Sunday, December 10, 2017

Three ways to 'prepare the way' (Sunday homily)

Last week the key idea was that yes, humanity needs a Savior.
This Sunday, I want to suggest that the key idea in the readings is:  
“Prepare the way.”

In the first reading, a voice cries out: “prepare the way of the LORD!” 
In the Gospel, we learn whose voice: John the Baptist’s.

How do we prepare the way?

Well, Saint Peter tells us in the second reading:
“the day of the Lord will come like a thief” – we cannot know when; 
so “be eager to be found… at peace” with Christ.

Let me offer three concrete things you can do, starting now, 
to draw closer to Christ and prepare the way for him in your life.

The first thing I want to highlight 
is spending time in the Lord’s presence. 

Now, someone can say, well, look, does it matter where I pray?
Why is it so important to come and be in Jesus’ very presence?

The answer, of course, is that on God’s level, it does not matter. 
God sees you and knows you wherever you are.
But on the human level, of course it makes a difference.

It’s like the difference between calling someone you love, 
versus going to see that person. 
Sometimes a phone call is all we can do, and that’s a lot; 
but it’s obviously not the same as visiting in person.
Making a habit of prayer, especially taking time 
to come and pray before the Blessed Sacrament, isn’t just going to happen.
It will happen only if you make a firm resolution and concrete plan.

Now, I want to make a distinction between praying in church – 
in the presence of the Eucharist – 
and praying when Jesus is on the altar, in Exposition.
Both are good, both will help us, 
but there is something especially powerful 
about praying with Jesus, as it were, face-to-face.

As you probably know, we have exposition every Thursday, 
from the 8:15 Mass in the morning till Benediction 
at 8:30 in the evening. Come anytime you want, for as long as you want. 
And if you feel so led, you could sign up for one of the hours. 
Some are kind of thin with adorers.

If this doesn’t work for you, we also have, 
on the First Friday of each month, an all-night vigil, 
from the 7 pm Traditional Latin Mass, 
until about 8 on Saturday morning. 
The group that organized this, 
which is devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus 
and to Mary’s Immaculate Heart, 
will make you very welcome. 

The second thing I want to emphasize is confession.
If praying before the Eucharist is “face time,”
Confession is “heart time.”
Look: I’m obviously not married, 
but two things are true of every marriage.
First, that there are always hurts and times of distance.
Second, there is always a need 
for open-hearted confession and forgiveness.

It is true that forgiveness doesn’t always come easily 
in family situations. 
But the good news is, even if your husband or wife 
doesn’t forgive easily and generously, God does!

Between now and Christmas, there will be plenty of opportunities 
for you to receive this sacrament. 

I recently started hearing confessions on Wednesdays at 5:45 pm, 
till 6:10 – that is, till just before the evening Mass. 
In addition, I hear confessions for 2-1/2 hours on Thursdays 
and over 2 hours on Saturdays. 
There’s also a little time for confessions also on Sunday morning, 
before the 9 and 11 am Masses.

On top of this, if you look in the bulletin this week and next, 
you’ll see times listed for confessions and penance services 
at nearby churches.

And, in the week right before Christmas, 
I’ll have extra times here at St. Remy. Watch the bulletin for these. 

The third thing suggestion I have is to reach out.
So we have “face time”: adoring Jesus in the Eucharist;
And “heart time”: confessing our sins in the sacrament of penance;
So this is “go time”: go make some a difference in someone’s life. 

Today we have a special collection for the retirement fund 
for religious sisters, brothers and priests.
This is an easy sell; people are always generous, 
because we feel an almost instinctive gratitude 
to those who entered religious life, taking a vow of poverty, 
and who gave their lives to others.

We often say, oh, how costly that was, 
you gave your whole life as a priest or religious. 
When you meet a priest or a sister, do they tell you,
“Gee, what a rotten deal that was! Boy, did I get ripped off!”

No! What you see and hear is that we love what we were called to.
I love being a priest. I love being your priest.
And if you’re listening now, and wondering 
if maybe you should be a sister, or a brother, or a priest, 
I want to tell you, if it is for you, nothing will make you happier! 
Don’t be afraid of it. At least give it a try.

And in the meantime – and for all of us in every walk of life – 
there are a 100 ways, every day, 
we can go make a difference for someone else.

A lot of people at this time of year are sad, 
especially if they lost someone they love and the memory is sharp. 
No better time to check in with friends and neighbors, 
especially if they live alone and maybe are getting a little older. 
And if you are feeling sad, helping others is the best thing for it.
We have a St. Vincent de Paul Society that helps people in need. 
If you want to be involved, they would love to hear from you. 
And they can connect you to opportunities 
in Piqua, Sidney, Troy and Dayton. 

