Sunday, December 16, 2018

We can either sabotage joy; or increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass; 
we didn’t actually use it, but we might have. 
In Latin it would be, “Gaudete in Domino semper”; 
Or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

When we think of “joy,” maybe we imagine someone 
with a wide grin plastered on her face.
We think of happiness or bliss.
But joy is something deeper. It may or may not come with a smile.
But it always comes with peace, immense peace.

In the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is that overwhelming feeling that fills us 
when we realize we are loved – above all, by God.

Here is a story of joy – and it will surprise you,
Because it involves suffering and loss, and how can that be about joy?

There was a couple I knew in Piqua; call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married over sixty years. 
When Helen became very ill, 
the family gathered around her in the hospital, and they called me. 
I vividly recall how crowded that hospital room was; 
and everyone was praying. Bill was sitting beside his wife, 
holding her hand. They were praying one Hail Mary after another.

This went on for awhile, till Ellen couldn’t speak. 
Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.
That’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

We don’t always get good news. 
Truth is, what happened for Bill and Helen 
comes to us all sooner or later; it really hurts at Christmastime. 

But there is a powerful reason why that experience was truly joyful. 
Not because there was no pain;
But because those hearts were united in faith, in love, and in hope.
The Holy Spirit was filling that hospital room. That’s the joy!

Now it occurs to me that we sabotage joy, in two ways.

First, in getting balled up in anxiety. 

Paul says “have no anxiety at all.” How do we do that? 
Well, Paul talks about prayer, petition and thanksgiving
So the next time you are anxious, try those three. 
Try to pray, including petitions to God about the things that worry you, 
and then take time to recall all that you are thankful for.

The second thing we do to sabotage joy is holding onto sins, 
both our own, and others’.

In the first reading, Zephaniah told us, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Look: people wound us, and it’s hard not to remember that.
It’s difficult not to harbor that memory.
But who’s carrying the burden of that? You are! 
To forgive someone does not mean the wrong never happened.
It doesn’t mean what that person did to you was OK.
Rather, to forgive is to turn that person over to God.

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.
The more generously you and I experience being forgiven, 
the easier it becomes to be generous in mercy toward others.

OK, so those are ways we let the joy drain out of our lives.
But the Gospel shows us three ways we can have more, much more joy.

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
That means giving away half! 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 

I confess, I am certainly not that generous. 
But when I have those moments, it lifts my heart,
Even if it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 

This is why we will never stop being a voice for the unborn.  
There is a bill in the Ohio legislature 
that would restrict the death penalty 
from being applied to those with severe mental illness.
There is information about this in today’s bulletin.

I haven’t talked much about the situation on our southern border, because it’s complicated, 
and nations do have the right to control their borders. 

Still, we can ask, is how our government is handling it now 
really the best way? Could employers take a greater role?
Can we do more to facilitate legal entry into our country? 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
We first receive the Holy Spirit in baptism, 
and in a deeper way in confirmation. 
When we go to confession, it is the Holy Spirit who washes us clean.
It is the Holy Spirit who, at Mass, brings us to the Cross, 
and who changes bread and wine into Jesus’ Body and Blood.

But that’s only some of the ways the Holy Spirit is at work.
He is always with us, always helping us.

It’s kind of like on a summer night, 
when you turn off the TV and the computer 
and everything finally becomes quiet, 
do you notice how suddenly you hear things in the background?
Crickets and frogs and trees rustling, and even faraway sounds?
It was there all the time – but you couldn’t hear it!

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you open up to him; 
And it won’t hurt to turn off the TVs and computers!

Jesus said, “ask, and you shall receive.” 
He didn’t mean winning basketball games or getting good grades; 
but he did mean, asking for more of his life. 
Ask for the Holy Spirit, and you SHALL receive!

And that is what true joy is.

Monday, December 10, 2018

More on the 'transgender' threat

This is a follow up to a recent homily, taken from the parish bulletin, slightly edited. 

Let’s talk plainly about so-called “trangenderism.” What is it? And why should you or I care?

For various reasons, some hard to discern, some people experience a “dysphoria” or disconnection from their physical identity as male or female.  It can be temporary or life-long. While some people may think this is all a big joke, the suffering is real.  It can involve depression, addiction and suicide.

In recent decades, it has been possible for people to obtain artificial hormones, and even surgery, in order to remake their bodies to conform to their self-perception. What is not well known is that even these drastic steps are often not satisfactory. In those cases, some will ‘transition” back to their original identity; or else they will spiral down into deeper darkness.

Why is ‘transgenderism’ on the march? Until just recently, we understood as a society that this was abnormal. But now powerful forces are working to force society to embrace these experiences as normal. Even worse: what was always known to be a scientific fact (that male and female are physical realities) has now been transformed into not only a mere “belief,” but an expression of bigotry!

The word for this is madness. 

I mean not so much the people who experience this dysphoria; I don’t want to add anything to their suffering. Rather, I mean the madness of other people, whether in government, in the media, and in so many other places, who go along with this or try to coerce others into accepting it.

