Sunday, March 26, 2017

Confession takes us to the Cross -- and then Heaven (Sunday homily)

As you know, we’ve been working our way through a book together: 
The Seven Secrets of Confession, 
and I want to look at “secrets” five and six today. 
Let’s start there, and then find our way back to the readings we heard.

These are two of the most powerful chapters in Mr. Flynn’s book. 
In Chapter 5, he points out 
that when we receive the Sacrament of Penance, 
we are brought to Calvary, to the Cross. 
And in Chapter 6, he explains that the whole story – 
of his book, and of the Sacrament – 
is that this is about more than a clean slate; it’s about a whole new life.

In short, the Sacrament of Reconciliation takes us first to the Cross – 
and then to heaven. 
So let’s look at that.

Did you notice in the book, 
where Mr. Flynn was at church on the Feast of the Holy Cross, 
and when he came to kiss the Cross, 
the priest instead pressed it against his chest, 
and held it there for a long time, against his heart? 
And the author said he found himself praying, over and over, 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.” 
And then, when he came to communion, same prayer: 
“Lord, I receive your love from the Cross.”

That’s what happens in the Sacrament of Penance: 
we are at the Cross, and Jesus’ love pours down on us.

Can you use your imagination? 
Put yourself there, at the Cross. 
Picture the scene: cruel soldiers, angry, mocking crowds. 
The Blessed Virgin Mary, along with a few of Jesus’ followers, 
are distraught with grief. 
Two thieves, one insulting Jesus, the other begging for mercy. 
Can you see it? 

And there you are. What would you say? 
And, more than that, what would Jesus say to you?

Sometimes we wonder if God will forgive us. 
Did you notice what our author said? 
He realized that “Christ isn’t forgiving me now in the confessional. 
He forgave me 2,000 years ago! I’m just receiving it now!” 
Allow me to quote Mr. Flynn one more time: 
“(Jesus) pulled all your sin, all my sin – all that awful stuff – 
into his pure body, and when his body was destroyed on the cross, 
our sin was destroyed, too.”

This is a good time to bring in the Gospel passage we just heard. 
Jesus sees a man blind from birth, and he stops. 
He seeks him out. He heals him.

But why did Jesus do it the way he did,
by spitting on the ground, and then smearing the mud on his eyes? 

I’ve always wondered that myself; and last week, 
I read an article that explained something about this. 

Do you remember how, in Genesis, 
God created Adam from the dust of the earth? 
In Jesus’ time, many Jews believed that when God did that, 
he first spat on the ground, in order to make clay – 
and then he formed Adam. 
So Jesus’ action here shows his purpose: not just to heal this man, 
but to re-create him. To reshape and re-orient his life.

And this is exactly what Jesus aims at with the Sacrament of Penance! 
Yes, he wants to take away our sins. 
Yes, he wants to restore us as friends. 
But all that is still for something else, 
something great and exciting and overpowering: 
Jesus wants to recreate us, to make us new. 
New lives, new direction – and that direction, of course, is heaven.

Yes, getting there is a lot of work. 
There are a lot jobs in this world that are hard work: 
And changing ourselves is the hardest of all. 
But this is what Jesus longs to do in us. All his will is bent upon it.
He can – and he will remake us, brand new, if we work with him.
Isn’t that a wonderful thing to know?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Baptism & Penance: Deep in the Holy Trinity (Sunday homily)

As you probably know, we’ve been looking at a book together this Lent, 
called The Seven Secrets of Confession, and today, 
I’m going to look at the third and fourth “secrets.” 

Meanwhile, the readings are all about baptism. 
So what do the sacrament of penance and baptism have in common? 

Well, a lot actually.

Let’s back up and talk a little about baptism. 
I would bet almost all of us 
were baptized as babies – sometime in our first six or eight months. 
We forget that it isn’t always that way; and in the early Church, 
most baptisms weren’t of babies, but of older children, or adults. 
And in many places around the world, that’s still true.

The thing is, when those who are above the age of reason – 
around 1st or 2nd grade – come to be baptized, 
it’s significantly different. They have to prepare for baptism. 
In fact, they would spend months, or years, 
of prayer and learning and penance. 
In fact, the last six weeks, before their baptism at Easter, 
would be a time of intense mortification, with daily prayer and fasting.

That is the origin of the 40 days of Lent.

