Monday, November 28, 2005

Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

I saw the new Harry Potter movie today. Liked it. It may be the best of the series.

I have to say, this may be the best series of movies -- ever! I mean this: think of movies with sequels/prequels; they tend to be uneven. Think of the Star Wars series, or Indiana Jones, or the Godfather. The Lord of the Rings trilogy would win "best series," except it was three movies; this is four and counting. All goes to show the fluidity of a word like "best."

I won't be spoiling it for anyone to note the quasi-religious qualities of the movie. The gothic architecture, the graveyard sans crosses or angels or Madonnas, the non-chapel chapel, the candlelight, the ritual, and so forth. It's very striking to note a world in which Christianity is but a faint shadow. It certainly fits the England in which it is set, from what we hear. It reminds me of the term Flannery O'Connor used to use, of her beloved Southland: "Christ-haunted."

I don't say this to attack J.K. Rowling; as I haven't read any of her books, for all I know, the books reflect more explicit Christianity, which the moviemakers edit out. For that matter, she writes her novels as she wishes, not as I might wish.

As it is, she always gives a strong endorsement for character and virtue. She usually puts some striking wisdom on the lips of Dumbledore, and this one was no exception: "Dark days lie ahead, Harry -- and we will soon find ourselves forced to choose between what is easy, and what is right."

I seem to recall some criticism of her works, along the lines of claiming that her heroes and heroines did things the villains did -- as if to say, one couldn't tell them apart. Again--I haven't read the books, but, from the movies, I find that odd.

Can anyone explain this?

There's one sentence in this overall, strange story, that really jumps out. Rather than highlight it, let's see if it has the same effect on you as it did me.

From the Sunday Times -- Britain -- November 27, 2005:

MoD probe into naked marines’ initiation fight

By David Sanderson
AN INVESTIGATION has been launched by the Ministry of Defence after the publication of a video apparently showing a violent initiation ceremony for Royal Marine recruits.

In the film, naked marines are shown reportedly cheering as two new recruits are ordered to fight each other. The incident is said to have taken place last May at Bickleigh barracks near Plymouth, which is home to 42 Commando.

A spokesman for the ministry said: “Bullying and harassment are not widespread within the armed forces. Behaviour of this kind will not be tolerated.”

According to one commando reportedly in attendance, the man orchestrating the fight had taken 12 recruits fresh from a 32-week training course to a barbecue with about 40 other marines. Having forced them to swallow raw eggs and chunks of lard he allegedly ordered the recruits to strip naked and run around the field.

After changing into a surgeon’s outfit with mask and cap, he and another marine, dressed in a St Trinian’s schoolgirl uniform with wig and short skirt, supervised the fight. Naked marines are seen watching as the two men hit each other with large mats fixed to their arms. It is understood the most senior soldiers present were a corporal and a lance corporal.

(Credit due to Discussion about 09/11/2001, Politics and Other Explorations)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

'Lord, make us turn to you' (Sunday homily)

Jesus is coming.

He came on Christmas, 20 centuries ago. He will come at the end of time. We just heard him say that. And so he says, “Watch!”

In between his coming as a child, and his final coming as Judge, he comes as a Savior and Redeemer; he comes as a Shepherd of his Flock.

Jesus comes to us constantly in our lives. He’s here now—always!

If we wonder where Jesus is, ask him to help you see.

Perhaps we want what the first reading asked for: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,with the mountains quaking before you”—then we’d believe!
then we’d get our act together!

Then perhaps politicians would stop wasting tax money building their own petty kingdoms;perhaps then folks in Columbus would be concerned, not only about jobs in the big cities, but in places like Piqua, too? Then nations that sit on top of the pile would change their ways, their trade laws and trade barriers, so that poor nations of the world could prosper, too?

“Oh, that Christ would rend the heavens and come!”

Then, perhaps, our drowsing conscience would wake up: this society, the most well-off in history! And yet it has no room! No room for more life, more children, larger families; no room for unborn children who are inconvenient, who are disabled, who are imperfect.

Yet, paradoxically, we have room for a “fertility” industry, creating babies in laboratories; but no room for the “surplus embryos”—tiny human beings!—created to meet human needs, then, cast aside, unneeded: and these unborn, tiny human beings
are being destroyed—now!—as raw material for research. When you hear about “embryonic stem-cell research,” that’s what they’re talking about.

What you don’t hear is that there are alternate ways to do this very same research,
without destroying life.

Meanwhile, we do have room for an entertainment culture and businesses that sell products to us, as they congratulate our worst qualities, and mock our best values.

If you turn on the TV, or the Internet, how long before you see advertising from companies like Abercrombie, or a network like MTV; or prime-time shows, or soap operas; that despise decency; that ridicule morality?

There’s not even time to talk about some of the music that is degrading.

How do I say this? You know what Santa says: “Ho, ho, ho”? That means something very different and very ugly, when it comes to a lot of the music pitched to kids.

We have room for this massive, kid-targeting industry: bad enough these companies
pick our children’s pockets; but along the way, they steal their innocence, too.
They lie to our young people about their worth, and what their inner life is really all about.

“Oh, that Jesus would rend the heavens and come!”

No. The Lord is here already; and always.

Why does Our Lord delay his coming? Because he’s waiting for us!

What did we hear St. Paul say a moment ago? “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ”! “…[I]n him you were enriched in every way,
with all discourse and all knowledge…so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Prophet Isaiah said, Lord, help us do and be what is right! Have mercy! And St. Paul answers: He has! He’s here—in you!

Whatever help we might want God to send, to help us change ourselves, and our world—
It’s here already! Whatever the world needs, so it can see Jesus: it’s all here, already—in us!

The power and gifts we need are here. We call them Sacraments; we call them Grace: when Jesus baptizes us; when he confirms us; when he bathes us in his mercy
in the Sacrament of Confession; when he feeds us with his own Body and Blood!
When he empowers us in our vocation in life, when he stands with us in times of sickness and crisis.

Jesus is already, in our midst, in us! How much the world believes that depends on how much you and I believe it—and live accordingly.

You and I come to this sacred moment, the Mass, not by human will, but by Divine Appointment. He brought us here, because He is here. This is the moment—right now!—
to say to him:

“Lord, make us turn to you; let us see your face and we shall be saved.”

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Veni, Domine!

The time of coming is upon us again; the time to be aware just how near our immanent-yet-supra-Cosmic Lord and Savior is, truly and always. This is the time to realize that the Eschaton is less than a hairsbreadth away. "Come, Lord Jesus, and do not delay," we pray in First Vespers--and while we are tempted to think of Christmas, the focus more is on his ultimate coming: at the end of time (which can be at any moment), or at the end of our lives -- again, at any time.

But we are called, likewise, to consider that the Eschaton -- that is, ultimate reality -- is always immanently here, although we remain unaware. The Eucharist is the "portal": the appearances of bread and wine are the barest film of temporal reality separating us from complete Reality, where the Trinity is encountered, and the Incarnate One reigns in his proper glory.

