Sunday, November 25, 2012

'It is right and just' (Christ the King homily)

In a few minutes, after the Creed and the collection, 
I’ll go to the altar and prepare bread and wine for the Sacrifice. 
Then I’ll sing, “The Lord be with you”… 
“Lift up your hearts”… 
“Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”… 

“It is right and just.”

What is “right and just”?

To give thanks…to worship.
If true, that means it’s wrong--and unjust--not to do so.

Now, we often admit we owe God our thanks. And that’s true.
The late Bishop Moeddel used to say 
that you are allowed to skip Sunday Mass--
if you have absolutely nothing to be thankful for.

Even so, no matter what we do, we cannot injure God.
But when we refuse to acknowledge Christ as king,
We do “injustice” to ourselves--we distort ourselves.
It’s natural--it’s universal--for children to respect their parents.
Now imagine showing no such respect.
What sort of people would we be?

The point I’m making is that in giving worship to God,
We’re not just doing him a courtesy.
We’re doing something essential to our own well being.
And if this is true, then it suggests that in our worship of God, 
something more than good intentions is necessary.

The way we worship as Catholics--through the Mass--
isn’t the result of some bishops or priests somewhere saying, 
“what would be nice to do?”

Now, I know folks will say, 
when I go to the mountains, or the beach, 
that’s my cathedral, I feel like I’m worshipping God there.
OK; and our Lord did spend time praying 
in the mountains and by the sea.
But just before his greatest work--on the Cross--
he gathered his Apostles and said, 
“do this in memory of me”: the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Of course the Mass as developed over the centuries; 
But the Sacrifice at the heart of the Mass 
came from Christ himself.

There is something here that bears reflection.

What person among us would--at the end our lives--
want to look in the mirror and say, 
“I had countless opportunities in my life, 
to deny myself, to give of myself, for others--
for a spouse, for children, for my country…

And I refused every single one!”?

One of the things I respect about my father is how he gave of himself:
for my mother, for his mother, for our family, for so many people.

How remarkable that the king--the God--we worship, 
himself came not to be served, but to serve; 
and to give his life as a ransom for the many?
I submit that:
Worshipping our God in this way, through sacrifice; 
By joining our lives to his; 
Not coming to God to impress him;
And not coming here to “feel good about ourselves”;
But instead to lose ourselves to the King who,
because he did it first, we can entrust ourselves to him without fear…
I submit that this isn’t just a nice thing to do, but a necessary thing.

It is right and just.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'So what do you do in your new job anyway?'

Here's a glimpse of what my responsibilities as Director of Priestly Formation entail:

> I'm planning a Gospel Workshop for next fall. Every year we have a Scripture scholar do a day-long presentation on the Gospel that will front-and-center during the coming liturgical year. Last week we had our annual workshop on Luke; next year it will be Matthew. The speaker does it all in Cincinnati one day, then again in Dayton.

I'm working with the speaker I have in mind for his preferred dates; then I have to check around with other folks at the Archdiocese to be sure they don't have big events planned for the same dates.

Lots of emails and phone calls. Had several of them today. I just left a message; I hope once I hear back, we can confirm the date.

> I'm working on a possible new program--I won't say much about it, because it may come to nothing; but my hope is to provide a resource that I know pastors and priests will need and benefit from. But before I put it out for all to use, we have to make sure it's completely sound. I've looked at it; I've invited other Archdiocesan staff to look at it. We raised some questions that we hope to resolve. I have someone outside the Archdiocese giving it a professional review. We don't want to put a lot of energy behind something and have egg on our face right away.

> Just got that call back. Our date is confirmed. Just sent the email.

> Two weeks ago, we had a convocation for priests; one of the subjects discussed was priestly fraternity and support. Some of our priests gather with other priests regularly for spiritual support and fraternity; the request was made to me to "get the word out" about "support groups."

Well, I thought about how to do that; and this morning I sent an email to all our priests--for whom I have an email--inviting them to advise me of their group, if they want me to publicize it; otherwise, for them to look around for guys to invite in. I posted something on this on my Heart of Christ blog.