During those days of intense preparation, 
they were challenged to examine themselves closely, 
and acknowledge their sins, for which they wanted to be forgiven. 
Then on the Vigil of Easter, celebrated between midnight and dawn, 
when they would line up, and one by one, come forward to be baptized, 
and in that baptism, they would have all their sins taken away.

Now, what do we do with the sacrament of penance? 
We examine ourselves, we come forward, one by one,
we acknowledge our sins, then? 

Instead of the priest extending his hand and pouring water over us, what does the priest do? 
He still extends his hand, 
and if you will, he “pours” absolution over us! 
So it’s not exactly a “re-baptism” – I don’t want to mislead you there. 
But at the same time, we should recognize the resemblance. 

In the sacrament of penance, we renew and if needed, 
revive the life that was born in us in baptism. 

In the early Church, they would speak of two “planks” of salvation 
for someone who is shipwrecked by sin: 
the first plank was baptism; and the second was penance. 

So let’s dig into what our book talked about. 
In chapters 3 and 4, the author emphasizes first, 
how personal our confession is for each of us; 
and also, how our time in the sacrament 
is a very personal encounter with the Holy Trinity.

Mr. Flynn points out that, yes, we do have 
these ready-made lists of sins, which help us to examine ourselves. 
But we want to beware a “one size fits all” mentality. 
It’s not just a matter of running down the list, 
check, check, check, done! For our grade schoolers, 
that’s often how they do it, and that’s a fine way to start; 
but the goal is to go beyond that. 

So, for example, our author explains in some detail 
the distinction between mortal and venial sins – 
and, also, how even in the case of mortal sins, 
one person can be more to blame than the next person. 
Same sin – but different circumstances. 

I can remember when I was a boy, 
sometimes one of my older brothers or sisters 
would get in more trouble than I would, for the same thing. 
And what would my parents say? Same as your parents: 
“Because you knew better!” That’s sort of how it works. 
It’s one thing to steal something from a store on a dare; 
it’s another to do so with cool deliberation. 

Here’s where it gets challenging: 
each of us should be seeking a dialogue with God, 
so that we aren’t just checking boxes, 
but we are really opening our heart – every corner of it – 
to the One who created and redeems us.

We might think of the dialogue that happens in the Gospel. 
Jesus seeks out this woman. When she first starts talking with him, 
little does she realize how important this meeting will be; 
it will change her life!

And so it is with us. The sacrament of penance can change our lives, 
especially when we get beyond the routine, the quick in-and-out, 
and open ourselves to a dialogue with God. 
You might say, I know how to talk to God, 
but I don’t know how he talks to me.

It’s not the same for everyone, but I truly believe 
if we want to experience this – in some fashion! – we will. 
Note I said, “in some fashion.” 

Some people really sense God’s voice inside them; 
maybe they hear words. 
Some of us have been involved in “Charismatic” prayer meetings, 
and maybe you’ve even had someone speak up, 
and say something they believe comes from God. 
This isn’t for everyone, but God can do all these things, and more – 
so we shouldn’t be too quick to rule it out, either. 

For others, we do some reading, especially of Scripture, 
and we just know – “this is for me.” 
Sometimes people just feel it in their “guts” – 
they know when the Holy Spirit is pushing them to make a change, 
or to take some action. 

A priest I know says, if we don’t ask for miracles, we won’t get them. 
I agree, and I would add: if we don’t even seek 
to hear God in some way, we make it a lot less likely we will.

But I reiterate: God is speaking. I think it’s sort of like this. 
Have you ever been up late on a summer evening, 
and everyone goes to bed, and you turn off the TV, 
and maybe you have the window open, and finally, finally, 
when everything is totally silent: you start to hear things? 
Crickets, frogs, and if you really listen, 
you can hear things from even miles away. 

If we want to hear God speak, it’s like that. 
Other things have to be “turned off.” 
That kind of preparation, when it becomes a habit, 
helps us come to the sacrament of penance less as something to dread, 
or as a quick drive-through, and more as it truly is: 
a personal encounter with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, 
who created us, who died to redeem us, 
and who longs to fill us and change us and make us supremely happy, 
in this life, and the life to come.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Defend the Faith series at St. Remy

Next Tuesday, March 21, I'll give a talk on “Assisted Suicide and End of Life issues.” Our first talk was March 7, and the topic was "What Marriage is and What it is Not." The crowd was great, more than expected!

