Sunday, November 10, 2019

'There are only two possibilities...' (Sunday homily)

Click on image to go to site from which I "borrowed" this.

The first reading shows us incredible courage on the part of 
seven brothers on trial for their fidelity to the Lord God. 
But don’t miss one key ingredient in their fortitude: 
they are supremely confident of the Resurrection. 

They know they, and their persecutors, will face a Judgment Day, 
and they are certain God will give them 
a share in the Resurrection to Life.

Somewhere recently I saw someone ask this question: 
Can you name three things for which 
you would be willing to give your life? 
How many of us know the answer to that question? 
And is our Catholic Faith one of them?

Of course, it makes all the difference whether or not
you believe that there is life after this one; 
that you and I will get our bodies back, and – 
if we place our faith in Jesus Christ and cooperate with his grace
and live as he teaches us, repenting of our sins
– we will have a share in the Resurrection to Life.

That changes everything. There are only two possibilities: 
either this is all we get, and therefore, when we die, that’s the end; 
or, this is a prelude to something more. 

And all of us live according to one belief-system or the other, 
even if we don’t think about it very much. 

So, you can say, “Oh, I’m not very religious” or, 
“I don’t have time to work all that out”;
But in any case, how you live day-by-day tells the true story.
Is this world my true home? Or am I just passing through?

So that brings us to our annual celebration 
of Forty Hours of adoration of Jesus on the altar. 

We began our time of exposition 
of the Most Holy Eucharist Friday morning, 
and it will continue till 9 pm on Saturday, 
and conclude at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon. 

This devotion began in the 1500s 
with the blessing of Pope Paul III, with the purpose of 
“appeas[ing] the anger of God provoked by the offences of Christians,” 
and to seek God’s help against those 
“pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom…” 

That sounds about right! 
Boy are there a lot of offenses by Christians before God,
while our foes press hard on every side.

The anchor of our hope is Jesus Christ, and his Resurrection. 
Once again, the choice is binary. Either he really lived, or it’s all a fake. 
Either he really rose from the dead, or it’s all a lie. 
Jesus said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood”: 
those are HIS words, and so either he truly gives us 
his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – 
and therefore, the Eucharist is our Lord Jesus, our Lord God! – 
Or else it’s all nothing. 

You and must decide: what do we believe? What do we live for?
It gets harder to be a faithful Christian every day. 
We think we’re isolated and protected in Russia, 
and we are to some extent, but don’t kid yourself.

The ground is shifting under our feet even as we speak. 
Sooner or later, each one of us will face a moment 
when we must take a stand; 
it will probably be a small thing, at our place of work, 
or at a party with friends, or a family situation;
hardly a life-or-death situation. 

Yet in that moment, we will face a cost, a consequence, 
perhaps a lost business deal or a better job;
maybe embarrassment, or ridicule, 
if we stand up for the Catholic Faith.
And the thing is, it’s not just once, but over and over.
Either we learn the habit of cheerfully paying the price; 
or we learn the habit of shrinking back, again and again.

And the only solid ground, the only thing that is secure, is Jesus Christ. 
Forty Hours and this Mass, right now, are a good time 
to ask yourself what you believe, and what price you will pay for it. 
And further: ask Him, ask Jesus, to strengthen you.
Hear him say to you what he said to Peter: “Be not afraid!”

One day all this world will melt away, and either there we be nothing;
Or there will be Jesus Christ.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Senor Jesus SI! Pachamama? Al infierno con eso!

Here are my summary reactions to the “Amazon Synod,” which appeared in the parish's bulletin last week:

Recently Pope Francis concluded a special meeting in Rome with selected bishops from around the world, as well as selected representatives from the Amazon region of South America. Even though the focus of the gathering was supposed to be on local issues, the event was held, not in South America, but in the “capital” of the Catholic Church, that is, Rome. Presumably Pope Francis wanted to make this as high profile as possible.

What did it do?

Mainly a lot of talking and more talking, culminating in a series of recommendations, which Pope Francis himself will evaluate and respond to. He has no obligation to do anything with the recommendations, but insofar as he promotes this process, it seems likely he will want to advance at least some of the synod’s proposals.

Nevertheless, there were three things that came out of the synod that deeply concern me. I will summarize them this week, and say more in a future column. While the synod had some good things to say about caring for the environment and respecting diverse peoples, especially those who are poor and powerless, it advocated two changes I think would be harmful: allowing married men to be ordained as priests, and creating female deacons of some sort.

What in the world is a 'pachamama'? 

Meanwhile, some people showed up with carved wooden figures of a naked, pregnant woman, and these were paraded around and finally brought into several of the churches. At one point, someone absurdly claimed it was meant to be an image of our Lady; others said it didn’t mean anything at all (so why parade around with something meaningless?). But with further research, it seems clear it was a non-Christian (i.e., pagan) symbol representing “Mother Earth,” which the Incas – and perhaps people today, pray to. This last is the key fact: in traditional religions of the region, people pray to Pachamama. Let that sink in!

How did this happen?

The most charitable explanation I can offer is that the people in Rome were clueless and didn’t want to be overbearing, but rather be “inclusive” and welcoming. Then, when controversy blew up, they circled the wagons as so often happens. Those preparing for this event ought to have headed this off, and such a symbol – regardless of intentions – ought not to have been displayed in a place of Christian worship! Of course, you’re thinking, how could Pope Francis let this happen? Remember, we believe God will prevent the pope from teaching error; that doesn’t mean he won’t ever make a bad decision, or fail to make a good one when needed.

No doubt, many in this country think, “big deal!” But remember, for centuries, certain Protestant sects have accused us Catholics of worshiping idols. In Latin America, such sects are converting ill-catechized Catholics by the hundreds of thousands. What a bonanza this will be for them! Meanwhile, a frequent Muslim claim is that Christians worship multiple gods. Imagine what besieged Christians in many Muslim-majority countries will have to face as a result of this episode.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Seek out more Zacchaeuses to win (Sunday homily)


This man, Zacchaeus, was someone everyone would have hated. 
He was a tax-collector for the Roman oppressors.
That also meant he was feared, 
because a word from him could bring you big trouble.

And this is who Jesus chooses to be friends with?

This reminds me of a great movie called “The Scarlet and the Black,” 
about a Catholic priest, Monsignor O’Flaherty, 
in Nazi-occupied Italy during World War II.
At great risk, the priest finds ways to save Jews from the Nazis.
The villain, Colonel Kappler, was responsible for many deaths,
and if he’d had his way, that would have included Father O’Flaherty.

But then things turn, and now the Nazi comes and begs the priest 
to help his family escape. At first, the Monsignor refuses; 
but then his heart softens, and he rescues his enemy’s family.

Kappler goes to prison for his many brutal crimes.
Every month one person visited him. It was Father O’Flaherty.
After 14 years, Kappler was baptized!

Jesus’ friendship with Zacchaeus had instant results;
But more often, it takes great patience, as with Kappler.

When you and I show kindness and mercy like this,
We will be criticized and mocked as na├»ve; 
and many times, it won’t seem to have done any good at all.

But one day you and I will stand before Jesus.
He will not mock us. We will not be embarrassed on that day!
Imagine being Monsignor O’Flaherty, appearing before Jesus, 
and saying, “Here, I brought my own Zacchaeus:
my friend, Colonel Kappler!”

Do you think he will regret that he was generous, 
that he persevered, all those years, in showing kindness and friendship?

Friday, November 01, 2019

Heaven is full; we need to be (All Saints homily)

A few years ago, there was a book and a movie 
about a boy who died for several hours 
and when he came back to life, he said he’d been in heaven. 
It’s not the only book that’s been written about heaven. 
A lot of us wonder: what might heaven be like?

