Sunday, May 24, 2015

Light or darkness, Babylon or Christ? (Pentecost homily)

The readings for Pentecost are different for the Vigil and the Day. 
I don’t expect many of you to do this, but—
ideally we would come to Mass both on the vigil, and on the day. 
I know that’s a lot to ask, but: Pentecost really is that important!

So at the vigil, we hear from Genesis about how early in human history, 
people tried to make a name for themselves 
by building the city of Babel. 
They aren’t interested in God; they don’t seek God’s help.

This is the same city later called Babylon – 
which becomes, in Scripture, 
a symbol of all in the world that demands our loyalty other than God. 
You will remember how King Nebuchadnezzar built a golden statue, 
and the three Hebrew boys, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, refused to worship it, 
and they were thrown into the fiery furnace. 
Babylon always opposes God directly. 
Babylon lives on in our culture and government.

On the day of Pentecost, we hear about 
how the Apostles and the other first Christians, 
including the Mother of Jesus, are gathered in Jerusalem, 
praying for the Holy Spirit. 
So while God frustrates the designs of the city 
that worships itself: Babylon; 
the Father pours out the Holy Spirit 
on the gathering of people who trust in Jesus Christ.

In one sense, Pentecost is a conclusion. 
It’s the completion of what Jesus came to do: 
to bring us from darkness to light, from sin to hope.

But in another sense, it’s not a conclusion but a beginning: 
the beginning of the new creation.

While the color at Mass today is red—
standing for the fire of the Holy Spirit—
there’s a reason why it’ll be green after today. 
Green is the color of things that grow—
like our grass outside, at long last! 

When the universe began, long ago, 
scientists describe that event as “the Big Bang”—
a sudden, intense burst of energy that set everything in motion; 
and billions of years later, 
the force of that is still propelling the galaxies further outward. 
We know, of course, that that “Big Bang” 
was God saying, “Let there be light.” 

Pentecost is the new Creation: 
heavenly power bursting forth upon the first 120 Christians, 
led by Peter—and they all went out in different directions, 
sharing Jesus with the world. 
And that outward movement continues, 1,985 years later.

God’s People faced Babylon long ago; 
Peter and the Church faced Rome, and we face our own Babylon. 
So it will always be 
until Christ completes the New Creation at the end of time.

Now, one of the things that I have noticed about Saint Remy Parish 
is that people know their Faith. 
That doesn’t just happen; 
it’s something that the priests before me, and many of you, 
helping to teach and share, have made happen. 
It’s a strong refuge in stormy times.

But, the truth is that what wins people 
isn’t just knowing the Faith, but living it. 
Faith, hope and love, these three remain—
but the greatest of these is love. 
We need to know our Faith, to be sure; 
but what wins people is when they are convinced we practice it. 
When they see we make sacrifices to live holy lives, 
that we really put God first, and that we really believe in forgiveness—
not just in getting it for ourselves, but even more in giving it to others.

Present-day Babylon tells people 
that Christianity is nothing but rules and empty rituals. 
We tell each other stories to make ourselves feel better. 
We light candles because we’re afraid of the dark. 
But we don’t really have anything to offer. 
Babylon says, worship sex, worship power, worship beauty, 
worship the money you can make, worship yourself—
because that’s all there is.

What Babylon doesn’t say is that man without God really is empty; 
and what begins as the exaltation of man 
ends with concentration camps and piles of bones.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he told the Apostles, 
stay in Jerusalem and pray for the Gift of the Holy Spirit. 
He knew that the task he gave them 
wasn’t going to get done with a pep talk or a few clever phrases. 
They would need the Big Bang of the Holy Spirit filling their lives, 
and driving them outward.

In that regard, nothing’s changed. 
We wonder why we face difficult times; 
people wonder, where did the insanity of our times come from? 
But it’s always been there. 
Jesus knew the power of the spirit of the world. 
That’s why he said, pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

Now, I want to call attention to something I know you’ve noticed: this candle. 
It was so tall when we first lit it at Easter! 
No doubt some of you wonder if someone let it burn all night. 
Why does that crazy Father Fox let it burn down like that? 
It’s not very pretty anymore. You’re right—it’s not.

