Sunday, June 23, 2019

At Mass/at Calvary: there is no other moment (Corpus Christi homily)

In two of these readings we hear the name Melchizedek, 
and we also hear that name in the Eucharistic Prayer. 
So we might ask, who the heck is Melchizedek?

As the passage says, he was a king, the king of Salem, 
which we know better as Jerusalem.
The word “Melchizedek” means “king of righteousness”;
“Salem” means peace, so he is also, “king of peace.”

An even more important detail: he is a priest;
he offers a sacrifice of bread and wine. Note well: bread and wine.
Early in the first book of the Bible, 
we have a foreshadowing of Jesus himself, 
of the priesthood he would establish, 
of the Holy Mass, and of the Eucharist.

On this feast established to celebrate the gift of the Eucharist, 
it is fitting to point out that these three things all go together:
The priesthood; the Mass; and the Eucharist. 
It is all a package deal.

What is essential to priesthood is that a priest offers sacrifice; 
by virtue of offering sacrifice, 
the priest is a mediator between God and humanity.
But if there is no sacrifice, there is nothing special a priest brings.

The sacrifice which Christian priests offer is the Holy Mass. 
The Mass is not primarily about the readings or the homily.
Rather, the Mass is essentially about the altar;
Or, to put it more bluntly, the Mass is really the Cross.
What happened on the Cross is made present on the altar.
This is why, traditionally, the altar was elevated, so it is central; 
so that everyone’s gaze naturally goes there. 

This is why it matters that we do things with reverence and dignity.
It’s why our altar servers’ role is so important.
It’s why how we behave here, how we dress and act, matters.
As many know, the Church went through a period of madness 
in recent decades, in which our churches were wrecked 
and the Mass was celebrated with all the decorum of a backyard picnic.

To this day, we sometimes bring a minimalistic attitude.
If only Father can hurry things along! Do the minimum.
Can you imagine being at Calvary, Jesus is on the Cross,
And saying to him, “Lord, can we hurry this along?”

The fact is, when you are at Mass, you ARE at Calvary!
That is the most important thing to know about the Mass.
If you understand nothing else about Mass, wake up to that fact!

And to those who complain about having to be at Mass – 
which means, remember, being at Calvary – each and every week, 
I respond: “have to”? Have to? You and I GET to be at Calvary! 
In fact, if you want, you can be at Calvary, with Jesus on the Cross, 
every single day, at daily Mass!

Jesus’ mother Mary and the Apostle John and Mary Magdalene 
and a few others were with Jesus at the Cross; 
then when St. Peter and the other Apostles offered Holy Mass 
the first time, they were there as well.
Do you ever wonder what St. Peter was thinking and feeling,
As he celebrated Holy Mass? He could have been at Calvary, 
but he wasn’t there, because of his cowardice.

The whole point of the Mass is to enable you and me really to be there.
And just because someone drops a hymnal, or cell phones go off, 
or maybe the people near you don’t sing very well,
or the priest talks too long and is plain boring…

None of that changes the fundamental reality;
And none of that prevents you from experiencing the truth, 
the reality of the Holy Mass;
I’ll say it again: you are really at the Cross with Jesus!

And if we don’t get that, then we miss what the Eucharist is.
I’m going to be blunt here: a lot of people just go through the motions.
Sit, kneel, stand, go up front; 
get the white thing and put it in my mouth, go back, 
sit, stand, and go home.

When you and I take the Eucharist, 
that means we are uniting ourselves to the sacrifice. 
When you and I take the Body and the Blood, 
we are saying a lot of things all at once:

- That we are prepared to live for Jesus, united with Jesus, 
        living and dying with him. It means we’re “all in.”
- It means we’ve been to confession if we have any mortal sin.
- It means we accept the Cross as the shape of our own lives; 
- Being all about giving ourselves, just as Jesus did;
- Embracing trials and suffering as being full of hope, 
        even as the Cross is ultimately about hope.

In other words, bringing the Body and Blood of Jesus to your lips 
is a solemn moment; nothing actually is more solemn, more serious.
If you are married, your vows come close;
If you were sworn into the military, or swore an oath in court, 
that is a pretty big deal, but nothing compared to this!

If you receive Holy Communion today at Mass, 
this could be the last time you ever do. This is it!
That can be true for any of us. 

Receive the Holy Eucharist, the gift of Jesus’ own self, 
offered on Calvary, if you are prepared to do so. 
But if you do, recognize what you do! 
Realize what a powerful moment this is. There is no other moment. 
Here is Jesus; he gives his all to you. There is nothing else.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Critical path for a party

Last Friday I had some friends over. With three couples, the seminarian and me, that was a total of eight. I had been looking forward to this party, and I had definite plans for it.

Do you know what a "critical path" is? When I worked in Washington, my boss at the time taught me this technique: in short, it means figuring out what part of a project will take the longest and is least time-elastic. By looking at that information, as well as all the other things that need to be complete -- and in what order -- it becomes possible to work backward and figure out both the time needed, as well as the best order in which to proceed. In other words, if you want to have a party begin at 5 pm, it's pretty important to know when to start getting things ready. Moreover, certain things can be done further out, while some things really need to be done right before. This helps you sort it all out.

I thought you might be amused to see the critical path I worked up last Friday for this party. Here it is verbatim:

Critical Path

2:00 pm Prepare other snacks – 10 mins
                Chips
                Nuts
2:10 pm Set up table – 20 mins
2:30 pm Glasses, silverware, plates on porch – 20 mins
2:50 pm Prepare bar – 10 mins
3:00 pm Prepare antipasto – 30 mins
                Slice cheese
                Open olives
                Open artichoke hearts
3:30 pm Prepare potatoes – 10 mins
                Drizzle with oil
                Season w/rosemary, salt, pepper, red pepper
3:40 pm Fill cooler with ice & drinks – 20 mins
4:00 pm Prepare vegetable kabobs – 10 mins
                See recipe
4:30 pm Prepare bleu cheese olives – 10 mins
4:45 pm Prepare meat – 10 mins
                Dry off, let stand at room temp

As it happens, there were a few things I didn't include, but that's OK; this got me all the main things.
I might explain, the table was set up outside, under a tree; and that meant I had to watch the weather; if it was either too hot, or too windy, or if rain threatened, I'd go with Plan B, which was the dining room. The temperature was perfect and no rain fell, but it was gusty while I was setting things up, so I held off on the glassware; which, as planned, I kept on the table on the porch. That's where we ended up having drinks and the antipasto, but we moved to the table for the main course, dessert, coffee and digestivos.

So what was for dinner? It went as follows:

1. Apperitivos: cocktails & drinks; chips, nuts.
2. Antipasto of ham and sopressata, assorted cheeses, olives and marinated artichokes
3. The Main Course was brined pork chops, with vegetable kabobs, rosemary potatoes and buttermilk cornbread. (My recipes for the chops and potatoes are below.)
4. Dolce: Graeters ice cream with cookies and pretzels.
5. Coffee & digestivos followed.

The pork chops were sliced thick: 1-1/2"; I brined them overnight in water, kosher salt, garlic powder, dried rosemary, and black pepper. I usually use red pepper, but I didn't have any this time. In the morning I poured out the water, but a good amount of the seasoning remained on the chops. I layered them between paper towels to reduce the moisture; the one downside to brining the chops is that you don't get as good a sear on them. After bringing them to room temperature, I grilled them on each side for a few minutes, and let them sit at a lower temperature for a few minutes more.

For the potatoes, I found a mix of smallish red, yellow and blue potatoes (otherwise red would have been fine); I cut the larger ones in half but left the smaller ones whole. I drizzled a generous amount of olive oil over all of them, then seasoned with rosemary, salt, pepper and red pepper and tossed them to be sure they where well covered. I placed this in the oven, along with the cornbread.

How did it all turn out? During the preprandials, I was able to introduce a couple of my friends to my own particular version of a martini. They said they liked it, but alas, I suspect they did not love it! It is an acquired taste. We had several wines to choose from, and one friend chose a Pinot Noir, which worked well. For digestivos, we had Amaro, Limoncello, Cognac and Strega. The Strega was much scorned.

As for the food, aside from not being seared as nicely as I like, the pork chops were excellent. I cooked a dozen chops, so my grill was pretty crowded. I was being cautious with the veggies, and they could have used a little more time. Also, the butter sauce for this I found later in the microwave, but they were still pretty good. The cornpone was good; the potatoes would have been better with more roasting.

Part of my rationale for this menu was I didn't want to have anything taking a lot of time, and that worked out pretty well. I'd do this menu again.

