Sunday, December 04, 2016

What is hope? Where is our hope anchored? (Sunday homily)

In the second reading, from Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, 
he said that the Scriptures were written for us 
“that we might have hope.”

What is hope?

Elsewhere in this same letter, Saint Paul explained that 
The gaze of hope is fixed on that which lies ahead--
it isn’t something you already have.
That’s why it’s true to say that in heaven, there is no hope!

Sounds strange to say, doesn’t it?
But it’s true: if we make it to heaven, and we have the fullness of life,
the enjoyment of God’s love and beauty and truth--
if we have all that, then at that point, what would we hope for? 
Heaven is the hope!

So: hope looks forward.

But then the question comes to mind:
just what do we fix our hope on?
Is it really true that heaven is what we are hoping for?

I think a lot of folks around us set their hopes a lot lower.
A few years ago, I saw a survey about the British people,
that something like a quarter of them say,
well, there might be a God,
but they don’t think they can know anything about God for sure.

I didn’t find a survey for the U.S.,
But lots of people here think the same thing, don’t they?

So what that means is that if we have
some hope of good after this life,
it ends up being pretty vague.

So let me ask you – is that really hope? 

In the meantime, what we see around us,
what we can obtain here, all that is pretty definite.
So that’s what a lot of people focus on.

Let me give some examples of how we do that.

When we look at what’s on TV, or in the movies, 
or in whatever else we turn to for entertainment: 
how much is about what heaven is like – 
versus, what your next meal, or your next vacation looks like?

How much of our time do we spend with reading or entertainment 
that turns our gaze to what ultimately matters?
How much of our time is about the ephemeral and not the eternal?

Hope is an anchor we cast forward. 
Where have we anchored our hope:
In our job? Our own abilities and plans? 
In political candidates and causes?

Without realizing it, we fix our hopes here, in this world..
We set our sights on finding happiness here.
And the more we do that, do you realize what that means?
We’re people without hope--
because, as Saint Paul said, hope is what we look forward to;
but if we have everything we think we want,
there’s nothing left to hope for.

Pope Francis, in the letter he wrote a few years ago,
called the “Joy of the Gospel,”
talks about the “great danger in today’s world,
pervaded as it is by consumerism,”
which leads to “the desolation and anguish
of a complacent yet covetous heart…

“Whenever our interior life becomes caught up
in its own interests and concerns,”
he writes--and with the “pursuit of frivolous pleasures,”
there is no longer “room for others,” for doing good;
and in fact, God’s voice is no longer heard.

This is where celibacy, in Christianity, is unique.
In other religions, it’s about denial.
In Buddhism, the goal is the negation of all desire.
But not in Christianity!

For us, celibacy is about the resurrection.
It’s about expectation--and hope!

If you’re on your way to a great dinner,
You don’t stop and eat on the way.

And therefore, when people see that you passed up
a really splendid, extraordinary dinner,
then that means
what you’re waiting for must be truly awesome!

That’s what it means for a brother, a sister and a priest 
who passes up marriage and family; 
it’s a sign that they’ve cast their anchor all the way to heaven.
Which reminds each of us to do the same in our own lives.

And, speaking of our religious sisters, 
remember them in the second collection next week; 
this is for their retirement fund, which needs bolstering. 

It isn’t for the parish – we have needs too, 
as I explained two weeks ago. 

It isn’t for priests of the archdiocese, 
it isn’t for my retirement; but rather, 
for those sisters and brothers 
who gave everything away to serve Christ. 
Many here were taught by nuns, 
including in Russia School at one time!
This is a way we can repay them.

But to return to the theme of hope, 
I want to say something about eternity.
It’s hard to know what eternal life might be like; 
it’s hard to visualize. 
But let me offer a theory: if we aren’t looking for something,
it’s a lot less likely that we’ll find it. 
Do you think that’s true? 
If we aren’t looking for something, we are far less likely to see it.

If someone told you there was a mineral, a rock, 
in the ground, around here, 
that’s very valuable – it’s needed for computers and medical research – 
and if you could find just small quantities of it, 
you would make a really big profit. 
And if you decided to go into that business, 
what would be the first thing you’d do?

Wouldn’t your first step be to find out 
what that mineral looked like?
In fact, wouldn’t you try to find out 
everything you could about it?

Well, there’s a place called heaven, 
and there’s a Savior named Jesus, 
whose our only sure way to get there. 
So our first step is kind of obvious, isn’t it?

Friday, December 02, 2016

Rorate Mass in Russia

An ancient tradition was revived in Russia, Ohio, this morning, at Saint Remy Church. I offered a Rorate Mass, although it was in the Ordinary Form, rather than the usus antiquor.

