Monday, July 30, 2012

Slumming around the East Side...

Today's my day's how it's gone so far...

> I slept in, woke up around 8:30 am; remembered I need to get an alarm clock. Note for later...

> Went to find my shoes...where are my shoes? Not in my bedroom or my bathroom. Must be downstairs...not there either. I haven't had coffee yet, so I'm a little slow; I sat down to check the news on my laptop while I waited for the hard-drive in my head to warm up. About an hour later, I look up: there they are under the coffee table. Thank you, Saint Anthony!

> Off to Panera; detoured by street work on Wasson. Avoid it today.

> I love Panera for lots of things, but not the quickness of its service. If you have several cash registers, maybe one of the folks milling around at the sandwich counter could come over when the single line gets to be four- and five-deep?

> Not too hot to sit outside; nice!

> I went over to Old Navy--I need to replenish my supply of baggy cotton shirts and golf shirts. It's been awhile since I went to Old Navy; it looks like they are skewing younger. I found what I wanted, and as I was checking out, I said, "maybe you could start a new branch, called the "Really Old Navy" for us fat old guys?" She laughed.

> Oh yeah, the alarm clock; where to go? After looking around the Rookwood Commons mini-mall, in vain, for something suitable, I powered up my iPad and searched for Wal-Mart. Over on Red Bank. How do I get there again? (Sad how nine years up north makes me forget things like this.) Over Wasson? Nope; how about Brotherton? After a few uncertain turns, I remembered how quirky that section of Red Bank is--nothing seems to connect to it. Drove by the old Frisch's Mainliner: the old drive-in is gone, but the old signs are still there.

> In Wal Mart, I made my way to the hi-fi section; at least, I think we'd have called it that, back in the day. Seriously, boys and girls, I can remember when a "clock radio" was the new thing! It took me awhile, but they still have them. Two alarms! De Luxe! That's what I wanted!

While there, I browsed around, in case seeing something reminded me I needed it. (I.e., otherwise I'd drive back home, and think--oh yeah, I could have picked that up while at Wal-Mart!) That's when I thought, yeah, I could use a couple of key rings; couldn't find what I wanted, so it's off to a proper hardware store. Do they still exist?

> Back to the iPad! It directed me back to Hyde Park; but on the way there, I found an old fashioned hardware store in Oakley. I love those old places, with rows upon rows of gizmos and varying sizes of gaskets and plumbing fixtures. And, sure enough, they had simple key rings (Wal-Mart's were star-shaped and Hello-Kitty themed, or something absurd like that) in varying sizes. I bought a couple, to have an extra one. Headed back home...

I still have the rest of the day!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Apostles almost missed it--so might you (Sunday homily)

Of all the Lord’s miracles, the one you just heard
ended up making a huge impact on the Apostles.
But as you’ll see in a moment, it could have been otherwise.

Let’s notice some things in this passage:

The Apostles were the primary focus of this miracle.
The Lord was sitting with them when all this begins.
He is teaching them; most likely about the Passover
and how God fed his people in the desert.

Notice something else.
A lot of our fellow Christians see Christianity as a book-centered Faith;
but that’s not what we see in the Gospels.
Our Lord did not give anyone a book;
nor do we hear him telling his Apostles to write anything down.

Rather, he focused on what the Apostles
would experience and remember;
and he showed them how they were to keep that alive:
Of course in the sacraments, and above all, the Mass.

Here’s a cautionary detail.
The Apostles are direct witnesses
to him multiplying these loaves and fish.
Then they go around and gather every fragment:
twelve baskets means one basket per Apostle.

And yet, notice how this passage ends, however.
When the people go to make him a king--
in other words, missing the point--he departs “alone.”

Why don’t the Apostles go with him?

Maybe because, at this point,
they are thinking more like the crowd.

So what takeaways do we have from this?

First: the Lord didn’t rely on a book but on people;
it starts with the Apostles, and what they do--
in the sacraments--
to make him present in our midst.

In short, this is why every Sunday at Mass matters.
Look: if the Apostles could have missed it,
isn’t that a huge warning for every one of us?

Second: like the Apostles,
we will find ourselves pulled between
what “the crowd” thinks is right, and what the Lord wants.

An example is the drum-beat for redefining what marriage is.
In recent weeks, a prominent businessman let it be known
he believed in marriage as it has always been understood--
and not only was he labeled a “bigot,”
but now folks are moving to wreck his business.

