Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Dem Bones (All Saints Homily)

Perhaps you noticed something different at Mass today.
Did you notice something placed

at the foot of the altar?
These are relics of various saints!

A “relic” is part of the saint’s body—
such as a piece of a bone.
You might wonder,

why do we have something like that?

You have to go way back in time—
like the cartoon on TV!—

to the beginning of the Church:
to the first 100 years after Jesus rose from the dead.

Right after Jesus came back from the dead,
people began facing persecution for following the Lord,

and it wasn’t long before the government
started killing people for believing Jesus is Lord.

They killed St. James the Apostle within a few years.
St. Peter and St. Paul were both executed, in Rome.
And there were many others who died,
rather than deny that they saw and knew Jesus,
rather than deny he is the Son of God,
the Savior of the world.

When those people died for the Lord,
those who remained were very careful
to gather their bodies and honor them.

And because Christians had to hide,
one of the places they would hide was underground.
The Romans would bury their dead
in caves underground—
and that’s where the first Christians would gather.

The priests and people would gather underground,
and there, they would celebrate Mass together.
They would celebrate Mass
at the graves of those first saints who died for the Lord.

So you can see why it would be important
to remember those martyrs, and to honor their bodies.

And up here, we have a little part
of the bodies of the following saints:
St. Peter, St. Andrew, both Apostles named James;
Sts. John and Thomas; Sts. Philip and Bartholomew,

Matthew, Simon and Jude; St. Matthias, St. Clement,
St. Boniface, our patron,
St. George (who has a window over there),
St. Augustine, St. Pius X, St. Vincent Ferrer,
St. Theresa Avila, St. Alphonsus,
St. Sylvia, St. Angelo, St. Ignatius Loyola,
St. John Vianney, St. Margaret Mary, St. Maria del Pazzi,
and St. Francis Cabrini—an American saint.

There’s another reason

we honor the bodies of saints—
because we honor the bodies of everyone
who follows the Lord.
When someone dies, we have a funeral—
and we honor the body because God created it,
and God has promised to raise our bodies again,
at the end of time.

Did you see how I used incense

at the beginning of Mass,
to honor the memory of all the saints?
At a funeral, we use incense

very much the same way.

You see, when you and I honor

and remember the saints,
we are honoring what God is doing—
not only in their lives,
but what he is doing in our lives as well!

Because as many saints as there are—
and no one knows how many—
there are to be a lot more, before it’s all over.

Do you know who is supposed to join them?
You and I are!
God has called each of us to be a saint:

every one of us!

In the first reading, you heard a number: 144,000.
But then, you heard it say:
“a great multitude which no one could count.”

A lot of Christians died in the early years,
But do you realize, in 2,000 years,
there has never been a time when Christians
have not faced persecution and death?
Right now, in China, in North Korea, in Saudi Arabia,
in Cuba, people are persecuted, sometimes killed,
for following Jesus.

You and I aren’t facing that.
But we are still asked to be faithful.
And there may be times we wonder,

"Why does it matter?"

The bits of bone up here remind us
that our lives do come to an and.
The question is, what will our lives be for?
When our life has ended, where will we be?

That may seem faraway when you’re young;
But as you get older,
the psalm we prayed means a lot more:
Lord, we are the people who long to see your face!

Every saint who lived and died,

longed to see his face;
those first Christians did see his face—
and they remained faithful

so they would see him again.

When you walk with the Lord, day-by-day,
you too come to long to see his face.
When you know his forgiveness;
When he guides you with his Holy Spirit,
You long to see his face, in heaven, forever.

Many live their lives without thinking much about God.
I don’t know what will become of them.
But you and I know what we hope for:
We have hope in Jesus Christ, who died and rose;
and to those who follow him, he said:
“Rejoice and be glad,
for your reward will be great in heaven.”

Monday, October 30, 2006

All Hallows Meme

T.O. at LAMLand tagged me awhile ago (sorry!)...

If you were invited to a Halloween/ All Saints Day Costume Party, which saint would you dress up as and why? (The Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, is not an option.)

My own patron, St. Martin de Porres; because he's my patron, and I would be delighted to make him better known.

Which saint or other person would accompany you to the party?

St. Rose, because they were compatriots.

What famous quote would help others identify you?

Hmmm, not very famous, but: "Mice, you must not go into the house!"

Describe your costume.

A Dominican habit, and a broom. Maybe a stuffed mouse taped to my foot. The question of coloring my hair and face arises, but alas, that sort of thing isn't considered "innocent" in our day and age, even though I wouldn't do it to demean my patron. Some day we will be past all that.

Which movie or film best depicts the life of this saint?

I know of none. Anyone know of a film about little St. Martin?

What is your favorite book written about this saint or that he or she has written?

I have a couple of books about St. Martin, but I confess I don't know where they are just now, sorry.

I tag the first five people who acknowledge reading this.

Updated Blogroll

It's been awhile since I updated the list of links to your right.

My basic approach, beyond linking a few sites of special interest, is to link you if you link me.

However, I do delete links that fall inactive for three months or more. Nothing personal.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

What's your response? (Sunday homily)

Many ask me, “Is it hard being a priest?”
My response is,
When it’s what you want to do,
and it gives joy and meaning to your life,
how “hard” it is, isn’t very important!

You know it’s true:
You go out for football,

you practice the piano,
you care for your ailing father,
you work a second job to feed your family.

The second reading reminds us
what God was willing to do:
He chose a path that he knew led to the Cross.

I find it impossible to understand
how Jesus could endure the horrors of Good Friday.
Our Cross here, and the stations, give us some idea.
The movie,
The Passion of the Christ,
makes it vividly real to us.

The more we realize how awful it was,
then we realize how much it meant to God

to save us—that he would willingly embrace that!

We might think, that was easy for God—
but remember, he became human, like us:
A man with a stomach that knows hunger,
with muscles that ache,
with nerve-endings that feel pain,
and with a heart that can tighten with fear.

Let that sink in!
And it will help you say, with wonder,
So much did he love us!

We behold the Cross—how do we respond?

The salvation won for us, isn’t automatic.
You and I have to come, like the man in the Gospel;
we have to come to Jesus, and ask for healing.

You and I received that healing, that salvation,
the day we were baptized.
That may have been a long time ago,
and there’s a reason it happens only once:
that’s how powerful baptism is.

Your parents had you baptized as a child
so you would share that salvation as soon as possible.

Again, that calls for a response.
He died for us, to take away all our sins.
He gave us the Holy Spirit so we can live for him.
He opened the gates of heaven for us:
How will we respond?

This is the meaning of our lives as Christians,
our daily walk of faith.

The discipline of Sunday Mass;
going frequently to confession;
talking to the Lord in prayer, every day.

The hard choices of rejecting our culture
when it seduces us with greed and lust,
of rejecting prejudice and wrath,
of speaking out for human rights,
including the right to life—
and of caring for people in need,

wherever they are.

