Saturday, January 28, 2006

Show his power, spread his fame (Sunday homily)

"His fame spread everywhere
through the whole region of Galilee."

The reason why is not hard to see:
Because he taught with authority—
and then he showed it,
with his power to cast out evil

and to bring healing.

In this and many other ways,
the Gospel of Mark shows that Jesus

is not merely a man,
not just another teacher,
but "the Son of God"—
Yahweh, the Lord God,

come to earth among men.

God’s People, in Moses’ time,
were afraid to hear God’s voice;
God is too great, too awesome.
This is one of the reasons God became man—
so that he could come near us,

and we could bear it.

So if today you hear his voice,

harden not your heart!

What might Jesus be saying with authority
to you or to me, today?

So often, being a Christian
demands more of us than we like.

What teaching might we need to hear—

with authority?

We all "have issues" with something—
some part of what it means to be a Christian;
some part of Church teaching,

in how we live our lives;
maybe some resolution—
to pray, to get involved,

to make a change—
that we keep putting off?

Sometimes, when I’m talking with someone
in the sacrament of penance—
and, by the way,

while I will never say anything
about what you say there,
I am allowed

to say some of what I might say—
I often suggest to folks

that maybe there’s a resolution,
half-formed, in their hearts:
and if so, I encourage them
to have a conversation with the Lord:
"It’s not about what I say, as the priest—
but what might He be saying to you?
It’s between you and Him!"

What might he be asking of you…today?

Remember: he speaks with authority—
that doesn’t just mean, "I better do it"—
that’s certainly true!
It also means, he has power!
He can help you change!

Sometimes folks struggle, to get to Mass,
or to pray regularly,

or to make some other change.

You know what can help?
Ask God to give you the desire:
"Please give me the desire to"—

and fill in the blank.

Jesus is the teacher with authority—
His word is full of power—
because he is the Word of the Father,
who made both heaven and earth!

He who made the world

can remake you and me!

His fame spread throughout Galilee—
because people saw his power.

You and I want his fame

to spread through our area.
Our community needs to hear about Jesus.
Folks all around us need to hear his voice—
their hearts need to be softened.
They need his healing; they need life!

How will his fame spread through our region?
When people see that he has changed our lives—
yours and mine; when they see evil cast out—
they’ll be amazed, too:
and they’ll say: we know who you are, Jesus:
The Holy One of God.

Remiss in blog-courtesy

Several bloggers pay me the compliment of linking my page on theirs, and it is courteous to return the favor.

So you may want to look for these new additions, at right:

A (Little) Light from the East
Marriage as a Vocation
Quenta Narwenion
Right Wing Film Geek

Missed one: College Catholic

You need to visit the Litterbox

I am very pleased to introduce a new web cartoon, The Litterbox -- which just happens to be drawn by my godson, Maximilian.

Italian Lawsuit Claims No Jesus

Perhaps you've heard about the Italian athiest who sued a Catholic priest for asserting, in his church bulletin, that Jesus exists.

The headline above will take you to a Washington Post article on this.

The priest's attorney Severo Bruno said Father "Righi was not asserting a historical fact when he wrote of Jesus' existence, but rather 'an expression of theological principles.'

"'When Don Righi spoke about Christ's humanity ... he was affirming that he needs to be considered as a man. What his name is, where he comes from or who his parents are is secondary,' he said."

It may be the attorney misspoke, or was misquoted, or his comments mistranslated; but if he were my attorney, I'd fire him if he insisted on making such arguments.

Jesus existed in time and exists now. He was born of Mary, he walked on earth, he teached, healed, suffered and died, and he rose again.

Sue me.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The false god of 'Choice' (Homily on Anniversary of Roe v. Wade)

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

This is an uncomfortable topic to discuss.
I want to try to deal with it appropriately.
It is important to explain
what we believe, and why.

We’ve all heard the saying, I think,
about “the elephant in the room.”
So often, we have an awkward situation,
and rather than confront it,
we work around it, we try to ignore it.

After awhile, we get used to it;
somebody comes in, and shakes his head:
“what’s wrong with you?
There’s an elephant in the room,
and you act as though you don’t see it!”

Maybe you think I’m talking about abortion;
I am; but it’s much bigger than that.
I’m talking about that popular idea, “Choice.”

I love choices! Don’t we all?
What’s wrong with “choice”?
Nothing, particularly.

The problem is when we elevate “choice”
above everything else.
Because what we’re really doing
is elevating
the one who makes the choice.

The result is corruption:
Corruption of the truth,
Corruption of our ability
to reason as moral people;
Corruption of people themselves.

Let me show what I mean.

If a couple says,
“We just found out
we’re going to have a baby!”

A single word seemingly changes everything:
Is that baby human? Is he or she precious?
Should we, as a society, protect babies?
Of course! It’s a foolish question.

