Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Catholics to Lift up Jesus as King of Piqua May 16-18; Corpus Christi Procession Sunday, May 18



PIQUA—Members of Saint Boniface and Saint Mary Catholic parishes will celebrate Jesus’ gift of salvation and his presence in the world in a special way, May 16-18, 2008.

The focus of the weekend will be the Eucharist: “Catholics believe that as the saving death and resurrection of Jesus are made real in the Mass, so we believe the Eucharist—the bread and wine consecrated at Mass—truly become the Body and Blood of the Lord,” explained Father Martin Fox, pastor of the two Piqua parishes.

“Because we believe the Eucharist really is Jesus, then we adore our Lord in the Eucharist,” Father Fox added. “Lifting up Jesus and begging God’s blessings for our community is our whole purpose in this weekend.”

Beginning with Mass with schoolchildren 8:45 am Friday, May 16, at St. Mary, the Eucharist will be placed with honor on the altar for worship and prayer; the church will remain open for adoration day and night, through Friday and Saturday, interrupted only by normal Masses. “Some remember this as ‘40 Hours’—but it’ll be a little longer,” Father Fox explained. “Anyone who wants to experience Jesus’ presence is welcome.”

The climax, Sunday, May 18, will be a traditional “Corpus Christi” (Latin for “Body of Christ”) procession. The procession will depart St. Mary church, 528 Broadway, around 1 pm Sunday, and proceed to St. Boniface church, 310 S. Downing Street, concluding with prayer and benediction around 2 pm, and a bring-your-own Pot Luck after that. “As far as anyone knows, a procession bringing our Lord from one parish to the other has never happened in Piqua—this will be a first,” Father Fox observed.

Coordinating the events is Thomas Caserta. “We want to include everyone who wants to take part. Not only parishes around the area are being invited and various organizations, but really anyone who wants to honor Jesus Christ. He is our king,” Caserta explained. The city has approved the route for the procession, Caserta said.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

What the Holy Spirit helps us to see (Sunday homily)

All this Easter Season,
we’ve emphasized Jesus rising from the dead.

Next Sunday we’ll celebrate the Ascension,
Jesus returning to heaven.
In the Gospel, Jesus is talking about this, when he says,
the world will no longer see me…
but you will continue to see me.

It is hard to “see” Jesus present among us,
just as real as when he was with the Apostles.
That’s why it does seem like he’s “leaving us as orphans.”

That’s what it means to receive the Holy Spirit;
It is the Holy Spirit who helps us to “see.”

Sunday, at Noon, we’ll celebrate
First Communion for members of our two parishes.

On Thursday, I met with the 2nd graders.
I asked if they were excited—they said, “yes!”
Were they a little nervous? “Yes!”

I told them, when they went back to their classrooms,

they would be able to taste the bread and wine,
so it would be familiar for them—
but did they understand that what they would receive,
at Mass, was not, and would not be, bread and wine?
They said “YES!”
What will they receive? “The Body and Blood of Jesus,”

several of the children said.

Yet, what do we see? We see bread—we taste wine.
How do we explain that?

Some explain that it’s still really bread and wine,
and we just call it Jesus’ Body and Blood.
But that is not what Catholics believe.

We believe a miracle takes place—
actually, two miracles, and you can’t separate them.

The first miracle is the harder one to see.
We believe that when the Mass takes place,
this is more a gathering for prayer;
Christ is here, and He is in charge.

That’s one reason we carry out the Mass a certain way, from beginning to end;
the first words we sing are from Scripture—that is, they are supposed to be;
to the last words, “Thanks be to God!”

Some find this constraining;
but it serves to remind us, especially the priest:
“This isn’t about me, I’m not in charge: Jesus is!”
The summit of the Mass
is when Christ takes us to Calvary; to the Cross.

That’s why the Crucifix is so important in church—
not just a “reminder” and not just a “symbol”—
his sacrifice happens right here, in our midst.
That is our focus.

So there is some discussion, by the pope and bishops,
about whether, at the moment of sacrifice,
should the priest face the people…
or should all turn to the Lord, together?
Maybe you see an article about this from time to time.

