Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The nuptial meaning of the Eucharist; the eucharistic meaning of marriage (Sunday homily)

Note: this homily, with some adjustments, was given at a Mass marking a couple's 25 years of marriage, as well as the First Communion Mass.

This week I was reading an article entitled, 
The Cosmic and Eucharistic Meaning of the Openness to Life.” 
That’s a mouthful! But the point it made is fairly straightforward. 

That there is a likeness between God’s plan for creation – 
how he made people and families – and God’s plan for salvation – 
how he came to be with us, and he died on the cross, 
and he gives himself to us in the Holy Mass and the Eucharist.

In the second reading, from the Book of Revelation, 
we heard about a “new heaven and a new earth,” and in that new creation, 
there is a city; but it’s also called “ bride,” 
prepared and “adorned for her husband.”

Think about any weddings you have been to. 
The bride is always beautifully adorned. 
The groom is usually standing up front, and in the back, the doors open, and wow! 

I’m usually standing near the groom, 
and I can usually get a good view of both the groom’s face, as he sees his bride, 
and the bride’s face as well. It’s a wonderful moment.

So this city, that’s also a bride, who is that? In fact, that is us. 
Jesus many times called himself the “Bridegroom” – 
and the bride he came for is us. We are his Church; we are the one he loves.

A man who seeks a bride has to do many things. 
He has to focus all his attention on her. 
He’s not going to win his lady if he doesn’t treat her as the most important thing. 
And he, himself, has to be the best he can be. 
Perhaps I’m old fashioned in this, and maybe things have changed, but – 
before I was a priest, when I was still thinking about marriage, 
if I asked a girl out, I dressed up. I put my best foot forward.

When a groom wins his bride – when she says “yes, I’ll marry you,” 
the groom has to be ready: he has to be able to provide for her; 
they have to have a home together. 
After they are married, they begin a new life. 
And everything that belonged to the groom, he gives and shares with his beloved.

The point is, all this is what Jesus has done for us. 
Has Jesus given us his best? Has he given us his all? How do we know?

You see, this is why we have the Cross. And it’s why we have the Eucharist. 
If ever we wonder, does Jesus really love us? Really? How can I be sure? 
Look at the Cross. He did that for only one reason – to win his people; to win us.

And, as if that were not enough, he gives us a constant reminder. 
He gives us his Body as often as we want in the Holy Eucharist.

There are some parallels here I want to hint at, 
but for delicacy’s sake, not spell out. 

But we know that the marriage of a man and a woman is ratified 
when they say “yes” to each other at the altar; 
yet there is a special moment that comes later. 
And I want you to notice that Jesus came, 
Jesus spoke to us, his beloved, many words; 
but the consummation of the marriage came when? On the cross. 
When he gave absolutely everything, holding nothing back. 
He poured himself out completely.

Husbands and wives can, and do, renew their covenant 
in a thousand different ways. 
And, if you don’t mind me saying so, it is a very foolish husband and wife 
who do not look for ways, day in and day out, to show each other, 
and tell each other, they love each other. 

I have many memories of my parents, but one I always treasure 
is the many times I saw my father come home from work, 
and my mom and dad would kiss and hug. 

Still, there is one special way that a husband and wife renew their covenant. 
It is God’s design; and what’s especially wonderful about this design 
is the wonderful gift that parents are sometimes given: and that is children!

It is a strange thing that something so basic 
that even a child can understand, should be forgotten, today, by so many. 
Namely, that married love, by its very nature, longs to bear fruit. 

Or, to put it in very basic terms, when you have a husband and a wife, 
the very nature of that relationship is that they want, and hope, to be, what? 
A father and a mother. A family. 

Not all are blessed with children, but when they are, 
and they see their own eyes and ears and nose, their body and blood – 
they know this is the best thing they have ever done, 
and nothing they will ever do will be more important, and more special. 
This is what the love God gave them – 
built into their hearts and bodies and souls – aimed for.