But take the same situation, same facts—
but change one key word:
“we found out we have a choice…”

Somehow, choice changes everything,
even reality itself!
The baby stops being a baby;
The value of a human being
is turned off and on
like a light switch.

Here’s what we’re all told:
“Who are you to say that’s a baby?
That should be”—
wait for it…”an individual choice.”

If only it were so easy!

The obvious, terrible consequence
is the loss of unborn children’s lives:
more than a million every year.

But the corruption goes farther.

Notice what is happening
in the medical profession.
Doctors are supposed to be healers;
Instead, they merely help us “choose”—
regardless of the consequence.
So—in Oregon, doctors
prescribe drugs to kill people!

Another horror of this idolatry of “choice”
is what happens to people with disabilities.

Did you know you don’t meet
as many people with Downs Syndrome?
It’s true:
90% of children, diagnosed before birth
with Downs Syndrome, are aborted.
Nine out of ten!

It goes even further.

Sometimes we say,
“How people live their lives is their choice”—
meaning, “I don’t have to warn you—
I don’t have to try to save your soul!”

Look at the debate about marriage:
Whatever you choose, is fine:
two men, two women;
leave one marriage, and start another.

What matters above all is choice:
Not our identity as men and women;
Not the commitments we’ve already made;
Not what God asks of us.

Notice how the false god of choice
corrupts everything it touches.

And choice is a false god—
it betrays and abandons
all who trust in it.

And no one knows that better than millions
of men and women who bear the unseen,
unacknowledged wounds left by abortion.

Many will say, “you made your choice”—
and walk away.

Sometimes what they hear from prolife folks,
from the Church, does not sound welcoming.

When Jonah brought a tough message to Nineveh,
it wasn’t to condemn, but to save!

When St. Paul says, “time is running out,”
He says that, not to condemn, but to save!

Christ himself said:
I came, not to condemn, but to save!

Every time we celebrate the Mass,
we experience once again
the mystery of our faith,
that Christ died to save us!

That’s why its so important
we celebrate Mass again,
and again, and again!

Christ died once for all;
But we need lots of reminders!
We need to know his mercy endures forever!

If you need that healing—
there are people who can help you.
Project Rachel
is an organization that exists
to help heal anyone, men or women,
injured by abortion.

The Elizabeth New Life Center
in Dayton is a resource.
We’ve had information in the bulletin;
if you missed it, you can find them online,
or simply give the office a call.

If I can help, I will.

Call me, and we’ll talk confidentially.

I began by saying,
this is an uncomfortable subject.
There’s one more reason it’s uncomfortable:
because we may wonder,
“does this mean I have to do something?
Do I have to change?”

I suppose Andrew and Peter, James and John,
might have asked the same question,
looking at their nets,
just before they dropped them.

And—if you’re even asking the question,
you already know the answer!

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Oregon Suicide Law

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld* Oregon's execrable suicide law today, by a vote of 6 to 3. In his first high-profile decision, Chief Justice Roberts voted with Scalia and Thomas to support the U.S. Attorney General's interpretation of federal law, allowing him to prevent the use of prescription drugs in assisting suicide.

(Correction: the Supreme Court did not "uphold" the law. The law itself was not at issue, but rather, at issue was an administrative action by U.S. government, that would have prevented doctors from using federally regulated drugs in assisting suicides.)

Here again, I confess to mixed feelings. On the one hand, there is the obvious immorality--and worse, corruption--of physicians assisting people in killing themselves, and creating a bureaucratic system to enable this.

On the other hand, I don't want the U.S. government regulating everything, not even everything that ought to be regulated; I do believe in the authority, and legitimate autonomy, of the several states.

I am not sanguine about federal drug laws, and their enforcement. There are disturbing accounts of doctors holding back from giving patients sufficient pain medication, because they fear the feds coming down on them. If true, this is a serious matter, not only because it means people being denied pain medication they should have if they need it, but also, this problem of patient pain is one of the very arguments made for euthanasia!

To cite a related, but less weighty issue: the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. I have no idea whether it's true that marijuana can help someone who is sick; I have to say, if the patient says he feels better, then it works! (Isn't that how most cold "treatments" work?) I can see very little justification for denying a dying person a joint if it really helps; yet the Supreme Court upheld the federal government on that one.

I suppose the argument can be made that the people have recourse to elections, to seek change in such federal laws; however, when does the Supreme Court protect minorities from the wrong-headedness, or simply indifference, of electoral majorities?

Also, it does matter what the federal law in question actually said, doesn't it? As much as I want to stop that abominable business in Oregon, it may be that the majority of the court is right, that the existing federal law couldn't justify what then-AG Ashcroft did.

Water Bongs are back!

I read about this phenomenon a couple weeks ago at Father Jim Tucker's Dappled Things, but the Washington Post has an article today: Hookah bars (click on headline above to see story).

A "hookah" is a water pipe, used for smoking. In this case, its for tobacco. As I recall, the hookah is a Turkish thing (as I was preparing a talk on the Crusades, I'm not feeling particularly warm about things Turkish, what with the fall of Constantinople fresh in my mind...but anyway).

