Thursday, December 31, 2015

Dinner with our seminarians

The parish's three seminarians are home from college, so I invited them for dinner during the Christmas Octave. We settled on tonight.

As I have Holy Mass at 5 pm, I have to get things mostly in order beforehand. So I've been working on this since yesterday.

I started with something new: a cheesecake, using this recipe.

Here is the ricotta and cream cheeses, with the sour cream and pretend sugar:

Here are the eggs, extra yolks, lemon juice, and vanilla. Next in is the cream:

Here's the batter, which I was careful not to "overwhip" (per the instructions):

Here is the cake in the water bath, going in the oven. (The water bath was there already.) Please don't notice the condition of the oven. Just today I figured out how to use the "self clean" option.

So that cooked for almost 2 hours, then it cooled in the oven for another three, then into the fridge. That was all last night.

This afternoon, I cleaned the chicken and dried it -- it's in the fridge, so the skin dries a bit more. I have to put that in the oven right before Holy Mass, and then hurry back to get it out of the oven right after. A little later, after the skin has dried some, I'll dress the chicken with butter and pepper, and stuff it with lemon slices and rosemary, a la Zuhlsdorf.

Meanwhile, I got the red potatoes ready. These will cook below the chicken -- meaning, they'll soak up all that wonderful goodness given off by the chicken. Here are the potatoes, washed, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with pepper, salt and fresh rosemary:

And, while I'm fooling around in the kitchen, I got out the cheesecake, and took the top part of the pan away. (Sorry, I should have gotten a photo after that!) I was a little disappointed in it's (lack of) height; but the little bit I tasted from the pan was good. I will offer the guys some chocolate sauce, or some raspberry-rhubarb sauce, if they like, to go with it.

OK, I just popped the bird in the oven. Fifteen minutes on high, then down to a lower temp for the rest of the way.

Here's the bird, before being dressed with butter, pepper and salt, and stuffed with lemons and rosemary:

Here it is with all that. The butter didn't spread very well -- the skin was still too wet -- so I rubbed some olive oil on.

Meanwhile, here's the dinner table, all set. In the upper left is our patron, Saint Remigius, depicted in a Russian-style icon. (Get it?)

In a few minutes, I'll turn down the oven, and then over to Mass. I hope the servers show up!

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Three families (Holy Family homily)

On this Feast of the Holy Family, I invite you to reflect, with me, 
on three families.

The first family is our human family – our individual families. 
This is a time of year in which we emphasize family; 
we try to get together with our families and a lot of us look forward to that. 
Many of us have children and grandchildren visiting; 
people bring boyfriends or girlfriends to visit; couples get engaged. 
Gathering with family is really important.

An unintended result is that this can be a sad time for many, 
either because someone they love is absent; because of a death, 
or because of pain and division in their family. 
Some families are separated by long distances. 
But many families are separated by other things; 
and at this time of year, those wounds are painful. 
For some, staying away is the least-painful option.

May I offer a suggestion? 
If you know someone who isn’t with his or her family 
at this time of year, don’t ask too many questions. 
An invitation to be with your family is the best thing. 
And if you have the blessing of a happy, close family, 
stop and realize what a gift that is.

This brings us to our second family: the Holy Family.
We know that Mary was conceived without sin, and full of grace. 

We don’t know a lot about Saint Joseph, 
but he was a holy and prayerful man. 
God spoke to him in his dreams, and Joseph listened. 
That God chose Joseph to be the protector of Mary, 
and the foster father of the Divine Son, 
says all we need to know about Joseph’s character.

But in recognizing the sanctity of this family, 
don’t make them too distant from our families. 
Consider what they had to go through.

We know that Joseph and Mary were of humble means. 
Do you think if Joseph had had a bag full of gold, 
they’d have turned him away from the inn on Christmas night? 
They’d have found room for a wealthy customer, don’t you think?

We know that Joseph had to work hard. 
He had to pay taxes to the cruel Romans. 
He had all the same worries any business owner, 
any parent, might have.

And then consider what must have happened 
as a result of the special circumstances of Jesus’ birth. 
Everyone knew that when Mary became pregnant, 
it was before Joseph and Mary were still, as we’d say, “engaged.” 
So there were two obvious inferences for all the gossips to draw.

One was to point the finger at Joseph. 
The other, even more insulting jibe, 
was to say Mary had had another “friend.”
And when Mary and Joseph both said, it wasn’t Joseph, 
but the Holy Spirit, what do you think the poison tongues said then?

When Pope Paul VI gave a homily one time about this feast, 
he talked about how powerful it can be to contemplate the Holy Family. 
I’d like to invite anyone, who thinks the Holy Family is distant, and unlike us, 
to think through what these circumstances meant for Joseph and Mary, and Jesus. 
The gossip. The laughter. The insults. The temptation to strike back.

That this family was filled with holiness 
didn’t mean they knew no suffering. 
And just because our family situations feature pain and wounds, 
doesn’t mean we and our families can’t be holy.

And that brings us to our third family – and that is the Divine Family.

When God came to earth as one of us, 
his purpose was to expand the “family” of the Trinity – 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit – to include us. 
To adopt us into that Divine Family.

In baptism we are reborn; 
we are born spiritually as true children of God.

Think about what that means to say, you are a child of God. 
I am the child of James and Rose Ann Fox. 
Everyone who knew my parents can see the likeness I bear to them, 
for obvious reasons. 
As I get older, more and more of the things my parents said to me – 
which they thought I ignored – comes out of my own mouth! 
And one thing I knew about my parents, about my family, 
was that I belonged to them. 
I wasn’t a renter; it wasn’t a business arrangement. 
I was – I am – their son. 

And when we are baptized, we become part of God’s Family. 
God is our Father. Jesus is our brother. 
The Holy Spirit binds us as one. 

(Here I added a few words about the saints being our older brothers and sisters in the Divine Family, who show us how to be children of God.)

God became part of our family – our families. 
With all their pain and failure, with all that is both joyful and shameful. 
He wasn’t ashamed to call us his family. 
All so that we could be part of his Divine Family, 
both here on earth, and forever, in heaven.

Friday, December 25, 2015

All the world pauses for Christmas. Why? (Christmas homily)

There’s a funny thing about Christmas. 
Even though only about a third of the world is Christian, 
practically the whole world celebrates Christmas.

In North and South America, from coast to coast and pole to pole, 
this is a national holiday. 

As I mentioned the other day, businesses and entertainment media 
may try to repackage it as the “holiday that must not be named,” 
even so, everyone knows what that holiday is. 
Indeed, even Jews, Muslims and non-believers 
keep Christmas in their own way, because they are so often 
the ones who volunteer to work on Christmas, 
so their Christian friends and coworkers can have the day.

Across Africa and Asia, 
the world’s newest Christians are celebrating this day. 
Did you know that in Africa, 
in China and Korea, and other places in Asia, 
the Christian faith is seeing tremendous growth? Despite persecution. 

In China, the ruling Communist party tears down churches 
and forbids those that remain to show the cross; 
they’ve tried to create a puppet church 
and they throw you in a concentration camp 
if you are faithful to the pope. 
And despite all that, year upon year, millions are baptized. 
North Korea, the closest place to hell on earth, 
recently agreed to let Catholic priests visit from South Korea. 

In the land of our Savior’s birth, it’s a sad Christmas, 
because so many Christians are being driven out. 

