometimes this causes arguments.

I’m talking about who can receive Holy Communion, and who cannot.
There are two types of people who get confused.

First, there are people who are Christian but not Catholic.
Many times they will feel free 
to receive the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass.
They have no idea that this offends Catholics.
Indeed, many Catholics don’t realize that non-Catholics 
aren’t supposed to receive communion at Mass, let alone why.

The second group that gets confused are Catholics 
who seem to think that receiving communion is more or less automatic.
The syllogism goes something like this:
“I’m Catholic; all Catholics go to communion when at Mass; 
I’m at Mass; therefore, I will go to communion.”

The result, I believe, is that many – maybe most – Catholics 
receive Holy Communion almost automatically, without reflection.
And this explains many Catholics who are mostly inactive 
will still go to communion, again without realizing this is wrong; or why.

So what’s the mistake here? What are people missing?

Jesus said, “the Bread I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” 
Doesn’t he want everyone to eat his Flesh, and drink his Blood?
The answer is, Yes he does, but in the right way.
I’m going to explain this, but you have to bear with me.

Jesus shows us what the full reality of the Eucharist is, 
when he says, over and over, that he the Bridegroom.
He is a Spouse; a Husband.
Who is the partner in that marriage? The Church: we are.
This  runs through the whole Bible, right up to the last book, 
where heaven is the Wedding Supper of the Lamb.

And I want to be clear what I’m saying:
Human marriage is the sign, the foreshadowing; 
Union with God – beginning in this world and ultimately in heaven – 
is the complete reality.

So if the Christian life is a marriage – as Jesus says – 
then how does specifically receiving the Eucharist fit into this?

You may find shocking but: 
the best analogy for receiving the Eucharist is the marital embrace. 
And I want to be crystal-clear without being too explicit. 
I mean that special, physical, private moment of love 
between a husband and wife that can result in new life.

So if you ask, why is it wrong for someone 
just to walk in and receive the Eucharist?
For the same reason that it is wrong to be casual 
about the special act of love I’m referring to. 

And isn’t it curious that even as our society treats the sexual act 
as if it is nothing important, and we can do as we like with it,
that Christians and Catholics, in this same social milieu,
likewise treat the Holy Mass, and the Eucharist, so casually?

Look, I’m not married, so I may be off-base here, but:
Shouldn’t spouses enter into the marital embrace 
as something deserving preparation and supreme attention?
If it’s all about me, me, give to me, rather than about you, 
my being here for you, then isn’t that moment of embrace 
going to be a failure? Life-draining, not life-giving?

I know people will say, “In real life it doesn’t work out that way.”
Oh, I know that: and guess what? 
In real life, a whole lot of people are pretty unhappy in their marriages. 
And they don’t stay married.
All the more reason to get it right with the Eucharist!

As with the food Elijah received, the Eucharist is meant to give us life,
Strength for the journey, day by day, all the way to heaven.
The grave danger is that we approach the Eucharist the wrong way,
not seeking to be converted, not actually realizing the seriousness,
this brings not life, but death! 

Yes, that is what St. Paul himself said elsewhere in Scripture.
Our conscience becomes deadened and darkened.

To answer the question I started with:
This is why a casually-practicing Catholic should first go to confession – 
to the sacrament of reconciliation – before returning to communion:
For precisely the same reason that couples who are distant, 
or not giving each other much attention, 
likewise need reconciliation, first, in preparation for the marital act 
to be a true act of love, rather than something else.

So we have Catholics who show up at Mass one or two times a year, 
And they expect to go right back to communion:
If you’re married, and you stay away for months at a time,
Is that how it works? 
And even if it does, is that a good idea – for that marriage, I mean?

OK, but what about non-Catholics who are Christians. 
Aren’t they also “married” to Christ? Yes, indeed they are.
But the problem is, with rare exception, other Christian denominations 
believe that the Eucharist is not actually Jesus.
They believe Holy Communion is a symbol of Jesus, 
or a “reminder” of Jesus.

Yes, they use a lot of similar language to ours, 
but these other churches believe something fundamentally different.
To go back to the analogy: 
For these good people, receiving communion 
is like being given a picture of their spouse.
That is obviously totally different 
from meeting your Spouse in the flesh.

A moment ago, I said, “with rare exception.” 
Because there are some Churches that actually do believe
that the priesthood is real, and the Mass is truly a Sacrifice, 
and that the Eucharist truly is Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.
And these Christians – generally speaking, Orthodox Christians – 
are in fact allowed to receive Holy Communion at a Catholic Mass.
So, if you know anyone in this situation, come talk to me.

But beyond that, for those who are not Catholic, 
and maybe you are here:
Yes, we do ask you wait, and not receive the Eucharist,
Until you understand the reality of Jesus, not only in this Sacrament, 
but in his whole Church, in all he teaches and asks of us.
Then you can respond with your whole self.

And to my fellow Catholics, I give a very serious caution:
Recognize the awesome reality of the Mass and the Eucharist!
Please don’t let Mass and receiving Holy Communion 
be a ritual you go through on auto-pilot.
Jesus wants to give you Life, from the Source! His very self!

But you can miss it; and become dead to it, if you don’t wake up.
This isn’t about you, and what you get; 
It’s about what you give: all of yourself; 
even as Jesus gives all of himself to you.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Pope Francis 'making a mess' of the Catechism, especially on the death penalty

(This originated as an article in my parish bulletin, but I reworked it a little.)

Let's talk about the Holy Father’s recent decision about the death penalty. This is complicated, so I apologize in advance if my brief comments don’t answer all questions; but I do think some explanation is needed. On Friday, August 3, the Vatican issued a letter – from Cardinal Laderia, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith – that included a new paragraph for the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that states the following:

2267. Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.  

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person,” and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide.

This announcement was hailed as a “change in Church teaching”; this startled me when I heard it on the radio. This is where the problem and the confusion lies.

The death penalty issue actually involves two distinct but overlapping questions. First, a morality question: what is good vs. what is evil? And both the Bible and the Church have said, continuously, that the death penalty is moral, if guilt is properly determined, and if not inhumanely applied. To be clear, this part cannot change! The pope did not – because he cannot – decide that what had been morally permissible for thousands of years, now is not. He can’t do it, because no one can. Only God determines good and evil.

The second question is a public-policy one: working from what is morally acceptable (the prior question), now we ask: what is a wise, prudent way to go forward as a society in our particular time and circumstances? Only this latter issue is subject to change with the times, whether by Pope Francis, or any other pope. The confusion here is that people are mixing these questions together.

Recall that it was Pope John Paul II who first proposed that society should avoid the death penalty, unless absolutely necessary; and in my judgment, Pope Francis is really only reiterating that point with greater emphasis. Pope John Paul II stated the following in the Catechism:

“The traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude, presupposing full ascertainment of the identity and responsibility of the offender, recourse to the death penalty, when this is the only practicable way to defend the lives of human beings effectively against the aggressor” (CCC 2267, prior version). However, Pope John Paul II went on to urge that non-lethal punishment be preferred, stating that “cases of absolute necessity” for use of capital punishment today “are very rare, if not practically non-existent.”

Candidly, I think the way this was presented, first by the Vatican and then others, lacked the clear distinctions that are needed. The Holy Father, having a praiseworthy objective of minimizing the death penalty (as did prior popes), is not addressing these distinctions at the moment, but he is well aware of them and knows that they matter. In time they will need to be clarified.

As far as I can see, the language of Pope John Paul remains in force, even if it isn't entirely retained in the Catechism. Namely: that on the morality question: is capital punishment good or evil -- then what the Church has always taught, is still true; the death penalty is justified with the usual conditions.