Just to explain – the reason we aren’t meeting this week is because, at the Archbishop’s request, every parish in the archdiocese is having confessions this Tuesday, March 14, from 7 to 9 pm. Spread the word!

The other topics planned for our Tuesday series: “There’s something about Mary” on March 28, and “The Mysteries of the Eucharist” on April 4. Each talk begins at 7 pm and ends by 8. All are welcome! We meet in St. Remy Church.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

How confession heals us (Sunday homily)

The key word in my sermon is going to be “healing,” 
because as we go through our book for Lent, 
the Seven Secrets of Confession, this is the second “secret.” 

And, looking ahead to next Sunday, 
I’m going to cover the next two chapters at once, 
so you may want to read ahead. 
And if you don’t have this book, there are some at the exit.

So, pop quiz: when we receive the sacrament of reconciliation, 
the main thing we are there to get is…

No, not forgiveness – as important as that is, and it’s very important!

But that is really a part of something larger that we need, 
and that’s healing.

It’s like when you build a house or a barn. 
You have to dig a solid foundation, or else the whole structure will fail; 
but the foundation isn’t the house. 

Similarly, forgiveness is the foundation of the healing 
that we really need.

So to drill into this, let’s think about 
how healing works in general terms.

One of the first thing that comes to mind 
is that you have to restore wholeness. 
So if you have a cut or a wound, what do you do? 
You have to clean it and close it up. If there’s a broken bone, 
it has to be set, so the body can knit back together.

So what would be a spiritual wound? 
Well, if every time I come, I am confessing fights with my wife, 
or with my coworkers – that’s a wound. 
Yes, I will be forgiven for my harsh words and yelling; 
but there’s still something that needs to be repaired and reset: 
Like how I deal with my family, or what I expect from my coworkers.

In the same vein, getting healed often requires a course of treatment. 
Maybe the doctor tells us, take these pills twice a day for ten days. 

Now you might do what the doctor ordered 
and take the whole course of pills. 
Or maybe you don’t bother with it.

But would it make sense to take one pill, 
then wait months or years, and take another?
You know right away, that won’t work.

It’s the same with this sacrament. The real healing in our lives happens, 
not because we go only when things get bad enough, 
but when we regularly receiving the grace of this sacrament.

And yet, this causes frustration, because we end up 
confronting the same sins and habits. 
But there is a real grace here. 
This forces to face reality; and it also leads us to humility.

I’m forced to admit: I really can’t do this without God; 
and I can’t do it unless my pride is bowed down.

A lot of us don’t even like going to see the doctor. 
Even if our insurance pays for it, we put it off. Why?

Isn’t it because you and I know the doctor is probably going to tell us 
something we don’t want to hear. “You have to lose weight.” 
Or, “no more spicy food,” or “you have to start exercising more.”

In other words, the doctor is going to ask us to change, 
and we’d rather not deal with that.

And it’s the same in the spiritual life.

When folks come to receive this sacrament from me, 
I don’t always have any special advice. 
And if I do, time is short, and sometimes the line is long.

So sometimes I will invite you 
to pursue this with me outside the sacrament. 
I can’t make anyone do that of course, but the thing is, 
sometimes, for healing to happen, more needs to be talked about.

This is where we can make a connection 
with the Scripture readings we heard. 
It may not be obvious, but something similar is at work 
with both Abram in the first reading, and the Apostles in the Gospel.

Why did God tell Abram to get up and move hundreds of miles away? 
Why couldn’t he stay where he was? 
The answer is, because God knew that’s the change Abram needed,
to become a new man of faith. This was the healing he needed.

Likewise, Jesus knew what Peter, James and John needed.
This revelation of Jesus’ full divinity 
happens not long before Jesus is arrested and crucified. 
That would be a grave crisis for the Apostles.
This is the inoculation that will get them through it.

As it is, Peter loses courage, 
and James is nowhere to be found on Good Friday. 
But what would have happened without this booster shot?
Notice the other apostles aren’t there. 
Could it be that he was relying on these three 
to strengthen the others?

That leads to another reason why it matters that each of us 
receive this sacrament of reconciliation frequently. 
It isn’t just for me; it isn’t just for you.
If you’re not healthy, does that affect anyone else in your house 
or at school? And of course it does.