What is a Rorate Mass? Here's a nice explanation (pictures at the link):

The Rorate Caeli Mass is a traditional Advent devotion wherein the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary for Advent is offered just before dawn. In many instances families and individuals travel an hour or more, rising and arriving very early for this stunningly beautiful Mass. The interplay of light and darkness speak to the meaning of Advent and the coming of the Light of the world.

The Mass takes its title, Rorate Caeli, from the first words of the Introit, which are from Isaiah 45:8:

Rorate, caeli, desuper, et nubes pluant justum, aperiatur terra, et germinet Salvatorem.”

“Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened and bud forth a Saviour.”

The Rorate Mass is lit only by candlelight. Because it is a votive Mass in Mary’s honor, white vestments are worn instead of Advent violet. In the dimly lit setting, priests and faithful prepare to honor the Light of the world, Who is soon to be born, and offer praise to God for the gift of Our Lady. As the Mass proceeds and sunrise approaches, the church becomes progressively brighter, illumined by the sun as our Faith is illumined by Christ.

We didn't need to have Mass at a special time; Mass on first Friday, during the school year, is always at 7 am, so I figured that would work. It was certainly before dawn. I told people ahead of time, of course, and I kept a few lights on in church before Mass. It would have been even nicer to have everyone enter church without lights, but that's a bit impractical.

We did use the proper chants, in English, which you can find here; our music director sang them beautifully, despite a nagging cold. I'm told the altar was lovely, light only with candles; it was striking to see everyone's faces, lit only by candlelight. I'm sorry I didn't think to ask someone to take a photo.

While this was a votive Mass for our Lady, I elected to use the readings of the day; they fit very well.
I pondered using incense, and maybe we'll do that next year; as well as trying it at the high altar (i.e., ad orientem).

Were you there? What did you think?

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Fulfilled in your presence (Sunday homily)

In the first reading we hear a prophecy of Isaiah: 
all nations shall stream toward “the mountain of the Lord’s house.” 
And perhaps you’re wondering to what that refers.

Well, let’s figure it out.

It refers to the “Lord’s House” – that means the temple. 
And that Temple was built on Mount Zion; 
which is also where the city of Jerusalem is.
It was also on that mountain – in the city of Jerusalem –
that Jesus gathered with his Apostles on the night before he died. 
It was there that he completed his “Mass” 
with his suffering and death on the Cross.

So if you’re wondering how that prophecy is to be fulfilled: 
the answer is in the Holy Mass – what we are doing right now!

Isaiah said that the Word of the Lord would go forth from Zion – 
and it did, especially after the Day of Pentecost;
And that all the nations would stream to the Lord’s House –
And that, too, has happened; the Holy Mass 
is offered throughout the world, 
in every language and nation and tongue, 
even in places where it is extremely dangerous to worship Christ.

So it is wonderful to consider that this passage has been, 
and is being, fulfilled, even as we gather here for Holy Mass!

 Now, the emphasis in the Gospel is on watchfulness 
for the coming of Jesus.
But let’s not misunderstand that. 
Many people talk about Jesus’ coming, 
as if he’s now absent from the world. 
They’ll say, “he’s coming back – as if, he’s not here.
But Jesus IS here, and has been, 
ever since he was conceived in the womb of Mary!

When we talk about Jesus’ coming again, 
it might be better to think of it as his coming in full; 
his complete coming.
Pope Benedict made this point one time, 
when he explained that Jesus is constantly “coming” into the world, 
and what we will witness at the end of time 
is the completion of  his coming 

Jesus “comes” every time we mention his name – 
which is why it’s a praiseworthy custom 
to bow our heads at the name of Jesus.
Jesus “comes” when his people gather to pray; remember what he said: 
“wherever two or three gather in my name, 
there am I in the midst of you.”

Jesus “comes” when we proclaim the Gospel – 
which is why we stand for that reading, while sitting for the others.

Jesus “comes” whenever someone is baptized, 
someone receives absolution in confession, and in all the sacraments.
And, of course, he “comes” in such a wonderful way 
when the Holy Mass is offered, 
and he himself makes present his sacrifice at the altar.
So, realize, that what the Gospel promises 
is likewise fulfilled right here, before your eyes!

Yes, there is a complete fulfillment yet ahead, 
and we don’t know when that will happen.
But there is a way that you and I can live, 
so that we need not worry about it.

Every day we live, eager to speak his name, 
eager to see him, eager to hear him speak to us.
If you’re looking at the materials on prayer on, 
you heard Dr. Tim Gray talk about prayer as a conversation with God, 
who speaks to us in the Scriptures.