> Several weeks ago, I had a parishioner at Saint Rose ask me to suggest a spiritual director. Not an easy thing to do, since spiritual direction is a special skill, and even those priests and laypeople who provide it, don't necessarily want me to send to them everyone who asks. That led me to look at the list I had of potential spiritual directors, and I decided it was time to update it. In particular, I needed to know if spiritual directors would accept laypeople (some do, some don't). That led me to write a letter to folks on my current list, and send an email to our priests. That generated lots of responses. Now I have to organize all that--that's what I'm putting off doing at the moment.

> I spoke to Bishop Binzer a couple of times today, seeking his guidance on some matters (he's my supervisor). One of them was a workshop he wants me to attend in January. Now I have to make those plans.

All that--plus several phone calls and emails about various matters, some office conversations and some paperwork--gives you some flavor of what I do.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are we ready for heaven? (Sunday homily)

One of the things I thought about, as I looked at these Scripture readings, was this: 
what do we think heaven--life after this--really is?

Listening to how people talk about heaven, 
some folks seem to think it’s just more of the same, only somehow better. 
So if we drink beer here, we’ll drink more, and better beer, there.

Well, I confess I like that idea! But that doesn’t make it true.

The other idea I think people have, which is related, I call, “home free.”

When I was in boy in school, I was always looking forward to summer. 
As the March led to April, April to May, 
and we scrambled to get everything finished--
we were thinking, “oh, we’ll just get past this, and then we’re ‘home free!’”

Of course, part of the problem is that we don’t really know much about heaven.
But it’s more than “home free.”

And the way we know that is by considering how much trouble 
God has gone to prepare us for heaven.

He sent the prophets, like Daniel, to give us hope. 
He gave us the Ten Commandments, to give us a way to live. 
He himself came--and he gave everything to us, at the Cross, 
which is poured into our lives through the Sacraments of our Faith.

He established his Church as an ark of salvation to bring us to heaven. 
And despite all the efforts of bishops and priests, 
kings and knaves, to shipwreck the Church, she’s still here!

God has gone--and continues to go--to a lot of trouble to get us to heaven. 

So maybe we ought to think about what we need to do to be ready?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Get ready to be bullied (and worse) over "gay marriage"

Over the past couple of years, I've noticed something that seems to occur only when I write about certain topics: namely, issues arising from same-sex attraction and so-called "same-sex marriage."

What I've noticed I'll call bullying: among those who comment, who don't agree with my views--which are simply my attempt to present what the Church teaches (but in humility, I may not always get it right)--are folks who don't simply disagree, and post counter arguments; frequently they attempt to shut down the discussion.

That's what I see in the recent thread, "Questions..."; and if you go back and look for threads on related subjects, you can see the comments and discussions that form the basis for my conclusion.

Now, while I'm on this subject, I'll say this here. I had a conversation with a regular reader, who kindly said I wasn't as charitable as I might have been in the comments on the "Questions" post. My reply was, it's possible, and I told him I appreciated him telling me. I don't bring that up here to debate that point--I mean, unless that's really necessary. But I mention it to acknowledge, yes, we do bring strong feelings to a subject like this, and maybe that's all that's going on.

But is it only "strong feelings" that explains the increasingly frequent claim that those of us who oppose redefining marriage, and relatedly, believe that same-sex behavior is wrong, are "bigots"?

I'm going to push back on explaining the "bigot" label as merely "strong feelings." It's a deliberate strategy. And to the extent it's based on a real conviction, on the part of those who hurl that charge, it's wrong, based on false premises. To the extent it's not just a passionate outburst, it's pretty important that we push back on that.

Why is it wrong?

Well, others have addressed this point better, but let's spell out some distinctions and some facts.

First, racism and the sorts of prejudice we think of in connection with racism, are based on invalid distinctions. The term "discrimination" is wrongly used without a modifier. "To discriminate," strictly speaking, is to make distinctions: I "discriminate" in favor of food I like, and against food I don't.

