Sunday, February 16, 2020

Don't just know the rules. Know Jesus (Sunday homily).

This homily is going to be about rules.

Many times we Catholics, and Christians in general, 
are accused of being all about rules. 
A lot of times, that’s what it all seems to be about.

It is true that many times the rules get a lot of the emphasis.
For one reason, rules are extremely helpful.
A child may or may not grasp why something is dangerous, 
even after you patiently explain it. 
So mom or dad just says, “don’t touch!”

When I was in the seminary, Father Mike Seger – 
who has now gone to eternity – 
taught me something very valuable which I will now share with you.
He explained that, quote, “rules exist to protect values.”
Let me repeat that: “rules exist to protect values.”

The truth is, very often it isn’t higher-ups who are saying, 
“here’s the rule, follow it.” 
Rather, it’s you and me preferring to boil it all down to a rule, 
because that’s a lot easier.

Think of two employees at a place of business.  

The first employee is very precise. 
Work starts at 7:30, so she’s there right at 7:30. 
And she’s at the door at the stroke of quitting time.
Coffee break? 
She takes it, and knows exactly how many minutes are allotted.
Otherwise, she is at her work station, carefully completing her tasks.
She knows what her job is – and what it isn’t.
She’s the one who says, “I’m sorry, but that’s not my job.”

The second employee really likes her job and is grateful for it.
She feels a sense of obligation to her employer and to her customers. 
She wants to do well herself, and she wants the company to do well.
So: she makes sure to show up first thing, 
and doesn’t mind eating lunch at her desk. 

If the boss needs someone to pitch in on a project or to stay late, 
she is willing. 
If she sees a problem, she speaks up and tries to help find a solution, 
before it gets out of hand.

Both these employees are honest and do their work.
What’s the difference?
One is all about the rules. She knows them backwards and forwards.
The other is all about the mission. What are we here for?

It’s so easy to focus on the rules: 
How many minutes before communion can I have a snack?
How far is too far with my girlfriend?
How many drinks before I’ve had too much?

Rules are necessary, like guardrails; 
but who drives with your car skidding along the guardrail? 

So when it comes to your daily spiritual life,
Or when it comes to taking part in Holy Mass, 
or the sacrament of confession, 
the rules can be helpful – but they aren’t the point!

Scripture scholar John Bergsma, who I quote from time to time,
superbly summarizes the point of this Gospel. 
The Pharisees, he said, were pursuing 
“a righteousness that said, 
‘What is the least I have to do and the most I can get away with, 
and still not formally break the divine command?’ 

“Jesus attitude . . . is rather, ‘What is most pleasing to God?  
That is the only thing I desire to do.’”

It’s so easy to focus on the rules.
But what gives us life is JESUS!
Rules are worthwhile, they help us.
But they cannot save us.
For that we need is Jesus himself.
Focus on him. Talk to him. Know him.

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Salt & light: it's pretty simple (Sunday homily)

I have been under the weather this week, and I'm starting to bounce back.
Sometimes the Scripture readings can be a little obscure, but today?
Does anyone really need me to explain about helping the poor?
About being a good influence on our society?
About sharing your light, rather than hiding it?

There are lots of useful things I could say, but the truth is,
It’s all up to you.
You can hear, and nod and move on; or you can decide,
“Today, I’m finally going to make a move and DO something!”

I’ll mention the Catholic Ministries Appeal one last time.
It is an obvious way you can be salt and light, 
especially for people who need food and shelter 
and some measure of justice.

There are pledge cards and envelopes in the pews 
if you want to make a pledge right now, 
and return it in the collection plate today, 
or else drop it off later, or mail it in.

I’m going to sit down for a few moments.
You can either make that pledge, 
or else think about some other resolution you want to make today,
so that you can show the power of Jesus Christ’s love in our world.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Right here, right now (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is celebrated every year, 
but it only falls on Sunday every once in a while. 
The formal name is the “Presentation of the Lord”;
Another name is “Candlemas,” because of the candles of course.

But why candles?
On one level it’s kind of obvious: 
Jesus comes to the temple, and he is the Light of the World.