Nevertheless, on the public-policy question -- what's good for us here and now -- the Church urges avoidance of the death penalty to the maximum extent possible.

I know what many are saying: nope, Pope Francis closed that door. But the thing is, I can't see how he can. Can the pope declare good evil, and evil, good? No, he cannot. And note well, his language does not do that. Not once does the pope declare, explicitly, that capital punishment is "intrinsically" (or any other kind of) evil. He merely says, "inadmissible," which is -- from a theological and philosophical standpoint -- vague and loose. In my judgment, it boils down to a restatement of Pope John Paul's, try to avoid it all you can.

Someone asked me, does this mean I disagree with the pope? Well, the honest answer is, I don't know! But I don't really think so. The very lack of clarity here leaves me not knowing what Pope Francis' full intentions are. So I have to guess, and here's my guess:

1) He wants to discourage the death penalty as much as possible.
2) He thinks, at least in our circumstances, it is "bad" to do; meaning, it makes a net negative impact on society.

On these two points I agree with Pope Francis.

But does he think that the death penalty is morally evil and can never be justified in any fashion? Perhaps he does, and many people believe that's what he's saying here; but the problem is, if I say the pope believes that, I am accusing him of denying something the Church has always held, on the basis of Sacred Scripture, no less. And I will not make any such accusation against him; instead, I will err on the side of charity, especially in this matter.

That's not just an equivocation out of charity. I simply do not know what is in the heart of the pope, because I cannot know that. What I know is that the pope has issued new language for the Catechism, that in my judgment is muddled; but even then, it notably is careful about not going too far. That is to say, what if he had declared the death penalty intrinsically evil? And why didn't he? The answer, I think, is because he was told, if he did not tell himself, that he cannot do that and must not do that. In any case, he did not do that.

So, we have a mess. The pope is famous for saying "Hagan lio," which is translated as "make a mess." In the context, as I recall, he was encouraging folks not to be passive or inert, but to be active, engaged, and not to be afraid that their activism will ruffle feathers or challenge the status quo. This is something the pope himself does. At times this is very good advice; at other times, it can be unsettling, including for me in the present case. Some want to accuse him of malicious intent or gross neglect; some accuse him of being a heretic. If you wish to find fault with me for not reaching those conclusions, so be it; but I will make no such grave accusations unless I really have no alternative.

Nevertheless, I cannot help saying this. One regrettable consequence of this is that the Catechism, which heretofore I have always treated as a clear statement of Church teaching, is now a bit of a "mess." I'm sorry about that; and it will be a little more complicated making use of it. I have the prior edition, and I intend to keep using it. That way I can share with people the language placed there by Pope John Paul II that I think maintains the necessary clarifications. I will refer to the desire of the current Holy Father that use of the death penalty be "inadmissible," and do my best to explain how that is consistent with the unchanging teaching of the Church on this matter.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

The 'Food that endures' (Sunday homily)

Last Sunday, the key idea was “signs” – 
that is, which point us toward Jesus Christ, who is the destination.

This Sunday, we hear the Lord Jesus say:
“Do not work for food that perishes
but for the food that endures for eternal life.”

So I wondered: how do these two types of food compare?
Let’s start with “food that perishes” – that is, natural, ordinary food.
This food you and I can grow or raise ourselves, or we buy. 
Although food is much easier to get than in Bible times,
It still costs real money and takes real work.

If we don’t eat it, we will die.
If we eat the wrong kind, we will get sick.
If you or I eat too much, we get fat.
But even if we eat the right natural food, in the right amount, 
You and I will still die; because this natural life cannot go on forever.
Such is the “food that perishes.”

Now, what about the enduring food Jesus offers us?
You and I cannot produce it; we cannot prepare it. It is simply given.
What does it cost? I was going to say it’s free, and that’s true;
Yet in another sense, no food is more costly; 
because what we “pay” to receive Jesus is, simply, our whole selves. 
He gives himself entirely, and he demands the very same from us.

Our entire selves: let that sink in.
Many wonder why the Christian Faith is facing troubles in our time.
So many profess to be Christian, but don’t really live it. 
Many live compartmentalized lives: one part of me prays, 
one part of me believes, but another part of me cheats on my taxes,
or mistreats my spouse, or goes to dark places on the Internet, 
or depends on alcohol to make me happy,
or is envious or controlling, and so on and so on.

Meanwhile there are so many who simply ignore the claims of Christ.
They don’t think they are rejecting him; but he’s a figure on a cross, 
a picture on the wall, and maybe he gets a visit one or two times a year.

Why is this happening?
It is true that bad Christians – high or low – give scandal.
Nevertheless, the main reason people 
do not continue with their Christian Faith, or do not accept it,
is because Jesus simply asks too much.
We might be willing to give him a part of us; but he demands ALL.

And so, by the way, this is why when we commit a mortal sin, 
we must be reconciled – through confession – 
before receiving the Eucharist. 
Jesus is not content to have only part of us; he wants all!

So, yes, the “food that endures” is indeed costly.

What else about the food Jesus gives?
While natural food can only communicate natural life,
The food of Jesus provides supernatural life that never ends. 
But without Jesus, you and I will be eternally hungry and empty, 
and that is hell.

These are the two foods placed before us.
And Jesus says, you’re working hard for ordinary food; I understand.
Still, receive this Food; “work” for this Food I will give;
And the “work” we do for it, is to put our faith in Jesus; 
as I said, to give him our entire selves, nothing held back.

Now, here is the bread and wine, used for Mass.*
Right now, as I hold it before you, this is “food that perishes”; ordinary, natural food.

In a few moments, before our eyes, 
through the unworthy hands of a priest, who is also sinful man,  
Jesus himself will change these ephemeral, earth-bound elements, 
into that Food which he promised to give: 
His very self, his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

Now, do you see what I’m saying here?
This food, this perishable food, this is us!
You and I, like this bread and wine, 
do not have supernatural life in ourselves; 
and if God had not acted and entered time to share it, 
we would spend eternity without supernatural life!

What Jesus does to the bread and wine on the altar, 
He is determined to do to you and me!
This is what it means to receive the Eucharist;
As Saint Augustine said, we become what we receive.

I’m going to end with two questions; but don’t tell me the answer.
Don’t answer too quickly. 
Look deep in your own heart, confront yourself, 
and tell yourself the answer. 
Think hard about whether you truly mean it. 

Do you believe this change – from bread and wine, 
into Jesus’ Body and Blood, his true and real Presence – 
actually happens on this altar?

And do you believe that what Jesus does to bread and wine, 
He can and he will – AND WILL! – do to you?

Jesus is the Food that Endures: Become what you receive!

* At this point in the homily, I held up a plate of hosts and a cruet of wine.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

You either point to Christ, or away from him (Sunday homily)

A few years ago, I made a trip in Germany; 
and I remember driving on the highways there.
I don’t speak German, but I did know the names of the places 
I was going; and I could tell the speed limit. 
The signs in Germany did their job very well – 
they got me where I was going.

I’m talking about signs because the readings today talk about signs.
Elisha performs a sign, which points to what Jesus himself did later.
And in the second reading, 
Saint Paul tells the Ephesians, in effect, they are a sign, 
by how they live their lives.

All that was clear enough, 
but here’s something you may not have realized.
For the next five Sundays we will hear Jesus himself teach 
about the Eucharist, from Chapter six of the Gospel of John. 

That decision by the Church, to give so many Sundays to this, 
is also a sign: of how very important the Holy Eucharist is.