Now, because of that miracle—the Cross happens here—
then when we share communion,
it can’t be mere bread and wine:
Bread and wine didn’t go the cross!
Bread and wine cannot save us!
But his Body and Blood were offered on the Cross;
his death and resurrection are what save us!

It can be hard, because we don’t “see” any of this.

That’s why I have a crucifix facing me on the altar
to help the priest see what the Lord is really doing.
That, too, is something Pope Benedict has emphasized.

But it is still hard…
How else to explain some don’t mind missing Mass?
Would they miss it, if they really saw what happens?

So what shall we do? How can we “see” this miracle?
That’s what Jesus tell us in the Gospel:
“I will ask the Father, and he will give you…
the Spirit of Truth.”

It is the Holy Spirit who assures us,
despite what our eyes can see,
that Christ is here, we are not orphans!

And that, again, is the deep meaning of “communion.”
We Catholics take this very seriously,
not everyone understands why.

It is not just a mere ritual.
There is no moment, no action we can take,
more solemn, more freighted with consequence, than this!

Some of the grownups remember buying a house:
how many documents do you sign?
Did two lawyers show up? That’s serious!

But that’s nothing to communion!
In communion, we are saying, yes,
we are united to Jesus, our God who is in our midst.

So, there are delicate questions here:
Should people come to communion,
if their lives don’t reflect that union with Jesus?

And since being united with Jesus
includes being united with his Body, the Church…
there’s the delicate issue
between Catholics and Protestants, about communion.

So, we acknowledge these delicate issues.
But at least we try to appreciate what’s at issue here.
Jesus said: not everyone will see me, but you will see me!
It is the Holy Spirit who will enable us to see;
through the Mass, and the Eucharist,
Jesus does what he said:
“Because I live, and you will live.”

Friday, April 25, 2008

Some Easter pictures

A parishioner took some photos of St. Boniface Church for Easter, I thought you might like to see them. Here is the sanctuary and altar, with lots of candles. The Easter Candle is by the pulpit, out of view. The cross on the altar is bright gold, so it caught the reflection of the camera flash here. The celebrant's chair is actually turned slightly more toward the nave than usual, in order to accommodate chairs put out for the concelebrants.

Here is yours truly, badly needing a hair cut, which I didn't have time to get before Easter, but I did shortly thereafter.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Eucharist, Sex & Conversion

I recently gave a talk--actually, gave it a second time, as I'd originally prepared it for a group of Catholic college students--that I thought someone might like to see it here. The formatting won't be very elegant, and time won't allow me to go through and "neaten it up."

Let me also say, I honestly don't recall if my basic outline itself didn't come from one of the sources cited, if so, please let me know, I simply want to get good ideas out there, not get credit I don't deserve.

I am going to talk about the Eucharist, sex and conversion. I admit I’m not sure if this is more a talk about sexuality, that has Eucharistic overtones, or if it’s the other way around—I’ll let you figure that out. But it seems to me that conversion is the most important thing.

No doubt this linkage sounds funny. I think it’s worth a few words about why.

Sin fractures us, so that our bodies and souls do not work in harmony; and we aren’t at ease “in our own skins.” Before the first sin, Adam and Eve were naked and “unashamed” (Gen. 2:25). It was after that they needed to clothe themselves--and it was their idea, not God's!

Now, other than making you laugh nervously, why am I pursuing this? It has to do with the question of “conversion.” Conversion is a good Latin word that means a change in direction. In that sense, the Eucharist isn’t really the sacrament of conversion. Rather, baptism, then penance, are the “change direction” sacraments. Of course, we mean more than “change direction” when we speak of conversion. We mean, what? Change; purification; transformation. Now those ideas are Eucharistic.

Now, there are a lot of ways to talk about the transformation that the Eucharist brings: unity; sinlessness; holiness; “theosis” or divinization.

(Here I extemporated on what "divinization" means: as so many of the Fathers of the Church have said, "God became man so that men might become God"--i.e., we really are united to God, we share his nature, we become "divine" in some sense we have a hard time describing.)

But here’s what I want to focus on. We know the Eucharist has the power to bring total transformation. So—how does that happen? What does it look like? Why don’t we change faster—why does it seem I don’t change at all?