And yet, on this night, Holy Mass is being celebrated 
in the very place where Jesus was born. 
And if you went to Jerusalem this very night, 
even though there are very few Christians there, 
you would know that today was Christmas Day.

Many of us can remember when communism held sway 
from the heart of Europe to the rice paddies of Indochina. 
And in that prison of nations, 
where fear and darkness reigned so cruelly, 
try as they might, they could not kill Christmas. 
Just like our corporations and media have done here,
they tried to reinvent it – but everyone knew the truth. 
The red star has long since been toppled, 
but the star of Bethlehem still shines.

Yes, we know that in many places 
where the Gospel was brought long ago, 
faith is thin and more and more want the trappings of Christmas, 
without the Christ whose day it is. 
And yet…despite themselves, they are still celebrating his birthday!
To steal a phrase from a very different context: 
you may not be interested in the Christ Child, 
but the Christ Child is interested in you.

In a faraway place you may never have heard of – 
Brunei, in the islands of Indonesia – 
where only 10% of the people are Christian, 
the mighty Sultan has decreed: Christmas is illegal! 
Only the Christian minority may celebrate it, 
and only with his permission, and then, only in private. 
No Christmas trees, no Santa hats. They are dangerous!

And he’s right. Christmas is dangerous. 
Herod understood it; so did Pilate; so did Caesar, 
and all their heirs, down to the present day. 

The child born in poverty is destined to reign – 
and as we’ve seen, he’s gained a foothold in every corner of the world. 
The Sultan is right to be nervous.

It’s fashionable to treat all this as a fable. 
A nice story, a story that’s simply too good to be true. 

Now, here’s a curious thing. If it’s all a fable, who first told it? 
There are those who will tell you, 
it was all a plot long ago by the Emperor Constantine and the pope. 

But they are wrong. 

The story of this King was told centuries before he was ever born. 

It was a prophet Micah who said, 700 years before, 
That he would be born in Bethlehem, the city of David – 
and yet would be, somehow, eternal. 
It was Isaiah who foretold his virgin birth; 
and that he would save his people from their sins. 

And here’s another curious thing. 
Do you know what “Bethlehem” means? 
It means, “House of Bread.” 
In the House of Bread was born the one 
who would give his people the Bread of Life; 
and where did his mother place him? In a manger – a food bin.

The story is so amazing – the twists and turns so improbable. 
He was crucified, that ought to have finished him. 
Why would anyone want to follow a defeated and humiliated king? 
“He saved others; he cannot save himself,” they mocked him. 

Peter and Paul, tax collectors and prostitutes, 
such absurd witnesses and leaders! 
And yet, if you go to Rome this day, 
you can venerate the bones of both Peter and Paul. 
And there bones have no business being in Rome, yet they are;
and for just one reason: because they, with others, 
saw Jesus rise from the dead, 
and so they, in turn, gave their lives rather than deny what they saw!

Now, a bit more than 2,000 years has passed 
since that night when the king was born. 
And with all the things that are hard to explain 
about the Catholic Faith, the hardest may be: 
why does the Catholic Church even exist—at all? 
Babylon is fallen, the Roman Empire has crumbled, 
the winds of time have swept away everything in their path. 
And yet, against all odds, the Church Jesus founded still stands.

And the strangest thing of all: 
on this day, the world celebrates his birth. 
Much of the world doesn’t know why – or exactly what it’s celebrating. 
A child was born, in a nowhere place; 
Yet now, the whole world can’t help but pause, and notice.

The Light has entered the world, and the world can’t deny it. 
Much of our world fights the light, and tries to extinguish it. 
Many who belong to Christ neglect his light and ignore his inspiration. 
The world is a long way from being filled by his light, and changed by it. 
And yet across the ages ring the words of the Apostle John: 
“the light shines in the darkness, 
and the darkness has not overcome it.”

What has brought you here? Many things; many paths.
You and I, with the world, cannot help but be fascinated by this child, and his light. 

Pause and behold him. And, more than that, let him behold you!

Let his gaze meet yours. Meet the king that half the world, 
without half knowing him, cannot help but pause, on this night, to adore.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Where the Christmas Tree came from (repost from 2011)

Originally posted December 21, 2011.

(This is a talk I gave today to the Piqua Kiwanis Club, of which I am a member.)

By now, if you put up a Christmas tree, you’ve already got it up. Actually, I have not! But I like to put it up this week, for reasons that will become clear shortly.

In any case, I bet you have heard different stories about the origin of the Christmas tree.

Some of you have heard the Christmas tree was a pagan thing that Christians “baptized” at some point--meaning they converted it from having a pagan meaning to having a Christian or at least innocuous meaning.

Some have heard that there is some connection between the Christmas Tree and Saint Boniface, who brought the Gospel to Germany.

How many simply have no idea where it came from?

In order to explain it, I have to explain something most people don’t know.

The Catholic Church assigns a day on the calendar for every saint, including saints of the Old Testament. So the Prophet Elijah is considered a saint, and his day is July 20. Moses’ day is September 4.

You may not know that Adam and Eve are also considered saints. Do you know what their day is?

December 24--Christmas Eve.

Now, I don’t know why December 24 is their day, but I would guess--and it’s only a guess--that it was done precisely as a lead-in to Christmas.

So let’s go back in history to approximately the year AD 1200. Let’s land in Europe, where many, if not most, of our ancestors came from, and where the search for the Christmas Tree takes us.

Remember, in the year 1200, there are very few books, because books must be copied by hand, which is time consuming and expensive. That’s why people didn’t read. It would be like saying, did you know in the year 1980, no one knew how to twitter? It’s true!

So…how do you teach people the Faith in those days? Well, you do what I bet Pastor Wells often does at his church--and we do in ours--we organize plays.

Just like today, a community would have celebrations through the year. What do we do in Piqua? We have festivals and parades and folks love to come, particularly with their kids. Some things never change.

They would do the same, but instead of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day, they would gather on saints’ days and feast days. If they didn’t come into town to attend church every week, they’d come then.

And these would be great occasions to have plays to teach people the Faith. The plays would take place in the church, or the public square--and, naturally, they would be fun occasions for everyone to come together.

So, we’re in our time machine; let’s land in Germany--and imagine showing up for one of these plays; maybe some enterprising businessperson--like Peggy H____ or Gretchen R___--those are good German names!--is out selling bratwurst und streudel to feed the folks who came to the festival!

So here we are in December. And the mayor of the town--or the pastor--is organizing the celebration n of Adam and Eve day, December 24th. I’m not guessing about this, we know they did this.

But imagine you’re the person who is in charge of the play. The pastor says, “we need props for the play!” If you want a props for a play about Adam and Eve, what would you need?

How about a tree? What sort of tree are you going to find--that’s not bare--in December?

A fir tree!

Now, it is true that the story of Saint Boniface connects here. Saint Boniface, in preaching to my ancestors running around in the Black Forest, confronted those who worshipped trees. And when he saw them worshipping a mighty oak, he took an axe and brought it down, and said, “how stands your god now?” The story goes that because Thor didn’t strike him down, my great-great-great….grandfather and his brothers all listened as Boniface told them about Jesus Christ. And, the story goes, a fir tree sprung up in the place where the oak was felled.

So some claim that this is how the fir tree was involved; the trouble is, I don’t have any evidence for that. But we do know they had the plays; and we do know that, in December, in Germany, no other trees are green.

