Sunday, July 27, 2008

'People Predestined for the Pearl' (Sunday homily)

If you want to summarize what the readings are about, you can say,
"People predestined for the Pearl"—
Let’s talk about that.

In the second reading, Paul says, "those he foreknew":
Before he created the world, God knew everything that would unfold,
including all the trouble and failure that would come.
And yet God went ahead with Creation.
This was an act of love and confidence on God’s part—
He knew how he would overcome the evil and transform it into even greater good.

Paul adds, "…he also predestined"—
God has "predestined" everyone—absolutely everyone—to salvation!

Does that mean everyone will go to heaven?
No. As far as who might go to heaven, or to hell, our only answer is, we don’t know.
But what we know is that God "predestines" us for salvation.

It’s like this—suppose I plan a dinner for ten people;
and because I want everyone to come,
I send everyone a invitation; then I call to remind them.
I tell them how good the party will be.
When the day comes, I even arrange rides for everyone.

But does all that assure that all ten will certainly be there?
No—some may still choose not to come.
They may even start to come, and turn back.

So it is with God’s Kingdom: God has plans for us; he gives us every advantage,
and his grace enables us to be free to answer his call.

Yet one thing God will not do:
He won’t make your decisions for you.

In talking about God’s Plan,
Saint Paul is not talking just about individuals, but humanity.
So when we answer His call, it’s not enough to take care of ourselves;
we take care of one another.
This is part of God’s Plan to undo the evil in our world.

So we share our faith: "Let me tell you about the Pearl—his name is Jesus…"
We care about the needs of this world—
we work with God to bring some measure of justice and dignity,
to the poor, to the laws we live by, to how nations work together.

It makes no sense for us to say, we have the Pearl of God’s Wisdom in our midst,
and then remain passive:
> when our laws fail to protect the unborn,

> when our entertainment and media culture consumes the innocence of the young,
> when our government pushes around other nations—just because we can.
> when we support candidates who refuse to defend the dignity of all God’s children.
This is not Wisdom!

Solomon was given wisdom—but he failed to use it;
if you and I don’t do all we can to make a difference, how are we different?

You might have noticed the role desire plays in the readings:
Solomon desired wisdom; the merchant desired the Pearl.
And we might wonder about those who seem not to desire God.
In fact, in many ways they do, but they don’t know it;
and it may be that how God awakens that desire will not follow the usual path.

But you and I have been given that desire—so what excuse can we offer?

Some can honestly say, I didn’t know about the Treasure;
but we know: you and I know the Eucharist is the Pearl beyond any price.
We know that Mass is the closest we get to heaven on earth;
we know that heaven has come to earth in Jesus Christ.
He is Wisdom: He is the Truth we need,
the Goodness that gives our life fullness;
He is the Beauty that wounds our hearts to ache for him.
What are we willing to give up to have Him?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Homo Electronicus

I woke up this morning to an eerie silence. "Why isn't the clock on?" Then I remembered, the city told us the power would be off, in our city block, for several hours this morning.

It is telling how much one gets accustomed to certain things when they are absent. Such as electricity.

So, I ended up walking to the office. As it happens, I will need my car later today, to run to the hospital--so why walk? After all, my car has a full tank of gas, it's all tuned up...sitting in a garage, that has an electric door opener. I'll walk back (or have someone ride me back) later.

This morning, I'm working on a brand-new computer. My old computer, which I've had for eight years, sits mute, next to my new one. For the last several years, I've gotten accustomed to the worsening wheezing of the old one; now, everything in my office is strangely silent, too.

It took me awhile to get my new computer up and running. The hardware and software was no great trick; getting my documents over wasn't, either. Figuring out how to transfer the settings of my Outlook was a bear, but we got it done yesterday. As it is, a number of settings aren't just the way I like them; it has programs on it that are on when I power it up that I don't want, but haven't figured out how to turn off. I'm not entirely convinced the email is working just the way I want; and it just doesn't feel right. I keep looking over at my other computer...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Commentary, but no homily...

No homily this week, because the seminarian-deacon preached for me this weekend.

However, I did have the chance, at three Masses, to reflect on what we all heard, so if you like, here is some off-the-cuff commentary...

Remember that the first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, is very likely the last text of Scripture written before the birth of the Savior. It is believed to have originated from a Greek-speaking community of Jews in Alexandria, Egypt, from about 50 B.C. The author is considering the beliefs of God's People (which came down through the community of the covenant from Abraham and Moses and through the prophets), through the "lens" of Greek philosophy, which by this time has been a huge influence on this entire region for over a hundred years.