Part of this is amusing. When I was a teenager, water pipes, aka "bongs," were used to smoke something more illicit; but, then again, what could be more illicit than smoking tobacco in a public place? It does look like a pleasant place, if the smoke won't bother you.

Part of this concerns me, however. I can't be all that sanguine about kids fresh out of high school pursuing smoking as a cool, trendy thing to do.

Then it dawned on me.

Wanna bet the tobacco industry is helping this along?

This is one of those issues where the Libertarian part of me and the moralist part of me go at it. No, I don't want smokers harrassed, taxed and sued, nor have I any patience for them suing the tobacco companies saying, "you tricked me!" or "you made me!" I don't particularly like public smoking bans and a lot of the mindset that goes with it.

On the other hand, smoking is a terrible thing for ones health. Oh, smoking an occasional cigar, and I guess a little pipe smoking, probably doesn't do too much harm. And in the interest of full disclosure, I used to enjoy cigars and a pipe. I gave it all up, not out of any great purpose, but that I found I didn't enjoy it anymore. Pipe smoking, in particular, is just too much trouble; and I found I got green from smoking cigars.

But pulling that stuff into ones lungs--I never understood how anyone could think that wouldn't be bad for a person.

And as for smoking bans, the one thing that recommends them to me is this: not the plight of the customer -- the customer in a business has no claim whatsoever, in my view, because he or she can go elsewhere, and also, the customer doesn't stay that long. No, my concern is for the employees who work in such establishments. Yes, they can "go elsewhere" too, but that's a harder thing to ask them to do.

I still oppose the laws, since I rather suspect the whole second-hand smoke thing is vastly overstated. I don't really know, and have no reason to do all the research; but we've all been burnt by junk, politicized, ideology-driven science in recent years, and I just don't take any of these claims on face value anymore.

A prolife search engine

A friend of mine tipped me off to a "prolife search engine":

I haven't tried it yet, but perhaps someone will check it out. Feel free to offer comments here on what you think of it!

Blogging Priest Speaks on 'Theology of the Body'

No, not I, but my classmate, Father Larry Gearheart, whose blog, "Eyes of Faith," is listed at right.

Here's the notice from a frequent commenter here:

The Kettering Knights of Columbus are hosting a presentation by Fr. Larry Gearhart on Pope John Paul II 's Theology of the Body this Thurs. Jan. 19, 7:30 pm. at the Christopher Club, 3150 S.Dixie Drive, Kettering Ohio. Update: the series will continue, on the third Thursday of each month, until May.

This five part series explains and explores our late Holy Father's teachings on the meaning of life and God's nuptial plan for the universe.

In the informal style of "Theology on Tap" but the beverages and snacks are free!

This presentation has been designed for everyone... whether you are single ...or have been married 50 yrs; a theological expert or have never even heard of "Theology of the Body".

Questions or directions call Tim Langenderfer: (937) 298-5133.

I regret I can't be there this Thursday, as I have a parish meeting. But perhaps I can make a subsequent talk.

Monday, January 16, 2006

'Created' & 'Uncreated' Grace

I've gotten into an enjoyable discussion at Pontifications today about grace, and a particular issue arose: does the Catholic Church specifically, dogmatically, hold to the distinction between "created" and "uncreated" grace; more specifically, in the context of the grace that sanctifies and remains in us?

I may have embarrassed myself (but oh well), but I have been arguing that while the distinction between "created" and "uncreated" grace has a very good "pedigree" as part of the tradition, it is, nonetheless, speculative rather than dogmatic -- i.e., one is not a heretic if one understands grace and justification without reference to "created" grace. My interlocutor, "Photius," sees the Council of Trent's decree on justification presupposing a "created" grace, and excluding uncreated grace, as the "formal cause" of our justification.

I'd be interested in comments, but what I'd really appreciate is someone pointing me toward something truly authoritative, and/or right on-point to this specific (and to my mind, ethereal) question.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Vocation is about Who is calling (Sunday homily)

Last week, Father Ang and I
both talked about “vocations.”

Father Ang and I emphasized
the need for more men and women to answer the call
to the priesthood and religious life.

Last week, I stressed the need for each of us
to pray for, to work for,
to invite and encourage
men and women to answer the call.

In that first reading,
Samuel came to be in the temple
because his parents brought him there:
Samuel needed their help,
Eli’s help, and many others’.

So I repeat my challenge from last week:
What are you and I going to do to promote vocations
to the priesthood and religious life?

I invite everyone to pray a very simple prayer—
five words!: “Please send us more priests!”—
which I hope you will add to your grace over meals.
Now, someone asked me last week,
“what about vocations as a sister or brother?”

My answer is we need to do it all.
But I believe the most critical need is for more priests.
Yes, we need men and women to consecrate their lives
as sisters and brothers.
We need more deacons—we don’t have a deacon in Piqua.