So you come back: "Hier ist ein tree!" "Gut, gut!” says the pastor. “Now, getten zome fruiten for das tree!"

Fruit? Why would you need fruit on this tree?

Adam and Eve, remember?

Now…Pastor Wells can tell us, what does Genesis say is the type of fruit on the Tree of knowledge of Good and Bad?

That’s right--the Bible just says “fruit.”

So, what fruit might you find in Germany in December? Well, nothing on trees, of course, but maybe in a basement? How about apples?

You may also be interested to know that in Latin--the Scriptures were in Latin then--the word for "bad" (as in "the tree of the knowledge of good and bad") is "malum"; and the word for apples, is "malum."

So while those are guesses about how apples came to be chosen, we do know apples were placed on the tree.

They also placed another decoration on the tree: discs of bread.

If you’re wondering why, recall that in the Garden of Eden, there were two trees mentioned by name. Not only the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but also, the Tree of Life. We know that they ate from the Tree of Knowledge; but there remained the Tree of Life--which they couldn’t eat from once they’d sinned.

And what they were attempting to teach was about the Eucharist--holy communion--being a sharing in the death of Christ; who, remember, died on a “tree”--it was Saint Paul who called the cross “a tree.“

So the “Paradise Tree,“ in these plays, was both trees in one, with the fruit that brought death, and the fruit that gives life!

Over many years, these plays were performed in Germany, but along the way they got out of hand--hmm, a play about Adam and Eve, with forbidden fruit? How could anyone take that the wrong way? So Church authorities called a halt to the plays. But folks liked the "Paradise Trees" so they continued setting them up--at home.

Now at this stage, the decorations gradually change; there are different stories about when glass ornaments came along--either in the 1500s or the 1800s. But what seems to have happened was that other fruit or nuts were placed on the trees, and along the way, the discs of bread were replaced by cookies. I’m curious: who here has, or has seen, cookies-baked to be very hard--as ornaments? How about fruit-shaped ornaments? I bet some of you even have apple-shaped ornaments; I have.

Who knows the story about the lights on the tree? The story usually told is that Martin Luther added candles; I couldn’t find any source for that, but I don’t have many Lutheran sources! My mother, who was born in 1914, remembered candles from her childhood. Has anyone here ever seen real candles on a tree?

So, with all this information, I think we can answer the claim made by some that the Christmas Tree is something pagan. It is not; it is Christian and Biblical--meant to point back to Adam and Eve, but also to Christ, and the Cross.

And when you enjoy looking at your Christmas Tree this year, think of the passage from Revelation, that describes the New Jerusalem, the City of God, with no sun or moon, because the Lamb is its light; and in the center, along the River of Life, is the Tree of Life, giving twelve kinds of fruit all twelve months of the year.

“In Defense Of The Christmas Tree,” by the Very Rev. Daniel Daly, published in The Word Magazine, December 2002; accessed online at:

“The Christmas Tree,” by Rayn Blair; appearing in Celebrations: a social studies resource guide for elementary teachers, Fall, 1996, published by Department of Elementary Education, College of Education, Utah State University; accessed online at:

The Christmas Tree, by Daniel J. Foley, Chilton Co., 1960.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Invite people back this Christmas (Sunday homily)

Many times you’ve heard me talk about the importance of sharing our faith. This week, I saw an article in the National Catholic Register – and I decided I wanted to talk to you about it.

The headline is: “The No. 1 Thing I’ve Learned From Talking With Fallen-Away Catholics.”

The author, Katie Warner, has worked for ten years with a group called “Catholics Coming Home.” From time to time, you may see some ads they run on TV, that invite Catholics who have gotten away from their faith, to get back to it. They are very nicely done. A few years ago, the Archdiocese ran a series of those ads right around this time.

In this job, she would talk to a lot of inactive Catholics, and she said, “the messages I receive from (them) range from cordial to scathing, and it didn’t take me long…to see that there are common threads in their conversations.”

She goes on to say:

“Many of these people are hurting; many are angry; many are lost. All have stories; all have reasons for leaving — reasons ranging from ‘I just drifted away’ to ‘I don’t believe in these teachings’ to ‘Someone in the Church wronged me.’” She also explained that the first and the last reasons are the most common. That is to say: either that people drifted away or someone wronged them.

But the most important lesson she drew was this: “Almost all of these fallen-away Catholics want to know that someone cares.” That someone notices they aren’t there. That we’re sorry to see them go. That it matters to us.

There is cause for hope. Ms. Warner reported that often, people would go from being angry, to opening up. And I can confirm that from my own experience. Many times I’ve spoken with someone who was hurt, years before, by a dispute in a parish – maybe with the priest, maybe with other parishioners. And the person was angry. But the fact that I or someone else reached out to them made a huge difference. Hearts can be softened.

Our gaze is toward Christmas Day. It’s a few days away. One of the things I learned from a wise priest, Father Tom Grilliot, who has gone to his reward, was that this is a time of year when people are more open spiritually. All around us, there are TV specials and marketing campaigns, and even though they try to avoid mentioning the word, we all know it’s about Christmas! Now, we may want to be irritated, but don’t be. Instead, seize the advantage: we all know this is the Christmas season – we all know it. So don’t be afraid to talk about it.

People are hungry. They are like the people of Israel who were waiting, and longing, for a redeemer. The trouble – both now, and when Jesus was born – was and is that we all have reason to be cynical. Time and again, people have their hopes raised, only to be dashed. It was true then; it’s true now.

So what do we do? 

Well, Ms. Warner says that when we talk to people who are away from the Church, the first thing to do is “tell them they are missed and that you care that they are away.” Second? “Invite them home.”

There are about 800 folks who routinely come to Mass here every weekend. That’s really good. A lot of my priest friends are envious, because our church is mostly full on the weekend.

But there are about twice that many Catholics in our parish boundaries. Some of them are away at college; some are homebound. But many of them are just…drifting. 

There’s never a bad time to invite and welcome people, but this is a particularly good time. If people want to know, I’ll be hearing confessions on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 7 to 8 or so.

There’s no need to hit people over the head. Just invite. Ms. Warner said that when they would ask people who returned to the Church, why they returned, they’d respond, “because you invited me”!

Sometimes the most powerful things are the simplest things. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Two ways we sabotage joy; three ways to increase it (Sunday homily)

The Church calls this Gaudete Sunday. 
That comes from the Entrance Chant which is assigned for this Mass. 

Several months ago, I described how it’s become habit 
to replace the assigned entrance chants with other hymns. 
But had we used the entrance chant, we’d have sung together, 
either in Latin – “Gaudete in Domino semper,” 
or in English, “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

“Joy” is not the same as being happy or cheerful. 
Although we often speak of joy as a synonym for happiness or success, 
in the Bible joy is what we experience when we encounter God; 
it is how we react when we realize God loves us, 
and when we experience 
the goodness and wonder and glory of Creation, 
of all that God has done and will do.

One of the best ways I can think of to make the point 
is with a story about a couple I knew in Piqua. Call them “Bill and Helen.”
They were married for over sixty years. 
When his wife became very ill, 
the family gathered around her in the hospital, and they called me. 
I vividly recall how crowded that hospital room was; 
and everyone was praying. Bill was sitting beside his wife, 
holding her hand. They were praying one Hail Mary after another.

And then Ellen couldn’t speak. Then, her lips stopped moving. 
Then, Bill knew. We all knew. She had entered eternity.

