Wednesday, May 27, 2009


I'm not worried, I explain why down below (in an older post).

Sunday, May 24, 2009

'We're in heaven' (Sunday homily)

(This homily was from notes, and I've tried to recreate more or less what I said, although it was somewhat different each time.)
One of the sayings from the early Church Fathers goes like this:
"What is not assumed, is not redeemed."*

What does that mean?

It refers to the Incarnation--God becoming man--
and it means that everything God took to himself in becoming human, was redeemed.
The Son of God, in becoming man, not only took on our same human nature,
he also took on the suffering and pain that is part of our experience,
and he even embraced death.

These things too are redeemed--
meaning, they are no longer of no value, but of infinite value.

So, it isn't just our souls that are saved; our bodies are part of salvation as well.
This means our bodies matter; this is why we care for them.
The choices we make, with our bodies, are bound up with our eternal destiny for good or ill.
And our goal isn't to "escape" our bodies once they wear out.

This leads to something else, and it may startle you, but it's true:
Heaven is not our final destiny!

Heaven is where our souls go--if saved--
while we await the "new creation"
which we heard mentioned in the opening prayer:
a new heavens and a new earth.
We will wait for the Resurrection, when we get our bodies back, new and improved.

We might wonder, what is this new creation? What will it be like? What will we be like?

We don't know. But we do have a glimpse: Jesus rose from the dead in his human body.
He still has his body; it lives forever.
He ate and drank food with the disciples; they could touch him.
His body had remarkable qualities, such as his ability to pass through walls--
and he didn't look exactly the same.

Also: he still had his wounds.
Which I take to mean that what trials we face in this life,
will not be left out of the new creation, forgotten, as if they didn't happen;
rather, they will be transformed.
I find that comforting; because if something has been a part of our lives here on earth,
would we like to be told, when we arrive in heaven, none of that has any meaning anymore?
Instead, they will be transformed--redeemed--
and turned into something beautiful, like the Cross.

In view of all that, we are, on this feast, looking up to heaven with the Apostles
as the Lord ascends to his throne. But we're not saying goodbye.

Remember, what is assumed, is redeemed!
Our humanity ascends to heaven--it's the same humanity, his and ours, Saint Augustine said.
We are one with him: he is the head, and we are the body.
Not only that, Saint Augustine said, we are in heaven! We are already in heaven!

Does that mean we're already saved? It's all done?
No--we still have to wake up to this reality and that's not certain.

Let me give you an example.

Some years back, before I was a priest, I went on a vacation
with my sister and my brother and my sister's daughters.
We were at the beach, and one night we went out to a restaurant,
one of those places with a band that plays Jimmy Buffet tunes.

Well, my niece was in sixth grade--she's a grown woman now--
and she was at that age when--anything unusual adults do is infinitely embarrassing!
So, when we went to dance, and my niece buried her face in her arms on the table.
"Kara, do you want to dance?" "No!"
"Kara, the food is here" "Leave me alone!"

She stayed like that the entire time we were there!
So, we danced and ate and had a good time.
An hour and a half later or so, she finally looked up. "What's going on?"
"I'm sorry, honey--we're going home!"

She'd missed the entire party!

So: you and I still have to wake up to the reality of heaven around us.

Are we awake to it?

I'm going to say something here, it may get me in trouble, but...

We have something of a tug-of-war about the Mass.

If Mass goes five minutes too long, "Father, what's wrong with you?"
If we try to add something to make Mass more special--
if I sing the prayers, or if we use incense--
"Father, why are you making such a big thing about it?"

We're in heaven!
This--the Mass--is the most important thing we will do;
it's the most important thing that happens, in Piqua, in the universe!
And I confess this "tug of war" is frustrating to me.

Let me show you something that we do in the Mass that expresses this reality.
In a moment, the servers will bring me the chalice, I'll pour wine in it,
and then I'll add a drop of water. And I'll say this prayer silently:
"By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ,
who humbled himself to share in our humanity."

