Thursday, February 26, 2015

'Turkey bacon...'

...No, it's not.

Among the items my venerable predecessor left in the freezer, one was a package of "turkey bacon." I avoided it till now; but Lent seemed a good time to use this up.

Here it is, you decide:

Yes, it kind of looks like it; and it doesn't taste that bad. I had it with a couple of eggs fried in the middle of slices of bread -- i.e., "eggs in a basket." (Sorry, no photos of breakfast; I wanted to eat it while it was hot. The photo above was of leftover bacon, just now.)

What do you use as a substitute for bacon? Is there any substitute?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Lent is serious business (Sunday homily)

Every year on this first Sunday of Lent, 
the Gospel reading tells the same story, 
of our Lord Jesus being in the desert, 
facing temptation from the devil.

The accounts from Matthew and Luke give a lot more detail, 
but in this account from Mark, it’s very sparse: 
he was “in the desert for 40 days, tempted by Satan.” 

When you hear the desert and the number 40, 
you might think of God’s People in the wilderness, 
wandering before they enter the Promised Land. 
Or you might think of our 40 days of Lent. Both good connections.

But there’s something else this harks back to, 
something much, much more ancient.

Adam in the garden – being tempted by the devil.

Jesus is the new Adam. He takes the path the first Adam did not. 
When Adam was confronted by evil, he remained passive, 
leaving Eve to face it alone. 
Jesus, the second Adam, wades into battle with Satan. 
This is why he came.

Our spiritual battle during Lent 
is not mainly about battling hunger or missing things we gave up. 
That’s only the threshold issue. 
We start there; just as our Lent has only started.

When the Lord was in the desert, he went without food 40 days.
Then he faced the devil.

Doesn’t that tell us that the spiritual battle 
we are engaged in is a big deal? 
It’s not small potatoes. The stakes are huge!

So let me offer this suggestion: Lent is serious business. 
This is about the salvation of our own souls; 
and it is also about the salvation of the world.

Yes, the salvation of the world.

I know what you may be thinking: 
it is Jesus Christ who saves the world, not us. 
And that’s true—to a point. 

It’s absolutely true that Jesus Christ does not need us, or our help, 
in the task of saving the world. He does not need our help.

So let’s ask the question then: 
why does Jesus command us to pray for other people? 
Why does he tell us to help other people? 
Why – if our role is irrelevant – 
does he command us to tell other people about him?

The answer is this: while Jesus doesn’t need our help – 
that is to say, he could do it entirely without us—he chooses, 
for reasons that pass understanding, to include our help in his plan.

It really does seem that the role he assigns to us, matters.

Where you see this most clearly is in the Holy Mass.
As we know, the Mass makes present for us 
the dying and rising of Jesus. 

When we are at Mass, we are really present at Calvary, 
where Jesus died; and we are truly present 
as he offers himself to the Father; 
and we really are present at the tomb, 
when his body comes back to life.

So when the priest stands at the altar; 
when I say the words of Jesus 
and the bread and wine truly become Jesus’ Body and Blood; 
and when I lift up the Body and Blood of the Lord…

What we’re witnessing is Jesus on the Cross; 
Jesus dying; Jesus offering himself to the Father. 
Jesus coming back from the dead. 
It’s all here in this moment.

This altar, and all of us with it, 
become a cosmic “ground zero” where heaven and earth, 
all time, all space, all eternity, are drawn to behold this wonder: 
God acting to redeem his ruined creation.

Why does this happen?

While it’s true this serves to strengthen us, 
the Mass is about a lot more than us. 
It’s about the world. 
When the Son offers himself to the Father, for whom does he plead? He pleads for us all. 

You are never a spectator. 
If you are a baptized Christian, you cannot just “watch.” 
You participate. This is the true “participation” in Mass: 
to join your prayers to the all-powerful prayer of Jesus Christ!

As a priest, I am truly unworthy of this. 
I tremble for my soul when I consider just how unworthy I am. 

Many people admit they “zone out” at Mass. It’s understandable.
A lot of the time, it’s because we don’t know enough about the Mass.
That’s why I’m explaining this.

But we must admit it’s also human weakness.
When people say, “I’m bored,” what they’re really saying 
is that it’s just too hard to be attentive; 
it’s too much trouble to bring to Mass, 
to the altar, the cares and needs of other people.