As I listened to this section, I found myself linking it to the Gospel--because God is lenient, when he might justly be severe, many think he is inattentive; rather like the farmer who allows the weeds to remain with the wheat. We often want God to deal with things sooner than he chooses to, for reasons that even the parable in the Gospel does not sufficiently explain to us. But this reading provides the best explanation: God gives his children "your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins."

The psalm, of course, provides a refrain for this idea, and connects it to the Gospel, so let's look at that, next--then come back to St. Paul.

The Lord gives several farming parables, all very familiar to us. Even in suburbia, we can appreciate these images--how many of us have seen weeds grow up, rather faster!, among our carefully chosen flowers and vegetable plants?

But the Lord counsels a different course from what we tend to do; we pull them up, or kill them, but he lets them be.

Now, here is where the interpretation of a parable has to be subtle and not too rigid. Note, at the end of the reading, Our Lord spells out what each element of the parable stands for. He says, "the good seed the children of the kingdom. The weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sows them is the devil."

Many times, when approaching a parable, we might "lock in" on symbolism and not allow it to be as fluid as we should. In saying "the weeds" are "children of the evil one," he is not denying, for example, that all people--indeed, every created thing--comes from him as Creator. Nor is he denying that the children of the evil one can convert; and yet the parable, taken as it is, does not address these points. The parable is meant to illustrate certain points, and it does so well; but don't expect every detail of its structure to answer every question; that's not its intent.

Here is the flaw, perhaps, in my thinking, if not that of many of us; had I been constructing the parable, I would have tried to work that idea into it; had I, as a seminarian, been crafting it as a homily illustration, I feel sure one of my instructors would have said, "hmm, good illustration, but it doesn't address the issue of conversion"! And yet, the supreme Teacher did not see this, apparently, as a flaw!

And yet, surely he taught about repentance and conversion. That is, I think, part of what is implied in the delay of our Lord in dealing with the weeds ("whoever has ears ought to hear"). But only part. The other part of the parable I think is to counsel us to be as patient as the Lord, and not be discouraged. Justice will be done.

I would also point out that this parable--if you care to consider this--runs counter to the claims of those who advocate a "dispensationalist" theology of how things will come to an end, as illustrated by the popular "Left Behind" series. Note how that whole school of thought hinges on the harvesting of the good before the bad, taking the wheat out of the field first, leaving behind the weeds. Of course, folks who take that approach don't cite this parable--for good reason! Now, I happen to think that whole line of thinking is badly flawed, partly in its mix-and-match approach to Scripture texts, but also in painting what I think is an ugly portrait of God, who seems rather capricious in how he governs things, and of course, that whole mindset denies sacramental grace; people are "raptured" not because they have sanctifying grace in their lives through baptism, but because they somehow manifest "enough" (it's not clear what "enough" is) faith or zeal.

But enough of that.

Let me note something else in the Gospel: the reference to slaves. We find slavery repugnant, and we hope our Lord did. I rather suspect he did, but I also suspect he found a great deal of other things repugnant, that we don't--i.e., he might not consider our "freedom" to be much of an improvement over the "slavery" described and taken as a given in Scripture.

That being said, what do we make of it?

Well, I found myself analyzing it thusly: "what is a slave?" A slave is a human being who belongs to another; who the Master may command, who is wholly subject to the will of the Master. In practice, that did not mean that slaves did not own property, or have a segment of their lives that belonged to themselves; but they were not free to come and go as they chose; in short, they are not their own masters, as we all would like to be.

In what context would such slavery even be tolerable? Well, if God is the master and we are his slaves--because we do, in fact, belong to God, and as his creatures we are wholly subject to his will, except insofar as as we, darkened by sin, become slaves to evil. It is grace that frees us from that slavery, and enables us to be "free" as God's "slaves"; the one option that is not possible is to be our own masters, because that would mean to exist in a universe in which there is no God.

Notice that the Lord, in explaining the parable, did not identify the slaves with anyone. That suggests to me that the slaves are the Apostles, and by extension, all who enter into apostolic work (which is meant for all of us). We may not like calling ourselves slaves, but slaves to God, who is lenient and generous, and who indeed sets as free as we can be? What did that underrated theologian, Bob Dylan say? "You gotta serve somebody."

Now, in all this, how do we fit the reading from Saint Paul?

Remember that the second reading is continuous, whereas the first reading is chosen to have some connection to the Gospel. So any connections are providential. What can we discern?

