Sunday, December 01, 2019

Is Jesus coming? He is here now! (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,
In Jerusalem, built on Mount Zion.
That of course is where Jesus gathered with his Apostles 
on the night before he died; and the next day, 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 when it is very risky for people to take part.

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

The emphasis in the Gospel – and in Advent generally –
is on watchfulness for the coming of Jesus.
In a word, Advent is about eternity.
You might say, but I thought it is about Christmas?
But you see, Christmas, too, is about eternity, about heaven,
Because with Christmas, heaven bursts forth on earth,
And we begin to see heaven among us.

So when you and I talk about Jesus’ coming,
It’s not as if he’s now absent from the world. 
People will say, “he’s coming back – as if, he’s not here.
I think the reason many people talk that way
Is because they don’t realize Jesus is here, right now:
He never left!

They don’t know what the sacraments are:
That the Holy Spirit enters us in baptism and confirmation;
That Jesus stands with us, in suffering and pain, 
in the anointing of the sick; 
that marriage makes real, in a flesh-and-blood way, 
the love of Jesus for his people.

People don’t realize that Christ truly acts through the priesthood;
And they simply don’t know the truth of what the Holy Mass is, 
Of what the Eucharist is: Jesus is here!

It’s really easy for us as Catholics to take all this for granted;
But we must not! These are astounding gifts! Jesus is with us!

So our task as Catholics isn’t to talk about Jesus coming as if he isn't here now – 
because he is here now! – but rather, Jesus coming to reign reigning.* 
He is king now, yet he is among us with the greatest patience.
He has the right to command, and yet he continues to invite.

There will come a time when he will take his throne at last,
And the time for his people to hear, and repent, and receive him,
Will finally come to an end. 

This is our opportunity: to get our own hearts and lives ready.
The witness of our own readiness – our own seriousness and urgency – 
is what will help others to wake up and get serious, too.

I think of the whole issue of global warming and climate change.
Whatever you think about that subject, consider this:
We have movie stars and celebrities who talk about how urgent it is, 
and everyone should live simply – but what do they do?
They live like kings and fly all over the world on private jets.
They aren’t very convincing witnesses.

Well: we have lots of people around us who don’t take Jesus seriously.
They don’t know that Jesus is here, now.
Well: are you and I convincing witnesses?

* I made these changes at all Masses for clarity.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Houston Brewery goes all in for Satan

This is pretty stunning. According to LifeSite News, there was a "Black Mass" in Houston last Saturday evening. I have been pretty busy lately, so I was only vaguely aware of this story last week. But today I was scanning Facebook and I saw something posted from the "Satanic Temple" in Houston bragging about desecrating the Blessed Sacrament -- and here is the part that caught my eye -- the event was "hosted" by Brash Brewing Company.

Of course all this business is repulsive on so many levels. But I'm going to save my commentary for a moment while I unravel this a bit. What interested me was the involvement of the business. Was the brewery unaware of this? How had they reacted to being involved in this.

And this what stuns me: Brash Brewing seems to have been perfectly fine with it, and fine with treating Jesus and those who believe in him with contempt. How do I know? I went to their Facebook page and read their posts for myself.

PAUSE AND READ CAREFULLY: If you visit their site, please do not be obnoxious or offensive. Why would you do such a thing? I'm not sure that any comments at all will be helpful, but I can't fault you if you want to ask questions or offer kind words. But don't be a jerk, please? That's not why I am writing this; and as you'll see right away, it just confirms what the folks there seem to think about all Christians.

So here are some of the things I thought about this:

- I am truly horrified that any business (really, anyone, anywhere) would welcome a Satanic ritual into its facilities. I suppose if you are absolutely convinced there is nothing supernatural, you might think it's all a joke. But if you do believe in the supernatural, wouldn't you wonder about what sort of forces you're inviting in with such activities?

- And then there's this: why in the world would you want to go out of your way to offend a significant portion of your possible customer base? Catholics most of all, but surely a lot of other people are likely to be offended; and not a few people simply uncomfortable.

- Although I'm not expecting to be in Houston anytime soon, if I am ever there, I can tell you I won't go near that place. No, not because I "hate" them as some of the juvenile comments on their Facebook page describe the reactions of Catholics. I certainly don't hate them; if I did, the most hateful thing I could do, as a Catholic, would be to consign them to hell. On the contrary, I am deeply concerned for their welfare, both in this life and the next; and I would have no problem telling the folks that in person if the opportunity arose. Plus, I like beer, and it might be I would have enjoyed their beer.