We don’t have to wait to hear Jesus or to see him.
He’s here, speaking to us, giving himself to us.
Seek him in confession. Seek him in Scripture. Seek him in silence.
Seek him in the Holy Mass.
Then, there will never be an hour we are not ready.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

'We have here no lasting city...' (Sunday homily)

I was reading an article this weekend by Father James Schall, commenting on the election last week. His summary of his own article was, "We have here no lasting city." That is also a good summary of today's Gospel.

Why did Jesus say about the Temple, "there will not be one stone left on another"? To scare people? No; rather, to make the same point as Father Schall: in this world, we have no lasting city.

For the people listening to Jesus, the destruction of the Temple was a horrible thought -- the end of the world. And when it happened 40 years later, it was pretty horrible. Scholars debate whether the rest of what Christ said in this passage was about events then, or at the end of time, but we needn't worry about that. The answer is both. Christians today are facing the same persecution as the early Church, which this Gospel describes well.

Now, this time last week, I think a lot of us were dreading this election. We had a pretty strong turnout for Monday night's prayer vigil, to pray for the nation and the election. And I know many think the results are the answer to our prayers. They may well be, but only time will tell. You and I have high hopes for President-elect Trump, but we had better keep praying hard. If the Gospel has one clear point, it is that what seems so solid is not solid at all.

Only one thing is truly solid, and that is Christ himself!

Now, I want to call your attention to the first reading. Did you notice the two ways it talks about fire? For the "proud" and "evil doers," it is fire that punishes; it "consumes" them. What does that sound like? It sounds like hell to me.

But for those who fear God's Name? It is a sun of righteousness with "healing rays." Healing? What does that sound like? Sounds like purgatory to me.

Yet it is the same fire; the fire of God's truth and love.

Think about that. God is the same. God is good to all. His mercy is readily available, even at the last moment, as with St. Dismas, the repentant thief on the cross next to Jesus. Yet, on the other side was another thief, who did not seek mercy. What was different? Same Jesus; same mercy; same peril for the two thieves.

Beware the sin of presumption! People think, "Oh, I can sin now, God will forgive me later." But that assumes something: that you will ask later. The reason the fire consumes the evil doers is that they were proud; they refused to ask.

The same fire that heals those open to God, will torment those whose hearts are closed.

This is a good time to remind you of our prayer project for Advent. Deepening our prayer is how we root ourselves in the one thing that is solid, Jesus Christ. The cards are in the pews, with how to sign up; it's free, no obligation, you can view the material online. This weekend will be the last time the cards are in the pews. Even if you don't want to join a group, we'd be grateful if you filled out the card, because that way we know people are taking advantage of this. This program costs money -- not a lot, but something -- and we want to know that it's worthwhile.

To circle back to where we began: in this world, we have no lasting city. But we do have a lasting hope: Jesus Christ! may he be praised, now and forever, amen!

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Reacting to Trump

When I turned on the TV Tuesday evening, my plan was as follows:

- If Secretary Clinton is winning, watch Fox;
- If Donald Trump is winning, watch MSNBC.

That way, I figured, I would avoid any gloating, and perhaps indulge in a little schadenfreude (not too much). Well, as you can guess, I started with Brett Baier, and ended up listening to Rachel Maddow's gasps and groans. 

As my readers know, I wasn't for either of them; I wanted them both to lose. Not impossible, but admittedly, unlikely. So on Wednesday, I told folks I got half of what I wanted. I'm not celebrating Mr. Trump's win, but I am unabashedly celebrating Secretary Clinton's loss.

Apart from the profound problems with Mr. Trump, which remain (and will manifest themselves before long, I suspect), there was a lot for conservative and prolife folks to celebrate in Tuesday's results, in the races for Congress and state offices. I am elated by the success of the pro-Right to Work candidate for governor in Missouri, making it likely to become the 27th Right to Work state; and developments in Kentucky and New Hampshire move them closer to being numbers 28 and 29 in the next few years.

It's not all good news for conservatives and pro lifers, however. The success of the GOP makes it more likely that many of them will fail to learn the right lessons, just as Mr. Trump's success may well be attributed to the wrong things. A lot of folks are either celebrating, or dreading, the sudden uncorking of right wing policies and laws. Brace for disappointment. I'm not saying nothing will happen, but I am saying it won't be what you expect. On pro life, for example, it's going to be a lot harder than you may think. The right move is the Life at Conception Act, which would declare unborn children persons under the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and thereby overturn Roe v. Wade. Mr. Trump, along with lots of GOP Representatives and Senators, said they favor it. But it will be a tough fight just to get it on the floor. Similarly for lots of other things conservatives would expect and liberals loathe.

