Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some thoughts on the readings, especially about Mary

As I heard the readings four times this weekend, I had some thoughts that might have become part of a homily, if I hadn't had a visiting priest giving me a break:

Solomon's request for wisdom...

Father Tim Schehr, who taught us Scripture in the seminary, would make much of the point that all this happened in a dream. The whole episode concludes with "Solomon awoke: it was a dream!" (1 Kings 3:15) -- i.e., perhaps offering a wry commentary on Solomon's actual performance, as opposed to his aspirations.

When Father Fortunatus touched on this, he mentioned how, in the seminary, guys would offer their own answers to God's question: what would you like from me? And Father suggested that if we were answering that question in light of the Gospel reading, we might ask for "the joy of the kingdom." And he developed that idea nicely, along with the way we spend much of our lives searching for true joy, and growing in the life of the kingdom.

But then I thought of a similar encounter with God, only this time by Saint Thomas Aquinas. The saint was praying, and the Lord spoke to him from the crucifix: "You have written well about me, Thomas; what gift would you wish from me?"

And Saint Thomas responded, "I would have you Lord!"

***

While Father didn't do much with the passage from Romans, I had some thoughts as I listened...

We know that all things work for good for those who love God,
who are called according to his purpose. 
For those he foreknew he also predestined
to be conformed to the image of his Son,
so that he might be the firstborn
among many brothers and sisters.
And those he predestined he also called;
and those he called he also justified;
and those he justified he also glorified.

It struck me: all this is certainly true of our Blessed Mother!

Her role in salvation history -- along with her son's, of course -- God "foreknew" before the fall of humanity; it is hinted at in the conversation with Adam and Eve after the fall.

Who "he foreknew he also predestined" -- that's what we say of Mary: "predestined by eternal decree." Thus she was saved from all stain of sin from conception (the immaculate conception), so that she could be, in the fullness of time, the new Eve who would untie the knot of the first Eve's disobedience.

And who is more "conformed to the image of his Son" than Mary? Indeed, insofar as 100% of the God-Man's DNA came from her, Jesus is an "image" of Mary; but we might more fittingly describe the creature, Mary, as the image, of her Son, who is God!

Mirabile dictu!

And look! From the one so predestined, indeed -- he is the "firstborn of many brothers and sisters"! What do we call our Lady? Mother of the Faithful.

Did God not "call" Mary? "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you...you will conceive and bear a son..." (Luke 1)? Did God not also "justify" Mary? "There is no stain in thee!" (Song of Songs 4:7)

"And those he justified he also glorified": did not God do this when he took his mother, body and soul into heaven at the conclusion of her life on earth?

Not that I am saying all these promises are only fulfilled in Mary; on the contrary: everything Mary receives, we will receive. Why should anyone begrudge the greatest human cooperator with God's work that she received her portion first? Without her fiat, where would we be?

Sorry no homily today...

Because I have a visiting priest, from Uganda, giving an appeal for his home diocese.

I will see if I can post something later as a substitute; however, I'm taking him around, after the last Mass, to see some historic sites in this area.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

The problem of pornography

By way of Big Pulpit, I found this article -- Seven Steps to Beat Pornography and Masturbation -- by a priest I met some time back (I see he's in Calgary now).

This is a subject that some may not like to talk about, but the easy access of the Internet results in a huge problem -- which does profound damage to relationships and families. People may find it ridiculous to think that anyone seriously thinks viewing porn and masturbation are anything but harmless. But they are not harmless.

The solipsistic physical grammar of solitary vice says it all: a person turned toward the self.

Perhaps the very hardest challenge anyone faces involves relationships, don't you think? Think of the problems you had yesterday or today: how many of them involve other people?

When someone gets caught up in a habit of solitary fantasy and pleasure, it provides a convenient solution for what is so frustrating and challenging in real relationships; in fantasy-land, you're the boss, everything goes your way; you design people to meet your needs; and you dismiss them when they cease doing so.

Now, of course, our capacity for fantasy isn't a bad thing; on the contrary, our ability to imagine and create is a faculty to develop. But, the goal isn't to escape reality, but to encounter it -- and, perhaps, with full use of God's gifts, improve it in some way.