Why you should care. Last year a judge in Hamilton County, Ohio, took a child away from her parents, and placed the child in her grandparents’ custody, precisely because the parents would not go along with this fake science; would not go along with hormones or surgeries that would mutilate their child. But the grandparents would. So the government took sides.

Also: in many places, schools are getting intense pressure. Girls will be in a locker room, and a boy—who now claims to be a girl—is undressing in their presence; and the girls must undress in that boy’s presence. This has happened without parents knowing about it or having recourse. In many sports, girls are losing competitions because boys-claiming-to-be-girls have greater physical strength and thus tend to win. Everyone knows it’s wrong but no one dares protest, for fear of being labelled a “bigot.”

If you or someone you care about is in the medical profession, be scared. There are powerful voices demanding that doctors perform procedures and operations, and proscribe hormones, contrary to their own medical judgment and conscience. In many places, it is now illegal for counselors and psychologists to offer therapy that might help a young person reject same-sex desires. Don’t be surprised if the same groups demand that doctors not counsel someone away from becoming “transgender.”

Worse: this ideology is being promoted to young, impressionable children, and surprise! Children are discovering that they are also transgender. In Britain, where this movement is further along, schools are reporting drastic increases in children discovering they aren’t the sex they thought they were. And children are being given drugs and even mutilating operations. If this makes you want to throw up, that is a good response. But it can’t be our only response.

Don’t be discouraged, but don’t be passive. 

If you find all this overwhelming, remember that in 1940, Fascism, Communism and Nazism seemed unstoppable; and they nearly were. Yet they were defeated. Evil will not have the last word. Pray. Be well informed. Be loving but unbending about the truth. It is not compassionate to nod and smile when someone else plans to do him- or herself grave harm. You may not be able to stop it, but we must not give our approval or help. And wait patiently for our God in heaven to act, as he will in his time; and indeed, he almost certainly already is, but in ways we do not comprehend.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Want to feel splendor? Go to confession (Sunday homily)

Before I get into the heart of the matter, two little commercials. 
First, if you are taking part in the Consecration to Jesus through Mary, 
working through the book we passed out, 
please turn in those cards from the books. 
You can put them in the collection 
or drop them off at the parish office.

And second, remember the retired members of religious orders. 
They gave all they had for us, 
and now they are elderly and need care in their late years. 
They took vows of poverty, giving up wealth and bank accounts.
They depend on our generosity. 
Please give to the second collection for them.

Now, let’s back up to the first reading we heard.
The prophet Baruch lived at a time when everything had gone to pieces. 
God’s People had gone through a long, slow decline, 
in their political fortunes, in their moral state, 
and in their spiritual lives. 

Finally their nation is destroyed 
and the Jewish people are scattered to the four winds, 
an utter catastrophe. 
What does Baruch say? 
Hang on: there will be a return, not in shame, but in splendor.

That fits pretty well with John the Baptist who says, prepare the way! 
The “return” that Baruch and John are interested in 
is above all about a reunion of our hearts with God. 

Baruch, among others, hoped to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem 
that had been destroyed. 
That temple was understood as a place where humanity could return 
to a kind of paradise – in which God and humanity are together again.

But remember what Jesus revealed: he, himself, is the temple. 
You and I are reunited with God 
In being baptized and confirmed in the Holy Spirit, 
And in sharing in his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. 
And when we forget we belong to God and depart Paradise through sin, 
the sacrament of confession opens the way again to the Tree of Life, 
which is the Holy Mass, 
where you and I eat the fruit of the tree of life.

So it’s another Sunday of Advent, and Christmas is two weeks away. 
Everything on TV, the radio, in stores and restaurants, 
Is of course, already Christmas, Christmas! 
What is this time of Advent, what does it really mean?

I said this last year, and I’ll say it again: 
Advent is really about eternity, about heaven. 
It’s about that reunion with God that will be complete 
and will last forever. 

What about Christmas?
That’s about heaven, too! Why did Jesus come? 
To create business opportunities for the post office, Wal Mart, Amazon and UPS? No! 
He came in time, in Bethlehem, a long time ago, as a down-payment of heaven. 

Jesus came to give us a little bit of heaven here on earth, 
so we would not be like the people Baruch was talking to, 
who were so beat down and tempted to give up. 
So tempted to say, we’re lost, we have no hope.

So if you are feeling discouraged; 
If you are sad or blue, as sometimes people do at this time of year;
If the darkening days dim your mood;
If God seems far away, or your life seems a wreck;
If news from here, or there or everywhere dismays you?

Then hear John the Baptist speak directly to you: there is a way! 
Prepare the way, clear and straight, for Jesus to enter your heart! 
Building roads through mountains and swamps is rough, tedious work.

Bringing hope into our gloomy and frustrated hearts is right at hand.
Only a glance at Christ, a word to entrust yourself to him.
There will be many opportunities for confession the next two weeks, 
here and in neighboring parishes. Watch the bulletin.

Keep going with the 33 days of consecration to Jesus through Mary. 
She is a trustworthy help and guide.