I found myself making this connection. When we behold the field of the world, choked with weeds and wonder why they are allowed to fester and spread, asking the Master why he lets this happen, that is when we need to remember the Holy Spirit's groaning in prayer for us and in us. The danger, as I mentioned initially, is to get discouraged, if we are followers of the Lord, while others get cock(le)y, i.e., to mock God and say--as so many do today--there is no God, all you believers are fools, because look how the so-called weeds spread! Keep praying, in union with the Holy Spirit, who intercedes for the holy ones.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Piqua Making its Mark in Liturgy

At right you'll see a "new" link, Laus Deo, which is the new name for the site run by John Wright, the Music Director for our two parishes in Piqua. "Laus Deo" means "Praise God," and it appears in the window nearest the choir loft in Saint Boniface Church.

Our music program is growing, thanks to John's leadership and the enthusiasm and generosity of all involved. What many may not appreciate is the time and effort it takes; our choirs are made up of busy people, so it is a sacrifice of time and effort to come together week after week, and learn and practice new music. We have a choir for each parish, plus a schola cantorum that specializes in chant and polyphony, plus a bell choir; and soon, we will be organizing a high school ensemble, and I have hopes for the children's choirs as well.

Well, it helps to have two beautiful churches in which to sing, and to do it in the context of the Sacrifice of the Mass, and to have good leadership which, as I say, we do.

John has composed, and shared with the parishes, a choral setting of the Kyrie which is available online at Sibelius. Go check it out!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Is the Iraq war coming to an end?

I've read several articles lately--by Michael Yon, Michael Totten, and Strategypage--all of which I saw linked at Instapundit--that argue that, yes, the U.S. has won, and now things shift mainly to political and police tasks. All this is qualified by the understanding that "winning" doesn't mean no more violence, or no risk of conflict or instability, or that the political situation in Iraq will be as clean and honest as we might expect in, say, Chicago or Louisiana. It means, to me at least, that we've reached a point where we can say we accomplished something worthwhile, that may be sustainable, and that we can think about winding down our military engagement in Iraq (just in time to give our mission in Afghanistan more attention it seems).

Well, some may wish to debate whether the facts support so positive a conclusion. Fair enough. This part of the world is rather uncongenial to stability and good government; but it sure seems clear the current government of Iraq--if it can sustain itself and work even moderately well--is way better than Saddam Hussein.

But if the U.S., Iraq and allies really have accomplished something, here's my question: would it really have been better to have pulled out rather than go ahead with the "surge" strategy, which appears to have brought us to this point?

I think it's very reasonable to fault the original decision to go to war, and many aspects of the war's execution, and to lament bad effects of the war. That said, once in, didn't the U.S. and allies have a responsibility to see things through, if at all possible, to a reasonably better state than chaos? I.e., we "broke" it, so we were morally obliged to "fix" it, if possible. Walking away after handing the folks a check would not, to my mind, have been moral, if more could still have been done given the mess we made. I.e., even from an anti-war point of view, there is still, I think, a case to be made for continuing engagement; it has never struck me as particularly "moral" to say, as so many have, that all we (Americans, Britons, Westerners) want is a pullout, we don't care what horrors follow (example, the New York Times opined some time back that even genocide might break out, but pullout anyway).

But if we could, by staying, and even engaging further, bring things to a better state than chaos, weren't we obliged to do that, even at cost to our nation--since we decided, as a nation, to go to war (Congress voted, and their protests after the fact have zero credibility to me)?

Insofar as it appears staying has helped, what do you think? Should we still have started a pullout a year or so ago? Would that have been the optimal moral choice?

What's keeping me busy these days?

Sorry for not so many posts.

Summer is both less busy and more busy for me this year. Less, insofar as all the craziness that seems to coincide with the school year goes away, and a lot of regular meetings don't happen, such as pastoral council, school board and finance council; but more, insofar as projects I just couldn't get to before school let out, I am trying to dig into now:

> Future Commitee.

When I arrived as pastor at Saint Boniface in July, 2005, I knew then I would be taking over as pastor of Saint Mary within a year. The pastor of Saint Mary at that time was very ill, and couldn't wait to step back. Also, each parish had a retired priest helping, but both were approaching 90; and, finally, the Archdiocese's plan for dealing with not enough priests to go around called for the pastor of these two parishes to take over a third parish at some point in the near future, so...

