Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday fish fry

OK, I have pictures this time!

The seminarian is with his family, so I'm cooking dinner for myself. I had some catfish fillets in the freezer, and this time, I remembered to get them out in time (barely -- I had to set them on the counter for about an hour, and they were still icy when I started cooking).

I started with a beaten egg, with a generous amount of Frank's Red Hot added. (Not enough, it turns out; not nearly enough!) And beside it? You can't make it out, but that's white corn meal, with some black pepper added. (The coffee is there for tomorrow.)

I dredged the fillets in the egg mixture; then doused them with garlic powder, before dredging them in the corn meal.

Meanwhile, I put some bacon fat in the skillet and got it bubbling. When I had the fish ready, they went into the hot fat -- but not before I sprinkled them with some paprika, just for color.

I cooked them till a light brown. At one point, I added some more fat. (That dark blotch on one fillet is a bit of the bacon that was still in the fat. It should taste great!)

Here are the finished fillets. I think I could have cooked them a bit more, but I can't stand overcooked fish. Fish is one item I tend not to get just right; either over- or undercooked.

Here's the complete meal, with some leftover noodles, and some broccoli salad the seminarian's dad made; he heard I liked it! Plus a bit of white wine, also leftover.


Pretty good! Indeed, I think the catfish could have taken a slight more time in the fat; but when reheated, it will be just right. The noodles -- which turned out to have some chicken and mushroom in them -- were good, and the salad -- with bacon and egg! -- very good!

"But Father! But Father!"(TM) I can imagine you saying: "After properly having fish, you ruin the penitential purpose of the meal with all that meat!"

Well, first, I think bacon fat doesn't count, although I will accept correction on this point. Yet I concede the meat in the other items does. So what's my defense?

In my experience, leftovers need to be eaten up fairly quickly. Those noodles have been in the fridge for...a few days. The salad, not so much, but it's what I had. Also, I had a brief window in which to fix dinner, and this was quick. I just finished a wedding rehearsal at 6:30 pm; and I am visiting a prayer group in the parish at 7:30 pm (hence the modest amount of wine).

Current discipline calls for us to elect our own penances. Not that there's anything wrong with these leftovers, but -- leftovers are a kind of penance. Perhaps I am rationalizing?

Belated dinner reports...

Remember a couple of weeks ago, I posted about teaching the seminarian how to make meatloaf?Well, part two came on Monday: it was his turn to fix dinner. He got the recipe from me, and using what he'd learned from me, he prepared meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and corn on the cob.


He did a good job! He made the meatloaf somewhat differently, but it was good. Fewer seasonings, less onion, but more tomato flavor. The potatoes were the way I make them--somewhat lumpy.

Then on Wednesday, I came up with something rather tasty. Here's what I did:

I started with a bunch of chicken thighs--a pack of ten. I rinsed them off, and then dredged them in a mixture of:

White flour, black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder and paprika. (I know what you're thinking: how much of each? I think it was about 2/3 cup of flour, and I was liberal with the black pepper and garlic, less so with the red pepper. Do it to your taste.)

Then I heated up some olive oil in the fry pan; and when it it was hot, I browned the thighs on both sides. I didn't intend to cook them through.

Meanwhile, I chopped up a medium onion and mixed that in with two or so cups of Arborio rice -- although I think any rice would do; that's what I had on hand, and it's what I use for risotto. I had some chicken stock in the freezer (at least, I think it was chicken stock; whatever it was, I saved it because it was delicious); so I got that out, thawed it in the microwave, and dumped that on the rice-and-onion mixture.

About this point, I realized all ten chicken thighs weren't going to fit in the one pan I was working with. No problem; I got out another pan, chopped up another onion, and added that to some rice in the second pan. But I'd used all the saved chicken stock; so I had some vegetable broth in the cupboard, and used that. I confess I don't know how much I added; I'd say, add at least a cup of liquid to the rice, or even more; it'll all soak up. (In retrospect, I think more would have worked.) Then, I arranged the chicken thighs on the rice, and salted the whole thing, as well as adding even more garlic. (I think garlic goes really well with chicken, what do you think?)  I also poured some of the oil from the pan over it all, so as not to lose the flavors in the pan.

I used a couple of large, Corning Ware casserole dishes, and covered them; then into the oven at 350 degrees for about an hour. A failure on my part to time things exactly led me to realize I couldn't eat the chicken when I intended; so after an hour or so, I turned down the oven to 200 degrees, to keep everything hot.


It was good! For whatever reason, I liked it even better when I had the leftovers last night.

Some things I would do differently:

> Add more liquid; chicken stock would be best; the rice was good, but a little crunchy.
> Use more red pepper and salt;
> Add parsley and chopped celery to the rice (I intended to use parsley and just forgot). Carrots could be good too, but chopped small.
> Maybe add butter, or, if I had it, some schmaltz, but who has that?

