Sunday, March 30, 2008

'Exactly when did God owe any of us forgiveness?' (Divine Mercy Sunday)

Throughout the world,
The Church today celebrates “Divine Mercy Sunday.”
How fitting!

Our readings are full of mercy.
In the Gospel, we see the Lord institute
the sacrament of reconciliation,
which makes as clean as when we were baptized.
We hear how the Lord was so eager
to revive Thomas’s faith.

Also, on this Sunday, you see an image of Divine Mercy,

and perhaps you have heard of the Divine Mercy prayer.
If you aren’t familiar with this, let me tell you about it.

In the 1930s, Sister Faustina, a Polish nun,
was deep in prayer when she saw the Lord Jesus
clothed in a white garment.

One hand was raised in blessing, the other was touching his chest.
From his side, she tells us, “there came forth two large rays,
one red and the other pale.”

She writes, “After a while Jesus said to me,
'paint an image according to the pattern you see,
with the inscription: Jesus, I trust in You.'"
The Lord told Faustina,
“These issued forth from the depths
of my most tender Mercy at that time
when my agonizing Heart
was opened by a lance on the Cross....
Fortunate is the one who will dwell in their shelter,
for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him."

And it was Jesus who taught Sister Faustina
about the “Chaplet of Divine Mercy.”

If you don’t know how to do it, it’s simple.
Use ordinary Rosary beads;
say an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and the Apostles Creed—
similar to how we begin the Rosary.

Then on the large beads say the following words:
“Eternal Father, I offer you,
the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
in atonement for our sins, and those of the whole world.”

On the smaller beads say,
“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion
have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Our Lord told St. Faustina: "Say this chaplet unceasingly.
Even the most hardened sinner,
if he recites this Chaplet even once,
will receive grace from My Infinite Mercy.

At 3 pm today, we’ll have Exposition of the Eucharist
at Saint Mary, and we’ll pray the Chaplet together.
Other parishes are having more solemn celebrations,
see the bulletin about that.
There is a plenary indulgence that goes with this,
including going to confession—
if you didn’t get to confession yesterday,
you can go later this week.

It was Pope John Paul, of happy memory,
who instituted this Feast, to emphasize that
“Divine Mercy” is what Jesus is all about.

It’s what Good Friday and the Cross—
which become present for us in every Mass—
are all about.

If we have committed mortal sin, we go to confession:
I tell people, when they see the priest
extend his hands over their heads,
it’s like a shower-head raining down the Mercy of Christ.
When we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus,
that’s Mercy from the very Source!

But there’s one thing more, or else it doesn’t work.
Mercy isn’t just something we get—
Mercy is what we are commanded to share.
That’s what we heard in the first reading,
How the early Christians lived their lives.

Sometimes forgiving others is hard.
But haven’t we been forgiven?
Have we not been given Mercy?
If we think we had it coming, then that’s not mercy;
when your boss gives you your pay envelope,
that’s not a gift—he owed you that.
Exactly when did God owe any of us forgiveness?

So if we accept the Mercy we didn’t deserve,
why do we begrudge mercy to others?
Of course they don’t deserve it—that’s what Mercy is!

What’s truly shocking is how abundantly
Jesus pours out Mercy for everyone,
and yet too few truly accept it and are changed by it.

Every confession is a bath of Mercy;
every Mass is a feast of Mercy…
why should I have to beg or push anyone to come?

As our Lord told St. Faustina:
“I want the whole world to know My Infinite Mercy.
I want to give unimaginable graces to those who trust in My Mercy...."

You and I, as his followers, are not ashamed to admit,
“We received Mercy…
and that same Mercy, we invite you to share.”

Saturday, March 29, 2008

IBNTYP&PM Week nears end...

In addition to the Octave of Easter, this is (unofficially) 'International Be Nice to your Pastor and Parish Musician Week'--or at least, so it is within the boundaries of my two parishes.

As readers of my blog know, it's not just Holy Week that is tiring, it's the capstone of many weeks of heavy activity, much of which is not related to the liturgical season; by the same token, the busy-ness doesn't really slow down much after Easter, it continues until school lets out. That's because we have nicer weather, so events that might otherwise have been spread out through January and February are bunched up here; the school year is wrapping up, hurry hurry to finish!; we have confirmations and first communions, and all that goes with them; plus matters of parish business, such as festivals to gear up for.

And let me repeat; I think it's worse on the parish staff, especially the musicians; at least, in my case, because I had other priests to help with priestly duties, but our music director carries more of his duties on his back--plus a family to care for.

Anyway, this was a good week for me; Monday was a fine day of rest after Easter, and I have enjoyed praying in the Easter "mode" this week, whether at Mass or the hours; getting back to the office on Tuesday, I was more productive than I thought, and had more energy than I expected, although I've been sleepier in the evenings than usual. "The Pile" is significantly smaller; many projects seem to be progressing.

I had a wonderful experience on Thursday. Lehman Catholic High School had a "job shadowing day" for one of its classes, and one of the young men contacted me about shadowing me! So he met me for 8 am Mass, and he stuck by me all day, including breakfast at my desk, several hours in my office as I answered phone calls, met with staff and dealt with various matters, which I explained to him as I went along.

