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.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Heaven: we already have it. Claim it (Ascension homily)

All during Easter season my homilies have talked about heaven, 
because that’s why Jesus came, suffered, died and rose – 
to open up a future for each of us to be with him forever.

So how appropriate that here we are, and what are we talking about? 
Jesus ascending to his throne in heaven.

That said, this feast of the Ascension 
is not simply about Jesus himself returning to heaven; 
if that’s all it were, then where is the hope?

Rather, Jesus goes, as he said, to prepare a place for us.
It’s about you and me going to heaven.

So let’s talk about this.

First, I want to make a small but important point. 
Notice that this happened 40 days after Jesus’ Resurrection.
So this really should have been observed last Thursday.
But some 30 years or so ago, most bishops in this country 
decided that it would be beneficial to observe this on Sunday, 
so more of the faithful could participate.
That’s why this is happening on Sunday.

Nevertheless, I think it’s important to explain something 
about our Christian Faith, and I want to do it in big, bold letters: 
we are not just telling stories.
Our Faith is built on facts: Jesus was born, he was crucified, 
he died and he rose from the dead, in a particular place and time;

People witnessed all these things, and they were prepared to die – 
very painful deaths – rather than deny what they saw.
Our Faith is built on facts; and if these things did not happen,
We are all wasting our time here.

But back to the main theme:
You and I see Jesus return to heaven, 
and it means you and I are going there.
More than that: it means, in a real sense, we are already there.

Howso? Because you and I are part of Jesus.
How many ways does Jesus have to make this clear?
He calls himself the Bridegroom, and the Church is his Bride.

Jesus calls himself the head, and we are his body.
He is the Vine, we are the branches.
As Saint Paul describes in the second reading, 
we share the same Holy Spirit, 
and all the explosive power and life 
that comes from having God’s Spirit within us.

The point I want to make is that there really is no separation.
The Body of Christ is not a dead body, scattered here and there, 
but a living Body – intact and full of life.

So the conclusion is inescapable: if Jesus is in heaven (and he is), 
then in some true sense, so are we!

Now, just to be clear: you and I have heaven, we have it now; 
but we can lose it. So it’s something you and I must grab and hold on to.
That insight is what set off Saint Paul.
In the second reading, you can hear how excited he was about this. 
Readers will often complain in the sacristy 
that Paul wrote these long sentences – and they are right. 

But if you think about it, that’s exactly what happens 
when someone is erupting with excitement. 
It’s an explosion of words.
Saint Paul realizes: he – and each of us – is already in heaven!
Or, maybe to put it another way, you and I already have heaven; 
we just don’t realize it. 

The difference between really grasping that, and not, 
is the difference between being an on-fire, all-in, filled-with-joy Saint of God,
And being a bored, sometime pew-sitter, 
who can’t wait to get out of church 
because he or she can’t see what it’s all about.

Some of you are here, right now. Maybe you’re half-listening right now!
That’s OK, I’m not offended; but for about 90 seconds, 
WAKE UP! WAKE UP! Listen just for 90 seconds, OK?

Jesus is real, Jesus is here, and what he offers is pure life.
There’s a smorgasbord of life laid before you; 
yet you can still starve if you can’t be bothered to reach out for it. 
That’s not your parents, that’s not your wife or husband;
It’s not my fault, or someone else’s, who failed you. THAT’S ON YOU.

It’s totally normal to be in a situation where you don’t get it.
It’s confusing, or boring, or whatever. Everybody goes through that.
Whatever you love, whatever gets you excited, still takes effort. 
You have to put some work in.
So this notion that when it comes to your Faith, 
someone has to do it all for you, cut up all your food in little pieces?
Feed it to you? Sorry, that’s bogus. That’s an excuse.

Do you like steak? I like steak. 
And if someone puts a hot, juicy steak in front of me,
I’m not going to say, “Oh, no one cut it up, so I can’t eat it! So unfair!”
Dude: I’m eating it if I have to use my bare hands!

My point being that when what I just told you sinks in:
You and I are already in heaven – just claim it!
Then you’re going to grab that steak and chow down.
It’s yours. Claim it! Don’t let anyone or anything keep you from it!

If you are in school, and you go to religious education, 
and something doesn’t make sense? 
Ask and keep asking! “No, tell me again.”

Here’s a “problem” no one has ever brought me:
“We have a student who keeps demanding more.”
Or, “Father! In front of church, 
we have parents and senior citizens picketing! 
They are demanding more opportunities to learn their Faith.”

Don’t get me wrong: our parishioners are great 
for seeking to grow in the Faith. 

The argument I’m making is that no one should be going hungry.
There’s plenty here, and if anyone isn’t getting enough; 
if there’s something I can do, our parish can do, that we’re not?
Please, just tell me. “Father! We need…we want…” Tell me.
We will find a way. You are already in heaven.
Heaven is already yours. Come and get it!

Jesus told his disciples – he told us – to ask for more, and keep asking.
“Ask and you shall receive,” he promised. Hold him to that promise!
He will absolutely keep it.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

What does it mean to be God's friend? (Sunday homily)

In the Gospel, three times we heard Jesus call us his friends. 
“Friends” – that’s very striking. So let’s drill into that.

First of all, how do we even do that?
God is so beyond, how do we have a friendship with God?
I can’t invite God over to play Euchre; I can’t help God repair his barn. 

This was the point of the Incarnation – of God becoming human.
Did the Apostles play cards with Jesus? I don’t know; 
but they did help him with his work, and he with theirs.
They ate and drank and traveled and joked together.

God became human so that we humans could be friends with God.

But what kind of friends?

The Greek philosopher Aristotle – 
who was great because of thought of so many things 
before anyone else did – 
figured out that there are three types of friends.

The first type are those who are merely “useful” – 
so we might think of people at the stores we visit, 
or who deliver things to us.
We might not really know them, yet we are friendly, 
precisely because we do business.

The second sort of friend are those just for pleasure: 
for example, others in a hobby or a club.

But true friendship requires more.
Aristotle said true friendship is oriented to what is good; 
Friends love the good in each other, and love the same good together.

In short, what makes a true friendship is virtue.
If I seek what is good, 
I am drawn to others who love those good things. 
If I don’t have virtue in me, I won’t be drawn to them;
And they won’t be drawn to me.
What would we have in common?

Notice, this is what Jesus is telling us. He says, 
“you are my friends if you do what I command you.”
In other words, love what I love.
See as good what I, your Lord, see as good.