Of course, when we use the term "discriminate" in most usage, our implicit meaning is, "unfair" or unjustifiable "discrimination." To make a distinction between, say, the innocent and guilty is valid, and we don't usually call that "discrimination"; to treat two people differently, because of race, almost always does involve invalid distinctions--that's what we mean when condemn that as "discriminatory." Rightly so.

Does this framework necessarily apply to "same sex marriage" or even to persons with same-sex orientation?

Yes and no.

Yes, insofar as society has, in the past, discriminated against gay people in unjust ways. Same-sex attraction doesn't mean you can't be a good employee, or neighbor, or citizen.

But as to marriage, no: because laws that barred couples from marriage, based on race, made invalid distinctions. Your skin color does not in any reasonable way prevent you from entering into a valid marriage. You are as capable of all the things that make a marriage, if you're white, as if you're black or Asian or what have you. And, if my historical recollection is correct, we knew that even when we had those laws!

The reason I say that is--and here is where my recollection could be incorrect (but I don't think so)--those laws did not treat marriages between blacks or Asians as invalid, did they? They were deemed valid. A black or Asian was deemed as capable of entering into marriage as a white person. That wasn't the reason anti-misegenation laws were passed. As the term I just used, indicates, the purpose of those laws was to prevent race-mixing. Those laws had nothing to do with safeguarding the right understanding of what constitutes a valid marriage.

But that is the issue with the current battle over "same sex marriage." Those of us who oppose the proposed changes do so because we contend "same sex marriage" is a redefinition of the term, and we don't consent to redefining it.

The advocates like to term it a "justice" issue, and they are free to make that argument, but we are free to push back. "Justice," Saint Thomas Aquinas said, is giving to each his due. All persons are "due" equal protection under the laws, and access to the goods of life. Some argue that includes access to marriage. Except that begs the question. Can people of the same sex "marry"? Is it possible? If it's impossible, then saying so is no more "bigotry" and "injustice" than it is to say that it's impossible to go faster than the speed of light. It would seem to be be wonderful if Einstein were proven wrong on this point--because then we might someday build starships and launch on great adventures. But so far, such speed seems impossible.

Of course, that is an impossibility that--if it bears out--can't be fixed by legislative or social change. Is marriage between people of the same sex impossible in the same way?

Not exactly. We can, as a society, "redefine" what we mean by marriage. Heck, it may even be true, before long, to redefine what being human means. I'm going to get all Buck Rogers here, and some folks roll their eyes at this--but you don't have to look that far in your reading to see the things I'm going to talk about now, however weird they may sound, are potentially very close on the horizon.

We have efforts to develop "artificial wombs" so that the changes begun by "in vitro fertilization"--moving conception out of a human act of love--can result in a total divorce of begetting from the family. Heck, we've already mimicked this with wombs-for-rent and mothers being surrogates for their children's children, bearing their own grandchildren. We have a movement--google it--called "transhumanism," which covers a broad swath if ideas, some of which has to do with maximizing what we can do with our present capabilities, including dramatic lengthening of life through medical advances, to "designing" some sort of new sort of human being, with "augmented" capacities, different enough to qualify as a new species--hence, "transhumanism." And, we even have moves on various fronts to mix genetic materials, and produce "hybrid" species. Yes, even mingling human and non-human genes. All for the sake of "science," so don't worry!

In short, the effort to redefine what it means to be human is not hypothetical. It's underway. It is a problem that will unfold for us in coming decades--and given the escalating pace of change that has marked modernity, it stands to reason the problems will arrive on our doorstep far faster than we can imagine, and take shapes vastly different from what we can predict.

So why not just go along with it?

Well, of course, if something really is "inevitable," then in 500 or 1,000 years, we'll have "gone along with it" and that'll be that. But what's the rush to reach that conclusion? Who is it who insists we should just relax and enjoy it?

There are folks, of course, who aren't merely observing--they're seeking to bring about this brave new world. They want to re-invent what it means to be human.