My thoughts turn to this, as I observe the Holy Father celebrate First Vespers, from St. Peter's Basilica (taped from earlier).

My prayer for my parishioners, and for you, is that Advent will be a time to nourish longing in your heart for the One who is to come.

(For those who pay attention to such things, I invite you to notice the picture of the pope above: his vestment does not seem to conform to the super-punctilious interpretations offered of "Advent purple v. Lent purple": it would seem to be the redder, Lenten purple, would it not?)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

About that 'Gay Seminarian' Instruction

I was going to post some thoughts; then I read what Amy Wellborn wrote, and I don't have much to add. See it here.

Monday, November 21, 2005

'My top 10 greatest influences, outside of God & my family members'

Rich Leonardi "tagged" me. Ok, I'll play.

These are not in order:

1. C.S. Lewis: I began reading C.S. Lewis in my 20s, when I was a fired-up Pentecostal. It was, to quote Hugh Hefner (an unlikely person for me to quote, but fair is fair), like oxygen to a suffocating man. Not only did Lewis help cure me of my anti-Catholicism, and awaken me to the depths of Christianity beyond the power of a conversion experience -- and thus help lead me to the "checkmate" moment that brought me back to Holy Mother Church, but also, he contributed a good deal to my thinking and understanding of the Faith, on which I draw frequently to this day.
2. Pope John Paul: not literally the only pope I'd known, when he died, but pretty close. A constant inspiration to me, before I returned to the Faith, as a Catholic layman, as a seminarian, and as a priest. A mystical encounter with Christ.
3. St. Augustine: when I read The Confessions, I knew a kindred soul.
4. St. Thomas Aquinas: where St. Augustine spoke to my heart, St. Thomas spoke to my mind, and affirmed for me not only the power of Christianity, but to the brilliance of Catholic Christianity.
5. My former boss when I worked for the National Right to Work Committee. My friend to this day -- one I see and talk to too infrequently -- taught me many wise things about many things; I am drawing on that wisdom now as a pastor.
6. An associate with whom I still do political work: one of the most brilliant -- and enjoyable -- people I've ever known.
7. Bill W.: the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. No, I'm not an alcoholic, but alcoholism touched my life through others. Someone observed -- I can't recall who -- that the Twelve Steps are the 20th century's great contribution to spirituality. I believe that.
8. The priest who invited me to consider the priesthood: in addition to helping me come to be a priest, he also helped me on a personal level.
9. William F. Buckley: I started reading National Review in college, and under his -- and President Ronald Reagan's -- influence, I went from being a ho-hum Republican to being a Conservative.
10. St. Martin de Porres: he is my patron saint, and I am convinced his prayers and influence have been great on my life, although I cannot prove it.

Next in line:

my guardian angel
Ronald Reagan
Ayn Rand
William Shakespeare
Frank Capra
James Brooks
J.R.R. Tolkien

Now, I guess I'm supposed to "tag" someone. OK: how about Fr. Jim Tucker at Dappled Things, and the Darwins at DarwinCatholic. If they don't read this, they're off the hook.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Christ the King Homily

Who is this Jesus?

You come to church, turn on TV,
go to the Internet, a bookstore,
and everybody

has something to say about Jesus.

Only it’s pretty confusing.
Did he really live? Or was he made up?
I heard the Church invented it all.
Who is this Jesus?

Anyway, I can live my life without Jesus.
I work, and go to school,
and deal with my friends and family.

I don’t need people pushing Jesus in my face!
I can make my own choices.

What’s wrong with me,

the way I am? I’m fine!

Well, yeah—there is that.
I don’t know why I keep doing that.
Oh God! I don’t want

anyone to know I did that!

OK, so there’s a part of us

that’s not so good.
This is how it is.
What are you going to do?

People do rotten stuff;
they go to war and kill;
poor people suffer and die.
That’s how it is;

what are you going to do?

Change the world?

I can’t even change me!

God—are you there?
What do you say to this?
Do you care?

What are you going to do?

If I think you’re talking to me,
how do I know that’s You—
not just me, talking to myself?

Is there any hope for us, God?

If only you’d come—here—among us.
We could see you—

touch you—know you’re real.

Does being human have any meaning—
or are we just a blip?

You did come? You became human?
Just like me?
Wow—that’s pretty cool!

Wait a minute, God—
I sin all the time;

please tell me you didn’t.
Please tell me that somebody
can live a human life

without all the ugliness! you became human,
like me;
but you lived each day
choosing what’s right.

Yeah—I bet you did get a lot of flak.
That must have been pretty hard.

I can see how some
might actually hate you:
See you as a threat.

So—they really had to shut you up,
didn’t they?
You let them kill you—
I don’t know why you did that.

You’re God—how can they kill you?
Only—you were human—
so you really did die.
For real! Wow!

Why’d you do that, God?
To pay for our sins?
You could have done it lots of other ways—
why suffer? Why die?
“Because we do”?

Yeah—I remember
when my mom died of cancer.
That was pretty rough—
for her and for all of us.

But that’s true—
she did talk a lot about your Cross, then.
I guess I’ve had some of those moments, too;
nice to know you’ve been there!

So—everything that happens to us,
happened to you?

All the ugliness? All the hatred?
All the horrors?

And you chose that?!?

God—how did you survive that?
How did that not totally mess you up?
How could you not,
just, wipe us out, instead?

How can you love us that much?

So you came back—after dying?
You overcame death and evil—
it didn’t overwhelm You!

There is hope!

Your body came back to life, too?
You didn’t just leave
your body behind, after that?

Wait a minute, God—
are you telling me you’re still human?

You still have flesh-and-blood,
feelings, thoughts—
just like me?

You’re going to be human forever?

That’s really awesome!

You must really believe in us, God!

I heard you left after that, God—
after you rose from the dead,
you hung around awhile—
but then you left again.

Why’d you leave?

OK—you’re in heaven, running things;
but we need you here, too—
more than ever!

Oh yeah—that power of yours!
That’s here?
You gave it to us?

Your Power—your Holy Spirit—
is in your Church, your people?
That’s why the Church goes on, despite us!
That’s how the pope can speak for you?
That’s how all those people became saints!

Wait a minute: You’re plan…
is to turn us…into YOU?
I don’t really understand that, but—WOW!

our world…people need a lot of help!

That’s my job?
We’re supposed to change the world?

Can I have some
of that power of yours, Jesus?

Oh—baptism, OK;
Yeah, I can go to confession—
like taking a shower!
When I got confirmed—
your Holy Spirit!

And you feed us
with your Body and Blood?
You give us power in our path in life:
I could get married
and you would create
new life through me!
or I could be a priest,
or a deacon, for your People—
and I’d help create life that way!

Now that I think about it,
you really are doing a lot in the world—
only we have to look for it—
listen for your voice.

