Sunday, November 29, 2015

Be ready to go at a moment's notice (Sunday homily)

If there are a phrase that summarizes our readings, it might be, 
“Be sober and alert.” 
Neither the letter from Saint Paul, nor the Lord himself, 
says it quite that way – but that’s the message.

“Strengthen your hearts,” Saint Paul says. 
Don’t become “drowsy” from “carousing and drunkenness,” 
Jesus says – “be vigilant.”

There are two good reasons that people need to remain sober: 
first, so they can act quickly; 
and second, so they make good judgments.

If you are an airline pilot, or a fire fighter, or a doctor, 
and you are on call, you are required to remain sober, 
for obvious reasons. 
You have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. 
Not in six hours, but right now.

And, of course, when we’ve had something to drink, 
even if we’re not intoxicated, it will still affect us. 
That’s why people like to drink: it’s relaxing, 
and it can add to good cheer. 
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. 
Jesus blessed a newly married couple and their guests 
with a very large quantity of very fine wine at their wedding in Cana.

If we do like to have a drink of beer or whisky or wine, 
we learn soon enough that there is a line. 

Beyond that line, and we aren’t just merry; we become stupid. 
Enough bad things happen when adults shoot past that line; 
when kids do it, it is often catastrophic. 
That is why adults don’t want kids drinking. 
Not to keep you from sharing the fun, but to keep you from disaster.

As I say, most of us learn to respect that line, 
and to avoid getting too close to it.

The sobriety Jesus talks about in the Gospel 
is about more than drinking. 

Every few weeks or months, I think about quitting Facebook. 
If I am not careful, I get drawn into some really dumb things. 
Maybe it’s harmless fun; maybe it’s an argument. 
It’s all a huge time-waster; yet it’s strangely attractive. 
Same with the Internet in general.

I have a theory. And I have absolutely zero proof for this theory. 
But here it is. When the Lord comes at the end of time, 
it won’t happen on the Internet. 
While Jesus is coming in the clouds, 
millions of people will be glued to the Internet, unaware, 
as they argue over whose kitten video is better!

Stay sober and alert, Jesus tells us.

This isn’t just about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time. 
The same advice applies to whether we are vigilant 
for the moments of truth that come in our lives all the time.

When my father was alive, there were many nights 
we watched TV together. Nothing wrong with that. 

But if I could go back in time, do you know what I’d do? 
I’d turn off the TV, and ask my dad questions 
it’s too late for me to ask now, because he’s gone.

Be vigilant: life is happening now. God’s grace is happening now. 
Are you awake to it?

If God is acting, if God is talking, how do we know? 
How do we see it, or hear it?

Well, for one, don’t let the TV, the Internet, video games, 
and all the small stuff become too important. 

God IS talking to us; but usually in a quiet voice. 
It takes turning things off, 
and sitting or walking in the silence, to hear him.

And, if you’re wondering where to look for God, 
consider what Jesus told us to do so many times. 
What did he hope to find us doing, when he returned? 
Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the forgotten. 

There are families in our community 
who have suffered painful losses recently. Reach out to them. 

There are soup kitchens in Sidney and Piqua 
that would love to have some additional volunteers. 
Would you like to serve Jesus a meal? 
You will find him at those soup kitchens.

In our Symbolon series of videos we’re looking at together, 
this week we’re looking at the story of salvation. 
God created us, humanity was wrecked by sin, and God acts to save us. 
That work of salvation happened at the Cross, 
and it will be completed at the end of time. 
But what happens in the meantime? 
God is working every day for the salvation of souls: 
mine, ours, and those of everyone we know.

And he is asking each of us to do our part. 
Like participants in a battle, 
we seldom see how our own part even matters. 
So much of what’s going on around us is confusing and disheartening. 
Most of our tasks are unglamorous and tedious.

Last week, I heard second-hand 
about someone I’ve known a long time who was in the hospital. 
That person and I had been close, but we’d been at odds many times. 
There was a lot of hurt – and I wasn’t sure if I would go visit. 
I told myself, maybe it wouldn’t even be welcome. 
I can always go later.

But I knew that was wrong. I did go. In fact, my visit was welcome. 
There were apologies and tears. I am glad I went. 

Did it change the big picture? I cannot know that. 
But one thing I do know is that Jesus wanted me to make that visit. 
And that’s not a special communication just for me; 
it’s what he told every one of us to do. 
Reach out to the lost; forgive, not seven times, 
but seventy times seven times. 