Notice, this design shows up in other ways. 
Some couples go and find a child to adopt, just as Jesus came to seek us out. 
When children grow up, the parents are still life-givers in other ways, 
with their grandchildren, their neighbors, everyone they meet. 
Not everyone marries; not everyone has children of their own; 
but every one of us has built into us a design to be a life-giver, 
which, if we choose, will be the most costly and thrilling thing we ever do 
with our lives: to be a man or a woman for others.

Isn’t that what priests and religious brothers and sisters do?

Jesus loves his Church. He gives himself totally to us; 
and we give ourselves entirely to Him. 
That love bears fruit. It is all of us. 

And just as spouses need a special way to renew their love, 
so we have that special way in the Holy Mass, and the Eucharist. 
Jesus gives us his Body and Blood. 

This is how you know I love you, he says. Not only because I tell you, 
but I show you. I give myself completely to you. 
I hold nothing back, Jesus tells us.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

How to hear the Shepherd's Voice (Sunday homily)

(What follows are notes. When I delivered this homily, I filled in a fair amount.)

How can we be sure the voice we are listening to is really Jesus’?

First, I want to make a distinction between the voices we hear from outside, and the voice we hear within. One aspect of that “voice within” is our conscience. We hear a lot about conscience, but let’s be clear. Our conscience can be deformed – if we silence it, if we torture our conscience by rationalizing wrong into right, and if we seek voices that will tell us what we want to hear.

So that makes it all the more important to know: what are the resources where we can be sure we’re hearing Jesus’ voice “from the outside”?

Let’s talk about the voices that are outside us, that we can be sure about:

- The Scriptures
- The teaching of the Church
- The way we pray as Catholics – meaning, the Mass, as well as devotions such as the Rosary, the Sacred Heart devotion, the Divine Mercy.
- The lives of the saints are the best commentary on the Gospels.

Let me call attention to what I didn’t cite:

- Blogs and websites where people are arguing and attacking and complaining.
- Angry groups that have agendas they want the Church to pursue.
- People who are pessimistic and worriers.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying any of these people are bad people, or that you shouldn’t be friends with them, or talk to them, or hear what they have to say. What I am saying is that all these points of view can only give us a part of the truth. And I do think that we can become a little “hardened” in our point of view.

And part of the reason why some of these voices can be a problem is that we take all that fury and worry into our own hearts and minds, and the noise from without is turned into noise within. I’ve told this story before, but I recall my mother – when she was a young woman during World War II – she came home from work, and her mother was frantic. “What’s wrong?” “There were seven ships sunk today – I heard it on the radio!” In fact, my grandmother had heard the same report, of one ship sunk, over and over, all day long. If we tune into those voices that are telling us how terrible things are, over and over, where will that leave us?

The world has trouble. We want to be well informed. But some people think they are supposed to carry the weight of the whole world’s troubles on their backs. Who says?

OK, now I want to talk more about the voice within, and how we hear that. Conscience is only part of that voice within. The most important voice we hear in our hearts is Jesus himself – and we can hear his voice within ourselves if we want to; but it seldom just comes out of the blue.

So how do we hear his voice in our hearts?

If I am sitting with you, and you are speaking – and if you are, let us say, soft-spoken, do you think I’m going to hear you very well, if:

- The windows and doors are open and there’s noise from outside
- The TV is on with a Reds game I’m keeping one eye on
- I have a computer or a phone in my hand, and I’m checking emails and writing texts.

If you want to hear Jesus speak to you, you’re going to have to close the door, turn off the TV, and shut off the technology. I don’t mean never use them; I mean, give yourself some real silence.

I realize for many, especially when you have children to care for, this can be hard. Do what you can. But I believe for many of us, it’s not that we can’t do it, as much as we don’t especially want to. We always find reasons to put it off.

But remember, we’re not just tuning into silence or gazing into an empty sky. Jesus is clear: he wants us to hear him. He is speaking! The great enemy of our conversation with Jesus is noise and distraction, not just from outside, but within our own hearts and minds. We need silence; if only for a few minutes

Saturday, April 16, 2016

'Hate speech' strikes Russia Ohio!