Therefore, even before I arrived, with my consent, he chose representatives from the two parishes for a "Future Committee" that would begin thinking about what needed to change with both parishes sharing one pastor. That committee met frequently that first year or so--and they helped the other priest (who remained as parochial vicar) and me decide on what changes would be made to the Mass schedules and when; they supported a recommendation that both parishes have the offices combined, and the priests live together, and where (offices at one parish, residence at the other), and we talked about holy day schedules--Midnight Mass alternates each year, and other issues. It was helpful to me in making decisions, and it has proved extremely helpful in how all this has worked out for members of both parishes.

When we got through all our major items, we agreed we'd meet as needed. In recent months, I've talked with the pastor of the third parish, and while he has no plans to leave, we have to be prepared; so he is sending two representatives, and we'll meet again soon.

> Stewardship Commission. This is something new and is all about the long-term health of the life of the parishes.

"Stewardship" doesn't just mean money, even though that's what many associate with the term. Rather, the idea is more fundamental: it's about how we see ourselves in relation to our parish. How centered on our parish are we? Do we see ourselves as fundamentally blessed and gifted, and fully able to share our gifts with our parish family? Why do we see ourselves that way--what impels us? And if we do not, what should change--in me, in you, in the life of the parish, in the leadership of the pastor, to foster a deeper sense of involvement and confidence in sharing ones gifts with the parish?

The objective is that, through the Stewardship Commission, we will try to ensure that every parishioner has a greater sense of being graced and called and involved, we will try to communicate this message to the larger parish family, to foster a greater engagement with the parish (i.e., it's not simply a matter of "going to church" to "get" something, but being part of the parish, the Body of Christ), and foster a greater level of planning and involvement with these ends in view. The intended end results are greater sense of commitment, involvement, and this will result in sharing our faith more and sharing all our gifts with our parish.

For almost a year now, I have been working on this, and we have a commission that is "good to go."

> Fundraising. Saint Boniface Parish has many, many infrasctructure needs; a list of the most urgent and critical adds up to over $500,000. Along with some not-urgent-but-important needs, the total goal is $580,000. We've raised in gifts and pledges over $160,000, most of which has been spent or committed; so much more remains, including restoring the century-old stained-glass windows (which could cost more than $150,000), refurbishing or replacing the falling-apart pews, repairing the exteriors of the church and office, upgrading electrical service in the office so we don't have a single spark destroy everything, installing new windows on the school (over $100,000), and so forth. This past week I prepared some grant applications, please pray that the foundations respond generously.

Meanwhile, all the usual business of the parish, and the care of souls. There are lots of stories I don't tell because people would not like seeing their stories, even without their names, posted online.

Well, time to end this post (which was interrupted for several of those needs); Saint Boniface Festival is this weekend, a few things to attend to, there, please come to Piqua for our festival:

Friday, 6-11 pm, 'Texas Tenderloin' Dinner, plus DJ
Saturday, 5-11 pm, Father Caserta's famous Pasta & Meatballs Dinner; Band, 'Rufus X';
Sunday, 12:30-9 pm, Wooden Shoe (Minster)'s famous Chicken Dinner; Cornhole Tourney @ 2 pm.

Bingo Saturday and Sunday, beginning at 5 on Saturday, 2 pm on Sunday.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Jesus is the Seed (Sunday homily)

The Lord assures us His Word is powerful
and will be effective.
It is a Seed that cannot fail to have its effect.

Yet, stony ground has to be broken up.
As a boy, my father gave me that chore:
to turn over the clods of dirt in his garden
and break them up.
I didn’t like it—I didn’t see the value.

You and I must be soft ground for the Word to sprout.
The Holy Spirit rains down to soften us;
the sufferings Paul speaks of, break us up.

When the Word does sprout,
we have to be out there pulling weeds, day after day.
I hated that job, too;
I wanted to do it once and be done with it.
If only life were so easy!

And when our garden is growing well,
we look around and wonder,
why isn’t the Word sprouting everywhere?
We’ll experience others who, for whatever reason,
will peck like birds at what God is doing in our lives.

That brings us back to what Paul said:
all Creation groans,
because of the damage done to Creation
when Adam and Eve, our first parents, fell into sin.
That changed everything,
and we only have to look around the world
for five minutes to see it’s true.

The Seed is not only the Word,
it is the Word-made-Flesh.
God the Son is the Seed,
sown in our world by God the Father.
When he first grew up, they tried to cut him down;
but He rose up again!

In a moment, Jesus the Word
will be “sown” into our lives in a unique way—
when we receive the Holy Eucharist.
No Seed is more pregnant with life,
more powerful to change our world,
to hasten the day of redemption.