Then we dashed over to the school and visited a couple of classrooms, then back for a staff meeting, then to the hospital to visit the sick; we finished around 5:30 and we stopped to eat at the hospital cafeteria, so he could ask me questions, especially about the hospital visits (in case you are wondering, each patient was asked, before the young man came in, if they were okay with it; if anyone had shown the slightest hesitation, I would have had him wait outside, but no one did). He was going to join me for the pastoral council meeting at 7, but he had homework, and I didn't think that was necessary.

Along the way, I described some of the other things that he hadn't experienced, and tried to show how some of the more tedious and less exciting parts have meaning to the whole.

Well, now it's approaching 3 pm, I have Mass shortly, then two baptisms, then the boy scouts' spagetti dinner, then home. And I feel great!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Something New (Easter Homily)

My message today could be summed up as,
“Something old, and something new.”

The two women in the Gospel saw Jesus suffer and die.
Cruel and unjust deaths aren’t new; not then, not now.
The women in the Gospel return to finish the burial rites
they’d started on Friday evening. Nothing new in that.

Angels showing up? That’s pretty special; but even that isn’t new.

A dead body disappears with no natural explanation?
That is something new.
A dead man come back to life—
Not to the previous life, but life on a whole new level.
That is something new.

Jesus came out of that grave, not a ghost,
but a flesh-and-blood body that would never die again.
We know his body had remarkable properties:
They didn’t always recognize him;
He passed through locked doors;
And yet he still bore his wounds;
And, he still ate ordinary food with them.

We don’t know how to describe this new life;
But maybe we don’t have to.
Jesus came back and showed it to us.

This “something new” is what all this is about:
our faith, our rituals, our prayers,
going to Mass each Sunday,
the laws God gave us to live by,
the sacraments that sanctify our beginning, our ending,
and everything in between.

It all only has meaning if something new really happened that first Easter:
Something people like us witnessed,
Didn’t always believe at first, but they came around,
And finally they died rather than deny it:

But there’s still something else.

You and I don’t build a faith,
and we don’t die for that faith,
because something wonderful and new
happened for someone else!

This all makes sense
only if that something new is for us, too!

You and I live in the brilliant light
of this “something new,” resurrection life.
It’s the light of a new creation: not all can see it,
but when we live in that light,
everything looks very different.
That’s why we Christians live by different values—
we don’t live the way our world around us does.

And Resurrection isn’t just a promise for the future.
Resurrected life, life made new,
has broken into our world.
That happened when he came out of the tomb,
then 50 days later, he poured out his Holy Spirit,
and a beach-head of heaven was established on earth.

That’s us, brothers and sisters:
we’re the “something new”:
“The Church,” the Body of Christ, that’s us.

That we face pain, and our bodies die,
That’s something old.
That our world suffers because of human sin,
that’s old—and all too familiar.

But that all that can go to the cross—
that all that can go down into the waters of baptism,
and we are born again, with eternity in view…
that Christ takes our death, and makes it life!
That’s new, brothers and sisters, that’s new!

Christ takes the bread of human sorrow
and the wine of human hope—and he takes us—
and he breathes his Spirit on us,
and we become new…we become Him!
We’re the “what’s new,” and we’re the world’s hope!

This something new is still new after 2,000 years!
The world still needs hope…more than ever—because so many think hope
is either a false promise or a political platform.
It is neither; hope is what Jesus Christ gave us,
And we, in turn, offer it to the world:
you can be made clean—you can be made new!

You’ve heard the Message.
Through Lent and this Mass, we’ve told the Story;
For most, it’s a re-telling; for some, it’s brand-new.

But now we’ve heard.
In a moment, I’ll ask you: Do you believe?
Will you take his Body and Blood,
Not only his Life for you, but your life for him?
Do you believe that much?

Then, when Mass is ended, and we go…
we’re the Message—we’re the Hope—
We’re the Something New.
The world needs us. Do you believe?

Tremendous Triduum

Well, I'm going to brag about my two parishes a little, as I unwind after the Vigil Mass, with a snack and beer.

I already described the Holy Thursday Mass, and the night watch the Knights of Columbus kept. Good Friday began with morning prayer, confessions, which were many, until around 11:30. We had the Stations at 12:15, then Mid-day Prayer ("Sext") at 1 pm, then the Solemn Liturgy began at 2 pm. Since Mid-day Prayer was brief, and I'd already rehearsed the servers, I ducked back into the confessional--if I went over to the house, I'd just want to eat, anyway. A surprising number came, considering it wasn't scheduled. I told several that they might reflect on the providence of their making a confession at that moment; I might well not have had time to come back, they might not have had the opportunity. So they had experienced a moment of grace, something to consider.

Since we have only one Holy Thursday Mass for two parishes, but a Good Friday liturgy at both, one in the day, one in the evening, we have the challenge of how to share the Eucharist with both parishes. So last year, I hit upon the solution of having someone drive me, with the Eucharist, from St. Mary to St. Boniface. So we did that, following the Divine Mercy chaplet, and my marathon Good Friday was finished at around 4 pm.

But back to the liturgy of Good Friday: it was beautiful! The choir was so good, and they sang the Reproaches during the veneration of the Cross, which I found very moving.

