Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jesus is speaking directly to you, right now (Sunday homily)

Notice what we just heard: Jesus went up a mountain; 
he sat down; and he began to teach. 
In these actions Jesus is showing himself to be the new Moses. 
Moses went up the mountain, he received the Law of God, 
and then he gave it to the people.

But here is a difference: 
Jesus does not receive anything on the mountain, 
because he already has it – because he is more than Moses. 
Moses received the Law from God. Jesus is God! 
That’s why Moses would say, “Thus says the Lord,” 
while Jesus simply says, “I say”!

This moment on the mountain is what Moses and the Prophets 
and God’s People all looked forward to.
And you and I are there with them, hearing Jesus speak to us.
He is speaking directly to each one of us.

So what matters here, right now,
 isn’t what Father Fox or anyone else says about this passage, 
but what Jesus says, to you and me, to our very hearts.

What is Jesus asking of you? 
How does your life measure up to these commandments of the New Law?

These words are like an examination of conscience for each one of us. 
Jesus tells us: this is what my Kingdom is like. 
Do you want to be part of my Kingdom? 
Or, to put it another way, do you want to go to heaven? 

Yes, Lord, we do, of course we do! 
This is how. These beatitudes – these ways of being – 
define what it means to be heavenly, to be citizens of heaven. 

If you and I want to be in heaven, live this way, now. 
Be these things, and you will fit into heaven; 
Ignore them, leave them aside, and heaven will be alien to you. 
You won’t go there, because you won't want to go there; 
It will be an alien place where you will be in torment.

These beatitudes define what it is to be happy in heaven – 
and it starts by living these laws here and now. 

“Poor in spirit” means living as one 
who is radically dependent on God, and knows it. 
Is that who I am? Is that how you and I live each day? Each hour?
Is each day “my” day? Or is it God’s?

Who does God ask me to mourn for? How far does my concern reach?
To put it another way: am I accepting my task, each day, 
of being my brother’s keeper? 
And do I know that every man and woman, without exception, 
is my brother and sister?

Am I meek, or am I proud? 
The proud inherit nothing – they have no share in the Kingdom to come.

Many of us live strongly by the hungers and thirsts 
we feel hour by hour – for food, for recognition, 
for entertainment, for getting our own way, for pleasure. 
We go to great lengths to satisfy these hungers, 
sometimes in shameful ways. 

Jesus says, hunger rather for righteousness. For justice. 
And not just for myself, but for my neighbor. 
Especially, above all, for the neighbor who looks different, 
acts suspiciously, isn’t welcome and is easy to condemn. 

What justice is owed to the stranger, the foreigner, the lawbreaker? 
Do I hunger and thirst that justice be done for them, too? 
Do I thirst enough for it to speak up when no one else will?

The merciful will be shown mercy, measure for measure. 
If I give only a thimbleful of mercy to others, 
that’s all I will get from God; 
but a good measure, pressed down, running over? 
What I give, will be given to me. 

Who will receive mercy from me – not because they deserve it, 
but simply because Jesus commands it? 
Will I work for my nation to be merciful, 
foreswearing torture and the death penalty, 
not for the sake of the one who deserves punishment, 
but for the sake of Christ, who asks it of me?

“Blessed are the clean of heart.”
Will I banish from my words, from my heart, from my entertainment, 
my computer, my phone, all that is not clean, so that I may see God? 
Teach us, Lord, to see each person, as made in your image; 
to see you, God, in every man and every woman, born and unborn.

What price will you and I pay for peace? 
Not only in faraway places, but at our jobs, in our homes, 
in our families? 
What words will I swallow, what pride will I set aside, 
How many extra miles will I walk, to bring peace?

Jesus has spoken to each of us today. 
He claims you and me as his own. 
How do we respond?
What are you, what am I, willing to let go of, 
to throw away and be rid of forever, 
to be empty of, so that we may be filled up with his word? 
To become those children of God 
whom Jesus calls “blessed, blessed, blessed”?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Being Christ's light: here are 3 ways (Sunday homily)

Every year at this time the Archdiocese kicks off 
its annual Catholic Ministries Appeal. 
The Archbishop sends out a recorded message, 
and invites pastors to play it at Mass. 
While I’m happy to help the Archbishop, 
playing a recording can be a little awkward, 
and sometimes, hard to hear. 

So what I’ve done in the past is to incorporate 
as much of the Archbishop’s homily into my own. 

The readings we heard today emphasize light and darkness – 
and the invitation for us is 
“both to follow the light and to be the light.”

“The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light.” 
This sentence from the Book of Isaiah in today’s first reading 
refers to a light much more profound than any torch or lamp. 