There’s a reason our world

isn’t a better place than it is:
because these are hard choices!
But recall what I just said:
When it’s what you want to do,
and it gives joy and meaning to your life,
how “hard” it is isn’t very important.

That man in the Gospel got a healing—
but then what did he do?
He followed Jesus on the way.
What if he’d said,
“hey, this is awesome, I can see now!
Thanks, Jesus; I’ll see you around”?

Yet how often that is precisely what we do.
Jesus healed tons of people—
where were they on Good Friday?
How many, today, look at the Cross, and say,
“hey, thanks Jesus!” and they go their way?

It’s not easy to look at the Cross,
and know you’re not ready to respond.

(By the way: that’s why many mock the Cross,
why they destroy the Cross,
why they don’t want it around.)

At the center of the Mass,
here is how fully He shows us his Cross:
It becomes real, right here, on the altar—
his suffering and death, happens right here!

That’s why that Crucifix is so important:
it helps us realize what’s happening at the altar.

And then communion confronts us:
what will our response be?
Will we say “amen” to the Cross for our own lives?
Will we say “yes” to following him,
wherever it leads, whatever it costs?
Will we be full members of his Body,
the Catholic Church?

This is why communion comes last,
and Mass ends soon afterward.
Because communion is our response;
and, if you will, His response to our response.

In the Eucharist, Jesus says to us,
“So, you will follow me?
Here’s what I give you,

as a pledge of my commitment:
My Body, my blood, my full self, as God and man:
broken for you, given for you.
When you eat and drink this,
this makes you part of Me!

This makes us truly One.”

Is it hard to follow Jesus, to share his Cross?
When it’s what you want to do,
and it gives joy and meaning to your life,
how “hard” it is, isn’t very important!

My Interview with Michael J. Fox*

Father: Mr. Fox, I want to thank you for agreeing to this interview. It's quite a coup for my insigificant blog.

Actor: Well, you said we were cousins!

Father: I didn't do that!

Actor: I know; I'm just kidding.

Father: Mr. Fox, obviously we're going to discuss your recent foray into electoral politics. And I want to say I think the attention given to whether you've taken your medicine, or how you might move about--I think these are distasteful. And, if you don't mind me saying so, a little dopey, because isn't what you actually said in your recent ads and appearances what we should talk about?

Actor: No, I agree.

Father: That's fair game isn't it? You have a position--and there's nothing wrong with you advocating it--but your position is part of the debate, that's fair game to respond to, to criticize?

Actor: Sure, absolutely.

Father: We're talking about research, involving stem-cells. You've said they hold a lot of promise.

Actor: That's right. Some very exciting things are happening, and as I said, millions of people care very deeply about the promise of this research. A lot of lives could be changed for the better.

Father: True. Now, to explicate this subject, let me offer this description, and you say if you think it's fair. There are many ways to characterize this stem-cell research, but you can divide it into the following two categories: one set of means of research that involves no significant moral and ethical controversy, and another, that does.

Actor: That's true.

Father: You have stem-cells from adults, from unbilical-cord blood, that--as far as I know--no one has said its immoral, or ethically troubling. That research is happening now, and it receives tax funding.

Actor: That's right.

Father: And you're for that research?

Actor: Absolutely.

Father: Now, you are well aware of the other aspect of this: that much of the research involves deriving stem-cells from human embryos. And in deriving those cells, the embryo is destroyed.

Actor: Yes, but they would have been destroyed anyway.

Father: I'm not trying to put you on the spot--I'm just trying to be explicit about why this is a controversial issue for anyone. You understand it's because there's a human embryo involved, that's why anyone has a problem with this.

Actor: Yes, I realize that. But that's a moral viewpoint, and I respect it, but we need to see where science will take us.

Father: OK, but you do acknowledge these two categories of this research--that which involves no significant moral questions, and that which does?

Actor: No, that's fair to say.

Father: Because, in your ads, you didn't make that distinction.

Actor: Well, things like that are going to be summary.

Father: But do you think this is a significant aspect of the question?

Actor: I think we need to pursue the research, without being held back. Jim Talent would have made a large measure of the research illegal.

Father: As would I.

Actor: There you go.

Father: You understand why?

Actor: I realize it's part of your church teaching. No disrespect, but it's a religious viewpoint, and I respect that, but I think we should pursue this on the basis of science.

Father: This may surprise you, but I agree with you to a large extent. Not entirely, but maybe more than you know. Neither of us is an expert in biology or genetics and so forth--let's concede that--

Actor: True.

Father: --but it happens to be a fact of science that when a sperm and an egg come together, what results is a new life. Not part of either parent. This isn't religion--it's science. So an embryo is not part of someone's body; it's a new life. And by definition, a human embryo is a new human life.

Actor: But we're not talking about a baby, or a full grown human being--not even a set of cells, but a single cell!

Father: I understand that. That's how all of us started life.

Actor: The religious part--I shouldn't try to talk to a priest about religion, but oh well!--but the religious part is when you say that one cell is the same as a full grown person.

Father: That's true. But may I subsitute for "religious," "moral"?

Actor: But it is religious dogma, isn't it? Is for you?

Father: Certainly. My point is that many agree with me about this without sharing my religious dogma. Jews and Muslims and those who don't believe in God, who nonetheless agree with me about the value of that human embryo, clearly can't be said to do so on the basis of my religious beliefs, can they?

Actor: No, but they do it on their own religion.

Father: Not atheists. Do you claim all athiests agree with you? For that matter, are you really saying that this is a matter where God-believers are on one side, vs. all athiests on the other? I don't know your beliefs, and I make no assumptions about them in any way...

Actor: No, no, I don't mean that.

Father: I didn't think you did. What I'm saying is, you can't say it's simply "religious" when you have religious people on both sides; and also, non-religious people on both sides.

Actor: OK, so what do you call it?

Father: As I said, I'd call it a moral viewpoint.

Actor: Are you saying those who disagree with you are immoral?

Father: No, not at all. I'm saying, the difference reflects a different moral calculus.

Actor: All right, but then it's just semantic--I'd still say, we shouldn't bring morality into it.

Father: Now, let's think about that, okay? You don't really mean that.

Actor: Sure I do. People are entitled to their own moral values, but we're a pluralistic society.

Father: Right. And in various ways, we make collective judgments about what's good or bad for our society as a whole. That's what we're going to do in a few days--the election.

Actor: But what I'm saying is that morality shouldn't be forced into this, because it's holding back where we need to go.

Father: But you, yourself, are making an argument from morality -- don't you see that?

Actor: How so? I'm arguing for science, that's all.

Father: Well, I'm not obtuse, but let's take this apart and look closely at the question. Why is it important even to do this research? In your words.

Actor: Because it could save lives!

Father: Right, exactly. Now, here's the question: why is that important?

Actor: I don't understand. Surely you of all people want to save lives.