Members of my own family--who were raised Catholic--
call me and our Church “bigots”
for opposing any redefinition of marriage and family.
It’s not easy facing that sort of crowd.

Other than spending time with the Lord--above all in Mass--
where will we find the clarity and the resolve
to choose him over the crowd?

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Work, play and pray

FROM AN UNDISCLOSED LOCATION ON THE SHORE OF LAKE SUPERIOR... I'm gathered with a group of priests; it's lovely outside and I'm using my iPad, so this will be brief. We're having edifying discussions, including formal talks of a scholarly nature, as well as informal ones. It is not a heavy schedule, however; in a moment, I will offer Mass, then some quiet time before evening prayer, preprandials and dinner, followed assuredly by more conviviality. Yet work is not being neglected; I am checking messages and doing business by phone and email. I will offer Mass today for the people of Saint Rose.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

'What are you prepared to do?' (Sunday homily)

Two things in the Gospel I noticed.

First: the Lord said to the Apostles, you need rest. 
Sometimes priests need rest--
and it’s good to have the boss himself tell you that!

Second: even then, folks kept coming; and the Lord took care of them.

I didn’t become a priest for short hours or big pay.

When I talk to men about the priesthood--
and maybe you’ve noticed,
I encourage most of the boys and men I talk to,
to think about the priesthood--
and the rest I talk to about being deacons!

But when I talk to you guys about it,
sometimes guys say, “sounds hard!”

It can be. So what?

Some of the guys will say, “oh, I’m not worthy.”

You’re right. I’m not worthy either.
When Simon Peter met the Lord, that’s what he said too.

It’s worth noting what’s going on in this passage--
because it explains something about being a priest.

All these folks kept coming. All the Apostles were busy.
But the reason was Jesus Christ.
That’s what drew them. 

The priest exists to bring Christ to people.
People honor a priest because they honor Christ. 

I often think about the day the Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. 
Think of it from the donkey’s perspective: “wow, they really like me!”
No--it was who he was carrying!
That’s a priest.

Now, a deacon plays that role--but since deacons are usually married,
they have the challenge of what comes first.

This is one reason priests don’t marry.
When I get that call at 3 am, I don’t  have to decide:
go to the hospital, or watch my children?

Or, I can put it this way. When someone asks me,
what do you think about priests being married,
I say, “I’m amused that you think my life would be easier
if I had a wife and children.”

As I mentioned, I am always encouraging boys and men
to think about the priesthood.
I’m always encouraging women to consider the religious life.
I love being a priest--
and I’d never be here if I hadn’t opened my heart to the idea. 

But most of us won’t take that path.

And yet folks are still pressing in--they are looking for Christ.

You’re not a priest; but you’re a Christian!

What are you prepared to do to bring others to Jesus Christ?

Your children; your family; your neighbors and coworkers.

It’s not as though we can afford to take it easy.
Our society is not a place flourishing with the Christian Faith.
It’s becoming a desert, thirsting for God.

Sheep without a shepherd.
What are you prepared to do?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Thoughts on the priesthood and the Eucharist

I started to work on my homily...

About an hour ago, I started writing some notes that I hoped would be my Sunday homily. I was reflecting, of course, on the readings for Sunday, which you can find here. After awhile, I had way too much for a homily; but rather than delete it, I thought I'd just make it a blog post. Whether I draw on any of these ideas for my homily? Stay tuned...

When I read the Gospel (for Sunday), two things struck me.

First, our Lord said to his Apostles, “let’s get some rest.” At some times in my priesthood, I’ve really needed some rest; and hearing the Lord say it helps!

But, then notice what happens. Folks keep coming. And it says the Lord felt compassion for them. It’s not clear whether the Apostles got any rest!

What this Gospel doesn’t say—you’ll hear it next Sunday—is that this is when the Lord performed the miracle of multiplying the handful of loaves and fed at least 5,000 people.

Again, as you’ll hear next Sunday, part of what’s important about that miracle is how the Lord was interacting with the Apostles. Remember what he said to them? You give them something to eat. They came up with a few loaves and fish from a boy—and that is what the Lord multiplied.

And then, after the miracle—and to drive the point home—the Lord directs the Apostles to gather all the fragments. They gathered 12 baskets. Note that number: twelve baskets…twelve apostles.

So…I am going through all this to show what’s going on here. A lot of this is about the Apostles.

Remember, the Lord knew he would remain on earth only a short time. How would the work of gathering all nations into his Church proceed? Notice he didn’t write anything, that we know of. Instead, he poured his time into the Twelve.