Imagine, instead of coming to Mass, 
you were invited to the first Good Friday. 
You were invited to be there. 
And Jesus told you, bring anyone you want, 
and place them at the foot of the cross. 
Put them there, so that they will be covered by my mercy.

Wouldn’t we be embarrassed to tell the Lord – on the Cross – 
“I’m sorry, Lord, I couldn’t think of anyone to bring”? Or, “I forgot?”

That in fact is what we are invited to do. 
To bring everyone who needs God’s mercy right here at the altar.

In the old form of the Mass – 
which we have every Wednesday morning, 
and on First Friday evenings – 
the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer in silence. 

While it’s great that, in the new Mass, 
we can hear the words of the prayer, 
one advantage of that silence 
was that the faithful had the opportunity to focus on all those people, 
and problems and needs, that they wanted to bring to Jesus at Mass.

People will criticize the older form of Mass, and say, 
oh, there were so many people who didn’t pay attention.
Well, that’s still true, isn’t it?
The problem isn’t whether the prayers of Mass are out loud or silent; 
the problem is whether we take our role seriously or not.

So back to my main theme: you and I are engaged in spiritual combat. 
The problems of our time? 
They only make sense when understood as spiritual combat. 

Who is it that wants abortion on demand? 
Who wants to mangle the reality of marriage? 
Who is eager to destroy the family? 
Who is determined to see the Catholic Church knocked down?
Who rejoices to have pornography in every home? 
To have films like “50 Shades” depict degradation as love?
Who delights to see the Islamic State on the march? 

There is great good in the world; but there is evil, too; 
and a great battle is underway. 

No, Jesus can win without us – except that he has chosen to involve us. 
He has – amazing to say! – chosen to rely on us. 
The battle is raging. The alarms are sounding. 
You’ve been summoned. Souls are at stake. Are you ready?

Lent is serious business.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Be made clean of your leprosy (Sunday homily)

The emphasis on skin diseases in the readings might seem a little odd. But let’s look at it.

Why would this even be in the Scriptures?

Let’s recall that the Book of Leviticus 
is part of the Covenant that God made with his people at Mount Sinai. 
At a website called “The Sacred Page,” 
I read a good article by Dr. John Bergsma, 
who teaches Scripture at Franciscan University in Steubenville. 
As Dr. Bergsma explains it, 
Leviticus “was a complex system of symbolism 
aimed at teaching about the contagious nature of sinfulness 
and the connection between sin and death.”

Skin diseases were a serious health concern in Moses’ time; 
and the rules about keeping those with a disease away 
was for the good of the whole community. 
All the same, having leprosy or other skin illnesses 
not only meant separation from family and friends, 
but also from worship in the temple; 
it meant separation from communion with God.

So even though leprosy wasn’t a sin, 
and those who it weren’t bad people, 
in scripture, it becomes a powerful image of what sin does to us: 
it can spread like an infection; 
and it also separates us from one another and from God.

And let me give credit here: all that drew on Dr. Bergsma article.

Now this got me thinking. 
We believe as Catholics that if we commit a mortal sin, 
that separates us from the community. 
It doesn’t mean we can’t come to Holy Mass, 
but it does mean we refrain from receiving Holy Communion 
until that rupture has been healed. 

It’s called a mortal sin because it kills the life of God’s grace within us. 
We go to confession and receive absolution 
to restore that life within us.

Whenever someone makes a TV show or a film about the Bible, 
and if they include anything about leprosy, 
they always show it with great drama: 
the lepers crying out “unclean, unclean!” 
and folks reacting with horror. 
If you ever saw the old movie Ben Hur, you know what I mean. 

Let’s ask the question: do we feel horror toward sin? 
If someone showed up in Russia with Ebola, 
I think there would be a lot of concern, and probably some real fear. 
There’s a lot of legitimate concern about measles. 
But how concerned are we about “catching” sin?

We make a distinction between mortal and venial sins, 
with venial sins not being so deadly. 
But that doesn’t mean they are nothing to worry about. 

Let’s put this in the context of a relationship. 
There are lots of things that can happen between us 
and a friend, a parent, or a spouse. 

Little things; we don’t call quite as often; 
we don’t talk as much as we used to. 
A sharp or sarcastic comment here or there. 
Too few times we say “please” or “thank you.” 

But what happens when those things accumulate? 
Maybe it’s an argument; 
and suddenly it’s not a “little thing” any more. 
Or it’s a gradual drift. 
We go from seeing or calling a friend or relative 
every few days to every few months, to every few years, 
to…we can’t remember when.

