Saturday, September 28, 2013

Two kinds of poverty; two kinds of neglect (Sunday homily)

In the readings we heard, there are two kinds of neglect: 
physical and spiritual.

The Gospel describes physical neglect. 
The rich man was aware of Lazarus at his gate—
notice, when he arrives in the next life, 
he recognizes him and calls him by name. 
Yet while both were alive, 
the rich man did nothing at all to help Lazarus.

Perhaps he thought others would take care of him.
Maybe he figured Lazarus’ troubles were his own fault.
And maybe they were. 
It’s true we’ll meet a lot of present-day Lazaruses 
who are in trouble because of drugs or alcohol or other bad choices.

That might affect how we approach them—or how we help them.
But it doesn’t justify our neglecting them.

At bottom is a very simple question: Am I my brother’s keeper?
The answer—so many times from the Lord Jesus—is “damn right.”
Now, pardon my expression, but that’s literally true:
If we forget the poor, we will go to hell—like the rich man.

Sometimes when we talk about poverty or homelessness, 
or all the related problems that vex us, we want to talk about solutions.

And it would be great if we could really solve these things.

However, that isn’t what sent the rich man to hell—
that he failed to solve Lazarus’ problems. 
It’s that he simply didn’t bother to do anything.

Nor is the Bible telling us that being rich is bad.
On the contrary: there are many figures in Scripture who are rich,
 and this is described as a blessing from God. 
Abraham for one; Job for another.

The key question is what we do with our blessings.
The danger of riches—as with so many other things in life—
is that we look to them for security, 
when the only real security we have 
is in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

So, for example, if you’re like me,
and you’ve always had good health;
to have that taken away can be a shattering experience.
Yet notice how often, when we lose that sense of security in our health, 
what do we do—we start praying, don’t we?

Pity the rich man: he spent his life thinking he had it all;
Yet in neglecting his fellow man, he also neglected his own soul.

Which leads to the spiritual neglect I mentioned;
That’s what is going on the first reading.
The prophet Amos is describing those leaders 
who were in a position to help keep the nation on the right track.
But they didn’t care. 

The king, his advisors, the priests and the people of importance,
were either promoting false worship, or else unwilling to rock the boat.

I think I am guilty of not doing enough to help the poor.
And maybe many of us feel the same.

But here’s something to think about.

No one is going to give us a hard time 
if we do more to feed people, 
to provide clothing and vaccinations, and the like.

Everyone will approve of that.

But how will people react if we apply the same zeal 
to addressing spiritual poverty?

So for example: a priest stands in the pulpit and says, go feed the poor.
Everyone applauds.

But if we start talking about the moral climate? 
If I call out the culture, and specify the problems with TV and the Internet,
There might not be so much applause. 

If I talk about how our political leaders are leading us the wrong way—
which is what the Prophet Amos was talking about. 
If I talk about protecting human life, 
upholding marriage and protecting the family?
Or about materialism or how we worship at the altar of national power?*
Then there’s push-back.

And that doesn’t just happen to me—
it happens to you, if you speak up at work, or with family, or in other settings.

So here’s the question: do we only believe in one kind of poverty?
That the only poverty that God cares about is physical?

That doesn’t make sense, does it?

* Added extemporaneously

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Friends of God make friends of the poor (Sunday homily)

What the Lord says in the Gospel sounds a little strange in some ways. 
It sounds like he is commending dishonest behavior. 
The steward goes around, and on his own,
is writing down the debts owed to his boss. 

But here’s what is going on.

In those times it was common for the person in that job 
to juice up the prices charged, and keep the difference. 
While we would call that shady, that was more accepted then.

So when the steward learns he’ll lose his job, 
he runs around and marks down the bills, giving back that extra, 
and in so doing, he makes some new friends. 

In other words, he uses his money to secure his future.
The way he did it was in a worldly fashion.
But our Lord is asking us: 
are we thinking about our eternal future in how we use our money?

Jesus often warns us about is all the ways 
we put trust in all the wrong things. 
Wealth is one of those things we can often rely on too much.

It’s not that money is bad; because, in fact, the problem isn’t really with money at all.

Let me say that again: the problem isn’t money…at all!

The problem is us.

Those of us who are a little more…ample, 
will sometimes try to blame it on the food. 
I don’t about you, but I’ve never had food jump in my mouth! 
I’ve never had a beer force itself between my lips!

