Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Thoughts while staring at a limestone wall

Wednesdays at St. Boniface, we have an evening Mass, at six; starting at five, the priest hears confessions in the sacristy. Except for the "school Mass," daily Mass is in our chapel, in the basement of the church. This is practical (it saves money on utilities) ; because it's a perpetual exposition chapel, it allows adorers to be at Mass; and it is customary. So--confessions in the sacristy.

As this is all in the basement, part of the foundation of the church--built of limestone rock -- is exposed in the sacristy. So, as I sat, waiting for penitents, and prayed my office, I sometimes found myself staring at the limestone rock.

As a boy, I was fascinated by the limestone walls of the house in which I grew up, and also, the limestone rock my parents used to make a patio, out back. If you've looked at limestone rock, you know what I mean: not only does it produce interesting fuzzy stuff that any kid would find curious, it is often, also chock-full of fossils. (As a boy, I one time ran into the house, alerting my mother to the need to call the Natural History Museum, because surely they would be amazed at the treasure-trove of fossils in our back yard! I don't recall what she said, but my mother was diplomatic in her response.)

Well, I still find limestone rock curious, and so I was contemplating it. And lo! something moved! It was some sort of bug; far too small to be a water bug, and it had lots of legs. I thought about killing it; I am not cruel, but my first thought is, "it's a pest, it must be killed." My next thought was, "what if there's a nest of them?" and I did not enjoy the thought of getting an exterminator in. Then I realized, no, it's just a miscellaneous bug. Could it know how close it came to death?

As I waited for someone to come to confession, I watched that bug make it's way down the wall. Where was it headed? What possible analogue to thought went on in it's "brain"? I saw it heading toward a cobweb, and I found myself not wanting it to get caught, but figured it might all the same, and then: what would that be like? It can't be capable of anything like thought and sensation as we know it--so I doubt it would "know terror" or despair anything -- it would just be caught, and sit there, until it's life ended.

Well, for whatever reason, I found myself thinking about evolution. Just to let you know, I tend to be skeptical about the "macro" theory -- I know I'm free to believe it, as a Catholic, but I'm also free not to believe it (I mean, theologically); and unlike a lot of folks, I don't care a whole lot, either way. But if I had my druthers, I'd rather it weren't true -- it may sound funny to put it that way, but on balance, I'd rather the theory were all a crock of ****. At least the macro theory, the business about us once upon a time being all amoebae. Yep, if it were up to me, I'd prefer the Lord God created man as he is, and there you have it.

I'm fully aware of the very smart people who purport to tear the macro-evolutionary theory all to ribbons; and I'm well aware of the very smart people who make those other smart people look like idiots. And maybe someday I'll sort it all out and take sides; but every time I try to read their arguments (usually late at night), my head hurts, my eyes glaze over and I think of something else I'd rather do. Meanwhile, I'll just wait for them to fight it all out. (Remember when someone used to have a funny, animated thing called "Celebrity Showdown"? They'd have two people, like Jessica Simpson and Al Sharpton square off, and it was hilarious, until it got really gory. That's what we need: a "Celebrity Showdown" between the ID folks and the Evolution folks. What fun!)

Well, unlike the bug, I can communicate to you the purpose in my meandering. As I considered evolution (yes, I really was praying! It takes awhile to write this, but not to have thought it.), my question formed in my mind: if macro-evolution is true, why would God do it that way?

You see, many who support the theory, and many who oppose it, do so because it seems to eliminate the need for God. And I do have to admit, it does invite that thought. But I asked myself: OK, let's say it's true--suppose God did do it that way; he had a choice--why was that his choice?

And it occured to me that God would have known that somewhere along the line, humanity would do precisely the investigating we've done, into the world around us. And we'd find the fossils, we'd observe the likenesses in animals, the vestigial organs, the whole shebang. And with that marvelous intellect the Almighty endowed us with, we'd think, and think and think. And what would we come up with?

There are some who want God to have created the world in such a way that, at some point, the facts compel us to believe in him. Our intellects work that way: when facts are presented to it, reason demands our assent. They'd like the existence of God to work that way, too.

But does God want that? Seems not! Rather, I think God wants to keep belief in him a matter of choice, notwithstanding the fact that it appeals to us on so many other levels. We are not compelled to assent to his existence, although there is so much, in all realms of knowledge, that invites and woos our belief.

The theory of macroevolution--whatever else one may say about it--does seem to preserve that choice. (I.e., rightly understood, as compatible with the postulates of the Faith.)

Now, before I close this post, I am well aware that this sort of talk works on some folks the way a bell worked on Pavlov's dog; and my comment box may soon be filled with esoteric, urgent prose about the dire crisis of evolutionary theory.

Please don't! You'll make my head hurt, and my eyes glaze over. If you really are smart, you'll have noted I never endorsed the theory, I simply entertained a thought-experiment about it. So you needn't preach at me like Savaronola converting a heretic.

P.S. After hearing someone's confession, I looked back for the bug's latest progress; I couldn't find him on the limestone wall. His fate is still unknown.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

One good turn deserves another

When I find someone saying nice things about me on their blogs, I like to call attention to it -- whatever it takes to get more of that sort of thing!

Today I followed one of the "hits" on my blog (via site meter) back to the blog, Flos Carmeli, which as we all know is Latin for Floss of Caramel, which sounds very tasty, although highly impractical. But who cares when you're eating caramel?