Jesus wants to give you a little bit of the splendor of heaven, 
in your heart. A hot shower feels wonderful; 
but a clean conscience after a good confession – 
leaving no fear or worry? Feels awesome!
Let Jesus make his way into your heart. Let him in!

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Turning toward the Lord at Holy Mass

This is rewritten from a recent parish bulletin.

As everyone knows, over the past four years, our parish has gradually gained experience with this ancient practice, both in the traditional Latin Mass, and in the newer form of Mass. We’ve experienced it at daily Mass on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and in the past year, we’ve had Mass this way on holy days of obligation, and on Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil.

While I understand not everyone shares my enthusiasm, even so I must tell you that the response when we’ve had Mass on the high altar has been overwhelmingly positive. Many have told me that they find this spiritually meaningful and nourishing. Many tell me that it just makes sense to them. Given that this is so meaningful to many, I think it’s best for all concerned if we try to meet the different needs of all.

Some will say, but it’s not something I care for. I understand. That’s why we have lots of Masses  offered using the low altar, with the priest turned toward the people. Surely we can all have a live-and-let-live attitude, and allow for some legitimate diversity? No one is being denied anything; we are simply providing more options.

When I talk about this as Mass “toward the Lord,” I don’t mean to emphasize a posture toward the tabernacle, although that is incidentally true. Rather, the main point of this posture – usually called “ad orientem” (which means toward the east) – is that the priest and people are all oriented (1) the same way: that’s the main thing; it is also (2) toward “liturgical” east, almost always symbolized by the apse of the church. The emphasis on “east” is because of so many associations, from Scripture and Tradition, between the east, the source of new light – i.e., the rising sun – the Resurrection, and the hope for Christ to come again. Above all, that common posture is toward the sacred action on the altar.

This arises from a misunderstanding of Vatican II.

There is a very common misperception that Vatican II requires a priest to face the people at the altar. This is not so. Vatican II actually said nothing whatsoever about this. Even when the Mass was revised in the wake of Vatican II, the new Mass did not require the priest to face the people! To say it again: there is simply no rule or norm that dictates whether the priest is facing the people, or on the same side of the altar, with the people.

Anyone who wants proof of this can simply look at the Missal (the large book of prayers used by the priest for Mass); at various points, it specifically instructs the priest to face the people. But there would be no need to give that instruction if he was already and always facing the people. Rather, what this indicates is that the priest might either be facing them, or not – depending on the arrangement of the altar.

That said, it is true that in the years after Vatican II, it became extremely common for the priest to face the people across the altar; so much so, that this was the only experience of the Mass most Catholics, and most priests, had. It was Pope Benedict who really highlighted this issue in his book (written before he was pope) called The Spirit of the Liturgy. There, he explained beautifully – and I think, persuasively – that there were unanticipated downsides to having the priest facing the people; namely, that Mass can become too much about the priest and his personality, and the people are expected to focus on him. Also, unrealized benefits to having both the people and the priest in a common posture: that the priest isn’t the central focus, and that there is a more obvious emphasis on all concerned, priest and people, having a shared focus on the Lord himself. He encouraged exploration of this legitimate option; and that is what I have been doing.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Jesus is coming? Jesus is here! (Sunday homily)


Do you know what word appears in each of the readings? 
That word is “coming.” Did you notice?

A long time ago, I had a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is coming. Look busy!”

It’s a funny joke, but it dumb plan of action.

That’s why Jesus says that some people 
will be so terribly afraid when he does come at the end of time. 
They know that “looking busy” isn’t going to cut it.

Do you know what, on the other hand, is a good plan?
In fact, a perfect plan? Here it is:

Live every day not as if Jesus is coming, some faraway day; 
But rather, live every day as if he is already here, right now.

If you’re at work, and everything you do 
is what you’d do if the owner of the business is at your right hand, 
you’ll never worry, right?

And, of course, Jesus is at your right hand, every day, every moment.
There’s no place he would rather be.

This past week, many of us starting reading 
Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory.
It’s a book of daily reflections 
leading to a consecration to Jesus through Mary.
If possible, you started on November 29, with the 33 days taking us 
to January 1, the feast of the Mother of God. 
But maybe you forgot. No problem! The books are here. Free!
Anyone, any age, is welcome to work through this. 
Do it as a family, or on your own if no one else is doing it.
You can catch up, it’s really easy.

And notice the “commitment cards” in the books. 
I should have suggested you put them in the collection today; 
but you can bring them next week. 

Those cards will help me connect you to a small group, afterward, 
if you’d like that as a help to continue to grow spiritually.

And I also want to know how many parishioners want to participate 
in a group consecration, whether it’s a small or large number.
So, that is why I ask you to turn in the cards.

Yes, Jesus is coming at the end of time to complete his Kingdom.
But why worry? He’s here, right now, for you and me.
Let him be king now, and you’ll never have to worry about later.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

If not Christ as King? Then horror (Sunday homily)

Today is the feast of Christ the King. 
Officially, Christ, the King of the Universe, which means: 
he is the king of absolutely everything and everyone, no exceptions.