Well, let’s look at what the Scriptures we heard have to say.

First, Heaven will be full of people. 
“A great multitude, which no one could count, 
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.”
That is hopeful!

Second, Heaven is full of holiness – and, therefore, joy.

The psalm we prayed tells us, to be in heaven is to have 
Hands that are sinless and a clean heart.
To be in heaven is to be pure, “as God is pure.”

How is this possible? 

We think of sin as something we have: 
we have greed, we have wrath, 
we have lust, we have bad habits.

But it would be truer to understand sin as being about what we lack. 
We lack the fullness of purity; of peace; of contentment; of truth.
We lack the fullness, finally, of God. 

Sin happens in our lives not because of what we have, 
but because of what we think we don’t have. 
Isn’t that what envy is? 
If I like my house, my car, my life – 
I have no reason to envy my neighbor.

Anger becomes sinful when we are not content 
to let someone else be the judge of things; 
and, ultimately, the final judge is God. 
The sin of wrath comes in when we don’t think 
God is doing a good job as the final judge of things. 

Heaven is free of sin, precisely because it’s full of God.
Which leads to my third point:

Just because heaven is full, don’t assume heaven is easy.

The standard way of thinking today 
is that pretty much everyone goes to heaven. 
Only really bad people, like Stalin and Hitler, go to hell.

Well, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said a lot about hell. 
He kept warning people about how likely it was they would go there.

If heaven were more or less automatic – 
the way lots of people think – 
there would be no point for the Bible 
to be more than five or ten pages long.
We wouldn’t need ten commandments, only one:
“Thou shalt not be really mean – like Hitler.”

And, more than that, Jesus would never have died on the cross.
Remember, he agonized about it the night before.
If heaven was easy, he could have told his Father:
“It’s not like they need this, Father – 
they’re all coming to heaven anyway.”

It is critical for each of us to understand – 
is that we will make it to heaven 
only because we surrender ourselves to the grace of God.

We profess that Mary, the Mother of God, is “full of grace”—
which is the same thing as saying, she is without sin.

But here’s the part we miss: what Mary received early, 
every one of us is destined to receive.
Every one of us is destined to be full of grace.

In other words, every single one of us is meant to be a saint.

Let me make the point even more strongly.

If you and I don’t make as saints?
Then we will be in hell.

There is no middle option.
No, not Purgatory. Purgatory isn’t a destination; 
it’s the last stop before heaven. 
And everyone who makes to Purgatory will be a saint.
Purgatory is the finishing school for saints.

So, unless you want to go to hell – 
and I don’t know anyone who really wants that – 
then you and I had better get serious about being saints.
Heaven will be full of joy – and as saints in heaven, 
We will be full of joy – because we will be full 
of the presence and knowledge, 
the love and the life, of Jesus Christ.

You and I – along with countless others – 
will be those saints, whose lives are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Project 88 Complete!

Last week -- October 13-15 -- I visited the final four counties and thus completed my personal project of visiting all 88 counties in Ohio. Here is the report of this last outing.

On Sunday afternoon, I headed off for my tour of Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll Counties. First stop: Summit County, and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. My original ambition was to ride a scenic railroad that makes trips through the park each weekend; but in October, the late-afternoon trip drops off the schedule; I couldn't get there for the earlier trip.

Along the way, I stopped in Boston Township, where I snapped these pictures:


The plaque above was in front of the building below:


Across the way is the G.A.R. Hall. "G.A.R." stands for the Grand Army of the Republic, which was a pretty prominent organization at one time in American society, but now gone with the wind.


The GAR Hall seems to have found a new life as a concert venue...


Looks nice!


When I got to the park, I looked for the visitor's center. I saw a building labeled "Visitor's Center," but parking was a little distant. I walked over, only to find this sign:


So then I went back to the old center, only to arrive 3 minutes after closing.

I went and got dinner, and then to my hotel, where I found this. What do you make of it?


The next morning I drove around the park. By the way, I only discovered at this point that much of the park is actually in Cuyahoga County, but some in Summit. There are lots of trails for hiking and biking. Since a lot of my tour was by car, not so many pictures. Here are two:



Here's some history of Brandywine Falls, including a village now all but vanished:




After this, I drove down to Akron, the county seat of Summit, coming into town along Riverview/Merriman Road, through a lovely part of town. I passed this building with a for sale sign outside the Temple Israel, which relocated in 2014:


Once downtown, I chanced upon St. Bernard Church. I didn't get a photo of the outside, but it is huge. When I got inside, all I could say was "wow!" Several times.

 The free-standing altar is unfortunate, but perhaps someday it will be removed. The bench on which the priest sits has absurdly been turned to face the people; it ought to face the altar. But overall, I was thrilled that very little damage was done to this church, or else has been undone.


What do you make of this? Was the altar rail always arranged this way?


This window is rather unusual. All the figures have a flame over their heads, which I take to refer to Pentecost. The Lord Jesus is not in the scene, but Mary is. If you count the figures, it adds up, if I recall correctly, to 14, which leads me to think they put Paul in, except he wasn't there. Let me know if you have a theory or more information.


This Baptistry impressed me because of its size, and its seating.


From here I headed down to Canton to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I spent about 2 hours there, but didn't take a huge number of photos. Here are some:


The Hall of Fame is just one part of a large and growing complex. Inside I saw plans for a $1 Billion' worth of construction.







Visiting the hall of fame is rather humbling for Bengals fans, as only only four people associated with the team are there, and only one whose work was primarily with the Bengals: Anthony Munoz of course. There is plenty to see, and its enjoyable and informative, but there is definitely a weird vibe about the place, as the mural above might suggest: it's almost a kind of religious shrine.

After the hall of fame, my goal was to visit the last two counties that day, so I could celebrate my project that evening; the next day I would take in any additional sights as desired on the way home. I dipped down into Carroll County, so I could legitimately count it, but with plans to return to see more the next day. I passed through Minerva, but sorry, no pictures!

I was charmed by this little Methodist church, somewhere between Canton and Robertsville, but I can't read the sign out front. Can you?


This is a post office. Again, I can't make out the sign.


This is a marker near West Point, Ohio, in Columbiana County, where Confederate General John Hunt Morgan's daring raid through Indiana and Ohio came to an end.


The is the Grange building in Robertson, Ohio. Never heard of The Grange? It's a farmers' organization, organized somewhat along the lines of the Freemasons, although I don't know how true that still is. Grange buildings can be found all over the country.


This is St. Agatha Church in West Point.


Eventually, I made my way to the mighty Ohio, which forms not only the southern, but a substantial part of the eastern, border of the state. This is East Liverpool, which -- you will discover, as I did -- has a plethora of historical markers:



Not many yards further up river from this point, the Ohio emerges from Pennsylvania:


One of the many libraries built coast to coast by Andrew Carnegie:


A marker right near the Ohio-Pennsylvania line, indicating where...well, read it for yourself:






After this, I headed to Salem, Ohio, in northwest Columbiana County, for the night. There weren't many options for hotels and restaurants in this county, but Salem seemed to have more options, so I headed there. When I went online, I was intrigued by "The Stables Inn" and headed there. It turned out to be a 1959 hotel that had closed ten years before, which some local investors had reopened and were trying to make go. It certainly has promise. The restaurant was nice, but the ribs I had weren't as good as I hoped. I'd certainly give it another try.

Alas, I got no other pictures in Salem but this house with unusual chimneys. Have you seen anything like this before?