With this, we had some fresh green beans, which the seminarian cooked with boiling water, and with some butter and salt. They were delicious!

Oh, and some dry white wine. I don't remember what it was--not Chardonny. I have a wine club membership; it was something I pulled out of the fridge.

Any thoughts or suggestions?

P.S. Sorry I didn't post these reports as they happened. I'll try to do better! (And include photos!)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What does our Faith say about homosexuality?

(This is two recent articles from the parish bulletin)

To be honest, this isn’t something we talk about a lot. I’ve seldom addressed this in a homily, for several reasons. It’s a big subject, sometimes too big to be handled well in a Sunday sermon. And it’s a delicate issue and some parents may be uncomfortable.

Well, now we have to talk about it; and I did to some degree on Sunday. Let me say some more here. To reiterate: we believe the gift of sexual intimacy is for marriage only; and by marriage, I mean a man and a woman.

But to amplify my point, let me turn that around: we believe the gift of marriage is man+woman, because sex, by its nature, is man+woman. That is to say, God created sex for marriage as much as he created marriage for sex. This is key, because failing to get this helps explain our present mess. Our society redefined sex first, then marriage. It redefined sex by changing it from being about self-gift, commitment for life, because it’s also about children. The whole point of the “Sexual Revolution” in the last century was to toss all that aside and turn sex into an expression of self, with children a separate thought.

Let’s drill into this question of what sex really is (as opposed to what our society claims it is).

Scripture says we are made in God’s image and likeness. Think about that: just what does that mean? How are we God’s “image”? Well, consider that God is the Creator. We humans are distinct from all creation in our imitation of his creativity. We write, we make music, we build things. A builder can erect whole cities—but he must use pre-existing materials, while God creates ex nihilo—out of nothing. A writer or filmmaker can spin whole worlds in her head or on paper, or on film, but that’s as real as they can ever be. Only God can truly create.

And yet…there is but one breathtaking moment, and only one, when we ascend the divine heights and very nearly approximate what, otherwise, only God can do: create something out of nothing: and that moment is when a man and a woman, in their act of love, create a new life. The couple does it with God’s help, of course—that’s why we are called pro-creators.

Can you see how everything the Church teaches on sex and reproduction follows from this insight? This is why contraception is wrong, and in vitro fertilization, as well as any sexual expression apart from man+woman, in marriage. In these and other ways, we are another Prometheus: God gave us the privilege of participating in his divine work; we take the privilege as if it were our property, and show God the door.

Recall how people claim we hate sex or think it’s dirty or sinful. See how absurd that is? We treat sex the way we treat Mass and the sacraments; it’s because of how holy and awesome they are, that we have rules and boundaries. Like Holy Mass, sex is an encounter with the divine. We approach with reverence.

Last week, I explained the core understanding we have about sex: by its nature it’s man+woman; and the clearest indication of that by its nature, it gives life. Sexual intimacy is where our vocation as “image of God” is truly realized in a concrete and powerful way.

Let’s notice something here: the power God gave us in the gift of sexuality is tremendous. One proof of that is to see how much harm is caused when we misuse it. So many terrible problems in our society—poverty, personal problems, anger, crime and social distress—are a direct consequence of sex without love, and adults conceiving children they don’t stay to raise.

So, yes, we have a lot of rules; we have good reason to. But only one says “no” to same-sex behavior. We aren’t “picking on” gays. What Jesus asks of gay people is what he asks of everyone: chastity, which means the right use of sex in marriage, and abstinence from sex outside of marriage.

Now, in our materialistic setting, that sounds absurd: no sex? That’s impossible! It’s too much to ask. It’s certainly difficult. But Jesus often asks very difficult things of us. Remember, he said: “Unless you take up your cross and follow me, you can be my disciple.”

Let’s come at this another way. Look at all the heterosexual couples in our society. They aren’t told, no sex. So they have it so much easier, right? I talk to lots of people, and they share their trials. The pain of unhappy marriages they can’t seem to fix; the sufferings of seeing a spouse or a child in deep pain or trouble; the high demands of raising children, both emotionally and financially.

Someone might say, yes, but there are so many joys in these things too; and that’s true. And there are great joys in living chastely and purely. We don’t need to have sex to be happy.

I’ve asked myself a question you may ask: why didn’t God just say what contemporary society wants him to say: have sex all you want, just don’t hurt people? After much thought, my answer is two-fold. First, sex isn’t about self; it’s about gift. And second, it only has meaning if it is understood to be about giving life (even if that doesn’t happen every time). To say it another way: sex is such a powerful thing that it has to be self-emptying and sacrificial, or else it would destroy us. That’s why it has to be about father plus mother, bringing a child. That keeps it from becoming just what our society is turning it into: selfish, hedonistic, egotistical and a power trip.

Let me say something very hard, but true.