Thank you Jesus—
I’m really glad I know
who you are, now.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Who watches this moronic stuff?

I have been watching "Matrix Reloaded," which is mildly diverting entertainment. But then comes ads for "Sex and the City"--and the banality of it reminds me of another popular show, "Desperate Housewives."

Who watches this stuff?

Good enough for Keanu Reeves...

I have to admit, I don't look as good in my cassock as Keanu Reeves...too much beer and pizza and other "Thomistic appreciation of creation" . . .

Update: here's the poster, which a poster mentions in the comments. What do you think?

Abandoning Iraq Would be Immoral

Rep. John Murtha made news this week calling for the U.S. to pull out of Iraq. The Democrats are on an all-out offensive against President Bush regarding the war: they are accusing him of lying to them and the nation about the threat from Iraq prior to the war, and challenging his management of the war.

I'm no military expert, but the war seems to be going significantly better than about a year ago. This time last year, it seemed only the Kurds were allied with us; now, it appears we have the Kurds, and the Shi'ites, and a growing number of Sunnis are turning against the terrorists. Last year, we hoped we could cultivate a constituency for a democratic, rights-based government; now, it appears all three major groups are entering into the political process. Last year, the administration said the enemy were nothing more than "Ba'athist dead-enders" and that seemed dubious; this year, that explanation is actually plausible.

With all that, I really don't know; but things do seem to be moving in a good direction now; yet members of Congress are now turning against the war. "Time to pull out!"

One of the more loathsome arguments for this is to point to the American war dead. That's not a moral argument, but a political one. Every lost American life is something to grieve; but no moreso than the loss of Iraqi lives.

The war, once begun, must be resolved the right way--bringing peace and justice to Iraq. This country launched this war--rightly or wrongly--and it is this country's moral obligation to stay committed until Iraq is stable and able to stand on its own. If that means more casualties for our armed forces, then that is the consequence of our national policy, and demanded by national honor.

In case anyone wants to make insinuations: I have never voted for President George W. Bush (I voted third-party); I did not agree with his decision to launch this war.

But we're at war now, and the people of Iraq are depending on us.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Why not fight for Oil?

While visiting National Review Online, I read a review of the current film Jarhead--and the cliche argument pops up: "We shouldn't fight a war for oil!"

To which I respond: why not?

Now, I'd rather not have war for any reason. But wars come. Why is it so awful to fight for oil?

Let us consider: what would happen if a head of state withheld a big chunk of the world's oil from the market? Answer? A lot of human suffering. A lot of awful things would happen.

In the old (American) West, water was often a scare resource, and people fought over control and/or access to it. Rationally -- in such a situation -- if people are going to fight over anything, fighting over having water makes a lot of sense. Put it another way: if someone stands between you and water, your choices are fight . . . or die.

Oil, like it or not, has a similar role to play in the world economy. If someone actually threatens the supply of oil, the choices are nearly the same: fight -- or die.

Now -- it happens to be rather unlikely that anyone, sitting on a lot of oil, would refuse to sell it. My point was that oil matters. A great deal.

Yet, following upon that last thought, let us recall the world situation in 1990. Saddam Hussein seized control of Kuwait, and was in a position -- if he chose -- to seize the Saudi oil fields. In a stroke, Saddam could have controlled something like 60% of the world's oil sources.

Yes, he would have sold his oil. We would have had oil to buy. But consider: what would the next chapter have been? If a U.S.-led coalition had not ejected Saddam from Kuwait, and he did invade Saudi Arabia, would that coalition have ejected him from there? Or acquisced? How do you suppose this plays out? Do you get a good feeling contemplating that alternate history? (He was pursuing biological and nuclear weapons; and he used chemical weapons freely.)

None of us knows what that alternate reality would be. But is it really so unreasonable for us to think it would have been significantly worse than what did happen? If the thought of that alternate reality chills you, then why is fighting to prevent that so unthinkable?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Good-Bad Monday Night Television

I'm watching one of my favorite movies: "Dude, Where's My Car?" Go ahead -- have at me.

Alito, 1985: 'Constitution doesn't protect a right to an abortion'

Well--what more do you want?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The turn of the tide

Watching "The Wizard of Oz," I can't help noticing both the quality, and the optimism, of the production. The dialogue is effortlessly, casually, scintillating. This wasn't supposed to be a high-brow production; yet the scripting is first-rate, economical, clever and humorous.

The movie reflects, also, an optimism about the future, and a confidence about the culture that it represented. It is produced by a society that -- without any aggression or threat -- believed itself to be humane, sophisticated and accomplished. It looked forward to the future to come.

The film is utterly unapologetic about advocating virtue and opposing vice. No falderall about "respecting alternate points of view" -- it believes virtue is something everyone wants to acquire -- and should!

There is an innocence about the film: the filmmaker feels no need to depict sexual tension between, say, the Tin-Man and Dorothy -- or, for that matter, the Lion!

Here's what I think: I believe our American culture was on a rising trajectory, until the 60s -- then it hit the skids. We've had some upticks since then; we've had some good moments in music, a few bright spots in literature, and our film industry is still capable of great things (and awful things) -- but I think our culture, as a whole, reflecting the society -- has not yet gotten back to where it was.

I may simply be reflexively nostalgic. I may be wrong. I am not fatalistic -- I don't buy the "inexorable decline" way of thinking -- I have no idea what lies ahead (I veer between optimism and pessimism and am not insightful enough to know which is more probable).

But I do find old movies an eye-opener. Do you?

Good Sunday Night Television

I chanced upon "The Wizard of Oz" just now on WGN. I haven't watched this movie for awhile, as I watched it, I don't know how many times, when I was a boy (to all you younger bloggers -- there was a day when all we had was five, or even four channels! Egad!)

What a masterpiece!

Bad Sunday Night Television

I thought I missed "The West Wing," due to an organizational meeting with parents and young people to begin laying the foundation for our youth ministry. (Our new youth minister did a great job. I hired him.) Ah, but it turns out "West Wing" was pre-empted by "Penn & Teller" -- as talented as they are, they hate God and love to show off their hate, so . . . I am not sorry to miss them.

Oh joy! -- I made it home in time for part two of "Catagory 7: the End of the World."

It's not quite as bad (hence good) as last week, but still pretty bad. Let's review...

Some thugs, hired by a flaked-out flunky of a televangelist, kidnap a bunch of kids. The kids see the face of one of the thugs, so they decide to waste them all. So they chase them around. They capture one of them (one of the girls! Girls can never run in TV shows -- they always get caught, because instead of running, they stand still and scream uncontrollably). Now, in case you forgot, their plan was to...kill them all. So what do they do with the girl? They drag her off and lock her in a closet. Naturally.

Tornadoes appear all over Washington -- we get to see the White House turned into splinters. The villain, naturally, gets sucked up into the vortex and disappears. (Yay!)