As the Archbishop explains, this passage, 
“Written more than eight centuries before Christ…
comes from a section of Isaiah 
known as the Immanuel Prophecies. 
In these twelve chapters the prophet of Israel looks ahead 
to a savior who will free His people 
from the yoke of oppression and bring great joy. 
The Church, beginning in the New Testament itself, 
has always seen the Immanuel Prophecies as applying to Jesus.” 
St. Matthew obviously makes that connection by quoting Isaiah.

We might recall what Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount – 
speaking to all who follow him: 
“You are the light of the world . . . 
your light must shine before others, 
that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” 
So the light is not Jesus alone, 
but Jesus with his mystical Body – all of us. 
Christ is light in us, and each of us bears that light to the world. 

Think about that: there are a lot of implications in that. 
If I am bearing the light of Christ, what makes it burn brighter? 
What will nourish that flame – and what dims it?

And, to quote the Archbishop again: 
“Who can doubt that our increasingly secular world today 
desperately needs that light? 
In the face of poverty, crime, addiction, ignorance, despair, violence, 
discrimination, and injustices of all kinds, 
we are all called to be disciples making disciples. 

“Tens of thousands of you throughout the Archdiocese 
do that every day by giving generously of your time and talent 
as volunteers in schools, parishes, athletic programs, 
hospitals, prisons, and other areas of need. 
This is both discipleship in action – letting your light shine – 
and good stewardship of God’s gracious gifts.”

Going beyond what the Archbishop said, there are two particular ways 
that task of being Christ’s light might stand out to us at this moment. 

Today is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, 
the 1973 Supreme Court decision that imposed abortion on demand 
on our country. 

On Friday, hundreds of thousands of Americans 
of all ages and backgrounds will go to Washington 
to bear witness to the urgency to protect all human life; 
including many from our area. 

Many more will take part in prayer vigils and gatherings 
around the country. 
There is a prayer vigil in Sidney on Sunday evening at 7 pm, 
at the courthouse, for example.

As important as this is, this task of light-bearing 
is needed every day, everywhere we go. 
One very powerful way you and I can be light and hope 
is to support and help to women who are facing difficult situations, 
to avoid making a terrible choice. 

Moreover, nothing is more Christ-like than when you and I 
wrap our arms lovingly around those who make this decision, 
and help them find God’s mercy and healing. 

If you know anyone bearing this burden, please tell them:
God’s mercy is without measure! 
Of course the sacrament of confession 
gives us this mercy from the source.
But also tell hurting people about Project Rachel,
Which exists to bring healing to wounded women and families. 

There’s another way our role as being light stands out today, 
and it’s in the context of a new president and a new chapter 
for our country. 

It’s our duty to give voice to values of human dignity, for all people. 
Important decisions will be made in the months ahead. 
Don’t be a spectator; it’s your task and mine 
to bring the word of God and the ways of God into those decisions.

By ourselves, each of us is limited, 
and perhaps you think you haven’t much to offer; 
you don’t have the time. 

This is where the Catholic Ministries Appeal is so powerful. 
It is the combined impact of hundreds of thousands of Catholics 
in 19 counties of the Archdiocese – that’s a mighty force! 

Let’s recall what the Catholic Ministry Appeal enables us to do:
feed the poor 
take care of retired priests 
ensure a Catholic presence on local campuses, prisons, and hospitals 
provide for evangelization efforts  
help students at St. Rita School for the Deaf
support vocations of priests, deacons, lay ministers

Let me conclude by quoting the Archbishop once more: 

“Those who carry out these ministries and programs 
are grateful on a daily basis 
for your participation in their work through your generous donations. 
As Archbishop, I share that gratitude. 
Thank you for being a light in the darkness.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

It's not a quick sale, it's about relationships (Sunday homily)

One of the jobs I had, when I was in my 20s, 
was as a salesman in a men’s clothing store. 
I had that job for about a year or so. 
It was a good job, and I learned some valuable lessons.
The way it worked was that as customers came in, 
each sales person on the floor would be “up” – 
meaning, your turn to wait on a customer. 
And, if you made a sale, you got the commission on that sale.

Of course, not everybody walking in would buy something; 
But a smart salesman knew that Mr. “I’m just looking today” 
might well come back a week later, or an hour later, 
and make a purchase. And, if you took good care of him, 
you’d see him again, and again. 

So, one thing I learned 
was that it wasn’t just about making a quick sale, 
but rather, about creating a relationship.
Someone has a need and comes to me.
If I can help them find what they need – that’s valuable.
That’s not just a good day’s work, 
it’s a good way to live your life
And all that came to mind as I thought about our parish patron, 
Saint Remy, whose feast day we celebrate today. 