While fantasy and masturbation may seem, to many, to be rather trivial things to worry about, I think there's something else at work here that is far from trivial. Call it narcissism. Call it selfishness. Call it social isolation. Call it an inability to make relationships work. Call it apathy or disinterest in the cares of others. Do these sound like real problems we have in our society?

And of course, the problem of pornography -- so readily available now via the Internet -- pours gasoline on the fire.

In the home, an adult gets into the habit of prowling online, but assumes no one else will ever know. In fact, frequently their children will find their trail -- and then follow it.

And if you think this isn't powerful, do a little checking on the number of times this becomes a problem in the workplace. People lose their jobs over this: and how addictive must this be that people would risk so much for so little?

So back to Father's advice. I think it's very good. I would add some other ideas:

1. Keep the computer in a public area and try to go online only when others are around. This also helps keep us just from wasting time online.

2. Plan your time online. Instead of just going online for an indefinite time and purpose, set time limits for yourself and have a plan for your time online.

3. Pray before going online.

4. Keep holy images nearby; you can even paste a holy card on your screen! It's not magic; just a reminder.

5. As Father Schneider says, it really helps to sit down, calmly, and think about the times and circumstances when we most often fall into these sins. Certain moods can make us more prone to temptation: Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Frustrated, Tired and Bored: HALF-TB.

Why these moods? I think what happens is that we feel a need but may not identify it right away; we just want to satisfy it. To put it simply, we feel bad and want to feel good. With anger and frustration, I think our inner dictator comes out: I'm tired of not having my way, d*****! And we give ourselves some moments when things go entirely our way.

6. If you're tempted, change your location immediately. It's amazing how just getting up, walking around, eating an apple or getting something to drink, can clear our heads.

7. Fasting can be a useful tool. Because we have so many comforts, we can tend to fall into an automatic, need-felt-need-gratified sequence. Fasting or denying yourself other comforts can teach us that our bodies' cravings don't need to be met constantly.

8. Some people may want to consider going Internet-free. While email and ready access to lots of information are tremendously useful, the truth is, we can get along without it. There actually are lots of people in western society who never go online, and they do quite well. It may be rather humbling to have to take this step, but it's what alcoholics do for their well-being. Having the humility to admit and accept your limitations is something everyone admires; refusing to do so, not so much.

Let me know what you think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

No more silence about extermination of Christians!

Marked for death

I'm disgusted -- to say the least -- about the continuing silence and indifference in the west about the horrors being visited on Christians in the Middle East.

Don't know what I'm talking about? Thank the don't-give-a-damn idiots in the media.

And let me tell you, I don't use the term "idiots" carelessly.

You see, I used to work in media relations, when I worked in Washington. I worked directly with a lot of these folks. They are hired because they can make a good presentation on the air, or to turn out copy. Not because they necessarily know anything.

I can still recall being in Arizona, crisscrossing the state for the Right to Work cause; and I met with a TV anchorman and his sidekick in one city, to explain our purpose. He needed me to tell him who the state's two U.S. Senators were. Note well: he didn't know who they were!

In Iraq, Christians are being marked for extinction. They are being driven out of their homes, their towns, where they have been since Apostolic times. Ancient churches are being burnt down.

Notice the symbol above? It looks innocuous. But it is the Arabic letter "n," for "Nazareth." The jihadists mark the homes and businesses of Christians with that sign. A reversal of Passover: they are marked for destruction.

Meanwhile, our current President? Golfing; raising money; but showing no concern for these terrorized folks. Our former President George Bush, whose war started this process underway (which church leaders predicted would happen, by the way)? No comment.

Does anyone give a d***? Do you?

All right, I've ranted enough. Here are some practical things to do:

1) Pray for our fellow Christians. They are very alone and desperate.

2) Send money.