We never see the President; but a Senator -- a Senator! seems to be the only one running things. Along with some computer nerds in some warehouse somewhere. They tell the Senator -- we have to turn off all the power! He says (I kid you not): "our best option is to call the Department of Energy"! Hahahahahaha!

Now, it really gets good. Folks are driving all over town, while the worst storm in the history of the world is hitting. They're talking on their cell phones!!! Everything is being destroyed, right and left -- but not the cellular towers!

A couple of the computer nerds drive off to southeast Washington. To cut off the power. (Turns out the storms are caused by too much heat, generated by too much power-generation. Nasty global warming!) So if only they can sabotage a substation...they can save Washington D.C.!

Now . . . think about this: the worst storm in history -- and the whole city's power stays on the whole time!--unless our heroes (and heroines) go turn off the power!!!

Wow! I hope the Emmy nominating committee was watching this!

P.S. Doggone computer nerds actually saved Washington! I was really looking forward to total destruction!!! What a gyp!

To which race of Middle Earth do you belong?
brought to you by Quizilla

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Will you pass the test? (Sunday homily)

Who here is in school, now?
Any grade?

OK—who here was ever in school,
once upon a time?

Let’s see if you agree with me:
One of the most dread,
stomach-churning experiences
you can have is the mother of all nightmares:
The test, the quiz, you aren’t ready for!

Maybe it’s that dirty trick, “the pop quiz”;
Or it could be the test
you just totally forgot about—
you know that awful feeling—
maybe it hits you as you walk into class.

Or maybe it’s the test
you we’re going to study for,
Friday afternoon…make that Saturday morning…
okay, Saturday night; then, after Mass,
Okay, after the football game…
then you stay up late—
and you fall asleep! Oops!

It’s an awful feeling, isn’t it?

Our Scriptures talk about passing the test:
The first reading
describes wives who “pass the test”;
St. Paul talks about being “sober and alert”
for the test when Jesus returns
at the end of time;
and the Gospel describes the test itself.

So—if all this talk of tests
is making you feel awful…

Relax! I’ve got Good News!
Good News: are you ready?

Everyone here can pass the test!
Isn’t that Good News?

So, don’t be afraid of “the test.”
You can pass it—everyone can!

Yes, the test can come at any moment:
So St. Paul says, the Lord will come
like a thief at night”—like a “pop quiz”!

So what’s the test? How do we pass it?

For that, we look at the Gospel.

Now, I want to pause,
and correct a mistaken assumption
about this Gospel story.

Here it is:
When the Gospel talks about “talents”—
it doesn’t mean what you may think it means.

It’s referring to money!
Not ability! Money!

A “talent” was a unit of money,
perhaps $1,000 in today’s terms.

So we could translate it:
To one, he gave $5,000,
to another, $2,000, to another, $1,000.

Now: the Lord’s “test” was not,
how much money did you earn;
it’s not really about money at all!
The money—the $5,000, $2,000, $1,000—
stands for something else:
something everyone gets some of—
and that’s FAITH.

So the test is not about ability,
or how much you have,
versus you, or you, or you;
All that matters is whether you do anything!

What matters is whether you use—
you “spend”—those “faith-dollars,”
or whether you bury your faith
and never act on it.

And that’s why everyone
can pass the Lord’s test.

That doesn’t mean everyone
will pass;
We could stand before the Lord,
and hear those awful words—
“you wicked, lazy servant!”—
because we buried the faith
Christ put into our hearts.
Sometimes we put off acting on faith;
we let someone else in our family do it for us.
We find excuses—“someone else got more”—
or, “I was afraid.”

You may not believe you have much faith:
maybe you didn’t even get $1,000.
Maybe you got $100; $10; $1—maybe only a penny!

Whatever faith you do have—
and everyone gets some—
Spend it! Put it out there—
and watch it grow!

The “worthy wife” in the first reading
passes the test because she acts on her faith:
she makes a difference in her own home,
and in the lives of the poor and needy.

That passage is a symbol of us, the Church—
we, the Church, are the Bride of Christ—
and Christ, the Bridegroom,
entrusts his Heart to his Church!

Here he is: in this church, always here:
The Eucharist is the Heart
of his Body, the Church!

He doesn’t ask us to be smart
and explain his mystery;
he doesn’t ask us to pay
cash-money for his gifts;
He asks only faith!

Our second-graders are preparing
for their first communion;
and while they will learn things
along the way,
what Jesus asks of them
is not knowledge—head-faith,
but heart-faith: desire—longing!

So—2nd graders—
don’t worry about what you know;
focus on that longing—
that hunger and thirst for Jesus!

“For to everyone who has, more will be given,
and he will grow rich;
but from the one who has not, even what he has
will be taken away”—because it was left unused.

So when the Lord comes—
and he can come at any time—
he won’t ask us what we know;
how much money we have;
how smart or talented we are.

He’ll say: I gave you faith;
maybe it was only a single spark.
What did you do with it?

That’s the only test
we ever have to pass with the Lord.

What do we expect of our priests?

I visited Rich Leonardi's blog, Ten Reasons, yesterday and today, and read his post -- and the comments that followed -- concerning plans being made in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati to deal with an expected shortfall of priests in the next few years.

I made a few comments there; but some thoughts arose I decided to post here.

A lot of assumptions about dealing with this problem -- and it is real -- should be examined openly. And they basically come down to:

Just what do we expect from a parish priest? What do others expect from him?

Some may think the priest doesn't have that much to do from Sunday to Sunday; because that's all they expect of him, is Sunday Mass.

Some see no reason a priest shouldn't celebrate Mass four, five, six, or more times on a Sunday, "if that's what it takes." A friend says, repeatedly: "that's what you do"--as if that's all there is to it.

Some actually do begrudge a priest having time to himself, time to recreate, as if he's being selfish.

When I was in the seminary, I remember a weekend we had a group of men visiting for a retreat (I'll be vague about the details to protect those involved). It was Friday night, around 9 or 10 PM. I was in the student lounge, watching TV -- yes, I was indeed relaxing.

One of the men in the group came in, sat down nearby. We chatted briefly. An initial comment from him: "it must be nice." The meaning was unmistakable: too much leisure.

And I've encountered that attitude several times, as a priest. The folks who object to me sleeping late on days when I can, don't have any comment about the nights when I'm in the hospital till 4 AM.

And it's not just the duration, but the intensity--some of the things you deal with can be terribly draining: such as having two people, dying, in two different cities, one 30 miles away, one 80, both begging for you to come; meanwhile, you have needs in your own parish to attend to, including a parishioner who is dying.

(This happened to me recently. I ended up having a funeral in my own parish, and one in Cincinnati, several days apart. Meanwhile, the person dying in Dayton seems to have recovered. I spent a good deal of time on the phone, trying to assess. I spent a good deal of time second-guessing, agonizing, and bathing it all in prayer.