Right here in Russia we have Rustic Hope, 
helping women facing an unexpected pregnancy. 
They would love your help.
So would the food pantry in Versailles. 

Jesus is coming: at the end of time; and in this Mass. 
If you want to be prepared, and draw close to him,
Fix your eyes on him. Open your heart to him. 
Give him your hands for his work.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

How do I know God loves me? Mary's Immaculate Conception is how (homily)

There is frequently confusion about what we are celebrating today. 
I am determined to correct this mistake every chance I get.

Pop quiz: whose conception – whose beginning of life – 
are we commemorating today? 
Is it (a) Father Martin Fox? No.
Is it (b) Jesus Christ? No, because that would mean
he was conceived on Dec. 8 and born 17 days later. If Mary had a 17-day pregnancy,
I think that would have been mentioned elsewhere.
So that leaves (c) "Someone else." And that someone else is Mary.
Mary's birthday is September 8; back up nine months: December 8.
It’s Mary who is conceived immaculately, or, without sin.

We mark Jesus’ conception on March 25, 
nine months before Christmas.
Today we recall when Mary was conceived 
in the womb of her mother, Ann. 
Mary’s birthday comes nine months later, September 8.

So, again, the Immaculate Conception is about how Mary began her life.*

The mistake is understandable, 
in part because the Gospel reading 
talks mostly about Jesus being conceived. 
Even so, this Gospel reading is still the right one, 
because it is the place where the Bible 
most clearly points to Mary’s Immaculate Conception. 

First, we have a single, powerful word, in the original Greek: kecharitomene
This is the word we translate, “full of grace.”

Let’s notice a couple of things. First, it’s a greeting. 
This isn’t a statement about Mary; 
it’s the name Heaven gives to Mary; it’s who God says she is. 
Moreover, to say Mary is “full of grace” is actually not strong enough.

Here’s a more literal sense of what the Archangel Gabriel said to Mary:
Hail, You who have been, and now are, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced.
Get that? Mary was, and remains, 
perfectly, completely, and uniquely graced by God.

There it is: Mary has been free from sin 
from the very first instant of her life. 
Otherwise, it would not be true 
that she was “perfectly and completely” graced. 

Then there is another detail in this passage that confirms this. 
Later, Gabriel says, “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” 

This is an unusual phrase, used only a few times in Scripture, 
as when the Glory of God overshadowed the tent of meeting, 
which was where God’s People gathered to worship the Lord. 
That tabernacle God desired to be prepared perfectly.

So what Gabriel’s words mean is that Mary is that tabernacle, 
first made perfect by the Divine Craftsman, 
in preparation for being “overshadowed by the Most High.” Christ to enter.
Mary is the temple of the Lord,
Prepared with the greatest care for Jesus, 
Who enters Creation through Mary,
fulfilling the promise from Genesis, that He, 
the Seed of the Woman, would crush the enemy.

Here’s a beautiful quote by Blessed John Duns Scotus. He asked:

"Would the God of justice and mercy grant the first Eve, 
who He foreknew would betray Him, a greater glory in her creation 
than He would give the second Eve, 
who He foreknew would be His handmaid forever?"

And, of course, the answer is no!

The remaining question is, what does all this mean to me?

All this gives each of us cause for the greatest confidence.
All this ought to fill you and me with the greatest joy.

Think about it: God went to a whole lot of trouble, 
a terrific amount of planning. Why?
Even at the moment when Adam and Eve fell, 
Why did God plan for there to be a second Eve? 
Why so much fuss and bother? 

You are the reason. And so am I.
You and I were chosen; we were destined.
Never, never, never, never doubt that you matter to God!
Never, never fear that God will not move heaven and earth 
to bring about your salvation.

Today’s feast is the proof!

* Edits made when delivered.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Yes, we need a Savior (1st Sunday of Advent homily)

Now we begin the season the Church calls “Advent.” 
Not the Christmas Season. That begins in 4 weeks, on Christmas Day.

If you want to get a handle on the readings 
we hear at Mass during Advent, think of this way. 
We begin, with today’s readings, with a problem – 
for which Christmas presents the solution. 
And what is that problem?

Humanity needs a savior.

This is not always a welcome point to make. 
When each of us was a child, at some point or another 
we said to our mom or dad, “I can do it myself!” 
And we keep saying it our whole lives long.

The adult version of this is when we think we should get our act together first, 
before we go to confession.
But that’s backwards. Without God’s help, 
we will never get our act together. Never. 

That’s because: we need a savior.

Now, there are two rebuttals to this truth in our society.

The first is simply to deny it. There is no salvation. 
People are how they are, and they don’t really change.
All of us can be tempted to think this way, 
because what is true is that people don’t change easily.