And that is exactly how some people who used to be active Catholics become ex-Catholics. 

Saint Louis, King of France, had this advice for his son: 
“My dearest son, my first instruction 
is that you should love the Lord your God 
with all your heart and all your strength. 
Without this there is no salvation. 
Keep yourself, my son, from everything that you know displeases God, 
that is to say, from every mortal sin.” 

I would add that if we don’t mind the company of venial sins, 
we’ll soon find mortal sins don’t bother us so much either.

This helps us understand what Lent is for. 
More than anything else, penance is about conversion. 
If you give up something you love this Lent, as I plan to, 
it’s not because beer or chocolate 
or video games or golf are bad things; 
we do it so that they don’t have too much power over us. 
When we fast this Ash Wednesday, and we feel that hunger, 
the value of that is so that our stomach doesn’t rule us. 
And we have the opportunity to offer it in prayer, 
being mindful in particular 
of the many people who are hungry every day. 
Instead of buying ourselves food we don’t really need, 
we can give that money away for those who are in real need.

Lent begins Wednesday. Now’s the time to make our plans. 

Will you do any spiritual reading this Lent, 
instead of time on the Internet? 
Will you try to attend daily Mass? 
Give up certain things? 
Try to make the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet 
part of your regular routine? 

No more delay: it’s time to commit yourself, if only to yourself. 
Write it down; even if only you sees it.
A plan you follow half-way will certainly get you farther 
than no plan at all.

In the bulletin today, you’ll find a handout with lots of ideas. 
But above all, that handout will point out 
all the many opportunities for confession. 
Because when we get that sin really is something to horrify us, 
then we realize what a miracle the sacrament of confession is. 

Imagine looking at your arms, and seeing scabs and sores and infection; 
but when Jesus says, “Be made clean!” 
You look again, and you’re clean, pure and clean! Completely clean!

That’s what confession does. It feels really, really good.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mommy, Jesus called me a 'dog'!

At today's Mass, we hear this Gospel reading:

Jesus went to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. 

Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. 

He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” 
When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone (Mark 7:24-30).

It reminded me of an interaction I had online the other day, in which someone made the claim that Jesus viewed Gentiles as "dogs," and had only come for Jews; the Gentiles would have to wait for the crowning of Israel's Messiah, was his argument (as I recall it now). It's not a new argument; and in fairness, this passage and a few others do lend support to it.

Nevertheless, as I explained in my homily this morning, this is not what our Lord had in mind. I think this passage is often misunderstood.

To point out the obvious, it's necessary to look at any passage of Scripture in context. Here's a good rule to apply: anytime an interpretation of a particular passage sets that passage at odds with everything else, look again. Or to put it another way, an interpretation of a passage should solve problems, not create them. When God -- or really, any individual presented in Scripture suddenly seems "out of character," that's a good time to back up and ask why that might be so. There may be a good reason for it.

So let's look at this passage. And let's set it side by side (not literally; I don't know how to do that with Blogger) with the like passage in Matthew 15: 21-28:

Then Jesus went from that place and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” 

But he did not say a word in answer to her. His disciples came and asked him, “Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.”

He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 

But the woman came and did him homage, saying, “Lord, help me.”

He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” 

Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.

Here's what's going on. Our Lord is preparing the apostles for a renewal of Israel; and in this renewed Israel, the promise God made through the prophets will be fulfilled, namely: of Israel being a light to the nations. You will find this in many places in Isaiah, but also elsewhere. Consider Malachi 1:11: "From the rising of the sun to its setting, my name is great among the nations..." And the whole of the book of Jonah as well.

The Gospel of Matthew is very explicit in presenting this theme, literally from beginning to end: the opening genealogy of Matthew includes several Gentiles in the supposed family tree of Jesus -- I say supposed because Jesus himself is not a member of that family: the line comes down to Joseph, and Jesus is not kin to Joseph; Joseph must adopt Jesus. So consider that: even the Lord God, our Messiah, must be grafted in, just like the Gentiles! And then, at the conclusion of Matthew, the Lord tells the Apostles: "Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit..." (28:19). And in between, there are repeated episodes consistent with this theme: the arrival of the Magi, the battle with the scribes and Pharisees over the ritual law, and many, many encounters between Jesus and outsiders, including Gentiles.