The wine represents Christ's divinity; the water, our humanity.
When the water joins the wine, the wine does not become water;
symbolically, the water becomes wine!
That's our destiny: to be joined to God!

What an awesome thing to say! Words fail me at the thought of it!

This is why the martyrs die!
This is why Saint Isaac Jogues, who went to preach to the Huron Indians,
and they** sawed off two of his fingers, and after he went back to France to recuperate,
went back to those same Indians to continue sharing the Gospel!
This is why, in so many places around the world, they don't drive to Mass, they walk;
and they don't walk a few blocks, they walk many miles, to get to Mass!

Are we awake to this reality--what we have?

If it seems I'm reproaching you--I'm reproaching myself.
Please pray for me that I will never go through the motions,
or see the Mass as just part of my job! It's the easiest thing to do!

Later on, as we receive communion--or if we make a spiritual communion--
maybe we can offer our communion for each other:
That we'll wake up to the reality that we are in heaven.

* Saint Gregory of Nazianzus; when I jotted down my notes in the confessional, I didn't remember who said it.
** It was actually a rival tribe of Mohawks, not the Hurons.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Archbishop visits

Today, a very special thing happened in Piqua: the Archbishop came to offer Mass, and to administer the sacrament of confirmation.

As you might imagine, lots of people had lots to do to get ready: to prepare the young people, to have a rehearsal for them, for the servers (I did that), to set up a reception for all concerned, and to coordinate so many elements.

I confess I was very absorbed with making sure everything went well. Some priests who have been ordained awhile may feel differently, but for me--both personally and as a pastor--I think it's a big deal with the Archbishop comes. He ordained me a priest; I have only offered the Mass a handful of times with the Archbishop; and my priesthood is only complete in the archbishop. I told him, several times, we were glad to have him and it was very special that he came.

Well, thanks to lots of folks, everything came off very nicely. The music was good, the servers were diligent and showed up and did well, the church was packed, and everything unfolded well. Archbishop Pilarczyk gave a good homily about the qualities of being a good Christian, which the grace of confirmation strengthens, using Olympian athletes as an extended example.

After the Mass, and after a reception, at which the Archbishop greeted the families and the newly confirmed, the other priests and I took him to dinner at a restaurant in Troy. We enjoyed a drink and some bread and some good food and company. This may seem rather ordinary, but--I don't have this opportunity very often, to visit with the Archbishop--who has the fullness of the priesthood, is the visible expression of unity in our diocese, and succeeds the Apostles--so...yes, it's special. We enjoyed some stories and jokes and good company, and at last, Archbishop Pilarczyk--who had a long ride to Cincinnati with the deacon who accompanies him--took his leave, and headed home.

Oh yes--I know a lot of folks are talking about President Obama visiting the University of Notre Dame. I'm not saying that's not important, but--I had no time to pay any attention to that. I had the joy of paying attention to a special day for our eight graders. (And I thanked the Archbishop for speaking out about the situation at Notre Dame.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Live in Love (Sunday homily)

Last week at this Mass, we heard about the great things
happening at Lehman Catholic High School.

And you heard about the needs Lehman has.
This week—and I ask the ushers to come forward
with the response cards at this time—they look like this.

This week, you have an opportunity to help continue the great work
of our Catholic high school.

I ask that if you can make some sort of pledge or gift,
please fill it out completely…
please write in the amount of your gift or pledge,
and please sign it, here…

Now, while you do that, some details:
The campaign aims to raise $3.5 million,
and it has reached over $2 million—so we’re closing in.

This will help replace a 50-year-old boiler;
Make major improvements in technology used in the classroom—
we have to keep up;
Provide an endowment to improve teacher salaries—
our great teachers get about 2/3rds
of what public school teachers get.
It’s a matter of justice
but also a matter of keeping the best people.

Just so you know—helping Lehman is a great investment.
Not to your own, personal finances,
But to the most valuable resource we have:
Our children and our future.

They get an excellent education—
Our Lehman students score high across the board,
And they are awarded large amounts
of scholarship money year in, year out—
which show colleges know how well-prepared they are.