A candle has but one purpose: it burns to give light. 
The Easter Candle stands for the Light of Christ. 
I wanted to keep it burning during Easter 
not only to remind us both where our light—our power—comes from, 
but also as a reminder of why Jesus came into the world: 
to be spent—used up—for the salvation of souls.

God doesn’t light us with the fire of the Holy Spirit 
so we can quickly put it out, 
and save ourselves for later. 
We’re only going to get so many years in this life. 
When our time ends, will we want to say to Jesus: 
look, I didn't burn my candle, I kept it pretty, I saved it?

I said a moment ago that those who mock us 
claim we’re afraid of the dark. 
In one sense they’re right: there is darkness in the world, 
and it’s growing, and it is something to fear. 
But you and I have the light of Jesus Christ, and we fear nothing!

Light that candle, keep it burning! Burn with the fire of God! 
This is what the Church of God is. This is what you are, O Christian! 
Lift up that light! Lift it up! Let it shine!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dinner for family

It's funny that a commenter asked, in another thread, for a cooking post -- because it so happens I have company coming tonight, and was planning a post about that.

My sister and her husband are coming over. The plan is pot roast, plus salad, plus some hot rolls (if I don't forget to throw them in the oven). I don't really have any hors d'oeuvres planned, but I have some cheese, crackers, chips and pretzels, and some celery hearts, so that'll do, don't you think?

For dessert? Strawberry shortcake, all home-made.

So, first I prepared the strawberries. All I did was wash them, cut off the green parts, and halve them. Then I add some sugar and a little red wine, and let them sit.

Next, I dredged the roast -- about six pounds -- in a good amount of flour mixed with garlic and pepper, and brown it in butter and olive oil. Meanwhile, I cut up carrots, celery, onions and potatoes, which went in the bottom of the baking pan. On top goes the browned roast. Over all that goes some vegetable stock (no salt for my brother-in-law) and some dry vermouth.

All that gets covered in foil, and into a 300-degree oven. I started it early because the roast wasn't quite thawed, and I set the oven a bit lower than the 325 degrees called for. Do you think that'll work?

After doing the dishes -- always clean up as you go! -- I set the table:

Everything will just cook away all afternoon, while I take care of other business. The shortcakes are easy to make and don't take long to cook, so I'll do that when my guests are here, so they'll be very fresh.

Update, 5/21/15...

Sorry for no followup photos, but I thought it would be bad form to make my sister and brother-in-law wait while I snapped pictures of their dinner!

The roast was pretty good, but a little dry to my taste. I probably left it in too long; next time, I'll use the meat thermometer. The gravy was fantastic! I forgot the salad; and you can't really go wrong with strawberry shortcake.

We had a nice visit. My brother-in-law had never tried Tuaca, an Italian digestivo, but he liked it. And my sister and brother-in-law helped with the dishes, which sure was nice of them!

It was a huge roast -- about 6 pounds -- so I have plenty of leftovers. Hmmm...

The Protohomosexual

This Crisis Magazine article is provocative and profound, about the ideological terms, "heterosexual" and "homosexual," in relation to what true sexuality is.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Big Dig' update...

It's not a "dig" anymore! See for yourself:

Sorry about the finger in the first shot...

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Prepare for the coming persecution (Sunday homily)

This is going to be somber homily. I hesitated in giving this homily; 
but I am convinced it needs to be said, 
and that the time to give this warning is running short.

I’ve been thinking about something 
a lot of us have been thinking about: 
the growing gulf between our Faith, and our society.
And it raises a question: are we facing a time of persecution?

I realize how strong a word that is. 
What is happening in Iraq and Syria and many places in Africa, and elsewhere: that’s persecution. 
Having your church burned down, and being ordered to convert, 
or you will die—that’s persecution.
I’m not talking about that.

But something is coming in our country; it’s already begun.
Something very different from what we’re used to. 
Let’s call it a climate of hostility, 
as opposed to acceptance, which is what we’ve known.

But what’s coming is more than just hostility. 
What’s beginning to happen is coercion. 
And it’s going to get worse, very soon.

Let’s review:

First, we have, for the first time ever, 
our federal government bringing all its power to bear 
to force Catholic institutions to embrace 
that which is morally impossible: 
to promote and provide contraception, sterilization 
and abortion-inducing drugs as part of health insurance. 
Think about that: who would have thought 
that our government would seek to destroy the Little Sisters of the Poor—
and if the sisters lose, 
they won’t be able to operate any longer in this country.
A host of Catholic dioceses, colleges and religious communities 
like the Little Sisters of the Poor 
are locked in a legal battle with the government.