Saint Remigius, as he would have called himself,
was a Roman; he lived in northern part of the province of Gaul,
in an area near the present-day border between France and Belgium. 
As a boy, Remy was very bright and well read; 
he was renowned for his learning and his holiness. 
When he was 22, he was recommended to be bishop – 
and he wasn’t even a priest!

Remy was born in AD 437. 
This was a time when Roman society was falling apart. 
Foreign peoples were moving across the borders,
Public order was breaking down,
And when people sent for help from Rome, little help came.

This is how the Kingdom of the Franks – what later became France – 
was established, with Clovis as the first King.
And Remigius, as Bishop of Reims, was in the middle of it all.

Remy had a choice. He might have wanted to stay away 
from these barbarians, and just stick with his fellow Romans.
That would have been a lot easier and more comfortable.

Instead, Remy sought out Clovis and his wife, Clotilda. 
While Clovis was a pagan, Clotilda was a Catholic. 
Remy was eager to share the Gospel with Clovis, 
but the king wasn’t very interested.

Remy wasn’t after a quick sale; 
he and the king and queen formed a friendship, 
despite all that separated him from them.

He may well have been influenced 
by Saint Paul’s words in the second reading: 
“I have become all things to all, to save at least some.” 

Because Remy made himself available to the Lord, 
not only was King Clovis baptized, so were many of his advisors. 
That set the whole kingdom on the path to becoming Catholic; 
and thus the future nation of France.

Now, in case it’s not obvious, let’s notice how our situation is similar.
Our society is in the midst of dramatic change. 
I don’t mean technology, I mean in values.

Some of us can remember taking for granted 
that our society around us knew who Jesus Christ is. 
If that was ever really true, it’s not true now. 

Like the situation in St. Remy’s time, 
you and I can retreat into what’s comfortable and familiar – 
or we can seek out relationships that take us outside our usual circle.
Those are our opportunities to share our Faith, 
and to make a difference in people’s lives.

Just as a practical step, ask yourself:
Do you know all your neighbors – say, on all sides of your house?
How about the next house, in each direction?

What about the other students in your grade at school?
Are there students you don’t know very well?
Maybe they don’t go to St. Remy – or maybe they aren’t Catholic?

As I said a moment ago, the point is not making a quick sale, 
But about being able to help people.

The call that God placed on Isaiah’s heart, and later, 
his call to Peter and Andrew, James and John, 
was to make a difference in people’s lives 
by helping them know who Jesus is 
and the life and hope Jesus gives.

And who does God send? He sent St. Paul; he sent St. Remy; 
and he sends you, and me.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Maltese Straw that breaks the Church's back

Everyone knows about the debate over Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia, and whether it is ambiguous in places, and whether it needs to be clarified. Many -- four prominent cardinals in particular -- have publicly asked for clarification, saying that without clarification, the ambiguities in the document will invite distortions or even implicit denial of constant Catholic teaching and practice. Others have responded by dismissing, and in some cases, ridiculing, this concern.

Well, it appears a document from the bishops of Malta may have gone exactly where Cardinal Burke and others' worst fears dreaded.

From the "Criteria for the Application of Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia,
just issued, we find this paragraph:
Paragraph 10: If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).

If so, then why shouldn’t the following likewise be true:

If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship same-sex attracted person who is living in a ‘same sex marriage’ manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).

Or indeed, why not:

If, as a result of the process of discernment, undertaken with “humility, discretion and love for the Church and her teaching, in a sincere search for God’s will and a desire to make a more perfect response to it” (AL 300), a separated or divorced person who is living in a new relationship any person persisting in a state of mortal sin who manages, with an informed and enlightened conscience, to acknowledge and believe that he or she are at peace with God, he or she cannot be precluded from participating in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist (see AL, notes 336 and 351).

In short, doesn't this mean that all those who, in confession, says they are committing mortal sin of any sort, and because they believe they are "at peace with God" about it, they won't change that behavior, they are to receive absolution, and then can receive communion?

In other words, priests must grant absolution in such cases? What happens if a priest refuses to do so?

Are you telling me this isn’t a break from Catholic teaching?

Tell me what I'm missing here. Specifically, please explain how this is not in direct conflict with the Catechism, paragraph 1650, and the explicit teachings of Pope Benedict and Pope St. John Paul II.

(Note: I understand many people are upset about this, and are upset with Pope Francis over this. Injudicious comments will be deleted. Expressing unhappiness at the pope's decisions is one thing; calling the pope a heretic is something else. Be wise, be charitable, please.)

