Sunday, July 05, 2015

Powerless with God (Sunday homily)

The readings have something in common: powerlessness.

The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading 
is powerless to change the hearts of his countrymen; 
Saint Paul is powerless over his “thorn in the flesh,” 
whatever that might have been. 
And even our Lord Jesus—who is King and Lord—
seems to be powerless to awaken faith in the hearts of his hometown.

The Gospel says: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”

Why was Jesus “not able”? It goes on to say:
“He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Of course Jesus could have cured anyone he wanted. 
But Jesus did not come merely to give out physical healings. 
He came to awaken faith. And not everyone wants faith.

This brought to mind the complicated story of the Old Testament. 
Although this is an over-simplification, 
the Old Testament shows God, in effect, trying everything.

He scattered them from the city of Babel. 
Noah built the ark of safety while God sent a flood. 
He called Abraham to a fresh start in a new land and worked with him. 
When God rescued his people from slavery, 
he showed them signs of power and deliverance. 
He gave them a land where they had what they needed. 
When that didn’t work, he sent them into exile. 
Finally, the Father sent his Son.

People wonder: why doesn’t God just give us a sign—and we’ll believe. 
But he has, over and over. 
Not just in the Bible, but in all the centuries since.

If, today, the sky opened up, and God showed himself to the world, 
and spoke with thunder and lightning, telling us he exists and what he wanted…

And if Fox and CNN all broadcast it live—the whole world saw it—
what do you think would happen?

Things would change…for a while. 
But before long, it would all be back where it was.

So in a sense, God really is powerless, 
because he refuses to do the one thing he’d have to do: 
and that is to coerce our free will.

None of us wants to be powerless. It’s one of the worst things. 
Your children go the wrong way—and you can’t stop it. 
You suddenly feel a pain, and you don’t know what it is, 
or how to deal with it. 
You go to the doctor, and she doesn’t have an answer. 
You’re out of work, and you don’t know when you’ll get another job. 
You keep making the same bad decisions – about alcohol, 
or about relationships, or about the Internet or drugs – over and over.

Right now, a lot of us are feeling powerless 
over the direction of our country and our world. 
We recall in history 
how President Roosevelt declared war on the Axis Powers, 
and our parents and grandparents dug in and won the war, 
and saved the world from fascism. 
We fought a long Cold War, and saw the Berlin Wall come down. 
But now, we wonder if we ever see the defeat of Jihadist terrorists? 

Meanwhile, we’re hurt—and a lot of us are angry—
to see our government and our culture 
turning against God’s plan for marriage and family; 
we see our society going down a road to ruin—
and we wonder if we can do anything to stop it. 
It’s awful to feel powerless.

Where does this bring us? To the Cross!

Recall what happened when Jesus told Peter and the Apostles 
about his impending death. 
He said he would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die. 
And Peter said, “God forbid, Lord! 
No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

Do you remember what happened next? 
Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! 
You are an obstacle to me. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Why did the Lord react so harshly? 
Because Peter – without knowing it – was offering a temptation. 
A temptation to power. 

Our nation is often tempted to use power—more money, 
throw our weight around more, more war. 
In our own lives, what do we do? 
We raise our voices; we threaten; we bully. 
We use violence. We cut corners. How’s it working?

We have a really hard time accepting 
God’s plan of the Cross, rather than power. 

When Jesus was arrested, what happened? 
The Apostles scattered, and Peter denied he knew Jesus. 
Later, when the Apostles shared the message, 
what happened when they mentioned the crucifixion? 
Here’s Saint Paul’s answer, in his first letter to the Corinthians: 
“Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews 
and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, 
Jews and Greeks alike, 
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In the situations you and I face, whether it’s the world around us, 
our country, our family or the battle for our own soul, 
I have no other answer to give you, but this.

The first of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says this: 
“We admitted to ourselves that we were powerless over our addiction—
our lives had become manageable.”

The second: “We came to believe 
that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

And the third: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives 
over the care of God as we understood him.”

Or to quote Saint Paul one more time: 
“the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, 
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

There’s only one place I can point you, 
only one remedy anyone can offer. 
We make our way to the Cross and we fall to our knees. 
“Jesus, I am powerless over my sins! 
Jesus, I am powerless over my family. 
I am powerless over what my government is doing. 
Over what is happening in our world. My finances! 
The Internet! My health! I don’t know what to do!”

