Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Vigil homily

I’m going to talk to you about the Christmas Tree.

In Genesis, the first book of the Bible,
we have the story of the Garden,
and two, particular trees:
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Bad,
and the Tree of Life.

We recall that Adam and Eve, disobeyed God,
and ate from the wrong tree:
for them, the Tree of Knowledge
became the Tree of Death.
And they were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life.

This story, and these ideas,
have always fired the imagination of Christians,
Priests and bishops have talked about them, at Mass,
from early on.

One reason is that the Bible tells us about
yet another Tree—the Cross!
The Cross was made of wood; and they called it a tree.

The connection is this: because Adam and Eve
made a sinful choice, Jesus came as the second Adam,
and he chose the Cross—the Tree of Death—
and he made it, for us, the Tree of Life.

Do you know when Christians would hear about this?
At Mass…on Christmas Day!

What’s more, over the years, Christians made artwork,
that depicted Adam and Eve,
and the Tree, with its colorful fruit!

Around the year 1000, people in Germany,
began putting on religious plays.
And on December 24th, they would have a play
about Adam and Eve.

The main prop on stage was a tree—
a fir tree, the only tree still green in December.

There is another story about this,
and that is the story of St. Boniface.

St. Boniface went to Germany in the 600s
to proclaim Christ, and he found people
whose worship of false gods was connected to trees.

To demonstrate their gods were false,
Boniface cut down a great Oak tree
that they considered sacred.
The oak knocked down many other trees—
but a small sapling of a fir tree remained.

It’s not clear what time of year this happened,
but some claim it happened…in December.
Now, where did the decorations come from?
Remember the play I mentioned?
They decorated the tree with fruit: apples.

But because they were not only recalling
the Tree of Death—with it’s forbidden fruit—
they were also thinking of the Tree of Life—
whose fruit gave eternal life.
But they only had one tree,
because Jesus, dying on the Cross,
made the Tree of Death into the Tree of Life.

So you know what else they decorated the tree with?
Round wafers of bread…
that looked just like what we receive at Mass:
The Holy Eucharist!

The Eucharist is the “fruit” of the Cross—
the Eucharist is the “fruit” Jesus gives us,
that enables us to live forever!

Can you picture that “Paradise Tree,” now?
Decorated with apples—
red, and maybe green and yellow?
Also decorated with round, white circles of bread?

Many years later, the plays went in the wrong direction,
and in the 1400s, the Church put a stop to them.

But, people loved the Paradise Tree;
so they started putting them up in their homes.
Over time, they added other decorations:
other fruit, nuts and candies,
and the wafers of bread became pastries.

Much later, someone invented glass ornaments,
and we still use them.
But notice even now,
we still have ornaments shaped like…fruit!

You still find food on the Tree: candy, chocolate,
garland made of popcorn and berries.

There’s one more connection to a tree,
mentioned in Scripture—
we heard about it in the Gospel:
a family Tree!

We just heard a long list of names—
the family tree that connects Abraham to Jesus.

Why do we hear that Gospel on Christmas Eve?
Because in becoming human, becoming a baby,
Jesus did two things at the same time:
He became part of our, human, family tree;
and he made it possible for us
to become part of his, supernatural family!

Through faith in Jesus Christ, when we are baptized,
we are “born again”—into a new family.

That family tree in the Gospel seemed long—
but imagine trying to list all the people
who are part of God’s Family,
because they believe in Jesus?
The list would go on…forever!

By accepting Jesus, and following Jesus,
you and I become part of that Family Tree.
God has a Tree, too—and he decorates his Tree
with all that is precious to him: each one of us!

Together with all the angels and saints,
you and I are the priceless treasures,
which Jesus gained by his dying and rising,
to give to his Father in heaven,
to decorate the heavenly Christmas Tree!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Update on various things

OK, for the last three people who read my blog, I owe some report on my doings these days...

As you know I was in Mexico. Great experience. Saw a lot of poverty but experienced a lot of faith and hope.

The first three days were in Mexico City, where I was so privileged to visit the Basilica where the miraculous image of our Lady of Guadalupe is on display. We were also able to visit some other sites in Mexico City and experience some of Mexican history and culture. Then we went south to Oaxaca: one of the three poorest states in Mexico, I was told by my hosts; if you look at a map of Mexico, the Pacific coast curves around at the bottom of Mexico. That's where I was.

This region is very mountainous, a lot like West Virginia, except very tropical. We visited several small towns in the Diocese of Puerto Escondito, as well as a bit in Huatulco, a little further down the coast.

Well, yes, it is true that it was very balmy and pleasant, and being by the ocean would not seem a hardship, while home was frozen! That said, I was not sunning myself on the beach; in fact, I only visited each beach one time for a short walk. Other than the time it took to travel from point-to-point--long enough anytime a large group of people is in motion, then worsened by the combination of many hills, many curves, and not the best roads--our time was spent visiting parishes and outlying communities, and meeting people and talking to them.

We were privileged to talk several times with Bishop Eduardo Camorra, who told us about his diocese--created six years ago--and who invited us to take part in Mass with him many times. He was extraordinarily kind and gracious, and it was reflected on the part of everyone else. He assigned one of his priests to be our shepherd and guide, Father Jaime, who was great fun and much help. He confirmed for me our intuition, that the meals that were served for us in the parishes we visited, involved real sacrifice on the part of our hosts.

Each place, we were served and well-fed, and given a chance to meet catechists and other lay leaders in the parishes. At one parish, the meal, while very good and more than enough, was nonetheless much simpler than the others. That was an index of the hardships of that very poor parish, as well as the great generosity of the people.

I stopped telling people I was pastor of two parishes, because there, a parish is more like our county, or even larger. The smallest parish included something like twenty communities, each with a chapel and a Catholic community; the distance, roads and lack of cars meant that everyone could not come to the central, parish church for Mass. The pastors told me they could get around, for Sunday Mass, in each community maybe two or three times a year. As a result, they couldn't reserve the Blessed Sacrament there, either, because the Eucharist has to be refreshed more frequently than that.

So picture that: you live in a small village, and the priest comes for Sunday Mass every four-to-six months, and in between, you can't even have the Holy Eucharist there. How blessed we are here!

You can see how important catechists are and local lay leaders who can gather folks both to learn the Faith and to pray together. You can also appreciate the threat of non-Catholic groups coming to win converts. This is a grave concern; for one reason, it creates divisions in the community. Mexico is deeply Catholic; it's as much a part of Mexico as your spine is a part of you.

Yet a curious thing about Mexico--it has a legacy of confrontation between the state and the Church. It got so bad during the 20s that priests were hunted and killed; and until not so long ago, priests weren't allowed to vote or wear clerical attire. As it is, religion is not taught in the schools, and at one time, the government forbade the Church to operate her own schools. I don't know if that is still the case. But you can see the problem.

Mexico also has a legacy of many injections of socialism, that it is slowly undoing. Example: touring Mexico City on a bus, the recorded explanation of the sights included reference to a monument celebrating the glorious expropriation of the petroleum industry. As it stands, we only saw Pemex gas stations everywhere. Mexico has--or has had--vast reserves of oil. I do not believe that a state-run monopoly gives the Mexican people the best value for that resource. Would you prefer such a thing here?

As we drove the roads, it routinely took far longer than it would here, because we have better, straighter roads. And it's not just the mountains--West Virginia has some wonderful roads, admittedly at great expense. One of the main roads was in the process of being widened to four lanes, and I commented how good that was; our host priest agreed. Yet one of our party--perhaps misunderstanding why I felt as I did, said: oh no, they shouldn't build more roads, they should just use more buses!

Well, in further-developed city and suburbs, that makes some sense. But in a rural area, where farmers have products they are desperate to sell to a larger market, and where there is a deep desire for more industry, more factories, to provide more opportunity (so said the bishop), there is no way that more buses on those terrible roads is going to do the job! Thankfully, that main road is being widened--that will help a lot in years to come, as will more good roads, if that can be accomplished.

Another experience I submit for your consideration. We visited a "co-op" in one town, where a group of 33 folks, mostly women, were working together to manufacture and sell soap and other cosmetic products. The goal is to produce products that are organic and environmentally friendly, as they put it. The project began, we were told, thanks to a Frenchwoman who provided the formulae for various cosmetic products, and helped arrange grant money and sponsorship from a non-profit group called Bio-Earth. (I just googled that without success, so I think I got the name wrong, sorry.) We were told Ms. Brodie was concerned about the destruction of some local species of turtle, and hoped that helping to create this co-op would lead to better things.

Well, I was very interested in knowing just how this worked in practice. Looking around at the facility, it was a very nice building--I wondered just how much was invested in that, but I didn't ask about that. I also noticed that no one was, that day, making any soap. It seemed to be a slow time, but having not a single person making soap concerned me. I did ask some questions of the woman showing us around--through a member of our party who translated for me.

I asked, if the 33 members of the co-op--the number is fixed, no one can be added (isn't that curious?)--work really hard, have a better year than planned, what happens to the profits--i.e., beyond the pay they earn through the year? The answer--confirmed by a followup--is that they do not receive it! Not a penny! Instead, the profits are distributed to other "projects" in the area, designed to do good things. I was told, by the one translating, "the point isn't to make people rich, but to help the environment." OK, but that suggests a model that can't be replicated very easily; and making these folks "rich" (i.e., richer--I doubt anyone is likely to become "rich" by any standard in this situation) would, to my addled mind, be very desirable, for the benefit of these workers' families and communities.