Update: I see my friend Father Zuhlsdorf has addressed this, and he links Canon Law expert Ed Peters.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

'The Next Chapter' (Epiphany homily)

This feast of Epiphany may be more important than you realize. 

In many places outside the United States, 
the celebration of Epiphany is as special, if not more special, 
than Christmas. 

That may seem odd to us; but then, to these other Christians, 
who really enjoy celebrating this day, 
it may seem odd that we in the U.S. don’t make much of Epiphany.

Why is Epiphany important? 
Because it’s the next chapter. 

A lot of folks think of Christmas as the goal – 
the place to arrive, sort of like Joseph and Mary, 
who make their journey, and then the Magi make their journey too. 
Christmas becomes a destination. 
Isn’t it sort of like that? 
We have this great build-up to December 25, and then what? 
We have a food coma for a week!
The day after Christmas, everything is half-off!

But because that totally misunderstands Christmas, 
it also means we misunderstands Epiphany. 
Christmas is much more a beginning than an ending-point. 
After all, Jesus wasn’t born just to receive visits and gifts;
He came to do something. 

That’s the next chapter. The meaning of the Magi 
is that the light of Jesus is now beginning to reach out, 
beyond the stable, beyond Bethlehem, 
and beyond God’s Chosen People of Israel. 

As the first reading talks about, 
the light goes out to the nations, to all the world. 
That is symbolized by the arrival of these seekers from the east. 
They do not belong to Israel. 
They probably worshipped false gods; 
but they were looking for the truth, 
and they followed the light of a star till it led them to the Light itself.

There are several ways we could go with this, 
but at the head of the year of our Lord 2017, 
I want to talk about what this means for us as a parish. 
Very simply, what star will we be following, and where will it lead us?

As you know, I’ve been talking frequently 
about the mission of this parish, 
to share Christ with the people of this community. 
The Prophet Isaiah described how God wanted his holy people 
to be a light to the nations, to draw them to himself; 
so that, as we prayed in the psalm, 
“every nation on earth will adore” Him. 

That was Israel’s mission; and it is the Catholic Church’s mission. 
It is St. Remy’s mission. It is Father Martin Fox’s mission. 
And it is your mission; I mean, each person listening to me, 
however young or old. We all share it.

But how? What are you and I supposed to do? Is there a plan?

That’s something I’ve been working on with our parish staff 
and with the Pastoral Council. 
In a couple of weeks, the Pastoral Council and I hope 
to fine-tune some pastoral priorities. 
Then, we’ll share with the parish some concrete goals and tasks 
that will get us up and moving. 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that we as a parish 
aren’t already “in motion.” A lot of good things are happening. 
There’s a lot of light in this parish, thank God.

But let me be very blunt. In recent decades, 
the Catholic Church in our country, 
throughout North and South America and in Europe, is in crisis. 
In so many places, the practice of the Faith has collapsed. 
Universities and high schools and hospitals, 
built over many generations with great love and sacrifice, 
have mostly or entirely lost their Catholic identity. 
And we all know people who have walked away from the Faith.

The natural question is, why did all this happen? 
I’ll save the longer answer for another time. 
But a partial but pretty good answer is that 
what worked 60 years ago isn’t working now.
The world has changed. So how you and I share the Faith – 
with our children and our community – likewise must change.

The good news is, that we are doing a lot of things right in Russia,
 thanks to the deep faith of our community 
and the leadership of others who have gone before us. 

My message isn’t meant to be negative but positive: 
We don’t have to watch and wait; 
you and I can do things to make a positive difference. 

This is what I’ve been discussing 
with our staff and our pastoral council, and now, in 2017, 
it’s time to start talking with you about it. 

You’ll hear more as the year goes along, 
but in one sense it’s really simple: 
how do you and I help each other deepen and grow in our Faith together? 
How do we invite others, and what might we do 
to ensure they feel welcome? 
And what do we do when they show up? 
And then, what do we do after that?

With God’s help, together, 
you and I are going to answer these questions, and more. 
There’s a star that is going to lead us, we can be sure of that. 
God will provide it. 
But with all that, there are two simple steps that must happen 
to make everything else happen: 
You and I have to look up and see the star, and then decide, 
“I think I’ll see where that will lead me.” 

In other words, as a parish, we can’t be content with where we are.
We’re in a good spot. 
But Jesus didn’t save us and call us and equip us
just to find a good spot; 
he called us to find souls and bring them in. 

As a parish, you and I have to want more; 
to be hungry and thirsty for it. 