Get close to the crucified Jesus—in confession—in prayer—
in the Eucharist. That’s what we do.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

God & guns & exploding things & a cookout

My celebration of Independence Day began yesterday with a picnic at a parishioner's house. I'd been there many times over the years, back to when I was in Piqua; the family was a member of Saint Mary's then; now members of Saint Remy. It's always a great time, with lots of families, lots of children. The couple who hosts are very gracious.

I got there around 4 -- dad was just getting the gear together for some target shooting. Several other dads were there as well. Did I want to go along? Sure! I'm all for gun rights, but I don't own a gun myself; I am too absent-minded. I fired off a few rounds with several handguns, and then tried my hand with a semi-auto. At one point, I was holding the rifle for another fellow, and I thought--what a picture! Then I decided, no, probably better there's no picture...

One of the gentleman had some sort of powder -- not gunpowder -- that if you mixed it up, and put it in a plastic jar, you can shoot it and make it explode. We did that a couple of times. A very loud bang and puff of colored smoke. And for all you city folks who think this is terrible, everything was done very safely; and besides, the Founding Fathers would have heartily approved, let there be no doubt.

After that, back to the house (we were way away from the house, firing at targets set against a mound of dirt; the nearest house was probably a mile away) for dinner. The priest said grace, that's my one job here. While I don't think the hosts make a special effort of it, almost everyone seemed to be Catholic. We all talked a lot about matters of faith, and what was happening in our parishes. 

I didn't stay for the fireworks as usual; I was rather tired, so I headed home before it got dark. 

That was yesterday.

Today, before morning Mass, we had a "Patriotic Rosary," which means it included special prayers for our country. My homily emphasized the need we have to pray for our country, even while we celebrate it; God has blessed us, but there are things in our history, and our present, that God does not bless, and we pray that our country will turn back to God. After Mass, we had our usual, First Saturday Litany to our Lady. Then, after Mass, the prolife group had coffee and donuts. We had a nearly full church for Mass.

Now I have errands to run, and I hope I come up with some sort of homily before confessions and Mass this evening.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What will it take? (Sunday homily)

If the U.S. Supreme Court hadn’t issued the ruling it did on Friday, 
I probably would have taken a different approach in this homily. 
But they did what they did, so I think it needs to be talked about.

First of all, this is a terrible outcome for our country, 
in more ways than one.

The teaching of Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord is crystal-clear. 
People like to say that Jesus never mentioned this issue, 
but that’s simply false. 
Jesus was asked about marriage and divorce, 
and in Matthew Chapter 19, he said the following:

“Have you not read that from the beginning 
the Creator ‘made them male and female’ 
and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother 
and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 
So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 
Therefore, what God has joined together, 
no human being must separate.”

Now, the Bible says quite a bit more. 
The Apostles – who Jesus gave both authority 
and his own power to teach in his name – have reiterated the point. 
And the Catholic Church has always taught 
the same things about sex and marriage, namely:

That it is one man and one woman, till death do us part—no remarriage after divorce;
That sex belongs in marriage—that is, man and woman;
And that marriage always includes the intention of bringing children into the world, 
        and therefore, marital life must remain open to the gift of life—
        and thus, no artificial means of preventing conception.

Now, of course, no law says the U.S. government 
has to listen to the Bible or the Catholic Church. 
We were not founded on any religious creed. 
So, to be very clear—I am not saying that the courts, 
or the legislatures, are obliged to adopt any specific, Catholic teaching.

No, in making this point up front, 
I want to lay down a very clear statement, without any ambiguity, 
regarding what our Faith teaches us. 
Lots of Catholics seem not to know these things.

This is what Jesus teaches, what the Apostles teach, we believe. 
These are not options, like whether you get a sunroof on your car.
This is what it means to say 
we are the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. 
We are not the Church of what’s popular in 2015. 

Jesus is our teacher. He is the truth. 
And nothing any court, or legislature, or politician, or opinion poll, 
or marketing expert says, makes any difference.

I said a moment ago this is bad for our country. 
How can standing against the King of Kings be anything else?

Now, of course, some people are saying—many Catholics are saying—
“who cares what the law allows? 
You just said we don’t expect our government 
to adopt our religious doctrines as law. 
So why not allow same-sex marriage? Why not, live-and-let-live?”

Let’s talk about that.