This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
It was a time of many movements seeking to rule and remake humanity: 
Communism, Fascism, Nazism.
But also: Secularism, which might also be termed, “Get-God-out-ism”; we’re on our own.
And Modernism, which means we’re smarter and better 
than anyone who ever lived before us, they have nothing to teach us;
truth begins with us.

Thank God – and with God’s help – 
our grandparents defeated Fascism and Communism.
But these other “isms” are still around.
There are still powerful forces 
that are determined to rule humanity in place of Christ.

And just like the Facists, Nazis and Communists, 
they are not benign rulers. 
They are greedy for power; they seek absolute dominion.

Here’s a recent story about a college student in California.
Her name is Isabella Chow; 
she is a member of the Student Senate at UC-Berkeley.
Someone put forward a resolution condemning the proposition 
that you are male or female, 
based on the biological facts apparent at birth.

Now, I know this is confusing. 
But you do realize that there is a growing movement 
to say that biological facts do not matter?
That no matter what body God gave me, I can invent myself as I wish?

Now, some people say, live and let live, who cares?

But listen to what happened to Miss Chow.
She abstained from the motion. 
Note well; she didn’t vote against; she merely abstained.
She politely explained her reasons, 
saying that discrimination “is never, ever OK.” 
Still, voting for the bill would compromise her values.

Now listen what happened to her.

She was immediately labeled a “bigot” 
and her beliefs “hateful prejudice.”
Miss Chow has been kicked out of most of the groups she belonged to.
Hundreds of students showed up to demand she resign.
They are mobilizing the entire campus against her.

She is being ripped to shreds on social media coast to coast.
Miss Chow submitted an op-ed to the school paper, 
but they won’t run it.
Her former friends are shunning her. 

Miss Chow is standing her ground. Wow! 
But honestly, how many here could find the same strength?

And it’s not just California, it’s spreading everywhere;
including to Catholic colleges. 
A highly honored professor was driven out of Providence College, 
in Rhode Island, because he would not endorse these new “isms.”

It’s happening everywhere: entertainment; sports, the business world. 
All the larger companies are getting on board with this,
and telling their employees they better get on board.

Did you see what was broadcast from the Thanksgiving Day Parade 
in New York City? Two women – yes, Macy’s went there.
That’s Federated Department Stores, based in Cincinnati.
And what do you think happens if an employee objects to that?

So let’s be very clear: if not Christ, 
then there are others who seek to be king, and they are not gracious, 
they are not gentle, they are ruthless tyrants.

This “trangender” business is ruining people’s lives, even children!

Now, this can all be very discouraging, but remember:
When Pope Pius XI created this feast, 
The evils of his time seemed all-powerful and unstoppable;
Even as Rome surely did, in the person of Pontius Pilate, 
condemning an insignificant peasant named Jesus of Nazareth.

And if Isabella Chow can find courage in her situation, 
how dare any of us not likewise find our courage too?
That courage comes from the Holy Spirit, 
which no one can take from us!

And I think Pilate knew that. When Christ stood before him,
Pilate knew that it was Christ who was strong, not he.
He didn’t know why, and that frightened him.
So it has always been and so it will always be.
Christ will conquer, but in ways you and I cannot comprehend.

Now, this is a good time to talk about the book we are giving away,
Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory.
This is an opportunity to consecrate ourselves to the Heart of Mary.
What does that have to do with Christ the King?
Because when we give ourselves entirely to Mary,
She will bring us straight to her son.

And as St. Louis de Montfort stated,
“Total consecration to Jesus through Mary 
is the surest, easiest, shortest, and the most perfect means” to becoming a saint.
To be a saint is to be a true subject of King Jesus, 
to let him reign in the entirety of our lives.

So here’s the plan. You take the book, and you start reading it.
The idea is to take 33 days to read the book, 
a couple of pages each day, and reflecting that day on those pages.
We start on November 29, and we finish on December 31.

Then, on January 1 – the feast of the Mother of God – 
We make our consecration. 
You can do this on your own if you prefer;
Or, for those interested, we’ll do it together in church that day.
If you already made a consecration to Mary, you can renew it.

Sometimes people get hung up on “doing it right.”
They worry: what if I fall behind? 
The author will tell you, and I’m telling you, don’t worry about it!
There are no “rules”! The only “rule” is to draw closer to Mary, 
and by doing so, draw closer to her Divine Son, Jesus.

So, if you’re interested, take the book!
Start reading it right away. Go at your own pace, fast or slow.
But we will all aim for making, or renewing, our consecration to Mary 
on January 1, and start the new year in a powerful way.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Better believe Jesus is coming: sooner than you think! (Sunday homily)

When we hear words like these from Jesus, it can be frightening.
We wonder what he is saying, what this is about.
Is he talking about the end of the world? 
Or is he talking about something else?

This is about a lot of things altogether. 
First, Jesus’ supreme sacrifice on the Cross, 
in which he would atone for the sins of the world, 
reconcile humanity with God 
and open heaven for all who would believe in him.