Meanwhile, I'm just soaking in all the reactions from folks on the left, including many people close to me. While I admit I indulged in some schadenfreude (look it up!) in watching or reading the news coverage, I don't wish to take any pleasure in any actual suffering; so with Facebook friends, who really are describing their feelings in the bleakest terms, I am not gloating or taunting. After all, I partly agree with them. But, given my desire for them both to lose, I'd already come to terms with my disappointment weeks ago.

These are my reactions to the weeping and gnashing of teeth on the left:

- This is what losing in the cultural war feels like. You haven't experienced much of it, so you're not used to it.

- Obama led to Trump; just as Bush led to Obama. You might do well to reflect deeply on that.

- Is limiting the power of the federal government, and of the presidency, sounding good to you? Great, welcome to the club!

- You're kidding yourself in a big way if you just want to explain all this as a sudden surge of racism, sexism, "homophobia" and hate, etc. It may make you feel better, but it doesn't match the facts.

- If you're wondering how, HOW people could vote for Trump, just entertain, as a thought-experiment, that it wasn't because they are haters or stupid; and if you like, keep your assumption that Trump is horrible-terrible. Now, with these new assumptions, can you figure out what the decision of so many to vote for Trump says? Hint: if you face the devil and the deep blue sea, what do you do?

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Just before the election...(Sunday homily)

This coming Tuesday, a lot of people will be elected to Congress, 
to our state legislature, to local offices in Shelby County, 
and the same will happen across the country. 
And, of course, someone will be chosen as President. 

As we all know, there is a tremendous amount of energy and intensity 
about this election, as there usually is, every four years.

A lot of people are really anxious 
at the thought of one or the other major party candidate winning.
Perhaps you’ve noticed, in a lot of conversations, 
folks who will emphasize how important it is that “we win.”

Here’s the thing: if you search the Scriptures,  
Is this something God talks much about?
I mean, winning in the worldly sense:
Winning battles, winning in court, or gaining political power.

Instead what you do find on nearly every page 
is God telling his servants to be faithful,
even in the face of sure defeat.
Isn’t that what happens in the first reading?

So, for those of us who have the privilege of voting, 
then certainly we must use that right well.
The main thing we must do as Christians is cast our votes, 
and raise our voices, faithful to the truth of Jesus Christ.

Be guided by your conscience – 
which must be guided and shaped by the Catholic Faith.
And when the election is over, brace yourself.
Beware the temptation to view things in terms of “win” or “lose.”

For a brief moment in time, the king in the first reading, 
and those in league with him, were riding high. 
But that moment passed; it always does. It always will.

The mother and her sons look like losers when you look at them 
through the eyes of power and politics and worldly measures. 
But when you look at things through the lens of eternity, 
everything changes.

What would it mean to look at these matters 
through the lens of the Resurrection?

It means that everything we hold onto, we will let go of. 
It means that the future is not in our hands. 
Yes, our choices matter; but our contribution is like dust on the scales 
compared to God’s power.

The heart of the king is in the hands of God; 
he can raise them up and bring them down.

God causes babies to be conceived and hearts to beat their last. 
Everyone who is riding high today will stand before God 
before very long. 

Before Mass, we met Aaron Hess, who is preparing to be a priest. 
I hope you will take a moment to greet him after Mass.

To be a priest, to be a member of a religious order 
as a brother or a sister, is to live, not for time, but for eternity. 
Otherwise, it makes no sense. 

Tell me, who is more powerful? 
A president, or an ordinary Catholic? 
Well, let’s add it up. 

A president can appoint other powerful people; 
he or she can sign or veto laws; 
she can issue orders that govern our lives; 
he can make decisions of war and peace. 

In fact, a president can do wonderful or frightening things 
to make our world better, or worse. 
So, I guess the president is more powerful, 
because none of us can do any of those things.

But anyone can, in need, pour water and say the words of Jesus, 
and create a saint in baptism. 
A priest can say three more words in confession, 
and wash away a lifetime of sin. 
There is no sin so great that cannot be absolved. 

Any believer, armed with the name of Jesus, 
can drive back the forces of hell, 
and instantly gain an audience in the throne room of heaven.

A priest can stand at the altar, 
and the altar becomes the axis of all Creation; 
and on that altar, God comes; 
God the Son offers himself, through the hands of a priest, 
to God the Father. 

So who really is more powerful? 
Those politicians, or those who pray?
It’s all a matter of how you see things.

So if this is really what we believe – and we know, it is! – 
then let’s put this to practice. 
There will be a special prayer vigil Monday night at 7 pm, 
to pray for the elections and our country. 

And remember the information in your pews 
about the program on prayer 
that we will take part in, as a parish, for Advent. 
This week and next are the time to return the forms 
so you can take part in the discussion groups. 
Our task is to grow together, not in power as the world measures, 
but as God measures. That’s the only “win” that really counts.