In Matthew's account of the encounter with the Canaanite woman (Mark calls her "Syrophoenician"), a key to this is what the Apostles say: "Send her away." And in that context, our Lord's comments make far more sense as a reply, not to her, but to them. He is saying out loud what they think; and in doing so, also eliciting the woman's response. It's a masterful turn, because in the end, the Gentile woman, by her own words, demonstrates a better grasp on what Jesus wants than his own disciples.

Notice what Jesus says to her, in Matthew's account: "O woman, great is your faith!" Contrast that with what he said to Peter, just before (in Chapter 14), when the Apostles were in the boat: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

Someone might say, OK, that's Matthew; but is Mark presenting it the same way? To which I offer two responses: first, it's the same Jesus; but, second, I think if you look at the text of Mark, you'll find a similar theme, if not as pronounced.

Let's note, first of all, the so-called "Messianic Secret" in Mark. This is the curious way that Jesus tells people not to say anything about who he is -- i.e., keep it a "secret." Why does he do this? To keep people from misunderstanding just how he is the Messiah. The prevailing notion is a political Messiah, who will raise up an army and drive out the Romans. That's not who Jesus is. The Lord, however, is very willing to tell people he is the Messiah, once they understood it means he will conquer through suffering on the cross. See Mark 8, paralleling Matthew 16, where Peter proclaims Jesus "the Christ"; and then the Lord reveals to them that he will suffer and die.

Also, notice in Mark, as in Matthew, Jesus is reaching out to outsiders: lepers, women, and Gentiles. And he likewise is challenging the scribes and Pharisees about not over-emphasizing ritual purity. There's an encounter in Chapter 5 that's noteworthy: Jesus heals a man who lived in the "territory of the Gerasenes," and also who also "lived among the tombs." This is a double-whammy: this was a Gentile area; and the man lived among tombs: that's ritually unclean. Can you imagine the reaction of the Apostles as Jesus drags them there? It's very clear: it says "they came..."--he brought them along.

In fact, it's a triple-whammy, because the man also had "an unclean spirit."

This passage is so striking once you look at it. The man sees him from a distance, but doesn't keep his distance as anyone, frankly, might wish; he runs to Jesus and falls at his feet.

Next in Mark is a woman with a hemorrhage. This is yet another example of ritual impurity. Then a dead child; another impurity. Doesn't it seem curious that the Lord just "happens" to run into all these ritually unclean people? What must the Apostles be thinking?

And this continues after this encounter with the Syrophoenician woman: Jesus is back in the Decapolis area -- a Gentile area -- and there he performs healings, and even multiplies the loaves for the four thousand.

All this and more besides makes abundantly clear that the Lord has no issue with bringing healing and salvation to Gentiles. After all, it plainly says he went to the region of Tyre -- a Gentile area! Who did he suppose he would meet there?

Here's one more thing to help understand this passage, particularly the seemingly sharp way Jesus speaks to the woman.

What we see here is a fairly common literary device, if you will, in Scripture. Instead of God being the one to speak the truth, God so guides the discussion that he elicits the "right answer" from the human being to whom he's speaking. If you look back at the experience of Moses and God's People in the wilderness, you see this many times. Here's an example:

Then the LORD said to Moses: Go down at once because your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted corruptly. They have quickly turned aside from the way I commanded them, making for themselves a molten calf and bowing down to it, sacrificing to it and crying out, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” 

I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are, continued the LORD to Moses. Let me alone, then, that my anger may burn against them to consume them. Then I will make of you a great nation.

But Moses implored the LORD, his God, saying, “Why, O LORD, should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a strong hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent he brought them out, that he might kill them in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning wrath; change your mind about punishing your people.

Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, and how you swore to them by your own self, saying,g ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky; and all this land that I promised, I will give your descendants as their perpetual heritage.’” So the LORD changed his mind about the punishment he had threatened to inflict on his people (Exodus 32:7-14).

Now, it could be that God actually needed Moses to explain all this to him; but what do you think? Doesn't it make much more sense that God sees value in eliciting from Moses these words of mercy? Can you see how this becomes a real epiphany for him? Moses, after all, would from time to time complain to God about these very people -- and it was God who told him Moses to be a father to them. In this instance, God turns it around; and by doing so, draws out Moses' faith.

Jesus does the same thing -- in this case, drawing out the woman's faith, and in the process, rebuking the disciples' lack of faith.

Arguing that Jesus looks down on this woman forces you to suppose the Lord has some sort of multiple-personality disorder. It makes more sense to see this is a way Jesus draws both the woman and the Apostles to deeper faith.