And that’s when Bill said: “I’m heartbroken; but I’m joyful. 

Now, in reflecting on these readings, 
it occurred to me that sometimes we sabotage joy, in two ways.

First, in getting balled up in anxiety. 

Paul says “have no anxiety at all.” How do we do that? 
Well, Paul talks about prayer, petition and thanksgiving. 
So the next time you are anxious, try those three. 
Try to pray, including petitions to God about the things that worry you, 
and then take time to recall all that you are thankful for.

The second thing we do to sabotage joy is holding onto sins, both our own, and others’.

In the reading from Zephaniah, we hear, 
“The LORD has removed the judgment against you.” 
If God does that for you, how can you refuse to do that for others? 

Recall the parable Jesus told of the servant 
who begged for mercy over a great debt; 
then he went and was very harsh on someone 
who owed him a small debt. 

When his Master heard about it, he had the servant thrown in prison. 
And Jesus said: “So will your heavenly Father do to you, 
if you do not forgive one another from your hearts.”  

If it’s been awhile since you’ve been to confession, go! 
Receive forgiveness, and give it.

But when I looked at the Gospel, 
I noticed three ways we can increase our joy:

First way: be generous with those in need. 
John said, if you have two coats, give one to someone who has none. 
Notice, that means giving away half! 
Some – maybe more than we realize – really are that generous.
Still, for a lot of us, we tend to give from our surplus. 

Imagine walking out of the grocery store, 
and immediately giving away half of our groceries? 
What if we decided that whatever we planned to spend on presents, 
we would give an equal amount away for those in need?

I confess, I am not that generous. But I will say this: 
when I have those moments, it lifts my heart, 
while it lightens my wallet. Which is more important?

Today we have an opportunity to be generous 
to the retired members of religious orders who need our support. 
Remember, they took a vow of poverty. 
They don’t have their own IRAs and savings. 
They rely on our generosity.

The second way to increase our joy: Practice and promote justice. 
John told the tax collectors and the soldiers 
not to take more than was honest, 
and not to extort or misuse their power. 
A lot of our practicing our faith seems focused on our own choices, 
and on our personal spiritual life. 

But never forget Jesus told us to hunger and thirst for righteousness; 
This is why we will never stop being prolife. 
This is why a group of parishioners makes regular trips to Haiti. 
This is why we oppose torture and the death penalty, 
and why we stand up for the poor and the powerless. 

The third way to increase joy is to open your heart to Holy Spirit. 
John described Jesus coming to baptize us in the Holy Spirit. 
While some of our fellow Christians take this 
to refer to a special encounter with the Holy Spirit, 
the Church has long understood this as referring to 
how we receive the Holy Spirit in baptism and confirmation. 

But that doesn’t mean those are the only times 
we think about, or seek the help of, the Holy Spirit! 

Some of the best things we can do 
for ourselves and our spiritual life are the simplest. 

If you aren’t sure how to open yourself to the Holy Spirit, 
start this way: pray to the Holy Spirit. 
Ask God to help you be more open to the Spirit; 
to thirst for the Holy Spirit. 
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you obey his promptings. 
There are so many things that don’t happen, because we don’t ask. 

And yet Jesus said, “ask, and you shall receive.” 
He didn’t mean winning basketball games or getting good grades; 
but he did mean, asking for more of his life. 
Ask for the Holy Spirit, and you SHALL receive!

And that is what true joy is.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Why a 'Year of Mercy'? (Sunday homily)

I thought today might be a good time to talk about the Jubilee Year of Mercy that Pope Francis declared several months back, and which starts this Tuesday, on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Why did Pope Francis call for a “Year of Mercy”? In his letter explaining his decision, he said this: 

At times we are called to gaze even more attentively on mercy so that we may become a more effective sign of the Father’s action in our lives. For this reason I have proclaimed an Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy as a special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective.

So there it is. The Holy Father is calling us to be a more effective sign of God’s actions in the world; to be more effective witnesses of God’s love.

We might wonder, why the emphasis on mercy? If the pope had asked, I’m sure there are people who would have said, maybe we should talk about marriage and family; or about the dignity of human life. Maybe the focus should be on reviving the practice of the Faith; perhaps the emphasis should have been on the reality of hell and the hope of heaven.

Why focus on mercy, of all things?

And Pope Francis had an answer to that as well. His first words of his letter are these: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.” Those words are worth pondering: I’ll repeat them: “Jesus Christ is the face of the Father’s mercy.”

And that is exactly the truth.

What did Jesus say? “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full.” And he said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve; and to give his life as a ransom for many.” That giving—that ransom—that mercy—is the heart and soul of our Faith. It is what we witness and participate in at each and every Holy Mass.

Mercy, mercy, mercy!

Now, we often have a shallow notion of mercy. If I am a student, and I play video games all night, and don’t study – and then I arrive at school and flunk the test, I may plead with the teacher: “please don’t me an ‘F’ – have mercy!”

And maybe the teacher will show mercy. But that mercy doesn’t mean I don’t have to learn the material; or that there won’t be consequences to laziness. What it means is that there is an avenue back, a way of reconciliation.

If there is one thing I have learned as a priest, it is that many people really struggle to forgive. And I have come to see that in myself as well. For those who struggle with this, I wish I had some simple prayer or mental trick, but I don’t. 

Here’s all I have. I have come to believe that we find it easier to forgive when we know, in a powerful way, what it is to have been forgiven ourselves.

On the other hand, if we don’t feel we’ve been forgiven all that much, we may find it hard to give it.

I invite you to stop and think. Have you ever felt your soul was in real peril of hell? Have you had the experience of forgiveness lifting weights off your shoulders and your heart? Have you cried at the realization of being forgiven? It’s not necessarily an experience everyone has. But if you have – then you know the power of forgiveness. And I’ll say it again. When we know more powerfully what it is to be forgiven, the more we will find it possible to give that to others.

We often pit mercy against justice – but this is false. 

Mercy does not replace justice; rather, mercy directs justice to its true purpose. True justice is always concerned with restoration and wholeness. So, if I am a thief, justice requires that I pay back – if I can – what I stole. But God’s Justice aims at something more than balancing the scales. The truth we learn sooner or later in life is that we never quite get those scales balanced just right, do we? When I get to my car in the parking lot, and I see a dent someone left in my car, I’m furious! How could someone be so dishonest? Maybe I don’t choose, at that moment, to remember times I accidentally dinged someone else’s car, and rationalized driving away without leaving a note. And even if we can fix a problem fairly simply: I lie – and then I own up to it, and apologize, will that be enough to restore the broken trust?

And when we come to the worst offenses, what justice can there truly be? We know that there are wrongs that no punishment can ever put right. Even when murderers are executed, does that really heal the harm? How can it? 

Do you recall, last June, when that man went into a church in Charleston and in the middle of a Bible study, murdered nine people who were praying one night? As terrible as that crime was, something happened in that story that shines out even more powerfully. It is when family members of the victims stood up in the courtroom, and one after the other, said they forgive him!

Let me read something from an ABC news report:

"I forgive you," said Anthony Thompson, the husband of slain Myra Thompson, 59. "But we would like you to take this opportunity to repent. Repent, confess, give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that he can change it, can change your ways no matter what happened to you and you'll be OK. Do that and you'll be better off than what you are right now."