So what our Lord is saying is, don’t make wealth your goal; 
instead, make your goal the good you can do with it. 

All of us have some wealth: what good are we doing with it?

If you’re providing a job—that’s very good.

And when we spend our money, to the extent we can, 
it’s good to try to do business 
with those who better reflect our Catholic values. 
Obviously we can’t know everything about every business; 
and we can’t police them all. 

But look: a lot of us will complain 
about the low morals of our entertainment industry—
but if we never deny these media companies, or their sponsors, 
our business, what do we expect? 

One question many of us might ponder: 
are we spending too much on ourselves? 
One piece of advice you often hear is, “pay yourself first”—
meaning, put money aside for the future. That’s good advice. 

But what about this: when do we pay God? 
More concretely, what about making sure we’re putting something aside, 
not necessarily for the Church, but for the poor?

One thing the Scriptures say pretty clearly 
is that one of the questions Christ will ask us, 
on the day of our judgment, will be: 
what did you do for the poor? 

That applies to how we do business—
and how we vote—
and also, what we do personally, 
with our own dollars, our own time, 
and our own hands.

Being genuinely concerned for justice for the poor 
isn’t the only thing Christ asks of us—
but it’s one thing he tells us to do:

Make friends with the poor—
As part of being friends with God.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Will the pope OK married priests?

Last week, the newly appointed Vatican Secretary of State made news when, in answer to a question about the Church's ancient practice of priestly (and episcopal) celibacy, acknowledged that this was not a dogma, and it was certainly possible to discuss a change in this discipline.

The news media predictably made much of this; and for a lot of folks, this seemed to be something new.'s not.

I think, if you were to do an Internet search, you'd find that similar comments have been made by someone "high up" in the Church during the reign of the last three or four popes (with the possible exception of Pope John Paul I, who reigned about a month). It's a perennial question; and the recent answer is the stock answer. It's not the answer I, as a former PR man, would have advised--but this would hardly be the first time one of our prelates handled a question in a way that makes people savvy in media relations cringe.

For what it's worth, my PR advice would have consisted of asking the pope: do you want to generate controversy over this? No? Then I'd have suggested a response along the lines of saying the age-old discipline of celibacy has served the Roman Rite well, and while people are free to advocate for a change, the odds are extraordinarily slim at best that it's going to be changed now.

Meanwhile, the Secretary of State said we can "talk about it," so let's talk about it.

The reading today from St. Paul's first letter to St. Timothy mentioned the families of bishops, raising the question of whether, in the early church, bishops, as well as priests, might have been married. Well, they might indeed have been. But what people forget is that they might also have been expected, after ordination, to remain "continent"--i.e., no longer having marital relations.

But in any case, what people forget is that it was both what Paul wrote elsewhere in his letters, as well as what the Gospels report of our Lord's own instructions, on the value of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom that provides a clear Biblical support for the discipline. Paul said it best: an unmarried man can serve the Lord without being pulled in two directions. And that's obviously true.

My classmate, the late Father Dan Schuh, said it as well as anyone. Father Schuh was, like me, a later vocation; before entering the seminary, he married, and before his wife died, they had two children. His two grandchildren were present for his (and my) ordination; and when one of them called out, "grandpa!" Archbishop Pilarczyk said it was something he never thought he'd hear at an ordination!

Those of us in the seminary with Dan who hadn't been married asked his take on the "married priest" question. And here is his answer: "what woman would want to be put in second place, or deserve to?"

And that is exactly right. That is an inevitable choice for any married man, pressed by his other obligations; now imagine that married man being your parish priest.

My humorous answer--when someone asks what I think about married priests--is to smile and say, "I'm amused that you think my life would be easier if I had a wife and children." Now, I fear some women think I'm making a crack; but I'm not--I'm just trying to make Father Schuh's point a different way.

Married priests mean priests with children and all that entails. Perhaps with large families. This means fundamental changes in housing arrangements and other financial arrangements for parishes.

Here's a detail that many overlook--but attend carefully here, because this is more significant than you may realize:

At issue isn't whether priests can marry--that will never happen. Repeat: never!

Instead, what is at issue is whether married men might become priests. That is what is potentially possible.

This is not a semantical difference.