Vatican II called the Eucharist 
the “source and summit of the Christian life” (Lumen Gentium 11).
Well, when I say that, who disagrees? No one, right?

Now, let me back up to my trip to Germany. 
There were a couple of times when I was looking for a particular city, 
but I didn’t see the name on the highway signs.
That’s because the signs point you to the next place;
And then after you reach there, the next place.
But where I was going was a ways down the highway.
And because I am not familiar with the territory,
that threw me off a few times.
I-75 is exactly the same. As you go south from here, it’s all “Dayton”; 
then it’s all “Cincinnati,” 
and only south of there will you see “Lexington.”

So we have the signs in the Scripture, 
but they don’t take us the whole journey. 
How can that be? Because Jesus wants us to receive the Eucharist!
That requires the Holy Mass and that requires the Church.
Christ founded the Church in order to give us the Eucharist.

The Eucharist – Jesus’ Body and Blood, his own self –
Is not, of course, a sign; but the destination!
It is to Jesus himself, to union with him, 
that all the signs should point.

Now, here’s where you and I come in.
Up to this point, you could sit there and say, that’s all good stuff!

But here’s the punchline:
You and I are signs. Let me say that again: You and I are signs.
And we can either be good signs – 
that point the right way – or bad signs, that warn people off.
Last week I talked about bad shepherds, including bad bishops.
We might as easily have talked about prominent Catholics 
in Hollywood or business or politics who give bad example.

As we know, people will say: I’m not going to be Catholic, 
Look at the bishops, look at those phony politicians!

But the answer is to give them another sign to look at.
A convincing sign. A sign that is bright with the Holy Spirit.
That sign is your life. Your family life.
People aren’t stupid. We all know there are fakes everywhere.
But that just makes us want something real all the more!

Now, if you are still with me, then let me give you two ways 
to be credible, powerful signs that point people the right way.

The first is to be a penitent. A repentant person.
One thing we don’t need to convince anyone of, 
is that there is corruption in the world, even in the Church.

But what we can do is show – not just tell – others that, for our part, 
we are not full of pride, but we are sinners trying to grow in holiness.
In short: go to confession. Make a habit of confession.

We all have excuses. They are all bogus.
If Catholic churches started filling up with people going to confession, 
do you think that would be a powerful sign?

And, I might just remind you that if we are aware of a mortal sin, 
we must go to confession before receiving Holy Communion.
The second way you and I can be a powerful sign is by our reverence, 
at Holy Mass and specifically, in receiving Holy Communion.

Now, I want to be very clear: many here are doing that.
Many who visit St. Remy will comment on the reverence.
Many of you are an inspiration to me by your love for the Eucharist.

“But”: you knew that was coming.
Some of us I do want to challenge. 
Some folks come to communion like it’s a concession stand.
Or a drive-through: grab-and-go.
Stop and realize: 
You are approaching your God, who made you, 
and who became human precisely so he could die on the Cross for you.
And God is giving himself to you.

The bishops decided some years ago 
that we would approach standing, rather than kneel. 
Honestly, I wish they hadn’t done that.
But we do what they directed us to do.

At the same time, they also said something most people forget:
That everyone should show a sign of reverence.
Kneeling itself is perfect; and some of you do kneel.
Others genuflect. Awesome.
Not everyone can do that, so can you bow?
Can you make the sign of the cross?

And in that context, doesn’t receiving on the tongue make sense?
It is an act of great humility and submission – to Christ.
I know I will hear from folks who will say, for this or that reason, 
they don’t receive on the tongue. I understand.
But those exceptions don’t apply to most of us.

I’ll say it again: you are receiving the Lord, your God!

Jesus’ plan was for the Church – for each of us –
To be signs pointing to him.
Never more needed than today.
What others fail to do we cannot control.
But you and I can decide how powerful a sign we will be. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Why don't we have better shepherds? (Sunday homily)

Have we heard about bad shepherds? Do we know what that is like?
Of course we do.

No matter what you think of President Donald Trump,
I think we can agree that he would never have been elected
 in a “normal” election year;
that is, if many, many Americans
hadn’t thought things were deeply off track.

And in these continuing strange times,
it seems to me you and I are seeing many more –
in politics, in government, in the media –
being exposed as very unreliable shepherds.

Meanwhile we are again seeing reports of clergy, specifically bishops,
who failed as shepherds. Failing two ways: in some cases,
preying on the sheep, being more wolves than shepherds;
and in other cases, knowing about wrongdoing
and not being bothered to act.

It seems to me that as bad as it is when you have leaders –
And I mean either the Church or government, or business, anywhere –
who are corrupt, who prey on those
they are supposed to protect or serve;
or who are dipping into the treasury for their own enrichment;
or who are in cahoots with those who do…

As bad as that is, that is not the major problem.
A far greater problem is complacency.

There is a bishop, a cardinal in fact, from the East Coast
who is now being widely accused of disgusting behavior,
preying on adults. That’s bad.
But more concerning is that apparently, this was an “open secret.”
And when people would summon the courage
to make a complaint, their reports were dismissed.

Complacency. Disinterest. Staying in your own lane.
Call it whatever you want;
but this allows worse corruption to fester.

And let me be a little tougher.

It isn’t just the higher-ups who don’t like the squeaky wheel,
the whistle-blower, the person who is airing out all the dirt;
NO ONE likes it! NO ONE wants to hear it.

I’m not talking about gossip; that, we like!
Because we can just listen and not have to do anything.

No, I’m saying that when someone comes forward, and says,
there is a real problem, and you have to do something about it:
No, we don’t like that one bit.

Let me give you an example from right here in Russia.
A couple of years ago, the school and the parish together
sponsored a speaker to come in
and talk about the dangers on the Internet.
Part of it was during the school day; the kids had to attend,
so of course the gym was full.

Part two was in the evening, for the parents.
Attendance was voluntary. Guess what happened?
I’m glad for those who showed up. And I realize people are busy.

But do you think those are the only reasons the gym was mostly empty?
Am I wrong to think that too many people
just don’t want to deal with it?

And if someone thinks I’m overstating the problem of explicit material online, let me tell you:
in a few short years,
this has rapidly become one of the top problems priests deal with.

Marriages are ending over it. Many more are deeply wounded.
And the thing is, if you are over 40, or even over 30,
There is a world of Internet activity and applications
that you simply cannot conceive of.

And if you don’t live in that world, you have no idea
what kind of warped messages are reaching out to our children.
Do you know the average age for exposure to these things?
Eleven years old, and dropping. All with a click of a finger.

Fifty years ago this year, Blessed Pope Paul VI
issued an encyclical called Humanae Vitae,
which mean, “Of Human Life.”

People remember it because he restates and explains
the Church’s constant teaching that marital acts
must always be open to the gift of life;

and therefore, all the various tactics and pills
and other things that people have done, down through the ages,
to make conception of a child impossible –
all these methods are gravely immoral; they are mortal sins.

That’s what people remember, and that there was a great rebellion.
Many experts, many prominent Catholics, professors and so forth,
and many priests and even some bishops, either openly rebelled;
or else, they treated the Pope like a leper.

They were so smart, and the Pope and the Church, so out of touch.
But here’s the thing. That letter, Humanae Vitae, was about much more
than what folks remember.
It is about what it means to be a human being, made in God’s image;
created and loved by God and destined for eternity.

Pope Paul did not issue that letter because he was looking for ways
to make life more complicated, particularly for married couples.