Then we gathered again, for Holy Saturday Morning Prayer, this for the candidates for holy communion and the catechumens, after which we have a rehearsal for the Vigil--which was brief, I've decided there's not much point in going through things too much, folks just worry. I just call folks forward and I get them through it. It worked fine.

After that, rehearsal for the servers--that took time, and God bless our corps of servers for the Vigil, they worked hard, what with all the processions, candle-lighting, helping with sacraments, etc.

After that, began the marathon of getting the church ready. Lots of candles to put out, getting everything set right for the baptisms and confirmations, etc. I finally got my homily together around 4 pm, this time one for the whole weekend--in years' past, I did a different one for the Vigil, but not this year.

Vigil began at 8:30 pm or thereabouts, and it was a bit windy, so we had some trouble with the Easter Candle. Once again, I left on my mic during my commentary, so everyone in church heard me say, "try it this way" and "anyone have a lighter?" We got it going, and we were off to the races.

Father Tom carried the Easter Candle and sang the Exsultet, which is really something considering he was deathly sick last year, Deo gratias! We proclaimed all the readings and you know what? The sky did not fall. I did warn people it would be long, and we had a good crowd, I'd say 250-300. The readers and cantors did really well. Lighting the candles around the altar during the Gloria took too long, but that's my fault--lots of candles!

We had, I think, 11 baptisms, from very young to adults, and then even more confirmations. That took awhile; we are thinking that, for those who aren't to be baptized, but confirmed and/or received into the Church, we will do that at another time.

The choir did well, sang beautifully, as did all God's People, and if I do say so myself, St. Boniface was beautiful. If I can, I'll get a picture up, I had someone take pictures.

We wrapped up around 11:20, so a little short of three hours. A little cleanup afterward, and then home; the sisters invited me over for a bit of wine, but I told them I had a house guest named "Sam Adams"; they didn't get the joke, they aren't beer-drinkers I guess.

Next Mass is 9 am--after this, that's a breeze!

The Lord is risen! Alleluia!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Can man be saved? (Good Friday homily)

With the exception
of Easter Sunday,

this is the day of all days.
This is the day we must face—
must look at something
truly horrible:

Look at it!
We see the Cross,
and we ask “Why?”

Be very clear:

No one made Jesus do this.
The Father did not make
his Son do this.

Before time, the Father,
Son and Holy Spirit knew
man would sin.

God saw it all, from the smutty little sins that twist us—our vanities, our lusts, our self-importance, our wrath, our gluttony, our indifference--to the unimaginable horrors men visit on each other, from Cain and Abel, to Hitler and Mao, to Rwanda and in our own country, abortion. God saw it all…and He chose to go ahead with the world and us; he chose to become one of us; God-with-us.
Was there no other way but the Cross? Of course there was. God is God. God chose this way.
Remember—God didn’t invent the Cross—we did. Had God never become man, humanity would still have faced a cross, but now alone; and it would have been all death with no life.

St. Thomas tells us the Cross was “too much”:
“Any suffering of his, however slight,
was enough to redeem the human race…”
The Cross is God’s exclamation mark
on the sheer extravagance of his mercy.
What could be more extreme in generosity
than to give the maximum
when the barest minimum was already generous?

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:
I tell you that if God had not come down …
and given us the supreme example of sacrifice,
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers,
men and women of countless ages,
to do something greater, it would seem,
than God himself could do, namely,
lay down their lives for a friend.

Why the Cross?
Consider an amazing image
from our late Holy Father,
Pope John Paul the Great:
God came to earth—
so man could put God on trial—
so that man could forgive God.

Our late pope asked,
"Could God have justified himself
before human history, so full of suffering,
without placing Christ’s Cross
at the center of that history?
"Obviously, one response could be
that God does not need to justify himself to man.
It is enough that he is omnipotent.
From this perspective everything he does
or allows must be accepted.

"But God, who besides being Omnipotence
is Wisdom and—to repeat once again—Love,
desires to justify himself to mankind.
"He is not the Absolute that remains outside
of the world, indifferent to human suffering.
He is Emmanuel, God-with-us,
a God who shares man’s lot
and participates in his destiny.
"The crucified Christ is
proof of God’s solidarity
with man in his suffering."

We blame God—God does not argue.
He comes to us—offers himself for trial.
Pilate presides—
and we are all in that court as jury.
We found him guilty—
and sentenced him to death.
The price is paid. God himself atones.
God and man are reconciled.
We see the horror of the Cross;
we see the horror of human evil;
and we wonder—can man be saved?

The Cross is our answer.
It is God saying “Yes.”

One of the Most beautiful Masses...

Last night I had the Mass of the Lord's Supper for the first time at St. Mary Church. All told, it was one of the most beautiful Masses I've ever had the privilege to be part of.

Father Tom concelebrated; Father Ang was a little under the weather, it was the first Holy Thursday Mass he's missed in his priesthood. The choir was in excellent voice, as was the assembly.

We had, of course, everything that makes a Mass more beautiful. We had eight servers, a mixture of adults and children; some wondered why I wanted so many, but with so many jobs to do, it makes it easier for the servers, and several commented after that it added a great deal.