And that includes those who strain against the realities imposed on human beings by biology and sexual complementarity. In other words, those who insist on validating same-sex attraction as "normal" and just another variation, and along with that, redefining marriage. Along these lines, you'll find folks who use "sex" and "gender" interchangeably, in pursuit of the idea that sexual identity is, itself, a fluid and non-intrinsic quality to being human. These are the folks who, when they encounter someone who says, I may seem to be a man, but I'm really a woman, "solve" this problem through surgery, hormones and "therapy." Problem solved, right?

Well, let's see how that works out. Without seeming to be up on all the literature, I think I'm correct in saying that such "therapy" hasn't solved the problem; it's created new problems. As I recall, many of those who once pioneered this approach are now moving away from it for that reason.

Plus, the whole area of sexual attraction is not neatly organized into a discrete number of categories. Even the advocates of the brave new sexual world concede this. They don't just talk of "gay," but "lesbian and gay"--no, "lesbian, gay and bisexual"--scratch that, it's "lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender!" Whoops, it's now, "lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning."

I'm not saying these experiences of sexual attraction, and the conflicts that arise where they conflict with either social or physical constraints aren't real, or shouldn't be treated as serious issues. They are real; and there is real pain involved, sometimes reaching despair.

My point is that we're kidding ourselves if we think we can "liberate" ourselves from these difficulties through reinvention.

But my larger point is to say that what's going on here isn't just a tussle over this or that law. At issue is a struggle over something very fundamental--so fundamental that many don't even realize it's at issue: What does it mean to be human? Because one side says, marriage arises out of the human experience, out of sexual complementarity, and is essentially related to attraction and sex, and sex and procreation.

Oh no it's not! cries the opposition. But they aren't basing their opposition on reality, but wishes for a different reality, which for many of those in this fight, consider profoundly liberating.

It's no accident that many of the same folks seeking this revolution likewise are adamant about contracepting and sterilizing the human race, and divorcing procreation from sex. It's the same broad purpose: "liberating" humanity from being human, at least as the entirety of the race has known itself to this point.

So a battle is underway, and realize that it is increasingly going to be ugly. Don't be surprised by it.

Don't give into it. I get strong feelings too, so I don't want to fail in charity. If I do, let me know.

But let's not kid ourselves about what's coming. It's not a garden party, it's war. Even a soldier has to be charitable, but he still has to wade into battle. So must we.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Sundry thoughts on my day off...

Today I was at the seminary in the morning for another session with Fr Schehr, talking about Mark. Then over to Newport on the Levee for the day. Lunch at an Irish place named something like Claddagh. Then to the bookstore. I like to look to see what's new in Sci Fi (really alternate history); and I saw some books that looked misplaced. You know the types, with guys without shirts, showing off impossible chests and abs. Turns out they are a series of "vampire" stories--shirtless buff vampires, I guess--with titles like "Till Passion Burns"...I kid you not. There were two or three there, the only difference I could see was which way the shirtless guys were turned.

Over to the history section; I found a book I wanted to read all day: a series of historical "What if?" Questions. What if the Franco-Prussian War never happened? The author argued, then no WW I and No WW II, no holocaust, etc.

I got a ticket to see "Skyfall": best Bond movie ever. While waiting in line, I noticed a special event you won't want to miss: a "Twilight" marathon--all five movies! Did you know there were FIVE of them? Can you imagine watching all of them in one sitting? What would that do to a man unlucky enough to be dragged along? I should say boy, because grown men should not go to movies with teenage girls.

The HallowThanksmas trees and decorations are up. Tis the Season!

Now sitting down to dinner, so more on that later...

Sunday, November 11, 2012

In hoc signo vinces (Sunday homily)

The Gospel today gives us an illustration 
of how God overturns our value-system 
just as surely as he overturned the tables laden with money 
on the day he entered his own temple.

We sort things out based on rich and poor.
We care a lot about money--and power.