There are a lot of lessons here about the priesthood.

A lot of folks think there’s nothing special about the priesthood, or at least, that’s how they talk. Sometimes it’s because they are reacting against those who went overboard about how special the priesthood is.

The priesthood is special.

If you talk to a theologian, s/he can explain our belief that when a man receives the sacrament of holy orders (as a deacon initially), that sacrament changes his very being. We call this the “ontological” change; this is why we say, “once a priest, always a priest”; and why we say that while a priest can be removed from ministry, nothing can “unordain” him.

Or you can talk about the things I often describe: how awesome are the things a priest gets to do. To absolve sins; to offer the Sacrifice of the Mass; to administer the sacraments; to visit folks in Christ’s name; to preach the Gospel.

Or, you can simply reflect—as I do many times—on the way folks approach a priest. Even non-Catholics, and Catholics who don’t practice their Faith, all show in their words and actions and demeanor: there is something special about the priesthood.

And you find it right here in this Gospel passage.

What’s special about the priest is that he is united, in a special way, to Christ.

Now, someone will say to me, but what about other people? Aren’t they united to Christ?

Of course.

One of the things about our Christian Faith is that, at any given moment, as you reflect on it, you seem to be peering into the very heart of it; you’re tempted to say, “this is it! This is the key!” Then you realize: no, I’m only talking about just one part.

A few weeks ago, there was a video of a commencement talk that circulated on the Internet; in which an instructor said, bluntly, “you’re not special.” If you listened to the whole talk, he said something like, look, if everyone is special, then no one is.

He’s right—but then we come to the mystery of our Faith, in which it really is true that every part of it really is special, but in a way different from every other part.

It’s true that the priesthood is special; but then it’s also true that each and every one of us has a union with Christ that is as intimate and powerful as you can imagine.

Remember that the Church is the “Body of Christ”—and Saint Paul talked about how every part matters, but we aren’t all the same. Priests exist to carry out a unique part of the Lord’s mission.  By the Lord’s decision—not mine!—a priest embodies Christ in a unique way.

I suppose hearing me say that could come across as pompous or self-regarding. And those are sins to which I’m prone.

But I will tell you, saying such things makes me aware of the peril I face on Judgment Day.

The other thing to remember is what makes the priest special: Jesus Christ!

The doors that open for me, the smiles, the kindnesses offered me, and the ears and hearts that receive my words…they aren’t opening for Martin Fox, rank-and-file member of the human race.

They are opening for a bearer of Christ. They’re opening for HIM.

When the crowds keep seeking out the Apostles, it was because they kept company with Jesus Christ.

That’s why the Lord was working so hard to get them ready; because after he returned to his heavenly throne, it was going to be the Apostles—and through their mission, the Church—that would make Christ present to people.

It’s tempting to move on right away to the Eucharist, because that is so central here—and I will soon enough—but it’s important not to miss the other parts of this.

Notice how important it was to Jesus that the Apostles spend time with him. One of the things we might miss in what the Gospels tell us is how much time Jesus spent with the Apostles. The words of Christ in the Gospel represent only a small share of all that was going on. The main thing was Jesus spending time with them.

So simple…yet so important. Priests must spend time with the Lord.

And then there’s the Eucharist.

It is so striking to me that our Lord gave each of them a basket of left over bread. Oh, I realize I can’t prove that each Apostle got one; but twelve baskets, twelve apostles.

And remember, they were the ones who were skeptical of feeding everyone.

Father Tom Grilliot, who lived and worked with me in Piqua, often makes this point that in the Gospel, the Apostles’ response so often was, “send them away”! When they brought children to be blessed…when they needed to get food…”send them away!” Yes, we priests will do that; I’m sitting down to eat, and the doorbell rings; I hatch a plan, on the way there, on how quickly I can “send them away”!

The other thing you might often notice in the Scriptures is how the Lord will make his point with lots of emphasis. So here, he not only shows the Apostles how the bread and fish are multiplied—they see it first; only later do the thousands of people figure out what happened. But also, he adds an exclamation point when he says, “now gather up all that’s left.” I can almost picture one of the Apostles—as they keep bending over to pick up the fragments—grumbling to themselves, “OK Lord, you made your point! Can we finally get that vacation we talked about?”

That’s why I think the detail of the twelve baskets is so important; it’s a message, first, to the Apostles, who gathered them. As important as feeding people is, the whole thing was primarily for them.

