Friday, October 31, 2014

All Saints, ad orientem

Tonight was special -- we had a "high Mass" for the Vigil of All Saints, but with a twist: I offered Mass toward the Lord. We had a nice crowd, considering it isn't obligatory, and it was a nasty night.

One of the great things my predecessor bequeathed to me was a corps of young men who love to serve Holy Mass! They are eager, motivated, reverent, they know what they are doing, and they have fun doing it. It is a joy.

Big brother Luke brought along younger brother Max, who is growing in his skills and confidence. Don't tell me kids can't do it; they can and they will, if you challenge them, and the parents support it.

Some people think this is extraordinary; it's not. Is the ordinary form of the Mass, celebrated as the Second Vatican Council intended.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014


While my friend Father Z eats high--er, low--on the hog in Rome, I'm tending parish business, eating lunch, as usual, at my desk. Today it is braunschweiger mit zwiebel auf weisbrot (actually leftover hot dog buns), with a side of cottage cheese, all washed down by a Coke Zero.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

To love as God loves (Sunday homily)

(Note: this homily changed significantly from 5 pm to 7:30 am.)

The Gospel gives us this challenge: to love as God loves. 
That’s what the two commandments, taken together, mean. 
To love God is to love what he loves; to love his children, 
all of whom are our neighbors.

So then the first reading gives us an opportunity 
To think in practical terms about that.

In recent years, we’ve had a lot of discussion about immigration – 
should we have more, or less? 
What do we do about people who are here illegally? 
Will anything we do to provide legal status 
to those who work in the shadows 
send a message that encourages yet more illegal immigration?

What do we do?

One of the things our bishops have reminded us of, 
is that when people migrate—
especially when you have folks who travel, 
not a few miles, but many thousands—
they are often doing so out of great suffering and desperation. 
Look at the way Iraq and Syria 
are being emptied of Christians right now. 
Many millions of Christians and others 
have been driven from their homes by violence and terror. 

Or, it is because they cannot find work; 
they cannot start a family, or provide for the family they have. 
And that, of course, is a big part of why so many people 
come here from Central America. 

I think it would be well – 
before we decide how to address these problems – 
if we posed a simple question. 
What would you do? If you could not feed your family, 
how far away would you go in search of work, 
so you could send money home?

And if you got to a national border, would you let that stop you, 
if you knew you could find work on the other side?

My point is not to take sides on how to remedy these problems. 
I’m only making the point that whatever approach we tend to favor, 
we have to ask ourselves, what really motivates our thinking?
If there’s one thing God is demanding of us, 
it is that we care about the human problem. 

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Notice something else in the first reading. 
It talks about lending at interest. 
That may surprise us, because that’s pretty standard today.

This is one of those issues where our understanding 
has shifted over the centuries. 
A thousand years ago, Church teaching 
forbade charging any interest whatsoever. 
But in more recent centuries, 
the Church began to make a distinction between a reasonable interest, 
and something that is unreasonable.
And one reason for the shift 
was to take into consideration that money can lose value over time.

But notice what’s going on in this passage. 
The Lord says, if you take a man’s cloak as a pledge – 
that is, for a debt – return it at nightfall.

Someone might say, wait, that’s not good business.
If you give a loan based on collateral, 
you don’t give up the collateral that secures the debt. 

And the Lord might say, that may be; 
but when you are dealing with someone in need, 
compassion comes first, ahead of good business.

This is one of the principal points Pope Francis, 
along with Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul, and Pope Paul VI, 
and so many popes before them, have been making: 
when we look at how our society is structured – 
when we talk about “the economy” – 
the highest value has to be compassion for human need.

The economy exists to serve people; 
people do not exist to serve the economy.

A lot of us hear that, and we say, great – so how do we do it?
And that’s where it gets hard.

Those of us who have been around the block a few times, 
we know a lot of good-intentioned approaches to poverty 
end up not working out very well. 
Our government has been fighting a “War on Poverty” 
for almost 50 years. 
Let’s say with mixed results, at best.

But none of that is an excuse to give up. 
It’s just another example of how we find that loving God – 
loving what he loves, and loving the people he loves – 
is a whole lot harder in fact than it is in theory. 

One of the things our Faith teaches us in these questions concerning poverty, 
or inequality in our society, or how our economy operates, 
is that “conversion” – change of heart – isn’t just a personal project.

There are ways in which we must call our society to conversion.

This is what we did, in the past, on questions of race;
It is what we’ve been doing for some time on questions of protecting human life, 
from conception to natural death;
And it’s what we’re going to have to do, now, on what marriage really is.