Be vigilant. Be ready. If we’re not too caught up in our own stuff, 
our own issues, our own hurt and doubts and agendas, 
we will be ready to go and do what the Lord asks, at a moment’s notice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What did Father make for Thanksgiving?

I enjoyed Thanksgiving at my cousin's house, with some of his family and mine. With his and my parents gone, our siblings are scattered over half the country, and we do not often get together. My cousin has lost two of his brothers; I am blessed to say all my siblings are still on their earthly journey.

At any rate, my cousin suggested I bring a side dish and something to drink. So I brought along two bottles of wine (one white, one red), and for a side dish, I paid an homage to my dear, late aunt -- my cousin's mother. She always made green bean casserole -- you know, the kind with cream of mushroom soup and fried onion rings? While I have nothing against doing it that way, I wanted to do it somewhat differently. (I worked from a recipe on Allrecipes, but I can't find it just now, sorry.)

So, I started with water, heated to boiling, for the fresh green beans. I used a two-pound package.

Here are all the other ingredients, spread out.

OK, you can probably figure out what's happening here...

This is both bacon fat, as well as some butter, melting in the pan. The bacon fat was poured off the "baconator" (a plastic rack for cooking bacon in the microwave). Sorry I didn't get a picture of that. I cooked up about 20 slices of bacon, as called for.

In go the sliced mushrooms. Not all of them, however. I was following the recipe; in retrospect, I might easily have doubled, or tripled, the amount of mushrooms.

The recipe didn't call for it, but I wanted onions. So I sliced one up, and sauteed it in butter. Again, in retrospect, I might easily have doubled the quantity.

The mushrooms cooked up nicely, especially with much added garlic powder. FYI, this is a nice way to cook mushrooms: just butter (or oil or fat), salt, pepper, and LOTS of garlic powder, especially toward the end. The garlic coats the mushrooms. I like to make mushrooms that way as a side dish to a steak. Here, I added nearly a pint of heavy cream (I say "nearly," because I'd used some of it for something else, I don't recall what. I figured it would be enough).

Here are the beans, out of the water, into the baking pan. No, it's not a very pretty pan. I tend to cook my vegetables a little firmer. That's how I like them.

Here are the onions, just about to go on the beans. By the way, this is also a very nice way to cook onions as a side dish. Just add salt and pepper.

I like the onions with a bit of browning like this.

The recipe called for thickening the cream. I don't think I thickened it enough, but I was getting impatient to get on the road. If I do this again, I'll cook it longer.

I also didn't show you the process of turning the crispy slices of bacon into bacon bits. This is where my food processor proved very useful. I did the task in two batches, no problems. What's more, there was an added bonus:


All around the inside of the bowl of the food processor was a light dusting of fine grains of bacon. Pixie dust is imaginary; bacon dust, I am pleased to inform you, is real! And delicious! Magically delicious! If I could have gotten my head inside that bowl, to lick it out, I would have.

At any rate, here's the bacon on top of the casserole. I actually only used about half of it.

You'll also notice some parmesan cheese, which I put on first. In fact, this is where I cleverly used a leftover. The other day, I made some fish, and that recipe called for coating the fish in a mixture of parmesan cheese and ground almonds. I had a good quantity of that mixture left over, and this seemed a perfect use for it. Almond go nicely with green beans.

So I took the unbaked casserole to Cincinnati and my cousin's girlfriend put it in the oven for 30 minutes.


Everyone seemed to like it, but honestly, I missed the dish my loving aunt would have made. The cream sauce, being thinner, tended to stay to the bottom of the pan. Perhaps had I mixed it with the cheese beforehand? Or else cooked it down further.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King of our world; and of me (Sunday homily)

This feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 
It wasn’t an idea that just came out of the blue. 
The Holy Father was reflecting deeply on the trends of his time. 

This was the time in which communism had taken power in Russia 
and was threatening Europe; 
Mussolini and his Fascist party had been in power in Italy 
for several years; and two years before, 
Hitler had tried the first time to seize power in Germany, 
and had published his manifesto for Nazism. 

The pope knew the times, and knew that the world 
needed to be reminded: Jesus Christ is the only rightful king!

Pope Pius said the following when he declared this feast: 

…manifold evils in the world 
were due to the fact that the majority of men 
had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; 
that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: 
and…as long as individuals and states refused to submit 
to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect 
of a lasting peace among nations. 
Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.

It’s just as true today as nearly 100 years ago.