Second, Jesus rising from the dead, with great power and glory.
Third, Jesus ascends to heaven 
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

Fourth, Jesus pours out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, 
and the Apostles – his messengers – 
are sent out to the four corners of the world.

And then, 40 years after all this happens, 
the destruction of the old temple in Jerusalem;
this drew to a close the system of sacrifices 
that were meant to prepare for Christ’s coming.

And yet, as I said, these words not only describe events 
that would soon happen, they also foreshadow the end of time 
when Christ’s Plan is brought to thundering finality.

It can be challenging to think this way, 
but all these things I’ve described, stretching over thousands of years, 
are – to God – all one thing; all one moment.

Recall what Scripture says: for God, one day is a thousand years, 
and a thousand years, a day.

And at the center of all this is the humble, routine thing we do here: 
the holy sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is like a time-machine, straight out of science fiction: 
It unites past, present and future; it unites earth with heaven.

You and I live in time – we don’t know anything different. 
And this moment in time can seem to last forever. 
When you’re a teenager and it’s a nice day, 
and you have to paint the garage? That seems an eternity!

When you’re hurrying to get where you want to be in life,
time can seem to drag on so…very…slowly.
But then you turn around and you’re 40. You’re 50. You’re 60. 
And you wonder, where did all that time go?

One day, you and I will actually wake up from this life, 
and we will fully be in eternity. What will it be like?

Jesus has told us so many times and so many ways.
You and I will not really be different people in eternity.
Do you realize that? You are not going to wake up in the next life, 
and be someone other than who you are in this world! 
If we are selfish and lazy and lustful and addicted to food and drink; 
wrathful and holding bitter grudges;
uninterested in the things of God in this life? 
Then that’s what you and I will be forever: “a horror and a disgrace.”

Like a statue being carved from stone, every action of ours, 
stroke by stroke, shapes who and what we are.

Eternity is where each of us will finally be what we are, now, becoming. 
This is why repentance and conversion are so critical; 
why frequent turning back to Christ, 
using the sacrament of confession regularly, are so essential.
And that’s why God gives us time in this world: in order to change.

Forgive me for being stupid on this point: 
but I simply do not understand how anyone can say, 
“I don’t really need the sacrament of confession.”

Perhaps someone who is truly saintly could say that – 
except that’s something the saints, in reality, never say. 
St. Therese, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Francis, Padre Pio, 
Pope John Paul, St. Philip Neri, I could go on…
The saints never say, “I don’t need confession.” Entirely the opposite.

Even if no one actually says that, out loud,
lots of people live that way. Yes, including in this parish.

Now, it could be that people are afraid. And that I do understand.
I don’t like confessing my sins to another priest. 
It’s hard for me to be anonymous.
But then, it’s also embarrassing to go to the dentist, 
and he sees that I haven’t been flossing the way I know I should.
Or to go to the doctor, and I’m not losing weight the way he told me.

And I’m guessing it’s pretty awkward for spouses to face each other 
when one or both has messed up, 
said terrible things, or failed to keep a promise.

If there is one truth that is universal, 
it is that we humans need to change. 
You and I need conversion. 
Get that? It’s not just your spouse; not just your parents; 
not just that person over there. It’s every one of us!

In the White House. In Congress. In the media.
In the Vatican. Among the bishops. Priests. Parishes.
In sports. Colleges. High schools.
Business. Unions. Corporations. Farmers. Everyone.

Who thinks everything is spiffy-keen just as it is?
Who – if this world stayed just as it is right now, forever – 
would call that heaven?

This is universal truth number one: everyone needs to change.
And part of that change is waking up to how much we need to change. 
In our pride, we think it’s just a little polish around the edges.
Odds are extremely high you and I are very wrong about that.

Second universal truth: you and I aren’t likely to change anyone else.
We can invite. We can offer help. We can give example. We can pray.
But that’s the limit of what we can do to change others.
Meanwhile, God has given us every help – all heaven and earth – 
for us to change ourselves. 
Don’t get me wrong: it’s still a huge lift. Still really hard.
Each of us gets a lifetime, and that’s about how long it usually takes.

And Jesus has told us: he’s coming.
He is coming finally at the end of time, we know not when.
He will come for each of us, when our life on earth ends,
and we open our eyes in eternity. 

And right here, right now, 
he comes to us in the power of the sacraments, generously, constantly;
in the cleansing grace of confession and in the miracle of the Mass.

So what is Jesus saying? 
It’s actually pretty simple, but sharp:
He’s saying, “Wake up!” 
We won’t have time forever. 
The time to change, the time to act, is right now.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

What's really there? So much more than you think (Sunday homily)



The widow in the Gospel, with her contribution of two coins, 
is an example of something very common. 
A couple of coins, what’s that? 

But what may seem insignificant when looked at one way,
Is in fact something tremendous, when measured a different way.

When I worked in politics, in Washington,
I would often go to these events 
where other political or media-type folks would be.
Even if it was supposedly a social event, 
most of us were there for work; 
we were trying to make connections with other people in politics.