We have all wanted someone to change, 
only to see that hope dashed over and over. 
So it is very tempting to harden our hearts and write people off.

The other response is more seductive:
There are plenty of voices around us that say, 
“Yes, you do need a savior – and that’s why I’m here!”

Sometimes it’s government. Politicians are always promising salvation.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to have good government; 
but I’m here to tell you: government isn’t going to save us. 

Neither is medicine going to save us.
We have made astounding progress, it is true, and we keep going. 
There is good reason to believe that in the next few decades, 
we will witness even more astonishing things.

But we will also witness ways this goes terribly wrong.

There is a huge “fertility” industry, 
that creates human life in the laboratory. 
This is what is called “in vitro fertilization.”
It is understandable that people facing the heartbreak 
of not being able to conceive a child would reach for this.

But it is a gravely sinful manipulation of human life.
What gets overlooked is that this method involves
Creating multiple, tiny new lives, most of which are discarded.
And then these tiny human lives are destroyed 
in the process of being turned into raw material for research.
Yet another iteration of this is so-called “surrogacy.”
There are same-sex couples who are saying, they want to have children. 
Again, embedded in this is a good and wholesome desire.

This is a truth we hate to face: 
that so often, we do evil things for the best of reasons!

So when you have two men, or two women say, “here’s our baby!”
But what gets left out? Somewhere there is a mother, or a father, that that child will never have. 
Women, in particular, are especially exploited by this business.

Technology isn’t going to save us.

Fifty Sixty* or so years ago, our society launched 
on a great experiment, called the “Sexual Revolution.” 
The idea was that if only, if only we could all be “liberated” 
from outdated morality;

If only we could have no qualms about divorce 
and plentiful contraception, and “safe and legal” abortion;

If only there were more “openness”: 
knock down all the restraints on what can be shown in movies, 
TV, or included in books and music;

If only people could just pursue the path that suited them, then:
We would be so much happier, as individuals and as a society.
Marriages would be better; families would be better.

This really was the sales pitch. And now, 50 60* years on, we can see: 
This promise has failed. 

Whether you look at these accusations of 
powerful people preying on others; 
or look at the growing confusion about sexual identity: 
am I a man? Am I a woman? Who am I meant for?

There are so many children growing up with fractured lives.
No one is immune, but it is a crisis in our cities, 
because it is bound up with persistent poverty and loss of hope, 
and that leads to drugs, crime, rage, violence and an early grave.

There are so many people with so much emptiness in their lives, 
and they are filling it with opioid drugs, or with boozy weekends;
or with porn, or with endless entertainment.

None of these things are going to save us!
One of the reasons I am pounding this point, 
is because if you turn on the Internet or the TV, 
or you listen to what comes out of the mouths of lots of people, 
whether in Hollywood or Washington D.C., 
or next to you at the grocery store…

It is all around you and me; we breathe in this mindset constantly.
If you are not alert to it, you will soak it in.

There are a lot of people who aren’t ready to accept 
the failure of all these promises.

It is a brutal thing to accept that your god has failed: 
The gods of government, or science, or sex, 
or individualism or politics or money.
Because when you are forced to admit 
that none of these things are going to bring us salvation, 
then what do you do? 

Then, either you despair -- and many are despairing –
or else bend the knee to the one and only Savior there is:
And that is Jesus Christ! 
Yes, we need a savior. And his name is Jesus.

Advent starts by reminding us: we need a savior. 
You do. I do. Everyone of us needs a savior.

And then it leads us to him. 

He came on Christmas; he will come at the end of time.
He will come in a few minutes, for us, in this Mass.*
His name is Jesus.

* These edits made today.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What I've been cooking...

Updated, below...

For whatever reason, I'm on a burst of actual cooking lately. Maybe it was the success of last week's turkey? In any case, yesterday I fixed an old standby, pot roast. I've done this before:

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
2. Heat oil or other fat (sometimes I use bacon fat) in a dutch oven.
3. Season chuck roast with plenty of salt and pepper, and dredge in flour.
4. Brown roast on both sides.
5. Cut up celery and carrots, halve a couple of onions. How much? Whatever you like. If you have potatoes or mushrooms, you can throw those in too. (I added some leftover mushrooms this time.)
6. After meat is browned, add a few cups water, or beef or vegetable broth or stock if you had it. Also add a cup or two of wine (red or white; I prefer dry to sweet).
7. Add any other flavors you like. I added some leftover garlic puree I found in the fridge, as well as some red pepper flakes, and a bay leaf.
8. Cover and place in oven.

By the way, this works in a crock pot, but I don't have one, and my counter is crowded enough; so this simply turns my oven into a crock pot.

How long to cook? I cooked it around six hours; I think it might have been better with another hour or two. Also, you can cook it at a higher temperature, but I think it comes out better if you cook it low and slow.