After a enjoyable dinner at "Boneshakers," the restaurant in the hotel, and sleeping late, I got up for a little more visiting in Carroll County, and then the long drive home. My route was along State Route 9, from Salem to Carrollton, the county seat of Carroll County. My first job was to hunt down some breakfast, I think I ended up at McDonalds. Then I needed gasoline, which I got in Carrollton. I looked around the town, but honestly, I was ready to head home. Here's what I saw took pictures of on the way back:



And now, my trek is finished! What project should I tackle next?

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Get to work! (Sunday homily)

When I was a boy, all I wanted to do on Saturday mornings 
was eat big bowls of cereal and watch cartoons. 

My parents had other ideas:
Mowing the lawn, raking leaves, taking out the garbage, 
cleaning my room, helping get the house in order,
or working with my dad in the garden or with his business. 

Whether I liked it or not, I had to do my part in the family.
And our Father in heaven operates according to the same principle.

Everything I have, everything I am, was a gift.
My parents did so much for me! 
I didn’t earn what I received and I can’t pay it back;
And, again, it’s the same in the spiritual life.

None of us deserves God giving us life, 
and giving us salvation in Jesus Christ. 
None of us is worthy of having our Lord come to earth 
and live among us and giving himself for us on the Cross.

And then to have God continue to forgive us, over and over, 
in the sacrament of confession? 
To have the Lord Jesus give us his own flesh and blood, 
his own life, in the Holy Eucharist? 
To receive the help of the Holy Spirit, of the angels and saints, 
throughout our lives, all the way to heaven?
How can any of us dare to think we either deserve this, 
or can ever repay this love?

Even so, it remains that each of us has a job to do.
We’re part of a family. 
It’s only right that we contribute our part.

What is God’s work? It is redemption and conversion of hearts.
You and I are messengers, 
ambassadors for Christ in a world losing its bearings. 
Saint Paul told Timothy to pray and know the Scriptures, 
so that he could better share his faith 
and point people in the right way.

If you agree that God has been good to you, unbelievably good to you,
 maybe one of your chores is to know your Faith better?
So that when topics come up in conversation, 
you can give a helpful answer?

In the first reading, God’s People are in the thick of battle.
Moses is praying, his arms so weary that the priests are holding him up.

Jesus Christ is our Moses, who leads us, and intercedes for us.
Yet he also said: to be my disciple, “take up your cross.”
One of the most important ways you and I share in Christ’s work is with prayer.

When I was in Piqua, I had a priest visit who talked about
the power of spending time adoring the Holy Eucharist. 
And he said something surprising that I never forgot. 

He said: “we really don’t like to pray.” He’s right!
Sure, there are some of us have a gift for praying for hours.
But most of us, if we are honest, it’s a chore.
There’s always something else we’d rather do.
You and I try to pray, and we can’t keep on it – our mind wanders.
Maybe our back hurts or we get impatient.

What really wears us out is that we have to keep asking, asking, asking.
The same sins and habits every time you and I go to confession.
Don’t be surprised, and don’t be discouraged. It IS work!

What is true for our personal prayer, is true above all about Holy Mass, 
which is the supreme prayer of Jesus and of us, as his Church.

Where did people get the idea that Mass is supposed to be convenient, 
catering to our needs, and certainly not demanding too much?

Do you know what the Mass really is?

It is a lot like Moses being up on that mountain, begging God’s help;
and you and I are standing there, holding up his arms.

Because, in fact, it is not Moses, but Jesus: on the Cross, 
pleading for us and for the world, that grace will be poured out on us.
And none of us is a spectator. Jesus asks our help!

Look down on the battlefield, and tell me: how’s it going?
Does it look like our side is winning? 

Then there’s more work to do. For each one of us.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Which leper are you? (Sunday homily)

Ten lepers were on their way to the Temple. 

The first leper said to the second leper, 
“That Jesus didn’t have much time for us, did he? 
That wasn’t very pastoral!”

“I know,” said the third leper. 
"I wanted to tell him everything he needs to change! 
What about lay involvement?”

The fourth leper said to the fifth leper, 
“Why did she have to bring her kids? 
How was I supposed to talk to Jesus 
with them making all that fuss?” 

The sixth leper said to the seventh leper, 
“I could go back and thank Jesus—
but he knows I’m busy: 
I’m sure Jesus sees the value of sports,
and understands why I need to put my business first.

The seventh leper said to the eighth leper, 
“Look, we’re all OK, but what about that Samaritan! 

Did you see how sloppy his clothes were? 
And what about those tattoos and earrings—
You know he’s one of those types, 
if you know what I mean!”

The eighth leper looked around. 
“It’s not like I’m prejudiced or anything, 
but why don’t they stay with their own kind?

Then the ninth leper spoke up:
“Say . . . where’d that Samaritan go, anyway?”

And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned,
glorifying God in a loud voice;
and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him.

Ten lepers walked down the street. Which one are you?

Sunday, October 06, 2019

The vision of chastity will have its time (Sunday homily)

In the first reading, we heard the prophet cry out: “Violence! Ruin!”
With Habbakuk, we ask: Why?
Why can we never see the end of terror and conflict?
Why are people so cruel to one another?
“Write down the vision,” the Lord answers:
“The vision still has its time” to be fulfilled: “Wait for it.”

What’s the vision? Well, it’s God’s Vision—
as opposed to the alternative, which might be called,
“Doing it our way, without God.”

Part of that Vision is not only the dignity of human life,
but also that a moral life means choices that involve sacrifice.
We Catholics seem so far out of step with the world
when we insist on protecting the unborn,
and keeping intimate acts between couples open to the gift of life—
meaning no contraception.
This is a hard sell for many, including many Catholics.

But there’s Vision at work here—wait for it…

If we go out at night, and we gaze at the stars,
are we not filled with awe?
Surely God has some design and purpose in it all.
Who can doubt this?
That Divine purpose is not only written in the stars, 
but even moreso in ourselves.



One reason we Catholics cannot agree
with our culture’s values about human intimacy
is because they deny or at least muddle that higher purpose.

We are made in the image and likeness of God:
and when a man and woman come together,
they are never more like God—because in that very moment,
they do what otherwise only God can do: create new life.

The problem with artificial means of family planning
is they redesign God’s design.

God’s design is that a loving act is also a life-creating act.
Natural Family Planning respects this.
But the whole mindset of contraception and related technologies
is that the life-creating part of us as a problem to be overcome,
rather than a blessing to be embraced with reverence.

As a priest, I am entrusted with an awesome power: 
I offer the Holy Mass.
Through this sinner that I am,
Christ makes his saving sacrifice present,
and nourishes us all with his true and real Body and Blood.

That awesome power and gift is not mine to control or redesign.
I don’t even like to speak of it, but:
obviously I could misuse that power and gift.
I have to be under God’s authority in this or I can do a lot of harm.

Well, as human beings, the life-creating part of us
is likewise an awesome power and gift.
And likewise, we aren’t free to do with that gift just as we may please.

This design, as obvious as it is elegant, 
is why marriage is only a man and a woman; 
because only that union is a true “one flesh” union, 
a union that overflows into new life.

And that is why this union belongs in marriage;
When it is broken away from commitment and total self-gift,
It stops being about life, and it becomes about selfishness, 
Which is the total opposite of love.

That’s the Vision that our world ignores.
But, wait for it, it will have its time.
Our world’s values—how are they working out?
Are our families better off?
Are children better off when their parents never marry?
Is society better off?

I mentioned Natural Family Planning.
One of the striking things is that while it demands more sacrifice,
it also seems to strengthen intimacy.
Divorce is far less common for those who practice NFP.