Second, our government, hand-in-hand with big media, 
the entertainment industry, political groups, large corporations – 
in other words, pretty much the entire culture – 
is all united in pushing a new morality about same-sex behavior. 

The catalyst has been the fight over redefining marriage; 
and we all wait to see what the nation’s highest court will rule. 
Isn’t it interesting that almost everyone seems to think 
the Supreme Court will force a new definition of marriage 
on the whole country?

Let’s be very clear: this is far bigger than just marriage. 
As I said, it’s a new morality. 
The military has been forced to accept it. 
The Boy Scouts have been forced to adopt it. 
The organizers of the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in New York—
a Catholic, religious event—were forced to yield. 
And, by the way, legally, 
that parade is no different from our Corpus Christi procession 
in the streets of Russia.

There are a number of business people—
photographers, bakers, florists and others—
who are being sued, accused of crimes, fined, 
and threatened with the loss of their businesses, 
and with financial ruin—
if they don’t give their own, personal approval to this new morality.

And a few weeks ago, when the U.S. Supreme Court 
was hearing arguments over the question of redefining marriage, 
Justice Alito asked this question: 
“In the Bob Jones case, the Court held 
that a college was not entitled to tax exempt status 
if it opposed inter-racial marriage or inter-racial dating. 
So would the same apply to a university or a college
if it opposed same¬-sex marriage?”

Listen closely to how the  government’s top lawyer responded: 
“It’s certainly going to be an issue. I don't deny that. I don't deny that, Justice Alito.  
It is going to be an issue.”

Understand what that means: 
religious organizations that don’t endorse same-sex marriage 
will lose tax-exempt status.

But here’s the thing. People think this will fall hardest on clergy.
That this will be about whether I’ll be forced to officiate at a wedding 
between two men or two women. 
That’s not the main thing to worry about, 
because if I refuse—and I assure you, I will—
the worst the government is likely to do to me 
is to take away my license to perform marriages. 
Which means, I can still celebrate weddings, 
but they won’t count as legal marriages. 
Couples would have to get legally married somewhere else. 
That won’t be a problem for me—but for the couples. 

Now, if our parish no longer had a tax exemption, it would cost us; 
but I think we could manage. 
Those who donate to the parish would lose a tax-deduction, 
but a lot of us don’t even use that tax-deduction, 
so that won’t hurt as bad as you may think.

No, do you know who is going to be hit the hardest? 
You will. You’re the target

When political figures, business owners, 
TV shows and advertising and the rest of the culture 
start calling people who embrace Catholic teaching 
“bigots” and “haters,” that’s aimed at you. 
That’s about making you ashamed to say what you believe, 
to question your beliefs, and ultimately renounce them.

That’s not something any of us have had to endure. 
And I really think this is going to be a brutal shock for a lot of folks.
It’s going to be a rough, rough experience.
The effects and the consequences 
are going to be far worse than anyone realizes. 

It’s like this: you and I, for being faithful Catholics, 
upholding the truth that marriage and family are man-and-woman, 
will be put in the same category as the KKK.
Let that sink in.

And if I’m correct, here are some things 
that we need to brace ourselves for:

There will be a sudden and shocking wave of hostility unleashed.
Remember, this isn’t just a human conflict; this is a spiritual conflict. 
And the real enemy is the devil, 
whose malice we cannot begin to imagine. 
And there are people who harbor contempt for the Catholic Faith, 
but haven’t felt free to let it loose. Soon, they will.
Do you think the media is unfair now? Expect ten times worse.
Does the media worry about being fair to the KKK?

That scrutiny will find rottenness. We’re not perfect.
If there is a bad apple, our enemies will find it; 
and it will be on TV seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Lots of people won’t be able to take it. 
Look: when we talk about sharing our faith in a friendly context, 
most of us squirm—we’re not comfortable. 
Lots of people will admit they are embarrassed 
to make the sign of the cross in public. 
That’s without any manifest hostility. 

So don’t be surprised when you see people just fall away.