Everyone stayed till dark, so pretty obviously we all had a good time. I'm planning two more parties in August; it may be too hot to sit outside then. We'll see!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Show God's Face (Holy Trinity)

Today is Father’s Day. Today is the Feast of the Holy Trinity. 
And I think I’m going to keep this pretty simple.

Here’s something that can be a shock
when you realize it the first time, but:
we turn into our parents!

My father had funny little habits.
For example, whenever we’d drive somewhere, 
from time to time he’d say, “there’s a Burger King,” 
or “there’s Dairy Queen.” 
So I’d ask, “did you want to stop?”
“No,” he’d say. It was just something he’d do, pointing places out.

So guess what? Now I do exactly the same thing!

And I tell the exact same goofy jokes my father told!

The point being, that our parents play a huge role, 
And a big part of that is showing us who God is.

So when you and I talk about God being our Father,
That will be shaped by the father we grow up with.
For some people, obviously, this can mean some real trials of faith, 
because sometimes those relationships are a mess.
That can make it hard for some people to draw close to God; 
So the natural question, if that’s you, is: what do I do about this?


Honestly, that’s not easy. But one thing to do is to look at Jesus. 
The Son of God became human, and came among us, 
precisely to show us the face of God. 
Drawing close to Jesus helps us realize who God the Father is.

Another thing we can do is look around at other people in our lives.
Who has been there, steady and faithful and giving?
That person is showing you the face of the Father, 
you just didn’t know it.

And a third thing we do – we all do – 
is learn to be more forgiving of our parents’ flaws and limitations, 
especially as we reach that stage in life.

All that said, I don’t want to emphasize the negative. 
Rather, I want to stress how powerfully God’s love 
works through each of us, as imperfect as we are. 

That’s what each of the readings is talking about:
God was filled with a longing to create this world, 
and fill it with life – us, above all; 
that’s what the first reading is about.

And when humanity fell into sin and darkness, 
The Father’s love did not abate, but rather overflowed;
This is why Jesus came, why Jesus died, 
and why he gave us the Holy Spirit. 

You and I cannot begin to comprehend 
the height and breadth and depth of that love of God for each of us.
But if you are a parent, then you have a sense,
Because that’s the love you have for your own children.
They may defy you, disappoint you, drive you crazy at times,
But you never stop loving them. 
Not only can you not imagine doing so, 
even thinking about that is terribly painful.

That’s the love you – a flawed creature – have.
Multiply that by infinity, and that’s God’s love for each of us.

Everything I’ve said applies to both mothers and fathers.
But on this Father’s day, 
I do want to say something just to men, just to fathers. 

We all see how our culture denigrates fatherhood. 
Boys and men are routinely labeled “toxic.”
Movies and TV depict men as threats, or else fathers as a joke.
Or else they are simply absent.
And, of course, in reality that is often true.

Before it seems I am pointing the finger elsewhere, let me say this:
Too many of our spiritual fathers – priests and bishops – 
have degraded themselves and shamed the Church. 

So what do we do? Again, specifically addressing the boys and men:
You are a father now, or else you hope to be. 
I accepted the call to be a spiritual father, 
and I am confident there are other men here 
who God wants to be priests as well. 
Whatever our path, what we do is we stand up and be men.  
You’ve heard this before: we guard, we guide and we give.
If other men, other fathers, are dropping the ball, let’s pick it up!

Your spiritual leadership, here at Mass and at home, 
play a huge role in leading your children to a healthy and lasting faith.
No guarantees, but it will give you and them every advantage.
Lead your children to Mass; lead them in prayer; 

Above all, show them what true generosity, true love, looks like.
My father has been gone awhile, but his lessons are with me always;
And it will be the same for your children long decades in the future!

And if you will forgive me, I’m going to give a plug 
for our annual Men’s Prayer Walk. 
Every year at this time – coming up on Friday, June 28 – 
all the boys and men of every age are invited to come together 
to walk a couple of miles around the perimeter of our parish, 
after which we have a meal and fellowship.

We’ll meet behind my house by 5:30 pm, board some hay wagons,
Ride out to the road where we’ll walk and pray, and then come back.
If you can’t walk, just ride on the hay wagon, or bring your golf cart!

Why do this? To be men; to be fathers, 
who provide spiritual leadership, and spiritual protection, 
for our parish. To teach our sons and grandsons.
And in all that, we show God’s face to our community.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

The world is on fire: so is the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily)

Today you and I celebrate Pentecost. 
This is a big day – bigger, I think, than we realize. 

This is a day to celebrate, to be full of joy, because – 
It is the day God’s infinite Joy – the Holy Spirit – 
was poured out on the early believers. 

For the Jewish People, Pentecost coincided with the wheat harvest.
It was also considered the day God gave the Ten Commandments.

So consider what Jesus gave us on this day:
The Holy Spirit: God’s Law written, not on stone, but in our hearts.
And again, on that very day, Christ’s great harvest of souls began.

There is something about our Christian Faith we know about, 
but sometimes forget, and it is this:
Strength and weakness, exaltation and humiliation,
Good News and “bad” news, are all bound up together.

The king of heaven is born a poor child in a stable. 
His throne was the Cross.
To follow him is a path of glory, but sorrows first. 

Sometimes we get so steeped in bad news: 
about the world, about our society, about our Church;
that we forget this truth: Victory is often concealed in defeat.

So let’s talk about some bad news without flinching.
It is shocking to see our culture so rapidly turn pagan.
Churches are being vandalized by the hundreds across France.
Nearly one in four Americans report having “no religion.” 
No doubt some of this is a result of failed leadership 
and clergy who behaved as criminals.

One more data point: 2019 marks the highest tide of persecution 
of Christians ever – in 2,000 years.

Ah, but remember: On Pentecost, 
a tiny group of nobodies were set aflame by the Holy Spirit, 
and they started a blaze that continues to crackle and spread.

So disturbing was that first Christian explosion 
that the mighty Roman Empire declared all out war on Christ.
For three centuries, Rome sought to exterminate us;
right up until Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, 
saw the Cross in the sky, and bowed down before the King of Kings!

There is a reason for so much persecution that you never hear.
Did you know that in Africa and Asia, 
Many, many Muslims are converting to Christ?
This in countries where converting brings a death sentence;
where Christians are barred from entry, bibles are confiscated;
Christian worship and sacraments must be kept secret.

According to Father Mitch Pacwa of EWTN, 
Many of these Muslim converts report 
receiving visions and dreams of Jesus and Mary.
Pentecost Fire is still spreading!

This is what the terrorists are trying to kill. They will fail!
In China, we hear about churches being bulldozed and clergy arrested.
But again, this is connected to Christianity spreading.
From ten million in 1980 to an estimated 100 million today.

Sometimes the best of times for us are the worst:
When everything is secure and we are prosperous, we lose our way.
Meanwhile, when the sky seems to be falling, everything is dark:
The blood of martyrs, Tertullian said, is the seed of the Church.

Now, let me say a word about the tiny bit of earth 
called St. Remy Parish, which God has entrusted to you and me.
We’re not perfect, despite all that we have going for us.

Nevertheless, with God’s help, something good is happening here.
Last Sunday I talked about the good scores our students received.
But that’s just one indicator. 
We have lots of youth activities where they build friendships 
centered on faith. 
This is flowing into college, 
and our kids themselves are making things happen. 
We had a lot of people make a Marian consecration at New Years, 
and the result was two more Militia Immaculata groups.

It’s all a package deal: dedicated catechists, 
capable people who work for our parish, 
a community that wants to keep Faith at the center, 
and families that pray together 
and go to confession and Mass together.

But before this turns into a brag, let me give a caution: 
All this works, when we work it: 
that is, when kids really do show up at religious education;
when people really do take advantage of confession;
when folks really do get involved in prayer and faith activities.

But not everyone does. There’s a drop-off in high school years, 
and when the school year winds down. 
Sad to say, for some, sports trumps faith.

Look: there are winds of unbelief blowing harder all the time, 
and it’s becoming a raging storm. 
I have to ask: do you want your kids to stay Catholic? 
Marry as Catholics? 
Do you want your grandchildren to be baptized as Catholics?
Do you think this is going to happen automatically?

So yes, there are good things happening here, 
but the minute any of us becomes complacent, and rests on our laurels, 
we’re headed for a crash. Mark my words.

And if you wonder why we put so much time and money and effort
into reinforcing our kids’ faith, this is why!
This parish exists for one, and ONLY one reason: to make disciples!

So, we can look at the world and see all the ways it’s going crazy.
All the trouble brewing, especially for Christians. It’s true.
But look again: the Holy Spirit is also at work: 
Let’s you and I be part of it! 