Many couples in our parish embrace this path, and I commend you.
You have no idea how much you encourage me, and others around you.

Meanwhile, we cannot ignore the direction our society has taken.
After all, who is it that must be the prophet today,
calling people back from a path of ruin, to a path of life?

This is Respect Life Sunday; and we must speak up
against the destruction of the unborn
and we must cry out that we embrace both mother and child.
At the same time, our world desperately needs 
the witness of close family life.

So much of the story of poverty and social disorder 
is really the story of chaos that invades and displaces family life.
How do we combat this disorder? I’m not entirely sure, but:
If you belong to a close family, cherish what you have;
And if you know others who don’t have this gift, 
maybe invite them into your family, 
so they can learn and find courage to make a family of their own.

The world’s vision that offered freedom ends up bringing despair.
We are nothing, and the world will better off without us.

God offers us a different Vision:
We are not only his image at our best,
but even when we’re broken and marred:
God so loves us so much that he gave his only Son.
Life is worth living because even at our worst, we are his beloved.

That’s our Vision. Wait for it. It will have its time.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Do more for the poor (Sunday homily)

This Gospel is pretty clear in what it tells us 
about God’s expectations about how we respond to the needs 
of those who are poor and suffering.

The question of how we care for the poorest and neediest – 
for all the Lazaruses around us – has a pretty wide application. 

Our parish St. Vincent de Paul group 
is sponsoring a food drive, for example. Obvious application.

And in terms of those who are poor and abandoned, 
how can anyone with a conscience 
not see how this applies in the case of legal abortion? 
Of course I mean the unborn child, 
who is completely abandoned. 
So many treat the unborn child 
the way the rich man treated Lazarus – 
as if he didn’t even exist. 

But I also mean the women and others involved.
There is so much cruelty and exploitation at work!
It’s a cruel joke to use the term “choice,” 
because so often, women and girls are pressured, 
and threatened, and manipulated, into getting abortions. 

Thank God for the work of the Elizabeth New Life Center,
And for Rustic Hope, both in our community, 
providing help to women and their children. 
And there are so many more doing the same thing across the nation.

What they do is the exact opposite of what the Gospel describes. 
They are seeking out all the Lazaruses as they can, 
and binding up their wounds, and getting them back on their feet. 

But let me offer another application. Let’s talk about immigration. 
This is a big subject, 
and I’m not going to get into the details of public policy. 
I have my opinions; you have yours. Maybe we agree.
But that isn’t what a homily is for.

Rather, I just want to ask you 
to look at the immigration situation through the lens of this Gospel.
Our bishops have said, repeatedly, 
that it’s absolutely legitimate for countries 
to control their borders and for people to obey the law. 
But what’s also important is to have compassion 
and to respect every person’s dignity, 
including people who are illegal immigrants, who have broken the law.

It’s so frustrating, because obviously there are grave problems 
in the countries where these families are coming from.

Our country can’t solve the world’s problems,
but we aren’t powerless; we can do something.
It would be great if we talked more about that,
Instead of the constant yelling and finger-pointing.
Of course, politicians are going to do what they do!

Your job and mine are to be a Catholic voice; 
and since we’re citizens and we can vote, 
the politicians will listen if enough of us speak up.

Meanwhile, there are people very close to home who need help.
If you go to Sidney, Greeneville, Piqua, Troy or Dayton, 
the realities are very obvious.
But don’t kid yourself; there are people in trouble right here, 
but it may be a little less obvious. 

Once again, our St. Vincent de Paul group fields a lot of requests 
for help with utility bills and rent and groceries –
and our local group RACK does similar things – 
But it’s all mostly hidden.

Groceries, electricity, heat, these help!
Even better, however, is a human connection.
So often these needs happen in situations of chaos,
And there are children involved, and they need more than material things. 
There is a need for compassion and patience and love.
To cite something Pope Francis often talks about:
A need to accompany people in their lives.

So what are our action steps from this homily?
I invite you to support the organizations I’ve mentioned already, 
plus I think of New Choices, a shelter for women in Sidney, 
also the Holy Angels Soup Kitchen, the Bethany Center in Piqua, 
the St. Vincent shelter in Dayton – they can all use help.
Whether with money or time, if you can, think about doing more.

And you should also know, by the way, 
that when you put a contribution in the “for the needy” envelope, 
we help many of these organizations.

And, again, regarding our own community here:
Be a good neighbor. Be the friend someone in trouble can call;
So that your kitchen can be where a neighbor can come to talk.

Recently I took a trip over to Holmes County,
Where there are so many Amish, 
just like there are similar folks who live around Covington.
When they get in trouble, they don’t go to the government.
They take care of each other. 
Here in Russia, we do a lot of that, too.
Let’s do more.

In the prayer I offered near the beginning of Mass, 
we asked that God make us “heirs to the treasures of heaven.”

Don’t forget that God sees whether we go out of our way 
to bring others to share in his treasures. 
You and I aren’t going to solve all the problems; we don’t have to.
God only asks that we remember the Lazaruses around us,
And show them compassion and mercy.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Recent films: I'm 0-for-2 (Review of 'First Reformed')

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

Last night I watched First Reformed, a 2017 film with Ethan Hawke about a Protestant minister who pastors a dwindling congregation in a very old church in New England.

The winter is bleak and so is everything else. The world is going to hell, and it just so happens that the head of a local manufacturer, who is also a major benefactor of the congregation and everything else in town, is driving the world to hell with copious pollution. And our hero, such as he is, is 47 and apparently has never thought about pollution or climate change or any of the implications of any of it, until he meets a suicidal environmental activist, who actually prepared a "suicide vest," meaning he might well have intended to blow himself up and take something, or someone, else with him.

Our hero is writing a diary. If you look at Wikipedia, you'll see that this story is based on The Diary of a Country Priest, which is a film I'd like to see, but I can't find it anywhere to rent, only to buy. Why change it from Catholic to Protestant? It creates some odd situations. For example, instead of this sad-sack parson being sent here by the bishop, he is sent here by the pastor of a local megachurch. The idea being that First Reformed clapboard church is a wholly owned subsidiary of Abundant Life Megachurch. Possible, but a little strained. If Rev. Toller (Hawke's character) is worth hiring, why have him conduct Sunday services at First Reformed that draw about five people? Why not just use the small church for special events? By the end, the rationale for the change becomes clear, I think.

The bigger question is why Hawke is so messed up. He has serious health issues he doesn't take seriously until the end. Why? Is he depressed? If so, it would most likely be because he lost his own son in the Iraq War, and his marriage fell apart. Sound reasonable, except I have to ask: why did the pastor of the Megachurch fail to know about any of this, or take any interest? He has Hawke taking part in youth group activities; wouldn't you want to be sure this assistant pastor is emotionally healthy?

Hawke unravels through the movie -- that's a perfectly interesting story, but again, I think the way the story is told makes it implausible, as opposed to a parish priest being far, far away from the bishop. Hawke's growing obsession with environmentalism only makes sense as a manifestation of his mental collapse, which is a very interesting commentary on the environmental movement!

Eventually, Hawke has some weird and improper interactions with the activist's widow. Several people have unrealistic overreactions, which are annoying when the story depends on them. Toward the end, Hawke still has the suicide vest -- he took it from the man's house to keep him from using it, and was supposed to destroy it; instead, he finishes it and is going to use it at the big celebration orchestrated by the villain, such as he is, the industrialist. Only he's a really nice industrialist, and you have to wonder if he's even as bad as our mentally unbalanced hero thinks he is. But instead of killing everyone, Hawke wraps barbed wire around his bare torso, then dons vestments, then the widow shows up, she hugs him even though blood is seeping through -- can't she feel the barbs through his clothes? -- and they kiss madly. The End.