But I know what you may be thinking: if this is how they want to spend their earnings, that's their business. True. So, I asked, if the 33 folks wanted to change the business plan, to expand, or shift, their business, or simply to dissolve it, can they do that? Answer: no. The "whole community" would have to agree to that. I also asked, if a member of the co-op leaves the group, does s/he take anything with him or her? Nope--no equity in the corporation. I learned, along the way, that if the co-op has lean years, the foundation "helps out"--I assume that means with money.

So what do you make of that? Seems to me a project that appeals more to well-off folks from somewhere else, that no doubt does some good locally, but really, what they need is something that can be replicated and expanded. To be fair, I only have a part of the story.

The poverty in this part of Mexico was severe, yet it wasn't all I thought it would be. So many houses are just shacks, better ones are built from cement-blocks and corrugated steel, without glass windows. The warm temperatures and long dry spells mean you can do a lot of living outside, but still... One road we came down was dirt, and the plants on either side were coated in dust--as, I surmise, must have been the insides of many of those homes.

One such home had latrines--outhouses--out front, so that's a benefit. I never got inside, so I don't know what sort of floor the family had, nor if they had electricity or water. Often they draw water from a well; worse, from a river. As you've heard, even the municipal water is not drinkable, not even in Mexico City. Yet somehow folks bathe and keep things as clean as they can.

While visiting that home--I talked with a woman who was blind, and she and the woman and child she lived with had very little--a beggar-man came by, calling out something in Spanish. The sighted woman promptly rose, disappeared into the house, and came out with a handful of change. It looked like about a dollar's worth. She gave it to the beggar. I could have given him a $20 with no real sacrifice; I didn't do anything.

The faith is so deep and intense, perhaps too much for our tastes. People come to visit shrines, they come on foot, for days, carrying images on their backs. They arrive, and they approach on their knees. They pray intently before the Lord for the longest time, during Mass or outside it. The processions we witnessed involved great energy, devoted to joyous and raucous music and dancing, and they seemed not to tire.

There's certainly more to tell, but that will have to do for now...

Saturday, December 19, 2009


...from Mexico, all's well, a great adventure both of travel and faith.

Alas, too much waiting for me here, so I cannot post now. But comments are re-enabled.

Sorry I couldn't post while in Mexico; the Internet was available, but I didn't bring my laptop, and in any case, I was way too busy for that in any case.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Comments temporarily disabled...

Sorry, no offense meant--but I'll be unable to moderate any of the comments that may show up the next two weeks; and while it's rare, sometimes something offensive shows up. I'd hate to have that happen and be left hanging for two weeks.

Thanks for all the good wishes!

heading to Mexico

I'm flying to Mexico rather early tomorrow, joining a trip sponsored by the Archdiocese's Mission office. A group of 14, including one other priest, is heading first to Mexico City and then to Puerto Escondito in Oaxaca, Mexico. Our purpose is to get to know the folks there better, especially in Oaxaca, which is where many of the Mexican immigrants to this area come from.

I signed up for this many months ago, hesitating because of the time of year, but electing to do it because otherwise it would be a missed opportunity that might not arise for longer than I imagined. Such is how opportunities work out.

So, as you can guess, I've been running about. I'm waiting for some laundry to be finished so I have enough clerical shirts, and of course I have to remember to take my passport!

I'll be gone until about the 19th.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Catching up...

Sorry folks, it's just busy.

I'll do what I can to bring you up to date...

>Sunday, the Feast of Christ the King, is one of my favorite feast days. In my homily, I explained the origins of the day--established by Pope Pius XI in 1925, amidst a rising tide of statism and totalitarianism. I told the story of the German-American priest who wrote the hymn, "To Jesus Christ Our Sovereign King," written as a heart-felt rebuttal to the darkness overtaking his German homeland about that time. I also cited the oppression of the Church in Mexico about that time--where, when you said, "Viva Christo Rey!" it was right before you heard the crack of the rifle at your execution.

Then I talked about the challenges we face today; citing how when we exercised our rights and had an impact on abortion funding in the health-care bill, enraged members of Congress threatened the Church for daring to speak up. And I cited how the city of Washington, D.C., is preparing to redefine marriage, and compel everyone to go along with that, and the Archdiocese of Washington said, not so fast--we won't be able to provide social services the city currently pays us to provide. And that provoked vitriol from the powerful Washington Post. And I cited the member of Congress who calls us "bigots" for insisting marriage is man-woman.

I talked about what our Lord said in the Gospel--all who live in the truth hear my voice--but many today respond as Pilate did: "what is truth?" can we know it? The Lord will return--and it is our job to bring as many as possible to faith, so they receive his coming with joy, not dread. Who will share the truth with those hungry for it? That is our mission.

We lead others to Christ the King by making him king in our own lives. This is why many have an image of the Lord, a crucifix or the Sacred Heart, in their homes--declaring him king in that home. When we say grace in restaurants, our sign of the cross is a powerful witness. When we receive the Eucharist at Mass, he makes our hearts his throne, King in our own lives. Viva Christo Rey!

>I'm planning to go out of town in December, between the 8th and18th--I'm joining an Archdiocesan-sponsored trip to Mexico--so I have things to take care of before I go. One of which is scheduling meetings with staff, for an annual review. Remember, I'm an employer. It's good to do, I enjoy it, but it takes time and effort.

For example, a variety of things conspired today to require me to postpone an appointment for today, to tomorrow.

Oh, and I have things to do regarding the trip...all the usual things.

>Another project--we have a 24-hour chapel, with perpetual exposition of the Holy Eucharist--and I've been putting together a plan for some time to install new carpeting and some fresh paint. We have a group of volunteers to do it, led by a young man doing this for his Eagle Scout badge, and we finally got everything in place to go ahead. That will happen next week, from Dec. 1 to the 8th. So, today, I had to scramble to get the word out and get some stuff together for the bulletin. One of our active parishioners gave me a good suggestion, requiring, however, a change in plans--so that was today. Why today? Well, the bulletins have to be assembled tomorrow, due to Thanksgiving.

>Tonight, our parish liturgy commissions met for the third time. I started this recently, in response to requests and also because the time seemed right. Our plan borrows from the basic, Cursillo model: prayer, study, action. So the two commissions meet together, pray the Liturgy of the Hours together; then we study Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council; and down the road, after we've been well grounded in the Church's teaching and tradition, we will get to action. For example, I've been explaining to the folks about the new translation of the Mass coming down the pike.

That finished up at 8 pm; I checked in with the parochial vicar, covered some things, and then sat down to dinner--some leftover pork chops and some ramen noodles (cheap! easy! tasty!).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

'Just enough...until the Lord sends rain' (Sunday homily)

(From notes)

In the first reading, the prophet Elijah asks for "a bit of bread"--
and when the widow hesitates, he promises
that her store "shall not run dry until the day when the Lord sends rain."
The text suggests that the promise is not that her supplies would overflow--
but that there would be just enough each day; until the rains come.

We might chose to see this passage symbolically--
with the rain as the Holy Spirit falling on the earth to bring life--revival.
We certainly need that.

We live in strange times, in which things we would have taken for granted
are under constant assault.
Who would have thought it would be necessary to vote to protect the institution of marriage;
and on Tuesday, the state of Maine did just that, by a close margin.

Father Tom and I were in Columbus on Thursday and Friday,
along with all the bishops of the state, and 700 priests from the whole state.
The U.S. bishops are preparing a letter on marriage,
and we were there to reflect on it and to prepare for when it is issued.
We heard some bad news about the state of things, and hopeful news.
On our drive back home, we talked about
how we could best use what we heard and talked about to help couples.
And I would ask you--tell us, what can we do to help you?
Whatever little bit you may have to offer, please share it with us. We want to help.

These are strange times. The faith of many seems so weak,
as people sometimes drift off and we wonder why.
We need rain; we need revival!
How will that come? Our prayers--our faith--offered for revival.
You may feel you haven't much to offer, but put it in, all the same.

If we continue to see this passage as symbolic,
we might see the woman as the Church, and the son as us.
It is here that we come, and we find enough to get us through.
In the back of church is a bit of bread. It's not very fancy;
we could get nicer, fancier bread at Panera, or make it ourselves--but that isn't the point.

The Lord takes just a handful, and transforms it into himself.
And it is enough! Enough to sustain us, day by day: "give us this day our daily Bread."
That's why we come here. We find what we need here.
And we put in what we have, while we pray for rain.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!

I'm sure you've heard about the lovely songs schools have taught the children to sing to our President. Since it's so popular to do these days, I thought of some additional lyrics they could sing:

Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!

Barack Hussein Obama
He’s the Leader, he’s divine
And everyone should get in line
Or give them reeducation time!

Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!

Barack Hussein Obama
Let the gummint take the lead
And provide for you your every need
Free to you, cuz the rich we’ll bleed!

Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!