As your priest, I go to confession two to three times a month. 
What if I only “took the treatment” once or twice a year? 
What if I never received this sacrament? 
Would you be OK with that? 

I can hear you say, “No, but you’re the priest.” 
But is it really true that I am the only one 
whose spiritual health affects you, and affects this parish? 
We know that’s not true.

Our parish has a lot of life, but that doesn’t just happen. 
It happens because there is health in the Body of Christ, 
of which each of us is one member. 

So if you’ll forgive me borrowing words 
from President John F. Kennedy, 
this isn’t just about what Christ is going to do for you; 
it’s also about what you will do for Christ, 
by growing in grace through this wonderful sacrament. 
This Tuesday, every parish in the Archdiocese, including St. Remy, 
will have two hours of confessions, from 7 to 9 pm. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

GOP Health Care Flim Flam in 'three phases'

“Rep” Congress, salesman:  OK, Mr. Citizen, we’re ready to replace the car we sold you. Unfortunately, as you know, it doesn’t run very well, and it costs you way more to operate than you were promised.

Joe Citizen: No s*** Sherlock! That’s what I’ve been telling you for years! I complained in 2010, 2012, 2014, and 2016. Gah! What does it take for you folks to listen?

Congress: No, you’re right. As you may know, your complaints got my predecessor fired—

Citizen: That was over four years ago!

Congress: Yes, I know, terrible; but the company has a new president, and he takes a different view. That changed everything.

Citizen: Well, that’s great to hear, finally. So what’s the deal?

Congress: Well, here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to completely replace your car! Your new car will work much better, it will get you where you need to go – and won’t take you places you don’t want to go. We stripped off the extras you didn’t want—

Citizen: And which you made me pay for all this time!

Congress: Yes, terrible. And, the new car will be cheaper! All the things we promised you! Here’s the paperwork…

Citizen: Wait – what’s all this? It’s awfully hard to read…

Congress: Oh, don’t worry about that; all these contracts have, you know, codicils and addendums. Perfectly normal. “Fine print.”

Citizen: Hmm. I think we better look this over.

Congress: Oh, absolutely! Take all the time you need. Say, would you like some coffee? We have an espresso machine now! Would you like a Caramel Kiwi Latte? I’m having one…

Citizen: Err, no thanks. What’s this? This says that today, I’m only getting parts of my new car. What’s that about?

Congress: Oh, that? Well, you see, we can only deliver your new car in three stages…

Citizen: three stages?
Congress: Yes, I’m afraid those are the rules.

Citizen: So what does that mean? How will these three stages work?

Congress: Well, first, let me tell you, it’s gonna be great! You’re going to love it! Your modified car is going to be awesome! You—

Citizen: Hold on. You just said “modified car” – you promised me a new car.

Congress: Oh yes, well, eventually…

Citizen: “Eventually”?

Congress: Yes, don’t worry! Here’s how it works. We’re going to take your car, and we’re going to install some new parts on it. We’ll make it work, trust us. We’ve gotten in a good supply of baling wire and duct tape! This duct tape, boy, my dad could do wonders with this stuff!

Citizen: But you promised me a new car.

Congress: Oh yes, for sure. But, see, we have to wait. That’s phase two and three. See, next we are waiting for the President to tell the research department to issue new rules, so that we can get rid of those extra items you didn’t want…

Citizen: New rules? You mean…

Congress: Yes, our service department isn’t allowed to take them off. Not yet. But we’re working on it.

Citizen: So when does that happen?

Congress: Oh, soon, soon!

Citizen: Do you think I’m stupid? You guys – in fact, you yourself! – have been telling me that since 2012!

Congress: Well, you got me. I shouldn’t have said that then. But I mean it now! And, then…

Citizen: Wait. Something weird just happened. There’s…there’s an asterisk floating over your head! How did that happen?

Congress: (under his breath: “Dang!”) Er, that’s… “The Footnote.”

Citizen: “The Footnote”?
Congress: Yes, it’s right here. (Points to even smaller writing at the bottom of the footnote.)

Citizen: (Straining to read) “New rules and regulations will be issued pursuant to directives of the President of the Corporation regarding accessories and mandatory options, at the discretion of the President, according to his timetable, provided they are in accordance with existing corporate policy, and are not overturned or modified by the Board of Directors.”

So what does that mean?