Not all deacons become priests.
Whereas only single men can be ordained a priest,
A married man can be ordained a deacon.

A deacon shares in the
“holy ordering” of the Church,
preaching, teaching, baptizing,
celebrating marriage;
and reaching out to the parish in many other ways.

A deacon is a powerful gift to the Church,
and I pray the Spirit calls
many of you to that ministry.

But yes, I have focused on the priesthood
because without a priest, there is no Eucharist!
Without a priest, there is no parish!

And I believe if we, as a parish,
foster priestly vocations,
we will see a growth in all vocations.

Because “the call”—at the basic level—
isn’t for someone else.
The Lord calls every single one of us
to give ourselves totally to him—
in different ways.

Now: I’ve said a lot about
praying for and encouraging vocations.
But I won’t leave it there.
It’s not just about “someone else”;
for some here, it’s very personal.
The Lord may be calling you to be a priest.

I hope you’ve received the encouragement you need,
from family and friends, from this parish; from me!
But if not, know that the Lord often calls us,
and yet we feel very alone in answering the call.

In every age, people answer the Lord’s summons,
and they find it costly,
and they feel very alone:
St. Francis of Assisi’s family opposed him;
St. Thomas Aquinas’ family tried to tempt him!;
St. Ignatius of Loyola loved being a soldier;
St. Augustine had to give up his girlfriend;
St. Maximilian stepped forward to be killed!
to save another man’s life.

On one level, there is no explaining this call.
You answer it, before you know what it will cost,
because of WHO is calling.

People ask me about my decision to become a priest.
I have to say, that’s a hard thing to explain—
because it came from an encounter too deep for words,
that began long before
I decided to enter the seminary.

In a sense, it began with my baptism—
that’s when my parents first brought me to the Lord.

But a key moment, in my own life, came when I was 19;
now, as a young adult, I was wrestling with my faith.
It was no longer “my parents made me”;
it was me asking questions, trying to sort things out.

I was reading Scripture, talking to friends,
Praying and searching.

One day—a day I will never forget—
an ordinary day in all respects, except one:
It was the day I “heard” the Lord call me!

No, I didn’t hear a voice, as you hear me now.
But in my heart, I did hear, unmistakably.
It happened; and only afterwards
have I tried to express it into words.

What happened I can describe this way:
The Lord called me.
To do what?
It wasn’t about a “what”—
it was more fundamental than that.
Because when you ask, “to do what?”
It’s like you’re negotiating:
“OK, I’ll do that, but not that”—
but how do you negotiate with the Lord?
When you really know WHO he is—you just GO!
You just say “Yes!”
And that “Yes” is the foundation of everything else.

For me, my priesthood was imbedded in that “Yes”;
but I didn’t know that then.

So if you’re wondering,
“I feel something, but I don’t yet know what”—
the best advice I can give is, “Say ‘Yes’!
Say “Yes” to the Lord without counting the cost,
regardless of what others say;
keep your gaze fixed on Him who calls you—
and each “Yes” will lead you deeper
and more certainly to His Will!

In the Gospel, when those two followed Jesus,
He asked them, “What are you looking for?”,
and their answer is odd:
They didn’t ask, “Who are you?” or,
“What do you, Jesus, want us to be?”
No—they merely asked, “Where are you staying?”:
They wanted to be with Him.

That’s the essential encounter:
We want to be with Him.
Everything else springs from that.

When you know Who is calling,
It’s not hard to answer!
Because you want to be with Him!
Wherever he takes you; whatever he asks.

Friday, January 13, 2006

That Virginia Death Penalty/DNA Story

From the Washington Post today (click on headline above to go there):

"Modern DNA tests have confirmed the guilt of a Virginia man who had proclaimed he was innocent of murder and rape even as he was strapped into the electric chair and executed more than a decade ago, the governor announced yesterday."

This is an interesting story, on several levels.

First, it does bring a bit of factuality into a subject where the obscurantists had seized the high ground.

Many opponents of the death penalty have placed heavy stress on the "you don't know" argument, which is true to a point; but as this case makes clear, they have overplayed that hand. That argument fits the contemporary mood well, but for that reason is harmful. We do not live in a world of murk, however much we want to believe that, because it exculpates us from committing ourselves, for or against matters of great moral weight. On question after question, contemporary man shrugs his shoulders and says, "who can know?": on life in the womb, life near its end, on morality, God, Christ; even Christians take this pose on many matters.

It seems such a compelling argument against the death penalty: "who wants to execute an innocent person?" Well, virtually no one does. And virtually no one can credibly assert it never happens, even if the posers of this argument can't point to any actual case of an innocent man being executed.