I don’t know how Mr. Thompson and the others found the grace to forgive that man. But they did. We do know where that grace came from. As Mr. Thompson said, it comes from Jesus Christ. All this serves to remind us of why the Son of God – in coming to earth – chose to go to the Cross. Not because he had to. Not because God the Father demanded it, and would not be satisfied unless there was a sacrifice. Many people say that, but that’s not true.

No, the truth is this. We are the ones who hunger and thirst for justice, and for too many, there is no justice in this world. And yet God tells us to forgive! How can we forgive?

We forgive, because Jesus on the Cross absorbed the punishments and wrongs and injustices, and took it all on himself. And then he said: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The Holy Father is inviting us to be about mercy. To receive it, and to give it. The world needs it. Our community needs it. Each of us needs it. 

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

No room at the inn -- but there are cookies!

Tonight we have our annual "Journey to Bethlehem" program for our children. They dress up like Mary and Joseph (and perhaps shepherds, I'm not sure -- everyone seems to dress pretty much alike) and have several stops to make along the way. One of the stops is the inn, where the grumpy innkeeper sends them away. Guess who is the grumpy innkeeper? Yours truly!

Last year, I played my part a little too well, and one very young Saint Joseph, filled with righteous indignation, had cross words for me! I will try to do my best not to scandalize these little ones.

We ask folks to make cookies for the little wanderers; and I thought, it's been awhile, let's see if I can make some. From what I had on hand, I was able to make peanut butter cookies.

By the way, this is very easy! I worked from this recipe, but I did add some vanilla, and a little extra flour, based on the recommendation of some of the reviewers.

Here's the completed batter:

Here is one of the batches, ready to go in the oven. (One thing I added to the recipe: I roll the cookie balls in sugar, before flattening them on the sheet. That makes them sparkle nicely when they are finished, as well as have a pleasing texture.)

And here are the finished cookies, ready to go to Bethlehem!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Be ready to go at a moment's notice (Sunday homily)

If there are a phrase that summarizes our readings, it might be, 
“Be sober and alert.” 
Neither the letter from Saint Paul, nor the Lord himself, 
says it quite that way – but that’s the message.

“Strengthen your hearts,” Saint Paul says. 
Don’t become “drowsy” from “carousing and drunkenness,” 
Jesus says – “be vigilant.”

There are two good reasons that people need to remain sober: 
first, so they can act quickly; 
and second, so they make good judgments.

If you are an airline pilot, or a fire fighter, or a doctor, 
and you are on call, you are required to remain sober, 
for obvious reasons. 
You have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. 
Not in six hours, but right now.

And, of course, when we’ve had something to drink, 
even if we’re not intoxicated, it will still affect us. 
That’s why people like to drink: it’s relaxing, 
and it can add to good cheer. 
And there’s nothing wrong with any of that. 
Jesus blessed a newly married couple and their guests 
with a very large quantity of very fine wine at their wedding in Cana.

If we do like to have a drink of beer or whisky or wine, 
we learn soon enough that there is a line. 

Beyond that line, and we aren’t just merry; we become stupid. 
Enough bad things happen when adults shoot past that line; 
when kids do it, it is often catastrophic. 
That is why adults don’t want kids drinking. 
Not to keep you from sharing the fun, but to keep you from disaster.

As I say, most of us learn to respect that line, 
and to avoid getting too close to it.

The sobriety Jesus talks about in the Gospel 
is about more than drinking. 

Every few weeks or months, I think about quitting Facebook. 
If I am not careful, I get drawn into some really dumb things. 
Maybe it’s harmless fun; maybe it’s an argument. 
It’s all a huge time-waster; yet it’s strangely attractive. 
Same with the Internet in general.

I have a theory. And I have absolutely zero proof for this theory. 
But here it is. When the Lord comes at the end of time, 
it won’t happen on the Internet. 
While Jesus is coming in the clouds, 
millions of people will be glued to the Internet, unaware, 
as they argue over whose kitten video is better!

Stay sober and alert, Jesus tells us.

This isn’t just about the final coming of Jesus at the end of time. 
The same advice applies to whether we are vigilant 
for the moments of truth that come in our lives all the time.

When my father was alive, there were many nights 
we watched TV together. Nothing wrong with that. 

But if I could go back in time, do you know what I’d do? 
I’d turn off the TV, and ask my dad questions 
it’s too late for me to ask now, because he’s gone.

Be vigilant: life is happening now. God’s grace is happening now. 
Are you awake to it?

If God is acting, if God is talking, how do we know? 
How do we see it, or hear it?

Well, for one, don’t let the TV, the Internet, video games, 
and all the small stuff become too important. 

God IS talking to us; but usually in a quiet voice. 
It takes turning things off, 
and sitting or walking in the silence, to hear him.

And, if you’re wondering where to look for God, 
consider what Jesus told us to do so many times. 
What did he hope to find us doing, when he returned? 
Feeding the poor, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the forgotten. 

There are families in our community 
who have suffered painful losses recently. Reach out to them. 

There are soup kitchens in Sidney and Piqua 
that would love to have some additional volunteers. 
Would you like to serve Jesus a meal? 
You will find him at those soup kitchens.

In our Symbolon series of videos we’re looking at together, 
this week we’re looking at the story of salvation. 
God created us, humanity was wrecked by sin, and God acts to save us. 
That work of salvation happened at the Cross, 
and it will be completed at the end of time. 
But what happens in the meantime? 
God is working every day for the salvation of souls: 
mine, ours, and those of everyone we know.

And he is asking each of us to do our part. 
Like participants in a battle, 
we seldom see how our own part even matters. 
So much of what’s going on around us is confusing and disheartening. 
Most of our tasks are unglamorous and tedious.

Last week, I heard second-hand 
about someone I’ve known a long time who was in the hospital. 
That person and I had been close, but we’d been at odds many times. 
There was a lot of hurt – and I wasn’t sure if I would go visit. 
I told myself, maybe it wouldn’t even be welcome. 
I can always go later.

But I knew that was wrong. I did go. In fact, my visit was welcome. 
There were apologies and tears. I am glad I went. 

Did it change the big picture? I cannot know that. 
But one thing I do know is that Jesus wanted me to make that visit. 
And that’s not a special communication just for me; 
it’s what he told every one of us to do. 
Reach out to the lost; forgive, not seven times, 
but seventy times seven times. 

Be vigilant. Be ready. If we’re not too caught up in our own stuff, 
our own issues, our own hurt and doubts and agendas, 
we will be ready to go and do what the Lord asks, at a moment’s notice.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

What did Father make for Thanksgiving?

I enjoyed Thanksgiving at my cousin's house, with some of his family and mine. With his and my parents gone, our siblings are scattered over half the country, and we do not often get together. My cousin has lost two of his brothers; I am blessed to say all my siblings are still on their earthly journey.

At any rate, my cousin suggested I bring a side dish and something to drink. So I brought along two bottles of wine (one white, one red), and for a side dish, I paid an homage to my dear, late aunt -- my cousin's mother. She always made green bean casserole -- you know, the kind with cream of mushroom soup and fried onion rings? While I have nothing against doing it that way, I wanted to do it somewhat differently. (I worked from a recipe on Allrecipes, but I can't find it just now, sorry.)

So, I started with water, heated to boiling, for the fresh green beans. I used a two-pound package.

Here are all the other ingredients, spread out.

OK, you can probably figure out what's happening here...