This is why I want to talk about the Eucharist, in conjunction with human sexuality—both for parallels, and for insights.

Let me begin with Christopher West, a leading author in the area of Pope John Paul’s “Theology of the Body.” I know many of you have an interest in this topic.

"I can give myself [my body] to you, and you can give yourself [your body] to me, and we can live in a life-giving communion of persons" (marriage...).

The Pope calls this the "nuptial meaning of the body," that is, "the [body's] capacity of expressing love: that love precisely in which the person becomes a gift and—by means of this gift—fulfills the very meaning of his being and existence" (General Audience of 1/16/80).

The body has a "nuptial" or "marital" meaning because, as the Second Vatican Council taught, "man can only find himself by making a sincere gift of himself” (Gaudium et Spes, n. 24). This nuptial meaning of the body—to find oneself by giving oneself—is, according to the pope, "the fundamental element of human existence in the world" (General Audience 1/16/80).

Now, what’s that got to do with the Eucharist? Well, first, it has to do with the whole sacramental way God deals with us. We are body-spirit; we encounter reality, we learn, discover, choose good or evil, become whatever we will become, in and through material reality. This seems rather commonplace, but it helps us understand ourselves and how God works.

It means that the only way we experience grace is through some material, “this-world” experience. Otherwise, how would we know we’d experienced God? A Calvinist friend of mine said to me, “The problem I have with you Catholics is you believe grace is mediated.”

My response was to agree—then, starting with the call of Abraham, the prophets, the ways God worked with his People throughout the Old Testament, the covenant, the worship, the Incarnation—the Bible itself!...all “prior” (as he saw it) to the Church and sacraments—I concluded, “If you’ll notice, mediation is the only way we experience grace!”

We experience God in a “material” way—the sacraments being a prime example. And our experience itself—our conversion—will only happen in context of our own materiality.

In other words—it won’t happen all at once.

Another insight: we aren’t saved from our materiality, our humanity—we are saved in it, through it—our bodily-ness and all that goes with it, is part of what is saved, and is a means by which we are saved. Just make a connection here—then we’ll move on—with the doctrine of Resurrection: our bodies are saved, too.

So let me bring in another author, to talk about the sacraments of Eucharist, and matrimony: Mary Rousseau, professor of philosophy at Marquette University, wrote:

Pope John Paul II rightly refers to the Eucharist as the source of the Sacrament of Matrimony, which in turn is the source of families and, through families, of the Civilization of Love.

There is, indeed, a most intimate connection between the Sacrament of Matrimony and the Eucharist. Jesus' love is the love of a Bridegroom for his Bride.

The Mass itself, as his continuing free acceptance of his death, is a marital act. Indeed, it is the marital act of all marital acts. Unlike other references to the relation of Christ to the Church, such as Shepherd to sheep, King to subjects, and so on, the Bridegroom-to-Bride reference is primary and non-figurative. It is not a metaphor, but a literal statement that Jesus' love for us is marital. [Emphasis added.] It is, of course, not sexual, not reproductive in a physical way.

Continuing with Professor Rousseau:

“The fact of divine marital love tells us something about the core essence of human marital love.”

And what is that?

“Like our Lord's love for us, human marital love must be completely self-giving, free of any self-seeking—it must be unconditional, gratuitous, faithful, permanent, and given to no rivals.”[2]

Rousseau continues in this vein, more about matrimony and sexuality, than about the Eucharist. There are some interesting insights here, about sexuality in general, homosexuality, even the issue of priestly ordination. Feel free to bring it up in your questions. But, to get back to the Eucharist, consider two other things she says.

“The divine marital love of Christ and his Church…reaches its high point in Jesus' free acceptance of his death, the acceptance that is sacramentally enacted in the Eucharist.”

And here—drawing from Pope John Paul—about the marital act:

“They fairly shout to each other, in a clear and dramatic symbolic action, ‘Take me, I'm all yours, I'm holding nothing back. Do with me what you will, from now on.’ Their body-language re-states their marriage vows.”[3]

You know what is key here—both in the “success” of marriage as a sacrament, as well as in the Eucharist—as ways to transform us? It’s the experience of ecstasy. No, I don’t mean the drug! Ekstasis—a good Greek word—means “to stand outside of.” If you think about it, all really powerful experiences we have are ecstatic experiences.