The church was simply decorated, but very nice with plenty of candles, especially on either side of the tabernacle which--although empty--would be the place of repose. We had some discussion about having another site in church for the Eucharist after Mass, but there aren't many options.

The music was truly splendid. Perhaps if my music director shows up, he can post all the choices: "Lift High the Cross" for the opening hymn, the Gloria was sung-through by the choir, although people did sing along, a simple, strong chant of the psalm.

Father Tom gave an astonishingly good homily, talking about what was wonderful about the first Holy Thursday, and went went terribly wrong, one of which was that the disciples jockeyed for power with each other--and so it has always been in the Church, we still struggle with that. He said this is why it is imperative that the pastor, the priest, washes the feet of disciples, that he not delegate that to anyone.

After that, Father Tom and I stripped off our chasubles, and each assisted by two servers, we washed the feet of eleven parishioners (one did not make it, no intentional symbolism here). It was simple, elegant and for me as a priest, very meaningful. I think we sang "Where charity and love prevail--or that may have been the offertory hymn, or the communion hymn? Nothing was rushed, yet nothing dragged, either.

I was so happy with the servers, they executed everything just right, including lining up in front of the altar--four candle-bearers, thurifer and someone to hold the incense boat. All knelt at the end of the Sanctus, and during the Roman Canon, everything was just right. I would have chanted the Eucharistic Prayer, but that makes it hard on the concelebrant, so as a courtesy I did not. We sang "Lord, by your cross and resurrection..." as the mysterium fidei, beautiful. All the saints in the Canon, but I did mess up one of the special inserts, that pertain to the day, that are part of the Roman Canon. No one knew but Father tom and I.

The choir sang a beautiful Ave Verum during communion, then after a bit of silence, we had the procession, with Pange Lingua, and we processed with the Lord around the church, back to the tabernacle, and then all departed in silence (well, not all; some were talking in church afterward, which irked me greatly, but they soon quieted down). Many of both parishes stayed for quite awhile, and the Knights of Columbus had their all night vigil in church, until 6 am. I came over around midnight to put out most of the candles and to turn down some lights, then before Morning Prayer today, the music director and I finished taking away all the stuff from the sanctuary that needs to be gone for Good Friday--candles, flowers (around the tabernacle), etc.

It was so beautiful a Mass I wanted more, and I really think many present did as well. No one seemed to want it to end.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The lengthening shadows fall...

Soon night will fall, and we begin the Triduum, the sacred three days.

I have a moment's respite--I just left the school cafeteria, where we had the annual dinner for area priests, with lamb, ham, beans, potatoes, rolls, salad, dessert, assortment of fruit, wine and coffee.

Several parishioners graciously put it all together, and it's wonderful. The priests have to eat and run, as they all have Mass somewhere, but it's a good time. I was just chatting with the parishioners, we were divvying up the leftovers, I always like to plan for that, both for myself, but also for the helpers, and of course, that means if extra priests show up, no problem.

As you can imagine, and as I've written enough about, it's busy. With two parishes, each church has to be prepared for Good Friday. With one pastor, it is both appropriate theologically I think--and in any case practical--that we have only one Mass of the Lord's Supper for both parishes, and one Easter Vigil. Each year they alternate. Both churches must be prepared, but one can be prepared for Good Friday early, since there's no Holy Thursday liturgy there. That's what I was doing this AM. Plus I had parish business to attend to--I was signing checks at one point, lots of that to do.

Down to the hospital this afternoon, after I checked on the volunteers preparing the dinner. Then "None"--i.e., mid-afternoon prayer--with the priests, followed by snacks, drinks and dinner. Oh, and earlier, I had to run to the store to pick up some last minute supplies, including wine, beer, soft drinks and a few other items. I found myself wondering if that's what one or more of the Apostles did, on the afternoon when they had that first Supper-beginning of the Holy Mass with the Lord?

Yes, I'm a bit tired, but less so than I was earlier this week. It's not the liturgies themselves, so much--it's all that leads up to it. But what a privilege to be a priest, to celebrate and experience these sacred mysteries?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

'His Blood be upon us' (Palm Sunday homily)

Every year on Palm Sunday, we hear two Gospel passages.

We hear the crowd greet Jesus with joy;
We hear the same crowd—a few days later—
Cry for his blood.

You and I are that crowd.

Why did this happen?
Do NOT say the Father
made his Son do this.

God could have saved us any way he wanted.

This is what the Son chose to do.
He chose it before time began;
And he chose it again
The night before he died.

Jesus chose this.

Archbishop Fulton Sheen said this:

“I tell you that if God had not come down
…and given us the supreme example of sacrifice,
then it would be possible for fathers and mothers,
men and women of countless ages,
to do something greater, it would seem,
than God himself could do,
namely, lay down their lives for a friend.”
We heard those words:
Let “his blood be upon us and upon our children.”

It is a frightening thing to say, isn’t it?

But wait…
His blood washes away our sins!
His Blood is poured out at every Mass as our Eucharist;

His Blood is our Life.

These aren’t words of fear,
But a prayer full of hope:
Pour out your Blood on us, Jesus!
“His Blood be upon us and upon our children.”
Thank you Jesus!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

What makes this time of year busy?