Congress: Oh, it’s nothing to worry about…

Citizen: I’m not so sure about that. Tell me what it means, or I’m walking out.

Congress: Wait! Don’t be hasty! Look, all that means is that the new regulations, that we need to give you the full car you want…well, it’s like this…we…ahem…

We don’t know exactly when they’re coming.

Citizen: (Eyes narrowing) And? I can see there’s something else.

Congress: Well, there’s just the slightest chance that the new rules won’t be found to be…legal.

Citizen: Wait, what? What did you say?

Congress: It all depends on the head of the review board. She’s a swell gal, that Sue Premecourt! I’m sure she won’t find any problems. Not this time!

Citizen: But what happens if she does?

Congress: Well, then we may not be able to give you the full package, but look! No reason to get dire! It’s gonna be just fine! Just fine!

Citizen: And at that point, I have my new car?

Congress: Well, not exactly. That’s only phase two. There’s still phase three.

Citizen: “Phase three?” What the h*** is this? Why is it in three phases? Why can’t you just give me a new car, like you promised?

Congress: Well, see, it’s like this. We have a board of directors, and, boy! are they a strange bunch! Under the rules of the company, we have to get 60% of the board to sign off on a bunch of this. It's all the fault of this one fellow, Filibuster. But not all! No Sirree! Only on some of it! That’s why we’re doing it this way.

We can give you parts with only a majority of the board – so that’s phase one. The stuff with phase two? Those crazy birds won’t even get to look it! And all the stuff the board doesn’t like…well, we’re saving that for phase three! We’re no dummies!

Citizen: So let me get this straight – the reason you aren’t doing it all at once, is because you can’t get it past the board of directors, right?

Congress: Yes, but just some of it, only some…

Citizen: But without that “some,” I don’t get a new car, right?

Congress: Well…technically. But it’s fine, really! Say, how about I turn on the TV? Steve Harvey’s doing this special on Dallas Cheerleaders – you don’t want to miss that, huh?

Citizen: No thank you. I’m still wondering about the rest of the car you owe me.

Congress: Oh, but I already explained that. That’s phase three. It’s all baked in. Nothing to worry about.

Citizen: But you said the board might not approve phase three. Because of that Filibuster guy.

Congress: Oh, but it’ll be fine.

Citizen: How? How do you get past Filibuster?

Congress: Well, that's a trade secret! But believe me, you'll have a new car. Or, at least, you’ll have most of your new car. At least a majority. Maybe two-thirds. It's gonna be great, I guarantee it!

Citizen: No, I want to know: what do you do about the Board? That seems to be the real problem. You can't do anything about that?

Congress: Oh, I didn't say that. The members of the board are elected, so...

Citizen: So, you're saying we could get new board members?

Congress: Well, yes, technically...

Citizen: And who votes on that?

Congress: do.

Citizen: So, why don't we do that?

Congress: Oh, that's too haaard! This is better, really! We've got a secret plan for getting past Filibuster. (Winks)

Citizen: Uh huh. And if not... then all I’m getting is "most" of a new car? But I’m getting rid of all those expensive options, right?

Congress: Well, that’s one of those things that the Board has to approve. I shouldn’t tell you this, but ole Sue has been a little unpredictable lately…

Citizen: And what about my payments – they’re going down, right? You promised me that four years ago!

Congress: Well, see…that depends on Sue…and and also, getting phase three through. That Filibuster, he's a tough bird.

Citizen: This is really screwed up! So tell me, what, exactly, am I getting today? Right now?

Congress: Floor mats!

Citizen: (Incredulous) FLOOR MATS?

Congress: But they’re really nice Floor Mats! And you’ll only pay another $99 a month! Isn’t that a sweet deal? Wait – Mr. Citizen? Where are you going?

(Sigh.) Sheesh. There’s no pleasing some people!

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sin turns us from God; confession turns us back (Sunday homily)

As you may have noticed, there are copies of a book 
at the doors of church called the Seven Secrets of Confession
We are providing this to everyone to help us all grow this Lent. 

If you’ve started reading it, in the first few pages 
You saw the author describe the idea he had 
about confession growing up: 
it was something he had to do; it was a chore;
he went unwillingly, with his “grocery list” of sins, and moved on quickly. 

As he said, this isn’t bad, but there’s so much more. 
And he added, this understanding kept him, and keeps others, 
“from discovering the real beauty and value of this sacrament.”

