Sunday, May 03, 2015

Not bearing fruit isn't an option (Sunday homily)

The Lord Jesus’s words seem pretty clear: 
if we want life, we need to be part of the Vine, part of him.

How do we become part of the Vine? 
A few weeks ago, on the Vigil of Easter, 
we had a boy receive baptism, and be confirmed, 
and make his first holy communion. 
He wanted the life of the Vine; and he is part of Jesus now.

The life of the Vine is grace—God’s life, 
which God eagerly gives us day-by-day. 
God gives us his grace in uncountable ways. 
For example, after Mass today, 
Deb Timmerman will be giving away 
some free information about the Holy Rosary. 
A lot of us pray the Rosary, 
but maybe some of us don’t really know much about it. 
Maybe we are afraid to admit that. 

There are lots of great ways to pray: 
reflecting on Scripture, making a holy hour, 
coming to adoration on Thursdays. 

The Rosary is one of the most powerful prayers—
and there have been too many signs and miracles 
associated with the Rosary to ignore. 

It was Pope Pius V, leading Europe in praying the Rosary, 
that saved Christendom at the Battle of Lepanto – 
you’ll have to look that one up! 

At Fatima, in 1917, the Blessed Mother 
promised that praying the Rosary would change the world—
and about 70 years later, the Cold War ended without a shot fired!  

No one has to pray the Rosary, but it’s a wonderful source of God’s life.

The most important sources of God’s grace—his life—
are the sacraments. 
Last Sunday, our second-graders made their first communion. 
One of our children was so eager to receive more of the Life of Jesus, 
he came to daily Mass all week! That’s a powerful example.

In three weeks, on Pentecost, 
we have two men, who are married to Catholics, 
who themselves will become Catholic. 
They became part of the Vine in their baptism years ago; 
but they want all the life Jesus offers, 
which comes through the fullness of the Catholic Faith. 
So they will make a profession of faith, and be confirmed, 
and receive their first Holy Communion. 

Where does the sacrament of penance fit in? 
If you’ve ever tried to grow tomatoes or cucumbers, or other vines, 
you know how easy it is to break a branch. 
It’s still on the vine, but it’s hanging limp. 
And if it’s got a tomato on it, you know you’ll lose that fruit. 

That’s what sin does. We’re the branch; 
and sin bruises that link to the vine. 
Mortal sin breaks it. 
We might still be hanging on the vine, 
but the life that flows between the vine and the branch is cut off.

When it’s a cucumber branch, we break it off and throw it aside. 
But with his Vine, God heals that break: that’s what confession does. 

Of course, that’s just the bare minimum 
of what the sacrament of reconciliation does. 
Frequent confession is a powerful tool to giving us strength, 
to increasing our ability to be holy: to make us fruitful. 
It’s like the boy I mentioned who came to Mass every day, 
to receive Holy Communion. 
No one said he had to; 
he wouldn’t have been a bad Catholic for not doing it. 
But he figured, why not? Why not?!

If Buschurs put a table out front, piled with cuts of beef, 
with a sign that says, “Free!” 
Who’s going to say, “well, I don’t know…maybe later…
only if I’m really hungry…”? Seriously? It’s FREE! 
And yes, I know Buschurs can’t actually give away free meat. 
But God actually can give away free grace, and he does. 
And did I mention it’s FREE? 
And it’s God’s own life, forgiveness of sins, God’s grace, poured into us. 
Life in the vine. It feels so good!

Let me mention other ways we sustain the life of the Vine. 
There are folks who have the idea 
that they can be part of Christ without having any part in anyone else. 
So they don’t really take part in the life of the Church. 
Maybe it’s treating Holy Mass as something that isn’t for them. 
Or it’s folks who think—who actually say—they can be good Catholics 
without heeding the teachings of the Church. 
That’s not being part of the vine; that’s rebelling against it.

It was Jesus who said, he’s the Vine, and we are the branches. 
And he’s also the one who said to the Apostles, 
he who hears me, hears you. 
And, “as the Father sent me, so I send you.” 
The Faith of the Church isn’t a buffet table, 
where we pick and choose what appeals to us. 
It’s a living thing, whole and entire—like a Vine. 

There’s one more aspect of this we can’t ignore. 
When we know what we have—life in Jesus, God’s life flowing into us—
how can we not share it? 
We often ponder and pray about what God’s plan for ourselves: 
what does God want me to do? 
But God has a plan for every single soul he created. 
That means our family members, our neighbors, 
our coworkers, our county, our country, our world. 