But there's a larger fairness question here: fairness to the larger legal system we have painstakingly erected in this country, building on traditions of justice and due process that extend back into the distant (ahem, Christian) past; a system that has imbedded in it an amazing array of protections, checks and balances, and ongoing review, both from "inside" and "outside." No system on earth can be perfect, but give ourselves our due: we go to great lengths, in dollar cost, in patience, and in forebearance of the guilty being given an easier time than they surely deserve, all with a view to avoiding that terrible fate: an innocent man being punished, let alone, executed.

Second, this story is useful for exposing the credulity of many opponents of the death penalty; sometimes, culpable credulity. "But, but, he said he was innocent all those years!" spluttered some disillusioned champions of the late, executed rapist-murderer. Gee, how surprising!

Third, this is a political story in two ways. Outgoing Virginia Governor Mark Warner has just burnished his credentials as a potential Democratic nominee for the Presidency. He's pro-death penalty, but as a Democrat, he is vulnerable to those on the left-left (there is no right-wing of the Democratic Party!) who viscerally oppose the death penalty. Warner's path to the White House lies along the trail blazed by Bill Clinton: a Southern (liberal) Democrat who seems "reasonable," which is achieved, in part, by being presented as having "conservative" positions on several issues.

The other way this is political is the longterm question: should this even have been done? Will this become routine? Is this a good idea?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

In praise of Ordinary Time

"Ordinary Time" is back...and I like it.

Don't get me wrong, Advent and Christmas were great; but there are some nice things about "Ordinary" time.

First, let me explain what "ordinary" time means: it has to do with things being "ordered" -- hence the proper bishop of a diocese is the "ordinary," the "rulebook" that tells how to do things is called an "ordo," and numbers that indicate order are called "ordinal": first, second, etc. From this comes the idea of "routine," which can be dull; but it is also helpful.

So this is why I've been putting quotes around "ordinary" above: to invite you to consider that it may not mean quite what you think it does. Part of the idea is that it means "counted time": note that we designate each week by a number -- as well as each year: we are counting both from and to certain key events: the birth of Christ* and the coming of the Lord at the end of . . . wait for it . . . time. Hence what is inbetween? "Counted time": ordinary time. (This is why my green vestment has an alpha and an omega on it: in a sense, all time between the actual Nativity and the end is "ordinary time," and Christ is supreme over all.)

I like to point out the color green is useful because it reminds us of growth and life: Ordinary Time is "growing" time; while we await the Lord's return, we grow in grace and holiness, allowing him to transform us to be fit to meet him.

Ordinary time has certain charms to me, as a priest.

One is the mostly continuous readings at daily Mass, and to a lesser extent, Sunday. Last year, I was able to do a series of homilies on the Letter to the Hebrews. Both my parishioners and I learned something about that incredible section of Scripture. Insofar as daily Mass is attended by regulars, it is possible to pick up somewhat where one left off, and thus build on what was discussed previously. Insofar as at daily Mass, both the first reading and the Gospel are continuous, I can shift back and forth, both in my own study and reflection, and in what I share in homilies, if trying to focus simply on one or the other might become tedious.

Another thing I like is there are many options for the choice of prayers for Mass. Sometimes priests will say, to other priests, they get tired of the "same old" thing. Perhaps in decades to come, I will feel that. But as it is, I find more than enough options in how I offer Mass. I can offer Mass for various needs -- yesterday, "for the sick" seemed apt -- and I can offer a votive Mass at various times -- if the Gospel mentions the Apostles, a votive Mass to the Apostles may be called for.

Also, in Ordinary Time, I can use the Fourth Eucharistic Prayer, which I like very much; but because it has a proper preface, it should not be used except in Ordinary Time. There are other Eucharistic prayers that can be used, although there is a good argument to be made that too much variation is unhelpful. Again, I think daily Mass is a more suitable place for such variety, whereas at Sunday Mass, I prefer to stick to three Eucharistic Prayers: the Roman Canon, EP III, and (during Ordinary Time), EP IV.

Finally, I like praying the breviary in Ordinary Time -- it is simpler to do, less flipping around! -- and the practice of the routine is helpful, spiritually.

If you're tuned into what's really going on, there's nothing "blah" about "Ordinary" Time.

* Hence Anno Domini denotes each year since the moment of his birth, alas inexactly calculated -- and therefore, "A.D." properly is always put before the year, not after. If we were saying it in a more modern-English fashion, I guess we'd say this is the 2,006th year of our Lord; but since we don't say that, we should say, in the year of our Lord 2006: A.D. 2006.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Gas too high? Thank Uncle Sugar...

As usual, James Glassman has excellent stuff at TechCentralStation, such as this on how our oppressors--er, I mean, our government--makes gas cost too much.

New Laptop works fine...once I tame it (or it tames me!)

My new laptop arrived from Dell today. It took me all of five minutes to get it out of the box and plug everything in; it took me hours of aggravation to get my internet connection up again (a fine fellow at Roadrunner did a good job solving the problem -- Roadrunner support is 24/7, fyi), then to get my wireless router working.

Now, if only it would fetch me a beer!