But let’s you and I drill down on that, shall we?

When Jesus was born, he looked like any other baby.
When the Apostles met him, they encountered a man like them.
Jesus ate and drank, he worked and got tired and had to rest.

Then, on one occasion, 
Jesus took Peter, James and John up a mountain, 
and he was, quote, “transfigured” before their eyes.
The Gospels say that he was brilliantly bright.
The apostles fell to the ground; 
maybe the sight scorched their eyes?

In other words, I’d like to suggest that in that moment,
they saw, as much as human eyes could see, 
what it really means to say Jesus is “the Light of the World.”

You and I don’t dare stare at the sun – it sears our eyes.
And yet Jesus, our Lord, is vastly more luminous,
more full of power and fire!
All the suns and stars and galaxies are but a little candle next to him!

When we say, “a Light for revelation” came into the temple…
Realize how intense and awesome that Light truly was!
If the sun in our sky could somehow enter this church,
maybe that gives a sense of it.

So we hold these candles, 
and they don’t seem like much compared to Jesus’ Light.
But that’s the way we are as sinful human beings.
These little candles are an apt symbol of what we bring:
Only a little bit; only a small sacrifice;
and we’re tempted to think, it doesn’t matter.

But in the temple that day, that’s what nearly everyone  
thought about Joseph, Mary and Jesus! They didn’t matter.
Only two people – Simeon and Anna – grasped the truth.

Part of that truth is that when Jesus’ infinite light joins ours,
we take on his brightness; you and I cannot dim his glory. 
Fear not!

This is as good a time as any to remind you that it’s time 
to make our own commitments to the Catholic Ministries Appeal.
By now you should have gotten a mailing about it.

You know the projects it pays for:
Caring for our retired priests;
Caring for the poor and needy, including in Shelby County;
Supporting a Catholic presence in prisons, hospitals and colleges;
Supporting our seminary and our vocations programs, and more.

There are cards and envelopes in the pews, if you need one.
Your pledge, like your candle, may not seem like much,
But united to Christ and all our other candles, it is a bright light!

There’s something else here, and it has to do with Jesus’ priesthood.
The first reading describes the Lord coming to purify the temple, 
and to offer a pure, all-powerful sacrifice worthy of God.

(At 9 am Mass, I inserted an explanation about offering Mass ad orientem, which we do at this Mass, explaining that the temple's great door faced east, hence when the Lord Jesus came to the temple, he entered from the east. Thus, when we offer Mass, we face "spiritual east," not necessarily geographic east, in hope of the Lord coming to us. We all face the Lord; "you are not my hope, that's why I don't face you; and I'm not your hope; we face together toward the Lord.")

This is a foreshadowing of what would happen on Good Friday;
And what is made present in every single Mass.

It is not too strong to say that right here, right now, we are there.
Every single Mass, you and I are there, 
with Jesus, offering himself as the Lamb of God.

So: are you and I like most people in that temple that day,
Ho-hum, nothing special?
Or, are do we see as Simeon and Anna, recognizing the Lord is here?

I know, you might be frustrated because you try, 
yet with kids and diaper bags and the cares of daily life,  
it seems impossible to do more than to “get through” Mass.

If that’s you; if you’re harried and hassled, my word for you is this:
Just be here, and trust Him.
His light is here, and he will shine on you, in you, and it’ll happen.
Not in a day; not on our timetable; but in his time.
Present yourself to the Lord and let him accept that offering.
But you’ll be a glorious saint one day. He’ll do it, not you.

Or, maybe you’re here, and you think, boring!
I don’t like the music; this homily is no good!
I don’t like the people sitting around me…
My answer is: you’re right! 

Six years ago, right about this time, I was in the Holy Land,
and I visited the very places where Jesus was crucified,
and nearby, the tomb where his dead body was placed,
and then on the third day, where He rose from the dead.
I was there! I kissed the stone on which he lay,
and we also had Holy Mass there – the stone was the altar!