While there is ample tradition--to this day--for married men being priests (among the Orthodox and other Eastern Christians), as far as I know, there has never been allowance for men, once ordained, to be married. If their wives die, they remain unmarried. This is the norm, right now, for deacons.

Whether that's good or bad is irrelevant; one thing I predict confidently is that the pope isn't going to overturn an established tradition common to all the ancient, apostolic Churches. It would create a vexing new problem for ecumenism, precisely because it would be a true innovation. I cannot conceive of a reason for any pope to go down that road.

But here's why this distinction matters. Given what I said, any change would mean, in practical terms, that for a priest to be married, he must marry first.

Which means that many of the men who now decide to enter the seminary at a younger age--in their 20s and 30s--would have a reason to wait. Wait until they marry.

But guess what? Once they marry, then they face three huge issues every married person faces:

> Building a good marriage
> Job, career and economic security
> Children

All right, show of hands: who wants to add, to this, the fourth concern: discerning if you are called to be a priest, and then entering seminary and becoming a priest?

Clearly, such men as I describe, who would want to be priests, and who I don't doubt would be good priests, would have huge reasons to wait. And wait. And wait.

This is not hypothetical; this is precisely what happens with married men who are attracted to the vocation of deacon.

We have wonderful deacons, and I'm glad we do. And we have a good number of them. We ordain 20-30 of them every three years. That's a lot.

However, ask them: are you able to be full time like the parish priest?

No; only some of them have a parish-based job. None of them has the expectation that priests do, of the Church providing them a living. That would be a difficult promise for the Church to make to deacons--aside from the added cost--precisely because it would be so different from case to case. This deacon has no children; this one has two, but they're grown; this one has young children; this one has ten children of all ages. Notice: we've had married deacons for approximately 40 years, and this is one of many questions unresolved for the Church. When's the last time you saw any of the bishops talk publicly about how they were going to address this? Probably never!

So picture a scene: a small U-Haul trailer sitting outside the bishop's front door, labeled "thorny problems related to the permanent diaconate we don't want to deal with." It's been there 40 years. What are the odds the bishop wants you to deliver another one, only a lot bigger?

Here's something else. People often say, allowing married men to be priests will mean more vocations. I assume they are right. But I wonder how many of those new vocations will be existing deacons? Will we allow them to be considered? I don't see why not. It would make sense; they would already have some of the needed theological training, and parish experience.

So, great: we get new priests! But we have fewer deacons. It might be a trade-off we can live with, but this is not usually how the promised new vocations is presented.

There are couple more practical considerations:

> Married priests means parishes will be confronted with all the drama and complications that their married clergy are dealing with: basically, every marital and family problem there is.

This is often presented as a benefit: our priests will experience these things first hand. Aside from the fallacies implicit in that sort of thinking, let's stop and consider what this really means.

When Father and Mrs. Jones are having troubles, the parish will have a ringside seat. Imagine the fun on the grapevine! As it is, whenever a couple is pulled apart, family and friends are confronted with the question, "whose side are you on?" Now we can introduce this dynamic into the parish.

Also, consider what it will be like when the priest talks about the immorality of using contraception, and people start counting how many children he has. And, yes, that's exactly what folks will do.

Now consider all the range of parenting challenges--but lived out in a glass house. Here's an easy case study: Father and Mrs. Jones's first two children are doing fine in the Catholic school; but the third child, for whatever reason, is struggling. They decide to shift this child to a non-Catholic school.

Imagine that news getting around the parish.

I can go on--those of you who are parents know about some of the really difficult things you have faced as you raise your children. Would you really want all that to be part of parish chatter?

This is not hypothetical: this is precisely what happens with Protestant clergy.

Speaking of Protestant clergy, there is a special dynamic that happens precisely with married clergy: the question of the pastor's spouse. What's her role in the parish? Is she co-pastor? Does she chair a committee? Hold a job? To whom is she accountable?

If you have Protestant friends who have been very involved in their churches, ask them about this.

As someone said after Mass this morning--reacting, in part, to what I said in my homily--"a lot of folks haven't thought through all the implications." Exactly right.

My assessment is this: if we made that change, we would trade one set of problems for another. While we might like our new problems better, that's far from self-evident.

Finally, a theological consideration.

While it's certainly true that there's no essential barrier to a married priesthood, there are some compelling theological considerations--rooted in the Scriptures, and in the life of our Savior.