First, to some degree, we do want a live-and-let-live approach. 
That’s what almost everyone wants. 
None of us wants to go into anyone’s home to see who lives there, 
what their relationship is, and so forth. 
If people want to say they are married to each other, 
there’s nothing you or I can do, even if we cared to. 

What was at issue here was what the society as a whole 
is being asked to give validation, and approval, to -- 
a new and fundamentally different understanding of what marriage is. 
And that is no longer, “live and let live.”

Until the Supreme Court gave its ruling, 
each state was finding its own way. 
But the majority of the court decided that wasn’t acceptable: 
everyone had to be forced to accept a new understanding of marriage. 

Second, while a society can have lots of diversity, 
a society really isn’t a society unless it has some common foundations. 
A room full of strangers is not a “society.” 
They might become one, but only as they discover, 
or create, values in common. 
That is the foundation of any cohesive society.

Marriage isn’t just a detail. It is at the foundation, 
because what marriage is, is really about what being human is. 
Earlier I laid out the basics of what our Catholic Faith 
holds about marriage. 
But let’s be clear: what marriage is, isn’t simply a Catholic doctrine.
This is very important to grasp.

Does anyone seriously think that before the Church existed, 
marriage wasn’t already man-plus-woman? 
Do people think Moses invented this idea? 
If you go to India, where most people are Hindu – 
or to Saudi Arabia, where it’s almost 100% Muslim – 
or to southeast Asia, where almost everyone is Buddhist – 
will they say be surprised to hear of man-woman marriage?

Of course not. Every human society, ever, 
before our earliest memories, 
has understood marriage is man-plus-woman. 
Because this isn’t a religious dogma; it’s biology. It’s human experience. 
What Jesus was telling those people 
was that this truth was written by God into human nature itself. 
It’s not for us to rewrite it.

Yes, I think it’s very bad for our country 
to think we can remake human nature. 
And that’s not just bad for our country; it’s bad for all of us. 

This decision sets up an inevitable conflict. 
It’s already been happening 
even before the High Court imposed a redefinition of marriage 
on the entire country. It will get worse.

Within hours of the decision, a host of big companies 
were publishing ads, or sending out twitter messages, 
aligning themselves with this decision. 
This will continue. 
People who don’t agree—meaning faithful Christians, in particular, 
and many of other faiths—will find that they are simply excluded 
from jobs, from promotions, from professions.

Justice Kennedy’s decision equated our refusal to redefine marriage with being a racist. 
I told you weeks ago this would happen. 
Read his decision. He puts it in the same category. 
This is a lie; but when a lie is told often enough, two things happen: 
lots of people come to believe it; 
and lots of other people, out of fear or self-protection, 
stop fighting back.

(Now, I had wanted to say something 
about Pope Francis’ recent encyclical. 
I still haven’t read it. I will as soon as I can.

But there are a couple of points that have been widely quoted. 
Obviously he had a lot to say about respecting and reverencing
the natural environment. 
He’s been quoted as saying, if we slap nature, 
don’t be surprised if nature slaps you back.

When it comes to destroying forests, or polluting the water, 
or not being thoughtful about chemicals we create and use, 
this is clearly true. 

Some years ago, we found out that aerosol products 
were damaging the atmosphere; and if we didn’t stop it, 
it could have led to terrible consequences. 
We did stop using those products, and the situation has improved.

We’re learning similar lessons about how the human body works. 
In recent years, we’re discovering just how very complex, and delicate, 
is the interaction between our own bodies, 
and various life forms—including bacteria—that live inside us. 
We didn’t know how delicate the balance was. We’re learning. 
And we still have a lot more to learn.

Well, Pope Francis, in his encyclical, extended that point 
to respecting the balance and design of the human family. 
Man, woman, mother, father, children.)*

The Court’s decision about marriage didn’t happen in a vacuum. 
Our society has been redefining marriage and family 
for most of the last century. 

We redefined marriage when we allowed no-fault divorce. 
When we accepted promiscuity as normal. 
When, as a society, we embraced contraceptives. 
And when we decided it didn’t matter all that much 
if a child had both parents in the home. 
What the Supreme Court did is only the last nail in the coffin 
to our society’s understanding of what marriage and family are.

Now, I want to say something to the question of what we say to people who have same-sex feelings. What do we say to them?
First, that everyone is God's child; no one is not welcome.
No one is better than anyone else. We are all sinners, begging for God's grace.