If you have noticed, many of my homilies this Easter  
have been about heaven. 
Jesus’ death and resurrection are about bringing us to heaven.

And this Gospel is also about heaven.

A lot of people think gaining heaven is like passing a test.
I have to get the right answers. I have to know the right things.
I have to be good enough. 
If I’m in a state of mortal sin and I die, I go to hell. 
I better go to confession to get good enough again.

Now, it is absolutely true that if we are in mortal sin, 
and we don’t repent, and we die, yes we will go to hell for eternity.
That is true, and it is frightening, 
and that is an excellent reason to get to confession right away.

Nevertheless, it is still not about passing a test!
It’s about being friends with God.
That’s why we also call confession the sacrament of reconciliation.
And what did Aristotle say? Friends love the good together.

If you want to be a friend of God, love what God loves.
This is important, because if we are honest, we don’t always do that.

People will ask, why should someone go to hell 
for this or that reason. And this is why.
Every day you and I face the choice: do I love the things God loves, 
or do I love and do what I prefer, regardless of what God says?

Jesus is going his way, and he says, come with me, be my companion!
And what do we say?
How about, “Will it take more than an hour on Sunday?”
“Can we schedule it around these other priorities?”
Or, we might tell Jesus, “Maybe later; I’m busy right now.” 
Or, how about, “Can I just meet you there?”

I suspect that’s where a lot of people are.
They won’t spend time with Jesus along the way, 
they’ll just meet him “later” in heaven.
But what makes you think you will want to be with him then, 
if you don’t want to be with him now?

Of course, that raises the question, can someone be in heaven, 
even if they don’t know Jesus in this life?

There’s a longer answer, but here’s a manageable one.
When people seek the Good and live by it, they will discover, 
in the end, that it was Jesus all along.

That’s for other folks, not us. We know who Jesus is.
No excuse for us. Jesus invites us to be friends.
Not once-a-week acquaintances.
Not someone we “do business with” – meaning, here’s my tithe, Lord, 
now I expect a good harvest and no family problems this year.

As you know, I’ve been talking about our parish priorities – 
although I haven’t mentioned them in a bit. 
We’ve been focused on Lent and Easter.

Let me remind you of three of those priorities:
To provide a “better welcome” to those not part of our parish;
To foster “more disciples” – 
that is, to help each other to know and serve Jesus better; 
And to “seek out” those in our families and neighborhoods 
who aren’t believers, or aren’t practicing, and draw them to Christ.

Here’s the thing: there’s no way anyone can do this 
unless you are a friend of Jesus in that full sense.

My barber is a good guy – but I don’t tell everyone I meet 
that they should go to my barber!
However: if he changed my life? Then I would!
So if it’s, “I go to church, yeah…it’s what I do…”:
That’s not very compelling.

On the other hand, how about:
“My life is better, my life has been changed, because of my Friend”: 
that is a compelling story; 
I want to hear that story, and so do many others!

Some days, honestly, I don’t even want you to see me up here. 
What I mean is, it’s not about me. 
Not about my words or funny comments.
Maybe I said something good, or maybe I said something “off.”
It doesn’t matter.

It’s really only about what Jesus himself said. 
You hear him; his words:
“I want you to be my friend. Come with me. Join me.”

Sunday, April 29, 2018

God's Big Plan (first communion homily)

Imagine you’re an angel, 
And a long, long time ago, you have this conversation with God.
God calls you over for a talk.

He says, "I’m putting together a plan to save the human race.
My Son is going to earth, to become one of them."

"Wow, that’s pretty impressive!" you tell God.

"Wait, there’s more.
They’ll call him ‘Jesus’—and he will suffer and die—
and rise from the dead!
That’s going to show everyone the true evil of sin,
and also show them there’s a way out of sin, back to life!

"Wow, that’s awesome," the angel says to God.

"Yes, we think this will give the human race a totally new focus.
They’ll know they can be forgiven; and that they can change!
And, they won’t have to be afraid of suffering and death,
they’ll know they can share the very life of God!

"That will give them hope!"

"That’s a really great plan," you tell God. 

"Well, there’s more.
We think it won’t work, unless the human beings 
are part of it, not just spectators.

"See, a lot of folks will come long after
Jesus’ dies and rises again—and they need to be part of it, too!"

"Have you noticed," God says, "how the baby humans
want to touch everything?
And, everything goes into their mouths!
They love to eat!"

"So, I’m thinking: food!
Food could really help the human race get deeper 
into what Jesus is going to do for them."

"I’m thinking of using bread and wine."

But you ask, "God, how can bread and wine save them?"

"Well, it can’t! Bread and wine are nothing
if that’s all they are!"

"So, would it be, like, a symbol? Like a picture on the wall?"

"No, a symbol can’t save them, either!
It has to be really BE Jesus, or else it’s nothing!

"What they need is to eat and drink the life, and love,
the suffering and dying, and rising, of Jesus!
Eat and drink it.
That’s how it’ll be real to them;
That’s they’ll experience Him being part of them,
and they’ll become part of Jesus!
"So," God says, "I want them to eat Jesus’ Body and Blood."

"But, God, that sounds kind of yucky…"

"Well, it is yucky," God says.
But Jesus is going to suffer and die—
it is his Body and Blood that will save them!
They need to understand that.

But—so they won’t be afraid, we will use bread and wine!

"It will truly be Jesus—because only Jesus can save them;
but it will still look and taste like bread and wine—
so it will be approachable, not frightening.

"This is how they will literally be united with Jesus!"

"Wow, God! That’s quite a plan!"

"Well, I’ve been working on it for all eternity," God says with a smile.

But you have another question.
"Gee, isn’t that a lot for them to understand, all at once?"

"You’re right," God says.
"That’s why they won’t do it just once.
They’ll need to receive Jesus over, and over, and over!"

"Even every day?"

"Yes, if they want to.
Certainly every Sunday: that’s the ‘maintenance plan’:
Mass every Sunday is how they’ll come to understand
what Jesus did for them.

"Plus, Jesus will be present in their churches, in the Eucharist.
They’ll know how real he is!
They’ll be able to bring their friends,
and say, ‘See? Jesus is here! Jesus is real!
We receive Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist!

"What’s more, sharing the Eucharist this way
will show them a new way of living.

"When they come together at Mass, it’ll be everyone—
rich and poor, black and white;
people who speak different languages; 
grandparents, grownups, kids and babies; 
healthy people, sick people—everyone!

"And they’ll realize that only in Jesus can the world be one!
And when they realize how much God forgave them,
they’ll find the strength to forgive one another."