He knew they would remember this, and they did. The miracle of multiplying the loaves is described in all four Gospels. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, there are two instances of it. (Some argue they are the same, but the way they are presented leads me not to find that very persuasive.)
If you talk to a Scripture scholar, or read some of the commentary on these passages in the Gospels, they will point out the details in how the miracle was recounted, that show just how powerful an impact this miracle had.

One of the things you see—if you study the language of the Gospels—is how the writers of the Gospels connected this miracle to the Mass. They used language that ties it to the rituals of worship. And the same language shows up in the Eucharistic Prayers. I can do it from memory: “on the night before he died, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying…”

I think this: I think that some time later, the Apostles—whether at the time of the Last Supper, or the Crucifixion, or the Resurrection, or Pentecost, or whenever they first did what the Lord said to do with the Eucharist—“do this in memory of me”…

Somewhere, it crystallized for them. They remembered the miracle of the loaves and fish—and they had that same “click, click, click” experience in their heads.

It was one of the most important events in the life of the Church!

Because that’s when they realized what the Lord was teaching them that day.

Somewhere in there they figured out how important the Sacrifice of the Mass, and the Eucharist, would be for the Church.

That’s when the Church’s liturgy began to be born. We don’t know just how they celebrated the Eucharist in those early days, months and years; but we do know have reports from only decades later, in which it took on a form remarkably like what we know. The Roman Mass has had a largely unchanged form for most of the Church’s history; and the same is true of the sacred liturgy in the Eastern Churches.

There’s a mindset that will instinctively resist the suggestion that the Mass, as we know it, may well have been largely formed even in the time of the Apostles; and that is a suggestion that no one would dare make. But I will say this; no one has proved the opposite. The record is simply silent.

But the Church preserves a memory; the memory of the Apostles themselves. They were there when the Lord made sure everyone was fed; and he made sure the Apostles gathered the fragments. He knew when all the rest of the pieces were in place—including the Supper, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Holy Spirit—they would put it all together.

The Apostles were each given a basket.

One of the lessons I take from that is that priests should offer the Mass, they should adore the Eucharist, and they should encourage others to do so. Jesus gave them a basketful. On that afternoon, it was only a basket of bread; it wasn’t—yet—the Eucharist.

But it foreshadowed what the Apostles—and all priests—would be: bearers of the Eucharist. Christ gives each of us a basketful.

It reminds me of the miracle of the water turned to wine. There was an abundance. I often explain this to couples, preparing for marriage, that this sign serves to show how abundant the grace is that Christ will give them in the sacrament; but it’s not for them; it’s for them to share.

The same here.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

God's intolerable compliment (Sunday homily)

The great writer, C.S. Lewis, had an idea he explored many times: 
that God has paid us, quote, “an intolerable compliment.”

God made us to be something great and glorious, 
and as much as we wish he’d just leave us alone, 
that is—as Lewis said—to ask God to love us not more, but less. 

That’s what Saint Paul is saying in the second reading. 
God has a high destiny for us. 

Have you ever had someone say, wow, your Catholic Faith demands a lot of you? 
Tell them this is why.

Why does God expect us at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day? 

Why does God expect us to be chaste—waiting till marriage, 
being faithful to the same spouse for life, 
and accepting the sacrifices entailed by not using contraception? 

Why does God care what we look at on the Internet, 
or whether we pray, or how we run our business, 
or about any other of the choices we make? 

Because of the high destiny to which we’re heading! 

Now, someone might say, I don’t want that! 
I’d rather just be a nobody. 

Well, I have shocking news for you. That's not an option.
There are only two choices in eternity. 
Being a saint, sharing God’s life…and hell. 

Purgatory is real—but it’s a stopover on the way to heaven, 
where we get our final wash-and-wax before heading for the big-time.
And you won't get to purgatory at all--if you don't aim for heaven.

Put it another way: there are no cheap seats in heaven. 
And no bystanders to Christ’s work on earth. 

When I’m talking with people, and someone will criticize the Archbishop, 
I think it’s my duty to stick up for him. 
And folks will say, “oh you’re just a company man.” 
It’s true—I am a company man! 

But when it comes to our Catholic Faith, we’re all company men and women. 
The job of defending and presenting the Catholic Faith—
with enthusiasm and joy—isn’t just my job. It’s all out jobs! 
What's more, the high destiny God has for you is for everyone. 
God gave us the invaluable gift of life in Christ; 
God help us if we don’t share it—if we don’t bring others to the Catholic Faith! 

