Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A busy day after two down days

Sunday evening, I wondered if I was coming down with something; Monday morning I was sure I had. So Monday and Tuesday, I was at home, popping zinc tablets, drinking tea, coughing and choking and otherwise waiting for the viral storm to pass. It wasn't that I was so sick; it was just that I didn't want to be around anyone, and I am certain, had I gone to work, and been hacking and sniffling, few would have wanted me around.

But I had a problem.

Today, I was hosting a group of priests, which meets the last Wednesday of every month. And this month, the Archbishop had accepted our invitation. Pressure, pressure!

My original plans were to do some serious cooking. After coming down with a cold, I decided to moderate my plans. Thankfully, one of my brother priests, who was joining us, offered to help cook, so we got it together. 

We gathered at 4 pm, for conversation and drinks and snacks; then we had a holy hour at 5 (well, a few minutes late); yours truly handled the exposition, while I recruited other priests to lead Vespers and pray the Rosary. Toward the end, I hurried to the sacristy, while everyone was praying, because I had to cough something awful! I asked later, I hope you didn't hear me coughing; they said, "we did!" 

Dinner was enjoyable and we had a good conversation during and after; we had told his Excellency that we usually break up at 8; and we told him we didn't expect him to stay the whole time. He did; even though he had a long day tomorrow. 

Actually, I'm feeling a lot better than when I began the day. Maybe it was the zinc and chicken soup; maybe it was getting past this big project!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Be bold as a Christian (Sunday homily)

In the first reading,
Ezra the priest told folks “this day is holy to our Lord.“
Do we treat the Lord’s Day--today--as holy to our Lord?

Obviously, you’re at Holy Mass!
But keeping this day holy goes beyond that.

When God gave Israel a Sabbath, he said,
“Remember that you were once slaves.”
The Sabbath rest says, “you are slaves no longer.”
When the Christian Faith first began to spread,
The day of Resurrection--today--was just another work-day.
In order to attend Mass, Christians--many of whom were slaves--
had to get up very early, or go very late--after work.

Have you noticed? As our society forgets its bearings,
There’s another way we’re becoming more like pagan Rome:
The Lord’s Day is more and more just another day.

The point of refraining from unneeded work on Sunday
isn’t because work is sinful--
but to set aside time to prayer and reflection and rest.

The other thing Ezra said was to rejoice in the Lord.
Does our Faith give us joy?
Are we proud to say, “I am a Catholic?”
Are we eager to share our Faith?

Last Friday, I was in Washington for the March for Life.
I went with several priests and many of our seminarians--
along with hundreds of thousands of Americans.
Those who go aren’t all Catholics--thank God!--
But when you see how strongly the Catholics are represented,
It does make me proud of our Catholic Faith.

Sometimes people will ask, what’s the value of the March for Life?
I think the main value is as a time of prayer.
And like a pilgrimage or a retreat, it’s life-changing for those who go.
For me, this year marks ten years as a priest.
In 2003, there was a shadow over us as Catholics, and over priests--
because of the terrible things a handful of priests did.
And I remember a reporter came out to the seminary,
and asked me, was I going to be hesitant or “ashamed”
to be seen in a roman collar?

I said, no way! And I made a resolution that day,
that my response was to strive all the more to be faithful.

So I’d ask you the same question that reporter asked me.
Whether it’s Catholic institutions
that seem to care more about the world’s esteem
than what our Faith teaches…
Or politicians who brag about how Catholic they are,
until it comes time to defend the unborn or to defend marriage…
Or clergy and religious who lose their way…
Are we going to let that be the last word
on what it means to be a Catholic?

When some parts of the Body seem limp and lifeless,
That’s when you and I are called
all the more to be on fire for Christ! All the more!

The Spirit of the Lord has anointed…you! You!
Let rejoicing in the Lord be your strength.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

To DC for the March for Life

I'm in DC, resting a little after what has been a long, though not that arduous, a day.

My flight left Dayton at six am. That meant arriving at the airport by five am. That meant leaving Saint Rose before four am. That meant setting my alarm for 3:30. That meant being in bed by nine the night before! For me, ridiculous; I seldom get to bed before 11. As it was, I tried to hit the hay at ten, but could not sleep. Maybe two hours total.