What's the point? Which part of Rev. Toller's life drives him mad? Is this a comment on celibacy, inasmuch as he is kind of living a celibate life -- he cruelly rejects the interest of a female coworker -- but when he surrenders to his passion for the widow, he's cured?

The film is pretty enough, if you like that sort of thing. This reminds me of so much literature that you read, you shake your head, and then supercilious people give you the sad side-eye. Could it be that it's just not that good, and you're a sucker for gorgeous mediocrity?

Feel free to defend this movie: it's very possible I really am missing something.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Brad Pitt's 'Ad Astra' -- not per aspera, but ineptia

Yesterday, instead of making another exploration of Ohio, I went to a movie. Ad Astra, with Brad Pitt, looked promising. A space flick? Brad Pitt? What could go wrong? Oh my...

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!

Let me get this out of the way up front: after seeing the movie, I looked up what the reviews said, and many said, well, this isn't really a sci-fi pic, but about relationships. OK, fine; but that isn't why I am ragging this film.

I am trashing this film because it is ridiculous. The plot makes no sense.

If you enjoy me shredding this picture, read on. If you want a "too long, didn't read" summary, here it is:


And I am not talking about minor things. Lots of films have little errors or illogicalities, but I can overlook a certain number of these because they just serve to speed things along or tell the story in a more interesting way. So, for example, at one point the Pitt character sends a message to his father on a ship presumed to be orbiting Neptune. He speaks into a microphone, and then everyone expects an immediate answer. This is dopey, of course.

Even with the special laser referred to in the movie, the message would take four hours to travel that far, and another four hours for any response (assuming dad has the same special laser). But OK, having everyone wait all that time only makes the story a little more tedious. Similar points could be made about the gravity on Mars and our moon apparently being just like earth -- except when it's not, as in the pirates on the moon chasing Pitt and his party as they head for the far side of the moon. But I was thinking, OK, maybe they wear heavy shoes inside to compensate for low gravity, and they don't want to spend time explaining all that.

No, the problems boil down to a very simple matter: the whole story is junk. Here it is: Brad Pitt plays a highly decorated member of U.S. Space Command, who has performed exceptionally in many tasks. His age isn't spelled out in the film, but he would seem to be in his 40s. We meet him as he plummets from a orbital telescope array to earth, and manages to deploy his parachute and land safely. The fall was prompted by sudden explosions, which we learn were caused by some sort of electrical storm emanating from out near Neptune. This phenomenon keeps happening, causing grave damage all over earth, and -- of course -- if it can't be stopped, the planet is doomed.

OK, this itself seems pretty sketchy, although I didn't realize the problem; it was one of the reviewers who pointed this out: how does this ship billions of miles away cause such awful damage, and yet itself isn't wrecked? See that? That's an oops that is completely fatal to the whole story. But wait! There's more!

The higher-ups seek out Pitt because they think his dad (who is on the ship out Neptune way) has gone around the bend, and they hope Pitt can help them convince his father to stop messing with the solar system. This briefing, by the way, is when Pitt finds out his dad is actually alive! He hadn't seen him since he took off on this mission 30 years earlier, and assumed his father was dead. Which raises yet another huge problem: how, exactly, has dad survived all this time while orbiting Neptune? Let's just skip over the problem of oxygen and water, assuming they have the means to recycle all that for decades. And we'll assume the Neptune ship has shielding from radiation that we don't have now. What about food? We'll come back to this in a moment.

So here's what the higher-ups ask Pitt to do. He takes a commercial flight to the moon (that sequence, along with the opening sequence, was fun to watch, especially when we see Applebees and DHL with outlets on the moon!); there he is supposed to go to a base on the dark side, and fly to Mars. On Mars, he will access the special space laser thingabob in order to attempt contact with dad...

Only, why does he need to go to Mars to do this? They can't do this from earth? Even if the message must be sent from Mars, why can't he relay the message from earth to Mars? None of this makes any sense! Why this huge expense and risk? More than that, why the delay? It takes 17 days or so to get to Mars; a lot of catastrophes on earth can happen in that time.

Of course, cutting all that out means we don't get to see the moon pirates come out of nowhere and attempt to kill? Or kidnap? Pitt and his party. Except, Pitt was warned this might happen, so they took along a few extra space Marines. Of course they didn't send enough protection (why not?), so it was all touch-and-go, and Pitt just barely makes it safely to the base. By the way, why -- if the moon is such a dangerous place to travel, with wars and piracy here and there -- aren't people traveling in something better than open buggies? It makes no sense. Moving on...

Now Pitt is on a ship to Mars, only his mission is top secret; so when the captain of the ship slows down to answer a distress call from a ship floating somewhere between Earth and Mars -- why, by the way? Why there? We're told it is some sort of science ship; fine. But what demand of science requires that ship to be soooooo very far away from the nearest civilization? Why would anyone think this was a good idea? Stupid, stupid, stupid...

Oh, it gets worse still! Pitt doesn't want to stop -- "anyone can answer that distress call!" (Really? There's that much traffic between Earth and Mars?) But the captain insists. Then when they stop, the distress call goes away and no one is responding on the science ship. If I recall correctly, there were 20 or so people on board. Hmm, who doesn't like some mystery? So now the trip to the ship-in-distress is more perilous and the two officers on board are now worried (why? Aren't they trained for this sort of thing?) and so Pitt goes with the captain, and the second-in-command remains behind.

We get to the science ship and find...nothing. No one. Creepy. Mystery builds...then Pitt comes face to face with an enraged baboon, doing nasty things to the captain's arm and face. Pitt knocks out (or kills) the baboon, seals up the captain's damaged suit with tape, and as he starts to take him back to the other ship, another baboon -- just as ragey! -- appears! Pitt is able to close the hatch between himself and the space monkey, and decompress the chamber, and we see a sudden explosion of monkey guts all over the other side of the hatch window. (Except that wouldn't happen; the baboon would asphyxiate, not explode.)

Pitt brings the badly injured captain back aboard the original ship, where he dies. And...nothing more about the disabled science ship. Apparently the problem was the baboons getting loose, and apparently, the baboons kill everybody. And this diversion means absolutely nothing to the overall story, other than setting up the scene where they attempt a landing on Mars, only to have another power surge from Neptune mess up the automated landing gizmo, and the second-in-command loses his nerve, forcing Pitt to do the landing manually. Then Pitt tells the badly shaken second-in-command, "I won't report this to Space Command." What??? As if the others on board are all going to keep it secret? As if there won't be a debriefing about what happened? They are all going to lie? To protect this sad-sack lieutenant who lost his nerve twice on this mission? Oh, and here I might mention that Pitt undergoes repeated psychological evaluations with an automated computer program. This seems to be Standard Operating Procedure, given the stresses of service in space. This makes no sense! But I repeat myself.

Hang on, you ain't heard nothing yet...

Now on Mars, and his mission still highly secret, Pitt is greeted by the base commander, played by Ruth Negga, who unfortunately lacks sufficient security clearance; so immediately, some other guy takes over. This matters later. Now Pitt is taken to a soundproof room to send his message. This itself seems ridiculous -- why soundproof? -- but let's hasten to the next utterly absurd part. After his first try sending the pre-approved script, he makes a second attempt, but improvises the message. The folks in the control room show obvious consternation, but they send the message all the same. Their facial reactions suggest they got some sort of response, but won't confirm this for Pitt, who is mysteriously ushered from the room, and told he is no longer needed. He fails his next psych eval -- the idea being that where he had been cool and detached all this time, he feels sudden longing for his father. OK, I'll go with that. That's a nice touch, really (and obviously, this whole father-son thing is the main story here).