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where have I been?

I haven't posted any comments this week, both because it's been a busy week, but even more, because my laptop, which I keep at home, died. Requiescat in pace.

What treasure will you lay at His feet? (Epiphany Homily)

The feast of Epiphany is about Light;
we recall the star:
and the Wise Men, following it from afar.

Notice the Gospel calls them,
not “kings,” but “Magi.”
These Magi were considered “wise”
because they looked for
the deeper meaning of things.
That’s why they looked at the stars.

“Magi” is where the word “Magic” comes from!

“Say the magic word”—and a door opens,
a rabbit comes out of a hat,
and you make someone do what you want.

In a word: power.

So notice where the star led these Magi,
these powerful Wise Men:
to Bethlehem—no place powerful!;
to an ordinary home—not a glittering palace;
to a child and his mother!

What was the “secret”?
Not some spell, or magic wand,
but that the Creator of all things,
came to earth, as a child needing his mother,
a human being facing
the troubles common to all!

The power of heaven surrendered
to the powerlessness of ordinary human life!

How strange! How surprising!

But what do these wise and powerful Magi do?
They were not impressed
by Herod’s pomp and pride;
but, meeting the Child, it is there
they “opened their gifts,”
and laid their gifts at his feet,
and then, they laid themselves before Him!

How many King Herods there are,
that seem so impressive.
The Herod who pushes us around
at school, or on the job;
the pressure to fit in,
to meet a standard set by others,
rather than Christ.

Maybe the King Herod is us:
reacting with fear or anger
when we don’t get our way.

When we are impressed by the King Herods,
we miss the Light—or, worse,
fearing what others might say,
we don’t respond;
we don’t want to look ridiculous!

That image of the Magi,
prostrating before Jesus—
Reminds me of when I was ordained,
first a deacon, then a priest.
As the bishop led the “Litany of the Saints,”
My classmates and I
prostrated ourselves on the floor.
It was an awesome moment.
This is a powerful image
of what it means to be a priest.

To many, a priest can be a “magus”—
someone people see as a wise man,
with “secret knowledge” and sacramental “power.”

I have no “magic word”—other than Him.
Jesus: He is the “secret”;
it’s not meant to be “secret”—
except that many miss it. They miss Him.

What is a priest?

A priest is a man who does as the Magi did:
he surrenders all worldly power,
he brings whatever the world thinks valuable,
He “opens his treasures,”
and lays them at the feet of Jesus Christ.

Above all, it is his life—his very self—
that he lays at the feet of Jesus Christ.

A man doesn’t simply make some promises,
and take on responsibility for life.

A priest surrenders himself to Christ;
His very self is transformed.

It’s something like
what happens to the bread and wine at Mass.

It is wonderful but also frightening.
We know how a priest can misuse that Gift.
It fills us with sorrow and horror to think of it.

Still—it is an awesome Gift!

But doing this, becoming a priest,
to many seems a very strange,
even foolish, thing to do.

I had more money before I entered the seminary.
I’ll never make as much as I did then.

I worked in politics, as you’ve heard.
I’m proud of the work I did;
but that can be a heady experience:
you try to “make things happen,”
to see people defeated, or elected:
In a word…power!

It’s like the wizard of Oz—
behind the curtain,
pulling levers and pushing buttons;
it’s impressive;
maybe it works, or maybe it doesn’t.

And if we are not careful, at the end of our lives,
we may be wondering the same thing:
were we just pushing buttons and pulling levers,
making a good show—
but what value does it have, in the end?

A priest is a man who says, I want more!
And a priest gets more.

Like the Magi, a priest will travel however far;
he will bring his best gifts,
he will lay them at the Lord’s feet;
and last the priest lays himself down,
on his face: and he waits…
“Here I am, Lord. I am yours!”
Not everyone understands that.

It’s shocking, but true,
that sometimes parents, grandparents,
siblings and friends will discourage
a man from the priesthood.

“You won’t make much money”
“Isn’t that a hard life?”
“You won’t get married!”
“What about grandchildren?”

Sometimes, the discouragement is subtle:
when showing up for sports,
or school activities,
matters more than Mass,
or learning their faith.

You might wonder why
I’m speaking so much about the priesthood.

I hope we all know how much
we need more priests?
Very soon, St. Mary and St. Boniface will—
for the first time—share a pastor.
Yours truly.

I’ve given you full time the past six months.
That will change.

Yes, we have Father Ang, and Father Boeke.
I hope Father Tom will stay in the area.
But Father Boeke and Father Ang are 87!
Father Tom faces critical health problems.

We need more priests!

So here’s the question:
What are you and prepared to do about that?

Are there sacrifices in being a priest?
Yep—as many as you want!
Perhaps too much for some.

But I won’t promote the priesthood
as soft and comfortable:
we don’t need priests who want that!

This is “Vocations Awareness Week”—
but I’m here to tell you that from now on,
every week in Piqua is “Vocations Week.”