Father: Yes, certainly. I think we all do. My point is, that's a moral impulse. Or are you advocating saving lives purely as a matter of some scientific advantage? What's your reason for wanting to save lives?

Actor: All right, I think I see your point. But the thing is, that's something we all agree on.

Father: Granted. We all agree on saving lives.

Actor: But we don't all agree on an embryo being human--

Father: Pardon me, but can we say, "we don't agree on the value placed on the embryo, in relation to other human lives"? Because, I have to say, that an embryo is human is scientifically not in dispute.

Actor: Well, that seems like you're quibbling over terminology.

Father: Maybe; but maybe the reason it matters is precisely because merely calling an embryo "human"--carries a moral connotation with it? See what I mean? Language expresses moral values; so depending on our moral values, we prefer or avoid certain words.

Actor: And, as I said, we should leave the morality out of it.

Father: Yes, but it seems to me we can't; especially if our very language, which we use to talk to each other, has morality imbedded in it. What I'm saying is, all of us--you, me, the candidates you are endorsing or opposing--all bring moral values to this question. To put it very simply, we are all trying "to do the right thing." Isn't that true?

Actor: Well...

Father: Well--I think you are. I don't believe you are acting out of hateful or evil purpose. You want to save lives. Senator Talent--do you deny he wants to do the right thing?

Actor: Well, as he sees it.

Father: As he sees it. And you, as you see it. And me, et cetera. All of us are bringing our own moral values to this question. You can't take the morality out of it. I'd argue if you took the morality out of it completely, I'm not sure what reason there would be for pursuing this research at all.

Actor: Why do you say that?

Father: Well, this is going to sound shocking, I understand: but if we completely removed all moral impulses from this, I'm not sure we'd even care that people died of diseases. We wouldn't even feel bad about it. I'm not sure what we'd say, but perhaps something like, that's natural selection at work. Or, that's what happens. What would be our motive to save the lives of people facing so many diseases, if not the moral impulse that--because they are our fellow humans, we ought to save them?

Actor: I don't know anyone who thinks that way.

Father: Neither do I; or, at least, I hope I don't. But I think you'd be hard-pressed to argue this value-judgment we make about caring for one another as a matter of "science." What's "scientific" about it?

Actor: Aren't we better off, as a human family, if we defeat these diseases? Wouldn't it be good economically? I guess we could even talk about creating jobs...

Father: We might well be. I think so, personally, yes; but I am not claiming I necessarily can prove that, empirically. But I think I detected some distaste on your part, in offering that, particular argument just now. Am I wrong.

Actor: No; to be honest, I think this is a very strange way to talk about this issue--it's so...bloodless and cold.

Father: I totally agree. But I think you're making my point. Look: when have you, or anyone who feels as you do about this, made the argument in terms of Gross National Product, or jobs, or some, concrete measure? The argument you're making isn't of that sort. Rather, you're for this because it's the right thing to do.

Actor: Because it saves lives!

Father: Right--but because...it's the right thing to do. Not jobs; not some concrete, this-world material-value. None of that enters in. Because you're making a moral argument: we should save more lives.

Actor: All right; so what?

Father: So--don't both sides get to make a moral argument? When you say, to your opponents, don't drag morality into it, that's disingenuous, because--as we've seen--you've dragged your morality into it. In fact, you've dragged everyones morality into it: you appeal to a moral impulse we all share.

Actor: I don't see what's wrong with that.

Father: I don't see anything wrong with it. My point is, your opponents are allowed to do that, as well. My criticism of your ad--of the position you advocate there--is that you didn't seem to concede that your opponents also have a valid, moral point to make.

Actor: I don't see that that is my job. That's their job in their ads.

Father: Okay, but--do you think Mr. Talent wants you to die?

Actor: No. I didn't say he did.

Father: No, you didn't. But when I saw your ad--which was very compelling--I thought, "will anyone wonder just why Jim Talent wanted to "criminalize" "research"? We've been talking about "research" for I don't know how many years in this country, for I don't know how many serious problems--when I was kid, the Muscular Dystrophy telethon seemed to be a major thing, and I helped a little with it one year. I can't remember there ever being any question of "criminalizing" any of that research. It never came up.

Actor: Right. And it shouldn't come up here.

Father: But my point is, the very fact anyone even brings it up ought to be a red flag--I mean, unless you're going to accuse the Jim Talents and Martin Foxes and everyone else--and there are millions of us, we're not just a few cranks (maybe cranks but not a few!)

Actor: Laughing. You said it, I didn't!

Father: I did. My point--are you simply going to dismiss all of us who oppose you on this as people with nothing valid to say? That we are, what--morally obtuse?

Actor: No, not at all.

Father: All right then--so my point: that in most cases, most of the time, no one gets concerned about research being problematic. Then along comes this particular question--and now we do have significant numbers of people with very strong concerns. Something is very different here. It's not just another form of research. Regardless of who really is right on this question--it's not simply just another form of research.

Actor: Pause. Is there something you wanted me to say to that?

Father: I guess...I wanted either you to say you agree or disagree.

Actor: I agree, of course. I think it's kind of an obvious point.

Father: Well, if it is obvious, then it undercuts the argument you just made that this is only a question of "science" and that we should just let science go where it will go. Because, of course, that's not what we do.

Actor: Sure it is. You just said in most cases, we let research go where it will.

Father: Well, that's not exactly what I said, certainly not my meaning. What I said was, it seems to me almost all the time, we don't have these debates about the research--and I think that's because most of the time, the research takes place within the boundaries that define what's acceptable and unacceptable. Boundaries that are, in fact, moral rather than "scientific." And it's precisely because this particular question, of research that involves destroying human embryos, we are crossing a boundary--and that is what is awakening lots of reaction.
But I totally dispute the assertion that science simply goes where it will. In fact, as a society, we do place boundaries on where science may go, and how it may carry out its ends.

Actor: How so?

Father: Well, for one, when people participate in research, they must give informed consent. There was a day that wasn't true, as you and I both know. For another, even when we don't involve people, but rather, animals, we insist on being "humane," and even with that, we do have real controversy over whether it's right--note that, that's a moral term--whether it's right even to use animals...at all. And--as you know, there have been times scientists have conducted research on human beings, in cruel and obscene ways--unspeakable ways--but the fact is, it was "research" . . . and while that is past--we hope!--the question remains: is it moral, is it ethical, to draw on the fruits of that horrible research?

Actor: you're speaking of the Holocaust.

Father: In part; but the principle applies any time you have research that crosses ethical boundaries we all agree on. In this country, African-Americans were involved in so-called research without their knowledge or consent. It was--we all agree--wrong. My point is, it is simply fallacious to say we let science go where it will. No we don't. We do set ethical--and here I go again!--moral boundaries.

Actor: So...what's your point?

Father: My point is, it would be nice if you acknowleged that more often. That it's not illegitimate to set boundaries on research. That's what I and everyone else, opposed to embryonic stem-cell research are doing.