In the Gospel, our Lord sent the Apostles to cast out demons. 
If you look in the Old Testament, you’ll see the prophets did amazing things, 
but none of them ever did that. 
It’s a sign that being a Christian means sharing God’s life in a new way. 

Christ sends you to cast out evil; 
to help change our society so that human life is protected, 
the poor aren’t trampled down, and human dignity is respected. 

As this Mass brings us to Calvary, we might ask Christ for the strength and joy 
to embrace the destiny he has for us.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The messiness of real life and the ugliness of NCR & SNAP

I recently read an article at the National (so-called) Catholic Reporter, concerning the efforts of Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Philadelphia, to resolve questions that linger painfully about some of his clergy, and how his predecessor handled accusations of misconduct against them.

As you may recall, a story blew up in the media a couple of years ago, alleging that then-Archbishop Rigali was not diligent in reporting allegations to public authorities, and in applying internal discipline. From what I gather--I have not read much on the subject beyond some news reports--the underlying issues are not only allegations of sexual abuse, but also fuzzier questions of "boundary violations," which I think would be far broader than actual abuse.

The result was that everyone was left wondering if the Church in Philadelphia was knowingly harboring priests who had committed abuse.

Enter former Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput. He was named to Philadelphia in September, and of course all eyes were on him to clean up this mess. His predecessor had already named a former prosecutor to review everything, and he continued that--promising action as quick as possible. He also said the Archdiocese would cooperate completely with prosecutors, and await their determination before deciding whether to restore a suspended cleric, or to remove him.

For a lot of folks, all this seems too murky; and given some of the history, it's understandable that folks are angry and skeptical. However, folks have to recognize that there's no way something like this cannot be murky:

> The difficult issue isn't when something is clear-cut. If he had an individual with a clear case against him, the prosecutor would know what to do; the archbishop would be able to remove him from ministry and have him laicized (i.e., barred permanently from exercising his priestly ministry).

> Remember we're dealing with accusations; which can be mistaken, and which can even be deliberately false. Everyone--yes, even a priest!--is entitled to fair play in how an accusation is handled; something the folks at the National Catholic Reporter and the so-called Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) have demonstrated they don't care about. (More on that below.)

Sometimes all anyone has to support a suspicion is rumor, odd actions or gestures, or something third-hand. I had a situation where someone came to me and said, in effect, "everyone knows So-and-so is doing something bad." I was being asked to fire someone, on that statement alone (obviously I'm leaving out the details). I asked questions: did you see or hear anything? (No.) Do you know anyone who had a more direct experience--someone who was victimized? (No.) If you do, either have that person come to me, or have that person go to the Archdiocese or the police. Eventually, someone did approach me directly (after approaching the police), and I dealt with the matter very quickly. But when a person's job, and good name, are at issue, "I heard" isn't good enough.

> What critics call "secrecy" is called "confidentiality" when it's to our benefit. In any employment situation--quite apart from a religious context--personnel matters are confidential. If I meet with an employee and give an evaluation, that's confidential. If I discipline or fire an employee, the circumstances are confidential. In theory, there are some things an employer can say; however, anyone knowledgeable in these matters will tell you that the employer risks legal action if he "defames" a former employee, and also risks a lawsuit for wrongful termination. Since I'm not a lawyer, the upshot is that when an employee departs, I don't say why.

Let's back up a moment and speak very generally. Folks get discharged from their jobs for lots of reasons; sometimes it's cost-cutting; other times it's sub-par performance; and other times its misconduct of some kind. It should surprise no one that sometimes the employer only has "smoke"; something fishy with the books, or repeated violations of procedures, but no concrete evidence of theft, for example. In such a case, any public allegation or suggestion of actual misconduct would invite a defamation lawsuit.

Also, there are times when it works to everyones advantage to have an employee go quietly. Where employees are justly fired, does it surprise you to hear they don't always like it? What do they say to family and friends? The embarrassing truth? Or some unrelated grievance that makes them look like a victim? In that situation, the departing employee can create a lot of problems; and the employer can't really respond.

One more point: when an employer keeps things confidential, it isn't just the employee who is protected; it is likely to be other people whose names get connected to something the employee is alleged to have done. For example, an employee is dismissed for inappropriate conduct toward another employee.  Here again, I had someone say s/he saw such conduct. Another supervisor and I investigated, and when we interviewed the employee who was the recipient of the inappropriate contact, s/he said it never happened. The story got around to some degree; yet in that case, I had nothing to go on. How could I discuss this publicly? Even if I didn't care about the damage to the accused employee, what about the putative victim (who said nothing happened)?