If you visit this site, do ask where one can buy caramel floss; if it's sugar-free, we're off to the races!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

An opportunity to give: help the Gospel be heard

Some months back, I mentioned one of my parishes needed to paint its gym. I realized I haven't reported on that.

All the money needed was raised, and the gym will be painted over Christmas break (we were going to be doing it right now, but the principal was concerned there wouldn't be enough time for the paint fumes to dissipate before school started).

I'm pleased to say that we generated about $400 from readers of this blog toward the approximately $16,000 needed, and I am grateful!

Since no good deed goes unpunished, I thought I'd mention yet another need, in the event some generous soul reads it and is moved to respond.

St. Boniface parish is rather large, and relies on a sound system as many churches do. Unfortunately, it needs attention. The retired priest has a hard time being heard, and the mics are failing him. Some are urging me to do some patchwork fixes--get new wireless mics, or get a mic for the altar, etc. It occurs to me this is the time to look at the whole sound system, and get it right; especially as once you make a change here, it's going to have effects, over here.

So, I had my music director get some estimates--he came up with a $20,000 budget, including new microphones, new speakers (we have bulky, ugly speakers hanging over the heads of Mary and Joseph; I'd like to remove them, and replace them with state-of-the-art, sleek, white Bose speakers that will be almost invisible). There's more of course, and labor involved all around, to get it to $20,000; plus, one can always find savings along the way (and I will!).

The good news is I've already raised $7,000, so I'm more than a third of the way there.

God willing, someone reading this can make a contribution, perhaps a sizeable one.

Unfortunately, I have to make this decision apart from other considerations that are so far remote to me, at present: someday, restoring or replacing the pipe organ ($200-300,000); if that's judged out of reach, then a high-quality electronic organ ($80,000+). Also, someday replacing the existing carpet with a harder surface, perhaps even stone flooring (awaiting an estimate, but it will be high).

If you want to donate, you can do so by sending a check payable to St. Boniface Parish, at this address:

St. Boniface Parish
310 South Downing Street
Piqua, Ohio 45356

Be sure to mark the check, or the envelope, or include a note saying, "for sound system"!

(In the unexpected event of surplus donations, they will go toward repairs of the interior and exterior of the church--we have falling plaster and cracked "stone facing" that needs attention, but we won't get to that until next year.)

Last time, someone asked about "paypal." I looked into it, and it seemed to cost me money to use it; maybe I was mistaken. But that kept me from doing it, as it seemed those costs would be high, relative to what I thought would be generated. That's still my judgment. I don't mean to be inconsiderate of you, dear reader, only that I would rather see more of your generosity go toward the project at hand. And, however disreputable I am personally, that I am a real person, and my parish is a real place, can be established rather well.

In any case, please don't hesitate to ask questions, via the comments, and if you need an email response, let me know. (I used to have my email available, but I stopped that when people began sending me requests for spiritual advice and counseling, which is so ill-advised via the blogosphere, but I couldn't simply ignore the requests, either.)

I certainly don't expect anyone to send a penny; you have plenty of good causes to support, and there's no charge or consideration necessary for your sufferance of this web page.

Finally, if nothing else, would you be willing to say an Our Father for St. Boniface Parish, to have its financial needs met? Who knows, your prayer may unlock quite a bit of God's blessings!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Walnut Hills High School was this good...

You paid attention during 97% of high school!

85-100% You must be an autodidact, because American high schools don't get scores that high! Good show, old chap!

Do you deserve your high school diploma?
Create a Quiz

Biretta tip: Thoughts of a Regular Guy

Viva Cristo Rey! (Sunday homily)

As I was preparing this homily,
I noticed we had a series
of martyrs’ days last week.

That was fitting,
because to proclaim Jesus Christ is King
is to face some degree of martyrdom.
The world that nailed him
to a cross 2,000 years ago,
would just as readily crucify him today!

In many parts of the world
the Gospel is not welcome.
Our holy father is on his way to Turkey;
we pray for his safety and success.
But even where we have religious freedom,
the Gospel is resisted.

Often it is indifference,
such as that of Pilate,
who shrugged and said to Jesus,
"What is truth?"
Sometimes it’s mockery,
like the soldiers who tormented the Lord
just to pass the time.
Sometimes, we look around
for support from others,
but they remain silent, and we’re alone.

Long before we face full-blown martyrdom,
we face these types of "soft" martyrdom.
In a way, it’s harder.
If we faced a firing squad,
the choice would be crystal-clear.

But what about making the sign of the cross,
and saying grace, when we eat out?
Or when someone expresses bigotry,
or vengeance—do we say anything?

Visiting the sick,
writing letters opposing the death penalty:
these are small martyrdoms
readily available to us.

"Martyrdom" may sound scary,
but it also thrills our hearts—doesn’t it?
We don’t want to suffer;
but we do want to be the kind of people
who aren’t afraid of it.

At this Mass,
I’ll use the First Eucharistic Prayer;
it comes to us from the early Church of Rome.
You’ll hear names that are included
because their martyrdom
gave the early Christians courage.

You’ll hear Lawrence,
a deacon who fearlessly
served the poor of Rome;
Chrysogonus, a teacher;
Sts. John and Paul,
who refused to serve the emperor,
like St. Thomas More, a thousand years later.
We’ll mention Alexander.
We know nothing about him,
except he was faithful.
Think of him if you ever feel forgotten.
St. Perpetua was a wife and mother,
and Felicity was her housekeeper—
they faced death, together, as equals.

Agatha and Lucy died,
rather than be prostituted—
some things never change.
St. Agnes was only 12:
old enough to bear witness.