Actor: You really think not using those embryos--which will be destroyed anyway--is more important than the cures we could obtain?

Father: I don't accept that either-or. Who says we can't do both?

Actor: But you're putting a huge chunk of the research off-limits. Doesn't that guarantee we'll take longer to get there?

Father: I don't know. It may. But, may I point out, that argument applies as well to every other boundary we place on research. But we still do confine scientific research to certain ethical boundaries, such as we talked about. By your argument, those, too, "slow us down." Isn't that the price we pay to be a civilized society?

Actor: You're saying my disease is the price we pay?

Father: Perhaps we could advance research by cutting off people's left hands--their right hands if they're left-handed. Why don't we do that?

Actor: but that's hypothetical. There is no such research.

Father: All right. There is research we could conduct on human fetuses--babies in the womb. Right now it's legal to get an abortion--

Actor: Wait--I'm not talking about abortion.

Father: No, you're not. I am. Let me finish. Right now, this is legal--and the tissue from the fetus can and is used for research. We could do things we don't, now, do, to have more fetal tissue.

Actor: Like what?

Father: Like, we could pay women to conceive babies, and then...well do you need me to spell it out. It's repulsive.

Actor: It is repulsive. Why do you bring it up?

Father: Because it's a real example of what you just said isn't true: where we slow down research because of a moral scruple. After all, abortion is legal. Using the remains for research is happening. So what holds us back from doing that a lot more -- other than we all find it repulsive? After all, it could save lives...don't you care? You see my point? I'm not trying to accuse you; I'm trying to illustrate another application of your own argument.

Actor: I don't see how this is connected.

Father: Well, it is connected to the question of cloning...

Actor: No it isn't. We're not talking about cloning...

Father: Well, I guess we have to decide what we mean by that. By cloning, I mean creating new embryos, but not in the way we've always created them--that is, with a man and woman contributing a sperm and an egg. As of right now, that's the only way we can "create" a human embryo. But if we go ahead with massive, full-bore embryonic stem-cell research, we eventually run out of the embryos in fertility clinics. Then what?

Actor: But no one is advocating--I mean, I'm not--advocating having cloned people walk around.

Father: That's true. But my point was, you agree that the question of producing embryos eventually comes up.

Actor: Well, but they aren't really embryos--they're just cells.

Father: Oh, now Mr. Fox, I want to be courteous and all, but come on! You can't talk about "embryonic stem-cell research" in one breath, and then quibble over the word embryo! If they aren't "embryos" then it's not "embryonic stem-cell research. The fact is, the proposal is to replicate, through what is commonly called "cloning," an embryo that otherwise would be created by uniting a sperm and an egg. And at some point, that's likely to become necessary.

Actor: But you're calling that an embryo.

Father: With all respect, I think as a matter of science, that's the proper term. We're talking about something that is factually indistinguishable from an embryo. Call it a "synthetic" embryo if you want; but the whole point is that it is an embryo, for purposes of science.

Actor: Well, all this seems pretty arcane.

Father: Are you saying it's not important? These details, and their significance, are irrelevant?

Actor: I don't know. For me, it's pretty simple, I guess; and I think it is for a lot of folks.

Father: Are you saying, in that, that it's "simple" for a majority of folks?

Actor: Well, I guess so. Yes.

Father: Are you appealing to the majority on this? I mean, is your argument, now, that your position is superior, or should win the say, because more people agree with you?

Actor: Well, are you saying your position should carry the day because a majority disagrees with you?

Father: Not at all. What I'm questioning is whether which side is in the majority settles the question of right-versus-wrong.

Actor: How else do you settle it?

Father: You and I are both white males. We haven't, historically, had to worry about being part of a marginalized minority. At least, far less so than many others. I'm saying, sometimes you have to put these questions beyond majority-rule.

Actor: So you don't even want the question placed on the ballot?

Father: That's exactly what I'm saying. I'm saying, I don't care if 99% of the people vote for something--that doesn't make it right. After all--suppose that referendum goes down in Missouri--it may--does that make you wrong? Will you change your position.

Actor: No.

Father: I suppose this is as good a place to conclude our talk; I mean, we can't settle this. But I hope you feel you had your say.

Actor: to some extent.

Father: Well, I wrote both parts, so it's a lot harder and riskier to try to come up with what you'd say. I figured this was less unfair to you.

Actor: Hmmm, that's a different way to look at it.

Father: You were gracious to take part. I didn't think I would convince you, although one always hopes! But I thought this is important to get into the substance of the question. Do you disagree? I mean, with that last part?

Actor: No, not at all.

Father: Wonderful to meet you. I've been asked if we were related...

Actor: Funny--no one has ever asked me that about you!

Father: I can't imagine why. Thanks a lot.

*As I rather doubted Mr. Fox would make himself available for such an interview, I have imagined what he might say. Too much cold medicine can have this effect.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Room for Rude People

This thread exists for one reason--those who visit here, who can't behave in a courteous, civilized fashion will be free to post here, or not at all.

However, should they re-discover common courtesy, they will be "let out."

P.S. I deliberately "back dated" this post to October 25, since I don't see any reason it should sit at the top of my page. This "P.S." serves to avoid any deception.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The final miracle of the Holy Spirit (Sunday homily at St. Boniface)

Today we celebrate something just for our parish:
the anniversary of the dedication of this church.

That’s not the same as the anniversary of the parish:
Our parish was founded on July 3, 1855.
But on October 26, in 1865, this building,
was consecrated the first time for Catholic worship.

Of course, just a year ago,
to commemorate 150 years as a parish,
the Archbishop consecrated a new altar—here.

So, today, we particularly celebrate this building.

That first reading:
King Solomon and all the people,
dedicating his Temple. Quite a scene, wasn’t it?
Trumpeters and singers,
the building was “filled with a cloud”—
I did my best with the incense!

But did you notice
what was the center of the celebration?
The “Ark of the Covenant”—
all in gold, carried by priests,
brought to the Holy of Holies,
and placed behind a curtain.

Did you notice what was in that ark?
“Nothing was in it but the two tablets
Moses put there on Horeb”—that is, Sinai!
The tablets of the Ten Commandments. That’s it.

You realize, as impressive as that was,
you and I have something far greater
than Solomon’s Temple.

Our parish church is, I think, beautiful.
We could—and perhaps in time, we will—
make it even moreso.

As you know, next weekend, we’ll have a dinner
to raise money for painting the gym—
and whatever we have left over after that,
we’ll spend repairing the exterior of our church.

So—I hope everyone here will come
to that dinner—it’s only $10, less for children,
and it’s not even about the money—
we even have free tickets too!
It’s also about our being together as a parish.

In years to come, you and I will make our church
even more beautiful.
I have ideas and dreams; and we’ll do it.
This is our home—it’s worth it!

But what makes this church so special—
far beyond Solomon’s Temple…
Is that the Ark of our Covenant is not empty!
The Lord God himself is HERE!