So for the Sundays of Lent, we will go through this book, 
in order to discover all that’s wonderful about this sacrament. 
After all, Jesus gave us seven sacraments – seven special gifts.
Not six, not eight. This is one of them.
Why should any gift from God cause us unhappiness or worry? 
Surely we are missing something if that is the case.

Now, let’s look at the Scripture readings, and as we do, 
let’s bring the first chapter, about the first “secret,” 
which is that our sin doesn’t change God – rather, it changes us. 
And in that chapter, Mr. Flynn quotes a wise priest 
who told him that “sin is turning your face away from God.”

And that’s what you see in the readings: 
Adam and Eve turn their faces from God, while Jesus never does. 
And that makes all the difference.
It’s a shame the first reading ends where it does, 
because if you read on in Genesis, here’s what it says next: 
“When they heard the sound of the LORD God 
walking about in the garden…the man and his wife 
hid themselves from the LORD God….
The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: ‘Where are you?’”

This is one of the saddest lines of the Bible. 
Think of it: God has created his beautiful Garden, 
and created his son and his daughter, and given this garden to them.
Now, something has wrecked it all. 
Worst of all, his children are wrecked. 

As our author said, our sins don’t change God – but they do change us. 
So Adam and Eve went from being happy in God’s presence 
to being fearful.

Of course, isn’t that how we approach the sacrament? 
A lot of us are afraid to go – but why? Why are we afraid?

Well, because it’s embarrassing to admit our failures and our vices.
And, second, it’s humiliating to own up to our repeated failures, 
week upon week.

True enough. But how often have we also thought this: 
God is angry. Just like Adam and Eve. See how that works?

On the contrary, God has not changed toward us. 
Nothing we can ever do, nothing at all, can ever change God. 

Many here are parents. Isn’t it true that, 
despite all that is frustrating and all your own weaknesses, 
the love you have for your children…
it just can’t be put into words, can it? 

I saw a video last week of a new father, 
holding his tiny child, born prematurely. 
As he gazed as his daughter, with just a finger, 
he kept stroking her back, over and over. 
Every father and mother here knows what that is like. 

And that’s just the flicker of a match 
compared to the heat of a thousand suns 
with which our Father in heaven loves us.

When we come to confession, 
it may feel like we’re being called to the Principal’s Office, 
but in reality, we’re being welcomed back into God’s friendship. 

God, for his part, has not changed toward us! He never does. 

OK, you may ask, then why does anyone go to hell? 
And the answer is, because sin changes us: we turn our faces from God.
And some, after turning, never turn back.

The danger of neglecting to come to confession 
is that we get used to being away, it gets to feel normal,
and whatever makes it hard to go back only gets worse, 
the longer we stay away. 

At some point, our stubborn pride kicks in. 
Or laziness, or procrastination, or waiting till we’re “good enough.” 
The devil will tell us a thousand different lies, 
all aimed at the same outcome. 

Sin takes us from enjoying the light and warmth of God’s life, 
to the darkness of being off by ourselves.
As with Adam and Eve, that may not have been the sales pitch; 
the enemy convinced them they were putting one over on God. 
So it can be with us. When temptation comes, 
it looks pretty fine, doesn’t it? 
But we always end up somewhere cold and empty.

The Gospel, on the other hand, shows us Jesus, 
who despite all that assails him, never turns his face from his Father. 
That fact alone explains everything* so much about Jesus. 

How can go through all these temptations? 
How can Jesus face the frustrations, the misunderstandings 
and the rejection, as he walks that long road to the Cross? 
His face and the Father’s face are always toward each other. 
Love can inspire unbelievable courage.

And the reason this Gospel is good news for us 
is that Christ came to share this courage with us, 
by sharing his Father with us. 
This gives us the courage to turn from sin 
and turn our face back to the Father.

Now, we all know that this doesn’t just happen all at once. 

When we’re in the habit of turning to the bottle, or to anger, 
or to gossip, or to dark places on the Internet, 
we will find ourselves so easily returning to those sins, 
and be ashamed that we turned from God’s love so readily.
Once again, the voice of the tempter will say, “God has had it with you!”

But Christ meets us in the sacrament of reconciliation, 
as often as we return, again and again – as often as necessary.
His courage becomes our courage. His strength is ours.
He will teach us, if we let him, to fix our gaze on the Father.