At the time, everyone was advising him to go the other way.
Or else, just don’t say anything. Just let it go.
Which, by the way, is what lots of priests did for years; and still do.
And, to be fair, that’s what lots of Catholics wanted them to do.

But Pope Paul could not do that. He had a duty,
not to tell people what they wanted to hear,
but what they needed to hear.
And the thing is, what he said –
again, about a lot more than contraception,
that’s only part of his letter…
What Pope Paul said was absolutely prophetic.
He predicted that if the Church’s ancient teaching were rejected:
human life would become cheaper – and we have widespread abortion;
Women would be degraded: look at the “Me Two” movement.

Moreover, there is a straight line
leading from rejecting Humanae Vitae,
to the profound confusion we now face over what marriage even is –
can it be two men or two women? –
and now the even deeper blindness of people
no longer knowing what it even means to be a man or a woman.

It is all a package deal.
God created humanity to be partners in his work.
But humanity doesn’t want that high calling; it is too demanding.
The problem is that when we lose God, in the end, we lose ourselves.
And that is what is happening right now, before our very eyes.

I began by talking about shepherds who fail, either in gross ways,
or else in being complacent.
But what I want to say is that as terrible as that is,
that can’t be an excuse for our own response.

With all that is dismaying, you and I can take courage
from the Providence of God that has given every family,
every one of us, resources that were impossible even 20 years ago.
People will say to me, “I wish you say more about this or that.”
I’d like to, and maybe I will; but I have limited time.

But you don’t have to wait for me.
Just for example, it’s available to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year.
Our parish has a subscription.
The code you need to use is on our website.
And there’s much more that’s freely available online.

Pray for your shepherds, in the Church, in government,
our schools, business, colleges, the media.
You and I always need courage, but oh how badly we need it now!

Well, there it is: it isn’t just those other people who need courage. Every one of us does.
In the end, the shepherds are us.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Ho-humming Jesus (Sunday homily)

So, this is a pretty striking reaction to Jesus.
He is healing people, casting out demons, 
and teaching people about God, offering forgiveness and offering hope.

“And they took offense at him.”

We know this kid, they said; he grew up here. 
We know his family. Who does he think he is? 

Ho-hum, they said.

Their hardness of heart “prevented” Jesus from performing miracles; 
not because he was literally incapable of doing so – 
he is God, he can do what he likes – 
but rather, because there was no point.
The point of his healings and his teaching are the same: 
to open people up to the supernatural life God offers them.
But they were closed off; his miracles would do them no good.

It is shocking to think of people reacting this way.
But let me ask you: if you could have just 5 or ten minutes with Jesus, 
in which he would do for you what he offered those people,
Would you rearrange your schedule to meet with him?

I think a lot of us are saying, of course I would!
So then I ask you: what do you think happens in the confessional?

I know: a lot of people get discouraged because they go to confession, and they don’t get better.

But maybe the sacrament is keeping you from getting worse – 
did you ever consider that?

Saint Therese the Little Flower made a point on this somewhere:
That the reason we don’t quickly overcome our sins 
is because that would lead us to massive spiritual pride, 
which can send us to hell just as easily.
So it is God’s mercy that we spend our lives wrestling with sin, 
rather than one confession and done.

It really is this simple: what do you think happens in confession?
Do you believe Jesus is there, with all his power and his mercy?
Do you believe that? 

For that matter, do you believe the Holy Mass is a miracle?
Because that is what it is.

Actually, two miracles; two miracles happen in every Mass; 
and we all witness them.

The first miracle is that God brings us to Calvary, 
to the Sacrifice that Jesus offered on the Cross.
The Mass is the Cross; the Mass brings us to the Cross.
When you and I are at Mass, we are right there with Jesus.

The second miracle is the change of bread and wine 
into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – 
the true, real Presence of Jesus our Lord.

And, now that I think about it, there are three miracles.
The third one is that you and I, 
in receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace – 
meaning, we are not conscious of a mortal sin 
that we have not yet brought to confession…
I say again, when we receive the Eucharist in a state of grace,
we are united with Jesus. We have union with God.

When I say it aloud, it is astounding; it’s shattering.
I can’t help wondering, 
how in the world do we ho-hum these wonders? 
How does it happen? And yet, we do.

I don’t mean you; I mean me.
I stand at this altar, day by day. 
I give out God’s mercy in the confessional, and I’m glad to do it; 
but I confess to you, I am not overwhelmed enough. 
Not nearly enough.

It wasn’t just the hometown neighbors of Jesus who ho-hummed him; 
And by their “yeah, so what?” attitude, closed the door to miracles.
No; it wasn’t just them.

I don’t want to be those people. Do you? Do you?

“Jesus, I dare to ask: break down the barriers, break my heart open!
Please keep me, please keep these your flock, 
from being numbered among those 
about whom you are ‘amazed at their lack of faith.’
Please, Lord, in your mercy, may these words not be said of us. Amen.”

Sunday, July 01, 2018

A homily about pornography (without using that word; Sunday homily)

This past week I was in northern Kentucky, 
at a conference with other priests. 
Maybe you saw in the bulletin what it was about.
If you didn’t, let’s put it this way: 
it was about the dark side of the Internet. 
This is a very big problem. 
For many people, for a lot of people, it is an addiction.

This was not a vacation. We were looking at some heavy science 
and talking about some tough things, and how a priest can help.

And then, during the week, I look at the readings for this Mass.
They are about God giving life, and healing; 
raising someone from death to life.

It seemed to me to be providential.

So let me go back to the word I just used: addiction.
This is something a lot of people simply don’t understand; 
Even about themselves: “I don’t know why I do this.”

If this isn’t you, it is really hard to understand.
How can someone wreck his or her life over alcohol 
or gambling or over dark stuff on the Internet?

I don’t know that I’m going to explain this adequately, 
But what you must understand is that this isn’t about will power.
It isn’t about not praying enough, or some easy trick.
It goes a lot deeper.

Here’s what I learned this week about indecent materials – 
and, you do know I’m talking about something specific, 
but I’m being delicate?
So here’s part of what I learned.

This is about connecting with people.
If we don’t have the right kind of human connections, 
we will seek out the wrong kind. False kinds. Empty connections.

And to turn it around: if we are hooked on the wrong kind,
The answer, the thing we need, is the right kind of human connection.

When a lot of us were children, 
we had one phone the whole house shared.
And we had one TV, with 3, 4 or 5 channels.
When you watched TV, it was together.

Today, everyone has his or her own telephone;
And you can watch TV on it. We’re all disconnected.

So why be surprised that instead of human connection, 
we connect with apps, with games, 
and with other things we don’t want others to see.

So let’s talk about what happened in the Gospel.
A man comes to Jesus; his daughter is very ill.
What does Jesus say? I will come to her. 

But then something odd happens along the way.
A woman in the crowd reaches out and touches Jesus.
And then Jesus, knowing she had been healed, decides to call her out.

Why not just let her go on her way: she was healed after all.
If you were her, would you want the spotlight put on you?
Everyone’s eyes staring at you? 
It’s kind of harsh. Why would he do that?

There was something more that woman needed 
than just to have her bleeding problem stopped.
She had a problem that must have been embarrassing;
It separated her from others.

Perhaps this woman felt shame, ugly, unwanted and unloved.
She was disconnected from others, and she had been for 12 years.
She didn’t just need the blood problem fixed; 
She needed her connection with others restored.
To be loved, and know it. That’s the healing the woman needed.
Jesus wasn’t embarrassing her; he was pulling her from the shadows.

Then she told Jesus the whole truth.
One of the most healing things you and I can do 
when we have something we feel shame about, some dark habit, 
is to tell someone.
Being all alone with that gives it power.
Remember: what we need is to connect the right way.