I'm shocked beyond words. I'm just going to post the pictures so you can see them for yourselves.

No doubt you've heard about the terrible incidents of "hate speech" erupting in so many places, particularly on college campuses in which...

I have to pause, I'm so full of emotion right now...

...in which the perpetrators use chalk -- on sidewalks!--to commit violence!

And now, it's happened here! In peaceful Russia, Ohio, right on the property of Saint Remy Church.

Here is the evidence; see for yourselves:

I know who the culprits are; they claim to be "pre-schoolers," but I'm sure it's just a ruse.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Pope Francis -- like Peter -- isn't perfect, yet Christ builds his Church (Sunday homily)

The readings have a lot to say about Peter, 
and on Friday, the successor of Peter, 
Pope Francis, issued a long-awaited document 
on questions of family life. 
So let’s talk about what Pope Francis said, and did not say. 
And let’s see what we can learn about his office as the Bishop of Rome 
and the successor of Saint Peter.

But I have to explain a lot of things, so this will take time. 
Some might think I’m going into too much detail; 
but lots of people really don’t understand these things. 
So it’s necessary to spell things out.

Three or so years ago, Pope Francis invited bishops 
from around the world to meet with him 
to discuss various questions about family life. 
They met for several weeks in the fall of 2014 and again in 2015. 
In the context of these meetings – and all that surrounded them – 
there were people raising very specific questions. 

What about people who are divorced and enter into new marriages? 
What about people who are living together, 
and perhaps have children, but are not married? 
What about people who are attracted to the same sex? 
And people were asking – including some prominent bishops – 
should the Church change her teaching, or her approach, 
to all these situations? 

And, of course, these questions were what got almost all the attention 
during the past two years, especially in the news media, 
that don’t really understand what the Catholic Church is, 
or what dogma is. 

They think it’s all up to the pope – he can do whatever he wants. 
And, of course, they are wrong.

One question in particular came up. 
What about people who now can’t receive Holy Communion at Mass 
because they are living in a situation that contradicts Church teaching? 
And very specifically, people who are divorced and have married again.

So let’s ask the question: 
why can’t some people receive communion at Mass? 
Why shouldn’t everyone come to communion whenever they wish?

The answer is found in what Saint Paul said. 
He explained that when we eat and drink 
the Body and Blood of the Lord, we must examine ourselves, 
to see if we are living as Jesus taught. 
If not, we have to repent and turn back to the Lord – 
which we do in the sacrament of confession. 

And Paul said something we cannot ignore: 
“whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily…
eats and drinks judgment on himself.” 

What Paul said applies to everyone, regarding all the commandments. 
If I am stealing at work, and I go to confession,
if I am not willing to change my ways, 
can the priest absolve me of my sins, 
when I admit that I’m going to continue stealing? 

The answer, of course, is no, he cannot. 
And the same is true if someone is violating any other commandment. 
We can always be forgiven, if we are willing to repent of the sin; 
and that means to turn from it.
Of course, there are special complications 
when we’re talking about a second marriage, we all understand that.

Nevertheless, what Jesus said about remarriage, 
in Matthew, chapter 19, could not be clearer. 
He said absolutely no to it.

Now, there’s a lot more that needs to be said, but time is limited. 

So all this is the focus, even as the Holy Father 
is trying to give attention to broader questions about the family. 
And now he issued a letter – which is lengthy, over 250 pages – 
that has a lot of things to say about God’s plan for the family, 
for marriage, for children, 
and about how important it is for the Church 
to help people prepare for marriage and to support them in marriage.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing, 
but I’ve been looking through it. 
It has beautiful and powerful things to say. 
The pope could not be clearer when he reaffirms Church teaching – 
Jesus Christ’s own teachings, I might add! – 
when it comes to all these issues.

So keep that in mind when you hear various media reports.
Contrary to what you may hear, 
the pope has completely reaffirmed 
what we believe about marriage being permanent, 
and being always open to the gift of life. 
And he was completely clear about marriage being a man and a woman, 
and he explained why.