If we love God, we love his Creation; we love his children; 
we love as God loves. No one left out.
God always seeks—always seeks—
the salvation and wellbeing of every human being, without exception. 

The commandment the Lord gives us in the Gospel 
means that we do exactly the same. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Farmer Fox rides the combine!

Shortly after arriving here, one of the men of the parish invited me to ride his combine. I didn't get to it in the spring, so I knew I had to when fall harvest came around. After several false starts, today was the day.

First, the staff told me to change out of my black suit. I did keep my roman collar shirt on!

Then I drove out to the York Farm, to meet Dave, the Patriarch. He was driving this around when I drove up...

I petted the dog (Skippy) while Dave turned around his tractor, then we were in the tractor, and we're off to a nearby field of corn.

That's where we hopped on this bad boy:

I should have gotten more "during" pictures, but I was engrossed in what Dave was telling me about how the combine gobbles up the corn stalks, while separating out the ears of corn, before it shucks the corn off the cob and sprays it up into the bin behind. (I forgot to ask what becomes of the cobs, but I assume they get ground up.) We were rocking along, gathering up between 160-180 bushels per acre, according to a spiffy computer to Dave's right.

Here's a shot of me behind the wheel. I actually drove the combine a bit, but not without Dave. This is a very expensive piece of equipment!

And here's Dave's better half, Bonnie, who kindly drove me back to my car after a good hour of harvesting corn.

Now it's time for confessions!

Leftover chicken, what to do?

The chicken I famously roasted last Thursday is down to just a few remnants. I've made a few meals of it, but as often happens, I'm getting tired of having it around. Yesterday, I sliced up some of the breast meat, with the last homegrown red tomato I had, and had it on toast with mayo. Pretty good!

But with no more tomato, and no lettuce or anything like that in the house, I thought, what will make another chicken sandwich interesting?

Then I remembered, I have kimchi! (Yes, it looks exactly like the picture at Wikipedia.)

So I sliced up some more of the breast, put it on toast with kimchi in the middle, and also some mayo. I added a sliced apple as well:

Father Fox's Sliced Chicken with Kimchi Sandwich

How was it?

Pretty good! The kimchi added both crunch and a nice taste. But after the first half, I went back to the kitchen to put more kimchi on the sandwich. Delicious!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

I am (Father) Spartacus! (updated!)

Surely you've heard of this? The mayor of Houston, was put out by people, including religious people, who circulated petitions to challenge a law she passed regarding nondiscrimination regarding sexual orientation. So she issues subpoenas, demanding texts of homilies, notes, emails, and other private papers from pastors who might have supported the petition drive. Note: after a heavy backlash, she's relented on the sermons, but she's still demanding other papers.

Time for a Spartacus Moment.

The pastors being harassed by the Mayor of Houston are 100% right if they refuse to obey the outrageous subpoena.

That said, I think every pastor, priest, rabbi, imam, etc. in the country -- not under subpoena -- ought to inundate the mayor's office with sermons. (Update) To be clear, this was the idea of Mr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention (article linked above). Credit him.

She wants sermons? Send 'em to her, till she's elbow-deep in them.

I plan on printing out a slew of my sermons this week.

Update, Oct. 22, AD 2014...

I assembled my packet of homilies and they are going to the post office today. A year's worth. Because my homilies are in BIG TYPE (so I can easily refer to the text at the pulpit), the package is somewhat bulky.

Here's the letter I sent along:

        Wednesday, October 22, AD 2014

Honorable Annise Parker
Mayor of Houston
City of Houston
P.O. Box 1562
Houston, Texas  77251

Dear Mayor:

I have become aware that at your direction, the City of Houston has demanded, via subpoena, the sermons, emails, private papers and other notes and communications from area clergypersons who had the temerity to disagree with you. While I’m gratified that you have subsequently relented on the sermons, you are continuing to threaten private citizens, exercising their rights under the Constitution, with the hammer of the law if they do not surrender private papers of various sorts to your representatives.

I hope those individuals you have targeted defy you.

While I sincerely hope you realize how wrong your actions have been, and make a forthright apology, in the meantime, I thought I’d send along a year’s worth of my own homilies.


                                        'I am Spartacus' (hand-written)

Sunday, October 19, 2014

'Jesus doesn’t want Caesar’s coin. But he claims you.' (Sunday homily)

There are a number of passages of Sacred Scripture 
that get distorted in their meaning; today’s Gospel is one of them. 
Specifically, when our Lord says, 
“repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar’s, 
and to God what belongs to God.”