Jesus said that the Father wants us to “bear much fruit.” 
What might that be? 
Well, in other parables, Jesus speaks of the harvest—
and he means souls, winning souls for him. 
So while I think the “fruit” means our own lives, 
how can it not also include bringing Jesus others who he wants to give life to?

In the first reading, we saw how Paul was first received. 
That is to say, he wasn’t received. 
People didn’t trust him. Can you blame them? 
They knew he’d persecuted the Church. 
He’d stood by, cheering as the mob murdered Saint Stephen. 

But God inspired Barnabas to reach out to him. Thank God! 
Imagine if Barnabas hadn’t done that? 
Maybe Paul would have given up. 
If someone moves into our community, 
and we don’t make him or her welcome, what then? 
If there are other kids at school, but we avoid them, what then? 
There are so many great things about a small, close community; 
but what can be hard is to be “the new kid.” 
You welcomed me, and I am grateful. 
But then, I invited all of you over to the hall. 
Most new people coming to town, or being hired on at work, 
aren’t going to do that. 
It’s up to us to be a Barnabas—especially if others are shying away: 
that guy’s a little odd; that girl’s not one of us. 

There’s something sobering in what Jesus said about life in the Vine: 
we are supposed to bear fruit. It’s not an option. 
So the question for you to ponder is this: 
what fruit are you going to bring to Jesus this week?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Picture time!

I had a bunch of photos from the past few days, so I'm just going to post them all together. Is that bad?

While in Cincinnati on Friday -- in anticipation of the Deacon Ordination Saturday morning -- I drove by Eden Park. It was a lovely afternoon, and many people were enjoying it. Here's a famous monument, commemorating Cincinnati being a sister city to Rome. By the way -- do you know which famous world leader presented this (remotely) to Cincinnati? The next picture explains it.

While I was snapping the photo of the she-wolf, I heard one guy nearby say, "everyone takes a picture of that!"

Here's why you don't see more pictures...

That was supposed to be a picture of a couple, in wedding attire, having their picture taken.

Here's a view of the mighty Ohio, looking upriver (i.e., east). It's flooded a few weeks ago; and it still looks a little high to me, but I think that's normal for this time of year:

And here's downriver.

Here's last night's dinner, with the Neapolitan Ragu again. I did the recipe a little differently this time. Instead of spare ribs and braciole, I used Italian sausage and some meat balls I bought. A second change involved the tomatoes -- I had bought an Italian brand before, but this was a Kroger brand.

The sauce was quite good, but it needed salt and pepper; and the meats weren't as good. The Italian sausage was too mildly spiced, for one. Next time, I'll get a better sausage, and I may try my hand at meatballs.

Here's an update on Russia's "Big Dig." You can see the workers have built the walls of the channel, and they are preparing to create the cover. A couple of parishioners walked over after Holy Mass with me to see it: a grandpa and his grandson, who just made his first communion on Sunday, and wanted to go to Mass every day this week. Isn't that awesome?

Monday, April 27, 2015

First Communion in Russia (and more!) -- updated with pictures!

It was First Communion Sunday -- and I confess that each year, this fills me with both joy and, yes, some dread. The joy is obvious; why the dread?

In years' past, the other priests I've worked with in my prior parishes and I have agreed the First Communion Mass can often be a "zoo Mass": a lot of irreverence and disruption, due entirely to the adults who are scrambling for seats, angling for a better view, snapping constant photos, and yakking loudly whenever possible. It's not edifying.

This year was the best ever -- and while I am a bit jaded, that's not the main reason. The people of this parish, with the encouragement and good work of my predecessor, have a strong sense of reverence. The church is normally very quiet before and after Mass (I am probably the worst offender, greeting people in the vestibule). For the First Communion Mass, there was some commotion in the back as folks gathered for the group picture beforehand, and some chatting in church before Mass, but far less than I've seen. It helped that someone started the Rosary, as usual, about 20 minutes before. 

Have I mentioned the outstanding altar servers we have? We have a crew of high school boys who love to serve; and whenever we have a "high Mass" (which now is every 9 am Sunday Mass), we have a crew of six to eight who don cassock and surplice, white gloves, and take care of the incense, the torches for the consecration and for communion. We have a battery-operated clicker that triggers the tower bells during the consecration, so that everyone in the village can know the miracle has happened! 

Well, we had our regularly scheduled "high Mass" at 9, and then another crew (one carry-over) for the 11. 