If these martyrs seem too remote,
here’s one from only a few decades ago:
Miguel Agustin, a priest
who died, in Mexico, in the 1920s.
As the firing squad executed him, he cried out,
Viva Cristo Rey!
Long live Christ the King!

That’s what those facing martyrdom still say:
in Cuba, and in other languages,
in North Korea, in China, Sudan,
and many, many other places.

Viva Cristo Rey!
That summarizes why Pope Pius XI
established this feast day in 1925.
He saw Nazism and Communism
claiming absolute authority
over every part of life.

In our own lives,
so many things likewise tyrannize us:
work, money, addictions,
anger, pride, success.

You might like to know
our nation’s contribution
to this feast day.

The year was 1941,
during the Second World War;
and demonic forces were triumphant
from the beaches of France
to the islands of the Pacific.

A German priest, working in this country—
Father Martin Hellriegel—
was horrified by what was happening
in his native land,
but he was inspired
by the message of Pope Pius XI;
and wrote a hymn to counter
the blasphemy of the Nazis,
and we sing it on this feast day:
"To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King,
who is the world’s salvation."

When we sing that hymn,
sing it, realizing
how many people have died
for the faith of those words;
How many spoke such words
with their last breath.

Their courage gives us courage,
so that to everything
that claims our heart’s allegiance,
and with the martyrs of every age,
you and I can say:
Viva Cristo Rey!
Long live Christ the King!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Did you go to Mass today?

...Not that you had to; I'm not trying to guilt-trip anyone.

I just wonder how many folks observe this very nice custom of assisting at Mass on Thanksgiving Day.

Mass this morning was at 8 am, and we were joined by Father Tom, the parochial vicar who is recovering from serious surgery. We've been praying for him constantly in his absence, and he got a little applause when, at the beginning of Mass, I acknowledged his return and said, "our prayers have been answered" and "we have something more to be thankful for."

Our daily Mass at St. Boniface is usually in our chapel, which is in the basement of the church; it dawned on me a day or two ago that perhaps we should have announced this Mass would be in church, upstairs, but since we didn't announce it, I decided to wait and see.

Sure enough, as 8 am neared, the chapel was packed, so I said, how about we all go upstairs? So we all did; Mass started a little late. We sang "We Gather Together" for an opening and "Immaculate Mary" as the closing. I kept the daily readings, because its one of the few times we hear from the Book of Revelation, and I wanted to give a little reflection on that.

At the conclusion of Mass, I said something to the effect of, "I'm so encouraged to see you here, and I commend you--you don't have to come today, you chose to, the Lord inspired you to come, and I am glad to have Mass with you."

Monday, November 20, 2006

How do you say, 'manage change gently' in Latin?

One encounters chest-thumping folks from time to time who seem to think the proof of being orthodox is how rapidly you shove things down the throats of your parishioners. "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" is how one person -- admittedly (but not wholly) facetious -- put it on another blog recently.

Change is coming: we will have a new translation of the Missal in the near future (I've given up saying just when, but it is coming); the Holy Father has decreed that pro multis in the Eucharistic Prayer be translated as "for many" rather than "for all," and there are persistent rumors of a freeing of the Rite of the Mass as Pius V promulgated it.

In addition, many expect Pope Benedict, together with Cardinal Arinze, to tighten up on some things, in the interest of assuring that the Mass really is celebrated as the Second Vatican Council intended, in an organic relationship to what preceded.

There is a rising trend in sacred music to recover much that needlessly and inappropriately disappeared in the wake of the Council: chant, particularly Gregorian chant, and polyphony, and the pope has clearly signaled his interest in advancing this. Lastly, there are substantial questions about whether the current rite of the Mass properly carries out the intention of the Council. An example would be whether having the priest face the people, as opposed to the priest and people face God together, is really best.

So: there's a lot of ferment in matters of liturgy -- and yet, a great number of God's people are tired of it all. They've seen a lot of tinkering and monkeying around with liturgy, a lot of changes mandated from the bishops or Rome, and they would like to pray.

Well, there are a number of keyboard combatants out there who say that if a priest doesn't immediately start offering Mass, all in Latin, ad orientem, without extraordinary ministers, with only male servers, etc., etc., he "lacks courage" and seeks a "lowest common denominator" liturgy.

I will leave it to your imagination as to why they have so much time to lecture pastors via the Internet, as well as why their own pastors don't listen to them.

In the meantime, regular readers of this blog (I think you're crazy, but thanks for visiting!), or anyone who pays close attention to parish life, or simply asks the pastor, would note the wide variety of needs he attends to.

And, of course, in all this a shepherd is supposed to keep the flock together. The two parishes here recently went from eight Masses a weekend to six, out of necessity. In the wake of that adjustment, total Sunday-Mass attendance dropped almost 10% for both parishes! Some of that is from deaths and families moving away for better jobs; but some is simply due to a change in Mass times.

So . . . that's the context in which this particular pastor wrestles with how best to carry out the mandate of the Church regarding the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. With all that, here's my column this week in both bulletins:

Food for the Flock
Occasionally we use a Latin prayer
or hymn at Mass, and some parishioners
have asked about that. Some want more,
some wonder why use any at all. I suspect
most parishioners don’t get excited
either way.

The short answer is, we are, after all,
Roman Catholics—this is part of our faith
and tradition. Some think Vatican II
“got rid of” Latin. Rather, Vatican II added
the option of using English; but still
called for continuing to use Latin.