We go to a movie and lose ourselves: ekstasis; if something really makes us laugh; if we have a “good cry”; a swell of patriotism—or, to return to our earlier imagery: a rush of erotic and sexual feeling—what do we say? “We get carried away.”

Now, look at the marital act: it is literally ecstatic. Now consider what St. Paul wrote in Philippians: “Though he was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. “Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8).

Think about that. Paul’s talking about the Cross; it’s also powerful image of marriage; and it is what becomes totally real for us at the Mass—in the Eucharist. At Mass—in communion—Christ does that for us; and he calls us to do exactly the same!

I want to bring in St. Bernard of Clairveaux. I’m drawing freely now from Father Jordan Aumann’s Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition.

The mystical theology of St. Bernard is found in his treatise on the love of God and in his commentary on the Song of Songs…He identifies Christ as the bridegroom, and the Church or the individual soul as the bride.

In the beginning the love for Christ is sensible or carnal; it focuses on the humanity of Christ…And although love for Christ in his humanity is a great gift of the Holy Spirit, it is, says St. Bernard, “none the less carnal as compared with that other love which is not so much related to the Word made flesh as to the Word as wisdom, the Word as justice, the Word as truth, and the Word as holiness.”

So, we see the “carnal” approach isn’t bad—it just isn’t enough.

St. Bernard presses us on to “mystical union,” where our love is spiritual, and passes beyond the humanity of Christ in order to concentrate on his divinity. Bernard speaks of the “the rapture of the pure soul in God or the loving descent of God into the soul…

When the soul is completely purified and is well exercised in spiritual love, it may, if called by God, enter a mystical union and become the bride of the Word; it contracts a spiritual marriage with the Word and is completely identified with the divine will in the transforming unions.

I’d like to add here two points: notice the soul is purified—passive mood: God does it, we receive it. No room for a “we save ourselves” mentality. Second, he says, “if called by God”: I’d respectfully submit that we are all called by God to contract a “spiritual marriage” with Christ—there really is no other destiny for us: Christ has only a Bride—no “girlfriends”!

We heard mention of the Song of Songs, let’s consider that next.

I’m drawing now from The Cantata of Love, by Father Blaise Arminjon, S.J., a commentary on the Song of Songs. The Song of Songs is little-read, little-quoted, little-appreciated. Why? Because it seems too erotic. Well, it is erotic.

Arminjon writes,

St. John of the Cross gives a beautiful commentary on the first verse of the Song: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth." He explains that the Bride, in her exile, does not want anymore to be told about her Bridegroom, no matter how beautifully.

Now she wants to talk directly to him, without any intermediary, and to be with him at last. The messages of those who had been sent, i. e., the prophets and wise men of the Old Testament cannot content her any longer. She needs Jesus Christ now and immediately. The first verse therefore contains all the waiting, all the desire, of the Old Testament ardently expecting the Messiah.

Isn’t that beautiful? Let’s hear more:

There is…a progression in the experience of love: here he is; here is a kiss from him; here is a kiss from his very mouth. When we formulate the verse in such a way, it somehow brings what it is calling for. It is as if it were going from wish to reality.

Saint Bernard makes a profound commentary about the stage of spiritual life corresponding to the kiss of the Bridegroom. The soul, at the time of its conversion, is granted the privilege of merely kissing the feet of the Lord, as, for instance, in the case of the sinful woman in Luke 7.

Then the soul rises, at a second stage, and kisses the hand, a mark of its friendship, familiarity and intimacy with the Lord, its friend.

But only at the end of the ascent will it be granted the kiss of the mouth, which is that of union with the Bridegroom—a kiss that the soul could not presume to give of its own volition, but that it can expect and receive only from its Bridegroom: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.”

Let’s go to the punchline—again quoting Arminjon:

Some Fathers of the fourth century such as Cyril of Jerusalem and Ambrose show in their Easter catechesis that the ardent wish of the bride—“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”—is essentially fulfilled in the Eucharist:

“When the body of Christ will touch your lips,” Cyril says to the catechumens, “then the wish of the Bride will be fulfilled for you: let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! The unity of love in the Spirit is then consummated.”