We’d all have name-tags, that also gave what news organization 
or political group you represented.

So then you an uncomfortable ritual: 
People would move around the room, 
trying to scope out name tags nonchalantly, 
in order to avoid wasting time on a conversation 
with someone who wasn’t important enough! 

Of course, the other person might think you were a good “target,” 
and would reach out to shake hands, oops, you’re caught! 
So then you’d try to be minimally polite, 
even as your eye is roaming for a more powerful person to talk to.

That poor widow in the Gospel, where would she be in that?
Only Jesus had eyes to see her true value.
Students, keep this in mind when you deal with others at school.
It’s rough when other people make instant judgments about you;
But are you sure you aren’t doing the exact same them to others?

I remember making so many assumptions about others in high school. 
And so often, I was so, so wrong! 
People I thought were the best people to know? Not so much, actually!
Other people I ignored, or thought were “out of my league,” 
turned out to be really great people, and I missed out!

Here’s another way we make this mistake. Look at the Mass.
People skip Sunday Mass – obviously they think, it’s not so important.
Or, people come to Mass, and it doesn’t measure up.
The priest is tedious and talks too long; that’s probably true!
They don’t like the music, or people around them are annoying, 
or for whatever reason, they are bored.

Look: if Pope Francis were here to offer Mass,
Do you think all those folks skipping Mass would show up?
Why? It’s the same Mass! 
I realize it would be the Holy Father, but if he were here now, 
he’d tell you himself that what Jesus does 
in the Holy Mass is what counts!

That’s what the second reading, from Hebrews, is about:
Jesus is our eternal high priest, and what he did for us on the Cross, 
is what he now makes present and real to us in the Mass, 
and in the Holy Eucharist.

And we might think, oh, but when the pope, or the archbishop, 
or when my favorite priest offers Mass…
When we’ve got the right kind of choir, 
Or when the church is arranged the right way, 
Or when we don’t have all these distractions,
Or when it’s in Latin, or we have guitars, 
Or whatever it is that makes it our “perfect” Mass…

But then I think of a Russian Catholic priest, Blessed Leonid Feodorov;
He was thrown into prison by the communists.
His atheist captors forbade him to offer Holy Mass.

He had no vestments, no choir, no chapel, no altar.
The other prisoners would sneak bread to him 
from their meager rations;
and when they accumulated a few raisins, they would make wine.

And so with a crumb of bread and a few drops of wine;
Maybe using a tin cup for a chalice, his only vestments were rags;
and reciting the prayers from memory,
voice hushed so as not to be overheard by the guards:
thus would Father Leonid offer his widow’s mite of a Mass.

How easily and how often we look at others, or at ourselves,
even at the familiar Mass which happens every day in our parish – 
and think we see, but we don’t really see!

But something astounding, world-changing, is there, 
if only we could see it! 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Orienting our lives around Jesus (Sunday homily)

In a video I watched last week, a Bible scholar I admire, Brant Pitre, 
pointed out that the words Jesus cited 
as the first and greatest commandment 
were also recited as a prayer by faithful Jews. 

To this day, they pray these words three times a day: 
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 
Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, 
and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”

And Dr. Pitre also explains that “when you recite words like this 
three times a day, they are going to shape how you see reality; 
the way you live each day.” It’s hard to live apart from God, 
while you are saying these words over and over. 

That’s good advice, and it’s a reason why each of us 
does well to have a routine habit of prayer for each day.
That daily habit of prayer could include the following:

First thing in the morning, say the Morning Offering.
Try to give yourself a few minutes of quiet time in the morning, 
and use that time to talk to God about your day; 
maybe read a short passage of Scripture, 
a psalm or some other spiritual reflection.

At noon, maybe take time to pray the Angelus. 
If you stop by the parish office at that time, 
you can join parish employees and me in praying the Angelus.

Sometime during the day, pray the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. 
These are great to pray when you are driving or walking. 
This is a good time to include all the people you are praying for.

Always pray grace before a meal, no matter where you are.
No one will be offended, and you will set a good example.

In the evening, take a few minutes to look back on your day. 
Examine your conscience; admit faults to God and ask for help; 
and give thanks for the good things that happened.

No matter what your situation, what time you get up, 
whether you are at school all day, or at a factory or on the farm, 
everyone can do most, if not all, these things.

And as Dr. Pitre said, this helps orient our lives.

This is a good time to talk about 
our annual 40 Hours of Eucharistic Adoration 
which will take place next weekend.
Beginning with the Friday morning Mass at 8:15 am, 
our Lord Jesus will be on the altar for everyone to come and adore. 
The church will be open all night Friday night and all day Saturday.

Why do we do this? For the same reason, 
to orient ourselves and our parish as a community, 
on keeping God first, and at the center of our lives.
So much can distract us and become false gods for us.


I know from my own life how easily I can neglect prayer. 
I’m a priest! This is my business! 
If it happens to me, of course it can happen to the rest of us.

We have about 1,600 people of all ages registered in our parish.
I’d like to suggest something ambitious.
What if every parishioner tried to make a visit, 
even a short one, during 40 Hours? If you can, sign up for an hour. 