When Islam conquered the Holy Land in the 7th and 8th centuries, 
most people were Christian, but now those in power were not. 
As a result, if you wanted to advance, to do better in business, 
to make something of yourself, it paid to become Muslim. 
And that’s exactly what happened. 
Lots of people just converted—
not because they were threatened with death, 
although that happened—
but simply because they saw greater advantage that way.

So don’t be surprised when people cave in, 
because it means saving their jobs, their businesses, or getting ahead. 

In fact, don’t be surprised by anything you see or hear. 
Prominent Catholics will give in. Priests and bishops will give in. 
When King Henry VIII declared himself head of the Church 
in England—instead of the successor to St. Peter—
only Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher stood up to him. 
Most of the clergy went right along.

Now, I’ve painted it pretty dark. But nothing is set in stone. 
The future can be changed, particularly by our prayers and sacrifices, and by conversions.

But even if it is as bad as I’ve forecast, it won’t all be bad news. 
Let me talk about some of the wonderful things that will happen.

There will be conversions. People will see what is happening, 
and rally to the cause of Jesus Christ.

Those who resist will grow in their faith. 
When you swim against the tide, 
your muscles and endurance grow very strong.

While the Church may become smaller, and certainly poorer, 
she will also grow in holiness, in beauty, and union with Christ.

Many of you have experienced what I’m going to describe.
When you are in trouble, your back is against the wall, 
and you feel very alone—
that’s when you experience the presence of Christ in a wonderful way. 
There is a fusing of heart-to-heart, ours to his. 
And that is a tremendous power and consolation—
knowing Jesus and I are ONE!—there is nothing to match that.

When our Lord spoke about giving us the power of the Holy Spirit, 
that’s what he was talking about. 
And remember—all the words in the readings we heard today, 
were addressed to Christians facing persecution. 
This power is what enables the martyrs to be strong. 
And we saw it, a few months ago, 
when a group of men were lined up on a beach in Libya, and told: 
deny Jesus or you will die. 
And one by one, they proclaimed their faith in Jesus, 
even after they saw the man next to them die. 
That is a power and a peace the world cannot give!

The Church has been persecuted before; in fact, 
that’s pretty much the normal state of the Church. 
The peace and quiet we’ve known is the exception.

Don’t miss the meaning of the Ascension. 
Our task here is to make him known; not to make this world our home. 
Our destination isn’t this world, 
but to follow Jesus Christ into the New Creation.

Jesus did not leave us. Just as he did not leave the Father, 
when he came among us as man, 
so he is not abandoning us as he returns to his throne.

Jesus is here—above all, in the midst of a suffering, crucified Church. 
Jesus’ victory was on the Cross!
So it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The wrong and right ways to welcome others (Sunday homily)

If we ponder the passages of Scripture we just heard, 
one theme that might stand out – 
it did for me, and I suspect it might for others – 
is one of inclusion: welcoming others into the Family of God. 

Notice how, in the first reading, 
God creates a situation in which not only Peter, but those with him, 
are forced to say, yes God wants to share the Holy Spirit 
with everyone, even those outsiders we call Gentiles.

It’s hard to appreciate how shocking this would have been. 
To Jews in that time, Gentiles were not only foreigners; 
they were “unclean,” unholy. But most of all, they were a threat. 

When Peter and his companions visited the house of Cornelius, 
their whole mindset was shaped by a powerful fact: 
for almost their entire history, 
the Jewish people had always been in mortal peril. 
They experienced only brief respites of peace in their land. 
Otherwise, it was one Gentile nation after another 
that came to conquer and scatter. 

We hear something just as shocking in the Gospel: 
the Lord Jesus says to the Apostles, “you are my friends.” 
This is shocking when we realize 
it is not just a mere man who says this, 
but the Lord God, the Creator, who says this.

A politician will get up and say, “dear friends,” 
but that’s because he wants something! 
But God is not a politician; he needs nothing from us. 
God doesn’t use language in the empty way we often do. 

So when Jesus calls them friends, that’s a powerful statement. 
As I said a moment ago, 
we could call it a statement of welcome or inclusion—
and that’s true—but it’s far more than that.

When we talk about how the Church should welcome or include people, 
here’s where that usually ends up: 
as an argument for the Church not teaching something we teach 
that’s either unpopular, or hard to live up to. 
Almost every day, it seems, 
someone is saying we should change our teaching on marriage, 
or on protecting the unborn, or contraception, and so on and so forth.