We just had an election in which politicians 
pitted “rich” and “middle class” and “poor” against each other.
We’re told what really mattered was who gets what?

Meanwhile, voices in both parties say, 
what we need to do is stop talking about protecting human life, 
stop talking about protecting marriage and religious freedom,
stop talking about God’s Law. 

I know we’re all tired of the election. 
But there are some lessons to be learned, 
and now’s the time to reflect on them.

Some of us may be thinking, “we won”; others, “we lost.”
If you think you won, what did you win?
If you think you lost, what did you lose?

One of the grave temptations we face is 
to think that a show of hands decides what the truth is.
The Roman Senate, centuries ago, 
had a statue of the goddess Victory--
and as more and more Romans became Christians, 
they took it down.
Are we going to put it back up, and say, that’s what we seek?

Our totem is the Truth. 
It’s necessary that we be involved, 
and it is good to win elections, but above all, we must win hearts.

In the first reading, 
the land was suffering a severe drought; 
it represents the consequences of turning from God.
And the widow’s response--we’ll eat our last and give up--
is what many say today as we look at the direction of our society.

Once again, God’s values are not ours.
I can’t explain why it’s so, but I will point out that 
God often seems willing to be on the “losing side”--for quite awhile.

God’s People ended up in slavery in Egypt--for 400 years.
When they got to the Promised Land, 
it wasn’t long before they were in exile.

When our Lord came, people wanted him to lead an army--
to drive out the Romans. 
His apostles wanted to call down fire from heaven.

He wanted nothing to do with that.
He set his face for the Cross: 
a demoralizing, humiliating defeat.

On that Good Friday, on that “election day,” 
the show of hands was in favor of crucifying him. 
The Cross will triumph; have no doubt.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Questions for 'same sex marriage' supporters

Now that a good number of jurisdictions have--one way or the other--successfully redefined marriage to include spouses of the same sex, a few questions come to mind. These questions are specifically intended for those who favor this development. Not that others aren't welcome to answer; just that I think I already know what your answer will be.

It's how those who think "same sex marriage" involves no contradiction would answer these questions that interests me:

1. Is there any necessary connection between marriage and romantic or sexual attraction?
2. Is there any necessary connection between marriage and procreation--and by extension, child-rearing?
3. Why shouldn't people with a close familial relationship (parents-children, siblings, etc.) be able to marry?
4. What difference does the number of people consenting to marriage make?

My answers:

1. Under the until-recently-universal understanding of marriage, there actually wasn't any necessary connection to romance--marriages have been known to be arranged, and still are, and--while I'm not advocating this approach, they have been successful. It's no secret that people will marry not so much for romantic reasons, but for financial reasons. After all, you can have all the romance you want without marriage, right? Wasn't one of the arguments for redefining marriage that same-sex couples were being denied "the benefits of marriage"? I don't recall anyone arguing that not being able to married diminished anyone's romance.

The connection to sexual attraction was assumed--but, again, who can say whether a couple who married ever felt it? The issue for validity--at least as the Catholic Church understands it--is that it has to be possible. I.e., if a man and a woman utterly lack the ability to consummate their marriage, it's not a valid marriage. But simply failing to consummate it doesn't invalidate it. We believe Mary and Joseph never consummated their marriage, yet it was valid, on the assumption they were perfectly capable of doing so, but never did.

This may sound odd, but think about it: an elderly couple marries. Presumably they enjoy each other's company and are affectionate--but they may bluntly tell you, if it ever came up in conversation, that they are "past all that." Yet there has never been an issue of their getting married.

You may wonder why I ask: because one of the powerful arguments for redefining marriage is that gay people love each other, and they should not be denied something heterosexuals have access to.

But once the law allows for same-sex marriage, what prevents any two people who are not in the slightest way homosexual from entering into a same-sex marriage? Two widows who would prefer to mingle their lives and households and finances with each other--after years of friendship--over against finding a male mate, especially when there may not be so many suitable men around. An elderly parent and his or her divorced child. Two friends.

Why not--if there is no essential connection between marriage and sexual attraction?