* I made this change when I delivered the homily.

Friday, March 03, 2017

Trump's 'Russia connection': my theory

So, I've been thinking a lot about the Russians. 

The story this week about complaints that Attorney General Jeff Sessions wasn't properly forthcoming in the testimony he gave in the process of being considered for his present job, is only the latest in the drip-drip-drip of items in this "Russian interference" file. The whole thing has become so unwieldy that it's hard to keep track of just what we're talking about. But it all seems to boil down to two things: 

-- an attempt to influence the 2016 election, and 

-- a claim that the someone in the Trump Campaign was coordinating with the Russians.

My cogitations always come back to the same place: does this really seem plausible?

I have a theory, but let me get there through a bit of a circuit. Let's start with some assumptions. Let's assume both the assertions above are true. Here are the questions that occur to me:

1) Regardless of whose idea it was (Russia's or Trump's), why would the Trump Campaign think this was a good idea? Why trust the Russians? If Trump's people pursued this to any degree, doesn't that give the Russians a juicy bit of blackmail material? Are we to believe no one in the Trump organization could see that?

Think about it: the Russians would have all the cards in such a negotiation. They could always decide, later, that they didn't need the deal, and make the whole thing public. If they decided Mrs. Clinton was going to win, such a move couldn't do them any harm. Alternately, they could wait until Trump is elected, and then blackmail the new administration for even more than was called for in the original bargain. What leverage would the Trump side of this ever have?

2) If you are the Trump people, considering this sort of deal, how do you know the Russians will deliver? 

3) It also occurs to me that if the Russians wanted some sort of deal, it's no good unless Trump is certainly on board; after all, who else can deliver whatever consideration they sought out of the deal? So if there was a deal, it must have included Trump.

4) The thing about conspiracies (this is one of many reasons you should automatically reject conspiracy theories with extreme prejudice) is that they are really, really hard to keep secret. Doubt me? Look at this conspiracy! 

5) What would the Russians really have to gain by a deal with Trump? For that matter, just why would tipping the election his way be to their advantage? What could he do for them, realistically? Yes, he was negative about NATO, but think about it: what do you think would happen to any President who wrecked NATO, to the advantage of Russia? (Note that Trump has moved to give strong support for NATO.) What else could they realistically expect?

Other than his noise about NATO, what else about Trump's campaign would appeal to the Russians?

6) If there was a deal, why was there all this activity which we're learning about now? The thing the Left is glomming onto is the very thing that makes me doubt the story: the supposedly abundant contacts between Trump's people and the Russians. If you were going to make a sordid deal like this, the one thing you would certainly do is keep it as quiet and hidden as possible. 

If you're not with me, I ask: if there was a corrupt bargain between Russia and Trump, is there any scenario under which either side wants it to become known? I can't think of one.

There's a scene in the film, Minority Report, where one of the characters -- a police officer -- comes on a crime scene with all manner of evidence, spread out in full view. He calls it an "orgy of evidence," and explains that it's cause for suspicion -- it was all obviously planted in order to be discovered.

That's exactly what all these "contacts" look like to me.

If you think there really was an attempt at a corrupt bargain, you have to wonder why neither anyone on Trump's side, nor anyone on the Russian side, had sense to make sure the contacts were as minimal and secret as possible. In short, you have to claim they were all idiots, and that seems utterly implausible. A businessman like Trump -- and certainly a former KGB officer (i.e., Putin) -- would know better.

So what would be the possible reason to have all these contacts, all this sloppiness, this "orgy of evidence" that you can guarantee would be discovered?

That's the point: the Russians weren't looking for a deal, and no deal was made. Instead, the Russians wanted to create confusion and chaos. If their goal was to destabilize and undermine the new President, whether the information becomes public or not, they win. If secret, it might be useful as leverage; if it becomes public, it undermines the new President. 

What do you think?

'Salmon Scampi' and a first sung Latin Mass

This has been an adventurous week, helped along by preparations for Lent, Ash Wednesday activities, and a special funeral Mass.

With Lent coming, we had to get some things together. The daily Mass moves an hour earlier, allowing schoolchildren to attend; and we have high school students serve as readers and altar servers. So we had some things to do with that this week. I dug out our supply of ashes -- enough for 20 years, I calculate.*

Ash Wednesday itself wasn't any great chore; in fact, I got to sleep in! I usually have a 5:45 am Mass each Wednesday, but since Ash Wednesday has two additional Masses, I drop the super-early Traditional Latin Mass. Maybe someday we'll have the 7 am Mass as a TLM, but we're not ready for that.