If you and I want priests in our parish,
what will you and I do to make that happen?

You’ve seen in the bulletin the prayer
I ask everyone to pray, very simple.
Five words: “Please send us more priests!”
I ask you to add them, at the end,
when you say grace over a meal.

In the vestibule, in the back and on the side,
you’ll find some booklets that look like this.

These booklets are from the
“St. John Vianney Vocation Society.”

Here are prayers you can use;
and it invites you
to commit to daily prayer for vocations,
and to a weekly holy hour.

I asked Craig Peltier
to serve on a Vocation Committee.
He agreed. He said,
“what do you want me to do first?”
First, I said, pray.
Pray that others will step forward.

Now I’m asking: will you step forward?

There are lots of ideas out there;
I need someone to make them happen!

If you want to help, call Craig, or call me.
If you are thinking about being a priest,
or you know someone who is, or should be!
If you have questions: Call me!

Epiphany is about Light—
not an obvious light that everyone saw,
but the Light that Christ
gives to those who seek him:
not in power and worldly glory,
but in hiddenness and humility.

Will you follow that Star?
And when you have seen Him,
what will you lay at his feet?

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Worst angel images

I was going to find a jpeg of angels for the post below, about Christmas carols, but I didn't find any good ones, only Pweshus Moments images that make me reach quickly for the trash can so I can (urp!) -- um, excuse me...

Ok, feeling better now (wiping my chin)...

I thought of a funny webpage I linked last month -- and sure enough, it has a "cavalcade" of bad angel images. Be sure to check out the archives at the bottom of the page . . .

(Bonus: check this out, courtesy of Going Jesus.)

'Best' Christmas Hymns

Now as Christmas settles down, I invite your comments on what you rate as the "best" Christmas hymn, or carol.

By "best," I mean more than just "favorite," although feel free to offer your favorite -- but tell us why: tell us why it's "better."

Here are my "best" Christmas hymns:

Hark, the Herald Angels Sing. It is well written, both for style and for theology. And it is rousing to sing, with lots of exclamation marks.

It moves from Biblical imagery and language to our world and our concerns -- a good "homiletic" method.

It does a good job making both Our Lord's humanity and divinity real: "offspring of the Virgin's womb," "pleased as man with men to dwell"* . . . yet also: "veil'd in flesh the Godhead see: hail th'Incarnate Deity."

(By comparison, Angels we have heard on high, which uses the same Biblical material, is -- in my opinion, weaker in substance, although certainly rousing to sing--but that, mainly, the "Gloria" refrain. I suppose the angels sang "sweetly"--but we know they were disturbing ("and they were struck with great fear," Luke 2:9). The "mountains in reply echo[ing] back their joyous strains" is a nice flourish, from Isaiah, I think.)

Another nominee I'd offer: Of the Father's Love Begotten -- right there, the title (and first line) contains implicit Trinitarian theology, as well as containing both ideas of "begotten"--eternally, before time, as well as in time, via Mary's fiat. This hymn goes on to smash heresies right and left to smithereens, like a joyful child armed with a toy mallet: "begotten, ere the world's began to be, he is Alpha and Omega, he the source, the ending he, of the things that are, that have been, and that future years shall see, evermore and evermore." Take that, Arius! Whack! Whack! Slam!

And that's just the first verse . . .

"When the Virgin, full of grace, [take that, deniers of the Immaculate Conception! Hah!]** by the Spirit blest conceiving, bore the Savior of our race." [Manages to be inclusive without vitiating second-Adam theology.]

"...First revealed his sacred face"--what a nice turn of phrase: does it mean the human face, or the divine? Or both?

Aesthetically, the hymn has the haunting, otherworldly beauty of all chant; and because it is chanted, it is easy to do without any musical accompaniment (and often better without). The tune is relatively simple, and thus easy for most to enter into.

The pity is that Gather has but four verses of this outstanding hymn -- the mostly Protestant "Cyber Hymnal" has nine verses, in both English and Latin! (This hymn, in full, would be very suitable for the offertory on Christmas, as you have both a long collection, then the procession with gifts, then, one hopes, the full treatment of incense.)

Well, I could go on and comment on other fine Christmas carols, but I offer these as two "best."

Please add your own nominees, but please do offer reasons why, if you can.

*Here's my diatribe against PC bowlderization of hymns...changing this to "us" is not only pusillanimous and pandering, it ruins both the poetry and the theology of Wesley's verse. Bleagghhh! Likewise, the following verse is ruined by this stupidity: "born to raise the sons of earth" becomes, "born to raise us from the earth" -- notice the change? It actually shifts from a creation-positive, Catholic idea, to a faintly Gnostic idea! Oh, but we mustn't allow "exclusive" language! Somebody show me the petition signatures asking for these changes, because the original verses were so "offensive"?)

** Of course, the Immaculate Conception was not formally defined in the 4th century, when this hymn originates; and the Latin original doesn't actually use "gratia plena"...comments from a better Latinist welcome...