See our altar?
Solomon’s priests offered up sheep and oxen.
But here, you and I approach the true Mount Zion;
with countless angels in festal gathering.
Because here, together with all the saints in heaven,
we offer, not lambs and bulls,
but the very Son of God himself:
Jesus, the Lamb of God!
Jesus’ own Precious Blood is poured out here!

That never happened in Solomon’s Temple;
but it happens here, at every Mass!

If you think I’m claiming Heaven comes down here—
you’re right!

I am not speaking figuratively, or symbolically—
I mean it: Heaven literally and truly comes here
at each and every Mass!

We celebrate the dedication of a building,
because Heaven has made this building its outpost!
This is Heaven’s embassy, right here in Piqua!
You want to go to heaven?
This is as close as we can get—till we get there!

So we take our worship, our Mass, very seriously.
we give our full attention and participation;
we bring our very best.
Yes, Father lights up lots of candles,
and we smoke up the holy of holies!

When Rome, and the bishops, give us instructions
on the Mass, with attention to detail,
some will say, oh, you’re being too fussy.

But the Mass doesn’t just belong to us, here;
but to the whole Church—
around the world, and in heaven too!

See, there’s something else going on.
God is here;
and here God’s people come to be united with him.

So we really can’t fully understand it.
Our best hope is to surrender to it.
That’s what worship really means.

We don’t tinker with the Mass
to make it fit our expectations;
we pray the Mass reshapes us,
to fit Heaven’s expectations!

Our hour each week aims to make us ready
to be in heaven forever!
What could be more important?

So we don’t bring anything second-rate—
only our best.

For various reasons,
we can’t always help what we wear;
but when we can—why not wear our very best?
Don’t hold back your talents:
read or help at Mass, join our choir!

Well, of course, we know, even our best
can only reach so high.
We’re imperfect,
and we will never reach heaven on our own.

The Good News is, Jesus comes here, too—
and he does bring his very best!

His best—to the altar; his best—in the tabernacle;
and his best, in each of our hearts!
He gives us the Holy Spirit!

It’s his Holy Spirit that makes that, not bread,
but truly God, in the tabernacle.
It’s his Spirit
that makes what happens at the altar,
not play-acting, not mere ritual,
but truly the Cross of Calvary
made real in our midst!

And it is his Holy Spirit that makes this building
more than just bricks and mortar,
but truly a Holy of Holies,
an embassy of Heaven on earth!

All that—for just one more miracle,
the greatest of all.
Not the transformation of a building;
not even the transubstantiation of bread and wine;
but the changing of people!

You and I, mere mortals,
you and I, pilgrim people,
still on our journey,
still in the process of being changed.
Now, we come, for a brief time, to be in heaven.
We ache to have enough faith to believe it.
We don’t see angels, but we know they’re here.

But one day, it will be finally true!
Not for an hour, not for a day, but forever!
The Holy Spirit’s greatest work
will be complete:
changing us into the Body of Christ,
the heavenly Jerusalem,
the true Temple, where God abides forever.

Want the glory? Share the Cross (Sunday homily at St. Mary)

It’s a hard thing to suffer.

A lot of families in our community
are suffering: not enough work;
not enough to pay the bills.

Our community is suffering.
These economic woes
magnify personal and family ones.
A family member strikes out in anger—or pulls away;
Someone seeks solace in the bottle or the Internet.
Many single or divorced parents struggle alone.
These are the hurts many around us face.

I know many parents face these burdens,
and bear them, trying to spare their children…
May I say to you: You have a courage I cannot fathom,
and I am filled with admiration for you.
Know that, if your children don’t understand now,
they will in time; and they will admire that courage too.

It’s what the first reading described:
“If he gives his life as an offering,”
“he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD
shall be accomplished through him.”

As I said, our community is suffering, too.
It challenges us to ask—
how can we respond to these needs?
We have a St. Vincent de Paul fund—
thank you for your generosity.
And I’m not complaining or begging, but:
there’s so much more I wish we could afford to do.

Right now, about all we can do is patchwork.
Our parish staff is smaller, but the needs are greater;
so, unfortunately, we do less from our offices,
and we coordinate more
with Bethany Center and Salvation Army.

That first reading is for us, then, too:
If you and I give our lives as an offering—
here in Piqua!—
we shall see our descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished…
through us!

We look further—at the situation of our world.

We have crime in our streets;
Places like Iraq and Darfur
face war and genocide in their streets.

Some in our community lack medical care
or a decent place to live…

In Haiti, if you have a home—you’re middle class!
And if you have a toilet, you’re rich!

Gives you some perspective, doesn’t it?
How blessed we are!
Yet, what suffering we do experience—
in the words of the second reading—
enables us to sympathize with others’ weaknesses.
That’s what the Son of God did
in coming to earth, as our High Priest.
See how that works?

It’s not that suffering and pain are good; they’re bad.
But in our world, such things help us understand.
They help us know how to respond.

What did the Lord tell his Apostles?
You want glory and honor?
Drink the cup—share my Cross!
And he says the same to us.

This is what my mother, and yours, taught us:
“Offer it up!”

No, that doesn’t mean, be a doormat.
It means this: I had a cold recently.
Instead of whining, "poor me,"
I offer it to Jesus, as my little sliver of the Cross.

Little sacrifices: no dessert; no meat on Friday;
a pain in your back—
or a neighborhood “pain in the neck”!

I know, you wonder, how can that do any good?
How can my cold, last week,
contribute to the salvation of the world?
That’s not for us to know, is it?

But we do know the Lord said:
you want to share the glory? Share the Cross!

Offer it up!

Notice what a great act of humility this is:
We’re proud to bring an impressive gift;
instead, we have to bring something so insignificant!

Parents, when you teach your children
these small sacrifices,
you are starting them on the path to heroic virtue:
this really is the school of sainthood!

This is how we begin to learn the courage it takes
to be a priest, to be a nun,
to be a faithful spouse and parent;
to be a missionary, to be a police officer or a soldier;
to be a worker for justice in countless ways.

This is how we become people
who don’t care about money and power,
but rather, will risk all—even our own lives—
to stand up for the poor, to fight for others.

This is how we become people
who will risk anything and everything
that Christ may be better known!

“For the Son of Man did not come
to be served but to serve…
and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

You want the glory? Share the Cross.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

What will become of the GOP?

I learned a long time ago not to make political predictions. Too much can change.

But it's hardly a secret that nearly all the signs point to the GOP taking a beating next month. Most seem to expect the Republicans to lose control at least of the U.S. House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate. Not to mention various losses around the country.

Well . . . we'll see. These sort of predictions tend to get overblown; but every once in a while, it is actually worse than anyone predicts.

If the GOP takes the beating widely predicted, let us be clear why this will have happened.

If the GOP goes down in flames, it will not be because of the pathetic Rep. Foley, who lusted after pages.