Everyone pretty much knows this is a busy time of year for priests; many may not know it's also very busy for a lot of other people who are involved with parishes, or why:

> Of course, the obvious: Lent involves more activity, with more times of prayer to organize and lead, such as stations of the cross.

> Activities connected to the final preparation of those to be baptized, confirmed and to receive their first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, including a retreat (today), which I won't make it over to, but our Vicar will.

> Many confessions with penance services here and there, and confessions for schoolchildren (for our grades 2-8, three priests needed about 5 hours over two successive Thursdays. We do this every other month. I wish we could do it every month, but this is very difficult to do).

> Preparing and planning the special liturgies for Holy Week, including rehearsals for servers and others, lining up help--many servers travel, so they aren't available--and making sure all supplies are stocked up ("where are the candles for the Vigil?").

> The music director and choirs have a LOT of work, first in preparing, then in executing, a lot of music that takes work to make beautiful.

> The staff has lots of work getting stuff together for all this.

> Meanwhile, there are things like Fish Fries; St. Mary Parish is having a pancake breakfast tomorrow with a Ministry Fair (rescheduled from last Sunday).

> As the school year winds down, it's necessary to prepare a budget for the coming year, and adopt it, which determines tuition costs--and it's necessary to get financial aid forms ready for parents...all this has to be coordinated and prepared and made available.

> The school budget can't be adopted without reference to the parish budget, since the parish subsidizes the school, and I have to know how much the two parishes can afford to give the school. Thankfully I don't have to prepare the school budget--but I do have to get the school and parish finance councils all together.

> And, like a crazy man, I have still other projects I'm working on: starting up a Stewardship Commission, recruiting more for a prolife committee, several fundraising projects for one parish, a dinner for area priests on Holy Thursday, a dinner in May for area, non-Catholic clergy, and Corpus Christi Weekend with 40 Hours and a Procession (This will actually take place May 16-18, a week prior, due to Memorial Day).

Oh, and all the usual business and activity of the parish, and all the usual forms of ministry, continue.

I'm not complaining, lots of people are working hard, including the parish staff and many volunteers. But yes, I am tired. Right now, I'm "busy" sitting here watching a bit of basketball, and in a moment I'll get something for lunch. I don't mind being busy, but I do need to take a pause this afternoon, because tomorrow will involve a lot of activity, not just Masses, but the Ministry Fair, and checking in with the confirmation group, where I'll interview those preparing, and then I'll visit with the high school youth group after that.

But you know what? As indicated, I do keep starting projects. It would be easier to let things go along on auto-pilot, do the minimum, but not very fulfilling.

Oh, and today at 8 am, we had Mass for St. Joseph--not much music (since there was no way I was making our music director come out for this, he's working very hard), but we did chant a number of the prayers; I still did incense, so it was silent, but is that bad? Then at 9 am, confession at the other parish--I backed up the vicar as he heard confessions, then did some things to get St. Boniface ready for the weekend; then breakfast, then quickly wrote a short homily for Sunday (my Palm Sunday homily tends to be about the same every year), then two baptisms (I love making new saints!) back at St. Mary, then got a few things ready here for Palm Sunday, then back here for a bit of lunch, do some laundry, then back for more confessions, then check in with the Knights tonight for their St. Patrick's Day Party.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

What's the point? (5th Sunday of Lent)

There is a question we may not say out loud, but many do:

Why should Jesus matter?
He had some quaint ideas that don’t fit our world very well:
forgive your enemies, make peace;
marriage is for life;
the poor come first;
chastity and self-denial bring true happiness.
What’s the point?

Every day we get up, we go to school, or work,
We care for our children, we face our daily tasks.
One day after another.

A contractor builds a house;
a mother sees her children grow strong;
a priest brings Christ into people’s lives.
It can be very satisfying.

Then it can all come crashing down.

This Gospel was a funeral scene;
many of us have been at funerals, in the past year,
for people who had everything crash down on them.

That’s when the question we didn’t worry about
when things were going well rises up:
What’s the point?

We might also remember some folks don’t have it to “crash down”;
because it was never “up” in the first place.

They too, could ask, what’s the point?

If you ask blunt questions like that, let Martha be your patron saint.
As soon as Jesus arrives, she confronts him: “You could have prevented this!”

Can you sense her weariness also?
While she clings to hope in the next life, not much remains for this life.
What’s the point?

There’s a curious thing, about our Catholic Faith,
that only those outside of it really see:
We have a lot of emphasis on suffering and death.
We do we do that?

The other day, I was talking to someone
about the sacrament of anointing;
we talked about how important it is
that Christ is with us, not only in the good times,
but the dark times as well.

You see, that’s the point:
not avoiding what’s bitter in life—we will fail at that—
but having Christ present in the midst of them.
Many of us avoid thinking about death,
but it will come, all the same.

But none of us need be afraid of death.
That’s what changes when we know Jesus.
That’s the point.

That’s why we have a Cross in our churches!
It doesn’t frighten us!
That’s why Catholics keep going to Mass in Iraq;
that’s why Sister Dorothy Stang wasn’t afraid
of the gunmen in Brazil, who ultimately killed her.

That’s why it’s always been true:
you can throw us to the lions or into concentration camps,

but people keep getting baptized, keep coming to Christ:
We’re not afraid of death!