Note: I want to give due credit to Father Tim Schehr, who explained all this to us in my classes at Mount Saint Mary Seminary. But if anything's amiss here, that's on me.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The old man talks to the kids after school

A couple of our kids came by the parish office just now; and the conversation found it's way, as oft is true with old people talking to young people, to how things were "back in the day."

I offered to show the girls what the computer I used in college looked like. Here it is:

FYI, this is a Royal #10, circa 1914. Note the beveled glass panels! And I wasn't kidding. I used one of these all through high school and college. I didn't get a PC at work until 1985, and I remember how much memory it boasted of: a whopping 40 megabytes! Windows had just become available for IBM-style PCs.

And here's what our phone looked like -- a Western Electric Model 500, circa 1960:

In Cincinnati, the "phone company" was in charge of everything: the actual telephone service (local and long-distance), the wiring and the phone set. You didn't own the phone; Cincinnati Bell did; we paid to lease the equipment; and if something went wrong, they'd come and fix it. I still remember what a big deal "call waiting" and "call forwarding" were.

I also asked them, do you know what the first cell phones were called? "Cellular phones!" they answered, astutely! (These are bright girls!)

But not astutely enough. "Nope, I said; we called them car phones."

Here's a particularly stylish example:

The girls were very polite and didn't roll their eyes. At least, not around me.

Various projects...

So what am I up to?

I've been working on a few projects today.

1) My admirable predecessor had created some handy confession handouts for the various grades, that we use when we bring the kids over -- from the government school, hah! -- for the sacrament. I've been tweaking his good work, reflecting my own way of doing things.

2) This morning, I spent some time reworking and updating the article I wrote in 2011 about "same sex marriage" and the related questions of what the Catholic Faith teaches about same-sex behavior, and related questions. Then I passed out copies of my draft to several staff members for their comments.

3) I'm planning to have at least one, and maybe two, seminarians in the parish for the summer. To that end, I've been trying to determine just how much work we may have for them -- will it be enough? They won't be paid just to sort paper clips.

In between a few phone calls, emails, visits, papers to sign; I have some mail to go through and I should start thinking about Sunday's homily. I have other items I simply don't want to think about at the moment; nothing bad, just tedious. And in the spaces between, I've been looking things up online, and catching up on some reading. (Keeping up on current events helps my homilies, I think. What do you think?)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The farce of 'gay marriage'

As the U.S. Supreme Court appears poised to cram a redefinition of marriage into the Constitution and down the nation's collective throat, it seems a good time to dust off a post I wrote 3-and-a-half years ago. It still reads well.

A side-point: it's fascinating to see all this happening with the approving roars of so-called "progressives"; who we can be sure will, a day earlier or later, just as full-throatedly denounce the Supreme Court as a fascist threat to our freedom. Well, which is it, progressives?

A thought occurred to me: perhaps we should propose a new amendment to the Constitution that would do the following:

a) Abolish Congress.
b) Make membership in the U.S. Supreme Court elected rather than appointed.
c) Sort membership in the High Court into two sub-courts: one in which members are chosen by state; the other by population.
d) Increase the total size of the U.S. Supreme Court to 100 state representatives and 435 population-representatives.

No, I'm not serious; because Congress is hardly more trustworthy with our liberties. And an astute observer might have noticed that I, too, will alternate between denouncing the High Court and applauding it. The difference between me and so-called "progressives" is that if I had my way, almost no ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court would matter to almost anyone at all. It's the great expansion of government's size and reach that creates the very threat the progressives inconsistently complain about; when it turns on them, they can blame no one but themselves.

Okay, back to the immediate question: the likely, imminent new coercion from the U.S. Supreme Court.*

I think it's pretty important for those of us who want to be Catholic and be in sync with the Faith to gird ourselves. It's going to be very difficult.

Once the High Court so rules, then all of us who disagree become bigots. The accusation is pretty promiscuously spread around even now. It will become a tidal wave. That viewpoint will become standard; expect it to be written into textbooks. Your children in school will be told, they are bigots if they believe that marriage is only man-woman.

Raise your hands if you like being called a bigot?

Gird yourself. The natural thing to do in this instance is to trim. A lot of people will bend. It has always been thus. Prepare to be discouraged. Prepare to be shocked.

But be patient; and keep your hope in Jesus Christ, not in anything else.