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Ascension is about getting ready for the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily)

As you know, each Sunday during Easter Season 
I have been focusing on one of the sacraments. 
This Sunday – when we recall the Ascension of our Lord 
back to the heights of heaven – I want to talk about confirmation.

Does that surprise you? It surprises me! 
Originally I was going to talk about it next week, on Pentecost, 
which would seem an obvious tie-in.

Naturally, you would expect me to talk about 
Jesus returning to heaven.
However, I want you to notice something in the readings we heard:
When Jesus talks about his ascending to heaven, 
he himself ties it to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit “in a few days.”

So it seems that the Ascension is pretty closely tied to Pentecost.
Jesus said elsewhere in the Gospel that he had to return to heaven, 
Precisely in order to send the Holy Spirit to them.

If you are wondering why, let me explain it this way. 
Every Thursday we have adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, all day.
And during the school year – and a few times over the summer – 
we have a time for children to adore Jesus. 
Meanwhile, I’m hearing confessions.

When I come out of the confessional, 
lots of children’s eyes turn toward me! That’s what kids do, right?
But of course, I don’t want them looking at me – 
their gaze belongs on Jesus, who is on the altar. 
So I walk out of sight, so they look at Jesus.
Similarly, Jesus knew that as long as he remained on earth, 
the believers would not discover the power of the Holy Spirit. 
They would not discover the power of the sacraments. 

Think of it: if Jesus stayed on earth in his body – 
the way he was with the Apostles – 
then everyone would want to go wherever he is. 

If he travelled the world, people could see him – 
maybe from a distance. The pope travels the world. 
How many people have gotten close to him? 
How many people have even talked to him?

So Jesus said: it is better for you that I go.
That caused us to turn our gaze to the Holy Spirit, and the sacraments. 
And as a result, everyone, everywhere, 
can be as close to Jesus as possible, every day, all the time.

Now let’s talk about the sacrament of confirmation.
And just as the Ascension and Pentecost go together,
So the sacraments of baptism and confirmation go together.
The Catechism tells us that “in the first centuries 
Confirmation generally comprised one single celebration with Baptism, 
forming with it a ‘double sacrament,’”
in the words of St. Cyprian (CCC 1290).

This is still what we do when someone old enough 
to understand the sacraments wants to be baptized. 
So this past Easter, we had a second-grader be baptized, confirmed, 
and make her first Holy Communion, all at the same Mass.
If you try to think about confirmation apart from baptism, 
it’s hard to explain. 
We say, you receive the Holy Spirit; except, that happens in baptism. 
We say, you receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit; 
but does that mean you and I don’t receive 
the gifts of the Holy Spirit until then?

Baptism is when you and I begin to be a Christian. 
We are washed clean and made new. 
You and I become another Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit.

One way to understand confirmation is to listen to what the bishop says 
as he anoints you with chrism:
“Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

“Be sealed”: those are the key words.
We might think of sealing an envelope: that keeps the contents safe.
Jesus went to a lot of trouble to save us; 
he wants to “seal” the life of God, the gifts of God, in our lives.

Another way to think about it 
would be to think of how certain documents receive a “seal,” 
demonstrating that they are authentic, the real thing;
they are complete, ready to go.
The “seal” of the Holy Spirit means you and I are, in a sense, 
“the real thing,” and that we’re “ready to go.”

So this is why whenever someone is in danger of death – 
especially young children – 
it is proper not only to baptize, but also confirm.
I know that’s not something we like thinking about, 
but any priest will gladly come right away 
and give your child confirmation, even an infant.

Of course, someone will ask, then why do most of us 
receive the sacrament of confirmation later, 
in junior high or high school?

The short answer, in a word, is “history.” 
Over the centuries, things got rearranged to how it is now,
And that’s what people are used to. 
Maybe someday it’ll all be put back to the traditional way,
but don’t hold your breath; most bishops are inclined to leave it as it is.

So for those who aren’t confirmed yet, especially those who expect 
to receive the sacrament of confirmation this fall, 
my word for you is “get ready.” 
Christ wants you to be his representatives – and you are, already; 
but there’s still more to learn, more ways to grow.
When you receive the sacrament, Christ is saying, “you’re ready!”

And therefore, for the rest of us who have been confirmed?
It means, “no excuses”! The Holy Spirit has sealed us.
We’re authentic, genuine Christians, the real deal.
That’s a lot to live up to, which is why the other sacraments 
are so important, so we really DO live up to it.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Brother priests: why aren't you hearing more confessions?

This is a post especially for my brother priests.

I've been a priest sixteen years, and as the years go by, I find myself spending more time in confession -- not so much as a penitent, I mean, but as a confessor. At Saint Remy, we have about six hours of confession every week. On top of that, we have lots of extra times for confession, for our schoolkids, in the weeks before Christmas, and in Lent, and some other extras all year long.

People always say, oh that's a lot! And it is, by comparison with most parishes (although we don't stand out so much in this area; see below*). Even then, I am not convinced it's enough, really, but maybe it's close.

Here's what I don't get: having one -- and only one -- hour a week for confessions. Or even less. Unless you're an extremely small parish, how does this get the job done?

* For what it's worth, here's the situation locally. I went to Masstimes.org and looked up confessions in my area. Sunday: two parishes nearby have confessions (including mine). Monday: one parish, 16 miles away. Tuesday: four parishes nearby. Wednesday: three parishes, plus mine. Thursday: eight parishes, plus mine. Friday: two parishes. Saturday: a whole bunch, as you might expect. Without doing a detailed analysis, it looks to me that most parishes around here -- or "clusters," where multiple parishes share one or more priests -- have about two hours on average.

Now let's look at nearby Dayton, where we have some really big parishes.

Without naming the parishes, here's what I found:

- A lot of small to medium size parishes with an hour or two. Certainly some with more.
- Several really big ones, with an hour or less.

Now, to be fair, the information at Masstimes.org could be incorrect. However, when I clicked through on a couple of parish websites -- those with minimal confession times -- the information was confirmed.

If you ask me to name the parishes, I won't. I know the priests at these parishes, and they don't necessarily fit the stereotypes people are always ready to provide. This isn't about "liberal" or "conservative," or even a generational thing. My purpose isn't to make anyone out to be a bad guy, just to ask: do you really think this is enough?

Think of it this way:

1. Do you really think the state of the Catholic Faith is healthy in our diocese? Are we growing or stagnant or fading?

2. Do you think we need spiritual renewal?

3. Do you think Catholics are making healthy use of the sacrament of confession? If you do, based on what, exactly?

4. And, finally, how can there be spiritual renewal without the sacrament of penance? Jesus gave us exactly seven sacraments, and exactly one that is all about forgiveness and conversion. How can there be any plan for spiritual renewal that doesn't include healthy portions of this sacrament?

Now, I know what a lot of people -- including priests -- will say: people won't come.

To which I say, yes and no.

Yes, it's true that adding more hours of confession may not make much of a difference, if that's all you do. But if you also talk about it, from the pulpit, in the bulletin, and other ways; if you talk about your own need for confession and how it's helped you; if you really go after it...then yes, it will help. You will see more people.

On the other hand, I will point out that if you can, there is a time when -- if you offer confessions -- people will come with hardly any extra effort. What is that magic time? It's right before Mass, either daily or Sunday.

Yes, it's frustrating that people seem to expect everything for their convenience. And as a priest all by myself in my parish, I realize it can be hectic hearing confessions right before Mass, and then get things ready for Mass. For that reason, I don't do this all the time. But I can tell you, it does work.

But in our largest parishes, we have two and sometimes three priests. Why not have confessions offered by the priest not offering that Mass? That way, you can offer confessions right up until Mass starts.

Sad to say, there was a lot of misinformation promoted for many years in priestly formation. A lot of priests were told that it was actually wrong to have confessions available if Mass was going on. This is false. We were told that you shouldn't have confessions during the Triduum; this is not only wrong, it's INSANE!

Yes, it's hard work, especially when you've got lots of other things to do, and that's certainly true the week before Christmas, and Holy Week. But people WILL come to confession at those times. And if you preach about (and also practice in your own life) frequent confession, you can and will make a difference. I've seen it work; I've heard people say, "I heard you talk about confession at Mass..." "You kept hammering the point, I finally came..."

Our country and our Church desperately need renewal. And that renewal cannot come without a revival of the sacrament of penance. Do you think I'm wrong? Tell me why.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Marriage & family are all about the journey to heavenly peace (Sunday homily)

As you may know, each Sunday of Easter 
I have been talking about one of the seven sacraments, 
because they are the primary way the power of the Resurrection, 
the new life of Christ, is poured into our lives.