So, finally, you ask:
"Why are you telling me— I’m just an angel?"

"Because you’re going to be a guardian angel!
"Way in the future, in a place called Russia, Ohio,
someone will be born that you’ll be responsible for!
"You will help that child grow up, and grow into,
the life and love of Jesus Christ!
And the Eucharist will be absolutely central to that!

"Guardian angel, you will encourage that child:
to come to Jesus in the Eucharist;
not just one time, but week after week, even daily!

"I’m going to give that child a hunger for the Eucharist;
I want you to keep reminding that child:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

"So, let’s practice that, guardian angel:
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

"Guardian angel,
you whisper that into that child’s ear
every day of his or her life. Every day!
‘Jesus is my Food; Jesus is my Life.’

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Shepherd's path and same-sex attraction (Sunday homily)

What makes a good shepherd is that he leads the flock 
safely to the right place. 
We may not know where he is leading us, or why, but this we know:
You and I are safe listening to his voice.

Every parish priest, Archbishop Schnurr, 
all our bishops, and the Holy Father in Rome: we are sinful men. 
The best we can do is follow Jesus, 
and point you in the same direction.

So in that spirit, I am going to talk about 
something controversial and delicate. 
Parents, I will do my best with my language.

I want to talk about the question of same-sex attraction.
I apologize that you don’t hear more from me on this, 
but it’s a hard topic to address the right way. 

There are so many questions I won’t be able to answer 
in the time I have.

As I said a moment ago, we sheep don’t always know 
why the path is the way it is. Sometimes it can be so hard;
Why does it need to be? 
It is so much easier, it seems, for to go our own way.
But you and I do not see where those easy paths take them.

What we do know is that Jesus longs for us 
to share his Resurrected life, in the New Creation. 
Remember: the choices you and I make now shape our future.
When Christ says, “don’t go that way!” 
He knows it will be an easy path, not to joy, but sorrow.

Let me make some quick points:

- As the Catechism says, we don’t really know why 
some people experience attraction to the same sex (2357).

- As far as we know, most people do not choose this, 
and for them, it is a trial.

- To feel these feelings is not a sin. 
It isn’t a sin to want something; the sin is in the choice you make. 

- But to want something that is morally wrong is a disorder. 
So the Catechism says this desire is “disordered.” 
You could also say “misdirected.” 

And I might add, the same thing is true of gluttony, of wrath, 
or sloth, or greed. Every one of us is “disordered”; 
but some of our disorders are more socially acceptable.

Now, I want to address three broader points. 
First, I want to talk about why this behavior is gravely sinful, 
and why we cannot and must not approve of it.

Then I want to talk about how we came to be 
where we are as a society. 

And then I want to talk about how we respond.

So, first, why are homosexual acts a mortal sin?
Again, let me quote the Catechism. 
“They are contrary to the natural law. 
They close the sexual act to the gift of life. 
They do not proceed from a genuine affective 
and sexual complementarity” (2357).

Notice what I just said: “they close the sexual act to the gift of life.” 
There are a lot of other things that fall under rubric, aren’t there?
So, if you’re wondering how we got where we are?
It’s because we’ve grown very accepting 
of many other sins against the Sixth Commandment – 
now this is just one more.

When we talk about Natural Law, what that means is this:
Even without looking at the Bible, or the words of Jesus, 
we can see what is right and wrong. 
Any high school biology text will tell you 
what the parts of our bodies are made for – 
and what they are NOT made for.

Natural Law points us in the right direction, 
but God’s Word gives us even greater light. 
Because this is not only about rejecting the gift of life
it is also, truthfully, about rejecting the true vocation of love.

When I say that, I know that sounds harsh.
I can hear people – even in my own family – saying angrily, 
“but gay people are just as capable of love as anyone else.”
And that is absolutely true.
But what I’m saying is this: that the advertising slogan is false. 
It is false to say, “love is love.” No, it really isn’t.

I love coffee. I love my country. I love my parents; I love my friends. 
If I were married, I would love my wife. And I would love my children. 
But do I love them all with the same love? Of course not.

The love of a man and a woman is unique; 
It can be mimicked, but only a man and a woman can enter into it.
Why? Because men and women are “complementary” – 
that is, they complete each other. Again, this is an obvious fact.

This union – and no other – produces children.
And when this union is chaste – meaning, 
rejecting all those other actions that are closed to the gift of life –
then, it calls forth from the spouses 
the self-emptying that leads to life. 

Remember what the Good Shepherd said: 
“He who would save his life must lose it.”

I know what people say: 
“But why not let people do what makes them happy?”
And the answer is,  the Good Shepherd knows where that path leads, 
and it isn’t to happiness.

When the Catechism says that same-sex acts 
lack “genuine affective…complementarity,” It means this:
The proper and healthy love between two men or two women 
is called friendship. 
It can even rise to the loyalty of brothers or sisters.
This is virtuous – this leads to life.

But when a man tries to find in another man, 
what can only be found in a woman, and vice-versa, they will not find it. 
And they will delude themselves to the truth in the process.

So for anyone who experiences these feelings, 
or maybe this is the challenge for someone you know:
I know what I’m saying is hard. 
But the truth is, most all* of us face hard paths at different points, 
in different ways. 

One of the hallmarks of our time is the notion 
that we’re entitled to avoid the hard path.
So we’re entitled to make an unwanted pregnancy “go away.”
So of course we want to “screen out” disabled people.
And if someone is in pain, or dying – just get rid of them.

But we are Christians: and Jesus said, 
“If you would be my disciple, take up your Cross, and follow Me.”
That is the path to Life. For everyone.

So, how did we get here?
This didn’t start with the “gay rights” movement.
It started long before, as our society progressively forgot 
what sex and marriage truly are. 

Fifty years ago, it was the pill.
Before that, it was normalizing divorce.
Long before that, it was the double-standard about promiscuity.
And before that, it was the notion that freedom 
is more important than the truth.

When we turned onto that path, the Shepherd warned us, 
but as a society, we didn’t listen. That’s how we got here.
And that’s why, this path is going to take us worse places still, 
until we finally turn back. 

So, how do we respond?

Several points quickly:

Don’t be surprised, and don’t be discouraged.
There is a larger battle underway. 
Ultimately, this is not our battle, but God’s.
This is finally about whether God is God, or we are our own gods.
You and I are called to be faithful.

Recognize the truth in what those we disagree with are saying.
There has been bullying and cruelty. 
It happens in schools and playgrounds. 