What happens next is galactically stupid. Remember the woman who runs the facility, but who lacks security clearance? She seeks out Pitt, who is in a "comfort" room viewing images of daisies trying to calm down, and reveals to him yet more about his father. She has a recorded distress message from the Neptune ship -- lots of garbled screaming -- followed by a yet-more-creepy dad (played by Tommy Lee Jones) explaining that some of the crew mutinied, and he was forced to cut off their life support, and in the process of killing "the guilty," some innocents also died. Then we learn that two of these dead are Negga's parents! What a coincidence!

Negga -- who, remember, lacks sufficient clearance -- reveals to Pitt that a ship is about to launch to Neptune, with the purpose of destroying the ship with Tommy Lee Jones on it. Pitt, of course, is not part of this and -- of course -- not likely to be under any circumstances, but especially now that he's deemed unreliable by Space Command. Pitt says to Negga, "get me on that ship!" (What? How?) The best I can do is get you close to the launch, which she proceeds to do.

Let's stop here: why is she doing this? She just told Pitt that her parents were murdered by his father. Shouldn't he wonder about her motives? But more than that: why in the world would she want Pitt on that ship? Remember, the point of the expedition is to go kill the bad guy. Does she want Pitt to go and save the murderer of her parents? None of this is ever explored. She seems utterly uninterested in what Pitt's plans are, and how they will affect the overall mission.

OK, so she drives him out near the launch, and lets him off near some hatch in the ground, which Pitt opens effortlessly and climbs into; that leads to a large pipe -- but not large enough to walk through easily (why? What is this pipe for? Why wasn't it's entrance locked?) Next he is swimming through dirty water (why is there all this water? On a dry planet?) and he comes up for air just beneath the rocket. We hear the countdown -- 7 minutes and some seconds to go! Pitt climbs up the silo while the rocket warms up; and as the engines fire -- massive fireball! -- Pitt is clinging to the side of the rocket, and manages to open a hatch and slip in. All this happens AFTER the rocket launches! Join me in the refrain: THIS MAKES NO SENSE!

Of course this trips an alarm aboard-ship, and the concerned crew tells ground control about the unsecured latch -- and soon they see Pitt, and they tell ground control that, and ground control tells the crew to neutralize Pitt by any and all means (i.e., they are welcome to kill him). All this is happening while the ship is rocketing out into space! Just before, gravity on Mars looked exactly like Earth's -- now, apparently, Mars has almost no gravity at all.

There are three highly trained members of U.S. Space Command aboard this valuable ship, on a top-secret mission to Neptune, only there was absolutely no security perimeter around this launch; the hatch on this ship is less secure than those on commercial airlines; and now, these highly trained space Marines are completely hapless against Pitt. They all end up dead, and Pitt now flies the ship to Neptune. Cue the refrain: you know it by heart.

There is some business about Pitt inserting a feeding tube for the long voyage, which turns out to be 79 days or something like that. Wait, what? Sure, I buy that they figured out how to travel a whole lot faster; but if Neptune is only 79 days away, why has Tommy Lee Jones and crew been out there, all alone, for 30 years? No one thought to check on him?

Of course, our boy Brad makes it out to Neptune -- no more space monkeys -- only to encounter yet another power surge as he nears dad's ship. The surge seems to do some damage, but it doesn't disable his ship (why not?). I might mention here he's bringing a nuke with him, which is meant to destroy the Neptune ship. What is never explained is how Pitt knows how to arm and detonate the nuke; apparently, there is no secret code required, which secret presumably died with the crew Pitt killed. Or else U.S. Space Command radioed the code to Pitt, because...who the h*** knows?

And, anyway, why a nuke? Wouldn't any explosive do the trick? The plan was to take this bomb aboard the renegade ship. Why? They have lasers that send messages, but they can't shoot anything at the threat? What about a guided missile, fired from thousands of miles away. We had those in the 20th century. What about a drone? I'm betting a drone could have been launched from behind one of Neptune's moons? Does it have moons? Why, yes, it has 14 of them!

Or, here's a crazy idea: why not just knock the ship into Neptune? According to Space.com,

Neptune is the third most massive planet. Like the rest of the gas giants, Neptune has no definite surface layer. Instead, the gas transits into a slushy ice and water layer. The water-ammonia ocean serves as the planet's mantle, and contains more than ten times the mass of Earth. Temperatures inside the mantle range from 3,140 degrees Fahrenheit (1,727 degrees Celsius) to 8,540 F (4,727 F). At deep enough depths, the methane may transform into diamond crystals.

Since this ship's unstable antimatter reactor is such a threat to the whole solar system, wouldn't you think blowing it up -- with a nuke! -- would create additional, perhaps unforeseeable risks? Gee, what if you could, instead, shove it into some mass that would absorb the damaging effect, and smother it? Like..."the third most massive planet"? Are you seriously telling me the ship would somehow survive plummeting into Neptune? You know the refrain...

So Pitt gets there, grabs the nuke (about the size of a backpack!), boards a little shuttle that takes him over to the other ship. He carefully pilots the shuttle around the wide rings of Neptune, which are made up of lots and lots of rocks. Remember this detail for later. Only his shuttle can't dock, because of damage to the renegade ship. So Pitt exits the shuttle, opens the hatch, and -- I am not kidding -- pushes away his shuttle! Nope, not going to need that again!

Only he does. We learn shortly that he intends to bring dad home. Whenever needed, Pitt has a tether; he uses one several times. There's no tether on the shuttle? He couldn't go back to his mother ship for one? What exactly is his plan for getting back? Wait till you find out...

He gets on board, everything is eerily silent. He finds the reactor -- apparently it is entirely safe to approach, even though it is wrecking the solar system with unpredictable bursts (yet another reason this whole plan was idiotic, but oh well...). He gets the nuke all ready to go off in three hours, but doesn't turn it on. His plan, it turns out, is to return to the nuke to flip the on switch. Apparently, in the future this can only be done manually, and no one back on Earth thought this might be a flaw in their plan. More to the point: none of the crack scriptwriters thought of it.

Dad shows up. He's calm but a little creepy. To our surprise, he doesn't fight his son, even as he prepares to blow up his life's work. We learn that dad is awfully depressed because his search for life outside the solar system -- the purpose of his mission, and which he was prepared to murder innocents to continue -- was fruitless. He has found only lifeless worlds. Brad talks him into donning a space suit and exit the ship. Brad flips the red switch, and now the bomb starts it's three-hour countdown. (Stupid, stupid.) Somehow they are going to get back to the other ship, and return to earth. Remember, stupid Brad kicked away the shuttle. Their suits do have jet propulsion, however.

Once outside the doomed ship, daddy decides to fire off his propulsion, jeopardizing his son: Brad had carefully attached a tether to both of them, and to the soon-to-be-destroyed ship. The link to the ship is now broken, and both are drifting off in space. Dad says, let me go! Brad has no choice, he cuts him loose, and Tommy Lee Jones floats off.

Questions explode: why did dad stick it out all this time? And, if he is so determined to continue, why does he meekly allow his son to destroy his ship? Or, if he just wants to die, why not pilot the ship into Neptune? I guess this pioneer of space exploration never thought of it!