Now, let’s think about what it means to proclaim 
Jesus Christ the sole, rightful king of this world. 
Again, Pope Pius said that this concerns the spiritual life. 

But his authority is not limited to that. Let’s be very clear: 
every government, every official, every society, without exception,
 is subject to the reign of Jesus Christ! 

We can understand political figures, who are not Christian, 
not recognizing this. 

They do not realize Jesus is the Lord and we pray that, 
through our faithful and loving witness, 
they will come to know Jesus is Lord.

But then we have people who profess to be Christians, 
who seek public authority, who seek to exercise power, 
and yet they claim that they will not let 
Jesus Christ and his teaching influence them. 

Pope Pius taught that they are in “grave error” 
to think that “Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs.”

Let’s take this another step, however. 

In our country, the real rulers 
aren’t the President and Congress, governor and legislators and judges; 
“we the people” are sovereign. 

We choose who makes the laws, and we can replace them. 

So Pope Pius’ words are really directed to us. 
And that means, it seems to me, that each and every Catholic 
has a grave duty—a grave duty, I repeat—to do the following things:

1) To be well informed as we reasonably can, as citizens.
2) To be registered to vote, and to then to cast our votes at every election.
And, also,
3) To cast our votes at all times in a way consistent with Christ’s Law.

We will often complain about 
how our judges and elected officials do not protect the unborn, 
and do not stand up for true marriage—
meaning between a man and a woman. 

But who gave them the power? 
President Obama is militantly pro-legal abortion – 
yet he was elected with the help of millions of Catholics. 

And, lest you think I am being partisan, let me point out: 
the last time the Supreme Court upheld abortion-on-demand, in 1992, 
the five justices who did that were all Republican appointees. 

And in the upcoming election, there are candidates 
who say they are willing to use torture, 
and to treat some groups as second-class citizens. 
Let us be very careful not to give our endorsement 
to any of these grave offenses to human dignity.

When Catholics leave their faith outside the voting booth, 
they are pushing King Jesus outside the voting booth!

Some will say, but look what Jesus said to Pilate: 
“my kingdom is not of this world.” 
That’s true: his kingdom does not originate in this world, 
because it originates in heaven. 

No one makes Jesus king; he is God.

But if he did not seek to bring his Kingdom into this world, 
for what reason did he even come? 

When people say that Jesus’ kingship is only about heaven, be careful – 
what you are saying, without realizing it, 
is that we don’t have any reason to seek justice or compassion 
in this world, but only in the world to come! 

But we know Jesus himself said no such thing. 
On the contrary: when we stand before him, 
on the Last Day, he will separate to both sides of him, 
those who showed mercy, and worked for justice, 
and those who did not.

When his Kingdom will come is up to him; 
our part is to be faithful messengers and citizens of his kingdom, 
each day of our lives.

We might ask: even if Jesus is not allowed to be king of our country, 
then where do you and I allow him to be king?

Do I let him reign over my thoughts? 
Or, do I let bigotry and vengeance find place in my mind and heart?
For that matter, if Jesus is king in our hearts, 
how can worry and fear find a place there?

Does Jesus govern my hands? Or do they sometimes strike in anger? 
Does Jesus control my tongue? Lord, have mercy!

Is Jesus king over our computers and our TVs? 
Or are there places we go online that dishonor him and his creation?
If we claim Jesus is king over our lives, 
one proof of that is how willing we are to bring our lives to him 
in the sacrament of confession.

You and I cannot make our society recognize Jesus as king, 
but what about our own homes and our families? 
What about the priorities of our time and money? 
These things we can surrender to Jesus Christ, our sovereign king.

And to quote Pope Pius a final time: 
“When once [we] recognize, both in private and in public life, 
that Christ is King, society will at last receive 
the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, 
peace and harmony.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees? A cautious yes

In the wake of the terror attacks in Beirut and Paris last week has come a wave of politicians and others calling for refugees from the Middle East not to be settled in Europe and the U.S. As typically happens, the strength of emotions voiced in this protest -- directed, in this country, against President Obama and his administration -- is matched by an equally emotional response: people who object to admitting refugees are stupid (one Facebook commenter kept calling everyone who disagreed with admitting refugees "a**hat"), not very Christian (so says Mark Shea), cowardly (so said the great uniter, President Obama); well, you get the idea.

Well, it's not an obvious call.

So said, of all people, far-left Mother Jones: Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees.