Last year’s graduating class
got an average of $30,000 in such help—per student!

But it’s not just a quality education;
It’s Catholic education.

Now, I realize you might need a bit more time.
So let me go on to say something about the readings.
I’m going to pose a heavy question—are you ready?

Do fish know they’re wet?

A fish lives in water—does it know what that means?

Our readings keep saying, “live in love.”
Do we know what that means?

In the Gospel, the Lord says, “Remain in me, live in me.”
Last week, he said, “I’m the Vine, you’re the branches”—
and what flows between us is the Life of God.

Whether we know it or not,
genuine love is a participation in God’s own love.

That means there is no such thing as
a merely human love!
Whether we know it or not, you and I are destined
to be drawn up into the Life of God.

As a fish is made to live in water
and must have water to live,
so, you and I exist, we live and move, in God’s love—
and we cannot live without it.

To answer my opening question,
I have no idea if a fish can ever “wake up” to its reality.
But the reason God became man, in Jesus,
was to wake us up to our true identity!

Either we wake up, and we respond, or, we tune it out.
In the end, it’s heaven or hell.

You see, many think of hell as a place without God,
or his love—but that’s not true.
Hell is actually full of God’s love—same as heaven.
The problem is, those in hell want nothing to do with God.
And that is the torment.

Heaven, on the other hand—whatever it may be like—
Is that state of being entirely happy to be with God—
to live in love.

Fish may not wake up to their reality;
But Christ came to wake us up to a great destiny—
to be Sons and Daughters of God.

This is why we are so grateful for our Faith.
We are not left here in this world, to fumble in darkness.

Rather, we are given light to show us the way;
We are given life in the sacraments;
We are given a voice of truth—in the Holy Spirit,
Alive in our hearts, and at work in the Church.

So if someone says, “what’s the payoff—
why should I care about the Christian faith?
Why should I change my life?”

Why should we share our faith?
Why do we emphasize Catholic education for example?

This is why.
Practicing and living our Faith is how we wake up
to the grace that surrounds us—
and how we open ourselves to receiving it—
that it might transform us.

And then we are not just recipients—but bearers.
One fish says to the other—“I’ve got good news!
Do you realize what this is we’re swimming in?
It’s God’s love, God’s life—it can change us!
Drink it up!”

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two thoughts about the pending Supreme Court vacancy...

Some prolifers have made the point, see this is why McCain would have been better than Obama. Well, of course only God can really know what would have been. But I point out to you that had McCain won, and he was faced with a heavy Democratic majority in the Senate, just who do you suppose he would be looking to nominate right now? In that alternate reality, I think we'd be very lucky to get someone as good as Justice Kennedy--i.e., someone who votes right on some things, but who, yes, upheld the Partial Birth Abortion ban, but who voted to uphold Roe in 1993.

You may say, oh, but McCain said he'd offer better nominees. Yes, he said that; but you're kidding yourself if you think McCain--in this present situation, with Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, the economy tanking, etc.--would go ahead with a nominee who would face long odds of confirmation unless McCain made a huge fight of it. Also: while I believe that that would be worth doing, even if the nominee got defeated, I think it's foolish to assume McCain and his folks, in the White House, would have beleved that.

Rather, I think President McCain would want to get someone who would be "acceptable" to the right, but also who would be confirmed and he would have a win and he could move onto other pressing matters. And his folks would surely go out and work the circuit, ahead of time, to convince the right that the pending nominee would really be better than it might seem, and anyway, the "best we can get in this situation," andanyway, everyone needs to be a team player.

If that sounds vaguely familiar, it is pretty much what John Sununu, chief of staff for the first President Bush, said and did when the White House chose David Souter. The situation was similar, except the Democrats did not, I believe, have as large a majority in the Senate as now--something a McCain White House would cite endlessly to explain why they didn't offer anyone better: "get us a GOP Senate in 2010, and then we'll put up better nominees.