Barack Hussein Obama
Grammies looking a little wan
Here’s a counselor to help you plan
It’s patriotic, don’t you understand?

Mmm! Mmm! Mmm!

Belated biretta-tip to Instapundit

Monday, November 02, 2009

Reason #1,378...

not to take sharing your faith with your children for granted illustrated here.

(If you read closely, you'll see that both are Catholic...)

Swine flu crisis worsens life hit hard.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Other happenings on Omnium Sanctorum

I just ducked into the balcony of St. Mary Church for the second half of the Mass offered by our parochial vicar. I wanted to be there before the Liturgy of the Eucharist began, because our junior high choir was providing music at Sunday Mass for the first time. Our music director, who also teaches in the school, and I have been wanting to do this for some time--to have our schoolchildren form choirs and provide music as part of Mass regularly throughout the year. We of course want our schoolchildren to learn the importance of music as part of Mass, but we also hope this will reinforce the importance of Sunday Mass for all our families (it is a sad reality that some families will send their children to Catholic school but not attend Sunday Mass).

They did well--they sung the standard, Gregorian Sanctus and Agnus Dei--using the simplest setting that the bishops recommend be introduced into every parish; they led us in "Be Not Afraid" as a communion hymn and "For all the Saints" as a closing hymn. After communion they sang a more contemporary piece--the name of which I do not know--that is a meditation on the Lord's Prayer. It is a very nice piece and they did it well. After the final hymn, they sang a more rousing piece--again, I don't know the name, but if someone from our music program visits here, can you give that information in the comments?

These two contemporary pieces were well chosen and well done--and they belie the notion that we must choose either ancient or modern. The issue is not that modern or contemporary has no place, but rather, the right sort of music that is appropriate for the liturgy, and turns our hearts and minds not inward, but upward and forward--to the Lord who saves us. They did well!

Our vicar, Father Tom, also wore a new, brilliant vestment which was generously donated by the St. Mary Altar Society. I hope to have a photo of the vestment, as soon as I get someone to take a picture of me (or Father Tom) in it. The chasuble, stole and chalice veil were blessed--by me--right before 9 am Mass, and then I used them for the first time.

I obtained the vestment from Saint Bede Studio, after scanning the web for companies to have make a vestment for us. My goal was something a little different--and I was intrigued when I saw a style of chasuble on the St. Bede blog that was worn by St. Philip Neri, St. Charles Borromeo and St. Ignatius Loyola. If you go here, you'll see a post about "a priest from Ohio"--could that be me?--ordering a vestment remarkably similar to the one I obtained!

Later today, I'll stop by a picnic organized by some of our families, including the aforementioned music director and family. The gathering is notable for one feature--it's all our families with four or more children! With great thanks to God, we have a number of families who are--as I like to put it--doing their best to repopulate Western Civilization. It is tremendously encouraging to me and to all of us, and I look forward to stopping by.

Still later, the youth group will have a gathering, starting in the basement of the rectory-office at St. Boniface, focusing on the saints--and as part of that, we'll have a procession to the chapel for solemn Mass--the idea is to recall the catacombs experience of the early Church. After Mass, we'll have a bonfire and 'smores--which allegedly came down from the early Church, but I cannot find a citation for that just now...

'The saints are the health of the world' (All Saints homily)

(I will recount my homily as best I can from memory, I had no notes.)

As it happens, we might call today "Health Sunday"--because I have a couple of items to share with you concerning our health--and this seems the best way to do it.

First. Given the flu season, there are many with concerns, and after talking to Father Tom and Father Ang, we wanted to offer the following precautions:

1) Since shaking hands is a very effective way to spread germs, please don't feel you have to shake hands at the sign of peace. This is a symbolic sign of the peace Christ gives us. If you are a little under the weather, or you aren't so sure about the nice person next to you, you don't have to shake hands--maybe a head-nod or a wave instead.

2) If you are feeling a little under the weather, and you don't come to Mass because you don't want to spread it, that's not a sin, that's being very considerate. If you know of anyone who isn't coming to Mass and would like to receive holy communion, call the parish office so we can do that.

3) If you came to Mass and you feel a little under the weather, you don't have to drink from the cup. We receive all of Jesus in the Eucharist, whether we receive the host or the cup. Not drinking from the cup when you're a little germ-y or cough-y is very considerate of others. If there is anyone for whom this creates a problem, please let me know after Mass.

4) We are so grateful for those who help distribute the Eucharist at Mass--and I would just suggest that they may want to get some hand-sanitizer and use it just before they come forward.

Second health item. This is something Archbishop Pilarczyk wants me to bring to your attention. We are all aware of Congress debating health-care legislation that will affect all of us. And for some time, the bishops have been raising the concern that whatever legislation is passed, it not include funding to promote or pay for abortions, among other concerns.

Unfortunately, thus far Congress has not heeded that concern--so the bills now under consideration would use our tax money to promote abortion. In your bulletins today is this orange handout (hold up handout)--it has other information on the back, so look at both sides--and it provides all the information you need. Also, it provides a way you and I can contact Congress right away to voice our views. As Catholics and as citizens, we have the right--and the duty--to speak up; and things are moving fast, so don't wait, we need to act now.

Now, what does all that about health have to do with the saints? I thought about that; and I realized: the saints are the health of the world. Everyone in this world who has the Holy Spirit active in his or her life, following the grace of Christ--that means all of us, but the saints especially, who do so in heroic ways--this is essential for the health of the world. Consider for a moment: what if, at midnight, everyone who followed the Lord ceased to be in the world? What would happen? What would the world be like? No one to be a peacemaker; no one to offer reconciliation in response to anger; no one to lead others in a life of discipline and holiness.

I don't want to think about that world, and thankfully, we won't find out--because the world is filled with Christians, and the grace of Christ is at work through us all--and the world needs us!

Who can forget when Mother Theresa won the Nobel Prize, and stood before the world, and said it was a terrible poverty to destroy children in abortion? What a difference St. Damien of Molokai, John Paul, Maximilian Kolbe, and so many others, have made in the world!

Now, there's another thing. How many saints are present, right here? I don't mean the saints who are present with us spiritually at Mass--I mean you! I know what you're thinking, "I'm not a saint!" But when you were baptized, you became a saint. As I tell the parents and godparents, that's the easy part; the hard part is staying a saint. That's why their task is so important.

But how blessed we are that God doesn't just give us one shot--and if we mess up after baptism, too bad, hope you have an asbestos suit for the afterlife! No! God gives us every possible help to persevere. We are made saints in baptism, and if we mess up, we can renew the newness of baptism in the sacrament of confession.

What if I told you that, if you stepped into the box back there, when you came out, all debts would be gone? I suspect some of us wouldn't wait for Mass to end--you'd be back there! Wouldn't that be wonderful? That's what happens in confession--the debt of sin, wiped away! How wonderful!

Above all, the Lord gives us the Eucharist--where we are united to the One who will take us to heaven. Through the Eucharist, we are joined to him--and as long as we hold onto him, we have nothing to fear, because he is taking us to heaven.

We are called to be saints. If we make it to heaven, that's what we'll be; there's no economy class in heaven! We will all be saints.

Think of those who run marathons. I don't run marathons, in case you haven't figured that out! But I've seen it done! What happens? The men and women who are running, maybe after 10, or 15 or so miles, they get tired, they flag, they are running down. And what do those who have finished the race do? They are standing there, saying, "come on! you can do it! you can make it! keep coming, keep running, don't give up, go, go go!"

That's what the saints are doing for us. They are cheering us on from heaven, supporting us with their prayers--they want us to make it! So that what the first reading from Revelation described is fulfilled: a number, too great to count, of all those who have been washed clean in the Blood of the Lamb, and who have overcome, are gathered together.

That's us! That's our hope.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What else happened today?

Today was--for St. Boniface only--a very special day: we marked the anniversary of the dedication of St. Boniface Church, October 26, 1865. By Church law, this anniversary is for every parish a solemnity, of very high rank; thus, it can be transferred to a nearby Sunday, provided it is Ordinary Time.

So that is what we do, in each parish, each year. (St. Mary has its anniversary in June.)

What made it a little more special is that, for the past few years, St. Boniface has undergone some improvements. We had a bunch of repair and maintenance issues when I arrived, and the parish and I put together a list of projects, and we raised the money needed to get them done. Now we're working through them. And in the past year, some of those have been very noticeable: the stained-glass windows are in process of being restored, the exterior had some important work done, and some other projects not as noticeable.

So, it seemed like a good time to take note of some of that, and thank all who helped: so we had a Parish Brunch, after the 10:30 am Mass, to which all were invited, especially those who helped in the "Rebuild St. Boniface" fundraising effort. We made sure those who were out of town got an invitation mailed to them. And then, after the brunch, I gave a tour to anyone who wasn't up-to-speed on the projects, or had questions.

My homily for this Mass was different, because the readings were different. The readings all emphasize the sanctification of both the house of God, and the people of God--the twin themes of all the readings and prayers for the anniversary of the dedication of a church. My homily recalled the visit of Archbishop Purcell in 1865, and what an arduous journey that must have been in his day; and what an act of faith on the part of a small group of families, with limited resources, at a time when anti-Catholic bigotry was significant. I pointed out that about that same time, an anti-Catholic mob had burnt Sidney's Catholic church to the ground!