In the Mother Jones article cited above, you'll see reference to screening of refugees, which "is already pretty tight." If so, this is good to know. So says Mr. Shea, in one of his less bombastic moments. He provides these links about that screening, which I pass along to you. (Full disclosure: I comment periodically on Mr. Shea's blog, but not under my own name.) Let us note, for example, that the proposal is to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria; and if the NPR report cited above is correct, "half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age."

Ah, but this comes from the Obama Administration. Do we have reason to be skeptical? Yes, I think we do. The Obama Administration has tied itself into pretzels trying to be politically correct about all this, with only grudging acknowledgement of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, avoiding any reference to the obvious fact of so much of this terror being rooted in an extreme expression of Islam -- not to mention this administration's choice to be a hand-wringing, impotent observer during the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War.

A cartoon I saw recently aptly illustrates the President's strange approach to all this:

So, do Americans have reason to be distrustful of President Obama, given his record? Sorry to say, but yes, I think we do.

And yet, with all that, I think there is no question that we -- we who are Catholics, we who are Christians, we Americans who want to be true to our national values -- ought to accept refugees.

No, this isn't like the decision to turn away Jews fleeing Europe in the World War II years. The analogy is false every which way. To refer back to the Mother Jones article, above: the reason people are voicing alarm is rooted precisely in the problem of would-be terrorists entering in the same wave. I defy anyone to show where there was any serious concern, in the '30s and '40s, that there were terrorists or saboteurs among the Jewish refugees. If President Obama -- instead of aggravating the situation with his taunting -- were to announce that 100% of the refugees we accept will be Christians, or non-Muslim minorities, or else only women, elderly and children, I predict the opposition would evaporate.

It's also outrageous to indict the American character, which is what the President's "progressive" allies do reflexively. No nation on earth is more open to refugees, to immigrants, and to diverse cultures. And it is precisely because of this openness that there is a real vulnerability.

By the way, one of the points being made against resettling refugees here is that they have found refuge elsewhere. And that's true. However, let's note that three countries in particular are harboring vast numbers of refugees: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. I listed them in order of their stability, because this is a major concern. There is a very good argument to be made that alleviating the destabilization of these countries -- on the frontline of the area where ISIS is operating -- is most definitely in our national interest, as well as a manifest humanitarian interest. If you do a little searching online, you'll discover that millions of refugees are living in these areas. Perhaps these three countries can handle it; but if not, is that really hard to believe?

It also occurs to me that helping Turkey with its refugee problem may well be a price to be paid for them to acquiesce in the U.S. helping the Kurds fight ISIS. As it stands, the Kurds seem to be our most reliable allies on the ground, shooting back at the ISIS. It seems obvious to me that the best course of action for the U.S. is to partner with the Kurds; but Iraq, Iran and Turkey all have reason to oppose any such move, because it threatens the creation of an independent Kurdistan, or something short of it. While the U.S. can reasonably get away with ignoring Iranian and Iraqi objections, ignoring Turkish complaints is not so easy.

Now, I have no idea is this is, indeed, what the administration is doing, it's just possible; I saw recently that we are doing more to help the Kurds. If so, good for the President. But the question remains, how are we keeping the Turks happy? Accepting refugees may be part of it.

I am not ignoring the danger of would-be jihadis entering along with these refugees. I have three thoughts about that.

First, if indeed, only 2 percent of the refugees we are accepting are males of military age, then it wouldn't be so hard, would it, either to refuse that 2 percent?

Second, the reality is that our borders are fairly porous -- and not only because of insufficient immigration policies, especially regarding our southern border. We have problems with unaccounted immigrants, not to mention home-grown jihadis, because ours is an open society. Aside from the many millions who come here illegally, our nation admits millions of people legally -- and a good number of them stay longer than they should. This is very hard for a free society to prevent.

My sense is this -- and I say this without bombast or chest-thumping moral superiority -- that refusing to help these refugees isn't going to make much difference, if any, regarding the real threat of jihadis entering our nation. If, indeed, the refugees are carefully screened, my guess is the bomb-throwers will seek other ways in.

Further, being compassionate toward these refugees doesn't mean we have to give them the run of the place. We're admitting them so they can be fed, housed and live in a decent fashion. There's nothing uncompassionate about this being temporary -- i.e., until such time as they can return home safely. That is to say, admitting refugees isn't the same as granting them permanent residence or citizenship.