Then there's the special way we distribute Holy Communion to the first communicants. We set up three kneelers, and the child comes up with his parents. Everyone kneels down, and I give the child, then his parents, the Body and Blood at once, by intinction; which means, on the tongue.

This has many advantages:

> The child comes up with his parents; that's easier and very appropriate.
> The child doesn't have to make two stops; again, easier.
> There's far less problem about what communion tastes like: sometimes the children don't like the dryness of the host, or the taste of the Precious Blood. This solves both problems.
> The child is settled; sometimes, when they receive standing, they don't stay still. 
> This teaches the age-old practice of both kneeling and receiving on the tongue. (We only do it this way the first time.)
> It's all very calm and peaceful for the children.

The Mass went about 80 minutes or so -- the church was packed so communion took awhile -- and then we had individual pictures with the 30 or so children. After that, one of the families invited me over, so I joined them for a very nice party. (Another family invited me, but it was later, and I had a conflict. Yet another family invited me, but it was in passing, and I didn't write it down, so I couldn't remember, I'm sorry!)

Later that afternoon, we had our boys' program, the Knights of Saint Remy -- attendance much reduced due to First Communion. I gave a talk on the four cardinal virtues (Justice, Temperance, Fortitude and Prudence), comparing them to parts of the armor a knight might wear. Fortitude was the breastplate that wraps all around, temperance the mouth-guard, justice the sword, and prudence the helmet. After that -- at the end of a very busy weekend that had me in Cincinnati Friday afternoon, for the deacon ordination on Saturday morning, then back to Russia for Mass, then the high school prom (they invite the priest to come! I've never had that anywhere else), then all I just described -- I was pretty tired! But a great weekend; I love being a priest!

Update, April 28...

Here are pictures!

The children entering...

 Here's one to warm Father Z's heart (you have to look closely to see why):

Don't we have a beautiful church? My venerable predecessor did all this.

By the way, we would have had more torches, but we had the "High Mass Crew" at two Masses straight, and a lot of our high school boys had been out at the prom the night before.

Here's the kneeling-intinction method I described. Everything worked like clockwork. It helps (a lot) to have well motivated, well trained altar servers.

These boys are brothers, not twins but they made their First Communion together.

And here you see me in my biretta'ed splendor...

Jesus' Eternal Word -- the Eucharist -- transforms us into God's children (Sunday homily)

This was one of those weekends where I never wrote down my homily. What follows is my best effort to recall the main points -- I didn't necessarily do it the same way at each of the four Masses...

As I reflected on the first reading -- on Peter, as he stood up so courageously, despite the great risk, a question came to mind, which I'll share with you: why did Peter -- and the rest of the Apostles -- place their faith in a crucified Savior? If they can kill him, how can he be God? How can he be the Messiah? After all, that's what many said at the cross: come down from that cross, then we'll believe in you.

We know that Peter's faith was shaken when Jesus was arrested, and so for all the apostles. But they didn't despair, as Judas did. Why?

As I thought about that, I recalled an episode described in John chapter 6, where our Lord was telling people about the Eucharist, that it would be his true Body and Blood, and there were people who couldn't accept that. And so they left him. Jesus turned to the Apostles and said, are you going to leave me too? And Peter replied, no Lord, because you have the words of everlasting life.

That, I think, is why Peter believed in Jesus: he spoke words of eternal life (and I wonder if Judas didn't believe that; and so he gave up).

One of the things I like to do is read about science topics; not that I am any kind of expert, but I want to learn more. And I've been reading about scientists who claim -- very seriously -- that they may be in the verge of making discoveries that would dramatically lengthen human life. Hold onto your hats: they claim by hundreds of years!

And we've all seen the movie stars and celebrities that are as old as Methuselah and they try to pretend they are in their 30s; and after awhile, it just becomes silly.  See, there are people who think this life is all their is, so they're trying to make it go on and on. That inspires them; but the prospect of this life going on and on fills me with despair. I want more than just this life, endlessly. And we all hunger for that: for eternal life.

Eternal life isn't just this life, forever; it's the fullness of life. So when people do extreme things, they climb mountains and jump out of planes and ride roller coasters and try to eat and taste everything, they are expressing that longing. But this life is only a foretaste. Of eternal life.

Jesus has the words of eternal life -- above all, in the Eucharist. We hear those words of everlasting life spoken: "This is my Body" and "This is my Blood." The Eucharist is the food of everlasting life.