So now Brad is alone, again. The bomb is ticking as we know. He aims to get back to his ship. He's tumbled through space because of his dad, but he is able to reorient himself and locate his ship; except the rings of Neptune are in his path. Drat! Didn't think of that! So our hero grabs hold of some spinning thingy on the doomed ship, climbs aboard, twiddles some screws or something in the spinning thingy, and pops off a piece of metal! (Some up-and-coming politician back on Earth should open hearings on the gross incompetence of the U.S. Space Command.) Then our hero takes this panel, and uses it as a shield, as he propels himself through the rings of Neptune back to his ship! Yes, this actually works! When he discards his shield, it's got a few pock-marks. Why did he even need a ship at all?

Then he gets back on his ship. By the way, all this in something less than three hours! Then, we learn that his ship's propulsion is somehow diminished, so...he is forced to rely on the nuclear explosion to propel him the 2 billion miles home!

HAHAHAHAHA!

Well, of course, this works! Pitt returns home, and everything is pretty summary; no inkling of any consequences for his crimes which risked a vital mission and caused the deaths of three people; but his ex-wife, who has been lurking in the background throughout the movie, appears. The End.

Now, I want you to go over either to IMBd, or to Rotten Tomatoes, or anyplace you want to scan the various reviews of this movie. When I got home, that's what I did; I wanted to see if any of the people paid to review movies picked up on any of this.

On Metacritic.com: 80% favorable critics reviews. On Rotten Tomatoes, the "critics' consensus" is 83% fresh! But even the unfavorable critics frontpaged on Rotten Tomatoes ignore the plot fiascoes, complaining instead about wasted performances by almost everyone, plodding pace and the film being boring (all true). Meanwhile, all the professional film-watchers who liked it, loved it, because it was "intelligent" and "beautiful" and "magnificent," with Pitt's performance deemed Oscar-worthy. The film is pretty to look at, and Pitt does turn in a fine performance, but how can they overlook the problems? Are they stupid? Or do they think we are?

The one encouraging thing: most of the viewers' reviews are negative. Way negative, as in:

- "pile of crap"

- "slow and boring"

- "poor science"

- "script was ridiculous."

- "I should have run out of the theater screaming but I fell asleep."

At least we are not stupid. That you can rule out.

(Edited for clarity, 9/25/19)

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Our stewardship and our parish (Sunday homily)

Every year about this time the finance committee and I present to you 
a financial summary for the prior fiscal year, 
and a budget for the coming year. 
That appeared in last weekend’s bulletin. 

This year, the staff and I also included a “year in review” 
that was designed to tell some of the story 
of what we’ve been doing as a parish, 
to make these columns of numbers a little less abstract.

Now, it occurred to me that today’s Gospel – 
about a dishonest steward of all things! – 
maybe isn’t the best lead-in for this talk!

But in my defense, I think I am an honest steward;
In any case, I have no hesitancy whatsoever 
in giving you a full and complete accounting.

Some years, when I’ve given this talk, we faced a deficit, 
and I asked you to step up your giving to close the gap.
Last year, you were very generous, thank you;
Thanks to that – and careful spending by our staff – 
and a very successful festival in 2018 – 
as of June 30, our parish had a surplus.

For the coming year, with only a slight bump in offerings,
we’ll end the coming year with another balanced budget. 


I’m not going to go through this line by line; 
however, as I did last year, I will stay after the 5 pm Mass today,
and the 11 am Mass tomorrow, to answer any questions you may have. 
Note I said any questions; it doesn’t have to be about finances.
Anything you want to ask, just stay in your pew 
and I’ll come back and be happy to talk to you.

Why do I do this every year? 
Some would rather not hear about finances in the homily, 
and I understand.

But first, I want it to be clear that I do pay attention to these things; 
that I respect the fact that you work hard for your money,
and I take seriously my responsibility to spend it carefully and well.

Second, whether you stay after to ask questions or not,
I hope this sends the message that your questions are always welcome.
My phone number and email are in the bulletin. Contact me anytime.
Even if you don’t like my answer 100% of the time,
I will give you an honest and complete answer, and do it promptly.

Let me make a couple more points.

First, if you look at the very bottom of the summary, 
it tells you how much we have in savings. 
That’s important for our parish for the exact same reason 
it’s important for each of us and our own households, 
to have some money put by for a rainy day.
We earn interest on this – not a lot these days, but some! –
And we can access these funds when needed.

Another thing I want you to know.

Between the oversight of the finance committee, 
and the pastoral council, 
and with many controls and procedures that are in place, 
you can have high confidence in how financial matters are handled.

But I am not saying, “trust me”; feel free to verify!
Ask any questions you want, today or another time.
There is nothing to hide!

We all know that so many of our institutions and leaders, 
yes, including in the Church, have greatly disappointed us, 
and there is a loss of confidence. I am painfully aware of that.

Our hardworking staff and I want to be worthy of your trust.
I think you can feel very good about how your dollars are spent at Saint Remy, 
and I hope you will continue your generous support.

And for some here, maybe you’ve given now and then, and you realize,
it’s time to be more regular. That will help!

And for others, maybe you’ve regularly – thank you! – 
But it’s stayed at the exact same level for a lot of years. 
Maybe you can shoulder a little more of the responsibility. 
In the last twelve months, some of us have had great years;
For others, especially some of our farmers, it’s been rough.
Contributing to the mission of our parish isn’t someone else’s job, 
but the responsibility of every one of us.
That helps make us a strong and healthy parish.

Let me cycle back to the readings.
The first reading in particular talks about our duty to help the poor.
Despite the challenges, it remains true 
that you and I are extraordinarily blessed. 

So, for example, our St. Vincent de Paul group is once again 
asking your help to provide food for those with empty pantries.
Be generous, please!

And beyond that, perhaps this coming year, 
you and I can cast our gaze further out, beyond our own families, 
and beyond Russia, and be ready to share our blessings 
to make a difference for others. In a word: let’s do more!

See, I’m not the only steward here! 
Each of us has a stewardship over the many gifts God has given us. 
Not just treasure; time and talents too.

If the Lord could commend a crooked steward – not for dishonesty, 
but for being industrious and creative – 
then think of the praise and blessings Jesus will have for us, 
when you and I readily offer our own personal gifts for his work.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Is this the most exotic part of Ohio? (Project 88 report)

Twelve more counties visited in three days. Only four left to see.

Last weekend I joined some friends on a visit to Nashville. That was fun! We got back Monday afternoon, and -- because I had originally blocked off more time for that trip, I planned to use the remaining time for a jaunt across Ohio, to take in some of the remaining counties.

My first stop was Hocking County, where Hocking Hills State Park is located. Several folks here have told me how beautiful the area is; they go regularly. They were correct. I stayed at a hotel near Logan, the county seat, and found dinner at Jacks Steak House. I have to admit, when I walked in, the place looked more like a diner than a steakhouse, but the food was good and the service was great, and prices very fair.

There's a lot to see and do in this area; there are cabins everywhere, with lots of opportunities for fishing, hiking and maybe hunting. I took in several of the sites, all of which involved some hiking. Here is "Ash Cave," so called because of ashes found on the floor, presumably from millennia of human habitation.


You can't see it, but there is a stream that trickles down from the rocks above. Things are very dry in Ohio these days.



You can hike all around to these sites; or you can do as I did, drive from place to place, and walk shorter distances. The next stop, Cedar Falls, involved some down and up. Again, the falls were only a trickle:


Here are the walls of the valley I walked through to the falls.


My last stop in the park was "Old Man's Cave," so named because some fellow with two dogs lived some while in these environs:


This picture doesn't do it justice. This vista reminded me of one of the elven habitations in Tolkien's works.