It won't be because of Bush, per se.

It won't be because of Iraq.

It won't be because the Republicans actually carried through on their ideological commitments.

No, it will because they betrayed their promises and their base.

It will be because they failed to advance the agenda they have claimed, all these years, to care about. As a result, they won't have that agenda to talk about, they will end up talking about scandals and porkbarrel and other things. Every campaign has to be about something; when it's not about larger, more significant issues, then it inevitably ends up being about trivial stupid things. Thus, George Bush the elder ran on flag-burning -- a regrettable, but hardly world-shaking, problem.

Let's be clear: the GOP took power in 1994 in reaction to the agenda the Democrats -- in Congress and the White House -- were advancing: higher taxes, bigger spending, more government (including a health-care plan), more advocacy for abortion, more gun control, more power for union bosses, and probably a few other things I've forgotten. Now, one can defend these things (better you than me): you can say the higher taxes were modest, and needed; that the health-care plan was a misunderstood boon that sadly was denied us; that gun control is good for us, etc. But please, let's not pretend that there wasn't a clear contrast, in 1994, between what the Democrats had proposed and voted on and enacted, and where their GOP challengers stood.

The GOP did not win because of the stupid, vastly overrated "Contract with America." Who remembers what the 10 items were; let along what elements were enacted? That was PR, nothing else. PR is easy; I know, I used to do it for a living. Getting PR is not impressive.

The GOP won because enough of its candidates offered themselves as credible alternatives: on guns, on taxes, on government spending and power; on Right to Work, on prolife.

And how has the GOP done since then? Well, in the first few years opposing Clinton, not bad; they were a real alternative, and happily, the resulting gridlock meant less spending, and actual reduction in government power. The government actually retrenched on an entitlement!

Then, the stupid Republicans decided to get personal, and go after Clinton instead of sticking to issues; and in 1998, they lost a number of seats, where they'd gained in 1996. In 2000, they were all about cheering on their new hero, George W. Bush; and ever since, they've forgotten nearly every principle and commitment they ever had or made.

In fairness, they have done some of what they promised; they have advanced some prolife measures; they did address "tort reform," they did do some good things on guns, and of course, they did make some reductions in taxes--probably the most effective thing they can claim credit for. It is also fair to note that it is not surprising they actually enacted less, because so many fail to realize just how hard it is, and how long it takes, to enact anything really significant in Congress. (And they fail to realize how good that really is.)

Meanwhile, however, they did enact lots of things: a new government entitlement, lots more power for government to spy on us and police us (but don't worry you're little heads; Uncle Sugar wouldn't think of misusing that power, noooo); legislation restricting free speech (the so-called McCain-Feingold Campaign Reform), and of course, wave upon wave of prodigal spending.

The point is, the GOP, somewhere along the line, stopped being the alternative to the problem, and came uncomfortably to resemble the problem it was supposed to oppose. And the last few years, the loyal base has held its nose and voted them back in.

That may yet happen again. But if not, be clear what happened: it was the conservative base that had enough; not the poor, misunderstood "moderates," who if only everyone would listen to sweet reason, would lead us all to the Promised Land -- who if only we'd listened to them, all would be well.

The policy we've gotten from the GOP the past few years is precisely the sort of thing "moderates" like Olympia Snowe and Mike Dewine would vote for -- because it's been their votes the leadership has had to court. This hand-wringing crowd always says the correct thing about spending -- "not too much!" -- but really, when have they ever done anything truly useful? Did they stand in the breach to prevent a huge, new expansion of Medicare? Who are you kidding?

If the GOP goes down in flames in three weeks, there will be a certain justice if Ohio Senator Mike Dewine goes with it: because the GOP that loses will be one that trimmed its agenda to suit him.

Some lessons from hearing confessions

I spent the morning hearing confessions (along with two other priests) from our third, fourth and fifth-graders. Hoped to get to sixth-graders, but ran out of time, so we'll get them, with junior high, next week.

In a few, I'll hear confessions before evening Mass, then a weekly Bible study.

Here are some thoughts...

* It is...well, let's say "odd" since I can't come up with a better word--to have people confess my own sins to me. Maybe it's just me, or maybe God is sending me a message; effect is the same: it is humbling, and it challenges me to repent.

* Part of the value of bringing children to confession is so they become accustomed to examining their lives, and to recognizing sin as sin, and having discernment about it. The idea that young children don't have sin to confess is absurd. Oh, I am not saying they have mortal sin, only God can read souls. But if you think second- and third-graders don't have sin, what planet do you live on? I was talking to a 3rd-grade teacher last night, about today, and she said, "some of them said, 'but we did that last year!'" I said, if they have any problems coming up with sins to confess, I bet you can help them! She laughed, as did the others at the table; Sister said, "that's what my mother always said to me!"

Another part of it, of course, is so they learn the form. Some will say, the form doesn't matter. And, on one level, that's right. I can help anyone go to confession. But learning the form, and getting it down pat, is valuable because then the penitent can focus energy on the really important stuff: the self-examination. A lot of people use, "I don't remember how" as an excuse not to go, and months become years. Also, a certain rigor of practice contributes to a certain rigor of thought; i.e., it helps people organize their thinking, and that helps their spiritual growth.

* I told the kids, with the sacraments, we think about what God gives us; but did you notice how, in this sacrament, its important that we give Jesus something? And did you notice what we're supposed to give him? Our sins! And, incredible as it seems, he actually wants them! Because he knows how they weigh us down, and he wants to get rid of them for us. I also told them the confessional is "the garbage dump"--we get rid of our spiritual garbage. So I led them in a simple examination of conscience, and I said, we feel sorry for sin, we feel bad about it; that's appropriate. But in a moment, when we let Jesus take all our garbage, we will feel great! So before confessions, we said the Act of Contrition together, kneeling; after, we said a Hail Mary and Glory Be together, expressing our thanks and joy.

(For all you liturgy purists, let me know what you think of this. I also lit the Easter Candle, and asked the kids about that. My dialogue with them led them to see the connection with Baptism, and how Penance is about re-gaining that same purity.)

* There's a good reason for using rhythm in speech (and hence, song).

One of the odd things I notice in this sacrament is that the words of absolution seem kind of long; particularly for children; and I wonder if their eyes glaze over.

Today, it dawned on me; what if I said them with a certain rhythm, with emphasis rising and falling? Maybe it would help the children attend to certain words and images. That's when it dawned on me: that's precisely what we do when we chant prayers; that rising and falling, rising and falling, creates a pleasing cadence, along with the varying notes, and the varying lengths of the notes, to create variety but also something familiar, and keeps a long string of words from being monotonous (which they easily can be when spoken--which is precisely how we've become accustomed to hearing almost all our prayers offered!

No, I am not planning to chant absolution! But borrowing this tool from the practice of chant could be helpful, and it may shed light on the genius at work in this ancient form of prayer.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Back from several days in Cincinnati

No, my cold didn't turn into Bird Flu, nor did I go on a secret mission for the Holy Father; I simply went to Cincinnati for a seminar over several days. Now I'm back.