Because this move is utterly incoherent, it's incoherence will become manifest as we go forward. What happens if you take the lug-nuts off your wheels? The wheels come off; and the wheels will come off of this newly minted notion of "marriage" and "family" that has been cobbled together by our preening politicians and jurists.

Will it be wrong to enjoy the spectacle -- surely not too many years away -- as the polyamorists line up for their day in court? What do you think?

I don't mean to make light of this. It's not good. But I do very much mean to heap scorn on the notion that this is either some sort of enlightened moment or blow struck for justice; or that it has any inevitability about it. It is a farce; a very harmful farce; but a farce nonetheless.

* I have some--not much--hope that the High Court will draw back from the abyss. My hope is founded on something real: the unpredictability of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Jesus heals (Sunday homily)

What do we make of the healings Jesus performs?

There are so many episodes in the Gospels, 
showing our Lord healing someone, and even raising the dead. 
What do we make of that?

First: do we believe it? 

A lot of folks just dismiss the Gospels as “just stories.” 
But here’s the thing: Matthew and Mark’s Gospels 
were probably written about 30-35 years 
after the events they describe; and Matthew’s Gospel, at least, 
was shared immediately around the area where the things took place.

So here’s a thought-experiment. 
Suppose someone wrote a book about events that happened in Ohio, 
in the year 1980 – that’s 35 years ago. 

And suppose that book claimed thousands and thousands of people 
in Cincinnati, Dayton, Columbus, Sidney, 
and lots of small towns in between, 
had all been healed of various diseases; 
some were raised from the dead, including children. 
And most of it happened out in public, with huge crowds.

Now, of course, lots of us know 
none of those things happened back in 1980. 
We were here; we would have seen it. 

My point is that the Gospel writers 
would have faced the exact same scrutiny – and also mockery – 
if their stories were just made up.

What’s more, if they’d simply left the miracles out, 
there’s still all that Jesus taught. 
Embellishing that teaching with made-up miracle stories 
is kind of foolish, isn’t it?

It occurred to me that the miracles in the Gospels 
force us to decide, don’t they? 
If they were just books of wise sayings, 
we could add them to our shelf, and check it from time to time. 

But when you have these accounts of healings, multiplied food, 
demons cast out, and people rising from the dead, 
there’s no middle ground;
we either have to embrace the Gospels, or else toss them aside. 
The miracles force us to decide: do we believe?

Then there’s a follow-up question: 
If Jesus did it then, does he do it today?

I believe he does. There are many accounts of miracles – 
and I mean careful accounts, things that are examined closely. 

When the Church is trying to determine if someone is a saint, 
one of the tests is to see if anyone has received a miracle 
in response to asking that saint to pray for him or her. 
When a miracle is verified – in fact, two miracles – 
then someone can be acclaimed as a saint. 
And all this information is published.

Many of these miracles are indeed healings. 
A woman in Costa Rica was cured of a fatal brain aneurysm 
through the intercession of Pope John Paul II. 
A man at death’s door with tuberculosis, which is a lung disease, 
was healed through the intercession of Saint Bernadette. 

In fact, there are many other sorts of miracles
That the Lord continues to perform in our midst.

I read a story yesterday about a woman 
who lived 13 years on nothing but the Eucharist. 
No other food, and no water. 

There is the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in Mexico City. 
It is on a cloth that should have dissolved long ago; 
yet the image is still on display almost 500 years later. 

And, of course, we have a sacrament that is about healing. 
I mean, of course, the sacrament of anointing. 
Many people think of this simply as Last Rites. 
But in fact, the anointing can be received 
any time we are facing a dangerous health situation. 

Do people get healed? Certainly they do. Is it miraculous? 
There are too many stories that can’t be explained any other way;
But we have to admit, in other cases, 
the person might have gotten well anyway.  

Now we come to a really hard question.
What about those who pray and pray for healing;
They are anointed, they try everything – and yet they aren’t healed.

That is to say, their bodies aren’t healed. 
There is another healing that this sacrament gives, 
and that is spiritual healing. 
That’s because Jesus Christ himself is present in that anointing, 
just as he was in Simon Peter’s home.

I have seen many people who experience great peace, 
tremendous courage, and a kind of reorientation to their lives. 
And that healing often radiates out, 
and into the lives of those gathered around – 
which is one reason why I always encourage people 
who are going to be anointed
to have their family come as well. 

After all, what is “healing,” really? It’s being made whole. 
When Jesus comes into our lives, 
when we know he’s present in the troubles we face, 
that is healing. 