Many who advocate allowing married men to become priests simply ignore the strong witness of Scripture, and Tradition, and the Lord himself, in favor of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. As far as anyone knows, Jesus himself did not marry. Taking him simply as a prophet (he's more than that, of course), this is not without precedent. But insofar as he is--in his own words--the "Bridegroom," then it's exactly correct. How can Jesus marry, when his "Bride" is the Church?

When clergy, and laity who are in religious communities, embrace celibacy, they are a sign of the kingdom. If a married man is on a business trip, away from his family, and if someone were to approach him, and perhaps express interest, what does a faithful husband say? "No thanks, I'm spoken for" as he points toward his wedding ring.

That's exactly what celibate priests and religious are saying by their vow of celibacy. And they also say, "I'm waiting for Someone"--that someone is the Bridegroom.

People mistakenly think that the practice of celibacy somehow denigrates marriage--as if the practice of fasting denigrates food! Setting aside the obvious fact that Catholics deem marriage so holy, it's a sacrament, celibacy only makes sense--as a prophetic sign--precisely because of how good marriage is. No one would be impressed by a vow to avoid drinking poison. But a vow to give up something very good is impressive. Why would you give up something? As a sign that your hope is fixed on something even better.

After Mass, someone asked me this morning, aren't there priests who don't agree with you? Indeed there are. What I've just shared is my own judgment and perspective, and it's worth every penny you paid for it!

But my answer to the question posed by the headline?

I think it's extraordinarily unlikely the pope will change this discipline. If he were even to do it, he'd have to involve all the bishops. Personally, I think such an initiative would be very ill advised. If he ever calls me (you laugh; but he's doing that sort of thing, apparently), who knows? Maybe I'll tell him myself.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

What does the fox say?

The Fox says, go to confession and go to Mass.

And if you're not Catholic, become one. Ask me how.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.

The Fox has spoken.

(And if you aren't getting the cultural allusion, it's OK, just ask.)

Holy Cross: Mt. Adam's Report

It is a little known fact that the day on the liturgical calendar that marks a patron saint or patronal feast for a parish is, for that parish, a solemnity--that is to say, a feast day of the highest rank.

So, for example, last Saturday was the Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. Since our parish here is Holy Cross-Immaculata, that means it's one of our two patronal feasts.

Another little known fact is that a parish has the option of celebrating such a feast on the nearest Sunday, if it falls during Ordinary Time--which this feast does. (On the other hand, the feast of the Immaculate Conception can't be moved to Sunday; and why would you?)

So, this past Sunday, that's what we did.

That meant using the prayers and readings for the Holy Cross feast day, rather than the Sunday readings and prayers. That took a little effort to get the readings out to the scheduled readers; but they managed it fine. Unfortunately, I forgot--at 11 am Mass--to tip off the folks in the pews, so they were a little puzzled with the Missallettes. Sorry, folks!

Since it was such a big day, we had incense at the Saturday evening Mass, and at 11 am. I'd like to have sung more of the prayers, but for some reason, I'm having difficulties with some of the chants since the new translation; and folks here are still getting used to the amount of chanting I do as it is. It doesn't help when I don't hit the notes right.

But here's something special we did, which seemed to have been a hit.

We have a relic of the True Cross (actually, we have two of them); and I thought this would be the right time to display the relics for veneration. So I asked the deacon to carry it in; and as it is, presumptively, the Cross itself, I didn't have a server carry a cross. Instead, the deacon walked behind the server with incense.

I incensed the relics as is usual (that is, when a priest uses incense); and then, after the dismissal--but before the closing hymn (which isn't part of Mass anyway), I offered everyone a chance to venerate the True Cross, followed by a silent blessing with the relic. Almost everyone stayed, including for the blessing, and they seemed deeply moved. 

It helped that our fine deacon gave a careful explanation both of the origins of the relics, and the reasons we treat them as probably genuine. (Not infallibly, as no claim about a particular relic is a part of the Deposit of Faith.)

While I don't know how long I'll be at Holy Cross-Immaculata, I hope this is a tradition we can maintain.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Lessons in customer service

If I ever find I haven't enough to do as a priest, maybe one of the things I'll do is become a corporate consultant in customer service. I realize many companies do pay attention to this. And--when you figure out that a company is paying attention to this, that's a company to watch; perhaps to invest in. Certainly to do business with. An example follows below.

