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.)