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

The latest on 50 Shades of Grey

A statement from the Archdiocese, with my interlinear commentary:

Dear Father,

The movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, is scheduled to debut in theaters across America on February 13, 2015. Note well: on the eve of...Saint Valentine's Day. This is a particular sacrilege. Some will say, don't give it attention, you'll just magnify the interest. From what I gather, the trailer has gotten wide viewing already. Neither this statement by the Archbishop, nor my highlighting of it, is going to add anything to this film's publicity.

The story line is presented as a romance; however, the underlying theme is that bondage, dominance, and sadomasochism are normal and pleasurable. No doubt they can be pleasurable. Two points worth making here. First, that we can learn to enjoy something we would have found detestable otherwise. Not just in matters of appetite; but consider how people can become inured to evil, such as guards in concentration camps. Second, the fact that something is pleasurable doesn't make it something to pursue. There's a particularly charming song I wish I could forget hearing, featuring the line, "you and me ain't but mammals..." Think just a bit about the full implications of that. 

In the story line, a young Miss Steele is urged to sign a contract becoming a sex slave and agreeing to an abusive and degrading relationship. This movie is in direct contrast to the Christian message of God’s design for self-giving and self-sacrificing love, marriage and sexual intimacy. What the Archbishop says here is correct, but something implicit here needs to be made very clear. This is not limited to the "Christian message"--it's revealed in nature, and grasped by all people of good will and right reason. Stop and think about this. Marriage was not invented by the Church; either God "invented" it, or else humanity discovered it on its own. Men and women weren't sitting around, wondering what to do, until Christian missionaries showed up and explained marriage to them.

Marriage, in any and every culture, is either a sacrificial, self-giving, mutual partnership, or else it inevitably becomes exploitative and coercive; or else it fails. I.e., the truth about marriage is not limited to Christian revelation.

The movie is a direct assault on Christian marriage and on the moral and spiritual strength of God’s people. Amen! We need to inform our people about the destructive message of this movie and to highlight the beauty of God’s design for loving relationships between a husband and wife in the bond of marriage.

-- Most Reverend Dennis M. Schnurr
    Archbishop of Cincinnati

OK, what follows are my words, not the Archbishop's. This movie is filth; it is evil. I'm sure it's pretty, and has lots of fine production values, yadda-yadda. I can think of no excuse for anyone to buy a ticket to it; or, for that matter, to buy the book. It is also intensely degrading, particularly toward women. The jaw-dropping ironies abound: the author of the book is a woman; and the book has been gobbled up by a lot of women. Meanwhile, we have lots of so-called advocates of women's rights who have nothing but energy to demand the right to kill unborn girls through abortion; but their silence about this smut is, as the saying goes, deafening.

Update, circa 5:45 pm...

I forgot about one of the more notable ironies, which I saw in the Wikipedia article (I know--but I checked the source, it seems legit.): "The Fifty Shades trilogy was developed from a Twilight fan fiction series originally titled Master of the Universe and published episodically on fan-fiction websites under the pen name 'Snowqueen's Icedragon.'"

Isn't that rich? This was the result of someone drinking deeply (and then wallowing about in) the woman-degrading nincompoopery of the Twilight series. Half this country is women (and I'd guess the viewership of the Twilight films--excepting dragged-along dates--was about 85% women). If feminists wanted to strike a blow for women, shaming and boycotting that sorry excuse for a series of movies would have been a useful thing. I confess I watched the first one--on TV!--just to see what the thing was about. It didn't take me long before I was rooting for the vampires and werewolves either to eat that idiot girl Bella, or else just walk away in disgust. The notion that they would all fight each other--over her!...defies description.

Thank you, Archbishop, for speaking out.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Prophets, devils, and making a difference (Sunday homily)

The readings give us an opportunity to talk about what a prophet is.

In the first reading, when Moses says a “prophet” 
would come after him, this doesn’t refer only to one person, but many. 

Look all through the Old Testament: 
you will find one figure after another 
to whom God gave the gifts and inspiration necessary 
for them to lead his people forward. 

Now, there are a couple of things to notice about all those figures. 
First, they didn’t all make good use of the gifts God gave them. 
One of the really tragic figures is Samson. 
He was given spiritual gifts, 
wisdom, and physical strength, which he squandered.
Or there is King David, who also made terrible mistakes,
but also great repentance.