But first, some examples of "needs improvement":

> From a visit to a bank office downtown, yesterday. I was there to pay my credit card bill, as I'd waited to long to mail it. So I gave the teller the bill and my check. He mashes some buttons on his computer, clickety-clack, click-click-click; he marks this and marks that; then, "uh oh."

"Uh oh?" I knew there was plenty of money in my account; what's wrong. I wait. Slower, less certain clicks; more paper shuffling.

Meanwhile I've got errands to run; so I ask, "What's the problem?"

No answer right away but more computer-staring and paper-fiddling.

"Is there some problem?"

He stammers a little, then holds up the bill I gave him, plus another piece of paper, and says something about how he was supposed to do something with this one, but he did it with this one.

"So, I'm paid up?"

"Oh; yeah, you can go."

Not a big deal (that's why I didn't mention the company), but--why make the customer stand there, when you don't need him to solve the problem?

> Next stop -- well, after I voted in the city primary election -- I visited the Marathon station at Victory Parkway and McMillan Street. A fill up was badly needed. I used my credit card outside, normal, normal.

Only I heard the sound I dreaded from the pump: as it passed the $49 mark, the pump slows down, down, down...and stops at $50. Dude! I just paid my credit card! Why do you stop at $50?

But I know why; because gas stations in the inner city do this now, I assume because of fraudulent card use. But when gas is north of $3.50 a gallon, that's about 13 gallons; I want to fill the tank!

The last time I just left with my tank 3/4ths full. But I thought I'd try something. I put everything back and started a new transaction. Maybe that would work?

Nope. "See the attendant." Crud; now I'd better, because for all I know, the attendant put some black mark on my credit card. So I go in. And I have fun trying to explain to the attendant the problem. I suggested maybe changing the limit outside to more than $50, since that doesn't buy much gas these days. Pleasant smiles; no sign of comprehension. (FYI, this wasn't a language problem.)

"Well, just swipe the card"--meaning here at the counter.

I said, "yes, but I want to know what the problem was out there." I wanted to see if my suspicion was correct that the machine thought I was up to something when I tried to have two transactions in a row--but maybe not."

"Sometimes it just doesn't work." OK, I accept that. So I swipe it. It doesn't work.

"How much do you need?" For the second time, I explain I'm filling up, and I need maybe 3 and a half gallons. So how can I say how much that'll cost. Frustrating: am I the only person these folks have met who is filling the tank? "I just want to fill it up--why is that so hard?"

"Well, give us the card." No, I said; that means a return trip to the counter, and--given this experience--who knows what other miscues. "Never mind; I'll buy my gas elsewhere."

So, if you're paying attention, Marathon--and Shell does the same down on Liberty--maybe do something about this policy. Because my solution is to stop buying gas at these locations.

> Learning how to give change. I could do a clinic on this one. Somewhere in the world, some dim-bulb has been teaching people, when they make change, to put the bills in the customer's hand first, and then put the change on top.

This makes no sense.

If you, the customer, holding your money in your hand this way, don't make the exact right move, what happens? That's right: whatever change was placed on top of a stack of bills will slide out of your hands. If you're in the drive-through lane, that means onto the ground outside your car. A nice donation for the restaurant, or whoever happens along.

Apparently this is a lost art, like tying a bow-tie; but I'll now explain the proper way to give change. This'll blow your mind. Ready?

Put the coins in the customer's hand first, then the bills (and receipt).

But good news: here's how we customers can solve this problem while we wait for the people who train clerks to straighten this out:

When you reach for your change, first have your palm down--and take the bills between your fingers. The clerk will, perhaps, be confused, but (from my experience) does not attempt to deposit coins on the back of your hand. Then, after taking the bills, turn hand up for coins.

Maybe that seems a small thing; maybe I'm really irked the Reds' offense hasn't shown up the last two games against the Cubs! But in any case, let's end on a high note...

> Don't lie to your customers!

The other day I called a restaurant for a reservation. The person on the phone asked for my email. I hesitated, saying, "oh, you're going to use that for marketing, aren't you? I'd rather not."

Oh no, she chirped; we won't do that. So, I gave her my email.

Well, the dinner was very good, good service; a little pricey, but I expected that.

Then guess what I found in my email box two days after my visit? You got it: a marketing email.