There is a legitimate need for tolerance, dignity and compassion.
The answer is not anger and ugliness, 
but to point out that there is no real compassion without the truth.

You and I must bear witness to the truth, wrapped in love.

Anyone who is wrestling with these things, you can come to me.
I am chaplain for a group called Courage, 
which a fellowship for men and women whose path in life 
includes these feelings.
I will treat you with respect and love. I will not lie to you; 
I will accompany you. I will listen to you and do all I can to help.

And everyone here, I plead with you: do exactly the same.
Your children, your neighbors, their friends, people around us 
need to know who they can trust, who they can talk to, 
who they are safe with.
They need the Good Shepherd; 
and it is everyone’s job 
to make him present in our deeply troubled world.

* I made this change after the first Mass.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

I love America!

Today, after Mass, I came back to the rectory as always. I start the coffee, and I remember, I am on my last bag of coffee beans. Then I remember, "Oh yes, I was going to look online to see if there's a company that can ship me coffee beans." I always buy beans, and always decaf, always the Spotlight brand from Krogers. It's the best price, and it's pretty good. But: they sometimes run out.

As I'm emptying the dishwasher, and then fixing my breakfast (bacon and eggs), I am thinking, "you have thought about this before, but you always forget. Don't forget this time!"

Properly chastened, as soon as I sat down at my desk with my coffee and breakfast -- after opening the office door, no one else is here; I'm hoping no one comes in till I've eaten my breakfast (And no one did, thank you, Lord!) -- I start browsing online for "bulk coffee beans."

Ah, it's like one of those bazaars in the Middle East (and I've been to them!); it's like Findlay Market in Over the Rhine, with all the wonderful choices! All the listings were calling out to me, "click on me! click on me!"

So I clicked on three or four.

So many choices! It all looked so delicious! Did you know you can get strudel flavored coffee? And many of these places will roast and blend your coffee just as you want. All for around $8-10 a pound.

Guess who won? Amazon -- because I have Prime membership, which costs $99 a year, but I think I save in shipping. On Monday I will have, delivered right to my door, five ten pounds of "European Fancy" decaf coffee, for the sum of $67.98. Ordering the extra bag got me a 15% discount. So that means $6.80 a pound, which might even be cheaper than what I pay at Krogers -- and I have to drive there!

This luxury that I just described didn't just happen. Most of humanity never experienced these wonders, and most today still don't. This is a product of freedom and hard work and rewarding industry and risk. What we have is precious, and it can be lost.

This is (one of many reasons) I love America!

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What will Resurrection and the New Creation be like? (Sunday homily)

The last two Sundays, we have talked about heaven, 
because that is fundamentally what our Faith is about. 
To be a Christian is both to be about not only 
bringing people to heaven, 
but also bringing heaven to this world.

But today, I want to take this a step further. 
And I’m going to tell you something about our Catholic Faith 
that may surprise you; that may even shock you.

And here it comes:
Our goal, our destination, is actually something beyond heaven.
What am I talking about? I am talking about Resurrection.

When we speak of heaven, 
we mean that state of perfect union with God.
After our life on earth, we hope to be united with God.
If necessary, we will be made perfectly ready for heaven in purgatory.

But realize that in heaven, we will not have our bodies; 
and yet it is an article of our Faith that one day, 
we will get our bodies back. New and improved, I hasten to add.

Notice what we say every Sunday in the Creed: 
“I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead.”

Here’s how it all fits together. 
If we fully cooperate with God and our souls are in heaven one day, 
you and I will still be awaiting that great day of resurrection.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that:

In death, the separation of the soul from the body, 
the human body decays and the soul goes to meet God, 
while awaiting its reunion with its glorified body. 
God, in his almighty power, 
will definitively grant incorruptible life 
to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, 
through the power of Jesus’ Resurrection.

I’d like to know what our resurrected bodies will be like.* 
Wouldn’t you? Here’s what I found.
I found an article by a priest, Monsignor Charles Pope, 
And he identified seven qualities our risen bodies will have.

First, we will have the same identity. 
That is to say, we will be ourselves, not someone else. 

Second is integrity: meaning, our bodies will be whole and complete.
Third, we will be youthful, without defect. 
Think of our Savior, Jesus, who was about 33 
when he rose from the dead. 
So don’t worry about getting back your need for 
bifocals, or shoe inserts, or a daily regimen of pills!

A fourth quality is “impassability,” 
which means you and I will be immune from pain and death.
That sounds very, very good to me! 

Fifth, we will have “subtlety,” 
which means our bodies will not face the limits we do now. 
So, for example, Jesus was able to pass through doors.

Sixth, we will have “agility” – which means traveling 
from here to there just the way the Risen Jesus did. 

Finally, we will have something called “clarity,” 
which means the perfect beauty of our souls 
will shine through our bodies. 

Jesus himself said that 
“the just shall shine as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”
This clarity, or brightness, may explain why, 
when people met Jesus after the Resurrection, 
they didn’t immediately recognize him.

Now, it occurs to me there are two natural questions.

The first is, so what does all this mean to me now?

And the answer is that our choices here, determine our future. 
Put simply, if you want to be friends with God in eternity, start now.

The fact of the Resurrection reminds us 
that our bodies are part of God’s Plan for us. 
This is why we treat a human body as sacred, even in death.
This is why, even if the Church gives permission for cremation, 
nevertheless the Church strongly encourages burial instead.

And if someone opts for cremation, those remains must be buried.
The body is sacred, and must be treated as such always.
But another question you might have is, 
What will I do in the New Creation, with my new, glorified body?

I have no answer for that. God has told us very little about that.
Instead, God’s Word to us has been focused on 
getting us to salvation. Maybe further instructions come later.

But consider this.
If you go out on a very dark night, 
you can gaze up at a sky sparkling with millions of stars. 
And we know that’s just a tiny fraction of all the worlds out there.

Then again, maybe you are like me. 
I like to watch programs about places 
in Europe, Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. 
Fascinating places, filled with interesting sights, tastes and people. 

And just like the vastness of the heavens, 
the thought of all that is wonderful about our world overwhelms me: 
I will never be able to discover it all, experience it all, take it all in.

But then again, maybe we will? 
God delights in his Creation. He works away at it, like an artist,
Fixing what is flawed in his masterpiece.
And above all, he wants to fill his Creation with life. 
Life that shares all his joy and wonder.

Maybe the New Creation will be something like that?

