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

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.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wednesday night dinner

One of the questions people are asking me is about food: what I like, and do I cook? 

It may be related to the fact that my admirable predecessor was never seen eating.

So, for those who may be interested, here's what the parish priest of Russia fixed for dinner tonight:

Cube steak, sauteed with a steak seasoning, a little flour, and olive oil. Done medium. Very quick to cook. One of the parishioners warned me it might be a little tough -- but not meat from Buschers! It was quite tender. I wanted to get a ribeye, but it was $14/lb., while the cube steak was less than half that! This was preceded by an antipasto of cheese and crackers, and paired with green beans lightly steamed with a little butter (ahem...in the micro!) All this was accompanied by a feisty Chianti (i.e., box wine). 

For dessert, I had some peach ice cream as only Graeters can do it, accompanied by some fresh raspberries, dressed with a little sugar. 

And pretzels. If you don't know about pretzels with ice cream (only Grippos will do), then try it before you scoff. You will be surprised.

Life in Russia

Here's how it stands here...

You can tell, from the time between posts, that I'm keeping busy. I'm a little tired, but it's all good.

These wonderful folks get up early! (They work farms, you know!) The Angelus bells that ring promptly at six -- just outside my window! -- may have something to do with it. But it's mainly farming.

I've been having a series of meetings with parishioners; three nights a week, into early August. We divided up the parish list, inviting about a hundred folks each time. They don't all come, but anyone getting invited feels better about the parish, just knowing its happening. And when folks come together, they not only meet me, but they get to know everyone else better (although everyone here knows everyone -- it seems -- already!). I'm working on the names, but failing a lot; but everyone still has a good humor. I'm asking folks what they like about the parish; and then they get to ask me anything.

You know what I've learned so far? People here really love their parish! At least, those I've met.

Lots of the normal stuff of parish life. Daily Mass, confessions, anointing people as they need it; I had Mass at the Versailles nursing home, and visited folks who didn't make it to Mass.

Meanwhile, I'm getting things set up in the house. While I'm stocking up the food items I like, parishioners are painting the house, while various contractors are working on air conditioning (we never had it before!), overdue wiring upgrades, insulation, and concrete work. Lots of coming and going! 

Some folks are a little surprised that a big-city guy like me would like coming to a really small town -- and they are flabbergasted when I tell them I asked to come here (once I found out I couldn't stay at Holy Cross-Immaculata). 

Here's the thing.

This is a peaceful, happy place. The children are friendly and happy. Life isn't easy, but it's sane and good. And here, the parish is the center of the community. Faith is the center. Our Lord Jesus Christ is the center! 

Why in the world wouldn't I want to come here?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sin & redemption, time & eternity (Sunday homily)

(My homily is a little different today. Comments are always welcome, especially for this one.)

My homily today is going to be kind of heavy. 
And a little longer. But I’ve heard you’re used to that?
It’s about sin and redemption; time and eternity. 
I know what some of you are thinking: oh no! 
Now we won’t make it to Bob Evans ahead of the Protestants!

Why would I want to tear off this big bite?

Well, because that’s what Saint Paul is talking about 
in the second reading.

We heard Saint Paul contrast 
the “sufferings of this present time” 
with “the glory to be revealed”; 
and he also talks about “all creation” suffering, 
and “groaning” to be set free.

One of the things Paul is telling us is that sin isn’t just personal. 
Sin affects all creation. The entire universe!

How this happened we do not know. 
Genesis describes God creating Adam and Eve in Paradise, 
where there is no time; no decay; no weariness; no suffering. 

When Adam and Eve fell from grace, and they leave, 
they enter this world of time, 
which brings with it both growth and decay, 
suffering and triumph, life and death. 

We can challenge the story of Genesis all we want; 
but what Saint Paul says about Creation is demonstrably true: 
it’s embodied in the laws of physics. 
This glorious creation, on its own, is running down toward death!

So what is sin? Sin is rebellion: our will against God’s. 
And once a gap was created between humanity and God -- 
a darkness of distrust -- that brings corruption. 
This is what we call Original Sin, 
that created a rupture in the harmony between man and God.

Do you want an illustration of this? Think of Christmas. 
You have been working hard preparing for Saint Nicholas’ visit, 
and at last the family dives into 
the pile of presents under the tree. 
There’s a moment of pure joy: the tree, the lights, 
your children’s faces, it’s so wonderful, isn’t it?