Of course, folks who have an agenda will ignore all this. 
They want to look for something new. 
And they think they found it, 
when the pope emphasizes compassion, and understanding, 
of accompanying people who aren’t where God wants them to be. 
These are good things to say, but they aren’t new. 
Pope John Paul said the same, and so have many before him. 

You’re going to see that some people are criticizing Pope Francis 
for being less clear than he might have been. 
They are saying that the pope may have given people some loopholes 
to ignore what the Church teaches. 
And already, there are “progressive” folks looking those loopholes. 
So it may be that the pope, or someone else, 
will have to come back and clarify some things.

This is a good time to explain, again, 
just what we believe about the pope. 
He has many titles, but the one that matters most – 
in terms of Scripture – is that he is the successor to Peter. 

In the Scriptures, we see how Peter was at his best and at his worst. 
In the Book of Acts, he could not be bolder 
or more solid in standing up for what is right. 

Meanwhile, in the Gospel, we see the uncertain side of Peter. 
This episode comes a few days after Jesus’ resurrection. 
Peter is fishing again. Is it because he’s hungry; 
or is it because – after denying the Lord – he’s going backward in his life? 

And then Jesus asks him, three times, “Do you love me?”
In the Greek, the word for love Jesus uses is much stronger 
than the word Peter uses in response. 
It is as if Jesus said, Peter, 
do you love me completely, unreservedly and totally? 
And Peter said, I love you in the usual sort of way. 
When Jesus asks the third time, 
he uses the same word Peter did. 
What does this mean? 
I think it means this: that Jesus knows Peter’s frailty, 
but that won’t stop him, the Lord, from building his Church on Peter.

This pope, any pope, is just as frail and limited as Peter was. 
What we believe is not that the pope is a kind of divine oracle, 
and every word he speaks will be divine. 

In the letter that Pope Francis issued, as good as it is, 
even he acknowledged that he was not attempting 
to do anything but reiterate the Church’s constant teaching, 
and to propose some ways to be more effective in our times. 

Is it possible the pope didn’t get it exactly right? Of course it is. 
We believe that God will protect the pope from teaching error. 
That doesn’t mean we believe God will ensure 
that every decision of the pope will be perfect.

The other thing it might be good to remember 
is that what has changed the world isn’t Peter by himself, 
or any of his successors – whether Sylvester, or Leo, or Gregory, 
or Boniface or Clement or Celestine or Adrian or Pius 
or John or John Paul or Francis. 

It is Christ who acts, Christ who reigns. 
That’s what the Book of Revelation was written to convey 
to early Christians who faced perils we cannot imagine. 

If you are troubled by our times – and they are troubling! – 
remember the Book of Revelation. 
It was written to reassure Christians in bad times.

Pray for the pope. Listen to the pope. 
Read what he said; I certainly shall. 
He is calling us to support people and help them 
find the purpose of their life in Jesus Christ. 
That sounds exactly right to me. 

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Divine Mercy especially happens in confession (Sunday homily)

Today has become known as “Divine Mercy Sunday,” which is a recent tradition: 
it was only a few years ago that Pope Saint John Paul II gave it that name, 
inspired as he was by the message of Divine Mercy 
which Saint Faustina Kawalska received from Jesus himself in the 1920s and 30s.

And the thing that stands out from the Gospel, which connects to Divine Mercy, 
is what the Lord Jesus said to the Apostles about forgiving sins. 
This is an opportunity to go back and look at something 
in the Gospel we heard on Holy Thursday, that ties into this.

On Holy Thursday, the Gospel reading describes 
Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. 
And we know that on the same evening, he instituted the Holy Eucharist, 
and said to the Apostles, “Do this in memory of me.”

What you may not realize is the deeper meaning of Jesus washing their feet. 
And I want to say that some of the details I will share 
come from two Biblical scholars, John Bergsma and Brant Pitre. 

The foot washing is an echo of the ordination ritual 
which the priests of the Old Testament took part in; 
they were washed before they became priests, 
and they washed their hands and feet before they entered the sanctuary. 
Also on that same occasion, when Peter resisted having his feet washed, 
Jesus said, “you will have no part” or portion with me. 
This too harks back to what God said of the Levites, 
the priests of the Old Testament – 
that their “portion,” or inheritance, was the Lord himself.