Second, it can be a very hard thing to realize you have feelings that others don't, and you can feel very apart. It doesn't help when there are people who bully, and you hear people say some ugly things. It's hard to know who to talk to. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we were the seen as the sort of people someone in that situation would feel free to come and confide in?

Now, when you're feeling very alone with a difficult situation, it is easy to think no one else knows what it's like, and your situation, your trial, is worse than anyone else's. It can happen when you're unemployed; when you have cancer, or when your marriage is breaking up. But when we talk to each other, and support each other, we can find that, while our trial is great, we aren't alone.

I wish I could say there was some easy way to make it all better, but I can't; neither can I do that when someone is facing a terrible illness, or some other crisis. What we do is turn to the Lord, as in the psalm, and ask the Lord to draw close to us.**

The first reading from Wisdom assures us that God’s design for us 
is about life. We don’t always know this, or believe it. 
Sometimes we think God’s ways, God’s laws, 
are just about taking away our choices. 

Sort of like how you and I responded to our parents’ rules 
when we were little. 
And when we ignored their rules, we often found out 
what it was they were protecting us from.

In the years to come, we’re going to find out 
what God was trying to protect us from. We’re already finding out. 
We’ve already made a mess of the family. 
We have a flood of pornography. 
We have young people growing up who don’t even know how to be adults, 
often because the adults in their lives also don’t know how.

They don’t know how to give themselves sacrificially to each other. 
All they’ve been given is lies about sex and what it means.
And it is going to get worse for awhile. Oh yes, we’re going to find out.

In the Gospel, we see a woman who suffered for twelve long years; 
and we see a father whose child is dead. 
Both of them had good reason to give up hope; 
the mourners thought the father was crazy to hope. 
So what? They didn’t reckon on what Jesus could do!

Jesus can do anything. 
The woman and the man fell to their knees and begged him for help. 
What will it take for us to fall to our knees, in repentance and humility, 
and beg for him to save us?

* I omitted this part at some Masses, due to time.
** This part was not written down; so I handled it differently at each Mass.

Friday, June 26, 2015

God save this dishonorable court

The whole world knows, or will soon enough, that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, today, by a bare 5-4 majority, that the U.S. Constitution compels every state to redefine marriage to include so-called "same-sex marriage."

A lot of folks are saying anodyne things like this from Sen. Lindsey Graham:

I am a proud defender of traditional marriage and believe the people of each state should have the right to determine their marriage laws. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that state bans on gay marriage are unconstitutional, and I will respect the Court’s decision.

Well, I for one do not respect this decision.

I read it, and the dissents, and it is an embarrassing mess. I'm not a constitutional lawyer, but based on this monstrosity, constitutional lawyers are way overrated. I first labeled this ruling "trash," but went back and recast that sentence. Trash denotes a lack of worth, which is what I meant; but trash often is found to have value nonetheless; and if not, is mainly noxious, but otherwise, not all that harmful. This decision will cause terrible harm.

No, I do not respect this ruling. It is completely and utterly undeserving of respect.

Will I obey it? Well, let's see...

-- I can assure you that I will never officiate at any marriage that is not fully in accord with the Catholic Faith. No same-sex marriages from me, anytime.

-- The State of Ohio will now be coerced into recognizing "same sex marriage," and inasmuch as I am a citizen of Ohio, I'm being dragooned into that. Now and always, I withhold my approval to that lie. The State of Ohio, however unwillingly it cooperates with this, does not speak for me.

-- If someone rushes up to tell me that he or she is "married," and points to a spouse of the same sex, I think being polite and friendly is a good policy; but if you press me to find out if I agree, don't be surprised by my candor.

-- And if anyone tries to get me to tip my hat, rhetorically, to the grandeur of the law, or the dignity of the courts, or some such blather, I will try to avoid laughing in your face, but I may fail to restrain myself.

This is, in the words of a Supreme Court justice of an another era, "an exercise of raw judicial power." It will create great mischief. Future generations will be embarrassed by it.

Update, 2 pm, 6/26/15...

A commenter on Father Z's blog posted this from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith:

In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty. One must refrain from any kind of formal cooperation in the enactment or application of such gravely unjust laws and, as far as possible, from material cooperation on the level of their application. In this area, everyone can exercise the right to conscientious objection. (Emphasis added.)