Jesus wanted that woman to know she wasn’t just a stranger; 
she was family. He called her “daughter.” 

That’s the connection. You are a beloved child of God. And so am I.
I don’t know all the answers, but I have some good ideas.
But if you want to talk, and get it out,
I’m really good at listening and not repeating things. 
That is what priests do.
And I think I can help you find help.

And I’m going to remind you that no matter what separates you, 
what you think makes you totally outside, totally off, unworthy,
is just not big enough that God won’t say to you, 
you are beloved son, you are my beloved daughter.

God created this world to be a place of life.
He made you and me to be “imperishable.”
And he came into the world – he became one of us –
To raise us back to life.

You are the one to whom Christ is speaking in the Gospel.
You are the child, he says, “is not dead but asleep.”
And to you, his most loved child, he says, “Arise!”

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Who's your guy: John the Baptist or Hugh Hefner? (Sunday homily)

Last week was Father’s day. 
But it occurs to me that today’s feast is a really good day 
to talk to and about fathers, to and about men.

Does it seem unusual to have a saint’s day on a Sunday? 
That’s because it is.  

Why John the Baptist? 
Jesus himself tells us elsewhere in Scripture:
“I tell you, among those born of women, 
no one is greater than John; 
yet the least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

What made John so great? Two things.
First, because he was the final link in the long chain of hope.
That chain began immediately 
after Adam and Eve were corrupted, when God promised a Savior.

The links were sustained through wandering and darkness, 
through slavery and deliverance, through exaltation and exile, 
all the way down to John. But John, unlike all the rest, 
not only promised a Savior, someday; 
he was uniquely able to say: 
Here! Now! Behold the Lamb of God!

And second, John was utterly faithful to his mission.
He understood it wasn’t about him.
“I must decrease,” he said: “Jesus must increase.”
Every word, every breath of John’s life was about Jesus: “There he is!” 
Go follow him, John told his own followers.
Men, you and I live in a strange time. 
The proper role and responsibilities of men 
have never been more needed; and yet never more denigrated.

We hear about so-called “toxic masculinity.”
In schools, if boys act like boys, they are punished.
In too many homes and neighborhoods, men are mostly absent.

And, yes, there is such a thing as “toxic masculinity,”
although it’s not what some radical voices claim.
Here’s what I think is a toxic masculinity:
The idea that men should just have what they want.

There was a man named Hugh Hefner, 
who had a philosophy which boiled down to, 
the thing that matters most is you, and your fulfillment.
Sacrifice and self-denial are for suckers.

He published a magazine and promoted a lifestyle for decades.
He played a huge role in promoting easy divorce 
and contraception and living together without marriage; 
and he loved that first bookstores, and then the Internet, 
became filled with obscene materials.
He thought redefining marriage and family was awesome.

Why am I talking about Hugh Hefner? 
Many of you have never heard of him. 
But this one man played a huge role 
in shaping the world you and I now live in.

And though they don’t know it, 
millions of men and boys are following in the path he charted. 
Because it is really appealing to be able to live that way.

Meanwhile, there is all the wreckage.
There is a reckoning happening, and we see it every day:
People are being brought to account – in politics, 
in entertainment, in the Church, because they lived for themselves,
and they left a lot of casualties behind.

From Monday to Thursday morning of this week, 
I will be in northern Kentucky with other priests, 
learning from experts about the plague of pornography.
A man in our parish said it best only last week:
This stuff comes straight from the pit of hell;
And if it was sold in cans, it would outsell Coca-Cola. 

Being all about self and all about right now is so easy. 
On the other hand, doing what John the Baptist did – 
and for that matter, what his father Zachariah 
and mother Elizabeth did – that is really hard.
Remember, they were elderly when God’s invitation came.
Zachariah was very reluctant. Not me! I’m too old, it’s too late.

A lot of grandparents are picking up the slack these days, 
because a lot of mothers are carrying a double load alone.

So men, we’re in a mess.
Almost 80 years ago, our world was in a pretty bad place. 
And the Greatest Generation stepped up.
So many of our fathers and grandfathers answered the call.
Most of them were never recognized, 
and probably played a role that, at the time, seemed so small.

My father served in the Air Corps, working on B-17s.
He never bragged about any of it, 
I’m guessing because he knew pilots and crews 
that never came back; and he knew how lucky he was.
No one person won that war; but we needed every single one.

And men – boys – we need you now.
A spiritual Pearl Harbor, a moral 9-11 is happening right now.
The battlefield isn’t far away: it’s our homes and each of our hearts.
And if you wonder what your mission, what your purpose is, 
It is like Zachariah who said, “His name is John” –
Meaning that father gave his son to the Lord’s service.

It is like John who said, this is all about Jesus, that’s why I’m here.
And John never had an easy day in his life 
and he ultimately paid with blood. 
But his was the path of glory! 

Men, boys: choose that path!
It most likely isn’t going to be some great moment; 
it’s a long chain of little moments, 
most of which only you will know about. 

A choice of Christ and others over self.
That path may mean being a priest. I love being a priest.
But if not, be a husband and father. Give life; change lives.
And if you’re inspired to do great things, 
Then be willing to do small acts of faithfulness 
while you wait till your moment comes. 

This coming Friday we’ll have our 3rd annual Men’s Prayer Walk.
All men, all ages are welcome. We’ll meet in the parking lot 
between my house and the school at 5:30, we’ll have transportation, 
we’ll go out to Russia-Houston Road and Route 48, 
and walk out toward and past Houston for about an hour. 
Then we’ll come back and have fellowship.

What will that accomplish?
We will be praying for this parish and this community.
Our walking around the parish boundaries 
signifies our role as protectors and providers.
If it’s only us, probably it means very little.

But it will be us and the Holy Spirit, 
bearing witness to the Lamb of God.
And when we do that, anything can happen.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Separating families at the border

This is what appears in Saint Remy Bulletin this Sunday.

What is all this talk about immigration and families? In recent weeks, there’s been a furious back-and-forth in the media and in Washington about what the government is doing at the borders, and how this affects families with minor children. I’ve seen a lot of yelling, not a lot of clarity. So last week, I tried to dig into this to understand better, particularly as our U.S. bishops have weighed in. This won’t be an expert explanation. But here’s what I think is going on.

Millions of people come to our country every year, both legally and illegally. Most who enter illegally are seeking nothing more than a better life, but some are engaged in crime or even terrorism. The task of our government in sorting out the honest and dishonest isn’t easy; and virtually everyone admits that we as a nation need a better handle on these issues. Politicians of both parties have been promising to address the problems of illegal immigration for decades, but without consensus.

When people attempt to enter this country illegally, several things can happen. If they are met right at the border, they are turned back. But if they are found already inside the country, then that is a violation of the law. In addition, they may be found to have broken other laws as well. At this point, they are either arrested and prosecuted, as anyone else would be, or else they are sent out of the country again. In all this, some will need food and medical attention, and I’m very confident they get it. Some of these folks will ask for asylum in the U.S., which our laws will grant under various conditions. When such a request is made, there is a legal process for determining whether that person qualifies for asylum.

Here’s the first hitch: the border control agents who deal with these issues have their hands full, as do the judges who have to decide these requests; so there are waiting periods until these things can be decided. So what happens to the illegal aliens requesting asylum? Really only two things can happen: they can either be held in custody, or else they can be released on their honor, and told to report on such-and-such a date for their court hearing. It should be obvious what the problems with either approach are. If you go back 30 years or so, you’ll find both approaches tried by both Democrats and Republicans. At the moment, President Trump has opted not to release such asylum-seekers, but rather to hold them in custody.