God will send the star. It’s there already. 
Our decision is whether to get up, 
and follow it, wherever it may lead. 

Sunday, January 01, 2017

The importance of your name (Mother of God homily)

If I were to give this homily a title, it might be, "what's in a name?"*

There are three things we emphasize on this feast day: 
Mary’s title as Mother of God; Jesus’ circumcision as a baby; 
and his naming. Let’s focus on the last one.

According to the law of Moses, 
a boy was to be circumcised on the eighth day; 
and at that time, he receives his name publicly. 

When you think about it, isn’t it obvious 
that one of the most consequential decisions parents make, 
is the name they give their child?

(Here I added something about how the Archangel Gabriel took the trouble to tell both Mary and Joseph that the Messiah's name would be Jesus -- so obviously, this was important to heaven. And I also explained the first reading; namely, that it recalls when the High Priest would invoke the Divine Name over the people, once a year, otherwise, the Name was never spoken. However, we are privileged to speak the name of God: Jesus!)

If you go through the Scriptures, 
you see many examples of the importance of names; 
so much so, that many times, God will change someone’s name. 
Abram becomes Abraham; Jacob becomes Israel; 
Simon becomes Peter.

Our name goes a long way in defining who we are.
The giving of a name is a great responsibility.
So I want to encourage our parents to consider carefully 
the names you give your child.

A few weeks ago, I read a story about a priest 
who was asked to baptize a baby with the name of Lucifer. 
That’s right, Lucifer!

Meanwhile, I’ve also heard about children being named for pagan gods, 
such as Thor, Jupiter or Aphrodite. 
Don’t forget about the famous tennis player whose name is Venus.

There’s no requirement to name your child after a saint, 
but I would like to encourage parents to do so – 
at least to have one of the names you give your child be that of a saint. 

Indeed, even before you choose a name, 
may I suggest that you pray about what to name your child? 
Ask the Holy Spirit, ask your child’s guardian angel, 
to guide your decision. 

And when I say, pick a saint’s name, 
that includes names from the Bible – 
that is, those who were exemplary.
Pilate, or Herod, or Ahaz are not names to pick!

Another point: when you pick a saint’s name for your child, 
you are giving your child a patron saint. 

A priest I knew some years ago 
told me about being called to the hospital for an emergency; 
when he got there, he found a child had just been born, 
and the boy wasn’t going to survive. 
So he only had a few minutes to baptize the baby. 
The parents didn’t have any name in mind, 
so the priest named him for the saint of the day: Polycarp!

I know, that sounds like a kind of fish! 
It doesn’t sound like a name we’d want.

But if you remember to do it, when you get home, 
look up Saint Polycarp. 
It’s an inspiring story of a faithful witness to Christ.
And when that child breathed his last a few minutes later, 
and went to heaven, he had a patron saint, waiting to meet him!
It’s a wonderful thing to have a patron saint 
who you know is praying for you throughout your life. 
Your patron saint becomes a special, spiritual friend and companion. 
I am so looking forward to meeting my patron, Saint Martin de Porres, 
and I am grateful my parents gave me someone to watch over me.

So that leads to another suggestion which might seem obvious:
Know what patron saint you have in mind – 
and teach your child about that saint. 
I’ve talked to a lot of kids over the years 
who had no idea who their patron saint was. No one had ever told them! 

Now, if you are listening, and you’re thinking, 
I have no idea who my patron saint is, that’s no problem.

First, of course, you can ask your parents. 
But if that’s not possible, you can still look up your name 
and see which saints have the same name. 
And if, after all that, you can’t find any saint with your name, 
then I suggest you simply pick a saint for yourself. 

Speaking of names, let me make a point 
about the name which the Church gave to Mary, 
and that is “Mother of God.” 

The point of this title isn’t primarily about Mary, but about her son: 
He is truly God, and so she is truly the God-bearer. 
And this title is one of the ways we express our joy
at what God has given us in his Son, 
and our gratitude to Mary for saying yes to God’s plan.

How fitting then that the Church grants a plenary indulgence 
to encourage us to recite on Dec. 31 the Te Deum, 
and on January 1, the Veni Creator. 

The indulgence is granted 
when we also make a good confession and receive holy communion – 
within eight days is a good rule of thumb –
and say a Hail Mary and an Our Father 
for the intentions of the holy father. 

So at the end of Mass, instead of the Saint Michael Prayer, 
we’ll pray the Te Deum/Veni Creator together, 
plus an Our Father and a Hail Mary. 
The prayers are in the books in your pews, and are in English.

* Additions during Masses today.