* I also want to give a biretta-tip to Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose off-hand comment on his blog got me thinking about this angle.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Heaven starts here (and so does hell) -- Sunday homily

I want to pick up the thread of something I said last Sunday.

All during Lent we were on a pilgrimage to the Cross. 
But now we are past the Cross; we are at the empty tomb.
Now, our pilgrimage takes us to the next step: and that is heaven.

This is what our Faith is about: heaven.
Resurrection is about heaven. Easter is about heaven. 
The seven sacraments are about heaven. 
Christ went through all that he went through, 
because he wants us with him in heaven.

So: let’s talk about this. What is heaven?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church 
says a number of things about heaven. 

If we die in God’s grace and friendship, 
and after any needed purification – that is, Purgatory – 
then we “live forever with Christ,” and are “like God for ever, 
for [we] ‘see him as he is,’ face to face” (1023).

Heaven is “paradise with Christ”; 
it is the “perfect life with the Most Blessed Trinity,” 
with Mary, the angels and all the saints. 

Again, quoting the Catechism, 
“Heaven is the ultimate end and fulfillment 
of the deepest human longings, 
the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (1024).
But the key idea is that 
“To live in heaven is to be with Christ” (1025). 
So if you want to know what heaven is like, look at the Gospels. 
Look at the Apostles who spent their time with Jesus, 
And ask yourself: is that what you want?
Do you want to be with him?

This is a classic good news/bad news situation.
First the Good News: Jesus Christ really wants you with him in heaven.
The Cross is the proof of that. Look what God went through.
If you ever wonder if God loves you, and more than that, 
if he wants you to forgive you, look at the Cross.

So what is the bad news? God still puts part of it on you.
You and I have to choose this. 
And that choice we make today – and every day.

You see, heaven is not some place we just end up at.
Heaven is a choice.
What is more, heaven is not something only after death.
Heaven starts here.
This is what the first reading describes:
God’s people living changed lives. Heavenly lives.

Now, it’s true that our lives on earth are often marked by the Cross.
But remember the good thief on the Cross. 
Jesus told him: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” 
Don’t you think Paradise began for that man 
Just as soon as he heard those words?
Whatever else, he was with Jesus. And that is heaven. 
If it is true that you and I begin to experience heaven in this life, 
then surely the opposite is true: 
that we can begin to experience hell on earth, too.

We might think of Judas, who betrayed Jesus.
He knew he done wrong; he even expressed sorrow.
But what he did not do, that we know of, was ask for mercy.
I don’t know if Judas went to hell, 
but if he did, his hell began before he died.

And let me tell you, that is where a lot of people are.
People who have decided they cannot change, 
they cannot leave habits of drink or anger, hatred or lust behind them.

There’s a secret about sin that no one ever tells you.
It starts out so nice. The being drunk feels good. The lust feels good. 
The self-righteous wrath feels so good. And it will, for a while.

But over time, it doesn’t make you feel as good as it did.
And you get to the point 
where it doesn’t even make you happy; 
it’s just that you don’t know how to live without it.

Some of the most damnable words are: “I can’t change.”
That is a lie. The true statement would be, “I won’t try.”

Thank God Thomas did not rule out changing his mind.
Christ came back, just for him, and said, “put your hands in my side.” 
Our Lord Jesus will go to amazing lengths to rescue us.

The most beautiful sign of this is so simple, we miss it.
That is the sacrament of confession. 

When you and I are in the confessional, we are that thief on the cross. 
Absolution from a priest is to be in paradise. 
To be forgiven is our ticket to heaven.

Now, if I have a ticket to the Reds, and I lose it? 
Too bad for me! I have to buy another.

But if I have received absolution, 
but I lose that grace through mortal sin, what do I do? 
I go back to Jesus, in the confessional, and I ask again; 
and I get another ticket! No charge to me, but it is not free:
It was paid for by the Precious Blood of the Lamb!

I wonder if we shouldn’t put a sign on the confessional door:
“Doorway to heaven.” It’s true!

You might say, but even after I come from confession, I still struggle.
Indeed. That’s purgatory. No one escapes the way of the Cross.
But if we are willing, you and I can have our purgatory here.
It is not easy. It can be excruciatingly hard.

If you want become holy, 
Whatever else you do, keep coming to confession.

Some people avoid it, 
precisely because they keep tripping over the same sins. 

Here’s what I’m going to tell you. It is hard; 
and I don’t know how to explain it, but it is true: 
you will change. It will happen.

It will happen on God’s timetable and in his way, not yours.
He will make you a saint!
But not on the strength of you wanting it, which is puny;
But on the strength of His wanting it: which is everything.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Resurrection, Eucharist, Heaven (Easter homily)

 All during Lent, you and I have been on a journey – 
a pilgrimage to the Cross. 
And as you know, at the same time, with each week’s homily 
we have been moving through the Holy Mass.

As our way led us to Holy Thursday and Good Friday, 
it also brought us to that moment in the Mass, 
when those saving events are made present to us.

If you were here on Holy Thursday, we looked deeply at that.

On that first Good Friday, Jesus was lifted up on the Cross, 
and we heard him say, “It is finished,” 
And so, in a familiar moment of the Mass,
The priest lifts up the Body and the Blood, and he sings,
“Through him, with him and in him” – that is, through Christ, in Christ.

Scripture tells us that when Jesus died on the Cross, 
the veil in the temple was torn open: 
no separation between God and humanity.

So when we reach that point of the Mass – 
after the Eucharistic Prayer – 
it is like what we mark today: 
The Cross is over! The tomb is empty! Jesus is Risen!
Heaven is open to us, and Christ is leading us there!

Notice what happens at that point in the Mass.
Before we were kneeling, humbly begging God for mercy.
After, we are standing, calling God our Father.
We Christians have been praying the “Our Father” 
for almost 2,000 years, all around the world, in every language. 
There aren’t enough things that unite Christians, 
but this is one of them. It is a prayer that belongs to us all. 

It’s so familiar, we don’t realize what a revolution it is.
There are other religions in the world that take offense; 
to them, it is the height of presumption 
for mere mortals to call God “Father.”
You might recall that one time when Jesus called God his Father, 
people took up stones – that’s how offended they were.

So here we are, addressing God in the most intimate terms. How?
Because of Jesus’ death and Resurrection.

Again, Lent and the Mass are both about leading us to the Cross. 
But once we arrive there, then what?

Then, the Cross – and the Mass – are about leading us to heaven.
As I said on Holy Thursday, when the priest offers the Sacrifice 
on the altar, on our behalf, he is addressing the Father on the throne.