And that is why the climax of the Mass is two-fold:
The sacrifice and death of the Lord
becomes present on this altar;
and we share his broken body, and shed blood.

“Dying, you destroyed our death;
rising, you restored our life: Lord Jesus, come in glory!”
That’s the point.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Why priests should pray the Roman Canon

There are priests, and laity of a more traditional bent, who advocate priests praying the first Eucharistic Prayer, aka the Roman Canon, predominantly if not exclusively. They bemoan the multiplication of Eucharistic prayers: the 1970s Missal featured, as I understand, four main Eucharistic prayers, but somewhere about that time came three for Masses predominantly with children, still later came two "reconciliation" prayers, and still later, came a "Swiss prayer" that actually has four variations--that is 13, if you are counting.

I have to say, I rather like using different Eucharistic prayers, although I like the ones for children the least. Many of us priests like to vary things, and a new priest, as I was at one time, will want to try out things that are provided for in the Missal.

That said, over the past couple of years, I have stepped back from this.

I considered that, from the perspective of folks in the pews, if they come to Mass 60 times a year, and I use all these prayers regularly, that's too much variety, too little regularity. How would they become familiar with any of these prayers? How vivid would they be for the faithful? And it conveys the idea that everything is up for grabs.

So I decided some time back that I wouldn't use the Swiss prayers or the reconciliation prayers on Sunday at all, and for daily Mass, I use them sparingly. I don't use the second prayer--the shortest one--for Sundays, and for holy days, only for the early morning or noon Mass, since folks have to get to work. I do use prayers three and four for Sundays.

From my first days as a priest, I have tried to use the Roman prayer frequently, I really don't get why priests shy away from it. I think I know why, even if I don't care to speculate publicly; but I don't find those reasons very persuasive.

Well, during Lent, I have found myself using the Roman Canon quite a bit. For one reason, the priest has the option of including prayers for those to be baptized, so I am using it for the Masses with the scrutinies--i.e., for the catechumens. But I noticed something yesterday--another reason to pray it--it anticipates the liturgies of the Triduum. The section, after the Mystery of Faith, known as "the offering," includes the following language. "...look with favor on these offerings, and accept them as once you accepted the gifts of your servant Abel, the sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith, and the bread and wine offered by your priest Melchizedek..."

As I was praying it the other day, I thought: when do we hear about Abraham's sacrifice--and I realized, at the Vigil! (At least we will, this year, as we will have all the readings for the first time.) And we hear about Melchizedek on Holy Thursday. I can't recall when Abel comes up, but perhaps one of the readers can fill that in.

Another reason to pray the Roman Canon is that it conveys a strong sense of the Real Presence. All the Eucharistic prayers convey the real presence and a sense of sacrifice--contrary to the allegations of some so-called traditionalists--but the Roman Canon expresses them rather strongly. (As does the fourth prayer, in my judgment.)

Some will be surprised by this, but--I think the Roman Canon makes sense for younger children. Here's why I say that. As far as the language of the prayers, they are all over the head of young children; and they are all "too long." But the Roman Canon has two features that would seem to appeal to younger children.

First, you often hear how people need to say something back to the priest to be engaged--well, the Roman Canon includes that option: there are four points where the priest can say, "through Christ our Lord," inviting the people to respond, "Amen." Three of them are routinely omitted (including by me)--but there they are.

Second, the Roman Canon has the most "visuals"--which, if you want to keep children engaged, are helpful, along with singing. During the Roman Canon, the priest has more gestures and bows (which too many priests omit, I don't know why). If you're five, you may not find the words very engaging, but at least the priest is doing something curious. This is a good reason to use the bells, and also a reason to use incense, and shame on the parents who talk their children into being afraid of it. On the other hand, if you do as so many priests do, and take out singing (I mean on their part), incense, bells, gestures, what do you have? Some guy up there talking, talking, talking... What fun for the not-very-engaged!

Still other reasons to use the Roman Canon: it makes clear we care about something called the "Holy, Catholic Church," and that our faith "comes to us from the Apostles." That "final damnation" is something we need help to avoid as we seek "well being and redemption."

And, I think it does a very good job of conveying the idea of the Church as a unity that embraces this world and the next, as we pray for the living at one point, and seamlessly, for the dead, with "apostles and martyrs...and all the saints" generously sprinkled around. It invites a very reassuring mental image, helped by visual depictions of said apostles, martyrs and saints, in the sanctuary or nave of the church! How blessed are those parishes that have actual depictions of these saints, named in the Roman Canon; and if you have such a church, and if you have children, please point out who they are; hopefully, your priest will use the Roman Canon, and include the fuller lists of saints, and then your children can listen for them, and find them in church.

I am not saying the other prayers ought not to be used at all, but I think the Roman Canon should predominate, both in actual usage, and in the imagination of all. The other prayers have many virtues, and I think if the Roman Prayer has pre-eminence, then the other prayers can be suitably used for daily Mass-goers, and others really familiar with the Mass. My personal goal is to use it for about 30 of the 52 Sundays of the year, and regularly for holy days and weekdays.