But no way I'm even entering a building that has, more or less, been dedicated to Satan. Even as a priest -- indeed, you might say, precisely because I am a priest -- I would not go into such an encounter rashly. There are priests who are properly delegated to deal with such things and I am not one of them. If there were some true necessity? That's different. But without any lack of charity toward the folks who own that business: there's no way I'd put myself in that situation. That's not a "boycott"; that's just prudence.

- It's really hard to understand the thought process that leads to aligning yourself with a Black Mass in this way, unless you are a Satanist, or there is some serious hatred at work. Why? Because the key to a Black Mass is precisely about attacking and denigrating Jesus and the Holy Eucharist. Even if you believe the Holy Mass is nothing but a ritual, and the Eucharist is nothing but bread, then why would you go out of your way to mock it? It seems to me you do this, either because you believe there's something real here -- and you want to attack that reality; or else you want to express contempt and cause deliberate offense to those who believe in it.

- So it sure seems like Brash Brewing has adopted this position: "We hate you Catholics." If you dispute my characterization, I would invite you to look over the Facebook page and see what I saw: lots of pretty anti-Catholic tropes and images; also the company proudly has a "Black Mass" beer; and it is offering some cups with Satanic symbols. And if Brash Brewing wants to come back and dispute my characterization, then all I can say is, you chose to offend Catholics -- of all stripes -- in the most blatant way possible. Even those Catholics who agree with Brash Brewery's various political and ideological views on abortion and marriage aren't going to feel a lot of love from a "Black Mass."

- Meanwhile, I noticed some of the comments on Brash Brewing's Facebook play coy: well, how do you know it was a consecrated host? Of course, I don't. Of course, I hope it wasn't. But those who organized the event said it was. Are they lying? Even so, it's still a deliberate offense -- and if it was a consecrated host, it also means someone likely committed what may not be prosecuted as a crime, but morally is one: going into a place of worship and stealing a sacred object from that place of worship under false pretenses. Put this in the context of any non-Christian religion, and the matter would be crystal-clear to everyone.

- In the course of reading about this, there are a couple of things I noticed about those who defended this Black Mass or who dismissed the concerns about it. There was a lot of pain and anger, along the lines of, you hurt me so we'll hurt you back. Also, I couldn't help getting the sense that for some people, it's all just a joke. Not just the Black Mass; everything.

- My last thought is this: is this just a weird aberration, or is this a sign of things to come? It's bad enough to see so many businesses get on board the "gay marriage" train and the "transgender" train; but so far, I think such decisions are being made in the misguided belief that only a few eccentrics will be offended. (And, in a sense, they may have calculated correctly: large numbers of Christians who ought to be offended, aren't; and lots more feel powerless.) But this is, as I said, a deliberate offense. Are more businesses really going to go down that road?

In a way, this doesn't surprise me. Back when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the Obergefell decision imposing a radical redefinition of marriage on the entire country, I predicted that we would come to a point where to deem homosexual behavior immoral, and to oppose redefining marriage, would not merely be a point of disagreement, but would make you evil -- in the same category as the KKK. The comments on Brash Brewing's page -- not necessarily by the company -- take that view.

Still, it's hard to see how this wasn't a catastrophic business decision.

I really don't wish these folks any ill. My preferred outcome would be that the perpetrators of this offense would have a change of heart and apologize; and that those who were offended would generously forgive. How wonderful if they invited the bishop to send someone to exorcise the building. But barring such an outcome, I must say candidly that I will be interested to see what becomes of this business. Will it pay a price for such a bizarre course of action, or will it be rewarded?

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Christ is King everywhere. Make him King in your life (Sunday homily)

Today is the Solemnity of Christ the King of the Universe.
The title may seem grandiose, but it makes the point:
Jesus is king of everything, everyone, everywhere: no limits!

This feast was established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI.
It was a time of “isms” – that is, causes demanding total allegiance, 
and seeking a total reordering of society:
Fascism, communism, socialism and Nazism among them.

Alas, we have new “isms” being added to the old ones.
Caring for the environment is a good and necessary thing, 
but for some it becomes a kind of religion, worshipping Nature
while human beings are treated as the enemy.

For others, the object of worship is the self; our own will.
So all the confusion today about sex 
and man and woman and marriage and identity? 
That’s us saying to God: MY will be done, not yours!