As you may have noticed, the chatter--while everyone waits to see who the President will pick--has included, "will he go mainstream or go for an ideologue," or some variation. Some are talking about this as if it matters. I think it doesn't much matter; or, rather, it matters, but there are benefits either way so don't worry about it.

Start with the supposed worst-case: he picks some really wild, out-there leftie, but who also has all the right ethnic, gender and other "qualifications" that make the Senate and the media swoon.

Yes, they'll all gush over the "youthful" Hispanic, female judge, who grew up in the South Bronx amid gunfire every day--thus she suffered the injury that leaves her in a wheelchair to this day, (cue boos to the gun lobby and those who oppose embryonic stem-cell research), and went to Harvard, Yale and Oxford thanks to Pell grants and loans, graduating summa cum laude, and who--when she isn't empathically dispensing justice for all and sundry, lives with her gay partner--oh, did we mention she's gay?--in an ecologically sustainable ashram in whatever state is deemed most valuable to get or keep in the 2012 election. And then she'll come before the cameras, and she'll be beautiful, brilliant, and funny, and the Republicans will all fall at her feet as though dead.

Well..maybe. Rather, I think it is more likely that, apart from the preferred narrative of the White House and the big media (which I just gave you), is that it won't be long before someone finds all the whacko things she ruled in favor of, and it won't be much longer before someone--either inside the Senate or outside--makes a big stink of it and a political fight.

"But she'll still get confirmed!" Probably; maybe; but suppose she does? Do you really think this new justice is going to take control of the Court because the New York Times thinks she's the new Oliver Wendell Holmes? This supposed nominee would be to the left of everyone now on the Court--she's going to win over Kennedy, and keep Breyer and Stevens, for every flaky thing she wants? Sorry, it's a bit far-fetched. These folks on the High Court did not arrive where they are so they can simply be empty receptacles for someone else's "brilliance." They will offer their own "brilliance," with which they are, of course, intimately familiar. Haven't you ever noticed how frequently the Court's decisions come down in fragmented decisions--not just a majority and minority view, but partial assents and dissents?

Meanwhile, what do you suppose will be the impact on the political fortunes of those Senators, in competitive states, in their next re-election, of a vote to confirm this justice? Every whacko thing decision and vote, before and after, will be tied around their necks. And that of President Obama.

Maybe the White House and the Senate majority are fine with that; but I suspect cooler heads will prevail.

Perhaps you say, no, the worst-case scenario is not this, but a "stealth" candidate. You mean another Breyer or Souter? My point is, (a) these guys are occasionally reasonable and (b), why is a new Souter for an old Souter such a terrible peril? Who knows? The new "stealth" candidate may occasionally be good on something, a marginal improvement.

The choice for the White House remains: either pick someone "reasonable" and "moderate" and go with a quicker confirmation battle--that means status quo--or else go for the ideological home-run, go with a "game-changer," and then we have valuable, useful political fight that will do three things: (a) mobilize prolifers and other good folks to get involved and make a difference; (b) create problems for any Senators who vote for such a polarizing figure and (c) bring front-and-center to national attention the problem of judges who invent law, rather than interpret it.

And, I maintain, even if such a Justice Granola gets confirmed, it still won't change the outcomes of the Supreme Court much, if at all. Because if Justice Kennedy is really that wobbly, then we never "had" him to begin with, and this doesn't really change anything. It's like saying, the problem in the crumbling door isn't the termites, but that you pushed against it.

Oh, and one other benefit, which I've mentioned before: all the time and energy spent on confirming the left's essential fourth vote on the Court is time and energy not spent on a host of other things President Obama, and his allies in Congress, want: government takeover of health care, carbon taxes, Big Labor power grabs, and so forth. And that's true even with a "consensus" choice, because it will still take some time; and even more true with a extremist nominee. Since I believe we are better off to the extent Congress is busy with trivialities, a huge fight over a Supreme Court justice could be a really good diversion for the next six months or so.

Sunday's homily notes

Sorry folks, I've been kind of tired lately. Just a lot going on and this time of year, at least for me, could best be represented by a battery running down. Some have said, oh, didn't things slow down after Easter? Nope. It stays just as frenetic right until school lets out; although as that nears, it is slowing down a bit.