The Gospel was about Zacchaeus, short of stature, eager to see the Lord, and the Lord singled him out and said, I need to stay in your house today. And I pointed out that all the readings I'd chosen (although I hadn't noticed this when I chose them) talked about outsiders: the first reading, from Isaiah, talked about non-Jews being drawn to God's house; and Ephesians talked about being strangers no longer. And the reason God wanted this house of St. Boniface built was to bring in the outsiders, to make them "insiders"--part of his household. And we've been doing that all these years, but our mission remains the same.

Also, just as Jesus said to Zacchaeus, I need to stay in your house--he asks us to provide this house for him--he needs to be here. And from the first time the Holy Mass was offered in this church, Jesus has been in our house! What a thing to say! Yet it's true, for every Catholic church in the world! Jesus is in our house!

So when we wonder about our times, and we feel discouraged because of the economy, and we fear for the future--maybe we hear about the Mayan calendar and wonder if the world is going to end in 2012!--we might remember the act of faith of those who first built this house, and all that has happened since; and we might just remind ourselves: Jesus is in our house!

The task described by the readings--of bringing in the outsiders--is still ours today. Who will invite them? We will. Where will they sit? Right beside us. And what will we tell them, to get them to come? "Jesus is in our house!"

True Joy (Sunday homily)

(From memory of what my now-misplaced notes said...)

The first reading and the psalm describe joy--
specifically, the joy God's People felt
when they were allowed to return from exile to their homeland.

As I reflected on the readings, I found myself thinking about
what things give us cause for joy?
Some things that are more permanent, others that are transitory--
such as a Buckeye's win: enjoy it while it lasts!

And I also found myself thinking about the moments I get to witness that joy, in you!
A week ago Saturday, we had a wedding--
and I got to see the joy in the face of the couple just as they gave their vows:
I get to see them the first instant they are married!
Then, some time later, I see their joy again when they return with a child to be baptized.

And I think about the joy of our second-graders,
when they first receive the sacrament of reconciliation;
they may not be able to explain fully what it means,
but you can see they experience real joy.
And then, of course, when they come for their first communion.

Even our 8th graders--they often want to keep cool, not show any emotion, but--
when they come before the Archbishop, and receive the sacrament of confirmation,
some of the hardest cases are grinning like kids on Christmas day!

These are all experiences of the Holy Spirit, of course--
but even these supernatural experiences of joy don't always last.
They can fade, whether because of spiritual inertia, or laziness,
or sin, or the busy-ness of life.

I remember the day of my own ordination as a priest--and what a joy that was.
But I have to admit, when I find my own joy isn't up where it had been,
it's pretty often because I need to get to confession,
or I need to stir up my prayer life, or look at how my priorities may be skewed.

The true cause for joy is not anything we receive, but the One who gives them.
That's what we saw in the Gospel. Bartimaeus received what he asked for--
and the Lord said, you can go your way;
and yet Bartimaeus didn't do that, he followed the Lord.
Because he came to see--once his eyes were opened--
that it was the Lord that he really wanted.

The question the Lord asked Bartimaeus, he asks us:
"What do you wish me to do for you?"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Sunday homily: the power and beauty in suffering

For the second weekend in a row, I delivered my Sunday homily from a mental outline rather than a written text or page of notes,'s very hard to reconstruct my homily for you here. Perhaps if anyone heard my homily cares to recount what you heard? That might be interesting!

I began with the curiosity of our approach to suffering--we seem to embrace it, and that may be hard to explain to others, even to ourselves. Why do we do this?

Well, we do this of course because of what our Lord taught. But my next point was to describe how I, in reflecting on this, was led to recall the last years, and particularly the last days, of Pope John Paul II. Recall how he went from being so hale and strong, and gradually his body weakened, his back stooped, his appearance was contorted, until he could no longer walk or lift his arms, and in the end, he could no longer speak. Recall how there were those who said he should resign and retire, because he couldn't carry out his duties as Vicar of Christ! Instead, the late holy father understood quite well--far better than they it seems--how to represent Christ!

His last years and last days were his most powerful homily: demonstrating that life is worth living, and is beautiful, even amidst great suffering. I also talked about how we see this in so many people we love, who do the same in their own lives; how I saw that in my parents who, each in turn, faced their own decline and death with courage and faith.

Along the way, I recalled the saying my mother had, which often annoyed me as a child: "offer it up." Sometimes it served to confront me with the triviality of my claimed "sufferings"; but it also revealed a powerful truth about our Faith: that God has taken what otherwise would have no value, and transformed it--from death to life.

If God had not done this--if he had not embraced the cross and made it the path to salvation--then it would mean that for all the wonderful things we could tell the world about Christ, when it came to the thing that unites all humanity, all experience, when it comes to the trials and sufferings and persecutions that all endure, we--Christ--would having nothing to say to humanity.

Instead, by choosing the cross as the path of our redemption, God has placed himself at the very center of human experience. God has made the hard and difficult reality of the human condition central to his plan of salvation. He has turned death to life.

Also, God proposes for us a kind of exchange: bring our crosses, our trials, to Christ, and exchange them for his cross. By doing so, he takes our trials and suffering as his own--and we receive life! This is what happens at Mass: we are able to place, as it were, all our pain and difficulties on the altar, with the bread and wine; and Christ, who acts through the Mass, particularly through the priest, will offer it all, along with his own body and blood, as the sacrifice that takes away the sins of the world. Do you realize what that means? Our little, ordinary, seemingly meaningless trials and difficulties actually become part of saving the world!

That exchange is also what happens in receiving the Eucharist--we receive his Body and Blood. We give him our suffering and crosses; and he gives us life.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Some of the day's events...

Arrived at the office a little after 9 am, breakfast (coffee and two donuts) in hand. Big pile of mail awaiting me, some that I didn't finish opening on Friday. Also had emails to deal with.

Needed to call several folks on one parish finance committee; we had planned a meeting for this evening, at 5:30; however, too many couldn't make it, and the agenda was light, so the chairwoman recommended letting it go; we'll circulate a monthly report to all concerned via email. Involved several calls and some emails.

Plowed through the email inbox, responding to each in turn. Some phone calls came in, or I made some, based on what I found there. That's how a "few" emails can take a couple of hours to get through.

Checked in with everyone in the office about various items. The retired priest stopped by, we had a couple of things to discuss--another one I remembered only after he left.

He was returning the proposed Mass schedules for November and December--I write up the schedule, and send it around to the other priests for comments or changes. It includes: every weekday and weekend Mass; weddings; other special Masses; confessions for school children; nursing home Masses (four times each month, usually on Thursday--but in November, we had to move two of them around due to other events).

When I prepare this schedule, here are things I take into consideration--and which make it complicated: I attempt to "rotate" the three priests through all the Masses. I try to make sure I'm at both parishes each weekend--yet sometimes that doesn't happen, it didn't this past weekend. In consideration of the other priests' age and/or health, I don't have them take two Masses back-to-back; I attempt to line us up with special requests from families ("That will be our 50th Anniversary, can you be there, Father?") or with special observances taking part in Mass (blessing our catechists). It takes longer than you might imagine.

Exchanged some emails with a committee chairman about some parish business; had a phone call with another. That took time.

Advised the altar society about a new vestment they wanted to help provide for the parish, by sending along a picture we'd gotten from the fellow who designed it. It's due to arrive any day.

Spent some time looking at issues regarding the interior of St. Boniface--it needs painting, plus we raised money for new pews, and there are related concerns worth dealing with, all at one time. So I had some bids from two pew manufacturers to look at; also, I had a phone call with the artist who is preparing a concept for what the interior will look like. We have a meeting of that committee next week.

Was getting really hungry, so I went out for lunch around 4 pm, came right back. Sister, who has these crazy ideas about food and thinks french fries and hamburgers are bad for me! (She clearly has not taken to heart the wisdom of Woody Allen's "Sleeper"), looked in to see what I brought back. She was diplomatic as always. Thankfully, she doesn't know I ate the fries on the way back, she only saw the burger and the Diet Coke.

Cleared a few items off my desk, moved some others around. Don't laugh, you do it too!

I'll try to get a bit more work to do before a meeting tonight at 7 pm, then home I hope by 8:30 pm.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Monday, October 05, 2009

My Sunday...

A glimpse into my Sunday...

The other priests had the early Masses (7 and 9), so I was able to sleep in; naturally, I woke up before 6:30 am! So I got up, went to get some coffee--oops, out of coffee and I meant to buy some, and forgot! So I jumped in the car and drove over to my friend Tim's place (Tim Horton's). They are thinking of opening a drive-through lane just for me, I hear.

OK, back home, prayed, read some news on the Internet...just before 10 am, I stopped in the cafeteria at St. Mary, because they were going to have coffee-and-donuts after 9 am Mass; but as I had 10:30 am at St. Boniface, my opportunity to catch folks was brief. I caught the end of the "breaking open the word" session--that's a group of folks who are preparing to enter the church at Easter, and it leaves Mass after the homily to reflect more on the Scriptures. I didn't see anyone else before I headed over to St. B.