Here’s what Vatican II actually said:
“Particular law remaining in force,
the use of the Latin language is to be
preserved in the Latin rites”
(Sacrosanctum Concilium 36).
The Council said that where the
“mother tongue” (i.e., English for us)
is used, “nevertheless steps should be
taken so that the faithful may also
be able to say or to sing together in Latin
those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass
which pertain to them” (Ibid., 54).

So using Latin at Mass is being faithful
to Vatican II—omitting it completely
is actually contrary to what the
Council said. For this reason, Pope Paul VI,
Pope John Paul II, and our current
holy father have all urged maintaining
our Latin heritage.

My intention was to continue using
some Latin hymns and prayer texts
from time to time—nothing drastic.
When we introduce something new,
we will try to explain it and show
where to find it in the hymnal (it’s there!).
Maybe we didn’t do that as well
as we could, I’m sorry.

I hope we can all be broad-minded
and open to our own tradition. As it is,
the only comments I’ve gotten (not many)
are questions, or positive.

Several parishioners have asked,
can we have a whole Mass in Latin?
The answer is yes, I could do that;
no permission necessary. (Of course,
I mean the current rite of the Mass,
not the old rite.) Even then, the readings
and homily would still be in English.

But what to do? I believe a legitimate
request should be accommodated, if possible.
I can’t see refusing these requests
entirely. My thought was periodically
a weekday Mass—maybe once a month—
in Latin. Let me know what you think.
—Father Martin

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Face God's Judgment with hope, not dread (Sunday homily)

As the year comes to an end,
we are reminded the world won’t last forever—
it, too, will have an end.

When he chooses, Jesus will come again;
the dead will rise from their graves,
and all will face Judgment.

In that moment of total clarity,
we will face either heaven, or hell.

The idea of the world

coming to an end is frightening.

But our world has lived over 60 years
in the shadow of atomic weapons;
most of us grew up knowing that
two nations’ leaders could—in minutes—
fire thousands of missiles,
and wipe away everything we know.

That peril has receded, thank God,
but new threats have taken their place.

So it isn’t Scripture that frightens us, but our world!

We know about “tribulation” and “great distress”;
the part we need to hear is,
"They will see 'the Son of Man coming in the clouds'…
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect.”

I said a moment ago

that each us will leave this world,
and we will stand before Jesus Christ.
We will be judged;

and we will enter heaven or hell.

And if that frightens us, may I ask why?

Realize that every one of us,
has the opportunity to be full of hope,
at the coming of Jesus Christ.

This is a paradox, but:
some of those who ought to be frightened,
are those who aren’t frightened at all.
See how that works?

The Lord is calling us to conversion,
so we can “shine brightly…like the stars forever”!

We do that by being people of justice.
Heaven is a place of perfect justice;
and this life is our training-ground,
where we learn to be happy as people of justice.

What is this justice?
It includes remembering the poor,
lifting up the oppressed, defending those in peril.
It requires being as generous in forgiving others,
as God has been generous in forgiving us.

Justice requires room:
we welcome new life, generously, in our families;
as a society, we ought to have room
for the tiny ones at the beginning of life,
and to care for people until they breathe their last.
Room for the disabled, for immigrants and strangers;
for those who have done terrible wrong;
room for absolutely everyone.

Remember, Heaven has plenty of room.
But there will be room for us,
only if we make room, now, for others!

Heaven’s standard is perfection—that’s tough!
That’s why we need Jesus Christ;
that’s why we need his Holy Spirit, every day.

The second reading speaks of the One
who offers a Sacrifice that takes away all sin.

That One is Jesus Christ—

and his Offering is his Cross,
which is also this Mass.
They are one and the same.

If our hearts tell us

we aren’t yet people of true justice;
that we aren’t yet ready for heaven,
that’s the Holy Spirit

calling us to conversion, now,
so we can have a peaceful death,

whenever it comes,
and face God’s Judgment with hope, not dread.

That’s what He wants!
God wants hell empty and heaven full!
It is our deafness, our self-will,

our messed-up priorities, that get in the way.

But there is a Sacrifice that takes away sin;
the Blood of the Sacrifice washes us in Baptism.
In confession, his Blood makes us clean again;
and His Blood is our life-giving food in the Eucharist!

Why should we be afraid?

Friday, November 17, 2006

A day in the life of a parish priest

It's been awhile since I posted on one of my days. Truth is, my days have been pretty hectic for several months. But lately, through the grace of God, things have gotten a little less crazy.

The retired priest in the parish had the school Mass at 8:45, and I had 10 am Mass at the Catholic high school a few miles away -- so that meant the luxury of sleeping a little later today. It was actually my very first Mass at the high school, as I failed to get there all last school year. It was nice seeing many of my own parishioners, and they laughed when I said, at the end of Mass, "See, your pastor will find you!"

After that, I had an appointment with a parishioner, at his home. He wanted a visit, the sacrament of confession, and to take me to lunch. Well, I got back a little early, so I stopped at the grocery store to get shampoo and aspirin; then I went to the man's house. He lost his wife this year, and wanted to tell me about her, so we talked for awhile. I arrived at 11:30, as scheduled; we finally headed out for lunch after 1 pm, and I was late getting back to the parish for a 2 pm meeting of the building and maintenance committee.

Only I went to the wrong location for the meeting: I assumed the meeting was at the parish offices, which is at St. Boniface Parish, but the meeting -- of St. Mary's committee, was at the rectory -- at St. Mary.