Here’s the thing: when people tried this with Jesus, 
he never went for it. 
When Jesus taught about the Eucharist, 
some of his own followers didn’t like it. 
He didn’t back down; and they left. 

People came to him with a question about divorce, 
and his answer was tougher than what any of the rabbis taught. 
They cited Moses, and Jesus actually overruled Moses! 
Moses, he explained, made a concession 
“because of the hardness of your hearts.” 

Of course, people cite how readily Jesus forgave, and it’s true. 
And he commands us to do the exact same thing.
Folks remember him teaching generosity, 
and they remember him eating at the houses of sinners. 
All true. And we are called to do the exact same thing. 

But when it came to what is true and what is good, 
Jesus never budged an inch. 
Notice what we just heard Jesus say: 
“you are my friends if you do what I command you.” 
How could it be otherwise? 

To be friends with someone is to have some things in common; 
and the closer a friendship, the more we have in common. 
The friendship Jesus offers 
isn’t a “hey, howyadoin?” wave of the hand; 
but mind-to-mind, heart-to-heart. 

That’s what the Holy Spirit coming upon Cornelius and his family meant: 
Despite any barriers of language, culture, history or prejudice, 
Jews and Gentiles were now one heart and one mind, in Jesus Christ.

So it’s not the truth that gets set aside for the sake of welcome; 
but those other barriers that get in the way of the truth. 

And that challenge remains for us.

One of the things I’ve talked about, and I will continue to emphasize, 
is that each of us has a task: 
to share Jesus Christ with everyone around us. 
That is the reason this parish is here. 
That was what Jesus told his disciples 
right before he returned to heaven. 
Until this world becomes heaven, that task remains, 
and none of us is exempt. Not a single one of us.

So if we’re Peter, or one of his companions, 
what are the barriers that may get in our way?

We all know that a growing number of Catholics in this country 
are Spanish-speaking – obviously, because of immigration. 
Now, a lot of us aren’t happy 
with how the government is handling that issue; 
and in another setting, 
we can debate what sort of immigration policy we ought to have. 
But meanwhile, we have people God calls friends who are here,
and they need the sacraments; they need Christ.

So, our seminarians are learning Spanish. 
In Sidney, and some of the other parishes, 
Mass in Spanish is being offered. 
My Spanish isn’t great, but I work at it.

Now, a few years ago, I stood up in another pulpit, 
in another parish, and said, 
maybe we ought to think about using some Spanish at Mass, 
in the prayers and hymns, in order to put out the welcome mat. 
I said similar things in a parish meeting. 

The most discouraging response wasn’t the hostility, 
of which there was some. 
No, the worst was the indifference! 
I don’t know how we call ourselves friends of Jesus 
if we are indifferent in matters 
when we know Jesus is anything but indifferent!

Now, in our parish, it’s not a question of Spanish vs. English. 
But that day may come. Will we be willing to change, for Christ’s sake?
Meanwhile, we search our hearts and ask: 
what are the barriers 
that keep us from being effective witnesses to our Faith?

We might think, oh, I’m not smart enough. 
But sharing our Faith doesn’t mean we have to be scholars or experts. 
We really only need to do one thing: 
tell our own story of why we put our faith in Jesus Christ. That’s it.
What does Jesus mean—to me? How has he changed my life? 
Why am I willing to give up anything, even my life, 
if that’s what it takes to keep my friendship with Jesus Christ?

And if we’ve never asked ourselves those questions, then start there. 
In fact, we might even just start with an even more basic question: 
what does it mean to say, Jesus is…my friend? 
Do I have a friendship with Jesus Christ? 

I realize that may feel strange: Jesus is my Lord! 
Yes, but I’ll say it again: 
Jesus never said anything he didn’t mean. 
So when he calls us “friends,” he means it. 

So, there’s your “homework”: find that friendship. Deepen it. 
And then there’s no wondering 
about what you or I have to share with others about our Faith. 

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Russia's Big Dig, update...

I was out taking a walk this evening, and visiting some of our families along the way; and so I stopped by the Nine Mile Creek project, aka "the Big Dig."

Here's the latest. Looking upstream (roughly northwest):

And downstream:

One of the workers told me they expect to cover it with dirt in a few days, and then grass I suppose. I'll keep you posted!