Finally, as Christians, obeying the Lord's commands are not conditional on risk. Following Jesus means risking ridicule and opposition, giving up everything for him, and finally embracing the cross. At some point, we have to place some trust in God that when we do what honors him, he will respond generously.

Please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Four Last Things (Sunday homily)

Sorry for the delay in reporting on my homily. I was traveling most of last week, so I didn't really have much time to write out my homily. Then, Sunday afternoon, I drove over to Columbus to take our parish seminarians out to dinner; so I didn't take time to write a post Sunday or Monday.

All I can do at this point is summarize my homily:

- I explained what the "four last things are": death, judgment, heaven and hell, and why they are associated with this time of year (the end of the liturgical year; moving from fall to winter in northern hemisphere, the readings).

- We all die; but we often imagine death is far away. Referring to my recent travel, I said that being in an airplane -- a tube of metal, 30,000 feet high, with nothing but air beneath me -- has a way of making death a little more real. I described my own practice of an act of contrition and the St. Michael prayer on take-off, and a Glory Be and Hail Mary on a safe landing; and lots more prayers if we hit a rough patch! And, I said that being on a plane, knowing I wasn't in a state of grace, isn't fun. Better to go to confession!

- I talked about Father Tom Grilliot, who in his last several years, spoke candidly about his mortality because of his cancer. It's important to talk about death, not avoid talking about it.

- There are two judgments: our particular judgment when we die, and the general judgment when Jesus brings things to a close. We are judged on our faith and works; but we can't do works to make up for lack of faith. No one can impress God with his or her good deeds. Faith -- love of God -- is necessary; but works must follow. As Saint James said, faith without works is dead. We also have a choice: we can be judged strictly or with mercy: recall Jesus said, by the measure you measure, so shall it be measured out to you. If we are harsh, the standard applied to us will be as well.

- I talked a bit about both heaven and hell. We can't expect to enter heaven without friendship with God; because, what would we do in heaven if we don't want to be with God? It would be like being in a Baskin Robbins store for eternity, but not liking ice cream.

- I talked more about the resurrection, which comes at the Last Day. We get our bodies back, yet new and improved. Our bodies aren't shells; we don't wear them, and then discard them. We are body-spirit; that's how God created us and that wholeness will be restored. This has implications. First, that our bodies matter, and what we do in the body matters. Second, Creation matters. I mentioned Laudato Si in reference to respect for creation as reflecting God's glory.

- I cited something St. Augustine said (although I rephrased it): if we are friends with God, why are we afraid to meet him?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Jesus calls you. What will you answer? (Sunday homily)

The Gospel we just heard poses a very simple question, 
but it cuts deep, right to our very core: 
how much are you and I willing to give to Jesus Christ?

It’s not necessarily a matter of money. 
The widow in the Gospel didn’t just give a donation. 
As Jesus said, she gave everything she had to live on. 
She put everything on the line.

How much will we put on the line?

Blessed John Newman, the great English protestant 
who became Catholic, gave a sermon one time 
in which he posed a similar question. 
He asked whether we are really putting anything at risk for our faith. 
And he made the point that quite a lot of us 
probably would make most of the same decisions, 
whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not. 
We would probably have the same job, the same life, and so forth.

I think that is more true than it is comfortable to admit.

At the end of Mass, you’re going to hear a few words 
from Marty Arlinghaus, who is a seminarian 
for our Archdiocese from Clifton, in Cincinnati. 
He’s putting his life on the line. 
If he becomes a priest, his life will be rather different 
from what otherwise it might have.

He wouldn’t be doing that if he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. 
I wouldn’t have done it.

And I know many of our parents 
have rejected contraception, 
and made sacrifices in welcoming more children 
because they want to share the life of Christ, 
eternal life, with their children. 
They are thinking not only of this world, but the world to come.

I am confident there are a lot of stories that could be told – 
but we don’t tell the stories – 
about making a sacrifice, forgiving a wrong, taking the harder path, 
because of the words of Christ and for love of him.

Still, there’s that widow. Not a rich person. A poor widow. 
She gave not just something, but everything she had.

At this moment, I really think I’m in the way; 
I’m in the middle of a conversation 
which is really between each of us, and Jesus himself. 
He’s the one who makes the invitation.
He is the one who calls us: 
come, follow me – and Peter and Andrew, James and John 
left their nets; their livelihood; everything they had.

Jesus calls you. 
Your Creator and Redeemer speaks to you as only he can. 
He has prepared your life and given you your gifts. 
What will you answer?