St. Cyril brings us back to the marriage analogy. But, going with the marriage analogy, we know the first consummation is just that: a beginning.

Marriage is a life-long mutual self-giving. The sacramentality of marriage is revealed, par excellence, in marital acts—but not just there! It’s in all the acts of will, of love, of fidelity, dying to self, that make up a lifetime of marriage.

And so with our union with Christ in the Eucharist! Not just one consummation, one ecstasy, but in a lifetime of them—that is how the Eucharist transforms us. We might end with the famous words of St. Augustine, Speaking of the Eucharist: Christian—become what you receive. Amen.

[1] Christopher West, “John Paul’s Distinctive Contribution,” at Catholic Culture ( accessed September 15, 2004
[2] “Eucharist and Gender,” at (, accessed September 15, 2004.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Jordan Aumann, Christian Spirituality in the Catholic Tradition (; previously published by Ignatius Press/Sheed & Ward, 1985), accessed September 15, 2004.
[5] Ibid.
[6] The Cantata of Love (preface by Fr Henri de Lubac, S.J.) published by Ignatius Press (1988) cited at: Gerald Seraphin’s A Catholic Page for Lovers (, accessed September 15, 2004.
[7] Ibid.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Pope says 'Hi'...

There are a lot of things to talk about, let's just jump in...

The "retired" priest from here and I drove up to D.C. on Wednesday, we had essentially perfect weather throughout. We stayed at St. Joseph's Seminary, which is operated by the Society of St. Joseph, a community founded in the 1800s particularly to serve the needs of African American Catholics and to foster vocations from that community. It was kind of them to find us rooms on short notice.

We arrived in D.C. around 4 pm, and that's always an adventure in traffic, all the moreso with motorcades whipping this way and that, as they were with the Holy Father, and bishops and dignitaries making their way back and forth--to the Basilica Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, for Vespers, and then to the White House, for a state dinner. We were staying about a mile away, so we wanted to avoid getting caught up in the congestion. We went over to Virginia for dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant; afterward, I drove father around town for his first visit in over 60 years! About 8:10 pm, we saw a motorcade of buses filled with bishops and cardinals whipping down North Capitol Street, I assume on their way to the White House.

We were up early each day--we left Piqua at 7 am, we left for Nationals Stadium at 6, to arrive there by 7:30 as we were strongly encouraged to do, and we were up early to have our own Mass at the Basilica before coming home on Friday.

I'll comment on the Mass shortly, I know that's received a lot of attention, but I want to say above all how much I appreciate and value the incredible effort that went into such an event. Give the Archdiocese of Washington its due--its folks worked hard and pulled off something unbelievably difficult. Everything was well organized, including helpful information about when and where to arrive, and why we had to do it as we did.

So, we get into the ball park around 7 am, we made our way, as directed, to the President's Club, where concelebrating priests would vest. It was far more calm and comfortable than I expected, which certainly hlped the priests to enter prayerfully into the Mass--which is pretty important.

We were out on the field--and while not of the same level, still, what a thrill is that?--around 8 am, to our seats: Mass would not actually begin for another two hours! The Archdiocese graciously provided care packages under the priests' seats (and perhaps for the VIPs and seminarians who were seated near us), which included: a good-sized poncho, a bottle of water, a granola bar and some crackers, a holy card and a pin. Really, that was thoughtful, as was the fellows bringing water bottles during the Mass. (If you say, well did the folks in the stands get the same treatment? Probably not, but they were able to exit their seats to shade and perhaps something to eat, while those on the field could not easily do so--and we were on the field for over four hours.)

So, we sat on the field, and folks milled about, priests chatted, many prayed. And we watched lots of coming and going. After the concelebrating priests came in, came the priests of Washington--this is their "home turf"; then the bishops. Normally when bishops come into Mass, that's a big deal, but not so much this day!