Cell phone alarm sounds at 3:30; I look at the clock; it's dark. Power was out. Good thing I set two alarms. I'm showering candlelight, first time for that. A little tricky getting through the house but ok, on the road. At the airport, the group of priests and seminarians I'm traveling with are arriving. We leave a little late. Non clerical minority on the plane finds so many roman collars reassuring.

At Baltimore airport, several of us share a taxi; we tell him, Union Station, DC ( our hotel is across from it). He nods, takes off, and when asked, says it'll take 90 mins. Hmmm, we think, that's a little long.  Those in back chatting; good thing priest in front notices the driver points north. We fix it, but lose 15 mins., driver turns off meter so we don't overpay. Language barrier, but we think he was taking us to Philly.

At hotel: it's around nine, we had no breakfast. "Irish breakfasts" all around, ah, restoration! We see seminarians, who rode the train, file in in groups of less than five. Why, you ask? Because the hotel told us, if groups of  five or more enter together, each member gets charged a "union surcharge" $5 apiece.

We assembled at 11:30 to walk a few blocks to church for Mass. Regular parish Mass, but here come seven priests and 20 seminarians (others planned to attend mongo vigil tonight--not for me, almost literally wall-to-wall people). Nice Italian church, barely touched by liturgical Vandals who passed through so many churches in the bad old days. Friendly priest, who seemed to have little English, seemed surprised to see us, but we did call ahead. Lovely simple Mass. I don't often get to offer Mass with these brothers.

Back to hotel. It's very bright but very cold. Some of us go to museums, but I'm a little out of sync from the weird travel day, and another priest and I get something hot to drink; decide to eat a little soup. We both think it was from a can. Is that acceptable, do you think, for a sit-down cafe in the middle of DC's Union Station? Note to avoid in the future.

Now back at hotel. Sorry for staccato writing style, but I'm typing this with one finger on my IPad.

Tomorrow we have Mass at the Basilica, then the March, then fly home late, if snow doesn't delay.

This prayer pilgrimage is an odd duck: we are always friendly and hopeful despite grim horror we are  protesting. Some find this incongruous, but I don't. This is an act of faith, and faith always travels with charity and hope. This is serious business, but the Father's business, so we have reason to have joy and confidence, despite all.

I expect some rendezvous with brother priests before long, so see you at the March. If you can't be here, pray, please.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

'God came to a wedding: what a marvel!' (Sunday homily)

“What a marvel,” St. Augustine said of today’s Gospel. 
“God came to a wedding!” 

What a marvel! Let us count the ways. 
On one level, we have an ordinary part of life: a man and woman united in marriage; 
but it doesn’t stay on the ordinary level—not after Jesus came to the wedding. 

The ordinary becomes forever more than ordinary; changed, filled with grace. 
Water becomes wine; human love becomes divine; 
regular life a place where God is real and present; 
heaven comes to earth, and earth is lifted up. 

That’s what our sacraments are: 
ordinary things, which God takes and uses to give his supernatural life to us. 

Water—in baptism—gives the Holy Spirit. 
A priest speaks ordinary words—in confession—
and through those words, Christ gives total forgiveness. 

Another marvel: this Gospel story of a wedding:
it’s a family scene, it’s earthy; it’s giddy; 
the wine was flowing, it’s amorous; and Jesus blesses it all! 

Our Faith does not push aside the good things of life; 
we are not ashamed or embarrassed by these things. 
We’re the moderates, if you will, between two extremes. 

On one side are those who make the things of this life their ultimate good. 
Pleasure or money, health, sports, sex or power. 
That way of thinking cannot fathom the value of self-denial; or believes its impossible. 

The flip side is to see this world as something to escape, 
and to downgrade what’s good for humans, 
and instead go too far in respecting Creation--
and see human beings as “The Enemy.” 

Notice Jesus never said, “you invited too many people”! 
God’s wine flows freely; and when we care for our world 
and for one another as God would have us do… 
When we use our gifts to unlock this world’s abundance, 
we have plenty of room for all his children. 