Here are several Catholic charities providing material help. You can donate online, or else arrange to send a donation. I sent $200 of my own money to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association (because I wanted to specify it help people in Iraq), but they are all legitimate charities; please make your own choice:

Catholic Relief Services
Catholic Near East Welfare Association
Aid to the Church in Need

3) Learn more. Here and here are two pages at the US bishops site:

4) Speak up! If you are on Facebook, share your thoughts with others. Here are ways to contact the President and our members in Congress:

President Barack Obama
White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Online: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments

Sen. Sherrod Brown
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C., 20510
Online: http://www.brown.senate.gov/contact/

Sen. Rob Portman
U.S. Senate
Washington, D.C., 20510
Online: https://www.portman.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/contact-form

Rep. Jim Jordan
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515
Online: http://jordan.house.gov/contact/

Update:

Here's the text of the letter I sent to all the above:

Dear Mr. President/Senator/Congressman:

Please, please, please speak up, loud and strong, for the Christians who are being marked for extermination in Iraq and Syria, among other places!

When Jews are persecuted, America speaks up. And we stand by Israel. As we should!

When Muslims are persecuted, we speak up. And we went to war several times to defend their rights. As we should!

Why does our government remain silent and inert about this persecution?

Please do what you can to oppose this persecution, and to provide material relief. In particular, I think our country owes these folks asylum, as it was our war that helped create this situation.

Thank you for your attention to my letter.

Rev. Martin Fox

Update, 7/24/14: Welcome readers from Catholic and Enjoying it; thanks Mark Shea for the link!

I hope you will see some good ideas here for acting to help our suffering brothers and sisters. Feel free to add your own in the comments. Glad you came!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Working for justice is not a negotiation with God (Sunday homily)

When we listen to a parable from the Lord, like the Apostles, 
we are often unsure how to understand it.

Here’s a suggestion:

To get more out of what the Lord says,  
Try asking what about his message 
is something you do NOT want to hear.

Let’s try it with this parable.

It clearly illustrates how good and evil will endure until the end, 
and only God will really solve the problem. 
Not only that, God is willing to be patient -- 
often much more patient than we think he ought to be.

So far, so good. 

But many take this parable to mean something else: 
that we don’t really have to worry too much 
about confronting evil -- they let that be God’s job.

So for example, what do you hear people say -- 
even people who imagine themselves to be good Catholics? 

“I’m personally opposed, but…”

See how convenient a surface reading of this parable can be? 

Now, you might ask, 
how can I be so certain I’m right and they’re wrong?

Here’s why. 
Because if you go through the Bible, you will not go far 
before you find God telling us 
he expects us to stand up for justice -- 
particularly for widows and orphans, 
For the foreigner and the outcast, 
the poor and powerless.

But there seems to be a conflict. What do we do with that?

Well, remember my suggestion. 
Let’s look for something in the parable we won’t like to hear.

How about this: You and I don’t get to play God. 

Let me ask you: have you ever played the “if I were king” game?

That’s where we are ready to explain -- 
if anyone asks, and even if they don’t -- 
all the ways we can fix what’s wrong with:

-- The world
-- The church
-- The archdiocese
-- The Reds…or even the Bengals
-- The parish
-- The county or the village
-- Even the family next door!

But here’s the thing. Does anyone ever play, 
“I’ll be vice president -- 
have no power and let someone else call the shots”? 
That’s nowhere near as fun, is it?

That’s how you solve the seeming contradiction.

Elsewhere, our Lord tells us: work for justice. 
But here, he tells us, you won’t be the one in charge.

When we work in various ways in pursuit of justice, 
one of the humbling and frustrating things we must face 
is the limit on just how much we can accomplish.

Let’s talk about the marriage question. 
A lot of us are astonished and discouraged 
to see so many around us going along with redefining marriage. 

Just as an aside: it’s not really all that surprising. 
It’s been a long time in the works. 
To be very plain: when we as a society 
first accepted easy divorce laws, 
and then accepted contraception, 
this was the logical outcome.

Still, a lot of people are thrown off. 
As a result, many are simply abandoning 
what they always believed; they are, as they put it, “evolving.” 
It’s very hard to stand alone.

Meanwhile, maybe others of us, 
while not abandoning the truth at stake here, 
still might get mighty discouraged.