Two men or two women can try to achieve what male-female intimacy aims for, but it’s impossible: because there can never be the fruitfulness of a child. And let’s be candid: many get this; so they rush to adopt, or else to use technology to approximate this fruitfulness. But a same-sex couple needs an outsider to do it. Their “union” can never be “one flesh”; it can never bear a child. And that really does change everything – which is why, when heterosexuals exclude the gift of life, they commit a grave sin against God’s plan.

The Church cannot give approval to sex outside male-female intimacy because she cannot consent to deception; even if our entire culture is happy to lie all day long. And our culture is lying about the meaning of sex. The Church is being damned because we refuse to join the chorus.

What about injustice to gays?

At some point we have to acknowledge: people too often are treated badly—by Christians—because they are different. It’s better than it was when I was a boy, but it still happens. Some of that was embodied in law and other aspects of society. Without defending cruelty or bigotry, I want to encourage younger folks to realize that law and social structures of the past were aiming at reinforcing the centrality of family life, headed by a mother and father. That’s still a valid purpose, but in our times we want to find ways to do it, without unfairness. It’s easy to fault generations past; but I think we will soon find out that it’s a hard balance.

This all helps explain, I think, a lot of the anger and hurt that comes into these discussions.

And I think many people who were so eager to back a redefinition of marriage did so out of a recognition of (and maybe bad conscience about) past injustices. Without agreeing with their wrong solution—redefining marriage—let’s acknowledge those injustices, and reiterate what the Church teaches, that contempt, hatred and violence against gay people is gravely sinful.

So what’s my place in God’s Plan?

The only real happiness anyone can have in life is to find the vocation God has for you. Many times we find the road we aimed for is blocked to us, closed forever; and we are heart-broken. People seek marriage, and their marriage shipwrecks. They long for children and can’t have them. They wish they could marry, but for various reasons (not just same-sex feelings), they can’t. They aim for a career, and an accident or war injury wrecks those plans. Why, Jesus, why? Sometimes, only in the sacred precincts of our heart, where Jesus speaks, do we find the answer. He gives us a cross; we take it, and as hard as it is, we discover we are walking by his side.

The long arm of the EU...

Today, I noticed this on the "dashboard" of my blog -- i.e., what I see when I am writing a post:

European Union laws require you to give European Union visitors information about cookies used on your blog. In many cases, these laws also require you to obtain consent. 

As a courtesy, we have added a notice on your blog to explain Google's use of certain Blogger and Google cookies, including use of Google Analytics and AdSense cookies.

You are responsible for confirming this notice actually works for your blog, and that it displays. If you employ other cookies, for example by adding third party features, this notice may not work for you. Learn more about this notice and your responsibilities.

Isn't that interesting? The European Union is telling me how to run my blog, eh?

What happens if I don't obey?

Not that I object to you knowing about the "cookies" that Google and Blogger use. But I don't know that I like being bossed around by the EU.

What is the Mass? (Sunday homily)

As I promised, over the next five Sundays, 
I’m going to be looking closely at the Holy Mass. 
Each week, we’ll look at part of the Mass; 
so this week, we start at the very beginning.

In fact, let’s start before the beginning, and ask: 
what, exactly, is the Mass?
Well, let’s be clear what the Holy Mass is not…

The Mass is not the same as 
what most of our fellow Christians do on Sunday. 
I’m not in any way diminishing their devotion to Jesus. 
We Catholics can learn a thing or two 
from our Protestant and Evangelical brothers and sisters 
about their love for Scripture, their zeal, 
and how deeply converted many of them are. 

Nevertheless, what happens in the Holy Mass is unique. 
When the Protestant movement began, 
with Martin Luther and John Calvin, 
there was a decisive rejection of the Mass 
as Catholics and Orthodox Christians understand it – 
along with the priesthood. 

Now, with some Protestant churches, this is obvious; 
but if you go to an Episcopal, Lutheran or Methodist church, 
it can seem very similar. 
And someone who belongs to that church may even say, 
see, it’s all the same. 
As I go through the Mass the next few weeks, 
it’ll be clear that there is a fundamental difference. 

Also, the Mass is not something we do for God. 
Yes, it’s true that we come out of love and gratitude, 
and this is a duty we owe to God. 

But my point is, the Mass is far more about what God does for us, 
than what we do for God. 
God does not benefit from the Mass in any way. 
On the contrary, the Mass is costly to God! 
God gives himself in the most total, sacrificial way, in the Holy Mass.

Nor is the Mass something we do for each other. 
You will find, when you visit many parishes, 
the idea that Mass should be about making us feel better. 
It should be about “community.”
The music should be what we like; 
the priest should be engaging; it should be fun.

Sorry, but no. 
If those things happen, that’s a bonus. 
My goal is Jesus’ goal—to get you to heaven. 
At any moment, what helps get you there may feel good; 
or it may feel bad. 

This may surprise you, but Holy Mass is work. 
When I’ve offered three Masses on Sunday, I’m tired. 
Not that I’m complaining. It’s the most wonderful work. 
But Mass demands a lot from me, 
and I don’t just mean in a physical way. It demands my all. 