This is both bacon fat, as well as some butter, melting in the pan. The bacon fat was poured off the "baconator" (a plastic rack for cooking bacon in the microwave). Sorry I didn't get a picture of that. I cooked up about 20 slices of bacon, as called for.

In go the sliced mushrooms. Not all of them, however. I was following the recipe; in retrospect, I might easily have doubled, or tripled, the amount of mushrooms.

The recipe didn't call for it, but I wanted onions. So I sliced one up, and sauteed it in butter. Again, in retrospect, I might easily have doubled the quantity.

The mushrooms cooked up nicely, especially with much added garlic powder. FYI, this is a nice way to cook mushrooms: just butter (or oil or fat), salt, pepper, and LOTS of garlic powder, especially toward the end. The garlic coats the mushrooms. I like to make mushrooms that way as a side dish to a steak. Here, I added nearly a pint of heavy cream (I say "nearly," because I'd used some of it for something else, I don't recall what. I figured it would be enough).

Here are the beans, out of the water, into the baking pan. No, it's not a very pretty pan. I tend to cook my vegetables a little firmer. That's how I like them.

Here are the onions, just about to go on the beans. By the way, this is also a very nice way to cook onions as a side dish. Just add salt and pepper.

I like the onions with a bit of browning like this.

The recipe called for thickening the cream. I don't think I thickened it enough, but I was getting impatient to get on the road. If I do this again, I'll cook it longer.

I also didn't show you the process of turning the crispy slices of bacon into bacon bits. This is where my food processor proved very useful. I did the task in two batches, no problems. What's more, there was an added bonus:


All around the inside of the bowl of the food processor was a light dusting of fine grains of bacon. Pixie dust is imaginary; bacon dust, I am pleased to inform you, is real! And delicious! Magically delicious! If I could have gotten my head inside that bowl, to lick it out, I would have.

At any rate, here's the bacon on top of the casserole. I actually only used about half of it.

You'll also notice some parmesan cheese, which I put on first. In fact, this is where I cleverly used a leftover. The other day, I made some fish, and that recipe called for coating the fish in a mixture of parmesan cheese and ground almonds. I had a good quantity of that mixture left over, and this seemed a perfect use for it. Almond go nicely with green beans.

So I took the unbaked casserole to Cincinnati and my cousin's girlfriend put it in the oven for 30 minutes.


Everyone seemed to like it, but honestly, I missed the dish my loving aunt would have made. The cream sauce, being thinner, tended to stay to the bottom of the pan. Perhaps had I mixed it with the cheese beforehand? Or else cooked it down further.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Christ the King of our world; and of me (Sunday homily)

This feast of Christ the King was established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. 
It wasn’t an idea that just came out of the blue. 
The Holy Father was reflecting deeply on the trends of his time. 

This was the time in which communism had taken power in Russia 
and was threatening Europe; 
Mussolini and his Fascist party had been in power in Italy 
for several years; and two years before, 
Hitler had tried the first time to seize power in Germany, 
and had published his manifesto for Nazism. 

The pope knew the times, and knew that the world 
needed to be reminded: Jesus Christ is the only rightful king!

Pope Pius said the following when he declared this feast: 

…manifold evils in the world 
were due to the fact that the majority of men 
had thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; 
that these had no place either in private affairs or in politics: 
and…as long as individuals and states refused to submit 
to the rule of our Savior, there would be no really hopeful prospect 
of a lasting peace among nations. 
Men must look for the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ.

It’s just as true today as nearly 100 years ago.

Now, let’s think about what it means to proclaim 
Jesus Christ the sole, rightful king of this world. 
Again, Pope Pius said that this concerns the spiritual life. 

But his authority is not limited to that. Let’s be very clear: 
every government, every official, every society, without exception,
 is subject to the reign of Jesus Christ! 

We can understand political figures, who are not Christian, 
not recognizing this. 

They do not realize Jesus is the Lord and we pray that, 
through our faithful and loving witness, 
they will come to know Jesus is Lord.

But then we have people who profess to be Christians, 
who seek public authority, who seek to exercise power, 
and yet they claim that they will not let 
Jesus Christ and his teaching influence them. 

Pope Pius taught that they are in “grave error” 
to think that “Christ has no authority whatever in civil affairs.”

Let’s take this another step, however. 

In our country, the real rulers 
aren’t the President and Congress, governor and legislators and judges; 
“we the people” are sovereign. 

We choose who makes the laws, and we can replace them. 

So Pope Pius’ words are really directed to us. 
And that means, it seems to me, that each and every Catholic 
has a grave duty—a grave duty, I repeat—to do the following things:

1) To be well informed as we reasonably can, as citizens.
2) To be registered to vote, and to then to cast our votes at every election.
And, also,
3) To cast our votes at all times in a way consistent with Christ’s Law.

We will often complain about 
how our judges and elected officials do not protect the unborn, 
and do not stand up for true marriage—
meaning between a man and a woman. 

But who gave them the power? 
President Obama is militantly pro-legal abortion – 
yet he was elected with the help of millions of Catholics. 

And, lest you think I am being partisan, let me point out: 
the last time the Supreme Court upheld abortion-on-demand, in 1992, 
the five justices who did that were all Republican appointees. 

And in the upcoming election, there are candidates 
who say they are willing to use torture, 
and to treat some groups as second-class citizens. 
Let us be very careful not to give our endorsement 
to any of these grave offenses to human dignity.

When Catholics leave their faith outside the voting booth, 
they are pushing King Jesus outside the voting booth!

Some will say, but look what Jesus said to Pilate: 
“my kingdom is not of this world.” 
That’s true: his kingdom does not originate in this world, 
because it originates in heaven. 

No one makes Jesus king; he is God.

But if he did not seek to bring his Kingdom into this world, 
for what reason did he even come? 

When people say that Jesus’ kingship is only about heaven, be careful – 
what you are saying, without realizing it, 
is that we don’t have any reason to seek justice or compassion 
in this world, but only in the world to come! 

But we know Jesus himself said no such thing. 
On the contrary: when we stand before him, 
on the Last Day, he will separate to both sides of him, 
those who showed mercy, and worked for justice, 
and those who did not.

When his Kingdom will come is up to him; 
our part is to be faithful messengers and citizens of his kingdom, 
each day of our lives.

We might ask: even if Jesus is not allowed to be king of our country, 
then where do you and I allow him to be king?

Do I let him reign over my thoughts? 
Or, do I let bigotry and vengeance find place in my mind and heart?
For that matter, if Jesus is king in our hearts, 
how can worry and fear find a place there?

Does Jesus govern my hands? Or do they sometimes strike in anger? 
Does Jesus control my tongue? Lord, have mercy!

Is Jesus king over our computers and our TVs? 
Or are there places we go online that dishonor him and his creation?
If we claim Jesus is king over our lives, 
one proof of that is how willing we are to bring our lives to him 
in the sacrament of confession.

You and I cannot make our society recognize Jesus as king, 
but what about our own homes and our families? 
What about the priorities of our time and money? 
These things we can surrender to Jesus Christ, our sovereign king.

And to quote Pope Pius a final time: 
“When once [we] recognize, both in private and in public life, 
that Christ is King, society will at last receive 
the great blessings of real liberty, well-ordered discipline, 
peace and harmony.”