After 10:30 am, it was back to St. Mary for Noon Mass. After that Mass, we had the anointing of the sick for those who wished; we do this every month, after either the 4 pm Mass or the Noon Mass.

Then, I ducked inside my house for a quick lunch--a couple of mettwursts cooked in the micro, and a diet 7-up. Then I met up with a group headed to Troy for the annual Life Chain. We prayed silently on the streets of Troy (the county seat) for an hour.

OK, back to the parish around 3:30. I watched some of the Bengals-Browns game, but had to go around 4, to stop by a parishioner's house to bless it. I couldn't find the paper, where I'd written down her name, address and number--and of course, I couldn't remember any of it! Meanwhile, the Bengals failed to end the game in regulation time, so it went to OT, and I'm thinking, end it before I have to go! After waiting as long as I dared, I had to run to the office, where I was pretty sure I had the info I needed.

Sure enough, it was in an email--so I called the parishioner, and headed over there. They rented the house out, and a prior tenant had just vacated, so they wanted me to bless it before they re-rented it. I apologized for being late, and for not being able to stay long, because next up was helping at St. Boniface bingo at 5 pm. We ask families with children in the school to work a certain number of hours at bingo, so I signed myself up for the same.

Well, I was kind of tired, and around 6:30 pm, I headed home. They had good help thankfully. I did stop in on the high school group for a few minutes. They were watching some movie, but I cannot tell you the name. Once home, I watched a movie I think--the third edition of the Pirates of the Carribbean series, which made absolutely no sense to me--but it was diverting.

Oh, and somewhere in there, I traded some phone calls with a funeral home about a funeral Wednesday, and with a parishioner who meets with the family to help plan.

That was a bit busier than the usual Sunday for me; but not moreso than for a lot of priests, as I have two priests who help.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

'The miracle of being human (Respect Life Sunday homily)

What our Lord just said in the Gospel is very demanding—
there’s no getting around it.
It explains why the Catholic Church teaches what she does
about marriage and getting married again.

It should be pointed out that when Jesus said that,
He was going against the grain from every direction.
As we heard—he was overriding what Moses taught;
As well as what the prevailing, Greek and Roman culture,
around him, taught.

So—when we feel like our Catholic Church’s teachings
are out there, all alone—
That’s the way it was at the beginning,
with a lot of what Jesus said and did.

But there’s something underlying this that bears attention.
The larger picture is the high calling God has placed on humanity.
Not just about how we live in our marriages—
but who we truly understand ourselves to be,
both in our destiny for eternity,
and also, right here and right now.

You see, it was this passage (or rather, the parallel passage in Matthew)
that Pope John Paul II was studying,
when he began to offer the world a new way
of looking at our importance, and our purpose, in being human.
This is what is often called his "theology of the body."

It’s not easy to sum up in a few minutes in a homily, but:
the big idea is this: that our humanity—
how we are made, our bodies, our emotions,
and the way live in relationship with one another,
especially in family, and above all,
the unique love between a man and a woman—

all this has an indispensable role in showing the world who God is.
That includes, showing us who God is;
and along the way, it shows us who we truly are.

Look at this way.
If you think you are a small, almost insignificant part
of a large corporation, or of an army, you may think,
"what I do isn’t very important;
and whether I do my best, or I slack off…
how can that matter to the whole effort?"

But what if you found out that you really aren’t just a small cog—
a third-string utility player who rides the bench all season—
but in fact, you are a key player,
the whole plan for success depends far more on you
than you ever realized?

We are caught between all the messages of our culture—
which are everywhere, and they permeate our thinking
and our decisions far more than we realize—
and one of those messages is, that our bodies,
and the way we use our bodies in expressing intimacy—
isn’t all that important in the grand scheme of things.

It’s fun, it’s fulfilling—but really,
why should God care so much about "dos and donts"
when it comes to such things?

Why does God insist on marriage for life?
Why would God care about it being a man and a woman?
And why should God object to something like contraception?

The answer is that our human nature is a kind of sacrament:
Bringing God to the world;
And how we live our lives either tells the truth about God—
and ourselves—or it tells falsehoods—to ourselves and to others.

You and I are made in the image of God.
In the first reading, Adam—before he meets the woman—
meets all the other living things.
What happens is he begins to discover
what an awesome thing it is to be human.

And when he meets his partner—
he discovers the rest of himself.
The human image of God is made complete
in the union of a man and a woman.

If we continued reading that passage,
we discover her name—Eve—"the mother of all the living."
An essential part of being image of God is that we are life-givers.

So notice how, after Jesus teaches about marriage,
the passage talks about children.

The love of a man and a woman is designed by God
not to be a closed circle, but to break out of itself, into new life.

Realize that when a man and a woman come together that way,
and new life comes into existence, nearly out of nothing—
at that moment, human beings come closest
to being like God: as a pro-creator and a life-giver!

The implications are staggering.
This is why we emphasize waiting until marriage,
being faithful in marriage,
and being open to the gift of life each and every time
a couple comes together.

Because these seemingly ordinary aspects of human life
are, in their own way, as sacred and awesome
as what happens on this altar at every Mass.

You and I would be scandalized
to have the sacred mysteries of the altar with disrespect;
it’s exactly the same with the sacred mystery
of our own human existence,
particularly as it involves a spouse and family and new life.

So as much as we might prefer to keep quiet,
We keep speaking up on behalf of the weak and powerless,
especially the poor and the unborn children
who are targeted for destruction.

We refuse to be silent
about the use of early human life
as a commodity for scientific "research"—
because every human life is part of the sacred mystery,
and it is a sacrilege, a blasphemy,
to treat any human being as something to throw away.

We realize that part of the danger is that if we get used to it,
we adjust ourselves to a big lie about who we are in God’s eyes—
about how special it is to being human.
It would be as if Adam, in seeing those animals, merely thought,
"I am one of them."

Does this demand a lot of us? Indeed it does.
But the key question is not, is it too hard?
But: is it true?

If we really are that important to the divine plan,
then we cannot opt out; we cannot be bystanders
and our choices matter quite a bit.

And that’s why as Christians, we take sin seriously,
and we are so grateful, so overwhelmed, by what God did in Christ
to rescue us, and to give us his own power, the Holy Spirit,
to live up to, and achieve, the wondrous truth of being human!

This is why the Sacrifice of the Mass—
Jesus offering himself as one of us, for us—
to rescue us from the lie—is so awesome and overwhelming!
God is calling us and lifting us up
to something vastly beyond our wildest imagination.

It demands our everything—
like the challenges and joys of marriage and family;
and like the Cross demanded of Jesus—
But it’s where we discover who we are
and the miracle of being human.

(A liturgical note: I thought the fourth Eucharistic Prayer was especially appropriate for this Mass.)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Letting go of money (Sunday homily)

(These are my notes, adjusted by my memory of how I delivered this homily three times this past weekend...)

Looking at that second reading, we might make a couple of points:

1) St. James is not indicting everyone who has wealth,
but those who misuse their wealth, and the power that goes with it.

2) Many of us who wouldn't call ourselves wealthy would--nonetheless--
by James' standards be considered wealthy, if we:

> own our own homes
> have savings and investments
> own nice stuff
...because James is contrasting those who have security in wealth with those who do not.

James' point is not that wealth is bad, but that it has perils.
Have you not found that when we have possessions, what we own possesses us?
When you own things, or have responsibilities for a business and so forth,
these things occupy our thoughts and cares.

I experienced this when I decided to enter the seminary.
Before I did so, I had a job with some responsibility; I owned a nice car,
on which I had payments to make; and I owned a home, with a mortgage.
When I entered the seminary, I gave up the job; sold the car and bought a cheaper one,
with nothing owed; and sold my house.
While I was sad to give up those things, it was very freeing--
especially not to owe anyone a penny.

Well, I've come full circle--while I don't own a lot,
I do have plenty of responsibilities for this parish and the other parish
and it occupies my thoughts and cares.

When we find that these things overwhelm us,
the only thing to do is a prayer of surrender--
of turning these things over to God--and that can be very hard to do.
Often, we can only do that when our backs are against the wall
and we finally admit we can't handle it all on our own.

For me, it comes late at night, when I am turning things over in my mind,
and I can't sleep, even though I need to; it's when I'm finally exhausted that I let go.

But that letting go--loosening our grip--is what we need to do.
Not giving up, but giving over--to God who is ultimately in control.

A funny thing happens sometimes--people who have wealth or responsibility,
sometimes just decide to give it up.
This is not just a feature of the religious life, it's one of its principal attractions,
the vow of poverty.
St. Anthony--not of Padua, who helps us find lost things,
but of Egypt, from a long time ago, was one of the first monks.
He inherited a lot of money, and like many of us, decided to give part of it to God.
But that wasn't enough for him; so he gave most of it to God,
keeping a little for himself. Ultimately, he gave it all away.

Those who enter the vowed, religious life, this is one of the great attractions:
making this radical gift to Christ.
It was the same with St. Francis of Assisi, who even gave over his clothing.

But what about the rest of us, the majority of us who won't make a vow of poverty?

This is why giving part away is important--this is the spiritual rationale for that.
Just like fasting or penance or other spiritual exercises,
giving a part of what we have away helps us not hold the grip too tightly.
Of course, if we have money to give away, that's wonderful,
and thank you for your generosity to the church;
but it is also giving talent and time away too.