These are some reasons I think the First Eucharistic Prayer is good to use; perhaps you have other reasons? And if you don't like it, feel free to say so as well.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Just go! (4th Sunday of Lent)

Of all the people in the Gospel who couldn’t see,
The one man who was healed:
Did you notice, he was only one who,
without question or delay,
simply went and did as the Lord said.
Everyone else tried to analyze, argue or deny.

That’s not to say we can’t ask questions.
If we saw someone who was blind, now able to see,
we’d ask the same questions they did.
Yet, there comes a point when we know:
no more delays—just go!

When I was 19, I left the Catholic Church,
And joined another church. I came back 10 years later.
Over that time, I had questions,
I debated and wrestled—and that was right.

But, there came a moment, and I remember it vividly.
It was during Lent: as I drove home from work one day,
past a Catholic church, I heard the question in my head:
“What holds you back?” And I knew: “Nothing, Lord.”

A day or two later,
I went to confession for the first time in 10 years.
So, how about you? Are you holding back, or delaying,
on something you know the Lord wants you to do?

For a lot of us, that’s what happens
with the sacrament of penance.
It’s no great mystery why that happens.
Not many of us want to admit our sins,
especially to another human being.

Maybe we get discouraged,
Or we rationalize, I’m doing pretty good.
I go through exactly the same thing.

Again, the blind man could have had all the same feelings.
Did you notice, he didn’t ask to be healed?
Maybe he’d gotten used to it, or had given up hope.
He could have asked, “why this business with the clay?
Can’t you heal me without that?”

Instead, he simply went and did what the Lord asked.
He, and he alone, was healed.

So—for the sacrament of penance—just go!
We have confessions Wednesday at 5 pm,
and twice on Saturdays,
And we’ll have a Penance Service
this Tuesday evening at St. Boniface.

As Mass began today, we prayed the words of Isaiah:
But wait, Lent is about self-denial—
what are we rejoicing about?

The blind man in the Gospel,
after the Lord put clay over his eyes,
and sent him to the pool:
what might he have been thinking?

I don’t know, but: if he felt certain he would be healed,
then we can be sure his heart swelled with hope.
He didn’t walk, he ran to that pool!

Well then, the same for us:
Even as we pray, and confront our sins,
and ask God to help us change,
You and I really can be completely sure
God will forgive and heal us.

So some among us can’t wait to be baptized.
The rest of us can—in confession—
know that Christ will make us clean once again.

And, when we share the Eucharist at Mass,
We are the blind man who can now see.
We come to worship the one who healed us.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Problem with McCain, reprise

I'm serving leftovers today, but sometimes they're pretty tasty, we'll see.

The bulk of this was posted Feb. 20; I'm reposting it, with some additional stuff, to continue a good conversation. I will keep the old post, as it was, as a separate post, but I moved the comments here, if that's all right?

Before long, posting something like this will just generate too much gnashing of teeth. As we get closer to November, the one thought that will dominate so many otherwise sensible people is, the Presidency is everything, "we" dare not lose it...reminding me, to be candid, of how--in the Lord of the Rings trilogy--so many otherwise level-headed and presumably moral people became seduced by The Ring.


Meanwhile, we have now a presumptive GOP standard-bearer who is hostile to the First Amendment; Sen. John McCain's signature accomplishment is his McCain-Feingold "Campaign Reform" law, which candidate Bush denounced as unconstitutional, but President Bush signed into law. Some say, that's just one issue--but of course, what's the Bill of Rights among friends?

The salient issue for many of us of course is the end of abortion-on-demand, and most think that the only practical way to get at that is the Supreme Court; so every four years, we are told how many justices the next president will name to the High Court. The predictions keep inflating--lately, we're told the next president will "likely" name "four or five." And overwrought activists fall for it.

Never mind that, since 1969, we've had seven presidents, over 38 years (not counting W. Bush's last year, still to come), and in that time, they've named how many justices? Nixon, 4; Ford, 1; Carter: 0; Reagan: 3; Bush (I): 2; Clinton: 2; Bush (II): 2; that yields an average of...1.4 justices named per four-year term; and that reaches back to the 1970s--since that time, people are living a lot longer. No one knows, but based on more recent history, two justices looks like a good estimate, not "four or five." (Of course, an asteroid could hit, and President Obama could name all nine!!!

Now, there's another thing about this argument that the scaremongers hope you will be too panicky to notice. They try to make you think that if Obama or Hilary wins, the Supreme Court will get worse...but then they acknowledge that the two most likely justices to be replaced are Ruth Bader Ginsburg and John Paul Stevens! In case anyone hasn't noticed, these are the two most liberal justices. So if they are replaced with newer liberals, yes it will be a missed opportunity--but no, it won't change much of anything, at least on the issue of Roe v. Wade, which is what this all about. So the merits of the, "it's all about the Supreme Court" argument all hinges on how confident you can be that the GOP candidate will name really good justices; because I point out that it was Republican named justices who gave us Roe and upheld it in the 1992 Casey decision.

So we come back to Senator McCain. And last week, Andrew McCarthy had an outstanding column at National Review Online that dealt with this. (See original post, below, for the rest of this if you like...)


Till now, we haven't even discussed McCain's stance on more direct prolife issues...