And if there’s one thing Vatican II tried to emphasize, 
it was that every baptized Catholic 
should approach Mass the exact same way. 

So you are not a spectator. I came to work; I hope you did too! 
Our work is to join in this prayer; not just with our words, 
but with our all. 
Jesus puts everything of himself into the Holy Mass, 
and he asks the same of us.

So what is the Mass? It is what God does to save us. 
It is Jesus offering himself for us. 
The Mass is Jesus; we not only meet him at the Cross 
and in the Resurrection, 
but we hear him foreshadowed in the readings; 
we hear him speak in the Gospel. 

The Mass is where Jesus invites us to join his saving work. 
Jesus pleads for sinners here; 
and he expects us to plead for each other. 

The whole drama of human salvation is played out here! 
Every soul, past, present and future, is on the line. 
What will become of the world? Of our nation? 
What about the harvest? My health? My family, my friends? 
So many people in the world are suffering, what about them? 
Can the world be saved? 

It’s all on the altar at Holy Mass.

Last week there was a fire across the street. 
I hope we’re all praying for, and reaching out to,
the folks at the Russia Inn. 
Fire departments from all around came to put out that fire, 
and they prevented it from spreading. 
But that wasn’t a foregone conclusion. 
What if they hadn’t shown up?

The world is on fire. Souls are on the line. 
Yes, Jesus can handle it himself. But he has chosen to involve us. 
He tells us: Join me in saving the world. 
Take up your cross and come with me.

You and I are God’s fire brigade, to care for the world.

In the sacristy, there is a motto on the wall: 
Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass, 
your last Mass, and your only Mass. 
I charge you to have the exact same mindset as you take part in Mass.

So now, let’s at least look at the beginning of Mass. 
And let me use the older form of the Mass 
to explain the opening prayers. 

In the Traditional Latin Mass, 
the priest begins at the foot of the altar. 
He and the server will pray about going “up to the altar.” 
Notice there are seven steps. Four there, three here. 
There was always the understanding that we go up to the altar, 
just as Jesus went up to Mount Calvary. 
But first the priest and the server pray the Confiteor—
“I confess to almighty God.”

In the new form of Mass, we still do this. 
This is not a substitute for going to confession. 
It actually presupposes that we do go to confession. 
The Mass is for sinners. 

Then we pray the Gloria. 
This is the prayer of sinners who have been redeemed. 
When God’s People made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, 
they would sing psalms that told of God’s victory and his salvation. 
That’s what the Gloria is. 

I could do a whole homily just on the Gloria—
but let me note a few things. 
It summarizes who Jesus is. 

It starts with the prayer of the Christmas angels. 
But then we are speaking to Jesus: 
“You take away the sins of the world, 
have mercy on us…receive our prayer.” 
Where did Jesus do that? On the Cross. 
Then it says, “You are seated at the right hand of the Father”—
that’s where he is now: “have mercy on us”—
we’re still asking him to plead for us. 

Remember my opening question, what’s the Mass?
That’s what the Mass is.

“You alone are the Holy One,” we say: 
there is no other who can save the world. 

When we do these things at the beginning of Mass, 
all this is preparation. We’re climbing up to the altar of God. 
Next week, we’ll look at the next part, 
where we sit down, like Jesus had the people sit on the grass, 
to be fed. 
We hear the Word of God, 
before we climb further, to Calvary. 

* I dropped this line after the 5 pm Mass. It's not false to say the Mass is "about community"; the problem lies in how we understand the Mass forming community. It is Jesus Christ who forms the community. The erroneous mindset I've encountered is that we form the community.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Serious Scripture Work at Franciscan

My third day at Franciscan University of Steubenville is winding down, and I can give an enthusiastic endorsement to the Applied Biblical Studies Conference. Most of the attendees are laity, but many clergy are here. Of the laity, I sense that a lot are not "church professionals," but fired-up faithful. So this mix presents a challenge for the organizers; if it is too scholarly, a lot of the laity might stay away; if, however, it's pitched too much to non-professional laity, the clergy might not come. I'd say they strike a good balance.

So what scholars are here? Well, as I write, Scott Hahn is introducing Edward Sri; earlier, we heard from Lawrence Feingold, Michael Barber, Matt Leonard, Brant Pitri, Taylor Marshall,and Jeffrey Morrow. These folks are associated with the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theolgy and the Sacred Page website. This is good stuff.

Well, here is Dr. Sri, so I'll post this...

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

With God's Holy People in Steubenville

This week, I am attending a conference on Scripture at Franciscan University in Steubenville; two conferences, actually. Yesterday and today, I'm attending a "Journey Through Scripture" conference, which is really intended as an introduction to the Bible; then, beginning tonight, we have several days digging into Philippians. So, since the JTS program involved just an extra day, I figured I would check it out. 