Last Sunday was a time to talk about the vocation to the priesthood or the religious life. 
Today is a good time to talk about the vocation of marriage. 
And Christ turning water into wine--
and later he would turn wine into his blood--
is a good setting to talk about both. 

When I meet with couples preparing for marriage, I always read this Gospel with them. 
And I always ask them this question: who was the wine for? 
Hint: it wasn’t for the couple. It’s for everyone else. 

The wine is a symbol of the grace God gives us to live our calling. 
A fearful response says, don’t invite too many people! 
Don’t take chances! Play it safe! 

If I’d taken that approach, I’d never have become a priest. 
For that matter, my parents would never have had seven children. I’m number seven. 
Their choice of generosity was necessary for me even to exist. 
Just as our Lord’s choice to give himself totally on the Cross 
was necessary for our hope of heaven to exist. 

God came to a wedding. God made a marriage with mankind. What a marvel!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Make 2013 the Year of YOUR Faith

Please join the Knights of Columbus and me for a unique opportunity to explore What Catholics Believe, a series on the Catechism offered by the Knights of Columbus.  Pope Benedict launched the Year of Faith to mark the 50th anniversary of Vatican II and the 20th anniversary of the Catechism of the Catholic Church – an “authentic fruit of Vatican Council II.”
Join us in the St. Rose undercroft from 7:00 to 8:15 PM, the first Tuesday of the month:
Feb. 5, March 5, April 2, May 7, and June 4.  All ages are welcome.
Introduction to the series here; if you have any questions, post a comment here!

My thanks to the Salve Regina Council--which serves both Saint Rose and Saint Mary Parish--for helping me put this together.

Let's spread the word, and fill the basement of Saint Rose!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How stick figures can help save marriage

I have an idea for how someone really creative can help the cause of Christ. Hear me out, please.

First, who I'm looking for:

Someone with a creative mind, who fully embraces the Catholic vision for humanity, who has a certain wit and facility with expression, and who also has a certain maturity and delicacy--in other words, good judgment.

The project:

Create a stick-figure cartoon, with six or eight panels, that explains the Church's teaching on the complementarity of the sexes, and marriage.

Now, you may not think this matters much. But let me explain why I think this would be very useful.

First, one of the things that can be very effective in advancing a cause is the ability to boil down your cause to an expressive symbol. Those who are pushing for the redefinition of marriage have done so. Some years ago, the Human Rights Campaign, which has advocated for "gay rights" for decades, came up with a very effective symbol: the equal sign. It is an argument easily grasped, and it claims the moral high ground--that is to say, it puts those who disagree on the defensive.

Notice that is the argument being made for redefining marriage. A "marriage" between two males or two females equals a marriage between a man and a woman.

By extension, being able to boil down an argument into a relatively compact argument is likewise very effective. And simply the exercise of being forced to do so focuses the mind tremendously.

One thing I've learned as a priest is that when I am able to explain effectively a subject in a five-minute homily, then I've come to a place where I really "get" the subject. In the fall of 2011, I prepared a series of homilies on the Mass translation we were preparing to implement; and one of them was on "consubstantial." Forcing myself to explain that--in a homily--was a very effective exercise for me to penetrate this doctrine. Not just "what it means" abstractly, but "for us men and for our salvation."

A third reason this would be useful is to counter the wave of propaganda now underway, aimed at the young.

Already, in schools and in all forms of entertainment, the idea that relationships all equal each other is being sown. I've even seen visual representations of it--using stick figures: two men = two women = a man and a woman = two men and a woman = two women and a man, etc.

You might ask, why stick figures? Precisely because it can be reproduced by people who aren't artistic. They could actually draw it themselves.

One of the mistakes we Catholics often make is to allow ourselves to be on the defensive. We have, for decades, been defensive about what our Faith says about contraception and openness to life. And many of us are defensive about what we believe about men and women and marriage.

Yet as I write this, the facts on contraception are turning strongly toward us. Not only is the claim of "overpopulation" bogus, so are all the claims about empowering women and strengthening relationships. It's all one giant load of...well, fertilizer.