There's been so much change for both parishes: the offices combined at one location, the other rectory to be solely a residence for the parochial vicar (who is the former pastor) and me. I chose someone from each parish to spearhead the work on each, and it's gone well. I'm especially proud that the costs for the office consolidation have been minimal -- we may spend a total of $7-8,000, for new computers and phones -- and most of that has been donated already. A lot of work has been done for free, by parishioners.

But along the way, it's so important to keep people informed, and that's why we had the maintenance committee meeting -- they were wondering what was up with the rectory/residence plan.

The rectory at St. Mary needs a fair amount of work: a new roof, work on the chimneys (either tuck-pointed or torn down; we'll keep two, tear down the others), gutters, windows, exterior trim; as well as some new carpeting, some fresh paint, and some new blinds and curtains here and there. And a full bath on the first floor, for the parochial vicar, whose health makes climbing stairs very problematic. Well, it all adds up to over $100,000! The vast majority of that is for the structure and first-floor bathroom; and the amount estimated for interior painting and carpet work will probably go down, because we expect many to volunteer for this work, and carpeting and drapes to be donated.

Well, we went through all that with the building committee, and they were glad to hear the details and very helpful.

I finally got to the office after 3 pm, and had several phone calls to return. Then I got to the task I've been working on for some time: whittling down "The Pile."

People wonder what a pastor does? I'll tell you: I move paper around. A great accomplishment comes when the paper goes into the garbage can! Well, I filled my trashcan twice this week! By the time I left the office tonight, at 6:30, I'd finally gotten through my "to read" pile that was toppling over, and my stack of statements from Merrill Lynch that I haven't opened for over a year. (Yes, diocesan priests have IRAs; we will have to rely on Social Security and a check from our diocese, and we reasonably wonder what will become of either or both. Oh, and by the way: we pay taxes too, pretty steep since we are deemed "self-employed" by the government, so we pay both parts of Social Security. I'm not complaining, but some are under the impression we pay no taxes.)

I was so pleased to see all that stuff dealt with, I finally started arranging my office. This may seem strange, but although I've been here 17 months, I still haven't arranged my office. When I arrived in July, 2005, I knew I'd be taking over a second parish and there was so much going on, I just never gave much thought to what my office looked like; plus, I didn't know if the offices would stay there, or move. Thus I've yet to hang up any of my own pictures, or to finish unpacking several boxes. So this evening, I moved a few things around; it not only looks better, it's more my own office. (I hope by the end of the year to have all the books on the shelves and pictures hung.)

Oh, before I left, I checked the answering machine -- it had been unplugged, which meant the message was wiped out. So I figured out how to do it, and recorded a message. (I just called it to be sure it was working. It is.)

So it was pretty nice getting home as early as 6:30; I've been getting in after 9 pm most nights lately. Thanks to Papa Johns, I was able to order a pizza from my Lazyboy (I did get up to answer the door), and I've enjoyed that, some beer, some surfing and some TV news in the backround.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Supposedly I lack an accent

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Midland

"You have a Midland accent" is just another way of saying "you don't have an accent." You probably are from the Midland (Pennsylvania, southern Ohio, southern Indiana, southern Illinois, and Missouri) but then for all we know you could be from Florida or Charleston or one of those big southern cities like Atlanta or Dallas. You have a good voice for TV and radio.

The Inland North


The South

The Northeast

The West


North Central

What American accent do you have?
Take More Quizzes

I'm not sure this is quite right.

Folks have told me that I say "fire" as one syllable, something like "fyhr"; I guess others enunciate two syllables.

Living in the South -- at least the upper South -- I picked up useful expressions like "y'all" and "mash that button."

Cincinnatians have a slightly twangy way of speaking that northern Ohioans can pick up; those from up near Canada have a slightly nasally way of talking that we from down south can pick up. Then again, you have a very pronounced Appalachian accent that shows up in various parts of Ohio, but I assume is strongly centered in the Southeast?

(Biretta tip: Father Jim Tucker at Dappled Things.)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

What's enough? (Sunday homily)

The readings today give us
a lesson in economics:
God’s economics.

There are many who seem to offer very little—
like the widow in the first reading,
and the other widow, in the Gospel.

In God’s economics, everything is topsy-turvy:
The rich are poor, and the poor are rich.

If we have a lot, by earthly standards,
that is a great blessing—
as is being able to share it with others.

But, looking down from Heaven,
a penny, a dollar, a billion dollars—
what’s the difference to God?

So while you and I see "rich" and "poor,"
we are all poor beggars in God’s eyes.

However, that means
when we bring and give freely
our morsel of faith, it is a splendid gift,
God calls it a treasure!

Yes, we do see "rich" and "poor"—
all the time.
Our community, maybe our family,
isn’t doing well,
and we see others doing better.
We might feel envy.
When you and I look up,
and see someone looking down on us—
well, then we know what it’s like
when we turn around,
and look down on those "below" us!

We have a lot of folks coming to our country
from nations to the south of us.
Some legally, others not.

They speak a foreign language,
have different customs;
we wonder who they are,
and why they aren’t like us?

Remember—in God’s eyes, we are all poor,
all immigrants, seeking something better!
The differences that you and I
find so meaningful?
God shrugs!

God doesn’t care about our differences,
and he doesn’t hold our poverty against us.
But what do you suppose he thinks
when he sees one beggar,
looking at another, saying,
"Who do you think you are?"

Our economics are protective and fearful;
in God’s economics,
a handful of flour is food for a year!

Speaking of a handful of flour,
recall what is sitting back there, on that table:
Bread and wine.
Not that much there, really.