Help for overcoming porn

While it may seem a hidden, or minor, issue for many, there is a growing problem with porn, primarily on the Internet. It especially affects young men. It's discouraging to learn that a large number of boys begin consuming pornography in their early teens.

I am persuaded by the things I read that this isn't only about sexual morality. Consuming porn hobbles an individual's ability to socialize; and it has to have an effect on how men and women enter into healthy intimacy, including sexual intimacy. If you train your mind to seek and be satisfied only by an unreal, unattainable phantom, of course you're going to be disappointed by boring reality.

There are lots of people who get this, and who want to kick the habit. But they find it very hard to do. I've been doing some reading, and hunting around, for resources that might help.

Here are several I found recently that look promising:

This last one requires some explanation. It's an online forum for mutual support in abstaining from consuming pornography and all that goes with it.

None of these are, that I can see, specifically Catholic or Christian, although there are some spiritual elements here and there. I mention this so that people realize the limitations in what I'm offering. And, if anyone finds anything problematic in these sites, please let me know.

The NoFap forum looks especially promising, precisely because what makes it hard to overcome these habits is the sense of isolation. Who do you talk to about it? What holds you accountable? 

If you're reading this, and this is a problem you face, don't give up hope. I'm praying for you (and I'm not the only one).

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Back on the job

I got back to the parish yesterday, but today is my first day "back to work." I had planned to be away today, but -- as I often do -- I decided to come back a day early. Partly because I have a meeting tonight for which I need to prepare, and partly because I was ready to get back at it. (Actually, I got back to it a bit yesterday, but don't tell anyone.) 

Because I'd planned to be away today, I'd arranged for a retired priest to take the morning Mass; so I left that in place. As it happens, the priest from the neighboring parish, who was scheduled to do the Mass at the nursing home today, called me yesterday to see if I would do it; and I was happy to do so. So I did get to sleep in today. After breakfast, and checking some emails, I walked over to the school, where the children of the parish are gathered this week for "Bible Camp." As I walked in, one group was working on some arts-and-crafts project; they were bristling with comments:

"Father, you're back!"
"Why weren't you at Mass today?"
"Mass has been really quick lately!"
"The priest who filled in while you were gone creeped me out!" (It had nothing to do with his fidelity, I was happy to discover; but I'm not sure what the problem was.)
"Where did you go on your vacation?"

The crafts project involved creating a mini-"bible," in which they pasted Scripture verses regarding Abraham, David and Eliakim, all Old Testament figures who foreshadowed Peter, the first pope. "Upon this rock" is the theme, and lots of activities serve to reinforce this. 

In the gym, another group was playing "Glow in the Dark Dodgeball." Someone explained the connection to Saint Peter, but I can't recall it now. And if you're wondering how you have glow-in-the-dark dodgeball, it involves flexible "glowsticks," which have some sort of radiant liquid in them. 

Then, a third group was meeting for lesson-time, in which the Bible lesson was explained. I told the children about visiting Caesarea Philippi, the place where our Savior told Peter, "You are Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." The city of Caesarea Philippi was situated at the base of a really big rock--i.e., a mountain; at the foot of the mountain were a collection of pagan temples, which were very active when Jesus brought the Apostles there. The point being that Peter (and the Apostles) would be instrumental in building his Church, to replace the error of paganism. And, indeed, today, the pagan shrines are all in ruins.

Well, all that was before noon. After visiting with the children awhile, I came back over here and fiddled some more at the computer (that includes writing this post) while I answered the phones -- the staff is all at Bible Camp. The funny thing is, no one wanted to talk to me! They were all calling about the bulletin, or scheduling a Mass, etc. In a few minutes I'll head over to the nursing home. Then I'll stop at the store for some supplies for the meeting tonight.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Checking in

Sorry for no posts while I have been traveling, but all I had on the road was my iPad, and I find it very clumsy for posting to my blog. I'm back-but-not-back; I have a wedding tomorrow, in Russia, hence a rehearsal tonight. After the wedding, I'm back on the road for a couple of days.

No, I haven't read the Holy Father's new encyclical. I'll get to it when I get back. I have no comment, other than to say everyone should relax. If you think this is the most important thing evah! get a grip; if you think the pope has done something terrible, because it's part of an encyclical after all, likewise, get a grip. When the pope teaches, that's important; and if you think the pope didn't get it quite right? Well, this wasn't a dogmatic definition (hence, infallible), so just relax. That's what I'm doing.