Here’s the second hitch: sometimes – many times? – these individuals come with underage children. Maybe they are their own children, or maybe they aren’t. Again, this presents the border control agents with many issues. They have to know whether the children are actually with their own relatives, and whether there is anything improper going on. But assuming they’ve answered these questions, then the issue is, do they take the children into custody as well? Or do they only take into custody the adults? Or do they just let the folks go free? This is what the current dispute is about. (Update: as this bulletin went to press, the President signed an order aiming to prevent family separations; but this isn’t over.)

If the government only takes the adults into custody, then the children have to go elsewhere; perhaps into foster care, or perhaps with relatives. But obviously, this means separation from their parents, and we can all imagine how frightening this is.

Here’s what our bishops have said. Let me quote a June 13 statement from Houston Archbishop Daniel DiNardo, who is the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops:

At its core, asylum is an instrument to preserve the right to life. The Attorney General's recent decision elicits deep concern because it potentially strips asylum from many women who lack adequate protection. These vulnerable women will now face return to the extreme dangers of domestic violence in their home country. This decision negates decades of precedents that have provided protection to women fleeing domestic violence. Unless overturned, the decision will erode the capacity of asylum to save lives, particularly in cases that involve asylum seekers who are persecuted by private actors. We urge courts and policy makers to respect and enhance, not erode, the potential of our asylum system to preserve and protect the right to life.

Additionally, I join Bishop Joe Vásquez, Chairman of USCCB's Committee on Migration, in condemning the continued use of family separation at the U.S./Mexico border as an implementation of the Administration's zero tolerance policy. Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. While protecting our borders is important, we can and must do better as a government, and as a society, to find other ways to ensure that safety. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral."

Of course, the bishops know there are many responses to their concerns. Every year, many thousands of adults who have minor children are arrested, convicted and incarcerated for various crimes; and this, too, results in “family separation.” My guess is that Archbishop DiNardo would say that he wants to minimize that as well. And then, most people would distinguish between someone who is incarcerated for a theft or a violent crime, versus people who are fleeing desperate situations, even if they do enter this country illegally in the process.

Others are saying, but shouldn’t the bishops simply be happy that this administration is doing many positive things on pro-life and religious freedom? My guess is that the bishops are, indeed, happy; but that doesn’t mean they remind silent when they have concerns. Nor should any of us.

Archbishop DiNardo and Bishop Vasquez, among others, are trying to give voice to varied points of view among their fellow bishops, and among many Catholics. I think the bishops are trying to be a voice for the right balance between border security and compassion for people who are seeking a better life.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

About the Cardinal McCarrick situation: I am angry

Over the past two days, I’ve been digesting the news about Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the retired Archbishop of Washington. What is that news? Well, it’s in two parts:

- The first part was that he has been “credibly” accused of abusing a minor about 50 years ago.
- The second part is that this has occasioned stories about many more allegations of sexual activity on his part with priests and seminarians; meaning that it involved preying on subordinates.

Now, I don’t know if any of this is true. I hope none of it happened; but reading about this has made me sick in my stomach, and angry. Angry at the crimes themselves, if they happened; but even angrier at what seems to have been an “open secret” for many people for so many years.

Given what I’ve been reading, some of which was published at least eight years ago, it seems clear to me that this really was a pretty open “secret.” Which means that all the bishops – in Newark, in New York, in Metuchen, New Jersey and in Washington, D.C. – who are now issuing statements of “sadness” and “shock” – surely knew that McCarrick had been accused of misconduct before. We learned yesterday that at least two allegations, involving adults, had resulted in settlements. What else is there?

Someone might say, but this whole scandal business is old news. Where have you been, Father Fox? 

Where I’ve been is living with it. I remember where I was in 2002, when so much of this fecal matter hit the fan in the U.S. I was in the seminary, preparing for my final year. I was interviewed by the local paper for my reaction to the awful things we were all hearing about. And I remember what I said: that all I could do was strive to be a good, holy priest. Of course, there was and is more I can do; but that was my answer as a seminarian.

So why is this making me so angry, 16 years later? Because it is 16 years later, and we’re still dealing with cover-ups!

Every day – every single day – as a priest, I live with the consequences of the abominable crimes committed by a small number of priests and bishops, but which were facilitated by many bishops, either by active connivance, or by neglect, or by covering it up. This gets called a “priest” scandal, but that omits the obvious fact that there was a failure of oversight. Without excusing any priest’s crimes, I think the failure of oversight was more culpable, since it so often meant one perverted priest causing such a wide path of destruction.

Let me pause my rant here and say something about silence. If anyone wonders, I have not been silent. As a priest, I am required by law, and by Archdiocesan policy, to report any information I receive (outside the seal of confession) to proper authorities. In my 15 years as a priest, I have been given such information many times; and every single time I have reported it both to local law enforcement, and to the Archdiocese. There are ways this whole process is awkward, and I can go into that if desired. Many times the information was very sketchy, so I doubt what I passed along was much help; but I reported it.

At no time have I been aware of any priest or seminarian engaging in any misconduct – other than, of course, something I learned in the news media. Sometimes people voice suspicions, but I can’t take that seriously when there is a total absence of facts.

I mention all this simply because someone might be thinking, well, what about you, Father Fox? Have you been part of this culture of silence? This is my answer.

So back to the main theme of my rant. I’m angry about what looks like a continuing culture of silence. Look: I respect confidentiality. People need and expect a priest to be able to keep his mouth shut. People confess their sins to God, in the presence of a priest, only because they are assured we remain silent, and that is right. People come to us, outside the confessional, with troubles and embarrassing problems, and they only feel safe doing that because they count on our discretion. And they should be able to do that. I am very good at keeping secrets.

But that’s not what this is! This is something else. If I were a bishop, and this sort of information reached my ears, I would look into it. I wouldn’t wait for someone to find me; I’d find those who could give me first-hand information. It would be my job to make it easy for them to share their stories. What’s more, I would do what I could to get someone in Rome to take an interest as well.

Maybe the bishops who knew about these McCarrick stories did all these things. But very honestly, I doubt it. And if I were advising the bishops in the dioceses directly affected by all this, I would tell them: “Do you want people to believe you? You need to address whether you knew about all these stories, and how you responded to them. People are going to be very dubious that you could be utterly unaware of all these allegations.”

The whole Church suffers from these crimes and the wounds they cause. One of the wounds is that people lose trust and become cynical. Maybe I am naïve; maybe it’s just that I’ve been focusing on my parish and my ministry, and I usually don’t want to dabble in gossip and innuendo. But today, this really has me upset, and I believe our bishops, and those in Rome who are concerned with these things, absolutely must answer the concerns of the faithful about how much of this covering-up is still going on. Get all the poison out. The pope knows there are perverts in high places; he himself referred to a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. (And just to be clear, while a lot of this is homosexual corruption, not all of it is. There is heterosexual corruption too.) So it’s time to answer the question:

What are we doing about it?

There are so many other thoughts, but it will exhaust me to write them all down, and it would exhaust you to read them. It breaks my heart to think of people wondering if their priest is some sort of pervert, preying on kids. I recall the time an individual came to me, and revealed he had been abused by a priest, many years before, in that same parish. It broke my heart, and I begged him for forgiveness. Last night the seminarian staying here this summer and I took our “MC”s – that is, the older altar boys who lead the others – out for wings as a thank you for all they do. Does anyone think there was anything improper? It makes me ill to think of it.