In the end, it’s all variations on the same theme:
People who will not have God as God; they want to be their own god.

This feast is when you and I as Christians must bear witness:
Without God, humanity loses himself. 

There is a second point to make on this feast, and it is this:
Bearing this witness means helping to reflect Christ and his Truth 
in our society and yes in our laws.


Yes, we live in a pluralistic society, and we have religious freedom.
But that doesn’t silence our own voices or our votes;
That doesn’t mean our consciences must be locked away!

It does mean, however, that you and I must reach out to our neighbors, 
who don’t share our faith, but who may share common values.
You don’t have to be Catholic or Christian to value human life,
To know that men are made for women and vice-versa,
And to see that the family is the foundation of human society.

Let me make a third point that isn’t about larger forces in society, 
or about a future that you and I can only glimpse darkly.
This is about something each of us can do, here and now, 
to make Christ king in our own lives, and show him as such to others.

When the weather is calm, a fence can be put up pretty loosely;
it doesn’t need much to stay standing. 
But when the winds start raging, 
that fence will be knocked flat, fast,
if it isn’t dug deep and well anchored.

That’s what we are facing today as Christians:
Headwinds that are becoming more ferocious daily.
That means the time is now to strengthen our foundation, dig it deep.

This is why Sunday Mass matters. 
It’s our weekly reminder of who we really are: citizens of heaven.
And when our culture is forgetting God more and more,
It’s all the more necessary to make a conscious effort to remember.
To be all the more deliberate and focused.
As a priest, I will readily admit Mass can become routine – 
Am I the only one? I suspect not.
Each time we come into this church, we enter King Jesus’ presence!
Each Mass, we witness the renewal of our salvation!

When you and I take advantage of confession,
That is the most powerful tool for re-ordering our lives 
so that Christ is at the center, 
not work, not sports, not ego, not pleasure.
The tug-of-war is always there for everyone one of us.

Our reading project for Advent and Christmas – 
reading our way through the Gospel of Matthew – is a great tool.
The brown books are the Gospel of Matthew itself;
The white folders are study guides if you want it.
The cards in the pews are so you can sign up for a discussion group.

At the end of this Mass, as we do every year,
We will pray together a prayer enthroning Jesus as our king.
How about we pray for each other that what we say in that prayer, 
each of us can find ways to make happen 
in our daily lives for the coming year?

Individually, and as a parish, you and I can be part of larger efforts
to make a difference in society;
In our own lives, in our daily choices,
you and I can enthrone Jesus more and more as King.
We don’t have to wait to get started.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Turkey Dinner for the Over-70s

Every month in Russia St. Remy hosts a luncheon for our over-70 members of the community. Last month at my suggestion we had Oktoberfest (but no beer!), with brats and metts and saurkraut. This month, we had an early Thanksgiving, which was my fault. It started last month with me recalling how, when I was a kid, the school cafeteria would have turkey and dressing a few days before Thanksgiving, and before you know it, I'd talked myself into preparing a turkey for everyone. The plan was that I would make a turkey and stuff it, and make gravy; the staffmember who organizes these lunches would organize the rest.

Well, the turkey was a smash hit; probably the best I've ever made. There were many comments, so I'll publish here what I did. Very little is original; I have no shame in using recipes of others. In this case, I started with a fresh turkey from Kuck Turkey Farm up the road in New Knoxville; expecting a good crowd and not wanting to run out, I ordered a 32-pound bird. As soon as I got it home last Thursday, I brined it using Martha Stewart's recipe. This really is the key. At Martha's suggestion, I brined it for 24 hours; earlier I was thinking another 12 hours or so would have been a good idea.

I should also acknowledge that I modified Martha's recipe: I didn't find juniper berries nearby so I threw in a good slug of Tanqueray Gin; the whole garlic I had on hand was pretty dessicated, so instead I used a combination of garlic paste and powder from what I had on hand. Finally, she called for a bunch of fresh thyme; Krogers didn't have that (it usually does), but it did have a package of thyme mixed with rosemary and sage, so I figured that would have to do. Martha also suggests turning the bird over half-way through, which I thought ludicrous given the size of the turkey; instead, I just stirred the thing around. Finally, in the interest of full disclosure, I almost forgot the fresh herbs, and so didn't include them at the very beginning, but tossed them in an hour later. I say all that to say, had I followed the recipe precisely, I'm sure it would have been even better.