But we bring that bread and wine to the altar.
That’s our widow’s mite—
along with our lives, ourselves.
It’s nothing—but it’s all we have!

And here, God takes that handful of flour,
and a cup of wine—
and his Holy Spirit comes down here,
and turns them into
the greatest Treasure there is!

Nothing becomes everything!
What will we include in that miracle?
Will we offer ourselves—all that we have?

After that happens, we pray as he taught us.
And we say, "Give us this day our daily bread."

Do you realize what that refers to?
Yes, it refers to our ordinary, daily needs—
food and clothing.
But it also refers to the Heavenly Bread,
the Flesh and Blood of God,
offered on this altar!

And here’s why it emphasizes,
"this day," and "daily."
Because like the widow, you and I
aren’t given a full jar;
but rather, just enough, a handful, every day.

We don’t receive Jesus once, and that’s it.
We look for him, every day—
whether in communion at Mass,
or in a visit to our chapel,
or wherever our day takes us.
If we look—we’ll find every day, we have enough!

If you come to communion at this Mass,
whether you receive in your hand, or on your tongue,
with earthly eyes, how little it may seem!

But God gives us to see with heavenly eyes:
And we realize, we are not poor, we are not lacking:
we may have only a little, but in that little,
we have everything!
The Treasure of the world,
the treasure of all treasures:
Jesus Christ!

And He is enough!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Post-Election: Bush moves left

In his press conference Wednesday, President signaled he'll move left to work with the Democrats. No surprise there. Clinton did the same. It shows something I keep pointing out, people don't believe: that Congress is the center of power in the federal government.

While things can change in many ways, this doesn't bode well -- and it further discredits all my friends who argued so passionately, back in 2000, that Bush was really a conservative.

So what will this mean? Well, Bush said Wednesday he'd support a minimum-wage hike; again, no surprise, his dad did the same. He also said something vague about entitlements. That could mean a lot of things, none of them good.

The big question will be what the GOP in Congress does now.

I tend to think they will feel more free to part company with Bush than they did with Reagan, in his last two years. After all, they hope to be around after the next election, and many of them are now, in some ways, more endangered, than before: they now will be put on the defensive by Democrats trying to make them cast votes they don't want to, and they now lack the argument, they could make before Tuesday: "I'm part of the majority, and that's good for my district/state." In the House, the GOP will not, now, be able to force the votes on issues that work for them.

On the other hand, I'll be very interested to see the ways the Democrats themselves force some useful votes. Will they have any abortion-related votes? They won't, of course, allow any prolife legislation to reach the House floor, although it's just possible to get something marginable to the floor -- hence, why do it? My guess is the vote will be on tax-funding of abortions. It seems likely to me the present policy will stay in place; the Democrats know the status quo is safest for them, and tax-funding of abortion isn't good for them -- and, they'd probably lose on that in both houses (I mean in the new Congress).

The GOP will be well able to force votes in the Senate, if they want to. Watch for someone like Tom Coburn and maybe some others to step forward now and become great advocates for various conservative-mobilizing issues. Coburn, in particular, has already hoisted the colors.

The House GOP will have a much harder time, but that doesn't mean they won't still get issues because of what the Democrats do. But they may have to work very hard to highlight the issues they need to.

It occurs to me that while the GOP could take back the Senate in two years, the House may take a little longer. This will scare some, but it may be the best bet for the GOP to take back both houses would be after two years of another Democratic president; by the same token, if the next president is Republican, we may have a Democratic Congress for awhile -- and that combination is the second-worst outcome (the worst is Democrats controlling everything).

This may seem less optimistic than my last post. My point then was to throw cold water on the fevered predictions of disaster. I still think that's true. These election results, by themselves, don't mean all that much bad policy over and above what we've had already.

Rich Leonardi, commenting on my last post, wondered darkly about what this election bodes for the wider world crisis. While I have no idea, never underestimate the swiftness with which politicians will transform themselves into whatever they have to. I.e., if the Democrats ended up being ultra-hawks, it wouldn't surprise me in the least. Why would they do that? If they see the same threat that Bush -- and more importantly -- the American people -- might well see in the near future.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Post-Election: Don't Panic

There was a lot of bad news last night, but if you're prolife, and/or conservative, and/or for limited government, it's not as bad as you might think.

One of the headlines I saw said something like: GOP conceded the middle -- uh, um, what?

It was the "middle" GOP'ers who went down in flames last night: DeWine, Chafee (actually a leftie, but by conventional wisdom, in the middle), Talent, and a bunch of House members. Yes, even Santorum -- while he was outspoken against abortion and on cultural issues, he was--like Dewine and others -- lousy on spending.

Meanwhile, many of the Democrats who won, or who were leading, were "conservatives" in their party. Look at Webb in Virginia, Tester who is leading in Montana (although Burns may pull it out); also, look at Ford who narrowly lost in Tennessee.

Many are trumpeting the defeat of the abortion ban in South Dakota. I note that it got something like 45% of the vote! And referenda are such a lousy way to govern--if I could, I'd get into the wayback machine to go back in time and somehow prevent the proliferation of the referendum. What a disaster this has been, and is, and will be, for our country. California is a wreck in large measure because of it.

In any case, it is certain the Democrats will control the House, and likely they will control the Senate. That will mean fits for the White House, and there will be a great deal of triumphalism on the part of the media and the left wing, and premature defeatism for many on the right.

