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.