You could share it with others, each taking a half hour or 15 minutes.
Allowing for the fact that some are home-bound, 
some are away at college, and some are very young, 
if all the rest were to plan to come for 40 Hours, 
we’d have an average of 30 people here for every hour!
How awesome would that be? How powerful!

Someone might say, but why come to church? “Nothing’s happening.” 
But I would counter that something IS happening.
You are face-to-face with Jesus. 
What do you want to say? 
What frustrations and sins do you want to bring to him? 
Bring the prayers and needs of others at that time.

It really comes down to whether you believe the Eucharist IS Jesus. 
Because if you truly believe that, 
then how can anyone not realize this time of being with him 
is powerful? Life-changing? Peace-giving?

Now, I haven’t missed that Jesus gave two commandments.
When you and I spend time with Jesus, 
it is impossible to forget the second commandment. 
Jesus will remind us; he will challenge us; 
and he will send us to care for our neighbor.

Also, the order of the commandments is important.
When you and I put God first, 
we are better able to be truly loving to our neighbor. 

Part of it is remembering that our neighbor is made in God’s image; 
and it doesn’t matter if our neighbor is young or old, male or female.
No matter what color, what language, what kind of clothes or lifestyle;
No matter what someone’s past is, or how rough around the edges:
That person is my brother or my sister, a fellow child of God.

Again: from this Friday to Sunday, we will have our annual 40 Hours.
This year, I sent out a flyer to everyone in the community, 
whether they are Catholic or not, inviting them to our church to pray.

So I’d like to encourage every parishioner to sign up if you can – 
the sign up sheets are in the back of church – 
but in any case, to make a visit.
Let’s make some extra effort to enthrone Jesus 
in the center of our lives.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Grace turns us into saints, so get grace! (All Saints homily)

I borrowed this photo from a Facebook page about carotenemia. You can click on the photo to learn more.

You and I, everyone here, we are all destined to be saints. 
There are no non-saints in heaven. 
It’s all first-class seats, no economy section. 
So people say, “Oh, I won’t be a saint” – be careful, 
because what you are actually saying is, that you will go to hell.

But what about purgatory? 
Purgatory isn’t a final destination; it’s the preparation for heaven. 
Eventually purgatory will be empty, having purified us for heaven.

The saints help us to become saints. 
They pray for us and they give us their example. 
If you want to be saint – which you should, because otherwise, 
what do want, to go to hell? 

But if you want to be a saint, pay attention to the saints, 
learn from them, imitate them. 
This is why it’s important to have a patron saint. 
If you don’t know what saint you were named after, find out; 
ask your parents. Learn about that saint. Talk to him or her.
If you aren’t named after a saint, then pick your own patron. 
And of course, you can have more than one saint to emulate.

But the main thing I want to say 
is that saints show us what grace is and what grace does. 
We don’t talk enough about grace, and that’s a problem.
I think a lot of Catholics don’t even realize what the sacraments are.
They think, oh it’s just something you do; a rite of passage.
But they are far more than that. 
Jesus created the sacraments to give us grace.
So for example, when couples get married outside the church, 
Maybe they think, well, we’re still legally married, right?  
But they are denying themselves God’s grace.
If you know anyone who made that mistake, 
have them call me, because we can fix that.

Grace is what we need, we have no hope without grace. 
No heaven without grace. 
So it’s not too much to say 
that grace is the most important thing there is, 
and you and I need all we can get.

So what is grace?

According to the Catechism, grace is 
the “undeserved help that God gives us 
to respond to his call to become children of God”; 
and, “Grace is a participation in the life of God. 
It introduces us into the intimacy of Trinitarian life.”

In other words, Grace is God’s own life, 
poured into our lives, to make us like God.
So what happens when that someone yields to that supernatural life, 
that grace, that power from God?

What happens is a saint.

So if you haven’t been to confession in a while, 
get there, and turn on the grace spigot. 
And for heaven’s sake, if you have a mortal sin, get to confession first, 
before going to Holy Communion.
Because receiving Holy Communion in a state of mortal sin 
is itself a grave sin, and doesn’t bring us grace, but condemnation.
First get clean and get right with Christ,
and receive Holy Communion; and receive that Life!

When my sister had her first child, like any mother, 
she was determined to do everything right. 
She fed my nephew lots of carrots. 
She stuffed him with jar after jar of carrots. 
And believe it or not, he actually turned a little bit orange!

That’s a good image of what grace will do to us if we let it.
Grace turns us gracious; grace sanctifies us; 
Grace will, in time, make us saints. That’s the whole point!

So on this All Saints Day, realize 
there’s still a lot of open slots in heaven, waiting for you and me. 
It will take opening our lives to God’s grace to get there.
So ask your patron saints to help you. Ask as many saints as you can.
Watch them; learn from them; and seek often the sacraments 
Jesus gave us so that you and I can be stuffed and changed by grace.
Not turned orange; but turned into saints.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Pilgrimage to Italy Wrap-up

During my recent pilgrimage to Italy, I had hoped to give more timely reports. However, I had two problems: first, I did not have internet access as often or consistently as I hoped; second, when I did, the photos uploaded very slowly.