One result of all that is I have had less time and energy for composing homilies. Last Sunday, I composed my homily notes in the confessional, and took my wad of little slips of paper to the pulpit with me. What follows is my reconstruction of my homily based on that--although it varied each time.

The word "disciple" showed up in the first reading and the Gospel--we might want to reflect a moment on just what that word means.

A disciple is one who is taught. Not exactly the same thing as saying, one who is learning--because one can learn without a teacher; to be a disciple means one has a teacher.

So if we call ourselves disciples--then we have to have a teacher. Who is that for us? Are we seeking someone to teach us?

Someone is influencing us all the time--we might want to pause and reflect on who that might be. Of course, the teacher we need is Christ. And also the Church. The Latin word "magister" means teacher--and from that comes the word "magisterium," or the teaching office of the Church. The Church teaches us through the pope, the bishops and priests, and others who work with them.

So that raises the question, are we seeking to be life-long disciples? We know that sometimes, young people taking part in religious education will drop out after 8th grade or 12th grade, as if they are finished. But if we are still disciples, we still need to be taught.

This is the purpose of our Adult Faith Formation group, which works hard to put together opportunities for us all to grow in faith. Please take part. And if you've thought, "If they offered _____, I would go"--then please let us know! We want to help.

Also, let me plug the Wednesday evening Bible study I have, every week, 7 pm, at the Caserta Center. We're looking at Acts; and don't worry about just showing up, we'll help you feel at home even if you've not been there for the earlier stuff.

So we need to have a teacher--and we need to be teachable. That is, we need to be open--and that comes as a result of the Holy Spirit at work in us. Just as rain softens hard ground, so the Holy Spirit softens us to receive the seed of faith.

We might notice how our culture sends contrary messages: "I can do it myself" or, "No one is going to tell me what to do!"

The older I get, the more I recognize how slow I am to learn. I'm 47, and I realize I wasn't as smart 20 years ago as I thought I was--and no doubt when I'm 97, I'll see how dumb I am now! My mother had a pithier way to say it: "too soon old, too late smart." My mother had a lot of wisdom, as our parents always do. I thought my parents didn't know what was going on when I was a kid; and somewhere in my 20s, I had the embarrassing realization that they were wise to all my tricks the whole time.

Today is Mother's Day--and of course you knew that, even if you didn't say anything about your plans for mom; of course, you didn't forget, you were just going to surprise her, right? How about some nice roses [here I was referring to the live roses being sold after Mass by the pro-life group]? When you're with mom today, it would be a good time to thank her for being a good teacher.

Now, there was a curious thing in the Gospel just now--did you notice? Our Lord said, we were to "bear much fruit"--and then he said, we would "become his disciples." Maybe you would have expected it the other way round? I think I would have expected that: we become disciples, and then we bear much fruit. But that's not what he said.

I think he's referring to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. That's the life of the Vine, shared with the branches. And as we increase in the life of the Spirit, we will bear fruit. And part of that fruitfulness will be being teachable--being open. [This was the point I wanted to make--but I am dubious I made it very clearly over the weekend.]

Now, another point I'll share with you. Father Tom mentioned something over lunch--a study in the paper about how much members of different religious groups pray. Catholics were right in the middle, in line with the national average: 58% of Catholics (and Americans) pray daily. Then Fr. Tom made the point that the groups that were higher than that, were also the groups you hear are growing; and those below, are often those not growing.

We often talk about wanting our parish to grow--this suggests that it may be as simple as focusing on how we are growing in the Holy Spirit; and also, that this is not just about our own, personal, growth, but our growth as a Catholic community.

As we continue to take part in the Mass, and our Lord is about to offer us life in his Body and Blood, we might ask his help to grow. That we might bear fruit.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Weekend report

Sorry not to post for several days. This post, also, will need to be brief.