We might be tempted to take 
the “personally opposed, but…” approach, and let God sort it out.

But here’s the thing. 
When God tells us we must work for justice, 
When did he promise we’d see results on our timetable?

This is not a negotiation:
“OK, God, I’ll work for prolife laws, or to help the needy, 
or to oppose the death penalty, or to defend marriage…
but we have to win by such-and-such a date!”

Sorry!

Saint Thomas More was on the right side; 
and he pretty much did everything right. 
And he got his head chopped off! 

But never did he imagine that that meant 
he didn’t have to do exactly the same thing as he did!

So you and I are called to work for justice.

And lest you think that doesn’t apply 
to this question about marriage, 
let me explain why it certainly does.

It’s about justice to the truth. 
The truth about what family is, 
and therefore, what being human is: male and female. 
These are not mere external attributes; 
they are at the core of who we are; 
and we are not interchangeable. 

When government or society starts saying 
that something essential to human identity 
actually has no meaning? 
Watch out: that’s a road to oppression.

And this is about justice to children. 
We have already become a world in which 
children are less a gift we accept, and more a right we demand. 
We have more and more people seeking children, 
not for the sake of the children’s needs, 
but to meet the needs of the adults!

The word for this is narcissism, and it never ends well. 

This massive social experiment will not end well. 
And lots of people will suffer along the way.

Meanwhile, we have the maddening truth of today’s Gospel.
We have our methods and timetable; and God has his.

The parable tells us the field has wheat and weeds; 
children of light and children of darkness. 

Right off the bat I can think of two reasons God is so patient.

First, he’s waiting for those of us, 
who imagine ourselves to be pretty spiffy wheat,
to discover how weedy we actually are!

And then, of course, God is surely eager that 
as many of the weeds as possible cry out: 
Please save me! Lord, have mercy!”

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rectory update

Folks in Russia are aware that the rectory at the parish needed some updates, and is in the process of getting them. So they've been asking how it's going, and am I comfortable?

First, I'm fine. I have everything I need for now, and I'm looking forward to how nice the house will be when all is finished.

To review, here's what is part of the project (which parishioners set in motion with help from my predecessor):

-- Repairing and replacing old plumbing (complete);
-- Tearing up old carpeting and refinishing beautiful wood floors (complete);
-- Repainting the interior (underway);
-- Rewiring; much of the wiring is very old and potentially hazardous (underway);
-- Installing air-conditioning (underway);
-- Installing insulation in the walls (soon);
-- Some updates in the kitchen and bathrooms (complete).

Did I miss anything?

At any rate, here are some photos of the work in progress, and some of the results:

My office, where the magic happens. With both some electrical work underway, and insulation still to be blown into the walls, we haven't hung up any artwork or put books on the shelves yet.
Side porch with new patio furniture! Well, new to me! A parishioner donated it. I like that!
Here's the dining room. Doesn't the floor look great? Since I took this picture, some of the rewiring has taken place; unfortunately, the light fixture needs to be replaced. The wiring was dangerous, and rewiring existing fixtures can be a headache. The walls are also slated for painting soon. 
Ed hard at work on the rewiring.
Kitchen: mostly complete. A little touch-up needed in a few spots. They built some new cabinets and spiffed up the existing ones; I think many of the fixtures are new, and the table and chairs too?
My bedroom. Since this was taken, the window a/c was taken out, as a wall unit was just installed above the bed -- you can just see the edge of it. When everything is finished, I'll hang some pictures. You can see I made my bed!
Here's the guest bedroom, with hardworking parishioner, Bonnie, working hard! We just finished the painting; after the re-wiring is finished, we'll kit it out for a visiting missionary next weekend.
Here's one of the other three bedrooms that will ultimately be painted. We have tables and lamps and other furnishings, but we will need some items eventually -- especially if I have a seminarian or two stay in the parish next summer. However, I would rather wait for garage sales or other opportunities that have a way of showing up.
Meanwhile, the concrete work outside church is underway. You can see the new handicap ramp being completed -- it will be a gentler slope than the older one in front. The older one will remain, but will get a new cap.