Meanwhile, I have any number of needs in the parish that won't go away, while I'm trying to be a priest for these other folks.)

Another aspect I'd cite -- in the way of expectations -- is that sometimes folks don't understand why the priest can't just "drop everything" when they stop by. Sometimes, I do indeed drop everything, either because the need is obvious, or simply because I want to be generous.

But that means some things wait on my desk, unattended to, such as:

* vocations promotions (I have ideas yet to implement)

* server training

* a weekly Bible study I want to start

* organizing my office (I'm still working out of boxes).

* fundraising (our parish has a tight budget)

* long-term planning

* scheduling evenings to meet with extraordinary ministers of holy communion, readers, servers, sacristans, etc., to encourage and thank them, and to provide some further liturgical and theological formation

* thank you letters to any number of folks for any number of kindnesses, either to me, or the parish

I don't paint this picture to complain, or to elicit sympathy; only to give folks, who make assessments of priests "from the outside," an opportunity to consider their priests' situation more from his perspective.

We all hear complaints about priests who say "no" to this or that request. Perhaps some of this gives insight into why they might do that.

I feel a great privilege and am awed to experience Christ acting, mysteriously, through my ministry. I realize such events drive me where I need to be: on my knees in prayer.

But let me share something St. Charles Borromeo said -- it appeared in the Office of Readings last week:

"Are you in charge of a parish? If so, do not neglect the parish of your own soul, do not give yourself to others so completely that you have nothing left for yourself. You have to be mindful of your people without being forgetful of yourself."

I'm not complaining; I love my priesthood. But do you want to help priests? Try being understanding. Give 'em a break.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A particularly stupid (and hence improbable) "lie"

The Democrats think they have a winning argument: President Bush lied about the weapons of mass destruction, so as to start a war he wanted to start.

What an incredibly stupid idea. However much a dolt one thinks Bush was, he's not that stupid.

Consider this: suppose Bush did lie; then he knows that once the Americans go in, they will not find any WMDs! In short, he knows his lie would be exposed!

A particularly stupid war

Today is Veteran's Day, and others have paid better tribute. I want to note, approvingly, the decision a half-century ago to change the day to Veteran's Day from Armistice Day.

Armistice Day has a somewhat romantic history: the guns fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. If you surf around, you'll see quotations from "Flander's Fields" and suchlike.

Yes, a cessation of war is something to celebrate; but I am glad we don't labor under the burden of the propaganda that once prevailed about the First World War. Not to put too fine a point on it: it was a remarkably stupid war. I can't go "rah rah" over it; not one bit.

The change to Veteran's Day seems fitting, and it makes the day far more meaningful. It is, curiously, the last national holiday that floats through the week. As I recall, there was an attempt to shift it to Monday, but that didn't fly.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Monday, November 07, 2005

A papal interlude

Isn't this called Modernism?

Reading this report at Pontifications, I was struck by this account, by Rev. Robert Sanders, an Episcopal priest, of the problem in the Episcopal Church (I am sure he would agree it is a problem in many other places as well--and I will say, it shows up in the Catholic Church, too):

I first became aware that something was wrong with the Episcopal Church when I went to seminary in 1973. Some of my professors taught a theology and a way of interpreting Scripture that denied the miraculous, including the fact that Jesus bodily rose from the dead. I could see at once that this teaching would seriously undermine the power of the gospel. I decided to get to the bottom of it and in 1979 went to graduate school and earned a Ph.D. in systematic theology. While in graduate school, I discovered that a powerful false teaching had invaded the churches since the early 1800’s. Only in recent decades has it made its way into the Episcopal Church.
This false teaching does not deny the authority of Scripture, or Creeds, or Prayer Book. Rather its partisans revise them from a perspective alien to the Christian faith. Among other things a number of revisionists deny the miraculous, including the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection. Others accept the miraculous, but conceive of God in mystical categories and thereby deny God the Word as the concrete, objective, verbal, and eternal revelation of God. ...


I was only one of a number of writers who clearly documented the false teaching, heresy, and apostasy found among a goodly number of priests, bishops, and seminary professors within the Episcopal Church. At the same time, I attempted to settle my differences with the revisionists....


At no point, ever, did I have any sustained engagement with those who disagreed with me. They simply did not want to talk. They were quite apt at producing trivial arguments, but once they encountered someone who could make sense of Scripture, tradition, and have reasoning powers, they simply walked away.

All my individual efforts at resolving these differences failed. Finally, about the year 2001, it became clear to me that one aspect of revisionist teaching is that language, logic, Scripture, words, doctrine, are not persuasive. Revisionists tend to believe that God is a mystical unknown and that language and doctrine are secondary. One of my most important analyses of this understanding was eventually published in Christianity Today.

The results of that insight, that doctrine and language are secondary, ultimately means that “dialogue” is impossible with revisionists. All we can do with them is share feelings and opinions. At that point I realized that my differences with revisionists could not be resolved. We live in two completely different worlds, theoretically and practically. (Emphasis added.)

Sam Adams Does the Right Thing

On another thread, I mentioned my unhappiness that, several years ago, Sam Adams Beer allowed itself to be associated with some nasty, on-air behavior that was insulting to Catholics. And I said I'd never heard the company acknowledge error.

I wrote a letter (actually, I had written twice before, but got no response), giving the company another chance. The company seems to have someone on-the-ball checking email: I got a prompt and pointed reply, which follows:

Dear Fr. Fox,

Thank you for sharing with us your concerns about the "Opie & AnthonyShow" in 2002. We are grateful that you took the time to share them and have given us the opportunity to respond to you personally.The Boston Beer Company has formally apologized for our association with that incident. Shortly after the radio show aired three years ago, we ran a public apology in major Boston and New York newspapers, on our website and individually to those offended by the incident.

Our association with the show was a lapse in judgment, and we regret it. While not an acceptable excuse, I want you to know that we had no warning that a place of worship would be part of the show. Everyone associated with The Boston Beer Company has worked very hard over the last 20 years to build a good company with world-class products and a quality reputation. Your feedback, along with other feedback we receive, is continuously used as we strive to protect and improve our reputation. As a result of the incident, we changed our policy and controls on radio station activities, and significantly decreased our radio spending. We also worked hard with affected groups to apologize and make amends including the Archdioceses of New York and Boston.Shortly after the incident in 2002, we received word that they were satisfied with our apology. Boston Beer is a company that cares deeply about its customers and its reputation with them. We regret that this incident has damaged our relationship with you, and I hope that, over time, we will earn your respect again. Please accept our apology, and again, thank you for taking the time to let us know how you feel. I hope you will continue to do so in the future.


Michelle Sullivan

I'm glad to publish this letter, and say I find it more than satisfactory. I wrote back to Michelle Sullivan saying so.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bad Sunday Night Television (reprise)

This may be my first regular feature.

Tonight, it's "Category 7: the End of the World."