So--I called the restaurant and asked for the manager, and I explained my call.

*Here begins the main lesson in customer service*

"I apologize, Sir, that shouldn't have happened." He explained how it happened in a clear way. No fuzzing up the facts.

Then he explained how to make the unwanted emails go away. It was an easy fix. Good!

Then he asked for my address: "I'd like to send you something to make up for this."

A few days later, I got a straightforward letter of apology; and a $25 gift card from Maggiano's.

So I hope you see I'm mentioning the name, not to knock the place, but to give a thumbs up.

Time for lunch!

Saturday, September 07, 2013

What does it cost to be a disciple of Christ? (Sunday homily)

During Lent, we talk about “giving things up” and making sacrifices.
But what today’s Gospel makes clear is, that’s not just for Lent.
Because Lent isn’t just for Lent.

The point of what we do in Lent—
denying ourselves things we like, praying more, doing more for others—
is that Lent is a school for how to be a disciple.

What did we hear our Lord say in this Gospel?

Unless we do thus-and-so, “you cannot be my disciple.”

We have some other Christian groups, or pastors, will make a point—
sometimes on billboards and on TV—
about “no expectations; just come.”

But notice, that’s not what our Lord just said!
You want to be my disciple? The bar—the standard—is here.

First, he said, “hate your family and possessions, even your own life.”

Now, he doesn’t mean “hate” in the sense of contempt or rage—
he means what he says later: completely letting go of the attachment.

I always think about the story of St. Francis of Assisi.
His family was wealthy and his father wanted him to be part of that.
Francis wanted to live simply and focus on Christ.
And finally, Francis had to stand up to his father;
and in front of the bishop and the town,
he gave up everything—
he even took off his clothes and gave them back to his father.

That’s what Jesus is talking about.

Sometimes our children have different dreams from those of their parents—
sometimes they choose a course that means less money, or less prestige;
and if they choose the religious life or the priesthood,
then it means no grandchildren!

I’m sorry to say this, but I’ve had parents admit to me,
they have discouraged their children
from considering the priesthood or religious life,
because they want grandchildren.

And a lot more will do it but not admit it.

On Labor Day, I drove up to Piqua for a baptism.
The couple were friends of mine. They were married in 2004.
Nine years later, this was their first child.
All that time they prayed and cried to have a child.

That’s how I give my parents grandchildren.
And I do it in the confessional;
and I do when I visit the sick,
and every other way I help people find life in Christ.
And my parents—who, I hope, are both in heaven—
will be with those grandchildren forever.

The Lord says, “count the cost.”
If you build a tower, or you go to war, you count the cost.
Our politicians don’t do that—and just Jesus says, it doesn’t go well.

So he says to us: first count the cost of being my disciple.

And what does it cost?

Well, it costs something to help the poor.
If we obey Christ and wait till marriage, that costs us something.
One of the treasured possessions we love to cradle in our arms
is our own self-righteous fury. “How dare that person do that!”
That is one of the hardest possessions to renounce.
But to be his disciple? Give it up.

In a lot of places—Egypt, for example—
Christians are paying a huge cost.
Their jobs, their businesses, their families, their homes,
their churches and their lives.

In Germany—Germany!—a Christian family
saw the government storm their home
and take their four children away.

Their crime? In Germany it’s illegal
to educate your children at home.

We think, Oh it can’t happen here.
But it is.

In New Mexico, the Supreme Court said to a photographer,
You must take part in a same-sex wedding,
no matter what your conscience says.

Meanwhile, the outcome of the government’s mandate,
that religious institutions and businesses
provide contraception and abortion services as part of health care
is in the hands of the federal courts.

So, one way or the other, every one of us faces the question:
What will it cost to be a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Is it a good deal? Well, we get Christ himself;
we get our sins forgiven;
we get the Holy Spirit; and we get heaven.

Sounds like a good deal.

But there is a price:
just the whole of our lives—all we are.

Give it to Christ!

Friday, September 06, 2013

Fast, pray, and tell Congress: no more war!

The Holy Father asks us all to fast and pray on Saturday, September 7 for peace in Syria. That requires making some calls:

> Call Congress at (202) 224-3121. That's the main switchboard; from there, you can ask for your Congressman and Senators by name.