As far as Mass goes, on this side of heaven, that’s as good as it gets.
Still, you know what? You visit a place like that, 
and you can actually be disappointed, because it’s so…human.
People were coming and going, I was trying not to trip or hit my head;
It was a lot of pushing and rushing, and then we headed on.

However: I kept reeling myself back in,
Reminding myself of where I was, and what happened there.
In other words, it’s a choice.
A good attitude, a bad attitude; to be awed or to be cynical:
it’s a choice we make.

I will never forget that trip to the Holy Land, and yet:
Right here, right now, it’s every bit as real and holy,
because the Light of the World, Jesus our High Priest,
Comes here at every single Mass and fills this temple with his glory.

And whether that light fills the temple of your life is up to you. 

Sunday, January 19, 2020

How St. Remigius changed the world -- and you can, too! (Sunday homily)

Today we celebrate our patron, Saint Remy. 
His feast day actually falls on January 13, 
but we are able to move it to Sunday. 
Before I came here, I didn’t know anything about Saint Remy – 
or, Remigius, as he would have called himself. 
I suspect many of us don’t know much about him.

As his name suggests, Remigius was a Roman; 
he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the border of present-day 
France, Belgium and Germany; 
an area where many of the first settlers of this community came from.

As a boy, Remy was bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was nominated to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
The once-mighty Roman Empire was falling apart. 
Imagine that: your country is dissolving; 
people with different language and customs and religion 
are taking over.
These new people were the Franks, who came from Germany.
Their king was Clovis. 

How easy it would have been for Bishop Remy to fear
and even hate Clovis. And maybe he would have done so, 
had Remigius been mainly about being Roman
But instead, Remy was first and foremost a Christian.

You and I are proud to be Americans. 
But our first loyalty is to Christ. 
We would hate ever to have to choose, but it can happen.

Can anyone doubt that the prevailing values and beliefs 
of our society are growing less Christian, and more pagan, every day?
We’re facing very much the situation St. Remy faced.

Bishop Remigius had a choice; he remembered his mission.
He fostered good relations with the Franks. 
He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized; 
3,000 other of his soldiers were also baptized. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

And that, in turn, played a huge role in all history since.

When you and I think about the changing nature of our society, 
all kinds of reactions can follow:
Discouragement, resignation, fear and anger.

I don’t know if Bishop Remy was ever discouraged. 
What we do know is he did not retreat.

And even though his world and its challenges 
were very different from ours, 
his main response – his daily plan – was pretty much the same.

Whenever we talk about evangelization – 
about sharing our Faith – a lot of people will be intimidated, and say,
“I don’t know what to say! I don’t know what to do!”

It’s not about how much you know, or memorizing certain phrases;
That’s what many of our fellow Christians do.
They tell their folks, memorize these scriptures or these arguments, 
and now go knock on people’s doors.

But Catholic evangelization is different.

That window, by the way, depicts St. Remy baptizing Clovis.
Behind King Clovis is his wife, St. Clotilda.
How did Bishop Remigius win Clovis and his fellow invaders?
There is no secret formula. It’s fairly straightforward.

First, Remy sought Clovis out. He offered friendship.

Second, what impressed King Clovis 
was not just words, but the way of life the Christians lived. 
In other words, the best tool for sharing our faith,
And helping others to find faith, 
is what they see in how you and I live our faith.

And, third, Clovis saw how generous Catholics were in helping others.

Every year around this time, 
we talk about the Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
This is one way our Archdiocese does today the very things 
that so impressed the unbelievers in St. Remy’s time.

This fund helps many who are poor and without resources.

It provides food and utility help for people who need it, 
as well as counseling and family assistance 
through Catholic Social Services. 
I regularly refer people to Catholic Social Services.

Part of it goes to provide for our retired priests. 
Part of it helps with outreach to colleges, prisons and hospitals. 
And a portion of it supports our seminary and our vocation programs.
And all of it – every dollar – stays in our Archdiocese.

You’ve always been generous to the Catholic Ministry Appeal.
Just a reminder: when we go beyond the goal set for our parish,
A portion of that comes back here to help pay for
our youth and religious education programs.