Now--who can resist a title like that?

I couldn't. The first few minutes center on Paris, France--clearly marked out for destruction. Who doesn't like that idea? Then we have the first stereotype: an earnest expert whom the powerful scoff at. Well, we know they'll die--and sure enough, one of them does, pretty quick. In the meantime, we learn how "thin" the expert's evidence is: why, a whole spate of cities in the U.S. have been plastered--but why worry?

Meanwhile, folks are having a time on the streets of Paris, while Armageddon brews in the sky--but why worry?

After Paris gets stomped, we cut back to D.C. An officious bureaucrat declares: "sorry, vacations are cancelled." Oh, what dialogue!

This is pretty entertaining, actually--I've been laughing pretty hard.

For a funny review, see this.

Update: just when you think, it couldn't get better, it did! KILLER FROGS! And not just killer frogs, but exotic, poisonous KILLER FROGS! At a political wine-and-cheese party! The frogs on display (oh, the oppression!) begin jumping out of the cases, and leap at the guests!! The hapless victims fall to floor, quivering and foaming at the mouth!

Is this great television or what?!?

Time for a picture

...and if you think this picture has nothing in common with the previous two posts, you need to re-read your Thomas Aquinas.

Grace, Devotions, Indulgences etc.

(I'm taking a risk talking about this subject for two reasons, because I want to keep this simple, and someone is bound to find fault, and because this is a subject I enjoy and can go on and on about -- but here goes...)

We often talk about grace, either not being clear about what grace is, or we talk about graces, different sorts of grace, different means or characteristics of grace -- and lose sight of the big picture.

So a few key ideas:

Although we talk about different sorts of grace, essentially grace is one reality, which we experience in a variety of ways. What is grace? Grace is a sharing in God's own life; St. Thomas Aquinas said, profoundly, "Grace is God's eternal love, acting in time."

Here's what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has, in its glossary:

GRACE: The free and undeserved gift that God gives us to respond to our vocation to become his adopted children. As sanctifying grace, God shares his divine life and friendship with us in a habitual gift, a stable and supernatural disposition that enables the soul to live with God, to act by his love. As actual grace, God gives us the help to conform our lives to his will. Sacramental grace and special graces (charisms, the grace of one's state of life) are gifts of the Holy Spirit to help us live out our Christian vocation (1996, 2000; cf. 654).

(On the distinction between "habitual" or sanctifying grace, and actual grace, I'll say more below.)

In my experience, I cannot, at present, think of an instance where what one says about grace cannot be said about the Holy Spirit, even though there is legitimate reason, in refined theology, to distinguish them, insofar as we understand grace as a created reality, and an effect; yet it equally important to understand grace as sharing God's own life, as the Catechism says.

Perhaps a helpful analogy would be the incarnation: In the Incarnate One, we recognize both uncreated God, and a created human being, united to the Divine Person. God's purpose in the Incarnation is the same as his purpose in sharing grace: to divinize us! To make us partakers of the divine nature, as our very first pope, Peter, wrote in Scripture.

Therefore, in the end, the distinctions disappear: grace, accomplishing its end, will unite us, not with some created reality, but with the Triune God himself! Update: I ought to added "merely," in the blue-highlighted text, because our union with the Trinity will include union with the "created reality" of the Son's human nature.

We look for grace, we pray for it, we hunger for it--thank God! (Hint: that seeking, desring, it itself grace at work!) We seek God's grace through various prayers, devotions and practices.

But the fact remains, grace is, essentially, one--and grace is more abundant, infinitely moreso, than water in the oceans, and air in the sky.

So don't fall into the thinking that we have to "hunt" for grace, or, God forbid, work for it!

So what about devotions, practices, not to mention the normal means of grace?

As Catholics, we believe the Lord instituted the sacraments as normal means of grace, for our sake -- they teach us about him, and conform well to our needs -- beginning with baptism. But to cite St. Thomas Aquinas again, while God certainly works in the sacraments, he is not limited to them. So any discussion of other ways to grow in grace presuppose living the life of a Christian -- receiving the sacraments in faith.

So then come various devotions, and there is no end to the list of them. Do we receive grace in them? Sure (I assume we're talking about legitimate, well-attested devotions, rooted in sound tradition). Is one better than the other? I have no authority to say that! I can think of particular devotions (which I won't name, because I don't want irate devotees to come after me), that hold no attraction for me. But if they draw you into God's presence? Wonderful!

But if a devotion becomes a drudge, a burden -- I'm not saying don't do it; but I'd say, step back and ask yourself if something is wrong with that picture.

May I point out that all devotions, indeed, the sacraments themselves! exist for our benefit; not the other way around! After all, God had no need to come to earth -- he did it, as we profess: "for us men, and for our salvation..."

Certain devotions are connected, or promoted, in relation to specific graces, or promises: I think of First Friday, First Saturday, and scapulars, among others.

I think if you look very closely at these devotions, which I applaud, you'll see that all these promises, or hopes, are premised -- as indicated earlier -- on living the life of a Christian, fortified by the sacraments. These devotions are helps -- there's no gift or grace they bring that we cannot find apart from them. (This is true even of the sacraments: while they are normal means of grace, God can and does save souls apart from the sacraments.) As I said in a recent homily: God commands us, he doesn't command himself.

So for heaven's sake -- don't worry! I think St. Magaret Mary, and the Blessed Mother, do not want the devotions associated with them to become a chore, and for folks to fret because they omitted something: "will I get the grace?" Brother, sister, if you can ask the question, you've got the grace!

In the confessional, I often say this: it is not God's agenda to induce anxiety and fear in us. I mean: if grace prompts us to be fearful or anxious, it is to lead us to the next step, conversion: confess sin, change direction. And that means not anxiety but peace. I also say this: you would not be in the confessional without God's grace already at work--your presence here is a certain sign of God's love and care for you.

(This seems to be news to some folks when they hear it, so let me say it again: grace precedes the first moment of conversion in our hearts; i.e., it would be heresy to say, we convert, then grace is working in our lives; rather, grace must be active in order for us even to consider conversion. This is what we call the "grace of conversion.")

I'm not saying be passive and presumptuous, but I am saying, be hopeful and confident. Ours is a God of salvation, not hide-and-seek: it was God who, after Adam sinned, came into the garden and called out, "Adam, where are you?"

A word about indulgences (I wish I'd run this last Monday on "Reformation Day"!)...

An indulgence, to speak simply, is a means of grace: it is one more way God, through his Church, helps us to salvation. No indulgence is, strictly speaking, "necessary": that is to say, everything we can gain via an indulgence, we can gain without one.

Like the sacraments themselves, indulgences exist, not for God's sake, but for ours -- they're designed to fit our needs and dispositions.

Just what is an indulgence? It is a spiritual benefit (the remission of any penalties or purification associated with purgatory) which God gives in relation to our doing some particular good work: a prayer, or a pilgrimage, or such.