God at his mother's breast (homily for 'e Theotokos)

As Catholics,
we celebrate Mary in many ways.
Today, the emphasis is on “Mother of God”—
So this is about Mary,

but even more about her Child.

This Feast teaches us Jesus is both God and man.
Not half-and-half; not 60-40 or 80-20!
Jesus is all-God, and all-man, all the time!

He’s really human—so he has a real mother.
Mary guarantees Jesus is truly human.

Maybe you wonder, “who says otherwise?”
The thing is, Jesus being really human

is controversial.

There are those who say

Jesus was only “sort of” human:
He pretended to be human,
to show us how to escape being human.

If you’ve ever heard of “Gnosticism”—
This is part of that movement.
And if you say, who cares about Gnosticism,
The answer is—

it’s still around,
still trying to undermine
the truth of Jesus and why he came.
Gnosticism says being human

is something to escape;
And you do it through hidden knowledge.

You know that popular novel

that caused such a stir:
The DaVinci Code?

That’s what it was about:

The blockbuster “secrets” that it “revealed”--
what didn’t come

from the author’s imagination,
came from Gnostic writings.

Remember how we heard

that this novel lifted women up,
in contrast to the mean,
old Catholic Church?

Funny thing is,
Gnosticism can be

pretty hostile to women!
One of the things

Gnosticism said you escape is…
get this—being a woman!

Here’s a quote from one

of these Gnostic writings—
and please note—

this is not Christian, but Gnostic:

“Peter said to them:
‘Let Mary go forth from among us,
for women are not worthy of the life.’
Jesus said: ‘Behold, I shall lead her,
that I may make her male,
in order that she also

may become a living spirit
like you males.
For every woman

who makes herself male
shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.’”

Now, I say again, that was not from our Christian Bible!
That’s Gnosticism.

There have always been movements that said,
Being human is at odds with approaching God.

Our Christian Faith says, balderdash!

Christ shows us that union with God
is to become more human—

truly human—not less human!

Compare that Gnostic stuff I just read,
with what we heard today:

“When the fullness of time had come,
God sent his Son, born of a woman…”

God never demeans being human!
God chose to enter

our world the same way we do!
St. Irenaeus put it well:
“the glory of God is man fully alive”!

Now, let’s acknowledge:

Jesus really being human
can be a little shocking.

Think about our images of Jesus:
I don’t know about you,
but images of him

looking malnourished—pale, thin—
don’t have credibility with me.

Jesus had a beard—

he had hair on his chest;
He had muscles—

had to be pretty tough, as a carpenter.

Jesus grew up in a house with Joseph,
who worked hard and made tough choices.
Jesus was—and is!—a real man!

Not this “wimpy, wimpy” Jesus!

Can we picture the Lord laughing,

getting angry, feeling tired or discouraged?

Can we imagine him not knowing something?
What a tough question!
As God, he knew everything;
yet as a newborn baby, in his mother’s arms,
do you think he started
explaining Quantum Physics to her,

in five languages?

The humanity of Jesus is real—
not pretend, not for show.

When Jesus was a teenager,
what was happening in his body,

his feelings?
The same thing as all of us—
Except he was not darkened,

as we are, by sin.
He had the clarity to see

and choose what was right.

And that gives us hope.

If you’re trapped in a dark place
with others in darkness,
you need someone with Light
to come show you the way out.

God became human,

and lit up our humanity
as it is meant to be—

as it can be for each of us.
That’s hope!

I’ve been stressing Jesus

is a real, flesh-and-blood man.

But today we also recall

he’s not merely human, he is God!
Not a “kind of” God, not hybrid:
true God, eternal, from forever and ever.

This, too, is controversial.
Everybody approves of

a “nice,” merely human Jesus.
But if Jesus is not God,

then he is no one’s Savior.

If he is not God,

we should take all this down—
the cross, the images;

we should take away this altar,
the tabernacle—all of it.
Because we’re committing idolatry!

If Jesus is not God,
then God remains distant.

Look at Islam.
Islam says Jesus was a prophet, but that’s all.
In Islam, God is distant.
Do you know what “Islam” means?
It means “submission.”
Yes, we Christians submit to God;
But we also call God our brother!
God came down and put himself
under the authority of a human couple—
who submitted to whom?

This is not a distant God,
But a God who comes so close he shocks us!

God became a tiny embryo in Mary’s womb!
God needed to be fed and clothed!
God knelt and washed the feet of sinners!
When God is distant,

he remains unknown, frightening;
the God of thunderbolts and retribution.

Yes, our God is the God of thunderbolts,
but our awesome God did not stay distant.

God was born of a woman.
God comes as close,

and intimate, as a mother’s womb,
a mother's breast, and a mother’s heart.

Why? Why did God do this?
Our holy father said it well, last week:
God does this

so that we might not be afraid
to love him!