When the priest shows the Father the Body and Blood of the Son,
Heaven is opened to us. 
We address the Father not as strangers but as children.
Nevertheless, all because – only because – of Jesus.
Because Jesus gave all on the Cross.
Because Jesus went down to the grave.
Because Jesus rose from the dead!

After we pray the Our Father, it is fitting 
that the prayers are about peace. 
It is fitting that we offer peace to each other. 
Christ has given us all the peace we could ever want: 
forgiveness of our sins, and heaven as our home!

And it is likewise fitting that as the priest prays all these prayers, 
he is gazing at the Eucharist. He is gazing at Jesus. 
He is peering into heaven.

So, yes, the Mass is about the Cross. 
It is also about Resurrection. Let’s talk about that.

Easter is first about Jesus’ Resurrection.
And let us be blunt about this:
Without question, Jesus died. 
If you ever wonder why Jesus was treated so cruelly,
Perhaps God allowed it, so as to close the door on anyone claiming,
“Oh, Jesus didn’t actually die.” 
Yes, Jesus died. And he was buried.

In Jerusalem, the tomb of Jesus is there. I have been there.
I was with a group of priests, and we had Mass right there.
The stone on which Jesus lay is covered over 
with another piece of stone – 
And that is the altar on which we offered the Mass.

Only one or two priests could be inside at a time; 
but when it came time to receive Holy Communion, 
each of us went inside the tomb to eat and drink the Body and Blood.
What a moment! But realize what happened there:
The two most important signs of our Faith:
The empty tomb, and the Holy Eucharist. 

You can’t have one without the other.
There is no Christian Faith if Jesus did not truly rise.
But the Resurrection wasn’t just for Jesus, it is for us.
He didn’t show himself to his Mother and the Apostles 
simply to show off, but rather to show us what lies ahead for us.

And that is Heaven.
In the Holy Eucharist, you and I taste Heaven.
The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, born of Mary.
The Eucharist is the Body broken, and Blood shed, on the Cross.
This is the Risen Body of him who conquered death and hell!

And this is the Body of which we became part in baptism.
During Lent, we have had every opportunity to renew our baptism 
through penance and confession.

Hopefully we have taken advantage of these opportunities,
So that we can approach the Eucharist in a state of grace;
Because, as I said, this is about heaven.
Heaven will not be heaven for us 
if you and I do not let heaven change us, here and now, day by day.

This is the secret of heaven; this is how you “go to heaven.”
No one goes to heaven by surprise. 
We come to in heaven in the end, precisely and only because 
we let heaven come into us, in this life.
That’s what baptism is; that’s what confession is; 
that’s what a life of conversion is. 
We let heaven into our lives here, and heaven makes us heavenly.

That is what the Eucharist is: heaven! Heaven!
And that is what the Mass is. 

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Axis of History (Good Friday homily from 2014)

(I won't have a homily today, thanks to our fine deacon. Here's my homily from 2014.)

This day, which stands at the center of our Sacred Three Days,
Is the day of all day.
Good Friday--the Cross--stands at the center of time, 
and all Creation, all history, 
revolves around it as the earth revolves on its axis.

Thus everyone, without exception, 
must come and stand before the Cross. 
So it is a mercy that God has draws us here, year by year, 
to face the truth we must face, 
while we can still be changed by it.

We see the Cross, and we ask “Why?” 
Be very clear: No one made Jesus do this. 
The Father did not make his Son do this.

Before time, Father, Son and Holy Spirit knew man would sin. 

God saw it all, 
From the vanity and self-importance,
Wrath and pride, lust and greed and gluttony;
To the cruelty people visit on each other large and small,
From Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao,
To the crack of a whip, the prison of a slum, 
The office of an abortion doctor, 
and the uncountable forms of our indifference.

Before anything began, God saw it all…
And He went ahead. He chose to create us.
And then he chose to become one of us.

Was there no other way but the Cross? 
Of course there was. God chose this way. 
Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—we did. 
Had God never become man, 
man would still have faced a cross, but now alone; 
and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”: 
“Any suffering of his, however slight, 
was enough to redeem the human race…” 
The Cross is God’s exclamation mark 
on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.

God did the maximum where the minimum 
would already have been generous!

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:
“I tell you that if God had not come down …
and given us the supreme example of sacrifice, 
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers, 
men and women of countless ages, 
to do something greater, it would seem, 
than God himself could do, namely, 
lay down their lives for a friend.”

Why the Cross? 
Consider an amazing image from our late Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the Great:
God came to earth—so man could put God on trial—
so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked, "Could God have justified himself 
before human history, so full of suffering, 
without placing Christ’s Cross at the center of that history? 

"Obviously, one response could be 
that God does not need to justify himself to man. 
It is enough that he is omnipotent. 
From this perspective everything he does or allows 
must be accepted. 

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence is Wisdom and—
to repeat once again—Love, 
desires to justify himself to mankind.

"He is not the Absolute that remains outside 
of the world, indifferent to human suffering. 
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us, 
a God who shares man’s lot 
and participates in his destiny.

"The crucified Christ is proof of God’s solidarity 
with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue. 
He comes to us—offers himself for trial. 
Pilate presides—and we are in that court as jury. 

We found him guilty; we sentenced him to death.
The price is paid. God himself atones. 
God and man are reconciled.

We see the horror of the Cross; we see the horror of human evil; 
and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.
It is God saying “Yes.”

Thursday, March 29, 2018

'The Mystery of Faith' (Holy Thursday homily)

Whether you realized it or not, 
all of Lent has been a journey to this moment. 
We have prayed, fasted and shared our blessings with others, 
so that we, like the Apostles, 
can prepare to celebrate the Passover with the Lord.

Normally the Passover was celebrated as a family event; 
instead, Jesus was keeping the Passover with these chosen men. 
No one else was present.

That alone would have caused the Apostles to ponder.
Then he takes the task of a servant, and washes their feet.
Next Jesus says, “One of you will betray me.”
Judas leaves, and the Gospel of John says, “it was night.”

The Passover, remember, was first celebrated in Egypt.
God’s People were slaves; and on the night of the Passover, 
God executed judgment against Egypt, and Israel left in haste.

But in order to understand fully the Sacrifice of the Mass, 
it helps to remember what happens 
when God brings his People to Mt. Sinai.

There, God instructs Moses not only in the Ten Commandments, 
but also in all the details of how they are to worship God; 
how the tent of worship is to be arranged,
how the altar is to be constructed, 
and how all the sacrifices offered.