No homily for this weekend, sorry.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Government-mandated minimum wage: pro and con

Here in Ohio, we have initiative and referenda (there's a distinction between them that has been explained to me, but I have forgotten what it is). I wish we didn't.

On the ballot this November is an amendment to the state constitution hiking the legal "minimum wage" and calling for annual increases every year. The Archbishop of Cincinnati, my diocese, has endorsed it.

I oppose this sort of thing as -- to speak theologically -- an imprudent way to bring about a "just wage" that has many harmful effects, and therefore, in my judgment, ill-advised.

Now, as to my own opinion, I am happy to share it; the Archbishop gave his, and I respect him; but I know he doesn't mind that I have my own, and share it.

Here's what I said recently in a Sunday homily (posted two weeks ago here):

As we have that election in mind,
the Apostle James, in the second reading,
gives us some things to think about.

In his time, rich and poor
were much more fixed categories.
So he was saying to the rich—
you have to help the poor,
because if you won’t, who will?

That’s still true, but in a different way, today.
Today, the question is,
how do we provide opportunities
for people to escape poverty,
as well as helping those in poverty.

Some say, “pass a law raising the minimum wage.”
Others say, “that’s the wrong way to do it—
better is to create more jobs.”
We will disagree on the method;
But St. James warns us, woe to us if we
think it’s not our problem!

Woe to us if we think
the fate of the weakest members
of our human family aren’t our problem:
St. James says, you live in luxury and pleasure,
while the innocent are murdered.

Is there anything more to be said?

Head still full of goo

Well, I'm still under the weather, somewhat to my surprise.

It is a shame, because we've had beautiful weather here the past few days.

I did find out that cough syrup past it's use-by date still works!

Meanwhile, I am in my Lazyboy, praying and surfing (the 'net). A mountain of stuff awaits me when I get back to the office!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Hard but good (Sunday homily)

Wow, that’s hard!
Jesus just talked about divorce and remarriage
tougher than any bishop or priest wants to do.

This is why the Church cannot recognize
a second marriage, after a divorce,
unless it’s determined the first marriage
was not valid as a sacrament.

When folks in a second marriage
can’t receive the Eucharist, this is why.

Is this hard? Yes—it’s hard.

Last Sunday, Sister Joan Clare and I
met with the youth group, talking about vocations
to the religious life and the priesthood.
The question of celibacy—
remaining single for the sake of the Kingdom—came up.
"Is it hard?" someone asked;
don’t you miss not having a family?

My answer was, sure it’s hard.
And yes, I would have liked to have had my own children.

I told them, what I want is all the good parts
of being married and having a family—
but none of the hard parts.
That’s what we all want!
So, whether its marriage and family, or celibacy,
we can either say, "it’s too hard—I can’t do it"…

Or, we embrace the challenge—the Cross—and say,
"I don’t know why this is my path, but it is;
I don’t know why it’s so hard.
But—if I walk it with Jesus Christ,
it will lead to my salvation."

What we learn is that, in the end,
the hard parts are the good parts!

Now, may I just point, here, how all this
amplifies the old-fashioned wisdom
of postponing various levels of intimacy,
until we’re "old enough"?

Parents, I know how you have to struggle
against the tide of our culture.
It’s hard to be "Dr. No" day after day after day.
I realize you have to choose your battles.

But it is necessary that you do fight these battles,
and draw the line.
You say No to things for reasons
your children may not understand—but you do.
Even on questions of clothing and modesty,
as well as dating and relationships.

This is where just waiting makes so much sense:
Waiting just to begin dating,
waiting further, for exclusive dating—
and, of course, waiting till marriage
for sexual intimacy.

Boy, is that old-fashioned!

But it makes sense:
As I said,
we want all the fun parts, but none of the hard parts.
So, if we front-load the fun stuff—
the romance and the physical stuff—
when will we deal with the hard parts of intimacy?

What often happens is they show up, years later,
like unpaid bills. After marriage, after children.

And if we didn’t gain the maturity and depth
of painful self-denial when we were dating,
we’ll face it, even more painfully, later on.

And this is why, I think, the Church’s teaching
on openness to the gift of life, to children, seems hard.
Because it makes no sense
if we think self-denial makes no sense.

Natural Family Planning is only "too hard"
if we find several days a month
of abstinence, "too hard."

But please note this:
in addition to Natural Family Planning
being totally consistent with Church teaching,
being safe, healthy, natural, and effective…
Couples that embrace Natural Family Planning
get divorced far less often.

Why? I’m not sure.
It could be that frankly embracing self-denial
at the powerful core of our being,
where the drive for gratification seems so strong,
radiates out into the rest of our lives,
and helps us die to self in all the other ways.

Yes, it’s hard. But it’s good.

For those of us given the gift of children—
and not all are—nothing is more gratifying.
If we don’t, or can’t, have children,
or we’re beyond the age to have children,
it’s still true that what makes life meaningful
is not what we get for ourselves,
our financial security, our careers,
but how much we give ourselves away.

It’s hard—but it’s good.

The first reading from Genesis,
and the second, from Hebrews, make clear
that God believes we can do it!

God created us, not to be mere wild animals,
but something higher.

When God became a human being,
he became "lower than the angels"—but in doing so,
he lifted us up higher than the angels!
Did you know that?
You and I are higher than the angels,
because we call God—Jesus—our brother!

God became man to walk the path of the Cross.
He knew we already faced it;
he came to make it a path of salvation for us.

The Cross is not easy! Nothing is harder.
But it is the path of salvation—
it is the way that leads to true Life.

Yes, it’s hard—but it’s good.

Friday, October 06, 2006

When your head is full of goo . . . what do you do?

I sit at home and drink Iced Tea and eat fruit and an occasional brownie; the other night I ordered extra spicy Chinese food -- that helps too.

Monday, October 02, 2006

College Football and Hezbollah

Last weekend, I had the privilege of traveling to South Bend, Indiana, for the Purdue at Notre Dame football game. It was a very long day -- the principal, and a parishioner, and I left long before dawn, so we could arrive on campus before 9 am, for good parking, and didn't get home till after 11:30 pm -- but what fun!

We sat behind the student section, which just added to the energy of course; and we had plenty of time to walk about campus, to visit the Grotto, to admire and pray in the Basilica, to meet fellow alumni (not to me, but to my traveling companions) and to enjoy bratwursts, snacks and cold beverages.

And, of course, to enjoy the game itself, and what fun that was!

Well, observing the college kids, just below our seats, cheering and responding largely in unison, I found myself making a mental comparison to the frightening images we see on TV or online, of young men of similar age, likewise responding in unison to the promptings of Hezbollah, Hamas, al Qaeda and other evil organizations.