And when we give these things away,
we realize another kind of wealth we have: Christ!
His mercy and his presence are a bank account that is never empty.
As we take part in this Mass, perhaps we realize we need to let go a little more;
but take this opportunity to seize--with both hands!--
the great wealth that is Christ! He is our true wealth--in this life, and for eternity!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who can be ordained?

There's been some discussion in the pages of the Cincinnati Enquirer about who can be ordained as bishop, priest or deacon by the Catholic Church. I wrote a letter which appeared online; I don't know if it appeared in print.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Events in the life of a priest

Another "day in the life" post, although it will be about events from this week...

Monday (or what a priest does on his day off):

We had a funeral for a man who died last week. I met with the family on Friday afternoon to plan the funeral. I often have a volunteer do this, but in this case, I didn't know the family at all, so this was a way to get better acquainted. We spent about an hour going over the Mass, explaining everything as needed. The family suggested I pick the readings; I suggested some and they liked them. We talked about options: incense is used toward the end; it could be used throughout. Would you like that? (Yes.) We can do some of the prayers in Latin, or would you prefer English? (English.) We can use purple, black, or white vestments--and I explained purple expresses prayerful waiting and hope (Advent & Lent); black expresses mourning and sorrow; and white represents resurrection. Preference? (Black.)

Monday morning, we had the funeral. Not a lot of folks besides the family and the American Legion. We did use incense throughout, and it was very nice. FYI, the way I did it was to load the censer with incense after we sprinkled the coffin with holy water and placed the pall--and then the incense led the procession to the altar. Then we did incense at all the usual places, including at the end which is most familiar. After this, I changed from my Mass vestments into a surplice (I was wearing my cassock) and a black stole, and we went to the cemetery for the burial. No one commented either way on the black vestments, but many did say they liked the Mass.

After the funeral, I came back to church, and was going to stop in on the St. Mary Altar Society lunch; however, I was needed for something in the office. By the time I got that taken care of, it was too late to go see the St. Mary Altar Society--sorry ladies! I wanted to tell them about the vestment I'd ordered for St. Mary, at their behest and with their pledge of funds. We are supposed to have it next month. I'll see if the maker can send me a pic when it's finished, to post here.

I didn't do much after that; I did head down to Dayton for awhile, ending up at Tumbleweeds for an early dinner (see prior post). That was my day off.

Yesterday, after Mass with the schoolchildren, and a quick trip to Tim Hortons for coffee and a breakfast sandwich, I had a staff meeting in the morning, then plenty of office work. I met with the chairman of St. Boniface Pastoral Council in the afternoon, to plan for Thursday evening's meeting. Then some more office work--phone calls, emails, mail to open, etc.

We had a meeting Tuesday evening of our new liturgy commissions for both parishes. When I arrived, one parish did not have a liturgy commission, and the other was falling apart. I had other fires to put out, so this sat on the sidelines. I received some feedback from one parish that parishioners would like to see one.

My response was to say, yes, let's create one for each parish; have them work jointly to some degree insofar as we have one pastor; and I said I believed the key thing must be that everyone will study, and work from, the Church's own understanding of the liturgy. I sought advice from several people on who to name, and it took some time to make phone calls to all involved, and we finally got together last night. We prayed the liturgy of the hours together, then discussed some routine housekeeping matters, and then looked at the beginning of Sacrosanctum Concilium, aka the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy from the Second Vatican Council. This weekend, I'll have a letter in the bulletins introducing these folks and explaining our purpose.

This morning, after Mass, I got together with our director of religious education and youth, because he had a project for me. "Have you ever seen 'MTV Cribs'?" I admitted I had. "We'd like to videotape you giving a tour of the church, explaining everything, sorta like that. I laughed...okay, but we need to do both churches. So that's what we did this morning--but we went to get some coffee and donuts while folks finished their rosary. If the video passes the censor (me), I'll post it here. That is, if it doesn't get accidentally erased.

I was at the Kiwanis lunch today, they signed me up for membership. I haven't found anyone who can tell me where the name comes from; but it's a good group, dedicated to volunteerism.

Then back here to work on some things, that seemed to take all afternoon, now I'm taking a break, and later we'll have our Bible Study--looking at Romans, about to chapter 5 I believe--then I'll hang out with some parishioners afterward.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Glenn Beck

I'm sitting at Tumbleweed, waiting for dinner.

Glenn Beck (remember Howard Beale from "Network"? If not, rent it) is on TV, with a chart with lots of names of people and organizations, all connected this way and that. The sound is turned down, so I cannot comment on what he's saying (Deo gratias); but Morton Blackwell, one of the wisest men in politics, warned me about folks who draw complicated charts explaining how "it's all interconnected"--meaning vast, spidery conspiracies. It's a snare and a delusion--which is what Glenn Beck is--he who hap'ed upon his moment of success skewering the Obama Administration because it's a target-rich environment and most of the big-game hunters are all not interested.

I hold Mr. Beck no personal animus, but--I'm cautioning you, he's going to be a major embarrassment, sooner or later.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Control or the Cross (Sunday homily)

My Sunday homily was not the same text as three years ago--but the same theme. But I had no notes; I just talked about how we (I!) behave behind the wheel as an example of a vain attempt to control things--leading to anger--in contrast to the release of control that brings peace. Another example I offered was the anxiety many feel about the political situation; which we influence, but we must ultimately yield to God's providence. In contrast to control, I offered the example of our Divine Savior on the Cross. And I invited everyone who had something they would like to let go of, to place it (figuratively) with the gifts of bread and wine, as they come to the altar, so they may be offered, with the bread and wine, to the Lord to be transformed--as we long to be transformed through union with the Eucharist--into Christ himself.

If you click on the headline, you can read my homily from three years ago. I didn't actually look at it beforehand, other than to borrow the theme; but I wouldn't be surprised if some of the same ideas resurfaced--I'm not that creative!

Monday, September 14, 2009

This time, 'District 9'

I have a thing for science fiction. I took in 'District 9' this afternoon. I was kind of bored with it at first, and thought about leaving (which I have done maybe 3 times). It had that jumpy quality that 'Blair Witch' and whatever that movie was where the aliens attack New York. I hate that stuff, it makes me want to throw up. But I moved back a few rows (in an otherwise empty theater); and after awhile, the movie became very interesting to me.

Warning: it is rather bloody and in some ways disturbing. But in many ways interesting and thought-provoking.

Meanwhile, let me digress back to the previews. Do you enjoy those? I try to arrive at the theater with enough time to see those. I noticed one preview for something called 'Legion,' in which God--this is what they said, I'm not interpreting this--was so angry at the world that he sent a bunch of angels to exterminate everyone. Another take on the creepy/dark supernatural/"we deserve to be punished" theme that shows up a lot. When does it open? January 22. What do you make of that?

While I was watching that...

...and it doesn't look like something I want to see, because among other things, I absolutely refuse to take part in a movie that depicts angels as villains or enemies of humanity. Sorry--absolutely wrong answer. Maybe it really won't be that way (it's amazing but true: movie makers will present a film, in the previews, in a way very much contrary to what the movie is really about), but that's my reaction based on their own preview.

...anyway, as I was watching that preview, I thought of something I've observed before--and now I'll share with you for your thoughts. Does it seem to you that a fair amount of films and literature is all about how we're gonna get it? We've got it coming and we're really going to be slammed? Put it another way: how often does a futuristic movie depict the future as something sunny and positive, or even something more or less like our world? In the former category, I'd put the whole 'Star Trek' series; they exude a great optimism about the future. In the latter, I'd put the Philip Dick movies, "Total Recall," "Minority Report" and whatever the movie was with Ben Affleck having his memory wiped. Not terrible futures, but not utopian, either.

Then we have the movies in which the future is bleak: Terminator; the new flick about the Mayan calendar, "2012" I think; and the animated movie out right now, called "9." Then there are the environmental apocalypse movies: "Waterworld" and "Day After Tomorrow" (which I think should be a double feature every Earth Day--but few would get the joke). And a lot more.

Is it just me, or does Hollywood have a widespread sense of foreboding? Here's an even more edgy idea: does this reveal something unconsciously at work in our culture? Someone said that if you really want to know what's at work in a culture, don't read it's non-fiction, but it's fiction; because there's something unconscious at work there. (Did Flannery O'Connor say that? I pick these quotes up like barnacles but never remember where I got them, sorry--maybe one of my readers knows?)

Anyway, that's what I thought about during the previews; then came the movie: "District 9.

What are your thoughts about any of this?

A few political observations

It's been awhile since I shared some political observations. Here goes:

> Opponents to misguided health-care "reform" should start hitting other issues than the so-called "public option."

It seems clear to me that the government-operated insurance program, called "the public option," is sinking fast. President Obama's handling of it suggests to me that, when it fails, he will say that he went to bat for it, but the votes weren't there. Now they are casting about for something approximating it, such as a so-called "co-op."