This week we’re going to talk about the sacrament of marriage.
Meanwhile, the main thing the readings talk about is peace.
No doubt some of you are scratching your head, wondering,
What in the world does peace have to do with marriage and family life?

But of course, they really are all bound up together,
Because peace isn’t something that merely happens.
Whether in families, or between neighbors, or among nations,
Peace comes along a hard path, and even a long journey,
And usually with conflict most of the way along.

What’s more, I submit that Christian marriage 
shows us how such peace is achieved on every level.

Let’s recall exactly what a sacrament is:
an outward sign, instituted by Jesus Christ, to give grace; 
that is, God’s power, God’s own life, pour into our lives.

So marriage – like all sacraments – is a sign. 
This may seem obvious, but: when you talk about a sign,
there is what the sign is made of;
the message that the sign communicates: what it tells you; 
And third, where the sign takes you. 

With marriage, the sign itself is the man and the woman 
choosing each other for a specific purpose: to make a family. 

Meanwhile, what the sign of marriage tells us – the message – 
is who Christ is, and how he loves his Church.
Remember, Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom, and we are his Bride.

And that brings us to the journey of marriage and family life:
It is all about human frailty and conflict;
At the same time, it is how we become the best versions of ourselves.
It’s a bumpy and painful ride, but the outcome is peace.
Not merely an absence of conflict, but the fullness of God’s own life. 

Marriage, let us be clear, wasn’t invented by the Church.
It derives from human nature itself; 
so every culture, every society, every religion, has marriage. 
In its most basic form, marriage is seeking a mate.

So marriage is about one very specific expression of love.
That specific love is about mating, and therefore, family.
It’s all bound up together. That is why it’s man plus woman.
What about two men or two women? 
Of course they can love each other, that’s fine!

But what they cannot do is be mates. They can’t be true spouses.
And this is revealed by the obvious fact that
two men or two women cannot make a family together.
This is not my opinion; this is not even a religious dogma.
It is simply a fact of science.

Where does this leave those with attractions to the same sex? 
Maybe someone here, or someone we know and care for?
The answer is, not everyone has a vocation to marriage.
I say that irrespective of orientation.
Many men and women enter marriage with each other, only to discover, 
to their sorrow, that one or the other isn’t cut out for it.

But everyone does have a vocation to love:
And by that I mean, a call from God 
to be truly giving and generous in our lives, no matter our state in life. 
Sometimes the truth we face about ourselves can be hard,
But evading or pretending is not the answer;
Living the truth may be harder, but it leads us to God.

How did we get so mixed up about this?
Because, as a society, we long ago started lying to ourselves 
about what sex really is for.

We preferred to believe that it is for self-fulfillment, 
so a life-long commitment is optional;
along the way, we also told ourselves the lie 
that sex can be separated from making children.

Normalizing contraception was critical to this whole misadventure, 
because so long as children are in the picture, even as a possibility,
then the man and the woman cannot really escape the call
to die to self, and precisely by doing so, to transcend themselves.

And really, that’s what mating and family are:
a capacity given us by God, to be more than we are,
resulting in a child, a “me” who is not me.
A parent calls this child “mine,” yet the child is all her own;
Someone who will go further, and rise higher.
And isn’t that the greatest dream of every father and mother?

So: people get frustrated at the Catholic Church 
for refusing to revisit or change her teaching 
that the marital act must always, always be open to the gift of life;
thereby excluding all forms of artificial birth control. But this is why.

Such a change would mean denying a truth 
that is both at the center of family life, 
and at the center of our Christian Faith:
In dying to self, new life is born.
If you take away the Cross, where is the Resurrection?

The way to peace that the readings present in different ways, 
is what powers family life along the bumpy road to heaven:
You and I die to ourselves, to our own pride and certainties.
Jesus Christ must be king; no one and nothing else will do.
The Holy Spirit must be the navigator. 
The Father is the home we are going to.

Day by day, families ride along together; somehow it works.
And it’s the same for the whole Church of Christ. 
You and I are on the way to that heavenly Jerusalem!
It’s a rough ride, but the Holy Spirit will get us there:
Jesus promised!

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A homily for a new priest's first Mass (Sunday homily)

When a mother gives birth to a child, everyone celebrates. 
Today we and all the Archdiocese are celebrating, 
because Mother Church has given birth to nine new priests, 
including of course, Father Zach Cecil, a son of St. Mary Parish.

But what precisely are we celebrating? 

Certainly this is a great personal accomplishment 
for Father Cecil and his classmates. 
It has been a long slog of study and practice and prayer.
Along the way there are moments of doubt and darkness, 
but also consolation and conviction. 
This is what happens when Jesus says, “follow me,” and you go!

As much as I am tempted to talk about Father Zach, 
who I’ve known since he was a boy, 
and he himself told me then he was going to be a priest, 
this is only somewhat about him.
He will say, just as our beloved Father Caserta always said: 
It is all about the Lord.

The Gospel we just heard is a good starting point.
It begins on a dark note: Judas has just left the room!
We know where he’s going. 
We know what’s about to happen, only a few hours later.
But what does Jesus talk about? How terrible and sad everything is?
No. He says, Now is the time of glory!

There are lots of discordant notes in our time.
If you want to write a story about all that’s wrong with our society, 
and with our Church, you can do that very easily.

And yet as his friend turns traitor, Jesus almost seems buoyant: 
God’s going to act now, he says; and it’s going to happen “at once.” 

This darkness is the moment of Christ’s great victory, and of ours! 
This is when all hope and life is about to be born!

So in light of that, I say to you, Father, 
what a priest recently said in the National Catholic Register: 
“There is no better time to be a Catholic priest.”

This ties in with the first reading, where we see Paul and Barnabas
actually ordain men as priests to serve the local churches, 
But as Paul does so, he warns them about hardships to come.

Back to my question: what are we celebrating? 
It is that the glory of Christ is made manifest: here, in our midst!
That’s what Easter is. That’s what the sacraments are. 
And that’s what this sacrament of Holy Orders is all about.

Jesus gives an invitation. Each of us hears it in a particular way.
For some, it is to be, as he told Peter, “fishers of men.”
To be, as Paul described many times, fathers of spiritual children.

Every once in a while you can hear some grouch complaining, 
“why does he get to be a priest but not me?”

But the true perspective is seen in the joy we feel 
when first a man enters the seminary, 
and even more, when he returns to us as a priest.

The reason for that joy is obvious: 
most realize that while this call to Holy Orders indeed is a privilege – 
and certainly every priest knows it deep in his bones, 
because he knows how very unworthy he is! –
Nevertheless, the priesthood is fundamentally a gift:
Maybe 1% to the man himself; 99% to everyone else.

The other day I heard someone say that in marriage and family life,
you experience both the lowest lows and the highest highs.
You give yourself, and lose yourself in another, 
and from that gift comes the miracle of new life, 
with every possible heartache and exaltation. 

No parent would wish his or her hardships on anyone else; 
but neither would they wish away the gift of their family.

Here’s the thing: all this is likewise true of the priesthood:
The lowest lows and highest highs. 
The moment of the Cross is the moment of glory.
This just points out something many don’t realize:
The priesthood is, in many ways, a mirror of marriage.

Holy, happy, Christ-centered families give us healthy, holy priests; 
and in turn, it is faithful, courageous priests who strengthen us 
as husbands and wives, fathers and mothers.

Let me close by saying something to you, Father, priest-to-priest, 
which I know you will believe; but it may take time fully to understand.

Father, you promised the Archbishop you would obey him; 
and to teach Christ’s word faithfully, 
and to celebrate the sacred mysteries with zeal and devotion.
You will teach and explain the Faith with conviction;
You will get up early and stay up late to comfort the grieving 
and fortify those who are weary and lost.
You will baptize, absolve, and be a companion in joy and sorrow.

But at the center is the Holy Mass.
Whether before hundreds of family and friends, 
or seemingly all by yourself, 
you stand at the altar and you hear Jesus say,
“This is My Body, given for you.”
And you will be shocked that it is your own voice saying it.
You can’t stand apart from it. It is Jesus, all Jesus, all the time.
And yet, in an impossible mystery, it is also you.

Day by day, year by year, laying yourself on the altar.
“No greater love,” Jesus said. This is what his priests do.
This is how they love the people he gives his priests to care for.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Anointing brings Christ into our suffering, and our suffering into Christ (Sunday homily)

As you may know, I decided during Easter Season to focus, 
each Sunday, on one of the seven sacraments. 
This week we’re going to talk about the anointing of the sick.