Of course none of this means a crime--or anything indicative of a possible crime--should not be reported promptly to the police. But it helps explain why when a story surfaces--either on the grapevine or in the media--the parties involved don't say much. That includes law enforcement. Even after they "conclude" their investigation. I have had situations where law enforcement looked into a matter and could not reach a definitive conclusion. They couldn't rule out that So-and-so may have done wrong, but they also couldn't develop enough real evidence to support a charge. (It should surprise no one that a lot of what folks think are "facts" and "evidence" and "proof" are nothing of the kind.)

Do you know what the police say when an investigation "concludes" in such an inconclusive way? You guessed it--almost nothing. What can they say? They can't say the accusation is true or false; they may not even be able to say whether the alleged wrong even happened; and they can't say whether the suspected person did it or not.

So back to the mess in Philly.

In light of all this, I think a reasonable person realizes two things. First, that you aren't going to have all the facts, especially when it's likely almost no one does. Second, that when a story like this sorts out, the outcome isn't going to be neat and tidy.

We would all prefer if Archbishop Chaput could come out and say something like: "the prosecutor, the grand jury, and I all agree that certain accused individuals are certainly guilty; and they will be tried, convicted and punished forthwith. Parallel to that action by the state, the Church will swiftly remove them from ministry.

"Meanwhile, we have also agreed that the following individuals are innocent and can return to work. We have established with utter certainty that the allegations against them are false. We have signed statements, video- and audiotape evidence conclusively establishing the utter impossibility of the accusations, and positively demonstrating their innocence. For example, Father Doe was accused of molesting Mr. Roe on such a such an occasion; in fact, we have conclusive, video- and eye-witness testimony that Father Doe never, in 20 years, was within 100 miles of Mr. Roe, thus the charge is conclusively false..."

How wonderful that would be! But we don't live in that world!

Much more likely is that the sorting out won't be fully explained. Some will stay but the accusations can't be utterly dispelled; some will be removed but never charged; yet for a variety of non-nefarious reasons, no legal case will ever be brought. Some folks may be removed who did not, however, commit a crime. It's rather likely that a priest might be removed for legitimate reasons other than what is rumored--and the matter won't be discussed.

Here's a completely made-up example: Father Weird-eye is removed from a parish and sent off somewhere; everyone assumes it's connected to his strange comments and odd behavior over the years, yet no actual evidence of misconduct was ever brought forward. Yet in the course of investigating it, it turns out Father has other problems; he's addicted to pain pills, he was grossly incompetent in managing funds, and has had a  breakdown. He did say weird things, but didn't commit any crimes that anyone knows of, but--he has to go.What do you do? What do you say?

In the real world, these things will remain murky. The only resolution available this side of eternity will be incomplete. I think reasonable people, upon reflection, understand this.

Then there is the aforementioned NCR and SNAP and their cheering sections.

Over the years, I've read what the NCR and SNAP have to say. I understand their anger. Who isn't angry about rape and molestation and violation of trust and wrecking of lives? Who isn't angry about a failure to act against these things, on the part of others who knew or had oversight?

But is the idea that whoever can demonstrate a greater degree of moral outrage, wins? If my anger is more compelling than yours, then I'm right? I win?

A recent NCR item on Chaput's handling of this mess, including the responses published on the site, was all too typical. Chaput announces some priests are removed, some are restored. The article--written by an NCR reporter--doesn't go into details, yet explains the decision process involved the prosecutor and review by lots of folks other than the archbishop.

Outrageous! brays the comment section, led off by someone claiming to represent SNAP. How dare Chaput return guilty priests to ministry! Other commenters--including me--ask, how do you know if the restored priests are guilty? And I ask a question I've asked before: does SNAP even care about false accusations?

Over the years, I can't recall ever seeing SNAP say it was happy about an outcome. Certainly not when the legal system exonerates a priest, as in this case: SNAP continued accusing the priest. If you peruse the Media Report site, you can see many more reasons to view SNAP with a jaundiced eye.

A recent development from the SNAP crowd, whose anger justifies anything, is to complain about what they previously demanded: laicization of priests!

For years, the complaint was, why aren't these priests removed--"defrocked"? Then, why isn't this carried out more quickly? (This is a complaint frequently made about our present pope; in fact, in his prior role at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, he sought to speed up the process.)

Now that bishops are seeking laicization, and the requests are being granted--well, not quickly, but less cumbersomely at least, guess what SNAP is complaining about? Laicization means the Church washes her hands of the guy! Don't laicize him, send him to a monastery!