2. Of course those opposing redefining marriage insist there is an intrinsic connection between marriage and procreation; but this is the very point that advocates of redefining marriage dispute. Which means, doesn't it, that questions of who can adopt are--or ought to be--unrelated? (This is one of the likely harms of redefining marriage: children who are raised in "same sex marriages" will suffer.) But if, as redefinition advocates insist, there's no essential connection between marriage--as they conceive of it--and procreation and family, then why should redefining marriage change how people are evaluated as potential adoptive parents?

3. Related to that: the longstanding objection to incest was, beyond the fact that it was morally repugnant, that it might result in malformed children. Now that procreation and marriage are effectively autonomous--and we no longer frame laws based on such "repressive" notions as "moral repugnance"--why not allow incestuous marriages?

4. Once again, once marriage is (a) no longer essentially connected to procreation or (b) defined in terms of social good, but no primarily in terms of self-fulfillment, why should those who want multiple husbands and wives be denied? Why be so "mean"?

I gave you my answers. Advocates of redefining marriage, what are yours--and the rationale for them?

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Be not afraid!

I was up very late last night, watching the election returns, and then watching the candidates' speeches. One lasting effect of having a deep interest in politics is that I can't go to bed on election night while races I care about are still at issue; and then I'm keyed up.

This morning I hit the road early, to drive up to Centerville for the priests' annual convocation. A lot of the event is my responsibility, and today was my first time being responsible. Guys said things went well--although I did notice a few things I want to do differently next year and a few miscues. I know there were some who didn't care for the topic--I hope they will convey that, not only to me, but to those who plan these things each year.

But the big topic on so many minds is the election. I know many of my readers will be deeply disappointed, if not downright gloomy. Certainly several of my brother priests were gloomy. So I'll offer some thoughts.

First, I would suggest that in politics, it is rare that things are really as bad as you think, and as good as you think. The day after an election, one side is exultant and the other often looks for scapegoats. Hang tight.

Second, the real challenges we face aren't going to be solved by an election, nor made insoluble by an election. I know a lot of my friends placed great hopes on Mr. Romney; I did not. I sincerely believe that he would have proved a great disappointment. He was the focus of so many folks' hopes not so much because of his actual merits, but because of the terrible positions embraced by the President. Of course, I can never really prove I'm right about that, so there's no point in arguing over it. But I mention it to explain why I'm not so depressed as many may be.

Third, our ability to fight back has not changed. When President Obama handed down his forced-contraception-participation mandate, I saw the hand of Providence. I still do. It sure seems as though a spotlight is shining down on the Church, at this moment, with the opportunity to bear witness.

That moment hasn't passed. It may be coming to its full.

It's obvious we face a confrontation over the redefinition of marriage. The solution to that did not lie in the election of any one candidate. (And even with the President's re-election, I think we have plenty of political resources available.)

Look, I don't mean to sound breezy about such confrontations; but they are coming, and there comes a time when you just say, let's get to the battle. Do we believe that what we're fighting for is true and right? We know it is! We know that marriage is a man and a woman. Trying to pretend 2+2=5 will eventually crash and burn. We already have evidence accumulating that attempts at same-sex "families" result in real problems for the children raised in them. This will not end well. You and I must be ready to help pick up the pieces.

Contraception is, in every regard, a disaster. It is not merely a thing we Catholics have an irrational opposition to; it's a poison, it's an ecological hazard, it's destructive to marriages, and now we know it's a social disaster. Daily--right now!--the truth of what Pope Paul VI warned in 1968 is being confirmed. Before very long, the reality will come crashing upon us. As the Prophet Habakkuk said, 

Then the LORD answered me and said: 
Write down the vision; 
Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run. 
For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. 
If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. 