McCain has repeatedly voted for tax-funded baby-destroying "research." Yes, Obama and Clinton will be "worse" on many other prolife issues, but with the exception of tax funding for abortions (which a GOP Congress can prevent, and did under Clinton), this is the issue that is most likely to come to the next president in the form of legislation. There's not a doubt in my mind that if McCain is president, he'll work to prevent any really good legislation from coming to a vote, because that's just what he always did as a Senator. And given where we stand with Roe, and given the dim hopes McCain will make any difference there, except for the worse, there's not much the pro-aborts can do, realistically, to make things worse. The main front will be "research"--where McCain is as bad as the Democrats.

Update: now, what's new since I posted this on Feb. 20?

This gives me a chance to comment on an editorial in the very fine National Catholic Register. While the NCReg editors make some good points, they really demonstrate my point about how, in the heat of an election like this, people get a little feverish and panicky.

Consider the laundry-list they give of things they assert, without qualification, that "we will get", which I reproduce below, interspersed with my own commentary in italics. Please note in particular the source for this scary list--not any particular expert in the political process, or someone associated with either party; nor even someone who represents a major, prolife organization; no, it was one, unnamed "prolife blogger"! I'm sorry, NCReg, but that suggests the editors were in too much of a hurry to get this editorial to print.

two more Supreme Court justices who consider abortion a right, plus more than a hundred Federal court appointments to foul our justice system for another 50 years,
Wrong. The only way we can get "two more" is if pro-Roe justices replace current anti-Roe justices, and that is very far from certain; the two justices almost always deemed "next to go" are Ginsberg and Stevens, who are pro-abortion. I.e., Obama and Clinton won't make the court worse, but their election may mean it won't get better. But then, there's every reason to expect the same from McCain.

• federally funded embryonic stem-cell research,
We already have this, and McCain is wrong on this, so why is this an argument for McCain?

• federally funded cloning and “chimera” research,
See last answer; given McCain's position on tax-funded use of embryonic humans for research, what's the basis for expecting him to be stalwart here?

• federally funded abortion on demand,
Do the NCReg. editors expect Clinton or Obama to assume dictatorial powers and dissolve Congress and the courts? Because otherwise, Congress must enact legislation funding abortions. Either we have the votes to stop it (we have so far, including under Bill Clinton) or we don't.

• abortion in military hospitals,
Same answer as last.

• federally funded abortion overseas,
Same answer as last.

• vicious regulatory attacks on pro-life doctors, nurses, clinics and non-profit groups,
While the President can issue "vicious regulatory attacks," we are not powerless against such things, both in terms of legislation and court action. Again, a President is not a dictator, and it's not as though the millions of prolifers will be powerless to fight back. This is hardly a reason why we must vote for McCain.

• the repeal of conscience-clause exceptions for doctors and pharmacists,
See answer regarding tax-funding above.
• efforts to reclassify churches and pro-life activities, threating their tax-exempt status,
This is absurd. Go after churches' and other organizations' tax-exempt status? 'Oh, please don't throw me into that briarpatch!'

• “the Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA), which is like the Human Life Bill in reverse — a federal statute mandating abortion on demand in every state,
Again, unless Clinton or Obama become dictators, this has to pass both houses of Congress, including past a filibuster--which, thankfully we didn't wreck (give McCain his due on this one).

• the end of abstinence education, and
I wasn't aware that the President, all by himself, could outlaw all abstinence education in all public schools nationwide. How does he do that? What the person claiming this must mean is that a President Obama or Clinton will zero out federal funding for such education, and that's possible, but by no means certain. We can't stop earmarks for toilet-paper museums, which nobody cares about, but Clinton or Obama will take a Horatio-at-the-bridge stance against something like this that enjoys very strong support nationwide? What's more, even if such federal funding is cancelled, what prevents state funding? That's where most of this happens anyway, and the President is extremely unlikely to try to stop that. And a lot of us don't really want federal funding, even for things we like--it's a Trojan Horse.

• the end of the highly successful approach to AIDS in Africa that stresses abstinence and monogamy.
Far from clear to me, (a) that Congress will go along and if Congress does want to go in that direction, that (b) McCain will be reliable against that, for reasons already cited.

That’s to say nothing of nationalized health care, which in other countries has become a synonym for rationed care and has brought inexorable pressures against respect for the dignity of human life. Under national health care, bureaucrats will determine that limited resources go where they can do “the most good.” So the system will simply refuse to cover high-risk pregnancies or humane end-of-life care for the elderly and the dying.
Right--simply electing a Democrat to the White House, along with a Democratic Congress, is all that it takes to get this sort of thing; after all, remember how President Bill Clinton rammed this through in 1993? Oh, wait...never mind.

That’s also to say nothing of the appointments presidents make to federal agencies. The Obama and Clinton teams will appoint political operatives to agencies across the federal government. Many of them will be pro-abortion activists. They will build their ideology directly or indirectly into countless regulations, national policies and guidelines — and not just in our schools, and federal welfare programs, but in the myriad programs the government is involved in.
Probably on balance, Obama or Clinton's appointments will be more offensive to me than McCain's. But this is not a huge consideration. Did eight years of Bush's appointment-power make everything wonderful? No; and neither will four years of Obama's make everything terrible. This is a very weak argument, seems to me.

I really like the National Catholic Register, but when people ask me what I mean by "overwrought activists," this is precisely what I mean.