Whenever we as Christians seek to have a say 
about government laws or policies, we often hear this passage quoted, 
as if to say to us, Jesus wants us to let the government do whatever.

A lot of us heard people saying that 
in the controversy over the government’s order 
that nearly every employer, including many religious organizations, 
would be forced to provide contraceptives 
and abortion-causing drugs 
as part of the insurance they provide at work. 

As you know, there were many lawsuits over that, 
and we’ve won a number of legal victories, 
including the Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court. 
Unfortunately, the government is still looking for ways 
to continue its coercion.

And during this whole thing, 
we’ve heard people say, “Render unto Caesar.”

Well, they are misunderstanding what Jesus said. Let’s look at it.

First, notice the discussion was specifically about a tax—
not about broader questions of government power.

Second, Jesus is dealing with people he knows bear him malice. 
We might wonder what he’d have said, if they’d been sincere.
So our Lord says, “show me the coin.” Then he asks, “who is this?”

It’s actually kind of funny, if you think about it. 
These critics of Jesus are impressed with Caesar, 
as the ruler of mighty Rome, 
but they despise Jesus as a troublemaker. 

Meanwhile, we see Jesus – who is the true king, the King of kings, 
asking who is this? As if to say, is this someone famous? 

Notice what else our Lord said: “whose image is this?” 
If the coin belongs to Caesar – because it bears his image – 
then by that rule, God gets what bears his image, right?

What bears the image of God, and the “inscription” of God?

Well, that would be all of Creation! 
“The heavens declare the glory of God,” Psalm 19 says; 
creation bears witness to God, Paul wrote to the Romans. 

Can you picture it? Jesus, the Lord, holding in one hand, 
What bear’s Caesar’s image: a grubby coin.
And in the other hand, what bears his image? 
That would be the whole world…in his hand!

Above all, the image of God is the human race. 
“Let us make man in our image, after our likeness,” 
is what God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit said 
before they created humanity: 
“male and female he created them.”

So when our government says its OK to destroy unborn children? 
And to torture people as part of war? 
Or to humiliate the poor, because they are poor? 
Or to push aside the sick and elderly?

These are God’s treasure! They bear his image! Hands off, Caesar!

Do you know where this applies most clearly? Marriage.

Recall again what Genesis said: 
“in the image of God…male and female, he created them.”

When we say we are made in the divine image, what does that mean? 
God is the Creator above all. 
While God created everything out of nothing, what do we do?

If you are an engineer or architect or in construction, 
you can build whole cities, 
but you have to labor with wood and stone and steel – 
you can’t make it out of nothing. 
The farmer can produce a great harvest, 
but he needs seed and soil and sweat, 
and the blessing of the right weather at the right time. 

If you are a writer or poet or painter, 
you can create people and worlds and histories—
but they only exist on canvas, or the printed page, 
or the silver screen. 
You can’t breathe them into life.

But there is a moment—just one!—
when man in breathtaking audacity soars to the skies 
and comes whisper-close to being just like God,
and in a moment of unrestrained love, generous and sacrificial,
actually does it! Actually creates something from nothing!
And not just any something, but the greatest of somethings—
another divine image, a human being that will live forever!

It’s when a man and woman come together in the marital embrace.
Marriage – requiring a man and a woman – 
is when humanity is most fully the image of God!

Hands off, Caesar!

The next time someone quotes this Gospel to you, 
as if to say, even Jesus says let government do what it likes,
you might quote back today’s first reading. 
It mentions Cyrus, 
who was the all-powerful Persian emperor in Isaiah’s time. 
But notice: it’s God who calls the shots; 
Cyrus does his bidding, not the other way around. 
Cyrus didn’t intend to do God’s bidding, but no matter.
God is one in charge.

Now let’s bring it forward to our own time.

When Jesus said these words, 
no one asked him, or anyone else, 
what the laws should be, or who should govern. 

But in our time, we make those decisions. 
In a few weeks, we will have a great privilege 
of selecting a governor and other statewide offices, 
as well as the state legislature, as well as the U.S. Congress. 

When you go to vote in a few weeks, 
will you know whose on the ballot? What do they stand for? 
Do they respect what bears God’s image, or not?

Meanwhile, you and I are images of God. 
We bear his inscription in our hearts. 
A lot of times the coins in our pockets get pretty soiled, 
and they get distorted; the same with us. 
That’s why we have confession, to restore that image; 
and the Eucharist, where we unite once again 
with the Lord whose image we are.

Jesus doesn’t want Caesar’s coin. But he claims you.