See the game? There's no acceptable outcome.

Look--again, I understand pain and anger; I have a lot of sympathy. But pain and anger don't justify causing new pain and hurt. Being a victim of injustice doesn't make new injustice all right.

The only good thing I can say about the latest NCR item on this subject--well, two good things, are: first, the item itself is reasonably fair, consigning the bitter, fairness-be-damned ugliness to the sad, bitter commenters. And, second, a fair number of commenters actually are challenging SNAP. That's a healthy development.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

God's Prophet today (Sunday homily)

As you may have guessed, I’m the new priest assigned here, part time.

My name is Father Martin Fox.

And I want to say, it was nice of Father Windholtz to put a statue
of my patron, St. Martin, right there!

I’ll be greeting everyone after Mass so I hope to meet you then.

The first reading is from the prophet Ezekiel.
The role of a prophet was to be God’s Ambassador.
And while sometimes he’d bring good news,
a lot of the time he was bringing tough words.
As God told Ezekiel: my people are rebellious—
you’ve got a hard assignment.

Don’t worry: the Archbishop didn’t say anything like that about Saint Rose!
But he told me I was supposed to be quick…

Now, have you ever wondered why
we don’t have any Isaiahs or Jeremiahs around today?

Why doesn’t God send us prophets? Actually he does.
But the spirit of prophecy—since the coming of Christ—
has passed into the Church.
Remember what he said: “As the Father sent me, so I send you”;
and, “Whoever hears you, hears me.”

So the Church is his Prophet in the world today.

OK, what does that mean?

Well, first, the Church doesn’t need to wait for an inspiration.
God has already told us his whole Word in Jesus Christ.
That’s what we call the “Deposit of Faith.”
So when folks want the Church to change her teaching,
they don’t realize it’s not ours to change. It is Christ’s teaching.

Applying and interpreting this is the task of the pope and the bishops.
 Sometimes, to settle controversy, they define a teaching in a formal way.
That’s what Pope Pius XII did with the Assumption of Mary in 1950,
and what Pope John Paul II did on the question of who can be ordained in 1994—
as well as what many councils through the centuries did.

We aren’t all bishops, but our membership in Christ gives us all a role.

Just as this parish makes the universal Church present in this neighborhood,
 so you are God’s messenger to your family, your work, your school.
In another passage, God was tough on Ezekiel: if you don’t warn people,
and they lose their souls, that falls on you.

Is it hard? Look at the reception the Lord received!
And yet, the seed of the Gospel, cast on so much stony ground,
has sprouted into billions of souls worldwide.
As Saint Paul said, God’s grace makes it work—not us.

So if you’re looking around for God’s prophet, look in the mirror. It’s you!

Friday, July 06, 2012

Reasons to hear confessions...

I've been thinking about the sacrament of penance lately.

First, because my being in residence at Saint Rose means I can offer confessions there more than in the recent past, and I'm wondering when would be the best times (see nearby post and give feedback please!).

Second, because several of my brother priests are headed off soon for a conference on the sacrament; I'd have gone, however with this transition from Piqua to my two new assignments here in view, I decided it was better not to go at this time. But I wish I could.

Third, I was in the confessional today, and--here is something you might not think of unless you are a priest--but as long as the temperature isn't too far off, it's a very pleasant spot. It's quiet and prayerful; no one bothers you, except of course to make their confession, which is not a bother! I mean: there are no trivial interruptions. So it's a wonderful place to think and pray.

Even though I was busy enough--Deo gratias!--I somehow found time to meditate on the sacrament.

Here are some thoughts for my fellow priests: why you should hear confessions (apart from the obvious reasons):

> As mentioned, it's quiet and prayerful.

> It is humbling, for two reasons. First, because you are given a window into another person's soul. Second, because you will hear your own sins confessed to you.

> Because you hear your own sins confessed to you, it will challenge you to holiness and to make your own confession. To flip that around; if a priest himself doesn't confess, or doesn't take his own holiness seriously enough, I would imagine hearing confessions would be a difficult experience.

> Because you have a window into the lives of others, you will better understand the people God has given you to serve.

Here I pause to offer a conundrum. Church law is firm: the priest may make no use of anything heard in confession. And I would prefer not to remember a bit of it. But how can I not be affected? Can God really intend me not to be affected? Yet if my administration of this sacrament, including whatever counsel I may offer, is changed by the confessions I hear, have I "made use" of what I heard?