Oh, if only the Seed of the Eucharist
can be sown in ground softened by the dew of the Spirit,
clear of rocks and weeds!
Then what might sprout, forty-, sixty-, and a hundred-fold?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

What my Grandma knew about Saint Paul (Sunday homily)

When Paul talks about the “flesh” and the “Spirit,”
he’s not saying our bodies are bad;
but rather that, if we don’t fight it,
we will find that our bodies rule us,
rather than we ruling our body.

Who likes Doritos?
Have you ever looked at the little box on the back?
It gives the suggested portion…who knows what it is?
Nobody knows, because nobody pays attention to that!
Either you grab a handful, or, if you are like me,
you rip it open, head to the recliner, then...
“Gee, where’d they go?”

Maybe Doritos don’t do it for you;
maybe it’s the Internet or beer;
maybe it’s always winning the argument.
One way or the other, we’re all “debtors to the flesh.”

That changes when we are baptized—born of the Spirit.
When you and I became Christians,
we began an entirely new way of living.

And yet, how many Christians are surprised,
even offended when the Church—when the Lord—
calls us to a way of life that is challenging, sacrificial,
and put us out of step with the world around us?

With every ad and web page, our culture blares at us,
mocking chastity, devaluing sex,
telling us there’s something embarrassing
about being a virgin—why do we tolerate that?

Teenagers, I want to say this directly to you:
I’m sorry we grownups are letting you down.
We’re leaving you a culture that gives you trash.

Understand this: the advertisers, the entertainers,
they dangle a pretty lifestyle in front of you, but—
all they want is your money.
They make you feel “left out” so you’ll buy in.

You and I must be bold to say,
it is not living for Jesus Christ that is wrong;
it is our culture that is wrong—it is sick, and dying.

More and more couples live together before marriage.
If they are intimate and using contraception,
that will likely continue in their marriage.
No wonder what the Church teaches about
keeping that intimacy open to the gift of life
seems such a impossible ideal.

Yet studies show that couples living together
before marriage are more likely to get divorced.
That is also the case for those using contraception.

One of the many things couples practicing
Natural Family Planning discover
is something new and powerful in their intimacy.
They report it is better, fresher, more enduring,
because it’s less about self-fulfillment,
and more about giving oneself away.

So what do we do?
We're like the folks in Iowa--the flood waters are pouring in everywhere,
and we don’t even know where to begin.
We might begin with the wisdom of my grandmother, who said:
Being a Catholic is a hard life—but it’s an easy death.

And we can begin by recalling the wisdom
of weekly, even daily penance.
We used to do without meat on Friday every week.
The idea was to honor the day the Lord died for us,
But also to die to the deeds of the flesh.

Please pray for me.
As a priest, it is easy for me to think,
“I give a lot—I’m entitled…
to a beer, a snack, a little extra sleep!”

At the end of the day,
the reason we Christians choose works of the Spirit
is that, while we will feel out of step in this world,
we will find we fit perfectly into the Kingdom to come!

As my grandmother used to say:
Being Catholic is a hard life—but it’s an easy death.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

'We can lower oil prices now'

I read the article by Martin Feldstein, one of President Reagan's economic advisers, linked by the headline above last night, and I thought it was a powerful argument.

For example:

Unlike perishable agricultural products, oil can be stored in the ground. So when will an owner of oil reduce production or increase inventories instead of selling his oil and converting the proceeds into investible cash? A simplified answer is that he will keep the oil in the ground if its price is expected to rise faster than the interest rate that could be earned on the money obtained from selling the oil. The actual price of oil may rise faster or slower than is expected, but the decision to sell (or hold) the oil depends on the expected price rise.

That seems common-sensical; and if he's right, his solution makes sense:

Now here is the good news. Any policy that causes the expected future oil price to fall can cause the current price to fall, or to rise less than it would otherwise do. In other words, it is possible to bring down today's price of oil with policies that will have their physical impact on oil demand or supply only in the future.

In other words, massive new drilling, such as the north shore of Alaska and offshore, also major improvements in fuel economy, also the "flex fuel" idea that would mandate or incentivize auto makers to build their cars so they can run on a variety of fuels, even mixed together -- so that we don't have to wait until we have a network for distributing and selling alternative fuels first before we expect to sell cars that run on them. Instead, build cars that run on many fuels, then sell them; they can run on gasoline, while we build the service stations that sell the alternatives.

Read the entire article, then I invite you back to offer your take on the argument. Maybe there's a flaw in it I missed.