Thankfully it was cold enough to keep the bird in its bath outside; I put it in my garage and used a couple of packages of Coke Zero to weigh down the lid. At first I worried about it freezing, but then remembered it had lots of salt in the brine, so rested easily.

After the turkey came out of the brine, I put it in a baking pan and set it, naked, in the fridge. After soaking it, I was now drying it out -- that is, the skin. As good as brining is overall, it does work against the interest of crispy skin; so this drying process helps. The turkey sat in the fridge for two days before being put in the oven last night around 7:30 pm. I rubbed it all over with olive oil and sprinkled it generously with cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Several times I basted it with melted butter.

I cooked it for about 14 hours; but because I didn't trust my timing, so after starting it at 350 degrees for an hour or so, I turned it down to about 270, and then lowered it to 170 overnight. I didn't want it to overcook while I snoozed. At six A.M., it was almost to the temperature I wanted; I cranked up the temp to around 220, and checked it again after Mass; it was ready.

My original desire was to stuff it, but cooking it long and slow made that risky. Also, to keep the breast meat juicy, I like to cook a bird breast-side down, and then for the last few hours flip it breast-side up. But I realized flipping this 32-lb monster was a ludicrous idea so I cooked it breast up from the beginning, covering the breast with some foil until this morning.

Since the meal was at a building a short distance away, I had to figure out how to get it there without problems. One of my staff -- who helped me get the bird out of the oven -- suggested a cooler, which I put in the back of my car, and drove very slowly to the site of the meal.

Meanwhile, let me tell you about the stuffing dressing. I had a recipe for Southern-style cornbread dressing that I'd used before, but I couldn't find it, so I opted for this one.

Some readers may know that there is a kind of tug-of-war about this particular dish: should it be drier or wetter; and should it ever be stuffed in the bird, or prepared as a casserole (i.e., dressing)? I like the cornbread, but I also like it a little drier, and I like it in the bird if possible. This recipe worked well, and I actually followed it pretty closely. I had some Paul Prudhomme's Poultry Magic I hadn't opened, so I used that, and I added a little more celery. I also added the optional sausage. I omitted the gravy, opting for a drier. Several days earlier I bought some days-old bread, and made some Jiffy cornpone, both of which I staled in my cut up into cubes and staled in my kitchen.

I prepped everything for the "stuffing" last night, putting it all together with the wet ingredients this morning after Mass. While the never-stuffed stuffing was baking, I fixed the gravy. I took the pan drippings -- half of which I poured into the stuffing dressing to make up for it not having actually been in the bird -- and added some turkey stock. I made a roux with flour and some fat I skimmed off the drippings and added that back into the liquid, and simmered that. It tasted pretty good, but I think it would have been better on the heat a mite longer.

As I said, I think this was my best turkey and the dressing was very good. Best of all? Leftovers and a carcass I can use to make stock!

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Judgment Day -- and how not to be worried about it (Sunday homily)

If this Gospel reading scares you…
If you are worried about Judgment Day…
Then come to confession!

When you make regular use of the sacrament of confession,
you will have nothing to worry about on Judgment Day.

If you aren’t sure you know Jesus very well,
that is the easiest thing to fix.
Jesus already knows you better than you know yourself;
And he wants you and me to know him, to be close to him.
Jesus invites each of us 
to the best and deepest friendship we will ever have.

How do we become friends with Jesus?

One way is to read his own words.
For Advent this year, we have a copy of 
the Gospel of Matthew available to all parishioners.
That is this brown book, and it’s in the vestibule right now.
It is the very text of the Gospel, along with excellent notes.

Of course, you might want a little more help with it,
So that’s why we have these white folders;
Inside is a easy-to-use study guide to walk you through.
This is from Scott Hahn, who is always solid.

And, for those who would like it, 
we are organizing some study groups 
that will meet for several weeks, 
so you can discuss this and sort it out with others.

And if you want to take advantage of that, 
fill out and return this card which is in the pews.
Only when we hear back from you 
that you want to be part of a study group, 
will our staff be able to match you up – 
so don’t delay turning in that card, please.

Some people would rather listen than read; 
So we have that option as well. 
In the brown books are cards 
that explain how you can go online to Formed.org 
and listen to Matthew’s Gospel and the other information.

Formed.org, by the way, is FREE and a great resource 
for lots and lots and lots of Catholic information.
Lots and lots! And did I mention it’s FREE?