After all this, Moses leads the elders of Israel up Sinai, 
to ratify the covenant. And the Scripture says, 
“They saw God, and they ate and drank” the sacrifice.
All this is background to what happened at the Last Supper, 
and what happens in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.

Did you ever wonder why the altar traditionally was elevated?
As at Sinai, we go up to see God.

In a few minutes, I will go up this altar, and as your priest – 
on your behalf – I will address our 
“Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God” – the God of Sinai.
You and I will join the armies of angels that cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

As I said on Sunday, there is a sense in which the priest is alone before God; 
and yet he is not alone at all. He stands for you. 
And he comes not in his own name, but in the name of Christ, 
who is the true Priest.

What you and I offer – ordinary bread and wine – 
is brought before Almighty God.
And in that moment, the priest prays for the whole Church, 
including “all gathered here.”

It is fitting that before going any further, the priest acknowledges first of all, 
the Virgin Mary, the Queen Mother.
Traditionally, the priest bows his head to the left toward Mary; 
and then forward, toward Christ. 

And in heaven, that is precisely the seating arrangement. 
Psalm 45 says, “the Queen stands at your right hand.”
Then the priest acknowledges the Apostles – the first priests.

The priest then says, “Graciously accept this oblation” –
 what is an oblation? 

An oblation is an offering of food and wine, from the people to God.
It stands for you. You, and your prayers, works, joys and sufferings, 
go to the altar in that bread and wine.

The priest extends his hands like this. 
That is meant to suggest a dove – that is, the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, God’s Fire would come down upon the sacrifice. 
On the Day of Pentecost, God’s Fire came down upon the Church.
In the Mass, it is the Holy Spirit that makes our human offerings
“become for us the Body and Blood of [the] beloved Son, Jesus Christ.”

The priest then recalls the words of Jesus at the Last Supper.
And what becomes so clear when the priest and the people 
face the same way, 
is that every word of this prayer is addressed to God.

Yes, at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke these words to the Apostles.
But the next day, on the Cross, 
he actually offers his Body and Blood to the Father. 
His Body is broken; his blood is poured out.

Very important: the Mass is not a recreation of the Last Supper.
Rather, the Mass is the representation of the whole Sacrifice, 
Which in Jesus’ own words, was completed on the Cross.

Sunday I referred to the roots of the Eucharistic Prayer.
The Roman prayer – which is the one we use most of the time – 
goes back to the early Church. And there is one tantalizing detail.
Notice the priest refers to “this precious chalice.” 
What would make a chalice “precious” to the Church?

Bishop Peter Elliot of Australia suggests that perhaps Peter 
kept the chalice used at the Last Supper; 
and so brought it to the early Christians of Rome – 
and our prayer refers to it.

At the Last Supper, Jesus’ disciples would not have been surprised 
had the Lord pointed to the body of the lamb – on the table – 
to talk about covenant and sacrifice.

Yet when he takes up the bread, and the wine, and refers to his Body, given for you, 
his Blood of the new and eternal covenant – 
which they were to eat and drink – this must have been puzzling; 
even if they had heard him say things like this before.

However: after his death on the Cross; 
and then, after his Resurrection, the Gospel of Luke tells us 
he met two disciples on the road to Emmaus, 
and along the way he explains to them “beginning with Moses and all the prophets…
what referred to him in all the scriptures.”

That’s when the Apostles understood; and our Holy Mass is the result.

Notice the priest lifts up the Body, and then the Blood.
While this allows you to adore the Lord, that is not the primary reason.
Rather, the Body and Blood are lifted up to the Father.
Remember, this is a Sacrifice.
Christ offered himself to the Father.
The priest offers Christ – and us – to the Father.

And this – this moment – is “the mystery of Faith.” 
This is why he came. This is what saves us. 
This is how we come before the throne and behold God face to face.

Notice after this, the priest’s gaze is no longer upward, 
but toward the altar. Why? Remember what Jesus said to Philip:
“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”

And so, from the moment the bread and wine become Christ, 
the priest’s gaze – and words – are on the Body and Blood, 
even when the priest leads us in saying, “Our Father.” 
Jesus is the Face of the Father.

After we sing, “Mystery of Faith,” 
the priest’s gaze is on Jesus on the altar, 
but he begs the Father to accept this “pure victim, this holy victim.”
We know there is no doubt the Father will accept this Sacrifice; 
and yet this summarizes the whole drama of salvation.

Without Jesus, none of us can be saved. 
Everything in the Old Testament led to this.
This moment is the pivot point of all human history.
Kings and conquerors, scientists and statesmen, 
think they are doing great things; 
but nothing is more powerful than this: this Mass!

That is why it is astounding that anyone can say, 
“I have better things to do” than be here.

When the Jewish people keep the Passover, 
they believe it unites them to that moment of deliverance in Egypt, 
and the sealing of the covenant at Mount Sinai.
It is God who “remembers,” and in so doing, brings them there.

And so Jesus said, “Do this in memory of me” – 
and we quote those words to his Father in heaven. 
And we know: God remembers!

And so, tonight, you and I are there in Jerusalem.
We are there at the Cross.
The Blood of the Lamb protects us. 
The flesh of the Lamb is our salvation.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

How Holy Week is like the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass (Palm Sunday homily)

As you know, the homilies during Lent 
have taken us step by step through the Mass. 
Perhaps you’ve noticed that we have only gotten 
to the center of the Mass, the Eucharistic Prayer. 
That was by design; because Lent and the Mass have this in common: 
they are about leading us to – and preparing us for – the Cross.

Now that Holy Week begins, 
we come to what is both the heart of the Mass 
and the heart of our Faith. 

We just recalled how Jesus approaches Jerusalem. 
In a moment, the priest – me, in this case – approaches the altar. 
The purpose is the same: to carry out the sacrifice 
that saves the world from sin. 
What happened once in Jerusalem, 
happens now on our altar, in our presence.

If you possibly can, please plan to come to Holy Thursday Mass. 
That is when Jesus began his Sacrifice – 
the first, the true Mass, if you will. 
He completes his sacrifice on the Cross, and of course, 
that is what we relive on Good Friday.

Easter – beginning with the Vigil Mass late on Saturday evening – 
marks the victory of Christ over sin and death. 
He has died; he has sought out the faithful souls who had gone before, 
and he takes them to heaven. 
He rises from the dead, and his victory is complete. 
This is all part of the Mass, too. We’ll talk about that next week.
At the center of the Mass, as we know, is the Eucharistic Prayer, 
the prayer of Sacrifice. 
The roots of this prayer are the Last Supper, the Cross, 
and the first gathering of believers on the Sunday of Resurrection, 
the first Easter. 