Now I am not saying college sports is like Hezbollah! Gimme a break! What I'm saying is that in one part of the world, young men, full of energy and drive, get caught up in something innocent and fun; in another part of the world, they get caught up in something wicked. The commonalities are: (a) young men of a particular age group and (b) an emotional, group experience.

Why even talk about the two in the same thought?

Well, because it occurs to me that, first, it is natural for young men (and perhaps young women of the same age group) to respond with enthusiasm to a group cause. There's nothing wrong with that; it's a good thing. The key is what kind of cause. There is a reason, it seems to me (and this observation is not original to me) that such young men are, in times of peril, drafted into combat. It is necessary, in such events, to marshall large groups of men in a common cause, and to have them respond with intensity.

This gives rise to a contrast, and this brings me to my point.

It seems to me a very good thing that in America, and many other places, this energy is harnessed . . . innocuously. So all these young men were chanting, "We are ND!" Nothing at all wrong with that. Nothing sinister; nothing scary. Just fun.

Is it possible that this phenomenon of young men is part of the reason Hezbollah and like groups can get young men to march around in Lebanon, chanting things like "death to Zionists" and "death to America" and who knows what else? Is it possible that for some number of them, their initial participation is of a similar quality? (I emphasize "initial" in that last sentence, because this makes all the difference between the phenomena I am comparing; in the latter case, the "cheerleaders" are seeking to induct these young men into something hateful, destructive and wicked.)

What merit can this observation have?

Well, it raises the question of what might be helpful in defusing the extremism that represents a real threat to safety and liberty in our world. How many of the young men drawn into al Qaeda and Hamas and Hezbollah and I don't know what other evil forces, might -- in an alternate universe, or perhaps in a happy future -- be happily cheering from the sidelines of their favorite football team?

I happen not to think this is simply a matter of establishing an American-style University of Fallujah and a Mideast Big-10 Conference or something like that. There's certainly more to it. My points are more subtle:

1. Young men and young people have admirable zeal; if it's currently harnessed, in the U.S., to college football, that's not all bad.

2. If need be, these young people in this country have amply demonstrated they will harness it to more enduring causes -- if we ask them or give them the opportunity. So don't put 'em down as merely "decadent, privileged youth."

3. Given the right context of culture, personal, religious and civic values, these young people's zeal will tend in a more healthy and positive -- or at least, harmless -- direction; given a different context, in a malevolent direction.

4. It may well be in our interest, as Americans, as citizens of "the West," and as folks of who simply want a future not darkened by terror's threat, to attend to point number 3. My example of "University of Fallujah," belonging to the Mideast Big 10 may sound silly to us; but something like that actually be part of a happier future, both for the Mideast, for us, and the world.

5. I.e., how about a broad, "middle-class"-ification of the broad swath of the world, from, say North Africa to somewhere in Asia, that seems to be the breeding ground for all this seething, murderous groupthink in service to an extremist Islamic movement?

What do you say?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

'Go Overboard' (Sunday homily)

You’ve heard the expression:
“Don’t go overboard.”

That first reading shows us folks
getting doused in the Holy Spirit,
“and they prophesied.”
If 70 of you jumped up
and started prophesying at Mass…
I think folks would say,
“you went overboard.”

Even so…
I’ve been to college
and high school football games;
I’ve prayed with the football team beforehand.
The intensity the guys bring to the game
is impressive—and it can be a little scary!

Nothing wrong with that!
They need that intensity to play well and win!

There’s an election coming up—
we may be intense about that.

But if can “go overboard” for a football game—
even from our Lazyboys!—or for an election,
then shouldn’t we have that kind of intensity
in our relationship to Jesus Christ?

It’s not about whether we “go overboard,”
but what we’ll go overboard, for.
We heard about the Holy Spirit poured out
on the 70 elders in the first reading;
you realize, that happens to each of us
in baptism and confirmation!

Moses said: would that everyone
received that Spirit!
That is fulfilled in our Catholic Church.
Jesus promised his Spirit would guide
the teaching of his Church.

So as we prepare for that election,
we do so guided by the Church’s teaching.

That expression—“Don’t go overboard”—
literally means, don’t fall out of the boat!
You and I don’t want
to get so invested in a cause,
or our own, personal issues,
that we fall out of the boat of Peter—the Church.

As we have that election in mind,
the Apostle James, in the second reading,
gives us some things to think about.

In his time, rich and poor
were much more fixed categories.
So he was saying to the rich—
you have to help the poor,
because if you won’t, who will?

That’s still true, but in a different way, today.
Today, the question is,
how do we provide opportunities
for people to escape poverty,
as well as helping those in poverty.

Some say, “pass a law raising the minimum wage.”
Others say, “that’s the wrong way to do it—
better is to create more jobs.”
We will disagree on the method;
But St. James warns us, woe to us if we
think it’s not our problem!

Woe to us if we think
the fate of the weakest members
of our human family aren’t our problem:
St. James says, you live in luxury and pleasure,
while the innocent are murdered.

It is a scandal that our society,
the wealthiest in history,
says it has no room:
* for the unborn…
* for immigrants…
* for children and adults with disabilities…
* for the elderly all those who need medical care.

You’ve heard about “embryonic stem-cell research”—
and everyone is for more “research”
that might find cures for disease.

Everyone is for more research, more discovery.

The question is, how do you do it?

Should newly conceived, unborn children die
as the price of that research?

That’s what all the controversy is about.

It’s not, research v. no-research;
it’s one method, in which children die,
vs. research where no one has to die.

Did you know that we can do—and are doing—
“stem-cell” research that harms no one?
It’s already happening, and showing results.

Did you know that?

The Church endorses this form of “stem-cell” research;
but we oppose any research
that destroys a tiny, embryonic human being!

That point isn’t made clear in the media, is it?

You see, the same teaching that says,
“everyone counts, no matter how poor,”
also says, “everyone counts, no matter how small.”
And human lives count,
even when they commit terrible crimes.

When the terrorists struck on 9/11,
I was angry—as you were.
I wanted those men to go to hell!
But I was wrong; and I repented of that.

No question, some crimes are so terrible
that they deserve death.
Church teaching still holds that the death penalty
can be used, in extreme circumstances.

But a different question is,
do we want to be a society
that resorts to a death penalty?

Our late holy father, Pope John Paul II,
said that for modern, western societies,
the circumstances justifying the death penalty
are virtually non-existent.

I think the pope’s point
was for us to ask ourselves,
not—do they deserve to die?—but rather,
do we really want to be people who kill?

In a world where life is already so cheap,
does this, on balance, really help?

Most of us get intense about something.
About that special someone we love;
About sports, or our careers,
about music, hobbies, or politics.

And that’s fine.

But what excuse can we have
for not feeling strongly about
the rights of every person, rich or poor,
American or foreign, young or old,
able-bodied or disabled, born or unborn.

Because when someone has fallen out,
or been pushed out, and they’re about to go under…

That’s when you and I need to go overboard.