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Refugees? A cautious yes

In the wake of the terror attacks in Beirut and Paris last week has come a wave of politicians and others calling for refugees from the Middle East not to be settled in Europe and the U.S. As typically happens, the strength of emotions voiced in this protest -- directed, in this country, against President Obama and his administration -- is matched by an equally emotional response: people who object to admitting refugees are stupid (one Facebook commenter kept calling everyone who disagreed with admitting refugees "a**hat"), not very Christian (so says Mark Shea), cowardly (so said the great uniter, President Obama); well, you get the idea.

Well, it's not an obvious call.

So said, of all people, far-left Mother Jones: Liberals Should Knock Off the Mockery Over Calls to Limit Syrian Refugees.

In the Mother Jones article cited above, you'll see reference to screening of refugees, which "is already pretty tight." If so, this is good to know. So says Mr. Shea, in one of his less bombastic moments. He provides these links about that screening, which I pass along to you. (Full disclosure: I comment periodically on Mr. Shea's blog, but not under my own name.) Let us note, for example, that the proposal is to admit 10,000 refugees from Syria; and if the NPR report cited above is correct, "half of those who have been admitted are children and about a quarter of them are adults over 60. Officials say 2 percent are single males of combat age."

Ah, but this comes from the Obama Administration. Do we have reason to be skeptical? Yes, I think we do. The Obama Administration has tied itself into pretzels trying to be politically correct about all this, with only grudging acknowledgement of the suffering of Christians in the Middle East, avoiding any reference to the obvious fact of so much of this terror being rooted in an extreme expression of Islam -- not to mention this administration's choice to be a hand-wringing, impotent observer during the tragedy of the Syrian Civil War.

A cartoon I saw recently aptly illustrates the President's strange approach to all this:

So, do Americans have reason to be distrustful of President Obama, given his record? Sorry to say, but yes, I think we do.

And yet, with all that, I think there is no question that we -- we who are Catholics, we who are Christians, we Americans who want to be true to our national values -- ought to accept refugees.

No, this isn't like the decision to turn away Jews fleeing Europe in the World War II years. The analogy is false every which way. To refer back to the Mother Jones article, above: the reason people are voicing alarm is rooted precisely in the problem of would-be terrorists entering in the same wave. I defy anyone to show where there was any serious concern, in the '30s and '40s, that there were terrorists or saboteurs among the Jewish refugees. If President Obama -- instead of aggravating the situation with his taunting -- were to announce that 100% of the refugees we accept will be Christians, or non-Muslim minorities, or else only women, elderly and children, I predict the opposition would evaporate.

It's also outrageous to indict the American character, which is what the President's "progressive" allies do reflexively. No nation on earth is more open to refugees, to immigrants, and to diverse cultures. And it is precisely because of this openness that there is a real vulnerability.

By the way, one of the points being made against resettling refugees here is that they have found refuge elsewhere. And that's true. However, let's note that three countries in particular are harboring vast numbers of refugees: Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. I listed them in order of their stability, because this is a major concern. There is a very good argument to be made that alleviating the destabilization of these countries -- on the frontline of the area where ISIS is operating -- is most definitely in our national interest, as well as a manifest humanitarian interest. If you do a little searching online, you'll discover that millions of refugees are living in these areas. Perhaps these three countries can handle it; but if not, is that really hard to believe?

It also occurs to me that helping Turkey with its refugee problem may well be a price to be paid for them to acquiesce in the U.S. helping the Kurds fight ISIS. As it stands, the Kurds seem to be our most reliable allies on the ground, shooting back at the ISIS. It seems obvious to me that the best course of action for the U.S. is to partner with the Kurds; but Iraq, Iran and Turkey all have reason to oppose any such move, because it threatens the creation of an independent Kurdistan, or something short of it. While the U.S. can reasonably get away with ignoring Iranian and Iraqi objections, ignoring Turkish complaints is not so easy.

Now, I have no idea is this is, indeed, what the administration is doing, it's just possible; I saw recently that we are doing more to help the Kurds. If so, good for the President. But the question remains, how are we keeping the Turks happy? Accepting refugees may be part of it.

I am not ignoring the danger of would-be jihadis entering along with these refugees. I have three thoughts about that.

First, if indeed, only 2 percent of the refugees we are accepting are males of military age, then it wouldn't be so hard, would it, either to refuse that 2 percent?

Second, the reality is that our borders are fairly porous -- and not only because of insufficient immigration policies, especially regarding our southern border. We have problems with unaccounted immigrants, not to mention home-grown jihadis, because ours is an open society. Aside from the many millions who come here illegally, our nation admits millions of people legally -- and a good number of them stay longer than they should. This is very hard for a free society to prevent.

My sense is this -- and I say this without bombast or chest-thumping moral superiority -- that refusing to help these refugees isn't going to make much difference, if any, regarding the real threat of jihadis entering our nation. If, indeed, the refugees are carefully screened, my guess is the bomb-throwers will seek other ways in.

Further, being compassionate toward these refugees doesn't mean we have to give them the run of the place. We're admitting them so they can be fed, housed and live in a decent fashion. There's nothing uncompassionate about this being temporary -- i.e., until such time as they can return home safely. That is to say, admitting refugees isn't the same as granting them permanent residence or citizenship.

Finally, as Christians, obeying the Lord's commands are not conditional on risk. Following Jesus means risking ridicule and opposition, giving up everything for him, and finally embracing the cross. At some point, we have to place some trust in God that when we do what honors him, he will respond generously.

Please let me know what you think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Four Last Things (Sunday homily)

Sorry for the delay in reporting on my homily. I was traveling most of last week, so I didn't really have much time to write out my homily. Then, Sunday afternoon, I drove over to Columbus to take our parish seminarians out to dinner; so I didn't take time to write a post Sunday or Monday.

All I can do at this point is summarize my homily:

- I explained what the "four last things are": death, judgment, heaven and hell, and why they are associated with this time of year (the end of the liturgical year; moving from fall to winter in northern hemisphere, the readings).

- We all die; but we often imagine death is far away. Referring to my recent travel, I said that being in an airplane -- a tube of metal, 30,000 feet high, with nothing but air beneath me -- has a way of making death a little more real. I described my own practice of an act of contrition and the St. Michael prayer on take-off, and a Glory Be and Hail Mary on a safe landing; and lots more prayers if we hit a rough patch! And, I said that being on a plane, knowing I wasn't in a state of grace, isn't fun. Better to go to confession!

- I talked about Father Tom Grilliot, who in his last several years, spoke candidly about his mortality because of his cancer. It's important to talk about death, not avoid talking about it.

- There are two judgments: our particular judgment when we die, and the general judgment when Jesus brings things to a close. We are judged on our faith and works; but we can't do works to make up for lack of faith. No one can impress God with his or her good deeds. Faith -- love of God -- is necessary; but works must follow. As Saint James said, faith without works is dead. We also have a choice: we can be judged strictly or with mercy: recall Jesus said, by the measure you measure, so shall it be measured out to you. If we are harsh, the standard applied to us will be as well.

- I talked a bit about both heaven and hell. We can't expect to enter heaven without friendship with God; because, what would we do in heaven if we don't want to be with God? It would be like being in a Baskin Robbins store for eternity, but not liking ice cream.

- I talked more about the resurrection, which comes at the Last Day. We get our bodies back, yet new and improved. Our bodies aren't shells; we don't wear them, and then discard them. We are body-spirit; that's how God created us and that wholeness will be restored. This has implications. First, that our bodies matter, and what we do in the body matters. Second, Creation matters. I mentioned Laudato Si in reference to respect for creation as reflecting God's glory.