Why Matthew? Because during 2020, 
that’s the Gospel we’ll hear at Mass nearly every Sunday.
In the Gospel today, Jesus said: 
“I myself will give you a wisdom” that others cannot refute.
His own words are surely that wisdom.

Just to review, you have four options!

1. Just read Matthew’s Gospel by itself. 
That’s the brown book.

2. Take advantage of Scott Hahn’s Study Guide.
That’s the white folder.

3. Be part of a group study. 
Turn in this card in the pew to sign up for that.

4. Listen for free to these materials online.
That’s on Formed.org, and how to access it 
is on the card in the book.

To return to my main theme: Jesus wants to be friends.
Knowing his own words obviously helps.

But there’s no substitute for simply talking with Jesus.
If you have a good friend, you talk to your friend; 
you spend time together. You open your hearts.

Jesus warned us that times would get bad 
and everything would fall apart. 
I’m not looking forward to that; but if it happens, 
I want to be by Jesus’ side when it happens. Don’t you?

Sunday, November 10, 2019

'There are only two possibilities...' (Sunday homily)

Click on image to go to site from which I "borrowed" this.

The first reading shows us incredible courage on the part of 
seven brothers on trial for their fidelity to the Lord God. 
But don’t miss one key ingredient in their fortitude: 
they are supremely confident of the Resurrection. 

They know they, and their persecutors, will face a Judgment Day, 
and they are certain God will give them 
a share in the Resurrection to Life.

Somewhere recently I saw someone ask this question: 
Can you name three things for which 
you would be willing to give your life? 
How many of us know the answer to that question? 
And is our Catholic Faith one of them?

Of course, it makes all the difference whether or not
you believe that there is life after this one; 
that you and I will get our bodies back, and – 
if we place our faith in Jesus Christ and cooperate with his grace
and live as he teaches us, repenting of our sins
– we will have a share in the Resurrection to Life.

That changes everything. There are only two possibilities: 
either this is all we get, and therefore, when we die, that’s the end; 
or, this is a prelude to something more. 

And all of us live according to one belief-system or the other, 
even if we don’t think about it very much. 

So, you can say, “Oh, I’m not very religious” or, 
“I don’t have time to work all that out”;
But in any case, how you live day-by-day tells the true story.
Is this world my true home? Or am I just passing through?

So that brings us to our annual celebration 
of Forty Hours of adoration of Jesus on the altar. 

We began our time of exposition 
of the Most Holy Eucharist Friday morning, 
and it will continue till 9 pm on Saturday, 
and conclude at 4 pm on Sunday afternoon. 

This devotion began in the 1500s 
with the blessing of Pope Paul III, with the purpose of 
“appeas[ing] the anger of God provoked by the offences of Christians,” 
and to seek God’s help against those 
“pressing forward to the destruction of Christendom…” 

That sounds about right! 
Boy are there a lot of offenses by Christians before God,
while our foes press hard on every side.

The anchor of our hope is Jesus Christ, and his Resurrection. 
Once again, the choice is binary. Either he really lived, or it’s all a fake. 
Either he really rose from the dead, or it’s all a lie. 
Jesus said, “This is my Body…this is my Blood”: 
those are HIS words, and so either he truly gives us 
his Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist – 
and therefore, the Eucharist is our Lord Jesus, our Lord God! – 
Or else it’s all nothing. 

You and must decide: what do we believe? What do we live for?
It gets harder to be a faithful Christian every day. 
We think we’re isolated and protected in Russia, 
and we are to some extent, but don’t kid yourself.

The ground is shifting under our feet even as we speak. 
Sooner or later, each one of us will face a moment 
when we must take a stand; 
it will probably be a small thing, at our place of work, 
or at a party with friends, or a family situation;
hardly a life-or-death situation. 

Yet in that moment, we will face a cost, a consequence, 
perhaps a lost business deal or a better job;
maybe embarrassment, or ridicule, 
if we stand up for the Catholic Faith.
And the thing is, it’s not just once, but over and over.
Either we learn the habit of cheerfully paying the price; 
or we learn the habit of shrinking back, again and again.

And the only solid ground, the only thing that is secure, is Jesus Christ. 
Forty Hours and this Mass, right now, are a good time 
to ask yourself what you believe, and what price you will pay for it. 
And further: ask Him, ask Jesus, to strengthen you.
Hear him say to you what he said to Peter: “Be not afraid!”

One day all this world will melt away, and either there we be nothing;
Or there will be Jesus Christ.