> As you understand the people you serve better, you will also be strengthened in your faith. I am strengthened tremendously by the faith of the people I serve.

> You may get the uneasy sense that God just did something through you--right then! I don't mean in the sense of absolution; I know--on the premise of faith--that God acts each time without question. Instead, I mean when I say things, as counsel or in answer to a question, and then as I say them, I wonder, "where did that come from? And yet, I can't really know if it's an inspiration; and most likely, I won't know till eternity whether what I offered really was any good--or just some blather the penitent is courteous enough to sit through until I wrap things up.

Sometimes I give no counsel; other times I give a little, sometimes a lot. Why the difference? Hard to explain. Sometimes I haven't a clue what to say, so I move along. Other times I have a firmer sense that there really isn't anything to say that the penitent doesn't already seem to know. Sometimes the start of Mass is approaching, no time! Other times, I hope that some words I give, however inadequate, may catalyze a sense of peace and relief for the penitent. There are times I would like to go through the words of absolution and provide a line-by-line reflection: do you hear what the priest is saying? Do you know what it means? If you could take a tiny drop of the Lord's own Blood, and turn it into words, this is what it sounds like. Do you know that Saint Thomas Aquinas (could I offer any better authority, other than the Lord himself?) taught that so great was the worth of our Savior, that any suffering of his, however slight, was sufficient to atone for all sins whatsoever? So the tiniest scratch, the bruise, the skinned knee...more than enough! One drop of his Blood is oceans of oceans of mercy,

I also thought, while in the confessional today, of some things I was taught in Philosophy of God (and you wondered what good would come of that dusty stuff!). We are taught that not only is God infinite, but God is, to use a word in an uncustomary way, "simple." How odd to say! It would make more sense, wouldn't it, to say God is anything but simple?

But in philosophy, it means that God is without parts. Any attribute of his is identical with his Being. So when we say that God loves, and God is infinite, and that God loves me, we can say that all these attributes are identical with his Being. God doesn't merely give me a second's worth of love and then move on to the rest of vast Creation; God's love for me is who he is.

Isn't that a comforting thought? Whatever shame or discouragement I feel for my own sins and failures, God's love for me is infinite; his favor toward me--being identical to his Being--is unchangeable. I can no more cause God to love me less, than that I can walk down to the Ohio River and tell it to become ice-cold beer. In fact, the latter is at least possible; our Lord said if we have enough faith, we can move mountains, so in theory with enough faith--and God approving of the plan--I could supply the Ohio Valley with beer! But how could I ever suppose any action of mine could undo God's Will? I might as well command the universe to spin the other way.

> I have heard priests comment that a hazard of very frequent confessions is that it can have unhelpful effects on some people. Just as some people can be overzealous about Mass and communion, or can go overboard with a devotion or volunteerism, so people can, in coming to confession, have unhealthy impulses--such as scrupulosity--reinforced. And yet we don't decide to have Mass but once a month because of unhealthy ways people approach that sacrament. I refer back to what I said above: we are invited into other people's inner sancta; we tread very lightly and reverently.

At any rate, those are some thoughts...for your edification I hope.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

When do you want confessions?

Father Windholtz, our pastor at Saint Rose, has encouraged me to offer more confessions on a regular basis. So I'm asking the question: what would work best for you? In answering the question, please keep this in mind: I am away most Mondays and I am downtown all day Tuesdays--leaving around 8 am and back around 5 or 6 pm. I am in the parish most Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings, and will frequently have the noon Mass those days. We could do it before Mass, or after if you prefer. What do you think?

Hello Saint Rose!

I don't know how many Saint Rose parishioners may read my blog, but I am hoping they will get word, and feel free to visit.

It's a pleasure to be associated with Saint Rose, and I'm enjoying learning about the parish. I did my best to offer an "expedient" Mass today, and yet it took 30 minutes! I'm looking forward to meeting you all soon.

In a separate post, I'm going to ask for your feedback: namely, what time would be best to add confessions? Please check out that post, and comment on the question there!

See you soon!

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


The big move is complete; the big unpacking will take time.

I arrived at St. Rose Sunday evening and had my first day at the Archdiocese today. (Still there! This will be brief...)

Several comparative perks have caught my eye as I make this transition:

Perks of being a pastor: a big office and a private lavatory.

Perks of being an associate pastor: you sleep a whole better at night.

Perks of working downtown: lots of interesting things are within walking distance. If I can get out and walk several days a week, this'll be good!

OK back to work...