How much of a problem are we talking about? Priests are men, prone to all temptations. Greed is surely a temptation, as is unholy ambition. So is the desire for approval. I am tempted to laziness, to seeking too many comforts, to gluttony, to pride and wrath and arrogance, and to lust. The story goes around of a man in confession asking the priest, “Father, do you ever get old enough that you don’t experience lustful thoughts?” “Yes,” the priest assured him – “about 30 seconds before you die!”

Maybe I am naïve, but I do believe most priests try to be faithful. But I am sure some are living in situations that are gravely immoral, either with wealth gotten through theft or deception, or with a girl- or boyfriend on the side, or with other perversions. I can imagine the rationalizations. And I have no doubt that some number of clergy have looked the other way regarding others’ misdeeds, either because of fear, which is somewhat understandable, or because of cynicism or laziness, which is far less so. Many more priests are wrestling with sin, just as you are, and trying their best with prayer and spiritual direction and the sacraments to overcome them.

Inevitably, someone will say, “This is why I left the Catholic Church!” or, “This is why you should!” That makes no sense to me. I was raised Catholic, I left at 19 and came back at 29. I came back not because I thought the Church had especially holy bishops and priests; no, not even because I thought the ordinary person in the pew was especially holy. No, I chose to re-embrace my Catholic Faith for one very simple reason: I became convinced that Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church, and I wanted to be in the Church that is his mystical Body.

It is not “okay” that the Church has so many wounds; but it is not a new problem. Rather, it is a very ancient problem. Jesus himself dealt with it from the very beginning. Throughout the history of the Faith, we always have individuals who cry out against the sins of Christians, clergy, religious and laity. It is almost a constant. And yes, many movements that broke away from Rome did so precisely because of immorality and corruption. Tell me: has any that made its own way conquered these problems? Show me.

While I was writing this, I heard the church bells ring three o’clock, telling me I needed to get over to lead the Divine Mercy chaplet and then hear confessions. To my surprise, there was a long line waiting for me. In between penitents, I found myself wondering why there was so many, unusual for a summer afternoon. Then a thought occurred to me: is God telling me something? I want to marinate in my anger, but perhaps caring for others is a better route.

So I come back to what I told that reporter in 2002: my best response to all this is to strive all the more for my own holiness. I am a sinful man, but I am trying to be faithful. Other priests too, many heroically. Pray for us and let us help each other in holiness. It may not seem fair, but while corruption taints other parts of the Body, the one thing no one can stop you and me from doing is to contribute that much more our own prayer and penance.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

The Kingdom comes, we know not how (Sunday homily)

There was a particular line in the Gospel that you could easily miss: 
A man scatters “seed on the land” and sleeps and rises,
“and through it all the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.”

Did you hear that? “He knows not how.”

Perhaps you say, but we do know; we know how to prepare the ground; 
we know what kind of seed to plant, how to fertilize it and when; 
and we know when to harvest.

The point Jesus is really making 
is that the process of growth happens in its own way and own time. 
No matter what we think or want, we aren’t in control.

We plant the seed, and then we wait. 

This is one of the hardest lessons to learn in life, 
and the most necessary: 
recognizing what we can do, and what we cannot.

The farmer isn’t in control, but he is not passive. 
We have a role to play – focus on that.

There are about 200 people in this church right now, 
And if I were to ask for a show of hands, 
I think I’d see most of them go up on this question:

Have you ever thought of ways that the world – or this country – 
or our Church – or your place of work – 
would be better? If only they did what you suggested?

Of course you have. It’s what we do.
“If only the Reds would do this and this…”
“If only the Pope…” If only, if only.

How’s that working out? They never call me!

Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying we shouldn’t give input.
You’ve heard me ask many times for your feedback and suggestions.
I value it. And even if Congress and the President don’t want it, 
they need it, and it’s our duty as citizens to give it.

Rather, my point is that like the farmer, we can vote, we can speak up, 
we can give what we give, 
but in the end, the outcome will be beyond our control.

And the point Jesus is making is that the working out of his Kingdom – 
the salvation of souls and the transformation of society – 
Will surely and certainly come, but not as we wish or can even imagine:
We know not how.

That requires patience.
That requires humility.
And that is the challenge of hope, 
because hope isn’t about what we see, 
but on the contrary, hope is when we can’t see.

So if there’s something that has you worried:
The pope, the President, the direction of the country;
Your company, your family…

Jesus says: prepare the ground; plant the seed.
Pray; work. Sleep and rise. 
It will sprout and grow of its own accord; you know not how.

Then sometimes you and I are the seed.
God plants us. We don’t know what’s going on.

“What am I doing here? It’s dark! Wait, now it’s wet!
Oh, I don’t like that; I don’t want to be wet; I’m wet all over!

“Wait – what’s that? What is that? Oh, that smells really bad!
What is God doing to me?

“Oh now I’m moving; I’m going somewhere. 
And I was just getting used to that place; 
but now, I’m getting pushed up somewhere. 
Oh, it’s bright, bright, too bright, oohhhh! Ow!”

And so it goes. 

There is a plan. You and I have a part to play; 
and the difference you and I can make,
both in being the seed God plants,
and in the seeds we plant,
can be tremendous once we accept the fact 
that God’s work will happen, though we know not how.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

What a Gift! (Corpus Christi homily)

One value of today’s feast is to help us 
avoid taking the gift of Jesus’ Body and Blood for granted. 
When someone grows up in a family with lots of advantages – 
when you and I grow up in a country with so many advantages –
there’s a danger of not realizing how different life 
is without all those blessings. 

We Catholics have such riches in our Faith, in the saints, 
in our many ways to pray, 
in the teaching office held by the pope and the bishops, 
in the sacraments, and above all, 
in the real, true presence of Jesus in the Mass and the Eucharist.
And here in Saint Remy, we have the blessing of a beautiful church, 
and a tradition of reverence.

This is a good time to talk about these blessings 
and how we maintain and cultivate them. 

Let me start with our church. 
It is well designed and beautifully adorned.
That doesn’t just happen. 
We’ve all been in places where folks made bad decisions. 
Happily, people before us here made good decisions.

But what makes the most difference is you.
Your silence, your desire for reverence, is huge!

I can tell you, I’ve been in churches where this has been lost;
Where people are visiting and talking as they would anywhere else.
Nothing wrong with visiting – but it destroys prayerfulness.

Again, I admire how folks pay attention to how you dress in church. 
It’s not a matter of wearing fancy clothes, 
but of mindfulness and modesty.

This is a good time to talk about how we receive Holy Communion. 
You know that there are two options: 
receiving on the tongue, or in the hand. 

What you may not know is that receiving on the tongue 
is the norm in the whole world, outside the U.S. 
And when permission was given to receive in the hand,
It was given with some expectations. 

First, that someone has both hands free. 
So, for example, sometimes someone will come for communion, 
and will be using one hand to hold a child, or to lean on a cane. 
In those cases, if he or she puts out one hand, I’ll whisper, 
“I’ll put it on your tongue.” 

The other expectation was that in receiving communion with our hands, 
we wouldn’t lessen our reverence for the Body of Christ. 
Receiving on the tongue naturally invites reverence. 
When we receive in the hand, it is easier to slip into a casual approach. 

So to those who wish to receive the Eucharist in the hand, 
how about lifting your hands up high? Make your hand a throne. 

If I gave you a fragile crystal bowl, worth thousands of dollars,
How would you carry it?
How precious do we consider the Sacred Body of Jesus to be?