But why even talk about the sacraments? 
Because Easter and the Resurrection 
are all about the explosion of God’s life in our world. 
When a dead body comes to life and people see it, 
that changes everything, wouldn’t you agree?

What Easter is about, is also what the sacraments are about:
God’s life, poured into our lives, so we can become like God.
Another word for this is grace. The power of God. The life of God.

What did Jesus say in the Gospel?
“I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they shall never perish”!
That is what the sacraments do: they are sure and certain 
means of receiving this grace, this eternal, imperishable life.

What’s more, it’s also useful simply to explain each of the sacraments.
Lots of people have questions, but they don’t always dare to ask.

So let’s focus in on the anointing of the sick.
One of the ways this is misunderstood is that people think 
you only call the priest to be anointed 
when you’re one breath from death.

More accurate is to say it is for all those who are in “danger of death,” 
which is not the same thing. 

For example, lots of people have cancer or heart conditions 
or other situations that can be dangerous, 
but that doesn’t mean they’re going to die at any moment.
And there are certainly operations and surgeries 
where there is a real danger – and yet people still survive.

The Church specifically says that simply the frailty of age 
justifies receiving the sacrament of anointing.

You can receive the anointing more than once: 
if things don’t get better, and especially if they get worse.

Children, even, can receive the anointing, 
since they too face dangerous situations, 
although we dread even think about it.

That said, before a child can be given the anointing, 
he or she must be baptized and confirmed. 
Not many people know that a child, even an infant, 
can be confirmed in an emergency. I have done it several times.

So if someone wants to be anointed, what do you do?
Simply put, call the priest! 
My telephone and email address are in the bulletin. 
I am very happy to anoint people whenever they ask.
Many times I do this after a weekday or a weekend Mass, 
but planning ahead is better than waiting till the last minute.

If possible, go to confession first, then be anointed.
Obviously, I can do both for you at the same time, 
but also obviously, when I’m in the confessional, 
that’s not a good time to ask for the anointing.

Nobody likes getting a call like this at 3 am, 
but if you call me at that or any hour, I will answer the phone. 
Just call XXX-XXXX*, and if it’s after hours, 
hit “1” on the phone system; that is for emergencies. 
And if I’m out and about, a message will go to my cell phone. 

Any hospital will know how to get a hold of a priest. 
But it won’t happen automatically; you have to ask, 
and sometimes, you have to insist.

If all the sacraments give grace, then why have seven of them?
The answer is that the sacraments were designed by Christ; 
tailored, if you will, to suit our particular needs at various points in life.

So when we talk about the grace of God – 
the supernatural life of God – in one sense, it’s all the same thing. 
One God, one life, one destiny, which is resurrection for ourselves, 
and the fullness of life in the new heavens and the new earth.

All the same, you and I live in time. 
We’re born, we grow up, we consider our path in life;
maybe we get married. We need help along the way.
Jesus gives us seven sacraments as helps at all these moments of life.
 
And at a certain point in everyone’s life, 
we face suffering and illness 
and the fear and doubts that go with them.
Our Lord wants us to know that he doesn’t forget us 
in these times of weakness or darkness or humiliation.
He is not ashamed to be with us at our worst moments.

(Here I inserted some comments about the trials of illness and suffering, and pointed out that our world says to those who suffer, "just die," Christ comes to be with us in our trials, showing us his wounds. We understand Christ in a unique way in times of illness.)

This anointing is called a “sacrament of healing.”
It absolutely brings healing, 
which sometimes includes physical recovery.
I have seen it happen, and so have other priests.
But the main healing is a closeness with Christ, 
Which brings courage and peace, even in the midst of turmoil,
such as Paul and Barnabas showed in the first reading.

Notice what the Apostle John was told in the second reading:
“These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress.”
Jesus knows the ordeals, physical and emotional, 
that we face with illness and surgeries and declining health.

To stand before his throne, no more tears, no more fear.
That is our future.
And the sacrament of anointing – really, all the sacraments – 
exist to give us a foretaste of that hope right here, right now.

* I decided the whole world doesn't need me making it easy to call me at night.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Feeding us himself is the most important thing to Jesus (Sunday homily)

If you look at the Gospels, 
Jesus spent a lot of time eating with people and feeding them.
Did you ever wonder why that is?

To invite someone to a meal, and to accept that invitation, 
are powerful signs of welcome and friendship. 
To prepare a meal for another person is an act of love.

So the reason there’s so much eating in the Gospels?
Because Jesus wants us to know: he likes being with us!
He wants to feed us! He loves us.

So notice what Jesus put at the center of the life of the Church:
The Holy Mass, where he gives us, 
not just ordinary food, but his own, precious, Body and Blood! 
The best of food! The best of meals!

When we have family members and friends 
who belong to other Christian denominations, 
who have beliefs and practices that are similar in some ways, 
it’s easy to overlook some really important aspects.

For most other Christians, Holy Communion 
is only a sign that points to Jesus’ presence. 
They believe that the bread and wine never change into anything; 
they remain bread and wine.

And, to be very blunt, many Catholics erroneously believe this too.
Sometimes people say, well, it looks like bread, it tastes like wine,
So that’s all it is, and I don’t believe all this stuff about a miracle.
But then, there were people who met Jesus, and said,
He looks like he’s only a human being, 
So I don’t believe he’s also the Lord our God!

People don’t ever say these things to me, but if they did, 
here’s what I would want to say back to them:

Do you believe that you need to be saved?  
Do you need God to rescue you from what sin does?
To forgive your sins and change you, 
to keep you from hell and bring you to heaven? 

Some people, if they were very candid, would admit:
No, I don’t need God to do those things. I’m doing just fine.

And if that’s what you believe, then Jesus makes no sense.
Baptism, confession, all the sacraments make no sense.
Above all, the Mass and the Eucharist just aren’t very important.
So bread, wine, body, blood, whatever? Who cares?

On the other hand, if you look in your heart, and see:
I’m not just fine on my own. I do wrong things, 
And if it weren’t for God helping me, I’d end up in a terrible place!

Then it makes all the difference whether Jesus gives you a cracker, 
or he gives you his own Body, his own Blood! 
His own divinity and soul and self!

If you believe this, if you believe Jesus meant it when he said, 
“This is my Body…this is my Blood,” 
and if you believe Jesus makes that happen at Holy Mass –
and I do believe this, and this precisely what we believe as Catholics – 
then isn’t it obvious why we come Sunday after Sunday?

I have a pill I take every day; it’s supposed to keep my arteries clear 
and help me avoid having a heart attack. So I take my pill.

Jesus says, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood.” That’s what he said,
over and over in the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John.
“Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood,” Jesus said,
“has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”

So why wouldn’t all Catholics want to have this Food, this Life, 
as often as they could?

Today, we have our second graders making their first communion. 
I’ve watched you grow up from babies, and so many of you, 
when you walk up front with your parents, 
I can see how much you have been looking forward to this day. 
So have your parents, and so have I!

But I want to repeat what I said to you on “Jesus Day”:
It isn’t your first communion that matters the most, 
but our last communion, and all that come between.

That repetition is critical. Parents, you know this is true! 
You remind your kids over and over to say “please” and “thank you.”
It drives you crazy, but you know that if you don’t, 
the habit will never take root.

Sad to say, this happens with the Eucharist.  
Lots of people make a first communion, but they drift away, 
they forget about Jesus, and maybe they never come back!

So, you keep coming. Stay close to Jesus through prayer 
and especially in the sacrament of confession.
And keep coming to Mass and keep receiving Jesus’ Body and Blood.
He so wants to feed us. It’s the most important thing to him.

In which case, let’s pray for each other: 
parents, pray for your children; kids, pray for your parents,
that what is the most important thing to Jesus, 
will be the most important thing to you, to me, to every one of us.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

'Look how much I want you as my own' (Divine Mercy Sunday)

The Incredulity of Thomas by Michelangelo Caravaggio

Everything in the readings and prayers of this Mass is about mercy, 
which is a big reason why Pope St. John Paul II 
declared this to be Divine Mercy Sunday.

Above all, this is the Sunday when we hear Jesus 
instituting the sacrament of confession, 
which is the great sacrament of Divine Mercy.

A scholar named John Bergsma, who I’ve referred to before, 
made a couple of points worth sharing. 

First: the psalm we sang refers to God’s mercy enduring forever. 
He explains that as good as mercy is, that word isn’t strong enough. 
The Hebrew word, hesed, “is best translated ‘covenant fidelity’ 
or ‘covenant faithfulness’….” In other words, God sticks with us. 