Two moments particularly encouraged me as a parish priest, make of this what you will. The first moment came after the bishops had taken their seats, and either just before, or just after, the pope had arrived and circled the field, of the MCs ("master of ceremonies") was doing a frantic, last-minute rehearsal with some ministers, showing them how to bring things to the altar! I thought: no I don't feel so bad when I am doing that before Midnight Mass! The second came at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer, and the pope made a misstep in the prayer, starting the Per Ipsum, then backing up to pray two lines he'd almost forgotten. And I thought, "now I don't feel so badly when I do that!"

Now, I might as well address what so many are talking about: the eclectic selection of music for the Mass. Well...I want to be balanced. I understand why a need was felt to represent the variety that makes up the Church in the U.S. and particularly in the Archdiocese of Washington. And I have to say I have, perhaps, a greater tolerance for this sort of thing, and I believe many priests do. I was able to focus on what was so awesome about concelebrating Mass with the Successor to Peter, after all! So I reacted less; also, I tend to be eclectic in my musical tastes; I actually like Gospel music quite a bit; I used to listen to it in the seminary, and had a seminarian next to me, who would thought me too conservative, who nonetheless had almost no tolerance for the Gospel I would play and found very uplifting.

So I am not entirely opposed to trying to have a mix, but I think too much was attempted. It makes it very hard to experience a sense of overall unity to the liturgy, something I think clergy may fail to appreciate because of their theological training. Also, the "diversity" argument cuts both ways: you can make a point about "diversity" by having a little bit of everything, but you can make just as valid a point about having everyone come together in a profound act of common worship. And the great trick is, how to communicate that just right? As I say, I think the eclecticism undermined a sense of unity that no doubt the planners themselves agreed was important.

Also, let's not kid ourselves: music very powerfully and insistently calls up associations. Jazz, Merengue and Salsa styles (all used at the Mass) bring up various images, and I didn't find them helpful. Maybe that's a weakness in me, but I doubt I'm the only one. The responsorial psalm was particularly jarring: it brought to mind Steven Sondheim and Sweeney Todd.

Some of the choices were good, and the choir and cantors worked very hard and gave their all. In fairness, the manner in which the choirs and cantors sang the music compared very favorably with what I've heard from Masses in Rome. And, as someone else noted, how do you do this sort of thing? Could you have had much more chant and polyphony, and had it really work in that venue? I dunno, but I have a hard time thinking it would had more problems than this mix had.

I want to say again, I am not sayiing the use of a variety was itself the problem; but I would say that the way this was done only gives credence to those who say it cannot be made to work. As I type this, the Mass from St. Patrick's Cathedral is being broadcast (the choir just completed a stunning Gloria), and the quality is remarkably different, even though some of the same things are being attempted: a variety of languages are being employed, for example.

On that point: I have no problem with using Spanish; like it or not, a significant portion of the Catholic Church i n this country, not to mention the hemisphere, is Spanish-speaking. I think it may be a bit much to end up using ten or twelve languages, but that's a minor matter. The major issue here is to note what the Holy Father himself said in his Apostolic Exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis: such international gatherings are ideal times to use Latin as a common language, a "neutral" ground where all meet and can pray in one tongue! The Archdiocese of Washington made almost no attempt to do that, but the Mass at St. Patrick's has made more attempt to do that thus far.

One can say, of course, that the Vatican signed off on it all. Given the notable shift in tone from the Mass at National Stadium, and the Mass--thus far--at St. Patrick's, I wonder if this might be explained the following ways: the Vatican decided to let the Archdiocese of Washington make its own bed, as it were. If the pope goes home determined that liturgical matters in the U.S. need more attention from him, the planners of the D.C. Mass can only thank or blame themselves for that. Second, it may be that the Vatican thought it useful to let the contrast between the Masses speak for itself.

Then again, the pope clearly has a plan regarding the liturgy, and it may well be he's going to proceed on his own timetable no matter what. When you think in such terms, individual events and occasions may not seem so critical. Of course, that can be a blind-spot--one can fail to appreciate fully a particular occasion--but it would explain why the Vatican didn't react as many wish.

Well, enough on that, there's so much more to say about this occasion. The Mass was, otherwise, as prayerful and dignified as such an occasion can be.