> Friday afternoon: lovely May Crowning with the schoolchildren, "the best I remember" our venerable retired priest observed after taking part. Our faculty and students did all the work--I was happy to take part.

> Friday evening: wedding rehearsal, followed by dinner with a couple other priests and a seminarian visiting, who I hope will work this summer. He stayed overnight and we had some good conversations.

> Saturday: various things with the wedding, plus there was a funeral--I didn't have the Mass, but I was checking to make sure the luncheon was taken care of, and then we had a group of women making a canopy for the Corpus Christi procession. Then confessions and Mass.

> Sunday: 10:30 am Mass was with catechists and students in the religious education program.
Then we had a gathering for one parish that evening, with Mass at 6 pm and a series of presentations afterward on various matters of interest. Good comments and interest from those taking part.

> My three homilies this weekend varied, but I keyed on the gap I feel between the Good Shepherd and we mere pastors, and talked about the power of his grace that works through us, for baptisms, confession and the Mass. And that we are supplied this grace, through the Eucharist, so that we will lift up the Name of Jesus in our world. I said more, but that was the gist of it.

> After the gathering, I hooked up with three other priests around 9:30 pm for dinner and some fellowship.

> Monday: a day of rest, capped by a "blognic" in Columbus, meeting up with Jay Anderson, the Darwins and TS. I would enjoy writing something witty about it all, but I got back rather late last night, afterward, and today's a busy day. But it was a lively and fun conversation.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Souter's retirement: don't worry

A quick note about the news late last night that Justice David Souter is stepping down...

> He's been a reliable and utterly unremarkable member of the "liberal wing" of the Court. On the issues that matter most to prolifers and conservatives, he's been no help at all. So his replacement cannot make that any worse.

> In theory, President Obama could pick someone less of a cipher, and that could, perhaps, be a plus for the pro-abortion side, but it's hard to see how. The swing vote is Justice Kennedy, who seems to gravitate to other, brighter lights on the Court, but also tends to seek "balance." It's hard to see how a new pick makes any real change.

> All the angst from prolifers is that, oh no, we've lost our chance! Not really. It means we have to wait a bit longer for that seat to open up, and that's just as well, because what hope do we realistically have of anyone good taking it? Why assume the president elected in 2012 is going to be any good? It just doesn't matter for the time being. (On the other hand, losing one of our good justices would matter.)

> A lot of thinking on this is what a friend calls "trick play" thinking: we can trick our way into getting what we want. So, for example, we can get the President and the Senate to overturn Roe--by approving nominees--when they manifestly won't do it legislatively...which, contrary to what most think, can be done--but it's hard, hence the preference for the trick play. Well, guess what: it hasn't worked. I think if we stopped going for the trick play, and actually did the hard work on the legislative front, we'd make more, real progress. Prolifers have good support in Congress, not enough, but better than is realized, and when we mobilize prolife opinion and bring it to bear on Congress, we can make a real difference, particularly in gumming up the works enough to stop bad legislation.

> So I think this is not something to worry about; but there are opportunities. Prolifers will be very interested, and this will have the good effect of helping mobilize more of our folks to take an interest in these matters. That's good. Also, there will be a tug-of-war between those around the President who want someone more "mainstream" vs. the "true believers." Fine, whichever way that turns out, it's good. Either we get someone who votes better; or we get someone who makes no actual difference, yet serves to illustrate vividly the problem. Win-win.

> The downside is that Justice Souter, being minimally effective and a non-spokesman for his side, might be replaced by someone who actually is a litttle more interesting and useful. But that's a very marginal matter. The prolife cause has Scalia who even his worst critics concede is brilliant and eloquent--and we still haven't prevailed. In the end, it's who has the votes. They already have this vote, so maybe they'll get a marginally more interesting person to cast it.

> The real benefit of this I've saved to describe last: this will consume time and energy on the part of the White House and the Senate for several months. That's very good. The time and energy spent on this, the next few months, is time and energy not spent on other things, that actually could make things worse in the here-and-now. If it means action on other stuff gets delayed a few months, that could really be very useful in the long run.