How long does it last? Before…

“Gimme, gimme!” “That’s mine! Take your hands off!” 
And then, the unkindest words of all: 
“Is that all there is?”

This sin problem of ours, 
which takes pleasure and turns it to lust, or greed or gluttony, 
not only corrupts us, but also our relationships. 

And that leads to injustice and cruelty on a social level. 
In our own history, 
somehow a lot of individual people with bigoted views 
turned into Jim Crow and segregation.

If you’re like me, you read to keep up with 
what’s going on the world. 
Whether it’s world news, or science, or medicine, 
lots of folks are always trying 
to identify the causes for our problems.

Well, Saint Paul just told us: the problem is sin. 

Do you want to change the world? Start by changing you. 
St. Francis, and St. Ignatius of Loyola, among others, got this: 
they realized the power 
of a small number of people who lived truly changed lives.

So our program for changing the world 
begins right here in our tiny corner of it. 
And to the extent each of us seeks our own true conversion: 
through self knowledge, humility, 
and coming to Jesus frequently in confession and the Eucharist? 
That’s a powerful force!

But we don’t stop with personal conversion. 
When sin infects our society with injustice, we also change laws. 
That’s what we did with segregation, 
and it’s what we are still seeking to do in other ways, 
particularly defending human life in the womb.

Let me expand a little more on conversion.
And I want to use the example 
of a movie from a few years ago called Groundhog Day. 
And I use this because it connects to the other idea 
in what we heard from Saint Paul, which is eternity.

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray 
is an cynical, self-absorbed TV weatherman 
who is somehow trapped living Groundhog Day, 
over, and over and over.

At first, the Bill Murray character 
lives this endless day as a kind of hell. 
He’s trapped and he can’t escape. 

Then it becomes a kind of purgatory. 
It begins to change him. As he changes, 
the day goes from being a nightmare to something truly human; 
he becomes someone he never had been before. 
Someone who gives, and helps, and changes others.

You see? What redeems that endless day isn’t a different day; 
but a different Bill Murray! Conversion. 

When we talk about eternity, 
sooner or later we talk about heaven or hell. 
So here’s a way to understand heaven and hell.

If you and I live this life unhappy with God, 
unhappy with anyone else, unable to find any joy…
then one day we will wake up, and that will be our eternity: hell.

And that will happen if we try to live a life where we are king. 
Remember what the sin of Adam and Eve was: 
“you shall be as god.” 
They wanted a world that revolves around them. 

Isn’t that what we all crave? Isn’t that what greed and lust are? 
And when anything threatens our king-of-the-world routine, 
that’s when wrath comes out. 
Either kids hitting each other with Christmas toys, 
or nations with bombs.

On the other hand, if you and I find joy in this world -- 
above all, in people…

And that joy comes, doesn’t it, not really from taking…but giving!
Look at how all known forms of life operate: 
we are designed to give life. 

It’s woven into everything about us. 
To motivate us, 
it’s coupled with really strong desires and pleasures -- 
which, of course, we manage to mess up! 
Even so, there is no joy so great as the joy of giving life!

Yes, I mean procreation, but not just that.

Long after a father and mother 
have raised their children, what then?
They help others do the same. 
Or they find other ways to share life with friends and neighbors, or even strangers. 
Isn’t that what we do with all the countless charities we have? 

And those of us who never have our own children -- 
such as priests -- isn’t that what we do? 
We give life in other ways.

This fundamental nature of each of us -- 
dying to self, giving of self, for others -- 
is what gives the most powerful satisfaction of all. 

The Gospel tells about the “seed”; 
And we know from another passage 
that our Lord calls himself the grain of wheat 
that dies, to sprout up to new life. 
What did he say? 
“I came that they might have life -- and have it to the full.”

This is what the Cross and Resurrection are; 
what the Holy Mass is; 
what we seek in the sacraments, right?

Isn’t it interesting that it’s also built into our very DNA?

And if, each day, we live that kind of life -- 
in the words attributed to Saint Francis, 
“in giving that we receive; and in dying, 
that we’re born to eternal life” -- 
then one day, we will wake up, not in time, 
but to that endless day: 
an eternity of life and joy: and that is heaven!