There are several tracks: one on prayer, one on Mary, and others; I'm attending "the Bible and the Mass." How is it? Very good, although much is familiar. I think I am the only priest here, unless one of the brothers is undercover. Most of the folks seem to be active parishioners and some are catechists. The goal of this program is to equip laypeople to lead these bible studies in their parishes. At this point, I can give an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Good shepherds, good sheep (Sunday homily)

The readings give us a chance to reflect 
on what it means to be a shepherd.

As Catholics, we have four shepherds. 
Each parish has a pastor; our diocese has a bishop, 
and over the worldwide Church, we have Pope Francis. 
And over all that, of course, is the Lord himself. 

A lot of folks think this was a human scheme, but that’s not true. 
It was Jesus himself who chose Peter and the Apostles; 
and both Scripture and Tradition tell us that it was the Apostles 
who began appointing bishops, priests and deacons 
everywhere they went. 

Being a bishop, let alone pope, is a tough job – 
the world is full of people 
who are sure they know how they should do their job.

And sometimes am I one of them! I’ve got my suggestions. 
The pope hasn’t called yet, but if he ever does…! 
I do occasionally send the Archbishop a letter. 
He always replies politely. Once in a while, he likes my idea.

Quoting again from Canon Law, it says this about the bishops: 
“Bishops, who by divine institution succeed to the place of the Apostles 
through the Holy Spirit who has been given to them, 
are constituted pastors in the Church, 
so that they are teachers of doctrine, 
priests of sacred worship, and ministers of governance” (375).

Let’s look closer at those three tasks. 
Archbishop Schnurr is a “teacher of doctrine.” 
This is why he issued a statement recently 
about the Supreme Court decision on marriage. 
And you may remember when he took the step last year 
to spell out in more detail 
what was expected of teachers in Catholic schools. 

He is also a “priest of sacred worship.” 
While you don’t hear about this often, 
I know from direct experience 
how has given support to better practices, 
and given correction as necessary. 

And, third, he is a “minister of governance.” 
This may be where bishops take the most criticism. 

A lot of what the Archdiocese does is invisible to most of us. 
Sometimes it seems bureaucratic and tedious—and, it is. 
But it’s the same for me in this parish. 
I sit at my desk for hours every week. 
It calls to mind when I was a boy, seeing my father, 
sitting at his desk most evenings. 
He was keeping the books of his business; 
he was paying bills; he was managing the household. 

So, for example, 
Archbishop Schnurr has launched a “One Faith” initiative 
to generate increased support 
for several of the ministries of the Archdiocese. 
Every parish is being asked to take part, including us. 
You’ll be reading and hearing about this over the next few weeks. 

At some point, someone may ask you to help as a volunteer, 
you’ll be given a chance to hear the details of what the needs are; 
and then eventually, everyone will be asked 
to contribute as best you can. 
This isn’t the most popular thing the Archbishop does, 
but it is part of his responsibility as a father and a shepherd.

With all this reflection on what a shepherd does, 
we might pause to consider what the flock is supposed to do. 
How can we help our shepherds?

Well, you have certainly helped me. 
In my year here, I’ve been so happy, in great measure, 
because of how committed you are to our parish and our Faith. 
Thank you. 

And while I know you don’t hear it from the Archbishop that often, 
he has told me that he appreciates this parish, 
and this part of the diocese. 
He grew up in a farming community, 
and he loves to come up north when he can. 

The shepherd leads, and the flock follows. 
It’s not easy for him; and often, we don’t always understand. 
We might ask the Holy Spirit both to help our pope and bishops 
to live up to their calling; 
and to help us to be the ready helpers they need.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Teaching the seminarian how to cook

We have two seminarians from Saint Remy Parish, one of whom is working for the parish this summer, and living at the rectory. Among the things we planned do this summer is have some meals together -- and that I would teach him a few things about cooking. So tonight it was meatloaf.

(Sorry, no pictures, but I was focused on giving instruction.)

Meatloaf is pretty easy, and versatile -- you can tinker it with a lot of ways, tailoring it to your taste. Me? I don't have any steady recipe, but mom always used the recipe off the Quaker Oats box, and what do you know? It's available online! But I made a few adjustments: I added more onion, as well as some Parmesan cheese, and I seasoned it with some red pepper, garlic, and a little worcestershire sauce. Then I topped it all with some more of the tomato sauce, plus some Dijon mustard, which I love.

So, I had the seminarian chop the onions, while I got the other ingredients together; then I showed him how I mixed it all together, and how I put it in the Corning Ware dishes. I doubled the recipe: one for tonight and leftovers; one for the freezer.

While I put all that in the oven, I had him pick out some potatoes and scrub them and slice off any ugly parts. After waiting a bit, we put them on to boil. They got finished earlier than I expected, while the meat loaf took a little longer than planned (it's an old oven--the temperature regulator may be off). I showed him how to see if the potatoes were ready: my way is to stick them with a fork, and if they slide off, they're ready. Then I showed him how I make mashed potatoes. (Sorry, this recipe is going to be pretty rough!)