What actually "gains" the indulgence? Nota bene: not the work per se, but faith--which is proved by noting that the spiritual benefit can be obtained without the indulgence!

Now, our Protestant sisters and brothers say, "then omit the works and stick to the faith!" To which I respond, from Sacred Scripture: "Indeed someone might say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works" (James 2:18). Put it another way--God understands we human beings need to be doing something. And he knows it helps if we have a "buy-in"--as opposed to being passive, inert recipients. But grace precedes.

In the case of indulgences, let us be clear about something. An indulgence is not salvation -- indulgences are gifts for the saved! I.e., the remission of penalty is not for anyone in hell, but for anyone undergoing purification in "purgatory," the foyer of heaven. No one goes through this purification who is not saved.

An indulgence is essentially an answer to prayer! We pray to assist someone's purification, and indubitably, that prayer is answered! (The very term, "indulgence," reveals what it is: a gift.)

Another thing: an indulgence is not a "get out of jail free" card! I confess, I have described it this way, but this is misleading. Why?

Because here is what happens in us to allow the indulgenced "work" to be effective: CONVERSION! Look carefully at each and every indulgence: it speaks of confession of sin, conversion of heart, faith in Christ, reception of him in the Eucharist. (Obviously, this prior sentence presupposes...GRACE.)

Guess what? If you do those things, without ever seeking any particular indulgence, whaddya think? Think you might be fully purified in this life, and thus have no need of final purification at the gate of heaven? I think, YES! The point of the various indulgences is the same as the various devotions -- they are helps to us to find our way to what we fundamentally need: conversion through the grace of Christ, that we might fully partake in God's life. It really is that simple.

Am I speaking against, or discouraging, indulgences? Not at all. But I think any experience of them needs to be grounded in a right understanding of grace, what an indulgence is (and is not), and what is truly "necessary." Recall Our Lord's words to Martha: "only one thing is necessary, and Mary has chosen the better part." Being in relationship with Jesus is the "better part," the one thing necessary, from which all else flows, including each and every grace there is.

A word about habitual or sanctifying grace, and actual grace(s). Actual graces are those ways God prompts and helps us, whether or not we have sanctifying, habitual, or indwelling grace, which is the grace that justifies us, the grace of salvation. (I am aware of various distinctions we can make with all these terms; I am simply trying to simplify this matter.)

The distinction is valid, insofar as it helps us to see that while everyone whatsoever receives actual graces, that doesn't mean everyone receives, or rather, has, habitual grace; though we believe God is eager to give the saving grace to anyone and everyone, and we hope and pray, that that is what will happen. It may, but we don't know; we don't presume all are saved, but we also don't presume that anyone, but the devil and his cohorts, is in hell. Or, to say it another way, sanctifying grace is available and offered to all; that doesn't mean all respond to it, or persevere in it.

Hence, the grace that precedes conversion is an actual grace, leading to habitual grace. While I won't deny the validity of making distinctions, in the end, one must remember that grace, at its source, is One, namely God himself, as he acts for our salvation and pours himself into our lives.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Get filled up! 5 minutes a day (Sunday homily)

Our first reading raises the question:
What is true wisdom-
and who is truly wise?

When I was kid,
there was a TV show called “Kung Fu.”
It was about a fellow
who wandered all over,
and basically, some bad guys
always tried to jump him,
and he ended up wiping the floor with them,
using “Kung Fu”—martial arts.

It was the same story every week:
can you see how this
would appeal to a 10-year old boy?

But while you waited for the showdown,
there would be flashbacks,
to when our hero was himself a boy:
and he was being trained by this old man,
who would give him lectures about “wisdom”
that never made a lot of sense:

“Ah, grasshopper,” he said:
“can you snatch a cloud
down from the sky?
Can you snatch this pebble
from my hand?
No? Ah—that is wisdom…”

Sometimes that’s what
we think wisdom is:
Beyond our reach,
a mystery we can’t penetrate.

But what do the Scriptures say?
“Resplendent and unfading is wisdom,
and she is
readily perceived
by those who love her,
found by those who seek her.”

True wisdom
is a “mystery”:
But when we say something is a “mystery,”
That doesn’t mean
we can’t say anything about it;
it means, we can never
everything about it.

See the difference?

The mystery of God’s Wisdom
is like a water-fountain:
Drink all you want;
there will always be more.

Now, we look at the Gospel passage,
and the Lord himself
teaches us about wisdom:
He shows us five foolish virgins,
and five wise ones.

What’s the difference?

The foolish brought no oil with them;
but the wise had an extra store
of oil for their lamps.

Now—let’s focus on those lamps, and the oil.

The lamps are their lives—
remember what Our Lord himself said:
“Let your light shine” before humanity.
But what keeps the lamps lit? The oil.
So: what is that oil?

Well, it can’t be ordinary, natural oil—
because then, the difference
between the wise and the foolish,
is just a matter of time:
sooner or later,
everyone’s oil would run out.

That also means the oil
is not something we go and “buy.”
The five foolish tried that—
and it didn’t work!

So what is that oil?

Maybe you recall a story
from the Old Testament,
the prophet Elijah
visits a family during a famine:
and there was a miracle:
the mother’s supply of grain and oil
miraculously did not run out:
when she went back
to the bottle of oil, she found more.

The oil in the lamps of the wise
does not come from ourselves;
it does not come from our efforts—
we don’t buy or earn it—
it is a gift from God.

The Oil in the Gospel is the same
as the Wisdom in the first reading!
It is the Life of God Himself:
the Holy Spirit.

When did you or I ever “buy” the Holy Spirit?
We don’t earn God’s indwelling Spirit
by good works;
it’s the other way around:

The more we open ourselves
to the Spirit in our lives,
the brighter the lamp of our lives will burn!

And that’s why it doesn’t matter
how long we wait for the Lord:
the lamp of our lives will burn bright
with the Flame of God’s Fire!

Wisdom is God’s Holy Spirit,
aflame in our hearts:
The Holy Spirit doesn’t play
“snatch-the-pebble” with us.
This Divine Wisdom is readily available
for those who seek it.

There’s only one way
to fill our lamps with this Oil:
Prayer—time with the Lord—
this is how we allow God to fill us up.

The tank of my car will run out,
unless I stop for a fill-up.
It’s just something we need to do.

Are you stopping
to fill up with the Spirit of God?

This is a reason to be faithful at Mass,
a reason to bring your kids to Mass—
don’t worry about what anyone says:
they need to learn where to fill up as well.
Beyond the duty of Mass
on Sundays and holy days,
is the opportunity
for daily Mass. More “fill-ups.”

For those who can’t do that,
we have our chapel.
Open all night, all day, every day:
Jesus waits there to fill you up.

If we can’t do that,
we can pray where we are.
The rosary, time with scripture
or other reading,
Time when the noise is turned off,
the door is closed,
time to be filled up.