The fourth thing I will say, simply about the political arena: a lot of folks, I think, continually make the mistake of looking merely at the commentary and the surface stuff, and focus only on what's highly visible. A lot of good things are happening in House races and in state races. And, unlike 2009, the President does not have the ability to do whatever  he likes. We live to fight another day. Finally, the thing that happens all too often is the twist and turn that nobody (or very few) anticipated. History is full of surprises. Providence works like that.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

What keeps our life upright? (Sunday homily)

A few years ago, I recall a neighbor who was rebuilding his garage.
He’d knocked down the old one and started a new one.
And I noticed how hard he worked to get the frame just right.
Or else it wouldn’t stay standing.

The first commandment our Lord mentions: put God first.
That’s the frame. It keeps the rest of our life upright.
It helps us stand firm when the winds of pressure or desire blow hard.

We’ve all been in situations where someone said,
we have to compromise.
That is the excuse for our government using torture
or cutting corners on the Constitution.

In our personal life, we make compromises.
As a priest, I am frequently tempted to put the work I do first,
and I’ll pray later. God won’t mind.

If a priest can be tempted to do that, how about you?

The second commandment gives us purpose. What are we for?
We’re here to make a difference in others’ lives.

As each year goes by, I learn a little more
just how self-centered I can be.

Think of a baby. He points to his mouth and says, “feed me!”
She points to her diaper and says, “change me!”
Little ones run to dad: drop everything and “fix it, daddy!”

Somewhere along the line we recognize
God didn’t give us our talents, our time, and treasure, just for us.
We discover the joy of helping others is the only treasure that lasts.

There are a lot of applications, but two are obvious.

First, a lot of our fellow citizens are hurting
because of the recent storm.
Others because of the economy.
We don’t have to think hard to find a way
to love our neighbor in those situations.

Second, we have the privilege and duty of voting this week.
I’m not going to tell you who to vote for.
But in deciding how to vote,
what can matter more than these two commandments?

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The exciting life of a parish priest

Today was one of the more interesting days for me.

It started in an ordinary way: I had an appointment at 10, so I was able to sleep a little late, and have a leisurely breakfast before the couple, preparing for marriage, arrived. Breakfast: scrambled eggs, bacon, and black coffee. Priceless!

The couple arrived, and we talked about what it means to call marriage a sacrament--the third meeting (see below). When I prepare couples for marriage, I routinely do the following:

First meeting: begin by reading the account of the wedding of cana, and then a short discussion of the reading; then I ask the couple to tell me their stories, and we talk about how what "discernment" means--how they tried to discern what God had for them, in each other, and how God led them to this point. I explain that this same discernment is what a man seeking the priesthood goes through--and it's what they are trying to do as they prepare for marriage: discerning God's plan for them. I explain what we'll do together over several meetings in that light, and ask if that sounds like a good plan. We do an inventory called "FOCCUS" which measures communication, and then we schedule another meeting. And I give the couple homework: NFP classes, strongly encouraged; or else Pre-Cana.

Second meeting: we spend  almost all our time reviewing the results of the "FOCCUS" inventory--which is not a test, even  though it seems like one. I have, over the years, developed a series of "vignettes" that I tell, from real life, that serve to help illustrate some useful insights from the inventory. I hope it's truly helpful. The couples say it is. Homework: a set of questions on various subjects, which we talk about in the...

Third meeting: we discuss the questions, and I focus on the questions about what it means to call marriage a sacrament, and what it means to say the couple are "ministers" of the sacrament "to each  other. I explain the classic Baltimore Catechism definition of a sacrament: "an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace"; I use passages from Genesis and Ephesians to explain both natural and sacramental marriage and I touch on issues such  as cohabitation and openness to the gift of life. I talk about John Paul II's theology of the body--briefly.

Fourth meeting: prepare for the "big day" and plan every detail--so that the rehearsal goes smooooooothly.

Well, as often happens, I go a bit past the hour and so I had to race over to church to open the doors for confessions. Apologized to those waiting. Raced to the confessional. Did my job which is a joy.

Mass at Noon. Did you know that, in the Archdiocese, today was a special feast day? The anniversary of the dedication of our Cathedral. That meant different readings, a Gloria, etc. I did all that, and preached on the meaning of the feast. I hope it was edifying for the folks present.