What I also think is happening is that the advocates of a big-government solution are setting up the "public option" as a kind of scapegoat. The term "scapegoat" comes from Scripture: God's people would take a goat, and symbolically put all their sins on that goat, and send it off into the desert. Likewise, the White House and its allies on this are preparing to cut the public option adrift, hoping that all the fears and opposition to their proposals will go off with it--and they can get through the rest of the proposals.

But there are a lot of problems with the bill.

The President said his bill would tell insurance companies all the things they couldn't consider when they wrote an insurance policy. They couldn't consider any pre-existing condition; they couldn't take into account actual differences between men and women in insurance costs; they couldn't put any caps on the benefits they would pay out. Big applause.

No one wants to be a meanie and explain why these are bad ideas. So let's apply this to other forms of insurance. What if companies that provide flood insurance were not allowed to take into consideration the history of floods in that area? You had six floods in 20 years? So what--you still are "entitled" to be insured against flood damage. What do you think will happen?

The obvious thing to do is to charge more. If you were the insurance company, what would you do? The alternative is a fast lane to bankruptcy.

Charging different premiums for men and women--how terrible! Well, auto insurance companies do it--and they do it, not because of some irrational bias against men (who pay higher auto premiums) but because of higher risk. After all, if there were not some fact to this, why doesn't some health insurance company come out and say, "we give women the best rates!" There are a lot of women in this country, and they are not powerless, politically or economically.

OK, at this point someone may say, but it's not about a business decision, it's about doing the right thing: meaning, it's not right to take pre-existing conditions or different costs associated with sex into account.

But in any case, the fact remains that these mandates will have real-world costs. And what the President is doing is airily mandating these insurance companies somehow to solve these problems. When premiums surge upward, or what is provided to everyone is diminished--and these are the obvious outcomes to expect--who will the President and his allies blame? Why, the greedy insurance companies (boo! boo!). This is a lousy way to do things--unless what you want is to lay the groundwork for another go at a government-run system.

Speaking of mandates, what about the individual mandate? Where in the Constitution does it say the federal government can do this? The comparison is made to auto insurance; however, it is not true to say the government (in this case, state government) actually compels anyone to have auto insurance. Rather, drivers or automobile owners are so required. The rationale is that this is a condition of venturing out onto public roads.

But with this, the only way to escape this mandate--other than begging for a special exemption--is to cease existing.

The target of this individual mandate are those "selfish" young people who correctly make the calculation that a comprehensive health insurance policy is a lousy deal for them. The spectre of a costly, catastrophic health emergency befalling them--and then being paid for by everyone else--is always raised. However: such a more limited policy would be relatively cheap, and very easy to incentivize folks to adopt. If that is what you want, give these folks a tax deduction or even a credit for that, and I bet millions of folks would happily purchase such a policy. After all, it is very reasonable to insure oneself against such an outcome. Part of the problem is actually finding such a policy.

But let's be clear--that stated reason is not actually what this is about. What it's really about is funding the rest of "the system." The idea is that these "selfish" healthy people should be made to pay steep premiums (which will escalate rapidly if the President has his way), to pay for others' health care, and that somehow, they can be assured that "when it's their turn," some other unfortunate folks will be tapped to provide for them.

Have we seen this before? Yep--it's called Social Security. And it's on its way to massive failure. And Social Security is more financially sound--or I should say, less unsound--than this scheme.

Let's remember what our supposed goal is: to find ways to assure as many people as possible (we can't do the impossible) have quality and affordable health care. I think we can all say that we favor some sort of "insurance" or risk-sharing. And we all say we want to keep costs from getting to be too much.

The question is, are these the way to do it? I think not. And I think an awful lot of Americans have sound reason to be concerned. The so-called "public option" is only the most visible problem, and the advocates of a big-government approach are about to toss it overboard. It's time to focus on the many other problems, some of which I've mentioned.

> I don't want the GOP to take control next year.

Of course this is premature, but even the President is now acknowledging what I've had in mind from before he was elected: that if Obama or Hilary Clinton were elected, the likelihood of the GOP taking control of Congress would grow. Those who despaired at the thought of Obama's election, you may recall I said don't assume he will just be able to do whatever he wants, without opposition, and without the American people having ways to bring pressure to bear. That is now happening--rather faster, I concede, than I expected; but nonetheless.

Some of my friends on the right will be very encouraged by the possibility of the GOP taking back even one house of Congress; but I am not. In my judgment, the GOP is simply "not ready for prime time." It is far from clear to me that the GOP has yet learned the lessons it needs to learn about the past eight--and really, I'd say 10-12 years--of its governance. It may be that the GOP wasn't really ready to take over in 1994, but I can't say I had that insight then. But I really think they aren't deserving of it now. Not yet.

I'm speaking, of course, as someone who believes in limited government.

I know--"but won't that be better than what we have now?" Not necessarily. It could easily be worse. How worse? Having the so-called "small government" party repackage big-government, and thus helping the big-government party enact it is how. Hello--isn't that what we saw during the Bush years? Isn't that one of the big reasons so many are so viscerally disgusted with the GOP? It's certainly why I feel that way.

What's important to me is to have more voices in Congress for the prolife cause, for limited government, and for personal freedom, than we have now. Which help-yourself partisans actually control the gavel matters little to me--it's which causes can command the votes.

At this point, I think if prolifers and small-government folks saw a lot more of their advocates win--and their opponents sent to retirement--in 2010, without the GOP actually taking control--that would be the best-case scenario. That would mean enough votes to stop bad things, and even to do an occasional good thing, but without the GOP being given power it still lacks the vision or integrity to handle. We can have a prolife majority in Congress without a GOP majority; and the same on many other issues. It's the issues that matter, not the party label.

The damage President Bush and the Republicans in Congress did to their credibility and integrity is very deep, and it has not yet been addressed, in my view.

> Casinos in Ohio. What a rotten mess.

We're having a vote in November on whether to allow four cities to set up casinos--Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland. The advocates are making a big thing of "34,000 new jobs!"--of which 19,000 are construction jobs; and the remainder are permanent jobs as casino dealers, restaurant servers, and so forth.

Then we have the sordid spectacle of the advertising, in which we're told how terrible these casinos will be--by folks who run casinos themselves, but don't want any competition!

Now, some will say that the Church is engaged in the same hypocrisy. And to some degree, it is fair to fault us, to the extent we rely on drawing income from year-round gambling. We have a bingo at St. Boniface, and it has been a significant source of revenue; and I've said many times I feel uneasy about it. However, it should still be pointed out that the reason St. Boniface runs a bingo is to fund charitable operations; the folks who put in all the time and labor do not profit from it. They do it for the parish and the school.

However, there is nothing hypocritical about finding fault with the way government tends to handle this. Here's what they do: they call it "vice" and "corrupt"--right up until the moment the government sets itself up in the gambling business; then, presto-chango! what was corrupt is now virtuous and your patriotic duty! Either taking a chance on the numbers is morally wrong or it isn't; but it isn't made virtuous by the fact that one mob controls it, versus the other--especially when that mob controls the levers of government.

Of course, the government says, "we're doing it for schools too!" OK, but--you have the power to tax; and you alone have the power to regulate your "competition." How sweet an arrangement is that? The Church has no such power.

But back to this casino thing. My reaction was, these 34,000 jobs--of which most are temporary--this is the best we can do? This is a desperation play; it's what you (meaning those running things) do when you cannot or will not address the real problems.

Yes, we'll build the casinos and that will involve real construction jobs. But those will go away.

Yes, the casinos will hire waiters and dealers. And some of those will represent a net increase in jobs--but almost certainly something less than 15,000, although I'm not sure how much less.

Why do I say that? Because some share of the business and customers these casinos will draw, will be not from out-of-state entertainment and gambling sites, but from in-state businesses. Who believes 100% of the projected customers for the Columbus casino all currently drive many hours outside the state for gambling or other thrills--and now they will all stay in-state? Some portion of the folks hired at these casinos will be offset by folks who get fewer hours at other entertainment businesses whose customers will be drawn to these casinos for buffets, or entertainment packages, etc.

Is this really the best we can do to create jobs?

Plus, what's with this business of these four cities getting the "benefit"--taking the advocates at their word that this is a good thing--while other cities are left out? Why not Youngstown? Steubenville? Ironton? Sandusky? Dayton? Akron? Findlay? Springfield? Middletown? I could go on and on.

Of course, I can think of lots of reasons why you'd site a casino in the four cities mentioned--and not these others. But really, how should such decisions be made?

To me, this whole thing reeks. And it's a distraction from dealing with the real issues Ohio faces. Since the recession of the early 80s, Ohio has been hit harder than most states by that and subsequent downturns, and not recovered as well. A good chunk of Ohio was still waiting to recover from the 2001 recession when this one hit--i.e., a lot of Ohio is in permanent recession. And when this recession ends, and whatever recovery unfolds, unless something fundamental changes in Ohio, it'll be the same again.

Meanwhile, a lot of our political class has a vision for our future: Detroit! A city that is imploding, but look at our pretty casinos!

Why don't we instead insist Gov. Strickland and the legislature take a hard look at what makes Ohio a place where new businesses don't want to locate? Why do they prefer to go almost anywhere else? I think that should be the issue they face in 2010. Fellow Ohioans, you and I must insist on it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

'What price are we willing to pay to follow Jesus Christ?' (Sunday homily)

The readings pose a question for us:
What price are we willing to pay in following Jesus Christ?