Just five minutes a day
of real quiet and peace—
with the Lord—will make a revolution!
And yet how many of us
never do that for ourselves!

I challenge our younger parishioners:
Make sure you get quiet time
to fill your lamps!

If we seek from God
the Oil of his Holy Spirit,
He’ll keep our light burning,
to find our way,
especially when all other lights go out!

And that, grasshopper, is Wisdom!

Friday, November 04, 2005

Thank you President Reagan

Twenty-five years ago today! *Sigh!*

Stare Decisis is for suckas!*

I invite you to see this hilarious cartoon at Southern Appeal (thanks to Confirm Them for giving me a heads up.)

*TM Feddie at Southern Appeal

St. Charles, Pope Karol, pray for us!

Today we commemorate St. Charles Borromeo, and when I saw it yesterday, there was a sad reminder. It mentioned that today is the feast day of our holy father, Pope John Paul II.

Of course, John Paul -- Karol Wojtywa -- was our holy father when the ordo was published, about this time last year. Since then, we reluctantly allowed him to go to the Father's House.

As happy as I am with our present pope, I remain sad at the loss of Pope John Paul, truly great in my estimation. I miss him, and feel a great personal debt to him.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Glorious St. Martin

Today is my feast day: St. Martin de Porres, whose name I am proud to bear.

But not in the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. This happens to be the anniversary of the dedication of our cathedral -- and that takes precedence.

So I will keep my feast day next week. I am delighted that, by divine providence, my parents chose to entrust me to the care of St. Martin de Porres, and I consider it a light and pleasant task to make him better known. I am confident that St. Martin has prayed for me ever since my conception, so how can I be ungrateful?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

What's Oliphant's point here?

Can someone explain this cartoon to me?

I used to like Oliphant, even if he is a liberal; I think he's a good artist, and often clever. Sometimes I agree with him.

But...this cartoon. OK: he wants to say Alito is, what? A friendly Scalia? Is that it?

There's something off, something sinister, about this -- and I don't mean about Alito and Scalia.

All Souls Day Homily

Today, All Souls’ Day,
is a day of remembrance,
but also a day full of hope.

This time of year,
the Church bids us consider eternity.

Yesterday was the great feast of All Saints.
The saints give us hope—
We long to join their company;
And it is God’s will that we do so.

There are only two final destinations,
after this life:
Either we go to heaven—
and then we will be a saint—
Or we go to the other place.

What about purgatory?
Purgatory is not a destination—
No one spends eternity in purgatory.

It isn’t really a “place” at all,
but a process:
It’s a stopping point on the way.
Purgatory is the “mud room” of heaven;
It’s the saints’ finishing school.

Some tell me they’re a little afraid of purgatory—
They think of it in terms of punishment.

Our late, beloved holy father, John Paul,
taught us otherwise.
He said, before entering
the perfect glory of heaven,
“Every trace of attachment to evil
must be eliminated,
every imperfection of the soul corrected.

“Those who, after death,
exist in a state of purification,
are already in the love of Christ
who removes from them
the remnants of imperfection.”

They “are united both with the blessed
who already enjoy the fullness of eternal life,
and with us on this earth
on our way towards the Father's house.”

Now, that doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
Nothing to be afraid of.

We might wonder, is there pain in purgatory?
C.S. Lewis said this:
If there’s pain in purgatory,
it’s the pain of having Christ so near—
ah, but still something holds us back.

Because it’s the pain of healing,
Lewis said, it’s pain we’ll welcome.

The healing isn’t just about
those who have died;
It helps heal us, the living, as well.
Sometimes people die,
and maybe we have
unfinished business with them.

Or maybe we wonder—
what will become of them
in their moment of judgment?

We might fear for them.
But thanks be to God,
our ability to help them
doesn’t end at their death!

Now, I’m going to say something
a little mind-bending.
Think about this:

You and I live in time:
one day follows another,
Past to present to future—right?

But God doesn’t live in time—
Time in no way limits God.

So, I have a cousin,
who died at his own hand.
What did he believe or understand,
at that moment?
I don’t know.

But when I pray for him now,
That prayer can help him,
not just after he died,
But anywhere along the course of his life!

No, I can’t “go back in time”—but God can!

So all those people
you’ve ever worried about:
Pray for them now—
And who knows just where
along the course of their lives,
God may choose to apply your prayers?

When we remember the dead this time of year,
we remember that our existence, on earth,
is but one slice of reality.

Naturally, we think it’s the most important,
Or the most real, slice of life.

But it’s not.
We’re on our way to the most important,
most real, dimension of life:
Life after this life—
Not only life-after-death,
but life-after-resurrection!

There’s so much more still ahead!

And this is why Christ came,
Christ died, and rose for us:
To open the path and lead us there.

The prophet Daniel foresaw it;
St. Paul rejoices because the Holy Spirit,
poured into our hearts,
makes us long—thirst—pant!—
for this destiny!

In the Eucharist,
we get just a taste of this reality!

Christ leads us there—
there’s nothing to be afraid of.

(Readings: Dan 12:1-3; Ps 42; Rom 5:5-11; John 6:37-40)

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Omnium Sanctorum (homily)

St. Thomas Aquinas said somewhere
that so expansive, so complex,
is the goodness of God,
that only through the infinite variety
of his creatures
do all the various aspects of his goodness
become known to us.

And we see that in the saints.

For an example, consider our beautiful windows.

Different colors, different shapes,
the work of human artistry.
But what is their purpose?
To have light pass through them, of course:
Without light, our windows have no purpose.

So with the saints, and with us:
Our lives, made up of our individual gifts
and all that’s special about us,
have no purpose unless light—
the Light of Christ!—
shines through us!

For us in this church,
The Light streams in through these windows—
Even on a cloudy day!—
And reminds us of heaven, our true goal.

From the outside,
if we’re gathered here,
Light also streams out:
a sign of faith and hope to others,
beckoning them to join our fellowship.
This is the vocation
of the saints and our vocation:
To be like these stained-glass windows.
Beautiful; not all the same;
But each in its own way shining
with the light of Christ.

Recall the first reading:

“After this I had a vision
of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before
the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes
and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:

’Salvation comes from our God,
who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.’"

That’s us!

Now, in a moment, we will do this,
Right here, at this Mass!

The whole second part of Mass
is all about adoring Jesus,
the Lamb of God, with the angels and the saints!

And right before communion,
I’ll lift up the Body and Blood,
and I’ll say:
“Behold the Lamb of God,
who takes away the sins of the world;
happy are those who are called to his supper.”
At that moment, we here on earth,
in this parish,
Will truly be joined
with the saints and angels in glory,
Praising God for the salvation
that comes from the Lamb.

St. Bernard said,
“Calling the saints to mind…
arouses in us, above all else,
a longing to enjoy their company.”

That’s true—but already we are in their company—
And we long to be all the way there.