We started with six or seven red potatoes; I chopped them up with the hand mixer, then added almost a stick of butter, plus maybe two tablespoons of heavy cream, plus a generous amount of salt and pepper. All that we mixed up; I prefer to let the potatoes be a little lumpy, rather than have them turn to glue. It's not the most refined way to make mashed potatoes, but they were pretty tasty.

Well, the meat loaf wasn't ready yet, so I stuck the potatoes, still in the pan, into the oven with the cover to keep them warm. When the meat was ready, I pulled them out, and poured off the excess fat. Meanwhile, I had some frozen vegetables in the micro, and heated them up.

I know, it's all pretty simple. But that was the point. As we sat down to eat, I offered the seminarian a suggestion: "if you want, you can prepare this same meal in a couple of weeks." Of course, I'll help him; but learning to cook includes actually trying your hand.

How was it? He thought it had too much onion, I thought, not enough. I wish I'd put more of the tomato sauce on it, and more mustard. Otherwise, pretty good! The potatoes were pretty tasty.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

How the world sees us, and how God sees us (Sunday homily)

These are good readings for us to hear today! 
For us, trying to be a good Catholic, 
facing temptation, facing pressure of time, 
facing demands of work and family, worried about money…

These are good readings.

For those who wonder, why do we bother? 
Why keep all these rules? What’s the point?

These are good readings.

If you’re bothered by having to stand up for your Christian beliefs, 
having to explain them, afraid of what people will say…

These are good words from the Word of God.

We can make this simple, before we dig in.

The first reading, from the prophet Amos? 
That shows us how the world around us sees us, and often reacts: 
Get out of here, visionary! We don’t want you. 
Keep your “Word of God” to yourself!

And the second reading? That’s how God sees us. 
God has blessed us in Christ, filled us with wisdom and grace, 
lavished riches on us, and predestined us for glory!

So when you and I face our Amos moment, 
when we’re told to keep our Jesus, our morality, 
our faith to ourselves, and go somewhere else? 
Then you remember what Saint Paul told you in the second reading.

God planned for this moment—and every moment. 
God planned for you to exist. 
The Father planned for his Son to become human, 
and live and die and rise for us. 

God planned for the Church. 
Notice he called the Apostles and sent them. 
They didn’t apply for the job, 
they didn’t necessarily know what they were to do; God knew. 
The Apostles were chosen. And you were chosen.

God was thinking about you, and about me, when he created the world! 
Everyone who has ever lived, or ever will—
including everyone whose life in this world is very brief—
God planned for.

And what is the fullness, the climax, of God’s plan? 
You might say, it’s Jesus. But that’s only partly true. 
The fullness of the plan is Jesus…plus you! 
Plus me, plus us, plus everyone who is called.

When I met with folks last summer, 
many of you talked about our beautiful church. 
Notice how many images there are of saints. 
Saint Anthony in the back, 
Saint John the Baptist by the baptismal font, 
Along both walls, and across the front.

But do you know what’s wrong?
There aren’t enough! Not nearly enough.

The reason we decorate our churches with saints—
and you will sometimes find churches that seem crowded with saints—
is because we are trying to depict what Saint Paul is describing:
All the people, in all the ages, 
who have been purchased by the blood of the Lamb! 
Who have received the inheritance, who are united with Jesus Christ, 
alive in him, transformed by him, 
God’s possession, the praise of his glory!

That is the fullness of God’s Plan; 
we become all that God’s grace can bring us to be. 

Now, when Paul says God has planned everything, 
it doesn’t mean God plans all choices. We aren’t puppets on a string. 
What it does mean, however, is that nothing ever surprises God. 
We can reject God’s help in our own lives, 
but we can’t stop God from bringing about 
the transformation of the world. 
The train keeps moving, whether we get on, or stay off.

Let me also make a point about God’s grace. What is grace? 

Grace is God’s help to eternal life—
to the destiny that Saint Paul describes. 
Grace is all the uncountable ways 
we are nudged or steered toward what is good 
and away from what is evil. 

When mom says, eat your vegetables, you may not believe it, 
but that’s grace. God is working through mom to give you life. 
And when that voice in your heart says, “go to confession,” 
or “stay sober tonight,” 
or “maybe it’s time to sign off the computer,” that’s grace. 

And, although Saint Paul didn’t put it this way, 
you and I live in a world in which we are surrounded by grace. 
That’s what it means to say, 
God’s Plan brings everything toward Christ and our salvation.

So if you ever get afraid, and worry, remember: 
you live in a universe of grace! 
As a fish swims in the ocean, 
you and I are surrounded by God’s grace!

And there’s more! 
You know the saying about leading a horse to water? 
You can’t make him drink, right? That’s free will. 
God never makes us drink, 
but he’ll try to lead us there—that’s what we call “actual grace”—
grace that helps. 