The pope's homily was good, although I find it hard to reflect on it in such a setting. I will note the following: I found it most meaningful simply that he was here: the successor of Peter, in my country! And he emphasized that, saying, I am here to confirm your faith, echoing the words of the Lord to his most eminent predecessor in the Gospel. Second, I was struck by his words about the Scandal; something he chooses to emphasize, we now see. Third, I was struck about his emphasis on hope, which--for all those who are catastrophizing about the musical choices at the Washington Mass, would do well to listen to a bit better than I think they are. The Holy Father himself seems to be very positive about the prospects of the Church in America, rather thanat the point of despair, as are so many who are so expressive online.

I can't help remarking how Benedict exceeds the expectations placed on him three years ago at this time, when elected: he'll be overshone by his venerable predecessor, he won't be able to communicate as effectively, he won't win the same affection and enthusiasm, his predecessor will outshine him particularly in how he connected with people so powerfully. While I have absolutely no truck with comparing John Paul the Great unfavorably, it must be said Pope Benedict has addressed the damage and pain of the Scandal very simply, directly and powerfully, doing things our late pope did not. Perhaps there is very good reason for that, I cannot say. The Pope's critics, who insist on depicting him as aloof, dour and too abstract, really are shown to be utterly lacking in a clue here.

...Well, I just returned, having been called away for a situation just after the Holy Father's homily, returning at the conclusion of communion, so I can't comment on the rest of the Mass today. I do wonder about this business of having these little speeches in the Mass (by Cardinal Egan just after the Sign of the Cross, and by the Vatican Secretary of State, Bertone, just now, near the end)--had I been Egan, I think I'd have done it when the pope arrived before Mass began, and then just have Mass; so I guess I'm more liturgically correct than the pope, haha!

Finally, if anyone was paying attention, the Holy Father, the Successor of Saint Peter, just added extemporaneous words before the final blessing, saying just a bit awkwardly in English, that he is a sinner, he is weak, he is overwhelmed by the task given him, he is deeply grateful for the prayers and love given him, and he didn't really know how else to express his gratitude, so he said, "my response is the final blessing." This is a prayerful, brilliant, humble, unaffecting man who sits on the throne, what a gift is that?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Away with the pope!

Early tomorrow, the retired priest hereabouts and I will set off for D.C. to concelebrate Mass with the Holy Father--how cool is that?

I just got back from the grocery store, where I picked up a few food items; it's hit-or-miss if you can get proper food to eat while driving, and I dislike stopping much on a drive this length--I prefer to keep going. And, even if we stop, we can eat the food I bring instead.

Still tonight I have to pack a few items and get some sandwiches ready for tomorrow, and try to think of the things I would otherwise forget!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Shepherd (Sunday Homily)

This Sunday is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,”
because the Gospel is always about Jesus our Shepherd.

Also, in the first reading, during Easter,
we hear from Peter, the shepherd Jesus left in charge.

This has special meaning for us because, in a few days,
Peter will come to the United States,
in his successor, Pope Benedict.

A lot of Catholic churches nationwide
will welcome Peter’s successor
by ringing their bells at 4 pm Tuesday,
when the pope’s plan lands in Washington.
Our bells will be ringing at that time.
When they do, will you pause to pray for our pope?

This is a good time to talk about the priesthood.

Sometimes people will create opposition between the Shepherd Jesus,
and the shepherds he left in charge.

“Listen to Jesus, not the pope,” some will say—
yes, even Catholics.
That reveals a misunderstanding
of the miracle of the sacrament of ordination.

We all know that a miracle happens in the Eucharist:
Through the bishop or priest, Christ speaks,
and the Holy Spirit acts,
and the Sacrifice of the Cross is present and real here;
and the bread and wine become Jesus.

But realize, something very like that
happens in every sacrament!

In baptism, and in a new way, in confirmation,
The Holy Spirit of God is poured out into us!
Is that not a miracle?

In confession, we are immediately made immaculate—
is that not a miracle?

And in the sacrament of holy orders,
a mere man, a sinner beyond doubt,
is transformed into an icon, a living presence,
of Jesus Christ!

As one of those sinful, clay-footed men,
I can attest: it is a miracle!

No one can better stand for all us priests,
down through the centuries, than St. Peter.