Last week, when I spoke about the Eucharist, I quoted something many of the saints said; and I hoped it would get you thinking: "God became man so that men might become God." And that's just another way of saying what John the Apostle said in the second reading: see what love the Father bestows on us, in calling us "children of God."

(Here I illustrated how we, as children, bear a likeness to our parents. I told the story of a man who approached me on a street in downtown Cincinnati some years back, asking me if I was "Rose Ann Dehoney's son." And I was -- but that's my mother's maiden name, and this man hadn't seen her since before she was married; which was over 30 years prior. Yet he recognized me as her son! And I talked about how we take on the attributes of our parents; and we all become our parents!)

So when we say we become "children of God"--that means we are like God, we love what God loves, we have life with God. And it is the Eucharist that brings us there. Not just one time, but week after week, even every day, all through our lives.

(I might add, the 11 am Mass was First Communion, so I tailored this toward the children and their families more at that Mass than the others. And I don't recall just how I moved to the conclusion, but I mentioned how it's the Good Shepherd who does all this -- laying down his life to give us his flesh and blood in the Eucharist, so that we can become children of God. And I talked about how a lifetime of receiving the Eucharist leads us to what the Apostle John also said: we don't know what we shall later be -- and I cited how we really can't see the true reality of the Mass -- yet we know that we shall be like him because we shall see him as he is! And I talked about how, when we close our eyes the last time, if we've been seeking Jesus all our lives, and receiving the Eucharist, we open our eyes in eternity, and "we see Him! As he is!")

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

'Clean out the icebox'

When I was a boy, one of my favorite meals was what my mom called, "Clean out the Icebox." It might be soup, or a casserole, baked or fried, but I always liked it. My older siblings have somewhat different recollections. 

What's "Clean out the Icebox"? Just what it sounds like. Whatever leftovers mom found that could, reasonably (to her) be combined. 

Yesterday I made my own attempt. I had some leftover pot roast, as well as a little bit of the ragu I made weeks ago. (It had been frozen and thawed in the meantime.) Plus I had some vegetables that were wilting, and some leftover beef broth.

So, I chopped up the roast and the vegetables left with it. I dumped in the broth; I chopped up some carrots and celery from the fridge, and set all that on the stove to simmer. At some point, I added some salt, pepper, and garlic; later, a bay leaf; and later, a handful of broken up spaghetti (because I had neither barley nor noodles). I simmered it some more, and had some last night for dinner. It was helped by some Parmesan cheese. Here's today's lunch:

Yes, it does rather taste like what mom would have cooked!

Oh, and FYI, this is an icebox. (There are pictures at the link.) We actually had one, growing up, but we also had an electric refrigerator, so mom used the icebox to store other things. My clever mom sawed off the bottom of it, so that it was just tall enough for the top to be a great work area. I think my brother has that now.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Why the Eucharist is so important (Sunday homily)

At the beginning of the Gospel passage I just read, we heard,
The two disciples recounted what had taken place on the way,
and how Jesus was made known to them in the breaking of bread.

Let me explain what that refers to. 
The day Jesus rose from the dead—the first Easter Sunday—
two of his disciples were walking from Jerusalem 
to a nearby town called Emmaus. 
Jesus met them as they walked along, 
but they didn’t recognize him at first. 

I think it’s pretty clear Jesus did this on purpose, 
for a reason that will become clear in a moment. 

As they walked, they talked to him as if he were a stranger; 
and they told him about the crucifixion 
and the stories of resurrection—
which, it appears, they are hesitant about.

Then the Lord Jesus—again, while they still think he’s just a visitor—
explains how all that happened was foreshadowed in the Scriptures. 
As they reach their destination, 
the two disciples invite the visitor to stay with them, 
and as they sit down to eat, 
Jesus takes bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to them. 
And it is at that instant their “eyes were opened, 
and they recognized him”—in the breaking of the bread.

Then these two rush back to Jerusalem, 
where they find the Apostles—and they tell them what happened. 
And then Jesus appears in their midst—and what we heard follows. 

I said a moment ago that the Lord Jesus had a purpose in all this. 
Here’s what I think it is: 
Jesus was showing them how important the Eucharist would be.

Let me ask a question: haven’t you ever wondered 
what was going on with the followers of Jesus between the day of Resurrection 
and the day Jesus ascended to heaven? 
For all the information the Gospels give us 
about Jesus’ teaching, his miracles, his death and resurrection, 
they say very little about the 40 days after he rose from the dead.