I will return there! But for now, we press on to Perry County My intended destination were Shawnee, a kind of "ghost town," and San Toy, of which only bare remnants remain. First, however, I passed the New Straitsville library, which looked a lot like a train station:


According to Wikipedia, striking coal miners started a fire in the coal mine there in the 1800s that burns to this day! Sorry I didn't get to see that! Over some serious hills, I made my way to Shawnee:


The whole downtown is two blocks, this shows you one side of one block; the rest is about the same, although there are a few buildings still occupied, including by the local historical society. In the middle of this photo is a tavern that almost looks still in operation. But look closer: the entrances are boarded up; yet a grill still sits on the front porch. People still live around here, however.

As I made my way to San Toy, more decay:


There was a lot of this. As it happens, I never found the remnants of San Toy, but I did find this church. A sign of hope:


As I drove over the hills hereabouts, passing into Morgan County, I paused to capture this vista: 


I'm not good at photos; it was beautiful. Ohio doesn't really have mountains, but this area and the rest I passed through comes closest. 

From San Toy I headed east to cross the Muskingum River at McConnelsville. I stopped by the river to get a nice shot of a bridge, which involved walking the plank, as it were. This walkway was very rusty, steeper than it looks, and made some distressing sounds as I stepped onto it.


Here's the bridge:



Here's the village square, which was pretty busy when I took this photo; also some fun looking places nearby. In the background you can see the Opera House, where William Jennings Bryan held a meeting at one time. Despite being the county seat, McConnelsville is only a village -- not large enough to be a city.


Now it was time to head for Washington County. My original plan was to make for Marietta, on the river, but I decided to skip that. Sorry Marietta! Instead I decided to stop in Beverly, several miles down the river, and then turn north. At Beverly, I noticed this lock near the gas station where I stopped:


 Apparently a boat had just come through the locks; here are the fellows working the lower gate. A sign said I wasn't supposed to be standing where I was, but no one said a word.


Also, a boat blew up here some time back:


My next stop was a town called Fulda (and Noble County), where I wanted to see an old Catholic church. There was no direct route; I had some ups and downs and arounds over Ohio's not-quite-mountains. As I drove down State Route 564 -- a newly paved road that I seemed to have all to myself on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon -- I passed the Ashton Inn. Pausing to take a photo, I first asked the fellow standing on the porch if it was OK. After a pause he said, "Don't matter me none."


More twists and turns, including over some gravel roads; then the spire of St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception loomed over the treetops as I turned into Fulda:


The church looks like it might have been designed for a steeple that was never added. Next door was a sizeable rectory, and what might have been a small school behind. Here are two photos from inside. This mural is in the vestibule:



There was a picture of Pope Benedict on the back wall of the nave; I did not find a portrait of Pope Francis.

From here I made my way over another hill to Carlisle; as I came down the hill, I found St. Michael Catholic church. The bulletin I picked up told me the pastor was responsible for both these churches, plus two more in nearby Calwell. The road I took over that hill was partly gravel; if that is washed out or snowed over, the priest has a much longer way around.

From here I headed east to Monroe County. I actually made it to Lewisville, but I can't find any pictures. Here's a lonely intersection as proof I was there:


This is Summerfield, on the way toward Cambridge, where I was staying the night:


Just beyond that was a huge industrial plant, I'm not sure what goes on here. Marathon Oil owned it. By the way, I did see a few oil pumps here and there, and signs referring to fracking.


Whigville:


Pleasant City (which brought me into Guernsey County): 


Sorry, no photos of the "Microtel," or the restaurant! 

Next day I drove up to the nearby Salt Fork State Park. After taking in the sites of Hocking Hills, I chose to do a quick drive through; but there are caves and trails here, too, and also a lake for swimming. After this, I drove back down to I-70 and headed east into Belmont County

I was going to find an old schoolhouse, only I drove past it before I checked the directions! I did find my way to an old bridge, from the days of the original National Road, which later became U.S. 40. And I took a picture (or so I thought). Anyway, here's a link at Wikipedia. (By the way, only with this bridge did I realize that when Wikipedia provides latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates, you can click on these and Google Maps will give you directions to that spot! Neat.) I did get a shot of the courthouse in St. Clairsville:


From here I drove north on U.S. 250. I stopped in Harrisville -- just inside Harrison County -- for this shot: 


From here I continued up to Cadiz (a local told me how to pronounce it: "CAT is"). I noticed this church, the Scott Memorial United Methodist Church:


If it's not clear, a lot of the church is underground, with just a narrow band of windows admitting light. I searched the website for more about the structure, but couldn't find it.

Here's the courthouse in Cadiz. I parked here and found a shop nearby for a sandwich.


From thence I continued northwest on U.S. 250, making for Tuscarawas County, past lovely Tappan Lake. Somewhere I read that all the lakes in Ohio -- apart from Lake Erie of course -- are man-made. My destination was Gnadenhutten, where a group of Indians, who had converted to the Moravian sect, were massacred; it seems they were mistaken for another band of Indians who had raided the area. Again, I thought I had photos of the burial site for those killed, but alas.

Here's a photo of the Moravian church in Gnadenhutten:


From here I made my way into Holmes County, a center for the Amish. But first I passed through Sugarcreek, locally termed the "Little Switzerland of Ohio," and home of the world's largest cukkoo clock; I arrived in time to hear it strike 2 pm:


(Here I want to note that many times I've taken video with my phone, unintentionally. On this occasion, when I wanted to film a video, I couldn't figure out how.) 

From here I made for Berlin, and the Amish and Mennonite Heritage Center. Fascinating fact: Amish represent 40 percent of Holmes County; and a majority of the residents speak either German or "Pennsylvania German"!

Both an inside and outside tour are offered at the heritage center; I signed up both; they are short.

Here's a mural on the outside of the center, depicting the Amish/Hutterite/Anabaptist immigrants arriving on these shores, thirsting for religious liberty:


Here's our guide (in red shirt) showing us the one room schoolhouse. First it was a public school, later an Amish school, now an exhibit. He told us many of these schools are still in use around the area; Amish children attend school through eighth grade.


Here's the barn, where they have an original Conestoga wagon which Amish would have driven across Pennsylvania to Ohio. He showed us the bucket that held the wheel grease; it still smelled of grease.


Here he showed us how the Amish "do" church: they don't have church buildings; instead, worship rotates from farm to farm, and this wagon carries the benches, hymnbooks and other supplies used by the congregation. One of the things he explained was that the austerities the Amish embrace -- such as not using electricity or owning automobiles -- are seen not as sinful, per se, but rather as things that threaten the integrity of their family life. Our guide told us his parents had been Amish, but switched to Mennonite. (Amish, German Baptist, Mennonite, and Brethren are all theological cousins belonging to the Anabaptist movement identified with Menno Simons).


After this came the inside tour, which involved a narrated tour of a massive circular mural named the "Behalt Cyclorama." Painted in 1992, it tells the story of the Amish and related groups from their beginnings in central Europe and their migration to many places around the world. Photos were not allowed, but go here for more about the mural. Given the origins of the movement, the narration wasn't exactly in line with Catholic belief; but I didn't think it would be winsome of me to argue with the gentleman every time he got history or Scripture wrong.

From here I drove south into Coshocton, my last county of the day. As I did, the near-mountains shifted to bigger, and then softer hills; this was more what people think of as Ohio. Here's the courthouse:


Then, on my way home, I passed through Newark; and I remembered, that's where Longaberger Baskets is headquartered. Here's their impressive, basket-shaped building, from the highway, at 70 mph:


After this, one more tour, back to the northeast, for the last four counties: Summit, Stark, Columbiana and Carroll. If all goes well, that will be at the end of the month. Stay tuned!