God won’t turn against us, even though we so often turn against him. 
And the proof of that is the Cross. 
The proof of that is the wounds he so readily shows to the Apostles, 
and even to Thomas, who doubted.

Dr. Bergsma points out something else from the second reading.
Jesus is dressed like the “priests who served in the Temple,” 
who “offered sacrifice on behalf of worshipers, 
so that their sins could be forgiven”; 
and they “were empowered to bless people with the Name of God.”

Think about that when you recall what happens in confession. 
When the priest gives absolution, what does he say? 
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”! 
We are forgiven of sins, in the Name of God!

Last Sunday, Easter Sunday, I said a lot about baptism. 
You and I renewed our baptism. 
And during the Eucharistic Prayer, for this first week of Easter, 
We add the following words; you’ll hear them in a few minutes:

“Accept this oblation…for those to whom you have been pleased 
to give the new birth of water and the Holy Spirit, 
granting them forgiveness of all their sins.”

Let me repeat that: forgiveness of all their sins!

Now, that is what happens in baptism; 
how does that connect to confession?

Baptism is the sacrament of new birth, new life, in Jesus.
Confession is the sacrament of restoring that new birth.

Think of it this way. 
If you’re God, and you know all about human weakness,
You know that human beings are going to stumble, again and again.
So you know that even after baptism, people are going to fail;
So what do you do? Do you really say, “one and done”?

Or do you say, 
I want you to keep coming back to the fountain of mercy?
Do you give a way to get clean again?

Parents know their kids get dirty. 
Are you telling me God doesn’t know this – or doesn’t have a plan for it?

This is a toothbrush. Why am I holding up a toothbrush?

The sacrament of confession is a lot like a toothbrush.
You actually have to use it for it to do you any good.
Parents, don’t tell me you haven’t seen this. 
Your kid takes the toothbrush, 
and kind of waves it in front of his face for a few seconds.
“OK, I’m finished!”

No, you have to get in there and do some work.
Maybe use some floss too. It’s not pleasant, but it gets the crud out.
And that’s the way it works with the sacrament of confession.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s possible to overdo it, 
both with the toothbrush and with this sacrament. 
And that is not what I’m recommending.
I’m sure some people rub their gums raw, 
And I know some people get all knotted up in guilt and anxiety.

St. Thomas Aquinas said it best: “virtue stands in the middle.”
The middle-ground is where we actually go to confession frequently,
And dig in a bit to look for those habits and things we love too much.

I am always struck when movies and TV shows 
depict heaven as pretty much like life on earth;
that we’re pretty much the same people there, as here.
And my response is, are you kidding me?
Spending eternity being just as I am? And everyone else the same?
That’s not heaven – that’s hell!

So as awesome as forgiveness is, 
what’s even more important is conversion. 
The goal is to be different people. To be healed, to be made whole.
The hard part is that this is a lifetime project.
But that is what teaches us true humility.

When Jesus shows his wounds to Thomas, he’s showing them to you. 
He’s saying: Look how much I wanted you as my own!
Remember that, he says, whenever you wonder, if I will forgive you.

See what I was willing to endure because I want you.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

God always gets the last word (Easter homily)

Six weeks ago we began Lent. 
And about an hour ago, we began the story of Creation, and – 
more importantly, the redemption of the human race.
So many stories of what God has done!
Why are these stories, and these words, the ones we recall tonight?

We heard God create a perfect world.
But we know that humanity sinned and defaced that beauty. 
Above all, the beauty and glory of what it means to be human.
And we heard about God’s call to Abraham, 
And his deliverance of slaves from Egypt.

Along the way, we heard about human failing coming back to the fore.
God’s People, brought into freedom, go back into slavery and exile.

But the main thing we heard – and this is what it’s all about – is this:
God gets the last word!

God had the first word: “Let there be light.”
And after all the human words, such as, “I will not obey,” or, 
“It’s too late for me!” God’s last word is:
“He is not here, he is risen from the dead! Alleluia!”

All this past week, I’ve been hearing confessions.
And as you probably know, many times we come to confession, 
and especially if it’s been a long time, 
or we have so much on our conscience, we can find ourselves wondering, 
How can God forgive? How can he love me that much?

The Cross, is his “I love you” written in the precious blood of the Lamb.
The empty tomb is his underlining and exclamation point that says, 
“And I really mean it, and I can do it!”

And in the sacraments – in baptism, in confirmation, 
in the Holy Eucharist, in confession, in the anointing of the sick, 
and in the sacraments that empower our vocation, 
either for marriage or for holy orders, 
God says, “I am with you always, until the end of the age!”

Why are you here? Why are you here?

Well, you might say, I’m here every week. 
Or, you might say, well, it’s Easter, so I thought I’d come. 
Or, my grandmother made me come!

But there is another reason. God is speaking to you.
Sometimes his voice sounds a lot like your grandmother!
God brought you here for a reason, I can only guess at it.
But maybe it is to tell you that your life, as good as it is, is his gift.
And if it’s not so good, it can be better.
But if Christ isn’t part of it, there’s a big hole that nothing can fill.

Last week, as we all know, the great cathedral of Notre Dame 
caught fire, and for several hours, 
it looked as though it would be completely destroyed.

Something amazing happened.
All this happened in France. You may not realize it, 
but France is a militantly secular country, 
and only a few people go to Mass.
And yet the whole country of France held its breath and, 
I bet some of those unbelievers even prayed!

Why? Because it’s an old and beautiful building? 
That’s part of it, but it isn’t the whole story.

I think folks saw something they’d taken for granted, 
because it was always there, 
and then, suddenly, they realized how fragile it was; 
and if they weren’t careful, they could lose it.

And that something isn’t just a church, 
but what inhabits that church: and that is Faith.
The whole world watched and wondered,
And I think a lot of people heard something in their heart:
That was God saying, I’m still here, I’m here for you.
And maybe you heard that in your heart this week, too?

So to return to my main theme: God gets the last word.
Oh, we argue with him; we try to talk over him, 
and we do a lot of things to drown out the voice of conscience.

Yet God keeps speaking, keeps inviting: will you come to me?
Will you let me forgive you? 
Will you receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in your life? 
Will you live a new life, shaped not by the world’s standards, 
but by the word and example and life and power of Jesus Christ?

Will you let me accompany you, day by day?
Will you walk with me, not only the way of the Cross,
But all the way to heaven?

Tonight, a member of our community, 
a second-grade girl named M____, has heard God call her, 
and she is answering his invitation.

Tonight, she will be baptized, she will be confirmed, and she will, 
beginning tonight, share in the Body and Blood of Jesus.

I don’t know if you realize it, but of all the sacraments, 
baptism is the one that Easter is about most of all.
Easter is Jesus’ rising from the dead.
Easter is an empty grave – and when it comes right down to it, 
either that really happened, or it didn’t.

If he didn’t really rise from the dead, then this is all a waste of time.
But if he did – and I’m here to tell you he did! 
And if so, then that’s power, power for you and for me!
That’s what baptism is: claiming that resurrection power!

Here’s something else baptism is.
God is, in a sense, having the first word – 
because in baptism, we are spoken into life by God.
In baptism you and I are born a new person.
Born into God’s Family. Born as citizens of heaven.
Born of the Holy Spirit!

But even in this sacrament of baptism, 
there is a sense in which God gets the last word, too. 
I’ve seen it, in my own life, and I’ve seen it in others.

The grace and power of our baptism is always there, 
and I’ve seen people who, at the end of their lives – 
and maybe they put God on the back burner for a long time – 
yet what happened in them so long before is still with them, 
when God claimed them, changed them, 
and made them his own, and they remember.

That’s not a guarantee. People can turn away forever, and they do.
Nevertheless, there is a power in baptism, 
because God is speaking, and God is acting.

So, in a moment, M____ will be baptized and confirmed.
She’s heard God speak and she wants what God has for her!

Then, a moment after that, you and I have the opportunity 
to follow her good example, and claim again what is already ours.
We’ll renew our own baptism. You and I will remember who we are.
Who spoke to us once, and again, and is speaking to us now.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Christian Passover (Holy Thursday homily)

It’s important to peel back the centuries of our own tradition 
to reveal what lies at the root of what we do tonight.

The first reading describes the Passover, 
celebrated by the Jewish People. 
It speaks of the “the fourteenth day of the month” – 
that is, fourteen days after a new moon, which means, a full moon. 
Did you see what is overhead? A full moon.

The lamb was one year old and “without blemish”; 
and notice, the lamb was obtained several days before, 
and lived with the family until the day of sacrifice? 
Why is this important? 
Because it symbolized the lamb being part of the household. 