Many of us change our buying habits,
because we don’t want to do business with companies that mistreat their workers,
or whose advertising promotes immodesty,
particularly to young people.

It can mean letting go of things, such as some sports activities,
because they keep us from coming to Mass
on Saturday evening or Sunday.

Others will think less of us or criticize us as being weak
when we hold back from harsh judgments against others,
or we are too generous and forgiving.

It is not easy to practice chastity in this culture;
I am filled with admiration for our families
who make so many sacrifices to welcome the gift of life with a new child,
and to make sure their children know Christ comes first in all things.

We have so many who generously share their talents,
their time and their treasure,
for no other reason than to make things better
in their parish, their community,
and the lives of other people.

Another way to look at it is this:
In many places in the world, following Jesus
is extremely hazardous.
In Saudi Arabia, simply having Catholic Mass is illegal.
We would be arrested.
In North Korea, we might well end up starving
in a forced-labor camp.
There are many places in the world
where our fellow Catholics go to Mass on Sunday,
only to face angry mobs burn down their churches.

Our Lord told us it would be very, very costly to follow him.
We do it because we are convinced—as Peter was—
that Jesus alone is the Savior of the World,
who has the Words of everlasting life.

He is the Pearl worth giving up everything to have.

What price are we willing to pay in order to follow Jesus Christ?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Go to this--please pray for us priests!

This great event, featuring prayer before our Eucharistic Lord, reflection, a talk from our new Archbishop (in waiting) Dennis Schnurr, and a chance to meet other folks who care about the Church as deeply as you do...

Will also happen in Sidney, Ohio, at Holy Angels Church on October 11, 2009. Same time I believe.

We had this last winter at St. Mary Parish in Piqua.

Go--it's great! We priests need your prayers a lot!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Romans Chapter 3

Here are some notes I prepared for last night's Bible Study on Paul's Letter to the Romans. We meet at 7 pm every Wednesday at St. Boniface, in the Caserta Center (across Miami Street from St. Boniface).

Romans Chapter 3

Verses 1-8
Paul poses a series of questions that should be understood in two ways. First, they seem to be questions a reader or listener—or someone debating with him—might ask. Second, they also are chosen, by Paul, to advance his argument.
The first question is, “What advantage is there then in being a Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” If we asked this, in our own way of speaking, we might say, “Paul, it sounds like there is no advantage to being Jewish (or circumcised).”
First, we have to recall that Paul always went first to his fellow Jews to proclaim the Gospel, as the Lord Jesus commanded. The question might be asked because Paul here might seem to be denying that there is anything special about the Jewish people, as God’s chosen and specially favored with the Covenant. Paul has no intention of denying that—he’s making a point about sin and the need for Jesus Christ.
Thus Paul responds, certainly the Jewish people were favored by God in many ways, particularly to be the recipients and bearers of God’s self-revelation and his Covenant.
The next question is posed: weren’t they unfaithful—what about that? We might understand that several ways: (1) “If they are so special, why were they unfaithful?” Or (2), What does it say about the covenant and the revelation of God, that those chosen to receive it behaved so badly? Or (3) it might be an even more subtle question: “Did God’s fidelity to the covenant depend on his people’s fidelity?” (See New Jerome Biblical Commentary, 51:34.)
Paul’s response is that the sinfulness of the Jews does not call into question either God’s salvation nor the truth of what he has revealed to humanity, principally through the Jews. God will still be faithful to his covenant: “God must be true, though every human being is a liar.”
The next question might seem even more obscure: we might paraphrase it as, “are you saying, Paul, that God’s plan is advanced by human sinfulness? If our sinfulness is all part of the plan, why then does God punish it?” Paul spends less time on this question, other than to deny it. The question confuses two things. Yes, it’s true that God is able to bring good about despite wickedness—but that doesn’t mean that sin doesn’t cause real damage and suffering, both to others, and to the one who chooses sin. So the fact that God overcomes evil doesn’t mean it doesn’t cause harm.

Verses 9-20
Scholars debate the best way to translate verse 9, but whichever way they go, it comes to the same place where Paul wants to go: whether Jew or Gentile, we are all sinners, and we to be saved from sin. Paul cites a string of Scripture passages, all linked together to support his point about the problem of sin which affects us all. We might wonder—did Paul do this from memory? Or did he look them all up? Notice that many body parts are mentioned—perhaps suggesting that the whole of the human person is caught up in sin (NJBC, ibid.). This “catena” or chain of scripture passages may be one already familiar to Paul or his letter’s recipients.

Verse 20-26
Now we come to a climax in Paul’s argument: “no human being will be justified in his sight by observing the law… the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law.”
We begin to get into the heart of Paul’s teaching about justification by faith—and now we come upon that section of Paul’s Letter to the Romans that has been the subject of much debate and division in the Church since the time of Martin Luther.
Be very sure that every word in these lines of Paul has been analyzed, debated and picked over extensively by lots of very smart, and very determined people! These notes are much humbler in purpose!
It was in reading these passages that Martin Luther hit upon his claim that the whole Gospel, the whole Church, “stands or falls” on the doctrine of “justification by faith alone.” To that, Catholics respond in two ways:
First, that we agree about justification by faith—but we question what Luther means by adding the word “alone.” And he literally did add it at one point, saying it brought out the meaning of what Paul is saying.
Second, we agree this is important—but we do not agree to a narrowness about how to understand this doctrine on its own merits, or in relation to the rest of what has been given to us in the Deposit of Faith—that is, the whole body of what we believe about God and his action to save us through Jesus Christ.
We might, for example, respond (along with Eastern Christians) that theosis—being transformed by God and unified with God, as expressed in the startling, yet perfectly orthodox statement of Aquinas (reiterating what many other Fathers of the Church, theologians and saints have said): “God became man that men might become God.”
And we might say further that this doctrine of theosis is another way of talking about justification—except that it won’t fit into Luther’s narrowing of the doctrine—because Luther would go on to emphasize that in justification, God imputes or attributes righteousness to us; he does not—at least initially—make us righteous.
Luther saw sinful humanity, “justified” by Christ, as a dunghill covered in pure snow—but note that the dunghill remained what it was. But Catholic teaching is emphatic that when God declares someone righteous, his creative, all-powerful word effects what it declares: “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3).
We might wonder why it was so important to insist on this idea of imputed righteousness—it seems an exceedingly subtle point on which to take a stand. While I have not extensively studied Luther, and the other leading figures in the Protestant movement, the argument seems to be as follows: if God makes me righteous, then I can say that is my righteousness and thus, my salvation is no longer wholly gratuitous, but in some sense, deserved.
To this the Catholic Church responds, no, because this righteousness, which becomes who I am, is nonetheless a gift of God. I do not earn it!

Some excerpts from the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification ()

14. The Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church have together listened to the good news proclaimed in Holy Scripture. This common listening, together with the theological conversations of recent years, has led to a shared understanding of justification. This encompasses a consensus in the basic truths; the differing explications in particular statements are compatible with it.
15. In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.
16. All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.
17.We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God's saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.
18.Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts.
23.When Lutherans emphasize that the righteousness of Christ is our righteousness, their intention is above all to insist that the sinner is granted righteousness before God in Christ through the declaration of forgiveness and that only in union with Christ is one's life renewed. When they stress that God's grace is forgiving love ("the favor of God"), they do not thereby deny the renewal of the Christian's life. They intend rather to express that justification remains free from human cooperation and is not dependent on the life-renewing effects of grace in human beings.
24.When Catholics emphasize the renewal of the interior person through the reception of grace imparted as a gift to the believer, they wish to insist that God's forgiving grace always brings with it a gift of new life, which in the Holy Spirit becomes effective in active love. They do not thereby deny that God's gift of grace in justification remains independent of human cooperation.
26. According to Lutheran understanding, God justifies sinners in faith alone (sola fide). In faith they place their trust wholly in their Creator and Redeemer and thus live in communion with him. God himself effects faith as he brings forth such trust by his creative word. Because God's act is a new creation, it affects all dimensions of the person and leads to a life in hope and love. In the doctrine of "justification by faith alone," a distinction but not a separation is made between justification itself and the renewal of one's way of life that necessarily follows from justification and without which faith does not exist. Thereby the basis is indicated from which the renewal of life proceeds, for it comes forth from the love of God imparted to the person in justification. Justification and renewal are joined in Christ, who is present in faith.
27.The Catholic understanding also sees faith as fundamental in justification. For without faith, no justification can take place. Persons are justified through baptism as hearers of the word and believers in it. The justification of sinners is forgiveness of sins and being made righteous by justifying grace, which makes us children of God. In justification the righteous receive from Christ faith, hope, and love and are thereby taken into communion with him. This new personal relation to God is grounded totally on God's graciousness and remains constantly dependent on the salvific and creative working of this gracious God, who remains true to himself, so that one can rely upon him. Thus justifying grace never becomes a human possession to which one could appeal over against God. While Catholic teaching emphasizes the renewal of life by justifying grace, this renewal in faith, hope, and love is always dependent on God's unfathomable grace and contributes nothing to justification about which one could boast before God (Rom 3:27).