Don't be fooled by the manipulative rhetoric of the past few weeks -- all those who, in order to get your vote, predicted the apocalypse if the Dems took power. Note: the GOP had majorities in both houses, and a President, and look how much of their promised agenda never happened (one of the reasons many GOP voters were miffed). Our system is much more complicated than people realize, and there are lots of ways to derail things. The Democrats will generate lots of activity, and they will pass some stuff, but they can't pass anything significant unless the GOP and the White House lay down (which they might -- they managed to pass bad stuff on their own, which helped cost them control).

Look, I'm sorry the President is going to have a miserable time for two years being investigated and subpoenaed and hassled by the newly empowered Democrats on Capitol Hill. But, (a), he brought it on himself and (b), life's tough. Also, however miserable that experience may prove to be for Bush, his folks, GOP partisans, and many others -- it also will prove effective in mobilizing opposition to the same. Reaction-counter-reaction.

Here in Ohio, Ken Blackwell went down to defeat in his race for governor. I feel bad about that, partly because I think he was the better candidate; partly because I wonder why his campaign was so ineffective; partly because of the injustice of it -- he wasn't really part of the Taft-Big Government-govern like a liberal crowd that went down to spectacular defeat yesterday. The Taft-DeWine-Voinovich crowd finally let Blackwell have the helm right after they ran the ship into the iceberg, after ignoring for years the warning, "iceberg ahead!"

Our new governor, Ted Strickland . . . well God bless him and good luck. He seems to have won on the platform of, "I'm not Taft; I'm an honest and pleasant person--oh, and I did I mention I'm a minister?" The big issue clearly is the economy and jobs and I fail to see what he is going to do meaningfully about that. His plan, as far as I can tell, is to continue increasing government spending, only to shift it around some, to create "incentives." Weak tea. Ohio and Michigan are deserts of job-creation in the midst of a nation going wild creating jobs. It's been that way for quite awhile. The only sensible solution is to look at what makes Ohio an unwelcoming climate for business- and job-creation, and fix it.

If the national recovery continues, the situation in Ohio almost--almost--has to get better eventually; perhaps that will enable our new governor to seem successful.

There's actually an opportunity now, for the Republicans in the legislature, to do with Strickland what the national GOP did, for awhile, under Clinton: push their agenda, and give Strickland the choice of jumping on-board, or being on the wrong side. As far as spending and size of government, the best years we had, nationally, were the first few years of GOP control of Congress, under Clinton.

Meanwhile, we have the tragi-comedy of Brown over Dewine (is that a capital W or not?). Sherrod Brown decided it was time for the reincarnation of Howard Metzenbaum, and he couldn't have found a more perfect foil than sad-sack Mike DeWine. (I voted for him, by the way.) Brown struck me as a not-very-bright bellower of class-warfare rhetoric--he'll do just fine in the Senate, but it won't do Ohio much good. One silver lining is I rather doubt he'll have the energy and determination that Metzenbaum had -- for all his faults, one of the most effective advocates in the Senate in many decades. I suspect he'll continue spouting nonsense, posturing as the "friend of the little guy," just what we need.

Elections come and go--life goes on. There are few, if any, permanent victories or defeats. There are certain principles and values worth fighting for, and they remain. I haven't looked closely, but my guess is that the issues I care about didn't fair too badly last night -- many of the GOP'ers who went down to defeat were no good on the things I and many likeminded folks care about.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

The frame and the purpose of life (Sunday homily)

Have you ever helped build a house or a garage?

During the past few months,

I’ve watched my neighbor,
over on Wood Street, build a new garage.

His previous garage leaned way over:

it had a bad frame!
So, he knocked it down to build a new one.
A few months ago, he had almost finished the frame,
when we got a strong windstorm
that knocked part of it down. He had to fix it.
He knew that frame had to be solid and straight.

When it comes to our lives,
the frame that holds everything straight
is that first commandment: Love God.

Some think they don’t have time to do that.

Ten minutes a day:

five at the start, five at the end.
If you do that, I predict you’ll see
those few minutes hold everything else together.
Same thing with Sunday Mass, week-to-week:
it’s a frame that supports everything else.

A building not only needs a frame—
It has a purpose.
And the second commandment,

“Love your neighbor,”
is what gives purpose to our lives.
They go together.

Watch what happens when you pull them apart.
Look the terrorists: they’re all about honoring God—
But they consider people expendable!

And if we try to love our neighbor, without God?
It always turns into manipulation,

control, and oppression.

At the most extreme, we think of
Communism, Nazism, and Racism—
all in the name of “the people.”

But what about when we get caught up in a cause—
a political campaign, a union,
some environmental or ideological effort—
and we’re going to save the world.

Notice, if we forget to keep God first,
how easily people become a means to an end.

Here’s an example straight from the headlines:
Stem-cell research.

Everyone is for research that saves lives.
The problem arises when it destroys human life.
Now, you’ve been led to believe we can’t do this research
without destroying embryos—but that is not true!

Did you know there are two kinds of this research:
one that destroys human life, and another that does not?

And did you further know the stem-cell research
that does not destroy human life
is the only one that’s produced results?

The research that respects God’s law, is working;

meanwhile, the version that defies God’s law,
is having problems. Isn’t that interesting?

Notice what the advocates keep saying:
Don’t bring God into it—we just want to help people!
But by leaving God out,
the result is destruction of human life.

I would be remiss if I did not point out
how we got into this mess.

These embryos come from “fertility clinics,”
where human life is created,
outside of human acts of love.