And if we drink, what we drink is also grace. 
That’s the grace that changes us. We call that “sanctifying grace”: 
grace that saves; grace that transforms. That makes us saints. 
We get that grace mainly through the sacraments, 
but sometimes other ways as well.

When I say these things, I have found them to be true.
I have known those nudges; God has pushed and prodded me—
it wasn’t always welcome, sometimes I was angry, 
sometimes I just laughed—
but God was leading this horse to water.

And I can tell you, there were years—before I was a priest—
when I didn’t receive the Eucharist, 
because I was away from the Church.
And there were times I received the Eucharist conscious of sin;
When I approached the sacraments without much faith.

And I can tell you, going to confession, 
and shedding those baubles we pretend are treasure,
and then coming to receive Jesus—
that’s when you get a foretaste of what Paul described.
There is power to change in the sacraments.
They have changed me; they are changing me.

At the conference I attended this week 
on the sacrament of confession, 
one of the speakers said something that stunned me. 
God told Catherine of Siena, 
that if she saw a saint in glory, as that saint really is, 
Catherine would be tempted to worship that saint, 
because she’d think the saint was God himself.

That’s our destiny. And I don’t mean one of many,
and that’s the first-class option. 
Sainthood—union with God in heaven—is our only hope. 
The alternative is too horrible to contemplate. 
Glory is what God has for us; the alternative is hell. 
It’s a long, uphill climb, but it’s worth it, because of what we will be.

Do we think about this inheritance enough? 
This is why it is essential to have time and quiet every day 
to be with God in prayer. 

The life of the sacraments—meaning, a life of real conversion—
Is what transforms us into godlike vessels of glory, 
which is what a saint is. 

Everything Paul described is, as it were, “contained” in the sacraments. 
This is a poor image, but sort of like when we take a vitamin pill. 
We say, this has all my vitamin A, my vitamin C. 
The sacraments, when we receive them worthily, 
contain all the life we need.

Jesus sent out the Apostles on a tough mission. 
They would be treated the same as Amos of old, and far worse. 
They would have to sacrifice everything, eventually their very lives. 
But it was worth it! They were on the path to life, 
and they were to bring along as many as possible!

What will you—what will I—lay down for this life? 
What will we throw down, at the foot of the altar, 
in exchange for this life? 
Will we run to confession, eager to cast away our cherished sins, 
so that we can be made ready for this life? 
What can this world possibly offer you or me 
to compare with Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A Dominican, a Jesuit and a Diocesan priest walk into a Hotel

I'm in Baltimore for a conference for priests, on how to be a better confessor. It's run by the Thomist Institute, and this is the fourth year. Solid speakers so far, solid content. Several hundred priests from all over.

We are having Holy Mass and prayers in the Basilica in Baltimore, which could be called our country's mother church, as Baltimore is the mother diocese. We had two talks today. The first addressed pride and humility in the priest -- because the virtues and vices of the priest are reflected in his parish. Father had a nice image of confession as an encounter with Christ's Passion that I want to return to. The second speaker developed nicely the idea of presenting friendship with Christ as the goal for the faithful. And he made me want to re read Pope St. John Paul II's Veritatis Splendor.

So--a good start!

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Powerless with God (Sunday homily)

The readings have something in common: powerlessness.

The prophet Ezekiel in the first reading 
is powerless to change the hearts of his countrymen; 
Saint Paul is powerless over his “thorn in the flesh,” 
whatever that might have been. 
And even our Lord Jesus—who is King and Lord—
seems to be powerless to awaken faith in the hearts of his hometown.

The Gospel says: “he was not able to perform any mighty deed there,
apart from curing a few sick people by laying his hands on them.”

Why was Jesus “not able”? It goes on to say:
“He was amazed at their lack of faith.”

Of course Jesus could have cured anyone he wanted. 
But Jesus did not come merely to give out physical healings. 
He came to awaken faith. And not everyone wants faith.

This brought to mind the complicated story of the Old Testament. 
Although this is an over-simplification, 
the Old Testament shows God, in effect, trying everything.

He scattered them from the city of Babel. 
Noah built the ark of safety while God sent a flood. 
He called Abraham to a fresh start in a new land and worked with him. 
When God rescued his people from slavery, 
he showed them signs of power and deliverance. 
He gave them a land where they had what they needed. 
When that didn’t work, he sent them into exile. 
Finally, the Father sent his Son.

People wonder: why doesn’t God just give us a sign—and we’ll believe. 
But he has, over and over. 
Not just in the Bible, but in all the centuries since.

If, today, the sky opened up, and God showed himself to the world, 
and spoke with thunder and lightning, telling us he exists and what he wanted…

And if Fox and CNN all broadcast it live—the whole world saw it—
what do you think would happen?

Things would change…for a while. 
But before long, it would all be back where it was.

So in a sense, God really is powerless, 
because he refuses to do the one thing he’d have to do: 
and that is to coerce our free will.