Of course, all these Old Testament figures 
anticipate the final prophet and king, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Notice the Gospel showing us something 
you never saw anywhere before in Scripture. 
None of the Old Testament prophets 
ever exercised authority over demons. 

Only Jesus Christ does this. 
It’s a powerful sign that he is, of course, 
more than just a prophet, but God himself, become man.

After Jesus comes, something else changes. 
There are no more prophets.

Instead, the Lord calls the Apostles; 
and they are the foundation of the Church.
They go out in his name and – notice – 
in his name they have authority over evil. 
And to this day, this is something the Church has.

I’m not just talking about exorcism, 
which the film industry finds so fascinating. 

Baptism, among other things, is an exorcism—
casting out evil as the Holy Spirit comes to dwell. 

When we use holy water, that’s a prayer against evil. 
And recall what we pray after each Mass: 
asking Saint Michael to cast down “Satan, and all evil spirits.” 

This shows us who we are, as Christians, in the world. 
When Moses spoke to the people, 
he spoke about “a” prophet in their midst. 
But the Church, as one body, 
is a prophetic – and priestly – and kingly – people. 
Every one of us has a share in that. We’re a mighty force! 

We’re tempted to think we don’t make enough of a difference. 
On one level, that’s true, 
because so many Christians don’t realize who they are. 
We don’t live in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

And of course, we know that too often it is Christians 
Who are actually helping the enemy gain ground. 
When our legislators and judges endorse abortion, 
or redefining marriage, or torture, or political corruption, 
most of them are Christians. 
Or we might think of crimes of bloodshed in so many places, 
committed by Christians, or helped by the indifference of Christians. 

Now, we know about these things, and we react in different ways. 
We may be shocked. Or angry. Or filled with sorrow. 
That’s all good. 

But if we feel overpowered, or if we want to give up, fight that feeling!
That’s the enemy’s wish: that we forget the power Jesus gave to us.

So whether we face opposition for doing what is right, 
or we are tempted to give up, 
I think the right response is what Jesus says in the Gospel: 
Shut up, devil, and get out of the way!

God didn’t give us the power of the Holy Spirit to be passive,
but to make a difference. 

So this is a good time to mention the Archbishop’s letter, 
which we all received, asking our help again 
with the Catholic Ministry Appeal

And this a good time to pass down the aisle the pledge forms 
and the pencils at the end of each pew.

As you know, there are six major projects this funds, 
and they are all good causes:

1. Catholic Social Services, helping people in practical ways 
when their backs are against the wall, whether it’s groceries, paying a utility bill, 
or providing family counseling. 

2. Catholic chaplain programs at secular universities, in hospitals, and in prisons. 

3. The pension for our retired priests. 
This is a problem especially because we have many priests retiring, 
especially in the next few years, 
but not enough new priests in the pipeline. 
Which leads to the next item:

4. Our seminary and our vocations programs. 
Twenty years ago, I would not have asked you 
to support our seminary. It needed to change. 
Today it’s very different, and I think worthy of our support. 
I personally send several checks to the seminary every year. 
Happily, it has more seminarians than in years’ past; 
but that means they need more money.

5. Saint Rita’s School for the Deaf. The need speaks for itself.

6. The newest inclusion is the “New Evangelization” office. 
Do you know those books that we pass out every Christmas – 
that many have found very helpful? This paid for those. 
And this supports a growing effort to help marriages; 
we had a group who just completed a “Marriage Works” program, 
and many have told me it was very valuable to them. 

If you look on the top right, you’ll see that 
for four of the six projects, 
you can designate all your money to go to one of them. 
You do that by marking the appropriate box, 
and making your check as payable to that cause. 

This is what I do—I write my check to 
Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary of the West. 
You may prefer one of the others, 
or just giving to the fund as a whole.

If you want to use your credit card, 
you mark the boxes on the upper left, and fill in your card number. 
You can also do an electronic transfer, 
but you need to attach a voided check.

On the lower left side is where you write in your name and address. 
But don’t forget to write in Saint Remy at the top! 

And then, on the lower right, is where you indicate 
the amount of your pledge, to be paid over time.
And, of course, if you’re going to write a check, 
you can do that now, and insert that in the envelope.

While you finish that up, let me offer a closing thought. 
Every one of us hopes to make a difference in this world. 
But that only happens when we turn that hope into some sort of action. 
Sometimes it’s prayer and fasting; sometimes it’s speaking out; 
and sometimes, like today, it’s making a decision 
to help pay for good work being done in our name.