After Mass, I had some downtime. I watched the Bearcats win, and read the news online. But I also had to get my Mass kit in order, because this evening I offered Mass for a special group.

Did you know that, from time to time, a call comes into the Archdiocesan office, asking if a priest could come and offer Mass for (a) the Reds; (b) the Bengals; (c) a visiting team? Earlier this week, such a call came in, regarding the Broncos. Guess who got the call? Yours truly.

So, tonight, I was scheduled to run down to one of the hotels downtown and have Mass for members of the Broncos organization. I never did that before.

I was asked to begin Mass at 7:30 pm--and I had 30 minutes! Be quick, Father! I said I'd do my best.

Well, I didn't want to be late--that would reflect badly on our Archdiocese! So I arrived before 7 pm! I followed the directions, and headed up to the third floor. The escalator from the second to third floors was closed--but the fellow working for the hotel let me through. When I got up there, I understood: all the ballrooms and meeting rooms had signs reading, "quarterbacks' meeting" and such; and sure enough, one said, "Mass." No one was there yet; so I got about getting things set up.

So, I got everything set up--I was told to expect 30 folks, maximum--and I vested, and sat down and waited. Eventually, some of the guys showed up. The players introduced themselves to me; and I asked one of the coaches to let me know when we were ready to go. And off we went.

I did everything "by the book"; I preached a homily and everything. It wasn't a big group--less than 30--but the guys were praying. I tried to make a joke, after Mass, about being a Bengals fan, but it didn't seem to work. They were pretty keyed up. They headed out pretty quickly afterward.

Did I mention that they were rather generous to yours truly? Two tickets to the game tomorrow, plus a gratuity. The gracious pastor here has told me I am welcome to keep such things, so...woo hoo! On top of that, one of the players gave me an extra gift. I told him that wasn't necessary. Wow!

So I packed up--the players, I think, were either off to a meal--I saw a buffet set up--or maybe another meeting, or perhaps they got to relax. I shook their hands and wished them well.

So now I'm going down the escalator, with my Mass kit in tow, dressed in all black, my roman collar visible--and I see assembled at the bottom of the escalator, behind a rope line, a gaggle of girls!

To my unpracticed eye, they looked to be between 16 and 25. About eight of them, I reckon, all gazing eagerly up the escalator.

"Did you meet someone famous?" one of them asked as I came down.

"How do you know I'm not someone famous?" I replied.

"Oh, sure, you are, but what about the players?"

"Who did you see?"

"Did you meet Peyton Manning?"

"What were you doing up there?"

"Did you get any autographs?"


"Why not?"

"I had Mass for some of the players and coaches."

"Can you get us past security?"

"Um, no."

"But you have the power of God!"

"Yes, but that isn't to be misused."

They seemed impressed with that answer.

I asked them: "what are you girls doing sitting here?" They laughed--but didn't give any other explanation. So I wished them well, and moved on. My moment was over.

So I descended the escalator, took the Mass kit back to my car, and thought--maybe I'll eat at one of the really nice restaurants downtown on the Broncos! So I drove over to the Archdiocese's offices, and parked in the lot, and walked down to--gasp!--Jeff Ruby's! This place is really expensive! Should I go in there? I almost didn't--it seemed so extravagant. But...I did!

When I got inside (my first time), the place was crowded! I backed out.

I walked down Walnut, and looked at the menu at Nicholsons: all bar food with a Scottish angle. I wished the fellow in the kilt well and moved on.

I ended up at Roma Trattoria on Sixth Street. I've never been there. It didn't look very Roman, but the food was good, and it cost half of--or less than--what Jeff Ruby's would have. Another time, perhaps.

Back here around 9:40 or so, and I wrote this post and now I'm going to watch a little football before I hit the hay. I have three Masses tomorrow, before a priest-friend meets me after Noon Mass, to race down to Paul Brown Stadium for the game. Seats on the forty.

See what interesting things happen when you're a priest? Give it a shot!