Already we can see where the campaign for redefining marriage will lead us. Sadly, in a few decades, we will have plenty of casualties from this "harmless" change. We have no reason to feel defensive. Yet we do. Why?

Because the culture around us has defined the terms of the debate. When you let your opponent do that, you are likely to lose.

So what is needed is some help redefining the terms of the debate. And a key to doing that is expressing our terms in the simplest ways possible: through images.

That's what we need creative people to do. Let's spread this around. Let's pray for this. Let's see what bubbles up.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

You were baptized to change the world (Sunday homily)

This feast recalls something remarkable: 
Our Lord Jesus--our Lord God-- got in a line with other people,
who were coming to repent for their sins. 
It would be like the Lord getting in line for confession! 

This is a powerful reminder of why God became man: 
Not only to be with us, as one of us, but to bring us back to himself. 
So by getting in line with the sinners, Jesus stands with us. 
Then, when he gave the sacrament of baptism-- 
This is the baptism with the Holy Spirit the Gospel mentions--
Our Lord makes it possible for us to be with God--forever. 

So, first: we do well to remember the power of our baptism. 
To be baptized is to be a citizen of heaven. 
When I get to baptize children, 
I like to point out that baptism makes us saints. 
Is it really that easy to become a saint? 
Yes, it really is--but it’s not easy to stay a saint. 
That’s why we get into the confession line--
to regain the divine life baptism gave us, but which sin takes from us. 

Another part of baptism is the anointing with sacred chrism. 
The chrism is very fragrant; it is blessed only by the bishop, 
once a year during Holy Week. 
The prayer that goes with the anointing describes how--in baptism--
we share in the dignity of our Lord Jesus, as priest, prophet and king. 

We say this--but what does it mean? It means we share his future. 
The Son of God came from heaven and he’s taking us back with him. 
It means we share the Holy Spirit. 
It means what the Father said of Him, he says of us: “with you I am well pleased.” 

And…here’s the challenge: it means we share his mission. 
The Lord’s baptism was the first step 
to taking the message of hope to God’s broken people. 
So that’s our mission, too. 

And because that’s what this feast is about, 
 that’s why this is also a day we talk about 
answering the call to be a religious brother or sister, or a deacon or a priest. 

I have a lot of enthusiasm for talking about the priesthood. 
I love being a priest! But I want to talk more today about religious life. 

After Mass Saturday morning, I met some lovely Franciscan Sisters of the Poor. 
They told me about their work--in schools, in hospitals, 
bringing hope and life to people who are facing poverty. 
These Sisters had each served over 60 years! 

You might say, I can make a difference--I can teach, I can help others--
without being a religious brother or sister. And that’s true. 

So what’s special about the religious life?
It’s the companionship with our Lord.

Saint Francis of Assisi--who never became a priest--
is almost certainly the most famous, 
most highly respected Catholic, who ever lived. 

He was a man of the world: handsome, wealthy, popular, much admired; 
when they talk about people “having it all,” Francis was that guy.
But when he saw the poor around him, he decided to help.
The more he gave to Christ, the more he wanted to give.
His father thought he lost his mind and tried to stop him.
Finally, Francis simply gave everything--
even his clothes--back to his father. 

See, what happens with people like Saint Francis, Mother Theresa, 
Katherine Drexel, my patron, Martin de Porres,
And so many more, 
is that just giving part of their lives to Christ wasn’t enough.

Now, that isn’t everyone. But if it’s you, nothing else will satisfy.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Where am I?

I am in Tucson, Arizona for a pastoral leadership conference with 27 priests from around the country. The purpose is to hone our skills as pastors; we'll talk about personnel matters, church law, managing finances and meetings, achieving balance and so forth.

In addition to this, my role is to evaluate this program to see if the Archdiocese should send new pastors here in the future.

I flew out on Saturday, so no homily, sorry! I'm using an IPad, which is a lot more convenient in many ways, but I find it carpal-tunnel-inducing to try to write much with it. So: I may not offer too many posts.

Please pray for the men here, and for the presenters. Someone on Facebook asked me to pray for the Irish to win tonight, but I don't know if that is God's will...