None of us wants to be powerless. It’s one of the worst things. 
Your children go the wrong way—and you can’t stop it. 
You suddenly feel a pain, and you don’t know what it is, 
or how to deal with it. 
You go to the doctor, and she doesn’t have an answer. 
You’re out of work, and you don’t know when you’ll get another job. 
You keep making the same bad decisions – about alcohol, 
or about relationships, or about the Internet or drugs – over and over.

Right now, a lot of us are feeling powerless 
over the direction of our country and our world. 
We recall in history 
how President Roosevelt declared war on the Axis Powers, 
and our parents and grandparents dug in and won the war, 
and saved the world from fascism. 
We fought a long Cold War, and saw the Berlin Wall come down. 
But now, we wonder if we ever see the defeat of Jihadist terrorists? 

Meanwhile, we’re hurt—and a lot of us are angry—
to see our government and our culture 
turning against God’s plan for marriage and family; 
we see our society going down a road to ruin—
and we wonder if we can do anything to stop it. 
It’s awful to feel powerless.

Where does this bring us? To the Cross!

Recall what happened when Jesus told Peter and the Apostles 
about his impending death. 
He said he would go to Jerusalem, suffer and die. 
And Peter said, “God forbid, Lord! 
No such thing shall ever happen to you.”

Do you remember what happened next? 
Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! 
You are an obstacle to me. 
You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

Why did the Lord react so harshly? 
Because Peter – without knowing it – was offering a temptation. 
A temptation to power. 

Our nation is often tempted to use power—more money, 
throw our weight around more, more war. 
In our own lives, what do we do? 
We raise our voices; we threaten; we bully. 
We use violence. We cut corners. How’s it working?

We have a really hard time accepting 
God’s plan of the Cross, rather than power. 

When Jesus was arrested, what happened? 
The Apostles scattered, and Peter denied he knew Jesus. 
Later, when the Apostles shared the message, 
what happened when they mentioned the crucifixion? 
Here’s Saint Paul’s answer, in his first letter to the Corinthians: 
“Christ crucified [is] a stumbling block to Jews 
and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, 
Jews and Greeks alike, 
Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

In the situations you and I face, whether it’s the world around us, 
our country, our family or the battle for our own soul, 
I have no other answer to give you, but this.

The first of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says this: 
“We admitted to ourselves that we were powerless over our addiction—
our lives had become manageable.”

The second: “We came to believe 
that only a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

And the third: “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives 
over the care of God as we understood him.”

Or to quote Saint Paul one more time: 
“the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, 
and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

There’s only one place I can point you, 
only one remedy anyone can offer. 
We make our way to the Cross and we fall to our knees. 
“Jesus, I am powerless over my sins! 
Jesus, I am powerless over my family. 
I am powerless over what my government is doing. 
Over what is happening in our world. My finances! 
The Internet! My health! I don’t know what to do!”

Get close to the crucified Jesus—in confession—in prayer—
in the Eucharist. That’s what we do.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

God & guns & exploding things & a cookout

My celebration of Independence Day began yesterday with a picnic at a parishioner's house. I'd been there many times over the years, back to when I was in Piqua; the family was a member of Saint Mary's then; now members of Saint Remy. It's always a great time, with lots of families, lots of children. The couple who hosts are very gracious.

I got there around 4 -- dad was just getting the gear together for some target shooting. Several other dads were there as well. Did I want to go along? Sure! I'm all for gun rights, but I don't own a gun myself; I am too absent-minded. I fired off a few rounds with several handguns, and then tried my hand with a semi-auto. At one point, I was holding the rifle for another fellow, and I thought--what a picture! Then I decided, no, probably better there's no picture...

One of the gentleman had some sort of powder -- not gunpowder -- that if you mixed it up, and put it in a plastic jar, you can shoot it and make it explode. We did that a couple of times. A very loud bang and puff of colored smoke. And for all you city folks who think this is terrible, everything was done very safely; and besides, the Founding Fathers would have heartily approved, let there be no doubt.

After that, back to the house (we were way away from the house, firing at targets set against a mound of dirt; the nearest house was probably a mile away) for dinner. The priest said grace, that's my one job here. While I don't think the hosts make a special effort of it, almost everyone seemed to be Catholic. We all talked a lot about matters of faith, and what was happening in our parishes. 

I didn't stay for the fireworks as usual; I was rather tired, so I headed home before it got dark. 

That was yesterday.

Today, before morning Mass, we had a "Patriotic Rosary," which means it included special prayers for our country. My homily emphasized the need we have to pray for our country, even while we celebrate it; God has blessed us, but there are things in our history, and our present, that God does not bless, and we pray that our country will turn back to God. After Mass, we had our usual, First Saturday Litany to our Lady. Then, after Mass, the prolife group had coffee and donuts. We had a nearly full church for Mass.

Now I have errands to run, and I hope I come up with some sort of homily before confessions and Mass this evening.