When this business of “test-tube babies” got started,
the Church said, this is gravely sinful;
a child is a gift, and every child has the right
to be conceived in a human relationship, by parents—
not in a dish, by a technician.
That was not popular.
Not being able to conceive is extremely painful
and it seemed the Church didn’t care.

But Pope John Paul predicted this would lead
to the manipulation of human life.
Here’s what he said, 20 years ago:

Before long,

“the researcher will usurp the place of God…
as the master of the destiny of others…”
Reducing human life to it’s worth
as a “pure and simple instrument
for the advantage of others.”

That is precisely where we have come.

When we separate love of neighbor from love of God,
it will always go sour.

Better to listen to Jesus: Do both.

Pope Benedict recently pointed out,
If I have no contact with God in my life,
how can I see the image of God in other people?
I can’t!

Likewise, only when “I serve my neighbor
can my eyes be opened to what God does for me
and how much he loves me.”

The frame that keeps our life upright
is the first commandment: love God;
We find purpose and meaning in our lives,
By keeping the second commandment: love your neighbor.

I suspect most of us would admit we are good at one,
or the other, of the commandments.
This week, whichever one you’re not so good at—
why not try to work on that, a little more?

The man in the Gospel came to Jesus.
The Lord not only gave him the answer he sought,
he was ready to help him all the way.
He said, you’re not far from the Kingdom!
All he had to do was stay with Jesus—and he was there!

It’s the same for us!
Let him speak to your heart; let him be in charge—
And you and I will also hear,
“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

Thursday, November 02, 2006

One last stage of our journey (All Souls homily)

We believe, as Catholics, that after death we have one last stage of our journey. If we leave this life a friend of God, we pass through a purification we call “purgatory.”

Now, some people don’t believe in purgatory. But as C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Don’t our souls demand purgatory?” We can’t make ourselves fit for heaven; don’t we want God to make us fit for such a place? Also, sometimes we speak loosely of people going to heaven as if it were automatic. But if were really that easy, why did Jesus die?

The truth is, sin is a serious roadblock. Without God’s help—and those are the key words, “without God’s help”—sin would doom us. We need only look at the newspaper and see sin is serious business. Or think of our experience as Catholics in recent years, and of how the sins of a few have harmed us all, to realize that sin is serious business.

And it’s only when we see just how deep the problem is, that we realize how awesome the remedy is: God became man and died for us; Christ washes away our sins in his blood; and with his gift of the Holy Spirit, Christ gives us the power to change and leave sin behind.

God’s great project: of saving us, reclaiming us, restoring us and making us truly glorious, is a life-time project. Isn’t that Good News? You didn’t miss your chance! Maybe, when we die, the work will be totally done—anybody think that’s you? No need to raise your hands! Then you’ll have already had our purgatory. (No looking around now at anyone!) Or, if—all through life—we shut God out, Purgatory will be no use to us—we will have already rejected heaven and chosen hell.

But if we leave this world a friend of God, whose life still “a work in progress”—sort of like I-75—Purgatory is God’s last work of mercy, purifying us like gold in the furnace, to shine with the purity of Christ’s light.

That’s why we pray for the dead.

What is purgatory like? Does it last years, months, or the twinkling of God’s eye? That’s more than our mind can understand. What we do know is that no prayer goes unheard; and God never refuses to be merciful. The psalm we sang describes our journey: the Lord is our shepherd every step of the way. The path does take us through the valley of death, and many people we love have gone there ahead of us. Those ahead of us pray for us, and we pray for them, that we may all arrive safe at home.

And when we gather here, at the Table of the Lord, somehow, beyond time and beyond the boundaries of life and death, we are joined to those ahead of us. We and they are present together, and it is this Table the Lord spreads for us, his own Body and Blood, that unites us.
Beyond this life, beyond death, beyond sorrow, beyond fear, beyond time and beyond our knowing, we are united in the Shepherd who never leaves us.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What did you hear (and smell)?

At my parish, I offered Mass two different ways for this Solemnity.

Last night, and this morning with the schoolchildren, we had all the "goodies" -- lots of music, incense, and chanting. Last night, I chanted the entire Eucharistic Prayer (Roman Canon, with all the saints of course!); today, I chanted the central part only.

For those interested, here is some of the music we had:

Opening: Litany of the Saints (traditional mode)
Preparation: "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones."
Closing: "For all the Saints."

Now, here I am opening myself up for critique from liturgy experts (actual or self-appointed)...

In using the incense, I did something a little different. At the opening, instead of beginning the procession from the door of the church, I began it from the baptismal font, and went around the perimeter of the church, to the sanctuary.

Why did I do this, you may ask? Two reasons: first, to call attention to baptism (and to that end, I also used a sprinkling rite), and also, so that I could, in walking past the stained-glass windows, incense each of the images of saints.

Now, where did I get that idea?

Well, one of the options, for a saint's day, is to incense the image of the saint of the day. So, why not incense each saint's image on All Saints?

It worked pretty well--I did a single double-swing, which is less than I'm supposed to (triple-double for a saint, if I recall correctly), so maybe you can ding me for that. It didn't take all that long; when I finished by incensing the crucifix, we were completing the Litany. Also, everyone was watching what I was doing. In my homily, I explained it.

Oh, the other way I offered Mass was at 7 am. Very little music, I used Eucharistic Prayer II, a shorter homily, but nothing essential omitted: 35 minutes. Many say they really don't care for a "singy" Mass, but prefer a quieter one--plus it was a workday. So I decided, "something for everyone."