So, understand that when Jesus was with the Apostles on Holy Thursday, 
this was – to use a modern term – their “ordination.” 
On that occasion, they became priests of Jesus Christ, his new priesthood.

Now we come back to today’s Gospel, which happens only three days later, 
in the same place, with all the same people, except for Judas the betrayer, 
and Thomas, who is absent. 
And Jesus “breathes on them,” 
and gives them the authority and power to forgive sins in his name. 
In other words, what we call the sacrament of reconciliation, or confession.

Now, the image of Jesus “breathing” on them is very vivid. 
And, honestly, it might seem a little odd. 
It may well have seemed so when it happened. 

It makes me think of when the Archbishop consecrates the sacred chrism 
during Holy Week, which is used for baptisms, confirmations and ordinations. 
There is a point when the bishop leans over the container of oil, and breathes on it.

It also recalls another moment, which happens at every Mass. 
When the priest is at the altar, and he takes the bread and the wine, 
what does he do?
He leans over, and speaks the words of Christ “to” the bread and the wine. 

All this recalls the Book of Genesis, 
when God created the world through the Spirit, 
by “speaking” it into existence: “Let there be light,” God said, and there was. 
But when Jesus breathes on the Apostles, this is not the beginning of Creation, 
but the beginning of the redemption of all Creation.

So let’s not underestimate the power at work in the sacrament of confession. 
When the priest is at the altar,
 and he speaks the words of Christ over the bread and wine, what happens? 
It becomes Jesus’ own Body and Blood. We kneel and we adore. 
We are filled with wonder and love, and we push all doubt out of our minds: 
yes, that truly is Jesus!

So what about when we hear the words of absolution, in confession? 
Sometimes people wonder, oh, were all my sins forgiven? 
Does God really forgive? 
You just heard the priest say it: ALL your sins are forgiven.* All of them! 
Why doubt that is true? 
To doubt that you are forgiven is like doubting that the Eucharist really is Jesus. 
It’s the same power, the same Lord.

Just as Jesus said to Thomas, he says to us: do not be unbelieving, but believe!

Now, what makes the sacrament of confession most effective is two things: 
First, we have to make frequent use of it. I think monthly is a good rule of thumb; 
but that’s a “rule of thumb.” It’s not my place to say anyone “must” go that often. 

That said, if you don’t see much fruit of the sacrament in your life, 
maybe take advantage of it more often.

And the second thing that makes this sacrament fruitful is a good follow up. 
I often say in the confessional that the best thing to do, after leaving, 
is to ask the Holy Spirit’s help in writing a spiritual to-do list. It’s not that hard. 
If we have been treating our family badly, or neglecting our spouse, 
or been lazy at work, 
or spending too much time with the wrong sorts of things on the Internet, 
or drinking too much—whatever it is, there’s your spiritual to-do list.

But when we have a very general resolution, 
have you noticed, nothing much comes of that? 
“Someday I’ll start getting up earlier.” It’ll never happen! 
We have to make very specific resolutions. “Tomorrow,” or, 
“Today, I’m going to stop cursing.”

In addition to a resolution, make a plan. If you’re going to go on a diet, 
you make a plan. If you’re going to learn Spanish, you make a plan.

If it’s too hard to get started – I know what that feels like! – 
then do what I’ve done many times over the years. 
Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the motivation. 
Just say, “Holy Spirit, help me to…” and fill in whatever it is. 
Pray that prayer every day, even several times a day. 
The Apostles needed Jesus to breathe the Holy Spirit on them, and so do we!

* OK, this is embarrassing...After the third time I delivered this homily, I realized I'd made a mistake. The words of absolution do not, actually, include the word "all," as in, "all your sins"! How could I make such a mistake? Because the "all" is clearly implied; and I have many, many times in confession made this very point. That said, in the last time I gave this homily, I had to clarify this, and I will do so in the parish bulletin.