How was it? Really good! I think it will be even better when I have the leftovers later this week.

And then, this morning, I decided to start on a chicken, which I'll cook tomorrow. I decided to brine it, so I washed the bird, and then placed it in the same dutch oven; I boiled some water and coarse salt to dissolve it, along with some ground pepper and red pepper flakes. How much? Whatever you like! I put in about two tablespoons of salt, but you could go more or less. I poured this over the chicken, and added more water, until the chicken was covered by the water. I had a lime that was getting shriveled, so I cut that up and threw it in.

My plan is to let that soak for most of today, then I'll remove the chicken from the brine and let it dry out in the fridge overnight. When it's ready to roast, I'll rub the whole thing in butter and sprinkle it with pepper and salt, and stuff it with cut up lemons and rosemary. Hey! I just got an idea! I'm going to go throw some of the rosemary in the brine; I never use it all anyway! Stay tuned.

Update, 4:25 pm, 11/30/17

Last night I dumped out the brine; I can't remember if I rinsed it too. After drying it off a bit, I put it back in the fridge so the skin could dry out. This morning I got it out and flipped it, so the other side could dry as well.

About 3 pm, I got it out, and as I often do (this is a recipe from the inimitable Fr. Z), I stuffed the bird with rosemary sprigs and a cut up lemon, then rubbed the chicken with butter, then sprinkled generously with salt and pepper. Frequently, however, the chicken is too wet and the butter doesn't spread; that happened this time, despite all; so I added some olive oil.

Here's the chicken ready to go in the oven:

As you can see, there are some lumps of butter that didn't spread; of course that'll melt. You can also see I placed it bottom's up -- i.e., breast down. Later, I'll turn on the broiler and flip it, letting the broiler crisp up the skin on the breast side. I can't say it ends up as crispy and nice as it would otherwise, but it's a nice trade off to get really moist breast meat.

I'm cooking it at about 225 degrees, so this will take longer. The picture doesn't show the thermometer, which I just remembered and went and stuck in the thigh. I'm hoping this will either be finished by 6:30, or else won't finish till 8:30, which is when I come back from Benediction.

Update, 5:53 pm...

Here is the finished chicken! Ecce, pullam! 

I checked it around 5:25 pm, and it the thermometer showed it finished. So I flipped it, and then placed it back in. I had to run out for a few minutes, and I got back around 5:45; at which point I turned on the broiler. After a few minutes, it looked like this, so I pulled it out. I removed the items from the insides and threw them away. The juice -- of which there was a lot -- I poured off into a container to save for later. After cutting myself some pieces, I put the rest away.


It's mighty good. It wasn't salty enough for me, which surprised me. Perhaps I could have used more salt in the brine. Also, it isn't as redolent of rosemary as I thought it might be, given that I put some in the brine; but I didn't break it up too much. Maybe next time, I'll pulverize the rosemary, so more of its goodness migrates via the solution to the muscle fibers of the chicken.

The skin is quite good; as always, the topside skin isn't as crispy as it would be had I cooked it topside from the beginning, but as I said above, it's a fair trade-off. And since I cooked it at a lower temperature, the color wasn't as dark, but it still was reasonably crispy.

And, actually, I think I could have brought it out a bit earlier, but it isn't overcooked. I didn't expect it to finish this early, which makes me think my oven was hotter than I realized.

Just now I polished off the thigh, and it was superb! I'm a thigh man, myself. It's surrounded with a good layer of fat, and has lots of meat but only two bones; so when it's cooked right, the fat melts away, but the meat is so juicy and flavorful. I think it's best meat on a chicken, apart from the "oyster."

So that's the chicken. If you are keeping score, I now have two nice containers of leftovers: pot roast from Monday, and this chicken. I'm almost sorry I'm full, because I can't wait for the leftovers!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sorry, no homily

...because the deacon gave the homily this past weekend.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Ecce, Meleagris!*

Here is the turkey, out of the oven yesterday around 11 am:

And here is how it arrived to the party in Cincinnati:

This worked pretty well. Were I to do this again, I would take the turkey out about an hour earlier, to allow for the time in the cooler. Everyone praised the turkey (the skin was quite good), but I think it was a tad overdone. The gravy turned out well. Surprisingly, there was far fewer drippings in the pan. I drained it off, but it was almost all fat. I added some to the gravy, but threw away the rest. I am still a believer in flipping the bird, but that means no stuffing.

About the the stuffing: despite all, it was still tasty. I happen to like it less mushy. Also, I am not convinced that cornbread is better than white bread. Next time, I will try a different recipe.

* There is no proper Latin word for turkey, as in a bird to be eaten, because the turkey had not been discovered; it is native to the Americas. This is the genus to which turkeys belong.