I think it’s safe to say that our times are not calm and boring!
Our society is changing rapidly, and we can either be worried,
Or we can, like our patron, St. Remy, be confident 
that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of all hearts, 
of all time and space, will use us to bring his Kingdom forward.

St. Remy planted seeds that grew in fantastic ways.
A lot of us here are descendants of those very people, 
in that corner of France, that Remy baptized! 
You have faith, today, because he led them to faith –
And, it was then faithfully passed down.

That’s our task today. Saint Remy…pray for us!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jesus in the confession line (Sunday homily)

Today’s feast is the last of the Christmas season. 
It’s kind of a transition. 
With Christmas, we think of Jesus as a child; but now he’s a man. 
Christmas is usually about us coming to Jesus, 
but now Jesus is on the move; he’s coming to us.

What actually happens with his baptism
is pretty simple and very startling.

John was telling people: 
be baptized because you are a sinner and you are sorry. 
It was like coming to confession. 
To get in line on the bank of the Jordan, and waiting your turn,
Was a lot like getting in line outside the confessional.
You did it because you were a sinner and needed forgiveness.

So here is Jesus, getting in line with the rest of us.
If I were in the confessional, and Jesus himself came in, 
I would…beg for mercy! Right?

But I absolutely would not say, “OK, tell me your confession…”

That’s exactly how John the Baptist responds.
He says, wait, no…I need you to baptize me! Not this!
And Jesus says, right, but go along with it; it has to be.

The point was, Jesus was getting in line with us sinners.
That was always the point of the whole project.

The first thing we think about is our own baptism.
Christmas means, “God is with us” – that’s what baptism means.
But baptism also means, if you will, “us with God”;
That is, it means we are now citizens of heaven,
And if we hold on to that, not getting turned off the path,
we will be with God forever!

Never forget that you are baptized. You and I are different.
We belong to heaven. We’re just passing through.

The other thing we might think about is that confessional line.
Jesus got in that line. He was fine with that.

So one takeaway that’s really important.
If you ever think, I’m no good, I can’t be forgiven, 
God has finally had it with me!
You remember, Jesus came and got in line with sinners.

Another takeaway: if Jesus can get in that line, why can’t you?

Some might say, I don’t have anything to confess.
I suppose that’s true, how can I argue with that?
All I can say is, that never happens to me!

Now, what I’m about to say only applies to some here.
This is dangerous because some people will take this the wrong way.
Some folks – and you know who you are! – 
do their examination of conscience with a super-atomic microscope.

So if that’s you, what I say next does not apply to you!
But there are others who look in the mirror for 5 seconds, 
“hey, I’m good to go!” and that’s it. 
So just for you, I’m saying, dig a little deeper. Push a little.
That’s for those who say they can’t think of anything to confess.

But for those who already push themselves hard, 
that advice is not for you.  

St. Thomas Aquinas said, virtus stat in media; 
that is, “virtue stands in the middle.” That means, avoid extremes.
Some need to drill deeper; some need to ease up.

But to a broader point: 
what so often keeps me – and maybe you – from going to confession; 
or – even if we go, from really making it fruitful – is pride.
To put it another way: one of the best things 
for knocking down our pride is going regularly to confession.

Perhaps someone might say, “I don’t really need it, 
and I don’t know why Father Fox keeps going about it.”
The answer is, because I’m dull and lack imagination!

But another answer might be this.
Jesus gave us each a toolbox, with just seven tools, called sacraments.
Baptism and confirmation happen just once. That leaves five.
Most of us will never be ordained; we’re at four.
Many of us will never marry; that leave three tools.

One of those is the anointing of the sick, 
which is only called for when we’re seriously or gravely ill; 
so we hope to use that one only rarely. 
That leaves just two – the Holy Eucharist and Confession – 
that are designed for us to keep receiving again and again.
My question is, you’ve got two that are meant for regular use,
Why would you leave one aside to get dusty?

Surely Jesus knew what he was doing 
when he put both of them in the toolbox?

Come to confession. Call me if you need me to come to you.
You may think, I don’t know why I’m doing this, 
But there’s at least one consolation.
Jesus is in that confession line with you.