- I cited something St. Augustine said (although I rephrased it): if we are friends with God, why are we afraid to meet him?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Jesus calls you. What will you answer? (Sunday homily)

The Gospel we just heard poses a very simple question, 
but it cuts deep, right to our very core: 
how much are you and I willing to give to Jesus Christ?

It’s not necessarily a matter of money. 
The widow in the Gospel didn’t just give a donation. 
As Jesus said, she gave everything she had to live on. 
She put everything on the line.

How much will we put on the line?

Blessed John Newman, the great English protestant 
who became Catholic, gave a sermon one time 
in which he posed a similar question. 
He asked whether we are really putting anything at risk for our faith. 
And he made the point that quite a lot of us 
probably would make most of the same decisions, 
whether we believe in Jesus Christ or not. 
We would probably have the same job, the same life, and so forth.

I think that is more true than it is comfortable to admit.

At the end of Mass, you’re going to hear a few words 
from Marty Arlinghaus, who is a seminarian 
for our Archdiocese from Clifton, in Cincinnati. 
He’s putting his life on the line. 
If he becomes a priest, his life will be rather different 
from what otherwise it might have.

He wouldn’t be doing that if he didn’t believe in Jesus Christ. 
I wouldn’t have done it.

And I know many of our parents 
have rejected contraception, 
and made sacrifices in welcoming more children 
because they want to share the life of Christ, 
eternal life, with their children. 
They are thinking not only of this world, but the world to come.

I am confident there are a lot of stories that could be told – 
but we don’t tell the stories – 
about making a sacrifice, forgiving a wrong, taking the harder path, 
because of the words of Christ and for love of him.

Still, there’s that widow. Not a rich person. A poor widow. 
She gave not just something, but everything she had.

At this moment, I really think I’m in the way; 
I’m in the middle of a conversation 
which is really between each of us, and Jesus himself. 
He’s the one who makes the invitation.
He is the one who calls us: 
come, follow me – and Peter and Andrew, James and John 
left their nets; their livelihood; everything they had.

Jesus calls you. 
Your Creator and Redeemer speaks to you as only he can. 
He has prepared your life and given you your gifts. 
What will you answer?

Sunday, November 01, 2015

What will heaven be like? (Sunday homily)

A few years ago, there was a book and a movie 
about a boy who died for several hours 
and when he came back to life, he said he’d been in heaven. 
It’s not the only book that’s been written about heaven. 
A lot of us wonder: what might heaven be like?

Well, let’s look at what the Scriptures we heard have to say.

First, Heaven will be full of people. 

Notice what the Apostle John said in the first reading:
I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, 
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.

That is hopeful; and hope is something we need; 
especially when our business isn’t going well, 
or we’re out of work, or we have problems at home. 

Second, Heaven is full of holiness – and, therefore, joy.

The psalm we prayed tells us, to be in heaven is to have 
Hands that are sinless and a clean heart.
To be in heaven is to be pure, “as God is pure.”

How is this possible? 

We think of sin as something we have: 
we have greed, we have wrath, 
we have lust, we have bad habits.

But it would be truer to understand sin as being about what we lack. 
We lack the fullness of purity; of peace; of contentment; of truth.
We lack the fullness, finally, of God. 

Sin happens in our lives not because of what we have, 
but because of what we think we don’t have. 
Isn’t that what envy is? 
If I like my house, my car, my life – 
I have no reason to envy my neighbor.

Anger becomes sinful when we are not content 
to let someone else be the judge of things; 
and, ultimately, the final judge is God. 
The sin of wrath comes in when we don’t think 
God is doing a good job as the final judge of things. 

Heaven is free of sin, precisely because it’s full of God.
Which leads to my third point:

Just because heaven is full, don’t assume heaven is easy.

The standard way of thinking today 
is that pretty much everyone goes to heaven. 
Only really bad people, like Stalin and Hitler, go to hell.

Well, that’s not what Jesus said. Jesus said a lot about hell. 
He kept warning people about how likely it was they would go there.

If heaven were more or less automatic – 
the way lots of people think – 
there would be no point for the Bible 
to be more than five or ten pages long.
We wouldn’t need ten commandments, only one:
“Thou shalt not be really mean – like Hitler.”

And, more than that, Jesus would never have died on the cross.
Remember, he agonized about it the night before.
If heaven was easy, he could have told his Father:
“It’s not like they need this, Father – 
they’re all coming to heaven anyway.”

So am I now contradicting my claim, earlier, about hope?
Not at all. But what I am saying – 
and which it’s critical for each of us to understand – 
is that we will make it to heaven 
only because we surrender ourselves to the grace of God.

We profess that Mary, the Mother of God, is “full of grace”—
which is the same thing as saying, she is without sin.

But here’s the part we miss: what Mary received early, 
every one of us is destined to receive.
Every one of us is destined to be full of grace.

In other words, every single one of us is meant to be a saint.

Let me make the point even more strongly.

If you and I don’t make as saints?
Then we will be in hell.

There is no middle option.

No, not Purgatory. Purgatory isn’t a destination; 
it’s the last stop before heaven. 
And everyone who makes to Purgatory will be a saint.
Purgatory is the finishing school for saints.

So, unless you want to go to hell – 
and I don’t know anyone who really wants that – 
then you and I had better get serious about being saints.

This is a good time to highlight the cards in the pews. 
If someone on the ends can pass both 
the white and blue cards down the aisle.
If you were here last week, 
you heard me talk about the Symbolon program, 
which we have available to everyone, for free.

This is a high quality series of videos, accessible online; 
And my proposal to you is that together, as a parish,
We watch the first part of the Symbolon series.

Now, if you look at this card, you can see there are ten topics, 
and they are good topics: about who God is, what he has for us; 
about the Bible, how we got in the mess we’re in; 
who Jesus is and what he does for us.

If you look at Week 4, you’ll see a discussion of the Holy Spirit, 
and the Church and the sacraments – 
there’s where we’ll talk about how we get to heaven.

So if you want to commit yourself to this project, 
fill out the blue card. Go ahead and do it now. 
You can just check the first one, 
committing to watching the video series.

But, if you would like to be part of a weekly discussion group, 
check the second one.

Now, don’t agonize over this; it’s not a contract or anything.
This isn’t a class; no tests, no grades! 
If you’re not sure you can attend all the sessions, don’t worry about it. 

This is an invitation and an opportunity. 

And here’s another idea: 
maybe you want to form your own discussion group, 
with your family or with some friends. That’s fine! 
Just note that on the card as well.

When the collection comes around, you can put the blue card in today; 
or next week, if you prefer. 
Or you can drop it off at the office.
The white card is for you to take home. 
On the back side are the instructions you need 
for finding the materials online.

I looked at the first video, and it was beautifully done. 
It was very moving, actually. And I was so proud 
to see something so high-quality being available.
And I am excited to think about people coming to know who Jesus is, 
and giving their lives to Jesus, as a result of this program.

Because that’s what heaven is. Heaven is giving our lives to Jesus, 
who responds by giving his life to us.

Heaven will be full of joy – and as saints in heaven, 
We will be full of joy – because we will be full 
of the presence and knowledge, 
the love and the life, of Jesus Christ.

You and I – along with countless others – will be those saints, 
whose lives are washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.