I wonder if the events of Peter’s life—
with all his impulsiveness, his rash words,
his slowness sometimes to get it;
but also his zeal, his passion, his longing for Christ,
and above all, his great failure and his great love—

…I wonder if our Lord did not intend it just that way,
so that for every generation after,
all of us, including those of us called to the priesthood,
might be encouraged.
“Jesus made it work with Peter;
He can surely make it work through me.”

Jesus himself is the Perfect Shepherd;
and it is his power, and his Voice,
that is at work through a priest.

Now, this is true at all times.
There is never a moment when a priest is not a priest,
when he is not an icon, a living image of Christ.

Recently, a young man considering the priesthood
came to follow me around one day.
We had Mass, we visited the sick, and—
we had meetings and I worked at my desk.

And I explained to him:
Jesus is priest, prophet and king—
He sanctifies, he proclaims the word,
and, yes, he is an administrator, as well.
It’s all part what Christ does for us,
so it’s part of what a priest does.

Whenever a priest celebrates a sacrament,
that’s a very powerful experience of Christ.
I witness that, when I see the peace Christ gives in confession,
when I see people’s joy at baptisms and weddings,
and I see your faith in the Eucharist.

It’s very tempting for the priest to get a big head.
I’m reminded of the story about the donkey,
who rode into Jerusalem one day,
and everyone got so excited…
and he thought, “wow, I’m a real big wheel!”
No—it was who was riding on his back that counted!

Some wish I would inject more personality into the Mass.
It’s tempting; but the Mass isn’t about me.
I’m the donkey.

And that’s fine.
I get to go where Christ goes, I carry him there.
Because Christ beholds his people through my eyes,
I get to see what he sees;
He chooses to lay hands on the sick with my hands;
With my voice, he chooses to speak words that instruct,
that reconcile, and that transform.

As the priest who inspired me to answer the call, said,
and as I say now to every young man here:
I love being a priest—it’s a great life!
Think about it.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Knowing Him in the Breaking of Bread (Sunday homily)

I want to share three observations:

First: our hope is to share in the resurrection—
or else we have no hope.

King David, as St. Peter said, is dead and buried,
“and his tomb is in our midst to this day.”

Many assume there is life after death,
but how do we know that?

We see those documentaries: someone’s heart stopped,
and they were revived,
and they tell of “seeing a light”…
It gives you goosebumps, but—
really, what does that actually tell us?
It could just be what happens in the brain when the heart stops…

There really is only one who has gone across
and come back and that is Jesus Christ.

And he came back with a true body—he ate and drank—and yet he lives to die no more.
That’s Resurrection and we, too, will, at the end of time, on Judgment Day,
have our bodies raised from the dead and we’ll have them back—new and improved.

Second: when you and I have that resurrection life
to look forward to, that makes utterly meaningless
all the distinctions we think are so important in this life.
Black or white, native-born or immigrant,

how much money is in your bank account,
Speak English or “habla Espanol,”
St. Mary or St. Boniface, Sidney vs. Troy vs. Piqua…

St. Peter reminds us “the Lord judges impartially”:
God is not impressed with all those distinctions
we can’t seem to let go of.

Last, I want to look at what happened in the Gospel:
they knew him in “the Breaking of Bread”—the Eucharist.

The Eucharist, like Resurrection,
changes everything because the Eucharist is the doorway

to Resurrected life—
we have the Resurrection to look forward to,
but through the Eucharist,
Resurrection breaks into this life.

But there’s something else to note about the Eucharist—
it’s not a “me” moment but a “we” moment.

It’s not merely a solitary or personal act of faith,
it’s an act of the whole Body, the Church.

So when we come to the Eucharist—
when we “know him” in the Breaking of Bread,”
that means we know him in something people do together;
and part of it is knowing him in those people—

whoever they are, wherever they come from,
wherever they buy their clothes or lay their head.

The Eucharist demands we are welcoming
and it demands we are ready to be with “them” and “those”
and even “that person over there”

because it’s a new life—forgiven life—resurrection life—
life for Christ and no longer for ourselves—

that we’ve been freely given…
and that’s the new life we are sent to freely share.