We were on the go; generally up around 6:30 or 7 am each day, and the only good time to post was on the bus; but the Internet connection phased in and out. By the time dinner wrapped up, it was usually 9 pm or even later; I should have done my posts then, but I kept hoping for better prospects the following day.

Some of this will be repetitive, sorry! But if I don't get all this done today, I never will.

Our first pilgrimage visit was Monte Cassino, where St. Benedict founded his first monastery, and where he and his sister, St. Scholastica, are buried. Here is the high altar:


And here is a monument, beneath that altar, marking the remains -- which are in a crypt below; we had Mass there; but I didn't take pictures, sorry!


Some art from the monastery:


A statue of Charlemagne that caught my eye. The courtyard had statues of kings on one side, and popes on the other.


A view of a cemetery near the monastery, where are buried many brave Poles who helped win a terrible battle here in World War II. The Allies struggled hard to dislodge the Nazis from this mountain; in the process the monastery was bombed by the Allies.


These next three photos are a poor man's panorama of the Bay of Sorrento:




This is the Cathedral in Amalfi where St. Andrew's remains are venerated.


People who received healings prayed for would bring silver items as expressions of thanks. The votive offerings are in the shape of the body part that was healed. There were many more display cases of such offerings.


Here we are taking a boat across to the Isle of Capri.





Here is a view of the walking path up to where we were, followed by several other pics of Capri.






By the way, if you are wondering about other things we saw, what this shows is that I am not a very good picture-taker. 

This floor was in a church in Capri -- at least, I think that's where it was! It depicts Eden and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. Curiously, it does not seem to take into account the Tree of Life, but perhaps I am missing something. No one is allowed to walk on the floor; note the boards around the perimeter. Obviously this church is not used very often.



Here is Padre Saint Pio's school in his home town:


A view from Pietrelcina, where young Pio grew up:


After Mass in the parish church -- where Saint Pio offered his first Mass -- I went out for lunch; I launched out on my own (but was joined by several fellow pilgrims later). I asked someone to point me toward something "authentic"; and in the restaurant, I asked for something typical of the region. That resulted in the following two dishes. This was a kind of potato pancake, with pork meat and mushrooms in a kind of stew, with tomatoes, as you can see. It was very tasty; but if you think all Italian food is highly spiced, you would be mistaken; this was very mild (but not bland).


This was pumpkin ravioli. It was good; but not my favorite thing.


After our visit to Pietrelcina, we drove over to the Adriatic Coast, to Sanctuary of Monte Sant'Angelo sul Gargano. This church is built over a cave, where the Archangel appeared a really long time ago. (If it seems like this post is being written in haste, you are correct. I started it around 10:30 am; it is now 2:19 pm; lots of coming and going on my first day back in the office; I am not going to let this post remain unfinished today!)  There is a thing about the "Sword of St. Michael," that connects to this place; look it up and form your own opinion.


Here's the grotto. We had Mass in the sanctuary to the right.


Here's the altar where I wanted to offer Mass:


This again was Monte Sant'Angelo:



Here is one of the more memorable meals. The dish to the right was called Pancotto Montanaro. I went crazy for this. Just now I typed that name into the search engine, hoping I would find out more about it. No luck! If anyone has any information, I'd like to hear more. I'd like to recreate this dish, if possible.


This was a meal we had in Lanciano, where we had Mass in the presence of a famous Eucharistic miracle. Unawares, we arrived at this restaurant before it actually was open for business, but the staff graciously took care of us. This was a seafood pasta:


That restaurant:


There was a second Eucharistic miracle in Lanciano -- who knew? A local pointed us in the right direction. This is the church...


Here is a shrine to the miracle. We could only look in through a plexiglass window.


This, I believe, is the church where the second miracle occurred:



This is a memorial to the war dead in Lanciano:


OK, now we're in Rome. I took even fewer pictures, sorry! This is from the Church of the Gesu, which is the Jesuit "mother church" in Rome. They have something special they do at 5:30 pm every day, about which Father Stechschulte was rather cryptic. It was called the "Baroque Machine."

Well, here's what happens. All attention is given to the tomb of Saint Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits); a narration is given -- in Italian -- during which different portions of the elaborate tomb are lit. I am guessing the narration included some brief information about St. Ignatius, but mostly it sounded like scripture passages or prayers.

The climax comes when the portrait of St. Ignatius is drawn down, to reveal a statue of the saint. Here is a before and after:



Here is the ceiling of the Gesu. No photo can do it justice.


One day we took a trip out of Rome to Civita di Bagnoregio. The town is atop a steep hill, reachable only by a narrow footpath which donkeys can navigate; but also really small police cars. The Wikipedia page linked above tells the story.


Here's the town square:


Here is the wild boar I ate. Delicious!


This was the papal audience. Everyone is looking to see where the popemobile was...



And here's the pope:




OK, those are all the photos I have. It was a wonderful trip!