In a few minutes, we will lift up our hearts to the Lord. 
We will sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts” – 
the words Isaiah heard when had a vision of God in the temple. 
The prayer of the priest, after that, 
addresses God as if we are standing right before his throne, in heaven. 
Because, in a true sense, that’s where we are.

Notice: every single word of this prayer is addressed to God. 
Even when the priest quotes the words of Jesus, at the Last Supper,
the priest is quoting them to the Father. 
When the priest is praying the Eucharistic Prayer, 
there is a silence, an intimacy. 
There is a sense in which the priest is very alone, 
alone with the Father. 
It is like Calvary, when Christ’s gaze 
is almost constantly fixed on his Father, until he gives up his last. 

This week, Holy Week, makes all this especially intense and real. 
That’s why this is a perfect time to focus intently 
on the heart of the Mass, which is the heart of our Faith. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Seven Bogus Reasons to Skip Mass

... As promised:

8) I don’t like the people I see there. Then you will really hate heaven! What will you do?

7) I can talk to God anywhere. True; but you can’t be joined to the Body of Christ just anywhere. I mean, both the people who form the Body of Christ, gathered together; and I mean the Eucharist. These things happen at Holy Mass.

6) If I’m not there, it doesn’t make any difference. This is doubly wrong. Your absence makes a difference to others: if part of your body isn’t working right, you may not realize it right away, but you will feel the difference sooner or later. Our parish is weaker when not all its members are taking part. And your absence makes a difference to you. One of the things we discover in life is that we become our choices. If we choose to be generous, we become generous; if we choose laziness, we become lazy. If you get together with a group of friends regularly, missing once may not matter that much. But miss twice, three times…at some point, guess what? You won’t even notice; you will have left them behind.

5) Church is full of hypocrites. That is 100% true, because Christ came to call sinners. So, you’re saying that if everyone in church were perfect, you’d feel more at home?

6) I’m tired. Some people truly are tired: you will see them coming to Mass on crutches and in wheelchairs, carrying oxygen tanks and struggling to get around. And if we are genuinely sick, we are excused from Sunday Mass attendance. Every one of us knows the difference between being actually sick, and looking for excuses.

3) I’ve got something else to do. Sometimes we don’t have an easy choice. Many people work in jobs where it’s very difficult to avoid working on weekends. Emergencies happen. These, too, are legitimate reasons to miss Mass. However, very often this isn’t forced on us; we made a choice. Yet we don’t want to own it, and admit that we consider playing sports or watching TV or golfing or shopping or choosing to work to be more important. At a certain point in life, we start dating, and we get serious about a guy or a girl. Tell me what happens when you tell that special girl or guy, sorry, I can’t be with you, because of sports, shopping, TV, work, etc.? The relationship doesn’t last, does it?

2) My parents don’t go, why should I? It’s true that if your family doesn’t go to Mass, that makes it harder. As we grow up, we all reach a point where we become our own people. Sometimes we take a course our parents don’t. But also, we start to realize that our parents won’t do it for us. Mom and dad won’t always be there to wash your clothes and get you out of bed in the morning. It’s called growing up. What’s more, sometimes our parents do the wrong thing. Our friends too. Why should we follow their example?

1) I don’t get anything out of Mass. This, too, is wrong two ways. First, maybe it’s not about what you “get.” How about, it’s about what you offer? We come to Mass to participate in a sacrifice, in which Christ offers himself, and we are called to make our own offerings. Some people offer money, some offer their time and talents, but all can and should offer their own prayers and needs, praying for our own conversion and for the needs of others. So maybe come to Mass not to get, but to give?

Second, it is simply false that you don’t “get anything” from Mass. You actually do, but either you don’t realize it, or you don’t value it. Do you receive any kindness or warmth? Do you read and hear God’s Word? Do you get to witness the Sacrifice of Christ, made present on the altar? Do you receive the Eucharist? Above all, do you think God gives you grace in the Mass? All this really is given you. Do you value these things?

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top seven reasons for attending Sunday Mass

7) God says so. The first commandment says, “I am the Lord your God; you shall not have any other gods before me.” The third commandment says, “Keep holy the Sabbath.” When that commandment was given, the Sabbath was Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. We observe Sunday because that’s when Jesus rose, and that’s what the Apostles taught us to do. But it remains a command of God.

6) Grandchildren. Do you care if your grandchildren are baptized? Because if you want to see them never be baptized, choosing to skip Sunday Mass with your children, while they are growing up, is a good way to ensure your grandchildren will be even more disconnected from the Faith. If your children see you place a low priority on practicing the Faith, don’t be surprised if they follow that example. When the time comes, they may not care much about marrying in the church, or having your grandchildren baptized.

5) You matter. You are part of the Body of Christ; your presence matters. If part of my body isn’t working right, even if I don’t know exactly what, I still know something is wrong. This parish is weaker when not all members are active and connected. We all suffer, even if we don’t realize it.

4) Habits are powerful. No one has the goal of developing a bad habit; so how does it happen? The guy who is never reliable didn’t plan to be that way. He was late once, twice, five times, ten…and eventually, he turned into that guy, and changing is hard. Good habits work similarly, but in our favor. If you make Sunday Mass a priority, it will become a powerful help for you. And if you skip Mass “only now and then,” you may wake up to a bad habit it’s hard to break.

3) You need to worship. Yes, you really, really do. We all need to recognize Someone created us and to whom we owe all things. This forces us to admit our limits; it makes us more likely to admit wrong. Neglecting to worship God means we are practical atheists. We give lip service to God, but in practice, we can’t be bothered. And if we aren’t worshipping God, we will make something else our “god,” you can bet on it.

2) Being fed in your Faith. While it’s true that we need to do more than Sunday Mass in order to grow as Catholics, we cannot grow if we don’t at least attend Mass each week.

1) Christ himself. How can we call ourselves Christians if we don’t want to be with Christ? Yes, there are lots of ways we can encounter Christ. But the Mass is the primary way. When Jesus rose from the dead, the Gospel says “they knew him in the breaking of the Bread.” This was his doing; this is why he instituted the Eucharist: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”

Do you want to add anything? Any disagreement? Let me know in the comments.

Next I’ll have a list of bogus reasons for skipping Mass.