If you don't know their names, you can google "who's my congressman" and "who's my senator" and you'll get the U.S. House and U.S. Senate web sites, and find what you need that way.

> Then get out your rosary and call heaven. Pray for the various people involved, including our leaders, the leaders in Syria who are already making war, and for the suffering people of Syria.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

What is humility? (Sunday homily)

One of the key ideas in that first reading, which matches up 
with the episode described in the Gospel: is humility.

What is humility?

A lot of people associate humility and modesty 
with putting oneself down. 
The problem with seeing it that way 
is that there are, often enough, 
people who will gladly put you down. 

It’s no secret, isn’t it, 
that this is what plays out in some of our relationships, 
especially between men and women,
And it is a toxic combination?

Humility is not degradation, being a doormat.
One way to tell if we’re in an unhealthy relationship 
is to try and see if you can put our Lord, 
or his mother, or Saint Joseph in the picture.

If you can’t see Joseph treating Mary that way; 
or Mary treating Joseph that way; 
or Jesus speaking that way to either of them…
Maybe there’s a really obvious reason why?

Also, humility is not denying the goodness of who you and I are.

If you have a talent--
let’s say you have a nice voice for singing: 
it isn’t humility that says, “oh, I can’t sing.” 
Whatever that is, it isn’t humility. 
It might actually be more like pride. 
A few years ago, when I was up in Piqua, 
we had a parish get-together, 
and a number of folks offered to sing, or share a talent, 
as part of the entertainment. 

A little known fact about me: I’m a fan of Frank Sinatra. 
And one of my fantasies would be to belt it out like Sinatra. 

In the shower, that’s exactly what happens!
But when I got up in from of the whole parish…crash and burn!

Was it pride on my part that said, “I can do this!”? Maybe.

But the real moment of pride came after. 
It wasn’t that anyone laughed--
everyone was very kind. 
No, what galled me was that 
instead of being able to wow everyone, 
I ended up being…pretty ordinary.

Pride says, how dare they laugh at me!
Humility says, you know what--it is funny--
and I’ll laugh too!

So, you don’t have to be Sinatra to sing in our choir.
Fact is, that’s not what we’re looking for.
But we are looking for those who will simply share their gift.
There’s a prayer called the “Litany of Humility,” 
which maybe some of you have seen, or even prayed. 

And I remember the first time I looked at it, 
I was a little put off.
At first, it sounded like you were praying 
to be delivered from “being loved,” “being honored,”
And actually asking to be “forgotten” and “despised.”

But then I read it again. And here’s what it actually says:
“Deliver me, Jesus” “from the DESIRE of 
being extolled…honored…praised…” 
And again, it says, “Deliver me” from the FEAR of 
being hurt, or lied about, or forgotten.

That’s a very different thing--and that’s exactly right.

Notice what the Lord suggests we focus on, instead of our ego.
He suggests--no, scratch that--he commands! 
He commands that we look to see who is most poor, 
most powerless, most needy, 
and make sure they get a place at the table.

Some of you have noticed, haven’t you, 
how often I encourage people, especially our young people, 
to consider becoming a brother or sister?

And here’s what I often say:
Which woman, in our time, will--in a thousand years--
have made the greater difference?

Choice A: any political or sports figure you want to name.
Choice B: Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
I’m not putting down any other profession. 

But I’m pointing out that 
one of the most powerful and transformative and admired people 
who lived, in our times, 
was someone who did precisely  
what the Gospel just told us to do-- 
and very little else.

Indeed, if you end up being a doctor or actress, 
or business owner, athlete, artist, or any profession, 
why not do it in a way that puts first 
the needy who are precious to God?

And of course, I’m also pointing out that there are, 
in our midst, those who--
like Mother Theresa, like Father Damien of Hawaii--
Who won’t be really content to do anything other than 
give your life to Christ’s call. 

So don’t dismiss it. It isn’t everybody, but it might be you.
Or your son or daughter.
And parents, before you make light of it, consider this.

St. Francis of Assisi’s father tried to talk him out of it.
Same with Thomas Aquinas’ family. And many others.
Now, I’m guessing St. Francis’ father is now glad he failed! 
So imagine this: would you want to go before God 
as the parent who succeeded in talking Francis out of it?

This life is passing away. 
Christ offers what counts for eternity.
God grant us the courage to grab hold of it with both hands--
and never let go!