Then, with the whole assembly present, the lamb was slaughtered. 
Elsewhere in Scripture, it makes clear, not a bone is to be broken.

The blood of the lamb is then spread over the doorposts, 
to symbolize protection from divine judgment. 
Scripture scholar Brant Pitre – 
whose work I am drawing on for these details – 
points out that when the blood was spread on the doorposts, 
it would stain the wood, providing a permanent sign.

And then, finally, the flesh of the lamb was eaten. 
This completed the sacrifice.

At the same meal, there were “bitter herbs” recalling slavery in Egypt, 
and unleavened bread and wine.

On Sunday, we recalled how Jesus entered Jerusalem, 
along with probably a million other faithful to keep the Passover. 
The ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, 
says there may have been as many as two million. 
With such numbers, that means quite a lot of lambs were sacrificed: 
perhaps two hundred thousand or more. 

History records that 
all the thousands of priests of Israel were present, 
and they had a well-practiced system of doing this. 
Without being too graphic, just stop and realize: 
there would have been a lot of blood. 
It would have been powerfully present.

Now, I want to compare all that with what happened 
when Jesus gathered with his apostles. 
In all that Jesus said and did at the supper, 
he never mentions the lamb. 
Instead, he takes the bread, and says, 
“this is my body, given up for you.” 

If you were listening closely to the Passion of Luke on Sunday, 
you heard mention of Jesus taking a cup of wine not once, but twice. 
In fact, in the Passover meal, there were four cups of wine shared.

The first cup that was prepared: I say, “prepared,” 
because it was mixed with water. Does that ring a bell? 
Watch what I do at the altar in a few minutes. 
This was called the “cup of sanctification,” 
and the father began the meal with a prayer, over this cup, 
and the food is brought to the table.

The second was the cup of “proclamation” – it was prepared, 
but not drunk right away; because then the account 
of what God did for his people in Egypt, in the exodus, was recounted, 
and the father would explain the meaning of what they did. 
And isn’t that what I’m doing now?

After this, the meal would be eaten. 
And then when the meal was finished, the father would share the “cup of blessing.” 
Then those present would sing several psalms, 
and then the Passover was concluded with the fourth cup, 
called the “cup of praise,” and it completed the sacrificial meal.

If you noticed what Paul just told us, 
Jesus took the cup “after supper” – 
meaning, this was the third cup. 
Which raises a question that scholars wrestle with:  
what about the fourth and final cup?

Well, if you are here tomorrow, Good Friday, 
you will hear these words in the Passion we will all read together:

After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine.
So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.
When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.”
And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

I want you to notice that tonight, we will not finish this Mass. 
There will be no final blessing. 
We will go on a procession – recalling Jesus and the Apostles leaving the Upper Room, 
and going to the Garden of Gethsemane. 
In turns, we will keep watch with the Lord all night. 
Tomorrow, we will recall how the Lamb of God was slain.

Oh, I meant to give you one more detail. 
In Jesus’ time, when the lamb was prepared for the meal, 
in order to roast it, do you know how they did it? 
They took two skewers, made of wood. 
One was speared through the torso, from head to tail. 
The other was speared through both shoulders. A cross.

Tomorrow we will worship the Cross on which our Savior, 
our Lamb of God, was slain. This is our Passover. It begins tonight. 

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Silence before the Son of God on the Cross (Palm Sunday homily)

Every year on Palm Sunday, part of me – and maybe you, too – 
has so much to say in response. 
But another part of me says: What is there to say?
There is only silence before the Son of God on the Cross.

on the other hand, when we behold the Son of God on the Cross,
it seems the only response can be silence.

But real, true, extended silence? That is hard to do, 
with family and work and sports and farms and businesses to tend to.

All I can do is to challenge you to TRY.
Kids? Spouses? Parents? Maybe you can help.
This might be a good time to say, “I’ll leave them alone this week.”
Let’s give each other the gift of silence this week.

Maybe your Lent has been good, or maybe it hasn’t been so good.

But every day, every breath, is another opportunity.
This Holy Week is such a gift.
We will have confessions 
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday – 
see the bulletin for the times.

I invite you to be part of Holy Thursday, 
Good Friday and Holy Saturday evening – 
This is the heart of the heart of our Faith.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Instead of call-out culture, how about confession? (Sunday homily)

Have you ever heard of the “call out culture”?
This is something happening more and more today.

It is when you do something someone else is offended by,
so that other person goes on Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, 
or some other website, and “calls you out.”

Here’s an example. Just the other day, a young guy down in Mississippi 
went out hunting for wild turkey. He bagged an unusual white one.
The local newspaper did a story.

Somehow, Keith Olbermann, 
who you may know from MSNBC and ESPN, 
saw the story, and thought this was terrible. 
So then he posted something on Twitter saying this guy was horrible,
Gave the man’s name, and said, I quote,  
“make sure the rest of his life is a living hell.”

That’s “calling someone out.”
Guess what happened next? 
Lots of other people thought that was terrible, 
so then more people started denouncing and “calling out” Olbermann.
That’s what the Pharisees were doing, and it’s the same mindset.
No mercy, no forgiveness – the offender must be driven out.
And if Jesus doesn’t agree with them, he’ll get the same treatment.
And by the way, Mr. Olbermann did apologize, to his credit.

Here’s the missing piece, which Jesus supplies:
Repentance. Conversion. Redemption.

Sometimes people will try to twist this story 
into saying that Jesus didn’t care about the sin; 
that that was the Pharisees’ preoccupation.

On the contrary: Jesus cares very much about sin. 
He knows full well how destructive sin is.
The key difference between Jesus and the Pharisees 
is that they disagree on the remedy.

Jesus’ remedy is conversion.
“Repent,” he said, “for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
“The Spirit of the Lord has anointed me,” 
he announced in his home town,
“to proclaim liberty” and a “year acceptable to the Lord.”

“Conversion.” Turning around; reorienting our life.
It’s not a surface thing – it goes to the core.

Notice in the first reading: God is not interested in looking back 
at the failures of his people.
In previous chapters of Isaiah, God hit them hard, 
telling them all the ways they had gone wrong. 
But not to destroy them, 
but to wake them up and get them on the right road.

To those people, he said, 
Look at the way I’m creating for you!
Look at the rivers of water I’m giving you!
And to the woman in the Gospel he said: 
Go free of condemnation; go and sin no more.
I’m going to keep inviting you to come to confession.
I need it; I wanted to go this past week, but I didn’t get there.
Pray for me that I can get there this coming week,
While I keep praying for you to seek out this grace as well.

If you look in the bulletin, you’ll see:
Wednesday evening from 5:45 pm to 6:10.
Thursday, 3 to 4 pm and again from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm.
Saturday from 9 to 10 am and 3:30 to 4:45 pm.

Nearby parishes have lots of times, too, 
and some have penance services.

Here at St. Remy, during Holy Week, we will have confessions 
on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 
and you are welcome; but be warned, 
it may be like Wal-Mart the day before Christmas!
Maybe don’t wait till the last minute.

If you are thinking, Gosh, it’s been so long, I’ve forgotten how!
First of all, the priest will help you.

Second, the main thing is to examine yourself.
In the pews, in the blue binders that look like this,
In the back of the binder, is a booklet that looks like this.
Look in the back, you’ll see everything you need.
Especially look at the examination of conscience.
It’s all laid out there in plain language.

Maybe you’re thinking, it’s just too awkward, I’m too embarrassed.
Let me tell you about the best confession I ever made in my life.
It was Lent of 1991. Ten years before I had left the Catholic Church. 
That’s a long story I’ll save for another time.

But for ten years I was wrestling with what I believed, 
And inch by inch, God brought me back, closer and closer,
Till one day, I was driving past a Catholic Church, 
and I remember hearing a voice speak in my heart, and it was Jesus, and he asked:
“What holds you back?”

All those years, I’d had a mental “list” of questions and issues.
But in that instant, I answered the Lord, “Nothing.”

About two days later, I walked into that Catholic Church,
I got in line like everyone else, and I began my confession,
“Bless me father, for I have sinned. 
It has been ten years since my last confession.” 

I told the priest I’d left the Church, been baptized in another church, 
rejected teachings of the Church; and that I’d missed Mass.
I recounted my sins against each of the Ten Commandments 
just as I’d been taught long before.

You know how long it took? Probably five minutes or so.
Then I said,“for these and all my sins which I cannot remember, 
I ask pardon of God and penance of you Father.”

Let me tell you, if I as a priest heard a confession like that, 
I think I’d probably cry with joy! 

That priest who heard my confession – whose name I do not know –
Spoke a few words, which I cannot recall.
But he gave me absolution!
And the next Sunday, 
I received the Holy Eucharist for the first time in ten years.
Yes, it really is just that easy.