The first two Masses (7 and 11:45 am) had to be quick, given work and school schedules, so I used the 2nd Eucharistic Prayer, which I really don't like doing. The 7 pm Mass was a "high Mass" -- with incense and lots of servers and the Roman Canon, which is our default Eucharistic Prayer.

As the day went along, I was thinking about dinner, which I had after the 7 pm Mass. I had some shrimp left over from Monday, and I figured, I'll fry that up with some butter and garlic: Shrimp Scampi!

Well, when I finally got to the kitchen to get everything out, my stomach growling, I got a whiff of the shrimp. Eew! I tasted one (they were cooked) and spat it out. Now what? I didn't have any soup without meat; no other fish; no bread. Hmm.... Then I noticed a can of salmon. How about "Salmon Scampi"?

That's what I fixed up...but I wouldn't recommend it. The bones don't make it better.

But what really kept me on my toes this week was preparing for a funeral Mass, in the older form. While I offer the Traditional Latin Mass regularly, I've never offered a Requiem Mass; in addition, I wanted to do it as a sung Mass, because it's a funeral. Thankfully, I had some warning several weeks ago, and so I begun at that time to get things together.

This meant calling around for singers who could form the choir, and also to find someone to serve as a liturgical Master of Ceremonies -- that is, someone who could guide me through. Thankfully, I found some folks who could advise me, and we got everything together. Part of what I needed was a black cope and a black pall for the casket, which the TLM parish in Dayton kindly lent to me, along with a supply of books for those attending. A gentleman who has served as an MC for the older Mass was extremely helpful in providing advice, sending me sound files to listen to for practice, and many other helps. And he graciously offered to drive up the day of the Mass to serve as MC.

With all that, I was still stressed. I had wanted to practice more than I had. In addition, I'd had some difficulties rounding up the six servers we needed. The hard part was finding men who had experience with the older form. Thankfully, I saw one of our college men at the 7 am Mass, who had such experience, and he mentioned he was on Spring Break! So I asked if he'd be willing to come back for the funeral? He graciously agreed.

So, at 11, he showed along with the others I'd recruited, plus another gentleman who'd been recruited by a parishioner who'd told me she'd "put the word out." Everyone was on time and we were ready for the MC, who was due at that hour, and was going to put everyone's mind at ease.

We were still waiting for him at 11:15. And 11:30. The funeral was at Noon. I had been waiting on him to be sure we lit the right candles; at 11:40, I sent the boys to light six of them. I was going to let the MC decide where to stage the various things we'd need; I made my best guess about that. At 11:45, I looked at the college student, who I'd recruited that morning, and who I knew had the best experience, and said, "You know the old saying, 'No good deed goes unpunished!' Can you serve as the MC?" He didn't blink an eye (but he did gulp a little I think).

So, at Noon, we executed the first sung Requiem Mass at Saint Remy in about 50 years. God helped me a lot! It all seemed to go reasonably well -- having great servers makes a huge difference. There were a couple of flubs, but nothing major. By the time we got to the cemetery, I was unsure about which parts I was supposed to chant and recite, and ended up reciting the last bits, including some I think I was supposed to chant. The schola was great; they even walked out the cemetery, undeterred by the cold and blowing snow. The family was very happy.

The MC never made it, and now, a day later, I still haven't heard anything, which concerns me. I know he wouldn't just blow it off; but I don't know the man, and other than call him as I did afterward, I don't have any way to contact him or his family. I've been praying for him.

Would I do it again? In a minute! But there are two things we need. First, we need our own schola which can execute the music, and that takes dedication. Second, we need someone who can serve as the MC. If there are folks who are interested, let me know. I'd love to be able to do sung Latin Masses more often.

Now, with that behind me, I have to begin working on my Sunday homily; it's going to be part one of a series of sermons on the sacrament of confession. Back to work!

* Is it bad that we don't have new ashes every year? The strict tradition is to burn old palms each year, and these become the ashes for that year. But collecting and burning palms is a chore -- they have to be thoroughly burned, and then the clumps strained out -- and you end up with a pretty good supply of ashes; why not keep using them? Am I bad?