I think what was happening was that they were making sense of it all, 
especially after the shock of his death.
And after they started sorting this out, then what?

The Eucharist, that’s what.

They remembered the miracles of the loaves, 
in which so many had been fed—
and there were twelve baskets’ full left over. A light went on. 
This is when they began to realize what Jesus meant 
when he said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of Me.”

Do you want to see Jesus? Is there any Christian who wouldn’t say yes? 
Don’t we all long to see him? 

We do see him! He is made known to us “in the breaking of bread.”
In the Holy Mass. In the Holy Eucharist.

This is why the Holy Mass is so important. 

Now, there’s a question many of us wrestle with. 
We say that the bread and wine become Jesus—
his body, blood, soul and divinity. 
And yet, at the same time, 
we admit that the taste, the appearance, 
and the chemical properties don’t change.

So let’s acknowledge the question easily comes to mind: 
why should we believe that the Eucharist 
is really anything more than merely wine and bread? 
Why not just agree with those who say, 
it’s only a symbol, but it’s not really Jesus himself.

Let me offer three answers to that.

First, the reason we believe the bread and wine aren’t just symbolic, 
but they really become Jesus, is because that’s what he said. 
In the 6th chapter of the Gospel of John—
which we’ll hear at Mass in August—he said, over and over: 
“eat my flesh, and drink my blood”, 
for “my flesh is real food, and my blood, real drink.” 

And, on the night before he died, he took bread, and took wine, 
and said, “this is my body”; “this is my blood.” 

Second, this is clearly what Saint Paul believed and taught, 
as is clear from what he wrote about the Eucharist. 
And it’s what the early Christians believed. 
They were very explicit on this point—
so much so, that pagans accused them of “cannibalism.” 

But let me approach this in a third way. 
Try to think about this from God’s point of view.
This is your plan: you’re going to come to earth as a man, 
suffer and die for the rest of humanity, and rise again. 
And, based on the rituals of sacrifice, and the Passover, 
from the Old Testament, 
give the faithful a new rite: the Eucharist. 

If this is what you are going to do – 
and you want people to “eat my flesh” and “drink my blood” – 
tell me, just how would you do it? 
I don’t mean to be gross, but—
would you do something involving real flesh and blood? 
That would be repulsive. 

OK then, so what do you do? 
Just tell people, here, eat bread. Drink wine? 
OK, so we do that. But the question remains: 
how do bread and wine save us?

Even if you give me the best bread and wine, 
if that’s all they are, so what? 
I don’t want to be united forever with bread and wine. 
Do you? Does anyone?

But I do want to be united forever with Jesus. 
That’s what he promised. That’s what the Eucharist is!

So it seems to me Jesus hit upon the perfect solution. 
It’s his Body and Blood—it’s really him; 
but, in a manner that is human and approachable.

The Eucharist reminds us that Jesus didn’t just come to be a teacher. 
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard people say that. 
Oh, he was such an admirable teacher.
Well, that’s true. But it’s weak tea. 
They didn’t crucify him because he was a teacher.
God didn’t need to become human in order to teach us. 
He sent Moses. He sent the prophets. They did just fine as teachers. 

God became human to be one of us. 
And then, as one of us, he suffered and died with and for us. 
And to come back to what I said a moment ago: 
the point was that we would be one with God—forever. 

Look, if you’re a student in our school, you listen to the teachers; 
you learn from them; you may even want to imitate them. 
But who says you have to become “one” with them? 

God became man so that men could become God. That’s what it’s about.

I’ll say it again: God became man so that men could become God! 
Not “become God” in the way only God can be God—
but “become God” in the sense of being sharers 
in all that God is and has. 

That’s why we have the Mass—and that’s why we need the Eucharist! 
As Saint Augustine explained, when we feed upon Christ, 
unlike all other food, the Eucharist does not change into us—
but rather, Christ says, “you shall be converted into me.” 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

What's exciting in a small town? Digging a hole...

Across the street from the parish, the village is doing some work on Nine Mile Creek.

The retaining walls are being redone, a concrete basin is being poured, and then a "cap" will be put over it, followed by soil and grass. The mayor, who was watching the guys work when I walked up, explained that the existing wall is deteriorating, and "if it were to fail, we'd lose Main Street and have to shut it all down."

The area where the yellow bulldozer (is that what it's called?) will actually become a small park down the road, after all this is complete.

And -- ha! -- I have a scoop on the Fish Report!