(Here I made the point that what was really important was that I kept going to confession. Once every ten years wasn't my point! And I said that, had I not kept going to confession, month after month, I would not be a priest, and probably wouldn't be a Catholic today. I talked about the pill I take every day -- I may not feel any different, but it helps, and it wouldn't work if I didn't take it regularly.)

God forgets what lies behind; he urges us to strain forward
for the prize, which is Jesus Christ himself!

What holds you back?

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Confession: get up and go! There's the Father (Sunday homily)

If you have ever wondered what God is like – 
what our Father in heaven is really like – 
this parable is where you must begin and end. 

Jesus is showing us, in a powerful and moving way –
Who God the Father really is.

I will do what I can with this passage, but not well enough.
Please, whenever you can, re-read this passage in Luke Chapter 15.
Again: Luke, Chapter 15. Read it and reflect on it. 
It will speak powerfully to you, if only you give it time.

Which of these two children do you want to be?
Would you like to seek high adventure on the road? 
Or stay close to home?

Would you enjoy spending money freely? Or working hard every day?
Do you want to end up with nothing? Feeding pigs and envying them?
Or would you rather be the brother 
who thinks he never did anything wrong?
Who can’t think of anything his Father ever gave him?

Do you want to see the Father run toward you, overjoyed to see you?
Wrap his arms around you – crying for so long to mourn over you, 
but now, with bursting joy to have you back again?

Well…are you prepared to open your heart and abase yourself,
Confessing openly your sins? 

Or do you find yourself unable to think of a reason to go to confession?
You see, every one of us is, at one time or another, either son.
Have you ever wandered away from God?
Or, do you see yourself as the good person, who doesn’t do that?
You are one of these children – or both.

As I’ve said before, as Deacon Meyer said last week, 
Lent is all about conversion. 
If you aren’t thinking about, praying about, 
working toward your own conversion, 
you are missing entirely what Lent is.

Of course, maybe you need no conversion? Then Lent makes no sense.
The Mass and the sacraments make no sense.
Our Catholic Faith makes no sense; because it is for sinners; 
for people who stumble and fail and get frustrated because they do.

We’re halfway to Good Friday and the Cross, 
to Resurrection and the empty tomb.
If you’ve stumbled during the first half of Lent, don’t give up, get up!
Don’t be ashamed to struggle – our Father is not ashamed of you!

And in case I wasn’t obvious enough:
If you want to experience the Father Jesus shows us in the Gospel, 
COME TO CONFESSION!

None of the reasons not to go make any sense. Not one of them.

It must have felt awful for that younger son, day by day, 
realizing how foolish he’d been, 
how rotten he’d been toward his Father; 
and as his life spiraled down, each day was a fresh opportunity 
to reproach himself and rehash all his mistakes.

But as bad as that was, there is worse:
You are safe at home, and when you think about your lost brother,
all you do is dwell on how he wronged you, and your Father.
Rehearsing that, day by day. Stoking resentment and anger.

Both sons went wrong. But only one goes to confession 
and experiences God’s endless, unbelievable, tidal wave of love and forgiveness.

And I want to pause here and make one point in bold, CAPITAL LETTERS
WITH UNDERLINING AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!

When you and I confess our sins to God, and he forgives,
They are gone. Gone, gone, gone-issimus gone;
Gone to the maximum gone-ness;
Goniest, goney-gone gone!

Get that? Where are those sins? What happened to them?
God forgave them and they are GONE!

No, people don’t do that for you. But God does. That’s Good News!

In the first reading, Joshua and the rest of God’s People 
crossed the Jordan and left behind, forever, 
the reproach of slavery in Egypt.
They entered into a new land and a new life.
That is us, led by Jesus. 
And if passing through the Red Sea was a symbol of baptism, 
What might it mean that they later passed through the Jordan?
Maybe that’s the forgiveness of the sacrament of confession.

So again, Lent is your time and mine to make a similar journey.
And if you feel like you’re going in circles? “I’ve been here before!”
God’s People said in the desert, a lot!
Our job isn’t really to know the way; 
and even if we doubt we can make it, that’s not the worst thing. 

Actually, the only thing you and I have to do is let Jesus lead us.
And when the Holy Spirit says – as he said to the younger son – 
“it’s time to get up and go!” That’s what we do.
Look! There’s the Father, waiting.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

'The Scandal' and the Cross (Sunday homily)

There was a news item last week concerning an opinion survey.
It found that a shocking number of Catholics 
have considered giving up their Catholic Faith, 
in light of reports about scandalous behavior 
by priests and neglect and coverups by bishops.

I have several reactions to this.
Part of me is shocked that so many people 
would consider leaving their Catholic Faith behind.
For those who rarely come to Mass rarely, it was almost half.
For people who attend Mass weekly, it was over 20%.
That’s a lot of people. That’s both shocking and discouraging.

At the same time, there actually is something positive in this.
People are paying attention. 
They are thinking about how this affects them. That is good!

This is not Pope Francis’ Church, or Archbishop Schnurr’s Church,
Or mine. The Catholic Faith belongs to ALL of us.
So while I understand the anger and the questioning – I’m angry too! – 
the answer is not to walk away, but to fight!

Let me connect this to the readings a little; 
and as a bonus, I can explain that first reading, 
which is pretty obscure.

No doubt you’re wondering what is up 
with the “smoking fire pot and a flaming torch,”
which passed between cut-up animal carcasses!

Oh, and just to lighten things a little.
You may remember that at one time, 
this used to be translated, a “smoking brazier” – 
which sometimes readers didn’t pronounce correctly, 
and so it ended up sounding like an article of clothing, 
and isn’t that a dramatic image!?

So, anyway, dead animals and a flaming torch – what’s up with that?
The ritual was that you cut up the animals, 
and then, by walking between them,
it means, “may this happen to me if I break my word.”

The flaming torch? That stands for God.
In other words, God the Almighty was pledging himself to Abraham, 
may I die rather than break my word!

Abraham must have wondered, how can God pay with his life?
But of course, you and I know the answer to that!
We know Jesus, who is God-become-man, who paid with his life!

That’s what’s going on behind the Gospel reading.
Just before he gives his Apostles this vision,
He had told them: they are on the way to Jerusalem, to the Cross.
That’s the “exodus” that he discusses with Moses and Elijah.

And that Exodus – that Passover – is what the Eucharist is all about.
Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, and we eat his body and blood.
And notice: God went beyond his word:
Because he kept his promise to Abraham; and still he died on the Cross!

This sacrifice of the Cross – this is what the Holy Mass is.
This is what we are privileged to share in each time we’re here.

So here’s the thing about these discouraging news items.
First, no matter what else you and I feel about all this,
The fact remains that this Faith, our Faith, is all about Jesus.
He came, he gave his life for us, 
and he shares his Body and Blood with us.
God help me, God help me, but I can never leave that!

A second point. A parishioner said to me last week: 
maybe this is what a purification looks like?

As awful as it is to see all filth aired out, it is needed.
And the upside is that this helps keep the pressure on
the pope and the bishops. 

I do not say that with any disrespect.
Archbishop Schnurr has said he wants to be held accountable, 
and he wants other bishops held accountable.
The more he hears from you? That helps him.

The Holy Father, I think, is surrounded by people who tell him, 
this is just a few loud voices in the U.S.
The more you and I speak up, that will help the pope be strong.

What else do we do? This is the hardest work:
To help purify the Church, each of us must ourselves grow in holiness.
You might say, but it’s the bishops, the priests, 
who need to be holier! And you are absolutely right. 
But let me tell you, when a lazy priest or a business-as-usual bishop 
spends time with the faithful who are fired up?
Something has to give. 

One of the benefits for me being here is that you challenge me.
Lots of parish priests have a half-hour, or an hour of confessions.
When I arrived here, his parish had over five hours a week,
and you wanted even more! 

For me, sitting in the confessional challenges me 
to reflect on my own sins, and it keeps me going to confession.
I thank you for that.

So, you and I, like Jesus and the Apostles in the Gospel, 
are drawing near Jerusalem. We are headed toward the Cross.
What we do in solemn ritual during Lent 
is what each of us lives with every single day. 
That’s why we do it here, so our lives make sense.

Every generation of Christians, in every culture, 
lives in the shadow of that Cross. 
For so many, it has been persecution.
For you and me, it is this excruciating purification.

Keep praying that God purifies his Church. His bishops and priests.
And remember what this Mass is.
Remember that when we take the Body and Blood of Jesus to our lips, 
that is God keeping his solemn pledge to us.