Sunday, January 05, 2020

Christmas is the 'message'; Epiphany is about our mission (Sunday homily)

With all the hustle and build-up to Christmas,
By this point of the new year, this feast of Epiphany gets lost.
Lots of people think Christmas is over.

Not so!

Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts; 
he came to do something. 

The two feasts, Christmas and Epiphany, are both super-important; 
they form the heart of this season.
One way to think about is “message” and “mission”:
Christmas is the “message” and Epiphany is about “mission.”

Christmas: God came to us as one of us. 
God became flesh and dwells among us. 
God became man so that men might become God.

That’s the message: from Gabriel to Mary and Joseph;
From the angels on Christmas night.
That’s our Faith and our hope.

Now, Epiphany is about mission: take that message everywhere.
“Go out to all the world,” Jesus said;
“Preach the Gospel to every creature”;
“And I will be with you until the end of the age,” he promised.

And it’s kind of funny the way God underlines this point:
Before he sends us to the world,
He has the world – in the person of the magi – come to Bethlehem!
In a way, it answers in advance the objections people always have:
Oh, we can’t go out and tell people about Jesus!
It’s too hard; we don’t want to be pushy; and, people won’t listen.

Now, it’s true, sharing our faith takes effort; 
it can even require sacrifice and risk. 

Meanwhile, there are a lot of people, including a lot Catholics, and – 
I’m sorry to say, even bishops – who perpetuate this idea 
that pretty much everyone is headed to heaven.

Along with this goes the notion 
that there really aren’t any important differences between 
Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim or other beliefs.

These are much more soothing things to believe; 
They let us off the hook from the embarrassment of sharing our faith, 
or offering a counterpoint to the world around us.

The only trouble is that Jesus never said these things.
He said the exact opposite.

“No one comes to the Father except through me,” he said.
“Enter through the narrow gate,” Jesus warned,
because broad and easy is the road that leads to destruction; 
but “hard is the way that leads to salvation.”

You will find such blunt talk from Jesus on every page of the Gospels. 
I think he said it so much  
precisely because we would be tempted to believe those other voices.

That said, you and I certainly must not be pushy or arrogant.
On one side is indifferentism, which I just talked about.

The other temptation is to act superior.
“We are the Catholics!” Look at us!
You and I are not smarter, not better, not holier;
God does not love us more, because we are Catholic.

Sometimes we focus on the wrong stuff.
It’s not about impressing God by how often we go to confession,
Or how piously we can recite our prayers.
We don’t wear a cross or scapular to show off.
Rather, the point of it all is that you and I are sinners,
and we need every bit of help we can get.

Being a Catholic is not badge of accomplishment!
Maybe you’ve heard of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous.
It’s a lifeboat for those who are drowning in booze.
And the Catholic Faith is a lifeboat for those who are drowning in sin. 
So maybe we could change our name to “Sinners Anonymous.”

If you’re in the life-raft, don’t brag; get busy pulling others in!

Is it true that people won’t listen? Of course! 
It happened to Jesus himself!
But that isn’t to say it does no good.
Seeds of faith often take many years to germinate.
That little bit of faith you share, by word or example,
May make all the difference, but you won’t know until heaven.
Pride says, “I want to be successful.” 
Love says, “I want to be faithful.”

It is intimidating to think about “sharing our faith”: 
What does it mean? How do I do it?

Let me answer this way. If someone asked you, 
“Do you love your spouse?”; “Do you love your family?”;
or “Do you love America?”
Would you know how to answer? I think you would.

We would all answer in our own way.
Some might even be offended by the question, right?
Your answer doesn’t have to be fancy or intellectual;
it just has to be true; and then people will believe you.

And it’s the same here, except now the question is,
“Do you love Jesus?”

Sometimes you might not be ready with an answer
because you may not have sorted out your faith yet.
That’s where I was as a teenager, tagging along with my family.
We grow into that moment when it’s not just “our” faith;
Now it’s “MY” faith. I believe.

Then, I can look in my heart and give an answer.
“Sharing your faith”? That’s it. That’s how you do it.
And that is our mission.