Also, lifting up your hands makes it easier 
for those who are distributing Holy Communion.
Now, let me say something to those who follow 
the traditional practice of receiving on the tongue – 
which, as I said, I believe in very strongly,
and I warmly encourage everyone to embrace.

I don’t know how to say this without making you laugh, but—
you really have to do two things to make this work: 
first, you really have to open your mouth. 
And you have to stick out your tongue. 
This is the only time that’s not rude to do.

This next item applies to many of our younger parishioners: 
when you come to communion, however you receive it, you have to stop. Be stationary. 
Parents, you know what I mean. 

And I know, parents, you have a lot to manage, 
but I’d be very grateful if you can help your children 
remember these things, 
especially in lifting up their hands and standing still.

Earlier I described someone who grows up with great advantages. 
That really is us. 

After every Mass, we pray the St. Michael Prayer. 
We are praying it for our fellow Christians who are persecuted.

The other day I saw an item about a priest, 
Father Randall Roberts, who described “his experiences 
as an Air Force chaplain in Saudi Arabia 
where any public Christian activity is punishable by imprisonment.” 

The soldiers would spread the word that the priest 
was to celebrate Mass “in a remote area – 
an abandoned recreation shack encircled by a chain-link fence.”
Somehow, a foreign worker, one of millions in the country,
Came by, and “pressed himself against the other side of the fence.”

Here’s what Father Randall saw:

He appeared to be straining his whole body – or at least his heart –
through the chain-link fence, like water through a filter…
The sheer ecstasy in his face from being present
at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass – though not able to move closer –
is an image that will be indelibly etched in my heart until I die.

I wasn’t there, but now, I will never forget that image.
And I hope you won’t, either.
Pray for that man, and the many millions like him, 
who are starving for what is so easy and available for us.

What a Gift you and I have been given!

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Fire (Pentecost homily)

As you’ve heard me say nearly every Sunday during Easter Season, 
Easter is all about heaven. That’s why Jesus died and rose, 
in order to create for us a future with him.

So now we come to Pentecost, 
which is, if you will, the final “ingredient.” 
If you are fixing a recipe, you have to put in the last ingredient; 
if you don’t, then it won’t work.
Likewise, without Jesus giving the Holy Spirit, 
his plan for us would fail.

We receive the Holy Spirit first in baptism;
If our parents made that decision for us, 
Then later it falls to us to ratify that choice.

Our language about this can be misleading. 
We talk about “receiving” the Holy Spirit; 
But that’s not nearly strong enough.
We also “receive” a text on our phone:
We glance at it and go on our way.

But surely that’s not what we’re talking about here, right? 
Better would be the language the Bible uses:

The Prophet Ezekiel talks about dry, dead bones coming to life.
Saint Paul talks about a new birth.
Elsewhere in the Gospel of John, Jesus told Nicodemus: 
“you must be born again.” 

Or else, take notice of the detail from the book of Acts:
“Fire appeared, and … came to rest on each one of them.”

The key thing about fire is this: unless you contain it,
and it will transform everything it touches.

That is the reason Jesus gives the Holy Spirit: 
so that we will be transformed;
so that we will be changed entirely, and become heavenly.

We use the expression, “playing with Fire” – 
but God the Holy Spirit is not a plaything;
God does not share Himself with you, 
in order to be put on the shelf, or in your pocket, 
or worn around your neck like a religious medal.

Quite graciously, the Holy Spirit offers us a partnership; 
but only with you or me as the junior partner.
If we seek to contain the fire of the Holy Spirit, 
we will quite simply extinguish it.
The Holy Spirit is not an accessory or a hobby or a part-time thing.

When Moses brought the Ten Commandments from Mount Sinai,
he said that they had been written by the “finger of God.”
In the Gospels, Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit in this way, 
which makes sense, because the Holy Spirit gives us the power 
to obey the law of God written in our hearts.

Now, let me illustrate the two ways we can go:
Either to silence God’s voice in our hearts; or to let God change us.

how this works, 
although I’m going to use a pretty rough image, I’m sorry.
As most of us know, there are some very dark places on the Internet, 
providing a flood of images that are both beguiling and poisonous.
And don’t let my delicate language deceive you.
If you think what I’m talking about is only a little bit naughty, 
and just here or there, I’m sorry, but that is not the case.

It is a massive flood and it is filthier than you can imagine.

People are consuming this sewage, and coming back daily for more.

Here’s the thing: no one who first sees these things is ever blasé. 

The reaction is always the same: 
we know in our gut that it is very wrong.
That is God’s Law written in our hearts: that is our conscience.

So: if everyone knows it’s wrong, why is it everywhere?

Why is smut such a major economic engine of the Internet?
The answer is because people fight the Holy Spirit;
Instead of nourishing and strengthening their conscience, 
they ignore it, turn down the volume, shout over it.
They put out the Fire.

Look at this terrible crime at the high school in Texas, 
unfortunately, not isolated, but another on a list of such crimes.
Everyone wants to know what the problem is; 
We all want to explain it.

The problem of evil isn’t so easy; I don’t want to oversimplify.
But I submit to you that at least one part of it we can identify.
We’d like to say these criminals are just delusional; 
but what do the people involved say? 
“He was entirely normal.” Not crazy.
So let me ask you: do you think these people, 
who do these horrible things, to their family, their classmates, 
were nourishing their conscience – or in the habit of smothering it? 

Most of us will never be that person; but the point is,
when we start down the road of ignoring God in our hearts, 
wherever you and I end up, we won’t be the person we were.
And it won’t be sudden: it will be series of small, easy steps.

Now let me make the point in a different way.
Let me tell you about Bernard Nathanson.
He played a key role in legalizing abortion,
Which has cost untold millions of lives.
He himself was responsible for 75,000 abortions.
And he was an atheist.

However tightly he shut out the voice of God,
over the years, he would see and hear people praying outside the abortion facility he ran.

Someone—many someones—prayed for his conversion.
Many someones talked to him about the Lord—
And many someones showed him the example
of living like a Christian.

After a long time, Bernard Nathanson
stopped committing abortions—
Some time later, he became a pro-life advocate.
Then, he started going to Mass.
And after many years, he was baptized and confirmed
And received the Body and Blood of the Lord.

So you see, it can go either way.

Now, there’s bad news and there is good news.
First the bad news: 
If you want to put out the Fire of the Holy Spirit, you can do it. 
There is darkness beyond the darkness; and we can decide to like it.

Or The good news is that* we can undo the damage. 
The Fire can be kindled anew. 
But it only works if you let God be in charge.
The habit of “no,” “not now,” “that’s too much!” and “later,” 
can be – and must be – 
replaced with “yes, Lord” and “whatever it takes!” 
and “now is the time.” 

The place to rekindle the Fire is first in the silence of our own hearts, 
and then in the sanctuary of the confessional.

I wish I could tell you that it takes only one good confession, 
and then the Fire runs wild, and all our battles are won.
But that rarely happens – because that would mean
we conquered one set of sins, only to be consumed by spiritual pride.

No, it is a painful mercy that conversion usually takes great patience.
What happens is that you and I are a kind of “reverse fire fighter.” 
The task of our local Russia volunteer fire department 
is gradually to contain and kill a fire. 
The bigger it is, the longer it takes.

But our job – with the Holy Spirit – 
is to help the Fire spread into every corner of our lives!
It takes time and daily choices: will I let the Fire of God go here? 
And here? And even here?
Will I unwrap my fingers gripping tightly this vice, 
this inordinate love, and let it be consumed and transformed?

It starts with a single “yes”; followed by about a million more!

* I made these changes after the 5 pm Mass.